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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
El Paso
Corpus Christi
Baton Rouge
Key West
Winter Star Party, Scout Key

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard

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 Issues of the Issue: JIR v51 #4

© Norman Sperling, August 9, 2011

The Journal of Irreproducible Results volume 51, #4, is now in the mail. As always, much of the humor connects to real-life issues.

One of our articles is about the Medical Narrative Essay, a form of scholarly publishing with a lower entry threshold than research papers. Dr. Katherine Chang Chretien makes a good point about the "crap-shoot" feeling authors get, because some essays may get rejected summarily by one publication, and accepted as-is by another. She's right! And it isn't only a matter of the article's quality, or the journal's. Sometimes we have too many submissions on some topic and too few on another, which changes what's welcome. Often a new editor wants to show a different face than the previous one. Sometimes an article is a perfect companion for something else that the author is unaware of. There can be lots of reasons in addition to whim - which also happens.

Our article "Science Blitz" by David Bartell and Paul Carlson was, according to Marty Halpern's blog More Red Ink, rejected by Analog as being too weird, crossing too many genre boundaries. Those factors worked in its favor for JIR, but we're happy to print it as a good, witty story that ties in science with a novel twist.

Colleges try to teach high-level information to students who aren't always prepared for it. The bullet-point list is one ubiquitous method to simplify and emphasize points. Prof. Lou Lippman points out that this can train students to take in information only in that format. I find myself teaching to standards that others seem to have left behind, such as requiring term papers of students who have never done any such thing before. A lot of employers will still want employees who can find relevant information and put it together coherently, and practically every employer will still need employees to take competent notes from oral instructions ( which are often much less coherent than professors' lectures!). We still need to engrain those skills in the students.

The ease and presumed anonymity of writing on the Internet spawns lots of new terms. Many of those are great puns, which we love. Others, however, earn their way into a glossary of neologisms, provided here by Doreen Dotan.

Lawns, and mowing them, are a cultural fad that too few question. A lawn that people actually use is fine with me. But most are for show, or for conformity. They suck up water and time. For usefulness, or for decoration, they deserve to be a lot rarer. Dr. Robert Haas couches the issue for the anthropologists of 1,000 years from now, but many of us already don't like lawn care here and now.

Opioid pain relievers remain wildly popular. Either an enormous number of people live in great pain (surely some do) or a lot just say so to get their opioid prescriptions renewed. This wide-spread, semi-legal zonking is rarely counted in studies of drug use. If scholars want to know the dimensions of drug use, they need to count this. They come up with statistics on illegal drugs, and it should be easier to add this factor. If specific doctors are "easy touches" or active over-prescribers, whoever licenses and certifies them needs to get serious about enforcement. But some patients try to get opioid prescriptions from Dr. Allan Zacher, and he rebels by writing for JIR.

We're publishing an English translation of a pair of articles that originally appeared, under pseudonyms, in a small publication in the USSR, 50 years ago. We have not found who actually wrote them, nor any previous translation into English. This translation is submitted by Sergey Makshinskiy. We always seek nuggets from other places and times, that our present readers would enjoy.

Our former publisher, George H. Scherr, PhD, has published another book! This one is on the history of fighting infections. Pasteur, he says, was following Agostino Bassi. Why Millions Died is being published by the University Press of America.

Classification Made Droll

Reviewed by © Norman Sperling, July 21, 2011. Published in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, v51 #4, August 2011.

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, by Julian Montague. Published by Abrams Image, New York, 2006. www.hnabooks.com . 0-8109-5520-2. $17.95

Scientific classification principles can be applied very widely. Artist Julian Montague applies them, with droll irony, to the situations in which stray shopping carts are found around Buffalo. He classifies their condition, their origin and distance from it, and how they apparently came to the places where he found them. Montague's shopping carts progress through categories as weather, vandals, and snowplows batter them. Every example is photographed, with the author's classifications and occasional brief comment.

Shopping carts typically stray to the grimier parts of town, so the setting is often along railroad tracks and creeks, amid graffiti-covered walls, tires, underbrush, trash, and snow. Montague systematically excludes humans from his photos - only 1 or 2 can be discerned in distant backgrounds. This casts an "abandoned" feel over Buffalo.

Montague does not classify or give any taxonomy to the carts themselves. His classification deals with where they are found, not their inherent characteristics. In doing so, the book resembles astronomer J. Allen Hynek's attempt to categorize reports of encounters with extraterrestrials. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" made a splendid title for a good movie. But it was never scientifically useful because it did not classify extraterrestrials, which was what we wanted to learn about, but rather how far they were from humans at the time of encounter, which is far less interesting and often accidental.

Montague's book can be used to demonstrate principles of classification in an amusing way, without getting tangled in Latin, Greek, or scientific technicalities.

Tweaking Sheeple With Style

© Norman Sperling, July 13, 2011

Marty Halpern, another editor, has blogged in More Red Ink about a time when he and I disagreed about stylebooks, among other things, while serving on a panel at the BayCon science fiction convention. The Journal of Irreproducible Results does indeed use different styles than most other publications. Contributors don't have to conform; if we accept a contribution, we will handle that hassle.

Not following the Chicago Manual of Style is NOT an error! The Chicago Manual is hardly the best way to present humor - it's dull and sober and stuffy, the very antithesis of humor. Many editors detest that stuffy antique. Its followers seem like sheeple who mindlessly obey what emperors dictate, even though they can recognize clothing if they see it.

Here are some of our style standards, with some of the reasoning. We welcome other publications and writers adopting any parts of these that appeal to them.

Body type: 11-point Bookman Old Style.
Captions, By-lines, and Sub-heads: 16-point Century Gothic.
Our own advertising: Rockwell.

Bookman, Century Gothic, and Rockwell are the most-readable fonts we have. We use them because we want people to actually read our magazine. Semi-condensed fonts such as Times are harder to read. They cram more text onto the paper, but savings from the printer come at a cost to the reader, and we think the reader is more important. We particularly note that many readers are elderly, and as we age we sympathize with their vision difficulties more and more.

When there is just one table or figure, call it "the table" or "the figure", not "Table 1" or "Figure 1".

Digits are far easier to read than the words for them, and the principal point is ease of reading. Numbers are as tall as capital letters. Spell out "one" except when it is used mathematically as a digit. But all higher numbers should be expressed as digits, even if beginning a sentence.

0 can be ambiguous. If it's clearly the digit, use the digit. If in danger of being mis-read as the letter 'oh', would "zero" work more clearly?

"20th Century", "17th Century", and so on sound stilted, require a mental calculation to subtract to get the dates ... and are often misunderstood, especially by non-Western people. Almost always, they don't mean the specific, technical inventory of years starting with '01 and ending with '00. Almost always, they just handwavingly refer to a century-or-so. It's far clearer and simpler to say "the 1900s" or "the 1600s".

Punctuation in Quotation Marks
Punctuation that is part of what's being quoted goes inside quotation marks. Punctuation that is not part of what's being quoted goes outside of quotation marks. That way you know what's being quoted.

%, °
One contributor notes that JIR people seem to have more letters after their names than in them. For JIR's college-educated and technically-oriented audience, 100% understand "%" and are therefore slowed down by seeing it written out as "percent". For people with so many degrees, the same goes for the degree sign.

NASA, US, PM, etc.: full capitals, no periods. Styles that put them "down" were meant to save expensive labor on Mergenthaler linotype machines ... which nobody has used for decades. Instead, let's save clarity.

Cities which are very well known and unambiguous need not be followed by their state, province, or country.

Almost all capitals, and major-league cities (in major sports) are that well known and unambiguous: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, even Green Bay. Nobody thinks those are anywhere but the big place.

The same applies to intellectually-major-league towns: Ann Arbor, Bangalore, Berkeley, Boulder, Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Corvallis, Eugene, Evanston, Huntsville, Ithaca, Laramie, Lawrence, Leiden, Los Alamos, Norman, Oak Ridge, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Pune, Princeton, Provo, Rolla, Stony Brook, Tempe, Tucson, Uppsala. [How many have you visited? How many have you spoken at?]

Well-known unique names of smaller places, too, need not be followed by a state name: Albuquerque, Altoona, Amarillo, Bar Harbor, Baton Rouge, Bemidji, Cape Town, Castelgondolfo, Chattanooga, Des Moines, Duluth, El Paso, Fresno, Frobisher Bay, Galveston, Kalamazoo, Kokomo, Little Rock, Macon, Mobile, Muncie, Nairobi, Olduvai, Omaha, Oshkosh, Paducah, Perth, Sacramento, Santa Fe, Saskatoon, Schenectady, Spokane, Tallahassee, Terre Haute, Thule, Timbuktu, Tulsa, Walla Walla, Yakima.

Places that are not well-enough known, regardless of how distinctive, must stipulate the state, province, or country. Faaa, Iquique, Kamloops, Kano, Pismo Beach. [How many of those can you place?] When in doubt, add the state or country name.

When ambiguous, stipulate the state or country name: Alexandria, Athens, Austin, Berlin, Cambridge, Hyderabad, Kansas City, London, Macedonia, Manchester, Moscow, Oakland, Oxford, Peoria, Portland, Rochester, San Jose, Santiago, Springfield, Valparaiso, Wilmington. [How many of those have you been in 2 of? How many Springfields?]

Universities and other institutions which name their state should avoid repeating the state name after the city: "University of Oklahoma, Norman"; we don't need to say "Norman, Oklahoma" because we just said "Oklahoma".

For hyphenation at line breaks, the upper fragment of the word has to be pronounced pretty close to the way it is in the whole word. Fragments that are pronounced differently cause discordance in the reader, badly interrupting the content.

Usually capitalized, when meant as names of major, important fields: Science, Nature.

Usually capitalized, when meant as names of specific celestial places: Moon, Earth, Sun, Universe. Earth is the proper name of this planet, not merely a handful of dirt. Capitalize it the same way you must capitalize Venus and Mars, the planets on either side of it. I'm an astronomer so I can state that authoritatively. Lower-casing the name of this planet just because it's the home of the Chicago Manual of Style is a great insult to the 6 billion humans here, including all of our customers, most of whom have grown rather fond of Earth.

The Shape-Shifting, Mind-Bending, Out-Loud Laughing Inventions of Steve Johnson

Book review © Norman Sperling, June 6, 2011

Have Fun Inventing: Learn to Think up Products and Create Future Inventions Easily, by Steven M. Johnson. Patent Depending Press, Torrance, California. www.patentdepending.com. paperback. Written and printed in USA. $24.95 +$4 shipping.

I knew I was going to have fun with these humorous inventions, and I sure did. Johnson combines plausible components in whimsical new ways. I've always liked loony inventions simply because they're fun. But Johnson sets his in a social context where they make sense, and comments on how they fit in.

Or how they don't. I've hated neckties since childhood. Johnson agrees that they're entirely useless - and shows such bizarre elaborations that even the most thick-headed boss should realize how silly they are. (At the Maker Faire I saw the first necktie clothing that I ever thought actually looked good: A lady had sewn dozens of them side-by-side to make a colorful skirt.)

Johnson monkeys around with cars, shoes, offices, sleeping bags, bikes, underwear, chairs, and exercise equipment. The vast majority of these inventions could actually be built, and some already have been. Most would be tolerably economical, and several niches he serves really could use something like his ideas, such as homeless shelters. A society that builds Johnson's bridges and houses will greatly surpass even the glorious architecture of Dubai ("sheikh chic").

Some of his vehicle mashups caught my eye because they address my own needs. On the Great Science Trek that I embark upon in 2013, I'll need aspects of an office, store, and workroom built into a camper trailer and an SUV. Johnson already thought about that, and shows how they could work. I'd love a witty Johnson design that has all the working parts, but which would also be practical to build and use - it would "work".

Johnson's invention names are often as witty as the cartoons:
* Parka Place
* Nod Office
* Kitchen Counterpart
* Neckotine Fit
* Wash Cycle
* Car-B-Q
* Trampo-Lean
* Street FUNiture
* Cardiac Coupe
* PushMaster
* Motorless Home
* Clam Shell-ter
* Remote Patrol
* Powered Pants

I enjoyed Johnson's previous 2 books, What the World Needs Now and Public Therapy Buses. This one is better because Johnson provides much richer background and reasoning, sets scenes, crows about successful predictions, and tells what went wrong with others.

If you're looking for some fun and a novel "take" on current culture, this book will amuse you for many hours. If you want to invent things, this book definitely will uncork a lot of ideas.

Typos are few and minor. None would interfere with understanding any of the contents.

I like this book so much that I got some autographed copies from Johnson to retail to my own customers @$24.95 +$4 shipping. I can accept checks, PayPal, or credit cards. eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com.

"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:

Yo Mama jokes
Physicist MacDonald's Farm
Watched pot never boils

Chocolate cake
Mannekin molecules

Frog dissection
Budgies as weapons
Insect rights

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

Rock - Paper - Scissors
Coin stacking
Ben Franklin was twins
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.


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

Merry Bloopers

© Norman Sperling, December 19, 2010

Exam week holds terrors for teachers as well as students. This week, I wallowed in eye-strain by reading 61 3-hour intro-astro essay finals on the prompt: Starting with hydrogen and time, narrate how the Universe began and evolved to us, here, now.

We had a record number of A+ essays, and not a single F. I expected their bloopers to fill a big post, but only found these 5:

* [Newton's Law of Gravity described] why we are orbitting the moon.

* Neuron stars are created by supernovas. They are made entirely of neurons.

* In the "oscillating universe" theory, there will be a Big Bang and then a Big Crunch (where everything comes back together) every 140 years.

* [Kepler's Third Law] No matter where in orbit the area formed by the diameter of the planet to the sun will always be equal.

* Along with gas giants, black holes are also observed on Earth.

+ + +

Here are cosmology bloopers from classes longer ago:

* The beginning of the Universe is not 100% correct.

* The greater the mass of an object the faster it is moving away from the sun.

* Our universe was formed by the third star.

* The Big Bang Theory ... states that the universe was created due to particles and organisms that lay dormant until they collided, and the Big Bang occurred.

* We have observational proof of the Big Bang in the form of backward radiation.

* This Big Bang supposedly occured thirteen pt. seven years ago.

* [The Bang-Bang] theory was used when nearby objects were blue shifted and far away objects were red shifted.

* the Red Shift ... All the objects that is far away from here supposedly marked in red.

* The Big Bang theory states that in order to know what was going on in the universe a million years ago, you would have to have watched it two million years ago.

* Nature developed as an explosion in the heavens that fell into the waters and began to grow plants and fish and other underwater creatures.

* Before the Big Bang, all the living creatures such as dinasours had been totally dieseased and new birth has been adopted to this new young planets.

* There was so much bonding and chemical energy that it all spontaneously combusted and made a universe.

* The universe started with that big-bang. A big rock or a galaxy hit the earth and it came to pieces. The fusion up in the galaxy, the pieces, the dust of earth came back together. Before the big-bang, the earth was without water, only dust and volcanos and was extremely hot. After the big-bang, oceans were discovery. The bacteria from the water of oceans transform dinosaurs. The water which have H2O made the air as oxygen. So we can breath. Soon, the ocean's water wet it the sands, that it started growing plants on the sands and later it became trees and then a forest. The leaves from plants and trees were food for the dinosours. There was a big earthquake that opened up the lands and swallowed all the dinosours. Later the bacteria and germs started to form in molecules and human being started to form. That's how the universe was form.

* When density increases the university begins to contract everywhere.

* Unknown is known.

* Every concept is still a theory until it can be proven false.

+ + +

An excellent student wrote at the very end "I have spent all my time and just scratched the surface." That's how I feel after teaching the whole course ... and after studying my whole career.

The Issues of the Issue, JIR v51 #3

© Norman Sperling, December 5, 2010

The Journal of Irreproducible Results that I just took to the printer - volume 51 #3 - features a number of wonderful takeoffs on new and old themes. A brilliant article solves the puzzle of how to make Cold Fusion work: use polywater!

Cold Fusion, as reported in 1989, was clearly a bust. That's not how nature works. There is, however, an underground mumble from quite a number of scientists that when related experiments are done to the most scrupulous standards, the results are not strictly according to textbooks. The version we make fun of is explicitly the 1989 junk. Good Science done since then deserves a closer look.

JIR often prints real science which is amusing. Our title attracts articles on the reproducibility of results. We've got another one this issue, and it ties in with an article due very soon from a major, main-stream scientific journal.

We also have takeoffs on:

personnel reviews ... for a fax machine
psychological "faces" scales ... for symposia
folie a deux ... for "word salad"
math exams ... describe a tea pot
New Age Kundalini ... for demography
husband training ... in the manner of canine training
and faculty evaluation ... divide citations by years since PhD.
We have a poem about traffic jams
and a song about thermodynamics.

We also have a recent-high of pseudonymous authors: 4. JIR has published articles under pseudonyms since it began in the 1950s. 2 or 3 of this issue's pseudonyms appear to be parts of the wit of their articles. The other(s) conceal submitters who may have professional reasons to not be identified. Yes, that still happens, and it isn't just because "serious" bosses might frown on "humorous" writing. Some doings that JIR snickers at really aren't the way quality professionals ought to work. If all professional institutions would shape up, we would happily do without that type of article.

For authors we can identify with confidence, the Americans come from Maryland, Colorado, California, Texas, Maine, Iowa, and Tennessee. Other authors come from Hungary, India, Canada, and Australia.

To JIR's Past Authors:

Media are changing a lot, and JIR's old copyright/permission forms didn't anticipate today's situation any better than anybody else's did. Certain articles could be transformed into online postings, audio podcasts, videos, performances, anthologies, and/or posters. We appeal to past authors to tell us their current addresses, because, unless they're current subscribers, we don't know where to find them. For deceased authors, we would like to find their heirs or literary executors. Anyone knowing the true authorship of pseudonymous articles before 2004, please tell us.

If you're not a subscriber, your copy is not in the mail. Fix that by clicking on the magazine shown at top right, and subscribing.

This is NOT what I taught them!

© Norman Sperling, December 24, 2015

My eyes are starting to uncross after grading 60 essay exams. Most responses were great. But a few messed up my head even worse than my eyes.

* Astronomers always dread a night sky will disrupt their view of the night sky.
* The sun’s declination is higher during the summer and lower during the winter ... which causes the sun to be in a different position that is off by a few days.
* Erosion, atmosphere and tectnonic motions give rise to impact craters.
* A meteorite hit the earth and caused the extinction of the solar system.
* The middle stuff which is the lighest or heaviest forms layers in the middle.
* Neutron stars are not very massive relative to their mass.
* I saw the Andromeda Galaxy and quite logically, a surplus amount of dark matter.
* Ellipticals stay in a spherical looking plane.
* Earth has a core ... Then there is the mandible.
* [Telescopes] must be over 1 mil degree to view in X-ray.
* The late-early bombardment
* Main sequence stars tend to stay towards the center of the galaxie simply because they spend the least time drifting.
* Everything inside the Solar System is blue shifted.
* Reflection nebula reflect the star’s light through from the other side.
* The area between the planet and star is always equal as the planet moves.
* Gravity is directly proportion to masses and inversely proportional to the square of the rate they travel.
* Living species such as planets and animals
* Saturn is located behind the Kieper belt that has the finest rings seen because it consit of asteriod and ice crystals of the past.
* Galeleo using reflectors in his telescoped helped see father objects, however they distored color so you could see the color of anything.
* Galeleo was a pioneer above most in his era, but his bigest acomplishment was finding Jupiter, which help save Voyager 2. The incident was that Jupiter has been discovered yet, but the scientist of Voyager 2 studied Galelio’s notes which Voyager found and kept going to where they found Saturn as well.

Songs With Good Chemistry

Parodies and Commentaries, by David Kritchevsky. AOCS Press, Champaign, Illinois, 2003. ISBN 1-893997-46-4. 46 pages. $5.00. Order through www.aocs.org/catalog/product.asp?ID=wdk&dept=90

reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p28.

Tucked away under a host of worthy technical volumes like Healthful Lipids and The Biodiesel Handbook, The American Oil Chemists' Society also publishes this songbook by a major scholar at Philadelphia's Wistar Institute.

Mix Rube Goldberg's inventiveness with current culture

The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. By Kenji Kawakami. Translated and additional text by Dan Papia: WW Norton, 2005. 0-393-32676-4.

reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p29.

Rube Goldberg founded the modern era of humorous inventions in the US, and Heath Robinson did the same in the UK, in the first half of the 1900s. Even now, "Rube Goldberg contraptions" call to mind not only his cartooning style but his inventive wit.

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

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