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Nick Plante

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Whatever Happened to _Why?

August 29, 2009

If I had to point to the one singular reason I moved over from Java and PHP to Ruby a few years back... Alright, I have to admit that it'd probably be Rails, which at the time had just turned 1.0 and was, well, a pretty amazing seachange for me. But it was only when I read _Why the Lucky Stiff's "Poignant Guide to Ruby" that I really fell in love with the language, its community, and really felt like there was something other than "just another programming language" here.

Earlier this month, _Why suddenly disappeared, and took his entire body of work with him: his writings, his software, his art, even his Twitter account. This sudden and inexplicable act of self-deletion caught everyone by surprise and has generated mixed feelings and blog commentary by everyone from John Resig to Zed Shaw. At first people feared that something had happened to the man, an enigmatic programmer / artist / writer known only by his pseudonym (real identity supposedly known by only a few and carefully guarded as if it was a superhero alter-ego). But, given that pretty much every trace of his existence was deleted on the same day, the general concensus seems to be that he voluntarily just decided to abandon the persona and every trace of its existence.

_Why's work, in addition to the Poignant Guide, included numerous open source Ruby libraries such as Hpricot, an HTML parsing toolkit, the RedCloth textile library, Camping, a web microframework, and Shoes, a fun and minimalist Ruby GUI toolkit. All of these libraries were hosted at _Why's GitHub account, which was removed as part of his exit. Hackety Hack, a tool for teaching programming to children, was also taken down without notice. Why, _Why? Were you just tired of the act? Was it truly thankless? Or was it just time to move on? And if so, why attempt to remove your entire body of work in the process? We'll probably never know, and hey, that's fine. A man is entitled to his reasons after all. It's just a strange move, but then again, strange has never been an inappropriate label for _Why. In a way, I suppose that it's a fitting final act.

Fortunately (for us) the community has done a great job of stepping up and archiving the libraries (NOTE: some projects are still looking for maintainers). There's already a GitHub mirror for _Why's projects and an archived version of the Poignant Guide exists on Scribd. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor, even if you're not a Ruby person, and check it out. It's a wholly different appraoch to teaching a language and although it's not for everyone, it's a strange and beautiful work. One that I think a great many DDJ readers will enjoy. I sure did.

No matter how you feel about his disapperance and no matter what his motivations for it were, _Why's thoughtful, irreverant contributions to open source software -- and his collection of art and music, too -- will be missed. It's like seeing a great performer leave the stage just a little too early.

Maybe, if we're a good audience, we'll get an encore.

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