Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Changes in North Korea

When I heard of Kim Jong Il's death the other day I first thought of how strange North Korea is. One report said it was a "hereditary communist" state. If that is not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. Perhaps is is more appropriate to think of it as a  paranoid, super-nationalist state.

I couldn't help but think of the all the American soldiers who fought in the Korean War and patrolled the border over the years. Both my father and father-in-law fought in the war. No one was ever the same after that. While I am happy that South Korea is free, it seems like unfinished business with North Korea still  in an isolated deep freeze. Perhaps they will thaw out some day.

Monday, December 05, 2011


I am listening to the latest Tinariwen CD, Tassili. It's great. I saw the band last week on the Colbert Report. It's a very mellow sound. When I lived in Burkina Faso we used to see Tuaregs begging in the streets of Ouagadougou. They had been forced to leave the desert because of the drought. I'm glad to see some of their culture!

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Return to A Space Odyssey

I finished rereading 2001 and 2010 A Space Odyssey after many years on my Nook. I guess it's appropriate to read it on an ereader. I always enjoy Clarke's optimistic view of the future. There are no true villains. The characters struggle, but reason through problems. It doesn't mean they will be happy, just that they will do the best that they can.
I did prefer 2010 the book over the movie. The movie introduced a silly USA vs USSR controversey at one point, where the two crews separate. It was never very believable. Here the unknown schemes of the advanced beings bring the true unknown mystery.
I like how HAL was redeemed in 2010. It was fitting that Bowman chose him to accompany him before the Discovery was burned up.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Chopping Wood

Today I helped out with the Forestry Club/Woodsmen's Team cutting wood. We went up to the Watershed to split oak pieces with mauls. I haven't done that in years and years! I am feeling the effects of all that work. I really need to get in shape.
Later, we cut other oak logs by campus with a hydraulic splitter. It's much easier than a maul, but less satisfying. It's still not easy, though!
All in all, I'm glad that I don't rely on wood for fuel. I am happy with oil.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

A Close CAll


This morning our dog Gus found an old packet of rat poison. By the time my wife found him he had ripped open and spread it all over the couch. We had no idea how much, if any, he ate.
The vet said we should make him vomit by giving him two teaspoons of salt. After he was done we took him to see the veteranirian.

They ended up giving him an antidote shot. We have pills to give him over the next few days. I personally don't think he ate any. But we are covered in case.
It just shows that amyuthing can happen.

Dogs are worse than children in some ways. They never grow up!

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Thursday, December 01, 2011

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day. The news I have heard is really mixed. There are new medical advances, but the funding is limited during the economic downturn.
I remember the first World Aids Day back in 1988. I was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I was coming home from a short visit for the University of Maine. There was a possibility of getting involved in a development project, that never panned out. I had seen a few articles on Aids in Ouaga throughout Burkina. Sitting across from me on the flight was an American doctor, who had lived next to us when we lived in Bobo Dioulasso. He was there as an epidemiologist for USAID, studying Aids. He told me that the disease was much more widespread than anyone thought. That was an understatement! It's good that there are so many anti-virals available. And soon we may see the end of this terrible disease.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People


As someone who worked in foreign aid in Africa in the 1980's I was eager to reader Peter Van Buren's memoir of his time in Iraq, We Meant Well. Although there was neither so much money to spend in Africa nor the political push to spend it quickly, the same American mentality of not really understanding the local culture held true. It takes years to even begun to understand another culture, time that the American system of government and administration doesn't allow. 

I was sorry to hear that Van Buren has been disciplined by the State Department, but I wasn't surprised. No organization wants to see the inside story, warts and all, aired for the world. This is a highly readable book. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who thinks the US should do another military intervention.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Daily Nightly - What happens when a 1,500-year-old tree falls?

The Daily Nightly - What happens when a 1,500-year-old tree falls?:

'via Blog this'

When I visited the parks with redwoods I noticed that fallen trees were very common! In some of the parks, California State Parks, they tended to leave the trees. But they did cut the dangerous branches and built trails around them. The downed tree is part of the scenery. There really shouldn't be any controversy at all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

In the forest

P1110835 by P_Linehan
P1110835, a photo by P_Linehan on Flickr.
You never know what you will find in the forest. Last week I found these two signs on the same tree in the Michaux.

