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

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

Norm Sperling’s Great Science Trek: 2014

San Luis Obispo
Santa Barbara
Palm Springs
Death Valley
Tucson
El Paso
Corpus Christi
Baton Rouge
Tampa
Everglades
Key West
Winter Star Party, Scout Key
Miami

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard
mid-South

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.

Education

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:

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

Chemistry:
Chocolate cake
Mannekin molecules

Biology:
Frog dissection
Budgies as weapons
Insect rights

Math:
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

Plus:
Rock - Paper - Scissors
Cluedness
Coin stacking
Ben Franklin was twins
Sunrises
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.

CLASSIFICATIONS

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

Big Science Festival Coming to San Francisco Bay Area

© Norman Sperling, December 25, 2010

What if your club, institution, or company gets access to a lot of the Science-interested public for a few days? What if they come to you, or meet you in a nice venue? What messages would you most want to get across? What could those contacts be best used for? What if you had 10 months to prepare?

Around San Francisco, the Bay Area Science Festival is planned for October 29 - November 6, 2011. But hardly anyone I talk to has heard about it yet!

One indication that the planning's cast in Jell-O® rather than concrete is that they say it's going to be a 10-day event, but the days they list total 9. So it's not too late to get involved. If you're in the Bay Area, think through your optimum result from such a festival. Think through how to achieve it. Then contact the Festival folks to make sure you get included. I'd guess that the more self-contained your package, the easier it should be for them to include.

Here's what I've gleaned so far:

Merry Bloopers

© Norman Sperling, December 19, 2010

Exam week holds terrors for teachers as well as students. This week, I wallowed in eye-strain by reading 61 3-hour intro-astro essay finals on the prompt: Starting with hydrogen and time, narrate how the Universe began and evolved to us, here, now.

We had a record number of A+ essays, and not a single F. I expected their bloopers to fill a big post, but only found these 5:

* [Newton's Law of Gravity described] why we are orbitting the moon.

* Neuron stars are created by supernovas. They are made entirely of neurons.

* In the "oscillating universe" theory, there will be a Big Bang and then a Big Crunch (where everything comes back together) every 140 years.

* [Kepler's Third Law] No matter where in orbit the area formed by the diameter of the planet to the sun will always be equal.

* Along with gas giants, black holes are also observed on Earth.

+ + +

Here are cosmology bloopers from classes longer ago:

* The beginning of the Universe is not 100% correct.

* The greater the mass of an object the faster it is moving away from the sun.

* Our universe was formed by the third star.

* The Big Bang Theory ... states that the universe was created due to particles and organisms that lay dormant until they collided, and the Big Bang occurred.

* We have observational proof of the Big Bang in the form of backward radiation.

* This Big Bang supposedly occured thirteen pt. seven years ago.

* [The Bang-Bang] theory was used when nearby objects were blue shifted and far away objects were red shifted.

* the Red Shift ... All the objects that is far away from here supposedly marked in red.

* The Big Bang theory states that in order to know what was going on in the universe a million years ago, you would have to have watched it two million years ago.

* Nature developed as an explosion in the heavens that fell into the waters and began to grow plants and fish and other underwater creatures.

* Before the Big Bang, all the living creatures such as dinasours had been totally dieseased and new birth has been adopted to this new young planets.

* There was so much bonding and chemical energy that it all spontaneously combusted and made a universe.

* The universe started with that big-bang. A big rock or a galaxy hit the earth and it came to pieces. The fusion up in the galaxy, the pieces, the dust of earth came back together. Before the big-bang, the earth was without water, only dust and volcanos and was extremely hot. After the big-bang, oceans were discovery. The bacteria from the water of oceans transform dinosaurs. The water which have H2O made the air as oxygen. So we can breath. Soon, the ocean's water wet it the sands, that it started growing plants on the sands and later it became trees and then a forest. The leaves from plants and trees were food for the dinosours. There was a big earthquake that opened up the lands and swallowed all the dinosours. Later the bacteria and germs started to form in molecules and human being started to form. That's how the universe was form.

* When density increases the university begins to contract everywhere.

* Unknown is known.

* Every concept is still a theory until it can be proven false.

+ + +

An excellent student wrote at the very end "I have spent all my time and just scratched the surface." That's how I feel after teaching the whole course ... and after studying my whole career.

Instant A

© Norman Sperling, December 12, 2010

Instant-A Dare! Any student who solves this problem, to the satisfaction of experts in this specialty, gets an instant A for this entire course, regardless of anything else.

