Paul Graham, Hackers and Painters, O'Reilly

This is the first hardback O'Reilly book I've ever seen. Is this an embodiment of ideas that will last beyond the next software upgrade?

The book is a series of essays from an interesting guy who got a comp sci PHD and then went off to painting school in Europe.

The essay titles include such as Why Nerds are Unpopular, Hackers and Painters, What You Can't Say, How to Make Wealth, Programming Languages Explained, and Revenge of the Nerds.

The whole thing is billed as thought-provoking and, by a small inference, inspirational: It certainly has inspired a few more words here than usual.

The first chapter by itself should inspire any smart American to think about the schooling of his/her children, and ask themselves "Does it have to be thus?", or something like that -- the point being, and one that is frequently visited through the book, is that we improve by questioning ... and hacking, whether it be code or systems. A side effect is that, as we all know, democracy is for everyone -- dumb, ill-informed people, who haven't learnt methods of rational thought, vote as well as smart people. It follows that the quality of candidates and government we get is to some large extent dependent upon school systems. Certainly, the quality of society as a whole is dependant on school output in serious ways. People can avoid tabloid-thought newspapers and webnews but school is altogether harder to escape.

Can we expect everyday, normal people to do this kind of questioning? Historically, this has been the job of outsiders -- those artists and writers whose frequently unhappy job it has been to jump up and down until other people could see the wrong they were pointing at. In this book, Paul Graham adds hackers (in the proper meaning of the word) to the list. And why not?

One irritation was the glib presentation of a series of value judgements. There is a reference to the greatest paintings having been portraits. Punchy prose is soon killed by qualifications but this is reading meant for intelligent people and I suspect it won't be serialized in the NY Post. Later we skirt around the concept of the existence of fundemental goodness in this line. Philosphically, that's not a happening thing, but many people will have some sympathy with the ideas.

There is more of this sort of thing as one goes along, and for any humanist, the section on wealth creation will surely get their hackles rising. Skipping past the bit about Steves Job and Wozniak's wealth creation not being a zero-sum game (I clearly shopped at the wrong place as when I bought one, the store took my money and I didn't have it after they took it ... and let's forget the high economists' M numbers here -- values don't mean anything until the objects are traded), we get to an economic world view that is purely a son of Freidmann but without any redeeeming discussion of the issues. There is no morality here, only the devil take the hindmost in what will be seen by some as a caricature of a somewhat feral American capitalist viewpoint. The end is wealth and power, but with those things, and without morality and humanity, all you have is a poor rich kid. Quomodo sedet sola civitas...

The Revenge of the Nerds essay tells you why, in some circumstances, you should be using Lisp. One of the reasons is abstraction, which can be used by good progammers to more speedily produce end products. This got me thinking about libraries, and speed of execution. Do not libraries provide higher levels of abstraction? Or classes? They're not as elegant as Lisp but the thing I never liked about it was execution speed. But then, look at Cocoa.

Thought provoking? Absolutely.

Hurley, Thornton, Puchol, Rogers, WarDriving: Drive, Detect, Defend, Syngress

From what it is, to what to do and have, this is very complete guide. The book examines the hardware (computer, aerials, cables, GPS units) as well as software for both Windows and Linux. It also looks at Wireless security issues.

The basic attitude of the book is that wardriving is about finding open networks so they can be revealed and made more secure, and they point out that network sniffing without actually entering the network is legal in the USA, and presumably most everywhere else as well.

Well, I suppose that could be interesting but personally, when I go wardriving, I'm interested in finding purposely open hotspots and I'm not in the least interested in what various companies are doing, or whether their networks are crackable or not. That's all part of my hope for a widespread, open, wireless network that one could hop nodes on -- from here to all over the place.

Reading this will do you no harm though, and being aware of security issues has to be a good thing.

Linus Torvalds, David Diamond, Just for Fun, Texere

This book is not new but I've only just got to it. It is a fun read as we get some insight into how and why the whole things started in the way of the mindset of a young Finnish guy at odds with his surroundings.

The disappointments are mostly related to the fact that this book is aimed at geeks and yet it is not nearly geeky enough. An attempt to tackle the Meaning of Life is too simplistic and utilitarian to be of much interest and the wonders of the disorganisation of Linux leading to such a wonderful end product are not dealt with in the sort of detail that someone really interested in the subject would like.

Still and all, read it for fun.

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