Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is where the Great Lakes, all of them, empty in the last one, Ontario. Well, some of the water from Lake Michigan now goes through the Chicago canal into the Mississippi system, but that is not much. The Falls are not that high but it is a lot of water.
I have a strong emotional connection to the idea of the Lakes. I grew up near Lake Michigan and studied the Ice Age that created it since the time my mother read natural history books to me before I could read them myself. That Ice Age is named “Wisconsin” after my home state because of all the evidence of its action so easily seen in the hills and lakes there. Someday, I will walk the whole of the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail Alliance trail across the state.
The Wisconsin Ice Age ended only about 11000 years ago. That is about 9000 BC, not really very long ago in geological time. When the climate got warm enough for all that ice to melt, it created the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. The falls have been backing up, eroding away, ever since. In a twinkle of geological time, the Lakes and the Falls will be gone. Of course, by that time so will we.

Anyway, I have some pictures. They say that the Canadian side is better and they are right for the simple reason that the falls flow toward that side of the river so you see the front from that end.


Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies, so we could not miss the chance to stop off in Punxsutawney, even though the movie was not really filmed there. It is a pleasant place, but not very much to see except cartoonish statues of groundhogs all around town.

Forestry posts May 23

Migrating forests
Tree species can “migrate” naturally about thirty miles a century. If climate change happens faster, some may be unable to make the trip in time.
Humans, however, have already moved species. Loblolly pines, for example, have been successfully planted in large numbers significantly north of their natural range and I have seen stands of bald-cypress in Minnesota. They do not naturally regenerate that far north, but they are there – waiting – if climate change makes conditions appropriate. We may well see new associations.

On our tree farms, we have planted some longleaf pine and will plant more after our anticipated summer harvest. The farms are on the northern edge of the natural longleaf range, so a climate change would leave them in an appropriate place, providing rainfall patterns remain similar. There has also been a shift in loblolly subspecies. Most of those planted in Virginia are sourced further south. Their parents, their genetic material, is from trees originally growing in South Carolina or Georgia.
Anyway, we are going to be taking part in an experiment, whether or not we want to do it. We have to think 30-50 years in the future and anticipate that the future may not be like the past.
Reference –
Uneven aged management

It takes a long time to experiment with forests. This one was almost a century in the making. You really cannot do selective harvest. Sometimes you need to do clearcuts, even with uneven-aged forests and even when you avoid high grading, i.e. taking the best and leaving the runts.
I was recently reading yet another FDR biography. FDR was passionately interested in forestry. One of the first laws he proposed while in the NY legislature was about forestry. Fortunately, it did not pass. He proposed making it illegal to harvest trees below a certain size. This sounds good. It kind of works with fish, but not with trees. Some smaller trees are not younger trees. They are the inferior ones. If you cut only the big trees, over time you make your forest weaker. It is a kind of survival of the least fit.
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Emotional investing – talk at Charles Schwab office May 20

Your own emotion is your biggest enemy in making smart investment decisions, that was the big take-away from a talk I attended by a financial advisor Jay Mooreland, who runs blog called “the Emotional Investor,” link below. He based a lot of his presentation on concepts of behavior economic and bounded rationality.

I am not sure that I learned anything I did not know before, but I know that I need to keep up. One of the traps you learn about when you study bounded rationality is the trap of knowledge. It usually refers to the problem that you assume that everybody knows the things you already know. It means that you do not sufficiently explain the background to others. (I am doing that here with bounded rationality. I am not explaining the concept, but I figure in this case anybody who wants to know can google it.) But another trap is that you think you knew what you did not know. If you attend a lecture, for example, and hear a fact or concept that makes sense to you, you often think you knew it before. This is a challenge for consultants. Once they reveal their solution, the client thinks he knew it already. That is one reason to ask up-front to determine what people know and do not know. This is my long explanation to say that I probably did learn, or at least confirm, more than I now believe. A man’s gotta know his limitation.

Knowing your limitation is probably the most important part of successful decision-making, especially in financial decisions. People make bad decisions when they overestimate their knowledge. NOBODY can anticipate all the movements in stock markets. Market are rational in the long run but (as Keynes said) they can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. So your strategy involves making generally sound decisions from the point of view of your goals and portfolio diversity but not be rattled by changes – easier said than done.

