Saturday, 30 August 2008

Weird Headlines

No, not about Palin.

There's a story about a Cross Dressing theif sought in a Bank Robbery.
If you recognize that man, or his mauve coloured lipstick, contact the police immediately.

Apparently his fashion sense isn't the only deadly thing, and police advise people not to approach him - like we really needed told that.

I love the comment below, where someone said "Only straight guys wear mauve lipstick."

Friday, 29 August 2008


When I read the announcement in my paper this morning, I inwardly groaned. I generally like Palin - she's way better than the alternatives - but a) she's going to make a shitty VP (and eventual president, when McCain kicks it) and b) her being on the ticket is going to drag my home through the mud. We're already getting referred to as some podunk, permanently intoxicated wasteland where we subsist on welfare and PDF cheques.

And it's not even been two hours.
I'm hoping that this all goes away, but that seems unlikely.

Has McCain lost it? Has he just gone and lost all of his remaining braincells?

  • The dyed-in-the-wool-never-Obama Clinton supporters tend to be more liberal than average, not less. These aren't Blue Collar Dems, these are the far-from-centre people who go on about the patriarchy ad nausem. A fervently pro-life Palin is going to drive them away.
  • This undercuts McCain's message about experience greatly. He won't be able to level that at Obama without anyone with two wits saying `Well, Palin was a Gov for how long, and you're putting her at the top of the list when you kick it?`
  • She brings a state that, well, probably was leaning towards him anyhow. With a grand total of 3 EVs.
  • She's embroiled in the cronyism probe, for the firing of a DPS employee who was in a bitter divorce with her sister. The probe isn't going well. It's going pretty un-well. Obama is going to point to that, point to the trouble in the DoJ under Bush, with the hirings and firings for political and personal reasons, and say `do the math.`

I didn't expect him to pick Mitt-the-Gitt, but Palin? We'll see, but it looks like a horrible call.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Should we say "Worth it's weight in LSD?"

I got referred a cool link, today, about how much things weigh, and their value. We've all heard of "worth it's weight in gold," but how much does gold really weigh, per dollar? Apparently, not much! If someone offers you a pound of gold, and a pound of fifty dollar bills, you should take the pound of fifty dollar bills. And lend a few to me, for the good advice. O:)

Moxy Moxen

I didn't grow up around Muskox, so when I saw my first one, I did a bit of a double take. "Is that it?" I wondered to myself. "Or is this a midget one?" See, they're not very large animals, roughly 1.25 metres at the shoulder. They look like overgrown goats, in a sense, which is entirely accurate, as Moxen's genus, Ovibos, is closely related to the Goats. It's Caprinae, or the Goat-Antelope family, and so really isn't a oxen at all.

But that other first impression? The one where I thought `meh, not much?` Dead wrong. Muskox are Crazy with a capital C. Especially love struck Muskox. They're dangerous, dumb, angry animals in the rut; one you don't want to be anywhere near. Thus, I don't envy the handelers' job at LARS, where they have to deal with them. I've heard some crazy stories...

Here's an example, not from a domestic herd, but from near Kotz: a muskox gored three sled dogs, and took a chunk of ammunition at close range, before going down. I'm frankly surprised the musher didn't get injured himself before the Moxen decided to give up the go. When they're in that sort of mood, they're too angry and dumb to realize they're dead.
They don't seek out confrontation with humans, but when people and pets cross paths with them, problems arise -- particularly during the rut, said Jim Dau, Kotzebue-area wildlife biologist.
I'd disagree with that. They seek out confrontation with humans, dogs, shadows, fence posts, stray winds, bears, other males, and sometimes chunks of ground that have pissed them off and so must die. They're not bright animals (far from it!), and when they have that many agressive hormones coursing through their veins, the whole world is potentially a punching bag. I boggle at people who decide to ranch these things. Boggle.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


So, how'd I do? Badly! But, being wrong is far more interesting than being right. Let's start with a strict count of yes/no, whether I picked winners.
W:4 L:3 I'd be better off asking a coin, it seems! Within my MOE, Y:6 N:2, but most of that comes from my lack of confidence in a few predictions that allowed for things to just squeak in. Using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank test, I get a W score of W=4 and W=18, neither is statistically significant. Alas, I can't even pick lose consistently! :}

