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_why is no more (twitter.com/_why)
558 points by Jeremysr on Aug 19, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 399 comments

I just noticed that _why apparently deleted his twitter account. I then found that that wasn't all he deleted:

http://twitter.com/_why http://github.com/why http://whytheluckystiff.net/ http://poignantguide.net/ http://hackety.org/ http://shoooes.net/

All disappeared...

For those who don't know who I'm talking about: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_the_lucky_stiff

What a mean-spirited thing to do to someone who just wanted to stay anonymous. It makes me sad and angry.

If this is the reason _why decided to pick up and leave, I understand it. We have his code, it will live on. Perhaps he will return in another guise.

>>What a mean-spirited thing to do to someone who just wanted to stay anonymous. If this is the reason _why decided to pick up and leave, I understand it.

If that's why he quit though it's going to have the opposite effect. I doubt more than a handful of people cared to look into _why's identity before today. I've read the guide, watched his talks, and read probably 80% of his blog articles, and I never knew his identity was some kind of secret. But with the disappearance it's now on everyone's mind.

There's a name for this effect but I can't think of it. It often comes up when somebody sues somebody else to remove some bit of information. The suit becomes a news story, and suddenly where 10 people might have known the information, the info is on the daily news as they cover the suit.

>>But with the disappearance it's now on everyone's mind.

Yeah I totally agree with you!!

mean-spirited? he gave the internet a challenge and somebody took it up, that's all.

oh, and it doesn't have to be his real name, too.

By using a pseudonym, he implied he'd rather not be known by his given name. Telling the world his real then goes against his wishes. It is, at the very least, rude.

That someone outed him is inevitable. But that doesn't excuse the act.

Rude, I'd agree. No more, though - we're certainly not talking about exposing where Salman Rushdie's sleeping tonight. How rude, even, is an open question. This doesn't exactly rise to the level of pestering J. D. Salinger at his house.

Trying to be anonymous is one thing. Trying to remain anonymous while writing books and blogs and making public appearances, all under one common identity, is downright quixotic and just a bit presumptuous. Simply saying his preference was to be anonymous doesn't really create much of an obligation upon the rest of the world. You can't actively be a public figure and avoid being public.

I actually agree with all of that, but it still requires one person to say "I want to out him!" And that person is being rude.

I agree. I'm just not sure how rude.

When there's a picture of you in your Wikipedia article from a public event you chose to speak at, you've made yourself just a "Hey, I know that guy!" away from being outed. At that point, I don't think you can claim it's a major affront when someone puts public information together to identify you.

I think the "who is why the lucky stiff" blog is odd and a bit dickish, but I'm not appalled.

I'm also skeptical of that purported outing as the cause of all this; this is one story I think that a bunch of people chatting and commenting are precisely the least well-suited way to work out the truth.

For what it's worth, Why actively campaigned at one point to have his wikipedia page deleted.

Say what you will, but I'm pretty sure he was genuine in his effort not to be identified or celebrated.

It's possible to be truly unidentified and uncelebrated. It's not possible to do so while maintaining a specific identity, especially after it becomes well-known. That he maintained this identity well after it gained celebrity wasn't exactly forced on him.

Except that this enigma was something just about everyone treasured about him. He's a Ruby community treasure, our slightly twisted crown jewels. And the reason nobody tried harder before, or if they did they kept quiet, was out of respect for that cherishing.

He has always seemed a bit delicate, and that's why the rest of us always treated him gently. And he repaid us ten-fold with his quirky gifts.

This is like the rape of a beloved children's character. Not just learning that the Easter Bunny isn't real, but learning it when a drunken cop knocks out the kindly old man in the bunny costume, rips its furry head off, and pisses in it.

It's Just Not Done.

Just because the door is open, doesn't mean you have to walk through it. Adults consider the wider impact of their actions, rather than doing something just because "it's a challenge."

Personally, I like _why, "Jonathan Gillette", or whomever he actually is, because of his humor, talent, and kindly style.

As to the rest, it might be best not to assume we know what's going on in this situation.

As a long-time Rubyist and admirer of _why, I completely agree with this.

The whole thing saddens me. I wonder how _why could ever repeat such a public endeavor, even under a new guise.

"Outing" is when you publish private information about someone. In this case the e-mail headers were both in public space. Highlighting something that's already public is not the same as breaking someone's confidentiality.

Did he literally put out a challenge or do you actually see a person's privacy as a game?

The wikipedia page shows an image of him apparently giving a public speech. If his privacy was so precious to him I don't think he would do things like that. Hence I would say this was just a little game - and he lost.

If his privacy was so precious to him I don't think he would do things like that.

But you don't know, and neither do I. It looks like someone played this game, and we lost.

privacy must be respected, and actually should be enforced by everybody, including you. meaning: even if you know him, you should pretend that he is anonymous person, disconnecting the _why persona from the real-life person.

for example, if you know him, and you hire him, you still should ignore the on-line _why persona, because for privacy purposes, it is separate, anonymous entity, and you should not connect it to real person. that's what privacy should be.

I honestly don't get the futz about this.

Also the whole "if you hire him you're obliged to ignore any other identities you know about" is just completely out of this world.

Again: If he valued his privacy so much then why did he appear in public? You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Uggh. If privacy must be protected by civic order it's already a lost cause. All these good people standing up for privacy--it only serves to increase the market value of violations.

Honestly, I think it's better to throw out the notion of digital privacy entirely and start pushing the notion of universal visibility, and accountability. Once everyone is naked, we'll stop obsessing over the naughty bits.

The anonymity and lack of personal accountability provided by the internet rarely have good effects. What's interesting is how fervently people fight to protect this anonymity, even though it doesn't really exist when we interact with strangers in the real world.

I'm not saying that online privacy is worthless of course, just noting that it is quite unique.

Privacy is not the same as anonymity.

Apparently, giving a public speech didn't reveal his identify, so why shouldn't he "do things like that"?

a public speech where? a programming language conference. No disrespect intended to anyone here, but making a presentation at the technical conference does not make one either a public figure.

I don't know why are you downvoting him - HACKERS of all people should understand the nature of challenges - be them called for or not.

Even if I accept that explanation, posting the information online is no challenge. That's just being a jerk.

Not every challenge is meant to be taken up.

Respect for people's wishes is important too. It's quite clear that _why didn't want people to know who he is. Fair enough, if you wanted to work that out. I don't think you should, but I could understand it. Telling the world? That's trying to wave your E-penis at the cost of one of the ruby world's best contributors.

I don't think it was mean-spirited. I do, however, think it's a crying shame.

I'm sure someone in the know told me his real name a couple years back (he wrote the foreword to my book) and it certainly wasn't Jonathan Gillette. Of course, he might have changed him name again.. :)

Ditto. Unless _why goes by multiple names in real life (which I suppose is possible), that's not him.

It is possible that Jonathan Gillette and _why worked in the same company, and _why used Jonathan's computer, or so.

To update, I've received a few anonymous e-mails with significant proof that the Jonathan Gillette theory is sound (though I won't go far as to say it's 100% certain).

This might also be the reason that _why just upped an ran. Staying anonymous is one thing, but letting someone else take the hit for you is quite another.

disclaimer: I don't know how long the blog has been trying to figure out who _why is.

Something doesn't seem right about that detective work - there's a Jonathan Gillette online who is a web developer in Harrisburg, PA who doesn't seem to be _why. Obviously it's likely that there's more than one Jonathan Gillette on the internet, but it seems odd to me that this other guy is also a web developer, with a decent online presence, in (somewhat) the same geographic area where _why is suspected to live, that isn't him.

But I don't know enough about e-mail headers to provide an alternate explanation if there is one.

EDIT: This is that other guy's site, FWIW: http://jonathangillette.net/

And he's on twitter: http://twitter.com/jgillette

EDIT 2: The infamous Zed Shaw posted a link to another page which I'm more inclined to believe is the real _why. I'm not going to post the link here, but you can find it in Zed's twitter stream if you really want to.

That Jonathan Gillette was also going to school in Pennsylvania (http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathangillette) when _why wrote that message, supposedly from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nice find - you're a more thorough detective/stalker than I. :)

Yet more detective work:


He seems to have been working on the same file, in the same day, as Jonathan Gillette. Probably poking around this repository a little more could lead to an almost-definitive answer.

Also, here: http://javuh.cvs.sourceforge.net/viewvc/javuh/javuh/Services... the @author is listed as:

       11  *  @author Why Carlisle (whytheluckystiff@mailcity.com)

EDIT: Still going....

He talks about a 14-year-old sister here: http://www.advogato.org/person/whytheluckystiff/diary/14.htm...

This being written in 2001, that would make her ~21 now.

Searching for Jonathan Gillette, http://www.intelius.com/search-summary-out.php?ReportType=1&...

a few relatives are listed, presumably one of which would be his sister, however, none are in the right age range.

Right, back to work now, I promise.

I'm ended up on http://members.tripod.com/soccer_riot/ which seems to be some early stuff from _why..

From "Collected by Why the Lucky Stiff", http://members.tripod.com/soccer_riot/famous.htm

Well look at that, it was him: http://imgur.com/yq9o1

dolphins.ram has "Jonathan Gillette" as the author. Yet another reason to hate Real Player.

I would feel bad about posting this, but since everyone's apparently going to go around assuming it with almost-proof already, I guess it can't do much harm.

In your second link, at the end, quoting from a response to an email sent by _why:

say are you related to francis gillett who wrote that play about the kids who never slept and lived in wyoming.

Kylie is a relative. He hosts a site by one Kylie Gillette using the alias Whytheluckystiff. If he is NOT Jonathan Gillette he has very, very close ties to him.

Another one: http://ftp.df.lth.se/pub/scene.org/music/groups/starving_but...

look at the .txt file : both Jonathan Gillette and Kylie Gillette are present ...

The text file mentions another band, The Child Who Was a Keyhole. On their Myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/thechildwhowasakeyhole) it lists the band member Jonathan as guitar/vocals. Here is a picture of them from 2004. http://b7.ac-images.myspacecdn.com/00457/75/36/457046357_l.j... Here is a picture of _why as we know him. http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottlaird/31366517/ Those guitars look oddly similar...

Wow check this out: http://www.ewrecs.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=...

Parents divorcing and family members committing suicide._why has written a lot about both topics and the band description matches up with his tastes and quirkiness quite well I think. So Kylie is in fact JGs wife.

And if that isn't enough, here is their CD. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tcwwak

Note the familiar figure on the cover.

And here we are: Miss Trudy (who I definitively know being _why's wife, as I uncovered this some years ago, and _why asked me to not say anything), is definitively saying she belongs to "The Child Who was ..." :


And in this one (sorry google cache), hosted on hobix.com, both "The Child who .." and the "Starving but Happy" are mentioned:

This thread, combined with others combined with the javuh repository on sourceforge combined with all of the friend hosting create enough to bear it out. So there we have it.

Hi Gents,

I've just created a blog and posted an entry regarding the "_why is Jonathan Gillette" path ...: http://whereintheworldiswhy.wordpress.com/

According to me _why is Jonathan Gillette.

Another hint, perhaps going in the same direction: this thread (http://listlibrary.net/ruby-talk/2002/06/00iG41gy) on ruby-talk, where Jonathan Gillette is both using the wgy@riza account and another one ...

Kristin Marie Gillette is 21 now. She's on Intelius.

But only Kristin C Gillette was listed as a relative. Could be though.

