The Billionaires vs. BrandonM

Recently Dropbox became one of the latest companies to be worth billions of dollars without turning a profit, and Drew Houston became a billionaire.  I worked for Drew for a bit, and decided he was not the leader for me.  If you’d like to see why, take a look at this:

What’s the post he’s referring to?  Why it’s an 11 year old post that dared to question what Dropbox did by one BrandonM:

This comment, as BrandoM says, was from a 22 year old undergrad student who is now a 33 year old man and most likely a regular old working stiff.  BrandonM is not a billionaire while Drew most definitely is one.  BrandonM has absolutely zero power in this situation, and Drew has an infinite amount more by comparison.  Additionally, what BrandonM said does not deserve this level of retribution. He did not insult Drew, did not say anything actually bad about Dropbox, was even polite after Drew did this.

Think about that for a second.  A man who just became a billionaire (due to his large connections through MIT and his Fraternity) took time out of his day to hunt down a comment by a regular nobody 11 years later and throw his success back in that guy’s face, and this man can do nothing about it because he can’t delete his comment.

Now, let’s add a little bit more to this problem:

  1. Did you know YC startups have special privileges on Hacker News?  Nobody knows what they are, but rumor has it they can delete stories they don’t like, delete comments, and have the ability to get their stories to the front.  Again, this is based on statements from a few YC alums in passing, so I can’t confirm this, but you can already see how the JOB postings seem to have preferential treatment, so why not other things?
  2. There is no way for BrandonM to delete this.  For an entire decade he has been haunted by 3 paragraphs he wrote when he was 22.
  3. The moderators of HN frequently delete things they don’t like, but leave up quite a few abusive and slanderous posts.  HN has the right to delete something, but not BrandonM, the author.
  4. Nearly every YC founder backs the idea that everyone should be open to criticism and the “free market”, but this exchange shows the message is more:  “We can criticize you, but you better not criticize us.”
  5. This could possibly amount to an effective slander case by BrandonM against YC or Drew Houston given that, 11 years later, he claims he is still being quoted about it and cannot delete it even though his views have changed.
  6. The inability to delete your own profile or messages could amount to a violation of several EU laws regarding right to be forgotten and definitely violates the newer privacy laws in Europe.  It might also violate several US privacy laws as well, and I think this should be a slander case given the magnitude of the impact on BrandonM and the fact that he can’t delete his remarks.
  7. If you or I had done something similar to what Drew did here we most likely would be chastised by the moderator(s) or even banned.

What BrandonM wrote is not even abusive.  It’s just his viewpoint on what Dropbox does, and definitely not deserving of this kind of spiteful petty retribution 11 years later.  This kind of behavior is common from Silicon Valley companies.  They’re big fans of the whole “waiting for your body on the river Ganges” thing, and if you ever once doubted them they’ll hunt you down after their success just to shit on you.  Never mind that the only reason most of these companies succeed is because they go to the same “cuddle puddle” parties as VCs do and went to the same school with the same frat.  Nope, they totally made it on the glory of their shitty code and that’s why your technical comments deserve retribution.

That isn’t even the most abusive thing on HN that is still up.  There’s this gem from 9 years ago:

This cortesi fellow decided to call me a cock because…….I said I prefer to GPL my software because too many people abuse open source developers.  Nowhere in my writing did I mention cortesi, and I don’t even know him.  But here he is calling me a cock for no other reason than I feel my work should have value.  Did this get deleted?  Nope.  Moderators still have it up.  I bet if cortesi could he might remove it.  People change in 9 years.

Just not YCombinator.

No Delete Is Abusive

Everyone who runs YCombinator tries to pretend like they are decent liberal libertarian minded human beings.  They start charities, donate money, attempt basic income experiments, and a host of things that I and many other people would label “progressive” or nearly communist.

Yet, their behavior in actually running their company is not even close to the fake progressive values they project.  They have abysmal funding rates for minorities, women, people of color, coders over 40, and hell, anyone who didn’t go to Stanford or an Ivy League school even.  Their startups are constantly embroiled in the biggest sexual harassment abuse scandals we’ve ever seen.  They frequently allow people on their forums to slander and abuse others, with only the thinnest veneer of moderation.

I believe the most important sign that YC is an abusive company is the fact that–contrary to several laws–they refuse to allow people to delete comments even a decade later.  The entire combative nature of HN commenters means that people are going to make mistakes and those mistakes will haunt them, so preventing deletion is abusive.

