Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hackers & Painters

For some time Hackers & Painters has been on the list of a thousand books I'm planning on reading soon. A recent recommendation and the recent link flurry to Graham's excellent advice to the young at heart, "What You'll Wish You'd Known," managed to push it onto the list of many books I'm trying to finish.

I agree with Evan Williams' assertions regarding the the chapters How to Make Wealth and Mind the Gap. There's good humor and insight to be found throughout. Graham's thoughts on fashions and fads vs. timeless principles in morality and aesthetics were particularly interesting to me. Given that my favorite subjects in high school were art and math, the title alone was enough to pique my interest.

There's one point I'd like to make in reference to the book. An old mentor of mine, one of the brightest people I've known, after much technical achivement in engineering, rocket science, etc., ultimately wound up getting his PhD and going into public policy. He used to taunt me with "You're still young, so you're still enjoying the easy problems, the ones involving machines. I'm older, I needed to move on to harder problems, the ones involving people."

I could leap to my own defense here and begin pointing at all of the difficult technical problems in the world, but, rather, I'm noting this to acknowledge the point. In his first chapter "Why Nerds are Unpopular," Graham notes nerd gravitation to technical problems due to the value they placed on being smart, but I think what gets lost on many of us technonerds is just how insanely difficult people problems are.

Computers are easier to understand than people. Computers reduce down to the execution of simple and predictable instructions, which is hardly the case with people. Compared to technical problems, people problems, social problems, are often insanely and unimaginably difficult. IMHO, this is a realization that might do many a technonerd some good.


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