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Quotations

From time to time I hear something or read something that resonates with me. It might be a famous quotation or it might be a casual comment in conversation but the effect is the same – a glimpse of truth with a twist to it. For years I just wrote them down for my own interest, but on this page I'm happy to share them. If they resonate with you, feel free to contact me .

I've organised them more or less chronologically, but since many aren't dated I can't be sure of the exact sequence.


True words are not fine sounding; fine-sounding words are not true. – The Tao Te Ching

What I am told, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I know. – Chinese proverb

When planning for a year, sow corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for a life, train and educate men. – Kwan Tzu, 3rd C BC.

The great book of nature is written in mathematical language. – Galileo Galilei, 1623

When faced with a problem, partition it into as many parts as is feasible in order to solve it. (The second rule for conducting one's reason). – Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637 (written earlier)

Things only have the value that we give them. – Moliere, 1622-1673

Crafty men condemn studies. Simple men admire them. Wise men use them. – Bacon

If it's not necessary to change, it's necessary not to change – Lord Falkland 1720?

I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men. – Sir Isaac Newton (after losing £20,000 in the South Sea Bubble), 1720

Politics involves foreseeing the inevitable and then facilitating its occurance. – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

The secret of playing the harpsichord is to press the right notes at the right times. – J S Bach

The bitterness of low quality is not soon forgotten, nor can it be sweetened with low price. – Marquis de Lavent (Laurenit?) 1734

That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art. – John A. Locke

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. – Napoleon

Propose to an Englishman any principle or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effect of the English mind is directed to finding some difficulty, defect or improbability in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peerling potatoes, he will pronounce it impossible. If you peel potatoes with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless because it cannot slice pineapples. Expose the same principle, or show the same machine to an American and yu will observe that the whole effort of his mind is to findsome new application of the principle and some new use for the machine. – Charles Babage

Science lies in quiet places, with odd people, mostly poor. – John Ruskin

Architecture is the decoration of construction. – John Ruskin

It is all right to decorate construction, but never construct decoration. – Pugin

If we can measure it, we can control it. – Michael Faraday

A life time of happiness! No man on earth could bear it. It would be hell on earth. – George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong – Carveth Read, 1898 (mis attributed to John Maynard Keynes)

If government laboratories had been operating in the stone age, we would have wonderful stone axes but no one would have discovered metals. – JJ Thompson

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right. – Henry Ford

There are three ways of ruining yourself: women, gambling and engineering. The first two are more agreeable but the third is more certain. – Rothschild (see also Pompidu)

Education is what remains when we have forgotten all we have been taught. – George Saville, Marquis of Halifax

Scientists explore what is. Engineers create what has never been. – Van Karman

Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it. – Max Frisch

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niehbuhr

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana

Human opinion usually goes through three distinct phases: the unanimity of the ignorant, the disagreement of the inquiring and the unanimity of the wise. – Herbert Spencer

A man who keeps both feet on the ground cannot move. One who keeps both feet in the air falls over. But when a man has one foot on the ground and one in the air, that is progress. – Cardinal Suenens

America needs the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys. – William Preece, Chief Engineer GPO, 1876

Go and find out what Bernard is doing and tell him to stop it. – Lord Montgomery's mother in his childhood

A memory, a consciousness and a will, in so far as they form a consistent harmonious whole, constitute a personality; which thus has relations with the past, the present and the future – Oliver Lodge 1908

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. – William Morris

Chance favours the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

Make everything as simple as possible. But no simpler. – Albert Einstein

Creativity is the residue of time wasted. – Albert Einstein

If we knew what we were doing then it wouldn’t be called Research, would it? – Albert Einstein

Common sense: A collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. – Albert Einstein

A positive attitude may not solve your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worthwhile. – Herm Albright (1876 - 1944)

Chance favours the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

Before creation God just did puire methematics. Then he thought it would be a pleasant change to do some applied. – John Edensor Littlewood (1885-1977)

Bank robbery is an initiative of amateurs. True professionals establish a bank. – Bertolt Brecht

The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. – Bertrand Russell

A Splendid Torch –This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. – I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. – I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. – George Bernard Shaw

When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do? – John Maynard Keynes

They weave as changing pattern [....] on abiding pillars the workings of the enchanted loom. – Sir Charles S Herrington A million fold democracy of the mind, 1942

Style implies cohesion and unity of principle – Le Corbusier

Things would be so different if they were not as they are. – Anna Russell C1954

The purpose of studying economics is not to asquire a set of ready-madeanswers to economic questions, but to learn how not to be deceived by economists. – Joan Robinson, 1955

