Tag Archives: alaska
February 8, 2007

New York, New York

Click for full sizeLately I’ve been thinking a lot about New York — I don’t know why — but it got to the point where I decided to jot down some ideas.  (If you haven’t noticed, I tend to write as a way of forcing myself to organize my thoughts.  What other post-high school reason is there to write essays?)  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around an elusive theme, and recently, a few happenings began lend it clarity:

  1. 1. My writing on the Alaskan mystique started an internal process of comparing and contrasting the same with New York City.
  2. 2. At dinner last week, my friend, Mike, related the story of how one of his friends referred to New York City as, simply, The City.
  3. 3. A perfectly ego-centric, 1976 “map” of New York was posted yesterday on Strange Maps

I find New York City, or rather the perception of New York City, very interesting.  In our media-rich culture, New York is everywhere.  Any number of movies — Spider-man, Ghostbusters, King Kong, Taxi Driver, to name a few — couldn’t be set in a different city.  There’s a peek into New York almost every night on any number television shows:  Law & Order, Friends reruns, The Apprentice, and, of course, CSI: New York.  Sex and the City pretty much makes The City a supporting character.  Dominos Pizza gives us a glimpse of New York culture with commercials touting their new Brooklyn Style Pizza.  Even popular websites like Kottke.org nonchalantly mention New York City.

That New York is on our consciousness isn’t impressive.  Sure, it’s a big, important American City; I get that.  What interests me is the matter-of-fact way in which it’s presented.

New York City is served up to us by New Yorkers, and to New Yorkers the city is forefront in their daily lives.  That’s understandable.  I can imagine that living in a city that big would have an impact on your life.  Here’s the thing, though:  By virtue of it’s media-onslaught, even though I’ve never been there¹, New York has an impact on my life, too.


January 30, 2007

Slow News Day

A Young EagleIt’s Sunday morning.  Oksana is at work on her MBA class – I’m asleep on the couch after misjudging when to get out of bed – when the power goes out.  Her homework on hold, she joins me in napping on the couch.

Yesterday, I read in the paper that the cause of the power outage was an eagle flying into a power substation.  The eagle had been carrying a “deer head,” scavenged from the local landfill.

Today must be a slow news day, because the story has been picked up by the AP Wire and is making the rounds online.  I’ve seen it on at least two popular blogs.

Why does this fascinate people so?  Is it because a bald eagle fried?  Are people imagining that it was hauling the equivalent of the deer bust you’d see mounted above the mantle in someone’s den?  Or is it just a slow news day?

Actually, I think it has more to do with the Alaskan mystique.  For the people who live here, Alaska is pretty normal.  With only 30,000 people, Juneau’s small by Lower 48 standards, but that doesn’t mean we’re the frontier town that resides in most people’s imagination.  No igloos, dogsled teams, or rampaging grizzly bears here.  No friendly moose roaming the streets, at least in Juneau, a la Northern Exposure.  Tourists fresh off the cruse ships may not bat an eye at a Hummer driving down the road — it might fit in with their preconceived notions of an Alaskan vehicle — but I think most would do a double take when one of the local Dodge Vipers passes by.

Sure, their skewed perception of Alaska does have some basis in fact.  Salmon, halibut, and king crab practically jump into our frying pan, waves from calving glaciers are a real cause for fear and panic, humpback whales frequently collide with boats, hungry bears break into homes for food, the aurora borealis is out every night, we never see the sun in winter, and bald eagles fly off with the pets and infants of the unwary.

Yeah, actually, not so much.  But tell a tourist in the street that you live here, and they’ll probably ask you about one of those things.  And where they can exchange their American dollars.

When I heard that an eagle was the cause of our power outage on Sunday, I mentally shrugged and moved on.  Happens all the time.  Take a look at the Alaska Electric Light and Power website:  Eleven outages in 2006 were caused by “animals;” many previous incidents are listed as “Bird,” “Squirrel,” and one rogue “Raven.”  (It looks like they stopped specifying the type of animal sometime in 2003.  You can bet that at least some of the “animals” listed now are “eagles.”) So why haven’t the AP Wire and the Blogosphere run with this story before?  Maybe it’s the deer skull.  My vote’s on the slow news day.

January 19, 2007

Taku River Dawn

Taku River Dawn

The day my Canon XT was scheduled to arrive was the day we planned to leave for a 3-day weekend up Taku River.  UPS opted not to leave the package at our door that afternoon, so our only recourse was to try to pick it up sometime after the truck returned to the warehouse.  I managed to get my hands on it with barely an hour left before we had to leave.  The XT’s proprietary batteries were the same ones used in the Canon s-series, so I borrowed a charger from a friend who owned an s70 just so I could begin charging all three batteries.  Within 45 minutes I had at least a partial charge on each.  I had no idea if they’d last through the weekend and the cabin we were going to had no electricity.

