Cap'n Arbyte's

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.

This story has no moral. It teaches no lesson. It is simply a vehicle for me to tell a lot of bad jokes. Everything here is groan-argh funny, not ha-ha funny. Think of it as _Godel, Escher, Bach_ meets "Airplane!". Read it in the appropriate state of mind, and set your expectations accordingly. (i.e., "Way, way down.")

"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:

Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.

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.

The ship's sails strained against the wind and the rain. The storm had made navigation impossible for days. The crew had little rest, and was exhausted. Supplies were low. Tension was high. On the horizon, a break in the clouds could be seen, promising an end to the storm and an opportunity to find land and food.

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.

Todi was completing an inventory belowdecks, to create a rationing plan that would stretch the ship's supplies until they could reach land. He cursed as he wrote down some figures. Todi closed the storeroom, frowned, and walked nervously towards the captain's study.

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.

Todi reached for the doorknob and closed his trembling fingers around nothing. He raised his other hand raised to his face and turned up his eye patch. "Lousy patch," he mumbled to himself, "always interfering with depth perception. I don't understand why the captain insists we wear these stupid things, especially after the accident." He reached again for the doorknob and gripped it before turning his patch back down. Todi turned the knob and entered the room.

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...

Captain Arbyte was seated at his desk, writing on a parchment lit by the dull flame of a lantern. Todi cleared his throat. "Arrrr!," roared the captain as he rose from his seat, his peg leg striking the deck loudly. His figure blocked the view of the parchment. "You interrupt me, Todi," he stated through clenched teeth.

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.

"Oh captain, my captain, your excellence, please do not be angry. I have completed the inventory you ordered," Todi explained. "We're out of tacos. Our booty is running low. Basically, the only thing we have is soap, and that only because the crew is unsanitary. We must find land tomorrow, or the crew will have no dinner. Our days are numbered."

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!

"Arrrr," breathed Arbyte. He turned around and looked down at his desk. There was a calendar in the corner. The rectangle said: September 2.

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.)

Early the next morning, Arbyte was woken by loud cheering from the deck. Someone had sighted land, and the ship was eagerly turned to sail towards it. The navigator was called into Arbyte's study.

"Yes, captain?" Tim was an educated man, never at ease among most of the ship's crew, who he regarded as rough brigands. Tim was timid and uncertain around everyone but the captain, who he respected for his ability to organize and lead them. He was the only man aboard who did not live in fear of Arbyte's rages. The respect was mutual. Arbyte knew that no one else was intelligent enough to navigate the ship.

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.

"Tim," said Arbyte gruffly, "I have a cold feeling about that island. I feel it in me hook. Thar be danger there. What have yer books told you about the place?"

Tim replied, "I do not know what island that is. We have been at the mercy of the storm for days, and the cloud cover still prevents me from fixing our location by the stars. By my estimation and the maps, there should be no island near us. But there it is."


Arbyte sure says "Arrr" a lot, doesn't he? He says it almost every time he speaks.

"Captain, I have heard rumors that we have little food left. I understand that you have bad feelings about this island. There may be another nearby, but if that be poor speculation, the penalty would be very high. I do not think we should pass up this opportunity to resupply."

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.

"Arrr, Tim, but my gut tells me of danger."

Tim spoke quietly, "Captain, we should always take the reasoned path. Our feelings will lead us to mistakes. We will predict events incorrectly, bad things will happen, and our guilty conscience will cast a shadow over our minds. We will replay our decisions over and over again, each time regretting the past. It will have a lock on our lives, and we will die of the shame. But follow the reasoned path, and you shall always know that you made the best decision you could."

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.

"Aye, Tim. We will go to the island."

A search team boarded a small boat and rowed to shore. Tim and ensign Smith were ordered to search the island's interior and report what food they found. The rest of the crew was ordered to set about repairing storm damage to the ship.

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.

Tim walked into the wooded area by the beach, examining the vegetation as he went. He found many kinds of berry that he recognized as poisonous, but very little that was edible. He went deeper into the island, weaving through ever-thicker growth. Tim stepped on a branch that cracked loudly. In an instant he heard rustling leaves. The sound was getting closer.

