Tuesday, August 25, 2009

10 tips for Zengineers

(Adapted from an email I received - from www.PresentationZen.com

(These rules themselves are over-complicated and need simplifying.)

Below are 10 things (plus a bonus tip) learned from designers over the years. When I speak around the world I often put up a slide that asks people to make as many sentences as they can beginning with the word"Designers...." The goal of this activity is to get people thinking aboutthinking about design, something most of us never do (it also gets people in the audience talking, loosening up a bit; always a good thing). The sentences they generate range from "Designers wear black" to "Designers use creativity and analysis to solve problems" to "Designers make things beautiful," and so on.

This zen ten is broad and even a bit philosophical. Regardless of your profession, I hope there is an item or two that you can apply to your own work.

(1) Embrace constraints. Constraints and limitations are wonderful allies
and lead to enhanced creativity and ingenious solutions that without
constrains never would have been discovered or created. In the words of T.S.
Eliot, "Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl." There's no point
complaining about constraints such as time, money, tools, etc. Your problem
is what it is. How can you solve it given the resources and time that you

(2) Practice restraint - keep things simple. Any fool can be complicated and add more, it takes discipline of mind and strength of will to make the hard choices about what
to include and what to exclude. The genius is often in what you omit or
leave on the editing room floor.

(3) Adopt the beginner's mind - start from your audience . As the old saying goes, in the expert's mind there are few possibilities, but for one with the beginner's mind, the world
is wide open. Designers understand the need to take risks, especially during
early explorations of the problem. They are not afraid to break with
convention. Good designers are open minded and comfortable with ambiguity
early on in the process, this is how discoveries are made.

(4) Leave your ego at the door. This is not about you, it's about them (your
audience, customer, patient, student, etc.). Look at the problem from their
point of view -- put yourself in their shoes. This is not easy, it takes
great amounts of empathy. Get in touch with your empathetic side. Empathy
" an under valued "soft skill," can be a great differentiator and is key
for truly understanding a problem.

(5) Focus on the experience. It's not the thing, it's the experience of the thing. This is related to #4 above: Put yourself in their shoes. How do people interact with your solution? Remember that much of
design has an emotional component, sometimes this is even the largest
component (though users may be unaware of this). Do not neglect the
emotional aspect of your solutions.

(6) Become a storyteller. Often it's not only the design
" i.e.,
the solution to a problem
" that is important, but the story of it. This
is related to #5 above. What's the meaning of the solution? Practice
illustrating the significance of solutions both verbally and visually. Start
with the general, zoom in to the detail, pull out again to remind us of the
theme or key concept, then zoom back in to illuminate more of the detail.

(7) Think communication not decoration. Design
" even graphic design "
is not about beautification. Design is not just about aesthetics, though
aesthetics are important. More than anything, design is about solving
problems or making the current situation a little better than before. Design
is not art, though there is art in design.

(8) Obsess about ideas not tools. Tools are important and necessary, but
they come and go as better tools come along. Obsess instead about ideas.
Though most tools are ephemeral, some of your best tools are a simple pencil
and sketch pad. These are often the most useful
" especially in the early
stages of thinking
" because they are the most direct. Good advice is to
go analog in the beginning with the simplest tools possible.

(9) Clarify your intention. Design is about choices and intentions, it is
not accidental. Design is about process. The end user will usually not
notice "the design of it." It may seem like it just works, assuming they
think about it at all, but this ease-of-use (or ease-of-understanding) is
not by accident, it's a result of your careful choices and decisions.

(10) Sharpen your vision & curiosity. Learn from the lessons around you.
Good designers are skilled at noticing and observing. They are able to see
both the big picture and the details of the world around them. Humans are
natural pattern seekers; be mindful of this skill in yourself and in others.
Design is a "whole brain" process. You are creative, practical, rational,
analytic, empathetic, and passionate. Foster these aptitudes.

(11) Learn all the "rules" and know when and why to break them. Over the
centuries, those who came before us have established useful and necessary guidelines
" these are often called rules or laws and it's important to know them. Yet, unlike other kinds of laws, it may be acceptable to break them at times so long as you know why. Basic graphic design principles and rules are important and useful to know, yet most professionals today have a hole in their education when it comes to the fundamentals of graphic design. I'll try to do my little bit with the next book to raise the design mindfulness and vocabulary of professionals who do not make a living in design per se, but who have a desire to get better.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is "the Jewish State"?

