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scrottie (4167)

scrottie
  scott@slowass.net
http://slowass.net/

My email address is scott@slowass.net. Spam me harder! *moan*

Journal of scrottie (4167)

Saturday August 22, 2009
02:24 AM

Thoughts on _why

[ #39508 ]

_why, or Why the Lucky Stiff, vanished from the 'net and took down all of his various project pages and web toys as he went. These include Shoes, Hackety Hack, a web based Ruby tutor that gave you hints on things to try in a REPL, and Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby. He wrote some of the most celebrated Ruby libraries. The catalyst for his departure seems to have been a person digging for, finding, and then loudly publishing _why's meatspace identity.

Some have accused _why of throwing a "tantrum". This is easy to swallow because it's a pretty solid generalization. But it's hard to swallow because _why doesn't fit many generalizations. He's never really thrown a tantrum. The once he made a pointed remark, he quickly apologized profusely and then struggled to reframe the discussion. In fact, that's most of what he did online -- took a conventional way of looking at things and turned it upside down. If things were at odds, why were they at odds? What was the underlying catalyst for putting them at odds? What way of thinking about the problem put something else at odds instead?

He was a prankster, but apparently someone ruined the joke. Perhaps he was only free to be Why as long as he wasn't real.

Through his work, his primary mission was to make programming accessible for laypeople, especially youngsters. This goal and his API design sensibilities allowed him to create power by dispensing with complexity. Along the way, he wrote childish poetry, performed silly songs, and drew ridiculous sketches.

It seems to me that _why had a mastery of asking himself, "what's the simplest thing I can do?" Most people don't draw because they're not happy with the simplicity of what they can draw. I wonder how many don't program for the same reason. Playing with ActionScript here, I'm daunted by the utter simplicity of the tasks I struggle to complete. Writing Perl strokes my ego. Writing ActionScript punishes it. But _why shows us what's possible -- the self-indulgent creative expression -- even in utter simplicity. In a rare live appearance where he wore sunglasses, his code demo was something he was working on on the subway that some kids on the trail took interest in and helped him with -- an ASCII animation of two sword fighters moving back and forth on the screen slashing at each other endlessly while hurling random insults. It wasn't the fight but the insults that made the program. Anyone can write silly insults that two ASCII sword fighters can exchange. This is dwelling on what you can do and paying far less mind to what you can't. Have fun. Don't let your ego, telling you that your work has to be important and impressive to impressive people, spoil your fun. This putting aside of ego reminds me of some of my favorite people in the Perl community.

_why has done a lot for all of us whether we realize it or not. He's ever so slightly changed the landscape. APIs not just in Ruby but in all languages near it will be ever so slightly better. Attitudes towards learning and teaching will continue to be better. Language features aren't the only things worthy of stealing; so are APIs. And attitudes.

-scott

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