Joke, Anecdotes, etc

Contributions to this directory should be sent to Moshe Sniedovich at If possible supply the exact reference!

You might also be interested in a collection of Computer Science jokes. If so visit Omri's Computer Humor Page

How to pick a spouse the OR way!

" ... Don Gross, one of my professors, claimed that the way to pick a spouse was to list, carefully, all the qualities you were looking for in a mate and then marry the first one who made you forget the list! ...."

A quote from from Douglas A. Samuelson's Oracle column, OR/MS Today, 27(1), February 2000.

Contributed to WORMS by David Smith.

Existence of solutions

An Engineer, a Physicist, and a Mathematician all go to the same conference. University budgets being what they are, they all stay in the same cheap hotel. Each room has the same floor plan, has the same cheap TV, the same cheap bed, and a small bathroom. Instead of a sprinkler system, the hotel has opted for Fire Buckets. The Engineer, Physicist, and Mathematician are all asleep in bed.

At about 2AM, the Physicist wakes up because he smells smoke. He looks in the corner of the room and sees that the TV set is on fire! He dashes into the bathroom, fills the Fire Bucket to overflowing with water, and drenches the TV set. The fire goes out, and the Physicist goes back to sleep.

A little while later, the Engineer wakes because he smells smoke. He looks in the corner of his room and sees that the TV set is on fire. He grabs a handy envelope, estimates the BTU output of the fire, scribbles a quick calculation, then dashes into the bathroom and fills the Fire Bucket with just enough water to douse the flames. He puts the fire out and goes back to sleep.

In a little while, the Mathematician wakes up to the smell of smoke. He looks in the corner of his room and sees the TV on fire. He looks into the bathroom and sees the Fire Bucket. Having determined that a solution exists, he goes back to sleep.

From the WWW. Contributed to WORMS by Bert Mond.

Internet Terminology

Terminology for web surfers and beyond.

From the WWW.
Contributed to WORMS by Danny Ralph.

Rejection Slips

For writers only -- Every writer has received rejection slips; too many of them for most. The "Financial Times" has quoted the "mother of all rejection slips", translated from a Chinese economic journal. It goes like this:

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impos- sible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.

The Humanist Association of Canada Spring 1992 Newsletter.
Contributed to WORMS by Danny Ralph.


  • Even considering the improvements possible... the gas turbine could hardly be considered a feasible application to airplanes because of the difficulties of complying with the stringent weight requirements.

    US National Academy Of Science, 1940

  • People have been talking about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon... I think we can leave that out of our thinking.

    Dr. Vannevar Bush, 1945

  • Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow at our Pacific possessions... Radio makes surprise impossible.

    Josephus Daniels, 1922

  • Fooling around with alternating current is a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.

    Thomas Edison

  • There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will be obtainable.

    Albert Einstein, 1932

  • While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.

    Lee De Forest, 1926

  • The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumours to that effect.

    Harper's Weekly, 1902

  • Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future improvements.

    Julius Frontenus, 10 A... D.

  • The ordinary "horseless carriage" is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.

    Literary Digest, 1899

  • Landing and moving about on the moon offers so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them.

    Science Digest, 1948

  • Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.

    Dr. Dionysus Lardner, 1793-1859

  • The resistance of air increases as the square of the speed and works as the cube [of speed].... It is clear that with our present devices there is no hope of aircraft competing for racing speed with either out locomotives or automobiles.

    William Pickering, 1910

  • What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice the speed of stagecoaches?

    Quartely Review, 1825

  • The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformations of these atoms is talking moonshine.

    Ernest Rutherford, 1930

  • It can be taken for granted that before 1980 ships, aircraft, locomotives and even automobiles will be atomically fueled.

    David Sarnoff, 1955

  • The director of Military Aeronautics of France has decided to discontinue the purchase of monoplanes, their place to be filled entirely with bi-planes. This decision practically sounds the death knell of the monoplane as a military instrunent.

    Scientific American, 1915

  • Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys which distract our attention from serious things. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

    Henry David Thoreau

  • I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but soffocating its crew and foundering at sea.

    H.G. Wells, 1901

  • As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can't do it.