I'm in good company on a lot of things, though. The pollsters, as I figured, butchered the numbers on 4 and 2 - Robopolling's a dumb idea for rural issues. For the pollsters, it doesn't matter that they got the net result of 4 right - it was outside their confidence interval, which to a pollster is the same as getting it wrong.
Begich - I knew he was big, but I should have gone bigger.
Stevens - I anticipated even fewer people would vote `3rd candidate,` AKA, Mr. Viky vik vickster from Vikanistan.
Berkowitz - Benson put in about as good of a showing as I estimated. Is this because even a broken clock is right twice a day?

Prop 1: I generalized from Fairbanks too much. Repeat to self: Fairbanks is more libertarian leaning! I was right, but not how I'd hoped I'd be right (e.g., only within my MOE)
Prop 2: I was within my MOE, but I a) took too much from previous electoral results and b) over estimated Anchorage's influence.
Prop 3: Very wrong, here. I'm a tad surprised. Generally, people like spending other people's money.
Prop 4: I think I had this one nailed, within my `stated confidence.` We'll see if it played out like I thought it did, when we look at how various regions broke down. I hope the state will be releasing that data (Edited to add: They did. Woo!).

Woo! And that's that. I'm a gambling man, and I'm willing to bet a whole nickel I do better in the general election. There's more data, and it'll be better vetted - always is - which gives me more to play with than my `gut feeling` how various electorates will break down. :)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Primary Prognostication redux

I glanced at the prelim results. Now, they're rarely representative without plugging results into a model to predict other districts (especially at 30%). Espeically when the districts that are reporting are, well, urban cores, and the ones that were speedy-McSpeedy. But they don't look good for me thus far! I've still got that fork handy. :)

Pre-Election Guesses!

It's primary day, it's the day we'll finally stop hearing about %*&ing 4 and 2 on the radio nonstop. I'd like to submit a proposal for a moratorium on all mud-slinging and TV name-calling, with the penalty for failing to do so being shot from a snow machine or helicopter by annoyed me.

This also means it's time to wow everyone with my powers of prognostication. AKA, let's see how full of crap I am (hint: Quite full!). Here's my predictions for the winners, how much they'll win by, and my prediction's margin of error. So long as the actual value is within the MOE, I'll be fairly pleased.

Senate: (r)
Stevens: 20% ±10%

Senate: (d)
Begich: 30% ±15%

US REP: (r)
Young: 5%±20%

US REP: (d)
Berkowitz: 15%±10%

Alaska House 8:
Both Candidates run unopposed.

Alaska Senate D:
No election this period.

That's my predictions. I really think the Rep (R) race will be tightest, but I don't know enough about how much Parnell will be able to muster his troops to make a guess on this. The problem with this race is I hear too much about Parnell's campaign, and not enough about Young's. I do think, baring an indictment, this is effectively Young's re-election bid. If he wins, barring something radical, Berkowitz doesn't stand a chance.

Prop1: No 20%±10%
Prop2: Yes 5%±15%
Prop3: Yes 10%±25%
Prop4: Yes 5%±15%

Why do my prop4 numbers differ from the recent poll? Well, within their stated MOE (which is actually statistically derived, and not just a statement of how much they pulled it out of the air like I did), we actually have some agreement. Additionally, I think that poll suffers from dodgy methodology, and systematically excluded those without phones - I'm thinking of a number of villages where where prop 4 is very unpopular, but don't have 100% phone representation. You can't just use the regional Corp's stance on the issue for a proxy for the shareholders, either, as there can be a deep disconnect between the Regional Corp and the Shareholders due to interesting circumstances that I won't go into here.

I'll see if I eat humble pie tomorrow. I have my fork ready! :)

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Spent Brass

My fellow Fairbanksans! Fairbanksamiut! Etc!

Anyone know of a good scrap re-seller? I'm looking for a place where I can sell my spent brass. I don't do reloading myself - I don't have the equipment to do it. And selling it on ebay is more trouble than I want. I'm starting to accumulate quite a bit of it (more than pictured).

Friday, 22 August 2008

The state of Yeti Research!

