Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lazy weekend photos

It's nice if you can use your sister's tail as a pillow:

Photos from a field of irises:

And finally, here are the flowers I pressed a few weeks ago, ready for mounting:


Apparently, quite a bit of Northern California is on fire at present. I hope it dies down soon and everyone stays safe. I don't understand why there are so many up North near the Oregon border. To my understanding, that is an area with lots of precipitation and water. Generally, when California bursts into flames, it's in Southern California. So much that once on a drive to Los Angeles, I phoned a friend in panic as I drove by her exit in Castaic and saw her whole neighborhood apparently ablaze. She informed me that such things happen every year in her area, not to worry. I'm not sure I could watch a fire raging from my backyard and not worry!

We occasionally get wildfires here, too, but since Summers tend to get lots of rain, there are not as many. The scary fire-related thing here is that some rural areas have no fire service whatsoever. Yes, that's right. If their house catches fire, they are just SOL. You can see a list of the fire departments that service the North Star Borough here. And of course the city of Fairbanks proper has its own fire department, as does the University campus.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Here we have some lovely demonstrations of the husky flop:

I was told, before meeting her, that Linden was just like Autumn, only a little sweeter and a bit not as bright. I wondered how anyone could possibly be sweeter than Autumn, who follows me around like a second shadow and lays her head on my lap at any opportunity. Well, Linden wants not to be my shadow but to fuse into me and be my new body part. She smooshes against me instead of leaning against me the way Autumn does. She's also a touch less bright. Their former family told me that Linden is like that because she was unusually cute as a puppy. So, while her seven brothers and sisters (including Autumn) were out running with the other dogs and learning survival and social skills, Linden was generally sitting in some human's lap. So now today she is what she is--sweet and affectionate and dense! She also has NO idea that it might be possible for humans to want to cuddle Autumn, or the bunnies, or each other. When you try, she comes over and pushes against you and looks up at you like, "Um, I know you actually meant to be hugging me, right?"

In other news, this has been a good week for me because there's been some conference going on in my building. A catered conference. So my hallways have been lined with food. It is a maxim that grad students never turn away free food, and you cannot get them to attend any event without providing food. And it doesn't have to be fancy food. Sandwiches, pizza, cookies. Just put it out, and they will come. The thing is, though, I've found that this doesn't just apply to grad students. This applies to everyone, even upper level managers in Sili valley companies, who comfortably make six figures. It isn't even about money or being a "starving student" at that point. Any of them could easily buy themselves a dozen cookies from the bakery, but how much more joy is there in arriving at a meeting and finding a plate of them sitting there for the taking? Among my more memorable examples of this phenomenon is at my most recent Sili Valley company. We had just won a contract with McDonald's. So at the celebratory meeting, they served McDonald's. And darned if we didn't all rush over there to chow down on disgusting McDonald's burgers and fries and "chicken" mcnuggets! Even today, I happily ate two giant brownies when I normally don't even like sweets! It's free food!

edit: holy halibut!!

Here come Wood Bison!?!

Oh my goodness, this is so cool!
Wood Bison to be reintroduced to the Alaskan Interior.

I wonder what they will be like.

How much wood would a wood bison buy if a wood bison could buy wood?

And, in other news... Well, somebody's got to look after the wombats.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Loot from the Farmer's Market

Here are some of the veggies I got this week:

turnip greens, spinach, salad mix, and a few radishes from last week that I forgot to photograph when they were fresh.

Birds of Creamer's Field

Article on the birds of Creamer's Field

Cute little buggers, aren't they?

The weather has been lovely the past few days. Sunny, but cool. The Alaska Range looks amazing--crisp and white and angular against the clear blue sky.

Although we have long days (the sun swoops below the horizon for four hours or so, but it never gets dark), the sun still never climbs very high, because of our high latitude. It rises at a shallow angle in the Northeast, then circles around the entire sky, and then dips below the horizon in the Northwest. A consequence of this is that the sun is frequently in your eyes.

I'll confess I get irritable after a while, especially when it is hot. *&%$ing sun in my eyes! *&$%ing heat! *&$%ing mosquitoes! *&%$ @$%* *&%^!!!!

But then I go indoors and I'm good. :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I recently read a study in which the author purported that humans and dogs have co-evolved. That is, not only did the dogs that got along better with people have higher survival rates, but the people that got along better with dogs had higher survival rates as well. I wonder if that's why most people find dogs so cute. It's just a natural instinct to be drawn to our faithful companions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Letter from my Congressman

Last week, I received a letter from my congressman, expressing agreement with my views in a letter I had written to the Editor of the News Miner several weeks prior. I was quite touched. This could easily turn into another commentary on how nice small town life is, and how this would never happen in the Bay Area, blahblah, except that that isn't true, because I have a similar story from San Francisco.

I don't remember the details, and I'm pretty sure my mother and sister don't remember the incident at all, but I was mightily impressed and haven't forgotten. When I was a young kid (probably under 10), a small business owner angered my mother so much that she threatened, "I'll write to my congressman about you!" After we left, she said to us, "I really will write to our congressman... er... who's our congressman?" My sister replied, "Nancy Pelosi!" Ah, it is so delicious telling this story because it sounds so out of character for both of them. My mother the crusader, and my sister the politically aware little girl! Anyway, my mother did write to Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi (or her office) took care of the issue and wrote my mother back to let her know. I was surprised and pleased.

I'm happy that such a person who would actually take the time out to take care of a non prominent member of a huge congressional district is now Speaker of the House. Yay for politicians that actually care about their people!

What? WHAT?

I mourn.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ran the Midnight Sun Run!

Ran the Midnight Sun Run and enjoyed the following along the course:
* 2 beers
* gigantic huggable newfie
* beagle puppy
* visit with Karen at her house (which fronts the race course)
* high fives from neighborhood kids
* sprays from garden hoses, super-soakers, etc, etc

It was very warm, although, evidently, BT and Miss E would have had no problem whatsoever with our "heat wave." Too warm for Autumn and Linden to run in, for sure. Dan was an acceptable running buddy though. He didn't chase after rabbits or kill and eat squirrels, so that's a plus.

I got up early this morning to run the girls before the day got too warm, and, blessedly, it did seem a bit cooler this morning. There was a breeze, which not only cooled us but also knocked out the mosquitoes! Then I went back to bed, and while I slept the day grew blistering again. Okay, only by Fairbanks standards. Still, take pity on us! We function at our best at around 0F!

Then the clouds gathered and kaboom! Lightening and thunder, and now it's raining! Weather here is fickle. We also have microclimates that would even put San Francisco's to shame.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Solstice!

The solstice is tonight just before midnight! At high elevations here, we will have no sunset.

It's also bloody hot outside, and evidently will be so for the next few days:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's only an intermission

Summer is only an intermission from Winter. So we even spend Summer planning how to deal with the cold. Summer is explosively green, fecund, giant-vegetable-producing, and short. Frankly, I'm okay with that. I love to ski and hate mosquitoes, and I don't care much one way or the other how long the daylight hours last. Added Winter bonus--dogs' paws are self-cleaning!

Now is the time to shop for winter stuff on deep discount. I finally bought boots that are rated to -40, for $32, marked down from $80! Yes! My current Winter boots are only rated to -25F/-32C, and my toes get cold when I stand still. Which, to be honest, doesn't happen all that often, but there are still the Yukon Quest, the Raising of the Tripod, and the Ice Carving Festival to get through.

WiiiIIIIiiiiIIIInter's coooOOOOOoooOOOOming! But we still have to go berry-picking first!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Post-Run Ree-laxing

How to Learn

The other day, I confessed to my adviser how I learned best. I read and study as much and as intelligently as I can, but at the end of the day, there's no way I can possibly absorb all of what I read and study. What it comes down to is, months or years later, when someone walks up to me assuming that I already know something, it is then that I dig that stuff out from my brain, where it will have been gathering dust, and give myself a crash "refresher" course and then I understand it for real.

He laughed, like that was the funniest thing he'd heard in a while. I was surprised. I thought everyone learned that way! Well, maybe that's just how Sili Valley people learn. I remember my first day in a new position in this to-remain-unnamed blue chip company, I was immediately placed on a dozen or so email distribution lists so I'd be apprised of all of the worldwide crises. My inbox went to a full page within an hour or so. That evening, I was told to sit in on a conference call with the Taiwan account team, ostensibly to meet everyone and learn the current status of projects and problems and such (remember, this was my first day in the company). But nope. I was introduced as the new "expert" on my product line, and I was there to solve everyone's problems, from process to hardware. (This was in no way possible; I was less than a year out of my undergrad studies, and my previous work experience was completely unrelated). So I went scrambling around to read email histories, ask people what they knew, look up BKMs, etc, and then parroted this back to whomever was asking. Pretty much faking the hell out of everyone. I was also constantly nervous that people would soon learn that their new product expert was a total fraud!

Well, it turns out that that's how I learn best, after all. I actually did become somewhat competent at my job, via this bizarre training method, and when I started grad school at SCU, I found the same learning method applicable. A prof would say, "Of course, you remember from your undergrad studies that blahblahblah..." and I'd say to myself, "Huh? Oh, right, I vaguely remember that..." and then I'd go look it up. It was these second encounters with the material, combined with the need to fake having already mastered it, that really cemented the knowledge for me.

