Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder

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Book Girl photo in the header and post feature graphics used courtesy of and copyright DeviantArt user faestock

Trying to add some order to the massive pile of junk that is my bookmarks bar, I ended back on this afternoon.  I have written before (also here and here) how much I love that site.  Thanks to the Rands (in case you wondered, the author’s name isn’t Rand) blog, my wife understands me as a nerd and is somewhat slightly more forgiving; I have been able to get advice from friends without the fear of being screwed over; I have been able to better interact with the rest of the management team, better manage the people who work for me (and others), help my supervisor better manage me; and I now have a framework for thinking about my own motivations and actions.  Back on randsinrepose, lost in new posts that I hadn’t yet seen, I realized that I have have never written about Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder (N.A.D.D.). The author explains the term:

“My mother first diagnosed me with NADD. It was the late 80s and she was bringing me dinner in my bedroom (nerd). I was merrily typing away to friends in some primitive chat room on my IBM XT (super nerd), listening to some music (probably Flock of Seagulls — nerd++), and watching Back to the Future with the sound off (neeeeerrrrrrrd). She commented, “How can you focus on anything with all this stuff going on?” I responded, “Mom, I can’t focus without all this noise.””

Continue reading “Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder”

Review So Far: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I have the hardest time spending my monthly Audible credit.  There are just so many different books, and it takes me forever to get through a single audio book.  I am still working on the Eye of the World that I started two months ago, and haven’t even started in on last month’s purchase.  This month, after several hours of search and reading reviews and going back and forth, I finally decided on Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  I first heard Cain on an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered.  I have listened to a little more than the first chapter or so of the book, but I have to say already that it is really great.

Continue reading “Review So Far: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”

Raising a Glass in Memory of Geoworks

Having just passed the 25th anniversary of Microsoft Windows, there have been several reviews  (like this one, and this one) of long-lost Windows competitors.  Certainly in our family the only time we used Windows was when we needed sound, because our Turtle Beach sound card was Windows only.  So Windows 3.0 was used almost exclusively for writing music and playing computer games (but only Windows games – the soundcard didn’t work in DOS, and most of the best games were DOS only – Warlords IIIThe HumansLemmingsThe Lost VikingsUltima UnderworldCivilization, and a whole host of other games).  What did we use instead?  Geoworks.  It wasn’t the best operating system in the world, but its competition was Windows 3 (so not an incredibly high bar to meet), and the Geoworks dot matrix print drivers were amazing.  It could drive my 9-pin printer like it was a $2000 laser (2-10 minutes per page).

To learn more about Geoworks:

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The Nerd Handbook

A couple of months ago I found The Nerd Handbook at Rands in Repose.  “Rand” has a number of very interesting a useful articles, but I found The Nerd Handbook to be the most interesting.  There are a number of insights in the article that, being a nerd myself, I found enlightening.  Things like the pressing urge to create or make something that I have felt constantly without relief throughout my life. What a relief to find that it is a common ailment for nerds.  Or my tendency to drop activities once I’ve mastered the new and interesting skills involved, even if the task is not yet complete (and sometimes just feet in front of the finish line).

I have been much for conscious of the word “cool” since I read the article – Rand mentions that he often finds himself saying it when he has all the information he needs, or has filled his interests, and the topic of conversation continues.  While I am pretty shure that cool is not the word I use to fill that role (although I have realized since reading The Nerd Handbook that I say cool a lot), I am pretty sure I must have something like it.  I often find myseld in meetings or on conference calls where I have everything I need to know in the first couple minutes of a several hour conversation.  What more is there to talk about?  Tell me what you need done, and when you need it done by, and I’ll take care of it.  Just don’t make me sit through the meeting.

The last thing about The Nerd Handbook – I immediately emailed it to Becky.  We’ve been married for almost ten years, and she knew me for many years befor that.  It’s about time she gets an explanaition of what she got herself into.  It took a couple months of reminding, but she read it, and like me, Becky recommends The Nerd Handbook as required reading for anyone with a nerd in their life.





Acre – 43,560ft2

Acre-foot – (Acre-ft, AF, AC-FT) The volume of water that would cover one acre of land (43,560 square feet, about the size of an average football field) to a depth of one foot, equivalent to 325,851 gallons of water. An acre-foot is the basic measure of agricultural water use. The average California family uses 2/3 of an acre-foot of water each year (afa = acre-ft per annum). The average crop uses three acre-feet of water in a growing season.

Alluvium – A general term for all detrital material deposited or in transit by streams, including gravel, sand, silt, clay, and all variations and mixtures of these.

Anastomosed Stream Type – a multi-tread channel system with a very low stream gradient and the bankfull width of each individual channel noted as highly variable.  The related valley morphology is seen as a series of broad, gently sloping wetland features developed on or within lacustrine deposits, river deltas, or splays, and fine-grained alluvial deposits.  Stream banks are often constructed with fine-grained cohesive materials, supporting dense-rooted vegetation species, and are extremely stable.

