Thursday, April 17, 2014

Unfrozen -- Spring in Philadelphia

Last weekend, I went to Philadelphia for the NCAA mens hockey tournament, otherwise known as the Frozen Four. I was supposed to go down with my friends Joe and Allison, but unfortunately they had a death in the family and were unable to make it. So, as the official ticket courier, I headed down to meet Joe's grad school friends alone.

The weather was beautiful in Philly and I had a great time seeing a lot of outdoors things. One of the first things I did was stop by Philadelphia's magic gardens, a studio and lot turned into a giant mosaic grotto by the artist.

The outside was covered in tiles for multiple stories.

I liked the grotto feel.

Not just random tiles; there were words, figures, and designs.

At the end of my visit, I tagged onto a tour and got to meet the artist, Isaiah Zagar. I stayed back to ask him a few questions, and at the end he said, "Can I get a hug?" so I said "Sure!" Then I asked if I could get a picture with him. "A selfie?" he asked. Yup, exactly what I had in mind!

The next day, I got to do some historical touristy stuff. We stopped by Independence Hall and although the signs said the tickets were sold out, the Park Ranger came out and gave us some tour tickets for free. It was really cool seeing the place where our Founding Fathers formed our nation.

George Washington sat in that chair at the back
Hard to believe that what happened in this building changed the world.

I also learned something -- Thomas Jefferson did not write the Bill of Rights. I totally thought he did, but he was busy being an ambassador to France at the time. So although he was a big proponent, and gave some ideas to the authors, the true authors were James Madison and George Mason. Oops. I had to correct my history there!

Friday we also went to a baseball game: Phillies vs. Miami. I'm not a big baseball fan, but it was still fun. We started out near the top and finished the game in some empty seats near home plate.

Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack, I don't care if I ever get back...

Blurry because it's a close up. And I had beer. 

Saturday was market day! I started out at the Reading Terminal Market, the oldest continuously operated farmer's market in the U.S.

Flowers are the prettiest, even if food is my favorite

Then I visited Ben Franklin's grave. At one point he wrote his own epitaph, although in the end he decided he didn't want that on the grave itself.

Good old BF certainly had a sense of perspective: "Food for Worms" indeed!

After that, I met up with the rest of the gang at the Italian market, an outdoor market. It was interesting because the northern end of the market was definitely European, but the southern end was more Latino in nature, and there were lots of Mexican restaurants around and you started seeing things like prickly pear pads in the veggie stalls. We also found a butcher with whole, skinned goats hanging from the ceiling! I'll save you the picture out of respect for my squeamish or vegetarian friends.

What is a trip to Philly without a Philly cheesesteak? Everyone else had already eatern theirs, but I needed to get one before I headed home. And it was fantastic! I got provolone, no "Whiz", but I was eager to forgo a little authenticity in favor of taste.

Certainly not a misteak in my opinion!

I also got mushrooms. What? I like mushrooms!

So far I haven't mentioned much of the hockey -- it was really good. The first two games were fantastic; an action packed game between Boston College and Union College, and then a slower game between University of Minnesota and University of North Dakota -- which finished with a surprise goal by U of MN with only 0.6 seconds to go! The Championship was a bit disappointing for U of MN fans (Joe and his classmates), 7 to 4, Union College. But they really outplayed Minnesota and I felt like the best school won.

So, a whirlwind trip that really gave me a nice taste of what Philadelphia is like! Overall, a very positive experience. Philadelphia has a lot of neat neighborhoods, fun things to do, and good restaurants. I call that my kind of town.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Flirting for Nerds 101

So, I went to trivia with my friends Sam and Cindi the other night, and I'm pretty sure the waiter was hitting on me:

Waiter: How did you guys do on Round 1?
Me: We got 7 out of 10! Woohoo! We rock!
Waiter: 7 out of 10? That's 70%. That's like, a C minus?
Me: So? You got zero out of 10. That's like, an F. [This is called "witty banter", folks.]
Waiter: Actually, I got 100%.
Me: What?
Waiter: Zero out of zero. That's 100%.
Me: Zero out of zero? Actually, mathematically, isn't that undefined?
Waiter: are you going to order, or what?

Ohhhhh yeah, I still got it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Man Overboard!

