The Market Value of OS 9

First things first. If you have an IBM GXP Deskstar hard drive:

  1. Stop reading this journal entry.
  2. Backup all your critical data right this minute.
  3. Run to your local computer equipment vendor and purchase a non-IBM, non-Seagate disk drive.
  4. Install your new hard drive and copy over your critical data, reinstalling your OS and applications as necessary.
  5. Take an axe to your IBM GXP Deskstar hard drive.
  6. Resume reading this journal entry.

So losing my hard drive after only a year and a half wasn’t as bad as you might think. Okay, I’ll admit I’m pretty annoyed with IBM for knowingly manufacturing defective hard drives. And it’s disheartening to find out that Apple chose to use those defective hard drives as their stock Quicksilver PowerMac drive. But I’m past that now, mostly because I had my critical files backed up. I was actually feeling pretty smug about that. Hah, silly people who lose data.

Until I discovered that I needed to use FrameMaker at home to edit some files that very day.[1] See, FrameMaker for the Macintosh is a “Classic” application, and unfortunately, my laptop didn’t have OS 9 installed. It used to have a Classic environment, but I had reinstalled Jaguar a while back and never bothered to re-install OS 9. Here’s what I learned that day:

  • Market value of OS 9, if you save your laptop’s OS 9 disk like a responsible person: $0.00.
  • Market value of OS 9, if you need to order a replacement OS 9 CD from Apple, to be delivered whenever UPS gets around to it: ~ $30.
  • Market value of OS 9, if you need OS 9 that day, and the clock is ticking: $86.52.

Tends to wipe the smug off one’s face, let me tell you.

1. As far as I can tell, Adobe FrameMaker 7 for Macintosh is essentially abandonware. One of the hazards of being a Mac user. No one bothers to write viruses for you, but no one bothers to write applications either.

2. Kidding, kidding. Of course people bother to write Macintosh viruses.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I’m back! For the record, I had planned to come back with a cute little piece about my recent computer woes. But rather than focus on my personal stupidity, this entry is going to focus on stupidity in general.

Via Mark Pilgrim‘s “b-links”, I ran across this lovely little piece titled, “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity“, by economics professor Carlo M. Cipolla. I must say that this article is a remarkable example of its genre. The author hits us right away with his First Law of Human Stupidity:

“Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.”

Always and inevitably! At the same time! Wow. What the heck is wrong with all of us? It sure is hard to understand how everyone could continue to underestimate the number of stupid individuals, what with the sheer numbers of Smart Persons taking time out to warn about this pressing problem and all. From UC-Berkeley Economics Professors to angst-ridden teens, there’s really no shortage. In fact, there are enough people churning out such warnings that we really ought to give them their own designation. Call them, “Meta-Stupid”.

Basic Law of Meta-Stupidity #1: Meta-Stupid people believe that almost everyone else is stupid.

We might naively (stupidly?) expect that this amounts to a not-so-subtle dig at the reader. If most people are stupid, doesn’t that mean the reader is probably stupid? No, no, don’t worry — if you’re smart enough to travel in the same intellectual circles as the Meta-Stupid person, to read his or her oeuvre, there’s an excellent chance you’re not stupid after all. Think no more of it.

Now, what does “most people are stupid” mean? It means that rather than drawing the Line of Stupidity at, say, the 5% mark, or even the 30% mark, the Meta-Stupid person is pulling the line far, far to the right. “The people at the 50th, 70th, even the 95th percentile are all profoundly stupid,” says the Meta-Stupid person. “Only a select few peers and I make the cut.” In other words, whatever stupidity is, the criteria for not having it are rather stringent.

And if that’s true, if the vast majority of people really are so stupid, that’s actually pretty disturbing, isn’t it? After all, I had always thought that a complex modern society had to be composed of hundreds of millions of complex people. People who work, pay rent, create, raise children, pay taxes, vote, live, love, hate, die, and even tie their shoelaces all by themselves. But no no, that’s all wrong. Our society consists of nothing but hundreds of millions of stupid drones. Everything would fall apart if not for a tiny minority of super-men, heroically banging away at their keyboards, focusing their super-brains on… whatever super-brains focus on. Let’s hope they keep doing such a diligent job. Or failing that, let’s hope that “stupidity” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Basic Law of Meta-Stupidity #2: Meta-Stupid people mean different things by “Stupid”.

