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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/04/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 45, Whole Number 1700
Table of Contents
Milleseptcentenary (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Many fanzines make a big deal of the 100th issue. I just thought we should mention that this is our 1700th issue. (It turns out that John Purcell already noted it; see his loc below.) [-ecl]
Triangle Answer (puzzle by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I asked:
Which triangle has the greater area, one whose sides are of length 10, 10, and 12 or one whose sides are 10, 10, and 16? Prove your answer.
Here's my answer:
Either triangle can be divided into two right triangles with side lengths 6, 8, and 10. So the two triangles in the question have the same area.
When the problem was originally stated on the Math Factor Podcast the poser commented that non-mathematicians often got the answer quicker than people who were mathematicians. There is an obvious brute force approach, plugging the numbers into something called "Heron's formula" that gives you the area of a triangle given the length of its sides. But there is also a simple elegant solution that can give the answer and prove it in just two or three lines. So I had an unstated secondary competition as to who could find a simple elegant answer.
The people who solved the problem are:
John Sloan, Richie Bielak*, David Shallcross, David Goldfarb*, Pete Rubinstein, Jerry Ryan, Dan Cox, Joe Presley*, Barry Litofsky*, Steve Milton, and Keith Lynch*. I particularly liked the simplicity of the solutions from people with asterisks after their names.
Pete Rubinstein *did not* give me a simple, elegant explanation. But he did answer what should have been the next question: What is the behavior of the area of the triangle if as the third side varies in length? When the third side is zero or twenty you no longer have a real triangle, but the area is zero. As the length goes from zero to twenty the area increases and then decreases the area does from zero to a maximum and then decreases again. 10-10-12 catches it on the way up and 10-10-16 catches it on the way down. But it does not seem to be a nicely symmetric curve. Obviously I will want to fool around with it more. So separate kudos to Pete. [-mrl]
May 10: THE FLY (1986) by Arthur Pogue (short story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5PM, discussion after May 24: OF MEN AND MONSTERS by William Tenn, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM June 21: THE SWEET HEREAFTER by Russell Banks, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 19: SCHILD'S LADDER by Greg Egan, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 16: THE ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS by Francis Crick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 27: CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 18: THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN by Alexander McCall Smith, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 15: TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (tentative), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 20: DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
Northern New Jersey events are listed at:
Film Podcasts (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Excerpt from a conversation I had on Usenet:
I have quite a few film podcasts that I check each week or each month to see if they might be of interest. You could never listen to this many, but you might want to visit them and see what is of interest.
People who are interested may want to check these out. [-mrl]
Prospects and Expectations for Summer Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Lax Madapaty pointed me to the article "2012 Movie Preview: Our 50 Most-Anticipated Films" by Jason Dietz. The article can be found at: http://www.metacritic.com/feature/most-anticipated-movies-of-2012 Lax wanted to know which upcoming films I was particularly enthused about. I thought for a few moments and realized there was little there that I was really looking forward to.
At the moment it looks like the big film of the summer will be THE AVENGERS. Somehow I am very unexcited by the proposition. Evelyn and I are really not thrilled by the idea of seeing another superhero film. I guess part of the problem with Marvel's strategy to release two or three superhero films a year and then bind them all together at the end is that by the time that film rolls around, they have glutted the market with superhero films. Last summer I saw THOR, X-MEN, and CAPTAIN AMERICA. I seem to remember there were more that I did not see. JOHN CARTER is sort of a superhero film also. The ones I did see are not enough different and had done little that I had not seen done before. CAPTAIN AMERICA I will watch again more closely because it is Hugo-nominated. That will probably immunize me from urges to see Marvel films for a while. All the superhero films are squeezing out the more interesting science fiction films that might come out over the summer.
I know that as an SF fan the film studios expect me to be really eager to see all these superheroes together in one film. I am just not excited and Evelyn has already said she is definitely not going to see THE AVENGERS. I still might change my mind if there is really great critical response. I probably would see the film if people who have seen it say that it offers something remarkable that has never been done in film before. I expect that AVENGERS will throw a lot of money at the art direction and the special effects, but I am skeptical they will do anything exceptional with the writing. I would love to be proved wrong, but I doubt I will be.
