Neo Tron

by Hans, Tiflis

Who are/were some of the most badass computer programmers?

Answer by Govindarajan Nagarajan:

John Carmack
Wrote Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D
Invented a square root algorithm that shit on machine instructions
Patented Carmack’s Rerverse
Founded Armadillo Aerospace
CTO at Oculus VR
Regularly releases the entire game and game engine as open source.
A true geek. This guy still codes and does programming unlike many of his peers
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Who’s the greatest hustler in history?

Answer by Andy Cheung:

Joe Ades, the “Gentleman Peeler” of New York City.  If you lived in New York in the 90’s or 00’s, you might have recognized this guy:

To many New Yorkers, he was one of the cast of characters that made it great to live in New York City.  He sold Swiss-made vegetable peelers at $5 a pop, but apparently made so much money that after work you would often see him at his “regular” table at the Pierre Hotel, listening to his wife sing at the piano bar and drinking Veuve Cliquot.  They lived in a 3BR on Park Ave. Joe died in 2009.

Some great articles about the guy:

And a video of him in action:
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What are some good stories from the early days of Quora?

Answer by Rebekah Cox:

I was Quora’s first employee and captured some very early moments. Pardon the image quality on some of these I was in a trying a bunch of different phones phase. For a lot of this stuff you really had to be there…

The First Quora Office
I remember when I first visited the office one weekend, I sat in a folding chair next to mountains of bottled water. Adam and Charlie were seated across from me. They said they were working on a social Q&A product and they wanted me to work on the design. Sitting there in that drab room they described doctors and lawyers answering serious questions with serious answers. That seemed a bit far fetched to me but it was only a few months later that that actually started to happen.

My desk is the one on the top left with the coffee cup and I shared it with a scanner/printer. Initially I had to bring my own laptop because Adam was worried about costs. Eventually I brought in my own aeron, too. Those two sad little papers stuck to the wall were the only decor.

In those days it was 150% about work. Heads down and focused work. One day I came in to the office and a woman I’d never met was sitting in the folding chair next to me. I said hello or something and went right back to work. I didn’t know if they had hired someone new or what but I didn’t bother to ask. This happened a couple times and it wasn’t until a few days later that Charlie explained she was his sister.

Alpha Launch Celebration Dinner
After we launched the alpha version of Quora, we celebrated with dinner at Farina in SF. There are a bunch of funny stories from this night (though none that I can share) because none of us had a high tolerance for alcohol.

This was the entire company when Benchmark decided to make its Series A investment.

The Many Rooms of 264 Hamilton
A growing company meant maximizing space and things had to get creative in order for everyone to fit.

During one such transition Joel actually signed his offer while sitting cross legged on the floor of a completely empty room. His interview had been conducted in what can best be described as a closet. We weren’t set up with projectors yet so he had to give a presentation using a small TV monitor that was perched precariously on top of a plastic table. He would later tell me that he had been worried about his attire for interview day, but after seeing that Charlie had his shirt visibly tucked into his exposed boxer shorts, he stopped worrying.

One afternoon a bunch of us collected in an upstairs office to play music and open the windows to get some fresh air. The windows being open meant all the street sounds were unfiltered so Tudor remarked something like, “Barking dogs, crying babies, cars honking… this is just like Romania!”

It’s hard to fully answer a question like this because given the scope of Quora’s mission and the scale of its ambition, it’s still the early days right now.
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What makes life interesting?

Answer by Joey Denny:

That it even exists.

We know that there are billions of planets in the universe that is uncomprehensively big and yet we have no indications to say we are not alone. We are a needle in a country-sized haystack

Now, we can look at the fact that not only you won the existential lottery, but you also won the animal kingdom lottery. Think of the whole population of all life that have existed. Your atoms compound themselves into something that lives and breathes, but you are the one animal that has a higher form of consciousness and has an emotional set of tools to truly cherish what they’ve been given.

You can go further into this by thinking about the century and location you are living. You have internet so I think it is fair to claim that your living standards are greater than the 99% of these lucky humans which have ever lived.

And one more thing you lucky bastard you, you also won the great race. You beat out (pun intended) 375,000,000 of your siblings just to be with us for this short while. Buy an actual lottery ticket man, you’re on a hot streak.

