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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/14/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 20, Whole Number 1832
Table of Contents
We Have Touchdown!: (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The European Space Agency's ambitious attempt to place a spacecraft on the surface of a comet succeeded when a signal arrived at the mission control center at Darmstadt, Germany, at 5:04 p.m. local time (11:04 a.m. Eastern time).
So far we have landed on Mars, Venus, Jupiter (impact only), Luna, Titan, Eros, Itokawa, Comet 9P/Tempel 1 (impact), and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. [-ecl]
Film about Yuri Gargarin:
A Russian/Spanish translation of a Russian full-length movie called GAGARIN! is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxJicC55cfE.
IMDB entry is at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2856930/combined.
Kaiju Noir (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn was complaining that in the new GODZILLA all the big fight scenes take place at night. You cannot see Godzilla. That is actually a realistic touch. You cannot see Godzilla in the real world either. [-mrl]
The Paradox of Hanoi (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have discovered a paradox that I have a hard time trying to understand and resolve. It involves a puzzle usually called the "Towers of Hanoi." (I think in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES they called it the Lucas Puzzle, another name it goes by.)
Let me describe the puzzle. You have ten disks all of different diameters. (The number is arbitrary.) They are identical except for the graduated diameters. Each has a hole at the center so it could be put on a spindle. You have three such spindles and all the disks are placed on one of the spindles, smallest at the top, largest on the bottom.
For a picture see: http://www.jaapsch.net/puzzles/images/hanoi/hanoi.gif
Now you move the disks one at a time from one spindle to another. You can move only the top disk on a stack. Never put a larger disk on a smaller one. The object is to move all the disks to a spindle other than the one they all started on.
If you had only two disks, the task would be easy. Move disk 1 to currently empty spindle C, move disk 2 to currently empty spindle B. And move disk 1 to spindle B. You have now moved two disks from spindle A to spindle B.
Now what is the paradox? I would claim that anybody knows the solution with any given positive number of disks. I think I can prove that using the mathematical principle of induction.
First, what is induction? Well assume you have an infinite ladder in front of you. You want to prove you can get to any step of the ladder. You could climb to the first step, then climb to the second step. But eventually all those proofs would become tiresome and you still have not proven you can get to every step.
You have just to prove that 1) you can get to the first step and then give a second proof that 2) if you are step N then you can get to step N+1. That is, there are just two things to prove. The first result says that you can get to step 1 as you have just shown. The second one says that if you can get to step 1 you can get to step 2. And it says if you can get to step 2 that then you can get to step 3. And that is all you need to prove you can get to step 4. And so forth ad nauseum.
So what does this have to do with the Towers of Hanoi paradox? Well, I can use induction to prove you know how to move a stack of any number of disks from one spindle to another. Let us start with the insanely simple task of moving a stack of one disk from one spindle to another. Pick up the one disk and put it on the spindle where you want it to go. That's all.
Now assume you know how to move a stack of N disks from one spindle to another. You are faced with a setup with N+1 disks. Well, you know how to move the top N disks to another spindle. You know how to do that by the assumption. Now move disk N+1 to the empty spindle. Now you know how to move the stack of N disks on top of disk N+1. Voila. You have moved a stack of N+1 disks to another spindle.
So because you can do it with a stack of 1 disk you know how to do it with a stack of 2 disks. Because you can do it with a stack of 2 disks you know how to do it with a stack of 3 disks. Because you can do it with a stack of 3 disks you know how to do it with a stack of 4 disks. And so forth.
What bothers me is that at one point I didn't know how to solve the Towers of Hanoi with ten disks. (I do now, but that was then.) Yet I have given a proof there that I really knew even then.
There are paradoxes that work on the uncertainty of not knowing how deeply a person thinks about a problem. The above is one such paradox. "The Unexpected Hanging" is another. A man is sentenced to death by hanging some weekday of the following week. But as a touch of mercy the prisoner cannot know what day he will be executed until just the moment he is dragged to the scaffold.
So what days can the execution be? It cannot be Friday since if he makes it past Thursday then Friday is the only day left the execution could be. The last possible day has to be Thursday.
