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Hackers & Painters 112

Posted by timothy
from the why-cats-paint dept.
honestpuck writes "Paul Graham has delivered final proof that he is a marvelous essayist with his volume of fairly diverse writings, Hackers & Painters. I first came across his writing with his article, "A Plan For Spam," on using Bayesian filtering to block spam and found it a well written and informative technical article. I next came across him some time later when he wrote an essay on his web site entitled "Hackers & Painters," and once again it was well written, informative and (more importantly for an essayist) thought provoking. I was excited to hear he had published a volume of writing and pleased when O'Reilly sent me a copy, despite my pleas that I did not have time to review it." He found time, to your benefit; read on for honestpuck's review.
Hackers & Painters
author Paul Graham
pages 271
publisher O'Reilly Media
rating 8 - May not interest absolutely everyone
reviewer Tony Williams
ISBN 0596006624
summary Interesting collection of essays, mainly concerned with software

Literature has a long history of the essayist; since those famous theses on the church door at Wittgenstein a well written and thought provoking essay on a topic has provided power and focus for important discussions. Graham has either learnt or discovered the important points in writing a good essay; brevity, quality writing and thought.

In this volume Graham covers a range of topics, though all are, understandably, centered on computers. Why nerds are unpopular at school, and what this demonstrates about our eduction system; why program in Lisp; the importance of "startups", programming languages and web development are all touched on. At the same time he covers topics less techno-centric such as heretical thinking and speech. wealth creation and unequal income distribution.

I found myself disagreeing with him often while reading the book, though every time I did I found his argument compelling. I agree with Andy Hertzfeld, quoted on the back cover of the book, "He may even make you want to start programming in Lisp." Graham is politically more conservative and right wing than me, he is also a fervent supporter of Lisp, while I'm a C and Perl advocate. It is telling that at no time did I find myself railing at his views, rather I was reading his arguments and giving them meme space. A good sign of a writer that does not indulge in unnecessary or extreme polemic.

Graham also tends to concentrate on a single point in each essay, allowing for both good coverage and a brief essay. Where he covers a larger context, such as high school education in "Why Nerds Are Unpopular" that opens the book, he seems to focus on just one or two good points of discussion.

The title essay is the second in the collection and provides an interesting look at hacking and some lessons we can learn by analogy to the work and life of Rennaissance painters, particularly in how it is done and how it can be funded. The third, "What You Can't Say" is social commentary on heretical thinking. Four, "Good Bad Attitude" is on the benefits of breaking rules, both in life and hacking. Five, "The Other Road Ahead", is an excellent look at web based software and why it offers benefits to both user and developer with Graham examining some lessons he learnt while building ViaWeb. Six, "How To Make Wealth", is a look at becoming wealthy and how a 'startup' might be the best way to do it. The seventh, "Mind The Gap", is an argument that we should not worry so much about 'unequal wealth distribution' and why it might actually be a good thing. From this list, and a look at the table of contents (available as a PDF on the O'Reilly page for the book), you can see that Graham covers a wide spectrum while never straying from topics he knows.

If I was forced to identify a weakness in this book it may well be that Graham does not evince doubt or uncertainty in his arguments, on a few occasions he may admit to a narrow view or knowledge but doubt or uncertainty don't seem to enter his field of vision while he writes. This coupled with a single viewpoint makes the book less than all-encompassing in discussion. However, I must admit that it is almost impossible to be anything more with a single author and Graham may well be more honest than others who pick and choose the alternatives they present.

Most of the essays are available at Graham's website, but frankly I am a fan of dead trees and appreciated that this book could be read on the bus or in bed. If you would prefer something you cna read on the bus then a PDF of the second chapter, "Hackers & Painters" is available from the O'Reilly page linked above.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to think about a number of topics important to the culture of our tiny corner of the world, computers and the net, while not ignoring the rest.


