Friday, 29 January 2010

Museum Sculpture 2010

It's kinda hard to tell, but it's a walrus on kemguuk. Definitely not my favourite. And with how fragile it is, a strong breeze or warm spell will destroy it.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Abstracts: Evolution of a Novel Carotenoid-Binding Protein Responsible for Crustacean Shell Color

Why are cooked lobsters so bright and shiny. The answer? SCIENCE. Oh, wait, that's how we got the answer. :P

Evolution of a Novel Carotenoid-Binding Protein Responsible for Crustacean Shell Color. Molecular Biology and Evolution 2009 26(8):1851-1864; doi:10.1093/molbev/msp092 

Carotenoids are commonly used by disparate metazoans to produce external coloration, often in direct association with specific proteins. In one such example, crustacyanin (CRCN) and the carotenoid astaxanthin combine to form a multimeric protein complex that is critical for the array of external shell colors in clawed lobsters. Through a combined biochemical, molecular genetic, and bioinformatic survey of the distribution of CRCN across the animal kingdom, we have found that CRCNs are restricted to, but widespread among, malacostracan crustaceans. These crustacean-specific genes separate into two distinct clades within the lipocalin protein superfamily. We show that CRCN differentially localizes to colored shell territories and the underlying epithelium in panulirid lobsters. Given the paramount importance of CRCN in crustacean shell colors and patterns and the critical role these play in survival, reproduction, and communication, we submit that the origin of the CRCN gene family early in the evolution of malacostracan crustaceans significantly contributed to the success of this group of arthropods.

You can read the article for free. In short, there are a class of compounds produced by shelled stuff that is part of a complex signalling that the shells do. The darker bits are for hiding, the brighter bits for communicating with their conspecifics (e.g., other lobsters). When you cook them, you nuke their ability to regulate the signalling, and the original colour comes out.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Governor's Reply

Parnell's office was kind enough to write a personal response to a letter vetting my earlier concerns about the thrust of their proposal. It's obvious that the staffer read, and understood my comments, so I'll share his reply without any editorial.

Dear [Twoyaks]:

Thank you for writing to Governor Sean Parnell.  I have been assigned to provide a response.  It is very important to hear from the public on such important an issue as combatting sexual assault and domestic violence.

The legislation introduced by the Governor is very important.  Among several changes, the bill would close loopholes in current law that allow convicted sex offenders to move to Alaska and avoid registration in certain instances. 

As to increasing penalties for sexual assault or domestic violence, there is another effect, physically isolating the offender from the victim and society in general by putting the person in jail.  Such seperation gives the victim and society protection from an individual who has been found guilty by a jury of his or her peers of hurting another person.

I would also assure you that we are looking at all options for reducing sexual assault and domestic violence, and are not solely focused on punishment.  Prevention is just as important.  The Governor's proposed budget proposes spending millions of dollars for substance abuse, anger management, treatment, job training efforts, etc., for all Alaskans.


Randy Ruaro
Deputy Chief of Staff
Office of the Governor


Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Why Sodoku shouldn't be a spectator sport.

I had to qualify with a firearm last Saturday, with one of my hunting buddies standing right behind me as the Range Safety Officer. I did awful (Two three inch groups out of four), but well enough to pass. He gave me some crap over it, and I vaguely blamed 5 cups of coffee and no breakfast for my poor performance. Now, I know why:
So it turns out that social pressure has a similar effect to money - it too is a double-edged sword. It motivates people, especially in tasks that demand effort and no skill. But it can provide stress, too, and at some point that stress overwhelms the skill.
Social pressure is good for things like tug of war, or hiking (you can hike longer, faster with a friend, than you can alone), but anything that requires detailed skill, well... too much pressure can hurt the skill.

Hat tip to Barking up the Wrong Tree, one of the most fascinating blogs I've found in a while. Head there for the full article, why people with large extrinsic rewards aren't always motivated to do better.

