Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brr, baby, brr!

So, it is currently -40, and temps are projected to drop even lower through the end of the week. My adviser has sent me home, informing me that it was just too bloody cold to be out and about, and not to worry about making progress on work. But I'm already here, so I figured I might as well avail myself of the office microwave oven to have some more of my delicious Christmas leftovers before I go home (turkey, stuffing, butternut squash, and wild rice).

When temperatures are this cold, the air is very still, and the Tanana Valley has dramatic inversion layers (mmm good bite of turkey right there). Higher elevations can be 40F degrees (22C degrees) warmer than lower elevations. And by higher elevations, I mean about 1000-2000 feet. It doesn't take much to experience this phenomenon (mmmm some gravy has run into my squash...). Smoke rising from smokestacks cannot even push through the dense, cold air, so it moves sideways, even though there is no wind. Smog and particulates are trapped with us, making air quality quite bad. I won't run with the girls until temperatures come back up and the air gets moving again. I think it's bad for our lungs. We return from outside excursions smelling like everyone's smoke, and this can be unpleasant when people are burning trash.

Thank goodness heating oil prices have come down! It's about $2 a gallon right now. It was about $4.75 late last Winter. Ouch! (mmmm... good bite of thigh meat right there... does that sound pornographic?)

Here is a photo of the girls this morning. I think I caught a new napping permutation!

Happy new year everyone! I wish you joy in 2009!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It's apparently -41F at Freddie's!

But it's a balmy -30F on campus. I used to think that these thermometers around town were all dreadfully inaccurate, but now I am a believer in the microclimates. It truly can be a noticeably different temperature a quarter of a mile away over flat terrain.

It doesn't feel so cold to me today as it has some other cold days. I think your comfort level depends a lot on your current metabolic state as well as the external temperature.

Yes, it is bitterly cold, but also uniquely beautiful. We have our tie-dyed sky, our ice polar bears, and our cotton-candy snowy landscape. We have our warm, unpretentious people and our ecstatically happy dogs.

I may not be "smart enough" to avoid cold weather, but I don't think I will ever grow as a person if I never step outside of my comfort zone, and experience new pleasures as well as new pains. I hope that when I stand before God at the end of my life, he at some point says to me, "And by the way, I'm sure glad you enjoyed all the gifts I gave you."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Photos from here and there

The Christmas eve clean-out-the-fridge snacks reminded me how much of a San Franciscan I am. No matter what race or culture a San Franciscan appears to be on the surface, we are all at least a bit Chinese, Italian, and Mexican, to name just three components of our culinary and cultural heritage.

Dogpile! Linden and Sam are best buds. I think Linden appreciates having another dog around who is as silly as herself. The two of them take turns out-sillying each other while Autumn generally watches from a distance.

Isn't Sam cute? Sometimes, I don't want to give her back to her parents.

In symmetry, beauty:

Sam being cute:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the Tanana Today

Light, fluffy snow began to fall last night, and it's lasting until now! The cloud cover brought warmer temperatures, so I took Sam, our friends' lab, with us to ski on the river (the Tanana, not the Chena, thankyouverymuch) today. It looks like we are in for a truly white Christmas!

The snow-machiners are the first to establish a smooth trail along the side of the river.

Happy dogs!

Wagging tails!

Fancy-schmancy houses along the river, hardly visible through the whiteness.

Happy, happy! Joy, joy!

Autumn with a big ol' smile:

Island in the river:

Here is Howard Luke's place. He is the last Athabascan living on the site of the old village, and he lives alone, but he has lots of visitors. He gives educational talks to visitors, and he goes into town to teach children traditional skills. Sometimes the Riverboat Discovery to bring tourists to see what a Native village looks like. There are log cabins, racks for drying fish, and a dog yard.

I had used to confuse his place with the fake Athabascan village that is set up across the river exclusively for tourists, but no more.

Whoo! Are we pooped!

Merry Christmas, everyone! We will be having a peaceful evening at home, with lots of food. Yay!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Final grades

I got an A in Theory of Elastic Stability, and a B in Arctic Engineering. Not too shabby. I was aiming for the reverse! But Arctic Engineering isn't graded on a curve, and you needed 93% to get an A... not possible for me, since I screw up 7% in arithmetic alone! As for Elastic Stability, I have no idea how I got an A. I just hope it isn't a mistake!

I've also finalized what I am taking next semester--finishing up Mathematical Physics, and Ice Physics. My adviser nixed my wish to take something called "Sustainable Energy Systems," which sounded interesting but is not related to my research at all. I am also taking a 1-unit course on SEM techniques. Cool!

Crashin' through the ice road

People fall off the ice bridge and crash through the thin ice into the river.

According to the article, "The ice road is used every year as a shortcut by Fairbanks residents living off Chena Pump Road to reach the west side of town. There are no stop lights to contend with, and it cuts three or four miles from a trip to Fred Meyer, Pike’s Landing or the Fairbanks International Airport."

Are they kidding? I live off Chena Pump Road. It takes me under ten minutes to get to Freddie's or the airport. How much time could one possibly shave off by driving across the Chena river? I don't trust the Chena downstream from the power plant, at all. Parts of it remain unfrozen on the surface, all Winter, no matter how cold. Think of the risk to benefit ratio--hmmmmm, I could save two minutes if I risk my life! Hmmmm what a brilliant idea!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice!

Now we'll be gaining daylight again!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

And onto Winter break!

Everyone seemed to be out on the Tanana today. Hobby skiers, serious skiers, snowmachiners, skijorers, dogsled teams, ice fishers, and dog walkers. Pervading the scene was that unique eerie loveliness that only occurs in polar regions in Winter--the sun was low, and reflected pink, orange, and golden against the bright, no-longer-white snow, which looked like cotton candy. The sky was bright, but at no point blue. The air was sparkling with ice crystals and making funny optical effects--sundogs that appeared to be only a few feet ahead of you, pixie dust swirling around stationary points in the air.

I was skiing while the girls ran loose. At one point, a highly skilled skate skier overtook us from behind. I stopped and stared in awe. He was strong, graceful, and fluid, and was moving as quickly, using his own power, as I do when I am skijoring. All of his muscles moved in perfect harmony, like a leopard. To complete the picture, he had two dogs with him, the tallest, lankiest huskies I had ever seen, who were running along with him at almost their full stride. WHOOSH this crew blew passed us, and I thought, "Whuh... buh... buh..."

So I am trying to teach myself to skate ski. I will never, ever look like that guy, but it sure did look like fun. I stepped into his tracks and placed my skis where his tracks were in the snow, imitating his angles and his stride. Of course, I had to make slight modifications since he was much taller than I, but I think I got the hang of it. I really moved! I got out of breath quickly, though, and very soon had to swap my warm jacket for a light windbreaker. I'd like to practice some more, maybe with the dogs helping.

Tomorrow is the Solstice. We'll be gaining daylight after that!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Behbeh hippo!

Swimming after his mama at the Berlin Zoo.


It's been a while since I've posted photos of the kids, so here is Millie in floppulous bliss, as Bunn sits and looks disgruntled:

And here is a photo of the girls with their friend Sam, on Thanksgiving day. Notice how all three are so cooperative about looking at the camera.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And that's a wrap!

I took my exam early, on Sunday, and I am right this moment holding my final paper for my other class in my hands. Well, that's a lie, but I am looking right at it as it sits beneath my keyboard!

Now I get to spend Winter break on research only. Yay for no homework!

Monday, December 15, 2008

End of semester goodbyes

Over the weekend was a farewell party for one of my friends, who was returning to his home country across the globe. He has been a very lively friend--energetic, flamboyantly gay, conversationally sharp, still entertained by his own research after years of detailed work and analysis--and I'm sorry I didn't get to know him better sooner. I wasted half a year of his acquaintance without fully appreciating him.

Part of student life is always saying hello, goodbye, as people come and go. As an undergraduate, this didn't hit me as hard, because I made most of my friends in my classes, and so we were all at the same grade level and would graduate together. But at the graduate level, people take classes at different rates, and in different orders. Very few graduate classes are prerequisites for others, so you can meet anyone at any stage in their education at any time. And because you often work so closely together on the most challenging courses, you grow intimate very quickly, and it feels as if you have been friends for longer than you have. But hello, goodbye, they leave, you leave, and you are both richer people for having known each other.

UAF in particular has been a good place for me, culturally. Most of the other grad students have similar personalities to my own. We are all ambitious enough to be in grad school, but not so high-shooting that we are in Ivy League schools. We are mostly science-oriented, since UAF is a science-oriented school. We are all interested in broadening our horizons and growing as people, since we all took a leap of faith to come to an unusual location, far from our native homes. And most of us are socially (though not necessarily politically) conservative. UAF is not a big party school, and it doesn't have a greek system, so social gatherings tend to be calmer and quieter than most stereotypical college parties.

Also, since the average age at UAF is older than most universities, most of my peers are at a similar stage in life as I am. I no longer have to squirm while listening to stories of other people's drug experimentation or alcohol binges or sexual adventures. These things do not bother me in and of themselves. I don't respect people any less who "indulge." I just think that such things should be kept private, and as people get older and more mature, they learn not to overshare, and people of different lifestyles can get along and enjoy each other's company. It's so darned civil.

As I've said before, I'm so darned thankful not to be twenty-one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yeah, baby

I just completed my only in-class final exam. It was... reasonable, but very long! It took me the entire three hours! Now all I have left to do is this take-home exam, which is due Wednesday. I already completed the majority of it, because I rock. Oh yes, I do.

I'm humble, too. ;)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Images of Snow

I finally "get" fake snow. That flocking they put on Christmas trees? Our trees look just like that. The iridescent sheets of cellophane they put in store window displays? Yup, we really get snow that is that sparkly! Or those sheets of polymer wool that they put around train sets, into which they sprinkle handfuls of glitter? Yup, real snow can look like that, too--soft, fluffy, with a twinkle here, a twinkle there.

And those paper snowflakes you cut out when you were a kid? We've got more of those than we can see stars in the sky. Here is the garland that my car window gets when they are just beginning to fall:

And, just for fun, here is a scan of some snow crystals I gathered earlier this week. These were about a foot under the surface, and had been sitting and metamorphizing for at least a week:

Hi Mom, Hi sis!

Here is a present from us to you!

Bay Area peaks may get frosted with a few flakes this weekend, with a wintry cold front charging south from Alaska.


I remember my first winter in the Sili Valley (I had moved from the East Bay. It was not a long move, but considering the microclimates of the Bay Area, it was not insignificant, either). One morning, on my commute on a cloudy morning, suddenly the clouds opened up to a striking blue sky and the East Bay hills topped with snow! I was awestruck and mesmerized. Apparently, it was an unusually cold Winter that year, but I thought it was fantastic to have such scenery on my commute!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Ice Sculptures have Begun to Appear!

The big bear at the Southeast entrance to campus appeared at some point over the past weekend, and the others are sure to come soon.

I love this guy. Thank you for my present, Mr. Bear!

And that's almost a wrap!

My last class of the semester was last night. Now I have a take-home exam to do, and an in-class exam to study for! I've been making excellent progress on the take-home exam. In fact, I am almost ready to lay it aside until after the in-class exam, and focus entirely on studying for the latter. Yay! No procrastinating!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blub blub blub

Apparently, Wilbaer likes to hold his breath and stare at the visitors to his pool at Stuttgart's Wilhelma Zoo.


