The book that changed my life will horrify some of my friends

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand changed my life. Whether that was for the better or worse, it’s up for each person to decide. For me, I’m very happy with the change and I’m glad it happened. I didn’t turn into an objectivist though.

Literarily, I don’t think the book is great. I think Ayn Rand needed an editor, a very strong one. Those 15 page-long single-paragraph monologues do not make the book better. The book should probably be reduced to 500 or 600 pages from its staggering 1192.

The book divides the world into good and bad people, like many stories do, and it’s a bit simplistic. There might be a few surprises but at the end, everyone is clearly good or clearly bad. At least from Ayn Rand’s perspective. So far, nothing surprising. What was surprising for me is how the world is divider.

Good people are producers, they are the people that come with ideas, that start companies, that push progress, that fund science. Bad people are consumers, the ones that take more than they give, the ones living on welfare, but also the ones creating welfare. Bad people are the one telling the good ones that they cannot reap the benefit of their work, that it should be share.

Atlas ShruggedIn Atlas Shrugged, the good people are the Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edisons, the Steve Wozniaks, the Elon Musks, but also the Nikolai Teslas. The badies meanwhile are the Karl Marxs, the Vladimir Lenins, etc.

That’s what the book says, what objectivism is about, and not what I necessary believe. My personal belief is that if you stop the Jobs, Edisons, Musks, then you are a badie, you are stopping progress. But as a society we should take care of the people that fall into misfortune, of the ill, of the downtrodden, of the disabled, of the needy. That’s where I disagree with Ayn Rand.

One issue with the book is that she equates CEOs to the good people and that frustrates people because a lot of CEOs are more takers than creators. And most creators, like Tesla, never carried the title of CEO. Indeed, the biggest creator of all in the book is not a CEO, it’s a lowly engineer.

I don’t believe being a taker makes you a bad person but I do believe that being a taker when you can be a creator makes you bad person and this is why the book change my life. When I read it I was a taker. I was an entitled engineer working at Google most likely not producing as much as I could take when I knew my ability to product was much higher. I was waiting for someone to open the door for me to a position of productivity and that wasn’t going to happen, you have to open the door yourself.

My life changed, I decided to become a producer. So far, I reached the point of co-founding a startup that reached 4 employees (not counting me) that created various products that hopefully are making people more effective and productive. And I’m just getting started. I want to do more, I want to get bigger and provide a great working environment for more people and produce more and better products. I want to produce and give as well as take my share for my work.

Since reading Atlas Shrugged I’m a much better member of society and I wish other people would also make this transformation but I doubt Atlas Shrugged would be the catalyst for many people. It has too many issues.

Picture by Anoop Menon

Papers books are going away, and so does signing them

Free as in FreedomLet’s face it: paper is dying. It’s going to be a slow death, but for some purposes it’s dying faster. Newspapers find themselves not being able to print anymore due to costs and books are starting to be digital. I’ve recently got a Sony PRS-505 which I love (and my wife does too). And of course there’s the Kindle. With the death of paper-books, a fine tradition is going away: authors signing books.

It’s very likely that the tradition will continue with paper books for a very long time after our book-shelves were replaced with one little device. After all, a signed book is not a book but a collectible item, like a signed baseball or a signed t-shirt. They are stored and displayed differently than their mundane non-signed counterparts.

Eventually the books being signed will be custom-printed because there won’t be any more mass production. But what if we could replace signatures with something digital, and better?

At first I though that you could have your digital book signed. That’s possible, to have a PDF that has the signature in it. That’s trivial to generate automatically so it doesn’t have any value. If it has dedication, that is, your name hand-writen by the author, then it gets trickier to generate; and more valuable. But this is the digital age, the future, we can do better than that. What if you have a PDF where the picture of the cover of the book is not the usual one but a picture of you with the author.

Now, that’s something! The signing booth would now be a photo booth. After you take the picture they’d generate the PDF which you could download instantly by bluetooth or with a code they give you. Now suddenly the digitally signed book is something even more valuable than the usual signature.

Free as in Freedom - dedicated

If you plan on developing the software and do the hardware integration for this, let me know, I might be interested.

Comment on TWiT 204: Taste Like Dirt. Lending Kindle books

On This Week in Tech 2004: Taste Like Dirt, Dwight Silverman proposed an interesting idea: to be able to lend books in the Kindle. The book would become unavailable on your Kindle and available on the other person’s Kindle, and after two weeks the book comes back automatically. I don’t think that feature would ever be implemented because it’s not on the publicist best interest.

It would be very simple to have a web app of people lending each other books across the world in a very organized and systematic way. The reason is that there’s no danger for the lender, the book will come back automatically. It’s not the same as lending a real dead tree paper book.

The solution is simple: don’t make it automatic for books to come back. Have the borrower have to press a button to return it. And if the borrower never does then you lose the book. Then you would only lend them to people you trust (not in a p2p-network way) or when you don’t care about losing the book.

What about book swapping? I don’t see a way to implement book swapping without allowing a systematic peer to peer network to exist. That leads me to the issue of DRM, which I’m not going to talk about now.

Reviewed by Daniel Magliola. Thank you!

“Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation” now in paperback

Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation, the best book I’ve found on creating your own programming language is now available in paperback.

You can still get a free-of-cost copy of Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation at its original site. Actually, the book is now released under a Creative Common license, thank you Shriram!

This is, actually, old news. The book has been in paperback for quite a while, but I neglected to publish the post at that time. Today, a chat at the Esperanto meeting about Lulu (and how useful it is for Esperantists, that make books nobody wants to publish) reminded me about the post and I’m now publishing it.