AYE: There Be Magic [1]

Dreamas Gentilharte Cheynelokk

Devin G. Kettenschloss

The fabulous Wizard of Oz
Retired from his racket because,
What with up-to-date science,
To most of his clients
He wasn’t the Wizard he was [2].

I am a retired wizard and, the truth be told, a very tired

My weariness comes not only from my age, my birth date at
the nadir of the Winter Solstice of 1307 [3]
being more than a few years past. Neither does it grow from what many might
assume given my druidic avocation: the rise of science and technology. Nor is
its cause the wild acclaim heaped on stage illusionists with their engineered
wonders. Indeed, the source of my fatigue is no such trifling concern. Simply
put, I am wearier than Sisyphus because magical thinking fills the air we
denizens of modernity inhale daily, more than almost any might ever imagine.

Oh, I can hear your chortles even now; but, please, I beg
your indulgence; for, as another mage once said before riding off on a comet’s
tail, "You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of
focus" [4].
So, bear with me but a nonce as I conjure what is clearly invisible to so many.
In the end, you can decide for yourself the genuineness of my wizardry.

Although in these days magical thinking has truly burst the
dam of reason, flooding in its wake the unsheltered plains below, for my ends
let me choose its ravaging of a narrower valley where so many of us abide [5]:
the production of software. Since software is but
thought-stuff realized in machinery, it sits only a hair’s breadth above
witchery. For that reason alone, we should deign to make it a technology of
last resort; yet, software is like the monstrous Hydra insinuating each newly
grown head into every nook and cranny of our lives. So inured are we to its
dangers, we gladly invite this monster in to feast on our souls. Still, for all
we have come to rely on this phantasmagoria of mind matter in our lives, for
all the trust we place in its working benignly and flawlessly, the development
of software is a field obviously awash with magical thinking.

If there is truth in my claim, if it is so patently clear,
then why cannot we, its very wizards, better discern it? What is it that blinds
our eyes to the dangers of such an on-rushing wall of water? Could it be
something as simple as this: we lack the power of name magic? For certainly it
is no surprise that claiming to know what we cannot name is at best illusory

If I could read you like a book
Or like a wizard’s glass of old
I might discover why you look so cold [6].

Yet, I hear you ask, puzzled, what could there be in this
world for which we lack a name? Our dictionaries overflow with words, a surfeit
sufficient to build a tower of Babel reaching heaven and beyond. Well, to
start, consider but this one new word:

prestidigious (adjective) — A willingness to believe
any prestidigitation simply because it comes from a prestigious source

Now ask yourself, seriously, have you ever witnessed such
behavior? Or have you ever invoked the mana of authority to prove a point or
bolster a claim? Have you ever acted as if simply proclaiming a magical name is
all you need do — no other thought required? After all, why believe deep
thought matters? Do not the likes of the Comprehensive Magistrate of Magical
Integrity (CMMI) or the Instantaneous Beneficence Magicians (IBM) or even the
renowned Simon Magus himself tell us how simple it is to transmute the merest
dross into golden heaps of code if we but follow their tried-and-true
alchemies? Surely three newt’s tail, a pinch of henbane and a crow’s tail
feather stirred in boiling apple vinegar seasoned with one crushed mustard
seed will always produce just the potent potion we need.

Perhaps, however, you are one of those fortunate enough to
have skirted the prestidigious dangers of Scylla only to have fallen
into the nearby whirlpool of Charybdis and its:

prestodigitation (noun) — The belief that the only
sure sign of progress in a software project is hands on keyboards hammering out

It is remarkable how belief in the
powers of prestodigitation so easily disarms us, blinding us to the
succubus vortex into which a project’s soul is spiraling.

If you try to read the tea leaves
the cup is done, you can get yourself burned [7].

