Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Timelapse Volcano

Here's a really neat, quick link: A timelapse recording of Mt. Redoubt exploding.
If you're so interested, the photographer has a blog with a bunch of other neat pictures.

About the Doogan affair.

From Slashdot:
Snoskred writes with the story of a blogger who chose to remain pseudonymous, who has been outed by an Alaskan politician in his legislative newsletter. Alaska Rep. Mike Doogan had been writing bizarre emails to people who emailed him, and the Alaskan blogger "Mudflats" was one of those who called him on it. (Mudflats first began getting noticed after blogging about Sarah Palin from a local point of view.) Doogan seems to have developed a particular itch to learn who Mudflats is, and he finally found out, though he got her last name wrong, and named her in his official newsletter. The Huffington Post is one of the many outlets writing about the affair. The blogger happens to be Democrat — as is Doogan — but that is immaterial to the question of the right to anonymity in political speech. Does an American have the right to post political opinion online anonymously? May a government official breach that anonymity absent a compelling state interest?
I've long since learnt nothing on the internet is anonymous, no matter how many precautionary steps you take, but I have to say I don't feel too good about this whole affair. I know my own anyonimization is flimsier than a wet cardboard box, and I'm not nearly important to have my privacy violated by an elected official, but I can't help but feel that I'd be really angry if someone'd done the same to me.

I guess this just reminds us all that we need to watch what sort of wake we leave on the internet.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Profoundly Wrong

I was playing with the GIS database for the borough, looking at who owns what parcels of land where and getting used to the interface. I slowly clicked down the Chatanika, curious about how much of it was owned by the state - I know some folks down it a little ways, near where the two track that comes down from the mountain hits the river. I noticed there was a button to link me to a taxable value. For fun, I clicked on it. I found out not only do those cabins in the middle of nowhere have taxable value, but the state goes after them.

What the hell? That's just not right. The fair market value for those tracts isn't nearly as high as they claim they are. The fair market value is closer to zero. There is no market for property on downriver Chatanika.

Kitchen Shrapnel

I'm no stranger to the kitchen. While growing up, I might have found cooking things more complex than a box dinner `difficult,` I've since taken on cooking tasks that frighten the novice. I'm especially good at making candies, if I say so myself. However, in my time making various sweets, I've had a few things blow up in my face. My favourite was when a batch of toffee, in a very smooth vessel, suddenly went super critical and blew up all over my kitchen. Covered in burning sugar, the only thing I could think of was wow, that was cool! and I wish I had a student I could explain what happened to!

In more mundane matters, I've had quite a few PYREX dishes explode on me over the years. Technically, it's not `explode` but a `accelerated, dramatic failure.` You say `Dramatic Failure,` I say `It throws shrapnel.` This has always caused me a bit of confusion, because Pyrex gear I use in my assorted labs o'er the years has never blown up without some sort of violent reaction inside, or some serious thermal shock (we're talking going from from liquid nitrogen to tossed in a hot oven sort of thermal shocks, here). And believe me, we've abused our lab gear.

Well, rest assured, people, because your Pyrex does not explode. We're deluded, you see:

But the story did not go unnoticed. Just a few days later, we received a FedEx letter from World Kitchen, a Reston, Va., company that now owns CorningWare and Pyrex, as well as several other household names.

"This letter is in response to your December 1 article entitled 'Bakers Beware: Shattering Pyrex Pans,' which includes claims that PYREX® glass bakeware ... breaks in a manner they deem to be 'exploding,' huffed Douglas S. Arnold, a vice president of World Kitchen.

Deeply hurt by the consumers' cruel cuts, Arnold continued: "We want to assure you that neither PYREX glass bakeware nor other glass bakeware 'explodes.' Glass does not explode but it can break. As glass bonds break, people may hear a noise and be surprised."

That shards land in other rooms is a figment of our imagination. Our surprised imagination. So why is my lab glassware safe?

Are Pyrex Bowls Dangerous?

Maybe. Pyrex bowls were originally made of something called borosilicate glass, which is very resistant to thermal shock. Currently, Pyrex is made of soda-lime glass, presumably as a cost-cutting measure, as soda-lime glass is very inexpensive. Also, Pyrex is no longer made by the original manufacturer, and is essentially a brand name, rather than a material.

Because my lab glassware is still made out of the old stuff, or newer formulations that still resistant to thermal shock. I'm half tempted to see if I can get some lab grade baking pans from Fisher... or if I should resign myself to pouring out candies at an arm's lenght.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Things Alaskans like: Trucks

It is a little known fact that every vehicle in Alaska is a truck. There are no non-trucks owned by Alaskans, even in Anchorage. Trucks are nice because they allow Alaskans to haul large amounts of stuff, and have a bulit-in limit to the number of people they will seat. This way, if people ask for a ride to Manly Hot Springs, you can go `oh, gee, I'd love to, but I can only fit this number of people in my truck.` This works especially well with hitchhikers, if you keep a bag of salt with you that you can set on the passenger seat. Oops! No room!

Aside from denying people rides, trucks are also good at being one of two vehicle types that can drive like an angry mob is after it in the dead of winter (the other being SUVs). It's a scientific fact that anything with four wheel drive can be driven at speeds up to 90 miles an hour on snow and ice without any consequences. Most Alaskans choose not to use this feature except for when they have very far to drive on a highway such as the Haul Road. There is a rule that says the further you are from repair, the faster you're allowed to drive; they test you on this rule before they let you drive in Alaska.

If you want to make conversation with an Alaskan, try discussing trucks. It doesn't matter if you don't know anything about trucks. Say you don't like a new model of a truck, because it looks sissified. This is subjective enough that anyone could argue for or against it. You don't actually have to know what the truck looks like.

Almost every truck has a tow package, but very few trucks tow things. It is important to be able to tow something, even if you never do. What would happen if someone said, "Quick, tow this boat to the river!"? They would know you're not an Alaskan if you didn't have that tow package, wouldn't they! Most people buy trucks so they can haul things in the truck bed. I think everyone in the cities must haul things at night, because they don't haul things in the day, and I tend to sleep at night.

Alaskan trucks do not need oil changes.

In order to be street legal, trucks must have at least one crack in the windshield. Otherwise, you must drive your truck on back roads (What Alaskans call `highways`) until another truck throws a rock at you, and then you can drive in towns. In the winter, your license plate must be caked in snow by law. In the summer, your front license plate must be covered bug guts. You're allowed to own any make of truck (Tundras and F150s are popular), but if it's over 10 years old, you must have one part of your truck that doesn't match the rest of your truck. This is Alaskan law, too.

You're not allowed to trade in your truck. No Alaskan would, even if it was legal. Alaskans hold on to their trucks forever, keeping them in a special place near their homes with various other metal things that are important to them. Like old stoves, and fridges.

Trucks are so popular that people off the road system get them too. Someone in Emo got a truck barged in, and one day drove it down the river. Yes, it would have been cheaper to ride a snowmachine pulling a sled, and faster, and more reliable, and easier to fix, and more useful. And, technically, there are no roads. But the villages like to feel Alaskan too, and that means buying a truck to let it sit around, slowly rust out, and sink into the mud.

You're only allowed a Volvo stationwagon if you claim you once fit a snowmachine in there.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

DNM on Online Bear Baiting

I've been thinking about Bear Baiting a whole lot, recently. I'm curious about the process, and whether it is an effective tool for population management. I'm especially curious whether the genetic characteristics of bears caught through bear baiting are different from those harvested via a more "traditional" hunt. I'm considering showing up to ADF&G's clinic on the subject, to give me a utilitarian grounding in the subject.

For those of you outside the state, bear baiting is using a large scent lure (often putrid fish and ungulate offal) to attract bears, where the hunter evaluates the bear from a tree stand or ground blind, and selects one for harvest. It's slightly controversial, and it's generally only done for black bears. In Alaska, you can only legally bear bait blackies.

Tim Mowry isn't a fan of bear baiting - that much is clear from his editorial piece in the Daily Minor News - but he's even more `down` on using the internet for certification. I'm curious whether there will be a difference in
  1. Overall rates of incidents between last year and this year.
  2. Difference in incident rates between hunters who took the course online vs. clinic.
  3. Whether other factors (land use, etc.) predicts compliance better.
These are all scientific questions, and not something based in opinion. Either something has an effect, or it doesn't. So, I guess I'm adding a whole bunch more things `to watch` to my list!

Anti-DST bill passes state house.

JUNEAU, Alaska - A bill repealing daylight savings time in Alaska is on its way to the state Senate.

It passed the House 22-15 Wednesday.

Some people think this bill is a giant waste of time. I'm not one of them. I don't like DST, I think it's a waste of resources in AK, and it causes needless problems. I'm happy they're working to remove it.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Let Physicists run things.

One of the NCAA pools I'm in has a copy of Obama's bracket entered, and the last I checked, I'm a couple of games up on him. This means I'm as qualified as anyone else to offer a plan to fix the financial crisis, and I have just the plan we need.

Well, with qualifications like that, I'm all ears! This is how Chad Orzel opens his post at Uncertain Principles. His solution is simple: Fire every financial mover and shaker, and replace them with the most maligned of the mathematicians: physicists.

"But wait," you say. "The current mess is a hopeless web of incredibly complicated transactions, and there's lots of money to be lost if you don't have experienced financial professionals to unwind things."

This is wrong on several levels. First and foremost, the people who are pushing that line the hardest are the people who stand to benefit most from large windfall payments to the current financial industry. Which is to say, the people who have wrecked the economy by failing to understand the most basic facts of the underlying market. They have lots of experience, to be sure, but the bulk of their experience is in being wrong about everything. They lost billions to a Ponzi scheme, for God's sake.

And, seriously, do you really think that these transactions are too complicated for physicists to figure out? We're talking about people who have spent the last several years thinking about folding and twisting strings in eleven dimensions. Unless the transaction records are all encrypted in some private cipher, they'll have no trouble figuring it out. And even if they are encrypted, that will only slow things down a little-- given what we know about the rocket scientists on Wall Street, the cipher key is probably written on a Post-It stuck to the computer. With a magnet.

Argue with that logic, I dare you.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Put on your what?

Cathy up in Kotz had this really cute video from the TV in the 80s, that was filmed at Noatak. It was so funny how close a lot of the inupiaq words are to the yup'ik words! I thought I should go through and make a list of the yuk words, and how close they were!
  • House/Tupiq/Ena - I don't see any relation there.
  • Pants/Kamikluuq/Qerrulliik - I wonder how Kamikluuq came to be. I can see a base in there, and then there's 'luuq', which yugcetun is used for bodyparts (luq). Strange. I don't think qerrulliik is the best way to translate the inupiaq, because I think they mean more than pants-pants. I asked, and someone said old time seal pants were ciisqurrilitaq (no promises on spelling!). Not much of those, anymore. Heh. Maybe `Car hart-ak...` or `kaa ggaatak.` ;)
  • High boots/Tuttuluuq/Kamguk - People in Hooper Bay say tukellek for foot (instead of it'gaq). Maybe Takete- and Tuttu are relatives?
  • Parka/Atigi/Atkuk - Form is similar.
  • Hat/Nasaun/Nacaq - Even more similar is nasquq (for head).
  • Mittens/Aatakatik/Aritvak - If you say both fast, they feel like the same.
  • Winter/Ukiuq/Uksuq - So close!
  • School/Aglavik/Elitnaurvik - I think `vik` is the same in both, but they're put on different words. This happens even in different yup'ik areas, for things that weren't around before the Russians.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Happy Birthday, Cold Fusion!

It was today, 23 March, in 1987 that Stanley Pons of the University of Utah announced the "invention" of Cold Fusion. They didn't do so through scientific channels, but instead by having a press conference before anyone could verify their results. Two years, and 4.5 million dollars later, the government finally listened to the scientific community, who were very sure the results were full of bull. A 4.5 million dollar lesson in why science by press-release is a bad idea™.

I took a picture of the building cold fusion was `invented` in while I was in Utah. I tried to visit the lab itself, but they'd long since torn it out and renovated it. Most of the chemistry faculty were reluctant to talk about that sad bit of history. Behind the building, in this picture, you can see the Salt Lake City Olympic stadium - a project that went considerably better, I might say!

Shipping fall down go boom.

Trying to do biology in a state like here is a tricky business. One of the many reasons this is true is 'cause things are not next to each other. You have to do a lot of shipping. Actually, thats true for not-biology things too, if you live in the village. Because of all the shipping, and stuff you only find around here, you run into a lot of excuses for why stuff hasn't shipped.

In the summer, for example, trophy hunters sometimes bump samples off the plane with all their meat (some of it you know will go back to New Jersey, get freezer burnt and then be thrown out. Which makes me sad).

Or, like today, you get a nicely worded email saying they won't ship yet because of a volcano. I bet people in Kansas don't get that excuse often. :)

Here's some gratuitous pictures of mushers behind my home.

The last musher in the pictures got kinda crash-y, yesterday. The dogs got all tangled up! Oops. It's out of focus because I was trying to get back home, and I only snapped it quickly.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Mushing Video and Pictures

Instead of watching them behind my home, I went to downtown with a billion grad students. Okay, not that many. But I saw a bunch there, and a lot of people who are in town for the Alaska Native Arts Festival which is going on too. I'd go watch one people I know Yuraq, but I was busy friday night. Alas! I'll get to watch more mushing Saturday and Sunday!

Friday, 20 March 2009

A few more Quickies

Today's the Vernal Equinox, which means from now until Sept, unless you live north of me, my days are longer than your days. Ha ha! Now the shoe is on the other... something!

Today is also the first day of the GCI ONAC sled dog race. I would go watch it at the start, but I'm seriously tempted to just go home for lunch instead - the trail runs right behind my home! Goodness knows I've already made up the hours this week... Everyone not so lucky to live along the trail can watch the chute at 2nd ave or at Creamer's Field. Race starts at 1p.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Things Alaskans like: Dogs

I was going to write a post about predator control, but I'm spending way too much time writing it when I haven't even finished breakfast yet. You'll all get an earfull (eyefull?) of things like `predator pits` and `Stable limited cycles` some other day.

Instead, I want to help you all make friends with some Alaskans, especially if you're not an Alaskan yourself. There's no better way to make friends than to have mutual interests, so I've made a handy list of things that Alaskans like. Studying these things will help you start conversations with Alaskans, and eventually win their affection. For my inaugural post in this series, I've chosen DOGS.

Alaskans love their dogs. Frequently, they love their dogs more than they love their children. This is not hard to understand, because it's illegal to leave kids in a box in a fenced in kennel outside, but dogs seem to like it. Dogs also don't have an long shelf-life. If you have a bad dog, after 8 or so years, you can get a new, better dog. If your children are brats, you can't trade them up for nearly 20 years! You can have nearly three different, non-overlapping dogs in that time!

Dogs eat dog food, but only if the Alaskan is really rich. Otherwise, dogs eat a mixture of fish, left over meat, small rodents in the yard, cats, and scraps from the table. Sometimes, really rich Alaskans feed dogs both dog food and poor Alaskan food. A great place to get rich Alaskan dog food is from Cold Spot Feeds. Places like Cold Spot Feeds are good places for Alaskans with dogs, since it allows them to go to a place to talk to other Alaskans about their dogs. This may seem unusual, because they also talk about their dogs when they aren't at designated dog-discussing places, but I assure you this is part of Alaskan dog ownership.

Alaskans like to feel their dogs are working animals, but they don't like doing work themselves. Many people have dogs that skijore, mush, hunt or pull sleds, and they will talk about how good their dogs are at theses activities, even if their owners do not engage in this activity themselves. This is because Alaskans know the dogs do the activities on their own, while the owner is sitting inside watching TV. Dogs are very pro-active like this, which is another reason Alaskans like dogs more than children.

Alaskans are better at making dogs than they are at making new Alaskans. They just leave their unspayed female dogs (often referred to as `their bitch` because they like using an otherwise dirty word in an acceptable way) outside overnight. About 1 in 10 times, when Alaskans bring their `bitch` back inside, or put them back in the kennel area, the dog will later make more dogs. Pregnant dogs are easier to deal with than pregnant humans, because you can leave them in a dog house too. If you try to leave a pregnant human in a dog house, you will get shot in the face. This is another reason dogs are better than humans.

Alaskans are so much better at making dogs than humans that there are more dogs than humans. There are about 680,000 humans in Alaska, but since every Alaskan owns at least one dog, there are probably 1,000,000 dogs in Alaska. It is very important that Alaskans keep their dogs from voting, because there are so many more dogs than people. If dogs voted, the PFD would be paid out in the form of dog treats, which only a few Alaskans eat.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

"I breath normally. I also $*%* normally!"

So, there I was, heading out to load my truck before I head on out to work. I haven't had breakfast, even a cup a tea or a bit of pilot bread, and I'm fairly tired because I woke up and watched my alarm clock for a half hour to make sure all the salmon we put in the toner didn't effect it... don't ask, it was a weird dream, and it took me a while to realize it was a dream.

"Hmm" I think. "That tree is moving."
I stare at the tree for a moment.
"Hmm." I further think. "That tree has that other tree nursing from it."

It took me another half second or to put 1+1 together, in which time the Cow decided she really didn't like me being that close. She laid back her ears, putting on her angry face, and I proceeded to get the hell out of there, while trying not to defecate myself.

I took the picture from inside my cabin. It's slightly blurry because I used a long exposure time, and then blue-corrected it. I'm waiting for Ms. Tuntuvak and her kidlets to leave, so I can leave.

Parka Plans

What gets me excited? Aside from science, beer, really good food, and taser (I guess that's excited in the wrong way)?

A new parka ruff. I worked really hard for this one, and traded and sold until I got exactly the right one. My one complaint is the tailor who sewed the zipper on got too much of the wolverine caught in the zipper teeth (I went with Apoc. Designs to attach it, since they're a good bunch - also, I can't sew that good.) It's perfect for all this wind we're having around now! Next time I'm heading out to the river, I'll be that much better equipped!

I was disappointed, though. As I strolled into my office, one of the grad students, one who works with fur-bearers to boot!, failed to comment on it. In fact, none of them did. Aw, and I was so proud of it. I might sniffle a bit, here.

I'm not done yet, though! I've been re-shaping this jacket into something that's me. Next up, I want to line the hood with fleece. Why? Sure, it'll trap some condensation, but fleece in the hood feels SoooOOOooo good. Also, it has the advantage of sliding around less on the head than the current nylon liner does. I also want to sew on some trim - right now, the jacket is just this great big olive blob. It's nice, warm, but it could look better.

And I might pick out the velcro that currently holds the storm flap down, and replace it with buttons. The problem is Velcro catches on too many things, and is a magnet for junk. Picking feathers and fur out of it is not fun.

I've got so many things I need to do to get this jacket mine! That'll keep me busy!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Update on Point Hope

Remember the Point Hope Caribou massacre? And all the finger pointing, and the special pleading, and the accusing the other party of bad faith? I can't forget it - That single event is setting back subsistence more than anything in the last 40 years. It's one of those things that are hard to miss - 37 wasted caribou make a splash.