But the prisoner is still alive Thursday that has to be the day of the execution. So he can be executed no later than Wednesday. Wednesday morning the prisoner would have to know his final day had come. That rules out Wednesday. Repeat that logic and each day is ruled out. So if he is called to the executioner on Wednesday he will walk the final mile on a day when it could not be, and he had a perfectly good logic proof that the hanging could not possibly be on Wednesday. So there is no day he can be executed. Tuesday and Monday are ruled out for the same reason. Yet it seems that if the executioner chooses Wednesday the prisoner cannot know for sure the execution is that day. [-mrl]
INTERSTELLAR (film reviee by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: With the depth and complexity of a science fiction novel, Christopher Nolan brings INTERSTELLAR to the screen, based on an original screenplay he wrote with his brother Jonathan. As the last-ditch effort of our dying civilization, a mission is sent through a wormhole to another galaxy in an effort to find an Earth- like planet to be a new home for humanity. No previous science fiction film has ever had the scope and span that this film has. It is surprising it all fits into a very tight 167 minutes. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Christopher Nolan's INTERSTELLAR is quite possibly the most complex science fiction film with the most ideas of any SF film ever. It starts with a family suffering in what at first appears to be the great 1930s Dust Bowl and spans its way to planets in other galaxies with references to higher dimensions and other universes, not to mention examinations of not one but two father-daughter relationships with in each case father and daughter literally, as well as figuratively, light-years apart.
But that is getting ahead of myself. As the film opens we think we are seeing a documentary about the great 1930s Dust Bowl. We quickly find out that in this near future world, the dust storms have returned to the Great Plains. Blights and haboobs have killed off nearly all major crops. Only corn still survives and its time seems to be limited. Most people are worried, but still make a priority drinking alcohol made from--what else?--corn. The world is counting down to its demise. Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a corn farmer who was once a very good test pilot for NASA. He is contacted by NASA who wants him back for a mission that might save humanity. One end of a wormhole has appears to have formed near Saturn. There are twelve explorers who were sent out a decade earlier to study earthlike planets near the other end of the wormhole. But the information they found never made it back to Earth.
Now a mission is being mounted to travel through the wormhole and at the far end to collect what information they can to decide if any of the planets can be a haven for humankind. On the mission will be Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a former colleague of Cooper's. Her father is planning the expedition, called the Lazarus Mission. In the course of the film we go from cornfields to wormholes, to black holes, to the surfaces of two alien planets along with spacecraft and robots, all of which are important to the plot. It is a complex scenario and one that will tax viewers to just follow what is happening. And all of this nearly takes back seat to a story that is mostly about strained family relations. The viewer should expect that with everything else going on there is a good deal of tearful apologies. It is an unimaginable feat of story telling to juggle so many elements and keep them all in the air at once.
In a film with this many ideas packed together, some have got to be a little on the funky side. It takes our astronauts two years just to get to Saturn and the wormhole, yet at the other end of the wormhole there are no less then twelve superficially habitable- seeming planets all within striking distance, like Starbucks near a subway stop. TARS, their robot (voiced by actor Bill Irwin), is a very new and a very original-looking design for a robot. TARS steals every scene he/she/it is in by being so interesting. Back in the 1940s film robots looked boxy, but not nearly as boxy as TARS. On the corny side is that suggestion that love has some special trans-dimensional implications. And speaking of corn, it is a crop very susceptible to droughts. It is unlikely that corn could grow in a region suffering from dust bowl conditions.
Besides Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway the film features Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, and more.
Not everything is so wonderful about this film. My major complaint with the film, however, is that the sound editing is a mess. With the complexity and techi-ness of the talk it is important to hear every word. The sound is, however, muddy and indistinct, and at times the music and sound effects tracks overpower the dialogue track. Also, occasionally the actors just don't project their voices. I look forward to getting the film on disk so I can turn on subtitling. After 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY set the standard for scenes of hyper-light travel and CONTACT had its own sequence, the wormhole travel depiction us just a bit uninspired, though the depiction of the black hole is fairly accurate.
