Monday, 30 November 2009

Salmon Jalapeno Quesadillas

Obviously, an authentic eskimo recipe. ;)

Boil your salmon, then flake it and dry it. You can use the left overs for salmon dip. When you're done, take a skillet, and melt butter in it. Mincing garlic (about two cloves), poke it around in the melted butter for a bit. When the butter is fairly reduced, throw in dried basil and Jalapano peppers and as much salmon as desired. Set this aside. Butter up some tortilla shells and brown them. Then you start to get big air bubbles in them, throw in Mozzarella and the salmon mix. Fold in half and allow the cheese to melt. Eat with copious sour cream and Wack-a-mole (Guacamole).

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tanana Valley Meats

Something is rotten in Tanana Valley Meats:
FAIRBANKS — After Travis Marsh shot his first moose back in September, a nice 52-inch bull near Delta Junction, he couldn’t have been happier. The thought of having a full freezer of tasty, high-protein meat made his mouth water.
But Marsh and Morgan were left with a bad taste in their mouths after waiting almost two months to get their meat back, and they say it was rancid. Not to mention the fact that Marsh dropped off 421 pounds of meat to be processed and got back less than 200 pounds.
I processes my own game (the way god intended), but I've heard good things about Interior Alaskan Fish Processors (Aka Santa's Smokehouse). Their rates are reasonable, and I've eaten their breakfast sausage, and it isn't half bad! Not as good as our own, of course! ;)

Nothing pisses off someone more than working hard to catch an animal, only to have it go bad on them for things outside their control. All the effort, and this place just ruins it all. And then there's this gem:
Miller said he has a list of about a half-dozen customers who have called to complain about how long it took to process their meat or the bad-tasting meat. One of the complainants is threatening a civil suit against the Tanana Valley Meats because he and his hunting partners took in 315 pounds of moose meat to get ground up and it all came back bad.

In that case, Miller said he offered to replace the hunter’s 315 pounds of moose with beef, a trade the hunter seemed receptive to but had not agreed to as of Friday. In other cases, the plant has reduced processing fees or offered full refunds, he said.

 My head would explode, if it were me in that situation. Replace with beef? Are you nuts? I don't want to eat beef, I want to eat moose! It'd be like replacing bars of gold with a bag of rocks. I'm getting angry just thinking about it, and I didn't even have my meat ruined! And then the owner goes on to blame the hunters. If it were just a few, that might be believable, but this large number? Blah.

It sounds like there's a resounding `Don't use Tanana Valley Meats`

Santa Update

An update to the North Pole Santa letters story:

FAIRBANK — Santa’s elves in North Pole may want to sharpen their pencils.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Friday that it is resuming a program in which volunteers respond to some of the estimated 150,000 letters to Santa Claus that accumulate at the post office in North Pole.

New security measures protecting letter writers’ identities will ensure that personal information about small children doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, officials said.

Leaders at the Christmas-themed city and statewide applauded the decision and credited postal workers in Alaska for acting to keep the tradition alive.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Graphs revisited; Ice puzzles revisited.

First, an answer: this graph...

is a windchill graph. The coloured regions are the onset of frostbite in exposed people. :) NOAA has a nicer version here.

Avery chimmed in on the question about the ice, and raised potentially good points. I knew that the explanation that I'd got when I was younger had considerable doubt cast on it, and caveated my post appropriately. Or, maybe not enough! But, luckily, I'm in fine company, as my incorrect answer is repeated in various textbooks. Here's the most correct answer, as we understand it today, from ScienceNOW, the news arm of the Journal Science:
Ice has always been a slippery subject. As simple as an ice cube may seem, scientists have long been baffled about why its surface is so slick. But an upcoming paper in Surface Science may give researchers a firmer grasp of ice's surface subtleties by hinting that its outermost molecules behave like a liquid.

That would give the surface layer drastically different properties from those of the bulk of the crystal, says Gabor Somorjai, a surface chemist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The liquidlike layer could explain, for instance, why it is more fun to skate on ice than on concrete. According to Somorjai's colleague, Michel van Hove, the popular conception that ice's slipperiness comes from pressure-induced melting is wrong. "It doesn't work out," says van Hove. "You put data into the formula, and there's not enough pressure." The slippery layer, he says, is there to start, even at very low temperatures.

Somorjai and van Hove discovered this layer when they probed the surface of thin layers of ice with low-energy electron diffraction, a technique that uses electrons to determine the surface structure of a crystal in the same way as x-ray diffraction reveals the crystal structure of a solid. The researchers expected to see the scattering signature of the first three layers of ice molecules, but they only saw two. After determining that the invisible top layer did, indeed, exist, the researchers hypothesized that its water molecules were vibrating three or four times faster than those in the lower layers--blurring its diffraction pattern to invisibility. Although the water molecules are bound in the lattice like a solid, says Somorjai, "the vibrational amplitude is like a liquid."

Besides making ice slippery, says Somorjai, the liquidlike layer could help explain how ice crystals in the upper atmosphere help catalyze the chemical reactions that deplete ozone. The finding, says Steve George, a chemist at the University of Colorado, "illustrates how we don't understand the simplest things we know about."

Thursday, 19 November 2009

How the post office stole Christmass

This is just wrong:
FAIRBANKS — The U.S. Postal Service will no longer forward “Dear Santa” letters to Kris Kringle’s elves in North Pole, citing security concerns and putting in doubt the future of a volunteer letter-answering effort that dates back 55 years.
North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson has called on Alaska’s congressional delegation to intervene, saying the Postal Service is “running roughshod” over the city of North Pole, whose very identity is tied to Christmas.

In other news, this is ~M. He's living with me for a bit, while his owners are off in some flat square state in the lower 48.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Man eating lions!

Man eating lions! That's the title that Yeakel and colleagues used for their recent PNAS article. Actually, they used "Cooperation and individuality among man-eating lions" which has less zing to it. Still, `Man eating lions` is in the title. Of course, I have to read it.

The story goes that in 1898, two male lions in Tsavo, Kenya, formed a coalition and begun eating railway workers - between 28 and 135 of them. After 9 months of attacks, a British field engineer and Officer, Lt. Col. Patterson, hunted down and killed each lion. I'm willing to guess this made him a very popular man. Somehow, these animals eventually ended up in the collection of the Field Museum of Natural History, where people could oggle the Man Eating Lions.

We're supposedly confident that Patterson definitely got the right lions, since the attacks stopped, but how much of the lions' diet was humans? Well, the old phrase that "You are what you eat" is literally true, and different sources of food leave different isotopic signatures. This allows scientists to go in and assay the isotopic ratios to find out what categories of diet an animal ate, and the relative dietary ratios. Using potential prey items as references, they found that one of the lions was eating humans 30% of the time, when it was eating at all. Here's the abstract:
Cooperation is the cornerstone of lion social behavior. In a notorious case, a coalition of two adult male lions from Tsavo, southern Kenya, cooperatively killed dozens of railway workers in 1898. The “man-eaters of Tsavo” have since become the subject of numerous popular accounts, including three Hollywood films. Yet the full extent of the lions' man-eating behavior is unknown; estimates range widely from 28 to 135 victims. Here we use stable isotope ratios to quantify increasing dietary specialization on novel prey during a time of food limitation. For one lion, the δ13C and δ15N values of bone collagen and hair keratin (which reflect dietary inputs over years and months, respectively) reveal isotopic changes that are consistent with a progressive dietary specialization on humans. These findings not only support the hypothesis that prey scarcity drives individual dietary specialization, but also demonstrate that sustained dietary individuality can exist within a cooperative framework. The intensity of human predation (up to 30% reliance during the final months of 1898) is also associated with severe craniodental infirmities, which may have further promoted the inclusion of unconventional prey under perturbed environmental conditions.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Avatar Revisited.

I just saw the trailer for Avatar while watching House, and I have to say, it's even worse than I thought. They managed to show that they totally missed what made Dances with Wolves not suck in about 4 minutes in an very succinct way.


On the other hand, House is funny.

Ice Puzzles

So, I asked a pretty innocuous question. What's more slippery? Smooth Ice, or bumpy Ice? Well, ice is slippery not because it's smooth, though its reasonably so. The exact reason ice is slippery is apparently poorly understood. Back when I learnt my elementary physics, I was told a fairly simple explanation, one that'd been repeated through many text books over the years. This explanation, that ice's melting point drops when pressure is increased, is partially true, (though not the whole story), but its what's relevant to this discussion. As pressure on the ice increases, the melting temperature of the ice decreases (and becomes more slippery for our purposes).

