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July 31, 2009

Makers, Part 12

Here's Part 12 of Makers.

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It comes at a point in the book in which things are going badly for our protagonists, hence the reiteration of the illustration for part 8 (in which things were going swimmingly).

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:22 AM

July 28, 2009

Makers Part 10

Here's part ten of Makers. And here's the illustration.

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For those of you who are paying attention, you'll note that this means the top row of the eventual nine is now complete.

This is what it looks like intact (get out your loupe or click to make it bigger).

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Our friends at Tor.com tell us that the 3x3 version of the Makers Tile Game will be released later this week and that it will be even more fun than the 2x2 version, if you can imagine such a thing.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:24 PM

July 26, 2009

Makers Illustrations: Background and Process

As Robbi and I continue working on the Makers illustrations, some of you have been writing with questions about where the idea came from.

To recap: Cory Doctorow, blogger, author, activist, and cape-wearing modern-day superhero, has written a book called Makers about two guys living in the not-too-distant future who invent things out of junk, start a movement, eat lots of IHOP, and end up having all sorts of dicey legal adventures with minions of the Disney corporation.

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Makers is, at root, a celebratory yawp on the relentlessness of human inventiveness, a love song to our unending thirst (and capacity) to manipulate the world around us. Makers' thesis fits nicely with a number of past Idiots'Books projects: the world is full of parts that can be combined to make other, more complex things. From artful manipulation comes innovation, fresh possibility, and sometimes even beauty.

Cory, a leading advocate of free distribution of creative property, decided to do an online serialization of Makers in advance of the print release, which is being published by Tor. The folks at Tor.com (related to Tor proper, but a separate entity, and arguably more badass) are publishing the serialization. They wondered: wouldn't it be cool if each section of Makers could have a related illustration which would be one small piece of a larger illustration that would serve as the "cover" of the e-book?

Enter Idiots'Books. On the heels of our other experiments in creating texts and illustrations with intercombining properties (Ten Thousand Stories, After Everafter, and the One-Page Wonders, most notably), the Makers illustration challenge seemed like the kind of thing Robbi and I might be crazy enough to attempt, so the folks at Tor.com sent us a copy of the book and asked us to do our thing.

Usually when Robbi and I collaborate, we're combining my written narrative and her visual one, challenging the reader to reconcile the contradictions and tensions between the two. With the Makers project, we're working together to digest and respond to someone else's words. My job is to represent the writing (and the ideas therein), while Robbi's is to come up with the right illustration style.

With this division of labor, we started with Tor.com's basic concept, but decided to take things a step further, wondering if we might draw the small illustrations in such a way that each of the 81 would be interchangeable with any of the others. In this way, the various "tiles" could be arranged to create a nearly endless variety of configurations, or even three-dimensional objects (like a breadbox).

The illustrations in question would have to be square, we decided, and each side of each square would have to have a common "crossover". Robbi cut out four squares and started sketching. She came up with the following, which convinced us that an extended version was possible, at least in theory.


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After many abortive attempts, gnashing, and near despair, Robbi and I settled on an approach that feels right for the world of Makers while falling well outside of Robbi's usual line-driven style.

Typical Robbi:

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Atypical Robbi ("Makers tiles" 5-8):

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The real fun comes from manipulating the tiles yourself. Working with a game developer, the folks at Tor.com have put together an online Flash-based game that lets you create your own Makers grid (you can even rotate the tiles).

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Give it a try.

That's the background. If you're still with me, you must actually be interested. Of course, there's more to say, but Robbi (who usually knows best) has instructed me to preserve a bit of mystery for a later post.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:14 PM

The Behr Family Compound

Here's the fourth and final post on this year's Alaskan adventures. Perhaps I should have started with the photos below, to give you a sense of place. But I skipped straight to the exciting stuff and now am left with the more mundane material. Without further delay:

This is the "old house", where Robbi and her family lived when they first came to Coffee Point 32 summers ago when Robbi was 18 months old and her siblings 4 and 6, respectively.

