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Old Stuff

Things created before the existence of this blog.

A Cautionary Tale


Brother Norbert’s rain gauge was full of fish again. He sighed, and tipped them out. This was the worst weather he had seen in fifty years at the monastery. There had never been fish when he was junior under-gardener under the forbidding Brother Theophrastus, meekly listening to another tirade about how much worse things had been in the old days. He had always suspected Brother Theophrastus of exaggerating the tempests of his youth, but these recent events were making him reconsider; maybe there was a great cycle of weather, going from bad to worse and back to bad again.

At any rate, the garden once again looked a sight. His carefully tended Himalayan Tea Roses – spread with that expensive imported fertiliser just before the inclement weather began – had been beaten into a shapeless mass. The new beds of annuals were unrecognisable, the young plants lost beneath a carpet of silvery scales that still feebly flipped and twitched in places. Something unpleasant and spiky fell from the fish laden branches of one of the young trees and nearly landed on Brother Norbert’s bare feet, dead eyes staring up reproachfully. Poisonous, no doubt. Another morning of raking fish; well, he had better get underway before they started to stink. Feeling more cheerful than he thought he might, Brother Norbert fetched his rake and began to clear the stiffening piscine corpses from the gravelled paths. The new acolyte was late, as usual. Brother Norbert had seen many acolytes come and go, and the ephemeral inconveniences attendant on to individuals of their species no longer had power to move him. It was quieter, at any rate, without Brother Wayne’s constant stream of babble, and in the Junior Under-Gardener’s absence Brother Norbert’s thoughts were free to amble along their familiar paths. He had much the same thoughts as the previous morning, and the morning before, and the morning before.

As he worked, he repeated to himself the Four Foundation Axioms of the Discalced Brethren, then the Nine Sacred Institutions. The Discalced Brethren of Yusuf-ben-Yohanan were a small order, their outlying hilltop sequestery forgotten by most of the Monastery, but they had a proud history, and regularly placed in the top 10% of finishers at the Intermonastic Piety Challenge. It was a good life in the monastery, and Brother Norbert had never regretted his decision to come here, nor his choice of the Discalced Brethren. There was a sense of certainty about life here, a quiet predictability to each day that gave him the strength to handle the occasional rain of fish.

Though this was twenty-first day in a row.

Brother Norbert felt the first stirrings of disquiet, as though hearing the first rumbles of a distant storm. The rains had been getting more severe, and this was the worst one yet; what would he do if it continued to rain fish? The garden would have to be abandoned –

As he always did at such times, Brother Norbert consoled himself with the thought that even the Blessed Yusuf bin-Yohanan had experienced setbacks in his life. Had not his Foundation Axioms been stolen, not once but many times, to bolster the shaky intellectual edifices of other monastic orders? Had he not been struck from the ranks of his original order, sent into the wilderness with the words “you’re out!” ringing in his saintly ears? Had not his original line-up of monks been struck from competing in the Intermonastic Piety Challenge for supposedly throwing the final? Yet he had surmounted all of these obstacles, living to see his order prosperous and his axioms granted a grudging respect in all corners of the monastery.


Today Brother Norbert’s meditations did not seem to help. After an hour of steady raking, he still felt uneasy, and was tired and thirsty, with half the garden still to go. He left his rake and basket under a tree and went to get a drink of water from the fountain. When he returned, Brother Wayne had finally arrived. With his back to Brother Norbert, he seemed to be taking fish out of the basket and handing them to another monk, who was measuring them with a ruler and then tossing them casually in a pile at his feet. Brother Norbert harumphed. “What are you doing?” he asked sharply.

Brother Wayne started, like he had been caught with the key to the cabinet of forbidden books, and turned around to look sheepishly upward at the senior gardener. But before Brother Norbert could continue, the second monk darted forward, fish in hand, and thrust himself between them. “Aah, Brother Norbert,” he said, with the serious smile of a polite man engaged in a difficult and important task. “The fish in the basket, the ones in the garden, and the ones in the pile by the dust heap; those are all that fell this morning?”

“I – there may be some in the gutters; I haven’t yet checked.”

“The gutters.” The monk nodded gravely. He was a pale, gaunt man with freckles, perhaps a decade older than the junior gardener, and his face was well suited to nodding gravely. “Brother Wayne, best to go up and clear the fish out the gutters before the birds get to them. We don’t want to bias the sample.”

“Er – what is this about, Brother Broderick?” asked Brother Norbert. “It is Brother Broderick, isn’t it?” Norbert thought he recognised the pale monk as one of the ones who could usually be found in the basement, assisting Brother Stephen with his ceaseless compilation of statistics on departed brethren and current competitors in the Intermonastic Piety Challenge. Most axioms disproved in a debating season, best ratio of dogmas conceded to accepted, lifetime conversion averages, etc. This was the sort of thing Brother Broderick should be doing, not frustrating his efforts to clean up the garden.

“Yes, Senior Gardener. Brother Broderick, Assistant Chief Statistics Keeper,” replied the younger man, with earnest courtesy. “Brother Wayne has been helping me quantify some interesting trends in the recent ichthyometeorological phenomena, Senior Gardener. I apologise for the disruption to your routine, but this work is of the greatest importance to the future of the entire Order, if not the Monastery itself.”

