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

  • Planetary appropriation: On drawing a line in the sand

    Feb 27, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster I was born here. This is my culture: all of it. I cannot “appropriate” what I was born to. By born here, I mean on this world. Planet Earth. I am, at base, not a tribalist. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad to have been born into the largest, most powerful, and sometimes (though not always) the “best” tribe: the USA. But my home is the planet. Its cultures are my culture. In the past couple of decades there has been a lot of talk, not to mention yelling and screaming, over something called cultural appropriation. To give one example, as residents of the state of Arizona we are probably more familiar than most with the term, given the interminable arguments over what constitutes cultural appropriation of Native American art. There’s a fine line (and there has to be a line) between utilizing cultural memes out of admiration and as the basis for one’s own artistic endeavors. The best way to do this is via authentication. But even with authentication the lines can blur. Take sand paintings. If the Navajo Nation was able to collect a royalty not only on every cheap rendition of a sand painting that’s sold in the Southwest but also on every skirt, t-shirt, dinner plate, light switch cover, piece of upholstery and

  • The distancing has begun: Considering a virtually reality-free exist-stance

    Jan 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster I have nothing against virtual reality. But I worry where it may lead. It’s just getting started and there’s nothing to stop it. The idea that we can put on a pair of goggles and be anywhere, do anything, is too seductive to be disavowed, too tempting to be ignored. Want to be Superman for an hour? Slip on your VR goggles. Always wished to visit Bora Bora? It’s VR time (and you can even eliminate the annoying jet skis in the lagoon). Have a fear of heights but always dreamed of scaling Everest? Move your arms and legs and VR will do the rest. Harmless entertainment, you say? I suppose it is. What concerns me are the inevitable ramifications as both the technology and its acceptance continue to mature. I’m writing this just before Christmas. I love Christmas. The sparkling, chromatic municipal decorations as well as the lesser ones that are purely domestic. The excitement on the faces of children as their parents convoy them through the mall. Even the crowds in the stores, though there’s always a grumpy gus standing in the checkout line complaining to all who’ll listen about how long checkout is taking. I love the crispness and crackle in Prescott’s air and the turquoise-framed view of snow on the San Francisco Peaks and

  • A simple query: When is it better not to leave well enough alone?

    Dec 30, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster In this case, the answer is chocolate. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad answer for any question. What do you feel like doing today? Chocolate. Is there anything I can do for you? Chocolate. What do you think of Trump’s latest cabinet appointment? Chocolate. Just saying the word puts a smile on the face of most folks. Unless, alas, they happen to be allergic to the stuff. But for the rest of us, simply the mention of CHOCOLATE! conjures up a feeling of joyful expectation. Hearing the word brings forth remembrances of the taste, the silkiness, the sweet charge of energy and contentment as it melts in your mouth that … Excuse me a moment. Time for a quick trip to the pantry. There (*sigh*). That’s better. You won’t mind if I nibble a little while I pontificate, will you? When I was growing up, chocolate was, like so much else in life (especially pre-puberty), simple. There was Hershey’s, and for the youthful connoisseur, Nestlé’s, both simple milk chocolate loaded with sugar. That was it. If you wished to dally in exotics, you got Hershey’s with almonds, or Nestlé’s Crunch. I gravitated toward Crunch because it was made with crisped rice and I could, on occasion, fool myself into thinking that I was actually eating

  • Enter: Backward; Deeper communication requires more than this sentence

    Dec 2, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Communication has been in the news a lot recently. More so than ever with the selection of Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon as White House strategist. I mention him not because I agree with his positions (I don’t, but this column is not about politics) but because his selection only emphasizes how social media and the Net continue to slowly take the place of traditional means of communication. When people begin to turn for their daily information more to Twitter, Facebook, and online only news sites, it portends a real change in how ideas are exchanged and data is conveyed. I’m not suggesting that The New York Times, The Economist, or CBS News are going to disappear any time soon. But the winds of change, they are blowing. All three of those legacy news sites have active online equivalents. More and more people want their information delivered faster and in easier-to-digest bytes. The Net and social media facilitate both. This is convenient, but dangerous. When stories are reduced to headlines and knowledge to soundbites, it’s all too easy to miss the real ramifications of any decisions on which they may be based. Simplification precludes analysis. Communication becomes a function of time instead of thought. It’s fast and easy if you can just say “coal power is obsolete” vs. “clean coal is vital to power production” but it doesn’t

  • Set in stone: Weather the weather or whether or not …

    Nov 4, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is set to hit the east coast of Florida tomorrow. Understandably, this puts me in mind of … no, not Disneyworld. I’m thinking about the science of … no, not Cape Canaveral and rocket flight. Building materials. Not as exotic as reusable rockets (hi Elon, Jeff) nor as fascinating or as strange as metallic glass, building materials are something we deal with every day. Assuming you live in a building, of course. This being Prescott there are, alas, all too many who are forced to adapt to less solid living situations. But I digress. The media is full of talk of advances in building materials. As an example, one architect wants to build tall structures, perhaps even skyscrapers, out of wood. While we’ve been utilizing wood in our dwellings for thousands of years, it wouldn’t be my first choice for building materials for a home on the Florida coast. Yet Floridians and the rest of us persist, putting up hundreds of new homes a year in hurricane- and storm-prone areas that rely on wood frames. And every decade or so, along comes a Cat 4 shower like Matthew to blow them all down. You’d think by now that the insurance industry, if nobody else, would insist on some changes. And by changes I don’t mean stopgap, makeshift, temporary fixes like

