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

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

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.

Projects

A Splendid Way to Grow Up and a Splendid Way to Portray It: John Glenn’s Boyhood Home

© Norman Sperling, June 6, 2013

The John Glenn boyhood home illustrates the Norman-Rockwell-style youth that shaped the great astronaut, who was later a senator.

Glenn grew up in the gnawing Depression, with its relentless financial drag. But he grew up in New Concord, Ohio, with its strong community fabric. The benefit of the community far outweighed the hassle of the economy. Glenn grew up with a storybook childhood and sterling character. Setting a young person on that path doesn’t take a lot of money. Actually, too much money often distracts from that path.

A tourguide at the rear introduced the home and its setting. Then she knocked on the back door, where a sign said "Today is May 3, 1937". The lady who answered the knock introduced herself as John Glenn's mother! That took me completely by surprise. She told all about her son. She took us all around the house and explained how everything we saw fit into their life - every ordinary product in the pantry, every ordinary toy and furnishing. She was completely immersed in motherhood, family, the Depression, the things they had … and the things they couldn't afford. This was one of the most realistic performances I've ever seen. The actress is Bev Allen, a volunteer.

Upstairs, a conventional tourguide resumed. Altogether we saw a great many true-to-the-times furnishings. It wasn't hard to note what we have that they didn't. But they had community, loyalty, freedom, and hard work. That's what shaped "The Greatest Generation", as Tom Brokaw called them.

Afterward, I heard that the actresses who portray Mrs. Glenn started wearing out, so the museum introduced different portrayals on different days: Mr. Glenn, and the teenage John Glenn. Now nobody's worn out and the public has greater variety to see. Next time I get anywhere near New Concord, I'm going to phone ahead to get the schedule of characters.

Debbie Allender, Director of Operations for The John & Annie Glenn Museum Foundation, tells more: "Our living history presentations are the day you visit only in 1937 - "The Life of an American Family during the Great Depression".  So if you visited on May 3, the day would have been May 3, 1937.  We also do 1944 - "Life on the Home Front during WWII", and we alternate the 2 years every other year.  So say you come next summer on June 5, the living history presentation would be June 5, 1944.  The actor or actress who takes our visitors through the main floor of the home is simply whoever is working that day.  We mostly have students during the summer but our adult volunteers help our until they are out of school in the spring and when they return in the fall.

This is a splendid example of impersonators as a form of acting that merits more use, and as a means to convey a strong feeling for a personality, a time, and a place. Nobody on the tour knew what John Glenn's mother really looked like, so any motherly actress, wearing an apron, sufficed. Someone portraying a known face with known characteristics should resemble those more closely - a tougher acting job.

An awful lot of museums and significant sites could benefit from this approach. There are scads of understaffed museums and blah tours. There are also scads of former thespians who long to return to acting, if only a little. Impersonation could be just the way to rekindle the thespian flames of onetime actors. And it can spark new life in a wide variety of cultural sites.

Enthusiastic former thespians seeking a venue in which to thesp should propose acts at local historical sites and museums.

Notes Along the Road, May 2013

(c) Norman Sperling, May 25, 2013

Since the April 19th crash and replacing the wrecked rig with a 24-foot Class C RV.

Finally left Virginia on May 2. Saw the huge roadcut at Sideling Hill, Maryland, but didn’t take any samples. Saw the 200-year-old Casselman River Bridge, in far western Maryland, but couldn’t walk on it because it was closed for repairs. It’s a lot bigger than I expected. The RV drives wonderfully. Overnight in Jefferson, Pa.

May 3: saw astronaut John Glenn’s boyhood home, guided by “his mother”, an outstanding impersonation by a local actress. Also saw the neat museum of the National Road, which grew into US-40 and then into I-70. That’s another multi-museum, together with mementos of Zane Grey and local pottery. Also saw the Longaberger building, a basket case.

May 4: Unloaded sales goods uneventfully near Detroit. In Auburn, Indiana, I examined many of the most gorgeous cars ever built. Lots of Duesenbergs, Cords, and Auburns, with many others. I think the design factor I sought was “overload”: duesys have more splendid details than a person can notice at first glance, or second look. Overdoing things somewhat like rococo did.

May 7: Cairo, Illinois, is decaying badly. Visited New Madrid, Missouri, the center of the enormous 1811 earthquakes. Also some decay but a lot of neat things too. Their museum has the earthquake story but there’s nothing original to see: the old townsite is now under the river. I guess that’s why travel books ignore it.

