Influences – Other and Summary

Shawn Michaels

“He’s like Mozart or like Lennon and McCartney, as far as being an artist, like a Rembrandt. He’s a genius at what he does. And he’s a genius at painting the picture or writing the song. And there’s only a few people in the history of world as an artist have been up to the level of what Shawn Michaels does when he’s in the wrestling ring. That’s his form of artistry, and he’s the best at it.” – Chris Jericho in Heartbreak and Triumph

“He was so anti-establishment, so cutting edge, and so talented, you couldn’t help but watch. In the mid-90s, Shawn Michaels had evolved to the level as an in-ring performer where he was untouchable.” – Jim Ross

I grew up in a family where both sides watched professional wrestling. And when I was growing up, there was no one better than The Heartbreak Kid.

Shawn Michaels was a small guy in an industry dominated by exceptionally large men. His title reign followed the likes of Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and Kevin Nash, each of whom is at least 6’7”, a stark contrast to Shawn’s 5’10”. Yet in 1996, Shawn became the WWE Champion and the first person in WWE history to have won every title in the business.

A lot of people rag on professional wrestling for being scripted. In 1998, after a decade in wrestling, Shawn Michaels crushed a vertebrae in his spine after landing on a casket mid-match. He was out of action for five years while recovering, only to return better than when he left, an astonishing feat in any profession. Had Shawn been healthy in the late 90s, wrestling’s peak years in popularity, he would have been as famous a celebrity as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

I’m not the only one who admires The Heartbreak Kid. In 2012, past and present wrestlers, his peers and pupils, voted Shawn as the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. I tried to think of praise I could write to convincingly demonstrate Shawn’s greatness, but I’ll leave it to his peers to do the flattering:

“For me, Shawn Michaels, as a total package, is my favorite wrestler of all time. Charisma, match quality, innovation, pioneering, interview style, moves I’ve never seen before, moves I’ve seen every day, all of it. Yeah, Shawn Michaels is the greatest of all time.” – Chris Jericho

“A lot of guys are great athletes, but they don’t have the mind, they don’t have the passion, the heart, the drive. Shawn has all those tools. Guys ask me who the best I’ve ever been in the ring with, hands down, it’s Shawn.” – Paul “Triple H” Levesque

“If you look at all the variables and look at it objectively, how do you not say Michaels is the greatest who ever lived?” – Jim Ross

“I have to say, from an all-around standpoint, I don’t think Shawn has any peers. I think Shawn is, in all likelihood, in a class all his own.” – WWE Chairman Vince McMahon

“He is what the marquee is all about.” – John Cena


As Paul Graham did in his “Heroes” essay, I’ve tried to identify any patterns in the people I’ve picked. I identified three:

1. Unsurprisingly, only two women made the list, a teacher and a writer. I’m going to chalk it up boys naturally having male role models growing up, and not latent misogyny.

2. I encountered most of these figures in high school. The first person was Shawn Michaels, who was wrestling as far back as I can remember in the early 90s. The most recent person is Fischer Black, whose work I didn’t find until it was mentioned in a finance book senior year of high school, and whose biography I did not read until my sophomore year of college. Everyone else falls somewhere into my high school years. I think this is due to high school being a natural learning and maturing stage where our views and ideas are formed. I would also attribute the increase in influences in high school to John Carmack, who I read about at the beginning of my freshman year and jump-started my curiosities for everything else in life.

3. Lastly, the most interesting shared trait among my idols is that they were outsiders. In his youth, Shawn Michaels was considered too short and skinny to be a main-event wrestler. He became WWE champion anyway. Warren Buffett lives in Omaha, Nebraska, not New York, New York. He’s the most successful investor in America anyway. Russ Roberts isn’t given an editorial page in the New York Times, but he teaches thousands of people economics in his spare time anyway. Fischer Black did not win the Nobel Prize despite his co-author winning for their paper and Black worked in industry for most of his career. Finance academics cite his work as the greatest in the field anyway. John Carmack dropped out of college. He became arguably the greatest computer programmer of the past two decades anyway. I admire each of these men for exemplifying that pure, honest love of one’s craft can reap great, hard-earned rewards.

