MT VOID 05/24/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 47, Whole Number 1755

MT VOID 05/24/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 47, Whole Number 1755

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/24/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 47, Whole Number 1755

Table of Contents

      Butch Cassidy: Mark Leeper, Sundance Kid: 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

Bing Translator Adding Klingon:

The Bing translator has added Klingon to the forty other languages it supports:

And Speaking of ... (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

You may have noticed that we often give URLs as rather than the real location. If you are worried about clicking shortened URLs because you do not know where it will really take you, you can paste it into and have it display the final destination. This site expands,, and many more condensed URLs. [-ecl]

A Problem with Ellipses (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I want to write this week about ellipses. This is silly since I am writing in text and without any diagrams or illustrations. It is actually fairly difficult to try to explain even a simple bit of geometry entirely in ASCII text. But it is a result of an exercise I set for myself out of curiosity, and I want to show you something I found surprising.

So what is an ellipse? I can answer that multiple ways. Most of us have some idea that an ellipse is sort of an oval shape. If you take the cardboard tube like you find at the middle of a roll of paper towels and cut it at an angle the new edge will be like a stretched circle. An ellipse is sort of a stretched circle. One way to draw an ellipse is to put two map pins into a board, call them A and B. Take a piece of string and tie one end to A and the other end to B. Leave considerable slack in between. Now with a pencil point pull the string taut and put a dot on the board. Go around the whole way around the two map pins pulling the string taut and putting dots on the board. For each dot the sum of its distance from A and its distance from B is always the same. You are tracing out an ellipse.

See a diagram at

The two points where the map pins are sticking into the ellipse are called the "foci" of the ellipse. (The singular is "focus".)

In the diagram they show the string also going directly between the two map pins to complete a triangle, but for our purposes we can ignore that piece. It is always the same length anyway. If we lengthen the string we will get a bigger ellipse, but it will have the same two foci, namely where the map pins stick into the board.

In Newtonian physics, planets travel in an ellipse around the sun and with each such ellipse the sun is at one focus of the ellipse. I remember asking my high school physics teacher, "If the sun is at one focus of the Earth's orbit, what is as the other focus?" "Nothing," he said with a half smile. He didn't understand why that was so frustrating for me. One focus is the entire sun and the other is just an unacknowledged point in space. In mathematics it would be an important point, but at least as far as my physics teacher was concerned it was just not a point worth naming or thinking much about. Now what I really am asking myself is, "If you have a really narrow orbit, do you expect the planet to go close to the sun as it is skimming round the near end or will it shoot past the sun and go a fair distance away before it is pulled back?" Pictures I have seen seem to suggest the former, but I want to have the figures. Essentially I want to see if in a thin ellipse is the distance between the foci a large fraction of the length of the "width" of the ellipse or is it a relatively small fraction and the two foci are near the center. I want to know the ratio of the length of the major axis to the segment whose endpoints are two foci.

Let us say that the long (horizontal) axis of the ellipse we will hold constant and say that it is of length 2C. Both of the foci lie on this axis. The short (vertical) axis of the ellipse we can vary and we will say it is of length 2V. Let us lay a grid on top of this so the ellipse is centered at (0,0). The major axis goes from (-C,0) to (C,0). The short axis goes from (0,V) to (0,-V). We want to figure out where exactly the foci lie. They must be on the major axis but how far from the ends of the major axis?

Now as we said above, any point on the ellipse itself will have the same sum for the distances to the positive and to the negative focus. In specific (C,0) will have that property. But the distance from (C,0) to the nearer focus will be the same as the distance from the far focus to (-C,0). So the sum of the two distances has to be 2C, the same as the length of the major axis. Let F be the distance from the center of the ellipse to the focus. It can be either focus since they are equidistant from the center. I am looking for 2F/2C in terms of V. Now I can find that. Point (0,V) is distance C from (F,0) and also distance C from (-F,0). We want to find the value of F. The segment from (0,0) to (F,0) is one leg of a right triangle with hypotenuse C and the other leg is V. That is just sqrt(C^2-V^2) by the Pythagorean Theorem.

