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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
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.

Norman Sperling's blog

Crowd-Source Testing

© Norman Sperling, February 8, 2015

THE PROBLEM
Many kinds of contaminants and adulterants afflict products sold in the US and elsewhere, often imported from places with lower standards. The press reports most often on problems coming from China and Mexico, but I don’t doubt there are many other sources too. The salmonella peanuts that recently poisoned so many Americans were native-grown US products.

Contaminants include lead, melamine powder, and listeria. A lot of adulterants are chemically not too hard to identify. A lot of infections are biologically not too hard to identify.

Government inspectors inspect just the tiniest proportion of goods. Cheaters wheedle their way in, often with bribes, or discounts, or maybe just winks, from unscrupulous distributors and retailers.

HOW TO SOLVE IT
Thanks to the advance of technology, and with only a minor change in law, we, the public, can now fix the bulk of this problem. Bring in citizen scientists and science students.

Professional societies should establish standard testing protocols that can be learned by high school students of their subject (such as chemistry and biology), and conducted with equipment typically found in high schools.

Those societies should establish standards for affordable kits for retailers. Encourage smartphone apps. Each kit should include “how to report”, to what institution or agency, etc. Open-source testing will teach citizen scientists and all America what it takes to determine scientific measurements, and the importance of getting the amounts right.

Make it a very common standard exercise to test products sold in stores and online. Tentative positive results should be brought to chemistry and biology teachers for re-testing. If they indeed look suspicious, bring the suspect stuff to the local college for more sophisticated testing. If adulteration is confirmed, ring the hotline of the professional society, USDA, FDA, US Attorney, or other appropriate agency.

Though food supplements and cosmetics are too-lightly regulated, crowd-sourced testing can clean up some of their acts, too. Where the FDA cannot or will not reject something dangerous, that danger violates plain laws against poisoning and infecting and mislabeling.

FUNDING
The project will need an initial grubstake, but should become self-funding as soon as court fines are collected. Set those to:
• repair the damage already done,
• penalize guilty businesses and imprison their guilty decision-makers so harshly that it will deter everyone from pulling a similar stunt, and
• award a share of the fine to the citizen scientists and testing labs who blew their whistle.

This should make manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers a lot more leery of under-the-table deals. Only fly-by-night risk-takers would dare to pull a fast one, and with the entire supply chain poised against them, even they would find it harder. Horrible negative publicity can put a company out of business, as happened with Arthur Anderson accountants. Competent individuals can bring down a big adulterator.

Testable products will become more correct, less poisonous, and less infectious. The resulting greater trust in products will INCREASE trade in those trusted items.

Funding should not run out unless there are no more violations found. What a wonderful problem to have!

Venus’s Tail

© Norman Sperling, February 5, 2015

Shortly after inferior conjunction, can Venus’s tail of ionized atmospheric particles be detected by space probes at L1, or orbiting Earth outside the magnetic field? At this distance, it ought to flap around a lot so it might take several days to traverse, and be discontinuous. Several decades of detector records already exist, so this shouldn’t require new observations, just mining old ones.

Mercury might act the same, though negligible atmosphere and greater distance would make it harder to detect and identify.

How about the Moon’s wake, either in sodium ions or in decrease of solar wind, just around New Moon? The sodium atmosphere is mighty thin, but detectors are now mighty sensitive.

Can we learn anything about those atmospheres?
About billows?
About flapping?

Crossing Off

© Norman Sperling, February 5, 2015

After many decades of working through “Do Lists” I have just realized something about them.

When crossing off an item that was achieved, I feel markedly better if the crossing-off line is pretty bold, and stretches from margin to margin. If the line merely spans the words I’m crossing off, or is pale, it just doesn’t provide as much sense of accomplishment.

That Stuff Sliding Around the Car Seat

© Norman Sperling, February 1, 2015

Most drivers sit alone in their cars, accompanied not by passengers but by office stuff, work stuff, hobby stuff, and groceries. Many drivers stuff that stuff on the passenger seat. A car seat is poor for that purpose, but that’s all you find in passenger cars. Lots of stuff spills in sudden stops. Spilled stuff interferes with later uses.

Most people never even think of improving their situation. But now you’re thinking how.

Attach a backpack, seat organizer, seatback organizer, or trunk organizer. They already exist, they work well enough for many, and they’re cheap.

I hung a used backpack and a travel kit from the passenger seat headrest posts in my old car. That location was handier than the footwell, which I often use for grocery bags and my main backpack. Spare pens, paper, emergency money, and long-shelf-life snacks all found a snug home. Items for a specific meeting, class, or event usually fit. The system worked very well. The backpack itself was even a handy spare.

On the rare occasions when I had a passenger, the backpack and travel kit simply swung around to the rear. They were also easy to remove both times that was preferable.

A few companies sell “seat organizers” with compartments. They sit on the passenger seat, anchored by the seat belt. I haven’t tried one but they look like they could solve problems for certain drivers. Detaching and stowing, when you have an actual passenger, doesn’t look overly awkward.

A different approach is a “seatback organizer”, a luggage-ware product that many companies sell. Designed for mommies who drive little children around in the back seat, the netting pouches intended for baby bottles, for example, can hold lots else instead. Certain seatback organizers may not function well if faced forward on the front of the seatback. Many competing brands, which vary specific features, cost under $25.

Trunk organizers can be even farther removed from the driver. That’s great to prevent distraction, and acceptable for items that are only needed when the car is parked. I found a high-quality one made of black luggage-ware, with netting, pouches closed with heavy Velcro, elastic bands, snaps, holding handles, “non-skid foam strips” (which skidded after a few years), and adjustable straps. It would be good for a front or back footwell as well as the trunk. It is collapsible for easy removal and stowage. Unfortunately, it’s way too flimsy: it depends on its contents to keep it fully extended. Lesser versions, given away as premiums, don’t help me at all.

With or without gizmos, protect stuff from sunlight and heat as appropriate.

May your passenger seat never spill again!

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

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