Robert X. Cringely
Edited by Brian Dunning
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author and columnist Robert X. Cringely has always had something
to say, albeit frequently in tongues. During lucid moments,
he has written for The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes,
Upside, Success, Worth, and InfoWorld. He's also the author
Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions,
Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date.
In his ongoing quest to find something to do that beats
working, Robert has hosted and presented a number of shows
for PBS, including Triumph of the Nerds, a history
of the PC industry; Plane Crazy, an ill-fated attempt
to build an airplane in 30 days; Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief
History of the Internet, which is just what it sounds
like; Y2K: The Winter of Our Disconnect, which anticipated
the changes that the Y2K bug would (and wouldn't) bring; Digital
TV: A Cringely Crash Course, a discussion of how digital
television is going to change TV forever; and Electric
Money, an exploration of the history and transformation
of money from Money Before Computers to the E-Money Revolution.
He'll also dance you one hell of a jig.
Join us now as Robert X. Cringley bring all that tech industry
experience to bear as he fields our 1000 Questions:
0001. In all of history, what is your favorite invention?
The electric nose hair trimmer, a rare device that serves
both aesthetic and health functions while not having any
military-industrial capability. And it tickles, too.
0010. What do you hope will be invented next?
A functional memory augmenter. I'm getting older and just
can't remember things the way I used to, yet there is nearly
always a dangling semantic tag -- a word usually -- that
can be grabbed to pull the idea back into consciousness.
A device that simply listened to me all day, every day,
could probably be programmed to take a pretty good guess
at that tag and thereby help me remember. It could also
be used to fine tune meaning, since so many of us aren't
really saying what we think we are. The Augmenter could
butt-in and say, "Don't you mean this?" Of course
if it is stupid about it, I'll just turn the damned thing
0011. What do you hope will never be invented?
The Privacy Eliminator, a device that broadcasts your
thoughts and the thoughts of those around you out loud
in the local language. Some people would get laid twice
an hour and others never again. Though it would be very
interesting to see the impact it would have on society.
Being thoughtless could suddenly become an advantage.
0100. What popular invention do you consider the most
My sister years ago worked as the assistant to the chief
patent attorney for Esmark, a big food conglomerate probably
best known for making Smith Premium Hams. They apparently
spent $250,000 trying to get a patent on soup. Not any
particular soup, just soup in general.
0101. If marooned on a desert island, what three technological
devices would you bring with you?
A water filtration system, a long-life notebook computer
with three good movies on it, and an emergency satellite
beacon so after the three movies were finished someone
would be there to pick me up.
0110. When have you suffered at the hands of technology?
The day I was writing a book on an IBM 370/168 mainframe
(the only word processor I happened to have at the time),
pushed the wrong key and lost 8,000 lines. The kid at the
help desk, an English major, first told me there was no
backup tape then tried to console me by saying that Lawrence
of Arabia lost his 300,000-word hand-written manuscript
for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom on a London train platform
and had to start all over (I had lost only 90,000 words).
0111. When has some technology suffered at your hands?
This morning when I wrestled the TV remote away from my
one year-old and it flew into the toilet.
1000. If you had to revert and freeze the world's technology
at a particular time in history, what year would you choose?
1959. Life was good, most of the inventions that really
have improved our lives were available, things were still
simple, and of course there were poodle skirts.