Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy 2008, Everyone!

Thanks for the friendship, love, and support. And thanks for keeping up with my northerly adventures! I hope you and your families and friends all have a wonderful, blessing-filled 2008!

In other news, I had a vivid dream last night. I was in the lab at Sun, assembling prototypes with a few Sun colleagues. We were chatting, shooting the bull, gossiping, complaining, laughing, that sort of thing. I woke up feeling rather lonely, although Dan was beside me and Autumn at my feet. I think it's my first touch of homesickness... I actually miss the sili valley grind. Whoda thunk?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

So just what is she?

Autumn is not a Siberian Husky nor an Alaskan Malamute, though she likely carries strains of both. She was very purposefully bred, but she is not any AKC-recognized breed at all. Loosely, she is called an Alaskan Husky, which encompasses the group of Northern dogs who are bred for sled-pulling without regards to their physical appearance. I find AKC descriptions of dog breeds quite humorous. They say things like, "Dog must have an erect carriage, an alert expression, and a solid coat of black or grey. Brown is unacceptable." I just made that up but that's about the gist of it. These descriptions crack me up because they remind me of descriptions on wine labels. They sound poetic and all, but I don't really understand what they are talking about.

Anyway, Alaskan huskies can have pointy ears or flopped ears, and can be any color or mix that any dog can be. They can have long tails or short tails or no tails, and can carry them up or down. The only characteristics they have in common is a love of pulling and running, a thick and furry coat, a hardy constitution, and a friendly temperment that can get along with a crowd. They are subdivided into different types also, according to where they work and the type of running they do. Down South near Anchorage, huskies are bigger and more powerful, for plowing through thick, wet snow. Autumn is a sprinter, so she is small and lean (she is just a bit under 40 pounds!). Our neighbors down the street have a team of giant, extremely furry dogs that they take out with an old-fashioned, wood-framed sled that looks like Santa's. Man, are they cute! The newfies of dog-sledding!

Autumn is particularly special because she was raised in a family that loved her as a companion as well as a working dog. She was close to both her human parents and their children, and they neither cull puppies nor euthanise retirees. It's a sad fact that many mushers cull puppies whom they don't anticipate to be good racers. And quite a few do not get placed out to retirement homes as Autumn and her brethren have been.

Anyway so that is my report for today. Sorry to end it on a sad note. :/

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Confirmation: The Inversion Layer is for Real

Took Autumn to Creamer's Field yesterday, and dayum, it was cold! I could only stay out there for 45 minutes. It's pleasantly warmer in our neighborhood. Autumn and I have been taking long walks and runs every day since school let out.

Temperatures have come back up. We are back to daytime highs of about -10F/-23C, and yes, that is comfortable! We have no wind, so I bundle up and off we go. We are accompanied by the neighborhood chorus of dogs, doves, ptarmigans, meese, ravens, wabbits, skwerls, and lots of little colorful songbirds whose songs sound exotic to me.

Back to the regular grind next week, but at least no school yet! Autumn hangs out in my office, and we go for walks during the daytime.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

HAWT Husky Action!

HAHAHAHA! But seriously, she's a big fan of the belly rub, so if you walk by her while she's lying down, you're likely to get an eyeful of dog naughty bits in her belly rub request.

Classic Autumn. "I'm going to sit here. Okay, you can hug me."


Millie flopped out:

This is a very difficult shot to get. But I, yours truly, have spent years chasing after the elusive Bunny Flop.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, everybody!

We are planning a quiet Christmas at home. Hope you all have a lovely one that is not too stressful. :)

If you ever find that Christmas stresses you out, may I recommend grad school? ;)

For us, Christmas is not stressful at all! Shopping, cooking? Psh! We just finished final exams, and we now have a solid month off, what's there to to be stressed about? :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Um... wait a sec...

Happy solstice for real!


Today was so lovely--just cloudy enough to hold in some warmth, but clear enough to see the gentle orange sun move along the horizon. I realized that it was warm enough to take Autumn for a run! And during the daytime--what a treat! So I took her to the trail, where I let her run off-leash. She is such a joyful runner! It's amazing, her little bipolar personality. Outdoors, she is ebullient--full of energy and life and springiness. She will gladly run for miles, and then sulk as we head toward home. Indoors, she is every bit the gentle retiree--patient, prone to indolence and long naps. I don't understand how she bounces back and forth like that, but it sure works well for me! Not to mention that she is a cuddly-wuddly schnoogly-woogly schnookums-wookums puddin-head. Hahaha. :)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oh my goodness

I got a B in Classical Mechanics. Oh yes, I did.


That was difficult. Really difficult. As difficult as one of the more difficult of Berkeley engineering classes. But in Berkeley engineering, I got Cs. And here, I got a B. And the curve is the same, no grade inflation.

I envy less nowadays the people who are effortlessly, frighteningly smart. I knew dozens of them at Berkeley, and it made me feel so... cheated. I was willing to work just as hard as they were, if not harder, but it was difficult to keep up since I was not gifted with as much natural intelligence. But it seems, the older I get, the more I appreciate that "stick-to-it-iveness" and motivation and ambition are worth more than raw intelligence. And one of the biggest advantages to having more ambition than intelligence is this! First, I can be proud of a B, and second, I can say that I earned a B! How cool is that?

Yay! :)

Happy Solstice!

The days will start getting longer again now! Yay! :)

Here are the stats:

It was indeed warmer today. Autumn and I took a long walk down to the beaver pond and back. What do beavers do in Winter, I wonder? Also bumped into the mother of one of my students with her three dogs. One like Autumn (a little husky) and two stunningly beautiful golden retrievers. I don't know where they come from, but gigantic, stunningly beautiful golden retrievers are very common in Fairbanks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cool Winter Things

At -40, you can do the following:

Throw a cup of hot coffee into the air. *POOF* it's gone! This is because the coffee warms the air around it, raising its capacity to hold liquid. And the air is so dry, POOF! It immediately absorbs the liquid! This is my classmate Ness:

Blow bubbles! They freeze, and then break apart in shards. Then they actually look just like bits of cling film that you use to cover your leftovers.

Here are some pieces of bubble. Did you ever know that the phrase "piece of bubble" could be used legitimately? :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Autumn Gnawing on her Bone

It's always fascinated me in dogs that have "feral" appearances--the juxtaposition of their soft, gentle eyes against their fierce, powerful teeth.

I can't decide which of my family members befuddles me more--the cute-as-a-cartoon rabbit with the savage temper, or the Wolf with the Big Teeth that cuddles with me like a kitten.

Holy Crappadoodle

Just came in from a nice morning stroll with Autumn, and checked the thermometer. Outside, it is supposedly -38F/-39C! We're almost there, at the magic 40/40, and then I can say I've experienced a real Fairbanksian winter!

And the Smartwool socks are doing just fine, thanks, so I don't need no fancy-pancy high-tech socks! And so, too, are the little light suede boots, no clomping around town in snowboots required, thank goodness!

Yahoo weather also says:

Sunrise: 10:56 am
Sunset: 2:39 pm

Haha that's stricly true, but Autumn and I were out and about at 9, and it was bright enough outside to see by. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yeah, it's cold!

Right now, I just got home, and it is -33F/-36C. Brrr! But yes, I have to admit that what all the locals say is true... a dry cold is SO much more tolerable than the raw, damp cold that some places get. 0F/-18C was quite comfortable. I still did not wear long underwear then. Nor a heavy coat (the coat I was wearing then is one of those soft-shell "windstopper" thingies that seem to have taken outdoor clothing manufacturers by storm lately). -40/-40 is the coldest it will get for any extended period of time. Every year, it goes below that only for a few days at most.

NOW I have quit running... Yes, I have! This morning was my last run for the Winter, and it was so damned unpleasant... I was getting cold in the most clothing I am willing to wear running. Wool leggings under shell pants, and two thermal shirts under a light jacket, plus gloves, neck gaitor thingy, and hat. Plus reflective vests and blinking lights on both Autumn and me. It's TOO DAMNED MUCH clothes for a morning run that I have to cut short because there is a chunk of ice accumulating on my neck gaitor thingy where I have it pulled over my nose and mouth. So, ten minutes getting dressed, thirty minutes running, ten minutes getting undressed... hardly a worthwhile ratio.

Autumn and I are switching to walking. Walking is nice because I can wear as much clothes as I want without feeling uncomfortable, and I can therefore walk as long as I want without feeling cold. Plus, no wind! There is no wind here at all, so your walking speed is proportional to how cold you get! When we were out walking last weekend, I stopped several times to adjust my scarf and hat (I pull my scarf over my nose and mouth, and it accumulates ice as my breath freezes on it, and so I have to adjust it regularly, and then I have to adjust my hat, too, because the strings on my hat tangle with it), and when I take them off to re-align--no problem! It doesn't feel cold when the air is not moving at all!

I now feel qualified to list my Favorite Cold Weather Items. For anyone who is new to a cold climate:

* Merino wool base layers. Seriously. Da bomb. Did I mention I ran this morning at -33F/-36C with just lightweight wool leggings under light nylon pants? My legs were not cold at all. They're the best.

