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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/28/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 39, Whole Number 1799
Table of Contents
Retro Hugo Nominations Reminder and Hint:
A reminder: The Nomination period for both the Hugos and the Retro Hugos closes March 31. If you are not familiar with what was published in 1938, the "Advanced Search" function of the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org) lets you search my year and story length. [-ecl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
April 3: OSCAR (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM April 10: MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN (1994) (film) and FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM (There is a novelization of the film by Leonore Fleischer; this is *not* the book chosen!) April 24: LIFE AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT by J. Craig Venter, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 1: TBD (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM May 22: BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM June 12: BLINDNESS (film) and BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM June 26: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 24: THE DEMOLISHED MAN by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 28: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 25: IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 23: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 18: ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 18: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures: April 5: Neil Clarke (e-book revolution), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Solution to Last Week's Puzzle (contributed by Tom Russell):
Summary: March 14, 2014, my wife and I observed the sun rise in the west.
Explanation: We were en route home from Nashville, TN on a late afternoon flight. As the plane turned onto the runway to take off, into the southwest wind, for people on our side of the plane the setting sun came into view--partly sunk down on the horizon. I told my wife to pay attention--as the plane soared into the sky the sun "rose" in the western sky. It was more than a full sun diameter above the horizon when the plane turned east, putting the sun out of our view. [-tlr]
Mark had suggested:
You were observing a reflection in a window or some other piece of glass. [-mrl]
I hadn't thought of that possible explanation. [-tlr]
To the actual explanation, Mark replies:
I might contend you were seeing the sun SET but the Earth was receding faster. However I take it the plane was rolling toward the sun. I could see it either way. [-mrl]
Steve Milton sent in the correct answer:
Flying west, fast, just after sunset will create that effect. The plane must have been flying very fast or was very far north since commercial aircraft don't usually outrun the sun. What I experienced, in a similar situation, was a three-hour sunset. [-smm]
German 1938 SF Film:
See a 23-minute montage of scenes from ROCKET FLIGHT TO THE MOON, a.k.a. SPACESHIP NUMBER I STARTS, a.k.a. WELTRAUMSCHIFF I STARTET, at io9 at:
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We are starting a new month and that means we get a new schedule from my favorite cable station, Turner Classic Movies. Why do I comment on these every month? I have reviewed films on the Internet since 1985 and have been a film buff for life. I flatter myself that other people can use my experience.
Early this month you get a chance to sample the Ealing Studio's comedies. All but one of the films I am recommending are a subseries Turner is doing on the great Ealing comedies. If you do not know them, they are really worth seeing. (The one major Ealing comedy missing I will note is THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951). Maybe they will run it soon.)
A little background first. In the days following World War II Britain was going through hard times financially. There were shortages of many of the staples of living. People in the United States were buying food and mailing it to friends in Britain. What was a bad situation for most of the Brits was actually good news for film exhibitors. People did not have the wherewithal to travel or have a wild social scene. A big chunk of popular entertainment was movies, just as it had been in the United States during the Great Depression. When a new flashy American film was playing, just about everybody saw it and discussed it. People wanted American films. The British filmmakers were unhappy that so many American films were being shown and there was not so much of demand for British films. To compete the British government had passed a 1927 law that film exhibitors had to show British films. A certain percentage of the films they showed had to be British-made, even if they played to empty theaters.
To comply with the law British filmmakers made films often called "Quota Quickies." They were simple cheap little films that did not have to make big box-office profits, they just had to be good enough to be shown and fulfill a quota. The American (and other foreign) films were the moneymakers. Ironically this situation created a lot of classic British films.
Without worrying about making a big profit British filmmakers had artistic freedom. Many of the films they made were not very good. But some were quite good. The quota system began in 1927 and with variations remained in effect until the 1980s.
Ealing Studios made a series of comedies with really good actors, many of which are classics that are still a pleasure.
The most popular Ealing comedy was possibly THE LADYKILLERS (1955) in which a brutal gang of robbers including Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, and Peter Sellers are planning a ruthless railway heist. As their base of operation they choose a room they rent from mild little old lady Katie Johnson. Little do they expect the trouble that the little lady is going to cause them. [Wednesday, April 2, 8:00 PM]
KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949) has Dennis Price wanting to inherit his family's noble title. But there are a whole bunch of his relatives (males and females, all played by Alec Guinness) who stand in his way. No problem. He will just do them all in, one at a time. [Wednesday, April 2, 1:45 PM]
Guinness's last Ealing Comedy, not up to the previous two but still fun, is ALL AT SEA (1957). Guinness is the last in a line of illustrious sailing men. He himself gets seasick and hates the sea. His solution involves buying an amusement pier. He will run it as an attraction for people who want to say they have taken a cruise, but who like him get seasick. When the local council wants to take it away from him Guinness removes the walkway to the town then has his pier registered as a ship, outside of the town's jurisdiction. [Thursday, April 3 4:30 AM]
THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (1951), another Ealing comedy, is about a plot to steal gold. [Wednesday, April 2, 3:45 PM]
On to the one non-Ealing film I will recommend.
