Garrison Keillor is selling his saint Paul bookstore:

“I opened Common Good Books because I loved the bookstores I knew around the U, Perrine’s and McCosh’s and Heddan’s and Savran’s,” Keillor said Wednesday in an email. “And now I’m leaving town and am busy writing a book of my own so it’s time to turn over the business to someone else. The world is full of wonderful independent bookstores and needs every one.”

Keillor put his St. Paul home on Summit Avenue up for sale last year. He wrote in a Facebook post last month that he and his wife, Jenny Nilsson, had moved to Minneapolis.

I may actually have to get in there Dash I rarely make it south of Midway books these days…

Since we’re talking Garrison Keillor, I thought I would throw this out there; Keillor had a reputation as one of the worst bosses in radio, and he always brought so much smug entitlement to his brand of Minnesota politics that it was sometimes hard to parity without lapsing into self-parody in turn – but I loved A Prairie Home Companion. I listened to it most weekends for probably 15 years. Whatever Garrison Keillor’s many flaws, he got small town rural Scandinavian life.

Nowadays the show – rechristened Live From Here after it turned out Keillor was #HimToo, and still starring PHC’s designated replacement Chris Thile, seems to specialize in a really, really excellent underground country/bluegrass music, really really really really really bad standup comics, and skits written to a target audience of Brooklyn hipsters by, apparently, Brooklyn hipsters that Garner the occasional giggle and usually make me desperately miss Tim Russell and Sue Scott.

So who knows – maybe I’ll run down and buy a book from the old guy.

But it will be some Hayek or Paul Johnson. He’s not winning this thing.

A Fool’s Errand

Well, the Trump administration is making moves to ban “bump stocks” – mechanical devices that speed up semi-automatic firing.

That’ll have an effect on firearm homicides – right?

What do you think?

And it’s not limited to ARs. Other firearms, down through handguns, can be jury rigged to “bump fire”. Not that you’d want to – it’s a great way to burn up money and hit nothing you’re shooting at.

Well, the good news is that they have no intention of stopping with this utterly meaningless result.


I Always Suspected…

… that this was how the world of fashion worked

Payless’ recent marketing campaign tricked fashion influencers into paying significantly more for a pair of affordable shoes. The retailer created a new store, called Palessi, as an experiment to see just how much fashion-forward people would pay to have high-end shoes...Those that attended the exclusive party paid between $200 and $600 for Payless shoes that typically run up to $40. Payless, as Palessi, sold $3,000 worth of shoes in hours within the opening.

“I would pay $400, $500,” said one influencer. “People will be like ‘where did you get those?’”

Other influencers remarked on the look of the shoes, the quality of the material, and were overall impressed by the Payless shoes.

The discount shoe company “wanted to push the social experiment genre to new extremes, while simultaneously using it to make a cultural statement,” Doug Cameron, DCX Growth Accelerator’s chief creative officer, told Adweek.

My entire life, I have suspected the “fashion and put industry was built entirely on exploiting gullibility, herd mentality and insecurity.

Phoned In

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I receive calls on my cell phone from all across the nation.  The numbers are different but the voice mails are identical offers to sell me insurance, same woman’s voice, exact same words, her recording plays into my voice mail recording over and over and over.

Two thoughts:

Why does the government entity that asserts it has the power to regulate the public airwaves, continue to allow these nuisance calls to happen?

Who makes the decision to buy insurance based on an endless series of voice mails?

Not a bad question…

Time And Space

In recent years, the technology office has undergone two parallel, divergent trends.

On the one hand, the decentralized, mosty-remote team, connected by phone, web conferencing and instant-messaging applications, has gained respectabilty.  For two of the past three years, I’ve worked nearly 100% from home, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  With the right team, it’s an incredibly productive way of doing business.

The other extreme is the current officing fad the co-located team.  Forget about offices; don’t even think about cubicles (themselves seen as a Metropolis-level destruction of individuality 30 years ago.   Not only are cubes being replaced by tables, and the dividers between tables tossed, but the idea of assigned seats, with personal space of any kind for storage, is out the window.   The newest management fad is a bunch of tables, assigned to a design or development team, with chairs first-come, first serve; just grab an open seat and open your laptop – after you’ve found somewhere to stash your coat.

WIth that in mind, it’s probably utterly fitting that someone’s developed this.


Printing Up Outrage

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is shopping for guitar strings at a local music store.  Engrossed in thought, he doesn’t notice as Mylussa SILBERMAN, National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau correspondent – walks up behind him


BERG:  (startled, a little disappointed) Oh, hi, mijzz…

SILBERMAN:  Criminals are going to start printing 3D guns.  And the NRA seems to think it’s a wonderful thing.

