Friday, June 24, 2016

Where To Order the Books of the Saga

Just in case you are having a hard time finding how to order, I will leave this at the top. See below for the main "bloggy" part of this blogg.

To order, please use the "e-stores" reachable by the following links.

1. The Wreck of the PHOSPLOION

The Three Relics:
2. The Black Hole in the Basement
3. The Creatures That Live in the Walls
4. The Horrors in the Attic

5. The Tree of Virtues

From Darkness Into Light:
6. Three Things Which Go Well
7. What More Do You Want?
8. Os Olhos do Condor (The Eyes of the Condor)
10. The Elements Fight for the Virtuous
11. Ite Milites Audaces... ("Go, daring Knights")
12. Esto Miles Pacificus ("Be a Knight of Peace")
13. Et In Luna Pax ("And on the Moon, Peace"; subtitled "How the Pope Went to the Moon")

And these companion works are also available - these are collections of short stories:
Quayment Short Stories
I Will Lift Up My Eyes
More Quayment Short Stories

Joe the Control Room Guy

And, if you prefer non-fiction, there are these:
The Problem With "Problem-Solving Skills"
An Introduction to Heraldry
A Twenty-First Century Tree of Virtues

Halfway between these is this remarkable volume:
A Guide to the Ambrosian University
which contains a good deal of non-fiction in that it reveals an implementation of Cardinal Newman's "Idea" of a University - but it also contains the thrilling tale of how Mike, Matt, and Mark Weaver attend orientation week at the Ambrosian University in Milan, Pennsylvania. Exciting for both hemispheres of every functional brain.

Finally, if you are curious and want to TRY some stories before venturing into the world of the Saga, there are four short stories over at Loome's:
The Story of Driftwood
The Story of Serendipity
The Story of the Wreck of the Argent Eagle
The Story of How Mark Earned a Dragon

One more thing: there's more to come... stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Guide to the Ambrosian University

If you have been a patient reader of this blogg (alas so rarely updated) and a patient reader of the Saga and its related works, you will know of the famous Ambrosian University in Milan, PA - a school attended by certain people such as Joe Outis (the Control Room Guy), Mike, Matt, and Mark Weaver, Steve Brown Chuch Weller, Malc Jones, Chris Reynolds, and so on. But there is very little told about this famous school in the Saga itself, except that it is a "Newman School" and is located in the rugged mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania. (Note: the author suggests you not bother hunting for Milan using your favourite map quest tools. It is not there to be found.)

Now, however, all that has changed. A Guide to the Ambrosian University is now available! This book presents a useful guide to the Ambrosian University: its history, its physical layout, its intellectual designs, and much more. There are maps of the town and the campus, and several pages of the questions everyone asks about this remarkable and highly ranked school. There is also a chapter on its sole varsity sport, the strange and greatly entertaining game of Gype, invented by no less intellectual masters than H. G. Wells and G. K. Chesterton!

Finally, there is a lengthy narrative on the experience of the Orientation Week for incoming freshmen - as seen through no less than the Weaver triplets. Strange and unexpected activities occur - and you will find out what they are, though at the end you may still be wondering (as the Weavers did) why such things are done: why they had to measure blocks of wood, why they had to make and bake bread.

Once you read it, you will want to attend - or at least visit. And sooner or later, it may be possible for you do to so. There is no reason why the Ambrosian cannot exist in this world...

It can. It should. But then somebody has to do the hard jobs.

The campus of the Ambrosian University. (NTS)

Christmas joys – More Quayment Short Stories

Hurray! A new book for your delight!

The book is called More Quayment Short Stories: a new collection of short stories about our favourite triplets - Mike, Matt, and Mark Weaver - in that famous old seaside book-town, Quayment. Lots of fun, and lots of new details about the Weavers and their friends. A trip to Kentucky, a flight in a helicopter - well, actually two flights, for two rather different reasons - a complex mystery involving Morse and our heroes in some very unusual situations - and then, a tale of how Mark gets lost in a snowstorm on the south side of town and finds himself haunting a bookshop...

Friday, June 12, 2015

Stories about St. George are NOT about cruelty to crocodiles!

