The View from Entropy Hall (Online Archive) - From Ed Meskys - RR2 Box 63 - 322 Whitter Hwy - Center Harbor NH 03226
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Issue #18

The View From Entropy Hall #18 for APA-Q 414, 15 November 1997, from Ed Meskys, RR #2 Box 63, (322 Whittier Hwy Mbo), Center Harbor NH 03226-9708, [email protected], 603-253-6207. Text online at: http:// and as email list.


In his interview in the october, 1997, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE Brian Stableford spoke of new writers and how they were writing in a historical vacuum. When he started reading SF in the '60s many of the old classics, even going back to Verne and WElls, were available in paperback. When he started writing he was aware of the total history of our field and how different ideas and themes had evolved. He knew the place of Ralph Milne Farley and James Blish, names which would bring vacant stares from today's young readers and beginning writers. He thought that "steam punk" was a response to this, where the reader and writer could explore alternate pasts and not need to have detailed knowledge of the real past.

NESFA is trying to do something about this with its "forgotten authors" panels at Boskones and NESFA Press collections. While this will help the small percentage who hear the panels or read the books I am afraid it will have little lasting effect on the whole field. I am greatful, however, to NESFA and buy and read these retrospectives of James Schmitz, Zenna Henderson, etc.


As part of its talking book program the Library of Congress puts ANALOG on 8-1/3 rpm records, 9 inches and 60 minutes to a side. I have had a lot of trouble with the playback equipment with the needle skipping and sliding over the record and kept putting off listening. I got totally hung up with the January, 1987, issue.

Now NLS-LOC announced that they would be adding ASIMOV to their recorded magazine program in January. I had to do something! I had over a foot high pile of ANALOG on these flexible records and the pile would start to grow twice as fast! (I am puzzled. ANALOG is published 13 times a year, every four weeks. NLS says that ASIMOV is only published 11 times a year. Both are from the same publisher and I thought they would have the same schedule.) I gritted my teeth and did the best I could with that January, 1987, issue on which I had been humg up. Then I went to the next issue and the phonograph only skipped twice, and I have had no problems with the March and April issues. Apparantly it was just a problem of a defective issue!

I have gone through 4 issues in 3 weeks, reading other books and magazines inbetween. I will read as many old issues as I can until the January, 1998, issues of the two magazines arrive. Then I will read the new issues first, and as time permits continue reading the old ones.

In the April, 1987, issue Tom Easton reviewed two books which interested me and before I search used book dealers for them I would like to get more opinions. Even though he didn't care for it, he made Mike Resnick's STALKING THE UNICORN (TOR) sound interesting. This is a fantasy written as a pastiche of a tough private eye novel. Is it funny? How good is it? The review mentions in passing another Resnick book, ADVENTURE, which is also a fantasy or stf pastiche of another pulp genre. Can anyone tell me more about this? Has Resnick written anything else in this vein? If so, what and is it worth searching for?

Brian Aldiss' collection of essays, AND THE LURID GLARE OF THE COMETS, also sounds very interesting. This is a small, 123 pp. booklet, published by Circonia Press (POB 1786, Seattle WA 98111 for $13.50 + $1 shipping) and I wonder if the contents were later incorporated in a larger book. If not, I will write to see whether it is still available or look for it in a con huckster room.

Easton gave a very favorable review of the first volume of Martin's Wild Cards series. I own these books but haven't gotten to them. Since I have to send them to an agency to put on tape for me, which will take a year or so, and the service is limited in how many they will do, is it worth the effort?


I found much of interest in Steven Levy's ARTIFICIAL LIFE (Pantheon, 1992, 390 pp.) The primary discussion is of modeling different life processes and behaviors on computers, and learning about evolution, animal behavior, and biology as a result, though there is some blue-sky discussion of creating REAL artifical life which would exist in computer RAM.

One of the pioneers in the field is Christopher Gale Langton, son of the fantasy and crime writer Jane Langton. As an aside in the book I learned that she has a degree in astronomy and his father was a physicist working at Baird Atomic, which made mass spectrographs. John von Neuman is considered the father of the computer and of the field of artificial life, while Chris Langton its midwife.

The field of artifical life has many threads which continue on their own, occassionally intersecting and crossfertilizing, and sometimes merging. There is no coherant way the story could be told chronologically, but each thread is narrated separately. John von Neuman is extremely important in many branches of computer science. among other things he originated the idea of Cellular Automatons. On anfield like an infinite "go" board of intersecting lines one places an array of markers whose color indicates the state. In each cycle you look at every marker and change it depending on its initial state and the states of the nearest neighbors according to a set of rules. Von Neuman demonstrated that in theory a set of some 30 or 40 different states operating under the proper set of rules could emulate any possible computer. Others actually built and studied physical arrays with far fewer possible states, usually two (alive or dead) or three (male, female, or dead), where the dead cell is an empty intersection. This procedure quickly migrated to computer ram and screen.

