Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dang Commute!

My commute involves no streetlights, and a single stop sign in either direction. However, sometimes I am held up by this:

Dadgum train! Bloody traffic!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pie! Pie! Pie!

So when I went to the kitchen porn store to buy my new teapot, I could not resist two tart pans. And of course, I had to use them right away. I called the Bs to inform them that Pie Was Occurring, and was informed that Pie Was Also Occurring chez eux. So I told them, bring theirs over, and we'd have a Grand Pie Occurrence together! We also invited the Ls and the Ps.

I made a custard pear tart and a plain pear tart, and DB made a banana cream pie:


TB cuddles with the fuzzies:

While I was making the pies, it occurred to me that several European tart recipes differed from their American pie cousins only by a dose of obsessive-compulsive disorder. That is, you take the same crust, only organize it nicely into a cylinder instead of a charmingly lumpy truncated cone. And you take the same fruit, only slice it and arrange it, instead of cubing it and dumping it all together. Huh.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spring eats and treats

The rains come at night:

And make the blossoms bloom by day:

The seasons of super-rich foods is over. All I eat are salads:

And veggie frittatas (this one asparagus and tomato):

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Settling in to the new routine

When most people start new jobs, it's a whole new life--new commute, new office, new colleagues. Me, I have the same commute, I park in the same parking lot, my new office is the building next door to my old office, to which I run at least once a day, and I already know, and am in fact quite good friends with, over half of my 'new' colleagues. So... it's not all that terribly disruptive!

My schedule from now until fall will be more rigidly scheduled than I am used to. One weekend day each week will be a dedicated Thesis Day. One weekend morning each week will be dedicated to running up and down Ester Dome, in preparation for the Equinox. However, my weekday evenings will be free and easy. This weekend, being a 3-day weekend, also gives me another day of fun!

So I used my extra day to help JB of Pioneer Produce put her veggies into the ground. Her friend A comes from Maine to spend summers helping on the farm.

JB and A had spent the prior day planting, leaving only this left to do:

The other Very Important Job was to keep throwing this slimy root for Annabelle to fetch:

Half-planted beds:

I focused on brassicas--cabbages, brussels sprouts, and broccoli--my personal favorites!

Under the watchful eye of our foredog:

C'est finis!

By the way, I have splurged, and now have a teapot, tea cup, and tea stash in every place I work, THE WAY THE GOOD LORD GOD INTENDED.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Words, they mean the same thing, and yet not the same thing

In Sili Valley and other thoroughly modernized places, "alternative energy" tends to imply something high-tech, such as photovoltaic cells. It also tends to imply something used to produce electricity, such as a hydroelectric dam. Thus, when biomass is talked of as an energy source, human brains tend to think of the production of ethanol from corn, or the use of used deep fryer oil to power a car.

However, here in Alaska, "energy" tends to mean "heat", and "biomass" tends to mean "trees". Thus, I myself have an alternative energy heat source that uses biomass as a fuel:

Now, don't I sound impressive? I use renewable energy!

What image comes to your mind when you think of the phrase "alternative to fossil fuel"? Is it anything like this?

This image comes from the presentation by The Nature Conservancy at the 2011 Alaska Wood Energy Conference.

Alaska is a different sort of place!

I must confess, I had never grasped the utter wastefulness and illogic of electric heat until moving to Alaska and living in a smaller city, where I am encouraged to think about such things.

In big cities, such as San Francisco, where I grew up, people tend to take technology and infrastructure for granted. For example, it had never crossed my mind until I was in college to wonder how gravity-fed flush toilets worked on the 100th floor of skyscrapers. Now, living in a cabin whose water supply is fed from a reservoir to the back of the sink by a very noisy sump pump, I wonder all the time how various buildings' water systems work, and why and how they are so quiet. It's quite lovely, to be given back this sense of wonder, after having lost it at around age twelve.

Anyway, back to electric heat. Here, our power plants generate power by burning stuff. It is my understanding that when we put paper into the "paper recycling bins" around town, they don't get recycled, either. They get burned at the power plant for supplemental heat generation. It's all about burning. So, high-quality, low-entropy fuel (diesel) is burned to make electricity. And electricity is sent to homes. And some homes... run it through high-resistance wires to create the highest-entropy form of power there is: heat. What a mind-bogglingly ridiculous waste! So, with a wood stove, you cut out the middle man. Rather than wait for the trees to die, take 65 million years to turn into a fossil fuel, then burn the fuel to create electricity, to bleed off the electricity to make heat, I cut out all of those middle mofos and burn the trees. That is the beauty of biomass heat! Plus, I just like my wood stove. It's nice and toasty warm and makes the best tortillas and grilled cheese sammiches evar.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Still Working Things Out.

I have a teapot here, but no dental floss. My notebook is there, but my desktop computer is here, while my laptop is there. I don't recall where I parked my car. I'm drinking tea out of a bowl, since my teacup is there. I have an orange, and I hope I find it before my afternoon blood sugar drop.

Now that I'm working a "real job" it's difficult to stay motivated to work on my thesis. I am well aware of the stereotypes of ABDs in my situation. Just last night, I mentioned to G my plans for the upcoming three-day weekend. Said I, "One day will be a dedicated thesis day". His response? "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" sniff. snorkle. "HAHAHAHA HOHOHOHOHO!" snorf.

All I can say to you nay-sayers is, The late Mr. Grumphus Bumfus Bunn B. Doofus, Esquire, disapproves of you!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Greetings from my new life

A word of advice: If you ever find yourself wandering around campus and unable to name the location of your car, cup of tea, notebook, computer, lunch, and sweater, you probably lack the mental flexibility to occupy two offices. It's time to commit to living in one!

Come along, teapot! We're moving to the next building!

By the way, it's well and truly summer now. Check it out!

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Last Day Here

So the report on the new job is not too terribly exciting. On Monday, I will begin a new job as a Research Engineer at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power.

I will also keep my present office and lab space until I complete my thesis, the target for which is this Fall. I have completed 1.5 out of 3 chapters for my thesis, and will spend some evenings and weekends of my summer writing the rest. But, essentially, my grad student life is over as of tomorrow.

sniffle, sniffle

And that is all.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First Thunderstorm

Welcome to summer in the Interior! If you don't like the weather, wait half an hour!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Women in engineering, redux

I faithfully read three trade magazines from their respective professional societies--Physics Today from the American Physical Society, ASME Magazine from The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and Advanced Materials and Processing from The American Society of Materials. I can't recall ever reading an issue of any of these three journals that did not include at least one hand-wringing reference to the dearth of women in engineering and science.

Me, I've never felt particularly disadvantaged as a woman in engineering, aside from the occasional being mistaken for an administrative assistant or secretary. But I've certainly never been a victim of sexual harassment or discrimination, thanks to the work, of course, of the women of prior generations who blazed the trail for me. In fact, I've sometimes wondered whether my admission to the Berkeley College of Engineering as an undergrad, and Santa Clara University as a master's student, with less than stellar grades (although quite outstanding SAT and GRE scores), was a consequence of both institutions' continual efforts at encouraging women to go into engineering. So in that way, I've been unfairly advantaged.

How I've felt personally in my working life, with the high ratio of men to women in almost every place I've worked as an engineer, has been generally good. Honestly, I've never been comfortable with large groups of women. They tend to talk about topics that don't interest me. However, I certainly would not feel comfortable if I were the only woman when I looked around. So... the going rate of about 1 in 5 mechanical engineers being women has been supremely comfortable for me, especially since the other women tend to have a similar personality type to my own, so we have gotten along quite beautifully.

