Created by Magical Gnomes!


and other interesting text-based blurbs

Here is a collection of quotes, articles and other little bits of text that I've accumulated over the years. Most of these were not made by me and I've tried to give credit to the author when known. A large majority of these quotes come from the UNIX fortune program.

*** DISCLAIMER *** Pretty much all of these quotes are here because I find them amusing - in the context of my own personality and life. A few of them are serious - again - for me. Trying to infer my personality and general stance on issues from these quotes would be unwise at best, foolish at worst.

That said, I hope you enjoy them. If you find something particularly aggravating, feel free to fire off an email with the understanding that it may very well end up on my FAQ page.

Technology Quotes

"As usual, this being a 1.3.x release, I haven't even compiled this kernel yet. So if it works, you should be doubly impressed." - Linus Torvalds, announcing kernel 1.3.3 on the linux-kernel mailing list.
"There once was a master programmer who wrote unstructured programs. A novice programmer, seeking to imitate him, also began to write unstructured programs. When the novice asked the master to evaluate his progress, the master criticized him for writing unstructured programs, saying: 'What is appropriate for the master is not appropriate for the novice. You must understand the Tao before transcending structure.'" - Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"
"Dijkstra probably hates me" - Linus Torvalds, in kernel/sched.c
"XML is simple... It's like violence. If it didn't work, you didn't use enough of it."
"Both are basically memory dumps with angle brackets around them." - Hakon Wium Lie on ODF & OOXML
"I often reflect that if 'privileges' had been called 'responsibilities' or 'duties', I would have saved thousands of hours explaining to people why they were only gonna get them over my dead body." - Lee K. Gleason, VMS sysadmin
"At the source of every error which is blamed on the computer you will find at least two human errors, including the error of blaming it on the computer."
"Linui - That has to be the most ridiculous fake pluralization I've ever seen."
> Is there an API or other means to determine what video card, namely the
> chipset, that the user has installed on his machine?
On a modern X86 machine use the PCI/AGP bus data. On a PS/2 use the MCA bus data. On nubus use the nubus probe data. On old style ISA bus PCs done a large pointy hat and spend several years reading arcane and forbidden scrolls - Alan Cox on hardware probing
"If the Tao is great, then the operating system is great. If the operating system is great, then the compiler is great. If the compiler is great, then the application is great. If the application is great, then the user is pleased and there is harmony in the world. The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler. The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages. Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao. But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it." - Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"
"In the beginning there was data. The data was without form and null, and darkness was upon the face of the console; and the Spirit of IBM was moving over the face of the market. And DEC said, 'Let there be registers'; and there were registers. And DEC saw that they carried; and DEC separated the data from the instructions. DEC called the data Stack, and the instructions they called Code. And there was evening and there was morning, one interrupt." - Rico Tudor, "The Story of Creation or, The Myth of Urk"
"However, these propagandists aren't just targeting the young. Take for example Apple Computers, makers of the popular Macintosh line of computers. The real operating system hiding under the newest version of the Macintosh operating system (MacOS X) is called... Darwin! That's right, new Macs are based on Darwinism! While they currently don't advertise this fact to consumers, it is well known among the computer elite, who are mostly Atheists and Pagans. Furthermore, the Darwin OS is released under an "Open Source" license, which is just another name for Communism. They try to hide all of this under a facade of shiny, 'lickable' buttons, but the truth has finally come out: Apple Computers promote Godless Darwinism and Communism."
"To say that UNIX is doomed is pretty rabid, OS/2 will certainly play a role, but you don't build a hundred million instructions per second multiprocessor micro and then try to run it on OS/2. I mean, get serious." - William Zachmann, International Data Corp
> No manual is ever necessary.
May I politely interject here: BULLSHIT. That's the biggest Apple lie of all!
- Discussion in comp.os.linux.misc on the intuitiveness of interfaces.
"And the next time you consider complaining that running Lucid Emacs 19.05 via NFS from a remote Linux machine in Paraguay doesn't seem to get the background colors right, you'll know who to thank." - Matt Welsh
"It turned out that the worm exploited three or four different holes in the system. From this, and the fact that we were able to capture and examine some of the source code, we realized that we were dealing with someone very sharp, probably not someone here on campus." - Dr. Richard LeBlanc, associate professor of ICS, in Georgia Tech's campus newspaper after the Internet worm.
"Mr. Jones related an incident from 'some time back' when IBM Canada Ltd. of Markham, Ont., ordered some parts from a new supplier in Japan. The company noted in its order that acceptable quality allowed for 1.5 per cent defects (a fairly high standard in North America at the time).
The Japanese sent the order, with a few parts packaged separately in plastic. The accompanying letter said: 'We don't know why you want 1.5 per cent defective parts, but for your convenience, we've packed them separately.' - Excerpted from an article in The (Toronto) Globe and Mail
"Writers who use a computer swear to its liberating power in tones that bear witness to the apocalyptic power of a new divinity. Their conviction results from something deeper than mere gratitude for the computer's conveniences. Every new medium of writing brings about new intensities of religious belief and new schisms among believers. In the 16th century the printed book helped make possible the split between Catholics and Protestants. In the 20th century this history of tragedy and triumph is repeating itself as a farce. Those who worship the Apple computer and those who put their faith in the IBM PC are equally convinced that the other camp is damned or deluded. Each cult holds in contempt the rituals and the laws of the other. Each thinks that it is itself the one hope for salvation." - Edward Mendelson, "The New Republic", February 22, 1988
"X windows: You'd better sit down. Don't laugh. It could be YOUR thesis project. Why do it right when you can do it wrong? Live the nightmare. Our bugs run faster. When it absolutely, positively HAS to crash overnight. There ARE no rules. You'll wish we were kidding. Everything you never wanted in a window system. And more. Dissatisfaction guaranteed. There's got to be a better way. The next best thing to keypunching. Leave the thrashing to us. We wrote the book on core dumps. Even your dog won't like it. More than enough rope. Garbage at your fingertips. Incompatibility. Shoddiness. Uselessness. X windows."
"It's ten o'clock... Do you know where your AI programs are?" -- Peter Oakley
Q: How many IBM 370's does it take to execute a job?
A: Four, three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.
***** Special AI Seminar (abstract)

