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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/12/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 7, Whole Number 1662
Table of Contents
Inter-Discipline Answer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I asked this question:
I was watching HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1, preparing to see the second part. Toward the end we get to see the symbol of the Deathly Hallows as it appears in a signature and as it is rendered in a piece of jewelry. In the jewelry the cloak is an equilateral triangle. In the signature it is an isosceles right triangle sitting with its hypotenuse as the base. If the radius of the circle is r, what is the length of the wand in jewelry and what is it in the signature? Assume all lines are infinitesimally thin. Okay, I will let you cheat on the cinema knowledge part of the puzzle. You can see the symbol at
Answer: In the equilateral case the vertical line has length 3. If the triangle is an isosceles right triangle the length shrinks to 1+sqrt(2). [-mrl]
No Dolce Vita per Gatti (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We were at a birthday party recently and had left the table when a pet cat jumped on the table. Evelyn was concerned that the cat might get into the cake. (We were across the room at the time.) I told Evelyn that it was not really very likely. A cat would find very little of interest in the taste of a cake. A dog might enjoy a bit of birthday cake, but a cat would probably find it nearly flavorless. A cat cannot detect sweetness. Evelyn had never heard this. It happens to be thought to be true. It is believed that a cake would just taste like bland bread to a cat, I guess. Rob a cat of the ability to taste sweetness and what else is there in the taste of a cake? A cat lacks the genetic code to detect sweet flavors. I believe they are the only mammals that suffer from the inability to enjoy or even detect things that taste sweet.
Cats evolved to eat meat and they are efficient at turning meat into energy. But carbohydrates do little for a cat, and if cats ate too many carbohydrates they would be in danger of developing diabetes. So cats that had a mutation that did not allow them to enjoy sweet flavors actually had a survival advantage over cats who like other mammals enjoyed a piece of cake or something equivalent. Apparently for a cat, not being able to taste the joys of sweet foods helps protect the cat from illness. Or it has been suggested, became a carnivore because it genetically lost the ability to create sweetness receptors on its tongue.
This all raises a sort of chicken-and-egg sort of question. Did cats first lose their ability to taste sweetness and as a result chose more to eat meat and ended up being strictly carnivores? Or did they become strict carnivores for reasons of environment or taste or what ever and since they no longer were using their sensation of sweetness, did it atrophy away? Or was it a combination of the two in a feedback loop. Did they lose their ability to appreciate sweetness, concentrate more on meat, need sweetness receptors less and so they withered more, leading them even more to an all-meat diet. And this all assumes that when they could taste sweetness, it was the same pleasurable flavor that it is to other mammals. Perhaps what tasted sweet to us was detected by them, but it tasted the way bitter tastes to us? There is no guarantee that a given food will taste the same to two different species or even to two different animals in the same species. Grass that tastes bitter to us is quite pleasing to a sheep. Does it taste bitter to the sheep also and the sheep just likes the flavor as a matter of preference? Or might the grass taste to the sheep like German Chocolate Cake tastes to us? Sadly, without the electronic telepathy of the "hat" from the film BRAINSTORM we cannot tell what the sheep is experiencing when it eats grass.
Generally foods that taste good to us are healthy for us, or at least were at some stage of our evolution. German Chocolate Cake has energy that could be useful for our survival. Whatever the primeval equivalent was, it was useful for survival to our ancestors. But is the correlation between tasting bitter and being bad for your health just a coincidence or did our evolving species learn to assign the flavor bitter to those foods that were unhealthy? Meanwhile did the evolving sheep learn to assign the flavor sweet to healthy grass? And today might we be able to take a baby (or an adult) and reassign the flavor sweet to healthy vegetables and bitter to double fudge sundaes? It is food for thought.
Incidentally, I found out later that some cats do like cake frosting, but who knows how it tastes to them? We could tell the cat who started this train of thought was innocent of all but walking on the table since there was no sign in the frosting that a cat had touched it. There are cats that like frosting and there are cats that like ice cream. But it is not surprising that a cat that likes cream likes ice cream. I don't think that humans drink cream because it tastes sweet to us. We drink it because we like the taste and texture of cream. That sensation is probably what a cat eats ice cream for.
JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We have been watching a Teaching Company course on "The Physics of the Impossible," and the lecturer was talking about symmetries. As an example, he mentioned the film JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, which portrayed a mirror-image world on the other side of the sun. According to the lecturer, this was done was simply filming as normal and then flipping the film. While that would be one way to do it, that was *not* the method used, and I will explain why.
I watched the film with two questions in mind:
For the first question, I started by noting asymmetries on Earth before the mission to Mirror-Earth was sent. For example, Ross's wife parts her hair on her left side. The Eurosec symbol has its open end to the right. (For that matter, many of the numbers and letters are asymmetric, and of course the left-to-right direction of writing is asymmetric as well.) People wear their logos/badges on their left breast. Men's jacket breast pockets are on the left. The space suits have the large orange shoulder packs on the left shoulder. And so on. All this is true throughout the flight to Mirror-Earth and during the crash landing.
After Ross wakes up in the recovery room, he starts noticing differences. When his wife is driving him home, he says the on- coming truck is on the wrong side of the road--but he doesn't say anything about which side of the car she is driving from (the left). He looks at his apartment strangely, and reaches for a light switch on the wrong side of the door. But it is only when he looks at the bottles in the bathroom in the mirror and then directly and says that the writing is reversed that we know what is going on. No, he is not on Mirror-Earth; he is *from* Mirror-Earth and on (our) Earth, because all the writing looks fine to us. We also notice that the badges and jacket breast pockets remain on the left side, the Eurosec symbol is the same, and so on.
(One wonders at a world where he did not see any writing or printing for almost twenty-four hours after his release.)
So the only time we have seen the Mirror-Earth so far is the brief period during and right after the crash of the ship from Earth. We see Ross black out on Mirror-Earth; we see Mirror-Ross wake up on Earth.
All the second part takes place on our Earth up until we see Ross get into the ship with the reversed name "Doppelganger". Towards the very end of this section, Ross tries to shake hands with his left hand, and they say they are "reversing everything", so seeing the orange pack on his right shoulder just re-affirms this.
But after launching the Doppelganger, we are on (or above) Mirror- Earth. The lettering on the Doppelganger (which had looked reversed to the inhabitants of the planet) and on the Phoenix looks fine to us (and to the Ross we see), and the orange pack is on his *left* shoulder. In the shots of Ground Control, the badges and jacket breast pockets are on the *right* side, and when the crews get into the emergency vehicles, the drivers are sitting on the right-hand side.
And based on how the clothing buttons, the very final scene, of Herbert Lom in the nursing home, is also on Mirror-Earth. (Throughout, everyone wore turtlenecks, zippered jackets, or other clothing without buttons to give it away.)
What this means is that hardly anything was filmed that was going to be on Mirror-Earth, and none of that really needed to have the film flipped. It is conceivable, I suppose, but I think the real error is in thinking we are seeing Mirror-Earth for more than a couple of very short scenes.
Now, Mirror-Earth could not be perfectly symmetric. The planet's rotation relative to its revolution would seem reversed. (Clearly the revolution cannot be mirror-image, or the two planets would collide.)
Making two orbital passes and finding "no signs of life" seems unlikely; wouldn't there be cities lit up on the night side? This is explained by saying they had been in a polar orbit over the oceans, but I'm still skeptical. And their choice of a landing site was pretty poor, although there seems to be a grand tradition of landing spaceships in rocky canyons instead of on a nice flat plain.
Biologically, Ross shouldn't be able to eat the food on the other planet either, or rather, if he did, it would not nourish him, because it would have the wrong handedness. Trivia: the molecule Carvone has a left-handed and a right-handed version. One tastes like spearmint; the other tastes like caraway. [-ecl]
[I discussed much of this plus some of the mathematics of symmetry in a 2009 editorial: http://fanac.org/fanzines/MT_Void/MT_Void-2738.html#6. -mrl]
Animation Errors (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to comments on animation errors in the 07/29/11 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
On animation errors... I remember going to a talk at Lucent by a former Lucent guy who had gone to Pixar. He spoke about the fascinating details of making TOY STORY.
They had a lot of challenging things they were expecting to face. For some reason they decided to do the Sid character first -- he's the nasty kid that beats on the toys. They had someone sculpt a Sid head, they did renderings of him ... and it took *way* more time than they had expected that it would.
To "catch up" they came up with a time saving idea: for all the other characters, they sculpted and rendered *half* heads for all of the other characters, then mirrored the half-heads to create the full images.
As a result of this, Sid is the only character that is slightly asymmetrical. When you see him on screen with the other characters, there's something vaguely odd about him, and slightly creepy. The speaker claimed it was an unintended consequence of the creation process, but that it worked really well.
Once it was pointed out to me, I noticed it when I next saw the movie... [-gwr]
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Mark's comments on HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLLY HALLOWS, PART 2, in the 08/05/11 issue of the MT VOID [ in which he said there was not enough of Voldemort's backstory], Dan Kimmel writes:
Then you weren't paying attention. Voldemort's backstory was rather thoroughly explored in the previous films, particularly HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.
Glad I could clear that up. :-) [-dk]
Well, admittedly it has been years since I have seen either film. One is two years old, the other is nine (!). I remember only snatches about Voldemort from either film. For me they do not add up to a very complete story of who this Voldemort really is. I was hoping the latest film would tell a coherent story and complete picture of who Voldemort really is. And didn't you tell me in the "This Island Earth" discussion that a film really has to stand on its own? :-) [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In preparation for one of the Worldcon book discussions this year, I read FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON by Jules Verne. The translation I read was the 1874 translation by Louis Mercier and Eleanor E. King (hereafter referred to as Mercier/King), in a book published in 1905 (no ISBN). The other translations I referred to were the Edward Roth, from the same era and reprinted by Dover (ISBN 978-0- 486-46964-5), and the Walter James Miller in THE ANNOTATED JULES VERNE: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (ISBN 978-0-517-14833-4). I also compared them to the French original, available on-line. You can take it as a given that any public domain (pre-1922) English translation of Verne is pretty bad. I've commented on this before (in my review of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), but will point out a few examples here. (Why did I read these translations? Because they are the ones we had in the house.)
The result of all the bad translations is that Verne's knowledge of Florida (and the United States in general) often seems as shaky as his knowledge of the moon. Mercier/King has Stones Hill, near Tampa, have an elevation of 1800 feet; the highest elevation anywhere in Florida is 345 feet. The Edward Roth translation is only marginally better than Mercier/King's, with and elevation as "nearly a thousand feet." But Verne got it right: the original French gives Stone's Hill an elevation of only 300 feet. (Well, I *thought* it was the original French, but Miller also says 1800 feet. Was the on-line version corrected by someone?)
However, both Mercier/King and the original French has the highest elevation of the Appalachians (in New Hampshire) as 5600 feet; it is actually 6288 feet. (Roth re-writes the passage to get it right; Miller claims Verne said 6600 feet.) Both Verne and Mercier/King have that the highest elevation of the Rocky Mountains is 10,700 feet; it is actually 14,433 feet. Verne does not seem to know about the Sierra Nevada at all. And when he places the high point in "the territory of Missouri", he is being anachronistic, since while the Missouri Territory did include Longs Peak, the territory was re-organized and renamed in 1821, well before the time of the story. As it reads, though, it could easily be read as the state of Missouri, which is patently ridiculous. There are no peaks that high in the state of Missouri. (Again, Roth corrects Verne's errors, and places it in the "Territory of Colorado"; Miller annotates it.)