It also contradicts the progressive values that they claim to have.  Wanting to fund an experiment in basic income means you believe that people make mistakes.  They take a wrong turn and need a reset to get back on their feet.  Their lives change in some way, but that life got derailed and can’t recover without help.  Not letting BrandonM delete his comment means they actually don’t believe this.  They don’t really believe that people make mistakes—oops sorry, founders make mistakes all the time and get away with it.  They just don’t believe me and you are allowed to make mistakes

The people running YCombinator have now demonstrated that they are not progressive or even good people.  Here’s Sam Altman–another incredibly rich man–again humiliating BrandonM years later:

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 5.02.18 PM

This is a wealthy man, running a very wealthy company, supporting a billionaire in his quest to humiliate a common working guy for a comment that worker made 11 years ago.  Sam has no idea how this will impact Brandon’s life.  He has no idea if this will hurt BrandonM, drive him to suicide, get him fired, yet he does it anyway.

Progressive or liberal people do not take advantage of their wealth and power to humiliate someone less powerful than they are over something this petty.

Defending BrandonM

I actually agree with the sentiment that most of the people who comment on HN are clueless losers who just love trading slander through throwaway2342343 accounts.  But, I also can’t stand it when someone with power abuses their power to shit on someone who’s just speaking their mind.  I don’t think BrandonM’s comments fit into the “I could do that in a weekend” bullshit comments you hear.  I think what he wrote was fairly valid…in 2007 for a Linux user.

In 2007 what BrandonM wrote is actually valid given the environment.  It was a total long shot that Dropbox would go anywhere, and hell it took a whole 11 fucking years for them to IPO.  Box did it in 2014 and competes rather well compared to Dropbox.  But let’s break down his comments from a 2007 perspective:

  1. Silicon Valley had been ravaged by the Dot Bomb era and Drew couldn’t even get funding in his home town.  It’s totally normal to be skeptical that he couldn’t pull this off.
  2. “For a Linux user….” right there he’s looking at this from a point of view that frankly doesn’t matter.  There’s a few Linux users in the world compared to everyone else, but when people criticize his comments they think he’s talking about Windows users.
  3. “curlftpfs”, “svn”, “cvs”, at the time, that was all we had that worked.  On linux this might work pretty well.  A simple rsync would work better, and that’s mostly how Dropbox works.  So, he wasn’t really wrong here either.  In 2007, what he wrote is a viable–although crap–option.
  4. “It doesn’t replace a USB drive…” this is a simple misunderstanding of how Dropbox works…which means Drew screwed up the marketing.  That’s not BrandonM’s fault or makes him stupid.  It’s Drew’s fault for not demonstrating that the files are kept locally so you don’t need a USB.  And, if you’re smart and you travel, you do keep your important stuff on an SD card or USB drive.
  5. “It does not seem very ‘viral’…”  At the time “viral” meant “I saw this video on YouTube and it got 1 million views.  It’s a Desktop app so how in the hell are you going to toss it to your friend and virus that shit up?  That’s why they had to create the web interface, so again, he was right.  The Desktop app is not viral at all.
  6. “or income-generating”….  If you define “income” as revenue then Dropbox brings in some decent revenue.  If you define “income” as profit, then he’s right, Dropbox does not make a profit.
  7. “is it reasonable to make money off of this?”  And here we have it, he means “income” as “profit”.  Making money means you keep the money.  If I have to spend 4 billion dollars to make 3 billion then I am not making money off of it.  I’m losing money on it.  So again, BrandonM was right.

In my mind what BrandonM wrote was actually true, but it was short sighted and didn’t take into account the value of going to MIT and being in the same frats as other guys who know really wealthy guys.  Next time you see someone shit all over this guy, remember that 11 years ago, he was right and it could have gone totally differently with just one wrong move.

Killing Magic

I’m sitting with a friend who is an accomplished musician.  Record deals, multiple albums, and you’ve probably heard her songs on a TV show or commercial or two. She tells me that she doesn’t want to teach music because she’s afraid it would lose its magic.  There’s a mystical mystery about how she makes music and she’s afraid she’ll ruin that special quality if she has to figure out how she does it.  It won’t flow the same.

My response was something that I’ve believed my whole life:  “Magic just hides something’s true beauty.  It’s a con.  A trick that makes you love the magic rather than the real thing.  Once you actually learn how it really works, sure, the magic goes away, but then you get to fall in love with the beauty of the real thing. Real things are always simpler and more beautiful than the magic hiding them.”

