The blogs of Leonardo da Vinci

da Vinci:  Studies of Embryos

Continuing on a bit of a theme this week, imagine if, instead of his famed notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci had used a blog to record his observations, inventions, sketches, science, mathematics…. Well, you get the idea.

Instead of nearly 6,000 pages of notes, many on what is essentially loose-leaf paper, in no particular order and with no way to correlate them, we might have 6,000 (or more, if you count the estimated 10,000 pages that haven’t survived to the present day) tagged, cross-linked, commented blog posts.

Not only would this have likely helped da Vinci himself organize his notes (a task he unfortunately did not complete before his death), it would have made his knowledge, his discoveries, and his observations available to the world at large.

I did a quick search on the Notebooks of Leonardo (a more exhaustive search will have to wait until I’m not exhausted), and came up with two interesting sites:

  • Interconnected.org: From this site you can browse the notebooks page by page, go to a random page, or get the notebooks via a daily RSS feed. At over 1500 pages, you will get a new page every day for over 4 years. Text from Project Gutenberg.
  • AskSam ebooks & databases: A searchable version of the notebooks. I haven’t done a detailed comparison, but the text appears to be the same as the version at Interconnected.

You can also download both versions for your reading pleasure when not connected.

Sadly, neither of these versions of the notebooks include the numerous (and incredible) sketches from the notebooks, such as the study of embryos shown above. Just as sadly, neither of these online versions of the notebooks are hyperlinked, so any connections between the 1500+ pages are left to the reader to sort out.

Who owns your data? Who should own it?

Two interesting posts on the question of data ownership, coming from two very different perspectives.

Harold Jarche comes at the question from a “physical” standpoint, as he contemplates the closure of Eduspaces, in his post Own Your Data:

The impending closure of the Eduspaces service has many people wondering what to do and several options are cropping up in the online discussions.

Anyone who asks me about blogging or setting up a community on the Web using wikis or some other application is given pretty well the same advice. If the site is important and the data are of some significance for the long term, then:

  1. Use an open source platform from a stable and functioning community.
  2. Own your own domain, and have a Service Level Agreement for your hosting.

Using open source gives you freedom from vendors and ensures that you are not handcuffed to your technology provider. Having your own domain name and paying for a service provider (or hosting on your own server) ensure that you have control over your data.

This is one of the reasons I moved this blog off of Blogger and onto my own domain . I’m eventually planning to import that old version onto the new, but I’ve not been able to get the function to work properly. (An excellent example of what Harold is talking about.)

On the other hand, Ton Zijlstra is thinking more about how to control how the data is used. In To (Web2.0) Developers: I Want Control of My Data, I Want to Write My Own Rules, he gives developers his two key reasons:

I sure am with Doc Searls and Dave Winer on this one. I want control of my own data. And I want to write my own rules on how others may and may not use my data.

First because if you tell me I have no friends simply because my data is not on your platform, you’re not getting it. I am the landscape, you are the map. And the map does not get to say what reality is, just what it thinks it looks like.

Second because I want my tools to become smarter, a lot smarter. And it is only me that can provide the context and data that allows tools to be smarter. I need to be in control of my data for you to let your tools be smarter. I need to be the owner of e.g. my favourites/wishlists and preferences for you to really give me good recommendations.

Something to think about.

I wonder why…

…you can’t drag and drop text into the “Location” field in a Microsoft Outlook appointment form? I know this is a small (some would say tiny) nit, but this is something that has bugged me for a while. I get most of my meeting invitations in e-mail, and most (these days) are a teleconference / web conference. To save a bit of time, I would like to be able to simply drag-and-drop the conference info. Seems reasonable, right? That’s what I thought.

I recently upgraded to Vista (there’s a story in itself) and to Office 2007. I hoped (against hope, it seems) that I would finally be able to drag and drop text into the location field in Outlook appointments. As you’ve undoubtedly figured out by now, I was denied this simple pleasure. The thing is, this little thing wouldn’t bother me except for one thing: you can cut-and-paste into the field. (And, yes, I do have drag-and-drop editing turned on.)

So why can’t I drag-and-drop?

What if Benjamin Franklin had a blog?

Portrait of Benjamin FranklinLast summer I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Blaine McCormick, author of Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur, what he thought Franklin would think of the internet, social networking software, and blogs. McCormick’s response was along the lines of, “Franklin probably wouldn’t pay much attention to them, blogs are not up to the right standard.”

I have to admit, I don’t really agree with McCormick’s assessment. I think that his response to my question comes partially from an ignorance on his part of what blogs and the other tools are and what they are capable of, and partially from confusing the sometimes dismal quality of blogs, etc and the potential of the tools themselves. (Remember, having good tools do not the master make.)

In the hands of Benjamin Franklin, a master of getting his message out in the media of the day, I can only imagine how the media tools of today could be used. (I’m sure it would be much more than a simple collection of links.)

