Sunday, February 22, 2009

Off Slope: A little work...a little play

It feels a little crazy.  

I'm sitting in a conference room in Anchorage and have actually received a mandate from the presenter to update my blog!  How amazing is that? 

An explanation is probably in order.

I am attending the ASTE conference through Wednesday.  This particular session is called Using Technology to Combat Teacher Isolation in Rural Schools.  The leader of this session is the author of Rural Water Cooler, a cool space dedicated to providing a sense of community for teachers of rural Alaska.

Our first assignment this morning was to create a Blogger blog.  A few of us already have one, so we're supposed to update!  Yahoo!

In addition to creating a blog, the presenter has also (thus far) discussed...

Now she's onto a discussion of long-distance collaboration strategies and I can't tell you what her last four sentences were.

I guess I should refocus.

What a great day of work!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rollagons Revisited

Back in March of 2008, I shared some photos of rollagons that were being used to transport fuel from Barrow to Atqasuk while the fuel plane was temporarily out of commission.

A few days ago, I received an email from an individual responding to the rollagon post.   I am continually amazed by the power of the internet and blogs, in particular, for connecting people, information, and ideas. 

A big thank you to Mr. Blackwell for adding his first-hand knowledge and experience to my original post and for allowing me to share his email with everyone.

Dear Kimberlee,

I was looking for pics of the Rollagon to show my son and ran across your blog. Best pics that I have seen. I worked on the Rollagon back in the ‘70’s at FMC in San Jose , CA. We were building under contract to the original inventor. It was probably the best project that I have ever worked on.
There are a couple of interesting stories that I can attest to being true.

The first relates to the rumor that a reporter volunteered to be run over by one of the original Rollagons. I say original because the first ones did not have the powered trailer, only the back deck. But back to the story – A reporter from the one of the gossip newspapers, I think it was the National Inquirer, did not believe that the ground pressure was less than a human walking on the tundra. The arctic contractor invited him to visit the work area to see for himself. He did and they ran over him. I wasn’t there but our project rep was present and sent pictures back to us engineers as proof. BTW- this same project rep was very safety conscious and always wore steel-toed boots in the shop. He found that they were not so great in the arctic when the steel almost froze his toes.

The other story is one only an engineer could love. The Rollagon used what was called a powershift transmission. It had a clutch for every gear and could run all gears in forward or reverse. This was very fortunate because at the first road test it went backwards when it was supposed to be going forward! It turns out that the drivetrain engineer overlooked the fact that the air bags were driven by a set of rollers as is shown in your photograph. He forgot that forward for the roller was backward for the air bag. Again, it was fortunate that the transmission worked all gears each direction so it was a simple matter of swapping the output direction and all was right again.

One big drawback to the original Rollagon was the lack of cargo space. You can imagine how limited it was as the only cargo space was the deck behind the cab. As a result we designed the powered trailer. This was quite an accomplishment when you think that it had to be coordinated with the front power unit for speed. This was before computer power was cheap and easy. The electrical engineer, Craig Joseph did a masterful job of designing a reliable non-computer-based controller that worked at arctic temperatures. Somewhere in my collection of photographs I have a picture of the Rollagon with the trailer loaded with stacks of 55 gallon drums. Unfortunately, I can’t find it so I was quite pleased to find your pics. Thanks for sharing.
I don't know if you are still in the arctic, the date on the page was almost a year ago.

Don Blackwell

For more information about rollagons, try clicking here or here (scroll down for article).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cold-Hard-Fact #2

There is a reason they call it frost bite.

Okay, so as I write this our weather is -43 F with a slight easterly breeze of 5 mph. That gives us a windchill of 63 degrees below zero. School was canceled (for students) on Monday because of similar temperatures and today seems to be shaping up the same way.

I always have mixed feelings about canceling school because of low temperatures. We do live in the Arctic, after all. Can we really afford to give up on educating children every time it's really cold? I am one of those teachers who hates to see kids lose momentum and missing a day here or there can definitely lead to a stall. Moments in school are precious and my fingers often have to be pried away from time on task.

On the other hand, I absolutely understand the need for caution. The potential for frost bite, especially with children who aren't particularly mindful of such things, is a real danger. On several occasions I have developed blisters on my fingertips (like the one in the photo) even while wearing gloves! Thankfully, the blisters have healed quickly leaving little more than peeling skin to attest to my pain. Not a big deal compared to some of the injuries I've seen lately.

Forty below seems to be the magic number (click the link for Clare's excellent description).  It's the only common point on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales.  Barring the escalating effects of wind, forty below is forty below whether you live in Alaska, Canada, Siberia, or even Antarctica.  It's like the Bermuda Triangle of the thermometer.   Once that threshold is reached or crossed, strange things begin to happen to both man and machine.  

A few years ago, the insurance company that covers our school district vehicles declared that it would not continue coverage if the vehicles were used while temperatures were -40 or colder.  So, on the coldest days of the year, vehicles are placed in heated garages, planes don't fly, and if someone feels the need to get out, it's their skin...quite literally.

Meanwhile, dedicated faculty and staff haunt the corridors of an empty school, secretly thankful for the windfall of extra time for getting work done.  And my sister, who lives down around Fairbanks, is out getting video of her own kids experimenting with bubbles at 40 below.  I thought some of you might enjoy seeing one of the weird and wonderful effects of extreme cold.