Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back again

I have to apologize to all my loyal readers for not posting in so long.

We're back, starting Monday.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Get sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov a plaque in West Philly

From (way back in April):  Get sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov a plaque in West Philly

Isaac Asimov is one of the great nerds (and sideburn owners) of American history. The science fiction author wrote hundreds of fiction and nonfiction books short stories, some of them in a little apartment at the corner of 50th and Spruce. Philadelphia Weekly is petitioning the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Commission to erect a marker at the address where Asimov lived during WWII and wrote six stories that helped form two of his most influential series, and they could use some help:
Isaac Asimov, the late grand master of science fiction, authored 500 books across every Dewey Decimal category and invented the very idea of "robotics" as a field of study, thus shaping the course of 20th- and 21st-century culture. Though he's often thought of as a New Yorker, he spent three very important landmark years in Philadelphia. From 1942 to 1945, while living and working here during WWII as a chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Isaac Asimov wrote half a dozen of the key stories that comprise his two most influential cultural masterpieces: the Foundation series, which introduced the idea of “psychohistory,” the mathematical modeling of the future; and the Robot series, which introduced the famous Three Laws of Robotics governing how artificial intelligences should behave.
It was at an apartment on the corner of 50th and Spruce streets in West Philadelphia where Asimov wrote these historic stories. So with the support of your signature, the Philadelphia Weekly is petitioning the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Commission to dedicate a marker at that location honoring Asimov's profound literary accomplishment. 
The petition just needs 184 more signatures. Go! [, via BoingBoing]


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

For the weekend: Isaac Asimov’s Visions of the Future is available free online in its entirety

I'm actually late with this news, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

From Io9:  For the weekend: Isaac Asimov’s Visions of the Future is available free online in its entirety


Two years before his death, legendary science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov kicked off a TV pilot dedicated to exploring the faint and ever-shifting boundary separating science from science fiction. By highlighting advances in science and technology, Asimov sought to prepare viewers for the world of tomorrow by providing them with glimpses of what the future might hold.
The series never got picked up, but when Asimov died in 1992, the pilot was adapted into a 40-minute documentary titled Visions of the Future. Featured here is the documentary in its entirety.
From the introduction to the first video, featured above:
The line between science fiction and true science is often thin and sometimes difficult to define... [that boundary] is constantly moving as science redefines science fiction. The dreams of just a few years ago are today's commonplace events.It is this boundary that was the lifelong fascination of Isaac Asimov. The mission of this series is to examine that boundary — that moving target.
Isaac Asimov launched this video project two years before his death. It synthesizes his visionary concepts with his scientific roots. This first volume contains the highlights of his last major interview, and serves as both a mission statement and a tribute to one of the greatest science and science fiction writers ever known.
Asimov's ruminations on the interplay between science and science fiction echo those of Carl Sagan. "Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century, particularly with respect to Mars," Sagan said in his moving message to future explorers of Mars. He continues:
The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists to find out more about Mars, which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science; and that sequence has played major role in our present ability to get to Mars. It certainly was an important factor in the life of Robert Goddard, the American rocketry pioneer who, I think more than anyone else, paved the way for our actual ability to go to Mars. And it certainly played a role in my scientific development.
The ability of SF to unite the spheres of science and science fiction is the reason Ray Bradbury was asked to present his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been" to a Caltech lecture hall, packed with NASA scientists and engineers, on the eve of Mariner 9's entry into Mars orbit; and why the Agency named the Curiosity Rover's landing site in his honor. As Neil deGrasse Tyson told io9 last year, "Good science fiction inspires people to pursue science every time.


Thursday, January 24, 2013


Never realized I hadn't posted in over 2 weeks!