Appropriation Doctrine – (Also called Prior Appropriation Doctrine) the system for allocating water to private individuals used in most Western states. The doctrine of Prior Appropriation was in common use throughout the arid west as early settlers and miners began to develop the land. The prior appropriation doctrine is based on the concept of “First in Time, First in Right.” The first person to take a quantity of water and put it to Beneficial Use has a higher priority of right than a subsequent user. Under drought conditions, higher priority users are satisfied before junior users receive water. Appropriative rights can be lost through nonuse; they can also be sold or transferred apart from the land. Contrasts with Riparian Water Rights.

Aquifer – an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, or permeable mixtures of unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, silt, or clay) (see also groundwater). Some productive aquifers are in fractured rock (carbonate rock, basalt, or sandstone). The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is hydrogeology.

Artesian Water – ground water that is under pressure when tapped by a well and is able to rise above the level at which it is first encountered. It may or may not flow out at ground level. The pressure in such an aquifer commonly is called artesian pressure, and the formation containing artesian water is an artesian aquifer or confined aquifer.

Artificial Recharge – an process where water is put back into ground-water storage from surface-water supplies such as irrigation, or induced infiltration from streams or wells.

Avulsion – the sudden movement of soil from one property to another as the result of a flood or a shift in the course of a boundary stream.  Streamflow spilling out of the banks of the existing channels.  Channel avulsion typically occurs where the existing channel is incapable of carrying all of the water and sediment supplied to it.


Baseflow – streamflow coming from groundwater seepage into a stream or river. Groundwater flows underground until the water table intersects the land surface and the flowing water becomes surface water in the form of springs, streams/rivers, lakes and wetlands. Baseflow is the continual contribution of groundwater to rivers and is an important source of flow between rainstorms.

Bedrock – general term for consolidated (solid) rock that underlies soils or other unconsolidated material.

Benthic – refers to material, especially sediment, at the bottom of an aquatic ecosystem.  It can be used to describe the organisms that live on, or in, the bottom of a water body.  Benthic organisms are not free-floating like pelagic organisms.

Benthos – biota that live on or near the bottom of a body of water.  Both mobile and non-mobile.


Capillary Action – the movement of water in the interstices of a porous medium due to capillary forces (after ASTM, 1980). The depression or elevation of the meniscus of a liquid contained in a tube of small diameter due to the combined effects of gravity, surface tension, and the forces of cohesion and adhesion.

CFS – Cubic-Feet per second. The rate of discharge representing a volume of 1 cubic foot passing a given point during 1 second and is equivalent to approximately 7.48 gallons per second or 448.8 gallons per minute. The volume of water represented by a flow of 1 cubic foot per second for 24 hours is equivalent to 86,400 cubic feet, approximately 1.983 AF, or 646,272 gallons.

Channel Flow – The volume of water in transit in a system between inflow and outflow.

Chute Cutoffs – small channels cutting across a point-bar.

Circuli – concentric lines of the smooth, flat, round scalles (called cycloid scales) found on trout, herring, and other fish.  Circuli act like growth rings on a tree.  They can tell how old a fish is, and how fast it grew each year.  This can give a clue to the life history of the fish.

Commercial Water Use – water used for motels, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, other commercial facilities, fish hatcheries, and civilian and military institutions as classified by Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) or North American Industrial Classification codes.

Condemnation – See “Eminent Domain”

Condensation – the process by which a substance changes from a vapor or gaseous state to a liquid form, as water vapor in the air condenses into droplets of liquid on the outside of a cold drinking glass. The condensation of water vapor into clouds and precipitation is a vital link in the hydrologic cycle.

Consumptive Use – that part of water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. Also referred to as water consumed.

Conveyance Loss – water that is lost in transit from a pipe, canal, conduit, or ditch by leakage or evaporation. Generally, the water is not available for further use; however, leakage from an irrigation ditch, for example, may percolate to a ground-water source and be available for further use.


Discharge – the volume of water (or more broadly, volume of fluid plus suspended sediment) that passes a given point within a given period of time.

Domestic Water Use – water for household purposes, such as drinking, food preparation, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns and gardens. Also called residential water use. The water may be obtained from a public supply or may be self supplied.

Drainage Basin – See “Watershed”

Drawdown – the lowering of the surface elevation of a body of water, the water surface of a well, the water table, or the piezometric surface adjacent to the well, resulting from the withdrawl of water therefrom.

Drip Irrigation – a method of microirrigation wherein water is applied to the soil surface as drops or small streams through emitters. Discharge rates are generally less than 8 Liters/hour (2 gal/hour) for single-outlet emitters and 12 Liters/hour (3 gal/hour) per meter for line-source emitters ASAE.)