BERG:  Let me get this straight.  You believe a criminal – a moron who thinks it’s better to rob someone than to earn the money – is going to run over to a pal’s house who has a very high-end 3D printer – costing several thousand dollars, by the way – and leave you with a gun that fires one, count it, one single shot, with an effective accurate range of about the inside of a phone booth, that is about the size of a cordless drill:

…that might have a service life of 10 rounds, and is loaded by removing the entire barrel to reload a single bullet   It’s actually slower to shoot that an flintlock musket; I’d think that’d make you happy.

SILBERMAN:   But the plans can be downloaded!  For free!

BERG:   Sure.  And for an overall cost greater than going to the store and buying 2-6 high-quality pistols or even rifles loaded from magazines,  with service lives of tens of thousands of rounds.  Or several such guns purchased from the illegal black market.   Not to mention infinitely higher than stealing a functional, quality gun.

SILBERMAN:  The NRA supports anyone being able to print a gun!

BERG:  Wait – I thought they were lobbyists for the big bad gun industry?  Wouldn’t this undercut them?

SILBERMAN:   Moving right along – this means people  can print AR15s!

BERG:   You can print the lower receiver – which is sort of the like the frame of a car, the part that all the other parts get attached to.  And they’re already available for well under $100, in a form that’ll actually function for years without meltinig and wearing out.

SILBERMAN:   Well, we can’t use that.

BERG:  Of that I have no doubt.    I didn’t know you played guitar.

SILBERMAN:  I don’t.  I’m here doing an article on cultural appropriation in music.

BERG:  Naturally.



So yesterday, the Feds handed down a yuge win for people who’d make firearms using 3D printers.  A settlement with “radical libertarian” Cody Wilson – who first posted 3D printer files for firearms on his website “defcad.com”, was settled on First and Second Amendment grounds.

And Big Left – in this case, through technology site “Wired” – is having the predictable fit:

“This should alarm everyone,” says Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, a Connecticut-focused gun control group created in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013. “We’re passing laws in Connecticut and other states to make sure these weapons of war aren’t getting into the hands of dangerous people. They’re working in the opposite direction.”

When reporters and critics have repeatedly pointed out those potential consequences of Wilson’s work over the last five years, he has argued that he’s not seeking to arm criminals or the insane or to cause the deaths of innocents.

Let’s take a step back for a moment here.

Street criminals don’t have access to 3D printers.  They don’t spend the money for the materials – which are, by the way, still pretty exotic and expensive – to do 3D printer projects.  They don’t have the hobbyist’s drive to do the tinkering that inevitably follows building your own firearm, even from kit parts, much less from parts you “build” yourself using a bleeding-edge technology.  They don’t spend the money on that tinkering (gunsmithing is not a cheap hobby).

The people you need to worry about are the ones who will send their friend or girlfriend or grandma to buy a gun, or steal one of the 400,000,000 that are already out there, in (generally) working order, ready to go.

This reminds me of the “Plastic Gun” controversy 30 years ago, when Glock started marketing polymer-frame guns; “they’ll go through airport security”, Big Gun Control chanted, unaware that the Glock has a barrel, bolt and springs made of enough good ol’-fashioned steel to perhaps even wake up the TSA drone operating the scanner, no matter how hung over they are.

And it reminds me – it’s impossible to have a rational debate about firearms, gun laws, gun crime or the Second Amendment with 99% of the antis – because their entire “knowledge” of the issue comes from erroneous or context-mangled “research”, word-of-mouth gleaned from the ignorant but effusive, dystopian fantasy, and agenda-driven narrative.



The Air Force loses a box of automatic grenade launcher rounds in western North Dakota:

The box looks something like this.

A 91st Missile Wing Security Forces team from the Minot Air Force Base lost the ammunition container on May 1 while traveling between missile sites in Mountrail County, according to a news release the Air Force issued late Friday.

A Mark 19 Grenade Launcher – basically a machine gun that shoots grenades.

The team was traveling on rough gravel roads about four miles west of Parshall when the back hatch of the vehicle opened, and an ammunition container fell out, the Air Force said.

The USAF helpfully adds:

The ammunition will not operate in any other launching device.

Since the USAF went nearly two weeks before telling the public about this, I’m gonna suggest that those rounds will turn up, expended, during prairie dog season, fired from some contraption ginned up by some Norwegian bachelor machinist.

Well, the cartridge cases will turn up, anyway.

The Scapegoat

The media has found someone to blame for the Minnesota motor vehicle licensing computer system (MNLARS), just in the nick of time:

An outside investigator hired by the state’s information technology department found the official in charge of Minnesota’s troubled vehicle licensing system knew there were numerous defects prior to its launch last summer but failed to address them.

