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Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

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


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.

Tell Me Where To Go, and What To Do When I Get There

© Norman Sperling, March 1, 2011

In 1981-82, after leaving Sky & Telescope, and planning to move to the Bay Area, with no job or attachments on either end, I went sight-seeing. I traded my car for an RV, left Boston on Winter Solstice 1981, and settled in Oakland on Astronomy Day 1982. I meandered far and wide, seeing astronomical sights that I'd missed at conventions - observatories, planetaria, star parties, etc. I visited interesting companies and people I'd met, but concentrated more on folks I'd heard of and maybe corresponded with, but had never seen.

That trip was one of the highlights of my life. I took lots of photos that I still teach with. I'm still friends with a number of very interesting people I went out of my way to meet. I encountered many curiosities, neat stuff, different ways of doing things ... .

Now I'm finishing a couple decades on Daddy-Duty, and the travel bug is biting again. By January 2013 I hope to start driving anywhere in the US and Canada for 2 or 3 years. I may fit in short excursions before then.

Since I'm in my 60s this is my best remaining opportunity - of course everything is "health and budget permitting". I'm no longer so nimble, and have to watch my diet. I can dawdle and go way off the beaten path. Electronics will make it easier this time, with a laptop, WiFi, WWW, GPS, cell phone, digital camera, etc.

A detachable camper trailer seems good - the type called a "toy hauler", with the big fold-down ramp making it easy to move stuff in and out. I need functions of office/ store/ warehouse/ workshop more than the rooms of a house (in fact, many people change their houses' rooms and garages into offices/ stores/ warehouses/ workshops). So far, every motorhome I've seen tries to be a house, not the office/ workshop/ store I need. I hope I don't have to invent it all myself. I'll need a computer work station (even if the computer itself is a laptop); a drawing desk; and a package-wrapping table. Those could all fold out of the way when not in use. Of course I'll need lots of volume for goods that I buy and sell.

Park the camper for a week. There are trailer parks everywhere, and some folks might let me hook up a hose and extension cord to their garage. I'll probably pull the toy hauler with a powerful American SUV since, away from the coasts, service is said to be harder to find for imports. Get around town and take day-trips in the SUV.


It might take a week to "do" a city:
* Visit Big Science labs and institutions - academic, government [DoE, NASA, USDA, ...], whatever
* companies that make scientific things
* speak to the astronomy club
* speak to the skeptics (skeptical of pseudoscience)
* speak to the science writers and bloggers
* participate in Science Cafes
* give JIR-humor talks in labs and on campuses
* meet JIR authors and subscribers
* meet this blog's readers
* meet each area's science retailers
I hope to sell subscriptions and goods at most talks.

Tell me where to go! Please recommend:
* Science, technology, and medical places,
* ... sanctuaries and reserves,
* ... personalities, and
* ... companies
* Big Science / Research laboratories / Institutes
* Where scientific headlines happened
* Scientific white elephants
* Conventions, science festivals, science cafes, and star parties
* Life-list experiences
* Factory tours
* Inventors
* People who make neat goods that scientists and doctors would buy
* Authors / Writers / Bloggers
* Must-see buildings / structures / views (I love strong verticals and lots of ins-and-outs)
* Distinctive and off-beat museums
* Natural phenomena
* Scenic byways
* Geological faults and exposures
* Your ideas
* "Don't Go There": where to avoid, and why
Include noteworthy things that miss my criteria by a factor or 2: I can't drive to Arecibo but it's on my wish-list anyway.

Along the way, I'll turn what I learn into books, websites, articles, shows, blogs, or other media. I'm planning half a dozen book-like projects. For example,
* I want to touch rocks deposited during every geological epoch, and probably every age. How old are the rocks exposed near you? Are there any nice, multi-layer road cuts or cliffs?
* I'll visit sites for my forensic-astronomy book, Convicted by the Sun, Acquitted by the Moon. There's room for more cases, if you know of any.
* In historical science, I'll examine scientific White Elephants, including potential future ones.
* In entomology, I want to learn how locals cope with their pests.

I welcome your recommendations and comments on all of this: normsperling [at] gmail.com.

References I've combed as of May 2012:

David Alt & Donald W. Hyndman: Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California. Mountain Press 2002.
Karen Axelrod & Bruce Brumberg: Watch it Made in the USA. 3d ed 2002.
Bishop, Oesterle & Marinacci: Weird California. Sterling 2006.
Robert Burnham, ed: Caves Cliffs & Canyons. Discovery Insight Guides 2000.
Robert Burnham, ed: Star & Sky. Discovery Insight Guides 2000.
Richard Cavendish, ed: 1001 Historic Sites you Must See Before You Die. Barron's.
Glennda Chui: "The Particle Physics Life List". Symmetry, v4 #6 pp10-19, August 2007.
Albert G. Dikas: 101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See. Mountain Press 2012.
Chris Epting: James Dean Died Here. Santa Monica Pr 2003.
Chris Epting: The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain : the Locations of America's Pop Culture Artifacts . Santa Monica Pr 2006.
John Graham-Cumming: The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science & Technology Come Alive. O'Reilly 2009. 542p.
Peter Greenberg: Don't Go There!. Rodale 2009.
Gerald & Patricia Gutek: Experiencing America's Past: A Travel Guide to Museum Villages. 2d ed, U So Car Pr 1994.
Jim Heimann & Rip Georges: California Crazy: Roadside Vernacular Architecture. Chronicle 1980.
Harry Helms: Top Secret Tourism. Feral House 2007.
H. Tom Kirby-Smith: U.S. Observatories: A Directory and Travel Guide. Van Nostrand Reinhold 1976.
John Margolies: Fun Along the Road. Little, Brown 1998.
Mike Marinacci: Mysterious California. Panpipe 1987. 142p.
Daniel Mathews & James S. Jackson: America from the Air. Huffin Muffin 2007.
Gary McKechnie: USA 101. National Geographic 2009.
Mark Moran & Mark Sceurman: Weird U.S. Barnes & Noble 2004.
Duane S. Nickell: Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler: Visiting Astronomy and Space Exploration Sites Across America Rutgers U Pr. 2008.
Duane S. Nickell: Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler: Visiting Physics and Chemistry Sites Across America Rutgers U Pr. 2010.

