Monday, March 4

Where's _why?" by Annie Lowrey

Dear kannu

Quite an interesting story about a learner hacker, the history of a programming language and a programmer. 

It's fascinating. Programming. You did a little bit didn't you? When I your age, I was heavy into programming and stuff. Plus had my computer science friends to help as well. And was teaching this stuff. Heady days. So much ignorance and so much confidence. 

I loved programming. Seriously loved it. Kept on doing it seriously till You were born and then did a bit more in my first job and then didn't really do much in anger till I pottered around a bit in the next phd. 

It's a fun time. You are basically communicating. That's the trick which gk (my old friend from bhopal) who taught me. It's the language which we speak to the computer. I used to think of it as sculpture. A more forgiving type of sculpture. 

It was good. I still remember that late December night in 1995 when my programme ran and the model worked beautifully for the phd in Manchester. I shouted out in triumph. Success. Nailed the sucker in 4 months. Then basically bummed around for another 2.5 years waiting to collect the piece of paper :)

Ok. Enough nattering on. You have fun son, and read about these programming people. You will be using their products. You will be working with them. You will be investing in them directly or indirectly. You may even get attacked by these people! 



"Where's _why?" by Annie Lowrey [Send Me a Story]

On the mysterious disappearance of a beloved coding legend (and his code) with stops along the way for a short history of programming languages, an ethnography of code-based communities, and an inquiry into what it means to “die young without artifact.”
Where’s _why?
On the mysterious disappearance of a beloved coding legend (and his code) with stops along the way for a short history of programming languages, an ethnography of code-based communities, and an inquiry into what it means to “die young without artifact.”
Annie Lowrey | Slate | Mar 2012

In March 2009, Golan Levin, the director of Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, invited an enigmatic and famed computer programmer known to the virtual world only as “Why the Lucky Stiff” or “_why”—no, not a typo—to speak at a CMU conference called Art && Code—also not a typo—an event where artsy nerds and nerdy artists gather to talk shop.

_why came to Pittsburgh and presented his latest project to a room full of a student programmers and artists. He was scruffily handsome, seemingly in his early- to mid-30s, with shaggy brown hair falling in his eyes and a constant half-smile. He looked like a member of an indie band—he actually was in an indie band—or the leader of an experimental improv troupe.

At this symposium, he wore a pair of oversize sunglasses and a tidy sports coat with a red pocket square, a silly riff on a stuffy professor’s outfit. He introduced himself as a “freelance professor.” “I don’t know exactly why I was invited here today. I’m not associated with anything of repute,” he admitted to giggles from the packed crowd.

He riffed on his nom d’Internet, Why the Lucky Stiff: “Some people want to call me Mr. Why. My nametag was filed under ‘L.’ The thing is, it’s just a middle name. There’s no first or last. It’s just one middle name. That’s just the nature of it,” he said.

Then he introduced his new product, a free interactive application called Hackety Hack, which he had built from scratch to solve a problem he called the “Little Coders Predicament” in a 2003 manifesto.

The Little Coder’s Predicament arises from the following problem: We live in world of astonishingly advanced technologies, easy to use and all around us. Your grandmother has a smartphone. Your 2-year-old can play with an iPad. But the technology behind such marvels is complex and invisible, abstracted away from the human controlling it. Nor do these technologies offer us many ready chances to do basic programming on them. For nearly all of us, code, the language that controls these objects and in a way controls our world, is mysterious and indecipherable.

Back in the old days, you could hack your Commodore 64 without too much trouble. But just try to get a sense of the millions of lines of code controlling a Windows computer, or the Google search engine, or your Android or iPhone. For starters, the user interface and legally enforced sanctity of the code will prevent you from even seeing it. And even if you managed to take a look, the code would be so complex you would struggle to understand it, let alone manipulate it.

For that reason, _why explained in the “Little Coder’s Predicament”—and over and over again at conferences and panels—too few people were learning to code. The learning curve was too steep. There needed to be a simple, fun, awesome way to draw people in.

“We need some instant results to give absolute beginners confidence. Simple methods for sending an email, reading a Web page, playing music,” he wrote. Moreover, novice programmers—especially kids—needed that ecstatic moment where they understand that they are controlling the computer, that programming ensures that the computer answers to them.

That’s what Hackety Hack did.

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