MT VOID 12/11/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 24, Whole Number 1575

MT VOID 12/11/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 24, Whole Number 1575

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/11/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 24, Whole Number 1575

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

Potato Paradox (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Context is everything. Chanukah is coming up and people will be trying to make their very best recipe for latkes. If people thought about it they would realize that the ideal latkes are indistinguishable from the mediocre hash browns they half-finish at Burger King. [-mrl]

Casio and the Fabulous Logarithm (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

(This is a fairly interesting result. If you do not remember the basic rules for manipulating logarithms, just gloss over those parts.)

Back in the early days of electronic calculators I had an inexpensive Casio. It was very limited by today's standards. It told the time, it had alarms, and it had a calculator. It also would figure the number of days between two dates. I actually found it had an unadvertised feature. It would figure you biorhythms for a given date. Just give it your birth date and take a square root and it would return with the three biorhythm values for the date. I will not go into biorhythms here. It was a sort of silly superstition that was popular in the 1970s that suggested that some days were more dangerous than others. The Japanese actually improved their safety statistics by telling people there were specific days to be particularly careful. Of course, if you just chose "dangerous" days at random and were careful those days you would be safer.

The calculator was a very basic one. It added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, took square roots, and would square numbers. It also would remember a single number. The instructions said it would also roughly do exponents.

They gave the following process. Type the base; hit the square root key twelve times; subtract 1; multiply by the exponent; add 1; and square the number twelve times.

Okay, I tried it. Suppose I wanted to take 4.7 to the power 3.9. I start with 4.7 and take its square root twelve times and get 1.0003778943.

I subtract 1 and, of course, get 0.0003778943.

I multiply by 3.9 and get 0.0014737876.

I add one to get 1.0014737876.

I square that twelve times and I get 416.6264883.

So what is the real value? I get that it is 418.00516295.

That is off by about 0.33%. That is less than a third of a percent. Not so great by the standards of today's calculators, but not bad as a seat-of-the-pants estimate.

But the first thing that strikes me is that the process is a lot like taking a logarithm of the base, multiplying by the exponent, and then taking the anti-logarithm. That would give you a more exact answer, of course. The function I am using is not a logarithm. But for the process to work it must be a lot like a logarithm. But the question is what logarithm is it like? What is the base of the logarithm it is like? Let us say it is the log with base B and get an estimate what B is.

We have x^((1/2)^12) - 1 roughly equal to log to the base B of x which is equal to log(x)/log(B). Let us make things easy on ourselves and let x=10. We could choose a different x, but it would not give us a very different B.

10^((1/2)^12) - 1 = 1/log(B)

1/(10^((1/2)^12) - 1) = log(B)

10^(1/(10^((1/2)^12) - 1)) = B

This looks like a complicated expression, but it is not hard to plug into a calculator... a modern calculator. It is ten raised to the power (1/(10^((1/2)^12) - 1)). That exponent is about 1778.3702447. It is a one with 1778 zeroes.

I just recently wrote an article saying that no number the human mind can conceive of is a large number. However compared to numbers we actually deal with on a daily basis, it is comparatively large. It is 1779 digits long. For those interested it starts 234,555,... and goes on for 1773 more digits.

So Casio was saying that rather than put on their calculator an exponent they have you do your work with this rather fabulous logarithm. Luckily the square root key does it all for you. Who knew you were dragging around such huge numbers when playing with the square root key?

Now I know right now that there are some of you asking doesn't this nerd have anything better to do. But I am gambling that a few of you out there are saying "Wow!" [-mrl]

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Wes Anderson brings us a thoroughly delightful animated film. With wit, grace, and charm we get the story of a fox trying to evade three nasty farmers who are trying to kill him. But the animal characters are written very human and at the same time very funny, and they are made real by an all-star cast of familiar voices. Add a bunch of clever film references and we get a lot of film for the price of a ticket. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

I cannot say that I am terribly fond of the Wes Anderson comedies, films he both writes and directs. His quirky and disjointed sense of humor is selective in its appeal and it rarely selects me. BOTTLE ROCKET and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS have their moments, but RUSHMORE, THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, and THE DARJEELING LIMITED just seem disjointed and misaimed. His characters do not seem to be real people, but more writing exercises. I expected little from his animated film FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Ironically animated film is just the sub-medium to make his writing sing. Perhaps real people do not talk in the Anderson style, but animated animals are not real people and you expect them to be a little quirky. It works well.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a film in which even the errors work in its favor. For example, the animation seems to be done in stop-motion with fur-covered models. In KING KONG the models were covered with real fur and it showed in the animation. As the models were repositioned the fur was accidentally re-arranged. That was considered a mistake for KING KONG, which was supposed to be happening in the real world. The foxes and other animals in FANTASTIC MR. FOX do not have seemed real, perhaps. Instead they come off a little like charming dolls, and that works for the film better than it would have if they were photo-realistic. This is a world that is about at the same level of reality as THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS or perhaps Pogo. Further Anderson's film is made more winning by taking a step backward in technology by being three- dimensional models built on armatures. The characters have an organic feel to them; they seem tactile or even pettable. They are not made up of vectors in a computer; they feel like there is something touchable and solid in front of the viewer. I will not talk down Pixar, the animation studio that makes so many good films, but FANTASTIC MR. FOX shows the tactile feel that is missing in their films. It is the same phenomenon that makes the fans prefer Ray Harryhausen's creations to purely CGI effects.

Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) are happily married. Okay, hold it right there. This is not a film about young 20-somethings. In fox years they are probably 40- somethings. This is a film aimed at adults as much as it is at children and the whole spectrum should find this film rewarding. It is not clear that younger viewers will get some of the allusions like the opening with "The Ballad of Davy Crocket" or a sound effect borrowed from THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT or a line borrowed from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. But everybody should appreciate the characters. And the film has its share of serious issues and of laugh out loud moments.

Mr. Fox is (incredibly) suave like a George Clooney or a Cary Grant. Mrs. Fox is warm and wise and even when the couple has a falling out, you can feel the love these characters have for each other. Perhaps it required good actors to bring that off with foxes. I frequently ask why have highly paid stars doing voices in animated films when the producers could be giving talented unknowns a shot. But this film needed good actors, and the acting talent was there in Clooney and Streep and about eight other familiar actors. I will not list the lot of them because that would spoil the fun of reading the closing credits.

Okay, the plot. This is an adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl. It is the story of a turf war between Mr. Fox and three nasty farmers who are trying to rid their land of the chicken-stealing fox. Mr. Fox is actually no longer a chicken-thief and now writes for a newspaper, but the farmers have long memories and do not forgive. The story is a battle of wits between the three farmers and Mr. Fox. Frankly the story could have been stronger, but the viewer cares more for the characters and style more than the plot.

"Wit, grace, and charm" is a lyric for one of the songs in the film, but it could have been describing the film itself. Told with its breezy style, this could be the most charming film of the year. I rate FANTASTIC MR. FOX a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


BRIGHT STAR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Director and writer Jane Campion gives us the story of the ill-fated love of Fanny Brawne for the impoverished poet John Keats, one of England's greatest. Were it not for the tragic tone the story, set in the early 1800s, it would fit nicely into Jane Austen territory. We have a story of love doomed by poverty. Keats has the dilemma of having neither the time nor money to have a relationship with Brawne, as he is trying desperately to be a great poet. BRIGHT STAR bogs down in the middle and only moves again when things become even worse for Keats. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

One of my more controversial film reviews was that of Jane Campion's THE PIANO, a film well-liked and highly rated by the critics, but which I found to be no more than an over-wrought soap opera. Years later I was still getting mail from people who also did not like the film. I think that Campion's talent has improved over the years, but I am still not keen on her choice of story. And like that film she is still telling tragic tales of the great and under-appreciated destroyed by convention.

BRIGHT STAR is the story of a doomed romance. Fanny Brawne (played by Abbie Cornish) is attracted to John Keats (Ben Whishaw), her neighbor and her mother's tenant who is an aspiring poet. She is, however, frustrated that Keats does not reciprocate her interests. Keats is mired in the depths of poverty, and he is practicing for a profession, poet, that pays very little and that pay goes only to a very select few. The poet has enough to do to stay alive and, in spite of his romantic profession, cannot himself give in to romance. Keats slowly relents and reveals some affection for Brawne, but only in the most stifled manner. Nor does he feel he can bridge the difference of social class between his and Brawne's.

The main characters of this film form an unconventional triangle, though not exactly a love triangle. Keats has affection for Brawne, but he also has loyalty to his mentor, one Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), a crude and rude vulgarian and a co-tenant of Brawne's mother. Brown and Brawne detest each other almost immediately and Brown baits and patronizes Brawne. They both vie for Keats's time and attention.

The first twenty minutes of BRIGHT STAR are enjoyable in a sort of Jane Austen-y sort of manner. We have a view of early 19th century life filmed darkly and coldly by Greig Fraser. Eventually Brawne wins Keats over so that he does show his affection, but he still is not solvent enough to give her much hope. It is a stalemate and the film remains stuck in this impasse for most of the rest of the film. Things happen, but the plot takes its time in progressing.

We see a great deal of Keats sitting around and thinking about poetry and talking to his mentor, but the film really gives us very little insight into the poet himself or his craft. We are told his poetry is special, but we do not know how it gets that way. Campion does not know how Keats gets his inspiration and is not willing to speculate for the viewer. He apparently just sits in concentration and makes it up. We get a little better impression of the fashion-conscious Brawne. Her interest in Keats comes naturally, but she has to force herself to be interested in poetry and it seems only because she knows a poet. Most frustrating is Charles Brown, who hardly seems to be of a poetic nature at all and who taunts Brawne. Like the Billy Zane character in TITANIC, he has almost no lines in the script not intended to make him seem more detestable. Each time he speaks we like him less. When we first see him he is smoking a cigar, a cliché for selfish, inconsiderate male. And he lives up to that assessment in his every scene. He is written less as a character than as a slow- motion natural disaster. Campion is good as a filmmaker, but her stories have a touch of polemic. She is a better director than a writer.

This is a worthwhile story told with lukewarm emotion. The doomed love comes off as less a tragedy than a pity. The background makes this story more interesting than the foreground does. I rate BRIGHT STAR a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


The MT VOID and Mt. Holz (letters of comment by Dan Kimmel, Jerry Ryan, Rob Mitchell, and Rick Koehler):

In response to Mark's comments on the history of the MT VOID in the 11/04/09 issue ("We were in the science fiction club at the University of Massachusetts from before school started freshman year until we graduated. The last six months I was the president of the club. Evelyn preferred to be the club librarian and did about six times the work anyone else in the club did."), Dan Kimmel writes:

This explains *so* much. [From] your coming to a panel with a list of appropriate films to Evelyn studiously taking notes in the audience, it seems you were a perfect match right from the start. :-) [-dk]

Regarding the use of LZ rather than LC for Lincroft, Jerry Ryan writes:

Those of us that used to work in Liberty Corner always assumed that Lincroft was LZ because we were LC. I believe Lincroft may have existed first, though, so it is a bit of a mystery. I was one of the first tenants in Liberty Corner and I think we moved there in late 1986 or early 1987, however I think it had been on the drawing board for a long while, maybe even pre-divestiture. Maybe they put dubs on the "LC" location code? Do you know when Lincroft was built?

By the way neither LC or LZ are buildings that are part of the Bell System or any of its descendants. I believe that LC was emptied out and sold, and all the AT&T people there are now Lucent people in Murray Hill (MH). Avaya collapsed all NJ locations into Basking Ridge. I believe LZ is empty, or almost empty, and about to be sold. Holmdel is empty and Lucent is trying to sell it.

Were you guys ever connected up with Red Hill or the Crawford Hill labs building? And why was Red Hill known as HR? [-gwr]

Rob Mitchell and Rich Koehler also reminded us of Liberty Corner.

[When I said we never found out why they didn't call Lincroft LC, that was the "exclusive we." You apparently did know. Actually I may have known at one point and should have used the "exclusive I." --mrl]

Steeplechases (letter of comment by Kathy Robinson):

In response to Mark's comments on banning steeplechases in the 12/04/09 issue of the MT VOID, Kathy Robinson writes: The problem with the steeplechase ban is not so much the actual banning of steeplechase races (truly, if the horse doesn't want to do it, you can't make him do it--personal experience tells me this). The problem is with a minority legislating morality. It is a slippery slope and sooner or later, not only will flat racing be banned, but ownership of animals will eventually be legislated away.... I don't know whether HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had anything to do with the Australia ban but in the United States they have a very well thought out plan to make all animal interactions with people go away and they are starting by pushing legislations that seem to be for the animals but will lend themselves down the line to draconian revisions abridging or eliminating people's rights. I watched a HSUS commercial last night begging for money by showing sad pictures of abused animals ... the truth is that HSUS does not run or fund a single shelter, and all the money they receive goes to administration and PAC contributions to push their brand of legislation. They are hand in hand with PETA which placed less than 3% of the animals surrendered to it and killed the rest .

