Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Playing Saul's Spot (part II)

My former boss told me that I had forgotten a very important step. Well, I had not forgotten it, I had just decided not to put it into the poem.

So I thought about it, and dashed off an addendum... Here it is:

(13) This is the bill that Saul has to pay, which he got from the Ad Salesman, and generated by the Traffic Coordinator, based on the log which came she got from Pump, received by the Big Dish, echoed by the Satellite, far out in space, transmitted by the Little Dish, out in the Field, as directed by Ferry running on the Portal, which got it from Ferry running on the leaf where it was written by (12)

Yes, there's more to this whole picture - lots more! But it would get really boring. And even if you already know about ad insertion, and have read my other poem, you will still wonder where subsidiarity fits in. This part, however, is NOT boring. It is very interesting - and work is proceeding, slowly but surely.

The next part of the puzzle I am presently facing is to try to get our Uncle Gilbert to stand on his head. Also I find I am going to need a picture of a Purkinje Tree - special bonus points to anyone who knows where they grow! And you are NOT allowed to use any Internet search tool to find out!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Playing Saul's Spot

Playing Saul's Spot
(a nested poem on Ad Insertion, as peformed at a certain company, by certain software which is no longer running)

This is
(1) the tape that Saul wants played.

This is
(2) the Ad Salesman who took Saul's instructions and also (1)

This is
(3) the Traffic Coordinator who labelled the tape she got from (2)

This is
(4) the Operator who encodes the tape with the id he got from (3)

This is
(5) the Library which stores the spot it gets from (4)

This is
(6) the Pump that multicasts the spot it gets from (5)

This is
(7) the Big Dish that beams out the spot as directed by (6)

This is
(8) the Satellite, far out in space, which echoes the spot it hears from (7)

This is
(9) the Little Dish, out in the Field, which receives the spot from (8)

This is
(10) the Portal, which collects the spot from (9)

This is
(11) the Ferry, running on a leaf, which requests the spot from (10)

This is
(12) the Engine, which plays the spot it obtains from (11)

Twelve? As in days of Christmas? Very strange. I did not plan to make it with 12 levels. My next project is illustrating it. (Note to me: talk with the SmallPax-ifiers.) Then at least I can publish Subsidiarity for Kids even if I can't get the adult version finished. Hee hee.

If you are wondering why the guy with the spot is named Saul, you will have to wait a bit, and maybe I will post that too.

I will also explain the terms, though anyone who knows Latin will know why the program which handles the file transport is called "ferry".

(A hint: fero, ____, tuli, latus).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Subsidiarity and kids' rhymes

One useful idea in explaining to children the idea of subsidiarity - or at least the nested quality of a hierarchy - is the famous "This is the House That Jack Built," which gives the various layers of activity in Jack's farmhouse.

Another one, which is more of a riddle, but sounds so silly, is this:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Every wife had seven sacks.
Every sack had seven cats.
Every cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives: how many were going to St. Ives?

Of course to solve this we simply consider the powers of seven:
7 to the zeroth power = 1 man
7 to the first power = 7 wives
7 to the second power = 49 sacks
7 to the third power = 343 cats
7 to the fourth power = 2401 kits
so it's a BIG SIGMA running i from 0 to 4 of seven to the i power...


but the real answer of course is ____

[Beep, beep. Blogg authority has left this for the reader to determine!]

Of course as GKC would point out, there are some very interesting things to think about here. What kind of man has seven wives? Was he already coming back from St. Ives? Was he to confession, perhaps? Were his wives? Are all those poor felines stuck inside those sacks? Also, this very interesting riddle reminds us of Peter's question about "how many times must I forgive?" It also brings to mind the parallel riddle which starts "There were seven brothers" that the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with. All of this suggests....

(Ahem!) To return to my initial topic.

I have been sniffing around for other such poems or songs. There is a famous academic article in CACM called "On the Complexity of Songs" by Donald Knuth, so you need not tell me about that one. (There's another, also in CACM called "The Telnet Song" with the chorus "control up-arrow q" but that is of interest only to grad students preparing for prelims.) I have also found the Hebrew "One Only Goat", which I am told has a parabolic meaning, but I don't have that yet. (I have the English, and the Hebrew too, though the Hebrew is, well, Hebrew to me.)

Omitting (for other reasons) the triangular "12 Days of Christmas" song, and the merely decrementational "xx Bottles (Barrels) of Beer on Wall" song, do any of my readers know of other such "nested" songs or poems?

(I also know about the "old lady that swallowed a spider", thanks.)

And yes, I am writing one to describe my former company's work in cable TV - a poem, not a song. Hopefully it will be done soon, though perhaps it will not be singable. Then again, there are all those bottles of beer....

A request

As you know, I am trying to work on a book on subsidiarity.

I have found what may be its foundation in the advice given to Moses by his father-in-law Jethro:

"...provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, in whom there is truth, and that hate avarice, and appoint of them rulers of thousands, and of hundreds, and of fifties, and of tens, who may judge the people at all times: and when any great matter soever shall fall out, let them refer it to thee, and let them judge the lesser matters only..." (Exodus 13:21-22)

Clearly, this is very hierarchical, and very relevant to computer-science (if you know what we mean by a "tree" you will understand!)

Now here is the request. Earlier in Exodus (12:37) we learn that there are 600,000 MEN who leave Egypt.

So... Does anyone know - and can give a reference to - a commentator who shows HOW Moses arranged his hierarchy of judges?

For, if one divides up 600,000 according to the rules, we get:

600,000 over 10 is 60,000 "rulers of tens"
600,000 over 50 is 12,000 "rulers of fifties"
600,000 over 100 is 6,000 "rulers of hundreds"
600,000 over 1000 is 600 "rulers of thousands"

Was there then another layer of assistants - isnt't there something about 72 elders?

Or did Moses have 600 "rulers of thousands" reporting to him?

If you can help with a reference, I will be quite grateful. (Speculation is nice, but not as helpful; I'd like to hear what the Church Fathers or the great saints said - or at least someone trained in Mosaic commentary...)

From Matt to Mike - and another

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, the tax collector and writer of the first Gospel.
One may begin a novena today, which culminates on the feast of St. Michael, September 29.

Another novena begins on that same day, September 29, and completes on that very famous day, October 7, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the day of the victory by Don John of Austria over the forces of Islam at Lepanto.

There's a lot to pray for, so take your choice and get busy.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Family Matter

[A note from Dr. Thursday: This story appears by special permission from the Editor-in-Chief of Something Good To Read. As September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (on which we recall Mary at the crucifixion) I thought this would be especially good today...]

A Family Matter

The old woman set down the pitcher of water, and poured out a cup. "John, could we go around the Way again soon?"
The man took a swallow. He was in the prime of life. "Certainly, Mother. I have just begun thinking of putting down a few of His words, and it would be of great assistance to me to go along that Way with you." He smiled as he looked at the elderly woman who was now his adopted mother.
"I know there are others who would like to do it with you. They will be satisfied next Passover, when you go around - but then you will have other work to do. And besides..."
"Yes, Mother. This city is doomed. I've been thinking of that for some time. But I have some work to do here, now that James is with Him."
"Yes." She smiled. "What an accomplishment. Of course there was also Stephen - did James know him? - and you've since met Paul."
"He's in Roma now. Peter expects to go there soon."
"I know. I forget sometimes and say Simon."
"I think He always said Simon."
"Of course. 'I will call them by name, and they will follow Me.'"
"And there will be one flock, and one shepherd."
The woman nodded. "Your training has been put to good use. Soon you will have to put it down into writing.
"Yes, Mother. I hope you will help me. You remember more than I do. You saw more."
"For some years; I wasn't with you on Tabor, though, or other times. Like in the garden.
The man looked at her in alarm. She had never mentioned the garden to him... The garden, that night of the full moon, he and James and Peter were asleep, while He wept in prayer.
"I know; I think of it often."
"I think of it often, too; the stone rolled back, you were young and easily out-ran Peter, you looked in, but waited for him to come first..."
They smiled... Again John wondered about her, though all of them been continually talking about every last detail of their experience, and she certainly had heard every word, and sat there silently. He knew it was a different Mary, but indeed this Mary, far more than all other women had "chosen the better part."

* * *

They walked through the olive grove. There was a soft breeze rustling the leaves.
"Just behind that half-dead tree - see it? - is the olive press. The others sat around there, by that tree. Over here... at this rock, James and Peter and I were."
They walked past it, over a slight bump in the ground, and came to a large rock.
"Here is where He prayed."
The old woman dropped to the ground. Her lips moved silently. A tear began to form at the corner of her eye. She kissed the rock, then got up.
"This is where he came, with the Temple guard. They took Him this way, back towards the city."

* * *

They had gone into the city. The man had given a few coins to the guard, who let them into the yard behind the Roman barracks. Things were quiet today; the superiors were out, and this way he could get a chicken for his wife for dinner tonight. He had no idea what it was that they would come in to look at, but it wasn't the first time he had seen the old woman. Perhaps it had been some relative of hers...
"Here is where He was tied. Tied!"
Again she bowed down, lips moving.
"And here they put that - that thing on His head. And spit on His face. And laughed at Him."
She nodded. A tear dropped down. Then another.

* * *

They walked along the narrow alleys of the City. It seemed quiet. They came to a certain intersection.
"I know," the woman said. "Here is where I saw Him. He had that big wooden beam on His shoulder. Then He fell. He could not get up with it on top of Him, so they got someone from the crowd to help Him."
"That's right. He's a very nice man, but I'm not sure he's ever met you."
"Oh, he's already met me. I won't forget him, either. He helped my Son."

* * *

They went outside the City gate. It was already evening, the sun far down the western sky.
"Here is the place. They still use it, of course, so we ought not stay here long."
The woman nodded. "Let's stay here, at the foot of the hill, just for a moment or two..."
He looked at her. She bowed to the ground. Another tear dropped. He thought he heard words - the same words as they had heard here on this very spot, so many years ago.
He looked up at the beams stuck in the ground and turned from left to right, then his gaze returned to the one in the center.
The woman had gotten up from the ground. She looked at him. "So now you understand about places on His left and His right..."
"They were reserved - not for James and me, but for thieves."
"Those places were." Was there something else she was going to say? But she was silent.
"Oh!" She dropped her cane, and would have fallen to the ground, but he was there with his strong arms, and he lifted her up.
"Let us go on, now, Mother, to the other garden."
"No, John. Now we will go home, and pray, and do as He commanded... Tomorrow we will resume."
They took one more look at the hill and its wooden beams, then walked slowly along the road to their home.

* * *

After they had prayed, they talked. She reminded him of the first time they had been together, at that wedding in Cana, and with her telling the story, it was as if the past was made visible. He called upon his training, and ravelled her words up into his memory... "But you have kept the good wine until now!" he smiled, and poured out a cup for each of them.
The next morning, Peter had arrived, and Jude, and Matthew. Matthew had a scroll with him, where he had started writing some things about Him. It was very interesting, though John thought there was quite a lot missing. Then all of them went out to see the other garden, where the stone had been rolled away. John looked at his mother's face, anxious to see it. Again there was a tear beginning to form - but now there was a smile as well. They did not want to go for a long walk to the hillside where He had left them, but after they had looked in that direction for a few moments, they went back into the City and visited the room where they had waited in prayer until fire and wind had called them forth... The men stood there, their nerves tingling as they remembered. The woman bowed down to the floor.
After a few moments she struggled to get up. John and Peter had to help her. Slowly they made their way back to the place where she stayed with John, and they helped her into bed.

