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Ask PG: What has changed since you wrote Hackers and Painters in 2004?
242 points by flavio87 on Sept 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments
I'm thinking of buying your book, but since it is from 2004 I was just wondering if there are any key findings or events that would have dramatically changed your viewpoint on certain of the issues you write about, so I could bear that in mind while reading.

Maybe are you planning to release an updated version in the near future?

As way of a cautious recommendation:

About a year and a half ago, I was stuck for a week away from home traveling for work. Searching for something to read while I was gone, I popped into an Atlanta Barnes and Noble and futilely tried to find some books which were on my Amazon wish list. Of the five or six I looked for, they didn't seem to have any, save for "Hackers and Painters" (which required a storewide manhunt to track down where exactly they had decided to shelve it).

I read it in my hotel room that night and spent the rest of the week enthralled by the thought of quitting my job and working at a startup (either my own, or someone else's). When I got home, I told my girlfriend that I was possibly in the middle of something, and would need to take the next few weeks to decide if I was about to upend my (our) life. She was understandably nonplussed by this discussion.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I managed to come back down from the ledge. It may have just been the comfort of home, or the general inertia of a content over-priviledged life; but I reverted back to my previous plans, and set aside the fanciful notion of slaying dragons and working at a startup.

So by all means, you should read it. Just be careful about your mindset when you do, lest you also be swept away by notions of ramen dinners and liquidity events. Like a call to the sea, it has the potential to plant itself in your mind and than drive you mad if unheeded. You've been warned.

Reading this I am reminded of the great quote from Nassim Taleb who wrote the Black Swan.

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary."

What! That's sad. You're a victim of what I call "Everest Syndrome": http://eliasbizannes.com/blog/2011/08/everest-syndrome-is-th...

Startups in my portfolio at CRV (we're the guys that funded Twitter, Yammer, Millennial Media...) have plenty of cash and I think you'll make more money working in a startup and enjoy life more.

There is no risk, because if the startup fails, you move to the next one. Silicon Valley is like working in a big company with multiple divisions: you may change 'departments', but you're still working for something where everything loosely aligns as the same goal.

There’s no risk in leaving stable employment for a lifestyle that can ruin your finances and relationships, and leave you completely burnt out?

Startups can be huge successes personally and financially, but there’s definitely risk.

No risk if you're a VC. Best case, you're net worth increases by orders of magnitude - worst case, you still earn a hefty management fee on all committed capital. If someone else spends five years of their life on a failed venture, its just one company in your portfolio.

Nothing wrong with entrepreneurship. I just find it grating when the benefits are expounded by people who take the exact opposite deal, in terms of asymmetric risk.

Not quite. If you are a venture partner and you don't produce returns on the fund, you're out of there. The entire partnership needs to show gains on the fund. In my experience, it's actually pretty easy raising money (either from advertisers, investors, or sponsors) but what's hard is ensuring you give a return on that money. You can measure the success of a venture fund not on how much money they raise the first time, but how much they've raised in total over successive rounds.

Let me qualify that: as a founder, of course there is risk. That's what makes you a founder. And that's why not everyone is cut out to be a founder: you need to be mad. (And there's madness is a bit of all of us, but as a twenty something bachelor, being a mad man affects me less than a 40 something father of three.)

My response was in the context of being an employee. I was an employee at a 5,000 person consulting firm in Australia when the financial crisis hit in 2008 and I had more fear losing my job then then when I moved to recession-plagued America in 2009 to work at a search-engine startup (and Australia has been one of the strongest economies in that period since). In fact, I was paid more (in salary, not counting options), given more responsibility, and enjoyed life more.

> Silicon Valley is like working in a big company with multiple divisions


"I managed to come back down from the ledge"

That you would consider it a ledge, means you made the right choice, for yourself. On the other hand, many people see the chance to create or work at a start-up a positive opportunity that they can benefit from regardless of the outcome.

I may have done a disservice using that metaphor, as it wasn't my intent to suggest that anyone who choses to work on/at a startup is up on a ledge.

What I was trying to convey, was that even someone like myself (pretty much without an entrepreneurial bone in my body) was so enraptured by the thought of it after reading the book that I almost did it. The book is powerful mojo.

Having a startup isn't slaying dragons, it's shipping something, charging money, and reinvesting revenue into growth.

It's not rocket science- just time consuming.


