I recently watched a program on TV called How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer. It was a really interesting documentary that followed some scientists and mathematicians as they tried to discover the mathematical theory and structure that supports networks. Kevin Bacon was of course the person who was the example used in the popular theory known as Six Degrees of Separation.
These networks apply to brain functions, cells, computer systems, viruses, the spread of disease, air traffic flight paths, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and many other systems or networks.
The concept of “hubs” enabled them to provide a richer and more comprehensive structure to the mathematical theory. Kevin Bacon would be the original celebrity “hub”. Heathrow Airport is a major hub in the air traffic systems. What makes a “hub” I wonder? When you think about people in social networks it can be due to popularity. In Facebook the number of “friends” you have is an indicator of this. But how many are manufactured and how many are genuine? Barrack Obama on Twitter would be a major hub in that system and a genuine one at that.
At the other extreme of this is what I have called “the lone cowboy”: the loner; the person who doesn’t want or need lots of people to validate your own identity in this world. It is someone who wants to opt-out of society and doesn’t want to be a part of the social network. This link in the network might be like a little regional airport, the less-used brain cells, or the person who lives a solitary existence.
I hope the mathematical theory does not conclude that the points with a small number of links are not any less needed or significant than the popular hubs in the network. My own tendencies move toward the less busy parts of the network.
Microsoft has us at their mercy. We live in a Microsoft networked world. Sure I know about the alternatives but many businesses operate with Microsoft products for their chosen mode. They offer great products that we are all now well trained to use effectively. But did we really need a new file format of ‘.docx’? Microsoft Office 2007 is incompatible with anything that has gone before. Why would Microsoft do this other that for acquiring more wealth? Do they realize the impact this has on businesses? And what about document archiving? Preservation for future reference is an issue as not everyone is aware of why file formats differ and that alternatives are available such as .txt and .rtf formats.
So work in a public library that uses Microsoft products for its network and office tools can become impossible when automatic Microsoft updates are regularly sent out across the network. Seamless service is interrupted and our customers become understandably frustrated and angry. The public pc’s are “frozen” to protect these pc’s from random downloads the customers may choose. This freezing also blocks the automatic system updates and the result is constant interruptions and system crashes, often when people are in the middle of writing long emails. They lose everything as the updates try and fail to take effect. The only way to fix this is to unfreeze the pc, run the updates, and then refreeze the pc. At five minutes per pc and 12 pc’s this take a large chunk out of the limited opening hours. And when this happens without warning, organizing busy staff to handle the problem is difficult to manage.
Two of us dealt with this problem yesterday after the automatic system updates crashed out network totally, everything from the internet to our electronic library management system.