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The Disorderly March XVII

February 15, 2011

Well, a real shocker when I took my art history test last night.  After successfully memorizing every damn picture and artist in the reading so far, it turned out that the only ones we were tested on were the first (Cimabue, Giotto, and Duccio) and the last (Masaccio) in our reading, with *three* questions about Masaccio and none about Van Eyck, or, in fact, any of the “Northern” artists or anything at all in that entire chapter.  I’d knocked my head against the book again and again trying to remember Hugo Van Der Goes and Hans Memling and Viet Stoss and Tilman Reimenschneider…well, I’ll never forget ‘em now, but it didn’t do me any good on the test.  I knew that the predominant monastic orders were the Dominicans and Franciscans, and that they were called “Mendicant” orders, but was just stumped when asked what was the more common name for a mendicant order.  (“Begging friars” – I just looked it up.)  Four points on an 87 point art history test were based on this…

I nearly had a heart attack on the first page, with its full complement of architectural questions, since I’d admittedly glazed over the architectural stuff other than memorizing the names, not being much of a fan of buildings, especially from that period.  (Me, reading the textbook:  “Sigh.  Church, palace, church, palace, church, palace…”)  I’m sure they’re much more impressive in person, but not so much in a book.

So…in my first test in my first college class in a long time, I know for a certainty that I missed at least 12 out of 87 possible points, and probably more than that.  My only hope of a decent grade is now The Curve, and only if I’m not the only one who studied…well, all the wrong things I guess.

It’s definitely humbling.  I had a nice manic delusion going about being asked How I Did It, getting that A+ on the test, tell us all about your study habits, Orland!  Ha.  The grade is based on three tests over the semester, so it’s not looking good for me, based on this one.  Next time I’m going to take a class where I can write a 100 page paper instead – now that I can ace.

That said, I think I can start making more time for the blog again – not that I’m going to “give up” or stop studying, but I can stop conserving all my energy for studying for another completely unpredictable test.  I took Art History to learn about art, and to have the vocabulary I need to write about it without sounding like an idiot (and already I can look back on some of my previous pronouncements here and flinch, but hey, what with Google Cache there’s no point in going back and trying to fix history, is there).  And I am getting the education, if not the certification.  Thank the FSM I’m well on in my career and a Transcriptarian heresy like a B or worse won’t be the ruin of me.

In that spirit, I’m going to move on and “let go” of the Sunday article I mentioned yesterday about Google and how search is gameable, but I had to quote yesterday’s Times article on Nokia’s “engineering culture” as another example of how a lack of or even contempt for non-engineering skill sets damages even the best and brightest tech companies:

Some say that Nokia’s failure to get much traction in the smartphone market and its other problems are rooted in its bureaucratic corporate culture. But Adam Greenfield, a former head of design direction at Nokia, sees it a little differently. He said the company’s engineering driven culture is also responsible, explaining that the engineers at the company see the design of the software on a mobile phone as secondary to the guts of the device. For example, he explained, executives at the company proudly promote the innards of a phone, almost like a car company gleefully showing a customer the engine under the hood.

“The engineers at Nokia brag about the number of megapixels a new phone has,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “But they don’t understand that if you can’t find the button to use the camera on the phone, it doesn’t matter how many megapixels it is.”

An executive who currently works at Nokia and asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the company agreed. He noted that even though thousands of Nokia employees work on design and user interface, engineering is still the company’s focus, and design is thought of as “secondary within the company.”

A phone is a phone is a phone.  Every smartphone has a good camera and a touchscreen and a onscreen or sliding keyboard or both; all these pieces make up the “commodity” which smartphones, like PCs before them, have become.  The interface is what makes it “an iPhone” or “an Android phone” or a “Win 7 phone.” And design, as Steve Jobs can tell you, isn’t a matter of plugging numbers in and getting America’s favorite Pantone color, but rather a mixture of engineering and art, and the unpredictable results that come out of the artistic process (and art history tests).

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