“You seem to be measuring the fish.” Brother Norbert did his best to look stern at Brother Wayne, who had stood up and was looking uncertainly between the Senior Gardener and the Assistant Chief Statistics Keeper.

“Yes, we are.” Brother Broderick placed his arm familiarly on Brother Norbert’s shoulder and spoke earnestly. “Measuring their length, their weight, counting the number of fish and the number of species of fish. Senior Gardener,” here the pale monk’s voice fell to a stage whisper “are you aware that each of these trends can be described by an exponential function?” His eyes glittered intensely as he stared at Brother Norbert. There was a pause.

“You will throw them away when you are finished?” asked Brother Norbert.

“Yes, of course.” Brother Broderick smiled his taut, polite smile again. “We will dispose of them when we have finished our measurements. For as long as we are able.”

“Well, you can measure, and Brother Wayne can clear the gutters. I’ll keep raking them out of these flowerbeds, and put them here under the quince tree, and you can count them as long as you clean them up afterwards. Is that alright?” Brother Norbert did not raise his voice, but only just.

“Certainly, Senior Gardener,” replied Brother Broderick, giving a little bow. Brother Wayne clambered up a downpipe, and only the scrape of the rake, the sound of descending fish, and the scritching of pen on paper disturbed the quiet of the morning.


What a curious morning it had been, Brother Norbert thought. Fish and Assistant Chief Statistics Keepers, all in the one day. That must have been why the dust heap was always such a mess, with the previous day’s fall of fish hastily stashed in shallow pits in the rubbish, or missing entirely. Brother Broderick must have been ferreting through it for a couple of weeks now, making his ridiculous measurements.

Brother Norbert had washed his hands and now sat in his cell, leafing through his weathered seed catalogues. Perhaps there was a variety of sturdy, fish-proof rosebush they could order in. He felt he had handled the morning in entirely the wrong way. What would Brother Theophrastus have done? Something entirely more effective, he was sure. In Brother Theophrastus’ time, life in the monastery had been simpler. Senior monks told junior monks what things to do, and junior monks did them. Brother Theophrastus had told the junior gardeners of the days when things were simpler yet, when there was only one rule, and one order of monks, and even if they had been wrong about some things – about nearly everything, according to the high and mighty philosopher monks – at least they had been just carried on and done the things they were told, instead of squabbling about the balk rule and deciding to take the morning off and measuring fish instead of doing their proper job and using words like “exponential” that they had made up. Brother Norbert sometimes felt jealous of the monks of that earlier, simpler time. This jealousy was a dangerous thing, he reflected, for when smart-aleck young monks like Brother Spiro told him there never was such a time, and such happy, simple monks had never existed, his first reaction was always the exultant thought “serves them right, for being so much better than us.”

There was an unmonastic lack of silence outside Brother Norbert’s door. Little knots of monks were passing by, talking among themselves, sometimes loud enough for Brother Norbert to make out their words. They were mostly voices of the younger monks, though with enough of the older ones mixed in to make it obvious that the excitement could not be about one of the ephemeral pursuits of the young, kite-flying or circle-squaring or some such nonsense. He poked his head out the doorway to watch the back of one of these knots of earnestly talking monks and clearly heard the word “exponential”. That was enough. It was the third inning[i]; time for a cup of tea.


After his cup of tea, Brother Norbert wandered down to the scriptorium. He was not partial to fish himself – especially lately – but he knew that Brother Felipe was, and reasoned that perhaps he had some knowledge of why they should take to the air. Brother Felipe was a visitor from one of the other Orders, one of the smaller sects of Illuminated Eremites. He had come to the Discalced Brethren to consult their annotated copy of the Codex con Carne, bearing a letter of authorisation signed by the undersecretary to the Abbot himself, and had spent most of the last year buried in that vast and intricate frijole-stained work. Brother Norbert had found him to be a very pleasant fellow, for one of the Calced. He valued his friendship for the opportunity to hear his stories, for with a glass of red wine in his hand Brother Felipe was an indefatigable talker, full of exciting tales of life in distant parts of the monastery. The chapel belonging to his sect lay in the oldest and greatest region of the monastery, almost beneath the shadow of the Abbot’s tower – that ancient miracle of monastic architecture, within whose walls holy silence reigned supreme and the designated sages of seventy and seven divergent orders ceaselessly debated in flawless mime. Perhaps one day Brother Norbert might see for himself the wonders of those distant places – the Great Brass Head of Berzelius, kept in its crystal reliquary far below the Abbot’s wine cellars; the Automata of Van Trapp; the labyrinthine Psaltery of the Mahayana Prosodists, where the life’s words of ten-thousand Bodhisattvas were set to music and inscribed on the walls of interminable passages. Half legend, half dream, half sober truth – such, in these latter days, when mathematics is little regarded in the outer reaches, were the tales Brother Felipe brought from the heart of the Monastery. Perhaps one day he would see such things, sighed Brother Norbert.

