Brian Slesinsky's Weblog

Saturday, 26 Jan 2008


"There is the dangerous cliché in the financial world [that] everything depends on confidence. One could better argue the importance of unremitting suspicion."

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Sunday, 17 Jun 2007

American Idealism

"There is a running thread in American history of idealism that can express itself powerfully and appropriately, as it did after World War II with the creation of the United Nations and the Marshall Plan, when we recognized that our security and prosperity depend on the security and prosperity of others. But the same idealism can express itself in a sense that we can remake the world any way we want by flipping a switch, because we're technologically superior or we're wealthier or we're morally superior. And when our idealism spills into that kind of naivete and an unwillingness to acknowledge history and the weight of other cultures, then we get ourselves into trouble, as we did in Vietnam."

- Barack Obama

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Why we need network neutrality

"The same ferocity that our Founders devoted to protect the freedom and independence of the press is now appropriate for our defense of the freedom of the Internet. The stakes are the same: the survival of our Republic. We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it, because of the threat of corporate consolidation and control over the Internet marketplace of ideas."

- Al Gore

Monday, 19 Mar 2007

Requirements Considered Harmful

"Since it's difficult to decide what to build, and since decisions are based on decisions, it's often likely that in a pile of decisions there's a few that are just bad decisions. Figuring out which are bad is difficult. By difficult, I mean darn near impossible.

"Asking for those decisions as requirements avoids the difficulty of figuring out which are wrong by placing all the responsibility on to the person [who] made them. By calling them 'requirements' we ask this person to take full responsibility for their decisions. We're not collaborators. We're not here to help.

"Taking responsibility for one's decisions is usually a good thing. However, requirements documents have an aptitude for anonymizing decisions - for obfuscating the person or people who made them, and the motivations for those decisions. Sadly, the net result is no one taking responsibility. And often no one to even ask exactly who decided this was a requirement and why."

- Jeff Patton

Wednesday, 21 Feb 2007

So Much for Intellectual Property

"Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin."

- Tagore

Thursday, 15 Feb 2007

Wisdom versus Intelligence

"Wisdom seems to come largely from curing childish qualities, and intelligence largely from cultivating them."

- Paul Graham

Saturday, 13 Jan 2007

What To Optimize

"[W]e use the unvalidated decision as our unit of internal inventory, or "work in progress." Each decision that has been made but has not yet been validated by someone (the sponsors, the testers, the marketplace) is still 'pending,' still waiting to show its quality.

"The first lesson that we draw from experiences in manufacturing is to keep work-in-progress down. This is as important in software development as it is in manufacturing, since every decision that is pending costs the organization money.

"The message, in software as much as in manufacturing, is: get the inventory out the door and earning value! Find ways to shorten the pipe."

- Alistar Cockburn

Saturday, 18 Nov 2006

Something to Remember When Things Get Too Partisan

"And even if a Conservative philosophy were an absurdity, it is well calculated to drive out a hundred absurdities worse than itself. Let no one think that it is nothing, to accustom people to give a reason for their opinion, be the opinion ever so untenable, the reason ever so insufficient. A person accustomed to submit his fundamental tenets to the test of reason, will be more open to the dictates of reason on every other point. Not from him shall we have to apprehend the owl-like dread of light, the drudge-like aversion to change, which were the characteristics of the old unreasoning race of bigots. A man accustomed to contemplate the fair side of Toryism (the side that every attempt at a philosophy of it must bring to view), and to defend the existing system by the display of its capabilities as an engine of public good, -- such a man, when he comes to administer the system, will be more anxious than another person to realize those capabilities, to bring the a fact a little nearer to the specious theory. 'Lord, enlighten thou our enemies,' should be the prayer of every true Reformer; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers: we are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom; their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength."

- John Stuart Mill, Essay on Coleridge (p. 163)

Saturday, 03 Jun 2006

The Attention Trap

"Duchamp said he made the first one, the bicycle wheel, just because it was fun to spin the wheel around. But when you exhibit it, when you put it into an attention field called 'art,' it becomes a catalyst. You must look at it differently. Yes, we should indeed pay more attention to the utilitarian world, savor its beauty as beauty. But when you find yourself gazing at it worshipfully, Duchamp turns around and says, 'It's just a bicycle wheel, you silly jerk.' The final result is to make us oscillate back and forth between the physical world, stuff, and how we think about stuff. It makes us look at our own patterns of attention and the varieties of 'seriousness' we construct atop them."

