304 Miles to Valdez

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Well, its that time again.  Time we set forth into a new year.  Time to put what is past past, and what is ahead into hope.  Every year we shake off the joy of the holidays, stand at the starting line to the page on the calendar, lower our heads, and make a run for it as the gun goes off.  2012 is over.  2013 is here.

Every year I try my best to put together some “resolution”.  Something to accomplish.  Typically they fall to pieces in the first couple of weeks.  But we all have been there, I am sure … well … most of us. 

Truth is, I’ve been having such a good time up here in Alaska, with the great beer, great pizza, great beer, great irish food, great beer  … yeah, you get the picture.  Truth is, I’ve not been good with exercising since the pup came along.  Truth is, I am getting worried that by the time spring comes along I will be too lazy and out of shape to really enjoy Alaska.  And I want to enjoy this spring and summer, do things, go places.  Places like … like … Valdez.

Valdez is a small fishing village just a hundred miles or so as the crow flies, but due to the mountians and Prince Edward Sound, it takes 300 miles of driving to get there.  304 to be exact.  I visited there in 2006, and coworkers continue to tell me of its charm and quaintness.  That being said, its no place to visit in the winter.  It gets more snow than any town in America – that isn’t bragging, that is the hard fact.  They average 27ft of snow a year, which is 9 more feet than 2nd place; and 11 feet more than 3rd place (our beloved Houghton, Michigan home of the 2012 GLI Champions Michigan Technological University … my alma mater).  So I am going to visit Valdez for Memorial Day this year May.

While I will drive to Valdez for Memorial Day, first … I am going to walk there.

I got this little phone ap “Map My Hike” (same as Map My Run, or Map My Walk, Map My Bike Ride or Map My Drunken Stuper from the Irish Pub).  Gives an accurate distance using GPS on how you go when out and about.  I’m going to use that to track my hiking, dog walking, time on a tredmill, geocaching, etc etc.

The goal is simple — 304 miles from January 1st until May 27th.  That is an average of 2.1 miles per day, or 60-64 miles a month.  It’s fairly easy in my grasp.  Bunny counts from this summer showed I could knock down 100 miles in a month no problem, but that was pre-Auggie and when the sun was out until 9pm. 

So watch for the bunny count to include those numbers.

And Happy New Year Everyone

Meltdown

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Over the last month, Anchorage has shoveled our way out of a good 20 inches of snow.  One thing about snow days is that the weather usually has to be in the mid-20s to get a a good snowfall, and usually its followed by a bit of cold weather too.  A couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend about it, and we couldn’t remember the last time the temperature was above freezing.  We had a few days it dropped to stupid crazy cold, had a few days it teetered near freezing, but for the most part its been hovering around 0 to 10°F (-17 to -12°C).

That changed starting Friday and continues thru today.  A warm air mass came north off the sea, leaving to warmer than predicted temperatures.  We were expecting the mid-30s and snow for most of the weekend, but instead … it is downright warm.  Ok, warm for Alaska, not warm for someplace down south.  We nearly broke 50°F (10°C) … okay, maybe around 45°F (7°C), but still … that’s warm.

This change in the weather may not seem like it should change much about this winter wonderland, but it almost seemed to change everything.  Take driving, for instance.  I had become used to the nondescript ruts in the road that you have to fight across to change lanes.  Little spin of the wheels, and you fall in line behind all the other drivers locked into speeds well below the limit.  I was used to waiting longer at a stop, because it takes a bit of spinning wheels of the cars in front of you to move.  Instead, the lanes are clear and wet now.  Younger crazies are pushing well beyond speed limits.  And you can even catch the next light by going on green.

It’s funny to watch Auggie the Doggie go outside these days too.  During the cold spell, he had accidents because getting yelled at for pooping on the carpet was far better than putting his paws into the snow.  Now, there is no longer a foot of snow between him and the stuff he smells.  At one point he jumped into a bush in the backyard and played in it like seeing a long lost friend, which 6 weeks in a 4 month old’s life is like a long lost friend, even if it is just a hibernating plant.  He’ll even barrel through the melting snow.