  • The Singularity may be squishy: Science truth is stranger than science fiction

    Sep 30, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Everybody has a favorite robot. Even folks who don’t especially like science fiction have seen enough movies and watched enough TV to have fond memories of a particular mechanical person. Probably the most famous robot in film history is Robbie, from the great 1956 MGM film “Forbidden Planet.” Amusingly, and in keeping with the tenor of the cheaper SF films of the time that emphasized horror over science, the principal advertising for the film shows Robbie carrying Anne Francis, the female lead (actually, the only woman in the picture) as if menacing her. In reality, of course, Robbie was her best friend, personal jeweler, and potential savior. But that approach makes for a much less inviting movie poster. On the other hand, I can’t blame Robbie. I would have jumped at the opportunity to carry Anne Francis around, too. Film history is littered with robots: some friendly, some antagonistic (maybe they read their contracts), some indifferent, the great majority poorly made. Few were as intricately fashioned for their cinematic appearances as Robbie. My personal favorite remains the robot Maria from 1927’s ground-breaking film “Metropolis,” even if she was made out of plywood. She certainly doesn’t look wooden in the film, and possesses an unsettling grace and appearance that carries through even to today’s viewers. While nearly all cinematic robots are humanoid, in the 21st century we

  • Science … or industry?: A rash of supplemental reading material

    Aug 26, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Did you ever get the feeling when strolling through the vitamin and supplement section of a supermarket, general store (Walmart, Target), or specialty vitamin store that it’s a wonder you’re alive because you don’t take at least a pound of supplements a day? Between the relentless barrage of television ads touting unpronounceable medicines designed to cure all the diseases you don’t have, to the row upon row of supplements intended to fill all the empty places in your body, brain, skeleton, and neuromuscular system, you end up agonizing that you won’t survive until tomorrow unless you ingest half the Amazon rain forest. Just last year, Walgreen’s, Walmart, Target, and GNC were told to cease selling a brand of supplements because, well, the bottles didn’t contain the supplements they claimed. Or rather, the supplements were highly adulterated with other, useless substances. If you can’t trust add-ons sold by some of the biggest retailers on the planet, who can you trust? Maybe, after all, Aunt Matilda’s herb garden is a better place to look for peppers and mint. Purity and truth in advertising aside, unless you’re prescribed a specific supplement by a doctor, what’s the point? My mother’s parents both lived to be a healthy 94 and, to the best of my knowledge, never took a supplement pill in their lives. My grandmother’s idea of food supplementation was

  • Pixels & doodles: Concerning denotations, connotations, & lingual malleability

    Aug 5, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster Being a writer, you can understand that I am much taken with the science of language as well as with its artful uses. The fact that human beings can make a wide but still finite range of sounds in turn limits the total number of words that can be generated by our modest vocal apparatus. While such limitations and abilities are more commonly discussed in relation to singing (see Yma Sumac) rather than speaking, it remains that they are far more important when it comes to everyday communication. Not all sounds need to be words in order to signify meaning. Among others, the San people of South Africa employ clicking and whistling noises as part of their language. Grunting, which is still with us from our most primitive days, continues to be a means of conveying a wide variety of feelings. Tim Allen based a career on it. I’m not aware that coughing or sneezing are utilized to convey anything more significant than “I’m sick — get away from me!” But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there’s a tribe in central New Guinea that makes more extensive use of it. Difficulty and confusion arise not from the noises we make, but from the fact that the meaning we ascribe to them is constantly changing. This is less common with words based on real-world sounds

  • An uber Simpson’s couch gag (sort of): How automatically mobile automobiles may automatically mobilize

    Jul 1, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster “That’s a nice looking car.” “Thanks. I bought it for the tech. I would’ve bought it even if it had looked like a Pontiac Aztek.” It’s at this point in the conversation that I start to get funny looks. But I’m being entirely truthful. This doesn’t mean I’m utterly indifferent to the look of an automobile. Only that to me there are now far more important things than its appearance. I know. Sacrilege to those of you who lust after Corvettes and Maseratis and Ferraris and such. But cars are a separate conversation. What I’m talking about when I respond to the aforementioned compliment is not cars — it’s transportation. When you’re in your twenties and thirties, not to mention teenage years, cars are important. They’re signs of status, of taste, of independence, and they make a personal statement. When one becomes … older … the general (although not exclusive) tendency is for one to focus more on getting successfully from one place to another as opposed to looking flashy when you arrive there. I’m at that point. And that’s why I’m looking forward to a future where the appearance of transportation is far less important than how efficiently it performs its intended function. Already we’re seeing predictions that no one who currently owns a car will bother to own one in the near future anyway

  • A few mild shocks: Power-full observations from an EV driver

    Jun 3, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster As I’ve been driving an EV (electric vehicle) for three years now, I suppose it’s understandable that some folks keep asking, since this column is about art and science, why I haven’t written about the slow but steady rise of the EV. Partly it’s because I thought it too obvious, because there is simply so much being written about EVs. I didn’t see any point in being redundant when there seems to be at least one new media piece per day about the ongoing developments. I’m always happy to talk about EVs, both from a personal as well as academic viewpoint. Folks new to the concept invariably inquire about range, how long it takes to charge, where the batteries are located, how much your electric bill goes up vs. the cost of gasoline, and so on. But it occurs to me that a number of the advantages of driving an EV never make it into even lengthy related articles. Just as when you travel, the only way you really learn to appreciate the great ice cream at Glacial Sorbeteria in Manaus, Brazil, is to have some, or to figure out that the best food bargain in the busy tourist hub of York, England, is the local Chinese buffet. So I thought I’d point out a few of the benefits that arise from the experience of actually

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

↓ More ↓