5 Unusual Things I Learned from Isaac Asimov

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

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

(scene from I, Robot)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Binion's Casino)

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

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

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

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

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  • http://www.TheAcsMan.com TheAcsMan

    Great post and insights.. Your last two paragraphs where you spoke of the “sense of wonder” faithfully channeled “The Wonder Years” style monologue.Well done in style and content.

    I’ve only had a single encounter with a policeman, but its forever changed my attitude on investing and what’s right and wrong.

    That blog entry was about 1300 words (less if you deduct the gratuitous use of the fun sounding name, Raj Rajaratnam), so I’m going to use the extra words as a credit for some future blog entry.

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher jaltucher

       Ha, I’ve been making an active effort to shorten them from the usual 2000.

      • http://www.TheAcsMan.com TheAcsMan

        Your writing style and use of graphics nicely compartmentalizes content, so that length doesn’t become onerous. That style makes it easy for the reader to skim or to quickly re-visit areas of interest.

        That’s something that I haven’t learned to do in my writing, but I did recently learn about proper placement of punctuation relative to quotation marks, although there remains some controversy within the 6th Grade English teacher’s community

        • http://twitter.com/jaltucher jaltucher

          I made up my own rules regarding punctuation with regard to quotation marks. If the quote itself is the object of the sentence I put the punctuation outside. An extreme example is this sentence: Did you really just tell me to “go to hell”?   I think it would be inappropriate to put the question mark inside of the quotes. I don’t know if this is right or wrong but I do it that way.

          • http://www.TheAcsMan.com TheAcsMan

            In the specific example you provided, I think you should treat the quote as a “cloud tag” and include the number of times you’ve been told to “go to hell (27)”. Of course, the location of that number relative to the quotation marks would have to depend on context and tone.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500905090 Raquel Hirsch

            You both should read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” http://amzn.to/uAj8aS – you will laugh, you will cry…

          • http://twitter.com/ANGARR Ana Garcia

            It always goes inside the quotation marks no matter what. Saint Martin’s Handbook, y’all. 

  • Mitch

    You can read The Last Question here: http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html. 

    According to  a comment (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2217071/posts): “It seems that when the magazines went out of business, no one kept the copyrights current. Therefore many are now available.” I don’t know if that’s true.

    • http://courtreportinglife.typepad.com/court-reporting-life/ The Reporter

      Thanks for that link.   Now I know what you’re all talking about.  I need to expand my reading repertoire, apparently.  Can you get this stuff on Kindle?

      • Mitch

        Amazon says yes.

  • Christopher Morris

    No Asimovian cults, that’s stricly for L. Ron Hubbard fans only…

  • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

    I completely understand, I wrote about being 4 years old again.  It’s a kind if magic we lose with age, but I believe you can bring it back in small quantities if you work at it.

  • Derek Scruggs

    Funny, I’ve been thinking about the Last Question a lot recently. I feel like that between Google,  the iPhone and iCloud that we are well on our way to the world described there.

    I loved the Foundation series when I was a kid. I read it again a few years back and unfortunately it did not hold up as well.

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher jaltucher

       Its funny, when I reread it I thought the writing did not hold up as well either. But the ideas inside held up even BETTER now that we have computers, etc actually doing “big data” analysis. Amazing that he came up with that in the early 50s before anyone was even remotely exploring big data questions.

  • onebornfree

     Great piece [ as usual], guess I’ll have to re-read some Asimov.

     HOWEVER, dear James, sorry to break it to you, but no -one can reliably, consistently predict future economic events. Computer models, whether inspired from science fiction novels, or derived from “scientific” trading systems etc., are just that, models, and they have ,and can have, _no_ real resemblance to real world markets.

    Despite the constant mainstream assumption and promotion of the exact opposite, as Von Mises and others have  consistently pointed out, economic science can [and does] have absolutely nothing to do with the methodology  of the physical sciences [ e.g. lab testing under controlled environments, mathematical equations to compute future results under similar circumstances etc. etc.].