You can purchase Hackers & Painters from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Hackers & Painters

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  • by xerph (229015) * <andrewmhunt.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @02:47PM (#9368825) Homepage
    I found myself disagreeing with him often while reading the book, though every time I did I found his argument compelling.

    This is something that we don't see enough of these days. Too often people get stuck in a "because I said so" kind of rut, making claims with little in the way of a solid agument to back them up.

    IMO, one of the markings of a well written work is when somebody can say "I may not agree with it, but he made a good argument for his case". Its a sign that the author is generally interested in painting an accurate picture rather than simply throwing a biased view out there for the world to swallow.
  • Wittgenstein? (Score:5, Informative)

    by calebb (685461) * <slashdot@be n e f iel.net> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @02:47PM (#9368828) Homepage Journal
    I'm sure you mean "Wittenberg." That's where Luther nailed his 95 theses at the beginning of the reformation... Caleb
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ROFL! A malaprop worthy of Calvin & Hegel.
    • Re:Wittgenstein? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Forget that:

      Luther's 95 These was hardly an "essay." It was more like a list of discussion topics; an invitation to debate; an attack on church policies.

      The first writings actually called essays were written by Michel de Montaigne over 60 years after Luther.

      Controversial writing predates Luther by thousands of years. I am sure Moses was considered pretty controversial at the time. There was also plenty of discussion worthy items in the works of great Greek philsophers.

      The whole story of the nailing t
    • I'm sure you mean "Wittenberg." That's where Luther nailed his 95 theses at the beginning of the reformation...

      HELP! This LISP language is a cage! Get me out!

  • Wittgenstein? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @02:52PM (#9368883) Journal
    Literature has a long history of the essayist; since those famous theses on the church door at Wittgenstein a well written and thought provoking essay on a topic has provided power and focus for important discussions.

    Being Jewish, I don't claim to have the last word on this subject but wasn't it Wittenberg? Wittgenstein certainly doesn't sound right -- perhaps you're thinking of the philosopher (also Jewish, more or less)?

    Anyway, regarding the book: Some of those essays have been linked here. Good for sparking a few hours of argument, but they seem much more suited to a website than to a 200 page bound volume.

    • by Moth7 (699815)
      Wasn't Wittgenstein a philosopher? Or a drunkard if you listen to Monty Python's "Bruce's Philosopher's song" ;-)
      • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Funny)

        by linzeal (197905)
        No, he was an underwater bassist for an alternate history rock band head by Wagner and Cain (of Cain and Able) that died in a plane wreck going to a gig in Dayton Ohio in 1963. Of course, he was a philosopher, check out some of his thoughts [utm.edu].
      • if that's the case.

        One of the points that Wittgenstein brought to light was that many political and philosophical arguments are nothing more than misunderstandings about what various words mean, and then people use them in ways that other people don't agree with, and argument results.

        Computer code alleviates this problem, but it does come back in discussions about computer code, strangely enough.
  • by Richard_L_James (714854) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @02:54PM (#9368910)


  • by ESR (3702) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @02:55PM (#9368915) Homepage
    I wrote the intro for Paul's book and he's a good friend of mine. The reviewer is wrong on one point: Paul's politics are not "conservative" or "right-wing". Like me, he is a libertarian who stands outside the left/right spectrum and wants as little as possible to do with those who inhabit it.
    • Nice try, but (and I suspect many others) libertarians are definately on the right end of that spectrum you try to wash yourself of.

      That being said, anyone with 1/2 a grain of sense realises that calling something left/right is an excerise in generalization.
      • by jdavidb (449077) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @03:37PM (#9369299) Homepage Journal

        Many libertarians, like myself, came to the philosophy from the right side of politics: a belief in strong economic liberty as the best (and only ethical) policy led to a belief in strong social liberty. I personally still identify as "right wing," and "conservative," although the more libertarian I become the more problems I have with those I formerly identified as "my side."

        Meanwhile, many libertarians came to the philosophy from the left side of politics, and I presume ESR is probably one of them: a belief in strong social liberty led to a belief in strong economic liberty. I was shocked when I started reading libertarian forums and discovered these people even existed; it seemed so wrong to me that there were people who thought legalizing drugs was more important than deregulating industries. But they are out there, and they do not appreciate being identified as right wing.

        And in the end us "right-wing libertarians" and those "left-wing libertarians" are far more similar to each other than to any other group. Some of us are still having trouble wrapping our brains around the beliefs further from where we started, but for the most part, we all agree. Thus libertarianism is a different animal from the right wing, left wing spectrum. You might google for the "world's smallest political quiz," which is less useful as a quiz and more useful as a graph to show how libertarians envision the political "spectrum."

        Incidentally, it was the very ESR you replied to who was mostly responsible for my shift from conservative, laissez-faire capitalist to anarcho-libertarian.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          [CLEANED UP REPOST]

          > Nice try, but (and I suspect many others) libertarians are definately on the
          > right end of that spectrum you try to wash yourself of

          This is just false by any but the most abused (and ultimately meaningless) definitions of the terms. The right and left wings are used, at most, to define two basic axes:

          1) authoritarian (anarchism----totalitarianism)
          2) moral (progressive-----traditionalist)

          One can still be a progressively-minded libertarian or an anarcho-libertarian - neither of
        • by ESR (3702)
          Actually, my pre-libertarian background was as a
          centrist Democrat, not a left-winger. I worked
          for Henry Jackson's campaign in 1975. I found
          myself repelled both by the racist conservatives
          of the 1960s and the Communist-sympathizing "New
          Left". I loathed both the anti-drug crowd and
          the anti-war crowd. So my history of rejecting
          both ends of the spectrum goes back a long way.
          • Hi ESR,

            Wasn't a main platform of the New Left anti-communism, as opposed to the Old Left? At least that's the impression I've gotten from my reading. Perhaps you can clarify.
      • > Nice try, but (and I suspect many others) libertarians are definately on the
        > right end of that spectrum you try to wash yourself of

        This is just false by any but the most abused (and ultimately meaningless) definitions of the terms. The right and left wings are used, at most, to define two basic axes:

        1) authoritarian (anarchismtotalitarianism)
        2) moral (progressivetraditionalist)

        One can still be a progressively-minded libertarian or an anarcho-libertarian - neither breed is conservative or right-w
    • Eric, you don't stand outside the spectrum, the spectrum is simply multi-dimensional, and you've stepped off the axis which runs through "liberal" and "conservative."
    • by Mr Guy (547690) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @03:33PM (#9369253) Journal
      Does it make the labels wrong simply because that's not the label he chose himself?

      Call it postmodernist if you must, but if the reviewer read his book and decided he comes across as conservative and right-wing, perhaps it is because his beliefs and those considered to be conservative and right-wing overlap.

      There are only so many beliefs you can have within the realm of sanity; we tend to label these in context of an ever evolving spectrum. Like all arbitrary standards, whether or not you wish to be compared to it is fruitless; the standard exists in order to compare aspects of your beliefs. The best you can hope for in terms of non-comparison is "No Comment."

      Having read several of his essays, and being at least somewhat aware of (admittedly stereotypical) tenets of Libertarianism, I'd say that both he and you most likely DO hold many "right-wing" views. It does not naturally follow that you hold views in line with the Republican party simply because it also considered to represent the "right-wing."

      I think the arguement of being outside the spectrum is probably the one as laid out in the Wikipedia in regards to a graphing scale rather than a linear one. While I grant it may have merit, it in the context of a limited body of work the argument seems fallacious, as the seperation between economic freedom and personal freedom is not a concrete one and relies on typecasting and presumption that you must isolate the two.

      Instead I would propose that Libertarians actually are the most pure form of the right wing, believing that freedoms must be preserved at all costs and being unwilling to compromise in the ways that Conservatives often have.

