Thursday, 30 July 2009


I'm fleeing the fires (from fairbanks) for my health, so no post tomorrow. Sorry, folks. Hopefully the smoke will let up by the time I get back.

I've had enough of these politics!

I've decided to become a secessionist. Our state can't afford to remain tied to this sinking, stinking union anymore. The lower 48's president is a mad man who'll destroy us all.

What prompted this decision? Not healthcare, not foreign policy, nor anything else on the legislative agenda.

No, it's his choice in beer:
According to ABC "The president will drink Bud Light," his Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "The Harvard scholar has expressed his preference for Red Stripe, and the sergeant mentioned to Obama that he likes Blue Moon."
Any president that willing drinks Bud Light is no president of mine! Obama should just said he'd be drinking urine all night. The Police officer has some taste - Blue Moon is a reasonably okay brew. Maybe he should be president, instead.

Clippy joins the army

Just the other day, I was railing against Microsoft making my annoying while I try to do basic things on a computer. Well, one of Microsoft's worst ideas - that god forsaken paperclip that annoyed the heck out of everyone - is about to be implemented for the military. The idea is that it'll help military brass wade through the nightmare of paperwork that is working for the government. I personally imagine it will work something like this:

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Computer Criminal

I'm writing this as I bang my head against a monitor, frustrated beyond words about how incredibly awkward transferring all my data from one work computer to a new work computer has been. I'm using Windows Easy Transfer, which has an incredibly deceptive name because there's nothing easy about it.

Among my many issues is that it won't transfer applications, which means I need to re-install hundreds of work applications one by one, ensuring I get nothing done for the next week.

I'm told the justification is that Microsoft thinks that transferring computer programs is incredibly suspect. The logic goes that if you legally own a program, you should be able to re-install it yourself.

I can take this a step further: if you legally own the data, you should be able to transfer all your documents itself. So why have Windows Easy Transfer move anything at all?

I'm tired of being treated like a criminal... It's bad enough that people treat me as suspect and dodgey in normal, day to day life. My computer should not be treating me like I'm out to break the law, too.

And to top that off, by treating customers as criminals, you've totally removed any incentive for your customers to follow the law. It wasn't until Microsoft decided to give me the giant electronic middle finger that I started thinking, gee, I want to pirate some software, just to spite Microsoft. I probably won't, but the thought is now definitely in my head.

Hey, Microsoft, Sony, Apple, and the rest of you computer jerks: Let me use my software. Or consumers will start using illegal versions of your software that get around your roadblocks, and your cash stream will dry up. And this isn't a threat, it's basic economics.

And this, of course, is on top of how badly Vista stinks to begin with. >:(


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Dillingham Radio Blogger

I've had a chance to mull over the Dillingham blogger issue since I read about it in the Tundra Drums, and I'm a bit troubled by it. I think three things are true, here:
  1. She's absolutely right about how horrible rape, domestic violence and alcoholism is.
  2. She came out as very insulting.
  3. Point number 1 doesn't really matter.
It doesn't matter whether she's right or wrong. That's besides the point. I can say things both for and against her "argument" that the problems exist, and either way I wouldn't be insulting, or rude. And it was her affect which people found incredibly offensive. Snark isn't necessarily bad, but when it seems hateful and hurtful, it becomes an issue. You can read her blog itself at, but you don't need to go very far to get an impression.

But despite that, it doesn't really matter. I've said things that some groups would find incredibly offensive, without a hint of apology, because I believed them to be true. In some instances, people hadn't talked to me again after, but it is their prerogative to not talk to me as much as it is my prerogative to state an opinion. Eileen said some stupid, hateful things, but it's her god given right to do that. I don't think she should have lost her job over it. People have the right to hate her, but I don't think she should have lost her job.

What's interesting is that the blog hadn't been updated in 5 months before all this came out - that's how dangerous old posts are! To check how much hot water my own blog could get me in, I poked at some of my archives. Luckily, I've only been mean to Anchorage in this blog, and I've got no desire to work there, anyhow (Just kidding, Anchorage!).

Monday, 27 July 2009

Special happenings.

Something special happened in Fairbanks, yesterday. I'm not talking about the stepping down of you-know-who (I attended that!). I'm not talking about my Blog's Anniversary, either. Or the wildfires that decided to shower us with ash, and cause my airways to constrict (Thanks fires!).