WENT THE DAY WELL? (1942) was made during WWII as a warning of what might happen if Germany invaded. In some ways time has made this a science fiction film as a once-possible future. It was made in 1942 when the English were very much under threat of having their country invaded by Germany. The threat was that all this might happen. History proved that the only English who were invaded were those living on the Channel Islands, islands in the English Channel closer to France than to England. The film is nonetheless an exploration of what could have happened. Told from the viewpoint of a villager survivor of the war, we are given the story of the village of Bramley End when British soldiers arrived. They are welcomed by the locals as being a link in England's national defense. Then it is discovered that they are less the sort of soldiers who have tea breaks and more the kind that eat wurst and sauerkraut. Then people of Bramley End are in the front lines of defending their country. The film is based on a story contributed by Graham Greene who wrote THE THIRD MAN and is directed by international film director Alberto Cavalcanti. It was intended as a propaganda film, but it also works as an effective alternate history thriller. [Thursday, April 10, 12:00 AM]
My choice for the best film of the month: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) [Wednesday, April 2, 9:45 PM]
Passwords (letters of comment by David Leeper, Walt Meissner, and Steve Milton):
In response to Evelyn's comments on passwords in the 03/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, David Leeper writes:
Regarding secure passwords--some sites don't allow them and one, Google, apparently insists on having at least one. It seems clumsy.
Ordinary words are easy to remember but way too easy to be guessed. What I'd like to know is whether the concatenation of two ordinary words is a good way to create an easy-to-remember but hard-to-guess/hard-to-search password. Instead of the trying all the N words in the dictionary to crack a login, one would (roughly) have to try all N-squared combinations. If I add even a third word, or some string of digits, it would seem to be to virtually unbreakable, but still easy to remember, no? [-dgl]
Alas, no. See http://tinyurl.com/void-schneier-password, of which one sentence reads:
"This is why the oft-cited XKCD scheme for generating passwords--string together individual words like 'correcthorsebatterystaple'--is no longer good advice. The password crackers are on to this trick."
And Mark adds:
The best approach I know of is this:
Now just how much computer power would it take to guess that password? [-mrl]
Walt Meissner writes:
I have noticed that the better financial websites do the login process in three steps.
(a) separate webpage to only type in the login name.
(b) separate webpage to only display the picture/icon previously selected and chosen by the user and have the user confirm that this is correct.
(c) separate webpage to only in type the password.
(d) use https:// for each webpage so it is encrypted (128 bits)
This presumably to stymie process when landing on a hijacked website or having some Malcolm in the Middle internet spoof (or something like that).
The poorer financial websites (some credit card companies) have the login/password fields in a box off to some corner on the same page that contains everything else AND their webpage in only http:// (so it appears not to be encrypted) but I think just the login/password fields in a box are encrypted. (Presumably so they don't have to encrypt the entire web page)
I have heard from computer security specialists that special characters or not, if a someone can download the encrypted passwords and knows the encryption algorithm, then offline brute force methods can quickly recover those passwords. (However the method of dictionary attack is the quickest so don't use conventional words found in the dictionary.) [-whm]
Steve Milton asks:
Why do the tech people who set up the password rules think putting stringent restrictions on password content other than length improves security? I had one site that forbid having a sequence of more than two letters, or numbers, or symbols. In other words, the password had to be a well-mixed-up sequence of all three types. While that would certainly confound any sort of dictionary lookup of passwords, for those without eidetic memories, it would almost guarantee that the passwords would need to be written down verbatim. [-smm]
Dan Cox suggests:
They may do that to simplify defense against an SQL (or similar) injection attack. It's considered safer specify known safe input and enforce that (white list) than to specify a list of forbidden input patterns and enforce that (black list): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SQL_injection. [-dtc]
Numbers of Things (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):
In response to comments by Dan Cox on the numbers of things in the 03/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:
The easiest way to show that 2^alef-null, the cardinality of the power set of the rationals, is uncountable is with a straightforward Cantor diagonalization argument. Consider binary fractions between zero and one, represented by .000... and .111..., and assume you were able to list all of them. Now consider the number obtained by flipping the first binary place of the first entry, the second place of the second, etc. By the standard argument it differs from the ith list element in the ith place. Therefore it's not on the list. Therefore no list can exist.
That the number (cardinality) of of the set of binary fractions is 2^alef-null is seen since the number of single place fractions is 2=2^1, double place fractions is 4=2^2, etc., and the number of binary places is countable. There is a one to one correspondence between binary fraction representations and subsets of the integers since each subset corresponds to a fraction where a 1 in the ith binary place means the number i is in the subset. [-no]
You are almost right on the first proof. Generally they are taught as a package: the proof there are no more rational numbers than there are integers, but that there are more real numbers than rational numbers. I decided not to go through a diagonalizing proof. My point was not to prove it rigorously but to just refer to the fact.
