The Island of Pizza - analysis
(Originally published December 15, 2002)
Now let's have a closer look at the pizzas and the pirates. :)
I threw in one reference even before the story started.
"Way, way down" is a quote from the hypnotherapist in the movie Office Space. He says it shortly before having (and dying from) a heart attack. It became a frequently-quoted phrase at work, along with "deeper and deeper" which he also says.
On to the story proper:
And so it begins. The story opens with two clichés in the first line, which despite (or perhaps because of) how awful they are, manage to set the mood of the story pretty well.
I'm beginning to think that those clichés do have appropriate uses in literature, for very loose definitions of literature.
There was nothing to find in this paragraph. It's just filler because I had to build on the "dark and stormy night" scenery the cliché stuck me in. Some people thought it was a reference to stress at work, but I didn't intend it that way. My disclaimer paragraph (above) said that there's nothing deep in this story. You don't need to try so hard — my goal was to elicit groans, not thoughts of profundity.
The name Todi is a setup for several jokes later in the story. (It's not an invented name — years ago I had a co-worker by that name.)
Early in writing the story I had the intention of developing characters and giving them believable psychologies. As my list of jokes grew, I realized that the story would be way too long if I worked on the characters much, so I stopped after a few paragraphs.
I think that was the right decision, because the characters aren't very important anyway. This story is about the jokes, and building up characters would only have diluted the jokes.
The eye patch is a clue that it's a pirate ship. Nobody needed that clue after my introductory statement about Pirates and Pizzas, but it's there anyway.
There are two minor jokes here. One is that Todi's covered eye is fine (he uses depth perception to grasp the doorknob) and the patch is unnecessary. The whole crew wears unnecessary eye patches at the orders of the captain. The second joke is the throwaway reference to an "accident" caused by these eye patches that nevertheless didn't change the captain's mind about requiring them.
I did have a particular "accident" in mind, but the story doesn't go into the details. If I write another story (!) I'll explain it. It would give me an excuse to use an overused literary device, so it's tempting...
The name "Arbyte" is a triple joke. In the x86 architecture, segment descriptors contain an "arbyte" (access rights byte) field. Also, "Ar(rrr!)" is something pirates say — particularly this one. They also try to bite (byte) pizzas because they're tasty.
Todi's sucking up to Arbyte is a setup for a joke. I needed to plant this behavior here and repeat it throughout the story to make it a recognized attribute of his personality.
"We're out of tacos" is a reference from work. One of my co-workers once went to a Taco Bell hoping to purchase a taco, only to be told by the staff that they were out of tacos. (This begs the question, "Why are you open!?")
Another joke here is that soap is chemically a base. It's the only base they have aboard, so "basically", that's it. Har har!
I had hoped to mail out the story on September 2 because that date plays into a reference. (I actually sent it within the first hour of Sept. 3rd, missing my goal by a few minutes but hopefully not spoiling the fun.)
The calendar is a literal embodiment of the phrase "our days are numbered" used in the previous paragraph. That connection plus the exact wording of "the rectangle said: September 2" are a reference to the first chapter of _Atlas Shrugged_. (That date occurred frequently in that novel and was irrelevant to its plot, but was not completely arbitrary. Bonus points if you know what's special about that date.)
The name Tim is also a setup for several jokes later in the story. In fact, every character's name is either an immediate joke or a setup.
Arbyte sure says "Arrr" a lot, doesn't he? He says it almost every time he speaks.
The penalty for poor speculation is an x86 joke. The Pentium 4 has a data- speculative architecture, meaning that it uses data from loads before fully verifying that the data is correct. If it was incorrect, the penalty is that the operation must be repeated with the right data.
This paragraph is loaded with microprocessor jokes.
Due to a technique called branch prediction, microprocessors execute instructions along the predicted path of a branch before the branch is resolved. That prediction can be wrong, and then those instructions (which are said to be in the "shadow" of the branch) need to be discarded. The metaphor is that the branch resolution logic acts as the processor's conscience and makes sure that it does the right thing. The "bad things" that happen are the time needed to discard the instructions and restart execution along the correct path.
