“They’ve hacked into our databases!”
“No way! It was totally secure! How did they get past our twelve-layered security?!”
“Forget that, how did they get through our code? There’s like, a million lines in there!”
“Not just that, it was also coded by us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Only we know what code we write, kid. Sometimes, not even we know it.”
“Yeah, so if they’ve figured what was going on, we’re dealing with coding experts here.”
“Anyway, boot up the code, let’s see what they’ve accessed.”
“You know, there’s no shame in taking longer than a second to type in the password.”
“Shut up, intern.”
(Powering up sounds)
“Great, we’re here. Now let’s see…
What?! What’s this!”
“Looks nothing like our program! It’s all—”
“No way, you’ve got the wrong file,”
“No it isn’t. No one in this department can spell well enough to search for the path /users/SuperSecret/SDrive/scramblingfolder/fakefiles/floccinaucinihilipilification/ and access the file we’ve stored there, they’ve really got us.”
“But—isn’t that your code?”
“Whaddya mean, intern?”
“This is your code. I saw it last week. It was part of my project to add a function, and it was this file.”
“WHAT DID THEY MAKE YOU DO??”
“Relax, nothing much, just run a counter that waits for 1000 seconds and prints “Please restart the application”…”
“You did something.”
“I just documented it! God, it was just comments, it doesn’t affect the code!”
“Why did you document the code? We never document our code.”
“I know. Intern or not, your code’s disgusting to read. It’s just good practice to document it. Took me all week to read a single file.”
“The floccinaucinihilipilification file.”
“Geez, no wonder we’ve been hacked.”
“What do you mean?!”
“You guys can’t be serious.”
“You mean to tell me, that you never had any security in the first place??”
“…well, we never needed it. No one could figure out what our code ever did. It was the simplest and most effective of security: the safety of no knowledge.”
“But now that you’ve so helpfully documented everything, we’re an open book.”
“Well, what now?”
“You’re asking me?
… (sigh) I guess it’s time to put my degree to some real use, isn’t it?”
This is in no way influenced by the fact that I am learning assembly language and can’t imagine any better use for it than for concealing stuff that’s otherwise so obvious even a beginner coder could work it out. It’s also extremely cool and puts you in a very secretive environment-frame of mind.
Everything around looks
Nothing out of the blue;
Nothing here does,
Except perhaps you
It’s hard to notice
When everything around
But it’s a little hard,
Out of shape
On two hours of sleep.
I’m genuinely on two hours of sleep. I was at a hackathon all weekend, and when school, travel and travel costs all add up, you have to give it your all!
And so I think I may have slept a little between 4:30 and 5:30. Maybe.
Totally worth it!
The best part about hackathons is the total exploration. You often end up staying overnight in a single building designated as a coding area. Even if it’s a building you’re quite familiar with, there’s nothing a whole night there can’t teach you that you already knew from spending two hours a week in lecture there. You find new cozy hacking/study spots and if you’re home, you have a alternative to the old stuffy library for the rest of your education!
For me, this time it was about exploring (infiltrating?) a new (rival?) school’s comp sci base: I was up in Montreal! (The commute did not agree with me however!)
I snuck out on my short break and walked around some really stunning architecture. I wish I’d had more time to explore the city, but my lack of time was a whole other story!
It’s a story that probably deserves its own post: the travel post with some bonus theatrical thrills, because believe you me a sleep-deprived kid mostly confined to the insides of a computer science department building, can still get into fixes.
Hackathons are also a great way to make new friends! Even if it is at your own school or university, spending twenty four hours debugging and crying over your own bad coding habits with someone else is sure to earn you a new friend, one who always knows the pain of getting 178 nested errors only to follow them to the first instance of where thing started going wrong and for your error message to make absolutely no sense to anyone. They’ve seen you there before, in the wee hours of the morning.
Another super cool part of the exploration that goes on at hackathons is obviously, an exploration into the world of computer science, and all its wonderful skills! Most people end up learning something new at a hackathon, maybe because what you’d like to make uses a platform you’ve never used before, or if you’re playing around with totally new, shiny, cool hardware and writing code to talk to it: I will never tire of being amazed at how we bounce electricity around to get a cool chip-spider or whatever’s new in the hardware lab, to talk to your computer and do whatever you command it to do (as long as there are no bugs, of course!)
I gave InVision the ditch and tried out some prototyping on Figma this time, and my word, Figma is advanced. It looks to simple to begin with, but you can use it to come within inches of having the appearance of decently sophisticated code usable by neat UI.
Man, I miss the old days of nursery and day care where part of your day was just curling up for a nap.
I’m at work right now and tired out by stuff I’ve been doing since morning. Of course I’m too self conscious to sleep. It’s not something you do at work.