Brother Felipe was not in the scriptorium, and when Brother Norbert asked after him he was told he had gone to the cool room, a part of the cellars beneath the pantry. He had gone with Brother Broderick, said Brother Andrew, but he had not heard what they said, for he had been busy with his own work, transcribing the history of the monastery from crumbling old pages before they turned to dust. “If you are going to see him, Brother Norbert, could you ask him where he put my pencil sharpener? He borrowed it this morning and I can’t find it in his desk.”

Brother Norbert agreed, and then he realised this meant he had to go to the cool room now, running a good chance of bumping into Brother Broderick again. Oh well. He knew his current peevishness was unworthy of one of the Discalced Brethren, and muttered a brief prayer that it would pass.


A few minutes later, Brother Norbert was at the cool room. The cavernous hall, a relic from the days when the monks had strict dietary requirements restricting them to semi-soft cheeses four days of the week[ii], was nearly empty, except for a table at the far end, where the glow of a candle illuminated a seated figure that appeared to be Brother Felipe – alone, Brother Norbert was happy to see. The Calced monk was alternately writing rapidly in a large book and examining small objects he removed from a basket alongside. Seeing Brother Norbert enter, he nodded, and continued his labours.

As Brother Norbert crossed the room, he began to feel faint. For some reason, he had stopped breathing. Strange, he thought, forcing himself to concentrate. After taking a few deep breaths, he realised that he had been holding his breath to avoid the nauseating stench of rotting fish. What in the world was going on?

Brother Felipe raised his head, noticing Brother Norbert’s discomfort. “I beg your pardon, my dear Brother Norbert. These are the day before yesterday’s.” He waved an ink-stained hand vaguely at the basket by his side, filled with fish. “Brother Broderick has asked me to classify these fish according to their species, and I fear that they are rather malodourous. I thought this-” he gave a more expansive wave to indicate the cool room in general, its shelves nearly empty except for the great wheels of the midsummer cheeses. “-would save others from suffering to attain the knowledge that I seek. If you require the room for a more salubrious purpose, I am only too happy to remove these impedimenta.” Brother Felipe half rose to go, but Brother Norbert shook his head. Fish! It seemed that everyone had become obsessed with the commonplace creatures, just because they happened to fall out of the sky. Perhaps this was a bad time, and he should try to catch Brother Felipe later.

“If you see Brother Broderick, Brother Andrew would like to know if he still has his pencil sharpener.’”

“Thank you,” Brother Felipe nodded gravely. “I will be sure to let him know. I expect him back in about half an hour.” Bending back over the cloth-bound codex before him, he made a mark on the page. He picked up another fish from the basket, looked at it briefly, then crisply and rapidly wrote “Macrochiron Gadarensis, common hash-mackerel”. What fine handwriting, Brother Norbert thought. His gardener’s hands were clumsy with a pen, and would have taken all morning to write as much as Brother Felipe had clearly written in the last few minutes. While Brother Felipe’s letters marched across the page as a disciplined legion of clean-cut figures, his own painstakingly scribed pages always bore more resemblance to a panic-stricken mob.

“Was there anything else you wanted, Brother Norbert?” Brother Felipe straightened to look up at his visitor, his solemnity softening to a self-conscious half smile. Brother Norbert shifted uneasily on his feet. “No – I mean, yes, Brother Felipe.” A small pause. “Do you mind telling me what this is all about? With Brother Broderick and the fish? I thought you might know something, since you are fond of fish.”

“Unfortunately, I am not an expert in Brother Broderick’s field,” said Brother Felipe, putting down his pen. “I am only a humble visitor to your halls. Have you asked Brother Broderick himself?”

“He seems very busy,” said Brother Norbert evasively.

“Yes, that he does. I suppose your Brother Broderick is a Pythagorean at heart, forever seeking the mathematical order underlying all things. For the past few days he has been seeking particularly the mathematical order underlying the rains of fish on this part of the monastery. What we have measured, we can understand; that is his credo. So, he has been busy counting, measuring, classifying. He thinks – this is only his hypothesis, you understand; it may not be true – that the severity of the falls, whether measured by the number of fish or their size, has been increasing exponentially.”

“They have been much the same, I thought, except for the last day or two,” said Brother Norbert.

“Exactly so. That is what exponential is like. The same, almost the same, almost the same, and then, whoosh!” Brother Felipe had picked up his pen again, and at ‘whoosh!’ he lifted it into the air, drawing Brother Norbert’s eyes upwards. They remained focussed on the pen as it slowly descended. Strange people, statistics keepers. He hoped Pythagothingummy was not on Elder Brother’s Leo’s List of Forbidden Dogmas; it was hard to imagine the guileless Brother Broderick as a heretic.

“It is like flies, you understand. A pair of flies, breeding without any predators to check them, will have progeny enough in a year to cover the whole world in a living carpet of insects. But until St. Gustav’s Day[iii], say, if they began on New Year’s Day, no one would know; you might as well keep them all in a basket.” Brother Felipe smiled, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.

“So that means it will get worse?”

“If Brother Broderick’s hypothesis is true…”

“Much worse?”

Brother Felipe shrugged. “Mas o menos. Remember, Brother Norbert, it is only a hypothesis. Monks have been wrong before.” As Brother Theophrastus had always been only too happy to point out, thought Brother Norbert, giving an inaudible sigh of relief. “However, Brother Broderick is a very accomplished statistician.”

