Morningstar's Laws


Over the years I've accumulated a small collection of rules of thumb and observations about the nature of the universe. Most of these concern coping with a world full of stupid people, since most of the people in the world are pretty stupid, and even those of us who like to think we aren't stupid are still stupid much of the time (see also Carlo Cipolla's The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity). Here's what I've learned:

Morningstar's First Rule of Business: Never permit yourself to be both greedy and stupid at the same time. Either one by itself can often be survived; the two together are deadly.

Morningstar's Observation About The Design Process: Most significant design problems in computer science ultimately come down to arguments about terminology. I keep encountering situations where this appears not to be true, but I always turn out to be wrong. Now that I think about it, I wouldn't necessarily limit this to computer science. And no, I don't even like Wittgenstein.

Morningstar's Law of Construction: All members of the building trades are incompetent. This must be due to some kind of stupidity field that affects these professions, since I have never encountered any exceptions. Actually, I'm prepared to provisionally give my brother-in-law (who is a building contractor) the benefit of the doubt, since he's such a nice guy and I haven't actually experienced his work firsthand. Besides, he's Australian, so maybe he's immune.

Morningstar's Rule of Capital Equipment: Copy machines last two years. They just wear out. After two years of normal use, no number of service calls will ever make them quite right again. Unfortunately, accountants tend to want to amortize them over four years (or more). This explains why "the copier is busted" is the normal state of the universe.

The First Iron Law of Web Design: HTML sucks.

The Second Iron Law of Web Design: Browsers suck. And there's nothing you can do about it. And it won't help if Mozilla or Microsoft fixes'em because all the old broken ones will still be out there.

Morningstar's Explanation of Politics: Human progress is evolutionary. Evolution is a process of variation and selection. Right-wingers want to stop variation. Left-wingers want to stop selection. Both ends of the political spectrum are impediments to progress.

Words of wisdom from Field Marshall Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord: "I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately."

The three kinds of obvious:

First Kind -- Self evidently obvious.

Second Kind -- Obvious, but only after someone else points it out and makes you feel stupid for not noticing it yourself.

Third Kind -- Typically encountered in college-level math or physics lectures, where the professor is doing some long, complicated derivation of some result and at one step says, "and it is obvious that...", then pauses, then spends the next 10 minutes muttering to himself and scribbling in the corner, then resumes the lecture saying, "yes!, it is obvious that..."

Morningstar's Theological Principle: The most plausible argument for the existence of God is that it's not too hard to imagine that we'll have that level of technology someday too. This is not an argument that your religion, whatever it may be, is likely to find pleasing.