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The house, basically a wood frame with corrugated tin siding, was even smaller then. The garage you see on the right hand side has been added since the early days. Today the old house is used for storage (tools, nonperishable foods, motor oil, etc.) This is the part that used to be the kitchen.

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Here's our propane-powered freezer.

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Here's the part that used to be the living room. We use it now to hang wet gloves between fishing periods.

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Here's the back room of the old house. The shelves that now hold food used to be the bunks where Robbi and her siblings slept.

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Here's the garage of the old house, where we hang our wet rain gear to dry.

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And on the wall opposite, vegetable storage.

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By contrast, here is the "new house", more than ten years old at this point, but a pointed upgrade on many fronts.

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Here's the view from the back.

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And here's the back deck (notice the enormous pile of old rope).

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Inside the new house, we have everything we need.

A place to eat.

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A place to cook.

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And a hanging slab of bacon.

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What else is there?

Another major building is the Kumajo, another barn of sorts, where we hang our nets over the winter.

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The second story is a living space where guests sometimes stay.

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Here's our water tower. We pump water from a natural spring up into this tower, which then supplies water for various purposes (washing trucks, washing fish, washing boots, etc).

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And here's a house that belongs to our neighbor Vern, who was living on the land when Robbi's parents bought it. Vern now lives in a bigger house not far away, but this house remains.

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I think some scholar of architecture should study it.

Here is the "detached palace", a small structure nestled in the alders where Robbi and I used to sleep before Alden got born and ruined our fun by needing to be in a warmish room.

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Here are our storage containers. Take a close look. These are the containers that sit on the back of tractor trailers. We use them because they are bear-proof. Grizzlies have no problem bashing through the plywood walls of our other buildings. Fortunately, they are seldom motivated to do so.

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We store various things in our containers: lumber, tires, some food, etc. Over the winter, we store our 4-wheelers in them.

Here's the net rack, where we can place nets for mending or cleaning.

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And here's our pile of old buoys. Why do we save old buoys? you ask. Why not save them, I counter? There's no way to throw them away, and who knows when an old buoy might come in handy. This is the philosophy that governs all things on Coffee Point: save everything for a rainy day.

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Here's the view of the bay from the pile of old buoys.

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And here is the gray truck.

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What's that you say? That truck is not gray? Oh, but you are mistaken. Robbi once told me to look for something that she had left "by the gray truck." I looked to no avail and came back to tell her that there was no gray truck. Robbi got frustrated, stomped over to this truck, and found the object in question. I was rudely accused of not being a good looker. When I countered that this truck was not gray, Robbi would have none of it. Turns out this truck used to be gray, perhaps 20 years ago, long before the ravages of rust took hold. But in Robbi's mind, the truck is still gray. Apparently, she was persuaded by this label that the truck would not rust.

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A closer look.

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Perhaps the folks at Zeibart also think this truck is still gray.

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I know the truth.

Back, though, to my point about not being able to throw anything away up there. In a normal place, the gray truck would have been put out of its misery long ago. Up here, trucks sit where they die forever. Eventually they are harvested for a usable part. (It must be confessed that the gray truck does still, technically, run, but that when its ignition is turned, a fireball shoots out of the engine block.)

There are other things sitting around waiting for the end of days.

This boat.

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These outboards.

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This snowmobile.

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Here are two of our three working four-wheelers. My dream is to some day live on enough acres in Vermont to justify owning one of these, but Robbi says she knows I'll break every one of my bones.

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Here are the propane tanks that run our hot water heater and wall-mounted furnace unit.

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Here is the garden Seiko grew in a pickup truck bed liner.

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Here is our fuel depot.

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We use a hand pump to get the gas from the barrels into the various vehicles.

Here is our generator.

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Whenever we run it, we charge the various car batteries that power basic functions around the compound (one runs the pump that makes water run from the spigot in the kitchen; another runs our VHF radio unit).

The tour is almost over. I've run out of pictures to show. But I've saved for last one of the most picturesque (and important) buildings on the compound. Here's the outhouse. The board blocking the path means it's occupied at present.

