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October 31, 2012

Chrissy & I visit Rio

Cobacabana 

Chrissy and I are in Rio.  We went here from São Paulo.  It was Chrissy’s first time in São Paulo and her first time in Rio for more than twenty-five years. We got to stay at Marriott.  The above picture is taken from the roof. The first time we came here in 1985, we stayed at the Debret Hotel. To my surprise, it is still here, as you can see below.

Debret Hotel in Rio 

Rio is looking good. Chrissy and I went to the botanical gardens. The pictures below are from there.

Palm row at botanical gardens 

Above is the palm arcade and below is the interesting root system.  Tropical plants in moist soils produce these buttressed roots to prop themselves up.

Tree roots 

botanical garden in Rio 

October 30, 2012

Internships for Science w/o Borders

AmCham pannel 

I spoke at an AmCham sponsored meeting in São Paulo that brought together American firms in order to talk about connecting internships at their firms with Science w/o Borders students.  Also on the panel were Jorge Guimarães from CAPES, Glaucius Olivia from CNPq, Allen Goodman from IIE, Nelson Fujimoto from MDIC & Luiz Loureiro from Fulbright.  

The representatives of the firms (around sixty were there) seemed interested in the internship possibilities. The idea is that they get to test drive the best and the brightest while they are in the U.S. and then they can use them when they come back to Brazil.  In talking to them after the meeting, I learned that the major challenges will be logistics and communication.  They have some communications/coordination disconnections between U.S. headquarters and their Brazilian operations.  Even when everybody agrees, things don’t always work perfectly.  But the goodwill was there.

Glaucius discussed the successes already manifest in the program.  He mentioned the good results of going overseas to learn a generation ago in relation to aerospace, oil & gas and agriculture.  He also shared a recently developed program that plots each of the SwB participants on Google Earth.  When you click on the point, you are shown information about the student, including resume and interests.  This should greatly facilitate the placement of interns, as firms can rapidly identify potential candidates and find contact information.

October 28, 2012

Knowing you’re doing the right thing in your forest

CP forest on road 

We are talking about third party certification.  This means that all aspects of the forestry operation are evaluated by an objective third party, i.e. not forest owners or those interested in buying the timber.  It works like an audit of a business’ accounts and activities. It is done by a trustworthy independent firm or individual who is trained to know what he/she is looking for. The certifiers make judgments based on specific criteria.  In the case of a business they are assessing financial health.  Are the practices of management honest and effective?  Will the business have a reasonable chance of surviving and thriving?   Passing the audit doesn’t automatically prove that everything is great, but it gives everyone a reasonable basis on which to judge and make decisions.  An audit does indeed help to catch people who are cheating, but its better purpose is to give owners and managers the information and tools they need to improve performance.  Forest certification has many of the same purposes.


Me and my pinesResponsible forest owners want to make a profit but only in ways that sustain and improve the health of their land and the environment around it.  That is why they embrace better methods and search for sustainable solutions.  But in this ever changing world, how can know you are doing things right?   How do you know you are doing the right things in the bigger picture?  And if you are, how will others know? Certification helps with all these things.

The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) was the world's first third party certification scheme and it has been helping forest landowners practice and perfect good forestry for more than seventy years. Tree Farm is now sponsored by the American Forest Foundation. A lot changed in all that time. ATFS’s commitment to sustainability endured but more people became interested in forest sustainability.Other certification schemes came on the scene in the 1990s. Major certifiers active in the U.S. today are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).In addition, a worldwide organization that essentially certifies the certifiers is Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). PEFC endorsed SFI in 2005.

All certification schemes have the similar goal of sustainable forestry and protecting ecosystems.  There are some differences in the ways they go about making that happen.  Among the certification schemes, ATFS is best suited to individual forest owners because it is inexpensive to get and stay certified (Tree Farm inspections are free to the landowner and usually can be completed in a day) and because it promotes goals without dictating specific actions to achieve those goals.  In other words, Tree Farm provides the flexibility that smaller, non-professional owners need.           

