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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.

Norman Sperling's blog

The Quarterly Bottom Line

© Norman Sperling, October 15, 2014

The short-sightedness of focusing on the quarterly bottom line distracts businesses from far-more-important long-term affairs. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a Paris businessman, points this out in “The Week”’s “Idea Factory” column. http://theweek.com/article/index/269688/this-one-reform-could-fix-the-bi...

He is profoundly correct. Practically all staff, decision-makers, products, manufacturing facilities, distribution systems, and customers last more than 3 months. A great many of today’s ills would fix themselves if business thought longer-term.

Some businesses do. Family-owned businesses think by the generation, not by the quarter. Most of them are far more stable and deal with their staffs, suppliers, and customers more dependably. That dependability is a big component in deciding who to do business with. But family businesses have other problems, such as not always producing all the needed skills every generation.

Privately-held businesses don’t have to focus on quarterly bottom lines, either. Sometimes, when a publicly-traded corporation is “taken private” they comment that this lets them consider longer-range projects.

Gobry suggests freezing investments held by third parties for 15 years, forcing money-managers to think that long. A more flexible way to encourage thinking long would be to limit the number of times each share of stock could be bought or sold per unit of time. Count by 40 to 60 years rather than 15, but permit a few sales in that time. It would slow down the “instant gambling” aspect of the stock market, which is one of its worst characteristics. It would force investors to think long, but still allow changes if there’s a big enough reason.

Gobry says that quarterly bottom line reckoning wasn’t intentionally planned, it just happened. That’s not quite right. More than a century ago, information about transactions and accounts flowed so slowly that no one could tell a company’s status at any specific moment. This offered many opportunities for fraud. Especially damaging frauds were perpetrated by the Swedish “Match King”. (For his exciting career, read Frank Partnoy’s 2009 book "The Match King: Ivar Kreuger".) To squelch some kinds of his frauds, the US set up the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934 and required quarterly reporting of each corporation’s cash status and value. That began the quarterly bottom line.

Peter Drucker pointed out that “what gets measured gets managed”, so managers and stockholders concentrate on this important statistic. It dominates the shortest-sighted, like Carl Icahn, who thinks corporations are worth breaking up for his quarterly gain, never mind the disruption wrecking innocent customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.

Corporations should be made to declare the time-horizon they plan for. Those that expect to be long-term on-going enterprises should specify that they plan ahead 20, 30, 40, or however many years. Ones intended to flare up and sell out quickly, like those pushing this month’s technology innovation, should declare that that is their intent.

Must Every Astroscan be Red?

© Norman Sperling, October 15, 2014

Every Astroscan is red. It was Edmund Scientific’s theme color when they created the Astroscan in 1976. I like it, and many others do too.

But colors and designs express a lot to people. Henry Ford was *wrong* to force every Model T he built from 1914 to 1926 to be black. Not every Astroscan ought to be red.

I remember how folks used to decorate Volkswagen beetles. Who will extend that to Astroscans? The body is injection-molded from ABS, a very common and well-known co-polymer. Find paints that stick to that, and won’t have problems with the trivet’s felt pads.

Paint it white? Black? Blue? Green? Pink? Brown? Chrome? Brass?

A patriotic-American design could cover the sphere with a blue field with white stars, and the cylinder with white stripes alternating with the red. A patriotic-Canadian design could use white to outline the maple leaf. Dude up an Astroscan in Steampunk, and another in Art-Deco. What would artists and illustrators and designers dream up?

Science Online Goes Offline

© Norman Sperling, October 10, 2014

The winter gathering for online science “researchers, developers, coders, librarians, videographers, animators, illustrators, teachers, and writers” has canceled its 2015 meeting after a long series of difficulties. It was on my “do-list” of places and events for my Great Science Trek, but I never got to attend. My friend Brian Malow @sciencecomedian is so broken up over the cancellation that he has posted 11 tweets of memories.

The event began by concentrating on blogging and writing, and to that extent overlapped the National Association of Science Writers. Over 8 years, it decreased the overlap and “focused on how science is conducted, shared, and communicated online”, co-founder Karyn Traphagen told me by eMail. She provided the list in the first sentence.

NASW should take up as much of the slack as it can.

The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, HarperPrism 1999.

© Norman Sperling, September 2, 2014

A friend tipped me off that this science fiction book features the Astroscan telescope, which I co-designed, so I knew I’d read at least enough to see how my scope fared. I dove right in and, because it’s a really neat book, I read the whole thing. I was so involved that a few times I’d pause, think “hey, it brought up the Astroscan again” so I’d page back to the reference, mark it, and then plow straight on to see how the story went.

The premise asks what would happen if enormous earthquakes hit Missouri’s New Madrid fault now, as they did in 1811-12. My travels have recently taken me to St. Louis, Memphis, New Madrid, and Reelfoot Lake, and most of the other places in the book. Williams portrays the flavors, weather, accents, and scenery much as I saw them.

Mix in a flooded Mississippi River, failure of the electric grid and most communications, and isolated power-abusing authorities. Detailing the major chaos takes Williams’s expertly-developed characters along paths twisting through hundreds of pages to converge in the mop-up.

The science is quite good. The seismology is excellent, as far as I can tell. So is the hydrology. So is the technology -- from helicopters to nuclear reactors to guns. The major issue of reactionary Whites repressing Blacks has, I hope, diminished since this story was published 15 years ago … I hope.

Also improved today are communications and smartphones and multiple ways to access the www. Most wouldn’t work -- I’ve been in plenty of “no service” areas on this trek -- but there would also be places where you could get through.

One factor that didn’t ring true was radio. Old fashioned AM radio travels thousands of miles at night. Surely someone in this novel could have used a car radio, or scrounged up a battery-powered transistor radio, and listened to outside news. It wouldn’t get a message out, but at least it would get news in, tell that St. Louis and Memphis were flattened, and warn of impending storms and flooding.

Into this stew Williams tossed the Astroscan telescope. He must have asked his astronomical consultant for a portable telescope that could take rough handling. I can tell that the author actually handled one and looked through it. Most of the astronomical objects would look about as described. But he waxed overenthusiastic about galaxies - the ones he listed show up just as grey fuzzblobs. To notice the details he cites requires much larger scopes.

Terrestrial viewing, important to the plot, would work just as described. Characters’ reactions to Astroscan's odd looks sound pretty good. The shoulder strap is meant for exactly the kind of carrying that the hero used it for. The casing is indeed tough enough to withstand being knocked around (and no other beginner scope could). So the scope earned its way into the book, the author understood its special characteristics, and it sparked enough interest that its teenage user could think of going into astronomy. For the Astroscan, this novel is a huge success. And if that teenager enrolls where I teach, I want him in my class.

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

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