MT VOID 03/23/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 39, Whole Number 1694

MT VOID 03/23/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 39, Whole Number 1694

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/23/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 39, Whole Number 1694

Table of Contents

      Ollie: Mark Leeper, Stan: 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


A stray capital letter was inserted in last week's URLs for our southern Africa logs. The correct ones are:


Edison Studios' A TRIP TO MARS (1910) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

People interested in the origins of the science fiction film might be interested in Edison Studios' A TRIP TO MARS, made in 1910, a month before the now much better known FRANKENSTEIN. You can get to it at It is a little over five minutes long.

It seems to be based in part on FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, with one man getting to Mars using an anti-gravity powder. It also seems influenced by the much better A TRIP TO THE MOON made by George Melies eight years (!) earlier.

Thanks to the Frankensteinia Blog (which has more information on the film) for pointing this out. [-mrl]

In Your Dreams... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

General common sense says that if something appears for just a few minutes and then disappears and is never seen again, you do not follow it. There may be a good reason why it disappears without a trace. Wherever it has gone may well be not so nice. What am I talking about? A dream is something you have and it goes away as if it were never there. That is not a great recommendation.

So then why do people tell you that you should follow your dream? [-mrl]

The Khan Academy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The Internet is still very much in its infancy. We never know when something bigger and more powerful might come along, but until that time the Internet will always be in its infancy. It is a very powerful tool that has unlimited potential to transform the society. There are a lot of very powerful Internet applications out there and many do have the capability to be world-changers. I periodically remind readers about the TED Talks at If you want to stoke your sense of wonder, the TED Talks are a more effective idea source than just about any science fiction book. Today I want to say something about another new application that probably not enough people know about.

How many people out there have heard of the Khan Academy? So far not many, but it already has some very enthusiastic supporters, myself included. Much of what I will have to say here re-iterates what Salman Khan said in his March 2011 TED talk. (Look that that! This is genuine synergy among new Internet applications. The TED talks are helping more people learn about the Khan Academy.)

So what is the Khan Academy? It was founded by Khan, who was at the time a mathematical analyst on Wall Street. He was helping his cousins to learn mathematics. Rather than be there in person he put his lectures in short format on YouTube with an expected viewership entirely of people he knew personally. Okay, maybe there would be a few others coming along who stumbled on his recordings on YouTube. Other people liked his explanations. Here were explanations of mathematics broken into YouTube-like lectures of about ten minutes in length. Now think what that means. It means that if you want to stop and think what you have just been taught, you can. Try doing that with a human teacher, lecturing to a classroom filled with students. Without embarrassment you can have your teacher repeat what you just heard. (Of course, you cannot get the teacher to rephrase something in a simpler manner, so that is one drawback.) You can have the teaching pace matched to your learning pace. (Okay, you cannot have the teacher explain in any more detail than the first time.) But you really control the pace of the teacher, a luxury you rarely have unless you have a private tutor or are learning from a book. You also can learn from somebody who is very good at teaching your subject. You will not get an incompetent teacher who does not care if you really understand the subject matter or not. You have a combination of some of the best aspects of having a really good classroom teacher and a private tutor. While it was never planned as such the whole concept of providing free lectures to the public just sort of clicked into place.

Khan started recording more lectures and since he could not be totally dependent strictly on YouTube, he founded his own website, where you can now find entire courses. Basically all of mathematics from elementary school through high school and some of college mathematics is available there in short lectures downloadable like YouTube. The last I heard there were 2700 lectures. That must be about 450 hours, and this is only a beginning.

Khan reports that the classroom dynamic is in some respects reversed. With our current methods of teaching during the school day the student listens to lectures and then in the evening practices what he/she has learned. That need no longer be the case. What has turned out to be more natural for classes using the videos is to have the student listen to the lectures at home when they used to be doing homework, and actual exercises they do during classroom time when the teacher is right there to provide help and answer questions.

This sounds like a way of giving better teaching to the students with the human teacher needed less. If there are going to be budget cuts at school, this is a much more economical approach.

