Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Systemantics

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the and-to-all-a-good-day dept.

Technology 71

daltonlp writes with the review below of John Gall's 1977 work Systemantics, writing "Most of the systems described by the author are societal or economic systems (governments, corporations, universities). Computer programs are mentioned, but they aren't the primary focus. But Systemantics doesn't distinguish between types of systems. In fact, its theories and arguments seem especially applicable to computer systems." (Read more below.)

That means theories like
Systems in general work poorly or not at all.

Some might question whether this is really true for computer systems built with modern technology. After all, for a computer to function, millions of microscopic parts must act in perfect synchronicity at superhuman speed.

But in reality, computers fail much more frequently than we notice. A large chunk of their innards are dedicated to failing gracefully. There's ecc in just about every piece of hardware. Without it, computer hardware would fail too often to be usable. Software is no different--it can fail sooner or later, gracefully or catastrophically, but it's going to fail. Overall, computers work poorly, but they work.

Complex systems usually operate in failure mode.

In other words, something's always broken at any point in time. The measure of a complex system's quality is how drastically a particular failure impacts the rest of the system.

Loose systems last longer and work better.

Most Slashdot readers probably read the above and think either "Hallelujah!" or "Duh." But it's a small example of something I liked a lot about Systemantics. Buried under several layers of satire and pessimism is a genuine desire to help the reader avoid the mistakes of past systems designers and managers. There's more to this book than just pessimism.

What's Bad:

Systemantics suffers a little from being a quarter-century old. Several references to Watergate and a few other cultural nods may be a bit lost on anyone under 40.

But the book's only real flaw is the author's occasional condescending tone. Every dozen pages or so, Gall takes the opportunity to criticize a real-world example. Some of these anecdotes serve as supporting evidence for an argument. Others are genuinely entertaining (the section on Job Goals and and Objectives is outstanding). But the author sometimes tries too hard to be satirical, and comes across as flat or patronizing, or departs on tangents unrelated to the book's central ideas.

Summary:

Despite small imperfections, there's a wealth of real knowledge in this small volume. The author helpfully outlines the main points at the book's end (some of which I've bulleted above). The book's overall message couldn't be more clear if it summarized itself. Which it nicely does:

It is hardly necessary to state that the very first principle of Systems design is a negative one: Do it without a system if you can.
Systems are seductive. They promise to do a hard job faster, better, and more easily than you could do it by yourself. But if you set up a system, you are likely to find your time and effort now being consumed in the care and feeding of the system itself.
  • New problems are created by its very presence.
  • Once set up, it won't go away, it grows and encroaches.
  • It begins to do strange and wonderful things.
  • It breaks down in ways you never thought possible.
  • It kicks back, gets in the way, and opposes its own proper function.
  • Your own perspective becomes distorted by being in the system.
  • You become anxious and push on it to make it work.
Eventually you come to believe that the misbegotten product it so grudgingly delivers is what you really wanted all the time. You are now a Systems-person.


You can find used copies of Systemantics from bn.com and other online sources, though good-condition copies fetch high prices. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit a review for consideration, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

cancel ×

71 comments

Quick review. (-1, Troll)

rkz (667993) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803092)

Having had this book since college (1986) I have come to depend on it.

There is no better book, with more startlingly accurate insights into one's current predicament.

It has the slight failing that it can't quite decide if it ought to be another _Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown_ or not, so there's a few paragraphs to skip here and there.

The rest is great.

I can quote from memory my favorite system axioms:

``Systems grow, and as they grow they encroach.''

``Systems attract systems-people.''

``Intra-system goals come first.''

``Reality is whatever is reported to the system.''

``Fail-safe systems fail by failing to fail safe.''

My favorite chapter is ``Administrative Encirclement,'' where each researcher is asked to write out his objectives.

The deepest insight, very subtle indeed, is Orwell's Inversion: the confusion of input and output:

``Example: A giant program is to Conquer Cancer is begun. At the end of five years, cancer has not been conquered, but one thousand research papers have been published. In addition, one million copies of a pamphlet entitled ``You and the War Against Cancer'' have been distributed. Those publications will absolutely be regarded as Output rather than Input.''

