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Cities and Ambition (paulgraham.com)
156 points by mqt 2151 days ago | comments


epi0Bauqu 2151 days ago | link

All of the city messages in the essay should be qualified with to the most ambitious people within that city or even more narrowly to this particular community of ambitious people. Put another way, within a given community of the most ambitions people in a given city, what is their metric for success?

I went to MIT for undergrad and grad, and then lived around there for several years thereafter. I do not think that Cambridge tells all its’ residents that they should be smarter. But it does send that message the average person within the MIT (and presumably Harvard, which I know less about) community.

My first company was in educational software and I interacted some with the Cambridge public school system. Some schools were pretty connected to the ambitious community, and others were almost completely separate. In other words, there are pockets of people, perhaps a majority, that are not in the ambitious community and do not perceive the ambitious community message. I would bet that in these pockets, there are sub-pockets, each with their own messages.

Now Cambridge is a weird place with an unusually concentrated group of the same type of people, and I agree that I haven’t at least found any place else like it. But it is just a pocket of Boston, albeit a bigger pocket than some of the other ambitious communities in other cities. And as Paul pointed out, Cambridge is not Boston. So he is really not talking about cities.

Again, he is talking about specific communities within cities. There are probably even other ambitious communities in Boston (in its financial district, for example), where the message is not you should be smarter, but something more along the lines of you should be richer. And I’m pretty sure there is another, separate, local politics community, where the message is more like the DC message described (on a smaller scale). (My wife worked in a state agency, and we have friends who were in the legal community there. I myself was the treasurer of a city council campaign.)

So, in sum, I agree there are messages within communities. But I wouldn’t generalize to entire cities. The reason I think people get confused is because particular types of these communities only exist in certain cities, and in sometimes just one. The messages Paul describes are in the communities he is more likely to happen upon given his network and interests, within those cities. Yet there are certainly other communities within those cities with other messages. These other communities, in the aggregate, probably account for the vast majority of people in a given city.

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paddy_m 2150 days ago | link

I grew up in DC, now I live in NYC. DC has a couple of messages "You should be a lawyer" is the one I felt the most, that seemed to be the thing to aspire to, most politicians and lobbyists are lawyers.

As a programmer I heard "you should get a security clearance" many times. The amount of people aspiring to government sloth in DC is astounding. DC is not a place to be if you want to build things.

I guess in New York I feel "You should be an investment banker". It is still amazing to me that lawyers aren't all that impressive in New York, they are also rans compared to financial workers.

Yes the finance industry is huge in New York, but so is media. Media people are mostly young and paid very little. I think I read that the average starting salary for someone with a college degree in New York is $36,000.

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anna2 2150 days ago | link

Cambridge it is in fact a city of at least 100,000 people, not a community within Boston. I do agree that he is describing just part of a city, not the whole, since Cambridge is diverse and has many communities within it.

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ardit33 2151 days ago | link

PG fails to mention that Cambridge (and Sommerville, the emerging hipster/cheaper alternative) is like an island in the middle of a puritan city.

Boston, in large, give the message of "old money rules". Where you were born, where is your summer house (Martha Vineyard, Cape Cod, or Maine?), seems to the most important thing. And coorporates rule, so you have to play by their game: meaning you have to be one of them, in the boys club, have some gray hair, be decent at golf (or pretend to like it), in order to be considered good at busniness.

Boston/Cambridge is great if you are in academia, or doing research, but doing anything practical, or startup it is not that place to be.

Young ambitious people move somewhere else, the rest is stuck in academia, or living the 9-5 life clinging to the coorporate life, maybe they will manage up in the ladder (or rat race).

Adding, I also have met very smart people in Cambridge, but talk is cheap, and there is a lot of it in there. Everybody has an opinion about everything, but when it comes to action, there isn't much.

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pg 2151 days ago | link

I wish the spirit of Boston were anything so romantic as "old money rules." Actually there are hardly any of those people left. The Thurston Howells have all died, and their trustafarian kids have long since moved to Berkeley or Boulder. Except for Cambridge, Boston doesn't send any message at all that I can pick up.

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dfranke 2151 days ago | link

The message I get from Boston is "know your history". Pretty much every block has a centuries-old story behind it, and someone there who wants you to know what that story is. I don't think it's a coincidence that the National Genealogical Society is headquartered there.

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eru 2150 days ago | link

You should come to Germany. We have a lot of history if not much else in the east.

Johann Sebastian Bach lived around there.

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mhartl 2151 days ago | link

+1 for using 'trustafarian'.

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icky 2151 days ago | link

Boston says, "Ride the T, don't buy liquor on Sunday, and incorporate Dunkin' Donuts into at least two meals a day."

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SwellJoe 2151 days ago | link

I totally felt the Dunkin' Donuts part of the message. I ate Dunkin' for breakfast twice while visiting. Who knew they served bagels?

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bbgm 2151 days ago | link

If you are in biotech, Cambridge is at par with the bay area when it comes to startups. As a life scientist, walking around Kendall square is sheer energy

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rokhayakebe 2151 days ago | link

I think the biggest shift in deciding where to live is happening "online" rather than "offline". I am an online nomad.

I never lived and never will live in MySpace. I do not like the MySpacians message (Hey lets try to see who has more friends and hookups).

I sometimes spend time at Facebook. I lived there for a little while until I realized I am not so much into keeping in touch and I had no friends in the few hours I spent in college. When they open their borders, that's when I found that I do not like the Facebookies message (You should throw more pies and send more kisses)

I vacationed at Twitter, but it is not really my cup of tea. I still dont get their message (Life is a popularity contest).

So Where do I live? Well, I live mostly in HN. Although I sometimes get into arguments with the habitants, I have yet to find another city that beats the intelligence, vibe, energy and support I witness here. I take a daily ride to Techcrunch City and NYT, but I make sure I come back home to HN and mingle with the people who live here.

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edw519 2151 days ago | link

"I make sure I come back home to HN and mingle with the people who live here"

Me too.

Nice observation, the virtual city. The result of choice, not circumstance.

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Alex3917 2151 days ago | link

"The result of choice, not circumstance."

