Thursday, February 28, 2008

ASTE Part 2

Been sleeping a lot since I got back from ASTE in Anchorage. Our plane had a malfunction on Wednesday morning, so we had to wait for the 5pm flight to Kotzebue, which made us miss our connecting flight in Nome. I was excited to go to "Kotz," but all of the experienced teachers were groaning. Now I know why! After leaving Anchorage at 5 pm, we didn't get to Nome until about 11pm. I didn't get to leave the plane in Kotzebue, but it feels cool having been in the Arctic circle. The only place with rooms in Nome was the "Nugget," and there was a reason for it! Tiny rooms that smelled funny and sharing beds with other teachers, woohoo!

The flight back was spectacular though. I remembered to bring my camera and I took some stunning photos of the sea ice in the Norton Sound.

With all of the variety in the sea ice, I can see why the Inupiaq have over 40 words for "ice." Or maybe it was 200 words. I don't know, but there are a lot! The Egavavik River, south of Shaktoolik, frozen solid:

And here's Shaktoolik in late February. Too bad the wing was in the way!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

ASTE Part 1

I've been in Anchorage for 2 days at the Alaska Technology in Education conference (ASTE) and I'm having a blast! I learned an insane amount of information about networking systems (I know what TCP/IP means now, for example). I saw them unloading the straw for the Iditarod before I left:

I could have gotten a haircut in Anchorage, but then I thought, "Why not just cut it yourself before you leave the village?" Man I have some stellar ideas sometimes.

Our hotel, the Captain Cook, is realllllly posh. I feel like I'm in New York! It's interesting how nobody every talks about some parts of Alaska though. Nobody tells you that the bay in Anchorage is filled with nasty, brown ice. Here's our view from the 15th floor:

The Fur Rendezvous sled dog race was taking place in Anchorage this weekend, too. We took off from the conference right away during lunch to take a quick peek. It's kind of like a precursor, 25 mile sprint compared to the Iditarod. It was cool to watch the current World Champions take off 10 feet away down 4th Avenue. The racers have to hold back the dogs with snowmachines because they're so pumped up to race.

They also had a "running of the reindeer" with a bunch of crazy Anchorage people. I would have totally jumped in if they hadn't reached their maximum allotment of people. Reindeer aren't too scary though, they're not as big as you'd think. Nobody got gored or trampled, so it was pretty safe. Jokingly, the radio show deejay announced, "In the event that the reindeer break loose, I need the biggest, baddest Alaskan man to start fighting the person next to them. Then we'll have some REAL chaos!" Alaskans have a strange sense of humor...

The Fur Rendezvous brings out some cool characters though. I reckon I'll never see this many fur hats and coats again. I don't think anyone from PETA was there....they don't have enough paint in Anchorage to cover this much fur! Some people were really decked out, like this guy:

Time moved fast and we had to head back to the Captain Cook for more technology sessions! Nick and Diana's little cousin were ready to stay out there all day! Notice: Nick is rocking the "Alaskan Man" look.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

First Encounter with Frostbite

The snow is really piling outside of the school. At least the sun has come back! It's light at 9:00 and dark at 5:00. Pretty awesome!

The sun was

The ocean looks exactly like the tundra. Windswept mini-hills of snow as far as the eye can see. The thick snow over the sea ice scares me because I can't see the ice under it! No way I'll be going that way.

Calvin took Bud (the principal's husband) and I way up the Shaktoolik River to fish for some massive grayling. The trip was 13 miles upriver on this bright, windless, and zero degree day. About 5 miles up Calvin started having trouble with his snowmachine. Bud showed his dry Montana humor--"What, did ya blow a tire?"

A quick re-heating of the carbs put us back on the river highway. The ice belowed us glowed a vibrant green in the bare spots.

I got to ride in the back seat....the wayyyy back seat! My rear end was pretty sore after riding all day in a sled, but I'm not picky. Just enjoy the trip.

Even though zero degrees feels warm (comparatively), on the snowmachine things get frozen FAST. My chin was freezing through my face guard, but it eventually got warmer and warmer. At first I was afraid of frostbite, but then I realized that my breath had formed an ice shield on my face gueard! My whole face shield was frozen solid and thick with ice, which ironically insulates better than having just a face guard.

We had finally made it to a place called "Ungalik" to fish for the giant grayling! The site had sheer cliffs on the west side, which means the river goes deep under them.

And I got to see some healthy trees. Beautiful! The rolling hills with stunted trees reminded me of Montana or Eastern Washington.

We busted out Calvin's ice auger and drilled way down into the ice.

