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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/25/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 22, Whole Number 1310
Table of Contents
Kafka was Right (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Google and the Winds of Change (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My first reaction to the Internet was that it was not a very big deal. It would probably not be very important. I should point out that was not really far from the truth at that time. I had used the network that in those days it really was not so impressive as it is today. I am talking 1987 or so and I was not even aware that Usenet--where I posted film reviews--was even part of the Internet. What I saw of the World Wide Web in those days was that it was a network that was used mostly to copy files. You could take a data file or a piece of software you had written and make it available to the world if you were so inclined. To me this seemed a very limited endeavor. How many people, I reasoned, are going to be so magnanimous as to give away free software? It did not occur to me even that the MT VOID, which in those went out in paper form, might be one thing that I might want to supply free to the world or that it would ever be possible.
It did not take long before my enthusiasm for the Internet had swung entirely in the other direction. Once I started seeing the richness of what was being made available over the Internet (even in those days, and it was a flyspeck compared to what it is now) I could see that this was one of those inventions that would reach everywhere and change just about everything. It was to our generation what the mass production of the automobile had been to a previous generation.
As I told people at the time, it was a withering of communications barriers. If somebody wanted you to have information and you yourself wanted that the information, there was a now an efficient channel to pass the information. Of course we had that capability already with the mail and with telephones. But telephones tend to be one-to-one and synchronous. You have to be there when the other person wants to talk. Letters that come by mail are asynchronous but mail is slow and it makes conversations cumbersome. Newspapers are asynchronous and one-to-many, but they are very slow. The Internet is fast, asynchronous, and can be used for one-to-many broadcasts.
Suppose, for example, I want to know what is playing at my local theater and at what times. The theater has this information and wants me to have it also. Any circumstance stopping me from getting that information is a barrier to communication. In the days before the Internet this situation might have best been served by me buying a newspaper in which the theater times were published. If I didn't have a newspaper I could call the theater and talk to a human or perhaps listen to a machine and find out the information that I wanted. This is not a big project, but it would take on the order of five minutes so was a little time-consuming. There were always barriers to communication, even if they were not too difficult to get around.
These days I can, with a lot less effort, look at a site like Yahoo that will tell me on one page the film schedules at all my local theaters. The barriers to communication have been very much reduced. But notice that it lessened my need to buy a newspaper. The Internet is a standard place to publish information and make it available . . .if the intended recipient knew where to look. But people did not always know where to look. What was needed was a way to find the information needed. Search engines like Google came along and they were the index to this huge volume of information. Rather than knowing the complex Internet address of the information, the URL, people could simply describe the information they were looking for and the search engine could find the address. It was a nice service the search engines provided . And it cost a very nice price. It was free.
This was a big step forward, but it really shook things up for a lot of people. There are a lot of people in our economy that make their living off of the barriers to communication. They may never have thought of it that way, but that is exactly what they do. Newspapers used to be the most efficient source not only of theater schedules, like I said above, but also for news. These days newspapers are in serious trouble and they know it. I can get my news as soon as I want it. There is not a lot that a newspaper provides that is not available free online. This is not good for the newspaper business.
I will discuss how this is going to affect some other industries next week. [-mrl]
[This article was inspired by and drew upon, "Just Googling: It Is Striking Fear Into Companies" by Steve Lohr, New York Times, November 6, 2005]
Letter of Comment (by Fred Lerner):
Fred Lerner writes about sundry items in the 11/19/05 issue of the MT VOID:
You asked "Is there any special sort of seed we should be getting to put on the patio that will attract a more erudite class of birds? Or are we forever to be lumbered with these losers?"
Get a cat. That will either improve the intellectual performance of the birds, or reduce their numbers and the mess they cause. (This assumes, of course, that the level of stupidity among New Jersey cats is lower than that apparently prevailing among New Jersey birds. If that's not the case, as determined by empirical evidence, you might want to consider an alternative hypothesis derived from study of Poul Anderson's classic novel BRAIN WAVE.)
[Mark replies, "Actually there is a neighbor's cat who comes around frequently, not respecting human laws of trespass. He does little to frighten the birds away. He walks through, they fly away, five minutes later they are back for more free food. The cat just explores our yard for a hobby, but finding food is what birds and squirrels do for a living and they are expert and persistent. Also if I were to get a pet, it would be some animal clear on the concept of which of us was the pet. That means it would not be a cat." -mrl]
"Can you still get test patterns on TV?" you asked. Your question reminds me of a puzzlement I encountered many years ago when looking at British television listings. At several times the phrase "Test match" appeared, and taking that to be the British term for a test pattern I assumed that the times were listed to enable viewers to plan when they might most conveniently adjust their equipment and retune their aerials. It wasn't until several years later that I learned that a "Test match" was an especially important cricket game. [-fl]
[Mark replies, "Well, if they showed me the cricket ball more often I could use it to adjust the circle on the screen." -mrl]
Blood Types (letter of comment):
Our anonymous correspondent writes:
My interest in human variations goes back several years to when I learned from a PBS show that humans come in many variations. You may recall the program? One such variation: some people's eyes are tuned to a different red wavelength than others. We don't notice this because apples don't reflect only one red wavelength, and because the cones do respond, to a lesser extent, to reds away from their maxima.
