Adonis Diaries

Archive for July 14th, 2009

Article 38

“What could be the Human Factors performance criteria?

“Performance” is the magic answer offered by university students to questions like “What is the purpose of this course, of this method, of this technique, or of this design?”  Performance is what summarizes all the conscious learning in the knowledge bag for lack of meaningful full sentences available in the language to express clear purposes. It takes a couple of months to wean the students from the catch word “performance” and encourage them to try harder for specificity.

There is a hierarchy for this abstract notion of “performance”; the next level of abstraction is to answer: “What kind of performance?” the third level should answer: “How these various performances criteria correlate?  Can we sort them out between basic performances and redundant performance criteria?” and the fourth level is: “How much for each basic performance criterion?  Can we measure them accurately and objectively?”

It seems that every discipline has created for itself a set of performance criteria that an insertion of another element into that set is like a paradigm shift in its field of science. If you prompt a business or engineering university student to expand on the meaning of “performance”, when supported by a specific example, it might dawn on him to spell out another piece of jewels such as: “max profit”, “minimize cost”, “improve quality”, “increase production”, “save time”, or “increase market share”.  In order to reach a finer level of specificity we need to define functionally, for example, what “max profit” means.  A string of monosyllables rains from every where such as: “increase price”, “cut expenditure”, “sell more”, and again “improve quality”, “save time”, or “increase market share”.  If we agree that profit is a function of market share, price, expenditure, added values of products, and marketing services then we can understand what could be the basic criteria and which criteria dependent on the basic ones.

How can a business improve performance? How can it make profit or cut costs?  Should the firm layoff redundant employees, force early retirement, dip in insurance funds, contract out product parts and administrative processes, eliminate training programs, scrap off the library or continuing learning facilities, streamline the design process, reduce advertising money, abridge break times in duration or frequency, cut overhead expenses such as control lighting and comfort of the working environment, stop investing in new facilities, firing skilled workers, settling consumer plaintiffs out of court, searching for tax loopholes, or engineering financial statements?  How can a business increase its market share? How can it survive competitors and continually flourish?

How can a firm improve products for the quality minded engineers? Should it invest on the latest technological advancements in equipments, machines, and application software, or should it select the best mind among the graduates, or should it establish a continuing education program with adequate learning facilities, or should it encourage its engineers to experiment and submit research papers, or should it invest on market research to know the characteristics of its customers, or should it built in safety in the design process, or perform an extensive analysis of the foreseeable misuses of its products or services, the type of errors generated in the functioning and operation of its products and their corresponding risks on health of the users, or manage properly employees’ turnover, or care about the safety and health of its skilled and dedicated workers, or ordering management to closely monitor the safety and health standards applied in the company?

At the first session of my course “Human factors in engineering” I ask my class: What is the purpose of an engineer?  The unanimous answer is: “performance”.  What are the criteria for an engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!  At the first session of my class I repeat several times that the purpose of the engineering discipline is to design practical products or systems that man needs and wants, that human factors engineers are trained to consider first the end users, the customers, the operators, and the workers when designing interfaces for products or systems.  At the first session I tell my class that the body of knowledge of human factors is about finding practical design guidelines based on the capabilities and limitations of end users, body and mind, with the following performance criteria: to eliminate errors, to foresee unsafe misuses, to foresee near-accidents, to design in safety operations, to consider the health problems in the product and its operation, to study the safety and health conditions in the workplace and the organizational procedures, to improve working conditions physically, socially, and psychologically, and to be aware of the latest consumer liability legal doctrines.

A month later, I am confronted with the same cycle of questions and answers, mainly: What is the purpose of an engineer?  The unanimous answer is: “performance”.  What are the criteria for a human factors engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!  A few students remember part of the long list of human factors performance criteria but the end users are still hard to recognize.  A few students retained the concept of designing practical interfaces or what an interface could be but the pictures of end users are still blurred.  I have to emphasize frequently that the end users could be their engineering colleagues, their family members, and themselves.  I have to remind them that any product, service, or system design is ultimately designed for people to use, operate, and enjoy the benefit of its utility.

Human factors performance criteria are all the above and the design of products or services should alleviating the repetitive musculoskeletal disorders by reducing efforts, vibration, and proper handling of tools and equipments, designing for proper postures, minimizing static positions, and especially to keep in mind that any testing and evaluation study should factor in the condition that a worker or an employee is operating 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and for many years. 

I tell them that any profit or cost cutting is ultimately at the expense of workers/employees, their financial stability, safety standards, comfort, and health conditions physically, socially, and psychologically whereas any increase in performance should be undertaken as a value added to the safety, comfort, and health of the end users.

I Should Have Told Barbara  

The sister of Barbara insisted that I get in touch with Barbara on my trip to Los Angeles.

I were in the USA for less than 11 months, my first ever trip outside my country. The International Office at the University of Oklahoma arranged a trip for one week to California, for some of us new international students. We were to meet American families in this exchange program.  I did not care meeting any American families for the time being, but I needed to get away in my second summer and wanted to see California.  I was 27 of age and had never tasted a cigarette yet.


The International student advisor knew about my Near Eastern origin. The program matched me with an old Jewish couple in Pasadena. The husband was very helpful and friendly but his wife gave me the impression that she agreed reluctantly to join the program.


The house was large with an unkempt garden.  The interior looked old, traditional, very gloomy, and smelling like it was never aerated and reeking of old people. It is a crime to surprise youths with living among old people without prior preparations and warnings. We should be reminded that elder people are great people, still very much living humans, who could be funny, and could be functional…


We had a general gathering the first day with all the families and various students. Then we were given the daily program of places to see and whatever. We were to see Disney Land the next day for free.  I declined the invitation: Disney Land is for kids. I remember that I had another chance to visit Disney for free, two years later. I again declined. Disney was still just for kids.