The moose are active as well, more than I had seen in a bit.  I spotted one running (not just sitting, or eating, but running) in a trailer park.  I see their tracks, fresh, in the snow around different neighborhoods. It’s making me keep an eye out more for them, especially if one starts wondering into our neighborhood … yeah, it can happen … seriously.

In a three day weekend, I found myself in that spring meltdown energy.  I chipped down most of my driveway (big pile of ice at the road needs a few visits still).  The den got as much work as I can do without figuring out what to do with a few things … but also realizing I should have painted it before I begun but … so what, something to do later.  It rains now, but later we will go for a walk, seeing if the trails a mile from the house are clear enough to get a hike in.

If I don’t sneak in a blog tomorrow (which I might, but not with my luck), have a happy and safe new year everyone.

Annual Christmas Letter

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Every year for the last 10 years I have sent out a letter with my Christmas Cards.  I didn’t want to leave y’all out so … Consider this my open Christmas to all you blog readers (I shall dub thee, the Bear Baits).  Happy Holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Spaghetti Monster Saucing Day.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

For the last 10 years I’ve written a holiday letter to tell all that has happened in a year.  Never have I had to tell you so much that have happened.  Which ironically (but not too surprising) left me wondering where the heck to begin.  The real problem isn’t that there is just so much to say, its more because this wasn’t like one year to tell you, but two half years.

If you haven’t heard (which either you did from Facebook, word of mouth, or that really weird return address on this letter), I stepped onto a plane on August 4th in Wichita, Kansas where I lived and worked for 11-1/2 years, and stepped off a plane that night in Anchorage, Alaska where I began a new career and a new life.  I left my position as a Supplier Quality Engineer for Cessna Aircraft, and started a position as a Supplier Quality Management Specialist for BP Exploration.  In essence, I will be doing the same job, but I move from a major Aerospace manufacturer to a monster Oil & Gas corporation (yeah … not ‘a’ BP … THE BP).

To say this is a big move is an understatement.  Just think of the logistics … in less than a month, I packed up my entire life and sent it out to sea so it can land at the last frontier.  I put my house up for sale in Kansas (and it’s still up for sale if you want to buy it), shacked up in an apartment for 3 months, and then bought a new house.  It was 100° in Wichita when I left, and it hasn’t broken 60° in Anchorage since.  I went from hot, windy, and dusty; to wet, cool, and beautiful!

I could ramble on and on about this move, because there is so so so much to tell.  But truth is, I am already telling it.  After I made the announcement I was leaving the company, a colleague suggested I should right a blog about the experience — so I did.  Because people were taking bets on how quickly I would be eaten by a bear, the name for the blog fits not just what it’s about  … but what I am:
www.BearFeed.net
The blog has been good for me to stay on my research of this new home, as well as make constant jokes of how stupid I can be.  Included is my first bear sighting, snow in September, and more recently a 5.8 Magnitude earthquake that shook the city.

The experience has been what I hoped for.  In the first couple months, I found myself hiking the mountains and streams of the area around Anchorage.  I’ve explored down the Kenai Peninsula & the Cook Inlet.  I’ve found my way around town, made new friends, and found a great home.  I’ve made a run to Houston, New Orleans (let’s just pass by that trip without mention please), and even a week up in Prudhoe Bay … in December … the high was -35°F … THE HIGH was -35°F.

Above all else, I welcomed a furry poop machine – a now 3-month old Staffordshire Bull Terrier named AKC Fullthrottle Yukon Gold King … or Auggie for short (I had to shorten it because “quit chewing on that shoe, AKC Fullthrottle Yukon Gold King” just wasn’t working).  Having a dog is something I have wanted for a long while, but my travel schedule never allowed for it.  Since the travel won’t be as frequent now, I took the chance.  While he is a handful, and those nights when I have to spend time scrubbing the floors after he has an accident are a pain, but I haven’t regretted bringing him home.  Not in the least.