INTERSTELLAR is more than just a science fiction story for the screen, it is a novel aimed at adults with a novel's complexity. This is probably the most audacious science fiction film anyone has ever made or even tried to make. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0816692/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/interstellar_2014/
HOUSEBOUND (film reviee by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A 20-ish delinquent is sentenced by the court to eight months' house arrest in the home she grew up in and finally escaped. Now she is trapped back there not allowed to leave and she is losing her skepticism about her mother's claim of a resident ghost. The horror comedy wildly plays off our expectations. It transforms from one kind of horror film to another like it were flipping TV channels. By the time we are done we will have gone through maybe five subgenres of horror film as well as being a comedy and the comedy does not destroy the horror. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Kylie (played by Morgana O'Reilly) is an angry savage of a woman. We first find her sledge hammering an ATM machine to break into it. Almost immediately she is in police custody. The result is that she is sentenced to eight months of home detention with an anklet that will inform her parole officer the moment she steps outside the bounds of her house and yard or if she attempts to remove the anklet. The house she has been sentenced to was the childhood home she detested. The house, old and cluttered, and garden have not been well maintained and look like the setting of a creepy Grimm's' Fairy Tale. She is about to be in her own grim fairy tale.
Kylie takes out the full force of her anger on her parents, making her presence as inconvenient as possible. The parents for some reason remain pleased to have her home. Kylie's mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), is a font of non-stop boring banality. As the electronic anklet is attached the mother asks, "Aren't you lucky, Kylie, having all that high-technology on your foot?" One of the things that Miriam tells her daughter is that the house is haunted. Kylie's response is as angry and rude as everything else she does, but soon she herself is hearing strange noises in the house. Can it be that her mother is right about the ghost?
HOUSEBOUND is written and directed by first-time feature director Gerard Johnstone. His is a fresh approach to horror and hopefully we will be seeing more of what he has to offer. At the heart of the film there is some serious drama here as her Kylie finds there is reason to respect the very things she rebelled about most. Her mother's apparently ridiculous belief in the ghost actually has some basis in fact. The security guard who is supposed to be enforcing the law proves to be a valuable man to have around and to be looking out for her. Just perhaps the world is more just to Kylie than she has expected or that she has been to it.
HOUSEBOUND is a horror-comedy-mystery-drama. It is not an easy task to have all four without each acting at the expense of the others. Here the cross interference is kept to a minimum. For me it did not all work together perfectly, but it came close.
In general this film is as creative a horror film as I have seen in quite a while. There are not a lot of New Zealanders making films for the international market but like the Singaporeans, the Kiwis may well outshine the Americans for creative films. And that is not just Peter Jackson. HOUSEBOUND is a horror comedy that does work, and it gets a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3504048/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/housebound/
Knocks (letters of comment by Frank Leisti, Steve Milton, and Lee Beaumont):
In response to Mark's question about the length of door knocks in the 11/07/14 issue of the MT VOID, Frank Leisti writes:
A long knock is the length of time between the knocks. Of course for the quotation, that would mean 4 knocks, not the expected 3 knocks. [-frl]
Steve Milton writes:
Long and short for knocks is the length of the interval between knocks which makes the last knock indeterminate unless you jingle the handle as a terminator. So two longs and a short would be: knock, wait 3 seconds, knock, wait 3 seconds, knock and immediately jingle the handle. "Shave and a haircut" is a much less ambiguous knock pattern and demonstrated in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. [-smm]
(Lee Beaumont also responded.)
I was sort of bringing up a zen-like question in the last VOID asking what "a" (in other words "one") long knock sounds like. It does make a noise, but it is characterized by what you don't hear. You need a second knock to know if it was a long knock or a short knock. In a sequence of long and short knocks, you never know which the last one was. [-mrl]
Alternate History (comments by Steven H Silver):
Not quite in response to the link to Evelyn's interview on alternate history in the 11/07/14 issue of the MT VOID, Steven Silver sent the following:
Yesterday, I received a link to an article that was published in 2009 in AMSJ (American Studies) at University of Kansas. I disagree with much of what was written and found one statement, in particular, to be among the silliest things ever written about me:
"1995 can be considered the birth year of the alternate history novel as a genre [...] While hundreds of texts can be retroactively added to the list of alternate histories, the version of the literary counterfactual that rose to prominence in the early 1990s was not fully recognized as a genre until science-fiction reviewers Steven H. Silver and Evelyn Leeper and NASA scientist Robert B. Schmunk established the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History in 1995. The Sidewise Award defined the alternate history as a literary category and became a mechanism to draw and police the borders of the genre."
