Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easy, Free Due Diligence on Potential Service Providers, Clients, Employees

If you are a “glass half-full” person.  Read this carefully.  Dishonest people can be charming, or evasive, or manipulative, but all of them will waste your time or money.  “Trust but verify.”

If you are a “glass half-empty” person, you know to check out potential employees, service providers, investors, clients.  (I've even had friends who are utilizing dating websites ask me to check out people before they get too involved.)  The following list of liars and sources will save you time and reinforce what you naturally do to protect your business and wallet.    

Below are two lists.  One is a list of lies learned from less than three hours due diligence of potential service providers, clients, investors and employees.  The other is a list of free or low cost public websites you can check to save you time, money, and “face.”  If you get a business card, a resume and take notes during conversations, you can ascertain a great deal in less than 3 hours of research, otherwise wasted by “big talkers.”   Some have been shameless liars who have, presumably, gotten away with this before, indicating that a lot of people DON’T do background checks. Think how much time you can save by learning this information early on. 

Preliminary due diligence is like a game.  The goal is to look for anything the person has told you (verbally or in writing, such as a resume) that is invalidated or contradicted in public sources.  If the person lied about something so easily discovered, what else might s/he lie about?  Red flag.  By asking for background information, the message you convey to the person is that it is “time to get serious.”   This can cut time wasted with big talkers.  Your time is worth money.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My First Snow Machine Ordeal (My Husband Loved It)

Bryan was probably as excited about his snow machine (same as a snowmobile in the Lower 48) as with his first tricycle at age 3.  (What is it with guys and powers of locomotion?  Residual memories of being ambulatory hunter gatherers?) When we returned home at 11 degrees outside to a 50 degree cabin and crawled, exhausted into bed with mugs of tea, he said with a sigh of great contentment, “That was a GREAT day.”  Noticing my stony silence, he put on his “attentive husband” voice and asked, as if winding up for a punch line in a comedy, “So which part of you was the coldest?” 
Snowmachine sled with building supplies
for future chicken coop

While Bryan felt like Nanook of the North, Man Merged with Nature, or Whatever, I felt like the Michelin Man on a bad hair day with a runny nose. Even with four layers of socks, pants, tops, and three layers of gloves, I got so cold that I shivered, teeth chattering for many minutes when we stopped at the only restaurant on the river for a mediocre hamburger (after 5 hours of being outside).  When we returned to the vehicle, maybe 30 minutes later, the wheels and tread had frozen up, and Bryan had to lie on the snow with a hammer and tap pertinent points on both sides before we could move.  Altogether, our round trip outing of 84 miles to get 750 lbs of gasoline (about 90 gallons) took 7.5 hours, about the time it takes to fly from Houston, TX to Anchorage, AK. 

I don’t know what heaven looks like, but I know what it feels like:  it feels exactly like the heated bathrooms at Deshka Landing after 3 hours on a snow machine across windy, bumpy terrain.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Arrival to Deep Snows and 15 degrees

While the lower 48 experienced a mild winter, the 2011-12 season brought record snows to much of Alaska.  Valdez and Cordova made national news with over 300 inches, but even Anchorage, which usually only gets about 5 feet of snow per winter, had double that amount by early March and expects to eclipse an historic record with the anticipated late season dumps of additional inches.  Several older commercial and church roofs have collapsed.  (I look askance at the number of flat and gambrel roofs, neither of which seems sensible in snowy country here.)   The snow berms around parking lots top building door height, and now that the afternoons are warming and the daylight lengthening, so too are the icicles, which from many eaves drip precariously two to six feet long, pointing toward unwary walkers on the sidewalks below.   Talk about the sword(s) of Damocles! 

We flew out to our cabin about 10 am, seeing four moose along the way.  Our goal was to make use of all the remaining daylight hours before sunset at 6:30 pm to get settled and to warm up the ice cold cabin before bedtime.  A cabin in the Bush is certainly not a turnkey operation.  Onto the frozen lake we unloaded weeks’ worth of supplies and a new piece of furniture, stationing them beyond the wingspan of the Cessna 206 ski plane’s turn radius.  The day was overcast but bright, and from repeated, recent snow falls, the snow was pillowy soft not only on the ground but also, since it was so still, in little bubbles of white remaining on the spruce and birch branches.  Once the plane took off, Bryan pulled on his snow shoes to tramp up to the cabin to retrieve the little plastic sled we use for hauling groceries et al.   

It has snowed so frequently this winter, and at such optimal temperatures for powder, that even in big, flat snow shoes Bryan sank 12-16 inches with every step.  When he couldn’t find my snow shoes, I knew I’d have a tough time traversing the snow in the boots I was wearing, but it had to be done.  Besides, at 15 degrees, my feet were getting cold so I was motivated to get to the cabin and start a fire.  Bryan carefully retraced his footsteps, stomping down with each foot to compress the snow further so I could follow more easily, but even so, the smaller footstep of regular boots caused me to sink below my knees with most steps.  Halfway to the cabin, huffing and puffing, I decided to crawl, in order to disperse the weight better across four limbs than two.  That helped.  Welcome home.              

 Once I stepped carefully across the spiky bear mat into the dark cabin, I was able to light a fire quickly in the woodstove, and feed it for about an hour with tinder and kindling to get a good bed of coals so larger chunks of birch wouldn’t suck up the heat and put it out.  In two hours, the cabin had warmed up from +15 to +40 degrees F,  but there the temperature sat for the next several hours.  I shed my gloves, parka, and hat, but retained three layers of socks and tops and two layers of pants as I went about my interior tasks. Someone told me that the log walls have to warm up before the air within can do so.  Perhaps that is the reason that it took the next five hours (!) for the temperature to inch up from 40 to 53.  Meanwhile, I started a ham and pea soup (with water brought from town) in a cast iron pot on the woodstove. My theory is that half of staying warm is smelling warm scents – like smoke from the chimney and cooking and the cider I offered my thirsty husband when he rested occasionally between a dozen round-trip sled deliveries.  Fortunately, he was able to retrieve all of the food before it started to snow.  We left the new furniture on the iced lake until the next day. 

All needs and wants are clearly triaged out here, and groceries are no exception.  First, Bryan hauled the foods most vulnerable to freezing, like fresh produce and eggs.  Once those priorities were completed, he left the products that could freeze and shifted to cabin projects.  As he unscrewed the bear shutters from all the windows, he brought in welcome light and the illusion of warmth. Packed down under its own weight, the fourteen feet of snow that had fallen in this vicinity reached about 8 feet high along the sides of the cabin.  Since this height is about even with the bottom of the first floor windows, Bryan was able to walk from window to window with a screwdriver -  making the task much easier than in the summer!    The lovely views of the frozen lake and the mountains beyond helped remind me of why I was enduring this chilly homecoming. 

Next, Bryan carved makeshift steps through the snow down to the back porch.  His goal was to clear away enough snow from the back door to remove the bear bar and mat and open the door to reach the ten days of wood we had piled next to it.  (The main woodpile is buried- a task for another day). Then he chopped steps down to the doors of the outhouse and the power shed.   He was relieved to find that the battery bank, which stores power from the solar panels and wind turbine, was fully charged.  In the outhouse, the toilet seat and top were frozen together and to the wooden bench below by a three inch deep circle of frost.  I eased up the seats, knocked off the frost and installed a two inch thick ring of Styrofoam, which we use instead of the wooden seat in the winter.  (The air pockets keep it from getting cold).   

Needless to say, we were tuckered out by early evening.  After a meal of Manchego cheese and easy homemade dishes of ham and pea soup, coleslaw, and bananas with a chocolate rum sauce, we tumbled into a very comfortable bed under a very thick comforter and a sound night’s sleep.  Tomorrow is another day. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reflections on Recent (and upcoming) Alaskan Movies

In the past several years, probably since Sarah Palin jumped to the attention of folks in the Lower 48,  numerous movies and TV shows have been set in Alaska.  Below, I won’t critique them or give away any plot elements, but I thought I would address some of the questions that may have occurred to viewers of two recent movies, The Grey, with Liam Neeson and Big Miracle, with Drew Barrymore, and mention an upcoming one still being filmed, Frozen Ground, with John Cusack. 

1)    The Grey 2012, Liam Neeson. 

Plot: A southbound plane from the North Slope crashes somewhere in remote Alaska.  The motley group of survivors is menaced by an aggressive pack of wolves as well as inclement weather and topography.

Information about wolves:  The wolf is the largest canine, but not enormous.  Female wolves rarely top 110 lbs and males tend to weigh about 115 but some can reach 140 lbs.  By comparison to dogs, that means that wolves rarely reach the weight of a Rottweiler, and are certainly smaller than big dogs like St. Bernards and Great Danes. Some are mostly black, and others mostly white ones, but in general, their coats are multi-colored: black, gray, white, beige, like the first one the viewer sees. Wolves are opportunistic carnivores.  Depending on what is available in their vicinity, they hunt caribou, moose, deer, sheep, goats, beavers and share them with the pack, generally hunting every 2-3 days, according to tagged, observed wolves.  They also eat small mammals, birds and fish.  Generally they pursue the youngest, oldest, weakest animals available, and when they can find no live food, they will scavenge.             

Starting to Say Goodbye

Well, we have sold our home in the Lower 48 and will move to our little cabin in the woods of Alaska as a full time home in six weeks.  The sale prompts me to consider two historical analogies.  One is Cortez burning his ships in Latin America, to ensure that his men would commit to their new venture, no looking back.  The other, which more likely occurred to you, too, is Henry David Thoreau. But he only lived in his cabin on Walden Pond (land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, by the way) for two years, after which he moved back into town.  My husband’s goal is to live at our off-the-grid cabin F-O-R-E-V-E-R, but we both realize that health and other matters (like wanting a real bathroom) may trigger a future change.  Now, while we are both healthy, is a good time to embark on this adventure, and never say never or forever. 

Certainly we have been working toward this step over several years of learning and actions and increasing periods of time, both summer and winter.  The cabin and outbuildings and some raised gardens have been constructed and furnished and used and tweaked.  The power systems of solar, wind, and lake pumps have been tested and adjusted.  We’ve taken classes in welding, master gardening, flying, shooting, ham radio, and first aid.  We’ve bought books on relevant “how-to” subjects.  We’ve built up our inventories of supplies with a healthy set of redundancies for every breakdown of communication, power, heat, potable water, and food we could think of.  Perhaps most importantly, we’ve read lots of stories of na├»ve people moving up to Alaska to do exactly what we plan to do.  I hope we have learned something from their hubris and mistakes as well as their perseverance.  Perhaps most usefully, we have also developed a network of friends and service resources in South Central Alaska who are knowledgeable, resourceful, and have a good sense of humor in general, and about us!