Murphy’s Law and its various variations


I am preaching at Lake Mahopac UMC this weekend (service is at 10, location of church).  The sermon is entitled “The Basic Rules” and I hope to have it posted Saturday afternoon.  It is lectionary based and the Old Testament Reading for this Sunday (21st Sunday after Pentecost) is Exodus 20: 1 – 4, 7 – 9, 12 – 20.  These are the verses that introduce us to the Ten Commandments.  I have used the lectionary on a number of occasions before (see “The Rules We Play By”, “Rules for Living”, and “Tenants of the Vineyard”).

But this time, instead of a football analogy, I was going to try something different.  In thinking about the rules embodied in the Ten Commandments, I thought about the rules that one has to learn in chemistry.  I found a very interesting collection of the rules in chemistry that are named after various chemists – NAMED RULES IN CHEMISTRY.  I also thought about that ubiquitous set of rules that a man named Murphy inspired.  And with that introduction, here are Murphy’s Law and its various variations:

Murphy’s Laws

  1. If anything can go wrong, it will.
  2. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the first one to go wrong.
  3. If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
  4. If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
  5. Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  6. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
  7. Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
  8. Mother nature is a bitch.

Addition to Murphy’s Laws

In nature, nothing is ever right. Therefore, if everything is going right … something is wrong.

Forsyth’s Second Corollary to Murphy’s Laws

Just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the roof caves in.

O’Toole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Laws

Murphy was an optimist.

Brook’s Law

If at first you don’t succeed, transform your data set!

Brooke’s Law

Adding manpower to a late software makes it later.

Cheop’s Law

Nothing ever gets build on schedule or within budget.

Featherkile’s Rule

Whatever you did, that’s what you planned.

Finagle’s Fourth Law

Once a job is fooled up, anything done to improve it will only make it worse.

Flap’s Law

Any inanimate object, regardless of its position, configuration or purpose, may be expected to perform at any time in a totally unexpected manner for reasons that are either entirely obscure or else completely mysterious.

Gilb’s Laws of Unreliability

  1. Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable.
  2. Any system that depends upon human reliability is unreliable.
  3. Undetectable errors are infinite in variety, in contrast to detectable errors, which by definition are limited.
  4. Investment in reliability will increase until it exceeds the probable cost of errors, or until someone insists on getting some useful work done.

Ginsberg’s Theorems (actually a variation on the laws of thermodynamics)

  1. You can’t win.
  2. You can’t break even.
  3. You can’t even quit the game.

Golub’s Laws of Computerdom

  1. Fuzzy project objectives are used to avoid embarrassment of estimating the corresponding costs.
  2. A carelessly planned project takes three times longer to complete than expected; a carefully planned project takes only twice as long.
  3. The effort required to correct course increases geometrically with time.
  4. Project teams detest weekly progress reporting because it so vividly manifests their lack of progress.

Grosch’s Law

Computing power increases as the square of the cost.

Gumperson’s Law

The probability of anything happening is in inverse ratio to its desirability.

Gummidge’s Law

The amount of expertise varies in inverse ratio to the number of statements understood by the general public.

Harvard’s Law, as Applied to Computers

Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity and other variables, the computer will do as it damn well pleases.

Horner’s Five Thumb Postulate

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.

Jenkinson’s Law

It won’t work.

Johnson’s Third Law

If you miss one issue of any magazine, it will be the issue that contains the article, story or installment you were most anxious to read.

Corollary to Johnson’s Third Law

All of your friends either missed it, lost it or threw it out.

Atwoods Corollary

No books are lost by lending except those you particularly wanted to keep.

Harper’s Magazine Law

You never find the article until you replace it.

Lubarsky’s Law of Cybernetic Entomology

There’s always one more bug.

The Laws of Computer Programming

  1. Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
  2. Any given program costs more and takes longer each time it is run.
  3. If a program is useful, it will have to be changed.
  4. If a program is useless, it will have to be documented.
  5. Any given program will expand to fill all the available memory.
  6. The value of a program is inversely proportional to the weight of its output.
  7. Program complexity grows until it exceeds the capability of the programmer who must maintain it.

Pierce’s Law

In any computer system, the machine will always misinterpret, misconstrue, misprint, or not evaluate any math or subroutines or fail to print any output on at least the first run through.

Corollary to Pierce’s Law

When a compiler accepts a program without error on the first run, the program will not yield the desired output.

Pudder’s Laws

  1. Anything that begins well ends badly.
  2. Anything that begins badly ends worse.

Osborn’s Law

Variables won’t; constants aren’t.

Rule of Accuracy

When working toward the solution of a problem, it always helps if you know the answer.

Stockmayer’s Theorem

If it looks easy, it’s tough. If it looks tough, it’s damn near impossible.

Troutman’s Postulate

  1. Profanity is the one language understood by all programmers.
  2. Not until a program has been in production for six months will the most harmful error be discovered.
  3. Job control cards that positively cannot be arranged in improper order will be.
  4. Interchangeable tapes won’t.
  5. If the input editor has been designed to reject all bad input, an ingenious idiot will discover a method to get bad data past it.
  6. If a test installation functions perfectly, all subsequent systems will malfunction.

Weiler’s Law

Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.

Weinberg’s Second Law

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

Westheimer’s Rule (I believe this comes from a chemist)

To estimate the time it takes to do a task: estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus, we allocate two days for a one hour task.

Zymurgy’s First Law of Evolving System Dynamics

Once you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can (old worms never die, they just worm their way into larger cans).

Zymurg’s Seventh Exception to Murphy’s Law

When it rains, it pours.

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3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law and its various variations

  1. The first 90 percent of a project takes the first 90 percent of the time.

    The other 10 percent of the project takes the other 90 percent of the time.

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