Wow, I read that line in GKC some years ago - it is in a most excellent little study about adventure stories, a study which could easily be said to be the foundation-stone of my Saga. I will give you just the concluding paragraph:
Thus a real adventure story cannot be made on a certain moral or immoral model not uncommon in modern books. I mean the sort of story in which the hero is the villain. The hero need not be directly dealing in morality, but his own moral position must be by implication secure and satisfying; for it is the whole meaning of adventure that his soul is the fixed point in a wildly agitated world. Stevenson, who can be quoted so profitably about all romance, may here be quoted against himself. The adventures of the Master of Ballantrae among pirates and hunters are not adventures in the boy's sense, and do not satisfy any boy. And that is simply because he cannot sympathise with James Durie as he does with David Balfour. And if we cannot make such romance out of the Master, who was at least a gentleman and a fighter, we need hardly look for it in the miserable modern attempt to make a romance of business out of the tricks of hucksters and swindlers. A man may make excellent comedy out of the evasions of a rascal; but a comedy is a totally different conception from an adventure story. There must not obviously be any irony in an adventure story. When I read in my boyhood books like those of David Ker, or like those of Kingston and Ballantyne, they had to be read with the single eye with which a man sees danger, and not with the stereoscopic squint with which he sees incongruity. I rejoiced whole-heartedly when the brave English sailors captured the slaver; and I was right, because bravery is a good thing and slavery a bad thing. With fuller historical knowledge, I can easily find irony in the incident. I have come to know something about the English Press Gang and the English Poor Law. But that has nothing to do with it, any more than sympathising with St. George against the dragon has to do with cruelty to crocodiles. The child or the boy is quite right in believing that there really is a dragon somewhere, and that the harder he is hit the better.
[GKC ILN Sept 23 1922 CW32:453-4]

Now, anyone who knows about fantasy stories and dragons will understand, as GKC did, that we often need to have dragons in our adventures, even if they are the far more nasty sort which look like human beings from the outside. There are other things which we also need, and some of them are well worth spending serious time examining, just as any computer scientist has to spend time examining the theory behind the algorithms and data structures which he intends to use in an actual piece of software. Sometimes (ahem) yes, SOMETIMES, these things work a little differently in practice.

But we were talking about dragons, and of course whether we consult Tolkien (whose grandmother, I believe, taught him that we always say "the great green dragon" not "the green great dragon") or Chesterton (who taught us that "if there was a dragon, he had a grandmother" - whoever we consult we learn that dragons must be used with extreme caution, like recursion.
Us computer guys like to point out that using recursion requires what is known as the "terminating condition", which no less an authority than GKC also declares:

...if in the course of his adventures he finds it necessary to travel on a flaming dragon, I think he ought to give the dragon back to the witch at the end of the story. It is a mistake to have dragons about the place. [GKC "The Strangeness of Luxury" in Alarms and Discursions]

Just to give you an example for your study, you can see one way of handling these creatures

in my short story, How Mark Earned a Dragon, courtesy of Loome Books - or you can get the tactile edition here.

And if you want to know more about recursion, check out my Case Studies The Problem with "Problem-Solving Skills". Remember, you have to know how to give the dragon back when you're done... or you may risk - ah - confronting an army of brooms carrying buckets full of water.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Finally, an artist's conception of the Chivalry Club!

Even the best authors often leave "wiggle room" in their descriptions of even their greatest and best known characters. Some of the most famous characters of literature have gone through variations, sometimes due to the author's approval of some artist's approximation - I am thinking of Sherlock Holmes. There are others where the rendition (especially in movies) does not agree with even the more sparse descriptions - and here I am thinking of... well, never mind.

Anyway, I am finally able to present you with an artist's approximation of the 13 members of the Chivalry Club, as of the fall of 2016. I am not going to tell you where this is, or what is going on... if you're read far enough you will know. Otherwise, you might be curious enough to want to find out.

And if you do know what's going on, and what that large gray odd-looking thing in the foreground is, you might try guessing who is who.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A brief update

Just in case you were thinking perhaps I moved to Quayment - or maybe Milan - no, not yet, anyway. Things are 3+7i right now, and a lot of kettles are simmering.

The continuation of the Saga is slowly advancing, though we are not very close to a new book in the series. However, there are short stories coming, and that may help satisfy your curiosity. I am also trying to get further on the next installment of my "Case Studies in Computer Science" series of monographs; I have just completed a little study of the "object-function" which is used in a new technique known as "quantum computing" - as you may expect, that study serves both my non-fiction as well as my fiction, and you can expect to hear from Malcolm Jones about this topic. (By this point in time - 2017 - he has completed his doctorate in computer science and is a professor at a university in Texas; he is probably going to write a review for the school technical journal about a recent journal article by a Thylerian scientist...

