Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My first talk as Dr. Arvay!

My colleague DP, who is a personal as well as professional friend, beamed and introduced me with, "I believe I have the honor of being the first person--ever--to introduce Dr. Arvay Henson! The crowd burst into polite, restrained, engineer-applause. After I gave my talk, which had nothing whatsoever to do with my PhD research, several attendees congratulated me.

I've decided that, after seven years of fantasizing about it, I don't, after all, like the sound of "Dr. Henson".

Dr. Henson sounds serious and intimidating and unapproachable (my real last name is ethnically Chinese and sounds even more serious and intimidating than "Henson"). Dr. Henson sounds like someone who wears tailored suits and would raise an eyebrow at me when I approach her with peanut butter on my scarf and dog hair on my sweater. Dr. Henson sounds like she'd lose respect for me for peppering my speech with California "likes".

I don't want to be Dr. Henson.

So I'm still going to go by "Arvay". Maybe Arvay, PhD, but still Arvay. :)

Edited to add: There's still snow in May! I'ma go skiing this weekend! :)

Monday, April 29, 2013

My favorite acquisitions from the Rural Energy Conference

I usually revel in conference schwag--fancy pens! Notepads! Mini screwdriver/USB memory stick combos! Refrigerator magnets!--but at this one, my two favorite acquisitions were this:

And this:

The former I observed in creation out of the corner of my eye during one of the talks. The guy sitting next to me was doodling... that... and when he was done, I admired it, and he gave it to me. I love how it's so unmistakably Alaskan, with the permafrost-stunted black spruce clinging to the creek bed.

The latter, I picked up from among the sundry brochures on gardening and home canning--how to protect your tomatoes against aphids, how to discourage moose from stealing your cabbage, how and when is best to fertilize carrots, etc, etc--offered by UAF's Cooperative Extension Service. Like the cooperative extension services of many land grant universities, UAF's is friendly, accessible, and always ready to foist literature upon you. I must say, this one is the most... oddly specific (pint jars!) and Alaskan (walrus!) of any I had ever seen.

Edited to add: Unseasonable brrrrrrr continues throughout the state.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring is here, but so is the snow...

M and I took a day hike in the White Mountains yesterday. What a gorgeous day! We could totally have skied--the snow was soft and lush and perfect. Oh well. Walking was nice, too.

The ptarmigan were still in their winter white, as they walked around:

The views to Wickersham Dome, and around the mountains, were splendid:

Today, I took Autumn and Linden to walk our usual ski loop behind our house, and found that it, too, would have been skiable, had I brought my skis. Oh well:

Behbehmoose tracks!

I didn't see any mamamoose tracks, though. I guess behbehmoose has already gotten the boot so mama can have new meeses.

I also dug out the pile of round logs and continued on with splitting and stacking it. I had wanted to continue working on it all through the previous winter, but every time I dug it out, it would snow the very next day and cover it again! I think it was around January or February when I finally gave up. But I lifted its snow cap off last weekend, and now it's all accessible:

My old wedge is starting to mushroom out of control, so I got a new one. Comparison:

I'll need to order more wood as soon as I clear my little pile to make space for it to be dumped! All I have left are this small stack:

And this small stack:

Ahhh, Fairbanks! Just as the snow starts to disappear, it's time to plan for next winter!

Edited to add: Minor News sez, It's a record cold spring! Brrrrr!

Friday, April 26, 2013


I input the final changes to my dissertation from the grad school, and printed out the hard copies on thesis paper for binding. Then I promptly dropped one on the floor, and papers flew and wrinkled everywhere. Things like this only happen to me, right?

My awesome coworker, MC, she of cheese provisions fame:

caught me walking out the door carrying my two folders. "Um... are you sure you want to carry up your thesis in folders?!? Let me find you a box!! So your thesis will be safe when you fall down! I mean IF!! IF you fall down, of course!


Well, I will have you know that both copies are safely at the grad school. And now I've chucked my box of pre-PhD business cards into the recycle bin. Yay!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It came down

This occurred while I was at work yesterday:

I'm sure glad my dogs are really calm and even-tempered. That crash noise would definitely have caused some other dogs I won't name to crap. Or destroy something. Or both.

And my spring signs are now officially unnecessary:

Dinosaurs, they were big:

This morning, I woke up this morning to a fresh blanket of snow. NOAA sez:
Today: Snow and blowing snow. Snow accumulation 2 to 3 inches. Highs in the upper 30s. West winds 5 to 15 mph. Local gusts to 25 mph.

