MT VOID 10/28/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 18, Whole Number 1673

MT VOID 10/28/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 18, Whole Number 1673


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/28/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 18, Whole Number 1673

Table of Contents

      Heckle: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net Jekyll: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/ All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

The Victorian Hugos:

On IO9, Jess Nevins says he will be "reviewing science fiction and fantasy works from 1885 to 1930 and deciding which novels and short works would have received the Hugo had a Worldcon been held that year and which novels and short works should have received the Hugo--often not the same thing."

See the first installment at: . http://io9.com/5851505/the-victorian-hugos-1885.

[-ecl]


COSMIC VOYAGE (comments by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper):

The Russian film KOSMICHESKIY REYS (1935)--called in English either COSMIC VOYAGE or SPACE VOYAGE--is a film about a trip to the moon by rocket ship. It has some very good model work and even some stop-motion for exterior scenes on the moon. Also impressive are some massive vistas of buildings and people reminiscent of the later THINGS TO COME (1936). Production was started in 1932 and the film was not released until 1935 or 1936. In spite of the fact that it was made after sound was introduced, it was done as a silent film with music from different pieces of classical music. Sadly, the inter-titles are in the Russian language, but most of the film can still be followed. COSMIC VOYAGE is sort of a Soviet response to Germany's FRAU IM MOND (1929). I was unaware the film was available anywhere in this country, but never underestimate the power of YouTube.

You can read about the film at http://tinyurl.com/void-cosmic-desc

The complete film has been available on YouTube, but that has disappeared. Currently you can find it at http://xitv.ru/10940-kosmicheskiy_reys.html.

WARNING: This page has ads that are NSFW (Not Safe for Work) and which play obnoxious sound as well. Adblock seems to solve both problems. Or you can get rid of the obnoxious fight sounds by killing the sound altogether since it is a silent film and there is no authentic original score.

Enjoy. [-mrl/ecl]


The Numbers Shortage (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I understand that those who use the Internet, and that is just about everybody, are running out of IP addresses. An IP address is sort of the phone number of your terminal or other device. Actually an IP address is a number. We live in a world of shortages. There are energy shortages, money shortages, talent shortages, teacher shortages, and the list goes on and on. I have always said there is one thing that there are no shortages of it is numbers. God, the universe, or whoever the "powers that be" are gave us more numbers than we could ever need. If there is a shortage of numbers it is the work of human bunglers. The vast majority of numbers have never even been conceived by the mind of us humans. [-mrl]


My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for November (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

It is time for my monthly column on which films coming up on Turner Classic Movies do I think I can recommend. Making these choices each month is not always easy. I have seen a lot of films so the probability that I will be able to find films that 1) I have seen, 2) I think are good, 3) I have not covered previously, and 4) most readers will not know. I could recommend something like SLEEPER, which is playing this month, but I think too many readers do know this Woody Allen comedy. Since I started this monthly report I have been able to find each month enough films to write about to make a reasonable sized column, but in part because TCM does tend to rerun films of interest multiple times, perhaps just a few months apart, there are fewer exciting films I have not written about in previous columns. This month I am having trouble finding enough films that are good, new, and obscure. I will cheat a bit on obscurity. Probably people will know of these films, but they come the closest to being good candidates. Sadly, all three are rather downbeat films, shot in glorious black-and-white.

The first film Turner lists for this month is getting off to a good start. DETOUR (1945) is often considered one of the best B-movies ever made. It is directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, who previously had directed one of Universal's best horror films, THE BLACK CAT (1934). The story is at the same time contrived and compelling. A piano player hitchhiking across the United States gets pulled into an inevitable chain of events in which he ends up accidentally killing someone in a way that makes it appear to be murder. The conclusion the film draws is that if Fate has decided you are going to be unlucky, there is not much you can do to avoid it. Fate wins. You lose. That is probably true, but Fate is not usually so bizarre in the way it traps us. The film was shot imaginatively on a very tiny budget as much of Ulmer's work is. There are only seven actors in the entire film. It was shot in six days, and runs a fast 68 minutes. Some scenes are shot in rather obvious rear projection. But DETOUR has what it takes to make itself memorable and has become a cult classic. (Tuesday, November 1, 6:00 AM)

If you are at all interested in ghost stories on film, you probably already know THE INNOCENTS (1963). I would say that it together with THE UNINVITED and THE HAUNTING comprise the three best ghost stories on film. If I were to make it four I would add THE CHANGELING. (One might consider THE SHINING and THE ORPHANAGE, but I guess I would rule out POLTERGEIST because, of course, the title is not of the form "THE {spooky noun}".) Director Jack Clayton is probably best known for this film, though he also directed a very good film version of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. The screenplay is Truman Capote, based on Henry James's novel A TURN OF THE SCREW. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, a repressed governess put in charge of two children who at first look angelic and slowly turn more sinister, at least in appearance. Are they coming under the influence of two ghosts or is Miss Giddens's imagination just running wild? This film was also the film debut of Pamela Franklin who was featured in films as THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and the excellent THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. A ghost story is probably more effective if shot in black and white. But few create a mood as dark as cinematographer Freddie Francis created with the old mansion seeming built out of shadow. If you like horror and particularly ghost stories, I would say THE INNOCENTS us what TCM calls "an essential." (Sunday, November 6, 10:00 AM)

Another dark black-and-white film is Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY. This is my personal favorite among Kubrick's film. It is a film usually interpreted to be anti-war but I think that it is not really anti-war so much as it is anti-military. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, a commanding officer in the French Army in World War I. His commander is tired of not looking good in reports and orders an impossible attack knowing that it will gain little and will kill most of his men. Douglas is ordered to execute the attack. When some of the men refuse to cooperate in the face of enemy machine guns the attack fails. The upper command insists that the men were cowards and deserve to be punished. Dax--a lawyer in private life--is chosen to defend the men. The film is very effective and the final sequence--at first enigmatic--becomes the most powerful scene in the film. The dialog by crime novelist Jim Thompson just sizzles. (Monday, Novermber 21, 3:00 PM)

The best of these films is PATHS OF GLORY. [-mrl]


MONEYBALL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Brad Pitt plays the general manager of the cash-strapped Oakland As who ignores his scouts and turns to the recommendations of an inexperienced statistician to hire a winning team. In spite of strong opposition the statistical approach proves to be a phenomenal success for the team. Jonah Hill plays the odd mathematician and Philip Seymour Hoffman is very good as an uncooperative manager with fears of his own. Bennett Miller of CAPOTE direct Steven Zaillian's and Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Michael Lewis's book MONEYBALL: THE ART OF WINNING AN UNFAIR GAME. There are lots of films about baseball and only a handful of films about mathematics--even fewer showing mathematics in a favorable light. It is surprising to get such an entertaining film that combines both. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Our world is awash in numbers. We collect and can have available all kinds of statistics. What is difficult is collecting and understanding all the numbers, learning lessons from them, and then deciding if the lessons can be trusted. I read a review of the book SUPER CRUNCHERS by Ian Ayers. It told how Orley Ashenfelter used a statistical approach called regression analysis to predict the quality of certain wines. He determined that he could collect three numbers: average growing season temperature, winter rainfall, and harvest rainfall, and from them simply generating a number that would be expected quality of wines. There are wine experts who use very subjective approaches and a great deal of experience to predict wine quality. They laughed at Ashenfelter's simplistic approach. But a simple mathematical formula turned out to be a better predictor than trusted experts with years of experience at predicting wine quality.

If that story sounds oddly familiar, it is almost exactly what happened when Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team realized he did not have the budget to hire new and promising players or even to hold on to the better players whom he already had. Instead he hired Paul DePodesta who was a Harvard graduate who applied statistics to hiring a team. In MONEYBALL Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) hires Yale graduate Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill with a name change from DePodesta) to pick unrecognized candidates. And the story of MONEYBALL is very much like what played out with the wine predictions.

The scouts were paid well for their gut reactions of who would and would not be good players for the team to hire. They criticize the new statistical approach to selecting new players. And initially that approach does not work at all. The problem, however, is not in the statistics but in the lack of faith in the mathematics by the manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who unexpectedly seems like he was made for the grouchy role). The statistical approach to baseball (elsewhere the approach has been named "sabermetrics") makes everyone feel a little insecure, and they resist it. When Beane seems more interested in Brand's assessment than that of his scouts, one can see why they are insecure. But even Hoffman's Howe finds his career riding on Beane and Brand's radical ideas. And what happens is the story of MONEYBALL.

One arguably bad touch is the use of relatively short and stocky Jonah Hill for the statistician. Apparently director Bennett Miller was exploiting a stereotype of what the public expected a statistician would look like. In fact, the real Paul DePodesta resembles Guy Pearce and is quite unlike Jonah Hill. Admittedly Pitt and Hill do play reasonably well off each other as opposites, but the pairing is cinema, not reality. There is some drama to Hill's portrayal of a man who loves a game that he is clearly not physically suited to play. Unlikely as it seems the man still manages through mathematical skills to make himself an important figure in baseball history. It is nice to see Robin Wright in a small role as Beane's ex-wife. Pitt gives a solid performance. Miller seems to have a natural directing style if a little uneven at times. He will occasionally have realistic overlapping dialog, but does not use it uniformly.

MONEYBALL is a true story about a cash-strapped baseball team that was able to intelligently become a winning team on limited resources. Maybe that makes it a perfect film for these times of failing economy. I rate MONEYBALL a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210166/

What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/moneyball/

[-mrl]


SEEING FURTHER: THE STORY OF SCIENCE, DISCOVERY, & THE GENIUS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY edited By Bill Bryson (book review by Gregory Frederick):

I finished SEEING FURTHER, a relatively new book about the 350-year history of the Royal Society of London. It is a collection of essays from twenty-two writers about the Royal Society's history and some of its members most important developments. Many of the world's most famous scientists and engineers were members of the Royal Society. The list includes Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Humphry Davy, John Locke, James Watt, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, and Stephen Hawking. It was always an international Society which did not care if you were well educated, titled, and/or wealthy even from its beginnings in the mid 1600's. Antoni Leeuwenhoek submitted some two hundred papers to the Society about his findings in the newly discovered world of the microscope. Leeuwenhoek was a retired Dutch linen draper who was without title, and formal education.

Scientific accomplishments were the most important aspect of a member's dealings with the Society. Even politics was not too important to the Society. Ben Franklin was still an esteemed member when he was speaking out against Britain during the Revolutionary War. Humphry Davy (an Englishman) could travel freely across Europe during the Napoleonic Wars due to a letter he carried with him from Napoleon. The French Societe Philomathique (France's own version of the Royal Society) had arranged for this special letter of dispensation.

There are many interesting stories about the contributions from individuals of the Society some of whom most people have never even heard of. One example is the contribution of Thomas Bayes. He was a member of the Society and his full-time profession was that of a preacher but he was also a brilliant mathematician. He created Bayes Theorem, which was not very useful in his lifetime during the early 1700's. But today with super-computers his theorem is used routinely to model climate change, weather forecasting, stock market analysis, astrophysics, and radiocarbon dating. It is a way of statistically predicting something based on partial information. Bayes himself did not think much of this theorem so he did not publish it but members of the Society saved it and many other articles and items from their 350-year history and it turns out this theorem is very important to us today. There are many other stories about evolution, engineering, material science, and crystallography. This is a great book if one wishes to explore the beginnings of science.

My next book just arrived; it's EINSTEIN'S HEROES by Robyn Arianrhod and is about scientists who inspired Einstein. [-gf]


IMAGINE IT! (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a 52-minute high-spirited film, a motivational pep talk, intended to excite a mostly youthful audience in the thrill of science and innovation. It also asks its adult audience how we stimulate young people and seed them with a passion for math and science. The world is providing the problems; we need the next generation to find the creative solutions. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Among my earliest memories was running around the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were all kinds of buttons to press and colorful exhibits to see. Generally I made myself the world's most pestiferous two-year old. I always had fond memories of the museum and the excitement of science. I returned to that museum considerably older and found the spirit had changed. It was not so much about the wonders of science any more. Now it was about the damage being done to the wetlands and how to conserve energy and the effects of pollution. I am sure later they also had exhibits on global warming. In short the tone had gone from seduction to sermon. Of course the sermon was about very real concerns. And this was by no means the only science museum to have this shift in tone. Science at it was represented became uncool and a bore and dangerous and above all depressing. But a generation or so was lost to science.

A new up-beat motivational film called IMAGINE IT! by Rudy Poe and Richard Tavener is running counter to that trend, trying to make science and creativity exciting again. This is a high-octane 52- minute challenge for young people to use their brains and their imagination to come up with ideas to change the world. It is one long, fast-paced ad for imagination and creativity attended by some of the great luminaries of our world. Presenting their ideas are people like astronaut Sally Ride, visionary Ray Kurzweil, and Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering.

Entrepreneur Peter Diamandis talks about the multi-million-dollar X Prizes he founded to be awarded for certain engineering goals like building and flying a vehicle that can carry three passengers into space. Even multi-million-dollar prizes are a small price to pay to foster inventions that can change the world. The film is on shakier ground when it suggests that the Blue Man Group, creative as these entertainers are, are really a big part of the same innovation movement that is needed to solve engineering and environmental problems.

The message is that we need new ideas to avert or solve the problems of today and to invent a better future. As one luminary puts it "we are in a race with catastrophe and catastrophe is winning." The film suggests ways that the rest of us can at least promote creativity.

The pace of the film is at the same time fast and slow. The editing is appropriate for a music video with rapid cuts and speed- up-slow-down photography. But the message is repetitive. It is really just "Hey, kids, go out there and innovate." "Science is art and art is science." "Asking questions is more important than answering them."

Hosting, with a t-shirt that says "+>-", is comedian Iliza Shlesinger, whose exaggerated facial expressions are cute fun at first but wear out their welcome well before the 52-minute film is over.

Youngsters may leave the film wondering why the film tells them to innovate but not how to how to be innovative. Of course, that would defeat the whole purpose. Will this film have its intended effect? Will it inspire young people to be more creative and to be excited about mathematics and science? Will it attract the best minds to the most pressing problems? We will know better in the next 20 years. Not all of this film works for me, but then I am not the intended audience. I rate IMAGINE IT! a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. We can all hope its message gets across and that IMAGINE IT! becomes an important influence. IMAGINE IT! was released on DVD on October 25 and is also available for digital download.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1525382/

[-mrl]


Mark Twain's Autobiography (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Keith F. Lynch):

I've been slowly going through the first volume of the new edition of the autobiography. It's slow because the book's as big as two bricks. I have older versions of the work that I have done much better with. There's one on my Reader, and a paperback in my pack (which I took out and read while waiting at the Genius Bar, 'cuz I'm a Luddite). No doubt I'll end up reading some parts twice, but it's certainly enjoyable reading--having Mark Twain talking to me without the intercession of a plot to slow things down.

I'll get serious and finish the large book through a device that often works wonders: I'll put it in the bathroom. It will have to wait until I'm done with a Max Shulman anthology of campus humor (mostly) from the 1940s and 50s, as far as I can tell. Nothing carries a date, possibly to make it all seem more current. [-kw]

Keith F. Lynch responds:

What older versions? I thought it had only just been published, as per his wishes that it not be published until a hundred years after his death. [-kfl]


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

SO MANY BOOKS: READING AND PUBLISHING IN AN AGE OF ABUNDANCE by Gabriel Zaid (ISBN 978-1-58988-003-X) was written in 2003 in Mexico City. The latter leads to some ambiguity: when Zaid says that one can finance any book if 3000 readers are willing to pay six hours' minimum-wage salary, one wonders if that is United States minimum wage or Mexico minimum wage.

"Today it is easier to acquire treasures than it is to give them the time they deserve."

In his chapter "The End of the Book", Zaid gives his reasons why books will not be replaced by films, television, audiobooks, or even e-books:

Given the state of things in 2003, it is not surprising that most of these reasons are in contrast to films, television, audiobooks. Regarding the e-books, Zaid writes, "There is no advantage to reading novels on a screen that is barely portable and displays text of minimal contrast and primitive typography." He also says, "In practice, for rapid consultations it may be more work to get the disc, bring it to the machine (if it is not being used by someone else), and turn the machine on or switch from one program to another than to pick up the printed volume and consult it directly."

Well, clearly the mode of operation of e-books has changed in eight years. The screen of an e-reader is portable, contrast is reasonable, typography is much improved, and one does not carry discs around. However, one thing he did not mention that just occurred to me is that an e-reader does not allow you to have multiple books open in front of you at once: to compare translations, for example, or to look up further information on some statement made in one book in others.

He does, however, mention some drawbacks that are basically still true: "On the most basic level, there is no need to have a machine running in front of you, with the text up on a screen. This practical advantage, and many others (portability, the lesser likelihood of theft, the impossibility of lending a book to a friend without the proper reading device, author's rights), tend to be ignored in futuristic fantasies, but they influence the decisions readers make." [-ecl]



                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net


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