MT VOID 05/11/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 46, Whole Number 1701

MT VOID 05/11/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 46, Whole Number 1701

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/11/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 46, Whole Number 1701

Table of Contents

      Salt: Mark Leeper, Pepper: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at 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 To unsubscribe, send mail to

Okay, I Did See It (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

After all my ambivalence to seeing the film THE AVENGERS, I did go to see it. I have a review this issue. So does Dale Skran. And there are be comments by Kip Williams. I didn't want to seem dense in my review, but what are they avenging? It seems more like they are protecting. I mean sure it is a nifty word. Ask Steed and Peel. But you have to pursue vengeance to be an avenger. This film is not about vengeance for anything I could see. But that did not make it into my review. See, there are some benefits to reading the VOID. Every year or so there is a benefit. [-mrl]

Having to Go It Alone (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Back when I weighed too much I found it not too difficult to lose a more than a pound a week. Now that I have lost weight my body is trying desperately to put that weight back on. I guess I can respect that. My body seems to always root for the underdog. [-mrl]

MIT NEWS Features MITSFS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The publication MIT NEWS has a nice piece describing the workings of MITSFS, the MIT Science Fiction Society.


The Dead Dream of the Dirigible (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

People who are interested in retro-futurism (are you reading this, Bill Higgins?) might be interested to see this profusely illustrated article from "The Atlantic" about the hopes we had that the dirigible would revolutionize air travel. Perhaps in the 1930s any technology advance looked like a bright light at the end of the tunnel of the Depression.

More futurism can be found at:


Kermit's Secret Past (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Most of us think of Kermit the frog as being a sweet, benign little character who is safe to be around their children. How many people know that in a former life he was really a violent sociopath for hire? Thanks to the Open Culture web site for the heads up.


Logical Error (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In his review of the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Awards at "Strange Horizons", Adam Roberts writes, "On the other hand, 'it's an honor to be shortlisted' carries with it the necessary correlative 'it's a dishonor not to be shortlisted.'" Actually, no. One might as well say that "it's an honor to be elected President" carries with it the necessary correlative "it's a dishonor not to be elected President," meaning everyone in the United States other than the President-elect is dishonored. [-ecl]

How Does One Convert a 2D Film to 3D? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Like the title asks, how does one convert a 2D film to 3D? I keep hearing about films shot in regular old 2D and then converted to 3D for release. Among the 2D films that are being turned into 3D are classic films like TITANIC and the "Star Wars" films.

Now the reason this question has been bothering me is that it seems like an impossible task to take a 2D image and to recreate all the contours of a 3D picture. There does not seem to be enough information in a flat image. Humans have two eyes that see the world from slightly different angles. Depth perception comes not entirely, but in large part, because your eyes disagree about what they are seeing. From its own angle each eye is getting information about what is out there. Some of that information is very angle-dependent. Fusing those two images into a single three- dimensional map is a function of the brain. Your left eye is giving you information your right is not and vice-versa.

If you look at a standard photograph of an object you are seeing it from the angle from which the camera saw it. Both the left eye and right eye see it from the same angle. There is no disagreement your brain can exploit to make a 3D map. This does not mean you are losing all depth perception. There are clues in the picture to tell you depth. For one there is the degree of focus. You also have your brain interpreting depth in much the same way it resolves ambiguous images like the familiar picture that can be interpreted as a young woman or an old crone. Your brain is interpreting what would logically be the depth of objects and your mind is interpreting it that way.

You cannot get full depth perception from a flat image. You are just missing some of the information that would be required. So how is it even possible to take a film shot with standard 2D cameras and convert it to a 3D image?

Well, we have to distinguish between what I will call a "full" 3D image and a "partial" 3D image. [These are just my terms. I am sure the people who photograph 3D have some other term for the same concept.] Take a full 3D picture of Captain Kirk against a background of the bridge of the Enterprise. Now take just the image for the left eye. It is a 2D image. Print it on paper and back it with cardboard. Now cut out the part of the picture that is just Kirk. Focus a full 3D camera on the background and move the picture of Kirk just enough forward so that neither lens of the camera can see the hole in the background because the image of Kirk is covering it up. Now take a picture in 3D. You will get an image in 3D, but it will not really give you a satisfying substitute for the original image. That is a partial 3D image. You will get something that realistically looks like a diorama with flat cardboard stand-ups.

When I was young I used to have a View Master--my generation's equivalent of the old stereoscope viewers. I remember it used to show images in something like 3D, but it looked like the figures were individually flat from front to back. I am not sure why they had that effect since I do not know how they produced the disks for a View Master. But that is the same effect I got seeing the film PIRANHA 3D. That was a film shot in 2D and then retrofitted for 3D.

Apparently the process for turning films into 3D is much like the process I described above with the "Star Trek" exercise, but it is done in a computer. Scene-by-scene the technician gives a computer a picture and a map of the depth each of the designated pieces of the picture should be placed in the foreground, middle ground, or background. The program gives a partially 3D version of your scene, but it is nowhere nearly as convincing as actually photographing in 3D. The article I read in SLATE (see below) said that you could have up to eight different layers of depth in the scene. But the real world, of course, has an infinite number of layers of depth. I would guess that for a big production like TITANIC or STAR WARS they would have the software modified to have more layers of depth. (Postscript: Actually there are more pains taken than that. See the second reference below.) You are still not seeing anything you would not have seen with one eye, but if you want information to extend a background behind a piece you have just put in the foreground, you could probably go to other frames. I am a little surprised that filmmakers like Lucas and Cameron would compromise the quality of their images to produce a cheap 3D effect. (Postscript: actually they are compromising with an expensive and difficult 3D effect.) And I myself have not seen any of the 3D images from their films, but my suspicion is that they are just not really giving the full experience they are promising.


For more detail see:


THE AVENGERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This epic superhero film is the fulfillment of plot hints dropped in many previous Marvel films and brings together Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow into a spectacular dustup directed and co-written by Joss Whedon. While the film lacks the visual imagination of THOR or the period feel of CAPTAIN AMERICA, it has more of a sense of structures on a huge scale being blown up by even bigger explosions. This film can be seen equally well as a piece of literature or as some mindless screen action. It seems to be a real audience pleaser. But it is somewhat less recommended if you have not seen the films that lead up to it. This film will probably make up for much of Disney's JOHN CARTER losses. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

This is the kind of film that I really have to decide who my reader is in order to review it. Staid people not used to superhero films will be lost and confused watching THE AVENGERS. But few of them would be reading this review anyway. On the other hand I am not the kind of fan who has read all (or any) of the "Avengers" graphic novels. In the continuum between the two kinds of viewers I am somewhere in the middle. Bear that in mind. For the kind of person who likes this sort of superhero film, this film delivers a lot of what they like. There is a lot back-story to THE AVENGERS from the comic book and from previous Marvel Comics films. I have not read the comics and though I have seen the prerequisite films, their recollection has melted like the snows of yesteryear. There may be more strands to the overall story than to WAR AND PEACE. Watching you feel you are seeing something substantial. Then suddenly you realize you are looking one guy who looks like he's dressed in a flag for the Fourth of July, another who is about ten feet tall and is the color of asparagus, a guy wearing a robot suit, and another decked in pseudo-Norse dress armor (Who fights in a flowing cape?), and they are facing down a man in a gold helmet with goat horns. My recommendation is to just take the film for what it is--a light piece of entertainment.

The plot is something like this. Thor's brother and enemy Loki is inviting aliens to conquer the Earth. But Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is trying to assemble a team of superheroes including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They seem like the perfect candidates to fight Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who actually is more impressive as a villain that veteran actors like Downey, Johansson, and Ruffalo are as heroes). All these big name superheroes have to learn to work together in a common cause. And with so many big name actors in the film, the stars if the film probably had very similar conflicts. Loki wants to get the MacGuffin, the Tesseract that is the source of great energy and will open up the doorway to Asgard. (Apparently someone thought the name "Tesseract" was keen and nobody knew what a tesseract really is.) Speaking of people using words without knowing the meaning, how did the studio censor ever let Loki call Black Widow "mewling quim?" But the people I saw the film with did say that the screen characterizations of the heroes and villains was fairly faithful to the characters on the printed page.

The writing is not really that impressive, even if it is full of beefy quotes like "we need a plan of attack!" and the response "I have a plan--attack!" and eloquent pep talks like the immortal "Hulk, smash." What sells the film is the special effects--which are impressive on a large scale--and the art direction. The Asgard scenes of last year's THOR were impressive. But unfortunately Thor is on Earth in this one and he has left Asgard behind. For that matter what was impressive about CAPTAIN AMERICA was the re- creation of the wartime patriotic feel. This film does not take place in the 1940s. There is nothing as remarkable in this THE AVENGERS except for the feel of large machinery crashing. Visually it all works well except that the big green Hulk looks too much like a Toon playing against humans. He does not feel like he meshes correctly with the live action. Hulk looks like he came from another film. So do the alien dragon ships.

You want to know what I do not like about superhero films? At one point a character is flung around like a ragdoll in an angry dog's mouth. Okay, I figure that is it for that character. All your bones broken is effectively a "game over." No, he apparently just pops back into shape. As a friend explained to me later, superheroes have incredible recovery powers. In one sequence Tony Stark falls a great distance and at the end has a stop that would have left him soup in a metal suit, but apparently the suit has inertia dampers or some darn physical impossibility thing that protects him. His suit is made of metal stronger than the metal in any alien fighting machines. Stark fighting the bad guys comes in two flavors: the stone hitting the pitcher or the pitcher hitting the stone. Either way the villainous pitcher loses. The superheroes may lose some of the fights at the beginning of the film, but they only win toward the end. In almost any fight the viewer knows from the beginning who will win that particular clash.

This just means to me that all these superheroes really have the same super-power: they have the writer(s) on their side. That is a superpower that will save them no matter what they come up against. Your hero gets run through a meat grinder and each little piece is teleported to a different galaxy? No worries. His special Fubergamamite Powers will call back all the pieces, reassemble them, cure him, and send him back into battle. Every battle for a superhero is a "heads I win; tails you lose" proposition. No villain is strong enough to defeat a hero with the writer determined he will live. This makes these titanic battles just eye candy. Even a good writer like Joss Whedon cannot get me to worry about the fate of characters whose safety is never in question. The dialog can claim that the heroes are in danger, but only minor characters will be fatal casualties. I guess you do not go to a superhero film to be concerned your favorite hero will be killed, but without that it seems so pointless to watch the fights. They are all just good-guy superheroes beating up on bad guy villains, perhaps suffering discomfort along the way. You know that no superhero who has been in a previous film will be killed. They are too important to the series.

This is a movie with the same problems as any superhero film. It is a fun watch for the art direction and the special effects, but in spite of a huge budget, it is no LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [Hint: sit through *all* the credits. There are two post-credit sequences. Marvel films punish viewers who will not sit through all the credits.]

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE AVENGERS (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Since it appears that THE AVENGERS is on its way to being one of the top grossing films of all time, I don't feel any particular need to urge anyone to go see it. Critical thought on Rotten Tomatoes is running about 93% fresh, so clearly Disney did a better job of promoting THE AVENGERS than JOHN CARTER. Still, as the first major movie of the summer blockbuster season, I thought it was worth a quick review.

Perhaps the best thing about the huge box office take is that it makes it more likely that we will all get to enjoy more films and TV directed/written by Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, FIREFLY, SERENITY, DOLLHOUSE, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS), who, although he has a strident cult following, has never had a hit TV show or hit movie, that is, until today. As both director and co- writer for THE AVENGERS, he stands in line to get the major share of the credit for its success.

I'm a bit hampered in my review in that the sound system was terrible where I saw the movie, and much of the dialog was muddy, with the result that I know I missed some good bits. Just have to see it again! My first overall impression was that the movie suffered a bit from being overstuffed. THE AVENGERS is more than two hours long, which is pretty long for a comic book action story, and with a huge cast of heroes played by major actors and actresses, there is a lot of competition for screen time. According to a recent article in WIRED, Joss was handed a diktat by the studio [1] there must be a Thor/Hulk fight, [2] there must be a Captain America/Iron Man/Thor fight, and [3] there must be a big battle as the climax. The net of all this is a well-stuffed movie, so much so that the character development seems slighted. The WIRED article also reported at about 30 minutes of character related footage ended up being cut, so we can long forward to an improved extended version on DVD.

Reportedly, Joss insisted on including the Black Widow, and he directs her to good result. Although far from the most powerful AVENGER, she has a critical role in the final battle and ends up being better developed and motivated than some of the other characters. One thing that seemed odd to my daughter (and to me) is that Thor made no direct effort to contact Jane Foster, although he clearly had time to do so, even if only after the final battle. This just seems out of character for Thor, who is surely a man of his word. Another thing I didn't like much were the jet sleds the aliens rode, which seemed juvenile and improbable. This was balanced by a truly wonderful SHIELD helicarrier and some imaginative alien spaceships. I was worried by the Captain America costume I'd seen in some publicity stills, but I am pleased to report that it works pretty well in the movie, partly because Cap is often not wearing the helmet.

Having said all this, THE AVENGERS is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Marvel superhero movies of recent vintage, and well captures why THE AVENGERS are called "Earth's mightiest heroes"--no small thing in the Marvel Comic Universe. The combination of Thor, Hulk, and Iron man pulverizing an alien army is a sight to behold. I liked the Hulk animation considerably more than in previous hulk movies--it has reached a point where it invokes the comic well while seeming almost real. There is a confrontation between the Hulk and Loki that is worth the price of admission by itself. Robert Downey Jr. has defined Iron Man/Tony Stark for our time--he is tons of fun to watch as always.

This movie is not for everyone. It is really action-packed from start to finish, with only a few quiet interludes. There is a tremendous amount of comic book fisticuffs, for the most part well choreographed. The Black Widow is impressive--I would not want to meet her stunt double in a dark alley. It is going to be hard to follow if you have not already seen the prequel films, especially THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Hint: You need to know who Loki is. If you don't know, just keep in mind that Loki and Thor are the *actual* characters from the Norse myths. In other words, they are not men in costumes pretending to be Norse gods; they ARE the Norse gods! This is also very much a post-9/11 film. The Avengers are not out to arrest the aliens: they are fighting a war, and a lot of people on both sides die.

I'm rating this one as a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale but my guess is that after I see it on DVD or with a decent sound system my rating will rise to +2. The director's cut might go up to +3. Fun for the whole family and all ages except small kids who are scared of big sounds and so on. Zero sex but quite a bit of violence.


This movie violates the Marvel standard of having teaser a scene at the very end of the credits. Instead, there is a teaser scene before the end of all the credits, and *another* scene at the very end of the credits. The final scene is very funny and pure Joss. You have to pay close attention to the earlier dialog to know where the Avengers are in this final scene.

I was a bit confused about what was happening in the first teaser scene. To be more specific, I recognized the big bad behind the scenes, but I could not remember his name. After a bit of research I found that I wasn't the only person who was having trouble figuring things out. Some said he was a Skrull, and so on. However, I'm now sure that he is Thanos, the Mad Titan. Apparently if you look closely in the THOR movie you could see the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin's treasure vault, and this is one of Thanos's main weapons. The speculation is that Thanos will be the main villain of AVENGERS 2, promising a worthy foe for the Avengers. And with the box office take so far--which exceeds that of all previous Marvel Avengers prequel movies so far--assures that there will be an AVENGERS 2 unless Thanos shows up in person to stop production! [-dls]

The Hollywood Blacklist (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Greg Benford's comments on the Hollywood blacklist in the 05/04/12 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

I don't know Gregory Benford (except by reputation of course) but his loc really ticked me off. Not knowing him I'm curious just how much he know about the film industry and Hollywood history.

The blacklist was devastating, as you rightly note. The innocent and the "guilty" alike were swept up in the witch hunt and it's important to note that being a member of CPUSA wasn't illegal. Yes, there were some real Communists in Hollywood. Some were hardcore believers. Others saw it as a vehicle for social justice. While many of those who were subject to what was called "Party discipline" eventually left, there's no question that there were some very talented people who, at some point, had Party membership including writers like Ring Lardner, Jr. and Dalton Trumbo, and actors like Howard DaSilva and Zero Mostel. To trivialize the impact of the blacklist and repeat the canard that Communists in Hollywood posed any threat whatsoever to this country shows an incredible ignorance of the actual facts. (Asked how he snuck in Communist "propaganda" into a film he was working on, actor Lionel Stander said he whistled the "Internationale" in a scene where he was waiting for an elevator. The nation survived.)

As for the Production Code, there's no question it was a censorship regime imposed by the industry upon itself to avoid government censorship. Yet when one looks at the great films released from 1934 to the end of the Code in 1968, it is obvious that good filmmakers found ways around the Code. There are many examples of silly bits of censorship and just as many of things that slipped by or that clever filmmakers got through by other means. By the 1950s it was clear that the Code had outlived its usefulness although it would linger for another decade. Today's rating system is, IMHO, a much bigger problem that the Production Code ever was.