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And here is Iggy who, in a rare act of courage and agility, managed to catch a ground squirrel one sunny day on the tundra. I made her put it down, which irked her, but ever since that moment, she has been a new dog. Confident, cheerful, and happy to lie for hours in the Alaskan sunshine just waiting for another opportunity to chase.

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Posted by bogenamp at 04:36 PM

July 24, 2009

Makers Part 9

Here's the illustration.

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And here's the story.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:08 AM

July 23, 2009

Because We are Very Vain

We cannot resist the opportunity to let you know that Idiots'Books was on BoingBoing again today.

Here, as your compensation for enduring our hubris, is a photo of our child, giddy in the throes of a cheesecake rush.

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Posted by bogenamp at 05:32 PM

July 22, 2009

Makers Tile Game Launches

I know, I know. You have been admiring the Makers illustrations as they have been posted. You've been enjoying the odd compositions, the reliance on negative space, and the muted palette. You have been listening to me harp about how they are interchangeable and recombinable, and you wonder what this really means. You want to try it for yourself.

Thanks to Pablo of Tor.com, today you will finally get your chance. Lo! The Makers Tile Game has launched.

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Click here to play the game and interact with the first four Makers tiles. You can move them around, rotate them, and play with various combinations.

As additional tiles are released, the live area of the game will grow. The current 2x2 grid will be replaced by a 3x3 grid, and so on, until the final 9x9, 81-tile game is released in its glory. Click here to hear from Pablo himself on his plans for the game.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:50 PM

Makers Part 8

Here's the latest, the illustration for Makers, part 8.

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Posted by bogenamp at 03:35 PM

July 21, 2009

Catching the Fish

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the fisherman's garb, I will walk you through his day-to-day industry.

For a bit of background: Robbi's family has been fishing commercially for sockeye (red) salmon for the past 32 summers. They are set net fishermen, which means that they fish from the shore with gill nets (100-yard nets in which the fish are snagged as they try to swim upriver to spawn). They fish in an inlet in Bristol Bay, a huge body of water on the western shore of the Alaska Peninsula, the peninsula that leads southwest from Alaska toward the Aleutian Islands.

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The Behr family fishing compound is just across Egegik Bay from the tiny Native fishing village of Egegik (Iggy's real name). There's no permanent, year-round settlement on our side of Egegik Bay.

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Fishing is regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. We listen to the radio at scheduled intervals (usually noon, 3:00pm, and 6:00pm each day) for announcements that let us know when fishing is allowed. Fish and Game tracks the "escapement" of salmon, that is the number of salmon that have successfully made it past all the fishing nets to the spawning grounds. If the escapement is on schedule (meaning the biologist is confident that enough fish will spawn to maintain the fishery over time), we are allowed to fish. If the escapement lags behind traditional numbers, we are not allowed to fish.

Although we catch our fish in nets near the shore, we try to sell as many of them as we can to boats floating out in the middle of the river, so when weather permits we use a metal skiff to "pick" the fish out of the nets and then deliver them to a tender (boat that buys fish from a bunch of fisherman and then delivers them to a processing plant).

Enough reading. Here is our skiff, parked up on the beach.

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Here is the truck that pulls it.

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The truck pulls the skiff to the edge of the water.

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And then we launch.

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Robbi's brother takes the boat a few miles to where our fishing sites are.

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We tie the skiff to a line while we prepare our nets for the "opening", or the exact moment that we are allowed to start fishing, according to the Department of Fish and Game.

There are many ways to get one's nets into the water. The trick is getting them into the water as quickly as possible once the fishing session has started.

The method we use most often is to pile the net on the ground near the water line and then pull it out into the water using a truck. Each of our fishing sites has a system of rope and pulleys, a huge square with a pulley at each point. By pulling with a truck along one side of the rope, the entire system moves. So we tie one end of the net piled along the shore to the rope and pull on another section of the rope with the truck. As we drive, the net pulls into the water. Once it's in the water, we tie the loose end to the rope. The net is then securely tied to the rope at both ends, and we are permitted to leave it in the water for the duration of the fishing period.

The first order of business is to drive the net (using a four-wheeler) to the right spot on the beach.

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Then we move the rope into the correct position (the outgoing tide moves it to the wrong position and we have to put it back before we start fishing again).

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Then we have to move the buoy (which marks the place at which we attach the net to the rope) to the edge of the water.

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Then we deal with the net. Here it is, piled into a large plastic tote.

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Robbi carefully removes the end of the net from the pile.

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Next we "stack" the net, carefully keeping the "cork line" (the top of the net, with corks to keep the line afloat) separate from the "lead line" (the bottom of the net, weighted with lead to keep it on the bottom of the river).

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Here's another angle on the stacking. See how it feeds out of the tote as we stack it on the beach.

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Once the net is stacked, I begin my pre-fishing ritual. There are several complicated steps.

1) Admire the buoy.

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2) Inspect the truck.

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3) Attach the rope to the truck using the grabby metal clamp thing.

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The grabby metal clamp thing is attached to a rope that loops around the truck's hitch. Once it's attached to the rope, the rope will move when the truck does.

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4) Admire the lovely patterns the truck tires make in the sand.

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5) Take photo for Christmas card

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6) Jump

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7) Jump

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8) Jump

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Once all these preparatory steps have been completed (and not a second prior), I get into the truck, turn on the engine, and wait for Robbi to give the signal. Robbi waits about 100 yards away from me, by the net stacked on the beach. Once I've finished pulling the net into the water, she will tie the other end of the net to the rope.

The appointed time arrives and Robbi gives the signal. I drive. She ties the knot. The fish start getting caught in the net. That's the first part of fishing.

The second part involves getting the fish out of the net. This is done entirely by hand. We return to the skiff and climb on board. We use a gaff to grab the net.

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We pull the net over the bow of the boat (both the lead line and the cork line).

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Then we remove the fish.

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This process, called "picking" is one of the hardest things to master. After seven summers, I'm still improving my technique. Robbi is quite masterful.

When we're all done picking, we pause for a moment to rest and admire our catch.

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And then we drive the skiff to the tender for delivery.

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When we reach the tender, we slow down and pull alongside it.

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They throw us ropes and we tie off at the bow and stern.

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The tender lowers a hook attached to the end of a boom arm.

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We attach the hook to the four corners of the rugged nylon bags into which we have placed the fish as we picked them.

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The boom operator then lifts the bag of fish and weighs it (there is a scale between the hook and the boom arm). They write down how much fish we sell and then pay us all at once at the end of the season.

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The tender then dumps the fish from the bag into a storage bin (keeping it cool until it is processed).

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Those are the basics. There are many other aspects of the fishing, but these are the most glamorous/interesting ones.

This summer the fish came early, so we were ahead of the escapement projections from the start. This meant the biologist felt comfortable letting us fish a lot. And fish a lot we did. In fact, for the last two weeks we were there, we fished every tide but one. This means, in the course of 21 days, I put on (and took off) my rubber suit more than 75 times.

If you have been guilty of romanticizing my time on the tundra, I hope that this post has not been too disappointing.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:51 PM

Makers Part 7

Here is the illustration for part 7 of Makers.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:50 AM

July 20, 2009

Baby Naming Contest

I hadn't yet decided whether or not to hold a baby-naming contest this time around, but the gauntlet has already been thrown by our friend Doug, who sent the following image along with the suggestions, "Potpie" and "Mac" (as in mac & cheese). Clearly Doug is playing on my notorious appetite and trying to curry favor by stimulating food cravings.

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Consider the contest officially begun. The prize will be a Swanson dinner of your choosing, mailed direct to your home via US Parcel Post.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:57 AM

Robbi Shoots the Moon

You are, perhaps, familiar with the moon.

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To commemorate the 40th anniversary of our first landing there, Robbi has decided to make herself over in the moon's likeness. Although the following represents a fair start, she still has nearly six months of work ahead.

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To those of you who have suggested that I could never take as many photos of my second child as I did of my first, I aim to prove you wrong.

Exhibit one: (the first of many photos of Tarzan Gramangela Gentlyfierce Swanson). May s/he be neither as willful nor as churlish as his/her mother.