Also (too late to edit):

Why apparently went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City: http://web.archive.org/web/20010518151731rn_1/deathstar.eng....

Intresting! Also that implies his real name is K. Roford (I went to the University of Utah as well, so I'm familiar with their naming scheme).

Googling "kroford" returns a few results related to Star Wars, and the server is named "deathstar". I thought that at first too, but now I doubt it.


Ken Roford has an account on facebook, but no details revealed to the outside world.

The person that Zed is linking to is an art professor who was at Union University in Jackson, TN, now apparently a visiting professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville. You can see that Jonathan Gillette's photo in some faculty photos from a year or so ago (http://www.uu.edu/centers/faculty/faculty/new/0607newfaculty...). It's not _why.

http://jonathangillette.net/ is defiantly not him. The site runs on PHP.

http://www.advogato.org/person/whytheluckystiff/ There are a few PHP apps there. Apparently he did PHP work before. There is also a Java project called javuh that he maintained. Archive.org for these projects reveals that the outing previously mentioned was in fact correct.

Please see the information posted by "burke", a couple of posts up from here. There was a Jonathan Gillette who graduated from Parkland High School in Allentown, PA, then went on to Kutztown University (also in PA). All of this around the time that _why was apparently posting from a company in Salt Lake City.

He mentions his friend Dustin in: 12 Oct 2002 http://www.advogato.org/person/whytheluckystiff/diary.html?s... This furthers the belief he is Jonathan Gillette as the band Jonathan Gillette was in contains a Dustin. With all the other evidence I am calling this a case closed. It is interesting to note how different he seems from _why. Maybe the Fight Club analogy (read above) is not too far from the truth.

I am posting this because I feel it is worthwhile information. It is within _why's rights to yank his sites off the Internet at a moments notice. I will not begrudge him that. However, I do think when people come to rely on your tools and software you should at least respect that people rely on you, if informally.

Also, I think that, since he was hosting a lot of other sites on hobix, not just his personal stuff something could actually be wrong. So I am sharing this information. Please be responsible.

I dug up a Kylie Gillette who is the owner of snapd.net, Snapdragon Jewelry. A quick whois on that domain: Registrant: Layered Technologies TheLuckyStiff Why 1647 Witt Rd. Ste. # 20 Frisco, TX 75034 US +1.9723987998 86a756e735644786cd09875d0acb61365fb02f36@whois.gkg.net

So there is also this: http://www.assessor.slco.org/test/cfml/Query/valuationInfo.c...

What are the chances that a Jonathan Gillette hosting a website for Kylie Gillette who posted to a ruby mailing list as _why and Jonathan Gillette in 02 and 03 are different people? If something is wrong or something has happened to him IRL people would rest a little easier knowing what is going on.

but that was over a month ago, why would he wait that long?

misuba on HN said his first name is Michael: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=683061

Nope, whoever created this site was trolled.

Ok, Now, who did this?

Google cache is still live:

Edit: Also, twitter search results:



racheltostring: RT: @_why: programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more. about 21 hours ago from TwitterFox

programming is rather thankless...

Maybe he read http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=771057 in Re: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=771013 ?

He's got humor, you know. That pun chain doesn't seem offensive to me.

Thanks for putting up the link.

This is exactly why such a complete self-deletion is worrying. I wasn't around in the neolithic days of the internet, but some people may remember that an early formative event in the WELL days was that a very well known and active contributor to the site deleted his entire posting history and then commited real life suicide. I dearly hope this has not happened and _why has simply moved on to other things...

I guess you're thinking of Tom Mandel. First, he deleted his posts after a tiff with his ex-fiance. Also, he died of lung cancer, not suicide. Full story here:


I don't remember the fellow's name, but the anecdote was related in a book about online communities written by Clifford Stoll, and definitely involved suicide, not cancer. But the anecdote he related could have been incorrect...

He was (understandably) a bit sensitive about new works displacing his. He almost seemed to suspect some sort of conspiracy against Hpricot:

"Clearly, the benchmarks you see on Ruby Inside are skewed to favor Nokogiri... Why not treat Hpricot fairly and use it properly in the benchmarks? It reeks of something."


As the editor of Ruby Inside, I can confirm we (or me, as author of the piece) were not involved in any conspiracy or malicious intent against Hpricot. Heck, Why even wrote the foreword for my book :)

Further, the benchmarks we republished were not by us, but just a screenshot of benchmarks shared by the creator of Nokogiri.

This bothers me honestly, why would you accept benchmark screenshots from someone that made claims against another persons code?

Was this an interview or something? Was _why alerted to this as a chance to refute the claim by providing his own benchmarks? Could the data even be validated and not easily doctored?

The benchmarks were from what was designed to be a fair test. It might not have worked out that way, but that was the intention of the creator nonetheless. I stuck a massive disclaimer on my link to those benchmarks and let people at it (since NO benchmarks are EVER undisputed - biggest lesson I've learned). The post is at http://www.rubyinside.com/ruby-xml-performance-benchmarks-16... if you want to see how it was portrayed.

If everyone had to bother validating all the third party bits and pieces that get referenced on blogs, no-one would blog. Blogging is a "hey, check this out, I ain't saying it's true, but you might find it interesting" type of affair - it's not the New York Times (which is why regular journalism is foundering; it's expensive to fact check everything and, heck, it's a Ruby blog, not a trusted source of journalism).

Yeah, it sounds like you were really trying to be thoughtful, gracious, and evenhanded in your comparisons:

Nokogiri: A Faster, Better HTML and XML Parser for Ruby (than Hpricot) http://www.rubyinside.com/nokogiri-ruby-html-parser-and-xml-...

I figured it had to be something of that nature, and indeed, the disclaimer is clear about the data presented.

Upvoted for the explanation, thanks.