“I see,” said Brother Norbert. “Thank you very much, Brother Felipe.”

De nada,” replied the other, returning to his labours.

Lacrimus Zechariahii, the friar’s sole…


Brother Wayne was late for the afternoon weeding. By the time he finally arrived, Brother Norbert had worked his way through a third of the garden. He really feared that many of the plants would not recover from this most recent battering. Saddest were the hippocanthus bushes, planted in honour of the late Manager Elder Brother Peter; broken, nigh-on leafless – he was glad that most of the Elder Brethren who had stood by so proudly at its planting were now dead and buried. If they were still alive, they would no doubt be sternly demanding immediate action from him.

“I am glad to see you have finally remembered some of your responsibilities, Brother Wayne,” Brother Norbert said harshly. “There will be no repeat of this morning’s performance, I trust?”

Brother Wayne nodded. He seemed crestfallen, drained of his usual ebullience. “No, Senior Gardener,” he said. Had the lad been crying? His face was red and puffy. Perhaps he had come out on time, after all, and been stung by a wasp.

“What’s the matter, boy?” asked Brother Norbert impatiently. “Stung by a wasp?”

“No, Master Gardener.”

“Your kite string broken?”

“No, Master Gardener,” Brother Wayne replied, weaker then before. “It’s just, I just-” his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and his eyes brimmed with tears.

“Well? What is it, boy?” snapped Brother Norbert. Acolytes nowadays! He was very close to losing his temper with the young monk, and forced himself to take a deep breath in anticipation of his response.

“It’s just, I wanted to say, Master Gardener, that I’ve really liked working in the garden with you. You’ve been very kind to me, and I’ve learned a lot.”

Brother Norbert felt a sudden emptiness in the pit of his stomach. Had Brother Wayne heard something? Was the garden about to be shut down, because of the fish? Elder Brother Leo had always said it was too costly to maintain, and at one time there had been strong pressure to convert it to a lawn for communal ball games. Or was Brother Broderick putting pressure on the lad to work in the statistics cellar?

“You’re not thinking of leaving, are you? Has Brother B-”

“No, no,’ said Brother Wayne miserably. “It’s just, we don’t have very long, and-”

“What do you mean, we don’t have very long? Are they closing down the garden?”

“N-n-no,” blubbered Brother Wayne. “It’s the Pike, Brother Norbert.”

“The what?’

“The giant fish.” Great tears rolled down the Novice’s dimpled cheeks. “Brother Broderick says giant fish will rain down on us tonight and smash us all. It’s ex-ex-exponential.”

Brother Norbert was not used to such displays of emotion, and felt distinctly ill at ease.

“We’ve never been smashed by giant fish before. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Yes. Yes,” lied Brother Norbert. “There’s nothing to worry about. We’ll all have a good laugh about this tomorrow, ha ha ha.”

Brother Wayne nodded, and sniffed.

“Just keep the four foundation axioms of our Blessed Founder in mind, and everything will be fine. Pass me those secateurs, please.”


Novice Archibald came to fetch Brother Norbert and Brother Wayne as they were putting away the gardening things. An extraordinary meeting of the Discalced Brethren had been called for the Eighth Inning, he said, and the Manager wanted everyone to be there.

Even hurrying as fast as monkish custom allowed, stopping only to wash their hands and feet, the two gardener monks were among the last to arrive. The refectory was full. Monks Brother Norbert had not seen for years were there, blinking in the candlelight after their long meditations in the basements and cabinets of the monastery. Word of the difficulties had obviously spread beyond the Discalced Brethren, for Brother Norbert saw at least a dozen monks from neighbouring orders, burgundy-robed Jains from down the hill and taciturn followers of St. Aloysius in white ruffs and knickerbockers.

The Manager of the Discalced Brethren, Elder Brother Stentor, rose to the lectern and cleared his throat. He waited a moment for the sound of foot-shuffling and mumbling to die away, then peered over his pince-nez at the assembly with piercing blue eyes. As always, his thick eyebrow and billowing dark grey hair gave him the forbidding aspect of a bird of prey.

“As you all know,” Elder Brother Stentor began, “recently this section of the monastery has been the scene of several rains of fish. While somewhat unusual, I would like to stress that such occurrences are in no way – er – unusual. There is absolutely no call for the irresponsible scaremongering that has engendered a sense of, dare I say it, panic, among some of the younger and more impressionable novices.” He paused to glower at a group of the selfsame younger novices at the back of the room, men whose contributions to the day’s debate had been particularly shrill. Clearing his throat, he went on, reading a prepared speech from a single sheet of paper.