Or something like that.  I probably actually sounded a lot less cool than that, but that was the idea.  I’ve found that magic just obfuscates and blurs what I’m really seeing.  Whether that magic is an accident of my perception of reality–or an actual sleight of hand by someone else–doesn’t matter.  What does matter is once I strip the magic away, and find the real simple principles hidden by the wizard, I see the real thing is better.

Of course sometimes I strip the magic away and find that the real thing is an ugly turd hiding in a golden box.  A lot of programming languages and technology are like this.  There’s all this bluster and flourish pushing a magical view of their benefits.  Then I dig a little and this magic simply hides a terrible design, poor implementation, and random warts.  It seems everyone in technology aspires to nothing more than creating enough of a code mannequin to hold up an invisible emperor’s gown.

One of the reasons people resent my opinions on technology is I have an ability to crush their fantastical magical views of technology.  It’s hard to be an Apple fan when there’s a guy pointing out that they frequently allow developers to invade their customer’s privacy, stole wages from employees, and make shitty  hardware that crashes and reboots if you don’t log in fast enough.  You can’t be enamored with Python if someone points out that its APIs are constantly asymmetrical and that Python 3 has a shitty UTF-8 strings implementation.

My mission in life has been to illuminate magic to expose the ugliness or beauty it hides because I believe magic enslaves people to others.  With magic you can convince them of almost anything, and even change the magic and they’ll keep following the wizard’s edicts.  Stripping the magic away gives people the freedom to choose what their reality will be, rather than rely on someone else to define it for them.

A key element of this mission is education.  I proved with my books that there really is no magic to learning to code.  The people who could do it weren’t special geniuses. Almost anyone could learn to do it given enough time and the right learning material.  Once it was clear that programmers aren’t special, it freed others from the magical aura surrounding programming and opened the practice up to a much wider range of people.

Education then becomes the practice of breaking magic to expose reality.  I study a topic and figure out how people are really doing it.  I find all the tricks they use, strip away the things that are just bluster and showmanship, find the lies they use to puff up their personas, and then teach the simplest real version of the topic.  This then opens the topic to a much wider range of people who can now enjoy it and improve their own lives.

Many times the practitioners aren’t purposefully trying to hide what they do because they don’t even know how they do it.  Most practitioners simply cargo cult a set of random practices they’re sure are the secret sauce.  Usually these secret practices are nothing more than extraneous rituals getting in the way of the real task at hand.  This educational acetone sometimes embarrasses these practitioners since nobody wants to be seen as believing in pointless rituals and magic.  That’s fine, but really they should be happy to find another path to what they love.  One that’s not full of obfuscation and rituals that only serve to enslave them to a limited palette of skills.

 

Learn More Python Rough Draft Up

My move to Miami has pushed out the deadlines for most of my books by a month, so May is when the majority of the content for Learn Python 3 The Hard Way will drop in May.  I’m done with the editing round with my publisher so the PDF will drop later today.  I’m also toying with doing an ePub but I swear if one person using a janky Linux ePub reader complains about the meta-data being wrong before telling the project to fix their meta-data I’ll pull it down.  Life is too short to convince angry Linux ePub developers to fix their code.

I’m also going to try my future book writing process starting today.  I’ve wanted to incorporate chat into my book publishing process but haven’t really found a chat I liked.  The Gitter chat seems like it’d work pretty well so I’m going to try that on the rough draft of the Learn More Python The Hard Way book.  You just have to go to https://gitter.im/lcthw/more-python-help  from the top of the book and you’ll be able to chat with me and everyone else.

If this works out then future books will be released this way:

  1. I hack on the idea until I’ve got a rough draft going.
  2. I post the rough draft, and put a room for the book into the LCTHW Gitter.
  3. I’ll hang out in there while I work on the book, answer questions, and change the rough draft based on feedback.

My goal is to get earlier feedback from people on how my exercises work and also give people free access to early releases.

 

The End Of Coder Influence

I get an email from someone who tells me that Reddit has decided to remove my book from their list of suggested readings for Python until I update the book to Python 3.  They made this decision about two weeks prior to when I received the email, so I went to look at my traffic and sales to see if there was an impact.  Weirdly, my sales were up and my traffic was about the same.  It had no impact.

Once a year I go through my Python book and I try to convert all the code to Python 3 as a test.  I do this with the eye of a total beginner, looking for things that will trip them up and cause problems.  Bad error messages, confusing syntax, broken libraries, and inconsistencies.  Every year I run into nearly the same problems:  strings are difficult to use, error messages don’t have variable names, libraries don’t really help with strings, and there’s too many inconsistent string formatting systems.  So I decided to see again what it would take to make my book Python 3 and ran into the same issues all over again.