And so I sit here, poring through books and articles on ice and snow physics, and wonder when I'll be put to the test...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer Heat

The thermometer at Sunrise Bagel says it's 77F, and the thermometer at Denali Bank, a mile away, says it's 70F. I can now say I've experienced a range of 130 degrees F from the coldest time until now. Amazing.

Anyway, so we're all in shorts and T-shirts and guzzling water, and the girls look like this:

They'd already lost most of their Winter coat, thank goodness!

The warmth and sunshine have also brought forth lots more wildflowers, including wild iris:

And lady's slippers:

We haven't seen the stars since early April. We don't have the heavy curtains that a lot of people do, since no one in our household minds sleeping with the sunlight.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Alaska has wildflowers in abundance. The Spring and Summer growing seasons are amazingly fecund. Greenery grows up wherever there is so much as a pinch of earth. It even grows up aggressively through tiny cracks in the sidewalk. Wildflowers grow out in crazy brambles, lining the streets with color.

Here are a few shots I took tonight.

Wild roses:

Some pink things that I at first mistook for fireweed.

I'm not sure what these are called. And sorry the photo is so lousy. My camera has never cared for blues or purples.


The past few days have been cool and rainy in the mornings, so I'd wear jeans, boots, and a rain jacket. Then I'd get to school and the clouds would promptly disappear and I'd sweat buckets while walking around campus. So today I rebelled and came to school in a cotton skirt and sandals. And today at lunch I walked down to the corner minimall for a slice of pizza and then to Beaver Sports to register for the Midnight Sun Run. And while in Beaver Sports, kaBOOM! the sky exploded and emptied buckets of rain, all at once. Then came hail. A bunch of us all stood there in the entry way, in our shorts, T-shirts, and sandals, and laughed at whose predicament was the worst. I think I won "Most Inappropriate Shoes" but had the shortest walk to go. We talked and waited. I petted a little dog tied outside who looked like Linden. When the rain let up after a few minutes, I walked back. Several cars pulled over and offered me a ride. I thought that was very nice, but it would have taken them more time to drive me up the street to the UAF entrance, then back down the street to my building, than it would have taken me to walk up the staircase. Not to mention they could have been mass murderers. Ha.

Here are photos:

There is a car in there under that wake:

And later that same afternoon:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bear Testing

Photo by Bob Hallinen of the Anchorage Daily News

One of the Alaska Zoo's black bears tries to open a bear-proof garbage can on June 6, 2008, at the zoo in Anchorage. The bears were unable to open up the cans made by Otto BearSaver in the test conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Aw. And here I thought Fisher was the only official tester of bear containers.

Fisher is my inspiration because he reminds me that being a pest can get you a job. :)

"Alaska Girls Kick Ass"

That's a common bumper sticker around here. Even when you see one for the first time, it already sounds like a cliche, but it's still amusing and empowering in an era in which the downfalls of female celebrities are celebrated in supermarket checkout lines.

I blogged before about what it's like to be a girl in engineering, so now I'll talk about what it's like to be a girl in Fairbanks.

1. Chivalry isn't dead. If I pull off the road for any reason, be it to read a map or to take a photo of an interesting view, it won't take long for another car to pull up behind me and ask whether the car and I are okay. I find this very reassuring.

2. I am not a piece of meat. When I was growing up in San Francisco, I got hooted and hollered at almost every time I walked more than a few blocks on any mildly busy sidewalk (not just downtown!). The most disgusting one I can remember was when I was thirteen years old. I was a young thirteen, too; I probably didn't even have sexual feelings yet, I was thin, underdeveloped, and dressed plainly. Anyway, this day I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and this grizzly old man with a gruffy voice said to me as we passed each other, "You got pretty legs." I was SO grossed out. Here, people who notice me smile and wave, nothing more, nothing less. I like it that way. The closest I ever got to feeling like a piece of meat was when a guy who works at the supermarket said to me, "You sure are pretty. It's always nice to see you." That's not so disrespectful. That's actually rather nice. I can live with that.

3. I don't wear my nice things any more. There's no point. I would probably be treated worse going about town in nicer clothes, because people here have more respect for humility than they have for sophistication. We have a symphony and an opera, and nice restaurants, too, but no one dresses up for those, either. My silk dresses and Italian shoes sit in the closet. Do I miss them? Sure I do. I won't say I'm above vanity; I may be a geek, but I'm still a human.