Eminent Domain – (also know as condemnation) is the taking of title to private land by a public agency or publicly regulated utility company

Endemic Species – Plants or animals that occur naturally in a certain region and whose distribution is relatively limited to a particular locality.  Enimism is the occurance of endemic species in an area.

Erosion – the wearing away of land surface by wind or water, intensified by land-clearing practices related to farming, residential or industrial development, road building, or logging.

Evaporation – The change of state of liquid, from a liquid to a vapour state, below the boiling point of the liquid. Has the effect of cooling the liquid as it is the molecules with the highest kinetic energies which escape into the atmosphere through the liquid surface. This results in a drop of the average kinetic energy of all the molecules in the liquid, and consequently a fall in temperature. The calculation of evaporative losses is very complex. Most areas have a meteorological office who can provide approximations of evaporative losses for the area.

Evapotranspiration – the evaporation of water from the soil and the transpiration of water from the plants that live in that soil. Approximately one-quarter of a forest’s annual rainfall returns to the air through evapotranspiration.


Floodplain – land immediately adjoining a stream which is inundated when the discharge exceeds the conveyance of the normal channel. The channel proper and the areas adjoining the channel which have been or hereafter may be covered by the regulatory or 100-year flood. Any normally dry land area that is susceptible to being inundated by water from any natural source. The floodplain includes both the floodway and the floodway fringe districts.

Flood Routing – The computation of inflow, outflow and storage for a reach of river

Freshwater – water that contains less than 1,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of dissolved solids; generally, more than 500 mg/L of dissolved solids is undesirable for drinking and many industrial uses.


Geometric Mean – a measure of the central tendancy of a data set that minimizes the effects of extreme values.

Groundwater – generally all subsurface water as distinct from surface water; specifically, that part of the subsurface water in the saturated zone (a zone in which all voids are filled with water) where the water is under pressure greater than atmospheric.


Headwater(s) – 1.) the source and upper reaches of a stream; also the upper reaches of a reservoir. 2.) the water upstream from a structure or point on a stream. (3) the small streams that come together to form a river. Also may be thought of as any and all parts of a river basin except the mainstream river and main tributaries.

Humus – decomposed organic matter.  Healthy soil will consist of about 3.5 to 5% of this organic matter.  Humus is soft, sweet-smelling, shapeless dark, and crumbly, and smells like the forest floor (more correctly, the forest floor smells like humus because that is what it is made of).  It is this stage of the decomposition process which provides nutrients for plant life.  It contains about 30% each of lignin, protein, and complex sulfars.  It contains 3-5% Nitrogen and 55-60% carbon (which can’t be right, because that all adds up to 155%, but that is what I have written in my notes).  Humus is the slow-release food source for microorganism development.  It is constantly being transformed into acids, enzymes, and minerals, and, therefor, must be constantly replenished for proper vegetative nutrition.

Hydrologic Cycle – A model describing the movement of water above, on, and in the Earth. Can be shown mathematically as Precipitation = Run Off + EvapoTranspiration + Infiltration + Storage (P=RO+ET+I+S)

Hypatic Circulation – circulation of blood through the liver.


Infiltration – the passage of water through the soil surface into the soil.

Instream Use – water that is used, but not withdrawn, from a surface-water source for such purposes as hydroelectric-power generation, navigation, water-quality improvement, fish propagation, and recreation.

Irrigation Water Use – water that is applied by an irrigation system to assist in the growing of crops and pastures or to maintain vegetative growth in recreational lands such as parks and golf courses. Irrigation includes water that is applied for pre-irrigation, frost protection, chemical application, weed control, field preparation, crop cooling, harvesting, dust suppression, the leaching of salts from the root zone, and water lost in conveyance.




Lacustrine – 1.) of, or pertaining to a lake.  2.) Deposits laid down in relatively still-water lakes – May be detrital or organic material, or clays and silts.  Lacustrine is related to the word “Lake.”  Thus a lacustrine wetland is, by definition, lake-associated.  This category may include freshwater marshed, aquatic beds, as well as lake shores.  Distinctions between lacustrine and palustrine habitat are primarily contingent on the way in which lake is defined.

Land – 1.) Physical material: soil, minerals (subsurface mineral rights), and vegetation.   2.) Real Estate – land as property.   3.) Capital Value – land has instrument value.

Lentic – of, or relating to, or living in still waters.  Lentic tends to be used for freshwater habitats.  Some examples of lentic environments are lakes, ponds, and flooded forests.  Deeper standing water, like a lake, is affected by strong stratification.  There is an upper layer and a lower layer seperated by a narrow in-between layer of water.  The upper layer of water has higher oxygen, more light, more plankton, and tends to be warmer that the lower layer.  Contrast with lotic.

