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S3E8 - Gregarious Greetings & Instant Messaging With Andrew Kam (MASc)

Timestamps, References & Transcript

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- 00:00 - Introduction
- 00:48 - Segment 1: Glitch (Short Story)
- 08:57 - Segment 2: The Origin of "What's Up?" (Metaphor History)
- 17:17 - Segment 3: Instant Messaging (Communication Topic)
- 29:09 - Segment 4: Talk With Andrew Kam (Guest Interview)


- Connect with Andrew Kam via Twitter: @apkam
- Metaphorigins Instagram Page -
- Understood -
- Meriam-Webster -
- What's Up - Wiktionary -
- Whassup? - Wikipedia -
- Quora - Forum -
- Straight Dope - Forum -
- Stack Exchange - Forum -
- First Text Message -
- ASAPScience - Youtube -
- Digital Modulation -
- Arrow -
- Dr. Vinton Cerf - Youtube -
- Crash Course - Youtube -
- Lifesize -
- Undersea Cables - Blog -
- Fibre Optic Cables - Youtube -

Theme Music​

- Flying High by jantrax |
- Music promoted by Switxwr
- Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License |


To my radiant family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 28th episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: Just a reminder, I will hold a draw on my 30th episode for the neat, butterfly-printed, custom Metaphorigins shirt, so stay tuned for that!

Okay. So for today’s episode, I will be talking about one of the most frequent questions posed by humanity on a daily basis, one that when thought more about, perturbs our notion of occurrence and directionality.

Let’s begin your adventure. You wake up to the sound of your alarm, it’s 7:30am. Perfect, you think, that gives you just enough time to get ready. You see, you’ve planned to meet your brother at your favourite diner for morning breakfast. He called you last night in a panic, saying that he was… Noticing things. He couldn’t really explain it very well at the time, and therefore wanted to see you first thing in the morning. As soon as you agreed on the time and location, he hung up the phone, mid sentence. It was a peculiar thing.

After a nice, hot shower, you get dressed, picking out a generic green shirt and blue jeans, and walk towards the diner. Living in your city’s downtown core, the diner was just a few blocks away, plus the weather was gorgeous, as it always is.

You stop at an intersection waiting for your turn to cross. There are other people beside you, also on their morning commute. Until today, you never realized how colourful everyone dressed. There were ladies in yellow dresses, and there were also men dressed in all brown. Funny, the colour seemed to correspond to their moods as well. You lock eye contact with one of the ladies in a bright yellow dress, who smiles. You then turn your head to one of the men in brown attire, who frowns and looks to the ground. Even the horses carrying tourists through the city had on evergreen coats as they pranced down the street.

You continue walking through the intersection and make it to the diner. Inside, as you seat yourself, one of the waiters comes up to you, wearing the establishment red and white polka-dotted hat.

“(TOAD NOISE) Hi there! What would you like to order?”

“Undecided yet. Actually, I’ve noticed today that a lot of people are dressed in monochromatic clothing. Is there something happening today?”

The waiter nods multiple times and writes something down in his notebook. “(TOAD NOISE) Good choice! Anything else?”

“Wait what? I didn’t order anything.” You reply.

“(TOAD NOISE) Coming right up!” The waiter smiles and walks towards the kitchen.

That was weird, you say to yourself. But before you could ruminate more about it, your brother walks into the diner and sits down across from you in the booth.

“Hi.” He says gloomily.

“Hi Mario. Are you alright? You don’t look yourself.”

“I don’t feel myself. Like I said on the phone, I’ve started to… Notice things.”

You look at him with concern. “Me too. Did you see that everyone outside is dressed in monochromatic clothes? There was even a guy in the park next to my apartment wearing a brown suit with a red tie. Where do you even get a brown suit?”

“They’ve always been like that. Everyone has always dressed like that.”

“Wait, what? Really?” You ask.

“Yes,” Your brother continues, “that was one thing I noticed too. Another thing I’ve noticed is that, some people seem to, um, talk through you. Like your responses don’t register with their brains.”

You think back to the waiter. “I’ve also noticed that. Actually, the waiter somehow took my order without me mentioning a word about food. Here he comes now.” You say, as the waiter returns with your favourite dish, the Eggs Benedict.

“How did you know?” You ask confusingly.

The waiter smiles and looks to your brother. “(TOAD NOISE) Hi there! What would you like to order?”

Your brother signals to you to listen closely. He screams at the waiter, “I DON’T WANT ANY DAMN FOOD. AND TAKE YOUR STUPID MUSHROOM HAT OFF, YOU LOOK LIKE A FREAK.”

