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

The Media, They Are A'Changin'

© Norman Sperling, January 2, 2011

This New Year marks yet another time to adapt JIR's standard permission letter to new media. Successive iterations of "permission" letters have dealt with copyrights, and in what situations the publication can and cannot publish a writer's article. (or photographer or artist or whoever; or picture or puzzle or whatever). We have bulging files of "signed permissions", punningly nicknamed "singed persimmons".

But media keep inventing fabulous new ways to do things that old singed persimmons never anticipated.

JIR has permission to run articles submitted to it (why else submit an article?), and now grants subscribing teachers the right to copy an article per semester for their students. Previous publishers obtained authors' permissions to republish articles in anthologies. Since the 1990s, JIR has posted selected favorites on its website.

But now I want to adapt certain articles to perform in a one-man show (formerly called a "lecture"). And/or podcasts and other audio formats. And/or stage performances (one-act plays? college comedies?) And/or videorecord those (YouTube? DVD? iPod? classical or RPG-type animation?).

Of course, dramatists have turned stories into scripts for millennia. Some adaptations are easy: the classic Turboencabulator (v9 p20) distributes almost perfectly into a multi-part dialog. Other articles require so much re-working that the performance would be more "adapted from" or merely "inspired by" the original. I tried adapting Jeff Jargon's hilarious "Nature Versus Nurture: One Man's Diabolical Experiment on His Own Children" (v50 #1 p12) but never thought up a way to turn his brilliant data table into something that actors would do.

So, with the new year, I'm changing JIR's permission letter - again - to accommodate these new possibilities. Tell me what I'm still leaving out with this latest phrasing:
Please grant or decline your permission for JIR to non-exclusively republish, adapt, produce, and/or perform the Work in:
* JIR compendia or anthologies or websites: Granted -or- Declined
* audio formats including radio and podcasts: Granted -or- Declined
* video formats including television, movies, animations, and on-line: Granted -or- Declined
* dramatizations and live performances including stage plays: Granted -or- Declined

I'm also starting to ask addresses of people most likely to be able to find authors in the distant future (like a university, a professional society, or a stable young relative) because we've lost track of old contributors, and don't even know which ones are still alive.

Authors each have their own situations and motives, so each may react differently toward granting, or declining, various permissions. In the past, scientists with secure employment often granted blanket permission, probably because they gain more from spreading their ideas than from selling articles. Old people, too, often permitted everything, perhaps not expecting to earn enough soon for reselling to be worth it. Writers, on the other hand, often granted rights to publish in just one issue, and retained all else, hoping to resell the work again later. Or maybe the writers just knew where to resell content, and scientists didn't.

>>><<<

Dale: thanks for the blanket!
Technorati: 4DUNHAPZS5ZY, thank you.
SFO: my, that was short!

Big Science Festival Coming to San Francisco Bay Area

© Norman Sperling, December 25, 2010

What if your club, institution, or company gets access to a lot of the Science-interested public for a few days? What if they come to you, or meet you in a nice venue? What messages would you most want to get across? What could those contacts be best used for? What if you had 10 months to prepare?

Around San Francisco, the Bay Area Science Festival is planned for October 29 - November 6, 2011. But hardly anyone I talk to has heard about it yet!

One indication that the planning's cast in Jell-O® rather than concrete is that they say it's going to be a 10-day event, but the days they list total 9. So it's not too late to get involved. If you're in the Bay Area, think through your optimum result from such a festival. Think through how to achieve it. Then contact the Festival folks to make sure you get included. I'd guess that the more self-contained your package, the easier it should be for them to include.

Here's what I've gleaned so far:

Merry Bloopers

© Norman Sperling, December 19, 2010

Exam week holds terrors for teachers as well as students. This week, I wallowed in eye-strain by reading 61 3-hour intro-astro essay finals on the prompt: Starting with hydrogen and time, narrate how the Universe began and evolved to us, here, now.

We had a record number of A+ essays, and not a single F. I expected their bloopers to fill a big post, but only found these 5:

* [Newton's Law of Gravity described] why we are orbitting the moon.

* Neuron stars are created by supernovas. They are made entirely of neurons.

* In the "oscillating universe" theory, there will be a Big Bang and then a Big Crunch (where everything comes back together) every 140 years.

* [Kepler's Third Law] No matter where in orbit the area formed by the diameter of the planet to the sun will always be equal.

