Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Old IT Department

The IT guys from my former department are quite difficult to locate in cyberspace. When I have needed their help, I have had to physically walk to their office, one floor down from my old lab. I have known them since 2007, and I can at present think of the last names of only 2 of the 3 of them. They are smart, kind, sarcastic, and funny. One of them lives a mile from my house at a convenient intersection, and he lets me stash jugs of water in his yard for refilling during my long runs. His wife is an artist, who paints beautiful giant paintings of single flowers. Every Friday, they bring in either a giant box of donuts or a giant box of bagels.

This afternoon, I stopped by my old lab to pick up some files off my old computer, and swept my beloved old tea cup off the shelf. It shattered into dozens of pieces. Crestfallen, I thought about where to find a broom. Why, the IT office, of course. It amused me that as I walked in to ask for a broom, the sign above the door said, "Technical services".

"Hi, Gorgeous! How are you?"

Not good. I just broke my tea cup. I'd had it since Silicon Valley days.

"Well. Let's find you a new tea cup."

Um, actually I'm here to borrow a broom.

I looked around. My eyes fell on a pair of snow shovels.

Well, you have a dustpan...

"That' a snow shovel."

Funny how when you have a particular need, you view everything in terms of what that need is. I knew it was a snow shovel; I just saw it as a dust pan.

One of the guys stepped out and came back with a broom. I thanked them and left. With the broom and a snow shovel.

When I came back to return them, they handed me a ceramic tea cup whose handle was missing:

"Here's a new tea cup for you. It's already broken, so statistically, it'll be harder for you to break again."

Thank you!

"This, too, shall pass."


I'm not sure where I'd get a broom in my new office. I'll try not to break anything.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Just how quaint is the UAF campus post office?

BT and I have not quit our habit of trading books, even since we moved 3000 miles apart. Today, she informed me that she had received my latest, and was amused that I had evidently "paid with actual postage."

I replied, eh?

She sent back a photo:

Apparently, the Fairbanks campus post office has not yet discovered printing out shipping labels. :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Still loving my new pants!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Double egg yolk! My lucky day!

And yesterday there were sundogs:

And yesterday I did this:

And this is why dogs are hereby now allowed on the couch:

We cuddle. :)

This slide is going to be in my lecture Monday:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Best. Baselayer. Pants. Evar.

For wool:
66 North Iceland Basar Longs Midweight Long Underwear Bottom

For synthetic:
Arc'teryx Phase SV Bottom

Both of these come in men's versions, too. :)

So here is my pet peeve with pants (the alliteration is a bonus). I understand that it is trendy for pants to have low waists, and that's fine, if the main purpose of your pants is to keep you decent in public. However, if the main purpose of your pants is to keep you warm, well then, hello, clothing manufacturers? How about some pants that don't leave my belly exposed? It's annoying enough with jeans, but all the more so with base layers, whose sole purpose of existence is to keep you warm. Base layers aren't fashion items, so I don't understand why they are cut so dang low!

Arcteryx and 66 North, they grok me, which high waists and articulated bum areas that accommodate a woman's bum. And the materials are really top of the line and last forever. They aren't cheap, but they are worth the expense.

If your arse is frozen, get you some!

And that concludes my public service announcement. I am not paid to do this, I do it out of love.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


A food Calorie (capital "C") is actually a kilocalorie, or a thousand calories.

A calorie is by definition enough energy to heat one gram of water one degree C.

So a food Calorie is enough energy to heat one thousand grams of water one degree C.

A gram of water is by definition one cubic centimeter, which is one mL. A liter of water is thus one thousand grams of water.

A piece of Pilot Bread:

is one hundred food Calories, or 100,000 calories, enough to heat a liter of water a hundred degrees C.

Does this make sense to anyone? Zero degrees C is freezing; a hundred degrees C is boiling. A single piece of Pilot Bread can, theoretically, heat a liter of water from freezing to boiling.


Our bodies must be astonishing at accessing chemical energy, because I cannot even imagine boiling a liter of freezing water on the wood stove by burning a single piece of Pilot Bread!

I thought of something else...

I am roughly 61 kg, which is 61,000 g. Assuming that I am all water (since I am about 60% water), and these numbers are all rough, that means that I am 61 liters of water.

My body temperature is 37 degrees C, or 63 degrees below boiling.

