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An updated state-by-state look at the Who Pooped series


A few years ago, I got to wondering how many different states were covered by my Who Pooped? series, and it led to a blog post that is now obsolete, as the series has grown since then. This post updates and replaces that one.

In the beginning, each book in the series was for a specific national park, and most of those national parks were tucked securely in a single state (Yellowstone does span three states, however). As the series progressed, the books covered more ecosystems than specific parks, and sometimes those covered multiple states. That got me thinking: what states does this series cover?

Who Pooped Map 2015

So far, the series covers 19 states in 20 books — some books cover multiple states and some states have multiple books. The number of national parks, national conservation areas, national monuments, national recreation areas, and national forests is significantly larger than that. I haven’t compiled that list lately. A project for another day!

Arizona

California

Colorado

Idaho

Maine

Michigan

Minnesota

Montana

New Mexico

Nevada

New York

Oregon

South Dakota

Texas

Utah

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

Wyoming

 

Of College Degrees and Teaching Credentials


When I started college at De Anza in 1976, I was convinced that my future was entirely centered around software engineering. Since I’d been working — and playing — with computers for years, I bypassed a lot of the early classes and jumped right in to higher-level classes. I was living the computer dream, working nights in the computer lab at school and making extra money tutoring programming. I even taught a class, which is where my problems began.

Why I don’t have a degree

I proposed the class to the Dean of Data Processing, and he turned me down. Imagine that. He turned down a cocky 19-year-old who thought he was mister junior professor. In retrospect, I understand completely, but at the time it bothered me no end. I was grousing about it to my boss at the computer lab job, and he laughed.

Gary 1977 Drivers License

Come on, look at this guy! Doesn’t he look like a college professor? Wouldn’t you want to take a computer programming class from him?

“Have you ever actually looked at my business card, Gary?” he asked me.

I hadn’t, so I picked one up. His title was listed as “Director of Staff Development.” I looked at him quizzically.

“That means I am responsible for training the staff,” he explained. “The reason the Dean didn’t just set up someone else to teach that class you proposed is that none of the professors know that HP-2000 Access computer system like you and the other operators do. I can put your class in the catalog as a staff course whether he likes it or not. If it doesn’t fill up with staff, we open it to students and everybody wins.”

As it turned out, everybody didn’t win. I got my class, and the Dean got pissed. Finally, at the end of the semester, he summoned me to his office.

“I’ve been going over your transcript, Robson. It appears that you haven’t taken a lot of your prerequisite classes. I see, for example, that you took Advanced FORTRAN without taking Beginning or Intermediate FORTRAN.”

“Of course I did. I’ve been tutoring Intermediate FORTRAN since the beginning of my freshman year, and I’m tutoring Advanced now.”

“Yes, but as the Dean, I can withhold credits for courses if you haven’t completed the prerequisites. In fact, I see you never took Computers and Society or Introduction to Computing.”

Suddenly, I realized where he was going. I’d taken a pretty heavy load for two years, and I had almost three years worth of credits. He could wipe out most of those credits with a stroke of his pen, and it would take me another whole year to fill in the gaps. I was furious.

Being a snotty 19-year-old meant that I didn’t do the smart thing and negotiate with him. I blew up. He, of course, held all of the cards, and I ended up dropping out and getting a full-time job instead. End of college career for Gary.

How I ended up with a teaching credential

Fast-forward a bit over ten years. My wife and I, through the business we owned at the time, had just donated a sizable amount of computer software to West Valley Community College in California. The problem was, nobody there knew how to use it. They asked if we’d be willing to teach the classes for a couple of years, and the staff could attend along with the students to bring them up to speed. We agreed, as long as we didn’t have to teach more than a class or two at a time.

Shortly before the semester started, the head of the department called and asked me to come in and fill out paperwork. I went through all of the papers, filled in the blanks, dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s, and handed them to her. She scanned through everything and came to a screeching halt.

“You don’t have a degree?”

“No, I don’t. I thought you knew that.”

“I can’t get you a temporary teaching credential without a degree!”

This impending crisis ended up involving several other staff members, one of whom came up with an idea. She asked how long I’d been working in the field, and went off to look something up. As it turns out, ten years of related real-world experience could be applied in lieu of a bachelor’s degree for purposes of granting credentials.

On August 28, 1987, I was granted temporary credential #342745 by the State of California, allowing me to teach “computer and related technologies.” I immediately called my mother to tell her the news.

“Guess what, Mom! I got a teaching credential and I’m going to be teaching college classes!”

There was a long pause.

“Does this mean you’re never going to get a college degree?”

There’s nobody better than a mother for keeping you humble.