I explained above that the Pentium 4 is data-speculative. The mechanism for repeating the operation with the correct data is called "replay" and it can potentially happen many times, thus "replay our decisions over and over." And because branches can replay, it is significant that I said the decisions are replayed.
The phrase "lock on our lives" is meant to suggest a "livelock" which happens when instructions keep replaying over and over but manage to prevent themselves from making forward progress. (At this point it would become too difficult to explain why this happens, so take my word for it.)
The phrase "die of the shame" is a twisted phrasing of the answer to a question asked in the movie The Edge. "Why do people die in the woods?" "They die of shame." The Edge is one of my all-time favorite movies and I strongly recommend it. It's a very intelligent film with symbolism and philosophy and teaches a worthwhile lesson. Unfortunately the movie was badly marketed (as an action/adventure show with a big scary bear) so a lot of the reviews you might see are tainted by wrong expectations or the cluelessness of the reviewer or both. I was reluctant to see the movie originally (I was turned off by its advertising) but I have never been more pleased to be more wrong about how I thought a movie would be. The Edge is great.
The last sentence of this paragraph might dupe some readers into thinking that this story teaches a lesson (about trusting facts and reason over gut feelings) after all. That conclusion, while reasonable, is a bit premature at this point in the story.
Anyone familiar with classic Star Trek knows that when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and ensign Smith (i.e. a non-regular character) beam down to investigate an anomaly, Smith won't survive for the return trip. This was a bit of foreshadowing.
Part of that dialogue was stolen from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Tim the Enchanter introduced himself with those words and a similar lengthy pause before "Tim."
The questions "What is your name?" and "What is your quest?" are asked by the Keeper of the Bridge of Death in the same movie. The bridge keeper asked three questions of each person who wanted to cross the bridge, but the third was different each time, so I didn't ask it here.
Pete Zah = Pizza. That's the joke that made everyone groan. :)
The landscape (circular depression) is meant to suggest a pizza pan.
Paige was turning a page in her book when she was first introduced. She takes another name-appropriate action later in the story.
Smith's demand for Paige to identify herself and her purpose mirrors the questions Pete asked Tim.
Paige's "round figure" is ambiguous. If she were a human, a more precise adjective would have been "curvaceous." But she's a pizza, so she literally has a round figure.
And here we learn that Smith intended to eat her, not ogle her.
"I want to eat your face" is from a song-and-dance routine performed by the alien in The Creature Wasn't Nice (a.k.a. Spaceship, a.k.a. Naked Space.) I saw that movie when I was a child, and it may have scarred me for life. While I can't exactly recommend this movie, it has something to offer for people who like low-budget spoofs and have high pain thresholds. It does have a number of genuinely funny moments, but you have to go in with low expectations. Sort of like this story.
It was important that Smith's shirt be stained red with his blood because the no-name crew members who routinely died in classic Star Trek episodes wore red shirts. Like them, he dies.
Paige's words are from the Metallica song For Whom The Bell Tolls. The bell tolling in the distance suggests the song title and underscores that the words were deliberate.
This reference was included for Saralyn. Happily, she went nuts. (I was worried she'd dub me unforgiven for invoking Metallica so crudely.) To my surprise, she wasn't the only person who got it.
The Beam of Evil was created on a whiteboard. I had drawn a pirate in a hot air balloon attacking a city (if I remember correctly) with a laser. I had drawn it too small to fit the word "laser" in it, so I scribbled "BoE" instead. Since then, BoE has become a generic label and anything with a "B" can be "of Evil" — boats of evil, bowling balls of evil, you get the idea.
What manner of gate is equipped to call the village together? A call gate, of course. This description of the gate is a metaphor for the x86 call gate structure, which serves as an access point for software to interface with the operating system in a relatively secure way.
