_why the lucky stiff vanishes without a trace

by Mike Zazaian at 2009-09-05 18:31:12 UTC in news editorial

the one great enigma of the Ruby community, and seemingly everything that he'd ever contributed to it, has disappeared without any notice whatsoever

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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.

Those are the last words digitally uttered (twittered, specifically) by _why the lucky stiff, a long-time pillar of the Ruby community, before he, and seemingly everything that he had contributed over the years, disappeared sometime around the 19th of August, 2009.

The news was first reported at y combinator after a user noticed that _why's twitter account had been disabled.

Leaving only these words as warning, _why, or rather the man identified by that name, appears to have dismantled such web properties as hobix.com, hacketyhack.net, his former blog Red Handed and many others, effectively abandoning the Ruby community as resoundingly as he entered it.

Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby, too, his irreverent, hilarious, personally-illustrated demi-fictional-ruby-how-to-graphic-novella, which myself and many others consider to be the finest, most entertaining introductory programming manual ever created, was for a short time taken down from the web prior to a dutiful web citizen mirroring the guide at an alternate location.

I was going to begin this article with a broad and sweeping statement about the importance of leaders and heroes in our society, but _why, an enigmatic code-philanthropist, whose true identity is known to few if any within the Ruby community, would likely reject the notion that he either was a hero or a leader by illustrating a biting and irreverent cartoon of some Scott-Adams-like cats shooting me out of a howitzer constructed entirely of aged prosciutto and other fine Italian meats.

But the truth is that _why, who's contributed such dynamic projects as RedCloth, Hpricot, Camping, Shoes and Markaby to name a few, was the closest thing that the Ruby Community had in terms of a true champion of its people. Yes, there's David Heinemeier Hansson, mastermind of the godsend Ruby on Rails web application framework, without which I likely wouldn't be writing this article right now, but despite his accomplishments and the respect that he garners, isn't the sort of dynamic, wholly unique, enigmatic figure that draws true awe from a community. Matz, too, creator of the very Ruby language, while he may have facilitated the ascent of these men into Ruby stardom, conducts himself otherwise with the kind of humble unceremoniousness befitting of a wise elder rather than a Ruby rockstar.

This is not to say that _why was a rockstar necessarily, but he was the sort of figure who contributed something so profound, so impalpable to the Ruby community, that only in his absence can we truly appreciate his greatness. Cementing this point are a myriad of responses to this article at Ruby inside detailing _why's unexpected departure, all lamenting the absence and celebrating the greatness of a man whose name nobody really knows:

#29 // Dr Nic says:

His virtual suicide, like the self-induced death of a friend or loved one, leaves an indescribable hole inside me. I don't like it, I wasn't ready for it, and I don't think its fair that he did it. Nonetheless, as a real-life comic book character, in death he will continue to be my muse for me to create fun things that exist only to be shiny and interesting. Long live coding for fun. Thank you _why.

#36 // Adrian says:

What??? This is the worst news of the day. Without him the Ruby community will NEVER be as good as it was. He's the basic inspiration I needed to see programming under a really, really different - and refreshing angle. My career and I thank you for all you did, man. Come back. Please.

#42 // Pablo Lorenzzoni Says:

It was Ruby diverse community that made me turn to Ruby to the point of building all my significant programs with it. And _why is such an important part of this community (and I learned so much by reading his code) that I just can't believe he's gone MIA. This is indeed a sad day for all of us, rubyists.

#44 // taelor Says:

When I was going through college, one of my teachers mentioned this weird thing called Ruby on Rails when I told her I really liked our web programming assignment. I went home that night and looked for something to read about this Ruby thing. The first thing that caught my attention was the Poignant Guide. I was astounded. To think that so much creativity could come from a book on a programming language. I immediately fell in love, not just with Ruby, but the community. I realized that this was my kinda bag, my kinda place.

#72 // Oops Says:

Just repeating the last statement "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." I express my full support of this opinion and regret, that it has to be the best programmers who seem to find out quickly. Why_, all the same, stands out once more, as one who sees his craft and energy wasted in a private non-profit "experiment", while all of us want to fiercely object. If my opinion is of any use at all, take this: Please accept a compliment (or a dozen compliments) and please tolerate, that a software, a software-project and any creative work that you do, is dead stuff and produces dead stuff. It will never be able to thank you. We do. If your work was not for the people, then you had to be disappointed anyway. We quite enjoy it. Sorry.

#82 // see-el-free-i Says:

Ya changed my life, _why, and the life of the kids in my life who are hacking away at their futures while I type. Ya changed the life of the Ethiopian immigrant checkout guy in the scary dangerous convenience store on my corner, who is learning to hack too, all 'cos he asked what I do for a living, and I told him how I learned how to code again after almost 20 years off for bad behavior...

You are so, so loved. Disappear or reappear when you choose, it's all up to you. It's a free will universe, all the way, all the time, and I know you know that.

Just know this: you made a real difference in my life, and it's made a real difference in other lives, and the ripples ain't done spreading yet.

And perhaps this was his aim. Perhaps it is the notion of _why, this enormously dynamic, creative, philanthropic figure, that we all strive to embody and equal in some measure, and is more powerful even than the nameless man that created it. That in his boundless insight the man behind the idea knew that only in absence of physicality, only when shrouded in true mystery can the imagination of the spectator elevate that idea to more than it can be when restrained by the physical world. It's certainly not unthinkable, especially considering that _why borrowed his moniker from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a masterwork in which the virtues of capitalism are represented by John Galt, a man never seen or found, only searched for throughout the novel.

Indeed, as proven by the fallibility of Greek Polytheism, once man was able to climb Olympus, and found no gods there, the myth was dispelled, the dream abandoned. Only that which cannot be found on earth may be immortal.

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