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Issue 3.1


Book: Hackers and Painters

Issue: 3.1 (September/October 2004)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 3,886
Starting Page Number: 8
Article Number: 3103
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Full text of article...

You'd expect a hacker to know about programming languages or technology, but what does a hacker know about philosophy, censorship, creativity, or economics? Plenty, if Paul Graham's unusual book is any indication.

Paul Graham is a hacker. By his definition, that's a clever programmer, not a criminal. He's most famous for his startup, Viaweb, which was the first web-based software product (eventually bought and turned into Yahoo Stores), and he invented the Arc programming language.

In this collection of essays, Paul touches on a variety of fascinating topics. Some essays deal with technology, such as how to deal with spam, theorizing what programming languages will look like in 100 years, or the future of web-based software.

Other essays go to places few hackers go, discussing painting, philosophy, economics, creativity, and sociology. What makes these discussions interesting is that they come from an unusual perspective, that of the hacker.

You may not always agree with Paul, but that's not the point. He writes well with clear analogies and logical arguments toward his theses, and the unusual perspective is designed to make you think of things in a way you didn't before. Paul comes up with some unusual ideas as well.

For instance, his essay, "What Not To Say," proposes the concept that every society throughout history has had an unspoken list of things people are not supposed to talk about. What's okay in one country is forbidden in another. In one time period it was okay to say something but today we see that as racist and forbidden. Or how about science: a while back you could be jailed for saying the earth revolves around the sun! The key here is that in every one of those situations, the people at the time -- just like us today -- thought they were 100% correct in their way of thinking. So the question becomes, if someone came back to today from the future, what would they discover that is forbidden to say today but in the future is considered normal? That's an interesting question and one well worth your time pondering.

Why is that important? Paul writes that hackers, by definition, are people who think "outside the box" and they cannot do that if they are trained by society to not think certain thoughts. A hacker's brain must be free.

Not every essay will appeal to everyone, but if you're interested in programming, technology, philosophy, wealth, or society, you'll undoubtedly find something that will get you thinking. It's a read worth your time.

End of article.