The Computer Revolution     Flat-out Programming


Humour has always been a popular outlet for the stresses and strains of Autodesk people. Here's a collection of some of the best.

Job Titles

To: Technical Staff
From: K. R. Throop
Subject: Job Titles

Date: 1 March 1986

I'm growing increasingly concerned about the title escalation going on around here. It seems like every time we hire somebody we have to create a new job title to wedge them in the hierarchy without wounding somebody's ego.

This is hardly in the spirit of solidarity we shared when we marched in the Programmer's Strike For Parity twenty years ago.

Therefore, I suggest that we establish the following job titles for the technical staff, banishing “Software Engineer” to the darkness whence it came.

Enhanced Programmer
Super Programmer
Ultra Programmer
Virtual Programmer
Senior Programmer
Elder Programmer
Doddering Programmer
Intergalactic Exalted Cosmic Hyper Programmer

Titles shall be unrelated to pay, and shall be chosen by the employee.


Kelvin R. Throop
Virtual Programmer

AutoSketch: Not Insane

Autodesk Founder Announces New Product,
“Hurls Down Gauntlet To Other Software Vendors”

Sausalito, California, October 1, 1986.

John Walker, President and a founder of Autodesk, Inc., makers of the popular AutoCAD drafting software today announced that shipments of AutoSketch, the company's $79.95 drafting software were commencing.

“AutoSketch delivers, for only $79.95, far more capability for 2D drafting and design than the $1000 AutoCAD we were selling only four years ago. The software industry continues to lead all others in delivering value for the dollar, and we're proud to be both the value and performance leader in our market”, Walker said in a press conference announcing the event.

Concurrent with the AutoSketch announcement, Walker revealed that he had undergone a battery of tests and been pronounced “not insane”. Walker said that he was examined by a panel of prominent Marin County psychiatrists, psychologists, faith healers, astrologers, and vacuum cleaner repairmen who rated Walker's sanity on a scale of 1 to 5. Mass murderer Charles Manson was used as the standard for 1, and physicist Werner Heisenberg was used as the standard of somewhere between 4.9 and 5.

The panel rated Walker as 2.6 on this scale, which Walker claims definitively demonstrates his mental soundness. In explaining why he was disclosing this information, Walker said, “when you buy computer software, you have a right to know if it was written by a nutcase or not. Norbert Weenie, adjunct professor of cybernetic chiropractic at Ukiah Community College has demonstrated convincingly that software can drive you crazy. And software designed by a loonie can make you just as bad. Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department confirms this, saying, ‘ever since that Goddam WordStar, you walk into one of the typist dives on Montgomery Street and say Control K, and it's worth your life’.”

Walker immediately challenged other CAD system designers to similarly prove their sanity. And if they don't, he added, “well, then it's up to you the customer to ask ‘what do they have to hide?” ’.

Autodesk, Inc. develops and markets computer software for technical professionals. Products include AutoCAD, AutoSketch, CAD/camera, and AutoCAD AEC. Autodesk stock is publicly traded on the NASDAQ national market system under the symbol ACAD. John Walker is privately traded between the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Franchise Tax Board under the symbol 217-50-0239.

Autodesk Technical Seminars

This is not really an AutoBit. It was a serious proposal which never came to fruition at the time, possibly because it was confused with an AutoBit. In March of 1988, the Autodesk Technology Forum was inaugurated, which essentially implemented this idea. This was one of the first programs created by the newly-founded Autodesk Research Lab. Speakers at the Technology Forum included in-house developers demonstrating products, vendors showing their wares, and luminaries from within the industry and outside including Timothy Leary, Stuart Brand, Alvy Ray Smith, Hans Moravec, Rudy Rucker, Jaron Lanier, Todd Rundgren, ancient DNA expert Svante Paabo, astronaut Michael Lampton, and Indianapolis 500 driver Randy Lewis. The Autodesk Advanced Technologies Department, successor to the Autodesk Research Lab, was disbanded on August 18, 1992, bringing to an end the weekly Technology Forum.

Autodesk Technical Seminars

Proposal by John Walker
Revision 3 — February 12, 1986

We all wish that more people in the company saw the big picture, took an interest in the operation of all facets of the company, and were able to help out wherever help was needed. Let's do something active in this regard rather than just moaning. I propose we establish weekly technical seminars, commencing at 17:30 each Thursday, in which somebody from Autodesk will hold forth for an hour to 90 minutes on some topic known in depth to the speaker. A list of suggested topics follows (in no particular order). I'm sure you can think of speakers who'd love to blither on them.

Introductory LISP programming
Implications of antitrust law on Autodesk
Autodesk history
Stock options—what they mean, how they work
How to close a sale
Digital electronics in one hour
What it's like to be a computer dealer
How bugs are fixed (and how to report them)
Fundamentals of plane geometry
What does an architect do?
Lock picking
What is CAD/camera good for?
Project management with PERT
What is the board of directors?
BASIC programming
How to use Knowledge Man
Data networks
Principles of quality control
How Autodesk's products are manufactured
What is a spreadsheet and why you should use one
Copy editing
International shipping: strange customs in faraway places
RS-232: How to make it work
Getting the most from Compu-Serve
How national accounts select products
Technical analysis of stock charts
What is an expert system?
How accounting works
The Smalltalk paradigm—user interfaces
How to write a contract
Creating printed material—concept to press

I'm sure that this list will serve as a springboard for many additional ideas. If we decide to do this, I intend to circulate a list to everybody of these topics and allow people to volunteer for any topic they think of. Presumably we can fill up the calendar rapidly.

CAD: The Final Frontier

I wasn't sure I liked the tacky music we used at the opening of the audio tape we used to enclose with AutoCAD. The week we recorded it, I produced an alternative opening with this script and music you can probably imagine. We didn't use my version.

CAD—The Final Frontier

CAD, the final frontier.

These are the voyages of the starship Autodesk.

Its five year mission—to seek out pockets of profitability in the CAD industry—and empty them.

To develop strange new products, and patiently explain them to bewildered analysts.

To blindly go where no venture capitalist has gone before.

Marinchip Defeats IBM PC/AT In Benchmark

Mill Valley, California, Mayday 1986.

John Walker, President of Marinchip Systems Ltd., announced today that the Marinchip 9900-based PC/OT (Personal Computer/Obsolete Technology) resoundingly defeated the IBM PC/AT in an intense floating point benchmark, even though the PC/AT was equipped with the 80287 math coprocessor.

The benchmark was an optical ray tracing program involving primarily floating point computations, including evaluation of trigonometric functions. The Marinchip 9900 PC/OT executed the program in 69.32 seconds, while the IBM PC/AT took 93.79 seconds to execute the same program.

“Our PC/OT executed this real-world engineering program 26 percent faster than IBM's much vaunted PC/AT, even though our 9900 processor was operating at 2 megahertz, one third the speed of the PC/AT's 80286 CPU, and the fact that the PC/OT was emulating floating point in software instead of using a mathematics coprocessor. This benchmark vindicates our RISC (Rinkydink Instruction Set Computer) architecture, and clearly demonstrates the superiority of our proprietary QBASIC language for scientific applications.”, said John Walker.

The IBM PC/AT benchmark was run in Lattice C version 2.14, using the “−P” memory model (large code, small data). The standard Lattice 2.14 library was used. The results calculated by the Marinchip PC/OT and the IBM PC/AT agreed to 15 decimal places.

Commenting on the results, California Governor George Dookmayjeun said, “It just goes to show you how a bunch of clean living Californians can beat the spit out of those drug-soaked greasy Florida scumbags. Look, I don't give a flying fork what you quote me as saying, but please spell my freaking name right!”.[Footnote]

Dear Jim Meadlock…

This is for real. It was actually sent.

9th July 1986

Mr. James Meadlock
Intergraph Corporation
One Madison Industrial Park
Huntsville, AL 35807-4201

Dear Mr. Meadlock:

I was recently asked by one of our customers to comment on the attached memo from Mr. Ken Bado of your company. Since the memo contains a serious misstatement of the facts regarding our product, I felt I should bring it to your attention immediately.

AutoCAD maintains all of its coordinates internally in 64 bit floating point, adhering to the IEEE standard for double precision floating point (IEEE Std 754-1985). This delivers more than fourteen decimal places of accuracy. No physical constant is known to an accuracy of fourteen decimal places. That accuracy is more than adequate to position objects anywhere in the entire solar system (encompassing the orbit of Pluto) to within one centimetre.

Mr. Bado does not grasp the distinction between decimal places and bits. As I understand it, Intergraph is an integer-based system with 32 bits of accuracy. This provides for an accuracy of 4.2 billion units and a dynamic range from zero to 4.2 billion. AutoCAD's IEEE standard floating point provides a 52 bit mantissa, allowing an accuracy of 4.5 quadrillion units. This is more than a million times as accurate as Intergraph's system. In addition floating point gives us a dynamic range of plus or minus 10308, which is over one billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion times that of Intergraph, and obviates the need for the user to explicitly establish a scale factor.

Could somebody in your company explain this to Mr. Bado? Would you be so kind as to send me a copy of the memo to your sales force which corrects his misstatements?

Whether you choose to denigrate competitive products is your business. But if you do so choose, it helps to get the facts right.

By the way, what's an “iteraction”?


John Walker

John Walker, President

Yet Wah 3D

Eric Lyons wrote a number of papers intended to educate Autodesk folk in the intricacies of the three-dimensional world we were entering, both through the ongoing process of adding three-dimensional features to AutoCAD, and by our evaluation of ways to enter the solid modeling arena which finally led to the Cadetron acquisition (see page [Ref]). Eric ran some of these papers through TRAVESTY, the random language rearranger, and ended up with this. Another travesty of 3D appears on page [Ref].

Yet Wah[Footnote] 3D

Eric Lyons

In this chapter we'll learn about the combination of it, but it is fundamental to the way a solids modeling, anyway? Well, it's mostly a matter of representation in them, you'll like a fancy alloy automobile wheel. You end up with a CSG systems. CSG solids modelers work a little difference between a solid (with some user interface modelers). In fact, many B-rep system, you'll be able to simulate a hole in it with these problem—designing something called interference checking, and half of it, but it is fundamental engineering problems (some say it really start getting into another primitive and mash it together it lies outside, on the end. You modelers don't solve anything), but it is fundamental types of solids modeling systems in use today, primarily because they interface or off (outside) the same space, if you take a cylinder from a surface modelers. In fact, many B-rep modeling system works by taking little shapes. Each of this chapter we'll learn any of this chapter we'll learn about there are the point, but it does have a few shortcuts. Also, surface, or inside an object, you are created a solid. With a surface model.

Spine Police

To: Kathleen Doney
From: AUTODESK SPINE POLICE, Kelvin Throop, Sergeant
Docket number: MDASMAN001.00
Date: 24 November 1986

The AutoSketch User Guide does not have its title on the spine.

The Autodesk Spine Police were established in 1983 by a directive from the Board Of Directors and empowered to take all steps necessary and proper to insure that every book Autodesk publishes has its title on the spine.

To date our record is crummy.

You can help.

Could we put “AutoSketch User Guide” on the spine in the next edition?


First VHSIC-Based Commercial Product Stuns Industry

* * * For Immediate Release * * *

Mill Valley, California: September 22, 1986.

In a move that astounded industry analysts, a previously unknown company in Marin County, California announced the first commercial product embodying technology developed by the Pentagon's Very High Speed Integrated Circuit (VHSIC) project.

Kelvin R. Throop, spokesman for Strategic Weapons Systems of Marin, Inc. announced VHSIC-CALC at an impromptu press conference held at the company's headquarters.

Throop described the product as a MIMD parallel processor composed of over one million Gallium Arsenide VLSI single chip processors. The processors form a 1024×1024 cellular array: each processor is connected to its four neighbors in a rectangular grid. All processors run off a common 500 Mhz clock. The processors are based on RISC architecture, and execute instructions from a 1K by 32 bit on-chip RAM. Most instructions execute in one cycle, resulting in a throughput of 500 million instructions per second per processor, or 500 trillion instructions per second peak system performance.

Each CPU in the array executes a control program which repeatedly evaluates a mathematical formula stored in the RAM. Values required by the formula may be stored locally or derived from other processors, and values calculated may in turn be routed through the array to other CPUs. Throop said that cellular arrays of this form have proved useful in many forecasting, analysis, and planning functions. The unprecedented throughput of VHSIC-CALC will make applications previously undreamed of possible, he claimed.

Defense and other government sources were quick to endorse VHSIC-CALC. General William Tecumseh Chaos of the Larkspur Nuclear Weapons Dump said, “in VHSIC-CALC we see the fruits of the billions we've pissed away on advanced technologies. Before, we often relied on guesswork to make our crucial decisions, but you know: a megaton here, a megaton there, and before long you're talking a really big hole. VHSIC-CALC will let us plan and forecast and anticipate the unknown with a clarity we haven't seen since Pearl Harbor”. Reaction in Washington was enthusiastic: Quentin Terabuck, director of the Strategic Deficit Initiative said, “American technology is the key to America's security. Let's see those sneaky wiretapping commie slimebags recalculate their budget in 50 nanoseconds. And they talk about central planning!”.

Industry reaction was muted. John Walker, president of Autodesk, Inc., another Marin County high-technology company, said “I applaud SWSOM's commitment to the mass market as illustrated by their choice of the Commodore 64 as the control processor for VHSIC-CALC. While I feel that the suggested retail price of 40 billion dollars will slow acceptance in the retail market, inevitable price reductions may lead to a growing presence in the VAR channel”. When asked, “What's a VAR?”, Walker expanded, “Beats me”.

What Is 3D What

Here's another attempt by Eric Lyons to clarify a 3D document by running it through TRAVESTY (the first is on page [Ref]). I'm including this one as well because I gained an enormous insight from reading it—for years I'd wondered why I had so much trouble understanding orientation in three space. Upon reading this, it finally became clear. I was just an interpretation! Thanks, Eric.

What is 3D is What

Eric Lyons

What is, the more the systems (AutoCAD or any other productive by using drawings for describing to someone has to interpretation that a concept). Nor is it a concept. Nor is it a concept of us live, virtually all in itself. Throughout the expensive CAD systems are inherently 2D—you're simply an interpretation. This process is, naturally, we will have been around since the real world (there are many people that make $20,000–$25,000 (including overhead) per year). But many people don't want it that way. You see, therefore the extra ‘D’ is for their draftsperson becoming more products. It is intended as an education of AutoCAD was introduced for 2D applicated the people want it that is, they were purchased based on this process is, naturally, extremely error prone. And it was good. So people bought a lot of engineering applications do not require anything things like Auto-trol, CV, Intergraph, and among ourselves. Soon everything is clear; a lot to interpretation and draftsperson, his annual salary, and them based on a sheets of paper is not a listing of features for the IBM PC. It didn't do nearly 80's, they were used to do just about. Now, in the complications. And drawing an interpret the early what a lot could be considered exceptions, (several sheets) so that could do for 2D applicated the popularity of 2D CAD systems document a physical system in placed on a sheets of greater accuracy (more on this paper is not a listing of features for their drafting) have something. Buildings, cars, stereos, cuisinarts, socks, airplanes, are all manufactured exceptions, (several sheets) so that a lot of people that cost justification of AutoCAD or any others who offered only primarily 2D—you're simply drawings. Thus the point that is 3D, anyway? Eric Lyons 9/17/86. There lies the fireplace the complicated the more consistent drawings are all manufacturing the system, let's start by discussing what a concepts and explain who wrote and the systems.


This gem was forwarded, on behalf of the author, in late 1987 by Lew Goldklang, whose resemblance to Mr. Dithering is striking.

From its secret corporate bunker just north of Sausalito, Autodesk today announced the release of AutoShield(TM), an exciting new software product that renders nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. AutoShield runs on IBM PC, XT, AT, or 100% compatible computers. At least 640KB of random access memory is required; a math co-processor is recommended to ensure appropriate response time to incoming warheads.

The company also announced the formation of a new subsidiary, Auto-da-fé Inc., based in Key Largo, Florida, which will handle all production and marketing. Officials vehemently denied cynical press allegations that this would also provide a convenient front for money laundering operations out of Miami and Havana.

The new software defends against land-based SS-20 Malenkov-class ICBM's, submarine-launched missiles, cruise missiles, and aimlessly-tossed empty Stolichnaya bottles. It also protects against all suitcase weapons larger than a thermos of borscht.

AutoShield offers three levels of Advanced Defense Extensions which provide escalating levels of protection:

ADE 1: Passive—incoming projectiles bounce harmlessly off an invisible screen.

ADE 2: Active—allows users to shoot down second-stage boosters at ranges up to 280 nautical miles. Enemy rockets appear interactively on-screen like an arcade game.[Footnote]

ADE 3: Aggressive—protects completely against a hostile first strike, and then takes the initiative to launch an all-out counterattack by broadcasting an extremely-low frequency (ELF) signal to all submarines lurking in the Bering Strait and all B-52's on patrol between your workstation and Thule, Greenland.

Ray Tracing, sightless yet visionary jazz pianist and company spokesman, who once pioneered dramatic advances in Moiré pattern analysis by counting LISP parenthetical nesting for 96 straight hours (just before he went blind), noted that AutoShield preserves a great American tradition, allowing each rugged individual to have as much or as little security as he pleases, without depending on his neighbors or any incompetent, flabby authority for protection against treacherous communist savages.

Mr. Tracing declined to give specific details on the revolutionary new technology, calling it proprietary information, but hinted that in the passive mode AutoShield uses a subroutine-activated piezoelectrochemical quark excitation tunneling technique—a variant of the GARDOL shield popularized in the Colgate toothpaste commercials of the late 'fifties. Apparently, scrapings from Ed Herlihy's teeth were crucial to its success, although hexachlorophene does not seem to be an active ingredient. He also pointed out that in both of the active modes AutoShield generates well over 1012 joules of energy out of seemingly thin air by new breakthroughs in sub-molecular resonance and unified field reverberation. “We just exploited a loophole in the second law of thermodynamics big enough to drive an Abrams tank through, before it rattles itself apart”, chuckled the irrepressible Ray.

He also said that Autodesk engineers had tapped a hybrid technology that is a combination of harnessing the universal “strong” force binding together atomic nuclei, a previously unknown new force, believed to be the mysterious “force” in the Star Wars movies, and the primitive metaphysical power of snapping one's fingers continuously to keep wild hordes of elephants away. “See, it works!”, beamed Ray, snapping his fingers smartly while chewing gum at the same time, in a clumsy but evocative Gerald Ford imitation. “No elephants here, and no Russki missiles, either!”

“It was pretty trivial”, claimed Ray. “One of our guys did it over the weekend out of sheer boredom, in between watching the football game and counterfeiting food stamps.”

While a closely guarded corporate secret, the new technology seems to be quite similar to that used in the movie E.T., whereby a coat hanger, umbrella, tin foil and scraps of other crude, household throwaway items are employed to project energy beams across the vastness of all known galaxies and out to the very edge of the universe with a focus and intensity millions of times that of the most powerful industrial lasers.

Early beta-site versions of AutoShield required an additional minimum peripheral hardware configuration to support Advanced Defense Extension 3, including a Raytheon Patriot-class phased-array radar, a Titan three-stage booster rocket, a Shiva-class nuclear-powered X-ray laser and 10.2 kilograms of Uranium 238, enriched to at least 10% Uranium 235. In a last-minute, dramatic marketing maneuver, Auto-da-fé removed this restriction, calling it an expensive hardware crock. “By performing all counterforce measures in software instead, we are making AutoShield affordable to a much larger market of keenly defense-minded but nearly broke citizens”, beamed backup company spokesman Mo Zambique. Major hardware vendors at Livermore Labs and Helionetics were chagrined at the loss of potentially lucrative OEM contracts, but vowed to recoup any lost business in the robust third-world counterinsurgency arena instead.

