Thinkers you should know – David Reed

(cross posted at Future Tense)

One of the most profoundly important (and disturbing) things about the Internet is that fundamentally no one is in charge. One of the individuals responsible for that design is David Reed, a computer scientist from MIT.

As far back as Jethro and Moses in Exodus, we’ve applied hierarchy to bring complexity under control. Many have characterized Jethro as the world’s first management consultant. One of the reasons that hierarchy works so well in organizational settings is that is addresses the problem of information overload on managers, where middle managers serve to consolidate and route information through the hierarchy.

However, computers are not people and hierarchy is not the only, or necessarily the best, solution to information management problems. Reed, along with J.H.Salzer and D.D. Clark, wrote a seminal paper in the early days of the design of ARPANET and TCP/IP called “End-to-End Arguments in System Design” that laid out the reasons that hierarchical solutions were a bad idea in designing a network of the scale and complexity envisioned for the ARPANET. Those design insights were baked into the basic architecture of TCP/IP and are one of the core reasons that the Internet has grown as widely and rapidly as it has. If you hope to understand how the net and network thinking in general will continue to impact the future of work, this had better be one of your starting points. “End-to-End Arguments” is a pretty technical paper, although it is manageable; you might find The end of End-to-End?,” also by Reed, a better starting point.

More recently, David has been exploring other notions about how markets and technology interact in ways that don’t necessarily mesh with our default assumptions. In particular he’s done interesting work on why eBay and other internet companies have thrived but handing significant power over to their customers with the notion of Group Forming Networks.

Currently, David is back at MIT at the Media Lab leading a research program on Communications Futures. A good starting
point for this work is the program on Viral Communications (pdf) David is doing with Andy Lippman of the Media Lab.

Like other thinkers, the value of looking at what David is up to is twofold. First, the ideas themselves are powerful. Second, watching how someone smart tackles problems can give you insights into how you might tackle other problems

NY Times on technology skills and careers

(cross posted at Future Tense).

Interesting article in this morning's NY Times on computer science education
and efforts to develop a richer and deeper perspective on how technology skill
connects to other skills and needs inside organizations. It strikes me as another case example of a broader trend to find a new balance between specialization and general skills in organizations:

Edward D. Lazowska, a professor at the University of Washington, points to
students like Mr. Michelson as computer science success stories. The real value of the discipline, Mr. Lazowska said, is less in acquiring a skill with technology tools – the usual definition of computer literacy – than in teaching students to manage complexity; to navigate and assess information; to master modeling and abstraction; and to think analytically in terms of algorithms, or step-by-step procedures. [A
Techie, Absolutely, and More, NY Times

Four Keys to More Effective On-the-Job Learning

I have a new column up at ESJ that takes a look at how you might be more systematic about on-the-job learning. Here’s a small sample:

What we do know about learning is that we generally learn best by
doing. Practice, rehearsal, and performance is where real lessons are
learned. We learn near the edges of what we already know. Moreover, we
learn more from failure than from success. Furthermore, access to
someone with more knowledge helps, especially in keeping us safe from
dangerous experiments and errors.

Given these characteristics of learning and the nature of our
knowledge-work jobs, what can we do to craft a learning strategy that
integrates the two and lets us perform effectively today and in the
future? Mindfulness, time for active reflection, mapping your
ignorance, and enlisting the social environment constitute the core
elements.[ESJ-Four Keys to More Effective On-the-Job Learning]

Sharing Knowledge

This is indeed a succinct and useful introduction to knowledge management in the context of knowledge intensive organizations.

Sharing Knowledge.

Sharing Knowledge
(.pdf) has been receiving quite a bit of attention in various knowledge
management blogs. It’s essentially a case study of how to create a
knowledge sharing environment in smaller organizations. Most of the
suggestions are basic and should be familiar to those who have been
following KM developments. The document does provide a nice overview of
wikis, communities of practice, and general (physical) workspace design.


Dowload of The Day: BartPE

BartPE is a free utility that lets you build a live CD-based copy of Windows XP that can be used for data recovery.

Bart's PE Builder helps you
build a “BartPE” (Bart Preinstalled Environment) bootable Windows
CD-Rom or DVD from the original Windows XP or Windows Server 2003
installation/setup CD, very suitable for PC maintenance tasks.

will give you a complete Win32 environment with network support, a
graphical user interface (800×600) and FAT/NTFS/CDFS filesystem
support. Very handy for burn-in testing systems with no OS, rescuing
files to a network share, virus scan and so on.

Update: A reader writes in about a useful extension:

Even better than BartPE is “UBCD for Windows”.
It uses Bart's PE Builder to create not just a bootable Windows CD, but
a bootable Windows CD with many useful tools included — antivuris,
browsers, PDF Reader, CD burner, drive backup/cloning tools,
diagnostics, recovery tools, etc. See the full list here.

[posted by D. Keith Robinson]