Abstracts: The function of contrasting pelage markings in artiodactyls

The function of contrasting pelage markings in artiodactyls Behav. Ecol. Caro and Stankowich 21: 78  DOI:10.1093/beheco/arp165

Comparative studies of pelage coloration in mammals suggest that certain prominent markings on an otherwise uniform pelage background serve in communication. We matched the position and coloration of contrasting markings on the bodies of all even-toed ungulates to ecological and social variables in order to ask whether marks are used in communication generally, as a signal to predators, or as a signal to conspecifics. Controlling for phylogeny, we found that many marks are located in prominent visible positions on the body; that flank marks seem to amplify stotting and leaping, which are pursuit deterrent signals; and that front leg marks may amplify foot stamping, an antipredator signal. We found that upper leg markings, particularly markings on the podials, are associated with group living hinting at an intraspecific communicatory function. Surprisingly, we found that contrasting marks do not reliably indicate position of scent glands across this taxon and that many white marks may have a cryptic function. These results extend and contradict those of previous analyses and force us to conclude that contrasting pelage marks have a number of functions in this taxon including pursuit deterrence, intraspecific signaling, and possibly even crypsis

Generally, research has focused on conspicuous markings on artiodactyls (artiodactyls with an even number of toes) as being intraspecific signals - that is, between one Roe deer and another, or a Moose and more different Moose. The figure I posted came from Ecology and Management of North American Moose, where they repeat the line about within-species signalling.  The idea of interspecific signalling - say a signal from a moose to a wolf - is very interesting. It's pretty clear that that pelage markings in deer is more complex than purely sexual signalling.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Beer Notes from Last Night

If it seems like a while since I've reviewed a beer, this is true. September was my last one. Not for a lack of drinking - everyone but my mother will be glad to know I'm still working hard to destroy my liver and encourage negative stereotypes about my sort and profession. It's just I'd fallen into a beer rut, drinking lots of Moose Drool for a table beer, and Chimay Grand Reserve for special occasions. I picked up something new from Freds of all places, and decided to crack it open after spending a couple hours at work Sunday.

Ommengang Abby Ale, by Brewery Ommegang New York, United States

The bottle is a stately 75Cl, corked and basketed, with a red label with heraldic lions holding aloft an O. This is sullied by the instructions for pouring on the side. Upon pouring, I realize how translucent the glass actually is. There doesn't seem to be any indication of when it was bottled. The beer pours easily, with a rusty colour, and a minimal light tan head. It smells yeasty, with hints of banana and pepper. The odour is sweet and creamy. Drinking it, it has a silt like consistency on the tongue. The creamy texture really stands out here, as well as the mild fruits. There's mild carbonated bite to it, but the liquid clings to the mouth, coating it. Due to its mouthfeel, it suffers from lower drinkability. You must pace yourself, or intersperse glasses with either water or cheese, because it becomes overwhelming otherwise. 4.1 out of 5. A-.

By the way, if you want to see past beer reviews, click on the Beer tag at the bottom of this post.

Night Sky

That picture is the result of about a half an hour dinking around with a dozen or so short exposures. with high ISO. It turns out that averaging a slew of noisy pictures in Photoshop is not as easy as it seems, especially when there's so little information to begin with. Either that, or I'm doing this horribly wrong. This is likely. What I really need is a camera with a cable release so I can do 30 second exposures.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Abstracts: Lower Predation Risk for Migratory Birds at High Latitudes

L. McKinnon, P. A. Smith, E. Nol, J. L. Martin, F. I. Doyle, K. F. Abraham, H. G. Gilchrist, R. I. G. Morrison, and J. BĂȘty (15 January 2010) Science 327 (5963), 326. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1183010]
Quantifying the costs and benefits of migration distance is critical to understanding the evolution of long-distance migration. In migratory birds, life history theory predicts that the potential survival costs of migrating longer distances should be balanced by benefits to lifetime reproductive success, yet quantification of these reproductive benefits in a controlled manner along a large geographical gradient is challenging. We measured a controlled effect of predation risk along a 3350-kilometer south-north gradient in the Arctic and found that nest predation risk declined more than twofold along the latitudinal gradient. These results provide evidence that birds migrating farther north may acquire reproductive benefits in the form of lower nest predation risk.
There's a long standing debate on why birds migrate north to the arctic for the summer. This paper gives evidence that birds are migrating further to avoid predators. I suspect they're partially wrong, in that the initial (primitive) cause was more tired to taking advantage to seasonally available resources. Part of the lower predation risk is due to dilution effects (this is my suspicion), something the initial birds would not have enjoyed - dillution only works if there's many of you, not one or two.

