Monday, June 13, 2011

Office Space, Girdwood, and a good walk

I guess part of creating a blog is sticking to it, but I have to admit, it's mighty difficult to sit down in a garden-level apartment and punch some keys when the Chugach State Park (mountains) are right down the road.

So, for starters, the working. One of the most pertinent observations I've had about the working world so far is just how much doesn't get done. I can really understand how people develop frustrations with the gov't, but I'm convinced it's not just a government thing. I believe that the slow pace of any large professional entity is mostly due to the litigious nature of our culture, which in the end necessitates many redundant systems in place so that everyone's proverbial ass is covered, which in turn creates a disproportionate amount of busy work, idle hands, and ultimately inane water-cooler chat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point here is that the working world, so far as I understand it, is vastly easier than grad school. For starters, I'm only supposed to work 8 hours a day. 8 hours a day! Easily less than 70% effort compared to grad school, right out of the gate. Then, there's lunch. A whole hour right smack in the middle of the day when you are expected to do nothing. Seriously? Add to all this the random drop-in chat by co-workers, running-down forms and paperwork of all sorts for just about everything (at current count, I have 4 sets of usernames and passwords for different email accounts, expenditure approval, server access, training program access, etcetera), and the occasional run to the coffee-maker and there are about 3 to 4 effective hours in an office workday. This feels like cheating! But that said, I have made it habit to do my real work in the mornings or evenings when no one's around, and keep the middle of my day open for logistics, meetings and banter.

The work itself is actually quite nice. I have a stack of task sheets (like a mission file for a secret agent, but it doesn't self-destruct) with tasks ranging from small, low-priority conceptual-designs, to transportation statistics categorization (less interesting, but I get to look at visitation data from every NPS unit in the country), to in-the-field historical photograph identification and comparison shots. The latter, my favorite assignment, is to find where on the Denali park road two ~1930's/40's pictures where taken, go to the same spot and shoot another set. So, pretty good stuff overall.

Besides work, I'm getting to know Alaskan culture and topography, both of which are interesting and raw. For the culture, you can imagine that everything is a bit less formal, and nothing is taken terribly seriously, or without some critical thought. There is a fantastic streak of independence in most the Alaskans I meet, and it's not necessarily the patriotic type (though it often is). It's definitely more along the lines of 'don't tread on me', mixed with a kind of self-reliance that is only natural in a state this removed. Similar to Australians, I guess, but tempered with tons of influence from the Midwest (I've heard to AK referred to as the Land of 10,000 Minnesotans, and it feels very true).

As for the topography, well, it's everywhere. The following shot was taken from Bear Valley Ridge (just SSE of Flattop, if you're familiar), which was a 10 minute drive and a 30 minute walk from my where I'm staying.

That was Thursday night, sometime around 7pm. A nice stroll with a few guys who are themselves transplants, but who are local and conditioned to this terrain. This the first wake-up call for my legs, and keeping up with these kids was like a trail-by-fire. But, I have to say that the biking helped, and I am now on my way towards being a well-oiled mountain machine.

In addition, this weekend a few of the interns and myself took off for Girdwood (the next town going south on the Seward Highway out of Anchorage) to hike Crow Pass and check-out some music at the local ski resort. Girdwood could be considered like a Duluth-to-Minneapolis when compared to Anchorage. The population is smaller, they are even closer to outdoor pursuits, the mood is a bit more mellow and no one is in love with the idea of heading into town.

As the week progresses, I hope to get out in the hills a few more times to keep my legs on-par; then next Monday at this time I will be in Denali, scoping a project with my boss and shooting those historic photos. I'll let you know how it goes.


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