My own QC study, however, will probably be a bit disappointing to some who have saved up a lot of small change to buy one, but then it will probably be almost too exciting for those who are wondering what Jilly and the Lowerarchy (a.k.a. the Infernal Court) are up to. I suggest re-reading Boethius's great work The Consolation of Philosophy for a clue or two about randomness in such applications, and any standard text on Boolean Algebra or introductory logic circuit design for a clue about where the technical difficulties arise. The nice thing is the project kept my machine busy while it investigated all 714 = 678223072849 cases... but perhaps I ought to reserve that sort of detail for the book.

Also... I am continuing to advance through the primes... which is something that I like to have running in the background, since I don't like my computer to sit there DOING NOTHING while I am thinking up what to type next! Oh yes. So we are past 28 trillion, and all of the 930-plus billion primes are stored on my hard drive in less than a terabyte - though withOUT compression. Yes, indeed - I will explain that trick in a future CSCS volume too.

Speaking of tricks makes me think of the Weavers... at present I am trying to help Mark get through a snowstorm, Mike to start learning Morse, and Matt... well, I think he will have a somewhat different sort of adventure. It's a cold and snowy December in Quayment - stay tuned.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Famous Date

Joe the Control Room Guy
A Famous Date
"...a date that ought to be among the most famous in history - September 11, 1683..."
-- H. Belloc, The Great Heresies

"...part of what historians call 'the specious present' for Muslims."
-- in an essay by W. Cinfici in The Annotated Lepanto

The Control Room, the Big Dish, and a Headend

It was a Tuesday in the fall of 2001, 08:01 by the big red master clock in the corner of the Control Room of a cable TV company somewhere in the greater suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania. Joe checked over the four big display screens which showed the status of the hundreds of computers in the Field - computers which played the commercials on some 40-odd cable TV networks. Normally scheduled for nights, Joe had the day shift today, having swapped with Al, who was home with his wife and new daughter. All the displays showed normal status - all the telltales were green, so things were running fine. The ever shifting eyes of CUSTOS the system guardian were placid. In a long row of equipment racks below the four big screens, 48 black-and-white monitors showed the various cable networks, a random flashing collage of entertainment and information. Nothing abnormal there. Joe nodded to Jeff, his supervisor, who was talking on the phone, then he went out to the lunchroom to get some coffee.

Joe nodded to co-workers he passed - some in the halls discussing current projects, some sitting in their cubicles talking to customers.

"Ain't seen you for a while, Joe - on days now?" someone asked.

"Just while Al's out this week," he explained. He got some donuts from the vending machine, helped himself to the coffee, and headed back to the Control Room.

Joe was looking over the displays again when Bill from Traffic came in pushing a cart loaded with dozens of video tapes. "Whole lot of spots today, Joe," he said.

"A little early in the week, aren't they?" Joe asked. Bill only shrugged and left the room without a word. Joe shrugged too, then pushed the cart over to an encoder, and began the boring task of converting the tapes into the electronic form for satellite distribution to all the remote locations where they were needed.

He had just put in the first tape when Jeff came over. "Hey, Joe - I have a meeting with my boss, so it'll just be you in here for a while. Everything looks fine right now, but 'Doc' said to let him know if PUMP goes down - he's back in the lab if you need him."

Joe nodded and Jeff left for his meeting. It sure was great to have someone around who took care of the machinery. Joe had talked to "Doc" several times, day or night - he was the developer of the company software, and PUMP was the main satellite transport program, so named because it was the "heart" of their system. Joe didn't even have to watch anything; the CUSTOS monitor had a special audio alert to warn him if something failed. He sat back and began the encoding.

Tape followed tape as Joe worked. Then a woman's voice stated: "Attention: Pump is not running." Joe got up and looked at the big screens - sure enough, the CUSTOS eyes were red, as was the little telltale for PUMP. He took a quick scan over the rest of the displays - everything else looked as it should - then grabbed the cell phone and headed back to the lab.

* * *

Joe went into the lab - it was kept colder than the Control Room because of all the racks of test equipment. The Doctor, in a white lab coat, stood by one of the racks, talking with Ian his boss - they were looking at a new piece of equipment, connected to a row of 16 tiny tv monitors.

"Hey, Joe," Ian said. "What's up?"

"Pump just went down, and Jeff said to let Doc know."

The Doctor nodded. "Thanks Joe - yeah, I had to fix something, and I expected this. Just hold on while I..." He turned to a keyboard and typed furiously.

"Hey, what's that?" Ian asked. "Looks like a plane just hit one of the world Trade Towers."

Joe peered intently at the little screen.

"Some kind of disaster flick? the Doctor commented, busy with the machinery.

"Nah - it's one of the news networks," Ian said, switching the machinery to bring that network to the lab monitor. He turned up the volume and an announcer was talking about the strange event which had just occurred.