It has been widely recognized that AI programs require expert knowledge in order to perform well in complex domains. But knowledge alone is not sufficient for some applications; wisdom is needed as well. Accordingly, we have developed a new approach to artificial intelligence which we call "wisdom engineering". As a test of our ideas, we have written IMMANUEL, a wisdom based system for the task domain of western philosophical thought. IMMANUEL was supplied initially with 200 wisdom units which contained wisdom about such elementary concepts as mind, matter, being, nothingness, and so forth. IMMANUEL was then allowed to run freely, guided by the heuristic rules contained in its heterarchically organized meta wisdom base. IMMANUEL succeeded in rediscovering most of the important philosophical ideas developed in western culture over the course of the last 25 centuries, including those underlying Plato's theory of government, Kant's metaphysics, Nietzsche's theory of value, and Husserl's phenomenology. In this seminar, we will describe IMMANUEL's achievements and internal architecture. We will also briefly discuss our recent efforts to apply wisdom engineering to oil exploration.
"Go away or I will replace you with a very small shell script."
"i read your e-mail."
[21:40:25] <butter> TCP: Terrifying Cascade of Pizzas (we send your order every 30 minutes until you tell us to stop)
[21:41:59] <butter> UDP: Unreliable Delivery Person (cheap, but may not get there at all)
[21:42:11] <butter> FTP: Forget The Pepperoni (faster transfer)
C Code. C code run. Run, code, run... Segmentation fault (core dumped).. aww shit
> > Other than the fact Linux has a cool name, could someone explain why I
> > should use Linux over BSD?
> No. That's it. The cool name, that is. We worked very hard on
> creating a name that would appeal to the majority of people, and it
> certainly paid off: thousands of people are using linux just to be able
> to say "OS/2? Hah. I've got Linux. What a cool name". 386BSD made the
> mistake of putting a lot of numbers and weird abbreviations into the
> name, and is scaring away a lot of people just because it sounds too
> technical.
- Linus Torvalds' follow-up to a question about Linux
"On the other hand, the TCP camp also has a phrase for OSI people. There are lots of phrases. My favorite is `nitwit' -- and the rationale is the Internet philosophy has always been you have extremely bright, non-partisan researchers look at a topic, do world-class research, do several competing implementations, have a bake-off, determine what works best, write it down and make that the standard. The OSI view is entirely opposite. You take written contributions from a much larger community, you put the contributions in a room of committee people with, quite honestly, vast political differences and all with their own political axes to grind, and four years later you get something out, usually without it ever having been implemented once. So the Internet perspective is implement it, make it work well, then write it down, whereas the OSI perspective is to agree on it, write it down, circulate it a lot and now we'll see if anyone can implement it after it's an international standard and every vendor in the world is committed to it. One of those processes is backwards, and I don't think it takes a Lucasian professor of physics at Oxford to figure out which." - Marshall Rose, "The Pied Piper of OSI"
The Guy on the Right Doesn't Stand a Chance

The guy on the right has the Osborne 1, a fully functional computer system in a portable package the size of a briefcase. The guy on the left has an Uzi submachine gun concealed in his attache case. Also in the case are four fully loaded, 32-round clips of 125-grain 9mm ammunition. The owner of the Uzi is going to get more tactical firepower delivered -- and delivered on target -- in less time, and with less effort. All for $795. It's inevitable. If you're going up against some guy with an Osborne 1 -- or any personal computer -- he's the one who's in trouble. One round from an Uzi can zip through ten inches of solid pine wood, so you can magine what it will do to structural foam acrylic and sheet aluminum. In fact, detachable magazines for the Uzi are available in 25-, 32-, and 40-round capacities, so you can take out an entire office full of Apple II or IBM Personal Computers tied into Ethernet or other local-area networks. What about the new 16-bit computers, like the Lisa and Fortune? Even with the Winchester backup, they're no match for the Uzi. One quick burst and they'll find out what Unix means. Make your commanding officer proud. Get an Uzi -- and come home a winner in the fight for office automatic weapons.
- "InfoWorld", June, 1984
Speaking of Godzilla and other things that convey horror:

With a purposeful grimace and a Mongo-like flair
He throws the spinning disk drives in the air!
And he picks up a Vax and he throws it back down
As he wades through the lab making terrible sounds!
Helpless users with projects due
Scream "My God!" as he stomps on the tape drives, too!

Oh, no! He says Unix runs too slow! Go, go, DECzilla!
Oh, yes! He's gonna bring up VMS! Go, go, DECzilla!"

* VMS is a trademark of Digital Equipment Corporation.
* DECzilla is a trademark of Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of Death, Inc.
- Curtis Jackson
"It is a period of system war. User programs, striking from a hidden directory, have won their first victory against the evil Administrative Empire. During the battle, User spies managed to steal secret source code to the Empire's ultimate program: the Are-Em Star, a privileged root program with enough power to destroy an entire file structure. Pursued by the Empire's sinister audit trail, Princess _LPA0 races ~ aboard her shell script, custodian of the stolen listings that could save her people, and restore freedom and games to the network... - DECWARS
"Speaking as someone who has delved into the intricacies of PL/I, I am sure that only Real Men could have written such a machine-hogging, cycle-grabbing, all-encompassing monster. Allocate an array and free the middle third? Sure! Why not? Multiply a character string times a bit string and assign the result to a float decimal? Go ahead! Free a controlled variable procedure parameter and reallocate it before passing it back? Overlay three different types of variable on the same memory location? Anything you say! Write a recursive macro? Well, no, but Real Men use rescan. How could a language so obviously designed and written by Real Men not be intended for Real Man use?"
"Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it." - Gene Spafford, 1992
suncrusher kernel: lp0 on fire!
VFS: Busy inodes after unmount. Self-destruct in 5 seconds. Have a nice day...
"Never underestimate the power of somebody with source code, a text editor, and the willingness to totally hose their system." - Rob Landley <>
"All parts should go together without forcing. You must remember that the parts you are reassembling were disassembled by you. Therefore, if you can't get them together again, there must be a reason. By all means, do not use a hammer." (1925 IBM Maintenence Manual)
March 23, 1999
Through the efforts of John Wehle and Bernd Schmidt, GCC will now attempt to keep the stack 64bit aligned on the x86 and allocate doubles on 64bit boundaries. This can significantly improve floating point performance on the x86. Work will continue on aligning the stack and floating point values in the stack.
"Hello, my name is segmentation fault"
"Nice to meet you, I'm root exploit. Thanks for being setuid and poorly written!"
"If it's Tuesday this symbol must be scalar - unless the moon is gibbous."
"Translation: Our OS is a dog and we need to neuter it to keep it under control." (in response to an article regarding MS Windoze)
"If the designers of X-window built cars, there would be no fewer than five steering wheels hidden about the cockpit, none of which followed the same principles -- but you'd be able to shift gears with your car stereo. Useful feature, that. -- From the programming notebooks of a heretic, 1990
"There is just no portable way to use double-quoted strings inside double-quoted back-quoted expressions"
"Maybe a security system which isn't the equivalent of a locked door in a corn field would be in order."
hde: dma_intr: status=0x51 { DriveReady SeekComplete Error }
hde: dma_intr: error=0x84 { DriveStatusError BadCRC }
Rinse and repeat bastards!

