Plugged In: Parting shots — smart use beats new gear

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

As the Redoubt Reporter embarks upon a well-deserved vacation, it’s a fitting occasion for summing up our nearly eight years exploring technology and photography.

Originally, Plugged In was a weekly computing and networking technology feature. As those technologies matured, they became quite reliable, affordable and slow to change, reducing the need to frequently upgrade hardware and software. The maturing of those computing technologies is excellent news for all of us who rely on them daily, but yields few new topics, certainly not enough to sustain a fresh weekly feature for eight years.

Enter digital photography, a combination of art and science that appeals broadly, is more accessible for most people, and still surging forward with few indications that its steady technical improvement is slowing. Even though new digital imaging products cannot break the iron laws of physics, increasingly clever electronics now produce technically superior results, sidestepping former limitations. Even though camera makers don’t seem to turn much profit, each quarter brings new and better products.

While out of state a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see a number of vintage prints made by Ansel Adams and other famous master photographers. It was evident that, judged solely on final printed image quality, digital photography is a superior technology, capable of readily producing reliably higher quality results, even when printed very large.

Used carefully with good lenses, even midlevel digital cameras using Micro Four-Thirds, APS-C and full-frame sensors have the potential to produce higher quality images than formerly made with bulky film cameras. Compared with larger format film cameras used by now-famed masters, careful digital imaging shows better controllability, higher sharpness, reduced graininess and better dynamic and tonal range. Oh, and you can have color images with no greater difficulty, and image stabilization enables quality handheld photography even in dim light.

So, if you bemoan the passing of easily scratched silver films processed with toxic chemicals in the dark, producing potentially uncertain results, then you’ll bemoan without me, and I’ve processed film for more than 40 years.

So, as this column rides off into an oversaturated digital sunset, I’d like to reflect on a few broad, enduring fundamentals: Continue reading

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Refuge for all — Activity celebrates variety in observing 75th anniversary

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A dad and daughter enjoy the view of the Kenai Mountains from the shore of Skilak Lake during a hike in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A dad and daughter enjoy the view of the Kenai Mountains from the shore of Skilak Lake during a hike in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is preparing to turn 75 in December. That’s a momentous occasion, one that warrants a way to not only celebrate the anniversary, but all the wildlife and wild places that the 1.92-million acre preserve encompasses.

“We do a lot of special events and they’re great to do, but sometimes we miss the mark for what we’re trying to impart on people. So rather than us telling the public what is great about the refuge, we wanted to give people the means to explore the refuge and tell us what they think is great about it,” said Matt Conner, head of visitor services at the KNWR.

To that end, Conner and fellow refuge staff Leah Eskelin, Candace Ward and Michelle Ostrowski came up with a checklist of 75 things to see and do in the refuge.

“We tried to come up with ‘all-user’ activities, and things that were both consumptive and nonconsumptive. This list will also be a good starting point for people who haven’t spent much time in the refuge and found it daunting trying to figure out where to start. And for those who do use the refuge regularly, this will hopefully give them ideas for branching out,” Conner said.

Many of the items are season specific, such as skiing the trails around Refuge Headquarters, seeing the northern lights from Engineer Lake and ice fishing at Hidden Lake, so those interested in attempting all of the 75 may want to get cracking. For those who shoot for the minimum of 25 activities, there also are spring, summer and fall events, such as bear hunting at Mystery Creek, catching a Kenai River salmon or hiking Skyline Trail.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A hike up Skyline Trail is one of the activities included in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s 75th anniversary activity list. So is seeing a sunset on the refuge, such as this one above Skilak Lake, seen from Skyline Trail.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A hike up Skyline Trail is one of the activities included in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s 75th anniversary activity list. So is seeing a sunset on the refuge, such as this one above Skilak Lake, seen from Skyline Trail.

“We love the diversity of the refuge and wanted to collect that up and share it with the public in a meaningful way. There is diversity through the year and through the different habitats, so we tried to roll that into the list,” said Eskelin, a visitor services ranger.

Eskelin added that some of the activities on the checklist require prior planning, possibly even a boat, and getting deep into the backcountry.

“We understand that some of the things will be hard to do or get to, like seeing bears at Clear or Bear Creek on Tustumena Lake, but I know from personal experience that seeing them there is a very memorable moment,” Eskelin said.

Other items on the checklist were selected to take mere minutes and be things that almost anyone could do.

“We didn’t want to make them all hard, so we have backcountry and front-country fun. Things like, ‘See a sunrise or sunset from the refuge.’ That’s something that people working in Soldotna can almost walk to come and see, and taking one in from the refuge is a beautiful sight, not an experience to be taken lightly,” Eskelin said.