The two most important tools an architect has are the eraser in the drawing room and the sledge hammer on the construction site – Frank Lloyd Wright

Writers are ... engineers of human souls. – Joseph Stalin

Humankind cannot bear very much reality – TS Eliot

My interest is in the future because I'm going to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles Kettering (American engineer & inventor, 1876-1958)

You see things; and you say ‘Why?’. But I dream things that never were; and say ‘Why not?’. – George Bernard Shaw (in Back to Methuselah)

What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are very rarely the same thing. – Margaret Mead

There are only two sorts of ideas - profound ones and simple ones. – Niels Bohr

An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a narrow field. – Niels Bohr

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as a nailMaslow's Maxim

A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind. – Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi (1923 - 1986)

The road to wisdom? Well, it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again, but less and less. – Piet Hein

You need to find a matching impedance to talk into – Professor F C Williams, describing the need for an inventor to work with someone off whom ideas can be bounced.

What is lacking I think is a competence on the part of the politicians to do what is right. It’s not a lack of desire to do what’s right, it’s lack of ability, lack of wisdom sufficient to enable them to steer their way through the very difficult problems that confront them. – Richard Beeching (some while after leaving British Railways)

[The objective of computer graphics is to immerse the user in virtual worlds that look real, sound real, feel real and behave properly as the user interacts with them. – Ivan Sutherland 1965

We believe that intelligence amplification is better than artificial intelligence (IA>>AI) – Prof. Fred Brooks Jr, (manager of the IBM 360 development and originator of the term 'computer architecture').

By 1970 all back breaking work will be done by machine power, and I mean all. Men will only work six hours a day, four days a week. – Prof. William Ogborne, US sociologist, 1943

A language is a dialect with an army and navy. – Max Weinreich

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. – Winston Churchill

Once is happenstance, twice is a coincidence, but three times is enemy action. – Churchill?

Don’t let your plans for the new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old one. – Churchill

I think there is a world demand for about five computers. – Thomas J Watson, IBM, 1956

The English may not like music, but they absolutely loev the noise it makes. – Thomas Beecham, New Herald Tribune, 9 Mar 61

Report writing, like motor car driving and love making, is one of those activities which almost every Englishman thinks he can do well without instruction. The results are of course usually abominable. – Tom Margerison (Review of ‘Writing Technical Reports’ Sunday Times 3 Mar 65

In America, if a working man sees a Cadilac, he says ‘one day I shall have two’. In England if he sees a Rolls Royce, he says ‘that man has a Rolls and I don’t - he’s going to come down to my level’. – Douglas Fairbanks jnr

If you don't think pictures are a good way to communicate, go home and watch your radio – Anon (advertisement 1970's)

The greatest problems in introducing new technologies into the office are behavioural... The ultimate goal should be to use technologies to expand human potential -- to help office personnel become more efficient, more productive and more effective in carrying out their important assignments. – John J Connell, Office Technology Research Group.

I don’t want to teach children mathematics, I want to teach them to think like mathematicians. – Seymour Papert

Man must become the prime focus of system design. The computer is there to serve him, to obtain information for him and to help him do his job. – James Martin, Design of man computer dialogues, 1973

Analytical and quantitative thinking, the ability to approximate, the control of detail ... are the hallmarks of the successful engineer. – Sir Alan Copisarow, 1973

Systems that replicate familiar, comfortable human activities are at an immediate advantage. – Amy Wohl, Integrated Technologies, Inc.

MASER = Money Acquisition Scheme for Expensive Research – Quaestor or Ariadne 197?

SCAMPI = Sophisticated Contrivances Aimed at Making People Idle. – Quaester 21 Feb 74

A Shackleton is 28,000 loose rivets flying in close formation. – Raymond Baxter, Farnborough Air Show commentator 1974

The uninformed elect the incompetent to tinker at the edge of the inevitable[1]Anon, 1974

I am inclined to doubt whether the economies of scale apply to bureaucracy – Prince Phillip, 1975

The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned. – Fred Brooks (author of The Mythical Man Month, 1975) hence ‘Brooks Law’

Engineering is the art of moulding materials we do not wholly understand into shapes we cannot precisely analyse, so as to withstand forces that we cannot really assess, in such a way that the community at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our arrogance. – Dr R A Dykes, Structural Engineer, 1976

Wisdom is the art of making correct decisions on insufficient evidence, under conditions of uncertainty. – Philip Rhinelander (1908-1987)

