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_why's complete printer spool as one book [pdf] (scribd.com)
226 points by coffeejunk 1465 days ago | hide | past | web | 128 comments | favorite

I emailed _why once, asking him how I should cite his name in a highschool project I was working on. Here is his response:

  You can use my name (why the lucky stiff) and the date of
  publication (feb 16, 2004 - present) as frequently in your
  studies as you wish, so long as you keep your grade point
  average up and you diversify your elective credits with a
  broad portfolio of subjects.  I am specifically hoping you
  will bask in the study of 1930s Russian absurdist
  literature.  Oberiu is the name of the movement.

  I will never forget you.
Everything made sense after that, and the absurdist part of my world lit class that year.

That is wonderful Sir. How may I cite this HN post of yours? And what subject do you want me to take (remembering that I don't speak a word of Russian).

I think the thing I like about _why -- not that anybody asked -- is that I'm never sure what to think when I'm reading this stuff. Usually I can't get through more than a few sentences of something without judging it: "That was smart, this was insightful, this author is a moron, I don't think that was right, I disagree with that but I'm not bothered by their opinion..."

_why really kills that here.

I'm never sure if there's a point to what he's writing, if he's playing a joke on people, or if he's playing a character, or if he's being totally and completely honest in an unusual way.

I'm not sure if I'm the joke, he's the joke, or if we're sharing a joke.

Or if it's not a joke at all and I'm just too stupid to understand.

It's really neat.

I really like how you put that - it perfectly sums up how I feel about it. I'm never sure exactly what parts he's kidding about (though there are a few obvious ones), but that isn't the point, right? It's a story, and the story and the feeling you get from the story are the point, not specifically what is and isn't true.

A lot of people have tried to dissect this way too far and have gotten extremely heated in the process. I would argue that they haven't spent enough time dealing with high art. The artist might have a statement they're making with a certain piece, but ultimately that's unimportant next to what you take away from it. If this speaks to you, if this is meaningful to you, then that is the point. The reaction you take away is precisely what it is, and there's no point in arguing about it - but if you wish to share and revel in the experience, let's collectively appreciate it in that way.

I for one found it enthralling. Part of it I know had to do with nostalgia, as I actually was first interested in programming in part by his Poignant guide. The first third or so of the book really reflected that writing style, and I loved it. As it progressed, it got heavier and heavier, and I'm still not sure I understand the allegory he was painting, but the sense I got from it was very clear to me. Some have suggested that it was in reference to his experience in the startup world, and I can buy that, but I feel like there was something there that I probably won't grasp until I wake up in the middle of the night tonight thinking about it.

Thanks for telling us one more story _why, wether it's your last or not, I enjoyed it.

Nicely put. I think that you've really captured what about his writing and persona are so special to the community.

I think the sense of sensitivity you feel through his writing adds to that, too. If he's making a joke of you, it's a gentle one. Kind of the yin to Zed Shaw's yang.

I thought of Zed Shaw some when reading these comments too. Definitely different from _why but still comes at things from a different and sometimes bizarre perspective that I like!

Fun moments for me:

- The thematic element of wishing that the reader not follow the "references" in the work--the iPhone smackdown, and later more clearly with the SACRED CLOWNS--leading later namedrops to pass without question. (In a strange way, it almost feels like the urge to look them up was similar to an urge to vomit: it has passed, and now I feel better.)

- Slipping into Inform 7 to actually tell a story. I almost wanted to paste it into an interpreter--it's valid Inform code--but it's more powerful as narrative, and more powerful in the narrative because of its structure. In the moment where he lost momentum and looked around for a next step, the world "branched out" into a space composed of choices. This is the one more little attempt to show people what "code as art" can mean.

- The realization that (possible spoilers) the last third of the book is the story of how he found himself working at a start-up. His reactions in-narrative mirror his comment earlier in the work that he's "learning to get over his hatred of entrepreneurs."


On the whole, a very coherent story. If you're having trouble making sense of it, make sure to interpret all the "deaths" in the story as death of identity, rather than physical death. Losing a job is death; breaking the social contract of a character is death; etc.

And now, the site is down, and the _why identity is dead once more.

(And on a melancholic, perhaps overly-personal note: I do so wish that I could be friends with that man. Not the identity, just the man. Talking about The Happening would be fine.)

I OCRed the Inform 7 code and added it to Playfic: http://playfic.com/games/waxpancake/sacred-clowns-by-why-the...

It was interesting to see Inform 7 source for its own sake, rather than for what it compiles to (which in this case would be filled with non sequiturs.)

Printing a book as a print spool, including a self-referential handwritten program to print the spool? If you don't think this is fun, I just don't know what to tell you.

Speaking purely for myself, the absurdist nature of _why's work is part of the fun. The feeling of being a little bit confused but enjoying the moment is why I find programming interesting in the first place.

Keep up the great work _why!

Thank you! A direct link is so more user-friendly than putting a mandatory registration wall before a PDF.

I really don't understand the uproar and significance here.

I read through the book because I figured there'd be something insightful, interesting, or explanatory in there. There basically isn't. If it's just supposed to be art -- some kind of odd, disjointed story for its own sake -- then at least that's something, even if I didn't really care much for it.

I do like some of the presentation. The print queue thing is clever, and the variety of scans/handwriting/printing in the work, where it's not a hindrance to reading, is fun (I can see that the hindrance is part of the work, but it still comes off as obnoxious to me).

Still, it leaves me wondering: Why do people care about this? It's some guy that believed he wasn't a good programmer, stopped programming, went AWOL from the internet, was happy about it, and then apparently wrote some sort of strange fiction. OK, whatever floats your boat, but usually these fads pass. This one just won't go away, even though going away is exactly what the author did (or, arguably, is continuously failing to do).

Do those of you getting high on this see it as some kind of existential statement or puzzle? I think way too much is being read into the whole thing.

On anonymous programmers, I respect this guy - Icefrog. Lead designer of Dota2, long time maintainer of Dota1 (And the one who really brought the game to the fore), he even works for Valve but nobody knows who he really is.

To certain extent I think remaining anonymous forces you to be humble, which I think can be a good thing, but damn people want to put a name to everything.

EDIT: I suspect some people at Valve will at least know who he really is.