I just looked through a copy. There's not much I'd change if I were writing those essays today. Obviously e.g. "A Plan for Spam" is obsolete in the sense that the state of the art has moved way past such techniques. Ditto for "The other Road Ahead." But the rest I'd write much the same today.

Actually now that I think about it, there is one thing I'd change. In "Mind the Gap" I implied the reason people were upset by economic inequality was the model of wealth they learned as children. Now I suspect it goes deeper than that: I think humans may have a genetic predisposition to equality.

What made me realize this was going to Africa and seeing lots of animals in the wild. All or nearly all the big mammals lived in groups and cooperated to survive. It was clear that our ancestors would in their day have been one of these groups, also cooperating to survive (as hunter-gatherers still do in a few places), and that their cooperative inclinations were probably genetically preprogrammed.

If so then people's problem with inequality is not a learned behavior. It simply feels wrong to humans.

That doesn't mean they're right. The Monte Carlo fallacy feels right to humans, but it isn't. But it does probably mean that people are happier, all other things being equal, when there is less inequality.

Of course you have to balance this against (a) other, equally deeply held traditions, like not stealing, and (b) the slower technological/economic growth you get when you ban being rich.

Could you explain what it means for people to be 'right' or not 'right' about inequality? I'm referring to where you say 'That doesn't mean they're right'

If we're genetically constructed to feel unhappy about something, and we build a society that makes that thing true, then it seems as though we are manufacturing suffering, and we should seek to reduce it.

From what perspective can it be 'right' to knowingly maintain a society where the majority of people are guaranteed to suffer?

Also - isn't there a giant difference between 'banning being rich', and making it possible for a reasonable number of people to share in prosperity. There's plenty of evidence suggesting that the US was more prosperous when there was less inequality, and yet there were always some very rich people.

I mean this inclination doesn't imply anything about what economic policy should be, except in the narrowest sense that gratifying it will (all other things being equal, which they are decidedly not) make people feel better.

Fair enough - I just saw this comment of yours:http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2979935 which clarifies a lot.

It does seem as though political opinion is moving in the direction of reducing attempts to mitigate then problem at the low end.

Also unconsidered is the idea that one period of adaptation early in one's life is no longer enough, and that is a new consequence of technological change that wasn't true during the heyday of the large corporation.

If the 'poor' and 'middle classes' simply don't have the resources to devote to accomodating change and developing new skills, their position will be systematically enforced. Information may be more widely available than ever, but learning still takes a long time and requires practice, and tacit knowledge is ever more important.

> I mean this inclination doesn't imply anything about what economic policy should be

Isn't it disingenuous to infer that this inclination should not imply anything about economic policy? I would arrive at the opposite conclusion. Economics are sentiment driven by a huge factor. Robert Shiller's work in behavioral economics and his book Irrational exuberance has established and popularized this idea. Krugman's discussion of the unsuitability of BitCoin as a currency rests largely on the peculiar nature of human sentiment and behavior. Large income gaps are perceived by most people as unfair irrespective of the contributions by the wealthy. No one thinks that Bill Gates/ Edison made a greater contribution to social progress than Einstein/Gandhi. I don't think the association of the net worth of an individual to the contribution that they have made to society is very strong. Economies rewards people largely on the basis of demand/supply with I believe is a weak proxy for social contributions.

Perhaps you want to draw an analogy to say gay marriage where the popular vote might end up denying gay rights, but I don't think a similar argument holds in the case of wealth distribution.

> No one thinks that Bill Gates/ Edison made a greater contribution to social progress than Einstein/Gandhi.

Um, I do.

I'm with you about Gates/Edison.

But I think that this sentence is unfair for Einstein.

Likewise though only for Gandhi.

I should have said most people, rather than noone. Bill Gates helped make the PC cheap by building a hardware independent OS that commoditized hardware. Edison has a fairly colorful commercial history. But the PC/electricity revolution would have happened with or without these individuals, there were enough competitors. The same cannot be said about Einstein. When Einstein published the General Theory only 2 other people were able to understand it. Virtually, all peaceful civil disobedience protests that we see all over the world from American Civil rights to the Tunisian revolution follow a template set up by Gandhi. Peaceful civil resistance is an action that was never really thought of as practical/possible before. Bill Gates is making substantial social difference via vaccines now, but I would not count his work at Microsoft in the same league as Einstein/Gandhi.