There's some good news for bigfoot researchers, despite yesterday's blow to the field. The evidence for bigfoot is still overwhelming, and thanks to Dave Coltman, that evidence has been brought to peer-reviewed journals for scrutiny by the scientific world at large.

Dave Coltman is a researcher in UA: Edmonton, who specializes in Bighorn Sheep and other closely mountain ungulates. His research on the effects of full curl hunting was amazing and revelatory. In my niche of the research community, I'd recognize him as a good scientist - so when he published a molecular study of a hairyman, I took note!

In this study, they took possession of hairs collected from a big-foot researcher in The Yukon (Teslin, YT). There's a possibility that there was cross contamination, as the hairs were sent to a technician for the Yukon Department of Environment, before it arrived in the author's possession. Coltman and Davis then extracted DNA from the hair much like you would with any other hair - Qiagen has a popular DNA extraction kit, and that's exactly what they used. Then, using PCR, they amplified a region of the Mitocondrial Genome known as the D-Loop - it's a region of DNA that shows good diversity, and makes a great tool for analysis. They took this small region and compared it to other species. They then took those sequences closest to it, and compared them to decide who's closely related to whom.

This process is called phylogenetics. Molecular phylogenetics itself is complex, but its roots are very simple. It's driven by the idea that you can reconstruct relationships by tracking mutations. Say you start with a sequence back in time:


Now this Pika that has the sequence has a lot of similar baby Pikas with identical sequences, except one, who has a miiiiinor mutation. So now you have

ACGACGT (Group1) ACGTCGT (group2)

Now both groups of Pikas grow up to be big, strong Pikas (except for the ones that get turned into parkas. :p) and they have baby Pikas of their own. Both groups have mutations with a small number.

ACGACGT (Group1) ACGTCGT (group2)
ACGACCT (Group3) TCGTCGT (group4)

Now a wildlife biologist goes through and samples all the Pikas. By comparing the sequences, you can tell which groups begat who by looking for a variety of things. One popular approach is to make a tree that has a minimum number of changes. Similar things end up getting lumped with similar things.

That's a phylogram. By the branching pattern, you can see who's closely related to who - group 4 and 2; groups 1 and 3. It's impossible to tell who is the most 'basal,' or earliest, group on this one, but often you can. And that's the basics of doing phylogenetics! Isn't that easy? Sure, there's complexities, and it can get real ugly, but the basis of the field is really nice and easy - anyone could get into it! Just replace `generations of pikas` with larger periods of time - usually hunderds of generations for useful mutations to acrue - and you've got it.

Now! That little bit of explanation out of the way, what did Coltman and Davis find? Why, they found this!
There's only one sane explanation for this data, of course: Bigfoot is a highly evolved, upright, bipedal bison. Obviously, the hairs couldn't have come from anything other than an honest to goodness Sasquatch, because they were collected by expert witnesses! The identification is 100%. All this time thinking that Sasquatch was a primate, we were way off the mark. Truely, this finding will rock the world!

Alas, Coltman disagrees with me. He writes,
There are several possible explanations for these results. First, as suggested from molecular analysis of hair from a suspected Yeti [1], the Sasquatch might be a highly elusive ungulate that exhibits surprising morpho- logical convergence with primates. Alternately, the hair might have originated from a real bison and be unrelated to the Sasquatch. Parsimony would favor the second interpretation, in which case, the identity and taxonomy of this enigmatic and elusive creature remains a mystery.
What foolishness is this? He, alas, is Moses. He has brought us to the promised land of Yeti research, but he is unable to see it for what it is: An obvious sign that there are hyper-evolved bison wandering around. One day, I hope he sees the error of his ways, and joins the winning team.

A whole herd of Yeti, grazing in the Yukon Territory.
Picture of these placid giants by yours truely.

Coltman, D., and Davis, C. (2006). Molecular cryptozoology meets the Sasquatch. Trends in Ecology and Evolution (21):2. pp 60-61.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Bigfoot made of unusual proteins.

A week or two ago, when the story broke, it was trumpeted to the high heavens: Bigfoot was found! All the bigfoot hunters were swaggering around like that one pirate from that Disney Pirates movie they made all the rotten sequels for. "Ha!"so many of them went. "Look who's red faced now!"

