A (human) index that likes to code
Also drinks way too much coffee
Published May 31, 2023 21:43
Ever since my last blog post, which was the Advent of Code 22, it seems like lots of things has happened, and the world is devolving into a discourse.
My life has also experienced a drastic change as I finally went back to academia and touched a textbook for the first time in 3 years. I want to share some opinions I have. However, since no one really reads opinions fully anymore, I figured I’ll spin them into short stories that you can enjoy!
Note: Whatever views I express here are not related to my employer, college, alma mater, my parents, my hypothetical pets, my imaginary friends, or anyone/anything else. Hence, don’t go around claiming that “CodingIndex says this, imagine what other people from <insert institution here> think!”. Chances are, nine times out of ten, I hold the pessimistic and anti-societal opinion amongst my peers.
Table of contents:
Steve is a great builder in his favourite video game, Minecraft. Back in 2011, he started off with little dirt shacks, and waited the night to pass while he watched online walkthroughs of the game.
He discovered many content creators in the same situation as he was. Being impatient, he furiously clicked through the episodes to see where he could have ended up.
What started off as a simple dirt shack grew to become a cosy wooden cabin, decorated with flowers, filled to the brim with utility on the interior. It wasn’t too shabby of a home for a game of blocks.
He clicked through another 10 episodes, and saw the content creator putting hours of work on their house, adding gardens, farms, lakes, building paths, creating stables, and becoming something magnificent. Houses slowly became castles, utilitarian buildings became aesthetic pleasing constructions with modern architecture.
Steve was inspired. He started to watch tutorials on how to build better, and began refining his craft.
A few months later, he got to the point where he could will mansions and entire environments into existence. He knew the intricacies of how every block added color, variant and personality to the builds. He was genuinely enjoying the artform.
He was building a giant city when he got a ping from his friend on IRC. “Hey”, they said. “Check this out”.
It was a link that pointed him to a game mod that could procedurally generate modern architectures in the game. It used state-of-the-art technology that, with reference to all the architectural designs up till 2021, generates structures that looked realistic. It was even able to generate interiors using countless interior design plans!
“This is so cool!”, replied Steve. He downloaded the program and started to watch tutorials on how to use the mod. In his peripheral vision, however, he started noticing videos with the titles like “This mod will ruin Minecraft creativity!” and “Why building is dead” in his suggestions feed.
“Have you seen videos on it? Seems like you’ll be replaced soon.” the friend commented.
Steve pondered what this meant to himself; will people no longer appreciate the builders in this community? Will he become irrelevant? Has all the skills he has learnt till this point been for naught?
Steve went out for a walk. He observed that the real world was in a state of turmoil, with people fighting against the worsening economy, aging population, and social media over-exposure. He was part of the gloomiest generation alive, and he was worried he wouldn’t be able to land a job with the ever-advancing technology, or find a place to live. Is it even affordable to eat 3 meals a day anymore?
His mind wandered, thoughts after thoughts tangling in his mind, creating a large sense of unease for the future. He then reminiscences the past, about the good old days where he just built structures in Minecraft, worrying about nothing in particular.
An epiphany struck. Why did it matter if he was going to be replaced? Or if his skills are no longer appreciated? Or if he becomes irrelevant? Why did it matter to himself?
Steve sat in front of the computer, booted it, launched Minecraft, and began building. To him, building is what he does to escape reality. It’s his hobby, his passion, and what he wants to continue doing. Even if the entire world forgets such trivialities used to be done by humans, he wants to continue doing it; not because it is the “hip” thing to do, but because he finds it fun.
“I think the mod’s pretty cool, I’ve basically been doing the same thing. By the way, look at what I’ve built!” Steve excitedly sends a screenshot on IRC.
Steve is perfectly happy.
I am a wood carpenter.
When I was younger, I followed my dad around as he fulfilled odd-jobs. He was multi-faceted in his expertise, being well-known for repairing electrical installations, plumbing, pest control, and even motorbike maintenance. However, the one job that has always fascinated me was wood carpentry.