Levee – tn hydrologic terms, a long, narrow embankment usually built to protect land from flooding. If built of concrete or masonary the structure is usually referred to as a flood wall. Levees and floodwalls confine streamflow within a specified area to prevent flooding. The term “dike” is used to describe an embankment that blocks an area on a reservoir or lake rim that is lower than the top of the dam.

Lotic – of, or relating to, or living in actively moving water.  Lotic tends to be used for freshwater habitats.  Some examples of lotic habitats are rivers and streams.  In lotic water, most fish prefer deeper, slow-moving areas of water to shallow, fast-moving waters in the same stream or river.  In a fast current, the fish must use more energy to keep from being carried downstream.  Fish also tend to prefer vegetation because it protects them from predators.  Contrast with lentic.


Mining Water Use – water use for the extraction of minerals occurring naturally including solids, such as coal and ores; liquids, such as crude petroleum; and gases, such as natural gas. Also includes uses associated with quarrying, well operations (dewatering), milling (crushing, screening, washing, floatation, and so forth), and other preparations customarily done at the mine site or as part of a mining activity. Does not include water used in processing, such as smelting, refining petroleum, or slurry pipeline operations. These uses are included in industrial water use.




Palustrine – vegetated wetlands dominated by trees, shrubs, and persistant emergents.  Comes from the Latin word “palus” which means marsh.  Wetlands in this category include areas traditionally called marsh, swamp, bog, fen, prarie, and also includes small, shallow, permanent or intermittent water bodies called ponds less than 6.6ft deep.  Ant inland wetland which lacks flowing water and conains ocean-derived salts of less than .05%.  Except for ponds, palustrine bodies are situated shoreward of lakes, river channels, and large river enbayments.

Particle Size – in dealing with sediments and sedimentary rocks it is necessary that precise dimensions should be applied to such terms as clay, sand, pebble, etc. Numerous scales have been suggested, but in this work, the Wentworth-Udden scale is used, as it is widely accepted as an international standard. Particle size is normally determined by hand measurement of pebbles, cobbles, and boulders; sieving of gravel, sand, and silt; and elutriation of silt and clay. Boulder: >256 mm; Cobble: 64 – 256 mm; Pebble: 4 – 64 mm; Gravel: 2 – 4 mm; Sand: 1/16 – 2 mm; Silt: 1/256 – 1/16 mm; Clay: <1/256 mm.

Peak Flow – maximum flow through a watercourse which will recur with a stated frequency. The maximum flow for a given frequency may be based on measured data, calculated using statistical analysis of peak flow data, or calculated using hydrologic analysis techniques. Projected peak flows are used in the design of culverts, bridges, and dam spillways.

Pelagic – refers to fish and animals that live in the open sea, away from the sea bottom.  Pelagic organisms swim through the ocean, and may rise to the surface or sink to the bottom.  They are not confined to the bottom like benthic organisms.  Pelagic organisms are generally free-swimming (nektonic) or ploating (planktonic).

Percolation – the actual movement of subsurface water either horizontally or vertically; lateral movement of water in the soil subsurface toward nearby surface drainage feature (eg stream) or vertical movement through the soil to groundwater zone.

Permeability – a measure of the rate at which water will flow into or through soil or rocks.

Phytotoxic – toxic, damaging or harmful to plants, often by destroying the protective surface on plant leaves.  Partially composted organic matter may have acids or alchohols present that will harm young or sensitive plants.  Partially-decomposed compost is therefore refered to as phytotoxic.  The property of a substance at a specific concentration that restricts or constrains plant growth.

Phytotoxin – any substance produced by plants that is similar in properties to extracellular bacterial toxin.  Plant toxin.

Porosity – is a measure of the voids in unconsolidated sediments or bedrock. It is the ratio of volume of openings to the total volume of the material.

Piscary – fishery: a workplace where fish are caught and processed and sold.

Prior Appropriation Doctrine – See “Appropriation Doctrine”

Public Supply – water withdrawn by public governments and agencies, such as a county water department, and by private companies that is then delivered to users. Public suppliers provide water for domestic, commercial, thermoelectric power, industrial, and public water users. Most people’s household water is delivered by a public water supplier. The systems have at least 15 service connections (such as households, businesses, or schools) or regularly serve at least 25 individuals daily for at least 60 days out of the year.

Public Water Use – water supplied from a public-water supply and used for such purposes as firefighting, street washing, and municipal parks and swimming pools.


Quasi-Equilibrium – unimpaired by humans, natural river conditions are balanced, where the size and form of the channel is maintined by the flow of water and sediment with only slow and gradual change.


Recharge – mechanisms of inflow to the aquifer. Typical sources of recharge are precipitation, applied irrigation water, underflow from tributary basins and seepage from surface water bodies.

Reservoir – a pond, lake, or basin, either natural or artificial, for the storage, regulation, and control of water.

Riffle – a protuberance on the bed of a stream.  A topographic high.