So when it turned out that the hairyman/sasquatch they found was a rubber gorilla suit? They got unusually quiet. Strangely, the newspapers aren't covering it quite as much, either. I guess `AP and NYT got taken in by two guys and a 20 dollar costume` doesn't make a good headline. But in true sasquatch researcher style, they should have concluded that sasquatch is actually hollow, and closely related to the rubber tree! Parsimony demands nothing less as a conclusion!

Will hairyman ever be found? Maybe! I give it a probability of p less than 1x10^-7! I'm generous, though, and I'm willing to give the bigfoot researchers much better odds with other things: p greater than .95 that they'll go and make fools of themselves again in the future. O:)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Two posts at once!

Summer is officially over. The fireweed near my home finished blooming and is turning red, this morning had a frost advisory, the leaves are starting to change... Alas! Alack! Summer, we barely knew thee. At least it was sunny, yesterday. As opposed to cloudy. And today, FBNS schools are back in service! @Cathy reported that Kotz was in session this last Monday, and @E tells me that part of LYSD is back in on the 25th. Heck, it even smelled like the end of summer, this morning.
Sadly, I know what the end of summer brings: Fall college students. :( Soon, I'll have to beat off Undergrads with a stick to get parking, and we'll find random `gifts` left in the restrooms again. I may have to valiantly defend my office from their incursions. Things will get much noisier and busier. Luckily, we have winter break to look forward to, for 'ridding ourselves of the students for quiet, again.

Stevens case to be held in AK.

Ted Stevens' legal strategy has baffled me from moment uno - take for example his filing for the trial to be moved to Alaska. Perhaps he was banking on the judge being really, really intoxicated at the moment he was making his decision, because Stevens' lawyers should have known (and Stevens, being an ex-lawyer, should know) that any judge worth their salt would recognize the odds of getting an unbiased jury in Alaska are like the odds on winning the lottery. There's next to zero chance - everyone in the state knows him, and just about everyone in the state has an opinion on him. Any trial in Alaska wouldn't be run by the courts, but instead by the newspapers, TV, and political campaigns.

Apparently the judge is worth his salt, because he's keeping the trial in Washington.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Neat new News Source

There's a new news source in town, a bit of a mixed bag at the moment, called the Alaska Dispatch. It's caught my eye enough to book mark it; it's an online magazine, so we'll see how often it gets updated!

Tip of the hat to old AlAnon.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Amplify your fruit

When it comes to those dumb foot pads (they did a `too little too late` NPR story on them), I have only one question: How do you enhance a grapefruit? Can I buy an enhanced grapefruit at the Enhanced Fred Meyer's? If so, I want a dozen. The quality of my breakfast demands no less!

Tomorrow: Braving the DMV. I'll need, like, an enhanced pineapple for that. Or a double amplified energized bowl of blueberries.

Beer notes from this weekend.

I opened a bottle of The Abyss that I bought two weeks ago from Goldhill. I was highly impressed, and wrote the following notes.

look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | drink: 4
Overall: 4.6 of 5 (A+).

The Bottle is stately, simple, with a wax sealed cap. The label declares its vintage (2007). The Wax is a bit tricky to cut off at first, but soon comes off from around the cap. The beer pours slowly, with a viscosity befitting to its molasses heritage. The result in my glass is a deep brown opaque beer, with a brown head that clings nicely to the side of the glass. The smell of dark chocolate, and the mild molasses is countered by a woody and smoky odour.

The flavour is strong, muscling through anything, with a tastes of baker's chocolate, liquorice, with a mild to moderate hint of coffee. The woody, smoky flavour really comes through pleasantly, with just enough presence to add additional direction to this beer. The beer drinks smoothly, with moderate carbonation that doesn't sting, and a oily finish that clings to the mouth. This is really a beer to have with a desert such as a cheese cake, or perhaps as a desert in its own right. The ethanol remains hidden under the malts and tastes of roast throughout, making it very easy to drink more than you intended. An amazing beer from a quality brewery. Deschutes has really outdone themselves with this offering.
If you're into stouts, this is one to try. Goldhill Liquor has some for sale, still.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Now with extra rustic sauce!

