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Swiss Pattada

A summary of The “Swiss Pattada”: Designing the ultimate tool by Giorgio De Michelis (but you should read it yourself :).

The paper uses metaphors of the Swiss Army Knife and the Sardinian Pattada to discuss multiplicity and openess in technologies we use.

Most people have an idea what is the Swiss Army Knife, so just a quote about the Sardinian Pattada:

…this one an Italian pocketknife that dates back to the 15th century [1], is a folding model that opens to a length of 15 to 35 cm (not to be confused with the switchblade). Farmers and shepherds always carried it with them to do all sorts of jobs in the fields or simply to have on hand during long periods away from home. Versions vary depending on the area or region of Italy. […]

The Sardinian Pattada is available in a variety of sizes and features a sharp myrtle-leaf-shaped blade with a whetted point. The Pattada is suitable for all kinds of tasks, both on the job and in the home (slicing, forking, carving). It’s not only a good means of self-defense, it is also used by shepherds for operating on cattle and for taking care of personal hygiene (shaving, clipping fingernails). Thanks to this universal tool, the shepherd can avoid travelling with a large number of cutting implements.

Although a two-sided bovine horn handle facilitates the Pattada’s multiplicity of uses, the Pattada demands a particular skill in handling. An inexperienced person risks getting hurt with a knife like this, somewhat in the same way he would if—unaccustomed to doing so—he tried to shave with a barber’s straight razor. (pp.46-47)

On multiplicity and openness:

…the Swiss Army Knife is a tool rich in multiplicity and the Sardinian Pattada is rich in openness [3]. An object is multiple if it involves a collection of specialized parts, one for each of the jobs we want to do; it is open if it consists of a single component that we can use for various purposes in various instances. Multiplicity and openness make sense in complex situations in which monofunctional tools are too narrow and rigid. Multiplicity connects well with specialization in that each function finds in it an ad hoc answer, whereas openness connects well with universality because the more an implement can be used for any task at all (including unforeseen ones), the more open it is.

Multiplicity favors the quality of each single function over ease of access to the function, and openness makes it easy to shift from one function to the next at the cost of giving only an approximate answer to each. Thus multiplicity and openness meet the same needs but in diverse ways. We can consider each a different paradigm for dealing with complex situations. (pp.47-48)

Giorgio argues that while in the physical world combining multiplicity and openness (the “Swiss Pattada”) may be impossible, computers make it more and more possible (think of a text editor that supports drawing). He also introduces another attribute: continuity.

Finally, a piece that has something to do with my yesterdays post.

We must also emphasize, however, that, as with objects in general (whether static, mechanical, or electronic), the evolution of computers themselves has not been uniform in achieving greater openness and multiplicity; in many cases development has concerned improvement of a single function, ignoring the question of its integration with multifunction systems. (p.50)

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2004/07/27.html#a1305; comments are here.

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