Ensuring wood and wood product come from sources that we know to be practicing sustainable forestry, while protecting wildlife, soil and water resources is becoming increasingly important to consumers of wood product.   It has always been important to responsible landowners.  It is probably a good thing to have a diversity of certification plans to provide choices for a variety of needs.  For me, and I think for most small operators like me, ATFS is the best way to go.  Others with different needs might make other choices.  All of us share the same goal of good forestry.  There are many good paths to this destination. 

 My picture show my first forest from SR 623. I have taken the picture from the same spot many time before. The lower picture shows me with my trees.  A few years ago, I was taller than all of them. Notice the two trees right behind me. The one on my right is older. It was a volunteer and bigger. The one on my left is planted and genetically superior.  It is now bigger and better form. 

October 27, 2012

The gift of boredom

ceremony 

I have always spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes, but never as much as now.  I travel a couple times a month and sometimes to the U.S.  Trips to the U.S. are a relatively new part of my FS life. Usually, we go somewhere and stay for a time. But my involvement with higher education has been in support for Science w/o Borders drawing me to the U.S. We brought a group of Brazilian university leaders to the U.S. in February and will bring a similar one in November. I went to Houston for an educational conference and just got back from the Harvard-Laspau meeting in Cambridge

This year, I have flown enough to become a silver medallion member on Delta.  After my next trip, I will achieve gold.  This has a couple advantages, the most important being you get to have better access to seats, especially exit rows.

curioius George shp 

It is better to get to the airport an hour before you need to rather than a minute late.  I always get to the airport way early if I can.  I don't mind sitting in the airport; in fact I like it. I can think, write, read or just sit around. It is a good time for reflection.  We do not spend enough time being by ourselves and reflecting on things. 

I also don't mind flying as much as I used to.  I think this is part of my general increase in laziness. It used to be that I could not stand to sit around for more than a few minutes. Now it doesn't bother me much. One thing that really helps is scheduling. I made a list of things I should do on the plane.  I don't really do them, but the procrastination makes the time seem to move faster. Another key is the I-pod and audio books.  That is the most important factor. I find it hard to read on planes, but it is easy to listen to the audio books.

Reading in the old fashioned way is still important.  When traveling in Brazil, I tend to read through news magazines in Portuguese that I would not usually read through if tempted by other attractions and I can buy them right in the airport. I read through the Brazilian issue of HBR. It is easy to read because many of the articles are translated from English (so they keep some of our format). Even the ones in native Portuguese are in the business article format.  The New York Times is going to publish in Portuguese soon. That will be easy and useful to read. It is much harder to read literature in a foreign language.  

I just finished a biography of Hadrian (in English). This took me four years. Yes, four years. I only read it on airplanes and then not so much.  I found four airplane tickets stuck in the book as bookmarks.  It was a good book and I learned a few things.  The total travel time (counting airports and transits) is more than 20 hours, so there is lots of time.  I will kind of miss bringing "Hadrian" along.  I rarely travel with fewer than three books, since my interest wanders.  This time, I had "Hadrian," "How to Deliver a TED Talk," and "Swerve" about the philosophy of Lucretius and how it helped form modern thought.  I read a few pages of each, enough to finish "Hadrian." Now I can move to Marcus Aurelius.

Anyway, airports are giving me a good education. It is important to be unconnected sometimes and have the gift of boredom.  It is akin to when the Marine explained to me that I had to embrace the suck.  You can easily turn liabilities into assets if you just have the right attitude.

My on top picture is a ceremony receiving the body of an American killed in action. I did not take a picture of the actual casket or the family, since I thought that was not right to intrude.  It was very sad watching.  The next picture is from what they say is the world's only Curious George shop. It is on Harvard Square and I can easily believe that it is indeed the world's only Curious George shop.

