A new degree program is being set up.  I won’t say in what, or who’s leading the charge, or any of that – because it’s both irrelevant and unnecessary, and also I don’t want to be seen as trying to torpedo the exercise. However, I find that the foundations upon which the program is based is rather flawed.  I think these flaws constitute a good case study in requirements elicitation, so I’ve put some notes together on it.

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Thinking about analogical reasoning.

I recently came across some old-ish work in analogical reasoning that tickled my brain about priming during experiments. What concerns me is the quality of conclusions reached by the research and how we might improve our experimental methods in studying analogical reasoning, especially as it pertains to design. References are at the end of this post.

Bear with me; we need to set things up first.

In a 1945 paper, Duncker offered the following scenario.

Suppose you are a doctor faced with a patient who has a malignant tumor in his stomach. It is impossible to operate on the patient, but unless the tumor is destroyed, the patient will die. There is a kind of ray that can be used to destroy the tumor. If the rays reach the tumor all at once at a sufficiently high intensity, the tumor will be destroyed. Unfortunately, at this intensity, the healthy tissue that the rays pass through on the way to the tumor will also be destroyed. At lower intensities, the rays are harmless to healthy tissue, but they will not affect the tumor either. What type of procedure might be used to destroy the tumor with the rays and at the same time avoid destroying the healthy tissue?

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The costs of work-related illness are comparable to those of all cancers combined.

The costs of work-related illness are comparable to those of all cancers combined.

Here’s a simple – and rather scary – demonstration of just how important Human Factors are in design: the costs of work-related ill health is equivalent to the costs of all cancers combined.

The World Health Organization reports that work related injury and disease costs 4% to 5% of the total global domestic product, and 2.2 million people die from work related causes every year.

Lots of people put up with horribly designed products because they don’t realize just how much damage they’re causing themselves.  Sometimes the harm accumulates slowly over months or years – there’s no particular point where one might say “Oww! That’s not right!”  (So-called repetitive strain injuries.) Other times, it’s just plain stupidity (like using the bucket of a front end loader to lift a ladder that’s not tied off to anything to reach the top of a structure).  In any case, the costs arising are huge, as is shown in the chart.

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ZigguratPyramid

The Ziggurat Pyramid, Dubai

The Ziggurat Pyramid is another monument to excess and decadence planned for Dubai, land of the gold bar ATMs, in-door year-round skiing, and ridiculously tall buildings (can you say “compensating”?).  It’s intended to be a single, self-sustaining complex capable of housing one million people in non-drone-like conditions.

Honestly, it’s just the latest incarnation of Paolo Soleri’s Arcology concept (dating back to 1969), so it’s not some kind of modern intellectual breakthrough.  While I think it’s important that we keep searching for better ways to live in “urban settings,” I don’t think the Ziggurat Pyramid will be a long term success.  And I can sum up my concern in a single word: modularity.

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DonaldLow[NOTE: I wish I could properly cite the interview on which I am basing this post, but I just can't find it.  If anyone can provide me with a link to the actual story, please let me know.]

On 25 September, around 7:00 pm, I listened to an interview on CBC Radio 1 (Toronto) of a professor of Disability Studies from Ryerson University.  The interview was essentially a commentary of a powerful video by Dr. Donald Low, the exceptional microbiologist who steered Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis. In that video, Dr. Low called for new standards to provide dying with dignity to everyone.  The commentary by the Ryerson professor, herself disabled, raised warning flags about Dr. Low’s call.

She talked – very eloquently – about all the different ways that one can define “dignity” as a social norm, and that any such norm would lead to a slippery slope that would end up with the disabled being euthanized without their consent because society had decided they lacked “dignity” in their lives.  Essentially, she argued that every life has some kind of inherent dignity that must be respected – even if that means denying them dignity in death.

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