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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/18/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 21, Whole Number 1676
Table of Contents
More Number Fun related to 11/11/11:
Andre Kuzniarek sends the following URL (to wolfram.com) with number fun for last week's notable date:
Caveat (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Brian Greene has a program on PBS called "The Fabric of the Universe." He keeps saying that there are ideas out there that are hard to get your head around. I am not sure I like that wording. There are many things I do not *want* to get my head around. Foremost among them is a baseball bat. [-mrl]
Answers to Last Week's Puzzle (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Answers to last week's puzzle:
Last week I gave two decimal patterns and asked for what are they
represented as fractions in lowest terms. The answers are:
1) 37/3003 = .0123210123210123210.
2) 109/89911 = .012 123 234 345 456 567 678 789 ..
The best explanation of technique came from Dan Cox:
0.012321012321012321... = what fraction?
Let x = 0.012321012321... Then 1,000,000 x = 12321.012321012321... and 999,999 x = 12321
Both sides divide by 111.
An easy test for divisibility by 111 is to add the 3-digit groups of the number (counting from the right), and if the result is divisible by 111 then the original number is divisible by 111. In this case, 012 + 321 = 333, which is divisible by 111.
9009 x = 111
Both sides divide by 3
3003 x = 37
3003 does not divide by 37
The same test works for divisibility by 37. In this case, 003 + 003 = 006, which is not divisible by 37.
So, in lowest terms,
x = 37/3003 = 0.012321012321...
And the problem is solvable with no computation harder than 12321/111.
The divisibility tests used here work because 37 and 111 are factors of 999, which is 1000 - 1. It is the base 1000 equivalent of adding a number's digits to see if the number is divisible by 3 or 9.
0.012 123 234 345 456 567 678 789 ... = what fraction?
Let x = 0.012 123 234 345 456 567 678 789 ...
Then 1000 x = 12.123 234 345 456 567 678 789 ...
And 1000x - x = 12.111 111 111 111 111 111 111 ...
999x = 12+1/9 999x = 109/9 9 * 999x = 109 8991x = 109 x = 109/8991
Now 8991 = 9 * 999 = 81 * 111 = 243 * 37 = 3^5 * 37
Neither 3 nor 37 divide into 109, so the fraction is in lowest terms.
It's not a coincidence that 243 is a factor of 8991, the denominator in the fraction that represents this decimal, given that this train of thought started with 1/243 = 0.004 115 226 337 448 559 ... and both decimals have the same "sets of 3 digits increase by 111" pattern.
Other people who had solutions were David Shallcross, Peter Rubinstein, and Andre Kuzniarek. The latter did not really solve the problem so much as handed it off to Wolfram which will do automatic conversion of decimals to fractions.
Special kudos to those who derived the answer for themselves. [-mrl]
Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have now watched Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS four or five times and I think I respect it more each time I see it. Initially I rated it low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10. I don't like Tom Cruise as the blue-collar hero who is smarter than everyone else. That reminds me too much of Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's THE THING. But I do think that Spielberg created more of a feeling of immediacy in the action. Besides being so smart, Tom Cruise is just a typical flawed Joe caught in the invasion. He is not a star scientist as Pal made him. Spielberg manages to make the action more immediate and realistic-feeling than any other version. There are interesting details like when the tripod opens at the end you don't just see an alien arm. Apparently the aliens have rotted and have liquefied and all that liquid dumps. Earlier, unable to shut up Robbins, Cruise is forced to murder him as a matter of pure survival. Putting that in the film was taking a risk. And the design of the tripods is also impressive. I would rather consider it a tribute to the Wells than an adaptation, but it is a fairly strong alien invasion film. [-mrl]
The Anti-Psychic Friends Network (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Some of my closest friends are looking at me a little strangely these days. I am behaving in a way they do not approve of and they probably did not expect of me. Longtime readers of the MT VOID know that I frequently poke fun at people who claim to have psychic powers. In particular I am extremely skeptical and not very polite to people who claim that they can see the future. This just does not fit into my view of the physical universe. I think it is very unlikely that we will ever be able to send useful information backward in time. If you could then you would have time paradoxes arise. The "Grandfather Paradox" is the most familiar of these. (See Wikipedia if you are not sure what that is.) If sending information backward in time you could get messages from the future telling you to take some action that would make that future impossible. So then does that future actually happen or not? So it seems unlikely to me that the physical universe allows information to go backward in time. And that really is what happens with psychic messages.
Frequently in the MT VOID I poke fun at psychics, especially the old "Psychic Friends Network" on cable. They went bankrupt in 1998 due to bad business decisions and a lack of foresight. Similarly there was a self-proclaimed psychic in my town who put up a big illuminated sign on a pole advertising her supernatural services. It bothered me like a sore tooth that she was so brazenly making money off of people's ignorance. Then we had a bad windstorm and it blew right through her sign. It was an expensive sign. A couple of pieces of cheap plywood would have saved it. But the self-proclaimed psychic just did not see bad weather coming. It became a big visible sign that this psychic had real problems seeing the future. My feeling is that all professional psychics are frauds. Further I guess I believe deep down that all psychics, professional or not, are either frauds or self-deluded.
Years ago one of my relatives told me that my grandmother had been psychic. If I remember right the story was that she saw John Kennedy on television shortly before the Dallas trip and said, "My God. There's death in his eyes." I nodded when I was told this and did not let on that I really thought it was another case of self-delusion. You get into paradoxes right out of Philip K. Dick if you start thinking about what if she had been able to convince someone to cancel Kennedy's Dallas trip. Until recently I had not thought of this for years.
I have another relative who I rarely see--maybe about once a decade. He is a fairly accomplished professional. I just saw him recently with some time to talk to him. He told me that he had inherited my grandmother's psychic powers. This was the first I knew that any living member of my family claimed to have such abilities. I was puzzled and thought that maybe he was a little more of a kook than would have thought. He told me that it is not often, but he gets visual premonitions of major events before they happen. It is like seeing a short video in his mind. He generally just tells a few close family members and other people he sees frequently. Now I supposed he could be lying and trying to fool me, but my feeling is that that is unlikely. In any case if his premonition seems to be a true prediction more than coincidence it either happens or it does not. I don't see how he could be lying in any manner that would not be obvious.
Now I have a quirk of my own. When some people discover that other people have a very different worldview they take offense to varying degrees. To me there is little in life as exciting. I asked my relative to e-mail me describing the premonitions when he has one. I guess deep down I expected that I would be able to explain what he was experiencing some logical way. That prospect seemed intriguing to me. And even more exciting is the possibility that I might find out something completely inconsistent with my worldview. So things stood for a few days.
On Wednesday, October 19th, I got a message from my relative.
"Building collapse. Brick facades will fall away and people in the openings, confused, will evacuate just before structural collapse. It may be in a big city, multiple stories. I get the premonitions as a small moving image of about 3-5 seconds and have to figure out what I have seen. It usually takes place within 3 weeks. Some happen the next day, others the same week, but most by the third week."
"Next day" or "three weeks" is a fair leeway. That argues that it could be a probabilistic trick. Two questions are germane. Does an event occur that could match his description? How often do events occur that fit that description?
On Sunday, October 23, Evelyn asked me did I think the earthquake in Turkey was what my relative has seen. The quake just hit the news hours before. It was not in the news that morning or I would have seen it. That was four days after I had gotten the description. As Evelyn pointed out we were in Turkey years ago and really did not see any brick facades. Google Images does show some. There are stone facades that could look similar. It could be beyond coincidence.
I realized that the prediction lost all its statistical value as soon as a possible fulfillment occurred. For all you know, reader, I might be lying about the above. I could have concocted this story after the quake. I am not lying, but I do not ask anyone to take my word for that. And I am still doing my best to prove that nothing unexplainable has happened. The value of any evidence against my worldview dies with age. That is how it would be with so-called premonitions. Given time they are at best "monitions."
Realizing this, I sent mail to a small number of friends asking them when/if I get another premonition report if they would be witnesses just that the premonition has been reported. Witnesses are the only way I know to get a grip on evidence. In return one tried to send me where I could read about tricks that fraudulent psychics use. (Actually I wrote an older VOID editorial telling just how fraudster psychics operate.) Another believes that this data point is not statistically significant. I will say that there was one event that sort of fulfills the prediction and it was four days after I was told. In the interval of time after that I have not seen another prominent news story of an event occurring that seems to fit the description. My self-claimed psychic relative seems to me to have had to have been quite lucky if he was only playing the odds. But I am glad to get the assistance of others who are skeptical. I now have a small handful of people whom I have asked to watch for disaster reports that are prominent in the news. Personally I am fence sitting. I hope that we either get a reasonable, logical explanation for what is happening consistent with my worldview or that we get statistical evidence that something beyond coincidence is happening that does not square with my worldview. One or the other will be of solid interest.
