Sunday, May 21, 2006

Zen and the Art...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I downloaded it from here and saved as word documents. Synced to my palm pilot and had “instant online book”. I’m really liking having the books on my palm for easy access where ever I am. Yesterday I had a bit of down time here and there between taking the kids from place A to place B. Just pull out the Treo (which since it is my phone as well is always with me) and instant book.

It gave me the opportunity to finish this book. I started it about a week ago and read it in bits and pieces on planes, where ever. It was very different from what I thought it would be. Slightly disturbing in some respects – but full of nice analogies. I agree with the recommendations to read this book. Two quotes from it caught my eye and since I was reading the electronic version – are easy to quote:

If you're experienced you'd probably apply a penetrating liquid and an
impact driver at this point. But suppose you're inexperienced and you attach
a self-locking plier wrench to the shank of your screwdriver and really
twist it hard, a procedure you've had success with in the past, but which
this time succeeds only in tearing the slot of the screw.

Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the
cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating
minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn't just irritating and minor.
You're stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It's absolutely stopped you from fixing
the motorcycle.

This isn't a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all.
Just plain stuck. In traditional maintenance this is the worst of all moments,
so bad that you have avoided even thinking about it before you come to it.

The book's no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don't need
any scientific experiments to find out what's wrong. It's obvious what's wrong.
What you need is an hypothesis for how you're going to get that slotless
screw out of there and scientific method doesn't provide any of these
hypotheses. It operates only after they're around.

This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput.
It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent.
You don't know what you're doing. You should be ashamed of yourself.
You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to
figure these things out.

What does that make me think of? ROT – good old rules of thumb. Rules of thumb – good in the hands of experienced people. Not so good in the hands of the uninitiated. Yet, who most frequently wants the rules of thumb? Not the experienced (they have already formulated their own working set based on their in depth past experience). The uninitiated. And they want it now.

a procedure you've had success with in the past,

says it all.

The other quote that grabbed me was about teaching – and how not to do it:

Between the lines Phædrus read no doubts, no sense of awe, only the eternal
smugness of the professional academician. Did Aristotle really think his
students would be better rhetoricians
for having learned all these
endless names and relationships
? And if not, did he really think he
was teaching rhetoric? Phædrus thought that he really did. There was nothing
in his style to indicate that Aristotle was ever one to doubt Aristotle.
Phædrus saw Aristotle as tremendously satisfied with this neat little stunt
of naming and classifying everything. His world began and ended with this
stunt. The reason why, if he were not more than two thousand years dead,
he would have gladly rubbed him out is that he saw him as a prototype for
the many millions of self-satisfied and truly ignorant teachers throughout
who have smugly and callously killed the creative spirit of
their students with this dumb ritual of analysis, this blind, rote,
eternal naming of things
. Walk into any of a hundred thousand classrooms
today and hear the teachers divide and subdivide and interrelate and
establish "principles" and study "methods" and what you will hear is the
ghost of Aristotle speaking down through the centuries...the desiccating
lifeless voice of dualistic reason.

Now, I don’t agree 100% with all of this – I believe having a common taxonomy is important in discussion, but nothing should start and end with it. I learn new terms relating to our industry all of the time – and when I hear them, I ask “what does that mean”. Sometimes the discussion surrounding “what does that mean” can be very interesting as what I believe the term to have meant is not at all what the “user” of that term was trying to convey.

Anyway – all in all a pretty good read. A little deep at times, but lots of good stories within the story there. I liked it (and won’t give away the plot too much because it sort of caught me by surprise – if you haven’t read an outline about it, I suggest just getting it and reading it, you’ll be surprised by it).


Blogger Tharg said....


speaking as an engineer (who's now an Oracle DBA) welcome to the world of disconnection, understanding and fixing.

