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

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

Norman Sperling's blog

Picture-rich, ad-rich websites

© Norman Sperling, March 13, 2011

Setting up this blog not only lets me give my take on various issues, it lets me air a 30-year accumulation of writings that should still be read. Search engines find them for readers who are interested in their topics. Otherwise, they'll turn up only rarely when someone digs through the old magazines they originally appeared in. Sure enough, the "hit-counter" shows that my old essays already have hundreds of hits, and while some of those are from the spiders that crawl the web to construct the search engines, I'm confident that quite a lot are from real humans who read and consider my writings.

In addition to writing those essays, I've spent decades taking pictures, largely of Science-related scenes. A few of my photos have artistic merit, many have scientific value, and a lot could help teachers teach. For now, however, my pictures sit in their binders, dark and silent, helping nobody.

Not just me! My friend Carl photographs sundials and sky phenomena. My friend John photographs celestial objects. My artist-friend Guy draws and paints beautiful and useful perspectives. My late friend Lu took hundreds of the best sunset pictures I know - where are they now? My late friend Carter photographed tens of thousands of great astronomical scenes, a trove too big for his heirs to organize yet. Thousands and thousands of people have such troves of useful pictures sitting unused.

Here's what we should do:

"Don't Try This in High School"

© Norman Sperling, March 8, 2011; updated May 10, 2011
JIR's newest anthology (our 12th!) selects articles for sharp, science-minded high school students.

* paperback
* ISBN 0-913399-12-4
* ISBN 13: 978-0-913399-12-5
* 8.375 x 5.375 x 0.52 inches
* 10.85 ounces = 307 grams
* 222 pages
* $19.95
* Orders received by May 20, 2011: $14.95
* publication May 2011

Over 3/4 of JIR articles assume longer life-experiences, or higher scientific education, than high school. So we have very few high school subscribers. But over the decades we have published more than enough articles to occupy ... amuse ... and captivate high schoolers. Give them this book:
* for holidays, birthdays, graduation
* to tide them over a long trip or a boring recuperation
* and to encourage thinking and laughing at the same time.

To sample the flavor, here are a few of the topics:

Yo Mama jokes
Physicist MacDonald's Farm
Watched pot never boils

Chocolate cake
Mannekin molecules

Frog dissection
Budgies as weapons
Insect rights

Even prime numbers
The largest integer
The Perpendicularogram
Rebuttal to Multiplication

Word Play:
Suplurals and zero-order terms
Crossword puzzle from Hell

Nature versus Nurture:
Color discrimination
Triplets raised apart

Rock - Paper - Scissors
Coin stacking
Ben Franklin was twins
Marmite® versus Vegemite®
Deep space hand salutes
Good Deeds
and several cool songs

If you assemble a kit to give along with the book, include:
* Mentos®
* Tootsie® pops
* sand
* cat hair
* jelly
* and Jell-O®
Yes, a lot of articles are really sweet.

The imaginary invisible companion described in one article is supplied free with the book.

Don't Try This in High School has only a few molecules of overlap with our other current anthology, This Book Warps Space and Time, published by Andrews McMeel. Warps Space selects short, quick, inoffensive, and easy items. Don't Try This includes much longer articles, assumes understanding high school science courses, and - appealing to high schoolers - can't be totally inoffensive. But people who like either, and want more, should dive right into the other.


Dewey: 502.07 science humor
Library of Congress: Q167 science humor
British Library: Q167 science humour
Anatomy: humerus
Biochemistry: hydrocarbon/polymer
Boffin: proto
Dental: nitrous oxide
Emoticon: 8-D
Epidemiology: highly infectious
Gilbert & Sullivan: Major General
Geek: chic
Initialism: ROFLMAO
Latlong: -122+37
Lux: brilliant, sparkling
Madoff: +0.104i
Nerd: pride
Oceanography: dry
Ottewell: 8 3/8 inches
Stratigraphy: Upper Anthropocene
Trigonometry: tangents
Zoology: owl/hyena

Tell Me Where To Go, and What To Do When I Get There

© Norman Sperling, March 1, 2011

In 1981-82, after leaving Sky & Telescope, and planning to move to the Bay Area, with no job or attachments on either end, I went sight-seeing. I traded my car for an RV, left Boston on Winter Solstice 1981, and settled in Oakland on Astronomy Day 1982. I meandered far and wide, seeing astronomical sights that I'd missed at conventions - observatories, planetaria, star parties, etc. I visited interesting companies and people I'd met, but concentrated more on folks I'd heard of and maybe corresponded with, but had never seen.

That trip was one of the highlights of my life. I took lots of photos that I still teach with. I'm still friends with a number of very interesting people I went out of my way to meet. I encountered many curiosities, neat stuff, different ways of doing things ... .

Now I'm finishing a couple decades on Daddy-Duty, and the travel bug is biting again. By January 2013 I hope to start driving anywhere in the US and Canada for 2 or 3 years. I may fit in short excursions before then.

Since I'm in my 60s this is my best remaining opportunity - of course everything is "health and budget permitting". I'm no longer so nimble, and have to watch my diet. I can dawdle and go way off the beaten path. Electronics will make it easier this time, with a laptop, WiFi, WWW, GPS, cell phone, digital camera, etc.

A detachable camper trailer seems good - the type called a "toy hauler", with the big fold-down ramp making it easy to move stuff in and out. I need functions of office/ store/ warehouse/ workshop more than the rooms of a house (in fact, many people change their houses' rooms and garages into offices/ stores/ warehouses/ workshops). So far, every motorhome I've seen tries to be a house, not the office/ workshop/ store I need. I hope I don't have to invent it all myself. I'll need a computer work station (even if the computer itself is a laptop); a drawing desk; and a package-wrapping table. Those could all fold out of the way when not in use. Of course I'll need lots of volume for goods that I buy and sell.

Park the camper for a week. There are trailer parks everywhere, and some folks might let me hook up a hose and extension cord to their garage. I'll probably pull the toy hauler with a powerful American SUV since, away from the coasts, service is said to be harder to find for imports. Get around town and take day-trips in the SUV.


It might take a week to "do" a city:
* Visit Big Science labs and institutions - academic, government [DoE, NASA, USDA, ...], whatever
* companies that make scientific things
* speak to the astronomy club
* speak to the skeptics (skeptical of pseudoscience)
* speak to the science writers and bloggers
* participate in Science Cafes
* give JIR-humor talks in labs and on campuses
* meet JIR authors and subscribers
* meet this blog's readers
* meet each area's science retailers
I hope to sell subscriptions and goods at most talks.

Tell me where to go! Please recommend:
* Science, technology, and medical places,
* ... sanctuaries and reserves,
* ... personalities, and
* ... companies
* Big Science / Research laboratories / Institutes
* Where scientific headlines happened
* Scientific white elephants
* Conventions, science festivals, science cafes, and star parties
* Life-list experiences
* Factory tours
* Inventors
* People who make neat goods that scientists and doctors would buy
* Authors / Writers / Bloggers
* Must-see buildings / structures / views (I love strong verticals and lots of ins-and-outs)
* Distinctive and off-beat museums
* Natural phenomena
* Scenic byways
* Geological faults and exposures
* Your ideas
* "Don't Go There": where to avoid, and why
Include noteworthy things that miss my criteria by a factor or 2: I can't drive to Arecibo but it's on my wish-list anyway.

Along the way, I'll turn what I learn into books, websites, articles, shows, blogs, or other media. I'm planning half a dozen book-like projects. For example,
* I want to touch rocks deposited during every geological epoch, and probably every age. How old are the rocks exposed near you? Are there any nice, multi-layer road cuts or cliffs?
* I'll visit sites for my forensic-astronomy book, Convicted by the Sun, Acquitted by the Moon. There's room for more cases, if you know of any.
* In historical science, I'll examine scientific White Elephants, including potential future ones.
* In entomology, I want to learn how locals cope with their pests.

I welcome your recommendations and comments on all of this: normsperling [at] gmail.com.

