Dave’s Unfamiliar Quotations

Every once in a while, someone encounters a unique confluence of mental and spiritual clarity, linguistic alacrity, poetic genius, and, often, devastating humor. These are moments whose evidence should be preserved.

My old friend, John Shipman (God rest his jolly soul), was very good at doing just that, and I collected (OK, stole) many of the quotations here from his web site.

I welcome corrections. Although I’m far more interested in the message than the messenger or his exact choice of words, I acknowledge that these, too, are important. Also, just because you see it here doesn’t mean that I agree with it. What it means is that I want people to read these words by these people, that’s all.

Quick Contents

ComputersFreedomThe Future
IntegrityMiscellaneously Humorous“Oops!”
The PastPersonal DevelopmentQuotations
Reality (The Nature Of)Reasonableness and UnreasonablenessReligion
Wisdom To Live By  


“Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out armed and relieve the stroller of his conviction.” — Walter Benjamin

“To be apt in quotation is a splendid and dangerous gift. Splendid, because it ornaments a man’s speech with other men’s jewels; dangerous, for the same reason.” — Robertson Davies

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“User-friendly, my ass.” — Sally Breeden, commenting on the IBM PC, October 28, 1983

“The most overlooked advantage to owning a computer is that if they foul up there’s no law against whacking them around a little.” — Owen Porterfield, from the .sig of Mark Roedel

“Humility is the hallmark of the experienced programmer.” — Brent White; collected September 26, 1984
[“Humility is the hallmark of the experienced.” — DCB]

“Recursion is self-explanatory.” — NMT graffiti, via Tom Sanderson

“The trouble with structured programming is that your next job is in RPG.” — Tom Sanderson, April 21, 1985

“A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God.” — Derry Bryson

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” — John Gilmore

“The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.” — Anonymous

“In this country, everything loose rolls to the West Coast.” — Thomas A. Vanderslice, CEO of Apollo, in the July 6, 1987 issue of the Wall Street Journal (an article on the cultural difference between freewheeling Sun and straight-laced Apollo)

“ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS! Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen, und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.” — from a sign posted in the Albuquerque CEC, 1978… back in the days when the computers really had blinking lights, and you could really mess them up–blowing fuses and watching sparks.

“To get job security, developers need to position themselves as highly effective business-value generators, working with the rest of the company to solve common goals. If you sit in your cube waiting for a spec to be thrown over the wall, then you may be in for a wait — that spec might be in an envelope on its way to Bangalore.” — Dave Thomas, 2004. O’Reilly OnLamp.com: “The Pragmatic Programmers Interview”

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“Raising a teenager is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.” — Sprite Kiger

“There are many things that you’re not supposed to eat–especially children.” – – Mary Margaret McBride, radio personality

“When we adults think of children there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life. Childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live. A child is living.

“How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice. How much we would teach each other–adults with the experience and children with the freshness. How full both our lives could be.

“A little child may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with him, for, after all, life is his and her journey, too.”

— John Taylor, Notes on an Unhurried Journey


“As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life–so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.” — M. Cartmill

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ” — Arthur C. Clarke

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“The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality, to look at the finger pointing the way and then to suck it for comfort rather than follow it.” — Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, p. 23

“Thank God for secular humanism.” — John F. Kennedy, according to Mort Sahl

“One can’t found a novel theology on Nothing, and nothing is so secure a foundation as a contradiction. Look at the great successes of the past–they say their deities are the masters of all the universes, and yet that they require grandmothers to defend them, as if they were children frightened by poultry. Or that the authority that punishes no one while there exists a chance for reformation will punish everyone when there is no possibility anyone will become the better for it.” — Gene Wolfe, Shadow of the Torturer, pp. 62–3

“Religion and science have always been matters of faith in something. It is the same something.” — Gene Wolfe, Citadel of the Autarch, pp. 134–5

“God is a polytheist.” — UNIX fortune file

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The Past

“They just don’t make ’em like they used to. But, then again, they never did.” — Greg Titus

“The only phrase I’ve ever disliked is, `Why, we’ve always done it that way.’ I always tell young people, `Go ahead and do it (another way). You can always apologize later.'” — Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, at her retirement ceremony; Albuquerque Tribune, August 15, 1986

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The Future

“To believe what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Doubt is vanquished by the act of will which makes the decision. The future becomes servant, not master.” — James Burnham, in The Coming Defeat of Communism

“Don’t worry about the bullet with your name on it. It hasn’t been made yet. The one to worry about says, `To whom it may concern.'” — J. Paul Weaver

