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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/05/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 49, Whole Number 1548
Table of Contents
Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. After all, there's a little mindless primitive in each of us. [-mrl]
Turner Classic Movie Quadruple Feature (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Jacques Tourneur was a great atmospheric director who worked on films produced by Val Lewton. On Friday, June 12, TCM will have the following four atmospheric films, all horror films to varying degree.
2:15 PM Curse of the Demon (1958) An anthropologist investigates a devil worshipper who commands a deadly demon. Cast: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis. Dir: Jacques Tourneur. BW-96 mins, TV-PG
4:00 PM Leopard Man, The (1943) When a leopard escapes during a publicity stunt, it triggers a series of murders. Cast: Dennis O'Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks. Dir: Jacques Tourneur. BW-66 mins, TV-PG, CC
5:15 PM I Walked With A Zombie (1943) A nurse in the Caribbean resorts to voodoo to cure her patient, even though she's in love with the woman's husband. Cast: Frances Dee, Tom Conway, James Ellison. Dir: Jacques Tourneur. BW- 69 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS
6:30 PM Cat People (1942) A newlywed fears that an ancient curse will turn her into a bloodthirsty beast. Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway. Dir: Jacques Tourneur. BW-73 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS
0, 1, 4, 15, 56, 209, ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Okay, we are going to talk about a little bit of mathematics here. I promise there will be no hard formulae here. Everything should be fairly simple. If you have questions, you can contact me, but I doubt that will be necessary. This is not difficult and it is fairly interesting.
I gave my students (and anyone else who saw the blackboard) the problem of recognizing how this sequence
Okay, the answer to the question is 780. If that helps you can try to figure out how the sequence is extended. If you want to work on that problem, STOP HERE.
Okay, here is the answer. This is the sequence you get if you say a(0) = 0, a(1) = 1, a(n) = 4*a(n - 1) - a(n - 2)
Put another way each number in the sequence is one quarter of the sum of its predecessor and its successor. An interesting property of this sequence is that if you square any term and subtract the product of its predecessor and its successor you always get 1.
Some of the more alert will recognize that the definition is reminiscent of the famous Fibonacci sequence. That sequence is defined by:
In fact this sequence, which to the best of my knowledge has no special name has many of the same interesting properties as the Fibonacci sequence. With the Fibonacci sequence, if you take the ratio of each term to its predecessor the ratio quickly approaches the Golden Ratio of (1 + sqrt(5))/2. This sequence we started with also quickly approaches a constant ratio but it is 2 + sqrt(3). Like the sequence this is not a particularly famous number and it probably does not have a special name.
In fact, if you start with any two numbers as b(0) and b(1) and extend by:
Now I have just lied in the previous paragraph. I would say that the ratio will *almost always* go to those special limits. There is a special case where it will not. But if you stick to all integers you will never run into that case. If you choose b(0) and b(1) so that b(1)/b(0) = (1 - sqrt(5))/2 [please note the negative sign] and then have b(n) = b(n - 1) + b(n - 2) you will end up with the ratio of any term to its predecessor being (1 - sqrt(5))/2. In other words you will have a geometric sequence with ratio always being (1 - sqrt(5))/2. This is actually a negative number. If the ratio is the tiniest bit off from (1 - sqrt(5))/2 then the consecutive ratios will go to (1 + sqrt(5))/2.
On the other hand if you choose b(0) and b(1) so that b(1)/b(0) = 2 - sqrt(3) [again please note the negative sign] you will end up with the ratio of any term to its predecessor being 2 - sqrt(3). In other words you will have a geometric sequence with ratio always being 2 - sqrt(3).
I would call a sequence extended by b(n) = C*b(n - 1) + D*b(n - 2) a "Fibonacci-like sequence" because if C=D=1, b(0) = 0, and b(1) = 1 you get the famous Fibonacci sequence. If you let C=4 and D= -1 you get the sequence I started with. That is another Fibonacci-like sequence. Most people learned in high school about the Fibonacci sequence. It shows up all the time in nature. It has many very intriguing properties. You might guess that the most interesting and powerful Fibonacci-like sequence is the famous Fibonacci sequence itself. It turns out this is not the case. There is an even more important Fibonacci-like sequence with even more interesting properties than the Fibonacci sequence itself has. Try fooling around a little with the sequence you get if you let b(0) = 0, b(1) = 1, b(n) = 2*b(n - 1) - b(n - 2).
