Ontologies and the Semantic Web – The future of Knowledgement Management?

If you are like me, you will have said, “what on earth is an ontology?” Some form of scientific anthology? Well, I first came across the word “ontology” here, a post in which Professor Michael Wesch from Kansas University said/wrote that “Ontology is overrated.” While the term remains somewhat esoteric, I am ever more conscious that the ontology concept will catch on, albeit limited to the domain of knowledge acquisition and storage. So, what is an ONTOLOGY? In a geeky paradise, ontology is the new portal. Ontology is the metier of the 21st century librarian.

As defined in the Wolfram Alpha search engine, ontology in an organizational sense, “is a rigorous and exhaustive organization of some knowledge domain that is usually hierarchical and contains all the relevant entities and their relations.”

Carole Palmer & Allen Renear, Illinois University

A recent report by University of Illinois professors & researchers, Allen Renear and Carole Palmer, published in Science (14 August 2009), an article entitled, “Strategic Reading, Ontologies, and the Future of Scientific Publishing,” in which they describe and measure the effects of the web on medical research. Broadly speaking, the article highlights the gargantuan rise in the number of articles published, the increased number of articles being read (by fellow researchers, etc.) and the average amount of time spent on reading each article (decreasing). On the one hand, there are the obvious benefits of providing, instantaneously, potentially life-changing medical information anywhere around the world. However, the presence of so many articles poses an ever greater challenge for researchers needing to claim authorship (i.e. original ownership) of an idea or a discovery. (See Illinois News writeup).

Strategic Reading, Ontology Study, Science Magazine
As the chart above (from Strategic Magazine) indicates, the volume of abstracts and papers published (on cell cycle research) has skyrocketed.

As information proliferation will continue (in the short term it will undoubtedly continue to accelerate), the need to rationalize, filter and digest information will become critical not only in the domain of science, but in many more areas including arts and business. As Renear says, “efficient strategic reading becomes increasingly critical in scientific work…” and I say that the same will be true in many other areas, too.

Here is the BEAUTIFUL concept behind the ontologies being crafted in wiki fashion around the sciences (and later to all areas of documentable expertises): they have inverted the way research is done. You search for the real information you are looking for and then follow up by reading the supporting article(s) as opposed to reading the article to find the information for which you are looking. Of course, that means less reading per article, but it also saves an immense amount of time on background information (and, often-times, noise). The next step would be integrate into these ontologies semantic web concepts, to make them ever more effective and efficient.

Some examples of ontologies out there:

The Gene Ontology is apparently the most famous of ontologies, and among the ones I found while trolling ontologies on google, is certainly the one that speaks volumes to me.

The Open Biomedical Ontologies, a collection of freely available well-structured controlled vocabularies. When you read the introductory paragraph on this site, you get the feeling of not wanted here, very quickly. Try this for size: “The OBO Foundry is a collaborative experiment involving developers of science-based ontologies who are establishing a set of principles for ontology development with the goal of creating a suite of orthogonal interoperable reference ontologies in the biomedical domain.”

And, a third example that is a little easier to get one’s head around, an Animal Behaviour Ontology, one set in motion by Darwin undoubtedly…!

Anyway, as the world progresses through the 21st century, I expect many other areas — less technical than science — may benefit from the knowledge accumulation and classification methods inherent in these sort of wiki-library ontologies. The discussion on ontology takes on a whole other layer when we take into consideration the ongoing “battle” for the digitalisation (numerisation) of the world’s books — truly a new métier for the 21st century librarian. And, the way the Google Books system works is very similar in look & feel to the various ontologies: find the researched term, then open (or pay for?) the whole text…

Will ontologies play a significant part in knowledge management systems? Can ontologies move into the mainstream? What do you think?