Here's a closeup of the ATTENTION Sign.

We did hear the gunshots of the military reenactors. But we never saw them, fortunately.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

When New Technologies Become Ordinary

I still get excited about using a GPS in the field. Whether to record a waypoint or navigate to a point, I am still amazed that we can do this. I grew up using paper maps and a compass to navigate in the field. 

For those who have grown up when there was always GPS, it is only normal that they take it for granted. A few days ago, at the start of one of my forestry classes, I was quizzing the students on the UTM coordinate system. I asked if any of the students had used GPS over the summer. Two of the students did, but they never bothered to read the coordinates they were following. Instead they just followed the blue dots. Someone else programmed the coordinates into their GPS receivers. 

Good practice calls for users to know what they are doing, what coordinates they are following. It's good to have a system that is so reliable that we can take it for granted. Yet it is not that good yet, even if it seems so.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Fall of the Qaddafi Regime

Watching the events in Libya and the rapid fall of Muammar Qaddafi, I keep remembering the situation in Burkina Faso back in 1983/84. The coup of Blaise Campaore and Thomas Sankara had a very strong African nationalist, anti-colonial feel. Their revolution was strongly supported by the Libyan strongman, who even back then was known for his radical tendencies. At one point there were rumors that after curfew, cargo planes were flying in from Libya loaded with weapons, at the Ouagadougou airport.
The weapon of choice of the Burkinabe government was the Kalishnikov, with many presumably coming from Libya. The guns were handed out like seemingly like candy. Within a few years they were collecting back the guns, as they proved to be too dangerous to leave around!
Imagine how many other countries were harmed by the Libyan interference over the years. It' time for the Great Instigator to leave the stage.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Changing Textbook Scene

The switch to digital textbooks is happening much faster now. I was checking on the GIS text that I use in my spring class. The author, Paul Bolstad, is now offering an ebook edition of his GIS Fundamentals book. It's offered at a significant discount to the printed, which isn't that expensive as far as books go. Click here to see the book's page.

My alumni magazine from the University of Maine had an article about two professors (sociology and german) who are writing books for flat world knowledge. Students can read the book for free online, buy chapters in pdf, or buy the whole book in a print on demand format.

I'm still not totally on board with ebooks, especially for something like a textbook. But if digital screens get better I can see that they will become the default means for publishing. This will certainly be true if traditional publishers keep jacking up the price by the usual means!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Robin Babies Update

P1110307 by P_Linehan
P1110307, a photo by P_Linehan on Flickr.
On July 4th, I noticed the babies had stuck out their heads. If we walk under the nest and the mother flees, the babies freeze in position sticking their heads out.

And here they are resting the night before.

The Last Shuttle Flight

The last shuttle launch has been on all the news stories today. Many of the stories have been nostalgic about the shuttle program. Others interviewed people who had come to see the launch. One talked about the economic impact of all the discoveries made through the shuttle missions.

I remember how it was originally sold as a space truck that was supposed to go up regularly with minimum maintenance. The difficulties of the system proved to be be much more difficult than anyone expected.

I wonder if our society will every invest the resources to do a massive project like this again. There has been talk about a private sector rocket, but what company would every put so many resources into such a risky project?

This evening one of the crazier radio talk show hosts ( I won't mention his name.) claimed that the end of the shuttle program was a plot by President Obama and his allies to subvert the U.S.A.'s space dominance. Renting space on the Russian Soyuz until there is another American rocket is just proof of the plan! Of course, the military is continuing with its own space program.

I just hope that our future includes more space exploits!

I got the photo from NASA, which I assume means it is legal to post here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Robin's Nest

P1110244 by P_Linehan
P1110244, a photo by P_Linehan on Flickr.
The second group of eggs has been laid in this nest in the eaves of my terrace.

Here are the three remaining eggs. We found another one fallen on the ground near the nest.

Following a bird's nest.

While pruning this tree we noticed a bird's nest inside. When you think of it, this is an ideal place to put a nest. We stopped doing the pruning so as not to disturb the nestlings inside.

P1110162 by P_Linehan
P1110162, a photo by P_Linehan on Flickr.

Here is a look at the babies on June 8.