No, yesterday, the sun set!

"What?" You say. "It does that daily!" Well, it might go down, but it doesn't set. Civil Twilight is defined as the time when the sun goes 6 degrees below the horizion, something It hasn't done for a few months now. This (somewhat arbitrary) benchmark denotes when it gets truly dark outside, as opposed to just dusky or dawn...y. If you were up last night, you would have needed to turn on a light, or just stumbled around in the dark, because we had 47 minutes of the first Night we've had since the sun went up in mid-may.

Over-run by foxes.

In all my life, I haven't seen foxes being as brazen as they've been around my home, lately. I hope this means they won't be shy come September! One thing I have to wonder is how they haven't been eaten by an eagle yet...

I don't know enough to make a guess if these foxes are siblings or a mated pair. Your guess is as good as mine!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

It's your birthday!

XKCD has an incredibly timely and cute comic about woodpeckers and birthdays.
Today is my Blog's Birthday. It was an experiment in whether I could keep a blog focused on things other than what I was doing that day. It was also an experiment in whether I could write about science for the public. My blog peaked at about 100 unique readers, and is now somewhere around 30-40, depending on whether some IP addresses are different people. Not a lot of you post comments! That's sad. ; )

A lot of the things I meant to use this blog for, I haven't. I was going to practise Yugcetun writing in here more, but I've slowly figured it out, mostly, and I get plenty of practise in other ways. I meant to rope in a co-blogger, to pick up some of the slack, but I haven't found another person at the University who I could ask. I meant to write more about politics, but Troopergate and Palin's VP run removed any urge to talk about these things, since we're bombarded with it daily now.

Will I still blog a year from now? Aipaagni! Maybe I will, maybe I won't. I don't know the future. But I do know I'm going to have another beer tonight.

Happy birthday, Blog!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Beer Notes from this Thursday

I had a Samuel Adams at my sister's wedding, but I thoroughly did not like it. This became an issue of contention, as my brother in law P proceeded to mock me for trying Amaretto and liking it, but not a proper beer as a man would. I make no apologies for liking amaretto, and point out that even given the premise that an amaretto is a "Chick-Drink," it only marginally offsets my overwhelming masculinity in that I've built my own boat, hunt my own food, and on one occasion hiked over 50 miles on a blown knee. In short, checkmate.

However, I am unlike P, and I am magnanimous. I am willing to forgive his slight, and try another Samuel Adams. I noticed a 6 pack of Samuel Adams Cream Stout in my store (Sam Adams is not a frequent entrant in my usual stores), and I decided to give their line another try. Here are my notes:

Samuel Adams Cream Stout by Boston Beer Brewing Company, Boston MA.

It comes in a fairly average bottle, not especially slender or thick, containing 12 Oz - about 35 cl in proper units of measure. The glass is dark, though translucent, and there's two labels, one around the neck, either of which seem reserved and appropriate. Interestingly, the cap was flimsy, and my bottle opener cut right through it.

This is a whispy, quiet beer which pours easily, and with minimal carbonation. It's a deep oak colour in my glass, with a razor thin ring of tan head. I'm immediately struck by the smell of cream, burnt molasses, and of yeast. Tasting it, this stout is smooth, clean, and with little bite. The cream doesn't stand out in this beer; instead, I'm drawn to its aftertaste, that of roasted coffee. There's just barely a sweet note, but it's lost in a big malty wilderness. At 4.7% ABV, it isn't terribly alcoholic, a fact that's reflected by the lack of even a hint of ethanol in its aroma.

It's drinkability is impaired by its particular combination of flavours which quickly wears out its welcome. However, this stout would make a fine dessert beer. A solid offering. B+, 3.8 out of 5.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

No video on how Wales, AK got named yet.

Here's a little video, especially for the more Aussie folk. It's Mitchell and Webb, a comedy duo I found on the interwebs about a week ago.

