MT VOID 04/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 40, Whole Number 1905

MT VOID 04/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 40, Whole Number 1905

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 04/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 40, Whole Number 1905

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 or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Looking for Some Mathematics Help (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There is a song on the radio claiming, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Two can be as bad as one. It's the loneliest number since the number one."

Let L(n) be the degree of loneliness of n, for any natural number n. I guess what they are saying is that L(1) is the largest value L takes on for any "small" n. It may be indeterminable (in the Godel sense) if there is some very large number N so that L(N) > L(n), but enough of the smaller numbers have been exhausted looking for such an N and not finding one. I am not sure where all this has been documented.

I am a little confused by the statement that 2 can be as "bad" as 1. Are they suggesting that at times L(1) = L(2)? Even as a function L is not well-behaved.

But I can prove the last part vacuously. 2 would have to have the highest L since 1 since if the domain is the natural numbers 2 would be the *only* number since the number 1.

But does someone know if L(1) or L(2) somehow drift with time. That would seem to imply that we are not simply looking for L(x) but for L(x,t) and it would mean for some t: L(1,t) = L(2,t).

Credit for posing this problem originally goes to the Two-Triangular Dog Night. [-mrl]

Creativity Is More Powerful Than Knowledge (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Back when I was in third grade and my brother was in sixth grade--it may have been a year or so later--my father wanted to teach my brother a little algebra. When we were driving he would ask my brother algebra problems.

"There are cows and chickens in a barnyard. There are eleven animals in all, and there are thirty feet on the ground. How many cows and how many chickens are there?"

My brother would set up simple simultaneous equations and solve the problem. And I guess he was fairly good at that. And he was getting some positive attention. I was a little jealous.

"I want some too."

"You want some what?"

"I want a problem."

"But Mark. This is algebra. You haven't been taught algebra. You don't know algebra."

"I want some too."

"Okay, here's one." Say he gave me that problem above.

I thought for a moment or two and said, "There are four cows and seven chickens."

My father and brother were a little surprised I got the right answer. Okay, my father said framing another question. After two or three questions and getting the right answer every time it was clear that I with my meager arithmetic training could do this sort of problem.

My brother said, "I don't know how he's doing it, but he is getting the right answers. How are you solving the problems, Mark?"

You said there are eleven animals. Suppose they were all chickens. That would make twenty-two feet. We need to have thirty feet. We are eight feet short. Now turn one chicken into a cow. You would get two more feet. Now you are six feet short. Two into six is three more chickens we have to turn into cows. So there must be four cows in all. So with eleven animals in all that makes seven chickens.

Thought about it that way it is unnecessary to bring in variables and algebra. One can do this problem as an algebra problem. You let C be the number of chickens and B (for bovine) be the number of cows.

C + B = 11, 2C + 4B = 30

2C + 2B = 22

2B = 8

B = 4

So C = 7

That is nearly exactly how I solved it, but defining variables may make it a little easier.

I can look with a little pride that I turned an algebra problem into one requiring only arithmetic. What algebra offers is a systematic way to assign variables and to turn this problem more precisely express what is known about a given problem. To solve the problem with arithmetic is possible as I have known since I was eight years old. Algebra offers us almost a "turn the crank" solution to the problem. My arithmetic approach required some creative thought about the problem and how it might be solved. My brother's approach involves a higher level of mathematics but less creativity.

If there are tools that make a problem simple, those are useful to know, but if you have the creativity to find ways to simplify a problem that can be a more valuable exercise.

Knowing the turn-the-crank way of getting the answer will get you only so far. You do better with simple tools and with approaches nobody taught you.

We tend to partition off math problems into geometry problems, algebra problems, calculus problems, etc. The truth is that for the most part there are only math problems and recommended tools. Descartes, who pioneered graphing of formulae, showed that so-called geometry problems could be solved purely with algebra. In mathematics it is better to see a creative solution than to know the proscribed way to solve a problem. [-mrl]

Why Cooking Is More Complicated at Home Than on TV (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

All the cooking shows make everything look so easy, but somehow when I do it, it is much more complicated and time-consuming. Part of it is that the TV chefs can do everything faster. For example, it takes me a lot longer to shred a head of cabbage or to chop an onion than it takes them. I cannot help but feel that part of this may be a willingness on their part to be more wasteful in order to make things look fast and easy. For example, they probably chop more of the top of the onion off, and don't worry if they peel an extra layer when they peel it.

You would think that those home economics courses they made girls take would have taught me how to chop an onion quickly, or how to mince parsley, or whatever. But the junior high (middle school) course I took concentrated more on things like tuna-potato chip casserole and Jello molds. (Well, it was in the Midwest, after all. What I remember most from that class was that we got dropped a full grade for the day if we put the dish towel over our shoulder.)

