Category Archives: Quotes

Quote du jour

My French friend Cyril receives Status-Q updates by email, and after yesterday’s post concerning hobbies, he sent me another quote about holidays:

“Les vacances, c’est la période qui permet aux employés de se souvenir que les affaires peuvent continuer sans eux”. — E.J Wilson

or, roughly,

“A vacation is the time that allows employees to remember business can continue without them.”

I love this. I learned a very important lesson many years ago as the CEO of a small, fast-moving technology startup…

I think the company was only about six or seven people at the time, and we were in that classic startup mode: working mostly from a garden shed, having conversations every other day with investors or potential investors, watching the cashflow very carefully while convincing potential customers of our robust credentials and our ability to deliver.

But I wanted/needed to take a short holiday. Having gone from one startup to the next, I hadn’t had one for quite a long time and for various reasons I needed to take it now to coincide with other family plans. But I was torn: could I really leave this small team without their leader at such a critical time? What would the investors think? And so on…

In the end, I did decide to go, had a wonderful few days’ break, and came back to the office in some trepidation to see what had manage to survive my absence.

“Hello everyone!”, I said. “I’m back!”

The team looked up from their desks, puzzled for a moment, and then said, “Oh, yes, you’ve been away, haven’t you?”

It was a humbling and enlightening experience, and I’ve never forgotten it. Nobody is indispensable. Even you.

Anyway, there’s a nice twist to Cyril’s message. When I looked at it more carefully, I realised that he hadn’t just found a nice quotation to send back to me.

It was the first line of his vacation email auto-response.

Quote of the day

“A satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant… a defiance of the contemporary… an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked.”

— Aldo Leopold

Meme-busting

In the early days of social media, I was at a family gathering where I fear I lost some street cred with my nephew. He was talking about ‘memes’ and he said something along the lines of “Quentin will know what those are”. Yes, I confirmed, just catching the end of the conversation. ‘Meme’ is a phrase coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in The Selfish Gene. He was exploring whether cultural ideas might reproduce and spread themselves in a similar manner to the genes for certain successful biological traits. At the time, though, my nephew was probably thinking more about pictures of kittens or celebrities overlaid with bold-faced subtitles! Still, the idea of a ‘meme’ has certainly had a fair degree of meme-like success, though it has mutated over time, and many people might be ignorant of its origin!

On the subject of origins, one of the most attractive types of meme is the one that says “Well-known person X said clever thing Y”. This was very successful long before the internet, but has truly flourished since. We all love a good quotation, particularly if we can put it on a poster with a picture of Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein. I was thinking of this recently on a call when I mentioned the famous one, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research”. This is widely attributed to Albert Einstein, but probably wasn’t actually his. I have a list of some of my favourite quotes on my website, and many of them now have qualifiers alongside the attributions.

Terence Eden has just written a nice blog post on a quotation from Desmond Tutu:

A very pleasing idea, but Eden suggests that Tutu may never even have used it; in any case he almost certainly didn’t originate it. That honour is likely to go to Reginald S Lourie, a man of some eminence, but whose face, though genial enough, is much less well known than the good archbishop’s. Would this quote be as popular if it had had to spread this way?

The idea that a meme needs to attach itself to a successful organism does relate back to Dawkins’ ideas, though the effect is perhaps more closely aligned to parasitology or epidemiology than pure natural selection. (Dawkins himself was, I seem to recall, hesitant to push the meme/gene analogy too far.)

We need to be reminded of this regularly, to help us appreciate both that something isn’t necessarily true just because somebody famous said it, and that ordinary people can occasionally say extraordinary things.

As a great man* once said, “I dream of a world where the success of a great idea does not depend on the fame or fortune of its creator.” If this is your dream too, please spread the word by retweeting the image below.

* Me, in my shower, this morning.

Matthew 5:45

Looking out of the window at present, I am reminded of a verse I learned in my childhood:

The rain, it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella.
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust’s pinched the just’s umbrella.

It’s rather pleasing to discover, investigating it now, that the verse comes from Lord Bowen, a notable lawyer of the mid-19th century. (There are a few variations on the precise wording of the last line, but I still like my mother’s version above.)

Bowen had many achievements in his life, both professional and literary, and I hope he won’t mind that I remember him for this rather than his translations of Virgil.

Thought for the day

If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias. If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

Bertrand Russell

Thought for the day

The sun never asks the earth for thanks.

More info about the source here.

Quote of the day

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention — invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble. That is the big secret that has brought us down the ages hundreds of thousands of years, from chipping flints to switching on the washing machine.”

— Agatha Christie, from her splendid autobiography.

Stormriders

I’m in a lovely but slightly moist campsite in Norfolk. The climatic conditions are, I must admit, mitigated for us by the simply splendid heating system built into the campervan we’ve rented for a few days. We’re not really ‘roughing it’!

Anyway, inside the facilities block, where I’ve just been doing the washing up, there’s a large motto printed on the wall.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Yes. Amen to that!

Quote of the day

A nice quote from Horace Dediu (an industry commentator who, amongst other things, does some very good podcasts):

Those who predict the future, we call futurists. Those who know when the future will happen, we call billionaires.

Tristram Shandy on blogging?

Little boots it to the subtle speculatist to stand single in his opinions,-— unless he gives them proper vent:— It was the identical thing which my father did;— for in the year sixteen, which was two years before I was born, he was at the pains of writing an express DISSERTATION simply upon the word Tristram,—-shewing the world, with great candour and modesty, the grounds of his great abhorrence to the name.

Quote of the day

Hadn’t come across this one before, from Albert Einstein:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

Geek quote of the day

Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand.

— Kent Beck

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser