Categories: Comment, Ruby

Why I stopped reading why

(Stop! Don’t read this. Someone hacked my WordPress site many years ago and wrote this filthy rubbish. I wish).

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.

(When I wrote this, I was a fair bit younger and much unwiser. The truth is, communities grow around guys like whytheluckystiff. When I think back to that awful time that why (the guy we now know as Johnathan Gillette) disappeared, I got this sick feeling in my stomach. What if he had read my blog post and decided that he could no longer do this for ingrates like the stupid guy who wrote this blog? Why, if you are out there, I am so, so sorry man. For what it’s worth, I ended up going back and reading that crazy book of yours. And I enjoyed it. It’s a true work of art.).

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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