Friday, March 30, 2012

Asimov PP: 7/1989: "The Importance of Pitch"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
When I was 22, I married a beautiful damsel. (She was not my present dear wife, Janet, but that's another story.)

I was a little nervous about it. After all, I was neither handsome nor athletic nor wealthy nor sophisticated nor many other things that were likely to be attractive to women, and I was dreadfully afraid that the young woman would suddenly realize this.

I knew that I was intelligent, but I wasn't sure if that particular quality was very apparent (we had known each other only a few months) or, if it was, that it was of any importance. It seemed to me, then, that I must lose no chance to do something spectacular with it, something that might impress her.

Consequently, during our honeymoon at a mountain resort, when it was announced one day that there would be a quiz contest that evening and that volunteers would be welcome, my hand went up at once.

I didn;t think there was the chance of a snowball in Hades that I would fail to win and I felt sure this would be bound to impress my new wife.

That night, I was third in line, and after the first two people had answered their questions, I stood up for my turn. At once the audience broke into spontaneous laughter. They hadn't laughed at the first two contestants, but I was very anxious, you see, and when I am anxious my face takes on a look that is even more intensely stupid than the one it wears in repose. So they laughed.

(My wife, who was in the audience, winced noticeably.)

The master of ceremonies then said, "Use the word 'pitch' in various sentences in such a way as to demonstrate five different meanings of the word.

The look of anxiety on my face grew more pronounced, and the audience responded with wild hilarity. I paid no attention and merely collected my thoughts. When the laughter quieted down, I said as loudly and as clearly as I could, "John pitched the pitch-covered ball as intensely as though he were fighting a pitched battle, while Mary, singing in a high-pitched voice, pitched a tent."

And then, in the dead silence that followed, I said (with a sly grin, I'm afraid) "One sentence does it."

Of course, I went on to win the contest and greatly impressed my wife. Interestingly enough, the affair won me considerable hostility from all the other guests. I gathered that there was a widespread feeling that I had no right to look so stupid without actually being stupid.

The reason I mention this now is that that little adventure of nearly half a century ago popped into my mind when I began to plan an essay in which I intended to describe how pitch (in the fourth sense used in that sentence of mine) told us a great deal about the size and the age of the universe.

It's interesting to read this essay - in particular if one has not read the first volume of his autobiography in which he goes into the courtship of Gertrude Blugerman, who will become his first wife.

In all the time they were courting...what did she do that gave him the impression that she would say "yes" if he asked her to marry him? From the essay above, it's not at all clear.

They were married in the early 1940s, back when women were not expected to work outside the home and their sole reason for existence was to get married and have kids. So it must be admitted that any woman who wanted to "leave home" could only do it in one way, by getting married. And presumably she would marry the first man who asked her, regardless of how she actually felt about him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Asimov PP: 8/1989: "Long Ago and Far Away"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
Several months ago, I walked out at the close of a banquet and found it to be raining briskly. It was plain there would be no taxis, so two other banqueteers and I made our way to the nearest subway entrance, got on a subway train, and trundled northward.

As it happened, my stop came first. I bade my friends farewell and got off the train. The next day I found out what had happened to them after I got off.

Three youngsters walked up to where my friends were sitting, and towered over them in what seemed to be a threatening manner. My friends were well aware of the violence that sometimes takes place in the subway and they were naturally apprehensive.

One of the youths said something in a low voice and one of my friends, plucking up courage, said, "I'm sorry, young man, I didn't hear you. Would you repeat it, please?"

Whereupon the young man, in a louder voice, said, "What I asked was: Was that Isaac Asimov that just got off the train?"

In a flash, the youngsters had changed from three threatening hoodlums into three concerned fans of culture with impeccable taste, andmy friends answered cheerily that indeed it was, and all was wine and roses thereafter.

I don't know if those intelligent young men on the subway ever read my science essays, but if they do, this one is dedicated to them.

Asimov then goes on to talk about the study of the galaxies with radio telescopes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Asimov PP: 9/1989: "The True Rulers"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
I have always found the history of ancient Greece to be a gold mine of good stories, and for some reason, I remember them all.

Asimov then goes on for another page and 6/8ths, to tell the story of Themistocles, the Athenian leader who persuaded the city to invest in a fleet while they waited the attack of the Persians (which would culminate in the Battle of Salmis.)

He ends it with:
But my favorite Themistocles story is the one in which he pointed to his infant sun and said, "There is the ruler of Greece."

"That child," said someone in amazement.

"Certainly," said Themistocles. "for Athens rules GReece, and I rule athens, and my wife rules me me, and that child rules my wife."

So let's find out who rules the Earth.

Asimov then goes on to talk about ... bacteria.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Asimov PP: 10/1989: "The Nearest Star"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
You would think that a person like myself is immune to frustration where the writing of books is concerned. The total number of my published books stands, at the moment, at 459. Therefore, it might seem that there isn't a book that I would like to write that I haven't written.

Yet it's not so.

In the 1970s, I wrote a series of astronomy books for the general public, each one of them being full of tables and figures. The titles of four of them are:

1) Jupiter, the Largest Planet
3) Mars, the Red Planet
4) Saturn and beyond
5) Venus: Near Neighbor of the Sun

In these four, I managed to cover every planet in the Solar system and to say a few words about their satellites, the asteroids and the comets.

The second book in the series is Alpha Centaur, The Nearest Star.

Well, Alpha Centauri is not the nearest star. Our Sun is. So I was planning to write a sixth book in the series that would deal with the Sun, both to round out my description of the Solar system and to correct the mistitling of my book on Alpha Centauri. I even have a contract, somewhere, for that book.

But it never got written. Other books intervened. They still intervene.

The next best thing, then, is to write essays on the Sun for this series, and that I now plan to do.

And thus he segues into writing about the Sun.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Washington DC Ch 6

Government
Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress "exclusive jurisdiction" over the city. The District did not have an elected municipal government until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act. The Act devolved certain Congressional powers to a local government administered by an elected mayor, currently Vincent C. Gray, and the thirteen-member Council of the District of Columbia. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the council and intervene in local affairs.

Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and four at-large members represent the District as a whole. The council chair is also elected at-large. There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs traditionally wield a great deal of influence and the city government routinely takes their suggestions into careful consideration.

The mayor and council set local taxes and a budget, which must be approved by Congress. The Home Rule Act prohibits the District from imposing a commuter tax on non-residents who make up over 60% of the city's workforce. In addition, over 50% of property in the District is also exempt from taxation. The Government Accountability Office and other organizations have estimated that these revenue restrictions create a structural deficit in the city's budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year. While Congress typically provides larger grants to the District for federal programs such as Medicaid and the local justice system, analysts claim that the payments do not resolve the imbalance.

The District's local justice system is centered on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, whose judges are appointed by the President. The District's local courts, though operated by the federal government, are separate from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which only hear cases regarding federal law. The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia is also appointed by the President and is responsible for prosecuting both federal and local crimes. In addition to the District's own Metropolitan Police Department, many federal law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction in the city as well; most visibly the U.S. Park Police, founded in 1791.

The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America."Barry was elected mayor in 1978, serving three successive four-year terms, followed by a fourth term starting in 1995. That year, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending and rehabilitate the city government. Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998. His administration oversaw a period of greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses. The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.

Washington, D.C., observes all federal holidays. The District also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

Federal representation and taxation
Residents of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. They are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. The District has no representation in the United States Senate. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, D.C. residents are subject to all U.S. federal taxes. In the financial year 2007, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.4 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.

A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states. Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations and the featuring of the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates. There is evidence of nationwide approval for DC voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress. Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.

Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.

Education
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's 123 public schools.The number of students in DCPS steadily decreased for 39 years until 2009. In the 2010–11 school year, 46,191 students were enrolled in the public school system. DCPS has one of the highest-cost yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and student achievement.Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration made sweeping changes to the system by closing schools, replacing teachers, firing principals, and using private education firms to aid curriculum development.