There seems to be this popular belief that admitting you are influenced by your environment is a sign of weakness. I just gave a presentation for my ethics class was on why the "trolley problem" is a logical fallacy. My argument was that you could create a system to flip the switch that completely circumvented the individual as a moral agent. For example, you could create a system whereby the individuals on the track could bid ebay-style on which direction the switch should be flipped. Or, alternatively, you could create a system whereby the direction of the switch was determined by a dice, with a 5/6 chance of the single individual being killed and a 1/6 chance of the other five individuals being killed. I then argued that A) social systems, not only individuals, should be considered to be moral agents and B) the morality of a system should be judged based on the behaviors it promotes via its extrinsic rewards. So, for example, the ebay-style system would be a universe that encouraged its inhabitants to create things of value for others so that they could bid their way out their predicament, whereas the dice-toss universe would be completely amoral as it would neither encourage nor discourage any set of behaviors. To me the lesson of the Milgram experiments, the Asch conformity tests, the Stanford Prison Experiment, etc. is that moral decisions are the result of both the individual's intrinsic nature and their external environment (inc. extrinsic rewards). So the trolley problem has always struck me as a false dichotomy because it assumes that the only two options are for a single individual to flip the switch either left or right, which implies that morality is completely intrinsic within the individual and the external environment plays no role, even though this is completely counter to what social psych teaches us.

Anyway, this was sort of a very long was of saying that I like the idea that people should consciously choose their environment because they realize that their environment does have a very real effect on their actions.

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tjr 2150 days ago | link

I agree. I think pg's essay is spot-on. However, I don't believe that choosing where you live is as simple as saying, e.g., "I want to be an academic" and thus you move to Cambridge.

What if, say, your spouse is really into acting and loves the Los Angeles area... it might be very hard for them to find the same happiness in Cambridge, just as you might be harder-pressed to be as academic as you want to be in L.A.

I think a fair question is, if, for whatever reason, you can't move to an area that would well-support your ambitions, what can you do to improve your environment? Surely the best answer isn't "nothing, just resign yourself to live your life in obscurity and failure"...

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ntoshev 2151 days ago | link

It is good, but still low-bandwidth. Perhaps the reason for compulsively refreshing the homepage is that we just can't get enough.

Any suggestions about how to make better online environments for people who care about similar things?

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epi0Bauqu 2151 days ago | link

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=202096

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ntoshev 2150 days ago | link

No, I don't think this helps. Yes, you get more bandwidth, but the signal-to-noise ratio drops.

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neenster 2048 days ago | link

I think this site is a good way to link people with similar interests. it's an online software for sharing time lines about basically anything (you make them yourself). www.dipity.com I just made an account, and I think that shring time lines is really a good way to talk and exchange a lot. I truly think people will meet through these things. it's a social network that's surely more meaninful than myspace or facebook, cause it's made to exacge information (in a pretty user friendly way). it's sharing information instead or pure fame or coolness (or throwing pies and presents).

add me I'm "smoothboom" and I just started a time line about memetics if you're interested.

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mmphosis 2149 days ago | link

HN? Ah, Hacker News. I am a noob here and at first glance, I thought you lived at HN: http://homelessnation.org/

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johnti 1973 days ago | link

PG,

You sound like a bitter Bostonian who was priced out of New York because you couldn't afford to pay rent on your studio in Alphabet City.

And as a Bostonian, I'd expect you to have enough cerebral instinct to be less transparent with your intuitive writing style. But alas, you all to easily portray your hometown's sad trace of pragmatism by holding ideology over realistic execution, hence why you were probably priced out of NY to begin with.

Another down year on Wall St., yet my bonus alone still affords the Cambridge flat you so wish you could afford to purchase. Hope you grow up some day, and find yourself, cities aside pal.

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subwindow 2151 days ago | link

I wrote this four months ago in an email to a friend of mine:

"San Francisco is definitely a great area, and you should at least visit some day. There's a vibe there that's completely different from anywhere else I've ever been. It is hard to explain. You just go there and you feel it. Things seem possible out there that would be laughed at here. That's the best way I can put it.

Every city that I've been to has a certain feel to it. New York is rude and busy. Portland is relaxed and thoughtful. San Francisco is ambitious and free-spirited. Atlanta is comfortable and complacent. Atlanta's feel was good for growing up, and it is one that's good for growing old if you're willing to play it conservatively and live a life of moderate wealth and complacency. But if you're not, you should go to a city that has a better feel for what your goals are at that stage in your life.

Does that make sense? I'm by no means trying to convince you to go to San Francisco, but for me it was important that I travelled around and discovered the city that had the right feel for me. Portland was very close, and San Francisco is nearly spot on. I have no doubt you'll be somewhat different. Give it a try though, eh?"

Its like PG read my email and decided to write an essay on it.

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byrneseyeview 2151 days ago | link

"New York is rude and busy."

New York is just busy -- if you are as busy as everyone else, wasting time with "Please" and "Thank you" would strike you as rude.

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pg 2151 days ago | link

Not everyone is just busy. The place turns some people into monsters.

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Xlp-Thlplylp 2151 days ago | link

Since we're on the subject of the politeness of New Yorker's and the attitude that everything has its price, in New York, a simple "thank you" might be considered a costly acknowledgment.

Here's a dismal example by hacking standards, but it's still indicative of the attitude. Someone from a financial firm, known for its rating system and price indexes, had a data conversion problem. They were using Matlab--a dismal language with a bastard semantics. One of the functions they were using was Datenum(), which converts dates and times to the number of days since the year zero, in the proleptic Gregorian calendar.

The specification of this function should have been to return a floating point number equal to 1+1/86,400 (in units of days) for a date argument equal to one second after year zero. And in fact, the open source equivalent function in Octave does exactly that. However, Matlab's function differs from this in the 11th decimal place. Their technical support has been silent on the issue.

When I informed the person at the financial firm about this discrepancy, they thanked me for "my comments." In the next sentence, I was informed that that they were redoing their calculations using another method. It was stated as if the decision to do this was an entirely independent judgment, not at all informed by my observations, and completely unrelated to any problems they might have encountered using the previous method. They simply decided to change the way they were doing things, without explanation.

Finding a numerical bug that could complicate the analysis of code that depends on it is not earthshaking. But not stating what informed a decision to avoid the problem altogether is a typical New York attitude. Or perhaps the reluctance to credit others is typically corporate. Correct me if I am mistaken.