My astronomy students see this message 20 or 30 times a semester. I use it whenever a topic isn't resolved, whenever something remains unknown or not understood - such as magnetic fields. Textbooks' traditional "positivist" style systematically tells what IS known, and determinedly leaves out what ISN'T known. This gives students the false impression that Science is all about stuff that's already securely known. Textbooks usually neglect the thrill of the chase, and systematically avoid mentioning what isn't known.

So I make quite a point of it. I even emphasize it with this offer of an "Instant A".

Students I re-encounter many years after they took my course still remember the offer and its point.

Of course, this is not just a surface issue.

I point out that Science doesn't yet understand most of Nature's workings. That way students should be able to figure out where future discoveries fit in. And I make sure to emphasize that this is not only true in astronomy, but in all Sciences and many other scholarly fields.

I also distinguish which information is "cast in concrete" from items that are progressively less firm: "cast in Jell-O"®, or even "cast in hot air". Switching metaphors, I tell them that certain items deserve to be "written in ink", but others should only be "written in pencil", because they're merely this year's best estimate. Still other points should be written in "fuzzy pencil" or "faint fuzzy pencil" according to how weakly we grasp them.

I often point out that when something doesn't yet deserve to be written in ink, or is so unknown it would earn my Instant A, that's a dare. A dare to the students to go solve that. They're sharp and clever and knowledgeable, so they just might be the people to solve such problems.

Certain problems may not need better data, they might just need a different point of view. Most professional astronomers share a lot of experiences to which to compare things - pattern-recognition. My students come from a far richer variety of national, cultural, and religious heritages, travel experiences, and previous schooling. Perhaps somewhere among that richer trove of things to compare to, someone will recognize a new pattern. I alert them to be on the lookout. You, too.

Several of these problems are worth a lot more than an A in intro-astro. Many would make splendid thesis topics. Some would put their solvers on fast-tracks to tenure. Identifying or disproving dark energy is worth a big prize.

So far, no student has won an "Instant A". Several have brought up points that I had to think about for weeks, and consult experts about, though none has turned into a true scientific advance. I'd give most of those students an A for scientific excellence anyway, but almost all of them were already earning an A.

Great Book Sale

I'm moving into an RV and simply can't keep the library I've built over 50 years. (What I do next is described at www.everythingintheuniverse.com/node/76.)
* Thousands of books, mostly <$10.
* These are the best copies I ever got, the ones I kept for myself.
* Many scholarly, lots of popularizations at all levels.
* A few hundred are from the 1800s.
* Over 100 are autographed by their authors.
* Runs of many science periodicals.
* Posters.
* Miscellaneous clippings, brochures, pamphlets ...

Cash preferred. Checks and time-terms accepted from people I know, and people they vouch for personally. PayPal possible, but I'm not set up for credit cards.

11 AM to 4 PM
Saturday, August 11, 2012
413 Poinsettia Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403
(enter left of the garage, through the courtyard)
near the Hillsdale exit off US-101
Landline: 650-573-7125 (expires about September 22)
Cell: 650-200-9211

ASTRONOMY:
Observing
Stars
Solar System
Galaxies
Cosmology
Telescopes/Optics
Navigation
Celestial Mechanics
Historical astronomy
Space
Textbooks
early NASA
and much, much more

HISTORICAL SCIENCE:
Historical Astronomy
Histories of Science, and specific sciences
Heroes of Science

Earth Science
Physics
Mathematics
Science Fiction
Pseudoscience
Baseball
Business
Africana/Black Studies
Publishing
History
Children's
and miscellaneous other interests

The family is also selling kids' bikes, a drum set, 1990 Ford van ($1990), and (closer to September 22) household furniture and stuff ... and then, of course, the house itself. I'll move about September 22, perhaps to Pittsburg, CA, for the fall, then Trek in the RV.

See me at Wonderfest Nov 6 & 7

Wonderfest is the San Francisco Bay Area's free science festival. wonderfest.org . I'll be at Stanford's Hewlett Teaching Center on Saturday, 4-7 PM, for the Amateur Science Forum, and at UC Berkeley's Stanley Hall Sunday, Noon-4 PM, for the Science Expo. I have a delicious array of new and used science books (back to the 1800s) and some other neat stuff to sell at Berkeley. I'd love to know what you think of my new blog!

Expelling Cheaters

Norman Sperling, in Teaching&, Sonoma State University, April 1989, p3.

I used to be plagued by cheaters in my large Astronomy 100 sections, and have evolved mechanisms to minimize it.

The California State University system has a policy on cheating. The part of Title 5 of the State Code that is reprinted in every student's catalog specifies that the penalty for cheating is expulsion from the CSU system! That constitutes abundant warning to students, as well as full definition of sanctions.