He felt a sharp prodding in his back. "Turn around," a stern voice said, "What is your name?"

"There are some who call me...," his voice broke off as he turned to see his captor. It was a man-sized pizza, with arms and legs, holding a spear menacingly. "Tim," he managed to finish.

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."

"What is your quest?"

"I seek food for myself and my companions. We arrived by ship and do not intend to stay for long. We apologize for trespassing."

"What is your... no, what is the... no... Nevermind! I take you prisoner. March, 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.

The pizza gestured with his spear, and Tim started walking in the indicated direction. After a few minutes, the pizza began speaking again. "You do not match the stories I have been told about creatures like you. You have not resisted me. You are calm and do not complain. Perhaps we misunderstand your people. We are the Zah tribe. My name is Pete. The chief will want to speak with you."

Pete Zah = Pizza. That's the joke that made everyone groan. :)

After about twenty minutes of marching, they approached a clearing. Tim saw structures only when he reached the rim of the clearing. The village was built within a circular depression, hiding it from casual view. Pete marched him through the village. Small pizzas — children, he thought -- were running and playing and hardly noticed him. Larger pizzas stopped and stared at him silently as he passed.

The landscape (circular depression) is meant to suggest a pizza pan.

Ensign Smith moved carefully through the plants, trying to avoid staining his clothing. He was nervous and sweating, angry at receiving this assignment, as he was angry about receiving all assignments. He wished someone else had been selected. "I don't know anything about plants," he mumbled, "and the captain is going to be disappointed again. I told him that islands were yucky and I didn't like them. He never listens to my arguments."

He stumbled to the ground when he noticed a pizza sitting on a rock, turning a page in a book. The pizza heard the noise and asked, her voice sweet, "Oh, Pete, is that you?"

Smith stood up quickly and shouted, more forcefully than he intended, "No! I am Smith, a fearsome pirate! Arr! Stay back! Identify yourself and your purpose here, or face my fury!"

The pizza replied, with a mixture of amusement and impatience in her voice, "My name is Paige, and this is my quiet place where I come to read. You are disturbing me. Stop shouting."

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.

Smith's thoughts were a whirl. He had not expected this. He had not expected anything. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but it hung open silently. He noticed Paige's round figure, and a nervous knot tightened in his stomach.

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.

"Well?," Paige added impatiently.

Water pooled in Smith's mouth began to run down his lip. "I want," he said with effort, "to eat your face." He lunged at Paige, his eyes and mouth wide. In an instant, Paige had thrown down her book and reached her spear. She swung it to intercept Smith's path, and held it steady. Seconds later, Smith lay face-down on the ground, a red stain spreading over his shirt.

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 kicked him, and his body rolled over limply. He blinked, unable to speak. In an even voice Paige said, "Take a look to the sky just before you die. It is the last time you will."

A bell tolled in the distance. Paige listened for a moment, then picked up her book and left.

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.

Captain Arbyte was working quietly in his study, awaiting the return of the search team. The parchment spread before him was a jumble of diagrams and abbreviated sentences. It was one page of many; the pages were crude design plans for a machine. Arbyte called it the Beam of Evil. It would be the device of Arbyte's revenge.

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.

Its existence was kept secret from the entire crew, except for Tim, who had helped Arbyte design and construct it in a small, secret room behind the captain's study. It had taken two years to build. It was ready for testing. A muffled cackle escaped his throat.

The bell was ringing at the edge of the village, mounted in the arch of a gate. The gate stood at the only part of the village that was level with the surrounding earth. A simple road ran under the gate, providing an easy path for carts to enter and exit the security of the village.

Like any gate, it could deny access to outsiders. The bell atop it was a cultural pride of the pizzas, for it added a more benevolent purpose: the gate could call the village together. The ringing bell was a summons.

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.

Paige passed under the arch and smiled to the small pizzas laughing as they rang the bell. She still carried her spear with her, the tip crimson. She walked unhurried to the center of the village, and took her seat at one of the many large tables there. The rest of the tribe was seated around, talking quickly in hushed voices. She realized that something important had happened.

