Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hiring a Handyman

Well, I did it.

I hired a handyman to work on my house. It was an agonizing procedure, too.

I got a list of handymen from the AHFC (Alaska Housing & Finance Corporation) and chose the only three on there that listed an email address. I contacted all three of them, explaining what I had in mind and asking if they thought they might be interested. All three responded back within a few days, so I set up appointments for each of them.

The first to arrive was a guy who looked very much like somebody my brother would hang out with. That in its self is a pretty good recommendation, in my book. He sealed the deal by taking off his shoes to reveal bare feet! And, to top it off, he pulled himself up into the attic by one hand off the floor! Needless to say, I was impressed.

The second to arrive was so clean-cut you could almost hear him crackle as he walked past, like a shirt that has too much starch in it. However, he totally won me over by being just as excited as I was at the prospect of making my home more energy efficient. He knew all about what I was attempting to do, and ended up going over the entire house talking to me about everything for over two hours! He even liked my Thing (don't get excited: Thing is my cat) wich automatically put him up on the top of my list.

The third guy never showed up. I made two appointments with him, with no luck. But - that's ok. I'm sure he had reasons, and I had two others giving me their estimates, so I wasn't upset.

About 2 weeks later, I sent another email out asking when I might expect to hear back from the two handymen. Only one responded back - so, that pretty much made my choice for me.

As luck would have it, it was the second guy! His estimate was pretty much what I expected it to be - as in, way too much for me to go on vacation again in 2008, but low enough that I don't need to get a loan to pay it off.

So, as soon as he gives me a date to start construction, my second New Year's Resolution for 2007 will be completed.

Assuming I survive the chaos that will be my house.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Question on Beetles

I’m hoping that you can help me: I saw an unusual beetle while on vacation in Mongolia that I cannot identify.

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture (my camera did not enjoy the Gobi desert as much as I did), but it was red, round & flat, about the size of a quarter, and it buried itself in the sand. When I turned it over, it reminded me of a horseshoe crab. I’m assuming it had the standard 6 legs which is why I’m calling it a beetle and not a spider.

The area I was at was the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, in Dornogobi Aimag, Mongolia. I’m sorry I don’t have the coordinates to the place.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Creek Monitoring: Rabbit Creek

This summer, I signed up with the Anchorage Waterways Council to be a part of their CEMP, or Citizen's Environmental Monitoring Program. I thought it would be an interesting way to learn a little bit about science, as well as an excuse to get outside and enjoy the Alaskan scenery.

I had two 6-hour training classes: the first one had the instructor going over each test we were to conduct out at our creek, followed by the volunteers giving that particular test a try. The second training class had all of us volunteers going thru the entire testing procedure on our own, with the instructor standing by in case we had questions. The final phase of the training period was out in the field, using actual creek water (as opposed to simply using tap water) and making sure we understood everything that was expected of us.

Now that I have completed all three phases of testing, I am partnered up with a long-time creek monitor and have been testing for a couple of months out at Rabbit Creek. Winter time is typically the hardest time to test, as you can imagine. We have to deal with freezing cold temperatures: the water is running so it’s not actually frozen, but it certainly is freezing! Thankfully, we only have to test once a month. During the summer months we test twice a month; at least it’s easier as far as weather goes, but we have to deal with animal life.

The following is the list of CEMP Parameters of Concern:

Temperature: water temperature is one of the most important water quality parameters we test. It controls metabolic and reproductive activities in organisms, and determines species composition. Temperature also affects dissolved oxygen and can influence bacterial growth, and chemical reactions in water.

Conductivity: conductivity measure water’s ability to pass an electric current, and can be used to indicate the dissolved solids or ion content of the water. Conductivity in streams is affected primarily by the geology of the area, but may also be affected by human sources such as septic systems or runoff.

Dissolved Oxygen (DO): DO is one of the most important indicators of a water body’s ability to support aquatic life. It is essential for the basic metabolic processes of animals and plants inhabiting our streams.

pH: pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. pH affects many chemical and biological processes in the water.

Phosphorus: phosphorus is an essential nutrient in the aquatic food web, and is usually in short supply in waters of south-central Alaska, so even a modest increase can stimulate growth of algae in streams. The many sources of phosphorus include wastewater treatment plants, runoff from fertilized lawns, septic systems, animal manure, and runoff from disturbed land areas.

