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Today, August 19th, is WhyDay, a day held in honour of the Ruby world’s most enigmatic character, a guy known to most only by a nickname, why the lucky stiff.
_why (as he’s often called) is probably best known for his quirky programming book, why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, quite possibly the most weird and whimsical tutorial written since Carlton Egremont III’s books Mr. Bunny’s Big Cup O’ Java and Mr. Bunny’s Guide to ActiveX. Although he never finished the book, it’s still a great (and greatly amusing) intro to the Ruby programming language from simple one-liners, all the way up to metaprogramming, peppered with his crazy comics which include two cartoon foxes whose catchphrase/battle cry is “chunky bacon!”.
_why also wrote a number of libraries and applications, many of which have either become part of the Ruby programmer’s toolkit or have become the basis of current apps and libraries. He was also a big proponent of making programming environments to teach kids programming, so he created Shoes, a UI toolkit for making web-like desktop apps and Hackety Hack, a programming mini-IDE built on top of Shoes for kids to make their own programs.
He didn’t stop at writing and coding; he was also a musician and performer. If you were at the first RailsConf in 2006 in Chicago, you were treated to his keynote, a psychedelic multimedia rock opera which began with him exhorting the audience to “Put you best practices away!” and filled with great music and geeky jokes (including one about exception handling that I found particularly amusing).
_why has always been a bit of a privacy nut, to the point that very few people actually know his real name or even what he does for a living. On this day last year – August 19th, 2009 – he decided that he no longer wanted to be in the spotlight and quietly disappeared from the Ruby scene, removing all traces of his sites and projects. John Resig, they guy behind jQuery, wrote a nice elegy for him (even though _why didn’t pass away, but went into J.D. Salinger mode).
His stuff lives on because it was all either open-sourced or licenced under Creative Commons, and is now curated (and even expanded upon) by fans of his work.
A number of people are celebrating WhyDay by remembering his greatest gift to the Ruby and larger programming world: a spirit of whimsy, creativity, freedom and experimentation. Yes, programming is serious work and probably one of the hardest things that humans do, but without finding joy in what you do, what’s the point? The people who’ve declared today as WhyDay suggest:
I’d be a bad Microsoft evangelist if I didn’t tell you that:
This article also appears in Global Nerdy.