"Hamming-The Art of Doing Science and Engineering" Opinion Excerpt
Education & Training
- Education is what, when, and why to do things, Training is how to do it.
Follwing the knowledge dilemma
- concentrate on fundamentals.
- what is fundamentals? They have lasted a long time, from the fundamentals all the rest of field can be derived by using the standard methods in the field.
Science & Engineering
- In science if you know what you are doing you should not be doing it.
- In engineering if you do not know what you are doing you should not be doing it.
Predicting the future
- Unforeseen technological inventions can completely upset the most careful predictions.
Drunken sailor's stagger
- difference between those who go far and those who do not is some people have a vision and the others do not and there fore can only react to the current events as they happen.
- No vision, not much of a future.
- In the future anything and everything you know might be useful, but if you believe the problem is in one area you are not apt to use information that is relevant but which occurred in another course.
2 FOUNDATIONS OF THE DIGITAL (DISCRETE) REVOLUTION
Maintenance in engineering
- In any design it is now essential to consider field maintenance since in the long run it often dominates all other costs. The more complex the designed system the more field maintenance must be central to the final design. Only when field maintenance is part of the original design can it be safely controlled; it is not wise to try to graft it on later. This applies to both mechanical things and to human organizations.
Balance in engineering
- Engineering is a matter of choice and balance rather than just doing what can be done.
Managers and employees
- The people at the bottom do not have the larger, global view, but at the top they do not have the local view of all the details.
The "S" Curve
3 HISTORY OF COMPUTERS—HARDWARE
Keep insight in mind
- The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers
4 HISTORY OF COMPUTERS—SOFTWARE
Accept new things
- The use of FORTRAN, like the earlier symbolic programming, was very slow to be taken up by the professionals. And this is typical of almost all professional groups. Doctors clearly do not follow the advice they give to others, and they also have a high proportion of drug addicts. Lawyers often do not leave decent wills when they die. Almost all professionals are slow to use their own expertise for their own work. The situation is nicely summarized by the old saying, “The shoe maker’s children go without shoes”. Consider how in the future, when you are a great expert, you will avoid this typical error!
Programming language design
- The power of psychologically designed languages over logically designed languages.
Player sees less clearly than the bystander
- The reason this happens so often is the creators have to fight through so many dark difficulties, and wade through so much misunderstanding and confusion, they cannot see the light as others can, now the door is open and the path made easy. Please remember, the inventor often has a very limited view of what he invented, and some others (you?) can see much more.
Human needs redundancy
- The human animal is not reliable, as I keep insisting, so low redundancy means lots of undetected errors, while high redundancy tends to catch the errors.
Programming closer to writing than engineering
- Given the problem of getting a man into outer space both the Russians and the Americans did it pretty much the same way, all things considered, and allowing for some espionage. They were both limited by the same firm laws of physics. But give two novelists the problem of writing on “the greatness and misery of man”, and you will probably get two very different novels (without saying just how to measure this). Give the same complex problem to two modern programmers and you will, I claim, get two rather different programs. Hence my belief current programming practice is closer to novel writing than it is to engineering.
- Neither years of experience nor the number of languages used is any reason for thinking the programmer is getting better from these experiences. An examination of books on programming suggests most of the authors are not good programmers!
5 History of Computer Application
The duty of a scientist
- the duty of a scientist is not only to find new things, but to communicate them successfully in at least three forms: writing papers and books, prepared public talks, impromptu talks.
How to apply new tech: from heroic to common takas
- It is first necessary to prove beyond any doubt the new thing, device, method, or whatever it is, can cope with heroic tasks before it can get into the system to do the more routine, and in the long run, more useful tasks. Any innovation is always against such a barrier, so do not get discouraged when you find your new idea is stoutly, and perhaps foolishly, resisted. By realizing the magnitude of the actual task you can then decide if it is worth your efforts to continue, or if you should go do something else you can accomplish and not fritter away your efforts needlessly against the forces of inertia and stupidity.
