This is not a writeup about Ruby, exactly. Rather, it is about the coolest programming guide in the history of man.

Wait, wait! I know what you're thinking. But this isn't just for wizened Linux gurus. I've little talent or inclination for programming and I love the Guide like a helpless, gurgling infant. (Like it's an infant, that is. Or maybe like an infant loves another infant. I don't know, infants don't really feel empathy yet.)

Like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is a text about a text. Unlike the Hitchhiker's Guide, though, the Poignant Guide actually exists in all its herein-described glory, not some BBC-run imitation cruelly mocking your hopes and dreams.

Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby is about how to program in Ruby, a Japanese language (now I just have to learn to surf) -- or, more accurately, a langauge from Japan with an English lexicon -- but it's also more than that. It's

  • a technical document written like a novel (a psychedelic novel with lots of comics in it),
  • an attempt to spread Ruby to the programming masses (its lack of English documentation preempted broad use until quite recently), and, more generally,
  • an attempt to spread programming to the masses masses. Its author, Why, explains:
    I feel that the times are coming when programming will be completely pervasive. Through some form or another, we all use programming now: to set the timer on our VCR, to search for names on our cellulars, to microwave a hot pocket. Thanks to HTML and JavaScript, most of the millions who operate web sites are comfortable describing in code. It takes little stretch of the imagination to envision a day when we are describing itineraries to robots, when our secret homemade recipes are detailed to trusted ovens in code, when maintenance crews will commandeer an armada of nanites to devour a rotting beam and replace it with titanium.

The Poignant Guide is rare -- perhaps unique -- among programming texts in that it doesn't seem to be written for people with Asperger's (under a very broad definition of which I count myself). Why is either a genius or a budding schizophrenic, possibly both. His illustrated examples are beatiful, funny, compelling, and absurdly elaborate. Why's waived most the Guide's copyright restrictions -- do anything you want with it, basically, up to and including altering the text and using it for profit -- but I'm sure he'll recoup his time and expenses several-fold selling apple Starmonkeys and T-shirts featuring The Elf And His Pet Ham.

You'd best check it out yourself:

Update: Chapter three has been included in The Best Software Writing 1.

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