Wednesday, 31 December 2008


How cold is cold?

My thermometer said it was -45°C, which is -OMG°F. To put this into context, I got some food out of a box from outside. I store some food in locked boxes, since refridgeration outside is free. So, I set it on the counter, while the stove is heating up. Oven heats, take off the plastic to put it on the tinfoil. While grabbing the meat, which had sat inside for about 5 minutes, I cold-burned my hand on it.

I thought water was supposed to stink at conducting heat?

That's bloody cold.

... dare you to lick a flagpole.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

To Photoshop or not to Photoshop

Allmycke touched on a subject I've been thinking about a whole lot lately, and that's when photoshop is appropriate on your images. I suppose the first thing I should say is I'm not a professional photographer. Like my sib, I only take pictures because I like doing that. So the story is probably not the same if I was a professional photographer, and people were paying me for images.

But I'm not. And because I'm not, I don't care about photoshop. To me, photography is not about technical challenges, filters, gear, expensive cameras and fancy lighting. To me, photography is about showing people what /I/ saw. Let's face it, even the very best camera is nothing compared to the human eye. The human eye is an amazing piece of optics (though squid and eagles have better eyes than we), that is fantastically flexible and adaptive. It can discern tones a Camera would lump together, and it automatically adjusts contrast and brightness levels as it goes. Your best camera in the world pales in comparison.

Since my stated goal is to show people things I saw myself, some photoshopping seems pretty far from `cheating.` I want to illustrate this with two copies of the same picture.
These are both Lance Mackey at the Yukon Quest start last year. Tiger Woods is a wuss, by the way. Screw em! Now, when the original picture was taken, it was -40something, in a poorly lighted hole in the ground, with a thick layer of icefog and haze.

Now, because of the amazing human eye™ is adaptive, when I saw Lance Mackey come out of the chute, my eye had already had the nerves with the blue pigments saturated, and so they weren't firing nearly as often. This allowed other colours to come through. My camera, however, was under no such status.

Second, the camera saw one light level, and proceeded to populate the whole image light levels from that. My eye, however, adjusted the `aperture` as I looked down from the lighted bank to the people in front of it, allowing me to see their detail.

That was an easier fix. A few subtle twists of a few dials improved the quality of my picture, IMO, dramatically. Now, people can see Lance like I saw him: Cool. Composed. Badass.

What about more dramatic alterations?
  • Cropping? What the heck is wrong with cropping? I never got objections to cropping. We do it with real pictures all the time. We do it with our lens all the time.
  • Red Eye? Red eye/Green eye is purely a camera artifact. You're taking out something that isn't there to begin with. Stemming from photographer `my lens is bigger than yours` contests, this one is stupid.
  • Touch Ups? Depends. Sometimes, on high ISO pictures, there's a lot of digital noise. This is highly distracting in an image. I'm okay with cleaning that up. When it comes to people for vanity purposes, I don't get nearly that worked up about some photoshop beautification as others do, but I don't do it myself.
  • Adding stuff? Hey, it would be really cool if King Kong was rampaging down the street behind you, but frankly, that's not what happened captain. If you're doing it for a joke, and everyone knows it's a joke, that's okay. Otherwise, that isn't kosher.

And now I'll get off my soapbox.

Speaking of Photoshop, I took a few image series, and tried to merge a few HDR photos. Nothing I'd show other people just yet. Here's what I've learnt, though:
  • First, take pictures way deep into shorter and longer exposure times (if you're doing it that way) or smaller and larger f-stops than you think you'll need. You can always exclude pictures, but you can't include one you didn't take.
  • Second - put weight on your tripod! Slight triopd movements screw you up big time. You can have photoshop align the images for you, but this is an incredibly slow process.
  • Third - pictures with a small tonal range don't work too well in this application. Or, in human speak, too much snow screws the pooch. You can't get good colour balance with few colours.
It seems a very promising technique, though. It just takes foresight and planning when you're sitting behind the camera. It'd be neat if there was a sort of `HDR` program that automatically took a series of pictures at a given f-stop progression at the push of the button. Sadly, my toy camera isn't programmable. Maybe one of the big girl/boy cameras can be programmed.

Edit to Add: You can read the post that promoted the whole Photoshop discussion over here.

You think your old landlords are nazis? Try this one, from Craig's list. Holy hell:

All the tenants I interview aren't good enough (Broadway and Commercial)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-12-19, 6:05PM PST

I am a born again Christian. Why is this a problem for people????! I have a house that's MINE and I PAID FOR IT. I also have a basement apartment for rent. It's a great space for I'm charing very little for it, $480 monthly, for the right tenant. I know it's ILLEGAL to require a Christian in the apartment, against the human rights. That's why I NEVER put this in my ad. Why then does it keep getting taken down?


Available Immediately – Broadway and Commercial – Showing Saturday and Sunday – Email for directions and additional information.

What kind of apartment is it?

• One bedroom basement apartment with separate entrance
• Tastefully decorated with modern décor
• Approximately 650 square feet
• There is even a window! Security bars installed for your safety and to prevent unauthorized activity
• Closed circuit camera installed for security and safety. One in your suite, one at the entrance, and one in the exercise yard

• $480.00 per month
• First month’s rent + ½ month security deposit due at move in
• Small pet allowed with approval and payment of additional ½ month pet damage deposit
• One year lease permitted, option to renew lease at end of the term with no increase in rent
• LANDLORD’S SPECIAL! Move in before January 1st and don’t pay for the remainder of December! That’s significant savings.

Included in the rent:

• Electricity
• Heat – Maintained at 21 degrees with lock box to prevent unauthorized tampering. Additional heating available for $20.00 per extra degree of heating per month. You may not use your oven to heat the apartment. If you do, you will be fined $50.00 per occurrence.
• Air conditioning – Maintained at 25 degrees during the summer with lock box to prevent extra cooling from being dispensed. Additional cooling for sale for $20.00 per degree of cooling requested per month.
• 25" Zenith color television set with basic cable service - INCLUDED IN RENT!
• Wireless internet (with content filter applied to block forbidden/immoral websites) - INCLUDED IN RENT!
• Provision of coin laundry services - You will have your own personal coin laundry washer and dryer machines. Washers and dryers are paid using a token system. Tokens can be purchased through the landlord. Washer tokens cost $4.15 each and dryer tokens cost $3.60 each. You are not allowed to use foreign
currency or slugs in the washer and dryer. Violators will be fined $100.00 per infraction.

About us: (Landlords)

We are conservative, bible believing, God-fearing, born again, evangelical Christians. We interpret the bible literally in every way possible. We live a strict moral code and observe God’s laws in our everyday life. My wife stays at home and teaches our home-schooled children. I work as a pastor at a local congregation and am active in the faith community.

About you: (Tenant)

• You are employed
• You do not participate in lascivious deviant sexual behavior
• You do not choose alternative lifestyles as your lifestyle
• You do not have any criminal history
• You must have excellent character references
• You do not smoke, drink or take drugs. Mandatory drug screening required.

Additional Rules/Conditions:

CLEANLINESS: You are responsible for the cleanliness and orderliness of
your apartment. Beds are to be made before leaving your suite,
countertops must be wiped down, and you must remove all trash. Upon
inspection, if the tenant's basement suite is not clean, the cost of
cleaning services plus a fine of $100.00 will be levied.
LIGHTS: The lights in your basement suite and in the day room are not to
be tampered with. If a light needs repair, report the condition to the
WAKE-UP: Wake up will be at 5:30am each morning. All ceiling lights in
the suite will be turned on automatically.
LIGHTS OUT: Ceiling lights in the suite will be turned off at 11:30pm.
CONTRABAND: The following items are considered contraband – alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, weapons, lock picking equipment. If any contraband is discovered to be in your possession, you will be subject to a minimum $1,000.00 fine. In addition, your items will be confiscated permanently. Second offense – you will be evicted without notice. A bailiff will escort you and your belongings off the premises. Your security deposit will not be returned.
SMOKING: The basement suite is non-smoking. Anyone in possession of
tobacco products of any kind or any lighter or matches, will have their
contraband items confiscated and will be fined $100.00.
INSPECTIONS: The Landlord will conduct unannounced inspections to ensure
that these rules and regulations are being followed.
VISITATION: Visitation periods will be on Saturdays and Sundays from
1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. All visitors and their vehicles are subject
to search while on landlord property. Refusal to allow a search can
result in their being barred from all future visitation privileges. All
visitors must sign the Visitor's Log. Unauthorized visitors will be
escorted from the property, and the tenant will be fined $250.00.
I.D. BRACELETS: Each tenant will be issued an I.D. bracelet with his/her
photograph. It must be worn at all times. If you lose your I.D.
bracelet or it is broken, you will be required to purchase a new one at
the nominal cost of $5.00.
EXERCISE YARD: The tenant will have access to the exercise yard in the
area to the back of the property for 2 hours per day from 4:00 pm to
6:00 pm. The tenant is not allowed to bring any personal property to
the exercise yard. Once the tenant leaves the exercise yard on a
particular day, he or she may not return. No boisterous behavior is
allowed in the exercise yard. There is no smoking allowed in the
exercise yard. Minimum fine for exercise yard infractions is $50.00.

  • Location: Broadway and Commercial
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 964514051

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Plumbing the bottom bits of the thermometer.

Yesterday I woke up to a rude surprise in the news paper. The News Miner said in an article that the weather was about to get what meteorologists commonly call `damn cold.` They're saying the cold snap may last 10-14 days, definitely through this week at least. Well, crap.

I quickly made sure the tank had enough fuel to last me through the next little bit of high use, that my carboys were topped off with water, and that if any of my truck's belts broke, I had enough food to last me until I could get the truck fixed. Check, check and check. After that, I pulled on my bibs and went to go do all the outside stuff I wanted to do on my vacation, trying to cram it into a single day. That didn't go as well, since there was only about 4 hours and some odd sunlight. :p

It's not that I can't go out, it's just that doing anything very enjoyable outside will be limited to short bursts if its to stay enjoyable. Further, there can't be any spur of the moment stuff, because the truck needs plugged in and heated for at least 4 hours before it can be started. To be sure, I still have chores to attend to. They'll be slightly more chorish. It's just hard to have a good time at -40°.

About now, a home on Murphy Dome is looking mighty tempting. It's only -23°C up there right now.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Do you have a bail bag?

Just because you live in Fairbanks doesn't mean you can't put on a suit and tie in the winter. It's dramatically overdressed for the town, but I think we already went over that topic. What you have to do, though, is throw gear in the back of your truck so if something is to happen, you're not totally SOL. And given that there are places where you'll be lucky to pass a vehicle at all in a 12 hour period, you can't count on others swooping in to provide your rescue. Drivers need to be prepared to affect their own recovery.

I bring this up, because I spent a few hours digging my truck out of a ditch earlier, after a weak shoulder gave out and my truck slid into deep powder. Worse, it was on Old Murphy Dome Road, which is pretty much not travelled.

Here's a non-exhaustive list of things you want in your vehicle in winter:
  • Shovel - Whether you're digging yourself out of a ditch, or dealing with the after effects of a really heavy snow. Shovels are good.
  • A pair of insulated bibs or snow pants - Most of the time, you don't go around wearing these, so it's good to have a pair in the back. Fairbanks gets $*($ing cold, see. The official motto is `the heart of Alaska,` but I think some other body part is far more accurate.
  • Good pair of pac boots - If you're not wearing them, you should have them.
  • Sleeping bag or blankets - Sometimes, people have mechanical problems that they can't fix on their own. It may be necessary to overnight, in which event you really want to wake up after that nap.
  • Lighter and stuff to start a fire - In the words of Thog the Caveman, `Firegood.` 'nuff said.
  • Food - I keep a hand full of cliff bars in my glove compartment, along with a box of pilot bread in the back. You want at least day's worth of calories, which is easy to get such energy dense items.
  • Tools - Ratchet set, Screwdriver, a few hex keys, and other odds and ends. Strangely, I haven't had to use them on my own vehicle, but I've lost count the number of times I've had to whip out my tools to fix someone else's vehicle (I lie. The count is `6 times in the last two years.`)
  • Flashlight - Hey, you might have noticed. It gets dark here. Fast. Before 4pm. If I need to spell this one out, you're already dim (*rimshot*).
  • Jumper Cabels - You know. For jumping? Dead batteries happen. Though, if your battery goes dead-as-in-no-charge, it's actually more likely to freeze and burst.
  • Tire pump - As temperature goes down, your tire pressure goes down too. When it's $%*(ing cold, it's good to get your tires up to a reasonable pressure. Also, it's just a plain handy thing to have even normally.
Those are really just the basics. Some people throw in traction sand, little stoves, blocks of trioxine, so on. I know someone who keeps a PLB in there, just in case, which seems like overkill to the nth degree, but if I was screwed, it'd be super nice to have. It might seem like this would take up all your trunk space, or room in the back of the cab, but I fit everything into little nooks and crannies, and really the only things that take up extra space are boots, when I'm wearing normal shoes.

I boggle at people who don't even have the barest of required stuff. Most of the time, they're fine. They don't go further than a mile from town. Sometimes, they're screwed; then they make the newspaper as that motorist who needed rescued. Very rarely do those sorts of emergencies need to be emergencies.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Global Warming: Don't care if you don't believe in it.

First things first: MERRY CHRISTMAS! And if you don't celebrate it, happy Thursday!
Second things first: What are you doing reading blogs today? :p

Okay. So, I think the evidence for Global Warming is pretty strong. I know just enough chemistry to be dangerous when I read over the papers on the subject, and enough about modelling to know that what climate modellers are doing is by and large legit. Partially, I trust the peer-review process, where scientists love to prove eachother wrong, and partially, I trust expertise - arguing about climatic science is like arguing about how things work inside a nuclear reactor, in that I'm ignoring the hell out of the person who isn't a nuclear chemist/physicist when they go on about the subject.

I don't need to place much faith in them, though, because there's many strong lines of biological evidence, not the least of which is the shifting of plant communities. And as Filmore's Bathtub - a blog from Utah - writes, even a lay person can see what's going on. This guy used to be a staffer for Sen. Hatch (R-UT), once upon a time, and is now an educator. He runs a neat blog, though one that's become increasingly left - it seems he's one of the many that the last 8 years of Bush have alienated from their party.

Here's the money shot:
Plants don't have a political agenda. They do, however, know when its getting warmer.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

So today is the first day of vacation for me. I'm living it up by sleeping in - that plan didn't go to far, because the neighbour needed his oil tank opened, and didn't have the tools. He's got one of those old oval tanks, from before greer started making theirs, and so I needed to climb up top with a pair of channel locks to get the bung plug off. This is why people went to the greer tanks.

Anyhow, a few hours later, I'm in town, at Freds, and I notice they have fresh oranges. Yes, that's right. Fresh. I was just going to buy one, to make wassail, but I went crazy and bought a great big bag. I've torn into one voraciously. I'm now ready to leave Fairbanks for California, just for the citrus. I'm that easily bought.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Re:Tagging and HDR pictures

Dave tagged me for that meme thing that's going around, but sadly, I'll have to pass. I've got about 12 regular readers (not counting family), according to my little stat counter thing, but only 2-3 of them comment regularly! I'm boring, I know. ;)

Hey, neat new trick I learnt about, called High Dynamic Range Photography. It lets you have your cake and eat it too - pictures taken using the technique look just surreal. As we frequently have problems with high contrasts environments here (what, with the snow, and the lighting), I'm wondering if it's a technique I could put to use. I've got all the tools... more on this experiment as it progresses!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Only way to go is up!

This is where we were six months ago...
And this is where we'll be six months from now. Happy Midwinter, everyone!

Anyone else think us fairbanksans are a tad unhinged?
I mean, we go through a winter that tries to kill us, only to run around in costumes in the other half of the year? :)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Recipy: BBQ Pineapple Moose

I winged this last night off of stuff I had laying around, making it up as I went along. It was amazingly delicious.

Marinade moose stew chunks in a BBQ baste over night, maybe with some pineapple thrown in. Next day, put the chunks in a pan with peppers, canned pineapple, and raisins. Add more BBQ sauce to taste. Bake in the oven for 37 minutes, or until tender. Serve over rice.

This can probably be improved on. I'd like to make it more juicy, so more of the mix gets into the rice. You could probably accomplish that by adding pineapple juice too, instead of just the chunks. I'll try next time.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Dog Day Stretches

As we slowly near the solstice, things seem to be going slower, and slower. I swear, if things power down much more, they'll reach a mere crawl. Campus is more or less empty - I like it like that. Good parking, no students wandering into the lab where they aught not to be, no worries about the dozen little trivialities that come with a full campus. Oh, and the showers are almost always free now.

We won't get students back until Jan 20th. At first I thought it was odd, having a month long break, but after a little bit I realized just why - they don't want students on Campus in what's, on average, the coldest part of the year. It costs less in heating, it minimizes accidents, and power consumption for things like lights are lower. It makes a lot of sense to have the big gap, here. The down side is that around may 20th, when spring classes end, the summer seasonal employment has kicked up, so there's little time for students to get situated before they have to go.

I've got some pictures of the folks working on the ice sculptures, from when I went over the museum to use Link Olson's prep lab. I got a picture of the guy chizelling away red-handed in day light, for Avery. When they finish the sculptures, I'll have to go and take pictures of them all. I'm very fond of the polar bear down on College and University, next to the sign. It looks better this year! I've thrown up a picture of last year to compare it. It was taken on a balmy day, as you can see - you know, we really haven't had any cold days yet. I know they'll come, it's just curious they haven't happened yet. At least it hasn't been hot like last year.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Used Snow Go Lot

You planning on buying a used snow go? It can be dicey. Some people ride their sleds like idiots, then try cover it up and pawn the resulting wreck to someone else. While poking around, I found this handy dandy checklist online for checking out a used snowmachine.

Speaking of, I'm thinking of buying one myself. A tundra would be nice - reliable, lightweight, fuel efficient. Good in mountains. That, or an RMK 600. I'm looking for light. It's probably a bad decision at this point - that's why I hadn't done it yet - but it'd be neat to not have to borrow someone's junker anymore.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Nerd Cred

Nerds are like everyone else. They have varying degrees of cred. One of my grad students has substantial field cred, as he once jumped on and wrestled deer to the ground as part of his research. I have some field cred, as for the Hanta Virus project, I had to be in a full respirator, in the badlands, in the early summer. Not as impressive as wrestiling full grown animals, though - this kid knows how to tangle.

Lab cred, you have people who had to make stuff using chlorine trifluoride somewhere near the top - them's crazy sons a guns. The closest I come to that is a project working with Mercuric Chloride in an avian study (not nice stuff), and an opiod so powerful it can kill you in very tiny doses, before you've realized you made a SNAFU.

In biology, we don't do anything quite that dangerous, so you have people comparing how ancient of protocols they've done. My PI, for example, regularly complains about his days having to do radioactive phosphate labled sequencing, or cesium gradients while I have smugly nod, knowing that I had to do PCR the crappy, old way, worked with ethidum bromide extensively (something he's not comfortable with), and have poured types of gels he's never even heard of. It's a tie, mostly.

Well, it was. Yesterday, I did something that I can use to enhance my 'cred. When he starts getting uppity, I'll tell him how easy he has it. Why once, I had to walk a mile, uphill both ways!, through the snow, in -24°C weather to fetch a bottle of very concetrated acid.

Checkmate, suckers.


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Anti-Terrorism Laws at Work.

From the Mail Online: Police in the UK bust up a ring of party goers at a themed partysuspected terrorists when they stumbled on their baking soda and vinegarexplosive materials and some plastic skeletonsthe bones of their victims. Now, no science is safe, be it weird science, mad science, or SCIENCE!! science. Honestly, we can't take the risk that this motley crew to the right aren't associates of Osama Bin Laden!

I should hide my labcoat, and my pocket protector. Don't want the cops onto my scheme.

Glacier NP Bears redux!

Remember Kendall? I wrote a little something about her methods on the big Glacier Grizzly Bear project a while back. It's going to be a classic `how to` for non-invasive DNA mark-recapture population estimates, even if that's a mouthful. Let's talk about what she found, now.

To get an appreciation how big of a project it was, she had 5, 14 day sessions. That's ten weeks of pure field work, plus breakdown and set up times. In the lab, the research group had 5,562 samples from between 626 and 633 snag sites, with a 28% return on the hair traps. They checked between 660 and 829 hair rubs, and collected a total of 3,985 samples from them (11.7% return on the rubs).

Hell, I have a hard time keeping track of 500 samples.

When they analyzed the samples genetically, they couldn't determine the species of about 9% of the hair trap samples - so those go right out. They're no good. 63.5% were black bears, and 27.5% where grizzly bears. When it comes to the tree rubs, 12.2% couldn't have the species be determined, 36.9% where black bear, 50.9% were brown bear. I can't help but wonder if the difference in the `failure to identify` rate is significant. With that high of a sample size, it's quite possible.

Luckily, mixed samples - if two bears rubbed against the same tree, or same trap - where rare, with only about 2% from both traps and rubs. That 2% wasn't analysed, because there's no way to sort out which hairs belonged to which bear.

For the technical minded Ho was 0.71, and the P-ID was 6E-6. P-SIB was 7E-3. That's some good battery of µsats for such a low population large carnivore! When all µsats were considered, each bear differed at at least 4 markers, or more. Things that make you go `hmmm.`

In total, they found 185 unique bears in one year, and 22 in the other - 58% female at the hair traps. That sex ratio seems a little high in favour of males. Maybe someone can tell me if that's unusual, for Brown Bears, since they're not typically my forte. Using a mathematical mark-recapture model, they calculated 241 bears in 1998 (95% CI=202-303) and 241 in 2000 (95% CI=205-304). Mean bear density from this was 30 bears per 1000 km^2 (95% CI=27-35).

What does this all mean?

First, Kendall says `huzzah! Our first rigorous estimate! Cake for everyone!` And she's right. This is the first time we have a scientifically valid estimate of how many bears there are for the area. The density is comparable to a number of other studies in interior NA, though the authors throw in a healthy dose of `take that with a grain of salt.` Third, it supports the notion that the habitat in Glacier NP is much, much better for bears than what's going on around GNP. This isn't a trivial difference, either.

What's notable in their discussion is what isn't there. This data will go to court to try and support a de-listing. Probably anticipating it, the authors made zero policy recomendations as to whether they should unprotect the Grizzly. If you read between the lines, and look at some of the other data they show in multi-use land (16 bears / 1000 km^2), it seems like the authors are leaning towards not. While GNP remains a core of strong bear populations, the area around it drops off quickly. By allowing collection on the fringes, you could quickly exterpait edge of the GNP population, due to the large home ranges of the animals. There's really insufficient connectivity between GNP and the nearest patch of grizzly habitat to allow for some population resilience outside the park - that is to say, fragmentation is an issue, here.

But that's just my two cents. With additional data, I could find I'm wildly wrong on that.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Yukon Quest update.

The Yukon Quest is going to be making another bid for the money they need on Monday, but are telling people not to panic - that while they really really need the money, they think they can revert to plan B (Which is, from what I gather, `Scrounge and Beg`).

I'm sure they're good at begging and scrounging. But I'm still hoping the city will do the right thing™.
Which probably means it won't.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Fairbanks City Gov't continues to make asses of themselves.

I was fairly surprised to read that the Yukon Quest is in danger of being cancelled because the city won't pony up money that it normally would. At first I thought it was the DNM getting the story wrong, but with a little poking, I found out that they weren't joking. Why won't they give the grant? Not for any budgetary reason, no. Because they were late with the filing. I want to know this: are they stupid, dumb, or both?

The Yukon Quest brings people in from outside. People with money. Sales turn into tax revenue. That's why they damn well throw money toward the Yukon Quest to begin with, because they get it back! Further, it helps keep good relations with The Yukon. It's a thing we can use to advertise our fair city. It helps maintain our image (Which, in the case of tourism, is important). It's a community activity for crying outloud. We benefit by getting to be involved!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Out of Context

Overheard last night:
"I can't imagine a hot tub full of bagels working very well for swimming in though."
Context doesn't help it much.

What is "Game?"

I have some time before House M.D. starts, and I'm using it to pre-write a blog post. A pre-written post? Slacker!

Last Friday, as part of our department's regular seminar series, we had in a wonderful speaker, who's name has unfortunately slipped my mind. We talked after the seminar, as I wanted to discuss some follow up points, and the obligatory question of what I researched came up. Among my peers, I mostly explain that my lab studies game species, especially the genetics, but other issues like land use, and demographic history. She says its a shame that I don't study carnivores (she does), and this leaves me momentarily stumped. Well, actually, my lab does - we have a running wolf project through one of our grad students. But aren't they game?

In retrospect, the confusion was obvious. No, carnivores aren't typically thought of as game species. Alaska's one of the few places left where non-ungulates mammals are considered an important cultural, nutritional and economic resource. Lower 48 Brown Bears are in-part threatened (where they've not be outright expatriated) and the Black Bear harvest isn't typically significant. Fur-bearers are the obvious exception to this, but even then, the selection of fur-bearers outside is often reduced over those available north of WY.

I can't help but speculate this is a contributing factor in the many perceptions of wildlife resources. While for some, these species might form an important dietary and cultural resource, people not engaging in those activities may either not perceive the possibility of these activities, or fail to appreciate the importance of them. It also raises to mind how people in urban situations frequently fail to appreciate the sources of subsistence foodstuffs - people tend to assume there's much more red meat than there often is, as they place more importance on large ugulates over fish, waterfowl, regular fowl, marine mammals and plants. Going back to the wolves, it likely never emerged on the speaker's radar that wolves could be considered game, because it just never happens in California.

It's something to consider. And it'll definitely give me pause to be more clear when I discuss `game` issues. It'll do me no good to talk at cross definitions.
Wood Cutting from Round-About Rambles

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


"Iqmigyugtuten-qaa? Ugh."

The title comes from a conversation I overheard a few months ago. One that gives me a bit of hope. Arctic Economics has a great story on iqmik use in the K-Y. Iqmik is doped chew, or as someone once described it (thus endearing me to them), `nasty shit.` People from outside the area are frequently struck by just how many people chew out there, even given that the level of chewing in Alaska is higher to begin with. It's lead to a big of an oral fixation, I think - I've been offered chew, and when people figured out I don't, I've been very frequently offered gum. Very frequently. Some folks carry around great big packs of gum around with them. I guess what I'm saying is it's a lot of gum.

I hadn't even been slightly tempted to touch the stuff. My father and grandfather had active roles in tobacco cultivation, and I've seen enough of it to want nothing to do with tobacco. My father talked about how sometimes they'd get ill just putting it in the barn for drying. And if this isn't the case (he sometimes reads my blog) I don't want him to correct me, because it's a factor in keeping me away from it.

Anyhow, I strongly recommend you check out the story.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Fairbanks is...

I was distracted from post writing (and sandwich making) when the neighbour needed help changing a battery in his truck. I'll sit on the other post for a little while longer, and instead submit this to my readers for consideration:

Fairbanks is automotive problems at inopportune times.

Also, something I saw on Craigs list, which read as follows:
1.58 carat princess cut diamond engagement ring. Set in 14k white gold band. engagement ring fits between the wedding band. Looking to trade for Arctic Cat ATV or Snowmobile of equal value. Honda ATV may ok too. If interested, please reply to thread. Thanks
So, in that vain, I offer another true statement, slightly more tongue in cheek:

Fairbanks is for sentimental people.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Random bits of news

Here's a few stories that caught my eye this morning - I had a little extra time while waiting for my truck to melt to the point where it'd start. Kids, don't forget to plug in at night! (Actually, I only thought it'd get down to -20°C. Not -30°. Oooops.)

  • Demand for apartments and cabins is down, according to this story by The Fairbanks Minor News. There are more postings than I remember, but also, they're still as over-priced as ever. Most of these places are cardboard boxes with fridges. And they charge 500 a month. Go figure.
  • ADN linked to a story in Backpacker about conflict between trappers and wolf advocates near Denali National Park. Backpacker is usually a good magazine - I bought my father a subscription, once upon a time - but I think they're a bit heavy handed here. One thing I did notice is that there seems to be a lot of treating wolf packs as stable social units, instead of dynamic entities.
  • The FBNSB is considering a trade in program for old boilers and wood stoves, writes the Minor News. I like this idea, as it tackles two problems, heating costs and air quality, by tackling inefficiency. I think about how much heat is wasted by the old oil drip-heater in my last home, it just makes me shudder a bit. The commenters on the story promptly jump the shark by accusing the bourgh of being out to steal their money, guns, and wood stoves. Fairbanks brightest and best, as always.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Strange comparisons

The day after I do about 10 miles on foot in the mountains, and what gets me tired? Sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours. Lovely, how that works. I didn't take any pictures while I was out, but I took a few on the drive home. I took the scenic route - I was randomly struck by the desire to wander, and after checking my fuel cans to make sure I had enough, I drove the length of the Steese Highway all the way to Circle. I'll upload them later.

I have to say, I was surprised to find Circle as it was. I had figured that since it was on the road system, it would have been one of the better villages. But compared to others, I've seen some less access that looked much better. I'm curious why that is. Obviously, I'm expecting villages to be something they're not - most of them have little economic base, and were built using designs intended for the lower 48, by people who didn't know what they were doing. Still, this puts a major crimp in my model, which assumed the the quality of development was directly related to the accessibility.

When I'd mentioned to other people that I drove the Steese, and for no real reason, I get strange looks. Apparently, most of us have had the urge to explore new places, see new things, and do stuff you've never done taken away from us at around age 17. My challenge is for everyone to poke their head in some place new, today. It could just be a shed you've never been in. Or a hall you haven't walked down. Or a building you've never been under. Explore a little!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Short absence

Scheduled Post:
I'm out in the field again, taking another wack at things. God willing, I won't get caught in a ground blizzard this time!

Alaska Dave failed at making me late. Hah!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

40 Mile Herd

Speaking of the 40 Mile Hunt, for all of you (n=5) who read my blog who hunt, and who don't know (n=0), the 40 mile hunt is slated to close this Thursday Night. It's only the bad conditions that kept it open this long - if you asked me Sat, I would have said `opens Monday, closes Monday.` Actually, someone did ask. And I did say that. ;)

Monday, 1 December 2008

So that's what those people on the north slope keep going on about. 30+ mph winds, and me on a snowmachine at 20 mph heading directly into the wind. My face feels like I've shaved it with a cheese grater.

Conditions at 12 mile and Eagle Summit are exactly crap. Visibility was nil. I didn't see a single person with a caribou, because all the Caribou were hunkering down for the weather. Me and the guy I was with decided to bail after the winds picked up even more.

Urban Bycatch in Anchorage

I promised myself I wouldn't blog over the holiday weekend, so I'll schedule this for Monday. Hopefully, I'll be out north of town then, in 40 mile country.

What got my attention so? An ADN story, of course. You probably don't want to read it, if you're squeamish. But with that warning, here's the link. For those who don't want to go, an Anchorage dog was caught inside a conibear within Anchorage City limits. It's always regrettable when a family pet gets caught in a trap. But this is a classic case of resource conflict.

The tendency in these situations is to pin the blame on the trapper. This is especially the case in areas where people have differing views of animals - animals as a nusience, vs. animals as a resource, etc. In this case, the tendency is towards personification of family pets. I had a lot more to say about this, but I've deleted it, and I'll skip to the bit where I complain about the author.

Frankly, the ADN article isn't helping people keep things even handed. The bias is pretty heavy handed.

It's also a crime for any person, with criminal negligence, to maim, mutilate, torture, kill or do any number of horrible things to animals.

The last clause seems rather inflamitory. Actually, quite a bit of the story seems inflamitory towards the trapper. The only people they talk to are people who go on about how wonderful the dog is - to the owners, the dog was like a child. Would they ever admit they did anything wrong? Possibly, but that's highly unlikely. Generally, people cast the blame on everyone but themselves. If they accept a role in the accident, they accept only a minor one at best. It's just basic human nature.

The story seemed agressively skewed, until I recognized the author's name. I've commened about her articles before. It's pretty clear how she views any sort of trapping, even deep in the wilderness, away from people. Why they let her write about anything animal related is beyond me, because impartiality goes right out the window.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


  • Quyavikagka Steve-aq Kumaggaq-llu. Quyana elitnaurlua.
  • Quyavikanka ilanaaranka. Quyana ikayuristeńguluten.
  • Quyavikaqa Kavirliq. Assikamken assiilkellua-llu. Pinrirsaqunak!
  • Quyavikanka tuntut, tuntuviit, neqet, ȗgaseget-llu. Quyana tuquluci.
  • Quyavikanka ilanka. Pitsaqkenritamci assiillua.
  • Quyavikanka naaqistenka!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

More bears

I read a story about a zoo in Japan trying to breed two female P bears.

The hell? How do you miss a detail like that. They say they were young... okay. Maybe. Maybe really, really young. Just with a glandular disorder that made them the size of sub-adults. That it took them the time it took for the animal to go from a cub to... uugh. It blows my mind.

They didn't even notice when checking for ectos? They did check for ectos, right? Or are they just willy-nilly moving diseases around without a care in the world?

The Stupid. It Burns. Someone needs fired. Urgently.

This about says it all:
The official Xinhua News Agency reports the hospitalized student later said the panda was so cute and cuddly he never expected to be bitten.
No one expects the panda attack, until they maul you. It's a true fact. I read it in this totally true to life graphic novel.

Seriously. Didn't expect to be mauled by a panda bear? What, is the guy lobotomized or something? I could understand expecting Black and Brown Bears to be nothing but cuddlebugs in their den (and if they're not, they're talking about making it so you can shoot the black ones who snub you in their den). But Pandas are mean spirited, vicious attack animals who only crave your flesh.

One thing I never quite got, though. I accept the comic is 100% true - they'd never say it was a true story if it wasn't. But I don't remember many pandas in any boreal forests. Must be a gap in my education.


Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Call down the thunder...

I don't know if I ever shared this with you all, but this is very cool: A group in Florida uses sounding rockets to make lightning strikes. They have a video here on their webpage.

Science is awesome.

Beer Notes from this weekend

I opened a bottle of this with the neighbours, while watching TV and talking about fishing on the Russian River. I don't know too much about fish-guiding, and it showed. Luckily, they indulged my ignorance. Anyhow, we were all very pleased with the beer. I've yet to open a bottle of theirs that I didn't like (though, that's because I've avoided some of their weaker inventory). You can pick this one up from a couple places in Fairbanks, like the Oaken Keg, Gold Hill, and even Fred's. They've got a bit of a deal going, too!
La Fin Du Monde, by Unibroue, Quebec.

A tall, corked and caged 75cl glass bottle with the Eye of Quebec figuring prominently on the label. The bottle comes with a clear `best by` date, though no indication when it was brewed. The packaging is clear and stately.

Just opening the bottle releases a host of deep, fruit scents. The beer pours as a thin, opaque liquid, about the colour of honey. There's moderate carbonation that, even in my head-friendly glass, quickly fades to a ring of white. It warms quickly, releasing a thick, spicy odour. The yeast is evident in the scent, as are mildy fruity notes, just barely rising into perception.

The beer is peppery and sweet, thin to medium bodied and not syrupy. I has a distinct carbonation when drank, something not apparent from the head, that lends it a moderate bite. The fruit notes get little play in the taste, remaining just off to the side as glance of pear, or whisper apple, it's difficult to tell which. Warmth improves the character of the beer, bringing out the sweetness to compliment the initial exclamation point of allspice.

At 9% ABV, a single person could drink all 75cl by ones self, but it's definitely best shared with a friend on a cold winter night. This is a very good tripel by the good brewers at Unibroue.

4.4/5, A.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Update on the Sea Kittens.

Tundra Drums did a story about the PETA sea kitten campaign, and I noticed a lovely quote:
Any plans on visiting Dutch Harbor with your campaign?
We definitely want to come to Alaska. I don’t know exactly where we’ll be going, but I know that it’s on our list.
Try not to educate them too much, Alaska Steve. Their poor little brains might 'asplode.
Oh, I can see their trip to Dutch Harbor going just swimmingly.

Kendall et al.'s Grizzly work.

Well, it was a bit later than I expected, but Kendall's paper on the non-invasive sampling of Glacier National Park is finally out in this month's edition of the Journal of Wildlife Management. I've had some time to digest the actual paper now - I didn't blog about it right away because I wanted to pour over it - and I'm very satisfied with the resulting publication. This project cost American tax payers about 5 million dollars, and every penny of it was well spent.

As I discussed earlier, one of the biggest issues in managing threatened or endangered wildlife is getting an accurate count of just how many individuals remain. Some species are easier than others, for example, one of my graduate students just got back from helping moose count somewhere over 40 mile country. However, the same graduate student is involved in working on Sitka Blacktail Deer, where we can't do aerial surveys because of tree cover. How are we supposed to manage species if we don't even know this basic information? It can't be done truly effectively.

Not long ago, as genetic methods became more common, people began discussing using DNA to fingerprint individuals. From early on, we were using DNA to fingerprint species, using portions of DNA that were unique to species to identify them from others. This remains very successful, and we've used it to discover two species that we thought were just one species. We've also used it to find the opposite - that two different looking critters are just different ends of one species. But then, technology had come far enough that identifying individuals was possible and economical.

The trick was using hyper-variable regions of the genome I've talked about before, called `Microsatellites.` These bits of DNA don't do anything, they just waft to and fro, becoming common or uncommon; growing in length or shortening. They're actually copy-errors when DNA replicates, sort of like noise around a xerox, except this is a xerox of a xerox of a xerox to the nth degree. Because they're so random, the odds that two individuals would have the same group of microsatellites by chance can be low.

Let's move over to Glacier National Park, and set the scene there. In 1975, lower 48 Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, amid concerns over their dwindling population. Around the Glacier NP area, there was a long history of harvesting Grizzlies for purposes of protecting livestock. Because of the listing, a hunting quota was set for these animals, and that quota was gradually decreased. Eventually, hunting was terminated in 1991.

There had been increased in sighting estimates in Glacier NP after the elimination of the harvest, but these estimates were sporadic, often lacked even internal consistency, and couldn't be used for estimates. Further, there wasn't any data from areas around the GNP they could use to infer even sweeping generalizations from. Kentall et al. wanted to use microsatellites to try and get a count of how many bears there are. She wanted to rely on the fact that bears tend to leave little bits of them where they go. They'll rub against trees, and hair can get snagged on fences as the bears meander about to do bear-like things.

Now when you're trying to do density estimates by trapping (this is a technique primarily for small animals), you need something that comes close to a random trapping pattern, so you don't bias your estimates by getting a whole bunch of 'captures' in some locations. For example, if I trapped exclusively by a water hole on the Serengeti, I would get a large number of unique animals a day. I would falsely assume that I had very high densities of animals, as I had many hits in a small area. Instead, you need to cast your net even over areas where you wouldn't get many individuals, expanding your area to get a more true approximation of natural densities.

Back to our bears, you can probably guess the problem: the fences are going to be concentrated in some areas, and non-existent in others. There'll be fences along the edges of the park, but very few inside. So the first step in doing a more rigourous analysis would be distributing the `traps` (in this case, hair snags) in a more random method over 8km square quadrants. They baited the traps with a variety of different scent baits, changing the composition often enough to keep the bears from becoming habituated to them.

On a rolling basis, they would go out to the field and collect hairs from the hair traps, and they would opportunistically collect hairs from tree rubs. The tree rubs were still non-randomly distributed - that means the data she gathered can only be used in a few ways, and you can't make any statements about habitat use by the bears. Similarly, it seems the baited hair snags were placed mostly in preferred habitat. So we still violate a number of the assumptions of random sampling, but Kendall et al. got around a number of the problems they had with capture efficiency - the rate at which they're detecting actual animals.

That's enough for now. Next time, I'll talk about what Kendall et al. actually found, and what the management implications are.

Kentall, K., Stetz, J., Roon, D., Waits, L., Boulanger, J., and Paetkau, D. (2008) Grizzly Bear Density in Glacier National Park, Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 72(8), pp. 1693-1705

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Y-K fuel

I wasn't going to blog any this weekend (bit of a chore list to get through), but I saw this article in the Village Telegraph that had a really nice table of fuel prices in the Y-K in it. Kotlik was highlighted because I was doing a bit of math using it, and didn't notice I forgot to unhighlight it until just now.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Warm winter?

I'm not sure why I even read the news-story comments on ADN and Minor-News. I think its because I want to remember that there are idiots out there. Very, very vocal idiots. For example, whenever a weather related story comes up, you have people pop out of the wood work to go `Hey Al Gore, where's your global warming now, HMMMMMMM?!?` Like the fact that they put on a sweater that morning proves that carbon dioxide doesn't absorb the infrared wavelengths. Anyhow.

So, I mention this because the ADN did a story about `Can Alaska believe the forecast? NATIONAL OUTLOOK: Government predicts a warmer winter for us.` Actually, it was an AP story they picked up and put the title on. As normal, people are out talking about how the `gubmint dunno nothing 'bou nothin'. Even the title of the story suggests the newspaper thinks it knows better than a team of dedicated Alaska Climatologists.

So, to discuss this, I've put the 3 month outlook off to the side. The deepening areas of colour reflect the probability of deviations from statistical average temperatures. This is what prompted the story. They publish these on a regular basis, and most of the time updates don't seem to merit a story. I think the drought data is why AP wrote it, and ADN just picked it up to fill space.

On any normal given `average` day, the odds of below average, above average, or average might be something like 20%-20%-60% (numbers I've just invented, because I'm too lazy to look up the real numbers). The bars represent one event becoming more probable on average - such as 40% chance of above average, 10% chance of below, and 50% of average (Again, numbers I just invented. I do recall that the opposite category shrinks faster than N).

So when I read comments like Denseyler's
The rest of the states having equal chances of being warmer or cooler than normal??? Now there's a forecast!!!!!!
I have to roll my eyes a bit. Yes, it is a forecast. It's an important one, too. Climatically, it represents a normal distribution of above and below average temperatures, which is important to know.

People forget that NOAA doesn't just exist to tell them how warm it'll get on their way to work. It also informs farmers on what to expect from the following year, it informs the Navy and Coast Guard about important weather events and trends, it provides information for what might be happening with wildlife... the list goes on. It's easy to remember that one day the forecasters said it'd be sunny, and it was cloudy all day. It's easy to forget the other 360 days out of the year they were spot on.

So, sorry ADN, and sorry commentator. I'm going to listen more to the meteorologists on this one.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Beer Notes from Tuesday

I cracked open a bottle of Dark Force, which I bought from Gold Hill Liquor (along with a bottle of The Abyss that I shared with the neighbours as a `thank you.`) I think, after that, I'll be laying off the Russian Stouts for a while. I feel like I need to having something sweet, as a change. Perhaps it is time to sample some of the `Lambic` offerings. Not the old school, sour things. The new and modern krieks or framboises.

Dark Force, by Haandbryggeriet, Norway.
The bottle is a slender 50cl, with a dark, clear label, and a sticker showing the date it was brewed. The beer is an opaque, dark brown, with an easy pour and a light, tan head. The carbonation is light, and the head quickly turns to a ring 'round the glass. It has an intense, yeasty smell, with ready notes of apples and malts. The alcohol is totally undetectable. However, the taste is heavy, with a deep, bitter cocoa bite. Dark Force is a smoky beer that seems best as a digestive, with something to compliment how it covers the mouth in a syrupy fashion.

A-, 4.1 of 5

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Dave's Lizards

I keep saying I'll write up the darn lizard paper, yet every time I start, it slips through the cracks. Tonight, no more! With a good half hour until House starts, I've sat down and given this a good discussion.

Evolution! If you don't think it's a trick by Satan, chances are you think that evolution takes place on a geologic timescale. Surely nothing we can witness, eh? Well, not so. By being clever naturalists, me and you can ferret out the signature of evolution, and catch it in the process of doing its thing.

Previously, I talked about speciation, and how we can catch it in the process with fish in Lake Victoria, but while there was some morphological change with that - the fish got a little different in their colour - it wasn't very flashy. When we think of evolution, even most scientists think of anatomical change. We want them to look really different, darn it!

That sort of evolution is much, much slower to come about. Adaptive evolution is a slow process of variation and selection. Sometimes it might take sudden leaps, but that's fairly rare (Sorry Gould). However, if selection is strong - meaning that some variants are much `better` than others - then evolution can occur rapidly.

We've previously seen examples, but few are very gee-wiz amazing. Channel Island deer mice showed rapid change of head characters and body size, Darwin's Finches showed rapid evolution of beak and body size, and Black Snakes showed rapid adaptation to an invasive toad, the Cane Toad. Harrel et. al 2008 are about to blow all their competitors socks off.

In 1971, a couple of scientists took 5 male lizards, and 5 female, and transplanted them on an island called Pod Mrcaru. They hadn't been there before, and where they were, before (Pod Kopiste), they were small bug-munchers, with males who kept territories. Thus far, a boring experiment. But then war broke out.

Said war went on for a bit, and prevented people from really heading back to the island to check on what's up with them. It took them about, oh, 36 years for them to get in on back and check, when all was said and done. And in that time, these lizards (Podarcis sicula) were in a novel environment, with new pressures to survive, and new food sources available. Natural selection did its thing.

When they did come back, they found that when it comes to shape, the lizards had signifigantly wider, taller and longer heads. Further, the lizards on the new island ate a large portion of vegetation, from 4-7% to about 34-61% (spring-summer). And the vegetation were things like leaves and stems.

Not so visible from the outside, the lizards underwent a rapid change in gut structure, with a whole new structure that wasn't really there before: They evolved caecal valves. This is huge. This is amazingly big. It would be like humans suddenly starting to grow articulated, functional tails again. In about 30 generations, they went from insectivorous to having plant-adapted digestive tracts.

Oh. And the males? Went from territoral to not. This seems to have changed the sprint speed, limb length, and god-knows-what-else-we-haven't-measured.

30 generations. To put that in context, 30 human generations would be about, oh, 900 years. So it'd be like if in the time since 1100CE, humans changed shape. It seems absurd, but under strong selective pressure, that's what happens.

Oh, I suppose that begs the question, `why don't you see that in other species? Why are all humans pretty much the same, when we've been separated for about 400 generations?`

Well, the selective pressure needs to be big - the difference in success between the lizard with the features and the one without needs to be pretty serious. Second, there needs to be not a lot of wiggle room - this actually goes to point A. Humans, for example, are amazingly plastic. We don't need many physiological changes, when we can accommodate so much by just changing our learned behaviour just slightly.

Third, the variation needs to happen - if no one gets the mutation giving them that third eye, third eyes aren't going to evolve, no matter how cool they are. This is actually a bigger deal than most people would guess. Finally, there can't be much geneflow. Remember whole thing about speciation? It lets groups adapt to their micro-enviroment without getting genes from individuals outside that environment. Geneflow carries information around, and makes groups more similar. So it has the tendency to wash out local adaptation.

These lizards had big selective pressure, not a lot of plasticity, the variation happened, and because they were on an island, the geneflow didn't happen. So what we saw was rapid divergence, and a really neat paper in PNAS. ;)

Herrel, A., Huyghe, K., Vanhooydonck, B., Backeljau, T., Breugelmans, K., Grbac, I., Damme, R., and Irschick�, D. (2008) Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, v.105(12), pp. 4792–4795.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

While I'm waiting for my home to get above freezing, I read the headlines of ADN: They're calling the election for Begich.

Now I wait for my home to heat.


I was going to write a science post thing, but I woke up this morning and saw this by my wall. For you not in the know, that's a horrible, horrible thing to see. It means `one way or another, you're about to lose a lot of money.`

I didn't mention it here, but there was a minor altercation near my home yesterday. And now I'm suddenly and shockingly out of oil. I can't help but think this is connected to them.

So I'm going to go into work early, so to avoid freezing my butt off. Why couldn't this have happened a few days ago, when it was tropical? It did not need to happen on a -20° high to -30°C forecasted low day.

Edit: Okay, I got some oil to tide me over. The tank is definitely getting a lock put on when I get home.

Monday, 17 November 2008

You're kidding me, right?

I promise to do some science posts soon. This is natural-resources related, so I feel it's kosher. ;)

My favourite moonbats, PETA, have engaged in another campaing more to show what absolute idiots they are compared to a ward full of decapitation victims. They're engaged in a campaign to rename Fish 'Sea Kittens.'

Pardon me, but were you born a flaming idiot, or did you have to work hard to become this stupid?

Peta writes,
Of course, if you look at it another way, what all this really means is that fish need to fire their PR guy—stat. Whoever was in charge of creating a positive image for fish needs to go right back to working on the Britney Spears account and leave our scaly little friends alone. You've done enough damage, buddy. We've got it from here. And we're going to start by retiring the old name for good. When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it's time for a serious image makeover. And who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?
The stupid. It burns.
Why stop there, I wonder? I mean, if you're goign to be absurd, go all out! Let's rename Cows `your daughter's puppies.` Who would possibly want to eat their daughter's puppies? And milking them, dear god, that just sounds wrong! But we can go further, folks! Let's rename asparagus `Human Babies!` No one in their right mind could eat a plate full of deep fried, beer battered Human Babies! We must stop the slaughter at once!

For the record? I don't advocate fishing for people's pet fish, just like I don't advocate killing people's kittens. If you release your fish into the stream out back, or let your kitten run free in the wild, all bets are off - it becomes an imparitive to capture that animal, to control an invasive species. But in your aquarium or livingroom floor, either are safe.

Well, actually, if you have a kitten in an aquarium, the cat has some breathing problems.

What's so ironic about this bit of bilge from these Domestic Terrorist jerkwads, is that PETA is for total animal liberation. They don't want you to own pets, period. They oppose the very institution of animal ownership. So, while we're talking about kittens, now might be a nice time to mention how PETA wants to prevent you from ever owning a Kitten in the first place.
I'll throw out the usual bit of PETA hypocracy here, about how PETA kills animals while lecturing us about how killing fish is wrong.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

More weekend photos

Two more. One I like, and one for vanity.
Here's one from thursday, that I caught while unloading my truck.
Your's truly, modeling his brand new boots while shooting the pictures on Friday. I had to stand still for a really long time to get that one to work. And I had to hold my breath, to keep the vapour from ruining the shot. It felt very olde-timee. This isn't untouched photo - I messed with the levels extensively to bring out the details on the footware.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Last night out and about

I got my new boots, and I figured I should start breaking them in. Grabbed my tripod, my camera, my batteries, and fistfull of hand warmers to shove in my coat pocket before I wandered on down to the lakes in the refuge. I still need to seal my boots, which is today's minor chore.

Anyhow. Picture thingies:

Friday, 14 November 2008

Geek fight!

Rarely do I see the intellectual equivalent of a fist fight in person. Today, at our department seminar, I got to see one. A gentleman we invited from Argentina to be a guest lecturer decided to talk about sustainable biofuels production in interior Alaska, and the crowd turned hostile. Some people got so upset they walked out - a big no-no in a seminar.

That... was interesting.


Happened Wed, as I was dropping off a Gradstudent to catch a flight.

*Person unloads a Rifle Case, and pauses*
"It's a science projector."

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Palin - not as stupid as Fox said.

The bit about Palin and Africa?
Apparently a hoax.
A lot of people get angry at hoaxers. I love them. They keep us on our toes, and remind us that we shouldn't just swallow everything that's put out by the media. That's a very valuable public service - if the Media can't catch people who are spinning things in good fun, how can they cut through people who are maliciously trying to dupe us?

'course, now the talking heads are going to accuse these people of Intellectual Terrorism.
I never had much use for talking heads.

Only Commy Pinko Traitors don't brave fallout.

Some of the old PSAs of yesteryear are fantastically funny in retrospect. Like this one, that talks about how if you leave the radioactive, blasted wasteland after a nuclear attack, you're a treasonous communist, and a coward:

Here's one for all of you who didn't know better. Remember, if you're on your period, for god's sake, square dance only in moderation!

You can see a great bunch of these old PSAs at The 6 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Old School PSAs.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


PoliSci trivia for people outside.

Nationally, Rural areas tend to be more supportive of Republicans than Democrats. Nationally, Urban areas tend to be the opposite. So it blows the minds of quite a few people outside when they find out that AK, yet again, is a weird, different place. Here's the prelim results from Stevens/Begich. It's from the ADN's wonderful figure.
Most of those rural areas are not merely plurality blue, but fairly deep blue. You can also see this reflected in the make up of the state offices, when looking at the location of each district. - I'll hasten to add that it's not a perfect correspondence with this (E.g., Kodiak), and there's slightly more republican representation at the state level. Still, the averages remain: most of Alaska's Republican lean comes from urban areas, especially Anchorage and Mat-Su.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Outlawed learning

It's stories like this, from C&En, that make me leery about the future of science in the country. Sure, we talk about how important it is, but we sure don't act like it... Wired, two years back, ran a story about the same thing, and we've only got worse with time.

A lot of people'll say `But he had hazardous materials!` Well, from his rundown of what was seized, most selections of household cleansers are more dangerous. No, it's more due to overzealous laws, well-meaning legislators who don't actually know anything about what they're regulating, and the good old fashioned spill over from the war on drugs. In Texas, they're so hardlined on the war on drugs that it's illegal to purchace a number of types of glassware needed to teach kids even remedial chemistry. Never mind do any hobby chemistry at an adult level.

It's easy to get alarmed, when it comes to hobby or home chemistry. Sodium Hypochlorite, Aecetic Acid, and radioactive potassium all sound, well, frightening, if you don't have a grounding in the subject. But when you learn that these sorts of things are all around us, you start realizing that maybe, just maybe, some of the other things that DPS and the news rant off at us to prove `Danger!` are slightly, well, overstated.

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure that a lot of what my father bought for us, to learn science, is illegal or restricted these days. Go figure. For writing this post, I quickly googled some home chemistry kits, and they're pitiful. I think about all you could learn from them is how boring and stupid science is, when you do it like that.

Monday, 10 November 2008

So I finally bit the bullet, and bought a pair of those Steger boots that seem so popular around here. They're god awful expensive, but people say they last for years, so I'm looking for a good return on my investment. Importantly, people who don't just sit around all day. A couple folks around my work wear them, so they're definitely Work_OK.