Ever since I took a tour of the Henri Lloyd over the Christmas holiday, I've been following the round the world yacht race online. Monday I was shocked to find out that one of the other boats, the Derry~Londonderry~Doire, had a man go overboard. He was in the water for over an hour, but luckily they were able to retrieve him, and his drysuit kept him alive.

The boats are currently in their trans-Pacific leg and they were literally in the middle of the North Pacific when this happened. As you might imagine, there are some pretty nasty storm systems out there this time of year, and they were in the midst of one. All the boats were waiting in the southerlies for the cold front to pass, at which time the wind would become more westerly or even northwesterly. The skipper accounts said the winds were 50 to 60 kts, gusting to 75, so this was quite a storm. I looked up the surface map from around the time of frontal passage and this is what it looked like:

18Z NCEP Surface Analysis courtesy of NOAA
For the uninitiated, the closer the lines (isobars) are together, the windier it is. So this was a very tightly wound system!

I also tried to look up the wave height at the time, but unfortunately there are no wave buoys very close, and most of the buoys in the North Pacific and Bering are broken anyway. So I looked up a hindcast of model output (the model gives you estimates of what the waves were in the past) and it looks like the waves were about 6.8 meters, or about 22 feet.

Which apparently looks like this (warning: some swearing, as you might imagine when your crewmate has gone overboard):

Holy crap! That's some scary stuff! All's well that ends well and the crew member is recovering nicely. But this just proves that those North Pacific Storms are no joke.

If this piques your interest, you can find more crew and skipper reports at

Sunday, March 23, 2014

City mouse vs. country mouse

I came across this article on Facebook recently, and I thought it was a good article, and worth a blog post as well, because I have more to say on this topic than would fit in a Facebook status. In case you don't want to read the article (for shame! It's short!), it's an interview with a UVA professor of urban and environmental planning about something he calls "biophilic cities". I don't really want to get into a discussion about what those are because I'm not sure I have enough knowledge to explain it, but I do want to touch on the role of cities in a environmentally conscious society.

One thing I find among the greenies, particularly here in Alaska, is that they can really be down on cities. Cities are viewed as blemishes on the landscape -- they produce enormous amounts of pollution, require a lot of resources, and are basically voids of nature -- or at least, that's the way they're viewed in a place where there's plenty of available land. Here, everyone wants their own plot. Get back to the wilderness!

But in some ways, cities have an opportunity to be more environmentally friendly than someone on an isolated plot of land. Shared living spaces means that we can economize on transportation, heat, and energy needs. In the city, you might be able to walk to your local grocery store, or neighbors house. On a farm or a homestead, you need transportation to do those things.

All this to say, I think the idea of bringing nature to the cities is a good one. Sure, it won't be as natural as real nature! But let's face it, if you live in the country, you want the people in the city to stay there anyway. Why not help find ways to make it more desirable, and less of a burden on the surrounding country side?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Drips and Drabs

Well, my blog stats are really dropping off, probably because I've been too busy to keep up with it lately. So what have I been doing?

Whitey's Pale Ale: my first batch of brew!

I tried the first batch of beer that I made all by myself. It turned out pretty good, although a couple of bottles didn't carbonate because I think the seals on the caps were bad. I'm looking forward to making something new though -- I think this time I might try a darker bear, like a porter or a stout.

Plastic sled dogs at the Anchorage Museum
Heidi came to visit, and we went to see Gyre: The Plastic Ocean, an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum that was all about the plastic currently polluting our oceans. It was a nice mix of art made from ocean plastic, informative displays discussing the science behind plastic and the Great Garbage Patch, and environmental activism. Anchorage was the first location for this exhibit, and if it comes to a museum near you, I highly recommend it. It will certainly make you think about how you use plastic.

The smile says it all!

Even though the snow hasn't been great, I went skiing on one of the sunniest and most beautiful days in weeks. And it was absolutely fantastic.

And I've been doing lots of garden activities -- with my permaculture class, and then on my own, like attending the Alaska Botanical Garden's Annual Spring Conference. It was really great seeing my classmates there, learning new things, and networking with local gardeners.

One of the things I've been struggling with lately is what to post about. I've been doing a lot of gardening stuff, but I know that's not for everyone and I don't want to bore my readers. What do you want to hear about? Post in the comments if you have an idea!