© Norman Sperling, Winter Star Party, February 25, 2014
Last night I just strolled among the stars.
I used my Astroscan in laptop mode: long before computers were “laptops”, Astroscan was designed purposely to include that capability. Just sit down, cuddle the sphere in your lap, and scan wherever.
The latitude was unfamiliar so the angles weren’t the “same old” ones. A different eyepiece displayed a different scale factor. I didn’t look up any familiar deep-sky objects or star patterns. I just scanned and wandered. I was usually so unsure of where the scope pointed that whatever showed up was a pure surprise. That gave a wonderful element of discovery and fresh beauty.
The Milky Way is spectacular, but in this really dark sky, even the Hydra Void shows plenty of stars and clusters and nebulae. Many familiar favorites popped out, but I didn’t bother with catalog numbers. The joy was in the freshness, coming at objects from different sides, seeing them in unfamiliar angles and sizes.
Don’t always take the same route. Whether you scan a database, a petri dish, a landscape, or a starscape, take a fresh field of view, a different angle, a different filter for what to notice.
© Norman Sperling, February 21, 2014
I display at a lot of fairs and club meetings. Most prospective customers are pretty close to what I expect: people of similar interests and varying expertise.
But I also meet people, often running other booths, who got shortchanged in their education and don’t know how to move forward.
I recently encountered an eager man who bubbled over about the service he was selling. I immediately recognized it as pseudoscience. When he started reciting details, I several times shook my head and said, no, that’s NOT the way things work. That’s not so.
He was stunned.
From what he said and what he asked, I guessed his science education never went past middle school, so I sold him a high-school textbook with a chapter on what he needed to know. He dove in like he’d been starved. He’ll learn an awful lot from that book.
There are scads of reasons for education not to “take”.
* Unfavorable home situations that prevent or distract.
* Competing pulls.
* Not knowing the local language well enough.
* Belief systems that block out reality.
* An earlier experience, such as a bad teacher, “turned them off”.
* Illness: I met a student who had an ear infection when her class studied division in grade school. She didn’t hear the lessons, and still couldn’t divide 6 years later. She was sensational at covering up.
* Cultural hangups that prevent using resources.
* Personal hangups. I know a person who was telling me some pretty wise things, so I recommended that he “tell it to a piece of paper” -- write it down. He replied “If I could do that, my whole life would be different” -- that’s one of his hangups.
These are nothing to feel guilty about, just bad luck.
But our society also excels at ways to learn what you didn’t learn before.
* The public library.
* Educational TV.
* Online encyclopedias, animations, lectures, lessons, and so on.
* Public lectures.
* Informal education like museums, and parks with rangers and signage.
* Adult school.
* Community college courses.
These are free or cheap. People can take them in any amount at any pace, whenever it suits them.
A whole lot of people do. When I was giving planetarium shows, it was not rare for a person to come up to the console afterward and ask basic questions. In teaching at community colleges, and night courses at universities, I’ve met people who are trying to better themselves, and get more satisfying careers. (Not necessarily better-paying! 2 of my most-memorable students were a truck driver and a plumber, who made more money than I did, but with dramatically less satisfaction.)
But many people don’t think of all the resources available to them; I have to push the recommendations. That applies even more to folks like the first guy mentioned above. He could have learned the folly of his spiel in a library, in an encyclopedia, from a used-book store, a new-book store, a GED course, a community college course, or from a thousand on-line resources. It never occurred to him to do so.
As a purveyor of pseudoscience, he’s not evil, he’s just ignorant. Maybe the folks who promote the program he bought into might be evil, or maybe they’re just ignorant too.
Our culture would be enormously improved by folks of all ages patching the holes in their knowledge. Many will probably choose their favorite entertainment instead. But many will eventually, as it suits them, learn up on their weaknesses. That would decrease the market for pseudoscience as well as the number of its pushers. It will also improve the overall functioning of Society. We’ve already got the stuff in place. All we need is to effectively recommend it to folks who need it.
What don’t you know, that you should?
© Norman Sperling, February 20, 2014
We all appreciate the safety advantage of highly-reflective dayglo-type vests and such. They really do make their wearers more visible, and more noticeable to people not specifically seeking them. I’m confident that that clothing helps safety.
Many people who aren’t required to wear them use them anyway, such as my fellow bicyclists. We want maximum visibility to drivers who aren’t always mindful of bike riders.
But that clothing shouldn’t be so industrially-ugly! The current offerings mostly use straight lines that could just as easily outline the girders of a building. They look as if their specifications were written by a mechanic.
Hand the same materials to clothing designers and see what they come up with. It has to be catchy for safety, so about the same amount of dayglo-type fabric should be exposed. But areas might get enhanced with thin dark borders. And the shapes could take on many stylish flights of fancy and art - look at what they do with spandex for bikers.
I don’t see why safety vests can’t be made good-looking as well as functional. That would lure more people to use them more often, improving safety. And it should help workers who are obligated to use them do so less grudgingly.
January 30, 2014
I’m passing through a number of cities and want to meet people like local JIR subscribers and astronomers. Someone suggested simply circulating an announcement that I’ll be in a certain place at a certain time, like a student union lobby or coffee house. This seems way easier and cheaper than renting a meeting room. What sort of times and places do you think would, and would not work?
The next several are probably Las Cruces, NM, and the Texas cities of El Paso, Fort Worth, and Dallas. In late February, Florida, then a bit northward from there.
Thank you for your thoughts!
normsperling [at] gmail.com