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.



Topics and Experts

These are some topics of interest to me and some of the personalities I follow on Twitter to learn more about them.

Neil deGrasse Tyson @neiltyson
Dave Goldberg @askaphysicist
Phil Plait @BadAstronomer

Mignon Fogarty @GrammarGirl
Erin McKean @emckean

Food / Health
Darya Pino @summertomato
Tim Ferriss @tferriss
Belmont Butchery @BelmontButchery

Steve Silberman @stevesilberman
John C. Dvorak @THErealDVORAK

Finance / Tech
James Altucher @jaltucher
Kevin Rose @kevinrose

General Science
Bill Nye @TheScienceGuy
Salman Khan @khanacademy

Albert Brooks @AlbertBrooks
Brian Malow @sciencecomedian
Larry Miller @LarryJMiller
Chris Hardwick @nerdist
Seth MacFarlane @SethMacFarlane
Adam Carolla @adamcarolla

Steve Gibson @SGpad / @GibsonResearch / @SGgrc
Bob Frankston @BobFrankston
Chris Messina @chrismessina
Jim Louderback @jlouderb
John Draper @jdcrunchman
Eric Schmidt @ericschmidt
Andy Rubin @Arubin
Matt Cutts @mattcutts
Tim Berners-Lee @timberners_lee
Gina Trapani @ginatrapani
Leo Laporte @leolaporte

Critical Thinking
John Allen Paulos @JohnAllenPaulos
Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg
Penn Jillette @pennjillette

Access to Media

My friend Michael Rollins recently posted a blog entry called Music: Ownership vs Access about bit lockers for music. Due to a problem with comments on Blogger that day my response didn’t get recorded. I thought I’d post it here, mostly because it’s a bunch of words I wrote and that’s what I put on my blog. So I guess I’m cheating to get a blog entry out today. For this to make sense you should read his blog first.

To me it’s all about access. I don’t need to own media any more. In fact, I don’t want it. I don’t buy movies any more, I watch them on Netflix. And I downgraded to the streaming only plan ($7.99) so I don’t even watch DVDs or Blu-Ray any more. While the Netflix streaming collection is nowhere near complete, it’s constantly growing and it already has 10s of thousands of hours of video I’ll never get to. There are probably 200 movies and TV shows just in my instant queue, and I long ago stopped adding to it.

The Amazon cloud service gives you 5 gigs free, and they bump that up to 20 gigs for a year if you buy one album. They just ran a deal yesterday or the day before on the new Lady Gaga album where if you bought it for $.99 that counted as your 1 album and bumped you to 20 gigs.

One thing I find strange about this service is music I bought on amazon before they started the cloud service isn’t in my locker. For example I bought the Stand By Me soundtrack, which I remember loving when I was a kid. Turns out it’s pretty terrible, so I deleted it. Now to get it in my Amazon cloud locker I have to download it again (from Amazon) and upload it back to Amazon. WTF.

Another cool thing about the Amazon service is you can put pretty much whatever you want in it, from what I understand. In addition to storing and streaming your music you can keep docs there.

Also, while you’re right in saying this exact business model hasn’t been tested in court yet a very similar one has, and it didn’t go well. On TWiT Triangulation episode 12 the guest is Michael Robertson, founder of He tells the story of his battle with Universal over, which was one of (if not the) original music bit lockers. The difference there was you didn’t have to upload your music. You just had to put the CD in your drive and let the software analyze it. Once it figured out what CD you had (based on the unique waveforms, like Gracenote) it unlocked that album in your locker.

Michael Robertson is back at again with, which is like Google music or the Amazon cloud product, but it’s been around for like 5 years. They also have a product that works along with mp3tunes called, which is basically an online DVR for radio. Very cool. has caught the attention of at least one label (I think EMI). I think they want mp3tunes, google, amazon, and anyone else running a bit locker to have some special license. They point to things like server de-duping to say that when I upload a track I purchased then stream it back to my PC I’m not really listening to the one I bought anymore. As in, it’s different bits.

And then a correction:

I have to correct something I said yesterday in my comment here. I said in order to get the Stand By My soundtrack (which I bought from Amazon and later deleted) I’d have to download it again then upload it to back to Amazon. But after reading their FAQs I see now that I would have to *buy* it again, download it, then upload it to the cloud service. I assumed once I bought it I’d be able to download it again any time, but that’s not the case.

Living Up to the Hype

I’m not going to do any product reviews here because they’ve been done a million times on a million websites and because I don’t want to spend the time. I’m just going to point out a few products that have been hyped up like mad and actually live up to the hype (based on my personal experience.)

1) Dyson DC25 Ball All-Floors Upright Vacuum Cleaner – For years I resisted, assuming they were all hype and stupid Americans were supposed to think they were awesome because they’re really expensive and the ads have a guy with a British accent.  Well, no, they really are awesome. Worth $400+? Yes.

2) Apple iPad 2 – Perfect? No. Worth $600? Yes. I would like to get in to more detail later on my issues with iPad, but overall the good really does outweigh the bad here. There are plenty of things I would like the see changed and maybe we’ll get them in a post-Jobs iPad 5. But for now this is the best there is, and it really is pretty great. I’m using my laptop less and less in favor of the iPad. No, we’re really not in  the post-PC era Jobs talks about, but this is the first step. I love my Android phone but if you’re looking to make the leap to tablet computing don’t bother with those other toys on the market.

3) Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones – Audiophiles should just skip this section. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have all kinds of hearing loss, I rarely listen to music, and I don’t know anything about acoustics. What I do know is that these things are great. They’re super comfortable (I wear them about 8 hours/day) and the noise isolation and canceling is great. If you’re sitting next to someone speaking you’ll still hear them (faintly). It doesn’t block out 100% of the noise around you. What it does block out is noise you may not even be aware of right now. It’s the low mechanical drone of the heat pump, the ceiling fan, PC cooling fans, the forced air… so fans, I guess. You pop these bad boys on and all of that stuff just disappears. Worth $300? Well, yeah, I guess so.  I tried some competing products and couldn’t find anything that really compared so I guess (like Dyson) they get to charge whatever they want. Load up on AAA batteries – I go through about 1 every 4 days.

4) Portal 2 – 2 Player collaborative mode! Do I need to say any more? It’s $55 on Amazon but if you order before 4/23 you get a $15 credit. Do it! Do it now!