However, yesterday I had a pretty big dose of sexism hit me from an unexpected place. My neighbors, the Bs', youngest daughter is graduating from grade school, so I was looking on the internet for gift ideas. On a lark, I entered into google "gift for 12 year old". I was quite shocked to find that not only did the web site hits divide the kids by gender, but even google's most frequent searches divided the kids by gender. Check it out:

Below I will borrow some of my own words from an email to G:

Boys got recommended really cool things like robots and toy rockets. Girls got recommended stuff like "make your own jewelry" kits. I mean, there are plenty of little girls who would love that, and plenty of adult women who make jewelry as a hobby or for a living, so I'm not saying it's a bad gift. I just think it's really sad to start pigeon-holing kids by gender so early. The problem that I see is that it denies not only free exploration to the children; it also denies the children's gifts to a field that may not have crossed their mind as something to try, if no-one pointed it out to them as an option. For example, I think that I'm a pretty good engineer (at least I am told so by the people that I pay to flatter me). If had had been pigeonholed only into "girly" things when I was younger, what on earth could I contribute to the world? I am positively dreadful at creative arts; I couldn't make pretty jewelry to save a life; where would I be? Stepping back, doesn't it make you wonder how many women are stocking shelves right now because they failed as actresses or ballerinas, when they might have made fine engineers, but never had a thought to try?

In hindsight, I am very lucky to have had a very outstanding high school physics teacher who didn't distinguish between his female and male students, as well as a mother and elder sister who, despite sticking quite rigidly to other gender stereotypes, were quite delighted when I informed them that I'd like to be an engineer.

And there but for the grace of God goes Arvay...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The skwerl and the bird feeder

So this little fellow hangs around my bird feeder:

He had used to chase away the chickadees, and, if that weren't annoying enough, he'd stamp his feet and scold me for daring to be in his territory! Never mind that it was I who was providing the food that was making his territory worthwhile to begin with! But lately he's eased up, and lets the birds come and go as they please. He still gives me baleful looks though.

And here I am with F and MG at the ANSEP graduation banquet, honoring our ANSEP students who are graduating this year:

It's just occurred to me that from time to time I mention ANSEP this or ANSEP that, without telling you my own affiliation. I help tutor their physics and engineering students with coursework. So I get invited to their meetings and events. Tutoring the ANSEP students is... not challenging. They are almost without exception very bright and hard-working. On the whole, they do better than I did as an undergrad, although that isn't saying much, as I struggled quite a bit with my undergrad coursework!

Friday, May 11, 2012

A smorgasbord post of this and that

I had meant to trickle you regular reportage this week from All of the Exciting Things, but I kept getting distracted by something shiny or a bit of string or something else. How this blog manages to keep the interest of all eight of you is beyond me!

First Order of Business: The first rose seedling has sprouted up in my yard:

Secondly, the Falafel Stand has opened! Yay!
Dayum, what a line on opening day!

There was even an official-looking photographer snapping photos:

Totally worth the wait!

Thirdly, my neighbor, who is a pilot, called one afternoon and informed me that there was room for me on a routine maintenance flight, if I'd care to go in half an hour. Would I like to go? Would I like to go???
'Twas a lovely day, and look! It's the Alaska range!

Finally, since I've accepted a local job here (and therein lies a story, but it's not this one) I've ordered firewood for next year. All birch! Yay!

Last night, this caused me some consternation:

But it is not too much for my Estwing Sure-Split Wedge!

I <3 Estwing products!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


In December of 2010, Andrea Ruby, one of our ANSEP students, was killed in a car crash on the highway. At the time, I had supposed that the accident was due to the icy conditions of that winter.

Imagine my surprise to learn today that the collision was actually with a drunk driver, who "had marijuana in her system and a blood alcohol content of 0.279".

I have little familiarity with blood alcohol content numbers, so I Wikipedia'd that, and found that 0.279 means:

Loss of understanding
Impaired sensations

Severe motor impairment
Loss of consciousness
Memory blackout

The driver, one Edna Hancock, claims that she bears no fault for the accident since Andrea's husband, who was driving, crossed the median into her lane. Although he was sober and she was drunk and stoned off her ass. And, at the same time, she also happened to be swerving to avoid a moose. Got that? He crossed into her lane while she was swerving to avoid a moose, and both of these things caused the crash, NOT the fact that she was drunk to the point of "Severe motor impairment", "Loss of consciousness", and "Memory blackout".

