Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 Unusual Things I Learned from Isaac Asimov

From James Altucher: 5 Unusual Things I Learned from Isaac Asimov
The second time the police were called to pick me up I was fifteen years old. I was originally going to type “the first time” but then I realized that I had gotten in serious trouble one time before. But that’s another story. First I have to confess to my kids about it.

But back to this second time. I was with Robert Levinson and we had just gone to see Isaac Asimov speak. We were both fans of Asimov. I loved his “Foundation” series. The series is about the decline of the Galactic Empire and a group of people who use statistics (“psychohistory”) to determine that the decline will last 30,000 years and so they need to store up as much intelligence as possible before the end comes. The series was three books and written in the early 1950s and is still a great series. I reread it in 2003 but more on that in a second. His other major series, that I was not really interested in, resulted in the movie , “I, Robot” starring Will Smith:

(scene from I, Robot)

I can’t remember what Asimov spoke about. It was the first time I was in the room with such a personality and I think I was overwhelmed by it.

Afterwards, Rob and I went to Rob’s house. He had just gotten a mo-ped. I had never ridden one so we were riding around on it when the police stopped us and asked if I was “James Altucher”. If the same thing happened to me now I know my auto-reflex answer would be, “No, but I think I saw him going in the other direction.”

In any case, my grandparents had called the police when I didn’t report in instantly after the Asimov talk. There were worried I had gone and joined some Asimovian cult, as if there were one. They couldn’t stop talking about it all night. I only wanted to ride a mo-ped for ONCE IN MY LIFE.

I wasn’t even that into science fiction other than that Foundation series and a few stories. I was more into the Fantasy Genre.Tolkien and Zelazny were my heroes. Not Asimov.

But I recently read his memoir and some of his shorter works and it brought back memories and how much I really learned from him:

A) Prolific-ness. Asimov wrote 467 published books. Some of them were anthologies. But even on those he wrote in-depth intros and intros to each story. Most of his books were non-fiction which I think he viewed as easier than novels. He estimated that after the invention of the word processor he published 1700 words a day on average. Most people have a hard time writing even 500 words a day, let alone 1700 words a day.

So I’ve decided. I want to write a 100 books. As long as I have something to offer I’m going to try to write at least 1000 words worth publishing each day. A lot of great authors sacrifice quantity for perceived quality. Like Thomas Pynchon’s meager portfolio of books or JD Salinger’s. But Asimov shows you can do both (and I would take the Foundation series over Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” any day).

B) A sense of Wonder. In his memoir he writes that his favorite short story that he wrote was “The Last Question.” I couldn’t remember whether or not I had ever read it. I went to the bookstore at the Grand Central train station in NYC and picked up a collection of his stories. On the trainride I noticed “The Last Question” was in it so I started reading. Within a few lines I remembered – I had read it at least thirty years earlier. And I even remembered what the last line of the story was going to be. And it was true. It was his best story. It was one of my favorite stories ever and I had constantly recalled it over the past thirty years even though I had long forgotten the title. It was beautiful, and re-reading it again brought back that initial sense of wonder I felt thirty years ago.

I felt like a 13 year old again. It washed off all the sense of dirty responsibility I have now – to family, kids, bills, colleagues, investors – to myself and the goals I’ve set for myself now that the hopes of youth get tinged with regret and the regrets I’ll feel in the future are my meager hopes now. What goals? What hopes? They all disappeared for a split second into that last line and into the question that spit it out – The Last Question.

C) A Group to Grow Up With. In the 1940s, my three favorite science fiction writers: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein (probably my favorite of the three), were “the big three” of science fiction. They were the three best then and probably the three best ever. And they were all friends who challenged each other, competed, saw each other whenever possible, and built up a companionship with each other that lasted for decades. It reminds me of how Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg formed a literary bond that became the Beat Generation of writing. In almost any science, art, culture, literature, you can find these groups. We won’t know now, or for decades even, but I wonder if the same thing will happen in the relatively new genre of “blog-ature.” Doing more with a blog than “10 tips to get more blog users” or “Here’s what happened today to my five year old.”

(Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, at the beginning of their rise to fame)

A good quality blog post has particular qualities that make it different from any other literary genre:

* - It has to capture you from the first sentence. Short stories written in the New Yorker don’t, for instance. The New Yorker has a captive audience: someone bought the magazine and they are going to sit and read that story no matter how bored they are. When someone reads a blog they probably already have ten tabs open on their browser. They can flip away in a microsecond if you don’t grab them and hold them.
* - You have to tell a story. A simple list is no good. Nobody is going to believe “10 ways to make a million dollars” if you don’t tell your personal and painful story about how you made it.
* - You have to solve a problem. People historically use computers to solve problems. They don’t read fiction on computers, for instance. A blog, even if it’s a blog told in mostly story format, has to provide a solution to some personal problem or world problem.
* - Honesty. Blogs from day one are personal and honest. The best ones bleed all over the screen. A good story has an underdog. A good blog has someone that the predators have targeted. Does the blogger come out alive? Does the reader find catharsis with the bloggers rescue?

When I write “10 reasons to quit your job” its not because I want you to quit your job. It’s because I’ve had jobs and they have made me sick: the backstabbing, the subservience, the insignificance of being one cog in a meaningless machines that grinds away to produce…what? More Americana? Who did I help? Who are you helping?

D) Humble Vanity. Asimov has a quote in his memoir and I can’t find it at the moment but he basically says, “I’m the most brilliant man there is. And this is not being vain. It would only be vanity if you can find someone more intelligent than me!” And he’s only half-joking but then throughout the book we see that he is horrible at chess, not the most smooth with women, not the best husband or father, and on and on he admits to all his foibles while still grasping onto his one trophy, that he’s is basically thebest at whatever he wants to be the best at. And why not think that way? Why suffer from a false humility which we all know is the worst kind of vanity. His vanity is honest and earned. But he is also half-joking because he doesn’t care what we think. But he does care! Its only a half-joke. Which makes it even more funny. Or not. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. But you get it. I got it.