Influences – Teachers

Larry Wolf

My experience with AP US History teacher Larry Wolf is best demonstrated with a story.

One day, early in the fall quarter of my sophomore year, I found myself sitting in the middle of Mr. Wolf’s 80-person A.P. United States History class. On the bus ride to school that morning I had heard Jim Cramer expound on his podcast about the continually unhindered rise of ExxonMobil’s stock. Back in 2006, oil-above-$100-per-barrel was splashed across the headlines of American media. Mr. Wolf, being the topical man that he was, led our class with a discussion on this topic, which went a little something like:

Wolf: “The media keeps publishing all these reports about record high oil prices. What’s the big deal?”

A student raised his hand.

Student One: “The big deal is that high gas prices make life more expensive for us.”

Wolf: “More expensive? We’re talking about gasoline. You use it every day to go to and from school and those trips cost you maybe a dollar. Maybe it should be more expensive! Maybe $4.50 a gallon! Your parents would still buy it.”

Student Two remarked: “They’d buy it but they wouldn’t be happy about it.”

Wolf: “If they dislike the prices, they should do something about it. And they aren’t going to stop buying it.”

Student Two replied: “What can we do about it?”

Wolf looks at the second student then scans the room: “You tell me. What can you do about high oil prices? ExxonMobil making, what, six billion dollars this quarter? What can someone do about it?”

A third student: “We could ride our bikes?”

Wolf laughed: “Yeah, like everyone in the country will suddenly exercise on their way to work and send their cars to the dump. Come on, I’m looking for a better answer.”

The class sat in silence as 80 students tried to conjure solutions to a major socioeconomic problem in seconds. To me, the answer Mr. Wolf was looking for seemed obvious to me, but before I could answer, Student Four interjected: “You could write your congressmen to do something about oil prices?”

Wolf: “Write Congress? And ask them to do what? You want them more involved in running the oil companies? Come on people.”

I had the chance to raise my hand with what, to me, seemed like the logical answer. Mr. Wolf pointed toward me. “You could start your own oil company.”

Mr. Wolf exclaimed “Bingo!” to the class. I knew this would be a teacher I’d like.

Mr. Wolf fit the stereotype of the grizzled older teacher who shared his worldy wisdom in the most crotchety way possible. He walked with a cane for a few months and would whack students with it in the hallways. He’d tell students with late-homework excuses to “Quit your bitchin’” (spelled on the chalkboard as the school-appropriate “Kwitchurbichen”). He’d been teaching for decades and had a sort of tenure at the school due to the union, so he could get away with it.

Our fresh minds were unaware at the time that his best quotes were borrowed. That didn’t lessen the impact of lessons like “There ain’t no free lunch.” Wolf was bold enough to stretch our minds by expertly playing devil’s advocate. Lectures on World War II would one minute be centered on, “Why does anyone consider FDR a great president? He led us into the war!” and later, “FDR was the best, most universally loved president since Washington.” It didn’t matter which position Wolf believed himself; he wanted us to learn perspective.

His students have a better view of the world having sat in his class.

Merry Guerrera

“Everything I came up with on my own sounded pretty lame or trite, so I’m borrowing from another source. I hope you can forgive the lack of originality, but it best represents how I want students to live their lives, because even though we all have within us the ability to be kind, we don’t always exercise that. I think we should ‘make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary’ – J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird“ – Mrs. Guerrera when I asked her for a quote for this essay.

Mrs. Guerrera was the opposite of Mr. Wolf. When I entered her freshman English class in high school, Mrs. Guerrera was still a very young teacher maybe five years into her career. In retrospect, it was her English class which suffered the most from my growing indignation with the education system.

I earned a C or D in the third quarter of her year-long course. Years later, she remarked, “I didn’t want to give you that grade, but you didn’t do the work!” She was right. Up until that point, I had never been given enough work to push me, and here was finally someone who expected her students to learn. Sadly, this wasn’t something I realized until the end of high school.

