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A “Tutor’s Perspective”… Mic Porter - Ergonomist. Some of the key experiences that created my weltanschauung: A little history but more polemic and a never again paradigm… “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms” World’s Fair, Chicago 1936, Strapline. Mic Porter. 8/30/2014. 2.

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A “Tutor’s Perspective”… Mic Porter - Ergonomist

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Mic Porter

A “Tutor’s Perspective”…Mic Porter - Ergonomist

Some of the key experiences that created my weltanschauung:

A little history but more polemic and a never again paradigm…

“Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms”

World’s Fair, Chicago 1936, Strapline.

Mic Porter



Born, Penge, in a London “pea souper” in early 1953 having kept my mother waiting all over Christmas. Gosh, I was so popular! So, to the Chinese: a water dragon with elements of snake!

First recorded, useful role – “mending” the lawn mower – aged 3½.

OK, not my mum ↑ but a bit like her!

Mic Porter

My Dad….

Was born into a family where the breadwinner had been a milkman until he was injured in an accident with a horse. He did not work through most of the 1930s and only gained full “unskilled” employment as a metal machinist when WW2 got going. As with many of the rural poor the poacher was, and especially in the ‘30s, the butcher!

My Dad was smart, won a scholarship to “Stamford School” and then to Keeble College Oxford where he spent the start of the war “reading” History and (perhaps) a little fellow traveling. (He would certainly have been despised by Senator Joseph McCarthy!)


Mic Porter

In those days…

My father not being rich enough to employ an Oxford washer woman would send home, by rail, a trunk of dirty washing each Friday. His mum would wash, dry and iron it ready for return on the Monday!

War work was compulsory during the vacations and as an “Oxford man” my Dad was obviously a leader so, in the summer of 1940, he was put in charge of a party of 6 building Nissen huts on East Anglican fighter aerodromes.


Mic Porter

help the war effort by sending back the “unneeded” long struts. When the wind came his huts without the diagonal bracing “parallelogramed”. Dad was “promoted” to pea picking where, later, he met Mum!

On graduation (1941) he, with another unfit, Oxford graduate went to the Foreign Office and was put in charge of all the world that wasn’t at war! He never had so much power again!

Now a Nissen Hut is very flexible and, un assembled, fits onto a 3 ton truck. A good team could assemble two a day. Dad thought he could


Mic Porter

More of my dad….

In my early years dad administered for a National Coal Board research project, run by Jacob Bronowski that was seeking to commercialize the conversion of Coal into Oil by the “Lurgi-Ruhrgas” process.

It didn’t become commercial but later my father used to comment on how much easier it was to run research projects before they invented computers and sought to “count” every little thing. Later moved to the Head office, working in Personal, building pit baths or closing pits and redeploying miners. Of course LEO was “just” about then – Lyons (tea shops) Electronic Office


Mic Porter

Mustn’t forget Mum (neé Bearn)…

Surrey born, daughter of a very minor “white Russian” who left c1910 when things were starting to warm up and an distinguished Civil Servant who died (1944) while working in the Ministry of Health on the National Insurance Scheme which under-pinned many of the post war reforms, NHS, Nationalization etc.

In 1948 she left work on marriage (as Civil Servants did then). She ran the family, undertook “good works”; later, took up the university studies that didn’t happen previously because of WW2. She was awarded a degree (posthumously) from Cambridge University. A “Bede’s bright bird”.


Mic Porter

PE Teacher - John Cooper

He could “lap” me and this, as he constantly reminded me, did not please him. He was fast - I was not, as an 11 year old, nor am I today! John Cooper was, also disappointed with himself as he failed to win Gold (just a couple of Silvers) at 1964 Tokyo “still truly amateur” Olympics; 400M hurdles in 50.1s still seems fast to me!

Cooper died in March 1974 when the Turkish Airlines DC10 crashed in Ermenonville Forrest (near Paris). An “accident” with some classic Human Factors aspects, that later, I found myself studying.