Active investors usually do worse than more passive ones, but activity feels good. You can play the games and take credit if you are on the lucky upside. The problem is emotion. Moorland gave the example of CGN Focus Fund. It was one of the best funds to own over that last five years, returning something like 18% a year (my numbers are approximate. I am writing from memory, but general magnitudes are okay). How much did actual investors make over this period? Average investor LOST money, and they lost big money – about 33%. How? It is not Wall Street dishonesty. The fault lies with investor emotion. CGN Focus fund has a narrow focus (as the name implies) and so is volatile. The trend is strongly up, but there are lots of downs. What do emotional investors do? When it drops like a stone, they panic and sell. When it is growing like a beanstalk, they pile their money in. In other words, the buy high and sell low. They are hurting themselves by their activity. Those who just sat on their hands did very well. Lazy wins.

I think the general lesson goes beyond investing. It is better to stand still than to run very rapidly in the wrong direction. Anyway, I enjoyed the presentation. I don’t know how it will change my behavior. I am already a lazy investor and cannot get much lazier.

Well managed forests

“Scientists have discovered that private forests that are harvested and regenerated yield about 30 percent more carbon sequestration benefits than if they are left to grow.” I think true scientists and forest managers have long known these things. If we manage our forests well, we get more of almost everything we want AND we do it profitably.
The problem has been that ignorant activists have used emotion and passion to trump both science and experience. BTW – those of you who have that thing on the bottom of your email about saving trees by not printing, please remove it. Using less paper may be a good thing in terms of saving money and energy, but it does not save trees.
Reference –

Thoughts on Science Magazine May 9

Ecological restoration
Reference –
This is a great initiative, but we need to be flexible. It will generally be impossible and maybe undesirable to restore old ecosystems in detail. Changes in local climates and other conditions mean that formerly “native” species may no longer be best adapted to where they used to be dominant. Some are no longer available.
The article uses two very important terms: sustainable and resilient. The system needs to stand on its own with minimal inputs or protection. I also think it important to keep in mind that we are usually not talking about preservation kept away from all hum an influences. We live in the anthropocene whether we like it or not, whether we recognize it or not.
New and nasty bugs
Reference –
This is the big downside to globalization. Bugs, pathogens and strange animals arrive and devastate an established environment. This has always been the way of nature. When long isolated islands come in contact with larger landmasses, species loss and change are inevitable. But humans have accelerated the process beyond the speed at which natural systems can adapt. Besides, we sometime like and depend on particular mixes of plants and animals and really do not want to give newcomers and equal opportunity. A bug worm that can maybe crawl only a few feet in a generation can move at 70 mph if it sticks to a car or even cross thousands of miles in a plane or boat.

We have to be vigilant to keep out destructive plant and animal immigrants, but vigilance will be insufficient. IMO, this is one of the strongest arguments for GMOs. Existing crops or trees can be altered in ways that maintain all their characteristics save that they are made immediately resistant to the new menace, a process that may have taken thousands of years of normal evolution. Of course, this does not save the current generation in most cases, but it does allow for a new one to grow up.

The bike is back

I broke the fork on my bike and was using Espen’s heavier bike.  But I went to Bikenetic in Falls Church.  They got a new fork and fixed it up.   They could not match the color, but the chrome looks good and I again have the joy of riding my good bike.  I get to work about ten or fifteen minutes faster (it takes about an hour on the fast bike) on my road bike and it is more fun to ride.

I bought this bike back in 1997.  If this new fork extends the bike’s life for another eighteen years, I will be content.  My picture shows my bike at the Federal Center SW Metro stop.  You can take your bike on the Metro before 4pm or after 7pm.   It is 17 miles along the bike trails I ride from home to work.  On the way to work, it is usually a nice ride because it is cooler in the morning, more downhill on the way to Washington and very often the west wind provides a tailwind.  I can take a shower at Gold’s Gym and get to work fresh.  It is less fun riding home, so I arrange my schedule to leave earlier or later and take advantage of the Metro rules.

When I first discovered that you could take the bike on the Metro, you had to get a special permit.  I used to work at the Ops Center and I got off not too long before midnight.  I had to rush to the station to make sure I did not miss the last train.

Tree Farm strategy

I took part in a tree farm strategy meeting in Charlottesville, at the Department of Forestry building.  The goal is to make more people aware of the sustainable way we do forestry in the U.S. today and make tree farming more valuable to tree farming members.  Learn more about tree farming at this link –

One of the challenges is that certified wood really does not get a premium price.  People claim to be interested in sustainability but they will not really pay for it.  Most forestry people want to do the right thing anyway, but it would be nice to be able to tell them that there was a cash benefit.  There are other benefits to tree farming besides the feeling of doing the right thing.   The tree farm provides inspections and advice  And I do not think we should underestimate the value of just paying attention to values and standards.

Anyway, my task is to develop a communications strategy.  I know how to write these things and I really believe in the goals.   I am not sure that we happy few can make a big difference, but I expect that we can do something.