Many years later, I discovered that everybody liked to see Disney, including kids.

I never saw Disney in California, but the smaller version in Orlando with my nephews.

My little nephews and nieces, then 5 in total, loved Disney but less than I did.


My old host drove me for two hours to the meeting place with Barbara.

He drove two hours to pick me up three hours later. I still can visualize Barbra after thirty years, coming toward me in white shirt, long brown skirt reaching a little below her knees, almost touching her long brown cowboy boots. Her boots must have added several inches to her stature.

Barbara is not tall, but the vision is always of a tall and grand lady. She appeared taller than me but my pride increased correspondingly, being by her side. Her maybe dyed long blonde-brown hair was raised over her beautiful head. She was glamour incarnate.  She hugged me and made me feel I was a dear friend, of long time, whom she missed badly.


She spoke with effusion and earnestness. She wanted to know all that is to know, instantly, about how her sister is doing, what about her sister’s boyfriend who was my friend, about their relationship, about Oklahoma her home State, about everything but me.


I was glad that I was not the object of the conversation then, but not so glad now.

We walked together so close, and I was walking on air.  I felt that I must look the most glamorous guy, a most glamorous guy in the whole wide world.


I asked permission from my host family to move at Barbara’s for the duration of the program and they agreed. I walked to Beverly Hills the next morning to see her in the fashion store she managed. She received me like a VIP and was happy at my surprised visit. I wanted to be with Barbara every second of my trip to California.


I accepted to attend a conference in Los Angeles a couple of years later, hoping to see Barbara again. It was an important political conference but my heart was not in it.

My friends drove me through Beverly Hills where the rich and glamorous live, but I was not impressed. Finally, giving up, they gave me a lift from Anaheim to West Hollywood.

I called up Barbara and I invited myself to stay overnight at her apartment.  She had many friends.


She was attached at the moment to a fashionable young man, working in fashion and with fashion, but they had problems. She appeared depressed and disappointed and not in the mood for me. Her TV was on 24 hours.  I slept and woke up with the TV on.


I visited her six years later during my second extended trip to the USA: Barbara’s sister had told me that Barbara was married and living in Oklahoma City. She did not look the same Barbara. She was skinnier. Her skin looked darker, her face emaciated, down to earth, resigned and decked in simple blue jeans and an old black sweater.


Barbara was married to a full-blooded American Indian, she a half-blooded.

A soft spoken husband he was, a polite artist who toured the USA exhibiting his paintings. She stayed at home designing jewelry and managing her man’s business.


I had accepted her invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch. I went down to Oklahoma City for an important and specific purpose of mine: I was determined to tell Barbara my secret. I went down with my steady girl friend at the time:  I still had no car.


Barbara’s eyes had an ironic shine looking at my oriental short friend. She asked my friend all kinds of questions about our relationship, how we met and what are our plans.

She said to me: “You know, someone needs news about your friend”. She meant that her sister needed to know the whereabouts of her ex-husband. I had lost track of the whereabouts of my friend too and could not be of much help.


Barbara was entitled to know the truth; that the first time she walked with me she made me feel that I was the most glamorous guy in town. But I did not tell Barbara the truth. 

I don’t recall that I talked during my two hours stay. Maybe it did not feel right at that moment. But I should have persevered on my initial decision: This truth is hers no matter what.


She could be sixty, but age does not erase the feeling, that to my young eyes, she was the most glamorous woman I set my eyes on. She could live to be a hundred, but age does not change the fact, that Barbara made me once walk on air.

Louise Amour by Christian Bobin, (July 13, 2009)

Louise concocts perfume and merchandize them in the latest marketing techniques.  I read books on mystics and saints and rephrase their wise pronouncements; as a baby of seven I used to write words with my fingers on mother’s cheeks and she would guess them all.  Louise liked the sentence “Perfume of rose garnishes the roots of life” and wanted it to describe her new release of rose perfume “Madonna”; the bottle is in the form of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. Louise said “I wanted to recreate this genre of perfume that grandmothers carried in their youth.  I want everyone to dream that the sky is close at hand”. I paid a visit to Louise intending to tell her that I refuse the blasphemous idea of borrowing my sentences.

Louise enters all smiles diffusing in golden concentric circles; the first wave spluttered and refreshed my face; the second wave asserted that Louise was here solely for me; this second wave of smiles announced the visit of the conqueror and opened the barriers.  Louise brown eyes were flames emanating of an oval pale face; a slight dimple over of left lips was her signature. Louise had long black hair gave the urge of contemplating her nudity framed by her soft hair. She was flowing with kindness and I felt as noble as an angel standing by God. Louise was the worst pain that could have affected me and the sole remedy. She was the only person that existed for me in this world.  I was going to re-learn writing and starts living.

Louise voice rushed like a golden bee in the alveolus of my crane; the slow buzzing saturated my thoughts and erased the vulgar impatience in this world.  I was no longer a theologian; I was no longer seeking God; no longer the retarded son of his parents; I was the servitor of Louise and the adulating listener.

I was once in total focus on the beauty of a wild field of flowers; Louise noticed that I had forgotten her for a couple of minutes and she expressed her wrath for not being the center of my attention.

I visited with Louise a rose garden.  The caretaker of the garden was an old women; she told me: “Theology is useless. Each rose is a holy book. You are here in the most beautiful library in the world. A rose never open her heart except before dying. I would have been more beautiful if I had a daughter to comb her hair.  Perfume is the soul stolen from flowers.  We should be using perfume for the terminally ill and the jobless.”




July 2009

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