Insightful Quotes

...or something. All of these groupings are rather arbitrary, and if you're thinking to yourself "this quote really doesn't fit here" I probably thought the same thing.

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." - Carl Sagan
Nezvannyi gost'--khuzhe tatarina.
[An uninvited guest is worse than the Mongol invasion]
-- Russian proverb
"Evolution is a theory. Just like, um, gravity."
"He that lives upon hope will die fasting." - Benjamin Franklin
"Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants and slide on the ice!"
"All that is gold does not glitter... Not all those who wander are lost..."
"...or just join my Engineering party. We are only concerned about what works in production, and we aren't particularly squemish about how it all operates. If a huge federal program works in one case, we're for it. If a deregulated business environment works better in another, we're for it. What we don't believe in is pandering to a special interest. Unless of course that special interest produces results. We will also distinguish ourselves from other parties in deliberately NOT taking a stand. We have no axe to grind about this or that issue. We are really only concerned with providing you, the taxpayer, with a quality product."
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"
When the First Michigan Infantry (the first western regiment to reach the northern capital) arrived in Washington (May 1861), President Abraham Lincoln reportedly exclaimed, "Thank God for Michigan."
At any given moment, an arrow must be either where it is or where it is not. But obviously it cannot be where it is not. And if it is where it is, that is equivalent to saying that it is at rest. -- Zeno's paradox of the moving (still?) arrow
"The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches."
One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim. - Henry Brook Adams
Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. - Bill Vaughn
"The flag is a symbol of our great nation and the fundamental freedoms that have made this nation great...If the flag needs protection at all, it is from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms the flag represents" -- Rep. Jerrold Nadler
"Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all..."
"Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a facist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country." - Herman Goering speaking at the Nuremberg trails after WWII
Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis.
"Babies are the new brocolli! Eat more babies!"
"As for the basic assumptions about individuality and self, this is the core of what I like about cyberpunk. And it's the core of what I like about certain pre-gibson neophile techie SF writers that certain folks here like to put down. Not everyone makes the same assumptions. I haven't lost my mind... it's backed up on tape." - Peter da Silva
"All theoretical chemistry is really physics; and all theoretical chemists know it." - Richard P. Feynman
"Statistics are like a bikini. What is revealed is interesting and what is hidden is crucial."
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." - Albert Einstein
"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." - Albert Einstein
"Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community." - Oscar Wilde
"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll devastate whole ecosystems..."
"The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny, however, is alleviated by their lack of consistency." - Albert Einstein
"We scientists, whose tragic destiny it has been to make the methods of annihilation ever more gruesome and more effective, must consider it our solemn and transcendent duty to do all in our power in preventing these weapons from being used for the brutal purpose for which they were invented." - Albert Einstein, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, September 1948
It makes sense, when you don't think about it. [in reference to quantum mechanics]
"A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God."
"Laypeople frequently assume that in a political dispute the truth must lie somewhere in the middle, and they are often right. In a scientific dispute, though, such an assumption is usually wrong." - Paul Ehrlich

Random Quotes

Not that any of the other quotes really fit in their categories anyway...

A Man in a Balloon.