The fluff about cultural pride and a benevolent purpose is merely there to disguise the joke. It has the nice additional effect of making the pizzas seem civilized.
Despite the invocation of migratory animals, this is in no way a reference to swallows, either African or European.
The phrase "jump good" is stolen from episode 14 of Samurai Jack. This is an excellent cartoon created by Genndy Tartakovsky, who also created Dexter's Laboratory. Samurai Jack is a cartoon that's easy for adults to love — it's full of action and drama and stylized artistry and important struggles. The cartoon is intentionally light on dialogue, showing the story instead of telling it.
Some people <cough> <cough> think the show moves too slowly and is boring. I think the deliberate slowness builds suspense. Once in a while I think the show tries to be too funny (I wish they'd just let it be serious) but I've been impressed with some of the humor. Episode 24 was comical the whole way through and I allowed myself to enjoy it after a particularly groan-argh funny joke. Jack was wearing a thief's clothing and running away from an angry mob. He was also carrying a bag full of cats, which the thief had stolen. The mob cornered him and accused him of being ... a cat burglar! Later in the episode, he <groan!> let the cats out of the bag. It was great!
This paragraph held my favorite joke in the whole story. I went through a lot of editing to keep the joke from being too obvious, but I must have gone too far, because nobody got it.
There are five critical words — "Paige walked across the table".
As soon as all the Intel people stop laughing ..... there, that's good ..... I'll explain what this joke is about.
Processor architectures that support virtual memory systems require a mechanism for address translation. The information required to translate addresses is stored in structures called page tables. The operation of reading page table(s) is called a page walk. So processors perform page walks on page tables. And Paige walked across the table.
Elegant, isn't it? :)
Another page walking joke, but this one was obvious enough for several people to notice. A "page fault" is generated in the process of a page walk if the memory page is marked not-present (or for a few other reasons).
Dave helpfully pointed out that another character should have taken exception to this assignation of blame. That would have been another good joke.
Further, if two pizzas had been involved in killing Smith, they could have shared the double fault. If the other one had been primarily responsible, Paige's fault would only have been contributory. There's a wealth of bad jokes available in x86 event-handling policies, but I didn't think of many until the story was already written.
This is the most complex punchline in the story.
At this point everyone was supposed to get out their dictionaries and learn that a "sycophant" is a person who sucks up for personal gain, which Todi has been doing all along. If you also got out your thesaurus you would see that a synonym of "sycophant" is "toady", which is a homonym of Todi's name. Sucking up to the captain is therefore appropriately in-character for him.
The action! The violence! I think this very minimal fight sequence worked well from a literary perspective.
So well, in fact, that I passed up the opportunity for a reference. I thought about having the pizza hit the deck "like a wet sponge" instead of "with a wet thud", which would have been a reference to Airplane! when the aircraft was handling "sluggish, like a wet sponge."
The x86 processor architecture supports a segmented memory model, and as I explained earlier, the "arbyte" is part of a segment descriptor. Therefore, Arbyte is an expert on segmentation, so he is unmoved by Paige's threat to cut him into tiny pieces (segments).
Pizza Hut is where I eat most of my pizza, so it's an appropriate name for a village chief who happens to be a pizza and live in a hut.
In addition, "Pizza the Hutt" is the name of a gangster in Spaceballs.
The dialogue about the money is lifted verbatim from Spaceballs, with Pizza the Hut getting Pizza the Hutt's line ("Where's my money?") and Arbyte getting Lone Starr's lines ("Don't worry, Pizza. You'll have it by next week.")
See, there's no lesson in this story. Arbyte followed Tim's advice when deciding to go to the island, and it turned into a disaster.
For the geek: The plot of the story is that Arbyte predicted a visit to the island would be bad. Tim, our metaphoric branch resolution unit, said that the prediction was incorrect, so Arbyte changed his mind. In the end, it turns out that Tim was wrong because he didn't know about the pizzas. So the whole story is actually about a bogus branch misprediction induced by data speculation. (That phenomenon has been a performance problem on Pentium 4.)