I have to agree with Paul Graham's essay on the relative lifelessness of employees: if I were an employee, I simply would have accepted the decision as a completely independent judgment, internalized it and defended it.

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maw 2151 days ago | link

Just typically corporate, in my experience. That kind of person uses "I" when "we" would be the correct pronoun, and "we" when "you" would be. When "I" would actually be correct, it'll be capitalized, or attention drawn to it some other way.

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Xlp-Thlplylp 2151 days ago | link

The values of New York come from Wall Street, which sets the tone for the rest of industry there. The attitude that everything has its price is responsible for the bad reputation that New York and New Yorkers have in the rest of the country.

If you live in New York, in some sense you aren't a citizen of the United States: your residency means that you have a passport to enter the "real" United States.

Another thing about New York: it clearly isn't known for science. The Science Museum in Oakland California would be impossibly out of place in New York. The two main categories of industry in New York are finance and media, broadly conceived (including the arts, television, publishing, fashion, advertising and so on).

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hugh 2151 days ago | link

I've never been to the Science Museum in Oakland, but New York has some pretty good science museums.

And I can't really say that Science and Oakland go together all that way in my mind either.

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Xlp-Thlplylp 2151 days ago | link

As I recall, the Oakland Science Museum is focused on technology. The American Museum of Natural History is a better museum in many ways, but its focus is entirely different. The Hall of Science seems like a leftover from the World's Fair--I'm probably completely mistaken.

I associate the Hall of Science with cranky aging amateur radio operators on account of the annual hamfests they hold in the vicinity. Those hams seem as if their wives ordered them not to come home until they sell off their old equipment. That's the impression of science and technology you get from the Hall of Science. That impression might be a little hard to convey, so try comparing the discussions on eHam with those on hacker news.

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byrneseyeview 2151 days ago | link

Columbia, NYU, and Cooper Union are excellent schools. If they were located anywhere but in the center of the world's media and financial system, they would define that place as an unparalleled academic center.

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pg 2151 days ago | link

I don't know about unparalleled. Harvard + MIT + Tufts + BU + BC + Northeastern + ... would probably still win.

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byrneseyeview 2151 days ago | link

They used to have the most selective school ever, leading to the best Noble Prize winning streak ever (http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/iq.htm).

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Xlp-Thlplylp 2151 days ago | link

"I don't know about unparalleled." That means, "compared with CUNY."

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hv23 2151 days ago | link

The problem is that Columbia is situated so far away from the other two, and from the "heart" of the city, that the university simply cannot have the same overarching influence on society that other schools that are better integrated with their surroundings do (like Harvard and MIT with Cambridge). In addition, it's a matter of pure density- Cambridge and Boston, to a lesser extent, is seen as a college town because of the density of college students living in that area. In New York, college students compose such a tiny percentage of the overall population, and exert such a small influence on everyone else, that they are hardly given a second thought when determining the dominant themes in a city's ideology.

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ghostunit 2144 days ago | link

I live in Tokyo right now. Everyone is very busy, yet it's obligatory to be polite at all times and with all people (at work). Don't know how it compares to NY though, never been there.

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Prrometheus 2151 days ago | link

Have you been to Austin? I am very interested in going there and would like your take on it.

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larrykubin 2151 days ago | link

I live there. I think the message is:

You should be younger and hipper and enjoy indie music.

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SwellJoe 2151 days ago | link

Actually, you're picking up the last bit wrong..."and join a band" is actually the way the last bit of the message goes. But close enough.

In personals ads in Austin, "musician" is code for "unemployed", because everybody is a musician. You only mention it if you don't have anything better to say about your career.

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initself 2151 days ago | link

Austin tells you 'you should be weird'.

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jbenz 2151 days ago | link

It also tells you to have a beer, tube the river, and then join a band.

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hhm 2151 days ago | link

I don't know Austin, why is it?

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subwindow 2151 days ago | link

Nope. I keep meaning to attend an SXSW, but can never find the time/money.

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maxklein 2151 days ago | link

Duuude, Mister Graham, I've never even heard of this Cambridge, and I seriously doubt it is the intellectual capital of the world. And you know what - you are not qualified to judge. You've not been to Urumuqi, Jenin, Port Harcourt or Bahia, how can you make a judgement based on having been in two cities?

And furthermore, I take offense at the suggestion that American universities produce the best students. In general, the American engineers I have met have been less skilled than their German counterparts.

American universities produce people with ambition, but that probably has to do more with the American culture than any particular school policy.

Cities do not mould people. People of a certain sort hear about the reputation of a city and they flock there. It's like people hear of china town and go there for chinese food, and pretty soon lots of people are selling chinese food there, because it is where people go for chinese food.

A city influences people, but in a very complex manner. It's an animal ecosystem, and there are hundreds of factors at work that modify and regulate pull and push of a city.

You are seeing cambridge from your peculiar focus. That's not the real cambridge. Imagine some black bum you drive by, imagine how he sees cambridge. For him its not a place of ideas. There is no push towards reading.

What you term the 'city' is the social circle you are in. That's not the city, the city is much more diverse than that. There are crackheads and hos, bums and pimps, bus drivers and lower class korean immigrants. Its not an idea place for those people, it's just home.

A city can gain a reputation, and this reputation can cause a crust of a certain type of person to form in the city, but beneath this layer, every city is made up of normal people.

Sooner or later, the trend will change and the flavour of the crust will change, but beneath it all, life and death of these normal people will continue.

You are mistaking the icing for the cake.

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pg 2151 days ago | link

So just to make this a little more precise, which is your candidate for intellectual capital, Urumuqi, Jenin, Port Harcourt or Bahia?

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notdarkyet 2151 days ago | link

I think you are missing his point, as he said " beneath this layer, every city is made up of normal people". The judgments you are making on those particular areas are relative to the individuals you are associating with.

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rms 2151 days ago | link

yes, that's very nice but does nothing to refute Cambridge as the intellectual capital of the world.

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notdarkyet 2151 days ago | link

It does because the parents entire message was that for the most part, every city is made up of the same ingredients and you cannot dub the city the intellectual capital of the world based on a small subset of experiences with a select group of people. If your entire experience with the city of Cambridge is surrounded with individuals involved in academia, then it would be easy to come to such a conclusion. Having a friend that attends a well known Cambridge institution, I would never title an area based on or around the experiences I had with those individuals while visiting because that would be entirely inaccurate. If that were the case, I could call Cambridge the pseudointellectual and back patting capital of the world (not that those were my experiences, but no less accurate than any of the previous statements).