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board monitors the 52 public charter schools in the city.[185] Due to the perceived problems with the traditional public school system, enrollment in public charter schools has steadily increased. As of fall 2010, D.C. charter schools had a total enrollment of about 32,000, a 9% increase from the prior year. The District is also home to 92 private schools, which enrolled approximately 18,000 students in 2008. The District of Columbia Public Library operates 25 neighborhood locations including the landmark Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

Private universities include American University (AU), the Catholic University of America (CUA), Gallaudet University, George Washington University (GW), Georgetown University (GU), Howard University, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The Corcoran College of Art and Design provides specialized arts instruction and other higher-education institutions offer continuing, distance and adult education. The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a public university providing undergraduate and graduate education. The District is known for its medical research institutions such as Washington Hospital Center and the Children's National Medical Center, as well as the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, the city is home to three medical schools and associated teaching hospitals at George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard universities.

Transportation
According to a 2010 study, Washington-area commuters spent 70 hours a year in traffic delays, which tied with Chicago for having the nation's worst road congestion. However, 37% of Washington-area commuters take public transportation to work, the second-highest rate in the country. An additional 12% of D.C. commuters walked to work, 6% carpooled, and 3% traveled by bicycle in 2010. A 2011 study by Walk Score found that Washington was the seventh-most walkable city in the country with 80% of residents living in neighborhoods that are not car dependent.

An extensive network of streets, parkways, and arterial avenues forms the core of the District's surface transportation infrastructure. Due to protests by local residents during the freeway revolts of the 1960s, much of the proposed interstate highway system through the middle of Washington was never built. Interstate 95, the nation's major east coast highway, therefore bends around the District to form the eastern portion of the Capital Beltway. The funds that had been dedicated for additional highway construction were instead redirected to the region's public transportation infrastructure. The interstate highways that do continue into Washington, including Interstate 66 and Interstate 395, both terminate shortly after entering the city.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the Washington Metro, the city's rapid transit system, as well as Metrobus. Both systems serve the District and its suburbs. Metro opened on March 27, 1976 and presently consists of 86 stations and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track. With an average of about one million trips each weekday, Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country. Metrobus serves over 400,000 riders each weekday, making it the nation's sixth-largest bus system. The city also operates its own DC Circulator bus system, which connects commercial areas within central Washington.

Union Station is the main train station in Washington, D.C., and handles approximately 70,000 people each day. It is Amtrak's second-busiest station with 4.6 million passengers annually and serves as the southern terminus for the Northeast Corridor and Acela Express routes. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station. Expansion plans announced in 2011 will make Union Station the city's primary intercity bus transit center.

Three major airports serve the District. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located across from downtown Washington in Arlington, Virginia and has its own Metrorail station. Given its proximity to the city, Reagan National has extra security precautions required by the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone. Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, located 26.3 miles (42.3 km) west of the District in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is located 31.7 miles (51.0 km) northeast of the District in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

An expected 32% increase in transit usage within the District by 2030 has spurred construction of a new DC Streetcar system to interconnect the city's neighborhoods. Construction has also started on an additional Metro line that will connect Washington to Dulles airport. The District and adjacent Arlington County launched Capital Bikeshare in September 2010; it is currently one of the largest bicycle sharing systems in the country with over 1,100 bicycles and 110 stations. Marked bicycle lanes currently exist on 48 miles (77 km) of streets and the city plans to further expand the network.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Washington DC pt 5

Performing arts and music

Washington, D.C., is a national center for the arts. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Washington Ballet. The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded each year to those in the performing arts who have contributed greatly to the cultural life of the United States. Other prominent institutions such as the National Theatre, the Warner Theatre, and DAR Constitution Hall host live performances from around the country. The historic Ford's Theatre, site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, continues to operate as a functioning performance space as well as museum.



The Marine Barracks near Capitol Hill houses the United States Marine Band; founded in 1798, it is the country's oldest professional musical organization. American march composer and Washington-native John Philip Sousa led the Marine Band from 1880 until 1892. Founded in 1925, the United States Navy Band has its headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard and performs at official events and public concerts around the city.



Washington has a strong local theater tradition. Founded in 1950, Arena Stage achieved national attention and spurred growth in the city's independent theater movement. In 2010, Arena Stage opened its newly renovated home in Southwest D.C., which has become a centerpiece of the city's emerging waterfront area.


Organizations such as the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Penn Quarter, as well as the Studio Theatre and the Source Theatre on 14th Street NW, feature classical and new American plays. The GALA Hispanic Theatre, now housed in the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, was founded in 1976 and is a National Center for the Latino Performing Arts.


The U Street Corridor in Northwest D.C., known as "Washington's Black Broadway", is home to institutions like Bohemian Caverns and the Lincoln Theatre, which hosted music legends such as Washington-native Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. Other jazz venues feature modern blues, such as Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan and Blues Alley in Georgetown. Washington has its own native music genre called go-go; a post-funk, percussion-driven flavor of R&B that blends live sets with relentless dance rhythms. The most accomplished practitioner was D.C. band leader Chuck Brown, who brought go-go to the brink of national recognition with his 1979 LP Bustin' Loose.


The District is an important center for indie culture and music in the United States. The label Dischord Records, formed by Ian MacKaye, was one of the most crucial independent labels in the genesis of 1980s punk and eventually indie rock in the 1990s. Washington's indie label history includes TeenBeat, Simple Machines, and ESL Music among others. Modern alternative and indie music venues like The Black Cat and the 9:30 Club near U Street bring popular acts to smaller more-intimate spaces.


Media

Washington, D.C., is a prominent center for national and international media. The Washington Post, founded in 1877, is the oldest and most-read local daily newspaper in Washington.It is probably most notable for its coverage of national and international politics and for exposing the Watergate scandal. "The Post", as it is popularly called, had the sixth-highest print circulation of all news dailies in the country in 2010.



The Washington Post Company has a daily free commuter newspaper called the Express, which summarizes events, sports and entertainment, as well as the Spanish-language paper El Tiempo Latino. Local dailies The Washington Times and The Washington Examiner as well as the alternative weekly Washington City Paper also have substantial readership in the Washington area.


Some community and specialty papers focus on neighborhood and cultural issues, including the weekly Washington Blade and Metro Weekly, which focus on LGBT issues; the Washington Informer and The Washington Afro American, which highlight topics of interest to the black community; and neighborhood newspapers published by The Current Newspapers. Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, Politico and Roll Call newspapers focus exclusively on issues related to Congress and the federal government. Other publications based in Washington include the National Geographic magazine and political publications such as The New Republic and Washington Monthly.


The Washington Metropolitan Area is the ninth-largest television media market in the U.S. with two million homes (approximately 2% of the U.S. population). Several media companies and cable television channels have their headquarters in the area, including C-SPAN; Black Entertainment Television (BET); Radio One; the National Geographic Channel; Smithsonian Networks; National Public Radio (NPR); Travel Channel (in Chevy Chase, Maryland); Discovery Communications (in Silver Spring, Maryland); and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (in Arlington, Virginia). The headquarters of Voice of America, the U.S. government's international news service, is located near the Capitol in Southwest Washington.


Sports

Washington is one of 12 cities in the United States with teams from all four major professional men's sports and is home to one major professional women's team. The Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association), the Washington Capitals (National Hockey League), and the Washington Mystics (Women's National Basketball Association), play at the Verizon Center in Chinatown. Nationals Park, which opened in Southeast D.C. in 2008, is home to the Washington Nationals (Major League Baseball). D.C. United (Major League Soccer) plays at RFK Stadium. The Washington Redskins (National Football League) play at nearby FedExField in Landover, Maryland.


Current D.C. teams have won a combined ten professional league championships: the Washington Redskins has won five; D.C. United has won four (the most in MLS history); and the Washington Wizards (then the Washington Bullets) has won a single championship.


Other professional and semi-professional teams in Washington include: the Washington Kastles (World TeamTennis); the Washington D.C. Slayers (American National Rugby League); the Baltimore Washington Eagles (USAFL); the D.C. Divas (Independent Women's Football League); and the Potomac Athletic Club RFC (Rugby Super League). The William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park hosts the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Washington is also home to two major annual marathon races: the Marine Corps Marathon, which is held every autumn, and the Rock 'n' Roll USA Marathon held in the spring. The Marine Corps Marathon began in 1976 is sometimes called "The People's Marathon" because it is the largest marathon that does not offer prize money to participants.


