Zenith Angle Wisdom

July 18, 2006 at 10:50 pm 1 comment

Some passages in The Zenith Angle, by Bruce Sterling just need to be written down!  A great book.

At one point (ca. p.64) the protagonist is talking with his grandfather, a former skunkworks wizard:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, write a sonnet, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, solve equations, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.  Specialization is for insects” – attributed to Heinlein in the text.

Three principles of a skunkworks.

  1. You gotta listen – it’s more important to listen to your people than it is to tell em what to do.
  2. Decide – Make your management decisions whenever they’re needed.  You can figure out later if you were right or wrong.
  3. And believe – Don’t ever try to build a project you don’t believe in.  Because otherwise, when they cut your funding – and they will cut it – you won’t be able to tell em with a straight face why they should go straight to hell.

Three rules of skunkworks.

  1. You’ve got to be quick Small, small teams.  10-20% of the people of normal outfits.  No long reports.  Ever.  Never read a long report, and if a guy writes you one, fire him.  No long meetings.
  2. You’ve got to be quiet.  No talking.  Don’t brag about what you’re doing ever.  Just do it and you never demand any credit.  If nobody knows who you are, then nobody knows what you did, except for the enemy of course.
  3. You’ve gotta be on time.  You gotta do it when there are stars in their eyes about it, before they get all bureaucratic, and start counting every nickel and dime!  Timing in the hardest part, son: you gotta know when good enough will do.  You gotta know when to quit.

p.150 Feynman said something about the space shuttle and an o-ring?  Sure enough.

p.166 Transient discharge phenomena?

“Computer science was a fraud – only branch of science named after a gadget.  Now physics, that was true science.  Nobody ever called physics “lever science” or “billiard ball science.”  The fatal error in computer science was that it modeled complex systems without truly understanding them.  Computers simulated complexity.”  Echoes of (or jibes at) A new kind of Science there I think.


Entry filed under: feed my pet brain.

Findability and Information Literacy The space between notes

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Skunk Works by Rich and Janos « Feed My Pet Brain  |  August 7, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    […] A very entertaining history of building airplanes during the cold war.  Which was actually pretty hot.  Some of the stories in the book are pretty unbelievable and take us to the brink of war and back.  It’s hard to believe how much the American public didn’t know about some of our black opps.  Even the Russians knew more in many cases.  This book is the true story behind the backplot fiction in Sterling’s Zenith Angle. […]


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