The very fact that you have the propensity to ask this very question is just filled with such unfathomable odds that makes life absolutely fascinating.
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Why are people from the future not time traveling to our period?

Answer by Yishan Wong:

Consider the following image:

You can see from it that in the entire history of the Earth, all of human presence comprises just 0.08% (that’s 8 one-hundredths of one percent) of all of Earth history.

Further, if you were to consider just the “interesting parts,” i.e. dinosaurs onwards, human history still comprises only 2% of that timespan. 

The graphic further uses a fairly generous definition of “human history,” i.e. the last 4 million years.  If we think of real human civilization as reasonably well-recorded history, we’re restricted to the last 4000-5000 years.  Once again, even when considered against the timescale of dinosaur existence, we’re a mere eyeblink in history.

Consider also, that potentially millions or even billions of years of history lie ahead of us.  Certainly the sun will last another ~5 billion years, and assuming no catastrophic scenario, that’s a lot more history.  Not to speak of any post-Earth pan-galactic or extra-galactic history - that’s even more billions of years.

So when it comes to time travelers coming to visit “our period,” we are talking about, at most, a 5000-year period out of billions.  Colloquially-speaking, you’re probably really only thinking of the last 200 years as “our period,” further narrowing the window to something practically infinitesimal.  When Time-Traveling Future Man is spinning the little time-destination dial to decide where to go on his time-travel backpacking adventure, our entire “period” is probably smaller than one little “tick” in the dial.

Think about what you do when you travel, geographically-speaking.  You typically visit only three types of locations:

  1. Culturally-significant, metropolitan locations where lots of people can be encountered in a dense area, increasing personal transaction volume.  Big, interesting cities, like New York, London, Tokyo, etc.
  2. Vacation locales, typically areas with exceptional climates.  Cabo San Lucas or Hawaii, those sorts of places.
  3. Extremely remote locales, untouched by human presence and notable primarily for their natural, unspoiled beauty.  Alaska, a national park, an African safari, perhaps even Antarctica.

Our time period is a time period that is none of those.

We are certainly not a time-travel metropolis - I imagine such a time period would be a central “New York”-esque base of operations for time travelers and time travel operations.  We certainly don’t have that in our day and time.

Likewise, we are not a time of unspoiled natural beauty.  If a time traveler wanted that, there are hundreds of millions of years of dinosauria or other prehistoric periods they could journey to.

I’m not sure what a time-travel “vacation locale” would be, but presumably climate is not something you time travel for, so maybe there is no equivalent.  The Earth was certainly a lot warmer in the distant past, so maybe there are a few million years in the Cretaceous with a dinosaur-proof resort somewhere.  There’s certainly no point in traveling to the present time where all the good beachfront property has already been occupied by the “locals.”

No, instead, the current period is probably the temporal equivalent of flyover country.  You might say, “What do you mean, it’s a time of unprecedented technological and cultural change!”  Maybe so, you time-hick, but a small town in South Dakota that’s finally getting hooked up to teh internet or getting their first Olive Garden isn’t interesting to someone who already has ultra-fast broadband or lots of family-owned local Italian restaurants.  You have to remember that these are people from the future.  There’s nothing interesting to see here that they don’t already have.  They have technology and civil rights and cuisine that you and I can’t even begin to imagine.  You don’t visit small towns unless you have family still living there, and when it comes to time travel, family doesn’t really work that way.

So the likely reason that time travelers from the future aren’t visiting our period is (other than time travel perhaps being physically impossible) that we’re just not that interesting, and we’re not really that large.  It’s only temporal-centric egotism that makes us believe otherwise.
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Are President W. Bush’s paintings objectively good?

Answer by Andrew Denny:

This is the question closest to the one I searched for, which was: How good an artist is George W. Bush?

Someone pointed me to the paintings of the Beatles by Peter Blake: Peter Blake: Pop Artist.  Blake, of course, is the artist who created the Sgt Pepper album cover, and much other ‘pop art’ of the 60s and later. I’m struck by how fawning and unquestioning I was in admiring Blake’s work.

Now, I see it alongside Bush’s paintings, and Blake just looks - well, amateurish. I still don’t know what makes great art, but Bush’s portraits seem homely and sweet.
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