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No-one doubts the quantity of information on the internet, what about its quality?

There are millions of websites. Each site can have one page or thousands. Which means there is a lot of information out there – a few gazillion words and pictures.

It’s the kind of resource our ancestors would have killed for. Indeed, in ancient times they fought wars over access to knowledge repositories.

Would they fight the same wars to get net access? Probably. Our ancestors liked a good scrap.

While the modern Internet might be chock-a-block with information, it’s light on knowledge. It is not always the place to seek wisdom.

Let’s face it, how many dead bodies would you walk over to unearth the lyrics of ‘Spice Up Your Life’?

Information but thin on knowledge

Catalogues of high-resolution photographs showing supermodels in bathing costumes might be aesthetically pleasing. But unless you are a rather slow teenage boy wanting to study female anatomy, the knowledge content is slight.

Likewise all those painstakingly collected lists of quotes by The Simpsons characters: entertainment value high, enlightenment quotient low.

Then there are the millions of dumb home pages filled with photos of cuddly animals, basketball stars and soft porn princesses. Adventurous, but unimaginative amateur developers decorate pages with sound clips of heavy metal or rap. Some even craft complex Java scripts that do nothing special.

If you’re brave, you can find some of the most atrocious poetry ever written.

Surf the net at random and you’ll find page after page of pure rubbish, mind-numbing sameness and precious little gold.

Professional rubbish too

Of course, the web isn’t just the domain of gifted (or otherwise) non-professionals. These days commercial sites run by highly trained specialists dominate. Of these, most either sell something directly or people who sell things finance them.

Which dilutes their value as independent information sources. How much credence would you give to free online personal finance advice given to you by a bank?

In engineer-speak, the Internet has a low signal-to-noise ratio.

That is, you have to sort through a great deal of rubbish to find anything worthwhile. But that implies a message is there. There might not be. Even if you know exactly what you are looking for and use the best search tools, you can still come badly unstuck.

A chilling example

A medical doctor recently surveyed 20 websites offering help with self-treatment of common ailments. Each site looked plausible. Yet of the 20 sites, only three offered advice that squared with the accepted medical procedure. A number of the sites offered seriously flawed advice. Some were no more than quackery. We’re not talking about cultural differences; we are talking snake oil. Sooner or later, real people with real health problems are going to roll up at these sites, take the advice at face value and damage themselves.

This isn’t funny.

In my view, the worst aspect of this problem is that the good, well-researched information is drowned out by the sheer volume of trash. Web-boosters used to say users would learn to recognise good information from bad by its brand. So, for example, you might trust a news report from the ABC, BBC or CNN, but not from the National Enquirer. There’s certainly some truth to the idea. But would you know which brand to turn to for medical information or financial advice?


Open source software is free.

Anyone can download an open source program. You can run it, copy it and pass it on to friends and colleagues. You can look at the code and see how the developers made the program. None of this means paying a license fee. It doesn’t break any laws. You have permission to do all these things.

Money, or cost, is not the most important point. Advocates think of word free as in ‘free speech’, not ‘no payment’.

Freedom means that users can change the programs to suit their own needs. That would be illegal with most other forms of software.

Open Source freedom means responsibility

There is one restriction: you must, in turn, pass the same set of freedoms on to everyone else. Altered open source programs must be made available to everyone.

This approach decentralises control. In turn, that means developers continually improve the software.

At the same time, having large numbers of people looking at and improving on programs means that bugs are quickly eliminated. That improves quality control.

A lot of important programs and applications are based on free software. It runs the internet and underpins some of the most popular operating systems.

Is there a difference between a ‘resume’ and a ‘curriculum vitae’? The answer is there may well be an important difference or none – it all depends on who uses the terms.

Employers and recruitment specialists in Australia tend to use the term ‘resume’ when asking candidates to supply a written work history. Like other aspects of modern Australian language use, it follows the American model. Although you’ll find New Zealand and UK employers are starting to use the same term, they still more often ask for a CV or a ‘curriculum vitae’.

While the British and New Zealanders might prefer to use CV, they generally regard the two terms as synonyms.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines resume as curriculum vitae. The dictionary suggests the word resume is an Americanism for CV.

Americans often make a clear distinction between the two terms. In their book, a resume is a career summary designed to sell your key skills and experiences to a prospective employer while a CV is a fuller record of your work and life history. You can read how one American sees the difference between the two.