One interesting property of this new sequence (like the sequence we started with but not the Fibonacci sequence) is that if you square any term and subtract the product of its predecessor and its successor you always get 1. [-mrl]
UP (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Certainly UP is one of Pixar's best films to date. The reason is not that it has some of their best animation, though that arguably is true. But their story values are may be improving faster than their animation. UP is a story with genuine pathos on themes of loss and of unfulfilled dreams. All this mixes with an adventure story with a little bit of action. Kids will love this film, but some of the notes of this film will definitely resonate with adults. A bittersweet prolog really works to make this film a much better story. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Pixar is pushing the art of animation beyond all expectations. Early on in UP we see a boy carrying a balloon. Now in our world some balloons when inflated are opaque and some made more cheaply are translucent. Pixar would have been excused if they had taken the easy route and made the boy's balloon opaque. That would be an easier effect to create. But this is a cheap balloon and we see the background faintly through the balloon. That is just doing things the hard way just to show the audience that the visual images are better than they need to be. The animators were going to extra effort just to show their virtuosity at creating visuals. But their plotting and storytelling is more affecting than it has been in any previous major animated film that comes to mind. Their secret weapon is a prolog. The main character is Carl Fredricksen, a man probably in his late seventies. The prolog shows him as young boy enthralled by a world-famous explorer, Charles Muntz. Carl finds a girl as fascinated by adventure as Carl is. They become friends, then a couple, then husband and wife, then an old husband and wife, then she passes away and leaves him lonely. That's right, a character the viewer likes dies in the prolog. Right now I can think of only four so likeable characters killed off in previous Disney films and three are canines. It is a risk to kill off someone the viewer likes, but it gives the entire film resonance. When Carl mourns his wife, the audience does also. And the film needs this resonance since somewhere in the back-story it there it is about disappointment, loss, loneliness, and the choice between values and dreams. Not that this is a grim story, but it is a surprisingly honest and moving one.
Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the wonderful Ed Asner) is an old curmudgeon and widower who lives in the same house he lived in with his beloved wife. The two had always dreamed of the adventure of going to Venezuela and seeing Paradise Falls on a certain mystical plateau that was visited by the celebrated explorer Charles Muntz (apparently the same plateau that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write THE LOST WORLD). Now Carl's house is to be bulldozed to make way for some big building, and Carl will be neatly filed in a rest home. But he has another plan. He will float his house high in the sky using several hundred helium balloons. He will harness the winds and fly his house to the mystical plateau. He is flying through the solitude of the sky when there is a knock at the door. It seems he is not as alone as he thought. A boy Wilderness Explorer (think Boy Scout) named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has been taken with the house. Begrudgingly Carl takes the boy in and together they fly to the plateau. The plateau turns out to be a sort of magical place. It has giant birds like living phorusrhacidae. Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) still rules the plateau and seems very active and spry. Carl is old enough to need a cane with a stand, and Muntz must be at least twenty-five years older, but somehow he is not. Most delightful are the Muntz dogs who have been fitted with collars that allow them to talk, though they still think like dogs. But Carl and Muntz are headed for a clash of values.
Pixar has gone past the point where they made animated films that happened to be good stories. Now they are making good stories that happen to be animated. I rate UP a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
As good as the story is there are still some bad plot holes that should be noted. Perhaps the magic of the plateau is keeping Muntz from getting very old, but Carl should have at least observed that it was odd that a man who was out exploring the world when Carl was a young boy is still alive and spry on the plateau. Also a scrapbook is important to the plot, but it is not until the end of the film that Carl does something with this book that he more likely would have done years earlier.
