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

Carl van Tonder carl@supervacuo.com
Fri Jan 16 23:06:56 PST 2009


Whilst I agree that the concept is more important than the ins and outs
of language used, in some cases it actually obscures meaning. I have
only the vaguest sense of what Karsten meant (something along the lines
of Sod's Law...), and, whilst I'm not sure mis-using scientific words
(because 'entropy' doesn't really have an everyday meaning) has made me
understand his point less, it most certainly hasn't helped me understand
it more.

Or perhaps I just wasn't reading hard enough.


On Fri, 2009-01-16 at 11:00 -0800, Rick Moen wrote:
> [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
> that."
> 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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