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Odd Lots

  • Alas, we have lost my favorite country music star, Toby Keith, of stomach cancer, at 62. He had lots of hits, but may be most famous for “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the most-played country song of the 1990s. (And if you’ve never seen my filk “Should’ve Been a Jedi,” you can find it here.) Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
  • Ever heard of Venus’ moon Zoozve? You say Venus doesn’t have any moons? Well…it’s complicated. And interesting. Not to mention funny as hell.
  • Orkin (the bug people) posted a list of the top 50 US cities for bedbug infestations. My home town is #1. My current metro isn’t even on the list. I guess I chose wisely.
  • February is National Grapefruit Month, and today is National Fettuccine Alfredo day. Alas, my birthday is National Mud Day—granting that when I was a kid, I played happily in the mud. How do I know such important things? Of course: There’s a website for it. Select a day, week, or month, and who knows what people will be celebrating?
  • Well, it’s not exactly a flying car, but…it’ll do, it’ll do.
  • Three million malware-infected smart toothbrushes were gathered into a botnet that tormented Swiss servers with DDOS attacks. Uggh. My toothbrush is smart enough to be dumb. And hey, it smells like Pepsodent. Can’t beat that!
  • Trout gonads can cure baldness when injected into your head. So just eating the trout doesn’t work? Bummer. I’m out.

Trunk Archaeology, Part 2

As I mentioned in my entry for January 10th, I recently found a bunch of ancient fiction manuscripts from my high-school days, which (old guy that I am now at 71) were 1966-1971. In the same folders was a list of stories (written pre-Selectric) that appears to be in chronological order, with over forty stories listed. Some few of the later ones have dates on them. Most are undated. I know I wrote my first SF short story in the spring of 1967. Alas, a copy of that story was not present in the folders. Still, a lot of interesting material was there, including a significant number of stories that I had utterly forgotten.

In reading through them here and there over the past couple of weeks I realized that the ones I had forgotten were, for the most part, forgettable. I had no training whatsoever in fiction until I attended the Clarion workshop in the summer of 1973. As with a lot of other things, I learned to write fiction by imitating the stories of others.

This explains a feeling I had reading some of my ancient stuff: It sounds like the pulps of the 40s and 50s. Well, that’s because a great deal of what I was reading in that era were story collections full of stories written in the golden age of the pulps, from 1940 or so to the early-mid ‘60s. My local public library had several of Kingsley Amis’ Spectrum anthology series, and a few of Horace Gold’s Galaxy Reader series, which gathered stories originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction. Once I exhausted what the library had I bought a pile of other anthologies as 75c mass-market paperbacks, most of which have fallen apart and were dumped in the 50-odd years since I was in high school. Groff Conklin edited quite a few, of which I only have two left: Elsewhere and Elsewhen (1968) and Great Science Fiction By Scientists (1962). I miss some of the casualties, like the marvelous Science Fiction Oddities (1966) granting that if I still had them, these old eyes would require a serious magnifying glass to read them.

I never did anything with my high-school stories. The earliest story I have that saw print is “Whale Meat,” (written in February 1971; I was in college by then) which appeared in Starwind Magazine (Published by Ohio State University’s SF club) in the early ‘80s and most recently in my collection Cold Hands and Other Stories.

The first draft of ”Whale Meat” sounded peculiar and somehow oddly modern to me for a significant reason: I wrote it in present tense. Not because present tense was stylish in 1971. In truth, I don’t recall reading any fiction in present tense while I was in high school. Rather, I guessed that immortal witches who had been born in the 1300s would live their lives and think their thoughts in the literal now. “Whale Meat” passed through a couple of later drafts during my college years. At some point I decided, Nahhh, that’s too strange. Nobody’s going to like a story told all in present tense. I then rewrote it in conventional past tense. So much for SF writers predicting the future…of SF, at least.

An incomplete first draft titled “Prayers at the Plaster Virgin” came to hand, undated but as best I recall, 1974. I finished it sometime during the 1980s, and renamed it “Born Again, with Water.” You can find it in my collection Cold Hands and Other Stories. It’s as close as I ever came (or likely will ever come) to writing a horror story.