E) Trading. Yes, Isaac Asimov saved my financial life. I was losing everything I ever worked for. I needed to make some money. I had a lot of time on my hands because I had no job. The dot-com boom had busted. Nobody would even talk to me or have anything to do with me. I had been a quick solar flare in the supernova of dot-com finance and now I had been absorbed back into the black hole at the center.

So I re-read the “Foundation” series by Asimov. The premise is that with the use of statistics (he called it “psychohistory”) you can gather up all the prior history and use it to predict the future. So that’s exactly what I did. I loaded up all the historical data of the stock market into some software and wrote programs to figure out what would happen next. So, for instance, what happened the prior 90 times that MSFT opened up 5% down? Oh, if you buy at the open, then 89 out of 90 times it went up 2% before 10am. Ok, I’m a buyer. And that’s how I would do all my trades and made money almost every day trading for the next three years.

During this time I went to Las Vegas to visit with Jack Binion, the owner of BInion’s casino and a bunch of riverboat casinos on the Mississippi. A stayed at his house and it was the first and only time I was ever in Las Vegas without staying at a hotel. He was in the process of selling all his casinos for a cool $3 or $4 billion. I wanted him to invest some money with me.

(Binion's Casino)

I remember three things about that visit, other than that Binion ultimately did not invest with me:

* 1) It was so hot in May in Las Vegas that you had to basically wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get some outside pool time. Then a little later in the day we drove out into the desert, which I had never done before.
* 2) Jack said, “ok, lets go eat at my favorite restaurant.” Jack Binion was a billionaire, everyone in Las Vegas knew him, and we were going to go to his favorite restaurant. I assumed gourmet food, expensive wine, and high-priced hookers hanging all over us at whatever top-secret restaurant in the best casino was going to host us that evening. We get in the car and head straight for…Cheesecake Factory. And then he gave his name and WE WAITED ON LINE for forty five minutes. Nice, humble guy. And the food was amazing.
* 3) I started to describe what I did. How I made my trades. His nephew piped up, “It sounds like a book I’m reading, Foundation by Isaac Asimov.” “You’re right!” But, billionaires stay billionaires by not handing out their money to any kid who comes in with a science fiction book strategy for trading the markets.

Asimov’s dead now. Unfortunately dying of AIDS from a blood transfusion. And my grandparents are dead. So they can’t call the police on me anymore (twice was enough). Jack Binion sold all his casinos and made billions. Rob Levinson graduated from mopeds to now doing highly specialized mechanic work on fancy race cars. I don’t daytrade anymore.

But I still want that sense of wonder that hit me for only a few moments in my childhood. I want it back. I want to know the answer to the Last Question over and over again, forever. I want it now. I don’t want it to ever leave me again.

Remembering Isaac Asimov's Election Day

From Read Write web: Remembering Isaac Asimov's Election Day

By David Strom / November 29, 2011

Watching the elections in Egypt this week and as one of the few Americans who are planning on voting next week in our off-year election, I am reminded of one of my favorite science fiction stories by the master Isaac Asimov called "Franchise". The story was written in the 1950s and takes place ironically in 2008 on election day. Computers and exiting polling have gotten so accurate in predicting the winner that only one person is needed to actually cast their vote.

The person is chosen by the all-powerful Multivac computer and asked a series of seemingly random questions that have nothing to do directly with politics or even addressing the candidates themselves. After this person casts his vote, the winners of the election are announced.

The story is interesting because the candidates still purchase TV ad time and appear at various campaign events, but it made me think those many years ago when I first read it how ridiculous our whole political process is. And no matter what party affiliation you might have at the moment, you probably agree that things could be improved. Though I am not sure that a Multivac automating the voting process as Asimov foretold would be much of an improvement.

It does seem as if the computers, or at least the predictive process, has taken a front seat to the actual plebiscite itself. We limit the predictions by the networks until after the polls close in each time zone, with the curious result that at the top of each hour on election night there is a rash of races that have been called by each network's computers. Some of these predictions proved spectacularly wrong, as was the case of Florida during the 2000 election. All that matters is what is produced for our viewing pleasure.

In Asimov's story, Norman, our "typical" voter, has a conflict. He has to tell the truth (Multivac of course monitors his bio-signs to ensure that he isn't lying). He is physically ill the night before the election, realizing his burden is large. His family is terrified, because police surrounds his house. This is to ensure that he isn't harmed on the way to the polling place, where he can discharge his civic duty.

Now, embarrassingly among modern democracies, we Yanks are at the very bottom of voter turnout. Wikipedia lists us below 50% here. There are some countries, such as Australia and Brazil, where voting is compulsory. Austria and Italy, where it isn't, have better than 90% turnout rates. And given the number of governments in Italy, they vote fairly often too.

So think about the Egyptians who are voting for the first time in their lives this week and if you aren't yet registered to vote, take some time to do so. Consider yourself fortunate that Norman and the Multivac haven't replaced you quite yet.

And you can find "Franchise" in a variety of short story collections if you want to give it a read.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"A Fine Romance" Takes a Look at the Jewish Influence in Science Fiction

It's a few days old - but the fact that they're doign it is interesting.

From Urban Citizen: "A Fine Romance" Takes a Look at the Jewish Influence in Science Fiction
URBANA, Ohio (November 15, 2011) - Urbana University Associate Professor of English, Tom Smith, will present "Davids Among the Goliaths: The Jewish Presence in Science Fiction" on Thursday, November 17 at 4 p.m. in the Swedenborg Memorial Library on the Urbana University campus, 579 College Way. The presentation is part of the lecture series accompanying the national traveling exhibit "A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910 - 1965" which is in the University library until December 14. The presentation and exhibit are free and open to the public.

