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Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
eMail normsperling [at] gmail.com

Welcome

Welcome to "Everything in the Universe", my blog on Science, Nature, and the Public. I often explore their intertwinings. New posts should appear
roughly weekly, so if you want to check regularly for new items, every Monday or Tuesday you ought to find something.

I don't try to be literary, but I do think before I write, and write only when I have something to say. When news spurs a reaction, mine aren't the
fastest knee-jerk comments, they're more often a considered reflection.

Some entries are full-blown essays, others are ideas that can be presented briefly. I don't yak and I don't blather. When I don't have anything to
say, I don't say it. If my message needs 2 paragraphs, you don’t have to slog through 10 paragraphs to get to it. I try to get things right.

Please also enjoy my previously-published articles posted here.

Comments and suggestions are welcome: eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com. I read them all, but don't always post them. To prevent descent into
harsh put-downs, political stabbings, rancor, advertising, and irrelevancy, I squelch those.

Norm Sperling’s Great Science Trek: 2014

San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara
Palm Springs
Death Valley
Tucson
El Paso
Corpus Christi
Baton Rouge
Tampa
Everglades
Key West
Winter Star Party, Scout Key
Miami

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard
mid-South

APRIL 2014:
near I-40, I-30, and I-20 westbound

MAY 2014:
near US-101 northbound
May 17-18: Maker Faire, San Mateo
May 23-26: BayCon, Santa Clara

California till midJune

JUNE 2014:
Pacific Northwest

JULY 2014:
Western Canada, eastbound

AUGUST 2014:
near the US/Can border, westbound
August 22-on: UC Berkeley

Speaking engagements welcome!
2014 and 2015 itineraries will probably cross several times.

What America Has Less of Since My 1982 Trek

© Norman Sperling, January 5, 2015

Service stations with service, especially mechanics. Service bays have been turned into convenience stores.

Gas stations. A lot of corner stations have been consolidated into big facilities, often near highway interchanges.

Single-screen movie theaters have morphed into multiplexes.

Local drug stores. Chains have bought them out.

Local book stores … though with the collapse of big chains (spurred partly by Amazon and avarice) a few are creeping back.

Stuckey’s.

Seesaws. Though that’s the iconic symbol for playgrounds, I’ve only noticed one playground in the last 2 years that actually had a seesaw. Were they killed by liability lawyers?

Phone booths have been outmoded by cell phones.

Fewer rest stops on highways. Many have been removed in the last few years. I doubt that maintenance is that prohibitively expensive.

Fewer junk yards and rusting hulks in yards. Fewer, but still a lot of eyesores. If the old cars are useful, make use of them. If not, sell them as classics, or junk the hulks for spare parts or recycling.

What America Has More of Since My 1982 Trek

© Norman Sperling, January 5, 2015

Chain stores have taken over even more than before. There are still regional and local stores but overall every covered shopping center looks and feels like every other one, and so does every big-box shopping center.

Many chains are now huge. Enormous numbers of small towns have a local grocery store, of sorts, because Dollar General and Family Dollar have spotted their niche. Lowe’s and Aldi are among many other big chains. Truck stops used to be largely Union 76; now they’re Love’s and Pilot/Flying J.

This has brought tremendous variety to places that formerly didn’t enjoy as much. Customers flock to Walmart not only because the prices are low and the quality acceptable, but also because the store has many tens of thousands of different items more than the local stores it replaced. Collectively, chain stores have unified the “American experience” about as much as the highway network and mass media.

Wineries have sprouted all over the map! Most of them probably don’t grow their own grapes, but the wineries themselves have enormously proliferated.

Good coffee is a phenomenon America owes mostly to Starbucks. You always could get a cup of coffee, but there used to be just one kind, and it wasn’t gourmet. Now even truck stops offer >5 types, most of them premium quality. For consumers, this is wonderful.

Cellphone towers uglify the landscape but serve the public. As spectacularly as cellphone service has grown, I still find myself in plenty of places with no service, or very little. I expect that when I go geologizing and nature walking. More surprising is the lack of signal in many RV camps and US routes. Cellphone towers seem ubiquitous but they aren’t all in my network.

Electronic message signs have sprung up on roads and elsewhere.

Firewood bundles are now for sale, often in self-serve stacks for a few bucks. People used to gather their own.

Singlewide and Doublewide mobile homes have largely replaced older, flimsier dwellings like shotgun shacks. Manufactured homes look awfully plain, and old, damaged ones are not rare or pretty, but I remember the shanties they replaced, and mobile homes are way better. They seem to last 30-40 years, which is way less than a sturdy house, but can handle a major part of a person’s or family’s life. Though a great many people find them the solution of choice for their budgets and situations, many towns don’t let them in. That’s a huge mistake. The image of “trailer trash” is not a total myth but slurs a lot of people of good character who, for various reasons, have to (or prefer to) make do on little cash -- like me.

Storage facilities have proliferated immensely. A lot of them occupy marginal land near freeways, rivers, and railroads. There’s also a burgeoning business in storage sheds. All that means that Americans now own more than we used to. Some of it is not so good -- displaced people stowing stuff till they can recover, for example. But much marks the prosperity that started in the post-WWII boom. We’re not yet wise about what not to buy and what not to keep, having had no cultural experience with the problem. But we have stuff that we want to keep, which is way better than not having it.