Arah! We drilled almost 4 feet down with the auger, and there was still ice underneath us. Maybe if we just try a hole somewhere else.

After side drilling holes to get the auger deeper, we still couldn't get through the ice! Firing off a few rounds from Bud's magnum down into the hole didn't break through either (wish I would have gotten a picture of that). I grabbed a stick and tried ramming it down the hole with no luck. We had come all this way to be stopped by ice more than 4 feet thick. Arah!

The cliff rock face was stunning though...

The only choice we had was to turn back and fish somewhere closer. I remembered to snap a picture of our jaunt through the trees.

Finally got home after 5 hours of riding and drilling. I have never before felt the ice clutches of the North as I had on this trip. My -40 Sorel boots with 2 pairs of socks couldn't keep the wind off of my feet, and the slight waxiness of frostbite was evident on them. No black toes or scars for me, but the danger of the cold was made real to me. The unforgiving chill of the tundra will forever be in my mind when people in Washington complain about the cold.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cold Snap and a Half

Argh! Over a month and not one day with temperatures above zero. When temperatures are around zero, the wind kicks up and leaves you with around a hundred feet of visibility. No way I am venturing out in that either. What is a man to do when he can't leave the house for such a long period of time?!!? Well, I think the answer is quite obvious...

Make burritos!!!

Make A LOT of burritos!!!

And invite people over to eat aforementioned burritos!!!! Seriously though, I did make 21 burritos today. They will keep me going for a week, at least. Mmmm, burritos. They are too hot for Leonard's tastes (pictured above), but I like them just fine. Wouldn't I get sick of burritos after eating them nonstop for a week? Of course not, because I am a MAN!!!

And by the way, -20 degrees with a wind chill factor is WAY nastier than -30 degrees in still air. I would take -30 anyday, because the wind isn't cutting into your jacket and sneaking its way up every little crevice of clothing. The North wind is greedy warmth theif, taking everything that is good and comfortable in the world. Check it out:

After 20 minutes looking for auroras one morning, I called it a day. When things are that bad, you just need to head inside and start making burritos.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Northern Lights, I search tonight

So I asked Jake today when I am finally going to see some of those famous Northern Lights (I have been checking almost every day after dark) and he says to me, "Man last night they were awesome. You had to be up pretty late though, around 11 pm." ARGH! I was making burritos until one of the morning and I didn't think to just poke my head out the window. I need those burritos for lunch this week though...

I've been online, and here are my little digital camera settings for Northern Lights pictures:

* RAW mode
* Daylight White Balance
* ISO 400
* F/4.0, 30-40 seconds or F/2.8, 15-20 seconds
* Histogram enabled
* Low LCD brightness

I don't know what a few of those mean, but I imagine they aren't important (yeah right). I've had people in town tell me that it is dang near impossible to get a decent shot of the northern lights, but I am doing more than just point-and-click. I know I can set my exposure to 4 seconds with an ISO of 400 with the daylight white balance, so we'll see if that will be enough.

Hopefully you see some cool pictures up here soon!

Errrr....none yet, at 3 am last night there was a very faint, white shimmer of light in the sky. It basically looked like a stretched-out, hazy cloud. The sunset was beautiful though...

And I forgot to mention that we had math night last week. It went really well, with about half of the students showing up with family members. We had snacks, gave out prizes, and played some fun math games!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Middle School Basketball = NO THANKS!

I don't know what it is about basketball, but I just can't get into it. I can see why people love football or soccer (I prefer tennis myself), and even baseball has its charms, but basketball just doesn't do it for me. I was the middle school basketball chaperone at the tournament this weekend in Unalakleet (I also acted as coach during the games) and it doesn't float my ship, so to speak. I've been around middle schoolers 24/7 for almost 3 days. It certainly is a special time in a child's life...let's just say I'm ready for the Super Bowl.

We had some fun on the way to the tournament though. We flew on the little 7-seater plane to Unalakleet, and I could tell the pilot was in a jovial mood. Two of his buddies were on the flight also, and he grinned a mischevious smile when he saw myself and three little eskimo children board the plane. Of course, they're not that little, they're the perfect age. The perfect age for messing with while you're mid-air!! Halfway through the flight, he looked back at us, grinning ear to ear, and kicked the plane into a steep climb. I immediately felt a huge force pulling me to the clouds, and I could hear the gasps from my surprised students! I felt the g's in my stomach as we continued climbing, but he stopped the climb and put us into a steep bank until we leveled out. The looks on the kids' faces were priceless. After one-wheeling it in for the landing, he told me that if we had been over 3000 feet he would have done a loop-de-loop. I think he was kidding, but you can't tell with these bush pilots! They come from a different breed.