Category Archives: Observations

Looking for a Book Now Means Choosing the Right Medium

What is a book?

I have lately seen publicity for the new movie, Far From the Madding Crowd, based, of course, on the book by Thomas Hardy. I thought it would be fun to read it. I tried several different sources for the book and was amazed at all the options out there.

As this is an old book that is officially outside of copyright, my first step was to go to Project Gutenberg ( I downloaded the epub version, that I then opened with my Nook reader. Strangely, it didn’t have any paragraph breaks, which would make it hard to read! Some of the other versions did have paragraph breaks, though.

Once in Nook, I looked at some of the many versions of the book from different publishers. I chose a twenty page sample of the book from Open Road Publishers, that was available for purchase for $1.99. Not bad! There are many publishers that have lines of economical classic books.

Not wanting to buy a copy, I assumed it would be available in the Mont Alto Campus Library.

The library default search goes, annoyingly, to a general Google search called Lionsearch. If you want a book directly, you need to click The Cat underneath.

Searching for the book I first found a Penguin version of the book through Proquest, but it looks like it’s not the full version. It seemed to have parts of each chapter. ( ) You have to sign in to Penn State to use the link. You can export the reference information in different formats, though.

Finally, I focused the search on an actual book. I did find it in a very old physical copy of the book in the stacks. I checked it out, since it seemed appropriate to read this story in a worn paper version.


And here’s the listing, showing that it is checked out. To me.


I will say that I thoroughly looking through the stacks! It’s great seeing so many real books.

When Technology is 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.

The Invasive Onslaught

Last week’s Schatz Tree Genetics Symposium at Penn State Mont Alto concentrated on the issues of black walnut and butternut in today’s forests. Both species are threatened by invasive species. First insects, such as bark beetles, attack the trees, and are followed by various fungi. Thousand canker and butternut canker are major culprits. 

The huge increase of international trade has increased the use of wooden packaging that leads to both “treated” and untreated wood entering the country. Given the economics of the problem and the lack of political will to enforce solutions, it seems impossible to control the situation.
Researchers are continuing to look for ways to slow down the destruction and maybe even restore the species. They don’t have much funding to get things done.  
I’m not sure what will happen in the end. Perhaps there will be a world forest where only the strongest species will survive. The highly specialized species that depend on a specific niche just might not make it. We are certainly in for interesting times. 


A few days ago the Penn State classroom and lab computing group announced that they had chosen a standard clicker to us at the University Park campus. At the Commonwealth campuses, such as Mont Alto, we may or may not have the new clickers available. 

I have been wondering, thought if clickers will be a long lasting technology. Students will have to buy their own unit, which costs about $40. It can only be used for that one purpose. If I were a student I would resent being asked to buy something like this.
Also, what if you forget to bring your unit? I have heard stories of other schools where students have rebelled at the over use of clickers by jamming or otherwise sabotaging the system, They seem to have resented using the clickers to verify attendance. 
As an instructor, I can see the uses of clickers, especially in large classes. It’s a great way to get some feedback from the students.
I think at some point the clicker function will become an app for a smartphone. Or a text message to Twitter or some other social media. Most students are never separated from their phones for long! I would give the single purpose clicker only a few more years of popularity before they become obsolete!

Poet Coming to Mont Alto

We don’t have many poets come to visit at Penn State Mont Alto. We are very fortunate to have Tony Vallone visiting on Thursday, March 31. Tony is a professor of english from Penn State Mont Alto. I found some of his poems online here.

Check out the brochure for his visit. It has his bio information.

Pennsylania SFI

I attended the Keystone SAF chapter meeting last night (3/10) in Grantville at the Holiday Inn. We were in the midst of a huge rainstorm, which I am sure kept attendance down.

Nate Fice, the new director of the SFI training program in Pennsylvania gave an overview of changes in the program. In spite of recent severe budget reductions SFI seems to have a full calendar of training courses for loggers running.

The key to the program are the two core courses: Logging Safety and Environmental Logging, each eight hours long. There are also many other continuing education courses available.

According to Nate the program is making great strides in updating and making current the database of trainees. They are also standardizing the length of time a training credential can be extended with continuing education courses.

For more information on the new policies and the overall program go to the web site: The web site is looking much better these days, too. It has new features and pictures.