I could go on, but that's the gist of it... [-kr]

Mark responds:

I will have to take your word that you cannot make a horse do something that the horse does not want to do. I take it you do not believe that that quality might not vary from horse to horse. But even accepting that I believe you might be able to make a horse want to do something that is, in fact, dangerous for the horse and/or the rider.

You know I cannot think of one piece of legislation that is not somebody's "slippery slope." Any piece of good legislation can be exaggerated by the opposition into being the first step of a nightmare conspiracy. Some years ago I saw Arizona vote down what I considered to be a good piece of legislation to ban leg-hold trapping. The argument given was that this was just the first step by extremists who would have rats running in the hallways of schools. I have seen far a lot of propositions voted down due to scare tactics from the opposition. I have never seen a "slippery slope" issue turn into a bad trend that became a juggernaut that could not be stopped. The proper answer to a "slippery slope" argument is that generally the voting populace will get involved at some point and vote against a trend that is getting out of hand. But you are correct that where steeplechase races are banned, people might start looking at whether other horse racing is cruel or dangerous to animals. I do not see that concern as a bad thing.

I have to admit my personal bias here. Whenever the issue of animal welfare vs. the interests of a sport, I personally will be on the side of animal welfare. So no, I cannot be sure that flat racing would not be banned eventually. But I think I can assure you that the ban on steeplechases will not mutate into a ban on all animal ownership. I think we have to look at the ban on steeplechases for itself and not what we fear it will become. -mrl]

Motel of the Mysteries (letters of comment by David vun Kannon and Kip Williams):

In response to Evelyn's comments on MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES in the 12/04/09 issue of the MT VOID, David vun Kannon writes:

I think Evelyn Leeper and Gary Westfahl have missed the point of Macaulay's book.

David Macaulay first became famous for a series of books about architecture and the construction of buildings in the pre-modern era that were illustrated with beautiful line drawings--e.g. CATHEDRAL and PYRAMID. He is also responsible for the incredibly informative and funny "The Way Things Work". In "Unbuilding", he changes his traditional format to show how skyscrapers work by taking one down rather than building one up. (The one taken down is the Empire State Building.) All of his books have a fictional narrative framework, a certain gentle humor and are intended for bright children and adults. All highly recommended. MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES is badly misclassified as science fiction by Westfahl merely because it chooses to mix up Macaulay's formula yet again to keep the author and reader from getting bored. Motel is a gentle education in the methods of archaeology. Being set 1000 years in the future does not make it science fiction. Archaeology and SF is an interesting topic, for example "Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper. Similar issues are raised in part V of FOUNDATION AND EARTH by Isaac Asimov. [-dvk]

And Kip Williams writes:

"The Weans" is available as a broadcast from the CBS Radio Project (I'm probably muffing the name, but I'm anxious to knock off and go to bed, having finally bullied my system into showing me newsgroups again) at I heard it about 36 years ago, and was able to resist the temptation to listen to the ponderous whimsy of it again when I discovered it there. [-kw]

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

THE MANUAL OF DETECTION by Jedediah Berry (ISBN-13 978-1-59420-211-7) is described as Borgesian, but is more Kafka-esque in its portrayal of the Agency as the all-seeing, never-sleeping watchdog of society. But there is also a heavy layer of noir, the question of what is reality and what is dream, and a use of carnivals--one carnival owner is named Caligari, and there are similarities to Ray Bradbury's carnivals as well. If I had to pick the strongest similarity, though, it would be to Alex Proyer's film DARK CITY, even to the significance of the beach.

Berry's protagonist is a clerk in the Agency, and the case names he has chosen for his files--the Oldest Murdered Man, the Three Deaths of Colonel Baker, and the Man Who Stole November 12th--give the reader a feel for the strangeness, while also evoking the traditional detective story. (The name "The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker" sounds like something from Arthur Conan Doyle, but the explanation is more Agatha Christie.) And Berry's character names are always notable, perhaps too much so. From the detective Charles Unwin, to his predecessor Travis T. Sivart (a palindrome *and* a pun), to his secretary Emily Doppel, to Hoffman and Caligari and all the rest of them, Berry has tried to make his characters' names meaningful, but there are times that he seems to be pushing too hard. Still, the novel is captivating, and almost hypnotic at times, and so I recommend it. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Although to penetrate into the intimate mysteries 
           of nature and thence to learn the true causes of 
           phenomena is not allowed to us, nevertheless it 
           can happen that a certain fictive hypothesis may 
           suffice for explaining many phenomena.
                                           -- Leonhard Euler, 1748

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