December 12, 2009

Fairbanks ARRA Stimulus Work - New UAF Arctic Research Ship and New NOAA Satellite Facility

Fairbanks has done well with a few big American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) projects getting started right away. The new UAF Alaska Region Research Vessel is a good example. (Former) Senator Stevens got the marine architecting funded a few years ago, so when the billions started flowing, this was a project that could be sent out almost immediately for construction. This one is close to my heart because my father spent many years advocating for this as the National Science Foundation's ship operations director. He wasn’t able to get full traction before he retired several years ago, but he was always talking about and lobbying for a new ice-capable Arctic research ship as a priority for the Nation’s research capability.

A similar thing happened for my colleagues at the NOAA-NESDIS Fairbanks Command & Data Acquisition Station. We work out there all the time and I can vouch for the fact that their main ops building is in very bad shape. They had been using NOAA planning channels and had blueprints for a new facility drawn up and in the lineup for construction at a future date. The had also been working hard for several years to get the new $10M+ building funded. ARRA came along and it was "shovel ready." NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco came up for a golden shovel groundbreaking ceremony in August. It was said to be the first ARRA project implemented.

UAF Alaska Region Research Vessel
source: UAF Press Room / Glosten Associates

golden shovel at groundbreaking for new NOAA satellite receiving facility
source: Fairbanks Daily Newsminer / Eric Engman

July 2, 2009

Fun with kids in Vermont - Montshire Museum and Upper Valley Aquatic Center

We were up on a trip exploring New England a few weeks ago and found two great indoor activities for the kids (ages 6, 9, and 12). The weather was very rainy and we needed to get everyone out of the van doing something fun.

Montshire Museum in Norwich, Vermont

Calling this a museum is a bit of a misnomer; it's actually more of an exploratorium. It's a large, modern facility with scores of displays and hands-on activities illustrating science and the natural world. The kids (and adults) have plenty to do. We spent several hours there just indoors. The weather was poor, so we didn't get a chance to hike the signed nature trail or play in the outdoor water displays.

To name a few highlights, there were a lot of air/fluid flow exhibits that could be manipulated, giant bubble making tanks, and a wonderful set of aquariums. They also have a beautiful leafcutter ant colony. We spent three hours and would have stayed longer if they were not closing. Highly recommended. I know we'll be going back.

The Montshire Museum is in Norwich, VT just across the Connecticut River from Hanover, NH (home of Dartmouth.)

Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction Vermont

The other place we had a great time was at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, VT. We'd hoped to get out and do some more camping and hiking in Vermont's excellent State Parks, but it was really pouring rain one day, so we took a motel room in White River Junction and played at the aquatic center. They have a small water slide, a warm zero-entry pool, and a splash park. There is also a 10-lane competition and lap pool.The highlight for all of us was the "current channel"--a winding loop of pool about five feet wide with a strong current that carries you around. We had a great time playing tag for at least two hours.

The equipment is oriented towards younger kids. (Teens would not be thrilled by the water slide.) But we dragged kids of all ages into our game of tag in the current channel. I think we'll be making more stops here as we pass through on future trips.

Vermont State Parks: Jamaica and Little River

I want to write more about some of our favorite state parks in the future: Jamaica State Park near Jamaica in southern Vermont and Little River State Park near Waterbury, VT.

Vermont has a fantastic state park system; we camped and hiked at the Jamaica park this trip. There was great hike up to Hamilton Falls that the whole family enjoyed. We also had lots of fun the new playground and would have swam in the river if the weather had been warmer.

I can't say enough good things about the Vermont state park system. They have large sites (so you aren't on top of your neighbors), super-friendly, helpful staff, clean facilities, and well-designed park layouts. Plus there is usually something fun for kids like a playground or a stream to splash in.

July 29, 2008

Sonot Kkaazoot Ski Race GPS Tracks

I've been fiddling at a really basic level with GPS mapping tools for a while now. I bought a Garmin Foretrex 101 a couple years back and have enjoyed it. It's cheap, wrist mounted, and you can replace the AAA batteries in the field.

I download the data off the device using GPSBabel and display it using USAPhotoMaps or GPS Visualizer or SwathViewer--a great mapping tool that Dan Stahlke on GINA's staff wrote.