Smith will describe the significant contributions made to science fiction literature by Jewish writers, including Isaac Asimov, Hugo Gernsback, Robert Silverberg, and Harlan Ellison. He reports that Gernsback is credited with naming the "science fiction" genre. In April 1926, an oversized pulp magazine, titled Amazing Stories hit the newsstands. Gernsback, a Jewish immigrant from Luxembourg, was its editor and publisher and he combined the words "scientific" and "fiction" to create "scientifiction." Finding this too awkward to pronounce, the term was changed to "science fiction."



The prize for science fiction writing is called a "Hugo" in honor of Gernsback. The first science fiction novel to receive a Hugo was The Demolished Man, written by Alfred Bester, a Jewish writer and magazine editor. Robert Silverberg, a prolific author, won his first Hugo in 1956 as "Most Promising New Writer" and went on to win three additional Hugo awards during his career.



Harlan Ellison was thrown out of The Ohio State University and was told by his creative writing teacher that he would never get anything published. He has since received ten and a half Hugos. His first award was for "'Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" in 1966. He also edited the groundbreaking science fiction anthologies Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Ellison has written more than 1700 short stories, novellas, and screenplays and has won multiple Hugos, Nebulas and Edgar awards.



Isaac Asimov, who received six Hugo awards, was trained as a biochemist. Asimov, at the age of 18, published his first story in Amazing Stories. His first Hugo award was in 1973 for the novel, The Gods Themselves. Asimov wrote a series of nonfiction works with the series title Asimov's Guide to .... Among other topics, he covered astronomy, physics, chemistry, math, biography, Shakespeare, and the Bible. By the time Asimov died in 1992, he had published 470 books.



Smith has a bachelor's and master's degree of English from The Ohio State University. He specializes in science fiction, nineteenth and twentieth century British and American Fiction, and creative writing. An Ohio native (born and raised in Springfield), Smith resides in Urbana with his wife Jill (a 1992 graduate of Urbana University) and their three teenaged daughters.



The "A Fine Romance" exhibit can be viewed in the Swedenborg Memorial Library, located on the Urbana University campus, 579 College Way, Urbana, during the month of November: Monday - Thursday 8am - 10 pm; Friday 8am - 4:30 pm; Saturday 12 noon - 4pm and Sunday evenings 7 pm - 10 pm. The exhibit will be closed from Wednesday, November 23 - Sunday, November 27 for Thanksgiving. In December, the exhibit will be open for viewing Monday - Friday 8am - 4:30 pm until December 14. The exhibit is free and open to the public. A series of programs continues throughout November looking at the role of Jewish Americans in American culture. For additional information, please contact library@urbana.edu or 484-1409.

"A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965" was developed by Nextbook, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, and the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The national tour of the exhibit has been made possible by grants from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the David Berg Foundation, and an anonymous donor, with additional support from Tablet Magazine: A New Read on Jewish Life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New posting schedule

Sorry for the long delay in posting - had some family issues.

The posting schedule for this blog - starting this Wednesday, Nov 23, will be Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

saac Asimov and Bunk

From Planet 3.0.org: Isaac Asimov and Bunk
Two Short Essays, Loosely Connected
Asimov

I have had a lifelong ambition to have Isaac Asimov’s job (which Carl Sagan more or less took over at one point.)

One wonderful thing about Asimov was his discipline, no matter what else befell him, to write a monthly science tutorial of some sort for Fantasy and Science Fiction. For most of my teenage years I read these faithfully and diligently.

So I just picked up one of the old F&SF issues I managed to hold onto, and did an approximate word count. It seems the essay was about 3500 words.

Perhaps 800 or 900 words a week. That really isn’t very much for a not entirely failed techno-bunny. Yet the teenage me was very grateful for it, as I recall.

Thoughts of Isaac Asimov came up today as I worked my way through the very accessible introduction to ocean acidification at Skeptical Science, in no less than 18 parts of about 500 words each. These seemed exasperatingly small chunks to me, but the whole collection amounts to perhaps a double or triple a standard Asimov pop science article.

But what does the web want? I’m thinking a science piece of 1000-1200 words might be long enough to advance an argument and short enough to avoid too much “tl;dr”, and that 1/3 of an Asimov piece should be our target pop science article size.

So anyone wanting to make an extended argument (based on high-school level maths) around here should plan on writing say three pieces a month of 1000-1200 words and a few equations and diagrams.

I am looking into these articles because of a specific question. If CO2 has been so much higher than today, why is ocean acidification a problem now? I know most of the answer but I haven’t seen an accessible version of it anywhere. I am not sure the answer will be clear enough for my taste in the SkS piece. I’ll report back on this, one way or the other. Any assistance would be welcome.
Bunk

Amusingly, (given that I think the climate community spends way too much time on the defensive), the Asimov piece that I picked up was specifically about debunking a pernicious piece of nonsense of the time. This bunk is something which a few of my fellow boomers will recollect and everyone else has duly forgotten, as is the fate of all bunk.

The piece was about the work of one Immanuel Velikovsky, a fundamentalist and a pseudoscientific crank, whose thesis was basically that all of the miracles reported in the bible were a consequence of the erratic orbit of Venus and its interaction with a passing comet, or something of the sort. One of Velikovsky’s tomes was called “Worlds in Collision” and Asimov’s essay (in the October 1969 issue) was called “Worlds in Confusion”.

Among the ruefully familiar observations:

I said… “the reaction of astronomers varied from amusement to anger, and the Velikofskian theory has never, for one moment, been taken seriously either by scientists or by Biblical scholars.” That’s all I said, and it seems to me that I spoke gently and without undue heat. Nevertheless the vials of wrath were opened upon me and I received a number of letters from ardent Velikofskians denouncing my innocent statement with a great deal of emotional fervor.

Which just goes to bear out my feeling that there is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.

It isn’t even difficult to see why Velikofskianism would be attractive to certain groups. Velikofsky uses his theories to try to show that certain of the miracle tales in the Bible …are more or less true. To be sure, he removes those events from the miraculous by taking away the hand of God and substituting a set of weird natural phenomena instead, but that makes no difference.

