Monthly Archives: July 2010

Alaska, Getting to Anchorage

Traveling days typically aren’t as fun as the rest of the trip and this one wasn’t an exception.   It is funny now but seemed like torture at the time.

The Flight

We left late in the day on Friday for a couple reasons.  Due to some work factors, I was only able to secure a week of vacation.  To fly on Saturday, however, would have cost a couple hundred extra dollars too purchase even more frequent flyer miles.  So I planned to work that day and we’d catch the five o’clock flight out.  Since it was April when we planned this, of course things at work cleared up and I took Friday off too.

As the goal was to use public transportation in Anchorage to avoid a ~$25+ cab fare to downtown, we needed to get there to make one of the last two buses, 9:15 or 10:15.  We were scheduled to land by 8:40 so it seemed like we might get lucky and be at the B&B and in bed by 10:30.  Take note that Alaska is three hours behind CST, so that would have been 1:30 am Minnesota time.

Turns out we boarded about half an hour late and then had to wait another twenty or so minutes to take off.  This put us squarely in line to maybe make the 10:15 bus.   The pilots must have burned some fuel because they managed to make a five hour or so flight half an hour shorter as we were on the ground by nine and to the luggage pickup area in time to see the 9:15 bus come and go.   No problem, right, we’d get our luggage shortly and then leave.

But not so fast!  Forty five minutes of trickling luggage later, we finally had our bags and made to the bus stop which was a great relief.

Bruce Lee

At the bus stop, we had the great fortune of meeting Bruce Lee’s son.  First he tried to sell us a gaudy leather and other thing necklace (real gold!) for $10.  The he asked us what time it was, and after Kristin told him “10:10” he asked us whether it was am or pm.

They he explained to us how he loved Kung Fu and how he had seen all of Bruce Lees movies.   And then that Bruce Lee was his dad.  Next that Brandon Lee was his brother who had been killed making The Crow.  That’s why he (our new best friend)  had to step in and play the role of the Hero in The Crow: City of Angels which “Hollywood paid him good money for.”  Disappointed that we didn’t follow that movie genre very well, he proceeded to tell us all about how  he had been recruited by the government out of Chicago to fly F-14’s.  Upside down and supersonic of course, he assured us this was the best way to fly them.

He then inquired as to whether we were waiting for the bus.  After we said yes, he told us we could just take his Lamborghini.  Or his limo.  Or he would fly us in his plane (not clear on whether this was his personal F-14 or what) or his helicopter.  Because he was a pilot.  And a State Trooper of twenty years.  A lot of work being a state trooper, you know.  Oh yeah, and he got deployed to Iraq.  He got shot in the leg and in the belly, both shots went clean through the body armor both ways.  In Vietnam he got shot in the head.

Finally the bus came and about five of us got on.  Of course, our new buddy sat up front by us and kept interrupting the driver, asking him if this was the last bus downtown, slurring how he needed to get to “Brown Jugs” liquor store because his wife was home drunk with the kids, and reiterating that he had been a state trooper for twenty years.   He saw a liquor store about five minutes into our trip and jumped off the bus which was a relief.

It was mildly amusing at the time and kind of sad in retrospect.  Evidently alcholism is a major problem with the native folks there and we saw many on street corners; the lady from Enterprise that picked us up the next day indicated that was one of the reasons that she was excited about leaving Alaska for the lower 48.  She had a drunk guy come into their house while they were home completely out of his gourd and in Anchorage I guess this is typical.

Arctic B&B

Bed and breakfast was a bit of a misnomer for this place.  It was more like a Hostel with shared bathrooms, etc.  True to the websites claim, it was the cheapest rates in town. It also slammed a wall of smoking pollution in our faces when we stepped into our room that left the clothes we wore into there reeking and lacked blinds to block out the tremendous amount of light available all night long in Alaska.  We did find a nice pleasant place to eat in the Spenard Roadhouse, barely making it in before the kitchen closed at 11.  This was the first of many times we cut it close to (or missed) closing time at places because it was so light out.  How could they be closing when the sun was only just now setting?

Anyway, the fun continued the next morning when we grabbed some breakfast from the shared main room and retreated, not wanting to use the shower despite its apparent cleanliness.   We had to wait until ~10 am for our rental car  and we couldn’t sleep in the smoke choked room past seven we went for a walk.   An interesting site in Alaska are the little coffee huts on many corners.  We wimped out and went and sat at the nice starbucks in the local Barnes & Noble store.  Around nine we headed back to make sure we were packed and ready to go.  That’s when the domestic dispute started upstairs.  F-bombs and heavy thumping proceeded.  I called Enterprise to see if they would pick us up early, nope.  We endured this for a while and finally just stood outside in the rare sun and nice temps.  Finally we checked out and were picked up by a friendly Enterprise lady.

That was when the trip really got started 🙂


Alaska, Primer

Interesting Alaska Information:

Population: ~626,000

Became a State: 1959

“Sewards Folly” – purchase of Alaska from Russia: March 30, 1867

Alaskan Flag


The coolest thing about Alaska (other than its wonderful ~60 degree noontime temperature during the summer?)

Kristin and I spent the last week there 😀

Denali Park in the background.

Much more coverage to follow.


Roommate Camping 2010

Roommate Camping 2010 was a blast!   As always, food was a big part of the action with along with some late night drinks around the campfire. In addition it gave the rest of us an opportunity rally around Travis while he navigates some perilous waters while admiring how well Erin handles being very, very pregnant.  Eldora was thoroughly  investigated and the Hardin County fair underwhelmed.

Link to Picture Gallery


Setting up our tents on the RV spots at Pine Lake State Park took some work with a hammer to drive the stakes, but they were nice and level and proved to stay dry on Sunday.  Having electricity was nice as we were able to enjoy some tunes, etc.  The trees seemed to be dying therefore didn’t provide as much shade as we would have liked, but overall the evening shade was excellent and the proximity to water was very nice.  It wasn’t very buggy at all.  I’d easily go there again, assuming the same company 🙂

Andy and Erin kicked off the feasting with some excellent grilled chicken breasts along with a foil cooked potato-veggie medley that was very tasty and threatened to overwhelm the tin foil in which it was cooked.  Slicing up all of those vegetables must have been time consuming work but they sure tasted good!  Friday supper was rounded out with some cantaloupe and watermelon.

The fire that didn't want to start...

Obtaining firewood is one of the activities we men really look take pride in (you know, providing for the womenfolk) and it was adventure this year as well.   After throughly “scouring” the town, it became apparent that our best bet was again to be the first place advertising wood that we had seen right next to the campground.  The fellow there proved to be entertaining with his lack of mathematical prowess – as he was selling wood “by the piece” we elected for the $10 for 15 deal.  After he had loaded “five or seven” pieces into the trunk, Chris wisely took action and finished counting and loading the car.  We then drank into the night and enjoyed some smores and enormous marshmallows.  Andy and Chris collectively ruled the bean bag toss.


The next morning featured showers in the somewhat creepy bathrooms – you had to pull the cord down in order for the shower to function.  It was OK that the water was lukewarm as the day developed to be clear, hot and humid.   We walked as a group from the campground to the beach area on the park path and then came back to the camp via the road… by the time we got back we were all craving some shade.  Chris and Jessica treated us to some expertly prepared brats, polish sausage, fruit, baked beans and grilled potatoes and veggies.  After lunch we headed on into town to explore and enjoy the Hardin County fair and find some ice cream.

After experiencing some user error with the GPS that would have taken across the state in pursuit of delicious ice cream, we decided to head to the fair.  It was the standard county fair, with a 4-H building sporting prodigious amounts of blue and purple ribbons and some small animal barns.  After watching a couple of ~1500 pound steers duke it out for a trophy we wandered a bit more.  We checked out some more animals, Chris picked out a John Deere, Jessica got some cotton candy and we headed out.

We went to a little local place called the Ice Cream Station where lack of adequate staffing had us eating our reasonably priced treats in two shifts.  En-route to the Ice Cream Station, the caravan had discovered the Eldora Aquatic Center which required a trip to “Pami a” for Travis for a swim suit while everyone else headed back with some rapidly melting ice reinforcements.    The water slides, diving boards and other little kids at the pool provided for hours of enjoyment and I think was one of the highlights of the trip.  A couple hours of discounted swimming later, it was back for steaks, potatoes and wine by Team Juchems.  The night had cooled a bit and it was nearly dark by the time supper had ended.  Wood wisely purchased earlier at Fareway lit the night as old memories were shared, deep matters discussed and coolers went from low to empty.  I should have insisted on trying one of those Bud Light Wheats 🙂


Sunday morning came to fast as we awoke to the sound of engines revving as many of the RV’s packed it up and headed out following a short rain that ensured we would all have to pack our tents wet.  Kristin and took that opportunity to have some more “dialog” at home as we took the tent out for drying 😉  Burgers with bacon and pasta salad rounded out lunch as we all packed our vehicles back up and said our goodbyes.  The weekend went by way to fast but I loved every minute of it.  Well, most of it, except for the few moments when I had convinced myself that I had ruined the steaks… 😛

Travis, it was so great that despite all that was going on in your life we were able to spirit you away and get you smiling, joking and relaxing.  Know that we all love you and can be counted on anytime.

Erin and Andy, may your entire parenting experience go so well as the first eight months have gone!  It was so great that you could be with us and show us that pregnant ladies are people too – water slides and all 🙂

I can’t wait for next year.  It won’t be too far north, I promise.


Municipal Broadband – Broadband Internet for Everyone

Today Ars Technica posted a couple great articles about broadband in the United States, one covering how communities are stepping up and providing their own high speed access while the other covered the new Broadband Plan set before congress.  What interests me most is the support for broadband for all of the U.S., including rural areas.  The FCC recently proposed a plan that would set the goal of all households receiving a minimum of 4mbps internet at a reasonable price by 2020 – a little above the typical DSL speed of 3mbps and about 80 times faster than 56k dial up.  To put this into perspective, that would equate to download speeds of about 500KB per second or the ability to stream Netflix in high quality while still doing some low impact web surfing.   When you consider the number of internet connected homes that have more than one concurrent internet user, it is easy to imagine that this is constraining.  On the other hand, the number of homes and users connected to the internet via dial up and satellite that technologies such as flash and streaming video have rendered quite obsolete it is obvious that this is a great step in the right direction.  The plan also has a goal of 100mbps in 100 million homes by 2020 as well in urban areas.

What is troubling, however is how far behind the rest of the developed world we are in internet access.  Given that the information age is here and the very competitiveness of our schools and workforce relies the internet and related services it is difficult to understand how we are not more ambitious.  That is where the Municipality driven broadband speeds shine as a great example.  In the article linked above, it is noted how the area around the Wisconsin Dells has urban internet hosted by the city that features two tiers; 10mbps for $50 per month and 5mbps for $40.  Using federal grant money and private investment, they are going to push this service to all of their users via fiber optics, including those far out in the rural areas that currently only have access to dial up or satellite.  The community feels that this will allow them to sustain a thriving rural atmosphere that doesn’t make moving into town for internet required to work remotely or take classes online necessary.

Some might think this is a waste of federal tax funds, but for all the projects we endeavor on with our federal funds this one not only delivers value to constituents but enables our country to continue its rural heritage and remain relevant in an ever increasingly connected world.  I am really thankful that Butler-Bremer offered DSL to the farm when I was there as I feel it was critical to my development as an IT professional, hopefully more rural towns will follow suit.

I mean, what is life without You Tube?  Empty!


Unexpectedly Great Games

Yep, those are all guns... and the suit is her hair, which she uses to summon giant, boss eating demons. No joke.

Every once in a while you find something that is just unexpectedly interesting and fun.  A long while back , Penny Arcade mentioned a game they were super stoked about, Bayonetta.   I mentally bookmarked it and went about with my life, per the usual.  Fast forward a few months, and I had the opportunity to not only get some solid gaming time in, which is somewhat abnormal, but also some quality xbox 360 gaming time.

So off to Metacritic I went, very sure there would be many games I would want.  Well, it seems that the 360 has many shooters which rate highly like Halo 3 but I only play those games with a mouse and keyboard.   Its also fair to say that Grand Theft Auto games are exactly my cup of tea.  Other games like Bioshock and Fall Out3 I have already played on PC.  Which leaves… action adventure games?  Tops was this Bayonetta game, so off I went to a local Gamestop and traded in some games I was never going to play again (Sonic?  Ugh!) and picked it up used for $35.

What a great purchase!  I put a solid ten hours or so in over the weekend, and they were all awesome.  I enjoyed fighting games like Soul Calibur and this is like a fusion of that and Mario Galaxy – levels that don’t always make sense and crazy combo physical combat with plenty of blood and sexual references thrown in.  Even better is that the game is still plugging along even after that much play time with several more chapters to be completed.  Its one of those games where you tell yourself “one more chapter” and an hour and a half later you are telling yourself the same thing.

Watch this YouTube trailer – that pop music is the *actual* game music.  The boss battles are their own levels as the bosses take up nearly the whole screen.  There is a ton of stuff to collect and challenge levels sprinkled throughout.   This review really sums it up for me – a big plus is that it showcases the 360 hardware by running great and not slowing down.  I enabled vsync to get rid of the screen tearing on my ghetto LCD monitor setup.

Some things about the game annoy me.  The insta-death push button events that punish you (and your level score) with death and the choice to continue are not are irritating.  Being able to replay previous chapters to earn better scores or farm more crafting components both help to overcome this annoyance.

All that said, are there more games like this lurking out there?  Anything you’ve played in the last couple years or so that just shouldn’t be missed?