Jerome Pohlen: Progressive Nation. Chicago Review Pr. 2008.
Reader's Digest: America’s Historic Places. Reader’s Digest 1988.
Saul Rubin: Offbeat Museums. 1997.
Norm Sperling: "Touring American Observatories", Sky & Telescope, vol. 53, no. 1, January 1977, 14-19.
Mabel Sterns: Directory of Astronomical Observatories in the United States. Edwards 1947.
Salvatore M. Trento: Field Guide to the Mysterious Places of the Pacific Coast. Holt 1997.
Mark Usler: Hometown Declarations. DM 2008.
B. J. Welborn: America's Best Historical Sites. Chicago Review Press 1998.

Now is the Time to Expand the Budget ... of Paradoxes

© Norman Sperling, February 19, 2011

While the Skeptics' movement, as official organizations of people, only dates from the 1970s, there have been skeptics of pseudoscience for hundreds of years. One of the most interesting was a prickly Victorian named Augustus De Morgan.

De Morgan responded tartly in the Athenaeum magazine to assorted balderdash he read in a wide variety of books, and to letters which people sent him. His writings for the Athenaeum were rather like those of some bloggers today. He had a short fuse. Politeness was not a priority.

After he died, his widow published De Morgan's ripostes as one of the first Skeptics' books, A Budget of Paradoxes. I treasure my copy of the second edition, published in 2 volumes in 1915.

I got them from the estate of Joe Ashbrook, editor of Sky & Telescope magazine. Joe's signature inside the front cover says he bought it on June 24, 1935, when the book was 20 years old, and Joe was 17. Over the rest of his career he wrote a great many interesting notes in it. Joe especially used the book's many short biographies; back then, we didn't have the research resources we have now.

But the Budget only publishes De Morgan's retorts. The first half of each dialog isn't there, and can only partly be inferred from what is. Back when De Morgan wrote, and when the Budget was published, there was a perfect reason for that: the copyrights to the other side of the dialog didn't belong to De Morgan, and the writers were usually hostile to him.

Now those copyrights have long expired. And now a huge amount of Victorian text is on-line and otherwise more accessible.

So now that it is possible, somebody should put together the complete version: the claims as well as the disproofs, the bunk as well as the debunk.

It could be published in electronic formats. It could also be printed-on-demand so no publisher has to bet how many others will want to buy a copy, after I buy the first one.

What similar worthy projects, never done before, are now doable?

First Editions Are Different

© Norman Sperling, February 13, 2011

A big antiquarian book fair was just held in San Francisco. It seems that books are not going out of style, and old books keep climbing in value.

You probably know famous old Science books from recent paperback nth-editions. You know how important the authors, and the books, were. You may even have read the books.

That would tell you what an author said ... but not with the same impression that the original book gave to its original readers. The real first edition is different.

It's clothbound, not paperback. It's a quality production job that feels substantial. The first edition's cover and frontispiece don't depict the author full of age and honor and glory, because he wasn't yet. When the first edition got to the readers, the author was rather young, no hero, not particularly well known, and hadn't been glorified at all. And the book therefore looks like it: the author's name is not as big and bold as the title. The subtitle plays an important persuasive role.

When important Science books get published, the authors are full of hope, but the publishers, who have actual money at risk, are full of fear. So most first editions have short press runs to reduce the risk of warehousing unsold leftovers. Therefore, with such a tiny supply of first editions, if a book becomes famous, demand can drive prices very high. I've been collecting old Science books for decades but only have a few important first editions.

Compare first editions to later editions. By the time those were printed, the authors and publishers knew that they'd sell a lot, so the press runs were much longer. The persuasive roles of the binding, the title, the subtitle, the author's name, and the frontispiece, all changed from the first edition. Of course the contents are updated and enriched, too.

Demand can continue for decades after the book is out-of-date, and even after the author dies. Degenerate late editions look different, and may persist as volumes in big series of "important books", with muddier and muddier type as the years drag on. Publishers of even-later paperbacks assume you already know the contents are important. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, illustrates this with a long shelf with over 100 editions of Darwin's On The Origin of Species.

If you're interested in an old Science book mostly for its contents, a reprint or a low-price late edition serves perfectly well. The bulk of my library is that way. But the originals certainly tell a different story!

Catching Satellite Debris With Smart Nets

© Norman Sperling, February 6, 2011

Thanks to Dennis Normile, the Science Insider of Science Magazine, we've learned that last week's flap over satellite-catching nets began with mistranslation and ballooned as journalists and bloggers skipped fact-checking and blundered directly into copying and embroidery.

As far as I know, space nets have not yet been tried. I think they ought to be.

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

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