How did you get to be such a Renaissance man?

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Most of the "techies" I know are waaay too focused on their particular area (maybe obsessive is the word I'm looking for) -- and yet you seem genuinely interested in lots of subjects (and talented in many of them). How did your parents raise such a well-rounded boy?

-- Rachael Cleverly, December 5, 1997


Oh no! I wouldn't want my childhood education being held up as a model (see Chapter XIV of for my take on the factory school system).

I was very lucky in that both of my parents are Harvard grads and we lived in Washington, D.C., where cultural opportunities for the middle-class are abundant (and paid for by people in Peoria).

I'm definitely interested in a lot of things but lately I've been pretty obsessive about Web service design. It is 1 am on a Sunday night and I'm in my office copying 1.2 GB of data to a new computer so that my Web site will run faster... I don't think this qualifies as well-rounded.

But I guess it could be worse. I spent last night arguing with an MIT grad over the meaning of "educated". I expressed surprise that she'd not heard of Henry James. She ended up taking the position that all texts were equal. There was no reason to call someone better educated because he'd read Shakespeare rather than a business biography. Or the daily newspaper was just as good as Plato's Republic if you wanted help in thinking about what form of government was just. Then she took exception to my referring to her point of view as anti-intellectual.

Sadly, my education isn't really good enough to defend the Western canon. It seems obvious to me that someone who thinks the Road Ahead is just as good as a Henry James novel is anti-intellectual. But it is very difficult to explain that to someone who doesn't already agree with you, at least without sounding like a repulsive stuffy snob.

OK, back to my well-rounded life (testing the Oracle driver to see if we can insert strings larger than 4000 characters in columns of type CLOB)...

-- Philip Greenspun, December 15, 1997

Until I see Phil's butt reflected in the ceiling mirror, I'm not gonna know if he's a "renaissance man" or not. But I DO like that dog [no bun intended]

Pumehana a hui hou kaua.... happy trails to you, until we meet [again] [sic sorta]

Waileka with nada da nada as H would tome ta do taday!

-- Violet Weed, November 9, 1998

Newspapers the equal of The Republic? I suppose newspapers are a data point. (Datum point?) But they pretty much just convince me that we are governed by idiots.

Different works do have different levels of quality. See Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence. Of course since everything is equal, she doesn't need to bother, since she read this morning's newspaper.

One thing wrong with the Western canon is that it misses some great non-western works. (Unless I have the definition of Western canon wrong.) Tao Te Ching comes to mind.

-- Shannon Severance, January 20, 2000