Nitrate: similar to phosphorus, nitrogen is required by all organisms for the basic processes of life to make proteins, to grow, and to reproduce. Nitrogen is found in many forms in water, and the sources are similar to those that contribute to phosphorus levels.

Turbidity: turbidity measures water clarity. Any material mixed and suspended in water will reduce its clarity and make the water turbid. High turbidity levels can be disruptive to aquatic systems in various ways including: 1) interfering with the passage of light through water, 2) clogging the gills of some fish species, 3) causing an increase in water temperature since suspended particles absorb more heat resulting in a reduction of dissolved oxygen since warmer water holds less oxygen, and 4) smothering fish eggs and benthic macroinvertebrates.

E. Coli Bacteria: while coliform bacteria are natural and most are harmless, the presence of high levels of coliform bacteria and, in particular, of fecal coliforms may indicate that sewage is being discharged into the water. Certain species of pathogenic bacteria can cause typhoid fever, dysentery, and cholera.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

What a great day we had yesterday!

Dinner was held over at my brother’s house, a buffet type affair. We all brought too much food, of course. A sign-up sheet had been circulated a head of time so we didn’t have very many duplicates and no holes (except for the mashed potatoes that accidentally got dropped on the way in).

Mother made what she calls “dead baby chickens” – otherwise known as Cornish Game Hens – instead of turkey this year. My brother Stewart brought a spiral-cut ham, too. Plenty of meat for the carnivores in the family. There were all kinds of salads, veggies, fruit, and pies to round it all off.

All told, there was about 30 people, ranging in age from about 1.5 to 86. My niece even called in from college over in Scotland, so we all gave her a very loud “Happy Thanksgiving!”

Lets see if I can name everybody: Mother, Stan, Dorothy, Stewart, Julie, Kelly, Danny, Tara, Laurel & her partner, Gareth & his girlfriend, Robin & his wife, Hank, Noel, Lauren, Katy (via phone), Henry, Martha, Myself, Heather, Reed, Chris & Sara, Tucker, Lisa, Mark, Madelyne, Mabel, Pam, Gleo, and Zieh & Dave – but they had to leave early.

My other niece, Lauren, has just returned from Seattle where she went to have surgery. She was still quite swollen and could only eat mashed potatoes, but at least she was there. She regaled everybody with stories of her horrible surgery and showed off the metal pins holding her jaw together.

I got to show pictures of my Mongolia trip. Believe it or not, there were still some people who hadn’t seen them!

The weather was the most surprising thing: it was about 50 degrees out there! Driving home, the rain was so heavy I could barely see the road in front of me. Hard to believe it was a record-breaking snow storm just a week ago.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I just got home from the most interesting science lecture! A scientist from Fairbanks came down to the Campbell Creek Science Center and gave a talk on the winter survival techniques of the Chickadee.

Think about it: just how does that tiny little bird survive 18 hours of 30 below weather? It's barely 12 ounces in size (that's smaller than the little bag of peanuts you get when you fly the airlines nowadays)yet it's been spotted as far north as Anaktuvak Pass.

Just a brief summary here (I am not a scientist, so I'm only repeating what I heard): the bird utilized 3 basic physiological strategies and 3 basic behavioral strategies.

Physiological Strategies:

1. it has more feathers per square inch than it's southern cousins.
2. the feathers are structured differently to maximize heat retention.
3. it has the ability to put on fat very quickly

That last one is the most amazing one: that little bird can put on an additional 10% of its body weight in fat in just 6 hours! That's the equivalent of a 150 pound person putting on 15 pounds.

Behavioral Strategies:

1. it stores caches of food all over the place for lean times
2. it roosts in small spaces to minimize heat loss
3. it's an early riser to maximize daylight hours for optimal food gathering

All of these behaviors together allow a bird that, if you took off all its feathers - is no bigger than your thumb to keep an inner core temperature of 104 degrees.

Truly an amazing bird!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's Begining To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Man, is it ever snowing out there.

It all started Saturday night. By Sunday it was coming down in big huge fluffy flakes. In fact, I read in the papers yesterday that we broke a record for the amount of snowfall in one day: 5".

Today it started aroun 2:00, and by 4:30 (the time I leave work) it was thick & heavey. My windshield wipers could barely keep up with it, and the road ahead of me was lost in all that whiteness.

