A Little Fable (Kleine Fabel) – Franz Kafka

“Alas”, said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I am running into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

—Franz Kafka, a short story written some time between 1917 and 1923

Find what you love

“Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.” (Henry Charles Bukowski.)

Emma Goldman on equal rights

“The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved. Indeed, if partial emancipation is to become a complete and true emancipation of woman, it will have to do away with the ridiculous notion that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is synonymous with being slave or subordinate. It will have to do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds.”

“.. woman’s freedom is closely allied with man’s freedom, and many of my so-called emancipated sisters seem to overlook the fact that a child born in freedom needs the love and devotion of each human being about him, man as well as woman. Unfortunately, it is this narrow conception of human relations that has brought about a great tragedy in the lives of the modern man and woman.”

From over there.

GCHQ’s director’s Turing speech – a research team manual?

Just read the (4 Oct 2012) speech about Alan Turing, given by Iain Lobban, Director GCHQ, at the University of Leeds.

Fantastic stuff in there. Here are some excerpts.

On learning to solve problems

“… [Turing] reported to Bletchley Park as agreed and immediately started working with [Dilly] Knox [expert on the Enigma cypher …]. Knox’s influence on Turing at this time is immense. The older veteran cryptanalyst shared everything he knew about Enigma with Turing, who eventually used this knowledge to write the first four chapters of his treatise on Enigma […]

“…[Turing] was happy to learn from Dilly Knox, happy to use that knowledge as the foundation for what he would develop subsequently, and was diligent in recording what he had learned and how he developed that into new areas so that others could profit from his knowledge just as he had profited from that of Knox.”

Knox could only take Turing so far and his quest for experience-based understanding of the cryptanalysis of Enigma took Turing to France in January 1940…”

Team work

There are lots of different ways in which people can work as part of a team.  Turing’s way was to take in other people’s ideas, develop and build on them, and then pass the product on to other people to be the foundation for the next stage.  He took the idea of electromechanical processing of Enigma messages from the Poles but developed their idea into something radically different.  When Welchman later enhanced the Bombe with his diagonal board, Turing was among the first to congratulate him on this major improvement.  Turing was part of the team, and shared in the success of the team.”

Respecting diversity

“I strongly believe a Sigint agency needs the widest range of skills possible if it is to be successful, and to deny itself talent just because the person with the talent doesn’t conform to a social stereotype is to starve itself of what it needs to thrive.”

“I don’t want to pretend that GCHQ was an organisation with twenty-first century values in the twentieth century, but it was at the most tolerant end of the cultural spectrum.  In an organisation which valued the skills and characteristics that difference can bring, Turing’s homosexuality was less of a talking point than his insights into the complex crypt problems of the day.  When he was put on trial, Hugh Alexander, the Head of Cryptanalysis at GCHQ went, with official approval, to speak as a character witness on his behalf, saying in court that Turing was a national asset.”

Exploiting serendipity

“Geoffrey Tandy was posted to Bletchley by the Admiralty in a spirit of helpfulness: his posting officer had understood him to be an expert in cryptograms, a word still used in the Admiralty at that time to mean messages signalled in code.  In fact he was an expert in cryptogams: non-flowering plants like ferns, mosses and seaweeds.  But while this knowledge might not have appeared to be of much use, Tandy became expert in German naval Enigma and because of his work on seaweed was able to provide unique advice on the preservation of cryptologic documents rescued from the sea.”

The role of management

“Part of my job is to continue to foster that atmosphere: to attract the very best people and harness their talents, and not allow preconceptions and stereotypes to stifle innovation and agility.”

Direct action

“Proceeding with the belief that in every situation, every individual and group has the possibility of some direct action on some level of generality, we may discover much that has been unrecognised, and the importance of much that has been underrated. So politicalised is our thinking, so focused to the motions of governmental institutions, that the effects of direct efforts to modify one’s environment are unexplored. The habit of direct action is, perhaps, identical with the habit of being a free [person], prepared to live responsibly in a free society.”

David Wieck (1962), The Habit of Direct Action (quoted by Colin Ward, 1973)

Kropotkin on philosophy

“… in what respect does the philosopher, who pursues science in order that he may pass life pleasantly to himself, differ from that drunkard there, who only seeks the immediate gratification that gin affords him? The philosopher has, past all question, chosen his enjoyment more wisely, since it affords him a pleasure far deeper and more lasting than that of the toper. But that is all! Both one and the other have the same selfish end in view, personal gratification.”

(From An Appeal to the Young by Peter Kropotkin)

Henri Frédéric Amiel’s journal—a couple of quotes

(Wikipedia entry over here; translation of journal here.)

Stimulus oriented versus stimulus independent thought?

“[…] respect in yourself the oscillations of feeling. They are your life and your nature […]. Do not abandon yourself altogether either to instinct or to will. Instinct is a siren, will a despot. Be neither the slave of your impulses and sensations of the moment, nor of an abstract and general plan; be open to what life brings from within and without, and welcome the unforeseen; but give to your life unity, and bring the unforeseen within the lines of your plan. Let what is natural in you raise itself to the level of the spiritual, and let the spiritual become once more natural. Thus will your development be harmonious […]”


“[…] what we call “society” proceeds for the moment on the flattering illusory assumption that it is moving in an ethereal atmosphere and breathing the air of the gods. All vehemence, all natural expression, all real suffering, all careless familiarity, or any frank sign of passion, are startling and distasteful in this delicate milieu; they at once destroy the common work, the cloud palace, the magical architectural whole, which has been raised by the general consent and effort.”

On the importance of procrastination

“I had been preparing myself (though I did not always realize it) from the day that I was born, preparing myself, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg), but always aware of the dangers of beginning too soon. For there is nothing worse, he wrote, than beginning too soon. It is much worse to begin too soon, he wrote, than not to begin at all. Much worse to begin too soon than to begin too late. Much worse to begin too soon and realize one has begun too soon than to begin too late and realize one has begun too late. Much worse to begin too soon and realize one is inadequately prepared then to begin too late and realize one is over-prepared. Much worse to begin too soon and reach the end too quickly, typed Goldberg, squinting at the manuscript before him, than to begin at the right time and discover one has nothing to begin. That is why, wrote Harsnet, I have been preparing myself for that moment for a long time, that is why I have cleared the decks and prepared the ground, because unless the decks are cleared and the ground prepared there is little hope is succeeding in what one has planned to do, little hope of achieving anything of lasting value, though lasting is a relative term and so is value and whatever it is one has planned to do is certain to be altered in the process, which does not of course mean, he wrote, that one can start anywhere at any time. It is just because whatever one has planned to do is bound to be altered in the process that it is important to start at the right moment, he wrote. It is just because whatever one has planned is bound to change as one proceeds that it is fatal to start too soon or too late, though it may be no less fatal, he wrote (and Goldberg typed), to start at the right time, for then there is no excuse, no excuse whatsoever. I have done with excuses, wrote Harsnet (typed Goldberg), I have done with excuses towards myself and towards others, that is the meaning of the right time, he wrote, that I have done with excuses, that I have used up all the excuses and reached the bottom of excuses, that I have wrung the neck of excuses, that I have settled the hash of excuses. To begin at the right time, he wrote, means to be done with the excuses once and for all. Excuses, wrote Goldberg in the margin of his typescript with a felt-tip pen, an end to excuses…”

From The Big Glass by Josipovici