Tales from the North Country

Happy Wife was challenged by a black bear Thursday, a sow with a cub nearby. Out came the bear spray. Away went the bear. It occured in a park where we’ve walked dogs for years and years. A park where we’ve seen black bears before (never a grizzly), but even so a rare occurrence. She was enjoying an ordinary walk with Black Dog, who cowered behind her when she sprayed the bear.

The Black Dog at the park a few weeks earlier sampling the water from a spring melt

Black Dog’s a fine beast but when it comes to bears he’s no Airedale. In my experience (and Other’s) Airedales don’t brook bears, and they don’t bring ’em back.

School is out. Grades are in. Some students are dismayed, others proud, some relieved.

We are traveling to Wisconsin the end of June to attend an outdoor pool party. Imagine — water, outside, warm enough to wade in.

Busy Bees

This is where I lecture, twice a week, seventy-five minutes each. Some of my students here, just beginning to shuffle in for another rousing lecture by yours truly

Listen to me, my students. It sounds possessive, I know, but I do feel a responsibility toward them, all forty seven, even though it’s rare to see them all attend lecture. Usually only 25-30 show up, unless there’s a quiz or exam scheduled. Spring break next week, so no class. I asked a few of them if they were headed to Mexico or Florida for the week, someplace warm where water exists in the liquid phase. “No Professor Nibbe,” they said, “we plan to study genetics.” (Uh-huh). Right answer, though!

I’ve never been so busy as I have since the start of the semester. Let me tell you, spring break isn’t only for students. I’m looking forward to a week off from preparing lecture slides, quizzes, exams (makeups), grading, office hours, updates to Blackboard, etc. etc.. But overall I’m enjoying the experience. It’s rewarding teaching a course I myself have never taken.

Happy Wife as well is busy as ever. She regularly sees twelve patients or more a day. Some can be complicated. Most days she’s lucky to get a lunch break, like if there’s a no-show, but just as often she’s fortunate to find ten minutes between appointments to snatch a bite.

Being busy-bees we still find time for ourselves, dinner out and a drink or two at our favorite watering holes. A new pot store went in near one of our favorite downtown haunts. It’s now legal in Alaska. We stopped in recently to have a look around. Happy Wife appearing a bit furtive

There was a wide variety of product attractively displayed beneath spotless glass countertops, like you’d see in a jewelry store. The names of some varieties were pretty amusing – Dark Star, Kimbo Kush, Pineapple Haze. In the end we passed on the pot, but HW did find a wearable she liked, as do I

We’re off to France later this year along with several friends. After that, a week in Barcelona, or possibly to Austria to visit a friend, haven’t decided yet. More on that as the year unfolds. For now, March is here, and our local weather forecaster, Jackie Purcell, said she expects a 40% of Spring this year! Pretty good as Alaska goes. Wish us luck.

Dog Down

Our dog was shot. When, we don’t know, but the x-ray showed a BB lodged in his side.

I commented to HW recently during a walk with the dog in the low mountains how easy it’s been having a young dog again. In terms of no daily aches and pains, medications, vet bills, etc. Not that I wouldn’t trade a month of weekends for another day with Lucy, Rufus, Harry, or any of the other beasts that have enriched our lives over the past three decades. I would. Just sayin’ it’s been nice to be in the company of youth again.

“In fact,” I said, “in the two years we’ve had Chester I haven’t seen him barf, have you?”

Fast forward a few days to yesterday, Thursday. I come home and he’s his usual alacritous self, bounding down the stairs, tail wagging. Like always, I shake a couple treats from the bag into my hand and toss ’em outside in the backyard. They barely hit the frozen ground before he finds ’em and gobbles ’em up. All is good. I let him back inside and go upstairs to my office to work. He follows, as usual, and lays down on the rug. He can stay there for hours while I work. If he’s lucky, I’ll knock off early and we’ll go to the park together for a walk. But yesterday, he gets up and starts nudging my arm, which is weird, he never does that. I ignore him, he lays down next to me briefly then gets up and goes downstairs, where I hear him barf. I go to investigate and find a two-pound pile of undigested kibble on the rug. Special. I clean it up, let him outside in case there’s more, then let him back in and console him. I notice black flecks of plastic in the barf, and then recall that when I got home earlier there were two pieces of colored felt on the stairs, like the fuzz wrapped around a tennis ball. Okay, he ate a toy ball, but he has never done that. He has lots of toys which he might destroy and eat, but no, he has never done that before.

Turns out it was left on the floor by the pet-sitter. Probably had an odor of food or something he couldn’t resist. He wretches a few more times until nothing more comes out. I figure by now he’s dehydrated, possibly hungry. I offer him a treat. He doesn’t want it.

HE HAS NEVER NOT WANTED A TREAT.

That’s it.

I call Happy Wife, we meet at the vet. By now he’s lethargic and not himself. But not in any obvious discomfort. As we wait for the doctor to see him he does drink some water, and even takes a couple small treats from HW. Good sign. The doctor examines him and recommends an x-ray, just to see if there’s an obvious blockage in his gut. No evidence of that on the radiograph, but there was this bright white, perfectly circular spot outside his right rib cage. We look at the Doc, “What’s that?”

“This dog’s been shot.”

WTF?!

“Looks to be a BB gun,” she says.

She goes on to say it might eventually work its way to his skin, to the point where you could feel it, or it might stay in there forever. We’re guessing he was shot before we adopted him, at the Palmer shelter north of Anchorage. I’m guessing it was some heartless kid out plinking with his new Daisy pump action.

Anyhoo, ol’ Chester was given fluids and an anti-nausea drug and we took him home. He’s all better now, drinking, eating, pooping, sleeping…copy/paste, copy/paste.

Adios ’17

Another tragicomic year in review by Dave Barry. Happy Wife and I consumed it this morning, each of us reading alternate months out loud.

A personal favorite excerpt from September

September

. . . international tension continues to mount as President Trump, speaking to the United Nations, calls Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and says the North Korean leader is “on a suicide mission.” In response, Kim calls Trump “a frightened dog” and “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At this point Trump and Kim have no honorable choice but to meet in person, strip to their waists, and settle their dispute by flailing at each other with their pudgy fists until oily rivers of sweat mixed with hair product run down the quivering mounds of flab that constitute their bodies.

Be safe tonight ya’ll. See you next year!

Know Your Domain

Been thinking lately I read too much. It leaves me little to no time to write. When I was really interested in writing well, especially fiction, instead of working hard at it, coming to the keyboard every day for several hours to write the bones down – a habit all real writers agree is a must to get good – I read. For sure, if you want to be a good writer you do need to read, and read a lot, but it’s not sufficient. It would be like thinking you could learn to play guitar well simply by listening to a lot of guitar music. You need to practice too. A lot. Maybe not 10,000 hours, though in some cases it may take more, depending on the amount of native talent one has.

When I’m honest with myself I don’t think I was ever really talented at any one thing, and average at most. Math came easy but I was never going to set the world on fire. Likewise computers. Funny, the only reason I ever enrolled in a Fortran course — way back when —  was because it was a prerequisite for numerical analysis, a 400-level math course I dared take as an undergraduate, which made me feel a little superior at the time, especially around fellow classmates (would-be geologists), many who dreaded having to take even two semesters of calculus required for their degree. By then I’d already passed three, plus Diff-Eq, with relative ease. Physics and chemistry? Average. Geology, my major? Lackluster. Humanities, so-so (though I do recall getting a shout-out for one or two of my term papers). But then came the computer programming course, Fortran, I breezed through it. It was like English for me, an innate language, one I mastered quickly with little to no effort. This was about 12 years before Jeff Bezos arrived in Seattle to start a business in his garage selling books on the World Wide Web.

Oh, what futures pass us when we are blind to our own boon.

By which I do not mean I think I could have started Amazon. Unlike Jeff I was never a national merit scholar. I did not graduate Phi Kappa Beta from Princeton with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. I knew next to nothing about starting a business, and even if I had, probably lacked the guts to try. I only mean that when you find something you’re good at, consider sticking with it. Strive for expertise. Don’t spread your interests too thin. Avoid becoming a dilettante, a master of none.

Example: I once applied for a job at Amazon. Back in 2014 I think it was. I don’t recall the job title, but it was a technical, senior-level position involving the development of novel algorithms to maximize online ad revenue. The only reason the job popped on my radar was because it invited a wide variety of specialists to apply, including Computational Biologists, which by that time is what I was calling myself. I passed the initial phone interview okay, but stumbled on the second one, enough that I was not invited for an in-person interview. The interviewer was very generous, said something like, “I think you understand the technical stuff okay, this just isn’t your particular domain is it?” I had to concede he was right. Ask me about genes, proteins, biochemistry and such, and I’d have been all over it.

When I returned to school in 2002 my grades did improve, though by the time I finished the academic portion of my PhD I had to concede academic excellence would never be mine. By all other measures of success, though, I did quite well.

Fast-forward to now. I’ve been invited to teach genetics at the university. I’m excited about this. I expect the class will be mostly biology majors being it’s required, but also pre-med students and others pursuing degrees in health-related fields.

As I look out over the lectern on day one, gazing at all the expectant faces, it will be humbling for sure; but also, I hope, rewarding, to be back in my domain of academic expertise. 

Recommend!

For me it was when Walter Becker died. Don’t get me wrong, listening to Petty makes me want to take a knee, even before he passed. Now that he has, I’ve half a mind to put on my noise cancelling headphones, retreat to the wine cellar and listen to American Girl over and over while reminiscing the day away. But Becker & Fagen (Steely Dan), man, that was my desert island band. I wore out the grooves on my copies of Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic. 

It makes you wonder dread who’s next in line. I told Happy Wife that when Fogerty goes I may as well too.

We’re back from Jamaica, Mon! Truth be told, over three weeks ago now. We stopped in Atlanta for a couple nights to de-compress first. Spotted this guy at the Georgia aquarium giving us the Gimlet Eye

For the longest time he (she?) didn’t move. I thought it might be plastic. Eventually it did.

I could’ve watched the seadragons for hours. If there’s an evolutionary explanation for these creatures it escapes me

Happy Wife crawled through a tunnel on her knees for her chance in the “Penguin Bubble”

It was also the first aquarium where I saw Beluga whales in captivity. Ordinarily, if we want to see Beluga whales we drive down the road a bit from Anchorage, usually in September, and watch ’em in Turnagain Arm chasing silver salmon.

My favorite exhibit was the Ocean Voyager. Huge!

If you enjoy watching animals eat, poop, and lounge about in a predator-free sanctuary, this aquarium is for you. Recommend.

Our first night in Atlanta, jet-lagged though we were, we Googled a wine bar and headed out. Being we are by nature pedestrian and like to explore, we set out on foot. No biggie, except 1.8 miles in wedgies with 3″ heels proved a bit much for HW’s feet, and who could blame her, neither of us is used to the heat and humidity. Two thumbs up, though, for the Inman Park area. Lots of restaurants, bars, and pretty-faced millennials. We squeezed into the Barcelona Wine Bar (reccomend) and eventually came to rest on two stools, jawed with the bartender, enjoyed some novel eats, emptied several glasses of wine, eavesdropped some conversations, then Ubered back to the hotel, where we slept like dead people.

The next day was the aquarium, followed by more walking about, then by late afternoon it was time for a Margarita (which turned into two, given it was Happy Hour). Then back to the hotel, short nap, shower, etc., then we Ubered back to the Inman Park area and dined at Sotto Sotto. Decent Italian food, generous service; the Barolo was delicate with notes of rose petal and fresh soil, the way I like ’em, albeit it was a tad expensive for the bottle. Then back to the hotel via Uber for a short night of sleep. By 6 am we were up again, showered, packed up, and out the door to catch Uber to the airport – off to Jamaica, Mon!

By the time we landed at Montego Bay it was stinkin’ hot outside. We made our way to the Couples Resort counter, checked in, and before we knew it were whisked away, bags ‘n all, to a large van waiting outside ready to convey us to Negril, a 1.5 hour drive west along the coast. They’d jammed around fifteen of us into a van, which was, blessedly, air-conditioned, so it was “cozy” to say the least. Soon after we got underway a couple wedged into their seats to my left – she sporting tattoos half-covered by a flirty tank top, he with intentions unknown behind his wraparound black sunglasses – pulled a full bottle of vodka from a beach bag and decanted a healthy pour into each of their plastic cups. The party was on! For the next hour and a half we heard Bob Marley’s entire body of work blare over the speakers. By the time we arrived in Negril I felt a little withered from all the travel. The vodka bottle, I noted, was near empty.

I handed the very nice man at the Couples check-in counter a credit card for incidentals, though wondered what that could be given this was an all-inclusive resort. Another nice man gave our group the lowdown on all the restaurants, bars, and activities at the resort (including the dos & don’t of the adjacent nude beach), and then another nice man whisked us and our bags off to our room, a second floor garden suite with a peekaboo view of the ocean. We unpacked and tested the firmness of the bed… no, not that way! Then we showered, slathered each other with SPF 35 and were out the door to explore the property

Pretty expansive. Three restaurants, numerous bars, activities galore. All free, all the time. Want your Mai Tai made with Meyers Rum instead of the house rum? No problem, Mon, just ask! Don’t want to get up from your beach chair and take the long walk to one of the bars – no problem, Mon! Just put your red flag in the sand next to your chair and one of the nice staff will arrive promptly, take your order, and deliver it to you! Any time of day.

Tired of booze all the time? No problem, Mon. Belly up to the juice bar and these ladies will take care of you, any time of day, no charge.

Too hot for the beach? No problem, Mon. Hop in the pool for a rousing game of volleyball, then continue to cool off at the swim-up bar

Left to Right: HW, Andy (groom), Me, Kelly (bride), Hannah & Taylor (nieces), brother Steve (Elvis on the photo bomb). Sister Gail? Why, I don’t know where she was just then. Possibly the nude beach?

The rest of the days were pretty much copy & paste. The hospitality was amazing. Never before been to a place where you’re waited on hand and foot pretty much 24/7.

One day we left the resort and shuttled over to Rick’s Cafe. Where, among other activities, you can jump off cliffs. Yeah, Mon. Don’t remember who, but somebody caught me mid air

It was higher than it appears! The nice man on the jump platform strongly urged entering the water with arms tightly at your side. Ta-da!

Another day many of us boarded a large catamaran and visited a very cool swim up cave, one with lots of bats, though they didn’t seem to care we were there. Fun was had by many who braved  a turn in The Net

HW, Elvis, and Andy. Nobody spilled their drink!

Overall we had a blast. Congrats Kelly and Andy. Recommend!