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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 23
Mar
2011

Tomato parable

What Max Reckons I wrote some code to embed my tweets on my website. There’s a statement that would have made no sense in 1990. Actually, it barely makes sense now. But I did it. I’m proud of my site. I built it myself. Occasionally I get an email saying, “What software do you use to run your site and how do I get it?” I think the answer is: receive a Commodore 64 for your tenth birthday and no good games.

But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I decided to grow my own vegetables. A few people I knew were growing their own vegetables, and they kept yakking about how wonderful it was, not depending on manufactured supermarket vegetables, which are evil for some reason, so I thought what the hell.

For a while I was intimidated by the idea of growing vegetables. When I reach for a vegetable, I usually just want to eat it. I don’t want to be intimately involved with its creation. I worried I would end up spending more time tending to the health of fragile, overly complicated peas than eating them.

Then I saw an ad for genetically modified seeds. These promised to take the hassle out of growing vegetables, which seemed pretty intriguing. The tomatoes would be big and red and I wouldn’t have to do anything. So I got those.

This upset my hippy friends. Especially when I started having problems. My frankenfruit was supposed to be simple but after a few weeks the whole garden stopped growing. My cabbages were flaccid. My carrots were anemic. My spinach wouldn’t self-seed. It wasn’t supposed to self-seed. The genetics company had engineered it not to, so I’d have to buy new seeds each season. But I thought there should be a way around that.

I asked my hippy friends for help. Well! You’d think I asked for a kidney. They kept bringing up the fact that I was using GM seeds. Eventually they all got together and said, “Max… we can’t help you any more. We want to. But you brought these problems on yourself. And the thing is, when you ask for help, you’re actually asking us to use our skills and knowledge to prop up a corporatized product that’s not just practically inferior to the free alternative you ignored, but actually bad for the world. We just can’t do that.”

And that was how I taught them to stop asking me for help with Windows.

Comments

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shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 1345 days ago

wow Aussie hippies don't use macs?

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1345 days ago

May I apologize in advance for the smugness of this blog.

Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Two (brown) thumbs up for that solution!

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 1345 days ago

No, don't apologize, hippies should learn that their fights have all been fought (and they've largely lost). The new fights against corporate oppression (hehehe) that are taking place are all electronic, and dwarf anything their grateful dead albums could have imagined.

Jenifer (#1868)

Location: Suwon, South Korea
Quote: ""I'll try everything once. If I like it, I'll try it again.""
Posted: 1345 days ago

Please tell me you didn't really grow any plants and that was just the best joke set-up in history!

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Windows is GM linux?

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 1345 days ago

Tell them to watch the Organic Food episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

It's edu-tainment.

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 1345 days ago

This was an awesome setup. I should have known it was going to be a parable when you mentioned getting GM seeds.

Steve (#2499)

Location: Michigan
Quote: "Max Barry's writing rocks. And he didn't even pay me to write that."
Posted: 1345 days ago

{Laughing} Ok, you totally caught me off guard. Excellent. And ... wow ... GM plants and hippies and evil corporations -- I smell another novel. Oh wait ... that's been done to death.

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Also, perhaps the title should have given it away. I should read titles more often, you probably spend valuable time coming up with that title.

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 1345 days ago

Beautiful.

Jane (#321)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "Which is worse: Ignorance or apathy? Who knows? Who cares?"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Nice one! If the bible had parables as good as this, it might actually be worth something.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Took me a while but I finally got it...this is a Linux thing, right?

Machine Man subscriber Barrie (#5111)

Location: Blackheath Australia
Quote: "So be it, mergatron!"
Posted: 1345 days ago

Monsanto man!
Get a Mac Max and give yourself a break.
Windows ebil!

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Location: 127.0.0.1
Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 1345 days ago

awesome.
and Barrie, *nix is still superior to apple computers, even if only in that the OS is free, open-sourced, and is compatible with a more hardware options.

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 1345 days ago

As long as you're being smug about Linux, I can't be mad.

RaYdeX (#5311)

Location: Canberra
Quote: "I'm unique. Just like everybody else."
Posted: 1345 days ago

Heh, See, in your analogy - Windows doesn't fit. Windows is like the sugary treat, that purports to have some value, and everybody loves it... but it's not actually good for you.

Mac would be the Windows in your analogy. GM Linux. Designed to keep you going back to the manufacturer as often as possible, to get the slightly newer seed, that's actually just a slightly smaller old seed, that doesn't do anything extra. Bad for the world. The natural goodness removed, and injected with some corporate greed.

Windows has always been this way, there never was an innocent and free version.