So what could be the reasons we let our minds be so totally
enchanted by such dark magic? Could it be that the sorcerer’s power over us are

fast-inate (verb) — To lose one’s reason to an
endless fascination with extreme speed and the conjuring of instant

hype-notize (verb) — To allow oneself to fall
under the spell of the extravagant claims of vendors about the capabilities of
their products to solve any problem in a snap of one’s fingers

mess-merize (verb) — To induce by animal magnetism a
trancelike state in those hapless people in the midst of a software project
mess as they march into hellfire

Or could it be that we too easily fall prey to one or more
of these other manifest forms of sorcery?

fee-nix (noun) — A level of deep denial about the
true cost of something, hoping instead that like the phoenix a beautiful new
bird will arise miraculously from the ashes after all the money, time and
people have been burnt

magic boxing (noun) — A technique far superior to
time boxing for speeding up the software development process by positing a
magic box that does the impossible and leaves no other worries in its wake

ledger-demain (noun) — The conviction that we can put
off until demain, or a Frankish tomorrow, documenting what we are doing
since sleight of hand can always later perfectly recover intentions and meaning

Not to have real costs associated
with the work done or naively to wave a wand over the obviously hard parts of a
project or to believe necessary work can be skipped belies any assertion we
might make that we are not hopelessly in thralldom to magical thinking. Then,
when so mired in such self-deception, we will all too often find ourselves
inexorably turning to the wiles of:

neckromancy (noun) — The casting of alluring spells
of flattery to guile and to seduce hapless workers into willingly accepting
excessively onerous burdens and adopting risk shortcuts

That is the point where magical thinking is at its most
nefarious: The day we find ourselves either scamming others or letting
ourselves be scammed. Such is the hold of magical thinking on us in our world.
Better. Faster. Cheaper. Simply cast the right spell and perfect software comes
cascading out.

But if all my silly whizwording [8]
leaves you doubtful that the air we breathe is filled with too much magic, then
perhaps this borrowed tale [9]
will be more convincing.


Once upon a time, Prince Esquival roamed across many lands
seeking adventure. Yet one night under the full moon’s silver beams he felt an
ache in his heart for his life’s love, Marian. By the next full moon he had to
see her, so deeply burned his desire. Jumping on his white horse, he raced
homeward, running for days with scarcely any rest. Although he couldn’t fly the
crow’s path, he rode as straight as the land allowed risking injury as he
galloped over rocky fields and pushed through thorny brambles. But three nights
before the full moon and no more than one day’s hard ride from home, he halted
abruptly, facing the edge of a vast, menacing swamp.

Spying Fordyce the Fox loping by, Esquival asked, “Fordyce,
my friend. You know this land. I must get to my home right past this swamp by
the coming full moon rise. How can I cross?”

Fordyce stopped, furrowed his brow and pondered most seriously
for some time before answering, “Well, Prince, this swamp’s wide. You could
head south two days to Bumblesbury where the honeybees have a sweet bridge you
can cross for a toll of just one gold coin.”

“Oh, that will never do!” said Esquival. “My purse is light.
I haven’t allotted any gold for tolls.”

“Well, then,” said Fordyce. “Head north. But beware of the
vile crocodiles that live that way, for they are always very, very hungry. In
four days time, you will find the swamp narrows greatly — so narrow that your
fine stallion could easily leap across.”

“Four days? I will miss my deadline fending off the razor
teeth of so many ravenous maws!” cried Esquival. “Pray, there must some faster,
safer way.”

“Then, let the dice fly. You must ford the swamp here,”
replied Fordyce. “But, first, for strength your fine steed must partake of this
magic apple which I will trade you for that delicious roasted rabbit in your
saddle bag. You will then be across in less than one hour.”

“But the waters are so murky dark,” said Esquival. “Does
this swamp have a hard bottom?”

“Why yes,” said Fordyce grinning slyly. “It most certainly
does have a hard bottom.”

So, greatly relieved, Esquival happily made the trade and
fed his horse the apple. Knowing that magic would protect them, he urged his
horse boldly into the swampy waters. They plodded along slowly as the waters
rose higher and higher. Soon, far from the shore, water was lapping up to his
horse’s chest. Worse, they were sinking deeper into the muck with each step. Still,
Esquival’s belief in the magic held and kept his hope afloat. Suddenly,
however, his horse slipped. Its head was just above the water and its legs were
tangled in weeds preventing them from turning back. In a panic Esquival
shouted, “Fordyce! You said this swamp has a hard bottom.”