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I know such hopes are likely in vain. I'll find out for sure on or around January 15.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:16 AM

July 19, 2009

Alden in Alaska

Looking back, I can see it has been a while since I threw a bone to those of you who only tolerate these pages to see photos of my child. To that end, this entry will be devoted to Alden's adventures in Alaska this year.

She fared well on the 4.500 mile journey: Washington to Seattle to Anchorage to King Salmon to Coffee Point. The first three legs were on jets. Alden seems not to suffer from the horrible inner ear pain some babies experience during takeoff and landing. Instead she seems to suffer from a bad attitude.

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The final leg of the journey, from King Salmon to Coffee Point, was in a five man, single propeller plane. Here's how Iggy traveled.

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Here's the view of the tundra out of the right side of the plane.

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And the left.

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We landed, and Alden found the tundra to her liking.

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We walked from the gravel airstrip to the Behr family compound, where Alden was promptly jailed for the remainder of our stay.

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She pleaded for clemency, and we took mercy. From time to time, she was allowed short outings. She seemed to thrive out-of-doors, so we gave her a few modest responsibilities.

Net inspection.
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Buoy inspection.

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Motor pool management.

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Waste incineration management.

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Perimeter patrol (harpoon division):

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Forklift inspection.

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Tire inspection.

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Advanced tire inspection.

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As weeks passed, she grew bolder and insisted on taking on new challenges.

She enjoyed buoy bouncing with Robbi.

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She did not enjoy buoy bouncing with me.

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One of the summer's more memorable passages came the night we decided to try some of the Japanese delicacies gifted by our friends Armand and Bernice, who had just returned from a visit to Nippon. First we sampled the barbequed whale meat, which was exotic in a good way: it tasted pretty much like beef, so we could feel bold and daring without actually suffering the discomfort of foodstuffs beyond one's textural comfort zone. Not so with the candied grasshoppers we tried next.

Exhibit 1:

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Exhibit 2: (notice the unsettling viscosity of the caramelized goo in which the grasshoppers are packed)

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Exhibit 3: (Seiko, who has a taste for candied grasshoppers, was intrepid).

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Exhibit 4: (corruption of a minor)

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Exhibit 5: (the reaction)

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Alden was not opposed to the grasshopper. In fact, she tried her darnedest to consume it. But lacking molars, she was not equal to the task of crushing its hard body into a state that could be swallowed.
After five minutes of letting her try, we removed the offending creature, tiny head, wings, and legs still intact.

Exhibit 6:

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I also tried the grasshoppers, adding another item to the list of foods that I simply do not want to eat. That list now includes: liver, beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and candied grasshoppers. If you ever want to torture me, here is the menu.

On our last day in Alaska, we added Alden to the wall on which Robbi and her siblings tracked their heights each summer in Alaska growing up.

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Robbi was about 18 months the first time she went up there, so Alden's mark was the shortest on the wall, other than Mike the beloved dog, long gone but fondly remembered.

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All in all, I'd say Alden thrived in Alaska. We won't know until her next checkup in a few weeks whether or not the medical community agrees. But for now, we're penciling her in for a return trip next year.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:26 AM

July 17, 2009

Makers Part 6

The sixth installment of Makers has been posted to Tor.com this morning. For those of you just want to look at the pretty pictures, here is today's illustration.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:10 AM

July 16, 2009

The Fisherman Prepares

I have been puzzling over how best to introduce this year's fishing season. I've posted in past years with photos of the fishing and the compound, and I'll do that again this time around. But although I've alluded to the various layers of rubber that encase us when we hit the beach, I've never taken the time to go into appropriate detail about the true indignity we suffer when we get dressed for work on the tundra.

Without further ado.

The first step (easy to forget) is to apply sunscreen of maximum strength.

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This allows the fisherman to maintain the hard-won pasty whiteness he has cultivated from a winter of life in the barn.

The next step is to go outside where the stinking, wet fishing gear is hung in those rare hours when it is not being worn by the weary fisherman.

Behold the fisherman's underlayer: polypropylene on top and bottom (necessary to wick away the constant perspiration of his Herculean endeavor).

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I'm sure you're hoping for another majestic angle.