The tribal chief was an elder pizza, enormous in both size and in wisdom. He spoke, "Zah! It is a memorable day for us all! Pete has brought us a guest — a pirate!" A chill spread over the crowd. "Do not be afraid. I have spoken with this pirate, and believe he is gentle and wise. Put aside the stories you heard in your childhood. He will dine with us as our guest tonight. Welcome, Tim!"

Tim was led the short distance from the chief's home. He sat smiling between Pete and the chief. The smile turned into a frown when he was handed a glass of milk. His eyebrows raised, he turned to the chief and asked, "Milk? From what? This island is too small to have adequate grazing land."

Pete interrupted with a chuckle, "You surprise me, Tim. The cows do not stay here. They're migratory, of course. We get milk when they're passing through."

Despite the invocation of migratory animals, this is in no way a reference to swallows, either African or European.

Tim's face was blank. "They fly?"

"No, they jump good," answered Pete.

"Oh, I see."

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!

Paige stood up, her face white, the yellow drained from her cheese. She stepped onto the table and struck the end of her spear on it. "I must say something," she said in a forced voice. The chief nodded. Paige walked across the table and presented her spear to the chief. "There are other pirates here. I killed one who attacked me a few minutes ago. The blood is my proof."

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? :)

The chief said nothing for a long time. He sighed, and finally said, "The opportunity is wasted. We must fight the pirates immediately, before they learn of what has happened. This is all Paige's fault." He turned to Tim and said, "I regret this, Tim, but you are now our prisoner. Guards! Take him away!"

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.

The Zah tribe ate a hurried meal.

Todi was watching the trees wave in the wind. He was the first to see the pizzas approaching. He had never seen walking pizzas before, and was paralyzed with wonder. When a dozen of them got into the search team's boat and began rowing towards the ship, he finally shouted.

The pirates scrambled to arm themselves, realizing their peril too late. In his study, captain Arbyte heard the clanging of metal and the screams of men. Todi tore open the door and said loudly, in a futile attempt to hide the noise outside, "Excellent news, your excellence! Our food will last twice as long as I previously estimated!"

"Todi, you fool sycophant!" Arbyte looked through the doorway and saw a spear fly by, then heard a dull moan. The figure of a pizza appeared in silhouette.

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.

Arbyte was immediately enraged. With a swiftness Todi thought him incapable of, he had drawn a sword and ran towards the pizza. The sounds were rushed: A thump for his foot, a crack for his peg leg, and then a gurgle from the pizza he had sliced in two with one swing of his sword. The two halves hit the deck with a wet thud.

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."

Paige screamed at Arbyte, "You monster! I'll cut you into tiny pieces!" Arbyte cackled, "Arrr, you would try, but I am captain Arbyte! YOU can teach nothing to ME about segmentation!"

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).

Pete rushed towards Arbyte from behind. His spear connected near Arbyte's knee, at the top of the wooden part of his leg. The joint yielded, and Arbyte fell. His leg fell next to him.

The rest of the pirates stopped, their will broken. The pizzas moved to strike fatal blows. "Enough!" Pete held back the other pizzas with a gesture. "There has been enough killing here. Take the pirates prisoner and bring them to the village. Dissect the ship and take anything we can use."

Captain Arbyte was shackled and carried to the pizza village. He was weak from the loss of blood, but the wound had been bandaged. He was thrown onto the ground near the chief's home.

Arbyte strained to raise his head. The figure of the chief came into view, and slowly into focus. "Pizza the Hut!," Arbyte cried.

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.

"I'm pleased that you remember me after all this time, Arbyte." The chief demanded, "Where's my money?"

"Don't worry, Pizza. You'll have it by next week." Arbyte managed a chuckle, smiling at his own misfortune. "Arrr... Does Tim live? I must speak with him, if he yet breathes."

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.")

"I'm right here, captain," said Tim. He was standing nearby, guarded by three pizzas. "You were right about this island. We should not have come. I gather you know the chief?"

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.

"Aye, Tim. He took my leg the first time, long ago."

The chief added, "And I have your leg again. You still haven't paid me for what you took." He threw Arbyte's leg at him, hitting his shoulder. Arbyte spat and picked it up. The chief continued, "I guess the foot's on the other hand now, isn't it?"

Everyone looked at him blankly.

