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Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby 60

Colonel Panic writes "Why the lucky stiff has written one of the most unusual (and poignant) books about programming that I've ever encountered. The best description for it so far (seen on comp.lang.ruby) is that it's sort of like 'The Little Prince meets SICP'. However, it defies all attempts at description (at least in this small space), you've got to read it for yourself. Like SICP, the full text is available for free. This one is destined to become a classic - it will likely be known to future generations of jobless American computer scientists as 'The Fox Book.'"
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Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby

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  • by TwistedGreen ( 80055 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .neergdetsiwt.> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @01:57PM (#8318148)
    So did anyone actually not read the paragraph titled "But Don't Read This One!"?

    I'm proud to say that I skipped it. :)
    • Here's a mirror for obedient /.ers:
      So did anyone actually not read the paragraph titled "But Don't Read This One!"? I'm proud to say that I skipped it. :)
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mizery De Aria ( 554294 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @02:07PM (#8318241)
    Mirror [sytes.org] in case the site gets slashdotted
  • Decimal numbers are called floats in Ruby.

    Baaaaad name. Decimals are not floats. Floats are binary, decimals are decimals.
    How do you call decimal numbers (full presition) in that lang.? Currency? Digits? Anyone?
    • Re:Bad name (Score:2, Insightful)

      For instructional purposes, I imagine it is much easier on the student to speak of decimal numbers than to launch into an explanation of binary, much less the true nature of floats. I can grok it, and you (presumably) can grok it, but that's due to long-term exposure. This is obviously aimed at being a lightweight text, not one that gets into the mucky internals. there are plenty of those around, but this is the first programming tutorial that I would feel comfortable giving to someone who is just interest
      • Re:Bad name (Score:2, Insightful)

        by FedeTXF ( 456407 )
        I don't criticize the tutorial. I criticize the language.
        • Re:Bad name (Score:3, Insightful)

          I'm not sure I follow... a glance at ruby's docs implies that it uses good 'ol IEEE 754 standard floating point numbers, and it calls them... "Float"s. Another look shows that the "BigDecimal" library /module/thingy actually uses decimal arithmetic. So I'm uncertain what you are criticizing...
    • Re:Bad name (Score:4, Insightful)

      by __past__ ( 542467 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @04:08PM (#8319696)
      C and derived languages have a datatype called "integer" which is actually just a small subset of integral numbers, as well as a datatype called "char" which doesn't hold characters at all, but is a subset of "integers". This doesn't seem to have stopped their adoption, even if it contributes to the aquired stupidity common amongst their users.
  • ...for the code for the book.

    The list archives are here [rubyforge.org] and the project site is here [rubyforge.org].
  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) <david@amazing.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @02:22PM (#8318461) Homepage
    It's amusing. I laughed several times. It's definitely different. Obnoxious, sometimes, but different in a cool sort of way.

    Ruby seems like Perl, written to be a lot less obscure and much more object-oriented. Cool. And the style reminds me a bit of Mr Bunny's Guide to ActiveX. If you liked his book, you should read that too, whether you're interested in ActiveX or not.

    But the non-existance of Chapter 4, just after the book started to get into the meat of things, was a bit of a non-starter.

    I guess it will be ready for Slashdot in, well, six months.

    Or twelve?

    Or ... ?

    I guess it's up to the LuckyStiff. Maybe he's doing luckier stuff nowadays.

    D
    • Mr. Bunny (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jtheory ( 626492 )
      There was Mr. Bunny's Big Cup 'O Java, too, which I ran across when a guy I worked with got a pre-publication review copy.

      It was... entertaining, from what I recall, but I wouldn't recommend it for learning Java (well, it's out of date now anyway). But the main problem was that the book often sacrificed precision and accuracy for humor, and would have led to some strange misconceptions about Java, for a beginner reading it.

      This book looks interesting, though I only skimmed the beginning (gotta get back t
  • by ajagci ( 737734 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @02:40PM (#8318670)
    Children could be taught to program early in their school years.