Everything else I wrote in the late 1960s and early 1970s remains unpublished, mostly for good reasons. The bulk of those reasons hover around my failure to create credible characters in high school. Keep in mind (especially if you’re young and haven’t read any of the pulps) that I was in good company: Most of the pulps were action/adventure or tech/science puzzle stories that didn’t really require fully fleshed-out characters to engage the reader. I was writing what I was reading, pretty much.

Clarion changed all that—which is the reason I sold my first stories into professional markets shortly after the Clarion Workshop.

Here and there I think I succeeded in telling a story…by accident. Among my high school stories is one called “The Strongest Spell,” which I remembered badly. It’s a battle of wills between science and witchcraft. In some peculiar post-apocalyptic future, humanity has divided itself into Scientists and Witches. A young boy scientist and a young witch-girl meet periodically at the border between their respective territories, and get into spell-casting contests. The boy has an invisibility technology skullcap. The girl imposes invisibility on herself with a spell. The boy has an antigravity belt that allows him to fly. The girl has a spell for that too. Year by year they grow up and it’s the same old stuff every year: the boy practicing bravado and the girl a quiet and subtle one-upmanship.

There’s something on the table: There are ancient starships in the Scientists’ camp—but the Scientists can’t make them work. The girl knows why, but she’s not talking.

When they’re sixteen the game changes. This time the girl leads off by casting a complicated and (to the scientist boy) inexplicable spell. She summons a Cthuloid monster, which the boy assumes is a weapon directed at himself. Except—the monster attacks the girl instead.

Brute force doesn’t work. The boy attacks the monster with his gadgets and gets nowhere. The creature has dozens of eyes. The boy gets in the monster’s face and forces it to make eye contact. No technology, no science, no muscle: When the monster meets the boy’s furious eyes, it caves, releases the girl from its tentacles, and vanishes.

The boy doesn’t really understand: He was showing off the power of his technology, but she was testing him. She could match him, gadget for spell. But what she wanted to know was something different: Does he have the courage to face down a monster that cares nothing for his technology? Would he risk his life to rescue someone who had always been his rival?

He does. When he bends down to pick her up, assuming she’s injured and intending to carry her back to her own people, she tells him the Big Secret: That the starships need both science and magic to work. Her final spell wasn’t really about the monster. It was an invitation to work with her to make the starships operate, for Scientists and Witches both. He puts his arms around her, puzzled but pleased. You can almost see her thinking:

It worked.

Her spell was stronger than his: Cooperation beats competition. It wasn’t explicitly a love story, but one gets the impression that the girl added something a little extra to her spell.

None of my other stories in that era ever came close to this in terms of subtlety, and I assume that my success with “The Strongest Spell” was purely accidental. It was full of tropes and typos, and on the surface a little dumb. Hey, I was fourteen. Sometimes you just get lucky.

I still haven’t finished reading that quirky pile of yellowing paper. If other insights occur to me, you’ll see them here.

Trunk Archaeology

Sometime back I was digging around in one box or another in the shed and happened across something remarkable: two fat folders full of typewritten manuscripts I wrote while I was still in high school; that is, 1966-1970. It was a lot of paper: stacked up, the pile was over two inches thick. A handful were things I wrote in college from the very early ‘70s. Nearly all were high school stuff.

That box (and another box of more recent material) are what authors call their “trunk,” a sort of dead letter office for old manuscripts. I thought all that really old stuff was gone forever. I was sharp enough to write dates on the back pages of a few, which helped. Another clue lay in the nature of the typescript. I’ve owned three typewriters in my life:

  1. My grandmother Sade Duntemann’s 1920-vintage Underwood Standard #5, which she gave me in 1962, when I was ten.
  2. My Smith Corona electric, which my godmother Aunt Kathleen gave me for my birthday in mid-1968.
  3. My IBM Selectric, which I bought in 1972 and kept until laser printers made it unnecessary. I sold it in 2003.

The clues lay in the characters impressed by the type bars. The Underwood had seen a lot of use in its life, and its characters were not all crisply aligned. The type bars had clearly been jammed together now and then (I’d seen it happen, heh) and the characters were not in perfect alignment. The lowercase “a” in particular was a smidge higher than all the other letters. The Smith Corona’s type looked a great deal like the Underwood’s, except that I’d received it brand-new and all the type bars were perfectly aligned. The Selectric produced typescript obviously different from that of both earlier typewriters.

Another clue is that I wrote first drafts of all my high school stuff single-spaced.

