Monthly Archives: April 2009

Scouting out new paths — Boy Scouts evolve, values still the same

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Pushing 100 years old, the Boys Scouts are showing their age, and yet they’re still as youthful as ever.

Saturday was Pinewood Derby day for area Scouts, with seven packs from Nikiski, Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling and Homer — about 50 kids in all — attending the annual Scout-O-Rama event at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.

Aspiring engineers swarmed around the track waiting their turn to test their attempts at aerodynamics, construction, mechanics and judicious use of graphite. The derby itself is 89 years old, and probably looked much the same Saturday as it has in all those years — hordes of 7- to 10-year-olds dressed in blue or tan (if they’re older) shirts and plaid neckerchiefs that seem to defy all attempts at straightening, holding homemade cars ranging from bare-bones economy models to souped-up roadsters looking like they got detailed at Outlaw Body and Paint.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Vincent Brown, left, and Jacob McConnell watch their cars hurdle down the track at the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby races during the Scout-o-Rama on Saturday at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Vincent Brown, left, and Jacob McConnell watch their cars hurdle down the track at the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby races during the Scout-o-Rama on Saturday at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.

But there were changes, too. A digital timer clocked races down to fractions of a second, and all the times went into a computer to determine the winners. Some of the boys wore merit badges that didn’t exist nearly a century ago, ones based on mastering computers and other technology, or demonstrating updated science skills like rocketry.

“The requirements have evolved. The same type of idea is still there, but we build upon it,” said Jodi Stuart, executive for the Tustumena District, which covers the Kenai Peninsula, including communities across Kachemak Bay, and Kodiak.
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Weather doesn’t cool fire fears — Beetle-kill fuels no match for La Nina summer

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

2008 in Alaska could officially be termed “The Summer the Sun Forgot.” The average temperature from May through August was 52.5 degrees, making it the coolest summer on record since 1982. Overall, 2008 was Alaska’s coolest year since 1999, according to the National Weather Service.

2009 is shaping up to be a little better. Perhaps, “The Summer the Sun at Least Had the Courtesy to Stop By for a Brief Visit?”

Nate Hardin, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast office in Anchorage, said Alaska is in the midst of another La Nina year, which has a cooling effect on the state.

“We’re in a slight La Nina, which we were in last year, but not nearly as intense. So, generally, you expect a higher probability of some cool weather condition,” Hardin said.

In a La Nina, cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific cause a semipermanent, low-pressure system in Alaska, mainly along the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, to intensify, which results in cooler conditions, Hardin said. Last year’s La Nina effect was stronger than this year’s is expected to be, so Alaska should be in for only a slightly cooler than usual summer.

“There’s pretty much a usual chance of precipitation. Should be slightly lower-than-normal average temperatures,” Hardin said. “By below average, you’re maybe talking, if you average out the whole summer, talking a quarter to a half degree below the normal average, so not real perceptible. Even with that, we will still have periods where temperatures are higher than average and couple days lower than average.”
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‘Wet Dog’ race makes splash — Personal watercraft riders venture on 2,000-mile Alaska expedition

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Another first for Alaska is coming soon. This time, it’s a race not with dogs or snowmachines or even motocross bikes, but on watercraft in what organizers hope catches on as a worldwide competition on par with the IditarodTrail Sled Dog Race.

A half-dozen enthusiasts, including Iditarod champ Martin Buser, will set out May 19 on a 2,000-mile expedition through the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea on the Paving the Way journey.

John Lang, who has pioneered watercraft uses even in wintertime Alaska, brainstormed the idea. He initially wanted to route it through Kachemak Bay, with an overnight stop in Seldovia. However, those waters are off-limits to personal watercraft, following city legislation about 10 years ago to ban their use on the bay.

Lang’s group, traveling aboard Brenda Hays’ Memory Maker and captained by Bruce Lozekar, will cross Cook Inlet instead.

Photo provided. John Lang, Wet Dog organizer.

Photo provided. John Lang, Wet Dog organizer.

“For now, we want to make friends and find support centers for an annual Alaska Wet Dog Race,” Lang said. “It’s also a chance to help boost local economies because we intend to buy our fuel and food at stop points along the way.”

This summer’s trip is a chance to do “recon work to decide if it’s all going to happen or not,” Lang said. Stops along the way include Anchor Point, Point Graham, Kodiak, Old Harbor, Karluk, Chignik, Sand Point, Cold Bay, Igiugig, Port Heiden, Egegik and Iliamna, including the area where the proposed Pebble Mine is planned.

According to Lang, quite a bit of money has already been sunk into the idea: Each racer, or “ambassador” of the race, pays his or her own way. Era Aviation will provide helicopter filming from Anchorage to Anchor Point, and Memory Maker Charters will carry the film crew that will document the trip. Expedition members of varying professions will include Lang, expedition leader; Martin Buser, four-time Iditarod champion, of Big Lake; Ralph Perez, of Los Angeles; Gina Poths, of Anchorage; Petr Bucinsky, of Anchorage; and Ron Paye, of Wasilla.
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Letting it ride — Randonneuring sets a course for the peninsula

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Don’t call it a race.

It is a serious athletic endeavor — cycling a set course of 200, 300, 400, 600 or even 1,200 kilometers in a certain time limit, no matter how hilly the terrain or how nasty the weather.

Participants can qualify for longer, more prestigious rides, and the accolades that come with completing them, by finishing each leg and the overall course in the allotted time.

But it is not about competition as much as camaraderie. And it is not a race — it’s randonneuring, and it will happen on the Kenai Peninsula this weekend and next.

“There a huge camaraderie component to it. A lot of people are still very worthy athletes, but the gouge-your-eyes-out type of road racing just doesn’t have much of an appeal anymore,” said Kevin Turinsky, of Anchorage, who heads up Alaska Randonneurs. Turinsky is planning the first-ever central and lower Kenai Peninsula randonneur rides in Homer on Saturday and the central peninsula May 9.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Turinsky At top, riders head toward Palmer with the Twin Peaks in the background in a May 2008 300-kilometer brevet.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Turinsky At top, riders head toward Palmer with the Twin Peaks in the background in a May 2008 300-kilometer brevet.

Turinsky said randonneuring’s popularity has exploded since about 1997, but the activity is no new kid on the block. The oldest organized cycling event in the world, predating even the Tour de France, is the granddaddy ride of the randonneuring realm —the Paris-Brest-Paris. Held in France every four years, with the first one in 1891, it’s a 1,200 kilometer ride in France between Paris and Brest and back, with a time limit of about four days. To qualify to ride it, cyclists must successfully complete a series of shorter randonneur events — 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers — called brevets, the French word for certificate.

The activity itself dates back to the 1800s. It’s an outgrowth of European culture and countryside, where cycling was a way to travel through communities. The point was to get there, which meant dealing with whatever came up — road conditions, inclement weather, bike repairs, and finding food and shelter.

“European geography is a lot different than here in America. Cyclists could live off the land going from village to village, just going, going, going,” Turinsky said. “The self-supportive aspect is really important. Here in North America, where all the fundraising events, charity rides, triathlons — most of those have support. The thing about randonneuring is you’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Randonneuring today retains that sense of self-sufficiency. There are checkpoints, called contrôles, with some services available, but they’re usually spaced about 50 kilometers apart. Riders carry their own food, water, clothing and bike repair, safety and emergency gear, and they aren’t allowed any outside assistance on the road. As if riding 200, 400, 600 or 1,200 kilometers wasn’t challenging enough, in randonneuring, if something breaks, the rider has to fix it — and still finish each leg of the ride in the time allotted.

“There are several of these big rides out there that capture people’s sense of adventure and sense of challenge,” Turinsky said.
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Art in the works — Gallery owner takes creativity to new space

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

“I hate drop ceilings with every fiber of my being,” said Zirrus VanDevere, known to many as Marty, the owner of Art Works gallery in Soldotna.

Sixteen years working under those oppressive ceilings is enough. VanDevere is moving Art Works up the Kenai Spur Highway to the Mooring Plaza, which houses Odie’s Deli, the Tikahtnu Gallery and Ron Moore Real Estate office. The gallery will have a grand opening the next First Thursday, May 7, in conjunction with an opening reception for Pat Lytle’s show of paintings and mixed-media work.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter Zirrus and Dyer VanDevere hang out on a ledge above the new space that will become the home of Art Works gallery in Soldotna, in the Mooring Plaza on the Kenai Spur Highway.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter Zirrus and Dyer VanDevere hang out on a ledge above the new space that will become the home of Art Works gallery in Soldotna, in the Mooring Plaza on the Kenai Spur Highway.

VanDevere said that Linda McClain, who used to own Mooring Plaza, mentioned a vacant warehouse space in the plaza on the side of the building around the corner from the real estate office that had been rented as storage space.

“We thought it would be great to be neighbors. It’s a really funky little space, very industrial on the ceiling, which I’m going to retain a lot of the funkiness. It makes me think of a lot of New York galleries with refurbished industrial spaces,” she said.

The space is about 1,400 square feet, which is similar to Art Works’ current home in the strip mall next to Mykel’s. The new space is already segmented, with a hallway, bathroom and inside room that can be used for an originals exhibition gallery. But it’s got more storage space and parking than the previous location, and the high ceiling — oh, that vaulted, exposed-beam ceiling.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” VanDevere said.
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Plugged In: The race is on — are upgrades really worth it?

By Joeseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Over the years, I’ve upgraded my computer systems on a regular basis but I’ve always retained a certain skepticism that any upgrade would make much real-world difference. That’s now changing.

Why?

Although standard computing performance benchmark programs like Passmark Performance Test often indicate that upgrading computer hardware results in quantifiable improvement in theoretical performance scores, such apparent improvement historically did not seem evident to most business users. Generally, business users do not have a subjective sense of faster computing unless there’s at least a 50 percent performance improvement.
Over the past decade or so, personal computing hardware has matured. As a result, achieving a 50 percent performance increase historically has been elusive. That has been particularly true as increasingly bloated versions of Microsoft Windows, particularly Vista, soaked up any performance improvement for Windows’ own internal use, rather than delivering increased application program performance.

However, some recent tests suggest that it’s possible to achieve real performance improvements, particularly with current-generation hardware.

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Art Seen: ‘49th at 50’

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

This year’s all-Alaska contemporary art exhibit at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center opened with a packed house and an energy-filled reception for the 54 artists invited to respond to the theme “Reflections on Alaska Statehood: the 49th at 50.”

More than 600 people came to celebrate the art and the opening event Friday evening. Some of the pieces have already sold, but will remain on exhibit throughout the duration of the exhibit. Many of the revelers will need to come back at some point because the great number of attendees made it difficult to view all of the art sufficiently.

Photo courtesy of Zirrus VanDevere Visitors and artists examine the artwork at the opening of “Reflections on Alaska Statehood: the 49th at 50” show at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Friday. The show asked artists to find and display personal meaning in the statehood anniversary theme. The show is on display until Dec. 31.

Photo courtesy of Zirrus VanDevere Visitors and artists examine the artwork at the opening of “Reflections on Alaska Statehood: the 49th at 50” show at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Friday. The show asked artists to find and display personal meaning in the statehood anniversary theme. The show is on display until Dec. 31.

Exhibiting in conjunction this year is the “Heritage Portrait Project: Foundation of Our Future.” Student artists from Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus teamed up with longtime Alaska residents, who have seen the last 50 years on the central Kenai Peninsula. The students created portraits and gathered information in order to contemplate the reasons people have come to this place and stayed. The homesteaders apparently felt a sense of belonging to a place that is the intersection of landscape, resources and culture. The portraits, a mix of painting, collage and photography, and indeed the corresponding write-ups, are thoughtfully and professionally represented. Laura Forbes, director of programs and exhibits at the center, headed up the project and worked closely with KPC student Chelsey Dorman.

Bill Heath, who did the lighting, labels and photographed all the artwork for the summer show, remarked, “I think straightforward and concrete targets play well with the public at large, which makes this show very approachable.”
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