John Thomson (#5303)

Location: Gretna, UK
Quote: ""And that was how I taught them to stop asking me for help with Windows.""
Posted: 1345 days ago

RaYdeX, Couldn't agree more!

Max, Great post! Can't wait to get my hands on another one of your books.

Thomas (#1221)

Location: Germany
Quote: "One more, and I'm going to consider you my penpal."
Posted: 1345 days ago

Haha, nice twist. Didn't see it coming, even though the title clearly has parable in it. I thought I was going to learn about agriculture.

Mlaz (#5134)

Location: Nether-lands
Posted: 1345 days ago

Does this mean you're a cyber hippie or something, Max?

nick (#3850)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "Pick me, pick me, I'm ever so smart!"
Posted: 1344 days ago

I love you so much right now. I just thought you'd like to know that you're my hero.

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1344 days ago

Tomatoes and hippies, combined with the patenting process - big business versus the last romantics - all the aforementioned are assembled as a parable on how to develop the software you are useing - gadzooks Max didn't them hippies, you tell us are your friends, point out, "you are what you eat" and that GM. food has brain altering substances, that make you think in the regulated manner.

TotesEichhorn (#4757)

Location: Vienna - Austria
Quote: "marketing IS modern propaganda"
Posted: 1344 days ago

The title could come from the big bang theory.... but well it suits ;)

GM veggies are not my favorite. I like the local plants and their taste, as seldom as i devour them.

Anyway nice topic & greets from "up over"

Machine Man subscriber Kyle (#3321)

Location: Burnie, Tasmania
Posted: 1344 days ago

Niice :)

“Max… we can’t help you any more. We want to. But you brought these problems on yourself. And the thing is, when you ask for help, you’re actually asking us to use our skills and knowledge to prop up a corporatized product that’s not just practically inferior to the free alternative you ignored, but actually bad for the world. We just can’t do that.”

I rolled my eyes at that, sans the irony. There are people walking around with their eyes shut in every political scene.

Machine Man subscriber Todd (#3429)

Location: New York
Quote: "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."
Posted: 1344 days ago

Fantastic post. But to comment on a tweet: I have always thought that there was a hilarious back-of-the-NYT-book-review essay to be written about those ridiculous Library-of-Congress descriptions.

Machine Man subscriber Guy Wright (#2861)

Location: Toronto, Canada, eh
Quote: "push the button max! (Jack Lemmon as Prof. Fate)"
Posted: 1344 days ago

I read "parable" and I was expecting something biblical, like about talents, although in the end you are burying seeds instead of talents so it sort of qualifies (if you have never read the Bible you'll have no idea what I'm referencing - but that's the story of my life). Actually, the non-self-seeding feature of your GM spinach may be quite deliberate on the part of the biotech creators of the seed - meant to be a failsafe measure to prevent GM products "escaping" into the wild. So, in a way, you are at least addressing some of the concerns of critics of GM foods by your choice - how it interacts with YOUR biology...well, who knows. On the whole, you are eating spinach and that's a healthy choice so put one point in each column.
How are you finding parenthood the second time around? "Two are as easy as one". Anyone told you that? It's not true. Most of what you learn with the first one you can toss out the window when it comes to the second one. But I hope you are getting the most out of it - the time goes faster than you can imagine and when it's good it's very good.

Machine Man subscriber Mike Kowols (#3435)

Location: Des Plaines, IL
Posted: 1344 days ago

Absolutely wonderful. Thank you. I needed a good laugh.

James (#5313)

Location: Newport Beach
Posted: 1344 days ago

What's unfortunate is that your parable mocks an OS that is merely victimized by it's overall percentage of use. If, by chance, Macs had been the OS of choice and Windows the red headed step child of the corporate world, Mac viruses and malware would be rampant and Windows users would post hysterical parables about how their systems were more secure and easy to use.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Windows lover - I own two Macbooks, an iPad and two Windows 7 systems; it's just funny how pure Apple fans think their world is so much nicer.

It's merely been ignored by those who can make it hell.

Kelly (#5314)

Posted: 1344 days ago

This is sheer poetry. I don't extract smugness or hilarity from this -- just sheer poetic beauty.

Nate Murray (#1176)

Location: San Diego
Quote: "You can run, but you can't glide!"
Posted: 1344 days ago

So great. I did not see that coming. Hilarious, Max.

