MT VOID 08/23/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 8, Whole Number 1768

MT VOID 08/23/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 8, Whole Number 1768

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/23/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 8, Whole Number 1768

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: 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 mtvoid- To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-

NSA Surveillance Fallout (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am just devastated by the whole NSA Surveillance Scandal. Okay, the NSA knows it and who knows who else. Here I am, a healthy adult male, and there is nothing in my e-mail that is embarrassing. I never until now realized what a dull colorless life I must be leading. [-mrl]

Wet-Gating and Fade-Fighting (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I saw some material about film restoration techniques. It seems impossible, but the science has now advanced so that it is possible that a film has a higher quality image in the restored version than it had on it its original release. That seems to go against thermodynamics or something.

Many of the classic films were on materials that were not chosen with much thought for their long-term life. The priorities of film producers were that the film give a clear image and be cheap. Everything else being equal they would have preferred stable prints that would be good for decades or more. But they would not have wanted to pay for longer life even if film stocks were available that would have lasted longer.

The simple fact was that long-life materials were not available back in the early days of cinema. Some film companies did stash copies of their films in vaults, but that is a long way from preserving the films. Later studio regimes would sell their old prints for the celluloid or the silver content. I have been told that most films ever made are now lost forever. Even if there is a copy of a film in the studio vaults, it is not just a matter of taking it out, threading it through a projector and off it goes. You really need a device call an "optical printer." It takes a film and photographs it a frame at a time onto fresh film stock and probably these days makes a digital record. It is filmed with a much higher resolution than the original film stock could provide. But it is still just kicking the can down the road since no recording medium lasts forever. It is in the nature of film preservation that you are always just forestalling the decay of a film. If you are lucky you are just kicking the can far enough down the road that it will not be a problem in the foreseeable future.

Even with an optical printer your problems are far from over. Very old celluloid shrinks or sometimes swells. It no longer fits standard sprockets. Apparently optical printers can be adjusted to handle a different inter-sprocket length.

Older film, if it has been used, gets dust particles impossible to totally remove. However today the effects on the image can be digitally removed.

The next problem is not so easy to correct. When the film was run originally it may have been scratched or pitted. Frequently this damage was done when the film was being rewound. Rewinding is done at high speeds and it is easy for a projectionist to scratch the film.

Today scratches in film could be removed digitally much in the way that support wires are digitally removed. But there are easier techniques. When the damage was done some of the surface of the print was gouged out. It may have been left as dust in the projector. The little crevices have missing celluloid.

The technique for fixing scratches is to use a fluid that has the same optical properties as the surface of the film. The fluid that works is perchlorethylene, a.k.a. dry-cleaning fluid. If the film is dipped in the fluid, the liquid will fill up the cracks and crevices in the surface of the film. For just an instant the film will behave as if its surface still had the original celluloid. That will last for only a moment and then gravity will pull the fluid off of the original film. But that instant is long enough for the image to be photographed. The image is rejuvenated for only an instant, but that is long enough for the image to be photographed. This technique is called "wet-gating". Once all the frames are photographed they can be used for the new, restored version of the film. But there is more digital jiggery-pokery that is used to mend the film.

You have probably seen old color films in which the reds get much stronger and the non-red color fades. The film has three layers of color, one for each primary color. The color of the image is distorted because the yellow layer is less stable than the red layer. Film is just chemicals held in place by plastic. Chemicals are only stable so long before they start breaking down. But the fading can be corrected digitally.

If a single frame decays it used to be lost forever to the film. The frame would just be spliced out and the eye would just barely see a 1/24th second jump. Now there are digital ways to interpolate a missing frame from the two around it.

There is now a very large bag of tricks to restore old films, but the process is expensive. Only a small proportion of films are currently considered important enough to preserve and hold on to. But fore some prized films restoration is quite possible.

For more information see


THE END OF DISCOVERY by Russell Stannard(book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

One take on predicting the future is to look into what might be impossible, and work backwards. The best example of this is Arthur C. Clarke's PROFILES OF THE FUTURE, which I consider the best book on futurism ever written. More recently there has developed a cottage industry of books attempting to assay the "limits of science" including, for example, THE END OF SCIENCE by James Horgan (1997). Stannard's 2010 book brings to the topic his background as a high energy physicist as opposed to the more journalistic focus of earlier works. This makes for a more interesting guide to the impossible, but still one that runs into more than few ruts. Before starting, it is important to keep in mind that, unlike some other commentators, Stannard does *not* envision any end to technology, as the applications of scientific knowledge are limited only by our creativity.

Stannard lists three reasons why discovery may end: [1] our brains may simply be incapable of understanding the big questions, [2] it may just get too expensive to do the experiments that are required to answer the final questions, and [3] some questions may just be impossible to answer in some fundamental sense.

The "brain" reason seems an extremely weak reed to lean on. Even if we are, in fact, incapable of understanding the big questions, and further, we never evolve, naturally or artificially, to become more intelligent, our construction of artificial minds is hardly 100 years old. It seems crashingly obvious to me as an electrical/computer engineer that even a mere additional 100 years of progress will gift us with artificial minds of more than human scientific prowess. There may be some limit to the growth of intelligence, but it lies so far in the distance we cannot even see its outline. I can only speculate that some combination of arrogance and ignorance has led Stannard to this "brain limitation" argument.

The "experiments too expensive to run" is a point also made by Horgan, and certainly has merit. However, Stannard's book would be a much better effort if he spent a bit more time looking concretely at what experiments we would need to be run to answer "big questions" that seem too expensive to implement. Stannard lists the questions, but for the most part doesn't give much sense of what the experimental limits might be.

Stannard does a better job of indicating when questions may be reaching the point of imponderability. Questions like "ultimately, what is the nature of matter" are as much philosophy as physics. Unfortunately, Stannard seems to lack the philosophical training to write a definitive assessment of these topics. WHAT IS REAL? by Meinard Kuhlman in the August 2013 Scientific American examines the intersection between physics and philosophy. Kuhlman has degrees in both physics and philosophy from Oxford, and is thus better equipped than Stannard to address these types of issues. Kuhlman's article is extremely interesting, and provides a deeper look into fundamental issues than Stannard does.

The two weakest chapters are "Brain and Consciousness" and "Extraterrestrial Life." Stannard's knowledge of these topics is superficial, and his conclusions off-base. It is hard to imagine that the question of the existence and nature of extraterrestrial life will remain forever unanswerable. Even if we don't develop in the relatively near term telescopes capable of detecting evidence of life on Earth-like planets, in the longer term we already have, or nearly have, the technology to explore the galaxy and definitely resolve this question, at least on the time-scale of centuries. It seems equally premature to declare that "consciousness" will never be understood, given we stand at the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence and neuroscience.

The rest of the book deals with unanswered questions in the realm of physics, and contains decent tutorials on the open areas of modern physics. Unfortunately, Stannard jumbles together questions that are almost certainly answerable, and may have already been answered, like "Is there a Higgs particle" with truly imponderable issues. One nice touch is that Stannard provides periodically a "summation" question that documents the open issue at hand. I've listed them below:

This list is fascinating, and a significant contribution to the "limits" discussion. Some of the questions obviously bump directly into philosophy, and indeed, may prove to be fundamentally unanswerable. Others seem rather prematurely placed on a list of limits. For example, with regard to proton decay, Stannard says, "Given that detectors significantly larger than the present one are unlikely to ever be built, there is concern that perhaps the actual lifetime is so long that we might never have the ability to measure it." The instrument Stannard refers to is an underground tank of 50,000 tons of very pure water. It is not at all obvious that this size represents any kind of fundamental limit, and it is unclear why Stannard thinks no larger device would "ever" be constructed.

Another odd question to suggest as a limit is "What is Dark Matter?" Since dark matter was first postulated in 1932 by Jan Oort, evidence has slowly grown which indicates that it is made up of some unknown type of particle. This is not a particularly long time for a puzzle to remain open, and Stannard does not present any cogent reason why we won't eventually pin down the exact nature of dark matter. Listing magnetic monopoles as an unanswered question is reasonable, but I note that the August 2013 issue of IEEE SPECTRUM has an article titled "The Race to the Pole" by Jonathan Morris which details the creation of artificial monopoles, called "spin-ice monopoles," and discusses applications like "magnetricity." This article suggests why the game of predicting the limits of science is a hazardous one, with looking foolish lying just around the corner.

In conclusion, THE END OF DISCOVERY is a valuable contribution to the "limits" discussion. I hope that it inspires other scientists and philosophers to examine Stannard's ideas and then create their own lists of potentially final questions, or to examine in more depth the questions Stannard lists, especially with regard to quantifying how difficult the required experiments might be. A book co-authored by a top-flight physicist and a top-flight philosopher would be especially welcome. [-dls]

EVIDENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Mixing found footage with conventional camera footage, EVIDENCE tells of two detectives who have to solve a puzzle and play a game of life and death with a serial killer. The game pieces are video recordings left by the killer's victims after they are stalked and violently killed at an abandoned gas station in the Nevada desert. Olatunde Osunsanmi directs a screenplay by John Swetnam. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

Serial killer films and found-footage horror films have both pretty much run their course. With EVIDENCE director Olatunde Osunsanmi and writer John Swetnam make a valiant attempt to do something new, bringing the two together, with a found-footage serial-killer film. But they may lose their viewer before the surprises late in the film.

