Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I like to stop by the web site of computer programmer/venture capitalist Paul Graham from time to time because he'll occasionally post essays there. He covers a wide variety of topics, always insightfully.
Conveniently for me, I haven't been making it there as often as I'd like to lately, so this week's mess of traveling afforded me an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: (1) Catch up on his site. (2) Write up a blog post ahead of time during a flight.
So call this installment "The Paul Graham Edition," if you like, ...
... but don't call it "6 Things by Paul Graham!"
I found Graham's take on what he calls a "degenerate case of essay" quite interesting, although I'm not sure that I agree with calling it that, and not all of what he says about "The List of N Things" applies to the "Quick Roundup" feature of my blog.
The greatest weakness of the list of n things is that there's so little room for new thought. The main point of essay writing, when done right, is the new ideas you have while doing it. A real essay, as the name implies, is dynamic: you don't know what you're going to write when you start. It will be about whatever you discover in the course of writing it.If you do grant the premise that such a list is a degenerate essay for a moment, or at least concede that many teachers treat essays like lists, though, you see that he makes a valuable points about pedagogy for beginning and experienced writers alike.
In attempting to understand why some startups succeed and others fail, Graham concludes that "the most likely predictor of success is determination" and comes up with an "Anatomy of Determination."
If determination is so important, can we isolate its components? Are some more important than others? Are there some you can cultivate?His answer is interesting and pertains to why Julius Caesar considered thin men dangerous!
The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups
No! I'm not planning on jumping into that pool any time soon, but this older essay has something worthwhile for anyone with plans for bigger and better things.
Mind or Body?
Graham makes some good points about writing as an exploratory process versus writing as a means of persuasion, but I must emphatically disagree with the endorsement of the mind-body dichotomy implicit in his use of the technospeak term “xor” in the title of his essay and confirmed in this passage.
... I'd rather offend people than pander to them, and if you write about controversial topics you have to choose one or the other.This is a direct result of the author's acceptance, at one or more levels of the philosophical hierarchy, that reason is not man's means of cognition, or at least a cynical rejection of the premise that most people can be open to reason.
I think that etiquette can be perfectly rational, and that there is a difference between politeness and pandering to irrationality.
Incidentally, the term "xor" reminds me of a gramatical pet peeve: the term "and/or." "Or" already means "and/or" by default.
And Speaking of Pet Peeves...
I'm in the Paul Graham's "amen corner" regarding the Segway:
If they'd had to grow the company gradually, by iterating through several versions they sold to real users, they'd have learned pretty quickly that people looked stupid riding them. Instead they had enough to work in secret. They had focus groups aplenty, I'm sure, but they didn't have the people yelling insults out of cars. So they never realized they were zooming confidently down a blind alley.Oh, and you can count me in Maddox's amen corner, too.
What opportunities does the world of publishing hold for writers?
The reason I've been writing about existing forms is that I don't know what new forms will appear. But though I can't predict specific winners, I can offer a recipe for recognizing them. When you see something that's taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn't have before, you're probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that's merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you're probably looking at a loser.The business, at least in how it has been traditionally run, looks like it's between the rock of bankruptcy and the hard place of government bailouts to me. At least this is something to go on.
This post was composed in advance and scheduled for publication at 5:00 A.M. on November 11, 2009.
Today: Fixed links.