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Norman Sperling
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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.

Norman Sperling's blog

Guidelines Aren't Laws

© Norman Sperling, June 19, 2012

Several panels I was on at BayCon last month tried to advise aspiring writers. Panelists would cite something from a story and point out how saying things that way made problems. I, for example, advocated for short, active sentences instead of long, passive ones tangled up in prepositional phrases.

We heard examples from many different authors, writing in many different ways. All those stories got published! Several, which had aspects that panelists didn't like, pleased scads of readers, and therefore pleased publishers. So, I told the audience, even those undesirable forms can work. For example, many writers, including my friends Terry Dickinson and Robert Sheaffer, write very well in passive voice. Do what you think works best for your story, and for yourself as a writer.

101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See

by Albert B. Dickas. Mountain Press, Missoula, 2012. 978-0-87842-587-7. $24 softcover
review © Norman Sperling, June 11, 2012

Both for sight-seeing and for tutorials, this is a wonderful new book. It illustrates a great many important geological principles while providing glorious sights to see. Almost all of the sites can been visited by road. You'll find many settings of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks (JIR spoofs those as ingenious, sentimental, and metaphoric).

Each selection has a 2-page spread: the left side tells coordinates, background, and what you can see. The right side presents 3 or 4 photos, cross-sections, maps, and/or development sequences. As in most cases where a publisher or designer dictates that all selections get equal space, both stories and typography may seem puffed or crammed.

Many places are within a half-day drive for most Americans. There's at least one in every state - one of the selection criteria. Just as in baseball's All-Star Game, where there has to be a player from every team, this promotes a number of less-important selections at the expense of better ones. Baseball depends on its fan-base, but people seeking superior geologic examples know perfectly well that they have to travel to see most of them. I hope the next edition abandons this criterion. Travelers will find concentrations of gem-quality sites easier to take in during reasonable excursions.

The author's illustrations and points are extremely clear. I found no typos, and only 5 minor mistakes.

The glossary, references, and index all have lots of entries, enabling a reader to pursue items. The glossary is a bit terse considering that many readers are novices. But it does distinguish, for example, between "terrain" ("A region of the Earth that is considered a physical feature, such as the Great Plains") and "terrane" ("A body of rock bounded by faults and characterized by a geologic history that differs from adjacent terranes"). It would be improved by listing all the examples in the book. The index probably doesn't list all occurrences of each term.

Whether you seek the newest or oldest rocks, or relics of ancient Gondwanaland or Rodinia, this book shows the way. These 101 geo-sites are well worth the trip for anyone interested in the more durable parts of Nature.

Book Publishing is Broken

© Norman Sperling, June 1, 2012

If you read the how-to business books that publishers publish, you'll learn many proven techniques: Seek innovations, seek new markets and niches, do variations that others don't do. Be nice to people, as nice as you can be.

Publishers publish such advice, but don't follow it.

Big integrated publishing companies used to handle almost all of the myriad functions that go into a successful book, from editing to illustration, layout, typography, relations with the printer, marketing, sales, warehousing, and shipping.

Hundreds of publishing companies have been bought out by 6 faceless, unfeeling, cost-cutting conglomerates, and evade as many of these tasks as they can get away with.

Instead of proactively figuring out what ought to exist, and then making it so, they mostly react to the inflood of proposals ... and let others filter them. Publishers are supposed to select their manuscripts, but delegate the biggest part of screening to literary agents. Most big, and many medium, publishers won't deal with authors directly but ONLY deal through agents. So a writer has to find an agent.

Finding an agent who will truly work for you is like finding a bank to lend you money: they're most willing when you prove that you scarcely need them. One agent told me that I'd need my website to get a certain big number of hits per week – but when I do, I should sell more online than physical bookstores would.

Publishers are supposed to help authors with illustrations. A few still do. Others, however, keep the illustrators from talking to the authors, guaranteeing incompetent pictures, unhappy authors, and baffled readers. Keeping illustrators and authors apart is utterly counterproductive, but some publishers do it.

Publishers are supposed to arrange for manufacturing the books, but an author-friend tells me of some who are delighted to slough that off to subcontractors – even to the author (who can use this for further employment, taking another piece of the pie).

With the latest short-run and publishing-on-demand services, there is no longer any need for warehousing, nor for guessing how many to print, nor for big investments in printing. I'm already publishing certain books that way.

Publishers are supposed to market, but now they require the author to submit a marketing plan with the book proposal. What aspect of being a good author qualifies one for any marketing at all?? Publishers squeal with delight when they see a good marketing plan. The more the author plans marketing, the stronger the book! Publishers used to have real marketing specialists. But publishers market absurdly narrowly: I know a big publisher that markets its parents' guides to coaching ONLY to the *sports* shelves of general bookstores, and expressly ignores all *parenting* channels, even after I pointed out to them that more customers are to be found as "parents" than in "sports".

Publishers are supposed to sell, but abandon much of that to chain stores, and Amazon, and aggregators like Baker & Taylor. Is there any use for aggregators that software can't do?

So big publishers don't define their products, they don't seek out authors, they avoid setting type, they subcontract illustrations, and avoid dealing with the printer, or doing most of the marketing. Most big publishers seem outright scared of ePublishing and eBooks. Small presses may pay more attention to authors but whereas big publishers don't do all the necessary jobs because they're *negligent*, small presses don't do all the jobs because they don't have enough *resources*.

Since publishers do so little, what do you need them for? Self-publishing manuals list all the tasks to do. All those jobs still need to be done. Do as many of them as you can and want to yourself, and hire out the rest. If you skip any, the job's not done and the results won't be professional. An author cannot edit his own writing. Suggestions are just a tweet away. Make sure *all* the jobs are done well.

Here are some books on self-publishing. They're wisely heavy on marketing, and not up-to-date on eBooks, but they do enumerate every step you need to take.

Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer's Digest books 2002.
Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual 2002, and volume 2, 2009.
Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.

The Issues of the Issue: The Journal of Irreproducible Results, v51 #6

© Norman Sperling, May 29, 2012

Comedian Steve Martin wrote a play about how Science and Art approach similar questions from different angles. I saw a community theater production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile: in 1904, young Einstein and Picasso run into one another at a bar. I'd love to see it made into a movie. Our lead article is the script of an epilogue, set in a different bar 40 years later. They still regard space and time from very different angles, but come a bit closer this time. How would they, or current physicists and artists, interact this year? Thanks to David Carlberg for the script.

Our cover article celebrates cryptozoologists' ongoing search for undiscovered or unappreciated hominids. Enjoy this Irish expedition to examine "The Wild Ape-Leprechauns of Borneo". Is the orangutan the strange target, or the leprechaun? We welcome Pandareus von Grundenstein back to our author list.

Entrepreneur/adventurer Richard Branson pulled an April Fool joke by announcing "Virgin Volcanic". His new screw-propeller vehicle would swim through liquid lava to travel from volcano to volcano underground. On the back cover, look for the dramatic embodiment of his motto "screw business as usual".

JIR's decades-long exploration of academe continues with David Burns's grading of exams according to the time students hand them in. I've noticed something along those lines: students with little to say finish early, students with a lot to say need more time to say all that. Meanwhile - and we do mean "mean" - Subhabrata Sanyal attempts to measure the factors that make him cranky.

Cartoon character "Popeye" is so popular that people overlook his obvious physical peculiarities. S. D. Hines examines him medically and finds facial dysmorphism, microophthalmia, distal limb hypertrophy, a mono diet, and intermittent explosive disorder. What other popular characters should be examined?

Jeff Jargon takes aim at genetically-modified foods not by minimizing the differences of those currently on the market, but by exploring future extensions. He offers a pitless cherry, all-white-meat chicken, and (noting the great taste of a bacon cheesburger) a graft/hybrid cow/pig. His "chipoodle", a chihuahua/poodle hybrid, was hailed as "the most nervous, yappy, high-maintenance canine ever conceived."

Hybrid cars obviously combine electric and internal-combustion features. Nancy Niemeyer mixes in the kitchen mixer.

How would a statistician write a dating advertisement? Joeri Smits shows his bid. No word about how well it has worked. How would such an ad be written for other specialists? Like you?

Common basket filters for coffee makers are cheap and ubiquitous. The bottom ones in each stack are also infamous for collapsing. I suspect that's because, the way they're formed in bunches, upper ones have pleats arched in a way that resists collapse. Lower ones have pleats arched so weakly they invite collapse. Danila Oder explores the resulting muddy coffee as "grounds" for murder.

Is it "rocket science" that's so famously difficult? Engineer Rod Hatcher says it's actually "rocket engineering" that's the really hard stuff. I think both sides are right, and making rockets work is still a horrendously complex and difficult accomplishment.

Richard Mead greatly simplifies physicists' ongoing to-do over Higgs Bosons. He spotted 7 of them huddled in a corner of his sock drawer. I hate to think what might lurk in mine.

Other topics include paper-folding, inside-out underwear, famous quotations and who didn't say them, and more goofy-named advisors and web domains.

Establishments mentioned in this issue:
* The Melbourne Institute of Precipitate Isotrophism
* Department of Regression to the Grand Mean
* University of Unreality
* University of Imaginary Numbers
* Alaskan Neurologic Center for Subaqueous Sesquiology
* Polikeness School of Nutritional Sciences
* Denver Nucleic Agency
* Plunder Island Probiotic and Bionutritional Research
* Organization for Useful Cognitive Help (OUCH)
* Bureaucratic Invidious Negative Officialdom (BINGO)
* Acquaintances of Ministerial Informal Governmental Activities (AMIGA)
* Ghastly Repulsive Invidious Non-Governmental Offices (GRINGO)

Journals mentioned in this issue:
* The Journal of Unpleasant Student Experiences
* The Journal of Plant Sociology
* Acta Comic Toxigens
* The Journal of Abnormal Locomotion in Toddlers
* International Journal of Salad Experimentation

and, as unclassifiable as its author:
Director Supreme of the Gene Dream Team

Authors come from Australia, Canada, England, Israel, and Norway, and the American states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington.

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

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