Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Conservation priorities

Here are some facts that conservation biologists don't like to hear:
  1. Conservation money is limited. Conservation effort is also limited.
  2. There are many species in need of conservation.
  3. The number of species in need of conservation is likely to grow.
And I'll add on one fact that I don't think any conservation biologist would disagree with:
  1. Some species are harder to conserve than others.
Given these four basic premises, one conclusion pops out: we need to be selective in what we attempt to conserve, so to maximize the number of species we can conserve. It also means we shouldn't be wasting money on things that don't contribute significantly to conservation, like banning Canadian Polar Bear rugs, or wasting enforcement money chasing down native subsistence users who hunt polar bears through a ban (luckily, that one would be politically untenable).

Some species are challenging to conserve for space issues - try keeping a Grey Whale in captivity for captive breeding! Others are difficult for husbandry issues, like the Shanghai soft-shell turtle where the only male in China once attacked a female instead of mating. And ask the Black Footed Ferrets what re-discovery did to their numbers - I once heard a colleague describe the worst thing that happened to the Black Footed Ferret as being "Scientists discovered they weren't extinct yet."

The idea that we should maximize our bang-for-our-buck in conservation is a very unpopular one, though one that more scientists are coming around to. Recently, this argument poked its head up in the main stream media when a prominent scientist advocated just letting the Giant Panda go extinct. MSNBC downplays his comments through a rebuttal from another scientist - and would have thought the WWF, an organization that uses a Giant Panda as their logo, would oppose it?

Mr Packham is probably more in the right, here. The problem is that the Giant Panda is too much of a specialist, and its habitat is disappearing, and likely can't be re-created. Even if we stabilized their numbers at their current levels, they're (and would always be) highly vulnerable to chance events - like the introduction of a new disease, or a dry year. But from a public relations point of view, it would be un-reasonable to let the Panda go quietly into the night. People like bears (so long as they don't have to live with the). They're willing to shell out millions of dollars to see even a small return on their investment. Practically speaking, not the best course of action. But the one we're apparently taking, none the less.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Beer Notes from this Weekend

I'm thinning my collection, since I've been gifted a few bottles which need to be shelved for a long time. While I was at the store, I couldn't help but do a double take at the price if Chimay, my old standby for amazing dinner beer. 20 dollars?! What on earth caused the 100% price surge? Hopefully it will come down before thanksgiving, which is my next occasion for it.

Andelot Cuvee Euphorique by De Proefbrouwerij

The 75cl bottle is simple - brown glass with a cork and basket. It has a simple yellow label with the name, the country of origin (Belgium), and a subscript declaring it an "Abbey Style Blond Ale." No mention of the brew or bottle date. The beer itself is perfectly clear, a pale copper-gold with moderate carbonation; you can see just how clear it is, even in the dark bottle. It pours thin, with some head which dissipates into a thin white ring. It smells of bananas, cloves, and perhaps some wheat? Very fruity, very aromatic.

Tasting it, it is sweet and simple. A bit of a carbonated bite, more than one would predict from the head. A very spicy body as it lingers in the mouth. Oddly, my mind keeps going to apples, but not enough to make me feel comfortable putting it down on paper. Others disagree with me, so I include this fact for your consideration. It's a little heavy on the pepper, and for such a mild beer (merely 6.5% ABV), it seems to leave your mouth dry like you've drank vodka.

If you let yourself drink it casually, not letting it linger on the tongue, past when it starts to impart the spices, I imagine it is like drinking thinned honey. This makes it easy to drink for extended periods, for long sessions. A good beer for dinner with chicken or mild seafood.

B+, 3.8 out of 5

Which state has the best beer?

There's an old joke about American beer being like doing the dirty in a boat - I'll let you figure out the punchline - but American beer does surprisingly well both in sales and in awards, when in international competitions. This is even more true when you consider American craft beer production was wiped out thanks to prohibition, and a lot of know-how was quickly lost.

Two beer journalists decided to find out which state in the US gathered the most medals in beer competitions. They plotted it out in a lovely map, which I'll repost here.