Nobody who knows the book will be surprised that the biggest killers of dogs today are humane societies.

People who follow the book will understand why the small early version _General Systemantics_ (1975), privately published, is an absolute gem; this version is pretty good, almost the same; and today's version (_...the underground text..._) is expanded beyond belief. The author has made it a system.

Re:Quick review. (-1, Troll)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803138)

Well the central theme of the treatise as the author states in the forward is that "The larger the system gets, the bigger it is." That concept has driven the systems design field for decades.

Re:Quick review. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803177)

parent .sig is something malicious, don't click.
why doesn't CmdrTaco implement some what of detecting redirects in posted URLs, and add it to the [url here] thing? it won't be that hard at all.
something should be done to trolls with goatse-links-like .sigs.

Re:Quick review. (4, Interesting)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803221)

The deepest insight, very subtle indeed, is Orwell's Inversion: the confusion of input and output:
Hardly subtle...

This book is about as useful as 'The art of war', which is to say: not that useful to me. It is an insightful summary of the Blindingly Obvious, though it does serve a purpose to educate the 'systems-people'... the Conquer Cancer example is particularly useful.

I'd think that the cynical Slashdot crowd will not learn a great deal from this book... except perhaps gain some ammunition to educate others.

Re:Quick review. (-1, Troll)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803243)

It is true, you are obviously a very insightful person - this book is not intended for you. Nothing gets past you. I'll bet you already studied Orwell's Inversion in college too!

No, I know him! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803309)

He's Stewie from Family Guy!

Re:Quick review. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7804017)

It is an insightful summary of the Blindingly Obvious

Yeah, everything's so simple when you're 17.

Re:Quick review. (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 10 years ago | (#7804088)

I'd think that the cynical Slashdot crowd will not learn a great deal from this book... except perhaps gain some ammunition to educate others.

Even supposing that there is nothing new to be gleaned by the average Slashdotter, never underestimate the value of "some ammunition to educate others." Being able to clearly and concisely explain your position to a manager is invaluable. This is particularly true when the manager is on the cusp of deciding between the systems guy's proposal and yours.

For a quick head check on this, consider whether you've ever been in a meeting where such a decision was on the table, and found yourself sighing and saying, "but this is the better way to do it." If you're right, but they're not agreeing, this is precisely the sort of material you should be looking for.

You can continue to be frustrated by their blind inability to see that you are right, or you can realize that blindness is curable, and learn how to be a better communicator.

Slashdot People *are* Systems Thinkers (1)

weston (16146) | more than 10 years ago | (#7805388)

I'd think that the cynical Slashdot crowd will not learn a great deal from this book... except perhaps gain some ammunition to educate others

Don't you think that much of the slashdot crowd actually would tend towards being a systems thinker? There's those the "virtues" mentioned by Larry Wall -- laziness, hubris, impatience -- and systems appeal to those traits within each of us. We like automating things for the sake of speed and not having to attend to them -- and for the satisfaction of having built the system. :)

But I think a systems thinker *can* be different from a systems person. Systems thinkers can be very aware of the likelihoods of breakdown and the problems inherent in a system and build tolerance for failure and worst case scenarious (as good engineers do [improb.com] ). In this respect, while probably as much or more prone to the system siren call as anyone, the tech savvy may be much more likely to respect inherent problems, pitfalls, and limits.

This book is about as useful as 'The art of war', which is to say: not that useful to me. It is an insightful summary of the Blindingly Obvious

Perhaps instead of Blindingly Obvious you might say obvious to the "Beginner's Mind" in the eastern/zen sense. When you are uncluttered with predjudice and aware/attentive/observant, many things in Art of War are obvious. When you're intent on a prize and have come to count on certain assumptions for a long time, you're highly likely to miss many blindingly obvious possibilities and a few similarly obvious realities. The Art of War could be seen as a means to help you return to these sorts of insights again. :)

Re:Quick review. (2, Informative)

Liselle (684663) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803252)

Funny, I remember seeing this review somewhere [amazon.com] before (third review down). Is someone at Amazon going to be cheesed you stole their review?