The biggest clue of all was a stapled set of two sheets containing the titles of 46 short stories and one poem. As best I could tell, the titles were in chronological order. The list itself was typed on the Smith Corona, which dates it somewhere between mid-1968 and early 1972. The first draft of my story “Whale Meat” had the date February 8, 1971 written on the last sheet but was not on the list, so that means the list was drawn up earlier than that date.

Scanning the list of titles was profoundly weird. Although most of the titles were at least vaguely familiar (hey, how could I ever forget a title like “The Man Who Drove a Bulldozer Into Hell”?) about a third had slipped my memory utterly. Of the stories themselves I remembered almost nothing, save for a couple of my favorites. In reading manuscripts from that box, I didn’t even know what would happen next. It was like reading someone else’s stories entirely.

The list was not exhaustive. In digging through the paper-clipped sheet sets, I found two stories that had been written on the Underwood but were not on the list at all.

So here I am, reading through two inches of my fiction juvenalia. If you thought that finding the stories and the list of their titles was peculiar, stay tuned. I learned a lot about my progress as a writer from those stories. I’ll cite a few examples in my next entry here.

Niklaus Wirth 1934-2023

We lose our heroes one by one. By the time you’re in your 70s, like I am, you begin losing them a lot more frequently. We lost Don Lancaster back in July. Don’s books taught me how digital logic worked way back in the last half of the ‘70s. His writing was so good that I imitated it when I began to write computer articles and later books in the 1980s.

Niklaus Wirth died earlier today, in Switzerland, at 89. He was another hero, who taught me how to write computer programs that could be read. Pascal wasn’t the first programming language I ever learned; that honor (or perhaps dishonor) falls to APL and a little later, FORTH. I wrote a text formatter in mainframe APL in 1978. It was 600 lines of squiggly jibberish. By the time I got to the bottom, I had already forgotten how the top worked. FORTH, well, the less said, the better. I think of it as Yoda’s programming language. If you’ve ever messed with FORTH, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

My friend Mike Bentley introduced me to Pascal in 1980 or 1981. I bought a compiler for my CP/M machine soon after. Pascal/MT+ was awesome, so awesome I decided to write a book about it. I was about halfway through the book when Turbo Pascal popped up above the horizon. By the time I finished the book on Pascal/MT+, Turbo Pascal had taken over the Pascal universe, and I rewrote Pascal from Square One for Turbo Pascal. (The publisher retitled the book Complete Turbo Pascal for reasons I have never understood.)

I learned Pascal by cut’n’try. I learned how to write good Pascal by reading Wirth’s wonderful 1976 book Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs. My flameout with APL left me with the indelible conviction that software must be readable by the people who didn’t write it—and not after hundreds of hours of hair-tearing, either. I learned C, billed as a “high-level assembly language,” which is a contradiction in terms. My view: Go as high as you can go, or as low as you can go. To me, that meant Pascal (or BASIC, or COBOL) on the high end, and real assembly language on the low end. C source code is needlessly obscure, and by that I only mean it could be a lot more readable if its creators chose not to be proud of its obscurity. There’s actually a contest for writing the most unreadable C programs possible, which I think tells you a lot about C and its partisans. There was a time when C could do things that Pascal couldn’t. Those days are long, long past, and I will no longer argue the point here.

I learned Wirth’s Modula 2 programming language when products became available in the 1980s. I read up on Modula 3 (1988) and Oberon (1987) but never coded in them. As best I can tell, they expanded Pascal’s power without damaging its comprehensibility. Pascal itself has long been out of Wirth’s control, and today we have tremendously powerful implementations of Pascal like Delphi and Lazarus/FreePascal. But without Wirth, people like me would still be writing in BASIC or COBOL.

I write this eulogy without a heavy heart. Niklaus Wirth made it to 89, and reshaped much of the software development universe in the process. To me, that means he won—and won big.

Godspeed, sir. We will never forget you.