“There have been documented rains of fish on successive days at Al-Zumeidah in the Yemen during the Abbasid Caliphate; in the Black Forest village of Alpirsbach in the 1930’s; near Springfield, Massachusetts, throughout the eighteenth century; at this monastery, of course, in the seventeenth century, and Alpirsbach again in the sixteenth. Fish rained from the sky on three successive days at West Palm Beach, Florida, during the Republican National Convention of 1972 – during which time a three-headed calf was born to a member of the administrative typing pool at Tulane University, and melons bearing the legend ‘beware, for the end is nigh’ in Aramaic were harvested at several places in the Midwest. There have been further rains of fish in the French Cameroons, in France itself, in Australia, Brazil, Matabeleland, Tannu-Tuva, South Dakota, North Dakota, Northern Rhodesia, the Maldives, Kashmir, Turkmenistan, Sumatra and Pomerania. Not once has a single building been destroyed by fish raining from the sky, nor a single person killed or seriously injured by falling fish. (With the trivial exception of Luigi Garibaldi, one of the Flying Garibaldi Brothers, during the Lyons World Fair of 1911). Otherwise, all of these events have passed by without any consequence whatsoever.”

“I repeat, there is no need for the unseemly panic that we have seen today. I have asked Brother Broderick, whose researches have inadvertently touched off this disturbance, to address you. He will lay out his findings clearly and calmly, once and for all, to lay to rest the ridiculous rumours I have been hearing in the corridors. I am sure you will find that these are based on a willful misunderstanding of his work, and that we all have absolutely nothing to worry about. Brother Broderick, please.”

There was polite applause, and Elder Brother Stentor took a seat. Brother Broderick rose to the lectern, his face grim. He stood silently while Brother Stenos and Brother Darren carried in a folding whiteboard and assembled it behind him.

“Fellow monks,” he began, his voice serious. Brother Norbert, who was standing at the back, could see that his hands were shaking. “I would like to thank our Manager, Elder Brother Stentor, and the other Elder Brothers, for this opportunity to speak with you, and all of you for your attention. I would like to begin my presentation today by relating an example from the ancient history of the monastery – the history of the efforts of the Self-Referential Brotherhood to create artificial intelligence.

In their quest to develop thinking automata, for centuries the Self-Referential Brotherhood progressed no further than crude clockwork instruments that could keep count of the hours; then, a few decades after devising machines that could add 1 and 1, they had automata that could mimic human speech. Another year or two, they had devised true thinking devices, and within a week they were no more, supplanted by their own creations, a hundred times more intelligent than themselves.

The more intelligent their machines became, the greater the rate at which their intelligence increased. The growth in machine intelligence was exponential; just as the growth of a population of two flies is exponential – unchecked, within a year their offspring could cover the earth.”

Brother Broderick paused, leaving the Monks to wonder what the point of this discursion could possibly be. He now gripped the lectern tightly to keep his hands from shaking, and there was more strength and confidence in his voice.

“Brother Darren, please.”

The gangly novice, with the aid of Brother Stenos, hung a chart on the whiteboard. It was labelled ‘Fig.1: No. of Fish’ and showed a curve, clinging closely to the bottom of the graph almost all of the way across and then rising vertiginously to the top at the extreme right. Most of this portion of the line was dotted.

“As you can see, the number of fish falling in the monastery garden and surrounds has been rising slowly over the last month or so. This rise can be described by an exponential function, which I have projected forward to tomorrow morning. As you can see, my analysis predicts in excess of a million fish will fall.” Ripples of murmured discussion propagated through the crowd. Not loud or disruptive, but still almost unheard of within the confines of the Monastery. Elder Brother Stentor rose from his seat to glower at a few of the more conspicuous offenders. “Brother Broderick,” he began with a smile. “There are – er- a number of important points you have overlooked.”

“Elder Brother Stentor,” said Brother Broderick. “Might I have leave to finish my presentation, before the matter is thrown open to discussion?”

“Such has always been the custom of the Discalced Brethren,” wheezed the aged Elder Brother Leo. “Sit down, Stentor, and let the boy finish what he was saying. Something about fish, wasn’t it?”

“Alright,” said Elder Brother Stentor gracelessly, sitting down again.

“Thank you, Elder Brother Stentor. Brother Darren.”

The novice hung another chart next to the first one – this was labelled ‘Fig. 2: Avge. Lngth. of Fish’ and seemed in all other respects identical to the first one. A third, which bore the arcane title ‘Fig. 3: Avge. Stat. Dev. Lngth. of Fish’, took its place alongside.

“As you can see, after hovering for several weeks at about two inches, the average length of the fish falling in the monastery garden increased to three inches the day before yesterday, then to nearly six inches today. In addition, the variation between the average size of the fish and the maximum fish size has increased from about one inch to nearly eight,” as Brother Broderick spoke, the helpful Brother Darren pointed to the appropriate places on the two charts.

“Extrapolated to tomorrow morning, these trends suggest that at least one of the fish striking the monastery will be more than 72 feet long.”

There were gasps of disbelief, then a mumble of discussion, which continued on as an increasingly disruptive competitor to Brother Broderick’s words. “Bollocks!” called out one young monk. Undaunted, Brother Broderick raised his voice and continued, while Brother Spiro replaced Figures 3 and 4 with the final chart, marked ‘Fig. 5: No. Spcies. Fish.’ It too appeared identical to the first chart.

“Extrapolating from current trends, tomorrow’s rain will contain 105% of all known species of fish. This means there is a very good chance that a large proportion of the deluge will consist of such fish as the piranha, electric catfish, stonefish and Mesopotamian rat-fish – the last two of which, I must point out, possess an excruciatingly painful and invariably fatal poison. As for the additional 2000 species unknown to science, their possible consequences cannot even be guessed at.”

“I stress,” said Brother Broderick, against the growing roar. “I stress, this is not based on imagination, but on a rigorous statistical analysis of all the data I have been able to review. This is a careful extrapolation from known facts. The evidence is before your eyes. The age of mankind, typified by greed, corruption, violence, lascivious immorality, and scorn of the foundation axioms of our Blessed Founder, is drawing to a close. We stand at the dawn of a new age. The Age of Fish.”

Elder Brother Stentor opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Brother Broderick stood blinking at the crowd of monks, like a marmot facing a Range Rover.

“Hear, hear,” said Elder Brother Leo. Brother Norbert supposed he had only heard the bit about the end of immorality, and was applauding that. The sound of one man clapping galvanised Brother Stentor, and he rose to his feet, looking murderously at Brother Broderick until the younger monk moved well away from the lectern.

“Thank you, Brother Broderick.” said Elder Brother Stentor, his voice flat. “Listen up, down the back,” he shouted, struggling to be heard above the noise of a hundred muttering monks. “I would like to ask Brother Broderick a question. The question is, how can you logically extrapolate from a purely empirical model fitting a number of sets of subjectively selected data to a general theory of catastrophe? Logic-”

“The question is,” shouted a wild-eyed monk in the last row. “What are you going to do about all these bloody fish?”

The refectory erupted. Monks applauded, shouted “hear, hear”, or “logic, shmogic” and banged their wooden bowls on the table. A few climbed on to the benches and cheered, while a number of the smaller and meeker ones began to make their way to the door. Never, in all his years with the Discalced Brethren, had Brother Norbert seen such an uproar.

“Silence!” boomed Elder Brother Stentor. “Silence! Are you Monks, or monkeys?” Elder Brother Leo hobbled up to the dais, adding his shrill wheeze to Stentor’s thunder and the feeble gesticulations of Brother Broderick. Stools were overturned, robes were stepped on, the Jains quietly left the room – it was not their section of the Monastery at risk, after all, and they had no wish to be crushed in the scrum.

Brother Norbert saw Brother Sylvestris – a tall, intellectual monk he had always found rather forbidding – shout something in the ear of Novice Archibald, who weaved his way through the crowd and darted after the departing ruffs of the Aloysians. Meanwhile, Brother Sylvestris himself began forging towards the dais. Brother Norbert had been stunned into silence, as much by the monks’ response to Brother Broderick’s speech as by the words themselves. Might Brother Broderick be right? Were the days of the Discalced Brethren numbered? Should they adjust their lives as best they could to somehow survive in this new age, this age of giant poisonous fish that fell from the heavens? Brother Wayne, he noticed, had gone into a manic phase, jumping up and down and waving a spoon, shouting something that he couldn’t hear. He realised with a jolt that he was shouting too. ‘Stop it! Stop it!’

There was a noise. A big noise, which swallowed up all the other noises. A vast, unearthly boom that sent every ear ringing and shook the very rafters of the refectory. It was impossible to hear yourself think, thought Brother Norbert, wondering what he was thinking.

It was the Great Gong, unheard now for forty years, once used to summon the Discalced Brethren to morning prayers. Brother Norbert had never thought to hear it again, not since that morning when he was a novice when monks from six orders in adjoining parts of the monastery had invaded the precincts of the Discalced Brethren and thrown poor old Brother Ronaldo from the Gong Tower, breaking both his legs.

Brother Wayne dropped his spoon. The trio at the dais fell silent. All activity dissolved in the one interminable ear-splitting bong, and as its echoes died away the refectory was silent. Except for the ringing in everyone’s ears.

Elder Brother Stentor glared down from the lectern. He spoke, barking each word distinctly at the assembled monks. “We are an order, not a rabble. We are monks of the Discalced Brethren of Yusuf-ben-Yohanan, and we will behave appropriately. Brother Broderick, put those things away.”

Chastened by his reception, the Assistant Chief Statistics Keeper nodded, and put his visual aids in a pile in the corner.

“Now,” continued Elder Brother Stentor. “If anyone wishes to speak, let him do so according to the accepted protocols of the Monastery. Brother Sylvestris?” For Brother Sylvestris had by now reached the front of the room, and was holding one finger up in the time honoured gesture of the Discalced Brethren.

“Thank you, Elder Brother Stentor.” Brother Sylvestris clambered up to the lectern. “As I believe you are all aware, Brother Broderick’s exponential equations are only a model for certain observations.” Brother Sylvestris spoke in a good-natured, slightly condescending tone, as though he was giving private instruction to a favorite pupil who happened to be as thick as two bricks. “Just because the model fits the data, it doesn’t mean the model is true. For example: it is possible to model the observed motions of the planets by saying that they all go around the sun in elliptical orbits, sweeping out equal areas in equal times, with the sun at one focal point of the ellipse. Of course, one then has to assume that the earth does too, and that the earth is about the same size as the planets, and that instead of being sensibly enclosed in an interlocking system of perfect crystalline spheres each planet is borne on the back of an enormous invisible space dugong.” Brother Sylvestris chuckled self-indulgently at the notion. “Ridiculous, obviously!”

