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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/15/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 46
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week: http://www.sbg.com/New/crackerjack.shtml and http://www.stcharlesparish.com/local/family/crackerjack/crackerjack.htm. A couple of pages about Crackerjack (see article below). [-ecl]
Free Inside: The last couple of weeks I was reminding myself of the Free Inside toys that used to come in kids' breakfast cereal.
These days, of course, you would not find toys like rocket launchers in cereal for any number of reasons. The launcher could hit some kid in the eye and then the cereal company would have a million-dollar lawsuit on its hands. Giving kids rocket launchers, even little plastic ones, sends the wrong message to kids. Rockets are used to kill people, after all. When I was a kid I did not think about the rockets destroying cities. Rockets were how you sent people into space. Lots of kids in my generation grew up wanting to send people into space. Then they grew up and did it. And I bet spring-loaded rocket launchers in cereal did they part in inspiring these kids.
But the real reason you would not see toys like that in cereal is that they required three pieces of plastic and a spring. Cereal companies are not going to want to spend so much on a Free Inside these days. Actually the king source of the Free Insides is not a cereal but Crackerjack. And you can see the evolution of what happened to Free Insides by looking at Crackerjack's history. Young people who saw the film CONTACT must have been a little surprised to see someone find a working compass in a box of Crackerjack. Most kids have never seen anything that impressive in Crackerjack. These days their Free Insides are all made of cardboard. What they have these days is a strip of card. You fold it in the shape of a letter M and it forms a face on which you can work the mouth. Now is that feeble or what? The kids could make a better toy themselves with a piece of paper and a crayon. It seems that Borden, the dairy company, bought out Crackerjack. Some executive figured that they could make 10,000 cardboard prizes for the same cost as 500 little plastic planes. That is like getting 9,500 prizes free. They might even save the stockholders $20 at the minor expense of disappointing 10,000 little kids. The strategy is to cheapen the free giveaways just a little bit at a time until kids don't mind that they don't get it at all. I guess toys have gone that way also. As I was growing up gradually we saw wooden and metal toys replaced by plastic ones. Now they are gone I guess. The Golden Age of Free Insides and the Golden Age of Toys are both over. It is kind of a pity. [-mrl]
FIRE WATCH by Connie Willis (Bantam, ISBN 0-553-26045-6, 1998, 336pp, $6.50: (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The collection, first published in 1985 and long out of print, contains twelve stories--eleven reprints and one story original to this volume. The fact that not only is a publisher willing to publish a single-author collection, but to *reprint* one that was published thirteen years ago, is an indication of Willis's stature in the field. Nominated for 17 Hugo awards and 11 Nebula awards, and the winner of six Hugos (for DOOMSDAY BOOK, "Fire Watch," "The Last of the Winnebagos," "Even the Queen," "Death on the Nile," and "The Soul Selects Her Own Society ...") and six Nebulas (DOOMSDAY BOOK, "Fire Watch," "A Letter From the Clearys," "The Last of the Winnebagos," "At the Rialto," and "Even the Queen"), Willis has opportunities other authors just dream of.
The Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning "Fire Watch" is the story of one history student's time travel project--to the London Blitz. Well- deserving of its awards, it is doubtless the best story in the book, and in many ways a precursor to Willis's DOOMSDAY BOOK and TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG. But other stories are worthy of note also. "Lost and Found" and "Daisy, in the Sun" are both strange apocalyptic tales, though in very different ways. "All My Darling Daughters" (the one new story) is a bizarre little piece--it's easy to see why this had difficulty finding a market, but it has become a classic. "The Sidon in the Mirror" was also nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula and its alien feel is an interesting juxtaposition to the "just plain folks" feel of most of Willis's other works. There is, of course, some fluff of the sort Willis has become known for: "The Father of the Bride," "And Come from Miles Around," "Mail- Order Clone," and "Blued Moon." The last, in particular, is highly recommended; it has some of the funniest scenes I've seen in print, and did garner a Hugo nomination. "Samaritan" covers some fairly old ground, though the characters do hold the reader's interest through it. I thought, though, that "Service for the Burial of the Dead" and "A Letter from the Clearys" were just average.
In 1985, I said that the $14.95 the trade paperback would cost seemed a bit steep and people might want to wait for a paperback edition. Since the paperback edition was thirteen years in coming, this was probably bad advice, even if it is somewhat cheaper now. Willis's more recent works can be found in the 1994 collection IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, also from Bantam and even still in print (ISBN 0-553-56436-6, $6.50). The eleven stories in it share seven Hugo nominations (with two wins) and five Nebula nominations (with three wins). At the time it came out, the re-issue of FIRE WATCH was promised, but that took four years. [-ecl]
MARX DEMYSTIFIES CALCULUS by Paulus Gerdes (translated by Beatrice Lumpkin) (Marxist Educational Press, Studies in Marxism (Vol. 16), ISBN 0-930656-40-7, 1983 (1985), 129pp, US$10) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have no idea where I first heard of this book, but in my never- ending quest to report on the strange and unusual, I figured I would give this a try.
Gerdes begins by what Marx's mathematical writings comprise and how they were greeted at the time. He says of Marx's attempts to circulate his papers among his friends who had some knowledge of mathematics, "These German Social Democrats were not capable of a good understanding of the role of dialectics in mathematics and nature." [page 11]
Gerdes goes on to explain how calculus arose as an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Capitalism, noting that "[calculus] rapidly won new successes in astronomy and practical applications (however, still on a scale limited in accord with the interests of the absolutist, feudal state) ...." [page 19]
After a brief description of differentials and infinitesimals, Gerdes says, "But this differential calculus, approached in this way, is very means of a positively false mathematical procedure." [page 31] It's nice to have that cleared up so conclusively.
But there's more. For example, you also learn that Father Guido Grandi proved the mathematical and scientific possibility that God created the Universe ab nihilo by looking at the infinite series "1-1+1-1+1- 1+1-...." Considered as "(1-1)+(1-1)+(1-1)-...." it yields 0; considered as "1-(1-1)-(1-1)-(1-1)-...." it yields 1. Thus (according to Grandi) 0 equals 1 and God could create the Universe (=1) from nothing (=0).
The basic gist of this book appears to be that calculus is best understood as a dialectic, that is, a negation of a negation. The first negation is the varying of the x-value of a function and it corresponding y-value; the second is the elimination of that variation after the function has been manipulated to calculate the derivative. The argument seems to be that other methods of calculating the derivative are too mysterious to be valid (even though they yield the same result). The conclusion I draw from all this is that there are several ways of considering the derivative of a function, and some are more intuitive to some people, others to others. Marx seems to have decided that what was intuitive to him was the "correct" way of looking at things, and the others incorrect.
Somehow this doesn't surprise me. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. -- Robert Frost