Science is everything we know how to explain to a computer, and art is everything else – Donald Knuth, during a lecture

There are three ways to lose a fortune: sex, gambling and technology. The first gives most pleasure, the second is most exciting but the third is more certain. – President Pompidu, when presented with Concorde costs

I’m interested in the future because I intend to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles F Kettering US research worker

Without the example of human vision, we would have concluded that vision was impossible. – Dr Berthold K P Horn (MIT)

Four lwas of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else; Everything must go somewhere; Nature knows best; There’s no such things= as a free lunch. – Barry Commoner

How do you explain what clockwise means to a man wearing a digital watch?. – Procrustes, Applied Ergonomics October 1980

Singing music is like an exam, except that you have all the answers written in front of you – Richard Barnes, c 1981

Its easy to make things hard, but hard to make things easy. – Prof A Chapanis, 1982

User friendliness is not a property of hardware or software. It is a property of designers. – (Prof) Harold Thimbleby, July 1982

Systems are sold on their big features, but broken by their little features. – (Prof) Harold Thimbleby, July 1982

To err is human, to forgive, design. – Prof Alphonse Chapanis, March 1982

The civil servant’s job is to waste public money in ways decided by ministers. – Anon civil servant

I take the vision that comes from dreams and apply the magic of science and mathematics, adding the heritage of my profession to create a design. I am an engineer. I serve mankind by making dreams come true. – Unknown engineer working on the KonKan railway in India.

Most so-called user friendly systems are about as friendly as a cornered rat. – Eddie Shah, September 1986

I’m not worried about dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens – Woody Allen

Perseverance is caused by strong will. Stubbornness is caused by strong won’t. – ?

The public don’t like [or understand?] music, but they like the sound it makes. – Sir Thomas Beecham?

There are two ways of designing. Make it so simple that it is obvious there are no defects. Make it so complicated that there are no obvious defects. – Prof C A Hoare

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist. – Sir Humphrey Appleby, in Yes Minister

There it is, and there you are, and there you have it. – Willie Whitelaw

A pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist – ??

A pessimist is an optimist with more facts. – ??

“The ease of a pilot implementation is inversely proportional to the complexity of its operational extension.” ‘The second law of office systems’. – Tapscot, 1982, ‘Office automation - a user driven method’, New York, Plenum

“The Engineering Method is the use of heuristics to cause the best change in a poorly understood situation within available resources” – Koen, 1985, ‘Definition of the Engineering method’ American Society for Engineering Education.

"Always listen to the user, but don't necessarily do what he says" – Draft Naval Engineering Standard on Human Factors, c 1985

“We all know that human beings are creatures of habit, bound by convention and easily confused by the unexpected. Does ergonomics have something more substantial to offer than a catalogue of expectations? The bulk of the substantive content of the discipline revolves around two key issues - human adaptability and human variability, both of which are measurable and both of which are amenable to standardisation at least with respect to their limits.” – Pheasant, 1987, ‘Ergonomics - standards and guidelines for designers’, BSI

The bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten. – US MANPRINT programme (see 1734)

Don’t blame yourself until you have considered all other possibilities – written on MoD wall

"[The sailor] is paid to fight the enemy, not his work station." – CNOCS 'Yellow Book' September 1992

Scientific knowledge about the world comes from two types of study: the search for underlying regularities in seemingly dissimilar phenomena; and the analysis ofthe causes of variation - small differences in seemingly similar phenomena. – Steven Rose

Most, if not all, complex systems are organised as nested hierarchies because they are unstable if constructed in any other way. They are constructed as collections of simpler units, each of which has some control over its own functions and stability, but contributes to the stability and functions of the higher level of organisation. – Prof Ian Howarth (at task analysis workshop 1993)

The future isn't what it was. – Donald McDonald (Chairman of Wokingham Society)

Taxation is the necessary means of paying for a civilised society. – Andrew Harrison

Managers want evidence, not just facts. – Mary Corbett (at usability seminar 1994)

They know they need it. They just don't trust us to deliver it. – Charles Brennan, BT, 1995 (about usability, managers and the HF profession)

....and I prefer the simple ones. No-one can understand the profound ones.[2] – John Maynard-Smith (on Radio 4 discussing evolutionary science, March 1995)

The borderline between creativity and stupidity is a fine one. – David Nichols, Head Chef at the Ritz, 1995

The borderline between genius and insanity is a fine one. – ??

The borderline between laziness and efficiency is a fine one. – ??

