© 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.
© 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.
Norman Sperling, January 29, 2013
Easier Said Than Done:
selling our house
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)
* folding bike (Brompton H6L)
setting up new blogs:
* TouchingTheAges.com (geological layers)
* HopeRidesOnEveryPitch.com (baseball)
I still haven’t hit the road but I think I’m getting close.
© 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.
© 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.
© 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.
© 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.
© 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.
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.
as of May 9, 2012
May 19-20: Maker Faire. Visit my sales booth. They usually put me in the largest building, most often halfway between its center and its east corner. Introducing: manual mechanical analog tetris! Topical sets of JIR. And important parts of my personal library, which I must now sell because of impending lack of space.
May 25-28: BayCon 2012
Friday, May 25
Irreproducible Results 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM in San Tomas room (with Berry Kercheval, Jay Reynolds Freeman, Allison Lonsdale) Panelists discuss the fun and foibles of the scientific world.
Is the Patent System Broken? 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM in San Tomas room (with Vickie Brewster, Scott Beckstead, Hugh Daniel) The Patent Law Reform Act of 2011 made many significant changes, including making it first to file, not first to invent. Is this an improvement, or are their still fundamental flaws?
Saturday, May 26
How the Style of Writing Can Make a Book Readable 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM in Winchester room (with Brandon Sanderson, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Diana L. Paxson, Dario Ciriello) First person? Omniscient? First person smart aleck? A discussion of how and why does the point of view change our liking or disliking of a storyline. How does the way authors convey their story, film noir, western, fairytale, tall tale, all come together or fall apart for the reader?
After the Space Shuttle: What's Next? 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM in Camino Real room (with Arthur Bozlee, Jay Reynolds Freeman, Mike Van Pelt) With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, what's happening with getting men and material into space? How about space tourism? Whither the mission to Mars?
The Science of Science Fiction 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM in Lafayette room (with Scott Beckstead, Kay Tracy, Dani Kollin) A discussion of the science behind the fiction, whether e=mc^2 or the warp drive of Star Trek, or the hyperdrive of Star Wars. How much science is needed? How much care do we need to take to avoid having our science come back and bite the author in the bum?
Sunday, May 27
Self Publishing: Where does it fit in the Literary Food Chain? 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM in Lawrence room (with Kyle Aisteach, Jon Cory, Marty Halpern) Between Amazon and Barnes & Noble, self-publishing has taken off; no longer the classical vanity press, often seen as the redheaded stepchild. Is it? Should it be? Where does this fit in the food chain, or is this about to become the Shark?
Travel is My Drug of Choice 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM in Camino Real room (with Chaz Brenchley, James Stanley Daugherty, Deirdre Saoirse Moen) Avid travelers travel for different reasons. Panelists discuss the motivations behind their enthusiasm.
"Hard Science" Science Fiction Doesn't have to be Hard 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM in Winchester room (with Arthur Bozlee, Scott Beckstead, Veronica Belmont, Kyle Aisteach, Eytan Kollin) What are some books, movies, comic books, etc. that have used GOOD science and still managed to be exciting? What was the bad science that made you howl in pain, could it have been modified to be better science and still keep the story intact?
Monday, May 28
What Do We Know About Mars? 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM in Camino Real room (with Arthur Bozlee, Paula Butler, Kyle Aisteach, Jay Reynolds Freeman) Past, present, and future explorations.
Wednesday, June 13: Speaking for Bay Area Skeptics: Skeptalk:
Tell Me Where to Go, and What to Do When I Get There
7:00 PM, Wednesday, June 13, 2012
La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
After 20 years on Daddy-duty, I hit the road next January, towing my camper all over the US and Canada. "The Great Science Trek" will include:
* Touring "Big Science" places. I'm listing labs, space bases, important research institutes, ... How can I tour the Agriculture Lab in Albany?
* I plan to speak to groups of: skeptics, astronomers, science writers and bloggers, science cafes, ... Where can I get lists of these? What other types of audience should I seek?
* Amateur astronomers hold big "star parties". I'll observe the sky, and the kinds of telescopes now used, and how observers interact with their scopes. Do amateurs in other sciences have comparable gatherings? I'd love to sample some of those.
