May 11, 2004
"Hackers & Painters": Big Ideas from the Computer Age
Sebastopol, CA--Picasso said, "Painting isn't an aesthetic operation; it's
a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world
and us, a way of seizing power by giving form to our terrors as well as
our desires." Art exemplifies creative thinking at its very highest level:
it gives form and expression not just to our terrors and desires but also
to the forces that shape our society, our aspirations, and the nitty-gritty
of our daily lives. In a world where many people consider art an impractical
but somehow necessary indulgence and computer programming an
incomprehensible but nonetheless crucial skill, it's not always easy to
see the similarities between the two. What, then, do hackers and painters
have in common? Is code the canvas that reflects our modern world?
In Hackers & Painters, (O'Reilly, US $22.95) author Paul Graham
examines this question and many others through a collection of
entertaining and thought-provoking essays on subjects of interest to
programmers, IT professionals, and geeks at large. From the importance
of beauty in software design to the necessity of thinking forbidden thoughts,
Graham presents ideas that explore and challenge the social and aesthetic
notions we hold about the world of technology and ourselves.
The term "hackers," Graham explains, does not refer to the people who
break into computers but, within the computing world, is the name that
expert programmers use to refer to themselves. According to Graham,
his book is an attempt to explain to the world at large what goes on in the
world of computers.
"Everything around us is turning into computers," notes Graham. "Your
typewriter is gone, replaced by a computer. Your phone has turned into
one. So has your camera. Soon your TV will. Your car has more processing
power in it than a room-sized mainframe had in 1970. Letters,
encyclopedias, newspapers, and even your local store are being replaced by
the Internet. So if you want to understand where we are, and where we're
going, it will help if you understand what's going on inside the heads of
Written in a clear, narrative style, Hackers & Painters examines
issues such as the rightness of web-based applications, the programming
language renaissance, spam filtering, the open source movement, Internet
startups, and more. In each essay, Graham moves beyond widely held
beliefs about the way programmers work as he tells important stories about
the kinds of people behind tech innovations, revealing distinctions about
their characters and their craft. No hackers reading this book will fail
to recognize themselves within these pages. No programmer will put it down
without new thoughts actively percolating.
Some of the essays in Hackers & Painters include:The Other Road Ahead: Will a new wave of web-based software make desktop
The Hundred-Year Language: What programming language will people use in
2100? How will they program in 2100?
Revenge of the Nerds: In technology, "industry best practice" is a recipe
A Plan for Spam: Most experts thought spam filters didn't work. This
essay changed their minds.
Why Nerds are Unpopular: In a typical American secondary school, being
smart will make your life difficult. Whose fault is it?
Design and Research: Good design begins by asking, "Who is this for and
what do they need from it?"
What You Can't Say: How to think forbidden thoughts and what to do about
A hacker and painter himself, Paul Graham, designer of the new Arc
language, was creator of Yahoo Store, the first web-based application. In
addition to his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Harvard, Graham also
studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Accademia
di Belle Arti in Florence.
Advance praise for Hackers & Painters:
"Society has yet to understand the beauty and brilliance that wraps the
coder. Graham's clear and engaging book does, and will teach anyone
willing to listen. And if we're not to lose something important soon, we
as a society should listen."
--Larry Lessig, Stanford Law School, author of "Code and Other Laws of
"Paul Graham takes on big ideas, writing with a grace, clarity and humor
rare not only among his sister and brother geeks, but among the best
writers anywhere. It'd be enough if Paul Graham thought through big ideas
with such clarity and honesty. That he writes with grace and humor makes
his ideas not only thought provoking, but a delight to read. Paul has been
building a cult-like status on the Internet for several years because of
the honesty, grace and wit of his essays. Seeing his essays collected
seals the deal: Paul Graham is a first-rate writer whose provocative take
on big ideas can bump your opinions right out of their rut."
--David Weinberger, co-author of "The Cluetrain Manifesto"
"Paul Graham writes about the human side of the often enigmatic world of
computer programming. This book will help you remember the enjoyment you
got from science class when science was a romp through the mud and woods,
a class like art where making a mess is accepted as part of the process.
Paul is a true hacker with a broad business experience, deep technical
understanding, an uncontrollably inquisitive mind, and a wonderful writing
style. His no-nonsense evaluation of the software industry may irritate
some pundits and therefore is well worth reading."
--Mike Smith, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Electrical
Engineering, Harvard University
Further comments about the book
Hackers & Painters
ISBN 0-596-00662-4, 272 pages, $22.95 US, $33.95 CA, hardcover
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