Hardly any professors file such charges. Virtually all handle cheating at a much lower level – making cheaters re-do the offending test or paper, or giving an F for that paper. A few give an F for the course. But so few file campus-level charges that, when I did so a few years ago, administrators had to look up the procedure.

From the cheater's viewpoint, course-level sanctions are trivial. Cheaters typically feel that they're going to do poorly on that paper anyway, so they have nothing to lose. At worst, if caught, they do indeed flunk it. Even if the penalty is an F in the course, the Transcript just shows failure, not cause. Thus, faculty might very well have caught your cheaters before. How could you tell? Those professors' policies taught the students that they can keep cheating with near-impunity.

Notice the explicit warning from my syllabus:
"Regardless of anything you may have gotten away with elsewhere, ANY cheating or plagiarism in my class will be prosecuted to the FULL extent permissible. Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against the CSU system, punishable by expulsion from the CSU system. Most of my students work hard for their grades, and I vigorously defend the value of their earned credit. In recent terms I have detected several different types of cheating, and will absolutely not tolerate it. As far as I know, no student I've caught is in the CSU system any more."

I read this out loud on the first day, in a tone leaving no doubt. Thus, all students who are tempted to cheat know that I will buck for expulsion when I catch them. When I catch a cheater, I do indeed file the strongest case I can with the administration, invariable arguing for expulsion. While administrators are very reluctant to expel, they frequently agree to suspend. I can tell a class that I intend to do this, with a perfectly straight face, that I indeed do this, with no sympathy extended after the infraction. This, and only this, practice teaches students that we mean what we say, and that there is an unacceptable penalty for cheating, making the gamble undesirable.

Incidents of cheating have dropped precipitously in my classes. When I first started including that paragraph, they dropped to about a case a year. And since I began reading it aloud, with feeling, in the first session, I have had just one case – a student who hadn't been there the first day. From this, I conclude that following state law, and saying so clearly, virtually eliminates cheating. Lesser practices merely school cheaters in becoming the next generation of embezzlers and the like.

I therefore urge all instructors to absolutely renounce all sympathy for cheaters, to prosecute every case and buck for expulsion, and to sincerely promise this to every class, unmistakably, both in writing and orally. It will tell the vast majority of our students that we defend hard-earned credit, that we mean what we say, and that college is for people who want to learn. And it will reduce cheating to very low levels.

Medically Speaking: A Dictionary of Quotations on Dentistry, Medicine and Nursing.

Selected and arranged by Carl C. Gaither and Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither. Illustrated by Andrew Slocombe. Bristol and Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1999. xv + 481 pages. Paperback. 0-7503-0635-1. $29.99.
Reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #3, May 2005, p31.

Only a fraction of the quotations in this entertaining compendium are humorous, but quite a lot of them are witty, and most are wise. You can dip into it anywhere, and never fail to be diverted for however long you want, from seconds to hours.

"A drug is a substance which when injected into a guinea pig produces a scientific paper."

This book is meant not only for amusement but for scholarly reference. Anyone wanting to include a relevant quotation (famous or not) in their own writings can use this volume to find the best quotation. The Gaithers provide an index of subjects, by author. They also provide a separate index of authors, by subject. Whichever you have, and whichever you want, this book helps you get the right thing, and get it right. The compilers have scrupulously traced quotations to their sources, listed in an exhaustive 26-page bibliography. Readers finding gems from a source they never heard of can easily track down the whole book. Equally, it can remind you of an old favorite that's worth looking up again.

Max Planck: "An Experiment is a question which Science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer."

The cartoons by Andrew Slocombe fill out pages in good humor. Most are located near the topic of the cartoon.

Dr. Leonard McCoy: "I'm a doctor, not an escalator."
"I'm a doctor, not a brick layer."
"I'm a doctor, not a mechanic."
"I'm a doctor, not a coal miner."
"I'm a doctor, not an engineer."

This book has extremely few proofing errors. The repetition of quotes from page 249 on page 250 are the worst – and trivial. Typography, printing, and binding, are all excellent, as expected from Institute of Physics Publishing. Other quotation books in the Gaithers' series from the same publisher, in similar bindings, cover most sciences and engineering.

John Allen Paulos: "Consider a precise number that is well known to generations of parents and doctors: the normal human body temperature of 98.6° Fahrenheit. Recent investigations involving millions of measurements reveal that this number is wrong; normal human body temperature is actually 98.2° Fahrenheit. The fault, however, lies not with Dr. Wunderlich's original measurements – they were averaged and sensibly rounded to the nearest degree: 37° Celsius. When this temperature was converted to Fahrenheit, however, the rounding was forgotten and 98.6° was taken to be accurate to the nearest tenth of a degree. Had the original interval between 36.5° and 37.5° Celsius been translated, the equivalent Fahrenheit temperatures would have ranged from 97.7° to 99.5°. Apparently, discalulia can even cause fevers."

