Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/12/19 -- Vol. 38, No. 2, Whole Number 2075

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Canine Perception (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        GENERAL MAGIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Canine Perception (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz)
        This Week's Reading (IS THAT A FISH IN YOUR EAR? and
                GOOD ENOUGH (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Canine Perception (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Last week I was speculating on how I think that dogs are actually
no longer the species that occur in nature, but how, after living
in human society, they have forced themselves to become an amalgam
of human and animal, not unlike the creatures in H. G. Wells's THE

There are some things that make dogs have a different viewpoint
than we do.  They have a different stature.  They go through life
in our world looking up at things.  They don't see the tops of
tables; they see the underside.  They live in a world in which
their fates are controlled by creatures that tower over them the
way trees tower over us.  In fact, it is worse than the way trees
tower over us because the most expressive part of the towering
creatures is at the very top.  Dogs have to crane their heads up.
And it gets even worse.  A dog's anatomy is just not very good for
looking up.  Oh, they can do it, but their necks are really
designed for them to look straight ahead or down.  Imagine what a
(literal) pain in the neck it would be if a lot of your information
input was coming from about nine feet up.  Whatever else human
society offers dogs, it does not offer very good ergonomics.

The other thing making even domesticated dogs very different is the
very different sensory balance and the fact that dogs are probably
not even aware that they have a different balance.  I wonder if
bloodhounds ever get frustrated with humans that we don't just
sniff out things for ourselves.  But the fact is that a dog's sense
of smell is so much more acute than ours is that it almost is a
different sense.  The difference is analogous to the difference of
living in a world of a combination of black and white or super-
saturated Technicolor, multiplied by 1000.  It is even more than
that difference because being able to perceive color because we get
very little useful information from our color perception.  A color-
blind man can pretty much pass for having normal sight under most
circumstances.  But a dog's mind is flooded with information about
the world that we humans cannot detect.  A dog just automatically
knows things like what part of the house you have been in, what you
ate at your last meal, and whether you have a cut on your hand.
And one very strong smell does not deaden their ability to detect
subtle aromas.

Dogs' eyes are somewhat weaker, though Elizabeth Marshall Thompson
in her THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS says they are much better at picking
up on body language than humans are.  They know your mood by your
bearing.  But a dog's eyes must be weaker than ours are if for no
other reason than they cannot get corrective lenses.  There is odd
information about a dog's color perception.  Dogs do not have the
rods and cones in their eyes that would allow color perception.
When I was growing up the word was that dogs definitely do not see
colors.  Then somebody actually tested it.  I suppose you could
have an experiment in which dogs are rewarded for finding green
objects but not red ones.  What was discovered was that dogs had
weak color-perception.  Why a dog has any color perception at all
could not be explained.

Still more to come.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: GENERAL MAGIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE:  General Magic was a company that was hugely innovative.
General Magic designed many of the design and communication
protocols.  Time after time when the developers of cutting edge
electronics would get to a point in design, General Magic had been
there first.  The strategy for defining interfaces would have
already been defined by General Magic.  General Magic was as world-
beating as any of the tech giant corporations.  But financially the
company was a bust.  They had been precisely at the right place at
the wrong time.  They had the answers too well before their
technology was needed.  GENERAL MAGIC is a look at the inside of
the tech company by many of the people who were there.  It is the
story of the company as seen by insiders of the General Magic.
Directors: Sarah Kerruish, Matt Maude; Writers: Sarah Kerruish,
Jonathan Key, Matt Maude.  Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The intended theme of this documentary is dropped directly in the
viewer's lap so it cannot be missed.  "Failure is not the end.  It
is only the beginning."  However, if General Magic the company is
going to go beyond this beginning documented here, it will not be
in its own name but rather as a widely diffuse legacy.  And that is
a pity.

We tend to think of corporations as being either a success if
employees make enough to live on or a failure if the staff does
not.  The corporation General Magic is almost unknown today yet
there are billions and billions of pieces of high-tech equipment
that were originally envisioned and in their original precursors
were built by General Magic,

General Magic was founded (to be rich and) to change the lives of
people all over the world.  The founders were superstars of Apple
who broke off and founded their own company.  General Magic
invented or refined iPhone/Android, iPad, iPod, the Internet,
LinkedIn, Google circles and eBay.  Yet the company remained little
known to the general public.

General Magic's star developers would meet and spend much thought
rediscovering what their equipment had to do.  Rather than update
what already existed they would re-design from scratch.  They did
not adapt the task to work on the equipment available.  They would
reinvent the equipment to fit the task.  This was especially true
during the early heady days of design.  The company attracted the
best computer designers in the world.  It was typical to have a
piece of equipment suggested in an afternoon meeting and it would
be designed that evening and by the next day's meeting the
equipment was designed, built, and delivered the next day.  That
was an environment that attracted the "rock stars" of computer

The film tells the story of one of General Magic's largest
blunders.  General Magic had been a division of Apple, when it
split off and made itself its own corporation.  John Scully had
been a director of General Magic but went with the new company.
But he also maintained ties with Apple, passing along their
intellectual property, essentially spying for them.  This enabled
Apple to develop the Newton using ideas from General Magic.