That weekend, I mostly shot on auto as I learned how to use the new camera.  Two of the days were grey and overcast, but Saturday was beautiful.  I woke up at 5:30am for some reason, and looked out the window.  The sun was just rising over the mountains behind the cabin, and only a few wisps of clouds painted the sky.  The air was still and the river was so flat that the reflections in it were almost mirror quality.  I crept downstairs and out the door, hoping that I could catch a few “golden hour” photos.

While everyone else slept, I stood on the banks of the Taku and experimented with my new camera’s settings.  I also peed behind a tree.

Often, when I’m looking through my photos, I pass by pictures like this with barely a second thought.  I think it’s because landscapes like this are common where I live (at least when it’s not raining), and I don’t appreciate them as much as the exotic (to me) landscapes I see while on vacation.  I’m thinking about my reaction to the HAVO Lights picture I posted last week.  Do I enjoy that photo because it’s a good photo, or do my memories of the evening tint my appreciation of it?  The opposite may be true here.  Does this picture capture something special or is it just another blasé Southeast Alaska composition?  I don’t know if I can trust own opinion.

Who cares?  I can enjoy this picture for its instructional merits.  This was one of the first photos I took that pushed the XT’s exposure latitude to its extremes.  I like that the snow on the mountains maintains almost all of its color information, while the deep dark tree line just barely has any detail left.  In the original, the log jutting from the river was inky, too, but in my Photoshop experimentations, I decided to apply a curves-based gradient from the bottom edge of the image to the shoreline.  In effect, this lightened the lower half of the image — pulling out some detail in that log — without overexposing the snowy highlights above.

I also applied warming filter (85) after the fact.  It added just a hint of color that I (romantically, perhaps) think was there at sunrise, anyway.  Besides, with the exception of the sunlit trees on the left, the domination of blue and whites made for a chilly photograph.  It seemed an injustice to such a warm, Memorial Day weekend. 

Oh, and those batteries?  I shouldn’t have worried.  Since the XT is an SLR, it hardly uses any juice.  Compared to the point-and-shoot s30, which uses its LCD screen for practically everything, it seems like I hardly ever have to recharge.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 28 May 2005; 5:31am
Focal Length: 55mm
Shutter: 1/400 second
Aperture: F/14
ISO: 400
Photoshop: Applied Warming Filter #85, brightened lower half of image.

Click “more” for a comparison of the final image to the original.


January 9, 2007


USGS Earthquake MapI had a fun wake up call this morning.  After falling asleep at about 4:45am — what can I say; I’m on vacation — Oksana ran in at 6:49am and said, “Arlo, wake up!  It’s an earthquake!”

“Holy crap!” I replied.  I bounced out of bed and stood in the doorway just as the trembling faded away.

Wait, that doesn’t do my reaction justice.

“Holy crap!” I said, not understanding what she said, but reacting only to her tone of voice.  I stumbled out of bed, clad only in my undies, and stood in the bedroom doorway desperately trying to keep my eyelids open.  I may have only imagined the last of the rumbling, or perhaps my conscious mind was pulling up memories of the sensation from the previous 10 seconds of being fully asleep.  Oksana left me there and went to the front door.  It was already over.

I suspect that after most earthquakes, people take a few seconds to wonder “Was that really an earthquake?  Might have been thunder, or maybe an explosion.”  We live in an apartment above the post office, so our first reaction was “Did the freight truck run into building?  Again?”

Oksana was sure it’d been an earthquake, though.  She was in the bathroom when everything on the shelves started rattling around.  Her first thought, of course, was the post office truck, but then our notoriously precarious entertainment center started to wobble in the living room.  She heard all the knickknacks on it rocking madly back and forth.  By the time she woke me up, it was pretty much over.  Fortunately, nothing in our house fell over, down, or off anything.

I wanted to check to see if it had been a earthquake, and the first thing I could think of was to get online.  I knew about the USGS earthquake site and I called it up.  Unfortunately, they update in “near real time” and an update 30 seconds after the shaking ended was an unreasonable expectation.  I thought that the Juneau Empire or Google News might eventually verify it for me, but not for awhile yet.

