As Autodesk staff grew into the hundreds, it became increasingly apparent that it just wasn't possible to hire people in such numbers, especially in Marin County, California, without ending up with a substantial subpopulation of airheads, bozos, and crystal crackpots. This, combined with an electronic mail system which permitted any employee to broadcast mail to all others, worldwide, leads inevitably to ``flame wars,'' interminable arguments which create a great deal of heat but shed little light upon the matter being discussed.While driving over the mountain at 15 MPH behind an idiot (almost always in a Chevrolet, if you're into cultural icons) who weaves into both lanes yet never manages to pull off on any of the 10 turnouts between Muir Beach and Tam Junction to allow the 10 to 50 cars behind him to get by, I often pass the time trying to imagine what passes for thought processes in these subminds--have they, for example, not really internalised the concept that there are other people in the world, but rather view the others around them as furniture or spear carriers?
I define an airhead, based on decades of careful observation in Marin Country, the Home Nest, as an individual whose beliefs are independent of fact. Arguing rationally with an airhead is like trying to move your house by standing outside and pushing against a wall--it doesn't matter how hard you try or how long you keep it up: you get exhausted and the house stays put. With an airhead it goes like this. You're told something like ``The calcium in quartz resonates with the calcium in your bones, healing back pain.'' Not wanting to get into details about the causes of back pain or the nature of the ``resonance,'' you point out, ``There isn't any calcium in quartz--just silicon and oxygen.'' By return E-mail, ``Well, so what. It resonates anyway.''
Since disconnection from facts is the Sign of the Airhead, I wondered if one mightn't be able to screen them out by asking a few factual questions. Only in jest, of course--I'm sure such a test would violate hundreds of laws in California, where chemical composition of urine is the only valid criterion for employment. I penned this on March 20, 1988.
This little diversion, which I usually undertake as a blood pressure reducing effort, of course, is often counterproductive because one then passes on to some of one's past and present co-workers...and some of the recent electronic mail communications and the worldview they represent.
Anyway, I was wondering how you could screen out the airheads: what is the essential distinction between a highly creative person who almost invariably seems flaky and the real crystal-powered airhead. Well, the essential difference, it seems to me, is that the real people are intensely interested in facts for their own inherent value and as the foundation of thought, and they understand things like one counterexample disposing of a global supposition.
So how do you tell the difference? In jest, I propose:
John Walker's Bozo Filter
Wouldn't it be interesting to see how many people who apply for work here could answer these questions, being generous for common errors (for example, for the first question if the person mistook the diameter for the radius, that's OK. ``Duhhhhh'' is not OK)? Similarly, in question 3, failure to propagate a carry is OK; not being able to turn the words into numbers isn't.
Wouldn't you love to know how many people working here today could pass this ``test?''
I am not seriously proposing this for any purpose...it's just an idle diversion I'm sharing for your amusement.
From: Dan Drake, Mon Mar 21 09:09:36 1988
To: Chris Record, John Walker, Kern Sibbald
Subject: Bozo Filter
It sure would be fun to know.
My own thoughts on such subjects came when driving--an activity that seems to be favorable for meditations, most of a dyspeptic sort--on a freeway, watching the cars go at 65 mph separated by intervals of perhaps 15 feet: What kind of silly ass was C. P. Snow? He wanted people to understand the second law of thermodynamics when most of them don't believe in the conservation of momentum.
You may know my literacy test, which I don't dare administer to tech writers:
``I hit him in the eye yesterday.''
It's physically possible to insert ``only'' (well, or ``Only'') in 8 places in that sentence. For all cases that are meaningful, distinguish the meanings.
Editor: John Walker