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April 14, 2004 » 11:56 pm

ChiliPLoP Day 1

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona for Chili PLoP
2004. I hitched a ride with Ralph Johnson and Joe Yoder to Carefree,
Arizona, and soon found myself at the Lutheran Retreat Center, where the
conference is being held.    (1BJ)

The post-dinner agenda was to discuss the structure of the
conference. Other than the meal schedule (which is strictly
enforced), there is no structure. This is what differentiates
Chili PLoP from Hillside Group‘s other PLoP conferences. The setting is
more relaxed, and the agenda is entirely flexible.    (1BK)

Once we got business out of way, the fun began. There were a lot of
great conversations, and a few of us stayed up late into the night
chatting about everything from Pattern Languages to politics.    (1BL)

Tom Munnecke got the discussion started by asking about the
generativity of Pattern Languages. This is an ongoing beef that Tom
has with Pattern Languages, a misunderstanding that’s important to
clarify.    (1BM)

Tom’s thesis is that society is too problem-centric. For example, our
approach to healthcare is to cure sickness rather than to promote
healthy living. Tom’s GivingSpace project — and the reason he’s here
— is to identify and propagate patterns of uplift. This is a
wonderful effort. It’s related to our work on patterns of
collaboration, and it’s an effort I fully support.    (1BN)

Patterns are often defined as solutions to problems in a context.
Tom’s complaint is about the term “problem”; he think it prevents
patterns from being generative. “Problem” in this context, however,
means, “Something that needs a solution,” not, “Something that is
wrong.” In other words, describing things in terms of problems and
solutions does not necessarily prevent the solution from being
generative.    (1BO)

In fact, Christopher Alexander stresses the importance of identifying
generative patterns. Linda Rising cited an example first described by
Don Olson (and is also discussed in Linda’s book, The Patterns
Handbook
). Beginning skiiers often have a tendency to lean back,
something that will cause them to lose their balance. You could say
that one pattern is, “Don’t Lean Back.” This is not very useful
advice. Leaning back is an instinctive, not conscious action.    (1BP)

Don’s suggested pattern is “Hands In View.” This is a conscious action
you can perform, and the end result is that you lean forward. This is
a great example of a generative pattern.    (1BQ)

Ralph cited a similar example in software development:
qmail. The motivation for qmail was to
build a secure mail server. The approach, however, was not to
identify and fix every security problem. The approach was to design
small, modular programs that were easy to verify as secure. In other
words, security was an emergent property of the software’s design.    (1BR)

Other topics of note:    (1BS)

  • Ralph offered the following advice on naming patterns: Use noun phrases, not verbs.    (1BT)
  • Some patterns are not easily cross-cultural. For example, we talked about The Mexican Wave as a pattern of uplift. (I didn’t know that it was “the Mexican wave”; I thought it was just “the wave.”) Ofra Homsky suggested that Israelis would never do the wave. Joe Yoder said the same about Chicago Bears’ fans. The reasoning was that these fans are culturally noncomformist, and that they would never reach the necessary critical mass of fans in order to get the wave going. Similarly, Ofra explained that in America, when people want to increase their applause, they applaud faster. In Europe, people start applauding in rhythm.    (1BU)
  • Jerry Michalski related a story from Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing. Prior to World War I I, the U.S. military did a study that showed that in previous wars, only 10 percent of American soldiers were shooting to kill. This is because most humans naturally do not want to kill other people. The military reacted by changing its training methods, and by the Vietnam War, that number had increased to 90 percent. The point was that we are capable of changing people’s behaviors through training. The result, however, was not only increased killing efficiency but also the emergence of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which only started appearing after the Korean War, and an increase in the suicide rate among soldiers in wartime. The military had managed to change soldier’s behaviors, but at a terrible psychological cost.    (1BV)

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