Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Brightest Light of the Ages of Light

Today is the feast day (under the new calendar) of St. Thomas Aquinas. Chestertonians are glad for this, as we of course also celebrate the day he died, March 7, his traditional feast day. If you want a great introduction to him, you ought to read GKC's book. It's in CW2 along with his book on St. Francis and also The Everlasting Man - an incredible collection of important texts. I wanted to ask AMBER how many times GKC mentions our saint, but it's a bit hard. I know that he uses "Aquinas" almost 250 times, but he often uses the name "Thomas" when he means Aquinas, and it's a bit harder to tell without looking at each of over 600 places, some of which mean other people like "the Apostle" or "Becket" or "More" or "Carlyle" or "Cromwell" or "Jefferson" or "Hardy" or "Browne" or "Maundeville" or "Lipton" and so on. Lots of fun. (But if anyone wants the project, please let me know.)

But one of these uses by GKC of "Thomas" actually does mean Aquinas, and it is such an important bit that I will give it to you, since it comes in a book which is about another important man from the "Ages of Light"...
Now the Schoolman always had two ideas in his head; if they were only the Yes and No of his own proposition. The Schoolman was not only the schoolmaster but also the schoolboy; he examined himself; he cross-examined himself; he may be said to have heckled himself for hundreds of pages. Nobody can read St. Thomas's theology without hearing all the arguments against St. Thomas's theology. Therefore, even when that sort of faith produced what many would call ferocity, it always produced what I mean here by fairness; the almost involuntary intellectual fairness of one who cannot help knowing that the universe is a many-sided thing.
[GKC Chaucer CW18:367]
Who's the "Schoolman"? That means a "Scholastic" philosopher such as Aquinas. I happen to like that quote because it is so tech: "the Yes and No of his own proposition" - it's so binary! Sure it's in the Gospel (Mt 5:37) but it's also Boolean... as we computer scientists like to say, "Thank God for George Boole."

Yes, that's the equation for y = x(1-x), the foundation equation of all computing. (For more about why this graph is precisely fitting for today, and why it ought to be on your teeshirt, please see here for the amazing secret.

Ahem. (Please... it is a feast day, and so we are having a good time - aren't you?)

Oh, I see. You are confused about this "fairness" thing. Here's what you do: find a copy of the Summa Theologica by Aquinas and take a good look at it. You'll be surprised. As GKC tells us, you will find that about ONE HALF of it is arguments against God, the soul, the Church, the Faith, Jesus, the Sacraments, and so on. Oh, yes. All very carefully written, and with lots of references to back up those arguments, too - and fairly written, not ever sarcastic. Now of course when you read a little further, you will find there are also rebuttals, and very elegant hole-pokings where those arguments are torn to shreds. But this is the fairness that GKC is talking about: the careful and very intellectual fairness of Scholasticism, and of St. Thomas.

Why do I care about such things? Aren't you a computer scientist, who deals with real stuff? Yes, and that is precisely why I care. My friends at that cable place used to hear me quote this: "I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done." [GKC Heretics CW1:46] And that was the century when Aquinas lived. For more, like about this thing of reality and of getting things done you'll have to read GKC's book on Aquinas. He's the most practical of philosophers, and GKC even implies we ought to think of him as an engineer... VERY high tech, yes indeed!