Her real influence was outside the classroom. While I was in her class she had her first son, retired from teaching and became a stay-at-home mom. It was a loss for Hilliard Darby, but not for her previous students. She continues to take an active interest in the happiness and success of her former students. A core group of us have been continually welcomed in her home since leaving her classroom in 2004. For myself and others, a visit to the Guerrera household is like walking into an old 80s sitcom where the young kids sit down at a dinner table and resolve the problems of life. After leaving, you even feel like you’ve walked away with a happy episode-ending moral.

In juxtaposition to Mr. Wolf, Merry’s approach to teaching was not necessarily to forcibly stretch your mind with new ideas. Her equally effective approach was to make serious emotional investments in her students’ lives. For a student, knowing your teacher wants you to succeed is the best impetus to fulfilling your potential.

Influences – Writers

Gil “Stanley Bing” Schwartz

“To Adam Smith and Joseph Stalin, both of whom have informed my understanding of corporate culture.” – Dedication for The Big Bing

“To all the guys I rolled over to get here. Thanks.” – Dedication for Lloyd: What Happened

“Lloyd knew of an occasion in their San Francisco office where a woman who periodically began morning sales meetings with the announcement that she had ‘fucked her brains out’ the night before later sued the general sales manager for creating an unfriendly working environment where such statements were all too welcome. She won.” – Lloyd: What Happened

“I’m also not interested in hearing that there’s ‘No problem.’ Know what? There better not be.”“Log Off, You Losers”

Stanley Bing is my favorite author. I came across “100 Bullshit Jobs and How to Get Them” on a family trip to Barnes and Noble during my sophomore year of high school. After flipping through a couple of the brief examples in the book, such a one-page tutorial on how to become Donald Trump, I was hooked. My white, middle-class high-school self was drawn to his characterization of corporate-life as a sitcom-esque zoo of Scotch-swilling hedonists. His novels read like a season of Frasier with boardrooms in place of opera houses.

Bing’s identity is the self-titled “worst kept secret in Corporate America”. Gil Schwartz is featured prominently on CBS’s Executive Team page as Chief Communications Officer next to billionaire Sumner Redstone. In the interview below, Bing explains how one man can lead a double-life with a pen name in the modern age.

The only comparable modern business humorist is Dilbert’s Scott Adams. But where Scott Adams was a man of the people, Stanley Bing helps people become The Man. I am grateful for all the humor he has brought to my life and all the Executricks he has taught me.

The Escapist Editors: Shawn Andrich, Joe Blancato, Russ Pitts, Susan Arendt

“Boy how these past two years have flown by! It seems like only seven hundred and forty-five days since I first walked through these doors. Then, I was a relatively inexperienced young man, fresh off the bridge, with dreams of breaking into the fast, glittering world of Technology Television. Now, as you all are probably aware, I couldn’t care less if the entire building spontaneously filled with eagle semen.” – Russ Pitt’s Eagle Semen Email

Most people I’ve met since high school do not know that my first job was as a reporter for The Escapist, a videogame “e-zine”. The Escapist established its reputation by producing print magazine-quality PDFs freely available for download every week. The PDFs have since been discontinued, but The Escapist published one last commemorative edition. The art costs were too high to sustain the weekly releases, which is sad, because I consider the early Escapist issues to be works of internet art which I haven’t seen since.

I wrote for the Escapist for three years. In that time I had four different editors, who each left an impression on my writing and career. An archive of my old articles is still available at The Escapist.

Shawn Andrich:

Shawn originally hired me as a freelancer at The Escapist when he was first put in charge of its new “News Room” in the fall of 2006. The story of how I found Mr. Andrich is a tale deserving of its own essay at some point. It’s a story which crosses through the videogame community GamersWithJobs, which Andrich stil manages.

Shawn had tried to launch an insightful gaming news site in 2006 called the GamersWithJobs Press Pass. His site held open auditions for unpaid news writers based on a writing sample submission. Being a 15 year old male with a lot of time on his hands for playing games and actively analyzing them, I wrote a brief article without revealing my age.

