Edward Snowden | Letter from Hong Kong

Dear Edward,

A few days before you revealed the NSA’s hacking of telecommunications and Internet traffic around the world I was giving a presentation here in Hong Kong at the Open Data Hong Kong’s 3rd meetup on, ‘What is Open Data’. I started with a quote from Rufus Pollack, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation saying in 2012, “Today we find ourselves in the midst of an open data revolution”. That revolution has ended up on Hong Kong’s doorstep with you fleeing here and stories now across the pages of most of the territory’s newspapers for the past several days.

The U.S. government is making decisions behind closed doors to manufacture for itself what is being done is legal but at the same time choosing to hide this manufactured legal truth from its own citizens. Personally, I am not that worried about my privacy. By choosing to use free internet based services such as Google Gmail, Google+, Facebook, WordPress and many others I grant the right for these services to know what I’m doing online in return for the free services they provide. I’ve long suspected that Internet service companies and various governments are monitoring most anything I’m doing online. However, if the US government monitors all electronic and telecommunication networks I do want to know that it is being done and with sufficient detail to understand the breadth and scope of the monitoring. I do not want to be lied to on an almost daily basis starting with President Obama and going down his chain of command.

The people who approve and are nominally in charge of these monitoring programmes likely do not have the technical expertise to understand how these programmes work. These programmes are not automatic, not done by anonymous machines and most simply are not magic. I suspect that in any 24-hour period these monitoring programmes only work at best around 75% to 85% effectiveness and it may be much less some of the time. You have been one of the thousands of people writing code, monitoring routines, and making hourly, daily, weekly and longer adjustments to a wildly complex group of systems that at any moment may stop working. You and others who do make these monitoring programmes work do not share the same philosophy as the people in charge and no amount of signing confidentiality agreements is going to make your change you philosophy. I want to thank-you for standing up and doing what is right at great personal risk. We are all better off that people like yourself, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and many others choose to stand-up and tell the truth.

I hope you got to see some of the Dragon Boat Festival, 龍船節, racing yesterday. Qu Yuan’s, 屈原, story is both sad and uplifting. The people so loved him they wanted to keep him safe. Hong Kong is a wonderful city and I know if will fight for openness and transparency and I hope it will keep you safe.

Many thanks,

Bill

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Data.One Analysis Summary & Report

As part of the Open Data HK Make.01 Hackathon I worked with a team on reviewing the HK Government’s Data.One site. We produced this report. The team’s effort was quite remarkable and I’ve described the hackathon in an earlier post on this blog. The report is made up of files posted on Google Drive and some public links. This very simple infograph may help you navigate around the main parts of the report. I recommend starting in the middle with Data.One Analysis Summary & Report.

Data.One Analysis Project – Report & Summary Graph
Data.One Analysis Summary & Report
UX/UI & Instruction/Education Parts 1 & 4
World Bank Assessment Tool Part 2 Content Relevance
PSI Datasets Parts 2 & 3 Content Relevance & Format of Files
Global PSI Data Catalogues
Data.One website

This report has also been made available to the HK Government’s OGCIO PSI (Office of the Chief Information Officer – Public Sector Information) team which maintains the Data.One website and Charles Mok, IT Sector, Legislative Councillor. This report is a jumping off point for further discussion on how to improve open data awareness and use in Hong Kong.

Summary
A report on the HK Government Data.One site was prepared as part of the hackathon organized by Open Data HK on 14, 18-19 May, 2013. The report targets user experience and interface, content relevance and usefulness for citizens, usability and format of the datasets made available and the instructions and education available for the general public and potential developers. The report gives examples from 19 public sector information open data websites around the word. The report makes recommendations on how to improve the Data.One site specifically as well as awareness and knowledge of open data in Hong Kong. An assessment tool from The World Bank was used to judge the completeness of the datasets being made available in Hong Kong. The formats of the datasets were evaluated and suggestions made on how to make them more useful for potential use by developers.

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Open Data Hong Kong ~ Make.01 ~ Hackathon

I was a bit aprehensive about getting involved with anything called hackathon. For me and for a lot of others I suspect the word has connotations of electronically sneaking into an organizations computer system and stealing data. However, ‘hack‘ means something just done well as a verb and done playfully as a noun, at least according to that great resource of modern English usage the Urban Dictionary. So I went along on this past Saturday wondering if any of the people from the Catalyst night would be there and what were we going to get up to for the day. Would we do something well and playful?

