27 March 2010

Stretch... yawn... hello AK spring, hi AK blog

Spring is back in Alaska (by which I mean it's post vernal equinox), temperatures are regularly hovering above freezing for a few hours in the increasingly strong (and long) daylight... There's nothing quite like spring to make me itchy with things that need to be done (real and imaginary), projects attended to, plans made... Somehow winter for me has become a bit too much about inertia and status quo and making it through... Once 12 hours of daylight are upon you, well it's time for some things to happen...

Just like getting more attention from the sun is a heckuva motivating force to DO... the prospect of a little daylight shed on one's blog is a motivation to dust it off and get some posts under one's belt... So, with the news that this blog might be getting some hits in the mid-term future, I'd better start filling my end of the bargain... Sometime later this year or next (I think) the Global Intermediate Student’s Book by MacMillan Education will publish an English Language textbook that will feature a snippet of a quote from this blog/ger about how dang unfortunately cold Alaska can be... you know, slice of culture and language color... Should be fun... I'm hoping I'll get some sweet comments from actual people and not the weird random comments clearly "blog spam" that Blogger seems unable to filter... Anybody know of a bulk delete option on comments here??

Keeping it short... baby steps little blog...

16 March 2009

Review of "Prehistory: the making of the human mind" by Colin Renfrew

I just wrote an amazon.com review for a book I finished. Thought I'd post it here too, in slightly revised fashion.

I do recommend this book, but certainly not as highly as I had hoped to. This is partly because it did not meet my expectations. I had very high hopes indeed of uploading a lifetimes worth of synthetic insight into human prehistory from one of the most famous names in the field. That hope was largely disappointed by this book. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, the book is only 240 pages long, certainly not space enough for a detailed treatise on prehistory (for that I have turned to Steven Mithen’s 600 page “After the Ice: A global human history 20,000-5,000 B.C.). Instead, I should have paid more attention to Renfrew’s glinting subtitle “The making of the human mind.” In fact I did see this, and was intrigued, but unfortunately, in the end found Renfrew’s thesis on that subject to be based on a dichotomy that I don’t believe exists.

This book is composed of two parts. The first part is Renfrew’s history of Prehistory, as a field of academic endeavor. This is in itself interesting tale. From a history of science perspective, there is always much to be learned from examination of successive emancipations from past biases and technological boundaries, and how those two factors feedback on each other. However, there is an odd disconnect from that story, it seemed to me, with the second part of the book. Renfrew periodically hypes up the paradigmatic technologies of radioisotopes first, and DNA methods most recently. The big anticlimax to me was that in the second half of the book, the curtain was finally drawn, and the DNA evidence was brought to bear in support of the “out-of-Africa” scenario and damning the longstanding alternative, the “multi-regional hypothesis.” However, Renfrew then dusts his hands, and is finished with DNA, saying that, in so many words, human evolution of any consequence for interpretation of prehistory, ended 60,000 years ago. Thanks DNA for helping us archaeologists put to rest a decades old dispute, and that’s all we need from you, we’ll take it from here again. From this point, Renfrew sets up his two-phase scenario for human prehistory: the "Speciation" phase (which DNA evidence has been and will be informative about), followed by the geologically allusive "Tectonic" phase which has lead to the arts, social, and economic hierarchies. He then erects "The Sapient Paradox" which follows the form of asking how could drastic cultural changes arise in the absence of any evolution in “the” human genotype?