Humble is not a word I'd use to describe this stunt. If _why and their readers are having fun then fair play to them, but this is putting more attention on the person and less on what they've done, whereas the truly humble would want the reverse.

Part of the the issue for _why seems to be that he got extremely disillusioned about criticism of his code; criticism he took to heart (in this book he also very explicitly say "I wrote hideous code for years"). So putting more attention on a persona that is thoroughly his own creation, and away from his code, seems to me like he is dismissing the worth of his coding.

In fact, I find it quite sad to see how he refers to his code - I admire a lot of what he did. Sure, a lot of it was not great engineering, but it was artful. E.g. Camping is fantastic to read, both for itself and as a sort of practical demonstration of how bloated many frameworks are. It's not that most people would ever have a good reason to use Camping as their web framework, but that to me is besides the point.

That said, part of it this whole thing also does seem to be driven by (hurt) pride.

I hope he sticks with the writing, though - so far I'm halfway through the PDF, and I love it.

This is what he's done though. I think that he'd like to be more than a programmer.

About Icefrog - I can't really say anything about his programming skills - I think he must be decent since he optimized the JASS scripts used by the Warcraft 3 engine and he also created tons of fun stuff using it. As a comparison, his predecessor, Guinsoo, had created a map with a 10 minute loading time (!). In Icefrog's reign I don't think any map had a loading time above 1-2 minutes on a decent computer.

Anyway, getting back to the topic - I don't know about his strength as a programmer, but I think we could all learn from him as a community leader. Anonymous leader, rallied a lot of people around him (a few other coders, a lot of testers, a TON of contributors), gave Dota a rhythm, a release flow that made Dota huge. You'd play the game knowing that game crashing bugs would be fixed ASAP, that game play balance issues would be resolved, that the next version would make everything just BETTER.

A ton of dedication and hard work didn't hurt either :)

It is easy to see _why as "the crazy ruby guy who wrote some scripts and created all this drama around his persona". Even though _why did indeed write some (very useful) programs, I think this view of him misses the point and probably explains why so many people seem to be puzzled by his newest endeavour.

Yes, he wrote some Ruby code, but the code was his least important contribution.

_why was the first person to actually create art around and about software. Others before him have used software as a tool in their artistic process, but to my knowledge no one has ever taken coding as the subject of a performance art so intricate and beautiful as the character whytheluckystiff. All his scripts, all his writings, even all his quirky animations and songs show a love and passion for coding as a recreational activity that defies our conventional beliefs about software as a craft & industry.

We often hear people in this community talk about elegant code, beautiful code, even code as art. But all these sentiments usually mean art in the form of craftsmanship: We want a shorter way to write the same web app, a more expressive way to create our tests, a more concise DSL for data manipulation. While all of these are worthy goals, they are only a tiny, tiny fraction of what coding really is or at least could be. If something doesn't help us build our MVP faster, it's useless to us. Isn't there more to software than that? Sure, there are people focusing on more esoteric stuff in their free time, writing their own Lisps, exploring different data structures, etc. But all of these activities still follow the same tenets: More efficient is better, smaller is better, better is beautiful. We are in love with perfection and purity, because that is what we (necessarily) strive for in our daily work.

_why was different.

Similar to how the decadent and symbolist movements of the late 19th century popularized "Art for Art's sake", _why devoted his whole opus to "Code for Code's sake". His work as a "freelancer professor" showed how much he cared about children learning programming as an enjoyable activity, not as a way to increase the supply of professional programmers. He also satirized our obsession with exactly this professionalism that tends to creep into our thinking and permeates our culture. In short, he used his character to show us aspects of software that were largely underrepresented or ignored in most mainstream discussions.

Personally, reading the poignant guide was the first time I read a piece of code not to understand the code, but to understand a wonderful story. I still don't know how to program in Ruby, but that doesn't matter. In my opinion the poignant guide never really was about Ruby. It was a wonderfully quirky book that happened to be using Ruby as its language. _why's style is absolutely unique and reflects his approach to coding: It doesn't have to be (what we normally consider) beautiful or clean, but it nevertheless forms a great and intricate experience for the reader.

Similarly, today was the first time that I regretted not owning a printer. To see new pages suddenly arrive in the tray to form a crazy and beautiful story must have been magical. Even using only a virtual printer it was wonderful to read the new parts of the book as they arrived and this experience alone made it worthwhile for me. The content itself deserves more than just this quick HN comment though.

So, if you want to know why so many people seem to enjoy the works of _why, set aside some time and start to dig through his estate of old stuff. Don't try to find something useful, just let the whole strange collection sink in. As is often the case with art, the subjective experience is hard to put into words as it depends so much on your personal context and the context of the artwork. I have definitely done a shoddy job trying to describe what makes _why special for me, I am not even sure it can be adequately put into words. But if you like things that are absurd, sometimes useless, yet strangely beautiful, then take a closer look at this works.

Thank you for everything, _why.


A friend asked me to post this for him.

> _why was the first person to actually create art around and about software.

That's complete rubbish. But it probably is correct that he was the first person that created art around and about software that you are aware of.

[OP here, figured it might be helpful to actually create an account...]

In that case, could you please name a few artists that you believe did exactly that? I'm honestly interested in finding more of such art. But before you do, let me rephrase what I wrote above, because it's easy to misunderstand one short sentence (and I'm definitely guilty of not explaining very well what I mean): When I talk about art around and about software, I mean

a) art, i.e. not just something beautiful or well-crafted, but something which explores the human condition with an artistic purpose

b) around software, i.e. art that uses code as an integral part of the artwork (not just a painting about programming for example)

c) about software, i.e. it does not only use code to convey something, but code itself is the subject (Code for Code's sake)

I'm honestly not aware of anything that fits this description before _why's work (or at least of nothing that I would consider as art, and yes, that's somewhat hard to define). More concretely, I would exclude any works that simply praise mathematical / structural elegance, perfection or purity. Even though their creators may be artists and use artistic methods, I would hesitate to call such works "Art" with a capital A.

So, games/demos/processing sketches/audi-visual programming/software patterns/etc all do not fit these criteria. They may be very skillful works of art, but none of them tackle the subject of software & code at their core. While many focus on the mathematical perfection in code, _why focused on human imperfection and a creator's struggle while writing code.

> or at least of nothing that I would consider as art

That probably is part of the problem here.