But, you say, back then they used to sit around and argue about stupid and unimportant things. Ah, GKC answered this too, and I shall conclude with his mvery Thomistic answer:
In the good old days of Victorian rationalism it used to be the conventional habit to scoff at St. Thomas Aquinas and the mediaeval theologians; and especially to repeat perpetually a well-worn joke about the man who discussed how many angels could dance on the point of a needle. The comfortable and commercial Victorians, with their money and merchandise, might well have felt a sharper end of the same needle, even if it was the other end of it. It would have been good for their souls to have looked for that needle, not in the haystack of mediaeval metaphysics, but in the neat needle-case of their own favourite pocket Bible. It would have been better for them to meditate, not on how many angels could go on the point of a needle, but on how many camels could go through the eye of it. But there is another comment on this curious joke or catchword, which is more relevant to our purpose here. If the mediaeval mystic ever did argue about angels standing on a needle, at least he did not argue as if the object of angels was to stand on a needle; as if God had created all the Angels and Archangels, all the Thrones, Virtues, Powers and Principalities, solely in order that there might be something to clothe and decorate the unseemly nakedness of the point of a needle. But that is the way that modern rationalists reason. The mediaeval mystic would not even have said that a needle exists to be a standing-ground for angels. The mediaeval mystic would have been the first to say that a needle exists to make clothes for men. For mediaeval mystics, in their dim transcendental way, were much interested in the real reasons for things and the distinction between the means and the end. They wanted to know what a thing was really for, and what was the dependence of one idea on another. And they might even have suggested, what so many journalists seem to forget, the paradoxical possibility that Tennis was made for Man and not Man for Tennis.
[GKC The Thing CW3:167-8]
Superb! Likewise, computers, cable TV, the INTERNET, cellphones were made for Man, and not Man for them, you know. Ah yes. Perhaps one of these days someone will want to know what software really is for. In which case I suggest you look for a Thomistic computer scientist. There's more than one of us out here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another Christmas Story???

Yes, you read that correctly. This posting is to announce another Christmas Story. Well, by the traditional calendar, we're still doing Sundays after Epiphany. But when it comes to stories I don't worry too much about the calendar. I have enough to do.

In any case, if you have been reading my novel about Joe the Control Room Guy, you will have heard of a certain event that happened back in December of 2001, when Joe was home from college: it was when the ship called the Phosploion wrecked on the shoals, out in the Atlantic to the east of Quayment. That story, which is a kind of sequel to Joe's novel as well as a prequel to the famous "Black Hole" story, is all written. But having mentioned the Phosploion begins to enlarge the situation rather dramatically... No, it's not like Bilbo finding the ring. Well.. then again... maybe it is. (Er... I'd better not try to discuss that just now. Sorry.)

Anyhow, in the story of the Wreck, which may get posted someday, you will meet another major character of the larger saga - Bill Grosjean - and there are several stories about his experiences in college. This one occurs at Christmas break in 1996 and it will give you a little more of the larger perspective... I might have called it "a tale of two chapters", one a fraternity and the other a monastery, but it has eight chapters, not two. So instead it is called Christmas Anticipation:

Chapter 1: The End of the Semester
Chapter 2: On the Highway
Chapter 3: At the Monastery of St. John
Chapter 4: A Night of Memories
Chapter 5: Preparations
Chapter 6: The Eve of Christmas
Chapter 7: Christmas Day
Chapter 8: A Postscript

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Ballade For the Media"

"Ballade For the Media"

(written for the posting about the "Silly Season" article by Old Fashioned Liberal)

"All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven....
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak." [Ecclesiastes 3:1,7]

A child on a playground was bored in the cold:
("A Christmas Story" fits well to days like these.)
"You'll shoot your eye out kid" the adults did scold.
His boredom deadly fruit of such stern decrees
And schoolroom edicts writ by advanced degrees.
While his parents quarreled over morning toast
If "Fra-gee-lee" might be an Italian cheese,
A child froze his tongue to a nearby lamppost.

The newsman hunts on his failing search for gold
In Silly Season, when fruitless are the trees:
No war nor scandal, (how can papers be sold?)
No terror, no rescue, no fear, hate, or sleaze;
Dirt from the dull elite he just cannot squeeze;
A newsless day's the terror that he fears most,
But he won't wait for important men to sneeze...
"A child froze his tongue to a nearby lamppost."

When Zachariah in Herod's temple old
Saw Gabriel appear, he fell to his knees:
"A son you'll have: John, the Forerunner foretold" -
This newsflash though great good, with doubt Zach did seize
But Gabe the Announcer was no gentle breeze:
Commanded that Zach might thus learn not to boast
"You doubt? Then till he's born I bid your tongue freeze!"
A child froze his tongue to a nearby lamppost.

O anchor-being who sits at mike or keys,
Whose name, voice, and face are known from coast to coast:
Freeze thou thine own tongue, be silent if you please.
A child froze his tongue to a nearby lamppost.

started 1/22, finished 1/23 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Agnes and Agnus

Today is the feast of the virgin-martyr, Agnes, who is just one letter away from the Latin agnus which means "lamb". Oddly enough, in ASCII, this is a prime example of "a bit of difference" - or as our Lord said, the "smallest part of a letter", since:
"e" is 0110 0101, and
"u" is 0111 0101.
Very interesting.