But imagine if sleeping was in fact a part of your workday. Some new-fangled study claiming that it boosts productivity and miraculously, ensures bug-free code (nothing ever ensures bug-free code).
This would be the next big thing in quotidian work lives.
Now, people fuss over their hair and clothing, cuff links and ties, formal leather shoes and a neat haircut.
Authoritarian look, good language, a firm handshake. Sharp briefcase. All the things we focus on because we’re allowed them at work.
Clean wallpapers, work-filled laptops.
Now bring sleep into the foray.
Imagine IKEA rolling out its latest collection of chic yet work-friendly pillows. Pillow cases and pillow stands for people with their own office rooms. Foldable pillows that fit into your briefcase. The artist’s work-pillow. The boss’s work pillow. The intern’s work pillow.
The big question to be asking a successful CEO in a ‘look into the life of’ interview: what sort of pillow do you prefer?
How does the sort of pillow you carry affect your job interview? GQ articles on the most subtle yet effective pillows to bring to the workplace.
Adverts showing approving colleagues watching the smartest pillow-carrier sleep:
Sometimes, you just have nothing to say. I’ve often had nothing to say, I’ve just hung around wondering how people talk so much.
Then they turn and hit you with the s-bomb. You’re so silent!
Yes, well, if all you can talk about is the last wedding you all were at and all the food you ate there, there is no way in a million lives I can contribute to that chatter.
I’ve realised of late that my way of coping with this, anticipating that dreaded blow, has been verbal diarrhoea: oh you wanna talk food? Allow me to divert and rant about how spicy this was, and then hijack the conversation and start talking about the history of spices and why all countries in the world wanted to set sail for India back in the set sail times (hint: thé answer is spices). Then I plan to dart and run away before you can throw any kind of bomb at me. I’m out.
Or you can be nice and give me the wifi password and we can avoid this whole mess. Keep me leashed, I guess, if you value your sanity.
And yeah, of course you’ll probably end up in one of my comics. That’s the sole reason why artists exist. We love annoying you.
Where do these lines lead? What lies beyond the bright point? What’s that blue blob? A door? A portal?
I find it interesting how you’ll never know. I do know, because I took this picture, but to you, the very same picture is, and will remain, an utter mystery. A supposition, at best, an educated guess, a figment of your own imagination.
Can you imagine a character running towards the light, arms outstretched, trying desperately to reach that portal and escape to some imagined safety? Do you see a lost traveler wondering how on earth they got into this underground labyrinth, feeling the brick walls as much as to feel its texture and feel some warmth, some assurance, some hope that they’ll ever get out alive, as for some direction? Them, feeling their way along the long, low corridors, fervently wishing for some sign of life to appear… As they make their way down, they see a door. Then another door, hidden in an alcove. Which one might lead to escape? Oh dear, there isn’t time to go exploring, and there isn’t time to waste around guessing!
It’s now or never, they must take their best shot!
The hidden door, that must be it! Freedom can’t be that obvious, right? Here goes, swing, and in!
What’s that? Carpeted floors and low, concentrated light. Where is our hero now? They look in front of them: another door? What on earth? It’s too late to turn back. Swing this one open too!
Siren! They’re done for! What sort of trap have they triggered now? What lies ahead for our protagonist?
Our hero sees movement: there are living beings here! They slowly turn their head and look at our befuddled hero. They don’t look happy. In fact, they seem almost… gruntled?
Our hero takes a step back in panic and confusion. They grip the strap of their backpack. So down they must go. Well, they’ll go down fighting!
Sweat droplets begin to form on our hero’s forehead in spite of the cool night air around. Their fist clenches, their muscles tighten. They silently promise themselves that if they make it out of here alive, nothing is going to stop them from going home. They will go home.
Slowly, they take a tiny step forward. They suck in a breath. They open their mouth to say something, but they’re still shaky from the wailing siren around them.
And the figures in the light, they don’t seem to like the wail either.
As they’d figured two minutes ago, “now or never”, our hero whispers through their parched throat.
Just then, a larger figure appears! Her silhouette descends from a higher level and comes down to stand before our hero! As she does so, she blocks the blinding light before them, and our hero’s vision finally begins to come into focus.
With the alarms still blaring around them, our hero really sees the scene they’ve landed themselves in for the first time.
The figure… she seems human, just like our hero! Her brows are furrowing on her forehead, and she adjusts the glasses on her nose. Is she from around here? Will she be able to help me find my way home, and out of this fearsome place? Or is she one of them? What do I do?
At that moment, the woman—for woman she seems to be—begins to speak.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to enter through the other door.”
Our hero simply stares at her in confusion. A-what now?
“Sir, do you hear me? Are you alright?”
Our hero looks up and meets her eye. “What?” they ask.
The lady shakes her head and sighs. “You don’t look like you’re in any shape to pull an all-nighter. I suggest you go home and rest.”