Riparian Water Rights – the rights of an owner whose land abuts water. They differ from state to state and often depend on whether the water is a river, lake, or ocean. The doctrine of riparian rights is an old one, having its origins in English common law. Specifically, persons who own land adjacent to a stream have the right to make reasonable use of the stream. Riparian users of a stream share the streamflow among themselves, and the concept of priority of use (Prior Appropriation Doctrine) is not applicable. Riparian rights cannot be sold or transferred for use on nonriparian land.

Runoff – 1.) That part of the precipitation, snow melt, or irrigation water that appears in uncontrolled surface streams, rivers, drains or sewers. Runoff may be classified according to speed of appearance after rainfall or melting snow as direct runoff or base runoff, and according to source as surface runoff, storm interflow, or ground-water runoff. 2.) The total discharge described in #1, above, during a specified period of time. 3.) Also defined as the depth to which a drainage area would be covered if all of the runoff for a given period of time were uniformly distributed over it.


Saline Water – water that contains significant amounts of dissolved solids. Fresh water – Less than 1,000 parts per million (ppm); Slightly saline water – From 1,000 ppm to 3,000 ppm; Moderatly saline water – From 3,000 ppm to 10,000 ppm; Highly saline water – From 10,000 ppm to 35,000 ppm

Sediment – solid fragmental matter, either inorganic or organic, that originates from weathering of rocks and is transported and deposited by air, water, or ice, or that is accumulated by other natural agents, such as chemical precipitation from solution or secretion from organisms. When deposited, it generally forms layers of loose, unconsolidated material (for example, sand, gravel, silt, mud, till, loess, alluvium).

Sinkhole – a depression in the Earth’s surface caused by dissolving of underlying limestone, salt, or gypsum. Drainage is provided through underground channels that may be enlarged by the collapse of a cavern roof.

Splash Dams – dames used in logging to impound water on small streams.  The water from several dams was released in a coordinated fashion to supply a “tide” of water to float large logs.

Spray Irrigation – an common irrigation method where water is shot from high-pressure sprayers onto crops. Because water is shot high into the air onto crops, some water is lost to evaporation.

Stream – a general term for a body of flowing water; natural water course containing water at least part of the year. In hydrology, it is generally applied to the water flowing in a natural channel as distinct from a canal.

Subsidence – a settling of the ground surface caused by the collapse of porous formations that result from withdrawal of large amounts of groundwater, oil, or other underground materials.

Surface Water – water that sits or flows above the earth, including lakes, oceans, rivers, and streams.

Suspended Sediment – very fine soil particles that remain in suspension in water for a considerable period of time without contact with the bottom. Such material remains in suspension due to the upward components of turbulence and currents and/or by suspension.

Suspended Solids – solids that are not in true solution and that can be removed by filtration. Such suspended solids usually contribute directly to turbidity. Defined in waste management, these are small particles of solid pollutants that resist separation by conventional methods.


Teleost – any member of the infraclass Teleostei, a large and extremely diverse group of ray-finned fishes.  Along with the Chondrosteans and the Holosteans, they are one of the threthat part of water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. Also referred to as water consumed.e major subdivisions of the class Actinopterygii, the most advanced of the bony fisheds.  Includes 95% of the world’s fish species.

Thalweg – line of deepest water in a stream.  The thalweg is the part that has the maximum velocity and causes cutbanks and channel migrations.that part of water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. Also referred to as water consumed.

Transpiration – the process in which water is absorbed by the root systems of plants, moves up through the plant (via the xylem), passes through pores (stomata) in the leaves and other plant parts, and then evaporates into the atmosphere as water vapor.

Turbidity – the cloudy appearance of water caused by the presence of suspended and colloidal matter. In the waterworks field, a turbidity measurement is used to indicate the clarity of water. Technically, turbidity is an optical property of the water based on the amount of light reflected by suspended particles. Turbidity cannot be directly equated to suspended solids because white particles reflect more light than dark-colored particles.

Turgor – the normal rigid state of fullness of a cell or blood vessel or capillary resulting from pressure of the contents against the wall or membrane.


Unsaturated Zone – the zone between the land surface and the regional water table. Generally, fluid pressure in this zone is less than atmospheric pressure, and some of the voids may contain air or other gases at atmospheric pressure. Beneath flooded areas or in perched water bodies, the fluid pressure locally may be greater than atmospheric.



Wastewater – water that has been used in homes, industries, and businesses that is not for reuse unless it is treated.

Water Cycle – See “Hydrologic Cycle”

Watershed – (also called Drainage Basin) the land above a given point on a waterway that contributes runoff water to the flow at that point; a drainage basin or a major subdivision of a drainage basin.

Water Table – The level of ground water. The upper surface of the zone of saturation of groundwater above an impermeable layer of soil or rock (through which water cannot move) as in an unconfined aquifer. This level can be very near the surface of the ground or far below it.

