MT VOID 06/03/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 48, Whole Number 1913

MT VOID 06/03/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 48, Whole Number 1913

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 06/03/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 48, Whole Number 1913

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

The Babel Fish Is Here ...:

... at least according to a report in the "Daily Mail":

"A forthcoming in-ear gadget is claimed to be able to translate speech like the Babel Fish in THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, or the Universal Translator gadget in STAR TREK.

The system, dubbed the Pilot, comprises two earpieces to be worn by two people who do not speak the same language and uses an app so the duo can converse with ease."

Second Nature (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

When they say that an action is "second nature" to someone, what are the other natures? [-mrl]

Reinventing What Did Not Need Reinventing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Back when I was starting integral calculus in high school some of the students in my class did not like the idea that if you integrate y=1 from left to right you got a positive result. If you integrated from right to left you got a negative quantity. People thought that the area under a positive curve should be positive. I came in the next day with my idea for a different kind of integral. I called it a "signum integral" and whether you integrated a positive function from left to right, or right to left, it would give a positive area. It certainly makes some problems a little more intuitive, but it also made other operations more difficult. Using signum integrals did not buy the user much. In the end I decided that it was not useful enough to make inventing a new kind of integral worthwhile. So I have some experience re-inventing math and seeing what I get.

I was interested to see on my library shelf a book entitled BURN MATH CLASS: AND REINVENT MATHEMATICS FOR YOURSELF by Jason Wilkes.

Wilkes does little I would call reinventing. Wilkes seems proud that to explain F-O-I-L distribution for multiplying binomials he draws rectangles to make it intuitive. I admit to being in my second decade of teaching it that way myself. And yes, some students do understand it better that way. At least I hope so.

Later Wilkes needs to introduce a new constant and he calls it # or "sharp." And then he uses it in some equations. It makes the equations seem obscure and mysterious like he really has really developed a different mathematics. I do not find # in his index and nor do I find it by its better-known designation pi. I had to go to another table in the book to translate from pi to # to sharp. In Wilkes' new vocabulary for his reinvented math, what I call a "function" he calls a "machine;" "hypotenuse is a "shortcut distance"; "a "reciprocal" becomes a "handstand," and the "Distributive Law" becomes the "Obvious Law of Tearing "things."

The book seems to get by with one of the shortest indices I remember ever seeing in a math book this long. That only makes topics harder to find in the book.

The book is full of three-way discussions--written like dialog--among Author, Reader, and Mathematics. Placing text in the mouth of the reader is presumptuous; putting them in the mouth (?) of Mathematics crosses a line to sacrilegious. On page 167 Mathematics admits to being not terribly fond of numbers. Honest, that is what the book says.

(Full disclosure: I admit I have on occasion worked hard for a mathematical result only to find out from seeing the result that it should have been obvious from the beginning. I definitely have had the feeling that Mathematics was laughing at me. Figuratively, maybe.)

This is not to say that I did not find some clear and understandable arguments along the way in the book. The book is not totally without its uses. Once the reader has enough experience to substitute pi for # some of the book is well taught. It could have uses to supplement more traditional texts. The reader has to realize the notation in the book is a private language and as such its uses are limited. Wilkes on the other hand has shown that some of his explanations are abundantly clear, though not all. His proposal to burn math classes is a flamboyant attention-getter but I see little contribution that needed burning down math class. It is more an exercise in newness of style than in new content.

I do not see on the book any endorsements from anybody I would consider a knowledgeable mathematician. Burn math class at your own peril. [-mrl]

Retro Hugo Availability Corrections (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I had said that "If This Goes On..." by Robert A. Heinlein was available in Heinlein's collection THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW. That is not strictly true; what is in that volume (and also Groff Conklin's THE BEST OF SCIENCE FICTION) is an *updating* of the original story. The original story (which is what was nominated) can be found in Heinlein's collection EXPANDED UNIVERSE.