The physics community was already converging on the special theory of relativity when Einstein published it. All the signs were there --and had been for quite a while--, but someone needed to add 1 + 1 together and accept the implications. Einstein did that and his explication was very clear, making it immediately undeniable (which doesn't mean that it didn't take some time for people to acknowledge that). However, if he hadn't, one of dozens of others would have. The time was ripe and the evidence was clear.

  When Einstein published the General Theory only 2 other 
  people were able to understand it.
This is an urban legend. There were dozens of people that immediately understood it and hundreds that understood it after some additional explanation. That doesn't mean they accepted it in the absence of experimental confirmation.

However, the General theory was a far greater achievement than the Special theory, because the idea of mass influencing the geometry of space-time was far less obvious and it may have been a decade before anyone else would have investigated that possibility. Nevertheless: someone else would have come up with it. Einstein was no greater than any of the other great physicists of the time, who each had brilliant idea. Einstein just happened to have one that became widely known.

Well, Einstein had a few great ideas, not one. Special relativity, general relativity, statistical mechanics, and energy = mass. He only really missed quantum mechanics. Newton and Leibniz come close, but none of his contemporaries.

But it is really off topic. Let's say Einstein and his contemporaries are more important than Bill, the guy who really made DOS, and the first few MS employees, but obviously the later group is a lot wealthier.

> This is an urban legend

This is true, I stand corrected. However outside of Hilbert and Einstein no one was looking at Reimannian Geometry for answers.

> The physics community was already converging on the special theory of relativity

They had the Lorentz equations for decades but were not getting anywhere close to the final result apart from Poincare. And even Poincare inspite of getting almost all equations lined up, seemed to miss the fact that there is no absolute time and that time is only partially and not totally ordered. Einstein hit the nail on the head inspite of the fact that Lorentz/Poincare had been working on the problem for possibly decades. It still seems likely that Poincare could have arrived at the result.

This is the reason I cited GR. As far as I know, no one apart from Einstein/Hilbert seemed to ave been working on it.

In hindsight special relativity was "obvious", but Maxwell's equations had been around for decades and the Lorentz transforms emerged in 1887 and yet no one was able to make the mental leap required to re-interpret the nature of Time. SR could have ended up taking decades more to sort out. Einstein hit the ball out of the park in his 20s when the scientists working on the problem had spent decades on it. And GR could have only followed after SR.

You are severely overestimating Einstein and Gandhi. If you look at the history of general relativity* you notice that while Einstein was at the center he developed his theory with much help from others such as Hilbert and Levi-Civita. As for Gandhi, he himself was inspired by others such as the March 1st Movement in Korea; his greater fame could be perhaps linked more to the fact that India is huge. Not to take anything away from those two, except perhaps the world's almost deific portrayal of them.



I do know about Hilbert, however Einstein and Hilbert were in heavy correspondence in the preceding few months and Hilbert never claimed primacy over Einstein. My conclusion, after seeing many accounts appears to be that Einstein would have arrived at the equations irrespective of Hilbert's inputs but not vice-versa. "Hilbert's treatise was exceedingly involved, or indeed confused—according to Felix Klein."

Also it should be noted that Satyagraha and Gandhi's civil resistance predates the March 1st movement.

That's difficult to compare. For my own life, the PC and then internet were a lot more disruptive than anything directly related to relativity theory, although there may be indirect connections that I don't understand.

And it's very much a matter of timing. If IBM had been able to delay the broad commercial success of PCs by 15 years, which is not inconceivable, it would have been too late for me to choose a career in this field.

I think the great commercializers like Bill Gates or Edison have made tremendous contributions to society. You need business model disruption in order to make new technologies broadly accessible.

However, I do understand what you're saying. If the discoveries of Einstein or Gandhi had simply never been made, that would be a tragedy for the world, not just a delay affecting my own life.

I think people find it hard to understand that wealth isn't a zero sum game and it doesn't all come down to the number assigned to it. If you compare someone from the 70s to now even if they aren't earning more the price of things has come way down relatively and while people like Gates have generated a heap of wealth they have in turn made everyone lives better with easy access to technology that was almost unthinkable in the 70s.

Actually, Bill Gates has simply built gates and extracted a toll for using them. His products were rarely acceptable alternatives if evaluated on their own merits and sold largely because of strong-arm deals with the OEMs.