I like how laidback we are: It's pretty common for faculty to show up in carharts, boots and a sweater. Wool socks are okay. You can tell I'm dressed up for the Monday because I'm wearing one of those oxford type shirts. This isn't true at other institutions, and other cities. But it should be!

I know it's winter, but I've been itching to get outside and bum around a bit on a weekend. Just 'cause. Go find some new places I haven't been before. Explore a bit. See what I can find.
While writing this post (actually, I was mostly writing emails to co-workers), I accidentally broke my F key. Don't ask. Anyhow, I got a new one put on there, and it's just plain weird. The rest of my KB is worn in, and then there's this one, shiny new key. I'm tempted to take a belt sander to it. :p

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Camera Battery Issue.

Alaska is a great place to take pictures, and I got many hundreds of keepers cluttering up both my laptop and my external harddrive. But taking pictures in Alaska is hard. You've got lots of issues with equipment alone, from camera grease coagulating, to brittle film in traditional cameras, to fragile plastic at low temperatures.

One of the biggest issues for me is batteries. Especially when I'm trying to get my camera to work at very low light, when the wind is blowing, it's not uncommon for me to only get 15 to 30 minutes of camera time before I get low charge warnings, and it kicks out. I usually use two Energizer 2450 mAh Li•Ion batteries in my camera (my camera is a CR-V3 compatible camera), while keeping two more batteries in my inner jacket pocket where they'll be pre-warmed. Yesterday (what prompted this whole blog post) I got 8 minutes of camera time. 8 minutes. That's not a lot. It's sort of `shoot fast!`

I think the biggest issue is they just shed heat too fast, especially in wind. What I'd really like is some sort of chord I could have, so that I could keep the batteries in my jacket where they wouldn't chill. Now, they make one for head lamps, for the musher crowd. I went down to Coldspot Feed to try and find something that connected to a dummy battery, but no dice - they were all D-Cell, and rigged to attach to special plugs on modded head lamps. You know, if someone made a jacket battery pack for things like GPSes, you could probably make a pretty penny.

But since no one in town carries anything remotely like that - probably because nothing like it exists (says the internet) - my new project is to make my own. What I need is some sort of dummy battery, or a plug that fits the 3 VDC port on the side. Three or four battery clips. Wire. A new soldering iron. A new hammer (not for the project, but because I broke my old one yesterday). Jumper wires.

Oh. And new boots. Not for the project, just it's *$&ing cold in my summer stuff. :p

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Beer Notes from Tuesday

I got enough time to scribble down some notes on a new beer, before becoming too intoxicated to properly review. I asked a friend to surprise me with something (he owed me a beer), and so he bought a Pitcher of Rainier Lager, by Pabst in Texas. It's good to get surprised with stuff. I just wish I got surprised with something else. ;)

It took me a few seconds to figure out what the beer aspired to be: a) cheap and b) easily drunk. It excels at both of these. The taste is watery, and inoffensive. There's a slight bite to the after taste, but nothing that remains for anymore than the most fleeting of instants. The beer is clear, straw coloured, and carries a high head long after its been poured. While I consider this above others that attempt the same qualities, such as `Miller Light,` neither its watery flavour nor its nondescript mouthfeel are much to brag about. It is definitely better when cold, so to lightly numb the mouth and prevent you from picking up on the corn taste.

Skip this, and try other macros. D+, 2.4/5.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

`Ii-i, piyugngaukut!`

@Wal was talking to his students, trying to be encouraging. I had to fight off less than helpful inclinations.

"What did Obama say yesterday?"
"Uh, `I'm president?`"
"Nuu. He said `Ii-i, piyugngaukut!`" *writes it down.*

I think to myself . o O( I think I would have noticed it, if he said that. )

The moral of the story is that sometimes, it's good to keep your mouth shut. :)

Also, I kinda like that. I tried to look around to see if someone translated `Yes we can!` in to a whole bunch of languages so I could toss that their way, but it looks like no one has, beyond `Sí se puede.` Even if you're not fond of the guy, or sceptical of his politics, it's a nice message. So here we go:

English -----Yes, We can!
Spanish ----Sí se puede!
Yugcetun---Ii-i, piyugnaukut!
German----Ja, wir können!
Latin-------Certe, possumus!
Russian----Да мы можем
Esperanto-Jes, ni povas!
Romanian-Da putem!
French-----Oui, on peut!
Swedish----Ja, vi kan!
Italian------Sí, possiamo!

Most of this is from other people, If you have any corrections to make, or one to add, leave a comment! :}


More wonton stat abuse.

Quick political bit: It probably got lost among the excitement (I know what way Fairbanks voted, judging from the number of people out drinking last night), but the Stevens/Young race isn't over. With about 1/3rd of the vote still out in the form of absentee or early votes, it's still anyone's game. I'll refrain from navel gazing just yet, except to say Stevens went home in a bit of a mood yesterday probably because he was thinking the same thing I am - those forty some thousand votes tend to be from registered Dems. It isn't over yet for anyone.

Hey, so, I wrote a post yesterday about the media abusing correlational statistics? They're not the only one. Some moonbats are using a study to claim that `rainfall causes autism,` a laughable hypothesis at best. One of my favourite medical quackery-debunkers writes a post where he spends some time mauling people putting out the many, many flaws in their reasoning.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

No need to shoot the TV to save the kids.

You see stories like this crop up every now and again: "TV Sex content linked to teen pregnancy rate!" NPR, BBC, Fox, etc, all covered various versions of this story this last week. Previous iterations have been violence on TV, whether you dream in black and white or colour, and so forth. It makes for good news for them, because just about everyone has a TV, and many people have children to be protective of. Also, it makes them feel sciency.

However, it's long been a complaint of mine that science reporting is crap. I mean, completely and utterly bum. Even in other countries. Their treatment of these studies only reinforces my worldview that they could properly report science to save their lives. Let me illustrate with an example:

Say we're measuring two variables, number of leaves and number of berries. We're doing an observational study, so we can't tinker with things. Instead, all we can do is copy down that plant a has so-many leaves, and so-many berries, plant b has blah, plant c blah blah etc. When we're done, we plug all our numbers into a big stats package, and we find out that the number of leaves can be used to predict the number of berries. This is to say that they're correlated, or linked.

Now. What the media would have us believe from their reporting that the factors share a causal link with eachother - leaves cause more berries to be produced. It might even make intuitive sense: "Oh, well, plants need leaves to photosythesize, so if we put more leaves on, we get more berries." But we haven't demonstrated causality. You can't demonstrate causality through corrolations, because of the `un-measured third factor.` The thing is, there could be a third factor that drives both berries and leaves. In our example, the third factor could be light. It migth be that you could add leaves to your hearts content, and you wouldn't get any more berries. Or, it could be soil nutrients that vary both the leaves and berries, and you could remove leaves and still get berries. These 3rd factors are impossible to exclude in corrolational studies.

Let's go back to Sex and the TV. The media is reporting this as if watching risqué content on the TV causes teenage promiscuity. However, they can't demonstrate this causality. There might be a third factor driving both - for example, consider the hypothesis that randy teens tend to watch more sexually explicit content. They're not randy because they watch TV, but rather they begin hormonal, and therefore could be drawn to more explicit content. This inherient predisposition could also causes them to be more promiscious. They cannot preclude this possibility with their study design.

We saw shades of this with violence on TV - who watches more violent TV? People with high stress hormone levels to begin with. But we're told that seeing a gun on TV is a driving factor in being violent ourselves - something that is clearly not `proven` by any use of the word. Without exceptionally clever design, I wouldn't go any further than saying they're suggestive of something, and only when there's previous, compelling evidence for a mechanism. The media, however, puts about as much time and effort into getting the details of science stories right as they do juggling chainsaws. I.e., not much.

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