Odd Lots

  • Happy New Year, gang! My prediction: 2024’s gonna to be a wild ride across the board. If popcorn weren’t so fattening I’d buy a pile of it.
  • The Quadrantids meteor shower is tonight. The shower’s characteristic behavior is having a brief peak but an intense one. The predicted time of the peak is 7:53 AM EST, which would be 6:53 CST and 5:53 MST on 1/4/2024. That may sound awfully early to some of my night-owl readers, but Dash typically wakes us up by that time. I intend to be out watching for it, even though we have a first-quarter Moon—and it might rain. Hey, if you don’t play you can’t win.
  • The JWST has begun showing us how many odd chunks of stuff are drifting around the galaxy without actually orbiting stars. Some of these rogue planets are in pairs, orbiting one another. Fascinating long-form piece on the phenom if astrophysics—or writing science fiction—is your thing.
  • Here’s a dazzling video of a volcano erupting in Iceland. It’s unique because it shows the very beginning of the eruption, which almost resembles a sunrise. But then, boom! It gets spectacular!
  • Sports Illustrated was buying articles generated by AI, with authors also invented by AI, right down to the author headshots. Futurism called them on it, and all questionable articles vanished. That doesn’t mean a few weren’t so ridiculous as to stand out and may still be there.
  • Old timers like me will recall text user interfaces (TUIs) which, when we got started in computing, were what was on the menu. (It was a one-line menu.) Here’s a fun Substack piece about TUIs, and how in truth, modern GUI programming editors in IDEs don’t really give us much that we didn’t already have back then. Hell, when I was at Xerox in the early 80s somebody was passing around a Pac-Man game written in text mode for a 24X80 display.
  • Alas, Bill Gladstone, who founded Waterside Productions, passed on to higher realms on 12/27. Waterside is the agency that represents my book-length nonfiction via agent Carole Jelen. We acquired a fair number of books through him during the Coriolis years. He knew what he was doing, and the world could use a few more agents with his savvy.
  • New research suggests that red meat is not fatal. Body weight, not meat consumption, appears to cause the inflammation behind much cardiovascular disease. It’s carbs that put the weight on, as I’ve found over my past 25 years eating low-carb.
  • Back before Christmas I was over at Total Wine buying vino to honor the Bambino, and was standing in the (long) line for the checkout beside a spinrack of hard liquor shooters. Most were things I’d heard of. But there…does that little bottle say it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich whiskey? Yes, it did—so I bought one. Hey, 99c is cheap thrills. Carol and I tasted it when I got home. I expected to spit it out, but…it wasn’t half bad. From Skatterbrain, though Total Wine tells me it’s no longer available. Maybe the shooters were market research, and it flunked. So it goes. Alcohol is a volatile business…
  • Cheap thrills? There’s a cheap ($10) red blend called Sheep Thrills, which was vinted in Italy but bottled here in the US. I bought some. Like PB&J whiskey, it wasn’t awful, but I still don’t recommend it. Too thin, too dry.
  • I assumed that Skatterbrain’s PB&J whiskey had to be the weirdest whiskey in America. Silly boy. Have a look at this. Sorry, I’ll pass.
  • If you’ve ever wondered what shallots were, well, here’s how to tell a shallot from an onion. I like the notion of shallots as heirloom onions (imaginary band name alert!) and Carol and I are going to try a few recipes that might tempt Tennyson’s Lady of Shallott. Ok, sure, it’s the Lady of Shalott. Maybe that’s the British spelling. Or Tennyson’s spellchecker wasn’t working. Yes, ok, I’ll shut up now.

New Public Domain Items for 2024

Every year on January 1, a whole lot of things enter the public domain. For the year 2024, anything published in 1928 suddenly belongs to everybody. There’s a substantial but not exhaustive list here on Google Docs. If (like me) you’re a fan of Tom Swift, Tom Swift and His Talking Pictures will now be free of charge and (soon) up on Project Gutenberg. In the long tail of the original series, only one Tom Swift novel was published per year. In 2025 we’ll get Tom Swift and His House on Wheels (1929) in which Tom basically invents the RV. Remember that this is the original series, which some call Tom Swift, Sr. Tom Swift Jr. will still be a long time off, running as it did between 1954 and 1971.

The first three Hardy Boys mysteries went public last year. Three more were published in 1928: The Missing Chums, Hunting for Hidden Gold, and The Shore Road Mystery. Keep in mind that the older Hardy Boys books were updated in the 50s and 60s; those volumes are still under copyright. Nancy Drew didn’t debut until 1930 but be patient; 2026 will be here before you know it.

