Experimental Alaska Wildfire Visualization

A proof of concept experiment to visualize cumulative Alaskan wildfires perimeters over the past several decades.

Data are from Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, Alaska Fire Service, BLM, US Forest Service, and ESRI. The shapefile data is from AIFC’s GIS service for historical fire perimeters.

**Data is not complete. Compilation methods have changed over the years and use a variety of techniques.

AICC has a powerful public facing GIS that synthesizes a broad selection of meteorological, satellite, remote sensing, lightening, public-submitted data, and more. Many datasets are available for download.

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After a warm winter with little snow, spring could bring a busy fire season to southwest Alaska. The 2015 March outlook documents the weather patterns that are setting up for the season.

Winter 2014-2015

After approximately four years of neglecting this website, I’m bringing it back to life. At this point, that means fixing dozens of broken links and deleting a few of the more embarrassing posts from eight years ago.  I left several of the ridiculous projects up.

I do, however, have several projects in the works that will appear here. Don’t hold your breath; they involve spreadsheets and poor time-lapse photography.

Since late 2013, I’ve been reporting for KYUK, a great radio station in western Alaska.  You can find more stories here.

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Skiing Alta, Utah

I am working this winter (2012-2013) at a ski lodge in Alta, Utah.  Alta is known as the birthplace of powder skiing and receives 550 inches per year.  Here are a few shots of the mountain, taken by an ancient cell phone camera.

The view from my room:



On top of the Collins lift, looking at Mt. Superior:


Devil’s Castle area:


The Deep Powderhouse ski shop

A dinner production:


The 75 year old Alta Lodge:


Dump day:

Sugarloaf area:


Looking down Little Cottonwood Canyon towards Salt Lake City.








Conspicuous Authenticity


[This is a piece I wrote for my employer, Fast Horse. ]

When I saw two articles in a week that covered the booming Williamsburg craft moonshine industry, I knew that  smug had gone mainstream.  You’ll see no shortage of people riding overpriced vintage bicycles with ironic sunglasses this spring, and soon you’ll spot people shouldering their NPR tote bags on the way home from the farmer’s market.  I’m guilty of all these things (excluding the tote), but I get a little disgusted feeling if I hear someone mention about their compost setup and taste in indie film.

Andrew Potter’s recently published book, The Authenticity Hoax, explains the phenomenon of conspicuous authenticity – the process of buying specific goods and experiences to express our status and wealth. As public displays of conspicuous consumption have become less acceptable and people have accumulated houses full of clothes, cars, and gadgets, people have developed new ways of distinguishing themselves. If you like the idea of purchasing White Dog and telling your friends about the bearded Brooklynites who work the stills, you may be guilty of conspicuous authenticity.

So what’s wrong with buying local food and handcrafted furniture?  Potter says that these conspicuously authentic products are positional goods; they are only valuable in that not everyone has access to them.  If everyone owned a pair of custom Argentine leather shoes, then it wouldn’t mean much.  Potter argues that underneath our good intentions we are trying to show wealth, status, and sophistication.  We buy seemingly authentic goods for the very reason that we can and others can’t.

Here’s the thing: I absolutely love many of these psuedo-authentic products and experiences  I have fun buying local meat, brewing beer, and I’m considering buying a locally-made wool sleeve for my laptop. I completely buy into the ideas and philosophies behind hand crafted and custom goods.  I like to have the chance to tell a story behind a thing; it’s more fun to explain how your screen printing buddy made your shirt than to say “I got it at Target.”  Maybe I am a conspicuous authenticity consumer to the nth degree, but I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to be able to tell a story about what you buy. We’d be a healthier and happier bunch if we knew the stories behind our food, clothes and toys.  We’ve all collected loads of junk that we keep in the basement and then toss when we move.  I don’t think that we should focus on accumulating stuff as much as we do, but given how much we consume, it could be worthwhile to believe in what you buy.  Or maybe I’ll just move to Williamsburg to get my judging on.

image courtesy of dontcallmeikke on flickr

But we don’t want to go outside.

image courtesey of debaird via flickr

[I wrote this for my employer’s blog – Fast Horse.]

I don’t know if Barack Obama eats granola, but if he does, I hope he keeps it a secret. Obama recently launched his “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative to encourage conservation and outdoor recreation.  It may be a first step toward bigger environmental legislation, but right now it’s a loose set of policy guidelines and listening sessions. Our introduction to “America’s Great Outdoors” is heavy on family vacations to Yellowstone and light on the Birkenstocks.  It’s about seeing Old Faithful, not about atmospheric CO2 or wetland destruction. Obama hopes to tap into a nostalgic American outdoor culture of outdoor recreation, but I wonder if he’d be better starting from scratch. Americans spend considerably less time outside than we did in past decades, and children especially are spending more time indoors. The United States does not have a cohesive national outdoor culture. We have granola-crunchers, hunters, boaters, and extreme sports enthusiasts, but I don’t think these groups cross paths very often. Our mainstream culture takes place on screens, in cars and at home. Perhaps America is too big and too diverse to support a national outdoor culture, but I’d love to see one.

To see what a national outdoor culture could be, let’s look at Norway. There’s a Norwegian saying that captures the essence of their outdoor culture. On any given day with nasty weather, you’ll hear someone say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The phrase says a lot, but mostly it implies that it’s better to be outside than inside, and tells you to suck it up, it’s fine outside. The Norwegians drill in this somewhat mandatory outdoor appreciation early. On rainy days, you’ll see kindergarten classes walking single-file in their rain slickers. In the United States, being outdoors is about doing something: biking, fishing, running, etc. In Norway, it’s just about being outside; you don’t need to be an athlete to have fun. But this outdoor appreciation makes for a lot of accidental athletes. I know many fit 20-something Americans who have been cross-country skiing at what they think is an impressive clip, until they are passed by a 75-year-old man on his father’s birch skis.

It’s not that Americans don’t like to be outside. Many of us are emerging from the winter and getting outside whenever we can. The hottest ticket in Minnesota right now is to an outdoor Twins game at Target Field. But if Obama wants to tap into our outdoorsy side, he’s going to have to pry us away from our glowing screens and tell us to get off our butts.  Where’s a Norwegian kindergarten teacher when you need one?