The art of quipping

At least one piece of Danish literature suggests that you should find out what you are good at and then stick to that. Having compared myself to others for decades, I believe that I possess certain skills for quipping. As with any other skill, it makes sense to learn the craft from the best in town. For that reason, I have decorated this page with pictures of my main sources of inspiration.

You may notice that I have left out Albert Einstein. Besides from such references being a much worn-out trope, I believe that he has through the years become victim of large-scale misattribution and misquoting. I do not want to contribute to that.

This page, however, is dedicated to my own contributions. On LinkedIn, I have given it a shot so many times that I can no longer find my old contributions. For that reason, you will below only find some very recent ones. Too bad, for one of my most memorable quips (memorable to me, that is) belongs to a favorite category of mine: "If false authorities ask for trouble, it would be impolite not to provide it." Anyway, Boeing once in a LinkedIn post proudly announced that one of their latest prototypes had succesfully flown its maiden voyage. I then commented that we should of course all rejoice with Boeing each time one of their planes got down in one piece. For reasons unknown to me, this particular advertisement disappeared soon afterwards...

One of my specialties, however, is quipping based on science and engineering. I tend to recycle these elements incessantly:

  1. Statically determinate designs versus overconstrained ones
  2. A conscious attitude to phenomena like observation, data processing and causality (recently inspired by this book)
  3. A belief in Occam's razor: Any explanation should me made as simple as possible but no simpler
  4. A belief in the separation of concerns as a general design principle
  5. A keen eye on the possibility of multi-purpose design elements (contradicting item 4 above), which you may encounter on one of your lucky days
  6. Other ways of combining sources and ideas that would otherwise be very far from each other

Science and engineering

If you descend from a mountain in your car and attempt to control the speed with the brakes only, they will fail. If you drive your car for hours in first gear only (assuming manual transmission), the gearbox will fail. Every mechanical device has its limits. What IMHO makes the wind turbine on the video fail is that the control system did not turn the rotor axis perpendicular to the wind – for some unknown reason.

Christoph Müller: Yes and no. You can get a long way by estimating forces and divide them by a cross section area.

In an almost linear setup with many system modes clustering around the same eigenfrequency, the energy of the non-fundamental modes will dissipate faster than the energy of the fundamental mode.
That's all, folks!
(In particular, we should all avoid any interpretation in non-technical terms)

Kudos for an insightful presentation! Let me repeat that CAE analyses tend to be fish-shaped with respect to information content:
1) No human can phrase a question with an information content exceeding a few megabytes.
2) The results of just one CAE job may exceed the terabyte range.
3) No human can interpret an answer whose information content exceeds a few kilobytes.
So, the task of boiling down CAE results to a useful level is utterly important. Each attempt is highly welcomed.

Gustavo Spaziano: I hope that your description is not to be interpreted as a double entendre. I know of a story where a customer representative did routine checks of brake pad deliveries as part of his job. In order for things to run smoothly, he and the supplier had a tacit agreement concerning in which box he would find the good ones…
As for Tiina’s question: After decades of working with myself, I have reached an important objective: There is only one me.

Graeme Keith: I am convinced that even math gifts come in flavors. Speaking of dichotomies, the teachers at my university tended to split between “analysis” and “geometry” – but there are more dichotomies than these. And then there is the concept of “hunches” which I think is one of my skills: “There must be some interesting stuff in that area so I guess it will be worth while to study it.”

Kompleksitet? Enhver god simuleringsberegning er fiskeformet: Først fodres analysen med menneskeskabte data, som i sagens natur ikke kan fylde mange megabytes - der findes simpelt hen ikke større problemer end det, som har meningsfulde løsninger.
Derefter skal der knuses tal til den store guldmedalje. Her når datamængderne op i terabyte-området.
Til sidst skal hele molevitten menneskeliggøres igen. Ofte ned til direktørniveau: 1 bit (dimsen er enten god nok eller ikke god nok).

I have for many years struggled with a sub-par OpenFOAM version which did not handle interface boundaries particularly well.
I know that Johan Rønby has contributed in that area, too. What are the similarities and what are the differences between your approaches?

The open-source community has the potential of being more honest, more open and more reproducible than any alternative – let’s keep it that way!
Documentation is fiction, source is fact.

I am always in favor of reduced order models. They counteract a business world which is drowning in mindless data.

Extraction of key values like the kLa value is often an underestimated part of a simulation job.
Massive amounts of data and tasty postprocessing may impress and deceive, but important decisions are typically made from extremely small amounts of - properly distilled - data.

Axially loaded, unstiffened cylinders are extremely sensitive to geometric imperfections, which are a random phenomenon. To "prove" anything at all, the experiment should have been performed with hundreds of cans of each kind (and perhaps it was).

Test some limits. Until you have done so, you will not know where the limits are. If something interesting shows up near the limits, you will not know that, either.


A toxic manager typically manages what he should not manage, and refrains from managing what he should manage.

So true. But just the task of communicating item 1 to a manager is hard work. Concerning item 6: I have never understood the general trend that decision-makers strive to avoid making decisions.

I believe that ”bang for the buck” is the key issue. If you go nitty-gritty into details that you know of and unknowingly ignore important threats outside your comfort zone, you have made a poor risk estimate. Imagination, deliberate efforts to avoid bias, listening to people and keeping your organization healthy should be considered key elements of good management. My late father put it like this: “During a parking maneuver, the corner of the car that bumps into something will be the corner which you did not keep an eye on.”