To put it bluntly, the reddit community responsible for teaching beginners to code censored my book as a power play to get me to force Python 3 on unsuspecting beginners.  The language does not work for them, and they were attempting to use their influence to enact change in my books, rather than use that influence to improve Python for beginners.

And it didn’t work.  I still had the same sales and the same traffic.  I actually think if all Programming Reddit rose up and demanded Python 3 have better error messages regarding strings (a minimum usability bar) they would be ignored too.  In fact, I kept seeing over and over people pointing out blog posts, reddit threads, HN threads, and tweet storms as if these were highly influential which then did nothing.

A few days ago I went through another test of Python 3 and ran into the same problems.  I get enough people emailing me about Python 3 that I decided I needed to work out a list of reasons why Python 3 is broken for beginners as of today.  Originally I was going to write it fairly simply and not worry about appeasing the coders, out of fear they would retaliate like they always do and boycott my book even more.  But, I remembered that after countless blog posts about how terrible of a person I am and how terrible my books are, I still end up helping millions of people a year and still have the same sales.

I decided to just write what I felt and fuck whatever programmers think.  I wrote it, put in a couple of jokes and trolls, and then posted it.  Fuck it, I have a cold and don’t give a fuck.

Immediately people started insulting me, telling me I’m wrong (yet not reading the post, LOL). Then the HN posts start, then Reddit.  I don’t read those so people shove them into my email and Twitter stream.  I was tired and not into defending myself so I just deleted Twitter off my phone and go sleep some more.  Enjoy the sun.  Did some painting.  Hung out with friends.  Who gives a fuck about what a bunch of angry lonely coders think about my thoughts?

Yet, here’s where everyone I know becomes deathly afraid of the coders.  These groups of programmers used to have large sway over what was successful and chosen, but at the same time were horribly uninformed about basic computer science.  They ran to Node.js because of “events are better than threads” and had no idea Hoare or coroutines existed.  They manually went to hand convert all Python 2 code to Python 3 code, rather than just asking why the Python 3 VM can’t just…run Python 2 code too.  Then they believe the mega load of bullshit that this is impossible despite all proofs and evidence stating otherwise.  For all their claims of superiority for having once bought a copy of The Art of Computer Programming the previous generation of programmers are sadly uninformed about basic shit.

We all feared them, because their incredibly uninformed opinions and complete lack of humor or human decency could sink or swim entire companies.  Get slagged on HN and you’re done for.  I’ve heard of VCs actually threatening to strip away funding over bad HN reactions like HN is on the same level as the food critic of the NYT.  So what was going to happen to me?

Honestly, I’ve been trying to get out of the technology industry since 2008.  This industry sucks, and largely because of the abusive previous generation of programmers.  My goal has been to just make their influence on my life as small as possible so I can go on doing things I love like painting.  Fuck them.  But, a man’s gotta eat so I keep doing my work so I can make enough of a living to keep helping folks and doing what I love.

What are the results of their insane hatred of my latest stance against Python 3?  Am I doomed to never have any more sales again?

Nope.  Same traffic.  Same sales.

I believe that the influence of the previous generation of programmers is largely gone.  I can’t exactly say why, but I think it’s because they consistently back terrible ideas over and over.   They also tend to have no idea what will be successful or not.  The reason is they base their opinion of a technology on superficial things related more to whether the tech fits their tribe than its actual merits.  When my book first came out the HN crowd and other “professionals” said it wouldn’t work.  Same for many successful startups, technology, and ideas.  Meanwhile, the things they do back end up being terrible and we all regret following their hive mind.  Can anyone say OpenSSL?

I also believe the newer generation of programmers are more well rounded and have a general distaste of this kind of tribal fascist bullshit we have in open source.  I can’t really prove that, but it’s a feeling I’ve been having for a couple years now.  This next generation is different. I just can’t quite say how other than they seem to not believe the same things as the previous generations.

About a year ago I stopped reading HN and Programming Reddit because of this.  I don’t worry about the vindictive assholes out there who feel any questioning of their tribal beliefs is an affront to their person.  I now think the actual influence of the hive mind on anything outside of the tiny little set of Silicon Valley Programmers Who Read HN bubble is nothing.  If you think their influence matters then either you’re working on something as insignificant as they are, or it really doesn’t matter and you should just ignore them and move on.