The answer to who was the best, unsurprisingly, was California. Actually, I was a little surprised, since Oregon and Washington are collectively referred to as "Beervaria" due to their large number of microbreweries. But these numbers don't take into account the fact that, say, there's many people in California, and no so many people in South Dakota. That's why Strangemaps - a neat little blog I just found - reshuffled things for medals per million people.

1. Colorado – 64.4
2. Oregon – 42.5
3. Wisconsin – 38.6
4. Washington – 16.2
5. Missouri – 15
6. Pennsylvania – 13.5
7. Massachusetts – 12.6
8. California – 12.8
9. Texas – 5.6
10. New York – 5.1
But! cried StrangeMaps' readers. You just reshuffled! You didn't see if anyone would make the top 10. A little math later, and Alaska quickly sits on the top of the heap with 78.68 medals per million people - heads above California and nearly double Oregon.

What really surprised me was that Alaskan Brewing Co. is such a winning brewery. If I'm reading their numbers right, they have the most medals for someone who wouldn't be considered a macro-brew. More than Deschutes, long one of the best craft beer producers in the US.

Definitely something to drink about.

Friday, 25 September 2009

More on Border Hassles

Perhaps I was a bit hasty in speaking about how easy it would be to smuggle much of the data past border security. Here's why: The DHS retains the right to mirror all your data. To me, this means they aren't just rooting around like an incompetent baggage handler, but instead running programs to search through your data for various patterns. Thus, any solutions dependant on retaining the data in some encrypted format would be poorly advised, because they would encounter this data, and either crack it themselves, or request the key from you. Request the key with a court. That's the kind of request you can't really say no to.

This doesn't prevent people from merely hiding microSD cards - that'd be damn hard to find, since they're smaller than a fingernail. Or just don't physically transport the data at all, and email it to yourself (or a trusted party) encrypted with a one time pad, and waltz across the border without carrying anything illicit. One Time Pads, it should be noted, can provide perfect protection if implemented correctly.

And again, it only effects people physically carrying data into the country. On their persons. Through customs. Anyone involved in data smuggling would know how to easily evade it, unless they've completely failed to do their homework.

The problem is that data is just too easily transformed, and too easily transmitted electronically. This only accomplishes making the border crossing security experience more elaborate, while returning a minimum of additional security. The most this policy will accomplish is annoying the hell out of legit citizens.

Here's some documents from Customs and Border Protection relevant to the policy:
Here's the press release.
Here's the Factsheet for the policy. (40kb)
Here's the actual policy. (Warning, 6mb)

Here's pretty much all you need to defeat the policy.
So... we're assuming Al Quida doesn't know how to use google for anything other than learning how to dig holes?

Check your files at the border

In case you didn't think border security is silly enough, the DHS is now searching digital media. DHS claims they're keeping out terrorism information, and protecting us from information smugglers. They point to capturing a pedophile as proof positive their system works.

I'm calling moose nuggets on that.

All it's proven is they can catch really, really dumb criminals. Actually, all this could possibly protect us against is really dumb criminals. Anyone who has half a brain, and is trying to smuggle information could do any of the following
  1. Put the information on a microSD card and hide it.
  2. Embed the information using stenography.
  3. Hide the information on a unmounted partition.
  4. Email the information encrypted with a one time pad.
  5. Deliberately corrupt the files in an easily repairable way.
  6. Just make your terrorist information really, really confusing to read.
The list goes on. There's a lot of low hanging fruit out there, and I sincerely doubt that DHS has IT experts positioned along the Mexican border. At best they're just randomly flipping for your data looking for something blatantly egregious. I guess best part of security theatre is that there's always another act...

Another reason to stay in AK!

Edit to add: Someone pointed out to me that this only works one way. They're just preventing you from bringing information into the country, and not out of the country, with the regulations. I.e., this will only prevent people from smugging nuclear secrets into the US, as if there's a lack of bomb making information here on home soil. If you have terrorist information, like blueprints to the White House, and Joe Biden's favourite bathtime songs, you could dance your way over the border and DHS wouldn't screen you. After all, you're leaving, not entering.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Great one leaves the Copper State

According to my news this morning, the Great One (Wayne Gretzky for the unwashed) has left his job coaching the Phoenix Coyotes. He attributes it to the Coyotes possibly changing ownership, but I think this is him stepping away from a team he never had success with, and a career he was poorly suited for. 143 wins, 161 losses. So much the better - I prefer to remember him for all the good hockey he played, and not the horrible hockey he coached.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Short post!