MOD PARENT DOWN GOATSE LINK (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803269)

That link is a GOATSE redirect, do not click it.

MOD DOWN LISTLLE IS A TROLLWHORE. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803395)

HE SHOUTS GOATSE AT EVERY LINK

hoping for parent to get troll moderation.

please mod down

Re:MOD DOWN LISTLLE IS A TROLLWHORE. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803569)

Done!

MOD PARENT DOWN. GOATSEX LINK + STOLEN TEXT (0, Troll)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803361)

as others have pointed out

Re:Quick review. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803381)

ATTENTION MODERATORS!:

THE "Review" above is lifted directly from an Amazon Review. The link is a redirect to goatse! This is neither "insightful" nor "interesting"! Pay attention when moderating!

Your fp sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803596)

WAY TO 45 [rulez.org] ASS

The Systemantics HOME page... (2, Funny)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803094)

...was apparently WRITTEN with a KEYBOARD that HAD a STICKY caps lock KEY [generalsystemantics.com] .

VALinux and Slashdot support offshoring of jobs (-1, Offtopic)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803101)

This story was rejected by Slashdot editors, but I think as a service to the community you all should know about this treachery:

VaLinux is doing its best to keep offshoring viable. Check out their recent press releases:

http://www.nasdaq.com/asp/quotes_news.asp?select ed =LNUX&symbol=LNUX%60&textpath=20031208%5CACQBIZ200 312080845BIZWIRE%5FUSPR%5F%5F%5F%5F%5FBW5258%2Ehtm &cdtime=12%2F08%2F2003+8%3A45AM

and

http://www.nasdaq.com/asp/quotes_news.asp?select ed =LNUX&symbol=LNUX%60&textpath=20031208%5CACQBIZ200 312080845BIZWIRE%5FUSPR%5F%5F%5F%5F%5FBW5323%2Ehtm &cdtime=12%2F08%2F2003+8%3A45AM

VALinux (LNUX) is the parent company of slashdot.

Re:VALinux and Slashdot support offshoring of jobs (-1, Offtopic)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803194)

Um, how is this possibly OFFTOPIC??? Where else could I post this so people can know about this? This is an important issue and should be discussed by the community! VaLinux is doing its best to keep offshoring viable. Check out their recent press releases: http://www.nasdaq.com/asp/quotes_news.asp?selected =LNUX&symbol=LNUX%60&textpath=20031208%5CACQBIZ200 312080845BIZWIRE%5FUSPR%5F%5F%5F%5F%5FBW5258%2Ehtm &cdtime=12%2F08%2F2003+8%3A45AM and http://www.nasdaq.com/asp/quotes_news.asp?selected =LNUX&symbol=LNUX%60&textpath=20031208%5CACQBIZ200 312080845BIZWIRE%5FUSPR%5F%5F%5F%5F%5FBW5323%2Ehtm &cdtime=12%2F08%2F2003+8%3A45AM VALinux (LNUX) is the parent company of slashdot.

Hot Babe System needed! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803108)

How can people say BSD [freebsd.org] is dying when it has a mascot [freebsd.org] like this?! Linux [debian.org] needs to get its act together if it's going to compete with the kind of hot chicks [hope-2000.org] and gorgeous babes [hope-2000.org] that BSD [openbsd.org] has to offer!

You just can't take Linux [redhat.com] seriously when its fronted by losers [nylug.org] like these. Would you buy software from them? I don't think so! You Linux [suse.com] groupies need to find some sexy girls like her [hope-2000.org] ! I mean just look at this girl [wigen.net] ! Doesn't she [wigen.net] excite you? I know this little hottie [wigen.net] puts me in need of a cold shower! This guy looks like he is about to cream his pants standing next to such a fox [spilth.org] . As you can see, no man can resist this sexy [spilth.org] little minx [spilth.org] . I mean are you telling me you wouldn't like to get your hands on this ass [dis.org] ?!