Things Alaskans like: Hunting Moose

Things Alaskans Like is my serial  attempt to itemize all the things Alaskans like. This will serve as a guide for non Alaskans to pretend to be an Alaskan, or make Alaskan friends. All Alaskans like things that Alaskans like.

One thing people tend to underestimate is how much Alaskans like hunting moose. Alaskans really, really like to hunt moose. If you meet an Alaskan, try talking about hunting moose. Even people who don't have moose want to hunt moose. Many people on the north slope look forward to having many moose, thanks to global warming, so they can hunt them too.

If you are new to Alaska, you cannot hunt moose for a year. Instead, try talking about having hunted moose in the states. Alaskans do not recognize how hunting works in the states, and will believe just about anything you say about it.

Hunting moose is generally recognized as a good excuse for missing work, school, jury duty, weddings, funerals, and birthdays. Some clever Alaskans combine hunting moose with weddings, or in some rare cases, funerals. Therefore, no one has to miss hunting moose.

Causing an Alaskan to miss hunting moose is considered cause for starting a fight. Causing an Alaskan to miss hunting moose also a reasonable excuse for quitting one's job, remaining unemployed, or getting a divorce. In general, Alaska judges award all assets to the party who was forced to miss hunting moose, in a divorce. This may not be enshrined in Alaskan law, however. But it is generally recognized as fair.

Do not dress up as a moose when other Alaskans are hunting moose.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Corn Syrup ads?

Apparently, there's a series of ads out there by the Corn Syrup lobby, telling us all that there's absolutely nothing wrong with their product, no sir. Here's one of them.

Well, let me fill in what the other lady couldn't. I'm not an expert, but I worked with an expert who was conducting a study when I was back in Utah. I did a lot of lurn'n. To begin with, I was sceptical - I'm just a sceptical guy, in general. But gradually, the guy doing the study won me over with evidence.
So, here we go: What's wrong with HFCS? High Fructose Corn Syrup engages different metabolic pathways than other, more complex carbohydrates. It's metabolized differently, and has been linked to lower general health in mouse experiments. In human studies, there is evidence suggesting that linking comparable amounts of HFCS and other carbohydrates, people are more prone to obesity on the HFCS diets. Is HFCS the sole source of the obesity epidemic? No one claims that. However, it may be a large contributing factor. Complex carbohydrates are better for you.

And the idea that HFCS is 100% natural is absurd. It's refined. And even if it wasn't refined, being natural is no great boon. Ebola virus is natural, but you don't see people advocating contracting it.

About this ad campaign, I say this:

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Abstracts: Long-Term Persistence of Spent Lead Shot in Tundra Wetlands

From JWM,  Flint PL, Schamber JL (2010) Long-Term Persistence of Spent Lead Shot in Tundra Wetlands. Journal of Wildlife Management: Vol. 74, No. 1 pp. 148–151 DOI: 10.2193/2008-494.

We seeded experimental plots with number 4 lead pellets and sampled these plots for 10 years to assess the settlement rate of pellets in tundra wetland types commonly used by foraging waterfowl. After 10 years, about 10% of pellets remained within 6 cm of the surface, but >50% remained within 10 cm. We predict that spent lead pellets will eventually become unavailable to waterfowl; however, it will likely require >25 years for all pellets to exceed depths at which waterfowl species may forage.
It'd suggest we're not being conservative enough in controlling lead shot in other areas. Despite recent efforts to step up lead shot control in the YK, it's still 25 years out before it ceases to be a human and wildlife hazard.


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tightening the belt.

This was in the ADN recently:
A bill proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell would prohibit suspended sentences for Alaskans convicted of human trafficking, possession of child pornography or distribution of indecent materials to minors.

Sigh.  Are we physically incapable of learning from other states? Who does distribution laws and child pornography laws tend to hurt more than anyone else? Teens. There's a hysteria around Sexting, which is using cellphones to send explicit material to girl/boyfriends.
But even if you disagree with the practice, there's no denying that kids end up as sex offenders in other states for these kinds of laws.

Adding 14 yearolds to a sex offender registry for having nude pictures of themselves or their SO is not effective in combatting the real and dangerous problem of domestic abuse in our state. Instead, we're focusing on the much lesser, and generally over-blown (in scope) issue of Child Pornography. And as discussed before, the remainder of the bill isn't going to do much for making a dent in domestic violence because deterrence doesn't work on crimes of passion.