Postscript

Over the years, my lack of college degree hasn’t impacted me much. Once that two-year stint at West Valley was over, the credential didn’t help much, either. It’s great to hang on my ego wall, but it was temporary and it expired long ago. The only other college I taught at was in Montana, and they don’t require credentials. I applied to teach at a two-year school in Wyoming, but they wouldn’t even accept the application without a Master’s degree, so neither a B.S. nor a teaching credential would have helped there.

Sometimes I wish I’d finished that degree, but I really wouldn’t give up the ride I got in early Silicon Valley. Where else — and when else — could a kid without a degree become an operating systems programmer, an integrated circuit designer, and an entrepreneur, all in a few years? Maybe after I retire I’ll go back to school and get a degree in something fun. We’ll see…

A new book, and a state-by-state look at the series


NOTE: The information in this post is obsolete, but it’s all been brought up to date in a new post from 2017.

My 23rd book — 18th in the Who Pooped? series — is now officially out. In the beginning, each book in the series was for a specific national park, and most of those national parks were tucked securely in a single state (Yellowstone does span three states, however). As the series progressed, the books covered more ecosystems than specific parks, and sometimes those covered multiple states. That got me thinking: what states does this series cover?

Who Pooped Map 2013

So far, the series covers 18 states in 18 books — a coincidence, since some books cover multiple states and some states have multiple books. The number of national parks, national conservation areas, national monuments, national recreation areas, and national forests is significantly larger than that. I haven’t compiled that list lately. A project for another day!

Arizona

California

Colorado

Idaho

Maine

Michigan

Minnesota

Montana

New Mexico

Nevada

Oregon

South Dakota

Texas

Utah

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

Wyoming

So, given that my publisher is most interested in covering well-traveled areas, what do you think should come next? The next one is pretty well decided, although we’re not announcing it until a contract is signed. What should the 20th book be? I’d love to hear some feedback?

Customizing presentations at book signings


Seven years ago, when my first Who Pooped in the Park? book was hot off the presses, I cut one up, scanned it, and turned it into a PowerPoint presentation.  I have used that slide show many times, and I learn something new every time I give a talk. That, actually, is one of the things I like most about public speaking: if I do it right, I learn as much as my audience does.

Among the things I have learned are:

  • Carry props. It keeps the talk more interesting if you can show people something tangible, not just pictures.
  • Move.  Don’t just park yourself safely behind a lectern. This may be controversial advice, because a lot of speaking coaches will tell you not to wander all over the stage when giving a talk, but my primary audience is children and they bore easily. I move around, point at the slides, hold up props, walk over to audience members and hand them things to pass around. I’ve even been known to demonstrate different gaits.
  • Engage the audience.  Ask them questions. I like to ask where people are from at the beginning and make references to their home states or countries later during the talk. Address people directly.
  • If you expect to sell books after the talk, mention the book. Say something about how and why you wrote it. Put a picture of the cover on one (or more) of your slides. And mention that you’ll be selling and signing books after the talk.
  • Make sure you have contact information on one of your slides in addition to having bookmarks or business cards available. That makes it easier for people to send you pictures they took, or invitations to other events. Instead of an email address, consider using your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other social media contact methods. You’ll get less spam that way, and you may pick up followers on those sites.

And, to bring this back to the main subject for the day, customize your slide show. I just gave a talk at the National Bighorn Sheep Center in Dubois, Wyoming a few days ago, and we did a book signing afterward. Here’s what I did to customize the PowerPoint presentation:

First, the opening slide. The top half of the slide has the book banner on it. I went to the Sheep Center’s website and grabbed a picture with their logo, added that to the bottom of the slide, and overlaid the date. I set up the projector in advance and left that slide up on the screen as an introduction until the talk started. That way, attendees wouldn’t just think, “oh, this is some generic presentation,” they’d know it was in some way connected to here.

Next, since the Center is all about bighorns, I figured I should insert a picture of a bighorn sheep. When I am doing slide shows, my first preference is always to use a picture I took myself. If I don’t have an appropriate shot, my next stop is either a stock photo house or Wikipedia, so I know I am using the picture legally.

I have an account with a stock photo company from when I published a newspaper. Generally, I am not going to pay $10 or $20 for a picture I am using one time in a slide show, unless it’s absolutely perfect. This stock photo shop, however (Dreamstime) has a free photo section which sometimes has what I need.

Wikipedia (or, more accurately, Wikimedia Commons) has a wealth of photographs that you can use in slide shows without royalties — just check the license.

Since I didn’t have a good bighorn sheep picture of my own, and there weren’t any cheap (or free) at the stock photo house, I picked one up from Wikipedia, overlaid some scat and track photos, and it made a perfect slide.