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am." The man below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude." "You must be an engineer," said the balloonist. "I am," replied the man, "How did you know?" "Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far." The man below responded, "You must be a manager." "I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know." "Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."
If for every rule there is an exception, then we have established that there is an exception to every rule. If we accept "For every rule there is an exception" as a rule, then we must concede that there may not be an exception after all, since the rule states that there is always the possibility of exception, and if we follow it to its logical end we must agree that there can be an exception to the rule that for every rule there is an exception. - Bill Boquist
"Teacher: Mary, your artwork is so good, we're going to burn it. And it's not going to be a normal 'throw it in the incinerator' type of burn; we are going to burn it in the most incredible heat possible, and spread the ashes all over the planet so there is no possibility of recovery."
HOW TO PROVE IT, PART 4 proof by personal communication: 'Eight-dimensional colored cycle stripping is NP-complete [Karp, personal communication].' proof by reduction to the wrong problem: 'To see that infinite-dimensional colored cycle stripping is decidable, we reduce it to the halting problem.' proof by reference to inaccessible literature: The author cites a simple corollary of a theorem to be found in a privately circulated memoir of the Slovenian Philological Society, 1883. proof by importance: A large body of useful consequences all follow from the proposition in question.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of good grammar. What a crock. I could easily overemphasize the importance of good grammar. For example, I could say: "Bad grammar is the leading cause of slow, painful death in North America," or "Without good grammar, the United States would have lost World War II." - Dave Barry, "An Utterly Absurd Look at Grammar"
"The 'A' is for content, the 'minus' is for not typing it. Don't ever do this to my eyes again." - Professor Ronald Brady, Philosophy, Ramapo State College
Wouldn't the sentence "I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign" have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?
"When the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the plane, the plane will fly." - Donald Douglas
=============== ALL FRESHMEN PLEASE NOTE ===============
To minimize scheduling confusion, please realize that if you are taking one course which is offered at only one time on a given day, and another which is offered at all times on that day, the second class will be arranged as to afford maximum inconvenience to the student. For example, if you happen to work on campus, you will have 1-2 hours between classes. If you commute, there will be a minimum of 6 hours between the two classes.
"Stan and I thought that this experiment was so stupid, we decided to finance it ourselves." -- Martin Fleischmann, co-discoverer of room-temperature fusion (?)
Laughing at you is like drop kicking a wounded humming bird.
(1) Alexander the Great was a great general.
(2) Great generals are forewarned.
(3) Forewarned is forearmed.
(4) Four is an even number.
(5) Four is certainly an odd number of arms for a man to have.
(6) The only number that is both even and odd is infinity.
Therefore, all horses are black.
It's a .88 magnum -- it goes through schools. -- Danny Vermin
"Wrong," said Renner.
"The tactful way," Rod said quietly, "the polite way to disagree with the Senator would be to say, 'That turns out not to be the case.'"
In Boston, it is illegal to hold frog-jumping contests in nightclubs.
Air is water with holes in it.
"Obviously, a major malfunction has occurred." - Steve Nesbitt, voice of Mission Control, January 28, 1986, as the shuttle Challenger exploded within view of the grandstands.
Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
You will experience a strong urge to do good; but it will pass.
"I've always wanted to work in the Federal Mint. And then go on strike. To make less money."
You will be a winner today. Pick a fight with a four-year-old.
Get Revenge! Live long enough to be a problem for your children!
I have a terrible headache, I was putting on toilet water and the lid fell.
"Would a giant, profit-oriented cartel lie to you?" - Top Ten List, Late Night with David Letterman
<xterm> The problem with America is stupidity. I'm not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?
Beware of low-flying butterflies.
"Do you smell something burning or is it me?" - Joan of Arc
Famous last words: (1) Don't unplug it, it will just take a moment to fix. (2) Let's take the shortcut, he can't see us from there. (3) What happens if you touch these two wires tog-- (4) We won't need reservations. (5) It's always sunny there this time of the year. (6) Don't worry, it's not loaded. (7) They'd never (be stupid enough to) make him a manager. (8) Don't worry! Women love it!
-- All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous. -- When there are visible vapors having the prevenience in ignited carbonaceous materials, there is conflagration. -- Sorting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted. -- A plethora of individuals wither expertise in culinary techniques vitiated the potable concoction produced by steeping certain coupestibles. -- Eleemosynary deeds have their initial incidence intramurally. -- Male cadavers are incapable of yielding testimony. -- Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be well advised to refrain from catapulting projectiles.
Fortune's nomination for All-Time Champion and Protector of Youthful Morals goes to Representative Clare E. Hoffman of Michigan. During an impassioned House debate over a proposed bill to "expand oyster and clam research," a sharp-eared informant transcribed the following exchange between our hero and Rep. John D. Dingell, also of Michigan.

DINGELL: There are places in the world at the present time where we are having to artificially propagate oysters and clams.
HOFFMAN: You mean the oysters I buy are not nature's oysters?
DINGELL: They may or may not be natural. The simple fact of the matter is that female oysters through their living habits cast out large amounts of seed and the male oysters cast out large amounts of fertilization ...
HOFFMAN: Wait a minute! I do not want to go into that. There are many teenagers who read The Congressional Record.

Purdue Quotes

"We started together four years ago on a journey that would u ltimately be filled with triumphs and struggles, laughter and late-night study strong coffee and cold pizza." - President Jischke
This article appeared in The Exponent, Purdue's Student Newspaper some time ago...

Officer encourages cautious bike-riding

I am writing this to thank Officer Friendly of the Purdue Police, for saving my life. I was riding my bike home from class, and the caring Officer stopped me. He said that he was giving me a warning for running the red light. While I was stopped, this got me thinking. I could have died out there, running that red light and all. I shouldn't have been so careless. Granted there were no cars for at least two blocks, but you never know. A car could have whipped out of University Street garage and taken me out. It also occurred to me that while I was riding so recklessly, I could have injured someone else or myself. What if I had hit one of the 20 jaywalking pedestrians on Third Street by the Armory? Then how would I feel, since it would have been completely my fault? I'm just happy that the officer was spending his time with me, instead of being on patrol for people stealing cars or burglarizing homes. After all, riding a bike recklessly could potentially kill someone, but that's not as likely for grand theft auto. So thank you, Officer Friendly, for stopping me before I did any harm to myself or other Purdue students.

Ben Penzick
Sophomore, School of Technology
> "The web cluster is killing my productivity!"
"Yeah, it'll do that sometimes."
"Just remember, when Scott pisses you off, count to 20 before you send anything."
"You're from Pakistan, right? "Right." Well, calculating the current is like figuring out how many people are moving to the US from Pakistan. You can either find out how many people are in Pakistan and work off that, or you can simply count how many people from Pakistan are entering the US. Assuming no loss in the system, nobody is jumping out of the plane, does this make sense?"
"Imagine you're an electron and you want to jump this barrier. It's like a wall - you can be going 180mph, but if you're running parallel to the wall nothing interesting is ever going to happen..."
> "So it appears as though you cheated on the project."
"Oh uh, yeah, my bad."
"Your definition of 'stable' must be significantly different from mine. I'd take a 5 year old kid with a scud missile launcher over any of those systems."
> "You know, there's a small, naive part of me that thinks I should be able to trust the US Justice system to come up with an appropriate punishment."
"Ignore that part of you, because he's going to land you in jail."
"Dude, you have a master's degree in computer science and you can't get infected with a virus that makes you part of a botnet? hahaha"
> "Hey, do you know where the nearest snack machine is?"
"Not really - I've never really ventured outside of the basement."
"What does OPS stand for?"

Music Quotes

I did cancel one performance in Holland where they thought my music was so easy that they didn't rehearse at all. And so the first time when I found that out, I rehearsed the orchestra myself in front of the audience of 3,000 people and the next day I rehearsed through the second movement -- this was the piece _Cheap Imitation_ -- and they then were ashamed. The Dutch people were ashamed and they invited me to come to the Holland festival and they promised to rehearse. And when I got to Amsterdam they had changed the orchestra, and again, they hadn't rehearsed. So they were no more prepared the second time than they had been the first. I gave them a lecture and told them to cancel the performance; they then said over the radio that i had insisted on their cancelling the performance because they were "insufficiently Zen." Can you believe it? - composer John Cage, "Electronic Musician" magazine, March 88, pg. 89
"Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken." Ludwig van Beethoven
The Worst Musical Trio

There are few bad musicians who have a chance to give a recital at a famous concert hall while still learning the rudiments of their instrument. This happened about thirty years ago to the son of a Rumanian gentleman who was owed a personal favour by Georges Enesco, the celebrated violinist. Enesco agreed to give lessons to the son who was quite unhampered by great musical talent.
Three years later the boy's father insisted that he give a public concert. "His aunt said that nobody plays the violin better than he does. A cousin heard him the other day and screamed with enthusiasm." Although Enesco feared the consequences, he arranged a recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. However, nobody bought a ticket since the soloist was unknown.
"Then you must accompany him on the piano," said the boy's father, "and it will be a sell out."
Reluctantly, Enesco agreed and it was. On the night an excited audience gathered. Before the concert began Enesco became nervous and asked for someone to turn his pages.
In the audience was Alfred Cortot, the brilliant pianist, who volunteered and made his way to the stage.
The soloist was of uniformly low standard and next morning the music critic of Le Figaro wrote: "There was a strange concert at the Salle Gaveau last night. The man whom we adore when he plays the violin played the piano. Another whom we adore when he plays the piano turned the pages. But the man who should have turned the pages played the violin."
- Stephen Pile, "The Book of Heroic Failures"
"Ladies and Gentlemen, under the direction of Dr. Kevin Sedatole...the 'M' Fanfare!"
"That's the way Stravinsky was - bup, bup, bup - The poor guy's dead now. Play it legato." - Eugene Ormandy
"There are two instruments worse than a clarinet - two clarinets." --Ambrose Bierce"
"If you say that a musician is not God, I may agree with you. But if you say music is not God, then I totally disagree with you."
"The thing about music is that you don't ever retire from it. It's like literature; you're always discovering new things." - John Williams

Slashdot Posts

Random posts that I found interesting...

How To Use The Internet (For Real, Not Just Watching It Go By)
A 12-step program
by: Scumbag

Step 1) Get a computer.
Step 2) Make the computer go.
Step 3) Get a modem, ADSL router, OC48, or other connection to the internet.
Step 4) Make the modem, ADSL router, OC48, or other connection to the internet go.
Step 5) Get a 6 foot length of Category 5 network cable with standard RJ45 connectors on each end
Step 6) Get a Makita 9.6v cordless drill (the neato blue ones) and a 3/8" bi-metal bit (titanium alloys are best)
Step 7) Carefully drill through your left temple to a depth of 1.28" Be sure not to go too deep, or you'll perforate the frontal lobe.
Step 9) Plug one end of the RJ45 cable into your internet connection
Step 10) Plug the other end into your skull
Step 11) Spend the next 30 or so seconds knowing that you're not just using the internet, you *are* the internet. Eat your heart out, Shodan
Step 12) Smile giddily until you pass out from blood loss.
About kangaroos and bazookas.

It seems that an american company, which shall remain nameless because some friends of mine were working there at the time, was trying to sell a battlefield simulation program to the Australian military. The intent was to integrate it with some flight-simulators so that the Aussie pilots could have a realistic battlefield with simulations of some of the semi-random events that surround and confuse real battles to fly through.

In order to try to put on a more effective sales presentation, the orders came down to customize it -- which meant building some distinctly australian things into the system in order to impress upon the militarish folk reviewing the system that (A) the system could be quickly and easily reconfigured or altered, and (B), the company was *REALLY* serious about making this sale.

So, Australian fauna was coded in -- in particular, kangaroos. The 'roos represented a real concern for possibly confusing pilots, because they have an upright posture, they're about man-sized, and they move *fast*. If you're not paying attention, or if you're looking mainly at IR traces in a night-fight, it could be pretty easy to confuse them with soldiers.

The shop used Object-Oriented programming - a technique in which each 'object type' is a subtype of some more fundamental type. This saves work because you can 'inherit' behaviors and constraints from the more fundamental type, and write new code only for the stuff that's actually different. In the case of the kangaroos, they 'inherited' from ground troopers (the base type for most of the non-aircraft in the simulation), and put in different data for returning an image, to make them look like kangaroos. They put in different parameters for movement, to make them faster than humans (a lot faster). They used the "not under orders/cut off from c-cubed-i" methods for troopers as the primary methods for the 'roos, to simulate that they didn't have objectives or strategies, and they set their morale to 'low' because mobs of kangaroos don't hang together or fight panic the way platoons of human soldiers do.

They got orders to include kangaroos about forty-eight hours before the scheduled demo, and did it in one night. They figured they were all set.

So, cut past the sales presentation and into the demo. Some pretty high-up officer from the Aussie air force is seated in the flight simulator, flying over this simulated battlefield in his simulated aircraft, and admiring all the simulated details.

And he spots a mob of kangaroos.

So, just to see how they'll react, he buzzes the 'roos. They scatter, of course, bounding away at a realistic kangaroo top-speed in a dozen different directions. The officer laughs, turns his airplane around to get a good look at how that's working, and then gets a nasty surprise. It seems that some of the kangaroos had regrouped, ducked around a nearby ridge and set up an ambush for him using surface-to-air missiles. He didn't see them, so around the ridge he went looking for them - and then he gets a shriek on his missile-detecting radar and the next second his simulated plane turns into a great big simulated fireball.

Yup.... the guys never quite managed to override that 'response to attack' method. Just forgot, I guess. And didn't see it in testing because they never actually *buzzed* the mob of 'roos and then got back into missile range.