Again, the waiter nods multiple times and writes something down in his notebook. “(TOAD NOISE) Good choice! Anything else?”

Both you and your brother look at each other in disbelief. Defeated, your brother turns back to the waiter and says, “No, that’ll be all. Thanks for the French Toast in advance.”

“(TOAD NOISE) Coming right up!” Again, the waiter smiles and walks towards the kitchen.

“I don’t understand what’s happening right now,” you say to your brother.

Your brother sighs. “Normally, I start my day like every other day. However, I’ve noticed every so often I wake up, fully clothed, and start walking around the city.”

“What do you mean, like you’re sleepwalking?”

“No. Not sleepwalking. I just get up and start walking. Sometimes I walk down bridges, sometimes I climb on top of buildings. It’s like I don’t have any control of my actions.”

You look at him with more concern. “And then what happens?”

“Well, I don’t remember a whole lot. The only thing I remember is finding these bright, shiny objects around the city, But normally after that I wake up in my bed like a normal day.”

You think about what he’s just said. “Perhaps you’ve been working too much lately. Couldn’t one of the other plumbers at the company take some of your clients while you book some time off?”

Your brother shakes his head, “It’s not quite that. I actually feel normal when I’m doing my regular day job. There’s just some days where I feel fully conscious but just not in control of my actions. I’ve noticed it more and more lately, especially since I keep coming to this one specific place. It’s at the new playground they built in the Southside, a bit cold over there too so I’m surprised I don’t take my jacket with me on these excursions. There’s a massive slide there that I always seem to go down, and there’s a kid too who slides down with me, trying to beat me to the end of the slide. I feel like I’ve raced him down that slide like 50 times now, and he always beats me.”

“That’s really weird,” is all you could muster up to say.

“And our conversation last night, like I don’t remember how we ended the call. All of a sudden I was waking up again and heading back to the slide. But this time was different. This time, when I got to the slide, I would stand next to the kid and go, UP UP UP UP”

Now you’re even more confused. “Why? What’s up?”

“I don’t know! There’s nothing up above me, I looked and reached upwards with my arms in the air to feel for some invisible thing. Nothing.”

“Are you looking for one of those shiny objects? Maybe that’s what’s up.”

“Maybe, but,” He trails off and his eyes go wide. “Oh no, it’s happening again.”

“What’s happening again? Are you okay Mario?”

“Yahoo, here we go again!”

“Why are you talking like that?” You look around the diner and yell, “Help! Please! Help!”

In unison, all the waiters turn to you and say, “(TOAD NOISE) Hi there! What would you like to order?”

Mario stands up and goes, “Luigi, help me! I’m going to wake up soon in my bed.” He stands up and starts saying what he said before, “UP UP UP UP”.

“What’s up? Aie yi yi I don’t understand!”

Mario starts twitching. Then he suddenly teleports to the back of the diner, then on top of the table, then somehow sideways outside the window. And then he disappears.

“Mama mia!” You utter, just before you wake up to the sound of your alarm, it’s 7:30am. Perfect, you think, that gives you just enough time to get ready. You see, you’ve planned to meet your brother…

Alright, the loop is over in this demented version of the Mushroom Kingdom. Though, I feel Luigi has it worse, being mainly an NPC until his own debut game investigating haunted mansions! Anyhow, the expression or question today, if you caught it, is the catchphrase of greetings encompassing the vernacular of street slang all the way to kids cartoons. But, if you think about it, why do we ask for directions when we want to know the affairs of our conversation partners?

What’s the origin to the expression, “what’s up?”

*Theme Music*

Most of this information was obtained from various articles and forums discussing the potential origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

Why hello there. Hi. Yes, hey. Salutations, my dearest friend. Yo! And good day to you. Every conversation you have, in-person or virtually, will begin with one or multiple forms of the greeting. How many different ways have people conjured letters and physical actions together to form the greeting?

Deconstructing what a conversation is, as many of us normal people think about on a daily basis, gets actually quite complicated. In fact, there are resources available to support parents and teachers to educate those who might have difficulties in this regard. In an article by Amanda Morin published by the non-profit Understood, Morin breaks down the conversation into 4 sections: 1) joining a conversation, 2) starting a conversation, 3) maintaining a conversation and 4) ending a conversation, with each section having its own set of skills to master. Specifically focusing on the second element, starting, requires recognizing if its an appropriate time to even have a conversation, having an appropriate topic for conversation, and understanding non-verbal cues. But most importantly, from a very young age, it’s important to know to start conversations with the greeting.

