Melville’s Moby Dick

Finished Moby Dick.
If it wasn’t obvious, from the helpful map provided on the route of the Pequod, that the voyage ended in disaster, the final chapters could be quite suspense filled. A bit of a spoiler that. Apart from the late chapters when Ahab, soliloquises (to Starbuck mainly) about his career widow (yes the “Ahab’s Wife”) and his motivations to spend so many years of his life continuously at sea, (and of course the dramatic revelation earlier about the puspose of the mission) I don’t find Ahab and his much quoted “monomania” the main hero / subject of the book. The life and the characters are the story. Ahab is but one.

The competition for the dubloon provides an interesting parable on team motivation. In the initial part of the final chase Ahab (who put up the prize) – claims it over his crew, and creates the aweful anticipation of team demotivation. The second day Ahab changes the rules greatly in favour of the crew individually and as a team, and it shows in the way the entire crew follows his quest to their mutual terminal fate – with only Starbuck silently voicing “give it up now Ahab, for all our sakes”. Moby is not just real, but the real hero.

(Picky details – like the earlier rescue from the wreck in the first foray into the whaling boats, where the crew rescue is easy to miss, in the final fate of the Pequod itself, it is not clear when she sinks what has actually caused her to founder, and finally, the postscript about Ishmael surviving to tell the tale is a somewhat weak afterthought, though poignant in that Queeqeg’s coffin is the liferaft, and in fact only served to remind me that I’d lost any sense of where “I” was in the final scenes.)

Excellent read for so many reasons. Just the language is enough, varied though tough in some passages. The heroic historical adventure is a gripping and involving documentary too. Great stuff.

Irrational Knowledge Value Models

Irrational Knowledge Value Models in Practice
At a knowledge interest group meeting today I experienced a microcosm of so many of the issues here.

(1) The “General Motors / DeLorean effect” A failure of formal project teams to achieve scope execution and objectives desired and understood by the individual members, despite admissions that each member individually knew the process was wrong. “We’re creating a monster”. Committees of highly competent people often make incompetent decisions – fact.

(2) Recognition that the bits of the group’s activities that do work and represent “value” are those based on mutual trust and communication links between the members, not any formally planned activities / projects.

(3) Recognition that the “intangible” value of the loose / collaborative activities is real, but very difficult if not impossible to reflect in project budget cost-benefit justifications – yet still agree valuable enough for members to continue to work to achieve.

(4) “Darwinian” nature of the current state of development of semantic web ideas – memetic no doubt. Almost random which mutations occur and which find an immediate local environment to prosper, compared to any objective analysis of which ideas are “better” in any broader sense. (Just look at some of the trivial projects which achieve IST funding !)

Conclusion : Knowledge is organic. Processes which create and manage it must be organic too. Models which characterise and value it must recognise this. Objective rationalisation destroys knowledge. (Another one of those inescapable, but unfortunately currently useless, facts – like the emperor’s suit of clothes.)

SWAP – Semantic Web And Peer-to-Peer

SWAP – Semantic Web & Peer to Peer
I knew it. The power of peer to peer thinking fits so well with exploiting relationships between ontologies embedded in “knowledge” at each user in a peer to peer network. (Reference from Graham Moore of Empolis. Of course Empolis is part of Bertelsmann group who acquired Napster technologies over a year ago ! Guess what that technology is going to be used for.)
See earlier logs below eg “We Enterprise ?” (3:57 Sunday May 26, 2002) and the Corporate Klogger thread below too ….
Still need a “shared” ontology which is sensitive to the context and behaviour of the peers (individually). Where so much of the semantic is in relationships between peers and their activities, RDF is the obvious candidate for modelling those resource links. (Could RDF type XML Meta-Data actually be arranged so that it grows adapts organically / memetically according to the behaviour / usages of the peers, without a centrally managed ontology for the knowledge – a killer concept.)
Amsterdam Univ Presentation on IST Projects incl SWAP
Amsterdam Uni Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Page
Balearics Technology Innovation abstract on SWAP
Ontoprise SWAP presentation at CNEC

Klogging – Knowledge Web Logging

I’m a Klogger apparently. Link from Leon.
I’ve been running this KM-Blog for almost a year now, and now I find someone has just coined the phrase Knowledge Logging, keeping a “K-Log” of knowledge fragments. Link is to an article that exploits Microsoft Sharepoint to capture (say) employee blogs of knowledge with Sharepoint meta-data to capture structure in (say) a coporate knowledge base. Powerful idea, if the taxonomy of meta-tags can handle the true semantics. I’m already on this case. No time to lose.

There is a Kloggers forum too, run by John Robb of Radio Userland in the US
And there is KnowledgeBoard edited by Helen Baxter in the UK

Moby Dick – Fact From Fiction

Fact or Fiction ? www.melville.org
Well through Moby Dick now (96/136’ths) and still finding so much on so many levels. The blood-soaked anatomical detail and unctious stench and sensation in the butchery is numbing, and you can see how early reviews met with issues of poor taste ! As I mentioned earlier – one striking aspect is the balance between fact and fiction in the “documentary” account of the whaling industry, Melville’s own experiences and the (presumably) fictional narrative of Ahab, Moby Dick and The Pequod. Researching that aspect, I find, as expected, that there is no shortage of opinion on the matter. Hard to tell where romaticised telling of truth become actual fiction. Seems the apparent documentary aspects (eg in The Affidavit) are indeed essentially true.

OK, OK following a few more Google hits – so clearly this fact vs fiction aspect is a well trodden path (I did say I guesed it would be, didn’t I – see earlier). Seems to be a standard US exam question on US literature. End of that thread, except …. by the way did I forget to mention, I have a family connection with whaling going back three generations on my wife’s side of the family, so I have more than a passing interest. May get some relevant photographs and documents up on the personal pages for those interested, but I digress.

On the other hand, like why did I choose to read it as part of this information modelling research ? …

“Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber. Yet few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod’s whaling expedition [….] and the graphic representations of human nature in the startling disguises under which it appears on the deck of the Pequod [….] all these things combine to raise The Whale far beyond the level of an ordinary work of fiction. It is not a mere tale of adventures, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.”

London John Bull, October 25 1851.

(I’d have to agree – and, by the way, it is more greatly absorbing than a “mere adventure” too. Very similar mix of qualities achieved by Pirsig. Ha – qualities ! Of course as i mentioned earlier, the reason I am reading Melville, is the “prodigious comparison” with Pirsig’s ZMM by reviewer George Steiner.)

Rationally Institutionalised Conspiracy Thinking

More Rationally Institutionalised Conspiratorial Motivation
Another link via Jorn from Common Dreams
Quote
Mr. Cheney also specialized in getting government contracts for the firm. During his five years as CEO, Halliburton got $2.3 billion in contracts, compared with $1.2 billion in the five years before he took over. Most of the work was done by Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root, the construction firm, thus reinstating a fine old Texas tradition. Brown & Root was Lyndon Johnson’s major money source: It was to LBJ what Enron was to George W.
Unquote
(Not news, in fact my thread is that there is nothing new under the sun in this line of apparent endemic conspiracy, but this particular example strikes a chord with me personally because of my longstanding relationship with one of B&R’s major competitors. I should explain – the “conspiratorial” references are not part of some conspiracy theory thesis against big business and the establishment – just part of a long series of threads of observation on relevant aspects of human nature – all will become clear.)