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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/14/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 16, Whole Number 1932
Table of Contents
Get Back to Our Roots (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Why is it that with the few space shuttles we had, there were enough that we named one Enterprise, but with all the new planets we are discovering I have yet to hear of one being named Mongo. [-mrl]
The Mind of a Dog (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For a long time I have been fascinated with canine intelligence and with how humans measure canine intelligence. Back in the 1970s I had a dachshund, and I wildly guessed that old Sam had the mind of a man with an 80 IQ in a deformed body, that body deformation being the (frequently inconvenient for Sam's purposes) anatomy of a dachshund. Most of what I heard from the scientific community (as presented in the media) was that that a dog is a set of mechanical reactions and conditioned reflexes. A dog was considered to be essentially a machine with no real consciousness. It was thought that that was no real proof that a dog was even a sentient being.
Descartes at one point considered that dogs might have a genuine consciousness, then decided that the same arguments would cause him to consider that even a sea slug might be argued to have consciousness. But that was plainly absurd to him. So Descartes decided that only humans had consciousness. For him to consider it for another animal was absurd. Science is frequently happy to give into a policy of human exceptionalism. But since the 1970s there have been a number of inquiries into the capabilities of the canine mind. At least what is published falls into three categories. Some of the discoveries that have been made conclude that canine minds are at a level we expected. There are some results that show that canine minds have capabilities closer to human than we thought. And some results have said that canine minds are better than human minds in some ways.
You make have seen in the media a recent discovery that dogs do seem to have an understanding in human language. Apparently they can tell the meaning of some spoken words. How do the testers know? Well, the dogs were trained to sit very still in an MRI brain scanner. The dogs were then subjected to the trainers talking to them using words they knew and words they did not know. The tone of the trainer's voices was carefully varied. It seems that dogs pick up the meaning of phrases like "good boy." Even if spoken in a singsong voice the dog's brain reacted as if spoken in the usual admiring tone. In short, the dog recognized the words and knew what they meant.
But this should not be so much of a surprise. Five years ago or so people were amazed that a border collie could memorize 1000 plush toy names and could find any one of them by name.
The dog knew each toy by name and if given an unfamiliar name she would pick out the one unfamiliar toy. Apparently dogs have memories that in some ways are superior to human memories. Whether living in the wild or in domestication, a large memory could be useful for a dog. They go beyond current human memory ability. Perhaps we had such capability and lost it due to the ability to write making huge memories less important for survival.
I can say that Sam, my dachshund, knew the meaning of the phrase "ride in the car." He quickly learned to associate that phrase with one of his favorite forms of entertainment. Perhaps he was associating vowel sounds with the former phrase since he would also get excited to hear he was going to be "fried in the tar." But we also would try to say the words in different tones and he still picked up the meaning. But he had little to do in his waking life but listen to human conversation and to puzzle it out. And I was fairly sure at the time that puzzling it out he did. [-mrl]
Fueling Spacecraft (comments by Gregory Frederick):
How about using space junk to fuel your space craft engine on the way to Mars (for example)? A brief summary of this engine follows with a link for more details.
The thruster works by accelerating ions from an intensely hot, very small plasma ball. The record high thrust was obtained by using a magnetic nozzle that further accelerates the ions to give them extremely high velocity. Research has not only demonstrated proof- of-concept record efficiencies but also suggested that magnesium, used commonly as a light and strong alloy for space materials and prevalent in space junk orbiting the Earth, could be re-used to fuel the engine in space.
This initially sounds good, but capturing the junk adds a whole lot of complexity. [-mrl]
YO-KAI WATCH: THE MOVIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Fast-paced and amusing, this is a Japanese animated fantasy action film aimed seemingly at children but in Japan probably has a following of all ages. The film is based on a video game. The hero of the stories is a boy who can use a watch to see invisible spirits-- mostly friendly--who are all around us. This appears to be an origin story. Nate has been given a watch that allows him to see the Yo-kai. When the watch is stolen Nate and some friends find they have to travel back in time sixty years where Nate's grandfather is inventing the magical watch because he needs it to fight off the wicked Yo-kai commanded by the evil woman Tokio Ubaune. YO-KAI WATCH: THE MOVIE was directed by Shigeharu Takahashi and Shinji Ushiro from a screenplay by Yoichi Kato. The film is really too fast-paced to follow, but has lots of humor, particularly in its jabs at STAR WARS. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This film is my first contact with the "Yo-kai Watch" franchise, though I am familiar with Yo-kai in Japanese folklore. The concept is that there are invisible spirits, the Yo-kai, all around us. Most just benign, but as this film proves, not all are. In this film they have bizarre shapes like balloons and mammoth floating cats. They watch us behind their cloak of invisibility and sometimes take part in human affairs. Yo-kai have shown up in a number of fantasy films that appear now and again. My introduction was in the film THE GREAT YO-KAI WAR. "Yo-kai Watch" seems to be an animated videogame series that is popular in Japan.