But like I said, this year is more than what happened with that move.  There is a good 6 months more that came before it.  Travel was still heavy for me before I left Kansas, as it had always been.  While I didn’t plan it, it seemed that the business trips were to places taking me down memory lane.  This spring, I spent a few trips in and out of Chihuahua, Mexico for work.  For you Alaskans reading this, Chihuahua is much like the North Slope except hey complain that it’s too cold (no, I didn’t screw up that order … the people in 50°F Chihuahua complain about the cold more than the people in -35° Prudhoe Bay).  Especially the last couple of years, I’ve made more than a few trips down that way but was housed there for two weeks in March – including Hockey Night in Mexico (Tecante Light, Pork Rinds, and New Jersey Devils on the laptop).  I also hit good old Los Angeles, bringing back the days from 2005/2006 where I spent more time there then Kansas.  There was even a visit to my arch nemesis: Cleveland, where there was one last chance to avoid the snow in April.

Geocaching (my little GPS based scavenger hunt hobby) played heavy in my year again.  Early in the year, a traveling exhibit on Geocaching was at Wichita’s Exploration Place.  I volunteered to man the exhibit and give a few Geocaching 101 classes to introduce new people to our game. It was a great way, also, to hang out with people who liked geocaching as much as I do.  It led me to use it as a way to meet folks when I got up to Alaska, as it was just as big up here too.  For the record, I have now found caches in 49 states – with a short weekend vacation to Maine where I had a $15 lobster meal and enough finds up there to make it count.

I had a chance to get in a long vacation too, making a run out to Gettysburg, where I spent time with the parents for a few days on the 149th Anniversary of the battle.  I get to Gettysburg quite a lot (this was my eighth trip since 1997) but this was the first I was there with other people.  Seriously a difference experience.  I had grander plans for that vacation, but they were cut short by the news the week before that I was moving to Alaska.  So the plans were shortened to a midnight battery change in Illinois, 100° hikes in the Appalachians, and an opportunity to meet up with Laura, an old friend in Erie that I hadn’t met before (that’s a story too, but wait for it).

Later that trip, I met up with old Cadet Friends including Ferrari’s and (annual Christmas/postcard recipients) Glerums.  Doing the math, it was over 12 years since I got together with them.  They weren’t the only “long-time-no-sees”.  Like, in February, I stopped by Temecula, CA to see the Creeds who moved out there a while back just to get away from us idiots.

We said goodbye to my Aunt Janie this summer, but as it happens as we grow older; it was a chance to see my father’s side of the family – something I hadn’t been able to do for years.  Then I was able to slip down in November for Cousin Ted’s wedding to make it a much shorter span between visits.

But in between, I got to say goodbye to great friends still back in Kansas.  Some showed me more of what I will miss than I guessed.  Deanna Brown pitching in with the madness that was getting my house ready the last month before moving out is hard to forget.  Those great cachers like Ernie Cantu willing to help out close out some things back in town.  Or giving a final go at stupidity with Jeremy Phillips in our last few nights.  In a quote from Winnie the Poo that I spotted in the last days in town: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

The year itself is hard to summarize, but one week in there does.  I had Nadcap meeting in Berlin, Germany in July – an aerospace quality organization.  I had attended those meetings since 2002, but this one was special as I was assuming the chair of one of the largest groups in Nadcap, a role that would put me in the forefront of the processes they cover; where those who held it before were called amongst the most influential in the industry.  By Monday, of that week, I knew that it would be my last … as I received the offer to move to Alaska while standing outside of a Beer garden in East Berlin.  Professionally, I was on the highest summit my career, yet I made the decision to climb a new mountain.
To be honest, though, when I look back at that week, it is one night I spent in Bochum that stands out.  I’ve been an on-line gamer for years, and over that time you meet loads of great people – but one has been a close friend for five-plus years even though we never met.  That night I met my old friend Nick Jacobs, and together her and I stayed up to who knows what hour talking, drinking coffee, and nibbling cheese like we were oldest of friends.

You see, 2012 was filled with life changes.  When I last wrote a Christmas Letter I was guessing at what the year had in store for me, and a plan to make changes whenever I could.  When I look back at the year, it isn’t the events that stand out; it’s the friends & family.  It’s getting together with people I haven’t seen for years, it’s getting together with people I never met, it’s getting together with those I am not sure when I will see again.  It is the support they have shown.  It is the encouragement they gave me.  It is the thanks I can’t give enough.

So as the year ends, to friends, family, and random people who find this letter after the zombie apocalypse:
From the coldest of places and darkest of nights, the warmest of holiday wishes on the brightest of days.

Happy Holidays

and Auggie says: bark bark (which means either Happy New Year, or he is hungry … again)

The Longest Night

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Today is called the hibernal solstice the day when Anchoragites see the least amount of sunshine and experience the longest night of the year. Thanks to the 23º tilt of the Earth’s axis, areas north of the Arctic Circle go without sunshine through the depth of winter. We’re fortunate here in Anchorage we still get just over 5 hours a day of sunlight during mid-winter.  5 hours, 27 minutes to be exact.  Here’s some things to put our day into perspective for those of you in sunnier climates.  Sunrise officially took place at 10:14AM, and Sunset at 3:42PM.  So, take a look outside tomorrow at about those times, and knows that here the sun isn’t even above the horizon.  Especially you folks down in Kansas & Texas & Alabama, where you still get not much less sunlight than you do during the summer — this could jump out at you. 

Because the days were shorter due to the tilt of the earth, even the sunrise doesn’t really mean the sun is “high”.  At 1PM (the ‘Solar Noon’) the sun will be 5.5° above the horizon.  For that, stick your hand straight out in front of you then turn it so your thumb is sticking up … your fingers are at the horizon, and your thumb is higher than “high noon” sun.

Since the day I moved to Anchorage, what was a constant reminder of how far north I was became evident each night when it seemed to get darker sooner and sooner.  When I arrived in Anchorage, the day lasted nearly 17 hours.  As big of a number that is, just think of the transition – for August, September, October, and most of November we lost between 5 & 6 minutes of daylight a day; that’s 40 minutes of daylight per week.  I still remember one of the early weekends in August, when I was stumbling home from the bar at Midnight and there was still some daylight in the sky.  You could easily lose track of time when I would go bounding out into the forest in September then when I felt hungry I looked down to find my watch was saying it was 9pm.  As the year went along, the changes were more dominant.  First seeming like it was just yesterday I was finishing dinner in sunlight, now its dark when I start it.  Or a 5am sunrise one day meant lights were on on the drive in the next.  For the most part, I am used to it being dark when I head to work, dark when I head home, and light only for a brief time when I take the pup out at lunch.

This darkness can be a grind, it can zap your energy, it can change your mood, but that all starts to adjust tomorrow.  There is officially 12 seconds more of daylight on December 22nd then today.  But remember, its going to accelerate — by Christmas we will have gained 2 minutes, by 2013 we gained 11 minutes, and in a month we will be seeing over 35 minutes of extra daylight gained per week.  They say come February it becomes very noticeable, and you get the urge to spend your time outside even in the snow.  It becomes this acceleration to the summer and the warmth & beauty that comes with it.

But for today, we revel in the longest night of the year, and celebrate the true start of winter.  I am celebrating the new & old ways:
1) Geocaching event at near to solar noon (it is a part solstice event, and part ‘survival of the apocolypse’ event)
2) Auggie graduates from his first Puppy class (and I do mean ‘first’, just because he graduates does it mean he knows enough to be a puppy)
3) Going to raise a glass to the end of the world with folks down at the irish pub … cause with a night this long, I’m going to need a drink.

Top 5 End of the World Songs

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I am not afriad to scoff in the face of the end of the Mayan Calendar that happens later this week, in-fact I am embrasing the fun of calling it the end of the world.  There are going to be Zombie Apocolypse events and End of the World parties going on, and will see if I can stick my head in on those.  One of the ways I am enjoying it the most is re-listening to all my favorite “end of the world” happy songs. 

So for your non-alaskan blogging pleasure in no particular order, I give you my TOP 5 HAPPY SONGS about the End of the World:

#1)  R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World as we Know It


This maybe the most overplayed song over the next couple days, but to miss it is a travisty.   Let’s be honest, we may not really understand anything being said during most of the song besides the chorus, but we all probably have sung along with this at one time and failed with a smile on our face.   I mean … Lenoard Berstine, folks!

#2) Wierd Al Yankovick – It’s Christmas at Ground Zero


Maybe … just maybe … the best song ever for the 2012 holiday season.   There are better Youtube versions, complete with “Duck & Cover” movies from the 50’s — but it isn’t share friendly, and probably won’t break the European firewalls over there.  Sure, this is more poking fun at the atomic fears and all that, but how can you deny that Mayans really intended to tell us: “No more time for last minute shopping, its time to face your final destiny”

#3) The Decemberists – Calamity Song


To get me is to know I like The Decemberists.  One song they released last year was about the end of the world … and unless you heard the live version I did, you probably wouldn’t know it.  It had probably the most obscure references (as in ‘Most Obscure’ references AAANNNDDD Most ‘Obscure References’) I ever heard in a song.  The writer was teased about it in a great NPR interview he had and took it with a good laugh.  Here is  just a taste (thank you Wikipedia for the help on this):
Adalusian Tribes are previously Germanic folk that invaded southern Spain at the fall of the Roman Empire – but for whatever reason is burning Nebraska in this song
A Dowager Empress is the widow of a King of Russia or The Holy Roman Empire … and seems to have a child from Panama next to her here.
Hetty Green, a notorious miser in the late 1800s, is mentioned as a fashion icon here (or more specifically, a “Queen of Supply-Side Bonhomie Bone Drab”)
And Speaking of … Bonhomie is a french word for “Good Natured Man”
Still … its a great song from one of my favorite albums.

#4) The Postal Service – We Will Become Silhouettes


There is absolutely nothing happy in the lyrics to this song.  How can you not get depressed when you hear the phrase: “I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, pretending the echos belong to someone … someone I used to know.” 
In any other context, this kind of song would make me face the darkness of losing all hope and facing the end of anything normal and kind in the world. 
That being said, I dare you … I DARE YOU  … to make it through without tapping your foot or bouncing in your chair.  Makes me want to throw on my radiation suit and ride my bicycle.

#5) Closing Credits to Shin Chan


This Japenese Cartoon is in my opinion one of the most wrong shows I have ever seen (sooooooo many butt jokes from a kindengarder).   It’s the kind of show that makes you glad that there are parental locks to keep kids from watching that mess … but happy as hell that you are old enough to watch it.  Truth is, the show was a guilty pleasure, but I used to watch it just to listen to the ending credits, which seemed to have no connection back to the show itself but still.  If the end comes this week … this is the song that will be in my head with the lyrics:
Woke up Late This Morning
A Storm Was Really Rolling
Frogs & Dogs were Raining From the Sky
And things seemed awkard to me
nothing is as it should be
if this keeps on I’m sure I won’t get by.
And then I close my eyes and try to smile, I know things are bad and getting worse
But after this I can rest awhile …
… And then I’ll Party Party!!

Who Did the Dreaming?

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By the way, it snowed in Anchorage.  Like … a lot.

