Tag Archives: art

Escherian puns

Five years ago (February 2009), I took a photo of two geese on a frozen pond, standing in identical poses. They were both balanced on only one leg, with their heads turned back over their left shoulders. The one-leg thing was presumably to keep the other, uplifted foot off the ice. Their heads may also have been turned in a heat-conserving tuck, but I suspect that it was synchronized preening. After all, the Vancouver Winter Olympics were only a year away, and the Geese were Canadian.

En Escherlon

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The notebook as (framed) art

PenWorld is a place of pens and ink and cases, paper and notebooks and covers, pencils and markers and sketchbooks, plus the handwriting and artwork that can be created therewith. It’s probably fair to say that PenWorld’s residents, among whom I count myself, look at this assemblage of objects through both aesthetic and utilitarian lenses. Of course, true collectors generally have a different perspective — after all, a stamp collector is unlikely to salivate over a rare mint find in order to lick it and mail a letter! That scenario aside, most of us who own multiple fountain pens, for example, still look forward to inking them and using them. We may stare at them appreciatively, which is why those wooden cases for 12 or 24 pens usually have a glass top. But that top raises up so we can take them out and write with them.

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The aesthetics of iMandalArt

Last September, I wrote a post about productivity apps and the impending appearance of the iPad version of iMandalArt. In November, I added a brief update with a link to the MandalArt Website with videos — three of them now in English — that show the app in action. Here is the one that I have subsequently found most helpful:

Less than a week after my update, iMandalArt HD was released, and I have now been living with it for a bit more than two months. I say “living with,” rather than “using,” advisedly. As I wrote in the original post:

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Life imitates Asimov

Over each of the next three years, successive volumes of Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction masterpiece, the Foundation Trilogy, will reach the 60th anniversary of first publication — Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953). Notwithstanding his much more recent authoring of two sequels, and then two prequels, the Trilogy can’t help but show its age. This is most noticeable with some of the props, for example, the “Transcriber,” a voice-activated device that converts human speech into pen-on-paper writing, with the author required to insert the paper one sheet at a time; and the kitchen-of-tomorrow “nuclear knife” offered by itinerant traders on the galactic periphery.

One prop, however, seems as magical-yet-plausible now as when I first read the Trilogy: the Prime Radiant. This mind-activated device both stores and projects the equations of Psychohistory, the mathematics devised by Hari Seldon as a statistical description of galaxy-scale human behavior. The equations predict collapse of the Galactic Empire of Seldon’s day (some 50,000 years after this blog post, you may be glad to know) and a subsequent Dark Age of 30 millennia. He sets up two Foundations, famously described as being at “opposite ends of the galaxy,” one to preserve scientific knowledge, the other to evolve and protect the Seldon Plan, with the hope that a new empire can emerge after a mere thousand years. The latter — the eponymous Second Foundation — operates in total secrecy, an evocative plot detail if ever there was one.

Unlike the Transcriber, which seems ridiculously clumsy in the era of the iPad, let alone the laughable nuclear knife, the Prime Radiant is elegant in both its functionality and simplicity. In the original Trilogy, it is mentioned in only one chapter, “Seldon’s Plan,” of Second Foundation. It is described quite simply as “featureless” and a “black, shining cube.” (It is also mentioned in a dozen or so chapters of the prequel Forward the Foundation (1993), the last book written by Asimov before his death, but there are no other substantive details.)

Here is arguably the most revealing passage about it, an exchange between the First Speaker, the leading psychologist of the Second Foundation, and a novice student:

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