As I said, I'm busy looking for a new place to live. It's really hit or miss here, because there seems to be no middle ground between utter looser buildings, and cabins that are a gift from the gods. To cover for their miserable, decrepit properties, lots of owners will wrap their dry cabin ads, or verbal descriptions, in verbage to make it sound less of a hole in the ground than it really is.

  1. Nearly half of people lie about the dimensions of the place outright. If you see N x 20, become skeptical, because that's a popular dimension to estimate. And it's not just me eyeballing these places; my tape measure wouldn't lie. Most aegergious was a place about 12x14 being sold as 20x22. Off there by a little under half there, cheif.
  2. When you see the word cosey, don't walk, run. That's a code work for `you will not have enough space to breath, nevermind live.` They'll spruce it up by saying it's a great place for one person, some times. That's because you can't fit a second person in there with origami.
  3. It's bright! It's sunny! It has lots of windows! So... consequently, it leaks heat like a sieve! They may try to assure you that it's `energy efficient` none the less. This is stupid. Glass insulates about as well as a pile of frying pans - e.g., not really. Don't bother asking how much fuel it went through on these places, because they'll lie outright. Ma'am, if it really used 200 gallons of fuel all last year, why does it have a 500 gal tank? If it's that well built, 500 gallons would be enough to make the place a firey inferno.
  4. Rustic! Rustic cabin with extra rustic sauce! Great for students! Translation: Hoooooooly crap this place is run down. Expect holes in wall, ancient and degraded flooring, broken windows, rotten bords, and more drafts than a government highway plan. They may say it's an adventure, which in horrible-lot-owner lingo means you'll get to know your dog well, because you'll be sleeping with her every night for heat.
  5. This cabin is unique! Which is another way of saying I was /really/ drunk when I planned it. Expect things to be awkward and poorly thought out. Like kitchens in bedrooms, stairs in the closets, and sudden changes in floor-ceiling height. Nonstandard buildings like these aren't just a pain to live in, but they also conceal other building defects.
Feel free to add your own. I'm going to grab my camera, soon, and do `sure fire signs the owner doesn't know what they're doing.` Well, hopefuly soon.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Paper Dragons

I'm a sucker for optical illusions. I found a online store full of them, and I immediately put my wallet far from me, so I didn't buy a load of nifty-though-useless junk. I did, however, find this nifty one that's free:
He perches inside my office, watching my door. Neat, huh? What's the illusion, you ask? Watch, as he follows you:
As you go around, his head and eyes follow you around my office. However, the further you go, the more you run the risk of seeing too much:
As you go far to the right, you see the reality: the face, is in fact, inside out. It's hollowed out. Your brain, when it sees it, makes an assumption-one that you can't get around, even if you consciously know the face is inverted, you can't look at it without your brain making those assumptions. It's like a visual logical fallacy. Neat, huh?

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Out of Context

Sometimes, people just bring me the head.
Just the head?
Yeah, for a good pelt.
Huh. So, do Alaskan Gangsters wake up with dead sled dog heads in their bed?

If I was a crude bastard I'd make a joke about how interior trappers give ADF&G good... But such jokes are beneath me. Obviously.

... what?

Utility Prices in Bethel

I thought I posted this last night, but turns out I forgot to write it. That makes it hard. There was a story on the NPR radio about electricity prices in Bethel, and how rates have doubled - tripled for utility subscribers. Really, it's par for the course; everyone's prices are going up, just some increases are more absurd than other people's increases. What hit me though is that some of the stated rate increases were so large that that kind of money could pay for a big commercial wind/solar system, with a little left over to burn diesel on bad days. Even if you didn't take your home entirely off the utilidor there, that would really quickly evicerate your power consumption.

It's not for a lack of wind resources. God knows that. And it shouldn't be for a lack of exposure. They had that big wind conference for the YK down there, where a lot of villages sent people to talk about what they could do to set up systems in their own place. Presumably some people from Bethel attended their own conferance. It could be that most people think electricity is the pervew of utilities, so it should be them putting up the systems. Which is like waiting for river to boil.

It's probably a capital problem, for most people who've considered it. Yeah, it makes finacial sense later, but while making the switch, you have to pay for both the equipment and the continued ultilites until you have it up. I wonder if small loans for just getting the project started would help.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Busy busy!

