Book Reviews

Hackers and Painters book review


Major points of this book are:

  • Web-based software will crush desktop software
  • Good design is harder than you can imagine
  • Java sucks for programming (Ruby rocks)
  • You get paid by doing or making something people want

I was pulled into Paul Graham’s essays after reading an article about his start-up incubator, Y Combinator.  The most surprising part of this book is the chapter “Why Nerds are Unpopular”.  It is a scathing indictment of school in general and High School in particular.  High School seems to have more in common with prison than college.  Prison and High School both have laudable goals: rehab criminals and educate young minds.  Unfortunately both systems degenerate into basic human warehousing.  Criminals and teenagers are both warehoused to keep them off the streets.  Both systems create their own twisted societies and cultural norms.

I did not like with his assertion that you need to live off Ramen noodles to begin a startup.  The idea that to start a company you need to run extreme financial risks makes the start-up club very exclusionary.  His argument that only young people are able to bear those kinds of risks is disheartening to a 45-year-old like me.  Fortunately that is not necessary.  I was watching a YouTube video from David Heinemeier Hanson from 37signals and he basically thinks that is bunk.  You can and should take far less financial risk when starting a company.  A majority self-made millionaires think the same thing 

Paul’s advice to young college graduates to either join a start-up or create one is timely indeed.  The era of big business providing you a career for 30 years is over.  You need to create something yourself that other people need.  Simple as that.

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Antifragile Book Review

I ran across this book while surfing the Wired website. The title Beware the Big Errors of ‘Big Data’ seemed intriguing.  I am an IT consultant always on the prowl for the next big thing.  Big data has pushed the hype-o-meter deep into the red zone.   So naturally Nassim Taleb’s critical post caught my eye.  I had suspicions that “Big Data” was somehow flawed.  After reading his book Antifragile I have a new wariness of “experts” and the data they use to support their claims.

Antifragile is a lens through which to view all kinds of relationships.  Antifragile is a word that Nassim made up to describe things that “Gain from disorder”  To fully illustrate the concept he has a nice grid in the book where he takes various areas of modern society and puts them along the fragile-robust-antifragile continuum.  It is surprising the areas that this concept of Antifragile can be applied: Medicine, Economics, Politics and most other complex areas of modern society

For something to be Antifragile it needs to improve or get stronger the more it is attacked.  The best illustration is from greek mythology where the continuum is Sword of Damocles – Phoenix – Hydra.  The Sword of Damocles is poised to drop and is very fragile.  The Phoenix is robust in that it can take punishment and retain its form.  The Hydra is an amazing creature that gets stronger the more you attack it.  Chop off one head and 2 grow in its place.  That is the essence of Antifragility; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

One part I did not like was his constant assault on academics and what he calls the Soviet-Harvard fragilistas.  I realize that these folks have created massive damage to our society.  It seems that Nassim has an axe to grind with them.  Nassim’s argument is powerful enough to stand on it’s own without this distraction.

This book is very accessible to most readers, the technical stuff is put into an appendix for the most part.  You will see the modern world very differently if you read this book.