A short animated film, "Partly Cloudy", is packaged with UP. The idea seems to be that storks get the babies they deliver from clouds. Some babies are easier to handle than others. The animation is fine, but the story is just not very interesting. "Presto", the film that came packaged with WALL-E, was considerably better.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1049413/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/up/
SATURN'S CHILDREN by Charles Stross (copyright 2008, Ace, $24.95, 323pp, ISBN 978-0-441-01594-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz)
So, whether or not Evelyn intended her remark in the May 29th issue of the MT Void to be a reminder to me, I was jolted into remembering that I had finished SATURN'S CHILDREN a couple of days ago (it being May 29th as I write this), and that I needed to write the review for the VOID before I moved on to the next novel in my annual survey of the current year's Hugo-nominated novels.
Those of you who read my reviews know that my reviews of Stross's works have generally been favorable. I've always enjoyed his fast paced, breakneck storytelling style. I've enjoyed the weirdness of them all, and I've loved the straightforward style of books like those found in the "Merchant Princes" series. This time, however, I've found a Stross book that I just couldn't get into at all.
Let me start out by saying that I really wanted to like this book. Aside from liking Stross's stuff in general, what I had heard about the book before I bought it made it sound interesting. I bought the book at Denvention in 2008. I was milling about Larry Smith's table with the book in hand waiting my turn to hand in the cash when a woman with a Scottish accent asked "Would you like that autographed?" I said, "well, sure", after which she called Out, "Hey Charlie, come here, this gentleman would like you to autograph his copy of your book", after which I did have to pay for it before he autographed it (I was going to buy it, of course, but now I had to speed up the process :-)). After the autograph, we had a several-minute conversation in which we compared our blood pressure problems. Stross's issue with blood pressure issues are well documented--mine, not so much.
So, I really *was* predisposed to liking this novel.
Okay, the story goes something like this. It's several hundred years in the future, and all of mankind is gone--gone as in perished. The race of man (or woman, or child, or whatever) is no more. All that's left are robots--all kinds of robots: all sizes, all shapes, all manner of purpose--you name it, there are robots that either look like it, do it, feel like it, whatever. In this case, our protagonist is a female sex robot.
Can you already see the problem with this? Now, I don't necessarily need to identify with a character or characters in a novel in order to enjoy it. However, I am neither female, a robot, or have sex as my primary occupation (although that might be enjoyable for a while, under the right circumstances).
Anyway, these robots have gone on doing what their human masters once told them to do, things like building cities, colonizing other planets, etc. *And* they've developed their own hierarchical society, with humanoid "aristos" at the top, and slave robots, controlled by slave chips, at the bottom of the totem pole, doing exactly what they're told--and they don't even look remotely human in some cases.
Our herione, if you will, Freya, leads a drab and boring life, since she can no longer fulfill her original purpose. She's about to commit a sort of suicide and is interrupted in the process. She makes an enemy that day, the Domina, and leaves the site of the near-suicide event wondering what will happen next. Shortly, she receives an offer from the Jeeves Corporation to transport and deliver a very controversial and secret package to Mars. Since it's the best offer she's had in a long time, she accepts. As a result, she finds herself involved in a very complicated plot that involves no less than the reconstruction of a real human being, and the use of that human to rule the solar system.
Yeah, it's gets a little weird from here. One part of the story that I have yet to mention is that all the robots are descendents from a matriarchal or partriarchal template robot. Thus, Freya has many siblings wandering around, the nastiest of which is named Juliette. Freya and Juliette's matriarchal template is Rhea, who has long since passed on. Aside from slave chips, there are memory chips, which allow a "sib's" memories to be transplanted to another of her lineage in order that those memories be absorbed and experienced. As a result, there can be multiples of various bots roaming around (count the number of Jeeves in this book and get back to me), many of which can have some of the same memories even though they didn't experience those memories.
And what about that human replication? Well, it's got something to do with the Pink Goo, the stuff of replication. The goo appears to be outlawed, and there are goo police (I kid you not) to control the spread and usage of the stuff.