Is anyone else thinking about the latest version of Fell Acres hysteria? Except the law would have us lock up teens instead of grandmoms.

Sigh. It's just frustrating. Parnell should know better, honestly.

Expectations in medicine

A neat little 6 minute video I stumbled across where a researcher discusses expectation biases in both pain control and beer.

His story about vinegar in beer reminded me about the study where they took expensive wines and sold them for cheap, and cheap wines and sold them as expensive, and both at their real prices. What mattered more than the sort of wine was the price tag. The higher the price, the more people reported enjoying it, it's quality, etc. We expect a 100 dollar bottle to be great, and a 2 dollar bottle to be questionable so much that it takes amazing push to get over that hump.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Conversations best had over beer

Remember my question about how well you could recreate your job ca. 300 years ago? I was discussing this in great and philosophical detail (after having drank about a bottle and a half of Three Philosophers brew between us), when my friend J pointed out,
As useless as what you know today would be 500 years ago, imagine how useless what you know will be 500 years from now. At best, you're a caveman.
It seemed a very insightful comment, and so I recreate it here. I suppose it's best just to be grateful we weren't born in a time where your life expectancy could be counted on one hand, in which iPods have been invented, and the danger of uncontrolled time travel is very small. Though, I'd keep an eye out for Blue Boxes all the same.

The Perils of Taking Action.

Suppose we're the CDC (Centre for Disease Control). We anticipate an outbreak of, say, Squirrel Pox (which, to my knowledge, doesn't exist except in this example). We have to choose to either take action against the outbreak of Squirrel Pox, or let it go on its own. No brainer, right? Always take action for the public good. Well, if you do take action, and you're successful in keeping the Squirrel-linked disease to a minimum... well... here's a tongue in cheek outcome table:

Obviously, the best thing for the CDC to do is to do nothing! The best outcome (The "Let's ignore it, and hope it goes away" outcome) is in that category. ;)

Imagine! You put effort into a vaccination campaign against Squirrel Pox, and hunt down Squirrels for extermination so even their Squirrel Alarm Calls don't save them from the glue factory. And so few are injured by the evils of Squirrel Pox. And then the public goes, "See? No one died! You, CDC, are a bunch of alarmist jerks. For this, we punish you."

Nope, much safer for your job for you to do nothing.  Imagine how good you can get at Solitaire! I guess my point is Squirrels are up to NO GOOD.

See? Evil!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Drake Equation for Girlfriends

I'm amused. The Drake Equation is an equation that calculates how many alien civilizations we can meet and greet, made famous by the SETI folks. Basically, you multiply a whole lot of things together, and get an answer. The tricky bit comes from the fact we have no idea what the values we should multiply are. But slowly, we're getting a handle on it. So on Wed, I laughed a bit when this popped into my news-of-the-weird box:

(MYFOX NATIONAL) - A man studying in London has taken a mathematical equation that predicts the possibility of alien life in the universe to explain why he can't find a girlfriend.
Peter Backus , a native of Seattle and PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, near London, in his paper, " Why I don't have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK ," used math to estimate the number of potential girlfriends in the UK.
 One of the commenter below the story said it's just a ploy to get his face out in as many newspapers as possible - turning news papers into person ad agencies for free. Brilliant! In the end, he estimates the number of suitable potential girlfriends in the London area to be around 26. You can read his short paper here. It's pretty non-mathy, and funny. :)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

I forgot! Annoyance Degrees C

I forgot to say what annoyed me about `Half of 40°C`! How absurd that phrase is becomes apparent when you ask "What is half of 40°C?" You might guess 20°C. Okay, what's half of -40°C? -20°C? 

The problem is 0°C and F are both not absolute zeros. You can't just take the magnitude from them and apply a fraction, and have it even remotely meaningful. .5 * 40 is not half the temperature or energy of 40 (in either C or F). You have to convert to a Scientific unit called "Kelvin," a system where the number does represent the magnitude in that way. 0K is 0K - no energy, whatsoever. So, half the temperature of 40°C is actually -116.575°C. Those are some seriously cold Hummingbirds!