This film is a paean to ideals of design making it ironic that the
opening frames of film show text in a very hard to read fine print.
Overall I rate GENERAL MAGIC a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Release date: GENERAL MAGIC will open in New York City on July 12th
at IFC Center.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: Canine Perception (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz)

In response to Mark's comments on canine perception in the 07/05/19
issue of the MT VOID, Gary Labowitz writes:

My current dog, and the one before it, both used a similar barking
style.  I have noticed that one muffled "woof" is a sort of hello
to what is going on.  Two sharp barks was always a call for help
with something.  Repeated loud barks always seemed to be frantic
about something, usually wanting to go out.  My father always said
that our family dog, when I was young used to come to his side of
the bed and made a sound that he said was "Iwannagoout."  You could
almost hear that.  I think he was "projecting," but it was always
just what she wanted.  As to what they "hear," I think it is just
single words or a set phrase that has meaning to them.  I can asked
my dog if she wants to go out (word "out" being the one) and after
she thinks about it for about 10 seconds or so, she will get up and
go to the door.  If I say "front" or "back" she will go to the
correct door.  When I ask if she wants a treat the word "treat" is
the clue.  She goes right to the kitchen to get one.  If I say,
"Let's take the trash out," or other phrase with the word "trash"
in it, she eagerly gets up and goes to the door.  She likes to take
the trash out or bring the cans in, leading me all the way.  When
we are outside and I ask if she wants to go for a ride in the car,
I think "car" is what she hears.  She then heads to the car and to
the door to the back seat.  These, and other clues make me think
she can consider options and picture what I am talking about.  I
have always said dogs are like little children who never grow up.
She responds like a baby who clearly recognizes me and my wife by
name, and gives us responses that show what she wants or knows.
You'll never convince me otherwise.  [-gl]

Mark replies:

I would not want to convince you otherwise.  As may be obvious I
think that dogs are a lot smarter than is currently believed by the
experts.  Understanding humans is a big part of what dogs do for a
living.  And some are very proficient.  [-mrl]


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

EVERYTHING by David Bellos (ISBN 978-0-86547-857-2) covers the
basic question of what constitutes a good translation, but also the
more basic one of what constitutes a translation at all.  Along the
way,  He discusses at length the balance between retaining some
level of "literalness" while not making the translation sound
stunted, and while making the content understandable.  (Someone at
a convention once said their Japanese translator called them up to
ask what he meant by saying some people were "like Unitarians on

Bellos also looks at some of the more specialized and constrained
areas of translation.  For example, subtitling movies requires that
all dialogue fit into sequences of two lines of no more than 32
characters each which stay on the screen long enough to be read,
and not slop over into the next scene.  Graphic novel and comic
strip translations must fit into the same "balloons" as the
original.  And simultaneous translation needs to manage to deal
with different grammar and sentence structure. e.g., translating a
long sentence from a language where the verb appears late in the
sentence to one in which it appears earlier, or expressing formal
versus informal "you" in a language that does not make the
distinction.  (Or perhaps even more difficult, knowing which one to
choose when going in the other direction.)

If you are interested in languages, or even if you are not but read
a lot of works in translation, I recommend this book.

Daniel S. Milo (ISBN 978-0-674-50462-2) makes the argument that
"survival of the fittest" is not an accurate description of how
evolution works.  Milo uses various examples to show how features
that seem maladaptive manage to survive because they are just not
so maladaptive as to kill off their possessors.  He also talks
about chance as a factor: if only 1% of a population survives a
bottleneck (e.g., by being far enough away from a natural disaster
that wipes out the other 99%), it is their characteristics that
will survive, even if they are not the "optimal" ones.  This is
actually fairly obvious, and I think ultimately Milo is just trying
to expand the notion of "fittest" to "fit enough".  If you have a
population of finches, it is not just those with the longest beaks
to reach the seeds that will reproduce, but pretty much all those
whose beaks are long enough.

One thing Milo emphasizes is that the acceptance of "good enough"
throws a wrench into "intelligent Design": if "nature is not
optimized," as Milo says, then one must attribute waste and
mediocrity to the intelligent designer (i.e., God), and most
intelligent design promoters are not willing to do that.

It is worth pointing out that Milo specifically says that this does
not negate the theory of descent with modification, or of natural
selection in general, though it does dispute the assumed ubiquity
of the latter.

In short, the book is interesting, but not the revolutionary
revision one might expect.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing
           look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that
           basically dogs think humans are nuts.
                                           --John Steinbeck