Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tub Refinishing

Before refinishing

Before refinishing

After refinishing

After refinishing
In an effort to get our house ready for the market I have been taking care of a few cosmetic repairs around the house. The ugliest thing in the house was by far the tub. It's old and it just looked grimy and dirty no matter now many times we cleaned it.  I'm pretty handy but this is a project I was not willing to take on myself.  Not only do I not have the tools to refinish a tub, but I wouldn't want to spend the time in a small room with such noxious chemicals.  I found a guy and Craigslist that was  about half the price of more legitimate businesses. It certainly seemed like a good deal but of course comes with a certain level of risk.  The only two reviews I found online for this Craislist guy were pretty bad and I told him when he called me back that I didn't like what I had read.  But after talking with him a few times I was convinced he knew what he was doing and would produce satisfactory work, and really that's all I needed. After all, we just need it to look nice, the longevity doesn't matter so much to us since we'll be moving soon.

The refinished tub looks great and goes well with the white sink and cabinet I installed a few years ago.  It didn't take the guy long and I may never know just how well the refinishing job holds up.  For now though the tub no longer has a nasty grimy look that might dissuade potential buyers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are Hollywood Movies Inreasingly Culturally Irrelevant?

I've thought about movies quite a bit recently, partly because I've become obsessed with watching trailers on IMDB on my iPhone while riding the bus and partly because I'm teaching "Archaeology in Film." In generally I'm not really a big movie person (sssshhhhh, don't let my students know!) so I actually end up seeing very few of the movie of the trailers I watch. And that's because hardly any of them interest me (I have pretty high standards for how I spend my time and watching B-grade movies is not one of them, Facebook on the other hand, that's worth every second, right?); that and it costs $10 to go to the theater. Most movies either just sound dumb to me or just look like horror or action flicks with no real message.

This week in my class we watched the original Planet of the Apes (1968) with Charlton Heston. Where are the movies like that these days? Movies with with social and political themes that are so obvious you'd have to have lived in a box to miss them - civil rights, war and violence, environmental destruction, and evolution vs. intelligent design. Movies like Planet of the Apes were clearly intended to be used as social commentary. Sure, there are some recent examples - Hunger Games, Cars 2, Wall-E, but for the most part, the big budget, action/adventure-type flicks are just that; thrillers with been-done-before plots and characters that don't exactly keep you up at night thinking.

Yesterday I came across at article in the New York Times, "Movies try to Escape Cultural Irrelevance." Apparently way more people are in to watching TV shows rather than movies these days and the ticket sales barely even reach the number of people that watch a popular TV show in one night. Some argue that part of the reason is also that Hollywood is not producing culturally substantive films, that films are instead "...consumed in thinner slices, and ... often lack depth." I have to say I agree. The movies that do have depth and cultural significance tend to be historical dramas (Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty). Those movies point us toward the past rather than looking toward the future, although I would argue that seeing our past can help us envision our current and future trajectories. But there is still of a lack of fictional movies with political and social undertones that force us to reflect on our society from a distance in the way Planet of the Apes does.

As far as the special effects go, I could do without most of that. As author David Denby argues, "...the enduring strength of film will depend on whether studios return to modestly budgeted but culturally powerful movies."

If you haven't seen Planet of the Apes recently, do yourself a favor and watch it again. The music may be ridiculous and the apes might have completely silly costumes, but you can't help but appreciate the movie for what it was meant to be: a commentary on the the social and political atmosphere of the 1960's.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

TEMA 3.1

TEMA 3.1 Ready for Sea Trials
Over the past few weeks I have been building the next generation of Tetra Tech's Towed Electromagnetic Array (TEMA).  This is the sensor that Tetra Tech uses for underwater metal detection including munitions detection.  I have been referring to this as the TEMA 3.1 as it is the third generation of towed EM arrays I have built.

The predecessor to the TEMA was a single sensor towfish we called the BTA.  The BTA was purpose build for the Jackson Park munitions clean up project in Ostrich Bay.  The BTA was made of wood and plastic and was crude and inefficient compared to the second and third generations of the TEMA.

BTA on the dock in Ostrich Bay
After our first survey with the BTA we knew we would need to build a wider array of electromagnetic sensors to have any chance of surveying efficiently.  Thus we constructed the first generation TEMA.  But the first generation of TEMA wasn't really a true towfish, it was only meant to be surfaced towed or submerged a few feet beneath a zodiac while being towed by another boat.  This TEMA still relied on bulky cable to connect the EM sensors to the topside components and thus was quite limited.  This first generation of the TEMA was really just a stepping stone and was only used on one project in Chesapeake Bay.

