Friday, 30 April 2010


It's that time year of again!
65 years ago, a 56 yearold, hiding in his bunker with his enemies surrounding him, committed suicide by cyanide capsule and gunshot to the right temple. That's right, today is dead Hitler day. Never heard of dead Hitler day? What about Führerstodestag? No? Well, more's the shame. It's, naturally, the anniversary of that perticular toad's death. It went a little like this

By late April 1945, his little empire in the sand had got kicked down pretty thoroughly. The Russians were occupying parts of Berlin, where his bunker was located. On the 22nd, he apparently had a nervous breakdown as he realized it was over - that the Russians were battling their way to the centre of town, and he knew they would get him, take him, and they probably wouldn't kill him right away. on the 28th, he leant that one of his senior commanders was negotiating with the Allied forces to surrender, and that former allay Mussolini had been executed. On midnight of April 29th, he married his mistriss in an abrupt cerimony, dictated his will at 4am, took a nap, and at 3:30pm, shot himself in the temple, while his himstress only used the cyinide.

I like spelling out the details, because of how ignoble it was. It really gets the skinheads angry, especially if you lay it on thick. I reccomend the following, myself:
You know how big of a coward he was? He had to test the cyanie on his dog, because he was too scared.
Which is true - he killed his dog, and her offspring, basically in a fit of paranoia. After he died, his staff almost immediately all light up their cigarettes - Hitler was anti-smoking. He was that well liked.

Traditional Dead-Hitler days activites include picking fights with racist jerks, gloating over holocaust deniers, enjoying the feeling that bad people sometimes get what's coming to them on earth, and having a big hunk of meat for dinner - Hitler was a very ardent vegetarian, too. He reportedly liked going into graphic detail about slaugtering animals, when he had meat eating guests over. Strangely, slaughtering humans had no such ill-effects on his stomach...

So, happy vegetarian Führerstodestag, folks. Unless you're a skinhead, in which case I hope it's miserable.

Energy Needs

I'm going to steal a page from "Mad Engineering" today, and try to think creatively about one of the big problems that's facing Rural AK: Power. Renewables are good, but you still need diesel power for covering all the spots where there's no wind blowing, or sun shining (Yes, Solar Power works in AK). You can't effectively tie villages together in a grid so that wind energy from one village can help a village having a calm day - the cost of running power lines between villages is very high! And the cost of running powerline from the railbelt grid is even bigger.

What could be a steady power-producer for the villages? Orbital Solar. It sounds crazy, but the idea isn't that futuristic - you put a solar array in space where solar power is much more efficient (because we lose a lot of energy to the atmosphere). It's then beamed down to earth as radio or microwaves, where it's collected by antennas. You can position the satellite so it's always in the sun, even at night. Each village would have a microwave dish to collect energy from the power station being beamed to it.

Surely something like this is expensive, but there's a chance you could get a partner to help you develop this - the Military is very interested in the idea because it will allow them to have electrical anywhere in the world, and shipping diesel to Afghanistan might be the only place more expensive than the bush! Collaborating with the Air Force to test-bed this technology would be a great way to bring it to the bush.

So: How crazy does this sound? :)
Wow, this takes me back: A mac SE online simulator! I actually started using computers at a very young age, thanks to my father (who is a giant "nerd", and I have inherited all his nerdness ;) ). But it seemed like we only had old computers, so I started with very outdated machines that we'd all play with (and fight over who got to use the computer!) and gradually we moved forward through time until I moved from home and finally got the money to buy a new and shiney computer of my own.

Is it strange to be nostalgic for an old computer? Is it strange to think of old computers as "Old?"

Better still, the computer simulator has tetris on it! Woo hoo!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

More Navel gazing

I won't commit much more time to the Habs' upset over the Caps beyond this, except to point where the Caps went phenomenally wrong:

Can Ovechkin have similar success one day? Yzerman was drafted in 1983 and won his first Cup in 1997 -- not a time frame destined to cheer Washington fans, especially this morning. The Wings faced some of the same criticism the Caps are now hearing, specifically, that the team was built for the regular season, not the playoffs. Eventually, that changed.
Ovechkin is a polarizing player in ways Yzerman wasn't. He is brash and bold and would rather spend his $9 million on Dolce and Gabbana than, say, haircuts.
But Yzerman had one advantage over Ovechkin: From the start, he was the ultimate team player. Heck, his nickname was the Captain, a moniker usually reserved for yacht club blowhards and Tennille's musical partner. 
 Exactly this. Ovechkin (Or Overcompensating Ovi, if you prefer) acts like he's in it for Ovechkin, and no-one else. He doesn't create opportunities for his line. When he's hot, the caps are hot. When he's not, they're not. His club deserves more than that arrogance.

2010 Semifinals

Here's what I picked and how I did:
   1. Caps in 4.    Habs in 7
   2. Fliers in 6    Fliers in 5
   3. Sabres in 7.    Sabres in 6
   4. Pens in 5.    Pens in 6

And in the west

   1. Sharks in 5    Sharks in 6
   2. Blackhawks in 5    Chicago in 6
   3. Kings in 7    Canucks in 6
   4. Wings in 7    Wings in 7
So I got exactly 1 right (wings). And I missed the Habs upset, and the Canucks win. I guess that makes me worse than chance. :p
Honestly, I don't see the habs going far. Most of the Caps SOG were easy shots. Halak is good, but not that good. Canucks I'm pleasantly surprised. I can live with that! ;)

For next round: Pens in 6. Honestly, I see aggressive play pushing through their defence (believe me, I'll dance if Sid loses!). Boston in 5, Boston is hitting harder, and so Fliers can't play their physical game. Wings in 6 - SJ has a morbid fear of the Wings. Skilled, with a smoking hot goalie and 40 yearolds who can skate like they were born on ice. Chicago 6 - I'm shakiest about this. I didn't catch enough BH's games to get a good feel for them.

So I can put it in writing, my cute hockey loving friend had her picks, and I'm recording them for posterity. She figures "Flyers in 5.  (Pens, if they win, will take 7. Habs in 6 if they win.) WC - Wings in 5. Hawks in 6." ;) She cheated though - you're not allowed to pick both teams to win!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Abstracts: Koala Birth Seasonality

Just because you can breed continuously throughout the year doesn't mean you can, or you should. Animals that breed throughout the year can have higher fitness, but only if there's enough resources available that the young aren't a major drag for future reproduction. Also, having accurate breeding information is important for establishing even basic demographic information, as it can push which demographic model you use.
Establishing accurate demographic information for free-ranging populations of animals is difficult without knowledge of individual chronological age. We estimated the birth dates of 743 koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) joeys at 3 sites in Queensland, Australia, using body mass obtained from a reference population with known birth dates. From these age estimates we compared the annual distribution of births across calendar months. At all 3 locations about 60% of births occurred between December and March. The annual pattern of births was identical for males and females within locations, but overall annual patterns of births differed between the southern and northern sites. We conclude that koalas can bear offspring in every month of the year, but breed seasonally across Australia, and that a sex bias in the timing of births is absent from most regions.
The reason they include the bit about the sex bias is because previous authors (McLean and Handasyde 2006) found one in an island population of Victoria Koalas.

doi: 10.1644/08-MAMM-A-358R.1.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Salmon and Avacado Sandwiches

I recently borrowed a book from a friend that has over 190 salmon recipes, which is a lot. Some of them I wouldn't eat. Some are quite good! Like this one. It takes salmon, boil it (poach I think is the term), and then you flake it.

Let that rest a bit. And then dice up some green onion. It should be small. Throw that, a healthy glob (1/2 cup) of mayo, some dill and some lime juice into a bowl, and then mix in the salmon. You're going to smear that on bread, or pilot bread for the authentic Alaskan experience. ;) Top with some lettuce and avacado!

By the way, I'm going to come off as a bit of a idiot, but apparently you aren't supposed to eat avacado skin. Well, I didn't know that...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Filler post

I'm feeling very sick, so I'm going to spend the most of my day laying down and trying to get over this whatever-I-Have.

Two things that made my day less awful were dogs.
1) This dog that fetched some state troopers. (You must watch the video that goes with that.)
2) Loki, who knows to hang up his laundry before barking.

The way some people get about babies? I get that way about dogs. I love dogs.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Everything you wanted to know about Hangovers (but were too afraid to ask)

ResearchBlogging.orgRecently, I read a statement by the American Heart Association about Alcohol, saying that although moderate alcohol reduces your risk of stroke, if you don't already drink you should not begin drinking because drinking raises your risk of cancer. This is an interesting statement, because I think it is incorrect. Cancer is rare, Stroke is common. Even though alcohol increases the probability of those cancers by quite a large amount, many times a small value is still a very very small value. Where as a minor reduction on the probability of stroke results in major gains in life expectancy.

