Quotable Quotes

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While the goal of research is to push the envelope as hard as possible, the role of product development is to pick and choose from the research results and simplify the contributions as much as possible, but not more. Research should not try to become advanced development, that amounts to eating our own seed corn. Product development should not attempt to do research, that diminishes the chances to ship anything.

It necessarily takes a long time for great research ideas to surface in the real world. The reason is simply that it takes time for the good ideas to float up and mature, and for the bad ideas to sink down and wither away. Skimming the cream from the research results requires patience. It is very hard to plan and speed up innovation.

—Erik Meijer, Confessions of a Used Programming Language Salesman (OOPLSA 2007).

College boys and girls read clever or brilliant generalizations and then think they are on a level with the man who made them,” he observed to one correspondent. “Whereas the worth of a generalization is only as a shorthand statement of particulars—and one’s knowledge of the generalization is measured by one’s knowledge of the particulars, largely if not wholly.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Letter to Baroness Charlotte Moncheur, 1908.

What were the lessons I learned from so many years of intensive work on the practical problem of setting type by computer? One of the most important lessons, perhaps, is the fact that SOFTWARE IS HARD. From now on I shall have significantly greater respect for every successful software tool that I encounter. During the past decade I was surprised to learn that the writing of programs for TeX and Metafont proved to be much more difficult than all the other things I had done (like proving theorems or writing books). The creation of good software demands a significantly higher standard of accuracy than those other things do, and it requires a longer attention span than other intellectual tasks.

—Donald Knuth, Keynote address to 11th World Computer Congress (IFIP Congress 89).

I have spent a fair amount of effort during periods of my career exploring mathematical questions by computer. In view of that experience, I was astonished to see the statement of Jaffe and Quinn that mathematics is extremely slow and arduous, and that it is arguable the most disciplined of all human activities. The standard of correctness and completeness necessary to get a computer program to work at all is a couple of orders of magnitude higher than the mathematical communities standard of valid proofs. Nevertheless, large computer programs, even when they have been very carefully written and very carefully tested, always seem to have bugs.

When one considers how hard it is to write a computer program even approaching the intellectual scope of a good mathematics paper, and how much greater time and effort have to be put into it to make it ‘almost’ formally correct, it is preposterous to claim that mathematics as we practice it is anywhere near formally correct.

—William P. Thurston, “On Proof and Progress in Mathematics,” Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, v. 30, n. 2, April 1994.

A research triumph is easier to achieve than it may seem, because the researchers who do the work also do most of the reporting.

—Nick Tredennick and Brion Shimamoto, “Mercy, Mercy, Merced,” Microprocessor Report,” v. 13, i. 12, Sept. 13, 1999.

From: Jim Gray
Sent: Tuesday, July 04, 2000 1:51 AM
To: Jim Larus
Cc: Michael Parkes
Subject: RE: Visit?
well, the <omitted> paper is in good company (and for the same reason).
The B-tree paper was rejected at first.
The Transaction paper was rejected at first.
The data cube paper was rejected at first.
The five minute rule paper was rejected at first.
So, resumitt! PLEASE!!!
—Jim Gray, July 2000.

Within about six weeks, [Maurice] Wilkes made one of the most far-reaching discoveries of the computer age: that getting programs right was more difficult than it looked. As he subsequently recalled, it was while he was developing his very first application program that “the realization came over me with full force that a good part of the remainder of my life was going to be spent in finding the errors in my own programs.”

—Martin Campbell-Kelly, “In Praise of ‘Wilkes, Wheeler, and Gill'”, CACM, Vol. 54 No. 9, Sept. 2011.