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

  • Perceivings: Disney vs. the death channels

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author and a friend. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster If there was any doubt how much I love Nature, the debut of a new photo accompanying this column ought to dispel that. I’m hanging out with a Mayotte Brown Lemur on the island of M’bouzi in the French Comoros islands (I’m the one with the sappy smile). M’bouzi has been turned into a sanctuary for the lemurs. They need one, since they have an unfortunate habit on the other islands of eating the farmers’ bananas, mangoes, etc. right off the trees. The chap in the picture developed a serious fondness for the gold earring in my left ear. Lemurs are strong, but they’re not chimps or gorillas, so I still have the ring. And the ear. In 1951 my family moved from New York to Los Angeles. As I recall the television options at the time there were three major networks, Fox not having erupted yet from its alien egg, plus a handful of independent channels: 5, 9, 11, and 13. None of them were specialty channels. Such innovations lay far in the electronic future. There was nothing like the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic channel, much less further specialized iterations of such channels such as those for kids, those devoted to the sea, and so on. And of course satellite television was still a gleam in

  • Glass-eyed: A consideration of art, science, & optics

    Apr 28, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's Perceivings1 CommentRead More »

    By Alan Dean Foster “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It’s safe to say that Walt Whitman wasn’t thinking of fun house mirrors when he composed that line, but it fits what has always been a historically popular combination of physics and art. The reproduction of self or other objects, ad infinitum, has long been both possible and fascinating. Best of all, it requires a minimum of investment and effort. When I was a kid, there used to be an over-the-water entertainment venue in Santa Monica, California, called Pacific Ocean Park. It had one decent, expensive ride, the Banana Train, to which was appended a host of Coney Island-type games and rides with ocean themes. It was over the water, so I didn’t care if some of it was a little tacky. But besides the classy Banana Train, I distinctly remember the park’s version of fun house mirrors. Along with the usual warped mirrors that made you look fat, or tall, there was an “infinity” room, where you could stand in the center surrounded by mirrors and see yourself reproduced over and over again, until your multitudinous tiny selves vanished like ants, swallowed up by distance and time. It was only simple optics, but it fascinated me. It fascinated Orson Welles, too, who utilized the same fun house mirrors in “The Lady from Shanghai” and, later and more memorably, in

  • ‘Everything’s Hometown’: Winging it with nature in Prescott

    Mar 31, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Alan Dean Foster's PerceivingsNo CommentsRead More »

    The author in a Tuareg headdress. Courtesy photo. By Alan Dean Foster We’ve lived in Prescott for 36 years and I still take the local nature for granted. It’s amazing how downright blasé you can become over time about such things. It’s usually when we have visitors from out of town, often from metropolitan areas where the only real wildlife tends to hang around liquor stores, that I realize how fortunate we are, and how each of us really needs to take time from work and commuting and the damn TV and the addictive internet to get out and have a look around town for something besides the weekly arts and crafts festival. We’re doubly fortunate because our house backs onto one of the several major creeks that run through town. That gives us access not only to more wildlife but to a greater variety of visitors, as critters that tend to hang out elsewhere come down for the occasional drink. There’s the rare bobcat, and deer, and skunks. We had a bear once, a long time ago, and of course coyotes and javelinas are a steady presence. But to get a real feel for Prescott city wildlife you have to pay attention to the birds. I’m not going to turn this into a birdwatcher column. For one thing, there are better local resources available and for another, I’d probably

  • 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

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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