Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In a comment on an earlier post, Emily says: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions a theory about our reality being just a computer simulation."

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, it is known that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. Unfortunately no one knows what the Ultimate Question is. Earth was designed as a computer to find out what the Ultimate Question is. Alas, Earth is destroyed by the Vogons—to make way for an interstellar bypass—five minutes before the calculation is complete. And that's just the beginning of this rich, complicated story.

Another part of the story that involves interesting computations is the spaceship Heart of Gold, where the central computational area consists of an Italian restaurant. Calculations are done according to Bistromathics ("the most powerful computational force known to parascience") and the spaceship is powered by the Bistromathic Drive.

Brian and Emily, you are more familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than I am; do I have that about right?

There's more than one flavor to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy story. There's the radio version, the television version, the book version, the movie version and the computer game. And they are all slightly different! Kinda like the different versions of The Phantom of the Opera story, except that at least in that instance the different versions came from different people. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, most of the various versions all came from the fertile mind of Douglas Adams. (Even the movie, which was released in 2005, after Adams died in 2001, was based on screenplay begun by Adams.)

The most widely known version of the story is the book version, which consists of a "trilogy" of five books:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless

Plus there was another book, The Salmon of Doubt, published after Adams died, which may have been intended as the sixth book in the series.

CORRECTION: See the comments for a correction from Brian. I had my spaceships wrong.

UPDATE 10/06/10: I finally read The Salmon of Doubt. See this blog post.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Phantom of the Opera

Are any readers of this blog familiar with the story of The Phantom of the Opera? I recently listened to an audio version of the original novel (1911), and that prompted me to also watch the movie (2004) and listen to the soundtrack of the musical (1986). Brian and I saw the musical in Milwaukee in 2000.

I guess it is a story that grows on you. And I'm not the only one. According to Wikipedia, the musical alone "is the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time."

For all of that, I liked the novel best. The movie is based on the musical, so they are similar to each other. The novel is much more complex than either. The character of the Phantom, for example, is much more complex and interesting in the novel. And there are several characters in the novel that are completely missing from the musical and the movie, such as Raoul's older brother and the Persian.

Two more comments for this post.

First, the line "keep your hand at the level of your eyes" is used several times in all three works, but it's not clear in the movie, for example, what it means. The novel clearly explains that it is to defend against the Phantom's weapon, the Punjab lasso. The instruction is to keep your arm in front of you, bent at the elbow with the hand up and at the level of your eyes. It is as if you were holding a handgun pointed vertically, ready to bring it down and fire when a target appears. (In the novel, Raoul initially holds a gun in this manner, until his arm tires of holding the unnecessary weight of the gun.) If the lasso is thrown, it will go around both your neck and your arm, allowing you to free yourself instead of being strangled.

Second, the opera building itself is more imposing and interesting in the novel. It is described as 17 stories above ground and 5 stories below ground. To house all of the workers described in the novel, including a stable of horses, it must have been as large as a city block. The opera building in the movie does not seem this grand.

The novel is based on this actual building. Marion, have you visited this building? Is it grand? Is that part of Paris really over an underground lake? Laura, when you visit Paris next summer, perhaps you will be able to see the Paris Opera. If you include that in your itinerary, I recommend that you read the novel first. And then read about the author, Gaston Leroux. Some of the things he did in his lifetime help explain features of the building he describes in the novel (e.g., the prison previously used by the Paris Commune).

Does anyone else have a favorite aspect of this story?

UPDATE: I have been referring to the original novel as being published in 1911, but that was when it was translated into English. It was published in French in serial form in 1909-1910. Click here for a free online English translation of the original novel.

Vermont Economic Conference

I attended the annual Vermont Economic Outlook Conference in Burlington on Friday. Brian and Emily--I thought you would be interested to know that one of the speakers was a Colby grad and one of the speakers was a Middlebury grad. The Middlebury grad was Governor Jim Douglas. The Colby grad was Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Snowshoeing 1/5

Nancy and I went snowshoeing yesterday with the Duchaceks, up behind their house. Couldn't persuade Allie and Laura to go.

The temperature was just below freezing, quite pleasant. Here is an interesting "snow rope" we saw:

We saw some "rubbings" where deer had rubbed their antlers against the trees to scrape off the velvet. (Click to enlarge picture.) There was about 2 feet of snow in the woods.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years 2008

What is a Yankee? (Besides a baseball player or an ag banker?) Click here for one answer. I remember reading this definition in the Burlington Free Press when I was a kid.

This is what was left of Elaine's apple/cranberry pie after breakfast on this New Years Day:

It was delicious!

(The title of the post that I linked to above -- It's Yankees All The Way Down -- is a play on words from a story told by Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time.)

Happy New Years, everyone!