Programming What I’m Up To

Happy whyday!

Today, August 19th, is “whyday.” It’s been a while since anybody’s made a fuss about this day (as far as I know), but I still think it’s a day worth celebrating, even in little ways. I’m performing a couple of whyday rituals today, and perhaps after reading this, you will too.

It’s called “whyday” after the programmer / artist / author / musician who went by the name “why the lucky stiff.” why the lucky stiff is a long name to keep saying (or typing) over and over, so we referred to him as why in spoken word, or _why (and yes, the leading underscore is intentional) in writing.

why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby

_why is best known for an odd little ebook titled why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby, which he published in 2004, and is quite possibly the most whimsical book about a programming language ever written — even more so than Carlton Egremont’s Mr. Bunny’s Big Cup of Java and Mr. Bunny’s Guide to ActiveX. As proof, here’s a snippet from its very first page:

In the book’s first page with text, _why explained why the word “poignant” — which means “creating a sense of regret or sadness” — is included in the title:

I’ll be straight with you. I want you to cry. To weep. To whimper sweetly. This book is a poignant guide to Ruby. That means code so beautiful that tears are shed. That means gallant tales and somber truths that have you waking up the next morning in the arms of this book. Hugging it tightly to you all the day long. If necessary, fashion a makeshift hip holster for Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, so you can always have this book’s tender companionship.

And immediately after that, he tells the story of Bigelow, an apparently abandoned dog he found on the street, adopted, which then ran away five minutes later. This story takes up five paragraphs, none of which make any mention or Ruby, or even programming.

But it was all preamble:

It wasn’t much later that I pulled my own Bigelow. I printed out a bunch of pages on Ruby. Articles found around the Web. I scanned through them on a train ride home one day. I flipped through them for five minutes and then gave up. Not impressed.

I sat, staring out the window at the world, a life-sized blender mixing graffiti and iron smelts before my eyes. This world’s too big for such a a little language, I thought. Poor little thing doesn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t have legs to stand on. Doesn’t have arms to swim.

The intro was weird. It rambled and went into precisely the kinds of tangents that you weren’t supposed to put into a technical book. It was packed with comics featuring foxes lost in a large city, yelling out nonsense that — for a little while, at least — became catchphrases amongst Ruby developers:

If you were the kind of person who always wanted their tech reading to just get to the damned point, you’d find reading the poignant guide an exercise in absurdity and frustration. But if you were new to programming, it was a friendly guide that didn’t look as intimidating as your standard programming book.

The foxes would go on crazy adventurers, and when they weren’t dynamiting retirement homes, they somehow managed to cover the teach you the basics of Ruby (and even programming in general).

The “Dr. Cham” chapter featured this illustration…

…and this example of Ruby’s case statement in action:

def dr_chams_timeline( year )
  case year
  when 1894
  when 1895..1913
    "Childhood in Lousville, Winston Co., Mississippi."
  when 1914..1919
    "Worked at a pecan nursery; punched a Quaker."
  when 1920..1928
    "Sailed in the Brotherhood of River Wisdomming, which journeyed \
     the Mississippi River and engaged in thoughtful self-improvement, \
     where he finished 140 credit hours from their Oarniversity."
  when 1929
    "Returned to Louisville to pen a novel about time-travelling pheasant hunters."
  when 1930..1933
    "Took up a respectable career insuring pecan nurseries.  Financially stable, he \
     spent time in Brazil and New Mexico, buying up rare paper-shell pecan trees.  Just \
     as his notoriety came to a crescendo: gosh, he tried to buried himself alive."
  when 1934
    "Went back to writing his novel.  Changed the hunters to insurance tycoons and the \
     pheasants to Quakers."
  when 1935..1940
    "Took Arthur Cone, the Headmaster of the Brotherhood of River Wisdomming, as a \
     houseguest.  Together for five years, engineering and inventing."
  when 1941
    "And this is where things got interesting."

And let’s not forget the elf with a pet ham and the cat:

For new programmers, the poignant guide was an approachable book that didn’t try to bury you with jargon. For experienced developers, it provided a refreshing take on programming concepts. If you were looking for a Ruby reference, you were reading the wrong book. But whether you’d been a programmer for 20 minutes or 20 years, it was a fascinating, engrossing read that made you think about programming differently.

If that wasn’t enough, the book came with its own soundtrack. In addition to being a programmer and illustrator, _why was also a musician with a tendency towards the “indie rock”-style, and he wrote a song for each chapter.

