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Former Slashdot Contributor Jon Katz Believes He Can Talk To Animals ( 171

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland got a surprise when he visited his local bookstore: Jon Katz turns 70 this August, and he's published a new book called Talking to Animals: How You Can Understand Animals and They Can Understand You. Katz was a former newspaper reporter (and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone) who wrote for HotWired, the first online presence for Wired magazine in the mid-1990s, before becoming a controversial contributor to Slashdot during the site's early days. Katz left Manhattan in the 1990s to live on a farm "surrounded by dogs, cats, sheep, horses, cows, goats, and chickens," according to the book's description, an experience he writes about on his blog. His new book promises that Katz now "marshals his experience to offer us a deeper insight into animals and the tools needed for effectively communicating with them."
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Former Slashdot Contributor Jon Katz Believes He Can Talk To Animals

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  • Meh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drew_92123 ( 213321 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @11:44AM (#54682029)

    People have been talking to animals since time began... it's easy to train them to specific commands and to recognize their body language to know when they're hungry or playful... but I have yet to find anybody able to have a stimulating conversation with one. Even dogs, the animals most adapted to life with humans, aren't capable of that...

    Now if he said he had been working with apes and teaching them to sign I might be more willing to believe... but as things stand now I'm pretty sure he's fucking nuts.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Dogs understand quite a bit, even if they don't understand more than a handful of words. In the years since wolves domesticated themselves, evolution has rewarded those who understood more of what we meant, and could express more of what they wanted. If you've ever seen a herding dog working, there's no way to doubt that there's communication.

      But attempting to strike a deep conversation with a dog is as futile as trying to have one with a teenager. The difference is that when you tell the dog "don't fuck

      • Birth control car: Four banger, many windows/benches, FWD automatic trans, minivan. With a diaper full of green shit hidden behind an interior panel and a GPS tracker.

        Just as with the dog, the only solution is to chase the bitch away. Far away.

  • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @11:47AM (#54682049)

    See, this is the type of shit that happens when you hang around this place too long..

    • On this site, I've seen worse.

    • See, this is the type of shit that happens when you hang around this place too long..

      My dog's been telling me that for years.

  • Now go over there and talk to those 2 very big nice gentlemen in the white coats......
  • Man, it's been a while.

  • I sense a musical a'comin...

  • Oh, Jon Katz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wuhao ( 471511 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @11:59AM (#54682111)

    I remember when everyone hated him for not actually knowing anything and writing heavily-slanted pieces on whatever bullshit stories people told him that flattered his politics. Little did we know then that the future of blogging was a world of Jon Katzes.

    • Re:Oh, Jon Katz (Score:5, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Saturday June 24, 2017 @12:08PM (#54682159) Homepage Journal

      Hey, now - this was back when /. was being actively developed. We have Katz to thank for the "no stories by this submitter" filter. It's come in every so handy in the subsequent years.

      • Re:Oh, Jon Katz (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @12:27PM (#54682277)

        In all my time on slashdot I only ever used the filter to block Katz.

        • In all my time on slashdot I only ever used the filter to block Katz.

          Me, too. There was some kind of willful fuzziness going on with Katz that was simply incomprehensible.

          I saw once piece at large by Katz in subsequent years that wasn't half bad, from his early days of animal farm, IIRC.

          A tiny piece of the same mind fungus can be sometimes found in the writings of Clifford Stoll.

          Theodore Dalrymple would figure prominently on any list of the same mind fungus manifesting sporadically on the other side of the

        • by Trogre ( 513942 )

          Wait, you mean you knew about the filter and *didn't* use it to block Roland Piquepaille?

          • Nope. Piquepaille was a shitty blogger, but at least his submitted stories resulted in interesting discussions. And besides, he's long dead anyway.

    • So he's a role model? I need to check him out then... :P
    • by tero ( 39203 )

      Or.. the presidency.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Grog6 ( 85859 )

        We would not have believed the way the world has gone since /. started.

        Who would have thought that the Clinton Years would be the most prosperous ones since the 60's to Now.

        And who would have thought that getting your dick sucked by an intern while talking to Yasser Arafat on the phone ISN'T the worst thing a President would do in office. :facepalm:

    • I'll never forget his article about the villagers who dug up their commodore 64s after the Taliban left and started watching DiVX movies from 5.25 inch floppies.

    • Little did we know then that the future of blogging was a world of Jon Katzes.

      Sad, but true.

      I was expecting more early UIDs to comment on this article. Oh well.

      • They looked out the window and realized he wasn't so bad after all, but you can't expect them to admit it any more than you can expect them to trim the lower portion of that thing on their neck they call a goatee.

        If the internet gets any worse I'm going to start reading Joel On Software again and convert my websites to use Matt's Scripts.

        • I remember complaining about his articles until the Hellmouth stuff happened (the Columbine shooting and the following hysteria from mass media). He seemed to really listen to what younger people were saying at the time instead of telling us what we were saying.

          He seemed to "get it" and quick to translate was school administrators and lawyers were proposing into something that the younger people understood.

          I also read his book Geeks and found it really interesting. The view of someone from outside of the sm

          • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

            I felt like this at the time.

            Sure, Katz was melodramatic, and often let his greed for a good story get in the way of some facts, but overall he was an interesting writer, capable of showing a lot of empathy with his subjects (witness the Hellmouth series). That empathy led him astray when fed a story occasionally. His 'Afghan friend' a case in point.

            Overall, I've read a lot worse.

