During my first year at Penn State’s Wilkes-Barre campus, I took a physical education class called orienteering. The PSU Wilkes-Barre campus is located near Lake Lehman, PA in a rural, wooded area surrounded by fields and farms. The main building on the campus, called the Hayfield House, was previously a country estate that has been converted into classrooms and offices. The campus is visually breathtaking.

The Hayfield House at PSU’s Wilkes-Barre campus

The orienteering class required us to use a topographic map and a compass to find a series of flags hidden in the surrounding woods and copy down numbers from them. It was essentially a timed race to see who would find them all and get back to the starting point in the shortest time. It was great exercise, because you covered a lot of terrain in a short time and it had an element of fun to it because you had to think at the same time you were running. Plus, it was all outdoors in a beautiful setting. I still have many fond memories of exploring the countryside around the PSU W-B campus during that class.

A few weeks ago during one of our regular neighborhood walks, Terri and I found a couple looking for something using a GPS. I asked them if they were geocaching and they told me they were attempting to find their very first geocache. I had heard about geocaching a few years ago from my friend Kyle, but I had never seen anyone doing it. We helped them for a few minutes, but we didn’t find the cache. GPS units are accurate to about 30 feet, and so it can sometimes be a challenge to find a small geocache, especially if it is well concealed. I learned later from a geocaching website that they eventually located it. It was knowing that they found it that convinced me to give it a try.

GPS signals were not always so accurate. Or, I should say, they were not so accurate for civilian GPS receivers. At one time, civilian GPS receivers were only accurate to about 300 feet. The military intentionally added random noise to the GPS signal which only military receivers could remove. On May 1st, 2000, the Clinton administration turned off this random noise, called ‘selective availability’, and over night civilian receivers had their accuracy improved 10 fold. The removal of SA along with the availability of inexpensive handheld GPS receivers and geocaching websites has made geocaching possible.

The brief description of geocaching is that someone hides a cache, which is usually a weatherproof container. The cache can be as small as a bullet-sized container or as large as a metal ammo box. The person who hides it posts the container’s GPS coordinates on a website that contains a database of geocaches. The first and largest of these websites is which was started in 2000. It contains the locations of more than 500,000 caches around the world. The person who hides the cache includes a ‘log book’ in it to let those who find it log their username along with the date and a comment. In the small containers like the ever popular 35 mm film canisters, (which are usually covered with camouflage tape), the log is just a small scroll rolled up inside. Some of the caches contain trinkets and, if you’re so inclined, you can take a trinket and leave one of your own. There are also some special serialized tags and coins that are unique to geocaching that you can move from cache to cache and the website can keep track of the object’s whereabouts. Each cache has a unique identifier that starts with the letters ‘GC’. The subsequent characters are assigned by the website at the time the cache is registered. The person hiding the cache usually gives it a clever name and possibly a clue to help locate it. When you set up an account on, you select a unique user ID and you are able to log your discoveries of the geocaches. The website accounts are free, but you can also get a paid account for $3/month that has more features.

The website allows you to download the cache coordinates to your GPS which is a great convenience. I downloaded a free program called EasyGPS and that will take a file of geocache locations and put them on my Garmin eMap GPS. You can enter the coordinates by hand too, which is what I did for the first few caches, but it takes much more time to do that and can be a source of error.

A screen shot of EasyGPS along with a route I uploaded from the GPS on a recent bicycle ride. Click on the image to get a full screen version.

Inside the city of Greeley, CO which has a population of around 87,000 people, there are more than 70 caches hidden. Some of them are elaborate ‘multicaches’ which have clues in them so that you may have to find 3 or 4 caches before you can find the coordinates to the main cache. Some even have quizzes based on subjects like math or history that makes finding the final cache that much more challenging. Within a 10 mile radius of my home, there are nearly 200 geocaches hidden.

Terri and I have been looking for caches lately and we’ve managed to find 14 just in the area where we take our regular walks. I’ve put a GPS handlebar mount on my bicycle and now that we’ve found most of the caches within easy walking distance of our house, I’ve been planning to venture out to find the more of them on the bicycle and to get some exercise in the process.

Garmin eMap mounted on my mountain bike’s handlebars

People who like to work with technology can spend an inordinate amount of time indoors, often sitting in front of a computer. Geocaching requires you to get outside, get some exercise, and do some exploring. If you have a GPS, I’d recommend you give it a try. Will you feel funny doing it? Oh yes, you’ll feel like an idiot at times, especially if there are any ‘mugglers’ in the area. A muggler is a non-geocacher who will stare at you and make you feel odd, and who among us can’t use a little more of that? You’ll get to learn a whole new language too, such as abbreviations that you will put in your on-line log like ‘SL’ (signed log), and ‘TFTC’ (thanks for the cache), and ‘TNLN’ (took nothing left nothing), and it’s hard to put a price on knowing an obscure lingo like that. 🙂

Colorado Tornado Damage


A tornado came through Northern Colorado and missed our house by 3 miles. It touched down and destroyed some farms just west of Greeley and then went on to Windsor where it did a tremendous amount of damage. Terri took this photo from the LongEZ today and if you click on it, you can get the full resolution image. If you zoom in, you can see the devastation it caused in this Windsor neighborhood.

I wanted to post this entry to the blog to let everyone know that we are fine and didn’t sustain any damage at our house. Please accept our sincere thanks to those of you who emailed and called to check in on us.

Update: I’ve posted a few pictures of the tornado damage.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko


I’ve read Dan Pink’s previous books, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind and enjoyed them thoroughly and wrote reviews of them. Just recently I read Dan’s latest book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. This book contains several important career lessons that it helps to be reminded of periodically. I liked its creative approach of using Japanese Manga comic style for a business book. It makes the lessons much more memorable and fun to read. The book has 6 lessons, namely:

1. Your plans and jobs will change, so don’t try to plan out your entire career in advance. Each position will help you learn what you’re good at which can help to direct your career. Positions will sometimes change or move away, so you shouldn’t get too attached to a pre-conceived notion of what your long term career plan must look like to be successful. Despite what your parents may have told you, there are no safe “fallback careers” anymore. Also, if a job is safe but you can’t stand it, then it is no way to spend your career.

2. Find positions that focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses. If you work in an area that requires you to do things that don’t resonate with your strengths, it will be nearly impossible to be successful. There are some good resources recommended about finding your strengths, such as the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. Knowing your strengths will allow you to better choose positions where you spend more of your time doing things that you do well and enjoy.

3. Your career is not about you, but rather about what you do to help customers, clients, and co-workers to be successful. Using your strengths and enjoying your job is important, but they must be applied to helping others, not just yourself.

4. Persistence is more valuable than raw talent. Your career isn’t a sprint, but more like a marathon. You need to continue to show up, practice, and never give up.

5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who never try anything. When you do make mistakes, make sure you learn from them. If you make a really big mistake, you’ll know because it may be named after you (This has something to do with the choice of the main character’s name).

6. Leave an imprint. When you look back at your career, you’ll want to be able to know that you made a difference that mattered.

There are a lot of business/career books out there that have useful information, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that has as much great advice concentrated in as few words as this book. I was able to read the entire book during a lunch break. One of the common objections I hear from my colleagues who tell me that they don’t read business books is that they don’t have the time, but that excuse won’t work for this one.

This may be the “last career guide that I’ll ever need,” but I’ll certainly look forward to any future writing Dan Pink does on the subject.

Landfill Gas-to-Energy Tour


On Thursday, May 15th several members of the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Network toured the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site to see a new landfill gas-to-energy project currently under construction and nearing completion. The site is constructed on a concrete pad that had previously been used for remediation of materials removed from the Lowry landfill, a superfund site, which is adjacent to the DADS landfill. For a period of around 13 years, beginning in 1967, the Lowry landfill received more than 100 million gallons of liquid chemical waste. I had incorrectly assumed that this Lowry superfund site was in some way associated military activity because it shares its name with the former Lowry Air Force base, but it was actually created by legal dumping at the city-owned landfill. The landfill’s name is likely a result of its proximity to the Lowry AFB Titan 1 Missile Complex 1A which is just to the west of it.