Brother Norbert agreed, it was a perfectly ridiculous notion. But mightn’t it still be possible that the Discalced Brethren were really about to be crushed beneath a rain of fish? Inherently, the idea seemed a great deal more plausible than giant invisible space dugongs.

“So there are any number of models that could fit the observed trends; a simple parabolic one, for instance, in which the quantity of fish goes up, and then down again. Please be calm, my fellow monks, and wait to see what tomorrow will bring.” Brother Sylvestris nodded politely to assembly, and stepped away from the lectern. The speech had a calming effect on the gathering, and as he finished there was a smattering of polite applause. Brother Stentor scowled down at the assembled monks, silently reminding them that Monks Do Not Applaud.

“Anyone else?” a dozen forefingers stabbed the air. “Brother Clarence?”

A timid, portly brother made his way to the front. Like Brother Wayne, he had evidently been greatly upset by the projected fate of the Monastery, and his face was flushed and bleary. Brother Sylvestris gave him a hand up onto the dais, and he moved uncertainly to the lectern.

“Brother Sylvestris, you say that we can’t be sure Brother Broderick’s predictions are true. But at the same time, how can be certain that they aren’t true? Remember Pascal’s Wager?” Brother Clarence paused to catch his breath, and the assembled monks nodded. They all remembered Brother Pascal, and his proverbial gamble on the outcome of the 311th Intermonastic Piety Challenge, supposedly based on an anonymous tip.

“I mean, suppose it had worked out, and the Phrenologic Coenobites had actually won? At odds of twentyseven hundred to one, Brother Pascal would have been the greatest hero in the history of the Discalced Brethren, setting us up for dominance of the entire Monastery.” Instead of being the greatest fool, hung in the air unspoken, expelled from the order for embezzling its entire savings.

“So, we should be thinking, I guess – if, Brother Broderick is right, what will we do?” Brother Clarence stood uneasily at the lectern.

“That’s all I have to say.”

There was another burst of applause, louder this time. Elder Brother Stentor’s scowl took longer to take effect.

“Is there anyone else?’ Elder Brother Stentor ignored the waving fingers. “No? Good. I will see you all for dinner at the bottom of the ninth inning.”

“Yes, Assistant Statistics Keeper?”

“I just wanted to say that I have a number of ideas as to how we can adapt and make the most of the new situation-”

The assembled Elder Brothers looked darkly on Brother Broderick.

“I believe your ideas have caused us enough trouble already, Brother Broderick,” said Elder Brother Stentor. ‘This discussion is now closed.”

Superficially calm, the monks now began to file out of the refectory. Soon the sound of heated discussion began to drift in from outside, once enough monks were beyond the glare of Elder Brother Stentor. “How can you trust a monk who believes in invisible space dugongs?” came a scornful voice from somewhere ahead of Brother Norbert.



Brother Norbert heard a bang from above, as of something large and fish-like hitting the roof. Instantly, he was fully awake. Was this the end? Was the destruction of the Discalced Brethren imminent? There was another bang, and another. Rapidly, Brother Norbert rose and gathered his most precious possessions- the Compleat Herbal of Brother Polydendros, the latest seed catalogue, the faded picture of his mother and the shoes he had worn before he joined the order.

There were others in the hallway. No one dared speak what they all thought, standing there in the darkness in their nightclothes, while sporadic banging sounds continued above their heads. Fear and tension showed on the faces of the monks as they glanced at one another, seeking some direction at this critical moment. It would only take one word – one word to push them over into panic, or send them peacefully back to their beds to await the morning.

“The Pike! The Pike!” Brother Clarence’s terrified screams echoed down the hall, shortly followed by the monk himself, legs furiously pumping. Shouting, shoving, rushing to escape the coming catastrophe, the Discalced Brethren poured after him, no longer an order, but disorder incarnate. Brother Norbert saw Brother Sylvestris himself in the crush, powerless to go against it. There was Brother Stephen, his beard flapping around him, clutching to his chest a heavy tome of statistics. Brother Broderick, his face ashen, shoved up against one wall watching the crowd surge by. Brother Wayne, who had somehow found another spoon to wave. Intoxicated by the fear-laden air, Brother Norbert clawed his way through the crowd with the rest of them, his mind dominated by one thought only: get away, get away, get away!



“You were right,” the tall monk said, scraping a single fish out of his way with a booted foot. The morning sun shone clear and bright on the gravel paths and tattered bushes of the garden. “All we had to do was feed them the data, and their own weakness for statistics did the rest.”

“It was your idea to combine the first full scale tests of our fish translocator with our effort to find more salubrious quarters, Piscator Ricardo,” said the shorter, darker monk.

Piscator Ricardo smiled and nodded. “But it was your seminal insight that led to our victory. I congratulate you. The order congratulates you.” Behind the two men, other monks were at work. A locksmith monk hurried past, tools jangling from his belt as his robes billowed out behind him. Two others walked more slowly, carrying a mounted marlin between them.

“I was lucky to find a target as imaginative as Brother Broderick. All it took was a few carefully placed suggestions.” The shorter monk shook his head. ‘Still, I cannot help feeling a little sorry for them.”

