Paul Graham Keynote at PyCon 📺

By Xah Lee. Date:

The famous Paul Graham of lisp fame and y-combinator fame, giving a talk at Python Conference, about start up ideas.

Keynote: Paul Graham on Startup Ideas, at PyCon 2012

I watched the whole thing. I can't say i'm impressed at all.

This talk can be divided into 2 parts. Main part, and the Q and A part.

The first part, is not only not impressive to me, i find it a bit boring and stupid. Paul, is renowned as the wisdom type of guy (as exhibited in his essays, collected in his book Hackers and Painters Buy at amazon). The problem with wisdom, as opposed to science, is that wisdom is not too different from bullshit. If you are smart enough, you can be the zen, zen of bullshit, and in history, there are quite a few number of them, whose great wisdom and fame dies the moment they went to their graves.

The Q and A part, is more interesting, where you can actually see some intelligence in him and his ideas.

The talk is 47 min, the Q and A starts at 33.

Also of interest… thru-out the talk, he has a habit to utter “hacker”. He is certainly a geek. He also likes to use many of the geek populism terms, such as “meme”. There's certain deep rooted idea in him, about how nerds are the true elites of society, the seed of revolution, and a sense of anti-norms.

What is Wisdom?

Have you heard of Taoism? Like, “best action is no action”? And “imagination is more important than knowledge”? Wisdom are typically vague, and take interpretation and context. Surely, if your house is on fire, the best action is not do nothing, right? Or, then, perhaps the “no action” actually mean “natural action”, or “efficient action”, or “effortless action”?? If, we can choose only one between “imagination” and “knowledge”, which one is more likely to get you a space shuttle? “Thou Shall Not Steal”, is a great wisdom, but have it stopped or reduced stealing in the entire human history? (SOPA anyone?)

There are lots wisdoms, but they can't make nuclear reactor or bomb, no x-ray, no neuro-science, DNA, no cure for cancer.

These days, there's tons of shallow articles carrying lofty titles such as “Why Apple Will Fail”, “How to be the Next Google”, “How Facebook Will Kill Google”, “Why Universities is Doomed”, “everything you know is WRONG, because the internet is here!!!”.

The content of Paul's talk, the first part, seems to be like that. Shallow, over generalization, hip sans substance. “Be the next Apple”? “Google search is so bad now”? Sure we already knew that. Half of his “great startup ideas” seems to be mere rephrasing of “be the next Google” with lots of chuckles in between. Of course, he can afford to do that, and people will listen to him, not because what he said actually made a lot sense, but because he was successful.

These days, there's lots of talks by celebrities. This is the first time i see Paul. But in comparison of other well known figures in programing community, i find this presentation by Paul rather at the bottom. The Q and A session i find him shown his intelligence much more.

Transcript of the video is available at: