Technology and the PEBCAC problem, as elucidated by Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher”

No system, as the adage goes, is fool-proof to a sufficiently determined and talented fool.  Computer help-desk people have an acronym for it – ‘PEBCAC’, which stands for Problem Exists Between Computer And Chair.

A serious amount of mental effort gets spent on human-computer interfaces (there are journals, conferences etc etc).  In another life, I’d have liked to study that. In this life, I am reduced to sharing an amusing clip from the latest ‘Jack Reacher’ novel….

‘What do you remember about the Soviets?’

‘Lots of things.’

I said, ‘Above all they were realistic, especially about human nature, and the quality of their own personnel. They had a very big army, which meant their average grunt was lazy, incompetent, and not blessed with any discernible talent. They understood that, and they knew there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. So instead of trying to train their people upward towards the standard of available modern weaponry, they designed their available modern weaponry downward towards the standard of their people. Which was a truly radical approach.’


‘Hence the AK-47. For instance, one example, what does a panicky grunt do under fire? He grabs his rifle and hits the fire selector and pulls the trigger. Our guns go from safe to single shot to full auto, which is nice and linear and logical, but they knew that would mean ninety-nine times in a hundred their guys would panic and ram the selector all the way home, and thereby fire off a whole magazine on the first hasty and unaimed shot. Which would leave them with an empty weapon right at the start of a firefight. Which is not helpful. S the AK selector goes safe, then full auto, then single shot. Not linear, not logical, but certainly practical.  Single shot is a kind of default setting, and full auto is a deliberate choice.

Page 132-3 of  Child, L. (2014) Personal. London: Transworld

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