Unfortunately for Renfrew’s entire logical setup, that consequential human evolution ceased 60,000 years ago is certainly not indisputable. He does very little in the way of a convincing argument, and in fact it becomes quite clear that his long and distinguished career in archaeology has not included becoming well versed in human population or evolutionary genetics. His claims that all humanity has one “genotype” is rather na├»ve. That we are all VERY closely related as members of the species Homo Sapiens is indeed a fact. Depending on exact study and metric, the estimates are 99.1%-99.5% similarity among modern humans. However, chimpanzees are 94-98% similar to us. Even bananas seem to share about half our genes. The question becomes, not how similar is the raw data, but among those small differences, what constitutes consequential difference? For those humans afflicted with cystic fibrosis, and certain other diseases, 99.999999% similarity is still the difference between life and death. One base-pair differences are not always so consequential, more often they are not. Many differences simply influence things like a propensity to grow on average 1cm taller, or to be slightly more susceptible to addictive behavior, or to taste bitterness differently, or to digest lactose past weaning. We are learning that human genetic variation includes millions of sites in the human genome that sum up to only a tiny fraction of the overall genome, yet in concert with each other and the environment, can trigger or suppress expression, and thus have large explanatory value for understanding human phenotypic variation. Such variation is certainly fodder for evolution. Why would natural selection (and sexual and artificial selection for that matter)cease acting on such extant variation? Some readers may not recognize this as such a bold claim, but it is. And of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Unfortunately, the most recent book to come out attempting to do just that, “The 10,000 Year Explosion” is a rather shoddy piece of science writing. In fact, ironically, that book is shamelessly poorly presented and almost infuriatingly flippant at times, while “Prehistory” is rather well executed and erudite, yet nonetheless fatally flawed in its biased assumptions about DNA.

In the end, I do think that much of the remainder of Renfrew’s book shows great synthetic understanding from the mind of a great scholar, and much worthwhile insight surely exists. I certainly don’t hold that Renfrew’s invocation of such concepts as “Institutional Facts” and the idea of increasing material engagement in prehistory do not offer some explanatory power toward understanding human prehistory. I would suffer from the same error Renfrew makes in dismissing a whole category of potentially useful analytical approaches to say so. However, I have to admit that I don't have a great deal of enthusiasm for “cognitive archaeology” and the book in general. If the entire premise is based on a false dichotomy, I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to parse out the truly explanatory bits from those that are intricate heuristic explanations that will soon be more elegantly explicable in light of the very methods he first touts when they fit his pre-conceptions and then arbitrarily dismisses when they don't: those methods using the inherent record of prehistory inside us: DNA.

13 March 2009

Back to Social Presence

After being out of the blogosphere while the world made half a trip round the sun, I'm back. I'm in California for the duration of (Alaska's) winter, and will return in May to defend my thesis at UAF. I'm working on that thesis in ernest from the conducive climes and comforts of California, but I think I have time to blog periodically, so I'll probably do more soon... Also, I've discovered Friendfeed, and feed from my Amazon.com wishlist, Twitter, Facebook and more. Check out my new widgets of said feed...

01 September 2008

Sarah...

My Alaskan blog got no new posts in the miserable rainy month of July, or the gorgeous sunny month of August. This first day of September will get one. This post is about Sarah Palin.

It's taken me a weekend of pinching myself to accept that I didn't suffer some kind of debilitating brain injury while cabin-bulding or eat the wrong kind mushroom in the woods... Apparently I'm still in the same universe you all are in. And in this universe, the possibility of a President Sarah Palin exists. It could come down to a few thousand votes and a single heartbeat...

OK... believe me I could go on... but... this will be a short post. Others far more (and far less) qualified have unleashed the blogging - ad infinitum - this will generate. The shear volume that will accumulate, from pundits to policymakers, from peons to politicos, will set all kinds of records I'm confident. This race, this election, will be the most talked about, the most record-breaking on many fronts, ever. It is a mind-bogglingly intriguing time to be an American citizen, a voter, and especially, an Alaskan. This script could not have been more interstingly written by the most talented screen writer. It is incredible. It is terrifying. It makes me... proud? It makes me... cringe?

But... all those thoughts/opinions can be found elsewhere... my one tiny little contribution that I will share is my sole personal experience related to Sarah Palin.

Simply, I spent a couple hours in February at an event in Fairbanks she was at. On February 16th I went to the Finish of the Iron Dog snow machine race on the frozen Chena river in Fairbanks. Sarah Palin's husband Todd Palin has won this race four times in past years. Not this year. This year he hit a snow-covered oil-drum at pretty high speed... inertia being what it is Todd kept going while his machine decidedly stopped. After about 70 feet he landed... a dusting off and clean bill of health from the clinic in Galena... a pushing on... only after his completion of the race was it determined he fractured his arm. Said Sarah of her Alaskan hubbie: “Going 400 miles with a broken arm, that’s impressive.”

In any case, I was there when Todd Palin came in and so I shot some video of the Palin family distributing hugs to eachother. I posted it on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBbCcdPXS78

The video got about 400 views in first about 6 months. And about 3,200 views in the last 3 days. Interestingly, it got it's first comment on Friday morning... I had just woken up and was checking email... I got one from "YouTube Service" that said I had a comment on my video... "They do know the Veep mansion doesn't get a lot of snow, don't they?" Huh? What?

"Huh? What?" Indeed...

There is more than meets the eye in my video... three of her 5 children are in this video. Daughters Willow and Piper are by her side. Son Track isn't. He is away with the Army... The third? Though I stood feet away from her I had no idea (no one there save Todd probably did) that under her winter coat Sarah Palin was five months pregnant with a son... a son she knew had one too many 21st chromosomes... So that makes four... Finally, absent from view is 17 year old Bristol... Bristol... named after Bristol Bay... we learn this morning... was either pregnant or about to be around this time... Why these prying observations? If only all these were all personal, private family issues. But they won't be. They are matters of national interest. Her stance on abortion elevates these matters to the highest level of national attention... and... for this election, distraction. And perhaps someday to the utmost of relevancy... to those who sit in the highest court in the land...

Huh. What. Wow.



Sources:

http://www.adn.com/sports/snowmachining/irondog/2008/story/317669.html
http://www.newsminer.com/news/2008/feb/17/palin-suffers-broken-arm-iron-dog/

27 June 2008

The Copper

The next adventure is nearing: July 14-18 I'll float The Copper River from Chitina to Cordova with 3 others in a 14' raft. This is something I've wanted to do since, well, since the first time I saw Alaska's 4th largest river. Having done a few AK river trips, I find myself in the distinctly puzzling position of essentially possessing most of the required gear... When a trip materializes on the horizon, what do I want to do more than anything? Go out and swipe those plastic cards on new gear purchases... So... having everything fundamentally necessary, I had to resort to buying a couple "toys"... though that's probably not the right word for items that will only become required should the shit really hit the fan out there... but which make me feel pretty dang on top of things to have... First, although I've been a firearms owner for 16 of my 28 years (thanks mom for that first Ruger 10/22 you bought me!), I purchased my first revolver this week. A .44 magnum Smith & Wesson short barrel bear gun. It's gorgeous, hefty little object. It gives me goosebumps to hold it, but I respect it intensely and what it might someday do for me. It also shoots a light shot load that I'm hoping may work for collecting small mammals for the Museum. The other toy I bought is a SPOT satellite messenger. (www.findmespot.com). I've wanted something like this for years. I want to do a solo paddle from the Brooks to the Arctic ocean late this summer... so this is something that will give my loyal fans (wink, wink Mom) a chance to track my progress on Google Maps... Pretty fancy... All for now...

26 April 2008

Scottish Connections...



All it takes are a few chance triangulations of circumstances, blended with a little googlewikiing, and presto I have the makings of a new blog cocktail, or blogtale if you will... Today the main ingredients are Scotland and, well, Scottish things. I'll serve it up in a cup designed by an ancestor of mine, George Heriot, pictured above...

This week I'm at a new housesitting gig... It's a nice home up on Chena Ridge, the residential area west of the University where 3/4 of my academic committee live... aka "Snob Hill" to some. Everyone I know up here however are great folks... it's just their view of The River and The Range is a about a hundred thousand dollars better than mine. Right now, I'm typing while looking out on the increasingly slushy Tanana river and flats beyond. The folks I'm sitting for are a wonderful breed of people, the librarian. He is emeritus at UAF. They have fantastic book collections, with rich holdings in Alaskana, sailing/boatmaking, cookbooks, outdoor Americana, and literary fiction... he is a proud member of the ACLU and the NRA (he does his own handloading), and has a beautiful knife collection adorning an entire wall. The New Yorker, Sierra, Audobon, Wooden Boat, the American Hunter, Gray's Sporting Journal, and 4 or 5 national newspapers can be found on surfaces around the house. The couple has the most organized, densely stocked, well provisioned cupboard, bar, and cheese drawer I have seen. The spice shelf is alphabetized and exhaustive. Foremost among the themes of the house is Scotland. He is a prominent member of the Fairbanks Red Hackle Pipe Band. He has an impressive collection of single malt scotch whiskey: a few bottles, some unopened, were distilled when I was in diapers and bottled when I was in high school.

