Artist Formerly Known As _why

A lot of programmers haven’t heard of _why. Well I certainly didn’t, up until a few months ago, when I started following some of his projects. _why was a prolific programmer, writer, and artist, best known for his work on Ruby.

Intriguingly, _why’s online persona disappeared on 19th August 2009. The person behind the pseudonym has simply decided to erase his online presence, along with all his projects.

In a post-modern culture, an author (programmer) has the right to do whatever they want with their work (code). Many artists have a tendency to whimsically create a world of fiction around them, then tear it down when they get bored with it. But, when a programmer, of _why’s calibre, just vanishes hastily, with his open source projects removed (repo mirror), it raises questions around the motivation and reliability of the community and the individual.

Never-the-less, it’s a loss for the Ruby community, and for many other enthusiasts like me who have considered code to be an art-form, as it was reflected by _why’s work. I think John Resig has put it very eloquently:

If there’s any analogy that I can make about _why, his online persona, and all the works that he’s produced over the years it’s to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the sand mandala.

Sand mandalas are incredibly intricate works of art that take many people many days to construct. They’re very expressive, but fragile, works of art.

After a mandala has been constructed – and displayed – it is ceremoniously deconstructed – which is meant “to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.”

_why’s entire online presence and code was presented in the sand mandala that was ‘_why’. The person behind ‘_why’ simply decided to move on and close that portion of his life.

Reading through _why’s old blog, I came across several interesting posts, some poignant, and a few eccentric. It gave me a slight glimpse into the person’s mind. Programming aside, I wish I could write as well.

i love working on an obscure book. people cling to ideas, because they’re supposed to be vouchers for a million dollars. no, write an obscure book. build something outside all that pressure. i guess treehouses for kids qualify.

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