Thankfully, the book and soundtrack preserved online. Go ahead and give it a look. I’ll wait for you here.

_why’s code

In addition to the poignant guide, _why also wrote a fair bit of code, some of which became de facto or even de jure Ruby standards:

  • Hpricot, an HTML parser that became the Ruby de facto standard for a while. The current de facto standard parser (at least I still think it is; it’s been a while since I’ve done anything in Ruby) is Aaron Patterson’s Nokogiri, which uses Hpricot’s syntax.
  • RedCloth, a module for using the Textile markup language in Ruby.
  • Markaby — short for “markup as Ruby — which was a DSL to generate valid HTML using Ruby blocks and methods instead of tags.
  • Camping, a Markaby-based microframework inspired by Rails. Its code amount to less than 4 kilobytes.
  • Hobix, a YAML-based weblog application written in Ruby.
  • MouseHole, a personal web proxy that can rewrite the web à la Greasemonkey
  • Syck, a YAML library for C, Ruby, and several other languages. For a time, Syck was a part of Ruby’s standard libraries. It’s still available as a gem.
  • unHoly, which converted Ruby bytecode to Python bytecode, which made it possible to run your Ruby applications on the Google Application Engine.
  • bloopsaphone, a crossplatform chiptune-like synth, based on PortAudio with a Ruby frontend.

Of his creations, my favorites were the ones that were part of his mission to solve what he called “The Little Coder’s Predicament,” which is that in spite of the fact that we had better computers, software, and networks in the 2000s, the barrier to entry for programming — especially for kids — had become much higher:

In the 1980s, you could look up from your Commodore 64, hours after purchasing it, with a glossy feeling of empowerment, achieved by the pattern of notes spewing from the speaker grille in an endless loop. You were part of the movement to help machines sing! You were a programmer! The Atari 800 people had BASIC. They know what I’m talking about. And the TI-994A guys don’t need to say a word, because the TI could say it for them!

The old machines don’t compare to the desktops of today, or to the consoles of today. But, sadly, current versions of Windows have no immediately accessible programming languages. And what’s a kid going to do with Visual Basic? Build a modal dialog? Forget coding for XBox. Requires registration in the XBox Developer Program. Otherwise, you gotta crack the sucker open. GameCube? GameBoy? Playstation 2?

His solution to the Predicament was to first write Shoes, a simple toolkit for Ruby that use web page concepts to build desktop GUI apps for macOS, Windows, and Linux:

Shoes formed the basis of Hackety Hack, an IDE combined with a tutorials system that was a lot of fun to use. Here’s a screenshot of Hackery Hack in action, being used to write a “Hello, World!” program:

Since _why was developing this tool for children, he went straight to the subject matter experts: 25 children and their parents, whom he consulted and used as testers as he worked on the project.

(And because this was a _why project, it had a manifesto. Read it; it’s good.)

Here’s the Hackery Hack site:

_why’s performances

I was at RailsConf 2006, where _why gave a multimedia extravaganza of an evening keynote presentation. It was something I’d never seen before or since at a keynote: Part programming lecture, part video show, part concert complete with his band, the Thirsty Cups. You either left this performance either scratching your head or wanting to take programming to strange new heights.

After the show, I had a chance to hang out in an unexpected gathering of people that included both _why and Martin Fowler, which was an amusing, enlightening, and amazing experience.

Why’s performance at RailsConf 2006 probably opened the door to my own performance during RailsConf 2007’s evening keynote with Chad Fowler on ukulele:

_why’s disappearance

As you were reading this article, you may have noticed that I have only referred to its subject as “why the lucky stiff” or “_why”.

You may have wondered — quite fittingly — why?

There’s no definitive answer, but there are some hints.

Like a lot of creatives, the person behind the “why the lucky stiff” persona is an intensely private person. _why could be the out-there guy performing songs about how Ruby’s error handling just sounded so much more capable and effective with its rescue statement versus other languages’ try and catch (“try to catch me, I’m falling!” he’d joke), but the person lurking behind the mask wanted privacy during his downtime.

_why made it a point to reveal as little about himself as possible, and most of us were happy to indulge him. Most people were happy to simply know and address him as “why”, and in the community, it was a point of etiquette to not try and dig too deeply.

Of course, even in those pre-GamerGate, pre-“shitposting”, pre-chan-ruining-lots-of-the-net times, _why’s secrecy didn’t sit well with some people, who for some reason, just had to know the name of the person behind the _why identity was. So in 2009, they dug deep, and eventually found his name (as well as his wife’s) and publicized it.

