MT VOID 03/25/05 (Vol. 23, Number 39, Whole Number 1275)

MT VOID 03/25/05 (Vol. 23, Number 39, Whole Number 1275)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/25/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 39 (Whole Number 1275)

Table of Contents

  El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Loving Care for the MT VOID (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

At the World Science Fiction Convention they were honoring one of the great old fanzine writers of science fiction. They wanted to attendees to know that when he wrote an article for his fanzine he qould personally set the type by hand. This apparently shows the loving care he lavished on his fanzine. I never thought of this as that much of a virtue. But in case it matters to our readers I want them to know that when I write an article for the VOID I also personally go to that extra bit of effort to set the type by hand. (And before you ask, the type I usually select is ".txt".) [-mrl]

High Energy on the Cheap: And a Little Shrimp Shall Lead Them (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There is a growing excitement in parts of the physics community these days. And you may have read about it here first. Back on September 27, 2002, I published in the MT VOID the following article on Snapping Shrimp.

"Department of Odd Science Facts: I was a little taken aback when I read an article about the Snapping Shrimp. This little character is really a candidate for Ripley's "Believe it or Not." It seems he (or she) has an unusual defense mechanism. The shrimp has a big claw and he snaps it shut. Just by the cavitation of the moving claw it creates a little bubble that pops and startles its prey. Whole submarines can hide the sound of their engines from sonar from just the popping bubbles from these shrimp. Isn't that something? No? Ya' say ya' not satisfied that this is an interesting creature? How about if I said that the bubble actually gives off light? It does, you know. Still not impressed? How about if I said that the bubble also gets hot? How hot? Something like 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Other sources I read made the temperature estimate considerably higher. [A now-defunct URL from ABC News] makes the temperature something like the temperature in the sun. This is one shrimp I would not want to mess with. It could end up frying me."

When I said this, I got people responding that they did not get the joke. Mostly the article was ignored. It sounds ridiculous on the face of it. In fact we are talking about a water phenomenon called sonoluminescence. For a long time it was just associated with the propulsion methods of submarines. I think it was during World War II that it was discovered that there was a glowing around the propellers of submarines. The phenomenon is that imploding bubbles in a liquid when excited by sound give off light and even create heat. I mean a lot of heat.

As Kenneth Chang reports in the science section of the New York Times, "When the force of sound waves implode tiny bubbles within a liquid at room temperature, the surface of the bubble can reach temperatures at least 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit, more than twice as hot as the surface of the sun, scientists reported this month... The scientists, at the University of Illinois, did not speculate just how hot the bubble became, but said they had managed to create a state of matter called plasma inside the bubble. In it, some of the electrons have been stripped off the atoms. 'This is the first definitive proof of the existence of a plasma' during this kind of bubble implosion, said one of the scientists, Dr. Kenneth S. Suslick, a professor of chemistry at Illinois. Their finding supports the intriguing notion that it may be possible to compress these bubbles so violently that vapor molecules in them are heated to multimillion-degree temperatures."

What are we talking about here? Little tiny points of immense heat. The points are too small to cause any damage. In fact though shrimp have been creating these bubble for a long time, nobody ever noticed the heat. They just knew the bubbles the snapping shrimp create put on a cool sound and light show. And I mean cool. Now how might the ability to create super-high temperatures in very small areas be useful? Do the words "cold fusion" come to mind?

Chang goes on to say, "In 2002, scientists performing an experiment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee even reported that they had used the technique to fuse hydrogen atoms into helium - the process that powers the sun. That experiment did not measure the bubble temperatures, but detected byproducts of fusion." OK, so cold fusion is no longer a possibility, but is already an accomplished fact. Or may be. The scientists are still farbling about it, trying to figure out what they have. People have announced cold fusion in the past and the tide of scientific opinion has been against it. However, the resistance to accept is becoming weaker as Chang reports.