I ran into someone at the Cheung Sha Wan MTR station and after loading up on tuna buns, soy milk and coffee heading out for The Good Lab. Arriving around 1pm and there were a few people in a large, bright and varied work space with kitchen, work-tables, work-benches, chairs of various shapes and sizes. It quickly filled up with about 40 people. I was involved in two projects. I found my fellow team-member, we got into the wifi and had a few conversations with people wandering around looking for possible projects. We then set to work. I was working on reviewing open data public sector information websites around the world, Data.One Analysis Project. My team-member was working on a form for crowd-sourcing potential datasets around the HK government websites, Opening Data. Most of the time people were heads-down working with some small group meetings. It was possible to eves-drop on some conversations. This was a good way of knowing what skills people had and maybe asking them a question. Around 6:30pm the group reported on progress and asked for help if required. Pizza was delivered and we ate and chatted. We kept working until 11pm.
Bill and Haggen So May 2013 Hackathon photo credit: Yolanda Jinxin Ma
Up around 8am on Sunday and made my way back to Cheung Sha Wan by 10am. Most of the same people were there plus some more. Yesterday’s team-member was joined by 2 others. We figured out what we needed to do and worked until lunchtime. There was a feeling of anxiety in the crowd. Downstairs for a good Chinese lunch and we talked about what was wrong with Hong Kong with a recent arriver from Spain. Back to work until a bit after 6pm and we started giving presentations on the results. There were some truly amazing results and knowledge sharing on how it was done. People were very interested in anything dealing with maps and how to use the not so friendly mapping CSV files available from the Data.One site. The list of projects is here. Hopefully, they will be updated in the coming weeks. Here are three that I believe deserve a special mention (but they were all really good):

Legco Meeting Log Parser ~ extract the Hong Kong Legislative Council meeting transcript and voting record from PDF and make it available. It begs the question why this isn’t made available in document format with audio and video transcripts.

Reporting Tool for Request for Access to Information ~ a centralized form with sharable tracking of requests for information to the appropriate HK government bureau or department. Hopefully this will motivate our government to have true Freedom of Information legislation in the coming years.

Hong Kong food security and mainland’s two standard on food quality ~ a way of putting on a map where food is coming from out of China into Hong Kong. Food security and safety is a huge issue in China and Hong Kong. The HK government should be sharing as much information as possible with where our food comes from and what are the past problems.

A member of the OGCIO PSI team and Charles Mok, IT Sector Legislative Councillor came over around 6pm. We had some Raspberry Pi prizes donated by Pindar Wong. The prize was chosen by popular acclamation choosing Legco Meeting Log Parser and Charles Mok gave out the prize. An interesting RTHK video of an interview with Pindar and Charles is here.

Did we do something well and was it playful? The work-products from our projects were excellent. The energy level was high. People were working really well and collaboratively and the atmosphere was a lot more playful then I’ve experienced in the dreaded corporate cubicle world a la Dilbert. So now I know what a hackathon is about.

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Open Data Hong Kong ~ Catalyst Night ~

Open Data Hong Kong is a group that was formed out of some talks at the Hong Kong Barcamp held at HK Polytechnic University this past February. A community of over a 100 people has formed quickly based first on a Google+ group and a couple of meetups with presentations and chatter on the 2nd floor of Delaney’s in Wan Chai and other gatherings around town. A Facebook page and the OpenDataHK website were setup recently. Establishing a dialogue between the users of open data in Hong Kong and the HK government is one of the goals for the group.

It’s impressive that there is so much interest in Open Data. What is it? The best resource I’ve found is the Open Data Handbook. You can listen to me go on about it here on a local public radio show recently here. The Open Data Hong Kong website has useful information on events and links to other sources on open data in and around Hong Kong that will keep growing. The Hong Kong government has had an open data initiative since 2011 called Data.One. The Hong Kong University Journalism & Media Study Centre ~ Data Journalism Lab ~ is a hotbed of activity on the data journalism side of open data in Hong Kong.

The Catalyst Night on 14 May is the kickoff for HKOpenDataMake.01, a hackathon event that will bring together developers, programmers, designers, thinkers and just the plain hangers-on to do and think about open data in Hong Kong. More than 50 people have signed up. The HK Government Office of the Chief Information Officer, Public Sector Information team will be attending the catalyst and talking about their plans for the Date.One initiative. At the Catalyst night the goal is to figure what to do over the next weekend. Teams will form and project goals will be set. Potential projects can be seen here. The teams will work, think and play around with datasets, tools and ideas and come up with results by Sunday afternoon. Presentations will be made on Sunday afternoon and Raspberry Pi prizes for the best results will be given out by Charles Mok, IT sector Legislative Council member.

