Fascinating mechanical stories

I already wrote about cars as appliances or objects, but I found this earlier germ of the idea in my drafts:

There’s an in-betweenish bracket where prestige, social signaling, or bells and whistles count a bit more. The Prius and Tesla are social signals. Some folks get a Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, etc. for the prestige more than the bells and whistles.

The weird thing about e.g. BMW, Porsche, or Ferrari is how much enthusiasts know about them. The history, the construction, the internal model numbers, the stories. I suspect you can tell a prestige BMW owner from an enthusiast BMW owner if they can tell you the internal model number of their car.

My first thought, when I came across this, was this is a pretty good bit of projection and rationalization on my part ;) But it’s not hard to look into the fandom of any of those ostensibly-prestige brands like BMW or Porsche and find communities that refer to BMWs not as 3- or 5-series but as E90s or E34s (mine is an F30) and Porsches as 986 or 996 instead of the 911 marketing number. So I’m at least a little right about this!

I will never experience driving the majority of cars out there. I may never know how an old BMW compares to a newer one or properly hear an old Ferrari V-12. I can partake of the enthusiasm about their history, engineering, and idiosyncrasies. That’s the big attraction for me: the stories.

Word processors, still imitating typewriters

Right after we finish ridding the world of “floppy-disk-to-save” icons, I propose we remove this bit of obtuse skeumorphism from the default view in word processors like Google Docs:

the margin setting thingy on a typewriter
Who uses this anymore?

I vaguely remember using one of these to adjust margins and such on a real typewriter once. Its possible I used one to eek out an extra page in a school report during junior high. Since then? Wasted screen space!

Act like a modern device, word processors. Hide that stuff in a menu somewhere!

Aliens through the eyes of boys

On screening Aliens for a slumber party of 11 year old boys:

“I like the way this looks,” one said. “It’s futuristic but it’s old school. It’s almost steampunk.” “This is like Team Fortress 2,” another remarked. “Dude, shut up, this was made like 20 years before Team Fortress 2,” said the kid next to him. “This is, like, every science fiction movie ever made,” another said, as Ripley operated the power loader for the first time.

I love works of culture that bisect their genre. There were symphonies before Beethoven, and symphonies after Beethoven. There were comedies before Animal House and comedies after Animal House. For action and sci-fi action movies, there were movies before Die Hard and Aliens, and there are movies after.

In all of these cases, the pieces after are a wholly better ballgame because the piece bisecting the genre changed it so completely.

Put. The phone. Down.

Nick Quaranto has Too many streams:

There’s just too many things to pay attention to. I get questioned pretty frequently about this: how do you pay attention to nearly 1,500 people on your Twitter timeline? Here’s an easy answer:

I don’t.

Nick’s conclusion, in short, is to put the phone down. There will always be too many things seeking your attention. You can never Read the Whole Internet. You can only hope to mark it as unread and go on with your life. Hence, just put the phone down.

I came across this little trick where you get all the stuff you tinker with off your phone’s home screen. All functional apps, no social networks, no web, no mail, nothing that’s going to grab your attention. Software calmness, per se. I’ve done it for a week and love it so far. I highly recommend it, if you have the means.

Senior VP Jean-Luc Picard, of the USS Enterprise (Alpha Quadrant division)

If you’re working from the Jean-Luc Picard book of management, a nice little Twitter account of Picard-esque tips on business and life, we can be friends. Consider:

Picard management tip: Be willing to reevaluate your own behavior.


Picard diplomacy tip: Fighting about economic systems is just as nonsensical as fighting about religions.

But I’m not so sure about this one:

Picard management tip: Shave.

If you’re playing from home, the fictional characters that have most influenced my way of thinking are The Ghostbusters (all of them) and Jean-Luc Picard. I also learned everything I need to know about R&B from The Blues Brothers.

Feynman’s mess of jiggling things

Richard Feynman, in the process of explaining rubber bands:

The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right!

This simplification delights and amuses me. The great thing is its fractal truth: you can observe our lives at many levels and conclude that they are dynamic jiggling messes.

Linux screenshot nostalgia

Anyone else remember uploading screenshots of their super awesome, tweaked out Linux hacker desktops?

Screenshot whilst hacking

Sorry, I’m not running WindowMaker, Enlightenment, or Sawmill anymore. Besides that, I think I have all the cliches: terminal, editor, MP3 player, system monitors, blinkenlights, etc. I am missing an IRC session, though.

A conversation between fictional engineers in a fictional world

A hypothetical conversation that may have occurred between two non-existent engineers working on the second Death Star in the completely fictional Star Wars universe.

Engineer #1: Hey Bob, I was perusing the blueprints for this “Second Deathstar” this morning. Pretty impressive stuff.

Engineer #2: Thanks Hank. I’m pretty proud of it.

Engineer #1: And you should be! Had one question though. There was something in the request-for-proposals that mentioned some flaw in the previous one where a snub fighter could drop a torpedo through a vent and blow the whole thing up, yeah?

Engineer #2: Yep! Don’t you feel bad for the poor schmuck who made that decision?

Engineer #1: Haha, that’s a good one Bob. So you fixed that right?

Engineer #2: Oh, definitely. All the exhaust ports are small enough the only thing falling in there is a grain of sand.

Engineer #1: Nice thinking! So, my real question is, what’s this giant opening you can fly a large freighter through? And why does it lead right to the station’s giant fusion reactor that sits in a room big enough to fly in circles in said large freighter?

Engineer #2: Oh, that? Well, the passage from that room to the surface is where I’m going to run all the pipes and wiring that I forget about until the last second. I figure once I’m done patching everything together, no pilot would be able to fly through there, even in a snub fighter.

Engineer #1: And the giant room?

Engineer #2: Oh, you know clients. Always deciding they want something really impressive at the last minute. I figured I’d just leave a little extra room in case they come up with something at the last minute.

Engineer #1: Haha, right again Bob. Clients are such idiots.

The Kindle's sweet spot

Given all the hubbub about Kindles, Nooks and their utility, I thought this bears repeating to a wider audience:

The Kindle is great for books that are just a bag of words, but falls short for anything with important visuals.

I’ve really enjoyed reading on my Kindle over the past year. You can’t beat it for dragging a bunch of books with you on vacation or for reading by the poolside. That said, I don’t use it to read anything technical with diagrams or source code listings. I certainly wouldn’t use it to read anything like Tufte, which is exactly why his books aren’t available on the Kindle. Where the Kindle shines is with pop-science books like Freakonomics and Star Wars novels1.

If you love books and reading, the Kindle is a nice addition to your bibliophilic habit, but it’s no replacement for a well-chosen and varied library.

1 Did I say that out loud? Crap.