The local bookstore in Dubois set up and promoted the talk, so I added a “thank you” slide at the end. It’s typically easy to get logos from a store’s website or Facebook page. After they put a bunch of time and effort promoting the talk, it means a lot when you go to the effort of making a slide to thank them.

I am not a “read from my notes” kind of guy. I think it sounds awkward and stilted, and when you are reading from notes you aren’t looking at your audience. If I know my subject matter — and I had better! — then all I need is an outline, to make sure I don’t forget anything important.

That makes it easy to tailor the talk to the audience, since I am speaking extemporaneously anyway. Spending an hour or so customizing the slides makes it look like you have really put forth an effort, and that’s the kind of little thing that gets you invited back.

Book Review: “Hawks Rest” by Gary Ferguson


Why am I writing a review of a book that came out over eight years ago? Because it went out of print — which made me unhappy because it is one of my favorite pieces of nature writing — and it’s coming back now. I spoke to Gary Ferguson this morning, and he said it looks like Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone will be coming back out this fall. When I have details, I’ll share them here.

Luckily, I am a cyber-packrat as well as being one in real life, so I still have a copy of the book review I wrote for the Carbon County News shortly before the book came out. So here, direct from April of 2003, is my review of Hawks Rest:


The wait is over for Gary Ferguson fans. His latest book, Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone, is here, with another dose of the evocative nature writing we’ve come to expect of him.

Last June, Ferguson strode through the front door of his Red Lodge home and took the first step of his 140-mile hike to the most remote spot in the lower 48 states. This book describes both the trek to Hawks Rest, which is just south of the Yellowstone Park boundary, and his stay in the remote wilderness. How far can you get from a road in the continental United States? A paltry 28 miles — an easy day’s ride on horseback or a long day’s hike.

The trip was ostensibly about a lot of things. Writing Hawks Rest for National Geographic. Fixing up a Forest Service cabin. Counting various species of wildlife. Fixing fences. The book, however, reveals as much about its author as it does about the wilderness he visited. Clearly, the trip was also about a catharsis for Ferguson, perhaps a return to his days as a Forest Service ranger. This would be an opportunity for him to step away from the craziness of the human world and retreat to the seclusion and renewal of Mother Nature.

Seclusion, however, is one thing he found little of. Between rangers, trail crews, hikers, riders, outfitters, hunters, a camp for troubled juveniles, and backwoodsmen of all shapes and sizes, he encountered over 600 visitors in his months in the backcountry. Nature, he found in abundance, and he describes it with typical Fergusonian flair. His prose ranges from flowery descriptions of the grandeur of the area surrounding the Hawks Rest area to more factual recitations of the goings-on, but never settles into a dreary “this morning I arose at 6:48 and had a bowl of granola” journal format.

The combination of his wonderfully descriptive writing style and an encyclopedic knowledge of flora, fauna and the geological features of the area draw vivid mental images of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. One piece of advice consistently given to novice writers by grizzled veterans is to write what you know. There’s no question that’s what Ferguson is doing. He knows and loves his subject matter, and it shines through in the writing. Having achieved grizzled veteran status himself with over a dozen books under his belt and his work appearing in over 100 magazines, he continues to educate, enlighten and enchant readers with his tales of the relationship between man and nature.

If you know Gary Ferguson, you won’t be surprised to hear that he pulls no punches when describing the things that offend and annoy him. His writing has matured as he has matured, and his feelings are expressed more clearly than in his earlier works like The Yellowstone Wolves. The groups most targeted by his blunt criticism are those using political clout to exploit wilderness areas for their own financial gain. Take this excerpt as an example:

“…I’m constantly amazed at the degree to which outfitters are wrapped in a victim mentality. Emerging from this profession, at least in the Thorofare, is a mean-spirited paranoia, a constant griping about wolves and city people and anti-hunting groups destroying a way of life; in short, it’s one of the most self-indulgent whinefests ever to unfurl in the land of the Great Divide.”

A far greater part of the book, though, is dedicated to the plants and animals of the Yellowstone ecosystem; especially the elk which dominate the area and the wolves that obviously hold a special place in Ferguson’s heart. He speaks of his critter encounters with fondness, and evokes both fascination and chuckles. I still can’t get the image out of my mind of his surprise meeting with a large grizzly bear where, in his words, Ferguson was “watching him with my pack turned slightly so that should he suddenly look up, my skinny ass will look bigger than it really is.”

Unlike most of his previous books, Hawks Rest is going straight to paperback instead of going through an initial hardback release. The publisher, National Geographic, is sending him on a publicity tour to promote the book, and he’s starting here in his hometown of Red Lodge.

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