The energy world turned upside down

I continue to be amazed at how different the energy future is today than it looked only a few years ago. The U.S. could soon become a net exporter of energy and we will almost certainly be the world’s biggest oil & gas producer by 2020. There is even good environmental news in this mix. Our CO2 emissions are dropping. We are beating all those people who gave us a hard time about rejecting Kyoto and doing it with none of the pain they told us we would have to accept.

Just about nobody predicted this happy outcome. (If you claim that you did, you must be very rich by now and if you are not you are lying.) Back in 2000, experts told us that we had around 11 years of natural gas reserves if we continued to use it at the current rate. Now we have a couple centuries of the stuff. There is no such thing as peak oil or peak gas except as a theoretical construction as useful as the number of angels that can dance on a pin head. .

The energy center of gravity is moving to the Americas. I look forward to the day, not far off, when a big Middle Eastern oil producer threatens our energy supply and we tell him to go F himself. I already take pleasure in the disorder and confusion of OPEC.

Americans are lucky people. It has been said that there was a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America. Maybe so. I have found that when people are especially lucky (or unlucky) over an extended period of time, it usually has something to do with their attitudes or behaviors. This energy bonanza is a good example. Although there are plenty of naysayers even in the U.S., Americans generally embrace the progress. We are "lucky" because we are flexible and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. May this national characteristic never change.

This is an unbelievably good situation. All we need do to take advantage of this is to say "yes" and ignore the troglodytes and luddites who want to proclaim the anti-scientific "precautionary principle."

BTW - speaking of anti-scientific activities, did you hear about the pinheads in Italy who sentenced six scientists to prison terms for not predicting a deadly earthquake? You can rest assured that behavior like this makes you unlucky.

October 22, 2012

Tufts, Harvard & Boston

Harvard 

I am up in Cambridge for a meeting on graduate education and Brazil.  I did not really want to come up because I was travelling a total of around thirty hours to spend about twenty waking hours on the ground here. But I thought the seminar would be worth it given our commitment to help our Brazilian friends.  It has also been worth it for the glorious fall day I got to experience today.

Cambridge Street 

I walked up to Harvard Square and then up to Tufts.  It gave me a lot of time to think and enjoy the weather. I walked to the top of the hill at Tufts and just sat there facing the warm autumn sun.  This is the same place I sat nine years ago when I was assigned to Fletcher as State Department Fellow.  I wrote in my diary that I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have a job that put me in a place like this. Same thing goes today. I closed my eyes and felt the cool but still pleasant breeze carrying the subtle smells of fall.

Tufts 

This place feels like home.  It even smells like home. I did not live here very long, but the environment is much like Wisconsin. The smells are familiar.  Sense of smell is a persistent memory. I mentioned the fall smell that comes from the falling leaves.  Another familiar smell comes from the white pines.  There is a “pine smell” but species are different.  The white pine is distinctive from the loblolly I enjoy in Virginia.  My favorite pine smell remains the Ponderosa pine.  If you were blindfolded and dropped down in a pine forest, I believe you could tell which kind of pine forest you were in just by the smell.  Actually, I don’t think I could identify other sorts of pines, only those three.

Foo beer 

Anyway, tomorrow I am busy.  I have a talk at Fletcher School and then the Laspau Harvard meeting.   I plan to walk from my hotel up to Tufts and then back to Harvard.  It is a long walk; I figure about an hour and a half, but a joy the whole way.

yeching Chinese 

My pictures show Harvard and Tufts and environs.  The last two are just funny names. The top is just the result of age. We have "Foo beer".  The bottom, IMO, is an unfortunate name for food: Yenching just doesn't sound good. 

October 21, 2012

New media: scouts v quants

Charles River from Cambridge Courtyard Inn 

A few years ago there was a big conflict in baseball between the scouts and the quants, or maybe you could call it the jocks v he nerds.  The dispute was whether the scouts, with their years of judgment and powers of observation could pick better players than the quants, who had developed complex programs based on statistics.  Baseball is probably the most statistical rich sport. Presumably, if you could harness all the power of the numbers, machines could better predict the trajectory of any player than could a human.  Somebody even wrote a book about that called “Moneyball” which extolled the virtues of the numbers. I didn’t read that book and I am not much of a sports fan, so I know only what I read in other places and I am interested in this only as an illustration of the larger issue of forecasting. Evidently the war between the scouts and the quants is over and both sides won.  