    Yes, and that's what we have languages like Logo for. Or, if you want something readable and more adult, Smalltalk (and the Squeak.org environment). Python, of course, originally also was designed for education.

    Ruby is a nice language, but I don't think it comes out of an educational background. It syntax is cleaner than Perl's but doesn't seem like it would be all that intuitive to non-computer users either (both Smalltalk and Logo seem better in that regard).

    Altogether, Ruby just seems like an odd choice when it comes to really caring about teaching people to program. Not a bad choice, but not clearly better than the more obvious choices either.
    • by SandSpider ( 60727 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @03:07PM (#8318972) Homepage Journal
      Altogether, Ruby just seems like an odd choice when it comes to really caring about teaching people to program. Not a bad choice, but not clearly better than the more obvious choices either.

      The one advantage that Ruby has over Smalltalk and Logo is that it's included with every copy of OS X. So is Perl, but please, please, please nobody teach children to program using Perl. It could doom us all!

      Python is included with OS X as well, so that would be a fine alternative. Me, I like Ruby. Just because.

      =Brian
      • regarding: "The one advantage that Ruby has over Smalltalk and Logo is that it's included with every copy of OS X. So is Perl, but please, please, please nobody teach children to program using Perl. It could doom us all!", I would like to say
        That's even funnier than the emails I'm getting from the man who's giving me those creepy "i'm thinking about a man" smiles at work these days.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @03:43PM (#8319415)
      Not really, Ruby is a very clear and consistent language, much more so than Perl and Python. Squeak/Smalltalk is okay but I feel Ruby is like "pragmatic smalltalk".

      I think Ruby would be a great teaching language, it's so darn simple, everything is an object, including classes, everything responds to methods, there is no distinction between methods and fields, debuggers and profilers can be written entirely in Ruby itself without external hooks, etc.

      PS: Python was originally a "sysadmin language" for writing scripts clearer than Perl, at least that's what I thought Guido wrote once.
      • OK, I'll bite- how is Ruby "pragmatic Smalltalk?" What is so much more "pragmatic" about the syntax or usage of Ruby? I'm dying to hear your thoughts.

        Don't get me wrong, Ruby is a nice language... But it really doesn't have anything on Smalltalk. And with Smalltalk being almost 20 years older than Ruby, I'd hope they would do more to it than adding regexps and giving it a slightly more Algolish syntax.
    • Ruby syntax *is* Smalltalk syntax. With some extra bits...

      So, I take it that you really don't know Smalltalk or Ruby?

      | a b c |
      | a, b, c |

      Smalltalk and Ruby for local variables... Etc.
      • I take it you don't know Smalltalk. Compare:
        bag add: item atPosition: 3.
        with
        bag.addAtPosition(item,3)
        The named argument lists and lack of oddball syntactic noise alone make Smalltalk syntax far more readable, for both experienced and novice programmers.

        Ruby likes to pretend it's some kind of Smalltalk successor. It isn't. Ruby is a Perl successor that borrowed a few tidbits from Smalltalk.
        • Ruby likes to pretend it's some kind of Smalltalk successor. It isn't. Ruby is a Perl successor that borrowed a few tidbits from Smalltalk.

          A good observation. Ruby is definately not a Smalltalk successor, although it is a nicer language (on paper->in my head) than Python or Perl is, at least to me. But it has nothing to compell me from switching to it from Smalltalk. And when I want to do a task that Ruby would be a tiny bit better, I just use Perl anyway. More fun, somehow- at least to me. :)
      • Ruby may claim to be (Perl + Smalltalk) / 2, but the syntax really isn't all that much like Smalltalk. The influence is certainly there, there is no doubt about that... But Ruby syntax is not Smalltalk syntax.

        So, I take it that you really don't know Smalltalk?

        Sure, defining local variables is similar. But there are plenty of other differences. That whole dot-operator is one among many.

        I'm a Smalltalk coder who also knows Ruby. I continue to choose Smalltalk over Ruby for a number of reasons, including th
    • Python was not designed for education: it was based on the educational langauge ABC, and a co-objective was to create a language that was suitable for education. It was/is not its primary goal though, only secondary.
    • > Ruby is a nice language, but I don't think it
      > comes out of an educational background. Its
      > syntax is cleaner than Perl's but doesn't seem
      > like it would be all that intuitive to
      > non-computer users either (both Smalltalk and
      > Logo seem better in that regard).

      I don't know Logo, but I think non-programmers would find Ruby a lot more intuitive than Smalltalk. In Smalltalk, 2 + 3 * 4 is 20. In Ruby, it is 14, just as you'd expect it to be.

      Python is a better choice choice for newbies, a
  • Classic, huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by snjoseph ( 723540 ) <snjoseph AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @02:45PM (#8318728) Journal
    Methinks, perchance, no. Maybe I'm a just curmudgeon (at 23! not bad!), but I do like to think that programming is a serious technical art based in serious science, not the electronic equivalent of making a zine. There's a certain value in acting like what we do is actually a real profession, not something just any teen can accomplish with enough M&Ms, Jolt Cola, and "sassy" instructional cartoons.

    OK, I'm definitely a curmudgeon. Still I think I'm right.

    • How right you are (Score:2, Informative)

      by GCP ( 122438 )
      Most serious programmers have tons of studying to do. So many tools and interacting technologies that change so rapidly....

      A "classic", to me, is a book that puts the maximum amount of useful and usable knowledge in my head with the least amount of effort. This doesn't necessarily mean the shortest book. A "terse" book can take more time and effort to read than a longer book with better explanations.

      But a book like this, with such a low useful_stuff/useless_fluff ratio, is not my idea of a classic.
    • Re:Classic, huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @05:30PM (#8320615)
      Yukihiro Matsumoto (the creator of Ruby) has frequently and often stated that one of the reasons to program in Ruby is that it is fun. And I quote [oreillynet.com]: "Fun is the most important thing in the world... Ruby makes programming fun."

      This book could fit perfectly into that when it is done. Therefore I think I'll reserve judgement until later. Especially since Why's web site is the only geek site I've ever recommended to my non-geek friends just because it's so amusing and fun to read.
    • OK, I should have included this the first time, but I only just had time to go find it. It's Edsger Dijkstra's [utexas.edu] hilarious satire "User-Friendly Mathematics" [utexas.edu] (links to PDF).
    • Re:Classic, huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kwoff ( 516741 )
      That's what I was thinking, too. When I think of classic, I think of Stevens books or the perl Camel book, for example, not something analogous to somethingawful.com (though I guess somethingawful is classic in it's own category of web site).
    • Programming is a serious technical "art", when you approach it that way. The author doesn't in the context of this book. I usually don't. Not everyone needs to all of the time. Also, the book isn't finished. It was announced on the ruby newsgroup, but i don't think its far enough along to have been announced on slashdot. I don't see how anyone can seriously criticise an unfinished book. But its nice to see that someone thought enough of it to /. it in the first place. I think its a good start, ruby needs th
      • I don't see how anyone can seriously criticise an unfinished book.

        Well, I honestly didn't think the parts of it I read were very good. Also I think that if you announce something publicly, you open it to criticism; if it's not in a state where you want criticism, don't publish it (I say this having done some amount of public writing and speaking). I found the prose long-winded, the presentation not amenable to experimentation or reference, the "pure fun" material purely distracting, and the self-aware st

  • Nifty, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @03:13PM (#8319031) Journal
    Nifty, but this is about three chapters too premature to be posting it on Slashdot.

    Seriously, the author is biting a LOT off and while one chapter is a good start, it remains to be seen whether the author is biting off more then they can chew.

    Truthfully, many programming languages are easy but even in this introduction there are signs that this isn't going to go down as well as the author would like, like the "symbols" discussion which I understood perfectly but is likely to make, say, my zoology-trained wife go "huh? so what are they good for? why not just use strings?"

