I moved to San Francisco in 2010 to work at a startup. At the time I was living in NYC and the technology hacking scene there was utter garbage. It was dominated by these stupid “artists” who had a strangle hold on the local scene and ostracized anyone who wasn’t cool, hip, GGG, libertine hacker guys like them. I still remember wondering where the hell they all got their thick rimmed black glasses? Did they rob a Warby Parker or something?
At first living in San Francisco was great, and it really was the technologist’s paradise I envisioned. Then the tech bros showed up. As the money in tech prolapsed into the local economy the brogrammers in the industry confused their acquisition of a loan with being real super dudes. This the fueled the anti-intellectual libertines of San Francisco to skip a couple burning man orgies and fight the brogrammers for the intestines of the city.
This really makes the city an ugly place to live and work, and I hope in the future technology companies simply avoid San Francisco. Not because San Francisco is necessarily a bad city. The entire bay area definitely has a huge problem with corruption and graft, more than any other city I’ve lived in. Rather, this constant fight between the wannabe libertines just trying to get whipped at The Citadel, and the brogrammers living off Zuck’s scraps, ends up ruining what could be a fantastic place to live.
San Francisco will always be a bitter sweet place for me in my life. On the one hand, my books took off there and I was able to start a new career doing something I really enjoy. I also learned to paint, which I will always cherish for the rest of my life. I loved some women so deeply it still makes me sad that they didn’t work out in the end. San Francisco was also where I had the most terrible heart breaks of my life. Where I saw the most violence and governmental indifference I’d ever seen. Where I encountered groups of people who abused and fed off their peers for tiny scraps of small points on worthless startups, and other groups who attacked their fellow denizens for simply having a job.
My fondest memory of San Francisco will be the sunny days I spent at Union Square, playing guitars I made and talking to random wonderful weird regulars. Union Square healed the hands broken by a terrible NYC teacher and his “improved” scales. Without that warm sunshine and an open place to just do scales for hours I would have given up on guitar entirely. Now my hands str all fixed up and I’ll always remember what that felt like.
I’ll also remember that I first learned to draw at Fort Mason on March 13, 2014. I mean I think that’s right, but that’s close enough for the memory. I’ll remember sitting there, looking at the docks, drawing the scene, feeling that blissful peace I have when I paint or draw now, listening to my lover hum and draw along with me. It’ll always be a permanent loving memory for me that helps me realize not everything in San Francisco was bad.
I’ll also miss all the incredible museums and art schools. I owe the Legion of Honor, the De Young, the SF MOMA, and the SFAI so much for teaching me about art from all time periods. If you live there and you aren’t going to the museums on a regular basis you are truly missing out on one of the gems of the US museum world. If you can also pop a flight down to LA and visit the Getty you definitely should. The Getty is a work of art on its own and I probably went there 20 times for whole days just because.
New York is that lover I sometimes check out to see if she’s doing alright. She was actually cool and way out of my league. I just wasn’t cool enough for her at the time. San Francisco will always be that lover who made me feel awesome and successful while cheating on me and calling me a “fag nerd”. Those places are all over for me now, except for the occasional visit. Goodbye, it was fun…almost…I mean yeah you know what I mean.
The first reason is simply it was time for a change. I actually wanted to leave a few years ago but things always kept me there. Relationships, art schools, work, or just too many guitars I didn’t want to ship. My time in San Francisco was very lonely and my only social interactions were with the women I dated, so it ended up that relationships meant a lot to me even if they were flawed and doomed to fail. Once there was a break in this pattern I was able to finally plan a move.
The second reason is I have a goal of living and studying art overseas in the next few years. There’s one tiny wrinkle in this: California is ruthless about collecting taxes from people who live overseas. Everyone I talked to said definitely move to a state without income tax before you move overseas or California will grab your bank account without any warning. I did some research, and most states without income tax are freezing cold or fairly lame. Florida wasn’t that appealing, but Miami seemed really great when I visited. Clean, modern, everyone is generally happy, great weather, and easy to live here. I don’t even need a car here.
