Saturday, November 3, 2007

Isaac Asimov Science Sunday

I'm a sucker for short answer tests. Yes, I was that kid in school who bristled at ABCD multi-choice tests, never completely happy with the menu, usually reinterpreting (or misinterpreting) the only choices allowed. Same with True-False (is there any such thing as a truly true or completely false statment?). But give me a fill-in-the-blank, or short answer test, especially a deceptively easy one, and I will eat it up like blueberry pancakes with pecan syrup on a lazy Sunday morning.

So, I was very pleased to recently find out that one of my favorite science fiction writers, Isaac Asimov, lent his name to a series called Isaac Asimov's Super Quiz, published in many newspapers by the King Features Syndicate. Each quiz has a different subject.

Today's subject is: SCIENCE ... (answers will be at the end of this post)

"Freshman Level"
1. What is the term for a period of 1,000 years?
2. There are 1,760 _______ in a _________.
3. From what raw material is aluminum obtained?

"Graduate Level"
4. The sugar found in honey and fruit is called ________.
5. What is controlled by a rheostat? ______________ .
6. What element has the atomic number 1? _________.

"Ph.D. Level"
7. "In Vivo" means in the living body,
and "in vitro" means __________.
8. Translate "compos mentis": __________________.
9. What is the common name for diamorphine? _______.

Scoring is as follows: 1 point for each correct answer at the "Freshman Level", 2 points at the "Graduate Level", and 3 points at the "PhD Level". (remember answers are at the end of post)

I first became acquainted with Mr. Asimov's work during the summer after 9th grade (same summer that found me anxiously awaiting the arrival of the boob fairy). Summer vacations always included a lot of reading for me. In hunting around the city library for something different, I ended up in the science fiction section. So it was there that I found & devoured The Foundation Trilogy (which deals with the fall of the Galactic Empire in a more thought-provoking way than Star Wars), followed by the "I, Robot" series (featuring the famous 3 laws of robotics & eventually made into a movie starring Will Smith), and "Nightfall" ... thus beginning my life-long love of sci-fi.

Originally written in 1941, "Nightfall" was later expanded into a fuller novel & re-released. The story revolves around a planet bathed in the perpetual sunlight of its six suns ... except once every 2,049 yrs when all six suns are eclipsed, plunging the planet into total darkness. Stars appear for the first time, causing widespread madness & complete destruction of civilization, knocking any survivors back to the stone age. As the story unfolds, an archeologist finds evidence of multiple cyclical collapses of prior civilizations ... and a group of religious fanatics (called The Apostles of Flame) prophesize an impending disaster when a torrent of fire will rain down from the sky. People start having mental breakdows & massive civil riots even before the prophesized event. The novel has many underlying messages about fear & how we deal with it.

Isaac Asimov has an interesting life story which you can read about here. He was an atheist humanist who called himself a feminist & believed that homosexuality must be considered a "moral right". He authored about 500 books before his death in 1992. His final book, "Our Angry Earth" (1991) deals with environmental crises such as global warming. Here are some of my favorite Asimov quotes:

"Creationists make it sound as though a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night." ....."I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more; for whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse." ....."Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right."....."It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety." ....."Science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." ....."Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do."..... "To insult someone, we call him 'bestial', but for deliberate cruelty, 'human' might be the greater insult."..... "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

OK, here are the answers to the Asimov Science Quiz: 1. Millennium; 2. Yards, Mile; 3. Bauxite; 4. Fructose; 5. Electrical current; 6. Hydrogen; 7. In the test tube; 8. Having control of one's mind; 9. Heroin.

Score Results: 18 points=congratulations, doctor; 15-17 points=honors graduate; 10-14 points=you're plenty smart, but no grind; 4-9 points=you really should hit the books harder; 1-3 points=enroll in remedial courses immediately; 0 points=who read the questions to you?

My results: I'm "plenty smart" !?! but maybe not, since I had to award myself full points for answering #8 with "sane". I completely fluffed #3 (tin was all that came to mind & I don't even know if it's "raw") and #9 (I winged that with "daily change", boy was I off). Deceptively simple! If you take the science quiz, tell me how you did & what questions messed you up.

Were you affected by an author an early age? What genre?


Spadoman said...

I'm plenty smart as well. I missed numbers 6 and 8. But lucky on this quiz.

I'm familiar with Asimov. I generally like science fiction, but I like people who deal with it to be real. Like in movies when the hero knows what to do, but everyone else just stands there and lets the monster catch them. Run you assholes!!!

I didn't read much as a kid and don't read enough now, but I was always drawn to the classics. Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Poe. And I lusted after true adventure like Shakleton and Lt. Bligh.

No author influenced me so to speak, but I remember being in 7th grade. What's that, 13 years old? (I've seen the results of those gals who have had the boob fairy visit by then amd for some reason thought it to be grand).

My brother, six years older than I, had the same 7th grade teacher. My brother left a bad image. Mr. Hilganeck read my name on the first day of school that year. He looked up and asked if I was so-and-so's brother. I said, "Yes". I felt I was doomed.

But one day, He asked a science question. He asked, "What are radio waves measured in?"

No one knew. I raised my hand. He called on me and I answered, "Kilocycles".

From then on, Mr. Hilganeck thought me to be "different" than brother Frank. I was chosen to be one of the three people who got to go out for lunch with the teacher and choose books from a much larger library in the next town. I was considered a "teachers pet".

