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

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

Norm Sperling’s Great Science Trek: 2014

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

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard

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.


Big Ball of Twine: Cawker City, Kansas

© Norman Sperling, July 6, 2013

On the main street one of the few signs of life is the Ball of Twine, and especially the very clever artworks up and down the block.

I’ll defer to Guinness and Wikipedia to decide which town’s ball of twine really is biggest. This one certainly is awfully big.

Cooler than the twine is the series of paintings. Local artist Cher Olson copied famous paintings, cleverly adding a ball of twine to each.

This could easily adapt to other small attractions. They could be more paintings, or they could be something else -- practically anything, like photoshopping -- that allows for adapting to the local feature subject. Folks are very creative, especially online. Adapting online-style humor to points of civic pride shouldn’t be a problem.

Go for it!

A Splendid Way to Grow Up and a Splendid Way to Portray It: John Glenn’s Boyhood Home

© Norman Sperling, June 6, 2013

The John Glenn boyhood home illustrates the Norman-Rockwell-style youth that shaped the great astronaut, who was later a senator.

Glenn grew up in the gnawing Depression, with its relentless financial drag. But he grew up in New Concord, Ohio, with its strong community fabric. The benefit of the community far outweighed the hassle of the economy. Glenn grew up with a storybook childhood and sterling character. Setting a young person on that path doesn’t take a lot of money. Actually, too much money often distracts from that path.

A tourguide at the rear introduced the home and its setting. Then she knocked on the back door, where a sign said "Today is May 3, 1937". The lady who answered the knock introduced herself as John Glenn's mother! That took me completely by surprise. She told all about her son. She took us all around the house and explained how everything we saw fit into their life - every ordinary product in the pantry, every ordinary toy and furnishing. She was completely immersed in motherhood, family, the Depression, the things they had … and the things they couldn't afford. This was one of the most realistic performances I've ever seen. The actress is Bev Allen, a volunteer.

Upstairs, a conventional tourguide resumed. Altogether we saw a great many true-to-the-times furnishings. It wasn't hard to note what we have that they didn't. But they had community, loyalty, freedom, and hard work. That's what shaped "The Greatest Generation", as Tom Brokaw called them.

Afterward, I heard that the actresses who portray Mrs. Glenn started wearing out, so the museum introduced different portrayals on different days: Mr. Glenn, and the teenage John Glenn. Now nobody's worn out and the public has greater variety to see. Next time I get anywhere near New Concord, I'm going to phone ahead to get the schedule of characters.

Debbie Allender, Director of Operations for The John & Annie Glenn Museum Foundation, tells more: "Our living history presentations are the day you visit only in 1937 - "The Life of an American Family during the Great Depression".  So if you visited on May 3, the day would have been May 3, 1937.  We also do 1944 - "Life on the Home Front during WWII", and we alternate the 2 years every other year.  So say you come next summer on June 5, the living history presentation would be June 5, 1944.  The actor or actress who takes our visitors through the main floor of the home is simply whoever is working that day.  We mostly have students during the summer but our adult volunteers help our until they are out of school in the spring and when they return in the fall.

This is a splendid example of impersonators as a form of acting that merits more use, and as a means to convey a strong feeling for a personality, a time, and a place. Nobody on the tour knew what John Glenn's mother really looked like, so any motherly actress, wearing an apron, sufficed. Someone portraying a known face with known characteristics should resemble those more closely - a tougher acting job.

An awful lot of museums and significant sites could benefit from this approach. There are scads of understaffed museums and blah tours. There are also scads of former thespians who long to return to acting, if only a little. Impersonation could be just the way to rekindle the thespian flames of onetime actors. And it can spark new life in a wide variety of cultural sites.

Enthusiastic former thespians seeking a venue in which to thesp should propose acts at local historical sites and museums.

Notes Along the Road, May 2013

(c) Norman Sperling, May 25, 2013

Since the April 19th crash and replacing the wrecked rig with a 24-foot Class C RV.

Finally left Virginia on May 2. Saw the huge roadcut at Sideling Hill, Maryland, but didn’t take any samples. Saw the 200-year-old Casselman River Bridge, in far western Maryland, but couldn’t walk on it because it was closed for repairs. It’s a lot bigger than I expected. The RV drives wonderfully. Overnight in Jefferson, Pa.

May 3: saw astronaut John Glenn’s boyhood home, guided by “his mother”, an outstanding impersonation by a local actress. Also saw the neat museum of the National Road, which grew into US-40 and then into I-70. That’s another multi-museum, together with mementos of Zane Grey and local pottery. Also saw the Longaberger building, a basket case.

May 4: Unloaded sales goods uneventfully near Detroit. In Auburn, Indiana, I examined many of the most gorgeous cars ever built. Lots of Duesenbergs, Cords, and Auburns, with many others. I think the design factor I sought was “overload”: duesys have more splendid details than a person can notice at first glance, or second look. Overdoing things somewhat like rococo did.

May 7: Cairo, Illinois, is decaying badly. Visited New Madrid, Missouri, the center of the enormous 1811 earthquakes. Also some decay but a lot of neat things too. Their museum has the earthquake story but there’s nothing original to see: the old townsite is now under the river. I guess that’s why travel books ignore it.

Drove on till dusk, staying at a nice state park that Arkansas kindly built just where I got tired.

May 8: about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is my 21st state on this foray. A squall line sparks very gaudy lightning displays. Big hail is reported elsewhere but not here.

May 9: All the pipelines that go through Cushing, Oklahoma, run underground. They only emerge to connect with storage tanks. The guards are very fidgety about terrorists.

May 11: Marsh’s signs around Amarillo aren’t so much “funny” as “droll”, at least the ones I spotted. But the Ozymandias legs really are funny, with their fake-historic plaque.

Saw a couple nice rainbeaux in the rearview mirror approaching Moriarty, NM. Looking forward to California.

I had another great Maker Faire and another entertaining BayCon.

Crash and Recovery

Norman Sperling, May 5, 2013

On April 19th, driving north through Virginia, I swerved a little to avoid an obstacle. My trailer, which had been swaying annoyingly the whole trip, swayed out of control and dragged me across 4 lanes of traffic, where the SUV sideswiped a pickup truck. SUV and trailer both ended up on their sides. NOBODY WAS HURT! Seatbelts and airbags DO work. Use them.

But both my SUV and my trailer were declared total losses. I spent 2 weeks coping with the attendant hassles, including replacing the camper. This time I chose a much more compact “Class C” RV. Thanks to insurance, I’ll end up nearly cash-neutral.

I have resumed my trek. I’m writing this from Indiana.


More than a dozen people of Fredericksburg, caught behind my wreck, instantly jumped out of their cars and ran to help me and the guy I sideswiped. There was a nurse and a medic. A forest of hands helped me climb out of the side window.

My brother, Barry, picked me up and set me back on my feet. He accomplished a lot that would have taken ever so much longer without him. He’s JIR’s mathematics editor, and I sure counted on him.

AAA insurance: fully competent and understanding. A bit slow, 3,000 miles outside their range, but highly effective.

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

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