I managed to dig up a PDF copy of his Poignant Guide to Ruby over here: http://www.ember.co.nz/resources/whys-poignant-guide-to-ruby...

Anyone who hasn't checked it out yet, do yourself a favour. And for the rest of us, who would like to remember this anonymous creator of cartoon foxes.

Let's hope it's just a quarter life crisis and that he's back soon. Or that he finds something else that makes him happier than programming.

Someone has also created a github project to archive his work: http://github.com/binary42/why-archive/tree/master

It currently has a pdf of the guide.

I wish there was a way to get chapter 7 aside from going onto the Wayback machine. I really dislike travelling into the past. Uncomfortable seats.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going to really miss the soundtrack that went along with the Guide. Does anyone have it?

Holy shit... _why is why I'm a Ruby developer to this day, especially the Poignant Guide.

So very sad.

Why is it sad? Because he deleted his accounts? Or are you assuming something bad has happened to him and his accounts where deleted by somebody else?

Why strikes me as the kind of person who would delete his online presence on a whim, just because it would be fun.

It's sad because (if the sites don't come back) it'll be harder for other people to find and enjoy his work that I enjoyed. And it's sad to think that maybe he won't come back and publish more awesome stuff. (But when I think about it, I doubt that someone with _why's drive to create will be able to keep from sharing for very long.)

It is sad because the thought of no more _why is a sad thought. I'd love to see more of his books in the future, they were mind blowingly cool.

Same here :(

I was already digging into Ruby when I found out about _why... but he's definitely a big chunk of the reason I stuck with it for so long, AND served as a good vehicle for evangelizing Ruby to new people...

Okay folks, let's not overreact. Odds are all of his sites are running on the same host, so someone screwing around could take them all down once inside. And if his twitter account used the same password...

Maybe he used the same password at PerlMonks:


That was pretty immature, to delete the repos as well. Sure, nuke your Twitter, who cares. But people might have been depending on the repos; it's a breach of trust IMO.

Not impressed.

Have a little respect. Unlike most of us here, _why never profited directly on his online celebrity status. If he chose to remove himself from the 'net, it seems only reasonable that he would want to shut down public repositories he managed, if only to avoid the inevitable deluge of complaints about them going stale, requests for commit rights from other people, etc.

The fact that you would care more about his shepherding of repositories which have been available to everyone else all along speaks volumes to me about the kind of attitudes that probably helped to drive him offline in the first place.

I would like to think I have utmost respect for _why. I have certainly never said or done anything against him in the past, nor ever felt anything besides quiet appreciation for his efforts.

If he wanted to quit, that's his right, of course. But at least give people a day's notice before he nukes everything, right?

"The fact that you would care more about his shepherding of repositories"

Care more about them than what? What else is there? I don't know what's going on. The repos were his work, they're all I know of him.

You seem to detect this entitled, callous attitude in my words but I assure you it's a false positive. I have, or had, nothing but positive feelings for the guy. Never met him, spoken to him, or anything else really. But I have relied on his code, and in my book, when you release open source code there's a kind of implied promise that you don't suddenly delete the master repo in a fit of internet pique.

if that's "the kind of attitudes that probably helped to drive him offline in the first place" then .. maybe he should be offline because I think it's pretty reasonable.

No, he shouldn't give people a day's notice.

He doesn't owe it to you, he doesn't owe it to me. That makes two of us. Let's imagine we're not unusual in that regard. Who does he owe a warning, then?

when you release open source code there's a kind of implied promise that you don't suddenly delete the master repo in a fit of internet pique.

You're making a lot of assumptions, not least among them _why's motivations (should they even exist) for dropping off your radar. Again, he doesn't owe you an explanation or a warning.

You were a user, not a co-owner of the projects, not an extensive financial donor (most likely), not an employer. The relationship is entirely one way. _why gives you things, you say "thank you", and move on. This is also the Internet we're talking about, if someone decides the content (repository or writing) should be made available again, it will happen.

Well, look, everything you say is technically correct. But my reaction remains the same. It's not about "rights" - I agree I have no "right" whatsoever to continue to benefit from _why's beneficence in perpetuity. No, _why hasn't breached any laws or contracts, but he has breached social norms.

For example, this site. I think all would agree that we have no "right" to its continued existence. None of us pay or contribute financially to this site in any way whatsoever. And yet if PG suddenly changed his mind and deleted it tomorrow, with no explanation or warning - I would consider that to be very poor form, and I'd wager most others here would, too.

Same deal. It's about basic respect for your audience, whether they were paying or not.

I think your point of social norms is an important one. You have the right to be rude, but people won't be happy with you if you exercise that right.

Did _why strike you as a guy who lived within the social norms? I mean, come on.

I would like to also point out that the people who "won't be happy with you if you exercise that right" don't actually care about you any way... so what's the loss?


why is awesome. he's one of the big reason I'm a ruby programmer. He's contributed so much to the community, and he doesn't owe anybody anything.

If he deleted all his repos, sites, etc with no notice, then that was a dick move. It doesn't mean he's an asshole, it means he did one asshole thing. That doesn't mark him as an asshole, but it wouldn't change the fact that it was an asshole thing to do.

If you're running for the elevator and I don't bother to hold it, that's an asshole thing to do. Maybe I saved your ass last week when you forgot to check in the fizbit and the client was pissed, whatever. That doesn't change the asshole-ness of my one action. And that's ok, we all do it. why's still awesome, even if possibly for an hour he was an asshole.

The elevator analogy doesn't really hold for me.

It's more along the lines of one person in the office bringing in bagels every week for a few years, then one Monday morning they aren't there.

The asshole isn't the one who stopped bringing in the bagels, it's the folks standing around the coffee machine empty handed, griping about not getting their weekly cinnamon crunch.

"I wish Mike would've told us he wasn't going to bring in bagels today. What a dick move." Nope, doesn't work.