I've been slacking off on the blog because of how busy I've been. I'm looking for a new cabin, preferably one that isn't a coffin. All the good ones are being snapped up an hour after they get published - go figure! So I've been doing a lot of driving, looking at an endless parade of bad ones. I'll make a post later, about what to look for in a good cabin on a budget, but I don't have much time before I need to run again (I'm at the Washateria, getting enough stuff clean that I smell like I'm not broke. :p)


Thursday, 7 August 2008

Beavers and Monogamy.

About two years ago, I decided I would destroy monogamy. That's right, I'm one of those people who are out to wreck family values that the `Focus on the Family` bunch warn us all about. Except I deal mostly with animals, so I suppose I'm who `Focus on the Family Castor Chapter` warned us all about.

See, I, in 2005-06, I first began wondering about beavers - no, not that sort. Perverts. Though, I suppose I could write off a lot of things as business expenditures if I was researching them. (I'm done with the bawdy jokes now, honestly). See, the issue with beavers is that they're stereotyped as good old, monogamous, happy family critter. And it's been my experience that when we think that's so, it simply ain't so bob.

For example, for the longest, we assumed a number of species were monogamous. Take Swift Foxes. Swift Foxes are socially monogamous, and mate for life. However, a study showed 52% of offspring were not sired by the apparent mate of the mother (Kitchen et. al 2006). Among Tree Swallows, 50% of broods studied were extra pair young (Lifjeld et. al 1992). Far from being unique, many other species of birds are apparently monogamous, but only insofar as we tend to not catch them cheating on each-other.

Mr. Beaver Began to suspect his wife was less than faithful when
he read papers in the journal
Animal Behaviour describing
the rarity of monogamy in actual breeding systems.
Also, that she was cooking someone else's log for dinner was a bit of a hint.

In 2007, a book came out called Rodent Societies – An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective, by Jerry O. Wolff(ed) and Paul W. Sherman(ed). It has a chapter written by Peter Busher on Social Organization in the Beaver. In it, he discusses facets of the beaver's social ecology, synthesizing a large amount of work for what would a grand paper. Would be, except for a single line, where he makes a parenthetical statement:
"[...] (although in most cases, this [genetic monogamy] has yet to be confirmed by DNA analysis) [...]" (p.281).
Put another way, it says that the remainder of his chapter is based off of a massive, un-validated assumption.

I was flabbergasted that people had poured so much work into a subject, when it was built on such a shaky premise. Sure enough, when I dug through the literature, I found no one had actually done the genetics (and published them) to show that beavers don't cheat on each other behind their flat little tails (I'm not fond of beaver tail, but I recently found it shouldn't be acridic tasting). This astounded me, and I resolve to study it right away.

Hah. Yeah Right.

Well, I never got resources together to look into the issue, but a group from EIU were wrapping up asking the same questions right around the time I decided `honestly! Really! Any day now!` Crawford et. al (2008) decided to sample colonies from south central and south east Illinois between from 2005-2007 using Conibear traps. The sexed them, weighed them, and then aged them. The took just a tiny bit of skin from each one. For a segment of the beavers, they sampled using live-trapping snares. In the end, they got samples from about 127 beavers, which is far more than I'd have been able to wing (I was looking at ~1/2 that, which would make for a less convincing paper.)

After this, they went home and extracted DNA from the skin samples, and then did parent-typing. This is done by looking at small junk regions we call `microsatellites` that are littered liberally throughout the genome. These microsats are of variable size, and so you can use a technique called PCR to make lots of copies of them, and then analyse them in a jell-o like substance and see which copies of the microsats the individual has. As you get one from mom and one from dad, you can then compare what mom and punative-dad had to see if they match. By doing lots of these microsats (Crawford et al did 7 different ones), you can assign a probability that a random individual could be the pup's mother or father. And if the pup has a form of the microsat that the punative father doesn't have at all, it's indicative of that male not being the actual father.

Actual parent typing is a tad more complex than that, but that's actually a good portion of the broad strokes. It's really, actually, quite simple in totality.

And then comes the figure the everyone's looking for. 56% of litters had more than one father. Zadgooks! This is not what they showed us in the Chronicles of Narnia at all! If that movie was to be biologically accurate, Mrs. Beaver would be spending a whole lot of time down at the gym, or showing the plumber where exactly that pipe's broken in the basement for the 3rd time that week.