In addition to touring the facility, our tour guide also drove us up on to the top of the landfill where large earth movers were organizing the waste into ‘cells’ that were compacted and covered up with dirt. The dirt helps to keep the trash from blowing away and reduces its odor. The mountain that they are now constructing in this section of the landfill will eventually reach a height of 300 feet. If you want to see an aerial view of the site, here’s a link to Google Maps. You can see the Lowry landfill in the lower southwest section, a completed portion of the landfill that is 150′ tall in the northwest section, the new part under construction in the north east section, and a decommissioned Titan 1 nuclear missile site in the southeast section. If you zoom into active part of the site with the Google Maps view, please note the number of earth movers you can see on the site. That helps to give you a perspective on how big this site is.

The methane gas that will power the 4 16-cylinder 1100 HP Caterpillar engines is piped from various sections of the landfill. This gas is currently being flared (burned) and relased to the atmosphere in compliance with government regulations. Once the plant has been commissioned, the gas will be re-routed to the engines where it will be used to generate electricity. The current flow is 1200 cfm and that can produce 3.2MW of electricity which is enough to power about 3200 homes.

Landfills leak methane gas as the organic materials buried in them decompose and so if it’s not collected, it’s possible for it to accumulate and if it does that, it can become an explosion hazard. Even if the methane were not to accumulate, it would eventually find its way into the atmosphere and methane is about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 so it’s better for the environment to collect and burn it and turn it into CO2.

The gas that comes out of a landfill is actually about half methane and half CO2 with small amounts of water along with minute amounts of other gases. The water needs to be removed from the gas to prevent it from corroding the engines and there is an apparatus that uses alternating heating and cooling of the gas to condense out the water. The water removed from the gas is sent to a water treatment facility. The diesel engines have been specially modified to run on a mixture of methane and CO2.

This apparatus removes the water from the landfill gas

One part of the facility that I found particularly interesting were the controls that took the electricity and converted it for use on the grid. They used Woodward controllers and large cabinets with impressively large bus bars and capacitors. It was one of the parts of the facility where no pictures were allowed.

The 4 engines are currently 16 cylinder models but the facility is sized so it can be re-fitted with 20 cylinder engines that would produce twice as much power should the gas flow continue to increase. Because of Denver’s arid climate, the gas flow from these sizable landfills is just a fraction of what it would be in a moist climate. This is a disadvantage in some ways, but a benefit in other ways. It takes a much larger landfill in an arid climate to make economic sense for electricity generation, but it should also produce methane for a longer period of time, because it will take longer for the organic material inside the landfill to decompose. At the current rate of gas production, the existing wells should produce for another 20 years. There is enough land available for many decades before this landfill would be considered ‘full’ and the newer mountains will be much larger than the existing ones and so this landfill may be producing electricity for many decades.

Several of the 1100 HP Caterpillar engine/generators

This landfill is owned by the city of Denver and receives about 1200 truckloads of solid waste per day. It operates 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. In addition to burying trash, there is a concrete recycling operation on site where old concrete is ground up and used over again, saving cost on materials and energy over making concrete from scratch. There are several other recycling operations on the site.

I came away from this trip impressed with the engineering that has gone into designing and maintaining a modern landfill. We have come a very long way from just a few short decades ago when we though it was environmentally responsible to handle liquid chemical waste by simply dumping it in an out-of-the-way place, not realizing that a city would eventually grow out to meet it. To be fair, at that time the links between the long term health effects of exposure to toxic substances were not well known and so many waste handling policies of that era were formed out of ignorance. This site is continually monitored to make sure that nothing hazardous makes its way into the water table or atmosphere.

We’d like to thank Brad Gagne and Steve Derus for making this trip possible and for answering the numerous questions we had about the facility. Everyone felt like they got a lot of out seeing an operation like this up close.

Some members of NoCoClean and our host, Brad Gagne, in the engine room.