And that is how things stand. If anything interesting happens I will report it. [-mrl]
[Postscript: there was a second earthquake, again in Turkey on November 9. This was the first time after October 23 that I saw in the news an event that arguably matches the prediction. That is 17 days later. This is a much smaller quake. -mrl]
TREE OF LIFE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Mystical and yet holding a solid drama, TREE OF LIFE is the chronicle of a 1950s family living near Waco, Texas, placed in a context of all life going back to the creation of the world and later the age of the dinosaurs all to the tune of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde". What appear to be hundreds of apparently random inconsequential shots, presented in almost stream of consciousness; of the texture of everyday family life eventually add up to a plot both sentimental and bitter. A father, played by Brad Pitt, transforms from loving to strict to abusive and leaves a deep mark on his two sons. Terrence Malick has a feel for the textures of life. At the same time he features some spectacularly beautiful nature photography. This film is visually beautiful but still not for all tastes. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4 scale) or 8/10
If this review seems cryptic and bizarre it is because so is the film reviewed.
It takes a remarkable filmmaker to take what appear to be little bits and pieces of reminiscence, place them in a continuum going back to formation of the Earth and forward to its destruction, season it with Bible quotes, and not have it seem at least a little pretentious. Even Terrence Malick (BADLANDS, DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE THIN RED LINE) is not quite that good, but at least he comes close. Yes, the film is pretentious. Jack O'Brien (played by Hunter McCracken as a boy and Sean Penn as a man) contemplating his past with a mind that wanders to the distant past and the far future. (There is some very nice dinosaur animation, by the way.)
Yes, it is a very strange film but, cutting Malick some slack for artistic license, his film is also compelling and hypnotic. Malick's images of a Waco, Texas, family are extremely naturalistic. His mixing of sound with the constant background of insect chirping together with the languorous pacing gives the audience a feel for the texture of the setting. To keep his audience's attention he uses unexpected camera angles and frequently sweeping camera moves.
There is something indefinable in Malick's writing that makes the scenes we see seem at once taken at random yet are believable as what someone like Jack might feel were key memories of his past. Through Jack's eyes we see his father slowly poison the relationship between him and Jack. The affectionate father of the very young Jack become a disciplinarian and when not stopped becomes an abusive tyrant. The film returns to slightly false notes extrapolating the relationship into some heaven-like future--heaven here has no clouds but appears a bunch the dear departed walking on a metaphysical beach. Malick just does not quite avoid the saccharine.
But for the scenes of pure fantasy the film feels like it is less the art of a storyteller and more the observations of a documentarian. He gives us not so much a plot as a chronicle of the life of an American family. Brad Pitt as the father of the family has come a long way in his acting ability. With THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, MONEYBALL, and TREE OF LIFE Pitt has become much more than a pretty face. The film also stars Sean Penn, but he does little more than stand around for his second- billing role. More active is Jessica Chastain as the mother of the family whose life philosophy expressed in an early voiceover is that we have two choices "the Way of Nature" and "the Way of Grace." After Malick's tribute to the beauty of nature, it is a little ironic that the Way of Nature is to have no self-discipline and give in to temptation and impulse. The Way of Grace--to be self-denying and moderate--is considered the better path. As Katherine Hepburn's Rose Sayer says in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, "Nature ... is what we were put on earth to rise above."
It is surprising that such a diffuse film works. But it is only because Malick remains so obscure that he avoids falling into the valley of pure hokum. What does the death of a brother really have to do with distant galaxies or dinosaurs? There are definitely parts of this film where it is recommended one just looks at the pretty pictures and not worry about what Malick is trying to say. But even then there are places where the images are awe-inspiring. One does not have to accept the metaphysical messages to appreciate the art of the film. Malick has crafted a film that is at once a beautiful work of art and a strong human drama. If he believes that after death we walk on pristine beaches, well, that is what suspension of disbelief is all about. After all, even an atheist can appreciate the beauty of Michelangelo's Pieta. In any case, I rate the film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0478304/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_tree_of_life_2011/
PROJECT NIM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: PROJECT NIM is a documentary about a scientific project that was intended to show how a chimpanzee raised has a human would become a communicating near-human. Instead the story turns decidedly Dickensian. It is the sad story of an animal whose fate is left in the hands of people--some well-meaning, some not so much--who are error-prone, unprepared for dealing with a chimpanzee, and often uncaring. It is also the story of the price that the chimpanzee pays. Nim Chimpsky was mishandled most of his life. Documentary footage and interviews recreate the life of Nim who was chosen to be a training subject in Columbia University's animal language acquisition program. It is a moving lament for the treatment of animals at the hands of humans. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Much of what this film is about is how human society treats mature and aging chimpanzees and inconvenient animals in general. When you see a cute chimpanzee in a film or on TV, you should be aware that that is probably a very young animal. Young chimps are cooperative, inquisitive, and cute. As chimps grow up, nature takes over much of their temperament. They become independent, subject to rages, often violent for reasons that will not necessarily be evident to humans. And when they become angry they will be dangerous. There is a lot of muscle in a mature chimpanzee--enough to make one six times as strong as a man. A chimp will live to be as old as fifty, but their cuteness deserts them by about age ten. Then they can be put in a sanctuary that may or may not work out and may or may not have the animal's best interests at heart. All too frequently mature chimpanzees are used for medical research, frequently under terrible conditions.
Project Washoe had previously been a reasonably successful attempt to teach the female chimpanzee Washoe to use sign language and to communicate with humans. The University of Nevada sponsored it. In an attempt to repeat the attempt and carry it further a human family adopted a very young baby chimpanzee intending to raise it as a member of the family. Significantly they chose a male, who was more likely to turn aggressive than a female. It was the first of many bad calculations for which the chimp, named Nim Chimpsky, would pay the price later in his life. We first see Nim in the arms of his mother unaware that these are their last moments together. The mother knows because six of Nim's previous siblings had been taken away. Nim was taken to a project that was almost completely unprepared for a relationship with a chimp.
We see from footage taken to document the project how Nim was raised. Cute gives way to larger, stronger, and often violent. Nim does learn language at first and seems intelligent, but at the same time unmanageable. Unlike a dog that looks for his place in a pecking order and then resigns himself to staying at that level, chimps are more confrontational trying to raise higher in the ladder. Nim unexpectedly attacks people, sometimes doing serious injury. Afterward Nim would frequently appear contrite. He would sign that he was sorry, but perhaps he interpreted the sign simply that this was merely the token of payment for his action. When Nim actually rips open the side of the face of one of the people caring for him the language experiment was terminated. The film then follows Nim's fate. He is repeatedly handed off to shelters, often dismal and inhumane. Eventually he is sold for medical research under barbaric conditions only to be rescued by Cleveland Amory's sanctuary for equine animals. He is the only chimpanzee and this proves to be just another lifestyle that does not fit him.
Throughout the film there are interviews with the people cared for him or experimented with him, piecing together the story of Nim's life. It was a life that was intended to advance science and instead just turned an animal's life into a living nightmare. This is a film that very rightly questions the value of animal research but even more the values of the animal researchers. I rate PROJECT NIM a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1814836/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/project_nim/
Words (letters of comment by Charles S. Harris, Gregory Benford, and Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on words in the 11/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Charles S. Harris writes:
Evelyn wrote, in her list of wonderful Spanish words that have no corresponding word in English:
2. Consuegro/-a: My child's spouse's father/mother. In Yiddish, the corresponding word is "mishpochah".
I think the corresponding word is actually "machatainista" (mother of your child's spouse) or for the father "machitin" (a term I've never heard spoken). "Mishpocha" is the whole extended family-- everyone you ought to invite to the next wedding. That includes the machatonim. (Your spellings may vary.)
Ooops! I knew that somewhere in the back of my brain, but had either a senior moment or a brain fart. [-ecl]
Gregory Benford writes:
On words that need to be in English, how about Weltschmerz from Deutsch, meaning world-pain or world-weariness?
I use it all the time ... also, gemutlich. But then I speak German from living three years in the Occupation long ago. [-gb]
I occasionally see the word Weltschmerz, and Wikipedia thinks it has been adopted into English, but I would say it is still used only by a small group of people (i.e., professional philosophers), hence not a true English word yet. Schadenfreude, on the other hand, is more widely used and is as English a word as doppelganger or angst. As James Nicoll said [can.general, March 21, 1992], "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house wh*re. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary." This is often seen as "English doesn't just borrow words from other languages; English follows other languages down dark alleys, thumps them over the head, and riffles though their pockets for new words," and attributed to all sorts of other people. [-ecl]
[I had to put the asterisk in the previous paragraph. There are some nanny-filters that would refuse to deliver the VOID if we had (gasp!) freedom of expression. -mrl]
And Tim Bateman writes:
"Concunado/-a: Either the spouse of one's spouse's sibling, or the sibling of one's sibling's spouse. The (non-)word "brother-in- law-in-law" would be the equivalent."
I am sure that the word "concunado" has come up before in the MT VOID--in the last year or three.
4. Friolero/-a: Someone who is always cold.
We do have a word in English for this one. It's "woman".
Yes, I mentioned "concunado" in my column in the 09/17/11 issue. [-ecl]
THE WINDS OF DUNE (letter of comment by Todd V. Ehrenfels):
In response to Joe Karpierz's review of THE WINDS OF DUNE in the 11/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Todd V. Ehrenfels writes:
While I agree that the book is particularly dreadful, the reviewer is mistaken in one regard: Bronso of Ix appears briefly in the original DUNE MESSIAH. The book opens with the interrogation of the captured Bronso of Ix, who is awaiting execution (said interview appears in the book THE WINDS OF DUNE as well to tie the two books together). Additionally, several of the chapter headings in both DUNE MESSIAH and CHILDREN OF DUNE contain passages from Bronso of Ix.
Other than that, Joe is spot on, and I would hazard that the attempt to make more money off of various franchises is the only thing that keeps Kevin J. Anderson employed. When the only complement that you can tender to an author is that his work is serviceable enough to be readable, that really does demonstrate that the poor fellow really doesn't have the imaginative chops to really be doing great science fiction. [-tve]
Regression Analysis and Cheap Ballplayers (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's response to his comments on regression analysis in baseball in the 11/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
You're correct that regression analysis could help to point out the value of the OBP statistic ... but the true value was that nobody saw the value of a good OBP at that time, therefore players with a good OBP were available for cheap. [-gwr]
THE STORY OF ONE HUNDRED GREAT COMPOSERS (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE STORY OF ONE HUNDRED GREAT COMPOSERS in the 11/11/11 issue of the MT VOID ("I'm just trying to envision a world in which people are so enamored of concert music that they would carry around this book the way some people carry around a Bible or New Testament"), Tim Bateman writes:
If only, Evelyn, if only.
I suspect that this book was part of the British Government's attempts to ensure that the world after the war was a better one than the world before the war. There was quite a lot of this sort of thing about--you may recall Spike Milligan's CSM advising him that an officer was going to give them a lecture on Keats. [-tb]
It's an interesting theory, but the book appears to be American, with no British antecedents. I assume "CSM" is Company Sergeant Major? [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our science fiction group's book this month was HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu (read by James Yaegashi) (ISBN 978-0-307-37920-7, audiobook ISBN 978-1-449-83487- 6). I had read this book before, so this time I listened to the audiobook. Yaegashi did an excellent job, with a very believable delivery as the first-person narrator, sounding as though he were talking directly to the reader rather than reading off a page.
This is another example of a science fiction novel written outside the field. Yu is more concerned with the emotional content than with the technical aspects of his novel, so the mechanics of building a time machine are somewhat glossed over, and instead we get more reflections on emotional states and family relationships. This is not to say Yu is unfamiliar with the science fiction field--one character has named a time machine part a "Niven ring", and another in a moment of excitement shouts, "Holy Heinlein!"
One of Yu's ideas is so clever I almost hate to quibble over its accuracy. (But you know me--I'll do it anyway.) He has a problem with his time machine and finds himself in a Buddhist temple with his mother. But not his mother as she was, or as she will be, but as she might have been, a perfect mother, the Platonic ideal of his mother. This, he concludes, is neither the past nor the present, but the subjunctive:
She turns to me, and I see at once that this woman is exactly like my mother. She is The Woman My Mother Should Have Been.
She is not a could have been. Could have beens are women who are not exactly like my mother. For any given mother, for any given person, there are many could have beens, maybe an infinite number.
No, this woman standing in front of me is something else, she is the one and only Woman My Mother Should Have Been, and I have found her. Looking for my father, I have found this woman, I have traveled, chronogrammatically, out of the ordinary tense axes and into this place, into the subjunctive mode.
While he recognizes that the subjunctive is not on the same axis as past and present, he does not address the problem that the subjunctive is not a tense, with some chronological position, but a mood. One can have the past subjunctive, the present subjunctive, or the future subjunctive, just as one can have the past, present, or future indicative. So the question of whether a *time* machine could invoke the subjunctive is problematic.
But I suppose that one can even have this discussion indicates that Yu has put more into this book than one usually finds in a time travel novel. And while there are good time-travel novels marketed as science fiction, Yu's style makes this a refreshing change from the usual. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: In law, nothing is certain but the expense. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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