Archive for the ‘My Two Cents’ Category


Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Yesterday in this blog, I used the term, “bunch of complete fools or congressmen.” I’m sorry. It was an inappropriate slur to compare the two. Complete fools, please accept my apology. The shutdown continues.

Happy New (Fiscal) Year!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

If you’re a US Government worker, I assume you’re at home reading this on your private computer. I’m not going to rant on this subject, much as I’d like to. Instead, I’ll tell a story of the last shutdown.

17 years ago, I was one of the few designated “essential” USGS employees at Headquarters in Reston. My duties? Monitor the (then) new real-time streamflow data service. Real-time streamflow data was considered a life-critical function, to help warn against things like floods. Real-time stream gages and websites are highly automated, but won’t run unattended indefinitely.

Every morning, I’d come to HQ, the guard would check my name on a list, and I’d go up to my office. I’d sit at my terminal and check the websites of all USGS Districts — each ran its own real-time service then — to see what was running and what was not. Then, Chief Hydrologist Bob Hirsch and I would decide which systems, if any, needed to have us call someone in to repair them.

The shut-down John Wesley Powell Building, a 2500-person facility, was surreal, quieter even than on a normal weekend. I compared it to being on a huge but abandoned ocean liner, with long, dark hallways punctuated by the rare office lights of an “essential” worker. Strictly speaking, we weren’t allowed to do any “nonessential” work. Most of the people I might call, email, or meet with during my day were not around. Good time to stretch the rules a bit and write drafts of papers, clean up my files, etc. I suppose I could have, more legally, just read a novel, but that seemed too outrageous.

It was a time of uncertainty. Though the government was legally obliged to pay me for coming in, when I’d see the money was unclear. My furloughed colleagues had no such guarantee. In the end, though, it was simpler for Uncle Sam to pay everybody rather than deal with a couple of million grievances.

Eventually, a spending bill was passed and everybody went back to work. Some of the delayed work was made up, but many tax dollars went down a rathole. And … Bill Clinton socked it to Newt Gingrich and the Republicans.

Learning which sources to trust

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Among all the bad news in this morning’s Washington Post was an encouraging story on a subject I’ve long believed needed attention. “Schools demanding news literacy lessons to teach students how to find fact amid fiction,” tells of a growing effort in high schools, in which students learn to identify credible information and good journalism. Creating skeptics? I hope so! There’s a lot of untrustworthy information out there, as I’ve often pointed out in this blog.

Learning how to read with critical judgment is something which comes naturally in the editor business. However, we are bombarded with untrustworthy and even deliberately false information in our daily lives. As I like to say, “There’s a lot of information on the internet; some of it’s even true.” The skills these students are learning will be essential to good citizenship. Too bad most of them can’t vote yet. I just can’t wait for this fall’s Virginia gubernatorial election!

Colorado River Diversions to Area 51.

Monday, April 1st, 2013

April 1 flow in Colorado River

Recent information indicates the natural flow in the Colorado River is much higher than USGS streamgages indicate. The discrepancy began when United Nations agents broke into a USGS field crew’s Blackhawk helicopter while it was parked outside a McDonald’s in Needles, California and copied one of USGS’s high-security gagehouse keys. Using replicas of the key, suicide squads of extraterrestials have been regularly breaking into gage houses at night to hold down the floats and manipulate the stage readings. You can see the unusual flow pattern in the accompanying figure.

Where does the “extra” water go? Indications are it is now moving through a 180-mile long tunnel, drilled in secret to Area 51 in Nevada. The tunnel replaces a previous system that placed water jugs on the backs of “wild” horses in a continuous pack train across the BLM lands. Repeated calls to somebody in charge could not confirm why the water is needed. Best guess is it is being stored in a massive underground reservoir, to be suddenly “found” when Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is implemented. This will cause IWRM appear to be an ideal solution for the region’s water woes, forcing us all into the servitude of cooperation. A dastardly plot indeed!

Meet me in St. Louie

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I will be in St. Louis next week at the AWRA Spring Specialty Conference on Agricultural Hydrology and Water Quality II. The hotel is downtown, right across the street from the ballpark. Alas, I am correct in space but a week early in time: opening day is the week after. All the more reason to for me to attend the sessions. Will I see you there?

The Big Apple this week

Friday, March 1st, 2013

I spent the week in New York City supporting our grown daughter through an illness. Though I powdered her bottom as a baby, the role of a father at this point could best be described as “go fer.” Also, “hurry up and wait,” a term those familiar with the army or hospitals will understand.

First of all I want to thank the many people who offered their support in this trying time. Sara is doing much better thanks to your wishes and prayers.

As a side benefit, the wait-around time, along with good network connections, has let me catch up on my ScholarOne work queue.

Mobile access

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The Scholarly Kitchen has a good article on mobile access to journals. Many of you read JAWRA on a university or institutional subscription. Typically, this works fine as long as you are on campus and accessing JAWRA via the university’s network. The Wiley Library identifies your IP address as a subscriber, and all the locks open.

But, what happens when you’re off campus, say at a meeting, and you need to look up an article? The hotel’s network won’t be recognized as a subscriber. The same goes if you try to access JAWRA via your mobile phone — don’t laugh, that capability is coming down the pike.

The Scholarly Kitchen’s article doesn’t mention it, but JAWRA readers have another option: Become a member of AWRA! AWRA members get complete online access to JAWRA via their user name and password, any time, anywhere. Carry your virtual library wherever you go!


Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Today is Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday in the United States. It is celebrated by parades and feasting to give thanks for all our blessings. Not the least of these is freedom of the press. A good day to all!

Subway Repairs

Friday, November 9th, 2012

The New York Times has a great article today on the intense effort to get the New York City subways running after Superstorm Sandy. Good reading about restoring infrastructure in a crisis. And remember, every one of those heros is a government employee, and nearly all union. When the chips are down, there is no substitute for dedicated employees with institutional knowledge.

Chinese Briefing

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Dick Engberg and I went downtown today to brief a delegation of 23 water managers from the Peoples Republic of China. Dr. Wang Hanmin, Deputy Director General, Minister of Water Resources, headed the delegation. Dick talked about AWRA’s mission and goals, and I described some of the “hot” topics in JAWRA. I stressed the importance for practicing engineers, scientists, and managers to keep up with journals. I noted they could learn from the US’s mistakes on water development because we’ve made so many!

We allowed time for questions, and that’s where things became really interesting. The group has a lot of questions about how water is managed in the US. We had to explain our federalist system, where the states have primary authority over their waters subject to some national standards. Ever try to explain, through an interpreter, how we fund our water projects? :-) I hope they are not thoroughly confused! In response to one question about governmental influence on JAWRA, I recall using the term, “fiercely independent.”