When we're walking on smooth ice, the whole of our mass is distributed across the surface of the ice. However, when you walk across bumpy ice, your foot only comes in contact with a smaller percent of it. Let's say you you weigh 150 lbs. I'll use English units, even though it makes me feel scientifically dirty. Using a quick approximation, the surface area under a men's size ten boot is around 34 square inches, for a total of 68 inches total in contact with the ground. Your feet exert a total of 2.2 pounds per square inch on the ground. However, in reality, the whole of the bottom of the boot isn't in contact with the ground. For every 50% reduction in area, the pressure increases by 50% - 4.4 psi for half the surface area, 8.8 for 25%, etc.

Now imagine a complex boot sole coming into contact with either of our ice surfaces. One is bumpy, and one is smooth. Which one has the greater contact between the boot and the ground? Obviously, the smooth one. The bumpy surface, you'll only come in contact with the tops of the crests. The surface area is then very small, and so the pressure quite large. At this point, it is easier to slip and fall. Bumpy ice is more slippery, C.P.

This is part of the reason that old style boot soles are much better. A old style kamguk (mukluk in English) has a soft sole, meaning the foot conforms to the ground. This has two immediate effects. First, it increases the surface area, so pressure is more evenly distributed. Secondly, that increased surface area means the friction between the ice and the boot is greater. I'd actually be interested in demonstrating this numerically, which means getting a force meter. An idea for another day!

Here's another fun one from the book! And a bit easier, since I think a lot of people intuitively know the answer. Let's say you want to cool a completely full pot, and you only have one block of ice. Should you put the ice below it, above it, or to the side of it? Why?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Can you recognize this graph?

As the title. I made this graph after an experiment in its contents. Hit me with your best guesses!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

China and demographic consequences

From an article in China might have problems being a dominant player unless it comes to terms with its ethnocentric problems.
These anxieties have the air of self-fulfilling prophecy. Given that many if not most Koreans prize ethnic homogeneity, migrant workers will remain on the margins of society. This, in turn, will fuel alienation and resentment among this class of permanent second-class citizens. And so South Korea's major cities could very well see the rise of segregated ethnic slums. It's worth noting that anti-foreigner sentiments are flourishing in a time when South Korea is experiencing rapid economic change, including a new social and economic inequality. Just as racism provided the basis for solidarity among whites in U.S. history, it could be playing a similar role in South Korea.

Next to China's race problem, South Korea's pales in significance. Earlier this year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a report that found that the current ratio of 16 retirees to 100 workers is set to double in the next 15 years. In absolute terms, the number of over-65s will go from 166 million to 342 million. Someone will have to care for them, and though China has relaxed its profoundly wrongheaded one-child policy, the reform has come too late to arrest rapid aging.
The bigger problem, almost paradoxically, is demographic. If China hadn't arrested it's development, they could have gone on as racist as they'd like with just a few institutionalized consequences. The same is true for very `developed` nations. Are we seeing a new form of source-sink dynamics among human populations? Certainly, some areas are more productive biologically than others, but the trend among nations has been to population stability, or even contraction. So I suppose it has to do with the rate that the source populations (i.e., poor, biologically productive nations) transition...


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Cancer Screening - the complete story.

I was thinking about doing a post, prompted by the recent rash of stories in the media about whether regular prostate and breast cancer screening is a good idea. This is a very interesting topic, one I got interested in a bit back when I wondered why people didn't get screened at younger ages. Surely, you'd catch fewer, but you'd still catch the rare few people who develop these cancers early. The answer revolves around the rate of false positives, in that case, and the recent rash of questioning has to do with how many tumours go on to become actual problems...

Luckily, I can point you all to a write up by an expert. Orac is a surgeon and a cancer researcher - an MD PhD in academic parlance. That's a very rare breed of person, but one of the most important links in advancing human medicine. He has problems with how the issue is being portrayed in the media (there's a shock), and puts the research in appropriate context. If you want to be educated on cancer screening, I strongly recommend you read his review of the science.

Smooth or bumpy ice

I found this old book, origionally written in the 1920s in Russia, with the translated title "Physics for Entertainment." I have to say, this is one of the most interesting books I've ever picked up. It's full of fun brain teasers like this:

What's more slippery, smooth or bumpy ice? Why?

Monday, 9 November 2009


I was thinking about writing about differences in use of objects in "Cultural activities" (I hate that phrase. Can you think of an un-cultural activity?) and how they drift over time. For example, nasqurrun, or the head things for yuraqing, used to be worn by men at some frequencies. But after kass'at contact with Alaska, female-only use got codified, and that's pretty much the way it is now.