Troopers are starting to file charges, says the ADN. They've started by charging 8 with wanton waste and failure to salvage meat.

Repost: The Jeep Fuel Deal

Here's a repost from back in May, when fuel was an arm and a leg per gallon. I love it when I'm right, I guess. :} I think it's worth noting that highest price in town is around 2.59/gal.
So I'm sitting here, watching the game, and saw one of the Jeep commercials advertising the 2.99 petrol for 12-14,000 miles. Let's assume 20 miles/gal for your jeep, and a price of 4.20.
1/20 gal/mile * 1.21 dollars saved = 0.0605 dollars saved/mile

Lets cancel miles to get dollars saved, so,
14,000 miles/year * 0.0605 dollars saved/mile = 847 dollars saved/year

These deals are only good for 1-3 years. That's 847 dollars saved to 2541 dollars saved.
Compared to the other deals for vehicles I see on the TV, that's crap.

Yet another load of crap revealed to be so by simple dimensional analysis. They need to teach this skill in school. Seriously.

On the other hand, I'd take that deal to somewhere in the bush, flip the fuel at below market and eat profit. Oh, and sell jeep. :p

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Oh no!

My favourite Restaurant in Fairbanks burnt down: Sourdough Sam's caught fire around 5p today. I can't say how bummed this makes me. I was going to swing by them today, as I drove home from Value Village to have a spot of lunch with all the money I saved. I should have done that. :(

Recipy: Blue Moose Burger

I've just had the best burger in years. Of course, by the time you'll read this, it'll be `I've had the best burger in years the night before.` Dang timed posts! I dimly recall watching the contestants make a Blue cheese burger on Hells Kitchen, and going `hey, that looks really good!` Since I was due for a shopping run (I'm out of frozen onion, and... pretty much anything other than meat and tea), I scribbled down some notes.

Cue today. I get a box of stuff shipped, my truck fuelled, I shovel some snow, and then I sit down with my shopping list. "What the heck is this stuff?" I ask myself. It doesn't look like the makings of anything tasty. But oh! It starts to come together in my head like it did last night: A shining vision of ground moose stuffed with cheese and garlic, topped with what-passes-for-fresh tomato. This. This was a mission from god.

First thing, I used ground moose (90% moose 10% suet). You can use whatever you want, but I love the taste of moose. Nothing makes better ground than moose. With my recent moose, I don't even have a scrap of beef in the house. Needless to say, you can use beef as you please. Next, I took that ground and I added an egg and a half cup of blue cheese. The Egg acts as a binding agent. Add in diced garlic, onion, ground mustard, and just a pinch of pepper. Add to this about 1tbs water, and a kunckle's worth of of bacon fat per-quarter pound. Mmm. Bacon. If you're cooking beef, you don't need the bacon fat - moose is rather lean. Mix them all up with your hands, but try not to lick your hands clean. You could grill this, or cook the paddies in a pan greased with bacon drippings like I did - honestly, you can't go wrong with bacon drippings.

Top this with fresh, crisp bacon, a slice of tomato, another bit of onion, lettuce, and you have yourself a burger. No, you have more than a burger. You have the burger that will end wars, and bring peace to the middle-east. You can taste the moose, you can taste the blue cheese, you can taste the bacon, with all the main players backed up by team of subtle flavours which make you want to scream `Yes! This is food!"

... yeah, I enjoyed my dinner. Why do you ask?

Friday, 13 March 2009

Soylent Tofu is people! People!

PETA continues its unrelenting war against sanity, plotting to release a brand new, much sought after commodity into the world market place: George Clooney flavoured Tofu. I had to re-read three times to make sure I got it right, because the idea is so confusing... but so obvious! Who wouldn't want a block of George Clooney in their fridge? If they make this, I'd buy a dozen, and make a little tofu statue of George Clooney in my home. And we'll bake him, and have him for Quyavik like a TofuTurkey, but with better acting credits.

I don't think I need to say this is hitting on a big market of people who want to date George Clooney, but can't afford to get the actual flesh of George Clooney. Brilliant! And after you take your ToFlooney home from your date, and he's stiffed you on the bill, you can fry him up with some rice and have TuFlooney stirfry.

Tip of the dingo hat to Dave

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Morning disarray.

Well, I'm writing this post while being distracted by Dave's `find the birds` picture. I've found one of the two stealthy birds, which leaves just one between me and fabulous prizes. Also, I'm fending off the urge to cook up some spam and eggs, after another blog on my list got spammed. Here's some random thoughts:
  • I will not touch this story with a 10 foot not touching pole, exactly as I predicted.
  • Scientists in Russia have found some of the missing Romanov children. Of course, this won't stop any conspiracy nuts out there, who'll say the Real Tsar is still out there. :)
  • I haven't had a chance to read the decision, but the Board of Game is allowing moose hunt on the lower Kuskokwim again. I'll read at how many, and exactly what areas when I'm at work. I understand the huge pressure to open this area up to hunting again, since it's a critical subsistence resource. But my wildlife management side of my brain hopes that it's sufficiently limited this year, so they can recover even more.
  • I had a strange dream that I was getting an award for launching a young teen through the air and getting them through a hoop using a catapult and explosives. Like a free-throw contest but with people. Usvipaa. The stranger thing is that in my dream, there was a Red-Head I once knew a long time ago, named Charlie. Except I could only call him Kavirliq, which means `red stuff.` Pretty much every redhead has that as a name. Or all the ones I know - three that I personally know are Kavirliq, and two people who I have never met (one of which is sadly passed on).

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Rumour Mongering

I heard rumours that the reason all the snow is being left on the sides of the few roads they've cleared is that the borough has run out of places to put the snow. Anyone know if there's truth to this? Some of the piles are getting bigger than my cabin!

The troubles on the YK make NPR

While I was chipping snow from around my outhouse - I wanted to open the door, I heard a story on the radio that sounded, well, familiar. It's a four minute piece on the troubles Rural AK faces (specifically the YK), and you can listen to it here. There's nothing really new in it, I suppose, but it's nice to hear the troubles get the recognition of the problem they deserve... sorta.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Fun little video


What's most neat about this is you can see some neat locomotive behaviour in the dog. Look at the back of the animal - you can clearly see the spinal flexion. The back legs cycle together through each stride cycle, with the front paws showing the staggered fall pattern. I'm not big into biomechanics, but I learnt enough in my undergrad to recognize it.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Passports for Canada

Let me go blah. I've hated this rule since they made it. It's unrequited bull**** pushed on the border states by the people in the flat, square states. The same people who wanted to build a second fence along the Canadian border. I'm frustrated to see this rule still stands.

Muskox in Alaska

I want to write a little bit about muskoxen in Alaska. Most of this comes from my infinitely fallible memory, and a paper called `Status of Muskoxen in Alaska` by T.E. Smith in 1984. We're getting ready to do some work on Muskox in the Seward Peninsula, so this is a great way to collect my thoughts on the subject.

Muskox are a large terrestrial grazing ungulate that are a) smaller than most people imagine and b) larger than most muskox handlers would like. It's interesting to note that muskox are actually closest related to a group of species called `Serows;` evolutionarily, muskox are a sort of goat-antelope. Don't see it? It's weird, but apparently true!

They're sort of like the blue-bloods of ungulates, having about as much diversity as a 1920s golf course (and the intelligence of one to boot) - for example, at the MHC DRB locus, a region of DNA responsible for disease resistance, the species has one allele. Even moose have 11, and Cattle? 68, which is more the norm in the rest of vertabrates. There's a dumb science joke that if you've tested one muskox, you've tested every muskox.

Muskox are endemic to alaska, but have had a checkered history, in the 1800s, due to a myriad of reasons, hunting being one of them. They are thought to have been totally expatriated (locally extinct) from Alaska by the late 1800s. In 1930s, spurred by concerns of global muskox numbers, the US feds funded the capture of 34 east greenland muskox, and they were transported to Fairbanks for a 5 year quarintine. In 1935, they relocated four animals (two m two f) to Nunivak Island, choosing the island on the basis that it was an enclosed space with apparently rich forage and no native predators. In 1936, they transplanted the remaining surviving animals, and some offspring that had been subsequently born, totaling 16 males 11 females.

After 32 years, mannagers selected Nelson Island as the next reintroduct for Alaska. Though Nelson Island isn't far from Nunivak, they're seperated by a patch of ocean, and Nelson Island varies considerably in its topography and browse - how, exactly, I'm not sure, but I'm told the veg is different, and I trust the folks who told me. The first introduction was 8 in 1967 (5m 3f), followed by six males and 9 females in 1968. Nelson Island is really just an island in name, and there isn't as much barrier to dispersal (beyond habitat) for the Mox.

Future introductions were ANWR (1969-1970; 65 animals), Cape Thompson (1970 and 1977; 70 animals) and Seward Peninsula (1970 and 1981; 72 animals). There's been a number of other events, where they took animals into captivity for either the LARS herd, the Unalakleet herd, or zoo animals, but those really don't factor into my world (well, except the LARS animals). Currently, I don't know if there's been any moving animals around since 84.