The E-volution of the Book… Kindle, Sony, Google weighing in

The evolution of all media is fascinating to follow, but today I am going to zero in on the printed word.  Whether it’s the future of magazines, books, mainstream newspapers or even research & professional journals, the internet platform is causing radical paradigm shifts and there are some hefty decisions to be made/duked out for each category of the printed word.  For the book, there are two massively important phases: the democratisation of the eBook and internet referencing.  As beautiful as the Amazon solution has been for e-commerce, the digital reader platform is still in its nascent phase and has room to improve.  Nonetheless, there are a number of exciting functionalities that make the digital book much more viable for the regular book reader.   You can immediately download content through the wireless internet connection, search for the definition of word, open to a reference map, use RAM to search for words in a text, copy and clip text you want to remember, and when you go on a long trip you carry many books & magazines in one tidy place… and probably many other functions yet to be integrated.  And, importantly, technology has improved dramatically, including the lighting, font sizes and definition; and the price is now accessible, especially as the competition heats up.

The two leading options at this point are Kindle 2 (from Amazon with 230,000 titles currently) and the Sony Digital Reader PRS-700BC (right).  As a quick analysis of the their sites reads, it is interesting to see Kindle focusing on the content (see the video) and ease of use.  Sony seems more interested in its technical specifications and the upgrading of the different products (they have already issued multiple model numbers).  You have to scroll down to the very end of their site to find that they have “thousands of eBook titles available.”  Based on these virtual observations, for now the Kindle (below) gets my vote for best presentation, and I love the free wireless access to wikipedia.  But, there are going to be plenty of other players jumping (the more expensive Fujitsu eReader with its colour screen, the iRex Iliad with superior hackability, the BeBook from Endless Ideas BV…).


On another front [page], another battle is being waged with books, this time with Google and the referencing of book content on the Internet.  Google has finally come out with its Google Books search function.   Having laid dormant for some three years in the lawcourts, since October 2008, Google Books is now live in beta format.  This function allows you to search for terms or names within a large volume of books.  The site is in beta testing.  Punch in your name, your brand or a specific term and you can find out where it is embedded in the database of over 7 million books.

With the settlement of October 28, 2008, the Google Books site states:  “Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search.

Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike. 

It will take some time for this agreement to be approved and finalized by the Court. For now, here’s a peek at the changes we hope you’ll soon see.”

The books are catalogued into two different types and, according to the agreement reached, you can either read some information on the book plus some snippets for Library Project books; or for Partner Program books, you can flip through a few preview pages, as if you were in a library/bookstore.  There is a mobile version of Google Books as well that works on iPhones and Android.  You can read more about the settlement here.

The bottom line is that the book — and its printed paper form — is not dead yet… but it sure is going to evolve.  Apparently, book publishers had a very reasonable year in sales last year (no worldwide data is publicly available it seems as this google answer says), but it strikes me that the tsunami is out there for the book world and, as iTunes and the iPod revolutionised the music world, so will the trio of Amazon, Google and Sony change the book world.  Perhaps book companies would be wise to take heed of the bloodbath in the music world to involve themselves in the changeover rather than fight against it.  Bookstores should be quick to find out how they will need to change their model… perhaps stocking digital readers and preloaded USB keys (for the Sony Reader).  And I will be curious to see how schools and universities move to the new e-platforms.

Curvature of Constitutional Space – Spacious if not Specious

Curvature of Spacetime

Here’s a juicy title for a thesis: “Curvature of Constitutional Space.” Is this thesis for a student of the law? Or Is it for a student of astrophysics? As I happen to be an amateur of astrophysics, the title certainly caught my attention.

The full title of the 39-page article, authored by Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, Laurence Tribe, was “Curvature of Constitutional Space. What lawyers can learn from modern physics.” With credits given to five people including Professor Gerard Holton of Harvard and four Research Assistants, the paper was published in Harvard Law Review 1 Volume #130 (1989). Obama was the editor-in-chief of the HLR and became president for volume #131. Obama was, of course, also one of the four RAs.

