Archive for the 'Non-Craft Related' Category

On the Bay

Photo credit:Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

This is where I spent the last four days (I’m the one with my legs over the side). The majority of the time I was soaking wet and freezing cold but I still managed to have a good time. The guys on the boat were great and everyone had such a good attitude. It is almost always fun if you are winning, so I really appreciate when racing stays fun even when things don’t go as well.

This event was truly a “Yacht” race – big boats funded by rich people and lots of extravagance. I love sailboat racing but I don’t love the Yacht Club scene. It is not for me. I feel awkward and out of place. One of these days I’ll get back into the kind of racing I love to do – in small boats with fun competitors, no yacht club required.

Genuine Alaskan Adventure

What comes to mind when you think of Alaska?
Vast expanses of wilderness? Bears, wolves and wild animals? Glaciers?

This is not, for the most part, what I saw when I was in Alaska. Instead of scaling a glacier while being chased by bears I had what is arguably a more genuine Alaskan experience–I helped work on a re-finishing a friend’s house. This is how a large number of Alaskans spend their summer, so I too participated in the true Alaskan Adventure.

The state of the built environment in central Alaska leaves something to be desired. Despite extremely harsh winters requiring large amounts of energy to heat homes (40 below is not an uncommon temperature) it seems like a huge number of them are either built improperly for the environment or just plain built improperly. It is not quite correct to say that there is no building code but I would say by observation that many (many) structures do not follow said code. I guess the reason this bothers me so much is because there is a large energy consumption associated with poor building in a climate such as interior Alaska. Despite being in an oil state, fuel still costs ~$4/gallon and a house can use more than a thousand gallons of oil over a winter (according to the local paper the average is between 1,300 and 1,350 gallons of heating fuel per year). How can these people afford to heat their homes?

The house my friends purchased this summer consists of two buildings connected together by an internal causeway. One of the buildings is about 30 years old and made of logs without additional insulation. 8″ of wood is better than nothing but it can’t keep things particularly warm. The other building is newer, insulated and contains the house’s water system and bedrooms.

The list of things to be built or re-built is fairly substantial and the deadline is November. Some of the projects are to bring the house into compliance with insurance requirements, others are to save some money and energy heating. They are hoping to take advantage of a rebate and mortgage rate reduction available if they can greatly improving the energy “rating” of the house.

First on the list: Build a deck railing for insurance compliance.

Next: Build a make-shift kitchen to operate out of while the current kitchen is dismantled. These hearty alaskan folks will probably do ok, but I know I would have trouble working out of this arrangement for more than a few weeks….

They need to replace/update their kitchen so we talked about which parts they would keep and which they would replace or build themselves. They decided to keep the cabinets and re-finish them. We primed them while I was there but reports are that painting them is taking many coats of paint (and therefore a *lot* of time). They still have to decide on a counter surface to put in. I calculated some approximate costs for the seamless counters from the hardware store vs building the counter and tilling it yourself. I think the cost of doing it yourself is about half, but it takes two days of work which might make the two balance out.

The older cabin is going to be framed with new walls, insulated and then sheet rocked. I didn’t get to see the first wall go up, but it was built on the floor the day I left. Only 3 more to go!

Don’t worry, we did some (more traditionally) fun things too! I got to go canoing where I saw the Bald Eagle at the top of the post. The eagle was really close, that photo was shot with a small waterproof digital camera so there is no fancy zoom action.

We picked some rhubarb

and blueberries

and I saw all sorts of neat plant life. Arctic vegetation is on my brain these days and I find the plant communities there fascinating.

I did a fair share of knitting as well. It seemed appropriate to work on my norwegian mittens while in a cold climate. I’m loving how they are turning out. Maybe I’ll get around to posting about them later, otherwise you can check them out on Ravelry.

For some cultural exposure we attended the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. They have some crazy sports that involve jumping really high and kicking your feet in the air. There is also a selection of sports which involve ears – hanging large weights from your ears or having a “tug of war” between two ears. I think I’m glad I missed those events. Check out this coat from the native regalia contest. I was in love…

That woman also competed in the blanket toss event and wore the coat for the first jump!

