Archive for the ‘Alan Dean Foster’s Perceivings’ Category

  • Perceivings: Excavating a drink of water

    Jun 29, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster World-famous archeological sites, especially those that have become tourist attractions, need little introduction. Macchu Picchu, the Roman Forum, the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal — mention their names and for anyone whose interest in images extends beyond family photos and possibly NFL highlights, pictures of those locations immediately flash in the mind. Lesser-known sites readily activate mental video among the more knowledgeable among those interested in the ancient world. Such folk might know that the fabulous bronze paneling that used to cover the ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome was ordered torn off by Pope Urban VIII and melted down to make cannons (sort of a reversal of the “beat swords into plowshares” meme). Or that the “simple” islanders of the Pacific raised something akin to a stone Venice on the island of Pohnpei. Or that the Chachapoyan civilization of northern Peru constructed massive stone cities like Kuelap that sometimes rivaled those of the Inca. But hardly anybody has heard of Sagalassos. Founded around 333 B.C. E., Sagalassos lies in the Taurus mountains about 100 kilometers north of the Turkish port city of Antalya. Whereas ancient peoples of the Mediterranean tended to cluster around the coast, Sagalassos lies inland at an altitude of 1500-1700 meters. Why the variation in altitude? Because it’s kinda like Prescott. Or Jerome. Built on the slope of a mountain, the old trading

  • Perceivings: Have your cake & shoot it up, too

    Jun 1, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Something a little different this month. Something maybe even a little more controversial than arguing about the aesthetic viability of giant balloon dogs or the presence of artificial coloring in food. A tad hard to justify as being about either science or art, although people have long spoken about the art of compromise. Understand that the following is not necessarily the preferred political position I would take were it possible for me to adjudicate on the mat. But the essence of our democracy is cooperation. This usually entails both sides giving up something they want. It’s a difficult and laudable achievement because when a politician or government entity manages to pull it off, they’re more likely to be harangued and despised by both sides rather than applauded. The more difficult the compromise, the more contentious the issue, the harder it is to persuade multiple individuals and entities in government to deal with it. It’s so much easier just to stand back and shout, “This is my stance and I’m not wavering from it!” That doesn’t solve problems. So here’s my take on a simple, uncontroversial, hardly ever discussed matter. Bear in mind I would rather be discussing favorite flavors of doughnuts. But that isn’t a matter of national concern at the moment. What to do about the private ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, is. You

  • Perceivings: Your science conspiracies may be charged at a higher rate

    May 4, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Washington D.C. councilman Trayon White recently said (on multiple occasions) that the Rothschild family controls the weather. Leaving aside the fact that councilman White’s social as well as formal education is manifestly sadly deficient, it got me to thinking yet again about the many current conspiracy theories that involve science. It’s easy to construct a conspiracy theory centered around science because so few people bother to take any time to understand it. But in this particular instance, while yet again causing me to deplore the state of the species of which I have to count myself a member, it struck me that all the propounders of these intrigues must be deeply involved in making oodles of cash off their exercises. Otherwise why bother? I therefore furrowed my brow (don’t worry, it goes away) with an eye toward unearthing the nefarious subtleties behind their global plots. Let’s start with Councilman White’s contention. How would one profit off controlling the weather? Based on Washington D.C.’s recent stormy conditions (sorry … couldn’t resist), one would expect any businesses they control to immediately stock as much bad weather gear as possible. According to my research via Cambridge Analytics (that’s Cambridge, Idaho), the most recommended stores in D.C. for such gear are Comfort One Shoes, Hudson Trail Outfitters, Simply Soles, the Smithsonian Store, and Lou Lou. Aside from the fact that

  • Perceivings: Who steals unsellable art?

