Saturday, March 12, 2011

Good Writing is Good

Maciej Ceglowski is one of the proprietors of Pinboard and also an amazing writer. His recent post describing technical aspects of the great exodus from Delicious (to Pinboard) has too many gems to capture them all, but here are a couple in case you need convincing when it comes to reading technical blog posts:
Before this moment, our relationship to Delicious had been that of a tick to an elephant. We were a niche site and in the course of eighteen months had siphoned off about six thousand users from our massive competitor, a pace I was was very happy with and hoped to sustain through 2011. But now the Senior Vice President for Bad Decisions at Yahoo had decided to give us a little help.
...
We had always prided ourself on being a minimalist website. But the experience for new users now verged on Zen-like. After paying the signup fee, a new user would upload her delicious bookmarks, see a message that the upload was pending, and... that was it. It was possible to add bookmarks by hand, but there was no tag cloud, no tag auto-completion, no suggested tags for URLs, the aggregate bookmark counts on the profile page were all wrong, and there was no way to search bookmarks less than a day old. This was a lot to ask of people who were already skittish about online bookmarking. A lot of my time was spent reassuring new users that their data was safe and that their money was not winging its way to the Cayman Islands.
That post led me back to idlewords.com to which I was already subscribed, it turns out, but I clicked a random link and read Dabblers and Blowhards a brilliant critique of a book I have actually read:
It's surprisingly hard to pin Paul Graham down on the nature of the special bond he thinks hobbyist programmers and painters share. In his essays he tends to flit from metaphor to metaphor like a butterfly, never pausing long enough to for a suspicious reader to catch up with his chloroform jar. The closest he comes to a clear thesis statement is at the beginning "Hackers and Painters":
"[O]f all the different types of people I've known, hackers and painters are among the most alike. What hackers and painters have in common is that they're both makers."
To which I'd add, what hackers and painters don't have in common is everything else. The fatuousness of the parallel becomes obvious if you think for five seconds about what computer programmers and painters actually do.
  • Computer programmers cause a machine to perform a sequence of transformations on electronically stored data.
  • Painters apply colored goo to cloth using animal hairs tied to a stick.
...it goes on in similar fashion, you should go read it, especially if you've read Hackers & Painters.

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