In 1987 Reynolds, working in computer graphics in the entertainment business, noticed how birds flock and wondered how they did it. It looked as if some master was orchestrating the movement of all the individuals. He set up such a cellur array with "boids" being present or absent at each point. He gave only three rules...each individual wants to move towards the center of mass of its neighbors within a circle of awareness, it wants to match velocity with the nearest ones (i.e., both speed and direction), and it does not want to get too close so as to avoid collision. He ran this program and his birdoids, or boids for short, exhibited remarkable flocking behavior, including parting around obstacles and rejoining. His was the first real explanation of how real birds flock, fish school, insects swarm, or animals herd. Biologists were appalled by this computer modelling of real animal behavior and were very slow to accept the results.

The other area of artificial life that struck me was the modeling of evolution. In one example, a bunch of random gibberish programs are confronted with a number of strings of random numbers. The object is to rearrange these numbers into descending order in as few steps of swapping pairs as possible. . Initially a very few might happen to accidentally swap one pair of numbers the right way. The best 10% are selected, copied ten times, and a very few poorly performing programs are selected but only kept one time. Then these are randomly mated. They are paired up, and at a random point, different for each pair, they are broken and their second halves swapped. Then these programs are tried one more time. After a remarkably small number of iterations of this survival of the fittest excellent sorting programs evolved. However often they got stuck and could go no further. If part of the string was, for instance, 8,6,4,2,0,9,7,5,3,1, each half being in descending order, part of the programming would have to undo the ordering in order to get a better one. Then the programmers introduced parasite programs which evolved to hamper the original programs, and the two sets co-evolved. If you pictured the results as peaks of accomplishment, some higher than others, you could imagine the rather good programs as stuck on a low peak and unable to move in search of a higher one. If the programs are to survive the actions of the parasites they are forced off of these peaks and are thus free to find better ones. Thus evolution stops for long periods of time while these parasites are struggled against, and some dead-end programs die off, but eventually a new peak is found and progress is rapid for a time. this explains for me Stephen Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium" in the real world of evolution. And it shows that if man is to survive and not become another evolutionary dead end we will always be stuck with some sorts of diseases, new ones evolving as we learn to fight off the old. This evolution was also modeled in several other ways and sometimes "mutations" were introduced by flipping one bit in a few programs each cycle. This was found to have a trivial effect on evolution. The swapping of genes was FAR more important to progress. I remember reading in Gamow's book 1, 2, 3, ..., INFINITY decades ago that real genes do tangle and parts transfer from one to another.

Another major player in the field of artificial life was Stephen Wolfram, a genius who had his PhD from Cal Tech at an obscenely early age and received the first MacArthur genius grants. He had utter contempt for the achievements of his colleagues and didn't hesitate to give his opinions. To quote the author, "Still in his early thirties, Wolfram ruffled more feathers than a sadistic ornothologist."

The book gave me many insights into life processes and computing and I have lots of other notes, but I think this will give you an idea of what it discusses without my trying to retell the whole book. I do recommend it very highly.


End of this month Sandy aand I are taking a two week vacation ending up with a few days in NYC. Thanksgiving eve we are driving to Concord, taking a bus to Boston, and an overnight train to DC. We will spend Thanksgiving with Sherna Comerford Next morning we will find our way to Baltimore for Darkover Con. When the con ends we will take an afternoon train to Williamsburg VA and then a cab 12 miles to Yorktown where we will attend an "Elder Hostel." When it gets out Friday afternoon Ned Brooks will drive up to bring us back to Newport News for a visit. Early next morning we will catch a train to NYC, arriving about 4:30 PM. We will go straight to the Beeker People Libation Front gathering. I hope it is in the pub Tom Byro recently mentioned in Timebinders where they have two kinds of cider on tap. I assume that BPLF includes dinner, or we will have to stop elsewhere first. As usual we plan to stay with John and Perdita. Sunday I want to go to the Lithuanian church in Manhattan but have no other plans. Monday we will do some shopping and end up at the new fan gathering started by Gary Farber which he referred to as "NYC RASSF SFL." I don't know what the letters stand for. Gary says it meets in "The Gate," a pub on the corner of 5 Ave. and 3 St. in Brooklyn. It does not serve dinner, but attendees send out for food. Originally this group met on Tuesday and Sandy and I were going to catch a very early train home Wednesday so she would have a little time to wind down at home before going to work Thursday morning. We would have attended a reception Tuesday afternoon at Recording for the Blind. Now that Gary has moved his group to Monday night I think we will forego the reception and catch a noonish train Tuesday and get home around 8 PM, unles an additional excuse develops to keep us in NY. Do hope to see many fen on this trip! (Gary said this is a new time and place for the group which draws about two dozen attendees. November 10 will be the first time at this particular location.)


Phil Helms
P O Box 373
Highland MI 48357- 0373

Thanks for sharing the email fanzine and the NFB letter regarding Mr. Magoo. As a nearsighted person I don't find the whole Magoo schtik very amusing, either.

I do not have email and I have no plans or expectations of acquiring that sort of service in the near future. However a thought does occur to me. I could relatively easily send you MTE*s on disk if that would be helpful. [YES!!] I have done this for another member [of the American Tolkien Society] who is blind and uses speech synthesis with OCR software to read. Apparently she is then able to bypass the OCR and read the file directly, or rather have the equipment read it for her.

May you walk in the light.

Phil Helms


Dan Goodman
[email protected]

THE GATES OF NOON is the middle book of a trilogy by Michael Scott Rohan. First is CHASE THE MORNING; third is CLOUD CASTLES. I consider GATES OF MORNING best of the three. Dan Goodman.


Tamar Lindsay
sharing account [email protected]

Hi, Ed. Tamar here.

You wrote wondering about the physical genetal differences of Hottentot women. The Hottentot apron is actually both of the minor labia, which in Hottentot women are much larger than in other racial groups, and actually hang down past the major labia.

You asked whether there is a South Jersey group? Or is Brunsfa or its descendants long gone. Brunsfa died in the late 1970s after a particularly nasty argument during a holiday party. I don't know whether any spontaneous general SF clubs started up since then, though there are some Trek clubs and some Dr. Who clubs.

--Tamar Lindsay


David Langford
[email protected] |

Dear Ed,

Yes, it is a different person. Tenn is Philip Klass (1920- ), who taught writing (and sf) at Pennsylvania State College. The UFO expert -- whose qualifications are in electrical engineering and who was an editor of =Aviation Week & Space Technology= -- is Philip J. Klass (1919- ).

I've recently discovered how to examine the address list to which the Majordomo server sends out electronic copies of Ansible, and was glad to find that you already receive it! Hope it produces the occasional chuckle.

Best wishes



Don Del Grande

I read about your mailing list problem in the latest APA-Q. Unfortunately DOS based software suffers from an inherent problem. DOS was never meant to be multitasking, so it is pretty much impossible for a program to connect to an on-line service and then run a second program to use it to send email. If nothing else, the second program will complain that the first program is using the com port.

Pardon me for asking, but how do you read your email now? Can't you put a mailing list on whatever software you are using now? [I use Telix as my communications software and the email service of a statewide bullitenboard for handicapped individuals to connect to the Internet. I use "Vocal Eyes" screenreading software to navagate around the screen and pick what I want to read, though it has its annoying limitations. I hate it when people quote the letter they are responding to which quotes a still earlier letter ad nauseum as I cannot simply skip a few lines and resume reading. I have to shut off speech and resume with the start of the next screen. The sysop is coming over to my house in a couple of weeks to install "Speed" which will allow me to read email and respond offline, and he is looking into how I can set up a mailing list, IF it is possible, using this.]

Brian may be asking for trouble if he is depending on having a Win95 program installed twice on the same machine. Some files that use the program may look only to one of the installations regardless of which one is actually being used. I would suggest that switch to a different email program like Yedora [I am typing this from a tape I made of Brian reading the "print screen" as I forgot to save the efile, and am not sure of spelling.] which allows for multiple mail lists. It does take 16 meg. [Brian is using a 4 meg program and can barely fit that on his current hard drive.]

Of course you could always email me your current mailing list and the latest version of ENTROPY for me to send out. [Thanks for the offer. I will consider taking you up on it if I can't work something better. When Win98 comes out it is promised to be more speech friendly and after the first bugs are worked out of it and "Window Eyes" screen reader I think I will have to upgrade my machine and go to it. Then I should be able to do everything myself.]


