Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Electricity and Man by Isaac Asimov

The Newer York is a site that sells things. I'm a week late on this, but I thought I'd share it anyway. (Someone has already bought it.)

Electricity and Man by Isaac Asimov


This is a gem! Found in the depths of a government building, this small, rare book from 1972 was commissioned by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to explain why nuclear energy is the future. Renowned science fiction writer Isaac Asimov explains the U.S. relationship with energy, its history and its future.
Throughout the 45 pages he beautifully weaves and out of history, science, and opinion. Asimov provides a short-history on atomic energy scientists and their inventions and discoveries, explanations of oil and steam power, and finally a qualitative look at why nuclear is the answer. In light of recent events, with Fukushima and the climate change debates, this book contains some knowledge you need from a writer who can deliver.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

"It's not fair!" said Tom darkly

There have actually been two Tom Swifts - Tom Swift who appeared in the original books in the teens, and his son, Tom Swift Jr. who appeared in books in the 50s.

From "It's not fair!" said Tom darkly

Making his first appearance in 1910, Tom Swift is a young lad who is the central character in more than 100 books of American juvenile science fiction and adventure novels that emphasize science, invention and technology.

Several prominent figures, including Steve Wozniak and Isaac Asimov, have cited "Tom Swift" as an inspiration. Of particular interest is the fact that several inventions, including the taser, have been directly inspired by the fictional inventions ("TASER" is an acronym for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle")

The reason I’m blathering on about this now is my recent Truck-less Tracker Trucker Max column, which included a number of “What do you call a man who…” type jokes (and I use the word “joke” in its loosest sense). This reminded me of something called Tom Swifties. The idea was that the way in which Tom said things was often qualified, along the lines of "’The radio reception is much better now,’ said Tom ecstatically.”

This prompted a whole spate of spoof sayings along the lines of "’Pass me that saw,’ said Tom woodenly.” 



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Locus Photo and Ephemera Archive Project

Way back in April, I posted how Locus had opened up a Kickstarter project to digitize all its writings - including those written for them by Isaac Asimov.

They made more then double their goal.

Locus Photo and Ephemera Archive Project

Monday, November 19, 2012

"A Cult of Ignorance” by Isaac Asimov, 1980

From Aphelis: "A Cult of Ignorance” by Isaac Asimov, 1980
It’s hard to quarrel with that ancient justification of the free press: “America’s right to know.” It seems almost cruel to ask, ingenuously, ”America’s right to know what, please? Science? Mathematics? Economics? Foreign languages?”

None of those things, of course. In fact, one might well suppose that the popular feeling is that Americans are a lot better off without any of that tripe.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Newsweek: “A Cult of Ignorance” by Isaac Asimov, January 21, 1980, p. 19. PDF.

Isaac Asimov was a prolific author as well as a renowned scientist. He wrote many popular science books. I personally found out about him at a younger age through his highly regarded science-fiction novels. I grew up reading most of them.

The excerpt quoted above has been reproduced numerous time online. I thought I could produce a copy of the whole article which really is interesting in its entirety. The article is also listed in A Guide to Isaac Asimov’s Essays in the “Various Source” section. It appears with a mention signaling the fact that it was never republished in any collections.

Here’s another excerpt from the same article:

There are 200 million Americans who have inhabited schoolrooms at some time in their lives and who will admit that they know how to read (provided you promise not to use their names and shame them before their neighbors), but most decent periodicals believe they are doing amazingly well if they have circulations of half a million. It may be that only 1 per cent–or less―of American make a stab at exercising their right to know. And if they try to do anything on that basis they are quite likely to be accused of being elitists.

I contend that the slogan “America’s right to know” is a meaningless one when we have an ignorant population, and that the function of a free press is virtually zero when hardly anyone can read.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Obit: Paul Kurtz