Velikofsky’s book made the headlines as the work of a “scientist” (which Velikofsky is not). It was ballyhooed as demonstrating that “science” was proving the Bible true – though the amount of real science in the book could be placed in the eye of a needle without making it more difficult to thread.

Still, to all those who were brought up with traditional beliefs concerning the Bible, it was a great relief that science (the great enemy) had finally “proved” all those miracles, and the book became a best-seller.

Secondly, Velikofsky’s views tended to make orthodox astronomers look foolish. Imagine those stupid professors not seeing all those things that Velikofsky presented so plainly!

There is always something pleasant about seeing any portion of the “establishment” come a cropper, and the Scientific Establishment in particular. Scientists, these days, are so influential, so far out of the ordinary clay, so supreme in their self-confidence, and (to put it in a nub) so “smarty-pants” that it is a particular pleasure to see them stub their toes and go flat on their faces.

Letters of Note: Asimov to Horn Book

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/11/please-no-preferential-treatment.html
There is an absolutely wonderful blog called Letters of Note which shares jpgs of interesting letters sent by a variety of people. One letter they shared was from Isaac Asimov. (The Horn Book is a children's magazine, and Asimov wrote reviews for them).

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Thought Slavermasters

A political commentary

From Canada Free Press: The Thought Slavermasters
Most would call it inhuman slavery of the mind. Liberals call it ‘better living through science’.

Liberals have used science at the service of their ideology for a long time. Consider Sigmund Freud, whose theories were so destructive to Western sexual morality, or the work of Margaret Mead which propagated the false belief in the infinite malleability of human nature and advanced the Free Love Movement. Mead has been shown by Derek Freeman to be spectacularly wrong, and likely purposefully so.

Liberals have advanced their worldview through countless acts of subversion through science. The DDT ban. The nuclear freeze movement. Global Warming.

We have witnesses the abuse of science for well over a century.

And that abuse has always extended to the human mind. Psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology have all been attempts to understand the human thought process, and frequently to alter it. Consider the rise of modern propaganda; the work of people like Edward Bernays would be seized upon by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany to control the thoughts of the populace. New techniques utilizing recording technology, radio, (later) television, gave those who seek to inculcate their views powerful new ways to not just compel behavior but to control thought itself.

Thought control is the ultimate end for Progressives; they have always wanted to fundamentally alter human nature. And now they may be at the point where they can do it.

According to Roger Pielke Jr.:

“Chris Mooney, the author and blogger who once alleged a Republican “war” on science, is going back to that well one more time with a new book. In it he “explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things.”


Mooney writes:

”[T]here might be a combination of genes acting together that somehow predispose us to have particular politics, presumably through their role in influencing our brains and thus our personalities or social behaviors ..,”


Mooney promises to explain:

”[T]he real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history—as well as many undeniable policy facts.”


Gee, with an understanding of the “real, scientific reasons” behind such a disability, perhaps scientists might develop some sort of medicine or gene therapy for “Republicanism.” The search for such a cure would not occur for political reasons, of course, but for humanitarian reasons. The obvious mental impairments suffered by these misguided and genetically inferior people are, of course, not their fault, but perhaps aided by science, we can help them.

The Left has been using this old saw for a long, long time; I direct your attention here. The Soviet Union frequently used the psikhushka, or psychiatric hospital, to break dissidents; the claim was that anybody who couldn’t see the benefits of the glorious socialist revolution and who did not have some sort of privilege to protect must be crazy.

There is great merit for the Left in calling the other side insane. Remember, the fundamental underlying assumption in Liberal thought has always been that Man is inherently good, and Liberalism is rational—and if that is so then those of good will MUST be liberals! Either that, or they must either have some personal benefit to gain, or be insane. Nobody could actually oppose their worldview sincerely without being insane or self-serving! And, of course, if they are insane, they must be treated medically.

Which is precisely why socialized medicine is so important to the advancement of the leftist agenda; if the medical profession is a government service then it is easy to suppress your enemies on medical grounds. Doctors could report “latent right wing tendencies” to the authorities as they might note latent schizophrenia. Efforts could be undertaken to suppress this dangerous malady before it metastasizes.

A few years back I wrote about a junk science study (which no doubt figures into Chris Mooney’s book) which claimed that liberal brains are more flexible than those of conservatives.

This poorly conducted research by a group of political liberals illustrated that it is possible to manipulate science to say what one wants. But the point is it is intended to establish a medical distinction which lays the grounds for later suppression of conservatives.

Citing an earlier study from 2003 (which included a member of the later team) I quoted the press release;

“Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include: Fear and aggression, Dogmatism, and intolerance of ambiguity, Uncertainty avoidance, Need for cognitive closure, Terror management”


If this is hardwired into the brain, if such bad things as resistance to change and tolerance for inequality and aggression Dogmatism are biologically driven, would it not be incumbent upon medical science to find a cure? Why not use medicine to “cure” such a psychosis?

And given the increasing understanding of the human brain, the ability to “cure” conservatives becomes terrifying. It is fast becoming possible to medically circumvent free will.

In point of fact, these possibilities have been understood by those coming out of the Left; consider the science used to shape individuals in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Consider this fun little gadget. Invented by the Saudis, it is essentially a tiny GPS system designed to be inserted into the body and thus allowing the government to track the “registered” person’s movements. A slight modification would allow this device to inject a lethal substance into the subject with the push of a button (thus making it similar to the slave control device from Star Wars Episode One-the Phantom Menace).

Cutting edge technology will soon make it possible to control the populace at the neurological level, giving the ultimate power to leftist tyrants.

Consider this research into using ultrasound to remotely affect human brains. Improvement in sonic lenses and the use of pulsed sonic waves opens the door to tampering with previously mapped portions of the brain. These sound waves can excite or inhibit certain brain functions, meaning that it should be possible to develop a neural remote control, possibly with a receiver on a person’s forehead. (Does anybody remember the remote control in the remake of The Stepford Wives?)