Looking back at it now, he definitely wasn’t very skilled at it; he knew enough to get by repairing furniture, but definitely not enough to build furniture from logs. That level of skill would require machines and hand power tools, something outside the capability of our family’s finances.
Regardless, the thing that captured my interest was the first time he showed me how to join two pieces of wood; turns out, there were many creative ways to do so. The best kind of joints would hide the fact that there were two pieces of wood involved in the first place.
From there, my obsession to wood spiralled out of control; from the types of wood, their strengths, what they signify in superstition, woodworking techniques, and so on. Eventually, I was the guy in town who could not only repair furniture, but also build them. In that sense, I have surpassed my father.
While half-drunk, my father sent me for my first competition as a trial for my carpentry skills. There, I caught the attention of some executive from the Ministry of Labour, who decided to grant me a full-ride scholarship to a trade school. Overjoyed, I went on to best trade school in the world and specialized in wood carpentry.
I’ve built over a hundred furniture at this point. While they have not seen use outside of my town, townsfolk would always comment on how my wooden furniture have withstood their harsh daily use for years and required minimal maintenance. Needless to say, I am proud of what I’ve created, but I definitely have ways to go before I become a master.
First year of the wood carpentry curriculum was everything I’ve already known, digested and used extensively in actual carpentry. However, being conceit goes against the values of an aspiring master craftsman; hence, I used the opportunity to etch the concepts onto my soul.
Of the hundred furnitures I have created in my lifetime, some were catastrophic failures. Unbalanced stool supports, wood not covered properly in resin causing rot, etc. Nevertheless, I’ve learnt from those mistakes to create even better furniture. Craftsmanship is practical art - creative endeavours turned utility. I loved it as a hobby and a career; surely, I must love learning about it.
One of the assignments for a critical skill officially named “Blueprints” was to theorize about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of leg stands for a table. We were given four types of wood to think about; all of varying brittleness, weight, and resistance to bugs.
Sounds straight forward enough.
And so I submitted a report detailing a table, and theorized about each leg stand, how much force they can each support, and which wood to pick for a long-lasting piece of furniture. I also submitted a blueprint, and an additional analysis guide for the derivation of that blueprint. I took some photographs of a mock table I built with that blueprint to prove my point.
After a month or so, I received devastating feedback. Turns out, the instructor expected a rectangular table, while I’ve analyzed table stands for a triangular table. I was also expected to report on each leg of the table, even though the results would have been identical to just reporting one. For the blueprint, I was chided about providing additional materials. When I wanted to refute the feedback, I was told that this was professional judgement. Maybe I was too narrow-minded to realize what the master wanted.
Regardless, I now have an official record of being weak at “Blueprints”, a skill so fundamental to being a craftsman that bad = incompetency, no matter the other skills. Perhaps I’m thinking too much about it, maybe I’ll have the chance to explain it when I look for an apprenticeship programme. Surely I wouldn’t be rejected before even stepping foot into the real working world, right?
The Ministry of Labour dropped my scholarship for my poor performance in trade school, where “Blueprints” had a great influence in the decision-making process. It can’t be helped; trade school performance is baked into the contract after all.
During examinations, all I could think about was “Blueprints”. Distracted, I flunked all the examinations. Seems like dropping my scholarship was a good move for the Ministry of Labour; somehow I’ve lost the “spark” and “interest” to remain in the woodworking business.
In my second year, I tried to get an apprenticeship to further my woodworking. I would always get questions about “Blueprints”, and why it received such an undesirable record. Whenever I was given the chance to, I would explain; but what would an apprentice know anyway? Compared to the well-esteemed expert that is the master craftsman, my words may as well be the whispering wind. Of course, I wouldn’t be accepted to any apprenticeship programmes, because I supposedly can’t do blueprints. Meanwhile, my peers were seen as budding talents of the craft - up to this point, they’ve built a single table.
I couldn’t find a job, and had to drop out for my third year. Trade school is expensive, after all. Back at home, I was ridiculed by the same people who encouraged me in the past for being a quitter, and being lucky. Or maybe I was just imagining it.