From The Telegraph:  Paul Kurtz

A prolific author, Kurtz in 1973 drafted what came to be known as Humanist Manifesto II, in which he updated a 1933 document by addressing issues that the earlier tract, which was largely a critique of religion, had failed to address, among them nuclear arms, population control, racism and sexism. The document was signed by 120 intellectuals including Andrei Sakharov, Francis Crick and the novelist Isaac Asimov. In its best-known dictum, it declared: “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”
In 1980, in response to the rise of the religious Right, Kurtz founded the journal Free Inquiry. In its first issue he warned that “the reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions’’ had become a threat to intellectual freedom, human rights and scientific progress. Most traditional religions, he observed, have their origins in pre-urban nomadic and agricultural societies of the past and are not appropriate to the modern age.
In Eupraxophy: Living Without Religion (1989) Kurtz envisioned a secular moral alternative that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths.
He maintained that it was not only possible but easy to live a good life without religion . In a revised Humanist Manifesto 2000, endorsed by, among others, nine Nobel Prize winning scientists, Kurtz called on humankind to form a planetary system of government, including a World Parliament elected on the basis of population, a transnational environmental monitoring agency and a transnational system of taxation.
Ironically, though, secular humanism has proved just as disputatious and faction-prone as the religions it seeks to debunk, and Kurtz’s career was marked by a series of fallings-out with his fellow non-believers.
In 1978 he parted company, amid some acrimony, with the American Humanist Association, whose journal, Humanist, he had edited, and went on to found a series of organisations of his own, including the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (which became the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Centre for Inquiry.
But in 2010, after a series of disagreements, Kurtz resigned from the organisations he had founded saying that he disapproved of their “angry atheism”.
Paul Winter Kurtz was born in Newark, New Jersey, on December 21 1925 into a Jewish family of “intellectual freethinkers”. His father was a restaurateur. Paul left New York University to enlist in the US Army during the Second World War, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and entered the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau shortly after their liberation.
Returning to New York University, after graduation he took a doctorate in Philosophy at Columbia University, then taught the subject at several universities before moving, in 1965, to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he became a Professor of Philosophy, remaining until his retirement.
Active in the Humanist movement from the 1950s, in 1969 Kurtz created Prometheus Books, a publishing house that released works critical of religion that other publishers would not touch. His Committee for Skeptical Inquiry published the Skeptical Inquirer to combat “pseudoscience”, including UFO sightings, the paranormal and homoeopathy. In 2010 Kurtz founded a new Institute for Science and Human Values and the journal The Human Prospect.
His first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Claudine, and by a son and three daughters.
Paul Kurtz, born December 21 1925, died October 20 2012



Friday, November 16, 2012

Running numbers

From the Economist:  Running numbers

IN A short story called “Franchise”, Isaac Asimov dreamed up a computer that saved Americans from going to the polls. The machine was fed data, and interviewed one representative voter, before announcing a result that perfectly reflected what would have happened had the election been held. In real life Americans still form long lines to vote, but the fantasy is not so absurd. A group of data-hungry forecasters have recently become rather good at predicting what will happen on election day.
The most well-known of this bunch is Nate Silver, a blogger for the New York Times. After plugging this year’s data into his statistical model, Mr Silver predicted a large electoral-college victory for Barack Obama. The forecast was so out of step with the conventional wisdom that the race was tight that some accused him of liberal bias. In fact, he underestimated Mr Obama’s performance. But he got all 50 states right (compared with 49 in 2008).
Like Asimov’s computer, the soothsayers analyse reams of data, but they do not settle for one interview. Their models rely on the many state polls released each week. These are aggregated and weighted to form a picture of the electorate. Some in the media seem put out by the forecasters’ success, as it devalues their own analysis, full as it is of exciting but often trivial narrative, not dull regression analysis. With the boffins in the ascendant, the future of reporting may be more boring. But it should also be more accurate.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Foundation and Twitter

From Mark Blog: Foundation and Twitter

In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov began publishing the shorts stories that would eventually become the landmark Foundation series. In it, he created a science called psychohistory that was able to mathematically predict the future on a large scale. In other words, even though individual human actions or small-scale events couldn’t be predicted, the actions and destiny of an entire population of people could be.
And, now, that fantasy might be starting to show the first glimmers of a reality…thanks to Twitter, of all things.
According to a recent article in GigOM, an MIT researcher has created an algorithm that can predict Twitter trends hours in advance with 95% accuracy:
Associate Professor Devavrat Shah says his model has been 95 percent accurate during testing and has been predicting trends hours before they appear on Twitter’s list. The algorithm incorporates a new approach to machine learning that compares real-time data with historical data and predicts outcomes based on past events that most closely align with the current situation. So, rather than analyzing a topic’s chances of trending equally against the entire historical corpus of topics, it will assign more weight to topics whose paths followed similar trajectories up the ranks of top trends.
Of course, since this is social media that we’re talking about, the immediate context for this type of capability is around advertising possibilities, although the article mentions its relevance for stock prices, tickets sales, and “other dynamic quantities.”
And what’s more of a dynamic quantity than the entire human species? I mean, in Asimov’s fiction, psychohistory was abstract. Like theoretical physics. However, with Twitter and other social media, we suddenly have billions of real-time data points over a global populace covering the entire range of human experience and action. And, as time goes on and supposing social media doesn’t go the way of penny loafers, we’ll eventually have decades worth of real-life data points. Enough, in fact, to start modeling the entirety of human behavior on a large scale, especially since that behavior is becoming increasingly globalized and homogenized.
We could be predicting changes in mores, knowing the qualities of future world leaders, population changes, society collapses, technology advances, maybe even to the point that we could make course corrections when the data predicts disastrous outcomes. Although we might need a secret society like the Second Foundation for all that.
Basically, it’s your responsibility as a citizen of this planet to continue posting about everything you eat, what you think of every Adam Sandler movie, the funniest thing you heard on the Subway today, etc. We’re talking the future of the human race, here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ensuring peaceful transition from earthly to heavenly home