I did the Sonot Kkaazoot 50k ski race in Fairbanks for the first time about 15 years ago. I was in good shape from training for alpine climbing but was not trained up for a marathon-type event. I entered the Sonot on a whim and started paying at about kilometer 35 when I started to bonk. I was tougher then and managed to drag myself back the remaining 15 km, finishing nearly last. It was actually pretty miserable.

In 2006-7 I decided to try it again, but that older and wiser thing kicked in, and I took an adult skate skiing class, improved my technique a lot, learned what it takes to prepare for a marathon event, and put in the training. "Put in the training" makes it sound onerous, but it was mostly fun, and I was in the best shape I'd been in many years.

Goal #1 for the race was to finish feeling good and have a fun time. I accomplished that, but didn't get done as fast as my target (4 hours) mostly because the conditions were really slow: well below zero and fresh snow. I was happy with my 5 hour time under the conditions and it gives me a pretty easy PR to beat on any kind of a decent race day in the coming years. :)

The course is demanding: 10 km flat up the river, 30 km of hills--every hill as a matter of fact--at Birch Hill ski area, then 10 km back on the river. I wore my GPS and got some good tracks. Here are the KML file and the GPX file for your mapping pleasure. The race goes up and down the downhill ski area, and I see my comically wide turns on the way down. Don't know...I'm just a bit timid bombing down hill on light skate skis.

Birch Hill is a great rec area with truly world class ski trails in the winter and good trail running and mountain bike riding in the summer. I fiddled with the advanced settings in GPS Visualizer and came up with the map below. Parks and Rec has a couple of nice paper maps, too: main trails and White Bear.

March 28, 2008

Welcome to Italy

I've been living with my family in Italy since August 2007. The goals were to:

  • Put the kids in school and force them to learn Italian.
  • Improve my wife's Italian fluency
  • Miss a Fairbanks winter
  • Try something new.

My wife and daughters have dual US-Italian citizenship, courtesy of an Italian government program for children of Italian parents. I've been working remotely and traveling back and forth to Alaska for the past six months to pay for this adventure. The dollar has been very weak, adding considerable expense to the whole affair.

It's been a very interesting experience and I intend to flesh out more details before they fade from memory. The best part has been living in a country where I don't really fit in. I'm a foreigner (sono stragniero) and don't speak the language very well (non parlo italiano molto bene), which is the very opposite of my experience in America and has given me considerable empathic insight into the lives of new American immigrants.

But back to the topic of welcomes, it's gotten much better along the way, but the lowlights of the first month were a bad case of head lice for the whole family and having $12,000 stolen from our bank account by an ATM skimmer. Both were ultimately resolved successfully, but, wow, what a welcome.

We're living in a small northern city you have probably never heard of unless you are a fan of Italian pedagogies: Reggio Emilia (map). We have been living a fifteen minute walk from the city center in an excellent "casa vacanza" apartment, La Casa del Barone (map). In addition to being a very comfortable apartment, out hosts, Roberto and Marinella, have been such kind neighbors.

More to follow...

View Larger Map

March 27, 2008

Dean Potter El Cap Nose Solo

OK, I remain obsessed by The Nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite. I did the top third of it twenty years ago with Tom Carter and Peter Coward when we did the Triple Direct. Those pitches were some of the finest climbing I will ever do. Whenever I see a photo of the Stovelegs cracks, I think, I've got to get up that whole route before I get any older and weaker. Maybe the wiser thing will help...

This video of Dean Potter soloing The Nose touched touches a lot of nerves: the granite sand approach trail, that secure-yet-insecure, awkward feeling inside a chimney, the pleasure of solid jams sunk, and the constant daytime updraft and overwhelming exposure on El Cap. Despite all the hard 5.10 crack free soloing, the scene that gave me jitters in my stomach was the bolt ladder off Texas Flake at 3:05, where he is moving from bolt to single bolt and says, "Each one of them is an anchor to me, at least in my mind." I also found his technique on the final headwall unbelievable: climbing using no aiders, just biners as handholds, bolts and smears as footholds, and daisies for the end of 3000 feet and hours of climbing. I see on the supertopo that there is a 5.12 free variation up the headwall, but I remember leading off the conventional way--with two sets of aiders and a belay--up the overhanging face. I remember thinking of the legend of the first ascent party's all night drilling and happily pausing to snap hero shots of Tom and Pete looking down the full length of the route.