I'm sure someone will correct my correction. But I know that 20° is not half 40°! :p

Great and Telling Tales

I wish I found these sooner. They're a series of animated history shorts that seeks to tell a basic bit of something or another. There's the story of Garfield's Assassination, when Carter was attacked by a killer Swamp Rabbit, and how dinosaurs were slow to get public acceptance. Here's two that I like:

Go to YouTube and see the rest! They're great!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


The year is 1510. How are you doing?

Orac, someone I read for his tirades against quack medicine (And for his interesting comments on cancer research) poses an interesting conundrum, though not a fresh one: Let's say you got sucked back in time, 500 years if you're in Europe, 300 if you're in a colonized area. You have nothing but the shirt on your back, your shoes on your feet. How well could you do? How well could you do at your modern job?

That's an interesting thought experiment, for sure. I'm interpreting it as me having the survival basics for Alaska: My jacket, boots, hat, and a pair of car-hart bibs. It doesn't matter much if I get sucked back 500 or 300, since this part of Alaska is pretty much the same either way.

On the basics, I could probably do slightly better than average. The biggest problem would be language, since this is Athabascan turf ca. 300 years ago. I don't speak a lick of it, so I'd head down river as soon as I could. I'd be better if I could come in winter, when I could trap. I'm spoilt by rifles, but I can make improvised traps with the middle-est of them! I could also catch a moose, which would give me a leg up on dozens of things. You just funnel them into a spot, and snare their leg or head. It's deadly effective (and not illegal 300 years ago). I even know how to make the hang-man's variant.

Summer I'd have a rougher go. I know enough wild edibles, but I couldn't get fresh game. Fish, maybe, but I don't know how to make my own fishing gear from scratch. I'd manage to make it to winter, before I really came into my own and could be reasonably fed. Either way, after that first winter, I'm golden. I can make a boat (I know how to build a Kayak from naught, even without power tools), and down river I go. It's worth noting that Yup'ik I speak, and Yup'ik spoken 300-500 years ago would be very different. It's like going back to Edwardian times, in English - words change, grammar drifts, and inflection tweaks over time. However, I'd do better with it than I would do with my lack of Athabascan! Down river, I could at least trade for tools I need, or knowledge of how to make said tools. Sure, everyone can hunt and trap in those days, but extra food or skins are always worth something. All and all, I could scrape along, until I learn to hunt and fish without modern tools.

With the latter point - how well could I recreate my job? Well, to begin with, beyond knowledge everyone of that day already has (where/when animals are), most of my field would be bum useless. Carrying Capacity? The relatedness of beavers? Evolution? Although all that knowledge has modern, practical applications, in the Qasgiq 500 years ago, it's useless beyond pure knowledge. If I was in Europe, I could recreate electricity, introduce pasteurization. Germ theory would be handy. Here, there's no native metal beyond some gold, and gold is pretty useless until you get into advanced metallurgy. I could make glass (it'd take a while), and maybe help some people with a crude monocle, but a microscope and showing germs would be... well, useless. Except. Except for one thing, which is anti-biotics. See, Penicillin sp. looks pretty characteristic. It's like a hand waving to you. I could isolate at least one antibiotic. This would make me very, very popular. Even if I couldn't produce oral forms (which takes a lot of preparation, IIRC).

If I wound up in Europe, I could write extensively. My ability to read and write would make me very valuable - heck, even 1700s it's a rare skill. I could ply that for a job. Not so much in the lower Yukon. I could leave notes on papyrus, but no one could ever read them (unless I taught folks how to read, which is a useless skill until late 1800s when English material shows up). But I could leave notes on natural selection, descent with modification, how genetics work in broad strokes. The composition of cells, and the use of DNA. The existence of cells, period. Basic sanitation. Making a prism would require finer glass working than I could do on the lower Yukon, but if in Europe, I could prove light is made of multiple colours.

The bulk of my chemistry would be bum useless, since I wouldn't have chemical extracts. My knowledge of spectography would be useless. I do know how to isolate phosphorus, though. With some fooling around, I could probably get it on a stick, and make matches. Fish wheels aren't complicated. I'd need to take material with me from the Fairbanks region (They're wood intensive, and I want big logs), but the ability to make one would make me popular, too. CPR. Heimlich maneuver. Both vaguely useful.

