“Hackers and Painters” Released by O’Reilly

May 11, 2004

Big Ideas from the Computer Age O’Reilly Releases “Hackers and Painters” 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 and Painters,” (O’Reilly, US $22.95) author Paul Graham examines these questions 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 hackers.”

Written in a clear, narrative style, “Hackers and 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 and Painters” include:

  • The Other Road Ahead: Will a new wave of web-based software make desktop software obsolete?
  • 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 for failure.
  • 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 them.

Additional Resources:

Chapter 2, “Hackers and Painters,” is available online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/hackpaint/chapter/index.html

For more information about the book, including table of contents, index, author bio, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/hackpaint/

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