By all means, read the essay, but I wouldn’t take what the headhunter has to say about European-style CVs too seriously. That’s because British employers prefer short, snappy CVs and they certainly have little relation to whatever it is he is describing in the essay.

For example, when I started hiring people in Britain during the early 1980s people would send CVs on a single piece of A4 paper. Some would make it to a second sheet, but anyone who required more than two sheets of paper would be regarded with suspicion. Admittedly I was hiring journalists and those days word economy was a virtue.

Nevertheless, good British CVs are generally short.

On the other hand, when a recruitment consultant in New Zealand approached me about a particular job she said a two pager is insufficient. She said nothing less than six pages would be adequate.

The simple truth is that there’s confusion about employer expectations of prospective employees. It varies from industry to industry, grade to grade and company to company. Some recruiters ask specifically for a two-page resume, that’s good; many more are vague.

Unless you know what the employer expects my advice is to ask the person handling the recruitment exactly what they expect to see.

That way you do three things. First, you end any ambiguity and can deliver to their exact requirements.

Second, you’ve flagged an interest. You may get to talk more and show something interesting, that way the person at the other end will look out for your application when it arrives.

Third, you’ll be able to figure out some clues about what kind of person or company you are dealing with before making any commitment.

One last point: take care with any blanks.

Employers don’t look for experience despite what the recruitment advertisements say. That’s the view of Computerworld writer Paul Glen.

He says;

…if experience is at such a premium, why are there so many articles about how hard it is for older IT workers to find a job?

Glen says;

People don’t really absorb the lessons that their experience offers. In one sense, they haven’t so much gained experience as they have had things happen to them. They become neither knowledgeable nor jaded. They haven’t processed the ideas or compared real-world happenings with their theories of how the world works. Without this processing, experience isn’t really a great teacher or a cruel one; it is only a way to mark the passage of time.

So much for information technology.

You learn by dealing with events as they happen. Eventually you build up a stock of  mental tools that mean you can deal with previously unmet situations.

This accumulated knowledge makes many aspects of work so much easier they fade into the background. This leaves plenty of spare brainpower and energy to deal with the bigger issues. There may not be a perfect correlation between time spent in a job and knowledge or wisdom, but there’s certainly a link. And some employers still find that time spent in a job is worth paying for.

Converting documents from one format to another can be hard.

Sometimes the problem is incompatibilities between different generations of the same application. Microsoft Word 2007’s docx file format isn’t automatically readable in older version of Word. The same is true for files generated by Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007.

When you know in advance a colleague uses an earlier application version, you can choose to do the polite thing and save your document in the older format. This backward compatibility is built-in to Word 2007. Most applications offer similar backward compatibility.

Backward compatibility – up to a point

This is fine in theory, but you’ll either have to remember which format each colleague can use or you’ll just have to send everything in the older format. The problem with this approach is important things in the newer document format may go missing during translation to the older format.

If someone sends you a unopenable docx file – and you’re running an older, yet still reasonably up-to-date version of Word, you’ll only be able to work with the file if you’ve downloaded the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack. This will also work with your Excel and PowerPoint files.

Things can be harder when converting files between applications from rival software companies or between applications running on different operating systems.

Not all software companies go out of their way to may conversion simple. Dealing with ancient documents from long-deceased operating systems is almost impossible. For example, I’ve got MS-Dos Wordperfect and Planperfect files that I can no longer read.

Text, the lowest common denominator

Some geeks by-pass conversion problems by sticking with lowest-common-denominator file formats. Just about every application on any kind of operating system or hardware device that deals with text, from supercomputers to mobile phones and mp3 players can cope with data stored as plain text (.txt) files.

Plain text is enjoying something of a revival  thanks to the popularity of texting and similar lo-fi applications.

Text makes sense if you don’t need to keep style formatting information such as fonts, character sizes and bold or italic characters in your documents. An alternative low-end file format allowing some basic style formatting is .rtf, the rich text format. This was originally developed by Microsoft some 20 years ago to allow documents to move between different operating systems and it is still present as an option in just about every application that uses text today.

While I can no longer read my ancient Wordperfect files, I have recently found prehistoric documents from the early 1980s when I ran the CP/M operating system and a program called WordStar. Because they were stored as text files, they are still readable.