Qanirtuq maani Fairbanks-aami! It's snowing here in Fairbanks! And not just Ingrini. Who would have thought, snow in SquareFranks??? ;)

Hooch and TV reception.

This has been bugging me: Is it just me, or does ADN's coverage of Bethel's proposed alcohol changes read something like this:
Oh my god! Natives are going to get into the booze! Everyone panic!
Maybe I'm reading into their coverage too much. Or not enough: ADN loves to be moralistic and patronizing.

Unrelated note, I might be a bit quiet the next few days. I'm in the processes of moving to new place. First thing I noticed is that Goldstream has much better TV reception than Farmer's Loop. I know this because my TV wasn't even slightly pixel-y as I watched last night's House M.D.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The future of Polar Bears is Styrofoam

There's a stock number of questions I get all the time. Usually the first question I get is something about whether I shoot wolves or not. But just as often, after a long discussion about predator control, I'll get asked about Polar Bears, and whether I support their listing.

My answer is, of course, that given my knowledge of Polar Bear biology (admittedly incomplete), it seems prudent to protect Polar Bears. People will then ask me if I support subsistence harvest for Polar Bears. Which, given my knowledge of Polar Bear ecology, I do. `Ah ha!` someone will cry. `You're biased to subsistence! You wouldn't let a bunch of white guys go out and shoot a Polar Bear, but you're happy to let natives do it even when you want to protect a species!`

This is when I get out the clue-by-four and begin beating them with it until they get a clue.

So how can a species need protection, but still be available to harvest? Well, unlike many things in biology, this is actually mostly straight forward.

Let's say you have a Polar Bear.

Yes, yes you are a Polar Bear. Incidentally, if you want my art skills using paint, check out this tutorial.

Okay, let's take that Polar Bear, and put it with all her buddies.

What a wacky bunch! They should have their own prime-time sitcom.

Now, in this system, we have something that is a limiting factor, and something that will become an increasingly large limiting factor - habitat. Particularly, ice habitat. We're going to have a lot less of it. Some Polar Bears are going to have it...

But what about those who won't? Or those who get sub-optimal habitat?


I joke. It's not curtains time for them, but those bears will be much worse off. The boars probably won't get to breed, and the sow will have very low cub survival, because the sows will be in poor condition. There may be some small contribution contribution to the next generation's numbers, but the contribution will be dominated by chance (stochasticity).

It's my contention, and the contention of US gov't., that harvesting a small number of Polar Bears is entirely acceptable (albeit unsustainable). If you shoot a Polar Bear, either a) it wasn't going to make a large contribution to the demographics (especially if male) or b) it frees up the limiting factor (habitat) for another animal who will now be able to make a larger contribution to the next generation. And if you keep your hunts low, the mortality will rarely make a blip on the population magnitude radar. The story is simplified slightly, yeah. And I glossed over a few things. But on the whole, it holds water.

"Wait! You said it was unsustainable. What's with that" Well, sure. Eventually, given the trends in habitat, there will be very little habitat left to Polar Bears. Short of building Styrofoam icebergs for them, there's nothing we can do about that. Thus, it's not a sustainable situation. However, it's got less to do with hunting pressure and more to do with people running coal fired power plants. Here's some cold hard facts to throw a damper on your day: There probably won't be many Polar Bears in the future, Yup'ik Language is dying, someone will have to take a cut in their lifestyle because every country can't all have it and Africans will eventually want to start eating food too, and eventually India will kick our ass economically. Oh, and there's no Santa.

So, that all said, the ban on importing Polar Bear rugs from hunts is pissing into an active volcano. Sure, it feels good, but it doesn't get anything done to Polar Bear conservation. Worse, it has the unintended consequences of cutting off the livelihood of people. And it will consume resources enforcing the ban which would be better spent doing conservation in other ways. Like, say, putting up a few few wind turbines. But if we were really serious about solving these problems, things would be different, wouldn't they?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Do you eat your mistakes?

I'm writing this post on Thus night, while I brood over what to do to a kitchen abomination. I tried a recipe for salmon spaghetti, and followed it to a T. However, the end result tastes between vile and disgusting. The dish is too strong, and clashes with itself. I do not enjoy eating it at all. So I'm in an awkward position, where I don't want to throw out a fillet worth of salmon, but I'm quite sure this food is a crime against God. Do you eat your kitchen mistakes? I think I might have to, because I'm really hungry. But the leftovers... might go in the trash. :(

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Morbidity and Mortality

I got sent this page in the morning, and I feel the need to share it all with you:
The ten most frequent causes of death in the USA, as believed by the British

1) Shot by Donald Rumsfeld.
2) Abducted by the saucermen, never to be seen again.
3) Cerebral haemorrhage caused by shock at the discovery there are places beyond US borders.
4) Terminated on the orders of Barack Obama’s social health ‘death committees.’
5) Scalped by injuns attacking the iron horse which runs across their territory.
6) Hunted to death by inbred, snaggle-toothed backwoodsmen.
7) Telling your buddies that you’re getting short on your tour, and showing them a picture of your best gal back home.
8) Beheaded with a machete shortly after having sex.
9) Being proven wrong in your belief that the second amendment covers artillery and chemical weapons.
10) Getting wasted in a drive-by after winning an award which should have gone to Beyonce, goddammit.
I couldn't resist making my own list, with the help of some people from the states.

The ten most frequent causes of death in Alaska, as believed by the Lower 48
  1. Igloo collapse. 
  2. Death by Polar Bear.
  3. In an embarrassing fashion after uttering the words, "Hey y'all, watch this."
  4. Bitten by a Moose.
  5. Starvation due to delays in the dogsled full of flour and tobacco.
  6. Polluted to death by a leaky pipeline.
  7. Boredom induced frostbite.
  8. Horrible dog sled crash.
  9. Drowning in the Bering Sea.
  10. Shot and field dressed by Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Scientific awe

Just a few weeks ago, I was astonished when I saw pictures of molecules for the first time, where you could pick out roughly where the atoms would be. A level of resolution that's never existed before, and a level of detail I was told would be a pipe dream. But then a group went out and got pictures of individual molecules. I was in awe of how beautifully elegant it was. I know no words in either language to express sufficient amazement.

Now, another group has outdone them. They've imaged individual atoms.  

Think of the smallest thing you can think of. Then divide it in half. Then divide that in half. And do that fifty times. You're still probably too big for this. This picture is of something so tiny, so incredibly small, that it's impossible to appreciate just how small it is. It's a weird world where things can exist in multiple places at once. Where things can pop in and out of existence with a shower of particles. It was described to me, once, as the world of fairies where things don't work like we think `real` things should (ircinrruq). And we're taking pictures of it.

Who needs magic when you have this? I wonder what our kids will take for granted?

Showering is bad for your health?

Fairbanks isn't behind the times when it comes to plumbing. Instead, we're ahead of the curve when it comes to health!
Showering may be bad for your health, say US scientists, who have shown that dirty shower heads can deliver a face full of harmful bacteria.
Tests revealed nearly a third of devices harbour significant levels of a bug that causes lung disease. 
 See? Our lack of plumbing in part is to protect our lungs! Well, protect them so we can ruin them in wildfires and smoggy winter days, anyhow. 

Monday, 14 September 2009

Predator Control by Press Release

If I was doing science by press release* to try and convince people everything was great about Predator Control, I don't think I would have taken the tack used in the AP story that the News Miner and the ADN picked up. This story is rife with problems.

First, while it's true that the current program really got started by Murkowski, there has been active predator control of one sort or another since pre-statehood. Poison, bounties and aerial shooting was employed by government agent until statehood. Aerial shooting continued with the public until 1972, when the federal Airborne Hunting Act was passed. This coincided with several harsh winters in the state, resulting in heavy predator depression of game populations.

In 1975, the first wolf control was authorized in game management unit 20A, which is south of the Tanana river from Fairbanks. This was conducted by only ADF&G staff. The policies were shaped over time through the 80s, and in 1992, the Board of Game (BOG) added control to three areas. Due to massive backlash from tourists, Hickel reconsider and BOG revoked their plan. In 1993, BOG authorizes additional predator control for 20A. Predator controlled continued until Knowles became Governor, and suspended all programs.

Because of the long history, I don't think it's fair to say Murkowski is responsible for predator control. It would be like saying I started the tradition of having breakfast this morning. Sure, it's technically true, because there was a gap of about 24 hours where I had no breakfast tradition, but it ignores all the breakfast I've had other days.

My next big complaint about the story has to do with mis-leading verbiage. The story implies that of all areas of predator control, a few have been successful. It then cites McGrath, and the Southern Alaska Peninsula. If we're allowed to talk about predator control as a holistic idea, a better example would be the aforementioned GMU 20A. The area currently hosts some of the largest populations of moose in the state, and very healthy populations of wolves (though not the healthiest, due to the 2003 invasion of a depeliating parasite).

If we're only talking about current areas, then I have some complaints. First, it's too early to be talking about successes. You only know whether you were successful after you remove predator control. One of two things will happen. Either population levels will remain stable, or the population of game species will decline again. If the number of game animals declines again, you know you've mis-characterized the ecological situation, and you're attempting to apply predator control where it doesn't work; if they remain stable, you know that you've been successful**. I will admit, if you don't see an increase in game numbers, it is fairly indicative that your current predator control regime is not applicable.

If we're limited to current predator control areas, then the Southern Alaskan Peninsula Caribou Herd is not great example of anything, right now. The situation is complex, and it's my studied opinion that we're not entirely in possession of all the facts in that system.  While Calf Mortality is clearly a major issue with the SAPCH (<2 per 100 is a very low number indeed), I'm yet to be fully confident that there are not other, conflating factors involved in the long term population trends.

The AP left out something re: the non-resident hunter situation that I think ADF&G would have pushed strong for inclusion. That is, that non-resident hunters are a substantial economic factor, especially in small villages. In order to access the non-resident permitted areas, a guide is typically required. Further, non-resident hunting parties can spend several thousands of dollars per person, and each tag typically results in multiple hunters in a party. While the Nelchina is a complex situation, one that I swore I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot stick, game there is not so precariously positioned that those permits need to be cancelled.

One thing I wish people understood is that Predator Control is like science in general: It's really, really complex. There are no simple answers to pretty much anything; everything is wrapped up in assumptions that need met, confidence intervals, and highly situational knowledge. There should be an * beside pretty much every simple line inside these sorts of articles saying "Well, X is true 85% of the time, and the other 15% of the time, Y and Z are true." We're letting ourselves get trapped by these simple story explanations which don't even begin to cover the truth.

*Science by press release is a pejorative comment to describe non-peer reviewed science that's pushed out there by Public Offices of Agencies and Universities. the chief complaint is that science by press release is rarely accurate, and never goes through the rigour of peer review.

** This is seriously simplified, moreso than everything else here. But the nut of the matter is sound - you don't know, until it's over.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Recycling Shopping Bags

While I'm against plastic shopping bags - few things makes me angrier than finding random plastic shopping bags wafting across the tundra - I'm a bit disappointed in the decision to tax plastic shopping bags. I reuse the plastic shopping bags as trash bags, and as packing material for shipping things. Luckily, I have a small hoard of the plastic bags left over. I'm not sure this is the best way to fund a recycling program.

On the plus side, it'll encourage people to shop at places other than Freds and Walmarts: Small businesses are exempt from the new plastic bag tax.

An attempt at flickr.

 Here's an attempt at posting a Flickr photo. It's a bird from my vacation to Michigan and Ohio.
Michigan Raven
I think Alaskan Ravens can kick Michigan Ravens' feathered cloaca.

And here's a funny sign:
Funny Sign

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Founder Effect

One of the neat things about genetics is it allows us to see things that have long since passed. I don't have a time machine that allows me to investigate the distribution and abundance of moose 20k years ago, but thanks to a basic understanding of how ancestry works, we can infer what they were up to.