With sexy chicks [minions.com] like the lovely Ceren [dis.org] you could have people queuing up to buy open source products. Could you really refuse to buy a copy of BSD [netbsd.org] if she [dis.org] told you to? Come on, you must admit she [cdslash.net] is better than an overweight penguin [tamu.edu] or a gay looking goat [gnu.org] ! Don't you wish you could get one of these [drexel.edu] ? Personally I know I would give my right arm to get this close [dis.org] to such a divine beauty [czarina.org] !

Join the campaign for more cute [wigen.net] open source babes [wigen.net] today!

She's not that fresh... (0, Offtopic)

mekkab (133181) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803501)

Maybe you need to get out more. Just because she dresses in read pleather and shows some cleavage doesn't make her a true babe.

Shes actually quite average.

Sorry to burst your fantasy bubble.

Hmmmm... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803110)

..sounds *really* boring.

Why should I read it? That's the point of a review, right?

Antic Systems (5, Insightful)

jefu (53450) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803111)

While Systemantics isn't perfect, as the review says, in places it is dated and the author goes a bit overboard, it should be considered required reading for anyone in, building, or interacting with human organizations.

In sort, everyone.

Even more, it should be required regular reading for managers and other bureaucrats - say every six months or so.

Re:Antic Systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803224)

Does 'systemantics' provide any efficient algorithms? All this sorting sounds expensive.

Antic Sorts (0, Flamebait)

jefu (53450) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803358)

Its all about systems. Therefore there is no better or efficient sort than bubblesort. I'd have thought that was self-evident.

Someday I'll learn to type.

Re:Antic Systems (1)

d3faultus3r (668799) | more than 10 years ago | (#7805691)

six months?!?! That's how long it takes a manager to read a book! they'd never do anything else. Wait... That would probably be good.

Americans! Be proud! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803129)

Be Proud that your children in the military are as we speak ring-fencing iraqi towns in razor wire, evacuating women and children from their homes and demolishing them.

Be Proud that your soldiers are killing protestors

Be Proud that over 500 US soldiers are dead and nearly 10,000 lie crippled from injuries of war (blindness, deafness, amputation)

Above all, Be Proud that your gvernment has banned the filming of the repatriation of the dead, so as not to offend your sensibilities.

Land of the Free?
Be Proud that you are under surveillance by your government every waking hour. That's freedom!

Home of the brave?
Be PROUD that you have once again destroyed a country you destroyed a decade ago and left to rot in the interim by 10 years of sanctions which left millions dead. That's bravery!

Halfway there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803181)

I'd be more proud if we got cheap oil out if it. As it is, I am feeling cheated that I have to pay a buck fifty for a gallon of gasoline.

Re:Americans! Be proud! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803265)

From this I can only conclude that you would like to have Saddam still in power.

You are nothing but a supporter of a bloody tyrant.

Re:Americans! Be proud! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803387)

What specious doublethink. *YOU* put him in power in the first place, amerikan...

Re:Americans! Be proud! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7838178)


No we didn't. We put his political party in power.
He then threw a small coup and killed most of his own party.
Granted we should have stopped supporting him after that, but hey, I was 8, so no voting for me...

Re:Americans! Be proud! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803605)

if this war is for human rights, why then not invade China? N.Korea? Zimbabwe? Hell, South America?

YOU provided Hussein with the power and means to be a "bloody tyrant". in most cases, supply carries a harsher sentence than posession.

This war was the acid-test for the neocon junta that has invaded YOUR government. if i were you, i'd be looking to have another revolution right now to give your country back to "we, the people".

Re:Americans! Be proud! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803625)

Wrong. Removing S.H from power is the first decent thing the US has done since WWII.