The greeting signals someone that they are about to commence a dialogue with another person. And interestingly, these greetings depend on many different factors. Who exactly are your speaking to? What will the conversation be about? What time of day is it? And of course, is it an in-person greeting, or through some digital medium? Without really thinking about these fundamental questions, you’ve unconsciously decided on a greeting to many of your conversation partners. For example, would you start a conversation with your BFF, as you would your boss? How about beginning a conversation with your mother in the morning, versus at night? In-person or through text message? Certainly your chosen greeting will vary.

Reflecting for myself, I grew up in what I would consider a very unsafe neighbourhood, at least back in the day. At the time I wouldn’t consider it unsafe, nor would my parents, as there seemed to be this air of independence and hard-headed attitude. Although there was crime, such as my father’s car being broken into several times, even shootings, I and many other kids would play outside and walk home alone every day. In fact, youth would be so close that one could observe us from afar and think, “look at this gang of hooligans”, like we’re extras on the Misfits or the Sandlot. We would converse so often together that we’d develop a street vernacular based on the pop culture of that era.

Our greetings were mainly phrases like “Yo” and “Sup”. These two words are the two greetings I’ve uttered the most throughout the course of my life. The latter, “sup” is the compound slang derivative of today’s expression, the GOAT of greetings, used by the young, the old, men and women, even disregarding power status. “What’s up” is defined by Meriam-Webster as informal and “used as a friendly greeting”. What’s up could be classified as the OG of informal greetings, encompassing both the greeting and the classic follow-up of “How are you?”. There are other derivatives to this greeting, like sup already mentioned, and whaddup. Mentioned in its Wiktionary page, there’s multiple forms of wassup as well, like wazzup and wuzzup. Whassup? was a famous commercial campaign run by Anheuser-Busch Budweiser beer from 1999-2002, further popularized by Scary Movie, the Simpsons, Friends and the Office and cementing its placement in cultural lore.

But why are the things we are currently doing, up? This greeting of “what’s up” fascinates me because not only is it universally used practically every day by practically every person in some form, but one can ruminate more and more on the idea of up and other directional words being used in unique ways. Mentioned in a Quora forum by user Billy Kerr, you can be up (meaning awake, or standing), you can be up to something (or participate in an activity), you can be down (or depressed), be over or into something, hell you could also be in on something too. The English language is like the Wild West of phrase structure.

But okay, let’s focus here, and when I say let’s I really mean myself. The expression what’s up is often attributed to beloved Looney Tunes character, Bugs Bunny. Mentioned by Phrase Finder, “A book on youth slang places "What's up?" in the 1970s and 80s section. But Bugs Bunny was saying "Eh . . . what's up, Doc?" before that [with] one site says Mel Blanc said that line for Bugs in 1940.”

This likely means that it was used before that. On a Straight Dope forum, it is mentioned that Mark Twain used the phrase in the 1884 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where it is asked, ““Hello, what’s up? Don’t cry, bub. What’s the trouble?”, so the saying originates before even then.

In a StackExchange forum, user Kiamlaluno mentions the earliest writings of the phrase. In 1819, Emily Brodie’s Right About Face has one character ask, “What’s up with you Nell?”. And earlier than that, from David William Paynter’s The history and adventures of Godfrey Ranger published in 1813, one character is quoted saying “Soul o’ my body, what’s up here?” This seems to be the earliest piece but it is uncertain whether this passage refers to the meaning “what’s up” has in modern day.

Therefore, it is yet another unfortunate case that the origin to “what’s up” seems inconclusive and debated through much speculation. What seems to be difficult is to search for the more important notion of things being up. Nonetheless, changing the greeting to its more literal meaning of “what are you currently doing?” seems so forward that its great to have a way to say such an invasive question in a nicer tone. English is full of these sorts of conundrums, solved with wordplay that catches on with the masses. I guess the only problem is when you are greeting someone and also trying to warn them of incoming head trauma from the heavens.

*Theme Music*

For my communication segment, I would like to talk about an activity that the majority of people around the world partake in on a daily basis, hourly basis, and perhaps even more frequent than that. An activity not specific to age, sex or societal status, just like today’s idiomatic greeting. And that topic is instant messaging.

What a time to be alive. Legitimately. How wonderful it is to live during a time when communication can be achieved between two people separated by various distances. Need to communicate with your friend in the other room? In the other building? In the other city? In another country? Maybe someday, perhaps even another planet (c’mon Elon, we want to send interplanetary memes just as much as you do).

But really, how often do we appreciate how recent this essential way of life came into existence. How efficient our daily routines are now that we can get immediate answers to questions like “What are you doing right now?”, “Where are you at this very moment?”, “Who are you and why do you have my contact information?” etc. etc. Hence the name, these seemingly instantaneous messages from one device to the next have changed the way civilization functions.