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Wisdom To Live By

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.” — Rabindranath Tagore

“The nice thing about having your body as your temple is, you get to worship as you please.” — Greg Titus [May, 1984]

“It’s not polite to talk with your foot in your mouth.” — David Northrop [May, 1984]

“If you’re stuck in a painting, then stop and draw something else. Draw a flower and put your love into that flower. Then your powers will come back again.” — Pablo Picasso, “Parade,” October 13, 1985

“Resolve to be always beginning–to be a beginner!” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“An empty mind is a beginner’s mind.” — Dale Paulus

If you shut your door
To all errors,
Truth will be
Shut out.
— Rabindranath Tagore

“Look it up–you’ll remember it longer; screw it up and you’ll remember it forever.” — from the .sig of Dean Tudor

“All life is an experiment. The more you experiment, the better.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“No, no, NO! Make the move! Make the move! Always risk defeat!!” — Michael Donahue [March, 1995], paraphrasing a scene from Searching for Bobby Fisher

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi

“You have to stop listening in categories. The music is either good or it’s bad.” — Duke Ellington

“Woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor!” — Melville, Moby Dick

“If you don’t believe it’s correct before you start testing, what could possibly convince you?” — Don Grimes, 1994

“You’re a materialist, like all ignorant people. But your materialism doesn’t make materialism true. Don’t you know that? In the final summing up, it is spirit and dream, thought and love and act that matter.” — Gene Wolfe, “Citadel of the Autarch,” p. 81

I will not live an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible
to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that that which came
to me as seed goes
to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom goes on as fruit.


“Self-restraint is indulgence of the propensity to forgo.” — Ambrose Bierce

“In the depths all becomes law.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

The Road Less Traveled
Two roads diverged
in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made
all the difference.
— Robert Frost

I would rather be ashes than dust.
I would rather my spark would burn out in a brilliant blaze
than be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
— Jack London

There are two seas in Palestine.

One is fresh and fish live in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots to sip of its healing water. Along its shores, children play as children played when Jesus was there.

He loved it. He could look across its silver surface when he spoke his parables, and on a rolling plain not far away he fed five thousand people.

The River Jordan makes this sea with sparking water from the hills, so it laughs in the sunshine, and men build their houses near to it, and birds build their nests. Every kind of life is happier because it is there. The river Jordan flows on south into another sea.

Here is no splash of fish, no fluttering of leaf, no song of birds, no children’s laughter. Travelers choose another route. The air hangs heavy above its water. Neither man, beast nor fowl drink.

What makes this mighty difference in neighboring seas? Not the River Jordan–it empties the same good water into both; not the soil in which they lie; not the country round about.

This is the difference: the Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep. For every drop that flows into it, another drop flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure. The other sea is shrewder, hording its income jealously. It will not be tempted into generous impulse. Every drop it is given, it keeps.

The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea gives nothing. It is named the Dead Sea.

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are two seas in Palestine.

— Unknown

Go to the people
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have
But of the best leaders
When their task is accomplished
Their work is done
The people will remark:
“We have done it ourselves.”

— 2000 year-old Chinese poem

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You don’t have to know the second theory of thermo-dynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from: The Key and the Name of the Key is Willingness

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“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” — Hermann Goering, 1946

Personal Development

“The man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a ‘raft that leads to the far shore.’ Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring. Thus, the aim of practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a man to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered–that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites. The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world. When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the demons which arise from the unconscious–a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces. Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation can our contact with Divine Being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more a man learns whole-heartedly to confront the world that threatens him with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and the possibilities of new life and Becoming opened.”
— The Way of Transformation by Karlfried Gras Von Dirkheim

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” — Helen Keller

“The greatest wizard would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn’t that be our case?” — Novalis

“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” — Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

“Don’t resist the resistance.” — Kathleen Welsh Luiten

“We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it?” — Marcus Aurelius

“There are as many strata at different levels of life as there are leaves in a book. When on the higher levels we can remember the lower levels, but when on the lower we cannot remember the higher.” — Henry David Thoreau

“Ignorance and greed are part of the evolutionary process, which is just to say that mistakes are part of learning. There is nothing bad about behaviors or perceptions that do not work; they simply have to be given up and replaced by behaviors or perceptions that do work.” — Buckminster Fuller

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear and has you see what you don’t want to see so you can be who you have always known you could be.” — Tom Landry

“Ultimately, being cause-in-the-matter is a context from which one chooses to live. Being  cause-in-the-matter is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt—there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what’s so, and your stand. Being cause-in-the-matter starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are.

