Isaac Asimov: How To Generate Ideas

isaac-asimov

Isaac Asimov published over 500 volumes of books in addition to 90,000 letters, postcards and other scientific books for laymen.

With permission of Asimov Holdings, Technology Review presents his never before published essay “How Do People Get New Ideas?”, which I post here in its entirety, supplemented by images of my choice, appropriate or not.

Arthur Obermayer, friend of the author, recently rediscovered this essay among his files and has this memento to share:

In 1959, I worked as a scientist at Allied Research Associates in Boston. The company was an MIT spinoff that originally focused on the effects of nuclear weapons on aircraft structures. The company received a contract with the acronym GLIPAR (Guide Line Identification Program for Antimissile Research) from the Advanced Research Projects Agency to elicit the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile defense system. The government recognized that no matter how much was spent on improving and expanding current technology, it would remain inadequate. They wanted us and a few other contractors to think “out of the box.”

When I first became involved in the project, I suggested that Isaac Asimov, who was a good friend of mine, would be an appropriate person to participate. He expressed his willingness and came to a few meetings. He eventually decided not to continue, because he did not want to have access to any secret classified information; it would limit his freedom of expression. Before he left, however, he wrote this essay on creativity as his single formal input. This essay was never published or used beyond our small group. When I recently rediscovered it while cleaning out some old files, I recognized that its contents are as broadly relevant today as when he wrote it. It describes not only the creative process and the nature of creative people but also the kind of environment that promotes creativity.

“How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. We are most interested in the “creation” of a new scientific principle or a new application of an old one, but we can be general here.be creative

One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the “generators” themselves.

But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

Wallace Edwards

Wallace Edwards

There is a great deal in common there. Both traveled to far places, observing strange species of plants and animals and the manner in which they varied from place to place. Both were keenly interested in finding an explanation for this, and both failed until each happened to read Malthus’s “Essay on Population.”

Both then saw how the notion of overpopulation and weeding out (which Malthus had applied to human beings) would fit into the doctrine of evolution by natural selection (if applied to species generally).

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.

Nikolay Zaytsev

Nikolay Zaytsev

That is the crucial point that is the rare characteristic that must be found. Once the cross-connection is made, it becomes obvious. Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of this.”

But why didn’t he think of it? The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.einstein

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation?

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)карандаши

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.

No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon.

Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.

If a single individual present is unsympathetic to the foolishness that would be bound to go on at such a session, the others would freeze. The unsympathetic individual may be a gold mine of information, but the harm he does will more than compensate for that. It seems necessary to me, then, that all people at a session be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.

If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest.

The optimum number of the group would probably not be very high. I should guess that no more than five would be wanted.rainbownetworks430

A larger group might have a larger total supply of information, but there would be the tension of waiting to speak, which can be very frustrating. It would probably be better to have a number of sessions at which the people attending would vary, rather than one session including them all. (This would involve a certain repetition, but even repetition is not in itself undesirable. It is not what people say at these conferences, but what they inspire in each other later on.)

For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose I think a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

Yet your company is conducting this cerebration program on government money. To think of congressmen or the general public hearing about scientists fooling around, boondoggling, telling dirty jokes, perhaps, at government expense, is to break into a cold sweat. In fact, the average scientist has enough public conscience not to want to feel he is doing this even if no one finds out.

I would suggest that members at a cerebration session be given sinecure tasks to do—short reports to write, or summaries of their conclusions, or brief answers to suggested problems—and be paid for that; the payment being the fee that would ordinarily be paid for the cerebration session. The cerebration session would then be officially unpaid-for and that, too, would allow considerable relaxation.

I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst. A psychoanalyst, as I understand it, by asking the right questions (and except for that interfering as little as possible), gets the patient himself to discuss his past life in such a way as to elicit new understanding of it in his own eyes.

In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point. Since the arbiter will not know which question is shrewd, which comment necessary, and what the point is, his will not be an easy job.

As for “gadgets” designed to elicit creativity, I think these should arise out of the bull sessions themselves. If thoroughly relaxed, free of responsibility, discussing something of interest, and being by nature unconventional, the participants themselves will create devices to stimulate discussion.

demotivational-apple

***

Thus spoke Isaac Asimov. Take it or leave it. He was brilliant in every one of his many pursuits. Without a doubt, if he would have set his eye on a career of motivational speaker for middle management, he would have succeeded splendidly and, perhaps, written 500 books on how-to-be-creative-and-generate-ideas. Luckily, he had chosen different career path.

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How To Write About…

kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina lives in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the founding editor of Kwani, a leading African literary magazine. Wainaina won the 2002 Caine Prize for African writing, and has written for Vanity Fair, Granta and the New York Times. He directs the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Writers and Artists at Bard College, NY.

I came across Wainaina’s article published in Granta 92. Below is a large chunk of it. In my usual manner, I couldn’t resist to illustrate the re-posting with images I found appropriate. Below is what I’ve excerpted from the original, or follow the link above, it’ll will take you to the article in its entirety, without pretty pictures.

How to Write About Africaafrika

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

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In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.583590_900

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

[…] Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.Чернокожие-земледельцы

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with.

The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth.

The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

image0017[…] Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).KH_UNICEF_POLIO_CHAD002 (1)

[…] Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

nzDescribe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. soroka-vorona_23They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.bra9

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by AIDS and WAR (use caps).

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Binyavanga Wainaina

“A Kenyan Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . . . suffused by a love affair with language.”—Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of 2011

 

How Full Is Your Glass?

Whenever life shoves you into the darkest corner and forces you to start counting your blessings, remember the proverbial half empty glass:  most of your trouble is just the matter of your own attitude. Change it. It can be done.

See?

Your glass looks half full again, and your life doesn’t feel quite so empty.glass

  • Buddhism: The glass doesn’t really exist, for nothing does.

  • Solipsism: I am the glass. And the whole world is nothing but my alcoholic delirium.

  • Islam: There is no glass except glass.

  • Judaism: Why only my glass is half empty?

  • Orthodoxy: The glass is half empty as a punishment for our sins .

  • Catholicism: The glass is half empty only for bad people.freud

  • Freudianism:  You were undeserved as a child.

  • Stoicism: Yes. My glass is half-empty, and I deserve it to be so.

  • Communism: Everyone is entitled to a full glass.

  • Socialism:  Yes, the glass is only half full. But it is equally so for everyone.

  • Yoga: You are both the glass and its contents. You and your glass are One.

  • Science: The glass contains 1/2 of liquid and 1/2 of air, thus the glass is always full.

    300px-Atmosphere_gas_proportions.svg

    Composition of Earth’s atmosphere by volume. If your glass is only half-full, then the other half of it’s volume is a mixture of these gases… and its overflowing the brim of your glass.

  • Victor Pelevin, Russian writer: The glass is neither full nor empty. This isn’t even a glass.  And it’s not you who is looking at the glass but the glass looking at you and your projection of its thoughts on the subject of what you want to look like. Or not.

Half empty

  • Optimist is happy his glass is half full. Pessimist is upset his is half empty. Masochist, half-smiling through tears,  says  he cannot see his because it’s shoved up his a..

  • Optimist says the glass is half full. Pessimist is of the opinion that the glass is half empty. Paranoiac is afraid the glass is half full of poison or, perhaps, urine. Realist, meanwhile, is trying to drink from the glass, while fatalist is quite sure that it is because of those four idiots he’ll get absolutely nothing.

  • Illustration by Sergei Sychenko

    Illustration by Sergei Sychenko

  •  Alcoholic: If my glass is half full of hard liquor, then it’s full, and I’m an optimist. If it’s half full of water — it’s empty, and I’m a pessimist.

takan-s-vodoi
Now, fill half of your glass with a liquid of your choice. Examine it carefully. What do you see?

If you think that your glass is half empty, and at the same time you are convinced that your life sucks, then drink it up.

If the liquid of your choice was a quality poison, you’ll feel immediate relief and would no longer care for your glass or your life.

If it was hard alcohol, you’ll feel better in a little while. Although your glass would be empty, your life might seem full, but only for a little while. It might take another full glass or two before you’ll notice that it wasn’t a glass after all, but a pink crocodile. But you’ll care less.

Cheers!

How to Rent a Negro

Rent-a-NegroThere was once a website…

“Rent-a-negro is a state-of-the-arts service that allows you the chance to promote your connection with a creative, articulate, friendly, attractive, and pleasing African American person. This service comes without the commitment of learning about racism, challenging your own white privilege, or being labeled “radical.” In fact, rent-a-negro allows you to use your money and status to your advantage! In addition, your dollars go to support the development of African American culture…everyone benefits!

Supporting multiculturalism is an important part of building social clout. These days, it’s on everyone’s agenda. But how to start? Where do you find the people to diversify your life? What if you don’t know any black people? You want to appear up to date, but just don’t have the human resources. One public lunch with rent-a-negro and you’ll be on your way to being seen as the most cutting edge member of your circle.

How do I start?
Simply fill out the Rental Request and start renting today!”

It was created by damali ayo, conceptual artist who prefers not to capitalize her name.wide eyed

From damali ayo’s website www.damaliayo.com

Curiously, rent-a-negro.com  attracted plenty of attention. Many seriously thought it was a legit site, not realizing it was a satirical prank with a purpose.

Complete with professionally sounding sales pitches, a service founder’s tongue-in-cheek bio, comments by satisfied customers, rates, order questionnaire and payment information the site accepted all major credit cards.