So, I think I would do all right, but the bulk of my biology knowledge requires advanced tools to exploit. Most of what is useful is my medical, physical and chemical knowledge (in that order). I'm just in a rotten place for time travelling and setting up shop as a biologist. If I really wanted to do that, London is the place for me to be. Amusingly, I'd be a better general doctor than biologist. London, or 300 years ago, Boston. Survival, I could do in Alaska, though I'd never be a Nukalpiaq by 300 or 500 years ago's standards. Snow machines and guns have made us all today lazy.

So, I suppose I'll pass this on: How well could you re-create your job 300 or 500 years in the same place? How well could you survive?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Annoyance °C

I was watching a little show on Sunday, about Hummingbirds (And in HD! It was very pretty). But the host said something that hit on a pet peeve of mine. So, let me ask you all, what is half of 40°C?

A lesser annoyance is how they treat the bird breeding systems. They presented a single view, where males are serial breeders, and females provide sole provisioning. This is a huge disservice to the massive diversity of systems, which span from social monogamy to promiscuity. It would also be a great time to discuss polyandry - that's a situation that is incredibly rare in mammals, where it's the males who are the most choosy. It typically arises because the male investment (in egg care) are greater than producing the eggs. So males choose who they want to breed with, and females go about recruiting multiple males to care for their young in various nests.

At least they didn't wax fanatical about how wonderfully monogamous they are.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bacon Narwhal

Speaking of food, I've just seen the best idea since people started having ideas. Everyone loves bacon, except for communists and terrorists. You're not a communist, are you? Then you'll love the bacon Narwhal (Link has some swearing).

BCN trying to escape

Behold! It doesn't get much more brilliant than that.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

 Posting this for a friend. Sadly, it's hard to get acorn squash worth eating. But when I can, here's a treat we used to have growing up. I used to hate the squash, but I've grown out of that phase. :)
3 medium acorn  squash
1 lb bulk sausage (Caribou Sausage works best, here, but mom prefers pork sausage)
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion (Red works best, not green)
1  1 1/2 oz envelope cheese sauce mix (Such as from a box of knock off Kraft Dinner)
1  3 oz can chopped mushrooms drained
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 Tbs butter or margarine melted

Cut squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds. Bake cut side down in shallow pan at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes until tender

Meanwhile in skillet cook sausage with green pepper and  onion until meat is  brown and vegetables are crisp tender. Drain off fat. blend cheese sauce mix with meat, add liquid following package instructions. Cook, stirring constantly until  thick and bubbly. Stir in mushrooms.

Fill squash cavities with sausage mixture. Combine bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle on top of squash. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned.

I like to top with sour cream, because it isn't fatty enough as-is.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Little Rail-line that couldn't.

I love old stuff. Here's this, published NY Times April 11 1902:
    Tachoma, Washington, April 10. - George S Canfield has arrived from Minneapolis en route to Nome. He announces that when he left New York last week arrangements were underway to consolidate companies incorporated to build 500 miles of railway from either Cook Inlet or Illiamna Bay across Seward Peninsula to Nome. The companies are understood to be the Alaska and Siberia Company, which Canfield assisted in organizing, and the Trans-Atlantic Company of Colorado.
    The Alaska and Siberia Company made surveys between the Yukon River and Nome during the Summers of last and the previous years under Canfield's direction. He believes the consolidated interested will select Illiamna Bay as a coast terminus, building thence to Kaltag, on the Yukon, and thence across the Tundra to Nome. He expects the work of construction will commence this year at each end.
I think Mr Canfield's project is a few decades behind schedule.
I was trying to find the initial financial estimate of the modern proposed route to Nome. Right now, one of the biggest economic impediment to Reindeer herding on the Seward Peninsula is the ability to move meat to market. If that could be overcome, better markets could be created for the meat.  I'm sure the modern mining interests in Nome would like better market access too, but that's not what spurred my interest.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A little bit on animal names.