Before the Press Pass could get off the ground, The Escapist picked up Shawn and his team of cheap writers to add daily content in between the weekly magazine issues. At the time, I did not and could not anticipate it would turn into a three-year paying gig. I was just happy to be writing about my passion. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the videogame industry and especially its die hard fans. I haven’t met another community on Earth driven by pure, unfiltered passion as gamers.

The demands of his full time job in IT and having a life outside of games forced him to leave The Escapist. I owe Mr. Andrich more than he’ll ever know for giving me my first job, which happened to be every teenage boy’s dream job.

His insights into the gaming industry can still be heard every week on the GamersWithJobs Conference Call.

Joe Blancato:

Joe stepped in as the editor of the Escapist News Room after Shawn left and was my editor for the majority of my time there.

Joe was the first person with which I got to develop an extended working relationship. During the year and a half he spent managing the News Room, the stable of writers, breadth of coverage, and quality of writing all improved. He built great rapport with his writers. If a major story broke on a weekend (during the era when Joystiq, Kotaku, and other “gaming news blogs” were on the rise) or if someone had an original idea for an article, a quick weekend email or phone call was gladly answered and efficiently discussed. Working for Joe was a great joy and a huge boon for myself and the Escapist.

Joe is currently a Project Marketing Manager for Riot Games, developers of current gaming sensation League of Legends.

Russ Pitts:

After Joe’s departure, Russ Pitts spent a brief period managing the News Room. Russ was the Editor-in-Chief of the site and an old videogame podcast co-host with Shawn Andrich.

Russ is a virtuoso at online video content. His primary coup was signing Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, whose Zero Punctuation game review series became an almost overnight sensation. He’s a fantastic writer in his own right, continually pumping out insightful feature stories for the magazine back to its PDF days. Russ’s expansion of The Escapist’s content coverage and distribution mediums did wonders for the site’s relevance in the gaming industry.

Russ Pitts is currently the Features Editor at Polygon, a new videogame publication owned by Vox Media.

Susan Arendt:

Susan took over managing the news room from Russ during a turbulent time for the videogame journalism industry. The financial crisis of 2008 devastated the field, with some of my personal favorite media outlets, such as, going bankrupt or going to new corporate owners in firesales.

Susan, along with Russ and the rest of the staff, helped navigate the Escapist through these turbulent waters by pushing the news team in new directions. She advocated for the team to break more stories, interview direct sources, and focus on articles which promoted pageviews and community commentary.

Susan is currently the Managing Editor of The Escapist.

An honorable mention must also go out to Andy Chalk, a fellow news writer who joined six months after I did and is still writing for the Escapist today. Having to compete against his wit for page views is one of the most challenging tasks I’ve had in my life and I am better for it.

Influences – Investing

Warren Buffett

“I don’t want to buy any stock where if they closed the New York Stock Exchange for five years, I won’t be happy owning it. I buy a farm and I don’t get a quote on it for five years, I’m happy if the farm does okay. I buy an apartment house, don’t get a quote on it for five years, I’m happy if the apartment house produces the returns that I expect. But people buy a stock and they look at the price the next morning and they decide whether they are doing well or not doing well. It’s crazy because they’re buying a piece of a business. That’s what Graham most fundamentally taught me. You’re buying a part ownership in the business. You will do well if the business does well if you didn’t pay a totally silly price. And that’s what it’s all about.” – Warren Buffett talk to University of Florida MBA students

Buffett is an obvious choice for any list of influential investors with good reason. He’s well-known for investing success over the past century, folksy business platitudes and homespun annual shareholder letters. What makes Buffett so remarkable is that he has maintained his convictions over decades where the rest of the financial industry has moved further away from his line of thinking. With the proliferation of technology, the investing community is prone to over-think its collective actions. The regular person is oversold on the concept that financial professionals are that much more knowledgeable than them.

