Monday, November 13, 2017

I am a trainer: The classes that I teach (11/13/2017)

If you are a regular visitor, by now you should know that I give day long workshops throughout the state of Virginia.  I do it for a living and in general I do on to two day-long workshops each week.  I will detail the workshops below, but first a brief explanation.

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We have a mandatory certification program for people working in Erosion and Sediment Control and in Stormwater Management.  In the distant past I used to be in charge of that program, and taught the certification classes.  However, the program was moved from one government department to another, and guess what?  I lost my job as manager of the program.  This is what usually happens with mergers, so it did not come as a surprise.  What surprised me was that they kept me, I was actually afraid of being laid-off or moved to a different job.  However, my current supervisor understood my love of course development, teaching, public speaking, and my life experience.  So, I am still allowed to do what I love to do these things: but especially teach.

Actually, one of the things I was asked to do was to step away from teaching the regular classes and to develop a number of classes that go deeper into the various subjects discussed in our certification classes.  We call these classes our Continuing Education classes; although the other day I called them the Special Ed. classes.  In my classes I stay away from my political opinion (although my regular readers now I have one), I am somewhat of a lecturer, but try to be Socratic at times.  So what classes did I develop and teach?

Integration of Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Program – This was the first course I developed.  It dealt with the transition from one department to another and the adoption of the then new stormwater management regulations.  I talked about how the two laws and regulations interacted and complemented each other.  Many of the Erosion and Sediment Control professionals were all the sudden faced with having to deal with enforcing the new Stormwater regulations and having to deal with a new State agency.  This was a very intense 6-hour class; it also introduced a lot of controversial new regulatory issues.

Plan Review Using the Older Standards – Since the adoption of the new Stormwater Management Regulations there were a group of older (grandfathered) stormwater structures that needed to be reviewed by folks who had never reviewed them before.  We teach the review of the new Low Impact Development (LID) Best Management Structures (BMPs) in our regular classes, so this class was for the review of some of the older more traditional ones.  This was another intense 6-hour class.

Erosion and Sediment Control Inspector Refresher Class – Everyone needs a refresher class so now and then; to go back and to hear it all again.  I end this class with a Bingo game.  This is a fun filled, very interactive 5.5-hour class.

Native Plants for Stormwater and Erosion and Sediment Control – Being a Plant Ecologist by training, this class was my first real hobby class.  I love doing this class and people seem to enjoy it as well.  I will be redesigning it this winter a bit, and will de-emphasize the law and regulations a bit and add more discussion about the various plants (that is what I also one of the comments in the evaluations of the class I received).  One or two people have an issue with me bringing up evolution and natural selection in this class.  So be it.  This is a very intense 6-hour class.

Applied Soils for Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Professionals – This is another one of my favorite courses.  I developed this with a dear friend of mine.  We taught it together until he left the department; and now I am on my own.  In this class I deal with soils in three ways.  I look at it from the agriculture (USDA) side, the hydrology side and the engineering (Unified Soil Classification) side.  Then I try to tie it in to our job in construction as it relates to erosion and stormwater management.  This is a great 5-hour class.

Wetlands for Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Professionals – This is not a class intended to turn people into wetland delineators.  While I worked as a delineator for over 15 years, that is not the intent of this class.  What I do in this class is teach inspectors and plan reviewers to recognize “red flags” and know what to do when they see them.  I also want them to know how to react to sediment releases in wetlands.  This past week I taught the last of this class in its current format.  I will be redesigning it and taking a lot of the discussion on law and regulations out of it and putting it on-line.  For the rest, I again want to make it more hands-on and show pictures of plant species (invasive and typical wetland species) to get people more in to it.  This is a 6 to 6.5-hour class.

 SWPPP Inspections – This is the most interactive class of the bunch, with a class exercise.  We discuss the development of a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, the different elements and the inspection of a site for compliance with the SWPPP and the Pollution Prevention Plan (P2).  This is a great 5-hour class.

Where the water goes – A class subtitled “Hydrology for Inspectors.”  A class that deals with the flow of water on a construction site.  How water behaves itself on slopes, why it matters and what we do to mitigate for its effect.  We discuss how we manage the flow of water on a site and examine a lot of “how-not-to” photographs.  I love this 6-hour course.

Soil Amendments for Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Professionals – This is a 3-hour course divided into two parts.  The first part deals with the use of compost and fertilizers in the restoration after construction has been completed.  In the second part we discuss the use of special soil mixes for bio-retention areas.

Photography for Inspectors – This is also a 3-hour course that I usually do in combination with the previous course.  As readers of my blog may know, I am somewhat of a photographer and I have been trained in it.  I teach the do’s and don’ts for inspectors as well as some of the photographic theory. 

Finally, I am in the process of developing some more classes (no rest for the weary).  But it keeps my brain going, it keeps me young.  I often joke, that I roll out of my motel bed in the morning and look on my sign-in sheet what class I am teaching that day; for sure, never a boring day.

In addition to all these classes, I also do some workshops on request here and there that are hybrids between these classes.  As I tell my students, if you have ideas for classes let me know.
I will also entertain special requests to teach any of these classes or any workshop where ever you are.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Itsy bitsy spider (11/7/2017)

As an ex-field person, fall always reminds me of the times when I did field surveys in the woods and ran into spider webs or at least threads that were strung all over the woods.  The best were always running into nearly “invisible” webs, and them ending up on my glasses and having an imprint of them on my glasses for the rest of the day.  Something like a badge of honor.  Sometimes, at lunch time you took your glasses off and had a perfect imprint of a spider web on your glasses.  Also in the fall, you had these huge yellow garden spiders hanging around in the woods that everyone was afraid off.

A spiderweb in the woods, so difficult to see, so easy to walk into and get an imprint on your glasses or get the threads in your hair.  Here the sun angle was just right to see it and avoid it.
Arachnophobia or the fear of spiders affects approximately one in ten persons in the world.  That is kind of amazing when you come to think of it.  Why would people be afraid of spiders?  Some think the reason is that some spiders are venomous or poisonous and that this is why people are afraid of spiders and part of the population have become afraid of spiders over evolutionary time.  But there really does not seem to be a good reason for why some people are afraid of spiders when you look at their size.  The Goliath spider seems to be the largest spider in the world with a leg span of 12 inches (30 cm); maybe that is a reason to be scared of spiders.
Just a little spider hanging out on a thread in the woods, with all the leaves in the background it would be relatively easy to walk right into this gal (why gal? because a lot of gal spiders seem to consume their male mates after mating). 
I have been bitten by a black widow when I lived in New Mexico and picked up a six pack of beer.  As some of the websites about this spider describe, the bite of a black widow is seldom fatal, but there was no internet back then, and we immediately called a friend in town who was the emergency doctor at the local hospital.  Allan assured me that I would live and he told me to watch my vital signs the next few hours, but assured me that usually nothing would happen and that I did not need to come in.  He also told me I may get a skin reaction, which I did.  I got a brown spot on my arm the size of a silver dollar that remained visible for a year or more, but eventually faded.  Oh well that was my experience with spiders, which really wasn’t that bad.  My father-in-law’s run in with a brown recluse was much more interesting.  He got a huge blister from it that looked like it was ready to explode.  While I am still not afraid of spiders, he is or at least he has a lot of respect for them.
My more favorite pictures of the last few days.  This leave seems to hang weightless in the air.  Well, it is suspended from a silk thread spun by a spider and just hanging out there in the middle of the path, perfectly still, like frozen in place and time.  The threads spun by spiders are so strong that the military has been trying to genetic engineer goats to produce it instead of milk so they can make fiber from it (you cannot milk spiders) to make wire and cable.  
Spiders are pretty cool animals, or insects, actually no they are arthropods.  They’ve got eight legs, that can grab things; they have fangs that can inject venom; with the exception of one species that is an herbivore, spiders are predators; and many of them make webs to entangle their prey in.  Others lasso their prey or run them down, actually really cool.  When they catch their prey they inject them with enzymes to liquefy their interior so they can suck the nutrients out of them.  No wonder some of us are afraid of them.

At my home we consider spiders a sign of good luck.  We usually do move them outdoors, figuring that there is more prey out there than indoors.  We get a glass, put it over them and gently slide a piece of (stiff) paper under the glass, trying not to hurt the poor animal.  Then we take them outside where we set them free!  Not good riddance, but good hunting you little guys.
The famous garden spider weaving her web.  She is slightly bigger than a U.S. quarter.
I love walking through the damp woods on an early fall morning in particular.  The early morning dew has accumulated on many of the webs and you can really see them: the beautiful webs spun over the paths; the messy webs between the branches; the funnels of the trap door spiders in the tall grass; the big webs with the thick fuzzy thunderbolt-shaped thread in it that the garden spider weaves in the middle of their web; it is absolutely amazing all the different types of webs they weave.  Obviously, they all work they all have their specialized goal and all capture enough prey for them to survive generation after generation (and scare the living daylight out of some).  Walking in nature is so important.  Whether it is to observe the habits of the spiders, to watch birds, the rooting patterns of the trees, the way the light falls through the leaves, to absorb the smell of the woods, or just the solitude, get out it helps you recharge it makes you happier, live longer and maybe even ward off the diseases of old age like Alzheimer.  
The sun, the dew and an early fall morning makes the webs stand out on the trail.

