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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/17/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 16, Whole Number 1828
Table of Contents
SF Editor Roundtable at Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library:
On Saturday, November 1, at 12 noon, the Graden State Speculative Fiction Writers will host Ellen Datlow, Gordon Van Gelder, and Sheila Williams talking about "How Has Magazine Publishing Changed in the 21st Century?" There is no charge for this program. This one is definitely worth marking your calendars for! [-ecl]
Dale L. Skran has been elected to the Board of Directors of the National Space Society: http://www.nss.org/about/bod.html.
The Appearance and Reappearance of Dinosaurs (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
[I am going to start out this column lying to you. The next statement is false on a technicality, but it is effectively true.]
There were no humans around at the time the dinosaurs were alive and we have to depend on the artists and paleontologists of our time to tell us what dinosaurs probably looked like. Despite terrific detective work humans can never really know what dinosaurs actually looked like. But while I was growing up I thought I really did know. Ray Harryhausen (and a few natural history museums) taught me.
Ray Harryhausen was part of a small elite group of artists who were pivotal in creating the public's visual image of the dinosaurs. For dinosaur fans of the previous generation it had been artists like Charles R. Knight who gave our imaginations the images of dinosaurs that some of us of a certain age all carried around with us for years. It was Knight and later Ray Harryhausen who gave people their idea of what dinosaurs looked like. Then still later people got their ideas of what dinosaurs looked like from the makers of the JURASSIC PARK films. The images slowly changed more or less reflecting what was then current scientific opinion.
If we think of a dinosaur we used to think of it a looking a lot like how Knight and Harryhausen saw it. The makers of JURASSIC PARK knew things that Harryhausen and certainly Knight did not know. But all in all, the JURASSIC PARK dinosaurs still very much look like Knight's dinosaurs. The biggest difference is that we now think bi-pedal (theropod) dinosaurs walked with spines nearly horizontal. Harryhausen and Knight had the tails near the ground where it could provide the third leg that sort of balanced the weight on the two feet. We think now that theropods walked leaning forward with their spines more horizontal not unlike birds.
Now it is starting to look like they may all be missing a major and important feature. The important new word in describing the look of dinosaurs is "feathers." Now we have known for some time that some dinosaurs had feathers. Most of us with any interest in prehistoric animals knew that the Archaeopteryx was feathered. But now we know there may have been a large variety of dinosaurs that had feathers.
Until recently all dinosaurs that paleontologist detectives knew had feathers were from one part of the evolutionary tree. Now we are discovering that a dinosaur from the same tree but fairly distant also had feathers. It is quite unlikely that feathers would evolve both places in the tree and much more likely that they were inherited from a common ancestor. That implies that a lot of dinosaurs that descended from that common ancestor may have been all feathered. The feathers were just not durable enough to be identified from what was found in the fossil record. The Tyrannosaurus we saw in JURRASIC PARK may well be a plucked chicken version of what the real dinosaur would have looked like. Come to think of it, it even looked a little like a plucked chicken. But Knight and Harryhausen never knew to make their dinosaurs feathered so there is a good chance they were way off-base. If you search the net you can find images of what familiar dinosaurs would have looked like feathered. They look a lot like big birds.
Now there is a certain irony here. When dinosaur bones were originally found the first thought was that these bones belonged to very large birds. Or at least they were thought to be creatures that were very much like birds. More was discovered about the beasts and we found a lot of shapes of the beasts that were much less birdlike. Our progenitors all learned that these fossils in the ground were dinosaurs, not birds. Birds were considered a category of animal different from dinosaurs. Humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time. Now we know that humans and dinosaurs actually did live together in the past. And by the past I mean times like 8:37 this morning. Or later. Paleontologist used to think that birds descended from dinosaurs and still had a lot of dinosaur-like biological similarities. And as the fossils were studied it came down to the primary difference between the two was that dinosaurs lived a long time ago and are all dead. Birds, on the other hand, are not all dead. If birds had lived 65 million years ago in the Age of the Dinosaurs they would have been dinosaurs. Eventually the scientists decided that not being extinct was no good reason to say birds are not dinosaurs. So you are really still is the Age of Dinosaurs.
Now people were unhappy enough with scientists for telling us that Pluto is no longer a planet. Pluto may not be a planet, but we now have real live dinosaurs living today, something the kid in us always wanted. Birds are from a line of dinosaurs that did not go extinct 65 million years ago. It is still alive today. Birds are live dinosaurs that you probably see every day. You may actually have a live dinosaur as a pet. And you will have to be satisfied with that until Pluto learns to clean up its orbit and hence be a planet again. Science has taken away Planet Pluto but has given us live dinosaurs. We have to be content with that. [-mrl]
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The opening scene shows how much difficulty we have in communicating even among ourselves, using the same medium of communication (sounds as words). Three languages are involved and they need to translate Spanish into English and then English into French. So later we should not be surprised at the difficulties in communicating with an alien species using music, or hand signals, or whatever.
