Home

Contact:

I'm LinkedIn and Google-Plussed.

Mail and packages, use maildrop:
Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

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

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.

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.

The Straight Dope on the Straight Wall

© Norman Sperling, June 29, 2012

Technology has now improved so much that a coordinated observing campaign can reveal important new data about one of the Moon's most important features: The Straight Wall.

First, data-mine all spacecraft observations, including Chinese and Indian. Face-on, sunlit views from spacecraft should be able to identify distinct layers. I haven't heard of anyone specifically researching these about the Straight Wall.

Monitor the Moon from Earth, using high-magnification, high-resolution imaging, especially of sunrise and sunset along the cliff. Use several widely separated instruments, so that there should always be at least one with good weather and the Moon high enough in its sky. This requires global coordination. That would have been very unusual 30 years ago, but is clearly possible now.

Extremely detailed sunrise and sunset animation sequences, from different librations, should reveal nearby faulting, or prove there isn't much.

Use the animations to map the slope and its component boulders. Precision measuring at sunrise and sunset, boulder by boulder, should determine elevation as well as latitude and longitude. I predict the boulders should be very large compared to Earth's talus slopes. That's because the rocks should be about as strong as similar Earth rocks, but the Moon's lower surface gravity exerts less force to break them up.

Spectral differences should distinguish between pieces from the top stratum and pieces from lower strata, hopefully corresponding to understandable mineralogical differences between strata. Infrared observing after sunset might reveal different cooling rates, further revealing differences between boulders.

Examining the buildup of dust at the bottom will tell something about dust scattering rates (such as by electrostatic levitation on the terminator) since landslides.

All this is possible with the latest generation of electronic imaging and enhancement. It's time to try.

Guidelines Aren't Laws

© Norman Sperling, June 19, 2012

Several panels I was on at BayCon last month tried to advise aspiring writers. Panelists would cite something from a story and point out how saying things that way made problems. I, for example, advocated for short, active sentences instead of long, passive ones tangled up in prepositional phrases.

We heard examples from many different authors, writing in many different ways. All those stories got published! Several, which had aspects that panelists didn't like, pleased scads of readers, and therefore pleased publishers. So, I told the audience, even those undesirable forms can work. For example, many writers, including my friends Terry Dickinson and Robert Sheaffer, write very well in passive voice. Do what you think works best for your story, and for yourself as a writer.

101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See

by Albert B. Dickas. Mountain Press, Missoula, 2012. 978-0-87842-587-7. $24 softcover
review © Norman Sperling, June 11, 2012

Both for sight-seeing and for tutorials, this is a wonderful new book. It illustrates a great many important geological principles while providing glorious sights to see. Almost all of the sites can been visited by road. You'll find many settings of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks (JIR spoofs those as ingenious, sentimental, and metaphoric).

Each selection has a 2-page spread: the left side tells coordinates, background, and what you can see. The right side presents 3 or 4 photos, cross-sections, maps, and/or development sequences. As in most cases where a publisher or designer dictates that all selections get equal space, both stories and typography may seem puffed or crammed.

Many places are within a half-day drive for most Americans. There's at least one in every state - one of the selection criteria. Just as in baseball's All-Star Game, where there has to be a player from every team, this promotes a number of less-important selections at the expense of better ones. Baseball depends on its fan-base, but people seeking superior geologic examples know perfectly well that they have to travel to see most of them. I hope the next edition abandons this criterion. Travelers will find concentrations of gem-quality sites easier to take in during reasonable excursions.

The author's illustrations and points are extremely clear. I found no typos, and only 5 minor mistakes.

The glossary, references, and index all have lots of entries, enabling a reader to pursue items. The glossary is a bit terse considering that many readers are novices. But it does distinguish, for example, between "terrain" ("A region of the Earth that is considered a physical feature, such as the Great Plains") and "terrane" ("A body of rock bounded by faults and characterized by a geologic history that differs from adjacent terranes"). It would be improved by listing all the examples in the book. The index probably doesn't list all occurrences of each term.

Whether you seek the newest or oldest rocks, or relics of ancient Gondwanaland or Rodinia, this book shows the way. These 101 geo-sites are well worth the trip for anyone interested in the more durable parts of Nature.

Book Publishing is Broken

© Norman Sperling, June 1, 2012

If you read the how-to business books that publishers publish, you'll learn many proven techniques: Seek innovations, seek new markets and niches, do variations that others don't do. Be nice to people, as nice as you can be.

Publishers publish such advice, but don't follow it.

Big integrated publishing companies used to handle almost all of the myriad functions that go into a successful book, from editing to illustration, layout, typography, relations with the printer, marketing, sales, warehousing, and shipping.

Hundreds of publishing companies have been bought out by 6 faceless, unfeeling, cost-cutting conglomerates, and evade as many of these tasks as they can get away with.

Instead of proactively figuring out what ought to exist, and then making it so, they mostly react to the inflood of proposals ... and let others filter them. Publishers are supposed to select their manuscripts, but delegate the biggest part of screening to literary agents. Most big, and many medium, publishers won't deal with authors directly but ONLY deal through agents. So a writer has to find an agent.

Finding an agent who will truly work for you is like finding a bank to lend you money: they're most willing when you prove that you scarcely need them. One agent told me that I'd need my website to get a certain big number of hits per week – but when I do, I should sell more online than physical bookstores would.

Publishers are supposed to help authors with illustrations. A few still do. Others, however, keep the illustrators from talking to the authors, guaranteeing incompetent pictures, unhappy authors, and baffled readers. Keeping illustrators and authors apart is utterly counterproductive, but some publishers do it.

Publishers are supposed to arrange for manufacturing the books, but an author-friend tells me of some who are delighted to slough that off to subcontractors – even to the author (who can use this for further employment, taking another piece of the pie).

With the latest short-run and publishing-on-demand services, there is no longer any need for warehousing, nor for guessing how many to print, nor for big investments in printing. I'm already publishing certain books that way.

Publishers are supposed to market, but now they require the author to submit a marketing plan with the book proposal. What aspect of being a good author qualifies one for any marketing at all?? Publishers squeal with delight when they see a good marketing plan. The more the author plans marketing, the stronger the book! Publishers used to have real marketing specialists. But publishers market absurdly narrowly: I know a big publisher that markets its parents' guides to coaching ONLY to the *sports* shelves of general bookstores, and expressly ignores all *parenting* channels, even after I pointed out to them that more customers are to be found as "parents" than in "sports".

Publishers are supposed to sell, but abandon much of that to chain stores, and Amazon, and aggregators like Baker & Taylor. Is there any use for aggregators that software can't do?

So big publishers don't define their products, they don't seek out authors, they avoid setting type, they subcontract illustrations, and avoid dealing with the printer, or doing most of the marketing. Most big publishers seem outright scared of ePublishing and eBooks. Small presses may pay more attention to authors but whereas big publishers don't do all the necessary jobs because they're *negligent*, small presses don't do all the jobs because they don't have enough *resources*.

Since publishers do so little, what do you need them for? Self-publishing manuals list all the tasks to do. All those jobs still need to be done. Do as many of them as you can and want to yourself, and hire out the rest. If you skip any, the job's not done and the results won't be professional. An author cannot edit his own writing. Suggestions are just a tweet away. Make sure *all* the jobs are done well.

Here are some books on self-publishing. They're wisely heavy on marketing, and not up-to-date on eBooks, but they do enumerate every step you need to take.

Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer's Digest books 2002.
Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual 2002, and volume 2, 2009.
Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.

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

Your Cart

View your shopping cart.