Why don’t they…?

By Gordon Rugg

Robert Heinlein, the science fiction writer, once observed that the answer to any question beginning “Why don’t they—“ is almost always “money”.

It’s a great line, and rewriting it feels faintly like vandalism. However, as often happens with humour, it contains a lot of truth, but subtly misses a more important point. To avoid spoiling a great line for Heinlein fans, I’ve put my dissection of this line beneath the fold.

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Client requirements: The shape of the elephant, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

It’s a little-known fact that Dante’s Inferno contains a circle of Hell that’s reserved for people who come along when you’re wrestling with a horribly complex problem, make some utterly unhelpful suggestion, and then stroll off, convinced that they’ve just given you a profound insight that contains all the answers you need. For example, they tell you that your problem is like the five blind men trying to work out the shape of the elephant, which you already know, and then they leave without giving any practical ideas about how to actually solve the problem.

This article is about the shape of the elephant, applied to the very real problem of identifying and clarifying client requirements. It’s in two parts. Today’s article is humorous, and looks at some classic bad solutions to the problem of providing the client with the image of an elephant that they have asked for. The follow-up article will look at why those solutions are bad, and describe some better ways of finding good solutions.


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Weekend humour: Qualifications

By Gordon Rugg

If you’ve ever wondered whether you really needed to learn all the stuff that was included in some course that you’ve taken, you might find the following story useful. Not encouraging, not inspiring, but useful…

Yet, as my name was embraced in a law-firm, it seemed to me proper to take out a license.  Accordingly, one day when United States Judge Lecompte was in our office, I mentioned the matter to him; he told me to go down to the clerk of his court, and he would give me the license.  I inquired what examination I would have to submit to, and he replied, “None at all;” he would admit me on the ground of general intelligence.

MEMOIRS OF GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN (2nd edition), Chapter VI

William T. Sherman, 1885


By Gordon Rugg

Truth, according to Vance, is a precious jewel, the more precious for being rare. It is not a researcher’s job to keep the price up by keeping the supply down.

From Rugg & Petre (2010) The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research (2nd Edition) p. 120. Open University Press/McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, UK.

This is a counterpoint to our earlier article about the three golden rules of public speaking, just in case any over-zealous readers felt tempted to over-use the Third Golden Rule…

The Vance reference, for any science fiction fans reading this, is to Jack Vance’s book Star King.