Why I stopped reading why

Like my friend Helmut, one of my ambitions is to conquer the Ruby language, and then move on to Rails, the web framework that catapulted it into web history fame. He has gotten much further in his endeavours though, having managed to read through the whole of why the lucky stiff‘s book “A (poignant) guide to Ruby“. I haven’t.

Look, why is good. I won’t lie to you. He must be one highly intelligent, deeply disturbed, very talented artist. He’s one of those you expect to read about in a newspaper after comitting suicide, not because he was depressed (or maybe a little, who knows), but rather to make an artistic statement. You know, lying dead between a bunch of rose petals, clenching a knife with an ornate, gilded hilt, the small stream of blood trickling from his mouth blending in with the deep red of the dead roses, a light breeze wisping through his hair. Something like that.

Anyway, putting that image behind us: This was my third attempt at reading the poignant guide. I must say, it came very highly recommended on the Ruby website (by which I mean it is right up there with other links to documentation). And also, it is somewhat of funny (“somewhat of”, correct). However, I just wanted to learn Ruby, and constantly found myself distracted by the pictures and sidebars, which, although amusing, did not aid my learning endeavour.

At first it was just the cartoon foxes. I learnt I could deal with that by just ignoring them, because the material was not dependent on their story. (It was always tempting to keep reading the sidebars, but I forced myself not to). But then, there came the story about the Elf with the pet ham, and at that point the storyline was so deeply intertwined with the educational material, that it was impossible to learn anything without reading, even getting involved in the story first. That was basically the point at which I gave up. I just didn’t feel like the effort it would take to glean some knowledge from this mad romp around one man’s vivid imagination.

It’s surprising how little is known about why, in spite of his contributions to Ruby and his prominent standing in the community. Even in the entry about him on Wikipedia, his real name is not given, and from the discussion on the article, it seems no one actually knows. Quite an enigma this guy is.

I have now turned to “Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer’s Guide“, which ships in .chm format with the Windows Ruby install. It’s much more my style. Serious and to the point. I find myself nodding here and there as I make discoveries about the language, and I’m happier with the progress I’m making. I’t s far cry from “whimpering sweetly” as I may have by reading why’s book. Maybe I’m just a pragmatic guy.

For sheer entertainment value, I am prepared to rate the poignant guide quite highly. In its own demented, freakshow kind of way, it is rather a good read, but I cannot recommend it to people like myself just interested in cutting to the chase about Ruby. I’m sure if you really stick to it, put your chin to the grindstone and ingest the book, you could turn out a Ruby superhero on the other side. Just don’t expect it to be a short cut, that’s all I’m saying. Unless you are willing to put your sanity at risk…

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2 Responses to “Why I stopped reading why”

  1. Helmut says:

    Well, actually I didn’t finish why’s guide either. I had exactly the same problems as you. I got sick of unrelated stories that were wasting my time. Even if they were slightly amusing. But then I switched over to Mr. Neighborly’s Humble Little Ruby Book, and that went much better. It deals with topics much more seriously, and gets to the point. I must admit that I didn’t read the book word for word (I scanned the parts that were kind of obvious), but nonetheless I think it is a better option for most people than why’s guide. I haven’t looked at the Pragmatic Guide yet, but maybe I will soon. Hope you have more success now too! :-)

  2. martin says:

    My apologies. I thought from reading your blog that you had finished the why book. In a way, it’s a big relief to know that you also struggled with the same issues. It would be great if why could be split into two people: one that seriously teaches Ruby (because he obviously knows a lot), and one that draws hilarious comics or presents his artwork on a sidewalk in Paris together with other troubled artists. :-D

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