Pop out: Dean Potter soloing The Nose on El Cap

I have mixed feelings about Dean Potter, but he is a hell of a climber and soloist.

September 7, 2006

MotionBased GPS Web Maps

A large part of what I do for a living (GINA) revolves around electronic delivery of maps or satellite images. A side effect of my work is that I can't look at a map on the web without a critical eye. Much of what is out there is mediocre at best. However, while working on a project with Brad Feld to market the International Polar Year, I looked closely at MotionBased's service for sharing GPS tracks on the web. The maps and graphs are superb. The interface is focused, with the maps being just enough and no more and the graphs clean and informative.

I have resisted using a GPS on my outdoor outings for years. I mean goddammit I have technology in my face all day--let's leave it back home when I'm out there getting away from it. As much as I love paper map reading, I will make the GPS leap for some applications.

August 27, 2006

We Feel Fine and Lovelines - Art of Emotion

I came across two evocative art applets created by Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar. If you would have told me a few days ago that something both beautiful and touching could be created by "harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs * ", I would have been very skeptical. Make your own judgment.

We Feel Fine


Thanks to Juice Analytics for putting me onto these guys and their art.

August 22, 2006

A No Complaints Run

I finally managed to string together five nine-minute miles and feel good the whole way. No sore toe. No aching knees. No heavy legs. No blisters. Anymore I just ignore the first five or ten minutes of any run and simply suffer through them while my body warms up. Right off the curb today I felt good. And when I was a mile out from the end with a few hills ahead, I was able to dig down and do it in nine minutes with just a bit of good-feeling huffing.

I'm in decent shape, but have had to be careful with any activity that involves my arms (including biking) while I rehab a shoulder injury. That has put me out running more than I generally do and today I finally got past all of my usual physical complaints that derive from running. We'll see what the rest of the week brings.

August 17, 2006


I'm sure this will be so 2006 before we know it, but distributing links to videos, especially on YouTube, is currently epidemic. I stayed up way too late one night watching YouTube and found two videos I really like.

Physicality--that word captures their essence.

Dan Osman soloing on Lake Tahoe rock.

Kamikaze urban biking.

I can remember about fifteen years ago sitting with friends in San Mateo who climbed with Dan Osman. We were watching rock climbing porno (Masters of Stone) and they said, I wonder when Dan will die?

Physicality--I could use some more of it in my life these days.

August 13, 2006

Joe Ben Stamper's Muzzle Check

I left late last night and went out to the end of my familiar logging road. The steady rain let up for a time, and I was able to build a fire from wet wood and birch bark, cheating with a wax-impregnated tinder cube. I sat up until one am and roasted some grouse meat from my previous hunt on a skewer over the flames.

In the morning a grouse ran across the road and I followed him into the woods. He was smart and stood still--silent and invisible. I wandered into the clearing beyond and a snowshoe hare was sitting in the trail. I weighed my desire to take him home. He sat there thirty seconds in plain sight, and I felt compelled to raise the 20-gauge to my shoulder and do my part for natural selection. I carried him back to the van and set him on the moss by the trail and headed downhill on a moose trail, then around into a muddy logged clearing. There I slipped on a wet log, fell, and dropped my shotgun into the mud. I checked my muzzle with my finger for a plug, and one of my favorite passages in fiction came to mind:

...Joe Ben gave a hiss like a snake and grabbed me by the sleeve and pointed off up river.

"There, Hank, there," he whispered. "What'd I tell you?"

I looked. A lone honker, separated by the storm just like Joe'd figured, was flying dead for us. Everybody froze. We watched him come, stretching his long black neck side to side as he searched around him, flapping along, honking over and over the same question. "Guh-luke?" he would honk....

...I heard Joe whisper, "Meat in the pot," and saw him reach down into the fog for the shotgun.... I watched Joby run his finger down the muzzle, checking for a mud clog--an unconscious habit that anybody picks up after years of squatting in a muddy duck blind. ...then, just as the goose comes within range I say, "Forget it." "What?" Joby said. His jaw dropped a foot. I said again, as casual as I could, "Forget it," and gunned the motor out into midstream.

From Sometimes a Great Notion, a great book that I read again every few years.