I just had a problem with the whole thing. Maybe it was my mood when I read this book, but I couldn't get my head around a few things: Why would the robots continue doing what the humans told them, knowing full well that humans no longer existed and were not likely to ever come back? Why was the idea of recreating a human such a bad thing for a (robotic) society that was built by humanity and for humanity? And why did Stross have to make it so complicated to keep track of all the characters. The fact that they kept shifting identities made my head spin. After awhile, I found it a chore to read the book.
The book is dedicated to Heinlein and Asimov; indeed, it starts by presenting the Good Doctor's Three Laws of Robotics (if you don't know what those are, shame on you--back to science fiction school for you), and there are a lot of places where it reads like a Heinlein novel, but the comparison doesn't hold up for too long, for to me, this novel became boring and tedious.
I wanted to like it--really I did. But I just couldn't.
Next up, ZOE'S CHILDREN, by John Scalzi. [-jak]
Effort and Grades (letter of comment by Richie Bielak):
In response to Mark's article on effort and grades in the 05/22/09 issue of the MT VOID, Richie Bielak writes:
In the "Real World (tm)" effort is often rewarded more than results. For example a friend send me the following [excerpt from a] job posting for a C++ programmer:
No other time commitments will be possible-as candidates must be able to work 80 hours per week to complete rush projects.
Estimate that it may be over the course of a year around 10 to 15% of the time, but when a project needs to be completed that is behind schedule and is critical, it might take two weeks straight of this kind of work to finish it off.
On a regular basis, candidates must be able to sustain 60 hour weeks, and when things get slow, it is down to 50 hour weeks. Make no mistake, it is hard work; but it is with the best and brightest in the field.
Clearly they do not want anyone who could solve their problems in 10 hours a week by using Python, instead of C++.... ;-)
My reply to my friend was that "the best and the brightest" would not work 80-hour weeks.... [-rb]
NASA Gross-Out (letter of comment by Mike Glyer):
In response to Mark's comments on NASA and water in the 05/29/09 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Glyer writes, "Remember W.C Field's comment about refusing to drink water because ... you know what fish do in it." [-mg]
Measure, WiFi, Grades, Taxation, THIS ISLAND EARTH, and The Teaching Company (letter of comment by Guy Ferraiolo):
In response to the 05/29/09 issue of the MT VOID, Guy Ferraiolo writes:
[Mark wrote], "Protagoras of Abdera (ca. 490-ca. 420 B.C.E.) said, 'Of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not.' I think even he is stretching things. For you, gentle reader, the measure of all things is yourself. For me it is me."
I think you misunderstand this quote but don't feel too bad, so does Daniel Robinson who does the Teaching Company philosophy course. Both you and he see it as "An individual person is the measure of all things" and I am completely convinced that is incorrect. I see this statement properly re-expressed as "Evaluate all things from a human perspective" instead of trying for an absolute. So we can't judge things from the perspective of a dolphin or an ant colony or the gods (to take an ancient Greek slant). What do I mean? From the viewpoint of an ant colony a Greek city might be unendurable chaos, from the viewpoint of an eagle, unendurable regimentation. Given the irreconcilability of these viewpoints there really isn't any choice but to take the human view.
I really meant it when I said don't feel too bad about this gentle criticism. Robinson certainly has heavy-duty academic credentials, is extraordinarily articulate and seems quite knowledgeable but he takes this, to me, mistaken tack more than once. I thought that was odd but apparently this is the way smart, educated people take the meaning of that quote. I myself didn't think much of it until perhaps a few years ago when I was thinking about some big question topic and I came to the conclusion the human perspective was the only one that mattered to me and that lead a new appreciation of this position. BTW, I'm not being coy about the actual topic I was pondering, that I cannot recall. My appreciation of Protagoras, however, is enduring.
[In response to Evelyn's comments on Wifi]: I'm glad to hear you got a working router/wifi setup going! Yes, I like [Panera's] food too. The breakfast sandwiches are very good.
[In response to John Purcell's comments on grades]: I think the NCLB thing was another Bush administration botch. They often did things I saw no justification for at all. The truly scary part was when they did something that I agreed with, in principle, but did it in a way that was so broken it failed of its purpose and discredited the principle too.