To heat 61 liters of water 63 degrees C, it takes 3,843,000 calories, or 3843 food Calories. That means, in theory, every time I eat 3843 food Calories, I can boil myself!

And then I thought of something else...

I am roughly 165 cm tall. My waist is approximately 70 cm around. Approximating me as a cylinder whose circumference is the circumference of my waist, my surface area is about 12,000 cm^2. However, because I am not a cylinder, and have two legs and two arms and fingers and a neck and such, let's multiply by, say, 1.2 to get a better number. So my surface area is 14,400 cm^2, or 1.44 m^2.

Convective heat transfer between a surface and air is given by:

q = h A (deltaT),

where q is the energy transfer, in energy per area per degree of temperature.
h is an empirically derived coefficient that ranges from 5-20; I'll pick 10 as an arbitrary, mid-range guess.
A is the surface area.
deltaT is the difference in temperature between the surface and the air. I'm pretty happy with an air temperature of 18 degrees C, so we'll use 37-18=19 for my deltaT.

So my q is 10 * 1.44 * 19 = 273 Watts, which is Joules per second, which is 65.2 calories, or 0.0651 food Calories, per second.

That translates to 5625 food Calories per day (24 hours) to keep me warm, based on my really rough numbers.

I don't eat nearly that much, but I got close to the order of magnitude, which is cool!

Monday, January 21, 2013

All the Things to Report

Once a few years ago, we got home from skiing and Linden promptly barfed up a dog bootie I hadn't even seen her swallow while we were out:

Yesterday, while were out skiing, I saw her snarf one down. I could not believe it.

I called my vet when I got home, "Um my dog just ate a bootie. Should I be alarmed?" They told me to bring her in and they'd get her to barf it up.

83 bucks later, it was up. I am amazed that I paid 83 bucks to get Linden to barf, when she so frequently barfs for free!

In other news, here are some doggie photos.

My neighbor MR's dogs visiting us again. The big gentle one is Gabbro; the goofy little pup is Fiona Freckles:

Charcoal, the huge galoot:

Linden cleaning her teef:

Tandem teef cleaning:

Charcoal doesn't hold his bone in his paws. He just splays out on the floor and gnaws against the floor. Dignity isn't quite his thing:

All three sit nicely for a biscuit:

You know what's nice? Veggie soup with tons of veggies and Pilot Bread toasted with cheese are nice.

Today as I shoveled my driveway for the umpteenth time, lifting the shovel to my waist as the berms grew ever higher, I thought about how much time rural life costs. Between splitting and stacking wood, and hauling water, and shoveling snow over and over, it's a lot more time than city folks could probably spare, what with their active social lives and rushed lifestyles. But then, I thought, on the other hand, city people go to the gym or go jogging in city parks to get exercise. I never exercise only for its own purpose, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have set foot in a gym in my life. Plus, my "exercise" is in clean, fresh air instead of a sweat-smelling gym. The only downside is that if one exercises on purpose, one can optimize a workout for one's health and fitness goals, for example, by running one day and doing pushups the next, all according to a prescribed routine. Me, I run every day and do my other chores when I need to. I might go six weeks without doing anything upper body, then split and stack a cord of wood in a single weekend, or shovel the driveway three times in as many days. I just don't get to plan weather.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Colorado photos

So here are some photos from my wandering around my first afternoon in Golden, CO.

Table Mountain overlooks the entire town:

A paraglider:

A display farm with chickens, whom you could feed for a quarter:

I was told that those cabins had been brought down from the mountains. They reminded me of Alaska.

The bustling metropolis of Golden:

Bridge over Clear Creek:

Here are some photos of the National Renewable Energy Lab's new campus. It's very energy efficient and generates all of its own electricity.

For some reason, my favorite part is that they generate almost no waste at all. Even their food service "plastic"ware is made of corn starch, so it's compostable. They recycle or compost almost everything:

The buildings were designed to make abundant use of natural light:

Even the garage is covered with photovoltaic solar panels. They said that each array is about 0.5 MW, for a total of 2.5 MW from the arrays on all of the garages and buildings. That's enough to power almost all of bush Alaska North of the Brooks Range!

Thermal reflectors inside keep heat in:

Golden at night:

Golden has a lot of HUGE bronze sculptures. I sat on a bison:

The National Wind Technology Center in Boulder:

Are those turbines not beautiful? I am awestruck that these turbines are designed solely for function, but that their forms are nevertheless so elegant and pleasing to the eye. It makes me wonder how our brains might have evolved to define beauty. We have learned to identify what is good, and so we are programmed to think that good=beautiful.

This turbine test site was kind of funny-looking. One is used to seeing wind farms that resemble a highly disciplined army, with rows of identical turbines facing the prevalent wind. The test site, in contrast, has turbines ranging in diameter from a few to over a hundred meters, from 100's 1000's of kW, some facing into the wind, some angled to it, and some facing out of it. It looked more like a cocktail party than an army. And interspersed among all of the turbines were huge met towers:

And if that isn't enough, they also have leased some of the land to the local utility company, which spread huge PV arrays all over it:

No doubt about it; Colorado is a great place for renewable energy, what with the clear skies and blowing winds!

Another photo of picturesque Clear Creek:

I met up with my ex, Dan, who now lives in Wyoming, whom I guess I need to stop calling my ex and start calling my friend :) :

The Coors Brewery, which was closed for tours the days I was there. SO disappointing! I wanted to see the giant machinery behind "the world’s largest single-site brewery"! Dagnabit!

A pretty oak tree:

A skwerl:

Canadian geese:

Another photo of the creek:

Ice is nice:

Mt. Rainier from my window on the way home:

Phew! Now I'm done with my Colorado report!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Impressions of Colorado

On Mon and Tues I was at the National Wind for Schools Summit at the National Renewable Energy Technology Laboratory in Golden, CO. Golden is a picturesque town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It smells of roasting hops from the Coors brewery. I must say, if a town has to smell like a factory, a beer brewery would be my third choice (right behind a commercial bakery and a chocolate factory, in that order!).

My impressions of Colorado:

* When the plane landed in Denver, the pilot informed us that it was about 0 degrees F outside. The entire plane let out a collective gasp. I chuckled softly and kept quiet. :)

* The setting here is definitely beautiful and unique. It's not California-beautiful, nor Fairbanks-beautiful, nor Hawaii-beautiful, nor Sitka-beautiful. It gets a new category in the Arvay lexicon.

* BUT--when I put on my blinker light on the highway, the cars pinch me out rather than let me in. -1 for Colorado!

* HOWEVER--the drivers are excruciatingly polite to pedestrians; I was standing on a corner snapping photos, when the car stopped and tapped his horn to ask whether I was going to cross. +1 for Colorado!

* The weather and the streets look like Spring breakup in Fairbanks--grey sky, melty, slushy snow.

* I saw several flocks of migratory birds, mostly geese. I wasn't sure whether they were coming or going.

* At the airport arrivals area, we deplaners were greeted by two airport employees in cowboy hats, proffering guidance and directions.

* 0 degrees F in Colorado feels about the same as 0 degrees F in Fairbanks--it's dry enough not to sting.

Photos to come! For now, here is a photo of a bunny:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hold your breath!

Scary freezing rain is in the forecast!

However, the weather people say it is unlikely to occur, and that if it does, it will be very little. "The system is far different from the “Icepocalypse” in November 2010 that dropped nearly an inch of rain over Fairbanks, closing schools and turning local roads into ice rinks."


Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Last night, I was doing the dishes and jamming to ridiculous Singaporean pop music (don't ask), when I heard a thump on the porch. I went to peek out the window. What visitors were gracing me this evening, when my dinner guests had just left? It was a pair of dogs, whom I recognized. I let them in, and they promptly made themselves at home, curling up on my girls' bed and gnawing on their rawhides. My girls were quite unimpressed:

I leaned my head out the door and hollered their human's name. No answer. So I phoned her and said, "Hi! Your dogs are visiting me! Want to come get them?"

That, I must say, had never happened to me before. :)

Monday, January 7, 2013

RIP, Apple Guy

I will miss buying apples from you at the Farmer's Market. RIP, Clair Lammers. My neighbor is growing fruit trees from your strains, so you will live on.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In which Arvay crushes your dreams

So while skiing on the Tanana yesterday, a friend told me about a story she'd watched in the news. One Davey du Plessis, a South African adventurer, had deduced a new source of the Amazon River, and wished to kayak it to its mouth. Before he got very far, he was shot and left for dead by robbers in Peru. I was intrigued and went to google the story. I am not an "adventurous" type myself, but I spend a lot of time in the wilderness, so I figure I can learn a lot from the adventurers, who often have great survival skills and preparedness tips. I learned that du Plessis had heard reports of an increase in drug-fueled muggings and killings in the area in the past year, but opted to continue his trip as planned.