_why may have also been a victim of Open Source Success, when a little project that you worked on in order to scratch a creative itch becomes so popular that many other projects depend on it. Suddenly, your project is no longer just a little thing you worked on, but a big thing that people expect you to maintain and upgrade. I’m reminded of a line from Byrne Hobart’s article, Working in Public and the Economics of Free, and it’s simultaneously hilarious and sad:

Running a successful open source project is just Good Will Hunting in reverse, where you start out as a respected genius and end up being a janitor who gets into fights.

As a result of the factors listed above, plus some others probably known to no one else but _why, the internet presence of Why the Lucky Stiff vanished on August 19, 2009. His sites, blogs, social media, and code repositories all vanished. I wrote about it the day after it happened.

Luckily for us, all of his work — well, the work that he’d released to the public, anyway — was open source, and with the effort of some dedicated Ruby and Rails developers, his projects were saved. Some people even took them over and expanded on them. Other projects became the basis of newer, improved projects.


In 2010, a year after _why vanished into the night, Glenn Vandenburg declared that August 19 should be celebrated as Whyday.

Here’s what he wrote on the Whyday site:

On August 19, 2009, Why the Lucky Stiff withdrew from the online community. We in the Ruby community wish him well, but we really miss him.

Why gave us a lot of cool software and other things, but what he really gave to the Ruby community was a spirit of freedom, whimsy, and creativity. When Why took the stage at the first RailsConf, in 2006, he strapped on his guitar, walked to the microphone, and yelled “Put your best practices away!”

Discipline, care, and responsibility are important; we owe our customers, employers, team members, and families to take our work seriously. At the same time, though, we need to play. If we don’t occasionally break out of the mold of our “best practices,” we can easily miss many wonderful ideas, some of which can bear rich fruit (just as Camping and Hpricot led to Sinatra and Nokogiri).

On Whyday, we’re encouraged to borrow a page from _why’s book and creative, instructive, collaborative, and crazy. The site suggested doing things such as:

  • See how far you can push some weird corner of Ruby (or some other language).
  • Choose a tight constraint (for example, 4 kilobytes of source code) and see what you can do with it.
  • Try that wild idea you’ve been sitting on because it’s too crazy.
  • You can work to maintain some of the software Why left us (although Why is more about creating beautiful new things than polishing old things).
  • On the other hand, Why is passionate about teaching programming to children. So improvements to Hackety Hack would be welcome.
  • Or take direct action along those lines, and teach Ruby to a child.

The Whyday site lives on, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone make a fuss about Whyday.

I thought that given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and that we’re all spending more time at home (at least I hope we are), there’s no better time that now to bring back the spirit of Whyday.

Today, on this Whyday, I’m celebrating by working on a creative project that involves a mishmash of technology, comics, and possibly music. If you can, you should start one, too! 

Recommended reading and viewing

Got eighteen and a half minutes? Then you’ll want to watch this documentary on Why the Lucky Stiff and how he inspired the Ruby developer community:

Articles on _why:


Ruby Job Fair in Toronto Tonight!

Ruby Job Fair Poster

Don’t forget: the Ruby Job Fair takes place tonight at Unspace headquarters (342 Queen Street West; it’s the door just to the right of Lululemon)! If you’re looking for work that involves Ruby programming or if you’re an employer looking for Ruby developers, you’ll want to be at this event, which is more cocktail social than career fair. Yes, there will be a bar.

The event takes place from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.. DO NOT show up early! They’ll either be wrapping up the day’s work (remember, Unspace is a development shop) or prepping for the event. If you plan to show up fashionably late, please note that the employers are doing their three-minute “soapbox” spiels starting at 6:30.

There’s a small registration fee to help cover the costs of holding this event: it’s $5 for people looking for a job; $15 for employers looking for Ruby developers. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck at this event. Click here to register for the event, and do it before the tickets run out!

Shopify logo

If you’re looking for Ruby work at one of the most successful startups around, you might want to consider Shopify. I’ll be there tonight as Shopify’s representative – find me (I’ll be the guy with the accordion) and we’ll talk.

If you’re looking to find out more about Ruby Job Fair, check out the Ruby Job Fair site as well as my earlier article on the Fair.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


WAT? A Funny Look at Ruby and JavaScript Oddities

WAT: A donkey in an orange raincoat, standing on the deck of ship holding a tabby cat

The Urban Dictionary definition of "wat" is "the only proper response to something that makes absolutely no sense". The concept of wat is covered a little more completely on its page in Know Your Meme.