The first TEMA in a surface towed configuration
Operating the fist TEMA in a submerged mode

In 2011 we started work on the second generation TEMA with the goal of building a towfish that could be used a greater depths, would be more efficient, and easier to tow.  The key to all of this was moving the electronics all into a pressure housing that would be part of the towfish, allowing us to tow the TEMA with a single cable and operate a much greater depths.  Between other projects it took my colleague and I the better part of a year to design a build.  I've written about the construction of the second generation TEMA and about the TEMA electronics pressure housing in previous posts.

The second generation TEMA was a success and was used on two surveys in 2012.  In addition to the EM sensors, the TEMA was equiped with a video camera, lights, altimeter, compass, and pitch and roll sensor.  The second generation TEMA operated a depths up to 100 meters and could be reliably flown less than a foot above the seafloor.

The second generation TEMA had its fair share of troubles though.  Mostly it was too bulky, heavy, and had a tendency to pitch and roll.  The only way to combat these problems was to tow the TEMA with a heavy depressor weight and to survey at less than two knots.  Even after much spending many, many days fiddling with ballast, floats, and depressor weights, the TEMA would still sometimes roll completely over and even came to the surface upside down more than once.

The second generation TEMA
 Misbehaving TEMA in Alaska

After a just a few weeks of use I was convinced that I could build a much better towfish using all the same components.  I started sketching the design right away, first on paper while on the boat and then in Trimble SketchUp back in the office.  I selected and ordered the materials before the holidays so they would be there when I returned.  I was able to build the new tow fish entirely by myself in just three weeks.

TEMA 3.1 SketchUp Model

This new version of the TEMA is much more streamlined.  It requires no depressor weights and weighs less than the previous version.  It is built almost entirely of fiberglass but still has UHMW plastic bumpers and skid plates in case it touches down while being towed.  Not only did it fly great during its first sea trials but it can also be towed faster than the previous versions.

The new TEMA on on the back of survey vessel

Bow of the TEMA with lead weights

TEMA oriented vertically on the stern for transport

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

San Franscisco Tourists

Besides visiting our cousins, Molly and I spend time being tourists in San Fransisco. Six years ago I spend a day wandering around the city while I was there for a conference.  This time time I really got to see the extent of the city from the crashing waves on Ocean Beach to the street cars along The Embarcadero.

On Saturday we took a passenger ferry into the city and walked along the waterfront.  With beautiful weather we enjoyed the views of the City including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.  I was struck by the similarities between Seattle and San Fransisco such as the old piers and importance of the maritime industry.  I enjoyed riding the street cars and even stopped in the railway museum.  What is most impressive of all is that some of the original street cars have been maintained and are still in service after more than half a century.  The street cars along with the cable cars are such an iconic part of the city even if they aren't all that practical today.

On Sunday we met our archaeologist friend, Mark, who lives in the bay area but has spent a lot of time working with Molly and others in Kodiak.  Mark took us to the best vantage points for the Golden Gate Bridge and then to the west side of the city close to where he grew up.  We caught up on life and shared laughs while eating Sushi as one of his favorite restaurants.

What really topped off our time in the City was stumbling across the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.   This is a must for any Alaskans visiting San Francisco and personally I would recommend it to anyone.  The various ships moored in the national park have fascinating histories and have been beautifully restored and displayed.  By far our favorite ship is the Balclutha also known as The Star of Alaska.  This ship was used in the early 1900's for the transport of fisherman and fish between Alaska and San Fransisco for the Alaska Packers Association.  That was a very interesting and turbulant time for Alaska.  Molly and I recently learned alot about this time in Alaska reading Derevnia's Daughters, a book about a Sweedish man who voyaged on a similar ship from San Francisco to Kodiak in the 1890's.

I look forward to visiting San Fransisco again someday.  It is a great city to explore with with a rich history.

Ocean Beach

Alcatraz and the Balclutha
Caned Salmon Boxes on the Balclutha

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sun in the Bay Area

We are still enjoying the 60 degree weather in the Bay Area! Yesterday morning we went for a little hike to a beach where Max had his fill out flinging sand with sticks and dropping rocks in puddles.

Max is my cousin's son, so our relationship isn't easy to explain to a two year old. Allison has been calling us "Cousin Ryan" and "Cousin Molly," which Max latched onto right away. But then he started mixing "Cousin Ryan" with "Uncle Ryan." Now he seems to have made the switch completely to "Uncle Ryan" and naturally, now calls me "Uncle Molly."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

San Francisco!

