A Selected List of Quotes

Oh, he seems like an okay person, except for being a little strange in some ways. All day he sits at his desk and scribbles, scribbles, scribbles. Then, at the end of the day, he takes the sheets of paper he's scribbled on, scrunches them all up, and throws them in the trash can. --J. von Neumann's housekeeper, describing her employer

He is rather a good mathematician, but he will never be as good as Schottky. --G. Frobenius, in a letter recommending the appointment of David Hilbert at Gottingen

Sir, in your otherwise beautiful poem (The Vision of Sin) there is a verse which reads "Every moment dies a man, every moment one is born." Obviously this cannot be true and I suggest that in the next edition you have it read "Every moment dies a man, every moment one-and-one-sixteenth is born." Even this value is slightly in error but should be sufficiently accurate for the purposes of poetry. --Charles Babbage, in a letter to Lord Tennyson.

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. --Charles Babbage

``A wealthy (15th Century) German merchant, seeking to provide his son with a good business education, consulted a learned man as to which European institution offered the best training. "If you only want him to be able to cope with addition and subtraction," the expert replied, "then any French or German university will do. But if you are intent on your son going on to multiplication and division -- assuming that he has sufficient gifts -- then you will have to send him to Italy.'' Georges Ifrah, From page 577 of "The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer", translated from French, John Wiley, 2000.

Early in this century the philosopher, William James, after delivering a lecture on the solar system, was approached by an elderly lady with a theory that she considered superior to his own. "We don't live on a ball rotating around the sun," she asserted. "We live on a crust of earth on the back of a giant turtle." Rather than confront the lady with scientific evidence, James took a gentle, inquiring approach. "If your theory is correct, madam, what does this turtle stand on?" "You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a good question, but I can answer it. The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle." "And what does this second turtle stand on?" James probed patiently. The old lady crowed triumphantly: "It's no use, Mr. James, its turtles all the way down!" [This story may well be an urban legend.]

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk...I have a workstation. --???

Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless gas which, given enough time, turns into people. --Henry Hiebert

It claims to be fully automatic, but actually you have to push this little button here. --Gentleman John Killian

Introductory Chemistry at Duke has been taught for about a zillion years by Professor Bonk (really), and his course is semi-affectionately known as "Bonkistry." He has been around forever, so I wouldn't put it past him to come up with something like this.

Anyway, one year there were these two guys who were taking Chemistry and who did pretty well on all of the quizzes and the midterms and labs, etc., such that going into the final they had a solid A. These two friends were so confident going into the final that the weekend before finals week (even though the Chem final was on Monday), they decided to go up to UVirginia and party with some friends up there. So they did this and had a great time. However, with their hangovers and everything, they overslept all day Sunday and didn't make it back to Duke until early Monday morning.

Rather than taking the final then, what they did was to find Professor Bonk after the final and explain to him why they missed the final. They told him that they went up to UVa for the weekend, and had planned to come back in time to study, but that they had a flat tire on the way back and didn't have a spare and couldn't get help for a long time and so were late getting back to campus. Bonk thought this over and then agreed that they could make up the final on the following day. The two guys were elated and relieved.

So, they studied that night and went in the next day at the time that Bonk had told them. He placed them in separate rooms and handed each of them a test booklet and told them to begin. They looked at the first problem, which was something simple about molarity and solutions and was worth 5 points. "Cool" they thought, "this is going to be easy." They did that problem and then turned the page. They were unprepared, however, for what they saw on the next page. It said: (95 points) Which tire?

An old man is lying on his deathbed with his children, grandchildren, and older great-grandchildren all around, teary-eyed at the approaching finale of a very long and productive life. The old man in is a terminal coma, and the doctors have confirmed that the waiting will be over within the next twenty-four hours. Suddenly, the old man opens his eyes and croaks: "I must be dreaming of heaven! I smell your grandmother's strudel!"

"No, grandfather, you are not dreaming. Grandmother is baking strudel now."

"I know I will never have another taste of her delicious strudel after this one. Could you please go down and get me a piece?", the old man begs with what is left of his final breath.

One of the grandchildren is immediately dispatched to honor the old man's last request. After a long time, he returns empty-handed.

"Did you bring me one last piece of your grandmother's delicious strudel?" the old man plaintively queries.

"I'm very sorry, grandfather, but she says it's for the funeral."

What is the last thing a Tickle Me Elmo Doll gets at the factory? Two test tickles.

When you have shot and killed a man you have in some measure clarified your attitude toward him. You have given a definite answer to a definite problem. For better or worse you have acted decisively. In a way, the next move is up to him. --R. A. Lafferty (in: Golden Gate)

I want to die peacefully, and in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming with terror, like his passengers. --Unknown

Richard Wagner's music is better than it sounds. --Mark Twain

Wagner's music has great moments, and bad quarter hours. --G. Rossini

Freilich, wenn man es durchaus Prostitution nennen will, wenn ein Mensch nicht, wie es ueblich ist, seine ganze Persone fuer Geld hergibt, sonder nur seinen Koerper... --Robert Musil (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) [roughly translated: ... if you want to call it prostitution at all when someone does not, as is usual, give away their entire being for money, but just their body.]

Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain. --Schiller (Joan of Arc)

The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has limits. --Albert Einstein

On Writing

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. -- Douglas Adams

In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is. -- Geoffrey Cottrell

What! Another of those damned fat, square, thick books! Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon. -- The Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon

Asked how he became a writer: In the same way that a woman becomes a prostitute. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and finally I did it for money. -- Ferenc Molnar

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. -- Flannery O'Connor

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels. -- P. G. Wodehouse

It was once projected that a million monkeys with a million typewriters could, by random typing, eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the internet, we know that this is not true. -- Unknown