Hello! I'm a big fan of your work. Your perspectives on issues, while I may not always agree with them, are always insightful; thank you for helping make the world a more interesting place. I'm interested in learning Lisp and Vim, as it's been recommended many times by writers I find interesting. While I won't be able to dedicate my full time towards it now (due to good old high school+an intensive summer program), at some point in the future I am interested in putting work into learning these. Any courses or books you'd recommend? How did you learn? Also, any advice for getting started blogging? I think it'd be a productive use of my time and help improve my writing skills, but haven't been able to give myself the initial push. Finally, if there's any advice that you would have given to your high school self that may prove relevant to me, please pass it on; if I know I'm going to learn something in the future from future mistakes, I may as well try to learn the lesson now. Hope you're doing well.
I am happy to hear you do not always agree with me. Sometimes I am wrong. You should not agree with people when they are wrong.
My favorite book on Vim is Practical Vim by Drew Neil but the free books here are probably fine. My post on Vim is enough to get you started. The most important thing is that you write everything in Vim. I wrote this blog post in Spacemacs with Vim keybindings before cut & pasting it into the Less Wrong Markdown editor.
The utility of a programming language comes from its syntax and its libraries. Lisp has the best syntax. Good libraries come from popularity. Lisp has never been popular. The best Lisp dialects appropriate libraries from other languages. Hy (which integrates with Python libraries) is the one I use but I have heard good things about the others.
There are no good books on Lisp. The Lisp books I know of all use obsolete dialects. I learned by reading a few chapters of Practical Common Lisp and On Lisp and then working out the rest on my own. There is no well-trodden path.
I recommend you just use Hy in place of Python and then try to write short code. The rest may take care of itself.
My favorite book on creative pursuits is Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Like Vim, the important thing about blogging is that you just get started. Create a free Wordpress, GitLab or Less Wrong account and write stuff. Use a pseudonym that doesn't commit you to a single topic. At first your posts will be bad. Period. This isn't my first blog. I deleted my first blog. It was awful. Yours will be too. Don't let it discourage you.
It will never be the right time to start a blog.
If you think it's restrictive being a kid, imagine having kids.
―What You'll Wish You'd Known by Paul Graham
High School Advice
High school is fake. The English classes don't teach you how to write. The foreign language classes don't teach you how to communicate. The art classes don't teach you how to draw. The history classes are pure propaganda. The physical education involves no physical conditioning. The math classes are designed for students of average intelligence. Putting a smart teenager in a high school math class is like putting an average teenager in an insane asylum. The science classes are like the math classes.
Adults lie to kids. Here are some books, articles and lectures to start getting the styrofoam out of your head.
- All of Paul Graham's articles plus this article by Sam Altman
- The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan
- Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
- The first couple chapters of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
- Jordan Peterson's lectures on IQ and the Big Five Personality Traits
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley
- The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond
Even if high school did teach you something important it wouldn't have economic value because economic value is driven by supply and demand. Everyone goes high school. Therefore the market value is low.
My dad practiced Chinese in army school. His American commanding officers thought he was taking notes but actually he was reciting poetry. Randall Munroe printed books in a tiny font so he could read them during class. I wish I had read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards so I could practice drawing. All I achieved was really good cursive handwriting. You might want to try using your time to write blog posts. I give you permission to use a pencil instead of Vim while in class if that's what it takes.
It is worth paying attention in class because a tiny bit of knowledge is better than none at all. Also your grades matter for getting into college. After you graduate high school, nothing matters except what college you got into and the things you learned—most of which you taught yourself. Everything that merely embarassed you ceases to matter. Gamble things you can afford to lose. What really matters in the long run is what you teach yourself.
Technical and economic leverage increases every year. The marginal value of teaching yourself has never been higher. Going to college used to be a no-brainer. Now it's complicated. It depends on who you are and I don't know who you are.
If you go to college then most important thing is to graduate with minimum debt. Indentured servitude counts as debt.
Cheat Codes for Life
Everything in the following list has an absurdly huge payoff compared to the investment required.
- Learn to use Anki flashcard software.
- Read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. If you're a skinny guy following the program and you aren't gaining weight then eat more. If you're still not gaining weight and you're lactose tolerant then drink a gallon of whole milk everyday. Round things out by reading Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston.
- Start a meditative practice. [WARNING: Meditation comes with dangers. Read Ingram's book for details so you know what you're getting into.] My favorite book on this topic is Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment by Philip Kapleau Roshi. It is very Japanese so it may not make sense to you. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book by Daniel M. Ingram is written for a Western audience. Meditation should feel like it's working. If it doesn't feel like it's working then you should stop doing it because you're doing something wrong.
- Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Learn to sell things.
- Ruthlessly prune angry people from your life.
- Learn to use Vim. 🎉 You are already doing this!
- Learn to program computers. 🎉 You are already doing this!
- Start writing a blog as early in your life as possible. 🎉 You already plan to do this!
Lastly, check out Dresden Codak. It's really cool.
The dialogue continues here.