Who in the hell at Windows land decided that this new thing of theirs is okay? You know, that thing where you're working along and suddenly a window pops up informing you that Windows has downloaded some updates, and needs to restart, and that it will restart in ten minutes, and then it starts counting down and will restart unless you click it and ask it not to. And then ten minutes later it does it again, ad infinitum or until you give in? And when you're not there, it just restarts of its own accord?

Even if you left some slow-processing batch files to run overnight and have gone home and would really like to see those results the next day???


Edit: My day seems to be improving! I just found a five-dollar bill in the hallway, and no-one nearby whom conscience would compel me to question for ownership! Five dollars! Two slices of pizza and fifty gallons of water!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Produce Weirdness

Along with Ishmael's observations on finding cactus leaves at his local Safeway in Kodiak, I would like to offer my own. Now that we are quite well into Winter, all of our produce is shipped up. I still try to buy as local as possible (from British Columbia, Washington, and California), but considering the distances we are talking about here, I pretty much have to give up on eating locally for the Winter. Of course, I do have my personal stash of local produce, but I am meting it out very carefully...

I would never have guessed the shape in which the produce would arrive up here. Hardy broccoli, which you'd think would ship very nicely, often is flaccid and rubbery. Delicate lettuce is almost always perfect. Nary a wilted nor brown leaf to be found. It looks like it was picked just the day before. Oranges, which I'd always thought of as sturdy fruit, are dry and flavorless. Grapefruit are delicious--juicy, sweet, and, currently, thirty-three cents a piece. What is going on here?

But most surprising of all is that I have yet to purchase a bad avocado in Fairbanks. Seriously. Isn't it bizarre? In California, avocados were only so reliable when I bought them directly from the grower, at the farmers' market. Avocados from the supermarket were a crap shoot. Half would be brown or have that spongy business going on inside. But here, every one looks like this:

I just can't figure it out. But my diet has changed somewhat. :)

Nice News Miner Photo

Nice photo by Johnny Wagner, compliments of the News Miner.

Their caption reads, A raven gulps down a bite of snow on a chilly Monday afternoon, December 8, 2008, as the moon rises over Birch Hill in the background. The National Weather Service calls for highs around zero for the rest of the week with local gusts today leading to a chance of snow tomorrow.

Edit: Here is my favorite Raven parody. Hahaha.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A list of things that don't work when it's very cold

plastic snaps
mechanical pencils
ordinary rubber soles on shoes

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On the river today

We got several inches of fresh snow last night. Today I took the girls to the Tanana and skied while they ran free, and I snapped quite a few photos (until my battery got too cold) in attempt at a Christmas card photo. It was cold because of the wind on the river.

The Tanana is wide:

The girls ran quite a bit ahead.

Autumn zipping by:

Linden prancing with joy:

Waiting for me as I fall behind, skiing with the camera crammed in my armpit to get more out of the battery:

Running back to me. We can't be separated for long!

Then exploring ahead again:

The sun is low:

Though it is almost noon:

Our shadows are long:

Our track behind us, as we return:

As we came off the river, we met the family that runs the Lemongrass, which is the best Thai restaurant in a town of a dozen Thai restaurants. They were out for a walk on the river. Yes, a walk, not a ski nor a snowshoe. No, not to ice fish. Just to walk. I was amazed. I'm sure they promptly sunk up to their knees in the fresh snow, but it was nice to see them out enjoying themselves.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Today on the river

A skijorer's view is not much different from a musher's view:

You can tell Autumn has really embraced retirement. There is slack in her line half the time. But, Linden has no problem pulling me all by herself, and we all three still have fun, so I don't mind!

Post run ree-laxing:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Inconveniences that only occur in Alaska

I had planned a short run today, but it ended up being over six miles. I know this is short compared to my runs in years past, but I'm not in training for anything so I take it easy nowadays. But why was our run lengthened, you ask? Oh yes, because our way home was blocked by a moose. Instead of cutting across the route we usually take, we had to go back the way we had come and repeat the longer side of the loop. The girls, of course, were happy as only a husky in Winter can be. And at least I was comfortably dressed for once... I've figured out that the most intelligent use of thermometer outside our window is to use it to decide what to wear before I leave the house, not for me to look at after my run so I can say, "Whoa! So that's why I'm freezing/sweating my ass off!" Yeah! I'm smart! I'ma get me a PhD!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dang it!