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rms 2151 days ago | link

OK -- you are saying that things are much more complicated than being able to dub a city the intellectual capital of the world.

It is nearly impossible because humanity is more complex than being reduced to the experiences of one person, but if someone was holding a gun to your head and saying you had to name the world's intellectual capital, what would you name it? There really doesn't seem to be a better one than Cambridge.

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notdarkyet 2151 days ago | link

No I wouldn't name Cambridge because "When you walk through Palo Alto in the evening, you see nothing but the blue glow of TVs. In Cambridge you see shelves full of promising-looking books". If intellect was based off of the number of books in ones bookshelf, a few of my friends would be gods amongst men. If the main criteria everyone is using to evaluate whether a city is the intellectual capital is a) how prestigious the cities institutions are and b) how condensed those universities are to each other, then I agree, Cambridge is that location. Any other basis for a decision is entirely subjective and a futile conversation to continue.

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GHFigs 2151 days ago | link

It's lovely how you dissect and dismiss the statement on the basis of being a subjective determination without questioning for a second just what the hell "intellectual capital of the world" means.

I daresay your reading comprehension skills are subpar if you're troubled to detect a subjective declaration in a subjective essay about subjective experience.

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notdarkyet 2151 days ago | link

Ok, So apparently an ad hominem argument without any valid justification or reasoning is acceptable. I at least tried to support with some sort of criteria or justification for a title. Not from PG, but from all of the commenter's who support the claim.

"I daresay your reading comprehension skills are subpar if you're troubled to detect a subjective declaration in a subjective essay about subjective experience."

Well sadly your reading comprehension skills are subpar because I have been responding to the thread, not the content of the essay. The use of the quote from the essay was used to make the point that the individuals here seem to so easily accept Cambridge as the capital without any mention or rebuttal with criteria or evidence to support.

There seems to be blind support to these claims and no defense for them. Why is it wrong for me to reject a claim but alright for you all to accept it? I seem to be the only one that is attempting to dissect the criteria or claim subjectivity while you give none.

Rather than downmod me and tell me I am wrong, propose reasons why your argument is valid.

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GHFigs 2151 days ago | link

What argument? Your complaint is that it's subjective -- I'm saying yes, it is, and everybody else knows that. It's just that nobody cares because the very crowning phrase "intellectual capital of the world" is subjective.

It's like saying "Chicago is the best city in the world to get a hot dog" -- it may not be backed by objective criteria but that does not render it meaningless, and you can find plenty of people ready to make or agree with that claim without a formal argument.

The burden is on you to explain why it makes a difference in the context of the essay, as it's unclear how you distinguish between it and people in the comments agreeing with it -- in neither case is it presented as an objective determination, and yet you're treating it as if it is. (see also:"tilting at windmills")

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hugh 2151 days ago | link

Imagine some black bum you drive by, imagine how he sees cambridge. For him its not a place of ideas. There is no push towards reading.

I'm not sure why you felt the need to bring the hypothetical bum's race into it, but I disagree. A bum on the street in Cambridge sits around resenting the fact that all the successful people around him are better educated than he is. A bum on the street in Hollywood, on the other hand, sits around resenting the fact that all the successful people around him are better-looking than he is.

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notdarkyet 2151 days ago | link

Unless you are in or have been in a similar situation, I don't think either of you are qualified to make an assessment of what the views are of the "bums" in either city. Not everyone has the same goals or expectations in life (not claiming they aspire to be homeless) but making the assumption that individuals become bitter and resent those who either more successful (which is subjective) or better looking (also subjective) is quite a pretentious statement. This attitude perpetuates throughout our society and fuels many of the problems we face today. Maybe that "bum" is simply happy to have survived a childhood surrounded by drug addict parents or none at all, or maybe he is one of your praised intellectuals who went off the deep end with mental illness or was left behind by society. While you corrected the parent for making an ignorant statement for calling the "bum" black, you went on a few sentences later to make an equally ignorant statement by making the assumption he envies those surrounding him.

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epi0Bauqu 2151 days ago | link

An MIT student made a documentary a few years back about bums on the street of Cambridge. While the evidence is clearly anecdotal, none gave off the aura you describe. They were completely disconnected from the MIT/Harvard community. Instead, they were entirely engrossed in their own world (and in some cases, how they got there).

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menloparkbum 2151 days ago | link

The bums in Cambridge are almost always white.

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epi0Bauqu 2151 days ago | link

There is a disproportionate number of white bums, but there are certainly a lot of black bums too. So I would not say they are almost always white.

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ardit33 2151 days ago | link

my favorite is that black guy that hangs before Au Bon Pain that uses flatery to get money: "Young lady", "Big guy", "Pretty lady", could you spare some change?

SF bums are not that pleasant.

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brlewis 2151 days ago | link

The same is true of a lot of Boston beggars. I find people in the Boston area generally well-spoken. Education is emphasized a lot, not just in Cambridge.

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rw 2151 days ago | link

What would be the proportionate number of white bums?

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epi0Bauqu 2151 days ago | link

I don't know exactly, but I've been to a lot of cities, and Cambridge is off the average.

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cglee 2151 days ago | link

This is probably the first time I've ever seen anyone reference my birth-city in a blog post or comment (Urumqi). And I can confirm it's not a startup or intellectual hub, but the Uyghur lamb-kabobs are killer.

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maxklein 2151 days ago | link

I've been to Urumuqi. Nice place. The Urumuqi men have a reputation for selling marijuana together with their meat though.

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idmkid 2151 days ago | link

black bums, lower class korean immigrants... I appreciate German attitudes of precision but with that mentality no wonder you lack immigrant capital.

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maxklein 2151 days ago | link

I use race for dramatic effect. It underscores the societal and cultural differences between the one group of people and the other. I'm sorry to not conform to your American way of never mentioning anything related to race or ethnicity.

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ardit33 2151 days ago | link

Joke of the day: What do you call an european with no sense of humor.....

drums...

German!!

In other news, an immigrant will always feel as second class citizen in most of europe, and Germany has a bad reputation about it. In some parts of East germany there is some Neo-Nazi resurrection, and there is lots of xenophobia.

The states it is a total different thing. It depends where you are. In SF i just don't feel foreign at all, as most people I meet actually speak at home another language, or have traveled a lot. There is no visible discrimination, and I feel I could be an american one day.

Living in the south, it is a total different thing. You feel foreign, no matter how good your english skills are, BUT, you can actually score points with girls thou (if you are white, of course), as there are not that many europeans around.

In germany, they give you this thing called the blue card, so you could slave working on some company, then they kick you out when the time is up, with no path to citizenship. Hmmmm.... No thanks, I just don't feel being used as a disposable thing.

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davidw 2151 days ago | link

As another anecdote, here in Austria, which for many things has similar laws to Germany, you can't have dual citizenship, and being born here doesn't confer citizenship on you, as it does in places like the US, or Italy. So our daughter will be Italian and American, despite being born in Austria (not that we would have wanted it otherwise, but still...).

I met a German guy in the states, who was born and raised there, considered himself German, but didn't get citizenship until 18 or 19 because his parents were from Turkey.

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delackner 2150 days ago | link

You can find a list of countries that deny citizenship to people born in that country of parents who are not of the "right" blood, yet have lived in the country for many years. It is one of the strongest indicators of institutional racism I can think of that is still in practice in many modern nations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jus_sanguinis

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davidw 2150 days ago | link

I agree with what you say, but that list seems mostly to be about countries that grant citizenship to people of a given "ethnicity"/stock that weren't born in the country itself (for instance, if you have an Italian grandparent, you can get Italian citizenship, even if your parents are, say, Brazilian). That's in contrast to countries that deny citizenship to those who are born in the country in question, which is what strikes me as too exclusive.

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slakinduff 2139 days ago | link

Dumb.

First, the fact that cities beneath everything else are all comprised of ordinary people means nothing. It has always been the top that detemines the direction everyone else goes. It doesn't change anything PG wrote. How many in Padua, or say, Florence, were anything else but ordinary when the Renaissance unfolded? It has always been the top that makes history and changes things for everyone else.

Your comment is a little like saying there is no difference between Honda and Ford, since they are both composed largely of steel and aluminum and plastic. And this is the reason there is an enormous distance between Germany and America. In Germany there is no top, just droids coming and going. In America there is very decidely a top. About everyone else, PG was not making any remark.

America has a serious Middle Education problem, but American Universities are indeed, second to none.

Also, don't talk ecosystem. It means so much to so many people these days, it has come to have no meaning.

You are also incorrect in stating that most any city has the circle someone would want to belong to, that someone just needs to look for it. This is far from the truth. There are many cities in which you could not find certain circles in which to exchange ideas, if your life depended on it.

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lg 2151 days ago | link

Jenin - you should build more bombs.

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mroman 2151 days ago | link

You are mistaken in concluding that "normal" people shape a city. The traits that make a city unique are the result of the actions of a minority of its inhabitants.

If your "logic" were accurate, Los Angeles would be no different than Tijuana, for example, considering that most of the "normal" people there are lower class Mexican immigrants.

Allow me to inform you of something essential about PG's essays: they require intelligence to truly understand, to the point that his core arguments will simply sail over the heads of those who lack it. Evidence of not having the required intelligence includes attempting to refute the core arguments with a myriad of minor points that appear to point out logical flaws, when they only manage to address comparatively minor items of negligible consequence.

Mr. Graham's essays are valuable owing to their QUALITATIVE aspects, not to their total QUANTITATIVE sum . . .

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maxklein 2151 days ago | link

I'm not the cleverest guy in this room. I once took an online IQ test and only got 115. To be fair, lots of questions were things like "What of this has no relationship with Kansas". But I digress...

If a person trying to communicate cannot make his point understood by any but the most intelligent, then he has failed in communicating.

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earthboundkid 2151 days ago | link

It depends on the point and the audience. If the point is complex enough, then you have to give up on conveying it to certain people. If the audience is smart enough, you reach past the lowest common denominator.

Indeed, the best way to write something that lasts for ages is to write something that ordinary people reject, bright people don't really understand, and the smart fall head over heels in love with. That's what keeps Plato in business. No one knows what he was saying exactly, but the really smart guys running the universe can't help but be charmed by it.

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comatose_kid 2150 days ago | link

I wonder if 'the point is complex enough, then you have to give up on conveying it to certain people' is true.

That Feynman could explain fairly abstract physical concepts such that laypeople could understand them may imply that one needs to understand the 'complex point' better before trying to explain it.

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earthboundkid 2150 days ago | link

Wittgenstein started one public lecture with a disclaimer to the effect, "This will not be one of those popular science lectures where you come out of the talk thinking you understand a topic that you understand nothing about."

With all due respect to Feynman, if at the end of his lectures lay people couldn't do the math behind the physics he described, they didn't really "understand" it. They understood a simplified picture of it that captured most of the important details in a really vivid way. But they were still missing something important.

That said, you're right. In the general case, we shouldn't allow ourselves the "out" of "oh, this is soooo complex that I can't speak clearly" without some pretty damn strong motivation. It's just that in this particular case, I didn't think the essay was especially jargon laden, so the OP's comment seemed misplaced. How much more simply can one explain that cities affect how you think?

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mroman 2150 days ago | link

Ooooohh - cute downmodding . . . I think this is the last time I post to this board, the modding fascism is MUCH too High School for me.

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byrneseyeview 2151 days ago | link

"New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.

What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to."

From two years ago here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070102025129/http://paulgraham.... :

"I find every ambitious town sends you a message. New York tells you "you should make more money." LA tells you "you should be better looking." Rome tells you "you should dress better." London tells you "you should be hipper." The Bay Area tells you "you should live better." And Cambridge tells you "you should read some of those books you've been meaning to.""

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pg 2151 days ago | link

Yes, bits of this came from that experiment in blogging I tried with Infogami. I thought of mentioning that in one of those prefatory remarks, but mentioning it would have taken more words than the bits in question.

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byrneseyeview 2151 days ago | link

I don't object! It was just interesting to see the gap between an early draft and a finished copy.

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anirbas 2151 days ago | link

I found it cool as well, and appreciate you linking to that. It's somewhat inspiring to see how someone begins to think about a topic; leads me to stop rejecting my early ideas so ruthlessly.