There were people who sent e-mails with resumes, seeking employment as “rentals”.

Rent-a-Negro-final-front-10

How to Rent a Negro front book cover

From one of the forums about now-defunct rent-a-negro.com website:

Is this a serious website??? I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a joke or not……the prices and fact that some white would actually pay for this is ludicrous but…I don’t know I just saw a white NAACP President on the TV…

I learned of it only recently, long after the site outlived its purpose and damali ayo has shut it down. Based on her experience with the site, damali ayo  had written a book. She had a lot of material to cover.

xx

Her mock site and her life experience served her well. She is generally unhappy about the state of racial diversity and virtual absence of inter-racial dialogue in our US of A.

As I mentioned, I haven’t seen the site when it was functional, and haven’t heard of it until I read an article about it in — what else? — Russian media. Give and take, I’m generally happy about the level of diversity in my life, that’s why.

Touch Her Hair: $25 each time;
Touch Her Skin: $35 each touch. (from the rent-a-negro.com price-list)

Hilarious. No?

Sad.

But still hilarious.

5 Rings Around The Collar

(Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images) | Getty

Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images) | Getty

Russia gets quite a beating for their handling of much coveted Winter Olympics 2014 across nearly every channel of mass media .

The celebration of sportsmanship, the spirit of, well, you know, like, you love everyone in every country and everyone in every country loves you and we all proud for who we are and our skill and the Olympic flame reaches to the stars… the Olympic coverage is not that much. The whole world seems to see the 5 Olympic rings as the “rings around the collar” — an utter admonishment of Russia.  Must suit Putin well, he-he-he. Utter embarrassment, yes, sir.

But then again, when mass media goes too far in a wrong direction, it’ll eventually backfire. Here is — and not a moment too late — signs of a backlash.

V. Solovyov, commentator of Russian channel NTV has this to say:

Amazing that everywhere you turn [in Sochi], foreign colleagues scramble to photograph any imperfection they can find, and they do it with glee. They climb fences, report standing against a backdrop of garbage piles, happy like kids, whenever and wherever they find any such rubbish. I hope their readers and viewers will love the Olympics.

And some of the more inquisitive consumers of mass info have done some digging. And — surprise! — have a few items of Olympics 2014, Sochi, mythology debunked. Deflowered, so to say, of its innocence.

I‘m sure nearly everyone have seen, read or heard about the “piss colored” water,  spouting from the showers and flushed into the toilet bowls of the Olympic Village.

o1
The picture to go with it usually either 2 clear plastic cups filled with urine or this:
o2

The above picture is real. It was reused, re-posted, shared and enjoyed by folks of every creed and nation.  Except that this photo wasn’t taken in Sochi. Below is the same image used on October 9, 2012 to illustrate the quality of drinking water in Ukraine. If you are versed in Ukrainian,  read Доказательство. I am, but bad drinking water in Ukraine isn’t  the topic of this post. To those who embarrassed themselves by posting fraudulent image:  Why not use your own urine in a cup to illustrate the Olympic “piss water”? Works every time and you don’t have to scavenge the internet for old pictures.
o3
aThis picture — or many others of world Olympic aspirants astride twin toilets nestled in a single stall — so close their users could reach over and kiss one another — has become an Olympic showpiece of the web. The images are no fake. The maintenance workers neglected to post a sign as they started to dismantle the two adjoining stalls. The bowls were swapped out for a row of filing cabinets. Boneheadedness? Yes. Stinking “failure of macho Putin’s Winter Olympic Village”? No.

 Actually, the Sochi Olympics Does Not Have a ‘Double Toilet’ has some scalding words for those who rushed to judgment on Russia’s private quirks:

The toilet was held up by news organizations around the world as evidence of bizarre bathroom behavior on the part of the crazy Russians. The ease with which people were happy to re-run that line, without checking or following up, borders on latent racism….

This image below, shouldn’t have become an illustration of Olympic Village either. Regardless of how much the French-tweeting tweeter wants us to continue being surprised.

o4
o5 Too bad people are so easily deceived, retweeting and favoring the post. The image showed up on Reddit 6 month ago.  Whether fake or a real accident of construction project, this half-toilet is nowhere to be found in Sochi.
o6The same is true of this one:
o7
o8 It certainly exists somewhere in the world. The picture was posted on Dec. 20, 2013.  The important thing is that it doesn’t reside in Sochi, since the picture of it was floating in the internet long before the word Sochi has become known to the world at large.
o9 Or horror! We all going to die!  Another hoax, having nothing to do with Sochi. I wonder if the people who post this REALLY think Russians are THAT stupid to post this sign in close proximity of the Olympic complex? Well, I suppose they may… Check statistics, guys. They aren’t.
o91

This picture has become a fixture in a collection of most bizarre road signs. It is being used in the areas close to the military bases.