- As you go on in your careers you should examine the applications which succeed and those which fail; try to learn how to distinguish between them; try to understand the situations which produce successes and those which almost guarantee failure. Realize, as a general rule, it is not the same job you should do with a machine, but rather an equivalent one, and do it so then future, flexible, expansion can be easily added (if you do succeed). And always also remember to give serious thought to the field maintenance as it will actually be done in the field—which is generally not as you wish it would be done!
7 ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE-II
Disappearing of low-level jobs
- It is clear that on the average it is the lower level jobs which are disappearing and the higher level jobs which are appearing.
- Often the legal problems of new applications are the main difficulty, not the engineering!
10 Coding Theory-I
12 Error Correcting Codes
Emotioncal stress leads discoveries
- Notice first this essential step happened only because there was a great deal of emotional stress on me at the moment, and this is characteristic of most great discoveries. Working calmly will let you elaborate and extend things, but the break throughs generally come only after great frustration and emotional involvement. The calm, cool, uninvolved researcher seldom makes really great, new steps.
Luck favors the prepared mind
- Of course as you go through life you do not know what you are preparing yourself for—only you want to do significant things and not spend the whole of your life being a “janitor of science” or whatever your profession is. Of course luck plays a prominent role. But so far as I can see, life presents you with many, many opportunities for doing great things (define them as you will) and the prepared person usually hits one or more successes, and the unprepared person will miss almost every time.
15 Digital Filters-II
If something new
- When something is claimed to be new, do not be too hasty to think it is just the past slightly improved—it may be a great opportunity for you to do significant things. But again it may be nothing new.
- Team work is more and more essential, and hence learning to work in a team, indeed possibly seeking out places where you can help others, is a good idea. In any case the fun of working with good people on important problems is more pleasure than the resulting fame. And the choice of important problems means generally management will be willing to supply all the assistance you need.
17 DIGITAL FILTERS—IV
Partner & Cooperation
- He immediately wanted to come up to my office, but I was obdurate and insisted on meeting in his laboratory. He tried using his office, and I stuck to the lab. Why? Because I wanted to size up his abilities and decide if I thought his problem was worth my time and effort, since it promised to be a tough nut to crack. He passed the lab test with flying colors—he was clearly a very competent experimenter. He was at about the limit of what he could do —a week’s run to get the data and a lot of shielding was around the radio-active source, hence not much we could do to get better data. Furthermore, I was soon convinced, although I knew little about the details, his experiment was important to physics as well as to Bell Telephone Laboratories. So I took on the problem. Moral: To the extent you can choose, then work on problems you think will be important.
- Big advances usually come from significant changes in the underlying beliefs of a field.
- The applicable conditions of the simulation experiment: think about what can be obtained clearly
Younger / older minds
- Older minds have more trouble adjusting to new ideas than do younger minds since you will be showing new ideas, and even making formal presentations to, older people throughout much of your career. That your children could understand what you are showing is of little relevance to whether or not the audience to whom you are running the exhibition can. It was a terrible lesson I had to learn, and I have tried not to make that mistake again. Old people are not very quick to grasp new ideas—it is not they are dumb, stupid, or anything else like that, it is simply older minds are usually slow to adjust to radically new ideas.
A story about how data lies
- Some years ago the following happened at U.C.Berkeley. About equal numbers of males and females applied to graduate school, but many more men were accepted than women. There was no reason to assume the men were better prepared on the average than were the women. Hence there was obvious discrimination in terms of the ideal model of fairness. The President of the University demanded to know which departments were guilty. A close examination showed no department was guilty! How could that be? Easy! Various departments have varying numbers of openings for the entering graduate school, and various ratios of men to women applying for them. Those with both many openings and many men applying are the hard sciences, including mathematics, and those with the low ratios of acceptance and many women applying, are the soft ones like literature, history, drama, social sciences, etc.