Instead, I've got side tracked with a much more light hearted topic - physical aggression between spousal partners. A cheery subject! If I were to ask you to guess who is more likely to aggress against their spouses across the whole United States, you'd probably guess men are. Unless you're suspicious of a trick question, in which you'd guess the opposite. You paranoid people would win this round.

That's probably a surprising result, but it's actually a well supported one. Surveys in 1975, 1985 and other periods found shockingly high level of wife-to-husband violence. The results became even more surprising when you found out that severe violence (Kicking, hitting, beating, threatening with a weapon, using a weapon, etc.) was consistently higher amongst females than males. According to Bhrehm et al. 2005, (p.433) " Prospective research on aggression during the first years of marriage also found higher rates of Wife-to-Husband [aggression] (O' leary et al. 1989)".

Since the initial bunches of surveys and studies, there's been more, including some as recent as 1999 and 2005, "[...] including more than eighty published articles, books and other sources [...]" Obviously, this is an under-discussed facet of the human social experience. It may be men are reluctant to talk about it for cultural reasons, but more there seems a slightly more probable explanation.

Women out aggress their spouses in all measures of violence. However, our intuitive expectations for the subject might be somewhat explained through the outcome of aggression. To quote Barbra Morse (a researcher on such issues; 1995) "Women were more often the victims of severe partner assault and injury not because men strike more often, but because men strike harder."

Any given blow by a male is more likely to result in serious injury or harm. Normally, I'd be prattling on about how humans are more or less mono-morphic, when you compare us to differences between the genders in other species. Just compare bull moose and cow moose! However, in this case, the muscular differences between males and female humans are enough to result in a very different adverse outcomes (to steal the term from medicine).

The factors that predict spousal violence are complex, and I won't pretend to understand them. I could parrot back what's in my text book on the subject, but that wouldn't be a substitute for actually understanding the interplay of factors. Needless to say, like all aggression, it's complex.

The reason I'm blogging about this is I've been on an "Aggression" kick lately. I've got a question that's bothering me - one that sounds deceptively simple. I wonder how many fights an average male is involved in, in his lifetime. How many fights an average female is engaged in within her lifetime. And within the genders, how much 'heterogeneity' is there - that is, is it either people have many/no fights,  or is it that there are many intermediate of fights?  If you know the answer to this, I'd be greatly interested in hearing it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Moose Lasagna

I'd like to announce I've successfully made my first Lasagna, and it is delicious. Please, inform the press. Take moose sausage and brown it, before drowning it in spaghetti sauce. Be generous, since people love meat! When it's done, simmer while you finish boiling your Lasagna noodles. Boil for 12 minutes in a pot full of generous salt. I tried my aana's method of putting oil up top to keep them from sticking, but that didn't work for me. Sorry, mom!

Layer the noodles on the bottom, then a tub of cottage cheese. Don't skimp, because you need that energy tonight - it's -20°C! Then cover that with about half the moose sausage and spaghetti sauce. And then add Mozerella cheese, or if you're cheap like me, Fred Meyers' "Italian Cheese" of unknown composition. Layer more noodles on top of all of this, then add the remaining sauce. Dump on more Italian Cheese, and then top that off with a bit of cheddar. Why Cheddar? Because I have a lot of cheddar!  Put it in an oven heated at 375 degrees for ~20 minutes, or more if your oven leaks heat like a shopping bag.

Consume with as many other unhealthy things as you can find around, such as pilot bread smeared with mayo, or sour cream.

Hey, if you want healthy recipes, check out Dave's Delightful stuff, he'll kill you slightly slower. :)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Catch up

The great irony of being sick while having a lot of chores to do is that although you suddenly have a lot of time to do them in, you're much less able to do them. I caught the damned gastric virus going around, and now that I'm feeling somewhat better, today is going to be a day of hurrying to catch up.

So! All that to say, no real post today, but here's a cute comic! Read all of it Here!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A funeral for the internet

Kevin E. was a good man, who was sadly beset by health problems as long as I knew him. He died too soon. While we both played the same game (which is how I met him), and I greatly admired his ability to play it, I'll more remember him for his congenial nature, his warm heart, and his willingness to be the butt of good-natured jokes. I'll miss him. The world is poorer without him.