Gates is a tremendous example of modern capitalism - ie leveraging regulatory capture. Microsoft, as an unneeded but forcibly installed middleman, has been a drain on the economy. Broken windows for everyone.

The major Microsoft products are Windows and Office.

Windows is a better corporate OS than any of the alternatives and Office is an awesome piece of software by any standard.

I don't think any hacker is going to upvote you for that. You have to make people like through the eyes of a common man for that!

Both stunk and wouldn't have survived on their merits alone. They may be better than the alternatives NOW because they killed most of them. Having thirty unmolested years to perfect a product helps.

> Actually, Bill Gates has simply built gates and extracted a toll for using them. His products were rarely acceptable alternatives if evaluated on their own merits and sold largely because of strong-arm deals with the OEMs.

While I have cited Bill Gates as a weaker contributor than Einstein/Gandhi, I think you are being far too critical here and missing a few key things. The fundamental insight that Bill Gates had was that software is king and the hardware is the add on. Even Steve Jobs credited Bill for the insight at D5. All other competing OSes at the time were a hardware and software bundle. Bill realized that what was of essence was the software and the hardware wasn't as important. He licensed the software and commoditized the hardware industry into a fierce race to the bottom that saw PC prices dropping every month. If Apple/Amiga had won that round we would be spending a couple of grand on a PC even to this day and poorer economies wouldn't have been able to afford computers as freely as they do now.

There were quite a few pure-software platforms that never got off the ground because OEMs didn't dare even offer them as options for fear of angering Microsoft. Unless you were savvy enough to build your own machine from parts, they made it as hard as they possibly could to avoid paying for a copy of DOS and later Windows whether or not you would have preferred to run something else. Most famously, Be got a $23M settlement over this, yet never managed to get fair access to the marketplace so they could compete on commodity hardware. Gates's tactics cost us years of progress, and now he's getting accolades for giving away extorted money DOJ should have seized for his victims.

That's what I mean, it's BS. "Software is king - hur hur".

Hardware is king - try executing your code manually if you disagree. Try wiring the world with a particularly clever algorithm or executing that massively parallel algorithm on a single-core CPU.

When he says software is king he means that it's profitable to dominate because its incremental costs are minimal. And with the DMCA preventing reverse engineering, software patents preventing use of trivial algorithms, etc, they're assuring the monarchy will last forever.

> If Apple/Amiga had won that round we [...]

... could still have a free market where competitors weren't locked out before they started.

Microsoft delivered crippled products to its customers specifically to preserve its marketshare. If I did that as a consultant it'd be criminal.

> poorer economies wouldn't have been able to afford computers as freely as they do now.

Hardware is ultimately fungible so the same boom would have occurred regardless. The boom was happening before MS and the PC, and before Apple too.

Just as an example, it'd be as reasonable to credit RMS for the hardware commoditization as Gates. Stallman was largely personally responsible for reinventing proprietary lisp-machine functionality. By killing off one of the most potentially profitable specialized hardware companies Stallman started the commodity hardware trend.

If anyone really influenced it though it was one of the computing pioneers like Turing simply by proving computational equivalence. After that it's a given.

> (b) the slower technological/economic growth you get when you ban being rich.

There's a world of difference between "ban being rich" and "resist oligarchy with progressive taxation, investment in public services, infrastructure, research, and consumer-friendly laws and protections."

You could even ban being rich from exploitation of limited resources or when destroying the commons. I didn't agree to let my government lease oil-bearing land to the largest industrial polluters and allow them to horde the results.

Makers versus takers...

I don't know if people are opposed to mere inequality. Some people may not like when they have average income while some people are "filthy rich", and on that point I will agree that their resentment towards the rich is not justified much.

However, there's another aspect of inequality: when a significantly large number of people are living in poverty, while others are "filthy rich". In this context, the issue is real and important, and people are right in being concerned about it.

Even though the word inequality means merely "not equal" and could very well refer to the fact that some people are rich while some other aren't, I think that what most people really mean by "inequality" is the second case: where some people are extremely poor while some others are extremely rich.

Cooperation and equality don't necessarily go hand in hand. For instance, with your example of pack animals, often such group has a hierarchy, with an alpha at the top. Even though such animals may cooperate, their is a difference in status.

I'm only talking about economic inequality here, but I do think humans have an inclination toward equality of status too. Which seems to be complicated by a wish for leaders. Which tends to result in a love/hate relationship with said leaders.