* Smartwool socks. Been hiking in them for years. Turns out they go well for insulation against cold, too.

* Silk long underwear. Again, been hiking in them for years, because they are so lightweight and so warm, and a whole pair of pants or shirt squishes down to the size of a softball. But they are amazingly warm, and fit nicely under jeans without making you feel like you can't bend your knees.

* Fleece-lined wool hat with ear flaps and strings that tie under your chin. Only I don't tie it under my chin. I keep it tied loosely so as soon as I step into an overheated building, I can push it off my head and it just hangs behind me.

* Cheese. Potatoes. Haha. Yeah, seriously, I eat more now. :)

* Lots of water. Yeah, it's easy to forget to drink water here, because you don't FEEL thirsty. But you still need lots of water, even more than usual because the air is dry, and also I heard that dehydration exacerbates Seasonal Affective Disorder.

BTW, I'm really not feeling any different, physically, with the small amount of daylight. I don't have less energy. I'm not depressed. I do crave carbs, but yeah, no difference there from normal. Maybe I'm not susceptible, or maybe it just hasn't hit yet? But the solstice is in a few days, and then the days will start getting longer again, so maybe I'm just not susceptible...

Grades so far

I got an A in math, and an A- in plasma! :)

Classical mechanics isn't posted yet, of course, since our exam was only yesterday, and I could potentially get a C. But even if I get a C, that still means I survived my first semester without losing my scholarship or getting on academic probation. Aiming high, that's me! Yeah!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The girl is too sweet...

That's why my productivity has been down lately. Every time I sit down, she puts her big ol' head in my lap! GAH!

Here I am, sitting innocently on the floor trying to fold my socks, and this happens! How can anyone concentrate?

Guess what?

I'm done with my first semester. Yeah, baby!

Autumn hung out with my landlords and Savannah (the aforementioned loony puppy) today. She enjoys the company while I am at school, and Savannah needs the positive influence from a sane dog, since their older two dogs passed away.

At the end of the day, Lori asked, "Um... the family that you got Autumn from, do they have any more like her?" :D I think they are actually considering one as a friend for Savannah. And of course, Autumn would be thrilled to have one of her brothers or sisters here with her... That'd be so cool! Autumn is actually one of eight siblings that are all being retired and placed out to pet homes now that they are no longer top-form sprint racers. Autumn was the first to go, since she is the sweetest, and so she was deliberatly picked out for me (her breeder is one of my students). But if Lori and Dan get another one, that'd be so awesome! :D

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quick Vent

I've been reading up on husky care, although in reality I've been learning much more from talking with other husky owners than reading crap on the internet and in books.

I. Cannot. Believe. the number of husky care sites that say, "If you live in a warm area, like Florida, you should not get a husky unless you have air conditioning!" ARGH! That makes me SO angry! How about, "If you live in a warm area, you SHOULD NOT GET A HUSKY AT ALL." GEEZE! How can people be so selfish as to keep an active dog cooped up all summer, just because they HAVE to have a husky and don't live in the right climate for it? OK sorry just venting. :/

Walking with Autumn, and on Being a Lousy American (TM)

Every weekend day, I take a longish walk with Autumn. When you see her walking on a snowy trail, passing alternating landscapes of trees, fields, farms, and meadows, it is instantly obvious that she is very, very in her element. She looks the part, of course, because she is a husky, and looks a bit like a wolf (though more like a coyote). But the way she fits so perfectly in her role as Lead Dog on the Trail is something that hits you viscerally the instant you see her there. Her carriage is upright and proud, her gait is smooth and concentrated, her eyes are alert, and her ears are pricked forward. And she is happy! So happy! This is her life, what she was meant to do.

I was going to take some beautiful photos today, of her walking ahead of me with the orange sun ahead of her, but it turns out that electronics don't do so well in -20F/-29C. My phone is sluggish, and my camera doesn't work at all. I guess professional arctic and antarctic photographers have special cameras.

Anyway, tomorrow is my big exam, so wish me luck! Then I will be done with my first semester at UAF! It's been two years in planning, and a year in waiting. Buuuut of course, no congratulations are in order until I actually see how I did. This reminds me of a bit of cultural education I had a few months ago. I have a good friend here who only just came to the US for the first time from India two years ago to study. D is intelligent, bright, and wickedly funny. Anyway, she had just sat through comprehensive exams to advance to candidacy, and I told her we should celebrate. She gave me a blank look and said, patiently, "We can't celebrate until we know whether I passed!"

Well duh.

Only Americans celebrate mere survival! No wonder India is surpassing us in churning out an educated and motivated population of youth, ready to take on the most prestigious jobs in the world. And China is catching up, too. America has lately had this weird cultural movement of "everyone is a winner." The canonical example of this is the game of T-Ball, a sugared-up form of baseball where no score is kept, there are no losers, and an inning is defined as every player batting once. Afterwards, both teams are winners, and everyone is a winner!

I actually have a personal recollection of this cultural phenomenon happening to me. I was in the fourth grade, and everyone in the class was asked to make a nativity scene. It would be a contest, Miss Vitari told us with excitement. The day we all brought our nativity scenes in, Mrs. Spiegel would judge them, and there would be prizes for the top three! I thought I'd be clever, and laboriously put together a miniature nativity scene on a tiny circular platform. I remember gluing down pine needles for hay in the barn floor. I then mounted the thing inside an eggshell frame, whose outsides I had colored navy blue, with a bright yellow star in the middle. It was lovely. I was amazed by my own creation, seeing as I had and have never been known for my artistic abilities. Well the nativity scenes were judged while we were at recess, and when we returned, imagine my horror when Miss Vitari informed us that Mrs. Spigel had loved them ALL so much that we EACH were getting a prize! I even remember the prize--a foam core red valentine heart ornament covered with red enamel. I wouldn't have minded the lousy prize if I had won it fairly. And I would have been much less bitter if a superior nativity scene had one. I would have been slightly less bitter even if the winner had been one of the sucky popular kids, and I had lost just because I was a weird kid. That would have sucked, but it would have been understandable. What actually happened was not even fathomable!

Um... wow I can't believe I still remember that. Anyway, the point is, I think we should go back to the days of pre-political-correctness and allow people to have both winners and losers. A meritocracy breeds ambition instead of complacency.

That is all. Wish me luck tomorrow! But if I don't do well, you can just well say, "Luh-HOO-ser!" No need to say, "At least you tried your best. You're always a winner to me!" :)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Autumn would like to know...

Whatcha eatin'? Can she have a bite?

Aaaand... uh... I still post about non-dog-related things... let's see, I am writing my term paper right now, and I am RIGHT on target with my study schedule for my big exam... See, relevant to school, right? :D

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Autumn ree-laxing

Autumn chillin' on the kitchen rug:

When I work at the kitchen table (which doubles as my desk, seeing as this is a two-room cabin), Autumn lounges around on the kitchen rug. Her blankie, you see, is seven feet away from the table, and that is not within her preferred radius of me. She excels at relaxing. She rolls to her side, then curls up, then luxuriously stretches out, making sure each leg and each toe gets its proper due. She sighs deeply, yaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwnnnnnnns dramatically. She sleeps deeply and dreams of running, and her four paws twitch as she lays on her side. Watching her makes me very envious, as I wish I could just go to bed myself!

Here she is doing what she does second best (behind running like the wind!):

And here she is mid "run":

In which I invoke my right as a physicist to represent a dog as a sphere:

BTW, before y'all tell me that she can't reach her water dish, that is actually her food dish under there! I keep it there for the other 23 hours, 59 minutes and 12 seconds of the day that she's not engorging her dinner. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not procrastinating

I finished my last Classical Mechanics homework last night. It was bizarrely humane... no insanely tedious algebra... I wonder if I did something wrong?

Anyway, I also went up to the Geophysical Institute Library and got copies of all of the articles I needed for a paper I am working on. Also stumbled upon this beauty:

It's Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr watching a tippy top. How cute is that? Two Nobel Laureates, in their suits and polished shoes, hunched over going, "A top! It's spinning! It's flipping over!" :D Haha totally made my day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I'd heard that huskies were willfull, headstrong and difficult to train, but I've noticed that what makes Autumn such a good companion dog is not that she is any less headstrong; it's that she loves to please. When you ask her to do something, she doesn't do it because you are asking her to. She does it because she has just become aware of something that will make you happy, and she wants to make you happy!

Okay I will REALLY spend the rest of the day on my term paper now. :)

A Photographic Tour of the UAF campus ice sculptures...

With special thanks to Autumn, for trudging up and down campus with me. :)

Bear at the Southeast entrance:

Raven at the entrance to the Museum of the North:

Bear at the South entrance:

Kids sledding on campus:

This hill is usually crammed with kids. Slow day today. :)

Autumn chillin' with her bunny pals:

Millie disapproving of the night's salad:

Doofus looking somewhat personable, for once:

Autumn again:

I wonder if the move from outdoor dog to indoor dog has been stressful on her... What do you think? ;)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Quotes for y'all

"Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."

--Richard P. Feynman

"The Universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."

-- Eden Philpotts

"I admire the beauty and power of mathematics: there are ingenuity and intricacy in tactical maneuvers, and breathtaking sweeps in strategic campaigns. And, of course, miracle of miracles, some concepts in mathematics turn out to provide the fundamental structures that govern the physical universe!"

-- C.N. Yang


Yay! Yay! Several inches fell last night, and it's still coming down!

Now we'll have a nice blanket of insulation before temps drop again! No astronomical oil bills! Pretty sparkly streets! Toasty warm living room without burning a crapload of wood! Yay!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thanksgiving snowman

So the Warm Thanksgiving left us with one good thing. This guy!

See, it's normally too cold around here for snowmen and snowballs and snow forts and all. But with the temps warming up, Mr. Snowman was able to make an appearance. The same day, he started to thaw and droop a bit, but then the temps quickly dropped again, and now he's frozen solid. A snowman under an armor of solid ice. He'll be there until Spring!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Well today...

The flashing sign at the entrance to campus has an ice carving of a polar bear next to it!! I must walk down there and take photos! :)

An ice bear! How cool!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Okay for real this time...

I have officially switched to Winter clothes. Long underwear, baby!

The flashing sign at the entrance to campus read -15F/-25C this morning at 11 am. WHOA!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oh and!

I almost forgot to add in my long-winded post below, I attended a formal Christmas party last night. First time wearing three-inch heels in the snow, baby!

Little cubes of cheese consumed: 12
Number of face-plants: 0



Yesterday, Autumn and I went to a skijoring seminar. I've decided to take up skijoring, more for Autumn's edification than for mine. Although she was given to me as a "retiree," she does not agree with this opinion, and has been returning from our runs and walks rather sulkily. When I run as fast as I can comforably sustain, Autumn is sort of walking/trotting. And I feel bad for her because she can GO, and she LOVES it! On weekends when I get to walk her during the daytime, I take her with a retractable leash that goes to 10 feet. She'll dawdle behind me until I am at the end of the leash in front of her, then she'll take four galloping leaps until she is at the end of the leash in front of me, and then repeat. Poor girl! I really feel for her because I, too, love to run as fast as I can sometimes, just to feel all the muscles pump and go. And she doesn't get that opportunity with me.

Anyway, so I figured it'd be good for her to tow me on skis; then she run as hard as she wants, and I'll just be long for the ride! Because of our weight ratio (I am 3.5 times her weight.), she won't be able to haul me off like some psychotic hard-core racer dogs do to their owners when skijoring. Anyway, she's also gentle and sweet-natured, and great on voice commands. She's been my "lead dog" on our runs, and I've been testing her. Before we turn right, I say, "Autumn, GEE!" Before we turn left, I say, "Autumn, HAW!" When she starts to go too fast for me, I say, "WHOA, girl!" She even knows "On by!" when we pass a neighbor with barking dogs, or when a car is comeing by, etc. And she really knows this stuff and listens! She's awesome! But as I've said, it's her sweet temperament that really makes it happen. When I, for example, slip on the snow, she rounds about back and looks at me, her bushy eyebrows knitted with concern. I LOVE her and cannot ever imagine wanting a different dog.

Anyway, after the seminar, we all went over to Creamer's Field to practice what we had just learned. I still don't have ski boots, though I'd inherited my boss's old skis and poles, nor have I yet purchased the $120 or so of harnesses, ropes, etc, so I just went to watch. Some of those dogs are terrifying! I mean, not in a vicious way, but just in the way they want to bounce around all over the place without regards to the wellfare of the human they are attached to! Two came charging at Autumn and me as we walked by. Of course, all dogs want to socialize with other dogs, and all three went for each other, but as soon as I told Autumn "on by" she stopped and continued walking, while the other two yanked their humans to their asses and dragged them over! Anyway, I'll probably buy boots soon, just to practice skiing on my own, but I can't see investing in skijoring equipment until we have more snow. I'm quite annoyed that we lost all our snow over Thanksgiving weekend. Oh well.

In other news, I do believe it is Winter for real now. Time to switch to heavy mittens instead of unlined gloves, and woolly sweaters instead of 2 shirts! Yes, I've been wearing 2 shirts every day since September. Only two thin shirts, and a midweight coat, and I was comfortable to 15F/-9C. But yesterday, the temperature at Creamer's Field was 5F/-15C, and I was COLD!

And in other other news, I think the "temperature inversion" that this Valley is known for has already begun in earnest. In the Summer, our hills are cooler than in town, but now that it is Winter, it is 5-10 degrees F warmer. :)