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Norman Sperling
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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.


How True is “Interstellar”?

© Norman Sperling, November 13, 2014

The main message of “Interstellar” is true. Parents do anything they can, and go anywhere they can, for the good of their children. Except for a few uncommitted losers, this holds across all cultures and times. My astronomy students told me to see this movie, but didn’t warn me about this theme, and I didn’t bring anywhere near enough handkerchiefs.

The setting is what makes this movie spectacularly memorable. Certainly the special effects are Hollywood’s best. Nebulae and planet surfaces should look like those. Saturn looks like that. I didn’t notice any specific starfields; the background at the beginning looked like a random scatter instead of a real starfield, and the narrow range of brightnesses was fakey: no bright stars, no faint stars.

I really liked the robots.

The black hole and wormhole effects are imaginary. The view inside a black hole is based on Kip Thorne’s best equations but it’s still speculation. The experience there was more a salute to “2001 A Space Odyssey” than a scientific rendition.

Wormholes don’t seem to exist. I remember when they were hot topics. Black holes had come up at the end of the 1960s and, though bizarre, resisted all attempts at disproof. After a few decades, most astronomers accepted that black holes are part of reality.

In the 1960s and 1970s another extremely puzzling phenomenon challenged astrophysics: quasars. They looked like bluish dots (“quasi-stellar”). They have indistinct spectra with a few absorption lines that bore no resemblance to anything recognized in the 90 years of astronomical spectroscopy until then.

Quasars couldn’t be isolated blue stars because all blue stars are young, so remnants of the nebulae they formed from should still hang around. Also, blue stars don’t live long enough to wander far from their original nebulae, but quasars appeared quite isolated.

If they were as far as galaxies, they were impossibly bright. Anything that tiny, that energetic, held too much energy in too small a volume, and must instantly explode itself.

For these and many more reasons, quasars didn’t make sense as objects like stars in our galaxy, nor as objects related to far-away galaxies.

In the 1970s, some scholars tried linking the 2 mysteries. If black holes take in fantastic amounts of energy, and quasars give out fantastic amounts of energy, maybe quasars are “white holes”: outlets for energy that black holes take in. To transport that energy from the black holes to the while holes, they pushed the “wormhole” idea from the 1950s to extremes.

By the 1980s data built up to show that quasars (and their lower-power cousins, BL Lacertae objects and Seyfert galaxies) were powered by ejections from the neighborhoods of supermassive black holes. If quasars aren’t white holes, there’s no need for wormholes to transport energy to them. The wormhole idea fizzled.

Except in one cultural niche, a favorite of mine. Science fiction often tells stories in astronomical settings. That poses plotting problems: planets and stars are so far apart that action would have to pause for decades or even millennia between scenes. Invoking wormholes lets a story move along briskly by simply declaring transportation to be nearly instantaneous.

“Interstellar” depends on wormholes to travel way faster than light.

A glance at reviews online shows a split. Reviewers who didn’t understand the science therefore thought the movie didn’t hang together, and parts were silly, and their minds wandered. Reviewers who did get the science granted the willful suspension of disbelief, and thought the story more credible. The distinction is in the education of the beholders. The *eyes* of the beholders were nearly unanimous: they loved the space and spacecraft scenery. To enjoy more spectacular, out-of-this-world scenery, any day, in any quantity, browse through astrophotos and spacecraft pictures.

A Decade of Books

© Norman Sperling, November 2, 2014

I read a lot. It sure beats TV. I read very broadly in magazines, as you would expect from a magazine editor, and a lot on websites. But mostly I read books, about 1 a week. They cover topics far more deeply, and contain a lot more information. Also, I sporadically delve into new subjects and need to “read up” about them.

In the 1990s I started listing books I wanted to borrow from libraries. Maintaining it on my word processor, I would print out selections to get from whichever library I was about to visit. Low-priority books would wait many months while I boned up on high-priority needs. When I got each book, I deleted it from the want-list. Right now that list is about 70 books long.

In Spring 2004, it occurred to me that instead of deleting listings, I should move them to a “finished it” section. Since then, I’ve logged in every book I read, usually noting the source, catalog number, month I read it, and a brief comment.

Almost all of the books fell into just a dozen categories. Of course there were clumps: how to set up a business when I was setting up a business, baseball when I coached Little League, and travel when planning my Great Science Trek.

Here are the totals, and a few outstanding exemplars, for the 488 books that I read from June 2004 to May 2014.

SCIENCE: 84 books. Among the best:
* David Harland & Ralph Lorenz: Space Systems Failures - Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rockets and Space Probes. Springer-Praxis 2005. Haste makes waste! (cf. Perrow) Remember lessons learned!
* Peter Jenniskens: Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets. Cambridge UP 2006. Meticulous, thorough; impossible before now.
* David E. H. Jones: The Inventions of Daedalus: Myth & Reality. W. H. Freeman 1982.
* David E. H. Jones: The Further Inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes. Oxford UP 1999.
* Jeffrey A. Lockwood: Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect That Shaped the American Frontier. Basic 2004. Splendid detective story.
* John Maddox: What Remains to be Discovered. Free Press 1998.
* W. Grant Thompson: The Placebo Effect and Health. Prometheus 2005.

SCIENCE HUMOR: 21 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Dethier: To Know a Fly. Holden Day 1963. Witty research.
* Leo Lionni: Parallel Botany. 1971.
* Donald E. Simanek & John C. Holden: Science Askew: A Light-Hearted Look at the Scientific World. IoP 2002.

OTHER HUMOR: 11 books. Among the best:
* Richard Lederer: The Revenge of Anguished English. 2005.

TRAVEL: 38 books. Among the best:
* Merritt Ierley: Traveling the National Road. Overlook 1990. Importance of US-40.

BASEBALL: 64 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Fortanasce: Life Lessons from Little League. Image 1995. Superb though preachy.
* Bill James: This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones. Villard 1989. Great analyses at end.

DESIGN: 40 books. Among the best:
* Tom Kelley & J. Littman: The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. Currency 2001. Productively stimulating!
* Charles Perrow: Normal Accidents. Basic Books 1999. Provocative, hugely important: minimize distraction.
* Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2d ed 2001.

BUSINESS: 99 books, many light-weight. Almost no overlap between ‘how to run a business’ and ‘how we ran a business’ books. Among the best:
* Sam Decker, ed. 301 Do-It-Yourself Marketing Ideas. Inc 1997. Many adaptable idea-triggers.

PUBLISHING: 23 books. Among the best:
* Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual. 2002; + volume 2 later.
* Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.
* Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer’s Digest 2002.

1900s PUBLIC AFFAIRS: 39 books. Among the best:
* Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway: Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury 2010. Singer & Seitz: doubt & denial.
* Peter Dale Scott: Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina. Rowman & Littlefield 2003.
* Joseph J. Trento: Prelude to Terror. Carroll & Graf 2005. Privatized intelligence.

REALITY: 26 books that don’t fit elsewhere. Among the best:
* Russ Kick, ed: You Are Being Lied To. Disinformation 2001. Investigative, alternative.
* Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner 2004.

FICTION: 34 books, mostly science fiction. Among the best:
* Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game. Tor 1991.
* William Gibson & Bruce Sterling: The Difference Engine. Bantam 1991. Cyber-punk, takes extreme liberties with history.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scholastic 2005.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic 2007.

PLAY SCRIPTS: 8, always short, never the depth I like from books.


The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, HarperPrism 1999.

© Norman Sperling, September 2, 2014

A friend tipped me off that this science fiction book features the Astroscan telescope, which I co-designed, so I knew I’d read at least enough to see how my scope fared. I dove right in and, because it’s a really neat book, I read the whole thing. I was so involved that a few times I’d pause, think “hey, it brought up the Astroscan again” so I’d page back to the reference, mark it, and then plow straight on to see how the story went.

The premise asks what would happen if enormous earthquakes hit Missouri’s New Madrid fault now, as they did in 1811-12. My travels have recently taken me to St. Louis, Memphis, New Madrid, and Reelfoot Lake, and most of the other places in the book. Williams portrays the flavors, weather, accents, and scenery much as I saw them.

Mix in a flooded Mississippi River, failure of the electric grid and most communications, and isolated power-abusing authorities. Detailing the major chaos takes Williams’s expertly-developed characters along paths twisting through hundreds of pages to converge in the mop-up.

The science is quite good. The seismology is excellent, as far as I can tell. So is the hydrology. So is the technology -- from helicopters to nuclear reactors to guns. The major issue of reactionary Whites repressing Blacks has, I hope, diminished since this story was published 15 years ago … I hope.

Also improved today are communications and smartphones and multiple ways to access the www. Most wouldn’t work -- I’ve been in plenty of “no service” areas on this trek -- but there would also be places where you could get through.

One factor that didn’t ring true was radio. Old fashioned AM radio travels thousands of miles at night. Surely someone in this novel could have used a car radio, or scrounged up a battery-powered transistor radio, and listened to outside news. It wouldn’t get a message out, but at least it would get news in, tell that St. Louis and Memphis were flattened, and warn of impending storms and flooding.

Into this stew Williams tossed the Astroscan telescope. He must have asked his astronomical consultant for a portable telescope that could take rough handling. I can tell that the author actually handled one and looked through it. Most of the astronomical objects would look about as described. But he waxed overenthusiastic about galaxies - the ones he listed show up just as grey fuzzblobs. To notice the details he cites requires much larger scopes.

Terrestrial viewing, important to the plot, would work just as described. Characters’ reactions to Astroscan's odd looks sound pretty good. The shoulder strap is meant for exactly the kind of carrying that the hero used it for. The casing is indeed tough enough to withstand being knocked around (and no other beginner scope could). So the scope earned its way into the book, the author understood its special characteristics, and it sparked enough interest that its teenage user could think of going into astronomy. For the Astroscan, this novel is a huge success. And if that teenager enrolls where I teach, I want him in my class.

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.

Tunguska is Still a Mystery

Vladimir Rubtsov: The Tunguska Mystery. 318 p. Springer 2009.
Review © Norman Sperling, February 22, 2013

The explosion of a large meteor above Chelyabinsk, on the same day as asteroid 2012 DA14 buzzed Earth, has brought back the riddle of the Tunguska event.

In 1908, far to the east of the Ural Mountains, over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in central Siberia, something - an icy, rocky asteroid or comet? - slammed into Earth's atmosphere, exploded in the air, flattened a forest, and triggered unusually bright and colorful skies over much of the world for many days.

The site is terribly remote. Communication and transportation were primitive in the terminal times of the tsarist empire. After World War I, the new Soviet regime clamped down on communications with non-Communists.

Very little news about the Tunguska explosion leaked out through the Iron Curtain. A few Soviet scientists explored, but hardly any of their data reached the West. Eyewitness reports were gathered, but we didn't see them. Important scientists declared solutions, but we only heard their answers, not their supporting data.

The absence of scientific data opened infinite possibilities for speculation. Creative minds responded by suggesting a colorful variety of explanations. Some of those caught the public imagination.

Unbeknownst to the West, much the same was happening in the Soviet Union. By selecting favorite reports, theorists put together plausible narratives which hung together only as long as all other data were ignored.

This grated on a lot of Soviet scientists. After Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev loosened the repression. Professional and amateur scientists responded creatively by founding the Independent Tunguska Exploration Group in 1958. These days the fashionable name for this centuries-old practice is "Citizen Science".

Investigators gathered information to plug holes in previous work. We hardly ever heard their results. In this book, an ITEG stalwart describes their research, findings, and speculations.

The story is FAR more complex than I had imagined. Exploration found a great deal more information than I had ever heard of, much of it scientifically strong. Practically all of it appears to contradict some theory or other. Several fairly strong solutions have been proposed, accounting for large portions of the observations. No solution, however, has yet accounted for all the credible data.

So this book is a superb example of exploratory science, and a superb example of a scientist who understands how much he doesn’t understand.

The most frequent suggestions are comets or meteoroids or asteroids. One huge problem is that our concepts of these have changed often, and radically, over the last 100 years, so the proposal means different things to different people at different times. Recent understandings relate comets to primitive chondrite meteoroids, which are extremely similar to asteroid types C, P, D, and K. Those meteoroids are probably chips of those asteroids. If they have surface ice, they appear as "comets". The Sun can vaporize surface ice while leaving ice inside.

Yet many details, from the exact pattern of the fallen trees, to eyewitnesses describing one object approaching from the south while a second one came from the east, to chemical traces (ytterbium!), don't seem to concur.

The suggestion that appears to satisfy the most data - still not all - posits 2 huge and powerful spacecraft, both turning to converge at the explosion site, and only one continuing westward from there. Science fiction fans like this scenario a lot better than most scientists do, but it satisfies more data than any other.

The comet concept satisfies the second-greatest quantity of data.

Now that this book has taught me a great deal more about Tunguska science, I am no longer confident about any one explanation. Rubtsov is right: we don't know enough. Previous such cases include:
• discovering the constancy of the speed of light, before Relativity;
• Auguste Comte's declaration that the composition of remote stars must remain forever unknown, before spectroscopy;
• noticing fundamental parallels in living things, like backbones, before Evolution.

Enjoy this book for its rich scientific and historical narrative, its scientific rigor, and its logical structure. The book is well written, well edited, and well produced. There's just enough Russian syntax to suggest local flavor. But if you want The Answer to what hit Tunguska, it's not here, nor anywhere else. Yet. Check back later.

The Great Airship of 1897

J. Allan Danelek: The Great Airship of 1897: a Provocative Look at the Most Mysterious Aviation Event in History. Adventures Unlimited Press 2009.
review © Norman Sperling, February 10, 2013

A mysterious bright light in the night sky sparked this big flap at the end of the 1800s. It was unexpected and unexplained. Reports grossly contradict one another, so investigators can favor very different inferences, interpretations, and explanations simply by selecting different reports to prefer.

In the 1800s, no one considered the light to be a space ship from another planet. Paranormal boosters have made that case more recently. Since this book's author energetically investigates paranormal and Fortean matters, I was all prepared for the author to go Paranormal.

He never did. The one place where the paranormal is invoked by others, Danelek dismisses it tersely. This book has nothing at all to do with the paranormal. Every explanation is purely naturalistic. Danelek invokes real physics, real engineering, and common human nature. At every turn, Danelek reports what records show, and points out contradictions and gaping ignorance. He discusses assorted possibilities.

He selects reports that can be strung together into a consistent story, and says that's why he prefers those. The data are so sketchy that there is lots of room for speculation. Danelek offers several speculations, but clearly labels each one as it comes up. Danelek builds a case that it was a searchlight coming from a lighter-than-air dirigible-type airship.

Astronomer Charles Burckhalter, among others, said the "searchlight" was actually the brilliant planet Venus, which dominated the western sky in late 1896 and early 1897.

Danelek ties his case together in a fictionalized story, which he blatantly labels as fiction at both its start and its end. A few readers may deplore putting fiction in this book, but as long as the reader can tell what's fiction, that's fine. In fact, my motive to read this book was to see if I could adapt part of its story for astronomical fiction that I'm writing. I can.

The illustrations are quite clear and plausible. The editing is not as sharp as the writing. Several misspellings got into print. A sharper editor would have squelched several redundancies.

Overall, this is an interesting, entertaining, and rational book. It shines some light on a bright light of long ago.

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.


San Mateo Recommendations

Norman Sperling, August 27, 2012

In my dozen years in San Mateo, I've encountered a lot of excellent people, places, and enterprises. Here are some I recommend:

Jeff Gilbert, Principal, and most of the faculty and staff of Hillsdale High School, 3115 Del Monte Street. When we first got to know Hillsdale High, their reputation and enrollment had sagged. By paying extra attention to students, and keeping them from falling anonymously through cracks, the school has earned favorable attention. Hillsdale is on its way up, in scores, in accomplishments, and in morale. Enrollment is bursting. In a lot of ways, they do things very well. Granted, they are part of a bureaucracy, they are obligated to do some stupid things, and not every employee is excellent, but our overall experiences there were very strongly positive and I enthusiastically recommend Hillsdale High. 650-558-2699, www.hhs.schoolloop.com/ .

Genella Williamson, Realtor. She helped us buy our home in 2000, kept in touch, and is masterminding the complex preparations to sell it. She is exercising a lot of the best connections with the best service people. She understands details and practicalities, and talks to a very wide variety of people on their own terms. Alain Pinel Realtors, 2930 Woodside Road, Woodside. 650-529-1111, genella@me.com .

Mike Bruno and staff, Cal-West Home Loans, 569 Laurel Street, San Carlos. I didn't fit a bank's cookie-cutter mold. Mike Bruno treated me like an actual human, and arranged a mortgage that really worked. His office staff are excellent people. 650-591-7321.