The District's four NCAA Division I teams have a broad following. The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team is the most notable and also plays at the Verizon Center. Since 2008, the District has hosted an annual college football bowl game at RFK Stadium, now called the Military Bowl. The D.C. area is home to one regional sports television network, Comcast SportsNet (CSN), based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Asimov PP: 11/1989: "Massing the Sun"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
When I was young, I read a great deal of poetry. Partly, that was because poetry was pushed at me in school. (I don't know if it is anymore, but I certainly hope it is.) And partly it was because I didn't know any better. My immigrant parents, as I have frequently explained, did not know enough about English literature to guide my reading, so I read everything. I even read stuff like poetry, because no one told me I was supposed to hate it.

In any case, I remember much of the poetry I read in those days because I have always had trouble forgetting anything (except things that are vital, like the instructions my dear wife, Janet, gives me, in her hopeless attempt to make me live forever.) And some of the poetry has persisted in coloring my view of the world even today.

For instance, there is a poem by Francis William Bourdillon (I won't lie to you - I had to look up his name), who wrote a short poem, of which the first verse goes as follows:

The night has a thousand eyes
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

Nothing I have read, either in literature or in science, has given me so unfailing an appreciation of the importance of the Sun as those four lines.

As a result, I was not the least surprised to find, a little later in my youth, that the first monotheist we know of in ordinary secular history, who was the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton (reigning 1372-1362 BC) chose the Sun as the one supreme god. (Good choice, Akhenaton, I thought. Very logical.)

So I will continue with my discussion of the Sun.

And with that, Asimov segues into his discussion of, "How heavy is the sun" - and explains the difference between "mass" and "weight".

And as an aside, here's the rest of that poem:
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
by Francis William Bourdillon


The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying of the sun.

The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Washington DC, Part 4

Economy
Washington has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs. The gross state product of the District in 2010 was $103.3 billion, which would rank it No. 34 compared to the 50 U.S. states. The gross product of the Washington Metropolitan Area was $425 billion in 2010, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan economy in the United States. As of June 2011, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 6.2%; the second-lowest rate among the 49 largest metro areas in the nation. The District of Columbia itself had an unemployment rate of 9.8% during the same time period.

In 2008, the federal government accounted for about 27% of the jobs in Washington, D.C. This is thought to immunize Washington to national economic downturns because the federal government continues operations even during recessions. However, as of January 2007, federal employees in the Washington area comprised only 14% of the total U.S. government workforce. Many organizations such as law firms, independent contractors (both defense and civilian), non-profit organizations, lobbying firms, trade unions, industry trade groups, and professional associations have their headquarters in or near D.C. to be close to the federal government.

The District has growing industries not directly related to government, especially in the areas of education, finance, public policy, and scientific research. Georgetown University, George Washington University, Washington Hospital Center, Children's National Medical Center and Howard University are the top five non-government-related employers in the city as of 2009. According to statistics compiled in 2011, four of the largest 500 companies in the country were located in the District.

Washington became the leader in foreign real estate investment in 2009, ahead of both London and New York City, in a survey of the top 200 global development companies. In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked D.C. among the top ten areas in the nation favorable to business expansion. Despite the national economic crisis and housing price downturn, Washington ranked second on the Forbes list of the best long-term housing markets in the country.

Historic sites and museums
The National Mall is a large, open park in downtown Washington between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. Given its prominence, the mall is often the location of political protests, concerts, festivals, and presidential inaugurations. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier are located near the center of the mall, south of the White House. Also located on the mall are the National World War II Memorial at the east end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that originated as gifts from the nation of Japan. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, George Mason Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the District of Columbia War Memorial are located around the Tidal Basin.

The National Archives houses thousands of documents important to American history including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Located in three buildings on Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress is the largest library complex in the world with a collection of over 147 million books, manuscripts, and other materials. The United States Supreme Court Building was completed in 1935; before then, the court held sessions in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol.

The Smithsonian Institution is an educational foundation chartered by Congress in 1846 that maintains most of the nation's official museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government partially funds the Smithsonian, thus making its collections open to the public free of charge. The most visited of the Smithsonian museums in 2010 was the National Air and Space Museum located on the National Mall. Other Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries located on the mall are: the National Museum of Natural History; the National Museum of African Art; the National Museum of American History; the National Museum of the American Indian; the Sackler and Freer galleries, which both focus on Asian art and culture; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Arts and Industries Building; the S. Dillon Ripley Center; and the Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as "The Castle"), which serves as the institution's headquarters.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are located in the same building, the Donald W. Reynolds Center, near Washington's Chinatown. The Reynolds Center is also known as the Old Patent Office Building. The Renwick Gallery is officially part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum but is located in a separate building near the White House. Other Smithsonian museums and galleries include: the Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington; the National Postal Museum near Union Station; and the National Zoo in Woodley Park.

The National Gallery of Art, located on the National Mall near the Capitol, features works of American and European art. The gallery and its collections are owned by the U.S. government but are not a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The National Building Museum, which occupies the former Pension Building near Judiciary Square, was chartered by Congress as a private institution to host exhibits on architecture, urban planning, and design.

There are many private art museums in the District of Columbia, which house major collections and exhibits open to the public such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the largest private museum in Washington; and The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, the first museum of modern art in the United States. Other private museums in Washington include the Newseum, the O Street Museum Foundation, the International Spy Museum, the National Geographic Society Museum, and the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum located near the National Mall maintains exhibits, documentation, and artifacts related to the Holocaust.

Asimov PP 12/1989: "What Are Little Stars Made Of?"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
My dear wife, Janet, and I have a small ritual that consists of tracking each other. We are almost always together, but occasionally one or the other of us is forced to venture out into the wide world alone. Since we grow uneasy if we are at opposite ends of the apartment, you can well imagine that this separation is traumatic.

First, there are the preliminary anxious injunctions about "being careful" and references to madcap traffic, falling cornices, and dubious bystanders. Then, when either of us gets to where he or she is going, a phone call reporting safe arrival is considered de rigeur. And finally, an estimate of the return time having been made, we know when to put are worry machines into high gear. So far, I must say, nothing has happened to either of us, but each new time is a new risk.

Janet is particularly good at this and manages to begin being concerned about half an hour before the time I have set for my return. I sometimes miss because I may get involved in my writing, and when that happens, I often, quite literally, don't know what time it is.

Janet, as it happens, goes out on many Monday evenings to meetings at her psychoanalytic institute, and invariably comes home between nine and nine-fifteen.

Then came one Monday when I was busily involved at the word processor and I happened to look at my watch and notice that it was 10 pm. Janet had not yet returned, but I had forgotten about that. What clicked in my mind was that it was time for "Newharrt," one of my favorite TV shows, so I turned it on.

At 10:05 pm Janet returned, having been kept late by some sort of prolonged discussion at the Institute, and in a semi-frenzy, thinking that I was half-dead with worry, she was about to apologize feverishly when she noticed that my eyes were on the TV screen and that I was waving to her absently.

She said, rather sharply, "Weren't you worried?"

I'm an old hand at the marriage game, of course, so I knew better than to admit I had lost track of time. I said, indignantly, "Of course, I was worried/ Fearfuylly worried. Desperately worried."

"And what were you going to do about it," she wanted to know.

"I was going to call the institute, ask where you were, and if you were still there, I was going to come down and get you."

She said, "When were you going to do that?"

And I said, pointing to the TV, "Just as soon as "Newhart" was finished."

Fortunately, Janet has a sense of humor, so she burst into laughter and said she was glad to know her place in the scheme of things.

Well, after the two previous essays, I am still trying to place the Sun in the scheme of things, so let's continue.

Asimov then goes on to continue to talk about how the solar system and how information about the various planets was discovered.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Washington DC, Part 3

Architecture

The architecture of Washington varies greatly. Six of the top 10 buildings in the American Institute of Architects' 2007 ranking of "America's Favorite Architecture" are located in the District of Columbia: the White House; the Washington National Cathedral; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; the United States Capitol; the Lincoln Memorial; and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The neoclassical, Georgian, gothic, and modern architectural styles are all reflected among those six structures and many other prominent edifices in Washington. Notable exceptions include buildings constructed in the French Second Empire style such as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.



Outside downtown Washington, architectural styles are even more varied. Historic buildings are designed primarily in the Queen Anne, Châteauesque, Richardsonian Romanesque, Georgian revival, Beaux-Arts, and a variety of Victorian styles. Rowhouses are especially prominent in areas developed after the Civil War and typically follow Federalist and late Victorian designs.



Since Georgetown was established before the city of Washington, the neighborhood features the District's oldest architecture. Georgetown's Old Stone House was built in 1765, making it the oldest-standing original building in the city. The majority of current homes in the neighborhood, however, were not built until the 1870s and reflect late Victorian designs of the period. Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is more distinct from the neighborhood and features a mix of Romanesque and Gothic Revival architecture. The Ronald Reagan Building is the largest building in the District with a total area of approximately 3.1 million square feet (288,000 m2).


Demographics

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the District's population was 617,996 on July 1, 2011, a 2.7% increase since the 2010 United States Census. The increase continues a growth trend since 2000, following a half-century of population decline. The city was the 24th most populous place in the United States as of 2010. According to data from 2009, commuters from the suburbs increase the District's daytime population to over one million people. If the District were a state it would rank 50th in population, ahead of Wyoming.


The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the District and surrounding suburbs, is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States with approximately 5.6 million residents as of the 2010 Census. When the Washington area is included with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area had a population exceeding 8.5 million residents in 2010, the fourth-largest combined statistical area in the country.


According to the 2010 Census, the population of Washington, D.C., was 50.7% Black or African American, 38.5% White, 3.5% Asian, and 0.3% Native American. Individuals from other races made up 4.1% of the District's population while individuals from two or more races made up 2.9%. In addition, Hispanics of any race made up 9.1% of the District's population. About 16% of D.C. residents were age 18 or younger as of 2010; lower than the U.S. average of 24%. However, at 34 years old, the District also had the lowest median age when compared to the 50 states. As of 2010, there were an estimated 81,734 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C. Major sources of immigration include individuals from El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with a concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.


Unique among cities with a high percentage of African Americans, Washington has had a significant black population since the city's creation. This is partly a result of the manumission of slaves in the Upper South after the American Revolutionary War. The free black population in the region climbed from an estimated 1% before the war to 10% by 1810. By 1860, approximately 80% of the city's 11,000 African American residents were free persons. Black residents composed about 30% of the District's total population between 1800 and 1940.


Washington's African American population reached a peak of 70% by 1970. Since then, however, the percentage of black residents has steadily declined due to many African Americans leaving the city for the surrounding suburbs. At the same time, the city's white population has steadily increased, due in part to the effects of gentrification in many of Washington's traditionally African American neighborhoods. This is evident in an 11.5% decrease in the black population and a 31.4% increase in the non-Hispanic white population since 2000. Even still, Washington, D.C., is a top destination for African American professionals who are moving to the area in a "New Great Migration."


Researchers using data from the 2010 Census revealed that there were 4,822 same-sex couples in the District of Columbia, about 2% of total households. The city council passed legislation in 2009 authorizing same-sex marriage and the District began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010.


A report published in 2007 found that about one-third of District residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to immigrants who are not proficient in English. In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, 50% of D.C. residents have at least a four-year college degree. In 2006, D.C. residents had a personal income per capita of $55,755, higher than any of the 50 U.S. states. However, 19% of residents were below the poverty level in 2005, higher than any state except Mississippi. According to data from 2008, more than half of District residents identify as Christian: 28% of residents are Baptists, 13% are Roman Catholic, and 31% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice other faiths make up 6% of the population and 18% do not adhere to a religion.


Over 90% of D.C. residents have health insurance coverage; the second-highest rate in the nation. This is due in part to city programs that help provide insurance to low-income individuals who do not qualify for other types of coverage. A 2009 report found that at least 3% of District residents have HIV or AIDS, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes as a "generalized and severe" epidemic.


Crime

During the violent crime wave of the early 1990s, Washington, D.C., was known as the murder capital of the United States and often rivaled New Orleans in the number of homicides. The number of murders peaked in 1991 at 479, but the level of violence declined drastically in the 1990s. By 2011, the annual murder count in the city had declined to 108, the lowest total since 1963. In total, reports of violent crimes and property crimes have both declined by half since 1993.


Like most large cities, crime is highest in areas associated with illegal drugs and gangs. A 2010 study found that 5% of city blocks contributed to over one-quarter of the District's total crime. The more affluent neighborhoods of Northwest Washington are typically safe, but reports of violent crime increase in poorer neighborhoods generally concentrated in the eastern portion of the city. Approximately 60,000 residents are ex-convicts.


Many neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Logan Circle are becoming safer and vibrant. However, incidents of robberies and thefts have remained higher in these areas due to increased nightlife activity and greater numbers of affluent residents. While instances of property crime remain high, reports are still half the level cited during the mid-1990s, and the patterns of theft continue to disperse to the north and east of downtown.


On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the city's 1976 handgun ban violated the Second Amendment right to gun ownership. However, the ruling does not prohibit all forms of gun control; laws requiring firearm registration remain in place, as does the city's assault weapon ban.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Asimov PP 1/1990: "Hot, Cold and Con Fusion"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
My dear wife, Janet, is, for some reason, incredibly solicitous over my well-being. If there's a single cloud in the sky, it's umbrella time. If a mist has faintly bedewed the streets, I must slip into my rubbers. If the temperature drops below seventy, on goes my fur hat. I won't even mention the close watch kept on my diet, the inquisitional cros-examination at the slightest cough, and so on.

You may suppose that I am very grateful for all this care. I put it up to any husband in similar straits. "Are you grateful?"

I thought not.

In fact, I complain a great deal about the matter, and I can be very eloquent, too, when I feel aggrieved. And do I get sympathy?

I do not.

To all my complaints, all my friends and acquaintances look at me coldly and say, "But that's because she loves you."

You have no idea how irritating that is.

So one time recently I was in a limousine being ferried a moderate distance to give a talk. The driver was a foreigner of some sort, who drove with perfect accuracy, and who was clearly intelligent, but he had only a sketchy command of English. Being aware of this, he took the trouble to practice his English on me and I answered carefully and with good enunciation so that he might learn.

At one point, he looked at the smiling sunshine, felt the mild breeze, enjoyed the sight of a nearby park, and said, "It - is-vair byootiful - day."

At this, my sense of grievance rose high and I said, in my normal manner of speaking, "Yes, it is. And so why did my wife make me take an umbrella?" And I raised the offending instrument and waived it.

Whereupon the driver, choosing his words carefully, said, "But your -wife-she lahv you."

And I sank back defeated. The conspiracy was cross-cultural.

Which, believe it or not, brings me to the subject of the present essay.

Asimvo then goes on to talk about - eventually - cold fusion.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Washington DC, Part 2

Geography
The District has a total area of 68.3 square miles (177 km2), of which 61.4 square miles (159 km2) is land and 6.9 square miles (18 km2) (10.16%) is water. It is no longer 100 square miles (260 km2) due to the retrocession of the southern portion of the District back to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. The city is therefore surrounded by the states of Maryland to the southeast, northeast, and northwest and Virginia to the southwest.

Washington has three major natural flowing streams: the Potomac River and its tributaries the Anacostia River and Rock Creek. Tiber Creek, a natural watercourse that once passed through the National Mall, was fully enclosed underground during the 1870s. The creek also formed a portion of the now-filled Washington City Canal, which allowed passage through the city to the Anacostia River from 1815 until the 1850s. The present Chesapeake and Ohio Canal starts in Georgetown and was used during the 19th century to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac River, located upstream (northwest) of Washington.

The highest natural elevation in the District of Columbia is 409 feet (125 m) above sea level at Fort Reno Park in northwest Washington. The lowest point is sea level at the Potomac River. The geographic center of Washington is located near the intersection of 4th and L Streets NW.[ Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on a reclaimed swamp but wetlands did cover areas along the water. The United States government owns about 23% of the land in the District; lower than the percentage of federal lands in 12 states.

The District has 7,464 acres of parkland, about 19% of the city's total area and the second-highest percentage among high-density U.S. cities. The large percentage of city land dedicated to park areas contributes to a high urban tree canopy coverage of 35%. The National Park Service manages most of the city's parkland, including Rock Creek Park, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall and Constitution Gardens, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Fort Dupont Park, Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Anacostia Park. The only significant area of natural habitat not managed by the National Park Service is the U.S. National Arboretum, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Climate
Washington is located in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen: Cfa) and exhibits four distinct seasons. Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. The District is located in plant hardiness zone 8a near downtown, and zone 7b elsewhere in the city, indicating a temperate climate.

Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 14.7 inches (37 cm). Winter temperatures average around 38 °F (3.3 °C) from mid-December to mid-February. Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 79.2 °F (26.2 °C) and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause medium to moderate personal discomfort. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.

Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast. Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, but are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location. Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.

The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918, while the lowest recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899. During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 90 °F (32.2 °C) and 64 nights at or below freezing.

Planned City
Washington, D.C., is a planned city. In 1791, President Washington commissioned Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant to design the new capital. A French-born architect and city planner, L'Enfant first arrived in the colonies as a military engineer during the American Revolutionary War. The L'Enfant Plan for Washington featured broad streets and avenues radiating out from rectangles, providing room for open space and landscaping. He based his design on plans of cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Karlsruhe, and Milan brought from Europe by Thomas Jefferson in 1788. L'Enfant's design also envisioned a garden-lined "grand avenue" approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length and 400 feet (120 m) wide in the area that is now the National Mall.

In March 1792, President Washington dismissed L'Enfant due to his insistence on micromanaging the city's planning, which had resulted in conflicts with the three commissioners appointed to supervise the capital's construction. Andrew Ellicott, who had worked with L'Enfant surveying the city, was then tasked with completing the design. Though Ellicott made revisions to the original plans, including changes to some street patterns, L'Enfant is still credited with the overall design of the city.

By the start of the 20th century, L'Enfant's vision of a capital with open parks and grand national monuments had become marred by slums and randomly placed buildings, including a railroad station on the National Mall. In 1900, Congress formed a joint committee, headed by Senator James McMillan, charged with beautifying Washington's ceremonial core. What became known as the McMillan Plan was finalized in 1901. It included the re-landscaping of the Capitol grounds and the Mall, constructing new federal buildings and monuments, clearing slums, and establishing a new citywide park system. Architects recruited by the committee kept much of the city's original layout, and their work is thought to have largely preserved L'Enfant's intended design.

By law, Washington's skyline is low and sprawling. The first building height restrictions in D.C. were put in place following the construction of the twelve-story Cairo Apartment Building in 1894. The Heights of Buildings Act of 1910 amended the restrictions to allow buildings that are no taller than the width of the adjacent street, plus 20 feet (6.1 m). Despite popular belief, no law has ever limited buildings to the height of the United States Capitol or the 555-foot (169 m) Washington Monument, which remains the District's tallest structure. City leaders have criticized the height restriction as a primary reason why the District has limited affordable housing and traffic problems caused by urban sprawl.

The District is divided into four quadrants of unequal area: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The axes bounding the quadrants radiate from the U.S. Capitol building. All road names include the quadrant abbreviation to indicate their location, and house numbers are assigned based on the approximate number of blocks away from the Capitol. In most of the city, the streets are set out in a grid pattern with east–west streets named with letters (e.g., C Street SW) and north–south streets with numbers (e.g., 4th Street NW).

The City of Washington was bordered by Boundary Street to the north (renamed Florida Avenue in 1890), Rock Creek to the west, and the Anacostia River to the east. The city's streets were extended throughout the District starting in 1893,[68] and Georgetown's streets were renamed in 1895. Some streets are particularly noteworthy, such as Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House to the U.S. Capitol and K Street, which houses the offices of many lobbying groups. Washington hosts 176 foreign embassies, many of which are located on a section of Massachusetts Avenue informally known as Embassy Row.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Asimov PP 2/1990: "Business as Usual"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.

Note I post these PP every other day.
I love giving talks, but I can't give as many as I would like. For one thing, the business of my life is writing, and I cannot sacrifice too much writing time for the pleasure of talking-even at the high lecture fees I routinely extort. In the second place, I don't like to travel, so I don't accept engagements that are more than a few hours distance from my home, especially in the winter months.

But if the talk is close to home and comes at a time when I can spare an evening, I refuse to turn it down simply because I don't know anything about the subject. After all, I can always brush up on it quickly, and since I like to think of myself as a person of infinite resource and sagacity, I am always sure that I can think of some approach I can handle.

Thus, it came about earlier this year that I was asked to give a talk on the future of "smart cards."

I drew a complete blank. Smart cards?

However, the fee was right, the place was right, the time was right, so I had no intention of refusing. I wrote the people a letter and said, "I'll be glad to oblige, but tell me-What are smart cards? Card that play poker by themselves?"

I was promptly deluged with material on the subject. Smart cards are objects very much the size and shape of credit cards, but are so thoroughly computerized that they carry enormous amounts of information about you and your affairs and can greatly simplify the financial transactions you might wish to undertake.

That was a relief. After all, I had written a brief essay on the subject back in 1975, strictly out of my head. I just didn't know the things were called "smart cards". So I gave the talk with confidence and it was very successful, I'm glad to say.

In the process, though, I had to do some thinking along lines I had not ppreviously dealt with much, and I would like to share some of those thoughts with you, for what they're worth.

Asimov then goes on to talk about the history of the development of money.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Capitals of Countries, USA. Pt 1 - HIstory

Asimov was a polymath, so should you be. New feature: Capitals of all the countries of the world.

WASHINGTON DC:
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a federal district to become the national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution. The District is therefore not a part of any U.S. state. It was formed from land along the Potomac River donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia; however, the Virginia portion was returned by Congress in 1846.


A new capital city named after George Washington was founded in 1791 to the east of the preexisting port of Georgetown. Congress consolidated the City of Washington, Georgetown, and the remaining unincorporated area within the District under a single municipal government in 1871. The city shares its name with the U.S. state of Washington, located on the country's Pacific coast.



Washington, D.C., had an estimated population of 617,996 in 2011. The city was the 24th most populous place in the United States as of 2010. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's population to over one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of nearly 5.6 million, the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the country.



The centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States are located in the District, as are many of the nation's monuments and museums. Washington, D.C., hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The headquarters of many other institutions such as trade unions, non-profit organizations, lobbying groups, and professional associations are also located in the city.



The District is governed by a locally elected mayor and 13-member city council. However, the United States Congress has supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. Residents therefore have less self-governance than residents of the U.S. states. The District has a non-voting, at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. D.C. residents could not vote in presidential elections until the ratification of the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1961.



History
An Algonquian-speaking people known as the Nacotchtank inhabited the area around the Anacostia River when the first Europeans arrived in the 17th century. However, Native American people had largely relocated from the area by the early 18th century.



In his "Federalist No. 43", published January 23, 1788, James Madison argued that the new federal government would need authority over a national capital to provide for its own maintenance and safety. Five years earlier, in an event known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, a mob of unpaid soldiers besieged the Congress while it was meeting in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania government refused requests to forcibly disperse the protesters, which emphasized the need for the national government to not rely on any state for its own security.



Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution therefore permits the establishment of a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States."However, the Constitution does not specify a location for the capital. In what later became known as the Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson came to an agreement that the federal government would pay each state's remaining Revolutionary War debts in exchange for establishing the new national capital in the Southern United States.



On July 16, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital to be located on the Potomac River, the exact area to be selected by President George Washington. Formed from land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, the initial shape of the federal district was a square measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2).



Two preexisting settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown founded in 1751, and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749. During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants, including Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the borders of the federal district and placed boundary stones at every mile point. Many of the stones are still standing.



A new "federal city" was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac, to the east of the established settlement at Georgetown. On September 9, 1791, the three commissioners charged with overseeing the capital's construction named the city in honor of President Washington. The federal district was named Columbia, which was a poetic name for the United States in use at that time. Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.



Shortly after arriving in the new capital, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1801, which officially organized the District of Columbia and placed the entire territory under the exclusive control of the federal government. Further, the unincorporated area within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west. After the passage of this Act, citizens located in the District were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, which therefore ended their representation in Congress.



On August 24–25, 1814, in a raid known as the Burning of Washington, British forces invaded the capital during the War of 1812, following the Battle of York. The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack. Most government buildings were quickly repaired, but the Capitol, which was at the time largely under construction, was not completed in its current form until 1868.



In the 1830s, the District's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress. Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade and residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the District, further depressing the economy. As a result, Alexandrians petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the District; a process known as retrocession.



The state legislature voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria and on July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that had been ceded by Virginia. Therefore, the District's current area consists only of land donated by Maryland. Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, though not slavery itself.



The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to notable growth in the District's population due to the expansion of the federal government and a large influx of freed slaves. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862, which ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1868, Congress granted male African American residents of the District the right to vote in municipal elections.



By 1870, the District's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents. Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation. The situation was so bad that some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to consider such a proposal.



Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and a created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia.President Grant appointed Alexander Robey Shepherd to the new position of governor in 1873. Shepherd authorized large-scale municipal projects, which greatly modernized the city. However, the governor spent three times the money that had been budgeted for capital improvements, which ultimately bankrupted the District. In 1874, Congress replaced the territorial government with an appointed three-member Board of Commissioners.



The city's first motorized streetcars began service in 1888 and spurred growth in areas of the District beyond the City of Washington's original boundaries. In 1895, Washington formally annexed Georgetown, which until then had maintained a nominal separate identity. With a consolidated government and the transformation of rural areas within the District into urban neighborhoods, the entire city eventually took the name Washington, D.C.



Increased federal spending as a result of New Deal legislation in the 1930s led to the construction of new government buildings, memorials, and museums in Washington. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital; by 1950, the District's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents. The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1961, granting the District three votes in the Electoral College for the election of President and Vice President, but still no voting representation in Congress.



After the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in the District, primarily in the U Street, 14th Street, 7th Street, and H Street corridors, centers of black residential and commercial areas. The riots raged for three days until over 13,600 federal troops managed to stop the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not complete until the late 1990s.


In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and city council for the District. In 1975, Walter Washington became the first elected and first black mayor of the District.


On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed the plane into the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia. United Airlines Flight 93, believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers tried to recover control of the plane from hijackers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Asimov PP 3/1990: "Smashing the Sky"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.

Note I post these PP every other day.
When I was a very young lad-I couldn't have been more than seven at the time-I found a map of Greater New York. I had never seen a map before and I hadn't the faintest notion what it was.

There were curious shapes, and there were lines crossing here and there, and small print everywhere. However, as I studied it with puzzlement and curiosity, I came across some fairly large print which said BROOKLYN.

That excited me. After all, I knew that we lived in Brooklyn. The common conversation I heard from grown-ups around me made it clear that Brooklyn was home. I therefore looked eagerly for other words that made sense, and eventually I discovered the names of streets that were familiar to me.

I remember the feeling of awe and gladness that I experienced. After all, my horizon was very close to my center, and I hadn't the faintest idea what lay beyond it. I therefore strongly suspected that the map I had which listed the streets I knew and many, many that I didn't know in dim faraway places like Queens and Manhattan must be a guide to the whole world-even the whole Universe.

I soon learned better, for in school, I eventually received geography books with maps covering more ground and I found that Brooklyn and even all the five boroughs of Greater New York are but an insignificant patch on an inconceivably larger world.

I felt the loss. For a brief period of time I'd thought I had a clear representation of everything there is, and that my knowledge was (at least potentially) total. To be introduced to misty distances plunged me into a rather fearful unknown.

From this introduction, Asimov segues into a discussion of how mankind learned about its existence in the universe - not as the center of the "musical spheres", with the sun circling us, but as us just an insignificant speck whirling around in a galaxy, which was whirling around other solar systems in other galaxies.

Asimov PP 4/1990: Worlds in Order

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.

Another long PP (in his later essays he did go on and on...) of which I'll share just the beginning:

"I was at a small science fiction convention here in Manhattan a month ago, as I write this, and I was accosted by a young writer. The following conversation took place:

WRITER: Dr. Asimov, I've been trying to write for a number of years and I've managed to sell a couple of items.

ASIMOV: Congratulations! I'm happy to hear it. Keep it up.

WRITER: I've used you as my model. I've read a lot about you and I thought that I would try to write the way you do. Easily. Copiously. All that sort of stuff.

ASIMOV: (cautiously) And have you managed it?

WRITER: No, I haven't. I have to keep thinking about what I write, and more thinking. And rewriting. And starting over. And getting stuck for periods of time.

ASIMOV (uneasily): I'm sorry

WRITER: (perceptibly angrier) I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. So I talked to other writers, and I found they all have the same trouble. Just like me. There's nothing wrong with me.

ASIMOV (relieved): I'm sure there isn't.

WRITER: (pointing his finger in a controlled fury): But I'll tell you what. There is something seriously wrong with you!

ASIMOV (wincing): If you had consulted me in the matter, I'd have told you that to begin with. (But he turned and stamped away).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

13 IASFM issues for sale

There's a website called Clockhard.com, presumably the equivalent, in a much smaller way, of Ebay, where someone is selling 13 issues of IASFM.

Check it out if interested:

http://clockhard.com/isaac-asimovs-science-fiction-magazines-13-in-all-1990/


Starting bid is $13


________
Note - this sale and this website has nothing to do with me. Just found it on the web and thought I'd share it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Asimov PP 5/1990: "Just Say "No"?"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.

This is a rather long, personal essay in which Asimov - a dedicated Democrat, castigates Reagan and blames him (and Republican policies) for the rise of unemployment and crime and drug use among African Americans and other legal immigrants. (Which I find interesting considering that Asimov came from a poor immigrant family, a Jewish family so facing plenty of discrimination - though not as bad as African Americans, admittedly - and by working their butts off they achieved middle classness without resort to drugs to make themselves feel better. (Except perhaps the drug of chocolate.) But then, perhaps drugs weren't "pushed" in the 1930s as they were in the 1960s onward....)

Indeed, the whole essay is series of "Personal Paragraph". I therefore will only share the first two paragraphs of the anecdote with which he opens the essay:

"Some weeks ago, I was attending a function in New York and a friend of mine from the sticks was present. He had once lived in New York City but was now living at a place I shall call Sleepy Hollow, because that is not its name.

My friend favored me with with a long tirade on the nastiness and unpleasantness of New York City-mentioning its noise, its dirt, its crowds-and contrasted it with the bucolic charm and rustic delights of Sleepy Hollow.

I listened with pained patience. I am used to people from outside the city who come to the city (in order to do something with their lives, since the chief intellectual activity in Sleepy Hollow is collecting a tan) and then throwing scorn upon it.

Afterward, though, I thought: Why should I listen I listen with pained patience and endure the insults? Why don't I answer with something like the followings--

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Scarecrow strike

From LiveMint Lounge: Scarecrow strike
In the introduction to an anthology of 1970s science fiction stories, Isaac Asimov wistfully says how much he envies anyone who is about to read John W. Campbell Jr’s masterpiece Who Goes There?for the first time. This high praise ensures that anyone who has read the introduction immediately flips to the back to Who Goes There?

Most fans of Matthew Reilly’s thriller novels will have exactly the same feeling when introducing the author’s works to new readers. How lucky you are, they think if not enunciate, that you are about to discover Shane Schofield and Jack West Jr and maghooks and statues made of meteorite fragments and secret army bases and underground treasure chambers and... That list is as limitless as Reilly’s irrepressible, and irresistible, imagination. Over a series of some dozen full-length novels, Reilly has perhaps created a subgenre that is uniquely his: the “cardiac arrest-inducing techno-thriller”.