So in honour of her feast, I thought I would post the third story of Sister Mary Gabriel, which is called Underpainting in Gray.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Joe the Control Room Guy

Yes, yes - the conclusion of the Joe the Control Room Guy has been posted.

Which probably means I will have to hurry up and finish the illustrations.

After that, maybe I'll proceed to another sequel, or a related story. I already have the story about that wreck almost ready, and then there's the Black Hole... but finish that one first, and let me know.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Carmelites on the Loose!

One of the many projects-in-progress on my large (or is it long) list of entertainments is a series of short stories called Cloister Multicast, about a cloistered Carmelite nun who... well. Maybe you can tell from the title - it's a networking term I learned when I was doing that spot transport project. If not, maybe you might like something with a little high-tech adventure.

I have two of the stories so far posted over on my story blogg:

The Vestal of the Lord
Maxwell's Angel

There are actually three others completed (though the fifth actully centers on Joe Outis); there are supposed to eventually be nine total. We shall see.

And if you are wondering about who Joe Outis is, he's that "Control Room Guy" you've heard me mention. Yes, these are the same Carmelites who - er - well, they don't appear, of course... hmm. Let me try that again. Yes, this is the same cloister where the chapel is that Joe and Andy go for Mass.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Glossary for Subsidiarity and some more news

If you want to know what WATCHER is...

or a headend, or ad insertion, or perhaps the various papal encyclicals which were used in writing software to perform spot transport for cable TV, or why some trees have their roots at the top, or what Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes means and why it is important to all these topics - and to the idea of Subsidiarity, I have added the Glossary for my book Subsidiarity.

Also I have added a number of chapters to my novel, Joe the Control Room Guy, so if you'd rather read a mystery story which will tell you the same thing, you can. (You will especially want to pay attention to chapters 58 through 64.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Exciting Part

Well, I have decided to byte the bullet. Today I posted seven chapters of my novel. Yes, the one about Joe the Control Room Guy:
... but how can I really comment about what's in them? It's not fair for me to say.

Yes, we're embarking on the exciting part now, so I can't even post pictures or give hints.

Except I will say this, which won't spoil anything for the true mystery fans out there: if you have been wondering about the Wreck which Joe was involved with - the wreck of the Phosploion, which happened on the shoals east of Quayment back on December 22, 2001, you will get a hint or two about it. But the story has been written! It is a rather curious Christmas story, told in two parts, and it is a good deal shorter than this novel, but since it happens before the novel which is happening in 2004), it is of course a sequel - yes, that's what I said. So keep reading, and when you are done, perhaps you will get to read that one too. Among other things, it also gives a good deal of insight into both the Outis family and the Weaver family, a little of the larger action of Quayment, and a bit of the provenance of the relic which...


Oops. Did I just say "relic"? I didn't say anything about any relic. There's no relic mentioned so far in my novel about Joe, anyway. I must have meant to say something else. (Heh, heh, heh.)

But then I've promised that you'd meet a cloistered Carmelite too. Maybe you ought to find out how such a curious person can have anything to do with cable TV and all the rest. Ah, alas: how poorly even well-planned fiction can give a taste of the real world...

(Except if you really want to know more about the real world, check out Subsidiarity where you can learn some of what the real Control Room Guys actually dealt with. It's also the exciting part, and though they remained invisible, the Carmelites had a lot to do with that too.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

More on Subsidiarity!

If you are reading my novel you may know that one of the many mysteries Joe our hero faces is the strange fact that the Doctor used a Papal Encyclical as the basis for a very important piece of software at the cable TV company where they work.

Joe learns - eventually - that it was Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno, and especially John Paul II's Centesimus Annus, though it is not spelled out in the story as I have written it. And even then, he learns only enough to help him with the work he must do.

Unlike Joe, however, today you will be able to learn a good deal more about Subsidiarity - not enough do do Joe's job, perhaps, but enough to finally grasp that there is a real practicality and efficiency in this hitherto abstract concept.