But to contrast the Code and the blacklist, as Benford does, and claim that it was the Code that was the darkest chapter in Hollywood history suggests he doesn't really know much about Hollywood history at all. [-dk]

Evelyn adds:

Dan has researched the era and the issue of the blacklist quite thoroughly and even co-authored a play about it: THE WALDORF CONFERENCE (co-authored with Nat Segaloff). [-ecl]

Triangle Puzzle (letters of comment by Lee Beaumont and Dan Cox):

In response to Mark's triangle puzzle in the 04/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I used to be good at trigonometry, then I got a computer, then I got old and lazy, and then I discovered Wolfram Alpha.

So I typed 10 10 12 triangle, see: .

I saw the picture and the area of 48.

I then typed 10 10 16 triangle, see: .

I saw the picture and the same area of 48.

If it's good enough for Dr. Wolfram, it's good enough for me! [-lrb]

Mark responds:

I guess like Will Shortz who provides NPR's weekly puzzle, I have to accept any way people solve the problem, using reasoning or using tools. I do think the Wolfram site is a terrific math resource I rarely remember to use. I would say I got this a little late to count, having arrived after we published the solution, but people might want to explore the Wolfram site. [-mrl]

And Dan Cox writes:

It is a nice symmetric curve if you change coordinates. Rather than map the length of the third side to the area of the triangle, map the angle between the legs (the same-length sides) to the area of the triangle. The area is maximized with a 90-degree angle between the legs.

Proof: Position the triangle so that the vertex between the legs is at the origin, and one leg extends to the right on the X axis. The area of the triangle can be computed by 1/2 * the length of the leg on the X axis * the distance between the third vertex and the X axis. As you change the length of the third side from 0 to 20, the 2nd leg sweeps a half circle (we arbitrarily choose to let it sweep this circle above the X axis). The furthest that the 3rd vertex gets from the X axis is when the second leg is vertical. So the max area is when the angle between the legs is 90 degrees. [-dtc]

Mark replies:

Good point! But we can make it simpler than that. Call the variable angle A. Add a helper line along the bisector to split the isosceles triangle into two right triangles. You get the total area of the original triangle to be:

= 100*cos(A/2)*sin(A/2)
= 50*sin(A)

So the area as a function of the angle is simply one arch of a sine wave.

Thanks for that insight. [-mrl]


TOPIC: Queuing Theory (letter of comment by David Shallcross)

In response to Evelyn's and Mark's comments on queuing theory in the 05/04/12 issue of the MT VOID, David Shallcross writes:

In the recent MT VOID, you write, "In fact, both your experience and mathematics say that just letting people join the line they want really leads to longer average wait times."

As long as you don't let people jump from line to line, I suppose. If you never let a cashier be idle while there are customers waiting, the average wait time only depends on the distributions of the arrival process and the service time, and not on any other details of the queuing discipline. The advantage of a single line is that it decreases the variance of the wait time, decreasing the probability that you will be waiting for a period significantly longer than average.

In a supermarket situation, possibly only the last person in a line can easily move to another line, but that is enough to keep the cashiers busy whenever their are customers waiting. [-ds]

Mark responds:

It seems to me that allowing line switching would improve multi- queue-multi-server, but only under ideal circumstances would it be as good as single-queue-multi-server. In line the customer cannot really track all the other queues. And would it be the last customer in line or the second customer in line that gets free server from another queue? I think SQMS would beat even this enhanced MQMS. I am not sure how I would model the ability to switch lines, but you would still have customers guessing wrong on queues and mean time to service would go up. [-mrl]

THE AVENGERS and Advertising in Science Fiction (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

Kip Williams writes:

I saw THE AVENGERS last Friday, along with two other adults and ten kids. I loved it, and they were enjoying it as well. It's got wonderful throwaway lines, and the filmmakers aren't afraid to let things wait until the right moment for their payoff. The action scenes are wonderfully exciting and implausible--not that I mind-- but the dialog scenes are what stayed with me. With one momentary exception, everything seems to come from character. Black Widow's good in the fights, but even more impressive as an unconventional interrogator. Captain America's not one to dramatize his time- stranded isolation, but it comes through. (One of my favorite bits in the setup portions of the movie is when Stark refers to "winged monkeys," and Cap says, "Wizard of Oz. I got that reference!")

Now I feel like I should try and fill in some of the movies I haven't seen, though I am pretty sure they won't be this good. [-kw]

In response to Evelyn's comments on advertising in science fiction in the 05/04/12 issue of the MT VOID, Kip writes:

Advertising in science fiction: Can we count Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland" when it takes place on Mars? It's not a temporal future, but a future society, much of it placarded with announcements and solicitations from B. Gosh and company, and it ran in April 1910. [-kw]

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

SILICON VALLEY SNAKE OIL: SECOND THOUGHTS ON THE INFORMATION AGE by Clifford Stoll (ISBN 978-0-385-41994-9) was written in 1995 and now seems a mere curious artifact. Consider the back blurbs. The top announces that this is "the first book to question the inflated claims--and hidden costs--of the Internet." I am immediately skeptical of claims by someone to be the first to question something, reveal something, or announce something. But then it continues, saying that Stoll reveals "that [the Internet] is not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, the Internet provides access to plenty of services, but useful information is virtually impossible to find and difficult to access. ... 'Few aspects of daily life require computers... They're irrelevant to cooking, driving, visiting, negotiating, eating, hiking, dancing, speaking, and gossiping.'"

Within the last week, I have used the Internet (or the Web) to find a recipe for broccoli, get directions to a museum, and arrange a social get-together for dinner. I think that leaves only dancing and hiking (and gossiping, but we know the Internet promotes that).

I cannot even begin to list all the places *inside* the book where Stoll gets it wrong. Well, okay, I can begin. (I will summarize Stoll's claims rather than include lengthy quotes.)

- Stoll says that we are told the data highway will be the cheapest way to send information around the world. But the Internet is too slow, he says, taking up to a minute for a keystroke to read the target system. Faxing a page is faster than email, and sending a CD overnight is faster than sending it over the Internet. Things will not get any better because adding more users and flashy services like audio and video will overwhelm any technical improvements. CD-ROMs are slow, especially if lots of people try to access a single one simultaneously. [And when was the last time anyone accessed a database that way?]

- Far fewer people are connected than people say, and if the predicted growth rates continue, they would imply that everyone in the world would be on-line by 2003. [Regarding this, I am reminded of Mark Twain's extrapolations about the length of the Mississippi.]

- We are told that "entertainment will reach us quickly, without waiting for the mail." Stoll claims this will not happen. [Boy, are Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube going to be surprised when they hear this.]

- E-mail is undependable and anyway, a hand-written letter is cheaper and often faster. [Stoll was as wrong about the slowing down of the Post Office as he was about the speeding up of the Internet.]

This covers just three pages of chapter two.

A few more:

"No electronic shopping can compare with the variety, quality, and experiential richness of a visit to even the most mundane malls." In 1995, this meant a Waldenbooks versus the then-nascent even then I think would have won.

"Network authentication software can never give the same sense of trust as a face-to-face business transaction," so we will never have Internet commerce. The only time I had problems with someone stealing my credit card number was in a face-to-face transaction (at a restaurant). The amount of Internet commerce today clearly shows that people do have that same sense of trust.

He also was wrong about computer games, social networking, educational opportunities, e-books, and just about everything else. I actually gave up pretty early because it was painful to read.

I'm not the only one who finds it painful. Stoll himself says, "Of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler... Now, whenever I think I know what's happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong,"

Oh, and Stoll's prediction that e-commerce would never take off? He now sells glass Klein bottles on the Web.

CONFABULARIO AND OTHER INVENTIONS by Juan Jose Arreola (translated by George D. Schade) (no ISBN) is an omnibus volume comprising VARIA INVENCION (1949), CONFABULARIO (1952), and PUNTA DE PLATA (1958). In 1961 these three works, plus some additional pieces were published as CONFABULARIO TOTAL 1941-1961. It is a collection of essays, stories, and other, un-categorizable short pieces, many of which can best be described as "Borgesian". There are a couple of interesting items I want to note.

BESTIARY (the English title of PUNTA DE PLATA) may seem the most Borgesian due to its similarity to THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS, but the pieces in PUNTA DE PLATA were published mostly in 1958 and 1959, while THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS was not published until 1968. (I doubt that Borges copied Arreola either--the concept of a bestiary goes back to at least the Middle Ages.)

The most "Borgesian" story might be "The Switchman" (1951), which is also the most fun.

The story "I'm Telling You the Truth" (1951) talks about a project that has "the sympathy and moral support (not officially confirmed yet) of the Interplanetary League, presided over in London by the eminent Olaf Stapledon." It is not often that one finds a reference to Stapledon, even in science fiction, let alone outside of it. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          If you want to know what's really important in this 
          society, you need look no further than noting that 
          it takes zero forms of ID for one to cast a vote, 
          one to buy a gun, and two to pay for the gun you 
          just bought with a check.
                                          --Rob Stampfli

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