Something Scottish that caught my eye the other afternoon: a couple paperboard beer coasters on an end table in the entertainment room. Having two of them, I took a photo of obverse and reverse:



Notice anything? Yes, that's my surname, sans redundant lettering. Through a bit of googlewikiing I found that Edinburgh was home to the Heriot brewery from 1837 to, alas, the late 1990's. I'm not sure of the details, but it is no longer extant. Thanks to Goolge books, here is an entry from an 1869 book. I provide a colorful snippet...

The Industries of Scotland Their Rise, Progress, and Present Condition By David Bremner: "A description of the malting and brewing establishments of Messrs J Jeffrey & Co of the Heriot Brewery will convey some idea of the mode in which an extensive business of this kind is carried on The malting premises bottling house and ale stores of this firm are at Roseburn at the extreme west end of the city while their brewery is in the Grassmarket This separation is a considerable inconvenience but as the brewery by repeated extensions occupied every inch of available ground it became imperative when further extension was required to sever the connection between the malting and brewing departments Accordingly a year or two ago the firm acquired a site at Roseburn adjoining the Caledonian Railway and erected thereon malting premises and stores of great extent and fitted up in the most complete manner The malt bar n is a "


I know with some certainty that my "rr" "tt" progenitors were over in another hemisphere by this time in the 1830's. But what I'm not sure of is the relationship between the Heriot Brewery and the rather famous Scotsman George Heriot of Edinburgh two centuries prior, whose portrait hung in my grandfather's study during my childhood....

George Heriot was the oldest of ten, descended from the Heriots of Trabroun, a "family of some antiquity in East Lothian." From the 1877 book:

The Scottish Nation By William Anderson, William Holl, William James Linton: "HERIOT [is] a surname derived from a legal term hariot or heriot being under the feudal system a due belonging to a lord at the death of his tenant consisting of his best beast either horse ox or cow ... The name is old in Scotland ....William John and Gilbert Heriot safely conducted Robert the Steward out of the reach of his enemies when eagerly sought after by the English. The lands of Trabrown in East Lothian were granted by the earl of Douglas to John Heriot about 1423 ... Of this family was the celebrated George Heriot..."

George Heriot was, in highly abbreviated bio, was a goldsmith who became jeweler to Queen Anne of Denmark, and then to her husband King James VI in 1601. Apparently he sort of shifted from crafting gold to financing it, and made himself luxuriantly wealthy. This apparently wasn't uncommon. An official request by Queen Anne for a quick loan is interesting on a few levels (from "Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh," 1882 by James Grant)



"GEORDG HERIOTT I ernestlie dissyr youe present to send me twa hundrethe pundis vithe all expidition becaus I man hest me away presentlie ANNA R"

My rough modern translation:

"Geordie, hook me up with 200 Pounds, immediately, I gotta get outta here this weekend."

Isn't it interesting, and I'm no scholar on such things, how seriously loose spelling was back then? I like that she put an extra T in there though.

Heriot moved to London when King James became James I of England, and he died there in 1624. After a couple of wives (sad deaths at young ages), he had sired two sons, but no legitimate children were left in his will upon his death. A tragic death at sea of two brothers is inferred. A couple of young women were to be found in his will, and are presumably "natural heirs" (i.e. illegitimate). In any case, that particular line of the Heriot name ended with "Jingling Geordie" it seems (that moniker is from Sir Walter Scott's George Heriot character made famous in "The Fortunes of Nigel").

So George Heriot's name did not live on in flesh, but it did in stone. A sizable chunk of his change went to establishing an institution in Edinburgh called the "Heriot Hospital" for "faitherless bairns" (Scots for "orphaned children"), which still exists in a pretty prestigious way (http://www.george-heriots.com/HeriotsHome.htm). An old image of this place is found in "Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh." Notice again the loose spellings... "Heriott Orphanotrophium" vs. "Heriot's Hospital" right below.