Bo Bodekær Hansen: Selv om ordet "samtale" lyder forjættende, kan afstanden fra samtale til uforpligtende snak være ubehageligt kort.
Ordet "samskabelse" peger derimod i retning af, at der træffes beslutninger. Når to parter skal skabe noget sammen, er det ofte nødvendigt, at parterne gør det, journalister kalder "kill your darlings" (eventyrkyndige vil kalde det at hugge hæle og klippe tæer). Det gør ondt, men somme tider skal det gøre ondt, før det gør godt.

Et klassisk beslutningshierarki har - også efter min mening - de ulemper, som oplægget så udmærket beskriver.
Men et par fordele bør fremhæves:
1) Alle forstår intuitivt, hvad det drejer sig om: Chefen bestemmer og har ansvaret, også når chefen befinder sig et sted mellem ukyndig og fuldkommen idiot.
2) "Alle" indebærer endvidere de myndigheder, der skal holde øje med, at landets arbejdspladser agerer nogenlunde gennemskueligt og ensartet.
Det er faktisk på ingen måde trivielt for en virksomhed at skrive sig ud af den klassiske, hierarkiske ledelsesret og ind i noget, hvor ledelsesretten er uddelegeret på en så veldefineret måde, at der ikke opstår nye problemer omkring beslutningskompetence.
For enden af hele denne problematik findes en forholdsvis ny bekendtgørelse: . Jeg må kraftigt anbefale/indskærpe nye spillere på banen for virksomhedsrådgivning at sætte sig ind i alle konsekvenser af, hvad de anbefaler.
(Spørg eventuelt mig - jeg ved meget mere end, hvad jeg giver udtryk for her.)

Philosophy (on my own level of enlightenment)

I think that data is knowledge with a lot of noise on top of it. Knowledge emerges when you extract the signal from the noise. Unfortunately, this process will always be ambiguous. Thus, knowledge is at best a volatile thing. Wisdom may be the outcome of realizing exactly that.

I am a simple-minded engineer and tend to think: "Fine stuff, indeed, nicely phrased and interesting. What will it make you do?" (Thus, I am a proponent of the Homo Faber approach to mankind. Trilobites or dinosaurs may do as they please.)

Concerning the list ”9/11, 2008 financial crisis, 2020 Texas freeze”, the first two items were entirely man-made and could have been predicted, the last one less so. But counteracting them all would have followed similar guidelines: “Where am I vulnerable? Am I watching a sure path to success or simply a bubble?” Good heuristics are frequently much better than nothing.

Graeme Keith: I embrace several of your formulations but on the other hand, I think that you may have overcomplicated things a bit. As an amateur journalist, I am very much in favor of simple observations. I simply observe that some people refer to a “black swan incidence” differently from what I do. My understanding is that if you did not expect the Spanish Inquisition but observe its appearance anyway, there must have been something wrong with your expectations. In order not to be caught by surprise another time, you should revise your expectations. As the first Westerners in Australia did, and what the developers of special relativity and quantum mechanics did. Put in another way: By observing fish, you cannot predict the emergence of toads. From observing toads, you cannot predict the emergence of reptiles – and so on ad hominem and the Spanish Inquisition.

Erik Eklund: Depends on the context. If you are a doctor removing appendices or a Japanese chef preparing fugu ( ), most people will expect a higher success rate from you.

Concerning the subjects of JFK, purpose and direction:

Rob O’Donohue, ACC, PMP: At the age of 63, I take your statement "Stay forever young!" as a kind of curse.
However, I have a long time ago decided never to feel cursed - because the origin of a curse will always be outside me.
What I can control is my self-esteem: I am proud not to be young. Due to a combination of privileges, determination and hard work, I have survived both the follies of adolescence and the subsequent demands for never-ending performance while bringing up my children.
It seems that I still have a role to play. As brilliantly stated by Dave Aron, calmness is expected of me rather than brain-dead rebelliousness. I don this cloak of calmness with pride and intend to offer the output of still-functioning synapses to anyone who cares to listen. This will be my way of not going gentle into that good night...

Ginny Radmall’s point would be valid if homo sapiens adhered to its name. But our species obviously does not.
Just look at global politics in which each player strives to position himself as an underdog for the simple reason that people subliminally love underdogs and hate overdogs (they remind them of their most annoying adversaries).
Or watch American politics in which voters only occasionally elect the person who uses the right facts right. False humility has an important place among the strategies you can choose from.
This was just etc. etc. …

The future of mobility

Mobility is the issue - not cars...
120 years ago, people dreamt about carriages without horses, and products offered for sale looked like this:

The big advantage is the small footprint occupied by each traveler. At least in Copenhagen, however, bikers may behave really badly, turning life into hell for pedestrians.

In this video, I see an archefact from an AV euphoria just a few years ago. AVs will come, but not in the immediate future, and not like this.

Tram-like public transport probably reached an all-time low three or four decades ago. Since then, many cities have invested heavily in such systems. With long, articulated units and smart payment systems, tramways are attractively positioned between buses and subways.
But apart from cold economics, there is an intriguing cultural aspect as pointed out by David Pickeral. Right-wing city councils may invest heavily in trams and other means of public transport, and left-wing city councils (like in Copenhagen) may entirely abandon the concept – all due to local public sentiments having developed themselves through the years.
As for future trams, the easy access to online electric power will probably keep batteries away – they are better used for other purposes. And SAE Level 4 AV operation should be within reach if the business case is there at all (there are lots of other reasons to have some kind of steward in each vehicle).

I think that the concept of flying cars suffers from scalability issues (as does the concept of travelling to Mars). I can imagine a few flying cars for special purposes, but I believe that a scenario of many flying cars is a scenario with a high risk of collisions - just to mention one scalability issue.

Groucho Marx (1890-1977)

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965)

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