21 FIBER OPTICS
Comprehend by analogy
- That is the reason for this talk—to show you how someone tried to anticipate and be prepared for rapid changes in technologies which would impact their research and work. You cannot lead everywhere in this highly technological society, but you need not be left behind by every new development—as many people are in practice.
Tech changes lives?
- It is necessary to examine political, economic, and social conditions before saying what is technologically possible will in fact happen. Is it likely the government will want to have so much information distribution in the hands of a single company? Would the present cable companies be willing to share with the telephone company and possibly lose some profit thereby, and certainly come under more government regulation? Indeed, do we as a society want it to happen?
22 COMPUTER AIDED INSTRUCTION—CAI
- At the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, long, long ago, some psychologists were trying to improve productivity by various changes in the environment. They painted the walls an attractive color, and productivity rose. They made the lighting softer and productivity rose. Each change caused productivity to rise. One of the men got a bit suspicious and sneaked a change back to the original state and productivity rose! Why? It appears when you show you care then the person on the other end responds more favorably than if you appear not to care. The workers all thought the changes were being made for their benefit and they responded accordingly.
- the necessity of "double blind" experiments in medicine.
- A lot of evidence on what enabled people to make big contributions points to the conclusion a famous prof was a terrible lecturer and the students had to work hard to learn it for themselves! I again suggest a rule: What you learn from others you can use to follow; What you learn for yourself you can use to lead.
- Without a vision of what kind of education will be appropriate at that time how are we to evaluate proposed CAI projects? Just because something can be done, especially using computers, does not mean it should be done. We must create a vision of what the educated person will be in the future society, and only then can we confidently approach the problems which arise in CAI.
What is mathematics
- Mathematics is the language of clear thinking.
- There are many natural languages on the face of the earth, but there is essentially only one language of Mathematics.
Different, valuable and niche
- We want the word “creative” to include the concept of value—but value to whom? A new theorem in some branch of mathematics may be a creative act, but the number of people who can appreciate it may be very few indeed, so we must be careful not to insist the created thing be widely appreciated. We also have the fact many of the current highly valued works of Art were not appreciated during the artist’s lifetime
- Taking the “brain storming sessions” first, while they were very fashionable at one time, they have generally been found to be not much good when formally done, when a brain storming session is carefully scheduled. But we all have had the experience of “tossing an idea around” with a friend, or a few friends (but not a large group, generally) from which insight, creativity, or whatever you care to call it, arises and we make progress.
- I often suspect creativity is like sex; a young lad can read all the books you have on the topic, but without direct experience he will have little chance of understanding what sex is—but even with experience he may still not understand what is going on!
- Probably the most important tool in creativity is the use of an analogy. Something seems like something else which we knew in the past. Wide acquaintance with various fields of knowledge is thus a help— provided you have the knowledge filed away so it is available when needed, rather than to be found only when led directly to it.
- I can only advise you to do what I tried to do —when you learn something new think of other applications of it—ones which have not arisen in your past but which might in your future.
- If an expert says something can be done he is probably correct, but if he says it is impossible then consider getting another opinion.
- I do say you should be conscious of making the choice as you pursue your career. Do not just drift along; think of what you want to be and how to get there. Do not automatically reject every crazy idea, the moment you hear of it, especially when it comes from outside the official circle of the insiders—it may be the great new approach which will change the paradigm of the field!
- What you did to become successful is likely to be counterproductive when applied at a later date.
- There is the final, and overwhelming, reason for telling you these things. I have observed again and again most experts are left behind as their field progresses and new paradigms come in.
Think before talk
- Being civilized means, among other things, stopping your immediate response to a situation, and thinking whether it is or is not the appropriate thing to do. I am merely trying to make you more self-aware so you will be more “civilized” in your responses and hence probably, but not certainly, more successful in attaining the things you want.
27 Unraliable Data
- From that experience I learned never to process any data until I had first examined it carefully for errors. There have been complaints that I would take too long, but almost always I found errors and when I showed the errors to them they had to admit I was wise in taking the precautions I did. No matter how sacred the data and urgent the answer, I have learned to pretest it for consistency and outliers at a minimum.
