Thursday, December 30, 2010


It's so interesting explaining something you know so well to someone that it is completely foreign to. Helping them make connections to things they are familiar with. Putting the pieces together. It really puts a perspective on the things you actually do know. Sometimes, it's so easy to see the areas where you are weak and where you can improve, but when you get a glimpse of the basis of what it is you do know, you begin to appreciate yourself even more. Yes, yes you can always learn and know more, but do you ever look back and appreciate what it is you already know?

This realization may have come from a combination of events that occurred recently, including watching "Inception" for the first time, but I felt inclined to share.

This is going to be my last blog before 2011, thought I would complete this year with some excitement of what could be.

royal fireworks

Friday, December 24, 2010


On my walk on the Vieux Port in search of Pad Thai (I have had a hankering for 3 months), and still with no avail. Where art thou, Where art thou, O'Pad Thai. In the midst, I was drawn to blue lights and sound. A camel walked by. "What is going on," I think out loud. I see men dressed in costumes with their faces painted blue, Oh the "Blue Man Group!" ... not.  I look up and there is someone crawling down the building head first like he was a spider. What IS this?

Alright, what could this possibly be? I feel strange, a weird sense of hysteria. People are standing around, for what I can't quite place, they are waiting for something. Then I see a man in blue sitting at a table going through what seems to be an appointment book. I think it was the opening of a restaurant or an art show. A man in blue approached me passing me a book and asked, "sais-tu comment lire?" Baffled and repeating in my head, "did he just ask me if I can read?!"

So I reply, "bien sur!" Then he says in french "Would you give a lesson to the crowd?" Very strange, it tickled my curiosity. That was my cue to leave.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in France

statue, tree, ornament

dressed like santons
provencal costumes
one of my favorites, she spun around to smile for me. 



chic woman in fake fur (I hope)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crèche de Noël

Commonly known as the nativity scene in english, la crèche de noël is the most common symbol in france for christmas. In Provence, artisans make beautiful figurines of all sorts of people, they make them doll size and smaller. They also fabricate scenes and in the center of town, they set up rows and rows of wooden shelters to set up their beautiful creations to sell during Christmas time in the market. You can expect to pay 30€ (~ $45) for a figurine. My mom has a few in the states she brought all the way from France since before I was born. The ideas are all the same, but I went in search for one that most resembled hers. It seems today they may use different material, but I can't be positive about that. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Vacation

Just a couple more days until Christmas vacation begins! I'm surprised they call it "Vacances de Noël" in public schools here in France. In the states in order avoid discrimination against the other holidays that occur in December, they call this period of vacation "Winter Break."

My teacher's lounge was decked out with a Christmas tree, lights, garland, you name it. Today even Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) came around delivering chocolate candies. He saw me twice so he gave me candy the second time acknowledging that he already gave me one.

Christmas time in France is similar and different in a lot of ways. The foods they eat and the traditions are a little different than in the states. I don't believe they eat a ham at Christmas, they eat sea food. I'll let you know for sure once I celebrate it with my family. Oh and in France, they get together with family on Christmas Eve (la veille de Noël) and they eat then. In the states, people join on Christmas Day in the evening. I'm accustom to opening presents on Christmas Eve anyway since I grew up in a french household. That must be why I was always lucky to celebrate twice, once with my family and Christmas Day with a friend's families.

Check back soon for pictures of some sights in France during noël.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Alaska Map "Painting"

Some of you may already know this, but I make maps. I took the opportunity to make a custom map for my dear friend who spent some time doing mountaineering school in Alaska. I figured, I have the knowledge, power and skill to pull this off. So I set out to create a topographic map of the area he spent time in. Here it is, and I'll explain my methodologies as well if you are interested.

Matanuska Glacier and Powell Glacier
(original size= 24"x36") sorry if it's too small the see here
First, I visited the USGS website and selected the seamless server NED (National Elevation Data) download page. I zoomed into the area that I needed and selected the area with the download cursor. The 1" NED data wasn't available for that region and neither was the 1/3" or the 1/9" so I was forced to settle with the 2" NED Data. Instead of giving me a seamless raster, it brought back 4 tiles for my selected region. I downloaded the tiles (4) and extracted them all to my project folder.

Then I added all 4 rasters to my ArcMap document and projected the entire data frame as "State Plane 83 Feet Alaska FIPS 3" It projected the data quite nicely. I then went into the toolbox to merge the 4 tiles to make them seamless. This is called mosaicing, it "stiches" the images together making them one. It seemed that I had to make a raster in as the output, so I just went into ArcCatalog, copied one of the raster folders that I extracted and gave it a new name, "Output." Then I went back into my ArcMap document and hit the "Mosaic" tool in the ArcToolbox. I navigated to my newly created raster as my output and added the four rasters to the list of desired tiles. I gave it a name "merge" and hit ok. After a couple minutes it was done mosaicing (praise the programming gods) and the image was complete. The 4 tiles were now one raster. I saved the .mxd (Esri map document) as chugach.mxd as this is the area of interest. I will begin beautification.

Creating the hillshade was fun and ridiculous at the same time. I tried 15 different combinations of azimuth and altitude before I settled on one that I liked. I found that, at least in this case, staying close to the default was the best choice. The purple color represents the highest elevations which melt into brown, yellow, green and then finally blue being the glaciers.

The contour lines were a whole separate ballpark. I created them using Spatial Analyst (pretty solid ArcGIS tool). I took the DEM (Digital Elevation Model) and, since I had merged 4 tiles together, had to adjust the range values. Excuse me if I'm being brief/vague with my methodology. This isn't meant to be a tutorial. Then I created the contour lines, I had to convert my values from meters to feet, which was also a series of trial and error, but I finally got it. I am displaying only the contour lines with easily readable values (2000, 3000 etc.) at intervals of 20 feet. I then labeled only the primary contour lines and gave them a more prominent line weight/color. The secondary contour lines are displayed but not labeled, but since they are at every 20 feet, you can deduce what the value of that line actually is.

I also set out to make it so sweet, but unfortunately there wasn't too much available data for what I was looking for. I found some really excellent sources of data that seemed to be good leads until I downloaded them and tried using them. For example, I wasn't able to find a complete point dataset with the peaks and their common names of the area. It would be really cool if someone who is really familiar with the area created a dataset like that. I found some great glacier data that I also used in the map. Anyway, since my resources were limited to internet database searches, I decided to make it look more like a painting than an actual "navigational" map. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Je ne sais pas

There is this facial expression that is clearly french. When talking to a person and they don't know how to reply or they don't know the answer to something, they make this facial expression. It's like a closing of the lips followed by a pursing of the lips, then a bulging of the eyes with expressive eyebrows and the added forward head bob. I think it's equivalent to the shoulder shrug.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Market Photos

I took only these photos while at the market. Enjoy!


I can't believe there is a stigma about cooking for oneself. The preposterous idea "I don't want to cook if only for me." I actually find pleasure in it. At least you can cook for yourself and not have to worry if the other people like it or not. I've been making all sorts of soups for myself since it has been cold and because they are just so darn easy to make! When I was living in L'Estaque, I sometimes took the 36 bus home from le métro station Bougainville. The bus drives through some shady looking neighborhoods complete with trash, run down buildings, street vendors selling stuff that they probably picked up from the tops of their dressers and inside their closets. This neighborhood may not be a place you would want to visit with your grandmother. The bus would pass by and I would be thinking "No siree bob, I will not be getting off at this stop-ever."

Well, I met a wonderful fellow assistant who told me "There's this great market! Want to join!?" I, being very excited about shopping and in desperate need of some produce, agreed. So where might you guess do we end up? Yes, in this shady neighborhood I vowed never to visit. I may sound disappointed, but ladies and gentlemen, no no no, I was tickled fancy! Ok, yes all the undesirable traits were present, but the market was magical! Us three ladies walked through the market, marveling at what the vendors had to offer. We were definitely the minority of the bunch, I could feel eyes from all directions.

The outdoor vendors didn't have much that held our interest, bins of shampoo, umbrellas, italian coffee makers, but then we entered the indoor market. Inside this large warehouse were booths and rooms with an assortment of vendors. It was awesome. If I were to summarize, it was a busy, north african type market. There was "street food," there were spice shops, rugs, live chickens, kitchen supplies, you name it, but most and best of all, there was produce. Yes my friends, tons of it. I picked up some eggplant (reminds me of my mom) carrots, lemons, and some clementines. I had no idea what I was going to make with it, but they were just so delightful looking. When I paid at the check stand (yes there was a little non-operating conveyor belt next to the cashier) you know how much all that goodness cost? 1€85 (about $3). I also picked up spices. Piment fort (spicy pepper) and some cumin. It was legen- what for it... dary.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I finally have internet at my house. Even though I am very grateful for the free wifi 24/7 at MacDo, I am so happy I don't need to go there anymore! No more weird stares, or conversations with strange people, old people, or children. No more couples sitting near me making out. No more being asked to take my foot off the chair (yes, it really happened at McDonalds).  No more smelling the gross food and then being tempted to buy some fries. Now I can get some blog entries in order!