by Brandon Rhodes • Home

Essential Reading

Each of the following articles and essays (the list is still under construction!) stuck with me after I first read it, becoming part of how I look at the world. I’m listing them here in one place so it’s easier for me to find them.

“So you want to be a consultant...?” — The foundation of my career: it’s this article that gave me the confidence to quit my day job back in 2008 and become a freelance programmer, like the independent programmers I’d met at Python and Plone conferences. How did it instill confidence? By explaining the customer relationship and the operation of the small business in such detail that I could imagine trying it out myself. Its advice on how to treat customers offers sterling guidelines for simply how to treat other humans in general.

“Choose Boring Technology” — “Let’s say every company gets about three innovation tokens.” Starting from this premise, a veteran of Etsy’s early startup years explores the risks of building new projects on new and unfamiliar technologies. Even my personal projects are often improved if I remember this article and weigh the benefits of novelty versus the benefits of boring!

“The Tau Manifesto” — This delightful essay explores a facet of modern math notation for which tradition has stranded us with a sub-optimal solution: the use of 𝜋 for the irrational circumference of a circle instead of the far more natural 𝜏 = 2𝜋. It’s a masterwork in how to evaluate rival notations when seeking clarity, economy, and meaning.

“A Whirlwind Tutorial on Creating Really Teensy ELF Executables for Linux” — A delight! Starting with the question of why even the smallest C program compiles to a Linux file nearly 4k bytes long, this deep dive into the ELF executable format is at first admirably clever, then startlingly clever, and finally fiendishly clever in its quest to create the smallest viable Linux executable. Several useful tools are introduced along the way.

“The Really Big One” The New Yorker — I enjoyed re-reading this article several times after it was published. After an opening that perfectly blends tension, humor, and science, Kathryn Schulz brings the energy of a mystery novel to a recent advance in seismology. I always get a shiver down my spine when the year that the trees drowned winds up matching the date from Genroku Japan! More broadly, the article reminds us that scientific consensus — no matter how often we enjoy wielding it against each other in debates — can be dead wrong.