For starters, you could try looking into Jeffrey Shaw & Gideon May.

Netochka Nezvanova is another name that springs to mind (but that likely will not qualify by some of your criteria), the Electronic Disturbance Theater is another.

There are probably 100's if not 1000's of artists that have chosen to use the computer as their medium of choice, usually they don't make the code central to the expression because the code is the vehicle.

But there are definitely artists that craft with the code as their central means of expression.

I feel that by first stating something overbroad and now redefining it in a way that is overly narrow to then be able to say that 'see, nobody fits the exact same niche' is a bit of a cheap trick, after all, _why was just _why, unique, like every other artist. So no, if you keep on adding conditions why nobody was like him or even crafting 'art' you can easily exclude the rest of the world and maintain your claim. But that's a pretty limiting act and it seems like a very technical way to win the argument.

_why was neither the first, the last or particularly special in what he did unless you mean special to be used as 'specific' rather than as a claim to quality. He successfully promoted himself, his art and incidentally the ruby language. But that does not warrant such overbroad claims as were made above.

I agree that at least my use of the word "art" wasn't sufficiently explained (isn't that always the case? ;)), but my other 2 conditions were definitely present in the original text. I am not trying to "win" this argument by artificially narrowing the definition, I am honestly interested in finding more artists with the same qualities.

Regarding the artists you selected, I am not familiar with all their major works and I will definitely look into their artworks more thoroughly later, but at first glance all of them can be categorized as Audi-Visual-Software art / Internet art / political activism using code as art / etc. Put differently, I could imagine seeing all of them in connection with the Ars Electronica selection for example. Would you really label _why with any of these genres? Or suggest that his work might fit in the Prix Ars Electronica categories? To me his work has a very distinct feel from all the artists you listed and belongs in a different genre. I tried to capture this distinct quality in my above definition, where the most important aspect is definitely that the art must be "about software" (and more specifically about code). His works are all much more introspective than what I have seen elsewhere.

The best allegory that springs to mind is this: While other artists often used code ingeniously to look at many different aspects of technology & culture, _why was the first artist who used code to look back at code and its development process itself and also necessarily the developer cultures around it. This is probably also one reason why he was so tied to the Ruby community. I could understand if you find this definition to be too narrow, but to me this "closing of the loop", this self reference is a very distinct quality.

> this self reference is a very distinct quality


I am surprised that it too so long to mention the most obvious inspiration for _why's poignant guide to ruby.

The Perl community has always had a large artist component. Perl Golf is an artistic endeavor. Perl Poetry is a real thing.

The UNIX community has a similar artistic component. It's built into the genes of the thing, really. There is humor, beauty, politics, and more, in the UNIX tradition. The free unices, in particular, have always been about a love of the process and a celebration of human expression.

_why took it in a highly original direction. No argument from me on that. I think _why was/is/always shall be awesome. But, it's not the first time someone used code as art, directly and without intermediary forms.

What makes _why special, perhaps, is that he made it impossible to miss the art. The art was not subtle, it was not for coders only, and it was cognizant of the knowledge gap that makes so many people fearful of code and unaware of the art contained therein.

_why's totally cool and stuff (and bold, and visionary, and very likable). But, let's not get hyperbolic about his place in the pantheon of code and beauty.

Damian Conway may be an example of a virtuoso of the form. His diversionary works[1] have no practical value, but explore the corners of what can be done with Perl, and do so in a way that delights, inspires, and encourages reflection. It's his mastery of the tool that allows him to express his cleverness and wit as art.

HAKMEM contains many other examples of original thought around the pulchritudinous value of code in itself, and not just via its result.

[1] For example, Acme::Bleach and Lingua::Romana::Perligata, found on http://search.cpan.org/~dconway/

(I like _why and I don't have any problem with the attention he receives or anything. But I did kind of agree with some of the "that's rubbish" responses to the "first" stuff.)

I'm reasonably sure I won't agree with you on any definition of art. But, uh, here's some stuff. I may-or-may-not think of some of it as art. I do think it's stuff that keeps the coding world from being some dreadful place of "craftsmanship" and "professionalism" and things.

The miniKanren presentations are wonderful. They're all "and now let's run this stuff backwards. Because because." http://www.infoq.com/presentations/miniKanren

Meta-circular evaluators. Page 13 of http://www.softwarepreservation.org/projects/LISP/book/LISP%... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0m6hoOelZH8&list=ECE18841... http://www.scheme.com/tspl4/examples.html#./examples:h7 ("After completing the preceding exercise, use the interpreter to run a copy of the interpreter, and use the copy to run another copy of the interpreter. Repeat this process to see how many levels deep it will go before the system grinds to a halt." :D)

SICP opens with this: http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/book/book-Z-H-3.html I think it's lovely.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edsger_W._Dijkstra "One of Dijkstra's sidelines was serving as Chairman of the Board of the fictional Mathematics Inc., a company that he imagined having commercialized the production of mathematical theorems in the same way that software companies had commercialized the production of computer programs. He invented a number of activities and challenges of Mathematics Inc. and documented them in several papers in the EWD series."

Also obfuscated code and some esolang stuff, I guess.

I remember some competition that was about creating and hiding some bug that did some particular thing in code that appeared to do something else, in a way that seemed (if discovered) like it was a mistake. That was cute.

Oh, and maybe http://sigbovik.org/ Maybe not.

Let me modify the OP's comment, Jacques: _why was one of the first people to create art around and about our modern software community.

There are a variety of cultures surrounding coding which, while somewhat diverse, still feel like somewhat of an echo chamber. You have the coding-for-startups culture, for one, and then you have people who are very invested in coding efficiency for the sake of coding efficiency. Both of these are healthy things to have exist, but they lead to a few very specific personality types dominating the landscape, and the result is that programming can seem very forbidding to people who don't match those sorts of identity. Heck, it can be forbidding to people who do match them. And you have little clusters of hobbyists here and there, but those clusters are easily overlooked by people who aren't searching for them.

The message I felt _why delivered with his work more than anything was that programming is fundamentally about more than code, or even about building. He tried to capture the emotions behind programming, the joy of learning to speak logic-driven languages, the humanity behind the hobby. And that humanity wasn't just bubbling whimsy and childlike wonder, though certainly _why dabbled in his fair share of that. There was a whole lot of insecurity, fear, worry that he might be throwing his life away on something impermanent and... not frivolous, because frivolity suggests a joy... neurotic, perhaps. Something that ultimately was consuming his time for no good purpose other than that he was locked into a pattern and couldn't see beyond it.