The unexpected thing? The officer was delighted. He'd been looking for a way to get his pilots trained to leave the damn mobs of kangaroos alone. He forbade the americans to fix the 'error'. And the Australians actually bought that system, complete with bazooka-packing kangaroos.
1989(in russian accent) -- Due to recent budged constraints, this call is not being surreptitiously recorded....
Please leave name and phone number for future reference.
1999 -- Hi. You've reached the phone number of Stephen and Regan. Our answering machine is broken -- but that's OK. Because our line is being tapped.
Please speak clearly and we'll get the transcript from our lawyers.
I think the line "I think he's going to pork her dad!" made the whole movie worth it :)

Here we see the importance of punctuation. The actual line was "I think he's going to pork her, dad!". By leaving out the comma, you're giving the wrong impression to people who haven't seen the movie.
Remember the claims Cobol would make programmers obsolete by giving anybody the power of programming?
That's how microsoft makes hackers obsolete.

Politics & Religion

...or something.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin, 1759
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." - Albert Einstein
"Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."
"The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists -- that is why they invented hell." - Bertrand Russell
"...and God said: Let there be Satan, so people don't blame everything on me. And let there be lawyers, so people don't blame everything on Satan." --George Burns
"Like my parents, I have never been a regular church member or churchgoer. It doesn't seem plausible to me that there is the kind of God who watches over human affairs, listens to prayers, and tries to guide people to follow His precepts -- there is just too much misery and cruelty for that. On the other hand, I respect and envy the people who get inspiration from their religions." - Benjamin Spock
"I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence"
"The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge." - Albert Einstein
"The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events, the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.

But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light, but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress. In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast powers in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task."
- Albert Einstein

Movie Quotes

Sandy: "Carl I want you to kill all the gophers on the golf course."
Carl Spackler: "Correct me if I'm wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers they'll lock me up and throw away the key."
Sandy: "Not golfers, you great fool. Gophers. The *little* *brown* *furry* *rodents*."
Carl Spackler: "We can do that. We don't even need a reason."
"Giant frogs, giant frogs, what can I say...back to you!" - Lewis Black
"A 12 year old street kid. A 3 ton orca whale. A friendship you could never imagine. An adventure you'll never forget."
"Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Chanukah." - Clark W. Griswold
"I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane, with all the other rich people, and I want him brought right here with a big ribbon on his head. And, I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no good, rotten, floor-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed, sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy Shit! Where's the Tylenol?"
"You know what, in fact I'm gonna just have to ask you to just go ahead and come back later, I've got a meeting with the Bobs in a couple minutes." - Peter Gibbons
"...these aren't the droids you're looking for"
"And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire... "

"Large" Articles

Every time I see a bumper sticker or a t-shirt that says, "Don't mess with Texas" I find myself snickering. It's not that I do not like Texans, on the contrary, I've met a bunch of them, and they are quite an independent lot. (A Texan I know, in protest of his local school taxes, intends to pay his property tax in person with 63,000 nickels. It's that type of ballsy bravado that does Texas, and America for that matter, proud.) Regrettably, most Texans these days are just as milquetoasty as people from any other state.

But Texans do make a good marketing campaign. The Alamo has become a fantastic tourist trap in spite of being a horrific military failure. We Ohioans have much to learn about marketing our own state.

A great example of this is our license plates. Finally, with the introduction of the new Bicentennial Plate on October 1, we can actually put a halfway nice looking license plate on our cars. However, it is still encumbered by the "Birthplace of Aviation" slogan. The problem is, another state claims to be the birthplace of aviation, and they're doing a better job marketing it. (The North Carolina plate is a more elegant salute to the Wright Brothers than our half-ass'd slogan.) Unfortunately, the slogan on the plates is state law, and will require action by the state legislature to change (and that is akin to an act of God.)

Perhaps we should go into our history books and find something of consequence to feature on a special plate--something which encapsulates Ohio, its people and its history. You wouldn't need to look far, because Lancaster's own Gen. William T. Sherman blessed Ohio history with the type of achievement over which other states regularly drool.

In November 1864, he burned Atlanta down.

In commemoration of this event, work should begin immediately on a special license plate devoted to this incident in history.

First, we must find an appropriate tagline and graphic. If we choose a graphic that's, say, a little building burning, then a good tagline may be "Sherman burning Atlanta --Nov. 1864." I guess the plate could be devoted to General Sherman himself, with a little picture of him and the tagline "Gen. Sherman--the man who burned down Atlanta."

I am however much more in love with a tagline saying, "Don't mess with Ohio or we'll burn down Atlanta...again." (Consider the new tagline a swipe not at Georgia, but at Texas--I mean, what have they ever burned down?) I think that nicely summarizes this feat in Ohio history, in addition to describing the feistiness that Ohioans should be known for. (Admittedly burning Atlanta down today would require a lot of work--its metropolitan area now extends into Tennessee and Florida.)

There is precedence for acridity on license plates. New Hampshire started it all with "Live Free or Die"--homage to our Revolutionary roots. Washington DC's new plates are emblazoned with "No Taxation without Representation"--another commemoration of America's Revolutionary history, not to mention the District's unique political situation. Even "Birthplace of Aviation" is a passive-aggressive swipe at North Carolina. Not all Ohioans may wish to have the Sherman plate; some may wish to drive south of Covington, Kentucky. But for those who do, I don't see why "Don't mess with Ohio or we'll burn down Atlanta...again" cannot be issued to the proud Ohioan interested in memorializing our state, and our nation's, history.

To the critics who say that license plates are meant only for vehicle identification purposes, my response is that special plates are doing an adequate job identifying vehicles. However, they are a medium for so much more.

- Pennsylvania's ex-Governor Tom R
Engineering, Politics, and Government
Michael C. Loui
A speech at the Eta Kappa Nu Initiation Ceremony
November 13, 1992

This has been a major political year, with elections for local, state, and national office. The outcome of the presidential election means that soon the administration in the Federal government will change hands. Thus for my topic, I have chosen "Engineering, Politics, and Government." Now that the election is over, I shall endeavor to be scrupulously nonpartisan and fair to both political parties tonight.

