Help! What’s a better way to say “art versus science?”

I’ve been working with a  colleague, Don Norman, on analyzing how the field of design has changed and will evolve in an era of smart machines. Don is back at UCSD, although since he retired from here about 20 years ago, he is limited to a fractional salary We overlapped at UCSD briefly, but I never appreciated what a usefully disruptive influence he can be. Or how many books he has written over the years.

I generally refer to “art and science” as opposite ends of a spectrum of how people work and how technologies evolve. See “Art to science” as a category in this blog. “Art to science” is widely used: “Job X is a mixture of art and science.” But neither word is correct.

Instead of “art,” I now use the correct term, which is “craft.”

But Don keeps pointing out that  “science” is not correct, either. Science is very important to technology, but it is a philosophy/methods for doing research, not for normal operation. What is a better  term? I keep thinking there should be a good Greek term, and I just located  this discussion of the Greek words Techne, Praxis, and Phronesis. But none of them is correct. Of course, the Greeks were pre-industrial by 2000 years, so it’s not surprising if they had no concept for “systematic and well understood work.”

Perhaps the Romans had  a word for  describing “the military science of systematically butchering barbarians?”   Any suggestions?


#firstsevenjobs is an interesting example of crowdsourcing research

  • Dishwasher (^3) (Exeter, Harvard, and a summer job)
  • Lifeguard (Local swimming hole)
  • Library assistant (^2) (Harvard. One was work and one was a sinecure. I’m still really fast at putting things in alphabetical order.)
  • Sci. programmer (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)
  • IT salesman (IT startup company)
  • Business programmer (Xerox. My first taste of a really big company, and I hated it.)
  • Energy consultant (DC consulting firm)

from Twitter

August 10, 2016 at 10:11PM


How flying changed from a craft to a science: Chapter 1 available

I have just uploaded Chapter 1 of my book manuscript. It summarizes four revolutionary changes in how people flew. It outlines some themes of the full book, including People and Work and Is Science Inevitable?. And of course it includes a few gripping tales of accidents averted – or not.

Commercial aviation today is very safe and scientific. But it wasn’t always. Please send comments, anything from typos to critiques.

Over August I will put up some photographs and key tables from the full book.

Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense — Really??

Claim: “The history of architectural innovation is on his side. Source: Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense” by Joshua Gans

I’ve seen many people encouraging Musk’s integration of Solar City with Tesla, but it strikes me as a weak move. There is some synergy between electric cars and home PV, but electric energy is mostly fungible. Only if local utilities use really dumb pricing schemes for solar power would it be useful to bypass them if you have an EV. (Admittedly, many utilities do exactly that.)

Second, his closing argument contradicts a lot of other analysis.  I have not read Gans book. But he writes that:

As I outline in my book, The Disruption Dilemma, the companies that have thrived in the face of architectural disruption of this kind are those that have kept all the parts close and in control rather than spread them out.

But, “keeping all the parts under your control” rules out 99% of startups. And it also seems historically incorrect. IBM, when it started the IBM-PC revolution, did so by surrendering control of almost everything, including the OS, processor, hard drive, and applications. IBM made all of these things for its mainframes, but it revolutionized the industry by NOT controlling them for personal computers. And this was certainly architectural disruption – the shift from a closed to an open architecture.

I’ll have to look at his book. Or ask my friend Liz Lyons down the hall, who was his student.

Can Motorola establish a new smartphone platform?

Every electronics company dreams of starting a new platform that other firms adopt and build on. It’s one of the few paths to riches  in electronics (think: iPhone, Android, Blu-Ray, CDMA, Steam, Playstation). Check out extensive writing by my friend Michael Cusumano and his colleague Annabelle Gawer, such as this article in Sloan Management Review. (May be behind a paywall.) Although even if successful, the originator may have to make so many deals that it does not capture much rent. (Think: Android again, Blu-Ray again, Wi-Fi, 4G, HDTV, etc.) And doing it successfully is very hard, even for large companies.

moto-1935  A  related dream is modularity without sacrificing performance. This has been discussed for cell phones for many years, although in the past I have been skeptical. This article, though, sounds as if Motorola has a chance at doing both. Technically, it sounds like a good concept, if they can pull it off as well as the article suggests. Of course, technical excellence is  never sufficient to become a standard. And Motorola, with all its ownership turmoil in recent years, is not very credible. But I’m heartened to think that the goal of a modular smartphone may be technically realistic, which would be great for consumers. (It’s important that Moto is not talking about creating a new operating system or app platform. Just look at Nokia and Microsoft to see how hard that is.)

Video version of the Wired article.

Continue reading

Some flying still relies on personal skill

For some reason I take comfort in knowing that there are still aviation jobs that have a high degree of craft (art). According to this article, a lot of the training is by apprenticeship (copiloting), which was the only way to learn flying in the 1930s.

Most of my aviation research emphasizes how craft skills are becoming less important. And indeed there is also a lot of procedural science in mosquito spraying. But in a variety of high-variety, high-risk aviation, expertise is still key. Other examples are bush flying and low-altitude military flying.

Source: Expert Pilots Keep Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes in Check | Flying Magazine


Not your grandfather’s crop duster!

Google/Alphabet continues toward Total Person Awareness: tracking every vehicle + person.

Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google (from The Guardian)

Documents reveal Sidewalk Labs is offering a system it calls Flow to Columbus, Ohio, to upgrade bus and parking services – and bring them under Google’s management.


The emails and documents show that Flow applies Google’s expertise in mapping, machine learning and big data to thorny urban problems such as public parking. Numerous studies have found that 30% of traffic in cities is due to drivers seeking parking.

Sidewalk said in documents that Flow would use camera-equipped vehicles,…. It would then combine data from drivers using GoogleMaps with live information from city parking meters to estimate which spaces were still free. Arriving drivers would be directed to empty spots.

Source: Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google

Notice that this gives Google/Alphabet a legitimate reason to track every car in the downtown area. Flow can be even more helpful if they know  the destination of every car AND every traveler for the next hour.
The next logical step, a few years from now, will be to track the plans of every person in the city. For example Mary Smith normally leaves her house in the suburbs at 8:15AM to drive to her office in downtown Columbus. Today, however, she has to drop off daughter Emily (born Dec 1, 2008, social security number 043-xx-xxxx) at school, so she will leave a little early. This perturbation in normal traffic can be used to help other drivers choose the most efficient route. Add  together thousands of these, and we can add real-time re-routing of buses/ Uber cars.
For now, this sounds like science fiction.  It certainly contains the ability to improve transit efficiency and speed, and “make everyone better off.” But it comes at a price. Yet many are already comfortable with Waze tracking their drives in detail.
Tune back in 10 years from now and tell me how I did.