Old News

I’ve been delaying writing because I have been dreading going back and reading the 200+ articles in Google Reader. So today I finally went through the StarTribune, NYTimes, and Slashdot articles from the past week that I thought might be interesting. The range from the absurd to the more serious. Serious items are starred.

From Slashdot

From the NYTimes

  • *Why the $2500 car could be too cheap to succeed
  • *Six rules doctors should know

Also from the NYTimes are two more articles. These deserve a little more space and time. First, many of you will know that Randy Pausch passed away on July 25. He was the leader of the research team behind Alice and a remarkable person. If you missed his “Last Lecture” recorded at CMU last fall, give your self 1.5 hours to watch it. I also highly recommend his book, The Last Lecture. He had pancreatic cancer but fought long and hard against it. I came across an article in the NYTimes linked to by one of the memorial columns. It’s a list of advice from NYTimes readers of what they wanted their children to know if they were terminally ill. I adored this list.

“The top five things kids need to know are:

Don’t be rude to the wait staff.
If you need help, ask for help.
It’s okay to go up the slide, even though the rules say you may only go down.
Learn the words “Thank You.” How to say it. How to receive it.
Always go outside when the sun is out. “

I was going to end on a goofier note, but I don’t think I can follow that list, so I’ll save the goofy for tomorrow.

Hiking in Girdwood

I previously mentioned that Ben, Scott, Tricia, and I went hiking in Girdwood. Girdwood is a small town about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, toward Seward. It is best known, I think, for being the home of the Alyeska Ski Resort, by far the best ski resort in Alaska. I skied there twice in eighth grade and remembered it fondly.

I am not much of a hiker. To be honest, I never have been. After this hike, though, I called my mom to apologize for being such a spoilsport as a kid. (Lots of the whining involved mosquitoes, the rest was bears and tiredness, I believe.) I would have whined my whole way through the hike 10-15 years ago, but now, well, it was simply stunning and worth every minute.

One plant I hadn’t seen for ages was Devil’s Club. It took Tricia and I a while, but she eventually remembered what it was called. We knew it wasn’t something you should touch, we were just blanking on the name.

The Winner Creek hike starts behind the tram up to the top of the mountain and follows along the base of the mountain, later winding to follow streams and ending up at a gorge with a hand tram. Below is Ben pulling himself across.

On the other side of the gorge, we climbed down to the river and took pictures. Then we headed back to the resort. I was having problems with my hiking boots, not having worn them in about 5 years, and Tricia suggested the perfect remedy.

I put a bandage over the blistering area and then covered it with duct tape, which Tricia cleverly had on hand. That seemed to do the trick for quite some time.

Back at the resort, we paid to go up to almost the top of the mountain, where the chalet and restaurant are.

The guys were excited about throwing snowballs.

I liked the fact that there were still runs officially open on June 28.

As a kid, I used to think that skiing down from the top (which I never did) would feel like skiing straight into the ocean.

Finally for tonight, I leave you with this picture of a double black diamond at Alyeska. Compared to this, most slopes in Minnesota are no more than bunny hills.

These posts are getting a little picture heavy, but that helps break up the page. Leave me a comment if you like it or hate it and I’ll try to respond.


I had a late night last night and gave my brain the night off starting a few hours ago. Here’s a picture from last night to tide you over. I went on a cruise of the San Francisco Bay.

and the Bay Bridge at night.

By request (with lots of pictures)

My friend Simon wanted me to chime in and tell a story involving people and bears. Given that she is probably the only person reading, I thought I’d better comply.

This is the picture in question. It’s now my user pic in several places because it’s just brilliant. You have to know one thing about me before I tell this story. I have two things that I am incredibly afraid of: guns and bears.

When I started looking up information about Aialik Bay, I kept reading phrases like this: “All food and drinks must be kept secured in the cabin at all times. Black and brown bears frequent this area.” That wouldn’t be nearly so frightening if there was more civilization, but as I’ve said before, the human population in Aialik Bay is sparse at best.