I’m also looking to improve my landscape painting, marine painting, and art in general, and Miami has a killer art scene. I’d say way better than San Francisco in terms of actual art sales, although so far the Museums here are nothing compared to San Francisco’s. Miami just fits my idea of a new place to paint different landscapes and improve my artistic practice while also saving money on rent.
The final reason is I wanted a place that wasn’t so pissed off and depressed all the time. I tell people when you live in a city you can sort of feel a personality permeating everything. The personality of New York was a bipolar court jester. There were days you could tell NYC was pissed off at you, other days where Gotham loved you like a mother, and most of the time it was fucking hilarious. San Francisco’s personality is definitely that of a depressed but brilliant failed artist. It was always sad that it wasn’t considered a greater city and jealous everyone overlooked it’s good qualities, so it took that out on everyone living there. I guess in many ways I kind of adopted the personalities of the cities while I lived there.
I don’t know what Miami is like yet, but I’m getting the sense that Miami actually doesn’t give a fuck what I think about her. Miami is looking too fabulous to care.
I’ve actually always admired you. You saved the business of technology from the useless MBAs who did nothing but drive businesses into the ground on the backs of programmers like me. You handed money to the builders and hackers instead of handing money to guys with nice teeth and fancy hair. You totally rock for proving to the world of finance that the money is where the skill is, not where the pretty is. I quite literally fucking love you for that, and will always have respect for you.
I even think we might be similar in a lot of ways. I’m an old school hacker just like you. I recently started painting like you. I’m a way better public speaker but that’s besides the point. We have similar interests and could possibly bond over many things. Who knows, you might have been a potential good friend of mine if it hadn’t been for one thing you did:
I hadn’t really paid attention to HN much until about 2008. Someone showed me how your site posted a talk by Thomas Ptacek where he outright slanders me. Slander which he has taken back and publicly apologized for. He had a video where he makes wildly false accusations about me and my fitness to work, as well as Dan J. Bernstein and several other noted cryptographers. At the time I didn’t really care because I was out of the startup world. I was working for a bank and I mean, c’mon, banks don’t fail. Yep, sure enough banks do fail, and the one I worked for–Bear Stearns–did that same year.
I would notice that about once every 6 months this video would get posted, and then the HN crowd would call me the worst shit ever. Things they would never say to my face were tossed into comments like I had punched their toddlers in the face. But, I still didn’t care because after Bear Stearns collapsed I took my severance and went to study Jazz guitar, something I’ve always wanted to do. I hear you did something similar. You went to study painting? Well I’m sure you know when you finally get to study something you love it’s easy to simply ignore the world.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I started to care about this video being posted every 6 months. After guitar school I decided to move to San Francisco and work for a company there. I wanted to change my life around again and start a family, see if I could get back into building something. Sure enough, first week on the job and there’s that video full of slander posted to HN filled with comments from abusive anonymous weak fucking assholes. Nobody from YCombinator did anything about it, and I had to take it into my own hands.
I threatened to sue Thomas and because of that he retracted what he said and apologized publicly. Mysteriously the video also disappeared off the internet and stopped showing up on HN. What an odd coincidence, but that’s not the point of this letter to you Paul.
The point is, seven years later and your site is still used to abuse people and YCombinator the corporation continues to support it. Currently the most popular way to slander someone on HN is to create a “throwaway” or “anon” account, say what you want, then slink off into the shadows like a weak limp dicked little loser. Do you do anything about it? Nope. Right now there’s a blog post critical of my book that’s been posted to HN 4 times so far. Apparently you will allow links to be posted repeatedly even after they’ve been voted down if it’s “gratuitously negative” of me, but take anything about one of your shitty startups down immediately.
Your news site is nothing more than a slander factory Paul, and you allow YC to back it which makes you responsible. Sure you get Sam to pay lip service to civility but you don’t mean it at all. You have no problem posting “gratuitously negative” blog posts, articles, FUD, and all through the most easily detected anonymous accounts. You have no problem with people shitting all over me, even to the point of threatening me. You let anyone post any bullshit slander they want…oh except about a YC company. That would be “gratuitously negative” for sure.
I mostly ignored it, but after 7 fucking years of YCombinator secretly backing and manipulating HN for its own gain it’s time to do something about it. I’m just one guy, but you know what, I have one thing that you don’t have Paul:
You see Paul, I learned a long time ago that you never fight an ugly man because he’s got nothing to lose. In the world of startups I’m one ugly motherfucker. I don’t make millions, I make rent and food money. Why? Because I’m trying to help lots of people out by giving my books away for free. I’m never going to get funding from a venture capitalist because most of my ideas are infrastructure like the web server that powered most of your shitty fucking startups. If I lost everything tomorrow I’d sell off my guitar collection and move to some tiny town to be a school teacher or go back to school and get a Ph.D. in art history or some shit like that. I literally have nothing to lose.
I don’t play the game at all and that means I’m unclean by VC standards. I like to say “fuck” and stand up for the little guy so that means, no matter how good of a person I am, I will never get respect from people with money. Ever. It also means I have no reason at all to be nice to your startups. If your company is going to let a bunch of fucking assholes rip into me and many of my friends then I’m in a perfect position to start stomping on some undescended nerd testicles in revenge.
So Mature, Right?
The thing is, I don’t get why you keep running HN? It is about the most immature dumbass thing for a professional venture capital company to run. When I read the comments on HN and the constant disgusting abuse you let those weak losers write I think, “Fuck me man I’m never doing business with this company. Ever.” I even go out of my way to avoid as many YC startups as I can. In fact, I had job offers from a YC startup and a non-YC startup and am looking at the non-YC startup, just because of HN.
The best analogy I can give about the YC/HN relationship is an abortion clinic. You see Paul, YCombinator is a fine up standing abortion clinic that’s providing a useful service, but you have these disgusting protestors out front who are harassing your patrons. They throw things at them and scream and threaten but you do nothing about it. You wring your hands and plead, “Ohh I can’t stop them because of free speech. What will I ever do?!” Then when nobody’s looking you walk out front and feed all the protestors and secretly hope they stay around.
The question is why? Why the fuck do you bother keeping these idiots around? Why do you keep feeding them? Surely you make more than enough money just doing the VC thing that you can change HN to a curated news feed with no comments or heavily moderated comments? The cost of running HN and the bad name it probably gives you in many circles can’t possibly be worth the money it brings in. I mean fuck man we all know HN “hackers” flat refuse to buy anything except porn, lube, and prosthetic dildos to compensate for their teeny tiny weenies. You can’t be making any money on them compared to not running HN.
So what the hell do you gain by running one of the main cesspools of the technology world? Is it that your balls are so incredibly dirty that you periodically need to have a bunch of grown men come slob away at your scrotum every demo day? I honestly don’t know, but you keep backing them so there must be a reason I’m not aware of and it’s important to you.
It sort of doesn’t matter because I’m fed up with it. I’m just writing you this letter to sort of warn you that I’m seriously thinking hard about fighting back. You may be chuckling now, but I’d like to point out that one of the reasons most of your moronic baby penis followers hate me is because I wiped out epic amounts of Ruby on Rails with one blog post full of truth. I also have two books that bring in more traffic in a month than probably all the traffic your bottom 80% startups bring in during a whole year. I also have pretty damn good credibility with many people as a straight shooter and generally honest good guy.
What would happen if I decided to pay you back for HN Paul? What would happen if I started honestly reviewing your startups’ products? If I just picked the worst ones, and then started tearing them in half? What would happen if I went on every HN hiring post and started posting dirt about the various shit HR practices your companies have? What if I took all this writing and got my friends you’ve fucked over to help me broadcast it? What if I started posting this writing as replies to many of your comments? What if I started offering to advise new coders, the millions I teach a year (yes, millions Paul) to avoid all of your company’s startups? What would happen if I just started putting anti-YC ads on my properties? What if I started telling everyone how you take 7% and don’t give startups any real guidance? What would happen if I started talking about the crazy bullshit I know has happened at YC startups I’ve worked for and others have told me about?
