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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/25/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 30, Whole Number 1738
Table of Contents
Green Leaves (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
TOPIC: Green Leaves (comments by Mark R. Leeper) We were listening to the old song "The Green Leaves of Summer" from THE ALAMO. The lyric goes, "Now the green leaves of summer are calling my name." I asked Evelyn what she thought the singer's name was. She had no idea. I told her it was obvious. His name must have been Russell. [-mrl]
Is the Earliest Science Fiction in the Talmud?:
James F. McGrath reports, "Anthony Le Donne suggested on his blog (and in a recent conference paper) that a story in the Babylonian Talmud, in b. Menahoth 29b, might be the first science fiction story. In it, Moses time travels to Rabbi Akiba's time. But is time travel enough to make a story science fiction?"
McGrath's column is at http://tinyurl.com/void-mcgrath. Le Donne's blog is at http://tinyurl.com/void-ledonne.
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in February (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Once again I am recommending obscure films coming up on Turner Classic Movies. These are films that hopefully readers might not have otherwise known were worth catching. (And I love it when someone writes to say they second my recommendation.)
I recognize that not all my readers have access to TCM. I could instead be making picks from NetFlix Instant streaming. But I think fewer readers have access to that and it costs more than subscribing to TCM. TCM is the source I have that is shared by the greatest number of my readers. However, every year February is the hardest month to cover. Why? Well, first of all it is the shortest so there is a smaller set of films to choose from. March will have 31 days of movies while February has only 28. But also February is the month of "31 Days of Oscar" each year. (I assume they are having it in February because the Academy Awards are being made this month. Does that mean that it will be "28 Days of Oscar?") Most of the TCM schedule is taken up with films that have won or been nominated for Academy Awards. So there are far fewer obscure films. That makes my job harder if I am trying to ferret out films the reader might not know and that I can recommend. I do not consider PORTRAIT OF JENNIE to be a particularly obscure film. If you have not seen it, by all means watch it. It is a haunting fantasy, but it is hardly unknown. So cut me a little bit of slack on the obscurity of the films I am recommending.
If you are a fan of fantasy and of older films you almost certainly have already seen the 1940 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, produced by Zoltan Korda though Ludwig Berger directed it. You probably saw it decades ago. In the meantime your video technology has been upgraded several times. You maybe now have a high-definition large screen. If that is the case... give it another try. TCM has a print with the exceptionally vivid colors of a restored original. And you may now have better technology to reproduce the quality of that print at home. Actually the same goes for Zoltan Korda's 1942 THE JUNGLE BOOK. I saw a little bit of JUNGLE BOOK and was pretty much astounded by how different the film is now that it is being shown properly. I cannot claim to be a big fan of Sabu films, but these two films are really improved when seen properly. JUNGLE BOOK is being shown at 1:45 PM (East Coast Time) on Wednesday, 2/27. Then just a few hours later THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is being shown Thursday, 2/28 at 2:00 AM. Between the two is being shown Zoltan Korda's THE FOUR FEATHERS (1939). I have not seen that in years, but I am assuming that it would also be much improved with good color. (8:00 PM on Wednesday, 2/27). I keep using Zoltan's full name so he is not confused with his brother Alexander Korda who produced all these films. Incidentally, history buffs might find of interest that THE FOUR FEATHERS is about the Mahdist Revolt, the aftermath of the events dramatized in the film KHARTOUM, in which Charleton Heston played Charles George Gordon.
Speaking of what the new technology makes possible, sort of, TCM will be repeating the film THIS IS CINERAMA (1952). The film gets a little dull quickly, but it is sort of a demonstration of the curve-screen Cinerama process where the screen wraps around the audience and gives a sort of a 3D effect. But of course you probably do not have a television with a wide wraparound screen. They actually give you a sort of simulation of a wraparound screen by showing the film in what is called "Smilebox." Smilebox shows the film widescreen with the center squeezed down so it sort of gives the effect of the picture wrapping around. I would rather they repeated CINERAMA ADVENTURE (2002) which tells a lot of interesting history of the process. But still using Smilebox this film does give some of the feel of the original Cinerama. Incidentally, THIS IS CINERAMA had four directors including Michael Todd Jr., Merian C. Cooper, and Ernest B. Schoedsack.
You can see a sample of Smilebox at:
To get the full effect, you might try putting your nose up to the screen. But afterward don't forget to wipe off the grease mark. [-mrl]
KOCH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The tumultuous years of the term of the controversial Ed Koch as mayor of New York are the subject of Neil Barsky's premier film as director. With documentary footage, interviews, and just about any film showing Koch in action, we get a portrait of the former Mayor and with it some of his history and background and a look at the man today. While the structure and style of the film are not particularly inventive, the film is a good background on the issues that faced the city and the country in general during those twelve years in which New York City turned around. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
KOCH is Neil Barsky's documentary portrait of Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. The main stream of the film is a history of those twelve-plus years from Koch campaigning for mayor in 1977 to his leaving office the last day of 1989. There is a diversion to tell about his origins and youth and at the end we see him more as he is today. Throughout his career Koch was the center of controversy and met it head-on. The occasion of this look at Koch is the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
Barsky's biography gives us a history of Koch's first campaign for mayor against Mario Cuomo and then the issue of the three terms that he served. There is plenty of footage around from that time so we can see Ed Koch in action. Along the way there are on-camera interviews with people who worked with (and against) the mayor giving their perspective on the man and the issues. Koch himself gives some insight into his administration. Along the way there is a retrospective with a rather rushed outline of Koch's earlier life. Toward the end we see what he is doing today in what we would conventionally think of as a lonely life, having no immediate family. Koch never married so has no really close family. New York City is his family.
When Koch first was running for mayor the city was in bad disrepair. There had recently been a power blackout that was the occasion for looting and other lawlessness. Barsky uses as many images as possible to show graffiti on walls and trains. The Son of Sam killer was on a murder spree. And contributing to all was the near bankruptcy of the city. And New York City elected this funny-looking little Jewish man with a funny voice and a constant wit. Koch arguably presided over the transformation of a metropolis in deep dysfunction to a city that did not just work--it prospered.
The blunt but winning Koch gives people the impression that he likes what he is doing, but he wants constant feedback. He persistently stops strangers with the same question that became his trademark, "How'm I doing?" This led to twelve years of this man running the city. Issues Barksy covers include:
From his first campaign when he ran against Mario Cuomo there was some deception on Koch's part. When Koch was smeared by a campaign accusing him of being gay--a big deal in those times--Koch brought in his friend Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, to campaign with him and frequently stand with him and hold his hand. Then there was a claim that the two of them were having an illicit relationship. Koch is very private about his personal life. His love was New York City. The film does not even come to conclusions as to whether Koch was left or right wing. Some members of the black community brand him as racist. Opponents on his housing policy call him a liberal. He seems to be left of center, but in general he was just a pragmatist.
This film and the issues it presents may be of more interest in the Northeast than elsewhere in the country. But the entire country is now facing many of the issues that Koch met and defeated for his city. Ed Koch's successes should be an inspiration. I rate KOCH a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2237822/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/koch_2012/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Several months ago I bought Mark a Kindle Touch as a birthday present. Somehow, however, I ended up using it as least as much as he did, and I figure I would give my impressions.
The primary reason I chose the Kindle Touch was because it came with a browser--an experimental browser, but a browser nonetheless. Mark had often said he would like to have more Internet access when we were not at home, but we did not want to have to pay for a data plan on an iPhone or whatever. (We have no Smart Phones, or as I prefer to say, we have only Stupid Phones.) The Kindle Touch relies on available WiFi hotspots, which are pretty common near us for people using Optimum as their ISP.
The main problem with the browser (other than its distressing tendency to hang and require that the Kindle be rebooted), is that there is no easy way to scroll. Stroking the screen is fine for short pages, but longer pages require far too many strokes, and to return to the top requires just as many--there is no convenient way to go to the top or bottom of a page.
[There is also no convenient way to search for a given text string in a page. -mrl]
The primary purpose of a Kindle is to read books (and other works).
On the positive side:
- The reading itself is fine--the contrast is good, the adjustable fonts convenient.
- The Kindle is certainly more ecologically sound (and cheaper) for reading articles than printing them out on paper, and more portable than trying to read them on your home computer. You just have to do regular manual cleanup. (See below for details.)
- In general, navigation on a Kindle has advantages that the book does not--except that I have spent sixty years using the book methodology and have spent only a few months (part time) using the Kindle methodology. And I find myself wondering if the methodology differs from e-reader to e-reader. So, for example, if you lose your place in a book, you use the physicality of the book. For example, if the book slips out of your hand and shuts, chances are if you grab it quickly, it will re-open to the point where you were. On the Kindle, you have the advantage of being able to search--assuming you can remember a distinctive word or phrase. I suspect that if I used the Kindle more, I would find it easier to use. So we shall see if after being "Kindle-only" on a couple of upcoming vacations, I come to like it more. But even if I do, I suspect I will never stop preferring the feel of a real book in my hands.
But there are negatives as well:.
- The page-turning leaves something to be desired; often when I want to go back I find myself going forward instead. And I recently discovered that trying to use a Kindle in a bouncing vehicle has problems, since the bouncing seems to signal it to turn the pages.
- There is no way to flip back and forth--if you want to look at an earlier page, you lose your current place. (I think there may be a way for the book to display a "percentage complete" bar at the bottom. At any rate I thought I had seen this once, but cannot manage to re-create it. I suspect it has to be built into the book itself rather than merely being a Kindle option--and hardly anyone seems to do it.)
- There is no way to tell how close to the end of the chapter you are without losing your place. The same obviously applies to the various stories or essays in an anthology.
- For that matter, there is nothing to tell you how long a work is. Am I starting something the length of OF MICE AND MEN, or is it more like WAR AND PEACE? After you open it and page forward, you can see what percentage you have gone and get some idea, but looking at a list of works gives you no idea of their lengths. You might think that you could see the end location count on the Kindle and convert that to something meaningful (like pages). THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS is 3886 locations and 352 pages, or about 11:1 ratio. But MOBY DICK is 8378 locations, so that would be 762 pages, and no modern editions of MOBY DICK are that long. (The most popular edition seems to be 458 pages.)
- There is nothing to remind you that you have things you want to read. With a physical book, it is sitting there on my nightstand. But with the Kindle, it's sitting there somewhere behind the screen. I have actually come up with a solution: Take a bunch of books and make jackets for them with the names of all the pending books on the Kindle, then stack *them* up on my nightstand. I have not yet implemented this, however. (There's a thought--with each ebook purchase, you get a jpeg you can print as a fake book jacket.) I suppose I could make a collection called "Must Read" on the Kindle, but then I would have to remember to look at that. A stack of books on my shelf is much more obvious.
- The titles all truncate after about fifty characters. While you can name works you add manually, purchases from Amazon come with fixed names. This would be okay if they thought about this, but their naming scheme for Gibbon's THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE comes in six parts and the distinguishing character ["1" through "6"] is somewhere past where the line truncates. (In addition, they seem to have a couple of different versions, with inconsistent formats such that actually getting the entire work is problematic.)
- You cannot re-sell a book when you are finished with it, or lend it to a friend. (Well, Amazon apparently has implemented some sort of temporary license transfer, but your friend still has to also have a Kindle.) This is not a major issue for me; so far I have gotten only get free books.
- The price for ebooks is not that much cheaper than the price for "dead-tree" books. I understand all the reasons given, but the net result is that I do not find ebooks to be worth the cost. The fact that I can get several lifetime's worth of reading free from Project Gutenberg makes a difference, of course.
The latter brings us to the acquisition aspect.
There are two ways to obtain contain content for the Kindle. Purchase it (through Amazon and other sites) or create basic text files from free web content (including Project Gutenberg). On the plus side:
- Trees do not die.
- You do not have to pay to ship heavy books around the country (or the world).
- You do save storage space, which of course leads to the ever-popular observation that ebooks are great for travelers, though you still cannot read them during airplane take-offs and landings. (Apparently they are working on changing this.)
However, there are negatives as well:
- My experience with "purchasing" free Kindle editions from Amazon is that you are often better off with Project Gutenberg and other sources where you can see what you are getting. I had thought at first that the Amazon free Kindle edition of MOBY DICK omitted all the introductory etymology and quotations, but in fact it "just" moved it to the end.
- It is next to impossible to get a complete free edition of THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE from Amazon, since there seem to be competing editions which break the volumes at different points, and even has at least one volume which has no text, just a table of contents.
- Also, as I said, the Kindle truncates titles at about forty characters, and the Gibbon are titled in such a way that the volume numbers are cut off, meaning the titles for all the volumes look the same. (These may be "growing pains", and they do say you get what you pay for. But at least with Project Gutenberg, you can see what you're getting before you put it on the Kindle.)
- There are persistent issues about what it means to "purchase" a book for the Kindle. Just Google the names Justin Gawronski and Linn Nygaard for examples of how buying a book for the Kindle is different than buying a book at your local bookstore.
- There is also the "manual cleanup" problem I mentioned earlier. Every work you put on the Kindle has a directory associated with it with data files that remember where you left off, etc. I use the Kindle for reading articles from the Web (such as articles from magazines and other sources) by putting the content into a ".txt" file and manually copying it to the Kindle. But when I delete such a work using the Kindle's "delete" function, the directory stays around. If you use the Kindle to read a lot of articles and then remove them, eventually you will end up taking up a lot of space on the Kindle with orphaned directories. The only way to remove them is using your PC or Mac to manually remove them. (Yes, you can leave them there, but even though they are small, if you are creating dozens a week, they will eventually take over the Kindle.)
[After writing this, I heard a podcast about ebooks which raised a couple of issues about the acquisition process that I had not seen commented on before. The first was that ebooks allow dynamic pricing by the publisher in a way that a physical book with a price printed on it and sent to a bookstore does not. And the other was that no one has yet figured out how to make ebooks gift items. Oh, you can give someone an Amazon or a Barnes & Noble gift certificate, but there is no way to give someone a specific book. First, you need to know what sort of ereader they have, to make sure the format is the correct one. And if the file has digital rights management (DRM) turned on, when you buy it, it's yours and can't be transferred. You can give all the free stuff from Project Gutenberg et al that you want, but that is not what people think of when they think about gifts.] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Her journalism, like a diamond, will sparkle more if it is cut. --Raymond Mortimer (of Susan Sontag)Tweet
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