I was still struggling to keep my eyes open when Oksana went back to getting ready for work.  I began to feel nauseated.  All of a sudden my mouth started watering and I was on the verge of throwing up.  I laid down on the couch, pulled a blanket over me, and promptly fell back asleep.  I have no idea why I felt so sick.  Maybe it was the shaking, or more likely the extremely rapid onset of stress (“Holy crap!”)  Or maybe it was just, you know, morning sickness.

At a more reasonable hour, I got up off the couch and checked again online for some news.  Yep, all three sources confirmed it.  5.6 on the Richter scale, roughly 160 miles northwest of Juneau, and 5.9 miles underground (+ or – 5.5 miles, heh).  Bet Haines and Skagway were bumpy this morning.

I thought about calling Oksana to let her know, but then she listens to the radio at work and they were sure to have had that on the news.  Duh.  The radio.  And the TV.  That’s how I could have quickly confirmed it earlier.  No doubt the morning radio hosts would have been fielding calls right away.

Funny how I defaulted into thinking that the internet would be the best way to get information on an earthquake.

December 21, 2006

Alaska Communications Systems

When I originally wrote this, I was just venting.  Something actually came of it.  Be sure to read the follow-up!

Hypothetical Google ResultsACS is pissing me off.

Hey, that’s a good opening line, isn’t it?  Probably got you interested.  That’s great, but honestly I wrote it in the hope I’d eventually see a change in Google’s search results.

My wife and I have been loyal ACS customers for over five years.  Of the local carriers in Juneau, they have the best wireless cellphone service, at least in terms of coverage.  Oh, sure, we’ve had our gripes.  ACS’s plans are more expensive and their cellphone selection is rather poor.  But what good are extra Cellular One or Alaska Digitel minutes if you’ve got no bars?  Besides, my wife and I comfortably share 330 minutes and we don’t use our phones as cameras. 

So what’s the big deal?  It’s their “Retail Services” department.

A few months ago, we received a letter in the mail stating that ACS was upgrading their cellular network from TDMA to CDMA.  The reasons for the network switch weren’t exactly clear.  Except for the FCC-mandated “emergency safetly feature” (i.e., 911), we could expect “crystal-clear voice quality, the fewest dropped calls, advanced wireless features, higher security, and much more!”  I could break those down into bullet points and explain why each of them say nothing, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.  They were willing to offer us a new phone; well, they’d have to since our old phones wouldn’t work on their new network.  The letter told us we could stop by our local ACS office and pick up one of three, free* CDMA models:  “An Audiovox 8615, Koycera SE 44, or the new Motorola RAZR V3c.”  After checking them out online, it appeared that this new network could finally allow us to do some web browsing, picture sending, and other stuff that Alaska’s backwater service hasn’t offered yet.  Cool.


October 27, 2004

Flying to Fairbanks

Surprising snacks on Alaska AirlinesWhen your family is from the East Coast and you’ve decided to make a life for yourself in Alaska, most of your traveling ends up taking more than twelve hours. It’s hard to get excited about a 3000 mile journey while it requires you to get up at 4:30am just so you can make it to the airport in time for the humiliating dissection of your luggage. Then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll have middle seats between two strangers for the next half-day, not to mention long layovers in airports with chairs intentionally designed to be uncomfortable.

I love flying, but somewhere along the way, I lost the excitement for it.

It’s precisely because most of my travel is extremely tedious that I wasn’t looking forward to flying to Fairbanks last Sunday. I suppose it didn’t help matters much that my trip was work related – three days of training on a new web portal isn’t exactly my idea of fun. The only good thing about traveling for business is that the University foots the bill, so there’s that. But hey, I wouldn’t want to get dooced, so enough about work.

I woke up Sunday morning with a lot to do before my plane was scheduled to leave at 1pm. I don’t know what it is about me, but despite my best intentions, I never seem to pack before the last minute. After going to bed rather late the night before (Curse you, World of Warcraft!), I awoke at 8:30am with my mind already creating a to-do list.

Before tackling the list, though, I started the day like most every other day that I manage to get up before Oksana. I stretched my arm into the partially closed refrigerator and cracked open a Diet Coke as quietly as I could. While ingesting my much-needed caffeine, I sat down at my desk and read some of my daily web sites. When my eyes could stay open without conscious effort, I started in on the first task on my list – backing up and transferring the files I’ll need on my laptop.

The rest of the morning was filled with all the things I should have done the day before: Laundry, shaving, packing, finding contact info for the hotel and printing out Internet maps of Fairbanks and the UAF campus. Somewhere during all that, Oksana came out of the bedroom and went back to sleep on the couch. Envy.