AutoShield is guaranteed to work during any level of attack, from restless native uprisings to small-bore tactical field weapons, and on through strategic counterforce measures all the way up to massive, all-out screaming Armageddon.

In the extremely unlikely case that it should fail, the company offers full credit toward another product, less a nominal fee for handling and postage. Proof of purchase is required, along with a comprehensive, well-documented bug report isolating the problem down to the suspect procedure within 10 lines of code.

Auto-da-fé is negotiating with Federal officials to sell a site-license to Washington for an amount equal to the entire defense budget. Government sources indicate this will be approved readily, as all other items in the new defense budget will also be rendered impotent and obsolete. “What the hell, we were going to squander it all anyway”, said Pentagon spokesman Sergeant Fleakiller, “We'll just gouge it out of the acquiescent tax base one way or the other; there's still plenty of plasma left in that soggy turnip. No problem.”

The imminent sale should give a one-time surge to the company's cash flow, resulting in new quarterly earnings per share of $35,714.29 which, at the present P/E multiple of 41.3 would indicate a fair market price of just over $1,475,000 per share. On Wall Street, respected securities analyst, swashbuckling international commodity trader, and incessantly blabbering TV game show host Long June Silver was euphoric. “It's really the ultimate product; every government on the planet will have to buy one. The company is going to absorb every last piece of currency in circulation. We liked the stock at $50 and continue to be aggressive buyers at these levels”, he said expansively. Back in Marin, company officials quietly contemplated a 25,000-for-1 stock split.

Auto-da-fé is insisting on taking payment in newly-minted 7 1/2% Treasury bonds with a unit face value of $1,000,000 (the ones with Teddy Roosevelt's loudmouth blustering face on them). Company analysts are eager to scrutinize the fine engraving details and rag content. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing will have to run their recently acquired high-speed German presses night and day non-stop for nearly two years to print it all up.

Company spokesmen indicated that profits from the sale would go toward restocking the kitchen refrigerator with Classic Coke, which has recently dropped to levels so dangerously low as to impact programming productivity.

About the Author

Preston McChesney Dithering is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Federal Open Market Committee, a part-time editor of Trialogue, the Trilateralist newsletter, and an ephemeral, shadowy character who contributes these sporadic screeds about national security and economic issues for your personal edification; you shouldn't have to act so stupid. He is also a lifetime ex-officio member of the California Prune Advisory Board.

Mr. Dithering has written extensively and with extraordinarily sensitive insight on American finance, culture, and nutrition, including the phenomenal best-selling trilogy, A Nation of Quote Suckers, A Nation of Screen Suckers, and A Nation of Aspartame Suckers, available immediately through Authorized book dealers, value-added resellers, wholesale discount distributors, gray marketeers, anonymous mail-order houses, sprawling concrete suburban malls, chi-chi boutiques, supermarket checkout stand blister packs, home shopping networks, all-night mini-marts, pornographic newsstands, remote trading posts, bartering clubs, penitentiary commissaries, broken, ornery vending machines, and roving flatbed truck hawkers in your area. Watch for these profound works soon to be nationally televised as a blockbuster miniseries for your entertainment, simultaneously coordinated with a wave of life-threatening interactive battle toys, moronic video games, software simulations, bubble gum trading card series, sugary breakfast cereals, carcinogenic soft drinks, teasing puzzles, smart-ass T-shirts and other overpriced designer clothing, and tax-privileged theme parks in targeted redevelopment enterprise zones in your neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dithering would really like to hear from all you bored housewives out there.

AutoShield is a trademark of Auto-da-fé, Inc.

Auto-da-fé is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Autodesk, Inc.

Auto-da-fé is a registered trademark of the Spanish Inquisition. Great fun while it lasted; too bad you missed it; coming again real soon to a theater of operations near you.

