Scott Roberts is a previous guest of this show. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, a former F-15E fighter pilot, and my father. Today, we have a short chat about his reaction to the brand-new F-15EX, the most capable fourth generation fighter plane on the market. We talk about the controversy it has engendered, the new features it brings to the fight, and the what the next decades look like for the fighter business. I hope you enjoy today’s quick take.
Katie Roberts, my sister, works as a research scientist at BBN Technologies, a subsidiary of Raytheon, the defense contractor, in Boston, Massachusetts. BBN, incidentally, was selected by ARPA in 1968 to create the ARPAnet—the precursor to the internet we know today. Another little-known fact is that it created the first person-to-person network email in 1971 and the use of the “@“ symbol in email addresses.
Today we speak about a wide variety of topics, but focus the first half of our conversation on teaching machines to produce text from speech, otherwise known as Automatic Speech Recognition. What’s crazy is that Katie develops machine learning models every day, but she hails from an entirely nontechnical background. She studied Italian and linguistics at the University of Southern California. We discuss her transition into computational linguistics through a masters at Tulane University and a few her speech recognition projects, one of which included analyzing phone calls from inmates at Rikers Island prison.
In the second half, we get into a very candid discussion of mental health, particularly as it relates to food and body image. Katie is forthcoming about own her experience with an eating disorder.
Studies on red meat and cancer: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/red-meat-and-colon-cancer
Book: The Fuck It Diet https://thefuckitdiet.com/
Book: The Anti-Diet https://christyharrison.com/book-anti-diet-intuitive-eating-christy-harrison
National Eating Disorders Association: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Lieutenant Colonel Jason Brightman is a former US Air Force pilot with one of the wildest careers I’ve heard of. He also happens to be my flight instructor, bringing me up to speed on the Cessna 172. Jason and I were put together by chance (and by COVID) at our flight school. Ordinarily, he flies for a major airline, but found himself with a whole lot of time on his hands during the summer when coronavirus almost completely shut down travel. So, he started teaching, as is his habit. His military pilot students nicknamed him Guru.
Jason initially served with the Army’s First Infantry Division combat engineers before transitioning into the Air Force, but he went through pilot training with the Navy. This guy’s spent time with essentially every branch except Space Force—although, we could have just not gotten to that story yet. He’s full of them.
While in Iraq, Jason and his team cleared the way for American and British tank battalions, who came rushing through Kuwait during the famous 100-hour ground war in 1991.
After pilot training, he flew the C-130 for a tour. But then he took an instructor pilot exchange with the Indian Air Force, where he trained a cohort of pilots that would go on to fly planes like the Sukhoi 30 - known by NATO as the Flanker C. One student would even be shot down in operations near Pakistan, yet end up in a Pakistani tea commercial. More on that later.
Jason then flew combat operations in a C-17 in the Iraq War, delivering Humvees, and ferrying racks of wounded US soldiers to safety.
As if this was not enough action, he then took an opportunity with the US Central Command’s intelligence unit and spent a lot of time in Kabul, Afghanistan, trying to patch together alliances against the Taliban. We talk about all of this and more.
Hogs in the Sand, Buck Wyndham: https://www.amazon.com/Hogs-Sand-10-Pilots-Journal/dp/1646631609
Ghost Wars, Steve Coll: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Wars-Afghanistan-Invasion-September/dp/0143034669
Pakistani tea commercial featuring downed Indian Air Force pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman: https://twitter.com/VishnuNDTV/status/1102871131197980672?s=20
Mike Christman is a product manager at Google and, previously, a CIA intelligence analyst turned Marine AH-1 attack helicopter pilot. With the Marines, he served two tours in Afghanistan and three total. On his first, he flew regular combat missions against the Taliban in the Helmand Valley. On his next, he became a forward air controller, guiding close air support onto targets while embedded with infantry. He was selected as a 2014 Tillman Military Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation. I’d encourage you to check out some of his articles linked below.
Today, we speak about his nine years with the Marines engaging in faraway firefights, and then his big transition to business school and, ultimately, Google. We also discuss product management, our mutual career, the finer points of anticipating user and business needs, and how to build great products.
"Shades of Green" by Mike Christman: https://magazine.columbia.edu/article/shades-green
"Inside the Box" by Mike Christman: http://www.thegiddysummit.com/inside-the-box/
Music: "Carved From Stone" by TrackTribe
Lieutenant Colonel Ken Peterson flew the B-52H Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer bombers during some of the most tense moments of the Cold War. Today we talk about his experience while on alert, ready to take flight with terrifyingly powerful weapons in tow. We also cover the time Ken briefed the Air Force’s Scientific Advisory Board which recommended the B-1 program to President Reagan.
Aside from flying one of the fastest bombers in the world, Ken is full of stories about crossing paths with legendary historical figures, like General James Doolittle, who led the first strike on the Japanese homeland after the Pearl Harbor attack in World War II, or Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon.
Ken's picture with Neil Armstrong: https://nickrroberts.com/posts/b1_b52.html
Buzz One Four Documentary: https://www.amazon.com/Buzz-One-Four-David-Woodhouse/dp/B0795BZ3F3
Music: “Get Tough” by TrackTribe
Nic Bertagnolli is an itinerant data scientist who lives almost full-time from his van with his partner, Laura McNerney, a previous guest of this show. He’s also mathematician, tinkerer, and, though he may not admit it, a futurist and philosopher. Outside of this, Nic enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. He’s worked for the likes of 3M, a series of startups, and even Verily, a health research company in Alphabet, as he travels the world with little more than a laptop on his mission for adventure and high accuracy, precision, and recall.
I speak to him today about the state of machine learning and his areas of research. We also discuss the evolving relationship between humans and machines, potential futures, and how to keep current in one of the most dynamic domains of human knowledge.
Jeremy Howard's Fast AI class: https://www.fast.ai/about/
The Morning Paper with Adrian Colyer: https://blog.acolyer.org/
Music: "Morpho Diana" by the Rachel K. Collier
Father’s Day was just a couple weeks ago and to show my appreciation to my dad, I made him read a book with me. It’s called Return with Honor and it’s by Captain Scott O’Grady, U.S. Air Force retired. The reason I chose this story in particular is because his and my father’s histories overlap somewhat. They were contemporaries in the Air Force, they both did some time in the 555th fighter squadron, also known as “The Triple Nickel,” which was reconstituted from an F-15 to an F-16 squadron in 1994. But where things get interesting is that they both served in Italy during the same NATO operations over Bosnia in the mid-nineties. On June 2, 1995, O’Grady was flying a patrol in the NATO no-fly zone when an SA-6 soviet-built surface-to-air missile smacked into his F-16, severing the nose completely from the rest of the fuselage. O’Grady was traveling at 350 knots, or a bit over 400 miles per hour, at 27,000 feet when he was hit. Miraculously, O’Grady survived the explosion, ejected, and began a six-day survival odyssey in hostile Bosnian-serb country. Today, I speak with my dad, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Roberts, a former F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, about his view of O’Grady’s experience and how it changed things for the whole Air Force, from what they carry in the ejection seat to the survival training every pilot receives to this day.
Before we get into the meat of the topic, we start off with some regular old father-son plane talk, so either bear with me on that or skip forward to about 18-20 mins.
Check out Return with Honor on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Return-Honor-Scott-OGrady/dp/0385483309
The F-15C cockpit walkthrough referenced at the beginning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zikI2fazPLo
The Wikipedia history of the Triple Nickel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/555th_Fighter_Squadron
How to fly an F-4 as a civilian (spoiler: it is pricey): https://www.collingsfoundation.org/vmf-flight-experiences-flight-training-programs/
Music: "Controlled distress" by Biz Baz Studio
Laura McNerney is a pilot, engineer, skier, climber, mountaineerer, kite-surfer, van-lifer, mountain biker, and the textbook definition of a badass. She ranks among the youngest women ever to join Delta Airlines as a pilot. Today I speak with her about her experience going from building components for intercontinental ballistic missile systems, and having no piloting experience, to becoming a first officer with Delta in merely three years. We also talk about her love for the outdoors, along with the joys and perils of climbing mountains and glaciers.
I find her story of relentless, singular focus on her goals to be very inspiring and I think it needs to be heard. Laura is a model for folks who want to make a career pivot into something they love.
Music: “The Big Guns” by Silent Partner.
Today I bring you an interview with my dad, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Roberts. As I’ve mentioned before, this podcast is going to jump around a bit between focuses on technology, history, aviation, and travel, as I come across interesting topics and interesting people. I know, it’s somewhat low-hanging fruit to interview your own father, but he’s had a storied career and gotten a chance to fly some of the world’s premier fighter aircraft, including the F-4 Phantom II and the F-15E Strike Eagle, something only a tiny fraction of men and women get to do. With my eyesight there’s probably little chance I could have emulated my dad’s path. Not to mention the obstruction presented by my fear of death.
One apology in advance: We pick up quite a bit of background noise in the house during the interview. Somebody was putting dishes away and occasionally the drone of the laundry machine kicks in, so, sorry for that. But, overall, it’s clear and I think it’s a great rundown of what it’s like to be in the seat of a fighter jet.
Music: "Burnt" by the Jingle Punks
A brief history of nuclear escalation and its nail-biting byproducts
Script and sources: https://medium.com/@nickrroberts/broken-arrows-and-almost-annihilations-ca0ff71cdec8
Referenced in the podcast:
"The Bomb" Making Sense, Sam Harris: https://samharris.org/podcasts/186-the-bomb/,
The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, Fred Kaplan,
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser
Checkpoint Charlie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Checkpoint_Charlie