What book are you reading at the moment?

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bindeweede
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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by bindeweede » Fri Jul 08, 2016 2:44 pm

I am currently reading "The Stupidity Paradox - the power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work." All about modern corporate management. This quote is mostly from p9 of the Introduction.

" Functional stupidity is the inclination to reduce one's scope of thinking and focus only on the narrow, technical aspects of the job. You do the job correctly, but without reflecting on the purpose or the wider context. Functional stupidity is an organised attempt to stop people from thinking seriously about what they do at work. When people are seized by functional stupidity, they remain capable of doing the job, but they stop asking searching questions about their work. In the place of rigorous reflection, they become obsessed with superficial appearances. Instead of asking questions, they start to obey commands. Rather than thinking about outcomes, they focus on the techniques for getting things done. And the thing to be done is often to create the right impression. Someone in the thrall of functional stupidity is great at doing things that look good. They tick boxes for management, please the clients and placate the authorities, but they also often do things that make little sense and that a sharp outside observer might find strange."

I am only just about half way through the book, but it is much more interesting than it probably sounds. :geek:

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Abdul Alhazred
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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Abdul Alhazred » Sun Jul 10, 2016 12:36 am

Just finished Anglo Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson.
Not my first reading of it.

Just started Anthony Burgess' biography of Shakespeare.
Yes, that one.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Croydon13013 » Sun Jul 10, 2016 11:57 am

Abdul Alhazred wrote:Just started Anthony Burgess' biography of Shakespeare.
Wasn't Burgess something of a fantasist when it comes to Shakespeare? Can't be relied on, sometimes just made stuff up?
thIS sIGnaTure iS an

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Abdul Alhazred » Sun Jul 10, 2016 1:53 pm

Croydon13013 wrote:
Abdul Alhazred wrote:Just started Anthony Burgess' biography of Shakespeare.
Wasn't Burgess something of a fantasist when it comes to Shakespeare? Can't be relied on, sometimes just made stuff up?
Probably.

At any rate, it doesn't come across like a serious biography.

Fun to read, though.
Yes, that one.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by bindeweede » Sat Oct 15, 2016 11:15 pm

I have recently finished reading "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage" by Haruki Murakami. I only came across this author via a collection of short stories I took on holiday last April, and decided I wanted to explore more. The novel centres on Tsukuru and his four friends, and how their relationships develop. It is set mostly in Japan but also in Finland towards the end. One aspect of the novel which intrigued me was the reference, throughout the book, to a particular piece of piano music by Liszt - a piece called "Le mal du pays", usually translated as "Homesickness", and which I'd not come across before. It comes from the first volume of the "Années de Pèlerinage", with a recommendation from one of the central characters to the classic recording by the great Russian pianist, Lazar Berman.

Which gives me an opportunity to post a link to the rather melancholic piece, played, of course, by Berman.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Sun Oct 16, 2016 4:39 am

I've just finished "The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald Norman (completely revised second edition, published 2013).

It was recommended to me after I had posted a long moan on another forum about human-unfriendly design in all sorts of different fields. This book specifically addresses this problem, analysing why it occurs and making recommendations as to how to avoid it in the future, with lots of examples of what to do - and what not to do. Very good!

I have also been reading some rather good modern examples of detective fiction, by Peter May, Chris Ould and Mark Douglas-Home.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Sun Oct 16, 2016 1:42 pm

For your amusement, I thought I'd post the rant which led to the recommendation to read 'The Design of Everyday Things':

Human Engineering

No, nothing to do with Robocop or genetic engineering, but what is also called "Human factors and ergonomics"; according to Wiki, "the practice of designing products, systems, or processes to take proper account of the interaction between them and the people who use them."

The lack of effective human engineering in our everyday civilian lives is brought home to me every time I arrive at Washington DC international airport and use the bus and metro system to reach the city centre. The bus deposits you at a usually unmanned metro station where you are faced with a bank of ticket machines. You will probably be joining a long and slow-moving queue, because the metro ticket machines are the worst I have ever encountered. It is completely unclear what you need to do to buy a ticket, with vague and unhelpful instructions. The last time I eventually ended up (after a long struggle) buying some expensive card for multiple journeys, which I didn't need. On a scale running from 0 (completely broken down) to 10 (totally clear) the Washington metro machines score 1.