As somebody who's not a programmer, not even really a designer, that message struck me hard and deep, and _why sure seemed like the only person getting it out there in any big way – at least sometimes. In every other creative community I'm tangentially a part of, that dark pit of uncertainty tends to play a big role, not only in shaping the culture, but in shaping the creative direction of the medium. Musicians ask themselves whether the music they're playing is pointless, or whether the way they're making music is somehow harmful or runs contrary to the feelings they're trying to evoke. The result is that music changes. Directors ask all sorts of questions about how film should be made, how much a shot should be composed or "designed". Actors have a bevy of debates about artifice or insincerity in their roles. And writers... well, writers are about as fucked-up a category of people as they come, to the extent that the nicest and friendliest writers will cheerfully talk about how their entire life's work is probably futile and pointless.

_why wasn't a very good programmer, from what I hear, but his messiness was anathema to the kinds of cultures I usually associate with programming. He played games, and worried out loud, and made it seem like the secret to everything he did was that combination of caring/not caring that he was constantly oscillating between. The first thing that struck me about this print spool was how much it felt like a maturation of his message: not quite as whimsical, but silly in more nuanced ways, and more on-target serious about things he felt bothered by without feeling as impulsive as some of the things he wrote earlier. I love his Guide to Ruby, but there's certainly a bit of a mood-swinginess to it that this lacks.

First artist to work with software, or to comment on software? Hell no. But he felt, at times, like he was the only artist within this makeshift community that was really talking about how it felt, how it worked, what was so frustrating or nerve-wracking about it. That's why, I think, so many people treat _why like he was something special. It's probably also why so many other people don't get his appeal at all: for them, the culture that exists is exactly the one they want, and they find it irritating (if nothing else) that this "jester" was prancing about talking about non-relevant things.

> Let me modify the OP's comment, Jacques: _why was one of the first people to create art around and about our modern software community.

Let me modify jacquesm's comment so we can put a halt on this.

Fuck you for discarding the creative work of literally a whole generation of people in the software community before _why entered the scene.

I cannot use any term less hostile. It's that repugnant to me. It's such a toxic, repugnant, self-centered post you and the previous commenter have made that I was literally dragged back to HN after months of hiatus just to vent my anger.

You are wrong. You are imply everyone who came before was a mindless, emotionless robot. Art and programming have been intertwined since before programming was a real thing humans could do. See Lovelace's letters on her take on the subject if you want to talk about it. So there is that.

So to all you people who want to act like somehow you've discovered the secret of emotions and programming? You're telling all those who came before you to go fuck themselves. You have told them that your ignorance invalidates their work, then proceeded to wax philosophical on the tiny sliver of the body of work you are aware of like it's an entire universe.

It wouldn't be okay in any other medium, in any other artform, or in any other discipline. Period. And it's not okay here.

There. My jimmies have rustled free.

Wow, I really did not expect such a reaction.

Where exactly do you see me (OP) or the parent discard the creative work of a whole generation of people? In fact, in my top post I talked about a very particular combination of different things that make _why unique. I still stand by the hypothesis that _why was (at least one of) the first artist(s) to show such a combination in his artwork.

Of course there were lots of people before _why thinking about and expressing the relationship between art and programming. There were also lots of people thinking about teaching children just for recreative purposes (Alan Kay comes to mind as the most prominent example). There were lots of people fusing emotions with programming, in fact every act of coding is very emotional. I never said anything to the contrary and so I cannot see how you arrive at phrases like "mindless, emotionless robot".

Individual contributions such as the poignant guide, Shoes and even TryRuby are not really that important in my opinion, neither are they unique to _why. As I said, it's not _whys code that matters (to me). But rather _why's whole collection of "stuff" is so much more than a bunch of random things, it is a very coherent (funny to say that in the context of _why...) artistic opus with a clear signature and an artist's style. And I am not talking about code style here, I am talking about a clearly identifiable artistic message.

Where exactly do you see me (OP) or the parent discard the creative work of a whole generation of people?

Right about here:

_why was the first person to actually create art "around" and "about" software.

That statement is discarding the creative work of (at least) a whole generation of people. Certainly you claw a bit back by stating "but to my knowledge". However, the rest of your statement throws away that concession.

Let me add to my other comment: I apologize if what I said came out dismissive of the many, many great programmers that do good work and help form the community. I was trying to provide context for why _why strikes such a chord within some people, rather than argue that everybody should feel about _why the same way that his biggest fans do.

It was genuinely not my intention to rustle any jimmies, and I am sorry that my comment provoked you so.

Hat tip for use of the words 'Jimmies' and 'Rustled'

And boy, you sure did rustle them :-)

Got that out of your system, buddy?

"Our modern software community", referring to the current generation of the software community, obviously doesn't refer to the whole generation of people who existed and did good work before _why entered the scene. Clearly Ada Lovelace and _why were far from contemporaries.

You are reading something into what I wrote that isn't actually there. It's nice that you're as passionate about this as you are, and it's a good thing to be passionate about, but I do think you're misreading what I wrote, and getting terribly upset about it in the process.

> Got that out of your system, buddy?


>"Our modern software community", referring to the current generation of the software community, obviously doesn't refer to the whole generation of people who existed and did good work before _why entered the scene.

In our generation you can find tons of people doing performance art with code and custom hardware. The music scene is positively bursting at the seams, as is the gaming community.

> Clearly Ada Lovelace and _why were far from contemporaries.

A useless attempt at a conversational dodge. Good luck.

> You are reading something into what I wrote that isn't actually there.

You literally can not know what you do not know. For example, I've attended a talk on continuations by Jim Wierich before _why was more than an occasional poster on the ruby list (and well before his book was done). It included a poetic interlude and multiple scenes from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was programming education as performance art as Wittgenstein's Ladder, so even in the Ruby community _why had contemporaries and inspirations. And the graphics demo community has been at it since computers had monitors.

So again I say you and your sentiment are utterly wrong, in every conceivable axis upon one could evaluate it. Your self-centered disregard for everything outside your immediate field of view is a detriment to, in both technical and non-technical pursuits. It is an attitude endemic in this industry and on this website, and one of the reasons I so rarely frequent this place.