The web site lists free mini-courses in categories Mathematics, Science, Humanities & Others, and Test Preparation. Readers might find the whole site of interest. It is at:


Packing for a Trip (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

It used to be that when you traveled, you threw a few changes of clothing, a comb and a toothbrush, and maybe a phrase book into a suitcase and off you went. (I once made a two-day trip to Denver with my personal items in half of a small hard-sided briefcase.)

But on every trip we think of something else that would be handy, so now my starting pack list is about 175 items (and that's counting all the socks, for example, as one item). For South Africa, the final list was 150 items; for Arizona, 100. (Dropped from both of them were things like water jugs, coolers, and other items only taken on driving trips.)

Part of this profusion is due to the quantity of electronics we take. On a trip a couple of years ago, we had palmtop computers, a cell phone, a DVD player, a CD player (for me), a cassette player (for Mark), a radio, a GPS, walkie-talkies, a digital camera, and watches. (We have since also acquired a netbook.) The items themselves are mostly fairly lightweight (a palmtop computer is about four ounces), but a couple are somewhat hefty (the portable DVD player and the GPS). And then there are the cables to connect the DVD player, the charger for the cell phone, the batteries and charger for just about everything else, the DVDs, the CDs, the cassettes, the card reader for downloading from PCs, the power cords, the adapters (three-to-two-prong and/or foreign), and so on.

By the time you add it all up, and include a couple of non- electronic technological items like binoculars, it comes to about twelve or thirteen pounds. (This did not include Mark's CPAP, which at the time weighed about ten pounds and takes a separate piece of luggage entirely.) On trips twenty years ago, my entire suitcase weighed only nineteen pounds, I think I can say that creeping technology is making travel more complicated.

One step forward is that we now have iPods, which are a lot lighter than a player and cassettes or CDs. Another is that a digital camera and a couple of memory cards is much lighter than a film camera and three dozen rolls of film.

Another category that has been expanded is the "medicine cabinet." Originally some aspirin and a couple of band-aids, this now includes multiple types of pain-killers, anti-histamine, caffeine, cough drops, Dramamine, Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, vitamins, calcium, and assorted prescription medicines, as well as wrist braces, knee braces, elastic bandages, and a cane (only when driving). The latest addition is hand sanitizer. I guess one should also include insect repellent and sunscreen in this category as well. (The fact that we have not needed Imodium or Pepto-Bismol since a trip to Mexico in 1983--over a quarter of a century ago!--does not mean they comes off my list.)

By now we have a huge pile of stuff and we have not even started packing clothes. Oh, well, who needs clothes anyway? [-ecl]

JOHN CARTER Post Re-Read Review (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

As promised, I have re-read A PRINCESS OF MARS, the basis for the new movie, JOHN CARTER. I wrote an earlier review based on my first impression of the film, but I wanted to go back and re-read the book to see how well the film stood up. The answer is--pretty well--the movie holds at +2. After re-reading the book I decided to go see the movie again, just for fun. In many ways the movie actually improves on the book. First, I will review the main characters and how they compare from book to film. Then I will compare the major plot elements and discuss how things changed from book to film. Finally, I will talk a bit about the Barsoomian technology used and the general portrayal of Mars.

John Carter is substantially the same in both the book and the movie. The book puts more emphasis on his kindness to animals as a source of his success, both in his treatment of his "dog" (Woola) and the thoats, while the movie emphasizes his scrappiness and fighting skills a bit more than the book. The somewhat elaborated introduction in the movie amply demonstrates that John Carter is a daring, resourceful, and more than a little crazy-brave person long before he gets to Mars and finds he can jump 50 feet in the air. However, this is a minor shading of emphasis. The John Carter of the books is a doughty professional soldier who always takes the path of justice regardless of the odds. He is a skilled and daring horseman who survived America's most bloody war, and no doubt an excellent swordsman and marksman. The back story added in the movie that he had a wife and child who were killed during the war is again a minor change that makes him a more responsible and mature character. I have seen some reviews that question Carter in the movie's reluctance to commit himself to a side once on Mars. This is hardly a major or disconcerting change. It is motivated in large part by the fact that in the movie there appears to be some real chance of Carter returning to Earth, while in the book he has no basis for thinking a return is possible. Thus, and logically so, it is a while before he falls in love with Dejah Thoris and decides to stay on Mars.

The Martian dog, Woola, seems pretty much the same in both the book and the movie. Maybe Woola is unrealistically fast for a Martian animal in the movie, but the book does describe him as the fastest Martian animal. The Tharks, including Sola and Tars Tarkas are also much the same as characters in both the book and the movie. Although some of the plot details change, as characters I'm hard put to see much difference.

Dejah Thoris is certainly different in the movie relative to the book. Firstly, in the book she wears essentially no clothes, and in the movie she wears skimpy clothes. I put this down to the fact that this *is* a Disney film and nudity in a film that kids might watch is not highly thought of in our current society. The book describes her as incomparably beautiful, and she certainly looks the part in the movie. There are two significant changes. The movie makes her a "Regent in the Science College" who is working on "the 9th ray" and who can read ancient languages. Although she is not portrayed as an illiterate bimbo in the book, she is certainly no scientist. Also, the movie makes Thoris a really excellent swordswoman, while in the book (at least in A PRINCESS OF MARS) she does not display any such ability.

I don't think that these changes, albeit significant ones, do much violence to the vision of ERB. ERB constantly emphasized how warlike Mars is, so it does not seem like a big stretch that a princess might be well trained in the fighting arts. Dejah Thoris is portrayed as brave and strong willed in both versions, and this is the core of her character. She also is portrayed as falling in love with John Carter, and again this is the same in both versions. One major plot difference between the movie and the book is that the Holy Therns appear in the movie, but not the book. After setting an additional level of major league villains against John Carter, the movie seems to be trying to balance this out by making Dejah Thoris more helpful to John Carter than in the book. Certainly, there is an element of political correctness on the part of Disney in creating a stronger female character, but this is consistent with ERB's vision. Even among the apparently primitive Tharks the women appear to do all the real work, including weapons manufacture, and Sola, a female Thark, is a major ally of John Carter in both book and film.

The plot of film and book substantially overlap. Some events, including Carter's time as an air scout in the Zodanga Air Navy, has been removed in the movie, but I think with little harm. The big fight with the white apes in the arena takes place earlier in the book than in the movie, again with little harm. In the movie, Carter and his Thark allies attack Zodanga, only to find that the Zodangaians have gone to Helium for the wedding, so they fly to Helium and break up the wedding, rescuing Dejah Thoris and defeating Zodanga. In the book, they attack Zodanga, break up the wedding, rescue Dejah Thoris, and THEN fly to Helium to defeat the Zodangaian air navy and army. I don't see this as a significant change. I've seen reviews that complain about Dejah Thoris and Carter being married in the movie since it is not in the book. Given that the powerful of Helium were assembled for the wedding of Dejah Thoris, it does not seem unreasonable that they would decide, after defeating the Zodangaians, to conduct a wedding with a revision of groom. And yes, this is a bow to Disney, to avoid love-making by an unmarried couple, but I don't see it as destroying any major value found in the book. In the book, Carter and Thoris are in love, and clearly intend to marry, so showing the marriage can't be doing violence to the ERB vision.

Perhaps the most significant plot change in the movie is the alliance of the Holy Therns with Zodanga. In both film and book the Zodangaians are the "big bad." In the book their leader seeks to have his son married to Dejah Thoris as the price of peace with Helium, attacks Helium ruthlessly, and carries out a campaign of extermination against the Tharks. In the movie the leader of the Zodangaians seeks to conquer Mars entire, including Helium, and to marry Dejah Thoris as the price of peace with Helium. The real difference is that in the book both sides use "9th ray" technology, while in the movie the "9th ray" is a super-weapon provided to Zodanga by the Holy Therns, who don't appear until the 2nd book in the series, THE GODS OF MARS. The Holy Therns are also souped up from the books, and seem to possess a vast array of powerful technology, including control of the body via the mind, image inducers for disguise, and teleportation, including interplanetary transport. They act as behind the scenes kingmakers in both movie and book. This adds a lot of super-science action to JOHN CARTER but I don't see it as changing ERB's vision significantly. In fact, I think it enhances the vision of the book by replacing an essentially magical interplanetary transportation method ("think of Mars") with a vaguely plausible technological process of whole body copying. Without giving away any plot details, I also think that the addition of the Holy Therns makes both Carter's original trip to Mars, his return to Earth, and his ultimate restoration to Mars more plausible in the movie than the book.

The movie adds a journey up the river Iss to what turns out to be some kind of major technological artifact that allows John Carter to figure out how to return to Earth. This simply does not take place in the book, but I believe that there is a journey up the river Iss in THE GODS OF MARS. The action surrounding the failure of the atmosphere plant in the book is missing in the movie--possibly it will appear in future sequels if they are made. In any case, the ending of the book seems rushed and implausible, while the movie has a far more plausible way of getting Carter back to Earth.

One complaint I have seen is that Zodanga is, in the movie, an immense moving city which it is implied in some fashion is consuming Martian resources. This idea is certainly not in the book, and appears to have been taken from other SF novels. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson's BLUE MARS features a city built on equatorial rails on the planet Mercury. Geoffrey Landis proposed in 1988 a mobile lunar city that would constantly remain in sunlight so solar power could be used. Still another example is Greg Bear's novel THE STRENGTH OF STONES. In any case, this idea in no way detracts from ERB's marvelous vision of Barsoom, but does add a bit to the movie.

One thing that is missing for the most part in the movie is the Martian canals, along which farming is conducted. These are not critical to the plot in the book, although one is an obstacle for the Thark army to cross. There is one scene in the movie where as Carter's party travels the desert you can see what appears to be a dry canal stretching out into the distance. My thought is that in the movie Zodanga has so depleted Mars that the canals are now dry. This may seem implausible to some, but it is a consistent vision of Mars. It is certainly different from the book, but still along the lines of the ERB vision of an ancient, desiccated Mars.

Finally, I've seen a review that complained that the book had many more cities than are shown in the movie. The book names the ruined cities the Thark live in, but this is not done in the movie, so it is hard to say exactly how many cities appear in the movie. Although there are apparently a number of cities on Mars, all the action takes place in Helium, in Zodanga, in some unnamed ruined city the Thark occupy, in some unnamed ruined city they travel thru, or in the desert somewhere, so I find it difficult to understand how the missing cities could be a significant issue. The book does contain more color and detail than the movie, but to expect otherwise would be unrealistic and even obtuse.

There are a couple of changes in the movie that some may object to. There is a running joke that the Tharks have misunderstood Carter's name as "Virginia" and cheer him as such. This is certainly not in the book, but it is funny and at least plausible. Another difference is that in the book Tars Tarkas becomes the leader of the Tharks after a battle in the arena, and at John Carter's request, leads the attack on Zodanga. In the movie, John Carter becomes the Thark leader after a battle in the arena, and with the help of Tars Tarkas, launches the attack on Zodanga. This is certainly a difference, but since Carter has already been accepted as a Thark, it seems at least plausible. The change also has very little effect on the overall plot.

I also went to see JOHN CARTER again, this time in 3D. The 3D is fine, although not essential, and I am pleased to report that the movie improved on a second viewing. As always, I noticed a large number of details I had missed the first time, and which to the greatest part improved the experience. I did see one very odd apparent continuity issue in the scene on the bridge where a Thern wearing the image of an old woman is standing to Carter's left. You can briefly see what appears to be the same woman standing one person away on Carter's right. It is possible that this is supposed to be another Thern, or it is just a similar looking woman, or it might be a CGI defect. A deeper explanation could be that the Therns can only appear to be copies of actual people, and by chance we can see in this scene both the original and the copy. In any case, it is hardly of great significance.

In conclusion, you ought to go see JOHN CARTER as soon as you can. This way you might have time to see it twice before its unknown enemies drive off the big screen. Rated +2 on a -4 to + 4 scale. Good for the whole family except very small children. To try to make this a bit more concrete--this is a better movie than TINTIN or SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS--go see it!!! [-dls]

Black Jelly Beans: A Tale for Jelly-Bean Season (comments by Tom Russell):

Many years ago I was in a small department of Bell Labs engineers assigned to the then-new Marketing Department at AT&T. It was there that I learned about the Black Jelly Bean Phenomenon.

If a hotel manager, say, puts a bowl of mixed jelly beans out in the lobby for her guests, she will observe a surprising thing: the black jelly beans disappear before any of the other colors. The reason this happens, according to the AT&T Marketing expert, is that although most people do not like black jelly beans, the few people who do like black jelly beans will not eat any of the other flavors, whereas the people who do not like black jelly beans will sample all of the other flavors.

The marketing people worried about this when doing market research. Nothing "wrong" with black jelly bean types, you just have to know whether you're selling to a general market or a "niche" market when you design your product and your advertising.

Now, if you've recently used the Internet "Trip Advisor" service when researching vacation possibilities, you may have noticed that often the number-one favorite activity at a vacation destination is ... the Zip Line. Definitely a black jelly bean phenomenon: most people won't go near the thing but the thrill-seekers who do will rate it their number one vacation activity. Result: Zip lines are going in at unlikely places--jungle resorts, dude ranches, cruise ships. And TV car ads.

Here are a few other contemporary black jelly beans: lattes; thong underwear; Thai food; Ron Paul; aroma therapy. You probably can name several others easily...

At the Eastern Branch of the Monmouth County, New Jersey, library system, where we often visit, special SCIENCE FICTION warning labels are on some of the library books. Why? Science fiction is the black jelly beans of literature. [-tlr]

Mark responds:

I would say SF is less of a black jelly bean than romance novels are. [-mrl]

THE END OF ETERNITY and PALIMPSEST (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):

A "Time Police" organization allegedly optimizes the felicity of mankind over a vast span of time. In the process, space travel is unfortunately suppressed. The young protagonist, recruited out of time as a teenager by the organization, is trained by someone named Yarrow. The protagonist falls in love, and when it appears that the woman has been or is about to be rewritten out of history by the organization, he sets out to wreck what he recognizes is a corrupt and destructive organization, and he succeeds at this. Fortunately, it turns out that the woman is herself surreptitiously a time traveler, so the reunited couple lives happily ever after. It's implied that mankind then goes on to colonize space.

A summary of Asimov's THE END OF ETERNITY? Yes, but also of Stross's Hugo-winning PALIMPSEST.

If you're impressed by THE END OF ETERNITY covering several million years, you'll be blown away by PALIMPSEST, which ramps it up by six orders of magnitude. Thanks to a re-engineered sun, and periodic reboots of Earth's geological processes, our planet remains habitable for several *trillion* years, all of which are carefully supervised by the time cops. I particularly like their library at the end of time, in which nearly all the carbon on the planet is formed into "memory diamond" with one bit per atom, enough for high resolution video, not only of everything that ever happened, but of all the overwritten alternate histories too.

In the Stross novella, it's clear from the beginning just how evil the organization is. To prove their loyalty to the organization, recruits are required to murder their grandfathers.

Your "cuckoo clock" quote is not from Asimov, it's from THE THIRD MAN.

It's not clear whether mankind intends to share the galaxy with other sapient species when they evolve. But I find it off-putting that Asimov explicitly says there will be a "galactic empire." Why an *empire*? Is that supposed to be a good thing? (Yes, I know THE END OF ETERNITY was intended as a prequel to his galactic empire trilogy and related stories. And later also of the robot novels. I wonder if Andrew Harlan lived long enough to meet Susan Calvin.)