Water Use – water that is used for a specific purpose, such as for domestic use, irrigation, or industrial processing. Water use pertains to human’s interaction with and influence on the hydrologic cycle, and includes elements, such as water withdrawal from surface- and ground-water sources, water delivery to homes and businesses, consumptive use of water, water released from wastewater-treatment plants, water returned to the environment, and instream uses, such as using water to produce hydroelectric power.





A Geography in Every Living Room

Poor grammar of this article’s title aside, a post by the Random Geographer at Fantom Planet spoke to an issue that I have been thinking about for the last month or two.

As musicians, my wife and I are fairly strongly opposed to the message that the American Idol shows send to the world (Yes, I am actually a musician. I have played a number of instruments since childhood. Why is that so surprising? And yes, this does actually relate to the topic at hand, which I would be able to get to if I didn’t have to explain myself to…). The shows sell the idea that anyone can be a musician, as long as the can wiggle and look cool: it doesn’t matter that they can’t sing, read music, write music, play a musical instrument, tune a musical instrument, recognize a musical instrument 3 out of 10 times… Anyway, our dislike of the show doesn’t come from some of competition with the picked-off-the-street, untrained wallowers in nicely-fattened suits of 15-minutes. Our dislike is of the false perception it gives the world that there is no need for professional musicians, and no need for music education, because “anyone can walk in off of the street and be a musician.” It’s not the competition that is a threat, but the public perception.

I faced the same issues as a Japanese translator (Yes, I do speak Japanese. I’m very fluent. I can read it too.). Machine translation has finally gotten good enough that it can correctly translate a couple of sentences on every page. But do business managers care? What they see is that at $0.25-$0.95 a word (!), professional human translation is much more expensive than having a machine do it. Why, in the world of contracts and such, where the very wood-pulp pattern of contract paper seems to have some kind of fine-print meaning, would two or three accurate sentences a page be good enough? No matter what the savings? The answer, again, is a false perception. How long before advanced foreign language training is dropped from universities because of a perceived lack of need for translators? (Hang on now, I’m about to get to my point)

With a battle of global proportions waging between Google Earth, World Wind, Virtual Earth, TerraExplorer, and the new ESRI offering expected next year, there seems to be, almost literally, a geography in every living room. As the Random Geographer asks in his article, such programs have brought new awareness to the field of geography, but at what cost? Is it possible, that instead of creating a flood of new applications for geography departments, it will result in the Picasso attitude towards geography of “My 3-year-old can look up maps on the Internet.” (An extension of the common response to Cubism that “That isn’t art. My 3-year-old could paint that.”) Will Google Earth do what false perceptions about machine translation have done to the translation industry, and what American Idol could do to the world of serious music? Will it make us irrelevant?

Perhaps in a future day when Google threatens my career, my answer to the Picasso haters and critics of geography alike will be: Just because you lack the training to understand the difference between a translational slide and a rotational slide doesn’t mean that your house isn’t going down the hill.

Wenas Mammoth Dig: 2005 Field Season

There have been no updates on the site for quite a while because I have spent the last six weeks (June 28-August 05, 2005) working at the Wenas, WA mammoth excavation. This was the first season of excavation at the site. The dig was set up as a field school through Central Washington University’s Office of Continuing Education, with participation from the University’s Geography and Anthropology Departments. My participation in the dig was as a member of the field school.

Mammoth left humerus next to the same bone from an adult cow

In February of this year, a construction crew was building a private road to a house on the hill on the south side of Wenas Valley, when the backhoe they were using to create the road-cut struck bone. The bone that they found was determined, after examination by a member of the faculty at CWU, to be the left humerus of an elephant-sized mammal. The excavation field school began in the end of June, with nine students (only two of us from the Geography Department: the rest were archaeology students from the Anthropology Department), three CWU professors, and Bax Barton, a paleoecologist with the University of Washington’s Quaternary Research Center. At the time, the primary objective of the dig was to establish a geologic context for the left humerus that had been found, with finding more bone, and identifying the species of the animal as secondary objectives. One of my tasks, part of establishing the geologic context of the humerus, was to work on the stratigraphy and sedimentology of the site.

Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of the field school, much of the first week was spent in the classroom, where principles and techniques from the various disciplines involved (geomorphology, paleontology, archaeology, stratigraphy, geology, ecology, biology, etc.) were presented to the members of the field school. The time not spent in the classroom during the first week was spent preparing the excavation site for a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey. The GPR machine only has a clearance of a few three or four inches, so all the brush and grass had to be removed from the site in patches large enough to create two survey grids, something like 20m x 15m, each.

The GPR machine is walked back and forth across the survey site at 50cm intervals, both laterally and horizontally, measuring the rate of reflection of radio waves at depths, in slices across the grid. When the lattice of slice, lateral and horizontal are put together in advanced software, and interpolated, the result is a three-dimensional image, and map slices at various depths, showing spots where reflected returns are higher, or lower than average, suggesting buried materials that reflect radio waves better or worse than the surrounding soil matrix.