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Digital Storytelling + Knowledge Conference + JAL kimono-class

Telling a story is at the centre of my life. I start more than half of my conversations with ‘let me tell you this good story’. I’m always thinking,
“How does this story relate to my story?” I feel like I’m filling up my personal story bank. In the past few days I attended a workshop
‘Digital Storytelling on the Web’, a conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivery Value’ and a lecture, ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’.

The workshop was a pre-conference event. Alan Levine is a web educationalist; which sounds clumsy but it gives a sense of his work and interests. Alan took a small group through many websites and a few tools that could help us facilitate a digital story. All of them can be found on 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. A story is the most effective communication device humans have developed. ‘When you go outside this circle of fire something is likely to eat you’, remains one of the best reasons to remain close to the tribe. A digital story is not fundamentally different from a traditional spoken or visual story. Getting the audience’s attention and holding it is still the key challenge for the storyteller. The classic Freytag story arc still applies. However, a digital story may be more mixed up, more spontaneous or more complex with connecting images, sound, text and the possibility of the audience to dynamically manipulate the story.

These tools from the workshop will be useful:
• The closed wi-fi internet-like environment using ‘The StoryBox’ could be used to share text, images, audio and video without having to have it all up on the web.
Pechaflickr and Five Card Flickr could help to get people talking, and exploring how a story unfolds. They are good for storytelling practice in a second language.

The Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society’s conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivering Value’, brought together about 40 people to listen and share some stories on the slippery topic of ‘knowledge value’. Knowledge without value seems like a contradiction. One of the more valuable lessons coming out of knowledge management and into organizational practice is the importance of storytelling as a communication tool. Many knowledge managers like to emphasize that conversation is the key enabler for knowledge transfer. With that thought, we had lunch first and sat at around tables talking. This was much more useful than sitting through a morning of presentations full of coffee and sugary buns wondering what was for lunch.

Four presenters, all highly experienced in the practical application of knowledge management talked about how or what to do to reveal the value in knowledge:
• The emic/etic distinction of what people think vs. what they say must always be forefront when collecting information from the customer.
• Innovation comes out of conflict so finding that point of conflict leads to innovation.
• Perfection is not that important. Good-enough works most of the time.
• Combining machines with humans is likely going to be more effective than only one or the other approach.
• Tagging started with Assyrian clay tablets 3,000 years ago and not much has changed.
• Access, security, governance, mitigation and standardization make it highly problematic to replicate Facebook-like social media inside an organization.
• Worry about knowledge creation before worrying about knowledge management. This will solve a whole host of potential issues.
• Nothing will ever replace experience.
• Managing for the few big, important or calamitous events will always be prohibitively difficult and will likely fail.
• People are pattern recognizers not information processors.
• People blend the patterns they recognize to make a conceptual whole that has immediately useful meaning.
• 5 is the number of words we will remember, 15 is the number of people we trust and 150 is the number of people we can recognize.
• Big data must have people at the centre to make it useful.

I dashed back across the Hong Kong harbour to the Museum of History for the Anthropological Society monthly gathering. Yoshiko Nakano’s told the story on how two ex-GI ad-men out of San Francisco developed the geisha service for JAL (Japan Airlines) in the 1950’s that continued up to 1970. The story of ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’, was more than just American GI’s fascination with exotic Japanese woman but also a real need to accept the Japanese as useful allies in the looming cold war. It was easier to accept a beautiful, gracious, charming and compliant geisha-clad woman over that man in the army cap and buckteeth America had been fighting only a few years previously. With advertising budget many time less than Pan Am or Northwest, these American ad-men hit on a sure winner; geisha’s in the air serving exhausted western businessmen. It worked perfectly and the concept of aircrew in national costumes has become a mainstay of the airline industry to this day. That Japanese woman working as flight attendants didn’t enjoy the experience of wearing kimono and weren’t much use in an emergency situation was ignored. The stereotypic compliant Asian woman is still with us today and owes quite a lot to these images promoted by JAL’s kimono service.

Stories help us understand the world we experience and give us a view into a world that is not our own. The digital world requires we actively manage our digital personality. Knowing how to tell a digital story will help keep control of our digital personality. The digital line between inside and outside the organization remains a dilemma for anyone using social media. Linking our digital personality to its context may help delineate the line for how to use social media in our digital lives. Images are a useful marketing tool but some images promote stereotypes that are difficult to stop once entrenched. Should we control how images are used in the digital world? Telling and listening to stories, blending and reflecting on them may change what we believe is valuable and worthwhile.

