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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
El Paso
Corpus Christi
Baton Rouge
Key West
Winter Star Party, Scout Key

MARCH 2014:
up the Eastern seaboard

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.


Not So Hot

© Norman Sperling, July 30, 2011

Reference books and websites copy one another. Hardly anybody digs back into the original records to find out what really happened.

With global warming attracting so much attention, the Weather Underground's weather historian, Chris Burt, is exploring the actual original reports of record high temperatures. He's been passionate about weather records for 40 years. I know, because 40 years ago he was a student of mine at Princeton Day School. Mostly I taught astronomy, but there was a panel of weather instruments alongside the planetarium, and Chris wanted to do things with their information. He tended the instruments and recorded the data and noticed patterns (the barograph showed a "noon hump") and posted findings on the bulletin board.

Chris also haunted the Princeton office of Weatherwise magazine, and went on to study meteorology at the University of Wisconsin. More recently he has published 2 editions of the book Extreme Weather.

He finds that a lot of the equipment was not just old but primitive, used in non-standard ways, and/or reported in substandard ways. The highest temperature that stands up to modern scientific standards is 129 degrees Fahrenheit, at Death Valley. All reports of higher temperatures have problems, and many are probably or clearly erroneous. In other words, don't rely on those old reports.

Global-warming-critics cite the ultra-high records to say that it used to be hotter, so there's no problem. Chris shows that they are probably wrong on historical counts. They also seem to be wrong on scientific issues, judging from the private remarks I hear from the overwhelming majority of scientists at American Geophysical Union conventions over many years. Politically, they appear to be little short of craven stooges, as revealed in Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, published by Bloomsbury in 2010.

Chris posted his preliminary report at Weather Underground. Now, he's on a United Nations committee to scientifically examine the reports of highest temperatures. Look for their official results in Spring 2012.

Classification Made Droll

Reviewed by © Norman Sperling, July 21, 2011. Published in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, v51 #4, August 2011.

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, by Julian Montague. Published by Abrams Image, New York, 2006. www.hnabooks.com . 0-8109-5520-2. $17.95

Scientific classification principles can be applied very widely. Artist Julian Montague applies them, with droll irony, to the situations in which stray shopping carts are found around Buffalo. He classifies their condition, their origin and distance from it, and how they apparently came to the places where he found them. Montague's shopping carts progress through categories as weather, vandals, and snowplows batter them. Every example is photographed, with the author's classifications and occasional brief comment.

Shopping carts typically stray to the grimier parts of town, so the setting is often along railroad tracks and creeks, amid graffiti-covered walls, tires, underbrush, trash, and snow. Montague systematically excludes humans from his photos - only 1 or 2 can be discerned in distant backgrounds. This casts an "abandoned" feel over Buffalo.

Montague does not classify or give any taxonomy to the carts themselves. His classification deals with where they are found, not their inherent characteristics. In doing so, the book resembles astronomer J. Allen Hynek's attempt to categorize reports of encounters with extraterrestrials. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" made a splendid title for a good movie. But it was never scientifically useful because it did not classify extraterrestrials, which was what we wanted to learn about, but rather how far they were from humans at the time of encounter, which is far less interesting and often accidental.

Montague's book can be used to demonstrate principles of classification in an amusing way, without getting tangled in Latin, Greek, or scientific technicalities.

The Shape-Shifting, Mind-Bending, Out-Loud Laughing Inventions of Steve Johnson

Book review © Norman Sperling, June 6, 2011

Have Fun Inventing: Learn to Think up Products and Create Future Inventions Easily, by Steven M. Johnson. Patent Depending Press, Torrance, California. www.patentdepending.com. paperback. Written and printed in USA. $24.95 +$4 shipping.

I knew I was going to have fun with these humorous inventions, and I sure did. Johnson combines plausible components in whimsical new ways. I've always liked loony inventions simply because they're fun. But Johnson sets his in a social context where they make sense, and comments on how they fit in.

Or how they don't. I've hated neckties since childhood. Johnson agrees that they're entirely useless - and shows such bizarre elaborations that even the most thick-headed boss should realize how silly they are. (At the Maker Faire I saw the first necktie clothing that I ever thought actually looked good: A lady had sewn dozens of them side-by-side to make a colorful skirt.)

Johnson monkeys around with cars, shoes, offices, sleeping bags, bikes, underwear, chairs, and exercise equipment. The vast majority of these inventions could actually be built, and some already have been. Most would be tolerably economical, and several niches he serves really could use something like his ideas, such as homeless shelters. A society that builds Johnson's bridges and houses will greatly surpass even the glorious architecture of Dubai ("sheikh chic").

Some of his vehicle mashups caught my eye because they address my own needs. On the Great Science Trek that I embark upon in 2013, I'll need aspects of an office, store, and workroom built into a camper trailer and an SUV. Johnson already thought about that, and shows how they could work. I'd love a witty Johnson design that has all the working parts, but which would also be practical to build and use - it would "work".

Johnson's invention names are often as witty as the cartoons:
* Parka Place
* Nod Office
* Kitchen Counterpart
* Neckotine Fit
* Wash Cycle
* Car-B-Q
* Trampo-Lean
* Street FUNiture
* Cardiac Coupe
* PushMaster
* Motorless Home
* Clam Shell-ter
* Remote Patrol
* Powered Pants

I enjoyed Johnson's previous 2 books, What the World Needs Now and Public Therapy Buses. This one is better because Johnson provides much richer background and reasoning, sets scenes, crows about successful predictions, and tells what went wrong with others.

If you're looking for some fun and a novel "take" on current culture, this book will amuse you for many hours. If you want to invent things, this book definitely will uncork a lot of ideas.

Typos are few and minor. None would interfere with understanding any of the contents.

I like this book so much that I got some autographed copies from Johnson to retail to my own customers @$24.95 +$4 shipping. I can accept checks, PayPal, or credit cards. eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com.

Prose Between Cons

© Norman Sperling, May 26, 2011

The Maker Faire was a wall-to-wall joy. I got to roam a little and was boggled time and again. But mostly I was chained to my booth, which my son Mason dubbed as all about "smarts and smiles". As a "Commercial Maker" I could sell over-the-counter, and did quite well. Our new book Don't Try This in High School attracted lots of attention and good sales. Contributing author Jim Stanfield helped out at the booth and showed how his real-life ellipse compass works. Mason helped a lot both days. My son Lumin demonstrated how to solve a 6x6x6 Rubik's Cube, which therefore promptly sold, followed shortly by a 5x5x5. I also sold off a rich variety of old books (partly from my own library), and a hodgepodge of other stuff. I also had mobius strips and a klein bottle, which lots of parents excitedly explained to their children.

In addition to the much-appreciated greenbacks, I got another form of enrichment: hundreds of sharp and cool people telling how much they like my creations. Approval and endorsement does absolute wonders for the spirits. That heartened me tremendously the 3 previous times I was a Maker, too.

This time, I had a booth-mate, and it helped him just as much. Steve Johnson introduced his new book Have Fun Inventing, and delicious giclee art prints of humorous bicycles, clothes, and other inventions. He sold a lot on the spot. But the nonstop plaudits lifted his spirits even more than the money weighed down his wallet.

I've barely glanced into his new book and love it already. I'll review it in full when I get a chance, but I can tell you right now it's fabulous.

This coming weekend I'll serve on panels at BayCon, the science fiction convention, and sell at SkeptiCal, the Skeptics' convention. My BayCon panel topics are:
* "The New Propaganda" (Society's defenses against falsehoods) May 27, 5:30-7 PM
* "Irreproducible Results" (Science fun and foibles) May 28, 10-11:30 AM
* "Red Empire, or, Being Tide-Locked Isn't So Bad After All" (planets around red dwarves) May 28, 11:30 AM - 1 PM
* and "What's So Punk, Then?" (Past the "cyber" and the "steam", where's the "punk"?) May 30, 1-2:30 PM. I think they put me on this panel because I'm writing a Steampunk astronomy novel, The League of Farsighted Astronomers.

Early Astronomy Days

© Norman Sperling, May 6, 2011

May 7th is Astronomy Day. Astronomy clubs and institutions across and beyond the US invite the public to look through their telescopes, and explain assorted astronomical things to them. That brings back memories of the 1970s.

The Idea
The context included converting the Astronomical League (the US federation of astronomy clubs) from a do-little social group run by its aging founders, into a do-something group run by "young Turks", of whom I was one.

We activists knew there was a lot to do, but very few suggestions of just what to do gained wide support. Nobody thought the BAA or RASC systems were appropriate here. Our situation was unprecedented so there were no models to copy. That was just when I was running Sky &Telescope's amateur department. I joined S&T in September 1976, shortly after the AL convention. Some activists were elected that year, along with some holdover traditionalists. By 1977 Bob Young of Harrisburg, the new president, really wanted to accomplish things. We spoke by phone rather often, and corresponded a lot.

I already knew a couple of the Astronomy Day founders. Irene Sacks hosted the first Astronomy Day I heard about, at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ. I went to a couple of her yearly events (Novembers?) while planetarium director in Princeton, NJ, not too far away. On my 1974 and 1976 drives to California I met Doug Berger, Frank Miller, and others in the Astronomical Association of Northern California, who were running Bay-Area-wide observances.

Bob Young enthusiastically agreed that the League should foster participation. Frank Miller and Doug Berger of AANC were enthusiastic about spreading the idea, as long as AANC was treated as an equal of AL. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada quickly joined in, making Astronomy Day international (obviously with a date later in Spring), and soon a number of other places joined the fun, making it very international, which it remains today.

One problem that cropped up immediately was climate. There is no time when the whole USA all enjoys the most favorable weather all at once. At all dates, somewhere's too cold, somewhere's too hot, and somewhere's too rainy. Winter was obviously out despite the clear skies following cold fronts; the public wouldn't come. Summer had many similar problems, including the ridiculously late arrival of darkness around solstice. That left Spring and Fall. So I talked it over with meteorologist Ed Brooks of Boston College. Brooks immediately pointed out that Fall had a problem that Spring didn't have: "thunderstorms in the MidWest" was his terse veto - I still remember him speaking those exact words, and marveled at how succinct and relevant they were. True, thunderstorms come in thin squall lines that pass quickly, but they're an afternoon-and-evening phenomenon that would ruin events in large swaths of the country.

That left Spring. And here we met some very narrow constraints. AANC wouldn't hear of anything too early in Spring, because the rainy season doesn't end here till well into April. Northern states also plugged for later dates. The South didn't seem to mind that. But the advent of Daylight Time in most of the country would push skywatching to too late an hour to attract many crowds. A consensus emerged for a Saturday in Spring, just before Daylight Time started.

We also found consensus that a First Quarter Moon is a highly desirable attraction - it is easy to see, shows lots of details, but isn't so bright as to wipe out deep sky objects that we also want to show.

Of course, First Quarter doesn't always occur on Saturdays, and doesn't always occur immediately before the switch to Daylight Time. So we agreed that every year we'd talk to one another about the best date, rather than invent a formula akin to that for determining the date of Easter. While I was at S&T, I was the one who did the phoning, on the pretext of preparing the amateur events calendar for the magazine. The news I heard from the participants fully justified the magazine's investment in my time, postage, and phone bills. After I left S&T in 1981, Gary Tomlinson of Grand Rapids, the AL's Astronomy Day Coordinator, had a long talk with Doug Berger, established dates for many years at once, and published them all in the AL's Astronomy Day Handbook.

Another issue that we handled correctly from the beginning was the primacy of the local sponsor. Everyone feared some big impersonal "other" ordering them to do something that wasn't appropriate in their own local circumstances. So, right from the beginning, we wrote into the principles that while Astronomy Day was recommended, and the League would facilitate events and suggest things as best it could, every club should do exactly what it pleased. For many clubs, that was "doing nothing". Other clubs adapted their own observances. We got this idea by extension of the way President Ford handled the 1976 US BiCentennial celebrations. Political bickering persisted so long (partly distracted by Watergate) that no big national effort to accomplish any major celebration could be arranged. So Ford let necessity be the mother of invention, and declared that each community should observe the BiCentennial however it wanted - there was still enough time for local planning. Practically everybody seemed delighted with this - it wasn't merely coping with a political messup, it was a positive good. Making this an Astronomy Day principle meant that places that needed or wanted a different date would do what they needed, places that couldn't get an act together could skip it, no one felt hassled by anyone else, and everyone did what they felt best.

The wisdom of local primacy was immediately apparent when I suggested that the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston run an Astronomy Day. General agreement was reached on when and where (Boston Common). But that first event turned out to be on a frigid evening just after a late-season snowstorm, and a LOT of ATMoB people ribbed me for getting them into something that was not a good show. After that, ATMoB shifted to later dates with higher probabilities of pleasant weather.

Saying So Made It So: Sky & Telescope Articles
At S&T I read over 100 astronomy club newsletters a month. Snippets about somewhat-related events in a few other places could be put together and called local versions of "Astronomy Day". My first article on all this was the first time that most people ever heard of Astronomy Day: "'Astronomy Day' Sprouts Nationwide", v56 #1, July 1978, p35-39. The various participants mentioned had no idea that anyone else was doing anything, and absolutely no idea that it was a national movement, until my article told them it was. Saying so made it so. Adding official participation by the League, the following year I put together "Astronomy Day 1979: The Biggest Yet", v58 #2, August 1979, p167-169. Then "The Resounding Success of Astronomy Day 1980", v60 #2, August 1980, p149-153. And even after leaving the staff I was asked to compile "Astronomy Day 1981", v62 #3, September 1981, p265-267.

In those same years I was consulting for Edmund Scientific, and triggered their "Norman W. Edmund Award" for the best observance. I also chaired the judging, and even picked the other judges, all on the pretext of getting the information early to put into the S&T articles. The award for Astronomy Day observances disappeared for several years and then reappeared.


J. Kelly Beatty comments: FWIW, I think Ed Brooks blew it. IMHO the likelihood of clear skies and widespread temperate weather in the fall trumps the chance of sporadic thunderstorms. In late April or early May it's still way too cold and damp in lots of places. I brought up the spring-fall debate with the League's council a few years ago, and on the basis of that an alternate fall A-Day date has been added.

The Star Winked at Me

© Norman Sperling, April 24, 2011

Last New Year's Day I got an eMail with an old, familiar ring to it: "Spectacular graze in 98 days". A grazing occultation, a special kind of eclipse where the north or south pole of the Moon grazes by a star, can be really nifty to watch. The star is at full brightness, and then abruptly disappears as a mountain covers it up. It may reappear through a valley, disappear behind another mountain, and can do so several pairs of times.

In the 1960s, computers advanced enough to make worthwhile predictions, so astronomers learned how to make scientifically valuable observations of grazing occultations ... using portable telescopes and cassette recorders. An observer watches the star through a telescope, and tells the recorder the instant that the image turns off and on. Timing is maintained either by recording the shortwave signals of WWV or WWVH directly, or by recording a nearby clear-channel AM radio station that somebody else is recording simultaneously with WWV.

With such simple equipment, teams of observers, strung out perpendicular to the graze path, can determine the profiles of mountains and valleys on the Moon to an accuracy of a few tens of meters, from a distance of 400,000 km!

To organize the whole operation, Dr. David Dunham and others set up the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). The last half century has seen marked improvements in computers, telescopes, eyepieces, voice recorders, video recorders, mapping, and communications, and IOTA has used each to refine its procedures. The leaders have stuck with it for many decades: Dunham, whom I met in the National Capital Astronomers in the 1960s, still leads it now, more than half a century after observing his first occultation!

Here in Northern California, Walt Morgan has organized expeditions for several decades. Walt's alert commented: "For many years IOTA classified grazes as Marginal, Favorable, or SPECTACULAR! There were mighty few of the latter, and now those labels are not used at all. Nevertheless, I think you will agree with me that it would be appropriate to apply the classification to the following:
- star: magnitude 3.5 eta Geminorum
- moon: 36% sunlit
- limb: northern
- cusp angle: +14 degrees (dark)
- lunar elevation: 42 degrees
- lunar azimuth: 266 degrees (west)
- when: 9:43 p.m. Saturday, April 9, 2011
- where: Vacaville, Dixon, Davis area

"If you have been waiting for just the right opportunity to break out your occultation tools, this is the one: as grazes go, it has everything going for it, including the time of day and day of week."

One of the brightest stars to occult (binoculars would suffice), the Moon not glaringly bright, in its best, easiest situation, at a convenient hour, on a weekend, in a place easy to reach from a freeway - wow!

It's been more than 20 years since the last graze I observed - Regulus, November 30, 1988, Fremont California. So I'm not exactly in practice. Devotees measure many per year.

But the timing was perfect, the weather was clear (though windy), I had most of the equipment I needed and could easily borrow the rest. So I went. Walt's long experience has led to immaculate preparations. I checked in with him at the appointed spot, south of Dixon, at dusk, a good 2 hours in advance, and also said hello to Derek Breit and several other veteran "grazers" I'd met at various astronomical gatherings. Our observing line was well populated with 9 observing stations, and another, near Stockton, had 11 more.

I brought my Astroscan telescope, 2 eyepieces, binoculars, a small portable table, a larger card table, and a few ways to keep warm. There was a streetlight just north of my assigned position, and wind coming from the southeast. I positioned my van to block both streetlight and wind, and set the telescope on the floor inside to look out the side door. I could close the door for warmth when I wasn't observing. That wasn't very much, since the whole glorious Winter Oval was there, deserving long looks with the Astroscan. With the car radio tuned to the right station, and the borrowed voice recorder turned on, there were no hassles, and I even kept pretty warm! I ended up not needing the binoculars, either table, or most of the warmth gear - but experience has long proven that it's better to bring too much than too little.

The star winked at me! 3 times!

Walt timed my voice on the audio. First, a peak hid the star for 3 seconds. Then the star was visible again through a valley for 15 seconds. A big mountain hid the star for 1 minutes and 42 seconds. Then the star shone through a valley for just 1 second till it was hidden by another peak for 3 seconds. After that the star was no longer occulted from my location.

Others took videos, whose results can be timed to individual frames, with no "reaction time" delay from going through a human. Derek Breit, who has way more experience and way better equipment than I have, has posted this page about the event, and at the bottom you can click on his spectacular video. You can easily see the result of wind shaking his telescope. But you can also see the star not merely blinking off and on, but dimming as edges of hills barely blocked part of the star! The timing is in "Universal Time" (Greenwich, with a few small corrections). His location was a few hundred meters north of me, closer to the Moon's edge, and obviously in the perfect position to take advantage of his experience and equipment.

One really neat effect I remember from that graze a couple decades ago has been outmoded by technology. These days, most observers make videos rather than voice timings. Back then, almost everybody used voice, and at that event we had so many observers we were very closely spaced. So as a disappearance or reappearance neared me, I could hear observers from up or down the line saying so into their recorders, then I saw it, then others farther down or up the line. I heard the profile of the mountains and valleys live, in stereo!

Make It To The Maker Faire

© Norman Sperling, April 17, 2011

If mass-produced, mass-marketed goods satisfy you, the Maker Faire will be merely amusing.

If, on the other hand, you think that things ought to be more personal, more witty, more tailored to you, then the Maker Faire will inspire and instruct you just how to make them so.

You'll find it imaginative, whimsical, and way, way more. I've gone to all 5 Bay Area Maker Faires and came away from each bursting with possibilities and new combinations. I absolutely LOVE that feeling, so I return again and again. It's at the San Mateo (California) Event Center, May 21-22.

The first time, I just looked around. I saw fantastic novelties and new applications. But unlike many specialist gatherings, where I feel I'd never climb high enough to be a worthy participant, Makers showed and explained all the workings so openly that I came away thinking "I could do that".

And I could! The next year I entered a little hack, was accepted, and showed it off to the crowds. And the next year and again for a third year! Instead of the words and graphics I usually work with, here I was putting together gizmos and thingies, and making things work.

This year I'm taking another big step. I'm running a Commercial maker booth: I make and sell things. In this case JIR and its newest anthology, Don't Try This in High School. Contributing authors Jim Stanfield and Norm Goldblatt are expected to join us in the booth. I'm selling a variety of other stuff that no big corporation would produce, plus a selection of antiquarian steampunky and science books from the 1800s that I need to sell off before I go on my cross-country tour.

Designer/cartoonist Steve Johnson is sharing my booth. He wrote the wonderful books What the World Needs Now and Public Therapy Buses, and is introducing his hilarious and inspiring Inventing for Fun book (title is tentative) and some artwork.

If you're coming to the Maker Faire, I will be happy to have your pre-order all ready for you to pick up - just eMail me (normsperling {at} gmail.com) what you want by May 15th. Whether you order anything or not, stop by my booth and say hello.

Maker Faires elsewhere this year:
April 30 - May 1, Linthicum, Maryland (mini)
May 7-8, Toronto (mini)
June 4, Ann Arbor (mini)
June 18, North Carolina fair grounds (mini)
June 24-25, Kansas City (mini)
June 25-26, Vancouver (mini)
July 30-31, Detroit
September 17-18, New York

Steampunk Style

© Norman Sperling, March 28, 2011

Last weekend's Steampunk convention really dazzled in style.

"Plain" and "Steampunk" don't intersect. Look at the details on the finest Queen Anne Victorian houses at images.google.com or flickr.com. I saw goggles with wonderful elaborate brasswork, the 2 sides assertively different. Steampunkers make fantastic corsetry, hats, featherware, gearworks, brassworks, glassworks ... shiny and colorful and intricate and brash. It was such a feast for the eyes that I wandered the dealers and halls agog.

Practically all of it came from handcrafters. A few smallish companies create T-shirts, and publish the fiction that drives the genre. No big corporations, no mass production.