Friday, November 3, 2017

On Islamophobia (11/3/2017)

So here I was planning to write my next blog post about spiders and the fear of spiders; however, you all will need to wait.  I feel the need to write about the need for another fear, Islamophobia.

I was teaching one of my workshops in Northern Virginia, this week.  It was two days after this 29-year-old nut from Uzbekistan drove a Home Depot truck over a bike path in New York City, killing eight and wounding more than a dozen.  My workshop is for inspectors that go on construction sites to make sure that the contractors follow the federal and state environmental laws and regulations; and local codes and ordinances.  I teach my students a module on situational awareness, as part of the class.  This ranges from a tripping hazards to aggressive people.

Northern Virginia is very diverse.  During breaks in my workshop I had a fun talk with a lady from Iran who works from one of the counties in the region, and with two guys from Nepal who had heard that I had lived and worked in Nepal and wanted to know more about me and my stay there.  My classes up there are always a fun multicultural mish-mash of people as opposed to other regions in Virginia where it is ethnically pretty boring.

My class had ended and I was approached by a middle-aged (50-ish) Arabic looking gentleman who wanted to ask me a question.  He spoke very softly and I had to ask him three times to repeat himself.  The first two times I understood that it had something to do about his arm.  Finally, the fourth time it came out: “are weapons allowed on a building site.”  So it was not about his arm but about the other definition of arms or weapons.

My “friend” had a building site that he was inspecting where the contractor was openly carrying a gun (yes we in Virginia have an open and a concealed carrying law).  The contractor would of course need to accompany the inspector on his round showing his gun and also inspect the most remote corners of the project.  You get my drift, the inspector felt very intimidated.  Being a Muslim, looking and sounding obviously Arabic, even in when dressed in western clothing, just having had the killing in New York, and having a Fox News and other conservative media whipping up the masses against Muslims and immigration (and people who carry can be assumed to be conservative), he was scared.  My heart broke!

Regular readers of my blog may know I worked in international development.  I took this picture during a wedding in a village in Yemen to which we were invited when I worked there in the mid 1980s.  Just before the ceremony the men went out to the border of the village to do a shooting competition/target practice.  It is all friendly, but everyone there was armed to the teeth (even during a friendly wedding).  To tell you the truth no one from the Arab world should be afraid of weapons, that makes this case I write about so remarkable.

When we arrived at the weeding we were welcomed by this sight.  We had an absolutely great time that day.  We were made welcome and there was no discrimination.
I had a long talk with him, gave him some solutions, and hopefully set him at ease, but obviously it kept bugging and eating at me.  I am just amazed that some of us still have to live in fear because of our ethnicity.  I realize that this is why we have the black lives matter movement and we still need to worry about civil rights.  There are still fringe groups in society that think they are better than others and they are the reason why we had gatherings like in Charlottesville that even the guy in our Whitehouse does not dare to condemn.  I see that today’s people in power are trying to erode our civil rights and try to silence us with terms like “fake news.”  Don’t let them do it, a lot of the news is real, my inspector friend made me realize that again this week.

Just a miscellaneous picture of a Yemeni village (town) somewhare in the desert.  My heart breaks again thinking about the civil war they have gone through in the past years.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Oh my god, traveling can be fun (R-rated) (10/19/2017)

As many of you know, I travel frequently to give workshops throughout the state.  In the past year I provided 54 of them.  As you can see, it keeps me hopping.  Some of them are near my office in Richmond, others near my home, but a lot of them require me to travel. 

Of course, during my travels I stay in hotels and motels.  One of my fears is bringing home bed bugs, and knock on wood, I have not yet encountered any yet.  Getting to a new place I do a bed bug check, and then settle in.

My beautiful room in Wytheville, a great room with a view, great bed, and some interesting play by play.

The first night is usually somewhat rough.  It is a new bed, new pillows, a lot of light in the room, noisy air conditioning, you name it.  But often the second night is better: I am exhausted from a day of teaching, and somewhat used to the new room.