The bizarro approach to double taxation of dividends managed to do it exactly wrong. The idea was that dividends were not a deductible expense to the corporation and were taxable income to the individual this created a disincentive to pay return on investment in the form of dividends. This was particularly bad policy, so the story goes, because dividends, as the distribution of the profits of the company of which the investor/shareholder is a part owner, are the most natural way to reward that ownership. And it was claimed, not implausibly, that a lot of the more esoteric and tenuous financial structures built around corporations were, in fact, attempts convey returns that would have naturally been delivered as dividends except for that pesky double taxation. Okay, I understand not all of us will agree with this, but it is not a claim that dividends should be completely free of tax nor is it entirely irrational. There are two ways you could solve this problem, assuming you think it is a problem. You could make the dividends a tax-deductible expense to the corporation and taxable income to the individual or vice-versa. It seems to me the first approach is the right one. The corporation is merely a conduit, so the money disbursed as dividends is not income. The person is the beneficial recipient. To the extent you think an income tax is a good idea, this where it should be imposed. Also, my experience, limited though it may be, is there is far more scope for legal but dodgy accounting in a corporation than for a person. The combination of this dodginess and the individual's position as the beneficiary seems conclusive.
Given this, what did the Bush administration do? You have three ways to answer this: be familiar with the actual facts of the case, guess based on the length of my discursion, guess based on the perversity of the Bush administration. The answer: they made it taxable to the corporation and tax-free to the individual. This lead to the spectacle of very wealthy individuals receiving completely tax-free income! And to criticisms, valid, that this was unfair. And to the criticism, invalid, that removing double taxation was a scam to allow the very wealthy to enjoy tax-free income. Whew! It takes a lot of bone-headedness to get that bad a result from something that, I think, made sense in principle.
Back to the NCLB Act. American education is seriously screwed-up. The problem is not money. This is shown by comparison to other countries, we spend more and get less. It is also shown by comparisons within the US. There is sometimes a negative correlation of educational success and spending. Spending more gives poorer results. There is also less absolute but, to me, still convincing evidence in the comparison of the present with the past. It seems that education is not as effective as it once was. So, what to do? The existence of a large and politically powerful lobby, the NEA, means that local efforts usually cannot succeed. The combination of disciplined voting and legal campaign contributions have been quite effective at squelching reform. That leaves dangling federal funding for success. And there has to be an at least somewhat ungimmickable way to judge. Therefore: the test. And therefore: teaching to the test. But isn't this a bad thing? Don't we want school to be a journey that the teacher and student take together where Daniel Robinson will float in and, right about Protagoras or not, lead the student, in a manner not unlike Socrates would, to right thinking and the considered life? The student will think for him or herself and this will go beyond the stale limits of a multiple choice test. If the choice were between this fantasy and NCLB, I agree, it would be better to have the fantasy. Unfortunately, that is not the choice on offer. The choice is teaching to the test or Jeff Spicoli (of Fast Times at Ridgemont High). The choice is teaching to the test or stark, cold, staring ignorance. Some people, those who teach at the library or those who are involved in admitting students to university, know that our education is failing.
However, I am completely willing to accept that the way the Bush administration actually implemented NCLB is harmful. If someone can come up with something other than NCLB I'd be willing to try it. I am not willing to listen when the proposer also claims either that there is no real problem or that the problem is solely or principally the amount of money.
There is a quip about American education and there was an attempt to preserve the identity of the quipper but I confess I have forgotten the name. The quip was that American education is the equivalent of Soviet agriculture. This was particularly on-point because it is saying that the endeavor has all the natural advantages but has been destroyed by malign government policy. After all, saying American education, or Soviet agriculture, is the equivalent of Antarctican agriculture doesn't say the same thing. No one expects much of Antarctican agriculture.
Another bit of ranting. I felt that immigration needed reform. The cruel and it seems spiteful way the Bush administration dealt with that is another example of their inability to get it right even starting from a reasonable basis.
And one final pirouette: the real answer to the double taxation question is quite simple. No taxation, no income tax! :-) I mean that sincerely but I include the smiley because I'm fairly certain others may not agree. I can provide a Ron Paul URL if you need it. :-)
[In response to John Purcell's comment, "Also I want to reread THIS ISLAND EARTH."]: Keep an eye out for an interesting take on the Fermi problem.
[In response to Evelyn's comment "And since we just finished the course 'The Story of Human Language' at home: I particularly liked this course. McWhorter has a bigger but DVD-only one. Since I listen primarily when walking or driving I find the DVDs not very useful. Still, I liked McWhorter. He refers to Lynn Margulis at one point and I was thrilled since it was just this making of connections between disparate sources that I was looking for when I started my educational efforts. If you're not familiar with Margulis you should know that she is responsible for the realization that mitochondria are the descendants of symbiotic bacteria. She has a whole theory about this and has written several books. Of the two I've read 'Acquiring Genomes' is the best. It contains some of the strangest, most disturbing biology I've ever come across. Anyone who wants to write SF about aliens should read it. What is actually here on Earth is sometimes very, very, very weird. She teaches at Amherst. Also, she was Carl Sagan's first wife. [-gf]
I guess my feeling on the Protagoras quote is that he could have been saying what you interpret him as saying, but I think not. At least if I interpret correctly your interpretation it is not mine. You seem to be saying that we are limited in how we perceive reality. We cannot see the world as an ant or an eagle would. That is true as far as it goes, but I would not say that the phrase "Of all things the measure is Man" has that same meaning to me. You make it sound like a piece of expedient despair. You think he is saying that we cannot see the world as an ant or an eagle can so we have to see it only as a human. My interpretation of the quote is more saying more like even if a calculation tells you that a bee cannot fly, if you see a bee flying that you should accept your own observation rather than an abstract calculation. The calculation does not really tell you about reality any better than personal observation does. If evidence you yourself find in the ground says that a fossil is 100 million years old, don't immediately believe a book that tells you it can be only a few thousand years old. In the case of my story, if innocently using a theatrical term makes you a racist (which I do not believe), then being a racist is not always a bad thing. It can be innocent. I see Protagoras as actually saying something that is self-affirming. As for not being able to view reality as an ant or an eagle does, I am sure that is true. For that matter I cannot view reality even as Evelyn does and at times we see things frustratingly differently. But this does not mean one should not try. I cannot see reality as an ant does, but I find it hard to believe the ant does not resent it when being burned by the sun with a magnifying glass. I believe I share enough reality with the ant that I can see why harming the ant is wrong. It may not hurt any human to harm the ant, but it is still wrong. Humans are not the measure of the morality of harming an insect. So I neither agree with how you interpret Protagoras based on this translation, nor do I like what Protagoras would be saying if your interpretation was correct.
As for the No Child Left Behind Act, what is there to say but "perhaps." [-mrl]
Evelyn notes, "It is not surprising Guy also liked the McWhorter course--we took it on his recommendation!" [-ecl]
Old Age (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Mark's comments on age in the 05/29/09 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel responded, leading to this set of exchanges:
Dan: First, happy belated birthday, Mark. Second, as someone who will be turning a youthful 54 this summer let me say, "You're old!"
Mark: Uggghhhh! Only compared to you young whipper-snappers.
Dan: Seriously, as long as you have your health I'm convinced it's a matter of attitude and being engaged in the world. I know a guy in his 80s who's more aware of what's going on around him than some of my college students.
Mark: Actually so far so good. I do drink a cocoa (almost) every day with a lot of cinnamon. Cocoa is good for cardiovascular and cinnamon for blood sugar. The other thing is that my recreational drug of choice is dietary capsaicin. Fiery piquant food is actually very healthy, and every month they seem to find new good effects it has. That would not be surprising if there was a particular brand name on them so someone specific was profiting. But nobody is making a fortune by exaggerating the value of chili peppers. They just seem to be a very healthy food.
A lot of people don't enjoy really spicy food. And they might be better off slowly building tolerance. I don't know. But I have loved fiery food as a matter of taste. The health benefits were a side-benefit.
