Passion, Absurdity, and Creativity

(This post is part of my blog archiving project. This post appeared on blog.mattgauger.com on December 27, 2009.)

Lately I’ve been reminiscing about _whytheluckystiff. He disappeared from the internet earlier this year, taking all of his code, writings, and other creations with him. There’s more info on the Wikipedia article and there are several eulogies to _why. His writings have been mirrored online, luckily, and his code put back on http://whymirror.github.com/.

One of _why’s passions was teaching programming to children, as evidenced by The Little Coder’s Predicament, Hackety Hack, and the Try Ruby website. (These are all links to the current versions of these projects, as _why’s versions are all gone.)

Hackety Hack was the modern self-contained equivilent of programming BASIC on a Commodore, full of simple functionality and even a component to send code to friends over the internet. Hackety Hack ran in Shoes, which I’d used in the past and enjoyed. I’ve been trying to get the resurrected Hackety Hack project to build as a standalone application because I have a few young cousins that I’d like to give it to.

In a blog post about _why, shack_a_nerd wrote

When I was sad I would often return to the Poignant Guide and reread it, just pick it up from any chapter and start reading, and it would never fail to cheer me up, to remind me that there are wonderful things out there, and to inspire me to try to contribute something of my own.

Once I commented on the poignant-stiffs mailing list that I thought it was less of a useful programming guide for people who didn’t know how to program already, and more like a novel for computer programmers.

I thought a lot about what I was contributing and what I was coding. For months, I haven’t touched any code. I was contributing nothing to the world. Before his disappearance, _why created a wealth of amazing things. His creativity and ability to be nonsensical set him apart from the mindless programmer drones out there.

I pulled up Why’s Poignant Guide and blew the dust off. I haven’t read it in years, abandoning it after deciding I wanted to be a serious Ruby programmer and that the level of silliness was a barrier to actually teaching me Ruby. But now I want to be inspired, want to steal some of that creativity. I want to create things that other people will delight in using. I’ve got a lot to learn from _why yet.

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