The flight home was long and tiring. Most flights out of Fairbanks come and go around 1am, so I flew all night. I used to take the red-eye back to NY when I lived there, but this was much more brutal than I remember. I have recovered now though and I had a great time. It is fun to work on large scale house projects when you don’t have your own. It is even better when I don’t have to make the decisions! I just think now I might need vacation from my vacation…


I spent a few days cat sitting at my parents house recently. This is the view from my parents bedroom. It feels like a treehouse. I’ve been gone most of a decade now, but it still feels like home.

The view is drastically different than when I was young. The distribution of tree species has changed dramatically with the influx of sudden oak death, the proliferation of Douglass fir trees and some disease that has killed all of the Madrones.

Despite the changes in tree distribution, the character of the landscape is still very much the same. Sometimes I get nostalgic when I see photos or movies which show landscapes that look like Sonoma County.

This past weekend a crowd gathered for the afternoon. There were kittens, cars, crafting and lots of eating.

I also got to visit Brookfarm Alpacas. I met Sarah (of the Brookfarm Alpacas family) a few weeks ago at a knitting night in Oakland and we discovered that our parents live less than a mile apart. I never knew there were Alpacas so close by! Ingo, Kate, my Mom and myself drove down the hill to meet Sarah and look around the farm. The Alpacas are too cute.

In addition to the animals, we got to see a fleece rolled out for sorting and a room full of bags of fiber. It looks like they have a lot to sort through! It is too bad that we came just after shearing and missed them in full fluffy glory. Maybe I can visit again sometime?

There were, of course, kitties too. It is kitten season again and my dad has a new crop of three adorable little ones (he fosters kittens). Meet Madeline, Pascal and Marie (the one being sat upon). Anyone looking to adopt a kitten? I can tell you honestly that these three will be expertly socialized! Don’t get too attached to little Madeline though, it seems she has been spoken for.
Photo of Madeline by Brent G.

It was a great way to spend the holiday weekend and the weather cooperated with us. Even Bart got a little attention, and all 6 cats got their claws trimmed!

(Photo of Bart by Brent G)


This past weekend I attended the Maker Faire. In addition to being a fantastic people watching event I had a few excellent conversations with folks showing off their creations. The people at the Instructables booth were even willing to laser engrave my vinyl bag for me. Fantastic! Epilog Laser was also in attendance and for a mere $8000 you can buy your own laser engraver. After learning this n spent the rest of the day asking how much he could charge me for engraving each of my bags and wallets. Considering my current sales numbers I am unlikely to help him pay that off…

I walked briefly thorough the Bazarre Bizarre but I was so over-stimulated and it was so crowded in there that I couldn’t calm down enough to actually check anything out. It is too bad, but the day really isn’t about shopping anyway.

I was also excited to see Ponoko there. I’m fascinated by the idea of being able to produce goods on fancy schmancy machines from my own designs. And locally no less! They are just getting started with shops in the US and I can’t wait to design something and send it their way. As an added bonus, I had a nice chat with the guy manning their booth (I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name!) who told me that he wanted to start Ponoko after he was involved with a climate blog called Celsias. I haven’t spent too much time looking around yet, but the site looks like a combination of science & policy news and discussion as well as networking for projects to reduce the impact of global warming. Yay solutions!

Every time I have been to the Maker Faire I spend a good part of the day thinking about how much my dad would enjoy it but I’ve yet to get him to come along. This year I spied a three wheeled car with a motorcycle license plate. Lets just say there has been some experience with that around his house. The ride may or may not look something like this:

(video from Karrie)

earth on earth day

The classic 1972 image of Earth from Apollo 17. Link

It is earth day. I’m at my desk at work still so instead of sharing some creative or clever idea for earth friendly crafting (my opinions can be summed thus: yay recycling!) I will share some images of the earth that fascinate me. And yes, it is an atmosphere-centric view, but that is what you get from someone who studies climate all day.

First up: Atmospheric vortices.

A vortex on a large scale, Hurricane Katrina at landfall

Image From Earth Observatory

Also amazing is this video of the entire 2005 Atlantic Hurricane season. Link

von Karmon vortex sheet in the atmosphere

From Earth Observatory
It blows my mind that these features from tank experiments actually show up in the real world. Wow!

Next: Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms look like boiling water! It is unlikely that I will ever get over that. These are over the Amazon. Link

here is another one over Africa

Image from Earth Observatory

Also fantastic is this sequence of images showing the onset of the rainy season over the Amazon. Link

And finally: Crazy fantastic landscapes

Agricultural Patterns

Image from Earth Observatory
This set of images makes me wonder how I can possibly expect to represent crops in large grid cell climate models. It also makes me think about the patterns that humans exert on the landscape. Just look at Kansas!