    Rear Admiral Clark Woodward, 1939

    Source: Jeff Sterling message to ALL, in Science conference. Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven

    Some Tips on Academic Staff Appraisal

    Here are some helpful phrases for your appraisals of academic staff:

    • Productive researcher = Publishes students' work under own name
    • Prolific writer = Publishes identical article in different journals
    • Research oriented = Can't teach
    • Teaching oriented = Can't research
    • Loyal = Unemployable elsewhere
    • Conscientious = Appears on campus more than three times a week
    • Charismatic = Gives frequent TV interviews
    • Exceptionally well qualified = Has a degree from the same university as the Dean
    • Committed to the university = Appears at every cocktail party
    • Slightly below average = Hopeless
    • Listens well = Has no original ideas
    • Shows great promise = Is related to the Dean
    • Internationally recognised = Likes to go to conferences
    • Active socially = Drinks a lot
    • Career minded = Buys drinks for the Dean
    • Remarkably intelligent = Listens without yawning
    • Regular attendance = Can't find work as a consultant and/or unhappy home life
    • Visionary = Can't handle paperwork
    • Qualifies for salary increase = Still breathing
    • Popular with students = Finishes lectures early, or shouts students drinks at pub, or never fails anyone
    • Very popular with students = Does all three

    Source: Internet. Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven

    Good Morning

    When I first started college, the Dean came in and said "Good Morning" to all of us. When we echoed back to him, he responded, "Ah, you're Freshmen."

    He explained, "When you walk in and say good morning, and they say good morning back, it's Freshmen. When they put their newspapers down and open their books, it's Sophomores. When they look up so they can see the instructor over the tops of the newspapers, it's juniors. When they put their feet up on the desks and keep reading, it's seniors."

    "When you walk in and say good morning, and they write it down, it's graduate students."

    Source: Internet. Contrinuted to WORMS by Bruce Craven

    The Greatest Mathematical Error

    The Mariner I space probe was launched from Cape Canaveral on 28 July 1962 towards Venus. After 13 minutes' flight a booster engine would give acceleration up to 41,545 kph; after 44 minutes 9,800 solar cells would unfold; after 80 days a computer would calculate the final course corrections and after 100 days the craft would circle the unknown planet, scanning the mysterious cloud in which it is bathed.

    However, with an efficiency that is truly heartening, Mariner I plunged into the Atlantic Ocean only four minutes after take off.

    Inquiries later revealed that a minus sign had been omitted from the instructions fed into the computer. `It was a human error', a launch spokesman said.

    This minus sign cost $8,560,000.

    Source: Internet. Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven.

    Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned in Corporate America.

    1. Indecision is the key to flexibility.
    2. You canUt tell which way the train went by looking at the track.
    3. There is absolutely no substitute for a genuine lack of preparation.
    4. Happiness is merely the remission of pain.
    5. Nostalgia isnUt what it used to be.
    6. Sometimes too much to drink is not enough.
    7. The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.
    8. The careful application of terror is also a form of communication.
    9. Someone who thinks logically is a nice contrast to the real world.
    10. Things are more like they are today than they ever were before.
    11. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
    12. Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
    13. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.
    14. I have seen the truth and it makes no sense.
    15. Suicide is the most sincere form of self-criticism.
    16. If you think there is good in everybody, you havenUt met everybody.
    17. All things being equal, fat people use more soap.
    18. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.
    19. One seventh of your life is spent on Monday.
    20. By the time you make ends meet, they move the ends.
    21. Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.
    22. The more you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets.
    23. There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.
    24. This is as bad as it can get, but donUt count on it.
    25. Never wrestle a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.
    26. The trouble with life is, youUre halfway through it before you realise itUs a do-it-yourself thing.
    27. Youth and skill are no match for experience and treachery.
    28. No amount of advance planning will ever replace dumb luck.
    29. Anything you do can get you fired; this includes doing nothing.
    30. Money canUt buy happiness; it can, however, rent it.
    31. Never pass a snow plow on the right.