The short days don't bother me because I get depressed or have seasonal affective disorder or anything. They bother me because they seriously cut into my fun. Thursdays are the days I usually leave early to skijor with the girls, but each Thursday has required leaving earlier and earlier. Today I would have had to leave at 2, and I couldn't, so I have to miss our standing date. :(


Notes from here and there

We had an unusually cold October and November. But it wasn't anything intolerable, and I'm glad we didn't have any heat spells to turn our snow into dangerous ice, like we did over Thanksgiving 2007. Today, temps are up another 20F degrees from yesterday, making for a total change of 50F degrees in two days. Isn't that something?

Here are the girls sleeping with their feeties:

Edit: here is a photo I took just a few minutes ago, from our window. It's about 11 a.m., and the sunrise is still proceeding.

And just think, it's less than three weeks until the Solstice, and we'll start gaining daylight again!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Well, well, well

What have we here? A leap in 30F degrees from yesterday. Of course, me being an idiot, I don't check the thermometer before heading out for my morning run. So I put on the three pairs of pants, the shirt, the fleece, the jacket, the two pairs of gloves, etc, etc and head out and sweat bullets. I must give my girls lots of credit--they don't change their clothes from day to day, and I never hear a grumble out of them!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

All sorts of miscellany

1. BRRRRR! It is -29F/-34C today!

2. Here is the pi I made for Thanksgiving:

3. How did I make it to four days past Thanksgiving to have my first turkey melt? Mmmmmmm...

4. Have I ever mentioned that my dogs are somewhat cuddly wuddly?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rest in Peace

We lost a professor last week, Dr. Heinz Wiechen. It was pretty apparent that his health was poor, but he was such a nice man that we didn't really grasp that nature would ever get the better of him. But in the end, good karma and goodwill weren't enough.

Dr. Wiechen shared an idiosyncrasy with just a few people in Fairbanks--he would wear shorts year-round, no matter what the weather. The first time I became aware that he would never put the shorts away for Winter, it was about -20F/-30C. I was in the produce section of Freddies, and saw him across the aisle, in his shorts. I said hello, and asked why he was in shorts. He smiled and shrugged. "Why not wear the shorts?" he said in his German accent. "It is not so cold!"

Anyway, here is is home page and here is his page to recruit new grad students. There are some beautiful photos of the aurora, and you can kind of tell from his narration what a warm, funny guy he was.

Thanksgiving aftermath photos

No, I don't have that beautiful shot of the turkey coming out of the oven, or the sides arranged prettily on the table. Somehow we prioritized eating and conversation. Anyway, here are some photos that D took. Thanks D!

Dan at his favorite activity--cleaning:

Playing cards:

Light conversation:

Cuddly girls:


We spent part of the morning attempting to teach Sam to skijor. We hooked her up in tandem with Linden, and hooked them up to Sam's papa, while her mama, Autumn, and I all skied/ran loose ahead of and behind them. Linden wouldn't pull when I was behind her, only when I was ahead of them. She loves her mama. :) Sam did surprisingly well! Sam's papa, however, wasn't much help! I generally try to help the dogs as best I can, by striding and poling. With Linden and Autumn's strength, speed, and skill, the three of us can really get going! I guess Sam's papa has a different philosophy... he didn't even take his poles, and he just stood there and let them do all the work! I thought to myself, poor Sam and Linden, they thought they were out for some fun, but it turned out to be just a drag.

HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!! I kill myself!

We had some old friends visiting from Seattle, so we spent the rest of the weekend sightseeing and skiing. My first time on the Tanana this year! And their first time skiing on a river, ever! It was so cool, and very, very beautiful.