Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Cornflake?

Everyone asks the question sooner or later :-) Why Cornflake?

There's two answers, and sure, they're related. Actually there's three answers but for the third I just look confused and answer "why not?" :-)

1987 - I was a first year Engineering student at Uni, full of the usual angst, not sure of my place in the world, or even really who I was. Driving to Uni each day, I went under a train underpass at the end of Selby Rd. Somebody had graffiti'd "I want to be A Cornflake" on the underpass. The A was the anarchy symbol. 

Initially this made no sense to me. It was a riddle, and I spent the best part of that year puzzling it out.

Eventually the local council got rid of the graffiti. To my great delight it was back about a month later. I've still no idea who the graffiti artist was, but whoever they were, they have my eternal thanks.

The first answer to the question - the incorrect answer, but the one I use most often is:
"So, I spent a lot of that first year getting drunk. When drunk I would try to solve the riddle. Eventually my friends got tired of this, started calling me Cornflake, and the name stuck."
Not really true. Sure, I spent the first year (and an awful lot of the subsequent ones) getting drunk. And, yup, I'd try to puzzle out the riddle. But no-one else gave me that name.

The real answer is more geeky. I avoid this answer because most of my colleagues wouldn't have understood. Maybe nowadays, but not in the pre-web era of 1987.

There was a Vax 11/750 on campus. My first introduction to Unix, and I was in love from day one. I broke up with one girlfriend because she asked me to stop spending so much time on the system. True story!  But not relevant – or maybe extremely relevant.  <shrug>

Unix comes with Users and Groups. We were assigned file system quota by the User, but also, a few of us found out, by Group. We asked the SysAdmin to create a Group called "The Family", and this was assigned more file space, which we promptly filled with scripts, games, documents full of quotes (mostly Monty Python) and various programs we'd written ourselves. All command line stuff - the GUI was only just entering our consciousness in those days, and you couldn't do anywhere near as good stuff with a GUI as you could at the Command Line. In truth you can't today either - GUI is a great time waster, Command Line made you really focus on what you were doing.

These other guys - the ones who were also in "The Family" - I had absolutely no idea what their real names were. Sure, they were also first year Engineering students, but there was 100 of us in total, and the few Vax 11/750 die-hards, me included, were the geeky people who didn't get on easily with others. All I knew about them was what they had chosen to let the rest of us via their .finger profile. The .finger profile let you choose a nickname. They all had nicknames like "Danger Mouse", "The Don", "Eric the Fish" and "Zippo Bibrock 5 by 10 to the 8th"

So I had to choose something. Something that sounded like I was interesting. Everyone else was quoting their favourite show or book, I wanted to be unique. So I chose "Captain Cornflake the First". Ego has always been my problem :-) Over a short period of time though, this became more simply "Cornflake".

Eventually we would all get talking, and several of these people are still people I consider my best friends. Danger Mouse and Eric the Fish are two of the people I most respect in the world, and it saddens me that they now both live far away from me. The Don I'm still in contact with via Facebook - and he hasn't lost his geek :-)

I got drunk with Jo Kendall at Danger Mouse's wedding. And that isn't even my best memory from that day, utterly fantastic wedding in a great surrounding.   

And as for the answer to the riddle. I had a profound revelation later in the year. Actually, it was probably trite, but to a first year Engineering student, it was like God had spoken to me. "I want to be A Cornflake" means something incredibly personal to me. But I've tried explaining it to others, and it always loses something in the translation.
So, I'll let you come up with your own interpretation :-)