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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/13/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 11, Whole Number 1771
Table of Contents
Knowing a Little Math Gives Me an Edge (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I travelled in Vietnam (as a tourist) I visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. This museum is dedicated to artifacts of the war the Vietnamese. It is really sort of a propaganda museum, though for the purpose of tourism there is some effort to show both sides as noble.
One exhibit talked about a war atrocity that was reported in the January 19, 1970, issue of "Life" magazine. Well, who can deny it if even "Life" magazine admits to it. And they give the issue you can check. But, of course, I like to take a little challenge to figure out the day of the week that a given date falls on. January 19, 1970, was a Monday. When I was a teen "Life" magazine always came out on a Friday. The dates on the magazine were always Friday. You are never going to see a January 19, 1970, issue of Life Magazine. Somebody is either wrong or being dishonest.
It is nice to know a little math.
Now for another example. I was looking at an issue of the magazine of the Humane Society of the United States. I should say at the outset that I am very sympathetic to their cause, but they too make mistakes, perhaps honest mistakes, that a mathematician will pick up on.
They were discussing the plight of pit bulls, their owners, and dogs that vaguely look like pit bulls and their owners. Maryland's highest court has ruled pit bulls are inherently dangerous and so owners and their landlords are financially responsible for any damage the dogs do. But landlords can terminate leases of owners of pit bulls. This is not true of any breed but pit bull. Dogs can be evicted if landlords even suspect they are pit bulls. The Humane Society makes the point that you cannot tell by looking if a dog is a pit bull or part pit bull. So they show pictures of ten dogs that they say have been DNA-tested and what percent they are of each breed. The first dog they tell us is 50% American bulldog, 25% American Staffordshire Terrier, 9.28% Pembroke Welsh corgi, and 7.97% Irish wolfhound.
I would argue that no dog is 7.97% Irish wolfhound or even any fraction near 7.97% of any breed.
I would contend that the fractions of a breed that a dog can be always have a denominator that is a power of two. Let's let A, B, C, D, ... be breeds.
Suppose a dog is all A. That is he is 1 A. That is 100% A. 1 is 1/(2^0). If the dog mates with a dog of breed B then the result will be a dog who is 1/2 A and 1/2 B. The denominators are each 2 and 2 is a power of 2. I then this dog mates with a dog 1/2 A and 1/2 C, the result will be a dog 1/2 A, 1/4 B, and 1/4 C. Again all the dogs have fractions of breeds that have powers of two in the denominators. Fractions with denominators that are powers of 2 are called dyadic fractions. The proportion of a dog that is of a given breed has to be a dyadic fraction.
When I was in college one of my professors came in with a humorous story. He had been watching a western on TV with his daughter and someone in the program said that he was 1/3 Indian. The professor said, "That's impossible. Nobody is 1/3 Indian." The daughter said, "How can you say that? You don't even know him." My professor knew because 1/3 is not a dyadic fraction. Biologically there is no way to produce a person who is 1/3 Indian. It would take many, many generations to even come close. A person could be 5/16 Indian, but that would take four generations of carefully controlled breeding. And 5/16 is still a fair way from 1/3.
Now 7.97% is not a dyadic fraction, but that does not say it is wrong. It may be an approximation of a dyadic fraction that was rounded to 7.97. How do I know that is not the case? Well, in fact there is a dyadic fraction arbitrary close to any number you can give me. But to get a dog 7.97% of something would take many centuries of breeding. The way to look at it is to convert the number 0.0797 to base 2. We get .0001010001100111... Each place there represents a different generation of the dog. .000101 base 2 is 1/16 + 1/64 which is .078125. And this is saying something specific happened six and four generations before. If we want to go back eleven generations we could get a better approximation, but it seems unlikely.
Let's just say it is just very unlikely to have someone be near 1/3 Indian. Or of having "Life" magazine come out on a Monday. It looks like some of the figures were not correct. Of course, they may have come from experimental data that had some error. But the data says very strongly to me that it is unlikely that dog could be anything like 7.97% Irish Wolfhound. [-mrl]
ELYSIUM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In the mid-22nd century the earth has been reduced to desolation where most people live in poverty. Hanging above them is Elysium, a stylish satellite built for the country club set. Matt Damon plays Max, one of the oppressed commoners from the surface of the planet who finds he has to get to the pretty world over his head. Neill Blomkamp writes and directs a biting extrapolation of current political trends but then slathers on interminable fighting and shooting scenes. After this and his earlier DISTRICT 9 he really needs to learn that too much action blunts his more interesting statements. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Neill Blomkamp says his films are not really about the future but about the current world. And it is hard to deny that the film works in many current issues that are blatantly and transparently forced into the plot. Blomkamp's script works in wealth disparities, immigration, corporate power, labor relations, affordable health care, crime, and possibly global warming.