Machine Man subscriber Aquinas (#4890)

Location: New Zealand
Posted: 1344 days ago

I have been put in the unenviable position of finding this really well done despite being a windows advocate :)

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1344 days ago

I don't want to start an operating system flamewar, because Linux is clearly best, but I have to clarify my stance on Apple. I don't have a Mac. I've never used one. I have an iPhone, which I love. But I love it as a user of technology, whereas I love Linux because it lets me build and create and modify. Linux is empowering in a way that Windows and Apple are (equally) not.

Of course, Microsoft is getting better and Apple is getting worse, so maybe in time I will feel the same deep, abiding hate for Apple as I do for MS. But Apple users have never pestered me for help removing spyware.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 1344 days ago

Should've stuck with the C64

Agent_Johnny (#5316)

Location: Dirt
Quote: "Nunya"
Posted: 1344 days ago

Machine Man subscriber Toby O (#2900)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "You can't sell your soul to the devil if he's not buying"
Posted: 1343 days ago

I expected the zinger at the end... but also I am hoping that you did grow some of your own food. It's pretty cool. Edible = Dirt & Fertiliser & Water & Sun

if Ripe then Eat

John Thomson (#5303)

Location: Gretna, UK
Quote: ""And that was how I taught them to stop asking me for help with Windows.""
Posted: 1343 days ago

James: As (the all mighty) Max said, "I don't want to start an operating system flamewar, because Linux is clearly best" and that he hates Macs equally as much as M$, I totally agree with him. As for the malware thing no M$ fanboy is going to agree, but windows is insecure in it's design. M$ more than likely have a vested interest in that, no doubt making money from it in one way or another (What a surprise, M$ exploiting the fact that they can't code).

Max: Couldn't agree more. And (as you know) I've put this post on my site, it's that good (the post, not my site lol). www.johnthomson.me.uk/

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1343 days ago

Guy Wright [#2861} is incorrect when he states that the biotech firms have made their seeds sterile to stop them "escaping into the wild". The reason that is accepted by most critical people is that farmers are unable to produce their own seed {as they have done since time immemorial]. This makes the modern GM farmer totally dependent on the seed supplier and vulnerable to any price raises these these profit-driven private companies wish to charge. The result is that only corporate farming associated with these biotech giants will farm in the future. This entails a huge loss to the biodiversity so essential to organic evolution.

John Thomson (#5303)

Location: Gretna, UK
Quote: ""And that was how I taught them to stop asking me for help with Windows.""
Posted: 1343 days ago

Just like M$ and Intel do!

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1341 days ago

Definitely very funny!

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 1341 days ago

Very funny Max. Ignoring the OS dispute I'll step into the biotech discussion:

1. Despite stories (ahem) and many statements to the contrary by supporters of "natural" foods no commercially available GM seeds are actually sterile. The technology to sterilise them (the infamous 'terminator' gene) was developed by Monsanto (with the US DoA btw) but it has *never been used*. Not by Monsanto and not by anyone else (Monsanto have patents, and lawyers...). Why? Because of the outcry that arose when they started talking about it years ago. They dropped the idea like a radioactive potato and it shows no signs of being revived.

2. This lack of a terminator gene upset many environmentalists and anti-GM people - they see it as too risky too have fertile GM seeds in the environment able to mix it up with wild species. They *liked* the idea of sterile seeds, it was the farmers who hated it and led to Monsanto dropping the idea (they didn't want to upset their customers, weird eh?)

3. Many species of non-GM hybrid seeds (created by cross-pollination) that have been widely used in agriculture for many years (early 20th century) are sterile and always have been. We've been growing and eating these since our grandparents were in nappies.

4. As a result of the panicky GM furore over the last decade or so many people now assume that if seeds are sterile they must be GM, when in fact just the opposite is true...

John Thomson (#5303)

Location: Gretna, UK
Quote: ""And that was how I taught them to stop asking me for help with Windows.""
Posted: 1340 days ago

On the GM topic, I completely agree with genetic engineering, if it is done correctly. Most of the diabetic population would be dead by now without it, but if you have an opinion on GM, you would know that it has saved a very high number of people, not just for insulin, factor 8, to clot blood, is made with GM bacteria too.

As for food, if it is done correctly, then it's fine. My main concern, though, is that due to the corrupt nature of the entire capitalist system, therefore the whole world, things like this are never going to work to the advantage of everyone, and it will turn out to be the most needy who don't get it.

Dawne Webber (#5346)

Location: Michigan, USA
Posted: 1322 days ago

I'm from the Detroit area, so the GM took me down the wrong path for a little while. I couldn't figure out how this parable could relate to the auto industry.

The "aha" moment came a few days later out of the blue. I get it.

Thanks for building my intellectual self-esteem. There is hope for me.

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