Now, the mind and the brain are different things, and fine control of a person’s thoughts seems unlikely, but control of the ancient, mammalian portions of the brain—those portions controlling motor functions and emotions—may be entirely possible. This is scary stuff.

Here is another disturbing development; neuroscientists have mapped out the areas associated with social relationships. Apparently, these lie in the left and right inferior temporal lobes, orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum, and the left putamen and pallidum, as well as lower gray matter in the left and right cerebellum.

According to one of the researchers:

“Professor Simon Baron Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, said: “This is an important study in showing that the degree to which we find socializing rewarding is correlated with differences in brain structure.

“It reminds us that for some people, socializing is an intrinsic reward, just like chocolate or cannabis. And that what you find rewarding depends on differences in the brain.”

So, scientists now know what parts of the brain tie in with sociability. Liberals, as we all know, are very social critters. Perhaps conservatives require some brain alterations to make them more amenable?

Apparently this isn’t as impossible as it sounds; researchers have found that deep brain electrode stimulation can trigger the generation of new neurons in mice.

Here is the pertinent point about all this:

“After the electro-stimulation therapy, they injected the mice with iododeoxyuridine, a substance that allows experts to analyze which neurons are active, and which are not. After training the animals to a simple task, Stone looked at their brains, searching for a protein called Fos. This protein is associated with learning, and takes only 90 minutes to form. He learned that the Fos levels in both natural and artificially-produced neurons were the same. “These new neurons aren’t just sitting around doing nothing,” he concluded. ”

In short, electrode stimulation can generate new brain tissue that will allow people to learn far certain things far more quickly.

So, what will our future overlords require of us? Perhaps our wise and noble leaders in Washington can develop this technology to turn us all into tofu-loving, granola-eating, hybrid-driving liberals through better science? Children could have their brains manipulated to make them more “sociable” i.e. more liberal. Wouldn’t a man like Richard Dawkins advocate eradicating “superstitions” like God, through manipulations of the brain? With psychic manipulation, coupled with a reinforcement machine like that sonic brain gadget, it should be possible to create the ultimate voting public.

And why would anyone on the Left object? Liberals have always seen free will as an inconvenience to their plans, and they have traditionally labored to devise methods to control what people think and how they feel. The old Soviet Union had many techniques for brainwashing individuals, including sleep deprivation, propaganda, drugs.

To the Left—especially to the materialistic atheists on the Left—Man is but a series of conditioned responses, and free will is merely an illusion, the product of random, deterministic processes. Modern neuroscience has been used to buttress this position, since we have been learning about the different areas of the brain and how they relate to thought and behavior. At the core of all Leftism is the notion that human beings are ultimately mere cogs in a grand machine, and that they are the engineers who design this machine. Free will is relegated to a dusty notion from the past. That is why liberals are soft on crime; criminals act solely on the basis of their biological drives and the conditions under which they were raised. It isn’t their fault! Attempts to reform them have failed thus far, but if they had machines such as these…

This materialism is the heart and soul of liberalism, and all of the Left’s seemingly crazy ideas stem from this central concept. The welfare state, weakness on national security, monetary policy, all stem from a lack of faith in human free will. Liberals believe Man is inherently good, yet they think Man is incompetent because of poor planning and leadership. If they could find a way to impose their views, not just grudgingly, but to insert them into the hearts and minds of the individual…

The late science fiction writer and biologist, Isaac Asimov, dealt with the concept of mind control in his Foundation series. He argues that actually sensing and controlling thoughts—those little voices in our heads—is not something that could be done, at least not for a long time. Asimov believed that the more fundamental aspects of the brain could be manipulated. In his Foundation stories there was a type of sense possessed naturally by the character of the Mule and induced in people with natural proclivity by the Second Foundation whereby the “telepath” could “see” emotions in other people, much as sharks can “see” neural activity in their prey (sometimes by as much as 50 miles). Not only could these people sense emotions, but they could reach out and manipulate those emotions, setting them where they wanted them. Asimov explains that this is a result of magnetic resonance; the telepath’s brains could enter into magnetic resonance with the brain of the victim, then could alter the neural flow by changing their own flow in a special organ inside their brains.

And in the Foundation series this was a mighty ability; the most hated enemy could be made into the most loyal friend, people could be motivated to achieve higher intellectual states, anything was possible (including execution through emotional control for the most horrific death that could be meted out.)

But this power was a natural function of the human brain in Asimov, and obviously the amount of energy that the human brain could project would be limited. We could do a far better job with a mechanical device and a power source. We could create the ultimate horror.


Which is why it is not so much a matter of if as of when; tyrants have always wanted this power, and with the help of irresponsible science and materialistic liberals, this power will be theirs. It will be sold to the public as a matter of great good; a device to control depression or bi-polar or obsessive-compulsion. Later, it could become a vehicle for giving pleasure aka science fiction writer Larry Invents wireheads. But the time will come when these techniques will be used to control the public, control the hearts and minds of people. This would be slavery beyond any in human history.

And there is a tendency towards this in so many new technologies; “smart meters” to tell electric customers about their energy usage habits can easily be adopted to control energy usage and give this information to the government, for example. (In Britain they have overflights of neighborhoods with infrared viewers to see who is wasting energy.) Liberals are always willing to tell people how to live for their own good. People frequently do not listen. They will have to be made to obey, nay, to BELIEVE!

Communist countries have long treated anti-communists as mentally ill, and put them in sanitariums. A machine that could make a person into a liberal would be a Godsend, if they believed in God. I fear He will be the first casualty of these new technologies.

But then, God Himself does not make people think the way He wants. Only Liberals do that.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Science Channel series celebrates Prophets of Science Fiction

From Borg.com: New Science Channel series celebrates Prophets of Science Fiction
This week the Science Channel, part of the Discovery family of networks, premiered a new series, helmed by producer Ridley Scott (Aliens, Blade Runner), celebrating the scientific foresight of masters of classic science fiction literature. Prophets of Science Fiction will explore both the literary accomplishments of authors such as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick, as well as their influence on ongoing scientific advancement.

