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Of foxes and bacon: an ode to _why.

from Mantova

I wanted to write this post since I’ve read an article appeared on Slate about one of my heroes: _why the lucky stiff. The article is very thorough and enjoyable, it definitely worths a read, so if you don’t know who _why was and are for some inexplicable reasons interested in what I have to say, you should go there first.

One of the first things I did when I went to Seattle for the first time was hooking up with the local Ruby community. After a quick chat by email with a super-nice Ryan Davis I picked up my dev team of the time and went to Vivace Cafe. We’re talking about the end of 2008, more or less.

I’m not a community guy, I don’t like talking in public about “my stuff”, I’m an introvert, and that was a “no-no” situation for me: a room full of geeks with whom I share at least one interest (Ruby). In these situation, this is what happens in my head:

“Look, Ryan Davies and Eric Hodel, I read their blogs since forever. How many interesting informations I can gather from this lucky encounter. Let's just grab some beer and make stupid and inappropriate jokes now„

I started talking a little bit around about my project, losing the interest of most in a matter of seconds (and rightly so!) and torturing a poor guy that was too nice to just go away. After a while, following a discussion, I’ve started playing with Merb, going back to my natural environment: me, my Mac, something to do that involves a keyboard.

At that point I noticed a guy. He was alone, without a computer, a bit scrubby, drawing comics. I did what every self-respecting rubyst would do.

The joy of doing what makes you happy in the way you want.

Some foxes, rejoice!

It wasn’t him. It was a guy that was there since before I came, and has been sent away because the room was reserved.

My point is still valid, _why was a guy drawing stuff in a room full of developers. From time to time, he used Ruby to draw instead of a pencil.

Thinking about it, _why is a very strange and uncommon personality in our field.

One of the last personalities to emerge, for example, is Eric Ries, the father of the Lean Startup movement, which I covered not long ago. Eric came up with the core of his theory working for a startup called IMVU and writing about his discoveries on his blog. Soon enough a group of likely minded followers started to use those practices in their projects and document their success.

_why was different in the sense that he probably never wanted to be a so called “thought leader”, everything he did was for fun, for the joy of it, and directly for someone else. The poignant guide to Ruby and Hackety Hack were for teaching programming and having fun while learning. I’m also sure that he had a lot of fun writing all that stuff, at least as much fun as I had reading it.

I must say that I’ve always been surprised and admired about this. If it’s not fun, if it doesn’t give me joy, it’s not worth it. You want to build a web framework? Let’s keep it under 4 KB. You want to write a book about programming? Let’s fill it with comics and with a soundtrack.

What a sloppy sloppy sloppy boy.

Some castles and Dr. Cham!
_why’s code was sloppy. He was an amazing thinker, but not as good when it came to execution. So, he saw a lot of people take his ideas, and then build them out into more sustainable or workable projects.

If I put my programmer hat I can eventually agree with Mr. Vanderburg. Well, not as much as to call another programmer’s code “sloppy” in public with a journalist, but yeah, sometimes _why’s code was kinda difficult to understand and probably maintain. This is by no means an attack to Glenn Vanderburg, he is the person behind the whyday and obviously didn’t intend anything wrong.

On the other hand, I doubt that a web framework built to stay under 4 KB like camping was built with maintainability in mind. It was clearly a show off of skills to me.

I believe that we’re mixing _why’s motivations with out own here. He wanted to build something to have fun, to show some tricks, to “wow” people, and maybe to have fun watching people try to understand what the freck was happening in those 4 KB. Executable poetry, as the official mirror says.

I would like to build a company to see my own idea flourish and to help a business I care about and not to sell it to Facebook/Google like most: does this make me a sloppy entrepreneur? I don’t think so.

At this point, I’m convinced that _why was one of the main reasons, if not the main, to think that the Ruby community is nice. Yes, if you ask a question on ruby-talk it’s most likely the answers you will get will be super-nice, and Matz is probably one of the nicest guys in the industry. _why, on the other hand, was so uncommon and weirdly gentle to give a very strong example and leave a lasting impression. His way of approaching problems, taking always not immediately obvious paths, is something you can see all over the Ruby ecosystem.


The porcupine is now at the sea.

I seriously couldn’t care less about _why’s real name. It’s just not an information I care about. I respect his wish to stay anonymous as something that doesn’t affect me in any way.

I believe his seppuku is definitely in line with the man - f*ck, I already spend most of my life thinking about software, I can’t keep whining about it when a guy that gave me so much just wants to go away.

I’m very grateful to _why as I’m grateful to a friend with whom I spent some good time, and then lost touch with.

If one day I’m in a local listening to a weird band singing about rabbits and lemonade I guess I will get a bottle of good Cabernet Sauvignon and send it to the band, but this is really it.

And thanks for all the fish.