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Ask HN: What essay/blogpost do you keep going back to reread?
226 points by swyx on Oct 5, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

Joel Spolsky, "Things You Should Never Do, Part I": https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/04/06/things-you-should-...

It seems like common sense, but every few months I need a reminder that I should prefer to incrementally refactor/re-architect the codebase I have, rather than start from scratch.

I wish I had seen that (or if I had seen it before just remembered that) a few months ago. I work on an internal project that is core to part of our business and we are on our 3rd iteration of our platform in less than a year. An when I say iteration, I mean from scratch re-write. I will say it was probably necessary to go from the first to second platform with a re-write because the first one was half baked and didn't do much of what was needed. However, the 2nd to 3rd platform was not necessary and like Joel says, could have been refactored instead of scrapped entirely. Our QA person was super pissed too since they had put in so much time and effort into creating test cases for the platform we had and now they are completely wasted. Not to mention, because we are writing the newest iteration from scratch we missed deadlines because we had to deal with more than just business knowledge (which the team lacks as all but one of us is new to the specific domain in the health care realm) but putting together a new platform that could be extensible (just like the previous version of it was supposed to be) for future clients and outputs.

Not exactly a blogpost, but this is Randy Pausch's last lecture about achieving your childhood dreams. He was a CS professor at Carnegie Mellon, who passed away roughly a decade ago. I watch it from time to time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

Oh yes !

There is also a book, quite short but there are some things that are not in the lecture. Good read

This! This! This!

It has nothing to do with programming but I find myself rereading Smedley Butler's essay, "War is a Racket", quite often:


What You Can't Say http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority https://medium.com/incerto/the-most-intolerant-wins-the-dict...

This response to someone on StackOverflow asking how to parse HTML with regex: https://stackoverflow.com/a/1732454/145684

I used to love this answer but after I realised that it's same irrational peddling of best practices as "don't-use-goto". There can be many cases where parsing HTML with Regex is abuse, but equally others where it's the best available solution. I wasted countless hours in working with lame HTML libraries, their limited options for selectors, their frustrating failures with invalid HTML, all because of this advice. Looking back, I think Regex would have worked just fine.

Yes, a thousand times this. First of all, regex in the wild (e.g. Perl regex) is much more powerful than the CS version (that can only handle regular languages). This point is often conceded though from the "don't use regex to parse HTML" side, but some don't realize this.

Another thing is that you don't really need to handle HTML at all, only a small subsection that might be totally fine with a regex, even a simple one, for a lot of cases.

The true enemy is parsing something that might change over time, and that's totally unrelated to the regex issue.

I have done plenty of regex parsing of xml with Perl. It has been very useful. Over time I have also used things like the index function to eck out some additional performance.

Recently I replaced this with a xml tokenizer I wrote in Go that can deal with invalid or corrupt xml. On top of this I have used a state machine to make it possible to handle different situations.

Jay Kreps’ article on the log abstraction - https://engineering.linkedin.com/distributed-systems/log-wha...

I've had this open in my browser for about two years now. I've read it maybe 1.5 times and I know I want to re-read it, but it's so long that I rarely actually get to it.

If you enjoy the subject, these two are good reads as well: - https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/the-world-beyond-batch-streami... - https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/the-world-beyond-batch-streami...

Joel Spolsky - "Strategy Letter V". The article serves as an economics primer for any individual(though its much more relevant to software developers). Key Takeaway-- commoditize your products complement


What should a four-year old know? https://magicalchildhood.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/what-shoul...

It's common for parents to be daunted by the fact that their kids are being left behind. This fear leads to high-pressure parenting and its symptoms are much worse in an Indian society (in which I grew up). What kids need more is freedom to explore their own interests and inquisitiveness rather than forced lessons. I keep revisiting this article to remind myself what kids needs the most to grow.

Richard Hamming: You and Your Research


If you like this, I highly recommend Hamming's book The Art of Doing Science and Engineering. This is the write-up of a graduate course he taught at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. There is also a complete set of video recordings of his lectures from his 1995 teaching of that course on YouTube [1].

The talk You and Your Research is actually the final chapter/lecture in the book/course.

I can't personally recommend the lectures, since I have not watched them, but I have carefully read the book and taken notes: it is pure gold.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2FF649D0C4407B30

Thanks !

I can't find it in paper version though - only PDF. Any idea where could I buy it ?

Alas, it is long out of print, and the few used copies out there are expensive. I just did a search on AbeBooks [1], and the cheapest is about $300 USD, which is greatly down from the outlandish $700 that the two available copies were going for five or six years ago. You can buy it as a Kindle ebook though, and there used to be an Adobe DRM'd PDF available (which is what I have) but I don't know that you can buy that one any more.

I did have the opportunity to compare my PDF with a genuine original book, and found no differences. Even the typos I found in the PDF that I thought must be OCR errors turn out to be in the original as well.

[1] https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=97890569...

Thanks. I will go will the PDF then, which is too bad since I much prefer paper versions. I've seen some used at around $300 USD indeed. That would make it the most expensive book I've ever bought I guess ! (currently it's "Poor Charlie's Almanack", by Charles T. Munger - I think I've paid something like 150$ some years ago. Best money ever spent !)

Given your liking of Munger's book, you might find this interesting: in the Stress-influence tendency chapter (page 434 or thereabouts, I think), Munger mentions a "description of Pavlov’s last work in a popular paperback, written by some Rockefeller-financed psychiatrist". This is probably Battle for the Mind [1] by William Sargant [2].

The Wikipedia entry on Sargant says things like "his reliance on dogma rather than clinical evidence have confirmed his reputation as a controversial figure whose work is seldom cited in modern psychiatric texts.", and others "described him as 'autocratic, a danger, a disaster' and spoke about 'the damage he did'".

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Battle-Mind-Brainwashing-Evangelists-...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sargant

Same here, I read it at least once a year.

How to make wealth by PG http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

Why Amazon has no profits and why it works by A16Z https://a16z.com/2014/09/05/why-amazon-has-no-profits-and-wh...

(NSFW) "The Others" I keep it in a bookmark with the title "never forget". It is in French but it is mostly for the pictures of civilian victims in Syria.


Remember how privileged we are. Remember how quickly these privileges can go away. Remember how unfair the world is.

Focus on what is important. Focus on life. Yours and others.

Paul Graham's essay What you can't say was one of the most enlightening pieces I've ever read. It makes a strong case that whatever your current ethics are, some of them will look strange or even barbaric to people in the future, just as the beliefs of many compassionate rational people living 100, 500 or 1,000 years ago do to you. Then it talks about root causes of moral fashions and what you can do to discover what heresies you might unconsciously believe but be unable to speak without serious repercussions.

From this vantage point 13 years later, there are specific parts of the essay that are objectionable now, and yet that reinforces rather than refutes the core thrust of the essay.


I always find it stimulating to read

How to do Research At the MIT AI Lab [1] and Where's the Passion [2].

[1]: https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/41487 [2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093808/

David Chapman, the author of "How to do Research at the MIT AI Lab" is currently writing a book on meta-rationality over at meaningness.com. Highly recommended.

A taste from the blog outside of the book: https://meaningness.com/metablog/stem-fluidity-bridge

Luigi Rossolo's The Art of Noise, a 1913 futurist manifesto that talks about how people adapt to technology, and that defines their aesthetic sensibilities (and predicts electronic/industrial music).


Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians has gotten multiple re-readings (it's a short book/very long essay, but is published free online) and has given me great insight into the attitudes behind the right-wing populists currently dominating politics in the West:


14 years ago: the day Teller gave me the secret to my career in magic


8 Years Today - Paul Buchheit

It's a very personal post about death & loss & mourning. It helped me navigate through a tough time.



"The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It's to look for problems."

I personally think this is an profoundly important piece of writing.

aka - "scratch that itch"

Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns, Steve Yegge: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com.au/2006/03/execution-in-king...

Not tech related, but helped me realise how we subconsciously view others and ourselves:


Let's Build a Compiler by Jack Crenshaw.[1] It's not really the content that I enjoy, rather the form of instruction. To exaggerate, I'm sure that someone who had never touched programming in their life could learn how to write a compiler from this work.

[1]: https://compilers.iecc.com/crenshaw/

Scott Adams, "The Day You Became A Better Writer", 2007


You and Your Research by Hamming


It’s just spectacular in a way that is hard to summarize. My favorite part is the lesson about closed vs open doors.

I want to mention 2 of my all time favorite articles -

1. How language influences emotion - https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/the-book-...

2. The Kekule Problem - http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/the-kekul-problem

Both of them very thought provoking and excellent articles.

Naval Ravikant on Reading, Happiness, Systems for Decision Making, Habits, Honesty and More:


audio: https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2017/02/naval-ravikant-read...

"This Is Water" speech, by David Wallace.

Link: http://www.befreetoday.com.au/this-is-water/

As a counterpoint, see Cushman's comment in this thread about DFW: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2909562

I've reread it probably hundreds of times, it might be the single most insightful HN comment I've ever read.

Direct link to Cushman's comment:


It's a insightful reply, I agree. I also don't like that thread that much, just because the guy was not a good human being, it doesn't mean that we need to reject all of his ideas because of his personality, that's a textbook Ad Hominem logical fallacy. I like that essay as an insightful essay regardless of the dude's history. Thanks for linking to that comment, though.

To anyone who was as confused as I, it is not the linked comment that is what OP is referencing, but a reply.

Listening to DFW speak that essay makes me really contemplative.

I find myself going back to "The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!)" by Joel Spolsky.

It's the basics that I forget often...


Richard P. Gabriel, "The Rise of Worse is Better"


Meditations on Moloch. In which coordination problems are incarnated as Ginsberg's Moloch. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/

Came here to post this one too. He has so many wonderful essays, but this one amazed me.

Thanks for this one. Extremely well written.