Dan: That said, I'll take this platform to tell you and your vast worldwide audience that as you get older it's crucial that you adjust your attitudes about your health and getting check ups. People our age should see a doctor at least once a year.
Mark: Because I am on drugs for asthma I have to see a doctor at least every six months.
Dan: You should probably be getting your eyes checked each year.
Mark: I do let that go every two or three years. Maybe I should do it more often.
Dan: If you're over 50 and haven't had a colonoscopy yet, why the hell not?
Mark: About a month ago I had my second.
Dan: It's far less painful than a root canal and it could save your life.
Mark: There is no pain. Period. Nausea during the prep, perhaps. Inconvenience for the two days preparing, yes, but it is not painful. Just a bit disgusting.
Dan: In fact anyone who's been through it will tell you the worse part is not the exam but the day or two of "prep."
Dan: (They told me I could drink all the lemonade I wanted. I *hate* lemonade.)
Mark: How do you feel about lemon drops? I made a discovery and you are the first non-Leeper I can share it with. Drinking the electrolyte is the worst part. But I was allowed lemon drops. Anyway, get a hard candy that is allowed and put it in your cheek. Now when you have to drink the electrolyte you roll it on your tongue, put it back in your cheek, take a slug of electrolyte, and immediately roll the candy back on your tongue. Repeat as necessary until the disgusting drink is gone. It is much less nauseating than drinking the electrolyte straight (albeit flavored) like I did last time.
Dan: I don't use lemon drops or ginger ale either. What I finally found was allowed that I could drink was cranberry juice. (I did ask to make sure.)
Mark: Well, I was talking about just the experience of getting the electrolyte down. For that you don't really want another beverage. The electrolyte is hard enough to get down. I wanted something that gave me a lot of flavor without filling my stomach. I am really surprised the let you drink cranberry juice. Part of the rule for me was ingest nothing that was red. I could have Jell-O, but not red Jell-O. I guess they didn't want to see anything that might be confused with blood.
Dan: I know. I was surprised to. Apparently the difference (I'm making an educated guess here) is that the Jell-O has red food dye whereas the cranberry juice is its natural color. Perhaps it passes through quickly. My problem was that most of what they said I could have I don't eat. I don't eat Jell-O as a rule, but if I'm going to have it, it's going to be the red "flavor." I ended up with chicken broth and cranberry juice.
Evelyn: Supposedly taking a swig of ginger ale after drinking the electrolyte helps. And now there is also white cranberry juice.
Dan: I plan to be around for a long time. The one sentence I never want to hear is, "If only we had caught that sooner."
Mark: That was how I felt about the mouse that got into my house. :-)
Dan: Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Hugo-Nominated Novellas (letter of comment by Charlie Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Hugo-nominated novellas in the 05/29/09 issue of the MT VOID, in which she says, "My voting order: 'The Erdmann Nexus', 'Truth', 'The Political Prisoner', 'True Names', no award, 'The Tear'", Charlie Harris writes, "That's pretty depressing: The *best* of the *Hugo-nominated* novellas is "Okay, but nothing special." :-( [-ch]
Evelyn responds, "Well, there you have it." [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I own a few books published by AIG. I mention this because I'm hoping to find out they're incredibly valuable, but I suspect they are only marginally more valuable than AIG itself, given that they were distributed in the New Yorker magazine. One is a selection of Aesop's fables, one is Gracian's "Art of Worldly Wisdom", and one is "Well-Versed: Poems for the Road Ahead". All are sixteen pages long and consist of advisory tales, maxims, or poems. The poetry book has such poems as Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and Rudyard Kipling's "If". What's great is the blurb on the back: "In life, there is no substitute for experience. The same goes for your money. 85 years of helping families and businesses worldwide means you can rely on the AIG companies. Over 50 million customers know that for long-term financial solutions, the AIG companies can help steer you and your family in the right direction." Right. It doesn't make you eager to trust their choice of literary advice either.
[Well, they built themselves to be so big that they could not be allowed to fail. And they still are up there fat and happy. I suppose that was a kind of wisdom. -mrl]
I wrote a few weeks ago about THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, but there were a couple of things I forgot to mention. First, this was an early example of distributed processing, with people all over the world doing the same task with different books, and then a team bringing together the results. Also, the decision to make the Dictionary descriptive rather than prescriptive was crucial. In general, English-language dictionaries are descriptive, while French-language dictionaries are prescriptive.
[The difference is that "descriptive" dictionaries document the language as it is used. "Prescriptive" dictionaries define how the language ought to be used. -mrl]
I picked up a brochure titled "Latin Literature" at the library recently, but it didn't list anything by Ovid or Plautus, so how reliable could it be? (Okay, there *was* a silhouette of Latin America on the cover.) I notice they include Brazil as part of Latin America. Perhaps not surprisingly, in Spanish the term is "Hispanoamerica" and does not include Brazil.
Finishing the book sale season was my own library's Friends of the Library book sale. It is the smallest of the sales I attend every year, and were it not only three miles away in a library I go to all the time anyway I would not even bother. (One reason for the smallness is that the FotL has a good-sized on-going book sale.) In spite of the (lack of) size, I did find a few items. There was, for example, an Agatha Christie collection available only in a British edition (the price sticker indicates it was purchased in a Swiss airport). I also got a crime fiction anthology, a satiric mystery novel called THE EGYPTOLOGIST, and a VHS two-cassette set of the old Republic serial MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR SATAN and another of THE MASKED MARVEL.
But the best find was the Teaching Company course "The History of the English Language" (36 courses on 18 audiocassettes, complete with booklets). Because they priced each of the three clamshells separately, it cost a total of $3. When I found it, I did the happy dance. When I realized just how cheap it was, I did the even happier dance. It seems like a great follow-on course to "The Story of Human Language" and, being on audiocassette, perfect for our road trip later this year.
Returning to Hugo-nominated short fiction, here's my take on the novelettes:
"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" by Mike Resnick is good enough, but it is yet another story of growing old, and one does begin to tire of them. It is also yet another story of what one would suppose to be sleight-of-hand to be real magic (hardly a spoiler--you could see that coming a mile away), and again, this is not fresh.
"The Gambler" by Paolo Bacigalupi: This story of the future of news (or is it the present?) is on a topic I follow because my brother is a journalist. The protagonist, an investigative reporter covering government and related areas, describes his situation thusly: "It seems that the only people who are reading my story are the biologists I interviewed. This is not surprising. When I wrote about bribes for subdivision approvals, the only people who read the story were county planners. When I wrote about cronyism in the selection of city water recycling technologies, the only people who read were water engineers." Instead, we discover that thousands of times more people are following the story of "Double DP the Russian mafia cowboy rapper ... [who] is accused of impregnating the fourteen-year-old daughter of his face sculptor." At one point, the protagonist's editor tells him, "No one reads a depressing story, at least, not more than once. And no one subscribes to a depressing byline feed." This is a depressing (and realistic--which is why it is depressing) story, but apparently it did find some readers.
[But none of them read it more than once. -mrl]
"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel: It seems like everyone is doing a riff on Jane Austen this year--Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow in a small way in "True Names" and John Kessel here. But where Rosenbaum and Doctorow just throw in a passing reference, Kessel manages to capture the feeling of Austen (and Shelley) for the duration. This was a story I nominated, so it is not surprising that I like it.
[Leave us not forget the non-nominated PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. -mrl]
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner: Gardner takes a classic science-fiction idea--kid finds alien artifact that gives him great power--and brings it up to date. Why aren't more people writing traditional stories like this?
"Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear: People who aren't riffing on Jane Austen seem to riff on H. P. Lovecraft. This did not quite capture Lovecraft's atmosphere (at least for me), and the whole racial issue seems tacked on. I don't know--maybe it has some meaning related to the story, but if so, I missed it. In a short story (or novelette) one must exercise an economy of themes and not try to cover too much ground, and this seemed to ignore that rule.
My voting order: "Pride and Prometheus", "The Gambler", "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", "Shoggoths in Bloom", "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders", no award (though positions one and two are really close) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The advantage of doing one's praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right places. -- Samuel Butler
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