What would happen Paul, if I decided to just cost you a little money? What if I cost you a little more? How much would I have to cost you before you, your investors and your startups declared HN too costly to be worth it? Would I have to cost you millions before you decided it wasn’t worth it to run a shitty 1990s forum site just to listen to a bunch of grown men complain about another grown man’s choice of hobby while they jerk their tiny puds at fake tits MILF porn?
Now, I’m notorious for getting mad, cooling down, and then deciding against something. Other people say this makes me a “pussy”, and I’m sure there’s going to be enough comments saying that. What those comments won’t tell you Paul is all the people I have stood up against and took down. I hate abusive fucks, and right now HN is so abusive and out of control that someone has to do something about it. I figure HN has been trying to destroy me and rip me down for 7 years and hasn’t done it yet, so maybe that’s a sign I have the strength to fight back.
Why would I bother though? As some folks say, it’s best to just leave them alone? Because after 7 years of abuse I’ve had to adjust my life around the raving fucking idiots on HN and the rampant abusive shit they say. I’m not physically afraid of the idiots there. I bet most of them start breathing hard when their fingers break 100WPM on their fancy “hacker” sticker coated MacBooks. I am afraid for my loved ones though. Because of HN I never mention when I’m out with a loved one. I tell anyone who’s friends with me to stay away from my twitter account. Never follow me or mention that you’re dating me. I warn people I might go work for that people hate me on HN and I might not be good for them. I keep a low profile professionally, and personally because of HN.
Nobody should have to live like that, and while I don’t mind too much, I wonder if there’s people out there who have had their lives destroyed by HN commenters and have to hide. Are there people who wrote one comment negative of a YC company and now can’t find work? Are there people who replied to an HN favorite “super poster” and are now silenced on there? Are there people who have been harassed in real life like me because of HN? What if there’s people who made something, and then HN commenters destroyed it and ruined them?
I’m sure you’re a reasonable guy Paul, so I’m hoping maybe you read this and realize that your HN experiment has run its course. It’s now causing more damage than good, and a simple curated news site without comments or with only YC companies commenting is a better option. Otherwise all your news site ends up being is a place for men with tiny little mosquito penises to come and pretend they have huge dicks the size of their HN karma count.
I’m a massive dork. I have no problem being utterly awkward for no reason in the most normal of situations. I’m the guy who dragged a guitar around everywhere I went so I could practice every day. I’m the one who bought a Picnic Time Fusion Folding Chair so I could go painting out side all day. Yes, I actually filled that thing with art supplies and dragged it to parts of San Francisco then spent the whole day sitting there painting horrible paintings. I even posted them on Twitter and Flickr showing all my bad paintings, some truly terrible ones at that. I never know what to do with my hands. I frequently mumble or yell odd things to people when I’m nervous to the point that people completely ignore me in conversations. I’m such a dork I once had a woman point at me from across the street, a total stranger, and yell, “WTF Dork!” I still have no idea what I was doing other than walking. If that’s not Dork^10 then I’ve got loads of other stories. Ones where I hilariously and tragically ruin dates, jobs, social functions, and everything betwixt.
I’m just me and despite my efforts in the past, I can’t really avoid being open about who I am. It’s this openness and willingness to do or say something despite the probable social costs that gets me labeled a dork. Yet, this is also why I’m able to learn things rather quickly, experience them fully, and be comfortable with who I am. Everyone who knows me usually figures this out, and either they think it’s endearing or infuriating. The ones who find it endearing many times also think it’s inspiring. Here’s this guy who should be ashamed to exist for daring to embarrass himself repeatedly, yet he’s not.