Buffett has derided the financial establishment for these actions. In its place, he has espoused the timeless basics to business: Make more money than you spend. He says, “I am a better investor because I am a businessman and a better businessman because I am an investor.” As an business owner, his job is to run businesses in the preceding manner. As an investor, his job is to find businesses run that way. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. In this day and age, it feels harder to find than it should.

If more people in business followed his thinking, the economy and society at large would be a much more prosperous place.

Jim Cramer

“I’m not trying to tell you what to buy or sell like an automaton on my show. I’m trying to give you investment ideas and trying to help you understand how I come up with my conclusions so you can do the same.” – Jim Cramer on Mad Money: Know Thyself

Jim Cramer sparked my interest in finance. I came home from school one day to find my dad watching his show. His energy is compelling to youngsters and those unfamiliar with the stock market. His ability to break down financial terminology into layman’s terms is valuable to anyone needing to learn more about how the stock market works.

There are criticisms that his glamorization of the market masks the underlying work to watcher at home and people are prone to blindly following his recommendations. I tend to not hold this against him personally so much as holding it against the format of his show (where having to make money-making recommendations on a daily basis is bound to fail) and naive viewers.

What sealed my respect for Cramer is when I got to meet him at Ohio State. He visited campus to shoot an episode of his “Mad Money” show and speak to a select group of students. Two events happened in his one day on campus:

First, during the midday one-hour session with 50 business school students, I got to directly ask Cramer a question. I asked, in the spring of 2009, if he believed there was a threat of another round of mortgage defaults and further declines in housing prices. He gave a surprisingly detailed, ten-minute answer citing technical metrics used by Bank of America to determine what and how many loans may be at risk and when a market bottom could be found. I was impressed that he did not give a flippant five second answer and showed the in-depth expertise which presumably served him well when he was an active fund manager.

Second, during the filming of his show, he continued to make references to some famous actor whose name I forget. It was a widely recognizable name. During the commercial breaks, when talking about his previous segment to the audience while his stage crew rearranged the set, Cramer continually butchered the name of a seemingly popular celebrity. I don’t remember the exact name, but I remember the feeling that Cramer spent more time researching the stocks to be discussed on his show than any of the soundboard, props, or pop-culture references that go into the script. This reinforcement of his knowledge domain reassured me that he was a great entry point into the financial industry.

Influences – Economics

Russ Roberts

“You are going to see in a healthy dynamic economy–and I would argue probably the most innovative economy in the world–you are going to see large winners emerge. Those emerge for two reasons, one of which is they are really good at making a lot of people happy. That would be Lebron James and Sergei Brin and others who entertain us and educate us and divert us. Then there are some people that you describe as doing rent seeking–they are taking money from the rest of us using the power of government. A lot of those are in the financial sector, and those I would say are bad ways that the top gets wealthy.”Russ Roberts Econtalk with Joseph Stiglitz

“I think economics still has a lot to offer. I think economics as practiced by most of the profession in the public eye is full of hubris and should be much more full of humility…. He [Joseph Stiglitz] could be right. He could certainly provide some evidence that he is right, some fancy statistical analysis. And the people who think he is wrong could provide some fancy statistical analysis. Since they can’t convince each other of either viewpoint, it suggests to me that that statistical evidence is not so scientific. He falls into the realm of what Hayek called ‘scientism’. Fake science. I think it’s hard to argue logically that spending money unwisely is the way to get wealthy.”Russ Roberts on

Russ Roberts is the best economist today, perhaps not by the standards of breakthrough research, but due to his trend-setting and prophetic actions in using the Internet to popularize economic thought. In 2006, he launched his weekly economics podcast EconTalk. I have been a listener (I forget exactly how I found it, but I believe it was recommended on the business section of iTunes) from the beginning and, seven years later, still follow every episode.

He is an Austrian School-influenced economist who formerly taught at George Mason University before recently spending more time at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Roberts has made the biggest impression on my economic views in three vitally important ways:

  1. He is very willing to admit he does not know something.
  2. He leaves open the possibility that those who disagree with him may be right.
  3. He is willing to question the status quo in a public format.
  4. He asks more questions than he tries to answer.