We have had an inheritance of inertia in this countrywhich has been disguised by the industrial revolution, the empire and North Sea oil. – Sir Terence Beckett

The British walk backwards into the future, looking longingly at how things used to be. – Professor Charles Handy, November 1995

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. – Herbert Stein

Real people are rarely textbook cases of anything. – Alan Baddeley

The British reverse into the future, grumbling – Sir Alister Morton, chairman of EuroTunnel , November 1995

The Europeans invest to provide value. The Anglo Saxons only invest to reduce costs. – Sir Alister Morton, chairman of EuroTunnel, November 1995

Prediction is hard, especially when predicting the future. – ??

Every death is a library burned down. – ?? (talking about social history)

The difference between the scientist and the engineer is that the former seeks what is true and the latter what is good. – J Horgan in ‘The End of Science’ 1997

Natural selection designs different kinds of animals and plants so that they avoid competition. A fit animal is not one that fights well, but one that avoids fighting altogether. – Paul A. Colinvaux in 'Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare'

Imagine a boot, stamping on a human face, forever. – George Orwell, ‘1984’ (Anticipating the rise of Microsoft?)

If you don't plan for incremental acquisition, you will get excremental acquisition. – Sir Robert Walmesley, Chief of Defence Procurement, January 2000

Applying computer technology is simply finding the right wrench[3] to pound in the correct screw[4]. – Unknown

Systems are like snakes - if you grab hold of the tail, the head twists round and bites you. Chris Elliott (Prof of Principles of Engineering Design, University of Bristol) 2000

Engineers produce results using the science when known, and 'art' when not. – David Dale (Letter to IEE News) September 2002

Every day millions of disk sectors go unused. The Windows Registry helps solve this problem by accumulating information about every device you ever attach to your computer and every version of all the software you ever try. – Carlton Egremont III

I kept talking about and refining the questions until I stopped getting different answers, and kept talking about and refining the answers until people stopped disagreeing with me. – Simon Linford, December 2002 (‘Room at the Top’ part 1)

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the pieces. – BBC, 'Costing the Earth', Jan 2003

Human Factors needs to be forward looking. Currently it is an autopsy science. – Prof Neville Stanton, Jan 2004

My whole approach is based on the recognised principle that it's easier to describe what you are trying to do, than to describe how to do it. – Prof Sir Tony Hoare (article in IEE Review), Jan 2004

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. – Yogi Berra

Engineering refers to the practice of organizing the design and construction of any artifice which transforms the physical world around us to meet some recognized need. – GFC Rogers [US engineer]

Isn’t good Human Factors just common sense? Yes, but the evidence suggests that it isn’t very common. – ??

Good engineers want to see things done correctly, but sometimes they can get a bit carried away. – Steve Pampling (Iyonix suppot list, 2005)

I alway endeavour to ensure that my quick bodges, when insisted upon, have an anticipated 10 year maintenance cycle. – Andrew Hodgkinson (Iyonix suppot list, 2005)

Divide to Conquer; Reunite to Rule. – Michael Jackson (misquoting Julius Caesar, 2006)

Life is a sexually transmitted condition with 100% mortality rate. – RD Laing

Memory isn’t something you have; it is something you do. – Sidney Dekker (on Radio 4) Aug 2006

The early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse who gets the cheese. – ??

Newsgathering is largely a matter of skimming off the scum that has risen to the surface of society. – Jemma Lewis (The Indepent, 27 January 2007)

The e-mail of the species is deadlier than the mail. – Stephen Fry

There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes. – Richard Buckminster-Fuller

I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all, and that physics was more interesting anyway. – Philip Pullman

Mathematician: A machine for turning coffee into theorems. – ??

Everybody believes in the exponential law of errors: the experimenter because they think it can be proved by mathematics and the mathematicians because they believe it has been established by observation. – David Lippman

I divide people into signposts and weathercocks. Sign posts show the way to go but weathercocks don’t have any opinion. – Tony Benn (speaking on ‘Today’, February 2008)

High quality research should be rigorous (well conceived, well conducted and clearly presented), have impact, and have significance for other disciplines. – Article in Interfaces, 2008

The number of potential harms to which useful numbers can be attached is tiny compared to the number through which we must navigate using unquantified judgement. – John Adams, Emeritus Professor of Geography, UCL, 2009

Gardens are more often ruined by money than by the lack of it. You may at present hold the title deeds of your home. Nevertheless, have the grace to acknowledge that in the land’s eyes you are just passing through. Work with it. Respect it. – Anna Pavord (The Independent Magazine, October 2010)

The most amazing achievement of the computer software industry is its continuing cancellation of the steady and staggering gains made by the computer hardware industry... – Henry Petroski, US Engineer

