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

December 22, 2012

Isaac Asimov remains one of my favorite writers.  He wrote well enough, and his curiosity took him to topics I often find interesting.  At one time having published more books than anyone else in history on a wide variety of topics from quantum mechanics to trivia in the books of the Bible (does he still hold that record?), it was a sure bet one could find at least one book in one’s area of interest penned by Asimov.

When I started the spasmodic feature, “Typewriter of the Moment,” years ago I did a search for Asimov with a typewriter.  I didn’t find an image I thought suitable back when the internet was still operated by steam, and somehow I just never got back to that.

The other night this image popped up on one of my Facebook feeds, from “the Other 98%”:

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

I appreciate the sentiment in the quote.  Asimov noted the Dunning-Kruger Effect, even if he didn’t have the advantage of Dunning and Kruger having named it yet, and he lamented the powerful undertone of anti-intellectualism that victims of the syndrome exhibit:

Anti- intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. (Asimov in an essay for Newsweek: “A Cult of Ignorance,” January 21, 1980, p. 19)

It’s an arresting image, a heckuva a quote, and it would make a good poster.  Plus, it’s an early IBM Selectric typewriter, marrying Asimov’s creativity with a great technological advancement in writing tools.

One boggles at the idea of Asimov with a great word processing program, a fast computer with great memory, and the internet at his disposal.  If Asimov were alive and creating today, we’d think Moore’s Law a great hindrance to the advancement of knowledge.

The painting delights me.  It’s almost photographic, and I like paintings that take great care to get small details right, photographically.  No dig at more spare or even abstract art, but this sort of painting takes great skill and great creativity.  Rising spirit-like from the typewriter’s platen we see a satellite (manned spacecraft, perhaps?), a flask of chemicals, and a leather-bound book, essential components in science fiction, and science.

So, who did the painting?  Was it done solely for that Facebook poster?

English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 71...

This is what that typewriter in the painting looks like, from the author’s angle. An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 713 (Selectric I with 11″ writing line), circa 1970. Wikipedia image

I’ve searched on TinEye, and Bing and Google, without success to identify the painter.

One version of the painting, before text was added, showed up at IO9, a site dedicated to science fiction, in an article discussing the writing habits of famous writers.

This does not appear to me to be the original, simply because data on the artist is not contained in the information section of the image.  The artist who did this illustration would be proud of it, and want to advertise her or his work.

This version has a slightly higher resolution; click on the image and note the reflections of lights in Asimov’s glasses, the reflections on the desk, and even the dings on the edge of the desk facing the viewer — this is great stuff!

But still I wonder:  Who was the original artist?

Any ideas, Dear Reader?

Rowena Morrill's painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Rowena Morrill’s painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Did Asimov write on a Selectric?  Did he switch to the newer version, with a wider carriage, or stick with the old original?  Is there a photo upon which this painting is based?

Almost immediate update:  This site claims the artist is the same as the one at the bottom of the post, Rowena Morrill.  That’s a start.  Here’s more:  At Rowenaart, both pictures appear credited to Rowena.  Mystery solved?  Go buy a poster from her; this is great stuff.

First Amendment Update, January 2015: You will want to read Asimov’s entire essay.  He’s not just insulting ignorants and ignorance; he also urges that Americans, almost all Americans, do not read enough to keep freedom alive.  For example, on the “right to know”:

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.

More:

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

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


Symphony of Science: Climate change

September 20, 2012

We had Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Silly Symphonies, back in the early days of talkies and animation in Technicolor.

Why not a Symphony of Science now?  This is entertaining, and important — overlook the Autotune issue; it’s better to make Billy Nye sing with Autotune than to change the entire song and orchestration for Rex Harrison, especially if you have a small budget.

Here’s one guaranteed to make climate change denialists sputter — the music and quick image montages sneak through skeptical barriers.  Truth wins in a fair fight, Franklin said.  This is fair, entertaining, and you might draw a little inspiration.

Production information:

A musical investigation into the causes and effects of global climate change and our opportunities to use science to offset it. Featuring Bill Nye, David Attenborough, Richard Alley and Isaac Asimov. “Our Biggest Challenge” is the 16th episode of the Symphony of Science series by melodysheep.

The following materials were used in the creation of this video:

– Are We Changing Planet Earth?
– Bill Nye – Climate
– Eyes of Nye – Climate Change
– Earth: The Operator’s Manual
– An Inconvenient Truth
– Hot Planet
– How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth
– Human Planet

Oooooh.  I see they have one that features our hero Feynman.

Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers, who reminded me this one existed after I saw it a while ago.


Annals of global warming: Al Gore didn’t invent it, Isaac Asimov explained in 1989

June 8, 2011

Amber Jenkins wrote over at NASA’s site:

I stumbled upon this video earlier today. It’s Isaac Asimov, famous science fiction writer and biochemist, talking about global warming — back in January 1989. If you change the coloring of the video, the facial hair style, and switch out Asimov for someone else, the video could pretty much have been made today.

Asimov was giving the keynote address at the first annual meeting of The Humanist Institute. “They wanted me to pick out the most important scientific event of 1988. And I really thought that the most important scientific event of 1988 will only be recognized sometime in the future when you get a little perspective.”

What he was talking about was the greenhouse effect, which, he goes on to explain, is “the story everyone started talking about [in 1988], just because there was a hot summer and a drought.” (Sound familiar, letting individual weather events drive talk of whether the Earth’s long-term climate is heating up or cooling down??)

The greenhouse effect explains how certain heat-trapping (a.k.a. “greenhouse”) gases in our atmosphere keep our planet warm, by trapping infrared rays that Earth would otherwise reflect back out into space. The natural greenhouse effect makes Earth habitable — without our atmosphere acting like an electric blanket, the surface of the earth would be about 30 degrees Celsius cooler than it is now.

The problem comes in when humans tinker with this natural state of affairs. Our burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) constantly pumps out carbon dioxide — a heat-trapping gas — into the atmosphere. Our cutting down of forests reduces the number of trees there are to soak up some of this extra carbon dioxide. All in all, our atmosphere and planet heats up, (by about 0.6 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution) with the electric blanket getting gradually thicker around us.

“I have been talking about the greenhouse effect for 20 years at least,” says Asimov in the video. “And there are other people who have talked about it before I did. I didn’t invent it.” As we’ve stressed here recently, global warming, and the idea that humans can change the climate, is not new.

As one blogger notes, Asimov’s words are as relevant today as they were in 1989. “It’s almost like nothing has happened in all this time.” Except that Isaac Asimov has come and gone, and the climate change he spoke of is continuing.

Asimov’s full speech can be seen here.

Scientists have been on the job that long, yes.  Al Gore didn’t invent global warming or climate change, contrary to the working beliefs of much of the “no human warming” crowd.

One of the commenters at Jenkins’ blog put things in perspective:

Jim
January 8, 2011 – 10:22 PST

Interestingly, 1988 was
• the last year that we were not in ecological overshoot
• the last year we were at 350 Parts per million CO2
• the publication date of Joseph Tainter’s he Collapse of Complex Societies http://intersci.ss.uci.edu/wiki/index.php/The_Collapse_of_Complex_Societies


Asimov’s tribute to the national anthem

September 23, 2006

The song’s popularity increased enormously during the Civil War. Because the song extolled the national flag—a symbol of loyalty to the Union—Northerners enthusiastically embraced it as a patriotic anthem.

In times of crisis and turmoil, Americans often turn to patriotic symbols for inspiration. Caption from the National Museum of American History (Smithosonian): Elmira Cornet Band, Civil War The song’s popularity increased enormously during the Civil War. Because the song extolled the national flag—a symbol of loyalty to the Union—Northerners enthusiastically embraced it as a patriotic anthem.

The scientist, science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov at one time held the title for the most published human being ever. There were few topics he didn’t have a learned opinion on, and there were many areas of ignorance where a well-trained scientist with a drive to get at the facts could shed a lot of light. His path lighting was not always appreciated. He wrote a guide to the Bible that has earned disdain from many a Christian conservative, thought I suspect that their disdain is really a disguise for the fear that a secular Jew could know the text so well and challenge so many unwarranted, but common, assumptions.

To the surprise of some, Asimov was quite a patriot. His short piece on the four stanzas of the “Star-spangled Banner” demonstrate his patriotism and his love of history, while offering a bit of humor to make it all stick in your mind. I post a complete copy below the fold.

I have not yet found the original publication source for Asimov’s piece; if you know it, or find it, please let me know. I suspect there is copyright attribution to be made, too. I borrowed the text from an on-line source called The Purewater Gazette. Read the rest of this entry »


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