4. Last night as I was washing my face before going to bed, I suddenly recalled how I had used to use a product called "astringent" after washing my face. This was basically alcohol that you'd put on a cotton ball and wipe off whatever soap wouldn't clean. My mom, bless her heart, on realizing that I used this stuff, took me to the Clinique counter at Macy's and bought me something from them. So I could now use a cotton ball to wipe very expensive alcohol on my face, instead of using a cotton ball to wipe cheap alcohol on my face. I am now of the belief that whatever soap won't clean belongs there. Life is simpler now. I like it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Tough Lives of Retirees

Spring to Summer Observations

1. Now that most of the ground is thawed (the parts that aren't permafrost), the ground is back to functionality. The city is resurfacing all of the dirt roads, so you no longer need a really good bra to drive around (ha, ha). Furthermore, when it rains, the rain can soak through to the earth again. No more puddles of standing water!

2. The world is bursting with green, green, green. The trees have exploded into green, the grass is green, the underbrush is green.

3. When you buy ice cream, you must go directly home. Go figure.

4. Dog crap stinks. Whoda thunk?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Another Interruption to your Silicon2tanana Reportage

I promise I won't make this a habit. I just think you need to see this rescue dog in training. When he grows up, he will be ready to rescue you should you fall victim to an avalanche on your pilgrimage to St. Bernard hospice at St. Bernard Pass, on the the border between Switzerland and Italy.

Have you ever seen such enthusiasm in job training? We should all be so lucky to have such joy in our lives!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Photos about town

Here are some miscellaneous photos.

A ladybug:

Dogs on a motorcycle:

Behbeh reindeer growing up and eating solid food:

Doofi at home:

Busy bee doing her job:

Clouds hanging over the Eastern edge of UAF. For some reason, they just fascinated me that day.

Wild roses I gathered for pressing. I paid dearly for them... they have nasty thorns!

Loot from the Farmer's Market today; basil and strawberry sproutlings:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Interruption to your Silicon2tanana Reportage

I simply must post this very irrelevant, but very cute photo:

Compliments of the AP. A baby white rhino doing a happy dance at the Dublin Zoo. Now aren't you having a better day already? :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cultural Changes

Here is a blog topic I've had up my sleeve for a while now but hadn't gotten around to before now.

A few years ago, I was talking to my graduate adviser from SCU, and I told her that I really enjoyed most of my engineering colleagues. We had so many similar values, that had nothing to do with engineering. And wasn't it a remarkable coincidence? She pointed out, not quite! Actually, I fit a certain profile of people who go into engineering, and it's not just a profile of academic leanings or of personal enjoyment. Sure, most of us are tinkerers, and liked our math and science classes best in high school and college. But there is also a certain sociological profile that a lot of us fit, that sets us apart from other well-respected professions. It's that most of us are from lower to middle income families. A lot of us are from immigrant families. A lot of us are from single-parent households. A lot of us are the first generation of our families to attend college. Thinking it over, I find that this makes perfect sense to me. After all, what drew me into engineering? I loved physics, but didn't want to major in something that would require an advanced degree to make a good income. Of course, that exact same train of thought must have occurred to so many other engineers. A college student with family money probably wouldn't think twice before choosing to major in physics.

The physics community is somewhat different. Quite a few physics PhDs have one or both parents who also have physics PhDs. In fact, I've met more physics people following a family legacy than any other university major. They also tend to come from more financially comfortable families (although not all do!), and tend to innocently assume that their fellow physicists all come from similar circumstances.

I remember once I was chatting with a physics professor (who looks negative in this story but who is actually a very nice man whose company I enjoy immensely), and he said to me, "You are such a bright young lady. I bet your parents are so proud. Are they physicists too?" I was taken aback. For one thing, I feel that at my age, I should no longer be defined by my parents. But the relevant point is that I suddenly felt like I was in a different world! There were so many incorrect assumptions implicit in those three sentences--that my parents were still together, that they were highly educated, that they were proud of ME being highly educated. And he just said it so casually, he didn't mean at all to be insensitive or prying. He simply didn't realize how loaded a topic that could be. I think I stammered out pretty much the truth, while smiling and trying to maintain the levity of the conversation--my father was estranged, my mother actually wasn't proud of me. To say it aloud was shocking in the conversation, and I wished I had had the diplomatic skill to give a more tactful, but equally honest, answer.

No engineer had ever assumed that my parents were proud of me. None of them asked about my parents, knowing that there was equal possibility for my parents to be doctors or drug dealers, or anything in between. It wasn't considered a safe social topic to ask about one's family.

After this conversation, I considered my physics peers for the first time in this new light. Sure enough, they were different on the whole from my engineering peers. It made me pleased to realize that I'd spent nearly a whole year as a "fish out of water," and hadn't noticed until that conversation. It's nice to be able to blend in so genuinely that you don't even feel different yourself! You get to meet more wonderful people that way.

But as much as I like my physics peers, moving into the engineering building did have a feel of homecoming. :)