It reminds me of a BBC comedy radio thing called the News Quiz (which I get podcasted to my office), where they commented after Palin became VP, "Anyone who's actually been to Bristol would know better than to name anything after it." :)

Things Alaskans like: Lipton Tea

Alaskans really, really like lipton tea. Alaskans drink the stuff by the case load. As discerning connoisseurs of hot beverages, Alaskans expect nothing short of the very best. Coffee shops? Perhaps. Tea houses? No. Over steeped Lipton Tea in your livingroom? Now there's fine dining!

Most lower 48ers have Alaska pegged for a coffee place, and Alaskans certainly do drink the fair share of coffee. Many people can't drink it until the coffee has been through the grounds at least twice, to squeeze out every last morsel of coffee goodness. I'm told this is called "Camp-coffee" by people outside, but Alaskans know better: this is coffee as god intended. If it doesn't slowly erode stainless steel, then it's not done yet.

But what really surprises people outside is how much Alaskans love tea. Not any tea, mind, but Lipton Tea. Apparently, the unwashed heathens south of the border can't buy tea by the crate. How they survive without this most basic item, an Alaskan can't help but guess at.

If you go into someone's house, you will be offered tea. If you don't accept, Alaskan's will know one of two things: a) You're from the lower 48, or b) You're a giant jerk. If you do accept, the tea will be added to boiling water, and then forgotten for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes. When it's remembered, more water will be added to bring the temperature back to scalding, and it will be offered to you. At this point, your objective is to drink the scalding tea as fast as you can.

If you want to blend in with Alaskans, learn to drink your tea in one gulp, and make sure to only offer your guests very hot tea. If you want to talk to the person for longer, offer them pilot bread too.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

I was reading an article on Palin at the Alaska Dispatch that was mostly standard fare. However, what really stood out to me was the author biography at the bottom of the article. You know, here the editors explain who the person who wrote the preceding piece is.

It read,

Craig Medred has been a reporter in Alaska for more than 30 years. He has in that time witnessed all sorts of craziness. He long ago gave up believing there were sensible explanations for all human behavior.

I have to say, that's as good as any biography I've seen.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Cauga una?

I was sure that one of my European readers would pipe up with the answer to the skull to the right! Alas, it wasn't the case. Not only is the animal depicted to the right not from the Pleistocene, but it's still around today. Believe it or not, this animal is a deer. Yes, it's a sabre-toothed deer, around and well in the modern world! It's proper name is the Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis), and obviously it doesn't have a name yugcetun.

I'm really sorry I don't have any pictures for myself of this animal, at least none that aren't in books, but here are two from wikimedia that I can share with you all, to give you an idea what the fang-ity deer look like:

So impressive!

What's interesting is that their family, Cervidae, are known as the antlered deer. However, the Chinese Water Deer lacks antlers throughout its life. Even the Tufted Deer, who's antlers sometimes don't protrude through the head-fur, has a more impresive rack than the Chinese Water Deer. They don't represent an especially old group of animals - my phylogeny on my wall doesn't have them having an especially "basal node," - meaning they didn't split off from from the rest of the deer far back in time. In fact, moose are far more 'basal' than the Chinese Water deer.

These atavistic critters give us clues about how deer probably were like before they evolved antlers. They're largely solitary through most of the year, spending their time in association with wetlands, feeding. However, in the rut the males will periodically encounter eachother, where they try to impress other males with the size and symmetry of their tusks. If they're unimpressed, a bout of often bloody fighting with commence, until either a deer is dead, or runs away. Far be it from them to just mess up eachother, periodically, a Chinese Water deer will sometimes seriously gore a dog in China, or in introduced populations in the UK and France.

Here's one for this week!
Cauga una? I have no idea what it is, but I'll find out before next tuesday! :p

Monday, 20 July 2009

Posted without comment

Neat Noodle trick.

I found myself in a situation where I didn't have anything to boil noodles in. I could go get lake water and boil it, but this time of year that's a dicy proposition, as the water smells rather fetid - you can make it sterile, but it's going to taste awful. Digging around, I noticed I had some various fluids, things that could be made into fluids, and I decided to give it a go with beer instead of water.

I took butter, melted it in a pan, and threw in some garlic just long enough to enfuse some flavour in the butter. Toss the garlic before it gets bitter! I took my spaghetti and rolled them around in the melted butter until they soaked most of it up. I then took a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (a beer I usually don't have on hand, trust me) and poured it into the pan. Covering it, I quickly brought it to a boil.

