Back from Anchorage

August 18th, 2015

Well, over 12 hours and 3,500 miles later we are back home from Anchorage, having walked out of RDU around 11 AM. It was an amazing, unforgettable trip filled with many stories I have yet to tell. The red eye on Delta was exhausting, however, and my head does not know what day, time, or place it’s in. I thought I would blog more tonight of our trip but catching up on lost sleep seems more prudent.

Tomorrow I may awaken to wonder if it was all just a dream.

Anchorage and crime

August 17th, 2015

Knowing the number of tourists that must pass through here, I was hopeful that Anchorage’s downtown would be a welcoming place.

I was wrong. I never felt fully safe when we were there, always having my street-smarts kick in to move us along whenever danger seemed to show up. There were a some guys here and there who seemed to be sizing us up as we walked by, causing me to walk us a bit faster. Suddenly, carrying that gift shop bag through downtown didn’t seem so smart.

One evening we parked downtown and headed over to see the “Aurora” showing at the Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts. I overheard the usher there chatting with another tourist.

“Anchorage has a great downtown,” he said without much conviction. “Sure, it has it’s problems …,” he continued, never finishing his thought.
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Independence Mine

August 16th, 2015

Independence Mine from above

Independence Mine from above

After our fun whitewater rafting trip, we took our guide Colin’s advice to detour over to Hatcher Pass to visit Independence Mine. The Mine had been on the list our Anchorage landlord sent us, so it was worth checking out.

Independence Mine is outside of Palmer, only a 20 minute detour from our route home. The weather was clear and breezy as we drove up ever-winding roads towards the pass. The road narrowed as it reached the top of the pass and soon we were at 3,500 feet in the Independence Mine State Historical Park. A cluster of freshly-painted wood buildings stood near the parking lot as several other tourists milled around.

The mine opened in 1934 and was active for a short amount of time, from 1934 to 1950, but in that time unearthed gold worth over $17 million (in today’s dollars). Though the work was hard accommodations were actually fairly luxurious, with heat, electricity, hot water, excellent food, and semi-private rooms.
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The 50 Worst Songs of the ’00s, F2K No. 11: Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?” | Village Voice

August 15th, 2015

This cheesy song was playing in an Anchorage gift shop yesterday and my family and I were rolling our eyes. I count myself lucky that I managed to avoid it for ten years.

Just another schmo who hoped that 9/11 would change everything…for his career.

It’s tempting to simply quote in full the lyrics from Darryl Worley’s crass-in attempt to tie together the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the run-up to the Iraq war. After all, its lyrics, which rhymed “forgotten” with “Bin Laden” and called for daily showings of the attacks on the World Trade Center, were the linchpin of its “appeal.” But to do that would be a disservice to the fine men and women of this country who have actually had to sit through the track.

Source: The 50 Worst Songs of the ’00s, F2K No. 11: Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?” | Village Voice

Tam Hunt: Do Electric Vehicles Lead to Environmental Benefits?

August 15th, 2015

Here’s a very comprehensive rebuttal of Stephen Holland’s recent UNC-G study concluding that electric vehicles are only marginally better for the environment.

A number of studies have come out in recent years questioning the conventional wisdom that electric vehicles are better for the environment than efficient traditional cars.

A recent study from a team that included Stephen Holland of the University of North Carolina Greensboro as first author makes a remarkable statement, that “electric vehicles, on average, generate greater environmental externalities than gasoline vehicles.” The study compares electric vehicles (EVs) with gasoline vehicles and finds EVs wanting.

I’ll examine this study in some detail here to show why EVs are, in fact, very good for the environment.

Source: Tam Hunt: Do Electric Vehicles Lead to Environmental Benefits?

Rafting the Matanuska

August 13th, 2015

Rafting the Matanuska

Rafting the Matanuska


Yesterday we rose early to make the drive to the mouth of the Matanuska River in Alaska for some whitewater rafting! The Matanuska is a glacier-fed river and our rafting outfit, Nova, was about a 2.5 hour drive from Anchorage. We rode up some beautiful, twisty mountain roads to get there, passing a pair of moose standing in the ditch on the way. It was our first moose sighting in Alaska!

