Wednesday, May 04, 2016

"... body was found near the north end of the Savage River Loop Trail . . .Searchers believe he died Tuesday."

If the title quotes from the Alaska Dispatch are accurate, J and I hiked apparently right below Michael Purdy's body, "about 100 feet from the trail" when we hiked the Savage River Loop Trail on Wednesday morning.

100 feet.  That's about the distance across two average Anchorage residential lots.

It changes everything about our hike.  From a magnificent soul cleansing hike on a partly cloudy day, with the sun's glow following us from behind clouds to the east. . .  To?  I'm not sure what.  A much more sobering and poignant walk.  A reminder of how instantly everything can change.   If Michael died Tuesday night, there wouldn't have been anything we could have done for him, even if we had seen him.  This is pretty early in the season, and we didn't see other hikers Wednesday morning, though there were cars in the parking lot Monday evening and when we passed Tuesday, headed further into the park.  Savage River is far enough into the Park, that I couldn't get any cell service.

The maintained trail ends at the bridge.  We went on a little further.   A Park Service announcement says Michael Purdy's car was in the east parking lot.  So he probably took the trail on the east side.  We took the west side trail both ways because the east side had large patches of icy snow covering the trail.

If I had taken this picture with a wider angle lens, Michael Purdy's body might have been in the picture.  Or, more likely, it would have been hidden behind a rock or a ridge or bushes.  Obviously, we didn't see it.   I was looking up the slope, hoping to see Dall Sheep.  (I didn't, though we saw three bears along the river on the other side of the highway Tuesday evening.)  This is looking from past the end of the maintained trail, back to the south. You can see parts of the loop trail along both sides of the river.  (East on the left, west on the right.)  These pictures are all from Wednesday morning, April 27, 2016.
click to better focus any of the pictures

Here's J resting on the unmaintained trail beyond the bridge, which is below her hidden by the ridge.  And somewhere nearby was Michael Purdy.

There are lots of great rock outcroppings that just beg to be explored.  Our creaky old bones can more easily resist the call to climb.  But at 24, I would have been all over them.

These two outcroppings are a little beyond the bridge and the maintained trail.

The Park Service announcement says Michael was from Oregon and was scheduled to work at Denali for the summer, that he was an experienced hiker.

Some may think this post a little macabre.  But it seems that the timing requires me to share these pictures.

My brother died in a fall when he was 23, so I know how wrenching this is for Michael's family.  Forty years later, writing this,  I can't stop tears from forming.   I know that my mother wanted to go to the site of my brother's death and see every detail.  Perhaps these pictures may help some of his family members who can't get to this spot.  At least Michael took leave in a spectacularly beautiful place - which these pictures only hint at - doing what he apparently loved doing.  My condolences go out to Michael's family.  The memory of these days will never leave you, but it gets less painful.  I only wish we could have done something to help.    

"Tells It Like It Is"? More Like Tells It As He Sees It.

Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's campaign manager is quoted in the Alaska Dispatch yesterday (from a Washington Post article by Dan Balz) as saying:
“. . . his appeal has been as a person who tells it like it is.”
Call it spin or framing, we have to be careful to keep our crap detectors well maintained so we don't let these memes slip into our brains uninspected.

Wikipedia explains memes this way (in part, there's lots more at the link):
A meme (/ˈmiːm/ meem) is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture". A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
This is the best word I can think of to describe what I mean here - that someone says something like "tells it like it is" and this idea spreads quickly, like a virus, and people begin to think of Trump as someone who tells it like it is, which implies that he know the truth and doesn't hesitate to say it.  And that has a lot of appeal for Americans who are used to politicians waffling or being outright deceptive ("I did not have sex with that woman.")

I do believe that Trump is a man who is used to getting away with saying what he thinks, at least in many situations.  I suspect when he is wooing an investor, he's more likely to edit his thoughts a bit and even prevaricate so he can tell the investor what he (Trump) thinks the investor wants to hear.

And up till now, the bedrock of Republican voters - conservative, older white males who feel their country is being taken away from them by non-whites and women, whether born Americans or immigrants - have been Trump's investors.  He's done a great job in getting them to invest their votes in his candidacy.

But the rest of us shouldn't let our brains be invaded by misleading memes.  "Telling it like it is" works great for Trump, but I'd suggest he's really "Telling it like he sees it."  

By that I mean he's saying what he thinks will sway voters to come out to vote for him.  Whether he actually believes what he says or only thinks it will persuade his target audience, I still don't know.  I suspect sometimes it's the one and sometimes the other.  I do believe that he believes life is a game and the only way to play is to win.  But at the end of each game, he forgets the losses, remembers the wins, and focuses on the next game.

So he could honestly praise Cruz, after he suspended his campaign,  From Newsmax:
"I have met some of the most incredible competitors that I have ever competed against right here in the Republican Party," Trump said to cheering supporters at his victory speech at Trump Tower in New York City.
"We started off with 17 — and just so you understand, Ted Cruz, I don't know if he likes me or if he doesn't like me, but he is one hell of a competitor.
"He is a tough, smart guy," Trump continued. "And he has got an amazing future. He's got an amazing future. 
The primary game, in Trump's mind, is now over, and Trump can just forget all the mean and nasty things he said about Cruz and Cruz said about him.  That was all just rhetoric in the game.  (As opposed to 'telling it like it is.')

Now his competitor is presumed to be Hillary Clinton and he's going to play to win this new game just as vigorously.  He's got new investors to woo, and we'll see how much of what he's been saying he believes and how much he changes his game for voters who prioritize their values differently from Republican primary voters.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Sweet Peas Are Happening

I planted a row of sweet peas in the planter on the deck on April 3.  That's pushing the Alaska growing season a bit, but it seemed reasonably safe.

  • We've had one of the warmest winters on record 
  • Spring planting has been possible earlier over the years
  • Our garden columnist Jeff Lowenfells was encouraging folks to push things early
  • Sweet peas are one of the more cold resistant annuals
  • I was going to cover the box with plastic tops from Costco trays
So, when we got back from our trip on April 21, I checked for shoots.  Nada.  Well, no sweet peas.  There was plenty of chickweed.  I checked again several days ago.  Still saw nothing and decided to pull the chickweed.  Carefully, lest there be a sweet pea hidden among the weeds.  

Yesterday I thought that either
  • the seeds just haven't germinated and sprouted yet, but they're still coming
  • the seeds were bad - they were from last year or the year before
I decided to put in another row of sweet peas.  This time from an unopened seed envelope from last year.  So I put them in a little water to get things moving before I planted them.  If the earlier seeds came up, it would be fine.  If they didn't, I didn't want to wait too long before planting more.  

So today, I was going to plant them.  I went out and took the plastic covers off the planter and pulled out more chickweed.  And as I was doing this, lo and behold, I saw sweet pea shoot sticking out of the soil.  And then another, and another.  There were maybe five out of the fifty or so I planted.  

I really don't think they were there yesterday, but as you can see, they are fairly easy to overlook.  It still amazes me when I see new sprouts poking out of the soil.  

I don't think I'll need the seeds that I've soaked in this planter.  It will just get too crowded if most of the old seeds sprout.  But now that they've soaked overnight, I need to plant them soon.  I'll put them in another planter in the front.  The trees there keep this spot from getting as much sun as sweet peas need, but trees are an issue (overall a good one) in most of my yard.  I'll show you the sweet peas when they are booming.  

Sunday, May 01, 2016

While Legislators Plot Raiding Permanent Fund, Russell Read, The Fund's New CIO, Starts May 9

 image from Professional Pensions

It looks like the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has done a pretty good job of hiring a new Chief Investment Officer.  Russell Read, who is due to begin his duties in Juneau May 9, has had an
illustrious career and  Alaskans should be pleased with the man who's coming to manage our $52 billion fund.

But I suspect few have any idea of who he is or what he brings to the job.  Here are a couple of positions he's had at important funds,  and below is more information about these funds and about Read.  There's also an excerpt from a recent interview regarding his new position.
  • Chief Investment Officer of CalPERS - the California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest one, with some $300 billion (two years)
  • Chief Investment Officer and Deputy Chief Executive of the Kuwait City-based Gulf Investment Corporation (GIC) ($7 billion) which is the Development Investor created and owned by the six GCC countries of the Arabian Peninsula. (four years)

Here are more details about CalPERS from Wikipedia:
As of June 30, 2014, CalPERS managed the largest public pension fund in the United States, with $300.3 billion in assets[1] CalPERS is known for its shareholder activism; stocks placed on its "Focus List" may perform better than other stocks, which has given rise to the term "CalPERS effect". Outside the U.S., CalPERS has been called "a recognized global leader in the investment industry",[6] and "one of America's most powerful shareholder bodies”.

The Security and Exchange Commission's bio of Read described his duties at CalPERS and at a previous position:
Russell Read is [I'll leave their present tense of the original bio]  the Chief Investment Officer for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). He oversees all asset classes in which CalPERS invests, including domestic and international equity, Treasury and agency debt, high yield bonds, mortgage backed securities, CDOs, real estate, corporate governance, currency overlay, securities lending, venture capital, leveraged buyouts, and hedge funds. Mr. Read is responsible for the strategic plan for CalPERS’ Investment Office including tactical asset allocation, risk management, business development, budget authority, new investment programs, trading technology, staffing, and back office operations. Mr. Read joined CalPERS on June 1, 2006 after previously serving as Deputy Chief Investment Officer for Deutsche Asset Management and Scudder Investments. He was responsible for more than $250 billion of retail and institutional investments in equity, fixed income, and commodity-based products. He also was Chairman of the Deutsche’s Americas Investment Committee and principal investment representative to the firm’s retail mutual fund board of trustees. He previously served as Global Head of Quantitative Investing and Research at Zurich Scudder and has held senior investment positions with the OppenheimerFunds, CNA Insurance, Prudential Insurance, and First Chicago.
Here's what Bloomberg says about the Gulf Investment Corporation:
Gulf Investment Corporation is a venture capital arm of The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf specializing in direct investments in private companies and new business ventures. The firm prefers to invest in the utilities sector with a focus on power, water, telecommunications, and other infrastructure; chemicals and metals; diversified industrials; materials; healthcare; agriculture, consumer staples; Industrial Development; consumer discretionary; financials; financial services, petrochemicals, steel, and electricity. It seeks to invest in GCC countries. It also invests in corporate finance projects. Gulf Investment Corporation was founded in 1983 and is based in Kuwait City.
Investeurope has a bio of Read when he was a speaker and it includes some additional information:
Dr. Read has been a resource for regulatory agencies internationally, state governments, the US Congress, and the US Senate for over two decades and served as Chairman of the Investors’ Committee of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets under Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
He is currently a Governor of both the Hedge Funds Standards Board (London) and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). He was named as one of America’s 30 most influential players in business and finance by SmartMoney (November 2007) and #35 on Institutional Investor’s list of the 75 most effective chief executives.

That Dr. before his name came with a Phd in Political Economy from Stanford.  His prior education includes an undergraduate degree in Statistics and an MBA in Finance and International Business, both from the University of Chicago.  He has a second masters in Economics from Stanford.

And here's an interview with Read, published a couple of days ago, about what he's thinking as he approaches his Alaskan job.  Here's the end of the interview:
Skorina: APFC earned 4.9 percent in FY 2015; maybe not as strong a performance as they would have wished?
Read: Real estate did well, 9.8 percent on about 10 percent of the portfolio. And private equity was up 16.5 percent. U.S. equities were up 7.2 percent. But the more pertinent question is: where are the income and growth opportunities to come from in the years ahead, given this strange bond environment.
For a century, bonds were the bedrock of investments and retirement income. Since 2008 that has been turned on its head. Now, bonds are low-yield and high-risk. So, at a fund like APFC, we need to look for opportunities where size matters and we have an edge, things like real estate, infrastructure, or geographic opportunities.
Skorina: What do you mean by geographic opportunities?
Read: Well, let’s look out over the next twenty to thirty years. We’re long-term money, so where are long-term opportunities? Where is the growth to come from? Sixty 60 percent of the population growth over the next 35 years—to 2050—will come in Africa and south Asia, mostly in cities.
My job in Kuwait kept me hopping around Africa and Asia looking at infrastructure projects, and I’ve been able to see a lot of this growth first hand. There are all kinds of frustrations and obstacles you can’t imagine compared to the developed world, but the cities are still going up.
So what sectors and companies will benefit if you’re going to build new cities? It will be technology, communications, and infrastructure.
Skorina: I seem to recall that you’re an ardent musician. Do you still play the trumpet and sax? I imagine those long, cold winters in Juneau should give you plenty of time to keep your lip in shape.
Read: Funny you should mention that Charles. I’ve been looking into it and, as it turns out, Juneau has an active and sophisticated music community. I’m looking forward to my new home as well as my new job.
The original announcement of Read's appointment by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation said he was starting on May 9, though Skorina says he gets to Juneau on May 1.

I'd also note that I have never met Mr. Read, but he is a good friend of a friend of someone I know well.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why Do Ponds Freeze Differently?

I'm afraid this post raises questions rather than answering them.   Limited time and physics savvy make this necessary.  But there are some links to offer a little bit.

These are pictures of frozen puddles I saw at Denali.  And naturally I wanted to know why they were so different.

First this one in our campsite the first morning.  Why did the ice freeze in the long roundish spikes?

Second, why did this puddle freeze round, but then have more angular geometric patterns in the middle?

I'd note, the next morning, there was no more ice.  In fact these two puddles were gone altogether.  Just depressions in the soil.

Why is this puddle in the tundra frozen yet clear?

While this one is frozen by clouded?

The internet offers some insight into the freezing of puddles.

Here's  Story of Snow's explanation of why puddles get these curvy lines as they freeze.   Here's an excerpt (it has good illustrations too.)
"The thick, continuous curves show places where the ice is thicker underneath. Other lines may mark the boundary where the ice thickness changes. The ice thickness varies because of the way the meltwater drained below the ice. The sketch below shows a puddle just starting to freeze. We are viewing a cross-section, and the ice is coming in from the edge."

There's some conjecturing on the geometric patterns on the ice in this discussion board.

I could only find posts on why ice cubes are sometimes clear and sometimes cloudy.  Here's part of an explanation at Today I Found Out:
"The answer to this mystery lies in the temperature of the water. You see, at room temperature there are a lot of impurities that are dissolved in regular old tap water. And as you may recall from high-school chemistry, the warmer water is, the more of a given substance it is possible to dissolve in it. For example, sugar has very weak molecular bonds that require only a small amount of energy to break. Thus, as you supply water with more energy by heating it, the amount of sugar you can dissolve within it increases and vice versa. You perhaps have noticed this phenomenon when sweetening hot tea vs. cold, or after letting a sugared cup of coffee get cold, with the sugar dissolving fine when it’s hot, but showing up at the bottom of your cup when the coffee gets cold. This is essentially what happens with ice. As you cool the water, all of the impurities that were happily dissolved in it at room temperature separate themselves from the liquid and become visible."
It goes on to explain why the cloudy part is usually in the middle of the ice cube.  I suspect this could explain the differences between the puddles that were clear and that were cloudy.  But I'm not sure.

Actforlibraries  explains why puddles freeze at different temperatures.  This one is short and easy to follow.

UCSB Science Line explains why water freezes on the surface of a lake, but not below.  That seemed pretty obvious (the air temperature is colder than the ground temperature.)

Another article on the Thermodynamics of Freezing Puddles in Autumn-Winter Period looks at sea water.  I could only see the abstract and decided not to pursue the whole article since it was about fresh water.  I also wasn't sure I'd understand much of it, but someone else might find it interesting.

There's even something called an ice spike which sticks up out of the water.  I've never seen one and they're rare it says

Mike Gravel On Mike Gravel

Former Alaskan US Senator Mike Gravel spoke Thursday night at UAA, sponsored by the journalism department and Alaska Native Studies and there was a connection with the College of Business and Public Policy as well.

Gravel was elected in 1968 and served until 1981.  We came right on time and the auditorium was full and we got seats in the very back row.  This was not a good decision as they did not use miss, and as good as the acoustics are in that room, I didn't hear enough of each sentence to write too much here with confidence.  I would guess the average age in the room was around 70 and many were people who knew and/or worked with Gravel.

As one observer said afterward, "I don't remember things being quite as good as he does, but it's probably good to be able to remember your life rosier than it was."

Two points I heard clearly enough to report were:

1.  When Clinton is president the Republicans will begin impeachment hearings that will continue through her four years.

I've been telling friends that I thought the hatred and disrespect shown our first black president will be nothing compare to the invective our first female president will receive.  So this one seems pretty likely.

2.  He began by telling us how he got to Alaska.  Basically, he'd decided he wanted to be a politician and he did research on where the best states to get elected would be.  His choices narrowed down to Alaska and New Mexico.  Alaska wasn't even a state yet, but he was sure it would be soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Savage River Walk - Then Home

[UPDATE May 4:  Little did we know when we were hiking last Wednesday, that we were passing very close to a missing hiker, Michael Purdy, who, it is believed, died Tuesday night from a fall, and wasn't found until Saturday.  I've addressed this in a follow up post here.]

We drove back to Savage River yesterday morning.  It's about 12 miles into the park and as far as you can drive once the buses start - May 20.  There's a 2 mile loop trail on each side of the river connected by a little wooden bridge.  And you slip quickly into the natural world, in a slightly tamed way.  Here's from past the maintained trail looking back where we'd hiked.  Up this point it's an easy stroll, with rocks placed here and there to take the runoff from the hill.  But there are some muddy spots.  Usually in May we've had a fair bit of snow and ice still on the trail.  Not this year.  Just one snowy spot at the end.  We were on the west side (cross the bridge on the road and start from the unpaved parking lot.)  On the other side there were still some significant snow and ice patches.

[I looked for older posts about Savage River, but couldn't find any just focused on that spot, but here's one from May 19, 2007 that is mostly Savage River.]

As always, click on a picture to enlarge and focus.

The motion and sound of the water rushing were a major attraction on this hike.

lichen on a big rock

We didn't see much wildlife yesterday - none of the big ones.  We'd seen caribou, moose, and bears the day before.  But we did see a Ptarmigan along the road (still mostly in its winter white - just the head had turned brown.)  And this ground squirrel along the trail.  We've seen Dall Sheep on this trail, but not this time.  

This was the only blooming flower we saw on this trip - a moss campion I think.  We've never been here so early.  Usually closer to mid May, just before the buses start.  But it was a very warm winter in Alaska and the road has been open to Teklanika for a while now.  We didn't see many birds at all and the plant life was still waiting for spring.  Except this one.

Orange Lichen this time

There are lots of big and interestingly shaped can colored rocks along Savage River.

There are lots of rock outcroppings that I suspect were sculpted by the ice and snow.

There was lots of ice on the river at the beginning of the trail, but at this spot it had all melted and the mud was visible.

We had things to do, but our two days at the park were refreshing.  As we drove south, there were spots where the birch lining the road had leafed out, and the clouds offered a constantly changing tapestry.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Good Day At Denali - Mountain, Moose, Caribou, Bears, And Blue Skies

click to enlarge and focus

A great day at Denali National Park.  I forget that not everyone who finds their way here knows that Denali is the name of the national park, and now, officially, of the highest mountain in North America that used to be named Mt. McKinley.

This was our first view this morning with the caribou moving in to pose as well.  Denali is on the right in the background.

There were several more caribou in the distance.

A little further on there was a moose with last year's calf on the mountain side.

Since moose are fairly common in Anchorage, these are a little less exciting, but still good to see in more natural settings than crossing the road.

Being in the park reminds me why I'm alive.  It's just so spectacular.  Again, click the picture to enlarge it, and more important, get it sharper.

The road is open to Teklanika campground.  From their you can walk or bike as far as you want.  Once the buses start, May 20, cars aren't allowed.  We walked down from the Teklanika view point to the bridge - the view here - and then on another mile  and a half down the road, for a good, warmish (the sun had warmed things up into the high 50s, maybe low 60s and the wind was much less than it was yesterday.)

 And nearly back to the visitor center, there were cars stopped on the road, and three bears walking along the tundra across the river below.  I don't know that we would have seen them without seeing the others watching them.  But the telephoto makes them a little more than specs.

Lots more pictures, but I want to post this before they shut off the wifi at the visitors center.

April In Denali

Our May - before the buses run - trip to Denali is in April this year.  It's been the warmest winter on record and the weather forecast was good.

On the right is the view from the Mile 135 look out.  That's the Chulitna River.  On a clear day you can get one of the best views of the mountain from this southern viewpoint.

Current conditions at

McKinley Park, McKinley National Park Airport (PAIN)

Lat: 63.73° N Lon: 148.92° W Elev: 1719 ft.

Wind SpeedCalm
Barometer29.61 in
Dewpoint25°F (-4°C)
Visibility10.00 mi
Last update26 Apr 8:16 am AKDT 
Detailed forecast for


Mostly cloudy in the morning...then partly sunny in the afternoon. Highs in the upper 50s to lower 60s. Local south winds gusting to 25 mph in passes...otherwise variable winds less than 15 mph.
Partly cloudy in the evening then becoming mostly cloudy. Lows in the mid 30s. In passes...south winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 40 mph. Elsewhere variable winds less than 15 mph.
Mostly cloudy. Isolated rain and snow showers in the morning...then scattered rain showers in the afternoon. Highs in the lower 50s. In passes...south winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 40 mph. Elsewhere variable winds less than 15 mph.

[Weather forecast from]

As you can see, it wasn't completely clear. But you can see the base of Denali and a little bit more in the veil of clouds, flirting.

A little further down the road after Honolulu Creek, you get to the plateau surrounded by these exquisite mountains.

We got here a little after 4pm yesterday and drove to the Savage River bridge where we had dinner.  Just a ribbon of water flowing through the ice.  And it was windy.

Not much wildlife.  Some ravens, seagulls, and a squirrel.

It's sunny and blue this morning and we're hoping to get a better view of Denali today before the clouds come in.  Just stopping at the visitors center to borrow some wifi.  (It was shut off when we came back to Riley Creek campground about 8:30 last night.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Genre: Legislative Fiction - Story: Alaska Legislature Selling UAA to Charter College

This story idea popped into my head recently.  Probably because of all the stories about huge budget cuts to the University of Alaska plus bills to make it legal to carry guns on campus.  Along with the legislature's reluctance to end subsidies for the oil companies and all the mega-projects which are, in effect, subsidies for construction companies.

We've already passed April 1, so I can't just put this up straight.  Although it's far fetched, some of the people I've mentioned this story to said things like, "Oh, I didn't hear that yet."  They just took it for real without blinking.  An Irony icon (*I*) might get overlooked.

So I want you to consider this genre of literature:  Legislative Fiction.  Like science fiction, which imagines a world changed by future developments in science and technology, legislative fiction imagines a world in which the wildest desires of some legislators are fulfilled.  In this case, I'm pushing to the limits conservative desires to privatize government functions that they think could be done as well by the private sector, their concern about radical left-wing faculty brainwashing their students, and their desire to reward private sector supporters and funders.

So here's my short story.

Alaska's Majority coalition legislators have announced they are working to sell the University of Alaska Anchorage to Charter College.  The deal is being handled by developer Mark Pfeffer, whose commission should more than make up for any losses at the LIO.  In the tradition of the Alaska Republican majority, not only do they propose to sell the campus, they are giving Charter College a $500 million zero interest loan,  so Charter can afford to make the purchase.  The sale will also effectively cancel all union contracts, pension obligations, and health benefits.

Reporters noted Charter College's questionable record*, according to College Factual:
Among the Worst Graduation Rates
Only 23.6% of students graduate from Charter College - Anchorage on-time (two or four years depending on the degree) and only 25.4% graduate at all, ranking this school among the worst in the country in both categories.
Graduating From College Isn't for Everyone.
The Majority of Non-Grads at this School Dropped Out. 74.6% of students at Charter College - Anchorage failed to graduate within 150% of the expected time. The majority did so because they dropped out.
Senator D, said he thought they could also achieve those levels with the University.

*This part, unfortunately, isn't fiction.