Somehow, my entire life now revolves being weak at “Blueprints”. Maybe I’m just imagining it.
During a family reunion, I saw cousins who had no interest in wood working becoming successful after attending the trade school. They seem to have their life put together. Strange that the dynamic was the other way just a few years ago. They’re looking at me. Their faces seem to be in disdain. I could see hatred from the years of being compared to me, all directed towards me at once. They seemed satisfied. Surely, it must be my imagination.
I went home and tried to build a table. I didn’t have enough tools to do so; I’ve gotten into an argument with my family and they’ve tossed away most of them, stating that “it has ruined my life”. Surely, they still support me, and I’m just imagining things.
It is now 4 years since I last left the trade school. I’m jobless; except for the occasional odd-job. I’ve not been asked to perform carpentry, since we now had several experts (my cousins) in town. Oh, how I envy them. While I experience financial drought, they can comfortably get by creating masterpieces after masterpieces.
Today is the day my last remaining family died. They said it was of old age. I no longer have a reason to work. I no longer had a reason to live. Maybe I’ll go back to wood carpentry?
No. Of the hundred and one furnitures I have created, all of them were catastrophic failures. If the world thinks so, then it must be true. I shouldn’t soil this world with my horrendous work.
They’d be sad if I just stopped living. So I’ll continue, but I’ll lay rest what I am within. This is the best way.
I wish I was a wood carpenter, I thought, as I quell my anxiety after waking up from my own nightmare.
“Hey, you’re still working on that draft?”
After nearly falling over from the friendly strong pat from David, Jack regained his balance and composed himself.
“Yeah, it really is taking a while. I’ve only gotten reliable first-hand accounts from the Core, but the Anti-Core? Hearsay at most.” Jack replied, taking a huge swig from his glass of ale.
David followed suit. Ever since the war started, the entire news agency went into chaos-mode covering the events. Jack and David were specially tasked to gather information for an exclusive news column on the war.
“I’m surprised you’ve even gotten a hold of a contact from the Core countries at all; who’s free enough to answer you?” David inquired. A reasonable question, seeing how their country was neither Core nor Anti-Core.
Jack put his drink down, and spent some time staring at the table. It looked as if he was too drunk to hear anything properly, or he was deep in thought - it wasn’t exactly clear given the question.
“I… made a promise to one of them.” Jack said, chugging the rest of his ale, and stood up in one swift motion. Before David could respond, Jack walked out of the door, but not before shouting across the bar, “sorry, see you soon, I’ve gotta meet someone!”
It was 01:31AM; who would he even be meeting? It’s probably none of my business…
David found himself tailing Jack. Jack looked around him at every intersection he took - he seemed to be more wary as streets became alleyways. Eventually, Jack stopped in front of a metallic backdoor of an otherwise unsuspecting noodle shop.
Knock knock knock
David pressed himself against a nearby wall. What was Jack doing in this suspicious alleyway?
A husky accent replied softly in broken English through the door. David couldn’t quite hear it, but it didn’t stop his imagination from going wild. Was Jack involved in some illegal business? Money-lending? A drug deal perhaps? Maybe even…
The metal door creaked open, and Jack slipped inside. When the door closed, David edged closer to the door, and leaned his ear against the cold metal. While muffled, he could just about make up the conversation:
“… sellout … you and your family … citizenship.” this was a native voice. This must be Jack.
A long silence loomed. He could hear a disgruntled husky sigh. This must have been the other person through the door.
“… corruption … attack … no basis … lose. locations… do not reveal my identity. my family … anti-core”
The rest of the conversation was inaudible, except: “I’ll bring you 28 thousand tomorrow”, which got progressively louder. David took the cue and fled the scene.
The next day, David went over to Jack’s desk, where he found Jack furiously typing away. David kept silent, having inferred how Jack was getting his information. At night, during their drinking session, as David was mentally anticipating Jack to fulfil his promise, the television was broadcasting about the current state of the war.
“That’s your work, right? Good job!” David happily exclaimed, as he raised his ale to clink glasses in celebration. Jack happily obliged, while watching the television intently.