Imagine you have a bucket marbles. And these marbles can mate, and have baby marbles of similar colour. Bear with this stupid analogy for a moment.

So you start with a bucket, and the next generation inside that bucket looks a lot like the first. Things are at a balance.
This turns into that.

Now, let's pretend a new bucket opens up. That is to say, it gets set close to the other bucket, and a few random marbles get to jump into the new one and live out their little marble lives there.
I've circled the ones that get to jump onto the new bucket.

 Now, in our new bucket, only the ones that got there get to make their little marble babies inside the bucket. There are no dark blue or black marbles because they never made it. Just Red, Green, and Light Blue. They are fruitful, multiply, and reach the brim of the second bucket.
The second bucket looks a lot like this.
Now a THIRD bucket is placed near the second bucket. Why do I have all these buckets? Well, I've got a lot of chores, and I need some for the sink, some for fishing, some for mixing stuff, and some for packing water. Again, only some marbles get to jump into the new bucket, mostly at random.
I've just circled one blue and two red. Green doesn't get to go to the new bucket.
Finally, we're down stream at our last bucket, and the founding marbles have little marble babies, and populate the bucket. This leaves us with three things we can compare.
Bucket 1
Bucket 2
... and Bucket 3 

You can see that each successive colonization results in fewer and fewer colours being represented in the population. The same is true about Genes - obviously it's true, because otherwise why would I make such a dumb analogy. There are other factors at play, which I won't go into, but this is the nut of the Founder Effect. You might realize that this is a special case of a bottleneck, and you'd be right! It's the same principle, where a few number of individuals make up what ends up on the other side. But in this case, your source population is (normally) maintained.

So what you can do is look at the areas where you see animals, and measure their genetic diversity. This'll allow you to puzzle out where a group of animals had their founders. This had actually been done for humans, and it's considered heavy support for the Out of Africa hypothesis - Africa is the centre of human genetic diversity. It's frequently said that there's more genetic diversity in one village in Africa than there is in some whole countries!

But humans are boring. And right now, I'd write about moose, except I've used quite enough words for one post, so I'll postpone it until another.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Men's international Choice of Urinal Protocal

Women might not be aware, but there's a cross cultural, trans-national set of rules regulating how men use bathrooms. I don't know much about Europe, but everywhere from St. Mary's to Maine, the rules are the same, and never spoken. It also holds true in Canada. I can't speak to Mexico, since I've never been there. The rules are as follows:
  1. Take the furthest urinal from the centre.
  2. Don't stand next to anyone.
  3. Don't look at anyone.
  4. Don't talk to anyone.
  5. For god's sake, don't even look at anyone!
Because of the rules, there are some bathroom configurations that are more efficient than others. Why use 4, when you can use 3? Believe it or not, some of us ponder this in some detail while... well, yeah. Well, leave it up to an engineer to apply a mathematical treatment to men's bathroom design! You read all about it at the XKCD blog. It's funny!


I typically post these without words, but I'd like to note 1) Today is 09/09/09. 2) Today is my sister's birthday. Very auspicious.

Angniq anutiiq elpenun!!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Fennoscandian moose revisited

On Thursday, there was a story in the Daily Minor News that was awfully familiar...

FAIRBANKS — In Sweden, a country that is approximately one-fifth the size of Alaska, hunters kill about 80,000 moose per year, give or take a few thousand.
In Norway, which is slightly smaller than Sweden, the average annual moose harvest is 35,000.
In Alaska, hunters are lucky if they kill 7,000 moose per year.

Regular readers might remember that I wrote a short little post on this back in May. Is the News Miner hitting up blogs for their stories? ;)

Qayaqa kit'enrituq!

Wow, I pop on off for a few days, and I have no shortage of things to post about! I think I'll start with what I'm most proud of, my finishing my boat.

That's right, I finished sealing it (I needed a sunny day that I wasn't busy on) with Urathane, after getting quite a bit on my hands! And then I let it sit over night. Let me tell you, I couldn't wait for the stuff to cure! I was up first thing in the morning, because it was time to dig out the PFD and test the boat!

