Quantity Over Quality

Isaac AsimovOn this day in 1822, the great physicist Rudolf Clausius was born. He basically put the Carnot cycle into the formulation that we now use. But more important he introduced the idea of entropy into thermodynamics. Entropy is kind of like the disorder of a system and it is the reason that systems are not reversible. Think of Humpty Dumpty: it takes a lot more energy to put him back together than you got from breaking him in the first place. Anyway, Clausius is extremely important to the field of thermodynamics and thermodynamics is a really cool (no pun intended) field of study.

The great Croatian painter Slava Raskaj was born in 1877. She is best known for her water colors, which are magnificent. In her early 20s, she began to suffer from depression. So, as they did in those days, they shipped her off to an “institution” where she caught tuberculosis and died shortly after her 29th birthday.

Lotus - Slava Raskaj

The great Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov was born in 1896. When sound came into film, it almost destroyed the American film industry. All of the visual brilliance that came from people like D W Griffith was forgotten to make way for sound. It’s understandable, but sad. In other countries they didn’t make this mistake. I watched L’Atalante the other night, and although it is a sound picture, the visual story is not sacrificed for the sake of dialog. Vertov was very much part of that, but he didn’t even make narrative films. He was an experimenter, and his film Man with a Movie Camera is still a really interesting film to watch. It was a collaboration with his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov went out and shot interesting things and Svilova tried to edit it into something that made some kind of sense. And it works. It was also hugely influential while American filmmakers were trying to figure out how to hide microphones in flower vases. Here is the whole thing:

The singer-songwriter Roger Miller was born in 1936. He wrote fun and funny song. I love this song:

And finally, someone I really don’t like: “journalist” Judith Miller. More than any other single media person, she sold the Iraq War. And we cannot say that she was deceived. Dick Cheney’s office would feed her information, she would report it, Dick Cheney would then go on the PBS Newshour and say, “It’s not just me who’s saying this; the New York Times reported the same thing!” And then, once she had destroyed all of her credibility, she went on to work for Fox News and other conservative media outlets and “think tanks.” So she was always a conservative, pushing a war that the conservatives wanted, and did it while claiming to be an “objective” journalist. Certainly, she is nowhere near as bad as Bush the Younger or Dick Cheney. But I think she is a traitor, both to her profession and to this country. Instead, I’m sure she’s living the good life, making lots of money, widely applauded in the conservative circles she now finds herself. I guess that’s the new American Dream: betray your country and then get paid huge amounts of money for it. Go team!

Other birthdays: composer Mily Balakirev (1837); sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870); a man who now looks like George Washington compared to what his party has become, Barry Goldwater (1909); and actor Cuba Gooding Jr (46).

The day, however, belongs to Isaac Asimov who was born on this day in 1920. He is mostly known as a science fiction writer. I don’t care for his science fiction. He also wrote books about just about anything you can think of. I’m not too fond of those either. But I do like that he was interested in a lot of different stuff. The problem with his work is that he went for quantity over quality and it showed. Or at least it showed whenever I read him. He wrote or edited over 500 books. I haven’t read more than ten of his books. But I could definitely see how he managed to write so many books: he didn’t put a lot of work into them. He also tended to write short books. Now, I’m all for that; I think there is far too much padding in most books today. But his popular science books were always just good enough, you know? Regardless, he was totally my kind of guy and he was very impressive. So…

Happy birthday Isaac Asimov!

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