“Oh, it does indeed have a hard bottom, Sir Esquival,” said
Fordyce laughing as he feasted on his rabbit. “You just haven’t reached it


Such are the hazards we all encounter whenever, for what we
desperately hope are sure and solid reasons, we let magical thinking send us
headlong into the swamp. Not that we are able always to avoid the siren call of
magic in our lives. I have lived long, and I can tell you there will always be
times the madness of magic casts its spell — times of great joy, times of first
love, times of awful grief. Such sudden cracks in one’s head and heart are all
quite natural with time as the great healer, gradually allowing us to regain
our senses.

The warnings I have about the marsh-muck of magical thinking
are when it arises from our indolence and pride, especially laziness and
arrogance masking fear. Those are the times magic blinds us, leading us into
harm’s way. Sadly, it is this magic I see grips too much of our software world.

Oh, yes. About this buffoonery I am so tired.

Yet, you may ask me, then, this: Is there any real magic
left in the world? Is all magic illusion?

To that, I can only answer what I know. In the vastness that
is this universe, I see magic every day, every day I can wonder what more there
is in the world to know, every day I can discover some new joyous good with
which I am blessed and which I can share with others. “The power of thought —
the magic of mind! [10]
That, my dear friends, has been, is and always will
be magic enough for me.

Translator’s Afterword: Document Origins

In 2004, during a sabbatical in Italy, one of my esteemed
professors in Medieval Studies, Dr. Blanche V. Foote-Falles, stumbled upon an
esoteric set of six volumes in the archives of the University of Padua. She
called these works the Paduan Vellums, noting that initial sampling and
dating of the vellum, ink, pigments, covers, glue and bindings indicate that
the sheets and their text were produced over a span of more than six hundred

The purported author of these
volumes, as stated in the writings themselves, is the druid Dreamas Gentilharte
Cheynelokk. The translation here is from one of the last entries in Volume VI,
apparently written around the turn of last millennium [11].
It is being offered here to the AYE community since
some members may find its contents of interest.

Because Dreamas’s text is cryptic,
composed of a densely hand-written gallimaufry of the many living and dead
languages in which he seems well versed, the translator’s task is daunting. As
translator, I assume, therefore, all responsibility for any errors and
infelicities in the translation of this work.

Translator’s End Notes

  1. The work has no title. As translator,
    I have taken the liberty of supplying one
    that I hope is suitable.
  2. Anonymous author. Dreamas rarely provides attributions for quoted matter.
    I have done my best to supply those attributions.
  3. Since the Julian calendar was still in use at that time and
    since the British Isles did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1751,
    it is difficult to determine exactly what day is meant. Dreamas’s use of dates
    throughout the six volumes is not consistent. However, from the various
    mentions of his birth date through all six volumes, it would appear he believes
    he was born on the feast day of St. Lucy, December 13, 1307
    (Julian calendar).
  4. Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens was born in 1835, a year in which Halley’s Comet
    reappeared. He died in 1910, the year that Halley’s Comet next returned to
    earth’s skies.
  5. We may surmise from this and other comments in the document
    that Dreamas is or was in some way involved in the development of software,
    although other works in Volume VI make is very difficult to pin down his
    occupation in the years the volume covers.
  6. Sir Edmund William Gosse, “The Cast.”
  7. Dan Rather.
  8. The actual word as it appears in the text embedded in a
    sentence that otherwise is a mix of Welsh and Gaelic.
  9. A different version of this tale appeared in “Ghost Story,”
    Episode 17, Season 2 of the TV series “Dead Like Me,” which first aired August
    8, 2004. Since Dreamas is a wizard, perhaps it is not remarkable that he could
    see into the future to borrow this plot. However, it may also be it is easier
    for some of us to believe that he borrowed the plot of his tale from
    “Conclusion,” Chapter 18 of Thoreau’s Walden.

  10. Lord Byron, The Corsair, Canto i, Stanza 8.
  11. Based on the ordering of other works in Volume VI containing explicit
    dates, this work was produced some time between August 1999 and February
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