MT VOID 02/04/05 (Vol. 23, No. 32, Whole Number 1268)

MT VOID 02/04/05 (Vol. 23, No. 32, Whole Number 1268)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/04/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 32 (Whole Number 1268)

Table of Contents

  El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

The Universal Language (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was passing a table at a science fiction convention that had people promoting the language Esperanto. I suppose it occurred to me to wonder why espers would even need a language. [-mrl]

Strange and Amazing Facts All About Computer and Internet Security (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

At Philcon 2004 I went to a panel on "Computer/Internet Fraud" with panelists Barbara Higgins, Pete Radatti, Eric Raymond, and Christina Yoder. I took notes on what I found interesting and did not want to forget. Initially I was thinking of writing the panel in an article intended for Evelyn's convention report. But as I am reading the notes I am looking more things up on the Internet and adding some information to them. They are probably no longer good as a convention report, but you, dear reader, might find them of interest. Errors in information here are probably my transcription mistake and not that of the panelists. This was a pretty humorless bunch if I remember rightly. The jokes are all mine.

* Junk e-mail (or spam) was estimated to be 70 percent of all e-mail traffic last year. Constructive e-mail is really just a small Internet sideline these days. If you don't have some sort of spam filters reading your e-mail is like reading a Rupert Murdoch magazine. However, there is actually some major progress against spam, contrary to most expert expectation. Major spammers, at least within the United States, are being prosecuted. We are starting to see actual felony spam convictions. The State of Texas used federal anti-spam legislation for the first time to sue a University of Texas student--who was the world's fourth-largest illegal spam operation. Can you imagine that? One college kid is tying up so much of the Internet. I remember when kids in college were content with innocent, good-hearted pranks like the midnight theft of all the toilet seats from the women's dorm.

* Legal action is going beyond just spammers. On January 28, a teenager was sentenced to a year and a half of prison for releasing a variant of the Blaster worm. That worm attacked more than 48,000 computers. Contrary to myth, worms do not just attack Apples.

* AD-AWARE is a leading spyware searcher and one of the better ones. As their site says, "Ad-Aware is designed to provide advanced protection from known Data-mining, aggressive advertising, Parasites, Scumware, selected traditional Trojans, Dialers, Malware, Browser hijackers, and tracking components." I didn't know there were so many breeds of malicious software running around. As yet no software will block mail from your parents asking why haven't you written.

* Check you have AD-AWARE itself, with that name. There are look-alikes that have similar names but are really spyware themselves, for example ADWARE.

* It is good to run Spybot SEARCH&DESTROY before running AD-AWARE. Some spyware on your computer is getting smart and can actually disable AD-AWARE. And running both in that order is probably best.

* If you have constant flashing on your modem, even if you are not working on the PC, it is a good sign that you're have malicious software that someone has planted on your computer. Either that or you PC has achieved sentience and is ordering the PC equivalent of a pizza. That latter is considered unlikely.

* Don't use Microsoft Internet Explorer if you can avoid it; it is full of security holes. The new Firefox is a much more secure browser. It is a new browser designed to be much harder for hackers to find loopholes in.

* Don't use Microsoft Outlook for the same reason.

* It is a good idea not to trust any Microsoft product you do not have use. Microsoft's security is weak and its software also is a popular target for hackers. Don't drink Microsoft beverages. Don't wear Microsoft shoes. Don't brush with Microsoft toothpaste. Never sign your name with a Microsoft pen.

* I asked if Netscape Navigator (Evelyn's choice) and Opera (mine) are safe browsers to use. Netscape 4.2 was fairly secure. (What are we talking? 1997?); later versions of Netscape are not. The Opera Browser actually has pretty good security, the panelists thought. That's a relief.

* The panel recommended POPFILE as a Bayesian filter, which is good. A Bayesian filter learns from the user what words he tends to use in mail and what words are less likely. Not many of us have the word Viagra show up a lot in our e-mail conversations. Other words show up more often, like the name of your spouse. You train a Bayesian filter by telling it what e-mail is spam and what is not and it gets very smart at recognizing what of your mail is real and what is spam. Of course I just said "Viagra" above so I have just confused your Bayesian filter if indeed you have one. Oh, well. Viagra. Viagra. Rolex. See for a technical explanation of what is going on.