But sometimes it just does not work (see last week'spost on nothing being perfect).  This week I am staying in Wytheville at this absolutely wonderful hotel.  Things should be perfect.  Last night was my second night.  So I was looking forward to a great night of sleep.  But, there was a roadster meet-up in town and the hotel was full.  I went to sleep around 11 and by 12 I was woken up by the people next door.  They were having some serious sex and wanted to share the experience with me, at least through the wall.  The lady was screaming with every thrust and whether it was real or not had at least one orgasm.
Except for some of it's rambunctious guests this is a great hotel .  Oops, I left my window open, not that I have any plans.
Slightly amused and slightly annoyed did I turn around after their 10 minute love making session.  But then the people it the room on the other side entered their room.  There were at least two or three couples and they continued talking and meeting till 12:45.  I did fall asleep, but woke up when the guest left.  I heard a roadster start outside and thought:"Finally real sleep."  But then the bed started rhythmically creaking and after some loud moaning there was a very loud sighing: "Oh my God."  I thought: "Oh my God, maybe now I can get some sleep!"  

Well, how wrong was I.  He must have have satisfied her first in a non-penetrating way and now it was his turn.  Their bed was against our adjoining wall and boy he was like a jackhammer.  He went 15 seconds really fast, followed by 15 seconds slow, followed by 15 seconds really fast, etc., etc.  Thank goodness he did not last very long and was done in a few minutes and they were out.

Finally, by 1:15, it was quiet enough for me to get my beauty sleep, wake up by 6:45 and get ready to teach.  I did turn up the TV a bit when I woke up that morning, just to get even.

Friday, October 13, 2017

No, it does not have to be perfect (10/13/2017)

Wow, two posts so close together!  But I felt I owe you one.  I have been on political and environmental rants or soap boxes lately and need to get off it; although today's post started out from lots of anxieties including a lot of political ones.  Rest assured, I will not go into them.

Working from home today, I needed my "smoking" or maybe I should call it my "socialization" break (I don't smoke).  I had just pulled up a few websites and all kinds of news items stared me in the face, and then my arm buzzed.  "Ready to take me for a stroll?" my Fitbit asked me?  That darn thing has a feature that reminds me every hour at 10 minutes before the hour that I need to get my 250 steps in that hour.  At least it does that when I sit on my ass that entire hour.  So as any good slave to their activity tracker does, I obliged.

Being a student of "forest bathing" and, as I already mentioned, not in the best of mental shapes this morning, I go for broke.  What the hell, I think let's just go for a little stroll out back on the path in the woods behind our home, and ignore all the ticks and potential chiggers.  I need to forest bathe!  Somehow the dogs also think they should forest bathe.
On the forest trail behind our home.
This is partially a serious and a not so serious post, so let's get the not so serious one out of the way.  We do not put our dogs on the leash in this area (don't tell the park rangers, please!), it is behind our house, there is never anyone there and I was only going out for 10 minutes.  Our beagle Lucy started eating grass all the way; in other words it was slow going.  This would have been fine, I wanted to forest bathe, and really relax.  However, this is fairly difficult with a loudly gagging dog behind you on the trail, disturbing the peace and quiet of the woods.  So I just walked a little faster, figuring out she knew where I was going.  I also wanted to stop on the way to take some photos and take in nature, so I was planning to go slow anyway.  This confused our other dog Jake somewhat: "aren't we waiting for Lucy?"

At least I got my forest bathing in, the smells and the sounds were great (with the exception of the occasional gagging behind me in the distance).  We've had a wet couple of days; it actually rained over 3 inches two days ago, so I expected a wet mess.  To my surprise it wasn't: the pond behind our home was still dry.  These (Grafton) ponds are groundwater fed and we've had a dry fall, so I am not that surprised.  

As you can see this pond is still dry despite all the rain we had the last couple of days.
It was just nice to slowly walk the trail, to smell nature, to observe the beauty and come to my senses.  Taking photos helps me see things more clearly.  The photographs do not need to be perfect it is just fun, it makes you slow down, look around and observe.  Get out there and do it.  Like my walk today, it was not perfect, but it was what I needed.  I would not want to change it for anything else.
The lichen on this tree grow on the north side of the tree that is mostly in the shade.  the south side has no lichen growing, probably because it is too hot and dry from the sun beating on it.
This oak had beautiful sloughing bark.  When I was living and working in the mid-West this was of great interest to us because this was where the endangered Indiana bat live under during the summer months. 
I just loved the seeds (nuts) of this sedge and how they hung like that.
And yes, even this post does not have to be perfect!