Wow. I mean wow. PBR is awful for drinking, but the spaghetti came out so perfect that I could have just eaten that for dinner. It doesn't hurt that I've just about perfected my slowcooker moose stroganoff recipe, either (which went on top of the noodles). Luckily, I've used up the last of my PBR, but I think other beers will work well (if not better).

Friday, 17 July 2009

Domestication of Foxes

Since the last two posts have been fox pictures, why not some fox-related science? Also, I found someone else's write up, and it reminded me about just how cool an experiment was...

For a long time, people observed that domesticated animals seemed to possess a constellation of traits - depigmentation, floppy ears, dwarf form, and retention of juvenile characteristics - in at least some breeds, if not all the breeds. Darwin himself made particular note of it when he wrote "The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication," one of his lesser known volumes. I just recently read that he noted the bit about floppy ears in "On the Origin of Species," but I must have missed that - which is easy to do, given how much he wrote!

Now in the late 1940s to late 1950s, there was a Russian named Dmitri Belyaev, who had the notion that perhaps we'd been thinking about domestication all wrong. Up until that point, many people had been thinking about it in terms of large macroscale traits that are easily measurable - size of the pup, whether it has blue eyes, or a sickle tail. The thinking went over time we selected for the traits which made dogs, which resulted in the beasts we have today. This is no doubt true, but Dmitri's insight was to think at a higher level - what if domestication happened by first selecting for broad behavioural traits - things like "Tamenes" and "lack of fear of humans." The field of behavioural ecology hadn't yet been codified, and the link between behaviour was poorly appreciated then. It can't be understated what an intuitive leap this was.

Dmitri also had the serious disadvantage of being a geneticist in the soviet era of Lysenkoism: Lysenkoism was the (erroneous) belief that acquired traits could be heritable between generations. If that smells like Lamark, you're not far off. Trofim Lysenko had the great advantage of being a ardent communist and supporter of Leninism. He was put in a position of power and influence in Soviet Russia, and Lysenkoism became the official scientific dogma of Russia for quite some time. This wouldn't have been that big of a set back except for two things. First, he was an agricultural scientist, and Trofim oversaw quite a few instances of massive crop failure. His responses were frequently pointless, and more aimed at grandstanding than anything rooted in science. Starvation was an issue. Secondly, over time the geneticists became more and more alienated. They were denounced as Bourgeois elitists (gosh, that sounds familiar...) and with Stalin's blessing, the Russians began executing several, arresting others, and merely firing still others. Dmitri was lucky not to be shot for his ideas.

The experiment was fairly straight forward: Take a large number of foxes (~150), and select the 5% most tame males, and 30% most tame females for breeding. This was repeated generation after generation, selecting for tameness by ejecting animals that showed aggression towards humans from the experiment, and ranking the remaining animals on how afraid they were of humans.

The experiment proceeded very quickly. Within a very small number of generations, animals began behaving amenably toward humans. While inbreeding was a serious concern, they calculated that inbreeding was actually rather low (2% to 7%), and without knowing a lot about fox dispersal, I would be inclined to say that's lower than wild levels. Over time, the genetic traits that lend themselves to making an animal sociable were enriched. 40 Years after the project started, most of the animals were in the "social elite" - that is to say, they actively sought out human interaction. They would wag, they would bark, they would lick human faces. Behaviourally, they never left the puppy-period of being socializable.

Curiously, after a number of generations (I believe 5, but I don't have a primary source on hand), they began to see some traits that where rarely seen in the wild become quite common among their experimental animals. The sickle tail, where the tail is turned up, drooping ears, a depigmented "star" on their forehead which appeared white, and uneven colouration. You can click on the picture to the right to enbiggen it and see the traits. That animal in the bottom right corner isn't a Border Collie - it's a fox.

The explanation for the arrival of these traits is pretty clever. I'm going to compare it to working on your boat. Let's say you want to make your boat go faster. The first thing you can do is to pluck some low hanging fruit - clean off the hull, for example. But after you do the basic, easily done things, all you have left are major alterations to either the form of the hull - maybe reshaping it - or tinkering with your outboard. When you start doing that, you start changing other characters of your boat, too. Sure, you might have souped up your honda to go real fast, but now you'll get terrible gas mileage.

Selecting for complex traits like "tameness" is a lot like messing with your boat. After you've done all the easy things, and made them as tame as you can without actually changing much, all there is left is messing with components that will effect a lot of other things. Yes, Adrenaline plays a serious role in aggression and fear, but it has precurses that play roles in hair pigment. So by fiddling with the production of adrenaline, you're also causing these changes in pigmentation.

Sadly, Dmitri didn't live long enough to see his experiment really become the blockbuster it became. He died in 1985, after seeing signs that his ideas were spot on. His views of genetics (obviously) were vindicated, and the Soviet Union began backing off Lysenkoism in the 60s. Their biological sciences program never really recovered from the expulsion and murder of people who studied evolution by natural selection. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the group still running his experiment became hard for money, and culled quite a few animals. The remainder they subsidize by selling fully domesticated Silver Foxes as pets to the rich. I can only imagine what an animal as smart as a fox would do turned loose in someone's home - if cats can learn to turn doorknobs, imagine what a fox could do!

Photocredits: First three from Wikimedia. First two figures from Belyaev 1978. Final figure from Trut 1999. Idea from the post came when I stumbled on this while looking for DIY airconditioner blueprints.

More foxes.

A fox showed up just as I was readying to leave for work.
This one is a different fox, since the generous fox was over in the swampy area. Later, a third fox stopped by the edge of the clearing, but bolted. I wonder why they all seem like that gravel pile, or if the one left some scent markings on it.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

In at both ends.

The fox who gave me the baby snowshoe hare as a gift was back. This time, he was mostly playing around on my pile of gravel.

Here's the front:And here's the back end:

Here's hoping they're still healthy come Sept 1st. :)

Climate change skit

I found this little radio skit that almost perfectly represents the attitudes of many climate change denialists. You only need to go to the Daily News Miner's website to see this played out in text...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cauga una?

What kind of animal is this?

Today is extra-big, because it's come to my attention that some of you need big pictures so you can see pictures when the chlorine stings your eyes from a day of mindlessly floating around pools.

Which suspiciously sounds like "I resign from trying to figure out what things are. But I'm not a quitter."

This is a mammal, but it isn't an Alaskan mammal. Technically, it's the cast of a mammal's skull, since we don't have one of these in our collection. I don't expect you to figure out the species (but I'll be thrilled if you do!), just tell me what sort of critter you think it is. Like, if you suspect it's some sort of whale, say "Whale."

The Fox that left a gift, and voting in Bethel.

Via The Tundra Drums: A group of people who speak Yup'ik and the ACLU dropped their suit against Bethel for inadequate and incomplete translations on their ballots after the two came to an agreement on ballot translations and having translators on site. Trained translators. Who know that they're translators before election night. People actually willing to translate...

I'm glad they came to that agreement. I'm... disappointed? that it took a lawsuit to make people come to an agreement. Luckily, the ACLU bankrolled it, because lawyers are pricey.

The lawsuit against the state continues, with the State being less open to the idea of equal rights. Who would have thought that it'd be so controversial with the state? (Yes, aside from you...)

Something strange happened to me, yesterday. I've mentioned how there are foxes living around my home. A lot of them. I don't mind it, because they keep the tire eating rabbits on their feet, and none of them have chewed on my tires this year. Well, yesterday at around 11pm, far past my bed time, a fox came up and dropped a young, dead hare in front. I would show you pictures, but no one wants to see pictures of a dead rabbit.

The fox walked around a little bit, before leaving. I have heard of cats bringing dead birds as presents, but foxes bringing presents? I can't figure out what went on, and I think I might just file this as life being weird.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Some pictures from the 4th Weekend

I took a few pictures last weekend, a few of which are going to get put in my pictures rotation. Here's a few that didn't make the cut...