Cassell's old and new Edinburgh By James Grant: "ORPHAUOTR OPK1VM J&fata REDUCED FACSIMILE OF A VIEW OF HERIOT"


George Heriot's name also lent itself to Heriot-Watt University, also in Edinburgh. Yes, that Watt, as in the unit of power equal to one joule of energy per second. Not that the Scots were contemporaneous... Watt was born in Greenock Scotland a hundred years after Heriot's death. However, the nascent university chose those two for it's name... it's website today says that it was the worlds first "technical institute," and it stands as the 8th oldest University in the UK. It now has 17,000 students and four campuses, three in Scotland, and one in Dubai of all places.

So there's lots more history of George Heriot out there. I'm not really sleuthing anything new here... but this stuff is immensely interesting to to me though because I spent a lot of time gazing at George Heriot as a kid.

The picture in my grandfather's study was a black and white drawing in a gilded frame. I presumed that pretty much there wasn't much to be known more about this person. He wasn't in the WorldBook or any of the other books on my grandfather's shelves. This was in the late 80's, before the internet came to my home... Neither the Turlock nor Modesto libraries had much more info, at least to the extent an amateur historian of single digit age could find. So George Heriot was sort of a minor diety in my childish worldview... someone I was told I was related to in some sort of hazy way, in a sort of divine way in my head... meaning, not really a relationship that that can be figured out concretely, but nevertheless should be taken as granted and thusly revered, the way only things that haven't been figured out are supposed to be revered.

But whence this portrait? This portrait that I'll hang in my Alaskan cabin one of these days? Well... using my extensive art history research training (not), I've concluded that it was based on a painting by Paul van Somer, and copied John Scougall in 1698. The original is now lost. Most of the black and white prints are copies of Scougall's painting copy. The one from my grandfather's study is, I think, a reprint of a Scougall copy, published by John and Charles Esplens in 1743. It's a bit confusing though... the National Portrait Gallery (UK) has 6 portraits (only two of which have images online), which include those by: "John and Charles Esplens, after Paul Van Somer," (huh? I thought Wikipedia said Somer's was lost?), "David Scougall, after D. Lizars' (huh? Who is David, and is he related to John?), "John and Charles Esplens, after David Scougall" (What? Are we going in circles here?), "Robert Cooper, after David Scougall" (OK....) Interestingly, the Wikipedia article says "Scougal had a very extensive practice, which latterly led him into some hasty work, said to be observable in the portrait of George Heriot, which he copied in 1698 from the now lost original by Paul van Somer." If the original is AWOL, that judgment of hastiness must arise not from a failure of likeness, but I suppose in a failure of technique. Hmm... The same entry doesn't bash Scougall's portraits of William III, Queen Mary, or Queen Anne. In fact, Queen Mary's is "by far the best - well drawn, good in colour, and suggestive of the influence of Van Dyke's work."

Here's the painting attributed to Scougall, notice the gold he holds in his hand:



And here is the derivative drawing that is part of the imagery of my childhood:



Here is a portrait of Queen Anne, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c.1605-10. Meaning that the jewels she wears are perhaps crafted by Heriot...to my knowledge I'm the first to notice this, but it looks like maybe the pearl necklace in the two portraits is the same... not sure... Also... that picture of George Heriot's drinking cup from the beginning of this blog, designed by himself, and it occurs to me, probably crafted by himself.




In any case, a lot can change over the generations. The story of the Herriott's in America is very far removed from the Royal Court... My progenitor, David Herriott, appears came to New Jersey in the late 1680's... probably as an indentured servant to Lord Campbell... The story of the family in America is also colorful, though certainly not as highbrow... Stuff for another story...

23 April 2008

The Gobi comes to Fairbanks...

