Rules Geeks Know

If you spend enough time talking to geeks you’re going to run into these “laws”. Geeks will use them and expect you to know what they mean. They may assume you’re dumb if you don’t. You don’t have to memorize them but it will help to at least be familiar.

All credit to Wikipedia for the descriptions.

  • Moore’s law – An empirical observation stating that the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every 24 months. Outlined in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel.
  • Godwin’s law – An adage in Internet culture that states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Coined by Mike Godwin in 1990.
  • Dunbar’s number – A theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150. First proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar.
  • Clarke’s three laws – Formulated by Arthur C. Clarke. Several corollaries to these laws have also been proposed.
    • First law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    • Second law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    • Third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  • Occam’s razor – States that explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. (“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.”) When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable. Named after William of Ockham (ca.1285–1349).
  • Hanlon’s razor – A corollary of Finagle’s law, and a play on Occam’s razor, normally taking the form, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” As with Finagle, possibly not strictly eponymous. Alternatively, “Do not invoke conspiracy as explanation when ignorance and incompetence will suffice, as conspiracy implies intelligence.”
  • Benford’s Law –  In lists of numbers from many (but not all) real-life sources of data, the leading digit is distributed in a specific, non-uniform way. According to this law, the first digit is 1 about 30% of the time, and larger digits occur as the leading digit with lower and lower frequency, to the point where 9 as a first digit occurs less than 5% of the time.
  • Hawthorne effect – A form of reactivity whereby subjects improve an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied. Named after Hawthorne Works.
  • Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle – States that one cannot measure values (with arbitrary precision) of certain conjugate quantities, which are pairs of observables of a single elementary particle. The most familiar of these pairs is position and momentum.
  • Bradford’s law – a pattern described by Samuel C. Bradford in 1934 that estimates the exponentially diminishing returns of extending a library search.
  • Bremermann’s limit – Named after Hans-Joachim Bremermann, is the maximum computational speed of a self-contained system in the material universe.
  • Brooks’ law – “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” Named after Fred Brooks, author of the well known book on project management The Mythical Man-Month.
  • Dilbert principle – Coined by Scott Adams as a variation of the Peter Principle of employee advancement. Named after Adams’ Dilbert comic strip, it proposes that “the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”
  • Niven’s laws: “If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.”
  • The Three Laws of Robotics (often shortened to The Three Laws or Three Laws) are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov and later added to. The rules are introduced in his 1942 short story “Runaround“, although they were foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws are:
    • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    • Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
  • Schneier’s law – “Any person can invent a security system so clever that she or he can’t think of how to break it.”

The first draft of this post had about twice as many laws but I pared it down a little. This is a good starting point. Other than Heisenberg I left most of the physics out. My intention here was to focus on computer sciences, math, and science fiction.

Extra Credit: Newton’s laws of motionArchimedes’ principleAvogadro’s lawBernoulli’s principle (which I also mention in my post “Questions, Not Answers Or The Physics of Flight“), Coulomb’s law, Einstein’s General and Special theories of relativity, Maxwell’s Equations (good luck), Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and the Laws of Thermodynamics.



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