      Even having read Hayek's essay on Conservatives, it still doesn't seem to address the basic point that the scale is a matter of convenience for the oberserver, not a strict definition of a set of beliefs.
      • by bugbear (448726) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:34PM (#9369791) Homepage
        I've never been sure myself whether I was liberal or conservative. I think some things I wouldn't dare say out loud in front of a group of liberals, and others I wouldn't dare say out loud in from of a group of conservatives. It's a tossup which category of thoughts is bigger.

        There's a footnote about this in "What You Can't Say." If you went back to visit, say, Victorian England, your opinions would probably shock Whigs and Tories about equally. If your goal is to be close to the truth, then you are going to seem like an alien to the people of your own time. It's like projecting a point onto a line segment that is very far away. Where you end up on it is almost random.
        • What the differences between all of these groups actually are? I can see I'm not the only one with the problem, but I think I'm further gone than most. I often read in the political realm, and am at least fairly knowledgeable about a few current world and American events (I read slashdot after all) but I can never decide what these terms seem to mean. Left wing, Right wing, Liberal, Conservative, hell even Democrat and Republican are terms thrown about, all over the place, and they all seems to make claims
          • by MourningBlade (182180) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @06:28PM (#9371393) Homepage

            I've found most often the best meaning to these words is based on what people call others, not as they identify themselves.

            Part of the problem is that the terms have changed meaning over time, as they were concocted so as to oppose themselves to another group.

            Imagine the pro-life and pro-choice groups, in 30 years. Let's say that the stance that all abortion should be illegal fades away to obscurity, and is replaced by the idea that the most important thing is that both the mother and the father have a say in what happens.

            This group is opposing itself to the pro-choice group (of 30 years in the future, keep in mind!), and they want to say exactly what they believe in their name, so thay call themselves the Rights party.

            Well now, "pro-choice" makes little sense, since both groups desire for abortion to be legal. But nevertheless, there they are.

            The process repeats itself over the years, and the terms stop meaning anything. You could really start saying "party A" and "party B" and be about as accurate.

            The things that don't change are fundamental ideas about government: proper use of police powers, rights of component states, how law is created, jurisprudence, rights of commerce, central planning, etc.

            Which groups are which, though...that changes all the time.

            • The process repeats itself over the years, and the terms stop meaning anything. You could really start saying "party A" and "party B" and be about as accurate.

              A good modern example of this is the Australian Liberal party, which has a similar platform to the US Republican party (pro-war, anti-gay marriage etc). On his recent US visit, Liberal PM John Howard had to explain at length to Arnie that he wasn't an actual leftist liberal. Hilarity and terrible accents ensued.
          • Could someone explain a little bit please what the differences between all of these groups actually are?

            The main difference between most political groups is which of your freedoms they want to suppress.
            For example, Democrats and left-wingers generally want to suppress your freedoms use your property however you see fit, while Republicans and right-wingers generally want to suppress your freedoms to use your body however you see fit.
            Only Libertarians and similar groups wish to provide individuals with the

          • I wouldn't worry too much about definitions. The reason there is a Left and a Right in politics (and not much else), is to project the illusion of choice without actually providing one.
      • Does it make the labels wrong simply because that's not the label he chose himself?

        I think the real problem is a severe allergy to the sticky stuff on the inside of the label...
      • by danharan (714822) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @05:42PM (#9370929) Journal
        Check out the political compass [politicalcompass.org].

        It's hard to tell from the few essays I've read by Graham whether he is more right than left-wing, but it seems pretty clear that he is leaning to the libertarian side of things. Note that you could be both libertarian and right-wing, and have more in common with me (left-wing libertarian) than you would with GWB.

        As to what the reviewer thought... sure, that might be postmodernist. A lot of people in Europe think I'm American when in fact I am Canadian; their belief and their claim does not change this. You could deconstruct the meaning of Canadian or American, but you couldn't reduce the fact I hold a Canadian (but not American) citizenship and passport.

        It's murkier with political labels because there is no "proof" that can be easily produced such as a passport. All we can say then is that according to a right-left political spectrum hypothesis, much of Graham's politics seem unexplainable -perhaps even insane- while using a spectrum they are quite straightforward, and arguably more internally coherent than what passes as right or left-wing these days.

        Since I don't like postmodernism all that much, I'll finish by saying in Wilberian fashion that the compass includes and transcends the old idea of the spectrum, and is therefore closer to the truth.
      • Even bothering to say something is "conservative" or "right wing" exposes rather limited thinking. These categories are impossibly limiting. About all that can be set of "right wing" is "not leftist". A linear scale to describe politics is amazingly simplistic. At least go to full 2D and preferably at least 3D.

        It is even more inane in the context of the book because the book is not about politics nor does it often touch on politics.

    • However wrong the review may be, he is rather conceited. One thing I've noticed about review on Slashdot recently is a number of self-serving reviews and uninformed opinions (usually on tech matters) from "honestpuck", so I'm not really surprised that he would take advantage of our time and attention by identifying himself politically.

      It's a shame, because I've really enjoyed /. book reviews by others.
    • Libertarianism is right-wing apologetics. This is very clear from Graham's opinions on the distribution of wealth. Wanting nothing to do with left/right politics is a hallmark of the right, and libertarianism certainly isn't left wing in many of its tenets.
    • Thanks for sharing that with us, Eric. I'm glad to know you're good friends with Paul Graham. Any other little tidbits you can tell us?
    • "Like me, he is a libertarian ..."

      At last, an explanation for the pages of drivel pg recently published as "What You Can't Say" [paulgraham.com]. For such a smart guy, I was agape with confusion as to how pg had gotten himself into the absurd position of arguing that heresy is "cool", and if you are not a heretic then "...Odds are you just think whatever you're told" - it was like reading the rants of some eloquent teenager, full of childish angst and rage toward authority.

      The word heresy means to choose or to pick out

    • I'd definately disagree with this.
      Going by the 4 point model of the political spectrum, you have right wing, left wing, anti-authoritarian & authoritarian.

      Libertarianism is supposedly at the anti-authoritarian point, however those I've met, and read, most are actually more towards right wing anti-authoritarianism.
      Part of this may be due to the fact that many left wing anti-authoritarians are more likely to refer to themselves as anarchists, or just, anti-authoritarian.

      But going back to those four poin
    • I guess it's primarily your (ESR's and PG's) view on the ethics concerning monetarian wealth that I react against, since I believe (possibly erroneously) that in a capitalist (meaning employment hierarchy) system, one man's gain is another man's pain, to the extent of increasing divides between rich and poor.

      I do think that both you and Paul have great writing styles so I read most of what you publish, but I definitely disagree on your views on economy.

      Some of the things you've written, especially Homeste
  • Value added? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GuyMannDude (574364) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @03:14PM (#9369093) Journal

    Most of the essays are available at Graham's website, but frankly I am a fan of dead trees and appreciated that this book could be read on the bus or in bed. If you would prefer something you cna read on the bus then a PDF of the second chapter, "Hackers & Painters" is available from the O'Reilly page linked above.

    What about those of us who aren't necessarily a fan of "dead trees"? Is there still a reason for us to purchase the book? The reviewer doesn't say. He states that "most of the essays are available at Graham's website". How many is "most"? Are the ones only available in the book second-rate essays? Or are we missing some real gems by just perusing his website?

    I don't mean to be overly harsh towards the reviewer but the question of what is the 'value added' in this book version of collected essays seems like something that really should be addressed. I've read many of the essays described in the review off the website so I'm already familiar with Graham's writing style and world view. When I read a review, I have one question uppermost in my mind: "Should I buy this book?" Alas, after reading this review I don't know if I should or not.

    Can someone here (maybe the reviewer?) please give a description of what's in the book versus what's available on the website? Even a count of how many new essays are in the book would be a start.