They apparently have no bugs wherever the kidnapped boy Barry lives (no screens in the windows).
The "Tolono" referenced is the Tolono Expressway, not the town (which is in Illinois, and is three hours away). "Cornbread Road south of [Route] 20" is in Yorktown near Muncie (where the newspaper is from). The Indiana-Ohio toll road must be I-90, which is mentioned, but that is way too far north, and the Telemark Expressway seems to be fictional. The only "Harper Valley" in Indiana is a farm a considerable distance from Muncie.
Neary has a BSU paddle; "BSU" stands for "Ball State University", which is in Muncie. (Barry wears a Boston University T-shirt.)
What makes Neary's truck start up again?
Neary's kids (and his wife) are so annoying it's no wonder he wants to leave the planet. (One wonders if the friend's family in RAISING ARIZONA was patterned after them.)
Dharamsala is where the Dalai Lama lives. The plants we see in Dharamsala look an awful lot like southwest desert plants, but they were actually filmed in Dharamsala.
The (Asian) Indians' arm motions far too synchronized.
The film credits Zoltan Kodaly with the hand signs and claims they are to teach music to deaf children. Actually John Curwen did the majority of the development, the signs were to provide a visual aid to children singing, and they were not all done with the arm outstretched, but in front of the body, with different tones at different heights.
Helicopters in films always seem to be very quiet until they are practically on top of people.
How do they know the coordinates the aliens send are North and West, rather than South or East?
44-35-26 N, 104-42-56 W Devil's Tower 44-35-26 S, 104-42-56 W ocean near South America 44-35-26 S, 104-42-56 E ocean near Australia 44-35-26 N, 104-42-56 E Mongolia
You could not hide all those lights behind Devil's Tower, not to mention a spaceship several times wider than the Tower, nor would the Tower do anything to block the sound from the loudspeakers reaching the entire countryside.
THE DECENT ONE (DER ANSTÄNDIGE) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: THE DECENT ONE--the title could not be more ironic--tells the story of the life and times of Heinrich Himmler and his two faces. He was the chief architect of the Holocaust and responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the concentration camps. At the same time he was a loving family man who cherished his wife and children. We hear read newly discovered diaries and correspondence with his family combined with historical and news camera footage recounting Himmler's history, which closely follows the history of the Nazi Party. There is not a lot new about the Nazis here, and what is new is just about Himmler's relation with his family while he was responsible for some of the worst days of the 20th century. Some viewers who have not seen film of the Holocaust will likely find some of the visuals disturbing. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
The film reminded me of an incident in my youth. I remember one Sunday morning when I was growing up. Our neighbor across the street was on his sidewalk dressed up for church. While his family was getting ready he casually took a kettle of boiling water and poured it down an anthill. He was taking a moment before church to cause pain and death to what was possibly hundreds of ants. I would have thought it would be an unchristian act. But I am sure my neighbor felt he was being a good Christian without placing value on the lives of ants. God does not care about ants.
It is the revelation of Vanessa Lapa's new documentary THE DECENT ONE that Heinrich Himmler thought of himself as a sensitive, decent man and as a good German doing his duty to the Fatherland. At least that was the way he presented himself in his personal correspondence and his diaries. These writings had been thought lost since the end of the war, but have now been rediscovered.
Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a major force in the Nazi Party and was one of the chief architects of the Holocaust that killed eleven million people. He was one of the people most responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, gays, gypsies, and communists following his personal belief that these people were bringing down the German state and Germany had an obligation to exterminate them. Himmler we see was not a mad man, as it is often convenient to label the leaders of the Nazi Party. He was just a very ordinary man who through his writings just expressed that the captive people's lives were worth no more than those of my neighbor's ants. They needed to be killed so that a new Germany could rise modeled on a mythical historic Germany. Himmler idolized previous generations and wanted to return to the values of historic times.
The newly rediscovered writings of Himmler appear to show that he was a family man, though with just a little infidelity on the side. But he loved his wife and his children. And he enjoyed his terrible work, as much as he grouses about it in his letters home. That said there is not a lot in this film that is not familiar history for any who wanted it. We hear actors reading the writings and behind the subtitles we see relevant news and documentary footage of the time. One touch taken from the last days of silent film: there are sound effects added to the footage, much after the fact, to give it a little bit of the impression of sound film.