Imagine my disgust to read his words in this article:
“To say I was shaken and scared before going into the paddling is an understatement, I had absolutely no experience paddling a river, especially of this scale, nor had I ever paddled in a foldable kayak. This was going to be many first for me, but I decided to do what I always do – take precautions with a pinch of salt, trust in my capabilities and remain naive to any opinions or news. At the end of the day no matter what I hear, my path has been chosen and what happens will happen, so I opt for ruminating and believing in the positive and remaining optimistic. Naivety [sic] and a lack of knowledge is sometimes the best way of remaining positive and optimistic.” (emphasized words mine)

Jesus Christ. I can't even tell you how much this upsets me. I have great respect for true adventurers, and I grieve when they die despite their best preparations. But to go in with no preparation whatsoever makes you not only an idiot but a selfish jerk who will make others go out of their way to rescue you when the need arises.

As I've mentioned before, Alaskans are in general a kind and generous lot--they'll stop and help a car that's stuck on the side of the road, they'll host a spaghetti feed to raise money for the family whose kid was diagnosed with cancer, etc, etc.

However, they have very little patience, and no sympathy, for the "adventurous" types who announce grandiose wilderness survival plans, and then go out with no idea of how to execute them. For example, our two most famous anti-heroes are Christopher McCandless (he of the death in the bus by Denali) and Timothy Treadwell (he who "befriended" and got eaten by bears). I'm not sure how people feel about these two Outside of Alaska, but I believe that they are somewhat romanticized. Here in Alaska, they are regarded as idiots who endangered themselves and anyone who might have tried to help them.

As long as we're on the topic of me crushing the dreams of hopeless romantic adventurers, here's another thing. That whole "living off the wilderness" thing? Those days are long gone. Absolutely no-one does that in Alaska. This country is too harsh, too cold, and too fat-starved. Even back in the Gold Rush days of hard-living, self-sufficient mining, the men and women who hiked up the Chilkoot Trail to winter in the Klondike weren't even allowed onto the trail unless they had 2000 pounds of provisions per person, including flour, sugar, beans, and warm clothing. Howard Luke, an Athabascan elder who was raised in the old ways, lives in his cabin, isolated on the far side of the river, with a wind turbine to power his cell phone. As late as the 1980's, a family, or a young couple, wasn't welcome into Eagle unless they showed up with a tremendous enough pile of provisions that they looked like they'd be able to take care of themselves for the first brutal winter. My neighbors, the L's, the most self-sufficient family I know, spend 3-4 months every winter in their cabin in the bush, trapping, living off stored goods, and home-schooling their girls. I watch them leave, and welcome them back, and do you know what I see them depart with? Yeah, boxes and mounds of provisions!

Sorry, romantics, but that whole "living off the land" thing just doesn't happen here. I do understand that yearning. Believe me, in my soul, I get it. It's romantic and idealistic and beautiful and appealing to the core of me. But it ain't gonna happen.

Moral of today's post: Be prepared, y'all.

Schadenfreude is bad. Nevertheless...

So I was on a highway off ramp, in the left lane as I approached a perpendicular street. The light was yellow and I was quite far back, so I slowed to a stop. The car in front of me slammed the accelerator, ran the red, misjudged his speed turning left, skidded off the road, plowed through a snow bank, and came to rest against a street sign. He was fine and his car was fine, and it was very amusing. I'd never seen karma work so fast!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

I've never made New Year's resolutions before, because I don't work in finance and so the calendar year is kind of meaningless to me. I sometimes make mental notes to make my life better on my birthday, or on either Solstice, but January 1st is such an arbitrary date to me. Nevertheless, this year I have made my first, and I have two.

One is to focus more and stop pittering and puttering and procrastinating. When I have something to do, I need to shut up, quit whining, and just do it.

The other is that I'm going to quit this gluttony thing. I neither want nor need to lose weight, but I need to break this habit of eating until I feel like I am about to explode. It's unseemly and unhealthy, and it feels downright immoral, in a world where so many people don't have enough to eat. Not to mention, multiple studies have shown that eating less is healthier for almost everyone, even those who are not concerned about weight control.

I have two strategies to achieve this goal. One is to mimic my friend D2. D2 used to be bigger than she liked (she's Inupiaq), so she began her still-standing habit of taking loooooong daily walks with her adorable little chocolate lab, Maya. Her other change is that she made a deliberate effort to eat less. But here's the thing--she still really enjoys her food. She is the only person I have ever known who limits her food intake, but still eats food with absolute joy and sensuousness, and has not developed any sort of disordered eating habits. She still eats rich foods (such as muktuk, buttery cakes, and fat-marbled meats), but she savors every bite of limited quantities, and then... stops eating.

I eat like my dog Autumn, wolfing down my food and shoveling it down my gullet as if I've never had a proper meal in my life. I enjoy my food, but not like D2 does.

My second strategy is this. You know how people say of people whose eating habits they disapprove of, "There are people starving in China!" even though it's totally meaningless in that context, since whether or not you clean your plate and whether or not you go for second helpings, those people in China will still be starving? I've decided to put some meaning behind this. For 2013, every time I find myself reaching for another scoop of cheesy whatever, or about to have a second helping even though I'm already full, instead of doing that, I'll add a tic mark to a piece of paper. At the end of the year, I'll make each tic mark equal a dollar, and donate the lot to The Hunger Project. Now I'll be literally putting my money where my mouth is!

Finally, here is a wonderful article (with photos!) of a river otter in San Francisco's Sutro Baths. How otterly wonderful!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I rang in the New Year with Sandy here:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Treats and eats

When I was little, and we were poor (hahahaha; we were indeed poor, but I would never glamorize it, because we never suffered, thanks to my mom's ingenuity... thanks, mudder!), my mom often bought pork bones cheaply from Chinatown, and simmered them into the most phenomenally delicious soup you can imagine. Sometimes she'd prepare the resulting soup western style, with carrots, potatoes, and onions, but more often, she made it Chinese style, with seaweed, tomatoes, and daikon. Mmmm I am drooling right now. Wait... why am I writing about this? Ummm... Oh yes, my leftover pork from the Christmas roast... so of course I couldn't walk back home after Christmas dinner empty-handed. I was sent home with a chunk of roasted pork leg. A few days later, I cut up the meat into little Asian-sized bits and boiled them in chicken stock, with handfuls of lovely veggies--collards and carrots and onions--and tomatoes and herbs:

It was delicious, and the boiled-down pork tasted exactly like the bits I'd peel off those giant bones when I was a little girl!

The upside of the long nights in Alaskan winters are that you can almost always snootily inform people that you have been up before sunrise. When M, an ultra-early bird, and I ski together, she reminds me of the dogs, dancing and bouncing around the house until it's light enough to ski. I myself take it in *slightly* better stride, although the long mornings also make me antsy! I try to get into either my studies or my leisure reading, but long habit has removed my ability to sit still in the mornings without having run or skied first. So I clean if there is anything to clean. I comb and rebraid my hair from the night's sleep. Here is the light to the south about about 9:30:

Finally, the looooong sunrise begins, and we can leave.

About forty minutes later, we are at the top of the ridge, and sunrise is still proceeding:

From time to time, people ask how I can "tolerate" the short days, but I think I am well-compensated!

Here is one of my favorite landmarks:

I've come to realize that my fondness for this tree is shared by many others; several other neighbors have made references to it, including my ex, V, who knew what I was talking about the instant I even started to describe it. Last winter a lady moved into the neighborhood who was a musher of a team of elderly dogs who had retired from racing but who, like Autumn and Linden, still loved to go out and run. She posted on our neighborhood web site, "Does anyone have a map of our trail system?" I informed her that none existed, but that I'd be happy to sketch one for her, if she'd take it with caution, knowing that I had a poor sense for both direction and distances. My map, I informed her, would be more like a circuit diagram, with all of the nodes correct, but the distances not having much correlation with reality. She said that that was fine, and thanked me. I sketched in the lightning tree, which I'd so labeled for its obvious victimization. Months later, she posted on the web site, "I lost a glove out near the lightning tree. Please look out for it!" And everyone knew what she was talking about!