The mixed metaphor is from Airplane!, where it got a similar reaction.

At that moment Pete ran into the area, calling to the chief, "Soap! What lousy treasure! All they had on that boat was soap!" Pete handed a bar to the chief, who looked at it briefly before starting to laugh. "Why, captain Arbyte, all these years and you never even used the soap you stole from us? What a waste, for you to lose your foot escaping with goods you never used!"

Arbyte originally lost his foot when he stole the soap. The theft also explains why Pizza the Hut asked about payment.

"Pete, put this to good use. You have a dirty bit of splattered blood on one of your segments. Clear it." The chief handed the soap to Pete and pointed to the washroom. "All your base are belong to us, Arbyte."

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.

"Let Arbyte go," the chief ordered. "He is no threat to us. He's proven that he isn't half as smart as everybody says he thinks he is."

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.

Arbyte was thrown out of the village, and the gate closed behind him. He crawled silently towards the beach, his eyes narrow, with an inexplicable smile on his face.

The still-living pirates were caged together in a cell near the center of the village. They talked of escape, and of revenge. "There's more than one way to do it," explained Tim and Todi. "Our swords have probably been locked away in the village armory," Todi said, "but if we can overpower a few pizzas, we can take their spears." Tim suggested, "We could also use torches as weapons. The cheese on a pizza has a low melting point, and almost any fire will burn them."

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.

"Captain Arbyte is free. He will also try to help us," said Todi. Tim suddenly remembered Arbyte's Beam of Evil. He interrupted Todi, saying "Yes! And he has a secret weapon, one that he and I have been building in secret for years. It hasn't been tested, but it might work."

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."

The pirates agreed to wait for news of their captain before struggling. Besides, they argued, the food was better as a prisoner than on the ship.

Who would have thought pizzas can cook? :)

The next morning, a small wooden crate was discovered just outside the village. It had a small letter "E" written on it, in red. It smelled of tomato. It was opened, and found to contain the severed foot of a pizza, along with a note that proclaimed, "Evil is afoot."

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.

Enraged, several pizzas set out to hunt for Arbyte. They did not return that afternoon. By that evening, worry began to spread in the village.

At dusk, the village gate was flung open as if by an explosion. A large wheeled machine with captain Arbyte at the controls rolled into the village. There was a long, thin cylinder on its front. The pizzas saw intense rays of heat and light shooting out from its tip, exploding on whatever they contacted.

The pizzas were unprepared for this weapon. They were shocked by the power of the blasts, and the heat caused nearby pizzas to faint. The defense troops retreated immediately, and watched three homes burn before they mustered the courage to counterattack.

"Arrr!! Revenge is mine!" Captain Arbyte was laughing, enjoying the spectacle of smoke and fire. "This machine is built for safety — mine!"

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.

Three pizzas charged the machine, each from a different direction, but Arbyte was fast enough to hit each one with his Beam of Evil. He rolled towards the center of town, no other pizzas daring to oppose him.

The pirate crew cound see some of the attack. "Arbyte's gone mad," said Tim. The pirates nodded. A little harmless pillaging they understood, but this was slaughter. They held their breath as they say the chief pizza walk slowly towards Arbyte.

"Pizza the Hut!" Arbyte saw him, and whirled around to aim. The elder pizza boomed, "Arbyte! This ends now!" He threw his spear towards the machine. It struck a hose between the controls and the discharge tube, and fire erupted from the spot. Arbyte watched in horror as the flame grew to consume the entire machine. It collapsed in a hissing jumble of partially melted metal.

"The spear hit a breakpoint," explained Tim. "The machine could not continue."

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.

With Arbyte dead, the pirates had no desire to fight, and the Zah tribe had seen enough killing. Not trusting the pirates enough to let them stay, the pizzas restocked the pirate ship and forced the pirates to sail away, with a promise never to return.

Of course, a lost and storm-blown pirate may be unable to keep his word.

Here's the breakdown of references by category:

  • General jokes - 7
  • TV/film/book/music/internet - 14
  • Microprocessor jokes - 14
  • Jokes from my group at work - 4
  • Whiteboard creations - 3
  • Miscellaneous humorous items - 6

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.

Tiny Island