Does this mean I can ski this weekend? Does it??

Edited: No, it does not.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring just keeps on coming

The roof glacier is still attached, although it is sliding down:

It's blocking my evening light, which is very annoying! If it's still there when I get home this evening, I'm going to slice the edge off with a machete!

I had my first spring meal the other night--pasta with asparagus, tomatoes, garlic, and feta:

Linden admired it:

Linden, she is cute:

"Oh... is this your pillow? I thought it was mine!"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring is springing

I think I skied for the last time this season today. I was flailing about on the slick corn snow. Autumn and Linden were panting:

On a whim, I skied down to the creek crossing that I used to use years ago when I lived farther down the road. It is upstream from a beaver dam, so there's a wide, shallow pond there. It is starting to melt:

Linden trotted out onto it and both front paws sank into the slush, so she backed out. Autumn didn't go near it. There is a reason that Autumn was a lead dog! Linden knows her commands very well, but I would not trust her to make a judgement call with her own little brain.

The crossing we use nowadays is still frozen solid, but it's slick on top now:

When I got home, I considered putting away my skis, but decided to hold out hope for another weekend! I mean, what if temperatures drop, and it snows this week? In the same vein, I considered changing to summer tires, but decided against it. May 1st is the deadline to remove studs hereabouts. I did, however, put away the flashy and reflector thingies. We will have no more runs/walks in darkness:

Happy spring!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Oh, man. It's official.

A box of these arrived today:

And as long as I'm doing a pointless post, here are photos of my dinner a few nights ago. Why? I dunno. It seemed important to document at the time. I think I was impressed with my protein-and-starch-and-veggies-in-one-pan:

I wish you all a peaceful weekend. Please make a point to go out and see whatever your equivalent of behbehreindeer is. :)

A balm for frazzled nerves...


I wonder if everyone got to hold something fuzzy and nonjudgemental every day, if the rates of violence would go down. Maybe not among major whackos, like terrorists, but what about road rage or snapping at spouses? Commutes would probably be more pleasant, and marriages happier, if every office had a golden retriever, a goat kid, or a kitten. :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

On violence and cruelty

When I was an undergraduate engineering student, I remember learning how to design against vibrations, strong wind, fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, moisture, corrosive environments, seawater, extreme heat, extreme cold, and, um, against deliberate human destructive desires.

One of these things is not like the others.

That bothered me on a visceral level. Nature herself was difficult enough, especially under the constraints of time, materials, and money. I could not believe that we'd have to take into account that someone someday would deliberately want to destroy a structure so as to kill people.

Nature is brutal, but she is indifferent. The wind blows. The wind does not blow with the explicit intent of toppling your building. The sea roils. The sea does not roil with the explicit intent of smashing your boat. Herman Melville could tell you about that. That's why engineering is so emotionally straightforward a field.

But how could you ever design against someone who wants to target and destroy other people? It's like the ever-increasing security on airplanes, always one step behind the terrorists...

I just don't know.

And that's all I got for today.

Peace to all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Life ain't bad chez moi

Both yesterday and today I slept in until a sunbeam crossed my face, then stretched, cuddled the dogs, got up, and put on ski pants. Damn, that's a fine way to start your morning. Had long, luxurious skis over this lovely new snow, then came home and graded exams, cleaned, and did some leisure reading, while the girls did this:

I'm quite envious. Is it possible to sign up for this "retirement" gig while you're still young? No? Sigh.

So I have a confession to make... You have probably deduced that for the most part, I am a good hippy dippy Berkeley alum. I walk instead of drive whenever I can, even when it's cold outside. None of my hobbies involve motor sports. I clean everything--house, car, and body--with Dr. Bronners. I buy local, seasonal, and/or organic whenever possible. I don't buy industrially produced meat. Etc, etc.

But, my friends, in spring of 2012, I purchased a Swiffer. You know, the mop with the disposable head that is preloaded with cleaning fluid.

Reducing? Nope.
Reusing? Nope.
Recycling? Nope.

Is the cleaning solvent they use organically-derived? No. Is it biodegradable? Almost certainly not. Is it environmentally-friendly? Absolutely not. Is it carcinogenic? I haven't a clue. Would my mother approve? Absolutely not.

