One surefire way to sound really really smart is to invoke a law or
principle named after some long dead guy (an alive guy is acceptable
too, but lacks slightly in smart points).
realization struck me the other day while I was reading a blog post that
made a reference to Postel’s law. Immediately I knew the author of this
post must be a highly intelligent card carrying member of
MENSA. He was probably sporting some
geeky XKCD t-shirt with a lame unix
joke while writing the post.
Well friends, I admit I had to look that law up, and in the process
realized I could sound just as scary smart as that guy if I just made
reference to every
(I’ll wait while you look that one up) “law” I could find.
And as a public service, I am going to help all of you appear smart by
posting my findings here! Don’t let anyone ever say I don’t try to make
my readers look good. If you look good, I look good.
Make sure to invoke one of these in your next blog post and sound scary
smart just like me.
The law that inspired this post…
Be conservative in what you send, liberal in what you accept.
Jon Postel originally articulated this as a principle for making TCP
implementations robust. This principle is also embodied by HTML which
many attribute as a cause of its success and failure, depending on who
In today’s highly charged political environment, Postel’s law is a
Otherwise known as the law of bureaucracy, this law states that…
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
As contrasted to Haack’s Law which states that
Work expands so as to overflow the time available and spill on the
floor leaving a very sticky mess.
Also known as the 80-20 rule, the Pareto Principle states…
For many phenomena, 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes.
This is the principle behind the painful truth that 80% of the bugs in
the code arise from 20% of the code. Likewise, 80% of the work done in a
company is performed by 20% of the staff. The problem is you don’t
always have a clear idea of which 20%.
The revelation has nothing to do with seafood, as one might be mistaken
to believe. Rather, it states that…
Ninety percent of everything is crud.
Sounds like Sturgeon is a conversation killer at parties. Is this a
revelation because that number is so small?
The Peter Principle
One of the most depressing laws in this list, if you happen to have
first-hand experience with this via working with incompetent managers.
In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of
Just read Dilbert (or watch The Office) to get some examples of this in
This one is great because it is so true. I knew this law and still
this post still took longer than I expected.
A task always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into
account Hofstadter’s Law.
By the way, you get extra bonus points among your Mensa friends for
invoking a self-referential law like this one.
The one we all know and love.
If anything can go wrong, it will.
Speaking of which, wait one second while I backup my computer.
The developer’s response to this law should be defensive
and the age old boy scout motto, Be Prepared.
Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.
Named after Fred Brooks, aka, Mr. Mythical Man
My favorite corollary to this law is the following…
The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are
Obviously, Brook was not a statistician.
Having nothing to do with country music, this law states…
Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that
Put another way…
If you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass
How many groups are involved in the software you are building?
This principle is named after a man who must be the only cryptographer
ever to have five consecutive consonants in his last name.
In cryptography, a system should be secure even if everything about
the system, except for a small piece of information — the key — is
And thus Kerchkhoff raises the banner in the fight against Security
This is the main principle underlying public key cryptography.
Named after Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, this law states…
Given enough eyeballs,
Where you store the eyeballs is up to you.
The utility of large networks, particularly social networks, scales
exponentially with the size of the network.
Keep repeating that to yourself as you continue to invite anyone and
everyone to be your friend in FaceBook.
In network theory, the value of a system grows as approximately the
square of the number of users of the system.
I wonder if Reed and Metcalfe hung out at the same pubs.
Probably the most famous law in computing, this law states…
The power of computers per unit cost doubles every 24 month.
The more popular and well known version of Moore’s law states…
The number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double in
about 18 months.
And we’ve been racing to keep up ever since.
I was unable to find Paper’s Corollary, nor Scissor’s Lemma, so we’re
left with only Rock’s law which states…
The cost of a semiconductor chip fabrication plant doubles every four
Buy yours now while prices are still low.
Software gets slower faster than hardware gets faster.
Ha! Take that Moore’s Law!
This law addresses software bloat and states…
Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those
programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
I hear that the next version of calc.exe is going to include the
ability to read email. A more modern formulation of this law should
replace email with RSS.
This is a law related to usability which states…
Time = a + b log~2~ ( D / S + 1 )
Or in plain English,
The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and the
size of the target.
A well known application of this law is placing the Start menu in the
bottom left corner, thus making the target very large since the corner
is constrained by the left and bottom edges of the screen.
Has nothing to do with people with bad mullets. I swear. Related to
Fitt’s law, it states that…
The time to make a decision is a function of the possible choices he
or she has.
Or in plain math,
Time = b log~2~(n + 1)
Seems to me this is also a function of the number of people making the
decision, like when you and your coworkers are trying to figure out
where to have lunch.