Category Archives: Quotes

Whistleblowers and encryption

Back in the 90s there was a quote that went around. It was some­thing along the lines of “if you’re not doing any­thing ille­gal, then you have noth­ing to hide and don’t need to encrypt your email.” Unless it’s finan­cial or legal, why not write all your snail mail on post­cards, right?

I would like to pro­pose a new say­ing: if your com­pany (or gov­ern­ment) is not doing any­thing ille­gal or immoral, then they have noth­ing to hide, and there­fore doesn’t need to worry about whistle­blow­ers. There’s no need to make whistle­blow­ers scape­goats, right?

Posted in: Dear Diary Quotes

Money vs. Culture

There is a great guy named Merlin Mann whose work I have been appre­ci­at­ing for years.  He is pretty much a time and pro­duc­tiv­ity guru, although I am not sure you’d be able to catch him using the word “guru” to describe him­self in any way.  He invented the Hipster PDA and Inbox Zero.  Earlier in the year he gave a talk at Rutgers about time and atten­tion and I got to lis­ten to the pod­cast of that talk.  A lot of the ses­sion revolved around the car­toon ani­mals of the Richard Scarry books.  I used to love those books as a kid!  Back in the day, it was pretty easy to illus­trate jobs in a book for chil­dren.  Give a dog a red hat or a pig a big knife and you instantly knew they were a fire­man or a (iron­i­cally or oth­er­wise) butcher.  Information work­ers these days are less easy to make into car­i­ca­tures.  A cat sit­ting at a desk with a com­puter under a flo­res­cent light could be a sec­re­tary or a web designer or an author or an illus­tra­tor or an embed­ded sys­tems engi­neer or some dude spend­ing all day run­ning a pre­tend farm on Facebook.  I don’t know that I could explain my job to an 8 year old.

Although most of the talk was about jobs and main­tain­ing atten­tion and san­ity with regard to email over­load and too many meet­ings, a cer­tain bit about 10 min­utes in really res­onated with me more than any other part of the talk.  That part is as fol­lows (empha­sis mine):

If I’m going to spend ten hours a day here, I need to like you guys a lot, and we’re going to need a cul­ture here that works.  Money is the rea­son peo­ple say they leave a job, but cul­ture is the rea­son that money became an issue. If some­body loves their job intensely and feels very keyed into the cul­ture of their work, they’ll find ways to make the money work a lot of the time, or at least longer than you’d think.”

I have kept this quote with me since first hear­ing it many, many months ago.  It is a very sim­ple state­ment, but there are some enor­mous truths lurk­ing behind it.  If you are an infor­ma­tion worker, I highly rec­om­mend lis­ten­ing to or watch­ing Merlin’s Rutgers talk or his Inbox Zero talk at Google.  Or heck — buy his book when it’s avail­able.

Posted in: Dear Diary Quotes Work

Holmes on homes

There is a really excel­lent Sherlock Holmes quote that, for the life of me, I can­not seem to find ref­er­ence to1. Although the quo­ta­tion itself is not as famous as some of the other Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quo­ta­tions, it is quite prac­ti­cal and I find I use it with great fre­quency. The gen­eral gist of it is that when you come across an object — a place or a thing — look at it not for what it cur­rently is, but at how it was used in the past and how it might be used in the future.

As a detec­tive, the minute signs of pre­vi­ous usage are impor­tant. A lit­tle scuff-mark here and a lit­tle lack of dust there can tell a rich story. A lit­tle bit of mud that can only be found in a spe­cific region can sim­i­larly tell a great fic­tional story. The same prin­ci­ple can be applied to more mod­ern sit­u­a­tions. You are effec­tively talk­ing about foren­sics. It might be some­thing as high tech as blood splat­ter pat­terns or resid­ual mag­netic sig­na­tures on a hard disk that you thought was erased. It might be some­thing as low tech as wear marks on a key­pad next to a locked door. (That is, if you see four of the ten keys are exces­sively worn then you know, a pri­ori, which num­bers are in the com­bi­na­tion and only have 24 of the pos­si­ble 9999 per­mu­ta­tions to try.)

What an object may cur­rently be used for is so obvi­ous it will be left out of the dis­cus­sion.

What an object may be used for in the future encom­passes some hacker2 ethic. The ques­tion is no longer “what is this?” It becomes “how can I use this in a cre­ative and use­ful way?” A paper­clip may just be a paper­clip to a banker or accoun­tant, but in the hands of MacGyver, it can dis­able the reac­tor melt­down. A cou­ple of old rusted bikes might be garage-sale mate­r­ial to some, but to some­one with a weld­ing rig, they can com­bine into a tall-bike, or maybe some­thing less deriv­a­tive and even more inter­est­ing and cre­ative. Don’t look at what some­thing is, but at how you can use it.

Although I can­not give the exact word­ing of the quote, its spirit lives with me always. It is a fun­da­men­tal lens through which I view the world.

With this frame of ref­er­ence, I often walk around the neigh­bor­hood. Or rather, I often walk around the neigh­bor­hood and this is my par­tic­u­lar frame of ref­er­ence as I do so — whether or not it is inten­tional. You see, I live in Portland, just a touch south of Powell. It is tech­ni­cally inner-Southeast; although when I lived in close-in-SE, my def­i­n­i­tion of inner-SE extended no fur­ther than 39th (ahem, or Caesar Chavez), I have heard more offi­cial bound­aries of inner SE being either Tabor or 82nd. Since I am within both bounds, I would still say I am in inner-SE, regard­less of how Brian-of-two-years-ago would define things. My par­tic­u­lar neigh­bor­hood is an odd col­lec­tion of new and old. While homes north of Powell seem to be fairly con­sis­tent in age and style (as well as fairly expen­sive; Powell is like the ±$500K divid­ing line, depend­ing on which direc­tion you cross), homes south of Powell seem strangely mixed.