School was generally good; became skilled in stage lighting, scenery creation & captained the Chess team!.


Mic Porter

Early 60s Gerald May (ex Cornish Boat-builder) moves in next door.

My dad was not practical! A family legend has Gerald assembling a dolls-house for my sister early (am) on Christmas morning in exchange for whisky. The Mays had come round for drinks – and dad had shown off the present, apparently expressing how clever it was, as it assembled (somehow) when you opened the box. Gerald pointed out it was “flat packed”, returned for tools and started work pinning and gluing the house together - finished and left, just in time to avoid meeting the early morning foraging party!


Mic Porter

Dinghy Building

Gerald had several of us building dinghies. The plan was to start on Boxing day, launch at Easter and sell in October.

At 11 I built a 7ft 11” a GM “own design” pram dinghy (no need to join the BS1088 ply). Dad was doubtful but it fitted on the roof of the family Morris 1000! Later came a “Heron”, “A Graduate” and a “National 12” by which time I could drive; “the 12” went all over the SE.

For a while I owned “N1111 Frivolous” which came with Ian Proctors 2nd prototype metal mast (c1952). I traded it in and the original went into his museum.

Later ducked the girlfriend (since school) into the Tyne, the dinghy had to go but we married!


Mic Porter

Man lands on Moon – 20th July ’69[40 years ago]

The computer weighs only 65lb, consumes 70 watts and has 36Kb of “rope” memory “squashed” into a cubic foot.

The Display & Keyboard (DSKY) as mounted in the Main Display Console of the Apollo 13 spacecraft, Odyssey. LEM design engineer, Joseph Gavin (d.3.11.10). is credited with working out how to use it to rescue Apollo 13!


Mic Porter

Sussex University [1]

Went intending to be an “Engineer” but quickly became disillusioned with machines but fascinated by the people who designed and used them – “A Engineering with automatic control degree” becomes “with Psychology & Sociology”.

Got involved in student action, founder of the Tenants Association (USTA).

Help found a food co-op (still going but now organic) and a “Real Ale” bar initially supplied with Pin(kins) travel in various student cars.

Helped devise and organize what we believed to be the first “rent strike” of the tenants of a University. USTA becomes as powerful as the SU – an example of countervailing power theory but problematic!

[More later]


Mic Porter

An “other” in the landmark case – Baldry -v- Feintuck and Others.

“application by a member of the students union of Sussex University […] to restrain the use of union funds for certain purposes said by the plaintiff to be foreign to the true purposes of the union. The payments sought to be restrained are, […] a contribution of £ 500 towards a charitable organisation […] and £800 as a fund for financing what, I think, might be described as a political campaign of protest against the Government's policy of ending certain free milk supplied for school children.”

We lost, but l (and most charities) learnt what is (and is not) "Ultra vires”. Since 1983 Tony Baldry, barrister, has been MP (Con.) for Oxford and is still interested in Human Rights.


Mic Porter

Power cuts – and the downfall of PM, sailor and conductor Ted Heath.

My Dad had moved to Eastern Electricity in time for “February, 1972 when the miners […] he’d left behind went on strike” and Dad, “with accustomed efficiency, [had] to administer a system of spreading 20 days of power cuts throughout Eastern Electricity's area.”

[Mike Hyde – funeral address 9/1/92]

This address raised two (unanswered questions) and a critical recommendation to texts of 40 years ago...

Why did the Russian only recruited spies from Cambridge (and not Oxford) University?

“Why a privatised Chief Officer needed a larger motor car than a nationalised Chief Officer”

Read EF Schumacher “on energy” as well as the more well known “small is beautiful”.


