Shoot all the guys wearing combat pants first

Interesting interview with William Gibson. I guess it’s about style and fashion although I doubt he’d describe it thus. “Tech Wear and the Limits of Authenticity” is a pretty good description.

My rule is that if Dick Cheney couldn’t wear it without creating a stir, I shouldn’t either. I like clothing that isn’t easily noticed. […] I’m embarrassed if I think anyone knows exactly what I paid for something, or even where I got it. I want what I’m wearing to feel good on, wear well, and to be extremely functional.

There’s an idea called “gray man”, in the security business, that I find interesting. They teach people to dress unobtrusively. Chinos instead of combat pants, and if you really need the extra pockets, a better design conceals them. They assume, actually, that the bad guys will shoot all the guys wearing combat pants first, just to be sure. I don’t have that as a concern, but there’s something appealingly “low-drag” about gray man theory: reduced friction with one’s environment.

The Assembly Line

I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, his first novel, published in 1952.

(Wikipedia) “It is a dystopia of automation, describing the dereliction it causes in the quality of life. The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.”

I don’t recall the novel making much of an impact on me when I read it during college. The world just didn’t seem that mechanized to me back then. It sure seems timely 60+ years later. And it brings to mind my brief (2 weeks?) time working on the assembly line of the General Motors plant in St. Louis. Summer of 1968?


As I recall, every hour 62 cars passed my little work area. In that minute I put six screws into a thing around one of the headlights (1); put rubber bumpers on two little posts the car’s hood rested on (2); attached a little piece of rubber hose to… something (3); put the tire iron behind the spare tire and spread out the trunk mat (4).

I’m surprised I lasted two weeks but some of the guys on the line had been doing similar tasks for 20 years (and encouraged me to drop out of college to get a couple extra years of seniority).

Vonnegut died in 2007 so he saw some serious automation. As for the class conflict depicted in his novel, well, I think we might just be getting started.

Rank websites according to their truthfulness

“A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” says the team. The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.”

“The software works by tapping into the Knowledge Vault, the vast store of facts that Google has pulled off the internet. Facts the web unanimously agrees on are considered a reasonable proxy for truth. Web pages that contain contradictory information are bumped down the rankings.”

“Knowledge Vault has pulled in 1.6 billion facts to date. Of these, 271 million are rated as “confident facts”, to which Google’s model ascribes a more than 90 per cent chance of being true. It does this by cross-referencing new facts with what it already knows.”

This seems too good to be true so I’ll start by assuming it is not. But NewScientest is, in my opinion, a reliable source. And I want this to be a real thing. Imagine how disruptive something like this would be. Would you keep going back to a site with a really low Knowledge-Based Trust score? Sure, there’d be lots of kicking and screaming but I could see this working. At lots of levels.

YouTube Channel Trailer

I don’t give a lot of attention to my YouTube channel. It’s just the place I park my videos so I can share them here on Google+ and on But they provide a nice set of tools for managing your content and tips for how to create a good “experience” for people who find their way to my channel. For example, they recommend a brief (no more than a minute) trailer to give the visitor some idea of what the channel is about. It’s been a couple of years since I updated mine. This one has nothing to do with the video on my channel. I needed to fill that spot on page so I decided to put something together as quickly as possible.

I quickly scanned through 5,000+ photos, picking eight or ten almost at random. Then added some music that seemed to fit the images and my current mood. And it’s done. I almost added some quotes from favorite authors but decided that wouldn’t add anything. 

It’s ringing

We’ve all had this experience but it’s less common with mobile phones. You’re in your office and your “desk phone” rings. You can’t answer it for some reason. You’re talking on your mobile or you have someone in your office, but you didn’t set the phone to go to voice mail so it keeps ringing until the caller gives up.

This happened to someone being interviewed on a podcast I listen to and the phone rang 20 or 30 times. Still ringing when the interview ended. So here’s my question: what’s going on in the caller’s head?

He obviously believes the person he’s calling is ‘there’ or he’d just hang up. So. He’s there but not answering the phone. Why?

a) He’s in a coma
b) His office is being robbed and he’s duct taped to his chair
c) He’s doing something that prevents him from answering THE MOTHER FUCKING PHONE!

Am I missing something obvious here? I do that. As horrible as it is to contemplate, I always suspected the caller was thinking, “If I let it ring long enough, if that becomes annoying enough, he will stop what he’s doing and answer my call. Passive-Aggressive that I am (was?) I would usually just pick up and immediately hang up the phone.

I don’t get a lot of calls these days and I don’t miss ‘em.

“This thing called the world wide web”

The Internet has become so much a part of our lives it feels strange to say/write the word. Hard to remember a time when it was new and strange. The interview segment below is from 1996 and is a tiny time capsule from those early days of the “world wide web.”

On September 11, 1996, Allen Hammock was the guest on Derry Brownfield’s radio show to talk about the Internet and the “World Wide Web.” Allen and his partner, Dan Arnall, had recently joined Learfield Communications to “explore opportunities” on this new thing called the Internet. Allen and Dan were recent graduates of the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. They created the first websites for our company and worked with our IT department to stream audio for our various radio networks and programs, including The Derry Brownfield Show. This 13 minute segment (edited from an hour-long show) touches on: Personal Communication, Privacy and Security, computer viruses, and getting “on” and “off” the Internet.

On November 22, 1996, Derry did a follow-up show featuring Solveig Bernstein, talking about privacy (and other topics) on the Internet (still newish at the time). Ms. Bernstein was the Assistant Director of Telecommunications and Technology Studies for the Cato Institute.

The Shape of Things to Come

Two — unrelated — thoughts about this article (The Shape of Things to Come) in The New Yorker: 1) This is, as far as I can recall, the longest magazine article I’ve ever read. 2) You will see more Apple Watches than you expected.

And a few excerpts:

  • Apple employs three recruiters whose sole task is to identify designers to join the group; they find perhaps one a year.
  • In fifteen years, only two designers have left the studio—one of them because of ill health.
  • The data that Apple now sends to a manufacturer include a tool’s tracking path, speed, and appropriate level of lubricant.
  • “What the competitors don’t seem to understand is you cannot get people this smart to work this hard just for money.” – Bono on Apple design team