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initself 2151 days ago | link

It's ok to riff on themes. Bach did it all the time.

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jbenz 2151 days ago | link

I live in Columbus, OH and as I read PG's essay I was wondering what Columbus tells you. And seriously, I just kept thinking about one thing: "You should play college football."

College football is king in the Bus, and the players and coaches are our royalty.

It's kind of a scary thought, but I'm as big a Buckeye fan as anyone else, so I'm partly to blame. But I also admit that I don't want to live in a place where this is the best thing we have to offer.

The truth is, I love Columbus for all many reasons: close friends, a great job, the Wexner Center, and of course, Buckeye football. It's a scary thought to pick up and move to SV. I often think about Spielberg, Lucas, Kaufman, and Coppola all hanging out together in the 70s. I desperately want to be a part of a group like that, but for startups.

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BrandonM 2149 days ago | link

Being an OSU student, I have to agree with you, but to be fair, I think Columbus also has some more interesting things to say, depending on where you live.

Brewery district: You should drink better beer.

Short north: You should be more artistic (in terms of both art and "sophisticated" things like wine-tasting).

Anywhere near High Street: You should hear more live music.

Honestly, Columbus has a thriving music, art, and gay community, and I think that makes it kind of a cool city. There's this very strange dynamic of party-going OSU students, diverse foreign-exchange OSU students, sports-crazy Ohioans, business-minded corporate-types, and aesthetic art aficionados.

Maybe, most of all, the message of Columbus is that diversity is good.

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jbenz 2149 days ago | link

That is a much better message, I think you're probably right. Really, I love Columbus, and I'm disappointed whenever someone says that there is nothing to do. There are always a ton of events and cultural experiences to enjoy, you just have to make the effort to look.

Perhaps Columbus could find it's own specific niche within high-tech? I've been impressed by the Tech Columbus initiative.

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edvince 2052 days ago | link

Diversity is never good, though. That's such a lame stereotype of our time. Diverse cultures are dying cultures. But I agree, that's totally the message of Columbus. It's trying so hard to be the most "diverse" and "gay-friendly" place in the Midwest. But the gayness is tired and such a stereotype. It's like, "Enough already!" You'd never see straights behaving like that, or parading around so obsessively. It's gross. I shouldn't be required to like, accept, or tolerate it -- because I don't.

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timr 2151 days ago | link

If you've never lived anywhere else, you owe it to yourself to move on. I grew up in Columbus, and while it was a nice place to be a kid, I could never live there today. Too sheltered.

And trust me...the valley isn't scary. It's nothing but a gigantic suburb, punctuated with office parks. Sure, the housing is hideously expensive, and there are freakishly rich people everywhere, but otherwise, the place won't present a challenge to you. San Francisco, on the other hand, is a different world....

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jbenz 2151 days ago | link

I actually grew up in the burbs of Raleigh and then Dallas, I didn't come to Columbus until college.

The thought of moving to SV is scary exactly because of the expense, especially when I have a decent paying job here that I love. It would be foolish to abandon that, right? (I guess this illustrates the differences again between the two areas: Columbus would answer "Yes!" and SV would answer "No!")

I should mention that Columbus does have industries other than Buckeye Football. If you're passionate about insurance, this is the place to be. Of course, who is really passionate about insurance?

As far as deciding a city's worth based on personal experiences, it's always going to be just that: personal. But I can't deny the influences of cities on my individual life.

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motoko 2151 days ago | link

I lived in Columbus, and I concur. Columbus says: "watch Ohio State football."

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coglethorpe 2151 days ago | link

I've noticed messages as well:

Gary, IN: Lock the doors. Do not stop.

Macon, GA: You know, Atlanta is just up the road, right?

Elko, NV: The only winners are the house and the mine owners.

Milwaukee, WI: Fourth place is just fine, given enough beer.

Clearly, I need to hang out in better cities.

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muhfuhkuh 2151 days ago | link

Okay, me too.

Columbia SC: Uh, the culture is pretty much centered around it's mid-tier University of South Carolina, which is a party-hardy Frat/Sorority vibe. So, I guess it says "YEEE-HAAAAW! More beer, Bo!"

Hartford, CT: Unless you can calculate the death of a 55 year old smoker with no major medical history within a margin of error, the city says "There's NY below and Boston above, take your pick, pay your toll, and have a nice day."

Raleigh-Durham, NC: Duke University, UNC, Wake Forrest, North Carolina State, Shaw, and various other colleges all within around 20 interstate exits of each other. I guess it would say "study hard, and find job at IBM, Sony-Ericsson, or Cisco." Not too much entreprenurial spirit here, I guess because the tech giants gobble them up with nice offers right out of college.

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aston 2151 days ago | link

Wow, SC people hang out here? Sweet.

Columbia, SC doesn't really send any strong messages. Only the young people in the area have anything to do with USC, normally, so not even the frattiness comes across that strong.

College football tailgating, however, is a state-wide sport.

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SwellJoe 2151 days ago | link

aston, are you from SC? I'm from Greenville (which sends the message, "How can we be more like Atlanta?", or at least it did when I last lived there 14 years ago). Small world.

The message in Charleston definitely has something about aristocracy and the value of old money, while the message in the rest of the coastal towns generally involves fishing. Except Myrtle Beach, where the message is, "Y'all come on down for a visit, and leave your money when you head back up north."

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earthboundkid 2151 days ago | link

Went to Furman, agreed.

Visited Bob Jones as a kid -- "You know you're going to hell, right?"

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SwellJoe 2151 days ago | link

Weird. I lived three blocks from Furman. It was my playground, growing up. We played video games in the student center using change fished out of the fountain beside it, flirted embarrassingly with the college girls, skateboarded and biked all over, and regularly got kicked out after the campus closed for the day (for those unfamiliar with small Southern Baptist liberal arts schools, or at least Furman, they close all of the gates except the main gate at 10PM and only allow students in).

Speaking of Bob Jones, no one ever believes me when I explain that it has a "date room", wherein couples sit together in a chaperoned room, with a Bible-width space in between. Which explains why Bob Jones girls are such a terror when they do manage to escape the watchful eyes of the school.

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earthboundkid 2151 days ago | link

My friends live in West Columbia, and I think they're trying to build a hip scene out there, but it's hard going.

