Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Friday, March 27, 2009

Falling Stars

Gentle Readers,

Back in November, I told a story about two meteors.

I have subscribed to Sky and Telescope magazine since I was a kid. That worthy publication just published a wonderful article. I highly recommend reading it.


I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Redoubt Redux

Esteemed readers,

I have recently published two posts, here and here, about Alaska's Mt Redoubt.

It finally erupted last weekend. Flight are being rerouted around the ash plume.

I have had vacation for the last week so I do not have any pictures to share. On the other, the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) maintains a wonderful website that has some striking pictures. I highly recommend that you click that link and look through the pictures. Fascinating stuff. For sure, please click this picture. It was taken by a satellite over Asia and is pretty cool.

I go back to work early Sunday morning, Mar 29th, operating from Chicago's O'Hare International up to Anchorage. We may or may not actually make it to Anchorage depending on if there is an ash plume and where it is. Some flights have been diverted to Fairbanks, Alaska.

If something interesting happens, I will tell you all about it.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Gone West

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones All,

I had vacation last week and nothing much new has happened to me personally.

On the other had, the last week has been very eventful to my professional life.

I've been mulling whether to mention this here or not....and I've decided I have to.

FedEx had its first "fatal mishap" - as the euphemism goes - recently. A friend and his first officer did not survive their landing at Narita International north of Tokyo. I leave it to you to google what you will of the information available about what happened. The video was splashed all over the news...if you haven't seen it, I recommend you think hard before you search for it. It is disquieting at best.

Capt Mosley and I spent two weeks together in class almost three years ago as we upgraded to Captain. He was also domiciled in Anchorage as I am and yes, the mishap happened in the airplane I fly - the MD-11.

I do not remember meeting First Officer Pino.

The company quietly "FedExed" them home Thursday night with FedEx Pilot Honor Guards riding along with them. They flew on an MD-11 from Narita to Oakland to Memphis then San Antonio for Pino and Portland, OR, for Mosley. There was a memorial held for them that night in the Memphis Hub.

I really don't know what else to say about this. Later, rather than sooner, the NTSB and the Japanese equivalent will publish an official cause. Since it's been almost a week since the mishap and there have been no emergency airworthiness directives about the mechanical condition of the aircraft, I assume it will wind up being some sort of "human factors" problem. We don't say "pilot error" any more.

Requiescat in Pax.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Moose

Nature, red in tooth and claw"

Gentle Reader,

Occasionally, one is privileged to be witness to a moment that cuts through the fog of our mundane existence and reveals the essential nature of the human condition. As is usual with my tales, some explanation is required. I hope you will stay with me as I have to braid together several strands to tell the complete tale.

First, these pictures:

This is the backyard of Ilona’s Bed & Breakfast’s ‘New House’. Even though Anchorage, Alaska is an urban area much like the rest of the US, its citizens live much closer to nature than most American’s are used to. Moose (Meese?) are found everywhere throughout the city – it is not at all uncommon to find them in your yard. Moose are generally placid herbivores – but they are evolved to defend themselves against the wolves – their hereditary enemy. The bulls are generally only dangerous during rutting season and the cows will defend their calves aggressively. They defend themselves by using to their size – well over one thousand pounds – and their hooves to kick and stomp an enemy to death. Alaskans respect the moose.

These pictures appear to be made in close proximity to the moose, but this moose was neither in rut nor with calf and was fairly tolerant of the photographer. I did not take the picture – a fellow friend and occupant of Ilona’s took them. More on these pictures later.

The next strand of my story is to tell a theory of human development that I have found to be very illuminating as it concerns relationships between men and women. I first heard this theory on National Public Radio over a decade ago.

The theory reasons thus…. Homo Sapiens first emerged several million years ago in the Rift Valley in Africa. It is only in the last several thousand years that mankind has begun to place a veneer of civilization over our vast history of membership in small ‘Hunter / Gatherer’ tribes. Let’s examine how millions of years of evolution have shaped Men’s vs Women’s basic psychology.

Consider first the ‘gatherer’ part of the Hunter / Gatherer meme. In these societies, women generally stay near ‘home’, caring for the children and gathering what bounty nature provides. Success at this vital activity requires women to be very social, cooperative and gregarious. They spend hours together preparing roots and tubers, vegetables, curing furs….on and on. The important issue here is that women in Gatherer societies spend a lot of time talking to one another, gossiping – if you will allow me that term – and sharing ‘corporate knowledge.’

The men on the other hand – as hunters - spend a lot of time loping across the countryside, quietly and stealthily stalking their prey. The men also need cooperation to succeed in the hunt, but it is a different kind of cooperation than that required of women – the ability to remain quiet for long periods has great value. It is only after the prey is in the bag that men can relax their conversational requirements. Men’s corporate knowledge is shared around the campfire in the evening when the hunt is done.

Here, then is an explanation of the age old questions: “Why can’t she just shut up?” and “He never talks to me!” Men and Women are evolved to view talk differently. It is important to note that it is an error to make a value judgment as to which sex is better at communication. Each sex has different skills for valid reasons.

But that is an aside…. The main point I want to make is that men are also evolved to possess a strong drive to “Kill something and bring it home to Mama and the Kids.” Hold that thought.