The fundamental premise of Tribe’s paper is apparently that the Constitution is impacted by the legal and social context in the same way that space and time is impacted and curved by objects. Having been able to find and read only the article’s first page on the net, it seems that the premise is reversible to the extent that decisions in the court house certainly have an impact on society and law…and that seems rather obvious. For starters, the law is to help bind and protect society. It all seems to be much ado about nothing as far I can understand. Much as I enjoy reading about quantum physics and do my best to keep up with the changes in law (as best a layman can), I do not see much relevancy in this paper. Personally, the idea that the Constitution should be a curving set of principles does not sit very well. Meanwhile, articles have been written attempting to understand better Obama’s sentiment about the Constitution and, based on this 1989 piece, are looking for insights as to how Obama might choose the next Supreme Court justice.
The impact of this 1989 paper, well prior (i.e. as of March 2007) to Obama’s Presidency, is cited in The Sun:

“Nearly 200 law review and periodicals have cited the article since its publication, including ones with titles such as “The Algebra of Pluralism: Subjective Experience as a Constitutional Variable” and another involving Asian American legal scholarship and “narrative space.” Four courts have cited the piece. The U.S. Appeals District court’s second circuit, in One was in a patent dispute over telemarketing equipment, where it was cited in discussing the uncertainty that results regarding how attorneys can influence expert opinions by deciding what to disclose to them about the case. The judge in Perkins v. Londonderry Basketball Club, a court of appeals case in the 1st Circuit, likewise cited the article. That case involved the question of whether the 14th Amendment was violated by barring a girl player from a basketball tournament.”

Here are some of the sources I read: Gary Shapiro of the NY Sun wrote this article (which I quoted above) in March 2007, “Obama’s view of the Constitution…” You can read some surrounding colour on the NY Sun story with PowerLineBlog (Mar 2007) and again the Faculty Lounge (Oct 2008). At the end of last year, a Tulane professor, Frank Tipler, wrote a counter paper, dismissing Tribe’s paper as “crackpot physics.” Also, a Frank Warner blog post (Sep 2008) that comments quite animatedly the debate.

Personally, I am glad that no one has dug up my university thesis (on the relative impact of time, religion and death as they relate to the success of revolutionary protagonists) to gauge how I will better sell a shampoo.

Think Different — What do Feminism, Einstein & Sleep have in common?

Learning to think differently

As a marketer, I am always on the lookout for people who think and act differently. A part of my gestalt, my personality, I associate with people who think differently. Sometimes, that means being the contrarian or the devil’s advocate in a conversation. At other times, it just means looking at issues using different filters. Of course, thinking differently only happens in spurts and in certain arenas. There is plenty of good sense in thinking normally too. However, for the breakthrough ideas, putting on the rose-tinted glasses — or a re-wired thinking cap — is invaluable.

How does one actually come to think differently?

I cannot declare whether one is born to think differently or whether such a disposition is acquired at a given moment or simply over time. Using Apple products alone certainly won’t cut it, although I truly believe it has helped me as I have had to relearn lots of new functionalities (having crossed over from the PC world). However, that is only a recent transition for me. My journey into the world of thinking differently began more precisely when I was at University. And there were exactly three elemental building blocks which helped craft my propensity to think differently — each stemming from one central thought: Discover what you do not know. Being aware of what you don’t know is already a challenge because, you might say, how do I know what I don’t know if I don’t know it exists?

The three areas I became attached to studying were:

1. Women’s Studies.

In minoring in Women’s Studies at Yale University, little did I know I would end up working in a cosmetics company, serving primarily female customers. I fell into the subject of Women’s Studies via literary criticism; but I kept on taking more classes in a more or less direct pursuit to understand better the other 50% of the population. And no, it was not a pick-up ploy–not exactly the right environment in any event. More importantly, by studying Women’s Studies, I became aware of the study of all minorities — and how minorities are frequently obliged to think and act differently to succeed. Via Women’s Studies, I was opened to a whole new world of literature and literary criticism, fascinating insights into the differences between the sexes, the politics of touch (Nancy Henley’s landmark essay) as well as the interplay of females and males in groups (at all ages). I also embraced Jungian philosophy and my anima. I did not know how much, at the time, this minor would take on major importance in my career.

