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Hackers and Painters

Although as most of Paul's it is a mixed bag, I love the observations on CS in his latest piece:

"Unfortunately, beautiful things don't always make the best subjects for papers. Number one, research must be original-- and as anyone who has written a PhD dissertation knows, the way to be sure that you're exploring virgin territory is to to stake out a piece of ground that no one wants. Number two, research must be substantial-- and awkward systems yield meatier papers, because you can write about the obstacles you have to overcome in order to get things done. Nothing yields meaty problems like starting with the wrong assumptions. Most of AI is an example of this rule; if you assume that knowledge can be represented as a list of predicate logic expressions whose arguments represent abstract concepts, you'll have a lot of papers to write about how to make this work."

"A page of formulas just looks so impressive. (Tip: for extra impressiveness, use Greek variables.) And so there is a great temptation to work on problems you can treat formally, rather than problems that are, say, important."

go read: http://www.paulgraham.com/hp.html

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Paul Graham is a genius. He's one of the few writers who understands what it's like to really love programming or hacking as he likes to call it.

Matthew Lock
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Great article, thank's a lot !

Evgeny Goldin
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Great article.

Have you ever noticed that the quality of Paul Grahams articles is inversely proportional to the number of times he mentions LISP?

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

:-)

Frederik Slijkerman
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Byrne's Law on Graham writings?

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I need to write it as a formula, how do I get greek letters?

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Heh!

Seriously, excellent article.  Thanks for pointing to it.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Greek letters (maybe): αβγδ
I just used the window "Character Map" accessory, and I'm not sure it'll work.

Tim Evans
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Looks like it didn't work.

Tim Evans
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

You can use these for a tiny version of your beta program: µ ß

Haggis
Wednesday, May 07, 2003

"To do good work you have to take these cycles into account, because they're affected by how you react to them. When you're driving a car with a manual transmission on a hill, you have to back off the clutch sometimes to avoid stalling. Backing off can likewise prevent ambition from stalling. In both painting and hacking there are some tasks that are terrifyingly ambitious, and others that are comfortingly routine. It's a good idea to save some easy tasks for moments when you would otherwise stall.

In hacking, this can literally mean saving up bugs. I like debugging: it's the one time that hacking is as straightforward as people think it is. You have a totally constrained problem, and all you have to do is solve it. Your program is supposed to do x. Instead it does y. Where does it go wrong? You know you're going to win in the end. It's as relaxing as painting a wall."

WOW! I thought I was the only one. I love nothing more than finding bugs and fixing them, especially in code written by someone else (and no, not because it makes me feel superior, but because I first have to discover what the original writer was thinking/trying to achieve). I sometimes think that I should offer freelance debugging services instead of programming. Would that work? Actually, the way I program, maybe I already am (offering debugging, not programming, services) ;)

Ron Porter
Wednesday, May 07, 2003

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