More background to explain my "vampire blood type" comment: evolution entails 1) random mutations and 2) survival of the fittest. In concept the random mutations are completely unrestricted; changes are limited only by the capabilities of the change agents. Many mutations will not be observed because the offspring are not viable, are sickly, or are infertile--not "fit"--but the phrase "survival of the fittest" is misleading because mutation may cause a change which has no impact on survivability. Such a mutation would co-exist with the non- mutated variety until the environment changes in some way which gives an advantage to one or the other. (Two red cone types.)
As an aside, any feature-added variety is the result of that feature having a non-negative survival benefit, not because the random change process is guided toward adding features. Monkeys not programmers. Speaking of our simian ancestors, if evolution proceeded only by adding features, we'd still have tails :-)
Human blood varieties limit who donates blood to whom. The puzzle I posed is why the variations are an orderly accumulation of features, as per Evelyn's reference. For Halloween I misconstrued the "survival of the fittest" notion to infer an evolutionary origin of blood types was impossible but for vampires--that was just for fun, of course.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE by Chris Roberson (ISBN 1-59102-310-6) has a very odd structure. It is a series of almost self- contained incidents, but they require that the reader understand the underlying premise. This is that as a child Roxanne Bonaventure found an old woman in the woods, and that this old woman gave Roxanne a bracelet called Sofia and then disappeared. A few years later, Roxanne discovers that this bracelets lets her travel anywhere in space and time, in this timeline and in others. There are apparently some rules about the device existing only once in any given point in space-time, and about how from any present there is only one past but infinite futures. So I am a little confused as to how Roxanne seems to travel to alternate pasts and presents. I must have missed some hand- waving somewhere.
Roxanne writes at one point in her diary about "Survivor's guilt", which in the twentieth century was "said to apply to everyone from those who had lost siblings, who had weathered terrible natural catastrophes while those around them perished, to those who survived atrocities like the death camps of the Nazis and the pogroms of Post-Soviet Eastern Europe and the genocides of Africa." But then she goes on to say is this was common in ancient times--"everyone ... having seen the majority of everyone they knew die before their time." And this, she thinks, is why people in ancient times "to dare great things, ... to dream great dreams." Modern people do not recognize the fragility of life, and so are afraid to risk it. Certainly this is something to think about.
The first story in DIAMOND DOGS, TURQUOISE DAYS by Alastair Reynolds (ISBN 0-441-01238-8) was recommended to us as having a mathematical content. "Diamond Dogs" is a novella in which a team of explorers tries to conquer/solve the Blood Spire, a structure in which one must solve a mathematical puzzle to go from one room to the next. (A wrong guess results in punishment.) As one progresses, the puzzles become harder, the time limits shorter, the doors smaller, and the punishments more severe. The premise seems to be taken from the movie CUBE, the math (after the first couple of puzzles) is purposely vague (because it is supposed to be comprehensible only if one has special conditioning), and there seem to be any number of rabbits pulled out of hats to solve problems. I know Alastair Reynolds is popular, but from this novella I do not understand why.
WHOSE BIBLE IS IT? by Jaroslav Pelikan (ISBN 0-670-03385-5) is a look at the history of the Bible, its translations, and the attitudes of various religions towards it. One interesting point that Pelikan makes is that the Catholic Church insisted for centuries that the Bible should not be translated into the vernacular, but the Latin Vulgate they supported was itself a translation into the vernacular from the Greek Septuagint (as well as from Hebrew and Aramaic sources). Unfortunately, this book lacks a very important feature: an index. So when I wanted to see how the Douai-Rheims translation came about, or what the Latin version might be that Helene Hanff referred so negatively to as "black Anglican Bible," I was out of luck.
Anyone who is aware of the book MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES will be familiar with the idea of attributing incorrect meanings and uses to objects. There is also a lot of revisionism going on, where people try to find more politically correct interpretations of practices. And "The Soldier and the Deck of Cards" (available at http://www.macscouter.com/ScoutsOwn/Messages.html#The Deck of Cards combines these two ideas. Now Timons Esaias has incorporated this approach into "Newton's Mass", a poem in the December 2005 issue of ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION, which begins "How the pine tree came to be / integral to Newton's birthday / is unclear", and then proceeds to explain the meanings of the various symbols. Anyone who has ever had a discussion about the origin and meaning of various Christmas symbols should read this. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: [A. E. Van Vogt] was the Wile E. Coyote of SF. He ran off the cliff in 1939 and looked down sometime in the 1950s. -- John Boston (quoted by Rich Horton)
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