It made no sense, but one word resonates with our hero. Home! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do all this while: get home.
“I don’t understand,” they reply slowly, the confusion beginning to climb up their chest.
“Kid, you can’t enter the library after 9 PM through this door, don’t you know it’s an emergency exit? It says so on the wall. Now you’ve disturbed everyone around. I understand it’s finals season and tensions and emotions run high, but you need some rest, look at you! If you really have to study in here right now, I won’t stop you, but I highly recommend one thing: get home, and get to bed!”, the librarian gushes.
Our hero looks around as the other faces come into focus. Human indeed. Or maybe almost human. Finals season zaps the humanity out of every studying soul and turns them into zombies. They don’t look happy to have had their preparation for that big final worth 40% of their grade interrupted. Now one of them gives up and leaves to go to the washroom. Curses, now they can’t focus and need a break.
Our hero stands there with their mouth hanging open as they watch the kid leave, taking it all in at once. It’ll be a few more minutes before they can remember who they were and what’s really happened in the last half hour or so. Did they fall asleep in the corridor, or one of the classrooms it leads to? Were they really home? Are they just another student taking finals season badly?
For the truth, as you shall now discover, is that this is an underground passage connecting two of our residential buildings on campus. There is an underground entrance to the library, which comes in very handy during cold wintry days. And during finals season, almost all libraries are open twenty-four hours. It’s a blessed necessity.
Now of course I knew that. You only did a paragraph ago, unless you’re also at my school or just made a brilliant guess, which like I said, is only a brilliant guess.
So there you have it.
Also, if this reads a little weird, I’ll put it out there that I have never written a gender neutral character before. Never used these many “they”s in the same piece. Pick your own adventure, I guess.
People are always complaining about how things have become so much tamer. People aren’t wild enough. They don’t take enough risks. They don’t step out of home, or their comfort zones.
It’s ubiquitous enough a complain, but it really seems to roar louder in the world of rock music. There are reasons for this.
Since the demise of the grunge movement following Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain’s death, the entire rock music scene lost momentum and spiralled inwards. By the end of the nineties, only the bands that survived the chaos of the younger half of the decade would go on to make it into the next era. The others would be lost, and so would their fans.
As a kid of the aughts, bands from the zeros seem closer and more familiar to me, but on the grand timeline, it could be argued that they were definitely more obscure than rock musicians have been in past decades. For those that did prevail though, the set of problems they faced were a little different in nature than their predecessors.
Of course, those who grew up in the ‘golden ages’ of the sixties, seventies, or even the nineties, claim that they don’t make it like they used to. The nature of showmanship has changed. The faces of venues have changed. Artists’ demeanour is more closely scrutinised than ever before, and they’re everywhere, all the time.
This is a big change. Earlier, the only exposure you’d have to your favourite artist would be through an interview they did with a music magazine, or an MTV special on the late night telly. You’d hear from them when they dropped their music, and of course, in their music, where they’d always be with you. None of these have changed, although as a compelling article in SpinMagazine argues, the interviews have become rarer, and the music has broken itself into smaller and smaller pieces: from albums to singles, and singles to snippets and breadcrumbs (a phenomenon I recently explored and outlined in this article).
What has changed though, is that in addition to this, you can find your favourite bands on YouTube, their personal Instagrams, Twitter, and for younger artists, even Snapchat. Like every other person, they find these platforms ideal to express their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, for a fan what this means is that your favourite stars are now living in your face, having comfortably nestled there after building themselves a little fire and drinking hot chocolate.
Metal exposed to free air for too long begins to rust, and the same is true of your interest in your favourite musicians. The tabloid has exploded, and everybody can be a reporter; heck, the artists themselves can do it. As you scroll through your news feed in infinite scroll mode, there’s too much stuff to catch your eye, and soon enough, the fifth reposted promotional picture of favourite artist becomes boring. You cast a momentary glance at a gothic, high-heeled, heavily made-up picture of that band you like who would swear to be so strictly folk rock that their getup would be otherwise shocking. But then you move on, because you just saw another picture yesterday.
Rock music was built on the social foundations of ‘rebel and shock’, but what used to shock people is either seen so often that it’s just not shocking anymore, or it’s simply unacceptable.
If Iggy Pop were a rising musician today, he’d have had a tough time.
Iggy relied heavily on the effects of the shock he could have on people, and do it more subtly than contemporaries who would proclaim themselves rebels. (See: MC5)
In particular, Iggy used to cut himself up with a blade live.
Today, he’d probably be cast as having mental health problems. He’d be told, it’s okay, everyone has darker days, and it’s great that you’re putting it out there for everyone to see. Self-inflicted harm? Total sign. Do talk to someone though, please!