"This is strange," Ian said. "How's that PUMP situation?"

"Just ready now," the Doctor said. "It's already corrected and running fine."

"C'mon Joe, Doc; let's get over to the Control Room," Ian said. "Something's going on.

* * *

The three went back into the Control Room. As he glanced at the 48 little monitors, Joe knew something was going on. The same strange shot - a glimpse of a plane, then smoke billowing - was appearing on several different networks.

"Put it up on the big screen," Ian ordered. Joe sat down at the main console and pressed buttons, then adjusted the volume. On the big screen the horrible view was even more intense and nearby - it was strange to think that they were only a couple of hours drive away from it.

Then the view changed - another plane had hit the other tower. The reporter said something about a third plane hitting the Pentagon, and there was some report of yet another plane crashing somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Joe shivered slightly, not just from the cold of the Control Room. He looked up at the Doctor, who had made the sign of the cross. He's Catholic, Joe thought to himself. He heard the main door click open, and Jeff came in, followed by several members of higher management. No one said anything - all eyes were intent on the strange view being shown on the big screen.

But duty calls, Joe thought to himself. On one of the desk computers, he flipped through the various monitoring displays. Everything seemed to be running normally, except that there hadn't been any cues for some time. Joe understood - when the networks go to live coverage, they do not send the "cue" signals to indicate a time when a commercial could be played - and the machinery was dutifully reporting this unusual state. There was nothing to be done - something historic was occurring, and lesser matters were of no importance. Looking over the 48 monitors, Joe was surprised to see even the music-video networks were showing live coverage from New York - he had never seen so many networks all showing the same thing.

From among the higher management came a whiney pompous voice - "What a terrible thing. I am surprised that such things occur."

The room was silent for a moment, then Joe heard the Doctor's voice. "As Chesterton once said, 'I am never surprised at any work of hell." [GKC, "The God of the Gongs" in The Wisdom of Father Brown]

But he did not stop there. "Ian, I'm going home. I'll be at church - if you need me, I have my cell. God bless us all, and protect us."

"Amen," Joe murmured.

* * *

The next day, Joe was in the Control Room when the Doctor wandered in and sat down at a computer. He seemed to be mumbling to himself, though Joe knew that was normal behavior. He started some program running and began typing.

"Let's see... barry of 13 gules and argent..."

"How's everything, Doc?"

"Fine, fine. Everything OK here?"


"Good," the doctor replied. "A canton azure..."

Joe shrugged. "Real strange not seeing any planes flying..."

"Sure is. Yesterday coming home from church I heard some Air Force jets scream over our city. OK, now, I need a mullet - ah, that's just a pentagon..." Joe shivered at the word, "... but visiting alternating vertices..."

Joe asked "What's going on, Doc?"

"Oh, nothing... just a little addition I thought of last night... You have a piece of scrap paper around?"

"Sure." Joe handed him a piece of paper and a pencil.

"Six by five, five by four..." the Doctor chanted. "How nice. That's why God made DO-loops... er, I mean FOR loops," he corrected himself, somewhat embarrassed. "I guess my age is showing," he chuckled.

Joe sat back, watching the code that seemed to pour out of the fat man's fingers. "How the heck do you know what you're typing? I can't even see the cursor."

"Oh, you get used to it. And anyway, this sort of thing practically writes itself..." he murmured. "They assign this in first-semester ... oh, I guess not. People don't have enough geometry any more. Or trig," he shrugged. "There. All done. Now let's try it."

He pressed a key, and the usual WATCHER screen appeared, which Joe knew was the main monitoring program which "watched" all the hundreds of field machines.

But the screen was different. Instead of a quippy Latin quote appearing in the upper right hand corner (Joe had the translations somewhere, he was always losing it) there was an American flag!

WATCHER, after September 11 2001

"Hey - the Latin isn't there!"

"Just for the next 10 seconds or so; the flag alternates with the Latin. I thought it was a good idea to have an American flag in here somewhere." The Doctor looked over at Joe with a certain meditative look in his eye.

Joe nodded. "Yeah. That's a really good idea. I'll put that one up on the big screen." He pressed buttons. In moments, the doctor had installed the revised program on all the other monitoring computers.

"It's not just flags, of course," the Doctor said, getting up. "There's work to be done."

Joe nodded. "Oh, yeah."

(Yes, that's really how the flag got into WATCHER. See here for the actual code.)

Note: this story will eventually appear in a collection of short stories about Joe...
Stay tuned.
And don't forget what Mark Weaver said:

Somebody has to do the hard jobs.