Blake Riley

Archive for the ‘people’ Category


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Colin Marshall started the trend (if three data points constitute a trend) to create a grid of intellectual inspirations, role-models, or icons. Here are mine:

In order, from left to right and top to bottom,

  • David Foster Wallace: Novelist and essayist. Though I came across his work in the post-death coverage, I did not realize DFW had died until after devouring A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and  Consider the Lobster. His humor, descriptive power, and mathematical background left me grasping for any work of his I could get my hands on.
  • Colin Marshall: Broadcaster and blogger. I have a feeling Marshall would object to being placed on anyone’s icon list. Nevertheless, I admire his ambition, high personal standards, will to produce, dedication to his aesthetic, and desire to improve himself. He might not have much name recognition now, but I expect his personal brand will rise sharply in value over time.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky: AI theorist and blogger. While still at Overcoming Bias, Yudkowsky wrote daily essays for over two years, explaining everything from rationality and consciousness to quantum mechanics and ethics. Besides the high volume, his posts maintained a surprisingly high signal-to-noise ratio. His knack for coining phrases and illustrative stories makes the concepts stick, ready to be deployed in everyday thought.
  • Ben Casnocha: Entrepreneur and blogger. In addition to the obvious admiration he deserves for venturing into business so young, Casnocha strikes me as thoughtful, caring, and optimistic to an uncommon degree. His initiative and demeanor are both worth emulating.
  • Tyler Cowen: Economist and blogger. This man deserves the central position. He exemplifies Berlin’s fox, drawing insight from a vast array of sources and unwilling to hew to a single explanation. Economics, cuisine, history, literature, psychology, philosophy, and travel all play side by side in his works. Of anyone I hope to one day be compared to, it is Tyler Cowen.
  • Douglas Hofstadter: Cognitive scientist and author. Gödel, Escher, Bach is his best known work, but Le Ton beau de Marot is even more stunning. Hofstadter’s attention to quality, down to the page breaks in his books, is awesome. His ideas are deep and shook many of my previous beliefs about language and thought to the core. He introduced me to Lisp, a language that is still special to me. His works show the possiblities when you are truly committed to a project. I’m still amazed at the number of spine-tingling moments per page his writing produces.
  • Umberto Eco: Novelist and essayist. Eco’s novels have a depth to them that astounds me. Additionally, he is a public intellectual who remains surprisingly free from the fuzzy-headed thinking usually associated with that status.
  • Donald Knuth: Computer scientist, programmer, and typographer. Despite its name, Knuth’s famed Art of Computer Programming is a favorite math book of mine. I admire his tenacity in pursuing that project. Begun in 1968, the work continues into the present. Talk about long-term vision. In an effort to ensure it was done right, he invented TeX along the way, which I am grateful for. I’ve been known to put math books down solely because they weren’t typeset in TeX.
  • Paul Graham: Programmer, essayist, and venture capitalist. Graham gains bonus points for promoting Lisp, but his essays are the main target of my admiration. His writing is a paragon of relevance and clarity. He also works to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs through his venture capital firm Y Combinator.

Other close runners-up include Robin Hanson, Terry Pratchett, Seth Roberts, Edward Tufte, John Conway, and Dan Dennett.

Written by blakeriley

2010.02.2 at 21:30

Posted in people

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