Yes, for today I have posted the major Second Part of Subsidiarity, my companion work to Joe the Control Room Guy.

Alas, yes - the company where "Joe" and "the Doctor" and all the rest no longer exists. It was abolished at the end of August in 2005. (See here or here for a little of the story.) But, just like the destroyed Two Trees of Valinor (in Tolkien's Silmarillion) over which the Vala wept and sang until there sprouted one last brilliant fruit and one last gleaming flower, with God's help I have brought forth these two texts from that dark desolation...

The texts, such as they are, are complete, and God willing they may appear someday in real tactile print, but at least for the time being they will be here for consultation and amusement.

Here, then, is the table of contents for Subsidiarity:

Author's Foreword

Part I: Introduction To Subsidiarity
I.1 An Introduction
I.2 Some History
I.3 The Modern Era: Catholic Social Teaching

Part II An Example of Subsidiarity
II.1 Why Use Cable TV As an Example?
II.2 Things You Need To Know
II.3 Spot Transport For Local Ad Insertion
II.4 The OPAL key: Order, Purpose, Abilities, Limitations
II.5 The Heart of Subsidiarity

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy Traditional Epiphany

Yes, it's still Christmas... thank God! We're not bound to take the CHRISTMAS decorations down on December 26, and put the SAINT Valentine's Day candies and cards out in our stores... Chestertonians know how to celebrate.

And so, a gift. I have posted The Vestal of the Lord, the "first capitulum" from my forthcoming book Cloister Multicast, a collection of short stories about a cloistered Carmelite nun who has the odd habit (hee hee) of leaving the cloister from time to time, when God needs her to be busy with something out in the world. Yes, that means she bilocates... Very interesting, at least I hope you will think so. Her cloister happens to be the same one that T. R. Dailey (in Joe the Control Room Guy) has entered - yes, the one on the hill outside of Harley, to which Andy and Joe go for Mass. I guess some people are surprised that tech guys do stuff like pray, but we're in good company: Galileo, Pasteur, Galvani, Volta, Ampère, Fresnel, Pascal, Roentgen, Becquerel, Kircher, Mendel, Malpighi, Vesalius, Steno, Duhem... of course the more serious we are about our science the more serious we are about prayer. And prayer is the reason why Sister Mary Gabriel receives the gift of multi-location, as you will discover.

Here's a view of the cloister from the outside:

And a view of the chapel, which is open to the public for Sunday Mass:

Speaking of Joe and Andy, I have also put in four more chapters, but alas they do not have any illustrations yet. This takes us up to chapter 57, "The Calm Before the Storm" - which I think gives enough of a hint of what is coming.

In other news, I have nothing much to tell at the moment. Recently I noticed that something odd about the alphabet: that each of the vowels is contained within a Latin word, to wit:

ab = from, away from (motion in any direction from a fixed point)
de = from, down from
hi = these (nominative plural)
no = I swim (from nare = to swim)
tu = you (nominative singular)

So that was interesting. I was also thinking about writing something about the Boolean algebra of the DNA/RNA wildcard alphabet, but perhaps not just now. Maybe later. Meanwhile, back to work.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The next chapter

Well, here we are in 2009, and I decided to symbolise the next chapter of our lives by posting the next chapter of my novel, Joe the Control Room Guy.

It may seem a bit odd to note the Octave day of Christmas with a piece of fiction, but it is somehow suitable. The chapter is the 53rd, which is also appropriate. (NO there are NOT an infinite or even indeterminate number of chapters, there are in fact less than 90; I told you it is a complete story.) Also, it is called "Joe Goes Solo" as it tells the story of Joe's first overnight shift all alone. (That's right, and there are even a couple of quotes from that famous Christmas movie about being home alone. Hee hee.) Yes, it is complete, but there is no rule that says I cannot write more. I already have, and undoubtedly will write more, and not just about Joe.

But I will not talk about hopes or expectations today - everyone else is doing that. I'd rather get back to real writing, which very few others are doing. And certainly not with such a curious - dare I say "catholic" collection - of materials! (hee hee) But I think perhaps I will get some more things posted here, and finish the posting of "Joe" - and also over on the story blogg too. We'll have to see how things play out. Meanwhile, best wishes for a good 2009!