From Tampa Bay Online:  Ensuring peaceful transition from earthly to heavenly home

Isaac Asimov wrote, "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It is the transition that is troublesome."
Most people dread that transition — from life to death — and avoid talking about that topic. But it's worthy of discussion. Specifically, how do you want to live the final phase of your life, and who can help you with that transition?
Of course, most people think of their doctors, families and friends. But there also is a service available that can provide the care, support and comfort you will need when confronting a life-limiting illness or condition; that will deliver the equipment, medications and supplies directly to you to address symptoms and relieve pain; that will help you avoid unwanted hospitalizations and treatments.
That service is hospice, and during November's National Hospice Month, I'd like to help you understand how this important level of care can help you or a loved one.
Many people think hospice care is for the final few days or hours of life. But that's not the case. The mission of hospice is to enhance a person's quality of life in the time remaining.
But what does that actually mean?
In my two decades of providing hospice care, I've seen that take many forms. It can be hospice staff helping a patient to reunite with a longtime friend. It can be easing a family's burden by providing the guidance needed to cope with the emotional aspects of a life-limiting illness. And it can be the reassuring fact in knowing that loved ones will receive ongoing grief support after a patient's death.
At its core, hospice care takes a patient-centered approach to end-of-life care and provides a team of caregivers to deliver expert symptom management and provide reassuring guidance and encouraging support.
The hospice team consists of medical staff, nurses, social workers, chaplains, bereavement counselors, technicians and volunteers who work with each patient and family to chart a course of care that fits an individual's unique situation. The hospice team comes to a patient's home — whether that is a private residence, assisted living facility, nursing home or hospital.
And hospice provides the medications, equipment and supplies related to the hospice diagnosis.
I know that I speak for all hospice professionals when I say that it is an honor to care for our patients and families during a difficult and demanding time. We get such satisfaction when we hear that our expertise is valued and our care is appreciated, such as the family member who recently wrote, "What a kind-hearted, caring and compassionate nurse. She was knowledgeable, tender-hearted and kind as she guided us through the process of dying. Thank you for all you did to ease my mom's suffering as she transitioned to her heavenly home."
Frankly, it's natural to be sad and disappointed when you or a loved one is facing that transition to death. But it is a reality that we all must confront one day. You have a choice: You can deal with it alone, or you can get expert help that can make the transition as comfortable as possible.
I hope that when you find yourself facing the end of your life, you make that call to your local hospice organization. When you do, I can assure you that you and your loved ones will be greeted with the care and compassion you need to cope with a most uncertain time.
Kathy L. Fernandez is the president/CEO of Chapters Health System, the nonprofit parent organization of LifePath Hospice in Hillsborough County.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Little-known sci-fi fact: How Ghostbusters pissed off Isaac Asimov

From Blastr:  Little-known sci-fi fact: How Ghostbusters pissed off Isaac Asimov

Today, Ghostbusters is a classic of sci-fi comedy, beloved as much for its monsters as its one-liners. But apparently while it was being filmed, the flick pissed off one of the world's greatest sci-fi writers so much that he went to the set just so he could yell at the cast.
Though much of the film was actually shot in Los Angeles, a good bit of the final showdown atop a New York City apartment building was filmed on location in Manhattan's Upper West Side. To get the shots they needed, the crew had to shut down traffic on several major Manhattan streets. By the time they were done, half of midtown Manhattan was at a standstill, and unfortunately for the cast, one of the thousands of New Yorkers who got stuck in traffic was Isaac Asimov.
Asimov was so incensed by the delay in his commute that when he found out what was causing the holdup, he made his way to the film's set and vented his frustration to star Dan Aykroyd. For a lot of people, getting yelled at by a famed sci-fi writer would just be a funny story to tell at parties, but Aykroyd was a huge admirer of Asimov's, and according to co-star Harold Ramis, the encounter left him "crushed."
Of course, now we have to wonder if Asimov ended up seeing the movie that caused him to be so late, and if so what he thought of it.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Robot Ethics: Book review

