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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

National Back-Order

(c) Norman Sperling, June 2014

My power-steering hose just rubbed through but is on “national back-order”. So are a whole lot of parts from Ford and General Motors, says the service supervisor.

Why? The flow of demand is quite predictable, so occasionally a part may be demanded more than predicted, but not so many. Companies probably make big money on parts, so it should be profitable. They know how to manage manufacturing, warehousing, and distributing. A lot of that is now done in low-rent areas, so it isn’t even that expensive.

Keeping repairable vehicles out of service for days or weeks stunts productivity, raises costs for businesses and drivers, clogs parking lots, forces people into less-desirable alternatives … there are no good factors that I can think of.

Meanwhile, my hose was repaired because it can’t be replaced. That means it’ll have to be replaced as soon as the part becomes available. Another shop visit somewhere down the road. Another mechanic’s labor bill. Wasteful all around.

The only cause I can think of is negligence. Maybe it suits some mid-level functionary’s short-term, short-sighted tally sheet, but it sure hurts everybody else. Somebody ought to sit on these companies to fix or replace the incentives: AAA? The auto-service conglomerates?

Why is Chrysler not on this list? What are they doing right?

Historic Rugby, Tennessee

© Norman Sperling, visited April 13, 2014

This village sprouted about 1880 because British author Thomas Hughes (“Tom Brown’s School Days”) sought a fresh-start opportunity for sons of British aristocracy. Only the first son inherited the big estate, and the others had to find something else to do.

This area of Tennessee is indeed lovely, though the soil is shallow. It’s memorably hot in summer and cold in winter.

Hughes and his colonists built Victorian homes and business and public buildings. There isn’t much gingerbread, but some decoration on top of the Victorian layout. A great deal has been restored, and some really nice original furnishings and structures remain.

The historic district does a lot right. A lot of buildings are publicly owned, the whole area is design-protected, there’s good signage, a good map, a nature trail, a video, a guided tour. They host an event every month. The library has all its thousands of original books from the late 1800s. New homes are permitted, but only on the original street plan, and only with compatible design. A few of those sport more gingerbread.

But they could use a lot bigger budget than they have. Big grants seem not to be actively sought. And many money-earning modes aren’t thought of. They could rent selected rare books and periodicals. They could host steampunk conventions, with photographers in the most likely settings with professional lighting already set up, so costumed fans can have their pictures taken really well in a lot of authentic Victorian settings. They could put together a traveling exhibit … keeping it free would encourage wider circulation as an advertisement for tourism. Not to mention using the whole town as a movie set.

Just Strolling

© 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.

What Don't You Know, That You Should?

© 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”.
* Immaturity.
* 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?

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

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