ELYSIUM is all about the gap between the richest one percent and the rest of humanity. In the year 2154 the gap has become geographical. The 99% live on a spoiled, ugly world filled with violence and exploitation. If that were not bad enough the 1% have to rub the world's nose in the disparity. They live suspended in the sky is a beautiful satellite in the shape of a star-spoked wheel hung low in the sky over Los Angeles where the common people have to look at it. What keeps it in place physically is the super-science of a bit of Blomkamp hand waving. It is the 22nd century version of a stretch limo, but airborne and much bigger.
Matt Damon plays Max, an ordinary worker who is on the tatty end of labor exploitation. Now he has an extreme need to get to the pleasure satellite Elysium. This will put him in the middle of a power struggle on the satellite and pit him against Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who is making a power play for control of Elysium
Blomkamp has reasonably good ideas for his films, a little politically simplistic, but then so is ANIMAL FARM. The viewer has no trouble understanding the unsubtle points he is trying to make. His view of the future is one of desolation in this film and DISTRICT 9. He likes scenes of gritty ugliness for which he over- exposes his film under a blistering Mexico City sky (for the Los Angeles sequences). His biggest problem is that he recognizes that a lot of his audience are high school kids looking for an action film, and he reasons that if a little action sells tickets, a lot of action will sell so much more. The second halves of both of his films were filled with fighting and shooting and killing and dying ad nauseum. His action just stops the plot dead for twenty minutes at a time, and when it is over the only progress in the plot is that now X and Y are now dead and Z is wounded. With skillful editing the action sequence could have been ten minutes shorter and still would have told the same story. A much better political thriller like SEVEN DAYS IN MAY makes clear its politics, and it never stops the plot for mindless action. Cut ten minutes out of it and what is left is much less of a film and probably would not make sense.
Slowing the plot for excessive action is not just from Blomkamp. The recent STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is really over packed with action sequences. And there was very little story to THE BOURNE INHERITANCE, just action scenes. This is weak story telling making his stories the cinematic equivalent of beach reads. For what it is, ELYSIUM is OK, but it has ambitions to be more that Blomkamp stifles. I rate ELYSIUM a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1535108/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/elysium_2013/
Subtitling Versus Dubbing (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):
In response to Mark's comments on subtitling versus dubbing in the 09/06/13 issue of the MT VOID, Walt Meissner writes:
You present some interesting points on subtitling vs. dubbing.
Since I can understand several languages to various degrees, I always prefer subtitling, provided they show white letter with a contrasting black letter outline surround, and allowing the background to be seen around the letters.
Also, I prefer hearing the original language, since either subtitling or dubbing don't always reflect exactly what is spoken.
Even for languages where I have just a minimal vocabulary, I find that after about 5 -15 minutes, I hardly glance at the subtitles after that, except when there is a word spoken that I don't know and then I "look it up" in the subtitles.
If the language is one I don't know explicitly, I listen to the words and compare them to the subtitles. Many times, certain words are repeated quite often, and I actually can learn some new vocabulary by associating some spoke word with some word in the subtitle.
I had about six weeks of Mandarin lessons one time (very simple vocabulary), and when subsequently watching CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON with subtitles, I was surprised how many of the words I had learned I could pick up in the dialog. This was only done by confirming what I had heard with the subtitles.
One film (I believed it was labeled as Italian) had four languages, Italian, French, German, and English. The actors were multilingual and, in the film, they spoke whichever language the other "actor" spoke in. So they may be speaking to their friends in their native language, but when they were in another country or had guests from another country and when another actor walked in on the them, they switched to speaking the language of that actor's country. (It keep me on my toes, linguistically speaking.)
Many foreign films, I have noticed, have extensive dialog in the beginning outlining the situation about to be presented in the film (here it helps to read the subtitles), followed by events carrying very simple dialog involving greetings (hello, goodbye), counting, (1, 2, 3 etc.), naming of family relations (aunt, uncle, husband, wife, etc) and simple verbs centered around emotions (je t'aime, je fou, etc).
