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

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
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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

A Decade of Books

© Norman Sperling, November 2, 2014

I read a lot. It sure beats TV. I read very broadly in magazines, as you would expect from a magazine editor, and a lot on websites. But mostly I read books, about 1 a week. They cover topics far more deeply, and contain a lot more information. Also, I sporadically delve into new subjects and need to “read up” about them.

In the 1990s I started listing books I wanted to borrow from libraries. Maintaining it on my word processor, I would print out selections to get from whichever library I was about to visit. Low-priority books would wait many months while I boned up on high-priority needs. When I got each book, I deleted it from the want-list. Right now that list is about 70 books long.

In Spring 2004, it occurred to me that instead of deleting listings, I should move them to a “finished it” section. Since then, I’ve logged in every book I read, usually noting the source, catalog number, month I read it, and a brief comment.

Almost all of the books fell into just a dozen categories. Of course there were clumps: how to set up a business when I was setting up a business, baseball when I coached Little League, and travel when planning my Great Science Trek.

Here are the totals, and a few outstanding exemplars, for the 488 books that I read from June 2004 to May 2014.

SCIENCE: 84 books. Among the best:
* David Harland & Ralph Lorenz: Space Systems Failures - Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rockets and Space Probes. Springer-Praxis 2005. Haste makes waste! (cf. Perrow) Remember lessons learned!
* Peter Jenniskens: Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets. Cambridge UP 2006. Meticulous, thorough; impossible before now.
* David E. H. Jones: The Inventions of Daedalus: Myth & Reality. W. H. Freeman 1982.
* David E. H. Jones: The Further Inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes. Oxford UP 1999.
* Jeffrey A. Lockwood: Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect That Shaped the American Frontier. Basic 2004. Splendid detective story.
* John Maddox: What Remains to be Discovered. Free Press 1998.
* W. Grant Thompson: The Placebo Effect and Health. Prometheus 2005.

SCIENCE HUMOR: 21 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Dethier: To Know a Fly. Holden Day 1963. Witty research.
* Leo Lionni: Parallel Botany. 1971.
* Donald E. Simanek & John C. Holden: Science Askew: A Light-Hearted Look at the Scientific World. IoP 2002.

OTHER HUMOR: 11 books. Among the best:
* Richard Lederer: The Revenge of Anguished English. 2005.

TRAVEL: 38 books. Among the best:
* Merritt Ierley: Traveling the National Road. Overlook 1990. Importance of US-40.

BASEBALL: 64 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Fortanasce: Life Lessons from Little League. Image 1995. Superb though preachy.
* Bill James: This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones. Villard 1989. Great analyses at end.

DESIGN: 40 books. Among the best:
* Tom Kelley & J. Littman: The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. Currency 2001. Productively stimulating!
* Charles Perrow: Normal Accidents. Basic Books 1999. Provocative, hugely important: minimize distraction.
* Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2d ed 2001.

BUSINESS: 99 books, many light-weight. Almost no overlap between ‘how to run a business’ and ‘how we ran a business’ books. Among the best:
* Sam Decker, ed. 301 Do-It-Yourself Marketing Ideas. Inc 1997. Many adaptable idea-triggers.

PUBLISHING: 23 books. Among the best:
* Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual. 2002; + volume 2 later.
* Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.
* Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer’s Digest 2002.

1900s PUBLIC AFFAIRS: 39 books. Among the best:
* Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway: Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury 2010. Singer & Seitz: doubt & denial.
* Peter Dale Scott: Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina. Rowman & Littlefield 2003.
* Joseph J. Trento: Prelude to Terror. Carroll & Graf 2005. Privatized intelligence.

REALITY: 26 books that don’t fit elsewhere. Among the best:
* Russ Kick, ed: You Are Being Lied To. Disinformation 2001. Investigative, alternative.
* Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner 2004.

FICTION: 34 books, mostly science fiction. Among the best:
* Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game. Tor 1991.
* William Gibson & Bruce Sterling: The Difference Engine. Bantam 1991. Cyber-punk, takes extreme liberties with history.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scholastic 2005.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic 2007.

PLAY SCRIPTS: 8, always short, never the depth I like from books.

NONE OF THE ABOVE: 1 book.

