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Checking In

I was working from home for a couple of weeks. I write mostly in and around airplanes, so my writing/reading schedule fell apart for a bit. I’m travelling again for a short time, and so I hope to pick this back up. I’ve found writing somewhere regularly to be a pretty useful habit for organizing my thoughts, and losing time for it was no fun at all.

I became a man since I last wrote: I was Austria in my first game of Diplomacy. I learned, I lost, I regret nothing. (We agreed to share all missives at the end of the game. That was something.)

I also bought an Arduino starter kit and began wiring stuff with LEDS, buttons, motors, and relays. Next week I hope to run through the rest of the projects in the little manual and graduate to solving crucial life problems. I want to automatically water my plants and for my TV to swivel to face me when I walk to and from the kitchen. Life has been too hard for too long.

Fukuyama and Kissinger are both releasing books about political order next month.

I hope to finish Kissinger’s Diplomacy, which I have been pretty slowly wading through as a result of my own recent time management failures. His new book is apparently called World Order. Fukuyama’s book is the sequel to Origins of Political Order, titled Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. 

Fukuyama defines institutions, after Huntington, as “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” around which humans act for the greater good.

A Burkean view [according to others– I’ve never read Burke] of history might mainly see an ecology of markets and cultures, (older notes on historiographies). In this view, the habits that are incentivized by cultural institutions have a more appreciated role in the success of a nation than the whims of the elite. It’s a view that might lead to a conservative framing, since it sorta suggests that a nation’s fate is that much more intractable, and progressive schemes to change things are that much more fragile.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year writing about normal accidents, illegibility, and other reasons why complicated things are really complicated and maybe shouldn’t be touched. Despite that, I’ve also suggested that I am actually in favor of touching some complicated things somehow.

Herbert Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial is stuffed with insight about (among many other things) devising concrete prescriptions for what might seem to be intractable problems. First, to recognize the significance of design as a process/discipline:

Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences. Schools of engineering, as well as schools of architecture, business, education, law, and medicine, are all centrally concerned with the process of design. [Sciences of the Artificial]

Before I attended a talk by Jon Kolko in college, I still associated design with beauty and ease but not with strategy and process. I never really viscerally understood how Simon’s ideas really translated into action. Yes, sure bounded rationality. Yes, artifacts as external memory. Somehow it didn’t click right away.

So, in coming months I hope to read significantly more design stuff (e.g. Christopher Alexander. My career path is also veering in a direction where that kind of stuff might be useful to me, anyway. I’ll also probably write more about my experiences with game development, since that’s a big angle of mine that I’ve been quieter about than I’ve expected.



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  1. careid


    Chris- Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. For a non-applied view of design process, I think one of the best books is “Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology.” Lots of thought on the mechanisms behind good design process that are applicable to other fields.

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