    The sooner you rid yourself of the fanciful [albeit incredibly common] notion that investing/saving can be reduced to computer modelling and “scientific” equations that can be reliably used to predict future economic events, trust me, the sooner you will be able to find ways to realistically save/grow money for your own future .Regards, onebornfreeatyahoo

    • http://twitter.com/jaltucher jaltucher

      I don’t think I do that. Hence, I quit trading and actively recommend people don’t do it throughout this blog.

      • Onebornfree

        I’m sorry, as a newbie who has not read all of your posts,I was not aware of that. Mucho apologies. Regards, onebornfree.

      • https://www.coldhardcode.com/ Jay Shirley

        I don’t think I ever mentioned it, but I discovered your blog because I was beginning to study trading. I had started to play with some money in the market to see if my own ideas were right.

        Then I read your articles about trading and investing in general. I stopped almost immediately. It wasn’t right for me. Now I just toss money in my IRA on bluechip dividend paying stocks and forget about it… and I’m much happier and spend time doing things I truly enjoy.

        I know I thank you often, but you deserve one more thanks just for that.

      • Dicky_howard

        But you do still trade right James?  Would you consider yourself a “swing trader” or are you just going long on these big dips…just curious.  I agree starting a business is a great way to build wealth but I think investing in the market can also do that (not day trading though).

  • http://27183.myopenid.com/ Your name

    Two weeks ago, traveling, I stayed overnight in downtown Vegas. I had never heard of Binon’s before, but I noticed it then.

    Two nights ago, on crazy late night talk radio, I’m listening to some woman who was Ted (Jack’s brother) Binion’s girlfriend, and later the girlfriend/associate of a family of hitmen.

    Today, I’m reading about Binion on your blog.

    Let there be enlightenment!?

    • http://profiles.google.com/jayzalowitz Jay Zalowitz

      You don’t know jack, Binion that is.

  • http://twitter.com/snydr Sam Snyder
  • Buzz McCool

    I read Asimov’s autobiography about a month ago. I funny anecdote was he and his editor were arguing. Asimov thought he won until the book came out with his last name misspelled as “Assimov”. 

  • http://Www.brookefarmer.com Brooke Farmer

    The first time I was in a police car was as a teenager. Despite (or because of) the drugs in my system I boldly walked up to the officer and asked him for a ride home. My original ride had gotten high and decided not to leave the party and I was afraid of missing curfew.

    The second time was far more dramatic.

    I like how you talk about the sense of wonder. A good book can do that. I hope that someday sometng I write has that effect on people.

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    Enjoyed this column today, James. It’s funny that you mention FALSE HUMILITY. I’ve only just started to read your blog. In fact, I only found out who you were in the last two months. Maybe that’s a result of living in South America for the last 15 years. Anyways, it seemed to me that you were also one to spread around false humility, especially since you’ve done a lot more with your life than most people. Your thoughts in some of your articles didn’t seem sincere, especially the self deprecating humour. And now, after seeing a lot of your videos and reading your past columns, I’m thinking that you REALLY do feel the way you do. Which is interesting because it certainly mirrors my life also. Although I would be stoked if I did half the things you’ve accomplished…

    Keep up the great writing!

  • Also S. Zarathustra

    Hey – my favorite from Asimov is “Pebble in the Sky” – I think if you haven’t read the story you’ll really like it.  It has a clever time-travel scenario.  
    Asimov was prolific and full of ideas, but I just don’t think he was as good a writer as say, Michael Crichton or H G Wells, even in the sci-fi genre.

    • Anonymous

      “…as good a writer as Michael Crichton”.  There’s a string of words you don’t hear too often.  

      • ron b

        No kidding!  Crichton?  He knew how to keep the pages turning but that’s about it.  (Now Zelazny, which I discover James is a fan of too… that dude could WRITE!)