    Mar 30, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster I love art, and I like to think I have reasonably wide-ranging tastes. As I’ve said before in these columns, I don’t have much use for modern art of the Koons/Johns/Lichtenstein variety because I don’t think “repurposing” another artist’s work constitutes a valid expression of originality. Or to put it another way, it’s plagiarism. The “art world” apparently thinks otherwise, and who am I to criticize when someone takes a panel of a comic strip (drawn by a real artist, who can actually like, you know … draw), blows it up to giant size, and puts a six-figure price tag on the bottom? I do confess to a certain liking for Jackson Pollock’s work, perhaps because my wife does a better Pollock than Pollock (the artist, not the fish). Notwithstanding that, I’m still waiting for someone to explain the difference to me between a Koons balloon dog and one from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Come to think of it, if Macy’s blew up a balloon dog and used it in the parade, would it count as a parade balloon or art? If I had the money (and more wall space), there is certain art I’d like to own. I’d love to have a Margaret Brundage, and a Chesley Bonestell, and a Bierstadt or a Church. But it’s not necessary, because you can now purchase reproductions

  • Perceivings: The robots are coming, and they have broccoli!

    Mar 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Tesla, which is leading the way in the development of autonomous cars, is not alone in that endeavor. Over the course of the past couple of years, it seems like everyone has jumped on that bandwagon. Not only auto manufacturers but companies like Google, Waymo, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and many more are working feverishly to perfect the technology that will allow you to text freely in your car without risking a citation — not to mention watch a movie, nosh a burrito, chat with your Aunt Bernice about her latest operation, and turn around to yell at the kids without pancaking into the nearest brick wall. But the media has been so focused on the development of autonomous driving for cars that they often overlook equally if not more important applications of the same technology. Autonomous buses. Autonomous trollies. Autonomous trains. And the wholesale transformation of the trucking industry. When the media does discuss such applications, the reportage is usually slathered with a soupçon of woe lamenting the number of jobs that will be affected by such changes. Take the trucking industry. What will all those soon to be out-of-work truckers do? Truckers can make pretty good money. On the other hand, the hours are terrible, the stress is unrelenting, a normal home life is impossible, in certain states and along certain routes the attention of the

  • Perceivings: The Blue Raspberry of Forgetfulness

    Feb 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster When we think of science, our initial thoughts likely turn to physics, chemistry, geology, or biology, zoology, and the other life sciences. I doubt anyone’s first thought is of food science. But there really is such a thing, and it impacts our daily lives as profoundly if not more so than any of the others. If you live in the woods and off the land, you’re not likely to have much interaction with food science. If, on the other hand, like most of us you buy your food in a store, you’re much more likely to encounter food that has been intensively studied, dissected, modified, and very possibly enhanced. As the old adage says, “better living through chemistry.” I was reminded of this by seeing on the soft drinks shelf of a local supermarket several bottles of blue raspberry soda. I bought one, took it home, drank it. It wasn’t bad and it certainly tasted of raspberries. But it didn’t have any raspberry in it (artificial flavor) and it didn’t look like any raspberry I ever encountered in its natural state. Blue raspberry is also a popular flavor of shave ice and other “foods.” But … there is no such thing as a blue raspberry. Raspberries are red, shading decidedly to black. For the food industry, that presents a problem. Because a more popular flavor, cherry,

  • Perceivings: The tao of Pussyfoot

    Dec 29, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Okay, let’s get the title of this column out of the way fast. Pussyfoot is the name of a small black kitten that features in five Warner Bros. cartoons directed by the great Chuck Jones. Arguably the best one, “Feed the Kitty,” features the kitten subduing an enormous, ferocious bulldog by the name of Marc Antony. Pussyfoot accomplishes this via a combination of unrestrained love, impossible cuteness, and general indifference. I am moved to mention this by way of providing proof that the Beatles’ song “All You Need is Love” may have more than a little scientific truth behind it, at least where domestic cats are concerned. I am further impelled to bring up the subject because the internet has been inundated by a flood, a veritable tsunami, of videos featuring cats. If some sources are to be believed, when ranked by subject matter cat videos draw the most views of anything on the net. In turn, this popularity has given rise to an entire subset of articles and scholarly treatises that attempt to explain the phenomena, such as “The Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism” (Ethan Zuckerman, 2008). It is worthy of note that there is no corresponding “Cute Dog Theory of Digital Activism,” or Horse Theory, or even Baby Theory. Disclaimer: Just as programs on ABC promoting Disney have to add a proviso that