There is a problem with the words spoken in rapid-fire German and then subtitled so that the subtitles flash by very quickly. Some viewers will feel that if they look at the movie footage they will miss the subtitles and vice versa. Also, in the version I say the subtitles were in white with black border over black and white film. This frequently makes the subtitles hard to read. The words are read by actors, but they are unfamiliar voices, and at times the viewer needs to recognize the voices to keep track of who is speaking.
Heinrich Himmler's rather prosaic personal life is about all that is really new here. Still it is a "nice" (if that is the word) summary of Himmler's life and his "achievements" (if that is the word). I rate THE DECENT ONE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3508830/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_decent_one/
What Is Art? (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "What Is Art?" in the 10/03/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
I woke up to an NPR radio piece last week that relates to MT VOID topic "What is Art?", wherein you stated: "(van Meegeren pointed to his most famous Vermeer forgery), and said, 'Yesterday, this painting was worth millions... Today, it is worth nothing (but the picture has not changed).'":
"For nearly thirty years, art forger Mark Landis duped dozens of museums into accepting fakes into their collections. His stunts made headlines around the world. But Mark Landis never asked for money so he never went to jail."
I am much more familiar with books than "art" (per se). So are most, I imagine, in the SF fan/fanzine/writer/creator/consumer world. As a child, with relatively limited means, I always waited for the paperback to come out--and often got that discounted at Waldo's (a local SF book emporium). As an adult, I find that I do much the same. A worn-out paperback is essentially equal to a brand new hard cover--even preferable, since a paperback is easier to hold with one hand while stretched out on the couch.
Likewise, a high-quality print, until you get close, is essentially equal to the "oil". When you do get close, a high-quality forgery is too.
I once collected coins. Nice copies of rarities are OK if one does not pay the same price for copies as authentically struck examples. At this point, it's interesting to note that coins are effectively "prints", since many are struck from a single die--which themselves are made from "hubs". I don't get out as much as I'd like, but recall that the Art Institute in Chicago once had some very nice electrotypes of Greek and Roman ancients--looking far too new to be "real" (no patina at all). Better to have shiny copies than photos or nothing-at-all.
I suppose one could go completely relativistic (with apologies to Dr. Einstein) and assert that Art, like Beauty, is "in the eye of the beholder". With Modern Art--with only vague expressions to define quality--this is especially true, with the proviso that there is a great deal of herd-behavior that goes on in certain Art circles. We have Art as Social Construct.
(Individuals who frequent those circles will now roll their eyes, sharpen their knives, and claim that I don't understand Modern Art--which is accurate in that I don't sip wine, munch cheese, and nod when important critics make their vague pronouncements. Mine is very much a view from outside.)
It seems, however, that van Meergen's question was rhetorical--at least for the curators whom he had duped. The difference is one of provenance and the perception thereby. Pollock was a starving artist until he wasn't - that is until the right people said the right things about his paintings.
In 1964 a Swede, who made a living as a newspaperman, exhibited a number of "paintings" by "Pierre Brassau" who was in fact a chimpanzee named Peter. These "works" were received with critical acclaim:
I rhetorically mirror van Meergen's question: "What was the difference between works by Pierre and Peter?"
For kicks I tried this test, which asks of six paintings: "Artist or Ape?":
(FWIW, my 18-year-old film-buff son Alex and I got 6/6, my 19-yr-old roommate got 5/6.) [-js]
Ayn Rand (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Kip Williams's comments on Ayn Rand in the 09/26/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
I think Kip Williams was earnest (not trolling) with his two comments on Ayn Rand and her novels, so I offer a lens to bring a different focus to them.
In the MT VOID (09/26/14) he wrote:
It is the writing of ANTHEM that I described as toxic brain sludge: stilted, unnatural, affected diction, like listening to a bad accent, or trying to read page after page of someone's attempt to write in a dialect they don't understand. Reading it hurts my brain. I saw some pages of a comic that adapted it, and they had the same effect.
As I said, ATLAS SHRUGGED is entertaining in an alternate-reality way, where one accepts the author's premises and moves on. Naturally, the idea that one is probably a superman, and only being held back by the horror of having to consider others (and their contribution) is appealing to some adolescents, but the repulsiveness of other ideas entertained by the writer (particularly that rape is the highest form of love) caused me to step back and question the precepts of the books, with the result that, apart from one or two valid observations (like Toohey's "Give it up, give it up, give it up" speech in THE FOUNTAINHEAD), I rejected all of it.
They are enjoyable escape fiction, and not much more. I've tried to penetrate Rand's nonfiction, and it's as hard as understanding recordings of her talking--for different reasons, of course.
