Painters and Hackers

Ten years ago, Paul Graham published his essay “Hackers and Painters“, in which he observed that of all the different types of people he had known, hackers and painters were “the most alike”. (“Hackers” meaning the kind of creative programmer types celebrated in the Jargon File, not the kind who maliciously break into computer systems). The reason he gave was that both are makers, which is interesting in part because the observation predates (I think) that point in time where ‘maker’ gained a capital ‘M’ and became a movement.

Of course, the observation that hackers and painters are both makers does not exactly rate up there with the Pythagorean theorem as an intellectual discovery. An awful lot of people make stuff, and Graham even mentions a few others: composers, writers and architects. So what, if anything, makes him want to compare hackers and painters, as opposed to, say, hackers and chefs?
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A local ruin


There aren’t too many ruins in this part of the world. Most things are too new to have crumbled away, and we have this annoying tendency to replace anything the least bit dilapidated with condos. (True, at least in the recent past the condos themselves tended to crumble almost as soon as the builders’ shell corporations dissolved, but then came the green netting and the inevitable remediation.) However, there is at least one great ruin in Victoria.

I almost literally stumbled upon it cutting across the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy, a former chapel, convent school and Cathedral, now a national historic site converted mostly to government office space, but retaining its grounds and some historic interior features. From the outside, it looks like the sort of place that should be an illustration in one of Bemelmans’ Madeline books; an architecture and landscape not highly characteristic of this part of the world.

In one area of the grounds, hidden among tall trees and shadows, I came upon this:


It puzzled me. The broken pipes suggested it might be the remains of an old fountain, perhaps an angel crying for the sins of the world … But whatever it was, how had it come to be reduced to its present state? If it was historically unimportant, why were its remains still here? If it was important, why had it not been rebuilt when the rest of the building was restored, or failing that, where was the annoying plaque describing its historical significance?

As it is, it seems to me one of the best pieces of public art in Victoria, accidentally invoking, say, the sculptures of Gonzalo Fonseca. Its site and the total absence of any explanation for its presence there created a small mystery in a city where too much is explicit and obvious.

For a time I treasured the mystery, and fearing that the explanation might be entirely too prosaic I held off looking for one. But eventually curiousity got the better of me. I was pleased to discover that the history of the ruin is quirkier than anything I imagined. It used to be this:


No weeping angel fountain, no sir … it was a concrete battleship! Of course, what else would you expect to find on the grounds of a convent school …