A Storm From Space

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June 14, 2000

My Observations

I am an electrical engineer who has gradually been drawn more and more into the software arena. I have worked for several different company types ranging from government contractors to consumer electronics companies. I have been working in the industry for about twenty years. Over this period of time I have observed profound changes in the industry with re guard to:

  1. The speed new products and software are placed on the market.
  2. The quality and organization of the documentation.

The Pace

I have found that new microprocessors come out so fast that if you don't purchase a new PC for two or three years, a microprocessor may be developed and obsoleted without any knowledge of the event. I have also noticed that many books that are published are obsolete before the ink is dry. This is especially true with the Linux operating system since new software and upgrades come out so often and there are so many packages. I have found that it is no longer possible to keep up with this pace as an individual. I may purchase a book today about XML, learn XML and become proficient within a few months. By this time someone has developed two more markup languages that I should at least be aware of. In the meantime two new incredible microprocessors have come out. Should I advise my management to use these technologies or not?

The Documentation

  1. I have also noticed that many times available documentation does not give the reader the big picture about the subject assuming they already have some knowledge about the subject.
  2. Many books although well written have what some have referred to as too much "fluff". While I was reading my 400 page book, four new technologies I should know about were developed. Now I must read four more 400 page books. You get the picture.
  3. Information may be fragmented and hard to find due to the interrelationship of cross supporting technologies.
As more and more technologies come out, I have noticed that some technologies are based on other technologies. A simple example is XML and HTML are defined by SGML, therefore XML and HTML are based on SGML. This means there may be even more to learn and you must reference documentation in several areas to get all the information required.

Searching for a Solution

As I became more keenly aware of the above problems I looked for ways to solve them. I began trying to put together more comprehensive documentation for my own use. Then I began to think, if I don't use this documentation on a wider scale and share it, it will be wasted since it will eventually become obsolete. So I began to call some of my friends and offer them the documentation and encourage them to pool knowledge with me so we could jointly help each other out. Unfortunately, this has not worked out as well as I'd hoped. One of my friends is commuting almost two hours per day to work (one way) and could not possibly have any time outside work to even read any documentation. Others are working long hours and have no time.

Still I have not given up. The documentation that was written was meant to save time. For instance I have been working with Linux for almost three years. When I started, I wondered how it worked (engineering curiosity). I began investigating and as I did, I documented my findings. I put the findings in various Linux manuals as appropriate. I also noticed many people who are networking experts and are proficient with Windows operating systems were interested in learning Linux. Many times, questions are posted on the web asking where documentation can be found to help a beginner. There are, unfortunately, so many answers to that question the user may become even more confused. But the documentation I wrote was intended to help a beginner become as good with Linux as I now am, but only in a few weeks or months. This is because it contains my experiences with Linux in an organized and structured fashion. It gives tips on where to find help, how to use the system, and more.

Save Time and Work Together

So I thought some windows experts should be able to use my documentation and come up to speed on Linux quickly. Perhaps some of those who saved time using my documentation could produce similar documentation for me and others to save others even more time. This way we can work together and help each other out. I believe humans were intended to work together. Why would we have written and spoken language if not? I also believe that the development of technology must be based on working together. No one person can possibly understand enough technology to build a computer from raw materials to the store shelf. This is part of the reason this project should be a huge benefit to both individuals and businesses.

Searching for a Solution

Working together on the web is the solution. Being someone who works with Linux, I had observed the Linux Documentation Project which is simply a collection of volunteers that support the Open Source community with programs and documentation. Linux was and is a product of the web. I considered joining the Linux Documentation Project but it didn't fit completely into what I wanted to do. I did not want to limit this effort to Linux alone, but wanted to get involved in several web languages and other technologies. So I looked for other organizations that I could join that had similar goals to mine. I found:

  1. Organizations that stored documentation like a library.
  2. Organizations that produced software and technologies with documentation in specialized areas.
  3. Organizations that made commercially available technical books available on the web.
  4. Organizations that allowed experts in various areas to exchange ideas and ask and answer questions in a forums format.
  5. Magazines that posted articles.
  6. Web based schools
Of all these organizations, the web based schools probably came the closest to my goals since they were not limiting their range of technology but their classes are likely to contain too much fluff. Also they do not, nor are in a good position to provide links to various other worthwhile resources for further reading. They are not as flexible as I wanted this effort to be. I was surprised that no organizations I could find matched my goals.

The Goals

So what are the goals of this project and what should they be? I believe the following:

  1. To present a format that allows the reader to get the big picture about technologies they need to learn.
  2. To allow users of our material to learn as quickly as possible using well structured documentation that is as brief as possible.
  3. To present users of our material with handy information and links on where to go for more specialized information. Basically to act to a certain extent as a guide to other organizations involved in the development, documentation, coordination, and regulation of technologies. This will pull the information together and act as a guide to our users.
  4. To update our material so it does not become obsolete like a book will. How many technical books on your book shelf are obsolete?
  5. To be fair to those who use or purchase our services. Any price a user pays should be a bargain. They should get quality material.
  6. To be fair to our contributors. This organization owes a great debt to its contributors and they must be treated fairly. If they are not treated fairly, why should anyone contribute to this project.
  7. To document technologies that our customers and members are interested in.
  8. To provide any other assistance such as programs and tools that will help our members and customers do their jobs better and faster. With regard to this project it includes guidance in the tools available for document generation which is currently under investigation. It may even include performing document conversions for some of our members.

The Solution

To accomplish the above goals, the best solution is the establishment of this Computer Technology Document Project (CTDP) with a supporting web site and associated e-mail group used as an aid in managing the project. This project must have stated goals, standards and policies to avoid misunderstanding between members. The CTDP should offer materials for sale in order to make material as widely available as possible and to allow those that do not wish to contribute to this project to use our material. This is fair to our contributors and allows members of the public to use our material.

The Benefits

I believe this project will benefit both individuals like myself and business. Although originally intended to benefit individuals, I am now convinced that it will benefit businesses to a greater degree. For individuals it will accomplish the following:

  1. Allow individuals to more easily keep pace with technology especially in areas of their choosing.
  2. Increase confidence and awareness.
  3. Allow individuals to find better paying jobs and advance sooner because they are better informed.
These are the benefits for business:
  1. Provide a better base of employees that are more prepared to take on new challenges and who are better informed with regard to new technologies.
  2. Shorten employee training time for new technologies or technologies that the company is starting to use.
  3. Drastically reduce or eliminate many employee training costs.


I am convinced that this project is an idea that has now come of age. I'm convinced that this project can be a great benefit to individuals and our society. I am also convinced that conclusions about this project will be determined by the public and business.


Mark Allen

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