Prescriptive Design and the Decline of Manuals

Instruction manuals, and instructions in general, are incredibly important. I could be biased, since part of my job involves writing instructions for systems, but really, they’re important!

As this look into the historical importance of manuals makes clear, manuals (and instructions) make accessible professions, tools, and devices to anyone that can read them (which, admittedly, could be a hurdle of its own):

“With no established guild system in place for many of these new professions (printer, navigator, and so on), readers could, with the help of a manual, circumvent years of apprenticeship and change the course of their lives, at least in theory.”

However, as the economy and labor system shifted, manuals did too:

“in the 1980s, the manual began to change. Instead of growing, it began to shrink and even disappear. Instead of mastery, it promised competence.”

And nowadays, manuals are very rarely separate from the devices or systems they seek to explain:

“the help we once sought from a manual is now mostly embedded into the apps we use every day. It could also be crowdsourced, with users contributing Q&As or uploading how-to videos to YouTube, or it could programmed into a weak artificial intelligence such as Siri or Cortana.”

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Torture, Ownership, and Privacy

The Senate Intelligence Committee released hundreds of pages (soon available as a book) detailing acts of torture committed by the CIA.

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Reading, Drones, and Georgie Washington

Americans are still reading books, Internet and all! Younger Americans are actually reading more than older generations, which could be partially due to the fact that with the rise of texting and social media, so much of our communication is text-based, so everyone is doing a lot more reading (and writing) in order to communicate with their friends. The original study is linked in that article and in this graph:

What are some other ways to get people to read books?

Well it helps a lot if your college library not only tells you the call numbers of the book, but it gives you precise directions to the location of the book, which is pretty awesome. Much more useful when navigating a giant library, like I have access to at the university I work at, as opposed to the smaller library at the university I actually attended.

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Heartbleed, Borders, and Cookies

HEARTBLEED heartbleed my heart is bleeding about heartbleed….

How soon until someone writes a country ballad about heartbleed? Knowing the Internet, probably before all the currently vulnerable sites are patched. Researchers at University of Michigan previously produced a tool which was capable of scanning large swaths of the Internet at incredibly fast speeds. They took advantage of this tool to regularly scan the top 1 million sites on the Internet (as categorized by Alexa)(who is not a person) and determine what portion of the sites are vulnerable. Mashable, meanwhile, has compiled a list of the big websites that were vulnerable (but now are not). This bug is the latest and greatest of them….yet (as XKCD points out)

As the NYT points out, as the web gets larger it also gets less secure (and thus, harder to defend):

“If you fix one Internet security bug, you can be sure that attackers will just find another, potentially more dangerous one. “Over all, attackers have the competitive advantage,” said Jen Weedon, who works on the threat intelligence team at the security company Mandiant. “Defenders need to defend everything. All attackers need to find is one vulnerability.””

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Higher Education, Interns, and IT Security

Here’s what was important this week…

Former University of Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has been expelled from U-M for a sexual misconduct case dating back to 2009. The Michigan Daily has more information about the expulsion, while Washtenaw Watchdogs posted about the entire case in 2011. Both The Michigan Daily and the Ann Arbor News are attempting to gain more information about both the disciplinary action and why Gibbons is only being expelled now, after having spent the last few years playing on U-M’s football team.

In more unfortunate higher education news, the Chancellor of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Phyllis Wise, made the decision not to cancel classes on Monday. Run of the mill, except for the outcry from students who stormed social media, expressing their anger about the decision with #FuckPhyllis. From there it spiralled into sexist and racist comments about the Chancellor herself. The Chancellor responded to the comments, taking them not as personal offense but as a sign that the university has work to do, especially given the diverse community at UIUC. Now UIUC is sponsoring an event open to the campus and the public where they aim to “move beyond digital hate”, which seems to me like an effort to promote feel-good feelings rather than acknowledge and handle endemic issues that allow racism, sexism, and harassment to exist and proliferate on campus. We’ll see how their event goes.

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