On Whyday and the Celebration Thereof
This year’s Whyday has come and gone with a minimum of fuss or fanfare. If you’re not familar with _why the lucky stuff, he was – and I use the tense advisedly – a prolific Ruby programmer, author of projects such as Shoes (a GUI toolkit), Camping (a microframework), and Hackety Hack (a Ruby environment and tutorial aimed at beginners to programming). In 2009, he deleted his blogs and his Github account without warning or explanation; Whyday is a holiday of sorts meant to commemorate his legacy and inspire the sort of creativity for which _why became famous.
To me, _why’s departure is an example of the worst parts of the programmer archetype – it was spiteful, histrionic, and thoughtless. It is perfectly acceptable to leave a community, and I suppose it is also acceptable, if somewhat self-centered, to call attention to the act of doing so. Yet it strikes me as utterly childish to do this by attempting to destroy all of one’s contributions.
_why’s attempt at torching his legacy was obviously fruitless. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum – once expressed, they become part of the collective discourse and cannot be caged or redacted. The fact that his source code was in Github, a service designed around redundant ownership of code, makes such an attempt even more laughable. Deleting his accounts and his repositories served only to inconvenience others in the name of making a point: it was truly saddening to watch his collaborators scramble to reassemble the various pieces of his corpus.
By departing in this manner, _why enormously inconvenienced anyone who worked on or depended on his code. I can attest to this personally: I worked on two projects that incorporated _why’s syck code for reading and writing YAML. I was tasked with removing syck from MacRuby; it was rather an involved process, considering that the replacement code needed to match the original API call-for-call to remain backwards compatible1. Had he been around, I might have been able to ask him questions: no dice.
No other creative discipline would forgive actions like _why’s, yet the Ruby community, caught in some peculiar Stockholm syndrome, has actually commemorated the anniversary of his departure. To be sure, _why’s impact on Ruby was enormous – I, along with many others, learned metaprogramming from Dwemthy’s Array. Yet at this point, it seems more likely to me that he’ll be remembered for his departure more than his accomplishments.
It is interesting to note that replacing syck with libyaml provided, if I remember correctly, a 10-15x speedup. ↩