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Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology and Human Error
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Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology and Human Error

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A disturbing share of technological disasters are caused by incompatibilities between the way things are designed and the way people actually perceive, think, and act. Structurally sound aircraft plummet to the earth, supertankers run aground in calm weather, and the machines of medical science maim unsuspecting patients - - all because designers sometimes fail to reflect ...more
Hardcover, 251 pages
Published January 1st 1998 by Aegean (first published July 1993)
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4.07  · 
Rating details
 ·  268 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Philip Hollenback
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a better book than the Atomic Chef (although I also enjoyed that one). There were a few interesting disaster stories in this book that I had not heard of before - such as the grounding of seven destroyers on the coast of California in 1923.
May 04, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
According to Russell Baker: The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him.

This is certainly true in my world - not a day goes by without some episode that confirms the notion that inanimate objects are conspiring against me. I'll admit - sometimes the problem is my own stunning lack of physical coordination (my clumsiness knows no bounds). But I do feel oppressed by the tyranny of bad design - the completely non-intuitive nature of the new microwave, the constan
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: perk
Each vignette is shallow, brief, and frustratingly matter-of-fact. Casey effectively builds suspense in each story (except for the five or so that are literally one page long and don't have time to) but then fails to deploy his actual HCI expertise to discuss the events, let alone have each incident add evidence supporting an overall thesis. There are many better books in this genre so I would definitely skip this one.
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent reading. At some point, Engineers developing perfect machines need to understand that they are operated by imperfect humans. Failure to allow for human interface is shown as a recipe for disaster.
Dec 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Union Carbide Bhopal, the Idaho SL-1 Reactor and Soyuz 11 are among the design failure disasters discussed in this collection. The source of the title -- a fatal radiation dose that eventually killed the man who was expecting to be cured instead -- was his bravely flip answer to those who asked about the burns and scars. Despite the clever title, the stories themselves are rather workmanlike. Casey does attempt to provide some character and dialog (either excerpted from primary sources or based ...more
Khalil Martin
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I found this book laying around - it belonged to a friend of mine. This book by the Dr. Casey is one of the course materials for the University of Waterloo's Introduction to Human Systems course of the Systems Design Engineering program. I guess the tales of unfortunate events brought to life in this book serve to remind the up-and-coming engineer of the grave consequences that can result from poorly designed or poorly operated systems. R.I.P to those who have passed due to the negligence of oth ...more
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really a 4.5. Amazing true stories. Quick read. Makes you appreciate the process and regulation we have. And that is difficult to protect against (mostly male) egos.
Doug Wilcox
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book, like its "sequel," The Atomic Chef: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error, is just as interesting. One of the things I particularly like is each case study of human factors/technology/psychology gone wrong does not lecture about the probable causes or how the problems should be solved. The cases are much more thought-provoking that way.
Paulina Durán
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the 'Scary stories to tell in the dark' User Experience/HCI version. What's even that all these stories are true O_o.
Easy to read, although some stories are kinda intricate so one might get a bit lost (specially because there are very technical terms involved). However, this should be a recommended reading for every engineer out there. EVERY ENGINEER.
Darryl Updegrove
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: engineering
excellent - must read
Shasank Nagavarapu
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Exemplary, teaches one why human factors is such an important part of the product development process. Some of the stories are truly extraordinary....
Wasiq Mohammad
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: design
Very interesting book on major design flaws and human errors. I enjoyed reading it. I read one story a day and pondered over all the things that went wrong, everything that caused the outcome and what could have been done differently. The answers seem very simple, but the designs did not account for them. Some times we never know how a product/process is going to be used and under what circumstances. It is more critical to identify these for some more than others. But this book will definitely c ...more
Alex Railean
The book is a smooth introduction to the field of human-machine|computer-interaction, making it clear that little quirks can end up causing disasters.

The narrative style might give the impression that the issues discussed are not serious, but all the chapters have references (+ I've encountered some of these cases in other sources).

If you're interested in a more detailed account of these (or similar) events, have a look at `Inviting disaster`

I enjoyed rea
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
The book briefly describes a number of engineering disasters and their causes. Apparently used in many classroom settings, the book is short on details. For one like me who is interested in the forensic details of post-accident investigations, this book was somewhat disappointing.

Keep in mind that I read NTSB accident reports in detail out of pure curiosity, so the average reader may find this book quite a bit more satisfying that did I.
Sandra Strange
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
What great stories of technological disasters, both personal and more widespread. From Bopal to Wall Street, one person's little mistakes in using technology can have horrendous consequences. These stories are always told from the point of view of one or more of participants, so the stories are immediate and fascinating in their detail. Great read, and learning too!
Caitlin Toliver
Feb 02, 2016 rated it liked it
My last quiz on this book at his other book (TAC) is tomorrow! Even though the stories were pretty tragic, I enjoyed reading them. Only complaint is that some of the stories, in both books, seemed drawn out; the same story could have been told in a few pages, not 25 (I'm looking at you, "Caught on Tape").
Dec 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: usability
It's a bit depressing to read stories over and over about things going wrong and people dying, but it's a good read for anyone in the human factors/usability field. It gives an idea of the importance of understanding the full system in the context of use and how little things can make a big difference.
Oct 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
The background to all those screwups you've heard about in the past (does Therac ring a bell?), but not a very entertaining read. After some 12 stories (there are 20 in total) you feel where "this is going", and feel sorry for the main characters already...
Reader Girl
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A quick, fascinating read.
Trendy Chen
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was the only textbook that I enjoyed reading. This book goes beyond as a textbook. Anyone can pick it up and I recommend they do, especially for engineering students.
Nov 21, 2014 rated it liked it
A very dark set of true stories where poor technology design resulted in terrible accidents... often fatal. These are cautionary tales, not bedtime stories.
Polly ?
Oct 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Some of the stories I wished were fiction due to their grusome outcomes. This book really makes you take a second look at how much you take technology for granted.
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really liked this book. It serves its purpose very well and the stories are extremely interesting!
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: My boys
Shelves: engineering, disaster
Once I started reading this book, I read it in a few days.

There are other books that detail technology snafus. What are their titles?
Ann Bensley
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