Protecting important files with TrueCrypt

In Information wants to be free, but you still have to protect it, I talked about Bruce Schneier‘s recommendation to encrypt an entire disk instead of just your key files.  But sometimes you want to protect your key files as well, either on your system drive, an external hard drive, or a USB thumb drive. 

TrueCrypt is one option for this and, as Lifehacker tells us today, it now supports Mac OS in addition to Windows and Linux.  For more on how to install and use TrueCrypt on Windows, check out this Lifehacker article.

A cow’s eye view of airport security

If you travel frequently by air, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Originally posted 15 May 2003.

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Moo, moo…..

That’s how I felt earlier this week going through security at Newark airport. I was recently re-reading parts of Thinking In Pictures : and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin for some posts on my autism blog, 29 marbles, in which she talks about her job designing cattle chutes for slaughterhouses (she’s world renowned for this, despite [because of?] being autistic. Ever on the lookout for connections between apparently unrelated things, my brain presented me with the following thought: “I wonder if Temple Grandin could come up with a better design for airport security queues?”

Maybe not, but this got me thinking about cross-functional lessons learned. Too often, in my experience at least, lessons learned and best practices are explored only from the perspective of a specific functional area. There is a lot to be learned from looking at stories from similar, but completely different, functions.

Using the case of the airport security queue as an example:

  • Many people going through an airport security checkpoint have never done so before (like most [all!] cows at the slaughterhouse)
  • For all practical purposes, the way through the process is to simply follow the person in front of you
  • Occasionally, you will get redirected by a security person to a different line, told to stop, etc with little or no explanation (as if you don’t deserve it or won’t understand it anyway)
  • etc.

The situation of people in a strange (as in unknown) queue system that has no obvious explanation in some ways is not really much different from that of a cow going through cattle chutes. What lessons can we take from Temple Grandin’s success in designing cattle chutes that result in smoother operation and apply to the security line problem?

My real point here is that sometimes you can take insights learned from one thing and apply them to something completely different with great success.

Note: Temple Grandin’s personal choice of a title for Thinking in Pictures was Cow’s Eye View, a reference to how she comes up with her designs. Maybe that’s the simple lesson to be learned here: look at the problem from the point of view of the one going through the process.

Another definition of “knowledge worker”

I’ve been going through my archives and found this from 02 February 2005.   A nice follow on to my most recent post on the nature of knowledge work.

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At a break between meetings at a recent big get together, the following defintion of a knowledge worker occurred to me:

A knowledge worker is someone that makes it up as they go along.

Though that expression is usually used in a pejorative way, that is not how I mean it. Over the last couple of days I’ve taken some time to think about the process of these meetings in addition to the content. I realized that although there was a well established process for what we were trying to do, the benefit we were gaining – the knowledge we were creating – came from the way we changed the process on the fly to meet our needs and meet our current goals. We literally made it up as we went along.

Of course, the “new” process will be captured as part of an after action review and lessons learned recorded for the next time this type of event occurs. But I have no doubt that for that next session to succeed as this one has that group will need to take things into their own hands and make it up for themselves as they go along.

A conversation on the nature of knowledge work

Anyone working in the realm of knowledge management has no doubt considered the nature of knowledge work on at least one occasion. I know I have. A few weeks ago there was an interesting exchange of ideas among Shawn Callahan, Matt Hodgson, Stephen Collins, and Dave Snowden (and many others, I’m sure) on the nature of knowledge work. Some key excerpts:

The term ‘knowledge worker’ is now a meaningless concept in developed countries because the shift Drucker started to notice in the ’50s from jobs requiring manual work to jobs requiring knowledge work is now complete. Today all work is knowledge work because even the most manual of activities such as farmer digging post holes for a fence requires pre-planning using their spatial information system, the use of GPS to position the hole and entry of data when it’s done.

The ubiquity of technology is one major factor that makes everyone a knowledge worker. Have you ever seen anyone in recent years define what they mean by knowledge workers and knowledge work? They tie themselves in knots and confuse their readers. The people who write about knowledge workers see themselves as a knowledge worker and wish so very hard that the term is true and useful. But alas it’s not and the sooner we realise this the better so we can get back to asking more useful questions like, “How does knowledge help us to work better?”