When I left for the slope a couple weeks back, there was maybe an inch or two on the ground, but there were more than a few spots of ground you could see past the white stuff.  In November, we got so little of anything that we had just 20% of the total moisture we typically see in that month.  December wasn’t much different, because we had nothing coming into last week.  Then the skies opened up.

Coming home on Tuesday afternoon we had enough on the ground that you can make the little walls along the sidewalks.  Then, the snow really started to fall.  Nine inches on Wednesday, a couple more as the week continued, and now it appears we are guaranteed a white Christmas.  The pup is a little freaked by it all, he goes outside and he has to dig down to get to whatever he smells.

I’ve been slow to post mostly because of the pup.  Hard to get free time with the little pooper, between his puppy training, puppy classes, and his constant nudging me for attention — only can finish this up tonight because he fell asleep next to me (which, yes, is awfully cute, but still … a nice break).

Other than getting back into the swing of things, there wasn’t much else to report.  Folks around work are heading out on their holiday vacations.  Because I haven’t been with the company long enough, I work through the holidays with just a day off on the big ones.

I am wrapping up my Christmas letter – which I will post here for everyone to read on Christmas Eve.  If you aren’t one of my usual suspects to get a Christmas card, want your own personalized Christmas card (and don’t assume that means anything more than a snoopy card with a hand written “ho ho ho”), drop me a note and I will get it in the mail.

Auditing The Memphis Belle

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Today I finished up the last of the first three audits I performed for BP.  My count isn’t completely accurate but a rough estimate is that I did over 150 quality audits when I worked for Cessna and while the scope & rules of engagement are different, the feeling I get from doing them remain the same.  It’s truly a passion for me.

Ok … that last sentence … it maybe the one thing that those who don’t know this role will shake your head about.  For most, audits are this massive imposition where someone comes along and looks for all the stuff you screw up or don’t know you should be doing so they can punish you.  Many think IRS or an Accountant coming in and digging through every possible way to make your life uncomfortable.  Some think auditor’s primary role is to be a jerk and bad things for you just because they can.  I won’t say that auditors aren’t like that (or even that auditors that do what I do aren’t like that) but that just isn’t what this job is about.

I am a Quality Auditor (officially a Certified Quality Auditor or CQA … which if you saw my facebook post this weekend can be put at the end of my name like in the best example given: “Let me introduce you to my hot roommate, Mitch Nelson CQA”).  My role as a quality auditor is to evaluate a supplier against known criteria to see where those suppliers meet the criteria and where they can make improvements.  Most of the time, suppliers are either failing to meet that criteria because it is something they missed unintentionally or they have a process that just isn’t effective.  So, I work with them to enable what they do to become more effective.  In short, my job is to leave a supplier better because I was there.

The only way … The Only Way … let me just reiterate this for emphasis … THE ONLY WAY to do my audits effectively is to recognize what a supplier does right!  You have to know the whole picture, and the postitives are always where improvement begins.  Once you recognize a supplier for the positives they respect what you have to say, and you respect what they are trying to achieve. 

If any of you reading this are band judges, this all should sound very familiar for a reason … all you have to do to turn a role of quality auditor into a band judge is to replace the words “Calibration” & “Key Performance Indicator” with “Lavender Silks” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

To be honest, auditing is an exhausting effort.  I can always see it in the suppliers I am with, but just as much for me.  You have to be focused and centered, your mind constantly analyzing what you are hearing, seeing, reading, they digesting it fast enough to be able to make the most of your limited time with that supplier.  It’s incredibly energizing, but when I am done … I am done.  That’s where I am at now.  Every time I finish a week of auditing like this, I think of the movie “Memphis Belle.”  In it, a WWII bomber crew becomes the first to complete its tour of duty.  After they drop the bombs, the captain makes the announcement: “We’ve done our duty, boys.  Now we are flying for ourselves.”  This trip I don’t fly home until tomorrow afternoon and have a fair bit of work ahead of me before then.  But when I got back to PBOC today, I need some time off … I needed to fly for myself for a while.