Keep making cool stuff and speaking your mind counter to the hive.  I think that’s the future generation’s take on programming, and I fully endorse that message.

Dear Paul

Dear Paul,

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:

Hacker News

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:

Nothing

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.

Signed,

Zed

And Then You Have No Taste

There’s a presentation a while back by Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University, where he says that Pixar is all about, “How can I plus this?” He goes on at great length to say that if you’re collaborating on something with someone else you can’t say that what they made isn’t very good, but instead you have to say how can you “plus it” and make it better (which is basically a passive aggressive way to say it sucks).

This all comes from the Improv Comedy crowd where you are trained to go with whatever your improv partners come up with and try to roll with it. It’s a seductive idea that you can work with people who will never tell you, “That’s fucking stupid.” Even if you are being a total idiot, nobody will ever say it, and so, you can safely throw out ideas and everyone will be happy and the world will improve because everything is just oh so positive and awesome and pretty soon we’re all riding around in flying cars like we were promised! It was negativity that killed flying cars! NEG A TIVIT EE!!

No, sorry people. Negativity and criticism are an important part of creating anything of quality. You have to be critical of what you make or else you end up making total crap and never improve. That’s just the way it is, but it’s curious to wonder what kind of an arrogant asshole thinks that nobody should criticize their work? Who are these people who want to make things and never have it criticized? I mean, my output gets ridiculed all the time, with rampant numbers of totally brutal commenters tossing around their opinions to the point of slander. I actually mine it for potential fixes to what I’m making. It’s difficult, but it’s possible for me to wade through the vitriol and either find something that needs fixing, or find a catch phrase to use as a defense against the critics.

Taking criticism in stride is just part of quality, and trying to eliminate any criticism of your ideas is a sign of both immaturity and abuse of power. If nobody can criticize what you make then you are elevated to the realm of kings and despots. Fuck, even the Pope is down with criticism now. Are you more important than the damn Pope? Nope. So get off your damn Throne of Impeachable Perfection and learn to recognize when your work sucks. If you do this often enough you’ll be able to fix it yourself before anyone else can see it. You’ll…GASP…learn.

I think the real problem is that a person who gets all butt sore from being told their output is crap is someone who isn’t being honest with the real quality of their work and isn’t working on it personally before presenting it to their peers as legitimately developed. When I post my paintings I give an honest assessment of them. The vast majority of them suck, and will continue to suck because I’m still learning, and I’ll be learning for the rest of my life. The word we use for an artist who believes everything they make is fantastic is “delusional”. You want to see what “and then” does to art? Go to Craigslist arts and crafts and set the price to >$500. Watch all the people who believe the art they purchased or made is fantastic.

I see this all the time with code as well. Programmers are notorious for building crystal palaces crafted of finely tuned deeply complex structures that follow all the rules, binding together every meta-pattern possible, following all the best TDD, pair programmed perfectly, and they end up with a total shit show of a project. They never think to ask, “Does this really improve my project?” Others keep piling code on top of code on top of code endlessly never realizing that they need to look at what they’ve written and ask, “Alright, what do I have to trim down? What should I remove? Rewrite? What’s crap?”

It gets even worse when you criticize personal projects. The worst habit of all people who make stuff is to use the personal as a defense against criticism. Artists do it by claiming their art is about some personal tragedy protecting them from criticism of their work. Programmers do it by claiming their project is a labor of love and open source, protecting them from anger about bugs they’ve made that ruin people’s day or life. It’s almost as if they work on something, “and then” it into existence with no critical eye, and when challenged on the quality, invent insult to avoid having to admit what they made sucked and needs to improve.

However, the very main reason that “and then” culture is wrong is it’s nothing more than a passive aggressive power play. Did you know that Pixar STARTED the wage theft scandal that robbed illustrators, programmers, janitors, marketing specialists, writers, and every Pixar employee of potentially hundreds of millions in wages? Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, is even entirely unapologetic about doing this. How much you want to bet when someone questioned Ed on the legality of this brilliant idea Ed fired them for not being a team player who plussed his ideas? Someone probably brought up the morality of this question to Ed and he simply went, “Well I don’t know Frank, looks like you aren’t real Pixar material. At Pixar we PLUS ideas, not shoot them down or criticize them. Maybe you should go work at Dreamworks with the other assholes?”

