EppsNet Archive: Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn Banned Again

21 Dec 2015 /
Huck and Jim on the raft

A Pennsylvania high school has removed Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its 11th-grade curriculum after complaints from students who said they were made “uncomfortable” by the novel.

The school’s principal defended the decision to remove the book from the curriculum. “I do not believe that we’re censoring,” he said. “I really do believe that this is an opportunity for the school to step forward and listen to the students.”

He went on to add, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Because if suppression of material you deem objectionable is not censoring, what is?

As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “Have somebody read the First Amendment to the United States Constitution out loud to you, you God damned fool!”

All the Talk About Tolerance

1 Dec 2014 /

Mark Twain

All the talk about tolerance, in anything or anywhere, is plainly a gentle lie. It does not exist. It is in no man’s heart; but it unconsciously, and by moss-grown inherited habit, drivels and slobbers from all men’s lips.

Mark Twain’s Autobiography

Thanksgiving Day

28 Nov 2014 /

Mark Twain

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1

Nobody Reads Books Anymore

11 Oct 2014 /

Me and Mark Twain

Joyce Carol Oates Gets Slammed

11 Jul 2013 /


EppsNet stands behind Joyce Carol Oates in this Twitstorm, in opposition to those who think that while raping women may be a bad thing, what’s really deplorable is freedom of thought and questioning theocracy. In solidarity, we publish a couple of previously unseen (because they’re terrible) photos of the two of us taken with Mark Twain in the Doe Library at UC Berkeley.

Joyce Carol Oates Mark Twain bench

The Lightning-Bug and the Lightning

20 Apr 2013 /
Mark Twain

This picture was taken just after I said to Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

And Twain said, “That’s a good one! I’ve got to write that down!”

Actually, the Twain statue is just inside the main entrance of Doe Library at UC Berkeley. I asked the nerdy-looking Asian girl at the front desk, “Who’s the guy on the bench?” She stared at me for a second. “Kidding,” I said.

“At first, I thought it was Albert Einstein,” she said, “so it doesn’t surprise me when people don’t know.”

The Secret of Getting Ahead

3 Feb 2012 /

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

— Mark Twain

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect. — Mark Twain

Happy Father’s Day

21 Jun 2010 /
Fathers Day

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

— Mark Twain

A wise son maketh a glad father.

— Proverbs 10:1

Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later . . . that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called ‘Being a Father’ so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.

—Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

Huck Finn Uses the N-Word

21 Sep 2008 /
Huck and Jim on the raft

My son had an assignment this weekend to write an essay on cultural values vs. personal values in Huckleberry Finn.

The teacher didn’t assign the whole book, just an excerpt in which Huck has to decide whether or not to send Jim, the escaped slave, back to Miss Watson.

So I read through the excerpt and sure enough, it includes multiple uses of what’s now known as “the N-word.”

I asked the boy, “Did Mr. Murano discuss with you guys about Mark Twain’s use of the word ‘nigger’?”

“No,” he said. “But in case you hadn’t noticed, our school is mostly Asian. Now if Mark Twain had overused the word ‘chink,’ then we’d have a problem.”

The Way to Write English

1 Mar 2007 /

I notice that you use plain, simple English, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.

— Mark Twain

Enron’s performance in 2000 was a success by any measure, as we continued to outdistance the competition and solidify our leadership in each of our major businesses. We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions. . . . We have metamorphosed from an asset-based pipeline and power generating company to a marketing and logistics company whose biggest assets are its well-established business approach and its innovative people.

— Enron Annual Report, 2000

Source: Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway & Jon Warshawsky

Massive Accountability

19 Aug 2006 /
Debris in river at interstate bridge collapse in Oklahoma

Maybe you’ve noticed that most software sucks.

Maybe you’ve wondered — if you work in the software business — why our aspirations are so low compared with the possibilities of our profession.

Maybe you’ve wondered what, if anything, could be done about this.

Here’s a fun story about the benefits of really holding people accountable for the shoddy quality of their work.

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about King Xerxes, who in the 5th Century BC ordered a bridge of boats to be built across the Hellespont:

A moderate gale destroyed the flimsy structure, and the King, thinking that to publicly rebuke the contractors might have a good effect on the next set, called them out before the army and had them beheaded. In the next ten minutes he let a new contract for the bridge. It has been observed by ancient writers that the second bridge was a very good bridge.

