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Mad lib

The following is a heavily-paraphrased excerpt from Paul Graham’s speech at OSCON 2004 (full text), with a few edges rounded down and some semantically related terms pulled out for fun. Reading through it, what springs to mind for you?

A couple years ago a friend told me about a new project he was involved with. It sounded promising. But the next time I talked to him, he said they’d decided to build their [PRODUCT] on [PLATFORM], and had just hired a very experienced [PLATFORM] [PROFESSIONAL] to lead the project. When I heard this, I thought, these guys are doomed. One, the guy couldn’t be a first rate [PROFESSIONAL], because to become an eminent [PLATFORM] [PROFESSIONAL] he would have had to use [PLATFORM] voluntarily, multiple times, and I couldn’t imagine a great [PROFESSIONAL] doing that; and two, even if he was good, he’d have a hard time hiring anyone good to work for him if the project had to be built on [PLATFORM].

Graham’s terms in the above concerned software. It was a software project, the platform was Windows NT, and the professional was a software developer. His presentation was about the qualities that define a great hacker, and the Word Of Graham is that Windows developers don’t make the cut. Whether he’s right or not, it’s funny to see how you can play people’s prejudices off of a passage like this.

Try slotting ‘Linux’ and ‘interface designer’ in there. Smooth fit, huh? What about ‘Macintosh’ and ‘game developer’? This isn’t an operating system war alone, though: I know photographers whose bias towards black and white film stock would have them pick digital as the platform that no great photographer would ever voluntarily use. The greats used 35mm; damn those new-jack digital kids, right?

The sentiment is oft-dittoed amongst acoustic musicians (drummers in particular), and recording engineers whose enduring affinity for the warmth of analog tape won’t allow them to consider the alternatives. Scornful grammarians —the type who won’t tolerate double negatives and split infinitives— think the English language is going to hell in a handbasket because the kids today are too fast and loose with their words. Some baristas will refuse to serve you a coffee with low-fat milk. I could go on.

So what’s wrong with these people? Are they just crusty old trolls with calcified mindsets? Well yeah, duh, but so are you. So am I. People don’t like to change their worldview: their worldview gives them certainty, it gives them a way to think and feel without having to exert themselves with thinking and feeling. This is why your racist uncle and your vaguely homophobic father don’t hesitate to share their views at the dinner table: they’re right, damnit, and no politically correct punk brats are going to tell them different. Change is a scary thing. And when it happens from the inside out —when you see a whole side of yourself you never noticed before— you might not like what you see. Better to stay the same.

Don’t read this as some kind of call to action or anti-stagnation manifesto. When I bitch about things, I fully expect it’s because I have a selfish, short-sighted brain. Revel in your inflexibility. It makes you what you are.