  • Nostalgia or art?: A picture’s worth, revisited

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster “Art is in the eye of the beholder.” The first known mention of this common aphorism is from the 3rd century Greek, and nothing much has changed regarding what is “art” since then. Opinions rage on. Is a boulder placed over a ditch “art”? The L.A. County Museum of Art seems to think so. Is a cartoon balloon animal blown up to Green Giant size art? Some believe it makes Jeff Koons — and others who execute likewise — artists. For that matter, is the rendering of the Green Giant on cans of vegetables “art”? Here’s where it gets interesting. Of the enormous, indeed unquantifiable, amount of art produced over the last few centuries originally for purposes of advertising, what can be considered art and what is simply junk? While a small quantity of such material was considered art (or at least containing some artistic merit) when it was originally produced, how does the vast volume of such endeavors hold up today? One only has to drop in on PBS’s highly entertaining and informative program “Antiques Roadshow” to find out. Substantial valuations are proposed for everything from travel posters to General Store box displays. None of this material was birthed for the purpose of creating art. Yet people will pay thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars for a poster promoting ship travel to South America,

  • Mouth-watering flavors: The aesthetics of gurgle

    Nov 3, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster So … water has taste? Is that aesthetics, or is there science behind the claim? I can remember when water was just water. At least, so it was for most Americans. Europeans always seemed to feel differently about it. I guess because they’ve been parsing foods longer than us. But … water? Nowadays people have taken to speaking about water the same way oenophiles (I love that word … it’s stupid, but lovable) talk about wine. A glass of water might be “crisp” (as opposed to what … damp?) or “lightly mineralized” or “slightly acidic” (ah, there’s the science!) or having a taste like a “fresh spring morning.” Sometimes I can’t tell if the testers are talking about water or room deodorizer. I can see the difference between plain water and alkaline water, but some of the rest of the so-called differences leave me cold. As to alkaline water, why would people boast about drinking rock? Not for me to criticize individual tastes, I suppose, no matter how confounding they may be. Sparkling water seems to be a thing of the moment. Especially sparkling water flavored with “essence.” When I was young we used to call “essence” “concentrated,” but hey, whatever sells. Perrier has been selling sparkling water, i.e. water full of bubbles, since 1863, so plainly there’s something to it. In order to compete with

  • Everybody was here: A portrait of the artist(‘s self portraits)

    Oct 6, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Why selfies? I mean, I already know what I look like. That’s what mirrors, hairstylists, bad home videos, and good grandparents are for. Why go to the trouble of taking a picture of myself in front of Big Ben, or a rainforest river, or six drunken fake Spidermen in Times Square? Why not just take pictures of each place? Doesn’t inserting oneself in front of the presumably interesting locale spoil the picture? I reckon it’s because humans have always had this incorrigible desire to validate their existence; first through art, then graffiti, and today via the ubiquitous selfie. Regardless of the form it takes, the selfie declares, “I was here! I existed. I meant something — even if only for the brief time it required to paint this image, etch these words, or take this snapshot.” Selfies are an expression of the id and a desire to find permanence in an impermanent universe. Much to humanity’s surprise, like so many things over time these intensely personal expressions quite inadvertently become history and art. That’s not to say the shaky quickie pix of you and your date smooching on Whiskey Row at one on a Saturday morning will some day appear in a celebrated visual history of the 21st century — but it might. A lot depends on the lighting, what you’re wearing, your makeup, what’s visible

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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