That inspires many people, but this also drives other people nuts. Usually men. The Cool Hip Tough Dudes (CHTD). I’m an abomination to Lord Jesus and Satan in the eyes of these douchebags. Dorks should be driven out of existence and beaten until they conform to the rest of the world’s beige displays of feelings. The world should be “cool man”, devoid of emotion, stoic and reserved, flavorless, and any guy who drags a fucking picnic chair to the beach and tries to paint in front of people when he can’t deserves the CHTD WRATH! The fact that I’ve never paid for my dork sins just drives these guys nuts. I love it. Nothing’s better than an asshole who thinks he’s cool and hard core because he wears Adidas track suits and listens to rap just fuming because I’m not paying for being who I am and there’s nothing he can do about it.
I love being a dork and people who hate dorks can choke on barbed wire. Fuck all y’all.
The reason I just go for it, and fuck anyone who thinks I’m wrong for trying and failing at things, is I can’t let feeling like a dork get in the way of progress in the things I love. I figured out a while ago that if I want to get good at something, I need mileage. I need distance. Time. Weight. There’s some metric of effort that I just have to put in, every day, or else I won’t get good. A great many skills are of the kind that have very simple concepts which can be learned in about a week, but then require years of constant training and effort to get better. This isn’t revolutionary thinking by any means, and has probably been the foundation of education for as long as there’s been education. The more I do something the better I get at it. Duh.
I recently took a small painting class and the teacher kept saying, “Getting good involves values and mileage.” What he meant was that as a painter your biggest problem is the values (light and dark) in the painting. Without values people won’t be able to visually understand what they’re looking at. In addition to that, and more importantly, you need miles of canvas under your brush. It’s literally measured in miles, and until you have some metric of surface painted you can’t get good. One teacher said “500 paintings”. Others recommend just painting in black and white for a year or more. I took this advice and did loads of monochrome paintings. Many teachers even go so far to say that once you learn some basics all you need is mileage to learn the rest.
If you play music it’s measured in hours and days, but you could say that the number of times your hand runs over the instrument is your miles. In programming it’s the pages of software you read and (more importantly) write. If it’s something that you need to practice, then there’s some kind of distance you have to travel to get good at it.
Only way to travel that distance is to start and keep going. The catch is you have to go this distance as a dork because as a beginner you are clueless of social norms in that activity. You just can’t help it. Unless you get lucky and figure them out quickly, you’ll end up needing to learn the social norms by doing the activity a lot and listening to other people correct you. If you start painting, you won’t know the fairly arbitrary rules of composition in western art. If you study guitar you won’t know the various social norms of song forms, rhythm, and style. If you write code you won’t know the social norms of “idiomatic” code. It’s just what being a beginner entails, so you are forced to do this distance as a dork until you figure them out.
Fear of being a dork will limit you in your future educational goals, but it’s a fear that’s easily overcome. I’m serious. If the thought of being embarrassed sends chills down your spine and drives you away from learning something new then I have a solution for you. It’s an easy solution, and it’ll help you out tremendously in many other parts of your life. Here it goes:
Post your attempts online, where nobody can actually hurt you, and be brutally honest about how long you’ve been doing it and what is good and bad with your attempt.
What will happen is you’ll get a panic attack, heart racing, palms sweating, but it’s all imagined. The internet’s not real. You’ll post your total turd of a painting, song, code, and then nothing will happen. Worst thing that will happen is someone says it sucks, but that’s when you go, “No shit asshole, I’m just a beginner. Do you punch babies in the face too fuckwad?” As long as you’re not delusional most people will say nice things, and some people will say helpful things, and then you just block the rest. A good phrase to start using is, “I feel I’ve improved in this attempt, but could do better with…” Eventually as you keep posting what you’re doing it’ll get less and less scary and then something magic happens:
You start getting good and stop being a dork.
Obviously some people are mega assholes, so if you are really truly afraid to post anything online then just do it under an assumed name. Make up a twitter handle and post there. Even better if you can get a few friends who are also learning to post too, that way nobody knows it’s multiple people and they’ll think it’s some crazy prolific beginner.
That’s all there is to it, although clearly that’s a difficult task. Once you bust through about 10 posted attempts the fear of being a dork will fade away and then you’ll be able to just do that dork distance and enjoy it. Dork fear is the mind killer. Embrace it. You are a dork. Welcome to the dork side. I love puns.