2. Sleep

As a rule, we tend to study all things conscious. Whether it’s history, literature or sciences (each basically through the eyes of men), the focus of our daily lives is what we know and do during our waking day. Thus, when I came across the study of sleep as a subject at university, I was enchanted: an opportunity to learn about the other 1/3 of our day. Certainly, there can be interest in understanding one’s own dreams — though, typically not given much credit in academic circles (nor for university degrees). But the subject of sleep is much more profound, including sleep disorders, sleep patterns… There are plenty of important questions that should concern everyone. For example, how much sleep do we REALLY need? Why do we sleep? On this question, scientists are still arguing (as regards adults). The science of sleep and the work of FSRs (famous sleep researchers) such as the giant apple seed and jazz man, William (“Bill”) C. Dement, is a completely undervalued field. I tip my hat to Professor Mark Rosekind for enlightening me on this fascinating part of our existence. I highly recommend any students out there to seek it out; you can start with Dement’s “The Promise of Sleep.” In the meantime, I can also recommend reading one of my favourite books “L’Art du Temps” or, in English, The Art of Time (by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber) which provides a shortcut view to how I manage my sleep and my philosophy with regard to time management more broadly speaking.

3. Left-handers

I am not left-handed and left-handedness is not exactly a “subject” in the same sense as Sleep or Women’s Studies. Left-handers are not unique — concerning apparently about 7-10% of the population (but they certainly get my attention on the tennis court). Neither is being left-handed a sign of a genius, although there are some wonderful examples, including Albert Einstein, Michelangelo (retrained right), Isaac Newton (the original Apple man), Charlie Chaplin, Benjamin Franklin, Bobby Fisher, John McEnroe to name a few. And, it’s worth noting that Apple chose a whole raft of southpaws — including Pablo Picasso, Jim Henson, Bob Dylan, Jerry Seinfield and Einstein — for their Think Different campaign. Interestingly, we have been fielding more frequently left-handed presidents in the US since Gerald Ford: four of the last six! In the history of the USA, there have been a total of seven lefties in the White House (6 coming in the last century) out of a total of 43 (i.e. 16%). At this time, it should be noted that that both John McCain and Barack Obama are left-handed (read here about Washington Post’s “Left-Handed Conspiracy“). There is a good body of research done on left-handers, indicating that lefties have a propensity to be more into visual arts. Also, according to this 2005 ABC report, there is the suggestion that being left-handed can entail some health hazards, too. (See also “Brains that work a little bit differently” by Bragdon and Gamon). But, what has always attracted my attention is that left-handers need to operate in a right-handed world. When I imagined my wife before even meeting her, I always thought that she would be left-handed. It turns out that she is absolutely right-handed, but created two sterling left-handed children.

So, what does this mean… at least, in the business world?

For one, I believe that having been attuned to these different topics throughout my adult life is part of how I have cultivated what is described as a “Whole New Mind” (in the book by Dan Pink and highly recommended reading), essentially a balanced right/left brain. In turn, this has been useful in coming up with new ideas and strategies. And finally, most importantly, it has led me to be more mindful of diversity. Whether international, unorthodox or just different, having opposing or alternative thinking people in your team is healthy and enriching. It also requires differing management styles to make the most of their talent. What are other areas of study that can procure “think different” mentalities? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

Others blogging on “think different”:
Mahmudahsan – with some English proverbs
Mackinnon on Think Differently – athough this looks sadly like a dead blog.

Podcasts and Videocasts – New reasons to walk to work

Despite the sleek look & feel, I know that the Apple iPhone is still not perfect for my needs, so I have resisted the temptation thus far. Instead, I am content to max out my iPod. Although the agenda and contacts are weak applications in the Apple mobile platforms, I now have all my family videos and photos uploaded. And, thanks to the ongoing developments on iTunes, I have found ample pleasure by mining the available uploadable [mostly free] content, including the album covers, television rebroadcasts and podcasts.