“… Anti-Core Citizen Garn Nova said that the country is full of corrupted officials. In this exclusive report, we reveal key Anti-Core military installations never discovered till today. Stay tuned.”
David’s eyes widened in horror; at the corner of his eyes, he observed Jack still maintaining his perfect smile.
All of a sudden, the door to the bar slammed open. All eyes were on the perpetrator. He then unholstered his rifle, letting out a battle-cry. This was followed by uncontrolled shots to the ceiling and anything else in his path. In the ensuing panic, full of shrieks, the man shouted in a rather familiar voice: “Where are you, Jack!”
Among the shrieks and a general sense of fear in the air, David’s mind remained calm; he recognized this voice. The tone and signature were identical to the husky voice he heard yesterday. This was Jack’s correspondent from the Anti-Core.
“How dare you, Jack! You have doomed my entire family!” the man was livid. He shot at random things in the room, hoping one of his bullets would slot itself cleanly through Jack’s temples by sheer luck - he didn’t care about the innocent crossfire; to him, his life has ended the moment his name was published on television.
David’s eyes darted around the room, searching for the antagonist of their current predicament. What he found was not his meek co-worker who stood for writing excellence, but a monster who kept his smile, talking to his phone under cover from the uncontrolled bullet spray.
In seconds, men donning blue tactical gear emerged from the back of the bar. The resulting chaos between the police force and a man who lost everything was too gruesome to watch. To an outsider, it would seem to be a case where “the police force saves the day from a madman”, but to David, he was witnessing the tale of a man who trusted a monster.
The event made national news - politicians used it to talk about national defence, and there were even talks to ally themselves with the Core. Under the leadership of the newly-promoted chief investigator, who authored both the exclusive insight to the war, and the bar event that shook the nation, the news agency prospered.
David resigned a few months after, supposedly to “look for new opportunities elsewhere”.
David sighed as he carries his bag of canned beer, on his way home. He has since moved away from the district where he used to work; to stay away from the stuff that sometimes fuels his nightmares. He never thought that someone he was close to could kill a man, let alone their entire family.
Sometimes, the sad tale of a poor man who sought refuge in another country, alone and away from his family in the Anti-Core states replayed itself, rent-free in the mind of David. What would he have done if he was the man? What should he have done when he found Jack performing shady dealings? In the first place, how could he have misjudged Jack?
As David reached his street of residence, he noticed a familiar figure and stopped in his tracks. The figure noticed this and turned towards his direction.
Somehow, without even confirming, the figure said, “David! It has been a while, I’ve been trying to reach you forever!”.
“How did you know-“
“It’s not nice, ignoring your friend, ya know.”
“I didn’t tell any-“
“Especially since I let you follow me to my secret spot the other day.”
David froze. Jack knew that he was followed all along.
“You know, trust is a funny thing. They say it’s difficult to build, but easy to break. Have those people ever been desperate?”
“You are a monster.”
Jack paused his over-exaggerated movements, and stared at David for a while. Disgust filled David as Jack expressed a puzzled look.
“I just wanted to be promoted. The economy’s hard, you know?”
Repulsive. Abhorrent. Absolute filth. Trash. How is this parasite still alive?
“This is basically what everyone does, ya know? The guy wasn’t even one of our own!”
David snapped. He couldn’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something about exposing Jack to the entire world.
“That’s troublesome. It’ll hinder my progress to become a minister.” Jack stated apathetically, as if he practiced for this exact scenario.
“Hence, it’ll be nice if you don’t do that.”
In David’s anger, he failed to notice the black-suited people surrounding him. Before he could react, his entire world went black.
In his final moments, he thought about the first time he met Jack. Jack was serious about his work, but he absolutely hated how the world worked - it was a worldview that resonated with David. When did this Jack change? Or, could it be, that there were no changes in the first place?
Then, he thought about the man. Even in David’s final moments, David couldn’t help but feel pity for the man who was misled to accept the poisoned kindness of a monster. Just how many more monsters roam this earth?
Hope you enjoyed the short stories! I’m not much of a writer, but these were quite fun to assemble.