o92Below is yet another imaginary “Putiniana”. There seem to be a certain obsession of  internet opinionators with Sochi’s Olympic toilets.  This immaculately clean facilities could easily promote international friendship or team spirit. Or is this a toilet designed for one group-spy-camera to observe team-happy-shitting? The answer is neither. Because there is no such communal toilet in Sochi.
o93The photo was made at the University of Kazan’s Summer Universiade — a student affair where college music bands perform and compete. Too bad Sochi didn’t borrow this great great idea.
o94There seem to be no escape from grim reality. This picture was taken in Sochi indeed… But long before the Olympics began. A year before the Olympics, to be precise.
o95Kai Pfaffenbach took the picture, starting Countdown to Sochi a bit hastily.
o96Good job, Kai Pfaffenbach from cozy Frankfurt. I’m about to grab my camera and run under the bridge over the overpass to take a few pictures.  We’ll compare our shots… You’d show me Sochi — the same spot, please! — and I’ll show you Boulder, Colorado. You’d be surprised. I’d understand. Boulder is no Frankfurt. Sochi is neither Boulder nor Frankfurt. It is Sochi. Welcome.

And lastly: There wasn’t enough money for repairs. All the money has been stolen by the greedy Russian officials to fight the unprecedented wave of opposition. That’s why all the doorknobs in hotels fall off when you touch them. American journalist Barry Petchesky  tried to open his hotel room, but the door stayed closed while the handle remained in his hand.

Such was Mr. Petchesky doorknob karma:
o97Two days later, Petchesky shyly admitted that this photo was not taken in Sochi. And then he went on and said this:
o98

I see his point. Still, there is something faintly — and not so faintly — malicious floating in the web-sphere.

Russians, too, in greater numbers than ever are skeptical, angry, spiteful and reveal these precious feeling to the world to see. To be seen as obsessively unpatriotic and show off this admirable quality has become cool as of late.  While at the same time, they try to do their absolute best to please the world with the show and the spectacle…

Weird, no?

I was prompted to think about all of this after reading a short blogpost by Boris Akunin. Read original in Russian here  ОЛИМПИЙСКОЕ. Addressing his fellow Russians, the writer says roughly this: (the following is interpretation rather than literal translation from Russian) 

Our Facebook masochism about how shamefully ridiculous, boorish and god-awful everything is organized in Sochi is becoming terribly annoying.

Why are we so lustfully raveling in it?  Is everything, indeed, so utterly horrific? Is there absolutely nothing  beautiful, intelligent and creative? Nothing? Zilch? After pouring all that money and effort, was everything stolen and plundered with nothing to show for it? Really?

Perhaps, we should separate these two topics. Lets talk about thievery and plundering separately from celebration, sport and achievement. Personally, I don’t care all that much which team scores more medals. All I really want from the Sochi Olympics is that:

1) there were no terrorist attacks ;
2) there would be a lot of outstanding, beautiful sport;
3) there would be a record number of  records.
4) and all of this would not translate into a national disgrace.

Honestly, I’m not willing to live by the principle “What is bad for Putin is good for us.”

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY Fireworks explode over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the begining of the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY
Fireworks explode over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the begining of the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

There is nothing I am “for” here.  What I’m against should be obvious from the post. If it isn’t, then I wasn’t quite as clear and obvious in stating my point as I hoped to be.

Live Long, My Friends. Die Hard. And Don’t Be Ridiculous

I was searching for a topical idea for a larger conversation. Couldn’t find any. Tomorrow is another day, if I’m lucky. Still, there is always magical alchemy of elements: Life, Love, Death. When you are in a melancholy mood – death is the best subject. Particularly  unbecoming  or untimely death, like in “Heroic life – absurd death”. Heroic or distinguished life is a must, otherwise the larger audience wouldn’t care one bit.

Death of a person becomes common knowledge if the person’s deeds become common knowledge, hopefully prior to his death. Posthumous appreciation loses its luster somehow.

So let’s talk about deaths that untimely and often in a most ridiculous manner befell persons of note. The legend is never the whole story. But, often, the legend is all we have.

King Pyrhus of Epirus

King Pyrrhus of Epirus

King Pyrrhus of Epirus (319/318 – 272 BC), intervening in a civic dispute in Argos, was trapped during the confused battle in the narrow city streets, when an old Argead woman, watching from a rooftop, threw a tile which stunned him, allowing an Argive soldier to behead him. They say that the old woman was the soldier’s mother.

Aeschylus, the author of Prometheus, one of the most tragic of all Greek tragedians, as he got older, developed a profligate bold spot where his hair used to reside.