If you have never done it, do go visit the podcast section of iTunes. The number of new podcasts being created is soaring (see graphic below). To those of you creating podcasts, keep at it! The choice ranges from newscasts to business to entertain to education to inspiration. And there are many special interests too. The development of the iTunes U section is absolutely fantastic: mobile learning with support systems to help educational institutions to learn how to do it (see this film for more understanding). I am currently subscribed to some 30 podcasts to which, of course, I cannot listen every day; but the repertoire provides great flexibility.

When do I listen to these podcasts? Walking to and from work, which takes me about 35 minutes to do the 2.8 kilometres. This is the novelty for me: like books on tape, podcasts are great for walking. At any one time, I can choose the podcast according to my mood, need or available time — and, of course, sometimes, I just listen to music. Unlike the commute in the metro which means many disjointed moments walking to the station, getting in the train for an all-too-short ride and then walking on to the office, I have an uninterrupted 35 minutes to myself when I commute by foot.

Walking to/from work with the iPod playing podcasts is a singularly great way to begin and end the day. Here are SIX substantial reasons why I strongly recommend it:

1. It is exercise in the open air (granted there is the pollution of cars, so I should theoretically get a mask to make it a healthier walk).
2. A chance to look up at the Parisian architecture rather than being cooped up all day.
3. It’s more ecological than driving or even taking the train — thereby reducing my CO2 footprint (which isn’t very good considering the flights all year).
4. It’s cheaper (than either the metro or car). We could all save a dime these days.
5. Considering the time spent circling to find a parking space, it is also oftentimes just as fast as driving. Moreover, by leaving my car at the underground parking lot at work, I avoid the unnecessary risk of leaving my car exposed for pigeon doodoo, or potential parking tickets.
6. And, the coup de grace is that I get to listen to the podcast with great attention. This latter point is critical for me (and I would argue for leading business managers) because, with the selection of podcasts now available, you can truly get new content to help drive your business or team.

For business leaders, there is a great selection of podcasts available. I have a few favourites that I would like to share with you (with links directly to iTunes):

o HARVARD Business Ideacast — This is a videocast.
o INSEAD Knowledgecast — Thoughtful videocast interviews with INSEAD professors and business people on a wide variety of subject — although this isn’t updated as regularly. You can get more content here in these INSEAD audiocasts.
o Go Green — Tips to go green and there’s also GreenTV, in partnership with UNEP and GreenPeace
o NPR’s This I believe — 500 words from someone that believes strongly in something
o Mitch Joel‘s Six Pixels of Separation for those wanting good web 2.0-oriented marketing and communications analysis and ideas.
o And finally, Robin Sharma’s inspirational podcasts

Do let me know if you have any other favourites you would like to share. Otherwise, get out your walking shoes and slide in to your next podcast.

Great Teachers in my Life

Great TeachersI remember the great teachers in my life as if it were yesterday that I was sitting in their classroom and reveling in the learning. I have been blessed to have had six standout teachers whom I will honour today in the post below. The real take away for any reader of this post is what are the defining characteristics of a great teacher? And, secondly, it is the questions: what have you done to say thanks to those teachers? For the most part, teaching is a often a thankless and low-paying job and there is little way to understand the long-term benefits and/or realisations (ROI) brought about by a great teacher. My call to action for you? Call him or her; write a letter; make a special visit…now before it is too late. And if you need a special motivation, read Mitch Albom’sTuesday’s with Morrie.” You might find the urge.

So, who were my inspiring teachers?