And he’d have been a mental health advocate, broken by the stress we all face, a product of that system, with all our respect and our sympathy.
Rebels don’t get your sympathy, and that’s what endeared young rock and rollers to him. That’s what shocked people, and what made him a rebel. It simply wouldn’t work today.
In the face of this, the Noel Gallaghers of the world say that bands simply don’t have it in them anymore, that they’re not dangerous enough. They don’t wake up stoned or turn up drunk onstage (au contraire, only a month ago I witnessed a bassist down seven cans onstage). Artists do what they do. Only the implications of their actions have changed.
Of course, this also makes a band like Coldplay so likeable. In short, Coldplay are anodyne rock and roll: maybe a gateway band to artists more rock and roll, but also a band that you, your mother and your puppy can bond over. They aren’t out to offend and mum and dad won’t hate them. They won’t be in the news for the wrong reasons. In fact, all Coldplay have done to iff anybody is make more mainstream, pop radio-friendly music, and that seems to piss you off more than it does your mum.
But they’re hitting the charts alright.
This is something you’d see showing up all over the charts. Softer pop rock and more mainstream friendly artists are dominating the rock airwaves. Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and Twenty One Pilots are the biggest things rock on the charts. Oh, and probably Billie Eilish.
So is this the changing face of rock music? Has it become so mainstream friendly that it’s no longer friendly to those who created it in the first place? (Case in point: Greta Van Fleet. You either love them, or you love to hate them.)
The short answer is it’s not the end. The rock music scene was always stronger underground. A quick glance at Billboard’s archives tells you that rock music seldom dominated the hot music charts. There were moments when artists shone bright before being replaced by hotter tracks. The limelight was never meant for endurance, only an upthrust. And all legends are written in hindsight. Maybe we’ll be looking back on something we may have missed in our Instagram feeds and think it an incredible display of rock and roll showmanship.
In the meanwhile, do us all a favour and hit your local club, or a bar. There’s tons of good music buried under the unassuming air of carefreeness there that’s just itching to be discovered.
Tip: If you are looking for new music right now, here are some artists I could suggest.
Looking for some laidback surfside Cali blues, and generally a good time? Check out the Beach Goons. In their own words, they hate the beach. San Diego based surf blues-with-a-dash-of-Mexican-rock and roll, they’re my age.
Looking for something with the punk attitude but with catchier tones? I’ve said this before, but check out SWMRS. They’re also a lot better live than their records suggest.
Looking for some old fashioned indie rock? Come on, there are tons of bands out there, I won’t even try. Just go to a club, for goodness sake.
Looking for some hard hitting garage rock? Do, do, do check out Phono Pony. It took me forever to remember their name right, but it’s all worth it. British Columbia based duo hitting it in the vein of the White Stripes. Also, in the words of their drummer, “We’re not the White Stripes”. As a bonus, if you happen to be in Toronto tonight, hop down to the Horseshoe Tavern, they’re playing a midnight set.
You were expecting comics, weren’t you? I have many, but I call this a social experiment.
Isn’t the very essence of a comic but the excitement, the suspense, the thrill by the time you reach the last panel?
Well, just a drawing can sort of do that, only it’s sort of only one panel and no words.
But I’m not making excuses to show off my pretty dragon.
Would you agree that there’s action writ large over this one panelled, unintentionally worded but actually wordless comic, with the dragon’s paw (paw?) raised, poised to make a big move, those wings, ready to expand and fly, the fire already escaping those ready nostrils, those eyes, looking right at you?
Don’t you think there’s drama in here, leaving you wondering, “what next?!” Isn’t there suspense in the fact that you’ll never know what happens next because there is no second panel??
Isn’t there extreme thrill in seeing that I can finally draw a dragon properly??
… oh, hi mum.
Anyway, you got a few panels less than you’d bargained for. I hope a pretty dragon makes up for that.
But I’m also quite a heat of the moment sort of a person, especially when things happen after 11 PM. Which means, for all the stories I string about being up till 3, I’m there, but I’m really not.
My friend and I have a theory that after 11:30 PM, my alter ego takes over. And after some inspection, we’ve come to realise that my alter ego is in fact a monocle-wearing, Fedora-tipping, moustache-sporting, English journalist called James.
Too bad half my best work seems to come after 12 AM.
So I’d promised comics twice a week, and now I’ve put out more. Feast, dear readers! (Actually, I don’t really recommend eating while you’re reading comics. I’ve done that with my Spider-Man comics (with a hyphen, as the guy himself has said!). It doesn’t end well either for your food, or for the mag.)
I mean approaching, formally. Like the absolute value of the difference between my math final and I, is getting really small and fast. And thank goodness for that absolute value, because this distance would’ve been negative without a doubt otherwise.
Also, mathematicians must hate physicists. And computer science first years too, probably.