Start Now. No Funding Needed. by Derek Sivers


On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber


That website seems to be under construction but I found an alternate link: https://libcom.org/library/phenomenon-bullshit-jobs-david-gr...

Epigrams on Programming -- Alan Perlis


Ada Palmer's "On Progress and Historical Change" https://www.exurbe.com/?p=4041

"So when I tell people about this election, and they ask me “Does it always have the same outcome?” the answer is yes and no. Because the Great Forces always push the same way. The strong factions are strong. Money is power. Blood is thicker than promises. Virtue is manipulable. In the end, a bad man will be pope. And he will do bad things. The war is coming, and the land — some land somewhere — will burn. But the details are always different. A Cardinal needs to gather fourteen votes to get the throne, but it’s never the same fourteen votes, so it’s never the same fourteen people who get papal favor, whose agendas are strengthened, whose homelands prosper while their enemies fall. And I have never once seen a pope elected in this simulation who did not owe his victory, not only to those who voted, but to one or more of the humble functionaries, who repeated just the right whisper at just the right moment, and genuinely handed the throne to Monster A instead of Monster B. And from that functionary flow the consequences."

Julia Evans' Linux Debugging Zine: https://jvns.ca/debugging-zine.pdf

The mythical 10x programmer - antirez http://antirez.com/news/112

me too :)

this was posted on HN a month or two ago, but I've read it several times and has motivated me to avoid mindless consumption of media and instead create stuff.


Humdog's Pandora's Vox: https://gist.github.com/kolber/2131643 Every time I read it, it feels like the first time. I first read it one month before graduating with my undergrad CS degree and it profoundly changed me. She sure was ahead of her time.

Brendan Gregg's [linux perf](http://www.brendangregg.com/linuxperf.html) posts.

They a great reference for linux tools and how to use them.

They are also a great guide to deductive reasoning when spelunking through a system to find issues.

Not programming related, just wonderful.



The neatly itemized startup-howto advice in @jasonlbaptiste's very long comment from 7 years ago:


I have a couple of go to pieces on procrastination/getting things done:

Procrastination is not Laziness (http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-lazi...)

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person (http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-yo...)

A recent article, but "WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS" has been bouncing around my head and had several re-reads over the last month.

Its not about technology, and its not about football, though it uses that as a backdrop. Read it twice. https://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/2017/9/1/16233388/w...

The top idea in your mind by Paul Graham


Derek Lowe, "Sand Won’t Save You This Time". My favorite entry from a drug discovery chemist's Things I Won't Work With stories.


"How to make breaking changes and not break all the things"

would love a poster version of this


Yonathan Zunger's explanation of Paxos/consistency: https://hackernoon.com/how-your-data-is-stored-or-the-laws-o...

It's a lengthy read, but that's the one which helped me really understand Paxos.

Meta-question: how do you keep track of these? Every now and then I come upon something and I think "Oh, I should definitely re-read this!". But then, eventually, I end up forgetting about it. Are these just things that often come up and re-read them because you know they're worth it, or do you actively keep track of them somehow?

Pocket! https://getpocket.com/ but, there's one more thing. Kindle Paperwhite ( because I bought that one ). Then mark every link with an specific tag, let's say `read`, then, go to https://www.crofflr.com/ and link Pocket so you receive an weekly ebook! Then enjoy!

bonus, https://www.crofflr.com/ will mark your link as read once it gets to your Kindle.

I use Pocket, and after going through this thread my feed looks like this :P https://i.imgur.com/DOPpL0Z.png

Though if you start using pocket you will inevitably end up with thousands of unread articles that you will "read later" which might be worse.

If you use Kindle you can use https://www.crofflr.com/

Yeah, I'm one of the top 1% readers on Pocket according to their stats, and my reading list has probably hundreds of articles. Didn't scale too well for me :)

Call me old-fashioned, but I just use chrome bookmarks

I've been using google keep lately and quite like it

Bookmark this thread.

Most of the ones by Paul Graham. They seem to condense things very well, and no matter how many times I reread it, it has the same fresh impact.

One of the best is http://paulgraham.com/growth.html

Pretty much anything by Patrick McKenzie. He goes by patio11 here. His writing imparts so much value.

The Legion Lonely: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15000729 (I always keep the HN link for the comments but its the blog post Im talking about)

Electricity Misconceptions Spread by k-6 Textbooks: http://amasci.com/miscon/elect.html

Black Triangles by Rampant Games:


Is it OK to be a Luddite - by Thomas Pynchon

5-10 page long essay about "technology scepticism", from 1984 . A perspective on digitization of society, then and now.

"Class" http://siderea.livejournal.com/1260265.html?format=light or a Slate Star Codex summary: "Staying Class" http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/30/staying-classy/

About the differences between economic class and social class.

An example question to consider:

why are electricians and plumbers less respected than university professors even though they often make far more money?

Freeman Dyson - he wrote a few books years ago on a lot of interesting subjects. I flick through them occasionally

Anything by Peter F. Drucker. If you've never read Drucker, you owe it to yourself.

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