Ultimately, the term ‘knowledge work’ and the debate that surrounds it is important because it highlights that there are people who need to consume, create and share knowledge as an integral part of their work, and need the support of policy, process and technology. This was basis of Drucker’s premise of the knowledge economy — the differentiation of the support required for the mechanised work that produces widgets from work that requires support to share and create knowledge.

Sadly, Shawn misses this point about knowledge workers. The term isn’t irrelevant because the term is still important for communication. It carries with it specific meaning to those amongst us who call themselves knowledge managers and practitioners. The term is vital for education of those outside the profession who still don’t understand (or even missunderstand) the importance of what knowledge work actually means in practice. And, despite Shawn’s suggestion of the ubiquity of technology making the term redundant, there are still organisations that are not yet knowledge-intensive [3] but probably will become, so who need to hear how understanding knowledge work can help them.

Shawn Callahan of Anecdote argues that the need for the term knowledge worker is redundant now that technology is ubiquitous in the developed world and that almost every worker trades in knowledge of some sort. He sees its use as a way to discriminate between identified knowledge workers and those whose roles are not traditionally viewed this way.

I see where Shawn is going with his argument, particularly in developed nations. But I agree with Matthew Hodgson, who puts forth an alternative position that Shawn’s views are misplaced. Matthew argues that Shawn misses an opportunity to communicate an understanding of knowledge work outward from the insider community to the larger workforce and organisational management who don’t necessarily label themselves as knowledge workers – “Oh, no! I work in marketing/HR/finance/logistics/whatever.”

Shawn has created some controversy through his recent claim that The term ‘knowledge worker’ is now a meaningless concept, Matthew has countered, with the support of Stephen Collins, to the effect that Shawn has missed the point, failing to recognise that the term still has value in communication. I want to assert that both protagonists are wrong, mainly because of the way they frame the problem. This is of course an minor controversy between friends. If you want a contrast look at the handbags at dawn controversy between two philosophers, Colin McGinn and Honderich reported here which is a spectators delight.

Now McGinn and Honderich are academics, not Consultants like Shawn and Matthew which may account for the more polite and respectful tone of Matthew’s posting. The latter pair may of course work together at some point in the future, whereas work for a philosopher is argument, and a good controversy will almost certainly result in higher book sales. The philosophical debate between Radical Externalism and the Mysterianism is of interest, but the debate is esoteric. Both Shawn and Matthew are talking about an issue of some immediate significance within the knowledge management community, may be as esoteric in its way as Mysterianism but let us pretend not, at least for the present.

Following the discussion through the various threads and links I found a trackback (on Jack Vinson‘s post Knowledge worker thread) to a post of mine from September 2004 (!!!) called My dad is a knowledge worker!, reprinted below for your reading enjoyment.

While I was reading Martin Roell’s Terminology: “Knowledge Worker”, a TV commercial I saw a while back came to mind: elementary school students were telling the class what their dads did for a living, and after a couple of well defined jobs (policemen, construction, etc.) were announced one boy proudly stood up and stated, “My dad’s a pencil pusher!” I don’t remember what the commercial was for, but the imagery stuck with me I think for the same reason Geoffrey Rockwell, as described by Martin, doesn’t like the term “knowledge worker”: the job title gives you no real idea of what the job is.

When my kids were finally old enough to ask me what I do, I told them simply, “I figure out how to solve problems.” That seemed to satisfy them, at least for now. Trying to explain to friends what I do everyday is a bit more difficult. When asked, I usually give my official job title, Systems Engineer. Of course, that instantly begs the question, “OK, but what do you do?”

I work with technology.
I prepare papers and briefings.
I conduct studies.
I work with other people to figure out what needs to be done.
Then we figure out how to do it.

But, like the tasks that go along with the equally generic pencil pusher and knowledge worker, that doesn’t really tell the story. Not sure there is an easy answer to what terminology is best suited here. After all, there is still not really any consensus on the definition of knowledge itself, the very basis of the discussion.

From a practical standpoint, of course, definitions don’t really matter. Or, in Martin’s words:

Most organisations don’t care about the differences between different “knowledge workers” or “knowledge work” and “information work”: They want to solve business problems. They want to improve the bottom line.