And that's how it goes for Monogamy, by-and-large. There really aren't that many species that are strictly so, no matter what romantic notions we saddle them with. And why should they? Humans are scarcely monogamous - Jerry Springer's continued existence is testament to this fact, if nothing else! In most situations, it's in a critter's biological interest to mate with as many other males/females as they can get away with. It's sometimes not in their social interest, however, as Mr. Beaver might try to scratch Joe Beaver's eyes out for playing around with his wife. Humans, in the same vein, have firearms.

Joe Beaver suffers a mysterious log-related accident

after visiting Mrs. Beaver one fine afternoon. Mr. Beaver denied
wrongdoing, but in great detail, and before he'd been accused.

Crawford, J.C., Liu, Z., Nelson, T.A., Nielsen., C.K. and Bloomquist, C.K. (2008). Microsatellite analysis of mating and kinship in beavers (Castor canadensis). Journal of Mammalogy, 89(3), pp. 575-581.
Kitchen, A.M., Gese, E.M., Waits, L.P., Karki, S.M., and Schauster, E.R. (2006). Multiple breeding strategies in the swift fox, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour, 71(5), pp. 1029-1038.
Lifjeld, J.T., Dunn, P.O., Robertson, R.J., and Boag, P.T. (1992). Extra-pair paternity in monogamous tree swallows. Animal Behaviour, 45(2), pp. 213-229.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A better use for DHS money

We're lucky, here in Fairbanks, to be insulated from a vicious strain nonsense to a small degree. Due to its location, and the lifestyle of many of it's inhabitants, a given person is much less likely to be an animal-rights nutjob. There are some (like the people who kept releasing the feral, diseased dogs from the live traps), but not many. It becomes easy to forget here that other people are much less lucky.

These acts are, pure and simple, terrorism. It's terrorism from a practical standpoint (in that it hopes to intimidate), and it's terrorism from a legal standpoint. In all the TSA nonsense, and the DHS terror alert rainbows, we've neglected the most active and serious form of terrorism in the United States. If you don't think it's a problem, I offer you this timeline. Notice how the problem's got worse after 11 September.

And it's getting more and more bold. Their anti-science agenda is pretty damn clear when they're targeting researchers who use fruit flies. Honest to god, these people are trying to kill humans over insects with a lifespan usually around a few weeks.

Jerry Vlasak, a pathetic pile of shit sorry excuse of a waste of life, slithered out of his hole as usual and made his usual comments about how he `doesn't know who did the attacks (wink wink nudge nudge), but he he supports this stuff, and plans on buying the people a big cake.` Actually, the usual language is `I don't condone such actions (except when I condone them), but I can see what drives people to violence.`

I have a modest proposal for such a guy. We arrest him, interrogate him, and throw all his bombing buddies in jail for the rest of their adult lives too. Mister `gosh, how'd I end up where the attack would occur again?` A non-islamic terrorist should get the same treatment as the ones we capture bent on a more different Jihad. Equal rights demands nothing less.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Bring a bucket

From Avery: Free Water for Dry Cabin.
Sure, we have river-front property, but someone still has their sense of humour. :)
Luckily, the next few days will dry up. Sure, Noah's deluge would be `drying up` at this point. But. ;)

Pick Axe Porter

So I finally got around to trying one of Silver Gulch's beers, Pick Axe Porter. People have been bugging me enough to try their stuff, especially their seasonal, that I finally got off my keister to try some. I was looking to buy some stout today, but popular opinion won the day. I wrote the following review for it - I take my beer far too seriously. :)

12 Oz Bottle with a label of old Alaskan miners on the front. Porter pours a medium brown, not entirely opaque, and with very little head. Almost as much carbonation as a flat can of coke - I tried to generate head to little avail. Odour carries the scent of ethanol first and foremost, followed by a strong malted character. If there's anything lurking beneath these two, they don't get to come out and play.

Tastes smooth, malty, with a slightly bitter after. Flavour lingers shortly, before leaving a tingling sensation in the cheeks - almost like a carbonated bite, sans the carbonation. Smokey flavours emerge with time, especially as the beer warms, eventually turning to a charcoal-esq. nature. Goes down too fast, thanks to it's light body. It's worth noting that this beer is 4.3% ABW.