  • Mike Fantast

    For me, it came from “Slan”, van Vogt’s Null-A books, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Dune”. My grandmother lived in a returned serviceman’s retirement village and one of her friends was a 90-yo phd-level chemist with a huge collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines, which when she died she gave to me. I was 13 at the time and have never lost my appetite for those styles of fiction. I also fell in love quickly with Alfred Bester.

  • Anonymous

    On Another Note –

    Great Job on FastMoney this afternoon –
    Your witty repartee’ was good for sparring with the cast –

    I concur with your views on consumer sentiment and investor psychology –
    Just wondering if you are buying or holding any stocks these days –
    Also – it was cool that they plugged your new book !

  • Bill

    For anyone interested,  here is a link to Asimov’s “The Last Question”:  http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html.  It’s a wonderful story. 

    Terrific post as always.

    • http://www.TheAcsMan.com TheAcsMan

      Thanks for sharing that link. What a great parable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cfzirbes Carlos Felipe Zirbes

      Man, thanks for sharing that. I used to read Asimov a lot when I was a kid, but I am pretty sure it is the first time I’ve read this short story.

      Half way through it I realized, how is this whateverAC different from God? Asimov is a master writer, the ending couldn’t be better.

      Did you stop to consider that maybe Google/Internet is our very own Multivac?

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for sharing this and for doing my legwork for me!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ari.m.eden Ari M. Eden

    Hope you reach your goal of 100 books, James, and I have faith in you.  CAKE is a pretty darn good restaurant by the way, lol, so Binion has pretty good taste.  The stock is another story.

  • AmyC

    Asimov once hit on me AND my mother in the same night. And my favorite poker event was always the Jack Binion Poker Open. The man did everything right when it came to poker. Becky on the other hand… 

  • http://twitter.com/fzeng96 Feng Z

    Nice references to astrophysics, supernova and blackholes.

    I would love to see more references to quantum physics, waves and possibilities :)

  • Anonymous

    For some reason this blog post made me nostalgic. Regardless, great insights and a wonderful post, as always. 

  • http://www.brentlockee.com Brent

    I might have to give the Foundation series a try.  Have you read any of Asimov’s “Robot” series?  I read two or three of them a few years ago and really enjoyed them.  The movie isn’t anything like the books.  Each chapter is a stand alone story that gives a different point of view of robots, their interaction with humans and the eventual conflict.  Very similar to “The Martian Chronicles” in that way.

    Great work.  Another enjoyable read.

    • Foljs

      Very mild spoiler: in a very obvious way, the Robot’s series and the Foundation series are very connected. Can’t say anything more, lest a spoil it for you.

      But you have to read the sequels/prequels to the Foundation series to find this out.

    • http://profiles.google.com/akselsoft Andrew MacNeill

      The Robot series were my favourites as well. Actually, the short stories found in “Rest of the Robots” were. I no longer have the book yet I remember the actual ink on the pages when reading “The ship leaked, like a sieve. In fact, it was supposed to”…

  • http://www.food-nation.co.uk Loula

    “But, billionaires stay billionaires by not handing out their money to any kid who comes in with a science fiction book strategy for trading the markets.”  :D

  • http://www.alexander101.com Alexander

     
    James – great post as always!  If diving back into sci fi, this excellent flowchart of NPR’s top 100 sci fi and fantasy novels will help: http://www.geek.com/articles/geek-cetera/awesome-flowchart-helps-you-pick-through-nprs-top-100-sci-fi-and-fantasy-books-20110928/.  
     
    This is not sci fi, but is a book I think you would deeply appreciate: Markings by Dag Hammarskjold (http://www.amazon.com/Markings-Dag-ammarskjold/dp/0307277429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322574453&sr=8-1). He was the second secretary general of the UN and died under questionable circumstances while flying to negotiate a ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1961. It’s a meditation on faith, achievement, humility, responsibility, surrender, spirituality, and vanity written in single sentences or vignettes. I think you’ll find it compelling.
     
    And as far as sense of wonder, as you’ve mentioned along with the daily practice coincidences and unexpected outcomes emerge in surprising places, as I learned recently when I picked up a used copy of Markings at the Strand. I recount the story here http://alexander101.com/2011/11/06/in-search-of-mrs-nancy-nesbitt-ost-–-part-i/   and the sentiment in some other parts of my blog at http://www.alexander101.com.
      

  • http://twitter.com/mikenolan99 Mike Nolan

    Great post. Reminds me of my dad – he fostered the love of reading by handing me open books and saying “give that page a read…”

    Many times it was Asimov or Clarke… Always got me hooked – not just on reading that one book, but reading for the rest of my life.

    RIP Isaac Asimov…

  • Bob Earl

    Best thing I’ve read from you here; I’m going to forward this to a friend…BTW, I recently read an Asimov nonfiction (which of course I can’t remember the name of) which tracked the march of life and knowledge from nearly the big bang to about 1980, in vignettes no more than about half a page…if you haven’t read it, do so asap…especially since it can be read in 30-second increments…I agree with you about Zelazny, who is a favorite…are you aware that there are followups (both sequels and prequels) to the Amber series?  Authorized and well written.

  • Concrete Dovetail

    I have one for you.  He studied in chemistry in graduate school at Columbia University.  According to a professor in the department, he wasn’t a very good student, but his Ph.D. advisor was a compassionate person, so he let him finish the program.  His thesis is in the chemistry library along with all the others.  I never dug it up, but some of my colleagues did.  They said it sounded like a pretty boring topic (I guess people expect that Asimov would have worked on something futuristic).

    • Foljs

      The professor was probably talking out of his ass. His PhD was in biochemistry, not chemistry.

      Also, a mediocre student? Asimov went on to become a professor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine.

      • Carmichael

        He wrote his thesis on the chemical properties of Thiotimoline, right?  I don’t see how anyone would think that would be a boring topic. 

        • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

          Well, there were times when he was repeatedly threatened with being fired because he never published again on research topics in his area. BUT, you should read how he managed to secure his professorship in his memoir. Its a fun chapter.

      • Concrete Dovetail

        Many departments combine chemistry and biochemistry, so it’s not that big of a deal.  People in “chemistry” do “biochemistry” and people in “biochemistry” do “chemistry”.  The old categories of chemistry, physics, etc. is becoming a thing of the past (although some people hold a religious-like conviction to maintaining these boundaries).  You can look up Asimov’s output in web of science.  I’m not trying to knock him, but according to Web of Science he did not publish so much as a student, and his research career including his time as a professor only yielded an H-index (reflects how often your work has been cited) value of 5, which most people have surpassed by the time they gain an assistant professor position.  Back then there was much less competition.  Of course, he clearly did not care as writing sci-fi was his passion.  No one is looking down on him for this.  The point is, instead of trying to impress people with a high scientific output he followed his own path, which is more interesting. 

  • Foljs

    Well, in the eighties Asimov published 3 sequels and 2 prequels to the Foundation series. And while they are not as good, they *are* good, and add a lot to the story. 

    Also, part of the “total” mystery of the whole series are contained in his “The end of Eternity” and, IIRC, “Nemesis” novels. 

  • http://twitter.com/ANGARR Ana Garcia

    I’m a huge fan of Heinlein. Had only vaguely heard of Asimov before this post. What’s the comparison here? By which I mean, are they similar in theme?

  • http://twitter.com/steveroh the grumpy hypnotist

    ah thank you for this lovely post, Asimov Clarke and, for me, Bradbury were giants (tho Bradbury was more fantasyish).  “The Dead Past” is my favorite Asimov tale.

  • Travis Fields

    You have good taste: Tolkien and Zelazny were far more talented writers than Asimov.

  • http://twitter.com/web_promo webpromo

    Very nice post even i would say that whole blog is awesome. I keep learning new things every day from post like these. Good stuff!

  • Dave

    Another terrific post James. Thanks for posting this, I learned a lot.

