Local 'chunky_bacon' Doc Premieres at ... a Software Conference?
Well, this is a first. Slackerwood often publishes movie reviews from film-festival screenings. Even film conferences. But software conferences? Never been done -- until now.
chunky_bacon is a short documentary from Austin filmmaker Kevin Triplett. The film premiered earlier this month at the Lone Star Ruby Conference. Ruby is a programming language that's been the foundation for many of the so-called Web 2.0 sites that ushered in the age of the interactive and social web.
The doc recounts the work and ultimate death of the persona known as Why the Lucky Stiff, or just _why to his friends. _why was known throughout the Ruby community not only as a stunningly prolific programmer, but also an artist. His most famous creation was a free book called Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. It's an odd, loopy software manual intertwined with strange narrative and punctuated by twisted Lynda Barry-like cartoons. It aims to teach Ruby programming to non-programmers -- you know, artsy types, not pocket-protecter-wearing, technical certification wielding, Microsoft-worshipping nerds.
Then one day, _why decided -- for reasons unknown -- to commit digital suicide. He removed all traces of his creations from the web: the posts, the code repositories, the wonderful book. And then he died.
The person who invented the _why persona is purported to be alive (and hopefully well). _why, however, is gone, along with all that he created. Except, as the movie tells us, nothing digital can ever really die.
I watched the short with Jette, and we both enjoyed it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jette enjoyed it too, but said she sometimes felt a little lost and wished more background info and explanations were offered. For instance, when "Matz" was interviewed, I had to tell her, "That's the guy who invented Ruby."
I liked that the documentary focused on _why's creations, rather than the mystery of the disappearance. The impact that _why's work had -- and continues to have -- on the Ruby community is far more interesting than why some dude decided an art project had run its course.
The media stereotype of software geeks (brainy, antisocial nerds, disconnected from humanity) is wrong. These geeks see themselves if not as artists, then at least as artisans and craftspeople. These programmers do the left-brained analog of what a painter or sculpter does in their studio. Filmmaker Kevin Triplett, who previously documented the colorful and tragic life of musician Blaze Foley, successfully finds the artistry in the upper echelon of the geek community.
Back before the Internet was cool, the artisan drive was a predominating aspect of geek culture. chunky_bacon shows how an artisan can impact a technical community, and the support and admiration that community returns for the creation. The admiration came not because he launched a startup from his freshman dorm room, nor because he parlayed his abilities into a multimullion dollar stock offering, but because he created really cool shit and shared it with the world.
Triplett plans to continue to work on the short film. He told me he wants to add a section on criticism. "Like any art, software is equal parts creation and criticism," he said via email. "People feel his not being able to handle criticism may be another reason _why disappeared." He plans to add background material to make the short more acccessible to non-techies. After which, he plans to submit the film to festivals -- film festivals, not necessarily software conferences.
Austin connections: chunky_bacon was created by Austin filmmaker Kevin Triplett, portions of the film were shot in Austin, and its world premiere was in Austin at the Lone Star Ruby Conference.
Illustrations from "Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby" are used under a Creative Commons license.