MT VOID 04/25/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 43, Whole Number 1490

MT VOID 04/25/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 43, Whole Number 1490

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/25/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 43, Whole Number 1490

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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

A Prime Talent (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In his book THE ROAD AHEAD, Bill Gates speculates about the future of computing and on page 265 says, "The obvious mathematical breakthrough would be development of an easy way to factor large prime numbers." As it happens I have one secret talent. I don't like to brag about it. In just one instant I can factor any prime number I am given. Do you think that Gates would pay me for the secret? I have known how to do this since Junior High School. [-mrl]

A Microbe's Eye View of a Rainbow (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

One of the most spectacular of (the non-destructive) meteorological phenomena is the rainbow. Everybody likes seeing rainbows. Not everybody really understands what they are seeing. Even if you think you do know what causes rainbows, it helps to look at them from the point of view of a human no bigger than a microbe. But I won't shrink you down just yet.

One thing interesting about rainbows is they all have exactly the same angular measure. If you stretch your arm out to full length and wrap your fingers around following the outer edge of a rainbow it will always require the same stretch of the fingers. There are no little rainbows. A rainbow you get from a garden hose covers exactly the same proportion of your field of vision as one in the sky. You may see incomplete rainbows, but you will never see a small rainbow. Actually there are bigger rainbows, but I will come back to them later. Why are rainbows all the same angular size and what is happening here?

Well, most people know that when you see a rainbow you are seeing the sun hitting water droplets. The sun shows back colors that form different colored arcs of circles. For the sake of simplicity I will talk about just the red and blue band of the rain, but we know there are many bands of light between. In the red portion the raindrops all look red to you, in the blue portion of the rainbow the drops all look blue. The reason the whole band of sky looks red is the combination of millions of raindrops that each looks red. It is much like a stadium in which everybody is holding up a red card and the entire seating area looks like a wall of red. Suppose everybody held up a card tent-folded that was red to the left and blue to the right. A helicopter on one side of the stadium would see the seating area as a sea of red and one on the other side of the stadium would see the same section as a sea of blue. Similarly each raindrop has a color based on the angle from which it is observed by the viewer.

Now imagine you were the size of a microbe looking at one of these raindrops close up as it falls. The raindrop is not elongated as it is often portrayed, but the air flattens it a bit so its diameter at its equator is a bit more than its distance from pole to pole. But we can assume it is a sphere. Sunlight enters the raindrop, bends as it goes from air to water. It bounces off the back of the raindrop and comes back out the front of the raindrop. However the bounce spreads the light into its basic colors like white light going through a prism. The blue part of the light comes out always about 40 degrees from where the white light entered. The red part of the spectrum comes out of raindrop at about 42 degrees from where the white light entered. So the raindrop would look like it had a little bull's eye of rainbow colored light on the surface. It will have a blue ring and a slightly wider red ring. The center of ring is white light, less spectacular, and the very center is where sunlight is entering the drop.

When sunlight hits many raindrops all around you it hits them almost precisely parallel. It hits them at the same angle and it comes out at the same angle. So the colored light coming out will come out parallel. As the microbe you might be placed just right to see the red band. If you roll your eye in one direction you might see yellow and further you might see blue. You get that view because you are close up and can change the angle you are looking at the raindrop. But the more distance you get from the raindrop, the less you can see all the other colors. Soon the distance has made the raindrop so tiny you can see only the light sent at your angle. The raindrop looks red as do the millions of other raindrops right around it. Look off at a different angle and you will see raindrops that are reaching you from a different angle and may look all blue.

Some of the sunlight will be reflected off the backs of raindrops and the red part of the light will be bounced out forming a cone whose vertex angle is 84 degrees (or twice 42 degrees). A concentric cone of blue light will be bounced out forming a cone whose vertex angle is 80 degrees (or twice 40 degrees). When from the ground you see the red portion of the rainbow the angle formed by the sun, the raindrop, and your eye is just about 42 degrees. In fact the angle from sun to raindrop to eye will be a 42-degree angle for all of the raindrops near the first one. These raindrops will all appear red. When you see blue you are seeing the edge of a smaller concentric cone.

