A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Potpourri of Quotes

While clearing out a storage locker, TOF found a box full of (wait for it) overhead transparencies.  Whoa.  These were various quotes used for humorous effect during training classes, in the days before PowerPoint forced us all into the predetermined sequentialism of the e-equivalent of the 35 mm slide show.

TOF will share this accumulated wisdom and then discard the acetates.
+ + +
The Wonderful World of Statistics
"If I had only one day left to live, I would live it in my statistics class.  It would seem so much longer."  -- Anonymous.

"The government are extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics.  These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays.  What must be kept ever in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases."
-- Sir Josiah Stamp, Her Majesties Collector of Inland Revenue

On the Usefulness of Probabilities in Dealing with the Real World™
"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist...."
-- Last words of Gen. John Sedgwick, Battle of Spotsylvania, 1864

Their judgment was based more on wishful thinking than on sound calculation of probabilities; for the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.
-- Thucydides IV, 108

The Far-Seeing Prophets of Olde
"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" 
-- The Quarterly Review, 1825

"All mankind has heard much of M. Lesseps and his Suez Canal...  I have a very strong opinion that such a canal will not and cannot be made..."
-- Anthony Trollope, novelist, 1860

"...The region last explored is, of course, altogether valueless.  It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave.  Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality."
-- Lt. Joseph C. Ives, US Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1861
referring to the Grand Canyon

"The possession of this Russian territory [Alaska] can give us neither honor, wealth, or power, but will always be a source of weakness and expense, without any adequate return."
-- Orange Ferris, US Congressman, 1868

"There is no plea which will justify the use of high-tension and alternating currents, either in a scientific or commercial sense."
-- Thomas Edison, 1889

"The ordinary 'horseless carriage' is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and though its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle."
-- The Literary Digest, Oct. 14, 1889

"The Panama Canal is actually a thing of the past, and Nature in her works will soon obliterate all traces of French energy and money expended on the Isthmus."
-- Scientific American, 1891

"I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and foundering at sea."
-- H.G. Wells, Anticipations, 1901

"The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumors to that effect."
-- Harper's Weekly, Aug 2, 1902

"We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments.  Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly..."
-- New York Times, Dec. 10, 1903
The Wright Brothers' flight was exactly a week later

"De Forest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voices across the Atlantic before many years.  Bases on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public... has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company."
-- US District Attorney prosecuting Lee De Forest, 1913
This had actually been done accidentally seven years before!

The NY Times Has Forgotten Their Assessment of Langley
"That Professor Goddard and his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd.  Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools..."
-- New York Times, Jan 13, 1920

Put These Two Predictions Together, and....
"Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow at our Pacific possessions...  Radio makes surprise impossible."
-- Joseph Daniels, former US Secretary of the Navy, Oct. 16, 1922

"As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can't do it."
-- Rear Adm. Clark Woodward, USN, 1939

On Class and Style
"There is fine Waterford crystal, which rings delicately when struck, no matter how thick and chunky it may look; and then there are Flintstone jelly glasses.  You may drink your Dom Perignon out of either one, but friends, there is a difference."
-- Stephen King

Lee De Forest Has Forgotten His Own Life
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming."
-- Lee DeForest, "Father of the Radio," 1926
+ + +
Not Your Grandfather's "Explosive"
"That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done...  The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."
-- Adm. William Leahy, USN, speaking to President Truman, 1945

Okay, So Goddard Was Right; But....
"There has been a great deal said about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket.  In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years.  The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city.  I say, technically, I don't think anyone in the world knows how to do such a thing, and feel confident that it will not be done for a very long period of time to come...
-- Dr. Vannevar Bush, US engineer, to Senate committee, 1945

This Would Be With Those Impossibly Precisely-Aimed Rockets
"Landing and moving around on the moon offers so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them."
-- Science Digest, 1948 (It took 21 years.) 
+ + +
"Economic forecasting houses like Data Resources and Chase Econometrics have successfully predicted fourteen of the last five recessions."
-- David Fehr, former Harvard Business School professor
+ + +
1. Enthusiasm ("How could it hurt?")
2. Disillusionment ("How were we supposed to know?")
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty.
5. Punishment of the innocent.
6. Praise and honors for the nonparticipants.


  1. Anybody can be a fool, true stupidity requires politics.

  2. I used transparencies for my thesis defense, it allowed much more natural motion between the slides as their relevance came and went. I didn't have to flip forward or back again and again to get what I wanted. Very useful!

  3. Langley's flight tests really were spectacularly bad, both because his planes were not well planned (inexcusable) and because he trusted the old Lilienthal figures (excusable but pretty darned sad). Also, he had plenty of government money to throw at the problem, as opposed to having to raise his own. Langley's flight test ideas were the next best thing to murder, and it was a mercy that they were stopped so soon.

    The Wrights were years ahead of Langley, because they had figured out how to get the right figures, how to construct a good plane, and they knew about engines. And there were two of them, which helped, because they could both blend science and engineering with artisan skills. They were their own very compact production team.

    The sad thing was that Langley's very public debacle made it very difficult for the Wrights to be believed by the US government.


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