There are not many economists who openly advocate that their positions as tenured professors will come to an end in the future due to an understanding of technology’s ability to deliver cheap education alternatives. Not many used this technology in its infancy, near the birth of iTunes podcasting, to spread economic knowledge. Russ Roberts did. Not many used their wide-reaching digital podium to critique mainstream Keynesian economists such as Joseph Stiglitz (who has also been a guest on his show, and a nice one at that) and Paul Krugman (mysteriously absent from EconTalk). Russ Roberts does.

And he tweeted me:

Fischer Black

“I have had no formal training in economics or finance. I do not fully understand some of the tools and concepts used by those who have had that training. Sometimes I think I’m close, but then they slip away. I question many conventions in economic research; but in some cases it’s just that I don’t fully understand them….As a result, I make errors, both small and large. I don’t like errors, and I’d appreciate help in finding them.” – Introduction to Black’s textbook Exploring General Equilibrium.

“No one’s mind is, or will ever be, as fertile as Fischer’s was. No one is even close. He was crazy and logical at the same time. The force of his logic would push you into corners you didn’t like, or it could open vistas you had not imagined. The crazy streak freed him from conventional wisdom. He was intellectually fearless.” – Friend Hans Stoll in a letter Fischer’s father.

In the words of MIT finance professor John Cox: “Fischer is the only real genius I’ve ever met in finance. Other people, like Robert Merton or Stephen Ross, are just very smart and quick, but they think like me. Fischer came from someplace else entirely.”

I recommend to anyone, regardless of their interest in finance, to read Perry Mehrling’s engaging biography of Fischer Black to get insight into how a genius works.

His paper outlining the Black-Scholes options pricing formula won the Nobel Prize for his coauthor years after Fischer’s death, allegedly because the Nobel committee frowned upon the fact that Fischer had spent much of his career as a non-academic consultant and partner at Goldman Sachs, and thus did not want to give him the planet’s highest academic prize. To bankers and traders, he resided in an ivory tower. To academics, he was a businessman overly concerned with the practicality of ideas disregarding traditional research processes. Fischer ignored both of these groups by happily accepting fewer shares in the Goldman partnership than any other partner and partnering with other traditional professors to translate his ideas into academically-acceptable papers.

Fischer, more than anyone in modern financial research, pursued usable new knowledge for the sole purpose of it being what he enjoyed. Tales of him playing Super Mario Bros. in his office during the day and going to see Gallagher at night show the childlike innocence he brought to the financial community and its research. His simple writing and speech patterns were purposefully designed to cut through to the heart of matters that are so often, in his worlds, clouded by business or academic jargon.

His phrase, “More efficient capital is more capital,” is one of his many simple, yet profound statements. In a world which looks for silver bullets, Fischer understood progress can come from modifying current methods to be a small step better. In doing so, Fischer made great leaps in business, finance, academia, and for anyone looking to pursue their passions.

Influences – Intro and Technology

In 2008, Paul Graham wrote an essay titled “Some Heroes” listing those who have influenced him and how they did it. His reasoning for writing this particular essay was because it’d “be so much fun to write about.”

While I respect his motivation, I suspect the essay had more relevance to him than he let on. He adds: “ I once asked a physicist friend if Einstein was really as smart as his fame implies, and she said that yes, he was. So why isn’t he on the list? Because I had to ask. This is a list of people who’ve influenced me, not people who would have if I understood their work.” [emphasis mine]

The people who influence us are more than just heroes. This is arguing over syntax, but heroes could be observed from afar. The word “influencer” has an intimate connotation, one implying someone has directly touched your life.

While reading Graham’s list, I couldn’t help myself from generating my own list. And due to Graham’s use of the word “influence” in his reasoning for rejecting Einstein, I began generating a list not of heroes, but of influencers.

