121 internautes sur 128 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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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 with the copy I received.
Literature has a long history of the essayist; since those famous theses on the church door at Wittenberg 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 can read on the bus then a PDF of the second chapter, "Hackers & Painters" is available from the O'Reilly page.
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.
58 internautes sur 63 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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This is an astonishingly good collection of essays. In lesser hands, any of the 15 essays here could have been a book by itself --- each packs more content than you can find in a typical one idea business book, or a typical one technology book for geeks. Yet his book is not dense or difficult: Graham's graceful style is a pleasure to read.
But what is it? Is it a business book, or a technical book? A bit of both actually, with a pinch of social criticism thrown in. There are essays on business --- particularly startups --- and essays on programming languages and how to combat spam, and one delightful one on the difficulty being a nerd in American public schools.
My favorite essay of the 15 --- and picking a favorite is itself a challenge --- is called "What you can't say". It is about heresy, not historical Middle Ages burned-at-the-stake heresy, but heresy today in 2004. And if you believe nothing is heretical today, that no idea today is so beyond the pale that it would provoke a purely emotional reaction to its very utterance, then read some of the other reviews. Graham's idea is not that all heresies are worth challenging publicly, or even that all heresies are wrong, but merely that there is value is being aware of what is heretical, so one can notice where the blind spots are.
30 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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In "Hackers and Painters," Paul Graham presents 15 essays on topics that are variously related to computer programming. Graham has two major accomplishments to his name in the hacking world: He was one of the architects of Viaweb, an internet startup which ultimately became Yahoo Shops, and one of the first succesful hosted web applications. He was also one of the first to talk about applying Bayesian filtering to the spam problem; Bayesian filtering has arguably been the most successful technique for reducing spam in individual mailboxes.
I'd advise prospective readers of this book to skip chapters 1, 3, 6 and 7, at least until after you've read the rest of the book. These four essays are the weakest in the book, and having them clustered near the beginning almost made me put the book down and stop reading.
I'm glad I didn't stop, though. The chapters on software development are excellent; Graham provides some of the best insight I've seen into how programmers think. Programmers will find useful ideas that can be applied to their work; non-programmers may get an insight into how programmers think.
The last seven chapters are particularly well done; in these, Graham discusses the nitty-gritty details of program design, choice of programming languages, and design of programming languages. Graham is occasionally arrogant, but his arrogance here comes from experience and success; although not everyone may agree with his arguments about the superiority of LISP over every other programming language, one can at least recognize the thoroughness of the discussion and draw one's own conclusions.
The four essays I mentioned above, by contrast, are much more poorly edited. In particular, I found Graham's economic arguments to be particularly clumsy in their lack of acknowledgement of any other points of view. It's not that Graham's wrong-- I agree with many of his ideas-- but particularly in these somewhat political chapters, he wields his words more like a blunt instrument than like a musical one.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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I'm an experiensed software developer and to me reading this book was absolutely refreshing. It won't teach you anything in particular but it will feed your mind and curiosity great deal - just one needs after years of office work.
This book is a collection of assorted essays, each covering some more or less software-related topic, like history of arts (huh ?). Political correctness, design of things, nerds' life and simply ways of life made their way into this marvellous book.
Some author's points are controversial, while to some I couldn't agree more. The magic part is that the author's judgements are based on not just what he knows or believes, but also on what he feels for no particular reason, and this is the approach I fully appreciate. Only the best books make your mind feel free, and this is one of them.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Paul Graham is an interesting character. He is both an outstanding hacker -- he created the software that became the foundation for Yahoo's shopping site and was an early advocate for Bayesian spam-filtering -- and an artistic painter. Mr. Graham sees no contradiction in all of this -- in fact he considers hacking and art to be nearly synonymous; hence, the title for this book (and an essay contained in the book).
*Hackers and Painters* is an anthology of some of Paul Graham's more provocative essays and lectures. The essays range from exploring the anthropology/sociology of hacking -- nerds (who as an earlier reviewer pointed out are unpopular) and the select of group of computer enthusiasts known as 'hackers.' The book also has his essays advocating the use of Lisp and Bayesian spam-filtering. The book also contains essays that can be considered social commentary (about academics, etc.).
I do NOT agree with all of what Paul Graham has to say. I do not think that Lisp is as useful a language as Paul Graham claims it to be. I don't appreciate his disparaging of concepts (and people) contrary to his own (e.g., bashing Perl, uncharitable remarks about computer scientists and mathematicians, etc.) Some of his social commentary seem ill informed or naive.
BUT -- in spite of all of that -- Paul Graham's essays are well worth reading. Where I do AGREE with him, I really appreciate his insights. I'm a big fan of his essay "Why nerds are unpopular" (contained in this book). With some reservations, I also admire his essays "Hackers and Painters" and essays on Bayesian spam-filtering.
Paul Graham is a great writer. If he wasn't so successful with programming in Lisp, he could have become just as successful with writing in the English language. Although his interest in writing is somewhat secondary to his many other interests, Paul Graham is extraordinary gifted in this arena as well. It's refreshing to see that -- contrary to stereotypes -- a hacker can be both a gifted artist and writer.
As for the complaint about Paul Graham's alleged disparaging of French lit PhDs. Frankly, I have heard many humanities types openly and crassly referring to scientist/engineering/technical types as idiots or worse, and vice versa. While I don't agree with chauvanism by left-brainers, make no mistake, right-brainers are also capable of narrow-minded snobbery as well. (BTW, what does comparing Paul Graham to some comedian have to do with anything? I prefer "unpopular nerds" like Paul to morons like the other reviewer from L.A.)