The report says Paul Meekin, who was officially fired from his job at Minnesota IT Services last month, fell short of expectations related to pre-launch testing and several key management responsibilities, including communication and staffing.

The $93 million Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) was rolled out on July 24, 2017, replacing a 30-year-old system. There were immediate problems, including delays in the processing of license and title transactions.

Just in time for the elections!

It’s complete baked wind, of course.  While Meekin may or may not have been a terrible program manager, it’s common knowledge among Twin Cities IT people that Minnesota’s government IT bureaucracy is systemically sclerotic, and largely incapable of delivering software effectively and efficiently.

But it’s government work.  As long as there’s a politically-acceptable scapegoat, nothing will change.

Reader Poll

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails

I like this line:
“if your day has reached the point where you’ve had to pull a gun and start shooting, it’s already taken a statistically unlikely turn and is unlikely to get any more normal from that point. You don’t want to be the one to forfeit for inability to shoot back.”
What’s the consensus at SITD – extra mag, or no?
Joe Doakes

If I owned a gun – which I don’t, because they terrify me and I could never shoot anyone – I’d say “Yes”.


They Just Keep On Ticking

Nearly six years ago on this blog, we noted the 50th anniversary of the production of the final B52 Stratofortress – a plane whose design processs kicked off as the rubble from World War 2 was still smoking, which first flew in the early fifties, went into series production in 1952, and whose final example rolled off the line before I was born.

The Air Force has been working to replace the B52 – the BUFF Big Ugly Fat Fella) or BMF (Boeng Multirole Flight-platform), as its crews and support staff call it – almost since it first rolled off the production line.

First came the =B58 Hustler – a sleek, fast, incredibly flashy plane that broke all sorts of world records, and lasted maybe five years in front line service due to mechanical and electronic bugs and cost overruns.

The FB-111 was intended to augment the B-52 rather than supplant it; it was part of the strategic bomber fleet for perhaps a decade and a half before being retired.

The B1 and B1A?   After a protracted, costly development dogged by systems issues and a left-leaning Congress that was drunk with pacifistic power after pulling the US out of Vietnam, the plane was downgraded into the more pedestrian but fairly successful B1B, currently gracing the skies of South Dakota from its home base near Rapid City – and will be for another fifteen years, according to the Air Force, retiring a decade or so before the original plan.

Same with the B2 “Spirit” – the first strategic “stealth” bomber, which will also be leaving service in the early 2030s.

But the B52?  It’s going to outlive them all:

“With an adequate sustainment and modernization focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, in a statement issued by the Air Force.

But today’s B-52 has evolved from the planes first flown in the ’50s. The Stratofortress has undergone numerous upgrades and modernization over the years, including the addition of an advanced communications system that displays real-time intelligence feeds overlaid on moving maps…The Air Force plan calls for the B-1s and B-2s to be “incrementally retired,” once enough [of the brand new, just-started-design] B-21s are operational. “If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”

The B21, of course, will run into delays and overruns, and the B52 will (I predict) be in service through the 2070s.

The Human Factor

Background:  I work in User Experience in the software business. Some people think it’s a matter of “making software look pretty”; it’s actually about making software work better, easier to learn, more effectively, more powerfully and – this is the big one today – more error-proof for real people.

Software for government is simultaneously a “target rich environment” of big problems caused by disregarding user-centered design principles.  For example, when a consultant released a seventy page report on MNSure’s problems – which cost the state an extravagant amount of money to solve – a solid third of them were problems that would have never happened had they  had someone on staff minding the store when it came to designing for real people.

Austin Bay’s piece on last weekend’s false alarm in Hawaii shows that the issue is, in part, rooted in User Experience issues:

The Hollywood movie scene has someone pushing a red button on a control console. HawaiiNewsNow.com reports that a rather mundane act generated Hawaii’s false alert: a single HI-EMA employee selected the wrong option on a confusing drop-down computer menu checklist.

That menu is a mess. On the menu, the “drill” is in close proximity with other choices. Moreover, the state civil defense drill and the for real U.S. Pacific Command civil defense warning for Hawaii option (an attack warning) nest among other options, including high surf and tsunami warnings.

Tsunamis and enemy missile attacks are deadly threats. The menu’s miserable clutter reflects sloppy institutional planning.

8:05 a.m. January 13: instead of selecting the state-PACOM civil defense warning drill, the employee clicked the PACOM civil defense warning option. Then he compounded his error by clicking “yes” on “a second (computer) confirmation page.” The false warning was immediately transmitted to the public.