I said when you were seeing one water drop that the light reflects off the back of the drop but it comes out the front. Actually some of the light comes out at the back of the raindrop and is lost. Only some reflects. When the colored light hits the front of the raindrop some of that comes out and some bounces around some more in the raindrop. It creates a second spectral pattern with red at 51 degrees away from the original ray of sunlight. It will be weaker because the light has bounced around and some has been lost. But under good conditions from the ground you will see a second wider rainbow.

But each of the millions or billions of tiny raindrops has on its surface a complete picture of the entire rainbow two or more times and each acts as a pixel to show a huge image of that same picture across the face of the sky. [-mrl]

GOOGLE ME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This light-hearted documentary tells of what Jim Killeen discovered when he went on a quest to meet and interview other people whose names were the same as his. He meets a variety of people and never really comes to any surprising connections among them, but does just get to know six other people who by coincidence had his same name. The documentary is being released first on YouTube on Friday, April 25, 2008. But the film is a pleasant way to meet seven people whose names all happen to be Jim Killeen. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Jim Killeen, a theater major at Wayne State University in Detroit, went west to be an actor and got two minor parts in two minor films in the late 1990s. Then one day he was playing around on the computer and put his own name into Google. To his surprise he found references to other Jim Killeens. He was curious about the other Jim Killeens. Who were they? What did they do? Did it have some common influence on them that he had had this name Jim Killeen? He decided to investigate who the other Jim Killeens were. His first find is in Cobh, Ireland, and is a jovial Irish priest named (well, of course) Jim Killeen. Father Jim is quietly proud of being a part of the priesthood and says nothing much unexpected or earth-shattering. His interview gives the director a chance to color the film with some nice Irish music and some nice Irish landscapes. The next Jim Killeen is a retired police detective from New York City. The detective tells some stories and anecdotes about his career on the police force. Detective Killeen investigated the carnage the Happyland Social Club in the Bronx when arson killed 87 people in 1990.

So with a priest and a policeman, do we expect that Jim Killeens tend to be straight-laced guys? No, Jim Killeen Number 3 of Denver, Colorado, is a swinger who is into group sex. So we go from hearing about the ecstasy of being a priest to hearing about the ecstasy of going to a sex orgy where (not very attractive) people turn out the lights and grope each other. Jim (the original) goes as far afield as Australia, Scotland, and Ireland finding people with the same name.

And so it goes, as Killeen interviews his namesakes and also an engineering vice-president of Google and discusses with him the project. Killeen earlier thought that Google might tell him that they did not want their name associated with the film project. Not too surprisingly, that was not a problem at all. After all, the film does not put Google in a bad light. Instead it showed somebody who had found a creative use for the Google search engine. That is really what Google is all about. The vice- president gives a little talk about democratization of data. Then Jim (the director) has his mother talk a little about Jim. He clearly wanted to get the film up to feature-film length without putting his audience to sleep.

In the end there seems to be little more connection among the Jim Killeens than there would be with men chosen at random. One Jim Killeen has no children while another has eight. Killeen asks each what the purpose of life is and he gets six different answers. Those differences seem hardly surprising. About all that would be expected of seven people named Jim Killeen is that they would be male and of Irish or Scottish extraction, at least if you go far enough back. So with very little content for the film to cover, Killeen has to hold the viewer by making the film pleasant. He is an affable man, but it is about all he can do to find enough to say to save the film from becoming trivial. His style is light-hearted and just barely has enough material to keep GOOGLE ME going for its 93-minute length. This is not a very ambitious film in theme or in aspirations. It will be showing on YouTube, presumably without cost. It is a semi-professional, semi-amateur production. It achieves its goals, and is moderately entertaining. That is probably enough. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:


Shakespeare (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In regard to Shakespeare being performed in the nude, Mark had written in the 04/18/08 issue of the MT VOID, "Well, that was the point of the joke, but actually the answer is yes, at least with males. And not just Jewish ones. (No, as Evelyn points out the Jews would look the same. But again I don't think the Globe had many Jewish actors.)" [-mrl]

Fred Lerner writes, "Authenticity in these matters didn't seem to bother Renaissance sculptors, as a stroll through Florence will attest." [-fl]