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Barcamp Hong Kong 2013

I went to the first day of Barcamp Hong Kong 2013 at HK Polytechnic University on Saturday, 23 February. This was my second Barcamp event. Last year was held all on one-day at City University of Hong Kong. Barcamp is a open-space inspired event where someone with an idea and the desire to talk about it makes a pitch to people who want to listen. The ‘law of two feet’ applies; if it isn’t interesting people can get up and leave for someone else presenting their idea. In practice, people write up very short descriptions of their idea and they are assigned a place to present. People can wander in and out as they like.

I got there on time at 9:45am for a 10:00 am start. This is the first time I’ve seen the 3D barcode registration work with iPhones. There weren’t too many people in the big open plaza at HKPolyU Design School with rows of chairs, a very large digital display screen and sound system. People were rather reluctant to sit in the chairs; I think because it had the ominous ‘lecture-look’ that might be difficult to get out away from easily. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them in circles. By 11:00am people had filled out some half-size sheets of paper with topics and stuck them up on a brick wall. There was some consolidation as people with similar topics joined forces. Last year I seem to remember that each topic was given 30 minutes and it seemed too short. This year 1 hour seemed better but maybe too long for just one speaker.

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

My first topic was ‘Fashion & Technology’. I like clothes I suppose about as much as anyone. I’m interested in why I choose the clothes I wear. HK is somewhat of a fashion centre but it suffers from creative anxiety. HK used to be a centre for making clothes and now is a place for organizing the making of clothes in China and then shipping them around the world. I wondered what these people would talk about it. The speaker was trying to get some sense of what people thought ‘fashion & technology’ should be about. People introduced themselves and why they choose to come to this topic. Most people were not working in the fashion field but were interested in wearable technology. I was somewhat amused when someone presented the new idea of using technology to make ‘custom-made’ clothes. I’m old fashioned and I still use a couple of HK tailors for suits, shirts and casual trousers from time to time. These tailors seem to keep track with big bound volumes where they write down my measurements and what I’ve ordered over the past 24 years. It’s nice when they ask me if I still wear the grey plaid jacket I had made in 1996. I think maybe technology and fashion could be used for custom made clothes but I’m not sure it will ever be as personal and good as an in-person tailor.

My second topic was from a grumpy old guy on ‘Lessons from Web 1.0 | That are still true today’. He wasn’t that old but he had been part of that first wave of web-developers in the 1990’s. He now works at one of the large banks in HK on trading algorithms. He made some useful observations that in the Web 1.0 days many plugins and be-spoke browser-sensing approaches were used to improve the web experience. These didn’t work well because most users do not keep their browser up to the latest version with all the appropriate plugins and writing code specific for Netscape, IE and Mosaic very quickly fell-down because it was impossible to test all the possible iterations of OS, hardware and browsers. Guess what? There are now 3 main browsers, IE, Chrome and Firefox and many other smaller ones used widely in specific countries and industries. Many times developers build applications assuming everyone is using the most recent version of Chrome on a high-end personal computer. The application fails and the user walks away. The lesson learned? Do not assume that everyone is a geeky computer person who enjoys hanging out with the PC. Most people do not want to have that much knowledge about the PC. They believe, correctly I will add, the PC should just work without a lot of fuss and bother. He recommended making applications work first with Lynx, a text based browser and then with other browsers. Assume someone in Kenya on a dial-up link is going to use the application. That person in Kenya could be generating 10 cents of revenue and if there are enough of them that could be what makes the application a success. There is an assumption among developers that applications are refreshed and being updated every few years. This is seldom true. Rather than being refreshed applications simply die from lack of use. Useful applications last for a long time and get changed incrementally with the danger that old code is still lurking around and being used as the core for more supposedly advanced applications. In the end, this may cause quite a few problems in the next wave of Web 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 world.

