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Norman Sperling
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Norman Sperling's blog

Six Chambers, One Bullet

by Simon Quellen Field. Kinetic MicroScience 2011. $15. 978-0982210444

review by Norman Sperling, July 20, 2012

This fun murder mystery mixes private eyes, 2 police agencies who don’t get along with one another, a band, and a hospice. Las Vegas and Sacramento were both gambles.

Better than the physical settings are those in cyberspace. How to disappear. How to find people. How to earn money online. How to get attention. How to do more things, faster, better, and cheaper than mere casual websurfers know. It’s richly intertwined with the latest multimedia technology. That advancing technology will let the author update things as the forefront moves on – *using* the latest tech to *tell about* the latest tech.

Another advantage is that as soon as I finish this review, I’m going to tell the author about the 10 minor typos I found, and I bet he corrects them all before you can even buy your copy.

Dodge Stodge, Ford Bored

© Norman Sperling, July 17, 2012

The vast majority of cars are styled to look fast and strong. A lot of customers seem to want that.

But hardly all. I'm scarcely alone in preferring safety and economy. To stay safe requires NOT using too much speed. To stay economical (and comfortable and eco-friendly) requires low consumption, which implies slow delta-V.

How different are the wind-resistance profiles of a car that runs 2/3 of its mileage <30 mph (and never above 65) compared to a car that runs 2/3 of its mileage >60 mph?

I can't think of a single car marketed for us. (Maybe I just didn't notice them?) One that won't go above 80 mph. One that looks calm, not fast.

And one that won't turn heads. Cars attract attention because they are usually status symbols. But there can be good reasons to avoid attention. Security, certainly. Minimizing traffic stops. Blending into the crowd.

What's the least-catchy color: the least ticketed, least stolen, least burgled? I guess beige. What's the least-catchy shape? The car-maker who offers those will attract the notice of a significant percentage of drivers who don't want to attract notice.

This certainly wouldn't be the first time that car companies missed an important market segment. Luxury SUVs were unknown 25 years ago, with Jeeps and Land Rovers assuming users were rugged back-country outdoorsmen. But the best-furnished Jeep caught on, so somebody made an even classier one. That sold better, so they duded up more and more, and eventually made opulent luxury SUVs. This had been beyond the companies' imagination; the market had to lead them there step by step over many years.

I'm not the only customer who would buy a car closer to my needs, farther from stylists' and corporations' imaginings, if only I could.

Star Parties Designed for Students

© Norman Sperling, July 7, 2012
Part of a series on Educational Star Parties:
Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects (September 20, 2012)
7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop (April 15, 2012)
Telescope Triplets (November 25, 2011)

I'd like my astronomy students to attend a star party that's designed for their education. They would see a richer variety of sights than at a star party intended for public enjoyment. An educational star party would be located for dark skies more than easy access. Students would observe over about 2 hours rather than 20 minutes. They would look through a greater variety of telescopes (educational in itself) at planned sequences of objects.

Designate part of the open field for naked-eye use. Have a teacher showing constellations and asterisms, and teaching skycraft. Show the Milky Way. "Earth" is a freebie: just look beneath your own feet.

Pre-plan and shout-out the appearances of satellites (especially the Space Station) and Iridium flashes. Keep alert for sporadic or shower meteors.

Select telescopes optimized to give the best views of:

* Each visible planet ... including, by popular demand, Pluto. About half are up at any time. Scope operators should point out noticeable moons.

* The Moon. One scope with a whole-globe synoptic view, followed by one with a high-magnification view near the terminator.

* Asteroids that are "up": Any that are labeled "dwarf planet"; major spectral classes S, C, and M; classes V and G because the Dawn spacecraft visits Vesta and Ceres; whatever other bright ones are available.

* The brightest comet that's up, even if very faint.

* Stars, by spectral type, as I described in 7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop, plus telescopes pointed at a red dwarf and a white dwarf.

* Multiple stars, preferably color-contrast

* Open cluster

* Globular cluster

* Pre-stellar nebula

* Planetary nebula

* Supernova-remnant nebula like the Crab

* HDE 226868 or another indicator of a black hole

* Elliptical galaxy

* Spiral galaxy

* Interacting, distorted galaxies

* Active galaxy like a quasar (3C 273), BL Lacertid, or Seyfert.

* Galaxy cluster

Assigning specific scopes to specific objects requires attention to available focal ratios, apertures, eyepieces, and the personalities of their operators. Depending on how long it takes the gathered students to see an object in each telescope, scopes can be re-pointed to other planned objects 2 or 3 times during the session. Several targets require fat light-buckets. 1 or 2 could handle them all, in sequence, during a 2-hour session.

The Telescope Triplets I advocate can also teach how telescopes and eyepieces affect the view.

The Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects I advocate should be pre-planned and heavily distributed.

Asteroids, dwarf stars, several deep-sky objects, and galaxy clusters look tiny and faint. These teach the students to appreciate the views from giant observatories.

For this rich an experience, students could buy $5-$10 tickets. That should cover venue expenses plus honoraria for amateurs who bring their own scopes. Teachers would give credit for attending and filling out observing logs.

Most students can afford a $10 ticket. They would pay that for a night's entertainment anyway. It's similar to the expense of driving to the dark-sky site. They can save more by buying used textbooks instead of new. Someone may want to quietly handle "scholarship" discounts. The event definitely will cost something to run and that needs to be raised.

Cooperating instructors might be able to organize this kind of event, especially if they have access to appropriate scopes and operators, both student and amateur. Here in the San Francisco area, The Astronomical Association of Northern California might be able to organize it. It could also be a commercial venture.

Though designed for students in introductory astronomy courses, such a planned, organized star party should attract many amateur astronomers, and some of the public.

Fireworks Without Glasses

© Norman Sperling, July 3, 2012

One of the very few benefits of being near-sighted is that fireworks look bigger and more resplendent. That's because the out-of-focus image spreads out over a lot more cone receptors in the retina.

If you're nearsighted, try watching fireworks without your glasses. You might like the show even more.

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

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