Today I noticed two things from my Tanana River bluff vista. First, the River developed some really nice blue puddles on top of the slushy snow. They grew noticably, like a time-lapse video right before my eyes over the course of my 9am-9pm workday in front of the window...Secondly, I couldn't help but notice the haze obscuring my beloved Alaska Range... this would-be annoying sky-scum has been totally redeemed by the amazing fact that it originates from Russian forest fires started this week. Also contributing to the haze is dust blown in from storms in the Gobi Desert. Wow... Dust from the Gobi Desert. That that is even possible kind of floors me. Somehow I just don't feel that close to central Asia, but I guess I am. I sort of wish I could go outside and put some in a jar.My brother's girlfreind's academic advisor at UAF, Dr. Cathy Cahill, is an atmospheric scientist who basically specializes in stuff in the air other than air, and was quoted in the Newsminer today saying this is a particularly stormy year in the Gobi. The season is April-May. The worst year was 2001, when dust went as far east as Greenland. Gobi to Greenland. What a journey for a speck of dust...

One other Gobi desert traveler is here in town this week: Helen Thayer, the adventurer, the first woman to walk to either of earths poles (the North one) without dog or snowmachine. She is a hero(ine) of mine. This Friday she'll speak on her trek through the Gobi Desert. Here's to travel... by dust and woman...

Josie the Golden (oblivious, apparently, to puddle and haze alike):

14 April 2008

Reach out and touch some moose...

I know almost nothing about the so-called "telephone." Yet today I bought one using my (anticipated) Economic Stimulus Package $600. Thanks GeeDubb... As far as I can tell that's the only thing your sorry presidency has ever done for me. In truth, I had been planning to put my 6 Benjamins towards my crushing credit card debt, just as the Fed feared I would. But hell, I thought this morning, first I'll swipe my credit card, then I'll wait a few weeks for my stimulation to arrive. That way everybody wins! Seems very American, no? So I bought an iPhone and a 2-year contract. And here's what I learned via 10 minutes on Wikipedia about the proud heritage of my new gizmo:

A brief timeline of historic spoken telecommunications events:

1844-1875... various Europeans tinker with "speaking telegraphs"

1875-77(ish). Americans Bell, Gray, and Edison file patents up the wazoo for various telephone-y devices... a complex story, best glossed in blogs...

1981... AT&T ("American Telephone & Telegraph" until 2005 for crying out loud) launch famous add campaign slogan "Reach out and touch someone."
As a kid, Ian, hearing this phrase, would puzzle over how it seemed not quite the right thing to say about telephones... very little touching going on, the way Ian understood them...

2000... Now twenty-year-old Ian goes to Berkeley with little black cellular phone that his mom gave him. Played "Snake" alot on it. Called home dutifully around midterms or finals... (pers. comm. - data not found on Wikipedia). Subsequently discarded and forgotten for the better part of a decade.

2008... After years of flak from family and acquaintances who would allegedly call if the opporunity were there, Ian buys the absolute apex of telephone evolution, the iPhone. Drives to the spruce forest he optimistically considers his future cabin, and makes some phone calls to family and friends, and incidentally, while talking inside his truck, comes closer to living moose than ever before in his life. Takes pictures with iPhone camera while speaking on speaker phone. What Hath God Wraught? (oops, wrong gizmo...)

2009... to infinity and beyond...










13 April 2008

V is for Viszla... W is for Weimaraner...

As I write, I'm finishing my 2007 taxes (with 2 days to spare if you'll believe that), and watching two pooped pups laze on a sofa. I'm on day 3 of a week of dog sitting quite the pair of specimens of Man's best friend. They're both gorgeous creatures, but are thoroughly wearing me out. We eat together, read together, sleep together... when I forgot to close the bathroom door when filling the tub, we almost ended up bathing together. They have insatiable needs to go outside every 5 minutes to run around, and then almost immediately they make a fabulous ruckus expressing urgent need to get back inside... to rest? no, to run around the couch ferociously. The shear energy of these two is exhausting me... They are both sweet creatures though. The darling little Vizla, Brooks, needs imperatively to sit within a yard of my face, wherever that may be, and whine sweetly in some sort of pained affection. That, or sit right at my feet and scan incessantly while huffing and grumbling at all the potential threats that may be responsible for the minor noises of the surrounding neighborhood. The photos below don't totally capture these draining experiences, but they're all I've got... I'm experiencing digital camera "issues" these days, so am taking pics with my computer...

This is a really deceptive photograph. Kele, the Weimaraner, usually doesn't sit still. This photo reminds me of the famous William Wegman Weimaraners...







This was funny... I was warned this might happen... and it did... fortunately there wasn't much water in the tub, though to my touch it was scalding... crazy little girl...





In any case, we're having fun, but I'm not sure these are the breed for me. What I find endlessly fascinating is the predictive ability of the breed description. These little creatures are such obedient servants to their genetic destiny. They're rather closely related breeds actually. If you're interested, see Wiki entries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Vizsla
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weimaraner

07 April 2008

Sweet Home Ala...laska

Yesterday, after the interview for my summer Instructor job, I decided to put off procrastinating about all the stuff I really should be doing... So I decided it would be a good time for a joyride around my future neighborhood of Fox, Alaska. I'm building a cabin overlooking Fox this summer, and the gears in my brain are starting to crank up again... I'm getting kinda excited... So, while watching the minute hand on the clock of April slowly tick by, anticipating my winning Nenana Ice Classic guess and share of the jackpot, I thought I'd get some ideas for how to spend that windfall on building this summer. I wanted to document some of the character of the area... I wanna fit in of course... Just another chance to bolster my feel for the milieu my new 'hood...

So I took a few pictures along the way... me crusin' my 'hood.. I used the little built-in camera on my MacBook Pro. This is an extremely challenging and rather inadvisable way to take decent pictures, the only redemptive thing being that a laptop is a fantastic tripod (er, monopod).



My Acre of pristine Black Spruce... I got a little bit of work to do... but not today... I ain't even getting outa the truck today...


Same place on a pretty spring day last year... Down in the Valley is historic Fox, AK.



Just down the road are some really interestingly zoned parcels... My neigborhood covenants say things like I need to have a minimum of 400 square feet, and no livestock, or sewage treatment plants, or penitentiaries, or nuclear reactors... But I guess my neighbors can have Geodesic Domes and Ice Tower's. I'm glad, these things are Cool with a capital C... but I'm skeptical whether they're MY style...



Just accross the street is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline... a nice pullout for millions of tourerists that come thick as 'skeeters in the summer. Actually, I bet this is the most frequently visited/photographed hundred yards of the whole 800 mile affair. From my cabin I think I'll be able to see a nice cleared swath of forest on the opposite side of the valley where the pipe's buried... It's aboveground at the viewpoint, as even tourerists are likely to presume...



Down the road from the viewpoint, there're some real highlights of the high-latitudes. The furthest north microbrewery, Silver Gulch, and the 'Dawg across the street, and the true source of all things good, the Fox Spring. A popular T-shirt reads: "Fox, AK. Where the People are Unusual and the Beer is Unusually Good." I'll plead the 5th...







And if that weren't enough, I forgot to mention that between the pipe and the drink, is my favorite hole in the whole world. The Cold Regions Research Engineering Laboratory Permafrost Tunnel. I like to think of it as a time-machine. Inside there are literally bones and roots sticking out of the walls from organisms that lived 10's of thousands of years ago. It smells like a barnyard. I've heard it described as "Odeur de mammouth." It's dark, cold, and dirty, and old. I love it!



Oh, so why the tunnel? Well, this whole Fox area was a bigtime gold mining area the first half of the 20th century... This fact makes it remind me in a big way of my beloved home state of CA's motherload region...



Fox is also the fork in the road to Alaska's two highways into the arctic. The Steese goes up to Circle, and dead-ends at the Yukon River. The Elliot goes to Livengood, where the Dalton Highway will take you 414 miles further to Prudhoe Bay...





On my way back to UAF, a couple other noteworthy residential building concepts present themselves... I don't think the plane-house is being lived in now... not sure about the Tower-house... sorry for the crap picture, it's actually impressive... but again, not my style...





So, bottom line: I think I'll not be doing tunnels or towers or planes or domes... I think I'll stick with a good old log cabin... Here's a map of the places I visited... note that the unvegetated area on the valley bottom is not city/concrete, but gen-you-ine historic mining tailings...



All for now... see ya later... stop by Fox sometime!