The Postmodern Gumballs

It's hard to believe it but it's true: I've been at this for an entire year. How the time has flown. In honour of my first blogoversary, today I bring you a story that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I promised a while back that I’d tell you all the story of The Postmodern Gumballs and today's the day. Names have been changed to silly code names to protect the innocent. (All silly code names were approved by the people thus encoded.)

One day, long ago – let’s see, it must have been the summer term of 1992 – I bicycled in to school as usual.  Except this time I stopped at the bulk food store in Highland Hills mall along the way and bought a big bag of sour gumballs.  But these were not ordinary sour gumballs. They were incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs.  But these were not just incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs. They were stale incredibly awful-tasting sour gumballs. Moreover, though they began excruciatingly sour, the flavour all drained out of them in about two minutes, leaving the chewer with a mouth full of bland, stale-tasting rubber and an intense craving for more.

I arrived way early for class.  This was a small class, only eight students.  I think it was 1B advanced algebra or calculus or some such thing.  So I’m sitting there, popping awful gumball after awful gumball, when in walks Mr. Thingo.  "Thingo!" says I, "Would you like some gum? These gumballs are not only bad-tasting and excruciatingly sour, but they’re stale to boot and highly addictive. Have a few."

"Sure, why not?" answered Thingo.

A few minutes later, The Singular Orbifold showed up. Thingo and I pounced. "Orbifold! Have some gumballs! They’re bad-tasting and exceedingly stale, and you’ll end up with a wad of disgusting rubbery goo in your mouth that you don’t dare swallow yet cannot spit out. Want some?"

"Sure!" said Orbifold, though to be frank, he looked slightly dubious.

A few minutes later, The Essential Singularity walked in.  We three cornered her, chewing furiously.

"Ingrid, I mean, Essential Singularity! Would you like some sour gumballs? They’re stale and bad tasting!"

"No!" said The Essential Singularity. "Of course not!"

"But all your friends are doing it."

"Oh. Well, OK then."

And we all miserably chewed great grey gobs of disgusting gum for the next fifty minutes.

I’m salivating just thinking about it.

You see of course what the philosophical importance was. The four of us had discarded objectivity, rejected opinions of conventional authority and disdained those universally held ideological absolutes so incorrectly described as "truths".  We broke down our hitherto established standards, categories, distinctions and boundaries.  At least, we did all that insofar as gumball quality was concerned; we chewed The Postmodern Gumballs.

Comments (16)

  1. "Thingo", I said, "We seem to be stuck in a P.G.Wodehouse story! You have to come up with an ending or we’re all going to end up hanging around Aurelia Cummerleigh’s window imitating an egg laying a hen!"

    "Don’t you mean a hen laying an egg?"

    "What kind of postmodern yarn would that be?"

  2. Speaking of your original article on code generators…

    The real magic comes when you write software in a reflective language. That is, the language is capable of operating on and examining the properties of objects written in itself. Actually, that’s not where the real magic comes in. The real magic comes in when you have a reflective language where blocks of code are first-class objects, so you can create new control structures on the fly, or pass blocks of code to objects.

  3. Eric Lippert says:

    I agree that such languages are magically delicious.

    However, they’re also a nightmare to get working safely in an environment where code from different trust levels can interact. The CLR already does a pretty poor job of managing code access security when delegates are involved; getting CAS working with JScript .NET eval blocks was _quite_ tricky and we resorted to some pretty gross hacks.

    (And living with a virtual machine which does not garbage-collect unreachable jitted code blocks also complicates the implementation of such languages.)

  4. Macneil says:

    *sigh* but that’s not what Postmodernism is.

  5. Eric Lippert says:

    Go to google.

    Type "define:postmodern". Get back many interesting definitions, such as:

    "In its most general sense, describes the blurring and breakdown of established canons (rules, standards), categories, distinctions, and boundaries. "


    "the late 20th-century tendency (in art, thought, and society) to distrust objectivity, authority, universality, and moral and ideological absolutes. Postmodern artists tend to mix styles, cultures, techniques, and high and low forms of art. "

    Obviously I did exactly that before I wrote the final paragraph.

    Perhaps you subscribe to some other definition of what "postmodern" means. For example, perhaps you believe that "postmodern" refers to a particular style of architecture. Or perhaps you subscribe to the definition that postmodernism is the belief that scientific data are mere texts, no more privileged than, say, the Lord of the Rings or some ancient Greek myths. Or perhaps you subscribe to some other definition entirely.

    The fact that there are multiple inconsistent definitions of the term, and that hence any two people discussing postmodernism are probably talking past one another is just one of the many problems with the whole mass of modern critical analysis, and by no means the most important. The whole thing is a mess.

    (That this is in itself one of the primary tenets of postmodern criticism — that understanding the texts of other constituencies is hard — is ironic, but not particularly relevant.)

  6. Orbifold says:

    I definitely don’t recall any intense craving for more. One was quite sufficient, thank you. Also, you forgot to mention the horribly vile aftertaste.

    Boy, that was a fun class. "Hey, do you want some gum? It’s really awful!"

    (By the way, it was 1B advanced statistics, if memory serves. The only math class I ever took which required lab tables, so that we could drop BB’s through a funnel onto carbon paper and see what a normal distribution looks like.)

  7. Ingrid says:

    I protest! I want a silly code name! I shall henceforth be known as the Essential Singularity. 🙂 (And I thought it was 2A Algebra?)

  8. Robert Hahn says:

    I protest Ingrid’s- er – Essential Singularity’s nick, on the basis that it has *twice* as many words as every other silly code name on this page!

    I also protest that Ingrid isn’t being as postmodern as everyone else on the basis that she wants a silly code name! (hint: she’s trying to keep from blurring the canon)

    Finally, in the name of postmodernism, I protest the fact that I’m protesting! With much enthusiasm!

    Excuse me, I have to go blog something. And pull my tongue out of my cheek.

  9. Robert Hahn says:

    Oh, before I sign off, I think I have to say that The Postmodern Gumballs sounds like a great name for a band of rock-and-roll accordionists.

  10. pds says:

    I thought the punchline was when you all figure out that the gumballs are actually crack cocaine, and everyone gets addicted. What a bummer.

  11. Saurabh Jain says:

    Ummm.. so what was Eric’s silly code name?

  12. Thingo says:

    Starting around second year, Eric was often known as "Tilley Man" or "The Guy With the Hat" because he wore a Tilley hat continuously for years. For a while later on, he was known as "Cheerful Morning Person Man" because of his superpower of being very chipper early in the morning when other household residents were decidedly grumpy (I was Moderately Perky myself, though not downright Cheerful). Mind you, none of those code names is particularly pithy (and Thingo and Orbifold aren’t _silly_, thank you very much). It’s possible Eric acquired some new name more recently, within the now defunct CoM.

    Excuse me now, I’m going to spit out my gum.

  13. Elbie says:

    I’m pretty sure I wasn’t in whatever class it was, but I believe I was offered some gum in the comfy lounge afterwards.

    Sadly, now I want gum.

  14. Essential Singularity says:

    My fondest recollection of the event was the faces everyone made as they bit into the vile things. Very amusing. Since I was the last in the group to eat one however, I’m not sure how I remember this. Perhaps the gumballs locally affect the space-time continuum. Then again, perhaps they only affected my memory.

  15. Eric Lippert says:

    > I protest Ingrid’s- er – Essential Singularity’s nick, on the basis that it has *twice* as many words as every other silly code name on this page!

    Don’t forget that Orbifold’s full (fake) name is in fact "The Singular Orbifold".

    And indeed, he is singular, and we wouldn’t have him any other way.

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