* Steganography (not to be confused with stenography or a stegosaurus) is a technique of hiding a message where it will not be obvious. An example is to hide it in the data of a GIF or JPEG picture or a sound file. There are so many bits in the encoding of a picture that are a lot of bits that can be twiddled without the picture having much of a noticeable change. It will looks just fine to the eye, but it will have encoded in it a message that only the recipient knows to look for. At the time of the panel at least one panelist said that there is a lot of steganographic messages in images on eBay. Well, they thought that at the time of Philcon. More recently Niels Provos, a computer science graduate student at the University of Michigan (yeah, Go Blue, let's get that out of the way), examined two million images from eBay for steganographic messages and none were found. That does not mean the messages are there or not, but it does mean if they are there they are not elementary to find. Looking beyond eBay, Provos analyzed another one million images and found 20,000 that seemed suspicious. See and . He also found 1352 different pictures (so far) that if you throw out every bit but those that are in positions divisible by 666, you got (small) pictures of the Virgin Mary. And she looks like a different woman in every one of them.

* PCs unprotected by a firewall are very likely to be infected. The mean time to infection gone from seventeen minutes (the mean a year or so ago) to under five minutes. One site said that at universities it is less than two minutes. For a firewall, a hardware firewall is vastly superior to a software firewall.

* There is no security with wireless. Don't expect it. Don't hope for it. I remember hearing of a bank that was sold a system in which all their electronic communications were wireless. This they were told was secure because there were no cables to tap. Anyway, don't hope for it. Don't expect it. There is no security with wireless. Bupkis.

* A panelist drew a distinction between privacy and security. If you are being chased by an assassin and you hide in a cave you will have privacy, but the cave could be found and so you may not have security. If you hide in the middle of a huge mob of people, say Times Square, midnight, New Year's Eve you will not have privacy, but you will be hard to find and secure. Except you are liable to have some drunk making brech on your new winter coat. [-mrl]

Comment on DARWIN'S CHILDREN (by Tom Russell):

I'm a fan of Greg Bear, but perhaps not as much as Joe Karpierz. (Joe wrote a review of DARWIN'S CHILDREN for the 01/21/05 issue of the MT VOID.)

I'd read and enjoyed DARWIN'S RADIO, so when the sequel came out I put in a request for it at our town library. About the same time I also put in a request for another book, THE SPEED OF DARK by Elizabeth Moon. That book had been recommended to me by Evelyn. [By the way Evelyn, thank you for the recommendation.]

I was about a third of the way through DARWIN'S CHILDREN when the library called: THE SPEED OF DARK had come in. Out of curiosity I put Bear's book aside to read a little of THE SPEED OF DARK. I never went back.

What struck me were the similarities between the characters in the two books. In Bear's book the characters have unusual skills, presumably representative of what a next step in human evolution might bring. In Moon's book the characters have similar skills. But in Moon's book those skills are caused by autism; they are "backward" (in the sense that any debilitating disease reduces human potential).

Bear's book is the grander adventure but Moon's book is more thought-provoking.

Like Mark I try to be a student of everything, but I'm going to admit little knowledge of evolution and even less about autism, so I leave it to you all to decide if I'm correct in my comparison of the two books. [-tr]

THE MURDER ARTIST by John Case (book review by Tom Russell):

[After my comments in response to Joe Karpierz' review of DARWIN"S RADIO it's only fair I also submit a book review for someone to take a shot at.]

Last summer my wife and I took a vacation trip to Peru, a grand adventure and educational experience which was made all the more so by the heroic efforts of Marc Harrison of We learned how the Quechua people (that's their true name; they call their leader "Inca") assimilated the Roman Catholic faith into their own religion. For example, they accepted Mary as an appearance of their own "mother earth" goddess. Our local guides would cross themselves three times whenever a volcano came into view during our travels.

In THE MURDER ARTIST there's a similar, but different, connection between Christianity and another religion. I might have found this a little hard to accept were it not for our experience on our trip through Peru.

In this novel John Case ties together some elements of magic with both those religions. (The book's title is a little misleading, perhaps intentionally so?) In the book the title character, the bad-guy evil-doer, is a grand master magician. Or perhaps I should say the bad guy is a grand "illusionist" because we all know there's no such thing as true "magic" (except in Harry Potter). Just how the bad guy does his magic is Revealed--the central element of the story - and it's such a neat "trick" I was surprised I'd never learned of it before.

THE MURDER ARTIST is John Case's fourth novel. His first was THE GENESIS CODE, which came out before THE DA VINCI CODE, and which I liked more than Dan Brown's book only because Brown's book almost read like a sequel THE GENESIS CODE to me (it of course wasn't). One little thing which I enjoy about Case's books is that either the hero or the heroine, or both, put on their running shoes to go out for some exercise sooner or later during the story (because I'm a runner myself). Case's THE MURDER ARTIST isn't up to his THE GENESIS CODE, but it's a good "thriller" and a quick read. [-tr]