28 Systems Engineering
- Systems engineering is the attempt to keep at all times the larger goals in mind and to translate local actions into global results.
The larger picture
- Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture. It is characteristic of most people they keep a myopic view of their work and seldom, if ever, connect it with the larger aims they will admit, when pressed hard, are the true goals of the system. This myopic view is the chief characteristic of a bureaucrat. To rise to the top you should have the larger view—at least when you get there.
- The obligations in each case were of: (1) immediate importance, (2) longer range importance, and (3) very long term importance.
- While taking any one course, it was not a matter of passing it, pleasing the professor, or anything like that, it was learning it so at a later date, maybe two years later, I would still know the things which should be in the course.
- If you optimize the components you will probably ruin the system performance.
- Part of systems engineering design is to prepare for changes so they can be gracefully made and still not degrade the other parts.
- The closer you meet specifications the worse the performance will be when overloaded.
Understanding the problem
- It illustrates the point each solution should bring further understanding of the problem; the first symptoms they tell you will not last long once you begin to succeed; the goal will be constantly changing as your and the customer’s understanding deepen.
29 You Get What You Measure
- The way you choose to measure things controls to a large extent what happens.
- When your turn comes to install a measuring system, or even comment on one someone else is using, try to think your way through to all the hidden consequences which will happen to the organization.
30 You and Your Research
- It is worth trying to accomplish the goals you set yourself.
- It is worth setting yourself high goals.
- “Why are you not working on and thinking about the important problems in your area?” If you do not work on important problems then it is obvious you have little chance of doing important things.
Plant the little acorns
- One reason for this is fame in Science is a curse to quality productivity, though it tends to supply all the tools and freedom you want to do great things. Another reason is most famous people, sooner or later, tend to think they can only work on important problems—hence they fail to plant the little acorns which grow into the mighty oak trees.
- What you consider to be good working conditions may not be good for you!
- You tend to want are seldom the best ones for you—the interaction with harsh reality tends to push you into significant discoveries which otherwise you would never have thought about while doing pure research in a vacuum of your private interests.
Taking the time to ask the larger questions
- Be careful—the race is not to the one who works hardest! You need to work on the right problem at the right time and in the right way—what I have been calling “style”. At the urging of others, for some years I set aside Friday afternoons for “great thoughts”. Of course I would answer the telephone, sign a letter, and such trivia, but essentially, once lunch started, I would only think great thoughts—what was the nature of computing, how would it affect the development of science, what was the natural role of computers in Bell Telephone Laboratories, what effect will computers have on AT&T, on Science generally?
- Great people can tolerate ambiguity, they can both believe and disbelieve at the same time.
- Most great people also have 10 to 20 problems they regard as basic and of great importance, and which they currently do not know how to solve. They keep them in their mind, hoping to get a clue as to how to solve them.
- The importance of the result is not the measure of the importance of the problem. A problem is important partly because there is a possible attack on it, and not because of its inherent importance.
Be integrated, unreserved
- You should do your job in such a fashion others can build on top of it. Do not in the process try to make yourself indispensable; if you do then you cannot be promoted because you will be the only one who can do what you are now doing! If you are to get recognition then others must use your results, adopt, adapt, extend, and elaborate them, and in the process give you credit for it.
"Selling" new ideas
- giving formal presentations,
- producing written reports,
- master the art of informal presentations as they happen to occur.
Accept the change
- Change does not mean progress, but progress requires change. The organization cannot be in a continual state of ferment and change; but it should respond to significant changes.
- I strongly suggest you adopt the habit of privately critiquing all presentations you attend and also asking the opinions of others. Try to find those parts which you think are effective and which also can be adapted to your style.
- And this includes the gentle art of telling jokes at times. Certainly a good after dinner speech requires three well told jokes, one at the beginning, one in the middle to wake them up again, and the best one at the end so they will remember at least one thing you said!