The House at Pooh Corner and Bambi, a Life in the Woods go public in 2024, as do The Giant Horse of Oz, The Threepenny Opera, Millions of Cats, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Thea Von Harbou’s The Rocket to the Moon—in German. (We’ll get it in English in 2026.) Fritz Lang made a film of it, entitled The Woman in the Moon, in 1929. That same snag applies to All Quiet on the Western Front, which was published in 1928—in German. We won’t get the English translation until 2025.

And those are only the things I recognized. Now, don’t think for a second I forgot that the cartoon Steamboat Willie enters the public domain in 2024. That’s just the film; the character is heavily trademarked by Disney, and I doubt Steamboat Willie’s new public domain status will do anybody any good.

The public domain is a complicated business. It varies by country, so something under copyright here in the US might not be under copyright in, say, New Zealand. Even in the US, there are a lot of details, and gotchas like the issue of copyright renewal of works published before 1963, and much else. A good, accessible long-form overview of US copyright with a focus on 2024 can be had on CopyrightLately.

That’s about all I have time for right now. Once the new year gets underway, Project Gutenberg and will have lots of new items to post. If you spot a good one, do let me know.

Christmas Daywander

Ok, Christmas Day was yesterday. This is a Christmas Daywander, not a Christmas Day Wander. I’m an editor. Such distinctions can matter. Sometimes.

As far as the radio stations are concerned, Christmas is over. Seems to me that after pushing Christmas since Halloween, suddenly it goes poof! and vanishes at 5PM on Christmas Day. I’m a 4-nation mongrel (Polish, German, Irish and (maybe; i have no solid proof) French. My mother was a child of Polish immigrants, and our home culture growing up was Polish.

In Polish culture, Christmas isn’t merely a day but a season, and not one that starts right after Halloween. The season runs from Christmas Vigil (vigilia) on Christmas Eve until The Epiphany on January 6. The Epiphany is also known as the Feast of the Magi, and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. All our decorations remained in place until Epiphany. This was sometimes problematic if we had a live tree, as some live trees die sooner than others. Carol and I often have both a live tree and a pop-up artificial one. This year we got sick in the runup to Christmas, so we stuck with artificial. We put up a few wreaths (one of them using real pine branches) plus Carol’s childhood Nativity scene, and the Plasticville farm (including animals) that Carol’s family put under the tree when she was a kid. We also put a stuffed Grinch and Max on the bookshelves along with a few other things. The trains did not go up around the tree this year due to the long tail of the worst colds we’ve had in years.

This year, we’re having one of our traditional a nerd parties on January 6, so some of the decorations will be going back into their boxes a little early. But I’m fully prepared to play Christmas CDs until January 6th.

Most of you know that I’m a filker; that is, I write song parodies like “The Zero-G Polka,” which you can find in my book Odd Lots. Some days ago, after imbibing Christmas music for a week or two, the following couplet entered my mind as I sat in front of my shaving mirror, Norelco Triple-Header in hand:

I’m shaving all my white whiskers,
Just like the brown I used to grow…

Fear not, gang. I don’t intend to finish it.

A quick reminder here: I have a short Christmas story on the Kindle store called “The Camel’s Question” for 99c. It’s about the three camels that carried the Magi to Bethlehem—and met the Christ Child, who grants each camel a wish, including an answer to one’s difficult question. If you’re not all Christmased out yet, consider it. Light reading, hopeful, affirming, and all that stuff that I favor. No starships, sorry.

I’ve always boggled a little at an obscure Christmas carol you don’t hear much: “The Boar’s Head Carol.”  It’s from the 15th Century, and food was sometimes hard to come by back then. On the flipside, in English tradition it’s brought into the great hall on a gold or silver platter, amidst fanfare by trumpeters—so I suspect it wasn’t the poor who ate the damned thing. I held off mentioning it here until today, because today is the feast of St. Stephen, and there is a Scandinavian tradition linking the boar’s head with St. Stephen. I also wonder if Good King Wenceslas had a boar’s head in the oven while he was wandering around on December 26th helping random peasants keep from starving and/or freezing.

