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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.

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!

Legendary Science

© Norman Sperling, January 31, 2015

Barbara and David Mikkelson run the famous rumor/urban legend website snopes.com . I enjoyed a lunch with them in 2010.

I asked them to draw some generalities from the profusion of individual narratives they research. Science most often comes in when:
* it buttresses a fear, due to fears of technology and manufacturing,
* or when people claim it validates a religious or political point.

Science rarely makes their top-25 list. Fabrications such as the Weekly World News concocted would often make it. The Mars-closest-in-August claim does recur every summer. Aspartame, and exploding cell phones, often make the top 25.

A fascinating aspect of legends is how attributions converge on the most famous examples in their category:
* Stories about a scientist become about Einstein.
* Stories about hamburgers become about McDonald’s.
* Stories about chicken become about Kentucky Fried Chicken.
* Stories about soft drinks become about Coca Cola.

Sometimes the attribution to the best exemplar is true, such as the item you’re just finishing about Science in rumors: it’s about snopes.com .

What America Has Less of Since My 1982 Trek

© Norman Sperling, January 5, 2015

Service stations with service, especially mechanics. Service bays have been turned into convenience stores.

Gas stations. A lot of corner stations have been consolidated into big facilities, often near highway interchanges.

Single-screen movie theaters have morphed into multiplexes.

Local drug stores. Chains have bought them out.

Local book stores … though with the collapse of big chains (spurred partly by Amazon and avarice) a few are creeping back.

Stuckey’s.

Seesaws. Though that’s the iconic symbol for playgrounds, I’ve only noticed one playground in the last 2 years that actually had a seesaw. Were they killed by liability lawyers?

Phone booths have been outmoded by cell phones.

Fewer rest stops on highways. Many have been removed in the last few years. I doubt that maintenance is that prohibitively expensive.

Fewer junk yards and rusting hulks in yards. Fewer, but still a lot of eyesores. If the old cars are useful, make use of them. If not, sell them as classics, or junk the hulks for spare parts or recycling.

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

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