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

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


Welcome to "Everything in the Universe", my blog on Science, Nature, and the Public. I often explore their intertwinings. New posts should appear
roughly weekly, so if you want to check regularly for new items, every Monday or Tuesday you ought to find something.

I don't try to be literary, but I do think before I write, and write only when I have something to say. When news spurs a reaction, mine aren't the
fastest knee-jerk comments, they're more often a considered reflection.

Some entries are full-blown essays, others are ideas that can be presented briefly. I don't yak and I don't blather. When I don't have anything to
say, I don't say it. If my message needs 2 paragraphs, you don’t have to slog through 10 paragraphs to get to it. I try to get things right.

Please also enjoy my previously-published articles posted here.

Comments and suggestions are welcome: eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com. I read them all, but don't always post them. To prevent descent into
harsh put-downs, political stabbings, rancor, advertising, and irrelevancy, I squelch those.

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.

Telescope Triplets

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

For decades, I have been proclaiming that focal ratio is one of the most important characteristics in choosing a telescope. Most authorities tout aperture instead. But none of us has ever conducted a true visual test, isolating the variables of focal ratio, aperture, and eyepieces.

I propose that 3 triplets of Newtonian telescopes be made to demonstrate the effects of focal ratio, aperture, and eyepiece. They can be used for classes and at star parties to teach about the properties of the telescopes themselves. Mount each triplet so that viewers can easily shift among all 3 eyepieces to instantly compare views.

The "focal ratio" triplet should consist of 3 telescopes, all with the same aperture and eyepiece. Make one f/5, another f/10, and another f/20. For this triplet, I think 3-inch (76 mm) apertures are best: even the f/20 would be a manageable 5 feet (1.52 m) long. Users will see that Jupiter looks best at f/20, and the Great Andromeda Galaxy best at f/5. Trying this battery of telescopes on the sky's enormous variety of targets will probably reveal very few objects that look best at f/10.

A second application of this same telescope set will use different eyepieces that all result in the same magnification: a long eyepiece on the long scope, a short eyepieces on the short scope, and a middling eyepiece on the middling scope. How different are the views of different targets?

The "aperture" triplet should consist of 3 telescopes, all with the same focal length (perhaps 4 feet = 1.22 m) and eyepiece. Make one 3 inches (76 mm) aperture, the second 6 inches (152 mm), and the third 12 inches (304 mm). Users may be surprised how much even the 3-inch shows.

The "eyepiece" triplet should consist of 3 identical middling telescopes, perhaps 4-inch (102 mm) f/8. Insert eyepieces of equal focal length but different optical designs (such as Huygens versus orthoscopic versus Nagler). A second application of this same telescope array will use eyepieces of equal design but different focal lengths (perhaps Plossls of 6 mm, 12 mm, and 25 mm ...).

Make each triplet so the scopes, and their eyepieces, can also swivel to allow 2, or even 3, different people to watch through one of the scopes at a time. This is because, perhaps once a decade, some sky event brings out throngs, and the host needs to move a whole lot of eyeballs through the scopes in minimal time.

These triplets could be built by amateur-telescope-making workshops, such as several clubs run, or perhaps by a veteran scope-maker. Most are quite small, only one is large. Try hard to hold all but one factor constant so they really test that single variable.

A whole metropolitan area probably needs only one set. Telescope triplets can be passed around among nearby colleges, astronomy clubs, planetaria, etc., to use at their classes, star parties, and member-events.

Pearson Grabs Copyrights

© Norman Sperling, November 18, 2011

The Journal of Irreproducible Results receives many requests for permission to reprint items, and grants almost all of them. We are delighted to find wider audiences for our wit, and hope that intrigued readers will look us up and subscribe.

Big publishers usually have "standard" forms with "boiler-plate" legalese compiled by lawyers. In trying to cover every base to their client's advantage, they vastly overreach, often thereby ruining the deal.

JIR's most-requested item is Jerry Zar's hilarious poem, Candidate for a Pullet Surprise. It's a wonderful send-up of word processing spell-checkers. JIR has had fun with computer foibles for many decades now.

After you read it, you'll understand why we invariably reject 2 boiler-plate provisions:
* they almost always request permission to make an audio recording, but this would sound "normal" and completely destroy the reason for using the poem.
* they usually request permission to translate into certain, or "all" other languages. While similar poems could be constructed with the homonyms of other languages, they would not be translations of this one.

Now an arrogant new piece of boiler-plate has arrived:

"In the event that use of a Selection by Pearson or its affiliates exceeds this license granted to Pearson, or any other terms or obligations between Pearson and you, Pearson's sole obligation to you and the rights holder shall be to pay for such additional use or uses in accordance your or the rights holder's standard fees for such use, and the terms and conditions of this Permission Request and License shall apply to such additional uses."

So, once they get permission to use any selection, no matter how restricted, they can blithely use it any way they please, in any further publication, without asking, without limitations, and (unless they are caught) without even paying. This is a grab of copyrights almost as wide as Google's! Everything in the Universe and The Journal of Irreproducible Results emphatically reject this legalese in Pearson's form, and urge all other owners of copyrights to reject it in no uncertain terms. If Pearson violates contracts and agreements and laws, Pearson must pay the full legal penalty.

Furthermore, Pearson is an ever-changing conglomerate of other companies. It buys and sells publishing and education companies. (I wonder if they have any officer who can even list all the original companies which merged into corporations which eventually conglomerated into Pearson.) It could buy something, merge it with the unit holding this particular permission, then spin that off to some other entity about which the original copyright holder knows nothing. What an easy way to grab a lot more rights than any author intended to grant!

Such a practice threatens publishers ... including Pearson! It should be in their own best interest to:
* squelch this offensive overreaching legalese,
* send everybody who ever signed on to it a legal declaration that they abandon this provision and will never invoke it,
* apologize to authors and publishers,
* and replace whatever managers originated and approved this provision with thinking, feeling humans.

Lane Bike

© Norman Sperling, November 10, 2011

Decades ago, safety experts decreed that pavement writing that needs more than one word had to put the first word first, then a gap, then the second word, then another gap and the third word, etc. This way, people would read the words in the proper order.

That only works if the words are widely spread. By 20 years ago, that important factor became neglected. So now they put successive words right on top of one another, where the eye naturally reads the top one first. Hence:
for the bike lane I pedal in, and
when there is a stop-sign ahead.

The requirement that the first word be encountered first is remembered, but the requirement of sufficient spacing is forgotten. This looks stupid, confuses drivers needlessly, and tells everyone that the people responsible for it are mindless followers of rules that they don’t understand ... and misapply.

Find the original spacing standard (or update it), and trumpet it so loudly that the Public Works workers in the street understand and follow it.

The Metric Light Year

© Norman Sperling, October 24, 2011

My friend John Westfall, an astronomer and geographer, points out that astronomy uses several non-metric units, most prominently the "light year". Officially, that's the distance that a beam of light travels, at the speed of light, in a year's time. In metric units, that's 9,460,730,472,580.8 km (about 9.5 Pm), according to Wikipedia.

While the light year is more than 5% shorter than 10^16 meters, no celestial object more than 20 light years away has its distance known within 5%. Uncertainties out there begin at 15% and quickly grow worse than 25%.

So, as far as anyone can measure, there is no difference between "100 light years" and "10^18 meters". Let's call 10^16 meters a "metric light year".

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

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