Based on vague returns from the GPR survey, an excavation grid was laid out, and two backhoe trenches were dug, at an average depth of 2m, and with a total length of something like 35m, in an L-shape around the East and South of the excavation grid. I spent the better part of five weeks in those two trenches, with Dr. Karl Lillquist, a geomorphologist, and chair of my department at CWU, working out the stratigraphic story of the site, in a way that is both understandable, and defensible.

Mosaic of the North trench stratigraphic drawings.  Click to view a PDF of the Wenas site stratigraphic drawings.  Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Viewer is required.


The field school was originally set to be four weeks long. However, Jake Shapley, the field assistant, and the greatest champion of the Wenas dig, pushed for a six-week field school, and it was approved, extending to six weeks before it was advertised. The thinking for the four-week school was that, with only one bone, and no real reason to believe that there was any more at the site, it might be a stretch to fill up even a four-week course. The first three weeks of the excavation seemed proof that there just wasn’t enough to fill up the time. While Dr. Lillquist and I systematically described the site stratigraphy in the trenches, using orange-flagged nails on a 50cm grid to mark boundaries between layers, and while Ryan Murphy, the other member of the field school from the Geography Department, used a total-station (an advanced piece of surveying equipment that uses lasers and prisms to plot three-dimensional coordinates of surveyed points) to map the topography and excavation geography of the site, the archaeology students (with participation from the rest of us: everyone doing their part, especially when large volumes of dirt had to be moved) proceeded to open 2m x 2m excavation units, and dig them down, in a controlled, scientific manner, using archaeology techniques, 10cm at a time, screening all of the dirt from their units, looking for bones or artifacts. The excavation units really turned up nothing but shattered fragments of bone, mostly spongy material, for the first three weeks.

View Southat the Wenas site, up the North trench.

During week four, everything changed. All of a sudden, starting on Tuesday of that week, all of the excavation units started to have large bone. From the fourth week on, a right humerus (possibly a mate to the original left humerus), some possible rib bone, and what might be large pieces of cranial bone, were all uncovered at the site. The finds started to be of a great enough volume that the dig, which was only originally scheduled for four weeks, has been approved for a second field season, and there is talk of third and fourth field seasons.

The last few days of the dig were spent marking the stratigraphies of the excavation units, and marrying them to the stratigraphy of the trenches.

Speaking of the significance of the dig, Bax Barton mentioned that this might be the largest scientific excavation of Pleistocene mega-fauna that has been done in the Northwest. While that may seem to be a rather focused and qualified achievement, it is some kind of contribution.

Photos, diagrams, maps, and more explanation of the results of the dig will be posted here, in a revision to this article, as they are available.

Global Earth Observing System of Systems

It must be going on a couple of years now that we have been getting e-mails at work talking about GEOSS, a new “system of systems” that will somehow greatly increase our knowledge about the Earth, but it wasn’t until just a few days ago that the real importance of the project hit me.  I got so excited about the whole thing that I wanted to write an article about it, but realized that I couldn’t really remember any of the specifics about the system from the few years of half-read e-mail.  An EPA document helped supply the facts that I haven’t really been paying attention to over the last couple of years.

GEOSS, which stands for Global Earth Observing System of Systems, is an attempt to “connect the dots” between thousands of individual pieces of technology that are gathering earth observations around the globe.  The global initiative is spearheaded by the United States, through the Group on Earth Observations, and supported by sixty countries, the European Commission and more than 40 international organizations.  NOAA’s Earth Observing System Web page, in speaking of GEOSS, asks us to “imagine a world in which we can forecast winter weather months in advance; predict where the next outbreak of malaria, SARS or West Nile virus is likely to hit; and, in the U.S. alone, reduce energy costs by about $1 billion annually.”

Of the system, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said, “Our environment knows no boundaries. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. We all cause pollution—every one of us. And working together, we can find the solutions and affect the changes needed to protect people, promote prosperity and preserve our planet,”

I don’t think I quite understood the significance of GEOSS, and I still probably don’t realize it fully, but I see GEOSS as something like the Google of Earth data.  It is the very discontinuity of data about the Earth’s systems that causes so much contention in making policy and management decisions.  We don’t know exactly how to fix the Earth’s problems when we don’t exactly know, from our fractured data, what the Earth’s problems are, or even if it really has any.  GEOSS represents an opportunity to finally get a whole snapshot of the Earth’s health. I am so excited.


I will post more about GEOSS as I know more.