The judge, Jane Kauvar, who sounds like an utter delight, believed her and charged her only with DUI, not with killing Andrea. Hancock will serve 45 days in jail, and her license will be revoked for ninety whole days. The judge also gave her a verbal hand-patting:

"Yes, it’s long. This was your first DUI and if no one had been hurt or killed, obviously you’d be doing a lot less..."

Hancock, for her part, clearly felt terrible. Well, except that she didn't. "I really don’t want to go on record saying that I was the cause of that lady’s death. What I want to know is, what was he (Hunt) doing in the middle of the road?"

What I want to know is, what you were doing on the road at all, you monster?

The heartbreak of commuting by behbehreindeer


Commuting by them is pure torture, as I want to go in and cuddle them and bury my nose in their fuzz! I was let into the pen once, by a very amused worker. Surprisingly, adult reindeer are pretty blasé; but the behbehs let you nowhere near them. It was soul-crushingly disappointing. I didn't even get to feel the fuzziness, even once. Sigh.

In other news, greenup is gamely proceeding:

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

--Emily Dickenson

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

They are here!

Look! Leaves!

Yes, friends. We are well into greenup. When the leaves are young, they are bright chartreuse, and in the mornings, when they are backlit by the rising sun, they are really stunningly beautiful; they look as gaudily bright as those ridiculous gold-dipped trees they sell in Chinatown. It's also been raining off and on, which is also a novelty, as we hadn't seen liquid water outdoors since September. It washes the dirt and dust from the trees and makes the air smell rich and alive.

That's one thing I miss in winters--natural smells. When everything is frozen, the only odors outside are artificial and generally unpleasant--car exhaust, laundry soap, oil furnaces, wood smoke, cooking fumes, people's synthetic perfumes. Come spring, the earth thaws and lets out its own fragrances--rain and spring dirt, willow buds and rotting leaves.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Over the weekend, I somehow got invited to a dodgeball tournament.

This is surreal on so many levels. Hello? Arvay is not coordinated. Hello? Arvay is an unpopular nerd who Always Gets Picked Last For The Team. Yes, I was one of those as a child! Yet somehow I got invited by a popular, athletic sprint musher who works at a well-respected local sports store. Me! I got picked! I knew that, with my lack of athletic prowess, I'd have nothing to contribute, but I just had to go, you see.

I went on a lark, expecting that it would be low-key fun involving beer. Imagine my surprise to find that most of the other teams were totally serious and beer-less and crazy good at dodgeball! So we immediately got squarely beaten and eliminated within half an hour. Oh well!

Here we are, Silke's Samurais!

I Got Picked For the Dodgeball Team! I totally sucked, but I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! :~D

Thursday, May 3, 2012

All Time Weather Record! (yawn)

Minor News sez: The high temperature at Fairbanks International Airport on Tuesday was 32 degrees, which was the lowest high temperature ever observed on May 1 in Fairbanks.

Lowest high temperature evar!

Also, also!

It also was the lowest high temperature observed in the month of May since 2001 when the high temperature was 31 on May 3.

Although cold, the 32-degree reading Tuesday was not even close to the all-time record low high temperature for May of 17 degrees on May 2, 1945. The all-time record low temperature in May is 1 below zero on May 9, 1964.

The high temperature today is expected to be in the 40s. The average high temperature for this time of year is 55 degrees and the average low is 32.

Temperatures will gradually warm up the next few days, with highs in the 40s today and into the lower 50s Friday.

You know, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hairy Woodpecker

Said I to my neighbor G last night, I'm not sure if I'm going nuts, but I thought I saw a woodpecker at my bird feeder today.

Said he: "Why not? There are woodpeckers all over the place in Alaska! Don't you hear them all the time?"

I: A woodpecker at my bird feeder? Eating seeds and nuts?

He: "Ah."

A brief internet scouring tells me that this is a possible thing that occurs. My little friend, according to the wonderful, is a Hairy Woodpecker. And, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

"More than 75% of the Hairy Woodpecker’s diet is made up of insects... [but] a little more than 20% of Hairy Woodpecker diet is made up of fruit and seeds. Hairy Woodpeckers are common visitors at feeders, eating suet and sunflower seeds."

I like my little visitor!