Hello Cruel World
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Words, Rules, Razors
Hanlon's Razor /prov./ (www.jargon.net/jargonfile/h/HanlonsRazor.html) A corollary of Finagle's Law, similar to Occam's Razor, that reads "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." The derivation of the Hanlon eponym is not definitely known, but a very similar remark ("You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.") appears in "Logic of Empire", a 1941 story by Robert A. Heinlein, who calls it the `devil theory' of sociology. Heinlein's popularity in the hacker culture makes plausible the supposition that `Hanlon' is derived from `Heinlein' by phonetic corruption.
A similar epigram has been attributed to William James, but Heinlein more probably got the idea from Alfred Korzybski and other practitioners of General Semantics. Quoted here because it seems to be a particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in sig blocks, fortune cookie files and the login banners of BBS systems and commercial networks. This probably reflects the hacker's daily experience of environments created by well-intentioned but short-sighted people. Compare Sturgeon's Law (www.jargon.net/jargonfile/s/SturgeonsLaw.html).
Finagle's Law /n./ The generalized or `folk' version of Murphy's Law, fully named "Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives" and usually rendered "Anything that can go wrong, will". One variant favored among hackers is "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum"
(but see also Hanlon's Razor). The label `Finagle's Law' was popularized by SF author Larry Niven in several stories depicting a frontier culture of asteroid miners; this `Belter' culture professed a religion and/or running joke involving the worship of the dread god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy. Some technical and scientific cultures (e.g., paleontologists) know it under the name `Sod's Law'; this usage may be more common in Great Britain.
Sturgeon's Law /prov./ "Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud."
Oddly, when Sturgeon's Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to `crap'. Compare Hanlon's Razor, Ninety-Ninety Rule. Though this maxim originated in SF fandom, most hackers recognize it and are all too aware of its truth.
Ninety-Ninety Rule /n./ "The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time." Attributed to Tom Cargill of Bell Labs, and popularized by Jon Bentley's September 1985 "Bumper-Sticker Computer Science" column in "Communications of the ACM". It was there called the "Rule of Credibility", a name which seems not to have stuck.
Misfeature/mis-fee'chr/ or /mis'fee`chr/ /n./ (www.jargon.net/jargonfile/m/misfeature.html) A feature that eventually causes lossage, possibly because it is not adequate for a new situation that has evolved. Since it results from a deliberate and properly implemented feature, a misfeature is not a bug. Nor is it a simple unforeseen side effect; the term implies that the feature in question was carefully planned, but its long-term consequences were not accurately or adequately predicted (which is quite different from not having thought ahead at all). A misfeature can be a particularly stubborn problem to resolve, because fixing it usually involves a substantial philosophical change to the structure of the system involved.
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