I live in Honolulu. It's a miracle that I make it out of bed in the afternoon.

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ssanders82 2151 days ago | link

Clemson SC: Aren't we all glad we don't live in Columbia! More beer, Bo!

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benmathes 2151 days ago | link

Garberville, CA: Hey, man, you should give to the community and help me get some weed.

Wolfeboro, NH (smalltown New England summer resort): You should pretend it's 1962 like all the retirees do.

Waltham, MA (Brandeis University): Go back to NYC when you graduate.

Cambridge, MA: You should be more educated.

I chose "educated" over "intelligent" largely because I lived closer to Harvard. When I go to the MIT side of Cambridge I would switch the two. In and around Harvard you see a strong vein of people who aim for the prestige of higher education over the knowledge it brings.

The middle-aged people dream of sitting in a musky study debating high-falutin mish-mash over a nice port. The college-aged kids dream of sitting in a coffee shop debating their PHIL101 papers. They seek _established_ education.

I know this doesn't speak for every aspect of Cambridge, which I did love living in for a few years, but the too-strong emphasis on the appearance of education as opposed to the knowledge you gain helped me move to take a job in San Mateo (shameless plug: RockYou.com).

Disclaimer: I am not your average anything. My move to San Mateo from Cambridge is via Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I speak Mandarin but I'm English/German. Take what I said with a healthy grain of wacky salt.

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nabeel 2083 days ago | link

The only place I've had that feeling that "education" was more important than knowledge in Cambridge was actually directly on the Harvard campus. But I completely agree.

There are two strains of culture in Cambridge, "you should be smarter" which is why I love living here. And "you should have two PHDs" -- which is very different and unfortunate message. It's almost the opposite of the Valley, which speaks so reverently of the Harvard drop-out.

The best thing that those of us who live in Cambridge could do is keep the culture focused on ideas and less on diplomas.

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davidw 2151 days ago | link

Eugene, Oregon: Hey man, just, you know, hang out and get mellow.

Portland, Oregon: Be alternative just like everyone else.

San Francisco: We're so hip and important.

Padova, Italy: That was a long, hard work week, let's have a drink in the piazza and get a pizza afterwards.

Innsbruck, Austria: ... something in the Tirolean dialect that I completely failed to grasp, involving skiing ...

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martythemaniak 2151 days ago | link

Sofia, BG: You should be involved in some kind of shady dealings.

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ntoshev 2151 days ago | link

It is a very clear signal indeed, thank you for summarizing it well.

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stranger 2149 days ago | link

That's the origin of power and wealth in bg - very, very sad!

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ojbyrne 2151 days ago | link

I've been to different places in the world but the same ideas popped into my head:

Barcelona: Party naked but watch your backpack.

Toronto: Buy land north of here.

Amsterdam: There's no work done here at all.

London: Next time, bring more money.

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danw 2151 days ago | link

I must admit the descriptions you give for Amsterdam, London, Barcelona sound off to me. I think you have to live or spend a lot of time somewhere before you can understand it's 'message', if it has one

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ojbyrne 2151 days ago | link

Um, I was actually picking cities I've lived in or spent a lot of time in. Yes I was being flippant, I don't think I was being completely ignorant.

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izaidi 2151 days ago | link

What would you say those cities' messages are? (I'm especially interested in Amsterdam because I'm thinking about moving there.)

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pfedor 2151 days ago | link

I lived in Amsterdam for half a year ten years ago. It's very walkable and beautiful. You walk the streets and people smile at you. It's a happy place. I think the message is something like, "Be happy."

Also, I believe it's the only country in Europe except for the UK where everyone speaks good English. In most big cities in Europe you will eventually find someone who speaks English, but in Amsterdam the odds that it will be the first person you approach are no worse than in London or California.

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hassy 2150 days ago | link

> Also, I believe it's the only country in Europe except for the UK where everyone speaks good English. In most big cities in Europe you will eventually find someone who speaks English, but in Amsterdam the odds that it will be the first person you approach are no worse than in London or California.

Stockholm is similar -- most people speak good English.

Amsterdam is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Europe, no wonder about the quality of their English (although this applies to the whole of Netherlands, not just Amsterdam).

I hear the Danes speak excellent English too, but I haven't been to Denmark myself.

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tyg 2150 days ago | link

As I understand it, the reason the Dutch speak English so well is that a lot of American television is shown there...still in English, but with Dutch subtitles. So kids grow up essentially in a semi-immersion program of English as a second language, which gets reinforced later in life due to tourism and English being the current effectively most common language.

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davidw 2151 days ago | link

I remember dialing a wrong number in Amsterdam a number of years ago, and the woman responded, in nearly perfect English, without missing a beat. I was impressed.

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spazmaster 2151 days ago | link

"be happy" eh? there is no correlation between legal pot and happy smiling people. none whatsoever.

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spazmaster 2151 days ago | link

on a serious note, I would say Amsterdam's message is 'be more creative' (or 'be creative').

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Mistone 2150 days ago | link

london "bring more money" - is spot on - damm that city is pricey.

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iamelgringo 2151 days ago | link

San Jose, Costa Rica: Spend more time with family

Minneapolis: You should be nice

Providence, RI: You will eat well.

LA: You should look better or be more famous, preferably both.

Chicago: You went to the wrong fraternity

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edw519 2151 days ago | link

"your best best is probably to try living in several places when you're young"

I have, and here's what they've said to me:

Pittsburgh: You should be nice.

New Jersey: You should be in New York.

Los Angeles: You should go outside.

Phoenix: You should go inside.

Detroit: You should be glad you have a good job.

Tampa: You should buy a new pair of flip flops for dinner Saturday night.

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hugh 2151 days ago | link

Places I've lived:

Sydney: You should spend more money on real estate.

Melbourne: You should spend more money on clothes.

London: You should have been here 150 years ago.

Davis, CA: You should leave Davis, CA.

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menloparkbum 2151 days ago | link

my list:

brooklyn: you should be hipper

cambridge: you should be smarter

berkeley: you should only eat organically grown vegetables

tokyo: you should be japanese

san francisco: you should become as crazy as most everyone else, but not quite as crazy as the homeless people

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shiro 2151 days ago | link

Tokyo, Japan: Doing nothing, even for a minute, is a sin.