However, while I was challenging myself to back up this mathematical statement with numbers (maybe I'll make a second post about it with the math!) I took a diversion off into hangover land. I rarely get hangovers - I suppose I'm lucky in that respect - but I was curious what promotes hangovers. So I read "The Alcohol Hangover" by Wiese et al. 2000. It's a review paper of the state of Hangover Science, in 2000. If anyone has a newer paper, I'd be curious to read it.

First, I was shocked to find out how much hangovers cost the economy - 148 Billion Dollars a year in decreased productivity and absenteeism. That's staggeringly huge, and so it seems to suggest whatever we can do to treat hangovers is well advised, to reduce this economic burden.

Second,  there isn't a very good definition of what a Hangover is. Some symptoms include Headache, Poor sense of being, Diarrhoea, Loss of Apatite, Fatigue and Nausea, but even the most common feature, headache, is only reported in 66% of hangovers. I wonder if people who suffer, say, Diarrhoea when they are hungover one one instance are more likely to have it in other hangovers. Does it vary person to person, or episode to episode? Sadly, anecdote fails me here; I think a full study would be needed.

A study referenced in Wiese's paper suggests that far from reduce alcohol intake, not only is there no evidence that hangover incidence decreases rates of alcohol intake, but there are indications that it may prompt further alcohol intake! Think of "The Hair of the Dog" type of treatment. Obviously, if we consider this early morning drinking a societal ill, we should work on reducing the overall incidences of hangovers.

Here's something else counter-intuitive: According to a variety of sources cited in the paper, light to moderate drinkers (those of 0 to 3 drinks/day for men, and 0 to 1 for women) are 70% more likely to experience hangover symptoms than heavier drinkers.

Very little is known about about hangover causes, since it's not strictly dose-dependant with respect to the Ethanol (alcohol) content of a drink. Those sayings about never mixing beer with wine are all total garbage, more or less. There are some factors, among which are Acetaldehyde, a metabolite of ethanol, and congeners, which are impurities from ethanol production that include tannins, acetone, phenolics, etc. But it seems clear from this paper (and another that I read) that it's all a bit of a black box, still. What does and doesn't cause it is terribly mysterious. And Wiese et al. is very clear that the research into hangover alleviation is suggestive, but muddy still.

But if you do want to prevent hangovers, there's one other thing you can do; I'd offer you this quote, then:
Clear liquors, such as rum, vodka, and gin, tend to cause hangover less frequently, which may explain why patients with chronic alcoholism use these liquors disproportionately. In an experimental setting, 33%% of patients who consumed 1.5 g/kg of body weight of bourbon (which has high congeners) but only 3%% of those who consumed the same dose of vodka (which has low congeners) experienced severe hangover (41).
Maybe all those vodka snobs are onto something. But I would caution you, before you throw out all your bourbon, that a 2010 paper didn't replicate those results.

Wiese JG, Shlipak MG, & Browner WS (2000). The alcohol hangover. Annals of internal medicine, 132 (11), 897-902 PMID: 10836917

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Rush Limbaugh and the Volcano

I don't know why people send me these links. Maybe I have too-low faith in humanity already.
"You know, a couple of days after the health care bill had been signed into law, Obama ran around all over the country saying, "Hey, you know, I'm looking around. The earth hadn't opened up. No Armageddon out there. The birds are still chirping." I think the earth has opened up. God may have replied. This volcano in Iceland has grounded more airplanes -- airspace has been more affected than even after 9/11 because of this plume, because of this ash cloud over Northern and Western Europe. ... It's got everybody just in a shutdown. Earth has opened up. I don't know whether it's a rebirth or armageddon. Hopefully it's a rebirth, God speaking."
Rush Limbaugh on the European volcano problems.
So, by that logic, God really hates Alaska, given all the volcanoes he puts here.



Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Beer Notes from Two nights ago

Drop Top Amber Ale - Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, Oregon

The amber ale doesn't mislead - the colour is a rich amber, clear with minimal carbonation which quickly fades to a thin ring around my glass. It's the same overmoulded bottle as their other offerings, which looks fancy, but breaks far too easily. It has the date of bottling right on the label, which is always a plus. The beer smells rich honey and citrus, a little too strong of the latter. However, you taste more of the former as you sip, with brief notes of pepper. It's clean and smooth, not lingering on the tongue any longer than water. It's very drinkable, and it would be easy to drink several of these without noticing.  3.5 out of 5. B.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Presidential Perks

George Washington owes 220 years worth of "Overdue" book fines.

The BBC reports that Washington owes $300,000 total.
On 5 October 1789, the first president borrowed two books from what was then the only library in Manhattan - "Law of Nations," a dissertation on international relations, and a volume of debate transcripts from Britain's House of Commons.
George Washington did not even bother to sign his name in the borrower's ledger. An aide simply scrawled "president" next to the title to show who had taken them out.
The two tomes were due back a month later but were never returned and have been accruing late fees ever since. Librarians uncovered the misdemeanour as they were digitising the library's ledger from that time. 
We can't let this man be above the law! Impeach Washington! ;)


So trapping is on the rise again in the lower Yukon. Cool. I like that. It's been rare for too long, and it's work, but it's work that'll keep you busy. But, then there's this article in the Tundra Drums that's saying "Fur prices are high." Huh? Where?

In Feb 2007,  Lynx was selling for an average of $175, in Feb of 2008, it was selling for an average of $281. But in 2009, the price dropped to ~$100 at auction. It's inched back up to $125. This is not a strong market. If you don't believe me, you can read the sale results yourself from the FHA.

On an anecdotal front, I know a few guys who are sitting on their lynx, not selling them. They're waiting for prices to go up more so they can recover more cost on them, especially given the price of fuel.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Things that have been on my mind a lot: Mesopreadators.

One thing I have been thinking a lot about is Mesopredators. Mesopredators are medium predators, such as racoons, coyotes, snakes, etc etc. A bear, wolf, puma etc would be a top predator, and not a mesopredator.

See, I was reading a paper recently about Pronghorn in Wyoming, where they had wolf-free and wolf-abundant sites. In their wolf-free sites, fawn (pronghorn have fawns, for some reason) survival was near 0 in some years, whereas in nearby wolf-abundant sites, fawn mortality was very low. They argue that the difference was in mesopredators, who differentially prey on fawns, and they try to show that coyote predation makes up the bulk of the wolf-free mortality. I know how practically difficult it is to make these calls, so I remain dubious of that. Still, it's hard to argue with that kind of finding in survival.

So, does interior AK have mesopreadators of consequence for our game? Coyotes are definitely mesopredators, and wolves generally do a good job keeping their populations surprised in most of the state (Coyotes are recent arrivals). I don't see much of a release when wolves are removed. Perhaps there are other factors limiting coyote release. Lynx can prey on reindeer calves, but do wolves keep lynx suppressed? I have a hard time envisioning this, because they don't have much niche overlap outside of that.

I'm still thinking about this, but I'm not sure mesopredators are a major factor in large game dynamics in non-SE Alaska.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Grade Inflation meets Grade Deflation

A professor is booted from teaching a course because 90% of her class is getting low grads

"The class in question is an entry-level biology class for non-science majors, and, at mid-term, more than 90 percent of the students in Dr. Homberger's class were failing or had dropped the class. The extreme nature of the grading raised a concern, and we felt it was important to take some action to ensure that our students receive a rigorous, but fair, education. Professor Homberger is not being penalized in any way; her salary has not been decreased nor has any aspect of her appointment been changed."
But, as another professor pointed out,
Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor who is the founder of, a Web site that publishes research on grading, questioned whether LSU was really trying to help students. "How many times has Dean Carman removed a professor from a class who was giving more than 90 percent As?" he asked.
I've seen courses like that, where the instructor more-or-less phones it in, teaches little or nothing, and gives everyone high marks. One of the students here at UAF remarked that a lab portion of a class was "Hard because you have to do something each week." As opposed to what? Showing up and doing nothing?

In some countries, there is no notion of "extra-credit" Either you've master the material or you haven't. One instructor asked if it was very common here in the United States. He wanted to know if he should automatically dock a bit from each US student's grades (which is an suboptimal solution). There's parallels with public education, where some schools are scoring higher on tests mostly because they made the tests easier.

Just an down-home woman.

Someone unearthed a copy of the contract Sarah Palin makes people sign to book her for a speaking engagement. Among the requirements are

[...] one of the many requirements that must be met for the former vice presidential hopeful: two unopened bottles of still water and "bendable straws" must be waiting on a wooden lectern.
Bendy straws. Because she's a woman of the people. And then there's her airplane and hotel requirements... Read the whole thing here. She's definitely gone Hollywood. If she's just your average hockey Mom, I'm the king of Spain.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Blogger problems?