THE END OF ETERNITY is rather dated. Their computers all use what are recognizably punched cards. A pocket recorder has a rather unimpressive capacity for its size. The organization is all male. At least there's only one smoker depicted.

The ending is rather pointless, given that the woman reveals that alternate histories are never wiped out, but all coexist. So they didn't really wipe out the organization, they just moved into a pre-existing alternate history in which it never existed. This flaw isn't shared by the Stross story. [-kfl]

Evelyn responds:

I knew the "cuckoo clock" quote was from THE THIRD MAN, and I guess I figured everyone else did and would get the reference. But in retrospect, I suppose I should have noted its source. [-ecl]

JOHN CARTER (letters of comment by Lax Madapaty, Paul Dormer, Morris Keesan, Philip Chee, David Friedman, Jette Goldie, and James Nicoll):

In response to Mark's and Dale's reviews of JOHN CARTER in the 03/16/12 issue of the MT VOID, Lax Madapaty writes:

Critics are sometimes wrong collectively. I'll check out John Carter in the cinemas. Dale's review is really good, by the way. [-lm]

Mark responds:

I don't actually think an honest critic can be wrong. Every one of my reviews is 100% correct (unless I make a factual error). My review says that this is what I thought of a film, and doggone if it isn't exactly what I thought of the film. It may not be what I will think about the film in a week. It may not be what you think. But it represents my considered reaction to a film. I suppose it is saying as much about me as it is about the film. We tend to deify critics, saying that they are the final arbiters on what is good art and what is not. And then we are upset when their opinion differs from our own because we take that to mean we are wrong. I frequently disagree with "the critics." I laugh it off. They found something to appreciate that I didn't or vice versa. Big deal.

A critic is one confused little person expressing his/her opinion, hopefully sincerely. [-mrl]

Paul Dormer writes:

Incidentally, this is not the first film version of A PRINCESS OF MARS. The Syfy channel made a version a few years back and it turned up on the UK version of the channel. It's been a long time since I read the book, so I can't remember how much it differed from the original plot, but in this version, John Carter is a special ops soldier in Afghanistan and is sent to Mars as a result of the medical attempts to save him after he's ambushed. (Not the Mars in our solar system, he's told, but another planet called Mars in a distant system, which gives some indication of the quality of the film.) Former porn star Traci Lords plays Dejah Thoris--she keeps her clothes on. [-pd]

Morris Keesan replies to Paul's final comment with:

... which should also give some indication of the quality of the film. [-mk]

Philip Chee's take:

What *were* the producers thinking?! [-pc]

David Friedman has an answer:

Not fidelity to the text. [-df]

And Jette Goldie adds:

It was dreadful. [-jg]

James Nicoll adds:

That was the Asylum version:

As tv tropes pointed out Asylum's own site is fairly open about the niche they fill:

"We've decided to use some of the billions of dollars we've made ripping people off to move to a brand new production facility in The Valley."


To which Paul Dormer responds:

I was amused a few weeks ago, whilst going through the channels on my TV, to discover that while Sky Movies Premier was showing the UK TV premiere of BATTLE LOS ANGELES, Syfy was showing BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES (which is Asylum). [-pd]

Pi Day (letters of comment by Paul S. R. Chisholm and Paul Dormer):

In response to Mark's comments on Pi Day in the 03/16/12 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Chisholm writes:

There's nothing "international" about celebrating Pi Day on the fourteenth day of March, which is represented 14/3 in many parts of the world. In some countries, the closest you could come would be 31/4.

Pi Day is May Day? [-psrc]

Mark replies:

Well, the Exploratorium says:

"Founded at the Exploratorium by our own Prince of Pi, physicist Larry Shaw, Pi Day has become an international holiday, celebrated live and online all around the world."

I would expect they would know and would not falsify, even if they did found it. Actually in the countries you mention they could have it 22/7. 3.14 is off by about one part in 1973 while 22/7 is off by about one part in 2484.