Zen was required reading for my Bachelor's course in Electrical & Electronic Engineering, thanks to a far-sighted lecturer. The bit that always remains with me is where Phaedrus's friend is trying to start him BMW on full choke, on a hot day. The place stinks of petrol like a refinery, but the guy just keeps on cranking the flooded engine. This kind of thing happens all the time in I.T. where people know a few things, but don't connect with and understand the technology. They keep cranking (clicking the mouse) and wonder why the engine (insert any major chunk of software of your choice) doesn't work. Phadedrus's comprehension of his friend's problem is seminal for me. I have to remember to relate with, and connect to users, who may know little or nothing. If there was 'essence of joined up thinking' I'd bottle it and make a fortune.

P.S. there is a sequel called Leila, but IMHO it's nowhere near as good as Zen.



Sun May 21, 04:22:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Noons said....

Glad to see you liked it. It was definitely one of the books I can claim changed my life. My professional attitude changed after it. (and again after the corporate excesses of the early 90s, but that's another story...)

Laila is also very interesting, but in a totally different genre. The best way I can define it is as a "sudden middle-age arrival" book.

I get the feeling that ZAMM was written by a young person, full of ideals, joie de vivre and all that. Laila was written by a mature person, staring old age square in the face. A completely different book: hard to believe it was written by one and the same.

Then again: we all change with age. Sometimes in more ways than we're willing to admit. That's the premise behind Laila. As I read it, anyways.

Sun May 21, 11:50:00 PM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

I expect that there are many parts of that book that will resonate with a great many readers.

"Good-natured, friendly, easygoing...and uninvolved. They were like spectators. You had the feeling they had just wandered in there themselves and somebody had handed them a wrench. There was no identification with the job. No saying, "I am a mechanic." At 5 P.M. or whenever their eight hours were in, you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work. They were already trying not to have any thoughts about their work on the job."

Fortunately, they don't read blogs either. ;)

Mon May 22, 10:26:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

David Aldridge said...

That was another part of the book I could relate to entirely - the description of the mechanics in that shop. Replace a few words here and there and it is deja-vu.

Mon May 22, 10:34:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Hae-Kwang said....

Hi. I was wondering what product you'd recommend (Palm, PocketPC, etc.) to read *CHM and *PDF-based eBooks. Any suggestions? I like large screens so any recommendations that fits that criteria would be most grateful.


- Hae

Mon May 22, 01:59:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I don't have any suggestions on those as yet (the three books I've been reading on the palm have all been in .doc format so far)

but would like to have some recommendations myself as I'll be getting others in those formats soon

Mon May 22, 02:20:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

"Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the
cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating
minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn't just irritating and minor."

Reminded me of two things:

An old Chinese saying (all the old ones are Chinese;) -
"Haste is Waste".

A scene from the movie "League of Extraoridnary Gentleman", where Sean Connery's character tells the young guy who is shooting a flying target to "TAKE YOUR TIME" (and he says that with slow emphasis).

Tue May 23, 06:11:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Better late than never.

Tue May 23, 06:37:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I liked "Zen and ..". The idea of Quality in the book is something that can be carried into any corner of life.

But I always got a laugh out of a tech manager of mine who liked repairing old cars and bikes and said, after being recommended it: "Yeah. But a bit too much Zen and not enough motorcycle maintenance".

Wed May 24, 09:00:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jay said....


Saw your list. ZMM and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence are the same books. They are listed as diff in ur list.

Also I would like to suggest that you should read LILA rt after this.


Sat May 27, 11:55:00 AM EDT  

Blogger DaPi said....

I've bought three copies of ZAMM but don't have one now - I lend them to friends, who think it's so good that the books don't come back. (That link will be useful!).

I wanted to use a quote from the book "Quality is Caring" but couldn't find it to check. I flipped through it in frustration several times until I realised it was writ large on every page.

Mon Jun 05, 01:18:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

About book reader, one of the best now is alreader, it works good even with chm files.

Wed Sep 24, 06:32:00 PM EDT  


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