The Free-est Man

© Norman Sperling, October 23, 2014

Along my route I check in with assorted acquaintances. One I visited struck me as the free-est man I know:
* His health is hale and hearty.
* His children have grown and lead their own lives.
* He has no significant-other at present.
* He can keep his current dwelling but doesn’t have to.
* He can stay in the same town but it has minuses as well as pluses and he could declare himself “ready to move on”.
* He has enough money to live adequately in many other places.
* He can keep his present professional employment but it has minuses as well as pluses and he doesn’t have to stay.
* He could find acceptable employment in several different kinds of interesting work.
* He could find acceptable employment in several other places.
* He has ideas for projects that he’s put off for many years.

In somewhat similar circumstances, I decided to travel and retain a teaching slot, one semester per year. When I check off the last target on my maps, perhaps around 2016, I hope to settle back down near Berkeley.

What would you do? Dream about it! Some ideas won’t be practical, or not presently desirable. Some things might be do-able in your near-future. Seriously consider doing those.

When I visited him, his freedom was pretty new and he hadn’t yet picked what he wanted to do. Privately, I guessed he’d pick a project to do and a new place to do it.

What do *you* think he’d do?

After many months, I inquired. He just wrote back. He decided not to decide. He’s still in the same place doing the same thing as before. All the potentials remain potential.

The Quarterly Bottom Line

© Norman Sperling, October 15, 2014

The short-sightedness of focusing on the quarterly bottom line distracts businesses from far-more-important long-term affairs. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a Paris businessman, points this out in “The Week”’s “Idea Factory” column. http://theweek.com/article/index/269688/this-one-reform-could-fix-the-bi...

He is profoundly correct. Practically all staff, decision-makers, products, manufacturing facilities, distribution systems, and customers last more than 3 months. A great many of today’s ills would fix themselves if business thought longer-term.

Some businesses do. Family-owned businesses think by the generation, not by the quarter. Most of them are far more stable and deal with their staffs, suppliers, and customers more dependably. That dependability is a big component in deciding who to do business with. But family businesses have other problems, such as not always producing all the needed skills every generation.

Privately-held businesses don’t have to focus on quarterly bottom lines, either. Sometimes, when a publicly-traded corporation is “taken private” they comment that this lets them consider longer-range projects.

Gobry suggests freezing investments held by third parties for 15 years, forcing money-managers to think that long. A more flexible way to encourage thinking long would be to limit the number of times each share of stock could be bought or sold per unit of time. Count by 40 to 60 years rather than 15, but permit a few sales in that time. It would slow down the “instant gambling” aspect of the stock market, which is one of its worst characteristics. It would force investors to think long, but still allow changes if there’s a big enough reason.

Gobry says that quarterly bottom line reckoning wasn’t intentionally planned, it just happened. That’s not quite right. More than a century ago, information about transactions and accounts flowed so slowly that no one could tell a company’s status at any specific moment. This offered many opportunities for fraud. Especially damaging frauds were perpetrated by the Swedish “Match King”. (For his exciting career, read Frank Partnoy’s 2009 book "The Match King: Ivar Kreuger".) To squelch some kinds of his frauds, the US set up the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934 and required quarterly reporting of each corporation’s cash status and value. That began the quarterly bottom line.

Peter Drucker pointed out that “what gets measured gets managed”, so managers and stockholders concentrate on this important statistic. It dominates the shortest-sighted, like Carl Icahn, who thinks corporations are worth breaking up for his quarterly gain, never mind the disruption wrecking innocent customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.

Corporations should be made to declare the time-horizon they plan for. Those that expect to be long-term on-going enterprises should specify that they plan ahead 20, 30, 40, or however many years. Ones intended to flare up and sell out quickly, like those pushing this month’s technology innovation, should declare that that is their intent.

Must Every Astroscan be Red?

© Norman Sperling, October 15, 2014

Every Astroscan is red. It was Edmund Scientific’s theme color when they created the Astroscan in 1976. I like it, and many others do too.

But colors and designs express a lot to people. Henry Ford was *wrong* to force every Model T he built from 1914 to 1926 to be black. Not every Astroscan ought to be red.

I remember how folks used to decorate Volkswagen beetles. Who will extend that to Astroscans? The body is injection-molded from ABS, a very common and well-known co-polymer. Find paints that stick to that, and won’t have problems with the trivet’s felt pads.

Paint it white? Black? Blue? Green? Pink? Brown? Chrome? Brass?

A patriotic-American design could cover the sphere with a blue field with white stars, and the cylinder with white stripes alternating with the red. A patriotic-Canadian design could use white to outline the maple leaf. Dude up an Astroscan in Steampunk, and another in Art-Deco. What would artists and illustrators and designers dream up?

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

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