Darth Vader standing in the ocean, pouring water from a Brita pitcher into a plastic jug

"Wat" is also the title of a funny demo of Ruby and JavaScript oddities presented by Gary Bernhardt at CodeMash 2012, a rather unlikely tech conference — it takes place in Sandusky, Ohio, in Ohio’s largest indoor waterpark. (If you just said "wat" right now, you’ve used the word correctly.)

In the video, you see this classic wat bit about undefined variables and assignment in Ruby:

Screenshot of an irb session full of wat

You’ll also marvel at the way JavaScript treats (array + array) vs. (array + object) vs. (object + array) vs. (object + object):

Screenshot of a jsc session full of wat

Watch the video, and wait for that final slide, which is pure, hilarious wat!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


ClearFit’s Looking for a Rails Developer

Clearfit [hearts] Rails, GitHub and Amazon Web Services

My friend Robert Nishimura’s looking for a Rails developer for his company, ClearFit, which is based in uptown Toronto. He sent me some details about the position he’s trying to fill; I’ve posted them below.

If you’ve got the skills and if the position sounds interesting to you, you should drop him a line at!

Company Information

ClearFit is changing the way small businesses hire. Most people know that ‘fit’ is the most desirable attribute for employees and employers — that intangible sense that can’t be found in a resume and is difficult to glean from a job interview. It’s a huge problem — employers spend billions every year on staffing in Canada alone.

Most small business owners don’t know where to even start when hiring a new employee. Ask around for referrals, “pay and pray” with a job board or deal with an avalanche of resumes from Craigslist? 

We have built the system that some describe as “an eHarmony for jobs”. We have over 2500 registered employers and tens of thousands of registered career seekers which barely scratches the surface of a multi-billion dollar market. All this and we just completed our first round of investment so we are poised for stellar growth.

We are located in the Yonge/Eglinton neighbourhood, strategically situated between 3 Starbucks and 3 minutes from Bulldog Coffee. We’re also upstairs from Copacabana Brazilian BBQ.

Skills & Requirements


  • Minimum 2 years experience coding in Ruby on Rails
  • Minimum 2 years experience with HTML/CSS
  • Experience with Javascript (Prototype, JQuery)
  • Experience with Postgres SQL
  • Experience with Ubuntu/Nginx
  • Experience with GitHub

Bonus points:

  • Experience with Amazon EC2
  • Experience integrating with other web apps
  • Photoshop and front-end web development skillz
  • iOS development experience

What ClearFit Offers

  • Salary between $80K and $100K based on experience
  • Snacks and drinks in our kitchen
  • Wicked awesome coffee from our new Nespresso machine
  • 15 days paid vacation per year
  • Full group benefit plan which includes vision, dental

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, contact Robert Nishimura directly at


Salmagundi for Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome to another Salmagundi — a selection of some interesting techie stuff on the web!

In his article Your Code is My Hell, all-round Ruby/Rails guru Avdi Grimm warns Ruby and Rails developers about a creeping exceptionalism that has been rearing its ugly head as of late. Many Ruby/Rails developers seem to be under the impression that simply because Ruby and Rails do a lot to make programming easier, they can simply ignore things like good coding, good object design, design patterns and the SOLID principles and all those other practices and disciplines that good coders follow and exercise. Ruby’s a great programming language and Rails is a great web development framework (and I’m quite glad to return to them), but they’re not a free pass to code carelessly!

Nick Quaranto from Thoughtbot explains why he loves CoffeeScript, by way of the movie 300, in CoffeeScript: Spartan JavaScript. “Writing JavaScript properly, and in an OO manner, requires you to be verbose,” writes Quaranto. “What I like best is that CoffeeScript is simply…spartan.” He covers the good as well as the bad (but it’s mostly good). If you’d like to try it out, visit the CoffeeScript site to get started.

Here’s another one from Avdi Grimm (he’s got lots of good suggestions — you should check his blog regularly if you’re a Ruby/Rails developer): The Procedure/Function Block Convention in Ruby. He’s got a clever idea for when to use “curly bracket” blocks (he suggests to use the for functional blocks) and when to use “do…end” blocks (he says to use them for procedural ones.

And finally, if you use Git, you’ll want to read Benjamin Sandofsky’s article, Understanding the Git Workflow. “If you’re fighting Git’s defaults,” he writes, “ask yourself why.” He suggests that your workflow should be:

  1. Create a private branch off a public branch.
  2. Regularly commit your work to this private branch.
  3. Once your code is perfect, clean up its history.
  4. Merge the cleaned-up branch back into the public branch.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


It’s Whyday!