Avery was asking about a Reindeer on lower campus who hasn't got around to dropping antlers yet, and she brought up a good point. Wildlife terms in English are confusing! Consider this:
  • Male Mule Deer are Bucks, Females are Does, Young are fawns.
  • Male Moose are Bulls, Females are Cows, and young are calves.
  • Male Muskox are Bulls, Females are Cows, and young are calves.
  • Male Reindeer/Caribou are Bulls, Females are Cows, young are calves.
  • Male Elk are Bulls, Females are Cows, young are calves.
  • Male Sheep are called Rams, Females are called Ewes, young are called Lambs.
  • Male Goats are either Bucks or Billies, females are Does or Nannies, but young are always Kids, and not fawns!
  • Male Wolves are Dogs, Females are Bitches, and young are pups.
  • Male Bears are Boars, Females are Sows, youngs are cubs.
  • Male Foxes are Todds, Females are Vixens, and young are kits!
It's all very confusing. Just when you think you know the pattern in English, you find out that Male seal is a bull, but a young seal is a pup!

March of the Pigs

Alas, it's official: Idaho has feral hogs. There was speculation when I was dwelling (We can't really call it living) in Utah for a bit, that they were down there. Feral hogs are a very hard to manage nuisance species - they're fast breeding, highly aggressive, and very adaptable. I was talking to a lady at the ASM meeting in 2009, who told me the odds of eradication in most states is somewhere between zero and zero. She worked on Texas, specifically, which has a very developed problem.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Avatar reviewed.

I saw Avatar. I didn't pay for seeing it, which is a good thing, because I would have rioted. I never planned on paying to see Avatar, anyhow. So, willing to give anything a try once (willing to be entertained), I sat through over two hours of wonder CGI. And don't get me wrong, the CGI was great. Immersive. What Starwars was aspiring to. It's so elegant, you forget its there.

Dear god, I wish I could forget the plot was there. It was everything I knew it was, and worse. The paternalistic bullhooey racism was so thick and deep that at times, I had to to restrain myself from throwing something at the screen. And the plot was terrible. No, seriously, awful. I've read a lot of reviews afterwards, and not one has a kind thing to say about the plot. But for some reason, it gets a positive review because it's pretty. Isn't that like saying, "The 10 story tall building has floors, no lights, no plumbling, and no heat or AC, but it has a really nice facade." The point of a movie is to tell a story. Plot is not a secondary consideration. Plot is the only consideration. If the plot is great, we'll ignore about anything. 

Here are just a few of the things I didn't like. I could keep writing for another hour, easily.
  1. Dances with wolves in space. Except WHITE GUY (who is obviously not white, but human) saves all the INDIANS (who are obviously not indians, but Na'vi). So, the message I take home from this is imperialism is bad. And all natives (who are not natives, but obviously aliens) need to get them out from the thumb of imperialist problems is a white guy. Pause and bask in the glory of that logic. Not only is it totally self-refuting, but it's also incredibly patronizing. So, basically, it's dances with wolves, without ANY of the plot devices that made Dances with Wolves good. Why did this need made?
  2. Dude. You're even more racist than I thought you'd be (and I thought you'd be astoundingly racist). War wooping? In touch with nature? Going 'aiaiaiaiaiai!'? War paint? Feather necklaces? Are you serious?
  3. Men are warriors. Wimminz is spirituals, and should be chosen by men. Obviously. Cute `stand by your man` music. To quote someone else, the gender politics of this film are %#($8ing wacked.
  4. The aliens were totally un-alien. In fact, there was nothing alien about them. 10 fingers, 10 toes. Blue, with funky stamens in their hair, but otherwise? Totally human. They even had breasts. This is a serious lack of imagination. And why were most of the vertebrate animals in the movie hexapods, except for the Na'vi? They're missing two limbs, if they evolved on the planet.
  5. Plotholes the size of asteroids. No, seriously. You could fit an asteroid right down on their little world tree thing and just wipe the lot of them out. Guns? Bullets? Giant mechanical suits? You're a freaking space faring nation, act like one. Bombard them with $($%*ing asteroids! Let's see their arrows deflect that! There was zero imagination to the sci-fi. None.
  6. Uh, so, I couldn't help but notice pretty much every Na'vi was voiced by a not white person. The Antagonists... uh. Well, yeah. This one more or less speaks for itself.
  7. When you start making up floating mountains, without any hint of explanation beyond 'it's magical!', you've ceased being sci-fi. The floating mountains served no plot purpose, either. They could have done the one relevant scene in another really big tree. They were as pointless as pouring half a pound of sugar on Captain Crunch.
  8. More about biology - a lot of that plant life made no sense to me. I.e., actively annoyed me. So you only have one glowing pink tree per planet? How the heck do glowing pink-trees reproduce, if there's only one of them, and there always has only been one of them? Why were plants both motile, but rooted? Why was there only one world tree in the area? How did it's seed get there?
  9. Unobtanium? Come on. I mean... _come on_. Trioxide flagersidan. There, I came up with a better name in all of 5 seconds. Why not just call it `Name place holder from first draft?` It's not lazy writing. It's not even writing, period.
  10. To steal someone else's phrase (I'll link him in a minute), "War is bad. Now here's some more!" So, what's your moral, again? Not since Inglorious Bastards was there a movie as self-refuting as this on even it's most important points.
  11. Natives are so IN TUNE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT that they obviously TALK to FLIPPING ANIMALS. How about in our next movie, a planet full of Jewish people who are fantastic with accountancy? We'll call it "Dances With Ledgers." I can see the Oscar now...
  12. Hi, I'm strawman. I want my villains back. And you'll be hearing from all the 3-year olds you ripped off for the the characters of "Casually Racist McCorperatePants" and "Lt. Col. Kill Them All and Eat Their Babies." As far as I can tell, the sole motivation for either of them is they like hitting things, and digging up stupidly named rocks.
Yeah. I didn't like it.