Aeschylus

Aeschylus

On a sunny summer day of the year 456 or 455 BC, a certain eagle, a bird of prey, happened to take a hold of a tortoise and soared into the sky, keeping his eye glued to the ground searching for a nice rock over which to crack the tortoise’s shell. Something that looked enticingly smooth and round shone down below, right under the expanse of his wings.

You guessed it. It was our tragedian, sitting on the grass, writing his next tragedy.  His face was in the shade, but his bold head exposed. The good thing was that Aeschylus probably didn’t know what hit him as the turtle fell from the sky, dropped by the eagle. The bad thing was that the tortoise shell didn’t crack. The Aeschylus’s head, however, did.

A statue of Richard the Lionheart is in front of the Houses of Parliament

A statue of Richard the Lionheart is in front of the Houses of Parliament

Richard the Lionheart was a Good King but a Bad Thing. To finance his war efforts in France, Richard found he needed vast amounts of money which could not be provided on tax alone. Fittingly he died whilst looking for money at Castle Chalus-Chabrol in France, which housed a pot of gold according to rumor. During the siege of the tiny castle, a young boy fighting with a frying pan grabbed a crossbow and shot the King Richard in the shoulder. Richard died days later as the minor wound turned gangrenous. After 812 years the dusty fragments of Lionheart’s heart are to be examined, and the germ that killed him in the presence of the frying pen could be decisively identified. 

Frederick Barbarossa

Frederick Barbarossa

Frederick Barbarossa was one of the most stone-cold shit-wreckers of the 12th century, which is saying something because (as you all know) the 12th century was a pretty prime time in history for stone-cold shit-wreckers. He died trying to charge through a river in full armor to get to the front lines of a nearby battle when the current swept his horse out from under him mid-stream. I didn’t change a word in this quote,  I have this on excellent authority of the fellow badass blogger here.

Ticho Brahe

Ticho Brahe

Tycho Brahe (1546 –1601), a Danish nobleman and a well known in his lifetime astronomer and alchemist, was said to have died from urinary problems developed as a result of being too strict in the matters of etiquette that his bladder burst when he neglected the call of nature for too long.

Lately, the investigation concluded that the astronomer died from mercury poisoning. Examination of his moustache revealed extremely toxic levels of mercury in his hairs. Tycho lost part of his nose in the duel when he was younger. Various metals, including highly toxic mercury, were used to create his prosthetic noses.

Bobby Leach

Bobby Leach

Bobby Leach (1858 – 1926), was the second person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, after Annie Taylor, and the first male to do so, accomplishing the feat on July 25, 1911. Leach had been a performer with the Barnum and Bailey Circus and was no stranger to stunting. In 1926, while on a publicity tour in New Zealand, Leach lipped on an orange peel (according to some reports, it was a banana peel) and injured his leg. An onset of gangrene called for drastic measures. The leg was amputated; still Bobby Leach died in two months.

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton (1819 –1884) was a Scottish American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. At the time of his death, he was working on a system that would centralize all criminal identification records, a database now maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He slipped on a pavement and bit his tongue, resulting in deadly gangrene.

Jimi Heselden

Jimi Heselden

Jimi Heselden, the owner of the Segway Company, was inspecting the grounds of his North Yorkshire estate on a rugged country version of the Segway. He has died after riding one of the two-wheeled machines off a cliff and into a river River Wharfe.   The good thing — he didn’t have gangrene.

 Jack Daniel, a distiller of famous whiskey, came to work early one morning of the year of Our

Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel

Lord 1911, and managed to injure his toe while kicking his safe in anger, unable to get it open because he forgot the combination. The infection set up, and he eventually died from blood poisoning.  All Jack had to do to cure his infection was to dip his toe in a glass of his own whiskey to clean it. His death was portrayed on Spike Television’s 1000 Ways To Diewhich I found pretty unsettling, certainly not for the fainthearted among us.

Does it matter how you die? A lot more important is how you lived and what your purpose to be born was. Someone already dead said this. Hopefully, he lived long and died a great man, appreciating Fate’s black humor.

And, in conclusion, to brighten up the mood:

Father,” the chorus boy asks the priest, “What if a man falls to the ground from  the top of a  bell tower, and not a scratch on him, isn’t it a miracle?

“It’s dumb luck,” said the priest.

“What if he falls off the same tower the second time without harm, isn’t that a miracle?”

“It’s a coincidence,” said the priest.

“What about the third time? Surely that would be a miracle, wouldn’t it, Father?

“It would be a habit, my boy.”

I Stole, Sie Stahlen, Ты Украл, We Steal Stolen

On Jan. 31 of this year I’ve published a post with a cute title Roll Your Shit And Follow The Stars! It had to do with dung beetles, the Milky Way and everything in between.

Months later, someone named Manuel commented on this post, complaining that it used, without permission, an image he created, and that he had no intention of offering it to anyone for free.

I emailed Manuel information about the origins of the image I used, which was a Russian site where every image is free for all.

Manuel countered that the image was stolen from the site he listed it for commercial use and was posted on various Russian sites, often photo-shopped.

Indeed, dung beetles rolling all kinds of shit — green balls, table tennis balls, TV- station-logo-engraved Ping-Pong balls etc.–  happily reside on numerous Russian sites, such as lj.rossia.org, joyreactor.cc, live4fun.ru, cartoonbank.ru (where I’ve got it, signed by the name which isn’t Manuel’s).

For unspecified number of minutes I used a default vernacular in my native language to express my feelings about the situation. Oh yes, I put quite a few excellent Russian profanities into a good use right about then.

Afterwards, I emailed Manuel information about the origins of the image I used, which was a Russian site where every image is free for all, and I put the entire text of the email into the comments to the post.

Also, I bitterly complained to everyone who was inclined to listen to my lamentations, “Can you imagine… Who could’ve known…”

“Russians are stealing pictures from the Internet? Big deal! Relax. Chinese steal even more!” some of my Russian friends commented.

Right. Perhaps they do. But to use this as an excuse would be like saying, “My son is a thief? Hey, look at my neighbors – they have two sons and both are thieves!”

Paraphrazing (and badly mutilating) a Russian writer, Either he stole a coat, or a coat was stolen from him – one way or another he was involved in some murky affair.  That’s pretty much how I felt, which isn’t a pleasant feeling, to say the least.

Perhaps,because Manuel hailed from Germany, I remembered a story from a family folklore I’ve heard many (many!) years ago. Very rarely, if ever, I resort to biographical minutia in my posts, but this one sounded almost like a fable…

In the 70s (past century it was, to be sure) my cousin, a ranked Soviet Army officer, was stationed in the East Germany (the former Democratic Republic of Germany, that is, or, rather, was), at or near the picturesque (isn’t everything in Germany picturesque?) village.

My cousin was endowed with a Nordic blond appearance and spoke seviceable German. His job was PR. In today’s parlance, he was designing ways of winning the hearts and minds of local population with nothing much to show for it.  By his own admission, the job was no cakewalk, although his German kept improving with every passing day.

Mostly, he had to deal with a steady stream of local folks, lining up at his office doors since early morning to complain. Majority of their complaints had to do with thievery committed by the Russian soldiers stationed in their picturesque, previously crime-free village. Predominantly, it was petty theft, such as stealing a tin can of paint left outside by an unsuspecting fence painter.

“Donnerwetter! Herr Schwartz stepped inside to get a glass of water. He came out a minute later, and his paint was gone! Herr Schwartz caught a glimpse of a uniformed Russian soldier, tin can of paint in hand, turning the corner.”

“Why would you steal a can of f*ing paint? What would you do with the f*ing can of paint?”  This was my cousin speaking in tongues, German not being one of them.

“Comrade Major! It was just sitting there… unattended, and no one was looking!” was an answer.

No wonder the locals wished that every single Russian thief would spontaneously combust, preferably all of them, and at the same time.

Eventually, the stiff punishment was imposed for thievery. Anyone caught stealing was immediately court-martialled. Satisfying instinctual urges to lift stuff when no one was looking stopped making any sense whatsoever…

Much to my officer-cousin’s dismay, the stream of villagers, lining up by the doors of my cousin’s office, failed to diminish as might’ve been expected. Quite to the contrary, in a short period of time it increased tenfold. The village was ravaged by unprecedented wave of pilfering and burglaries.

As it happened, petty thieves from all over Germany kept arriving to the village, hoping that  their crimes would be blamed on the ill-reputed Russian soldiers. Locals caught on to it eventually, but it took them a long time, a lot of grief, and it’s another story altogether…

The moral of all of this? Don’t steal images and use them in your posts… unless absolutely necessary, like it’s the matter of life or death. If it is, then steal them from some obscure Russian sites. It might or might not happen to be stolen from some other site, which — god knows — might’ve stolen it too… Or not. If not — and you get a comment from the rightful owner — you always can say you didn’t know. Or you can say that Chinese do it all the time! Or you can provide the info of the site you’ve got it from and why you were under impression it’s free and available.

Manuel had emailed me that he was able to contact the person who photoshopped and re-posted his (Manuel’s) picture I’ve found and used. They came to some sort of amicable agreement. It makes me feel a little better.

The pictures used in this post  — I’m almost sure — is a stock photos. If someone can claim it as his/hers, please let me know, and I’ll provide all necessary info about the site I’ve got it from.

The ABCs OF The BTCs

b5

An electronic pseudo-anonymous decentralized crypto-currency…

Internet fairy-tale…

Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s mysterious and anonymous creator…

Virtual Game for tech know-hows…

Clever P2P system…

Upward surging graphs… The price of bitcoin jumpes to $220…

Ponzi scheme wrapped in a techie wet dream at its best, and a CIA control scheme at its worst…

Computer grinds the code, trying to solve the puzzle…

Speculation on people’s gullibility…

Illusion of the ghost of money…

Hedge Fund in Malta expressed interest in investing in Bitcoins…

Winklevoss brothers have elected to put their money and faith in a mathematical framework that is free of politics and human error… 

If you are confused by all the hullabaloo around BTCs, try to look up BITCOIN definition in Wikipedia. Still confused? Google it. I did. In three languages, in fact, hoping that my problem was linguistic, not intellectual.

b6

If you cannot explain something to your dear old mother in a way that she’d understand, your dear old mother might not be your only problem. Someone smart must’ve said that, if not – someone smart must. Being someone’s dear old mother and having my own dear old mother not understanding what the hell I’m talking about most of the time, makes me an expert.

bitcoinTabloids are generally fascinated by money, in equal measure “miraculously attained”, using mostly dubious schemes, and “tragically lost” as  a  result of reversal of fortunes. (Mail Online The monster machines mining Bitcoins in cyberspace that could make techies a small fortune (but cost $160,000 a day to power). But we wouldn’t look for the answer to bitcoins and everything in the yellow press, would we?

 We’d look for them in the “reliable” and “trustworthy” sources, such as The Wall Street Journal… which is fascinated with money and faithfully reports appearance of vacuum pockets in places where they disappear, miraculously transported into the pockets of a selected few, but the Journal wouldn’t immediately alert us to this effect… not to create unfavorable opinion of the suits with magic pockets. Because, you see, the Journal is very socially conscientious. (Bitcoin Investors Hang On for the Ride)

NPR, in its oft-unattainable quest for objectivity, often leaves us in the state of “informed confusion”, rolling our eyes at the crossroads of different but differently unhelpful opinions formed on the basis of “expert analysis”. One might wonder if those experts read tabloids before they write for The Wall Street Journal. (NPR. Bitcoin Goes To The Moon).

b1Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize laureate in Economics, says, “… as best as anyone can tell the main use of bitcoin so far, other than as a target for speculation, has been for online versions of those dark-alley exchanges, with bitcoins traded for narcotics and other illegal items.”

Slate’s Eric Pozner titles his opinion inequivocably: Fool’s Gold: Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme—the Internet’s favorite currency will collapse.

Huffington Post published an interview Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin Architect: Meet The Man Bringing You Bitcoin (And Getting Paid In It). Gavin admitted that his own financial strategy is diversifying out of bitcoins because it just doesn’t make sense to have all your eggs in one basket. “I put a good chunk of my long-term savings in traditional investments, like index mutual funds.” 

In a word, with the ABCs of BTCs being confusing and the BTC’s XYZs — unpredictable at best, the word of wisdom from those who still do not fully trust the collective wisdom of those who run this virtual game is NOT to put any money in it that you aren’t willing to loose… 

In essence, it’s the same verbiage that the State accredited gambling establishments use to warn compulsive gamblers.

Haptical Terror: Smooth Digits For Digital Age

Big Head

This article was published in 1965. A huge jawless head carried by a slim emaciated body could be the shape of man by the year 2500…

Big Head1In the 60’s, scientists worried that humans of the future might grow big heads, and not in any metaphorical sense, but quite literally. Voluminous content needs roomy containers. For the brain’s gyri (the ridges), to rise up even higher, and the brain’s silci (crevices) to further deepen, the head of Homo Sapiens must expand.

With all those ridges and crevices unfolded, the today brain would be the size of a pillow. In the future – it might reach, roughly the size of a barn. Or a tool shed. That’s how things stood in the 60’s – scientists predicted away and slightly worried.  Hat makers, perhaps, were secretly designing the future oversize haberdashery.

No worries. Wrong alarm. Statistically, over the decades, only waistlines noticeably expanded. Voluminous content needs roomy containers – XXXL size pants with large pockets became such containers. Large pockets is a must – Homo Sapiens needs to accommodate various gadgets that house our virtual brains, accessed often but useless mostly.

What can we say to that? We expected that scientists might be wrong – scientists often are, but we didn’t expect approximately how wrong they would end up being.

Now, let’s head from the head to the extremities.

Scientists at Newcastle University studied an evolutionary advantage of fingers wrinkling caused by soaking hands in water for a long time. Apparently, the grip on wet objects or objects under water has been shown to improve.

“Going back in time this wrinkling of our fingers in wet conditions could have helped with gathering food from wet vegetation or streams. And as we see the effect in our toes too, this may have been an advantage as it may have meant our ancestors were able to get a better footing in the rain.”

When our hands or feet are in water for a long time, we get wrinkles. Once it was believed that this was the result of water passing into the outer layer of the skin making it swell up, but now it’s known that the formation of these wrinkles is an active process. The distinctive wrinkling is caused by blood vessels constricting below the skin controlled by the autonomic nervous system which controls bodily processes such as breathing, heart rate and perspiration.”

HandsVery well then, our Mesolithic ancestors foraged for food in rivers and rock pools, and evolution helped them to hold on to that pesky slippery trout, not to slip on slimy rocks and let the catch get away.

“This raises the question of why we don’t have permanently wrinkled fingers and we’d like to examine this further. Our initial thoughts are that this could diminish the sensitivity in our fingertips or could increase the risk of damage through catching on objects.”

But of course! You caught a fish and your first thought (Your instinct! Your second nature!) is to get a hold of your smartphone and snap a picture of it, then sent a text to everyone in the universe about your fab achievement, then twit, then Google Fresh water fish of the Nothern Hemosphere for the scientific name of your (by then perhaps already dead) trophy, update your Facebook where you are friend with everyone you know since kindergarten and their friends with this bit of info.

By now — have you noticed? — your fingers no longer resemble flesh-colored prunes. Thankfully, Mother Nature foresaw your social media acumen and unwrinkled your digits to its smooth texture on this sunny afternoon of the Digital Age. You do need smooth, narrow fingers to use what’s in your pocket seems to have more neurons than your average size brain.

Those smooth and narrow digits, and losing touch with the physical world, actually worry people — scientific and near-so.

What was the future for fingers, as tools, in the digital age? Where the latest interface is a touch which is smooth and feather-light, where the human to machine commands are advancing to be spoken, or breathed, or blinked, even transmitted by brain waves, would finger-work be the preserve of artists and childs-play? …But in the digital age would there be pages still to turn, tendrils to be untangled, a place for hard key-strokes, not simply passing swipes? Christine Finn,Archaeologist, Journalist; Author, Artifacts

Another anxious person,  Susan BlackmorePsychologist; Author, Consciousness: An Introduction, is seriously worrying about loosing our digits’ wrinkles in the Digital Age:

Our hands now spend little time making or growing things and a lot of time pressing keys and touching screens… Our evolved desires for fun, competition, and communication lead us into ever vaster realms of online information and away from the people right next to us. And who are ‘we’? Our selves, too, are changing as they disconnect from our bodies, becoming as much the person who exists on multiple websites and forums as the physical body who acts and interacts right here and now—as much a digitally propagated entity as the man now holding my hand in his.

My question is, indeed, And who are ‘we’? And how many “we”s of this world should be really-really-really concerned about their fingers going all smooth, narrow and unable to form churches and steeples, or peel an orange, as Ms. Blackmore worries.

My personal worry is this: Now, and  even more so in the future, the world seem to need more and more of everything — gadgets notwithstanding. How many wrinkled hands it takes now, and would be needed in the future, to put those gadgets together and deposit them into the hands of those with smooth digits, who worry about loosing touch with the physical world?

This sentence seemed to have written itself, and didn’t do a very good job at it. Ah, well…

Future01

Divide Et Impera: A Fable

Capture
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Well, people are sheep mostly. Easily deceived, manipulated, betrayed and eaten by Wise Men herdsmen, who divide and conquer, and so it has been since times immemorial.

There was a man once – and this is no fable – who was an exceptionally clever sheep, the sheep like no other. The “Wise Man” didn’t like him very much – sheep like this guy are often trouble. The Wise Man gave the guy his best “You are the lion and my best friend” speech.
“I am a sheep, just like everybody else,” was the reply. “I’m no lion and don’t wish to become one any time soon. Lions eat sheep, but I’m not the kind who’d enjoy it.”

And he remained an ordinary member of the flock. A few times, every time unsuccessfully, he tried to rally other sheep to do something worthwhile and wonderful together. But there wasn’t any sheep who’d listen and go along. Much to his chagrin, he realized that he was surrounded by a wolf and a lion, a tiger and whatnot, one of each… The Wise Man must’ve talked to everyone vis-à-vis and in confidence. Obviously, the Wise Man was called thus for a reason.

I used to know this man when he was young, brilliant, idealistic and an optimist. Indeed, he was no sheep among sheep then, although he wanted to be a part of a flock, perhaps, only slightly ahead of it. But the flock rejected the only lion between them… Ah, well, you know how that could have happened…

I wonder how his life (and, maybe, the lives of other sheep) would’ve turned out if he’d go along with the Wise Man’s game and outwitted him in the end, becoming a “lion that could” and try to wake up his divided and conquered co-flockers. But then again, he could have turned into yet another Wise Man…

Ah, well, I simply like old fables — translated this one from Ukrainian, embellishing it along the way, and made it into pretty pictures… What can I say, I like making pretty pictures out of old fables.