You’re clearly making a ton of money so I’m sure nothing I say here will have any bearing on your goals. I know, I’m just some dude who writes books and doesn’t know anything about how real companies make money. You can totally take my feature request and laugh all day about how I don’t know anything about startups, valuations, or websites. That’s cool. Your loss. I’ll just work around this one tiny glaringly obvious feature that’d make me some money, and you gobs of money.
All I want is a checkbox when I create my “team” that reads:
“Members pay $_____ to join.”
What? Why would I want that? You see, I want to use Slack to teach people all over the world how to code. Right now I’m going to charge them myself and send them invites and deal with all the bullshit of membership. I’d rather just hang out in the Slack and answer questions and have them pay you so you pay me. I’m sure you have all the gear necessary to do this so I don’t need to. Just need the ability to invert who pays and it’s nearly perfect.
I promote it, I do the hard work of being in there, and you get to skim your $6.67 or however much the plan costs off the top of the signups. You give me a place to send them, and when my students join they punch in the required credit card and then they’re done. You then give me the difference and we’re good.
Easy right? You literally have every single feature I want to make this work. I just don’t want to deal with the bullshit of payments and invites and booting people who don’t pay and all that crap. You already do that. Me doing it is just stupid.
I have the clout and the skills. You have the platform. If anyone at Slack wants me to come down and talk to them about this I’d be glad to do it. There’s a few other features that could help in this kind of use case, but really this is all I need to get started.
The last blog post I wrote was about Programming, Motherfucker on March 22, 2011 on a site I ran for a while called Oppugn.us. That is over 3.5 years of not really doing much. I look back and I honestly feel there’s a haze of not much going on in those years, but also that I was preparing for something significant. These last seemingly lost years feel like I built an army of ceramic warriors that will now just stand there staring at nothing. Where did the time go? How did I lose this much? Did I really lose anything?
I remember some lost relationships, and the apartments that went with them. I remember learning to play guitar more. I remember learning to build guitars, and then realizing that was an expensive hobby. I remember falling in love with painting and drawing. I remember traveling all over the world, then resenting it. I remember writing, but looking at what I wrote it’s really just two books that are very similar and a few other half-finished ones. I remember being sad at times, and trying to leave San Francisco but never having the energy to actually do it. Most importantly, I remember not giving a shit about programming, programmers, startups, or any of the things I wrote about before. I just lost interest in this subject I loved and gained a new interest that’s changed me in subtle ways.
I could say most of my entertaining writing energy was sucked into an abyss called Twitter, but that’s a copout. The real reason I haven’t written anything entertaining that’s over 140 characters is I didn’t feel like entertaining anyone. I poked fun at the technology industry for years and for a while it was fun to crank out a rant and establish an alternative to the insane bullshit spin that surrounded me like a turdnado. Then the industry simple became boring and easy to skewer. What was the point of writing about how crazy technology was when the people in the industry were better at demonstrating how completely fucking stupid they were with their own words?
Yet as I sat there, day after day, trying to enjoy a life that I felt had stagnated, the one thing that kept coming up as a deficiency in how I was living was I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t flexing that muscle by writing for fun anymore. I just slaved away at books that sold and not at anything that made me tickle or grimace to write. I’d make a painting, toss it on Flickr, kick it over to Twitter, then get back to work. I was eating the Doritos of writing, and that was making me fat and lazy. I needed some real writing meals on a daily basis to get my thoughts back and express myself in a more entertaining and thoughtful way. Also, dudes on Twitter are insane fucking assholes and they need some dick punches in an arena they can’t handle full of paragraphs and structured thought.
I need to write more, for fun, and catalog all the things I’m working on so I don’t forget. I didn’t spend 3.5 years doing nothing. I spent 3.5 preparing for something significant. I need to make sure I’m ready for when that happens, and to remember that I attempted something significant again. I can’t forget again. I can’t drop off anymore.
I need to write for fun again. I need to write about my life more.