> In our generation you can find tons of people doing performance art with code and custom hardware. The music scene is positively bursting at the seams, as is the gaming community.

This is specifically addressed in the top post. You're attacking a strawman. Nobody is saying that this stuff isn't valuable, it's just fundamentally different from what this post is talking about.

I won't go so far as to say that you're wrong, but you're really being an asshole right now.

> You're attacking a strawman.

No, I'm attacking a false dichotomy. Anyone who cares to talk to Daft Punk about how they do what they do will see they are technicians as well as musicians.

And if you're saying performance art ABOUT software with software as the subject should be held distinct in some arbitrary and rarefied sense, then I provided an example for that too.

Are you referring to your Jim Wierich anecdote? I'm pretty sure he would agree with the distinction being made here, and I am certain that art historians would.

Jim was the absolute best speaker I have seen when he gave a presentation about git at the Ruby Hoedown. His motivations for making the talk interesting were very different from the perceived motivations for the nature of the poignant guide - Jim sought to increase understanding. _why seems not to have given too many shits about that pursuit.

> Jim sought to increase understanding. _why seems not to have given too many shits about that pursuit.

You're right, Jim is better at didactic work than _why is. This doesn't mean the thing he did at rubyconf back in those early days when less than 50 people were there was any less performance art.

Jim didn't have postmodernist fox banter, and he's probably too humble to call what he does "an art." But that's okay, we can and should do it for him.

Unfortunately, that's simply not the modern understanding of what art is and how it works.

Text books, no matter how relevant they may be to your experience, are different from novels. And it's precisely because Jim wouldn't call it art that it isn't.

I'd call that a postmodern understanding of art, and one originating from just one particular sect of postmodernism at that. There's a lot of postmodernists who would say that the artist's intentions in creating the work are secondary, or even irrelevant. (A lot of others who would say it too.)

The world of art is filled with warring philosophies just like everywhere else and you can't pretending that your preferred definition of 'art' is 'the one, the true, the only'. (Well, you can. Just anyone who adheres to a different philosophy of aesthetics won't take you too seriously.)

> Text books, no matter how relevant they may be to your experience, are different from novels. And it's precisely because Jim wouldn't call it art that it isn't.

I firmly assert this is wrong. You firmly assert contrary. Let's leave it at that. Further discussion is useless.

You assert that text books are no different from novels? That's absurd.

(If your assertion is that text books are, in fact, art, then I agree with you. But they're a very different sort of art from the sort that _why was creating – starting from the fact that the Poignant Guide is a work of fiction, and most textbooks are not.)

> You assert that text books are no different from novels? That's absurd.

No. I assert that a textbook could be art and that art could be a textbook. Transitively, though. This is outside the scope of the original discussion.

People here are frantic to give _why credit for doing something unique, and he did. But he was unique in his specifics. The general pattern has been repeated many times.

People seem to think that me saying, "Lot's of people have done things in the same category as what _why has done, before _why did it," is controversial. It isn't and shouldn't be. _why can be a unique snowflake, highly significant to you, and not be some sort of genesis for a new type of art previous undreamed by human minds.

I mean, seriously, how is what _why did any different from http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/unix-koans/ten-thousand.htm... ? Which has been growing since before many people on this website were born and will continue to do so after many of us are gone.

And Corey Doctorow probably has a few things to say about the idea that Novels cannot be textbooks for specific subjects. Little Brother had a lot of very specific detail on reproducible physical hacks people could do in their day-to-day lives for privacy purposes!

And the method of using a work of fiction as a teaching tool? Ancient.

I must assert that this is not the case. Many textbooks, especially in b-school (ok, ok) are fictional narratives of a heroic quest to solve a problem. Through that narrative, lessons are expressed.

The Goal, by Goldratt, is an example of such a textbook novel.

Since it does not have a conventional novel form, I refrain from claiming the same status for Everyone Poops.

Sure. You're not wrong.

I'm not a programmer. I'm barely even a member of this community. You're far more involved in this world than I am; you know names and see projects that never cross my path. My understanding of your world is shallow. I wouldn't blame that on the community, actually; that's all my fault. :-)

Let me argue from a different, slightly better-thought-out angle. It's not that no programmers do artistic things. Indeed, there are fascinating people using code pretty much everywhere, and there have been for decades. What made _why unique was that many of his projects were aimed at introducing new people to programming, in a plethora of different ways which felt more organic and intimate than your average "learn to code" resource. Codecademy, which enjoyed a tremendous success over the last year, struck me as a slightly less whimsical version of _why's TryRuby, which always struck me as particularly ingenious.

Plenty of interesting programmers don't concern themselves much with reading out to amateurs, whereas _why had the (Poignant) Guide and TryRuby and Shoes. And _why wrote, not just about the code itself, but about the culture; some of the most interesting parts of the (Poignant) Guide concerned not the Ruby language, but the Ruby culture, which he made out to be particularly enthusiastic and welcoming. (While he was a member of the community, he did a fantastic job of encouraging young idiots like myself; I received an email from him 5 years ago while I hated my environment and what I was doing and it helped me out tremendously.)

It seemed, and still seems now, like he was making an incredible effort to reach out to a sort of person that normally was turned off by the way programming worked, and convince them to give programming a try anyway. At the same time, the things he said which were critical about the community rang true with those of us who didn't feel like proper parts of it – I, as I've already admitted, am not really a programmer and my approaches to building things tend to run contrary to how most programmers work. Yet with him, and with people who were especially inspired by his work, my way of doing things has felt like a valid and worthwhile approach to making things, and I've been able to feel like a bit more part of a community because of it.

I wish there were more people like _why doing that. The programming world still feels like a cold and forbidding place to those of us who aren't already within it. It's a shame that it feels that way. I don't think that it has to be.

> "Our modern software community", referring to the current generation of the software community

How about the current (or probably already the previous) generation of Ruby programmers? I think that would fit the bill a lot better. And that probably would need the word 'subset' in there somewhere.

It would. I wasn't expecting this thread to turn as heated as it abruptly became, or I'd have thought my words out more carefully. Forgive my sloppiness?

> Forgive my sloppiness?

Nothing to forgive, it's just something that needed some qualifiers. Talking in absolutes is always risky. Good to see you back on HN!