It's not obvious that engineering has anything to do with politics and government, but I am reminded of a story. A lawyer, a physician, an engineer, and a politician were arguing about whose profession was the oldest. The lawyer insisted that law was the oldest: "Cain killed Abel, and there must have been a trial, so law is the oldest profession." "No, no," replied the physician. "God created Eve from Adam's rib, and removing the rib required surgery. So medicine is the oldest profession." The engineer demurred: "In just seven days, God created the heavens and the earth out of chaos. That was a monumental engineering task, so engineering is the oldest profession." The politician burst in: "But who created the chaos?"

It is easy to make fun of politicians. But our political system, our representative democracy, enables people to express their wishes, and to try to achieve consensus on what public projects to support, in order to meet the desires and needs of the commonwealth. Decisions about how much scarce public dollars to allocate to defense, to scientific research, to education, to urban aid, to highways, to the indigent, and so forth, are properly left to the political arena.

From the engineer's point of view, politics is a messy business. Unlike homework problems and lab assignments, our national problems are poorly defined, and the design goals are imprecisely specified. It's rarely clear when you have even solved a social problem. In this domain, why would an engineer want to participate?

In this talk, I would like to make the simple point that well educated engineers such as yourselves have a great deal to offer in serving the public, either as government employees, or as advisors to governmental agencies. In our contemporary technological society, while the political process is used to make major decisions, engineers must provide the technical information and expertise to make good decisions: for example, how to construct a national computer communication network, what are acceptable and achievable levels of automobile emissions, and where to site a low-level nuclear waste facility.

For better or worse, the Federal government has a major impact on the development of technology. In the 1960s, the space program yielded one of the first minicomputers, installed in the Apollo spacecraft, and led to miniaturized medical instruments. Contemporary weapons procurement programs have stimulated work in sophisticated guidance systems, amazingly accurate sensors, robust materials that withstand high temperatures and stresses, fault-tolerant computers, and advance propulsion systems. Although the Bush administration would prefer not to admit it, these kinds of programs amount to a technology policy. President-elect Clinton has even more ambitious plans for a technology policy, with emphasis on public infrastructure: ports and highways, communication technologies, and education. Clinton has proposed the creation of a civilian counterpart to DARPA, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, to support investments in generic, precompetitive technologies; these critical technologies include high-speed integrated circuits, flat-panel displays, advanced materials, and biotechnology.

Technology policy is too important to be left to career bureaucrats, much less to politicians who are swayed by well-heeled campaign contributors, who are courted by single-issue lobbyists, and who are motivated primarily by a desire to be reelected. It is important that technically knowledgeable people--this means engineers--participate in formulating our national technology policy.

An engineer can participate in shaping the nation's technology agenda in two ways: either in government or out of government. Obviously, engineers outside government can contribute through advisory panels or citizens' groups. In the remainder of this talk, I shall focus on the role of an engineer in government, particularly the Federal government. Some of you--and about 15% of all engineers--will spend part of your careers in government. Most will remain in industry or private practice, but you will interact with engineers in government, and it would be helpful to understand the perspectives of your brethren.

To the typical engineer in private industry, Washington seems remote, inscrutable, and faintly evil. Decent, honorable people go to Washington, become infected by Potomac fever, and are transformed into petty bureaucratic monsters who exercise their raw power to inflict capricious decisions--and mountains of forms--on a defenseless citizenry. But this is a caricature perpetuated in the popular print and broadcast media.

In the Federal government, there are numerous engineers, but they are almost invisible [Florman]: there are lots of lawyers, accountants, and economists, but few scientists and engineers at the top of the power pyramid. As the saying goes, engineers are always on tap, never on top. And the history of engineers in high public office is not particularly encouraging: Herbert Hoover was educated as a mining engineer, Spiro Agnew a civil engineer, Jimmy Carter a nuclear engineer, John Sununu a mechanical engineer. When each left office, he was an unpopular figure, although I would hasten to add that when Hoover retired, a dam between Nevada and Arizona was renamed in his honor, in recognition of his contributions to engineering. With these inauspicious examples--Hoover, Agnew, Carter, Sununu--why should an engineer want to take a job in the Federal government?

Engineers have two excellent qualifications for Federal service: First, engineers can handle numbers. Second, engineers are good problem solvers.

First, engineers bring a quantitative sense to social problems--not just through routine calculations and cost accounting, but more generally, through an intuitive appreciation of what numbers really mean. Too few people in Washington understand numbers. I once heard someone at the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, say that no, she had had no training in accounting, and she couldn't balance her checkbook, but she knew it was correct within about 0.1 billion dollars. She was kidding, but it's amazing how members of Congress have no feeling for numbers, such as the difference between parts per million and parts per billion; they do not realize that it would probably cost about a thousand times more to reduce contaminants from the part per million level to parts per billion level. Some politicians even say that all they need to do is to pick a number for automobile fuel efficiency, and industry will figure out how to get there [Sununu].

Scientists also have a good grasp of numbers. What sets engineers apart from scientists is their drive to solve practical problems, and it is precisely this active problem solving orientation that is needed to address national social problems. As engineers, we are educated to apply our technical skills to solve problems in the design and manufacture of things (such as steel bridges, jet aircraft, and electronic computers) and processes (such as oil refinement) economically for he benefit of society. Contrast the problem solving drive of the engineer with the hapless economist: as the saying goes, if all the economists in Washington were strung from end to end, you would not reach a conclusion.

Engineers also have a penchant for speaking plainly, because problem solving requires understanding problems clearly. Washington is already too full of people who hide behind a cloak of deliberate obfuscation. Two years ago, for example, Richard Darman, the Director of OMB, testified before Congress on the new budget agreement, which included some new taxes. Since President Bush had promised not to impose new taxes, some in his administration had called the taxes "user fees." According to Darman, "If it looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If it looks like a tax, and acts like a tax, and quacks like a tax, [pause] it's a duck!" (They were ducking the tax issue)

The most important task of engineers in government is the setting of technical standards, expressed as government regulations. Over the last 12 years of Republican administrations, regulations have gotten a bad name. Perhaps this was a reaction to the proliferation of regulations in the 1970s: The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (which set up OSHA); Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972; Noise Control Act of 1972; Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974; Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1974; Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975; Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976; Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976; Clean Air Act of 1977, and renewed this year; Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977; Water Pollution Control Act of 1977; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (Superfund).