Have you read Sex at Dawn?

Thanks for this comment. Humans certainly are predisposed to equality, but it might better be termed as "reciprocity".

You may have read a very famous book by Jared Diamond called "Guns, Germs and Steel" which won the '98 Pulitzer in nonfiction. A lot of these conversations about wealth and equality (and why they are not equal among different sets of society, or among countries) are addressed in the book. This is definitely a life-changing read worth looking into.

Because you might be really (really) busy, I also recommend a short article that sumarizes a lot of the themes in an interesting way: http://www.umass.edu/preferen/gintis/SocJusticeRes.pdf Cheers - Jamison

I think this predisposition may be not for equality but for cooperation. We have empathy, we have child care hard-wired and we have some sort of protection against cheaters, to benefit the whole community. (it is not a cultural invention, it is, like you've said, genetic predisposition).

Equality/inequality is, I think, a cultural factor. Culture is also subject to some sort of evolution process, which means that some inventions got lost, but some remain and evolve. So, more equal society is indeed more stable and healthy. You might not see so intense struggling or competition which means less innovation and so-called progress, but innovations or progress aren't among ultimate goals of the process of human evolution.

There are examples of this sort of cooperation to survive in primitive human societies. Inuit Eskimos will share their game with the whole village. No one is allowed to starve, even if they don't participate in hunts (they are despised and looked down upon though).

I would assume the same practice were true for most hunter-gatherer societies. But one aspect that led to this "wealth" sharing is the fact that in primitive societies people living in the same community were closely genetically related.

Matt Ridley touches tangentially on this topic in his book "The Origins of Virtue".

> I think humans may have a genetic predisposition to equality. What made me realize this was going to Africa and seeing lots of animals in the wild. All or nearly all the big mammals lived in groups and cooperated to survive. It was clear that our ancestors would in their day have been one of these groups, also cooperating to survive (as hunter-gatherers still do in a few places), and that their cooperative inclinations were probably genetically preprogrammed.

I'm not sure living in groups and cooperating implies a genetic predisposition to equality. Even though a group might have, say, twenty to fifty members, some members tend to rule and others tend to hang on the outskirts. I'd pick Venkat Rao's division into Sociopaths, Clueless, and Losers (http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o...) as the best way to divide up types of people in such a group. He writes about their role in businesses, but it's the same in a small societal group. The Sociopaths are the jocks who absolutely must have the power, eat the most food, and have the most offspring. The Losers are the ones who live at the edge of the group, eat the least food, and be eaten first by predators. The Clueless are the majority who follow the Sociopaths' rules and rise slowly through the group hierarchy to their natural level of competence.

Perhaps society is best modeled as a cell, where the Sociopaths are the nucleus and the Losers are the membrane. It does seem to be a male-oriented model, where females act more like glue, facilitating relationships. The male Sociopaths would have two or more females each, eat the food, feed the women, and produce the most offspring. The male Clueless would only have one female and follow whatever other rules the Sociopaths impose, and get food based on their rank in society. Perhaps the females overall are most similar to male Clueless in this model.

The male Losers would be the first to miss out on the food, not get any girls, and die young, being the first to be sacrificed to predators. And maybe there's the reason why Sociopaths naturally shun any interaction with Losers, going through the Clueless intermediaries, as in "the jocks hate the nerds". When there's any threat to their survival or status, the Sociopaths in the nucleus can't afford to have any emotional attachment to the Losers in the outer membrane. They need to be able to sacrifice Losers without hesitating if that's required for their own survival.

I guess I'm saying not only are mammals built out of biological cells internally, but also make up societal cells externally. When there's plenty of food and the group grows too big, the Sociopaths start electioneering among the Clueless for loyalty. The group will eventually split in half, just like cells do, some Sociopaths taking some of the Clueless with them and the others taking the other Clueless. When there's just enough food for the Sociopaths to multiply but not enough Clueless for a successful cell split, the Sociopaths will turn on one another, a coup takes place, and the losing Sociopaths killed or thrown outside the membrane.

This model describes how a genetic predisposition to inequality and hierarchy can also explain group living and apparent cooperation.

A sociopath - or someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder - is someone who is clinically diagnosed as unable to feel empathy.

I think you're confusing this personality with someone who's classed as an alpha-type.

You do not need to be unable to relate to people on a human level to be able to rule.

