Friday, April 12, 2013

Visiting Ray and Grace: repost from 2010

By special request, I am re-posting an entry from the now-discontinued "Electron Blue 2."

FRIDAY, MARCH 19, 2010
Meeting Ray Solomonoff

I have been desperately shuffling things around my art studio trying to make some kind of order. I hate disorder and clutter and that's what I have right now. My math book and worksheets are buried under random papers. I worked on "Neutron Starlight" and then I had to mount and mat fourteen prints for a dealer who wants to sell them at Persian gatherings this weekend. This Saturday is the long-awaited first day of spring, which is also NoRuz, the Persian New Year. Happy NoRuz, if anyone Persian is reading this.

I have sheafs of old newspapers in the studio which I use as background to spraying paint. I was attempting to lay down some matte black backgrounds yesterday, which was the first decent sunny day in weeks. I pulled out the New York Times from January 13, 2010 and found an obituary for Ray Solomonoff. He had died in December 2009 at the age of 83.

This brought back some vivid memories from my life in Cambridge. Ray Solomonoff was a pioneer in the theory and development of artificial intelligence, or how machines can solve mathematical and other problems. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for many years. The first two of those years, from 1976-78, were spent being a graduate student in classics at Harvard. I didn't do well in academia and those years were miserable. But I also moved in science fiction fan circles and met a lot of interesting people who were not just fans, but real scientists and space travel promoters. Ray was part of that community. One night in winter 1977, I went to dinner at the dwelling of Ray and his wife Grace, who was a writer and poet.

They lived in one of the strangest hideaways I've ever visited. Tucked away behind retail buildings right in the center of Harvard Square were ramshackle apartments, some of them windowless and probably illegal. Their rents were low and living in them was not too different from "squatting." Ray and Grace lived in one of these. I thought it was amazing. They were the archetypal old hippies, except that Ray was a world-renowned scientist. Their hidden rabbit hole was book-lined, cluttered and filled with odd artifacts, just like my digs, but without the art studio. This was 1977, the last years of the Old World before the Internet. Ray knew that the NetWorld was coming. I had no clue. What did I know back then, struggling with Greek grammar and Late Roman rhetoric? Math was hostile alien territory to me. So even though I dined at his house, I had no idea what Ray Solomonoff was really an expert in. I had heard the words "artificial intelligence" but that was about it. It would take me another 23 years to discover mathematics for myself.

I brought my sketchbook to that dinner, and drew portraits of both Ray and Grace. Here's my rendition of Ray, along with some kitchen utensils and a mug from the dinner table. Rest in peace, Ray, there at the Infinity Point you envisioned.

Posted by Pyracantha. Drawings done in brown ink with Rapidograph technical pen.

Here's a portrait of Grace, done that same evening.

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