Shame you had to do it with all the typical american gusto and kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and even hundreds of people on your own side, while simultaneously cracking down on civil liberties in your own country and instigating a state only a stone's throw away from totalitarianism and making the war's instigators very very rich men.

way to fucking go guys. The faster you remove your crackpot government from power, the better for all of us.

No need to get a used copy, get the 3rd edition (4, Informative)

JohnGrahamCumming (684871) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803151)

It's only $27.95 from here [generalsystemantics.com] .

John.

News for Nerds. (1)

milgr (726027) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803157)

How is this news? The book was published in 1977.

Re:News for Nerds. (1)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803514)

"News for Nerds... How is this news? The book was published in 1977."

RTFA. It also says 'Stuff that Matters'.

Re:News for Nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803518)

It's not news. It's a book review posted on books.slashdot.org. Why would you think it's news?

Re:News for Nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803613)

And hey, it's not like we do book reviews or anything!

Re:News for Nerds. (1)

milgr (726027) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803841)

I was under the impression that Slashdot reviewed recent publications. I just took a look at the list of recent book reviews. Most are for recently published books. One was for a book published in 1938.

Mea culpa.

When did smart people... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803168)

...start this trend of making up stupid-sounding words to sell their ideas. This might be a work of genius, but the 'systemantics' part makes it sound like another bullshit buzzword work.

Re:When did smart people... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803192)

Probably sometime before 1977.

Re:When did smart people... (2, Funny)

splutty (43475) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803238)

But it's a bullshit buzzword from 1977! That's a year where most of the current bullshitbuzzworders weren't even born yet! Or if they were, they were still sucking their mom's teats (or wish they could. Hmmmm.)

See. Even the past isn't safe from buzzwordisms.

Mad.

Since stupid people stopped learning English.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803293)

Or it could be the combination of two Greek roots to create a word which esentially means "the art of infering properties of systems."

I agree, applying and perfecting foreknowledge are bad, I'm sure you can send me a pamphlet describing in full the advantages I would enjoy by joining your Amish community. Now get the fuck off the internet before Jebidiah cataches you!

Who is John Gall? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803189)

Sorry, bad pun. Damn you Ayn Rand.
Who is John Galt??

Who is John Gall? (0, Redundant)

EmCeeHawking (720424) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803218)


Ahahaha, I kill me!

Who is John Gall? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803222)

Important Stuff:
Please try to keep posts on topic.
Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads.
Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said.
Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about.
Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page)

"Systemantics" has a larger context (4, Informative)

Raindance (680694) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803245)

"Systemantics" is a work in the context/field of General Systems Theory, pioneered by the philosopher Ervin Laszlo.

General Systems Theory says that "invariances of organization" exist; that some things allow complex organization and will be found throughout organized systems, and we can meaningfully study systems through studying these invariances. Also by creating analogies between systems (i.e. such as an ant colony and a communist society). We must also look at parts of a system in a holistic setting- i.e. examine not only parts of a system and their properties, but also their relationships to other parts. Etc. It's good. Check out The Systems View of the World [amazon.com] if you're interested.

Systemantics seems to be a work aimed at discovering and exploring these "invariances of organization".

RD

In thermodynamics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803328)

We call these invariences and their inevitability, "Entropy." They will eventually cause the universe to become a cold dark place, where nothing lives, and if anything did, it would just wait around waiting for something to happen (which wouldn't). At observers will be managers, and the universe will be called "an executive meeting."

Re:In thermodynamics... (1)

divisionbyzero (300681) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803489)

or... lots will happen but nothing perceptible will be accomplished...

Such asmall world. (4, Interesting)

BoBG (9969) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803263)

I found a copy of the first edition of this book in a used book store almost 10 years ago for a dollar. I read it, and despite agreeing with the (fair) criticisms in the review, learned a new perspective from which to view my job, and the systems I encounter in daily life.

I had given up on the idea that this book had been read by (almost) anyone else, as nobody I had ever spoken with seems to have read it, but anyone who borrowed it from me enjoyed it thoroughly. Most also tried to keep it (bastards), and only a few failed to see the genius behind the pessimism the review (rightly, imnsho) criticized.