    Source: Network. Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven


    Lyrics: Evan Leibovitch <>
    Code: Beverly Erlebacher <>

    Dedicated to Dave Mason, Chris Siebenmann, and anyone who's left their computers alone just long enough for them to self-destruct: (Sung to the tune of something or other...)

    On the first day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    A burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the second day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the third day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the fourth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the fifth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the sixth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the seventh day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the eighth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Eight gettys dying;
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the ninth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Nine floppies frying;
    Eight gettys dying;
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the tenth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Ten ports a-jamming;
    Nine floppies frying;
    Eight gettys dying;
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the eleventh day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Eleven chips a-smoking;
    Ten ports a-jamming;
    Nine floppies frying;
    Eight gettys dying;
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the twelfth day I left it, my Unix gave to me:
    Twelve boards a-blowing;
    Eleven chips a-smoking;
    Ten ports a-jamming;
    Nine floppies frying;
    Eight gettys dying;
    Seven blown partitions;
    Six bad controllers;
    Five core dumps;
    Four bad blocks;
    Three heads crashed;
    Two faulty tapes;
    And a burnt-out V.D.T.

    On the thirteenth day I started adapting my Nintendo for the VME bus.

    Source: Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven

    The following entry poses a challenge to all of us in OR/MS. With so many easy to interpret terms, we should beat them doctors!

    Irish Medical Terms and Their Meanings

    • Artery: The study of Painting.
    • Bacteria: Back door the cafeteria.
    • Barium: What doctors do to failures.
    • Bowel: A letter like A E I O and U.
    • Caesarean: A suburb of Rome.
    • Cat Scan: Searching for kitty.
    • Colic: A sheep dog.
    • Cauterise: Made contact with her.
    • Coma: A punctual mark.
    • Congenial: Friendly.
    • D and C: Where Washington is.
    • Dilate: To live long.
    • Enema: Not a friend.
    • Genital: Not Jewish.
    • G.I. Series: Soldiers ball game.
    • Grippe: Suitcase.
    • High Colonic: A coat hook.
    • Impotent: Distinguished and well known.
    • Labour Pain: Getting hurt at work.
    • Medical Staff: A Doctor's cane.
    • Morbid: A higher offer.
    • Nitrate: Cheaper than day rate.
    • Node: Well aware of.
    • Outpatient: Person who has fainted
    • Pap Smear: Fatherhood test.
    • Pelvis: Cousin of Elvis.
    • Prostate: Flat on your back.
    • Recovery Room: Upholsterers workshop.
    • Rectum: Damn near killed 'em.
    • Rheumatic: Amorous.
    • Secretion: Hiding something.
    • Seizure: Roman Emperor.
    • Tablet: A small table.
    • Terminal Illness: Getting sick at the airport
    • Tibia: Country in North Africa.
    • Tumour: More than one.
    • Urine: Opposite to "Your Out".
    • Urology: Nice words at a funeral.

    Source: Anonymous (on the network). Contributed to WORMS by Bruce Craven

    The Ten Natural Laws of Operations Analysis

    Bob Bedow
    DELEX Systems, INC.
    8150 Leesburg Pike
    Vienna, VA 22180

    1. Ignore the problem and go immediately to the solution, that is where the profit lies.
    2. There are no small problems only small budgets.
    3. Names are control variables.
    4. Clarity of presentation leads to aptness of critique.
    5. Invention of the wheel is always on the direct path of a cost plus contract.
    6. Undesirable results stem only from bad analysis.
    7. It is better to extend an error than to admit to a mistake.
    8. Progress is a function of the assumed reference system.
    9. Rigorous solutions to assumed problems are easier to sell than assumed solutions to rigorous problems.
    10. In desperation address the problems.

    Source: Interfaces 7(3), p. 122, 1979.

    Applied OR Modelling

    ...Questions of taste were soon decided in those days. When a twelfth-century youth fell in love, he did not take three paces backward, gaze into her eyes and tell her she was beautiful to live. He said he would step outside and see about it. And if, when he got out, he met a man and broke his head - the other's man's head, I mean - then that proved that his - the first fellow's girl - was a pretty girl. But if the other fellow's - the other fellow to the second fellow, that is because of course the other fellow would only be the other fellow to him, not the first fellow, who - well, if he broke his head, then his girl - not the other fellow's, but the fellow who was the - Look here, if A broke B's head, then A's girl was a pretty girl, but if B broke A's head, then A's girl wasn't pretty girl, but B's girl was. That was their method of conducting art criticism.