It is worth understanding why regulations have become necessary. Let me start with the history of the steam engine [Martin and Schinzinger]. Early steam engines were large and cumbersome. Boiler explosions were frequent, particularly on steamboats. In 1838, one steamboat explosion in Cincinnati claimed 151 lives. Demands for safety rules finally moved Congress to exert its interstate regulatory powers. Steamboat companies objected, insisting that it would be in their own prudent self-interest to exercise caution. But it was clear that owners and operators would not regulate themselves. Alfred Guthrie, an engineer in Illinois, studied the causes of boiler explosions. His report became the basis for the U.S. steamboat code of 1852, and thereafter, there were very few explosions. Later, Congress passed the railway safety legislation in the 1880s, and the Pure Food and Drug Acts in the early 1900s. In this century, Congress created the Federal Power Commission, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission--all in response to the need to ensure the safety of the public.

Let me quote from Samuel Florman, a noted civil engineer:

We cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of high technology and the fruits of a competitive economy without facing up to the complexity that is inherent in them.... Total freedom and pure competition evoke a reckless expediency and occasional cheating, and in turn this can lead to shoddy merchandise, dangerous products, depleted resources, and a defiled environment. We attempt to deal with this problem by establishing rules and regulations. Naturally, as our technology becomes more advanced and our society becomes more complex, our rules and regulations become more numerous and our means of enforcing them more various.... Of course, the rules are imperfect and the administrators of these rules are often foolish and overbearing. [But the development of our regulatory laws and agencies is] one of the glories of our civilization.
Well, while I would not call them "glories of civilization," regulations have made our country, and the world, a safer place.
New regulations must run through the political process, because not all decisions are purely technical. We all know that no product is absolutely safe, and that there is an unavoidable tradeoff between safety and cost. In devising the acceptable electromagnetic flux from a microwave oven door, or the crash-worthiness of an automobile, an engineer can estimate the cost associated with designing products to achieve any flux level or crash-resistance. But the decision on how much risk is tolerable, and at what cost, must be left to the public. This political decision requires the public's participation through the political process.

In Florman's view, there are two kinds of engineers: The creators (in industry) and the guardians (in government). The creators design new products and processes, and the guardians work to ensure the safety of the public. This adversarial view is reasonable, but in my opinion, somewhat limited. Engineers in industry and government need not be adversaries: both are working together for the common good. Also, being a guardian can involve creativity too. For example, whatever you feel about pollution tax credits, I think that it is a creative solution to a thorny problem: by relying on market mechanisms, pollution tax credits would probably be efficient, but politically, they would never fly, because they appear to condone polluters.

In my own career, I have served in the Federal government. Actually, since completing my formal education, I have spent my entire life on the public dole, mostly as an employee of the State of Illinois, s it was natural to take a tour of duty in Washington masquerading as a Federal bureaucrat. I would like to share my experience with you, from my worm's eye view from deep within the Federal bureaucracy.

From August 1990 through July 1991, I served as the program director for the Theory of Computing program at the National Science Foundation. I suppose I was drawn by the idea of spending $6 million of the taxpayers' largesse. Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, $6 million just doesn't go very far these days.

The main reason I went to NSF was to serve the theory of computing community. One of my colleagues at the University of Chicago told me that he was glad to see a real, live, active theoretician as the program director. I suppose he thought my predecessors were imaginary, lethargic, or dead. Because I have been a member of the theory of computing community for a long time, I had already earned the trust of my colleagues. The implications for engineers to serve in the Federal government are clear: After several years of experience, if you go to work in Washington, you would know the community that you would serve. You would be able to speak the same language, and you would be able to work WITH engineers in private industry.

In my position at NSF, although I did not communicate officially with the public, I attempted to explain to taxicab drivers and other laypeole what they are getting for their money. Most citizens have a positive opinion of research, but, justifiably, they would like to know what significant results might come from the nation's investment. Only a well educated engineer can understand the technical details well enough to explain these potential results clearly. At NSF, I saw descriptions of technical results distorted and mangled by journalists, even by journalists trained to be science writers. This is another reason why engineers should serve in government.

I learned a tremendous amount during my year at NSF. Contrary to the popular stereotype of the indolent Federal bureaucrat, I found that most NSF employees--clerks and accountants and even members of the permanent scientific staff--are diligent and honest. NSF takes ethical conduct seriously: at least once every day, like a mantra one must say "conflict of interest." This emphasis on ethics in a government agency is a refreshing contrast to accounts of scandal and corruption in Capitol Hill or in the White House.

In handling interdisciplinary proposals, I worked with mathematicians and biologists and learned about their scientific cultures and values. This is another pleasure of working in the Federal government: collaborating with people trained in different disciplines, who bring different perspectives to bear on common problems. As an engineer, you already know that teamwork and cooperation are desirable--even necessary--for large engineering projects, and this attitude is helpful when working in interdisciplinary teams in the Federal government.

Probably the most important thing I learned at NSF, by studying budgets of grant proposals, is the size of the salaries paid to professors at other universities. I was astonished to learn that professors at the same doctoral age as I, with comparable records, earn about $1000 more per month. Over the nine month academic year, this is a difference of $9000--and that's real money. As you may know, however, salaries are inversely correlated with prestige. I have concluded that Illinois is an extremely prestigious institution.

This brings me back home I congratulate you, the new initiates of Eta Kappa Nu, on your scholarly achievements so far. It is likely that because of your skills and talents, you will enjoy long, productive careers. I hope that you will devote at least part of your careers to serving the public directly, through government and the political process. You can apply your quantitative skills and problem solving drive, whether as a government employee or as a private citizen, to draft sensible regulations and to make our regulatory agencies more effective.

Thank you for your attention.