But that's just the way I see what is happening here. I can understand the divide if you have a different perspective of what's going down.

I agree that failing to hold the elevator is inconsiderate, but I disagree that simply putting information on the web constitutes entry to a similar social contract.

Bringing in bagels every day is active. Leaving existing software up is passive.

Keeping software hosted is active. Let's say he waited until his domain name expired... then he could say "I'm not spending the $10" and let it go offline, and people would excoriate him then. He just chose to rip the Band-Aid off at once instead of in bits and pieces.

They were hosted free on github and/or rubyforge. He had to go in and actively delete them. If he had done nothing, they would still be there right now and there wouldn't be all this kerfuffle.

AFAIK there are forks/mirrors of his work on GitHub; so why are you having such a hard time dealing with his repos being deleted by him? It sounds like you're just whining.

I think, if he's posted up and said 'hey, I'm fed up with this internet thing. I'm taking everything down, can someone else host them', there'd have been a queue. Certainly, I'd have been very glad to host the Poignant Guide

There are copies of it floating around. Here's one on Scribed: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2236084/Whys-Poignant-Guide-to-Rub...

I understand that you're referring to the web-based version which has a different feel to it, but the content does still exist. Nothing lasts forever--enjoy it while you can.

I'm going to agree with sho on this matter. If you provide something and give the impression that you will continue to provide it, you are partly responsible when people become dependent. You are certainly not required to continue to provide it, but you should at least give warning that those who were dependent have a chance to adapt.

When you quit a job or end a contract you ordinarily give notice. It's the same principle, and a matter of courtesy. --- That said, I've no idea what's really going on here, so I'm loathe to pass judgement.

While I do agree that the author(s) of an open source project do not owe me or you anything, I'll have to disagree with you about what is an open source project. Once you've opened up your project it belongs to the community (and even if I'm not a lawyer I think that most of the OSS licenses speak in this direction). Anyways, I'm pretty sure we will hear soon about what happened and it will be easier to understand things.


_why isn't required to maintain his copy of the source forever. Other people have forked/mirrored his projects; deletion of his repos is an inconvenience, but something that can be recovered from.

I'm with you Sho. _why's writings are in large part what initially attracted me to Ruby. I have nothing but admiration for his work. If one releases open source code, I don't expect them to support it for free or at all, everyone's time is their own. But at least leave the existing code up there or at the very least, give some notice that it will be removed.

This of course assumes that he did do this intentionally and that he was not the victim of some kind of foul play.

> Unlike most of us here, _why never profited directly on his online celebrity status.

Most of us are online celebrities?

That was pretty immature, to delete the repos as well.

They were git repos, right? I am new to git, but my understanding is you pretty much have to type

git clone --i-dont-want-a-full-copy-of-the-repository-please-screw-me-over-if-the-master-vanishes

to be in a position where you are "dependent" on the code (i.e. have looked at it, ever) and do not have a full copy of the entire project extending to the mists of prehistory.

[Edit: apparently the actual command is

git clone --depth (some number)

I like my version better.]

--depth does have some benefits... one of my friends tried to do a 'git svn clone' of his work's svn repo... he gave up after the process had been running for a full 3 or 4 weeks.

That said --depth doesn't have too much use when it comes to native git repos though. Unless you have a ton of binary files in the repo and don't want the full history of all of them...

If you want to git-svn clone such a massive repository (and either it was truly massive, or your friend's net connection sucked, or he was using an old version of git that had the bug where git-svn slowed down over time), you should copy it to your local computer. git-svn runs significantly faster when it doesn't have to deal with network latency.

Edit: Also, --depth does have a use with git repos, namely if the git repo is accessible only over http, as downloading packs over http is kind of slow.

I'll defer to my friend on this one. He's really heavily into the internals of git and keeping up with the mailinglist. This was about a year ago, and if there was any way to speed up the process I'm sure he tried it. I think that he said it had something to do with the number of branches that have existed over the years in the repo and trying to resolve all of them into git branches.

I think if he tried today he'd be much more successful. I remember using git-svn a year ago, and it had the problem where it would re-checkout every single file for every branch point, because SVN doesn't really keep track of branch points; a branch is just a "svn copy" of the root dir.

These days, git-svn is much smarter about recognizing a SVN branch, so it doesn't have to re-checkout the whole world.

I recently (less than a month ago) used git-svn to do a conversion of https://svn.dev.java.net/svn/hudson and discovered a few things.

The git-svn clone was not made from the canonical hudson repository, but rather from a svnsync clone hosted on localhost accessed through the svn:// protocol. Nevertheless, the conversion took about three weeks on a 2.6 GHz Core2.

There seems to be a memory leak in git-svn. The size of the git-svn process grew slowly and after about two weeks it was at 1.2 GB resident size, at which point the OS refused to let it fork. Thing is, this was a blessing in disguise. I was able to resume the interrupted clone with a simple "git svn fetch", and it ran much faster with the now radically smaller heap. This, worked so well, in fact, that I got into the habit of interrupting and restarting the process every evening and every morning. A few days later it was done.

The problem seems to be the structure of the Hudson repository. All modules are in a single huge maven-style multi-module build under /trunk, but the branches and tags are not complete copies of trunk, but rather of individual sub-trees of trunk. This does not mesh well with how git sees the world. For git tags and branches are always for the whole repository. This mean,s that git has to work extra hard to figure out what's going in in a repository like Hudson.

Because of the oddball structure of the Hudson repository, its history is not as browsable in git as I might have hoped. Still, it's proved to be an interesting experiment.

Size: the complete history works out to 203MiB (.git/objects) in git, though 754 MiB including all the cruft in .git/svn. In Subversion 1.6 FSFS format the repository is 795 MiB.

Just had git-svn acting wonky on me, found your post via Google and now my problem is resolved. :)

None of _why's projects were that big, so in this case it's kind of a moot point.

