# 12-13-14

Today is a date most folks living in the USA write as 12-13-14, and for anyone who loves numbers a date like that demands a post of some sort. I’d planned to goof off today, maybe catch up on some movies, but there’s just no way I won’t post on a date with a sequence like that.

Of course, others write today’s date as 13-12-14, but they’re not from around here. And there’s just no helping those who insist on writing 2014. The real error is putting the year last — the sensible way is 14-12-13, which allows proper sorting of dates chronologically. We should all change to that immediately.

If it’s not obvious yet, today is just a meandering ramble.

December 13th? Yep!

It’s Sci-Fi Saturday, so I have some science fiction to talk about — books, movies and one book that’s also a movie. I’ve also got some Christmas links for you, plus I have a brag about accomplishing the impossible and a YouTube channel (or two) to mention.

But let me start with global warming. The pictures of my neighborhood you see in this post were taken “moments ago” and show that — once again — we’re in for a warm winter. The temperature has been above freezing since yesterday, and it’s currently forty-friggin-six out!

That’s okay (even nice), but it’s also been grey skies all week, and that’s just depressing! I’m tempted to disable the WordPress snow magic (for the lie it currently is), but it may be the only White Christmas I’ll get!

Nearly flat; nearly square!

Let me get my brag out of the way: I did it! I folded a fitted sheet in almost sort of close to the neat, tight package it came as. It only took me about 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure I somehow managed to fold through the fourth dimension or something. I’ve spent years (and hundreds of hours of computer time [1]) trying to analyze how they package them so neatly.

Speaking of weird geometry, which is math, back to numbers. You may have noticed that WordPress uses the year-month-day order in the URLs it builds for our blog posts. It’s the sensible way, since those URLs will sort according to date.

Numberphile (dot-com)

Note that any system that needs to cover the previous millennium has to use the full year, 2014 because 2000 needs to sort after 1999 (and 00 doesn’t sort after 99). Unfortunately, 14-12-13 isn’t as much fun today as 12-13-14.

In any event, if you love numbers, get thee hence immediately to the YouTube channel Numberphile. It’s one of my favorites. Among science and technology channels, it is my favorite. There’s a sister channel that is also excellent: Computerphile.

Speaking of the millennium, science fiction author John Varley wrote a 1983 book, Millennium, that was made into a passable 1989 movie of the same name. It stars Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd.

It actually all begins with Varley’s 1977 short story, Air Raid. Varley himself — starting in 1979 — wrote the movie screenplay and also released a book-length version of the story.

The plot involves time travelers from our future stealing passengers from doomed aircraft because humankind has lost the ability to reproduce in the heavily polluted future. Passengers on aircraft about to crash are swapped out for dead bodies from the future. Cheryl Ladd is the leader of a team of swappers.

Kristofferson is an NTSB lead investigator. The plot involves a future “stun gun” (used to subdue passengers) lost by one of the operatives and the risk of it being discovered amid the crash debris. Ladd is sent back to recover the weapon, meets and falls in love with Kristofferson and… stuff happens.

Speaking of John Varley, this is the fifth of his books I’ve read recently as I go through a box of books I never got around to unpacking when I moved into this place.

The first was The Ophiuchi Hotline, which is vaguely reminiscent of Carl Sagan‘s Contact in that humankind has been receiving space transmissions containing useful information. (It’s also vaguely reminiscent of Greg Bear‘s The Forge of God in how humankind is chased off their home planet forever by aliens.)

The technology of fast cloning humans and downloading a copy of the original’s memories is central to the plot. The main character, Lilo, is due to be executed for violations of laws regarding experimentation with human DNA. Instead, a powerful politician secretly swaps her out for a clone in order to use Lilo’s skills for his own ends (which involve retaking Earth from mysterious “Invaders” who chased us off the planet and into the solar system).

Lilo (the original) dies fairly early attempting to escape. But her captor has her memories and clones ready to carry on. The plot follows the adventures of three of her clones.

