POETIC LICENCE: Of Finagle’s 11 golden rules and other home truths
Nick the Greek was a legendary gambler. What many people don’t know, however, is that he was also something of a philosopher. One of his more profound philosophical observations was: Never buck the odds. Las Vegas was built on the money lost by people who thought they could ignore this rule
Finagle was a wise old bird. He came up with a whole bunch of rules known as Finagle’s Rules (what else?). His basic premise went something like this: “Ever since the first scientific experiment, man has been plagued by the increasing antagonism of nature. It seems only right that nature should be logical and neat, but experience has shown that this is not the case.”
To get around this problem, Finagle formulated a set of eleven golden rules.
Rule 1: To study a subject best, understand it thoroughly before you start.
Rule 2: Always keep a record of data. It indicates you’ve been working.
Rule 3: First draw your curves; then plot the reading.
Rule 4: In case of doubt, make it sound convincing. A variation on this rule could be what a leading Lahore-based lawyer (who also happens to be a prominent member of the PPP) once told me about his courtroom technique. “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” he said.
Rule 5: Experiments should be reproducible. They should all fail in the same way.
Rule 6: Don’t believe in the incredible; rely on it.
Rule 7: If an experiment works, something has gone wrong.
Rule 8: No matter what result is anticipated, there will always be someone eager to (a) misinterpret it, (b) fake it, or (c) believe it happened to
his own pet theory.
My own favourite is Rule 9: In any collection of data, the figure most obviously correct, beyond all need of checking, is the mistake. There are also a couple of corollaries to this rule. Corollary 1: No one whom you ask for help will see it (the mistake). Corollary 2: Everyone who stops by with unsought advice will see it (the mistake) immediately.
Rule 10: Once a job is fouled up, anything done to improve it only makes it worse.
Rule 11: Science is truth. Don’t be misled by facts. There is a variation on this rule for book reviewers: Never read a book you’ve been asked to
review; it only prejudices you.
Which brings me to Landau’s Programming Paradoxes.
Paradox 1: The world’s best computer programmer has to be someone.
Paradox 2: A software committee of one is limited by its own horizon and will specify software only that far. This is a sort of update on the old adage about a camel being a horse designed by a committee (a committee can make a decision that is dumber than any of its members).
Paradox 3: When the system programmers declare the system works, it has worked and will work again some day.
And while one is on the subject of computers, here are Four Laws of Computerdom According to Golub.
Law 1: Fuzzy project objectives are used to avoid the embarrassment of estimating the project cost.
Law 2: A carelessly planned project will take only twice as long.
Law 3: Project teams detest weekly progress reporting because it so vividly manifests their lack of progress.
Law 4: A computer makes as many mistakes in two seconds as 20 men working for 20 years. Now, they’re working on developing a computer that will make as many mistakes in two seconds as 220 men working for 220 years.
But just as man does not live by bread alone, he doesn’t live by computers alone either - as the following laws suggest:
Harvey’s Homily: A man’s brain is his Achilles’ heel.
Johnson-Laird’s Law: Toothaches tend to occur on Saturday nights.
Newton’s First Law: Some days it’s better to stay in bed.
Picasso’s Postulate: Computers are useless. All they give you is answers.
Main’s Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite government programme.
Throop’s Axiom: The universe is not user-friendly.
Which reminds me of a wonderful poem by Ogden Nash: “I give you now Professor Twist, / A conscientious scientist. / Trustees exclaimed he never bungles, / And sent him off to distant jungles. / Camped by the tropic riverside, / One day he missed his loving bride. / She had, the guide informed him later, / Been swallowed by an alligator. / Professor Twist could not but smile. / ‘You mean,’ he said, ‘a crocodile.’”
In other words, just because you’re up to your neck in alligators is no reason not to get your definitions right.
Nick the Greek was a legendary gambler. What many people don’t know, however, is that he was also something of a philosopher. One of his more profound philosophical observations was: Never buck the odds. Las Vegas was built on the money lost by people who thought they could ignore this rule.
Ask a disc jockey about life, though, and he is likely to reply, Ah, yes, life - the flip side of death. It is also said that some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. I like to think of this as My Law.
When you finally meet the perfect woman, she will be waiting for the perfect man.