That didn't last too long. By 8th grade, I was in the dog house again, (Miss Santore was an artist!)

But I did get to unload "my" books on the 7th grade Stevenson School students. And many of them liked Treasure Island and Mutiny on the Bounty.

Peace to all.

D.K. Raed said...

Thanks for playing along, Spado! #6 was a 50/50 guess for me, Hydrogen or Helium, the 2 most common elements, I just happened to pick the right one.

One nice thing about Asimov is his background in hard science that enabled him go a different route than the monster-alien-babe-fantasy SF that seems to define the genre for many readers. His stories are really character-driven dialogues, almost stage plays. Many, like Nightfall, have timeless themes that are especially applicable today.

So ... Mr. Hilganeck wanted to paint you with the same brush as your brother, huh? I guess being the oldest does have its advantages there. I hope my school legacy for my bro & sissas was more helpful, with certain teachers anyway.

I like your list of authors & was/am especially taken with Poe myself: Telltale Heart, Murders at the Rue Morgue, Masque of the Red Death ... really grab me. I recall seeing some Disney versions of RLS' Treasure Island and Kidnapped as a youngster, they actually seemed scary! I never read the books & now am envious of those students you were able to influence with your selections.

Oh, Mutiny on the Bounty, eh? Well that certainly reflects your seafaring soul, your questioning of authority, maybe even the rise of your pirate nature, arghhhh.

Newsguy said...

Actually, a rheostat is used to vary the voltage of an electrical current as measured in ohms.

And in vitro literally translates as "in glass."

I missed #2 and #9

D.K. Raed said...

Newsguy: that quiz's rheostat answer bothered my husband, too, and he has an electrical background. He said he thinks of it as "adjusting" the current, not "controlling" it. It controls the voltage flow by means of providing a resistance element. Wow, you technical electrical people! All I answered was "electricity" (for which I awarded myself full points, 'natch).

For "In Vitro", I said "in a glass vial", which I also thought deserved full points (do you detect a pattern here?). See, that's why I like these tests, to expose slight differences in thinking patterns. Hope it was fun for you, too.

Spadoman said...

Now see, I can let you "smart" people steal my thunder, but I won't have it!

I visualized a rheostat. I knew what happens when you used one, I didn't know how it did it or the fact that it adjusted and not controlled electricity.

And I knew that in vitro meant that they grew it in a Petri dish, (when I typed in Petree dish, the computer knew what I wanted to learn about, then corrected my spelling), and not in the body.

Measuring "smartness" can be a double edged sword. I think we should have Mr. Asimov grade the tests instead of telling ourselves that we got the right answer. I would have been a Rhodes scholar if I could have graded my own tests in high school. After all, I was smart in the stuff they didn't teach in school, like the boob fairy:-)

D.K. Raed said...

Spado, I don't think I could "steal" thunder if I tried. So much for my smartness. Smartassness is more like it.

I like hearing how people think through their answers. You thought of Petri Dish! I vividly recall the horrible mold spores we had to experiment with in Biology class. We all got slightly different ones. Some were brightly colored, others were grimy black, some were all wet & shiny, others were rank & oozy. A few, like mine, grew hair! nasty, yucky stuff. One kid at my lab table came down with some horrid respiratory illness a few days after working with the molds. He was the genius who wanted to verify the aromas.

Unfortunately, Mr. Asimov can't grade the tests since he is no longer alive. I hope I didn't grade my own test in an dishonest fashion, but if I did, who would I be fooling? One thing's for sure, you can't fool the boob fairy. She has her own sense of timing & won't be cajoled into an early arrival (so says the late bloomer).

A Ball of Light said...

very nice post DK.
if i could read this morning i would have not seen diamorphine as diamantine, and then would have gotten 17 instead of 15... of course if i had remembered that the left-handed sugar is fructose instead of dextrose which is in ripe fruits, but not honey (i could see it just not think of the word - i did give myself half credit on it) ... grrr
the earliest book (not author) i remember is websters dictionary... i learned to read with it at 6... quite an interesting book, but not much plot. Dr. Suess was my first (and longest lasting) influence, although once i found asimov, tiptree, heinlein, leguin and pkdick i settled into a long and continuing association with science fiction, especially hard sci-fi... during a flood in my basement i lost about 90% of a 45 year sci-fi collection :( ... good thing that i have been attempting to cultivate Pratyahara (detachment from the ever-present fluctuations of life) as long as i have.
there's a boob fairy???

D.K. Raed said...

Thanks for stopping by & playing along, Mr Light. So far, no one got #9, except possibly Spado. Wow, I had NO idea there was a left-hand vs right-hand sugar, but should've recognized the latin root of DEXtrose (however, I know nothing about fruc=left).

Dr. Suess is a wonderful early influence, no one does it better! My first reading involved classic children's fairytales, like The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Jack & The Magic Beanstalk.

Over the years, most of my sci-fi collection has disappeared in one way or another, but I still have a batch of many old Amazing Stories little paperback periodicals. John Campbell, Silverberg, Asimov, Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Philip K Dick/etc are all in there.

ps, every little girl knows, there simply MUST be a boob fairy. She is much more powerful than that stupid tooth fairy, possessing true mass mind-altering abilities, or so Barbie Dolls would have us believe.