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Norman Sperling
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Welcome

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.

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?

First Editions Are Different

© Norman Sperling, February 13, 2011

A big antiquarian book fair was just held in San Francisco. It seems that books are not going out of style, and old books keep climbing in value.

You probably know famous old Science books from recent paperback nth-editions. You know how important the authors, and the books, were. You may even have read the books.

That would tell you what an author said ... but not with the same impression that the original book gave to its original readers. The real first edition is different.

It's clothbound, not paperback. It's a quality production job that feels substantial. The first edition's cover and frontispiece don't depict the author full of age and honor and glory, because he wasn't yet. When the first edition got to the readers, the author was rather young, no hero, not particularly well known, and hadn't been glorified at all. And the book therefore looks like it: the author's name is not as big and bold as the title. The subtitle plays an important persuasive role.

When important Science books get published, the authors are full of hope, but the publishers, who have actual money at risk, are full of fear. So most first editions have short press runs to reduce the risk of warehousing unsold leftovers. Therefore, with such a tiny supply of first editions, if a book becomes famous, demand can drive prices very high. I've been collecting old Science books for decades but only have a few important first editions.

Compare first editions to later editions. By the time those were printed, the authors and publishers knew that they'd sell a lot, so the press runs were much longer. The persuasive roles of the binding, the title, the subtitle, the author's name, and the frontispiece, all changed from the first edition. Of course the contents are updated and enriched, too.

Demand can continue for decades after the book is out-of-date, and even after the author dies. Degenerate late editions look different, and may persist as volumes in big series of "important books", with muddier and muddier type as the years drag on. Publishers of even-later paperbacks assume you already know the contents are important. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, illustrates this with a long shelf with over 100 editions of Darwin's On The Origin of Species.

If you're interested in an old Science book mostly for its contents, a reprint or a low-price late edition serves perfectly well. The bulk of my library is that way. But the originals certainly tell a different story!

Catching Satellite Debris With Smart Nets

© Norman Sperling, February 6, 2011

Thanks to Dennis Normile, the Science Insider of Science Magazine, we've learned that last week's flap over satellite-catching nets began with mistranslation and ballooned as journalists and bloggers skipped fact-checking and blundered directly into copying and embroidery.

As far as I know, space nets have not yet been tried. I think they ought to be.

Hanny's Voorwerp: A Protogalaxy?

© Norman Sperling, February 1, 2011

An amateur astronomer, systematically classifying observations from a massive professional survey, noticed something that, at first glance, looked very odd. Further examination confirmed that it is definitely odd. She reported it to the astronomers leading the program, who confirmed all that. Now, the Hubble Space Telescope has taken a much sharper image of the object. It is odd indeed.

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

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