Steve Dwyer, expert handyman, especially with electric things. stevendwyer@yahoo.com .

Yokto Subroto and staff, Copyman of Belmont, 740 El Camino Real, Belmont. Copying and Printing. They take the care to get it right. I switched JIR from a major industrial printer that got careless, to Yokto, and everything has been perfect since. Well, the printing aspects are perfect; it's still my editing and proofreading, so a few errors do creep in. 650-591-9893, yokto@mycopyman.com .

Mark Dahl's UPS Store (Mail Boxes Etc.) 7 West 41st Avenue. They take the care to get everything right, so every package makes it. They recheck sealing, verify every item on the waybill. Over the years I've shipped hundreds of packages there, and occasionally used their notary service, always with perfect satisfaction. 650-571-9089, store2152@theupsstore.com .

Sean Hudson, Hector Diaz, and staff, Hudson Automotive Repair, 186 South Blvd. Great expertise in car service. They take care in examining things. They clearly spell out all the options. They accept my choices of options, even when they recommend others. Exacting work done right. Also, the cleanest car-service business I ever saw. 650-344-4800.

Letty's Affordable Hair Care, 14 24th Avenue. Letty is the only barber I found who's willing to cut my hair the way I want, instead of her own way. 650-574-1196.

The Peninsula Library System has wonderful variety among its branches, and the computer catalog is very handy to use. www.plsinfo.org .

Both Trader Joe's in San Mateo have excellent, helpful staffs as well as distinctive groceries.

Six Chambers, One Bullet

by Simon Quellen Field. Kinetic MicroScience 2011. $15. 978-0982210444

review by Norman Sperling, July 20, 2012

This fun murder mystery mixes private eyes, 2 police agencies who don’t get along with one another, a band, and a hospice. Las Vegas and Sacramento were both gambles.

Better than the physical settings are those in cyberspace. How to disappear. How to find people. How to earn money online. How to get attention. How to do more things, faster, better, and cheaper than mere casual websurfers know. It’s richly intertwined with the latest multimedia technology. That advancing technology will let the author update things as the forefront moves on – *using* the latest tech to *tell about* the latest tech.

Another advantage is that as soon as I finish this review, I’m going to tell the author about the 10 minor typos I found, and I bet he corrects them all before you can even buy your copy.

101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See

by Albert B. Dickas. Mountain Press, Missoula, 2012. 978-0-87842-587-7. $24 softcover
review © Norman Sperling, June 11, 2012

Both for sight-seeing and for tutorials, this is a wonderful new book. It illustrates a great many important geological principles while providing glorious sights to see. Almost all of the sites can been visited by road. You'll find many settings of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks (JIR spoofs those as ingenious, sentimental, and metaphoric).

Each selection has a 2-page spread: the left side tells coordinates, background, and what you can see. The right side presents 3 or 4 photos, cross-sections, maps, and/or development sequences. As in most cases where a publisher or designer dictates that all selections get equal space, both stories and typography may seem puffed or crammed.

Many places are within a half-day drive for most Americans. There's at least one in every state - one of the selection criteria. Just as in baseball's All-Star Game, where there has to be a player from every team, this promotes a number of less-important selections at the expense of better ones. Baseball depends on its fan-base, but people seeking superior geologic examples know perfectly well that they have to travel to see most of them. I hope the next edition abandons this criterion. Travelers will find concentrations of gem-quality sites easier to take in during reasonable excursions.

The author's illustrations and points are extremely clear. I found no typos, and only 5 minor mistakes.

The glossary, references, and index all have lots of entries, enabling a reader to pursue items. The glossary is a bit terse considering that many readers are novices. But it does distinguish, for example, between "terrain" ("A region of the Earth that is considered a physical feature, such as the Great Plains") and "terrane" ("A body of rock bounded by faults and characterized by a geologic history that differs from adjacent terranes"). It would be improved by listing all the examples in the book. The index probably doesn't list all occurrences of each term.

Whether you seek the newest or oldest rocks, or relics of ancient Gondwanaland or Rodinia, this book shows the way. These 101 geo-sites are well worth the trip for anyone interested in the more durable parts of Nature.

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

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