Apparently in this animated series a boy has a magic watch that allows him to see the Yo-kai that are everywhere. Yo-kai are particularly Japanese-feeling spirits, taking fearful or strange- looking forms. In other films one is a woman who can stretch her neck like a fire hose. Another is in the shape of an umbrella. Folklore says that Yo-kai are all around us in legions but we cannot see them.
Our story is about Nate who owns a magical watch that allows him to see the Yo-kai where the rest of us see nothing. Nate needs to save the world of sixty years ago where an evil Yo-kai has plans for ruling the world. Nate goes back in time sixty years with two Yo-kai friends Whisper and Jibanyan, the first a balloon and the second a cat that changes size. There he joins forces with an unexpected ally, Nate's grandfather who at sixty years younger is just about Nate's age so they make a perfect pair. [Did I miss something? If the current world is working okay then isn't it obvious the world had not been stolen sixty years before? And don't we know that Grandfather Nathan must have live long enough to do what was necessary to become a grandfather?] The action is often funny and paced like water in a fire hose. According to Wikipedia, the film was the highest-grossing Japanese film at the Japanese box office in 2015. The film is 95 minutes long.
This film's rapid pacing and the imaginative and strange looking animated creatures may appeal to some children, though others may have trouble getting used to what will likely be an animated view of a culture foreign to them. It will be an opportunity for children to learn that there are more cultures than what they are used to seeing.
American viewers, especially adults, may find this very different world a little strange and confusing. Don't worry they (or you) will be pulled into the action soon enough. Understanding what is going on will come with a little time. I rate YO-KAI WATCH: THE MOVIE a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Variations on the title may be "YOKAI" rather than "YO-KAI" and it may be called THE MOVIE EVENT. The film will get a limited release on October 15, 2016.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6063294/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/yo_kai_watch_the_movie_event
Pies and The Great American Dream Machine (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on pies at Walmart in the 10/07/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
The Wal-Mart pie story puts me in mind of Marshall Efron's great bit from "The Great American Dream Machine" (circa 1969-71), which he titled "Just Pie" when it was reprinted as a text piece in a magazine, which may have been MOTHER EARTH NEWS. He bakes with pride: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHLPm5XHDPw.
GADM was a good show. Among other things, I saw Chevy Chase there for the first time, and Albert Brooks ("Famous School for Comedians"). It was a magazine show, so of uneven quality, and much of it was probably over my head, but I knew something was going on there. It has come out on video, but I'm a little bit afraid to test my recollections against the actuality. It would be worth it, though, just to have the Albert Brooks segment again. [-kw]
I remember very little of it, but I would watch "The Great American Dream Machine." I remember the unique sound of Marshall Efron's voice.
If you want to hear more about the beginnings of the program, including some of the Brooks piece you might look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILkvOWe89FM. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster (ISBN 978-0-521-49867-8) is a collection of thirteen articles, rather than an encyclopedia with hundreds of entries for each character, location, and so on. (There is an index, but it does not includes entries for the fictional entities in the novels.)
It starts with a chronology of Austen's life and an essay on her situation as a professional woman writer in the nineteenth century. Two essays cover her earlier and later works, two more her letters and short fiction, and one on further reading. The most interesting to me were the remaining six, on class, money, religion and politics, style, literary traditions, and Austen cults and cultures. These are extremely useful in providing the necessary background for understanding the characters and motivations in Austen's works. For example, understanding the relationship between a lump sum of money and an annual income is critical--an inheritance of a lump sum of 1000 pounds will result in an annual income of 50 pounds, while an annual income of 100 pounds is the minimum necessary to support anyone above the level of farmhand--in other words, anyone worth noting.
[The title, THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN, I find of particular interest. Somehow with all that Jane Austen wrote she never struck me as the kind of person anyone would have to have to go and find companions for, let alone someone as prestigious as Cambridge acting as matchmaker. This is a side of Austen I never suspected was there. I wonder if Oxford has similar social services. -mrl]
LECTURES ON LITERATURE by Vladimir Nabokovv (ISBN 978-0-156-02775- 5) is based on Nabokov's lectures at Cornell University, and the works covered include Jane Austen's MANSFIELD PARK, James Joyce's ULYSSES, Gustave Flaubert's MADAME BOVARY, Marcel Proust's SWANN'S WAY, Charles Dickens's BLEAK HOUSE, Franz Kafka's THE METAMORPHOSIS, and Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Each essay must be the concatenation of several lectures, since the length and level of detail could not be covered in a single hour. Given that Nabokov is not your average college professor, his lectures go into far more detail about the construction of the works: the choices the authors made in characters, language, plot structure, and so on. I do recommend, however, that you read (or re-read) each work before reading the essay on it, because Nabokov (rightly) assumes his students will have done so. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Physics is not mathematics. Physicists work by calculation, physical reasoning, modeling and cross-checking more than by proof, and what they can understand is generally much greater than what can be rigorously demonstrated. --Joe PolchinskiTweet
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