Note that the original novelette form of "Darker Than You Think" by Jack Williamson is available online free as a PDF, MOBI, etc., of the original magazine at . It was reprinted in that form only twice (THE WORLDS OF JACK WILLIAMSON, 2008; and GATEWAY TO PARADISE, 2008); all other versions are the expanded novel version. [-ecl]

THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a genuinely funny vampire comedy that takes a playful look at its characters and at vampire lore. There is lots of visual humor and the film is well photographed. Writer-director David Ruhm seems to have researched his subject and wrings laughs from little-known facets of folklore. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

A vampire film sets up a fantasy world where our rules of logic do not exist as we think of them. In our world people do not turn into bats and fly away. Since the rules of vampires are already illogical they are fair game for comics and satirists. We have had a number of very funny send-ups of the order of the vampire world. The best vampire comedies that come to mind are THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967), LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979), and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014). Fully up to competing with any of these is a new comedy from Austria THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE, a German film with English subtitles. The movie is beautifully filmed and genuinely funny throughout. Along the way it quite neatly skewers vampire folklore. The photography is atmospheric and must be watched closely to pick up on all the humor in just the photography. Even the shadows join in the fun.

The setting is Vienna of 1930. (Though it is a parallel Vienna with no political unrest.) An unshakable emotional depression has the vampire Count von Kozsnom (played by Tobias Moretti) by the throat just as he so often has his victims. The Countess Elsa von Kozsnom (Jeanette Hain) no longer gives him much pleasure. In truth the Count misses the female vampire love of his un-life, Nadila.

Meanwhile the Countess Elsa obsesses over the fact that she does not know her own face. Vampires do not reflect in mirrors; they do not photograph. There is no way the rules of vampiredom allow a vampire to see his or her own face. That is a problem not usually covered in vampire film. The Count is seeing analyst, Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer), and Freud suggests that the Countess have her portrait painted by a local artist, Viktor (Dominic Oley). Viktor has problems with his model Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). Complicating matters, Lucy may just be the current reincarnation of Viktor's model.

The film was written and directed by David Ruhm who fills it with playful gags, too many to catch on a single viewing. This is a film the viewer needs to watch every minute (and subtitles do not help the matter). It follows the classic rules of vampires and lets them produce the laughs. Shadows on walls subtly refuse to behave. Werewolves occasionally pop up for just a flash here and there. There is one piece of genuine vampire folklore that never seems to have shown up in the films or contemporary prose. Vampires in the lore are compulsive counters. Drop a pile of poppy seeds in a vampire's path and he will be tied up for hours finding and counting seeds. Bram Stoker never mentions it, but this really is part of the legends.

Tobias Moretti is not seen much in the United States, but he has a feel for comedy and Like Woody Allen he is blessed with a naturally comic face. Here the physiognomy works well and his comedy works. One would think that satires of vampire films would have worn themselves out by now, but this film does catch the viewer off-guard. I rate THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE will open in theaters on June 10th.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE ROCKETEER (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Kevin R):

In response to Mark's comments on dielselpunk in the 05/27/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Mark writes,] "Think 'Steampunk' but set in the 1950s. Think THE ROCKETEER."

THE ROCKETEER is set pre WW2, not after (for obvious reasons). [-pc]

Kevin R adds:

Dave Stevens' THE ROCKETEER begins in 1938, so it predates the full-blown war in Europe. The 1940s/1950s inspiration is the "Rocket Man"/"Commando Cody" movie serials from Republic. [-kr]

Mark says: I can't argue that. The film certainly takes place in the time before the war. But I was trying to find a setting that had what I would call the "grease monkey feel." I think of that as coming more from a post-war setting. [-mrl]

THE MARTIAN (letter of comment by Steve Coltrin):

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE MARTIAN in the 05/27/16 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Coltrin writes:

[Evelyn writes,] "Johansson [happens to have] an ASCII table on her laptop."

And so do you, if your laptop is running Unix (and OS X counts). [-sc]

THE GOD CELLS and Eric Merola (letter of comment by Lowell Gilbert):

In response to Mark's review of THE GOD CELLS in the 05/27/16 issue of the MT VOID, Lowell Gilbert writes:

[Mark writes,] "I cannot evaluate the medical claims [Eric] Merola makes but they are a little too extravagant to be taken at face value."



THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 1) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I had three trade paperback volumes of this nine-volume work of THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS, but I read this primarily from the Project Gutenberg site. Alas, I discovered that the editor of the public domain source that Project Gutenberg used had bowdlerized it in a couple of ways. First, he replaced isolated "naughty" words with (bracketed) replacements. For example, where Pepys had actually written, "So to bed, where my wife and I had some high words upon my telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother gave her out of window if he pissed the house any more," Project Gutenberg has, "So to bed, where my wife and I had some high words upon my telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother gave her out of window if he [dirtied] the house any more," [February 12, 1660]

[By the way, Pepys wrote this as "February 12, 1659" since the calendar at the time considered March 1 as the start of the new year. Also, he always refers to his wife as "my wife"; her name is Elisabeth, but he never uses it.]

And second, the editor of the public domain source also deleted all the most salacious bits, replacing them with ellipses. These excised portions were written in "code" (basically a combination of French, Spanish, and Latin, with what he appears to have thought were oblique references to his "thing" and other fairly obvious meanings); some can be found at From the text of these passages it is clear that Pepys thought the code/shorthand in which he wrote his diary was secure. It wasn't, though I suspect he was more concerned that his wife not be able to read it than that scholars hundreds of years later not be able to figure it out.

The hard copy edition (from Harper Collins) includes all these passages, but neither translates nor footnotes them, so you can read, "After dinner I found occasion of sending him abroad; and then alone avec elle je tentoy a faire ce que je voudrais, et contre sa force je la faisoy, bien que pas a mon contentment." (It is like reading the Dover editions of Sir Richard Francis Burton, where the salacious bits are in Latin, and Dover provides no translations or footnotes either. Of course with Google translate, this is not as much of a problem as it used to be.)

I suppose I should digress a bit here about the various editions of Pepys's diary. One interesting piece of information I got from A. Edward Newton's A MAGNIFICENT FARCE was that "in the first edition, only about half of the [Pepys's] Diary was published, and this was edited and expurgated by Lord Braybrooke to an extent which became apparent by degrees. ... Finally, and not until 1893, there appeared an edition, edited by H. B. Wheatley, which gave the Diary complete, with the exception of a few passages, amounting in all to about one page of text, which, he says, cannot possibly be printed." Wheatley's edition is what is found in Project Gutenberg.

Why is this particularly interesting to me? Well, because in 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, Hanff writes (on October 15, 1951), "WHAT KIND OF A PEPYS'S DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? this is not a pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot. I could just spit. where is jan 12, 1668, where his wife chased him out of bed and round the bedroom with a red-hot poker?" [all sic] And Doel replies, "First of all, let me apologize for the Pepys. I was honestly under the impression what it was the complete Braybrooke edition...." Well, Doel was almost definitely right in this, because this episode with the poker is not in the (much abridged) Braybrooke edition, at least according to the version I have found on line (archived independently in two different places, so there is a bit of validation there). It is in the Wheatley edition.

Anyway, enough about editions--next week I'll actually start talking about the diary itself. I have split this into sections by topic, rather than strictly chronological. I have also not tagged every misspelling, grammar mistake, and what-not with "[sic]"; just assume all quotes are Pepys's own spelling, capitalization, and so on.

Next week: government. [-ecl]

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

CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE by John Sutherland (ISBN 978-1-61608-074-7) is a collection of short essays on various literary topics. Some are very similar to those in his books of literary conundrums: What really happened on Dorothea's wedding night (in MIDDLEMARCH)? Is Hamlet really to supposed to be making notes while talking to the Ghost and if so, how? Others are more connected with authors or books in our world: What were the most popular novels in the Civil War? Why are there no Brontes now, and why did the authors have an umlaut in their name?

What I find ironic is that the chapter "Morbid Curiosity", which includes essays on authors' deaths, and (quite often) the misinformation given out about them, starts with a quote from Isaac Asimov (*), but says nothing about how the cause of his death was concealed for ten years.

(*) "If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."

The problem with analyzing each word in a story in translation is that if you do not know the original word you are at the mercy of ambiguities, missed connotations, and translators' whims.