“Hah! The shoeless ones had occupied this prime location for far too long, Piscator Felipe. There is no way the Illuminated Brethren of the Hunter King can fulfill their goals with the Abbot breathing over our shoulder all the time. We need space! And now all this is ours.”

“I expect they will return in time,” said Piscator Felipe glumly.

“We have possession – nine-tenths of the law. You should not concern yourself with such things,” the taller monk clapped Piscator Felipe on the back. “You should be relaxing, after a job well done. I expect you are looking forward to a trip home, after all this excitement.”

“Yes, Piscator Ricardo. I have had enough of this-” one sweeping gesture took in the garden, the gong tower, the hulking complex that housed the refectory- “to last me a lifetime. Codex con Carne, bah! I hope I never read another chili recipe as long as I live. What I would give anything for right now is a good swordfish steak.”

“I am sure the head of the order would only be too grateful to fly one in for you from the Gulf of California, Piscator Felipe. After all, you have been the prime instrument of our triumph. Rex Venator Domat Omnia, Piscator Felipe.”

Rex Venator Domat Omnia, Piscator Ricardo.”





[i] For reasons that are probably obvious, the Monks of the Discalced Brethren of Yusuf-ben-Yohanan divide the hours between Prime and Vespers into nine innings.


[ii] The sources which have come down to us suggest that they ate wheat bran on the remaining three days of the week.


[iii] December 27th, the anniversary of St. Gustav’s martyrdom by the Samogitians. There are many sources for the story of St. Gustav, and for the profound influence his example has had on many orders within the Monastery; perhaps the best can be found in Kaminsky’s De Rerum Monasteribus.

I was looking at old folders of screenshots today and dug up some of the very few I have of Age of Conan.  Despite playing it for about a year and taking tons of screenshots I managed to accidentally delete most of them during an upgrade, since Funcom didn’t see fit to put their screenshots folder in the Documents folder.  Oops.  Ah well.

Quinn was a nasty looking sucker…  That’s him in the middle in the spiky hat.  The mean looking chick on the right is Zacoran.

AoC - Quinn and Zacoran


Lord Komo is machinima based on the MMORPG SWTOR, which I am still playing at the time of writing this.  I am a sucker for story-driven games so this was right up my alley.  SWTOR was also a source of inspiration for Aronoke, the Star Wars fan-fic flotsam I am currently addicted to writing.

Lord Komo originated when Jord and I were adventuring on Taris, wreaking destruction and havoc and generally getting quests done, when we happened on the NPC Lord Komo.  And with one thing or another, we were soon singing that Beach Boys song, Kokomo…

Everyone else in Universal Exports refused to sing it.  I considered hiring someone, but decided it was too bothersome.  And so, a terrible exercise in self-torture and vocal expression was born.  Especially since Kokomo is not happily inside my vocal range. It is far too squeaky.  I can’t watch the video now, it makes me wince too much.  *hides under pile of MMO subscriptions*.

Since making the movie I (and the rest of Universal Exports et al) decided to swap servers, due to the dwindling popularity of the game, so some of the characters involved in the film are no longer named the same thing.

My second attempt at LoTRO machinima.  This one still has some IClone4 models in it (Sauron’s milk herd, anyone?) and lots of IClone effects, but it is heavily based on snippets of movie taken directly from the game.  It was inspired by an excellent (dreadful, by most people’s standards, no doubt) pun made by Wingwoz (who stars in the film).  This one was a great deal of fun to make, although I did have the song stuck in my head for about three months during and afterwards.


This is a much more recent video project, one I made when I first got IClone4.  I learned  lot of things while making it.  Mainly that realistic looking animations are really hard to create without expensive equipment.  Now I have IClone5 and some other cool stuff to record animations from live actors, I will have to make another animated movie, although at the moment, I feel a bit wilted at the thought of how much work that would be….

Anyway, Orcs is a short screenplay based upon the MMORPG LoTRO which I played for far too many years, and will probably play again.  You will probably not get some of the jokes if you have not played the game.  The IClone characters are made to try and look a bit like the LoTRO toons they are based on.   Which was hard for a nooblet like me, since all the armour and things had to be modelled and built in IClone or adapted from existing things.

Another The Movies video I made.  This one was much harder, because it is a music video for the Spit song of the same name.  Took a long time, if I remember.  It turned out rather surreal, and the (simple) plot seems not too clear now I look back at it.  Of course, the Spit song had nothing to do with people in Cowboy hats, but hey, there were lots of good props for that sort of thing in the game.

I tired to make the main characters in the video look like two members of Spit, as they looked at the time the song was originally recorded.  So, yes, I guess they are based on people living or dead, in this case.

The Movies – it was a game brought out by Lionhead Studios in 2005, partly a Sims style game where you ran your own movie studio, but the actual fun bit was that you could customise and glue together video clips to make your own films.  The system was rather clunky and there were certain drawbacks, especially in trying to time the pictures to the sound, which was especially frustrating for me, because one of the things I tried to make with it was a music video.

Anyway, the first thing I actually finished while testing it out was a short skit about Coffee, done entirely with subtitles.