Right, but the parent post didn't seem limited to only _why's repos.

Not true. Hpricot and Syck are in heavy use.

I meant big in the lines-of-code sense, not in how much they're used. (looks like I missed the edit window.)

True - I use hpricot every day.

Even without git, everyone has a local copy of the source on their machines, at worst we can get Hpricot back up without the commit history... but that's not the issue.

The problem is GH was hosting all the Hpricot wiki HOWTO docs, which frankly, were invaluable resources to anybody using the library.

It's perfectly fair to leave the community. Destroying the ability for others to use your past work, however, is pretty lame. I'm hoping this was a hack for the benefit of my respect for him.

The wiki is still there, probably because they are jeckylled static files:


Let's wait for the circumstances before passing judgement.

Name some circumstances which justify pulling down a broadly-used open source project like Hpricot. At a certain point it must be admitted that a project has a life beyond its author.

He could have had his computer, or email hacked.. have to wait to see if we hear from him before we assume he actually cleared all the accounts himself.

That explanation seems highly unlikely, especially considering the lack of any messages saying as such.

update: I assume I'm being downvoted because people do consider it a likely explanation? It would be utterly unprecedented AFAIK.

No, you're being down-voted because you're a selfish arse. Is the primary concern the slight inconvenience his disappearance will cause you?? ... to us, the answer is No.

Sure, well of course if he got hacked then I am not gonna hold it against him. I just can't imagine anyone targeting _why.

I can, but only because I'm a cynic.

He hosted it on git, the source is still out there: http://github.com/defunkt/hpricot/tree/master

It could be a dead man's switch. (But I'm really hoping it's not.)

How exactly do you implement a dead man's switch for your online accounts? Do you just leave your account info for your estate's executor, lawyer, friend, or whatever and he manually deletes them? Or do you have some script that will automatically run and delete your accounts if you don't tell it not to every week or so?

I've often what happens to people's free email addresses after they die. (I suppose nothing in most cases.)

These (dead mans switches) are online services which can terminate accounts for you and send emails on your behalf. Some of them work by sending you an email once a month or so to check up on you, if you don't reply, the switch is triggered.

Really hope that email doesn't get caught in a spam filter...

Interesting point. I wonder how many people actually implement such things?

An acquaintance of mine did. I had moved to a different state. We kept in occasional email contact. And one day I noticed he had deleted his LinkedIn account. Found him in the obituaries, he had passed on a couple of months before. RIP.

Wow. Thanks for the story. I hadn't heard any concrete examples of people actually doing that.

Well yeah. Let's hope it wasn't that.

Isn't it more likely that a relative simply requested LinkedIn to delete the account? A LinkedIn account doesn't seem relevant to keep online at all after the person has passed away. Facebook, on the other hand, leaves pages up but with most features disabled except for the wall and photos - something I'm unfortunately familiar with.

With all due respect, they were hosted with git, which is by nature distributed. If it's broadly-used, no single person can destroy a repository. Copies of the hpricot repo are all over the internets.

I don't disagree that it's inconvenient, but it's not like he nuked a SVN master repository or something.

That's why we have DVCS these days.

The fact that Hpricot used a DVCS is a godsend in cases like this, but we still confront the fact that the software's canonical source, including its documentation, is gone. That Sucks, DVCS or not.

He got owned?

You know, I've been mulling over this "was it an immature/douchebaggy thing to do?" question, and my gut was with the "leave this guy alone, he doesn't owe you anything, it's open source" camp initially.

Then I thought - what if, e.g., Zed Shaw had done this? I have a feeling we'd all be calling for his head and claiming it was the biggest douchebag move he could make. So does _why get a free pass? Because he's so likable and has a special pedestal in the Ruby world?

I honestly don't know the answer to that, but it made me reconsider my gut knee-jerk reaction.

Yeah I think so too. My initial reaction was that this is his right, which technically I'm sure it is. It does call into question an unspoken rule of open source though, which is you can abandon your stuff if you want, but don't try to remove all traces, even if that is ultimately a futile act.

assuming that this is a tantrum, yes. not impressed, only really detrimental. at least have the courtesy to leave your stuff as it is for the people who have and will benefit from it, instead of scrubbing it all clean.

on the other hand, if this is a case of someone managing to crack/guess/etc his passwords and just wants to do some malicious damage, that would be too bad.

OTOH, I have to believe there are many people with copies of that code.

Agreed; it's really childish.

Really hope he's ok...

There's a phone number in his whois records for his domain names... though calling it would be a just a little creepy.

I'll call him.

As great as it is to have a community that cares about an individual, _why was very happy to stay anonymous, and a few comments here purport that his sudden disappearance resulted from someone penetrating that anonymity. If that's the case, calling him (assuming that number is accurate) could be counterproductive.

But the supposed outing happened over a month ago. I doubt he'd wait this long if that were the reason for his disappearance.

I don't know the guy, and am not involved in the Ruby community. Nonetheless, that someone would call to make sure he's OK speaks volumes to me of his presence on the Internet.

Do you mind saying what happened when you called?

I just tried calling that number, I got an automated response from "<something... beginning with a?> Solutions" with a pretty generic "press 1 for sales", "press 2 for customer care"-type set of options. That was a bit disappointing, I really hope he's okay...

It was presumably the hosting company (listed in the WHOIS records as "Layered Technologies"). I wouldn't expect them to provide you with any information about him.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't them, it definitely ended with "Solutions". The first word sounded something like "all-doors" but I couldn't really make it out (I'm not familiar with the accent).

Aldor Solutions, 1647 Witt Rd, Ste 201, Frisco, TX. "Todd Abrams" is the contact.

I live right near there... Weird.

why would he not be ok?!?! lets put this in perspective.