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And yet another (please try to refrain from swooning).

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The next step is to don the latex hip waders (with badass boots attached) and rubber rain pants.

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Ideally these two steps would be separated for your viewing pleasure, but the harassment of getting the rain pants over the hip waders (on account of the attached badass boots) was so great as to make this combined photo a more palatable option. Please forgive my laziness.

Next up, is a latex glove (the kind worn by medical personnel [because the fisherman is a surgeon of the sea]). These gloves are worn beneath the more robust gloves (see following step), providing a limited sort of comfort and protection.

Right hand first.

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And then the left.

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The latex gloves are followed by the elbow-length rubber glove, meant to protect the hand, wrist, and forearm from the fish, the fish slime, the fish blood, and the abundance of seawater with which said body parts come in frequent contact.

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The next step, vitally important, is to place the lanyard containing one's crew member license around one's neck. This tiny piece of paper, purchased for $350 at the start of the season, asserts the fisherman's right to ply his trade. Without his permit, the fisherman is subject to hefty fines from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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Next comes the bright yellow rubber rain coat. It is perhaps the most fashionable element of the fisherman's ensemble. (Though you may be sorely tempted, it is not yet time to submit to your nearly overwhelming admiration.)

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Next the fisherman needs his hat.

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His life jacket.

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And his shades (the fisherman recommends the comprehensive, wraparound Solar Shield sunglasses from Wal Mart [just $19.95!], frequently worn by persons who have just had cataract surgery).

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It is appropriate to admire him now.

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See how happy he looks thus encased, only small fractions of his skin exposed to the unholy onslaught of his prey.

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Once he is thus adorned, the fisherman is obligated to adopt a pose equal to his heroic task.

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He is sometimes even moved to pose a second time.

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It is perfectly acceptable to swoon now if you like.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:21 PM

July 15, 2009

"Makers" Serial Release Under Way

Dispatches from the tundra will be coming in the days ahead, but for now, I am pleased to announce that the serial release of Cory Doctorow's Makers on Tor.com has begun. In fact, the fifth installment (of 81) was released this morning. This is particularly exciting news for Robbi and me because each of the 81 installments will be illustrated by Idiots'Books (meaning Robbi and I have an engrossing conversation/discussion/argument/wrestling match about what should be drawn and then she draws it while I stand there trying to look busy).

Here is the illustration for part one, which was posted last Monday.

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Part two:

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Part three:

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Part four:

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You get the idea.

As previously mentioned, there is an added dimension to these illustrations that is not readily apparent by looking at them individually. Though each one serves as a standalone companion to the section it accompanies, together, the 81 illustrations form a grid of interchangable "tiles" that can be placed in any configuration and still line up with one another. You can sort of get a sense of what I'm talking about when you see them placed side-by side.

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Or, the same four illustrations can be reordered and still line up with one another:

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Or they can be stacked on top of one another and arranged in a grid.

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This idea will be extended. This should give you an idea of how it will work.

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When all is said and done, there will be 81 "tiles" that form a huge, complex 9x9 grid. Tor.com is releasing a new chunk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next six months. Sometime in the next few weeks, they will be launching an interactive game that will enable Tor.com readers to manipulate the tiles to make their own illustration landscapes. I'll let you know as soon as it's available.

Here is a link to the series index on Tor.com. From here, you can link to any of the 81 sections as they are released. You can subscribe to an RSS feed if you want to be alerted as each new section is posted.

We would be particularly gratified if you read the introductory post, which has all sorts of nice things to say about Robbi and me.

Here is a link to Cory Doctorow's post about the Makers serialization on BoingBoing. If reading about us on BoingBoing makes you happy and you would like to do it again, you can see Cory's post about our One-Page-Wonders series by clicking here.

Robbi has completed the first 11 illustrations so far. Which means there are only 70 to go. She cringes whenever I remind her of this.

Back to work.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:32 PM

Back from the Tundra

After 24 hours and 4,500 miles traveled, we have returned from the tundra.

All in all, it was a pretty good fishing year.

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We have some photos and stories to share, but for now, we are going to bed. More soon.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:05 PM