My thoughts come in two variants: half-baked thoughts and over-cooked thoughts.
The half-baked variant are interesting ideas (to me at least) that I wanted to share and document, but which I haven’t researched in detail. So in a way, it roughly follows the idea of “strong opinions, weakly held.” I created this variant to allow me to post ideas without spending tonnes of time thoroughly backing them up or disproving them, by adding the explicit “disclaimer” that I’m willing to be (and most likely am) wrong about the idea. Posts in this category typically take me less than 3 hours to write up, but have been percolating through my mind for a few days.
The over-cooked variant are ideas which I’ve spent much more time researching, and therefore tend to be longer posts. They’re also interesting ideas, also weakly held (i’m just as willing to change my mind), but will hopefully withstand more interrogation than half-baked thoughts (because I’ve researched them more!). These posts typically have days of writing behind them, and months of research / thinking.
Report from the “solar-face”
“Here at the coal-face, things are real” my old boss used to say. While we were building a coal fired power station (Medupi), he was referring more to the idea of “real work,” as opposed to the work, according to him, our bosses did (“fiddle with PowerPoint”).
The phrase “coal-face” (a dictionary term would you believe) was probably coined when coal was King, back when the world was young, but the world has changed. Not only is coal set to give up its crown (albeit too slowly to halt climate change), but the world of work is also vastly different to the old days. The “solar-face” seems, somehow, to be a more fitting description of a distributed, very fluid, very complex world of work. Solar = new, coal = old.
Real work then, happens at the “solar-face” these days.
Over the last few days, I’ve been having some wonderful conversations with my colleagues at the Wits School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering about the difference between our Research and Design projects. They’ve led me to the following thought:
Designing complex socio-technical systems may be more “research” than it is “design,” and therefore maybe far more “experimental” in nature than is we typically think. The traditional systems engineering approach promotes understanding the stakeholders, the environment and the problem in significant detail very early on, before even beginning to think of design solutions (INCOSE, 2015). So, it’s very heavy on upfront “research”. However, in a complex socio-technical system, it’s probably impossible to understand everything that has an impact on the design of the solution upfront, before starting the design process proper. Trying to map all requirement in a CSTS (complex socio-technical system) would probably end up being an infinite and exhausting exercise.
Bicycle lanes, pilot projects, and complex socio-technical systems
PART 1: Bicycles and pilots (no, not airplane pilots)
A few years ago, the City of Johannesburg begun building bicycle lanes in various neighbourhoods of the city. The idea was ostensibly intended to diversify the city’s transportation options, and enable transport via bicycle to grow into a new, valuable commuter option. In the area I live, a mixed suburb with a fairly large student component, the bicycle lane project turned into a significant construction project: the roads where bicycle lanes were build were entirely resurfaced, the pavements completely overhauled (from tarred pavements to brick paving), bicycle lanes installed on both sides on the road through the use of “physical bump” yellow lane demarcations (not the painted version), and poles with camera monitoring facilities mounted on the corner of the neighbourhood blocks. It struck me at the time as a massively expensive exercise, and I wondered whether this project had been thought through properly (was it really necessary, for example, to re-tar the roads?)
In the years that have followed the construction of these lanes, there has been very little use of the lanes. At least by cyclists (the informal recyclers and their trolleys use them a lot more!). You might see the odd guy on a bicycle, but most days no one uses them for their intended purpose1.