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

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
eMail normsperling [at] gmail.com

Welcome

Welcome to "Everything in the Universe", my blog on Science, Nature, and the Public. I often explore their intertwinings. New posts should appear
roughly weekly, so if you want to check regularly for new items, every Monday or Tuesday you ought to find something.

I don't try to be literary, but I do think before I write, and write only when I have something to say. When news spurs a reaction, mine aren't the
fastest knee-jerk comments, they're more often a considered reflection.

Some entries are full-blown essays, others are ideas that can be presented briefly. I don't yak and I don't blather. When I don't have anything to
say, I don't say it. If my message needs 2 paragraphs, you don’t have to slog through 10 paragraphs to get to it. I try to get things right.

Please also enjoy my previously-published articles posted here.

Comments and suggestions are welcome: eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com. I read them all, but don't always post them. To prevent descent into
harsh put-downs, political stabbings, rancor, advertising, and irrelevancy, I squelch those.

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.

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.

Almost Embarking

Norman Sperling, January 29, 2013

Easier Said Than Done:

selling our house
moving. twice.
selling parts of my library
stowing most of the rest
selling our van
selling our sedan
getting new eyeglasses
locating layers of every geological epoch
getting LinkedIn and Google-plussed
researching, selecting, and buying the most advantageous:
* cellphone and plan (iPhone 5, Verizon)
* laptop computer (Macbook Pro, Retina)
* travel trailer (Extreme Warrior Superlite)
* SUV to pull the trailer (Ford Expedition)
* recliner
* folding bike (Brompton H6L)
setting up new blogs:
* GreatScienceTrek.com
* TouchingTheAges.com (geological layers)
* ThereWereGIANTS.com
* HopeRidesOnEveryPitch.com (baseball)

I still haven’t hit the road but I think I’m getting close.

Athletics Should Re-Hire Inge and Braden ... as Coaches

© Norman Sperling, January 27, 2013

The 2012 Oakland Athletics came out of nowhere, staffed with "nobodies", to win the division title over higher-skilled, higher-paid teams like the Angels and Rangers.

They had enough skill and enough training ... and spirit way over the top. You could see it in the final series against the Rangers: Athletics bouncing and beaming and extraordinarily loose; Rangers dejected, tired, out-of-it.

We won't get them all back in 2013. Boston is paying Johnny Gomes a whole lot of money, more likely to boost team spirits than to boost its batting average.

* Coco Crisp is back. Management knows how much he helps morale in addition to batting and fielding.
* Jerry Blevins is back - the longest-tenured Athletic. He's the one who brought in the "Bernie".
* Grant Balfour is back, imploring not only the baseball but his teammates.
* Josh Reddick is back, and I bet he has a standing order for whipped-cream pies.

2 prime characters are still unsigned because of injuries: Brandon Inge, and Dallas Braden. Nobody is gambling on them because they're recovering from serious surgery and may never play in the Major Leagues again.

But Inge and Braden mean a whole lot to Athletics team spirit. So hire them back as coaches, or special assistants, crowd pleasers, "tummelers", to jack up team spirits and crowd enthusiasm. They could roam the tailgates before games and the stands during games. They could roam the minor league affiliates - Braden lives in Stockton, home of the Class-A Ports, and near the AAA Sacramento Rivercats. They'll mean more to team spirit than anybody else on coach's pay.

The A's would also be the first to know if they're ready to return to active service.

The Rule of 3 Strange Terms

© Norman Sperling, January 9, 2013

In teaching astronomy, I not only have to teach many very strange concepts, I also have to deal with the very strange terms that Science uses for them. Over the years, I've learned that students find it harder to learn the words than the concepts.

When confronted by a strange term, a student will learn its definition and keep that in mind.

When confronted by a second strange term in the same field, the student will learn that definition, too, and keep it in mind.

Sharp students can even keep in mind the definition of a third strange term.

But that's the practical maximum. If you try to teach them a fourth strange term, their circuits go on "overload", they freeze, dump all 4 definitions, and regard your subject as "confusing" and therefore "too hard to learn".

So I minimize strange terms. The students benefit any time I can substitute plain English for a technical term.

Some are avoidable. Some are not. I can talk plain-English around a lot of astronomy. "Cliffs shaped like curlicues" works way better than "lobate escarpments" on Mars. "Layering" works better than "stratification" on many solid objects. "Mindset" works well enough for "paradigm". But I still use "nebula" because neither "space cloud" nor "hydrogen-helium cloud" conjure up the right concept in students' heads.

Where the astronomical term describes something entirely beyond human-level experience, no conventional term does well enough. "Nuclear fusion" is NOT "burning" - burning is much weaker, a chemical reaction in electron shells.

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

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