Where's _why?

16.03.2012 Misc #Coding #Crime

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Ganz ganz großartiger Artikel auf Slate über das Verschwinden von _why, legendärer Ruby-Programmierer und Internet-Legende. Ich kenn mich mit Ruby gar nicht aus und von _why hatte ich mal am Rande was mitbekommen, den Text aber habe ich grade komplett verschlungen. Real Life Nerd Mystery-Crime-Dingsbums, oder sowas.

_why came to Pittsburgh and presented his latest project to a room full of a student programmers and artists. He was scruffily handsome, seemingly in his early- to mid-30s, with shaggy brown hair falling in his eyes and a constant half-smile. He looked like a member of an indie band—he actually was in an indie band—or the leader of an experimental improv troupe.

At this symposium, he wore a pair of oversize sunglasses and a tidy sports coat with a red pocket square, a silly riff on a stuffy professor’s outfit. He introduced himself as a “freelance professor.” “I don’t know exactly why I was invited here today. I’m not associated with anything of repute,” he admitted to giggles from the packed crowd.

He riffed on his nom d’Internet, Why the Lucky Stiff: “Some people want to call me Mr. Why. My nametag was filed under ‘L.’ The thing is, it’s just a middle name. There’s no first or last. It’s just one middle name. That’s just the nature of it,” he said. Then he introduced his new product, a free interactive application called Hackety Hack, which he had built from scratch to solve a problem he called the “Little Coder’s Predicament” in a 2003 manifesto. The Little Coder’s Predicament arises from the following problem: We live in world of astonishingly advanced technologies, easy to use and all around us. Your grandmother has a smartphone. Your 2-year-old can play with an iPad. But the technology behind such marvels is complex and invisible, abstracted away from the human controlling it. Nor do these technologies offer us many ready chances to do basic programming on them. For nearly all of us, code, the language that controls these objects and in a way controls our world, is mysterious and indecipherable. […]

Hackety Hack begins by introducing kids to Ruby, _why’s programming language of choice. Then it explains that programming is nothing more than giving a stupid, unthinking computer your commands. You are its boss. It answers to you. And you can make it do nearly anything with simple keystrokes and enough practice. Within a few minutes of using Hackety Hack, you can use real code to order a turtle to draw a line or a shape. In an hour, you can create a virtual library of your comics, or put jokes in pop-up boxes. Instantly, you are empowered as a creator. And eventually, the mysteries of how a computer works do not seem so mysterious after all.

Hackety Hack solved the “Little Coder’s Predicament”: It was fun enough to engage a kid, and smart enough to teach her something to boot. But just a few months after launching [Hackety Hack], to the astonishment of the community of Ruby programmers who treated him with something approaching messianic worship, _why vanished. On Aug. 19, 2009, his personal site stopped loading. He stopped answering email. A public repository of his code disappeared. His Twitter account—gone. Hackety Hack—gone. Dozens of other projects—gone.

Where’s _why? – What happened when one of the world’s most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers disappeared.