The question does arise: What parts of a severed pig’s head can you actually eat? Wikipedia doesn’t take up that issue, so I had to sniff around a little, though I didn’t have to sniff far. Thrillist has a long-form explanation, which is probably a lot more than you’d want to know. TL,DR: Meat is muscle, and pigs have muscular jaws. So the jowls are the part mostly eaten, though the author cites his father, who ate pig’s brains for breakfast. I can’t scoff too hard: Our Fry’s supermarket sells jars of pickled pigs’ feet. Given what pigs walk around in, I think I’d prefer the head.

What surprised me most is that people are still eating pig heads now in the 21st Century, including the ears. Go ahead: You eat a pig’s head. I’ll watch.

Ummm, no, I won’t.

So Carol and I are stretching Christmas out a little. after—and not before—the day itself. It will be a mostly restful season. We still have a couple of Christmas movies to watch, and another couple of bottles of Van Der Haute spiked eggnog to sip. Again, Carol and I (and Dash too!) send our best wishes to all of you this Christmas season. The Christmas corollary to my deeply held principle that friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit is simply this: At the bottom of it all, we are the gifts we give to one another!

Spiking a Christmas Song

I was going to mess with an ancient Christmas song involving eating pig heads—surely you’ve heard of “The Boar’s Head Carol”—but that may have to wait for another day, ideally after everybody’s already had Christmas dinner.

No, this morning I want to write about something I learned just yesterday, about another Christmas song that Carol and I both like. We’ve never heard it on the radio, and we wouldn’t know about it at all if it weren’t on our very favorite Christmas CD: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters (1978). The song is the medley “It’s Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children.” It’s on none of our other numerous Christmas CDs, and my assumption has long been that Karen and Richard wrote it themselves, as it’s a little bit whimsical and in spots a little bit goofy.

I got curious yesterday and looked it up. The song was actually written by four men: Alan Bergman, Al Stillman, Victor Young, and Leon Klatzkin. It’s not new; in fact, it was first recorded in 1953. And when I read who first recorded it, I laughed out loud. It was Spike Jones!

Ok, I suspect young people will wonder who that is, and why his name made me laugh. Short form: Spike Jones (1911-1965) was the Weird Al Yankovic of the 1940s and 1950s. He took popular songs of other artists and recorded them in his own satirical style, with manic voices, gunshots, whistles, cowbells, hiccups, and other “special effects”. I came upon Spike Jones and His City Slickers when I was quite young; probably five or at most six. In that era my folks had a creaky old record player and a cabinet full of 78RPM records, including a few by Spike. His best known spoof song is probably “Cocktails for Two.” Note that the linked YouTube item is not a video of Spike and his band performing the song. It’s a sort of primordial music video, with Spike playing a bartender with many of the sound effects done by tipsy men at the bar. I’m sure sophisticates will roll their eyes, but when I was six I thought the song was hilarious.

So when I went looking for Spike’s version of “It’s Christmas Time” on YouTube, what I found is a cut from Spike’s Christmas album—and on this cut at least, Spike himself is notably absent. The song is played straight, with no silly sound effects, but rather a nice choir and lots of harmony. I imagine it’s Spike’s City Slickers band playing in the background. There’s a little bit of goofiness in some of the other cuts from that album, but for the most part it’s just Fifties Big Band vocals playing Christmas standards. Several are on YouTube; listen to a few if you’re interested.

I have to wonder what Spike thought of rock and roll, and what he might have done with it (or to it, more likely) had he not smoked himself to death at 53. He wasn’t a filker (like Bob Rivers of Twisted Christmas) and I wonder if he had imitators. If he did, I’ve never heard of them.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for reading me in whatever form, and putting up with my occasional Spike Jones-ish metaphors like the Base Four Martians in my assembly language book. Have a fun Christmas, with good food, good wine, good friends, good music (even if it’s a little goofy in spots) and an occasional glance to the heavens, and a word of thanks to God, who gave us the ability to laugh and be silly as we make our way through His beautiful and extravagant creation!

Lazarus 3.0 Has Arrived!

For all you Pascal programmers among my readers: Lazarus 3.0 is out, and available for free download. Here’s the announcement. I’ve already installed it on Win10 and will install it on Linux when time becomes available. (I’m still struggling to write the trademark Jeff Duntemann mayhem-filled action climax of my current WIP: The Everything Machine, the first full-length drumlins novel.)

Delphi now costs over $1000. If I’m going to teach Pascal, I can’t use Delphi, love it though I may–and do. Lazarus is pretty much Delphi’s peer, though it doesn’t…quite…have the third-party component aftermarket that Delphi has. Doesn’t matter. The fundamental principles of OOP and event-driven programming are the same.