As a biologist, or even more generally, someone who is interested in studying life, I’ve taken for granted, for much of my own life, this fundamental mode of communication. This is mainly because, for some reason, any sort of technological know-how has crept into this void of complexity, in which one who hadn’t taken physics or computer science in their upbringing couldn’t possibly understand how it all works. I wonder why people don’t try to grasp it, like my peers who’ve grasped the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, or I guess more relevant, a basic understanding of how to use a computer. Yet, to me, instant messaging has become an act similar to breathing, and thus, by juxtaposing it in this way, it has become intertwined with life itself and piqued my interest. How does it all work? How is it possible that I, situated in Ireland, can type L-O-L into a smartphone and send that to my friend Andrew in Canada? Well, it actually is quite complicated. To answer that question, one would have to start with whether you used the internet or not.

Let’s start with the case in which the internet was not needed. Now, there are a couple of methods for delivering your message: you could have really fast couriers like carrier pigeons or dudes on really fast bikes that can travel close to the speed of light… But otherwise you are likely using a mobile phone that can do short message service (or SMS) text messaging. Interestingly, the first text message was only sent about 30 years ago, in December of 1992 by engineer Neil Papwort to colleagues at Vodafone, saying “Merry Christmas”. Anyway, it wasn’t until the end of that decade that telecommunications companies started to allow mobile users to get in on this trend. And so, using our example of me sending my friend Andrew my L-O-L text message, and excluding the detailed intricacies of your smartphone interface, what does the phone actually do when I press send? In a great video by ASAPScience, my phone would convert L-O-L into a radiowave that gets picked up by the nearest tower servicing my area or cell (hence, the name cellphone), which emits a digital signal to a mobile switching centre. This centre holds onto my message until it can determine Andrew’s closest tower servicing his cell or area, and then emits another radiowave that gets picked up by his phone. And this happens seemingly instantaneously. The information (or the L-O-L message) is converted into discrete binary language via a process known as digital modulation, and allows messages to be interpreted at each point of the process. These digital signals are different than their analog counterparts, in which, as described by a 2019 article published on Arrow, “[a] one time-varying quantity (such as voltage, pressure, etc.) represents another time-based variable. In other words, one variable is an analog of the other.” Thus, information would not have been stored in this binary form, but as continuous values representing specific physical measurements (hence, why these are slower). Cool right?

Hello? Can you still hear me? I hope so, because now we’re going to get into the more probable case, where I sent my very important L-O-L message through the internet. Yes, the glorious internet, or as co-creator of the preliminary version ARPNET Dr. Vinton Cerf described as, “a distributed packet network.” Interestingly, ARPNET was a project launched by the US Defence Department as a way to ensure that the US communications infrastructure was not centralized and made a target by national enemies. Anyway, let’s first define the internet in simple terms. You could think of being connected to the internet like you’re connected to many different networks all at once, which you are. Summarizing what was described by Crash Course lecturer Carrie Anne, you have your local area network, or LAN, which is likely a router or modem in your house. Your LAN is connected to your wide area network, or WAN, servicing a large region of your city or town, which is run by your internet service provider, or ISP. This WAN is connected to larger and larger WANs, either through more fibre optic cables, or those radio towers, both of which I will explain in a little bit.

Sheesh, lots of acronyms there. Remember, I’m trying to send “packets” of information forming L-O-L through my LAN, to my WAN, to ultimately another WAN, to another LAN, ending with message received by an Andrew Kam. But wait, how does my instant messaging app know where exactly to send my L-O-L info packets on this distributed network called the internet? All end users have what are called internet protocol (or IP) addresses, unique to the LAN they are serviced by. Some apps that enable instant messaging like Skype use what is called the user datagram protocol (or UDP) which form the beginning part of an info packet. The UDP has things like the port number, which is just a number your phone or computer assigns to each app, as well as a checksum to ensure that information sent arrives in the same… format if you will.

The issue with the user datagram protocol (or UDP) is that there is no way to know if your message was received. As mentioned in a 2017 Lifesize article, “With UDP, there is no overhead for opening a connection, maintaining a connection, or terminating a connection; data is continuously sent to the recipient, whether or not they receive it.” However, because we are all tech-savvy individuals who can read, we know that some apps acknowledge whether delivery was successful. These apps like your Email app (like Gmail or Outlook), use the Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP. In this case, not only are info packets given sequential numbers allowing them to arrive in any order and yet can be put back together in the initial format, but receiving end users must send acknowledgements back to the sender.

