Be Prepared

October 3rd, 2002

My laptop case has always been a bit of a Mary Poppins bag – I can pull all manner of surprising things from its depths to solve problems here and there – I carry an ethernet hub I modified for battery power, for instance, which comes in handy in contracting situations where there are no extra LAN connections. Be prepared, I always say, with enough bits and pieces to glue together what you might need on a whim.

So i’m in downtown Toronto, driving from one appointment to the next, and thinking about a third place to visit, but I don’t know the address – it’s in Outlook on my home PC. Damn. My wife isn’t home to check it for me, so I gotta think of something else.

So I pull into an alley at Queen St. and Spadina where I know I can get a wireless signal, get my laptop out of the trunk, fire it up, insert the 802.11b card, and walk towards the street. Halfway up the alley I get a signal so I squat against this drainpipe where I can still see my car, ssh into my home linux box, start a tunnelled vnc session from my laptop over ssh/wireless/internet/sshd/homenetwork to my Win box at home, run Outlook, get the info. Check my mail and news aggregator for good measure.

People are walking by without a second thought to this guy squatting with his laptop in an alley. All in a day’s work, you know.


altruism as a cultivated resource

October 2nd, 2002

Phil Windley notices my post about sharing and talks about the altruistic “abundance mentality” that is a prerequisite to becoming an effective blogger. That certainly describes me and many other people I know who regularly share knowledge whether or not it’s via blogging.

Of course, it also *doesn’t* describe a much larger lot of people that make up most organizations, and that’s problematic to the introduction of knowledge sharing tools.

With my recent plugging of Open Source collaborative content management tools, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it takes to make knowledge sharing work in an organization. What it takes is enthusiasm, altruism, optimism. For it all to really sing, you have to attract a critical slice of the target audience who will participate fully and happily.

But you can’t simply decree that everyone in the organization will tomorrow become lucid, concise, insightful writers or will feel enthusiastic about their work. Some people will never have it in them, some just need to get bit by the bug.

Traditional Knowledge Management too often involves a top-down command and control restrictive model. In contrast, Knowledge Sharing is a grassroots bottom-up empowerment model. The effective way to grow it is to introduce it, find evangelists, and let it grow. That can only work in an organization where people feel like they’re part of a living organism working towards a common goal, not in a politics-ridden cube farm.

It’s pretty hard to find that in a large organization, especially in government. I worked for 10 years in the Ontario government in 3 different ministries, and there is absolutely NO way it’s ever gonna happen soon there.

Makes a guy wanna move to Utah. But it’s so much warmer in Toronto. Well, today, anyhow.


Freedom to share

October 1st, 2002

Phil Windley, blogging CIO of the State of Utah, admires Jeremy Zawondny’s sharing. I do too.

I’ve noticed with myself though, that my sharing-ness tends to rise and fall with my sense of security. When I’ve got lots of business and no worries, I’m a veritable sharing phenom, but my willingness to participate and to share has dropped considerably this year since I’ve been more interested in finding enough paying business to get by.

It’s not as though I’m constantly heads down on jobsearching, it’s that philosophically, I’m currently not wanting to give away things that might be used to help me make a living.

I make my living by consulting and programming. I do stuff that most people can’t or don’t do, and figure out stuff that other people need to know. When I’m plenty busy, I’m happy to share my excess knowledge. However, when I’m wondering how to pay the mortgage, I’d like people to consider paying me for information that gives them value, and therefore, I’m much less likely to solve their business problems unless they do.

I’ve taken enough of an interest in the past in Remote Scripting, a DHTML trick to make web pages more interactive, that I’ve become fairly well known as an expert on the subject. It’s my sharing that has brought this “fame”. I regularly receive and answer all sorts of questions from people wanting to learn the concepts involved. I do so happily, because I want to spread knowledge.

Lately, however, I’ve had an increase in the amount of people who are not visiting my site to learn how to do it themselves, but are there looking for solutions to their problems – Microsoft’s RS not working any more due to browser or JVM problems, how to adapt their specific app to remote scripting.

Surprising numbers of people expect me to actually perform the legwork of solving their problems for them, and further, expect me to do it for nothing. When I suggest they can hire me to do the work, some are positively insulted that I would suggest it and blast me as crass and commercialistic. Without fail these are people who are approaching me as employees of a company whose problem needs fixing. I rather doubt they’re working for free, but they expect me to.

I love Open Source. I use it all the time. I believe in its future. But it can’t work unless it’s being practised and subsidised by people who are in a position of security and comfort. That may mean companies like IBM and MySQL and O’Reilly who support Open Source by allocating resources or funding to it, or it may mean employed or independent but secure people who have the time and magnanimity, or it may mean students whose commitments and responsibilities leave enough room for it.

I have no free knowledge to spare. Right now, you gotta either pony up for it or wait till I’m flush again to catch my overflow.


Open Source, Closed Minds

September 24th, 2002

I’ve been pitching web collaboration via Open Source tools lately. I’m trying to generate interest in having people contract me in to supply them with a working Open Source based collaboration portal and to provide advice and development in those areas.

Specifically, I’m demoing to companies a full-featured Open Source based intranet site with news items, comments, forums, downloads, weblinks, etc and comparing its features to more extensive (and expensive) solutions such as Microsoft’s SharePoint. A really good example of such a comparison is the case study of the Government of Hawaii’s portal.

Last week I was in a gigantic multinational company. The presentation went well – they were impressed by the scope, manageability, extendability and feel of the demo site. They liked the idea of saving bucketloads of dough. Everything was going smoothly.

Then they remembered that the previous week they had received an internal memo declaring that Open Source software was not to be used in the company unless a commercial solution did not exist. They’d have to review that memo and see how it affected this decision. I’m not privy to the contents of the memo, but it sounds to me very much like Fear Uncertainty and Doubt rearing its head.

They also said that some company-wide desktop app Microsoft licensing agreement allows them to use SharePoint portal services throughout the company, so that would mean they’ve got it “for free” too, so maybe there wouldn’t be any advantage to my suggestions. I’m fairly doubtful that the licensing will include adding unlimited Win2k SQL servers and SharePoint servers, but I guess huge multinationals can afford to spend whatever money isn’t being looted by their executives on blanket licenses.


Wil makes the switch

September 23rd, 2002

Wil wheaton has switched to Linux and it wasn’t painful at all!


PCs – more dangerous than guns?

September 16th, 2002

Palladium. DRM. It boggles my mind how a country will fight to the death in the name of freedom for the right to keep in their homes and on their persons handguns, designed for the express purpose of killing humans, while openly contemplating the ruination by draconian restriction of the unfettered utility of one of the most useful tools ever devised, all in the name of protecting for an elite few that which ultimately belongs to us all.

Go ahead, hit that comment link. I know you’re dying to.


dwelling on dwellings

September 12th, 2002

I mustn’t be very successful. I just live in a nice neighbourhood, when it’s clear to me now that you’re just not worthy unless your house is in a prestigious enclave, a parcel of executive estate homes, or an exclusive WideLot(TM) community.


Collaborate with Open Source

September 3rd, 2002

A friend of mine from high school, Vijit Coomara, recently started a Drupal-based blog and collaboration site called CollaborateIT.org.

As a partner in a successful internet technology company, Vijit has a lot of experience in enterprise-wide projects where big corporations lay out big bucks to hire the big guns to deploy big solutions. He has a lot to say about where open source and collaborative tools are well positioned to make very impressive inroads into established business.

Read along and jump into the fray.