RubyFringe was a retreat for weary but optimistic hackers, locked into a particle accelerator full of passion and rebellion. As a curator, I found myself frequently emotional in response to the raw honesty displayed by people like Nick Sieger and Damien Katz. Maybe that’s the thing; before they were developers who I respected, and now they are friends I could hug. Sure, there was tech talk, but it was watching Zed Shaw’s parting serenade, Leila Boujnane’s reminder to be good, and Hampton Catlin’s piss-and-vinegar belligerence that made it a weekend to remember and be proud of.
Still, nobody really quite expected what happened when Giles Bowkett took the stage to show off his labour of love, Archaeopteryx. Watch “Archaeopteryx: A Ruby MIDI Generator” at InfoQ, now.
There are occasionally fleeting moments in your life when you realize that you are on hand to witness something historically significant. The magic cannot be adequately summarized, much less repeated. This was one of those ripples, and somehow the video of it was finally ready on September 29th — our generation’s probable Black Monday. Watching it again that night — now, months later — I realized that Giles message wasn’t just brilliant, but urgent. It’s political.
We are at war with mediocrity.
Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek has certainly been on a lot of minds lately; I don’t recommend many books, but if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Still, the one thing I felt Tim’s amazing personal freedom manifesto lacked was soul. When I watch Giles work himself into a froth — pretty much begging us to embrace the strange and create art — I see a man who so passionately believes what he is saying that he erases my own self-doubt and yes… makes me believe, too.
I have to admit that we almost didn’t have Giles come. His ideas sounded improbable and weird, and his gas mask bio shot was unsettling. We figured that we could put him on Friday night as part of the entertainment, until he straightened us out: “This is not just a DJ set, this is my business! I have important things to say!” he told me in more words. At that point I was just so bewildered that I just said, “Hey, sure, why not?”
That Giles manages to Pearl Harbor the very foundations of the modern software world so effortlessly in some ways should not surprise anyone, as truly radical ideas rarely come from predictable sources. In a sense, the pacing and levity he injects into every intentional phrase of his performance is really nothing more than a hypnotic parlour trick designed to distract us. We’re so busy laughing that we just let this crazy man into the back door of our subconscious, and he tears down the security net that makes us feel confident and safe doing what we’re doing. He even creates doubt that many of us can honestly answer why we’re doing what we’re doing (or at least give an answer we’re proud of).
I think all programmers need to see this, right now. It could be the common sense antidote to the
lies platitudes which keep us warm at night. Sometimes we hit rock bottom as individuals, as a community, and as a society; Google will not be there for us, but Giles might be.
This is a call to action. Clear your schedule, find a projector, make some popcorn and invite people you care about to watch this with you. They don’t even have to be developers! Block out any distractions, and make sure it’s on full screen.
Laugh your ass off, and then talk about what you’ve seen. You might have missed it the first time around, but with any luck we can get the word out: