September 25, 2005

Be Oblong and Have Your Knees Removed

Ok, apparently I wasn't clear enough in my last post, and some people think I'm completely loopy and/or amazingly arrogant.

That was self-parody. I don't really think everyone should quit school. Or set things of fire.

See, I intentionally tried to pick a obviously completely indefensible position and then defend it, so I picked two things you classically shouldn't advise kids to do. Like "start fires." Which isn't a good idea, in general, see. It wasn't a metaphor. I wasn't saying "Quit school and set the world on fire," it was "Quit School" and "Set Things on Fire." Two different pieces of advice.

The point wasn't that I'm making shit up to yank everyone's chains. The point was that, although I quit school, and although I enjoy setting things on fire, this isn't the path for everyone, and I know it.

To be clear, I'm not trying to make fun of people who do think it's a good idea to quit school, either. I'm making fun of the perception, which I saw in some recent responses to my posts, that I think there's a single piece of life advice that applies to all people. Because this blog is just supposed to be about how I did things. (Yes, it's a very self-centered blog. Shocking, I know, because that's not what you expect in a blog. Sorry about that.) But, you know, my life is the only one I know really well. And I keep saying, this is just, like, a travelogue. And just because I decided to go through, say, Wisconsin on my way to Seattle doesn't mean I think everyone else has to. But I am going to write, "Man, if you want some gooda gouda, try Wisconsin!"

Which is why it's ironic that STILL some people flamed me. I guess it wasn't clear enough. For the record, I think college is a pretty neat way to learn some stuff, but some college experiences are less-than-fun. I actually don't think kids should go to college to learn a trade, because most colleges fail at teaching this, and it's a waste of money. I do think learning the collected wisdom of our society is a worthwhile goal for anyone, and in fact I'm hoping to one day take some more classes at the UW, but in general education instead of just computer science. (Also, I dropped out one language course short of graduating with honors and distinction.) For the record, I think unit testing is a waste of time on GUI apps written by one or two people (which was the question I was asked), but I'd believe it can be a decent tool (when used correctly) for libraries or logic-intensive programs, with which I don't really have much experience. Also for the record, I think fire is a lot of fun. And I really do love nature, and all that stuff I said about it is the absolute truth to me, and I put my money where my mouth is on that one.

I had thought the sarcasm in my post would be obvious from the liberal cussing, the fact that I make crazy jokes every other sentence, the structural homage to Steve Martin's Grandmother's Song, the fact that I take such an extreme position and assert it applies to 100% of the people ("there are no possible dissenting opinions to this advice"), and that I act so incredibly arrogant throughout ("admit that I am, in fact, the most clever person in the world, and every word I say is like pure gold"). Also, I say, "if there were some way to disable the posting comments on this essay, I would," which is supposed to introduce cognitive dissonance, because there is a way, a completely trivial way - there's a little radio switch RIGHT under the words I'm typing right now.

Also I advise kids to set things on fire. Fire! FIRE! FIRE! Hello! This is bad advice!

However, apparently a lot of people just assumed I'm an arrogant crazy person. Which, you know, is flattering, and probably true in general, but in this case I'm slightly less arrogant and crazy than you thought.

PS: Don't be oblong and do leave your knees on.


Anonymous Carl-Johan Kihlbom said...

Now you tell me! Thanks to your advice, I set my school on fire yesterday. Doh!

September 25, 2005 10:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and I already had one knee off by the time I got to your last sentence!

September 25, 2005 11:11 AM

Blogger Mike Lee said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 25, 2005 11:17 AM

Blogger Mike Lee said...

First, you insult unit testing, which saved my grandfather from the Nazis. Then you insult school, which is what binds neutrons and protons, thus making the atomic nucleus possible. However, now you have become dangerous. Be oblong? Have your knees removed? What kind of advice is this? What about the children? Won't somebody think about the children?!

September 25, 2005 11:18 AM

Anonymous Daniel Jalkut said...

See? We all had our sense of sarcasm obliterated by too much classroom education!

September 25, 2005 11:36 AM

Blogger Andy Finnell said...

Oops. I actually already followed the "setting things on fire" advice.

Oh well. At least I have my red swingline back...

September 25, 2005 11:47 AM

Anonymous Jussi said...

Wil, great posts lately, keep them coming and I hope the programmer gods have been with you and Delicious Library!

September 25, 2005 1:01 PM

Anonymous rentzsch said...

I hope HTML 5.0 has a <sarcasm> tag. It obviously, sadly, needed.

September 25, 2005 1:35 PM

Anonymous James said...

But setting things on fire IS good! Even on a propane BBQ... the right food and you'll definitely have flames enough to burn your eyebrows off, and tasty burgers. Mmmm burgers.

I, on the other hand, AM as arrogant as I sound.

September 25, 2005 1:53 PM

Anonymous James said...

rentzsch, unfortunately most browsers would render that tag in incompatible and confusing ways, due to lack of adherence to the specs. It's likely that they'd render it as <serious> or perhaps <lies>, or maybe even <marquee>... ;)

September 25, 2005 2:01 PM

Anonymous munchkinface said...