You can see my lovely pen-addations to the Mox-map off to the left. I-are-an-arteest, yes, but that should give you the idea what happened. Nunivak came from a small founder population, and all other populations in the state are serial dilutions of the Nunivak Island population. This is of special note, because of the effects it would have on the over-all diversity of the animals. As I mentioned before, diversity was extremely low to begin with, but every time you go throug a `bottleneck` (a period where a few animals are responsible for all the resulting offspring) you experiance a large loss in diversity. This, by the by, is why humans are roughly 28th cousins with every other human. We love talking about how different we are, but thanks to a pre-history bottleneck, we've got scant diversity to talk about. If dolphins were studying us, I bet they'd treat us like a bunch of inbred yokels. :)

If you'll forgive a bit of math, in a randomly breeding population with non-overlapping generations (two huge assumptions!), the probability of losing any given allele (or form of a gene) is
Where p=the frequency of the allele before the bottleneck and N is the size of the bottleneck. Let's pretend we had an allele that made up 10% of all the copies of the gene. That gives us
in the case of the Nunivak introduction, or .145% chance of it being lost. That assumes all 31 animals who were introduced into Nunivak had reproductive success. For the cows, that seems fairly probable, but given males engage in Harem defence, it seems improbable that all 18 males had success. Assuming only a third of the males had any success in their lifetime, we get,
Or about 2%. This may not seem like much, but taken across the whole genome, these effects are steadily accumulative.

However! While some is lost, as they say,`all is not lost.` If you run the numbers, a founder size of 10 is still enough to preserve 95% of the heterozygosity (the number of individuals with two different copies of the same gene). Using Van Coeverden De Groot and Boag's 2004 estimate of heterozygosity for perfect alleles, 95% of 0.504, while low, is dangerously low. However, if you use the previous H estimate of 0.018, 95% of that is a very small number.

Where does that leave us? Alaskan muskox are a currently mixed story. While some populations have shown success, others appear to be floundering markedly. As the state would like to see the muskox fully restored to its entire endemic range (as would many sport and subsistence hunters), we need to sort out what's going on demographically, and tease apart the factors involved in the success of some populations, and the detriment of others. We need to know how much nutrition is a factor in the troubles some are facing, and how much the high degree of relatedness has impacted this nascent population.

Mox picture brazenly stolen from LARS.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Saturday Quicky: Where's my not-touching-things pole?

Here's two fast ones:
Akutaq makes the list of 1001 things you should taste before you die. Mmmm.

State modifies rules to the Nelchina hunt. I won't touch this story with a 10 foot story touching pole.

Friday, 6 March 2009


While packing the box in the back of my truck.
Person 1: Visibility [Over Eagle Summit] is minus 5 feet? What's that suppos'ta mean?
Person 2: Forget where you're going, it means you don't even know where ya been.

PETA - Making brazen hypocracy fashionable again.

Everyone's favourite animal terrorist nutters, PETA, continue to astound with how twofaced they can be. For example - using any animal tested medicine is wrong and unethical... unless it's a member of one of these animal right terrorist groups who needs that medicine.
The problem is, she's an animal rights activist, and she's trying to justify her hypocrisy of having taken treatments for her cancer that had been tested by spreading the same misinformation about animal research that animal rights are known for spreading far and wide. Dying or not, she needs to be called out for spreading falsehoods. Her name is Simon Chaitowitz, and she is the former Communications director for the animal rights group masquerading as a legitimate physicians' group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a crank organization dedicated to eliminating animal research that has had as one of its luminaries the apologist for animal rights terrorism, Jerry Vlasak.
We've had examples before, where one of PETA's board of directors members uses animal products to sustain her own life:
Like more than ten million Americans, [PETA Senior Vice President Mary Beth Sweetland]’s diabetic. Sweetland injects herself daily with insulin that was tested on animals; she has conceded that her medicine “still contains some animal products -- and I have no qualms about it…. I don’t see myself as a hypocrite. I need my life to fight for the rights of animals.”
It's nice to see them branch out into new and exciting doublestandards. All of us are horrible people for using animal derrived medicine. For them, it's a required step for keeping up the good fight.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Authorship and other kudos.

In academic papers, there's two ways of thanking people. The first is to acknowledge their contributions by giving them some form of authorship. This is uncommon, and usually reserved for major contributions, because authorship implies they helped direct the research. Authorship is one of the things people look at when hiring, and again at tenure review.

The second way is a section called `Acknowledgements`. That section is for people who didn't do enough to deserve authorship, but made a contribution to the research none the less. Unless the field work was especially demanding, this is where people who do field work typically get stuck. Examples where field techs wouldn't be put there would be fossil/archaeological digs, studies that involved especially difficult sampling, very long-term work by an individual, and papers where the subject matter is field techniques (etc).

Now. A few years back I helped out some research with an unnamed PI. The work was difficult, but not exceptional. I figured in addition to the money I got for my aid, I'd get an acknowledgement out of it. Today, I saw the publication the research was for finally made it to press, and I open it up to see my name in print (something scientists love seeing).

But my name wasn't there. I scrolled the list - everyone else on my crew was there. Where's me? They didn't include my name anywhere.

I don't need it, but I would have liked to have seen it. And not including someone is one great way to kick a scientist in the face. At best, it means I've just been forgotten, and unappreciated. At worst, I've been outright snubbed. I hope it's the former, but either option isn't good.

Snaring Snowshoe hares.