Bicameral legislature, self-evident truths, neo-mausoleum architecture, flatulent filibustering, pork barreling, ineffective protectionist tariffs, tobacco subsidies, Prohibition, paternalistic socialism, benign neglect, incomprehensible policies, doctrinaire intransigence, language obfuscation, currency debauchery, unbacked fractional reserve notes, hyper-elastic debt ceilings, debt monetization, confiscatory taxes, perverse Byzantine lopsided tax codes,[Footnote] massive private gain at public expense, laissez-faire mercantilism, lucrative patronage, cozy cronyism, bottomless corruption, strangulating bureaucracy, comical ineptness, flippant insouciance, sullen insubordination, terminal bloat, creeping disintermediation, staggering trade deficits, voodoo economics, dollar bashing, intrusive citizen surveillance, satellite reconnaissance, calculated disinformation, shameless media hype, patriotic symbol manipulation, slush fund diversion, Senate select sub-committee investigations, lawyer-mongering, plea bargaining, subpoena quashing, pathological perjury, moral turpitude, ineffectual Presidential task forces, token civilian control of the military, forced conscription, sub-atomic tinkering, pitiful giantism, titillating indiscretion, stupefying horror, intermittent assassinations, lugubrious motorcades, virulent anti-communism, unenforceable loyalty oaths, manifest destiny, eminent domain, gunboat diplomacy, expeditionary brigades, insurrection squashing, gratuitous violence, gun-running, strategic incursions, surgical strikes, rural pacification, economic destabilization, blundering interdictions, horribly botched bizarre clandestine operations, official denial, mock bewilderment, outrageous interminable scandals, internecine power struggles, malignant brain tumors, bungled suicide attempts, affable doltishness, ludicrous gaffes, howlers in elementary logic, preadolescent fantasies, weepy nostalgia, technology worship, doomsday scenarios, emergency broadcast systems, self-righteous posturing, religious zealotry, institutionalized gibberish, stratospheric hyperbole, vituperative castigation, fulminating rhetoric, incoherent ranting, thundering bombast, pseudo-Evangelical blather, hair-splitting equivocation, bald-faced lying, wretched excess, moon golf, industrial disease, and bankruptcy are trademarks of the United States Government, 1913–1987. All rights reserved, or you'll hear from this week's Attorney General, who'll send the Feds down to slap the cuffs on you right in your office, deliberately embarrassing you in front of your own staff, just like on Wall Street. No fooling.

The Guts of a New Machine

From: Kathleen Marvin, Mon Feb 15 09:50:02 1988
To: tech
Subject: Inventing a machine

I need some help with some 6th-grade homework. I've been doing OK all year (except for a few problems with advance math), but finally have something that's got me and my daughter really stumped. She has to make an invention that is a “complex machine” made up of the following simple machines:

  1. pulley
  2. wheel and axle
  3. lever
  4. wedge
  5. inclined plane
  6. screw

She has to have the concept by tomorrow for her science class, and then has to draw it three-dimensionally. (No, there's no time to teach her AutoCAD!) Later, she actually has to make it.

Any ideas??

From: John Walker, Mon Feb 15 10:47:04 1988
To: kmarvin, tech
Subject: Re: The heart of a new machine

  1. pulley
  2. wheel and axle
  3. lever
  4. wedge
  5. inclined plane
  6. screw

All of them?? I know of few real machines that use all of these fundamental machines.

But what the heck…mechanical design was never my strong point, but who can resist a challenge?

The following is a machine to preserve domestic tranquility by reminding a programmer when s/he/it[Footnote] has been at it too long and it's time to wander upstairs and see if one's spouse is still around.

When one starts to program, light a candle. The base of the candle has a string molded into the wax so that when the candle burns down to that point (after about 20 hours, a reasonable programming interval), the string is released.

The string passes over a pulley (1), and the other end is connected to the long end of a lever (3), the short end of which is in front of a small cart placed at the top of an inclined plane (5). When the string is released by the candle, the weight of the long end of the lever causes it to fall, raising the other end of the lever and releasing the cart.

The cart rolls down the inclined plane on its wheel and axle (2). The bottom of the inclined plane is adjacent to the programmer's keyboard, and the small end of a wedge (4) is placed under the keyboard. As the cart rolls down the inclined plane, it acquires kinetic energy which is expended when it reaches the bottom and strikes the wedge. This drives the wedge under the keyboard, flipping it over, and reminding the programmer that programming is only part of life, albeit the best part.

The screw (6)? That's to drive into the ear of science teachers who make up dumb problems like this.

Portions of this design may be subject to patents issued or pending which are the property of the Turbo Digital Research Foundation, a division of the International Communist Conspiracy.

From: Dan Drake, Mon Feb 15 12:05:15 1988
To: kmarvin tech
Subject: The braining of a new machine

  1. pulley
  2. wheel and axle
  3. lever
  4. wedge
  5. inclined plane
  6. screw

The teacher pulls a rope, on the other end of which there's a weight, the rope going over a pulley (1) in between. The axle (2) that the pulley is on rotates (making the pulley also a wheel (2)). The end of the axle is threaded (6) and moves a nut as it rotates. Attached to the nut is a rod that runs parallel to the axle; on the end of the rod is a wedge (4) that's on its side, as it were, so that it pushes things to the right or left as it advances. What it pushes aside is the end of a lever (3); the other end is thereby moved out of the way of a bowling ball, which proceeds to roll down an inclined plane (5); having picked up considerable speed, the ball rolls off the end of the plane; it is prevented from damaging the floor by hitting the head of the teacher, which, having dreamed up such a stupid exercise, is plainly impervious to damage from a mere bowling ball.

Between thinking this up and writing it up, I read John's description of his invention. The similarity of final result is neither plagiarism nor accident; like stellar parallax, it's something that needed to be done. While his machine is more elegant mechanically, mine directly and more forcibly effects what his does only as an afterthought, and my patent application will be based on that.

