Sunday, November 19, 2006

Latin in the High-Tech World of Cable TV

Over the last year or so I have dropped various hints about the cable TV place where I used to work. There were good friends, dedicated workers who worked 24/7. We were very serious but also had a good time; we did something-or-other which used Subsidiarity, and (as I posted yesterday) our system was founded upon thirteenth-century metaphysics. (See GKC's Heretics for more details.)

Another thing which visitors found very hard to believe was that we used Latin. No, not in conversation (wow, that would be cool!) but in one small, yet very important technical function. And I've been rather hesitant to post very much about it, because I wanted to save it for the book on Subsidiarity.

But then over on Love2Learn I saw this review of a book of Latin proverbs, and had to wonder: did they include our favourite proverbs which appeared for years on the big screens in our Control Room? Of course I don't know; I will have to get a copy of the book. But meanwhile I am sure you will be horribly curious to know just what Latin proverbs were so important they were used in such a high-tech setting!

Good. So maybe I will tell you one or two, and you can have the same enjoyment we had. Sorry I cannot duplicate the rest of the environment - you can get a little taste of it if you get your room temperature down to about 60 or so, turn on a few dozen fans (or a recording of a waterfall) to duplicate the hiss of the computer fans, and then blast some rock-and-roll. Oh, I almost forgot. Lug all the TVs in the house (borrow some from your neighbors) into your chilled, noisy room, and turn them ALL on, each to a different network, but no sound - if you want the full experience you need at least 48. Then pour yourself a cup of lukewarm coffee, sit back, put your feet up, and relax... There you are. (You're on break, and I came in to see how things are going.) Now, imagine the following quotes in bright green foot-tall letters projected on a big screen above your head:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

This is the foundation quote. It was the philosophical source of a significant aspect of our designs, and the primary reason that we had Latin quotes at all. But I am not going to explain all that here - you will have to wait for the book to come out. For the present, I will tell you that this quote is taken from Satire VI by Juvenal, the great Roman satirist. In English, it may be translated "Who will watch the Watchers themselves?" Obviously this is a powerful thought, for all it being nearly 2000 years old, whether it be applied to governments, corporations, families, Control Rooms, and so on. (If you are wondering why I capitalized "Watchers" you will have to wait for the book; J. K. Rowling can't be the only one with literary secrets, hee hee.)

Nemo gratis mendax.

In English, this might be rendered "Nobody lies for free." (I found it in Shallo's Scholastic Philosophy which does not mention the source.) This seemed very fitting for any business which deals with advertising, since when you come down to it, our work was very simple: you give us the spot, tell us when you want it played - then, once we play the spot, you gotta pay.

Abusus non tollit usum.

In English, "Abuse (of a thing) does not take away (its) use." (I've somehow managed to mislay my reference for the source of this quote.) It is a very powerful insight and tells us that even television, indeed, even television commercials, have their good uses, which no abuse can remove. If this seems surprisingly strange to you, I will show you why advertising is good (as Aquinas might) by quoting Scripture:
And Philip running thither, heard the eunuch reading the prophet Isaias. And Philip said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest? The eunuch said: And how can I, unless some man show me?
[Acts 8:30-31, emphasis added]
I know, I wouldn't have believed it either. But somebody has to show you.

Nemo dat quod non habet.

That is, "Nobody gives what he does not have." This is also from Shallo; at one point he quotes this line to explain that "For the agent not having in itself the sufficiency of its own existence, cannot be the sufficient reason for the existence of anything else." This is perhaps the quote which comes closest to hinting about how Subsidiarity played a part in our work, and it also happens to appear in the Bible: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you..." [1 Cor 11:23] This Latin proverb may seem a rather elementary piece of common sense, but then that is really just another term for "13th century metaphysics".

So there you have a sample; I hope you enjoyed it. No I didn't tell you WHY the Latin was there - you might try to guess. If not, you will have to wait for the book.

OK, I could use some more coffee - you want some? Just put on a jacket if you're cold; that's one reason why I wear the lab coat! Your shift will be over soon enough. Hey turn up the tunes, this is a great song...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Posting For a Friend

Today is the birthday of a good friend and co-worker, so I thought I would post the real explanation of how things got done where we used to work. As you may expect, it was written by GKC.

Happy Birthday, Pasky!

--Dr. Thursday

I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good - " At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

[G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905) CW1:46, emphasis added]
Yes: a high-tech company used 13th-century metaphysics, and so we got LOTS done, playing 150,000 spots a day... You'll get all the details in my Subsidiarity book.

PS: Perhaps someday I will post an explanation of why there was Latin on the Watcher screens. But if I forget, you will find out, because I've put that in the book too.

PS(2): I neglected to state how grateful I am to Pasky and the rest of my co-workers. Suffice it to say that the corporation may not have understood Subsidiarity but for the first time in a century or so, there were regular people who did - because they saw it working, and helped make it work! See here for more on my gratitude to a great bunch of friends.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Index to my Jesse Tree for 2005

Since Advent is coming soon, I thought it would be helpful (and perhaps interesting) for you to have this index to my last year's Jesse Tree, unusual because it was the longest form of Advent, 28 days. I hope to have something different for this year, which is the shortest, only 21 days.

Week I

Week II

Note for Immaculate Conception

Week III

The Greater Feria/O Antiphons
Note for the O Antiphons

Week IV

Christmas Day!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Revised Index

For your convenience, here is a revised partial index to some of the items on this blogg.

I hope it is useful. If you have any suggestions for improvements or additions, please let me know.


The Call
Three Calls
The QWERTY Parable
For Best Results, Set The Volume To Max
The Only Begotten
The Shape of Water
Why Mary Wears Blue
The Legend of Lance the Bird
Secret Arts
Playing Saul's Spot
Playing Saul's Spot (part II)
The Great Discovery
HalloweE.n coli
Ass, Ox, Sheep
Books, Ancient and Modern
Words (and) Knock Knock
Does Anyone Care About Poetry?

The Cross, the Price
How It Is Done
On Any Subject But the Queen: "A friend..."
O Generous Queen
Night Watcher
The Trillions of Planets Are Simply a Waste
Rusty Droppings
The Song of Laundry
The Logical Chestertonian
Timeout for Thanksgiving
Located In Kenya
Signed, Sealed, and Delivered


A Family Matter
Experienced Armies
Green, Green and Green
Mike's Job
Sean and the Professor: 1. How They Met


What Happened Then
The Meeting of GBS and GKC


The Division of the Waters
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 4

Light From the Rosary
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
(back cover)

On the Nature of the Papacy: Exploring Some Secular Parallels (excerpts)
Part 2: Science
Part 3: Metallurgy
Part 4: Bridge-building
Part 5: Computing
Part 7: The Gift of the Papacy

Other Essays
A Prime Example
Enumerating the Rationals
My Favourite GKC Quotation
Math: fun and dangerous
Ron's Puzzle
31,536,000 Seconds, or Once Around the Sun
A Mathematician, a Catholic, and a Witch

GKC Motifs
Two Ways of Getting Home

Other short entertainments
Clock Day
Getting in Trouble with Ancient Rome
Revealing an Ancient Secret in The Vatican Code
Protection against Eetook
A Hero at Work: the Encoding Monkey
GKC: Why the Chicken Crossed the Road
Coat of arms for the Love2Learn "Word Gang"
My attempt at analyzing the Chicken/Road Joke

On Reason and Humour (Columns by Father Thomas, O.P.)
Three Monkeys