We just landed in San Francisco for the long weekend. It is absolutely beautiful here and it's supposed to be 60F all weekend! It will be a nice break from the fog and cold temps (for us) in Seattle (the fog has seriously not lifted in three days- it's eerie).

We're looking forward to some fun family time with Adam, Allison, and Max in the sunshine. Right now though we are just hoping they fix the jetway so we can get off this airplane (we've already been waiting for a half an hour...)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cold Powder and Avalanche Rescue Training

After a big warming event earlier this week it quickly cooled off and snowed, bringing 6-9 inches of unusually dry powder snow to the cascades.  Friday evening Molly and I skied with a friend at Stevens Pass. We primary stayed to the groomed runs but we could tell the snow was dry and light.

Today I met up with five other Seattle Mountain Rescue folks at Snoqualmie Pass for some backcountry skiing and avalanche rescue refresher training.  It was one of those remarkable winter days that doesn't come often to the cascades: fresh powder, blue skies, and a stable snow pack. Our ski tour took us up to the base of Chair Peak and then down rolling slopes to Snow Lake where we looped back to Alpental Valley.  What a great tour!
Skiing At Stevens Pass

Beacon search practice
Alpental Valley
Chair Peak
Heading back across Snow Lake

Cleaning Out

This is our bathroom closet AFTER I cleaned it out
I wish, quite frequently, that I didn't have so much stuff. When I moved to Seattle I moved all of my possessions down in my little Mazda Protege (and it wasn't even full!). Of course, I had no furniture at that point. Now we have a three bedroom house, a garage, and a shed full of stuff. Every couple of months we go through our belongings and make a pile to take to Good Will. The fact that we can do that so often means we have too much of something! There are some things we will always have a lot of like hardwood furniture handmade by my father-in-law, outdoor gear (both for recreation and work), tools, and kitchen stuff. I'm fine with that - we use all of those things. It's the other stuff that so easily gets out of control - clothes, shoes, books, and then all the little tiny things that just pile up like pens, sticky notes, toiletries, hair ties, etc. These are exactly the things I don't want to be scrambling to throw in some random box just so I can unpack them when we move this summer. I don't need to ship six half-empty bottles of sunscreen to Alaska. I probably won't even need sunscreen in Alaska.

Ryan and I have been on a rampage weeding out our belongings since we got back from Florida. Today I tackled the bathroom first. Our bathroom has a closet. It's sort of handy, but it's also a place where toiletries have piled up for the last three and a half years. Would you believe that the photo above is after I threw away about half of what was there?!? Ridiculous, right? Especially considering the only "products" I actually need are these:

I have a feeling I'll be throwing the rest of that stuff away in about six months...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A few more photos from Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Before I become overwhelmed with moving back to Alaska and starting a new job I thought I would share a few more photos from the Copan Archeological site.  This was the first place we went in Honduras and it was our favorite place overall.  Most people who visit Honduras go there for the diving in the Bay Islands, but since we don't dive and generally don't do well in the sun and heat, Copan was the place for us.

The Copan Archeological site was fascinating, beautiful, and relaxing.  The town of Copan Ruinas felt very safe and welcoming but not at all overrun by tourists.  Seeing as Molly is an archeologist and you could read about Copan on Wikipedia I won't try to explain the history or purpose of the site and structures you see here but rather just present some of my favorite photos.  Enjoy.

Jaguar plaza


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Back in Seattle for the New Year

Ryan and I at Treasure Island Beach
Ryan and I made it back to Seattle just before midnight. We actually rang in the new year waiting in the back of the plane for about 120 slow pokes to get their over sized bags out of the overhead bins and get of the airplane. It's always a bit of a shock to come back to 35 degrees after a warm vacation, have to scrape off our car, and go to bed in a house that's only 50 degrees. But we survived and are enjoying sunshine on the first day of 2013!

We've also been reading about the unfortunate grounding of Shell's drill rig, Kulluk, on Ocean Beach on Sitkalidak Island off of Kodiak. It is amazing that Shell thought they could tow a rig of this size, without its own propulsion system, across the entire Gulf of Alaska in the middle of winter. This storm certainly is a big one, but is still not terribly uncommon. Now it is grounded and I have no idea what can be done for a rig like this, but certainly nothing can be done until the weather clears. Scariest of all is the fact that our government allows things like this to happen. It's convenient to blame Shell for mismanagement of their equipment, but they wouldn't be moving this rig if the government hadn't allowed them to drill in the Chuckchi Sea.