* Along with gas giants, black holes are also observed on Earth.

+ + +

Here are cosmology bloopers from classes longer ago:

* The beginning of the Universe is not 100% correct.

* The greater the mass of an object the faster it is moving away from the sun.

* Our universe was formed by the third star.

* The Big Bang Theory ... states that the universe was created due to particles and organisms that lay dormant until they collided, and the Big Bang occurred.

* We have observational proof of the Big Bang in the form of backward radiation.

* This Big Bang supposedly occured thirteen pt. seven years ago.

* [The Bang-Bang] theory was used when nearby objects were blue shifted and far away objects were red shifted.

* the Red Shift ... All the objects that is far away from here supposedly marked in red.

* The Big Bang theory states that in order to know what was going on in the universe a million years ago, you would have to have watched it two million years ago.

* Nature developed as an explosion in the heavens that fell into the waters and began to grow plants and fish and other underwater creatures.

* Before the Big Bang, all the living creatures such as dinasours had been totally dieseased and new birth has been adopted to this new young planets.

* There was so much bonding and chemical energy that it all spontaneously combusted and made a universe.

* The universe started with that big-bang. A big rock or a galaxy hit the earth and it came to pieces. The fusion up in the galaxy, the pieces, the dust of earth came back together. Before the big-bang, the earth was without water, only dust and volcanos and was extremely hot. After the big-bang, oceans were discovery. The bacteria from the water of oceans transform dinosaurs. The water which have H2O made the air as oxygen. So we can breath. Soon, the ocean's water wet it the sands, that it started growing plants on the sands and later it became trees and then a forest. The leaves from plants and trees were food for the dinosours. There was a big earthquake that opened up the lands and swallowed all the dinosours. Later the bacteria and germs started to form in molecules and human being started to form. That's how the universe was form.

* When density increases the university begins to contract everywhere.

* Unknown is known.

* Every concept is still a theory until it can be proven false.

+ + +

An excellent student wrote at the very end "I have spent all my time and just scratched the surface." That's how I feel after teaching the whole course ... and after studying my whole career.

Instant A

© Norman Sperling, December 12, 2010

Instant-A Dare! Any student who solves this problem, to the satisfaction of experts in this specialty, gets an instant A for this entire course, regardless of anything else.

My astronomy students see this message 20 or 30 times a semester. I use it whenever a topic isn't resolved, whenever something remains unknown or not understood - such as magnetic fields. Textbooks' traditional "positivist" style systematically tells what IS known, and determinedly leaves out what ISN'T known. This gives students the false impression that Science is all about stuff that's already securely known. Textbooks usually neglect the thrill of the chase, and systematically avoid mentioning what isn't known.

So I make quite a point of it. I even emphasize it with this offer of an "Instant A".

Students I re-encounter many years after they took my course still remember the offer and its point.

Of course, this is not just a surface issue.

I point out that Science doesn't yet understand most of Nature's workings. That way students should be able to figure out where future discoveries fit in. And I make sure to emphasize that this is not only true in astronomy, but in all Sciences and many other scholarly fields.

I also distinguish which information is "cast in concrete" from items that are progressively less firm: "cast in Jell-O"®, or even "cast in hot air". Switching metaphors, I tell them that certain items deserve to be "written in ink", but others should only be "written in pencil", because they're merely this year's best estimate. Still other points should be written in "fuzzy pencil" or "faint fuzzy pencil" according to how weakly we grasp them.

I often point out that when something doesn't yet deserve to be written in ink, or is so unknown it would earn my Instant A, that's a dare. A dare to the students to go solve that. They're sharp and clever and knowledgeable, so they just might be the people to solve such problems.

Certain problems may not need better data, they might just need a different point of view. Most professional astronomers share a lot of experiences to which to compare things - pattern-recognition. My students come from a far richer variety of national, cultural, and religious heritages, travel experiences, and previous schooling. Perhaps somewhere among that richer trove of things to compare to, someone will recognize a new pattern. I alert them to be on the lookout. You, too.

Several of these problems are worth a lot more than an A in intro-astro. Many would make splendid thesis topics. Some would put their solvers on fast-tracks to tenure. Identifying or disproving dark energy is worth a big prize.

So far, no student has won an "Instant A". Several have brought up points that I had to think about for weeks, and consult experts about, though none has turned into a true scientific advance. I'd give most of those students an A for scientific excellence anyway, but almost all of them were already earning an A.

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

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