Tips for Taking Field Notes

While digital cameras have helped to improve our ability to capture a site visually, photos cannot provide a record of experience.  You cannot determine the smell of a sub-alpine forest from a photo.  The feel of the wind or the temperature of a certain day cannot be conveyed with a photograph of the area.  Detailed field notes can capture observations and experiences at a site that cannot be preserved any other way.  A photograph can show what a soil profile looked like, but a detailed drawing shows what a soil profile looked like to you.  Properly written notes can give full access to feelings and observations, even years and decades after they have been forgotten.  Just as important, or even more important, is the fact the other people, who have maybe never been to the site where you took your notes, and have maybe never even heard of it, can experience the same things that you did, by reading your detailed, well written notes.

Detailed, properly written field notes can be the difference between  being able to write that report in a year or two, and not.  They can be the difference between proving that the bug you saw really was a silver-headed watzitcalled beetle, or not.  However, taking those detailed, properly written field notes is an art, and in this age of clipart, word-processors, and digital cameras, it seems to be something of a dieing art.  This article will present some tips that, hopefully, will help you to keep better notes.

What to Write

  • Even before leaving for the field, make of list of things that you need to look for to fulfill your purpose for going out into the field.  For a soil study, this list might include topography, parent materials, time, biota, weather, and anthropogenic impacts (the six soil forming factors).  Observations on all six of these should be necessary in a soil study, so they would all go on your pre-list.  If you are keeping a birding journal, and your purpose in going out in the field is to see birds, your list would include things that you should notice about the behavior, location, and setting of the birds you see, that you might forget to make observations about if you don’t have a list.
  • Note the time, weather conditions, location, elevation, and the people in your field party at the top of your notes.  All of these things can affect the quality and quantity of your notes.  When it is cold or wet, I take fewer notes.  When my wife and son are with me, I take fewer notes.  When I am on a steep slope, I take fewer notes.  Written comments about these things can be important later, when looking back at your notes, to help you understand the reasons for the observations that you made and the things that you wrote (or didn’t write).
  • Record your location(s) in your notes.  Exact locations are very important because they allow your observations to be replicated, and they give meaning to your observations (i.e. seeing a penguin in Africa, which is special, as opposed to Antarctica, which perhaps is not).  Use a GPS, mark your location on a map, or give directions and distances from permanent landmarks (i.e. 153 meters directly West of BM5326, etc.)
  • Write down what you see when you see it.  Don’t rely on your memory, or your digital camera (or your friend’s digital camera).
  • Include observations that are obvious to you, but might not be obvious to someone else.

When to Write

  • Observations and drawings of a specimen should be made before consulting field guides.  A thorough, accurate written description can be used to identify the specimen, and as proof of identification.
  • One idea when observing wildlife is to spend all of the time the animal is visible in observing, and then writing observations down after the animal is gone.  While there are many advantages to this method, there is also a great chance that something will be overlooked, or forgotten in the space between seeing and writing.  Sometimes scribbling while watching gives a better chance of recording all observations.
  • Spend some time when you get back from the field going over your notes.  You will be surprised at the number of things that you remember, but that you didn’t write down, and at the number of things that you thought that you wrote much clearer.  Spend some time filling in things that you missed, fixing any errors you made, and editing for understandability.

How to Write

  • When you want to record a high resolution of detail, a hierarchal outline is often much better than prose.  Sentences smoosh ideas together, often with little thought for relationship, and make them hard to find.  A hierarchal outline will keep your ideas together relationally, and will make them easier to find and understand later.  Also, outline points are often much easier and quicker to write out than long sentences.
  • Leave extra room in your notes between points.  When you come back to your notes when you are back from the field (see the point above under “When to Write”), it can be very helpful to have space to add all of the things that you remember, but that never got written down.

Drawings and Figures

  • Use drawings and diagrams as much as you can.
  • Draw at least one overhead map, and make a profile sketch of your site, even if you have topographic maps and air photos.  Maps and air photos generally show only a very course resolution.  Hand-drawn maps can often be drawn at a larger scale, with a much finer resolution.  Use mapping tools such as a pocket transect and measuring tape, if you have them.
  • Can’t draw?  Don’t worry, neither can anyone else.  The key is to draw what you see, and not what you would like to see.  Practice is very important.  Don’t just practice drawing, though.  You must practice drawing what you see.
  • A good way to start practicing drawing what you see is to copy pictures out of a field guide.  Trace if you have to.  It may feel like cheating, but if it helps you to get a feel for the relative shapes and sizes you are looking for, it certainly seems worth it.  Pay attention to detail.  Copying out of field guides not only gives you practice in drawing what you see, but it gets you familiar with drawing the things that you will be looking to see, such as particular species, or landforms, or minerals.  As you get better at drawing what you see, check out the book []Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards.
  • Drawing and diagrams should be kept as simple, and easy to read as they can be, while still maintaining accuracy.

 Where to Find More Information

While many of these links are to birding sites (I am not a birder), and tutorials on keeping birding journals, the information in them applies pretty well to most situations in the field.


Image Credits: Creative Commons Photo uploaded to Flickr on April 26, 2008 by Dvortygirl –