    • Re:Oh, Jon Katz (Score:4, Informative)

      by T.Hobbes ( 101603 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @08:05PM (#54684155)

      Not that I read many blogs, but my memory of him is that he was worst than most bloggers. Heck, Slashdot itself was (is) basically a blog. The other contributors back then were far, far better.

      Katz always seemed to be some guy from the outside of a subculture who tried to be seen as an expert in it by declaring strongly held opinions. Bad enough, but the opinions were usually ingratiating, patronizing, and/or wrong.

      Even Michael Sims wasn't as bad!

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @12:03PM (#54682133)

    The title, "How You Can Understand Animals and They Can Understand You" needs an edit to:

    How You Can Understand "domesticated" Animals and They Can Understand You.

    This is because he's only dealt with such animals and none from the wild. If he's up to the challenge, I welcome him to the Sahara, where coming face to face with some of its four legged inhabitants [without protection], immediately invokes the question, "Could you be my next meal?" in the animal's mind.

    • by Wuhao ( 471511 )

      As I understand it, his track record with the domesticated ones is pretty bad. []

    • Certainly, even with perfect communication it's important to have something worth saying that's more valuable than your caloric content. I wouldn't particularly want to encounter a band of human cannibals without some really valuable information to share either, no matter how well we could communicate.

    • I spend a lot of time in the woods, and wild animals can communicate just fine. They communicate across species as part of their daily routine, so once you realize that you're also an animal species and get over the "Me Humaan, Me Special, Me Special, Me Not Understand Because Too Special" nonsense then you can understand most of it just fine.

      And just a hint, that chipmunk is not saying hello, he is not welcoming you to the forest. "Get out of my yard you ugly giant!" is the nicest thing any chipmunk ever s

    • by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @04:25PM (#54683355)
      Nah, it works with non-domesticated animals as well. For example, if the mountain lion has it's teeth around your neck and is dragging you off into the woods, it's saying: "Hey, why don't you come over for dinner tonight?"
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Good point - an example I was given is that if you point a dog will look at where you are pointing and a wolf will look at your hand.
      Desmond Morris wrote some very good and easy to read books on this topic (and some TV series as well).
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @12:08PM (#54682153)

    Sad cat diary []
    Sad dog diary []

  • I just don't expect them to talk back, except for the human ones (and sometimes not those ones).

  • Anyone can talk to animals. Now getting them to talk back, and understanding them... that is the tough part.

  • They just don't answer.

  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @12:14PM (#54682201)
    In the post Columbine era .... He used a ghost writer.
  • by tsa ( 15680 )

    When I make my nose go up and down a bit my rabbit answers me by doing the same. Very cute.

  • I do it all the time. The thing is, I can't tell what it is that they are replying, or even if they are replying.
  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @06:16PM (#54683699)

    This is a perfectly reasonable statement. I talk _with_ animals. I farm and have a large pack of livestock guardian herding dogs. We communicate with about 300 words and phrases. It is two way communications. Some of it is vocal. Some of it is body language. Some of it is sign language. I can tell the dogs things and they can tell me things and they talk to each other - no surprises there. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

    What is unfortunate is that urban people have lost this connection to the natural world. Dogs raised as singles don't typically get the cultural knowledge passed down generation to generation like dogs in a farming pack. Pet dogs typically are all alone much of the day and when you get home you greet them and then ignore them in all too many cases. This results in both you and the dog losing the ability to communicate with each other.

    Oh, and it isn't just dogs. Pigs have about 30 words they use, sheep use about ten words and chickens use about six words. Learn their words and you can understand what they're talking about as well as talking to them. When we're herding livestock we typically use a couple of the target animal's words to help with the herding. I say we as in both we humans and the dogs. The dogs are multilingual. They pickup the words we use to tell pigs to move forward and they use them too to get the pigs to do the same thing.

    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

      Pigs and dogs do seem to be able to either speak each others' languages, or are at least mutually intelligible to each other. I've had friends with pot-bellied pigs, and one of them also had three dogs. The pig (literally) ran with their pack all the time. We were both in agreement that it believed it was a dog, right up to wagging its tail. This story makes me wonder if it wasn't confused at all, but rather was simply speaking the common language -- dog.

  • I miss Jon Katz (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tihstae ( 86842 ) <> on Saturday June 24, 2017 @06:20PM (#54683707) Homepage

    And here goes years and years of good Karma. Does Karma still matter on /. ?

    His Hellmouth piece was great and brought some geek issues to the forefront and got some issues talked about in normal non-geek circles.

    I joined /. because of Jon Katz and the Hellmouth piece.

    Not all of his work was good. In fact some was quite awful but it always inspired conversation rather that what we now have here.

  • Talking dog (Score:4, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @06:52PM (#54683835)

    A man and his dog walk into a bar. The man says, "I'll bet you a round of drinks that my dog can talk."

    Bartender: "Yeah! Sure...go ahead."

    Man: "What covers a house?"

    Dog: "Roof!"

    Man: "How does sandpaper feel?"

    Dog: "Rough!"

    Man: "Who was the greatest ball player of all time?"

    Dog: "Ruth!"

    Man: "Pay up. I told you he could talk."

    The bartender, annoyed at this point, throws both of them out the door. Sitting on the sidewalk, the dog looks at the guy and asks, "DiMaggio?"

  • I'd have sworn he died in a freak pack of raccoons accident some years ago. Funny story, the only reason I got my UID when I did was because he would not shut the fuck up about Columbine. Every day on Slashdot with it. He's also the only contributor on slashdot that I ever banned from my feed.

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?