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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.


Long Lines and Gotchas

©Norman Sperling, August 4, 2013

Several times I’ve waited in long slow lines at some government facility, only to learn at the front that they consider the area to be a security zone so I have to lose my little pocket knife. And there’s no locker just outside to stow it in. And my turn for the thing I want will take another x hours. And I can’t leave the area without forfeiting my place and having to start over.

What really annoys me is the blatant lack of communication. Electronic signs could be posted along the line, clear to the far end, telling the terms and the waiting times. The same information could be posted online for the hordes who now use smartphones. A whole lot of people would be able to handle the situation a whole lot better.

Mackinac Island

(c) Norman Sperling
visited July 11, 2013

A wonderful way to spend a day! The weather was perfect. The little island is famous for banning motor vehicles (since 1898!). It has other quaintnesses and individualities too.

I took the ferry from St. Ignace. I was looking forward to the lack of cars, but my mind’s ear extrapolated that into a near-silence. Not quite quiet. Lawn mowers were in full throttle, ferry boats came and went frequently, and noisy airplanes landed at the airport. But all that is only in town. Away, on the bike loop, silence is golden. The world sure could use a lot more havens like this.

This island was the site of a bad injury with fortunate consequences. An unlucky man, Alexis St. Martin, was shot, leaving a hole from his stomach to the outside, The fort surgeon, the only doctor around, William Beaumont, brought him back to health, and then researched digestion, running a whole lot of experiments over many years with this unfortunate victim. He wrote a book describing his findings about digestion, many results of which advanced anatomical understanding.

I expected all those horses, but had forgotten how bad their manure smells. Those droppings litter the town. Outside of town, on the 8-mile-long shoreline loop road, I only noticed about 2 piles per mile. The book “The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible” by Otto Bettman points out the selective blindness of nostalgia. Horses were hardly a great mode, and as soon as people had a viable alternative, they stopped using their horses.

Bicycles are Mackinac Island’s major mode by far. Many visitors bring their own, but most rent from numerous shops near the ferry slips. Rental bikes include a lot of retro-style cruisers, and a huge number of tandems for couples and parent/child pairs. No racers. My Brompton got less attention than usual for such an odd folder. I rode the entire circumferential road, stopping to take in sights and to snack. There are a few gentle rises but the road is almost all flat and extremely easy to bike. The route is very peaceful and scenic, a joy to stroll through. As long as I was on my bike, things were fine. But I was nervous every time I had to chain it to a stand. A local policeman said they had 3 or 4 bike thefts a day in tourist season.

Without motor vehicles, porters need some alternative to carry baggage between hotels and ferries. I saw a few improvised wheelbarrows-for-luggage, using bike wheels. Some trikes were clumsily refitted for cargo, and a couple bikes pulled small trailers. What I expected and did NOT see were the many types of cargo and work bikes I saw throughout China. They featured husky frames, huge cargo capacity, and very low gearing. Maybe the hotels just haven’t heard about them.

This island has a thing for cairns. These piles of rocks are found everywhere along the shore where suitable rocks can be found. A lot of angular riprap stabilizes beaches, and those rocks stack very well. My bike map brochure says cairns mark trails, memorialize having been somewhere, or are simply art. No mention of newage hocus pocus. I noticed only a few cairns that I could call artistic. Facilitating and suggesting cairns is another good idea that other locales should adopt.

Up at the fort, built by the British, and then American for a century, seasonal performers ran through a long series of short tours, demonstrations, and narratives. They fired a cannon, shot muskets, sang songs, and told the fort’s story in the fur trade, the War of 1812, and regional development. In most roles, the performers did fine. With musical instruments, the snare drummer was quite adequate, in contrast to the fifer and bugler.

Fudge is the most popular local product, famous for over a century. I bought a slice, and it is indeed very good. It’s also dangerously loaded with lactose from a whole lot of milk and butter.

A great many of the tourists are over 50.

Big Ball of Twine: Cawker City, Kansas

© Norman Sperling, July 16, 2013

On the main street one of the few signs of life is the Ball of Twine, and especially the very clever artworks up and down the block.

I’ll defer to Guinness and Wikipedia to decide which town’s ball of twine really is biggest. This one certainly is awfully big.

Cooler than the twine is the series of paintings. Local artist Cher Olson copied famous paintings, cleverly adding a ball of twine to each.

This could easily adapt to other small attractions. They could be more paintings, or they could be something else -- practically anything, like photoshopping, songs, familiar sayings -- that can adapt to the local feature subject. Folks are very creative, especially online. Adapting online-style humor to points of civic pride shouldn’t be a problem.

Go for it!

The Twin Towers

© Norman Sperling, July 6, 2013

My son Lumin wanted to see the tallest artificial structures in the US. They’re a pair of TV masts near Blanchard, North Dakota, each over 2000 feet tall, higher than any buildings except the Birj Khalifa and the Tokyo Sky Tree, both in Asia.

The 2 are visible from many miles away. Though tall, they’re very slender frameworks, largely supported by guy wires. So the problem in spotting them at a distance is not their height but their thinness. Also, the day we went, the air was a bit hazy.

We drove pretty close to the southern tower, which is a few feet shorter than its older neighbor. Then we drove to the northern one. Right up to it on its dirt road. Wow, that’s WAY tall, over 800 feet taller than the Empire State Building.

The big surprise for me was to read the little sign on the lonely tower. It was built in 1963! It’s been the tallest artificial structure in America for half a century, and the sources I read scarcely mentioned it. I’m sure glad my son paid more attention to that record than I did. This is a very impressive structure, and it has been for 50 years, and people don’t pay it much attention. We should be prouder of it.

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

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