His plots usually take little more than a page or so to start. Perhaps a top secret weapon has been stolen from a military base, or a head of state is being ambushed during a visit to a remote research facility. Think of these early chapters as the part of the roller coaster where you judder up the hill before being flung down the other side.

Reilly’s latest novel, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, begins with an all-but-abandoned Russian weapons base in the Arctic being taken over by a mysterious band of brigands called the Army of Thieves. Some miles away, but of course, our hero Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is testing new experimental weapons (how convenient), including a small weaponized robot (how much more convenient), with a small force of scientists and US marines (many of whom must and will die).

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves: By Matthew Reilly, Orion, 416 pages, ­£6.99 Rs 550)

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves: By Matthew Reilly, Orion, 416 pages, ­£6.99 Rs. 550)
A massive army of bad guys against a small troop of good guys is exciting enough for most thriller novels. But not for Reilly. So we also have a group of French special forces who have a score to settle with Scarecrow, and are looking for him in the Arctic in a large submarine, which is later obliterated in a relatively minor skirmish.

Everyone proceeds to kill everyone else. Sometimes several times over. Also, there are mutant polar bears and a doomsday weapon. Indeed, Reilly might be the first author to overlap the genres of mindless thriller and magical realism.

With around a dozen novels behind him, Reilly now has a formula down pat. All his action happens in remote locations, allowing him to blow up things willy-nilly without worrying about collateral damage. His locations are complex and vague and thus make necessary the crude line diagrams and maps that all his novels have in the beginning. Every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger that is unresolvable by the laws of this universe. The dialogue, an utterly unnecessary distraction here, is always revolting. But most of all, Reilly has developed the ability to co-opt the reader into surrendering every notion of credibility.

This surrender, you could say, is at the heart of all writing. And what Reilly has to offer makes this capitulation wonderfully worthwhile.

Matthew Reilly is by no means good writing. But it is awesome reading.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Asimov PP 6/1990: The Salt Producers

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.

"When I was young, in the far-off distant days before antibiotics, we had a home remedy for any cut, scrape, or abrasion. In order to prevent infection, we smeared the spot with tincture of iodine- that is, a solution of iodine in alcohol.

It was ground into me that iodine was the universal anti-infection treatment. It stung on application (ouch, ouch) but that was good for I always felt, as a child, that the stinging was a sign that all the germs were being killed.

But time has passed and home remedies have changed. My dear wife, Janet, is of course an MD, and so she is up on all the latest anti-infection stuff. Her greatest happiness in life is doctoring me for any minor problem I may have. (It's not my greatest happiness, but I love her dearly and am willing to endure the inconvenience if it will make her happy.) In any case, she plasters me with a variety of ointments and lotions and antibiotic creams.

However, in my medicine cabinet I insist on having a little bottle of tincture of iodine, and anytime I can hide a cut or abrasion from dear Janet's eagle eye, I smear it with iodine so that I can feel that healthy germ-killing sting.

And because I used it the other day for exactly that purpose (and was caught by Janet, who gave me Lecture 3A on the subject), I thought that, since I occasionally write an essay on one or another of the chemical elements, I ought to do one on iodine. Here goes--"

Applying Asimov’s laws of robotics to our lawless computers

From North Jersey.com: Applying Asimov’s laws of robotics to our lawless computers
By GENE NEWMAN
COLUMNIST
Print | E-mail

Sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov wrote the "Three Laws of Robotics" in 1942 for one of his short stories. I think it's high time they were amended to deal with current conditions.

Briefly, the first law states a robot may not cause a human to be injured by the robot's action or inaction. The second calls for a robot's complete obedience unless that conflicts with the first law and the third orders the robot to protect itself unless that conflicts with first or second law.

Those laws were all very good in 1942 when there weren't many real robots around, but today I watched a video of the first handshake by a human and a robot in space when Space Station Commander Dan Burbank shook with NASA's Robonaut, a cartoon-like version of a helmeted astronaut. When that six-foot-tall android reached out his big realistic mitt, I hoped he had nothing else in mind but a friendly shake. Remember the murderous HAL 9000 in the old Stanley Kubrick film?

Are Asimov's laws being programmed into all robot designs? I'm sure they're not governing those annoying telephone robots we all have to deal with. They've damaged my nervous system and my shouted commands are never obeyed.

Computers should also be covered by the three laws and their amendments. They are, after all, robots without appendages. My particular PC is also missing a heart and a conscience. Early computers were much more obedient and cordial. Our company had one that was twice as big as a refrigerator and performed calculations in a few seconds that took a lowly engineer several hours to complete. His name was SAM which stood for Solid-state Accelerated Mainframe. SAM was user friendly and politely asked the operator's name at each startup. I soon realized he was rather naïve and I began to sign in as Albert Einstein.

"Good morning, Albert Einstein," would be SAM's cheerful greeting when I sat down at the keyboard. It was a nice ego trip.

That was long ago when computers knew their place. Now we have to strengthen Asimov's laws before these monsters take over completely. For the first law, we should add that humans can come to harm in other ways than physical injury. Frustration, exasperation and aggravation should all be banned.

For the second law, don't let that obedience loophole stand as is. If a computer argues that obeying a command could prove harmful, we should get a plain English explanation. I also think we should drop the third law altogether. If a computer needs protection, we can provide it – or not.

‘Star Wars’: Ralph McQuarrie’s creative force remembered


rom Los Angeles Times (Hero Complex): ‘Star Wars’: Ralph McQuarrie’s creative force remembered
“Star Wars” is a persistent (and even relentless) presence in pop culture today, but in 1974 the Empire existed only in the imagination and writing of George Lucas. To get the expensive intergalactic project off the ground, though, the filmmaker knew he would need more proof of his vision — that’s when he hired artist Ralph McQuarrie to paint vivid dispatches from this far-away galaxy and its alien landscapes, strange warriors and memorable machines.

The collaboration bottled-up a rare sort of lightning and the echo of its thunder grew louder with the news that McQuarrie, 82, died Saturday after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. The passing put his legacy — both as a Jedi myth-pioneer and a titan of concept art –very much on the mind of illustrators, filmmakers and fans.

“You know what it’s like? It’s like George Martin and the Beatles,” said fantasy artist Tony DiTerlizzi, referring to the Fab Four and the studio producer who helped make the group the creative engine they became. “You kind of needed both of them.”

McQuarrie had fought in Korea, illustrated catalogs, and found success as a technical artist for Boeing by the time Lucas, a generation younger, asked him to paint scenes he could take to the studio to persuade them to fund “Star Wars.” After seeing McQuarrie’s paintings, Fox executives gave Lucas the green light for the film.

It was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration between the mastermind behind the space adventure films that would become a worldwide phenomenon and the artist who possessed the ability to find that world first and then paint it. McQuarrie sketched characters for Lucas, including C-3PO, R2-D2, the Stormtroopers, and even providing the mask that would become the defining characteristic of Darth Vader. Lucas referred to McQuarrie’s art as he made the original trilogy, using it as a blueprint on set.

“When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this,’ ” Lucas said a in statement.

McQuarrie never expected his paintings to find an audience beyond Lucas and his crew, said John Scoleri, who coauthored a book about McQuarrie’s art, but “Star Wars” fans fell in love with his art, and it found its way to posters, action figures and lunch boxes.

“So many people feel that Ralph’s work was the pulse of ‘Star Wars,’ ” Scoleri said. “He created from scratch what so many people since then have kind of taken for granted.”

McQuarrie became known among fans as the “first person to experience the world that George had had in his head,” said John Singh, an entertainment publicist who spent six years working at Lucasfilm.

“Ralph McQuarrie got to the heart and soul of what ‘Star Wars’ was,” Singh said. “The images that he created were so vibrant and filled with color and history. They weren’t story boards. They weren’t comics. They were art.”

(Lucasfilm)

His work with Lucas opened doors for McQuarrie across the film industry, creating concept art for the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. He won an Oscar for his work on “Cocoon,” and he worked on “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and even drew the now-famous illustration in the Bible that Indiana Jones opens in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But through all of it, it was “Star Wars” that remained closest to his heart.

“It gave him a chance to do something where he felt like he was in his element,” Scoleri said. “He was really doing that which he was born to do.”

McQuarrie also began illustrating book covers for Del Rey Books, the science-fiction and fantasy publisher home to the “Star Wars” novels as well as the likes of Philip K. Dick, Anne McCaffrey and Arthur C. Clarke. Michael Whelan, another Del Rey artist and perhaps the most popular fantasy illustrator alive, said McQuarrie’s work stood out because “it didn’t look cobbled together from his environment.”

“He brought a level of cinematic realism to science-fiction art,” Whelan said. “It didn’t look, as science-fiction illustration so often does, like things that exist in our world that have been slightly modified and placed in a phony environment, almost like something that was cut out and glued into an environment that already exists. Everything in the environment looked of-a-piece and fresh and made from the same cloth, so to speak. There’s a sense of ambient completeness to all his work. That seamless integration of fantasy and realism is something that really set his work apart from other people working in the field.”

McQuarrie illustrated two collections of Isaac Asimov’s short stories, “Robot Dreams” and “Robot Visions.” In his introduction to “Robot Dreams,” Asimov wrote that the cover illustration, which “humanizes a robot in a way I have never seen before,” inspired a story in the collection.

“For Isaac Asimov to compliment you on doing something involving robots, it’s one of those pinnacles that you just can’t quite top,” Scoleri said.

Despite his success, McQuarrie is best remembered by his peers as a humble man.

“He really was such a humble, self-effacing guy,” said Stephen Sansweet, former director of content management and fan relations adviser at Lucasfilm. Sansweet remembers being surprised by McQuarrie’s gentle, down-to-earth personality when they met for the first time in 1991. “Here in my eyes, and in the eyes of so many other Star Wars fans and artists who were inspired by him, he was this icon, this god, but he turns out to be this humble, ‘Oh yeah, well, you know, George hired me, and I did my best. It’s really cool to see some of my stuff out there.’”

Lucas praised his patience and humility, and Scoleri described him as “shy and private.”

“He seemed rather humble and not really fully aware of the impact that his work was going to have on the look of science fiction from his time onwards,” Whelan said.

Ralph McQuarrie. (Giles Hancock/Lucasfilm)

And what an impact it had. McQuarrie’s work paved the way for concept art as a career, inspired hundreds of young artists across film and print illustration fields, and continued to shape the “Star Wars” universe; the concept artists behind the “Star Wars” prequels based many designs on unused McQuarrie work from the first three films, as does “The Clone Wars” — the animated TV series, Sansweet said.

“He changed everything,” Whelan said. “In both his print illustrations and his movie work, there isn’t an artist I know working in the field who hasn’t studied his work minutely to glean whatever gold could be taken from the treasure trove of his work — the composition, the color, the sheer imaginativeness of his creations, the sense of realism to the sense of lighting and the form of the mechanical objects that he rendered — all of it all comes together in his work, and I think it held influence over everything that came afterwards. His influence can’t be overestimated, in my opinion.”

After several years of gathering McQuarrie’s art and stories, Scoleri visited McQuarrie and his wife at their Berkeley home in 2007 to show him the finished product: a limited-edition book featuring his work.

Scoleri remembers McQuarrie sitting in his dining room, flipping through the pages of his paintings and sketches.

“You know,” McQuarrie said, a smile forming on his face, “some of this isn’t too bad.”

– Noelene Clark

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Light Entertainment

The author of this blog post on 3D glasses doesn't reference Asimov in the body of the post, but just gives a thanks at the end to his essay collection, "The left hand of the electron."

From Area 42: Light Entertainment
My mind takes on a scientific spark,
As it would study light, seeks out the dark.

When I wrote that couplet, I was thinking about a girl; as men often do when they write couplets. But the indirect reference was to Sir Isaac Newton, who used to spend time in a darkened room, studying light.

This comes to mind because today I happened to look in a mirror while wearing a pair of “passive” 3D glasses (the grey kind, not colored, and without batteries). If you have a pair, you could put them on and try for yourself: look in a mirror, close one eye, then open that eye and close the other. You can only see the open eye! Whichever lens you look through is transparent grey, the other lens is black.

This happens because light rays can act like waves. “Whole” light waves wiggle up-down, left-right, and every angle in-between. But light can be polarized by blocking every wave angle but one. In passive 3D glasses, the plastic molecules line up in a grid. One lens only lets vertical (up-down) waves through, the other only horizontal (left-right) waves.

When you look in a mirror through 3D glasses, your open eye can only see polarized light if it matches the polarity of the lens you’re looking through. The light that illuminates your open eye passes through the same lens both ways, so of course it’s polarized the same. Your closed eye is illuminated too, but light from that side can’t get through both lenses, so the lens on that side looks black.

Why are the glasses polarized? This is how passive 3D TV works. In real life, your eyes see objects from slightly different angles, so you can estimate how far away objects are. A 3D movie is filmed from two different angles. Your TV displays the angles in alternation, polarizing images meant for one eye one way, and the other, the other. Each eye only sees images polarized the same as the lens on that side. Your brain sorts it all out and tells you you’re seeing a 3D movie.

I haven’t found details about how the TV image is polarized, but I bet it’s done with liquid crystal. Liquid crystal acts like a polarizing lens when a charge is applied to it. LCD TVs already use liquid crystals to form images against a white backlight. I assume passive 3D uses liquid crystals instead to polarize the display of a color LED image.

(Active 3D glasses, on the other hand, use liquid crystal shutter lenses to block each eye as the alternating images are shown. That’s why those glasses need batteries.)

In addition to plastics and liquid crystals, light can also be polarized by certain solid crystals, by reflections, and by the sky itself! For example, polarized sunglasses reduce glare because they are polarized to block reflections from horizontal surfaces.

Polarization was first noticed, but not understood, in a crystal called Iceland spar, a form of Calcite. Iceland spar’s crystals not only polarize light, but they refract light of different polarities at different angles, so you see double when you look through it. Because the sky is polarized, a piece of Iceland spar can be used to find the sun’s location in twilight or overcast. It is likely this is the “sunstone” referred to in Viking lore.

Iceland spar was one of the first clues to the nature of light. Light was once considered pure, even holy. (To imagine otherwise was heresy.) Color was thought to be an adulteration, something added to light by objects that it passed through or reflected from. Rainbows were deemed magical, or divine. Light could be bent (refracted), by passing through water or glass, but Iceland spar seemed to actually “break” light so it went in two directions at once!

It was color that led Newton to his darkened room. Telescopes of the day (all refractors) used simple lenses that also tended to break light, in this case blurring the image into different colors around the edges (“chromatic aberration”). Using a prism, Newton found that light could be broken clearly into a rainbow of colors, exactly the same colors and sequence as a rainbow. What’s more, Newton found that he could use another prism to recombine the “broken” beam of light into a pure white beam, just like the original. In this way Newton correctly deduced that the spirit of color, as it were, existed as part of light itself, not as an adulteration. This is why he used the word spectrum (Latin for ghost) to collectively name the colors of light.

Newton considered the idea that light existed as waves, like sound; with color, like pitch, consisting of various wavelengths: red longest, violet shortest. This is, of course, true. We now know “light” (electromagnetic) waves extend far beyond the visible spectrum, from the long-wave VLF pulses used to signal atomic submarines (and “atomic” clocks); to AM, shortwave, FM, and microwave radio signals; to infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light; and finally the shortest waves, X-rays and cosmic rays.

Newton solved chromatic aberration by using a curved mirror to collect and focus light; to this day, an all-reflecting telescope is called a Newtonian. But he never discovered the true nature of light. He gave up his wave theory because some experiments seemed to prove light behaved instead as “corpuscles” (photons). This, of course, is also true. But that’s another story!

[In addition to the websites linked above, thanks to Isaac Asimov's essay collection titled The Left Hand of the Electron (Dell, 1974).]