Principle of Indistinguishability

a.k.a. Principle of Indifference:

If you can’t tell the difference, it doesn’t matter.

Some of us have no problem reaching a crisp decision. Right or wrong, they deal with what the job (or life) brings them, deal with the consequences, and carry on.

Others (including this writer) tend to think things through, understand things in depth, carefully identify options and weigh alternatives, seek other opinions, and generally dither about before creeping up to a decision.

Having been accepted to three schools, which one should I pick? Which job offer/marriage proposal should I accept? Is it time to replace my furnace yet? Which TV should I buy? Which commuting route to the office today? Deer in the headlights, squirrel that won’t dash off the road. Should I stay or should I go now? (asked The Clash, covered by Weezer).

When a decision turns out to be a difficult one, generally it’s because the alternatives are pretty much equivalent: they’re equally good, or equally bad. But you know, if they really are equal, then it doesn’t matter which one we pick! The very thing that makes the decision hard to reach actually minimizes the problem of picking the “wrong” one—which should make it easier to decide. Perhaps the psychologists can explain our paradoxical behavior.

A side case is when you lack information that is necessary to make a truly informed decision. Rather than freeze, we can identify the information that would actually change our decision, and seek it—and there is no need to wait for info that would not change the decision. Also, if the consequences of delaying outweigh the consequences of deciding wrong, we have to just close our eyes and jump.


“Average” considered harmful

The vast majority of people have more than the average number of legs.

The average mother has 2.36 children even though no mother has that number.

We have an intuitive grasp of what it means when something is average, typical, or representative.  Math and statistics formalize “average” in terms of mean, median, and mode.  Each of these quantities condenses the complicated details of a distribution into a single number.

That number oversimplifies things, though.  Bizarre, counterintuitive, and seemingly paradoxical things happen with unusual (not-so-representative) distributions.

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Realistic development ambitions

When defining goals for a startup, or outlining requirements for significant new software development, a lot of things pressure us to be too ambitious. A little stress is energizing, but striving toward unrealistic goals is both damaging and wasteful.


It’s a proud and noble thing, setting out on the hero’s journey, to slay the dragon or strive against the odds, to dream the impossible dream. As Shaw wrote, “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”” Steve Blank speaks of “crazy entrepreneurs” who are hallucinating, yet sometimes are actually visionaries.

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Hello world

Hello, world.

As I belatedly start my journey into the blogosphere, this XXI-century version of the vanity press, I expect I’ll be musing on topics I myself take an interest in, like technology, software development, maker community, or linguistics, and who knows, perhaps a side excursion to the shores of drug discovery or U.S. politics or something.  If I sound desultory, well, the future is all vaporware.