Anyway, the television chefs also have a lot of stuff prepared ahead of time. The parsley and cilantro have been chopped ahead of time by a junior member of the kitchen staff, and all the ingredients have been assembled to be ready at hand.

So when Joe Celebrity-Chef makes Asian peanut sauce, he just grabs the correct amount of the ingredients, whips them together for a minute, and voila!

But when Evelyn Not-a-Celebrity-Chef does it, she first has to collect the ingredients. The peanut butter is in one cupboard, the sesame oil is on the top shelf of another, the brown sugar is in a third, the soy sauce is in the refrigerator, and the rice vinegar are on the table. (No, I cannot have them all in one place. No one place in my kitchen is big enough for all the ingredients I use in all my recipes.) Assembling the ingredients takes longer than the actual mixing.

Another example (Malaysian Curry Sauce): the onion is in a bag in the garage; the garlic and black pepper are on the counter; the chilis, turmeric, and coconut powder are in one cupboard; the coriander, cumin, and cinnamon in another; the vinegar in a third; and the lemon juice and almonds are in the refrigerator. After these are all collected, and the onion and garlic peeled, they all get thrown in a blender for a minute or two. The assembly time is considerably more than the actual preparation time.

And of course, all these ingredients have to be put away, while on the TV shows you never see them do this (or wash all the dishes).

People complain about the unreality in fictional television--people in entry-level jobs have spacious Manhattan corner apartments, no one ever wears the same outfit twice, and so on. But really, these cooking shows are not much more realistic. [-ecl]

[Apropos of my piece above, the TV chefs know one way to cut an onion. And that works for them. Evelyn's approach is probably more time consuming, but more creative. And I have read that a cooking show chef's first responsibility is to stage the cooking procedure for the cameras. It need not be accurate to how one would really make the recipe, but should be visually accurate to illustrate the procedure. Frequently the food will never be eaten. And nobody would want to eat it. It is like when you see ads for food it is doctored to look good. They may substitute Elmer's glue for milk because it easier to handle and looks better. -mrl]

Retrospective: Q-PLANES (1939, US Title: CLOUDS OVER EUROPE) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In a plot similar to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, new British planes being tested are being plucked out of the sky and are disappearing without a trace. A British intelligence officer rejects the leading theory that the plane disappearances are coincidence. He goes off looking for the truth. Meanwhile a test pilot also thinks that there is more to the losses than meets the eye. And does his own investigation.

1939 is considered the high point of the golden age of filmmaking. Films made that year include GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, STAGECOACH, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, NINOTCHKA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and OF MICE AND MEN. One British film of that year that has nearly been forgotten was called Q-PLANES in Britain and called CLOUDS OVER EUROPE in the US. Though rarely recognized as such, Q-PLANES has a plot too similar to that of later James Bond films to be attributed to coincidence. I ideas of the film are very similar to the early James Bond films in general and to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE in particular.

British planes with new secret embellishments seem to be disappearing all over the map. The planes go up in test flights and are seemingly being plucked out of the air never to be heard of again. British Intelligence is mystified and attributing the dozen or so disappearances to coincidence. One agent who is not convinced is the debonair, umbrella-brandishing Major Hammond, played by Ralph Richardson. Hammond is convinced everyone else is wrong about the disappearances and that he is right that there is some villain who is behind the vanishings. Actually there is one other person who has drawn the same conclusion. It is star test pilot Tony McVane (Laurence Olivier). Much (too much) of the film centers on McVane who in a comic subplot has a love-hate relationship with Hammond's attractive sister Kay (Valerie Hobson). Meanwhile McVane is anxious to take up a new and valuable test plane to see for himself what has happened to the other missing aircraft. I will not say what was discovered about the missing planes, but the conclusion of the film was very much the 1939 equivalent of just so many spectacular battles at the end of James Bond films.

Actually Hammond is not so much a James Bond type. He much more seems of the mold of John Steed of the British TV series "The Avengers." Like Steed the earlier Hammond does not wear a bowler as Steed did. But his hat is very similar to Steed's. This film is more of a comedy than an Avengers story and certainly more than a James Bond film, but one would have to be blind to miss the ideas of Q-PLANES that were recycled into early Bond films and Avengers episodes.

If the name Valerie Hobson is familiar it may be because she plays Lisa, the wife of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON. Also she had the title role in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (assuming that Frankenstein was the scientist and not the monster). In 1963 she was married to Government Minister John Profumo when his sexual relationship with a 19-year-old model shook all of Britain.

This film was made in 1939. Most of it was shot before war was declared, so with a German market in mind the characters carefully avoid suggesting what country is behind the evil deeds. However, by the time the film was nearly complete war had broken out between Britain and Germany. There was time to get in only one reference that it was Germany who was behind the nasty bit of espionage.

