Sol: Sun Clock

Have you ever wanted to know exactly when the sun will rise or set or know exactly when the sun will be at its peak? This app for iOS will tell you that and more.

The interface is easy to understand and includes data such as sunrise/sunset times and durations and days from/to the last/next solar equinox or solstice. It will determine your current location by default, but you can calculate times for any location on the planet.

The nicest feature is being able to set alarms for certain solar events. I like using sunlight as much as possible and have come to rely on this app as a poor man’s curtain timer. I have set an alarm at sunrise and sunset so that I know when it’s time to open or close the curtains around the house. It changes slightly everyday, but stays in sync with the sun. Photographers will find the golden hour alarm setting useful for knowing the best time for taking outdoor photos.

It’s also interesting to see how much daylight saving time and choice of time zone have skewed the traditional notion of noon (solar noon). I live in Indiana (geographically in the Central Time Zone, but most of the state observes Eastern Time) and during the summer months, solar noon is almost 2 hours later than noon by the clock. (WTF Indiana?!)

While several weather apps now include sunrise and sunset times, the features offered by this app make it it well worth the price.

-- John Grigutis  

Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States

The only thing wrong with this field guide is that it is restricted to the Mid-Atlantic States. It gives very specific driving directions (alas, no GPS coordinates) to easily accessible sites where one can collect small fossils. And each site and its ancient bounty is depicted in lovely sketches. I wish all guides books were like this.

-- KK  

Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States
Jasper Burns
1991, 216 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


Field gear for the well-equipped fossil collector. Hand lenses (top), Elmer’s Glue-All, various sizes of masonry chisels (or cold chisels), bandaids (and other first-aid supplies), a chisel-end and pick-end rock hammer, a rock bag, an assortment of maps, newspapers for wrapping specimens, paper bags, plastic bags, an old toothbrush, a notebook and pen, some cotton, small containers, gloves, safety goggles, and a little bit of luck.





Lightly On The Land

Say you need to lay a new bike trail in the hills, or you have a piece of property that could use a footpath down to the creek, or you volunteer one weekend to repair some trails for a local wildlife organization but none of the other volunteers know what to do. You need this fabulous manual. It will instruct you in the better ways to build and maintain footpaths with sensitivity, and how to deal with the three primary enemies of all roads: water, water, and water. I’ve made some trails and I sure wish I had this book long ago. It’s the best of a few alternatives. The insights are hard-earned and not commonplace, and will make a huge difference in how often you’ll have to come back to fix what you thought you already fixed. I’ve spent enough of my life living on trails to really appreciate a well-made one. Here’s how to make great trails.

-- KK  

Lightly On The Land
Robert C. Birkby
2006, 341 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Measuring Distances by Pacing

In ancient times, distances were often determined by the length of a person’s stride. Knowing how to pace is a valuable skill in our day, too, since it allows a trail worker to estimate distances simply by walking.

Developing an accurate measuring pace is a learned skill. Use a tape measure or measuring wheel to mark off a 100-foot distance on flat ground. Beginning at one end, walk to the other with a normal stride, counting your steps as you go, then divide 100 by the number of steps.

Early forestry manuals make the distinction between a step (count every time either foot strikes ground) and a /pace/ (two steps–count only when the left foot strikes ground). Some strides are easier to calculate in paces, others in steps.


Stump Removal

The tribulations of stump removal will try your patience as do few other tasks in trail work. When you match your intelligence to that of a stump, though, chances are better than even that you will be at a slight advantage. Granted, the stump has nothing to think about except how to stay firmly situated in the center of your trail, but a bit of cleverness on your part may persuade even the most tenacious root ball to ease its grip and go away.




Advantages of Building Downhill

Because of the nature of switchback design, the likelihood of accurate treat placement is much greater when you build down through the turn than if you try to go the other way. If the general direction of trail construction has been uphill, stop the upward excavation about 100 feet from a proposed switchback. Move up the stake line 50 feet beyond the turn and build the track back down to the switchback location. Construct the switchback itself, and then continue downhill construction, fine-turning the location until you link up with the tread that has already been completed.



The rocks embedded in a rock water bar are the last-resort barrier; the slope of the trail itself should shed most of the water.



An ever-widening braid of beaten-down trails is a common problem in meadows and alpine tundra.


Close off unwanted trails and make the remaining tread the most inviting route for travelers.



All-thread rods can be tightened during maintenance to keep railing posts secure.

The Sun: Rise and Fall

This is a dead-simple iOS pp, whose sole function is to tell you what time the sun rises and sets. It has a scroll wheel in the upper right hand corner you can use to scroll backward and forward to see the sunrise and set times on a given day. It also shows the time until sunset during the day, and the time until sunrise at night, as well as the total hours of sun uptime. You can set it to show moonrise and fall, as well as the phase of the moon. There’s an icon for the current weather, and the highs and lows for your area are displayed as well. It’s not as useful as a full-fledged weather app though, but it does give you a nice idea of what it’s like out there.

I find it useful for knowing when to let my very spoiled pet chickens out of their coop, and getting some idea of when they’ll stop laying for the winter, and start up again in the spring. You can localize it fairly easily. If you are traveling and need to know the various rise and fall times for, say, scenic Ulan Bataar, you touch the map icon and move the pin there. Sure, I can look out the window and find out what’s happening now, but for precise information for other times and places, this app is marvelous. And I can do things like discover when the actual equinox is at my house. Turns out that we get 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night on March 17th.

-- Amy Thompson  

The Sun – Rise and Fall for iOS

Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer

We plan activities around weather forecasts. However, the information is often from sensors far from our location. I want data from my backyard with the convenience of not having to go outside to read it. I have been using the wireless Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer for over two years. It is perfect for my needs. I have placed it in a central location in the house and I take a glance at the readings every time I pass it (at least ten times a day).

Setting it up is a snap. First insert two AA batteries into the back of the monitor and two more into the remote outside sensor. Press the reset button on both and you should begin receiving data which is displayed on the monitor. Look for a suitable place to locate the sensor. A shady area is recommended for accurate readings. The maximum transmission range is 45 meters but that is in open spaces. Walls will cut down on the separation distance. A signal detector icon indicates how strong the connection is between the two devices. Using this will help you find the best place to put each of the two gadgets. The remote sensor is splash proof but it should not be exposed to heavy rain. I have put mine under the eaves of my garage. The monitor can be mounted on a wall or placed on any flat surface.

This particular model is perfectly suited for cold Canadian weather. The remote temperature sensor is good for -50°C to 70°C (-58°F to 158°F). The main difference between this monitor and the competition is that this model provides decimal temperature readings, which is a rarity. A temperature of 16.6°C to 17.4°C would register as 17°C on most monitors. I appreciate this precision because I am sure I can tell the difference between these two readings. On the monitor there is a battery indicator icon, letting you know when the power is starting to go. The batteries should last about 12 months.

Besides the indoor/outdoor temperatures, the monitor also displays the outside humidity and a “Humidex” index to indicate how comfortable/uncomfortable the temperature really is outside.

-- Marcel Dufresne  

Thermor Bios Indoor/Outdoor Humidex Thermometer

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Thermor

Manual of Field Geology

geology in the field.jpeg

This book is an essential guide to how field geology should be practiced. It is simple, clear, and written in a style which is accessible to students and amateurs. Jargon is limited to the irreducible and there is no effort to obfuscate. I have been using this all my professional life of more than 30+ years.

Using this manual and a fairly rudimentary set of basic geologic skills, outcrop and contact geologic maps can be produced, complete with cross-sections. There is no better resource for those interested in learning more about field geology.

-- Edward Bryant  

[For those interested in a narrative take on American geology, look no further than John McPhee's epic and accessible Annals of the Former World. A worthy read!--OH ]

Geology In The Field
Robert R. Compton
1985, 416 pages

Available from Amazon

Older editions available used for $1 from Alibris

Sample Excerpts:

Lithologic Patters For Stratigraphic Columns and Cross Sections.jpg
Appendix 8. Lithologic Patterns for Stratigraphic Columns and Cross Sections

Geology in the Field appendix 8.jpg
Appendix 3. Percentage Diagrams For Estimating Composition By Volume (p. 366)



WeatherSpark is a website that has changed how I look at the weather. Like most other weather sites it provides a local forecast based on a variety of data sources including NOAA (there are international data sources for those outside the US). Unlike some other sites, like Weather Underground or, WeatherSpark is built on the idea that the user should control what data is displayed using either real-time data or historical trends.

