Advice for researchers. Compiled by Mike Dahlin


Genius begins great works. Labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." -Calvin Coolidge The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. - Bobby Knight


"Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." -Antoine de St. Exupery Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. "To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day." -Lao-tse I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way, did not become still more complicated. -- Poul Anderson Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it. "There are two ways of constructing a software design: one way is to make it so simple that there are {\em obviously} no deficiencies and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no {\em obvious} deficiencies." C.A.R. Hoare "The Emperor's Old Clothes" CACM Feb 1981


"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you're the easiest person to fool." -- Richard Feynman "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny...'" --Isaac Asimov "When you discover a fluke, first determine if a whale is attached to it." --Dennis O'Connor "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." -Friedrich Nietzsche "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." -anonymous Mohandas K. Gandhi often changed his mind publicly. An aide once asked him how he could so freely contradict this week what he had said just last week. The great man replied that it was because this week he knew better. " doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are -- if it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." - R.P. Feynman Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. F.P. JONES

Criticism and learning from others

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary; it fullfills the same function as pain in the human body, it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. -Whinston Churchill We all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice. - Jack Herbert Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons afterwards. ANONYMOUS Learn what not to do from the experience of others. It's cheaper than your own. J. WINTER SMITH A word to the wise isn't nearly as good as a word from the wise. In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet. -Whinston Churchill "Wise men learn by other men's mistakes, fools by their own." -- H. G. Wells To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. ~~ Mark Twain (1835-1910|)

Goal setting

Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps. -David Lloyd George The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. - Chinese Proverb "Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs." Be always displeased at what thou art, if thou desire to attain to what thou art not; for where thou hast pleased thyself, there thou abidest. Quarles (1592-1644) In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high. Henry David Thoreau Dealing with failure is easy: Work hard to improve. Success is also easy to handle: You've solved the wrong problem. Work hard to improve. "Seek not to follow in the footsteps of wise men; seek what they sought." -- Basho Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. -Whinston Churchill You can't size a bridge by counting the swimmers. -Barksdale (Netscape CEO) "A problem well stated is half solved."

Grab bag

If you want truely to understand something, try to change it. - Kurt Lewin "For every problem, there exists a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." -- H. L. Mencken "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" -- Albert Einstein "All models are wrong, but some are useful" - George Box The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more. -Jonas Salk, MD We can never get rid of mouse ideas completely; they keep turning up again and again, and nibble, nibble -- no matter how often we drive them off. The best way to keep them down is to have a few good strong cat ideas to chase them. - Samuel Butler "Why do I rob banks? That's where the money is." -Willie Sutton (professional bank robber; >100 career heists) *Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.* -Blaise Pascal (Lettres Provinciales (1657), xvi) {* I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.*} "The truly great things happen a genius is alone. This is true especially among golfers." J. R. Coulson "I used to think the mind was the most wonderful organ in the body. Then, I realized who was telling me that." "Obviousness is always the enemy of correctness." -Bertrand Russell "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." -Mark Twain "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." -Albert Einstein "The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it. It's rather like getting tenure." -anonymous "It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument." -W. G. McAdoo "Working with theories is not like skeet shooting, where theories are lofted up and BANG, they are shot down with a falsification bullet, and that's the end of that theory. Theories are more like graduate students, once admitted you try hard to avoid flunking them out, it being much better for them and for the world if they can become long-term contributors to society." -- Allen Newell. "To rename is to innovate." Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. -- Mark Twain But in our enthusiasm, we could not resist a radical overhaul of the system, in which all of its major weaknesses have been exposed, analyzed, and replaced with new weaknesses. -- Bruce Leverett, "Register Allocation in Optimizing Compilers" The problem with engineers is that they tend to cheat in order to get results. The problem with mathematicians is that they tend to work on toy problems in order to get results. The problem with program verifiers is that they tend to cheat at toy problems in order to get results. The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship. -- Robert Heinlein "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken Don't be humble ... you're not that great. -- Golda Meir "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something" Roosevelt I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. -- Douglas Adams Meetings that are held for basically the same reason that Arbor Day is observed - namely, tradition. For example, a lot of managerial people like to meet on Monday, because it's Monday. You'll get used to it. You'd better, because this kind accounts for 83% of all meetings (based on a study in which I wrote down numbers until one of them looked about right). This type of meeting operates the way "Show and Tell" does in nursery school, with everyone getting to say something, the difference being that in nursery school, the kids actually have something to say. -Dave Berry "Measure twice. Cut once" Carpenter's motto. Plan to throw one away; you will anyhow. If there is anything new about the function of a system, the first implementation will have to be redone completely to achieve a satisfactory (i.e., acceptably small, fast, and maintainable) result. It costs a lot less if you plan to have a prototype. --Butler Lampson "Hints for computer system design" "Those who don't write down their thoughts are condemnded to rethink them." --Jay Misra It is insufficiently considered that men more often require to be reminded than informed. -- Samuel Johnson Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana "There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." --- Johann Sebestian Bach Drucker's Dictum: Doing things right is not as important as doing the right things