    Now-a-days we light a pipe, and let the girls fight it out amongst themselves ...

    Source: Jerome K. Jerome, "Idle Thoughts of an Idle Man", Being Idle, pp. 58-59, 1889.

    Transportation Science

    The OR group at CN Rail was asked by the management to find a way to decrease the number of train crashs. After exhaustive statistical analysis and computer simulation they found that with large statistical significance the car most involved in crashs was the last car of the train. Their recommendation to management: remove the last car from all the CN trains. :-)

    Source :Ira Hammerman, ORCS-L, March 19, 1995.

    Several good homilies appear in the compilation The Official Rules by Paul Dickson (Delta, 1978). Here's a couple due to Robert Machol and reprinted there. (Other Official Rules relate to management, statistics, economics, politics, etc., but these are the most directly OR-ish.)

    Billings Phenomenon:
    The conclusions of most good operations research studies are obvious.

    (Robert E. Machol, from "Principles of Operations Research" [the column in Interfaces]. The name refers to a well-known Billings story [I think this is the 19th-century American humorist Josh Billings] in which a farmer becomes concerned that his black horses are eating a lot more than his white horses. He does a detailed study of the situation and finds that he has more black horses than white horses. Machol points out that the obvious conclusions are not likely to be obvious a priori but obvious after the results are in. In other words, good research does not have to yield dramatic findings.)

    Burns's Balance:
    If the assumptions are wrong, the conclusions aren't likely to be very good.

    (Robert E. Machol, from "Principles of Operations Research". The principle refers to the late radio comedian Robert Burns and his method for weighing hogs Burns got a perfectly symmetrical plank and balanced it across a sawhorse. He would then put the hog on one end of the plank and began piling rocks on the other end until the plank was again perfectly balanced across the sawhorse. At this point he would carefully guess the weight of the rocks.)

    Optimum Optimorum Principle:
    There comes a time when one must stop suggesting and evaluating new solutions, and get on with the job of analyzing and implementing one pretty good solution.

    (Robert Machol, in his POR series. To illustrate the point of this principle, he points out that some years ago an ABM expert said that for optimal protection the entire continental United States could be covered with a mile-thick layer of peanut butter--it would be impenetrable and have the support of the peanut industry. Says Machol, "The point of this anecdote is that the solutions which may be suggested for a problem are inexhaustible.")

    Screwdriver Syndrome:
    Sometimes, where a complex problem can be illuminated by many tools, one can be forgiven for applying the one he knows best.

    (Robert Machol, from his POR. It is illuminated by an anecdote in which an operations researcher is at home for the weekend with nothing to do and decides to tighten all the loose screws in the house. When he runs out of screws to tighten, he gets a file and begins filing slots in the heads of nails, which he dutifully begins tightening.)

    Titanic Coincidence:
    Most accidents in well-designed systems involve two or more events of low probability occurring in the worst possible combination.

    (Robert Machol, from POR.)


    One of the most famous OR anecdotes has to do with a war-time study of damage to returning bombers. Supposedly, a proposal was made to armor the planes in places where the returning planes were damaged by enemy anti-aircraft fire. One young analyst suggested that instead the planes should be armored where the returning bombers showed no damage. He inferred that the planes that were not returning were being damaged in places that the returning planes were not. (I don't recall if there is a confirmed source for this story.)

    Other anecdotes appear in Gene Woolsey's "Fifth Column" series in Interfaces , and in the late, lamented "Oracle" column by Doug Samuelson in OR/MSToday.

    At the 1981 ORSTA/TIMS Meeting in Houston, there was a panel discussion devoted to humor in OR/MS (TD23 Panel: geMS of humOR). It was chaired by Saul Gass and featured Steven Pollock, Thomas Saaty, Richard Shachtman, and Gene Woolsey. I remember a couple of the jokes that were told, but they're not suitable for the present purpose.

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