The user interface, while at times overwhelming in the number of options it provides, is straight forward and very useful. You can quickly expand or reduce your date range from hourly to daily to weekly to monthly and even to years. While this may not seem particularly useful on a daily basis, it is incredibly useful when planning trips and events in the future (and while it won’t predict the weather, the historic trends are useful for having a “best guess” of what the weather will be like).
weatherspark 2.jpg
Not only can you control the timeline, but you can also toggle maps (with radar), text-based weather reports, and climate trends. They offer a plethora of graphed weather variables including dew point, wind direction, precipitation amount, precipitation rate, humidity, sun rise/set, and pressure among others. For those people who just want to know if it’s going to rain, the level of customizability in the data visualization will be overkill. Conversely, this site may not be hardcore enough for weather nerds more interested in data mining than visualization.

For me, WeatherSpark has proven to be a powerful tool, and one I use on a weekly basis to assist my environmental intelligence. I’ve used it to compare precipitation amounts and average night time temperature in multiple locations in order to predict mushroom fruiting patterns (and I imagine if I were a gardener it would be just as indispensable for starting beds). Not only that, but my fiancée and I are now using it to pick a date for our outdoor wedding in Wisconsin in order to minimize the chance of a washout (or heat wave). For those interested in digging a little bit deeper into weather systems, I can’t recommend WeatherSpark strongly enough.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Sample Excerpts:

pacifica weatherspark.jpg
The diversity of weather variables that one can graph is impressive, and made even more useful by little things like the clever icons used to indicate wind direction.

Western Birds’ Nests + Eastern Birds’ Nests


The baskets and fabrics made by birds are as admirable as their feathers. For years I’ve collected bird nests (a few in the image above) without knowing much about them. It took one obsessive Hal Harrison to find and photograph all of the nests and eggs of the birds in North America before I could begin to identify them.

Unfortunately, there is no real taxonomy for nest types, so identification is still a somewhat trial and error visual match. Environmental context — where a nest is found — is a bigger ID factor. But with some sleuthing in this book (two volumes, east and west) I’ve begun to identify species of nests. That has enlarged my appreciation of birds.

Oh, and these catalogs of many hundreds of nests also serves as splendid inspiration for human weavers.

-- KK  

Peterson's Books.jpg
Western Birds’ Nests
Hal H. Harrison
1979, 279 pages
Available from Amazon

Eastern Birds’ Nests
Hal H. Harrison
1998, 288 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The site at which the nest is located is often diagnostic. While some species will choose a variety of sites, many are highly specialized, and this is important in identification. Water Pipits nest on the ground in tundras; Chimney Swifts nest in chimneys, and White-throated Swifts nest in steep cliffs; all wood-peckers nest in tree cavities and so do Prothonotary Warblers; storm-petrels, kingfishers, and Bank Swallows nest in burrows; MacGillivray’s Warblers nest in low bushes while Olive, Hermit, and Townsend’s Warblers nest high in conifers; orioles build beautiful hanging baskets but Poor-wills build no nest at all.

The nest itself is described in detail. Material used will vary with availability. For some species this has been noted, but readers should bear in mind that Spanish Moss would be no more available to a bird in Montana than spruce needles would be to a bird in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The basic structure of the next of most species is so uniformly true to type that even though the materials used may vary, the format generally does not. An American Robin’s nest in Washington or Oregon with mosses built into it still looks very much like a Robin’s nest in Arkansas with mud and grasses predominating.
nest types.jpeg

Mushrooming Without Fear


Can you tell the difference between a head of cabbage and a head of lettuce? Then you can safely pick and eat some wild mushrooms. The key is to learn to identify a few easily identifiable delicious species, and then stick with these easy ones for a while. This book does a fantastic job of holding your hand every step of the way. It gives you reliable rules for learning 10 or so yummy and safe mushrooms. I wish I had this book when I was first starting out. It is a great substitute for going out with an expert.

-- KK  

Mushrooming Without Fear
Alexander Schwab
2006, 128 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Rule number 1: never, never take a mushroom with gills!!! This is our life insurance.

Rules number 2: Only take mushrooms with tubes, spines and ridges and the mavericks portrayed in this book. This means thoroughly understanding the information on pages 18-27 of this book.