For newcomers: Lazarus is a superb IDE and drag-‘n-drop GUI builder conceived as a Delphi competitor, though open-source and thus free of charge. It uses FreePascal 3.2.2 as its compiler. FreePascal understands Delphi’s additions to the Pascal programming language, and will also compile ancient Turbo Pascal programs. FreePascal is part of the Lazarus package and is installed when you install Lazarus. I have fragments of a book on Lazarus that I will return to at some point. But if you know Delphi, well, there’s not a lot more to learn. You’ll feel right at home.

Go get it. I’ve done a lot of work in Lazarus. It’s mature. It works. It can create wonderful GUI apps. And it’s free. What more do you want?

The Parable of the White Tile

[Excerpted from my book, Odd Lots, 2021]

Centuries ago, during the Age of the Great Cathedrals, a mighty church was rising against the rolling green hills of a distant Christian land. The king of that country had retained the world’s greatest architects, masons, sculptors, and artists to build the church, which would be a task of many years, perhaps decades. The greatest of all the artists that the king had employed had come from far away, and made his home in the shadow of the church, knowing that he would be pouring most—and perhaps all—of the rest of his life into its completion.

He was an artist of a special skill, the creation of mosaics. With nothing but colored tiles he could paint scenes and landscapes so real, so luminous, that they seemed to have a life of their own, as though they were windows into the ineffable realms of Heaven itself. His task in the building of the church was a mosaic above the main altar, sixty feet high, depicting Mary, Queen of All Saints.

The mosaic would require tens of thousands of colored tiles. The Artist made each of the tiles himself, alone, by hand, at a small bench behind the main altar. Each tile was precisely what the mosaic required. Each one was shaped individually in the Artist’s hands, and no two were alike. His skill was great: No more than were needed were made, none were ruined, and none were thrown away. After the tiles had been colored and fired, the Artist took them up on the scaffold himself, and cemented each tile individually and precisely into its place in the great mosaic.

The Artist was the greatest that his craft had ever produced, and he had promised Jesus and Mary that this mosaic would be his masterwork. God saw how the Artist loved the tiles he had crafted, just as God loves all of His children, and in a special way God allowed the tiles lives according to their natures, and made them recognize the Artist as their master, because tiles have neither minds nor souls with which to recognize God. The Artist spoke to the tiles as he shaped them, fired them, painted them, and positioned them in the mosaic. As the years went on and the mosaic took shape, the tiles would speak to one another and to the Artist, who praised each of them for its part in the greater work that was unfolding. The tiles listened to the Artist, and they were happy.

All but one. At a particular place within the mosaic was a white tile. The tile knew the tiles all around it, but no more than that, because a tile within a mosaic cannot see the picture of which it is a part. The white tile looked to its neighbor tiles, and realized that all of them were made of gold. The white tile was large, and its angles were irregular. All of the surrounding tiles were smaller than the white tile, and of compact and regular shapes. Where the golden tiles had neat corners, the white tile had sharp spikes. This made the white tile unhappy.

One day, as the Artist was positioning new tiles into their places in the mosaic, he heard the white tile calling out to him: “Master! Master! Why am I so strange and ugly?”

The Artist heard the white tile, and stepped down a few rungs on the scaffold to where the white tile was, so that he could speak to it: “You are not strange and ugly, my child. You are precisely what I needed you to be.”

The white tile was not convinced. “But all the tiles around me are made of beautiful gold! I have no color at all!”

The Artist shook his head, and smiled. “White is the greatest of all colors, dear one, because it contains all other colors. Every color of the rainbow lies within you.”

The white tile was still not happy. “But I am huge and gross, and have no shape. All of my angles are sharp, and nothing about me is regular. I am nothing but a jagged, ugly, spiky white blotch. Why, master? Why?

The Artist leaned forward toward the tile. As his eyes grew closer to the mosaic, he reminded himself that he could see the tiles the way they could not see themselves, and that he could understand their places in the heavenly image in a way that none of them could ever understand. So it was with great tenderness that he reached out a fingertip, and gently touched the white tile while he replied:

“Because, my dear child, you are the dazzle at the center of Our Lady’s golden crown.”