Police detectives, Reese and Burquez (played by Stephen Moyer and Radha Mitchell), review cell phone footage shot by the victims of a stalker/killer. They are trying to piece together how five people were murdered stranded in the Nevada desert by a shuttle bus crash. And they just happened to have the crime all nicely documented with a cell phone camera. The first stretch of our credulity is that someone got such complete coverage of the killings and in each scene remained enough unscathed to continue filming.

Detectives Reese and Burquez get the somewhat damaged recording chips and review the camera footage for clues. Improbably, that may be sufficient to solve the crime. We watch them solving the crime and we see the same extremely shaky camerawork that they see. In fact the shaking of the image may be more jarring than the killings themselves. The unedited shots may lend some realism to the proceedings, but frequently they seem to be just padding out the film. Watching too much of someone walk wordlessly through a dilapidated building at night leads to impatience and even boredom. Since the film is being released on disk there may be some fast- scanning going on from impatient viewers.

EVIDENCE starts with one nice CGI 3D rendering of the overstuffed crime scene. The producer could afford that because so much of the rest of the movie is done with economical digital video, done with a particularly shaky camera. But there is very little interest created in any of the characters so the video segments are just repetitive without being really involving. It seems the camera is always luckily aimed well enough so no plot detail is lost. We see a bit too much of the abandoned buildings falling apart but little to grab us. Too much we see in the footage pads rather than adds to the plot.

The real problem with EVIDENCE is that it stretches the viewers' credulity that there is so nearly-perfect and complete a video record of the crime that the police can sit in one room watching a screen and do so much in solving the crime. That contrivance makes the detective work seem much too easy. It also makes the filmmakers' job of making the film feature length--94 minutes--seem just a bit too easy. If they wanted to make the film two minutes longer it is too easy to just show two minutes more of walking around with nothing happening. The problem with found footage is that it too simple and too tempting to just throw in more minutes of nothing happening. I rate EVIDENCE a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. EVIDENCE will be released on August 20 on DVD and Blu-ray, and will be available for download.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


M (film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I recently watched Fritz Lang's 1931 movie M again, and was struck by how timeless it is. To be sure, there is much that is dated about the criminals, and the police, and the businessmen--or is it that they are stereotyped? But so much of the psychology is the same as today.

For example, we see the beginnings of "helicopter parenting," with mothers constantly looking out the window for their children, walking them to and from school, and so on. (Apparently they don't do what the parents of our generation did, which is to drill into our heads never to take anything from strangers, and never to go with strangers.)

There is also a sequence of scenes in which perfectly innocent people are attacked by mobs. In one case, a little girl asks a man what time it is, and he tells her, then to make conversation asks where she lives. A crowd immediately gathers and accuses him of being the "child-murderer." In another scene a pickpocket being arrested shouts at the police that they should not be wasting time on pickpockets, but instead arresting the child-murderer. The crowd just hears the words "child-murderer" and assumes that the pickpocket is actually the child-murderer and starts to attack him. All of this resonates with our reactions to people who seem to have any connection, however tenuous, to terrorism. All it takes is two people Googling pressure cookers and backpacks from the same IP address and suddenly the FBI shows up. [-ecl]

Color Extraction from Animated Disney Films (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):

Andre Kuzniarek writes:

You might find this blog post interesting. Seems to be a variation on something similar you posted in a previous MT VOID:


Radiation and The Oath of a Freeman (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Mark's comments about radiation in the summer in the 08/16/13 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

You wrote "Something about summer makes silicon-32 emit radiation more and winter makes it emit less. It does not make sense, but there you have it."

Does this mean that in July silicon-32 emits radiation at a greater rate in Canada than in Australia, and vice versa in January? And what does it do in Singapore, which is on the Equator (or close enough for government work)? [-fl]

Mark responds:

The article I read did not answer the questions you ask. They seem like obvious questions and I don't think anyone has answered them. If I were to guess, and I am not really qualified to do so, I would look at distance from the sun. Or perhaps the measurement equipment has a fault.