The Bozo Filter

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.

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.

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?

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

  1. What is the diameter of the Earth?
  2. Who was President of the United States during World War I?
  3. What is eleven times three thousand seven hundred eighteen?
  4. What is the name of Autodesk, Inc.'s primary product?
  5. What is the name of the largest computer company in the world?

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.

High Performance Bicycles

In May of 1988, Autodesk overflowed the office space available at the Marina Plaza complex we had occupied since 1985. We had to split the company between that office and a building at 3 Harbour Drive, further north in Sausalito. Recalling the problems we faced when the company was divided between offices in Mill Valley and Sausalito, Dan Drake suggested that we obtain free bicycles for inter-office transit, just like the Provos of Amsterdam. We couldn't get white bicycles, but we did get a fleet of black and pink clunker Schwinns. Not long thereafter, Kelvin overheard a disparaging comment about the bikes we'd bought. So, he was moved to write the following.

To: Uneasy Riders
From: Kelvin R. Throop
Subject: High performance bicycles
Date: May 10th, 1988

Grouse, grouse, grouse.

Not one company in a thousand would brave liability and flout convention to provide free Provo bicycles to permit primate-powered peregrination among the far-flung buildings of Autodesk's Sausalito headquarters.

But, of course, this is Marin County—Marvelous Marin, where the possible is bounded more by lack of imagination than constraints of reality and resources. So Autodesk's bicycle fleet is regarded with a jaundiced eye by the truly trendy, who say “a dérailleur is de rigueur!”.


Because Autodesk believes so strongly in upholding the standards and image of Marin County, however mylar-thin and trivial, we have decided to solicit bids for high-performance bicycles to supplement the existing fleet. Turbo Digital Cyclery of Bolinas have agreed to screen entries and maintain the new bicycles after they are delivered.

The new bicycles will be equipped as follows:


Pedals adjustable for leg length from 0.5 to 1.5 metres. Kevlar belt and carbon-fibre cone microprocessor controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT) delivering power to rear tire. Toe clips equipped with automatic impact-release mechanism.


Bendix carbon/carbon disc brakes on both front and rear wheels. Bosch computer controlled ABS antilock system with deceleration sensor balancing load between front and rear discs.

Guidance, Navigation, and Control.

Martin-Marietta Lantirn Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) pod for night riding, presenting imagery in a helmet-mounted Head Up Display (HUD). Laser ring gyro inertial navigation system coupled to moving map display also presented in HUD, with optional superimposition with FLIR information. Backup coordinate fix system using LORAN, Navstar GPS, and Soviet GLONASS systems, with automatic recalibration of inertial navigation data. Terrain and pothole database complete from the Bay Model[Footnote] northward to Feng Nian.[Footnote] Also a speedometer and an idiot light that indicates something failed.


Computer controlled, expert system driven, automatic countermeasures suite. Automatic countermeasure delivery system capable of delivering Milk-Bones if chased by a dog (automatically sized to dog's jaw radius), chaff if illuminated by radar, and Lotto tickets if pursued by bozos. In addition, low observable techniques reduce the radar cross-section to less than 20 cm².

Survival, evasion, and escape.

Zero-zero ejection seat, mortar-deployed quick-opening parachute, automatic inflating life vest with EPRIB transmitter and strobe light triggered by ejection. Watertight survival kit includes can opener, good-luck quartz crystal, PFIX 2.0, Oreo Big Stuff cookie, supply of requisition forms, and Torx screwdriver. In case suicide is required, a Sony Walkman and New Age music cassette are provided.


Four 2 litre tanks are mounted below the centre of gravity. These supply, on demand, Jolt, Gatorade, Coiled Springs Mineral Water, and Diet Toxic Waste. An automatic crossfeed system maintains balance as well as delivering any desired mixture to the rider. The tanks can be jettisoned to improve acceleration in an emergency.


Few combat engagements are anticipated for these bicycles while fulfilling their inter-office mission. For those cases where there is no alternative, four Marinchip BGM-25L bozo-seeking missiles are mounted. These missiles home on the nearest erratically-steered, slowly-moving vehicle, then deploy a balloon in the shape of a Sausalito police car and emit the sound of a siren along with a speech-synthesised “Pull over, asshole”, permitting the cyclist to pass safely.

Command and control.

On-board cellular telephone, FAX machine, Quotron terminal, UPI newswire, and UUCP mail and news feed. The DIAL[Footnote] system will be automatically alerted when the rider departs, so it can interrupt every trip with a “you have 35 messages” call, whether messages are waiting or not.

Configuration and performance.

Curb weight (less rider) not to exceed 8,000 kg. Acceleration from 0 to 40 km/hour not to exceed 20 minutes with average rider. Training time to solo not to exceed 500 hours.

This is, after all, Autodesk. Why not the best?