BLAnCmANGE (Mark Blackman). You said that Santa Ana, of Alamo fame, wound up on Staten Island where he helped invent chewing gum. Could you please elaborate? [] I guess Pelz had not noticed or realized what the APAQs were when you left them out in the fan lounge. At the very last fan panel of the con he mentioned APAF and APAL and spoke of the former as long gone. I pointed out that its successor, APAQ was still coming out but on a 13/year schedule. He seemed quite interested in the fact which is why I suggested John send the anniversary disty which listed all past participants. [] You said that Stalin never had any pograms against Lithuanians or Ukranians. How would you describe the mid-winter deportation to Siberia of a major fraction of the Lithuanian population with no clothing or supplies so that most died en route or within a few months.

DAGON (John Boardman). Al Nofi's book on the Alamo sounds interesting. Could you please see whether RFBD ever recorded it? If not, do you know whether it is still in print? (I did get the book you ordered for me which Fred Lerner had recommended, GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL: THE FATES OF HUMAN SOCIETIES by Jerad Diamond.) At the museum in San Antonio I was told that the battle at the Alamo was of little importance in itself, but did serve to delay Santa Ana long enough to allow Sam Houston to gather his forces in order to defeat him a few weeks later. [] It is a sign of the americacentrism of our education, but I never heard of the Northwest Rebellion in Canada. What brought it on and how long did it last? [] I find your attitudes towards government paradoxical. You say more government is better, government does things (like space travel) better than private industry would, etc., but you never seem to have anything good to say about government and what it does actually do. I have never noticed you endorse the actions of any politician, living or dead, other than FDR, and any action other than participate in suppressing the Slaveholders' Rebellion or participate in WWII. Also, I do not understand how you were considering voting for someone in a local election when you are so proud of the fact that you are not registered to vote? [] You mentioned in discussing the comic MARVIN the portrayal of small children communicating among themselves while that adults are unaware of what is happening reminds me of the old Fanny Brice radio program, BABY SNOOKS. Towards the end she acquired a baby brother, Rogespeare, and they talked in gibberish which she translated for her parents. [] Congratulations on you and Perdita being chosen as fan guests of honor at the next Lunacon. [] I am glad to have the specific biblical references to a flat earth (Isiah 40:22) and its non-motion (Psalms 12:43). I remember in the Jerusalem translation in one of the higher numbered Psalms there is a specific reference to the dome covering a flat earth and to Jahveh's abode as a palace sitting on top of this dome, but I do not remember which Psalm it was. And of course there are several references to the dome over the earth separating the waters above it from those on the earth, and to Jahveh opening flood gates in this dome to cause Noah's flood. [] There has been considerable discussion of "political correctness" on the Timebinders listserve {[email protected]}. It started with Joyce Katz asking what happened to the term "femmefan" which had disappeared during her hiatus from fandom, and went off onto female rights and inclusive language. Femmefan was important when female fen were rare but now when there are almost as many women as men in fandom it is no longer an important distinction. also, now it is regarded as politically incorrect. But sometimes "political correctness" can get carried too far. Both Fred Lerner and I have pointed out that euphonisims for "deaf" and "blind" are rejected by the relevant populations. We will speak of "deaf pride" and "blind civil rights" and not "sightless pride" and "hearing impaired civil rights." Lis Carey, a librarian working at the Mass. Commission for the Blind did point out that "visually impaired" and "hearing impaired" are important distinctions when dealing with a varied population. They might send large print materials to a visually impaired person but not a blind person. Ditto on recorded materials and a hearing impaired or totally deaf "deaf-blind" client.

JERSEY FLATS, TOO (Roberta Rogow). As I have said, I have a very mild interest in Trek. I am curious about what is happening in Trek fandom. Is K/S fiction still being published? Is Trek fandom still largely focused on the original show, or has a similar emotional following developed on some of the other series? Does any character seem to have the charisma of Spock? What portion of Trek fanzines are fan fiction and what portion discussion of plots, ideas, history, etc.? A few years ago I came across a book published by ROC which was a selection of excellent articles about Trek from a fanzine published in Texas. If I remember, the fanzine was simply called TREK. If I am not repeating myself too much, I really got to like NEXT GENERATION the last few seasons after a rather poor start. I watched the first season of DS9 and VOYAGER, and liked the first because it used some really good science fictional ideas. I didn't care too much for VOYAGER. However today I watch neither because I simply do not have time for ANY TV. (Well, now that NOVA has added Descriptive Video Service I have resumed watching it.) I spend all my time on the computer or reading books and magazines.

QUANT SUFF (John mALAY). How did the ballot referendum you sponsored do? Will your town set aside some open land? [] Found your summary of the eastern branch of the Roman Empire very interesting.

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