It does seem to be a male-oriented model, where females act more like glue, facilitating relationships [..]


You should remember that women and men can equally be equally be classified as antisocial. If this classification is the main indicator of leadership potential, then women would have been just as likely to lead.


If your model is correct, and people who can be classified as antisocial really did rule the pre-historic world - why aren't we all 'sociopathic' now?

While sociopathy is very hard to diagnose, some studies have claimed that pretty signifigant amounts of politicians and CEOs/bosses are sociopaths or display a number of sociopathic markers. The prehistoric model could still be in action today.

The 3 labels Venkat gave to these types of people were intended to be funny.

Here's a request that's unlikely to be fulfilled but one I'll make anyway: assemble an essay collection aimed at high school / college students. In my ideal world, it would contain in about this order:

1) What You'll Wish You'd Known

2) What You Can't Say

3) Disconnecting Distraction

4) The Age of the Essay

5) Why Nerds are Unpopular

6) Writing, Briefly

7) Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas

8) Good and Bad Procrastination

9) How to Do What You Love

10) See Randomness

11) The Power of the Marginal

12) How Art Can Be Good

13) Taste for Makers

14) Two Kinds of Judgement

15) Stuff

There's obviously some overlap with this list and Hackers & Painters. But I think this grouping would be much more useful for the general population; most freshmen aren't as keen on programming language discussions.

I often use the first three essays listed above in the freshman comp classes I teach, and they often yield interesting reactions from students. Sometimes we venture into "The Age of the Essay" and "Stuff." Students who are especially interested in why high school is structured the way it is often get pointers to "Why Nerds Are Unpopular."

If you know anyone at O'Reilly, you can tell them they'd get about 50 copies a semester ordered. That's probably pretty small time, but I suppose something is better than nothing.

I've thought of doing things like this. Maybe one day if I have more time. There are all kinds of things I'd like to do but don't have time to now.


I could imagine the process being relatively easy if you have a pre-existing relationship with a publisher like O'Reilly: send me the contract, here are the essay URLs (which have already been proofread), do the typesetting, and send the book out into the world.

In actuality I suppose it's not that simple.

You're being very diplomatic. Probably a function of priority more than time, hehe ;)

It would be interesting to know if you have anything to add or remove from your ideas for startups.

What would you change on The other Road Ahead? A more focus on mobile, more on the line of Fred Wilson's Mobile First Web Second[1]?

[1] http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/09/mobile-first-web-second.html

The model I had of server-based software then was not merely pre-tablet but pre-Ajax. I was talking about a world where all the computation happened on the server.

I would say that now (post-ajax and tablets), we're beginning to get quite close to your prediction.

Are we not coming full circle? Can't you make the argument that we're getting closer to a world in which all the server does is store and retrieve information, while the browser does the heavy lifting? Thank you JavaScript and web APIs.

Actually, I'd say we've gotten to the point where it usually doesn't matter who does the «heavy lifting», because CPU time is so comparatively cheap.

Would you say the same is true for, eg, the «heavy lifting» done by a Google search? I certainly wouldn't, so I don't think your statement is true in the general case, though it is certainly true for a large class of software.

I have the feeling that hard work on browser is still a bad idea.

Is there any of your recent essays that you would include now? Were there any of your old essays, that in hindsight now, that you would include?


Probably worth linking to here.

While I enjoy pg's writing and I think the essays convey a good message in spirit, I do think there's quite a substantial populist aspect to some of them.

I'm glad I read all of them, but if I had to choose, I'd probably get On Lisp in deadtree format first.

Interesting. Not only is this guy getting downvoted, but I have showdead on, so I can see that another person commented with this link and the comment got nuked.

This is not a troll, and it is not inflammatory. It is reasonable discourse and an opposing view. These kinds of things are required for intellectual honesty.

It's especially ironic because the post starts out with a quote from pg:

I actually worry a lot that as I get "popular" I'll be able to get away with saying stupider stuff than I would have dared say before. This sort of thing happens to a lot of people, and I would really* like to avoid it*

Whichever moderator killed that link, and anyone downvoting this guy - high quality discussion allows reasonable minds to disagree. Censoring it because it is about pg is perpetuating the very problem pg describes.

I also disagree with the downvoting as it goes against all the rules and very spirit of HN, but this whole area is kinda touchy. It's probably the biggest amount of beef ever in HN history. It spilled out into outright brawls in the comments more than once between pg and idlewords:



Kindof hilarious actually. idlewords finishes by calling pg a "weenis".