The series begins with a profile of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), credited with creating the science fiction genre as a whole. With commentary from Shelley scholars and historians, the series premiere offers parallel storylines of Shelley’s life and literary career, the plot and themes of her seminal novel, and the scientific underpinnings that inspired her immortal work. Interviews with scientists on the cutting edge of electrical medicine, genetics, and artificial intelligence round out the episode, with Shelley’s tale of science-without-responsibility providing the cautionary undercurrent.

A centerpiece of Science Channel’s rare original programming, Prophets of Science Fiction is getting due attention on their website. Check out interviews with contributors including Ridley Scott, historical notes on the authors, and an episode guide, showing eight episodes that will air at least through February.

Future episodes will profile Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and borg.com favorite George Lucas. Although the series begins with genre progenitor Mary Shelley, Episode 2 will feature Philip K. Dick, so it appears the series creators don’t plan a chronological exploration of their subject. Watch on Science Channel Wednesdays at 10 pm (Yes, borg.com is aware this is the same time as Psych. That’s why you have a DVR.).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Words From the Myths, by Isaac Asimov

The writing of Words from the Myths
In Joy Still Felt (1954-1978), pg 190
"There were still tow chapters of The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science remaining to be written, but if Svirsky were planning to eviscerate the book, I had no intention of writing them. Nor, of course, would I return the advance. Nor would I discuss the matter with him and subject myself to the temptation of compromise.

On March 1, [1960] I simply started another book altogether, Words from the Myths. It was my intention to retell the Greek myths and point out that many English words were obtained from them or were reminiscent of one or another aspect of those myths.

The writing of Words from the Myths was perfect balm for my wounded spirit. It was forty thousand words long and took just 12 days to do.

It was the first book I wrote without any preliminary discussion with any editor. I was getting confident enough of my ability to assume that some publisher or other was bound to want any book I cared to write.

On March 14, 1960 I took it to Austin Olney, since it was he who had done Words of Science, and this new book could be viewed as a companion piece. There was no trouble at all. He liked it, asked for a few very minor changes, and then I got my contract.




I purchased Words From The Myths form Amazon.com's used-book program a few days ago, received it today.

Description:
In Words of Science, which went into three large printings during its first year of publication, Isaac Asimov described the odd histories and derivations of hundreds of scientific terms. Now in this book, he explores the Greek myths to discover the roots of hundreds of words that have entered into our daily language and the results are equally fascinating.

These ancient legends have always been an integral part of our culture. But even those who are familiar with Greek mythology will be surprised to see how Professor Asimov's approach adds fresh meaning and depth both to the stories and to the words we have inherited from them.

Words from the myths surround us from the time we eat our Cereal in the morning to when we sink into the arms of Morpheus at night; when we are Saturnine or Jovial; when we hear a siren or listen to music. They are particularly important scientific vocabulary, especially in the field of Astronomy and it is not without accident that our missiles bear such names as Atlas and Titan.


The dull and boring cover with the yellow stripe across the top is the hardback, the all black cover is paperback.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. The Beginning
2. The Titans
3. The Olympians
4. The Children of Zeus
5. Demigods and Monsters
6. Tales of Men
7. The Heroes
8. The Siege of Troy
Epilogue
General index
Mythological index

Monday, November 7, 2011

Out of This World: Little Lost Robot (7 July 1962)





For my Kindle readers: You can't watch this on your Kindle. Go to Youtube and do a search for Little Lost Robot:
This is the only surviving episode from a British TV series called 'Out Of This World', hosted by the great Boris Karloff. 'Little Lost Robot' was written by Isaac Asimov and adapted by Leo Lehmann. The story editor was Irene Shubik, producer of 'Out Of The Unknown'. Aired on 7 July 1962 (season 1, episode 3), 'Little Lost Robot' starred Maxine Audley, Clifford Evans, Murray Hayne and Gerald Flood.







Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lost Asimov TV: The Caves of Steel


John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw and Peter Sellers as Lije Bailey

Here's the text from the YouTube summary showing a very few, very brief clips from The Caves of Steel:

The Documentary - Time Shift Machine Men provides an extended scene towards the end of the clip and a further scene pruned from the documentary series Future Fantastic I Robot.

This was a BBC 2 production that was broadcast as part of "Story Parade" which specialized in adaptations of modern novels. It was broadcast on June 5, 1964 and repeated on August 28, 1964. The teleplay was by Terry Nation (who invented "Blake's 7" and the Daleks in Dr. Who), and Elijah Baley was played by the late Peter Cushing. It also starred John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw and Kenneth J. Warren. The master tapes of the program were erased, however a few clips from the production have turned up in various documentaries about Isaac Asimov's work.


In the UK, a BBC documentary series hosted by Gillian Anderson titled "Future Fantastic" was broadcast in 1997. One particular edition was titled "I, Robot", and focused a great deal on Asimov's work. It also contained some of the rare clips from "Liar!" and "The Caves of Steel".

Asimov presented an episode titled "Robot", about developments in robotics, in December 1967 as part of the BBC documentary series "Towards Tomorrow". This is thought to be the original source of surviving clips from the Out of the Unknown teleplay "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and the BBC teleplay of "Caves of Steel". If you have a copy of this please get in touch!!!

The adaptation was the brainchild of Story Parade story editor Irene Shubik, who was an enthusiast of science fiction and a fan of Isaac Asimov in particular, once referring to him as one of the most interesting and amusing men I have ever met.[1] Shubik had previously devised and story edited the science fiction anthology series Out of This World, which had adapted Asimov's short story "Little Lost Robot" in 1962. The adaptation of the novel was handled by Terry Nation, who at this time had recently found fame and fortune as the creator of the popular Dalek monsters for the science fiction series Doctor Who.