The Jewish people have a peculiar history with its own tragic mixture of oppression and glory. One outcome of this is the present State of Israel, and the state of the Middle East.

Central to today's discourse is the notion of the "Jewish State", which Palestinians are warned to embrace (e.g. recently by Netanyahu), or face the consequences. But what is this Jewish State? And why is the Jewish religion unique in claiming its right to statehood?

We do not hope to answer these questions here, but they should be posed. One thing that is clear however, is that the phrase "Jewish State" has had many different connotations over the decades and centuries. Theodore Herzl's (1896) "Der Judenstaat" is one possible starting-point. This raised most of the key issues:
  • What would the boundaries of such a state be? Specifically, what about Jerusalem?
  • Who would be entitled to live there?
  • Would education and law etc. have to be fundamentally Jewish - and if so, what does 'fundamental' mean?
  • What would be the rights of non-Jewish people in the Jewish state - and what would be the rights of Jewish people elsewhere?
  • How would Israel live with its neighbours?
These ambiguities remain today. It makes no sense to accept or refute "Israel as a Jewish State" unless the ambiguities are resolved. The concept is a pig in a poke (sorry to be so 'non-kosher').

Comparable and equally pressing questions also exist regarding "the Palestinian state" and its right to exist, but these get little coverage. (Note: we do not say "Palestine as an Islamic state", for scarcely anybody is demanding this.)

Today, some 100 years after Herzl, the website jewishstate.com is attempting to clarify the debate, while sanitising the language. Their demands remind me of "the language police", and include the following:
  • Are we allowed to write "Jewish state" (small 's')?
"No," say the language police, "it's 'Jewish State', a proper name. There are not two or five Jewish states, just one Jewish State. ... anti-Semites, like the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church-USA speak of Israel as if its mission were identical to that of France." (The fact that identical arguments applies to "the Palestinian State" seems not to be noted .... )

  • the word "Settlement"
This word should not be used: "'Settlement' carries so much baggage that the speaker automatically earns a place of honor at the council of anti-Semitic crusaders and jihadists."
  • the words "fighter" and "militant" (as applied to Palestinians)
"No, sorry anti-Semitic journalists, it's "terrorist". Any person who kills civilians to advance a political objective through intimidation qualifies for this term. That applies to killers of Jews just as much as killers of Europeans or Americans."
So that's interesting. Does the IDA "kill civilians"? Is its aim "to advance a political objective through intimidation"? Surely not!

The above quotes are taken from Ezra Ben-Shalom (2009), which reminds me of the "language police".

Ezra Ben-Shalom (2009) Common mistakes in grammar and terminology that disrespect the Jewish State. www.jewishstate.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blair & MP’s Expenses – a diversionary tactic?

(Am putting this in in draft form, as nobody else seems to have noticed this. JB)

I trust my good friend Vincent Cable, for verily he is an honest man. But the information about his expenses provides little information either way.

· 50% or more of it is blacked out

Also, there is information over-kill: 500 pages for Vince alone; over a million pages in total. I am reminded of Saddam Hussein’s ruse when he was obliged to provide full details of his WMD programme. The TV newsreels showed a room full of ring-binders and CDs. Saddam thought he was being extremely clever and so no doubt do our MPs, who have been largely put up to this by the retiring Speaker Michael Martin whose last weekend in pist this is. (Like George W Bush and many naughty boys, he leaves the next incumbent to clear up the mess.)

I am far more interested in Tony Blair Esquire, who is now so filthy rich that the MP’s pig-trough is probably too small for him to show an interest in. What can we learn about him from these revelations?

Very little, as it turns out.

The first entry runs to three pages. However, so much is blacked out that the only information of any value is as follows:

It is a handwritten invoice (no heading, no signature, no date), containing the following information:

“Goods supplied by D+J Jordan

[[Details deleted]]

From 8.8.06 to 29.6.07



Source: p.3 of http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/hocallowances/allowances-by-mp/tony-blair/Tony_Blair_0708_IEP.pdf

There are other claims in the same handwriting

What use is this to anyone? We have no information about what ‘Goods’ were supplied, nor who D+J Jordan were (although a quick Google search reveals some off-licence premises at Trimdon in Blair’s district of Sedgefield – surely we are not paying for Tony’s booze?)