“That is not the truth. It is a place to stand.

“No one can make you cause-in-the-matter, nor can you impose being cause-in-the-matter on another. It is a grace you give yourself—an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life.”

— Werner Erhard

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“The Roman Rule: The one who says it cannot be done should never interrupt the one who is doing it.” — nmtvax fortune file

“Until one is committed
There is hesitancy, the chance to draw back
Always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),
There is one elementary truth,
The ignorance of which kills countless ideas
And splendid plans:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself,
Then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
That would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
Raising in one’s favour all manner
Of unforeseen incidents and meetings
And material assistance,
Which no man could have dreamt
Would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'”

— W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1951

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.
It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions.
And the actions which speak louder than words.
It is making the time when there is none.
Coming through time after time, year after year after year.
Commitment is the stuff character is made of;
the power to change the face of things.
It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.
‘Life has no romance without risk'”
— Sarah Doherty

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Robert Anton Wilson: “What can the average man or woman do to achieve the total success of our species and stave off the dangers we’ve mentioned?”
Buckminster Fuller: “Live with integrity.”
RAW: “Is that all?”
BF: “It is both necessary and sufficient.”

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” — Andrew Carnegie

“What you are, Sir, speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” — Samuel Johnson

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“Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil

“Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures–in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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The Nature of Reality

“If I don’t manage to fly, someone else will. The spirit wants only that there be flying. As for who happens to do it, in that he has only a passing interest.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“I am not what I think I can be.
I am not what you think I can be.
I am what I think you think I can be.”
— Anonymous

A good man was granted one wish by God. The man said he would like to go about doing good without knowing about it. God granted his wish. And then God decided that it was such a good idea, he would grant that wish to all human beings. And so it has been to this day. — Sufi story, according to Dale Paulus

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism, and he can not even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison.” — Albert Einstein, Evolution of Physics [1938]

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“The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.’ And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.” — Thornton Wilder

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A man found a cocoon of the emperor moth and took it home to watch it emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point.
Deciding something was wrong, the man took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, its body large and swollen, the wings small and shriveled.
He expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty, but they did not. Instead of developing into a creature free to fly, the moth spent its life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening are God’s way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings. The “merciful” snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.
— Leadership, from “Quote” magazine

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“Success is a journey, not a destination.” — Ben Sweetland

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” — Henry David Thoreau

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “Wind, Sand And Stars,” 1939.

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“They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety. “
— Benjamin Franklin

“Better a thousand-fold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial stays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race.” — Charles Bradlaugh, 19th-century British political activist

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Reasonableness and Unreasonableness

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts the surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw

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“The Edsel is here to stay.” — Henry Ford II, to Dealers [1957]

“What a giftless bastard!” — Tchaikovsky on Brahms [1886]

“No woman in my time will be prime minister…” — Margaret Thatcher [1969]

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Offices of Patents [1899]

“…a normal aberration.” — Jack Herbein, spokesman at the nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island [1979]

“I think there is a world market for about five computers.” — Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM [1943]

“Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.” — Mayor Richard Daily

“I stand by all of my misstatements.” — Dan Quayle

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Miscellaneously Humorous

“Cutting the space budget really restores my faith in humanity. It eliminates dreams, goals, and ideals and lets us get straight to the business of hate, debauchery, and self-annihilation.” — Johnny Hart

“I’ll take a drug test when Reagan takes an IQ test.” — Dick Flanagan

“You can do more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.” — Al Capone

“I thought that time was this neat invention that kept everything from happening at once. Why doesn’t this work in practice?” — David Herron

“You know it’s going to be a bad day when you can’t find an open liquor store on your way to work.” — Eric Robison, May 1994

“There’s nothing like a good man to confound a bad woman.” — Magail Medina [May, 1984]

“You can’t make a centipede by gluing ants together.” — Greg Titus [1985]

“Put out fires during the daytime. Do your real work at night. Sleep is just an addiction.” — Dieter Müller

“Fanaticism is redoubling your efforts when you have lost sight of your goal.” — George Santayana

“It would be a great day if the schools got all the money they needed and the military had to hold a bakesale” — anonymous

“The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore so it eats it.

It’s rather like being elected to Congress.”

— from a posting on Young Scientists’ Network Digest by the Biology Dept. at UW

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