Hello? Are you still on the line? I sure hope so. Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed. I’m sending packets of information through an instant messaging app that contains my IP and port number, along with my method of delivery (UDP or TCP) and the destination IP and port number, which compose my L-O-L message through my LAN, to my WAN, to ultimately another WAN, to another LAN, sent to another computer with the specific destination IP and port number, with message received by an Andrew Kam. And this happens seemingly instantaneously. I can already see computer scientists and telecommunications engineers shaking their heads in oversimplified shame. But wait, there’s one more thing I have yet to discuss… How do we send instant messages across really large distances, like the Atlantic Ocean separating Ireland and Canada?

The answer dives further into the concepts of roaming and fibre optic cables. We’ll start with the former and bring back SMS text messaging. While roaming, I send an SMS text message using my phone in Ireland, and my mobile service provider contacts Andrew’s mobile service provider via these instantaneous digital signals, to determine the best route for my L-O-L message. This is done via similar means through the internet as well, except its my internet service provider (or ISP) that does this signalling. Okay… But how does a radiowave transport information through the air over such a vast distance? They don’t, well, not as long as the distance of an ocean. Actually, a lot of residential homes now use fibre optic cables to transmit information. These glass cables are created as thin as a human hair, and have in them incorporated alloys such that when light waves carrying information travel through the cable, it gets nearly perfectly reflected off the fibre, bouncing towards its destination. Interesingly, the first communications cable was actually between Valentia in Western Ireland to Trinity Bay Newfoundland of Canada back in 1858. Anyway, today, there are hundreds of fibre optic cables buried under the ocean floor, stretching great distances and surrounding coast lines. These fibre optic cables have been engineered to transport information effectively ensuring little signal loss. Some have eight layers to them, shielding the glass fibres and providing protection against natural elements (like sharks). In fact, one estimate referencing the Japanese multinational information technology and electronics company NEC Corporation, states that “99 percent of the data travels between countries and continents through undersea cables.”

Hello? Am I breaking up a bit? I hope not. Let’s just summarize this simplified version of me, in Ireland, sending my important L-O-L instant message to my friend Andrew, in Canada. If I’m sending information through SMS, my phone converts my message into a radiowave that gets picked up by my nearest tower servicing my cell, which emits a digital signal to a mobile switching centre through converting the information into binary digits through digital modulation. This centre holds onto my message until it could determine Andrew’s location, travels down fibre optic cables buried in the Atlantic Ocean and heads towards the closest tower servicing his cell, to which emits another radiowave that gets picked up by Andrew’s phone. But if I’m using an internet messaging app, packets of information composing my L-O-L message would contain my specific IP and port number, along with my method of delivery (UDP or TCP) and the specific destination IP and port number, sent to my LAN, to my WAN, down some fibre optic cables buried in the Atlantic Ocean, to ultimately another WAN, to another LAN, sent to another computer with the specific destination IP and port number, with message received by an Andrew Kam. And this happens seemingly instantaneously.

I end this segment smiling behind the mic. Like TCP, I acknowledge that this, in regards to proper science communication, likely served to confuse you more about this revolutionary technology. Perhaps you retained something along the way. The main idea I coyly wanted to address, was really how a clueless biologist like myself could take the time to understand an activity everyone around the world performs every single day of their life, an activity that brings people together to a degree that our ancestors would never stop being grateful for. Instant messaging is one of those technologies that, even if we don’t truly grasp the intricacies of every part of it, deserves an attempt at trying. This segment was a meme, but I hope in the end it was received in its proper sequence.

*Theme Music*

For today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing someone who not only do I often turn to when discussing technological advancements and their place in society, but is also someone who has studied and now works in the telecommunications field.

He received his Bachelor of Engineering in Engineering Physics from Carleton University, where he was awarded the University Medal in Engineering. After graduation, he pursued a Master of Applied Science at the University of Toronto, where he worked on colloidal quantum dot semiconductors in the photonics group. He is currently working at Ciena as a Systems Engineer under the Optical Systems Performance group, where he develops and validates the performance of optical systems for both terrestrial and submarine networks.

Please welcome the incredibly smart, Andrew Kam.

*Theme Music*


And thank you for listening to this episode of the Metaphorigins podcast. I guess it’s been over two months now since I landed here in Dublin. I have completed all virtual training courses required to conduct my PhD project (woohoo!), and therefore this now jumpstarts the planning stages of what I intend to do. This may require much literature review and collaboration with my colleagues, which I am extremely excited for. More updates will be given via bits and pieces throughout the season, so stay tuned, and hope you enjoy this magnificent mission. Remember to follow the Instagram page for visual updates as well as to be entered into the draw for the custom, butterfly-printed Metaphorigins shirt which will be given out on the 30th episode. Until then, stay skeptical but curious.

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