The last topic was Open Data in Hong Kong. The HK government has had the Data.One initiative since 2011 to make datasets available to the public for no cost. First, a developer presented his open source application using the HK Observatory (HKO) data. He hadn’t used the datasets available from Data.One for two reasons. First, he didn’t know the HKO dataset was available and second when he did find out about the dataset it was only a simple RSS text file and was not useful. Instead, he simply captured (scraped) the data from the websites maintained by the HKO. Next, someone talked about the Data.One initiative, the background and what was now happening. The gist of it seems to be that the government wants to make datasets available but not much effort if being made to coordinate what, why, how and who. Departmental Administrative Officers (AO) makes the datasets available based on their personal networks. The AO is an important person in the HK government structure but he/she is frequently very over-worked and normally has limited technical IT skills or knowledge. These AO’s have networks inside the government and they use for all sorts of activities. There is nothing wrong with this approach but the Data.One datasets are rather hit and miss. The last person talked about the context of Open Data initiatives in the EU and elsewhere. She said that the most active Open Data initiatives were in Berlin, London and New York. The big question is how to have more knowledge about the datasets and more use of them for application development. After these talks a Google+ group, Open Data Hong Kong, was setup. Hopefully, this may become a platform to promote these Data.One datasets.

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How do we know when the project is a success?

It seems like a simple question and should have a simple answer.  However, all too often projects that are proclaimed as successful seem much less so when closely scrutinized or just a few months after the project was ‘signed-off’ to great fanfare.  The word ‘projects’ conjures up images of information technology, system implementations, change management processes, training, learning and development programmes.  Do these share anything in common besides having a definite beginning, middle and hopeful ending?  They almost always involve that other modern word in organizational effort ‘the team’.   A team is temporary whereas the outcome of a project is seldom thought of as a temporary event.  A project could arrive at a conclusive event that will be used to make a decision.  This is the typical prototype and pilot that is much touted in system implementations but too often the decision has been made before the prototype or pilot even starts.  A project may result in a conclusive event that people do things differently.  The conclusive event could be an information technology system, a new or changed process, training and learning about how to do something with some payoff towards betterment. 

Formal research and anecdotal evident across the spectrum of project management methodology, information technology implementation methodology, business process change methodology and human resource development show that a large percentage of such projects in both SME and large organizations are failures.  This is almost never pointed out by the external consulting industry, both the large and well-known practices (Accenture, KPMG, McKinsey, and so on) and the thousands of smaller and independent consulting practitioners.  

In 1995 the Standish Group reported that 31% of IT projects in the United States were cancelled before completion and 52% were 89% over budget.   Further more only 16% of software projects could be considered successful.  The numbers do not get much better for the period 1996 to 2010. 

Ken Grant from Ryerson University evaluated 45 KM projects from the late 1990’s to 2010 and found that only 45% / 21 were considered to be successful.  Why would anyone try to implement anything that will fail 55% of the time?

Gartner recently released statistics showing that at the end of 2012 technology is only used to 43% of its potential.   Why would any organization spend time, effort and money on technology which fails 57% of the time?

Training, learning and education disciplines have been investigating for decades how to first help children and then adults acquire knowledge and use it in their work and lives.  Much has been written but no holy grail has been found.  Diane Laufenberg sums is up nicely in the Ted Talk in 2010 on learning through failure and real experience and not looking for the right answer. 

There are project management methodologies that have been developed to ensure success.  The two most famous from the Anglo-Saxon/American world are Prince2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments 2) and PMP (Project Management Professional)

They are both well worth following for any project.  They give some assurance that the project is more likely to finish at an agreed upon time and at an agreed upon cost with a list of features agreed upon in advance.  They do not guarantee project success or project benefit. 

The most important criterion for project success is the extent of use over a period of time.  These are questions to ask about a system, process or programme after it has been put into place.   

Is the new system, process or programme being used one year, two years or three years after implementation? 

  1. If there is no use after one year then it has failed.
  2. If there is use for one year it is somewhat a success, after two years a definite success and three years it is a star performer.

Was the system, process or programme significantly upgraded within one year, two years or three years after implementation?

  1. A significant upgrade, revamp or redeployment within the first year is a probable sign it is a failure. 
  2. A significant upgrade, revamp or redeployment within two years may mean it was of some use but didn’t meet expectations.
  3. A significant upgrade, revamp or redeployment within three years shows a clear success and a desire to keep using a successful system, process or programme to fit new or different circumstances. 

This is some harsh advice but it will improve project success over time inside most organizations.  As a general rule, system implementations, organizational change management initiatives and training and learning programs should be done in-house whenever possible.  Organizations should only use external consultants to acquire the knowledge to learn how to do the work.  This way, the organization has the skills to adjust the system, process or program after it has started to be used.  Bluntly, do not use external consultants to collect requirements or perform implementation work because they will minimize the difficulty when collecting requirements and will not be available after implementation to make adjustments.  When external consultants are used for requirements collection or implementation their fees should be structured so that a significant proportion of their fee (40% to 60%) should be paid one year after the project completion sign-off. 

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