As I was compiling the names, one major criteria gave me pause: My age when I encountered a person’s work. I have no background in the sociology or neuroscience, so I am inclined to believe the adage that we get stuck in our ways as we age. I greatly admire Richard Feynman work, but because I discovered him later in life (sophomore year of college when I was 19), my world views had already been set. I admire him, yet his influence on me is minimal.

Additionally, I found that I could compartmentalize sections of my life into themes. The influences for each of these areas of my life are grouped below.

To summarize my approach in selecting the names for this list: These are the individuals who, during my formative years, shaped my perspectives and/or abilities (excluding family members, who are influences by default).

At the end of the list, there is a short summary where I identify patterns among my influences.


John Carmack:

“I was sort of an amoral little jerk when I was young. I was arrogant about being smarter than other people, but unhappy that I wasn’t able to spend all my time doing what I wanted. I spent a year in a juvenile home for a first offense after an evaluation by a psychologist went very badly.” – John Carmack’s Slashdot Q&A

“In the information age, the barriers just aren’t there. The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.”- John Carmack in Masters of Doom

“There are lots of brilliant people that come up with lots of creative things, and nothing that I’ve done changed the world in a way that somebody else wouldn’t have, it might just have taken several more years. But if that’s what I’ve brought to the table on any of this – bringing the future a little bit closer for the segment of the population that wants it – I’m proud of that, and happy to have given that experience to a lot of people. But I just turned 40 and I can be programming for another 40 years; there’s a lot yet to do!” – Carmack interview with NowGamer

When I decided to write this essay, John Carmack was the only name that really mattered. If it was shortened to one name, it’d be his. He is the most influential, non-friend-or-relative in my life. I read David Kushner’s biography of Carmack when I was 14 and it instantly, fundamentally changed my life perspective.

The feeling is hard to describe. When we are teenagers, the world starts to open up and becomes larger than we previously knew. It’s also a time when we start to develop our own sense of what we like and dislike. We can self-select our turn-ons without guidance from family.

Carmack was relatable in a way I had never experienced. Throughout middle school, I was already getting bored with monotony of school life and was luckily gifted enough to glide through classes with minimal effort. Yet, at that age, there weren’t many other students around who were as actively antsy about the lack of motivation in school and autodidactic enough to find external interests that, again, weren’t managed by parents.

Carmack, through Kushner’s writing, shone through as someone who had faced the same internal conflicts 15 years before me and solved them with such directed intelligence and single-minded drive that I realized I could never obtain, but very much desired.

I became a self-taught programmer because of Carmack. As a naive high school senior, I expected to drop out of Ohio State my freshman year to program full-time because Carmack had blazed a recent trail for those young kids who hated the restrictiveness of educational institutions. When founding his company with his partners, he never accepted venture capital and gave away software for free. For my generation of technologists, Carmack embodied the hacker ethic.

Carmack created the first-person shooter genre. His individual output can dwarf teams of intelligent programmers. He’s a part-time rocket scientist. He is on Bill Gates’s short list of geniuses. After Apple, id Software became the poster boy for rockstar technology companies, bridging the gap between the personal computers of the 80s and internet bubble of the late 90s, and having technical chops surpassing almost all of those who preceded and succeeded him.

My ideals are largely a reflection of Carmack’s: Singular dedication and love for your craft and having the stubbornness to not allow for distractions. Very few people have reached Carmack’s intellectual purity. I certainly haven’t, but it gives me something to strive toward daily.

Paul Graham:

“Programming should be fun. Programs should be beautiful. That’s the spirit I have tried to convey.”

“Live in the future, then build what’s missing.” – Paul Graham

While John Carmack is my biggest influence, Paul Graham is the person I cite the most. Perhaps next to the Google guys, Paul Graham has done more than anyone to promote the internet as a significant economic force and startups as the physical manifestation of that force. Through his prescient writings, he has established himself as the philosopher behind the Internet revolution.