Motorcycle clubs tour all sorts of places. Not only on scenic routes everywhere I go, but also on some less-scenic highways, I see many groups of motorcyclists. Harleys dominate but other brands buzz by me too. Most riders appear to be in their 50s and 60s. They’re invariably polite and sociable; the fearsome thunderous noise runs counter to their personal demeanor. Not only are pleasure rides very much a thing to do, but lots of places now qualify as such. Maybe the non-scenic areas are on the way to a scenic goal, such as a tourist town tucked away somewhere. Seeing so many joyriders reassures me that I’m seeing a lot of the best scenery myself.

The Issues of the Issue: JIR Volume 52, #4

© Norman Sperling, December 31, 2014

As always, The Journal of Irreproducible Results brings up real issues in its light-hearted way.

“We submitted most of our research design and several very good red velvet bundt cakes and a bottle of Scotch to the local Institutionalized Review Bored consisting of a bioethicist and his medical marijuana, a fairly convincing female impersonator, Plinkey (a nearsighted but lovely golden cocker spaniel), a black & white photograph of Merv Griffin, Mrs. Bronson, and 2 bowling pins. As usual, we were granted full authorization to proceed.”
- Herschel Knapp, PhD, UCLA, page 25

How good and proper are Institutional Review Boards? Occasionally I hear a little grousing. Surely researchers don’t have as much latitude as they used to, and shouldn’t. Are some boards too lax? Are some too restrictive? Should the rules they enforce be adjusted? Should some research be opened back up?

Fireplaces recede into history as more recent heating methods keep us warm. Fireplaces still lend romance and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the atmosphere they generate when users don’t know any better is carbon monoxide, which has killed humans for centuries. The Doherty family wrote an article pointing out that CO deaths rise in the Holiday season, following cheery fires. Let awareness rise instead of deaths.

An optometrist focuses on the problem that “most multi-focal contact lens patients need to accept that to be able to see well for reading, one has to put up with the occasional automobile accident. Conversely, to maintain adequate distance vision, most multi-focal contact lens wearers should expect to carry a lighthouse with them wherever they go, to provide adequate lighting for near tasks.” Exaggeration brings out humor, but to what degree is this true? Should advertising be reined back?

Siri leads consumers by the ear. Her “artificial intelligence” flows out of smartphones. Will she eventually violate Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics? John Wade thinks she could. Or at least, he thought that when he submitted the article we just printed. We haven’t heard from him since.

Hanjo Hamann of Bonn, Germany, tells how a legal scholar there conjured up a type of animal that nature never made. Laws that are contrary to reality and contrary to evidence need to be expunged. Citizens could not tell whether to follow reality, or, instead, law. That cannot promote respect for the law. JIR invites more hilarity on “legal fictions”.

Ice Bucket Challenges made a big splash in late 2014. Sports teams had dumped on heroes for decades, but all of a sudden it became a charity issue, and spread incautiously. Someone died immediately after being dumped on, and the meme receded as abruptly as it arose. A lot of memes aren’t great ideas, and JIR will happily target many of those. Thanks to future-doctor Ryan Sieli for this one.

A curiosity of archaeology and paleontology caught the attention of 3 researchers from the Wolff family (Wolvves?). Excavators in the field *lick* specimens. Bones and their fossils stick to the tongue, while stone and pottery do not. They investigate and propose a reason.

Our front cover continues a JIR tradition stretching back decades: a microscopic photo resembling something funny, in this case Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. These days, Science develops more imaging that ever. We invite amusing contributions from every form of imaging, not just microscopy. Embellishments welcome.

Futurist Steve Johnson shows how current building materials could be fashioned into vastly different houses than tradition fosters.

My front-cover quip mentions alternating-current batteries, a curious concept that an engineer once blew past me. We invite richer exploration of the possibilities.

Once more, contributors have been great with words and less great with illustrations. Once more, we filled in from our now-favorite source, WikiMedia Commons, part of the Wikipedia cluster. A lot of their trove of illustrations are “some-rights-reserved”, usually simply requiring attribution. This time, we thank Kim Quintano, and for the cute cat pictures: Lauraprl, Stephan Czuratis, Alexandra, Dan4th, and chmee2.

Wikipedia and WikiMedia, though not always right or best-proportioned, are spectacular places to start an inquiry. You have some expertise, or you wouldn’t be reading JIR. Please donate some of that by improving Wikipedia articles in subjects and languages you know well.

My Students Explained These to Me

© Norman Sperling, December 25, 2014

Most of my intro-astro students are diligent, and many are creative. Some of that second group aren’t in the first group. Here’s what they wrote on tests.

* [Mayans] used the sun to tell time by using steaks and shadows.

* Planets cover the same amount of mass in the same amount of time.

* [Kepler’s Third Law] The ratio of the average of a period of 2 planets is equal to the average cube of the semi-major axis.

* The period of rotation is proportional to our radius or something!

* Gravity pulls on things because of heat. Sunlight is brought down to Earth with the help from gravity.

* Newtonian telescopes consists of a secondary mirror added to the side in order to create more light to see colors.

* When a meteor passes earth its tail leaves behind comets which light & burn up in the sky or atmosphere of the earth.

* Uranus reflects most of the sunlight that it absorbs.

* You can tell the age of an object by looking at the objects within them.

* You can tell how old a star is by examining its main sequence.

* Stars with darker colors are considered a lot newer.

* Sefiet variables are used to measure the distance between space and the universe.

* A supernova emerges when iron reaches the core of the sun.

* The disk which is made of “arms” is just an extension of clustures which “spirals” out & sometimes makes eddies as a result of the outward gravity for a time being able to push out a section of clustures.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
This Book Warps Space and Time
What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

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