So what does this show?  The source I read about this concluded that both were useful and that numbers are made meaningful by human judgment while human judgment is improved by numbers.  While I think that is definitely true, I also think there is the element of time. The older generation of scouts had to adapt. Actually, many probably just died out. The conflict became meaningless as everybody started to use the quants as the tool it was.  Ironically, after digesting the quants, human judgment became even more important, informed as it was by the quants which took some of the randomness out and maybe a little of the insider game.  Information became available to all, or at least to most, and those who could best use it did better. This is the bigger story.  

I think we have gone through a similar evolution concerning new media at State.  I will be immodest to claim that I got there before many others. I paid for that, as I was seen as an apostate to the new media, or more likely just thought too old and staid to really understand. But when I was last in Washington to take part in a new media strategy session, I found the environment much more accommodating to my ancient ways.  

Our war between the scouts and the quants is also over and both sides have won. There still will be skirmishes, as the latest new technology will promise to change everything, but I think we have reached equilibrium.  The new media/social media is an essential tool of all public affairs, but it is just ONE tool and it is not the objective in itself.  The object is as it was and always will be: to reach human beings and help them change their minds. Some strategies will lean heavily on social media; others not so much.  

We just had an interesting situation with social media. Because of an extended strike at the Federal Universities in Brazil, summer vacation dwindled to a few weeks. Because of this, students who had planned to go to the U.S. to work at places like Disney were unable to go. The unhappy kids set up a Facebook page where they framed the issue as a visa denial problem.  Indeed, we could not issue summer work visas, since there was no summer vacation to work.  But the impediment was not our visas; it was the vacations, or lack thereof. The issue leaked into the newspapers and television.  It was very unpleasant.  

In the old days, we would have crafted a press strategy to get our narrative into the press. The problem was that our best narrative still looked bad.  The bottom line is that kids cannot go.  Their dreams are put on hold.   There is no scenario where we are better off.  If you cannot win, don’t play.  New media made this possible.  The number of aggrieved kids was small and most of them were on social media. We engaged them directly.  We could not offer them any solutions, but we could listen to their complaints and explain the situation, our narrative, yes, but precisely targeted. Our goal was to make the story as banal as possible, so that no media outlet would care to cover it.  Our strategy worked. The kids involved lost interest in making trouble, since they understood that the situation was what it was.  We told them that they could apply next year, which is true although not immediately useful.    

Social media allowed us to precisely address the people who really cared without irritating a much larger community. I would liken it to those new surgical techniques that can get at the problem with minimal invasiveness.

Of course, we could only do this because we had already developed and deployed our social media acumen, but I think we can call this a success story for social media and the principle of limited appropriate response.  

It is generally true in public affairs that any story that comes looking for you will be bad.  Good stories are the ones we have to go out and push.   If a story comes to you, it usually implies defense.  We used to have to take these lemons and try to make poor quality lemonade out of them. We sometimes could stop them by our own engagement with journalists, but usually not if they were interesting. Social media allows us to get at the source of the problem.  Our challenge remains identifying the true source but this is a step forward.  

Maybe I am not as much as an apostate as I let on.  

My picture is the Charles River from the Courtyard Inn in Cambridge. I am here to attend a Harvard seminar on getting more Brazilian students to the U.S. for advanced degree, one of the best public affairs programs possible. 

October 15, 2012

The (semi) drunkard's walk

I make no secret of the fact that I enjoy a drink sometimes.  Of course you need to strike the balance between a little lubrication and inebriation.  But I have found one of the more pleasant parts of the process is the walk home.  It gives you time to think and to wear off a bit of the alcohol.