I had a post with some misc things I had found (like a drought map for Alaska, and a link to a Obituary for Peter Jacob)... but I don't see it in my blogger Archive. Did anyone see it at all?

Fighting the Civil War all over again.

It's shocking to think this is 2010. I heard a comedian say "This is the most futuristic date in the history of all dates!" which is about spot on. Honestly, we have iPod touches, you can fly from Fairbanks to Germany without dying of scurvy along the way, and we have people living full-time in space. I'm a huge fan of the future, because it brings advancements that my grandparents wouldn't have even dreamt possible. Even if we don't get personal flying cars, I'm looking forward what Detroit invents 20 or 30 years from now. Maybe it'll be a hover-car, like Star Wars. I can live with a Hover Car.

Yet despite how neat the future is, there seems to be a group of people who are dead set on disparaging it by pointing to it and saying times are bad, and wrong, and we need to go back in time. This is topic on here frequently, since I do not like this rosy retrospective. It washes history, making it clean, palatable. An acquaintance of mine made the claim that there wasn't murder in the village before white people showed up. This is an insane claim that even half-way listening to stories would disprove. And even if we had no more stories ever again, the archaeological signs of conflict and strife are there for us to find. There's also Texas writing Jefferson out of the history books because he disagrees with their politics, and a general fetishization of the "Founding Fathers" to almost god-like figures. Goldman-Animation made a great short video about the so-called "Golden Age."

I say this, because nationally, there seems to be a form of this going on in the south. People are ignoring parts of the civil war which don't support their modern ethics, and only thinking about the parts that do. There's a revisionist attitude about that leads people to say that the Civil War wasn't about Slavery. You see this in the recent proclamation of Confederate History Month, and other things of that sort. I've heard people on call in shows on the Radio talk about how the new Tea Party movement is like the Confederates of old, fighting against large government. I have to keep from groaning and holding my head, when I hear this - I've cut back my radioshow diet because of these crazy statements.

In this great article in The Atlantic, they lay, flat out, that the Civil War was about Slavery. Full stop. But the urge to feel irrational shame over that is no better in having irrational joy about having a King or Queen as a great-great-grand-whatever. It's irrational. To be mindful of history is a good thing. To try and wrap ourselves in it, claiming it as our own, as if we'd somehow done something to earn events that happened long before we were born is a little arrogant. And if someone living in the south really, really wants to do that anyhow? Well, there's plenty of heroic figures from the ex-CSA that could be lionized for being generally good, moral, upstanding people without washing history clean of slavery and race. I'd strongly recommend that essay. But I'd add to the end of it that we carry on in the spirit of our ancestors, but without being our predecessors. After all, when we make our own try at life, we'll have iPods.


Monday, 12 April 2010

Playoff time!

If you're a Stargate: Universe fan, (or even watcher hoping the show gets good), you should click this link for some funny. Otherwise, don't, because you won't get the joke. Yes, I'm a bit of a nerd. :( 

 Well, we're out of regular season hockey, and into the playoffs. It's been just a strange year, with all the "good" teams being bad, and all the "bad" teams being good. Here are my thoughts in no particular order.
  • The Red Wings need new blood desperately. They keep getting jammed up by injury, and they're not skating as fast as they once did. I like older players - it shows people this is a game of skill, too. But some of the wins roster is pushing it.
  • Last year, someone commented watching Blackhawks play the Kings was like watching two 10 year olds fight. Well, this year, that sounds more like a plausible Playoff face-off.  Who would have thought? However, the Blackhawks have gone and jinxed themselves, as a internet friend in Chicago told me they commissioned a hockey mural with them having the cup in it. This is on top of having "Hossa'ed" themselves (not my words).
  • I really couldn't bring myself to care about any of the races between Ovechkin and Crosby. One overcompensates, the other is a crybaby. The Penguins are goons, the Capitals are Thugs. When they played each-other, I hoped a girder would fall from the ceiling or something. Not, I admit, the healthiest attitude. 
  • The Coyotes are back. And honestly, they're the only team that shouldn't have cried at night in fear of playing the Red Wings first round. Any one else, playing the Wings in the First Round would have sounded like a death sentence. A few GMs went on the record as saying "We really hope it's not us." The Coyotes look like they can be competitive against the Wings. The big difference between them, though, is the Wings have decades of playoff experience, and a steady hand on the wheel. As a fellow hockey fan pointed out "The Playoffs isn't the regular season." 
  • Is this the year the Sharks avoid an early exit? Right now, they're up against the Avs. The Avs are a franchise in ruin. As a Wings fan, it is my solemn duty to hate the Avs, but right now I can't really bring myself. It's like picking on an unemployed jerk who has heart problems. If the Sharks can't win against this, they need to seriously shake things up from top to bottom.
That said, here's my predictions:
  1. Caps in 4.
  2. Fliers in 6
  3. Sabres in 7.
  4. Pens in 5.
And in the west
  1. Sharks in 5
  2. Blackhawks in 5
  3. Kings in 7
  4. Wings in 7
Watch me get everything wrong. :)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Friday, 9 April 2010