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Trapping setbacks snap back into focus — Bill would set 200-ft distance from rec areas

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

If a new bill submitted by Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson is passed, trapping will be banned within 200 feet of public trails and facilities on state-managed lands in Alaska.

This could have a big impact in Cooper Landing, where conflicts between dog owners and trappers have roiled for years, with dogs getting caught in traps set near popular hiking trails, campsites and along recreation spots on Kenai Lake.

“I hope this bill passes. I think it’s pretty reasonable,” said Ken Green, of the Committee for Safe Public Trails and Lands in Cooper Landing. “And I think it’s about time the Legislature got involved with it because private citizens have been trying for years and been unable to break through this barrier where, for some reason, the Board of Game is able to just say ‘No’ and turn their backs on this.”

Green submitted proposals to the Alaska Board of Game seeking to ban trapping within 250 feet of private land, recreation sites along Kenai Lake, and public trails, roads and campgrounds in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass. The measures did not pass.

On the federally managed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, trapping is prohibited within a mile of public roads, campgrounds, road-accessible trailheads and within the entirety of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area to the west of Cooper Landing, and refuge headquarters in Soldotna.

But there are no setback requirements for traps on state lands. State trapping regulations advise trappers to check their sets “regularly” and to “avoid situations where you might catch a domestic animal.”

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Proposed tax hike leaves bad taste for alcohol industry

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Gov. Walker’s proposal to double excise tax rates on alcoholic beverages in Alaska will be up for another round of public testimony in front of the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday.

The committee heard testimony on HB 248 Saturday, as well, mostly in opposition to the increase.

Bill Howell, of Sterling, who teaches a beer appreciation class at Kenai Peninsula College and writes books on the history of brewing in Alaska, noted that Alaska already has the highest excise taxes on wine, and second highest on spirits and beer in the country, generating nearly $40 million per year.

Alaska’s current rate is $2.50 per gallon tax on wine, compared to the national average of $0.83. For spirits, it’s $12.80 per gallon, compared to $4.45. For beer, it’s $1.07 per gallon, compared to $0.28. Though, to be fair, many other states have a statewide sales tax, whereas Alaska does not.

“The producers, distributors and retailers of beer, wine and spirits have no choice but to pass this tax, just like any other tax, right along to the end consumers,” Howell said. “They may still go out of business, but they’ll have to pass it along to us. That’s who Gov. Walker is directly targeting with this tax — me and every other Alaskan who might like a glass of wine with their meal or a nice beer after a hard day’s work.”

Don Grasse, of Anchorage and president of K&M distributors, noted that none of the governor’s other proposed taxes involve such an extreme hike.

“The fishing tax was proposed to go up 1 percent,” Grasse said. “The mining tax was proposed to go up 2 percent. Cigarette taxes will move us to No. 8 in the nation. It appears to us that the alcohol tax is out of step with all other proposals that the governor and his staff have promoted.”

Gary Superman, who owns the Hunger Hut bar and liquor store in Nikiski, said the industry took a hit when tax rates were doubled in 2002.

“We will be stuck in the stratosphere as far as taxation on alcohol is concerned in this state. And that will no doubt have a stifling effect,” Superman said. “… I don’t think that the industry could really absorb this outrageous increase that’s being proposed and remain viable.”

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Almanac: Stamp of approval — 1st postmaster fondly recalls Soldotna life

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about two of Soldotna’s earliest settlers — Howard and Maxine Lee. Last week, Part One followed the Lees from their World War II naval involvement to their earliest homesteading efforts in the first half of 1948. Part Two begins later in 1948 and reveals how the Lees integrated into fledgling Soldotna society, and how their adventure in Alaska abruptly ended. The documents used for the Lees’ quotes in this story were provided by the Soldotna Historical Society.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

Photo courtesy of the KPC Historical Photo Archive. Howard and Maxine Lee pose with their children, Karen and Michael, next to their Soldotna homestead cabin in 1950.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Although much of early homesteading life required more sweat equity than capital, most residents near the highway junction that would later be called Soldotna sought ways to bring in extra income. The Lancashire family raised chickens and began clearing land for farming. The Mullen family also raised chickens and created a large garden so they could sell vegetables. Many locals tried their hand at commercial fishing.

In 1948, Howard and Maxine Lee opened a general store in the back of their 60-by-30-foot Quonset hut on their Soldotna homestead.

“My childhood was involved to a large extent in my family’s grocery business,” Howard said. “I wrote a wholesaler in Seattle and put in an order.”

He erected shelves in the back half of the Quonset and found a trucker in Seward who would haul his first load of merchandise to Soldotna.

“We marked prices very low since we had no overhead and we were ignorant,” said Maxine, who was pregnant at the time with their son, Michael. “We sold out in no time, so we reordered. This time there was a huge storm and the barge sank.”

The merchandise had been insured, but they had to pay new shipping costs when they reordered. Later, the wholesaler informed the Lees that they needed a business license, which could not be acquired locally. Almost as quickly as they had begun, the Lees were out of the grocery business.

They stayed plenty busy, however.

Most days, Howard walked two miles to the Lancashire homestead to work with Larry on his portable sawmill, trimming local timber for house logs, first to replace the Lancashires’ wall tent and then the Lees’ Quonset hut.

In 1949, as Howard and Maxine’s new home neared completion, the Lees dug their own well. As usual, their memoirs vary on the details.

Maxine remembered the effort this way:

“Howard dug a well. It was either 18 or 20 feet deep — I forget. After it was about six feet deep, he rigged up a pulley system. He filled a bucket with dirt and gravel, yelled at me, then raised it up. I got it and dumped it around new cabin to serve as ground insulation. We were finally emancipated (from hauling water) when the well pump arrived from Seward and we pumped up real water from our own well.”

Howard recalled it differently:

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: Cool festival is hot ticket —  Frozen River Festival kicks off Saturday

Photo by Lee Kuepper/courtesy of Frozen River

Photo by Lee Kuepper/courtesy of Frozen River

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

The 2016 Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival took place Jan. 22 and 23. For the second year in a row, a brewery from here on the Kenai Peninsula took first place in the Barley Wine Competition at the festival.

The panel of judges tasted barley wines from more than 30 breweries from across Alaska and Outside before awarding the gold medal to Kassik’s Brewery’s Buffalo Head Barley Wine. Two barley wines from Outside tied for second place, Old Gnarleywine Barley Wine from Lagunitas Brewing of Petaluma, California, and Old Birdbrain 2012 from Black Raven Brewing of Redmond, Washington. This is a real statement on the excellence of craft brewing here on the peninsula, coming as it does on the heels of St. Elias Brewing’s taking the gold last year with its Moose Juice Barley Wine. Congratulations to Kassik’s Brewery on taking home the prize.

But that was January. Now it’s February, which means it’s time to start getting ready for this year’s Frozen River Fest! The festival will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at Soldotna Creek Park. Yes, we are crazy enough to do it again and hold a festival outdoors in February. There will be live music and food vendors, plus activities for the entire family. But this column is about beer, so let’s focus on that part of the festival. The following producers will be in attendance: Arkose Brewery, Palmer; Baranof Island Brewing Co., Sitka; Bear Creek Winery, Homer; Broken Tooth Brewing, Anchorage;; Celestial Meads, Anchorage; Denali Brewing Co., Talkeetna; Homer Brewing Co., Homer; Kassik’s Brewery, Nikiski; Kenai River Brewing Co., Soldotna; King Street Brewing, Anchorage; Midnight Sun Brewing Co., Anchorage; Specialty Imports, Anchorage; and St. Elias Brewing Co., Soldotna

In addition, our two Soldotna breweries, St. Elias Brewing Company and Kenai River Brewing, have created another special beer in honor of the Frozen River Fest. They have each brewed a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. This style of beer was created as Scotland’s answer to the barley wines of England and has its roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s. The term “wee heavy” means “small strong” and traces to the beer that made the term famous, Fowler’s Wee Heavy, a 12 Guinea Ale. They have strong malty sweetness, with little or no hop bitterness, and occasional roasted or smoked notes from caramelization during the boiling process. Strength typically falls between 6.5 percent and 10 percent alcohol by volume.

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Plugged In: Find photos to fit a theme, not a theme to fit photos

Illustration 1

Illustration 1

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Curating your own photos is nothing more than making the final choice of which photos you’ll show others, whether as large prints at a formal exhibition or in an online gallery. Being your own worst critic is surprisingly hard work, full of indecision, delay and second-guessing.

Although there are no easy rules or foolproof shortcuts, this week I’ll discuss the process that often works best for me. Over the years, I’ve found it helpful to have an organizing theme as a general starting point for selecting a series of related photographs that mutually enhance each other and look good together.

I’ll first tentatively define a theme or title and search my existing photos for images that may fit. That works better for me than defining a theme and then trying to make new photos to fit. Doing so feels forced and succeeds less often, at least for me.

As I go through existing photos and gather the initial batch, my initial concept typically evolves in unexpected directions or is even discarded entirely where a different approach is more in harmony with available photographs. At this point, it’s important to keep an open mind.

After gathering a large initial group of candidate images, it’s helpful to get second opinions from others whose judgment and taste you respect. That helps avoid the trap that we all face, choosing lower-quality photos that personally appeal to us because they’re associated with positive memories, or choosing “outlier” photos that don’t really fit the overall theme and seem jarringly disconnected from the others, no matter how individually good they might be.

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