Indeed, Roth takes such liberties with sections of Verne that at times it is scarcely a translation at all. When one reads Mercier/King, one gets an abridged version with sloppy translation and most of Verne's science left out; when one reads Roth, one is reading an American author's paraphrase of Verne containing a lot of elaboration that Verne never wrote. The result is that when I compared one translation to the other, or to the original French, I often got the feeling I was looking at four different books.
One entire chapter Mercier/King leaves out is titled (in Roth's translation) "Which Lady Readers Are Requested to Skip". There is nothing racy here--it is full of scientific information about the moon. But the title scarcely represents Verne's attitude toward women, because his original title is "What It Is Impossible Not to Know and What It Is No Longer Permissible to Believe in the United States" (as Miller accurately translates it).
And another minor translation example: Mercier/King translates "en deux mots" as "in two words" when clearly what is meant is "in two sayings".
Much has been made of the similarities between Verne's moon launch and the Apollo program. Both launch from Florida, both carry three men, both use up-to-the-minute materials, one named the cannon Columbiad and the other the ship Columbia, and so on. But Verne launches from the west coast of Florida, not the east, and uses a "count-up" (to forty) rather than a count-down, providing additional support to the claim that Fritz Lang invented the countdown in FRAU IM MOND.
Verne had an odd idea of how duels were fought in the United States: he seemed to think that the two participants entered a forest with guns and dogs, and hunted each other like wild game. He thought there was a venomous spider as large as a pigeon's egg-- and with claws--that was native to Florida. (To be fair, the naturalist William Bartram describes a spider of this size, though I doubt he mentions claws.)
Verne has included humor--though at times one is more likely to call them attempts at humor. There is certainly black humor in his description of the Baltimore Gun Club: "Crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, iron hands, gutta percha jaws, silver skulls, platina noses, false teeth--nothing was wanting to the collection; and W. J. Pitcairn, the statistician already mentioned, calculated that in the Gun Club, on an average, there was only one arm for every four men, and one pair of legs for every six." And he gives us (according to Miller) Tom Hunter, whose "wooden legs, resting on the fender in the smoking room, were slowly charring"; Billsby "trying to stretch the arms he no longer had"; Colonel Bloomsbury, who could not stuff his hands in his pockets, "though it was not pockets he lacked"; and J. T. Marston, "scratching his gutta-percha skull with his iron hook." (This is Miller's translation; Roth gives Bilsby one glass eye and makes Bloomsbury the only armless member named; Mercier/King's is much shorter and omits Bloomsbury altogether. Miller's is the most accurate.)
On the other hand, a lot of Verne's attempts at humor rely on national stereotypes, such as in his descriptions of how much money each nation contributed and why. Again, the two translations disagree on details, but the general idea is certainly Verne's. (Another example of this in Roth's translation, describing the tourists from all over the world who come to the launch, seems to have been entirely invented by Roth; it does not appear in Verne's original at all.)
What was not made clear was whether the book discussion would include ROUND THE MOON (a.k.a. ALL AROUND THE MOON), which is usually included as the second part of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. The Dover book lists both titles, but the Mercier/King volume just calls itself FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON even though it includes ROUND THE MOON. Miller does not include it at all.
And I will note in passing that the 1958 film version of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON is terrible, and as inaccurate as the earlier translations, providing yet another story in place of Verne's. One feels obliged to compare this to H. G. Wells's FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Verne was dismissive of Wells's work, saying, "Where is this cavorite? Let him produce it." But Verne's method of propulsion is no better, for all his attempts to make it scientific. You can fire a shell from a cannon, but not a capsule containing human beings. Well, not and have them survive, anyway. Wells's work certainly has more characterization and less infodump, and frankly has aged better. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Work with some men is as besetting a sin as idleness. -- Samuel Butler
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