Rule number 3: Only eat mushrooms which you have clearly identified with ALL of the positive ID marks. The mushrooms you take must be a certain size in order to show all the identification marks. In their baby stage, so to speak, some deadly and poisonous mushrooms are almost indistinguishable from harmless species.

These are summer ceps. However all ceps, summer or autumn, show a fine white network on the top of the stem right underneath the tubes.

Meteorite Hunting


Who can resist the search for alien specimens from space? Most meteorites are small pebbles; they drop all over the planet but are most easily detected in deserts, or in fallen clusters. Finding them requires metal detectors, maps, jeeps, software simulations, chemical analysis, airplane tickets, patience and a lot of luck. The practical lore in this slim how-to manual was previously known only by the close-knit club of professional meteor hunters. As far as I can tell, this is the only book on how to find meteorites; even the web doesn’t contain the useful details this guide does. Its 84 color pages discuss the gear, the techniques, and the logical tricks needed to find and excavate a metallic needle in a geographic haystack.

The author is one of the stars of Meteorite Men, a TV series which documents the adventures of he and his buddy as they hunt for meteorites in exotic photogenic locations around the world. While meteorite hunting is rarefied hobby right now, it is becoming increasingly regulated as it gains in popularity. Meteorites fall to the ground everyday, but statistically the ones you find will be ancient – a fossil in fact, like gems. You need to obey the local laws even though space rocks are just sitting on (or below) the ground waiting to be picked up. The hard part is still finding them, which this guide will help.

-- KK  

Meteorite Hunting
Geoffrey Notkin
2011, 84 pages

Available from author’s site

Sample Excerpts:

If you are going to start hunting for meteorites, the one thing I can guarantee is you are going to find meteorwrongs. Your metal detector can only tell you so much; you need to do the rest.

Metal detectors that are used for hunting meteorites are calibrated to return a signal when they find iron. Sophisticated modern hand-held detectors such as the Fisher F75, a personal favorite of mind, have the capability to distinguish between different types of metal.

Picking a meteorwrong from the surface is one thing; digging one up from several feet underground is another. It can be tiring and discouraging to spend half an hour toiling through hard ground with a muddy shovel only to reveal a foot of rusty pipe. That is why, when people ask me what you need in order to be a successful meteorite hunter, I say: “Determination.” Be prepared to dig up a lot of trash on your way to finding meteorites, especially in areas that have been farmed, mined, or were once settled.


A “hot rock” is a terrestrial stone that sets off a metal detector. It is an old gold prospector’s phrase that has been adopted by meteorite hunters. Is is very important to remember that there are many different types of earth rocks that contain iron, so if your target turns out to be stone, rather than man-made iron trash, do not automatically assume that it is a meteorite.


The common terrestrial iron oxide hematite is often mistaken for meteorites b novices. Hematite typically does not show any attraction to a magnet and will usually leave a red streak on a white ceramic tile, while an iron meteorite will leave little or no streak. The surface features on some hematite specimens also have a visual resemblance to regmaglypts.

Excavating a complete 870-gram stone meteorite in the Gold Basin strewnfield. While the exposed surfaces had weathered considerably, fusion crust and regmaglypts were present on the buried sections. It turned out to be the best-preserved fusion crust we had ever seen on a Gold Basin specimen.

The glowing fireballs we see in the sky are caused by atmospheric pressure and friction, but meteors stop ablating while they are at least seven miles high. If you are lucky enough to witness a bright fireball, and it begins dark flight while approaching you or directly overhead, it is possible that meteorites will land nearby. When a fireball apparently lands in the vicinity what we are usually seeing is it arcing away over the horizon, still high up in the atmosphere. Due to the curvature of the earth, the fireball may seem to hit the ground, but has in fact just moved out of our field of view and gone beyond the horizon. because of their extreme brightness, fireballs can appear — to our human eyes — to be much closer than they really are. It is something I, myself, have been fortunate enough to witness a couple of times, which can be frustrating because it does look as if meteorites landed “just over there.” If anything made it to the ground, however, it probably landed hundreds of miles away.


A new Nevada stone meteorite lying exactly where it was found. Note the relatively fresh, black fusion crust, indicating a fairly recent fall.