I really like how Varley seems to specialize in strong, competent female lead characters. For example, the Louise Baltimore character (Cheryl Ladd) in Millennium is just as central to the plot as the Bill Smith character (Kristofferson), and the story follows both of them.

And the scientist, Lilo, is the primary character in Hotline.

Speaking of Varley’s female protagonists, the other three of his books comprise the Gaea Trilogy: Titan, Wizard, and Demon.

The story begins with Cirocco Jones, commander of the Ringmaster spacecraft sent to explore Saturn. As Varley describes Jones, she sounds like the spitting image of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Both Titan and Alien came out in 1979, so the coincidence doesn’t seem very coincidental.

In orbit around Saturn they discover Gaea the Titan, an alien life-form in the shape of a hexagonal wheel with a 1300 km diameter! Gaea’s rim is 175 km high and 250 km wide. The path around the rim is 4000 km long.

Gaea: 1300 km circular suspension bridge.

The rim torus is flattened on bottom creating a vast living space inside divided into 12 zones (areas of different landscape such as desert, jungle, forest, plains or ice-sea).

Alternating zones are light and dark depending on whether they fall beneath one of the six giant spokes or one of the six giant skylights.

Gaea is a living organism whose “brain” is in the hub and who has twelve subordinate brains in the rim, one for each zone. Some of those brains have rebelled against Gaea.

The rim is filled with lifeforms, all created by Gaea. “Angels” (humanoids with wings) live in the spokes (which are oval in cross-section, measuring 100 x 50 km). Centaur-like beings live in the plains, and giant “blimps” live in the air.

Inside Gaea showing one of the 5 km wide suspension bridge cables. [click for big]

Gaea turns out to be a fickle, capricious god, and — worse — is getting senile. She has been around for about three-million years, and she’s been anticipating a visit by humankind ever since she began to detect radio and TV signals from Earth.

Turns out she’s a huge fan of TV and movies. Many of her life-forms are inspired by what she’s seen. There’s even a giant sandworm in the desert zone (right out of the movie Dune).

It’s an outstanding adventure (once nominated for Nebula, twice nominated for Hugo, thrice nominated for Locus and winner of one), and it would make an outstanding movie trilogy. It’s also got some very interesting sub-text about free will and gender politics.

Speaking of science fiction movies, I watched Byzantium last night, and added it to my list of really interesting vampire movies. In keeping with today’s sub-theme of female protagonists, the plot concerns a mother and daughter vampire and the life they lead.

If you like vampire movies, this is must see. It has an interesting bit about how vampires are made (not by other vampires!), and it plays a bit with the usual vampire mythology. You do need to invite them in, but sunlight isn’t a problem, nor apparently are mirrors (also, no fangs).

And, incidentally, it’s a double love story. (Twilight for adults!)

For a  second feature: Chastity Bites, which reminded me at times of Robert Rodriguez‘s The Faculty (as a goofy horror-comedy centering on high school kids) and of the truly delightful Cockneys vs Zombies (as a stylishly hysterically goofy horror-comedy and wonderful, worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead).

It’s a self-aware tongue-firmly-in-cheek fun bit of fluff that wrapped up the evening nicely.

It also reminded me a bit of Amy Heckerling‘s Vamps (think Clueless as a vampire movie) in being a serious “girl power” movie. It would make a fun gift for any teenaged girls you know (who have a taste for comedy-horror).

And lastly (but not, as they say, leastly):

Speaking of 12-13-14, there’s only twelve more days until Christmas. As I have pointed out in the past, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” actually begin on Christmas Day and run to January 5th (or 6th).

But in the spirit of the coming holiday, some links to older posts regarding that strange alien who lives at the North Pole and only visits annually:

There’s other links I’ll post over the next twelve days, so stay tuned and stay warm and dry. Curl up with a good movie or a good book!

[1] Not really.