Source: http://greataycliffe.sedgefield.gov.uk/ccm/content/neighbourhood-services/environmental-services/environmental/licensing-section/premises-licences---off-licences.en;jsessionid=35C03B85B61F57FCAFC59CA62EA65615

The scanned pages fall into three main categories:

  • "Additional Costs Allowance" - for costs incurred when staying overnight away from their main home
  • "Incidental Expenses Provision" – costs for running the MP's office
  • "Communications Allowance" - for MP communications with constituents.

According to the parliament sites, any editing is “to remove information which could cause serious security issues and breach the privacy of the MP, their staff and other third parties”.

There is also Tony’s claims from his “Winding up allowance”. These are payments “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in winding up the parliamentary and constituency affairs or (sic!) the former Member of Parliament”

Source: p.3 of http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/hocallowances/allowances-by-mp/tony-blair/Tony_Blair_0708_ACA.pdf

This document goes on for 53 pages, and quite honestly I don’t have time, energy or perseverance to read all of them. I know that Blair is a rogue. I know that fiddling expenses is very low on MP’s scales of roguishness. And quite honestly I think that the whole thing is a smokescreen to generate income for the Telegraph garner support for the Tories, and divert attention from managing the country which is what these guys and gals should be doing to earn their crust.

p.52 of the same document lists water and sewerage charges of “Mr C.L.Blair” (who he?) to cover the period up to 1st April 2008. There’s also a Council Tax bill for the same period. (Tony ceased being MP for Sedgefield in June 2007)

On 25th June 2007, Tony submitted a claim for £7659. This included a gas bill for £507 and one for £6990 for roof repairs and guttering. I wonder where and when this was done, as Tony had already resigned as MP before making this claim.

(Incidentally, am I the only one to have noticed that a large number of female Labour MPs seem to have come unstuck recently. Why is this - surely they can’t be more corrupt or inept than their male counterparts? I wonder what the true reason is. I haven’t noticed similar haemorrhaging where female Tories or Lib Dems are concerned.)

I assume this is legit, or the Fees Office would have spotted it. But what are their credentials for doing the job?

PS: I now find that according to The Times

“… some of Blair’s files covering claims for Myrobella, his constituency home, were destroyed by Commons officials” after they rejected an FOI request to see his claims.

(It is a criminal offence to destroy documents to prevent their disclosure under freedom of information (FOI) laws, but Blair’s people officials seem to have been unaware of this. Is this not odd, given that Blair headed the government that passed this legislation?)


It goes without saying that Blair, like all lawyers and bankers, is an honourable man.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Netanyahu's speech

Most leaders cannot be taken at face value, and Netanyahu least of all. But could a Palestinian group steal his thunder by saying something along the following lines ... ?

"Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech raised many detailed points with which we cannot agree. However in the spirit of peace and compromise proposed by Netanyahu, we wish to accept the following points.
  • We accept the need for a solution in which Jews as well as others can live in security and without fear.
  • We accept that massive wrongs have been done to the Jewish people, many of whom have strong and genuine religious beliefs relating to their rights over Palestine.
  • We accept that Jewish refugees are entitled to compassionate support.
  • We accept that historical realities have resulted in a Jewish state in the Middle East.
  • We accept that compromise will be necessary on many areas, including borders, Jerusalem and refugees.
However we believe that compromise will be necessary on both sides equally and in this spirit we are prepared to enter negotiations with just one condition - that no further building should be done by either side which could threaten the security of the other side."

If this could be said, then Netanyahu could be caught on the wrong foot. "If a stranger greet you, then grasp him firmly by the hand. If he is sincere you will have greeted him. If he is insincere, then at least you will have him partly immobilised".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

de-Murgatroyding Society

Just found my friend Steve Murgatroyd's blog. I knew him when he was a grumpy young man, while now .....

His main preoccupations seem to be:
  • short skirts
  • Gordon Brown
  • global warming
  • short skirts.
As far as I can see, he doesn't believe in any of them (except the fifth).

Steve's good on numeracy though. Not for nothing was he the crap-filter for our epoch-making Open University statistics course - conceived 1979; still running in Hong Kong, I'm glad to see.

I'm not clear if Steve disbelieves that global warming is happening, or whether he is just against cap-and-trade. If the latter, then I agree with him: a globally agreed carbon tax is what we should be going for. And until that's agreed, the major polluters should start with local taxes. (Yes, that means you, President Obama.)