Sorry, folks

Things have just gotten away from me the last week and a half...posting should be back on schedule starting this weekend.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career

From Millard Fillmore's Bathrub: Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career

2 Votes

Isaac Asimov remains one of my favorite writers.  He wrote well enough, and his curiosity took him to topics I often find interesting.  At one time having published more books than anyone else in history on a wide variety of topics from quantum mechanics to trivia in the books of the Bible (does he still hold that record?), it was a sure bet one could find at least one book in one’s area of interest penned by Asimov.
When I started the spasmodic feature, “Typewriter of the Moment,” years ago I did a search for Asimov with a typewriter.  I didn’t find an image I thought suitable back when the internet was still operated by steam, and somehow I just never got back to that.
The other night this image popped up on one of my Facebook feeds, from “the Other 98%”:
Isaac Asimov at a typewriter creating, with pithy quote
Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?
I appreciate the sentiment in the quote.  Asimov noted the Dunning-Kruger Effect, even if he didn’t have the advantage of Dunning and Kruger having named it yet, and he lamented the powerful undertone of anti-intellectualism that victims of the syndrome exhibit:
Anti- intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. (Asimov in an essay for Newsweek: “A Cult of Ignorance,” January 21, 1980, p. 19)
It’s an arresting image, a heckuva a quote, and it would make a good poster.  Plus, it’s an early IBM Selectric typewriter, marrying Asimov’s creativity with a great technological advancement in writing tools.
One boggles at the idea of Asimov with a great word processing program, a fast computer with great memory, and the internet at his disposal.  If Asimov were alive and creating today, we’d think Moore’s Law a great hindrance to the advancement of knowledge.
The painting delights me.  It’s almost photographic, and I like paintings that take great care to get small details right, photographically.  No dig at more spare or even abstract art, but this sort of painting takes great skill and great creativity.  Rising spirit-like from the typewriter’s platen we see a satellite (manned spacecraft, perhaps?), a flask of chemicals, and a leather-bound book, essential components in science fiction, and science.
So, who did the painting?  Was it done solely for that Facebook poster?
English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 71...
This is what that typewriter in the painting looks like, from the author’s angle. An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 713 (Selectric I with 11″ writing line), circa 1970. Wikipedia image
I’ve searched on TinEye, and Bing and Google, without success to identify the painter.
One version of the painting, before text was added, showed up at IO9, a site dedicated to science fiction, in an article discussing the writing habits of famous writers.
This does not appear to me to be the original, simply because data on the artist is not contained in the information section of the image.  The artist who did this illustration would be proud of it, and want to advertise her or his work.
This version has a slightly higher resolution; click on the image and note the reflections of lights in Asimov’s glasses, the reflections on the desk, and even the dings on the edge of the desk facing the viewer — this is great stuff!
But still I wonder:  Who was the original artist?
Any ideas, Dear Reader?
Painting of Asimov at work, at his typewriter
The painting of Asimov at his typewriter, before posterization with a quote over his head. Found at IO9
Did Asimov write on a Selectric?  Did he switch to the newer version, with a wider carriage, or stick with the old original?  Is there a photo upon which this painting is based?
Almost immediate update:  This site claims the artist is the same as the one at the bottom of the post, Rowena Morrill.  That’s a start.  Here’s more:  At Rowenaart, both pictures appear credited to Rowena.  Mystery solved?  Go buy a poster from her; this is great stuff.

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...
Hello! Could this be by the same artist? Caption from Wikipedia: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Darkness in literature: 'Nightfall' by Isaac Asimov