Since emergency messaging is in the news, Channel 4 did a piece on MInnesota’s system.   And it sounds more error proof – although I doubt the typical reporter knows much about analyzing a system’s human factors issues (note to Channel 4 – have your people call my people).

I imagine we’ll find out sooner or later.


Plowman’s Holiday

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

A college classmate went on an Alaska cruise.  She loved it.  I look at the advertising photo and think: “Seriously?  You’re all lined up to look at a snowbank?

Where the hell are you from, that a snowbank is a big deal?”

I could make a fortune showiing people snowbanks along rural North Dakota highways…

Rules For Reactionaries

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Rules of telephone courtesy for people who want my help:

Do not leave me a voice mail, throw the handset back on the cradle and dash out of your office. When I call you back 30 seconds later, I don’t want to hear that you’ve just stepped out.  You’ve wasted my time responding to a call that you’re not available to take.  Wait a decent interval – five minutes or so – in case I reply immediately.  Yes, that means thinking ahead a bit: do not leave voice mails while you’re holding your pants to avoid wetting them; go to the can now and call me when you’re done.

Do not call me on the cell phone with your window down, the radio up, right before the tunnel, or when you’re on gravel roads at your lake place where the signal is iffy.  Inaudible and dropped calls waste my time.

Do not call me to discuss a file without having the file number in front of you.  When I have to wait on hold while you paw through the mess on your desk looking for basic information, it wastes my time.  And no, I won’t answer “just a general question” because I’ve been down that road before so I know the facts you recite are never what the facts turn out to be, but you’ll still blame me when general advice doesn’t solve your specific problem.

Do not leave a long message rambling on until you panic that your time is running out, then rattle off your number so fast I can’t make out the words.

When I call you back, do not answer the phone using the speaker phone setting.  Yes, it’s easier for you to shout while you lean back in the chair instead of hanging onto the handset and talking into the mouthpiece, but it’s harder for me to make out your words with the cacophony of paper rustling and chair squeaking and echo distortion.

I’m sure there are more of them, but those are the ones that have come up this morning.  So far.

Joe Doakes

Don’t talk with your mouth full.   Ever.

The Short Answer:  “Heck To The Yeah!”

Employment site Dice asks  “Is Flat Design Actually Awful?”, referring to the new “flat design” user interface fad.

The simple answer is “Usually”:

Jakob Nielsen, a Danish web usability guru, has co-authored a number of books on the subject of design. He is part of the Nielsen Norman group, which sparked quite a stir with a recent article about Flat UI elements causing uncertainty among users—a huge no-no. If that wasn’t damning enough, Nielsen also termed flat design a “threat to tablet usability.”

What does Nielsen mean by “uncertainty”? The firm conducted an experiment in which 71 respondents read nine pages from six different websites (topics ranged from e-commerce and non-profits to technology and finance). With some of these pages, the firm added shadows and gradients to make design elements stand out; with others, they “flattened” the design even more. The respondents found the pages with flatter design more confusing to navigate, taking an average of 22 percent longer to find a specific target.

That’s a pretty miserable result. But is flat design a pretty-looking sham? Has the entire technology industry gone down the wrong path when it comes to UX and design? Others don’t think so.

I design this stuff for a living – and when I find myself trying to guess where it is I’m supposed to “type” thing or what I’m supposed to do (the “uncertainty” mentioned in the article, which is a big black mark when it comes to system usability), I wonder;  if it were an application aimed at someone like my dad, who doesn’t know or care much about computers but is being forced to interact with them more and more, how would this fly?

On the other hand, it’s good to have a mission.  Vanquishing flat design is a good one.


A Tale Of Two Customers

Over the past couple of years, the move to legalize “suppressors” – basically mufflers for guns – for civilians, and to remove them from the National Firearms Act registry (regulating them the same as machine guns and sawed off shotguns) was met an amazing deluge of paranoia; “It’ll let murderers kill silently”, “It’ll negate shot-spotters”.

In the hands of agents of the state?   It‘s a matter of health!

Rifles carried by Spokane police on patrol will soon be equipped with suppressors, a move the department says will protect officers and civilians from hearing damage.

“It’s nothing more than like the muffler you put on your car,” said Lt. Rob Boothe, the range master and lead firearms instructor for the department.

Outfitting the department’s 181 service rifles with suppressors will protect the city from the legal costs of worker’s compensation claims filed by officers, as well as from potential lawsuits filed by bystanders whose ears are exposed to firearm blasts. The sound of a fired shot can be louder than the takeoff of jet engines, the department says.

Watch for suppressors to be the latest accessory in your neighborhood patrol car…

…as gun grabber groups continue to babble about “silencers” as they appear in movies.

(New to the discussion?  Here’s a demo of how they actually work)