My Experiences with Meat in Africa

At the Franklin County Extension annual meeting last Friday the keynote speaker was Dr. Chris Raines. According to his website: Chris is the Extension Meats Specialist and is an Assistant Professor at Penn State University in the Department of Dairy & Animal Science. He researches factors that affect meat quality, and helps meat processors, large and small, national and local, with the quality and safety of the food they produce.

Chris’ talk was an eye opening exploration on the importance of the meat-processing industry and the challenges that meat processors face, while dealing with an organized, vocal opposition who wants them shut down at all costs. I highly recommend his blog: As one who works in a discipline, forestry, that is also much criticized (but not as vociferously) and misunderstood, I could really sympathize with his point of view.
The program inspired me to think back on the experience of my wife, Sheri, and I, when we were Peace Corps volunteers in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) from 1979 to 1981, and when we lived in Burkina Faso and Senegal from 1981 to 1987, working on forestry projects in international development.  In the Sahel region of Africa the diet is heavy on starches like rice and millet. Yet, meat is critical to the diet and vegetables are not readily available for much of the year. Here are a few vignettes.
In the village of Beregadougou
We spent the first part of our Peace Corps experience in this village in southwest Burkina. As in most villages, the market came to the village twice a week. Cattle for market day were slaughtered in the morning. According to custom and Islamic dietary rules, slaughter is by slitting the throat so the animal can bleed out.

With no refrigeration everything had to be sold the same day! At the meat stall we told the butcher how much meat we wanted. He would hack off pieces to weigh. The meat would be wrapped in brown paper to go in our market basket. Since most people cooked their meat in stews, no one was concerned about the cuts. The butcher would smash the bones to expose the marrow for cooking. Being picky Americans, we would take out all the bones!

Upon the recommendation of Peace Corps, most volunteers brought meat grinders with them to turn the often tough beef into hamburger. We bought chickens live. I well remember slaughtering, cleaning, and plucking our Christmas chicken.
We lived in Burkina’s second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso, when I taught at the National Forestry School in Dinderesso. A hugely popular food option was the porc-au-four, prepared in small restaurants all over town. Each day a pig would be roasted in a brick oven. By noon time it would be ready. There was nothing better than bite-sized chunks of pork seasoned with salt and hot peppers, with onions and french bread. All this was chased with the local Bravolta beer. Even Muslims were known to send their Christian relatives to buy a meal!
Raising Hogs
At one point I got the idea of raising hogs in the yard behind our house. One of my colleagues, a young Burkinabe forester, told me how his grandmother earned her living doing it. I bought a piglet form her and was soon on my way. We built a mud-brick, walled pen behind the house. The pigs ate millet-beer (dolo) mash that was left over after brewing. We also got the hulls from a neighborhood miller who ground corn and millet for local families.
At the height of the project we had four or so animals. One of the sows gave birth and we raised the piglets. They were loud, but fun to watch! Fortunately we had helpers for all the work and construction. 
When it came time to slaughter the pigs I took them to the local slaughterhouse, which had recently been rebuilt with the help of Dutch technicians. They even had a veterinarian on staff to inspect the carcasses.
We had one of the hogs roasted at a porc-au-four and  threw a big party. Everyone enjoyed the feast.
They say that with hogs you use everything but the squeak. We cured hams. I learned that the boars’ meat was very strong and it is possible to over-salt the meat. We used all the scraps to make head cheese or scrapple. Even the ears went into the mix. It made a very tasty dish.
The French Style Butcher
At one point in Bobo a local entrepreneur opened a butcher in town. All of us expatriates were thrilled to have a cleaner place to buy meat, especially if it was guaranteed clean and fresh. The butcher had been trained in France. He knew how to prepare all the cuts. We really enjoyed the roasts tied with string. He even experimented making hamburger American style. His sausage was also excellent.
The French love rabbit, which they display in the meat case with the heads and feet attached.  It took some time to get used to seeing the furry heads and feet, and skinless bodies laid out!
Buying meat in Africa, we learned to watch for freshness. In the tropics meat turns green and goes bad after a day. We learned to like our meat well done! To be honest, the meat counter at American stores seemed much too tame when we got home!