It’s not that I haven’t faced this issue before. When I was little and we went to go climb Flattop, Mom, in order to keep my brother on the path, mentioned the true story of another little boy who the year before had been mauled by a bear while wandering off the path. Intended result: My brother would stay on the path. Unintended result: I was scared to leave the car and wanted to race back to safety as soon as possible. While tenting in Denali, I wouldn’t let so much as a crumb in the tent for fear of being attacked. Girl Scout camping was the same. My final year at church camp (Bingle Camp) we decided the last night that there were bears outside. (No memory as to if there was data to support this conjecture.) But we were safe, because we were in cabins. Then our helpful counselor told us about a bear who had essentially smashed down a house and mauled the people inside. None of us slept that night. So needless to say, my fear of bears is very deeply ingrained and rational at times, to a degree. (In that bears are, in fact, dangerous and like the smell of food and toothpaste.)

I had been intellectually gearing up for this for several weeks before leaving. I bought a bear bell and we picked up some bear spray in Anchorage. However before leaving for the wilderness, I had several test runs. Ben’s co-worker (and our neighbor) Scott and Scott’s fiance Tricia were also in town for the conference. On Saturday, Scott and Ben headed to the conference while Tricia and I headed to have breakfast with friends of mine and then explore the zoo. The Alaska zoo is pretty cool (more on that some other time). Standing around by the black bears, I thought it would be great to get a fake terror shot. Me facing the bears, very scared. So we took some shots. The photo above was the best of the bunch, although an earlier try is below. (The bear is so small though, it’s just not as impressive.) It’s just as well we did this with the black bears as the brown bears were all asleep. So that was my first interaction with the bears.

The second was a hike on Winner Creek Trail at the base of Mount Alyeska. Scott and Ben picked us up at the zoo and we headed to Girdwood for this hike. (More on that another time.)

This was the trail head. Opposite this was the bulletin board with all sorts of notices, most of which involved bears. But Tricia had her bear spray holster and there were four of us and we didn’t see any bears.

Then we were camping in the Mat-Su Valley where I had never seen a bear, so I was pretty relaxed. Heading down to Seward, we stopped at the Russian River where we saw this sign on sturdy fencing:


Then we went on a hike to Exit Glacier, without our bear spray or bell, but with plenty of other moving pieces of food with us on the trail. We made it out just fine.

I was at peace about bears when we stepped on the boat in Seward. Then the captain started telling us about all the black bears that were always around Aialik Bay and near our cabin. I began tensing up. He proceeded to tel us about a friend of his, who, a week earlier, had been mauled by a brown bear in Seward. (The friend survived.) Then he dropped the subject and we picked up some kayakers from the cove next to ours. They’d had a black bear cub poking around their camp the previous night for 30 minutes. I went tense again. Then we got to our cabin and we were alone, supposedly, with the bears. For the first few hours, I was tense, but then I realized that the chance of me being mauled while walking to the outhouse was slim, especially armed with bear bell and pepper spray.

The ranger came by that evening and informed us that there were “lots of black bears in the area.” Again, my nervousness returned. No signs of bears the first day. The second day (the gray day, described below) I went out on a walk on my own and then decided that the seal in the middle of the bay was, in fact, a bear and it was going to come get me, so I went back inside and read my book.

By day three I was a little mad at the bears. I’d showed up, we’d bought bear gear galore, I’d mentally prepared and now there weren’t any bears? Seriously? That wasn’t fair. I decided that I wanted to see a bear with the following stipulations. I wanted to be in the kayak, I wanted to be far away from the bear, and I wanted the bear to be in another cove. (I had forgotten that if a bear had wanted to enter our cabin, it definitely could have.

But alas, no bear. So I had gotten all intellectually prepared and physically prepared and we never even saw a bear in the wild. (We did see a wild moose and humpback and orca whales…) That is my anticlimatic story of bears in Alaska. As a special preview, I’ll let you know that tomorrow, also by Simon’s request, I’ll talk a bit about Mount Marathon and the annual fourth of July run.

Greetings and new post

I use Google Reader on a daily basis to read through a bunch of news and headlines, marking the ones of interest to come back to. Often I feel the need to share these with a wider audience and end up sending them to my parents, brother, Ben, or Simon the Anglophile. So I thought I could just make my own blog and link to the really interesting/bizzare/cool/crazy news of the day. I won’t necessarily have read the article, but the headline caught my eye.

This isn’t NPR on the hour, this is my own personal mix generally from the NY Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the wonder that is Slashdot.