General Systemantics? (0, Troll)

Stile 65 (722451) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803274)

The name General Systemantics [generalsystemantics.com] sounds an awful lot like General-Semantics [general-semantics.org] , a theory of language and meaning that influenced Gregory Bateson, a cyberneticist and systems theorist. Is there any relation?

Re:General Systemantics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803710)

The book uses physics axioms as the starting point for most of the plays on words within. There is no doubt a correllation between symantics and system-antics.

Another take on the book (2, Informative)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803288)

Here is my take on the book. It is in general excellent and this is one of those books that should have become required reading, but possibly because it is too thought provoking, never became prominent. A great pity. It is as entertaining as Parkinson's works on his famous laws, and to me personally it has proven a good deal more valuable in practice. (Parkinson himself reviewed it and liked it!) It is a pity it is out of print. I hope that its follow-up (which I have not yet read) is as good. Though jocularly written, this is really valuable, stimulating material. Its aphorisms may read like jokes, but they are all the more valuable for being quotable and easy to remember in context. Thinking back on all the godawful systems that I have seen, political, management, engineering and computer, there is not one that could not have been mitigated by intelligent anticipatory digestion of this book. Unfortunately mentalities prominent among power-seekers, control freaks and grandiose designers, not to mention outright dishonesty among managers with conflicts of interest, cause considerable resistance to the ideas and attitudes that Gall promotes. If you are one such, I have nothing to say to you. If on the other hand you enjoy a bit of thoughtful and edifying entertainment, do your best to read this book.

Re:Another take on the book (1)

jonasmit (560153) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803350)

Hmm. You couldn't think of anything to add after 3 years? See exact same comments on this amazon review [amazon.com]

Re:Another take on the book (0)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803357)

Uh, I did say that "It was in general excellent". What more do I need to add?

Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803313)

Who is John Gall?

Sorry, couldn't help it :(

Gamesmanship (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803380)

If you've ever read:

The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship: Or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating
by Stephen Potter

You would immediately recognise the style. I think one of the editions actually credits Stephen Potter for his work.

Ayn Rand asks.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7803399)

Who is John Gall?

Maybe you could help (-1, Troll)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803446)

Before I read this book I need one more bit of info from someone who has read it. On a scale of bullshittiness from 1 to 10 with astrology and homeopathy at 10, catastrophe theory at 5, chaos theory at 3 and neural networks at 2, where does 'Systemantics' fit?

Without a system? (2, Interesting)

pavon (30274) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803493)

It is hardly necessary to state that the very first principle of Systems design is a negative one: Do it without a system if you can.

And how do you do that? Even anarchism is a system in which the majority is commited to opposing any conglomeration of power by a minority.

Re:Without a system? (1)

Lord Kholdan (670731) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803797)

And how do you do that? Even anarchism is a system in which the majority is commited to opposing any conglomeration of power by a minority.

By doing it alone.

Re:Without a system? (1)

d3faultus3r (668799) | more than 10 years ago | (#7805773)

I think he means in terms of highly organised vs. loosely organised. in a highly structured system everything is efficient and well designed but adding things disrupts its structure. In the long term any system that has to change shouldn't be highly structured. In a loosely organised system(think open source development) the system is less efficient to start out with but it is adaptable because there is no rigid structure. In a highly structured system, you often have to work around existing structures to add anything.

Gall's Basic Systems Principles: (5, Informative)

drlock (210002) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803567)