Drove on till dusk, staying at a nice state park that Arkansas kindly built just where I got tired.

May 8: about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is my 21st state on this foray. A squall line sparks very gaudy lightning displays. Big hail is reported elsewhere but not here.

May 9: All the pipelines that go through Cushing, Oklahoma, run underground. They only emerge to connect with storage tanks. The guards are very fidgety about terrorists.

May 11: Marsh’s signs around Amarillo aren’t so much “funny” as “droll”, at least the ones I spotted. But the Ozymandias legs really are funny, with their fake-historic plaque.

Saw a couple nice rainbeaux in the rearview mirror approaching Moriarty, NM. Looking forward to California.

I had another great Maker Faire and another entertaining BayCon.

Stick It on a Ridge

© Norman Sperling, April 13, 2013

In lots of places, traffic has a view of a ridge. That’s a fabulous place to stick something with an interesting silhouette. Antique farm equipment looks neat. Try a scarecrow. A sculpture. A cairn. A saguaro. A dramatic tree. Anything that a passing driver can take in with a quick glance – not distracting them for dangerously long.

The First Step

© Norman Sperling, March 19, 2013

After being on the road for 10 days, 4 states, and 3 time zones, I have finally located enough computer parts to make this system work.

I took way, way too long to organize and stow my stuff. I now feel much more clearly that “having” something necessitates “minding” it, and I’ve skimped way too much on that for the last half century. I’ll need some years to straighten all my stuff out, and I intend to.

I finally got away by tossing lots of cartons and bags into the trailer. I’m sorting it out so I’m more functional every day.

Trailer life can work just fine. It takes different procedures than minding a house, perhaps fewer, but I’m a novice at most. I’m still on the uncomfortably steep part of the learning curves for my new way of life and assorted equipment. But now I know it works in practice, it’s not just an idea that I’ve been fostering for 4 years.

RV people are extremely nice. Usually relaxed, highly helpful, and used to novices like me.

RV parks vary enormously in quality and facilities. The ones I’ve seen so far close around 6 or 7 PM. So my old check-into-a-hotel-late habit won’t work. I’ve got to comb the enormous directory pretty early, phone the most likely ones, and arrive when I can check in and set up. It’s do-able, but calls for a different mindset.

Today: Midland, Texas. Saturday: Houston.

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.

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.

Swatting Scammers

© Norman Sperling, September 5, 2012

The 4th-best apartment-for-rent ad that I answered was also a scam, just as the 3 better ones had been, and (judging from the responding eMail) it was from the same scammer as #2.

Craigslist claims it can't tell. More likely they don't care to bother.

Gmail's spam-spotters sure recognized them. But they just relegated their responses to the spam file, apparently based on the similarity of the wording to a lot of other mail they'd carried that had been flagged before.

I hear that law enforcement won't do much because they can't prove that the location of the offense is within their bounds. Mine all cited "West Africa" ... but why should that be truer than their offerings?

The scammers know that Craigslist hardly hinders them, Gmail merely redirects their mail to a different folder, and law enforcement leaves them alone. They get away with their scams because no one with evidence communicates with anyone else.

As long as Gmail and Craigslist operate in blissful independence, scammers will continue to exploit their hands-off attitude to scam money from the customers of both.

So here's a superb opening for Anonymous and White Hats. They want to right wrongs, don't they? They want to keep the internet open and effective, don't they? The using public should contribute thousands of exemplars, from which patterns could be recognized, from which the number and behavior of scammers can be determined. I suspect there are fewer than 1,000 originators of this misery, and I suspect that >90% can be identified this way.

Cooperate with selected targets (banks, merchants, Craigslist, eBay, ...) and media (eMail, ISPs, portals, ...), track down the crooks, document their takings, build overwhelming legal and moral evidence, and come down so hard on them that they'll not only cave in (and go to jail and pay restitution) but also deter anyone else from even trying. This may also expose government agencies and banks that cast blind eyes.

I sure would enjoy reading the stories of such rip-off artists, and their downfalls.

Star Parties Designed for Students

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

I'd like my astronomy students to attend a star party that's designed for their education. They would see a richer variety of sights than at a star party intended for public enjoyment. An educational star party would be located for dark skies more than easy access. Students would observe over about 2 hours rather than 20 minutes. They would look through a greater variety of telescopes (educational in itself) at planned sequences of objects.

Designate part of the open field for naked-eye use. Have a teacher showing constellations and asterisms, and teaching skycraft. Show the Milky Way. "Earth" is a freebie: just look beneath your own feet.

Pre-plan and shout-out the appearances of satellites (especially the Space Station) and Iridium flashes. Keep alert for sporadic or shower meteors.

Select telescopes optimized to give the best views of:

* Each visible planet ... including, by popular demand, Pluto. About half are up at any time. Scope operators should point out noticeable moons.

* The Moon. One scope with a whole-globe synoptic view, followed by one with a high-magnification view near the terminator.

* Asteroids that are "up": Any that are labeled "dwarf planet"; major spectral classes S, C, and M; classes V and G because the Dawn spacecraft visits Vesta and Ceres; whatever other bright ones are available.

* The brightest comet that's up, even if very faint.

* Stars, by spectral type, as I described in 7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop, plus telescopes pointed at a red dwarf and a white dwarf.

* Multiple stars, preferably color-contrast

* Open cluster

* Globular cluster

* Pre-stellar nebula

* Planetary nebula

* Supernova-remnant nebula like the Crab

* HDE 226868 or another indicator of a black hole

* Elliptical galaxy

* Spiral galaxy

* Interacting, distorted galaxies

* Active galaxy like a quasar (3C 273), BL Lacertid, or Seyfert.

* Galaxy cluster

Assigning specific scopes to specific objects requires attention to available focal ratios, apertures, eyepieces, and the personalities of their operators. Depending on how long it takes the gathered students to see an object in each telescope, scopes can be re-pointed to other planned objects 2 or 3 times during the session. Several targets require fat light-buckets. 1 or 2 could handle them all, in sequence, during a 2-hour session.

The Telescope Triplets I advocate can also teach how telescopes and eyepieces affect the view.

The Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects I advocate should be pre-planned and heavily distributed.

Asteroids, dwarf stars, several deep-sky objects, and galaxy clusters look tiny and faint. These teach the students to appreciate the views from giant observatories.

For this rich an experience, students could buy $5-$10 tickets. That should cover venue expenses plus honoraria for amateurs who bring their own scopes. Teachers would give credit for attending and filling out observing logs.

Most students can afford a $10 ticket. They would pay that for a night's entertainment anyway. It's similar to the expense of driving to the dark-sky site. They can save more by buying used textbooks instead of new. Someone may want to quietly handle "scholarship" discounts. The event definitely will cost something to run and that needs to be raised.

Cooperating instructors might be able to organize this kind of event, especially if they have access to appropriate scopes and operators, both student and amateur. Here in the San Francisco area, The Astronomical Association of Northern California might be able to organize it. It could also be a commercial venture.

Though designed for students in introductory astronomy courses, such a planned, organized star party should attract many amateur astronomers, and some of the public.

Fireworks Without Glasses

© Norman Sperling, July 3, 2012

One of the very few benefits of being near-sighted is that fireworks look bigger and more resplendent. That's because the out-of-focus image spreads out over a lot more cone receptors in the retina.

If you're nearsighted, try watching fireworks without your glasses. You might like the show even more.

The Straight Dope on the Straight Wall

© Norman Sperling, June 29, 2012

Technology has now improved so much that a coordinated observing campaign can reveal important new data about one of the Moon's most important features: The Straight Wall.

First, data-mine all spacecraft observations, including Chinese and Indian. Face-on, sunlit views from spacecraft should be able to identify distinct layers. I haven't heard of anyone specifically researching these about the Straight Wall.

Monitor the Moon from Earth, using high-magnification, high-resolution imaging, especially of sunrise and sunset along the cliff. Use several widely separated instruments, so that there should always be at least one with good weather and the Moon high enough in its sky. This requires global coordination. That would have been very unusual 30 years ago, but is clearly possible now.

Extremely detailed sunrise and sunset animation sequences, from different librations, should reveal nearby faulting, or prove there isn't much.

Use the animations to map the slope and its component boulders. Precision measuring at sunrise and sunset, boulder by boulder, should determine elevation as well as latitude and longitude. I predict the boulders should be very large compared to Earth's talus slopes. That's because the rocks should be about as strong as similar Earth rocks, but the Moon's lower surface gravity exerts less force to break them up.

Spectral differences should distinguish between pieces from the top stratum and pieces from lower strata, hopefully corresponding to understandable mineralogical differences between strata. Infrared observing after sunset might reveal different cooling rates, further revealing differences between boulders.

Examining the buildup of dust at the bottom will tell something about dust scattering rates (such as by electrostatic levitation on the terminator) since landslides.

All this is possible with the latest generation of electronic imaging and enhancement. It's time to try.

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

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