My standard response when asked what I want to see is that I will want to see the films that get strongly positive reviews. But that cannot really be predicted at this stage. I realize now that I am becoming a little blasé. It is rare that there is a film upcoming that I look forward to. These days it is hard to imagine I would ever get excited about another superhero film. Please, Hollywood, prove me wrong.
I usually find out about a film when it gets positive word of mouth on podcasts or (especially) a high rating in Rotten Tomatoes. Every Tuesday I check the Rotten Tomatoes website to see what new films get positive reviews from a large majority of reviewers.
For most that do well I will put the film in my Netflix "Saved" list. When one becomes available it is automatically moved to my request queue. This does not mean that I will not go to a theater to see a recommended film if it is playing. I may see it in a theater and then take it off my Netflix listing. But more and more I count on being assured that a film is good before I pay to see it in a theater. Going to movies has become an expensive proposition.
This approach means that I do not generally see mediocre films and so do not review them. I am not seeing a representative sampling of what is out there, I suppose. That is fine by me since I am seeing these films on my own dime. (Well, I wish it were a dime.) If I am paying I might as well see the best that is available. I am not saying that this is the right way to get a balanced view of cinema today. It is just what I do.
I will say that I was curious about the recent film JOHN CARTER. For years people wondered what it would be like when somebody adapted the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novels to the screen. But Disney had not done well by Burroughs when they made TARZAN. Actually a better Tarzan movie was their earlier THE JUNGLE BOOK, which I thought was more Burroughs than Kipling. I saw a trailer for JOHN CARTER and it looked to me like a borrowing from George Lucas. Then I actually did like the film. So I do not always follow the above routine.
Lax was impressed with SKYFALL, the third of the Daniel Craig "James Bond" films. My first impression of SKYFALL is that it will be a very different Bond film with so many different good people behind it, but they may all be pulling in different directions. The series stayed more on course when it had Richard Maibaum keeping it on track. (Unfortunately that course was somewhat downhill. But it was only slowly downhill.) I suspect this may well be Dench's last outing as M due to the actress's unfortunate vision problems. Also the title SKYFALL may be a sign of bad things. The early Bond films over-used the then topical space program. (We had DOCTOR NO, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, and MOONRAKER all involving space.) If I remember that came to an end with MOONRAKER, a film that was probably emblematic of everything that was going wrong with the Bond films. I don't think that they have been so tied into plots involving the space program ever since. But if forced to choose a film I am looking forward to this summer, that would probably be it, just because I like Daniel Craig's interpretation of James Bond. [-mrl]
Film Titles (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As proof that I am out of touch with this generation's movies, when I heard there was a film called CONSTANTINE I thought it was be an epic about Imperial Rome, and when I first heard that they were making THE AVENGERS, my first thought was, "Who will play Mrs. Peel?" [-ecl]
Michael Dirda and Readercon (letter of comment by Bob Devney):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Michael Dirda and ON CONAN DOYLE in the 04/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, Bob Devney writes:
Michael Dirda, first-class book reviewer long of the "Washington Post", is indeed a genuine SF fan. He's even a congoer: have seen him several times at Readercon in Burlington, Massachusetts, and spoken to him once or twice about SF in general, as well as about how much I like his general fiction reviews. Dirda's scheduled at Readercon in July again this year. Youpl (for "you plural"--a term I just now coined to avoid sounding Southern with y'all) can see him for yourselves, if we can tempt you to brave the horrors of the Kirk Poland competition ...
I know you disapprove of that particular event, but there's a lot more of Readercon to like. For instance, Dirda and Clute, Crowley, Delaney, Andy Duncan, Gilman, Goss, Grossman, Haldeman, Hand ... well, you can read the list yourselves at http://www.readercon.org/guests.htm.
And by the way, here are Dirda's favorite SF books: http://tinyurl.com/void-dirda-sf. (I assume it was whoever took Dirda's list and posted it on Amazon that credited THE STARS MY DESTINATION to Phyllis Eisenstein, which might annoy Alfred Bester.) [-rd]
The Hollywood Blacklist and the Hays Code, and TWENTY THIRTY (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Mark's comments on SPARTACUS in the 04/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
"The darkest chapter of the American entertainment industry was the years of the Hollywood blacklist."
Not the Hays Code days, which suppressed creativity? More serious to me, vs. the communist networks that indeed did exist then, as we now know. (The Soviets landed nearly 3000 sub rosa agents in the United States too, though fewer than ten percent ever reported back. And Hiss really was a NKVD informant.)
Agree on SPARTACUS. [-gb]
Well, I guess that the questions to ask would be:
1) How much of a threat was actually posed by the agents in the United States?
2) How much of that threat was ameliorated by the practice of blacklisting? What is the evidence that blacklisting itself had some positive effect on the problem, and what was that effect?
3) How much damage was done to the innocent people who had their careers and lives damaged or destroyed by practice of blacklisting?
4) Were the positive effects of blacklisting really enough to justify the negative effects?
5) Did the Hays Office restrictions imposed on the film industry do more damage than the net effect of the 1950s tactics which turned the industry against itself?]
In response to Evelyn's comments on TWENTY THIRTY in the same issue, Gregory writes:
Sounds plausible, and that's the year 2030 when climate change disasters really begin to mount, too. See you there I hope! I'll be 89! [-gb]
TWENTY THIRTY (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Evelyn's comments on TWENTY THIRTY in the 04/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
I read it and nominated it, but it didn't stand a chance. I'm still kind of surprised I made it onto the ballot. :-)
My favorite moment in the novel is when the President-elect is being briefed on national security measures and they start by asking him if he has any questions. When he wants to know the truth about whether we've had an actual encounter with aliens one of them says, "They always ask that." [-dk]
Anniversary Issues, Triangle Puzzle, Hugo Nominees On-Line, and Turner Classic Movies (letter of comment by John Purcell):
Boy, Mark and Evelyn. Your next issue--this coming Friday--will be the 1700th MT VOID! That is indeed a milestone to be noted. I hope you two will suitably celebrate with a dinner out and knock back a couple drinks in the process. Well, that's what I'd do if I were in your place. So here's a week-ahead congratulations on this event to-be. [-jp]
We have to celebrate somehow, but probably not by knocking back drinks. Evelyn drinks only very conservatively, and I drink much less. I never got used to the taste of alcohol. [-mrl]
In response to Mark's puzzle in the 04/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, John writes:
Then there's this challenge Mark threw down: "This problem came up on a podcast. Which triangle has the greater area, one whose sides are of length 10, 10, and 12 or one whose sides are 10, 10, and 16? Prove your answer." Dagnabbit, Mark! I'm a farging English professor, not a mathematician. There is no way that I could solve this without using a graphing calculator and a bank of IBM 503 computers. Either that, or I'll just give it to my sixteen-year-old son, who is currently taking Honors Pre-Calc at his high school. Dan could probably knock this off in a few minutes, tops. I think I'll do that. Calculations like this are beyond my ken, as in "Cap'n, I kenna do this! I've got to have fifteen minutes!" [-jp]
Well, if you understand ULYSSES by Joyce I guess that is harder. [-mrl]
In response to Evelyn's comments on the Hugo nominees in the same issue, John writes:
Many thanks for the links to the short fiction Hugo nominees, Evelyn. I appreciate this service. Now if I could only find the time to read these selections. Maybe after finals week. That means two weeks from now I'll have the time. Something to look forward to, I guess. [-jp]
And in response to Mark's comments on Turner Classic Movies in the same issue, John writes:
And I am always happy that TCM does the occasional theme day/night/weekend of old movies. I admit to a soft spot for Robin Hood films, especially the Errol Flynn ones. He definitely was a dapper looking rogue. Some of these flicks I haven't seen in ages, such as THE ROBIN HOOD OF EL DORADO (1936), and I don't think I've ever seen RED RIVER ROBIN HOOD (1943). Must record these. Many thanks for the heads up, folks.
With that I do believe that is the end of this letter of comment. Brief, but enough to say this was, as always, good to see and enjoyable. If I get around to it this summer--dissertation notwithstanding--I might rattle off a book review for you guys. Don't hold your breath, though; 2012 is designated as Year of the Dissertation. I need to get cracking on my proposal Real Soon Now. [-jp]
We all wish you luck. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the introduction to ECONOMICS WITHOUT ILLUSIONS: DEBUNKING THE MYTHS OF MODERN CAPITALISM by Joseph Heath (ISBN 978-0-307-59057-2), Heath says that not only is he not an economist, he has essentially had no formal training in the subject. Therefore, in order to accept much of what he says, one has to assume that he is capable of self-instruction and able to recognize his limitations.
Alas, he manages to ruin his credibility on the very first page. He is trying to explain why the film BLADE RUNNER was such a shock when it came out, and "how deeply it revolutionized science fiction as a genre." It is because, he says, "it was the first time anyone had ever suggested that there might be *advertising* in the future--or worse, that there might be *even more of it* in the future than in the present." I would not buy that, even if they threw in a Feckle freezer. If you know what a Feckle freezer is, you can see where this is going; if not, I will tell you that a Feckle freezer is the product that they are testing advertising for in Frederik Pohl's "The Tunnel Under the World" (1955). Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth wrote an even earlier "advertising in science fiction" story, the novel THE SPACE MERCHANTS (1952).
Now, Heath may be referring to only science fiction *films*, but if so, he should say so. And even there, he is wrong. Daniel F. Galouye's 1954 novel SIMULACRON-3 was made into a German mini-series in 1973, and is another example of advertising in science fiction. (If I were being snippy, I might say that the fact that he was in high school when BLADE RUNNER came out might explain why he does not know anything about earlier science fiction.)
Another earlier science fiction film that showed advertising was GORGO (1960). But that took place in its own present, not the future. That is one reason why there were not a lot of films about future advertising--most of the science fiction films before the 1970s seemed to be about the present rather than the future: monsters in present-day cities, inventions in present-day labs, nuclear war in the present-day world, etc. It made the sets so much cheaper.
Which I suppose brings us back to economics, which is what the book is actually about. If the only mistake had to do with science fiction, it could be overlooked. But Heath also makes a claim about queuing theory that is not only wrong, but widely known to be wrong. He describes a standard situation (such as in a grocery store) where there are several cashiers and many people who want service. Heath claims that the best solution is not some elaborate organized cashier assignment run by the store, but rather just letting the customers choose which queue they want to get on, based on which seem to be shorter or faster-moving.
Now, anyone who has done any shopping knows that you can pick what looks like a short, fast queue, only to discover that the first person has a fistful of coupons which won't scan properly, the second person ends up in a long discussion about whether the tuna should have rung up with a sale price, and the third person really has two orders that need to be rung up separately.
Queuing theory says that the most efficient method is the "single-queue, multiple-server". Banks, post offices, and lots of other places use this. But there is a problem in grocery stores: it is not just people standing in line, it is people with carts. The military commissaries I went to as a child used the SQMS system, but it resulted in a long queue snaking up and down the aisles. As you walked through the store (only four long aisles, so the path was really well-defined) , when you discovered the end of the queue you just got on it and did the rest of your shopping as you moved along the way. At the front, an airman would direct the person at the front of the queue to the next free cashier. This worked very well in a military context, but I can see it might run into a problem in a much larger, less "directed", and certainly less controlled supermarket. However, Heath does not point this out, but merely asserts that having customers choose their queues is the best system.
[This may come down to an ideological difference. Some people believe regulation is better and some people like Heath feel letting the "Invisible Hand" control the situation leads to better results. In fact, both your experience and mathematics say that just letting people join the line they want really leads to longer average wait times. -mrl]
Many of Heath's claims are interesting and thought-provoking, but this sloppiness makes them untrustworthy as well. Maybe that is the ultimate lesson--never trust anyone on any statement about the economy.
Someone on a mailing list recently claimed that the use of language such as Newspeak in 1984 by George Orwell (ISBN 978-0-451-52493-5) could actually change reality--for example, making it impossible to hate Big Brother. I agree that there are limited cases in which language can change reality, using performative utterances such as "I promise", "I apologize", "I congratulate you", and (if properly empowered) "I now pronounce you married" (or less felicitously, "I declare war on Eastasia"). But no language will ever make two plus two equal five, or the sun revolve around the earth. I am more inclined to view reality (and in particular history) with Omar Khayyam: The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
This person's claim seems at least partially based on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which was popular for a while, but now seems to have been somewhat discredited, or at least weakened. In any case, the claim made on the mailing list seemed to be more that language can *control thought*, not change reality.
Orwell has Winston think, "It presupposed that somewhere or other,
outside oneself, there was a 'real' world where 'real' things
happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge
have we of anything, save through our own minds? What happens in
all minds, truly happens." I simply do not agree with this. First
of all, we know that our minds can be deceived--by optical
illusions, for example. If we recognize that optical illusions are
deceiving our mind, then we must think there is some reality
outside our mind that is different from what is inside our mind.
In any case, I do believe in an external reality, not dependent on
some sort of "consensual reality". If all minds think the sun
revolves around the earth, that does not make it so. And if all
minds thinking that something is true makes it true, what if all
but one mind thinks it? What if it is a fifty-fifty split?
And with Winston's definition of reality, if everyone believes in
an external reality, does that make it so? And isn't that a
HISTORY'S TRICKIEST QUESTIONS: 450 QUESTIONS THAT WILL STUMP, AMUSE
AND SURPRISE (ISBN 978-0-8050-2127-1) is a very mixed bag. Many of
the questions are "trick questions", e.g.,
Some are merely obscure:
A: Heinrich personally bestowed the rank of honorary general
of the SS on Richard Strauss.
And occasionally, they are just wrong:
A: The year was 1881, and the three American presidents were
Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-93), who was serving out his term
in 1881; James A. Garfield (1831-81), who was elected and
served for only six months when he died of gunshot wounds
inflicted by an assassin; and Chester Alan Arthur (1980-86)
who succeeded Garfield and served out his term in 1885, the
year before he died.
The only problem is that this is only half correct. In 1841,
Martin Van Buren was serving out his term, William Henry Harrison
was inaugurated but caught pneumonia at his inauguration and served
only about a month, and John Tyler served out the rest of his term.
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Q: "Nixon helped to organize a labor union and in 1955 was
instrumental in bailing a woman out of jail after a
history-making racial incident. True or false?"
A: True. E. D. Nixon helped to organize the Brotherhood
of Sleeping Car Porters, founded by A. Philip Randolph in
the 1920s. In 1955, he bailed Rosa Parks out of jail
after she was arrested for refusing to yield her seat in
the from of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus."
Q: What honorary title did the Nazis confer on "Der
Rosenkavalier"'s composer, Richard Strauss?
Q: In the history of the United States, when did three
Presidents serve in the White House in the same year, and who
Quote of the Week:
Leisure is the mother of philosophy.
Orwell has Winston think, "It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a 'real' world where 'real' things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? What happens in all minds, truly happens." I simply do not agree with this. First of all, we know that our minds can be deceived--by optical illusions, for example. If we recognize that optical illusions are deceiving our mind, then we must think there is some reality outside our mind that is different from what is inside our mind.
In any case, I do believe in an external reality, not dependent on some sort of "consensual reality". If all minds think the sun revolves around the earth, that does not make it so. And if all minds thinking that something is true makes it true, what if all but one mind thinks it? What if it is a fifty-fifty split?
And with Winston's definition of reality, if everyone believes in an external reality, does that make it so? And isn't that a contradiction?
HISTORY'S TRICKIEST QUESTIONS: 450 QUESTIONS THAT WILL STUMP, AMUSE AND SURPRISE (ISBN 978-0-8050-2127-1) is a very mixed bag. Many of the questions are "trick questions", e.g.,
Some are merely obscure:
A: Heinrich personally bestowed the rank of honorary general of the SS on Richard Strauss.
And occasionally, they are just wrong:
A: The year was 1881, and the three American presidents were Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-93), who was serving out his term in 1881; James A. Garfield (1831-81), who was elected and served for only six months when he died of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin; and Chester Alan Arthur (1980-86) who succeeded Garfield and served out his term in 1885, the year before he died.
The only problem is that this is only half correct. In 1841, Martin Van Buren was serving out his term, William Henry Harrison was inaugurated but caught pneumonia at his inauguration and served only about a month, and John Tyler served out the rest of his term. [-ecl]
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