For those who want to know more about the book, I found the following list over at ERN [interbiznet.com] (These are actually from Systemantics: The Underground Text of Systems Lore which I guess is an expanded version of the book reviewed) Gall's Basic Systems Principles:
  • Systems in general work poorly or not at all.
  • New systems generate new problems.
  • Systems operate by redistributing energy into different forms and into accumulations of different sizes.
  • Systems tend to grow, and as they grow, they encroach.
  • Complex systems exhibit unpredictable behavior.
  • Complex systems tend to oppose their own proper function.
  • People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing.
  • A function performed by a larger system is not operationally identical to the function of the same name performed by a smaller system.
  • The real world is whatever is reported to the system.
  • Systems attract systems people.
  • The bigger the system, the narrower and more specialized the interface with individuals.
  • A complex system cannot be "made" to work; it either works or it doesn't.
  • A simple system may or may not work.
  • If a system is working, leave it alone.
  • 15. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.
  • Complex systems designed from scratch never work and cannot be patched to make them work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. In complex systems, malfunction and even total nonfunction may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.
  • Large complex systems are beyond human capacity to evaluate.
  • A system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.
  • Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
  • Intrasystem goals come first.
  • Complex systems usually operate in failure mode.
  • A complex system can fail in an infinite number of ways.
  • The mode of failure of a complex system cannot ordinarily be predicted.
  • The crucial variables are discovered by accident.
  • The larger the system, the greater the possibility of unexpected failure.
  • "Success" or "function" in any system may be failure in the larger or smaller systems to which it is connected.
  • When a fail-safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe.
  • Complex systems tend to produce complex responses (not solutions) to problems.
  • Great advances are not produced by systems designed to produce great advances.
  • Systems aligned with human motivational vectors will sometimes work; systems opposing such vectors work poorly or not at all.
  • Loose systems last longer and work better.

A true list of the problems of a small mind. (0, Troll)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 10 years ago | (#7804586)

Only a small and untalented mind could come up with a pessimistic list like that. Only a man who has never made a working system in his life can hold beliefs like these. Beliefs that are self-perpetuating, contagious (though only to other small minds), and just plain wrong. Let me elaborate:

# Systems in general work poorly or not at all.

Only if the designer is a talentless slob or a commitee, which is all too often the case in the modern world. If your mind is clean and ordered, so will its products be. If your mind is a mess, full of nothing but superstitions, half-formed beliefs, prejudices, other people's opinions and bad advice, is it any surprize that it can not come up with anything that is good?

# New systems generate new problems.

Baloney. The problems are inevitably the same; there just aren't too many of them to begin with. Only applications vary, but to a small mind that is not capable of abstraction, each such application looks novel, untried, and unfamiliar. And what hope does he have of solving it in this particular incarnation? No more than in any of the previous ones.

# Systems operate by redistributing energy into different forms and into accumulations of different sizes.

A beautifully vague statement worthy of a beggar fortuneteller.

# Systems tend to grow, and as they grow, they encroach.

Systems created by small minds always grow because the mental process of abstraction is essential for their reduction. Look at any software project and you'll discover dozens of code passages that do exactly the same thing, but differ due to a haphazard and mindless design of the data structures.

# Complex systems exhibit unpredictable behavior.

If you create a system you should understand it. If you can not understand it, you should not create it, but delegate the task to someone who can.

# Complex systems tend to oppose their own proper function.

If you do not know what the system's proper function is (see previous point), how can you be surprized that your guesses prove wrong?

# People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing.

Because you, as the system architect, failed to understand its purpose, the people will naturally be forced outside it in order to accomplish it.

# A function performed by a larger system is not operationally identical to the function of the same name performed by a smaller system.

See the growth point above.

# The real world is whatever is reported to the system.

Garbage in, garbage out. Garbage without, garbage within.

# Systems attract systems people.

Systems attract stupid people who are too afraid to make a decision for which some system can not be blamed.

# The bigger the system, the narrower and more specialized the interface with individuals.

When you can not see the similarity between interfaces, they breed like rabbits. Sadly, each one eventually becomes attached to an individual who could be fired.

# A complex system cannot be "made" to work; it either works or it doesn't.

A perfect description of the mindset of a man who can not "make" anything work. Without abstraction and thought, information never becomes knowledge. Without knowledge, understanding is impossible. Without understanding, the man is a nothing but a pathetic blind, mute, and helpless cripple, created by his own listless hand.

# A simple system may or may not work.

A truly simple system always works. The hard part is making a system simple. Now that is the true talent.

# If a system is working, leave it alone.

And stick your head in the sand while you are at it.

# 15. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.

Bloated beyond recognition by clinging imbeciles whose only intelligence lay in avoiding screwing up the work of the person who created the simple system.

# Complex systems designed from scratch never work and cannot be patched to make them work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. In complex systems, malfunction and even total nonfunction may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.

Review previous rants on abstraction and understanding.

# Large complex systems are beyond human capacity to evaluate.

Speak for yourself, dumbo.

# A system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.

A good architect always recognizes which conditions are important, because this recognition is part of defining the problem the system is supposed to solve. A system where the problem was not adequately defined, will only function as long as the problem is projected in only one way.

# Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.

A corner lout without a system is a starved to death corner lout.

# Intrasystem goals come first.

See previous point.

# Complex systems usually operate in failure mode.

See Ayn Rand's discussion on why most people treat everything in life as an "emergency".

# A complex system can fail in an infinite number of ways.

In the same number of ways that it can be misunderstood and misapplied.

# The mode of failure of a complex system cannot ordinarily be predicted

by a small mind.

# The crucial variables are discovered by accident.

Naturally. If you can't think in order to learn on purpose, you can only learn by accident.

# The larger the system, the greater the possibility of unexpected failure.

See rant on comprehension above.

# "Success" or "function" in any system may be failure in the larger or smaller systems to which it is connected.

Win a battle, lose the war. Please a client, lose stability and sanity.

# When a fail-safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe.

Duh. :)

# Complex systems tend to produce complex responses (not solutions) to problems.

A small mind can not come up with solutions. That requires thinking. To respond, on the other hand, you only need instinct.

# Great advances are not produced by systems designed to produce great advances.

The thinking human mind is the only system designed to produce great advances.

# Systems aligned with human motivational vectors will sometimes work; systems opposing such vectors work poorly or not at all.

Systems aligned with human motivational vectors will be tolerated regardless of whether they work or not.

# Loose systems last longer and work better.

Because they at least refrain from stopping those who really can do the work.

Systems in general work poorly or not at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7805494)

So the Slashdot editorial process must be a system.

Re:Systems in general work poorly or not at all (1)

random_static (604731) | more than 10 years ago | (#7810125)

yes - it's one of those large, complex systems that were evolved from small, simple systems which didn't work either.

A wonderful, underrated book (2, Insightful)

87C751 (205250) | more than 10 years ago | (#7803600)

I first read it in 1978, having gotten it from some book'o'the-month club. That was pretty early in my programming career, and I've kept the book's axioms in the forefront of my mind ever since. My favorite (from pg. 65 of the Second Edition) is
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.
If that's not software engineering in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

Know the author personally... (1)

Ajaxamander (646536) | more than 10 years ago | (#7805555)

Just read the review and was highly amused... Back in the day the guy was my Pediatrician, and on one of my last few visits, he told me about it, and I got an autographed copy for my 18th birthday. (You know, when you stop seeing a pediatrician.) Anyway, reading the book was very weird, because the writing style and points of view expressed in the book are quite different than things he would normally say. I was, however, intrigued by many of the concepts he discussed. I've actually tried to make references to the book in real life (specifically the Climax Design phenomenon) but I'm usually met with blank looks and confusion. I wish more people would read this, even though it's hard to get ahold of!

Substitute "system" with "marriage" and... (1)

skeptikal (33781) | more than 10 years ago | (#7806022)

lo... behold:

New problems are created by its very presence.
Once set up, it won't go away, it grows and encroaches.
It begins to do strange and wonderful things.
It breaks down in ways you never thought possible.
It kicks back, gets in the way, and opposes its own proper function.
Your own perspective becomes distorted by being in the system.
You become anxious and push on it to make it work.

Cheers,

but.. (0)

TSNV (725282) | more than 10 years ago | (#7806174)

who is john gall?

additional reviews for this book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7837945)

This site [verygeekybooks.com] has more reviews for this book.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...