Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

DailyLit and a few words of wisdom from Henry Ford

Posted in Books, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on January 4, 2009

I am always on the look-out for technologies that let me read more during the day. At medical school, e-books from Peanut Reader on my Palm meant I could read while waiting for clinics to start. When I could walk to work in the USA, audio books from Audible (fair DRM policies) and EMusic (unlocked MP3 files) meant I could listen to books easily. And while commuting to work on the metro in DC the Kindle was a beautiful solution (one that my father loves too, even though he pines for the Arabic version).

DailyLitWith my Google Phone, it is a pleasure to have discovered DailyLit. It is a simple concept: you subscribe to a book and they send you installments by e-mail. The site lets you choose when to receive those installments so as to suit your schedule. What I love about it is that these installments are snack-sized – it takes five minutes to read each one – but the schedule keeps you going. So every day, I read parts of three books just as I wake up, a time I used to spend semi-conscious, unable to pick up my Kindle, but that is now quite comfortable to read with on my phone.

The books they have are quite good. Rather than the usual strategy of e-book vendors of having best-sellers – forgetting that people who like e-books love to read, and that those who love to read hate the trash that makes it to best-seller lists – they have put together a small, eclectic selection of intellectual books. Many are free, although I just paid for India Arriving, a book I still cannot describe but am absolutely gripped by.

My Life and WorkI want to highlight Henry Ford’s autobiography though, which is available free of charge as it is out of copyright. I knew the man was clever, building a huge company by using suppliers’ credit and customers’ cash to eliminate his finance needs, and that he did a lot of good, including paying the first high salaries for factory employees, but I did not know that he was such a deep thinker. The book is a pleasant surprise and there is much to quote but I will stick to this section because it is making me rethink the software design for my company‘s products (you will have to ignore the misogyny, he was still a product of his time):

My effort is in the direction of simplicity. People in general have so little and it costs so much to buy even the barest necessities (let alone that share of the luxuries to which I think everyone is entitled) because nearly everything that we make is much more complex than it needs to be. Our clothing, our food, our household furnishings–all could be much simpler than they now are and at the same time be better looking. Things in past ages were made in certain ways and makers since then have just followed.

I do not mean that we should adopt freak styles. There is no necessity for that Clothing need not be a bag with a hole cut in it. That might be easy to make but it would be inconvenient to wear. A blanket does not require much tailoring, but none of us could get much work done if we went around Indian-fashion in blankets. Real simplicity means that which gives the very best service and is the most convenient in use. The trouble with drastic reforms is they always insist that a man be made over in order to use certain designed articles. I think that dress reform for women–which seems to mean ugly clothes–must always originate with plain women who want to make everyone else look plain. That is not the right process. Start with an article that suits and then study to find some way of eliminating the entirely useless parts. This applies to everything–a shoe, a dress, a house, a piece of machinery, a railroad, a steamship, an airplane.

As we cut out useless parts and simplify necessary ones we also cut down the cost of making. This is simple logic, but oddly enough the ordinary process starts with a cheapening of the manufacturing instead of with a simplifying of the article. The start ought to be with the article. First we ought to find whether it is as well made as it should be–does it give the best possible service? Then–are the materials the best or merely the most expensive? Then–can its complexity and weight be cut down? And so on.

There is no more sense in having extra weight in an article than there is in the cockade on a coachman’s hat. In fact, there is not as much. For the cockade may help the coachman to identify his hat while the extra weight means only a waste of strength. I cannot imagine where the delusion that weight means strength came from. It is all well enough in a pile-driver, but why move a heavy weight if we are not going to hit anything with it? In transportation why put extra weight in a machine? Why not add it to the load that the machine is designed to carry? Fat men cannot run as fast as thin men but we build most of our vehicles as though dead-weight fat increased speed! A deal of poverty grows out of the carriage of excess weight. Some day we shall discover how further to eliminate weight. Take wood, for example. For certain purposes wood is now the best substance we know, but wood is extremely wasteful. The wood in a Ford car contains thirty pounds of water.
There must be some way of doing better than that. There must be some method by which we can gain the same strength and elasticity without having to lug useless weight. And so through a thousand processes.