Even in such a fine resource, I can quibble with a few choices. I wish the dates were included, where known. A lot of medicine has changed from dangerous, a few hundred years ago, to comparatively safe. Quotations of wisdom vary by the realities of the times, and those times are not noted.
A few items are parody songs – meant to be sung to the tune of a well-known song. But that isn't noted till the end of each item, by which time the reader has already read it unmusically. When an item should be sung to a certain tune, tell the reader before starting the lyrics.

"Cold: A curious ailment that only people who are not doctors know how to cure."

The decision to start each section on a new page means that the many sections with one or a few entries leave lots of white space.
This book belongs in many of the same places that JIR belongs: in all medical libraries and staff lounges, and with professionals who could use a diversion. It would make a good gift, and a good award.

Will Rogers: "We were primitive people when I was a kid. There were only a mighty few known diseases. Gunshot wounds, broken legs, toothache, fits, and anything that hurt you from the lower end of your neck down was known as a bellyache."

Science Askew: A light-hearted look at the scientific world

By Donald E. Simanek and John C. Holden
Bristol, UK: Institute of Physics Publishing, 2002. 0-7503-0714-5. xii + 310 pages. Hardbound.
Reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v48 #4, November 2004, p34.

If you like JIR, you'll love Science Askew. Science satires, cartoons, puns, and parodies range from chapter-long tales down to punchy 1-liners.

Among the rules of the lab:
Experiments must be reproducible; they should fail the same way each time.
Experience is directly proportional to equipment ruined.
Teamwork is essential; it allows you to blame someone else.

My reaction upon reading most of the articles was "we should run this item in JIR!". But we reprinted an entire chapter in the last issue, and we published 2 of the articles (by the illustrator, retired geologist John C. Holden) in the 1970s, and the whole thing is already in a nifty package – this book.

From the computer expert's glossary:
On-line: The idea that a human being should always be accessible to a computer.
Machine-Independent Program: A program that will not run on any machine.
Documentation: Instructions translated from Swedish by Japanese for English-speaking people.

Simanek and Holden include fuel for debunking pseudoscience, and teaching students the distinctions. Ever the teacher, Simanek takes several opportunities to "talk straight" and point out legitimate science lessons. The pair of articles arguing opposing sides of the DHMO "controversy" afford chuckles, as well as stimulation for student exercises. "Di-Hydrogen Monoxide", of course, is H2O.

What engineers say and what they mean by it:
"Test results were extremely gratifying": It works, and are we ever surprised!
"The entire concept will have to be abandoned": The only guy who understood the thing quit.
"The designs are well within allowable limits": We just barely made it, by stretching a point or 2.

Holden contributes many clever and witty illustrations. Several other authors appear too, along with some items that have circulated worldwide on the Web which could not be traced to their original authors.

Some of Simanek's Laws of Statistics:
Anyone who trusts in statistics is taking a chance.
When 2 lines of a graph cross, that must be significant.
Once human subjects find out what you have discovered about their behavior, they begin to behave differently.

There are no important typos, and the trivial ones won't distract or confuse anyone. An illustration is mis-numbered, as is a footnote, but context makes the meanings clear. The illustration on page 110 misspells innumeracy and misperception. Page 273 gives the wrong dates for astrophysicist Thornton Page; they should be 1913-1996 instead of 1884-1952, which are the dates of physicist Leigh Page. At the time I found these little errors, none of them was posted on Science Askew's website, www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/askewcom.htm. All the tiny errors posted there, I missed.

Among the "do-it" 1-liners:
Professors do it absent-mindedly
Cosmologists do it with a bang
Logicians do it symbolically

Institute of Physics Publishing produced this book extremely well. The type is clear, the illustrations crisp, and all the parts are where they ought to be, except that there is no index. The paper is very high quality. The binding is excellent, comfortable, tight, and ought to last a long time. That's essential for this book, because the owner, friends, students, visitors, and everyone else lucky enough to happen upon it will dip into it time after time.

Despite excellent achievements by the authors and producers, this book has not been reviewed or advertised as much as it merits because the publisher refuses to send out many review copies, advertises very little outside its own periodicals, and discourages retailers. It took JIR considerable extra effort to wrest copies from the publisher, but this book is positively worth it.

Science Askew belongs in academic libraries, both for amusement and to stimulate classwork. Scientists, doctors, and educators will love this book. And it makes a splendid gift for anyone with technical knowledge and a sense of – or need for – humor.

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

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