Your final question is of interest. A lot of people see that math and shout "May Day! May Day!" [-mrl]

And Paul Dormer writes:

I've mentioned before that it's only in the US that the 14th March is International Pi Day. In the UK, it's the 22nd July, my birthday. [-pd]

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

The "Wall Street Journal" blurb on the back of THE BED OF PROCRUSTES: PHILOSOPHICAL AND PRACTICAL APHORISMS by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (ISBN 978-1-4000-6997-2) says, "[Taleb writes] in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne." I've read Montaigne, and Taleb is no Montaigne. Nor is he Francois La Rochefoucauld, nor George Bernard Shaw, nor Oscar Wilde. His comments vary from the obvious:

"It seems that it is the most unsuccessful people who give the most advice, particularly for writing and financial matters."

to the just plain wrong:

"Read nothing from the past one hundred years; eat no fruits from the past one thousand years; drink nothing from the past four thousand years (just wine and water); but talk to no ordinary man over forty. A man without a heroic bent starts dying at the age of thirty."

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this book is from the past one hundred years, beer is also more than four thousand years old (at any rate, older than wine), and Taleb himself is over forty. The notion that we should not talk to anyone over the age of forty is just outrageous.

Read Montaigne instead.

IN THE BASEMENT OF THE IVORY TOWER: CONFESSIONS OF AN ACCIDENTAL ACADEMIC by Professor X (ISBN 978-1-670-02256-4) seems to be two different books stuck together. One is about Professor X's experience as a college instructor; the other is about his attempts to do some serious writing. The second seems more padding than anything else--given that he is writing this book under a pseudonym, it is hard to find his trials as a writer interesting.

His conclusions as an instructor are two-fold. Employers demand college degrees for jobs that do not really need them because they can, and because it gives them a good way to filter all their job applications. And colleges do something similar, trying to get as many applicants as possible, except that they are doing the reverse--rather than rejecting perfectly good applicants, they accept applicants who are clearly not qualified.

Professor X goes on at great length about how unprepared his students are--how they are unable to write a grammatical sentence, or construct a line of reasoning, or even find anything in the library. But for all his talk about how badly his students write, he never gives a single example, and after a while it becomes frustrating.

DISCONNECTED: HOW SIX PEOPLE FROM AT&T DISCOVERED THE NEW MEANING OF WORK IN A DOWNSIZED CORPORATE AMERICA by Barbara Rudolph (ISBN 978-0-684-84266-0) should have been interesting--after all, we retired in one of the downsizing phases of our spin-offs from AT&T. But although Rudolph found six diverse people who were fired from AT&T (she considers "downsized" a euphemism), she never manages to give the reader a sense of who these people are or what their life was like at AT&T. More specifically, I found her description of Larry, a Bell Labs engineer, to have very little information about what things were like at Bell Labs, or even which locations he worked at. It might be sufficient for someone outside "the Bell System", but for insiders, the data are just too skimpy. Another problem is that the book was written in 1998, before the bursting of the tech bubble, the decline of Lucent Technologies, and all the other ills of the early 21st century.

I recently re-read KIM by Rudyard Kipling (no ISBN) based on reading someone's description of it as "comfort reading" that they return to regularly. I am not giving a current ISBN for this because my comments are more about the physical book than the text. I bought this book in the bookshop Uffa's Dike in Ludlow, Shropshire, England in 2000 while I was there on a business trip. It was published by Macmillan and Co., Ltd., in 1927, and is bound in blue leather, with onion-skin pages, interior illustrations by J. Lockwood Kipling, and gold trimming on the spine and cover incorporating an elephant and several Indian swastikas. It is a joy to hold and read, and cost only two and a half pounds. Take that, Kindle!

(We had another copy of KIM--an Airmont Classic whose glue was giving out, so the cover was starting to detach, and the pages were not that firmly attached either. That edition was not a joy to hold.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The test of interesting people is that subject 
          matter doesn't matter.
                                          --Louis Kronenberger

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