I also agree with Steve that Gordon Brown is now dead in the water. He's even ceased to bother to come up for air. I'm not surprised. One of the worst things about Tony Blair is that he cleared the Labour Party of anybody interested in innovative thinking - apart from all the lickspittles.

But at least Blair had charisma and could crack the occasional joke. He also looked as though he knew where he was going - even if it was 180o in the wrong direction.

Admittedly Brown had some bad luck to start off with. The floods three weeks after he took over were clearly not his fault (Blair's, probably). But his first dithering was the failure to call an election in Autumn 2007. (But then, if he had, he would still have 3 years to run now and that is too dire tro contemplate.)

Brown and Darling have thrown money at the banks. Meanwhile, homelessness and child poverty are still major problems. (How many times did you see child poverty mentioned after the budget - compared with the zillions of crocodile tears over the long-overdue 50% income tax rate and the poor guys earning over £150,000 p.a.?)

I suspect that Murgatroyd agrees with this. He probably also agrees with my proposal for "Brown pounds". This was a way of resolving the credit crunch without enriching the banks and hoping for a bit of eventual trickle-down. Brown pounds would have been a freebie for everybody. So it would have been equalising, and not "more for those who have". The idea is that everybody in the UK would receive 1000 Brown pounds from the kind Mr Brown (or ten thousand, or some other figure). The only trick is that this money is for spending, not saving. So it has to be spent by Christmas Day (say). Any Brown Pounds not spent by then immediately turn into pumpkins and are worth nothing. Result: an instant boost to the economy; everybody feels good about the kind Mr Brown; and lots of pumpkins. The idea is so brilliant that I'm surprised Saint Vince Cable (our next Speaker) did not think of it first.

Of course, variants are possible (more for the poor; special arrangements for people about to lose their homes; phased payments rather than one-off, .....); and it has definitional problems (who exactly qualifies? how to prevent scams?) But compared with most taxes and subsidies it is relatively simple, and easy to manage and monitor.

But I do agree with Murgatroyd about short skirts ....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vince Cable for King!

(My small contribution to the dancing in the streets at the York Press website, in response to the departure of Speaker Martin): A previous contributor said that "Gorbals Mick has been a disaster since Day 1"

I don't think it's true that he has been a disaster from Day 1 (also, I don't think he shd be called "Gorbals Mick", as he has specifically said he does not like the condescending tag). But I do feel he has been implicated in recent attempts to cover up and conceal information. I just hope it does not transpire that he has a personal reason for doing that.

Vote Vince Cable for King! (or Speaker at least, if he won't accept the monarchy)

Monday, May 18, 2009

“To the Tower!” – but meanwhile, please get on with running the country

It looks like Speaker Martin’s time is up. “Off with his head!” came the cry from scoundrels of all colours in the Commons today – as well as a few honest men.

It seems that Speaker Mick makes his own rules, which includes ruling out of order the motion that could have unseated him. In this he is assisted by three men in gowns and wigs, who clerk in front of him and keep him right on points of procedure. They are untrained in points of ethics.

Among key ideas lost in the recent days of Telegraph-adulation:

  1. Who are these journalists? How much are they paid? Have they never fiddled their expenses? (Tweedle-Foulkes at least got it right on telly the other day when he asked the twenties bimbo interviewing him how much she gets paid. 50% more than MPs apparently– and that’s without her expenses.
  2. Why don’t others follow the example of Saint Vince Cable? – he has been putting his expenses on his website since 2004.
  3. How many lawyers are there in the Commons – and how many does it take to decide what is legal?
  4. What’s the role of the Fees Office in all this? It seems they have been at the very least conniving at unethical applications of immoral systems. (Not to mention shielding a mole, who may have made a healthy swag selling CDs to the Telegraph pen-pushers.)

Saddest of all in this sorry spectacle, is that government seems to have stopped while this is sorted out. Thus we have 600 good men and true, not to mention lady MPs, who each earn £60,000 plus. And all they are talking about, according to the papers, is how deep their snout has been in the trough, and how much is visible.

That looks like £1 million pounds per week in my reckoning. Haven’t they got better things to do with their expensive time? (like chasing up a few more bankers for garrotting – now that’s really moral!)