  • John C

    You missed Asimov’s greatest lesson: be a smartass.

    Some of the funniest stuff ever written came from Asimov.  Asimov was, at the end of the day, an unapologetic smartass.  This is, after all, an author who wrote a how-to guide to being a dirty old man.

  • Bill

    I’m already a huge fan, hence influenced by my positive bias, but your comments about Asimov in ‘D. Humble Vanity’ may be the most personally relevant thing I have read online. In all seriousness. You just captured, offhandedly, the essence of the mental deal the male ego can make with itself offering up intelligence and accomplishment as a shoddy, but self satisfying consolation prize to some level of failed living – all with a smile and sense of humor! Great post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelTRobinson Michael T Robinson

    I saw Asimov speak at a University ~1974. Big bushy side burns, very funny and entertaining.
    He mentioned that when he was 3 or 4 years old, he asked his parents for two things:

    1) get me a typewriter
    2) get me out of Russia

    I’ve read most of his SF, and if I had more leisure time I might read more. Loved his robot series. Also read a few of his books on science. Not as enjoyable as the SF.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelTRobinson Michael T Robinson

    I saw Asimov speak at a University ~1974. Big bushy side burns, very funny and entertaining.
    He mentioned that when he was 3 or 4 years old, he asked his parents for two things:

    1) get me a typewriter
    2) get me out of Russia

    I’ve read most of his SF, and if I had more leisure time I might read more. Loved his robot series. Also read a few of his books on science. Not as enjoyable as the SF.

  • Regular anonymous reader

    Shoshin: http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Mind-Beginners-Informal-Meditation/dp/0834800799

  • Anonymous

    Isaac Asimov is the only writer to have published books in every category in the Dewey Decimal System. When I worked for the American Psychiatric Association, we invited him to speak and asked him what hotel he’d like to stay in in NYC. In his inimitable style, he wrote to say that it would be quite silly to put him in a hotel since he lived there and preferred his own bed and pillows. I wish I’d kept a copy of his letter. Asimov rules.

  • Bobby K

    I thnk it Asimov’s parents were candy makers and his mom went back to school after Isaac had become famous, she was turning in her papers when the instructor complemented her writing, saying something like  “i can see how your got to be such a great writer, and she then replies no you can now see how he got to be a great writer…”

    • Bobby K

      you*

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567127659 Mary McNamara

    Very cool!! It was the Foundation series that caught me too. I didn’t really read any of the robot stories until much later. I learned so much from those books. He taught the win-win situation way before Dr. Covey. The understanding of human nature and thought, and the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking his characters used to resolve issues was amazing. My most fav thing though, was the first sentences of his bio – that at 4, he found himself, to his dismay, in the USSR and moved quickly to rectify the situation by stowing away in his parents luggage (major paraphrasing – this is definitely a jump in the waaaaayyyyback machine LOL). Best. Sense of humor. ever. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/wunluv Santhan

    That sense of wonderment never leaves. It mysteriously appears every now and then when we least expect it. What a rush! If only we could find some way to switch it on at will. I’m convinced there are ways.

    Power & Humility must be in balance – on the same level. If power is greater, then it leans towards force and if humility is greater, then it leads towards weakness.

  • http://twitter.com/malvarco Manuel Alvarez

    I think it has a lot to do with context. I remember when I was a child I went camping to the beach during vacations, and read comics and science fiction (yes, Asimov too), and during those wonderful nights I looked up to the starry skies and I was part of Cosmos and the science fiction worlds. I still looked at the sky in the city looking for those stars that are still there 30 years later.

  • nofuntown

    another mind expanding post by James

  • Eric

    ”But I still want that sense of wonder that hit me for only a few moments
    in my childhood. I want it back. I want to know the answer to the Last
    Question over and over again, forever. I want it now. I don’t want it to
    ever leave me again.” Reminds me of how much I miss my childhood… Everything was so magical, everything I ever did, every beautiful thing I saw had meaning.