IN GOOD COMPANY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is an amiable comedy-drama about corporate politics and about personal relationships. Dennis Quaid plays the middle-aged manager of the advertising department of a leading sports magazine. A managerial shakeup demotes him and leaves him working for a man about half his age with no experience at all. But it is worse than that. The new boss is actually romantically attracted to Quaid's daughter. The characterizations are fresh and story is not the cliché one might expect. Even the view of corporate life rings true. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Dan Foreman (played by Dennis Quaid) is a somewhat complacent middle-aged salesman of advertising space for a major sports magazine. He has a casual approach to selling and to life. Then in one day his world his rocked. His wife Ann (Marg Helgenberger of CSI) tells him she is pregnant and it looks like at work he will soon go from being laid back to being laid off. There has been a major reorganization of his area and his job has been given to a man about half his age, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Duryea is a rising hot shot being "groomed" for bigger things. He is coming off a major success, positioning cell phone to be sold to children, and he is being given a plum by upper management. The plum is, unfortunately, Dan Foreman's job. Dan will report to Carter. Together they are assigned to liquidating most of the department. Dan is asked to play in a world of aggressive tactics. He envies Carter's youth--Carter is 26, little more than half of Dan's age. Dan resents Carter's political power. On the other hand Carter envies Dan his family. Carter's marriage is dissolving and he is nearly friendless. What Dan does not know, and what would infuriate him even more, is that Dan's daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson) and Carter are attracted to each other. The result is a conflict of business philosophies, of personalities, and of generations. We have a personality dynamic that could have come from an M. C. Escher painting. Carter is a success above Dan in the business world. Dan is above his loyal and loving daughter Alex in the family. But Alex seems to have it all over Carter in sophistication. When they are together Carter is like a little boy and Alex is unflappably suave.

The easy shot would be to make Carter a completely unsympathetic character. But that is not the shot that writer/director Paul Weitz (AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY) took. The viewer finds himself sympathetic to both sides of the conflict. Carter is a sensitive man and one who actually is well-intentioned. Sure, he would like to be successful, but he lacks the killer instinct that so many of his backers have. He is painfully aware that he is a pawn carrying out orders that are hurting the people who work for him. Against type he has become the corporate hatchet man. The real power behind the hatchet is a legendary and ruthless tycoon, Teddy K (Malcolm McDowell), for whom Dan and Carter and just about everybody else works. Teddy K's name is spoken in hushed tones in what outwardly is supposed to look like respect, but it is really in fear and distaste. We see only his picture until toward the end of the film. Then we see what he really is and how he thinks. People who have not been in the corporate world may think that his character is overstated. They would be wrong. I can tell you that I have been in meetings with executives who were Teddy K under a different name. His characterization is entirely on-target and nearly letter perfect.

The characters and the story of IN GOOD COMPANY have qualities not usually found in major studio productions these days. It is a dependent film with the heart of an independent one. For my tastes this is a film just about on a par with the perhaps over-rated SIDEWAYS. I am impressed that Universal is back to making some films that are not obvious candidates to be the big blockbuster of the month. I rate IN GOOD COMPANY a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]

AN ITALIAN ROMANCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Sentimental but not otherwise very engaging story of a love affair that spans many years. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

AN ITALIAN ROMANCE is a slow and sentimental mood piece, the story of a love affair between a man and a woman in Italy before World War II. The man, we discover, is married with a child. The woman has some secrets in her past. But they enjoy each other's company. If that does not sound like a lot of plot, there is a little more to the film but not much. This is not the kind of film with which the viewer can expect a lot to happen. This is a film for people who enjoy seeing attractive lovers together and who like to listen to the romantic strains of an orchestral score with a lot of stringed instruments. It is a sad BRIEF ENCOUNTER sort of film except that the encounter is not really brief at all.

Maya Sansa plays Maria, a lovely manicurist from Livorno. Stefano Accorsi plays Giovanni who has soft, sensitive Italian eyes. He works in a bank under a tyrannical manager who is able to keep Giovanni from the army. This is a kind of film we do not see that often any more. It is more a painting than modern drama. It is a bittersweet woman's film of not much content and of operatic pacing. [-mrl]

5 X 2 - CINQ FOIS DEUX (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: It is no longer particularly original to tell the story of a doomed romantic relationship in sequences shown in reverse order. This film has little to offer beyond that. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

A rather uninteresting couple has an ill-fated love affair and marriage. The story is told in five sequences. The gimmick--and it is getting to be an over-familiar one--is that we see the sequences in reverse chronological order. We start with Gilles (Stéphane Freiss) and Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) being divorced and hearing the terms. We see their marriage dissolving. Eventually this section of the film is at an end and we move back to a sequence late in their marriage. We continue through four earlier sequences with the film showing them first being attracted to each other. A sad story gets a happy ending because the ending is really the beginning.