References I've combed as of May 2012:

David Alt & Donald W. Hyndman: Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California. Mountain Press 2002.
Karen Axelrod & Bruce Brumberg: Watch it Made in the USA. 3d ed 2002.
Bishop, Oesterle & Marinacci: Weird California. Sterling 2006.
Robert Burnham, ed: Caves Cliffs & Canyons. Discovery Insight Guides 2000.
Robert Burnham, ed: Star & Sky. Discovery Insight Guides 2000.
Richard Cavendish, ed: 1001 Historic Sites you Must See Before You Die. Barron's.
Glennda Chui: "The Particle Physics Life List". Symmetry, v4 #6 pp10-19, August 2007.
Albert G. Dikas: 101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See. Mountain Press 2012.
Chris Epting: James Dean Died Here. Santa Monica Pr 2003.
Chris Epting: The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain : the Locations of America's Pop Culture Artifacts . Santa Monica Pr 2006.
John Graham-Cumming: The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science & Technology Come Alive. O'Reilly 2009. 542p.
Peter Greenberg: Don't Go There!. Rodale 2009.
Gerald & Patricia Gutek: Experiencing America's Past: A Travel Guide to Museum Villages. 2d ed, U So Car Pr 1994.
Jim Heimann & Rip Georges: California Crazy: Roadside Vernacular Architecture. Chronicle 1980.
Harry Helms: Top Secret Tourism. Feral House 2007.
H. Tom Kirby-Smith: U.S. Observatories: A Directory and Travel Guide. Van Nostrand Reinhold 1976.
John Margolies: Fun Along the Road. Little, Brown 1998.
Mike Marinacci: Mysterious California. Panpipe 1987. 142p.
Daniel Mathews & James S. Jackson: America from the Air. Huffin Muffin 2007.
Gary McKechnie: USA 101. National Geographic 2009.
Mark Moran & Mark Sceurman: Weird U.S. Barnes & Noble 2004.
Duane S. Nickell: Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler: Visiting Astronomy and Space Exploration Sites Across America Rutgers U Pr. 2008.
Duane S. Nickell: Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler: Visiting Physics and Chemistry Sites Across America Rutgers U Pr. 2010.

Jerome Pohlen: Progressive Nation. Chicago Review Pr. 2008.
Reader's Digest: America’s Historic Places. Reader’s Digest 1988.
Saul Rubin: Offbeat Museums. 1997.
Norm Sperling: "Touring American Observatories", Sky & Telescope, vol. 53, no. 1, January 1977, 14-19.
Mabel Sterns: Directory of Astronomical Observatories in the United States. Edwards 1947.
Salvatore M. Trento: Field Guide to the Mysterious Places of the Pacific Coast. Holt 1997.
Mark Usler: Hometown Declarations. DM 2008.
B. J. Welborn: America's Best Historical Sites. Chicago Review Press 1998.

Now is the Time to Expand the Budget ... of Paradoxes

© Norman Sperling, February 19, 2011

While the Skeptics' movement, as official organizations of people, only dates from the 1970s, there have been skeptics of pseudoscience for hundreds of years. One of the most interesting was a prickly Victorian named Augustus De Morgan.

De Morgan responded tartly in the Athenaeum magazine to assorted balderdash he read in a wide variety of books, and to letters which people sent him. His writings for the Athenaeum were rather like those of some bloggers today. He had a short fuse. Politeness was not a priority.

After he died, his widow published De Morgan's ripostes as one of the first Skeptics' books, A Budget of Paradoxes. I treasure my copy of the second edition, published in 2 volumes in 1915.

I got them from the estate of Joe Ashbrook, editor of Sky & Telescope magazine. Joe's signature inside the front cover says he bought it on June 24, 1935, when the book was 20 years old, and Joe was 17. Over the rest of his career he wrote a great many interesting notes in it. Joe especially used the book's many short biographies; back then, we didn't have the research resources we have now.

But the Budget only publishes De Morgan's retorts. The first half of each dialog isn't there, and can only partly be inferred from what is. Back when De Morgan wrote, and when the Budget was published, there was a perfect reason for that: the copyrights to the other side of the dialog didn't belong to De Morgan, and the writers were usually hostile to him.

Now those copyrights have long expired. And now a huge amount of Victorian text is on-line and otherwise more accessible.

So now that it is possible, somebody should put together the complete version: the claims as well as the disproofs, the bunk as well as the debunk.

It could be published in electronic formats. It could also be printed-on-demand so no publisher has to bet how many others will want to buy a copy, after I buy the first one.

What similar worthy projects, never done before, are now doable?

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

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