    You can also over-simplify Perl or Python this way too but when you start discussing @ISA or __metaclass__es, you're in trouble, and there is often just no way around those things, esp. if you're trying to read the code of others.

    I am hopeful this will turn out well; it looks like a lot of fun and is full-unto-overflowing with personality, which can certainly reach out to a new audience. But it is also extremely ambitious and will be time consuming, so I must confess to a little bit of pessimism that that quality of output can be sustained all the way to the end of the book.

    Oh, and entirely seperately, comparing a single chapter of an otherwise-unfinished book to the SICP disrespects the SICP. You do neither work a favor by comparing the two.
  • gaaaah! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jim Morash ( 20750 )
    So painfully self-aware, cutesy, and po-mo-ironic that I think it gave me a stomachache.

    Otherwise, it's pretty good.
  • by leoaugust ( 665240 ) <(leoaugust) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @03:30PM (#8319237) Journal
    While reading the text "i" was reminded of "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. Of course, this text was more "Poignant."

    "I" think.the difference was that Hofstadter wanted to talk to "computers" as if they were "old_wizened_demigods," :while

    here "Why_The_Lucky_Stiff" wants to talk to the "computer" as if it were an "Enraptured_Infant" called "Ruby."

    and "I" mean it in a good way.

    .
  • A fun read (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Minam ( 456447 )
    I'm already proficient in Ruby, and therefore learned nothing new from the Poignant Guide, but it was an amusing read nonetheless. I greatly enjoyed it, and have already recommended it to my coworkers and my wife. Even if you don't like Ruby, the available chapters are worth reading. I'm looking forward to the completion of the remainder of the book.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @05:16PM (#8320480)
    Like more robust libraries and some better documentation. I know mr. stiff has contributed to that end and I hope he doesn't waste more of his time on silly story books!

    When I moved from Perl to Python for big projects, it was pretty cool. I could read my code, and it was a lot more consistent because of the built-in object support. Python doesn't exactly register high on the "elegance" meter but it works.

    Then I tried Ruby .. WOW, code just flowed from my fingers and I was constant amazed at how little effort it took to make a well-written program.

    But, Python has all the docs and libs. So at work I use Python. I enjoy the new features that are being bolted on here and there, but it's got all the signs of a language that peaked in popularity before the design was finished.

    So I don't use Ruby for much except code generation and other little tasks. I want to though.. I'm waiting until somebody writes better libs and docs, or at least until I have the time to contribute.

    So please, less pretentious web sites, more English documentation.
  • This is amusing, but it could be more accurate, and better for the complete novice it's apparently aimed at.

    Eg: "a variable is like a nickname". Meh. A variable is a box. The name of the variable is the label on the box. The value of the variable is the contents of the box.

    Or again: the author says words starting with a colon are "lightweight strings". And then fails to say what a string is, or how much it weighs. I bet your average punter believes a string is a length of twisted fibre.

    Having said that,
  • Two Words. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ThetaPi ( 720252 )
    Chunky.
    Bacon.

    I like the comics, they are sometimes funny and make concepts easy to remember. They may be silly, but people will remember them because of that. Hopefully, they will remember the concepts too.
  • by dankelley ( 573611 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @09:06AM (#8338854)

    Normally, very little is lost by skipping ahead in a technical book. You're in a rush, and you just want to know how the new language maps into other languages you know. It is probably a mistake to read in this skip-ahead way, but in many cases the writing is so unengaging that we cannot stomach reading it all.

    Well, the defining characteristic of this "book" is that some readers will find it enormously engaging, so much so that they will read all the words, starting at the start. This is quite an accomplishment for the writer, and it might be very beneficial for readers who enjoy the style, since Ruby is probably not best learned by analogy to the other popular languages.

    The book is aimed at newbies, but experts might also find it amusing or perhaps even insightful.

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