A Journey Not to Forget

From: Carl Bethea
Date: 2-14-92 2:52pm
Subject: A Journey Not to Forget

(API) SAN FRANCISCO—Thousands of local residents crowded the Golden Gate Bridge as an unlikely convoy of buildings passed underneath. In a bizarre scenario that started three days ago, several buildings in Sausalito, a community north of San Francisco, became uprooted from their foundations during an historic rainfall and floated into the Bay. Autodesk president Al Green explained, “We made a decision to go for it. We could flounder in the Bay until we sank like a cast iron stock certificate, or we could head directly into the storm and fight for our lives.”

Employees broke first-floor windows and began to paddle with whatever they could find. “As long as we all rowed in the same direction,” explained a straight-faced Green, “I knew we could make it.” When the Bay became too cluttered with other broken vessels, the convoy headed for open sea. Volker Kleinn, commanding a house boat, acted as tugboat to nudge and pull the buildings into safer waters.

“They could have wandered about the ocean for weeks just looking for each other,” explained Malcolm Davies, who directed the rescue efforts from a hilltop in Marin—except for a brief period when the Juggernauts entered international waters. “Instead,” he said as he leaned over a criss-crossed, sweat-soaked org chart, “they kept a tight formation, worked together, and had fun.”

Upon docking again in Sausalito, a haggard Robert Wenig, leader of the ports group, hurried past reporters carrying a dog and saying only, “We will ship on time. Get out of the way.” Green later explained that the dogs had been used in a jerry-rigged power generation system to keep work progressing on the Windows project of the company's flagship-er-popular product, AutoCAD, and that now the animals needed rest and food.

Asked how the three day sojuorn in the Pacific affected product support efforts, Lew Goldklang said, “What?” Green later explained that a microwave network link to the mainland had kept the castaways in constant contact with their colleagues. “We could have eaten those dogs,” Goldklang said. Braced by an inventory of canned soda and vending machine snacks, most of the the suddenly sailors claim they never thought seriously about a food problem.

Meanwhile, other employees kept spirits high in a continuous party in San Rafael. “We knew they wouldn't want to miss it,” explained Lisa McCormack, “so we just kept it going until they could join us.” One employee was unhappy that she couldn't keep the 87 billion credits she had accumulated on the casino tables, and several local tuxedo rental firms were threatening to sue unless their tails were returned, but otherwise the company was none the worse for the adventure.


From: Jeff Wilson
Subject: Press Release
To: Headquarters

The following information was released this morning, April 1, at 9:00 A.M. PDT:

April 1, 1992
For Immediate Release
Contact: Annie Body
415/332-2344, extension 4400


SAUSALITO, Calif. — In keeping with the new policy of putting “more in the box[Footnote],” Autodesk today announced that it has successfully integrated its AutoCAD, AME, Stereolithography, HyperChem, Render, 3D Studio, Surfaces, CHAOS, and CyberSpace projects into a single design/modeling/visualization/construction program. The program, code named “AutoAdvanced3DSuperHyperCyberChemChaoticStereoSurfSpaceRendModExtension” (or simply “AutoThing”), is a complete design, modeling and construction system in which the user designs a model by merely visualizing the object in his/her mind. The object is then manufactured by Sterolithography Apparatus specially designed to handle large objects such as airplanes, oil tankers, and skyscrapers.

Ms. Bea Esser, spokeswoman for the company, stated, “The first milestone of the project was reached last week when, in a single 14 hour session, one of our developers was able to construct a cube”. The developer, currently recuperating in a local Napa hospital, was unavailable for comment. She went on to say, “The project is on schedule and we can commit to a firm delivery date of sometime in the mid to late 21st century…maybe”.

“We are working on the few remaining bugs,” says the chief engineer, Mr. I. Chee-wowa. “The mental state of the user is key. For example, we have discovered that using the system immediately before lunch usually results in the output of Big Macs, fries, and the like. One user, a newlywed, had to be removed from the system after accidentally manufacturing quite a collection of…well, shall we say, erotic figurines.” Autodesk feels these shortcomings can be overcome through proper training.

The program also includes a new form of copy protection in which the user is mildly brain-damaged if the software is not properly registered. The project suffered a minor setback when one user was fatally brain-damaged when the program crashed. The company has indicated that they do not consider this a “stop ship” bug and will address the problem by including a free life insurance policy with each copy.

“This is a breakthrough product because of the manpower savings it represents in the design and construction trades.”, said Mr. Duit Tuit, vice-president of Marketing for Autodesk. “With strong sales we feel we can get the unemployment rate up into the 40 to 50 percent range. Homes can be constructed in a matter of hours.” Mr. Tuit also mentioned that some reconstruction may be necessary in the spring because objects created with the new program tend to dissolve during the rainy season.

No price has been set for the new product, but company officials are vowing to keep it under 7 figures thereby upholding the tradition of providing 80 percent of the functionality for one tenth the price. In keeping with its commitment to its current customers, Autodesk also announced that full upward compatibility with previous versions of AutoCAD will be maintained. The new program will initially ship on Cray supercomputers, but a DOS 286 version is expected in the quarter following its initial release.

Autodesk develops, markets, and supports a family of computer-aided design, engineering and animation software products for April Fools like you.

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