:) This made me laugh.

Nitpicking here and not taking anything away from Why's mighty contributions, but "first to create art around and about software" is not really accurate.

Look at the contributions of the design patterns community for inspiration, people who have long strived to understand what Christopher Alexander's QWAN ("quality without a name") means to software. A good example is Patterns of Software [1], but also a lot of the C2 wiki has this spirit. Less off-the-wall than Why, but still trying to get at the soul of software.

1. http://www.amazon.com/Patterns-Software-Tales-Community/dp/0...

2. http://c2.com/cgi/wiki

> a love and passion for coding as a recreational activity that defies our conventional beliefs about software as a craft & industry.

I must be in the wrong "conventional", but I always thought everyone saw coding/hacking as a past time that they are lucky enough to be able to turn into money as well. Most if not all of top developers are hobbyists first and professionals second.

Many are "failed" mathematicians and physicists (among other pursuits) that were unable to earn a reasonable living in their primary field.

I say "failed" only in that it was surprising to me when I discovered numbers of developers with PhDs (or ABD) in purer fields of reasoned discovery or construction than I would have previously expected to be found writing, say, web application servers in the employ of a company not related to their field of study.

> the code was his least important contribution.

This is not really true. _why really embodied the 'ruby way' with his code through churning out solutions to all manner of complex tasks, consistently, quickly and with source code that was terse, readable and conceptually simple.

His contributions helped to validate ruby as a language for a lot of people and also helped the ruby community to define itself (I doubt you'd find a character like _why in the Python community for instance).

This is important, even if most of his source code is not used anymore (generally because when _why stopped updating it, nobody else really could or would).

>I still don't know how to program in Ruby

That says something, although I'm not sure exactly what

it says

the poignant guide never really was about Ruby. It was a wonderfully quirky book that happened to be using Ruby as its language

I read it and it's quirky sure, but in a 'so randum!!11 NACHO BEANS! holds up spork' sort of way. I'm probably going to get modded down here, but that's just my opinion on it.

'A++' for effort though? It couldn't have been easy to draw all those cartoons.

Not gonna downvote you, but that's a very glib reading of what, for me, was at times a melancholy and dark piece of writing. The silliness is there, in part, to make more palatable a story about loneliness, alienation, and fear of separation from others.

_why was highly critical, even before he disappeared, of the "programmer mentality" that's incubated and fostered by sites like Hacker News itself. He was worried that something with such potential for fun, for creativity, for exploration, was being turned into something incredibly mechanized and efficient and even brutal. His "Poignant" Guide was just another way of exploring that.

For the record, the poignant guide to Ruby was what made me turn my attention towards Python... everything about it felt "wrong" to me in a way that seemed generalizable to the whole Ruby culture (yeah, this changed for the better in the meantime, and now it's an ok language with a "culture" that doesn't feel so "wrong" for people who think like me).

Can you be more specific about what seemed wrong to you about the culture surrounding ruby? I'm curious.

I can try to explain my impression, which is quite similar, only, in my case, wasn't strong enough to drive me away from Ruby. I started reading Poignant Guide with the aim of improving my Ruby knowledge (I started with Pickaxe and was quite satisfied with it), and learning Ruby idioms and philosophy better.

Instead, I found a cryptic artsy graphic novel full of absurd humour, cultural references and so on. I found it hard to understand. It made me feel stupid and inferior (especially as English is not my native language). On the other hand, the community was full of praise for the book, so, I felt unwelcome and intimidated. The community seemed to be headed by elitist wizards, which were inventing their own culture, their own "secret language" and initiation rites. Almost a cult.

Anyway, I hadn't gave up on Ruby, I like it (and I think I mastered it quite well), I appreciate the beautiful ecosystem built around it, just don't take "idols and prophets" that serious anymore.

Not sure if the similar sentiment is shared by the GP though.

<quote>The community seemed to be headed by elitist wizards, which were inventing their own culture, their own "secret language" and initiation rites. Almost a cult.</quote>

I think you read way too much in to it :( I mean, WPGTR is like Monty Python. Some people love it -- really love it -- and others don't. You didn't need to feel alienated, because plenty of other people didn't get it either. And _why might have spoke at conferences, but he was very separate from the people who 'headed' ruby at the time.

I wouldn't put it as in a negative way as you did when you say you feel stupid and inferior for not being an english native speaker, but I can feel you. It's one of those moment you say to yourself: hey, I've always been better than any non native local english speaker, now how is that I get only 1 sentence out of 4? And you feel jealous of those who are "gifted" to be english native speakers. you eventually end up wishing for a translated version.. so why not taking the occasion to ask if someone would be interested in doing that? Of course I can't tell you what language I'd like it to be translated in, because it'd be a step further in destroying my anonimity ;) Well, it wouldn't matter anyway, because I am sure it would be translated in other languages too afterward, and my language would certainly be covered.. wouldn't it? We should poll and check how many and which would be the more requested languages.. as a start? So yea, hope someone catches this up...

> I started reading Poignant Guide with the aim of improving my Ruby knowledge

Well there's your first problem.

I understand that (now), however, PGR has often been recommended as an introductory book to Ruby, while it should be considered a piece of art in the first place. I guess _why should have chosen a bit more esoteric language as a vehicle. Luckily, there's plenty of them floating around ever since the fifties. :)

The Poignant Guide predates Rails. Ruby was still obscure at the time.

EDIT: I quickly misread the question and referred mostly to the book, but the same things applied to the "culture" as well

Ok, biting the troll bate and here we go :)...

1. Lack of focus on "just making (cool) stuff" (compare it with "Dive Into Python" and other Python or Perl tutorials) - it didn't feel "hacker/maker spirit" at all

2. Too many words, too little code - I think in code, pictures and occasionally equations: words are ok too, but not when their only purpose is making "opinionated" jokes. And the illustrations literally hurt my brain - I expect nicely crafted images that explain concepts, not weird jokes that have nothing to do with them!

3. Not many interesting concepts - I'm ok with not focusing on making "coll stuff" with a piece of technology you're just learning and with not being "hacker spirited", but if you don't do it this way, at least present interesting mind-opening concepts to the reader (just compare it with "Practical Common Lisp" or a Haskell tutorial - they give you so much tasty mindfood that the style doesn't even matter anymore, they could've been written in the style of a medical research article and still be enjoyable to read). Ruby didn't bring any interesting new concepts to me - it was Smalltalky OOP and the coolness of blocks that could've been just lambdas anyway...