We arrived around 10:30 to the rafting office, a nice but remote cabin by the river. After using the pit toilets and checking in, we were given rain gear to wear and spent some time adjusting our GoPro camera before taking the short bus ride to the edge of the Matanuska glacier.

The put-in point near the glacier is private property and the rafting staff (Colin, our guide; Riley, our other guide; and Marsha, our bus driver) paid a hefty fee at the entrance for us to visit. On the way to the launch site, we stopped momentarily at a picnic spot overlooking the glacier: a massive, brilliantly-glowing sheet of blue ice. It was stunning to see! We took lots of pictures and witnessed the trickles of meltwater from this ice combine to form the ice-cold, silt-loaded Matanuska River. We would be rafting on water that was only hours earlier part of a glacier. That was incredible to think about.
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Kayaking at Eklutna Lake

August 13th, 2015

Kayaking at Eklutna Lake

Kayaking at Eklutna Lake

Yesterday we piled in the car and headed up to Eklutna Lake to check out the scenery and do some kayaking. This was our first venture into real bear territory but fortunately we loaded up on “bear bells” beforehand at the Anchorage REI store so that bears, which are attracted to the smell of money, stayed miles away.

The drive was a scenic one as the weather cleared out for the first time we’ve been here. Sunny skies surrounded us as we drove north to Eklutna. After an hour’s drive or so, we pulled into the parking lot at Eklutna State Park and wandered over to get our kayaks.
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Hiking Flattop Mountain

August 12th, 2015

At the top of Flattop Mountain!

At the top of Flattop Mountain!

Monday, we decided to tackle a rather ambitious hike: Flattop Mountain. Flattop is a mountain in the Chugach Mountain range next to Anchorage, distinctive not for its height but for its flat top. As the most accessible hike from Anchorage, it is the state’s most-climbed peak. “Accessible” does not mean easily-climbed, however, as we were to find out!

We arrived a little before noon, having taken a variety of clothing since we didn’t know what the weather there would be like. It was overcast and in the low-60s when we arrived, so layers were the rule of the day. After a stop at the trailhead’s pit toilets, we set off for the summit.

Difficult? No kidding!

Difficult? No kidding!


We hadn’t made it up to the first saddle, a mere few hundred feet away from the parking lot, before Kelly and I were already huffing. This clearing offered our first incredible view of Anchorage below us, though, so we took a moment to catch our breath and take it all in. Trudge on we did, though, winding our way along the east side of Blueberry Hill loop.
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Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous – The Washington Post

August 11th, 2015

A good opinion piece on why America needs more than just STEM education.

Twenty years ago, tech companies might have survived simply as product manufacturers. Now they have to be on the cutting edge of design, marketing and social networking. You can make a sneaker equally well in many parts of the world, but you can’t sell it for $300 unless you’ve built a story around it. The same is true for cars, clothes and coffee. The value added is in the brand — how it is imagined, presented, sold and sustained. Or consider America’s vast entertainment industry, built around stories, songs, design and creativity. All of this requires skills far beyond the offerings of a narrow STEM curriculum.

Source: Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous – The Washington Post

First thoughts on Anchorage

August 11th, 2015
Next stop, Anchorage!

Next stop, Anchorage!

The family and I made it into Anchorage Saturday afternoon after an 18 hour day of preparing and travel. Getting here took a long time (only slightly less than flying to London, Kelly says) but was surprisingly smooth, all things considered. Our Expedia booking put us on different airlines for each leg and the outgoing one was on United through Houston. I’ve complained before of how airlines are going out of their way to make flying as miserable as possible, squeezing every last cent out of its customers, but our flight didn’t suck as bad as I thought it might. The leg from Houston to Anchorage got us there in under 7 hours, though we weren’t treated to the spectacular views of the area that I’d been told about due to the cloud cover.

Waiting an inordinate amount of time for our baggage at the carousel gave me some time to people watch. I saw a number of bearded young men there, all in the Alaska uniform of the day: ball caps (preferably camo) with cheap sunglasses propped on top. In Raleigh, bearded young men are considered hipsters. In Anchorage, they’re rednecks. It made me wonder what it must be like to be so rigidly conformist, if these guys ever felt trapped in the routine.
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