For example, a recent podcast was analyzing "The Circular Ruins" by Jorge Luis Borges and discussing the phrase (in English) "the blades that dilacerated his flesh." One person thought this referred to knives that were already embedded in the man's body, and thought that "dilacerated" was a very interesting concept. But the original Spanish is "las cortaderas que le dilaceraban las carnes." "Cortadera" is a type of sharp-bladed grass, and "dilacerar" is a stronger form of "lacerar", closer to "flay" than to "lacerate". (Another person had a translation that referred to "brambles", which made him think this a reference to the Crown of Thorns, but "cortadera" actually has nothing to do with thorns.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 YEARS: MY ADVENTURE TO EVERY COUNTRY ON EARTH by Albert Podell (ISBN 978-1-250-05198-1) covers the high points (or in some cases, the low points) of his travels to "every country on earth." But what does that mean? It is not until a hundred pages into the book that he addresses the question, "What is a country?" His rules were a bit stricter than ours (or most people's I suspect). For example, he says, "... it had to be a country when I visited it, and remain a country." So he had to re-visit the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the seven new countries formed from Yugoslavia, and "*all i5* of the newly separated suckers [formed from the USSR]." He also had to drop East Germany and South Vietnam. He ended up using membership in the United Nations (1903), supplemented by the 1933 Montevideo Convention (which added Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo).

He also had to define what it means to "visit" a country. He said he had spent at least a day in each capital city (except for Tajikistan) and traveled across 90% of countries. But then he mentions only spending about five minutes in Equatorial Guinea until he returned in 2014, and seemed to want to count the first visit even while acknowledging it barely counted as a visit.

Not surprisingly, he includes more about his trips to Chad and Peru than to Italy and Canada (though the latter, being his first trip to another country, does get some coverage).

I read with interest (and some disgust) a list of foods he had eaten, but then he wrote, "The only foreign staple I loathe is injera, the ubiquitous "bread" of Ethiopia and Eritrea, a foul concoction of teff, barley, wheat, corn, and sorghum having the consistency of a kitchen sponge, the look of a lunar landscape, and the taste of a week-old pancake gone sour." Well, I *love* injera, and I am not the only one--lots of people on Chowhound and now Hungry Onion talk about where one can find Ethiopian restaurants in New Jersey that serve injera. So not only do I question some of the ethical choices he made, I also think his tastes and mine are wildly divergent.

However, there are still useful tips in the book. After Podell wrote about how the airport security in the Cormoros "questioned [him] intently as to why [he] had pointy chopsticks in his bag (to avoid using their germ-laden cutlery, although [he] didn't say it]," I immediately made a note on my packing list not to take as carry-on the travel chopsticks a friend gave us.

At times, though, for all his traveling Podell gets it wrong. He claims that the fact that in North Korea "restaurants used miniature napkins and stainless steel chopsticks to conserve trees" it is an indication of poverty. But stainless steel chopsticks are also used in South Korea, and in Korean restaurants in the United States. It seems to be clearly a *Korean* thing, possibly because of deforestation of the peninsula in the past, but in any case apparently not just a North Korean choice based on poverty.

And for those who are contemplating duplicating his feat, let me point out that it is not just expensive, but unexpectedly expensive. Podell had to pay $6000 extra for new tickets when a 14-leg trip got derailed early on, and $9000 another time. not to mention almost $1000 a day for a personal security team in Somalia.

In addition, while visiting every country counts romantic, the bottom line is the bottom line--those last countries no one really wants to visit, but you have to in order to meet your goal. For Podell, it was the "Nasty Nine": Chad, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea. These are places where Podell took his life in his hands just so he could check them off on his list.

This is true (perhaps on a lesser scale) of most goals. It is basically the Pareto principle: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In this case, the last 20% of the countries probably accounted for 80% of the cost and the risk. Alas, they do not contribute 80% of the enjoyment. Maybe it is better to set a round-number goal (100 countries, or even 150) and not spend an inordinate amount of time and money in one's later years figuring out how to visit a war-torn country without getting killed. (Podell was 77 when he completed his goal--and as soon as a new country forms, he loses his claim.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          I like long walks, especially when they are taken by 
          people who annoy me. 
                                          --Fred Allen

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