Does that qualify as a "deeper meaning" for the story? It wasn't supposed to, I just thought it would be funny.
The mixed metaphor is from Airplane!, where it got a similar reaction.
Arbyte originally lost his foot when he stole the soap. The theft also explains why Pizza the Hut asked about payment.
This is the worst joke (seriously) in the story. No, the other one.
If I had done more thorough editing I might have removed it. The discussion of soap was a natural lead into a joke about clearing a "dirty bit" — another x86-ism. The license for this joke should have been revoked. Segments don't have dirty bits, which is the reason it's not satisfying. Page tables have them, so Paige needed to be involved to make this joke appropriate. Unfortunately, every way I could think of involving her turned into a sexual joke, but (un?)fortunately this isn't that kind of story. :)
Also, reprising the fact that soap is chemically a base provided an opportunity to use one of the most worn-out joke fads in Internet history. Given the earlier "basically" soap joke, I couldn't resist. I apologize.
I don't remember the source for this particular insult, and I'm sure it's not in its original form. If it sounds familiar to anyone, please let me know.
This paragraph contains the punchline for the most anticipated joke in the story. The two characters Tim and Todi never appear together in a scene before this, which was intentional, because the joke becomes obvious as soon as they're together.
The acronym TMTOWDI — pronounced "tim-toady" (or "tim-todi"!) — is the Perl Motto. Tim and Todi provided the acronym's meaning: "There's More Than One Way To Do It", referring to the flexibility of the Perl programming language. We use Perl extensively at Intel, and my group has a love-hate relationship with it.
Perl is great because a short section of code can express very complex behavior. It's awful for the same reason. It is almost as easy to create write-only code in Perl as it is in assembly language. Perl encourages sloppiness (some people dress it up and call it laziness) and poor error handling, which is not good in a validation environment.
Good Perl is written like good assembly language — with attention to detail and lots of comments.
At work, we always invoke TMTOWDI in the form "TMTOWDI, baby!" (And then Eric used to ask, "Do you mind if I call you 'baby'?")
The last sentence about melting cheese isn't a reference to anything, but I thought a touch of "realism" would be amusing.
The last sentence is a reference to one of the Ten Commandments of Validation as known at Intel. In its serious form, it reads: "If it hasn't been tested, it doesn't work."
Who would have thought pizzas can cook? :)
This is another whiteboard-inspired joke. After the Beam of Evil suspended from the Balloon of Evil, many other things became Evil simply by scribbling a letter E inside them.
However, "foot" doesn't start with the letter B, so we had to do something different from the regular "BoE" trick. A foot with an E in it doesn't mean "the foot is evil", it means "evil is a foot." And here's how you draw it:
| | | | __/ | / E | \_____/
The written E and the severed foot are hints, then the note gives it away to anyone familiar with the joke.
In a similar vein, a drawing of a present (a box with a bow on top) with an E inside means "evil is present". The fact that the E was written on the outside of the crate was a subtle reference to this.
Outside Intel buildings are ash cans for smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts. Because people throw burning material into them, they have a tendency to catch fire once in a while. Thinking he was doing a good deed, one member of my group reported one of these fires to the security guards. His report was dismissed with the explanation that the ash cans are "built for safety." The fact that they're on fire mere meters from the buildings is apparently of no cause for alarm.
Where there is smoke and fire, you're bound to find something that's been "built for safety." So too for Captain Arbyte.
A breakpoint is a debugging device that will stop the ordinary execution of software, preventing it from continuing. Pizza's spear hit a specific spot on the machine which caused it to break, which has the same effect.
Here's the breakdown of references by category:
TOTAL - 48
Naturally, I hid a few new jokes inside this explanation of the story. Be glad I didn't make any cache coherency jokes — that would have been messy.