Why the Lucky Stiff has become Why the [deprecated] Stiff. http://twitpic.com/ehkoy

He changed his name to _when and is working on perl 6.

_why got me back into programming and into ruby, first with "Try Ruby!" in the browser and later Hackety Hack. When I asked if I could use hackety to build a web app, he steered me toward rails. I've used tons of his library, especially hpricot.

You're an important part of this community, _why. I hope you're not saying goodbye.

Judging by this, it looks like his account was hacked: http://twitpic.com/ehm2h.

Assuming that was his account (it seems like he'd be more likely to register _why), this is consistent with him deleting his account, and someone pouncing on the now-free username -- note that this account was created today.

Just fyi, his GitHub account is/was 'why' and not '_why'. Wiki's are still there: http://wiki.github.com/why/shoes, http://wiki.github.com/why/hpricot, etc.

I think anyone could have created a new account with the name _why after he left.

Maybe he's planning for a big star-spangled blowout and is getting us ready for it? Kind of like if MJ had jumped out of his coffin at the Staples Center to start singing Thriller?

Actually this might happen, sometimes his sites go down before a new release, but what puzzles me is github.

Domains are still up and registered to him...

Strange indeed.

  Registrar..: gkg.net (http://register.gkg.net/)
	Created on..............: 03-JAN-2002
	Expires on..............: 03-JAN-2014
	Record last updated on..: 24-DEC-2008
	Status..................: ACTIVE

  Registrar..: gkg.net (http://register.gkg.net/)
    Domain Name: HACKETYHACK.NET
	Created on..............: 25-FEB-2007
	Expires on..............: 25-FEB-2010
	Record last updated on..: 24-DEC-2008
	Status..................: ACTIVE

  Registrar..: gkg.net (http://register.gkg.net/)
	Created on..............: 20-NOV-2003
	Expires on..............: 20-NOV-2010
	Record last updated on..: 24-DEC-2008
	Status..................: ACTIVE

Indeed. The web server appears to still be turned on too.

   $ curl -i hacketyhack.net
   curl: (52) Empty reply from server

Turned off less than an hour ago?

curl: (7) couldn't connect to host

Thank god. Would be aggravating if they were picked up by a squatter.

His last message to us all:

   @_why: an ascending homage to fish bones. culminating in a delicate canopy of mouse furs.
RIP, online presence of _why

That sounds a bit more morbid without the context leading up to it:

_why: nailing a small ornate gold shelf at arm’s height above the bed for my cat to sit on. i give you: norton’s perch.

_why: i should probably have little teeny shelves all leading up to it. with their own miniature portraits or doll banisters or something.

strathmeyer: @_why Do cat structures last longer than programming structures?

_why: @strathmeyer hard to say, i guess if this feline staircase falls into disrepair, i’ll swap in a circular queue.

_why: an ascending homage to fish bones. culminating in a delicate canopy of mouse furs.

I will truly miss why's wonderful whimsy. :-(

So long, and thanks for all the fish....

It looks like someone is in the process of mirroring what they can find:


John Resig has posted a eulogy: http://ejohn.org/blog/eulogy-to-_why/

http://hacketyhack.net/ also

This is a sad day.

http://tryruby.hobix.com/ too. THIS IS BAD!

Indeed. All languages need an online app like this!

That's my mission with http://codepad.org/

Codepad is such an awesome site. I use it all the time to test/assess the results of a little bit of code on its own.

Maybe you could try http://friendpaste.com :)

Perhaps you missed the part about CodePad compiling/interpreting the input. It's not just another pastie site.

does this run code? take another look at codepad. It's not just a pastebin.

Oh please! realtime discussions, revsions & more. Maybe you should be more attentive rather than wanting to make your point. I already said, idea of executing code is interesting. but then something should be found to execute also custom modules. that's all what I said and I would be happy to play with this idea.

Sorry. You assumed I was curious about PasteBins because I'm curious about sites that let you run code on them. Now, it turns out that I'm slightly curious about PasteBins. I think they're slightly more interesting than URL shorteners. They're not nearly as interesting to me as sites that let you run code on them, though.

FriendPaste is neat, but it's not as daring as letting people run a bunch of different languages on your server like CodePad does. I imagine one reason it's not open source is that they're relying partly on security through obscurity. I would be if I were running such a site.

BTW, I did check it out more in depth, and its python interpreter runs "import datetime" and "print datetime.datetime.now()" fine, but gives an error than an md5 library is missing when you try to run "import urllib2". So it supports some standard modules but not all.

I will definitly have a look on this feature. dunno how it can be generalized to all languages though.

I'd like to see a JVM version that could run server-side JavaScript and Clojure. From what I hear, it might be easier to sandbox.

I'd also like to see one that runs client-side JavaScript, but displays a warning and requires you to click to run it until it has been marked as not malicious.

take a look on friendpaste this isn't just a pastebin too. For code running. Yes I missed the point. Maybe because I don't see how it could works on most code if you can't import your own modules. I would be happy to participate to such project. Is sourcecode of codepad around ?

OK, it's a pastebin with embedding and revisions. How is that not "just a pastebin"?

Oh, nevermind, it's a #nosql site. I withdraw my argument.


Seriously though, I hope he's /okay/....

Good point; hopefully he's not suicidal. Anybody know the guy personally?

Nobody knows much about _why. He's always been a mystery.

Definitely there are people that know _why. He has family and friends and such. He just is unique in his style and doesn't want to be famous for his art, he wants the art itself to be famous.

That ideal doesn't seem very consistent with his removing all of his work from the internet

Right, which is why a lot of people are inclined to believe that _why's not responsible for this or that there's something else going on.

That's really odd. Just yesterday he had picked up on Twitter again after a several-days/weeks hiatus.

FWIW, I noticed that all of his sites were down for a period sunday night, too. I figured he was just doing something on the server and everything was back up the next day. I didn't check his github or twitter, though.