I used to do this a much more inefficient way, but I learnt how to do this even better when learning how to trap small mammals for research. Isn't college useful? Still got those snares from making a hare snare before? Good. We're going to put them to use. Actually, they got put to use months ago, I just forgot to blog about it at the time. But for next year! Here's instructions!

Step one! Lay off the beer. I know, life is hard. You'll be wandering through the woods.
You'll want to look for snowshoe hare tracks. Look for little bunnyhighways, where lots of them like going. This'll get you into highly populated areas. The tracks look a lot like this.
Next, make sure you're able to trap there. Trapping on private property without permission is a no-no. Some state land is okay, some state land isn't okay to trap on. And in places where it's okay to put out snares, make sure you're not going to put them in a place where you'll get dogs, cats, and those sorts of things. That just make people angry.

You sure you're good to snare there? It's easy. Next, find a constriction point, where tracks go between some things that aren't too far apart. I like to hedge my bets, and begin to kick in a trail. Like humans, snowshoe hares are lazy, and if they have a trail, they'll use it. So I press in a one-boot-wide trail through the constriction point.

Now, before I put out any traps, I put up some surveyor's tape so I can find them again. Do this now, so you don't forget.Saw or chop off a log about 3-5 cm in diameter. That's about a knuckle or bigger in diameter. Lay it across the trail you made, or the trails you've found, bracing it against something to hold it steady. Carefully tie the snare to the branch so that the snare dangles into the trail, about two to three fingers from the bottom of the snow. Take some twigs and stick them at the corner of the snare, so it doesn't blow around in the wind. The set should look like this.
And that's all you need. Well, actually, you need this times a bunch to catch a few. Remember to check your traps regularly, and not to be irresponsible! I'd show you all how to butcher them, but I know I'd offend a few of my reader's sensibilities (several who own rabbits at pets), so I'll respect that.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Chugach closed to Wolverine Trapping

Citing concerns over regional wolverine numbers, the Board of Game voted to close Chugach State Park to wolverine trapping (via DNM). I've the sneaking suspicion, buoyed by some of the comments I've been reading around, that the decision to close has more to do with the by-catch issues than concerns over wolverine demography. The issue of the number of wolverines trapped equaling the number of dogs isn't terribly surprising to me for two reasons -
  • First, this area was just opened up to trapping for wolverine, which means there's a brief `idiot period` where people are trying to feel out where the animals are and aren't.
  • Second, wolverines are never at high density to begin with, so there'll never be a large number you can show people to see there's a lot of successful trapping. That's why wolverine prices are perpetually high.
That whole area is rapidly turning into a combination shooting gallery/clusterfuck. Well, I say `turning into,` but it already is. I'm not sure there's a graceful way to deal with the competing pressures, and the rapid change in land use and lifestyle.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Today's Menu

Today's lunch: Ptarmigan Ptacos.
This was mostly an excuse to make a ptaco joke.

Not quite the gravy train.

I often read about how science is a cushy job for the fat cats on the gov't dole - usually from people who don't like something a scientist just said. Given most scientists I know (i.e., the employed ones) usually pull 50 hours a week earning less than they would if they went into some other field, I can't help but laugh at this assertion. I bring this up, because I've read two rather contrarian points of view today.
  1. Is science a good career? According to this author, not in the least.
  2. Penelope Trunk advises college students to not try and dodge the recession with Graduate School.
  3. The APS has an essay on how leaving a career in science isn't nessicarily a bad decision.
I think Penelope Trunk misses the target just a bit, and I had to laugh at her assertion that `you'll learn in any job,` followed by her story of avoiding killing bunnies. Not all education is created equal!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Busy busy!

It probably goes without saying that I've been busy. When I haven't been outside, I've been outside. And when I haven't been doing that, I've been busy butchering a moose. One thing most people who don't work with game biology, or don't hunt fail to realize is that moose are huge animals. A moose head is bigger than my torso. And considerably tastier, too. However, they're quite the animal to butcher on your lonesome.

Life should be calming down just a wee bit, now, so I can throw more frequent bloggage your folks' way. Here's a random picture from off my snowmachine:
Something really interesting I noticed was the two sorts of replies I got when I told people how much moose I'm giving away (a lot). Most of my friends from the city got hung up on it. They couldn't understand how or why I was giving away three quarters and a bit of hamburger, which is a considerable porting of an animal. However, when my friends from the bush have found out, not one of them has bat an eye. The divide might be all up in my head, but from my perspective, it seems real enough.

Anyhow, I'll be adding my pictures from the field to my wed. photo rotation, so you'll get to see them.

Oh, before I forget: What the heck happened to the wings this weekend?! Did they fall asleep on the ice? This is just wrong! How could they go from a great Shark's game earlier this week to this monstrosity?And to top it off, the Nanooks lost the Gov' cup. Again. Glad I didn't put any money on it. This has been a bad weekend for me, hockey-wise!

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