The guy I was with insisted pretty much each peak on the Denali highway was Denali. It was too funny. :)
I had never driven to Valdez before, and I really liked the high mountain passes. I imagine they're a pain in the winter...
This is Homer about 4:45ish in the morning. So beautiful!
The Denali highway pictures have a lot of them with balance issues. I tried to do some HDR shooting but there was too much wind, and so I could never make a good composite picture. A lot of my issues would be solved if I went back before green-up or after the first snowfall and shot then.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Quotes from Orwell and North American Mammals

I found this quote at the bottom of a daily news update, and I like it:
The aim of a joke is not to degrade the human being but to remind him that he is already degraded. -- George Orwell
I was never made to read George Orwell at school, or collage, and so I came to appreciate what a good author he was without the negative memories of time in Engrish class. Which is good, this way I like him!

Here's some more science from the Conference, this one being talk number 54, titled "What's killing North America's mammals? A meta-analysis of cause specific mortality." It was authored by Christopher Collins and Roland Kays, out of New York State Museum.

As they write in their Abstract, everything eventually dies. What we'd like to know is across all mammals, what are the major drivers of mortality? We can quantify this by `Collering and follering` - putting on GPS or radio collars to track animals until they die, and investigating the cause of death.

Any given study can only look at so many animals at one time. GPS and radio collars are expensive, and so are putting them on critters. It's also very time intensive. So any given study only gets so much information, and that information is generally most applicable to a given species, or a group of species in a similar area. However, people can go in after studies are published and collect lots of peoples' different studies and bring them together. This is called a Meta-analysis. Meta-analyses frequently need lots of boring mathematical treatment, because people invariably collect their data in different ways, but well done meta-analyses can be very informative about large scale patterns that no one study would reveal.

Collins and Kays gathered in all the studies they could find with mortality data, and after working with the data, they found that surprisingly, 43.8% of across-species mortality was caused by humans. Most of this was hunting, though not all; Road-kill accounted for 7.9% of all mammals' mortality reported. Now, natural causes accounted for 40.9%, and unknown causes accounted for 15.3%, which is very large indeed. Natural mortality is probably much larger, because that 15.3% of unknown is likely a lot of disease related death, and predation. However, in those cases, the researchers got to the bodies late, or just couldn't figure out how the animal died - it's harder to figure out what disease killed an animal than you'd think!

Still, even if all of the unknown mortality was caused natural causes, that still leaves 43.8% in the hands of humans. Where other factors used to dominate, now humans apply the "Natural Selection" in North America. This has very profound implications for the direction that evolution will take in the long-haul, as species slowly adapt to human presence. Well, either that or they'll go extinct. One of the two.

I once took a course in Urban Ecology, which is the study of natural systems in human areas - farms, villages, dockyards, and big cities. What really stuck in terms of animal resilience was that species that thrived around humans either had a long history around human cities (usually Europe or Asian weeds and vermin), or animals that are so behaviourally complex, and so plastic and amenable to changing conditions, that humans really couldn't disrupt them. Racoons in the lower 48 are the perfect example of this.

With this in mind, and knowing what Collins and Kays said about human-cuased mortality, what Alaskan Mammals do I see with the best chance at persistence in 200 -400 years?
  • Arctic Fox
  • Red Fox
  • Coyote
  • Feral Domestic dogs
  • Racoon - invade and expand.
  • Ermine
  • White Tail Deer - invade and expand
  • Snowshoe Hare
This isn't a comprehensive list, but species that are behaviourally plastic, and stick out in my mind as things that can dodge human-induced mortality to a sufficient degree. I don't include moose because they're highly susceptible to diseases carried by White Tailed Deer, who are slowly invading northward.

There's some hope for other species, though. According to Collins and Kays, when humans designate an area as protected, it seems to work by-and-large. There's still human caused mortality, but it becomes considerably less. There just needs to be the political will to do it, and the public support for the designation.

Easier said than done.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Humans, the runners

I won't complain about the weather today, or talk about Sarah's resignation. Instead, I want to talk about something Sarah Palin does. So does Obama. So does Justin Gatlin and... wait, who?

Running! When you think about animals that are good at running, we tend to think about cheetahs, gazelles, antelope and other things of that nature. Horses, definitely. But what about jackrabbits, and snowshoe hares? Sure! Jackrabbits actually have skulls that deform as they run, and contrary to popular belief, their ears are more used as levers to un-squish their skulls. That's rather neat, but not what I'm about to go on about.

Over the years, we've got a good grasp on what makes good runners, from
  • spinal flection - the bending of the spine with each stride to shorten and lenghten the torso.
  • reduced distal portions of limbs - since limbs are levers, and the lighter the end of limbs, the less mass that needs whipped around.
  • ligified limbs - absorbing and re-releasing energy from each trot.
  • generally long limbs - speed is a function of stride length times stride rate.
And there's a variety of other adaptations that appear evident between most running animals. We tend to call animals that run a lot "Cursorial animals." And the back of sugary cereals boxes are full of facts about how cheetahs can go XYZ fast, eat ABC gazelles per hour, and so on. As as side note, I hate that. I call it ADD biology - just little snippets without any depth that they throw at you one after another, before you get distracted by something new and shiny! Ooh! A tricycle!

One thing you don't find on the back of Admiral Crunch boxes, Arch-Duke Chocula, or Cookie crud, are humans as some pretty phenomenal runners. And why should we? After all how many humans do you see going 100 km/hr without being on a snowmachine or something else. First, we need to know not all running is equal. There are various types of movement, including trotting, or endurance running, and galloping, or sprinting.

The difference between them is one of oxygen consumption. In endurance running, oxygen consumption increases with speed. In sprinting, oxygen consumption no longer increases, and the body begins to enter into an oxygen deficit. If you think back (or forward!) to your highschool biology, you understand that endurance running is aerobic, while sprinting is anaerobic. Many species that can engage in other gaits have separate gaits for walking, trotting and galloping, but humans really only have separate gaits for walking and trotting, and our galloping is a modification of our trot.

Clearly, our sprint is nothing spectacular, but what about the rest of our running range? In our aerobic portion of our running range - the thing that we could quite plausably do all day, we find this:
This is a figure from Bramble and Lieberman 2004, and I'd draw your attention to the left half of it. You see that the human endurance running range far exceeds that of your typical quadruped of the same size. Even the average human 'light jogging' speed is close to an average four legged critter's trot-gallop transition. Even when you look at ponies, which are undboubtably good runners, a human trot can easily outpace their own, forcing them to enter into oxygen debt while the human is still doing quite nicely.

Adam Summers summed up the finding quite nicely when he said,
Where we excel is endurance running. Moreover, we run long distances at fast speeds: many joggers do a mile in seven-and-a-half minutes, and top male marathoners can string five-minute miles together for more than two hours. A quadruped of similar weight, about 150 pounds, prefers to run a mile at a trot, which takes nine-and-a-half minutes, and would have to break into a gallop to keep pace with a good recreational jogger. That same recreational jogger could keep up with the preferred trotting speed of a thousand-pound horse.
"But!" people protested, "What are the adaptations to running? Can you really just prove humans are cursorial mammals, and this isn't just some by-product of us being good bipedal walkers?" Yes, we can! But that will come in a later post. Now, I'll just let you all get comfortable with the idea that while a cheetah can break off into a sprint and go fast, you could probably keep running long after it had collapsed from exhaustion. Take that, cheetahs.

Bramble, D. M. and D. E. Lieberman (2004) Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature 432: 345-352.
Cheetah image from Wikimedia, rights reserved.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Never ending heat...

Texans, cover your eyes, I'm about to whine about how hot it is.

GAWD. I'm not built for this sort of weather. Give me highs of 60°F and I'm happy as... I don't know. Something very happy. Maybe as happy as a dog that you let eat off the plate. Okay, nothing is quite that happy. I'm dreaming about going to St. Marys and hiding there until this heat wave in the interior is gone. I've even looked up ticket prices. My office is in the low 30°Cs, which is something absurdly hot in °F. And the smoke has everyone in Fairbanks talking like they've been smoking two packs a day since they were 10 years old.

I open up the newspaper for the morning, and I find this:

“It’s a hot July pattern with no end in sight — good fire-growing weather.”

Temperatures might dip into the mid- to high 70s going into the weekend, but will rise again into the 80s by next week.

I wonder if I could get my medical insurance to cover airfare... call it preventative care. I know there's a spare room with my name on it, and it'd be nice to go back...

I know I'm not the only person feeling this way. There was a fox who was already hiding from the sun looking beat just about 10 minutes ago. I got a picture of it , but not a very good one - it noticed I was watching, and moved to hide behind my boat and a stack of scrapwood. In fact, it's mostly a picture of scrapwood with its tail sticking out. But it looks miserable too.

