Murphy's Law is alive and well. Last week left no doubt in my mind.
With a column to write and a talk to prepare, my computer system looked
me in the eye and said, "Think you're smart, don't you? We'll see about
that." Only it said it more colorfully. Eventually I got everything
done in spite of Murphy, but I will never doubt the power of his Law.
As is my usual custom, I left it all to the last minute. The switch
over to a fast Internet service had left me without a printer for a few
days and with a lot of confusion on my desktop and in my head. Then my
domain address for e-mail disappeared for a couple of days, as did my
e-mail. Then my printouts began to fade, meaning that the toner
cartridge was used up and needed to be replaced. I got quick delivery
on that and I thought, Ah, nothing more can go wrong. But sure enough
it could. When I tried to re-load the printer, I found that I was out
of copy paper. A special trip through the maze of north 7th street to
get paper and I had it licked. I hoped.
But at last. Eureka. Made the talk and got the column in on time.
Naively I thought that there was only one Murphy's Law, the one that
says, "anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Not so.
When I went to the Web to find some information about this universal
law, I found that concocting explanations - serious, funny or vulgar --
of why things go wrong is a major hobby in America. There are more
Murphy's laws than Colorado Statutes. Just a few are Tech Laws, Love
Laws, Real Estate Laws, War Laws, Cop Laws, Nurses Laws -- but they go
on and on.
The concept of this law has existed for many years, but did not become
official until the 20th century and the birth of technology. It was
named after Captain Edward Murphy, a development engineer at Edwards Air
Force Base. In 1949 the Captain was working on a project designed to
see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash. One day
after finding that a technician had wired a transducer wrong, he cursed
the tech and said, "If there is any way to do it wrong, he'll find it."
The project manager was keeping a list of "laws" and added this one.
He called it Murphy's Law.
A couple of weeks later, an Air Force Doctor, Col. John P. Stapp
added "Stappp's Ironical Paradox" which says, "The universal aptitude
for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle."
And some unknown character came up with this little gem. Murphy's Law
was not actually coined by Murphy, but by another man of the same name.
A couple of the universal laws are: Nothing is as easy as it looks,
and Everything takes longer than you think.
My friend the philosopher, after years of answering questions at the
Library says this is her favorite one. If you tell a person that the
information will be easy to find and you will call her right back, it
will be hidden somewhere and will take hours to uncover.
Any computer owner knows this one. Any given program, when running, is
And there is the First Law of Final Exams. Pocket calculator batteries
that have lasted all semester will fail during the math final.
Corollary: If you bring extra batteries, they will be defective.
"If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked
something," but I am an eternal optimist. Oops. Wonder what I have
overlooked. I know that Murphy's Law is valid and real, but I am
convinced that this week, everything will go smoothly.
Oh well, just to be on the safe side, Anything that can go wrong will