Strong's CONCORDANCE (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Strong's CONCORDANCE in the 04/18/08 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein writes, "With respect to Strong's Concordance, there exists a good online version that also utilizes some more recent interpretation at That won't help if your size problem results from wanting to carry it around, but it does put it anywhere from which you can reach the Internet." [-pir]

Mark responds, "Actually I have seen it there, but it is tough to carry out to the porch to use against pesky Jehovah's False Witnesses. Even a laptop with wireless would not be smart to throw at them." [-mrl]

The Ku Klux Klan and Movies, and REFUSENIK (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's comments on the Ku Klux Klan in the 04/04/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

Another entry for the anti-Klan movie list is STORM WARNING (1951), in which Ginger Rogers witnesses the lynching of a journalist, and crusading D.A. Ronald Reagan tries to persuade her to testify against the KKK, explicitly named here.

The Democratic Party, of which Reagan was an active member, had broken with the Klan shortly before, at least at the national level.

It's a dirty little secret that the Klan was a significant part of the New Deal coalition. When FDR nominated former Klansman Hugo Black to the Supreme Court in 1937, he told Black not to worry about it, that "some of his best friends and supporters he had in the state of Georgia were strong members of that organization." (Black quoted by Wikipedia.) Certainly, FDR's policy toward Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany might just as well as have been written by the KKK. Even today, Sen. Robert C. Byrd's past as a Klan organizer, Kleagle, and Exalted Cyclops (in the 1940's) does not seem to affect his high status within the Democratic Party. [-tw]

And in response to Mark's review of REFUSENIK in the 04/18/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras writes:

On arch-refusenik Natan Sharansky: he didn't know it at the time, but he had another advocate in his corner, aside from his wife. Pres. Reagan's recently published diary reveals he secretly pressed the Soviets to release Sharansky, again and again, starting just a few months after his inauguration. After Sharansky's release in 1986, he visited the White House. He records that, when he told Reagan about the joy of political prisoners, like him, when they heard about the "Evil Empire" speech, Reagan jumped up, glowing, and called in his aides to "listen to this man". That was when, Sharansky says, he first realized just how much grief and abuse Reagan must have been subjected to for calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. [-tw]

Mark replies, "The documentary REFUSENIK does speak very highly of President Ronald Reagan's efforts to help Soviet Jews. Certainly Natan Sharansky's wife, who I believe the film said was in the United States by this time, was aware that Reagan was a powerful ally so the word had probably gotten to Natan." [-mrl]

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

BRASYL by Ian McDonald (ISBN-13 978-1-591-02543-6, ISBN-10 1-591-02543-5) is a Hugo nominee, but it has a major strike against it--the book comes with a six-page glossary (and a suggested reading list, and a playlist of songs). It also has a long description of a soccer game (which I can't follow). The only one of the three threads it follows that I could understand was the one taking place in 1732. Maybe if I studied the glossary first.... Or maybe not. I *really* wanted to like this one, but it didn't happen. (In fairness, I will add that I gave up around page 60.)

THE LAST COLONY by John Scalzi (ISBN-13 978-0-765-31697-4, ISBN-10 0-765-31697-8) is a classic science fiction novel. It doesn't need a six-page glossary. It doesn't have an impenetrable style. It just tells the story of a group of colonists caught in a mess: militarily, politically, sociologically, and environmentally. Whether the resolution is entirely plausible, I am not sure, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief. For all those who yearn for "science fiction like they used to write," this is recommended.

THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold (ISBN-13 978-0-316-16668-3, ISBN-10 0-316-16668-5) is a fantasy, but one of those fantasies that shows up on book club and high school reading lists. The narrator is a girl who has been murdered by a serial killer; because she is dead and in heaven (?), she is an omniscient narrator. It has a sort of New Age feel to it--if the narrator is in heaven, there is no sense of God (or Jesus) in it, and the various contacts between the living and the dead are more spiritualism than religion. I wouldn't have read this had it not been picked for our book discussion group (*not* the science fiction one), and I cannot recommend it. (Oh, and whoever copy-edited it did not catch that the name of the Confederate diarist is "Mary Chesnut", not "Mary Chestnut".) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           How I wish that somewhere there existed an island 
           for those who are wise and of good will.
                                          -- Albert Einstein

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