Watchung Reservation

Over Thanksgiving break I was visiting family near Summit New Jersey. After braving the Black Friday mobs for a few hours I took the opportunity to visit Watchung Reservation, a two-thousand acre park managed by Union County. Part of the park is crossed by Interstate 78.
The park has a mixture of hiking trails, horse riding trails, playgrounds, and other resources. In the late afternoon I hiked around Lake Surprise, a man-made narrow lake, about a mile long. Here are pictures of the lake, including the dam:
Follow this link for a tourist map of the park and other sources of information. I also made a map on Flickr of the lake site I visited.
From a natural resources management point of view it was fascinating to see some of the issues in this park. It gets very heavy use as it is completely surrounded by residential and commercial areas. I saw quite a few people enjoying the lake, even though it was a cold, cloudy day. There are a lot of wildlife resources. I saw swans, ducks, and canada geese in the lake. I know the area is full of deer, too.
I noticed that there are three wildlife crossings on Interstate 78 leading into the park. One of the sources I found mentioned the completion of 78 had been held up for a long time by the park until the State of New Jersey built these bridges. Apparently they haven’t been successful. It does look odd seeing a forested bridge across the highway. 
I wondered, too how the park could be maintained in these difficult economic times. New Jersey is having more financial difficulties than other states. How can the county government find the resources to maintain the park. I hope they find a way to keep this important resource going.

Cut the Adverbs

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing. One of his writing tips is to cut back on adverbs. He says that they weaken writing with unnecessary description. He says it’s better to find the right verb or to leave it up to the imagination of the reader.

Well, this morning I was listening to the local NPR station (WITF) when announcer described how the president of a local college “died unexpectedly“. I’m sure the gentleman in question wasn’t planning on dying that day. It is a commonly used expression and does provide some useful information. But it wasn’t needed to convey the fact that he died.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the craft of writing. In the first part of the book King describes important points in his life that led to his success as a writer. He grew up near my home town of Lewiston, Maine. It adds a whole new character to the description of a place and the actions that happen there when you know the place intimately. Since many of King’s novels take place in Maine, I often get that feeling. 

Find a good office software package and don’t spend an arm and a leg doing it.

Have you ever needed to finish an assignment, but you couldn’t make it to the computer lab and you didn’t have office software to finish the assignment? And Microsoft Works just won’t because your instructor doesn’t have it. There are several options you can use to get an office package and not break the bank.

Just to define terms. An office package consists, at a minimum, of a word processor or editor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation package. Sometimes it will have a database manager, a web editor, and other programs.


Microsoft Office is the current standard. Office includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and some auxiliary software. It is used almost universally. But it can be expensive. If you buy a new computer you may have a trial license. Be careful. It can be expensive.

As a student you are eligible for a reduced cost student package. Check out Staples or another office store. Sometimes it is even offered on sale. Anyway, the student package is a substantial discount from full costs. You can also check the Penn State computer store to see what deals they have to offer.

One more thing, a new version of Office (2010) will soon replace Office 2007. It is rumored to have greater online capabilities.

ooo-main-logo-col_200px.gifWhat about a free office package? Open Office is what you may need. It has everything you need to complete your assignments. Although the Open Office programs have their own native formats, they can save documents in the Microsoft Office components’ formats. If you want to try it before downloading you can use Open Office in the computer labs. I think I will include a few Open Office assignments in next year’s FORT 120 class.


If you don’t want to download a huge file to your computer you can use Google Docs. All you need is a Gmail or Google account. Google Docs works in your browser. All the files (documents, spreadsheets, or presentations) stay in the clouds on Google’s servers. This way you can work on your assignments on any computer that is connected to the internet. You can download the files in a number of formats. When it comes time to submitting your work all you need to do is publish the file and send a link to the instructor. For team projects you can have multiple people work on the same project. There is also a big library of special gadgets, or small programs, that can be inserted in your documents. At first you may be concerned about leaving your work out there. I have been using Google Docs for the past three years and haven’t lost anything yet.

Google has a blog aimed at students that does show examples of real college students using Google Docs for their assignments. To be fair, Microsoft has been running many ads recently about its cloud computing options. Although everything I have seen so far is aimed at businesses, they may create something aimed at college students. Another good online package is Zoho. Its free version has a great interface and more tools than Google Docs. It’s well worth a look.

Whatever solution you choose, plan ahead, and don’t panic!