2C/2F = C/F = C/sqrt(C^2-V^2) = 1/sqrt(1-(V/C)^2)

So when C is much larger than V the focus will be very near the end of the axis. But you may have already caught that I have been leading you down the garden path. 1/sqrt(1-(V/C)^2) may look familiar. That is called the Lorentz Factor. V is velocity and C is the speed of light.

A moment ago we were looking at geometry and a question concerning Newtonian physics. But the formula we derived is coincidentally (or not) a formula you are more likely to see in relativistic physics. One example of a use of the Lorentz Factor might be so compute what is the mass of an object with a rest mass of M traveling at velocity V. Let us say it has been accelerated to one half the speed of light. Then its velocity compared to the speed of light is one half. V/C = 1/2.

1/sqrt(1-(1/2)^2) = 1/sqrt(3/4) = 2/sqrt(3) = 2*sqrt(3)/3. That is about 1.155. So if an object has a rest mass of 1kg, if accelerated to half the speed of light its mass would be about 1.155kg.

What does all this have to do with ellipses? I don't see it. But we live in a parsimonious universe. Formulas show up time and again in different contexts just like some numbers--pi and e for example--show up over and over. Apparently ellipses and foci have something to do that mimics relativistic physics. [-mrl]

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: As a piece of intelligent science fiction J. J. Abrams's new STAR TREK film is only middling, but as an action film it is really quite good. It has some arresting images, some very engaging character development, and perhaps two or three too many explosive action scenes. A saboteur apparently within the Starfleet Command is bent on destroying it. Captain Kirk, dishonored for his handling of a previous space mission, nonetheless has the Enterprise restored to him to sneak into Klingon territory and capture the culprit. Don't like the plotline? Wait ten minutes and the story will have transformed into something else. This film has a complex plot that manages to balance character writing with slam-bang action sequences. Great acting by the intriguing Benedict Cumberbatch. Oh, and as a "Star Trek" series film INTO DARKNESS ranks among the very best. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Minor spoiler after the main body of the review.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS opens in the middle of a spectacular action sequence involving an erupting volcano and the Starship Enterprise doing something we never knew before that a starship could do. In saving Spock (Zachary Quinto), Kirk (Chris Pine) must violate the Prime Directive. Back on Earth Kirk has his command taken away from him. But after an attack on Starfleet command by a saboteur Kirk gets the Enterprise back for an emergency mission to go after rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is hiding out in on the Klingon home planet where just being present is an act of war. But Kirk is in for some surprises. And so is the audience. This is a film in which you can never be sure what is really going on until the end credits roll.

The writing by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof balances character drama, plot twists, and action scenes. The latter are an embarrassment of riches. They come strong and fast until the explosive climax. Then something else happens and we are in a different action sequence and a different climax. Then as things are tied up we find out something else and there is another action sequence. The film is eventually 132 minutes with only moments not action-packed. The writers do know how to make effective use of material from the original series.

By placing the story in an alternate universe from the TV show and the pre-Abrams films Abrams is able to be faithful to the original series or surprise the audience with a major change as he wishes. In this universe Spock can be an orphan and have a love interest, neither of which were true in the original stories.

In the last Abram's "Star Trek" film, STAR TREK, the young actors seemed to be doing impressions of their original counterparts. One could hear Leonard Nimoy's voice in Zachary Quinto's lines and Carl Urban felt like he was mimicking DeForest Kelley as Bones. By now they are comfortable in those voice patterns and sound much more natural. One would hope they could be their own actors and not have to mimic their predecessors the entire series. The one character that really did not fit his role was Simon Pegg, who played Scotty too broadly and with a little too much unbelievable and silly comedy. The comedy is toned down a bit and he is given a bigger role in the new film. The result is maybe still a little too comic, but much better.

Two actors who can each believably play intelligent and interesting characters get to square off here. There is Zachary Quinto, the series Spock and actor from the excellent MARGIN CALL. Opposite him is his British equivalent Benedict Cumberbatch, TV's Sherlock. Here he plays a character with ambiguity and complexity.

Things I could have done without include a planetoid near Jupiter with Earth gravity, climate, and atmosphere. Starfleet Command seems to have a meeting room based on the War Room from DR. STRANGELOVE. There is a discussion whether the Enterprise is for exploration or for military purposes. Hint: The Enterprise seems to be heavily armed. Of course, it could just be that the best defense against a bad heavily armed starship is a good heavily armed starship.

Do not go to STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS looking to be intrigued by its science fiction ideas. If you want to get into the characters in the new "Star Trek" universe or if you want some high-octane actions scenes with a strong dose of spectacular visual effects, or if you just want to have a little fun, this film is and will probably remain one of the best of the year. I rate STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. The film could not be shot both 3D and IMAX. The producers chose IMAX so the 3D was added after the shooting.

Minor spoiler: This is the most spectacular "Star Trek" film so far. There are some major flaws in the script. One is a sequence that is almost a reenactment of an iconic sequence in the original film series. The other is one that promises to make a major change in the series only to be undone by a deus ex machina reset button. Also when you have a major actor in a minor role, it is often a tipoff that he will later become important to the plot.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS (1999) (film stage play review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Possibly attempting to mimic the success of the play LES MISERABLES, Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon adapted the other famous Victor Hugo novel NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS (a.k.a. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME) as a musical stage play. Gilles Amado filmed the stage play and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of anachronism, revision of plot, and frustrating missed opportunities. Major scenes are missing or mishandled. The idea might have been good, but the execution is lacking. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

The French play LES MISERABLES is an international sensation. I suppose this naturally suggested that someone should try to follow in its footsteps adapting that other popular novel by Hugo, NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS. It has been adapted by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon to be a stage play, but everywhere lacking the same impact. The production has been filmed under the direction of Gilles Amado, and the audience sees little beyond a filmed performance.

The musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel started well by giving the production the same title that Hugo gave the novel. There are many characters in the story and the first-time reader may not expect that Quasimodo, his innocence, his pain, and his love, will become the main focus to the story. Re-titling the novel THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME is something of a spoiler. So the play starts out with points in its favor but quickly squanders them. The only adaptation that seemed worse was, of course, the film in which Disney turned this bitter, misanthropic tragic novel into a children's film.

In this adaptation, written by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon and based on the Hugo novel, the deaf and usually nearly mute hunchback is talkative and to far too great a degree eloquent. Much of the book only works with Quasimodo unable to speak up in his own defense. Here the story omits the trial of Quasimodo, but the story is the poorer for it. But where the real deficit occurs is much later. It is in the novel Esmeralda is going to be unjustly executed and nobody can do anything to stop it until the seemingly least powerful character in the city, the bell-ringer, does what nobody else can and rescues Esmeralda and saves her life. For one moment the seemingly least powerful man in Paris becomes the most powerful. In this play it is the peasant army who frees Esmeralda with the participation of the bell-ringer. It is the most exciting moment in any telling of the story and to not have the scene is a real letdown.

The production we see has little interest in creating a feel of 1482. Nobody is in period dress and most of the dancers dress in what look like loose shirts (or no shirts) and pants for men, shorts for women. Gringoire sings of how the world should accept the gypsies in "a world without borders." It is a very nice sentiment, but not one we would likely have heard in the 15th century. It is very much a 20th century concept. He sings about ignoring the color of Esmeralda's skin tone, which looks exactly like Gringoire's own skin tone.

In fact, there is no apparent concession to making Esmeralda appear to be gypsy. She wears a non-ethnic-looking dress and appears very 20th Century-ish. There is nothing about her appearance that supports or even fails to refute her being a gypsy. The musical lyrics claim that Quasimodo is ugly and has only one eye. He appears to have two perfectly functioning eyes. His face is done with a little bit of face paint and some blackened teeth. The crooked body just appears to come from some cloth padding under his jacket. This is a very unconvincing hunchback.

In any case trying to give Esmeralda the appearance of a 15th century gypsy would not have been entirely successful since all the speaking or singing actors wear very large obvious boom mikes spoiling any effect. The Notre-Dame Cathedral is portrayed by a climbing wall with pegs for handholds. The peasants blockade the streets with bicycle racks.

The translation is poor and it is not always easy to understand what is happening on stage, but the DVD does have subtitles. If the idea was to make another LES MISERABLES it is well beyond the play writers' reach. The score is not as complex, melodic, or even as interesting as the musical score for LES MISERABLES. The staging has a lot more dance that seems to have little to do with the plot. While LES MISERABLES is full of memorable (or earworm) melodies, the words are sung to no memorable or often even identifiable melody.

Sadly, as much as I like the novel NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS there is little to like in this musical film version. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. Undoubtedly someone someplace is trying to adapt the same novel to try to catch the lightning of LES MISERABLES. I wish him better luck. NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS is available for rent from NetFlix.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


A Month in Space (comments by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

To help communicate the quickening pace of space development, I thought it would be cool to assemble what I thought were the most important actual flight hardware tests from the period April 1, 2013 to May 1, 2013. I did not include press releases, ground tests, communication satellite launches, or ISS operations. Instead, I focused only on ground-breaking tests of completely new spacecraft. As you can see from below, there is an enormous amount going on, and only one launch, the Antares, was funded as part of a NASA program. Welcome to the future of space travel, and enjoy the cool videos! If you can't click on the links, copy them into a browser.

The month began on April 1 with a flight of Masten Space Systems Xombie technology demonstrator. The Xombie reached a height of 1,600 feet above the ground and flew 1,000 lateral feet to a pin-point landing. The Xombie program is focused on developing new technology for planetary landings. Check out the video here:

April 3 brought a glide flight of Virgin Galactic's Space Ship Two. This 9-minute flight tested wing feathering and in-flight nitrous oxide venting. It was followed rapidly on April 12th with another test flight of Virgin Galactic's White Knight 2/Space Ship Two suborbital vehicle. This flight of SS2, which lasted 10.8 minutes, tested in-flight venting of nitrous oxide.

On April 21, Orbital Sciences launched the Antares for the first time from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This flight is the second part of the COTS program for commercial re-supply of the International Space Station. The first part, which is already operational, relies on the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon capsule combination. The Antares flight represents a key milestone in ending the reliance on the storm-prone Florida launch sites, allowing for more reliable commercial orbital operations. You can find a video at

SpaceX's experimental fully-reusable rocket, the Grasshopper, achieved a height of 820 feet, and then returned to the ground safely. The Grasshopper is a 10-story vertical take off-vertical landing vehicle that SpaceX is using to develop a fully reusable two-stage to orbit craft, which, if successful, will drastically lower the cost of flying to space. You can find video of the test at

April 29 brought the first powered flight of Space Ship Two, built by Virgin Galactic. The flight lasted 13 minutes (16-second engine burn) after SS2 dropped from its carrier aircraft, the White Knight Two. SS2 topped out at Mach 1.22 and 56,200 feet, and glided backed to the Earth. Commercial sub-orbital tourist operations are expected to begin in late 2013 or early 2014. You can check out the video at

During a May 1 test flight, the Boeing X-51A Waverider unmanned vehicle (a military program) achieved the longest air-breathing hypersonic scramjet powered flight on record, flying for 3.5 minutes and reaching a maximum speed of Mach 5.1, or about 3,500 miles per hour. The X-51A should eventually lead to a new generation of ultra-fast transcontinental jets and single-stage-to-orbit space planes, as well as hyper-velocity cruise missiles. You can check out a video of the test at

This was an especially exciting month, but we are on an upward trend. I expect future months to be even more bountiful! Ad Astra! [-dls]

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

POMPEII by Robert Harris (ISBN 978-0-679-42889-3) is a historical novel set in Pompeii right before and during the eruption in 79 C.E. Harris is the author of FATHERLAND, a "Germany-won-World-War-II" alternate history, which is a sort of historical fiction, and has apparently done a fair amount of research on Pompeii for this novel as well. Unfortunately, the story that he has attached to the eruption, having to do with the engineering of aqueducts and political corruption around it, is not very engaging.

THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA: HOW WE BECAME A GOURMET NATION by David Kamp (ISBN 978-0-7679-1579-3) sounded promising, but was disappointing. I had hoped for a book that would cover our transition from a macaroni and cheese nation to a place where salsa outsells ketchup and the question is not whether to have Thai food, but which of the four Thai restaurants with five miles of our house to go to. Instead, Kamp mainly focuses on celebrity chefs and their effect on eating habits. He starts with Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, and James Beard, and continues to the many chefs today. There is a nod to East Asian cuisines and Mexican cuisine, but nothing about Indian cuisine, or Middle Eastern cuisine, or indeed any cuisine outside of Europe or the United States.

Even if I were interested in the actual topic, I would find the writing style a turn-off. I cannot pin down the problem: Are the sentences too ornate? Does Kamp try to jam too many ideas into a single sentence? Consider this sentence, randomly chosen: "In 1976 when she was still only twenty-three, Piper opened up her own place in Madison, L'Etoile, which was, if anything, an even greater triumph than the Ovens of Brittany, its dedication to local foods inspiring the food press to posit Piper as a Midwestern analogue to Alice Waters." Judge for yourself.

[In other words he just has run-on sentences? -mrl]

AT LAKE SCUGOG (ISBN 978-0-691-14942-4) by Troy Jollimore and is in a genre I usually do not review: poetry. But it appeared on someone's "best of the year" list for its year (2011) and the poems were described as both philosophical and mathematical, so I decided to give it a try. (It took so long because I had to request it via inter-library loan and I tend to put that off.)

The very first poem, "The Solipsist", delivers on the promise of philosophical ideas, beginning:

Don't be misled: that sea-song you hear when the shell's at your ear? It's all in your head.

That primordial tide- the slurp and salt-slosh of the brain's briny wash- is on the inside.


In other words, everything is really all in your head.

(I am at a loss as to how much of a poem I can quote in a review. David Orr wrote about this in the New York Times in 2011 ("When Quoting Verse, One Must Be Terse")

As he said, "The difficulty is not so much that the copyright system is restrictive (although it can be), but that no one has any idea exactly how much of a poem can be quoted without payment. Under the "fair use" doctrine, quotation is permitted for criticism and comment, so you'd think this is where a poetry critic could hang his hat. But how much use is fair use?" Publishers seem to give answers varying from three or four lines to almost an entire poem. Giving a percentage figure (say, 5%) is problematic for short poems (for example, haiku).

For example, Mark wrote a haiku on his office door once:

Sorry, no haiku.
They will return soon. I am
Off on Vacation.
That is 62 characters; 5% would be "Sor".)

Further on, we get something worthy of Lewis Carroll in "Regret":

I'd like to take back my not saying to you those things that, out of politeness, or caution, I kept to myself. And, if I may - though this might perhaps stretch the rules -I'd like to take back your not saying some of the things that you never said, like "I love you" and "Won't you come home with me," or telling me, which you in fact never did, ... that try as you might, you could not imagine a life without me. ...

Jollimore does make a mathematical (and grammatical) error, though, in "Tom Thomson in Space", when he writes, "it treks where no man / (and even fewer *women*) have gone before ..." Clearly there cannot be fewer women than zero who have done something. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          I've always said, I have nothing to say, only to add.  
          And it's with each addition that the writing gets done.  
          The first draft of anything is really just a track.
                                          --Gore Vidal

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