CLOUDS OVER EUROPE (seemingly a more popular title than the original title, Q-PLANES) shows up every few years on Turner Classic Movies. As of this writing it can also be found on YouTube.

Film Credits:


The Founding Fathers (letter of comment by Jim Susky):

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: WRITINGS FROM THE PAMPHLET DEBATE, 1764-1772 in the 01/29/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Thanks to Evelyn for her notice of THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: WRITINGS FROM THE PAMPHLET DEBATE, 1764-1772 edited by Gordon S. Wood.

I just returned from a vacation in the Southwest Desert, during which I picked up a Time Magazine "special" about Alexander Hamilton. Unlike the magazine itself this compilation of articles goes into some depth about his life, his politics, and untimely demise--it includes a short piece and interview of Ron Chernow, a heavy hitter who published the 400,000-word ALEXANDER HAMILTON (2004).

As such, it serves as a fine introduction to perhaps the most important of American Founders. [-js]

Evelyn notes:

The hottest show on Broadway today seems to be "Hamilton", inspired by Chernow's book. [-ecl]

Identity (letters of comment by Leland Beaumont and Tom Russell):

In response to Evelyn's comments on identity in the 04/01/16 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I want to follow up with a few comments on your Identity article.

I have written on this topic at

I like the theory put forth by Daniel Dennett that our Self is the center of gravity of our narrative. Basically we are the stories told about ourselves.


The ship story is known as Theseus's paradox. It is discussed at .

The only poem I ever wrote is on the topic of self. See

It is based on the concept that our self is what is left after we remove all our accessories. [-lrb]

And Tom Russell writes:

Very good thoughts and questions! Some thoughts on this subject:

If one is restoring a boat made of wood, everything may be replaced but the keel. The keel "is" the boat. It must be the original keel, not an exact replacement.

If one is restoring a car, everything may be replaced but the part with the VIN. That part "is" the car. (This doesn't work if the car is older than the use of VIN.)

So the problem becomes how to identify your own personal "keel" or "VIN." As you note, everything that is you is replaced as you live. No "keel." Even your memories are constantly being changed--added to and forgotten--all the time.

My suggestion: What makes you you is that no one else is like you. Not even close. Not even an identical twin, nor a clone.

Recalling my having read some time ago HOW THE MIND WORKS by Steven Pinker and other books on the brain and the mind ...

The brain contains maps of the body. One map indicates what the expected input should be from all of the nerve cells in the body; a corresponding map on the other side of the brain shows the current actual input from each nerve cell. This is how you know what hurts. This is also why people who have suffered amputations have "phantom limbs."

Perhaps the map of what your mind thinks your body should be is your "keel." [-tlr]

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

WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK edited by John Brockman (ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2) is a collection of almost 200 short essays on the title topic. It is apparently part of a series in which each volume is just such a collection on a topic chosen by the editors of

Not surprisingly, there is a wide variety of opinions, and even of aspects, in the essays. Some seem more concerned about discussing the possibilities and probabilities of machines that think. Others are more concerned with what exactly we would consider a "machine that thinks." Still others discuss what the role of these machines would be. Needless to say, with such a wide range of approaches and opinions, there is something for everyone to agree with--and something for everyone to disagree with.

The disagreement that I will mention here, though, is with something Brockman says in his introduction. He writes, "This year's contributors to the 'Edge' question are a grown-up bunch and have eschewed mention of all that science fiction and all those movies: STAR MAKER, FORBIDDEN PLANET, COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT, BLADE RUNNER, 2001, HER, THE MATRIX, 'The Borg.'" The implication that science fiction is not something "grown-ups" bother themselves with is insulting enough, but Brockman's claim is just wrong. John C. Mather writes that there is no guarantee that robots will follow Isaac Asimov's three Laws of Robotics" (also referenced by Brian Knutson, William Poundstone, S. Abbas Raza, and others). George Church discusses our enhancements and asks, "Should we disable or kill Harrison Bergeron?" Keith Devlin refers to "HAL-like devices that will eventually rule us." Anthony Garrett Lisi's essay is titled "I, for One, Welcome Our Machine Overlords". Rodney A. Brooks mentions warp drives. Several refer to Frankenstein's monster. Venturing into fantasy, Paul Saffo references Lord Dunsany. Moshe Hoffman and Chris Dibona even wrote what could be considered science fiction stories. And while Gregory Benford's piece is not science fiction, he has been known to write science fiction in the past while still remaining a grown-up.

I can only conclude that Brockman does not recognize references to science fiction when he sees them, perhaps because science fiction has so infiltrated our common cultural heritage that they are not even noticed as science fiction (although I was somewhat surprised to see such an offhand, unexplained reference to Harrison Bergeron.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          If fifty million people say a foolish thing, 
          it is still a foolish thing.
                                           --Anatole France

Go to our home page