PG spent his early life pursuing his interest in computers while also entertaining his intellectual curiousity with a major in philosophy at Cornell. After receiving a Phd in Computer Science from Harvard and a stint as a painting student in Florence, Graham and his friend Robert Morris built a pioneering web-based startup which sold to Yahoo for just shy of $50 million. With a sizable amount of money burning a hole in his pocket and a curious mind, he institutionalized angel investing with a new structure (YCombinator) which obsoleted traditional startup “incubators”.

What I find particularly inspiring and humbling is how PG’s career seems to be an odd combination of simultaneous forethought and luck. The concept of “awareness” might be an intersection of these two traits: Finding yourself in situations and having the presence of a prepared mind to understand your surroundings Based on his programming background, his preference for the programming language Lisp, a desire to control his application stack, and the ability to write software faster, he stumbled into web businesses at their incubation stage. In the aftermath of the Internet bubble, the costs of running a software company had decreased significantly while the web was still in its infancy. This soil, along with his newfound wealth, was fertile ground for the next evolution in startup financing.

While I don’t agree with him on everything, his writing styles blends concise points and illustrative metaphors into convincing arguments. If more non-fiction writers had as gifted a pen, more people would spend their leisure on intellectual pursuits.

Paul Graham’s legacy will be as the personification of the technology business in the mid-2000s. Hopefully it will continue to grow in the coming decades.


As I planned my first blog post since 2008, I was thinking over what would be different this time around from my eight month blogging stint five years earlier when I wrote for friends in high school.

Here’s the difference: In 2008, as a senior in high school, I was naive and just barely educated enough to think that I could, with enough analysis, answer any question. Time teaches you the world isn’t that simple.

This blogging reboot is meant to be a lot more fun for myself as a writer and any readers. In this spirit, here are three of my favorite, seemingly disparate examples of enjoying what you do.

I’ve never been a huge sports fan, but I always appreciate a good sports montage. In 2010, NFL Films put together a 10-hour video series highlighting the Top 100 NFL Players of All Time. I had no idea how high-quality NFL Films productions were until I saw this list, which plays like and has the emotional and intellectual impact of a sports-based TED talk.

Coming in at number twenty was famous Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. Years later, his four-minute highlight reel still resonates.

“Watch him play the game. Watch how Brett plays sports…When he throws a touchdown, he goes and jumps on the guys, and he’s celebrating, and he has fun. That’s the way sport is supposed to be played. It’s not always serious stuff, even in pro football. He’s having a ball, even at practice. That’s what you ought to be like.” – Steve Mariucci

Second, since graduating school, moving to a new city, and getting a new job, the scariest part of it all was having to cook for myself. It’s not scary due to difficulty. I just hate taking the time out of my day when I could be working on something else. However, I like saving money even more. In an attempt to cultivate my culinary knowledge, I bought Jeff Potter’s Cooking for Geeks used from Amazon. Inside, in an interview with Lydia Walshin of The Perfect Pantry, I found this quote:

“Q: Why do you think there is a fear of cooking?

A: Honestly, I see this more in younger people, people in their 20s and 30s. I think our entire way of raising kids, educating kids, all of the pressures that we read about to succeed, and whatever punishment there seems to be for failure, seems to have translated to the kitchen….I think that’s really kind of sad…. We have come to take cooking too seriously. We’ve come to take ourselves too seriously.

For me, once it stops being fun, I’m going to give it up, because i really do think that you should have a good time in the kitchen. I think you should make a mess in the kitchen. I think you should put some things down the disposal if nobody really should eat them, and then you should go out for pizza, and it’s all okay. We don’t let it be okay anymore. That’s me.”

Lastly, one of my favorite computer scientists, Paul Graham, starts his textbook ANSI Common Lisp with:

“Donald Knuth called his classic series ‘The Art of Computer Programming’. In his Turing Award Lecture, he explained that this title was a conscious choice–that what drew him to programming was ‘the possibility of writing beautiful programs.’

Many programmers feel, like Donald Knuth, that this is also the real aim of programming…. Programming should be fun. Programs should be beautiful. That’s the spirit I have tried to convey….”

These are a few examples of people who are passionate about what they do. This blog will feature ideas I am passionate about. I hope you have fun reading.