The fact they are still in print is perhaps due to the desire of some people to believe in their superiority at any cost, but I haven't interviewed each of those purchasers, or even verified that they read it at all.
Sorry I don't have time for more. [-kw]
"I've read THE FOUNTAINHEAD twice and ATLAS SHRUGGED three or four times*--they can be read for enjoyment, as an exercise in temporarily swallowing a premise--but no power on earth will make me revisit that pretentious toxic brain sludge. Reading it was like being subjected to a dose of the solvent fumes from the alley behind a dry cleaning shop. Never again: I'm free.
[*I skipped through The Insulting Monologue at least once, so an exact count is tricky.]" [-kw]
My wife once told my overly-literal self that THE MATRIX is easier-to-enjoy if one regards it as a video game. Indeed, I found that it was much more tolerable that way
Likewise, to characterize ATLAS SHRUGGED as an alternate-reality perhaps explains how one could read 250,000 (twice) and 550,000-words of solvent-fumes (three or four times).
(I've only watched THE MATRIX twice--the first time took three tries)
Let's dispense with one straw man--that THE FOUNTAINHEAD has a "rape scene" (never mind that "rape is highest form of love"). It may be apocryphal, but Rand is alleged to have publically answered The Question (Roark's rape of Francon): "If it was rape, it was by engraved invitation."
Moving on, Williams speculated that ATLAS appeals to "adolescents" (a form of projection?) who fancy themselves supermen who lack consideration for others.
I'll flatter and imitate him by speculating about his state-of-mind: I wonder at the notion that the merely competent (the protagonists in those half-million words) could be characterized as supermen (and women--don't forget)! This makes one wonder what the threshold for "super" is in Williams's World.
Those protagonists are like all of us in that they discriminate (in the broad non-derogatory sense of that word). They do so by choosing with whom to interact and more importantly with whom to *transact*. This is only "super" if one validates the second-handers (to use AR's term) who have the power to compel "consideration of (selected) others" through the law--often to the exclusion of those deemed worthy by, not only the protagonists, but everyone to whom the law applies.
When Williams chooses his company (when he discriminates same as the protagonists) does that make him "adolescent"? Or was that another exclusion to the "all of it" he rejects?
We all like various flavors of Kool-Aid (common wisdom, ideology, "fumes"). Those who prefer voluntary interaction to coercion might, in some circles, be considered "adolescent". In other circles it's ordinary common sense. [-js]
Slide Rules (letter of comment by Jim Susky and Walter Meissner):
In response to Mark's comments on slide rules in the 10/10/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
I vividly remember (ca. 1970-72) when my mom brought home a Sears "four-banger" calculator. This was a wonder to me, as I had only done arithmetic up until then with pencil and paper. It cost $70 (about $450 scaled using the CPI).
Some time later I found in the basement my dad's slide rule, along with instructions, in the same box as his log tables and multiplying and dividing work. I tried a few problems and put it back.
Flash forward to the 1975-76 school year--a fellow math kid showed me his brand spanking new HP-25 ($125 then--nearly $600 today) with RPN and the horrendously complex example expression in the book. I got the "right answer" first time out and immediately went to go get my own which got me through engineering school. To this day I can't tolerate a calculator with parentheses.
These days I use Excel spreadsheets almost exclusively, mainly because calculators don't readily store figures. Some may note, with some irony, that spreadsheet formulas require parenthetical expressions (unless, of course, one distributes the work using multiple cells).
A few weeks back I watched the film APOLLO 13 on cable, wherein a quick calculation was performed in the Houston control center with a slide rule--an anchronism? [-js]
APOLLO 13 was April 1970. My earliest memories with calculators were about 1972. I would suspect that the film was right. That might have been just about the time of the cut-over. [-mrl]
And Walter Meissner writes:
I did enjoy DR. STRANGELOVE when I watched it after the cold war ended. It would have been too traumatic to watch it before then.
Slide rules are based on the principle of logarithms. It allows for multiplication/division as easy as addition/subtraction.
To multiple x * y or divide x / y use ...
log (x*y) = log(x) + log(y).
log(x/y) = log(x) - log(y).
So the scales are logarithmic, but the 'addition' on the slide is linear.
Number must be put in scientific notation.
The two mantissas are multiplied on the slide rule (2 to 3 decimal place precision) and the twp exponents are added together. The placement of the decimal point and any subsequent adjustment of the exponent was done in one's head.
The normalized form of scientific notation is
0.nnn * 10^exponent
where the mantissa is between 0 and 1.
When I went to engineering school, it was the first year they allowed calculators. However, I wanted to learn how to use a slide rule.
So I bought one of the best ... a Keuffel & Esser (K&E) Log Log Duplex Deci-Trig model. It was made of fine mahogany. The factory was located in Hoboken, NJ, the same town as the engineering school.
"The 4081-3 Log-Log Duplex DeciTrig from K&E was a mainstay for engineering students and practicing engineers in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s"
However, on one of the more difficult freshman chemistry exams, I made a mistake in adjusting the exponent after moving the decimal point.
It was the first answer to a multiple part question, where the answer of each part depends on the answer of the parts above it.
Even though I had shown all the equations and step clearly, I was given half off on the first question part and zero (0) points for all subsequent answers.
When I went to the TA to talk about how it was graded, the answer was ...
No additional credit. If this was used for a real application, the error could have cost lives. From then on, I used a calculator. But I still have that slide rule.
PS. I never did learn how to use some of the fancier functions on it, which include exponential and trigonometric functions. [-wm]
I could have explicitly mentioned logarithms in my description, but I thought that a segment of our readers would go all glassy-eyed and would skip to the next item. I was trying to explain in a way that that would get the idea across but might require only basic knowledge. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THROUGH THE LANGUAGE GLASS: WHY THE WORLD LOOKS DIFFERENT IN OTHER LANGUAGES by Guy Deutscher (ISBN 978-0-8050-8195-4) covers a lot of what I have discussed here before: William Gladstone's analysis of color in Homer's writings, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and so on.
Back in 2012 I wrote about how the words for colors develop in a language, and the use of color in Homer. Linguists had discovered that all languages create words for color in a particular order. The first words created are for black and white. Next invariably comes red, and after that yellow and green, although the order of the latter two may vary, and last comes blue. Apparently orange, purple, brown, and other more specific colors such as aquamarine come later and in some sense do not count, although in some languages there are more terms than we have for "basic" colors. For example, Russian has a word for light blue (goluboy) and another for dark blue (siniy), but no word for just blue.
In the 19th century William Gladstone was the first to point out that Homer's use of words for color was, well, odd. Homer rarely mentioned color, and never mentioned blue. The term "wine-looking" (or "wine-dark") was applied both to the sea and to oxen.
Gladstone's explanation was that the Homeric Greeks had no sense of color other than black, white, and red. Linguist Guy Deutscher (among others) claimed this was wrong, that the Greeks could distinguish colors every bit as we can.
But Deutscher seems to have modified his views somewhat. While it is true that the Homeric Greeks were not color-blind in the traditional sense, they may have been color-blind because they were not attuned to distinguishing between some colors. Various experiments have shown that if a culture does not have different names for green and blue, it will take longer for people from that culture to distinguish that a blue swatch is different from a bunch of green swatches than it would for a person who had different names for the color of the blue swatch and the color of the green swatches. (The same occurs when showing people a set of dark blue swatches and a slightly lighter blue swatch. If the difference crosses the "goluboy/siniy" line, a Russian-speaker can detect the difference faster than an English-speaker.
Deutscher says that one issue of "blue" is that there really is not much blue in nature. (The blue flowers we see and all artificially created genetically.) Until one can create a color, he says, there is no need for a term for it. Red is the easier color to produce; blue is the hardest.
As for the sky, Deutscher performed an experiment. After his daughter Alma was born, he and his wife taught her all the colors, including blue, with one exception: they never told her the sky was blue. Then when she knew her colors well, he asked her what color the sky was. At first, she could not understand the question; the sky was not a thing like a blue ball or a blue towel. Then, after many weeks of being asked, she said it was white. Only later did she say it was blue. She came to this conclusion on her own, but had someone not been asking her, she might not have ever thought about it.
Deutscher says of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis that Sapir and Whorf looked at the wrong aspect. They said that the language limited what people *could* think of, but as Deutscher points out, the lack of a word does not mean the idea does not exist. That is how new words are created or adopted. English has no word for "Schadenfreude"--or rather, the English word for "Schadenfreude" *is* "Schadenfreude".
Deutscher says that language does affect how we think, but it is in what it *requires*, not what it *allows*. When we say we met a friend for lunch, the listener does not know whether the friends is male or female unless we choose to tell them. In French, we must specify the sex. When we make a statement, we do not need to specify how or why we think it is true. The Matses has a system of evidentiality for verbs that requires the speaker to say whether they are speaking from direct evidence, inference, conjecture, or hearsay. (They also have three different forms for the past, depending on whether it is immediate, recent, or distant.)
And a note on last week's column: The correct title is HOMENAJE A AGATHA CHRISTIE: EL CASO DEL COLLAR and the author's name would be catalogued as "Cuevas Cancino, Francisco". [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. --Albert EinsteinTweet
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