North Slope of Alaska

I have this on my screensaver and it is impressive how many heads it turns. Tundra, lakes AND the arctic ocean all in one. Link

So I hope that you made it through this extremely craft-free tour of earth images from space. I understand that most people don’t find these all as amazing as I do, but then most people don’t choose to spend all day thinking about it either :)

Happy Earth Day!

one year

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who was about to start a road trip from Seattle to Utah. I raced through my calendar to see if I could possibly drive out there to meet him, but I couldn’t quite make it work this time. This is the same friend who once, on a suggestion during a phone conversation, agreed to meet me at a prescribed time on a particular day in Utah when he was driving from Maryland and I was driving from the bay area. We both made it and the trip was great fun. I’ve been thinking over the trip last spring, which was exactly one year ago, and wishing that I was there now.

One year ago today:
devils garden

dance hall rock

Improved Sheep-Wash

Yesterday during a routine academic search for journal articles about the sensitive dependence of coupled carbon cycle climate models to land surface parameter values I came across this patent.

What do you think you get from boiling tobacco, adding chalk and tersulphide of calcium (prepared it in the usual way, whatever that is)? Improved Sheep-wash, thats what. Apparently the wash is not limited to sheep (on no!) the author claims that it is “equally efficacious when applied to cattle and other animals.” Get yer tobacco a boilin…

Oh google scholar, how you do entertain me….

movin on

We finished our move a few weeks ago but are still getting settled. Im working on acquiring some additional furniture so we can finish unpacking and I can get back into all of my projects. I’ve been scouring craigslist for the perfect finds but it is so time consuming to find anything that falls under a generic description. We have made one late night trip to ikea, but otherwise have relied heavily on donations from my parents and some carpentry. I have gotten one thing from craigslist though, a table to serve as ground zero for crafty adventures. It is your classic 1950′s kitchen table complete with two spring loaded pull-out leaves. I think it goes nicely with my 1950′s sewing machines.

I do occasionally feel nostalgic about our old place although the nearly constant cold rainy weather of the last two weeks would not have been any more fun with 85% of the walls comprised of unsealed single pane windows. Nonetheless the full southern exposure in the winter was something close to heaven for me on sunny days and I will miss it.

I made a set of photos of the old place, a retrospective if you will, and you can see them on flickr.

I call it cardboard mountian

This is the current state of our move (well, as of this morning). Believe it or not, there are way more packed boxes than unpacked boxes, most of which are squirreled away in closets and corners.

We got keys to our new place today and were happy to discover that it’s larger than we remembered so our mountains of crap might even fit. Moving is a good time to take inventory of ones things and I’ve been trying to reassess. I’m really not kidding anyone here, I’m terrible at parting with things that could be potential craft material, but I did say try….

We had one last sunny Sunday morning to enjoy and now it’s goodbye to all that. Wednesday is the big day but you can rest assured that I’ll be preoccupied about it for the next two days and probably be so distracted at work that I’ll have to go move a carload just to feel better.

Important things I have learned in this experience:
I have a serious OCD side. To me, this isn’t normally obvious but the last few weeks it’s been on display and driving N crazy.

Compared to the volume of stuff we have boxed up we really don’t have much furniture. Just piles and piles of crap. Unfortunately I think the new place will need additional furniture just to accommodate the crap.

I now own more fiber than yarn (by volume). This might not be that surprising due to the packing capability of yarn except that I only recently started spinning and even more recently buying fiber.

I own far more fabric than either fiber or yarn and it’s the heaviest. The fabric had been accumulating in the closet where I never saw it all together so I didn’t even really know how much was in there. Needless to say there is a fair amount. This goes well with my three sewing machines (and upcoming back-ache).

I might actually enjoy having walls. Oh, and cupboard space. The dishwasher wont hurt either. After we move I can look back at this loft/studio/attic/greenhouse and get nostalgic, but right now I am just ready to get this over with!


of cats! Apollo, Bart, Graphite and Streak spent the holidays together this year and everyone got along surprisingly well. You might notice that the top photo has a swat-in-action but there were no serious disagreements. Feeding time was a bit intense though, lots of meowing and jockeying for good position when the bowls hit the floor.

patiently waiting