I took it to a small lake in my back yard, after the duck hunters were done filling the air with shot, and checked the water temperature. Qerrupaa! Okay, so I don't want to stick around in the water, that's for sure! I got it deep in enough at the marshes that I could launch it.
It floated! Any leaks I don't yet see are a slow leak that I can patch easily. Given the whole project was just made up as I went along, I was amazed. It seemed to roll a bit under me, which surprised me given how low it's centre of gravity was. I think I neglected to anticipate how top heavy adding me would make it. I'll have go deliberately roll qayaqa, to find out where the tipping point is.

All the technical stuff aside... it floats! It didn't sink! I'm so happy! I can't wait to put it on the river!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Advice to the Fairbanks Newbie.

Yup, it's that time of year again! New Student in Fairbanks? Welcome to the middle of nowhere*! Fairbanks can be a great, exciting place to live, but like anywhere else in the world, it takes some getting used to. Here's some basic tips to help you get by:

  • Homes come in to varieties - dry, and wet. Dry places have no running water. In Fairbanks, this is not a big deal. You haul your own water in a carboy from a water seller, and campus is littered with showers for students. Please leave the showers clean, though!
  • Don't go out and buy everything with the words 'Polar Fleece' on it. Instead, wait until it starts to cool off, and look at what the Locals are wearing. And then, after you've seen how Fairbanksans manage, dress like the locals. Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of money. You'll probably notice we dress in layers, and we're not too fashionable.
  • Get your vehicle winterized now. Buy studded tires before the first snow. There's always a massive backlog of people at the auto shops in town who need that work done when the white stuff starts flying. You can have studded tires on your vehicle as early as September 15th. It's not a bad idea to make an appointment for the 16th, just so you're not caught off guard by snow.
  • Be social! Go out, meet people. Drink at bars (if 21), attend student events. Especially around campus, there's lots to do. I'm always perplexed by people who say that Fairbanks is full of introverts. Michael Feldman said something to the effect of `There's no where else where you're around so many people who like to be with other people who don't like people.` ;)
  • Develop some outdoor hobbies so the winter isn't as boring. If you're trapped inside, of course Fairbanks seems like an awful place! I would remind you that for a minimum of a year, you'll be a non-resident for hunting and fishing purposes**.
  • Get ready for some stickershock, because stuff isn't as cheap as it is in the states. It runs from 25% to 33% more than it runs down below. Frozen foods are expensive in the summer. Fresh produce isn't really fresh in the the winter (and the summer, it can get pretty questionable too). If you're aware of this, things go much smoother. If, like me, you love to do confectionery stuff, be prepared to shell out big money for extracts (besides vanilla) and uncommon spices. Sometimes, I just have friends in the states send it up to me, since it's cheaper.
In general, try to have fun. Don't hole yourself up. And whatever you do,
  • Don't tell us how you did things back in [insert lower 48 state here]. People will say, "That's nice." But they'll be thinking, "What a jerk." You're not in Kansas anymore! :)

*The villages are not the middle of nowhere. The villages are the far-edge of nowhere.
**Yes, you can fish in the winter. It's as fun as fishing in the summer!

While we're on the topic of students returning to UAF, here's a comment from the article "UAF Prepares for Swine Flu Outbreak:"

Swine flu will work just like everything else at UAF. It will show up late, move excruciatingly slowly through the bureaucracy, get lots of talk but little actual help from the risk management office, hang around the Pub far too much, provoke quite a bit of dorm-room puking, and finish its two-year program about seven years from now. Then it will just hang out on campus hoping for a job.

Too funny!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

New Craigslist page

If you're like me, and use Craigslist extensively, Fairbanks now has a separate craigslist page. Finally, they realized that having Fairbanks and Anchorage lumped together made as much sense as putting Ohio and Florida together.

Last week, I left you with these two,

Who are, of course, Short Tailed Weasels, or Ermine (Mustela erminea). Yugcetun, they're Amitatuk. I'd usually say something clever about their biology at this point, but I don't have anything clever to say. Here's a random fact about me, though: I can't say the word ermine. It always comes out wrong. When I say it, it comes out `em-er-in.`

I'm taking a short break from the skulls collection, but in the interim, here's a picture from the Salt Lake Valley in Utah: