Archive for the ‘Donald C. Gause’ Category

Actively seek problems with your “solution”

October 6, 2007

Each solution (to a problem) is the source of the next problem.

We never get rid of problems.  Problems, solutions, and new problems weave an endless chain.  The best we can hope for is that the problems we substitute are less troublesome than the ones we “solve.”

Whenever you “solve” a problem try to think of at least three problems with your solution.  If you can’t think of at least three things that might be wrong with your solution then you don’t understand the scope of the problem.

There are hundreds of things that can be overlooked in any problem definition.  If you can’t think of even three, all that says is that you can’t, or won’t, think at all.

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

Costly misinterpretation of a single word

October 1, 2007

Even simple sentences can be misinterpreted.  Here’s an example of a misread sentence that proved very costly.

The (computer) program’s specification read, in part,

“The exception information will be in the XYZ file, too.”

The programmer took this to mean,

Another place the exception information appears is the XYZ file.”

He assumed, therefore, that the exception information was duplicated somewhere else, so he saw no need for his program to preserve it.

Actually, the writer meant,

“Another type of information that appears in the XYZ file is the exception information.”

Nothing was implied about this information being duplicated elsewhere, and, indeed, it wasn’t duplicated.  As a result, valuable and unrecoverable information was lost.  Before the differing interpretations were discovered, the cost of the lost information had mounted to about $500,000 – rather a large bill for one carelessly placed “too.”

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

Seeing things new again … wake up!

September 30, 2007

Human beings are so adaptable. Strange and unfamiliar things are quickly adapted to, and then their strangeness and unfamiliarity become invisible, i.e. we become anesthetized to them. But once in a while we experience things that cause us to “wake up.”

When we travel to foreign lands, we inevitably experience “new” things as strange and awkward. The money doesn’t make sense, the street signs are in the wrong places, and the toilet paper is all wrong.

An even more enlightening experience, though, is to accompany a foreign traveler through your own country, for through the foreigner’s eyes you will once again perceive the strangeness and awkwardness of your own culture.

Show a Swiss visitor American paper money for the first time. You will invariably hear, “But they’re all the same size? How do blind people tell them apart?” Your response will be an embarrassed silence, for unless you’re blind yourself, you’ve never thought about money in that way. Never? Well, hardly ever. Not, at least, since you were a child.

The next response of the Swiss visitor will be, “And they’re all of the same color! Don’t people make lots of mistakes in making change?” Again, embarrassed silence as you contemplate how many times you’ve had experiences of being shortchanged, or longchanged, when a five was mistaken for a ten.

Take some object that you handle every day – a shoe, a shirt, a fork, a car door, a toothbrush, or any one of a thousand others. Set yourself the exercise of “seeing” it from the point of view of someone from another country who has never seen one before. Then try using it with your eyes tightly closed. Imagine that you are one-fourth your present size and trying to handle this object for the first time. What happens if you cannot read, or your manual dexterity is not well developed?

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

How to solve a problem

September 6, 2007

A problem is the difference
between things as desired
and things as perceived

Seen this way, a problem could be solved either by changing desires or changing perceptions.

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg