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Norman Sperling
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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.

I Made 100 NCHALADAs

© Norman Sperling, October 29, 2012

No, I didn't make 100 enchiladas, the tasty Mexican food. NCHALADA - pronounced the same - is the Northern California Historical Astronomy Luncheon and Discussion Association. It's an informal group, meeting 3 or 4 times a year since 1985. No charter, no bylaws, no dues, and between meetings it only exists as a mailing list.

With Ron Oriti, I co-founded the group as Northern California's version of the "Society for the History of Astronomy", which conducted discussions around Los Angeles. Ron was active there while working at Griffith Observatory, and I visited one excellent session hosted by Gibson Reeves.

We thought the same kind of thing might work around San Francisco. We were right. Meeting mostly at Chabot Observatory, and its successor Chabot Space and Science Center, we discuss a very wide range of topics, some timely, some timeless.

Each meeting selects topics, chairs, and dates for the next. Where a different venue is wanted, or needed, we take offers, or find a suitable place.

Discussions are always good-humored, with many a pun (by many participants, not just me).

But the characteristic commented on repeatedly is that participants bring strong mindpower and expertise, and join in purely for the intellectual joy of it. Bob Multhauf said he enjoyed NCHALADA meetings more than academic colloquia because no one was trying to impress an advisor or potential employer, they were all there because they're interested. A high-ranking MD said NCHALADA discussions show stronger brainpower than he finds in professional meetings.

Attendance has dwindled. The Los Angeles group gave up several years ago. Our attendance has drifted downward, though meeting 100 brought a dozen, our best total in a while.

-- == 100 == --

Nancy Cox, Alan Fisher, and John Westfall have attended about 90 of the 100 meetings. And I have attended every single one.

I was wondering if I could make it. I normally don't make a big issue of numerical milestones, but I've been hoping for this one. Would I still be in town? Though I reconciled myself to missing some because of my upcoming travels, the group picked meeting dates for when I'm home. Would family, health, and other considerations allow it? They never got in the way. The next meeting or 2 also look possible.

-- == Historical Astronomy On Line == --

We just set up an online Yahoo Group to resurrect our former website in an easy format, spark discussion between meetings, and encourage people everywhere to consider our topics. It's also an invitation for more people to join discussions that interest them.

We're posting many of our previous "discussion suggestions" of varying strength. They may include essays, bibliographies, and/or questions. Bringing up a topic is NOT the same as agreeing with it, and participants discuss it from many different viewpoints.

If other places wish to conduct sporadic or regular discussion sessions, we applaud. If you would like to link to any of our postings, please do. If you would like to adapt some, please ask its author, but it'll probably be fine. If you would like to contribute questions, bibliographies, or essays in historical astronomy, send them to us and we'll probably want to post them unless they are offensive.

Unsafe Safety Requirements: Short Power Cords

© Norman Sperling, October 13, 2012

Kitchen appliances come with absurdly short power cords. They say it's to prevent you from tripping over a longer cord when carrying it.

Bosh!

Short cords would be safe only if people use those appliances within that easy distance of appropriate plugs. But that just plain flat-out does not happen! Hasn't anybody looked at real-life kitchens? Homes and workplaces of all sorts?

People have to use extension cords to reach an outlet. This introduces more unsafe factors. The total length is unlikely to be "just right" and can't be too short, so it is usually too long. The extension cord is easily long enough to trip over. Extension cords are often rated for lower wattage than the appliance uses, risking fire.

So too-short cords breed resentment and frustration, cause further expense for extension cords, and probably induce more danger than they avert.

Instead, use a reel inside the appliance to dispense however much cord is needed. Give it the same kind of spring loading and lock/release used on tape measures. Every cord will be just the right length. For carrying, retract the whole cord back onto its reel. Then unreel the right length for its new position. Cord is cheap, springs are cheap, reels are cheap. The expense of sufficient volume to hold the stuff might be the biggest cost. That should be a good tradeoff for satisfying consumers and increasing true safety.

Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects

© Norman Sperling, September 20, 2012
Part of a series on Educational Star Parties:
Star Parties Designed for Students (July 7, 2012)
7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop (April 15, 2012)
Telescope Triplets (November 25, 2011)

At observing sessions, students and the public hear a whole lot of information, but don't keep notes, nor remember it too sharply. Remembering the data shouldn't be the main thrust anyway; seeing the objects is.

Prepare telescope trading cards, and object trading cards, to give to all comers:
* On each scope card, show a snazzy photo of the scope, its statistics, interesting background, and its proud owner/operator.
* On each object card, show a visual impression resembling what the observer actually sees; plus a more impressive astrophoto; the object's statistics, and interesting background. Include major catalog designations and nicknames.

Prepare plenty of these cards so scope operators and volunteers can hand out the right ones. Cards should hugely reinforce the educational experience, giving a tangible card to show to others (encouraging them to come); keeping the information from getting pathetically garbled; and reminding visitors how well they observed.

Kids already have LOTS of trading-card display sheets, boxes, and so on. They can handle the cards. And parents ought to strongly encourage these cards. Cards should cost a few cents to produce, are cheap and easy to update and replace, and easy to generate anew. It might cost a buck a kid for star parties and most musea, but should pay dividends in post-visit appreciation and word-of-mouth promotion.

All-day visitors to a big museum could amass a couple dozen cards, if they are given for every planetarium show and exhibit. They'll remind visitors for years of their visit. Visitors to other venues might get cards for flora, fauna, minerals, and cloud types along the way. Perhaps each hiking trail could have one, or even each "look at this" post.

Where attendees have smartphones, give them digital versions instead of cardboard cards.

Log Blog

© Norman Sperling, September 15, 2012

For all the guidebooks I've combed and all the historical technology I've plowed through, I should have known about the Collier Memorial State Park Logging Museum, but I didn't.

Tucked into a small state park on US-97 north of Klamath Falls in south-central Oregon, this is an absolute gem! They collect out-of-date equipment from the logging industry, and are re-arranging it into historical and thematic periods. Through their hardware, they can illustrate the progression from the muscle power of horses and oxen, to steam engines, to diesel engines. You can also see the progression from wood (which they used, as well as harvested), to iron, to steel. One of the excellent details in their signage was the slow fading in and out of the eras, rather than hard, sharp boundaries: each technology was kept as long as it was useful, and replaced when it wore out. A hundred diesels replaced a hundred steam engines over decades, not overnight.

Their knowledgeable volunteer guide showed me a great deal of detail, including how the 10-foot-high wheel haulers dragged logs, and how the steam donkeys could haul lumber, and themselves. The stronger the machines, the steeper the slopes on which they could work. An early horse-drawn road-grader sported a narrow blade, and the stronger the engines that pulled later ones, the bigger the blades could grow.

Most of the wooden equipment was handmade, of course. A lot of their gasoline and diesel equipment was made by Caterpillar and Case but they have several other makers too.

I've visited a lot of technology-through-time collections, but this one is decidedly different. Telescopes and microscopes operate in developed, protected environments, and look it. Cars interface with the great outdoors, but the outdoors are massively changed to accommodate them: we build smooth roads and service stations. Logging equipment is out in brutal nature, in the wild, coping with tough, heavy trees and boulders and canyons ... and they look it. No delicate fittings. No polish. No decoration. Enormous, strong wheels and treads. Fat, heavy cables and chains. Bulky, dented iron and steel housings. Heavily chipped paint. Repaired wheels. Patches and dings. Some equipment wasn't built strongly enough: all 3 tractors built by International/Mack have severely bent and dented hoods because that sheet-metal just couldn't stand up to logging in the wild.

The collection is obviously catch-as-catch-can. Logging companies donated 3 Caterpillar Thirty tractors, so they have 3, even though no story they tell requires that many. They have a big, complicated thresher because somebody donated it, not because farm equipment is part of their logging story. They should swap or sell such items to get more useful and relevant items or make improvements.

www.collierloggingmuseum.org
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collier_Memorial_State_Park

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

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