Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/14/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 16, Whole Number 1932

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Get Back to Our Roots (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Mind of a Dog (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Fueling Spacecraft (comments by Gregory Frederick)
        YO-KAI WATCH: THE MOVIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Pies and The Great American Dream Machine (letter of comment
                by Kip Williams)
                and LECTURES ON LITERATURE) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: 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.


TOPIC: 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]


TOPIC: 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.


Mark replies:

This initially sounds good, but capturing the junk adds a whole lot
of complexity.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: 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

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,

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: 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: .

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.

Mark responds:

I remember very little of it, but I would watch "The Great American
Dream Machine."  I remember the unique sound of Marshall Efron's

If you want to hear more about the beginnings of the program,
including some of the Brooks piece you might look at
.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

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.

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

           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 Polchinski