All truth passes through three stages: first, it is ridiculed; next it is violently attacked; finally, it is held to be self-evident." – Schopenhauer

To scrap the plans altogether ... would be to throw out the baby, the bathwater and indeed the bath, simply because there is an issue with the colour of the taps. – Richard George, writing about HS2, March 2011

All engineering catastrophes seem to result from bad initial design, poor instrumentation (that concealed the problem) and inadequate procedures. – Patrick Andrews, in Engineering & Technology, September 2010

People will tolerate a sub-optimal display but they will not tolerate being ignored. – Steve Shorrock, in The Ergonomist, April 2011

Businessmen succeed by selling things for more than they are worth. Engineers succeed by making things for less than they are worth. – Letter to The Independent, July 2011

Perspective is gravity observed – Patrick Hughes, speaking at ‘Gregorian Reflections’, July 2011

The successful man is the average man, focused – Unknown

The Brits hate the idea of spending taxpayers' money on railways. Improve a road and it's an "investment", do the same to a stretch of railway track and it's a "subsidy" – Nicholas Faith , in The Independent, September 2011

Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist. – Kenneth Boulding

The truth is never pure and rarely simple. – David Pheasant?

All models are wrong, but some are useful. – George E P Box

Diamonds are socially useless, yet expensive and water – essential to our lives – is infinitely cheaper – The paradox of value – ??

Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals talk about logistics. – American general.

We can fix the problems as stated, or we can fix the real problems. – Barry Kirwan, 2012 (talk about the future of ergonomics)

Are we a country called Britain with a capital called London, or are we a country called London with a huge great suburb called Britain? – Evan Davies, October 2012

The 20th century was just a brief excursion into what transport might look like with unlimited cheap fuel. – Geoffrey Barnett, October 2012

Art is the solution to problems that can’t be formulated clearly before they have been solved. – Piet Hein

Anybody who thinks there can be limitless growth in a limited environment is either mad or an economist. – Sir David Attenboruough

No situation is so dire that Government involvement cannot make it worse. – Roger Ford, May 2013

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That's where we come in. We're computer professionals. We cause accidents. – Nathaniel Borenstein

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. – Unknown

Never mind the glass half full or empty argument. Who’s plugging the hole in the glass? – Unknown

The austere permutations of change-ringing seem a better way than melody to order the sensual beauty of the sound of bells. – David Owen Norris, 2014

Our whole culture has been distorted so that everything we do has to be justified in terms of efficiency and economics. – Julian Baggini, 2014

Politicians who use statistics as condiment to sprinkle on their views. – Hamish McRae, 2014

In biology, materials are expensive and design is cheap. – Julian Vincent, 2014

Engineers don’t just fix things – they make things better; they make the future – Tim Minshall, 2014

There are several strands of development that contribute to human capability but there is no obvious place or time to integrate these into a coherent element. There is no organisational or process infrastructure to ensure that the high level human capability outcomes are being achieved by the sum of all the strands. – Karen Carr, 2014

In ringing you can have both truth and beauty. Don't forget the beauty. – A J Barnfield (AJB) 2014

What we have been led to see as resources for our prosperity are often either pieces of an ecosystem, geological support for ecosystems, or the temporary non-renewable excess created by ecosystems. The keystone resource is clearly the ecosystem itself. – Brady Girt, 2015

Stop teaching calculation and start teaching maths. – Conrad Wolfram 2014

The more time I spent on maths the more I got excited. – Maryam Mirzakhani, 2014

The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers. – Maryam Mirzakhani, 2014

Human error is a symptom of a system that needs to be redesigned. – Nancy Leveson, 2016

Until we make doing the right thing easier, things aren’t going to change. – Lord Darzi, 2016

The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data. – ??

The amateur practices until he gets it right, but the professional practises until he never gets it wrong. – ??

Facebook is designed as if we are nice to each other – and we’re not. – Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of Virginia)

Scientists invent theories to fit the facts but politicians invent facts to fit their theories. – (Letter to TheIndependent)

You cannot have too many backups. But to be valid the recovery process must be tested! – Martin Avison, 2019

Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. But pigs look us in the eye. – ??

He who hesitates is last – ??

I didn’t read the bible, it was seen as a Protestant book. Catholics didn’t read the Bible, the priests told us what was in it. – Hilary Mantel, iterviewed on ‘Word of Mouth’, 2021

The paradox is that you start at your most popular and least capable and you end at your least popular and most capable. – Tony Blair (on being in office), 2021


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