Cold fusion, which now seems tantalizingly close, would be a source of--dare I say it--almost limitless very cheap energy. This does not mean that it will be usable. I frankly do not know if it would be safer and cheaper to generate than fission energy. But it does begin to feel like it is almost within our grasp. [-mrl]

Olympics and Jumps (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):

David Goldfarb responds to Dan Cox's letter on weather forecasting in the 03/18/05 issue, where Dan said in part:

you can't win Olympic(tm) figure skating no matter how good your single-axle jumps are.
(Olympic, Olympics, and the 5-ringed Olympic flag are trademarks of some organization. That organization has lawyers and knows how to use them. The use of this word to describe other events, athletic or not, is forbidden without permission. There is no confirmation that the government of Greece has been asked to rename a certain mountain.) [-dtc]

David notes, "If you're going to be that picky about 'Olympic', then I'm going to go ahead and correct you about the name of the jump. It's named after its originator, Axel Paulsen. The word 'Axel' (note spelling!) should be capitalized, and the phrase should not be hyphenated: 'single Axel', 'triple Axel', and so on. [-dg]

SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a sparkling musical comedy of the year 1942. A dance team who are romantic on-again-off-again patch up their differences at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. The supporting cast is a lot more interesting than the main leads. Some great comic turns by Carmen Miranda and especially the great Edward Everett Horton. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

This film reminds me of a smile sticker in a jewel-studded frame. The supporting cast is just excellent. We have people like Edward Everett Horton, Carmen Miranda, Harry James, Cesar Romero, Charlotte Greenwood, and Jackie Gleason in a musical comedy about whether Betty Grable and John Payne will patch up their differences and get together. Betty Grable was, of course, the national sweetheart during World War II due in very large part to a famous swimsuit pinup photograph that just about every GI knew well. (Note the references to Grable in STALAG 17.) She was (for me) a moderately attractive lady and not a particularly interesting actor. Her romantic lead was John Payne who may be best remembered as the bland nice-guy suitor and lawyer in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. That sort of leaves a hole right in the middle of this film where the central characters should be.

Betty Grable plays Vicky Lane and John Payne is Dan Christy. Lane and Christy are a popular Broadway dance team who seem destined to marry, though Christy still has eyes for other women and Lane always assumes the worst. The film's first showpiece is a nice number with the two on stage singing their love to each other while Lane takes every opportunity to kick or hit Christy when she thinks the audience will not see it. After the performance Lane heads out to a vacation in Lake Louise in Alberta's Rocky Mountains. Christy gets drunk and awakes also at Lake Louise with a whole entourage he has no memory of hiring on his bender. Included is the valet McTavish (played by Edward Everett Horton) and secretary Rosita Murphy (played by Carmen Miranda). Lane decides to use suitor Victor Prince (played by Cesar Romero) to make Christy jealous and Christy retaliates using Rosita Murphy. But Rosita on her own decides she is more interested in helping Lane and Christy patch things up.

I have never been fond of Carmen Miranda, but had never seen much of her, and I do not remember ever seeing her act. This film is ideal to show off her irrepressible personality. She glitters literally and figuratively. Also along is Charlotte Greenwood who plays a servant of Lane who seems around in the story mostly do an eye-poppingly limber dance. But the real scene-stealer is Horton. I remember years ago seeing him play off Peter Falk in A POCKET FULL OF MIRACLES, thinking what a shame it was that they Horton and Falk were not in more films together. They would have made a great comic team. In this film I saw him with Carmen Miranda and found myself thinking how good they were together. I think Horton mixes with any other good comic actor to make a great comic team. Cesar Romero is okay in the film but does not get a lot of chance to make scenes his own. The real problem with the film is that Grable's magnetic attraction has passed with time. And I am not sure Payne ever had a lot of appeal as an actor. The center of this film just does not hold. I found myself wanting their relationship to work out just because that was what the peripheral characters wanted.