Headlines for August 6
The company that makes Mr. Bubble Bubble Bath has filed for bankruptcy
Odd aside: Mr. Bubble used to be owned by Playtex :/

Fighting Crime with Text Messages

A Mountain Lion who “snatched” a dog from the owner’s bedroom and then left it (dead) outside

And from Slashdot and Wait Wait Don’t Tell me comes the technology mistake of the week: Don’t let computers translate your restaurant for you

It wasn’t always perfect

On our second day in Aialik Bay, the day I wanted to do two biggish kayaking excursions, we woke up to this gray. Gray is fine. I can handle gray. But I was sluggish getting up and then we had to eat and wash dishes, and by then it was raining. Ben went on a long walk down the beach and I curled up in the cabin and started reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, an oddly appropriate book. (Appropriate because it takes place in Sitka, AK where the weather is almost always like it is in this photo…gray and rainy.)

So I spent most of the day sleeping or reading and then we went on a long walk down the beach, where this picture was taken. It’s amazing how some places are still so gorgeous even when the weather is less than ideal.

This is a shorter post, but it’s also about nine hours overdue. For that reason, I’ll toss in another gray picture for free. Aialik Bay has lots of dead trees, leftover from the tsunami/earthquake in 1964 that heavily damaged Seward and changed the landscape of much of south central Alaska. (This is not a super optimistic post.) For more information go to the Wikipedia page.

Because my train of thought is leading to more images, I’ll throw in one tsunami related image. This is a new awareness campaign, I believe, in coastal towns near fault lines. (I’ve seen it in Seward and Monterey, CA) For some dark reason, I find it highly amusing. I think it has to do with the visual, not the message.

Aialik Glacier

At the end of the week in Alaska, Ben and I spent several days at the Aialik Bay Public Use Cabin. When I lived in Alaska, we never did touristy things like go out to the wilderness or go on boat trips. Anything we did along those lines was generally school related. We rarely even went hiking (but that’s a story for another post). So it was a bit of a surprise when Ben explained that his plans for part of our trip involved going to a cabin for two days. The cabin is a three to four hour boat ride from Seward. It has no electricity or running water.

So when Ben said that, I started worrying. This is a place where you are advised to bring an extra four days of food and supplies because if a storm comes in you could be stranded. This has never been my idea of fun. Then I realized that the main thing that people did in Aialik Bay was kayak. Also not my favorite activity.

The last (and only) time I went kayaking was in Montreal in 2003. I went to a kayaking class through the youth hostel. The kayaking was down on the canal. At some point I managed to flip the kayak and as I was leaving the class I had severe pain in my ear. I ended up at the doctor. It turns out that the pressure of the water against my eardrum was dangerously high. Could have burst it.

So, anyways, my memories of kayaking weren’t ideal. Ben had never been kayaking, but in part persuaded by my mom, I decided to go along with the kayaking idea. Because double sea kayaks are more stable than singles, we rented a double for our trip. In the above picture, Ben had just brought the raft we brought our stuff to the beach in back to the boat and is heading back to the cabin.

In weather like this, though, it was hard to not love kayaking. It was warm and dry enough so that we didn’t freeze after climbing into the kayak in bare feet via the ocean. Having two paddlers meant one of us (me) could take a break while the other ensured we didn’t end up on shore or in front of a glacier. Plus I loved kayaking because it was not on land. Land was where the bears were and to be honest, I wanted to stay as far as possible from the bears. But that’s another story.

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Kenai Lake

I’m going to start posting my favorite pictures from my Alaska trip and a little bit about them. (Background on the Alaska trip. Ben was being flown up by his work to go to CVPR, a computer vision conference. Google let me take a week of unpaid leave, and I went up to join him for eight days. We were in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Seward, and the wild wilderness of Aialik Bay.)

This picture was taken from the Seward Highway on the way to Seward. Dad encouraged us to, at the Y, take the road towards Homer until we got to the Russian River. It was salmon season, so there were lots of fishermen, although they weren’t as crazed as Dad had promised. The road from the Seward Highway to Cooper Landing goes by Kenai Lake, which turns into the Kenai river. I had forgotten what a huge and gorgeous lake this is.

First off, as you can see, it’s a tropical turquoise. (The word tropical isn’t really appropriate. This water is COLD!) Second of all, it’s about twenty miles long. Long enough that we went by it on the way back from Cooper Landing, then drove on for another ten minutes, past other lakes. Then we turned back onto the Seward Highway, drove a bit further, and then saw it again. (See embedded map)

When I looked at the weather for the trip, it was supposed to rain everyday for the next ten days. This is the nicest rain I’ve ever seen!