* * *

In a far-off land a man called the "Twin" threw his few things into a bundle, repeating to himself the message he had just received. "Hurry to the City. Our mother is dying." He tied a piece of rope around the pack, and put it on his shoulders, grabbing his walking staff.
"Again I'm not there! I don't doubt any more, Lord, but I still want to see... Please, just one more time."
He was late again. The woman had died before he got there. But when his sad friends had finally given in to his demands, and rolled away the stone, they were again greeted with an empty grave.
John kept all these things in his heart and pondered them. Some of them he wrote down. Others he would only tell his close friends. It was a family matter, after all.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A new project

I am sure some of you are wondering what has been going on - I have been busy, even with all the changes of the recent weeks. I have begun a new major writing project.

It is a book on a very important idea: subsidiarity - that is, the way of organizing individuals into groups and groups into larger groups, of justice and of society and of getting things done, of the human person, and families, and goverments. Some call it "Catholic Social Teaching" and think it is some dull, esoteric branch of social justice, chock full of complex terms - so people get bored because they think it is probably very abstract and not useful in a high-tech world.

Even stranger to report, this book will also include some of that stuff you saw in the two postings about my former company. For in that place, subsidiarity was implemented and found useful...

Yes, I doubt that even our intrepid friend known as "Rhapsody" was able to enlarge that artwork sufficiently to zoom in and read the title on that little yellow book. It is none other than that great masterwork of the late 19th century, Rerum Novarum, by Pope Leo XIII.

For there, in that Control Room, all the operators knew that our transport machinery was performing SUBSIDIARITY...

But for more details, you will have to wait.

So please pray that I will be able to write well on this important topic.

Meanwhile, I have some other stories to do, and then there's that work thing. And you are probably wishing there was a new poem or something. And there is fresh unpainted canvas beckoning as well... well, let me see what I can do. OK, it took lots longer than I had hoped:

Secret Arts

Somewhere in Rome, is a work of art great
God and that first man whom God did create:
A master design so carefully planned
Vast inches between His Hand and his hand.

A "spark struck off" you may have heard
Three gigs [*] excerpted from the Word,
Made in His image, made first to be,
To love and know: the All to see.

For as D. L. Sayers said,
(The Maker's mind a writer read)
Creation just is not complete
Without that one three-fold repeat.

And so when I had to design
A system far, far from divine,
Its smallest task thus had to be
Built as if performed by me.

This secret very few will tell:
Software, like music, can't excel
Its writer's skill to make his own
The tasks and rhythm, time and tone.

The hobbits (Tolkien once did sing)
Heard how Sauron made his Ring:
Of his strength he put some part
But such is true of every art.

Art's secret, and each artist's goal
Is sharing part of one's own soul.
In subcreation, poor or great,
Our God we thereby imitate.



* "three gigs" - this means the roughly three gigabases (3,000,000,000) of the human DNA sequence. The Word - the Second Person of the Trinity.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


"If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and, without whose company life seems empty and meaningless -"
[Michael Ende, The Neverending Story 7]

This quote begins a question. The question comes at the very beginning of a most amazing story: What would you do if you found a book containing a story that never ended?

There is such a story. Moreover it is a real story: that is, it does not merely exist in a book,, existing only in a secondary sense, but it has primary reality. It is this story. It is this world.

It really is the never-ending story. And it is wonderful to be a part of it.

And so we must be grateful - as St. Paul tells us, "Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness." [Col 3:15]

Therefore, I want to express my gratitude to the friends who made work at a certain company such a wonderful thing. (It wasn't my company - I just worked there too.)


I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well hath He spoken: 'Swear not by thy head,
Thou knowest not the hairs,' though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees.

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.
[GKC CW10:209]

Well, yes, GK, I did do a little counting. (I am a computer scientist, after all, so actually I had the machine do the work.) We were up and running for five and a half years, or just over 2000 days. About 200 field machines were installed. About 200,000 spots were encoded, which would take 215 days to play, end-to-end. Those spots were sent to the 200 field machines, over 100 a day - multicasting to an average of 6.5 portals each time. Some 200 million status packets were transported, and 8 million logs brought back in order to perform billing.

Finally, the machinery played ONE QUARTER OF A BILLION spots over that time, more than one every second.