* I'll photograph myself at places with scientific names. When I lecture my students about Mars, I can show myself at Mars, Pa., and tell them "I know, because I've BEEN THERE." Any suggestions?
* "Don't Go There": where, and why not. Juarez, Mexico: not safe.
I'll gather input for book-like projects to publish by ~2016:
* Scientific white elephants: The Superconducting Super Collider left a big arc-shaped hole in Texas. Missile silos are being recycled for storage, housing, and a survivalist compound. Big observatories may turn into white elephants. What else might? (Mansions are often too expensive for families to keep. They often turn public, recycled as colleges, hospitals, or musea, and often aren't such great venues, very expensive to maintain.)
* I want to touch rocks deposited during every geological epoch (about 38 epochs in the last 542 million years). It's difficult to find listings of layers' ages because geologists prefer to describe their minerals and how they formed. To get all 38 epochs since the Cambrian will probably require visiting more than 10 sites. Please recommend multi-layer road cuts, cliffs, and other exposures.
* In entomology, I want to learn how locals cope with their pests. Some of those critters have specific behaviors and characteristics that locals have noticed.
* Especially, characteristics of infestations by Argentine ants. They absolutely LOVE my kitchen. They make fantastic supercolonies. Where edges of their supercolonies meet, they can wage perpetual ant-wars, where the front can move back and forth a hundred meters a year. Have you noticed anything about Argentine ants?
* Places rebuilding from disaster: The Bay Bridge was closed for a month after the 1989 earthquake, and its reconstruction should finish any generation now. The Oakland Hills burned in 1991 and now feature bigger homes and smaller trees. Greensburg, Kansas, was demolished by a tornado and rebuilt as a "green" city. Where did destruction defeat a town? Can I determine factors regarding type of disaster, degree of disaster, years since disaster?
* I'll photograph and measure giant pop-art sculptures of people, animals, objects, and so on. I intend to concoct a tongue-in-cheek satire, saying these are traces of giant critters and cultures. Can you suggest where I can find some of these giant figures?
* I'll visit places "Frozen in Time", like Plimouth Plantation, where it's always 1627. By arranging them by date, I can trace development through time. I can track technological evolution in kitchens, windows, chairs, etc. I've noticed that basic components of "comfortably furnished rooms" haven't changed hugely since the early 1700s, it's just that vastly more people can now afford them. Where do you know a place that's "frozen in time"?
I'll bring maps of places listed-so-far.
More detail on my blog.
Saturday, June 30: attending the Northern California Historical Astronomy Luncheon and Discussion Association, viewing 2 private antiquarian collections in Marin County. If you're interested, contact me for details.
AM: Of Beauties and Beasts: The Golden Age of Celestial Cartography. Hundreds of maps, frontispieces, memorabilia from a superb collection!
From 1600 to 1800, celestial cartography reached its peak in beauty and quality with the publication in Europe of a number of breathtaking atlases and prints related to the heavens. Some were maps of lunar or planetary surfaces, or diagrams of the solar system according to various cosmological theories (e.g., the Earth-centered universe of the classical Greeks, the Sun-centered system of Copernicus). But the most striking images were of the constellations. Classical Greek traditions abounded, with allegorical visual representations of heroes and heroines, real and imaginary animals, and scientific and artistic tools and instruments. But why were such constellation images used in star maps?
The 17th Century ushered in the Golden Age of celestial cartography in Europe. 4 individuals particularly advanced the field and influenced the work of other celestial cartographers: Johann Bayer, Johannes Hevelius, John Flansteed, and Johann Bode. Lesser contributions from Andreas Cellarius, Johann Doppelmayr, and John Bevis.
PM: A collection of detailed ship models. These are really big models at 1/4"= 1 ft scale so seeing the real things is really a shocking experience for the arts and craft lover. It is remarkable that so many such delicate creations have survived centuries of violence and accidents to come down to us intact to appreciate.
The ship models mostly are old models built in the 17th and 18th Centuries, mostly in Britain. They are often called Navy Board or Admiralty models. The practice of building very accurate and exquisitely decorated ship models in England appears to date from the time of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th Century. They are considered the pinnacle of the ship modelers' art and many advanced modelers copy the style or make modern replicas to show off their skills.