I won't tell you to read the Filthy Critic's review, because you have to find college humour and foulmouth toilet talk hilarious to enjoy him. And he's rather not safe for work viewing for language alone, never mind his more... colourful metaphors. But he sums up the movie's portrayal of Natives perfectly in these paragraphs.
First is its patronizing vision of the indigenous people. It's like Cameron was channeling some long-haired asshole who sells turquoise roadside near Sedona. The movie treats the natives as simpletons, idiot savants full of pure goodness and new-agey magical powers, the same way guilt-ridden white people of limited intelligence think of American Indians. Cameron gives them the ability to see into the hearts of others. As far as I know, the only people who believe nonsense like that are folks with shit to hide. They're the ones who worry good people can see right through them.
The Na'vi talk to the earth and the animals. They live in harmony with nature. Through them, Cameron preaches the same simpleton back-to-the-earth bullshit as those phonies who go to Pow-wows and talk out their asses about magical American Indians. Hell, I'm surprised there isn't a cameo by Iron Eyes Cody. 
I probably can't talk you out of going. Sadly, so many idiots are watching it, it's going to be one of those things that we all have to do, some time, just like George Lucas' garbage stewStarwars prequel movies. I hope someone reads this and understands why some people have had such a vitriolic response to the movie.

I really, really hope I don't have to write about Avatar again.

Sadly, the news said Cameron is making a trilogy. Hell.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Carbon pawprints revisited.

Remember this qimulvak? He's been getting a ruff shake. People are barking up a storm about how he's a bad boy for having such a big carbon pawprint. The twitter version of the story is that medium sized dogs have bigger carbon emissions than a typical SUV. I linked an ABC version, but there are other agencies who reported on the story, too. I was somewhat sceptical when I read the story, but I figured most dogs up here are safe. Aside from the urbanites and their dogs, most dogs I know around here are heavily supplemented with fish and meat. Some eat nothing but locally harvested fish. The paw print on that is minuscule - just the oil burnt in getting out there to jig.

But most people I know bought into it without much critical review - even I gave some of the claims a pass, because they shook well with what I knew about the effects of agriculture on carbon emissions. Well, it turns out the numbers were much more worse-case than they probably realistically are. Clark Williams-Derry, a director for the Spotlight Institute, a pro-green environmental think-tank, spends some ink on explaining how the footprint of SUVs really is that bad, and how Landrovers are, in fact, worse than Rover.

Read the whole article. It's very well written, and entertaining (with even more dog puns than my post). But if you're too lazy, the big flaws are here:
  • They underestimate how much driving people do.
  • They underestimate how much oil is involved in car production and maintinance.
  • They assume dogs get high quality meat and cereal, when dogs get trimmings meat in most dog chow. 
They also look top down, to show that practically, dogs have little impact on food from real buying habits.

So sleep easy, dog-outside-the-Turtle-Club. You're not worse than my truck.

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