When all those numbers are multiplied by seventy-times-seven, and I have posted my thanks on every blog and filling every disk in the known universe, I will be on the phone ordering more disk drives... Nope, too impersonal. Technology will always fall short there - so I'll do my "posting" at Holy Mass, which is all about giving thanks in the infinite sense of the term.

Deo Gratias!

PS: please don't ask to know the name of the company. They've had enough ADVERTISING as it is. Hee hee.

The Legend of Lance the Bird

The Legend of Lance the Bird

In memory of the species
Lancenidifactor retefrangens
- the net-breaking big-dish nest-builder -
that built a nest in our satellite dish...

The legend lives on
From the field-techs on down
Of the place owned by Harold Fitzgerald.
The inserters they say
Will make the spots play
While the cue-tones remain unimperilled.

In a corporate park
In the light or the dark
In the farmlands just east of West Chester
There's a small high-tech firm
Nothing more than a worm
To a bird that they call "big-dish-nester."

This place you will find
An unusual kind
Doesn't make DNA or steel girders,
The commercials you see
On your cable TV
Are played back on their own ad-inserters.

To do this they send
To each cable headend
The commercials wove in MPEG flannel,
A scheduling list
By which they insist
On the spot and the time and the channel.

A signal they get
Makes ads play on your set
The cue-tones that start things in motion -
All sent with a swish
By a satellite dish
Out in back of their place in East Goshen.

The signal comes then
And the ads play (it's ever so thrilling)
Then there's just one more bump
The logs go back through PUMP
And the whole thing is ready for billing.

And spots they will make
To sell wood or cake,
Take photos of cars and of houses,
The time in a box,
Crawling weather and stocks,
Birthdays wishes for friends or for spouses.

By night and by day,
Close attention they pay
If something goes wrong or is needed:
When red comes they dialed
Thus "who watches the watcher?" is heeded!

So they sell Land Rovers
At the CHESes and DOVErs
And the plaque-on-the-wall-singing-fishes;
And things were quite well
Till the day I must tell
When that bird came to nest in their dishes!

This bird was a pest -
Just building a nest
At the transmitter dish's main focus:
No one could foresee
That this fowl thing would be
The straw in the blockage that broke us!

They saw it fly past,
Now slower, now fast,
Carrying straw that's so meager
It piled sticks and twine
On the satellite line...
Soon the signal began to get weaker.

CNN missed a cue,
Then Headline missed too
Then Ferry and Pump stopped their sending -
The control room guy said,
"Hey - the whole field is red!"
(Could it be all the systems were ending?)

Nextels tore the air:
"Beep-beep: hey, Pete, you there?"
Joe P. Ann and Scott were alerted...
They hung up some owls,
Brought in cats with their howls,
But the bird still remained undiverted.

Then "Control-room-guy Joe"
Interrupted: "I know!
'Hey bird, come out of your bower -
That dish is your tomb!'"
To the transmitter room
He ran - and he turned up the power!

So the whole gang did feast,
(No, no, not on roast beast)
But on microwave-turkey-like dinner;
All the field-techs and ops
Said, "Hey Joe, you're the tops -
Of the dish-game you sure are the winner!"

Now Traffic with CAM
Builds a schedule in RAM
Stargate puts it on HOME then for sending.
Starburst follows Pump's wish
Through Gilat to the dish
Ferry takes to the engines unending.

Tapes piled high in lots
Are converted to spots
(When VidLib is down it's impeded.)
Then Pump will extend
A multicast send
So the spots will get out where they're needed.

And Cue 2 and Cue 1
Also add to the fun
UDP (tripled to avoid botching)
And the engines send back
(Through HOME runs the track)
UDP also makes lights for watching.

But those ads must be bought:
Logs to Stargate are brought...
With billing comes payday and resting;
And no one will doubt
That our signal goes out
If the dish is still kept free from nesting.

The legend lives on
From the field-techs on down
Of the place owned by Harold Fitzgerald.
All birds, stay away!
'Cause the cook's in today...
Thus the cue-tones remain unimperilled...

Nov/Dec 2000