Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ice Ice Baby - Part II

Here is a picture of most of Salluit taken from the vantage point of the local Nursing Station, located at the highest point of land in the town. The hills on the other side of the fjord form a narrow penis peninsula with the Hudson Strait on the other side and Baffin Island about 70 miles further on.

Ice is vital to both the traditional and modern way of life here. It forms a highway to hunting and fishing grounds. You can walk on it, drive a dog team or snowmobile on it, drive a truck on it, even land a jet aircraft on it (not here in my experience, but we used to come in on pretty heavy turboprops on the ice strip). In the western arctic, frozen rivers are actually highways and traversed by big rigs bring all manner of consumer goods to the north.

In the picture above, you can see the faint signs of a trail starting in front of the town heading eastward, the first leg of the trip to Deception Bay and a couple of lakes good for ice fishing. And if you look really hard, you will notice the clouds on the horizon are much darker. The elders will tell you that this is a sign of open water, and it makes a lot of sense since the albido of open water is much lower than ice, making the clouds sullen and foreboding.

Areas which stay ice-free all winter long are called polynyas, and are oasis of life with seals, whales, eider ducks and gulls wintering over. Here we don't have a true polynya, but this patch of open water is where people harvest mussels during the winter pictured just about to form at the left. It is not a true polynya because the water around it is sweet - part salt and part fresh, depending on the tide. At high tides during winter, the locals use rakes at low tide to pull up the mussels. You can pick them by hand, but it is pretty cold and your hand muscles seize up in a couple of minutes.

Our local ice-free hole is caused by current - there is a sandbar underneath, and this accelerates the flow to such a degree that ice doesn't form - at least not usually: in one of my 22 years in this town it actually froze over, and was the topic of much conversation at the time. Some years it is only a few metres across, but usually it is a minimum of 100 metres even at the dead of winter.

Inuit knowledge about ice (and snow) could fill volumes, so I am feeling a bit sheepish about exposing my meager understanding of these substances. But something that has always intrigued me is how water, of all substances, actually becomes less dense as it cools beyond 4 C. For this reason, ice floats rather than sinks beneath water. If it were not for this property, much of life on earth could not have survived the series of ice ages visited upon this planet.

Most important, how could we find ice to chill our vodka?

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ice Ice Baby

This week the ice finally closed across the bay. On Saturday we had very high on-shore winds, which pushed the thin strands of broken ice onto our side of the fjord - we all thought it would be at minimum a few more weeks before the waters solidified.

Amazing, we had two subsequent days with cold temperatures (minus 10 - 15 Celsius) with little to no winds, and what for the past five months had been a vista of choppy dark waters rapidly became a smooth light ash gray film of solid state H2O.

True to the Inuit sense of derring-do, snowmobile and ATV tracks appeared on the incredibly thin ice within 36 hours. In reality, it is safer to go out on uncertain ice with a snowmobile than on foot since the pressure is less per square inch given the surface area of the skis and track.

In previous years, I've seen elders walk tentatively out on the ice, taking a step or two, testing the ice with a harpoon, and then shuffling out a bit further. Now while not admitting to having a yellow streak, there is no way you would ever get me to walk out onto ice for at least the first month after it has formed.

Rationally, I know that sea ice forms differently than freshwater ice, which tends to be more brittle. Indeed, I've heard that freshly formed sea ice is springy and that you can feel it deforming a little under the weight of your foot without cracking like freshwater ice. Moreover, sea ice having changed in colour from dark grey to a much lighter grey is generally deemed safe enough to walk on. But all that knowledge cannot overcome my deep sense that new ice equals danger.

For those of you wanting to research sea ice further, the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) discusses its formation and the scientific rationale behind traditional Inuit knowledge regarding ice.

In the meantime, the only ice I want to be involved with is in cubed form with my scotch. Problem is, I don't have any. Donations will be gratefully accepted.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

S'long Bob

Time for your bootheels to be a wanderin', Mr. Dylan. With this post you finally get off my front page and into the archives where I won't be visiting you for quite some time.

My apologies to those for whom visiting this site has become an acoustic assault of Subterranean Homesick Blues playing ad nauseum. It was a pretty cool concept two months ago, but its "Johnny's in the basement/Mixin' up some medicine" has become more than stale by now.

For those of you who just can't get by without "The pump don't work/'Cause the vandals took the handles", click here for your daily fix.

Excuse me, but I have to work now on my latest Flash posting project involving "Crazy Frog".

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Day Time Stood Still

Out satellite earth station finally made it back up around 7:30 PM last evening, after 13.5 hours of heavy slogging to get it pointed at a new satellite and adjusted (hopefully) to work at optimum.

As an avid social scientist, I availed myself of this blackout period to assess the impact of the removal albeit temporarily of a technology just so recently introduced.

On the home front, I can attest to a palatable reduction in violence amongst my offspring - no Internet removed the need for four teenagers to pull out each others' hair to get the chance to sit in the control seat of the one functioning computer they are allowed to use. As a matter of fact, the kids seemed to evaporate entirely preferring to play street hockey and chase boys around town.

At the office, it was as if someone replaced my normally energetic and enthusiastic colleagues with robots on Mandrax. Instead of their usual frenetic multi-tasking (ie IM-ing while checking a 100 social sites on Bebo while simultaneously peaking at their status of their latest bid on eBay) all the monitors showed the same picture - the solitaire game that comes bundled with XP. The only sound other than my phone ringing with enquiries about when the Internet was going to be turned on was the sound of the electronic riffling of the virtual deck of cards as yet another solitaire game became stymied.

I, on the other hand, was the very emblem of enthusiasm as I defragged my hard disk, backed up my data, polished my keyboard and scraped a month of sneezes and coughs off my LCD screen.

So I can conclude, based on the evidence, that the Internet is an essential office tool and a cohesive force within the family unit. Before I publish my findings I wondering if you guys could confirm my data?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Internet Outage

The sun is setting on the Internet up here for a while as technicians scramble to reorient all the satellite dishes to point at another bird. This will allow the network up here to basically triple the bandwidth available to the public and organizations. Right now things are so congested on the network that watching even a short YouTube video is an excruciating experience as the program buffers about a minute for each five second burst of content.

As you can well imagine, this is a difficult process of moving a 5 meter dish in sub-zero temperatures with winds gusting at least 25 knots. We are expected to be off-line about 24 hours, but my bet is that it will be about 3 days.

For those of you living in less bucolic climes, thank God for your fibre-optic network and fancy DSL or cable modems. Here they are organizing self-help groups for those so addicted to social networking (Bebo) that they cannot cope with the darkness.

In the meantime, do not click the button.

Catch y'all later.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Can You Name These Morsels?

Sorry about the lack of output here - I've been involved with a project which is slowly nearing completion.

In the meantime, try to figure these foodstuffs out. And yes, they do look like something which would elicit a "Doggies!" from Jethro Bodine.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Boredom - the True Mother of Invention

After having been in Montreal for a little over half a week, I am leaving in a few minutes to go north to Kuujjuaq for two days, and it just dawned on me that I have forgotten my WiMax modem back home. This being the case, I am dashing off this quick post with apologies.

Lately, my mood has been creative and inventive, and I'd like to run a few ideas by you guys before rushing off to the Patent Office.

I was stuck at an intersection behind an absolutely stunned driver, one for whom standard honking and menacingly revving the engine had no effect. I want to propose a set of mini speakers under the hood that can be driven from the car's dashboard. It isn't the strength of the speakers which is patentable (but nothing less than 125 db wouldn't work). Rather, it is the sounds being input which is the patentable idea.

Imagine the possibilities: jet fighters on a straffing run, diesel locomotive, the squealing of tires coupled with accident sound effects, . . . covertly delivered at a volume guaranteed to pierce through any iPod buds. Of course if eyes start looking at you questioningly, you have to play along by looking wildly for the origin of the sounds. Any ideas for additional sound effects I can build into this unit?

The second concept, come to think of it, is unpatentable but is more of a challenge to you hackers out there. I was in a formal meeting last week, and had dutifully set my cell phone to vibrate. The only problem was that the vibrate "sound" was so loud I'm sure some attendees felt I was wearing a sexual appliance.

I'd like someone to design a ring-tone virus which would result in a huge farting sound on the second vibrate. This unexpected thunderous fart would be difficult to explain away at a meeting, cinema, opera or any other venue where cell phone rings are tabu - I mean "It wasn't me" makes you sound juvenile; "It's my cell phone" engenders doubt about your sanity; while "I must have a virus" is guaranteed to create a large quarantine zone around your chair.

So you can see I've had an intellectually productive week. How was your week?

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