- Richard A. Lanham

Friday, 28 Jan 2005

How They Get Away With It

"In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness."

- Hannah Arendt, via Jon Carroll

Saturday, 15 May 2004

Amplifying the Details

"A round red soccer ball is thrown into the air and after a while it comes back to earth. In answer to the question what happened? (or, perhaps, what really happened?), novelists know the event and the way that it is described - its story - are inextricably linked, the event, or events, becoming what they are and gaining a sense of their identity from the stories told about them and the stories gaining their point and their purpose from the events that they describe.

"Observing the ball going up and coming down, the novelist is irresistably inclined to amplify the details. The ball going up, hanging there, hung, the sun sparkling in the sky, the air shimmering, the ball turning in all that glimmering gold, its white seam distinct against the red leather, the ball heavy now, rotating languidly in the calm clear air, falling faster downward, down, the ground and the grass, dew on the lawn, the ball bouncing as it hits, and then bouncing again, a final sodden thump, there, over there, a puppy on the lawn, the smell of lemon blossoms, a young girl in cut-offs, her red lips arched together in concentration."

- David Berlinski in A Tour of the Calculus

Thursday, 25 Mar 2004

Never mind the sound

"Philosophers disagree on whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound, if no ear hears it. But it is certain, I think, that the tree does not make news."

- Jay Rosen

Saturday, 14 Feb 2004


"Who is she?" I whispered to my mother's friend.
"She takes care of the place..." she replied in a low voice.
"Why don't they bring in someone who can speak fluently - this is frustrating to see..." I whispered back, watching the Japanese men shake hands with the woman before turning to go.

My mother's friend shook her head sadly, "They tried, but she just refuses to leave. She has been taking care of the place since the rescue teams finished cleaning it out... she lost 8 of her children here."

- Riverbend

Saturday, 07 Feb 2004

On Changing the World

"Margaret Mead once said 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' Generations of zealots have tacked these words up on various walls, never noticing that the two systems that run the modern world - markets and democracies - are working right precisely when they defeat these attempted hijackings by small groups."

- Clay Shirky

Friday, 23 Jan 2004

The View From Nowhere

"[...] The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for. So while the press likes being a player, it does not like being asked: what are you for?

"In fact, the instructions are not to think about it too much, because to know what you are playing for would be to have a kind of agenda. And by all mainstream definition the political reporter must have no kind of agenda. The Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Newsweek, The Des Moines Register, and all similar competitors, are officially (and rhetorically) committed to 'no agenda' journalism, also known as the view from nowhere. So while it might be recognized that the press is a player, journalists also see an unsolvable problem if they take one more intellectual step. So they dare not."

- Jay Rosen

Saturday, 17 Jan 2004

Democracy as Education

"If we insist on argument as the essence of education, we will defend democracy not as the most efficient but as the most educational form of government, one that extends the circle of debate as widely as possible, and thus forces all citizens to articulate their views, to put their views at risk, and to cultivate the virtues of eloquence, clarity of thought and expression, and sound judgment."

- Christopher Lasch, found in Jay Rosen's weblog

Saturday, 01 Nov 2003

Some Good Writing about Selling

"As I walked inside, it occurred to me that this was getting complicated. I was an undercover car salesman for, sent to a dealership, which sent me to a seminar, which sent me to another dealership as an undercover shopping evaluator. I guess that made me a triple agent."

- Confessions of a Car Saleman by Chandler Phillips

Saturday, 25 Oct 2003

On Resistance

[I'm going to start posting various quotes I found interesting. - Brian]

"When we first became active resistance workers, we were law-abiding citizens trying to help those who needed help. But as it became harder to help, we became less law-abiding. When I needed a better bicycle to enable me to help the Jewish people more efficiently, I was immediately provided a better bicycle, a 'liberated' (stolen) one. When anything was badly needed, it was simply stolen -- always from somebody who was unsympathetic to the 'cause,' the cause of resisting the occupational forces, the cause of fighting for freedom. But it was stolen, nonetheless.

"The same happened when certain Germans had to be killed because they were considered dangerous to the resistance. The simple solution was to kill them. It was killing for a good cause. But it was murder, nonetheless.

"It is very hard to go back to being a normal, law-abiding citizen after having been involved and having participated in smaller and larger crimes during a war, even when it was for a good cause."

- Hanneke Ippisch in Sky (via David Kline)