Also, as you say, dubbing doesn't allow for hearing the subtle emotion that may be characteristic of a particular actor. For instance, James Garner played Jim Rockford in THE ROCKFORD FILES with a unique sarcastic tone underlying his ordinary sounding lines. When this show was exported to European countries with dubbing, it just lost all of its dialog flavor, sounded cut and dry, and fell flat.
The case made for dubbing has some interesting points. Multiple people talking makes subtitling challenging, as you say. Also, I have seen cases where a single character speaks a paragraph but only two simple lines are shown in the subtitles. If I know the language well enough, it doesn't matter, but if not, I am left wondering all that was said.
Also, the later DVDs and Blu-rays have choices of multiple spoken (or dubbed) languages and multiple subtitles language options (including off).
One could watch the film in the original language subtitled and re- watch it dubbed without subtitles.
Also, choosing a foreign language with the same language as subtitles could be used to learn to associate the written with the spoken word (language training, kind of like speak-and-spell).
Nowadays, I put on English subtitles even if the original language is in English. If I miss hearing a word due to noise in the room, I can read it off the subtitles. Also, if a word is spoken that I don't know how it is spelled, (i.e. usual proper noun and names)the subtitles will tell me that.
However, TV program subtitles are for the birds. They must have some automatic speech recognition software that does this and words either missing, blended with others, or just plain misspelled. [-wm]
As a slow reader there are times I prefer dubbing, sometimes subtitling. And if a film is very visual sometimes I will prefer dubbing.
As I get older I often put on subtitles on English language films. My hearing is just not as acute as it used to be. Doing that is also useful when I am on my exercycle. It is harder to hear the language with the background noise.
As for TV subtitles, I do not watch that much TV, but at times I have seen what a hash job they do with subtitles. I had assumed that they just got someone to type subtitles in real time much like they might get someone to translate to sign-language in real time. Otherwise I cannot account for why they do such a terrible job. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We have just returned from a four-week vacation (driving to San Antonio for LoneStarCon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention) and while many people read more on vacation, I read less. A lot less. In fact, my reading on the trip consisted of two short stories. My recent columns have been catch-up for what I had read before vacation, but I am flat out, so this week I will talk about recent acquisitions instead.
There were several distinct book acquisitions on this trip. First, we got a couple of lengthy pamphlets on cryptography at the NSA Museum of Cryptology. Then was our trip to the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains (TX), where we bought two volumes of the definitive "Conan" stories issued in the early 2000s, from Howard's own manuscripts and original publications rather than the heavily edited versions issued by Lancer Books in the 1960s and 1970s. We also got WORD FROM THE OUTER DARK, a small volume of a hundred of Howard's poems printed by the Museum, and a pamphlet of a humorous Howard short story, "The Man-Eating Jeopard" [sic].
Next was at LoneStarCon 3 itself. There were a lot of freebie books at registration, initially limited to three per person, but eventually all you wanted. The most ubiquitous was REDLAW by James Lovegrove. The publisher sent 4000 copies, which would have been fine if every member took a copy--but of course many did not, and there were *lots* left over. There were not as many copies of the others, but most did not appeal to us.
In addition to the books at registration, The Science Fiction Outreach Project was giving away books donated by publishers. The best of these, hands down were the three Chad Oliver volumes from NESFA Press, followed by the NESFA Press's Budrys volume in honor of his GoH-ship at LoneStarCon 2. Again, most of the other publishers' donations were unappealing to us. (We also donated a couple of dozen books we were getting rid of.)
And just as I was congratulating myself and not making a special visit to a bookstore, we discovered McKay Used Books in Lexington (KY) (by seeing its sign on a building the size of an airplane hanger).
First we spent a long time in the DVD section, looking at DVDs and listening to someone explain that the government tracks every Blu- ray DVD that you watch, including when you pause it and for how long, and all sorts of other data. They store this in a room with your name under a mountain in Utah.
We also found a lot of interesting--and cheap!--books. There was a large-format book on cult science fiction films for $1.50. There was Garcia Marquez's UNA CRONICA DE UNA MUERTE ANUNCIADA, again only $1.50. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FICTIONAL & FANTASTIC LANGUAGES was only $4. The best find may have been a book in Spanish on werewolves in the cinema--for $2. The most expensive book we got was an anthology of new Sherlock Holmes pastiches published just this year, at $7.50.
Not surprisingly, some (many, I hope) will get reviewed here. Why do I hope for many? Because otherwise it will mean I gave up on them partway through. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his money, the next worst his health, the next worst his reputation. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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