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A search for programming knowledge and _why

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2012

For her yearly month-long project at Slate, Annie Lowrey wanted to learn how to code. She picked Ruby and became interested in the story of _why, the mysterious Ruby hacker who disappeared suddenly in 2009. In a long article at Slate, Lowrey shares her experience learning to program and, oh, by the way, tracks down _why. Sort of.

The pickaxe book first shows you how to install Ruby on your computer. (That leads to a strange ontological question: Is a programming language a program? Basically, yes. You can download it from the Internet so that your computer will know how to speak it.)

Then the pickaxe book moves on to stuff like this: “Ruby is a genuine object-oriented language. Everything you manipulate is an object, and the results of those manipulations are themselves objects. However, many languages make the same claim, and their users often have a different interpretation of what object-oriented means and a different terminology for the concepts they employ.”

Programming manual, or Derrida? As I pressed on, it got little better. Nearly every page required aggressive Googling, followed by dull confusion. The vocabulary alone proved huge and complex. Strings! Arrays! Objects! Variables! Interactive shells! I kind of got it, I would promise myself. But the next morning, I had retained nothing. Ruby remained little more than Greek to me.