The author does cite Karen's 2000 taxonomy article from EXTRAPOLATIONS and her 2001 THE ALTERNATE HISTORY: REFIGURING HISTORICAL TIME.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In honor of the mid-term elections, I did a little political reading. CONGRESSIONAL GOVERNMENT: A STUDY IN AMERICAN POLITICS by Woodrow Wilson (ISBN 978-0-486-44735-3) makes clear that in 1885 things were very different from now.
On the one hand, Wilson seems to feel that the two parties exercise little discipline over their members in Congress: "Our parties marshal their adherents with the strictest possible discipline for the purpose of carrying elections, but their discipline is very slack and indefinite in dealing with legislation. ... [The] legislation of a session does not represent the policy of either [the majority or the minority party]; it is simply the aggregate of the bills recommended by Committees composed of members from both sides of the House, and it is known to be usually, not the work of the majority men upon the Committees, but compromise conclusions bearing some shade or tinge of each of the variously-colored opinions and wishes of the committee-men of both parties."
On the other hand, he writes, "Any individual, or any minority of weak numbers or small influence, who has the temerity to neglect the decisions of the caucus is sure, if the offense be often repeated, or even once committed upon an important issue, to be read out of the party, almost without chance of reinstatement."
So it sounds as though the party insists on obedience from its members, but is willing to compromise or modify its position when it comes to working in committee. (Of course, these days the latter does not seem to be happening as often.)
Apparently the budget problems were very different then: "It has come to be infinitely more trouble to spend our enormous national income than to collect it."
And things have obviously changed since Wilson wrote, "But there is safety and ease in the fact that the Senate never wishes to carry it resistance to the House to the point at which resistance must stay all progress in legislation; because there is really a "latent unity" between the Senate and the House which makes continued antagonism between them next to impossible."
Some things are the same, though: "A few stubborn committee-men may be at the bottom of much of the harm that has been wrought, but they do not represent their party, and it cannot be clear to the voter how his ballot is to change the habits of Congress for the better. He distrusts Congress because he feels that he cannot control it." This is the situation we have now, where the Congresspeople the voter may see the "obstructionists" are not from his district or state, so he cannot do anything about them.
Another "eternal verity" would be that "the utterances of the Press have greater weight and are accorded greater credit, though the Press speaks entirely without authority, than the utterances of Congress, though Congress possesses all authority. ... There is no imperative demand on the part of the reading public in this country that the newspapers should report political speeches in full. On the contrary, most readers would be disgusted at finding their favorite columns so filled up. By giving even a notice of more than an item's length to such a speech, an editor runs the risk of being denounced as dull."
Wilson seemed to think our Congressional system will keep our government weak: "As at present constituted, the federal government lacks strength because its powers are divided, lacks promptness because its authorities are multiplied, lacks wieldiness because its processes are roundabout, lacks efficiency because its responsibility is indistinct and its action without competent direction." Although nothing has changed in the Constitution to modify the powers, authorities, processes, responsibility, or direction, most people would not call our Federal government weak-- indeed, many would say it is far too strong.
Ultimately, Wilson seems to be saying we need more partisanship, not less (or at least more than we had in 1885), and that we should have a system more like the British parliamentary system, where the party in power drives the government, where the executive is not as independent of the legislative as here, but the two form an integrated whole. Given the current problems with partisanship in government, perhaps Wilson's recommendations are no longer advisable.
In SUPERFREAKONOMICS by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (ISBN 978-0-06-088957-9) they claim that winning a Nobel Prize extends your life span--a classic post hoc ergo prompter hoc if ever there was one. More seriously, they spend three pages at the start of one chapter relating the "standard" account of the Kitty Genovese case as if it were factually true. Only twenty pages later do they revisit it and point out all the errors. There are two problems with this. The casual reader could easily come away with the flawed account reinforced in their brain, rather than debunked. And the reader who knows that the standard account is seriously flawed would think that Leavitt and Dubner do not know this, hence that Leavitt and Dubner have not done their research, and so spends twenty pages with a highly skeptical and even dismissive attitude towards Leavitt and Dubner's claims.
On the other hand, their analysis of the economics of prostitution is probably unique in the economics books for the general public. (If that doesn't get people to read the book, nothing will. :-) ) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. --Mark TwainTweet
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