A hand-drawn copy of a comic panel from why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby on a traffic light in Austin, Texas.

It’s August 19th, which in some circles is known as Whyday. If you’re not familiar with what this day’s about or where its name comes from, you might want to read our earlier article, Whyday is Friday. I like to think of this day as a reminder to bring a sense of whimsy, sharing, fun and wonder to your work, whether it’s programming or anything else.

Jessica Allen tweeted the photo above: an expense report in the spirit of Whyday.

Roger von Oech, who wrote one of my favourite books — A Whack on the Side of the Headmentioned Whyday in a tweet today!

I must tip my hat to the appropriately-surnamed Josep M. Bach, whose Whyday contribution is Niki, “the first stable, documented version of Niki, a ruby DSL to write songs”. Programming and music — what could be more fitting?

_why’s cartoon foxes are everywhere. This stencilled graffito was found by Janet Swisher in Barcelona, which I believe is quite far from where _why lives.

Wyatt Greene, on this blog Techiferous, is celebrating Whyday with an article about programming archetypes featuring _why-esque comic illustrations. Nicely done!

Andrew Lenards, who leads “a team of developers working on a larger scientific application” is encouraging his developers to celebrate Whyday. Well done, sir!

Andrei Volkov tweeted: “I just MUST use to promote my translation of Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby into Russian.” Keep at it, Andrei, and…spaceeba!

The RubyLearning blog is celebrating WhyDay by announcing the 8th batch of their “Ruby with Shoes” course. Shoes is a great little Ruby GUI toolkit that _why whipped up, and there’s nothing that makes learning a new programming language fun like the immediate satisfaction and feedback of a desktop app.

Gogol is a game that’s written in Ruby, minimalist and brain-teasing. This is right up _why’s alley.

As for me, I’m doing my bit to spread the word about Whyday, working on a few ideas to help people get better at programming and ecommerce (which includes making more videos like this one), mixing music with coding with the assistance of my trusty travelling accordion as well as relearning all the Ruby I’ve forgotten over the past couple of years working at the Empire and sharing what I learn along the way.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be at Shopify (I’ve been with the company a shade more than three months), away from the Fortune 50 corporate world and back in the land of startups, programming languages like Ruby and CoffeeScript, and where whimsy and the willingness to take chances and try new things is greatly appreciated. It’s been a wild and crazy year for me both personally and professionally, and it’s only increased my appreciation for bringing the spirit and sense of fun to my work in the same way that _why did. I hope Whyday does the same for you.

Happy Whyday, and happy hacking!

(If you’re doing or did something interesting for Whyday, drop me a line and I’ll mention you and your activity in an upcoming blog post!)

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Whyday is Friday

Photo of why the lucky stiff's book 'Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby' in hardvoer form, backed by paper cutouts of why's cartoon characters.

Clever programmer. Multimedia and performance artist. Whimsical writer. Oddball performer. Howard Hughes-style recluse. All of these phrases are apt descriptions of the guy most of us know only as why the lucky stiff, or _why for short.

Bold, Brief and Gone

'Cartoon foxes' comic from why's (poignant) guide to Ruby

If _why had a personal motto, it might be “Be bold, be brief, be gone.” The bold part was plain to see. His Ruby tutorial, why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby, broke away from the style of your typical programming books and went for the wild and whimsical. Only _why would take a topic like metaprogramming — something that confounds a number of experienced developers, never mind the newbies he was trying to reach in his book — and turn it into a fantastic adventure game exercise, complete with comics. Few developers have the breadth of skill and interest to make projects like Try Ruby (a browser-based Ruby shell with instructional guides) to Camping (a Rails-like web app microframework smaller than 4K) to Shoes and Hackety Hack (a UI toolkit for “web-like desktop apps” and a development environment to teach children programming) to Park Place (a “nearly complete clone” of Amazon’s S3). There may be people out there who’d be able to pull off a music-and-programming performance like the one he did at the first RailsConf, but they haven’t yet presented themselves to the world.