The script by Walter Bullock and Ken Englund flags a little in the second half, but overall is quite good and still entertaining. This kind of musical comedy is not generally my cup of tea, but it made for an enjoyable afternoon. I rate SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

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

Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate's INTRODUCING EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY (ISBN 1-84046-043-1) is yet another in the Totem graphic book series, but this one has an interesting backstory as well. Apparently the first edition of the book had a caricature of psychologist Steven Rose on page 155 with a word bubble saying, "Whether you become a genius or an idiot depends entirely on what environment you live in." Rose vehemently objected to this, and the new version says, "Genes aren't everything; the environment matters too". ( has more information about this.)

But page 117 is perhaps even more interesting. This has a picture of a page of personal ads ("Beautiful, intelligent, outgoing women ... seeks LTR with good-looking, sociable, professional male" sort of thing. Evans's claim is that these ads show that people are seeking the characteristics that would make someone a good parent ("kindness, patience, generosity and trustworthiness"). The illustration shows someone with a big black pen has circled some of the ads. But curiously the same black pen seems also to have crossed out certain words. The words are "gay", "gay female", and "gay woman". Now why would they do that? It seems unlikely it was done simply as censorship of something people might find objectionable--there are drawings in the book that are certainly more explicit. More likely they actually contradict the author's' point about mating characteristics, so they are simply and crudely crossed out. Perhaps the authors' did not notice the ads on the first pass. These ads could be pointed at as an example of looking for partners without parenting in mind (though of course many gay people are parents). But why include a page that has these ads and then black them out? Why not find a page without them? With all the pages of personal ads in the world, certainly one page could be found that does not include references to gays. The whole thing almost looks as though Evans and Zarate *wanted* people to call attention to the existence of contradictory evidence. Without asking the authors we may never know.

A friend recommended Graham Hancock's THE SIGN AND THE SEAL (ISBN 0-7493-0186-4), which postulates that 1) the Ark of the Covenant is being kept in the church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia, and 2) the Ark itself is an amazing technological weapon. powered by tablets made of some radioactive material. I will state up-front that I went into this book skeptical, and that may have colored my reading. I found the book overly long and complicated, with too much time being spent on describing Hancock's travels and all his "amazing insights" (e.g., "What I found most exciting of all about the obelisk was that it was intact--not rusting and crumbling--and that it was covered with fresh red primer paint. Someone, clearly, was still taking an interest in the explorer...." [page 185]). I also thought he was too quick to grasp at what would support his theories and to dismiss conflicting evidence. For example, he makes much of the fact that Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai: it should not take God that long to write two tablets, so Moses must have been building something (page 347ff). But he does not deal with all the other occurrences of "forty days" or "forty years" in the Torah:

Why forty? I could just as easily argue that many of those could be connected to gematria: "40" is the number for the verb "lamed- heh-heh" meaning to wander or to err. And all of these are connecting with wandering, or the erring of the Israelites, or both. Even if it was 42 or 38 days, perhaps there would still be something to explain, but there is no evidence to support the conclusions that Hancock draws.

Or when he proposes three possible explanations to account for the powers attributed to the Ark:

  1. The Old Testament was right, and the Ark contains Divine powers.
  2. The Old Testament was wrong, and the Israelites were "victims of a collective mass hallucination that lasted for several hundred years."
  3. A little bit of both: the Ark possessed powers which were not Divine, but were man-made. (pg. 285ff)

Hancock seems to ignore a fourth possibility:

        4.  Various phenomena were misinterpreted, elaborated on, etc., to fit in with the myth of Divine power in the Ark, or perhaps just to make a good story that helped to justify devotion.

If you don't allow number 4, then applying Hancock's three limited possibilities to, say, various relics of the Catholic Church, says that if you do not accept that the relics have divine powers then you must think that Christians have been the victims of mass hallucinations or that the relics have some natural power, neither of which seems credible to most skeptics.

On the whole, while some of Hancock's ideas are interesting, I found the book too convoluted and unconvincing to recommend.

(Thanks to Mark for helping me figure out how to phrase some of this, particularly in trying to describe the visuals on page 117 of the first book. Truly a picture is worth a thousand words!)


                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Justice, n. A commodity which in a more or less
           adulterated condition the State sells to the 
           citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes, 
           and personal service.
                                          --Ambrose Bierce

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