"idlewords finishes by calling pg a "weenis"."

Yes I thought the crude insults were indicative of the quality of the post as a whole.

Did you not read the preceding paragraph?

Maciej was mocking Paul's use of the same name-calling he professes to despise.

The other comment wasn't killed by a moderator. It got autokilled because the account is banned.

That account's previous comment isn't dead, according to http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=hans00. Was the account banned between that comment's (quite recent) posting and this one's?

(That probably sounds like some kind of passive-aggressive complaint about the fact that hans00 got banned, so let me add that after looking through his comments I think his net contribution was solidly negative on account of his gratuitously obnoxious tone.)


Lots of fun back-and-forth about that essay in past submissions: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1048849

That's just one of many essays in the book. I would hardly call the book as a whole populistic - if anything it's contrarian.

Also, the linked blog post didn't strike me as very convincing. The points that were potentially valid ("Start with purpose" paragraph and reference 4) were underdeveloped and most of it read like a rant.

I just reread a bunch of the essays. There is very little that needs updating (and later essays address this).

I get the sense that PG wrote the essays and that book so they could be read many years in the future. Call it a decade for the timely ones, and much more than that for the rest. A few of the updates would be along the lines of "This needs to change from the future tense." For example, this brief review of the iPhone from 2001:

With Web-based software, most users won't have to think about anything except the applications they use. All the messy, changing stuff will be sitting on a server somewhere, maintained by the kind of people who are good at that kind of thing. And so you won't ordinarily need a computer, per se, to use software. All you'll need will be something with a keyboard, a screen, and a Web browser. Maybe it will have wireless Internet access. Maybe it will also be your cell phone. Whatever it is, it will be consumer electronics: something that costs about $200, and that people choose mostly based on how the case looks. You'll pay more for Internet services than you do for the hardware, just as you do now with telephones.

I put together this 76-point summary of Hackers and Painters on my blog: http://www.rosshudgens.com/thoughts-from-paul-graham/

For those who don't know, Hackers and Painters is essentially a collection of his essays on paulgraham.com

The essays are great, read them.

To that extent, the answer to the OP's question is likely "See the essays I've written since Hackers and Painters came out."

This book was an epiphany for me! A colleague lended it to me, I started because the title sounded interesting, but I was thinking "here's another cocky all-knowing hacker type giving out cool advice". Boy, was I wrong. I first read the title essay and the truth of it struck me so much I took the day off (not literally, just hid somewhere where I coulnt be found) and finished the whole thing. That was almost three years ago. I've given quite a number of copies as presents and observed similar reactions. I go back and reread parts of the essays every now and then.

A good/bad analogy is a good book (or the good book), most of the advice has very long shelf life.

I created my HN account soon afterwards and applied for YC that winter (rejected). I haven't done much in all this time, though. Books can carry you only so far.

I still recommend it and lend it to friends. It's mostly made up of essays from his website, so if you want to avoid spending money, you can get most of the book from simply reading the essays on his site. The age of the essays is not a good reason not to read them, however.

The idea from the book that seems most obsolete to me is that a web startup founder could gain a competitive advantage by using Lisp. (Not that a Lisp might not be the best choice, but your competitors are more likely to be using it too, and if they're not they're using something much closer than they were in 2004.)

I read it a few months back, it's still a good read. PG's blog posts aren't easily dated, as you'll often see posts from 5 years ago linked here on HN.

Same, though I wonder if his thoughts on languages has changed much, if at all.

I was looking at learning a new language and considered Lisp, but decided on rails because it seems to be the most common language for web-apps these days, and therefore it should be easier to find good Rails developers than Lisp developers.

I'm curious if PG feels the same way about using Lisp/Arc for business reasons vs. Lisp for technical reasons.

I wonder this as well. Experimentally speaking, Lisp does not appear to have been a great success. I still prefer it, but that appears to be a perennially minority viewpoint, not necessarily one always just on the cusp of winning.

Technology predictions are very tough. (Look at The Road Ahead - missed the Internet ahead) Anything that survived 7 years should be considered a gem that's beyond technology and more about the humanities. (I mean this in the sense of being non-formulaic)

And for those who want to buy it in India:

Flipkart: http://www.flipkart.com/books/9350230398?_l=CJHVEqJO3veuHytb...

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