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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A New Book: A Twenty-first Century Tree of Virtues

Oh man! (as Marty would say.)

Yes, there already is a book called The Tree of Virtues in the Saga, but that is fiction.

This one is titled A Twenty-first Century Tree of Virtues, and it is non-fiction, though I am happy to tell you that there IS a short story in it, with the Weaver triplets.

Oh yeah... but it is merely an introduction to the topic. The book studies the matter of organizing the entire realm of human actions - the VIRTUES - which includes the vast collection of disciplines, the Arts and the Sciences, the Crafts and the numerous branches of Engineering, as well as all those things usually considered Virtues. It contains a study of some dozen treatments over the last two millennia, and in particular a detailed study of the famous Generalis Divisio Virtutis in the Cursus Theologicus written by the Carmelites of Salamanca in the early 1600s...

famously photographed by my friend Andrew Poole of Loome Theological Booksellers.

That tree is augmented with the huge collection of inter-related disciplines which have branched forth in the last four hundred years. Alas, it still awaits an artist, but without this detailed study, the artwork will never occur.

Eventually, this new tree will give forth its fruit... perhaps in the form of the Ambrosian University...

Visit: here to order.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I Will Lift Up My Eyes: the Bill Grosjean stories

Just in time for the new school year there is now a NEW collection of short stories that happen at Howell College in Stirling, Pennsylvania... stories featuring Bill Grosjean as a young college student. Find out more about him and the mysteries of Old Main, and even the role played by Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

Visit here to order.

Here is the "blurb" from the back cover:

High in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania is a small town named Stirling. It is the site of Howell College, which was founded shortly after the Civil War. Howell is not a big college, but it is part of a Plan - a plan devised by a brilliant engineer named John Fisher, a complex and far-reaching plan to confront Evil and advance Good – a plan which had become all but lost in the passing of years, amid the wars and struggles and turmoils and changes of the 19th and 20th centuries.

And so Howell's hidden treasures awaited a future generation. Perhaps the greatest and least-known of those treasures was the Chandler Bells: a ring of nine bells made soon after the founding of the school. The bells were hung in the tower of Old Main at Howell, and they were never rung except in dire need – but when they were rung, remarkable things occurred.

However, by 1996 the very existence of those bells had been forgotten. Forgotten by the town. Forgotten by the college administration and by its faculty. Forgotten by the students, even by those students in certain organizations whose existence depends upon remembering, upon the passing on of minor local traditions in the style of a family – that is, forgotten even by the fraternities. It was a terrible thing to forget the bells, because there was dark evil at work, and more than anything else the enemy wanted to thwart Fisher’s Plan.

And then a young man named Bill Grosjean entered one of those fraternities, a very young man, a man with a most remarkable gift: the gift of a powerful and perfect memory. And so, just as it says in one of that fraternity’s songs:

With the help of brothers dear
And of God, we’ve naught to fear...
Was it all part of the Fisher Plan? Read on, and learn for yourself.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Announcing a new book on heraldry

I've been busy recently assisting a good friend with his own book (see here for details), and now that it is released, I was able to complete my own, far smaller work, which, strange to say, actually has some relevance to the first one.

The work is called An Introduction to Heraldry.

It is small, just a brief introduction, but it contains a good number of outlines for the reader to color, and a Chesterton-size serving of Chesterton quotes. In fact, it includes just about every excerpt I could find using AMBER which relates to heraldry and coats-of-arms; some of these are quite interesting, and it is handy to have them all in one place.

I have posted this announcement here with the Saga since the book also contains an appendix which discusses the use of heraldry in the creation of fiction, using five of my coats-of-arms from the Saga as examples. Those are discussed, and I give some background (though NO spoilers) about the underlying meanings of the arms, which are shown in full color on the front cover of the book.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Anybody need 800 billion primes?

If you do I have them. All the way from 2 to 25,000,000,000,013.

Some very cool stuff out there in the six-byte region of integers...

Friday, January 17, 2014

New non-fiction: The Problem With "Problem-Solving Skills"

Problems, my friend- I say we've got problems. Big, big problems. Right here. With a capital P that rhymes with C that stands for Computers.

So, knowing the "Little Red Hen" Principle as I do - that if one needs something done, one should do it one's self - I have started a new series, "Case Studies in Computer Science." After all, a doctorate and over thirty years of experience (not to mention a knowledge of GKC and an adventurous mind) ought to bear all sorts of interesting fruits!

So... I am now very happy to anounce that the first volume, called The Problem with "Problem-Solving Skills" is now ready for purchase. Strike up the band!

(Band? What band? Ah... I always think there's a band, kid.) Yep, Professor Harold Hill gets to play a part, as does a huge cast of characters - Winthrop Paroo, Aquinas, Henry of Langenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Hugh of St. Victor, Boethius, Milo (from The Phantom Tollbooth), Gauss, Jaki, Babbage, Captain (ahem, Admiral) Grace Hopper, Seymour Cray, Danny Dunn, Rovol of Norlamin, the Abominable Snow Monster of the North - and eight Russian dolls...

Very tech, very bizarre, and a pleasantly curious selection of strange problems and even stranger solutions. Now you will know some of the things you can add to your own toolbox of "problem-solving skills" even if you aren't a computer scientist.

See here for details, or my website,