And on June 19. They have grown quite a bit. I want to get a picture of the parents at some point.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

I just finished rereading Robert Heinlein's masterpiece Stranger in a Strange Land. I haven't read it since high school. I hadn't even thought of it in years. I think the story has held up very well. There are some anachronisms that ring strange today. The curmudgeon, Jubal Harshaw, seems to treat his secretaries with 1950's condescension. But in the end we learn that he really loves and respects them.
Heinlein has a reputation as a libertarian. I expected more anti-government diatribes. There are some there. But compared to today's conservatives, he is respectful of government and politicians. After forcing the leader of the Federation to accept Michael, the man from Mars, he asks him to take control to manage Mike's immense fortune.
Of course, no one has really enacted the free love family relationship of the book. Yet, the message of tolerance and respect for people and the differences between people is so strong. This book has had a really important influence in my life, especially in the way I understand religion. It's an important aspect of human life and understanding, even though not factually correct and prone to exaggeration. We can only try to grok the universe and wait patiently. 
I was surprised to learn that there is a full-length original version that was published by Heinlein's widow. I want to get that now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Senegal tour highlights soil conservation and reforestation problems.

SudOnLine - Le Portail de Sud Quotidien SENEGAL | La problématique de l'eau et du reboisement au cœur du Débat

This article describes a tour of international experts around the Thies and Kaolack regions of Senegal to talk with local farmers about soil conservation and reforestation. Led by the Senegal Eaux et Forets, there were forestry experts from Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Tunisia, and the USA. Curiously, the article didn't give any names.

I have been on and even led many such tours during my time in Africa, including this area. I wonder where they went to eat afterward?

It seems that not much as changed in the nearly 25 years since I worked there. They were talking about spreading peanut shells over soils degraded by salt encroachment. But the village had treated only 290 of 1850 hectares affected. I wonder how much time it took to do this?

At least it was encouraging that people seemed to know what the problem was and how to go about fixing it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Digital Archaeology

Today is the first time I ever heard the term "digital archaeology". I was listening to a podcast of On the Media. The reporter was visiting a museum exhibit where old computers had been loaded with original versions of various web pages. Even thought the web is only twenty years old, it changes so fast that time is accelerated. Can we save it all? Should we save it all? We'll have to see what happens. I know that this isn't the last we shall hear of this term. Here is a link to the story

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Fill your bird feeder.

We hadn't filled the bird feeders in several weeks. After providing a new supply of sunflower seeds, these baby cardinals came to sampel the menu.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Baby Robins Fly Away

I had been noticing this robin's nest at the edge of our terrace. The mother was coming to feed the babies quite often. I didn't see them poke out until Saturday.

This may be the mother foraging on our lawn.

Yesterday, one of the babies flew away. I didn't have my camera nearby to see it try its first flight. Here is the second baby, before it, too, flew away.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

South Mountain Speakers - Conserving Treasured Landscapes in the Chesapeake

Last night I attended the South Mountain Speakers event in Getttysburg on the Chesapeaker Landscape Initiative by Jonathan Doherty of the National Park Service. Lo and behold, I found the presentation on Slideshare! It was a very well crafted PowerPoint, with some beautiful images and transformations. Chesapeake Landscape Initiative
View more presentations from Choose Clean Water
As for the NPS program, it is an advisory effort to help states and local communities in the Watershed conserve their important faces. Although there are goals, such as increasing public access to waterfronts, there are few federal funds available. Those will depend on Congressional action.

There are plans to create an online, interactive map of conserved areas in the Chesapeake Watershed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sharing Skydrive Files

I am looking for ways to share content in files, mostly for my classes. Here is an embedded One Note file.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I have been hearing on the news that this is the 25th anniversary of the infamous Chernobyl disaster. At the time we were living in Senegal and heard all the news through the BBC World Service. It was all on the radio. Our only pictures of the disaster came from news magazines, no TV.
A few months after the accident we started to notice frozen turkey wings going on sale in the market and grocery stores all over Dakar. They were also available in Dakar. When I saw some of the boxes I noticed that they were from North Carolina. They were certainly a good deal. An American turkey wing could be as big as a normal African chicken's whole leg.  I remembered buying them quite often.
I didn't realize, thought, that the Senegalese were mystified by this item for sale. In Africa, pretty much all poultry is bought live and whole. Even the well off people buy whole birds, even the already slaughtered ones, in the grocery stores. Selling parts, like we do in the USA, is almost unheard of. 
At one point, a friend I worked with, asked me if there was anything wrong  with the turkey wings. He said that there was a rumor going around that they came from Chernobyl! Maybe people thought they were all that was left. It took me a while to explain that in America, agriculture was industrialized and that it was very common to buy poultry parts. He understood, although I got the idea that he still thought we were crazy in America. You can never underestimate the power of cultural differences!

Spring Color

These tulips in the Mont Alto 9/11 Memorial Garden were are real standout, today! I guess all those rainy days paid off.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Buds coming out.

This past week has been unseasonably cold. We even had some snow! But now the buds of the plants around the yard are ready to burst out.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blackbirds at dusk


Blackbirds at dusk, a set on Flickr.

Every evening I hear these birds squawking as they all come to perch in the oak trees up the hill. It's a little like Hichcock's The Birds

Gold Finches

Originally uploaded by P_Linehan.

The gold finches really enjoyed the thistle from the feeder this morning. Several nonbreeding adults also came by. Below is my favorite image. It's hard to get both birds to look at the camera!


See the rest of the pictures here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

iPad test

I am testing an iPAD 1. It took some getting used to since I am not familiar with the operating system. It does work pretty well with a keyboard. I think I am so used to using a keyboard that typing on the screen seems weird! I will be taking this to a meeting tomorrow to take notes. It should certainly last longer than a laptop, as far as batteries go.

I do really like the graphics and the sound. More to follow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flowers in a Tire

I don't remember planting any flowers in this tire. Maybe we did?

We planted these shrubs last summer. this particular one was a replacement that went in late in the season. I hope they make it this spring!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Flowers

As the days are getting warmer the flowers around the house have started to bloom. The previous owners had beds of bulbs everywhere. We have been trying to rein them in, but they seem to be spreading even more. So here are some pictures as they evolve. These pictures are from today, 3/22.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Russian Journal

A few weeks ago I heard about a writer who tried to trace the route that Steinbeck traveled for his Travels with Charley. I never read Travels with Charley, aside from an excerpt that was in a high school literature book. But the new book made me think of another Steinbeck book I had read, A Russian Journal. I decided to reread the book that I fortunately found in our library. 

It's a short book, detailing Steinbeck's trip to Russia with photographer Robert Capa in 1948. Their goal was to get to meet ordinary Russian people, just as the cold war was getting underway. This was a time when Russia was very much closed off from the world at the height of Stalin's rule. In addition to Moscow, Steinbeck and Capa visited Kiev, farms in the Ukraine, and several cities and farms in Georgia. They also participated in the 800 year anniversary of the founding of Moscow.

The book has no political commentary on the differences between the USA and Russia, apart from humorous descriptions on dealing with Russia bureaucracy. Instead, we are shown how the Russian people were trying to recovery form the devastation of WWII. The description of the Ukrainian women dancing together after a hard day working on the farm because there were no young men, was particularly poignant. The book really the lives of the people. Steinbeck acknowledges that he didn't see the prison camps or the sensitive areas. Instead he excels in his sympathetic descriptions of the people he met.

This was the era where heavy drinking seemed to be expected, especially among the expatriate journalist community. Those were the days! Reading this book makes me want to go back to reread the Steinbeck classics.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Guinea Bankrupt?

I just read this article from the BBC. President Alpha Conde says that the military junta that has ruled the past two years bankrupted the country. When I visited Guinea at the end of 2006 I couldn't believe how poor and mismanaged the country was. Yet Guinea has enough mineral resources that everyone in the country should be well off. I really hope this new democratic regime can fix things!

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Any Human Heart

I really enjoyed the first night of Any Human Heart on Masterpiece. It was a little disconcerting at first when the show switched to different times in Logan's life. I did get used to it as the story went on. Logan is remarkably selfish. I wonder if he will develop as a person by the end. I am thinking about getting the original book by William Boyd. Maybe after this is over.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New Deicer

I put in a new deicer for the koi pond. It's a 300 watt model in the shape of a rock. (I got it from Foster and Smith Aquatics, who were running a sale. They had great service, too.) When our old flat one stopped working, I put in the 1250 watt one for a while, but I was afraid it would use too much power over the long run. With the ice and rain storms we've had it also warmed up enought to melt all the ice. The fish like to line up like this for some reason.
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