When a Meta-Stupid person uses the word “stupid”, he or she could mean any of the following:

  • “People who disagree with me politically or philosophically”
  • “People who are novices in an area in which I am an expert”
  • “People who dislike me,” or the closely related, “People who don’t understaaaand me”

Finally there’s the tautological,

  • “People who do stupid things”

Definition of stupidity to be left as an exercise for the reader. Our UC-Berkeley professor friend defines it thus:

[The Third Basic Law of Human Stupidity]: “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.”

And here is where I confess: I am a stupid person. I have caused losses to other people, deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. In fact, definitely incurring losses. Worse, I’ve even done more than one stupid thing in my life. And in the next half-century, there’s a good chance I’ll do something else that’s stupid. Who knows, maybe even two or three things. Heavy doth the mantle of stupidity weigh.

Needless to say, our Meta-Stupid professor’s definition needs a little work.

First, the definition doesn’t explicitly account for expectation values (a rather surprising omission for an Economics professor). For example: speeding and tailgating is stupid, because it increases your chance of death for very little benefit. Nevertheless, even if you’re a terrible driver, there’s a good chance that you’ll make it through your entire driving career without dying in a heap of flaming wreckage. So if you’re one of the people that makes it to age eighty, does that make you smart?

Second, some stupid actions actually do benefit others. Consider someone who runs up a massive credit card debt buying stuff they can’t afford, and ends up having to pay off tens of thousands of dollars at exorbitant rates. Pretty stupid, right? And yet lots of other parties benefit. The merchants that sold the stuff to the stupid person. The people who manufacture the stuff. The credit card company that accepts the payments. The bank that takes over the loan when the person consolidates their debt at a lower rate. Lots of benefit all around — and so by the above definition our credit card person is, well, not stupid.

Third, the way the definition is written, it’s one-strike-you’re-out. I don’t know who these non-stupid people are, but I want to find them. And follow them, and gather at least one or two of the golden bricks they shit.

Basic Law of Meta-Stupidity #3: Meta-Stupid people tend to say profoundly stupid and self-refuting things.

Nothing brings out the stupidity quite like calling most of your fellow human beings stupid. It’s kind of like being a grammar fascist: as soon as you harp on someone, someone else will point out three errors in your own post. It’s the Pot-Kettle effect. Incidentally, that’s why I haven’t been ripping on Professor Cipolla for his piss-poor prose. (Whoops!)

[The Fourth Basic Law of Human Stupidity]: “Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.”


  1. If I were a non-stupid person, wouldn’t I never “underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals?” After all, if I failed to do this, I would be causing losses to myself and others. And therefore by definition, I would be stupid.

  2. If most people in the world are indeed stupid, then what, pray tell, is protecting me from “deal[ing] and/or associat[ing]” with them, at least some of the time? Must be those mile-high walls of adamantium surrounding Stupid Country, keeping us all safe from Stupidity Rays.

Moving on…

[The Fifth Law of Human Stupidity]: “A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person. The corollary of the Law is that: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.”

Oh really? The most dangerous? Let’s see. If I encounter a “bandit”, he is always going to beat me up and take my stuff. If I encounter a “stupid person”, at best he is only sometimes going to cause losses. Again, our economics professor blithely ignores expectation values. Weird. My friend Eric’s older brother Bob studied math and computer science at UC-Berkeley, and Bob just loves probability and expectation values. Maybe it’s a departmental thing.

“Although convinced that fraction of human beings are stupid and that they are so because of genetic traits, I am not a reactionary trying to reintroduce surreptitiously class or race discrimination.”

Gosh, that’s a relief. But a few lines later, we get:

[The Second Basic Law of Human Stupidity]: “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.”

Wild. So on the one hand, stupidity is genetic. But wait — stupidity is independent of any other characteristic of that person. Except their parents, I guess.

Well, anyway. You get the idea. I think Mark sums it up best in the title of his link to the Stupidity page: “The only power stupid people have over you is when you let them waste your time.” Truer words were never spoken. I’m going to bed.