    GMD

    • Re:Value added? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tellarin (444097) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:11PM (#9369625) Homepage Journal
      The following essays are available at http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html

      *What You Can't Say
      Stopping Spam
      So Far, So Good
      Filters that Fight Back
      *Hackers and Painters
      *The Hundred-Year Language
      *Why Nerds are Unpopular
      Better Bayesian Filtering
      *Design and Research
      Will Filters Kill Spam?
      *A Plan for Spam
      Spam is Different
      Filters vs. Blacklists
      *Revenge of the Nerds
      Succinctness is Power
      *Taste for Makers
      *Beating the Averages
      Being Popular
      *The Other Road Ahead
      What Made Lisp Different
      The Roots of Lisp
      Programming Bottom-Up
      Lisp for Web-Based Applications
      Why Arc Isn't Especially Object-Oriented
      Five Questions about Language Design
      If Lisp is So Great
      Java's Cover
      What Languages Fix
      Chapter 1 of Ansi Common Lisp
      Chapter 2 of Ansi Common Lisp
      E-Commerce

      And the following are on the book:
      *Why Nerds Are Unpopular
      *Hackers and Painters (also available at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/hackpaint/chapter/c h02.pdf)
      *What You Can't Say
      Good Bad Attitude
      *The Other Road Ahead
      How to Make Wealth
      Mind the Gap
      *A Plan for Spam
      *Taste for Makers
      Programming Languages Explained
      *The Hundred-Year Language
      *Beating the Averages
      *Revenge of the Nerds
      The Dream Language
      *Design and Research

      the ones marked with a * are on both

      I would still recommend buying his book.

    • Re:Value added? (Score:5, Informative)

      by bugbear (448726) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:19PM (#9369678) Homepage
      I'd guess about 30% of the text in the book is new. The essays that are already on the web have been rewritten too-- some quite extensively, some just tightened up a bit.
    • Re:Value added? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RealAlaskan (576404) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:19PM (#9369679) Homepage Journal
      Here's a start, from the PDF table of contents [oreilly.com], to which the reviewer linked, and from Graham's web site [paulgraham.com].

      The ones which are also available on the website are: Why Nerds are Unpopular, Hackers and PAinters, What You Can't Say, The Other Road Ahead, The Hundred YEar Language, BEating the Averages, Revenge of the Nerds and Design and Research.

      The ones which seem to be missing from the website (i.e, the ones for which youwould have to buy the book!) include Good Bad Attitude, How to Make Wealth, Mind the Gap, A Plan for Spam, Taste for Makers, Programming LAnguages Explained, The Dream Language.

      There are also some on the website which are not in the book.

      I had the table of contents from the book and the list of essays from the website reproduced here, but the lameness filter (designed to ensure lameness, I guess) kept saying that the characters per line was 36.

      • The ones which seem to be missing from the website (i.e, the ones for which youwould have to buy the book!) include Good Bad Attitude, How to Make Wealth, Mind the Gap, A Plan for Spam, Taste for Makers, Programming LAnguages Explained, The Dream Language.

        A couple of these are available from his website as well:

        A Plan for Spam [paulgraham.com]
        A Taste for Makers [paulgraham.com]

        I'd like to now if "The Dream Language" is a genuinly new article, or a rehash of his Being Popular [paulgraham.com] article.
    • Ok, I'll do your homework for you. Comparing the articles listed on the author's website with the TOC of the book, the book appears to have the following additional articles:

      4. Good Bad Attitude
      6. How to Make Wealth
      7. Mind the Gap
      10. Programming Languages Explained
      14. The Dream Language
      15. Design and Research

      The author's website has the following articles not in the book:
      Stopping Spam
      So Far, So Good
      Filters that Fight Back
      Better Bayesian Filtering
      Design and Research
      Will Filters Kill Spam?
      Spam is Different
    • According to O'Reilly, the essays that appear in both the book and website were partially rewritten for the book. About 15% of the material in the book is new (again, that's O'Reilly's estimate).

      The book is a good deal more than just a reprint of online material.

  • A nice quote... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tcopeland (32225) * <tom.thomasleecopeland@com> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @03:15PM (#9369101) Homepage
    ...from his LISP quotes [paulgraham.com] page:

    "I suppose I should learn Lisp, but it seems so foreign."

    - Paul Graham, Nov 1983

    Nice to see he remembers how he felt about LISP at first; gives me hope for my own LISP aspirations :-)
  • FUD? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @03:39PM (#9369328) Journal
    Graham does not evince doubt or uncertainty in his arguments, on a few occasions he may admit to a narrow view or knowledge but doubt or uncertainty don't seem to enter his field of vision while he writes.

    Having read the free chapter at OReilly it seems to me he intends to inform from his own experience - hence the unwavering tone, 'this is what I see'. Why would he have to show doubts, if any, in such a case? Finally, why would he want to confuse his audience by switching tacks in midstream? I think the tone is perfect: informative, entertaining, and convincing all at the same time - while keeping to the point.
    • by Kismet (13199) <pmccombs@NOsPaM.acm.org> on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:55PM (#9370199) Homepage
      I also disagree with the reviewer's assessment on this point.

      A good argument does not allow for doubt or uncertainty. You can't effectively persuade people if you put things in terms of "probably" or "maybe" or "I think."

      When you have been proven wrong in your argument, then you admit you were wrong. Those who are courageous enough to admit their errors, and then to alter their beliefs, don't need the excuse of doubt and uncertainty in their arguments in the first place.

      There is a group of people who take one of the ideas of critical thinking - to question everything - to the false conclusion that we must therefore live with doubt and uncertainty because we can't empirically know it all. "Question everything" becomes "doubt everything," and then you have assertions such as this: that the author is conservative and dogmatic in his views. The aspiring critical thinker, perceiving a flaw in another's thinking, projects that flaw onto the other's argument and cannot except it by virtue of the thought process used to arrive at the conclusion.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        The benchmark for intellectual honesty is the recognition of your own limitations, and the pursuit of presenting argument as correctly as possible knowing your limitations. If you do not know as a matter of certainty that something is true, you do not present it as truth. You present your argument as possibly true given evidence and reasoning. You do not present generalizations as true when you know them to be false in order to further your argument. You don't come to hasty conclusions about the validity of
        • Your learning is superficial and you are intellectually arrogant. The tenets of effective argument have been well established and are published; you may deny these if you wish.

          I never advocated nor suggested the use of generalization, flawed reason, or hasty conclusions. I did not condone the wilful misrepresentation of evidence. These are, in themselves, fallacies of argument and of logic. You have made these very errors in supposing that I implied such a thing.

          Arguments stand or fall on their merits. Th
  • by t1m0r4n (310230) on Tuesday June 08, 2004 @04:07PM (#9369594) Homepage Journal
    I just read the "Hackers and Painters" essay. A note that struck me as odd is this, "The influence of fashion is not nearly so great in hacking as it is in painting." I suspect the influence of fashion is nearly equal (regardless of interpretation).

    Main difference being, artists who ignore fashion may be remembered hundreds of years later despite not being popular during their lifetimes. However, I suspect that other than a couple of early programmers, all hackers will be quickly forgotten. Nice old paintings sell for big bucks, but old code is just trivia for geeks.
  • I've read his essay "What you can't say". It set me on fire. I certainly recomend it. I found his ideas neither conservative nor liberal. Perhaps libertarian... He seemed to have the perspective of being outside looking in. His ideas were always well supported, expertly conveyd and seldom repeated. I will buy this book.
  • Very interesting from the point of view of a painter /architect whose boyfriend is a hacker. We've made similar comparisons ourselves in many conversations. I look forward to finishing the essay which I'm sure will inspire many more conversations and blogging.

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