In another sense this film has a happy ending. These are two attractive people, but beyond that we see no reason to want to see them pass on their genes. There seems to be no depth to either of them except for their interest in sex. There may be dimension to them that we do not see, but how would we know? These vacuous people probably get what they deserve at the beginning of the film and we see no reason to lament it.

The popular music in the film is nice. The mechanism of showing the scenes in reverse order is really the film's whole interest value, but it is becoming a timeworn gimmick and this is one of the least interesting films to use it. It goes back at least to the 1983 film BETRAYAL, written by Harold Pinter. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Neal Stephenson's THE DIAMOND AGE was this month's science fiction discussion group selection. This was chosen because we all loved SNOW CRASH by Stephenson, but THE DIAMOND AGE was not nearly as popular. Several people did not (could not?) finish it, and of those who did, only one liked it. The main problem people had in the reading was a combination of the sheer number of new words or concepts thrown at the reader, and the oft-times purposeful copying of ornate Victorian prose. As a sample of the words, here's a list from just the first short chapter: mod parlor, aero, 'sites, yuks, theezed, phased, acoustical array, meedfeed, mediaglyphics, cine panes, racting grid, mediatron, yuvree, decapped, electrostun, Cripplers, and Hellfires. Yes, some can be decoded from context, but having to do so this frequently resulting in a very "un-smooth" reading experience. (A later Stephenson novel, CRYPTONOMICRON, is more readable, but then I found the same problems with his "Baroque Cycle" as with THE DIAMOND AGE. There is not a clear chronological progression here in Stephenson's style.)

Newt Gingrich and William F. Forstchen's GRANT COMES EAST is the middle book of a trilogy (assuming it ends at three) and suffers from the usual flaws inherent in that position. But I didn't much like the first one either, because it consisted almost entirely of battle movements. Some may like this, but it's not my cup of tea. On a more minor level, someone decided to use the Presidential Seal to flag the sections centering on Lincoln, but the Presidential Seal did not come into existence until Rutherford B. Hayes--twenty years later. (The Great Seal of the United States did exist in Lincoln's time, but did not say "Seal of the President of the United States" around the border. It also had the eagle facing towards its left until 1945, when it was changed to regularize it with the Great Seal.) You may be asking why I read this if I didn't like the first one. As a Sidewise judge, I have to read whatever is eligible to give it a fair chance.

Marvin Olasky's THE RELIGIONS NEXT DOOR (ISBN 0-805-54314-3) purports to be a book explaining the major non-Christian religions in the world/the United States. (The subtitle is "What We Need to Know about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam"-- and What Reporters Are Missing".) It is obviously aimed at a Christian audience, and probably a conservative audience as well. His format is two chapters each for Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, then two chapters on how the media "gets it wrong." But Judaism is not treated the same as the other three religions. For the other three, Olasky spends the second chapter telling in detail what is wrong with them (the caste system, too little consideration of humans as divinely special, etc.). He often does this from a specifically Christian perspective, such as in the following: "Crucially, then, Islam does not acknowledge original sin. Muslims say they revere the whole Bible, but when it and the Quran are in conflict, they go with the Quran. That means Muslims have a tendency to revere strong leaders who put forth an image of perfection; Christians, realizing that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, tend to be skeptical." The use of the word "realizing" implies that the Christian position is the correct one. Note also that Judaism also does not recognize original sin. But Olasky's second chapter on Judaism is just a history of Judaism, not an examination of where Olasky feels it fails, and I suspect even he would not claim that Jews revere "strong leaders who put forth an image of perfection" any more than Christians. (Olasky says in the Foreword that he was a Jew converted to Christianity, so this may have affected his writing, or Olasky may have decided that he could "get away with" criticizing other religions in a way that he could not with Judaism.) And for that matter, he doesn't note that although Christians say they revere the Old Testament, when the Old Testament and the New Testament are in conflict, they go with the New.

And the complaints about the press are again of two natures. For Judaism, his complaints are that the religious meaning of holidays are ignored in favor of articles on (for example) traditional foods, that liberal branches are given proportionally more coverage than conservative, and that coverage of Messianiac Judaism tends to be negative. For the other three, he also complains about the superficiality of coverage, but in a reversal says that the press is not critical enough of other religions, and that it emphasizes only their positive aspects. (Even Olasky notices this contradiction, and says, "[in] one sense the tough ... coverage of the Messianic Jewish controversy is a good sign-- if only reporters would do the same with other groups.") In short, I was both disappointed and annoyed by this book, and not just because I was not the target audience. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The one absolutely certain way of bringing this 
           nation to ruin ... would be to permit it to 
           become a tangle of squabbling nationalities. 
                                          --Theodore Roosevelt, 
                                            Autobiography, 1913 

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