The web log is 10; tips for new bloggers from original blogger Jorn Barger

According to this story on Wired.com, Jorn Barger coined the term “web log” 10 years ago today to “describe the daily list of links that “logged” his travels across the web.” Barger provides some tips, dating back to what he calls the “Golden Age of Web Logs” (1998-1999), for new bloggers:

  1. A true weblog is a log of all the URLs you want to save or share. (So del.icio.us is actually better for blogging than blogger.com.)
  2. You can certainly include links to your original thoughts, posted elsewhere … but if you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility.
  3. If you spend a little time searching before you post, you can probably find your idea well articulated elsewhere already.
  4. Being truly yourself is always hipper than suppressing a link just because it’s not trendy enough. Your readers need to get to know you.
  5. You can always improve on the author’s own page title, when describing a link. (At least make sure your description is full enough that readers will recognize any pages they’ve already visited, without having to visit them again.)
  6. Always include some adjective describing your own reaction to the linked page (great, useful, imaginative, clever, etc.)
  7. Credit the source that led you to it, so your readers have the option of “moving upstream.”
  8. Warn about “gotchas” — weird formatting, multipage stories, extra-long files, etc. Don’t camouflage the main link among unneeded (or poorly labeled) auxiliary links.
  9. Pick some favorite authors or celebrities and create a Google News feed that tracks new mentions of them, so other fans can follow them via your weblog.
  10. Re-post your favorite links from time to time, for people who missed them the first time.

This is an interesting list, especially for new bloggers. Very few blogs today are simply lists of links to other sites; in fact, most blogs are explicitly setup for the authors to share their original thoughts, sometimes inspired by the writing of others but just as often based on events of daily life, their PhD research, etc. Sites like del.icio.us (mentioned in Barger’s list) provide the function that he seems to want to have blogs perform, and they are popular for just that reason.

That’s not to say that the list is not without merit. Tips 4-9 are good tips for all bloggers, new and old, independent of what they blog or how they blog it.

While the ways people use ‘blogs today may not really fit with what the word literally means, it’s not the first time a concept or a word has evolved beyond its literal meaning, or the use of a tool has evolved beyond its original use.

It certainly won’t be the last.

What is knowledge management? (Revisiting the question again)

In one of my very first blog posts (my second, actually), I asked the question, “What is knowledge management, anyway?” Like many others, I’ve never really found a truly satisfactory answer, though there are very many answers to chose from. In the post KM 0.0…, Dave Pollard presents this definition:

KM is simply the art enabling trusted, context-rich conversations among the appropriate members of communities about things these communities are passionate about.

Dave’s use of the term “simply” underscores, to me anyway, how basic his definition really is. What I really like about it is that it is all about the people and the importance of the connections between those people. In fact, the post is all about “what some have called KM 2.0, but which I prefer to call KM 0.0, because it’s getting back to the roots of why and how people share what they know.”

In that post long ago where I asked the KM question, I said the following:

Knowledge Management is not something that makes each individual’s job performance better, it is something that make the organization perform better. It is entirely possible that in order for an organization to do its best some of the individuals within that organization will do less than their best.

As you may have guessed from some of my recent writings, I don’t really believe that any more.

Information wants to be free, but you still need to protect it

If you are like me a lot of the information you use to do your job resides on your computer, most likely on a laptop. Lose your laptop (and by extension the raw materials of your craft) and doing your job becomes difficult, if not impossible, until you are able to gather it back up. Obviously, a good backup strategy is critical.

But the loss of the information not only hinders your ability to do your work, it potentially puts your information, your competitive advantage, in the hands of the “wrong” people. In How to Secure your Computer, Disk, and Portable Drives, security expert Bruce Schneier gives some advice on how to prevent this from happening:

Computer security is hard. Software, computer and network security are all ongoing battles between attacker and defender. And in many cases the attacker has an inherent advantage: He only has to find one network flaw, while the defender has to find and fix every flaw.

Cryptography is an exception. As long as you don’t write your own algorithm, secure encryption is easy. And the defender has an inherent mathematical advantage: Longer keys increase the amount of work the defender has to do linearly, while geometrically increasing the amount of work the attacker has to do.

Unfortunately, cryptography can’t solve most computer-security problems. The one problem cryptography can solve is the security of data when it’s not in use. Encrypting files, archives — even entire disks — is easy.

This is how I protect my laptop.

Schneier goes on to discuss just that, along with some useful information about why he does certain things, such as:

The reason you encrypt your entire disk, and not just key files, is so you don’t have to worry about swap files, temp files, hibernation files, erased files, browser cookies or whatever. You don’t need to enforce a complex policy about which files are important enough to be encrypted. And you have an easy answer to your boss or to the press if the computer is stolen: no problem; the laptop is encrypted.

If you’re serious about securing your laptop, and protecting your information, give this post (and the links from it) a long, hard read. If you’re serious about security in general, you should think about adding Schneier on Security to your feed list.