4. Lots of stupid jokes that I didn't find funny at all, and made me feel stupid that maybe there was something I didn't understand but was supposed to, and cultural references that were very "WTF" (I'm European, but I've been pretty well exposed to US culture and I like "american style humor" but this felt like totally from a different planet).

5. This one is subjective don't mean to offend, just to be honest: I hate the whole gay (not necessarily in a sexual way), touchy, feely, friendly way of presenting technical things - I'm more of a "cold British humor", occasional "mildly offensive jokes" and a touch of "mental testosterone" kind of guy (this is the king of attitude that, for example, appeals to me in an aesthetic way: http://programming-motherfucker.com/ )

6. Despite being clear that learning resources like WPGR were opinionated and would only appear to people whose minds work in a certain way, they were recommended to all newbies. I like a culture that doesn't shove opinionated stuff in the face of new guys - first let them find "their own way", then show them the "opinionated ways".

7. There was a "split personality" thing that annoyed me: Ruby as a language appealed to the "hacker spirited" a lot, but the community was pulling in different direction that I couldn't really comprehend - a weird lust for a code-aesthetic-nirvana or something...

Thank you!

The amount of people who hate on _why around here for silly reasons is absurd. I often see people judge him by the standards you would use to judge an engineer (by which he fails miserably), but the correct standards are those you would judge an artist (by which he succeeds admirably).


Free combs on his website, apparently...

>84 pages

This saga is the height of self-indulgence.

I would provisionally explain all the hubbub around _why by the desire to flatter oneself that he can cross the gap between snow's two cultures (cf. apple).

I'm not sure what reaction you want to elicit by being so scathing, but I disagree with your assessment as it relies on the premise that programming is a science, which it's not.

It's a two headed beast, part science, part craft and _why lives deep in the craft territory. I think many of us here took time to realise that, that there's not just a right answer. When you realise it's a craft you want to be artistic with it, but you can only be with the output, who ever sees the input?

In my opinion _why neatly bridges that desire to be artistic with the invisible nature of the craftsmanship of code. It's an outlet that coding can't sate. And it happens by doing that he also taught and helped a lot of people.

Have you noticed how a lot of programmers are also musicians? I think that's part of the same desire.

There's nothing wrong with combining, say, technical and expressive aims. In a way, that's kind of the holy grail of making stuff. That's not the problem though.

I have spent a great deal of time interpreting, appraising, and creating works of art myself, and when I read the OP pdf, pretension and self-absorption ooze through every page. Hollow writing. Whimsical and heartfelt? I say arbitrary and jejune.

It's because the community that follows him is so desperate for an existence proof of the above mentioned combination (hey look, we're arty too!), that they neglect to really look at the situation objectively.

I find this kind of response entertaining, because to me, your comments about it reek of pretentiousness. Then again, if there's one thing I've come to detest through all the time I've spent reading and writing, it is people who make a big deal of of spending time "interpreting" and "appraising" creative works of art rather than simply enjoying the experience.

To me, that usually ends in something that's the very height of pretension and self-absorption where said person tries to inject their own subjective ideas of what is important into the core of someone elses work, often presented as objective truth, or at least insinuated to be the truth.

Source: def'n.

> Whimsical and heartfelt? I say arbitrary and jejune.

Weird, since taste is entirely objective and everyone almost always agrees about art.

There's a difference between the whimsical, the surreal, the colorful as a method of misleading or distracting or revealing things which cannot be said more directly, and pretension.

Feel free to think that your own criticisms of this work stem from some objective place wherein your appraisal is accurate and valid, but it seems there are members of this community also weathered in art and art criticism who think this is a valid, provocative, even moving body of writing.

"This saga is the height of self-indulgence."

Worth looking in the mirror with a comment like that.

On page 58, there is more text that can be seen through the partially transparent page. I messed around with it trying to find the right amount of blur and noise removal and various effects on it to make the text most readable, and this is what I came out with: http://i.imgur.com/CyyWWBR.png

It looks like the title is "A-Power-Plant".

This leads me to believe that this section of the book has been printed out, laid on top of another book and scanned, so that it looks like a full book. Does anyone know what book it might be on top of?

Definitely. I was thinking the second word was "invisible" to begin with.

With very few exceptions, all this comes across (to me) as mumbo-jumbo.

I've read _why's guide to Ruby but feel out of the loop here. What is this? Why is it significant?

I am not following this nearly as much as everyone else, but I can explain why I am interested in it.

_why is more of an artist instead of a programmer, he became popular, wanted to be anonymous (or at least his actions and code be more important than the person) but didn't really hide his identity. Once who he was became semi-popular (an actual name and, I believe, where he worked) he completely deleted his online presence. All of his code, etc. and just disappeared with no mention as to why he did it.

Now he is back and telling a story. I see it as a art project he is doing with his alternate identity. The character of _why is just interesting. First we have no idea why he disappeared, now we have no idea why he is reaching out to us.

In the end he could say "Drink More Ovaltine," disappear again, and I wouldn't be surprised.

But why would he? He's literally turned the internet into his printer. File --> Print --> To Internet. And this way, he can still stay offline.

It's closure for those that took over his projects and for those that worried about his sudden disappearance. http://words.steveklabnik.com/closure

"Toutes les grandes amis que je n'ai jamais pu avoir." should be "Toutes les grandes amies que je n'ai jamais pu avoir." or "Tous les grands amis que je n'ai jamais pu avoir." (masculine). And even with the correct grammar, it sounds very awkward. Just sayin'.

Read the bottom half of the book. It's likely a quote in "Jobsian derelict French."

The aspect I enjoy, almost as much as his writing craft, is his presentation craft, any insights into how the 'book' was produced?

I'd love to understand better how things like the overbled text were created. A photocopy of laser printed text, then scanned perhaps?

The font faces and spacing seem to have been chosen with care, can anyone names the various faces used? guess at the layout software?

Then the PCL is some kind of concatenation of page (bitmapped) images I guess?

> I'd love to understand better how things like the overbled text were created. A photocopy of laser printed text, then scanned perhaps?

The typed parts looked like a combination of a typewriter and a low-ish resolution inkjet to me.

I'm sorry.. I don't understand the fanatical devotion and sacrifice(for example, having a nervous breakdown, or leaving a job for some startup when you've got wife and family because of devotion to the python community) for scripting languages that are all more-or-less the same +- curly braces as ruby/python/perl/php/C whatever. Look for something else to be interested in--OCaml and F#.

Languages don't matter, so use OCaml and F#. What?

Does anyone have this PDF available for download? (without the need to register first, and without the need for a Facebook account)

user coffeejunk has since posted one to dropbox: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5575823

At least _why makes life a little more interesting...

And why not.

I only have questions, and _why is only one of them. The two burning ones for me are to what extent is he deliberate with the role his persona plays and to what extent are individuals trying to take a stab at what they think his role is, in the vain hope that he will take up the role again, having been given new direction by their witty proposal? (Easier to feel good about someone's role when they aren't disappeared. And let's face it, everyone is secretly itching to points whore all the forums with "_why is back!") And secondly, what did he mean that it is dangerous to come to us in this way? Are printer spools dangerous, or is he worried about the effect of the publicity on the person(a). Or is it dangerous for us? Has it really taken a year? Seems like forever and just a few days!

The guy is just really good at implementing one of the rules of PT Barnum: "Always keep them wanting more".

Read a good portion of it, he is a good writer. Maybe that is the goal, the writing felt a bit Hunter S. Thompson gonzo style. Funny though that the more of a jerktoaster he became after being known, the longer he will be known, more than most. "I like what you've done with the character..."

Curious, what about his writing compelled you to draw the comparison to HST?

Just kind of random, rollercoaster presentation, direct experience intertwined with the overarching theme of withdrawing. The whole thing mentions writers he has read or influential to him so it is rooted in that. I guess it seems like a writing experiment as would HST maybe would do and a next step.

This could be just the first part--remember that the last page was called NOTYET and shows a hand covering a handwritten journal page, implying that the story of why's escape from the Jobsians (which you can barely make out between his fingers) will be published in the future.

It looks like a big commit was just made to the site repo... New site?


Why the Lucky Stiff is brilliant, so much so he is completely strange. But you can see the brilliance a mile away. His Ruby comics were technically brilliant and artistically brilliant at the same time, and they did both effortlessly.

When someone blows you away with real ability, and does it while juggling apples and telling dirty jokes, without breaking a sweat, it (rightfully so) makes an impression.

Plus, BACON!

Did anyone else try going to the YouTube video?


hm, i thought the last letter was an O. I get "This video is not available." using the following id. ShpcjWG_MeO

_why somewhat reminds me of David Foster Wallace.

the last part of thaumaturgy's comment above ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5576010 ) is very similar to how I feel about Wallace's Infinite Jest.

For anyone who missed this yesterday like I did, _why's site was updated yesterday but is now back offline.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5571387 shows the progress of figuring out what was happening.

Basically he was sending out print commands to print the book that is linked here.

Is the oprah thing he refers to real?

Obviously no.

I had to look it up too! Surprisingly "Oprah Jerktoaster" brings back exactly 0 results.

The part where they all end up dead ought to have been a dead giveaway.

I hadn't read that far when I posted the question. Even soo, Oprah's had some pretty wacky guests in her time :)

In the original, pages were individually titled. The title was often quite relevant.

Can you add that to the top or bottom of each page?

This was a great experience. It felt like a modern take on Principia Discordia. Thanks, _why.

It may be my own feelings and so forth, but I vote that comments are disabled on this network.

It's getting way out of control, quality of the network exponentially deteriorating, and far too much blatant disrespect without regard, perpetuating the same cycles of melancholia for any of those individuals who are genuinely interested in understanding.

For those who feel the need to be correct, the need to correct, the need to justify, the need to express their own opinions on behalf of the though of an other, for those who have yet to understand that they as themselves are not the constitution of thought of all of those who are an other independent of the self, for those who simply cannot simply recognize any/all realizations, for those who require conclusions, for those who wish to change the order of the world, for those who cannot be bothered with interaction that may oppose their own desire, etc., please leave this network. Please. I beg of you to leave. I beg of you to leave and return when you've lost the ability to use express your opinion in the forefront of others, when you've come to understand that every interact between your self and an other affects the experience and understanding of others, when you've come to understand, when you've learned to listen, when you've learned to reason, when you've learned your own language, when you've learned your own self, and finally, when you've learned an other relatively independent of others in relation to your selves.

The amount of hatred in the world is enough to drive anyone insane, why bring it to a network full of though-thirsty individuals who simply wish to share other understands?

I may be delusional in my expression of cordiality, though I only wish that this madness stops.

Why I have even bothered to make an account to share my own realization? The network is unique in its own right, and very difficult to find such a large group of like-minds. The more I visit, the further such ideals deviate from the truth, and it's disturbing. Quite a lot of this is clearly addressed in _why's seemingly random queue, but that's not the point. The point is [TL;DR;DC;WC;] Your opinions are going to change. If they don't, you're likely cheating yourself, and respectively others. Please find it in your minds to enjoy the thought of one another.


For those of you on your high-horse of supreme divinity and fortitude, I sincerely hope you come find your self humbled by your self.

Kind regards, <Let's pretend it matters>

Does anyone know what was up with the paypal link a few commits back?

A few people (myself included) tried to use it while it was up and everyone had their payment refunded soon after.

Same thing happened to me. Sent the account $20 and it was refunded about an hour later. I mean, I'm more than happy to support this.

_why could make one hell of a kickstarter, if he wanted to.

Welcome back _why. I had a feeling we'd see you again. :-)

someone with free time, and will and/or passion or interest for languages please translate it to other popular languages please

He's the Daft Punk of the Ruby world.

_why's site 404'd just now.

I hope he's okay.

Some people in the irc room believe that he is doing just fine; that this was an event to ensure that the character/role _why is returned to the public domain in an orderly manner. The original maintainer of the _why persona appears to be doing okay and in good spirits. He gave people combs and a triumph message on the website.

The site 404'd because the performance is over.

What would a "404 error" have to do with his health?

Well, he did say that he was "returning the character to the public" after the publication of the book, since he "does so enjoy seeing what we all do with it."

still no rapgenius version :/

is there anywhere any explanatory review of this?

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