I have some good memories of this going back to college days in Stephens Point.  I recall walking back to the dorms from a place called the Maple Leaf in the Wisconsin winter air with the cold air you could taste.  I recall doing the same in the hot and humid summers.  It is a joy that most people don’t experience, since they drive back (very dangerous) or are driven.  But the short walk between drinking or even a big meal, putting your feet on the ground, is really a joy.

I had two drinks, not enough to get drunk but enough that I should not drive home, so I had a nice experience walking back from a restaurant near the bridge to my house. It takes about twenty minutes, which is just about the perfect amount of time. Of course, I am lucky to live in an area that has not much crime, so I feel safe.  I suppose it would be unpleasant if I had to look over my shoulder constantly.  Anyway, you get that peaceful easy feeling, extenuated in my case by my I-Pod with old Eagles music with the same title. 

October 09, 2012

Washington Updates

Washington Monument 

It is good to be home, even if only for a short time. Washington area is both unchanging and protean. The Mall stays very similar, although with lots of changes on the margins. The Capitol and the Washington Monument provide the anchors with Lincoln and Jefferson a little outside.  I have taken and posted dozens of pictures of the monuments. They are always impressive. You can see below that they are still working on the reflecting pool. I hear that they are washing off the algae.

Lincoln Monument 

Nearer to home, they are building all sorts of things. The area around Dunn Loring Metro will be developed.  They are starting with the parking, as you can see in the picture. They already have some of the town center finished.  There is a Target down the street which will open next month. Below is a new area of shops across the street from our house. Chrissy & I had lunch at a place called the "Lost Dog".  They serve hundreds of kinds of beer.

New shops near the Metro 

Down the street, that is an interesting phrase.  There is currently not much of a street to go down.  Gallows Road is mostly closed.  You can see the progress. This will be a really wide road.  There is supposed to be a median strip, so that you can run from one side to the other with some hope of surviving the adventure.

Construction on Gallows Road 

Most of my meetings were down in FSI. I am very fond of FSI; it is much like a college campus and the walk from the Balston Metro is usually pleasant, lots of big oak trees, takes about twenty minutes. I did get stuck in some really heavy rain one day, however, as you can see in the picture nearby.  I wasn’t properly prepared for this. I didn’t bring my GoreTex coat.  Being down in Brasília with the pleasant and predictable weather has made me complacent.

Rain at Balston 

Below is the parking setting up at Dunn Loring

Dunn Loring Parking 

October 08, 2012

Mariza’s Dance Endeavour

Mariza dance group 

We attended Mariza’s dance show last night.  She did a good job organizing it and seems to have about broken even, which is a great result for this kind of event.  It was hard for me to get good pictures because of the lighting and the quick movements. 

Mariza and her group 

October 07, 2012

Food plots

New Forest food plot 

Wildlife needs edge communities, places where different biomes meet, where resources are varied.  There are several natural places to put food plots. One is under any transmission wires that cross your property. You cannot use this land for much of anything anyway, so it provides a good, long narrow wildlife area. Other natural areas for food plots are landing zones.

Freeman food plot 

Landing zones are where loggers set up equipment to stack and process harvested timber.  There is not much sense in planting them in trees, since subsequent harvests will squash them.  But you don't want to just neglect them. Because of the soil compression of the heavy machines, plants will not easily regenerate on them naturally. You need to break up the hard surfaces and plant in some wildlife plots.

The additional advantage is that the landing zones are spread out in the forest. They provide little islands of food and variety within the forest. 

CP food plot 

Food plots play out over time. You have to replant them every 3-5 years. I am lucky in that the guys at the hunt club do that on my land. They study this.  I get the magazine that has different studies and possibilities. But each site is special.  It is an art and not a science.  The hunt clubs and I have common interests. They like to make the food plots to improve wildlife. I agree. They also seem just like the joy of doing it and I am happy to have them "play" with my land.  One of the guys helped his granddaughter plan a food plot on our CP land. She won some kind of 4H project.