Wil, more posts like this (the original one, not the reply to the literalist munchkins) and you might just make it some day.

September 25, 2005 2:31 PM

Anonymous Ted Lee said...

Wil, if they don't understand you - fuck 'em.

September 25, 2005 2:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does this mean that you're weren't really mad at Palm after all? I'm so confused...

September 25, 2005 6:28 PM

Anonymous Bryce M. said...

Oh darn.

Now what the hell am I going to do with all these mashmallows I was saving up for the raging fires I expected to see all over the place??

September 25, 2005 10:44 PM

Blogger Erik @ The Sand Trap said...

You know, if most people didn't "get it," then perhaps your communication skills really aren't as keen as you think they may be.

And perhaps most people already think you're an arrogant SOB, so they didn't read what you wrote as being out of character for you.


September 26, 2005 6:46 AM

Anonymous munchkinface said...

Or perhaps most of the readers of a programmer's blog are programmers, and not too used to reading things non-literally.

Either way, that comment was fucking judgemental and downright out of order. Like wil says, this is a blog, not an outlet of catholic dogma. It was a great post, stop being so PEDANTIC!!

September 26, 2005 9:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, this blog is not a source of catholic dogma?

Shit, I'd better call the pope...

September 26, 2005 9:40 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Erik: I suppose my communication skillz may be sub-par (get it? it's a golf joke!), and that most readers of my blog may indeed think I'm an arrogant SOB.

I wonder, in this case, about your assessment of these putative readers. Do you suppose they also go to restaurants they hate every night, and order dishes they don't like? There are a lot of blogs in the world, and I force nobody to read mine.

Also, you're mean. I don't log into your site and post that you get bogeys. Hmmm.

September 26, 2005 1:45 PM

Anonymous superfunkomatic said...

frankly, i look to you for all advice about my life. i'm still waiting for the sex positions, stock tips and acting lessons posts.

those that get you, get you. those that don't...stupid is as stupid does, forrest.

September 26, 2005 4:02 PM

Anonymous pUnk said...

Sure, go to college. But never, NEVER EVER go to grad school! Really.

September 26, 2005 5:08 PM

Anonymous EricC said...

Wil, I feel really really dumb right now because I thought your "set thing on fire" advice was serious stuff, altough on a metaphorical level. I thought that by setting things on fire you meant something like "go ahead and create something right now instead of wasting your time getting boring/outdated dogma forced into your skull at college", in sort of a caveman frame of reference (want to learn how to hunt a woolly mammoth? Go hunt a mammoth instead of listening to the elder mumbling about how mammoths feed on grass). That doesn't sound so bad when you look at it that way, provided you keep in mind that it can't apply to anyone (I actually had a good time at college and think it's been very useful to me and many friends). Anyways, the whole post made sense to me and the two pieces of advice actually seemed complementary.

As for your purposefully arrogant sentences that were really clues, I had figured it was a tongue-in-cheek way of downplaying how bad it sounded when read at first level, and a reference to the blown out of proportion response to the unit test post. AND, I also thought that that post was obviously not intended to be seen as a one size fits all kind of advice, just the same as the unit test post...

Or, was that actually the whole point and I am a complete dork discussing the obvious? If so, then self==teh suck

September 26, 2005 8:32 PM

Anonymous EricC said...

Oops! In above comment, you should read "can't apply to EVERYone", instead of "can't apply to ANYone".

September 27, 2005 8:33 AM

Blogger Chilton said...

I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one who realizes the importance of rote memorizing Steve Martin's standup routines;-)

September 27, 2005 8:43 AM

Anonymous Seth Willits said...

The way I see it now, college is how I occupy the time between the coding bursts on my big (100k+ lines) Cocoa project (that will be the downfall of several other existing products and propel me to even higher heights than Wil, get me an even cooler car, and a better blog which everyone will read and forget about that "one blog with the black background that talk about fish food"), and then if that doesn't work, at least I have a paper to show The Man, that I'm The Man, man.

By the way, I liked your talk at WWDC. It nearly inspired me to quit school and work out of a coffee house, but I realized I don't like coffee and hot chocolate only mixes well with Southern California in the winter.

Anyway, good read...

September 27, 2005 2:17 PM

Anonymous Lon Varscsak said...

Wil, you crack me up! btw, I like fire, burning things is fun, and your advice to burn things shouldn't have been in jest. ;)

October 04, 2005 4:41 PM

Blogger Angie Haubrich said...

I realize that this is a little over a year late, but....better later then laterer. I thought this post was bleeding hilarious! So much so that I just about read it in its entirety out loud to my husband. Thank you for sharing your writing ability with the world, with me. I mean heck even my kitties enjoyed it. Well they enjoyed it because I say they enjoyed it and regardless of what they may think I am the master of this house not them. Well anyway thanks again for the belly laughs.

October 18, 2006 7:28 PM


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