I will start with John Peake (or JSBP). Nominally, John was my housemaster, history beak (teacher) and sports coach at Eton College. But, he was also the man responsible for cultivating my passion to learn, who showed me how to teach and live with zeal, humour and sensitivity. I shall always remember the day he led our class outside onto a muddy field to re-enact the falling of the British Square [first time in its history] to the Zulus in the Boer War. And, in the annual athletics competition, our house always excelled. This was in large part because John knew how to motivate every single boy to participate. He also had a habit of attracting some of the better talent, if I say so myself. In so doing, I credit John with laying the foundation for always wanting to be the best I could be. JSBP REMEMBERED

Secondly, I think back to how lucky I was to have known Patrick Jordan (aka PJFJ), the headmaster at my [now defunct] prep school, The Old Malthouse (OMH), down in sunny Dorset. After all these years, I have to thank Patrick for my passion for rugby and athletics (including throwing the javelin). He also was passionate about his Triumph cars which he delighted in sharing with us. Patrick went on to become a highly successful headmaster at Packwood Haugh.

Thirdly, I cite the theatrical Michael Kidson (MGMK), my history teacher for many divisions (classes) at Eton. His theatrics–sometimes hystrionics–always kept us at attention, if not on edge. Michael laid into us with vigour, I shall always remember his criticism of my “woolly” English. Flying wood blocks notwithstanding, he was as generous and kind a man as you will ever find.

Fourth, I cite Colonel Ozzie Ostock, my history teacher from the Old Malthouse. With his authentic Colonel’s handlebar moustache, Mr Ostock brought history to life with his anecdotes. He would tell us vivid tales of WWII and was responsible for having at least one war hero (that I can remember) come present to us in the Gym. Managing to corral the zany energy of a roomful of 8-9 year old boys, he started me on my journey of twelve years of studying history–and a lifetime since. He is responsible for my love the film “The Dambusters”, the story of an eccentric scientist’s invention that devastated three German dams in the Ruhr Valley (Ruhr and Eder rivers). Here is a “fan site” out of England: Dambusters.co.uk.

Anil Gaba - Great TeacherThe most valiant award, however, goes to my statistics teacher, Professor Anil Gaba, at INSEAD. If you knew me, you would know that this could not have been my favourite topic. But, through wit, real case examples and a great deal of patience, he systematically, and single-handedly, made statistics stick. Also, Anil created a favourable environment for social interaction. A soulful individual. Anil is now Dean of Faculty at INSEAD (Singapore campus).

Finally, I would like to remember Professor Terry Des Pres, holocaust scholar and my freshman English teacher at Colgate University. While his classes borderlined on Dead Poet’s Society material, wearing every day the same outfit, Terry excelled in the ‘happenings’ in his own home. Reminiscent of a Salon environment, we would stay endless hours debating and sharing stories, especially on one occasion with his great friend John Irving. Here is the NY Times article covering his premature death in 1987, and a nice writeup in the Colgate Scene on-line.

Voilà, my list of top six Great Teachers is complete. There were, however, other great “moments” Great Teacher - Mark Rosekindin teaching that I would also like to remember, including Professor Mark Rosekind, an FSR*, at Yale University, teaching us about sleep (and dreams). And, on this one occasion, on my suggestion, we decided to hold an entire class outside (on a beautiful spring day). Since the class had somewhere over 100 students, that was a trickier enterprise than might be imagined to do spontaneously. I set up my amplifier and microphone outside our dorm room window and all the students sprawled out on the grass in Silliman College square. And it was the surprise of my sleeping roommate that gave me this priceless memory: There Bert was, sleeping in mid-afternoon and, in the midst of his dreams, he heard through his window a mellifluous Californian accent speaking about sleep and dreams. Professor Rosekind was also great at keeping our full attention by hatching spontaneous studies of his students who dozed off in his class. See here for Mark’s site at the National Sleep Foundation. And here, no less, a blog about Dr Rosekind with one of his podasts. (*Famous Sleep Researcher).

I should also thank my English teacher and sports therapist “Uncle” (aka Unkie) at The Hotchkiss School for giving me another memory of a lifetime. As he walked in this one spring day, the whole class spontaneously broke out singing the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” in a capella from beginning to end. And his priceless answer at the end: “why me?”

So, why these teachers? The attributes that blare out like a coach’s megaphone on crisp winter morning are: being passionate, being real, being interactive. As Todd Whitaker says in his book “What Great Teachers Do Differently,” great teachers focus on expectations, while the mundane teachers focus on the rules. And, in every case, they were also great listeners and always available for discussion after hours. As you can see, I did the rounds when it came to schools. But, no matter where, there always was at least one teacher that stood out a cut above. Make sure you remember the one(s) that stood out for you!

For further reading on the topic, if you got inspired, here are a selection of other sites and articles about Great Teachers:

TIME magazine feature on How to Make Great Teachers (i.e. how to overcome the low pay de-motivation)
Great Schools website features the Great Teachers’ qualities
Oprah did a show on Great Teachers featuring Mr Clark’s essential “rules” for Children

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.

Graduation Ceremonies in France

Graduation CeremoniesI saw the other day (Dec 1, 2007) in Le Figaro about an opinion poll saying that 81% of (4,470) French people interviewed via internet were in favor of having an (American style) graduation ceremony to mark the end of a university (equivalent) degree in France.

I think this is marvellous. The celebration of education through the graduation ceremony is a lovely tradition which I discovered at the end of my (only) year at The Hotchkiss School (Lakeville, Ct). Compared to my almost stealthy departure from Eton in England at the end of five years, I very much enjoyed the festive–emotional–ceremony at the end of my year at Hotchkiss. Of course, there is still a long way to go before the concept of alumni relations travels across the Atlantic.

The state of education is a concern in many countries. I see it as a “top of mind” concern in both France and the United States, in any event. Both systems have positives, but both suffer from a degradation in the standards, as well as a challenge to valorize (give value to) the role of the teachers.

In any event, we should acknowledge the importance of education, celebrate the achievements and also not forget to recognize the teachers that have had an impact on our lives (beyond academics, on the transmission of values).

Information Revolution or Evolution – Michael Wesch Kansas State University

Information R/evolution - New CategoriesInformation R/evolution.

The Age of Information is in revolution or just evolution? That is the question behind this entrancing, 5’28 film by Michael Wesch (Assistant Professor at Kansas State University), posted on YouTube on October 13th. This is bound to be a film that will circulate well. It presents the explosion of words, links, tags and information and suggests that the principle of categories is outdated. The film starts out a little tentatively, though, saying meekly that “information is a thing“…. without differentiating between data, information and knowledge. Certainly, the concept of information is evolving and our ability to classify and relocate information is having to evolve. Information R/evolution.

Wesch pours out a number of current facts including the existence of 500 billion links and 5 trillion words on the web today. Two statements that caught my attention: “ontology is overrated“. Try digging that! Among the interesting pieces out there on the subject, at the centre is Clay Shirky’s piece. And the other striking phrase in Wesch’s video is “Everything is miscellaneous” (not good for the left brainers out there), reference to the David Weinberger book.

Turned onto this by Luis Suarez’s blog, Wesch produced another video on YouTube earlier in the year with a similar style and theme, this time with a focus more on the separation of content and form via the XML language; a database-backed web. Worth the visit too: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.

Others blogging on Wesch:
From NZ, ICT U Can
Sharepoint Holmes from Belgium
Mitch Joel from Montreal Canada (thanks to his Twittering I am HERE!)

Lost work hours from Facebook alone?

The BBC reports yesterday from the ongoing BA (British Association) Festival of Science at York University conference that Facebook is estimated to cause 130 million pounds PER DAY in lost productivity. Naturally, after one considers the lost productivity of phone calls and emails, it is only likely that one would analyze the lost productivity of the internet and, more specifically, the individual applications. My opinion is that Facebook is in the eye of the storm and the storm will blow over; but, if companies start to filter individual applications, other applications will surface in any event. As with the telephone and email, freedom of choice will be put to the test and reflect on each corporation’s culture. Personally, I see lots of great applications for companies to use social media sites for new communication methods. And if access is limited/refused, then companies will not be able to understand or utilize these interesting new opportunities.