Saturday, October 30, 2010

First Snow!

Very exciting. Also kinda late. But you knew it was coming, didn't you? This is Alaska, after all.
Very exciting. There is just enough to ski on. One centimeter. So out come the skis. My aching back is grateful. Walking is hard on my back. I could wish for a bit more snow, but all I have to do is be patient.

More moose antics

Got my batteries recharged and into the camera. Here is a moose called Forage, because he (or she, probably he because no offspring). He was trying to mow my lawn.
We must encourage Forage. After all, he could replace my lawnmower. Alas, moose don't go for grass. This is why you don't put hay out for them; they can't digest it.

On the other hand, there is no question about this guy:
Definitely the proverbial bull moose. I hope his rack falls off somewhere on my property. No name for Guy yet. Gotta be a repeat customer for that. Curiously, Guy was not alone. He had a companion, most unusual since bulls are solo creatures. The companion was ready for anything (in fact he kept charging Guy, who kept him at antler's length. You could almost hear him saying "go away, small fry!").

Classic moose defensive posture. Front legs spread, ears up and forward, general unfriendly posture. Get too near, he'll kick you to death. This, in fact, may be Forage. I was discombobulated by battery failure and can't remember the details.

The pictures are a little blurry. Sorry about that. Night was falling, and I did not have time to rig a tripod. Much less to turn off flash (useless at 30 meters or so). But blurry is better than none, say I, and publish the pix anyway.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Multitude of Moose

There have been so many moose nosing around the yard that I'm beginning to lose track. Unfortunately my camera has chosen this very moment, with an unprecedented moose event, to run out of batteries. Electronics, you have to love them. I am recharging as we post. But I can't even get yesterday's pix off the camera.

The unprecedented event, by the way, is a big bull, rack and all, accompanied by a Junior moose. I've never seen that! Bulls are usually loners. The exception is Ricky and Racky. Maybe the pictures will come out, maybe not. The Nikon God will decide. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pot of Gold?

The other day I was returning from my daily walk when I spied a lovely rainbow. I walked 20 meters forward, to clear the ugly power lines, and it had faded in that little time! But I snapped it anyway.

Legend, presumably Irish, says that there's a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Nonsense, of course! But not in Willow. The town of Willow owes its existence to gold. Gold was found in Willow creek around the turn of the 19th century, and the town grew around the mining operations. Now, the claims are panned out and the town is a shadow of its once-booming self. This is true for almost every town in Alaska, including Juneau, the state capital.

But there is still gold in Willow creek. Not in commercial quantities! But you could probably turn up a nugget or two, or at least some flakes, if you knew where to pan. And how to pan. So there probably is some gold under that rainbow, if not a whole pot.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Tao of Internal Combustion Engines

I really would like to post my current projects. Unfortunately they are Christmas presents, and the recipients read this blog. Sigh. Well, I have a number of posts up my sleeve, as it were. One of them concerns the Ubiquitous Infernal Combustion Engine or UICE for short. We are all faced with these things, unless we live in apartments. At Chalupy, we boast (or deplore) a lawnmower, three tillers in various stages of disrepair, a snowblower, four chainsaws, two used frequently, and an edger or string trimmer. This does not count Vicky, my car, or Lysander the tractor. Every one of them worked fine when new. The problem is to keep them that way. So here are short and bitterly learned lessons on keeping these UICEs going.

First, a bit of Taxonomy, or classification if you prefer a more common word. All UICEs fall into two big classes:
  1. Two-cycle engines. Here the gasoline is mixed in with the oil.
  2. Four-cycle engines. Oil is in one place, fuel in another.
Examples of two-cycle or two-stroke angines are chainsaws and trimmers. For four-cycle engines anything else goes, e.g. cars, most tillers, and lawnmowers. The Tao is a little different for each type.

There are likewise two big cycles in the Tao of UICEs:
  1. The fall cycle: putting away the stuff that is no good in winter (e.g. lawnmower).
  2. The spring cycle: prepping the stuff you will use in summer, again e.g. lawnmower.
In this post I will concentrate on the fall cycle. Let's put stuff away for winter here. There is a simple Golden Rule that will keep your contraption running much longer than other people's: drain the gas out of the engine. Not too complicated a rule, eh? But how do you do it? If you are clever and know your, say, lawnmower, you will contrive to mow the last blade of grass just as the mower coughs and runs out of gasoline. If not, you will have to siphon the gas out of the machine. Fortunately, auto parts stores sell siphon pumps for just this purpose. Plastic contraptions with a squeeze-bulb that allows you to suck (most of) the gas out. Then start the blasted thing and let it run dry. If you do not do this, your gas will turn to jelly over the winter and the machine will not start in the spring.

The second sound rule is to stabilize your gas. This is indispensable for anyone who lives in a cold climate. Gasoline has a very limited lifetime, about three months from the time you buy it. So you add some obscure chemical to it, and it lasts a year. Essential for snowblowers, and really, really good for everything else. I buy some stuff called Sta-bil, because I can get it at the Willow hardware store. Stabilizers are said to keep gas from turning to jelly. Maybe so. I prefer to run my machine dry anyway. You add it according to directions on the container. I buy gas in 5-gallon lots (20 liters). I put the proper amount of Sta-bil into the 5 gallon container before I fill it up, and let the trip home shake it well.

If you have a two-cycle engine (e.g. edger or chainsaw), get rid of the gas before storing and that's it. My chainsaws live indoors in winter and always use stabilized gas.

And a special word about snowblowers. These UICEs are unusual because they have to run in the winter. So the cycles are completely reversed. You drain the gas in spring and in the fall you do the spring thing. What's the spring thing? I'll get to that next spring, I hope. If anyone really wants to know, right this instant, do the unusual: drop a comment! I will do a quick rundown for you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Alaska PFD

I have to get in the habit of reading comments! There usually aren't many, but I missed one by Sean on the PFD (sorry, Sean). Well, it is almost PFD time, so it's time for a post on the subject.

The PFD stands for the Alaska Personal Dividend Fund. It is a fund -- a very large fund -- set aside by the State of Alaska. Every year, the earnings of the fund are distributed equally between all qualified Alaskans. This includes children, so a family of four would get four dividends. Last year, the dividend was about $1600, a fair chunk of change. I doubt that it will be so large this year! You can get all the details by Googling "Alaska PFD."

This is a unique arrangement. We owe it in large part to the efforts of the late Governor Jay Hammond. Hammond was a fighter pilot, bush pilot, commercial fisherman, biologist and a "bush rat," i.e. he lived in the bush when he wasn't in the Legislature or being Governor. He claimed that he hoped to be defeated in every election he stood for, because then he could get back to Lake Clark and his cabin.
He wrote several books, Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor comes to mind. It is an amusing and thoughtful collection of Jay Hammond's ramblings.

In this book, Hammond relates that he was in Bristol Bay when the fishing was a bonanza. What to do with all that money? Hammond advocated setting a chunk of it aside, as a fund for hard times. He was voted down, and Bristol Bay built a gymnasium with swimming pool. Soon after that, fishing went kaput, and Bristol Bay had a pool, but no income. So when Hammond got to be Governor. he leaned on everyone until Alaska took a big chunk of its petrodollars and set up the PFD.

The politicians hate the PFD. They would rather spend it. Bristol Bay redux. I will not go into this because this blog is not, repeat not, a political blog.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Miniatures again

Astronomically, winter is still some ways away. But this is Alaska. Early morning temperatures below freezing. Time to move indoors and do winter projects. It is time to work on Christmas presents. Unfortunately I cannot mention the subject in full, because the recipient is all too likely to be reading this. So let us say that it is a miniature of my future woodshed, which happens to be true! It is not the done thing to tell lies on a blog. The woodshed is held together by mortise-and tenon joints. So after some trial and error, I decided I needed a new mortising chisel.
So off to the microforge, and out came a 3.5mm chisel, seen stuck into a future mortise. The calipers at the left are 80mm long, to give you the scale. The chisel turned out at 3.7mm but I do not mind this; too loose is much better than too narrow!

I am using round pieces of wood for the woodshed. I could square them. That is a lot of work. The "logs" are prunings from my lilac tree (no bush, that one; it is as tall as the house!) and from ditto Japanese Maple. The lilac has a nasty pith; Japanese Maple is better. But one's prunings are what they are; selection is limited. Anyway, it is useful to have a centerline on the "logs" and thereby hangs a tale. In real life, you take a chalk line or a Japanese india ink line and snap it. I spent a whole morning trying to duplicate this system. I used sewing thread for a line, a pin to anchor the works, and tried inking and snapping. Alas, my ink is alcohol-based and dries much too fast. Plus snapping -- well, your fingers are not to scale. Very difficult to snap a 10-cm thread. In the end, I went to water color on the thread, and rubbed the thread with a chisel instead of snapping.
You can just see the thread, you can easily see the brush I used to color the line, and the line down the log. Now, I can line my tenons up. If you don't have a reference line it is all to easy to get the tenons out of line. Then they don't fit the mortises, or if they do, the thing ain't coplanar. The shed consists of two "sides" which are called bents in the trade. They will be tied together by two beams. I have to think as to how I will do this.

I microforged a couple of holdfasts, seen above, and cobbled up supports for the log from a split birch twig. I have to say that microforging is wondeful. Need a tool? Make it! Harder, of course, at full scale.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Airplanes next door

Within easy walking distance from home is Vera Lake. It is a curious lake, because it has a more or less circular bottom and a more or less elliptical top, connected by a narrow channel. Two floatplanes seem to live in the bottom of the lake. The other day I walked by and heard the familiar sound of an engine starting. I dashed to the end of the lake, and sure enough, a floatplane.
The plane cruised the lake at idle; the pilot is warming up the engine. The channel connecting the lake bottom and top is right by the plane's tail. Mr plane passed close by.
Eventually, he warmed up, so he did a circular turn, pointed to the channel, and off we go into the wild blue yonder.
Sorry about the blur, the light (bad) was too much for autofocus/autoprogram. I find it hard to believe that something that big and clumsy can fly, but fly it did. It gets up on the step in the floats, friction is cut way down, and it takes off.

Airplanes on the lake are usually a summer phenomenon, but it hasn't been that cold, so Mr Plane took advantage. Half an hour to Anchorage at most, it's only 35 Km away as the plane flies. This is very Alaska; floatplanes in the backyard.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Termination Dust

In the old days of Alaska, there was gold mining and little else. The sourdoughs, as the old prospectors were called (what we call "newbies" were called cheechakos) would work a claim, panning or placer according to your means; it was all well as long as nuggets came out in the wash, as it were. But sooner or later you would get nothing but a thin sprinkling of gold dust. This meant your claim was worked out; the dust was called termination dust. No more gold; time to go somewhere else.

In modern Alaska, the term "termination dust" now means the first snowfall on the mountaintops. Fall is officially finito. Today I drove down to big Lake to do some grocery shopping; as I drove over the hill there it was -- termination dust. The storm that put it there didn't have enough horsepower (or wattage, if you prefer) to push over the mountains, but it left a new coat of snow. It means winter is here. Having put the snow tires on the car yesterday, I have completed the essential chores. I only regret I didn't take a picture -- I even had the camera, but didn't think of it. Blast. Maybe tomorrow I can return and do the picture.

Added next day: I did.
The light was awful -- flat and washed out. But you can see the Chugach mountains south of me. This was taken from about mile 60 on the Parks highway, which connects Wasilla with Fairbanks. My new camera needs a while to focus and the shot is not so good, but at least you can see t6he dust on the mountains!