They say the most exciting words to a scientist are not "Eureka" but "that's funny." This is a "that's funny" situation. [-mrl]

In response to Evelyn's comments on HOAXES in the same issue, Fred writes:

In discussing a book on hoaxes Evelyn mentions the "Oath of a Freeman", but says nothing more about it. I don't suppose it has anything with the Freeman's Oath that I took when I moved to Vermont and registered to vote there--but I am curious as to what this one is, and what makes it so important to a connoisseur of hoaxes. [-fl]

Evelyn Leeper replies:

"The Oath of a Freeman" was a loyalty oath to be taken by men of the Plymouth Colony. It was supposedly the first document to be printed in the Colonies (1639), but no copies exist from that printing; the copy "discovered" in 1985 turned out to be a forgery. [-ecl]

POODLE SPRINGS (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):

In response to Evelyn's review of POODLE SPRINGS in the 08/09/13 issue of the MT VOID and Kip Williams's comments in the 08/16/13, Gregory Eenford writes:

Indeed, after Evelyn's comments on POODLE SPRINGS I reread it ... and alas, agree. The self parody in PLAYBACK--a talky, sad guy in La Jolla wearing white gloves and sharing insights with Marlowe-- should've been a sign: he was running out of material. I was amused to note in a Chandler biography that he had never seen a jail until the 1950s; his Marlowe was not brought from any experience.

I wrote my own semi-Chandler in a novella, "Dark Heaven," with many Travis McGee touches too. It's an SF mystery, a sub-genre of which I'd like to see more. [-gb]

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

PROPHET OF BONES by Ted Kosmatka (ISBN 978-0-8050-9617-0) is an alternate history with the premise that the Earth really is only six thousand years old and this has been proved with carbon dating. But some bones found in a cave in Indonesia apparently are evidence of something that people in power want covered up. The best part of this is that (so far as I can tell) the fact that Darwin was completely discredited meant that genetic research and testing have proceeded much faster than in our world. Why? Well, because everyone knew that any "evolution" happened in the last six thousand years, there was nothing dangerous about it. It was perfectly reasonable to decide that the San (previously known as the Bushmen) split off from the rest of humanity first, because it is still within the six-thousand-year period.

At least I think that is the reasoning, but it is never explicitly stated. This is good, because otherwise it is an expository lump to explain it, but it also means I could be completely off-base. In any case, the plot seems to bifurcate at the end, with two different secrets rather than just one, and not very satisfying ones at that.

THE LUSIADS by Camoens (translated by William C. Atkinson, ISBN 978-0-14-044-026-3) is the "national epic of Portugal." (Do we have a national epic? Why not?) Written in the mid-sixteenth century, it is a poem recounting the voyage of Vasco de Gama in 1497-1498 from Portugal around the tip of Africa to India and back. Though originally in verse, Atkinson has rendered it in prose, and six pages of the introduction explain why.

In on easpect, Camoens set himself an impossible task. Modeling his poem after such epics as THE ILIAD, THE ODYSSEY, and especially THE AENEID, he felt obliged to put in all the Roman gods fighting over whether to help or hinder de Gama, as well as mythological tales of the founding of Portugal (a.k.a. Lusitania) by Lusus, the son of Bacchus. At the same time he is writing about what a pious Christian nation Portugal is, and how evil the Muslim infidels are. There is a real disconnect here, particularly in Canto 7 where he rails for four pages about how the other Christian nations of Europe should be fighting the infidels in Turkey, and Egypt, and North Africa instea of each other, and then says, "Now let us see what is happening to our famous navigators, now that Venus has calmed the blustering fury of the hostile winds and they are come at last in sight of land, the goal of their so constant perseverance, the land to which they have come to spread the faith of Christ, bringing to its peoples a new way of life under a new sovereign." It is good to know that the Roman goddess Venus is helping to promote Christ, though a bit strange.

In keeping with the classical epic style, Camoens uses a lot of similes. For example, he writes, "When the provident ants impelled to unwonted effort by fear of the harsh winter ahead, move in cumbrous supplies to the ant-hill, they show a vigour none had believed possible. Such were the strivings now of the nymphs as they sought to avert from the Portuguese the fearsome end that lay in wait for them."

It is also a bit strange how Camoens is constantly talking about how the Muslims are deceptive and lie to de Gama, and then in Canto 8 has the following: "And now the devil, speaking true for once, revealed to one of [the heathen soothsayers of Calcutta] how the [Portuguese] would mean their perpetual subjection to an alien yoke and the destruction of their lives and property." Sometimes one has to wonder which side Camoens is really on. Then again, probably Camoens thought that the perpetual subjection of heathens to the "alien" yoke of Christianity and the destruction of their lives and property was a good thing. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The printing press is either the greatest blessing 
          or the greatest curse of modern times, sometimes 
          one forgets which it is.
                                          --J M Barrie

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