From ZDNet:  Robot Ethics: Book review

If the first thing that pops into your head when you read the title Robot Ethics is science fiction writer Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, then you're like many of the rest of us. The Laws were a storytelling device that Asimov adopted so he could write stories exploring the possible consequences of having non-evil robots share living space with humans — at a time when any real hope of such a thing was decades off, at least. We may now be on the verge of the real thing, from Roombas to caretaker robots looking after children and the elderly in Japan. And if there's one thing we know it's that there isn't any realistic way of turning Asimov's laws into functioning computer code. In fact, a lot of the things we'd like robots to be able to do reliably — such as respond proportionately when it's deployed in a war zone — are simply not things we have any idea how to code.
Robot Ethics considers this sort of problem, as well as issues regarding robot lovers (Blay Whitby) and prostitutes (David Levy), humans' ability to fall into emotional dependence upon even the most machine-like of machines (Matthias Scheutz), robot caregivers and the ethical issues they pose (Jason Borenstein and Amanda Sharkey), whether there can be such a thing as a "moral machine" (Anthony F. Beavers), and the problem that comes up so often among optimistically futurist roboticists of whether at some point robots will deserve human rights (Colin Allen and Wendell Wallach).
I have to give these authors credit here: they are not just speculating about whether robots can become real people, but considering problems of liability. That's a good thing, because this is traditionally the point at which my inner biological supremacist asserts itself: who cares whether robots should have rights? Let's focus on the maltreatment so many humans have to live through first, OK? More practically, that sort of problem is a distraction from the very real opportunities that robots will present for invading their owners' privacy, as Ryan Calo argues in his chapter, 'Robots and privacy'; your "plastic pal who's fun to be with" is going to collect an amazing amount of data about you just in the ordinary course of organising your life — data that our increasingly surveillance-happy societies will surely be interested in.
"Probably the biggest moral conundrum posed by robots is the human propensity for anthropomorphising."
In the end, probably the biggest moral conundrum posed by robots is the human propensity for anthropomorphising: some (how many?) people treat their Roombas like family pets — and a robot could hardly be dumber than a Roomba. A smart robot designed to simulate real emotional response is infinitely more dangerous in terms of suckering us into cuddling up to it and telling it our innermost secrets. If some of the worst scenarios imagined in this book ever come to pass, it may be like the whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, seeing the ground rushing toward it at high speed, asked optimistically, "I wonder if it will be friends with me?" That would be us, cast as the whale.

Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics
Edited by Patrick Lin, Keith Abeney and George A. Bekey
MIT Press
386 pages
ISBN: 978-0-262-01666-7
Price £31.95, $45


Monday, November 5, 2012

As Exciting as Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot? Small Cap Robot Stocks IRBT, HNSN, MAKO, ARAY & ADEP

From SmallCapNetwork: As Exciting as Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot? Small Cap Robot Stocks IRBT, HNSN, MAKO, ARAY & ADEP

On Wednesday, investors in iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ: IRBT), a small cap designer and manufacturer of robots for homes and military uses, got crushed – meaning it might be time to take a look at other small cap robot stocks like Hansen Medical (NASDAQ: HNSN), MAKO Surgical (NASDAQ: MAKO), Accuray Incorporated (NASDAQ: ARAY) and Adept Technology (NASDAQ: ADEP). Specifically, iRobot Corporation (IRBT) largely met expectations when it reported that revenue rose from $120.4 million to $126.3 million and net income rose from $14.1 million to $15.2 million plus the company noted that home robot sales have remained strong. However, weak government spending as the wars in the Middle East wind down will force iRobot Corporation (IRBT) to slash 13% of its workforce and to restructure its Defense and Security (D&S) segment. Hence, iRobot Corporation sank 19.08% to $18.32 (IRBT has a 52 week trading range of $17.77 to $38.33 a share) to end the day with a market cap of $505.44 million (IRBT is now down 38.6% since the start of the year and up 8.1% over the past five years).