In contrast, I was in the Netherlands recently and went to buy a train ticket from a machine. There was a prominent Union Jack symbol to switch the system to English, and after that the on-screen instructions were clear, logical and straightforward. A complete novice could buy a ticket almost as quickly as an experienced user. That one scores 10 - it really couldn't be improved.

Even the simplest vending machines can be bizarre. A few weeks ago I was at a small French airport which had a hot drinks vending machine. Several people were completely defeated in their attempts to get a drink. Eventually, I managed to sort out what to do by trial and error. The required sequence went like this: first you put in your money; then you decide how much sugar you want in the drink; and only then do you decide what drink you want. Simple, no?

Then there are heating and air conditioning controls. There is one budget hotel chain in the UK which adopted a system with a complex control panel which needed a training course to operate - I never did figure it out. When all you need is two dials - one to set the temperature, one to set the fan speed. My own central heating system is hopeless - various buttons to press varying numbers of times in various sequences in order to change the settings. Without an instruction manual to hand, it would take a long time to work through the options. I am familiar with it, and even so I still get it wrong at times.

I often get the feeling that such badly-designed control systems are produced by engineers to suit themselves, without any thought being given to how the users might cope with them. Surely before signing off any such systems, they could get a few outsiders to try them out to check that they are easy to operate?

Direction signage is another long-term bugbear of mine. You know, the way that in a strange city you follow the signs to get to where you want, only to discover that there is no sign at a crucial junction. That happens time and again. The solution is simple: get a few people who don't know the city and tell them to walk or drive to particular destinations, navigating only by following the signs. They'll soon point out the problems.

I recently started using a new BMW featuring "keyless go". You no longer have to insert a key in the ignition, just have it on you. The problem is that the engine doesn't stop automatically when you leave the car - you have to switch it off manually. One of the first times I used it, I parked in a motorway service station, took the key with me and used it to lock the car. After a leisurely coffee I returned to find that the engine was still running (the environment was too noisy to hear it). Even worse, I read of one couple sharing such a car; the husband brought it home, and the wife promptly got in it and drove off. After a while the husband found his wife's car key.... he called her up and told to come home without stopping the engine, because without the key she would never get it started again. IMO this is a monumentally stupid idea. Procedures should be fail-safe and (as far as possible) fool-proof, not introduce new ways of fouling up!

I also have problems with the controls for the automatic gearbox in my car, which is a replacement for an older BMW. The old one had a straightforward, intuitive control with a single large "safety catch" button under the front of the grip, just where your fingers fall. The new one has two buttons, neither of them in places which are convenient for the fingers, and you have to remember which button to press for which function. Furthermore, the stick self-centres after each operation so you can't tell what it's set to at a glance. Very unintuitive, very irritating. It is the first time in decades of driving automatic cars that I've had to consult the handbook to figure out what to do.

And while on the subject of BMWs, there is their sat-nav. As a variable-scale map display, showing your location, it works fine. Inputting destinations is an entirely different matter. In my old, portable, Garmin, loading a set of destinations into the memory is simple. With the BMW, it is so complicated that I have given up, after on several occasions sitting in the car and screaming abuse at the system in sheer frustration. Now I just ignore the memory and set each destination manually each time. Even that has its problems, though; if you put in a UK postcode it takes you to the entire set of postcodes with the initial letters, and scrolling through them to find the right one can take quite a while. BMW may make superbly engineered cars, but in some respects their human engineering is slipping badly.

Then there is my Casio watch. I like the radio control, solar power, and classic design, and it has a wide range of functions. The problem is that it is controlled by four buttons, which have to be pressed in various sequences, varying numbers of times, to access these functions or even to change time zones. The instruction manual runs to several pages. Basically, I don't bother with any of the functions.

I still remember when I bought my first Apple Mac, after many generations of using Windows machines. I took it out of the box, set it up, plugged it in, and then sat looking at. How to switch it on? There was no "On" switch on the keyboard or visible on the machine, the quick start-up guide didn't mention it, and the full guide was only accessible on-line - not much use if you can't switch it on. Eventually I had to ring the shop and ask. It's a carefully concealed button at the back of the screen, styled to be almost invisible, I suppose because "it looks cool", or something. Designers who put appearance before function are just as big a pain as engineers who pay no heed to the general public.

What all of this boils down to is common sense: with any system which is intended for use by the general public, engineers and designers should ask themselves: what do the public need to do, and how easily can they do it? If they need to follow instructions, how clearly are these presented? It isn't complicated, it merely requires a modicum of thought.

Rant over....

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by chaggle » Sun Oct 16, 2016 2:27 pm

I feel for you.

We rented a VW once in Spain. It took us 10 minutes to get the engine started (something to do with depressing the clutch while doing something else simultaneously ISTR) and a further 5 to release the handbrake (largely because there wasn't one).

We got used to it after a few days but it just seemed to be unnecessary complication with no gain in functionality or safety. It's not as if there is anything wrong with the way it works in most other cars - it's as if they had expended an awful lot of effort to solve a non-existent problem.
Don't blame me - I voted remain :con

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Sun Oct 16, 2016 2:34 pm

Another example I should have added: the Citroen Cactus has a touchscreen replacing many of the old separate controls. It looks neat, but if you want to change the temperature of the aircon you have to work through several menus to do it, instead of merely twisting a knob. That's not only daft, it's potentially dangerous because of the length of time the driver is distracted.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Matt » Sun Oct 16, 2016 4:24 pm

Tony.Williams wrote:Another example I should have added: the Citroen Cactus has a touchscreen replacing many of the old separate controls. It looks neat, but if you want to change the temperature of the aircon you have to work through several menus to do it, instead of merely twisting a knob. That's not only daft, it's potentially dangerous because of the length of time the driver is distracted.
And I bet if you want to put a heater on you have to take off your gloves.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by bindeweede » Tue Nov 22, 2016 7:02 pm

I am about half way through "According to the Daily Mail", by Laurence Simpson. It is a "darkly comic crime caper with a salient, thought-provoking social message", according to what is written on the back, so not my usual sort of fiction.

The main character is Jonathan Taylor, a former well-paid commissioning editor for a TV station who was trying to improve artistic standards but who had rejected an idea for an abysmal reality TV show which later became a huge success on another station, and lost his job. Apart from some minor gardening jobs, he has time to investigate the "puerile piffle trotted out by the tabloid press" and reality TV shows. So when his best friend gives him £10 million, (following a lottery win), he has a chance to get his own back.

Starting with the Daily Mail as his target, he recruits an explosives expert recently kicked out of the army, and a disgruntled IT expert employed by The Mail. So by the end of chapter 8, The Mail's 4 huge printing presses had been reduced to piles of rubble, (with no injuries, as Jonathan had insisted), and the entire contents of the MailOnline deleted from all hard discs, servers, etc.

So without experiencing too much difficulty, he decides to move on to The Express, Star, Sun and Mirror ( and possibly some TV channels, but I haven't got on to that yet.) I have no idea what could possibly go wrong, but I'm expecting quite a lot does.

From the inside front cover,

This is a work of fiction.
It's a novel, not a manifesto.
But what fun it would be, eh?

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Wed Nov 23, 2016 9:55 am

Sounds as if the author is working out a lot of frustrations...

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by chaggle » Sun Jan 01, 2017 9:21 pm

Talking about The Design of Everyday Things...

We are just looking at renewing our bathroom so - shower controls.

In a shower you probably aren't wearing your glasses or contact lenses, it's steamy and you have water and/or soap in your eyes.

The controls look like this...

Image
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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Mon Jan 02, 2017 11:20 am

Yep, shower controls have a special category of bloodymindedness of their own. Even worse when they are combined with a bath. Whenever we stay in a hotel the one who draws the short straw showers first, then passes on the painfully-earned (frozen and/or boiled) information about what to do with the controls.

I'm currently reading The Knowledge - How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch, by Lewis Dartnell. This imagines a situation in which a lethal pandemic has killed off most of the population (I like these cheery, optimistic tales), crashed civilisation and left the survivors working out how to cope. The analysis of what might happen next and how the survivors would preserve as much as possible of our technology is actually a lot more positive than I would have imagined. I do hope that I never actually need this book, though.

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Re: What book are you reading at the moment?

Post by Tony.Williams » Tue Jan 03, 2017 3:33 pm

On the fictional side, I am currently working my way through the third volume of Dave Hutchinson's Fractured Europe trilogy. A near-future Europe which has fragmented into a huge number of statelets; an international courier/espionage network; one country which consists of a train line running from east to west through Europe and Asia; people with the ability to create alternate realities by drawing maps of them; and lots more. To paraphrase: "It's SFF Jim, but not as we know it".

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