But, I love my dang Swiffer, and I'm cleaning my dang floors and satisfyingly lifting up layers of grime.

So there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Apparently, getting a PhD is a big deal in a small town

In the past six weeks, three different people have asked for my abstract or a summary of my work, two different people have requested my photograph, I have filled out two surveys Wanting to Know about my Grad Student Experience, and I have been invited to five different shindigs, not including the commencement ceremony itself. None of this happened when I finished either my BS or my MS, but the Bay Area is much bigger. To put this in perspective, the population of UC Berkeley, in number of students, faculty, and staff, matches the population of the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough. And the population of the San Francisco Bay Area, at 7.15 million, is about ten times the population of the entire state of Alaska, at 732,000.

Once when I was in... oh probably my early twenties, a friend from high school, with whom I'd remained close, informed me that he'd had an epiphany. "Here we are in this rat race," he said. "And there are so many brilliant people that we never stand out. What we need to do is move to a small town. Then we'd be the smartest, most outstanding people in the town." His statement made me feel indescribably sad. Why lower your standards, I thought? Much better to continually motivate yourself to be the best! Not the best among your peers, but the best that you can be! If you surround yourself by people smaller than you, and then sit back and pat yourself on the back, what way is that to live?

Now... I still feel the same way, but I do enjoy the perks of my small town. I'm certainly not the brightest fish in this pond, though! At my current job alone, I count a Harvard grad, the finest power electronics engineer I have ever known, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed intern who's off to Stanford for grad school this fall, and (a-hem) a Berkeley grad and Silicon valley veteran. Among students I have taught, I saw some go off to grad school at Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Cal Tech, and Berkeley. We don't do too poorly attracting talent to these-here boonies. :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lotsa new snow!

The archives of this blog indicate to me that a late-season, last-hurrah snow dump is not unusual for the first week of April. The only thing unusual about this one is the quantity!

Last night I shoveled my driveway again, taking a break about 3/4 of the way through to consume a giant mug of tea, a ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich, a spinach and cheese omelet, and most of a pint of ice cream. Shoveling is exhausting!

Also, here is food porn from dinner the previous night: stir-fried everyveggie and bison:

Yay for another week or two of skiing!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Teaching a class is very analogous to taking a class

1) You have to meet at a regular time and place each week.

2) You have to lug around a giant textbook and develop expertise with its content.

3) You stress out over homework problems. (Student: How do I do these? Professor: How do I choose only 10% of all of these problems and ensure that it prepares these students for engineering careers?)

4) You stress out over exams. (Student: I need to cram all this material in! Professor: How the heck do I come up with appropriate exam questions in an appropriate quantity?)

5) Student: Stay up late the night before the exam studying. Professor: Stay up late the night before the exam writing and double-checking the exam.

6) Student: How do I appropriately write a term paper? Professor: How do I appropriately grade a term paper?

7) Student: Yaaaay! Almost done with the course! Professor: Yaaaay! Almost done with the course!

In other news: hybrid polar/grizzly bears! I had heard of these guys before and wondered which was crossing the Brooks Range and gettin' some... Polar bears going south or grizzly bears going north? I decided it was the former, adapting behavior due to climate change. HOWEVER! In at least one case, it looks like I was wrong! The article describes a grizzly bear hunting seals from pack ice! Nature, she is amazing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Happy Chinese Easter!

Yesterday was a hallowed tradition chez moi--Chinese Easter! I bought a half-price ham on Monday, after full-priced rest-of-the-world Easter, and yesterday, I put it in the oven, along with some potatoes with olive oil and onions, put out a plate of cheese and crackers, and invited guests to round out the meal with veggies and sides. For I think the first time in grad student party history, we had a lot of healthy and nutritious veggies, including a wilted kale and sweet potato salad, a crisp lettuce salad, roasted veggies, and a winter squash cobbler for dessert! Winter squash courtesy of the farmer who had grown it!

We also had... *drumroll, please*... Fifteen humans and three dogs in my wee tiny cabin!

I forgot to take photos, but here is what I had for breakfast this morning:

Mmmm roast veggies, squash cobbler, and cheese!

It's been cold lately, for April:

But I still felt like ski season was winding down, since snow hadn't fallen in a while and all that remained had compressed to slippery ice. However! This morning I woke up to fresh snow!

Yay! Probably another week of skiing now!