Practically the only person who arrived there not wearing showy goggles (Steampunk's universal icon) was me. I'd intended to buy some anyway, but that made it imperative. I bought. Now they ride the brim of my pith helmet. Not that it matters in steampunkdom, but it's a real pith helmet, that is built out of pith (a natural styrofoam-like substance from certain reeds). I bought it in Nairobi in 1980 while chasing a solar eclipse.

Genuine Victorian stuff does not attract the Steampunkers. A dealer with antiquarian microscopes, books, rulers, and slide rules had very few customers. The dealers who sold a lot have fantastically elaborated, gaudy goods. Their late-1800s aesthetic is wildly embroidered; the real thing itself is way too sedate.

Enormous elaboration continued into the 1900s (think Duesenbergs in the 1920s and '30s). Then the tides of fashion flipped toward sleek, hiding detailed inner workings under shells of each year's favorite shapes.

Telescopes, microscopes, cars, appliances, and a host of other complex devices still hide all their intricacies. While electronic circuit boards remain ugly and static, pipes, chains, gears, belts, and other moving stuff can be made attractive and interesting. It's time to bring those out of hiding, shine them up, and celebrate the harmony of their workings. Dyson has led vacuum cleaners this way, and Harley-Davidson never left, so many more should follow.

Be an Expert

© Norman Sperling, March 20, 2011

Be a genuine expert in something. Something you really like, that you've read everything about, seen everything about, and talked to other experts about. Maybe part of your hobby. Maybe something you have collected and examined samples of. It need not connect with your profession, but it could.

Improve the Wikipedia articles on and around your subject. And DMOZ and About, etc. Review books on the subject for Amazon, newsletters, etc. Become one of the "names" to be included wherever the subject comes up.

Give a few talks about it, perhaps at hobby clubs and related conventions, as widely as your circumstances permit.

Develop a niche product, or market someone else's. Make it the very most useful for the people who care a lot about your topic. You can make a few dollars from selling it, but you'll make more on increased reputation.

Write a few articles about aspects of it. Publish them in hobbyist newsletters, blogs, magazines, or wherever you can. If you write a lot of things about it, such as having your own authoritative blog, gather up your accumulated writings, and figure out how they could be segments of a book. Figure out what other segments such a book would need, and write and publish those as articles and blog posts. Then self-publish your book using new print-on-demand or short-run printing services. You no longer need much capital, or a commercial publisher. (You DO still need a good editor and a good cover artist and a marketer, and they need to get paid professionally.) You'll sell some copies, but more importantly, you'll be an author. When I give a copy of a book I've written to a potential client, I almost always get the assignment. The copy costs me a few bucks, but I get back hundreds or thousands of times as much. I also get treated better: "author" is a wonderful status.

All this gets your name "out there". That's a great status to have, no matter how off-the-beaten-path your subject may be. If you're easy to find, such as via search engines, you may get queries about the topic. Answer them as an expert. Some of those answers can be reworked into blog posts, talks, and book segments.

Once in a while, a topic that's usually obscure hits the headlines. When it does, media scramble to find some expert to talk to. That's you. You'll get your 15 minutes of fame.

And once in a great while, some big operation needs your expertise, and therefore needs you. This can open up consulting and freelancing and even employment possibilities.

Good luck!

Picture-rich, ad-rich websites

© Norman Sperling, March 13, 2011

Setting up this blog not only lets me give my take on various issues, it lets me air a 30-year accumulation of writings that should still be read. Search engines find them for readers who are interested in their topics. Otherwise, they'll turn up only rarely when someone digs through the old magazines they originally appeared in. Sure enough, the "hit-counter" shows that my old essays already have hundreds of hits, and while some of those are from the spiders that crawl the web to construct the search engines, I'm confident that quite a lot are from real humans who read and consider my writings.

In addition to writing those essays, I've spent decades taking pictures, largely of Science-related scenes. A few of my photos have artistic merit, many have scientific value, and a lot could help teachers teach. For now, however, my pictures sit in their binders, dark and silent, helping nobody.

Not just me! My friend Carl photographs sundials and sky phenomena. My friend John photographs celestial objects. My artist-friend Guy draws and paints beautiful and useful perspectives. My late friend Lu took hundreds of the best sunset pictures I know - where are they now? My late friend Carter photographed tens of thousands of great astronomical scenes, a trove too big for his heirs to organize yet. Thousands and thousands of people have such troves of useful pictures sitting unused.

Here's what we should do:

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

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