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Norman Sperling
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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.

Publishing

The Issues of the Issue: JIR v52 #6

© Norman Sperling, Editor, June 11, 2017

I apologize for the extreme delay. JIR has just broken out of an unwanted hiatus occasioned by my committing too much time to too many projects. The logjam is loosening. Every subscriber will receive every issue they’ve paid for, but it will take a while. I'm not taking on any new projects until I satisfy JIR and other projects already underway.

Over the years, JIR has used many different printers, large and small. The most recent, Yokto Subroto, has retired. I appreciated his attention to detail (which prevented many mistakes), his high quality (which kept the magazine looking substantial), and his realistic communication (which brought my flights of fancy down to Earth). With Yokto printing JIR, there were no Big Surprises or Catastrophic Emergencies. This issue was printed on the same press, by the company that bought it.

A previous owner of JIR, George H. Scherr, passed away in 2016.

Yet again, Wikipedia and Wikimedia have been most helpful. JIR submissions cover more different sciences than any one editor understands, so having an instant-lookup to learn what terms mean, and where puzzle-pieces fit, helps a whole lot. Derided in its beginning years, Wikipedia has made great efforts to get its act together. Nowadays, scientific articles are quite clean, though hardly perfect. If you have the expertise to correct and perfect their articles, supply technical references, and fill holes in their coverage, please do so. They post standards for contributing and editing, and priority requests. This is a major community service that anyone can perform in any amount at any time.

The associated Wikimedia Commons is a free repository for illustrations and other media. You probably took pictures that illustrate points particularly well. Clinging to their copyright may earn you less in money than freeing them will earn you in reputation and satisfaction. Wikimedia standards are posted too. You can select how you want to handle the “some rights reserved” alternatives.

When you get used to doing this, recommend it to experts you know in other fields, too.

For this issue’s articles about time, Robbert van der Steeg’s masterful “Eternal Clock” gives pause. He is a Dutchman living in Kenya, posting photos and manipulations to Flickr under Creative Commons. His creativity is, however, uncommon. It takes wing using the software “MathMap” and “Gimp”.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders offers JIR many opportunities for lampoons over many decades. In this issue we offer DSM-style descriptions of 2 exaggerated personality types, separated by the vast chasm of the gender divide.

I recall hearing that an apparently-serious scholar recommended that
• meticulous attention to detail, and
• determination to get technicalities “right”,
flag disorders common to nerds. What a disordered mind that numbskull must have! How much could Silicon Valley accomplish without those qualities? Or any science or engineering? Heeding details and getting things right is not a disorder. Thinking they are, is.

The article on selenium demonstrates the ongoing need to keep a sense of proportion in science. Legalisms have strayed vastly out of whack, reminiscent of the bad old days of the Delaney Clause. More such abuses lurk in classifying substances as “generally recognized as safe” though textbook science and plain English do not generally recognize them that way at all. JIR welcomes shout-outs and spoofs about exemplars.

While nosing around for pictures to illustrate our “big nose” article, I didn’t remember Jimmy Durante in time. The Wikimedia search engine brought up a lot of portraits from areas surrounding the Caspian Sea. Is this characteristic supported by research? How else has it been applied?

Most commercial companies are too sober-sided and too sales-focused to be any fun. Congratulations to O’Reilly Auto Parts for advertising their flux-capacitor. We’d love to learn about other science-fun items.

We have a new minimalist leader in adhering to our length-standard of “write it for what it’s worth. Include everything you ought to, then stop.” Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Dr. Paul K. Dayton, a rare wit, has whittled his main contents to 2 letters: “No.” He doesn’t leave much opportunity to reduce contents further.

A passing mention in Daniel Galef’s “Academic Bestiary” invites elucidation. Those “brightly coloured Salad Trees” are planted outside of his article’s animal kingdom. Are they related to “fruit salad trees”? Could an imaginative botanist please elaborate?

Chipmunk butter, lauded in Robert Haas’s article, is surely not the only imaginable rare gem of a food. Please recommend what else ought to be.

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.

Science Online Goes Offline

© Norman Sperling, October 10, 2014

The winter gathering for online science “researchers, developers, coders, librarians, videographers, animators, illustrators, teachers, and writers” has canceled its 2015 meeting after a long series of difficulties. It was on my “do-list” of places and events for my Great Science Trek, but I never got to attend. My friend Brian Malow @sciencecomedian is so broken up over the cancellation that he has posted 11 tweets of memories.

The event began by concentrating on blogging and writing, and to that extent overlapped the National Association of Science Writers. Over 8 years, it decreased the overlap and “focused on how science is conducted, shared, and communicated online”, co-founder Karyn Traphagen told me by eMail. She provided the list in the first sentence.

NASW should take up as much of the slack as it can.

The Issues of the Issue: The Journal of Irreproducible Results, v52 #1

© Norman Sperling, Editor, February 5, 2013

JIR always looks for new angles. Longtime contributor Steve Groninger, a voracious reader, sends in several good catches of innumeracy. He finds Copernicus (or his translator?) saying "360° are equal to 2 right angles". Meanwhile, Herschel Knapp at UCLA points out that circles have 360° while triangles only have 180°, so circles are twice as hot as triangles.

Current issues make current articles. Twinkies are famous for not spoiling. Archaeology prof Alex Taub buried a pack at Wenatchee Valley College. Dug up a year later, he found a little spoilage, but not that much. I look forward to the return of Twinkies and especially Hostess cupcakes.

JIR also keeps up with the zombie apocalypse. For a useful indicator, A. L. Holm of the University of Michigan explored counts of websearch finds for "braaains" with various numbers of "a"s. The first supernumerary peak occurs with 3 "a"s, quantities decay till 11, then secondary peaks at 13 and 17, but it takes a surprising number to reach 0. I don't look forward to the return of zombies.

Also up-to-date is our article on texting, as seen by Lehigh prof Brian Pinaire. An idealist, he wants students to pay attention to what he's teaching. For a while I thought this was an age problem, with teenagers self-distracting. Then I saw their middle-aged parents doing the same thing. Should I text my students during class to remind them to pay attention to my lecture?

A longer look at recent trends reveals an accompaniment to several decades of Global Warming: Global Swarming! Pawan Dhar of Yokohama shows that as temperature has risen, so has the invention of new scientific directions.

That generates scads of new scholarly books. Many of us still use actual, physical books. Academic libraries are brimful of them. Longtime librarian Norman Stevens promotes an app for that: leave books anywhere they fit, and guide users to them by GPS.

A much shorter, more specialized form of literature is the "package insert" for drugs. Keenan Bora demonstrates how a treatment could be worse than its disease.

Timeless rather than timely is Andrew Olsen's exploration of the nether end of the spinal cord in human cognition. He indicates that people do often seem to think with their butt. I'm not going to touch that.

Immediately following that conclusion comes an expose of the role of a roll of toilet paper. It doesn't just indicate who's a winner and who's a loser, it determines which is which.

Neither of the 2 previous articles could explain the interview by which Tom Szirtes of Toronto got one of his best jobs.

David J. Burns of Xavier University, Cincinnati, proposes using a "Higgs Vacuum and Mass Transfer Device" for a wonderful particle-physics solution to clinical obesity and the Federal Debt. Higgs bosons confer mass. Extract fat from obese people, and then insert the mass into gold bars.

We are very pleased to publish a further examination of the Dreaded Sock Monster by Elaine Foster, near Melbourne, Australia. We're delighted to learn that she's recovering from some recent setbacks.

A followup of a different character explores the highly-publicized "Mozart Effect". Peter Lefevre of Caltech tested how rats would react to the "music" of the Insane Clown Posse. The lab assistants rebelled. The ethics committee rebelled. And the rats rebelled.

Some people like birds. Some people like cats. Cats prey on birds. Robert Haas summons up a bigger bird - an eagle - that preys on cats.

2 new cartoonists have found us. Sally Mills memorably pronounces on particle physics, and Michael Capozzola has a tasteful take on Star Wars.

