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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/19/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 8, Whole Number 1663
Table of Contents
Excerpt from "Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil Travelog" (Part 1) (by Mark R. Leeper):
[Steven Silver asked me to write a travel log to a place that existed only in science fiction or fantasy for his fanzine ARGENTUS. I thought this might be fun.]
Excerpt from "Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil Travelog" Part 1 By Mark Leeper
2/17/01 Roxton Camp, Maple White Plateau
I woke up early as usual. I have had a hard time sleeping since we got to Brazil. I guess I like it cool at night and it is hot and humid. Back at the lodge they have air conditioning, but of course you cannot air condition a tent. Evelyn was still sleeping and I heard something that must have come to the river to drink in the morning. It sounded big and heavy. I pulled on my shirt, pants, and sandals and grabbed by camera but by the time I got to the water there was nothing to film. I am not sure what kind of animals we would get coming to drink. The Orinoco is slow and particularly muddy on this stretch and I am a little surprised that any animal can drink from it.
The Plateau is still about two hour's drive by jeep over what they call roads here. It probably would have taken the Challenger expedition something like three days to travel the distance, but they were on foot for this last part. Even so it is going to take a while. And the trip through the jungle on that road, though not really boring, is lacking in a lot of variety. Any animal who hears the jeep engine is long gone by the time we drive by so the best we can hope for is seeing a few birds, and then we have to look really quick. I imagine back in Challenger's time there was a lot more to see.
A lot of nasty things come out of this jungle. We are just a little way east of the Rio Negro. Ever read "Leiningen versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson? I haven't seen any big ants, actually, but you do see smaller ones swarming over trees. I don't know if they ever really get army ant swarms like the ones Stephenson wrote about. Also the mosquitoes can be pretty bad.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs and fruit. There were a few pieces of toast, but they were burnt. They eggs were watery. Even the fruit which was good the last few days seemed a little overripe and mushy. But still I was looking forward to the day. I mean this is really the centerpiece of the whole trip. It doesn't matter how many times you have seen pictures and films of live dinosaurs, it is nothing like seeing the real things in front of you. And we get only one day. Actually with the jeep ride to and from the plateau and the cable ride up and down half the day is taken up with that. Evelyn was saying that the Brazilian government was going to build a small dormitory for travelers on the top of the plateau, but the conservation people decided to protest and the plans were quickly cancelled. Probably for the best. There is only one Maple White Plateau. Only one place that we can really see dinosaurs in their natural habitat left alive. I don't want to see anything happen to them. We were done and ready to go at 8:00, but the jeeps were late. Gil won't be going with us. I guess he has seen the top and he doesn't want to pay the ticket for a ride up and down. We pay only one fee for the whole trip so do not see how much of it goes for the trip up the plateau, but I take it the Brazilian government gets a hefty chunk of change for everyone who goes up to the plateau.
At about 8:20 the two jeeps pulled up and Gil packed three of us in the back of each. There is a seat next to the driver, but I guess they don't want to share the front with a tourist. Evelyn and I got one jeep and Jim joined us. One of the couples has to be split up for the trip. I guess Jim doesn't mind. Actually since I will be working on my log it wouldn't bother me too much to be split up from Evelyn. You might wonder how I can write in my log on these--I hate to use the word "road"--wet sand traps. With a palmtop the shaking doesn't stop my typing.
Anyway, I we have an Indian driving. We sit in the back. It is not really comfortable, but we didn't come to Brazil for comfort. I am going to see dinosaurs. Jeez. Just the thought of it. Actually it shouldn't be so hard to see them. I mean if the Brazil government would cooperate, they could clone them or something. Of course that would end their monopoly. I guess when you discover something like the Maple White Plateau in your own country you want to milk as much from it as you can. Brazil does not have that many big moneymaker industries. I guess let them benefit as much as they can from the one thing they have that nobody else in the world has.
The drive through the jungle was long and hot and dull. It was about 10:15 when Evelyn tapped my leg. Just over the trees you could see the Maple White Plateau. It looked like a lot of rock and not much green at he top. I was hoping to see a pterodactyl or two flying over. No such luck. It just looked like a lot of rock. I have to try and find out why this rock is like this. I mean geologically. It all looked like it was one piece from here. Actually it was all one piece at one time in its past. The Summerlee Column broke off as cleavage at one point. It looks like the only place that the rock was climbable and it broke off. That was how Challenger got up. He climbed Summerlee Column and used a tree to cross over to the main part of the plateau. That was also how he got stuck up there. I guess it is kind of pointless looking for where the tree fell. Everything is just so big.
I asked the driver if we would be seeing "Curupuri." He thought that it was very funny that I used that word and he didn't tell me anything. Everybody back home knows the dinosaurs are called Curupuri and that is what the Indians call them. This guy had never even heard of the name. If the Indians don't call them Curupuri, who does? Where did we get that name for them? It is hard to know how much of this is publicity and how much is real. Anyway now the driver thinks that I am some sort of a jerk. Honestly, Curupuri is supposed to be the Indian name for the dinosaurs. I don't think the drivers think very much of the tourists.
There is a road around the base of the plateau. The jungle ends as you get near the plateau and then it is sandy up to the rock. There is a road around the base of the plateau. None of this is paved, you understand, but it is marginally easier to drive on than to go straight across country. We got on the road and drove around. I got a better look at the Summerlee column. Somehow from a distance I could not get a good picture because the jungle was in the way. Now if I take a picture, I cannot get enough in the frame to make it look interesting. We pass a marker for James Colver Point. I don't know what it is or why they labeled it. Nobody is telling us about it, but somebody thought it was worth labeling. Evelyn says Colver doesn't sound like a Portuguese or Indian name.
As we drove around the base we start to see a little camp. Actually it looks like one tent and one shack. And there is a wooden structure that is the base of the cable car. The jeeps go around to the wooden structure. The drivers get out and talk to someone from the shack. Evelyn, Jim and I get out to stretch our legs. Jim goes over to talk to Ellen. The two Toms seem to have come through the trip OK. Now the six of us are standing around talking. I am writing some notes into my palmtop. Okay, now I am caught up to where we are. It is now just a minute after 11.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
Seven Things We Assume Without Even Thinking about Them (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Here are seven things that will keep you awake at night wondering what you can believe and what you cannot:
1. Induction: We assume the world will continue to behave in the future as it has in the past. If the air in your kitchen has been breathable every day in the past, you don't test it before breathing it today. But there is no rational reason to believe in induction. The most-often proffered argument seems to be that it has worked well in the past--but that is a circular argument! Still, it is not something we can give up easily--or perhaps at all.
Actually, there are two forms of induction, each with its own problems. There is the one I just described, which Hume called the Principle of Uniformity of Nature. And there is induction in the form of making a general rule on the basis of specific instances. The latter is what is used when we observe a hundred swans, all white, and decide all swans are white. Future swans that we see which are also white theoretically support this rule. The problem is with this type of induction is as follows: "All swans are white" is logically equivalent to "All non-white things are not swans." Anything that supports the latter must support the former. We see something green. On closer examination we see it is a tree, that is, not a swan. So this is evidence for "all swans are white."
But consider the statement "all swans are black." This is the same as "all non-black things are not swans." The green tree supports this as well, so it also provides evidence for "all swans are black." How can this be?
It gets worse. Nelson Goodman found yet another problem, which I will describe in terms of our swans. Assume it is 1999. A swan is whack if it is white in the 20th century, and black in the 21st; it is blite if it is black in the 20th century and white in the 21st. Now, every swan we have seen is so far both white and whack; why do we believe they are white, but not whack? The argument that these definitions are artificial and too difficult to understand does not really hold up. Consider that if we define "valid suffix" as "th" in the 20th century and "st" in the 21st, and "invalid suffix" as the reverse, that seems to be a perfectly reasonable definition that is not too complex to understand.
W. V. O. Quine suggested that only descriptions that that identify a real property of real things should be used in this sort of statement. This just pushes the question back to what "real properties" and "real things" are.
So where does this leave us? Well, we have to live in the world and make decisions based on imperfect information. Humans (and other animals) who spent an inordinate amount of time re- establishing the drinkability of water, the breathability of air, the firmness of the ground, and so on, did not survive long to have descendents. It would appear that induction is an evolutionary necessity, even if there is no rational justification for it.
2. Occam's Razor: We assume the simplest explanation is the best. We invoke this all the time, as though there were some reason to believe it. But this is not always the case. Circles are simpler than ellipses, but planetary orbits are ellipses. Newtonian physics is simpler than Einsteinian physics, but it appears that Einsteinian physics is correct.
That is what is wrong with those number sequence problems where you are given several numbers and asked what the next number should be. Consider the sequence 1, 4, 7, 11, 15, ... What is the next number? Is it 20? Or is it 18? Or is it something else entirely? One can justify almost any answer with some rule or other. But what a problem like this is asking for is the simplest rule.
(Of course, it also assumes induction is valid, in the sense that it assumes the rest of the sequence follows the same rule as the part given. If the sequence is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ..., we assume the rule is that the n-th entry is n. We do not consider a rule such as "the first 5 entries have the n-th entry equal to n, but every entry after that is 0" to be a reasonable answer.)
But again the answer may be evolutionary. If there are several possible explanations for something, the simplest explanation that is not obviously false is the one worth choosing, because it takes less resources to remember it and to use it.
3. The Existence of Other Minds: We assume other people have minds. Each of us knows she has a mind, because of Descartes' famous proof ("Cogito ergo sum"). But we have no proof that other minds exist. We just believe they do. (At least most people do; there seem to be very few solipsists these days.)
4. The Validity of Sensory Evidence: We assume that, within a small range for error, our senses transmit true information about the external world. If we see a bridge across a river, we step onto it without wondering if it is just an illusion.
5. Free Will: We assume we have free will. That is, we make decisions. As John Searle said, even supposed determinists do not, when presented with a restaurant menu, say, "Oh, I think I will just wait and see what turns up." A determinist might say that all that he does is fore-ordained, but he will still admit that when he takes a second cup of coffee, he feels as though he could have decided not to. (A philosopher once related lecturing on free will, and having someone ask him, "If determinism could be proved to be true, would you accept it?" The philosopher pointed out that the very phrasing of the question implied a belief in free will.)
6. Personal Identity: We assume we are the same person throughout our lives. Oh, we learn some things, forget others, change our opinions on some issues, but we believe there is a continuity to our identity. But why? All the molecules in our body get changed every seven years, but that does not make us a new person, so we must think identity is in the mind. (And indeed, if you ask people what would happen if science could swap the brains of two people, most would say that identity follows the brain. But it is not consciousness that forms the identity, because when you woke up this morning, you believed you were the same person as the one who went to sleep last night. Even if a person is unconscious from an accident, we believe his identity remains. But even if a person suffers from "total" amnesia, we feel they are the same person.
But it's even more complicated than that. A friend was talking about misunderstandings about the Singularity, and said that one was the idea that uploading one's personality/memory/identity is the answer is just wrong. As he said, "Just because some computer thinks it is me does not make the prospect of my death more appealing." Or for that matter, cloning: "Just because other body has been brainwashed to think it is me does not make the prospect of my death more appealing."
7. Causality: We assume that events have causes. If we see a leaf fall, we assume that something caused that leaf to come off a tree, and that gravity causes it to fall. We do not think that it was instantly created falling to earth. For that matter, we said that gravity caused it to fall, but we really have no idea what gravity is. We observe that bodies attract; we call this attraction gravity, and say that gravity causes bodies to attract. This is no explanation at all. [-ecl]
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The new "Apes" film is not into intelligent or even credible social comment but rather the digital spectacle of a battle between humans and apes. Human dominance of apes turns into violent rebellion when ape intelligence becomes widespread. The digital art for the apes' faces is, if anything, too expressive. But the film has a hackneyed "the-bad-guys-are-us" plot on which to hang some interesting special effects. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Back from 1968 to 1973 Fox Film did very nicely with their five- film series based on THE PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle. In addition to the films, there was a live-action and an animated TV series based on the films. After that, the series fell silent until 2001 when Tim Burton did his take on adapting the original novel to the screen. Now Rupert Wyatt directs for the screen a new film, ostensibly another chapter in the original series, though it is really inconsistent with the series and is more as a new millennium tribute to the old series.
Will Rodman (played by James Franco) does research for a large pharmaceutical firm working on a failing project that is looking for a possible cure for Alzheimer's. He is using a drug he is developing on a chimpanzee. His drug has the unexpected side- effect of raising the IQ of the subject. This drug also turns a female chimpanzee savage and she is killed. Franco discovers that she had been pregnant and had a baby chimp. From guilt he agrees to adopt the baby chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis with motion capture). He discovers that Caesar inherited his mother's high intelligence. So while Rodman studies the possible intelligence drug, Caesar develops with the mind of an ape and of a human. The young ape has the intellect of a human, but is treated like an animal. As a result he develops a hatred for human society that gets him in trouble but also puts him in contact with other discontented apes. There is no mystery where all this is going. One merely has to see the title of the film to know the destination of the plot. The interest value is in the route it will take.
There are some notable problems. The film takes place in and around San Francisco but was shot in large part in British Columbia. Somebody should have noticed the radio mentions Tim Horton (the Canadian equivalent of Dunkin Doughnuts). There are some basic problems in the shooting and the script. At one point we are told in a title card that five years have gone by and Caesar looks older yet Franco looks exactly the same. His character Rodman does not know the difference between a monkey and an ape. He is working very closely with a chimp and yet does not know the chimp is pregnant. Later somehow Caesar finds more apes in the San Francisco area than I would have thought possible.
Although there are two good veteran actors, Brian Cox does not have much chance to make his character interesting and John Lithgow has only little more depth in his character, though his character is a little reminiscent of Charley Gordon from FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
The original PLANET OF THE APES was a big step forward in fantasy makeup. Rather than looking like a stiff mask like the faces of gorilla suits in the 1940s, the new makeup let the actor actually show some human expression. In the new film the visual effect of the apes is, if anything, too good. Caesar's face is not only expressive, it goes all the way to hammy and in a style that would have been welcome in silent films. And the face is more detailed than the rest of the ape's body giving a bizarre feeling. The face also is closer to human-complected than that of a real chimp. The facial expression is provided via motion-capture by Andy Serkis. Serkis performed a similar function as the title character of KING KONG (2005) as well as Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. By now he must be the most experienced motion caption actor in the film industry.
The script has whimsically worked in several allusions to the original film. The names Caesar and Cornelia (like Cornelius) show up. An orangutan is named Maurice for actor Maurice Evans. A drug project head is named Jacobs for Arthur Jacobs, producer of the original film.
Patrick Doyle delivers an effective score without making it reminiscent of his score for MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
The idea of another venture into the "Planet of the Apes" with digital effects did not sound promising, particularly after the 2001 Tim Burton remake fiasco. In spite--or perhaps because of-- that one cannot help but feel the virtues of this film outweigh the problems. I rate RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Two notes: 1) Sit through the credits. A very important point about the plot occurs during the closing credits. 2) I rarely get a chance to use my mathematical knowledge in a film review, but nineteen is a very unlikely number of steps in the Four Disk Towers of Hanoi puzzle. The solution comes down to remembering and practicing two simple rules. They determine every move. Caesar would have to follow the two rules for almost the entire solution and still deviate from them in minor ways once or twice. If one knows the solution it should take only fifteen steps, and if not it would probably take a good deal more than nineteen steps.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rise_of_the_planet_of_the_apes/
[-mrl] =================================================================== TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book and film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper) THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY by Alexander McCall Smith (ISBN 978-0-307-37839-2) is the twelfth book in the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series. McCall Smith has moved away from mysteries and detection, and into more philosophizing (and preaching). All the crises work out conveniently (although the election results seem left for the next book). As many others have noted, the children that Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni had adopted seem to have disappeared, to the extent that they never have any effect on Mma Ramotswe's schedule. I wish McCall Smith would return to the detection aspect that began this series. We recently watched WAR OF THE WORLDS for the umpteenth time, and I noticed yet more new things. For example, the scene of the Martian war machine coming down the street at about 33 minutes into the film is the same scene as the one at the end when the ship crashes. That is, it was shot as a single scene, and then cut so the first half was used in the early scene and the rest at the end. There are scenes in the middle of the film of animals fleeing in terror: wild horses, deer, and birds. But in the horse scene you can see wranglers along the ridge driving the horse down the side of the hill. At the end, all of the Martian war machines in Los Angeles go silent at the same instant--a very unlikely scenario. And while there are a few Hispanic characters, there is only one Asian (other than visiting dignitaries) and no African-Americans. This hardly reflects the composition of Los Angeles at the time. [-ecl] =================================================================== Mark Leeper email@example.com It is always the best policy to speak the truth-- unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar. --Jerome K. Jerome
This Week's Reading (book and film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY by Alexander McCall Smith (ISBN 978-0-307-37839-2) is the twelfth book in the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series. McCall Smith has moved away from mysteries and detection, and into more philosophizing (and preaching). All the crises work out conveniently (although the election results seem left for the next book). As many others have noted, the children that Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni had adopted seem to have disappeared, to the extent that they never have any effect on Mma Ramotswe's schedule. I wish McCall Smith would return to the detection aspect that began this series.
We recently watched WAR OF THE WORLDS for the umpteenth time, and I noticed yet more new things. For example, the scene of the Martian war machine coming down the street at about 33 minutes into the film is the same scene as the one at the end when the ship crashes. That is, it was shot as a single scene, and then cut so the first half was used in the early scene and the rest at the end.
There are scenes in the middle of the film of animals fleeing in terror: wild horses, deer, and birds. But in the horse scene you can see wranglers along the ridge driving the horse down the side of the hill.
At the end, all of the Martian war machines in Los Angeles go silent at the same instant--a very unlikely scenario.
And while there are a few Hispanic characters, there is only one Asian (other than visiting dignitaries) and no African-Americans. This hardly reflects the composition of Los Angeles at the time. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is always the best policy to speak the truth-- unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar. --Jerome K. JeromeTweet
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