If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports.
When I was a grad student at Berkeley, my advisor, Umesh Vazirani, liked to repeat this nugget of wisdom to students, friends, and colleagues. In a single sentence, Umesh was communicating an entire philosophy of life: concentrate on the high-order bits. The squash player who runs back and forth to attempt every shot, the student who’s never late with an assignment, the researcher who stalks an unimportant problem like Captain Ahab: all have succumbed to the tyranny of the low-order bit. They need to realize that, as in a randomized algorithm, occasional failures are the inevitable byproduct of a successful strategy. If you always win, then you’re probably doing something wrong.
On the other hand, having dropped Umesh off at 8PM for an 8:30 international flight, I can attest from personal experience that he was talking about actual air travel as well.
I thought about Umesh’s “Airport Law” on my way to Australia, after I nearly missed my flight out of Heathrow, and then did miss the connection from Sydney to Brisbane, after waiting for an hour in customs so that my luggage could be searched for any contraband fruit or vegetables. I wondered: what other “Umeshisms” are waiting to be discovered? Here are the first four I came up with:
If you never cut yourself while shaving, you’re not shaving close enough.
If you’ve never been robbed, you’re spending too much time locking doors.
If you’ve never been rejected, you’re not asking enough. (The easiest to state, the hardest to practice.)
If you’ve never regretted a blog entry, your blog is boring.
As a tribute to Umesh, I hereby open the comments section to a Best Umeshism Contest. The winner (as chosen by me) earns the right to ask any question, and then have me answer it on this blog, possibly after consulting with Umesh about the high-order bits. The deadline is December 28, 2005, 11:59PM EST. Limit three entries per person. Include your name and/or email.