Why did I say you were "almost" right? Using your diagonalization, the constructed number actually under special circumstances can also be in the list someplace. You assume that the number you get in the diagonal cannot appear in the table. Under certain circumstances it can. This is because some numbers have two different decimal expressions. .1000... is the same number as .0111... It is easy to fix the proof, but the proof is incomplete without it. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
WILD ONES: A SOMETIMES DISMAYING, WEIRDLY REASSURING STORY ABOUT LOOKING AT PEOPLE LOOKING AT ANIMALS IN AMERICA by Jon Mooallem (ISBN 978-1-59420-442-5) is a look at conservation efforts for three species. Most of the book consists of three sections, titled "Bears", "Butterflies", and "Birds", which cover (respectively) polar bears, Lange's metalmark butterflies, and whooping cranes.
The main idea that Mooallem is trying to convey seems to be that conservationists are spending so much time avoiding failure that they have no time to figure out what success would look like. Failure is easy to define--the extinction of a species.
Well, actually, it is not so easy to define, because defining a species is not easy. There are butterflies that appear identical to Lange's metalmark butterflies, and might reasonably be considered the same species--but have siblings that appear different. On the other hand, there are butterflies that look "incredibly different" from the Lange's metalmark butterflies, so might reasonably be considered a different species--but have almost identical DNA. Does the existence of the *former* mean that the Lange's metalmark butterflies is not as close to extinction as was thought? Does the existence of the *latter* mean that the Lange's metalmark butterflies is not as close to extinction as was thought? Or do these other butterflies not count at all?
And the polar bears Mooallem writes about are interbreeding with grizzly bears moving north due to a warming Arctic, creating a new species. Apparently the big question is the naming of this new species. Possibilities are grolar bear, pizzly bear, nanulak, and aknuk. Supposedly, when creating portmanteau names, the name of the male parent comes first, so the first two would both be used if English is the base, and the second two if Inuit is chosen. Of course, this runs into the same problem that hyphenating names at marriage works find for the first generation, but really falls apart down the line. What is the offspring of a pizzly and a grolar called? (I think the problem is that in general the offspring of two different species are sterile--indeed, that is one way to define a species--but in this case Mooallem seems to beat least implying that the offspring are not sterile. Indeed, a 2010 article in "The Vancouver Sun" reports a second-generation hybrid.)
Anyway, assuming we can identify a species, we agree that extinction is the failure of the conservation efforts. But what is success? Is having a population in zoos or other domesticated situations, even if there is no population in the wild, success? Many would say no, but by this definition cows (Bos primigenius), pigs (Sus scrofa), sheep (Ovis aires), and other domesticated animals would not be successes in conservation.
But how wild is wild? The whooping cranes are bred using artificial methods, trained by volunteers who never speak and are dressed in white suits to disguise that they are human, and taught how to migrate by being trained to follow ultra-lights. The whooping cranes travel from refuge to refuge, being artificially isolated from all human contact. At the end of all this, Mooallem has to ask whether this is really a "successful" conservation effort.
The other concept Mooallem discusses is the "shifting baseline." There are two aspects to this. The first is typified by Jerry Powell's 1983 study of insect species on the Antioch Duns. In 1933, 376 species of insect had been catalogued on the Dunes. In 1983, 243 of those species were gone. But the total number of insect species catalogued in 1983 on the Dunes was *greater* than the number of species catalogued in 1933! Why? Powell eventually realized that it was because entomologists were cataloguing smaller and smaller insects. (For example, the mesh in their nets had gotten finer and finer.) As Mooallem said, "The biodiversity of the dunes hadn't expanded. But people's perception of it had."
The other aspect is that we only know what we know. We have no good idea of what has been lost overall, only what has been lost in our lifetime. One interviewee's daughter thinks the area around their cabin is pristine and unspoiled, but the interviewee mourns the facts that there are no owls hooting at night the way there were when he was young.
Mooallem gives statistics on bald eagles. In 1973, there were 417 nesting pairs in the lower forty-eight states. In 2007, there were 10,000. That sounds like a marvelous recovery. But the estimate for 1782 is 50,000, and for 1492 even higher. Compared to those numbers, 2007 is still a huge *decrease*. (And Josh Donlan claims that the *real* baseline should be 12,000 years ago--when humans arrived and the Pleistocene extinction began. By that measure, nothing we do is going to look good.)
Donlan has a plan for a "Pleistocene Rewilding": re-introducing camels, cheetahs, elephants, lions, and other animals hunted to extinction in North America. This is unlikely to come to fruition. On the other hand, the series "Life After People" looks at what would have to the fauna (and flora) of North America if people just disappeared tomorrow. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If to look truth in the face and not resent it when it's unpalatable, and take human nature as you find it . . . is to be cynical, then I suppose I'm a cynic. --W. Somerset MaughamTweet
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