Everyone is saying `well, in three months it'll be snowing again...` As if that's a bad thing? I like winter. And you can't cool off by putting on an extra sweater.


Palin quote for the day

KOTZEBUE, Alaska - Sarah Palin says she's not a quitter, she's a fighter, but adds that, politically speaking, "if I die, I die. So be it."
Um? Does she know what 'Resign' means?
Actually, being a quitter is exactly what she's doing...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Things that stink

Well, I'm back from my trip. I didn't go to fish camp for a single very good motor related reason. I did go fishing in other places, but zero fish were caught. In the process, I went to must about the whole road system, and did some thing I'm not inclined to document in my blog.

It was a heck of a crazy time.

Apparently I wasn't the only one having a crazy time. What's all this noise about Palin resigning? Frankly, "I don't want to be a lame duck" is the lamest excuse I've heard since Ted Haggard announced he had prayed his way to being completely heterosexual in just over a week. Someone (and I forget who) compared Sarah Palin to a bad girlfriend (no, not that type!) where at first they seem great, but over time you realize the date is actually pretty unhinged. I think that's a pretty good metaphore.

I like Sean Parnell. I hope he doesn't do the same thing to me. Sadly, there's no going back to pretending like Alaska is part of Canada to Europeans. That time is gone.

Right now, there are a number of wild fires going in the interior, and the smoke has been killer. Denail park is shrouded in haze, some places thick enough that you couldn't see more than a mile ahead of you. I came up the Parks highway from Cantwell's direction, we only used the A/C in bursts because the sickly yellow smoke burned your eyes and made your lungs want to claw their way out of your chest. Addationally, the roads were thick with RV, all driven by out of state idiots who
  1. Don't know how to drive on our roads.
  2. Don't know how to drive an RV.
  3. Don't know the rule that if you hold up more than 3 cars on our highway, you have to pull over and let them pass.

Really, I forgot how much I hate tourists.

The smoke got especially bad halfway between Nenana and Fairbanks. The sky was a sick yellow, and from Nenana to West Fairbanks there was really light ash fall. At first I thought it was the occasional fluries, but it's been dang hot recently. The sun came out when I stopped to re-fuel at Skinny Dick's Halfway House, but it was so smoggy that you could look directly at it with no problems. I snapped a quick picture:
I look forward to this blowing over, so the sky clears up. The smoke makes breathing tricky, and the medicine I've taken for it makes me loopy.

Thursday, 2 July 2009


Notice I'm late with today's post-o-blog? That's because I'm officially on vacation. We get two days off before the fourth, because too many holidays fall on weekends this year. Or something like that. I'm not going to question a good thing, since I'm eating at my own home for a change! I'm now minus one graduate student, as he's now Dr. Jerk, Ph.D. ;) Also, thanks to my father, who I called about making BBQ sauce. A quick way to modify sauce is to take the craft stuff, add 1 part vinegar for 10 parts kraft sauce, and cumin to taste. Everyone at the Ph.D. defence potluck loved the pulled-venison. It didn't hurt that 90 people brought beer, and I brought actual food...

Anyhow, I might not be around tomorrow, or monday. I'm looking at heading down river to fishcamp, to see if I can get enough in my freezer until I can get out for caribou.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I meant to post the story when tundra drums first posted it, but I guess you'll have to get the reprint:

MARSHALL, Alaska - Fishermen from an Alaska village say they defied a closure on the Yukon River so they could catch king salmon, a revered food in the area.

State and federal authorities have severely restricted king salmon on the Yukon this summer to help the struggling run recover. Commercial fishing for king salmon hasn't been allowed, and subsistence fishing has been limited to two, 18-hour openings each week.

I hope I don't need to say how conflicted I am about this. The half of me in science and management does not like this. Nope. Stupid, stupid idea, and a great way to further ruin things for our kids. The part of me that's not thinks it's bull shit for the state to telling people what they can't feed our family with.

When people tell us researchers or managers that we don't know what it is, and we don't understand, they're wrong. I know. And I'm really aware. And other people are too. Sometimes, it takes a really `cold calculation`, though, to do not what's "good..." but what's right.