[unrev-II] Re: Session 1 - Better Humans, Better Information Systems

From: Dick Karpinski (dick@cfcl.com)
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 13:47:01 PST

From: Dick Karpinski <dick@cfcl.com>

Apparently, at least for digest subscribers, responding to the list
address is easily accomplished by replying to a digest. I still want
to change the subject, but I don't have to remember a twenty character
mixed case string with three punctuation marks. I suppose that this
observation amounts to better humans through training.

The Institute for the Learning Sciences, under Roger Schank at
Northwestern University, has been doing exciting things. See his online
book, Engines for Education, at www.ils.nwu.edu/~e_for_e. You can also
check out the astonishing permanent exhibit at the Exploratorium.
Sickle Cell Counsellor offers you three couples concerned about their
genetic heritage with respect to the sickle cell gene and disease.

There are NO tests, NO wrong answers, NO scores. But it is, as they say,
"a rich learning environment". Most exhibits at any museum capture folks
attention for about a minute, more or less. This one engages people for
half an hour or more, and lets them learn a bunch, for fun. I believe
that such things merit attention and emulation.

As an information systems generalist, I'm often found explaining just how
bad current imformation systems are. Not only are they poorly designed
for humans, but they're fragile and full of errors. Every computer whiz
knows that there has never been a computer system delivered without lots
of errors. Fortunately, that's not true. About a dozen years ago, the
typewriter company Canon delivered some 20,000 machines to customers, but
not one of those customers reported a bug. To say the least, the Canon
Cat did not crash. More later, if interest develops, about writing bug-
free code.

Few computer system design teams follow Raskin's rule: it's not that
every design team should have a human factors specialist; it is that
every design team should be led by a human factors specialist. The rule
showed it's strength when the Macintosh, conceived and named by Jef
Raskin, became the best selling computer (in the first year) in all of
human history. Much more later, if there is interest, about how to make
computers that work well with humans.

Incidentally, Jef has a web page at www.jefraskin.com and his book,
explaining in detail how to create user friendly computer systems, will
be published this spring by Addison Wesley and ACM Press under the title
The Humane Interface. I found many flaws in several close readings of
the manuscript, but they're all fixed now. In my not so humble opinion,
this book may well be implicated in finishing the unfinished revolution.

Finally, since much of what we are discussing has to do with getting a
whole group of people to agree on things, I have to mention John
Warfield and his Handbook of Interactive Management. John claims to be
able to take a group of twelve or fifteen stakeholders, brought together
to deal with some complex issue, and go beyond "nominal group process".
By several devices, he gets the group to understand each other's issues
so well that he achieves real, focussed consensus, instead of that vague
and fuzzy completion that we all see so often.

Despite the length of this note, I've been quite brief, so don't be
surprised that it's not all clear and obvious. There is more to say and
to understand on these few topics than anyone can lay claim to. Yet.

Dick Karpinski (dick@cfcl.com) The world's largest leprechaun.

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