Of course, you’ll say, “But Pixar produces hits doing this!” First off, they follow a formula laid out by Save The Cat, which doesn’t take much creativity to produce a hit. Save The Cat produces their hits. Second, I’m betting cash money that their claims of plussing all day long are bullshit. I’m willing to put down $1000 right now that they have a hidden back catalog of total shit ideas for movies that never went anywhere and weren’t ever produced, which means they definitely don’t plus everything and are definitely using criticism. The above video is nothing more than the lies companies tell prospective employees to recruit them, not any real depiction of how they work.

The truth of every company that claims they have this super collaborative never critical creative type utopia is this utopia ends up breeding guys like Ed Catmull who take advantage of all the doe eyed Andtheners. It’s a culture that is right up there with meritocracies in their ability to turn a potentially good idea into a way to simply abuse people for not fitting in.

Another Way

The straw man reply to this will obviously be:

“Oh! So you think everyone should run around setting people on fire with insane vitriol based on every flaw in their ideas? You want to make a hostile work environment! You hate delicate little creative souls who work all day to pour their hearts into what they make and just want to shit on their precious little lives! Fuck you!”

Really? What happened to “and then…”? Hmm? If you think it’s awesome working in an environment where everything you do is applauded like you’re in kindergarten then think again. The truth is, if you actually give a shit about being good at something then you’ll know that people are blowing smoke up your ass and find it incredibly annoying. Not to mention the fact that these supposed creative utopias are never anything like they seem. Given all of these supposed utopias are powered by people I guarantee you find back stabbing, back room dealing, social manipulation, favoritism and power plays just like you do with meritocracies. Any time you see unrealistic claims of utopia you can just bet its hiding something sinister, and Pixar’s wage theft scandal is proof positive I’m right. Their work environment is not better than an honest collaborative work environment. It’s nothing more than a way to convince employees to go with any idea handed them while management avoids any accountability.

No, I do not think the inverse of ruthless constant abusive criticism for some kind of weird darwinian environment works either. Nobody against “and then” is for abuse. This claim that all criticism is abuse is just another straw man tactic to avoid dealing with honest criticism, but also calling criticism “abuse” is the belief of a child. Adults understand the difference between “I don’t think this will work” and “I think you’re a fucking piece of shit.” Nobody has the right to insult you, but you also don’t have the right to shut down their thoughts on your ideas with claims of abuse. More importantly, an actual functioning criticism proposes alternatives, which is something that’s an entire other blog post about the failure of critical theory in engineering.

In fact, I advocate a mixture of both modes of thinking to produce honestly good ideas and to kill off seriously bad ones early. Here’s how I work on all of the many, many, many creative projects I do and succeed at:

  1. Start with your idea on your own and look to improve it and mold it without a critical eye. Criticism will kill the beginning of a thought or idea, so just get it down and express it.
  2. After you’ve gone through a creative phase and you’re feeling good, it’s time to get real. Be realistic and objective about the idea. If it helps, come up with a rubric of things to look for. I do this with painting, code, and writing. I have a list of things I go through and check for that I try to avoid, but I don’t apply this rubric until I’ve got the idea out and can step back. Sometimes days later.
  3. Repeat this cycle in a kind of random walk of creating and criticizing until you’ve refined the idea. The key is to throw shit out. Not every damn idea out of your head is good. You have to kill things off and toss them out to make room for other good ideas. If you’re keeping a good log of what you’ve done you can always add it back in or turn your castoffs into other ideas. But refining means refining.

Notice in step #1 I said “on your own”? I believe the flaw of teams is that they try to come up with ideas as a team. What I believe works better is if individuals come up with ideas and create in the beginning, and then teams produce the good ideas. If you think of writing that’s how it works. I write a first draft, creating the idea and getting it about 60-80% of the way there. Then a team works on the draft to take it through a production process that makes it high quality and professional. How to do this in a team environment is the subject of an entire industry of books, so I won’t go into it in a stupid blog post, but the gist of it is that without a team to produce ideas it’s too hard to make a final professional product in many of today’s disciplines.

In the end a policy of banning criticism will only lead to everyone “plussing” every stupid ass idea, no matter how vile it is. Despite what Pixar claims, I’m damn sure they don’t operate in this utopia of perfect plussing everything that’s around. I know there’s brutal criticism from the people in charge, and the fact that Ed Catmull screwed all of his employees for years is the proof you need. However, if you’re thinking of instituting an “and then” policy then keep this last fact in mind:

Nobody buying your shit is an Andthener. Maybe in Silicon Valley you’re surrounded by a bunch of Andtheners, but the rest of the world can look at stuff and decide it fucking sucks.

Dear Slack

Dear Slack,

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.

Zed