Strangely, this beer goes phenomenally well with chicken Parmesan.
Look: 3.5 | Smell: 3 | Taste: 4 | Feel: 3.5 | Drinkability: 4.5 (All of these are out of 5)
Overall: B

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Sun, glorious sun!

Just a short post for today - I got stuck in the lab at work, and am dead tired.
But! But today we saw the sun! Oh, what a glorious disk, who's existence we thought fabled! Okay, so maybe I'm overreacting. Still, it's bright outside for a change.

Of course, it's going to rain tonight. As if we needed more.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

In act one, we summon the herald!

The Stevens/Murkowski letter to Bush imploring him to move on ANWR is pure political theatre. And very poor political theatre at that. Bush doesn't need convincing to drill in ANWR. Congress does. Exploring won't change the situation in congress. In fact, it might make some of the senators turn around and dig in over this. It's all very silly. I'm not sure how I'd go about it myself, if I were to try, but I won't confess to having given it a lot of thought.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Efficacy of Bear Spray.

You might have heard on the news, a while back, about a study showing Bear spray pretty darn effective at stopping bears of all species. The paper's by Smith et. al 2008. Bear spray is a souped up version of pepper spray, intended for use by hikers, hunters, and pretty much anyone having to live or work in bear country. The idea is that these Capsaicinoid sprays induce the same host of responses that occur when humans are sprayed - coughing, blindness, discomfort, etc (Miller 2001). Based on results with captive bears, a gentleman named David Miller (whom I can no longer locate, but was last seen at Colorado State University) recommended these high intensity sprays be considered as bear deterrent (Miller 1980).

I'll go out on a limb and lay out my biases: I'm for bear spray. I don't carry it myself, but I think makes a fine alternative to carrying a lethal weapon. With bear spray, both the bear and the user gets to go home at the end of the day, and the bear is unlikely to try to start things again, and I like that. That said, Smith et. al need to revisit their methodology.

My problems with their study, in a nutshell:
A) Dead men tell no tales. That's right, they couldn't interview anyone who used bear spray unsuccessfully and died. How frequent is this? I don't know! I don't think the dead people are going to be talking much about it. We do know, however, that bear fatalities occur. And we know it's slippery to try and figure out how many fatalities occur, because of the beyond-the-grave reporting issues.

Absently, I wonder what Timothy Treadwell's listed cause of attack is. I'm banking on `provoked.`

B) Bear spray is effective... compared to what? I don't see any good descriptive statistics here. Are they better or worse than doing nothing? This might sound crazy, but a number of the bear-human incidents in the study looked like they might have resolved themselves without the bear spray just as well as with! How does Bear Spray compare to fire arms? Better or worse? If we're going to make public safety recommendations based off of this study, we need to know how these categories stack against each-other. You can't analyse bear spray's effectiveness without groups of comparison.

Now. I still think bear spray is effective and worthwhile. This publication was just highly ineffective in demonstrating it.

While we're on the subject - there's a vicious rumour that polar bears are the most deadly of the bears. I hear people talk about how Polar Bears actively hunt humans, are drawn to humans in a hostile way, etc. USGS's own data, over 100 years worth, contradicts this view. In Alaska, Brown Bears make up 23% of the population, they write, but but make 86.4% of the conflicts. USGS reports this is 375% the expected if conflicts were randomly distributed across bear species. Polar Bears, to contrast, are only 30% of expected if conflicts were random, and represented only 1.5% of the conflicts in the state.

Miller, D.S. (2001). Review of oleoresin capsicum (pepper) sprays for self-defense against captive wildlife. Zoo Biology, v.20, pp. 389-398.
Miller G. D. (1980). Behavioral and physiological characteristics of grizzly and polar bears, and their relation to bear repellents. Thesis, University of Montana. Missoula, USA.
Smith, T.S., Herrero, S., Debruyn, T.D., and Wilder, J.M. (2008). Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Mannagement, v.72, pp.640-645.

Edit to add I've been told that the two Millers are not the same people. D.S. Miller didn't pioneer use of bear spray. Scientists can be tricky to track with just their initials.