_why got me back into programming and into ruby, first with "Try Ruby!" in the browser and later Hackety Hack. When I asked if I could use hackety to build a web app, he steered me toward rails. I've used tons of his library, especially hpricot.

You're an important part of this community, _why. I hope you're not saying goodbye.

Couldn't possibly be that he's fed up with Open Source and the ruby community...

Even if he is, taking down ANY trace of your online presence is highly unusual.

_why has always been an unusual guy. He has always prized his pseudonymity online, so I'm honestly not entirely shocked to see that he has decided to simply pack it up and move on.

It's a sad day for all of us, but I hope and trust that he has good reasons for this decision. His contributions to the world of Ruby and programming-as-art will not be soon forgotten.

Well true, and he likely cultivated his anonymity for just such an occasion...

His legend will only grow...

he did post some PHP projects lately....

Someone has already edited his Wikipedia page to mention his online disappearance.

Maybe the title of one of his RailsConf sessions gives us some clue: "A Starry Afternoon, a Sinking Symphony, and the Polo Champ Who Gave It All Up for No Reason Whatsoever."

and I deleted his "real" name that they put on there.

Rip it up and start again.

I wanted to try Potion, it might be too late now.

It seems that not every account was taken down...



Old hat, but take a very careful look at p27 of Nobody Knows Shoes (pdf version) with the text: So flows hit the end and move down ...

If that isn't Kylie ...

:( Sad indeed.

Let _why-gones be _why-gones

Being actively anonymous is an open invitation for having your identity discovered and released. He knew it was coming. Deleting any trace of himself was planned, it was not done in heat of passion after being outed.

You're all a bunch of suckers

Thank you. Before you bunch of women get too hysterical, you might want to take a look at this.


I'll just assume _why is vacationing in Europe.

Do you normally delete all your stuff before going on vacation?

Holy crap this is a disaster!

This guy is one of lord high masters of the geek art crafts and sciences.

Where ever you are Why, I hope you're all right..

you RoR guys are the sad ones, its all 100% cult of personality.

get real he's only one person, if your community can't survive and thrive w/out him, it should die

first up _why was active in more than the RoR community (look at potion, shoes, unholy, etc). Secondly, the majority of comments have been directed towards the dramatic way in which he left and the fact he will be sorely missed.

_why was to the ruby community what willy wonka was to chocolate. Maybe, just as the fictional Willy Wonka secluded himself in his chocolate factory for so many years due to competition, _why is simply secluding himself in his programming factory.

Deliciously sweet chocolates (or libraries/books/hacketyhack/etc.) will hopefully magically still appear.

Maybe _why is simply going to oompa loompa land to get little helpers.

Where is Charlie?

Waiting for his golden chunky bacon ticket...

Man - what a bum out. The talk he gave at art + code was awesome and seriously inspired me to focus more on educational material for teaching kids to program. I hope he at least gives a more valid reason for removing everything. I can understand letting something become dormant - but others can take what you have done and be inspired and or build upon it. That is not a slight to you it's just the way a system grows. Like layers of sediment upon rock upon sediment. If I ever discovered that a piece of my code/idea had made its way into something someone else had done I would be stoked not bummed out.

Please remember the incredible amount of pressure he felt to continue support for older projects. That is why he initially set timelimits on certain projects. If he had stopped committing, people would have been beating down his door for an explanation.

Please tell me this talk is online.

I suspect some sort of burn out. Honestly the guy was a machine. I remember looking at his commit logs for all of his public Github projects and wondering how he managed it. And mind you, that only accounts for code publicly released and doesn't address any private projects he might have been working on.

I'm on the shoes mailing list and he recently made this announcement:

Aug 3rd: <quote> Okay, wow, hello, I'm very behind on this list, I hope you will pardon me. I've been away for the summer, taking a break from everything.

Well, enough of that, time's up: I hope to concentrate strictly on getting Shoes 3 done. While it's disappointing to see what a poor job I've done with Shoes, I am going to try to do what I can to aright the situation by at least getting us some more speed and stability. (As with all of my projects, it's just a toy experiment which is full of an unpredictable amount of both the sweet and bitter.)

My hope is to release the final version by September 7th. Please, if you want something fixed for Shoes 3, it will need to be filed on github, in the issues section. Yes, I think that will work just great.

_why </quote>

Perhaps this is a publicity stunt to popularize the new and improved Hackety Hack?!

Apparently he tweeted this yesterday (quoted from a retweet): "programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more."

But _why's contributions are largely irreplaceable. Yeah, software evolves and individual projects might be supplanted by others, but his contributions go way beyond simply writing functioning code.

But _why's contributions are largely irreplaceable.

Sadly this is not true for anyone.

Not in the programming world, which is sad.... but hopefully that isn't the only place we live in.

I'm not in the ruby world, so perhaps that's why his contributions have largely been outside my sphere and there may be a great deal I'm unaware of. That said, when someone goes and removes their repositories and whatever other traces of their workproduct they have access to (as is their right), it might make people reluctant to use their products in the future (assuming they return).

_why has never really made "products" -- in fact, as far as I know, he's never made money from any of the stuff he shared online. (Sales of physical copies of the Poignant Guide may be the one exception to this, but IIRC, he priced it exactly at his cost in order to insure the widest possible distribution.)

There has been some negativity about hpricot lately:


And hpricot is the only living remnant of _why.

Well thanks to github, there's branches of a bunch of his work. I have a fairly recent copy of Potion: http://github.com/adamsanderson/potion/tree/master

Apparently he tweeted this yesterday: "programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more."

ironically he wrote "you" on twitter, and you wrote "u" on hn.

It's from a retweet I believe, where the retweeter replaced "you" with "u", perhaps to fit it into 140 chars.

burn out?

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