[linux-elitists] thermodynamics, and some other ranting Re: git and a sysadmin book

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Fri Jan 16 11:00:17 PST 2009

[Carl commented offlist, and I infer that he must have dropped into
private mail accidentally, because he started out with "Hi all, As a
lurker with half a science degree (and some study of 'science and normal
people') I thought I could possibly explain why it is that:"  Thank you,
Carl, for your comments.]

Quoting Carl van Tonder (carl@supervacuo.com):

[examples of various words having specific defined meanings in science ] 

> As such, whenever someone uses one of these words in a way that appears
> to conflate scientific and general meaning, the scientific pedant in us
> cries out. Saying that you sell 'positive energy crystals' is fine, but
> don't claim you can run my car on them.

Yes, believe me, my teeth grate when I hear that, for the same reason.
(My degree was in math, but I'm reasonably scientifically literate.)

> In the same way that you'd probably leap all over me if I used a flawed
> technology analogy (I struggle to think of one, but that may be for the
> best or this would be a meta-analogy), people who 'know' what entropy is
> in either the (specific) scientific or computing sense will enact a
> knee-jerk elitist reaction to correct you.

The odd thing is, when I heard Karsten first mentioning his dictum some
years ago (1990s), I had to suppress exactly such an urge:  That is, I
really wanted to tell him "You know, you're abusing the concept of
'entropy' in your rule of thumb, as it really doesn't excctly mean

But then, knowing Karsten, I estimated that he knew that already and was
deliberately using it in the usual loose, conversational sense.  So,
there wasn't much point in having that chat.  In fact, because his rule
of thumb kept striking me as interesting, I added it to my "Lexicon"
page (http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/lexicon.html#selfs-law), where it's
lived for the past couple of years.

Even at that, I've kept looking at the page entry and trying to rewrite
it in my head, to avoid slightly mangling the concept of entropy.  Each
time, I'd given up after a few minutes, as just one of life's small
imperfections that aren't worth fussing over.

> Sure, it obscures your point and sure, it's fairly small-minded. But
> hey, this wouldn't be the elitists without elitism.

I have absolutely nothing against elitism, but it's really helpful to
also have a sense of perspective and context -- which really was my point.

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