Mic Porter


At Sussex optimism ruled – the Union “struggled to overthrow…”, Tricky Dickie had been caught with technology of his own instigation, America was soon to pull out of Vietnam but there was still a campus wide “hush” twice a year when the “draft” was drawn…

Peter Hain (then a Liberal and famed for his antiapartheid actions in South Africa) and Tariq Ali (Anglo-Pakistani Marxist (now, left political) activist, historian) were students among a population little larger than this School.

Asa Briggs (historian of the Victorians and the BBC), now Baron Briggs of Lewes. Was “Outed” as to a previous employment by the question... “17?”



Mic Porter

Answer to “17?” is, of course, “R”

Apparently the test to see if the person you were speaking to was a WW2 code-breaker. (Asa, worked in Bletchley Park’s “Hut 6” deciphering intercepted Enigma encrypts from the German Army & Air force.)

“Station X” (BP) was the birthplace the “computer” but the double standards that encouraged mathematician Turing reversed when the war ended. Then, like the Oppenheimer, he lost “clearance” albeit for different “reasons”. The Turing Test lives and in September 2009 PM Brown apologized for how Alan had been treated!

An then there was Tommy Flowers GPO technical wizz who created Colossus the first practical computer used at BP to break the German Lorenz teleprinter codes….


Mic Porter

At Sussex...

Discovered an ability to “lock-up” the university telephone systems and added, to my obscure abilities, another obsolete skill - programming in assembler and Fortran 67 both running under “George 4” on an ICL1900 series computer. Was never good at reading punched cards tho’!

Discovered the MRC Shift Work Research group, and did a project with Peter Colquhoun and discovered the term for what I had become interested in... “Ergonomics”!

Become a little man who focused in the “now” but was used by the those that “ran the revolution”!


Mic Porter

University Accommodation

The plan was to continue to build “Park Houses” named after other “new Universities” But the “unit of resource” had dropped. In the mid 60s Basil Spence build at £1500 per unit to “UGC” norms of 100 square foot (measured to mid wall) per student. By the early 1970s Kent house was being built by the “in-house” architect at £750 per unit. The students also didn’t want more “cell blocks” so we looked about...

And found (Robert) Maguire and (Keith) Murray commune living architects designers of an award winning School, University accommodation and applauded sacred spaces!


Mic Porter

University Accommodation [2]

And most importantly they were willing to start work without payment or even the prospect of payment!

The rent strike was settled on the employment of “USTA’s” Architects resulted in “Aston Villas”. Blocks of 6, 10, 12 flats with common kitchens etc and the 6s (and some 10s) to be bid for by “pre bonded” students who wished to live together. The remaining 10s and all 12s for “new” students who were expected to form sub-groups. Sociologically inspired accommodation design; sadly recently replaced with accommodation of a higher density.


Mic Porter

Sussex University’s “Aston Villas” (distant middle)


Mic Porter

East Slope Residences


Mic Porter

After Sussex - Loughborough….

A shock this was a quiet market town, little political activity and so many people trying to “win” at sports.

Some “street cred” came from “driving” the Union’s Gestetner - at Loughborough they employed staff to duplicate for the revolution! Another obsolete skill!

Living with eight others in a University flat and needing a way to make friends so started brewing, then a little freeze distillation until a full productive still was created.

In the flat was a Chemical Engineer so batches were checked for ethanol; we were good, purity confirmed!


Mic Porter

Then contract work and .... “Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic”.

Since that time, lots of projects and consultancy plus “a little” teaching!

Continue to study - an OU MBA in the early 1990s - and then, just for fun courses concerning “thinking”, “pre-mediaeval technology”, “real world ethics” and “Forensic Engineering” (? Crazy)!

Involved, as Treasurer, with the Governance of the Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors. A £½M turnover Charity & Business.

Survived (so far for 3½ years) the surgical removal of multi-site Bowel cancer, radio & chemo therapy!


Mic Porter

Now “Northumbria University”.

Also teaching “systems” for the Open University.

A “T” person who has both “knowledge, skill and abilities in depth and width!

An individual deeply interested in “human activity systems”, low light photography and...


Mic Porter

Times change… perhaps…

“Newcastle-upon-Tyne:- Once a station on the Roman Wall, Pons Aelii, and now an important manufacturing city noted for coal, armaments, and both ships and locomotive building.”

The Automobile Association Road Book: England and Wales 1953

“The human scale and a certain capacity for variety must be kept alive, and it is the task of the designer to ensure this though whatever phase of technology we may pass.” 

Ashford F. C. (1955) Designing for Industry - Some Aspects of the Product Designer's Work. Pitman & Sons: London.


Mic Porter

“Most engineering products can be readily adapted to suit their originally intended purpose.”

Chris Thornycroft – EngineerQuoted in the obit, Guardian 1/10/2001

“It is a sin to make an ugly car. The cost of designing, engineering, and manufacturing are virtually the same, ugly or beautiful.”

Bill MitchellDirector then VP of Design (styling)General Motors 1954-1977

“Funny thing civilization. It promises so much and what it delivers is mass production of shoddy merchandise and shoddy people”

Raymond Chandler - AuthorNovember 1940


Mic Porter

“If it can‘t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production.”

Zero Waste Resolution, March, 2005Berkeley (California)

“As we say at IDEO, ‘fail early to succeed sooner.’”

Tim Brown (2009)

Change by Design (p17)

Harper Business: New York.


Mic Porter

And finally Tony Benn’s five questions...

“If one meets a powerful person […] ask five questions:

what power do you have?

where did you get it?

in whose interests do you exercise it?

to whom are you accountable?

how can we get rid of you?”

Tony BennCommons Hansard[16 Nov 1998: Column 685] Volume 319


Mic Porter

Some advice from me to you...

Decide what you are aiming for, work towards it and some fun along the way

Keep studying – formally & informally; there is much to learn before connections are made and dreams established. (I still do! April ‘10 a 3 hour exam, merit.)

Dream optimistically, expansively and serendipitously but plan and act in a pessimistically, realistically constrained and rigorously repsonsibly.

It is always best to speak to the people concerned but failing that; each week write as many letters (or emails) or commendation as you do of complaint.



Mic Porter

Some advice from me to you [2]…

“Murphy” was an Engineer, an ignorer of people factors and thus an “optimist”! If (some say “when”) the Engineer finishes the “perfect” artifact it will be people who let her/him down!

Design for failure, when it comes (as it surely will) to be gentle for all.

Take and give advice - there is nothing that cannot be achieved if you don’t mind who gets the credit!

Never end a day during which you have not had both a giggle and a cuddle.


Mic Porter

Some advice from me to you [3]…

Embrace the arts – by deep thought, careful planning and execution they are but an explanation and transformed reflection of the world. A world you and have much to learn and understand about.

If you cannot perform (especially music) yourself then go to hear it live, unique and original; and go as often as you can.

Think global, act local and be true to yourself and those that respect and/or love you.

Spend less than you earn and give away the difference so that others can “make a difference”.


Mic Porter

Perhaps this was not what you were expecting….

This talk has been extracted from a longer document in which I attempted to codify and refine the variety of my life and complexity of thought. I wrote for my family, friends and myself, as surgery approached but, thankfully, I have been able to revisit and revise it!

“I will hold my house in the high woodWithin a walk of the sea,And the men that were boys when I was a boyShall sit and drink with me.”

The South CountryHilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)


Mic Porter

“The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”

Ronald Reagan (Speech writer Peggy Noonan) Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address. 28.1.06


Mic Porter

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

George Bernard Shaw – celebrating the revolutionary power of original thought, quoted in the Guardian 2.10.04

“The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act [….] We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders [....] harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

Inaugural address of Barack Obama (20.01.2009)


Mic Porter

Thank you! Any questions...

And this is the restored/re-constructed Listowel and Ballybunion Railway. A Lartigue (patent) Monorail that ran from 1888 until 1924.


Mic Porter

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