My pictures show the food plots ready to be planted or in growth. The top shows the plot on our new property. I have not yet though up a name for this place, so I am just calling it new forest. The trees are twenty-eight years old. Below that is the plot under the wires on the Freeman place. That food plot was planted last spring. The trees in the background are sixteen years old. The bottom is CP, our "original" land. Those trees are nine years old. All the stands look pretty good.

Our forests in Virginia, mine included, are not very intensive. Notice all the stuff growing under and among the trees, weeds. But the weeds are what the animals eat. They are better for the environment. I have seen much "better" managed forests, where the trees are planted closer and there is much more production per acre.  I am happy to leave some space on my land for the diversity of nature. The only thing I worry about is that our business model will not be competitive. People more clever than us will figure out ways to make things more efficient.  It would take away much of the joy of forestry for me. I like the easy management, less control.

That is one reason I think we have to maintain other values. One of the most important is hunting. W/o the hunt clubs, I could not mange the way I do. The hunters are really the stewards of the rural environment. I am glad they are there and that I got to know them. 

October 06, 2012

Webs

Me and trees on New ForestsThere seem to be lots of spiders around here.  Maybe it’s just spider season. I don’t know. They throw their webs across the trails at about face height. You usually don’t see them, but you walk into them and get the threads in your mouth. It is not pleasant, although I suppose ruining all that work impacts the spider more than the walker.

We are down here to look at the farms and especially to look at the new one. Everything is looking good. The trees look healthy and have put on good growth this year. Usually it is not so long between visits, so I am seeing a little more growth than usual.

There is an interesting change in the streams on the CP place. As the trees get bigger, they suck up more of the water that falls on the land, so it doesn’t run off so quickly. Some of my formerly full stream beds are now just wet, even with the extensive rain we had here in the last couple of months. There is still water pooled up in some places, so it is not a general dryness.  I like one particular place where I sit under some really big beech trees. This place now has a spring, where it used to have a surface stream.  The water evidently follows the stream bed underground and then if forced to the surface by some really big rock formations.  It flows down the rocks.  Very nice.

New forest trees 

The new farm is 137 acres just north of Hwy 58.  It is good land with around 100 acres of twenty-eight year old loblolly, another maybe twenty acres in five year old and the rest in mixed hardwood SMZ. There is relatively little SMZ, so a more generally useable land.   We could harvest the pines at any time, but we would ideally do this in about five years. I want to be around to watch the harvest and the replanting, so maybe after I retire would be a good time. That is not that long away now.

Me and the CP pine trees 

I probably have to modify my planning to account for retirement and mortality.  My forestry planning goes out to times when I will probably be dead.  The thing that is fun about forestry is the long term perspective, but you cannot manage events past your lifetime.  The other problem is just getting around. Yesterday I was climbing around over rocks and streams. I was getting tired. I take good physical condition for granted.  How much longer can I do this?

I talked to Larry Walker who runs the hunt club and works in local forestry.  He told me that the market for pulp and timber has improved a lot recently, especially over the last month.  I don’t know if this is a leading economic indicator, but it is local good news. 

Another piece of good news is that Dominion Power will begin using wood chip biomass to replace coal in its power stations in Altavista, Hopewell, and Southampton coal-fired power stations. Wood chips are a completely renewable resource & carbon neutral, i.e. they soak up as much CO2 as they produce when burned. This move will also provide a market for slash and other forestry byproducts and steady the market prices for pulp wood.  It makes sense to burn biomass in a place that produces so much of it.  This is the fundamental principle of energy. You should use what works best in the local conditions.   There is no single solution.

Sycamores on CP 

The two top pictures show our new land.  I am standing near the trees to give perspective. Below that is my usual corner on the CP property. The bottom picture are my sycamores along the road. I have been thinning them into a kind of colonnade.  I am vaguely allergic to sycamore. If I do a lot of work cutting branches etc, I cough and sneeze.  So I can do it only a little while before I need to take a breathing break.  Sycamores have a distinctive smell, which I suppose it the same thing that causes me trouble.


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