I'd just found out that an acquaintance of mine, from a while back, died. We weren't close, but we were definitely very friendly. While I'm very sad to find this out, I'm not overcome with grief. It does have me introspective about various bits of my own life, and how I'd let people know that I've died.

I've lived in a lot of places, and many people I only keep in touch with through e-mail or chat programs. Others still I've never met in my life, but I've known so long from the internet that I consider them as good as any friend I've been with in flesh and blood. Some even better. Technology has let me trade car stories with an Australian miner in Perth, talk about Dr. WHO and Sci Fi movies with a welsh gal who makes her own chainmail. And jabber on about nothing with a pair of Kuwaiti sisters who speak better English than I do! Not to mention all the people I keep in contact with here and in the states. The list goes on - the internet has let us internationalize our contacts.

But the down side to this is, if any of them where to die, how would I find out? I would want to find out - some of these people I like a lot. And if I were to die, how would they find out? I'd just be another person who disappears into silence on the web. A few emails would go unanswered, and then maybe a few people would try to call me. After getting my voicemail, or a disconnected line, there's not much else many could do. When you're dead, you can't update facebook saying 'Hi guys, nice knowing you. Thanks for all the good times.'

How can we fix this problem?


Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The snack-raficing of squirrels

Where does altruism evolve from? It's a legitimate scientific question, because altruism appears to fly in the face of natural selection.
Why should a ground squirrel give an alarm call at the sight of a hawk, which raises her chances of being eaten by the hawk? She should duck and cover, to save her own skin.

These questions long since puzzled people who study behaviour, since the trait should become rare in the genepool as these self-snack-raficing individuals are digested and turned into parts for baby hawks. In the end, there should be nothing left but the squirrels that get the heck out of dodge.

The beginning of our understanding of apparent altruism among animals came when people began understanding fitness better. The ground squirrel could be a mother, trying to save her offspring. If she can save them easier than she can produce more pups, then she should do that. Putting it mathematically, she should act when


Where B is benefit, C is cost and i is rIsk. In this case, the benefit is past reproductive success - potential grand-offspring to carry her traits into the future. The cost is how much she'll pays - all the future potential offspring she could make. And the rIsk is the probability that she'll have to pay that cost. The cost can be very high, but if the risk is low, you don't need much benefit to justify the action.

W.D. Hamilton  formalized this even better, with Hamilton's rule (imaginatively named) where a trait (such as this self-snack-raficing behaviour) is expected to become more common in a population when the inequality is satisfied:


Where r is probability that the recipient of the actor has the trait. From our understanding of Mendelian genetics, this is .5 for parent-offspring, .5 for sibling-sibling pairs, .25 for half-siblings or Grandparent-Grandoffspring. There are some interesting exceptions to these rules that I'll mention in a future post.

So, in plain English, if we define all the future offspring our Ground squirrel can have as being 1,  and assume 100% risk, then the other ground-squirrel she saves should be worth 2 times that many offspring if if the altruistic squirrel is a parent. Along these lines, J.B.S. Haldane was once asked if he'd give his life to save his brother. Jokingly, he replied "Would I lay down my life to save my brother? No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins."

Of course, there's far more to altruism than this; we call this principle `kin selection`, where evolutionary impact isn't just from one's own offspring, but from an organism's blood-family members as well. The description of kin selection went a long way to explaining how many forms of altruism we find among animals evolved.

You can find some extreme examples of this in some insects, where queens produce sterile workers. These sterile workers get all their evolutionary fitness from the queen's success, and none through their own reproduction (Because they can't). Because the cost is so low (they'll never have offspring), it doesn't take much benefit to justify extreme actions. In this system, bees with stingers evolve. They die when they use them, but they manage to advance the queen's reproductive fitness just a little more in doing so.

Interestingly, because of bees breeding system, the workers are more related to the female future-queens than the reproductive males. Because of this, the workers siphon off resources from the males larva and invest it in the female larva. There's insurrection in the beehive! 

Monday, 2 November 2009

Payall Bidding to explain political lobbying.

I haven't the time for a proper post this morning. So instead, brazenly stolen from Marginal Revolutions: Payall Bidding to explain political lobbying.

I wonder at which point you you are indifferent to bidding. Is there even such a point? In fixed increment bidding, the point is probably equal to the increment you win plus the bid in terms of the indifference point. But don't quote me on that.