Rising from the dead in the land of Industrial Engineers

By | September 30, 2008

It’s been a month and a half since I last posted here – you might wonder where I went. If you’ve been following my other blog at http://aigantighe.livejournal.com, you’ll know it’s because I’ve been moving from New Zealand to the US in order to take begin studying towards a PhD at the University of Washington. Classes have started now, and while that means I won’t have much time for idle meanderings of the mind, I do expect to be writing a number of pieces that will also be suited for posting here.

So, without much ado, here’s the first thing I’ve written since being here that’s not just a journal entry..

My arrangement here at UW has me in the Department of Industrial Engineering. Those who know me as mostly interested in computer science, education and games might find this a little bit odd, and, when first arriving, it seemed to me like it might be, too.

However, it’s becoming obvious that it’s actually quite a good fit for several reasons. Here’s why:

  • It’s really cross-disciplinary. In addition to my primary area of interface design, IE bridges all of the various engineering fields, as well as law, business, economics, policy, and psychology. It’s about studying and managing large systems that incorporate elements of all of these different disciplines. I’m a generalist, so this suits me just fine.
  • There’s lots of applied mathematics. I like mathematics for all sorts of reasons – its elegance, it logic, and its absoluteness. Most of all, though, I like its relationship to the real world. I love the beauty and economy of expression with which mathematics allows us to describe, talk about, and even predict things in the real world.
  • It’s about long term thinking, strategic thinking, and systems thinking. One of the things that bugs me most about the world today is our tendency to think short term, to think only about how something might benefit ourselves, and to only look at what effect things have in our own little corner of the world. This is an understandable human tendency, of course, but I really like the idea of education that encourages me to think long term, strategically, and at the level of wide systems.
  • Here’s the really geeky reason (if the rest weren’t geeky enough already). I’ve come to realize that industrial engineering is what I do when I play almost any resource management sim or god game, even some RPGs. I apply heuristics and my understanding of a game’s mechanics to a problem, namely, winning the game. That’s what IE is. Working out the optimal order in which to research upgrades in Rise of Nations or Civilization? IE. Determining the optimal layout of housing, markets and industry in Pharoah, Zeus, or Emperor? IE. Optimally transporting coal, passengers and candy cane in Transport Tycoon Deluxe? IE.

    This is cool for two reasons: Firstly, it makes it fun – I’m studying a formalized version of one of my favourite forms of entertainment. Secondly, it means I’m intuitively familiar with a lot of the techniques – I just need to work on formalization and rigour.

Anyway, that’s the geek-out over. Now, I’ve got to go prepare a presentation covering five types of user interfaces for devices that could augment the experience of gardening. An interface theme and variations, if you will.