June 28, 2006

Marginal Power

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 11:03 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Garage doorLISP Hacker and Painter Paul Graham writes entertaining essays about technology. His latest piece, discusses how important and sometimes lucrative ideas usually come from the “garage” outside rather than the inside, what he calls The Power of the Marginal. His essay rambles a bit in places, but has some interesting observations that are relevant to bioinformatics. For example…

“…if you’re an outsider you should actively seek out contrarian projects. Instead of working on things the eminent have made prestigious, work on things that could steal that prestige.”

Paul did a PhD in Computer Science and has fond memories of being a student which will ring true with anyone who has been there:

“That’s what I remember about grad school: apparently endless supplies of time, which I spent worrying about, but not writing, my dissertation.”

PhDs and obscurity go hand-in-hand and according to this essay, obscurity and marginality is good for you. It doesn’t taste as good as junk food but is allegedly “good for you”. Pauls personal choice of marginality is the relatively obscure language called LISP, and the people I’ve met who use this langugage are either crazy or at the top of their game, sometimes both. Does LISP turn people crazy or are crazy people attracted to the obscurity of LISP?

Either way, Paul Grahams occasionally crazy essays are worth a read if and when you have a moment to spare. Even better, read them when you don’t have the time and are procrastinating writing your PhD thesis or next Bioinformatics paper.

Further reading

  1. Structure and Interpretation of LISP programs
  2. Most grad students are stuck on problems they don’t like
  3. Startups and garages in bioinformatics: The effect of software patents
  4. Garage Genomics and bio-hackers
  5. Lisp as an Alternative to Java by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google

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