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fogus 2148 days ago | link

Having spent some time in Tokyo, I must say that the most striking thing for me was that at any moment of the day, the streets are flooded with people going too and fro. It was amazing. -m

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motoko 2151 days ago | link

Places I've lived:

Mountain View, CA: We're not the Barrio (any more).

Toledo, OH: We're close to Detroit.

Bowling Green, OH: Attend a real university with your real high school friends!

Columbus, OH: Love Ohio State football (and basketball, if the season's wrong).

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imp 2151 days ago | link

Cleveland, OH: You gotta be tough.

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motoko 2151 days ago | link

My sister, who drives a car worth about $100, had her car window smashed picked clean of her collection of burned CDs in downtown Cleveland.

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janm 2151 days ago | link

Sydney is real estate, through and through.

London: "You should have been here 150 years ago" is essentially "you should be more aristocratic". I think that signal is strong in London. I have been at dinner with friends who started arguing about how far they had to commute on the tube (as a proxy for social class.) The English pretend to the world that it doesn't matter but it seems to matter deeply to them. This seems to be an English hidden rule; that is how the discussion started.

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bootload 2151 days ago | link

"... Melbourne: You should spend more money on clothes ..."

No it's more like...

Melbourne: You live in the sports capital of a sports crazed country. You should go to the footy, the cricket, tennis and don't forget some new duds on cup day.

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astrec 2150 days ago | link

You forgot to mention the obligatory beers at each event.

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tomh 2150 days ago | link

Moscow: You should be rich, or Russian. Preferably both.

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thepeople 2150 days ago | link

Wrong. If we were to choose one message for Moscow it should be: "you must be powerfull."

If you are merely rich, your money can be easily taken from you by more powerful person in Moscow.

And if you didn't know, Russian is a second class citizen in Russia.

All in all, one message per city is insufficient. It all depends on the people around you.

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jsteele 2081 days ago | link

You hit the nail on the head: This whole essay is based on a false premise (which nonetheless is strongly believed by PG). Cambridge only seems to be a "smart" town if your social group consists of people associated with MIT, and you're only likely to end up in that social group if you were part of the middle class when you moved there.

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helveticaman 2141 days ago | link

Why exactly is Moscow expensive? I've never figured this out. Is there a shortage of land, or is it really, really inaccessible from land, or what?

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netcan 2150 days ago | link

Tel Aviv: You should be moving faster. A lot faster. Dublin: Be wittier then smart. Melbourne: I agree. Its a confused message that definitely has to do with sports not clothes.

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jimbokun 2151 days ago | link

"Pittsburgh: You should be nice."

Being a native Western Pennsylvania, and living more of my adult life in Pittsburgh than anywhere else, I'll take that as a compliment :).

I moved to NYC with my wife right after we were married, and loved every minute of it. But decided to return here to raise our kids after they were born.

An interesting thing about Pittsburgh is the number of large non-profits of every kind, especially considering the reduced population. The major industrial titans that made their fortunes here in decades past (Carnegie, Mellon, Heinz, etc.) have left behind many cultural institutions like libraries, museums, universities, parks, hospitals, etc. that are still well funded and high quality.

You'll find some of that in NYC (even from some of the same benefactors) but Pittsburgh I think has a higher cultural dollars/resident ratio. This is a wonderful thing in terms of raising children. My kids think hanging out at the zoo, library, conservatory, kids' museum, etc. is a perfectly common thing to do. I think in NYC (and other cities?) you could find many of the same things, but it would not be possible to enjoy them in a leisurely manner, or afford family yearly membership passes.

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edw519 2151 days ago | link

I've met nice people everywhere I've lived. Somehow, and I'm not sure why, it seems just a little bit easier to meet nice people in Pittsburgh. Whether it's the checkout line in a supermarket, in a restaurant or bar, or just hanging out, people generally seem friendly and engaging.

(The day after a Steeler's loss, of course, all bets are off.)

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dimitry 2151 days ago | link

Agreed. After ~9 years in Pittsburgh, I can definitely confirm the 'nice' factor ;)

Perhaps it's even more noticeable because I live in SF now, especially in the Marina filled with mostly pretentious folks.

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rms 2150 days ago | link

And our biggest employer and company is a non-profit! The hulking University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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Parenthetical 2150 days ago | link

I lived in Pgh. for 6 years (7th-12th grade), and my family still lives there. That's a very good point about the cultural institutions -- though in my experience, they're woefully underattended. It's possible to hang out at the zoo, conservatory, science museum, etc. ...but my family was thought to be a bit odd for actually doing so. (Of course, we lived in the wealthy suburban soccer mom part, not the university-intellectual part, so that's probably why. Neighborhoods have messages, too.)

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jimbokun 2150 days ago | link

Heh, that's the advantage of our boys still being young (4 and 6 now, 2 and 4 when we first moved here). They don't know any better than to think those activities are perfectly normal. We have successfully brainwashed them so far, and by the time they hit teenage peer pressure, it might be too late to undo the "damage" of a cultured mind :).

The "under attended" part isn't all bad. Our boys can run around a little bit in Phipps Conservatory, for example, without many negative glances.

We do live in a city neighborhood, so that might account for some of the difference.

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ken 2151 days ago | link

I think Seattle is telling me "Get some tattoos and piercings and start smoking", but so far I have resisted.

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msg 2151 days ago | link

Seattle: You should be unique.

Logan, UT: You should be one of us.

Denver, CO: You should be healthier.

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steveplace 2151 days ago | link

I'll play the game, too, but with only two observations:

Orlando, FL: Subprime.

Space Coast, FL: God's Waiting Room

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pchristensen 2150 days ago | link

Provo, UT: You're still single?

Chicago: There's nothing wrong with second place.

Stockholm, Sweden: You're not clean enough!

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JesseAldridge 2150 days ago | link

Austin, TX: You should be having more fun on the weekends.

Rio Grande Valley, TX: Play your cards right and some day you could be middle class!

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bryarcanium 2149 days ago | link

Cincinnati, OH: Learn an instrument.

San Antonio, TX: To the newly minted soldiers/airmen/sailors/marines- welcome back to the real world!

Las Vegas, NV: Be at least 21 and on vacation.

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j5xd 1974 days ago | link

Bloomington, IL: Don't be afraid of medocrity

Terre Haute, IN: South side of Chicago, without the rest of it.

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