Applying the Sherlock Holmes method­ol­ogy to the area makes the sit­u­a­tion a bit more clear. With minor excep­tions here and there, every other house is nearly turn-of-the-century old and they are inter­spersed with extremely new dwellings. For instance, our place (101 years old) is sand­wiched between a 3-plex from the early 60s and a boxy apart­ment from the late 60s. Old house, new house, old house, con­dos, old house, apart­ments, old house, mod­ern house, old house, small bun­ga­low house, old house, and so on. This leads me to believe that, at some point in the past, the lot sizes around here were 100x100 instead of the stan­dard Portland 50x100. I would guess that the lots were halved in the 50s and/or 60s and new hous­ing was cre­ated.

As for the future? It’s hard to say. While the older houses are stand­ing strong, some of the newer dwelling are start­ing to crum­ble in places. In the­ory, the area is going to be revi­tal­ized in the next few years. Millions in urban renewal money is going to spiff up Foster Rd. A street­car is going to be extended into the area (pos­si­bly replac­ing the Hawthorne bus line). There is obvi­ously going to be a cer­tain amount of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, but who can tell how that will affect the crum­bling things? Will fancy expen­sive con­dos replace cheap dete­ri­o­rat­ing apart­ments? It is really dif­fi­cult to say right now with­out a few more data points.

So go into your day. Look around you. Look at the world. Examine things. Really look at them. What were they used for in the past? What might they be used for in the future? In what inter­est­ing or unusual way can you use them in the not-too-distant future?


1 Holy carp! The first sen­tence of this blog post ends in a prepo­si­tion! Actually, it’s not so bad now.

2 Of course, I mean the clas­si­cal def­i­n­i­tion of hacker — some­one who can do inter­est­ing, ele­gant, and beau­ti­ful things with tech­nol­ogy, repur­pos­ing it and push­ing it to its lim­its — as opposed to the media def­i­n­i­tion of an evil per­son who breaks things.

Posted in: Dear Diary Portland Quotes

My life, the bad sitcom

Kim: Did the timer go off?

Me: I didn’t hear it.

Kim: You didn’t hear it?

Timer: *brrrrrring*

Me: The timer went off.


In other news, Ebenezer — the nekkid cat — has reaf­firmed some of his quirks. He is the only cat I know that is indif­fer­ent toward cat­nip, yet loves bleach. Kim is mop­ping the floor and we are hav­ing dif­fi­culty keep­ing him away. He likes to roll around on the wet floor.

Posted in: Dear Diary Quotes

Economies of Scale

A bil­lion is a thou­sand mil­lion, or 1,000,000,000 or 1 x 109.

Amount of money requested for bank bailouts: $700,000,000,000
Number of vis­i­ble stars in the night sky: 9,110 *
Approx. num­ber of stars in the Milky Way: 300,000,000,000 *
Current world pop­u­la­tion: 6,700,000,000 *
Number of peo­ple who have ever lived: 110,000,000,000 *

Go out­side tonight and look at the stars. Mathematically, that is $76 mil­lion dol­lars per star–although in real­ity it at least twice that dol­lar value because you can’t see the other hemi­sphere and prob­a­bly have weather and light pol­lu­tion affect­ing what you can see.

Or another way: if every liv­ing per­son on planet earth (includ­ing 3rd world coun­tries) con­tributed $104, we’d be cov­ered. Or if every­one who has ever lived had the fore­sight to put $7 into time cap­sule with the inscrip­tion “do not open until 2008,” then we’d be cov­ered (not count­ing infla­tion and exchange rates, and all that.)

A great quote from Senator Bernie Sanders that I read on Daring Fireball the other day is this:

For years now, they’ve told us that we can’t afford — that the gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing health­care to all peo­ple is just unimag­in­able; it can’t be done. We don’t have the money to rebuild our infra­struc­ture. We don’t have the money to wipe out poverty. We can’t do it. But all of a sud­den, yeah, we do have $700 bil­lion for a bailout of Wall Street.

Posted in: Dear Diary Quotes

Paper Beats All

I under­stand how scis­sors can beat paper, and I get how a rock can beat scis­sors, but there’s no ****ing way paper can beat rock. Is paper suposed to mag­i­cally wrap around rock and leave it immo­bile? Why the hell can’t paper do this to peo­ple? Why aren’t sheets of col­lege ruled note­book paper con­stantly suf­fo­cat­ing stu­dents as they take notes in class? I’ll tell you why, because paper can’t beat any­body. A rock would tear that **** up in 2 sec­onds. When I play rock paper scis­sors, I always choose rock. Then when some­body claims to have beaten me with their paper I can punch them in the face with my already clenched fist and say, oh **** I’m sorry, I thought paper would pro­tect you, you ***hole!”

(via Digg via Found)

Posted in: Quotes

Why programs that should be simple often aren’t

Programmers… often take refuge in an under­stand­able, but dis­as­trous, incli­na­tion towards com­plex­ity and inge­nu­ity in their work. Forbidden to design any­thing larger than a pro­gram, they respond by mak­ing that pro­gram intri­cate enough to chal­lenge their pro­fes­sional skill.

Michael A. Jackson, Principles of Program Design, 1975
Posted in: Code Quotes

quote

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/10/

OMG 0-Day Housewares”

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Posted in: Quotes

Quote of the Day

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/09/

That's not a cat toy. That's a sword.”

Posted in: Quotes

Quote of the evening

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/06/

I’m hold­ing entirely too many raw shrimp to be gothic right now.”

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Posted in: Quotes