From the Guardian:  Darkness in literature: 'Nightfall' by Isaac Asimov

Stumbling out from beneath the 45-tonne bronze cone of London's planetarium, unsteady from a virtual voyage through the solar system and beyond, you can picture the earth turning beneath your feet. Stand there on the brow of the hill in Greenwich Park, your head still full of planets spinning on their computer-generated orbits, with the National Maritime Museum, the curve of the river, Canary Wharf and all the city stretched out beneath you, and the vista seems to roll inexorably east towards the curtain of night. Darkness is an inescapable fact of life on earth, an astronomical certainty which, for all the terror it brings in childhood, gives our daily existence its rise and fall, its ebb and flow, as night follows day follows night.
But what if it wasn't like that? What if night were not only dense and all-encompassing, but also sudden and unexpected? What if daylight were so pervasive, so constant, that total darkness was unimaginable, inconceivable? What if there were no one to teach us how not to be afraid of the dark?
In his 1941 short story "Nightfall", Isaac Asimov takes us to Lagash, a planet deep in a globular cluster surrounded by not one, not two, not three – but six nearby stars. When Alpha sets, Beta is at zenith; when Gamma is at aphelion, Delta is near. The whole planet is bathed in perpetual sunlight from its constant companions, so that the inhabitants of Saro City have never seen the stars, have never known the total darkness of night. Until now.
The story opens at Saro University on the eve of the first night in 2049 years, as a rare alignment of stars and planets is set to send half the world into darkness for "well over half a day". As Gamma sets, leaving only blood-red Beta hanging in the skies, the scientists who have predicted the eclipse which will plunge the world into chaos are preparing their instruments and attempting to master their rising panic.
"Imagine darkness – everywhere. No light, as far as you can see. The houses, the trees, the fields, the earth, the sky – black! And stars thrown in, for all I know – whatever they are. Can you conceive it?"
"Yes, I can," declared Theremon truculently.
And Sheerin slammed his fist down upon the table in sudden passion. "You lie! You can't conceive that. Your brain wasn't built for the conception any more than it was built for the conception of infinity or of eternity. You can only talk about it. A fraction of the reality upsets you, and when the real thing comes, your brain is going to be presented with the phenomenon outside its limits of comprehension. You will go mad, completely and permanently! There is no question of it!"
According to Asimov, the idea came from discussing a quotation from the opening of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, Nature with the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W Campbell Jr. "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years," suggested Emerson, "how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!" It seemed much more likely to Asimov that the sudden majesty of the heavens would inspire fear instead of wonder. After two millennia of constant sunshine on Lagash, the terror of complete darkness, the "soul-searing splendour" of the mysterious stars, is enough to send the citizens mad, to consume civilisations in the hungry flicker of the only means to hand for making light: fire.
Asimov answers Emerson's transcendentalism by setting up an opposition between the scientists (good), struggling to understand celestial mechanics without being able to see much in the way of heavens, and the Cultists (bad) whose Book of Revelations, woven from "the confused incoherent babblings of half-mad morons", foretells a cave which will devour Lagash and send down heavenly fire to rob men of their souls. Will the astronomical truths discovered at Saro University survive the apocalypse and enlighten the survivors of the next cycle, or will the obscurantism of religion prevail? It's a confrontation that reads all the more urgently now, 70 years on, as climate scientists struggle to make their warnings of catastrophe heard above the voices of the deniers.
While the names with numbers – Beenay 25, Aton 77 – the lack of women and an honourable reporter who declines the chance to scarper when things get hairy ("I'm a newspaperman and I've been assigned to cover a story. I intend covering it.") give "Nightfall" something of a period feel, Asimov's ability to think himself into the dread his sun-soaked characters feel at the approaching gloom, their delight at the unveiling of Saro University's latest developments in light-emitting technology still rings true. But he's even better at imagining just how far the universe can exceed our expectations.
One of the younger astronomers brings up the purely theoretical case of life on a planet with only one sun, a planet where "the exact nature of the gravitational force would be so evident" astronomers would discover it "before they even invented the telescope". It's a "pretty abstraction", but only of philosophical importance, he continues: "life would be impossible on such a planet. It wouldn't get enough heat and light, and if it rotated there would be total darkness half of each day. You couldn't expect life – which is fundamentally dependent on light – to develop under those conditions." He also dares to suggest the fantastical notion that the stars spoken of in the Book of Revelations might simply be "other suns in the universe", far enough away to be invisible during Lagash's perpetual day, to leave the complicated gravitational dance of its six companion stars unperturbed. Maybe there might even be as many as "a dozen or two".
It is this kind of of mind-stretching celestial inversion which made "Nightfall" an instant classic. Campbell upped the 21-year-old Asimov's fee to a princely 1.25 cents a word and gave him the cover. "I was suddenly taken seriously," Asimov says, "and the science fiction world became aware that I existed." The science fiction world had shifted, had rolled inexorably on, powered by one of those great stories which – like the great science that underpins it – can make the planet move under your feet.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New posting schedule

Now that I've got this new full-time job, I'll be posting in this blog twice a week - on Monday's and Wednesdays.

So the next post for this blog will be on Monday.

Thanks for your patience.