Res ipsa loquitor.

This Date in History

5 Aug 2004 /
Statue of Liberty

On this date in 1884, the cornerstone was laid for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. (We got the statue for free — the pedestal we had to pay for.)

One of the most historic fundraisers was the Pedestal Art Loan Exhibition, to which Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and others donated manuscripts for auction.

Emma Lazarus donated a poem called “The New Colossus,” which sold for $1,500, but was mostly forgotten until 1945, when it was inscribed over the main entrance at the base of the statue.

Continue reading This Date in History

The Programming Circus

1 Mar 2000 /
Thinking statues

Most of my illustrious career has been spent working or consulting for Fortune 1000 companies. These companies are fundamentally dependent on their computer systems, particularly their online systems, to transact business.

If the systems are down, the business stops running.

In fact, the systems don’t even have to be down to create havoc.

What if the response time is too slow? If you’ve ever done user testing with people whose job it is to enter money-making financial transactions for large corporations, you may have been amazed, as I was, at how fast they are.

Obviously then, the software you build for them has to be even faster; split-second response time is required. If your software is slowing people down, the business is losing money.

Or what if people are sitting around staring at their monitors because they can’t figure out how that great new interface you gave them is supposed to work?

Bad news.

Again there’s a measurable loss of revenue. Because these people are not supposed to be staring at their monitors, they’re supposed to be entering those money-making financial transactions, remember?

I could go on with this, but I think we both get the point: As a technologist working with these companies, you’re held to an exacting standard, because the cost of failure is high.

For example . . .

Rocket sled test of F-4 Phantom jet

One evening many years ago, I put a software upgrade into production for a client, a major electronics distributor.

It was a pretty straightforward upgrade and we tested it, but I guess we didn’t test it diligently enough on certain boundary cases, because when I came in the next morning, I was informed that our “upgrade” had crashed, preventing the online system from coming up for an hour until it could be backed out and order was restored.

In other words, we had effectively put the company out of business for an hour, a really expensive mistake. I was further informed that the CIO wished to talk with us in his office once he was finished getting his ass kicked by executive management.

Well, my dick was limp, I’ll tell you.

I took a moment to divide the company’s annual revenue by the number of business hours in a year. According to my calculations, this fiasco had cost about $250,000.

I popped another Xanax and washed it down with a pot of coffee to keep from passing out. I was twitching like a chicken for hours.


Yes, and thanks to experiences like that, I now consider myself a seasoned developer. I try to anticipate the consequences of technical decisions early in a project in an effort to avoid downstream catastrophes.

Circus clown

But I don’t work on mission-critical applications now.

I work on Web applications.

And with different kinds of applications come different kinds of developers.

Most Web developers have worked exclusively on systems where the cost of failure is very low, so they rarely ponder the implications of technical decisions in great detail.

Why bother? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Well, the Web site could have unpredictable access times, it could scale poorly, users could be unable to navigate the interface.

But so what?

As I write this, people still expect Web sites to have unpredictable access times, to scale poorly, and to have confusing interfaces.

Developers aren’t penalized for this; it’s all factored into the equation, as though improving the situation is beyond human capacity.

He who pays the piper is calling for a low-quality tune.
— DeMarco and Lister, Peopleware
Wrecked mountain bike

Okay, part of the problem is that most clients either don’t know any better or aren’t willing to pay for better.

And, you might say, why should they when users are still more than willing to forgive them for mediocrity?

But here’s the real problem:

Very few Web developers have had the edification that comes from blowing away a quarter of a million dollars of someone else’s money in an hour, not to mention the resulting shitrain that descends over the land.

Because if they had, they’d be a little more careful next time.

Massive accountability

Demolished end of bridge

Here’s a fun story about the benefits of really holding people accountable for shoddy workmanship.

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about King Xerxes, who in the 5th Century BC ordered a bridge of boats to be built across the Hellespont:

A moderate gale destroyed the flimsy structure, and the King, thinking that to publicly rebuke the contractors might have a good effect on the next set, called them out before the army and had them beheaded. In the next ten minutes he let a new contract for the bridge. It has been observed by ancient writers that the second bridge was a very good bridge.

Res ipsa loquitor.

Thus spoke The Programmer.