The screenplay was generally faithful to the plot of the novel. The only major deviation was the conclusion in the television version the murderer commits suicide when he is unmasked, although in the novel he agrees to work to convince the Medievalists to change their ways. The other major change is that the roboticist Dr. Gerrigal is a female character in the television version.

Director Peter Sasdy later directed a number of Hammer horror films as well as the Nigel Kneale television play The Stone Tape. The Caves of Steel garnered good reviews: The Daily Telegraph said the play proved again that science fiction can be exciting, carry a message and be intellectually stimulating while The Listener, citing the play as the best of the Story Parade series, described it as a fascinating mixture of science fiction and whodunit which worked remarkably well.

The play was repeated on BBC1 on 28 August 1964. As was common practice at the time, the master tapes of "The Caves of Steel" were wiped some time after broadcast and the play remains missing to this day. A few short extracts survive: the opening titles and the murder of Sarton; Elijah and Daneel meeting Dr. Gerrigel (Naomi Chance) and Elijah and Daneel confronting the Medievalist Clousarr (John Boyd-Brent).

The success of "The Caves of Steel" led Irene Shubik to devise the science fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown, during which she oversaw the adaptation of six more Asimov stories, including The Caves of Steel sequel The Naked Sun. Please support the BBC in any release of this series.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Layman’s perspective of the 7 billionth

For most of his adult life, Isaac Asimov preached about the dangers of over-population. In one of his essays, he said something along the lines of the fact that most people would be starving by the year 2000.

Well, it's the year 2000. Are most people starving? Why, yes, they are. There are various areas in Africa that have been under drought conditions for decades, and the people who live there are starving, not helped by the fact that they are in the middle of warzones and their own governments are letting them twist in the wind. They're getting food - occassionally - sure - brought in as charity from other countries.

What about people in the US. 50% of people in the US are on some form of welfare, including food stamps. Without that welfare, without "fortunate" (or should that be, industrious) people giving them charity, those people would be starving because they have no way of making a living for themselves - no education, too many children.

Florida has a little something called the Everglades. It used to be a big something, it's now a little something, and its becoming littler every day as thousands of people move to Florida every year - either legally or illegally - and the water table just can't cope.

There are states in the US that have to import their water from other states, as they have no water of their own. What happens when those other states run out of water?

The author below has read Asimov's fiction. Too bad she hasn't read his non-fiction.

From The Alchemists' Blog: Layman’s perspective of the 7 billionth
When I heard Nargis of India was born, and Danica of Philippines was born and Alexander of Russia was born, I felt strange. Oh, 7 billion? Well, ok!

I felt strange, because it had nothing to do with the overwhelming opinions regarding the huge population of the world. It had nothing to do with the adequacy of resources. It was about the attitude of all the 7 billion.

Heck, Earth was over staffed when it reached the 1 billion mark, I would say. Oh, do you remember this long forgotten statistic of the 1 billionth baby? This will happen with the 7 billionth too.

Who knew, we loved to procreate? My husband says, early earthlings had no other way to pass time. I neither agree nor disagree and vehemently state that is not the object of this post. I just want to voice my tiny little opinion that, this is not the end of the world, err… earth, literally.

Ever read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov? Asimov created robots in his stories to be helpers of the humans, and then goes on to colonize other worlds –Trantor, Terminus, Solaris, Aurora, the list is endless. If you have happened to read those amazing series, you would feel strangely awesomely delightful about the possibilities. I think now is the time for our very dear NASAites to think about this. No, I am not giving orders, but subtle suggestions like the second foundationers from Asimov’s book. Lol!

Spread love, like the evangelists preach, like the philosophers ruminate, like the spiritualists will, like everyday people (you and me) wish. Stop war abruptly. Eradicate anger, hatred, racism and intolerance, like you press the “Shift+Del” key of your computer. Compassion and Understanding are two huge tasks. This possibility sounds even more difficult than colonizing worlds, huh?! I know, it’s the same for me too. But ah, well, definitely worth a try what do you think? If you have to see those billion faces again and again and again for at least 70 odd years (assuming mother earth decides not to get rid of her burden sooner lol ), then at least learn to tolerate them. Perhaps, eventually, we can understand the billions and learn to ‘pretend’ to love. See, I am again being realistic by only requesting us to pretend (for starters, at least :p ).

Oh, there is another prospect too. Keep cribbing about earth’s burden, ecology, global warming, population per square mile (or whatever else the math works out to), inadequacy of resources, possibilities of future penury, starvation, wastage of food, other statistics, incomprehensible ratios and such. I leave it to the statisticians, economists, mathematicians, planners, and whoever else is responsible of these things. And with all that, welcome the endless blogs, endless newspaper articles, endless debates and discussions on the media. And everyone’s tiny and shrieky voices about population EXPLOSION and all the ‘earthly’ mumbo jumbo. Scary, huh?!!

But, we are all here to stay, all 7 billion of us, unless we resort to civilized, planned man slaughter. And well, I don’t foresee that weird situation. So, let us work towards making a better world for today and tomorrow and evolve into better people. The rest of the statistics, scares, and environmental/ecological trivia will either fall into place or all of us collectively, lovingly, egregorically will out an idea.

And possibly (*wink wink*) discover many many worlds outside of our stellar systems.

Love the Asimov guy! The possibilities never end!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Asimov in the News: Change is Good

From Financial Post: Change is Good
Investors may not like the direction the stock markets are heading, nor company execs, but it should be viewed as an opportunity to look at things in a new, perhaps more profitable, light. Many of the country’s top 100 CEOs are already doing just that

The only constant is change. It’s been said in one version or another since about 500 BC, although it’s a line typically credited to 20th century author Isaac Asimov. But some might be feeling that perhaps we could use a little less change right about now.

At the start of 2011, economists were relatively bullish on the future, noting the world had, more or less, recovered from the most recent recession. Now we’re on the edge of a double-dip downturn, even here in Canada. The dollar, once an albatross because of its low value relative to the greenback, reached parity again this year and became an albatross of a different sort. And investors who watched their portfolios dwindle during 2008 and 2009, are watching them dwindle again as we approach the end of 2011.