Why non conformist certificate

The “brief” and “gone” bits take a little more explaining. _why’s notoriety rose with Ruby’s popularity, which in turn was connected to Ruby on Rails. I remember reading some posts on one of his blogs, RedHanded, as far back as late 2003, and the (poignant) guide surfaced in 2004 and found its way into print in 2005, when the chapter A Quick (and Hopefully Painless) Ride Through Ruby (with Cartoon Foxes) appeared in the Apress book The Best Software Writing I: Selected and Introduced by Joel Spolsky. His music-and-code extravanganzas at South by Southwest, O’Reilly’s Open Source conference and the first RailsConf cemented his rep as the programmer who was also a performance artist and by 2008, people were seeking him out for all sorts of things, from personal appearances (Pete Forde tried to get him to come to RubyFringe, but convincing him to leave the US proved to be impossible) to commissioning body art (Leah Culver got him to design a tattoo for her).

Leah Culver shows off her tattoo by why the lucky stiff

Close-up of Leah Culver's tattoo by why the lucky stiff

All in all, _why’s popular presence on the web spans about 5 or 6 years.

Milk carton with drawing of _why in the 'missing child' picture

For reasons still unknown to the Ruby community at large — perhaps Matz knows and is sworn to secrecy — _why “disappeared” on August 19, 2009. It’s not that he disappeared in the D.B. Cooper sense, but in the J.D. Salinger sense: not as a legal missing person, but as a person determined to remove himself and his activities from the public eye. In the span of a day, he removed as many traces of his online presence as he could: the blogs, the sites, the projects. Luckily, there’s a lot of his work floating around thanks to his open sourcing and Creative Commons-ing of his works and the curation of many techies who appreciated them.

WhyDay Declared


A year after his disappearance from the online world, Glenn Vandenburg declared the first anniversary of his disappearance as “Whyday”. Whyday is a day to celebrate _why’s contributions to the culture and communities that have grown around the Ruby programming language and all the software built upon it. “We in the Ruby community wish him well,” goes the text on the Whyday site, “but we really miss him.”

A spread from 'Nobody Knows Shoes, the documentation for Shoes, _why's UI toolkit for desktop apps

The Whyday site goes on:

Why gave us a lot of cool software and other things, but what he really gave to the Ruby community was a spirit of freedom, whimsy, and creativity. When Why took the stage at the first RailsConf, in 2006, he strapped on his guitar, walked to the microphone, and yelled “Put your best practices away!”

Discipline, care, and responsibility are important; we owe our customers, employers, team members, and families to take our work seriously. At the same time, though, we need to play. If we don’t occasionally break out of the mold of our “best practices,” we can easily miss many wonderful ideas, some of which can bear rich fruit (just as Camping and Hpricot led to Sinatra and Nokogiri).

This year, on August 19, celebrate Whyday. Set aside that day to remember Why’s contributions to our community and culture by hacking just for the fun and joy of it.

Why the lucky stiff and the Thirsty Cups playing at SxSW

Among the things people were encouraged to do on Whyday were:

  • See how far you can push some weird corner of Ruby (or some other language).
  • Choose a tight constraint (for example, 4 kilobytes of source code) and see what you can do with it.
  • Try that wild idea you’ve been sitting on because it’s too crazy.
  • You can work to maintain some of the software Why left us (although Why is more about creating beautiful new things than polishing old things).
  • On the other hand, Why is passionate about teaching programming to children. So improvements to Hackety Hack would be welcome.
  • Or take direct action along those lines, and teach Ruby to a child.

I made a note of WhyDay on my personal tech blog, Global Nerdy, as well as the blog I got paid to write for (I was a Microsoft employee at the time). I didn’t get the chance to do as much as I’d like in the spirit of Whyday, probably because I was knee deep in getting ready for TechDays, a series of cross-country conferences run by The Empire.

WhyDay 2011

Youre leaving us here

Here we are, a year after the first Whyday. I’ve done some quick searching and haven’t found any mention of celebrating Whyday this year, so I’ve taken it upon myself to spread the word. It probably helps that I’m no longer at Microsoft and now in Shopify, which not only builds stuff on Ruby and Rails; it was also co-founded by an original member of the Rails core team, and people here are writing the next edition of Rails in a Nutshell. This place just oozes Ruby.

_why might not want to be celebrated, but in my mind, _why isn’t the real reason that Whyday should be celebrated anyway. I think it’s more about the spirit of what _why did: really getting to know the tools you’re using, helping people understand those tools using unorthodox means whenever conventional means just don’t get the point across, and building great tools when the tools you want don’t exist.

It’s about finding joy and delight in your craft, and bringing to it a sense of play. It’s about making things better. All that is in the spirit of why I quit a high-paying, cushy job and joined a rag-tag team of techies in a startup, and this year, I’m going to try to celebrate Whyday — this Friday, August 19th, 2011, a little more properly.

How about you?

Last page

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.