The really sad part about it all is that I have yet to put my winter tires on! Yes, I'm one of "THOSE PEOPLE" - but at least I am driving sensibly. I haven't gotten stuck, or ran into anybody, or swerved out of control yet. It's really not that difficult if you just drive properly and don't get to hasty.

I will definitely get them put on this weekend: I have a speaking engagement on Sunday out in Eagle River at their Nature Center, which is located about 7 miles up the mountain! My car would never make it with summer tires on.

I also have yet to find a snow-blowing service. With my back out of whack like it is, I really should not be shoveling my driveway (that beautiful thick heavy snow is just that: HEAVY) but as steep as it is I can't afford to leave it there to later turn in to one big sheet of ice.

If anybody can recommend a reliable snow-blower, I'd be most appreciative.

By the way: those of you who are interested can joine me on Sunday, November 18, at 2:00pm at the Eagle River Nature Center for a talk on my Earthwatch Expedition to Mongolia!

Monday, November 12, 2007

What a Weekend I had!

I spent the weekend out at the Alyeska Hotel in Girdwood - you skiers out there will know that place well. The AIA State Convention (American Institute of Architects) was going on and I had volunteered to work their registration table.

This is not the first time I've done that for them, so I had a good idea of what was in store for me. I have to say that this one was a lot better organized than the last one was. We still had a few issues, and I really don't like crowds of people, but for the most part it went off fairly well.

It did serve to remind me how amazed I am sometimes at some people's nerve. One lady signed up for the cheapest thing she could find on the registration website: the banquette meal on Saturday Night. She then proceeded to attend the entire conference, eating 6 meals in the process - all without paying!

Well, she THOUGHT she wasn't paying. I happen to know that she is going to get one heck of a bill in the mail. Of course, there's nothing to enforce her payment of said bill - but if she doesn't pay, she will be black-balled from all further AIA events, and her husband (who is the actual architect in this picture; she is just a wife) will be extremely embarrassed in front of his peers.

The overall theme of the conference was - as it is almost everywhere - the state of our climate and what the building sector has to do with it. Of the three sectors most blamed for the CO2 in our atmosphere (Transportation, Industry, and Buildings)the built environment is responsible for close to 50% of the CO2 emissions! So you see, it really is up to us to do something about that.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Update on My Jaw

Apparently when I injured myself in Mongolia, I really injured myself.

My doctor now believes that I bled out - not that we're talking gallons of blood or anything quite so dramatic as that. Just enough to form a pocket of blood, which was popped during that last physical therapy session. She said the odds of something like that happening were about a million to one. Don't you know I'd be that one! She also said the force of that "explosion" was equal to about 900mph = no wonder my body went into a form of shock!

What she didn't really understand was why the response was so delayed? Normally, the reaction should have been immediately after the popping, and with mine it waited long enough for me to walk out of the office and drive back to work. If she had known what was going on she would never have let me leave.

The good news is that I'm that much farther along in the healing process and will be discharged next time I go in!


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

I work in a professional office in down-town Anchorage, for an Architectural firm. Our restrooms, while being considered public restrooms, are mostly used by just the people in the firm. One of them had the great idea of getting several sets of those "Magnetic Poetry" thingies and plastering them all over the doors of each stall. It really makes for some interesting reading while you're in there!Here is just a sampling of things I've read:

Running deliriously on raw meat

Heave wax over the sun to produce a gorgeous shine

Tiny mean squirrels enjoy milk

Chew with your mouth closed

Go away and let me read

You’re never more than yourself

Your sister robbed the maid

The size of her apparatus is enormous

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I dislocated it AGAIN

When I came home from Mongolia last month, I discovered that I somehow managed to dislocate my jaw while I was out there. I find it rather amazing that one can have a dislocated jaw and not know it. I may not have known I had a dislocated jaw, but I certainly knew I was in pain!

But - there you have it. I did, and that has had me in physical therapy twice a week for the past few weeks. It had been going fairly well, too. I thought I was on the road to recovery.

Until today, that is. Today we managed to dislocate it again! Funny how you can forget just exactly how painful something is in such a short time. I remember now, that's for sure.

This time we got it back in place right away, but back at the office I could barely think it hurt so bad. And since I had to drive myself home later on in the day, I couldn't take any painkillers. I had to just tough it out.