But change is good. Change presents opportunities to examine things in a different light. It’s a chance to surrender what you are for what you could become. With that in mind, Financial Post Magazine has changed its annual CEO Scorecard to better reflect how corporate executives at some of Canada’s biggest revenue-generating companies are handling change. In short, to qualify for this year’s scorecard, a CEO must have been with a company (or predecessor) for at least 18 months as of the end of Aug. 2, 2011, a fair period of time for an executive to implement new policies or get rid of bad old ones. In other words: change things up, for better or worse.

Fortunately, almost all the execs that made the grade this year managed to eke out a positive two-year total return for their company shareholders. Overall, the average two-year return for the 100 executives on this year’s scorecard was 23.8%, a very decent return given that the S&P/TSX Composite Index returned 15.7% during the same time period.

The Top 100 is led by J. Michael Pearson at biotech firm Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., which has been on an acquisition spree (the 2010 purchase of Biovail Corp. being perhaps the most notable) that investors seem to like, nearly doubling the company’s stock value. Close behind is another life-sciences exec, Mark Thierer, whose SXC Health Solutions Corp. posted a two-year return of 87.7%. For their efforts both execs are handsomely rewarded by mere mortal standards. Pearson was paid more than $1.1 million in salary, bonus and other fixed compensation during 2010, while Thierer was paid $3.4 in fixed compensation, plus he could cash in on a swing of $8.3 million in the value of his outstanding stock options.

But while both executives are paid well by most standards, they earn less than the average $4.1 million that companies paid the top executives on our Top 100 Scorecard, led by the $12.5 million Onex Corp.’s Gerry Schwartz took home. (Both Valeant and Magna International paid more in total compensation, but both had two chief executives during the period under consideration.) At the bottom of the payscale is Murray Mullen, the chairman and CEO of transportation firm Mullen Group, who in April 2010 following a round of company layoffs decided to cut his annual salary to just $1. Mullen’s decision, certainly an admirable one, belies the fact that most executives are getting about what they deserve, according to our Bang for the Buck index, which makes a return following a one-year hiatus.

Check out the index on page 52. Any executive scoring around $1 is getting what they should be getting, according to a proprietary algorithm that takes into account a CEO’s comparative compensation and company revenue as well as their performance in their related TSX index. By that measure, Fairfax Financial is getting a bargain by paying V. Prem Watsa only $622,000 per year. He’s worth more than eight times that amount, or about $5.5 million, if Fairfax was paying market value.

Another “value” executive is Paul Sobey, who took home an average of $1.3 million during the past two fiscal years at Empire Co., but his company brought in almost $7 billion in revenue and had a 10% shareholder return. Both execs have substantial ownership stakes in their respective companies, proving the value of Warren Buffett’s old aphorism of having some skin in the game.

On the flip side, some companies likely overspent on executive compensation, although there are solid reasons for some of the companies at the bottom of the Bang for the Buck index. Take Valeant. It paid its execs an average of $8.7 million, but a big chunk of that was a severance package for Bill Wells, who was the CEO of Biovail and did not stay on when it merged with Valeant. The same goes for Magna International, which paid two CEOs until Siegfried Wolf departed on Nov. 15, 2010.

Most companies that did make the cut aren’t spending more on their chief execs than you might expect given the market for management talent. Overall, 75 of the Top 100 executives are getting paid what might be considered a normal salary, (that is, within the average deviation of 0.59) based on corporate performance, casting doubt on whether say-on-pay resolutions are really necessary. Say-on-pay resolutions received an average of 94% support at 67 Canadian companies holding votes this year, according to a study by Hay Group, but it also has concluded that corporate performance is not a particularly key factor in shareholder say-on-pay voting nor is it a big consideration in boardrooms.

Compensation levels vary by sector. In financials, eight of the 12 companies paid their executives more than the Top 100 average, but their index was the only one to report a negative two-year return, albeit just a 0.7% decline. The reason for the extra pay: Banks and financial services firms bring in more revenue and employ more people than the average company and likely affect more people. The telecom industry is also a big payer, but it’s dominated by some giants, BCE, Rogers Communications and Telus, who pay far more than the minnows, Bell Aliant and Manitoba Telecom Services. Again, the larger the company, the higher the executive pay and the greater the increases, as might be expected.

But many governance proponents suspected that as more compensation information was disclosed and debated, the more likely salaries would be held down. That doesn’t seem to be the case — at least not so far. Revenue at the 100 companies on the Scorecard increased 8% to $5.7 billion between fiscal 2008 and 2010, while executive salaries jumped 19.8% to $908,000, certainly more than the average worker could expect. Overall, the average executive’s fixed compensation package (excluding options) rose 23% in the past three years. And executive options have increased by an average of almost $6 million during each of the past two years.

In previous iterations of the Scorecard, options were included in a CEO’s compensation and calculated as the change in their value during the fiscal year. This led to the rather curious result that some executives’ compensation was reported as negative, which was clearly not the case. For example, the value of Patrick Daniel’s options declined by almost $20 million in 2010, but they grew by $27.1 million the previous year. Don’t feel too bad for the Enbridge CEO: He still took home $6.7 million. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan CEO William Doyle’s options, meanwhile, grew by $113 million in value during 2010, but his take-home pay was a paltry (by comparison) $7.9 million. Both examples illustrate that the value of options can swing wildly, but they can often make up a substantial portion of a CEO’s potential compensation, which is why we have listed them.

Our Scorecard, however, shouldn’t be read as a list of winners and losers, although it’s certainly tempting to read it that way. It’s a snapshot of a point in time, a time some investors are likely longing for. If the equivalent data was pulled today, it’s likely a lot of company returns would not be so heady; quite a few might even be negative given the stock-market swoon in September. But as long-term investors and successful corporate executives know, it’s always better to be prepared for things to change.