Change gears now and let’s consider Skype. The modern Professional International Pilot is gone from home for weeks at a time. In the past, we only had mail, then email to use to communicate with home. You were out of the loop with your loved ones for much of the time.

Now, if you have a laptop computer and an internet connection you can use the ‘Voice Over Internet Protocol’ to talk through the net for pennies. If your computer possesses a webcam, you can talk with your loved ones in a teleconferencing format.

Finally, we reach the point in my narrative where I can weave these strands into a story. Imagine this scene in the ‘New House’ at Ilona’s Bed & Breakfast. My friend had just shown me those pictures of the moose on his laptop and I had requested that he email them to me. I had some vague notion of sharing them with all my Esteemed Readers. I am sitting at the dining room table next to the large window that looks out over the backyard and my friend is across the room on the couch, watching TV. He has just connected with his wife on his Macbook and is teleconferencing. He has on a headset and is murmuring through it to his family. I have just downloaded the pictures and am organizing them on my disk drive. There is movement out of the corner of my eye that attracts my attention. Out the window, our Moosey friend is back, placidly munching on the low hanging branches of the backyard trees.

I turn to my friend and say: “Speak of the Devil! The Moose is back.” My camera is in several parts and I am not dressed to go out. I pull the camera’s memory card out of my laptop and go downstairs to throw on a jacket, get my shoes and assemble the camera.

When I get back upstairs my friend is outside. He has disconnected his laptop from its power supply but the headset is still on his head. Standing ankle deep in the snow with his laptop computer reversed and turned around towards the moose, so that the webcam could see the animal, he is saying: “Can you see it now?’

Initially I started to giggle at this silly scene.

Then I suddenly stopped laughing as it hit me: he was satisfying his deep and ancient need to “Hunt something down and bring it home to Mama and the Kids.”

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Iditarod Ceremonial Start

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold....

The Cremation of Sam McGee
Robert Service

Esteemed Readers,

Today, (Mar 7th, 2009) was the ceremonial start of the 37th Iditarod in beautiful downtown Anchorage, Alaska. There is more on the Iditarod here. A friend here from Ilona's Bed and Breakfast and I drove downtown to immerse ourselves in the pageantry. There had been a lot of snow recently and the temperatures were in the mid 20F range. We dressed warmly and took off to see what there was to see.

There is no real narrative to accompany this travelog - I'm going to show you some pictures and videos that I took pretty much in the order they occurred. As a side note - I take some pride in the pictures I post here but I bow to your judgment whether I succeed in taking good pictures. However, these are not up to my normal standards and I apologize. As is normally the case at media events, the crowd is roped off from the Iditarod and I could not get close enough or get good angles to take good pictures.

Please note that there videos intermixed in this post, so don't miss clicking the start arrow to the see the short clips.

We parked on the outskirts of downtown and started to trek to the starting line in the middle of the downtown tourist area. That's when I noted that the high thin clouds were producing a Sundog over the downtown skyline.

The Iditarod race start line is on 4th Ave which runs east/west. The north/south grid of connecting streets behind the start lines are where the teams setup their sleds. Evidently they haul their sleds and dogs around in some very nicely set up trucks like this one.

We walked through these side street areas as we made our way to the start line. As you neared these staging areas you could hear the dogs whining and howling to one another - they set up quite a cacophony.

There was one dog still in the truck. I don't know if he was a reserve dog for later in the race, a second stringer or what. But he wasn't participating in the howling chaos.

The closer we got to the start line, the more prepared the dogs teams, sleds and mushers were. Here they are laying out the traces.....

Hooking up the dogs....

.....and loading the ceremonial passengers and mushers.

Evidently, selected celebrities get to ride the sled through Anchorage and out of town. Then once the ceremonial start is done, they stop, load the dogs in the trucks and run out to Willow, AK, where the real race begins.

Finally, here they are turning onto 4th Ave to get in the final start line queue.

As we walked up 4th Ave towards the starting line, there were sights to see.

Somewhere during this trek, my buddy tells me I walked past Gov Palin. Amazingly enough, I did not notice her. Neither did she run up screaming: "Geoff! Is that you!?" I cannot imagine how this could happen.

Finally we arrived at the start line. There is a bronze statue of Balto to mark the spot. I took these snaps a year ago. Click the first picture and red the inscription.


The ugly yellow building is a fur store that has staked out the high rent property across from the start line and does a booming business. In this next picture, I am standing across the street from the statue which is just to the right of the Exxon advertisment.

The sun was still producing a sundog and I tried to image it and got this miserable result.

We watched several teams start......

I called home and let my daughter, Katie listen to a start through my cell phone. She was less excited than I had hoped for....

It had not warmed any and there is only so many times you can watch a race start before the shine begins to wear off the penny, so we started back to the car.

There is evidently a great Iditarod tradition - the grilled Reindeer Dog.

Since we were there for the total experience, we stopped and ordered one. Our Reindeer Dog chef was not your normally outgoing and enthusiastic hawker of sidewalk fare - he in fact displayed a sarcastic attitude toward life in general and his customers in detail. After he had cooked our dog, I took this picture of the dog and asked him to smile. He refused to smile stating: "That's extra."

Mike and his dogs are becoming famous.

On that note, the cold killed the battery in my camera and we returned home.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff