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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.

Steampunk Style

© Norman Sperling, March 28, 2011

Last weekend's Steampunk convention really dazzled in style.

"Plain" and "Steampunk" don't intersect. Look at the details on the finest Queen Anne Victorian houses at images.google.com or flickr.com. I saw goggles with wonderful elaborate brasswork, the 2 sides assertively different. Steampunkers make fantastic corsetry, hats, featherware, gearworks, brassworks, glassworks ... shiny and colorful and intricate and brash. It was such a feast for the eyes that I wandered the dealers and halls agog.

Practically all of it came from handcrafters. A few smallish companies create T-shirts, and publish the fiction that drives the genre. No big corporations, no mass production.

Practically the only person who arrived there not wearing showy goggles (Steampunk's universal icon) was me. I'd intended to buy some anyway, but that made it imperative. I bought. Now they ride the brim of my pith helmet. Not that it matters in steampunkdom, but it's a real pith helmet, that is built out of pith (a natural styrofoam-like substance from certain reeds). I bought it in Nairobi in 1980 while chasing a solar eclipse.

Genuine Victorian stuff does not attract the Steampunkers. A dealer with antiquarian microscopes, books, rulers, and slide rules had very few customers. The dealers who sold a lot have fantastically elaborated, gaudy goods. Their late-1800s aesthetic is wildly embroidered; the real thing itself is way too sedate.

Enormous elaboration continued into the 1900s (think Duesenbergs in the 1920s and '30s). Then the tides of fashion flipped toward sleek, hiding detailed inner workings under shells of each year's favorite shapes.

Telescopes, microscopes, cars, appliances, and a host of other complex devices still hide all their intricacies. While electronic circuit boards remain ugly and static, pipes, chains, gears, belts, and other moving stuff can be made attractive and interesting. It's time to bring those out of hiding, shine them up, and celebrate the harmony of their workings. Dyson has led vacuum cleaners this way, and Harley-Davidson never left, so many more should follow.

Be an Expert

© Norman Sperling, March 20, 2011

Be a genuine expert in something. Something you really like, that you've read everything about, seen everything about, and talked to other experts about. Maybe part of your hobby. Maybe something you have collected and examined samples of. It need not connect with your profession, but it could.

Improve the Wikipedia articles on and around your subject. And DMOZ and About, etc. Review books on the subject for Amazon, newsletters, etc. Become one of the "names" to be included wherever the subject comes up.

Give a few talks about it, perhaps at hobby clubs and related conventions, as widely as your circumstances permit.

Develop a niche product, or market someone else's. Make it the very most useful for the people who care a lot about your topic. You can make a few dollars from selling it, but you'll make more on increased reputation.

Write a few articles about aspects of it. Publish them in hobbyist newsletters, blogs, magazines, or wherever you can. If you write a lot of things about it, such as having your own authoritative blog, gather up your accumulated writings, and figure out how they could be segments of a book. Figure out what other segments such a book would need, and write and publish those as articles and blog posts. Then self-publish your book using new print-on-demand or short-run printing services. You no longer need much capital, or a commercial publisher. (You DO still need a good editor and a good cover artist and a marketer, and they need to get paid professionally.) You'll sell some copies, but more importantly, you'll be an author. When I give a copy of a book I've written to a potential client, I almost always get the assignment. The copy costs me a few bucks, but I get back hundreds or thousands of times as much. I also get treated better: "author" is a wonderful status.

All this gets your name "out there". That's a great status to have, no matter how off-the-beaten-path your subject may be. If you're easy to find, such as via search engines, you may get queries about the topic. Answer them as an expert. Some of those answers can be reworked into blog posts, talks, and book segments.

Once in a while, a topic that's usually obscure hits the headlines. When it does, media scramble to find some expert to talk to. That's you. You'll get your 15 minutes of fame.

And once in a great while, some big operation needs your expertise, and therefore needs you. This can open up consulting and freelancing and even employment possibilities.

Good luck!

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

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

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