Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unhealthy Air Quality

Another beautiful sunrise here in the frozen north. It's about 10:20 in the morning so it's still well before the sun actually rises, I think that will be around 11:00 or so. And it's still -17°F so there are absolutely no plans for a long walk in the woods. The mountains on the far right in the picture are still part of the Alaska Range though they are well over 100 miles away. A good visibility day in spite of what the EPA says "Unhealthy Air Quality Index". Apparently, too many people around here burn stuff in the winter (like heat with wood). Maybe that explains the great sunrise/sunset photo ops...

I looked for the full moon to the north but wasn't able to see anything. I guess the local geography, south sloping hills, is working against me. That must be why I have never noticed the moon to the north before the the beginning of December. BTW, this will be a "blue moon" as it is the second full moon of the month.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The four day Christmas break is over and I didn't even start on any of the tasks that I was planning on. The exhaust nut wrench is still sitting on my desk, unused, the rear door harness on the truck is still disassembled showing the broken wires, and didn't even think about starting to pull the beemers tranny back to lube the intake spline. I feel like such a slacker. I did go to the Alaska Club twice during the break. Today, I racked up over 13 miles and jogged for about a third of that distance. I went back to my original workout routine using a much higher heart rate as a target since I didn't really feel like I was getting any exercise. Today, I did intervals alternating between 70% and 90% of maximum heart rate and now, I actually felt like I got some exercise. Maybe if I had done the lighter workout, I would feel like doing some of my tasks...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Solstice Sunrise

Today, or approximately today, was the winter solstice and this was 11:00 AM and about sunrise. It is an iPhone photo since that is the camera I have with me just about all the time. I kept playing around with exposure and I think it came out okay. The colors in the sky were great. Sunset occurred about two hours later but at least there was some sun. A couple of weeks ago, I took a photo at high noon in Barrow and the sky was darker than here in Fairbanks at 9 AM. In Barrow, there was only a hint of light due south at noon. Just a hint of red in the sky.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Welcome Home

Besides the temperature, I noticed the little "3G" in the upper left corner. It said "E" when I left a week ago. That was nice to finally see in Fairbanks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Global Climate Change

One of the things I did today was see a screening of an educational video documenting the trip of Tara, an expedition/research schooner that traveled across the north pole frozen into the ice. The trip started in the Fall of 2006 and was completed about 400 days later collecting scientific data along the way. It was a great video with explanations of climate change and its effect on the global environment. Some project that the north pole may be ice-free in the near future. I also attended a talk given by the director of the International Arctic Research Center at UAF on permafrost studies and the dramatic changes they are seeing in recent years. He covered many seemingly competing evidence I've been hearing over the last couple of years on global warming. These are just a sample of the many presentations I've been to while here at the fall AGU meeting. Today, there was also a another meeting on science in Barrow with the focus on logistic support.

I came to the conclusion that my profession is information technology but I really enjoy science more...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

San Francisco


Last night, I arrived in San Francisco for a series of meetings and the AGU (American Geophysical Union) fall meeting. I'm staying at a bargain priced (but very nice!) hotel only about ½ mile from Moscone and about 50' from the beginning of the Powell St. cable car line. Lots of people and lots of cars everywhere. This morning, I walked up and down streets, had dim sum in Chinatown, wandered through bookstores and camera shops and ending up with 0.01 mile more than I logged yesterday. The most annoying thing about walking around here are the number of people smoking while they are strolling down the sidewalk. It seems that 20% of the people in San Francisco must smoke, or at least that's the way it feels. You can see layers of smoke hanging over the sidewalks. Or at least those that hang around downtown. It was much nicer last night when it was raining i.e. not as many smokers walking in the rain. According to the weather guessers, it is supposed to be raining most of the week.

The Christmas decorations are out and the tree in Union Square looked pretty nice. The picture is kind of blurry. There were still a lot of people out especially at 9:00 on a Sunday night. I guess I'm not used to life in the city. Dinner tonight was corned beef boiled dinner and like just about every other meal I've ever had in this city, it was pretty good. Barrow centered meetings this afternoon and early evening and they are continuing intermittently throughout the week. So far, interesting....

Monday evening - First "official" day of the AGU and there are way too many presentations. The planetary science ones are always interesting as are the ones on climate change but this afternoon, I attended a series of presentations in the Education track on "Using Web 2.0 Technologies to Facilitate Science Communications". Pretty interesting presentations and discussions. Everyone seems to be so passionate about what they are doing. Quite a change from the administrative side of the university that I usually see. This is one of the reasons for setting up the podcasting capabilities in Barrow and yesterday, several of the researchers had additional things they would really like to see. I think I'm going to be busy.

I started listening to this audiobook on the flight down and got totally sucked in. I listened whenever I walk around over the weekend and last night, I ended up listening well into the wee hours and finished it up this morning. Excellent book. Earlier this month, it was being offered as a free download but it is no longer available.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Podcast Producer Experience

This is all sort of unrelated to most of my other posts but I tried my first semi-official video podcast recording today. This is part of setting up infrastructure in the BARC (Barrow Arctic Research Center) for researchers to use while in the field. I had set up Podcast Producer 2 that is part of Apple OS X server and was having a lot of trouble with authentication. I shut down the Open Directory and the Podcast Producer services, deleted the databases associated with both services, and started over. After that, it worked flawlessly. I think it got messed up since I first installed Leopard Server then upgraded it to Snow Leopard. It didn't transition well. I also recorded the presentation in case I wanted to play with it later and this is the setup I used. Podcast Capture used the external iSight camera mounted to the DV camera and I took a feed from the audio mixer as my audio input. To do this sort of thing in "production", I see a need for at least 3 video feeds. One of the speaker, one from whatever is being sent to the projector and one of the audience. You can't hear or see the questions. Unfortunately, this then becomes a much bigger production. I'll need to think about it. The speaker didn't want me to publicize this video until he gets permission from his company but it was a fascinating talk on off-shore drilling platforms. The talk ended up being 1½ hours long and should be edited but I was trying to completely automate the post production process. The Xgrid is still chunking away encoding the video taking much longer than real time. I guess I need a bigger Xgrid (there is only one single processor machine in the Xgrid since this is an experiment) but it is only running at 20% of capacity. Maybe there are some controls to limit load. This is all new to me.

It is really windy today something like 26 knots. Blowing snow, lots of drifts and visibility is way down. It was a challenge just driving the truck from the BARC to NARL building 360 due to the low visibility. I suspect that my flight out tonight will get canceled.

Sunday evening - By the time I got back home, the encoding was done. As you can see from this graph of server utilization, it looks like it took almost 8 hours to encode the video. You can also see that the encoding was only being done on a single core of the server. I guess this is by design so that multiple jobs could be done simultaneously. But I have to admit that I wish it would've parallelized (is that a word?) the task. The 1½ hour recording ended up being almost 1 GB in size for the video and 100 mB for the audio. Wrong encoder choice I guess. I'll look at my selections tomorrow. Don't need stereo, 15 frames per second of less for a talking head, maybe a little editing of the file....

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Land of the Noon Moon"

We always hear about northern areas being the land of the midnight sun but there is a counter to that and that is these same areas are also the land of the noonday moon. In all the years I have lived in Alaska, I have never noticed the moon directly north before. Here, I am looking due north out over the Arctic Ocean at right around 1 pm, and the moon is right there. Back home, we are on a south facing slope so there isn't a clear view to the north. I guess the phrase will never catch on since it almost doesn't make much sense. I really like the color of the sky when it is really clear and, yes, the color in the picture is pretty accurate. This is about as bright as it gets during the day as there won't be another sunrise here for another 1½ months.

I have all of the radios installed on the quonset huts now but I can't reach one of them today. Ping fails and another has about 40% packet loss. I looked at the base station and one of the radios has a red light blinking. Of course, there is no documentation and the manufacturer must not believe in the value of the Internet. On another note, I have also been working with Apple Podcast Producer 2 that comes with 10.6 server and it is pretty slick software. There is a science oriented presentation here in Barrow every Saturday, I think it is called Saturday School Yard, and I thought that it would be a good idea to try and capture some of these. Tomorrows presenter agreed to be videoed so I will try out Podcast Capture (comes with OS X) with an external iSight camera just to see how it comes out. I have been testing with a number of different formats and it seems to work pretty well. I haven't been able to get Podcast Composer to open the default workflows or upload new ones. I think I must have messed up the permissions somewhere along the line. Real documentation seems a little scarce.

Didn't feel like spending much time outside today. Air temperature is -22°F and with the breeze blowing, it was something like -43°F. I originally thought of bringing my insulated coveralls but they take up a lot of room in your luggage. I scheduled a short outage this evening to swap out a couple of UPS units and that went fairly smooth except for the problem with the point to multipoint radio system. I don't know if it was related to the outage. Dinner tonight was at Osaka's again and the donburi was really good and warming. Donburi is a savory stew, in this case made from vegetables, chicken and eggs, served over rice. Nothing really fancy but they do a really good job with all their menu items.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sashimi Plate

Today, I treated myself to the small sashimi plate at Osaka's here in Barrow. As an extra treat, they brought out a salmon skin roll to accompany it. It was, as usual, wonderful. I have never had that type of roll before since I didn't know what to expect. A little crunchy and very tasty. I think the skin was broiled or something maybe after marinating in teriyaki sauce for a while. I will definitely have it again. I don't know how they do it, but the sashimi tasted very fresh. They are near the ocean, in fact right on the ocean, but all of the fish must be flown in daily. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Barrow.

On another note, I set up phones today in the BARC (Barrow Arctic Science Center) necropsy lab. I believe that this part of the facility is used to dissect large marine mammals as the table is huge and there is a two ton overhead crane to bring things in. The whole room is designed to be hosed down so I'm not real sure how well the phone is going to survive but it'll be a good test. I'm just about done with these phones as I just have one more installation to do. It is on a quonset hut and those are always a challenge to find a good place to install the mast. Usually the end walls are flat so hopefully that will work out. I must have lifted a lot today as my arms and shoulders are pretty sore right now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back in Barrow

I'm in Barrow again trying to finish up some loose ends as well as get some additional equipment installed. This time, I'm in one of the residential huts instead of the NARL Hotel. It is actually pretty nice as it is essentially a two bedroom apartment complete with kitchen and laundry facilities. It is only about a hundred yard walk to NARL Building 360 where the offices are. The last time I was here, I added an Alverion wireless clients to most of the huts and each has a small Cisco 3640 switch, Polycom IP320 VoIP phone and a 1 kva UPS to keep it all up and running for something like 25 minutes. I haven't tested the UPS yet, maybe after I finish this post. The VoIP phone is using the SIP proxy I set up last year in the BARC (Barrow Arctic Research Center) using the combination of OpenSER as the proxy server and Asterisk as the media server. It has been working flawlessly ever since and I have been steadily adding additional buildings and phones to the network since it was initially set up. Last month, I enabled trunking over the point-to-multipoint wireless network and can now deliver multiple vlans, including the VoIP vlan, into the residential huts. Only one more hut to add to the network and I should be able to get that one done on this trip. This has been a really fun project for me and I'll be sad to see it end next August.

BASC no longer has an agreement with the college to use their gym and workout equipment due to some abuse by some visiting grad students a while back. Unfortunate. I brought up some exercise bands to do a little workout and due to polar bear sightings, I'm not allowed to run outside. I haven't seen any around but then again, I really don't want to since I do have to walk outside to get to my hut. As it is, I end up working for about 12 hours per day so I'm usually pretty exhausted by the time evening rolls around anyway.

So far, everything has been going pretty smooth. I am still struggling trying to get Apple Podcast Producer up and running. I found some guides using Google but it is a pretty complex product. Especially trying to figure out the workflows. It's running now, sort of, but I can't get podcasts to upload successfully yet.