For decades, JIR has struggled to find good illustrations. A minority of contributors illustrate their own articles. For the rest, we have to hunt. A new resource is yielding astonishingly appropriate resources: Wikimedia, a "sister project" to Wikipedia. They provided this issue with a leaky bucket, a zombie, boats, medicines, texting, library books, toilet paper, and the surprising picture on page 22. All we have to do is acknowledge the creative-commons sources and terms, and indeed we are very grateful for them. If you have some spare resources, and you also use Wikipedia and Wikimedia, consider enriching their articles, increasing their open media, or sending them some money.

Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript?

© Norman Sperling, December 29, 2012
Part of a set on the Voynich Manuscript:
Great Stories from a Book You Can't Read: The Voynich Manuscript December 23, 2012
Voynich: Turkish? December 24, 2012
Voynich: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out? December 27, 2012
Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone? December 28, 2012

There is said to be a published version, but unavailable, and cropped so much that people complain. There's an eBook version, a CD ROM version, and an online version. But how about a book you can hold in your hands?

I queried my audience and found 5 who said they'd consider buying a printed copy. I presumed using modern acid-free document paper instead of vellum, and a binding that opens flat. I surveyed their preferences:

For margins, they preferred either the original amounts, or 10-12 mm. (I expected them to want much wider margins, for making their own notes.)

Then I posited 2 potential versions:
* a Replica, reproducing the manuscript in its present form as faithfully as technology allows;
* and a Restoration, with the page-order rearranged as sensibly as possible, with blank pages left for the missing leaves, with script printed black-on-white for ease of reading, and with colors restored to original tones.

Along a continuum from Replica to Restoration, nobody wanted the ink contrast or illustration colors as faded as presently. Preferences ranged smoothly from "fully restored to our best guess of original", to halfway to the present fading.

Everybody wanted the paper color roughly halfway between white, and as-brown-as-present.

With electronic reproduction now making pages and printing so selectable, I wondered if people might want to custom-enhance unreality by inventing a new page order, and rendering lettering and illustrations in user-selected colors, including psychedelic. (About a mile from where I spoke, and about 4 blocks from where I teach, psychedelic tie-dye shirts are still sold by street-vendors on Telegraph Avenue.) But these 5 customers were way more sober than that, and wanted no such thing. They also wanted no enlargement, or just a little.

I suggested 3 kinds of binding. They strongly preferred "quality cloth-covered hardback" and "quality paperback". My imagined "custom vellum-covered hardback" found no favor.

Then I asked them to forecast "In the long run, per 100 copies sold, estimate the number picking:
* replica: 30%
* restoration: 42%
* psychedelic: 5%
* their own custom settings: 30%.
Yes, those don't add up to 100%, but that's what the folks wrote.

Averages of estimates for the proper prices:
* replica: $30
* restoration: $53
* psychedelic: $47
* custom settings: $70.

If you could tailor a copy to your preferences, what characteristics would you want? What would you pay? Compare that to Emperor Rudolph's 600 ducats, or the $160,000 that Voynich never got.

Did Voynich Swindle Mondragone?

© Norman Sperling, December 28, 2012
Part of a set on the Voynich Manuscript:
Great Stories from a Book You Can't Read: The Voynich Manuscript December 23, 2012
Voynich: Turkish? December 24, 2012
Voynich: 2 or More Handwritings? December 25, 2012
Voynich: Spiraling Into Folly December 26, 2012
Could 2 of Voynich's Oddities Cancel Each Other Out? December 27, 2012
Would You Like to Buy a Copy of the Voynich Manuscript? December 29, 2012

The book The Voynich Manuscript by Kennedy and Churchill (Orion, 2004), and some websites, repeatedly accuse Wilfrid Voynich of unethical dealing because the religious books he traded to the Catholics of Mondragone in return for 30 old manuscripts including this odd one, didn't cost a lot. Voynich, Kennedy, and Churchill all valued antiquarian things unusually highly. They didn't value those new books very much. The accusation makes several faulty assumptions.

From all we are told, nobody was forced into a deal. Nobody lied. They all had what they had, wanted what they wanted, and reached agreements. This is the principle of "a willing buyer and a willing seller": it just needs to make sense to the people involved in their own circumstances right then. How it would be regarded by others, elsewhen, with different circumstances, is not relevant.

I have experienced quite a number of things that I valued, selling for low prices, or not selling at all. In hurriedly clearing out our old house in preparing to sell it, we ended up giving away several thousand dollars worth of stuff. And I have experienced items fetching surprisingly high prices because they were worth a whole lot to someone else in their particular situation. Our house sold for a handsome profit that dwarfed the losses described 2 sentences ago.

Mondragone made no use of what they had, had no use for it, and had not even touched it for centuries. They did their religious duties, for which those 30 manuscripts were actually a drag. They also had no means to find out their specialty value (the antiquarian book dealers Voynich and Kraus didn't know, either: they speculated and lost). Mondragone had no experience in selling through specialists anyway, and no means to find and deal with dealers or collectors of antiquarian books, or they would already have done so.

Wilfrid Voynich acquired the knowledge to find Mondragone, exercised the energy and paid the cost to actually journey there, and took the risk to invest money with no surety of earning a profit. Voynich listened to them - what other merchant would? They wanted certain uncommon books they could actually use, but they didn't have money to get them, nor the knowhow to find and purchase them. We worldly people of 2012 could do that in a snap (well, a click), but buying their wants was beyond the abilities and resources of isolated members of a religious order in 1912, or they would already have done so.

Voynich took considerable trouble to fill Mondragone's shopping list and deliver to them what they really wanted - "concierge" service. Nobody else had, or would. Voynich performed several services that required his expertise and attitude, including the age-old commercial one of taking things from where they have low value to where they have high value.

A strongly parallel experience happened to me about 1990. A little, isolated college had an antique telescope. The occasional astronomy course was taught by a professor of something else. He saw an ad for a modern telescope, which would help him teach his course much better than the awkward old thing could. He was worldly enough to know how to buy the new one, but far from knowing how to sell the old one for enough money to pay for it. From a friend of a friend, he heard that I had studied antique telescopes. So he invited me to examine the old scope, appraise it, and sell it so he could buy the new one. Unfortunately, its lens was badly chipped, devastating its value. I never found a customer, no deal occurred, and I never heard from them again. I lost the value of that time and travel.

If I had succeeded in fulfilling that college's wants, Kennedy and Churchill would regard me as an unethical swindler for doing so. I regard Voynich as an enterprising, risk-taking expert bringing added value and new possibilities wherever he reached agreements.

Guidelines Aren't Laws

© Norman Sperling, June 19, 2012

Several panels I was on at BayCon last month tried to advise aspiring writers. Panelists would cite something from a story and point out how saying things that way made problems. I, for example, advocated for short, active sentences instead of long, passive ones tangled up in prepositional phrases.

We heard examples from many different authors, writing in many different ways. All those stories got published! Several, which had aspects that panelists didn't like, pleased scads of readers, and therefore pleased publishers. So, I told the audience, even those undesirable forms can work. For example, many writers, including my friends Terry Dickinson and Robert Sheaffer, write very well in passive voice. Do what you think works best for your story, and for yourself as a writer.

Book Publishing is Broken

© Norman Sperling, June 1, 2012

If you read the how-to business books that publishers publish, you'll learn many proven techniques: Seek innovations, seek new markets and niches, do variations that others don't do. Be nice to people, as nice as you can be.

Publishers publish such advice, but don't follow it.

Big integrated publishing companies used to handle almost all of the myriad functions that go into a successful book, from editing to illustration, layout, typography, relations with the printer, marketing, sales, warehousing, and shipping.

Hundreds of publishing companies have been bought out by 6 faceless, unfeeling, cost-cutting conglomerates, and evade as many of these tasks as they can get away with.

Instead of proactively figuring out what ought to exist, and then making it so, they mostly react to the inflood of proposals ... and let others filter them. Publishers are supposed to select their manuscripts, but delegate the biggest part of screening to literary agents. Most big, and many medium, publishers won't deal with authors directly but ONLY deal through agents. So a writer has to find an agent.

Finding an agent who will truly work for you is like finding a bank to lend you money: they're most willing when you prove that you scarcely need them. One agent told me that I'd need my website to get a certain big number of hits per week – but when I do, I should sell more online than physical bookstores would.

Publishers are supposed to help authors with illustrations. A few still do. Others, however, keep the illustrators from talking to the authors, guaranteeing incompetent pictures, unhappy authors, and baffled readers. Keeping illustrators and authors apart is utterly counterproductive, but some publishers do it.

Publishers are supposed to arrange for manufacturing the books, but an author-friend tells me of some who are delighted to slough that off to subcontractors – even to the author (who can use this for further employment, taking another piece of the pie).

With the latest short-run and publishing-on-demand services, there is no longer any need for warehousing, nor for guessing how many to print, nor for big investments in printing. I'm already publishing certain books that way.

Publishers are supposed to market, but now they require the author to submit a marketing plan with the book proposal. What aspect of being a good author qualifies one for any marketing at all?? Publishers squeal with delight when they see a good marketing plan. The more the author plans marketing, the stronger the book! Publishers used to have real marketing specialists. But publishers market absurdly narrowly: I know a big publisher that markets its parents' guides to coaching ONLY to the *sports* shelves of general bookstores, and expressly ignores all *parenting* channels, even after I pointed out to them that more customers are to be found as "parents" than in "sports".

Publishers are supposed to sell, but abandon much of that to chain stores, and Amazon, and aggregators like Baker & Taylor. Is there any use for aggregators that software can't do?

So big publishers don't define their products, they don't seek out authors, they avoid setting type, they subcontract illustrations, and avoid dealing with the printer, or doing most of the marketing. Most big publishers seem outright scared of ePublishing and eBooks. Small presses may pay more attention to authors but whereas big publishers don't do all the necessary jobs because they're *negligent*, small presses don't do all the jobs because they don't have enough *resources*.

Since publishers do so little, what do you need them for? Self-publishing manuals list all the tasks to do. All those jobs still need to be done. Do as many of them as you can and want to yourself, and hire out the rest. If you skip any, the job's not done and the results won't be professional. An author cannot edit his own writing. Suggestions are just a tweet away. Make sure *all* the jobs are done well.

Here are some books on self-publishing. They're wisely heavy on marketing, and not up-to-date on eBooks, but they do enumerate every step you need to take.

Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer's Digest books 2002.
Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual 2002, and volume 2, 2009.
Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.

The Issues of the Issue: The Journal of Irreproducible Results, v51 #6

© Norman Sperling, May 29, 2012

Comedian Steve Martin wrote a play about how Science and Art approach similar questions from different angles. I saw a community theater production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile: in 1904, young Einstein and Picasso run into one another at a bar. I'd love to see it made into a movie. Our lead article is the script of an epilogue, set in a different bar 40 years later. They still regard space and time from very different angles, but come a bit closer this time. How would they, or current physicists and artists, interact this year? Thanks to David Carlberg for the script.

Our cover article celebrates cryptozoologists' ongoing search for undiscovered or unappreciated hominids. Enjoy this Irish expedition to examine "The Wild Ape-Leprechauns of Borneo". Is the orangutan the strange target, or the leprechaun? We welcome Pandareus von Grundenstein back to our author list.

Entrepreneur/adventurer Richard Branson pulled an April Fool joke by announcing "Virgin Volcanic". His new screw-propeller vehicle would swim through liquid lava to travel from volcano to volcano underground. On the back cover, look for the dramatic embodiment of his motto "screw business as usual".

JIR's decades-long exploration of academe continues with David Burns's grading of exams according to the time students hand them in. I've noticed something along those lines: students with little to say finish early, students with a lot to say need more time to say all that. Meanwhile - and we do mean "mean" - Subhabrata Sanyal attempts to measure the factors that make him cranky.

Cartoon character "Popeye" is so popular that people overlook his obvious physical peculiarities. S. D. Hines examines him medically and finds facial dysmorphism, microophthalmia, distal limb hypertrophy, a mono diet, and intermittent explosive disorder. What other popular characters should be examined?

Jeff Jargon takes aim at genetically-modified foods not by minimizing the differences of those currently on the market, but by exploring future extensions. He offers a pitless cherry, all-white-meat chicken, and (noting the great taste of a bacon cheesburger) a graft/hybrid cow/pig. His "chipoodle", a chihuahua/poodle hybrid, was hailed as "the most nervous, yappy, high-maintenance canine ever conceived."

Hybrid cars obviously combine electric and internal-combustion features. Nancy Niemeyer mixes in the kitchen mixer.

How would a statistician write a dating advertisement? Joeri Smits shows his bid. No word about how well it has worked. How would such an ad be written for other specialists? Like you?

Common basket filters for coffee makers are cheap and ubiquitous. The bottom ones in each stack are also infamous for collapsing. I suspect that's because, the way they're formed in bunches, upper ones have pleats arched in a way that resists collapse. Lower ones have pleats arched so weakly they invite collapse. Danila Oder explores the resulting muddy coffee as "grounds" for murder.

Is it "rocket science" that's so famously difficult? Engineer Rod Hatcher says it's actually "rocket engineering" that's the really hard stuff. I think both sides are right, and making rockets work is still a horrendously complex and difficult accomplishment.

Richard Mead greatly simplifies physicists' ongoing to-do over Higgs Bosons. He spotted 7 of them huddled in a corner of his sock drawer. I hate to think what might lurk in mine.

Other topics include paper-folding, inside-out underwear, famous quotations and who didn't say them, and more goofy-named advisors and web domains.

Establishments mentioned in this issue:
* The Melbourne Institute of Precipitate Isotrophism
* Department of Regression to the Grand Mean
* University of Unreality
* University of Imaginary Numbers
* Alaskan Neurologic Center for Subaqueous Sesquiology
* Polikeness School of Nutritional Sciences
* Denver Nucleic Agency
* Plunder Island Probiotic and Bionutritional Research
* Organization for Useful Cognitive Help (OUCH)
* Bureaucratic Invidious Negative Officialdom (BINGO)
* Acquaintances of Ministerial Informal Governmental Activities (AMIGA)
* Ghastly Repulsive Invidious Non-Governmental Offices (GRINGO)

Journals mentioned in this issue:
* The Journal of Unpleasant Student Experiences
* The Journal of Plant Sociology
* Acta Comic Toxigens
* The Journal of Abnormal Locomotion in Toddlers
* International Journal of Salad Experimentation

and, as unclassifiable as its author:
Director Supreme of the Gene Dream Team

Authors come from Australia, Canada, England, Israel, and Norway, and the American states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington.

Rejectomancy

© Norman Sperling, April 7, 2012

At FogCon last week, I listened to a panel about writers getting rejected. Of course everybody hates rejection, but practically all writers endure a whole lot of it before their stories start getting accepted.

"Rejectomancy" is the writers' art of divining why a story was rejected. The editor doesn't always say, and the reasons given aren't always the whole story.

Some editors, tired of tedious editing, won't correct bad grammar to take a good article. I'm willing to "clean up" an article if I think readers would like it. I'm also willing to format in our admittedly-quirky style, rather than forcing writers to do it just for this one magazine ... which might reject their article anyway.

I asked the writers what a rejection note should say. The responses came fast, furious, and emphatic:
* Tell what would improve it.
* "Do these 3 things and I'll buy it."
* "Please send more", but only if you really mean that.
* Tell them if they're close, even if that makes rejection feel worse.

The most emphatic point, which I really needed to hear: decide FAST. I'm terribly guilty of not getting to submissions. So instead of writing up this blog post right away (I'm also behind in blogging) I'm digging into JIR's undecided submissions. It's pretty easy to recognize the 2/3 of articles that are good for JIR. But now I should explain rejections, with constructive advice. A few are "This isn't Science humor, which is what The Journal of Irreproducible Results is about." The others take some explaining.

If you've submitted something to JIR and I haven't responded, rattle my cage, and I'll get to it really soon. normsperling [at] gmail.com.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
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What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

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