PETA: Now with thoughtful ads.

It's not the content of the ad - I'm pro-spaying/neutering.
It's not that I have love for the "Octomom" - she's pretty tasteless.

But, PETA putting up this ad in Octomom's lawn? Tasteless. Octomom accepting money for this ad to be put up in her lawn? Tacky.
And that's exactly what happened: Tasteless, meet tacky.
Oh, if only there were some sort of hole in the ground both PETA's board and Octomom could fall into, to live out the rest of their lives without us having to hear from them ever again... I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Socratic Soc. lecture on Richard Dawkins, Pt. 1

I went to the lecture at the UAF on Richard Dawkin's book, The God Delusion. I took pretty extensive notes, but note sadly the lecture was actually rather weak. The Q and A was actually pretty laid back for as sceptical as some were.  Here's my notes of what he said. They might or might not make sense.

Eduardo Wilner.
Philosophers dress like hobos. :)
Quotes Douglas Adams "People Will Be Offended."
Offensiveness comes from the Gut, not from reason.
Comment about Theology - Don't really need to address here.
  1. Arguments for God
  2. Religion as a Phenomenon
  3. Religion, Morality and Meaning.
"And then the Flying spaghetti monster ate Jesus."

The question shouldn't be "Do Science and Religion Clash" Obviously, they do. Question is, fundamentally should they?

Why don't we see icons of Darwin everywhere, but we do see Jesus on walls?

Scientific Thinking:
  1. Find a phenomena
  2. Come up with a model. Come up with a "experience feedback method."
  3. Deduce a prediction
  4. Make observation for the prediction.
    Religious Thinking:
    • Faith (of a supernatural nature) assenting to the divine truth through divine will
    • Dogma - Divine revelation and some church authoritative teaching. 
    NOMA: Non-Overlapping Mageseria
    Gould says: Methedology should match subject matter.
    Eduadro says not true. Apply both science and religion to origions, one gets "Eve", the other gets "Lucey." WEAK ARGUMENT
    They have very overlapping magesterium .

    Watch Vs. Rock - Find a watch, it must have a watchmaker.
         "Where is the damn watchmaker?"
         However, there is a hierarchy of the improbable.
    Trying to invoke designing agent for life, universe, watches, invokes an infinite regression. Who designed the designer, etc. Designer is far more improbable than just the watch, without a naturalistic method for getting to the designer.

    UAF: Harvard of the North. Everyone raises their hand saying they understand Natural Selection.

    Religion as a phenomenon
    Replicators don't need to be biological entities - can be thoughts/ideas.

    Currently 2850 gods recorded.
    Estimated 6 new gods per day in the world (!)
    Religion formation is a regularly occurring phenomenon.

    Religion as a byproduct of other brain traits
    • Willingness to believe parents as a child.
    • Vulnrable to viral ideas.
    • Hyperactive Agent Detecting (We think the laptop/car/weather has a motive).
    Gives humans preadapted niche for Religious memes.
          "Memes are creatures of the mind, but not our Creatures"

    Religion and morality
    Is there a objective moral truth without the divine?
    "a) But is moral X right because god says so, or b) does god say so because it is right?"
         a) Arbitrary choice by a deity, so not objective.
         b) Objective morality even without deity.
    God does not help philosophers prove there is an objective morality.

    We cherrypick our morals
       "Sodom - Worse than New York!"
        "The X-Rated parts are left to mysterious ways."
        Use 10 Commandments (most of them) and ignore the bits about stoning and thread use and ritually murdering your kids.

    Religion and Child Abuse?
        Can children be religious?
        Would we talk about "A Marxist kid?"

    Indoctrination is NOT abuse.
        But training kids to ignore facts.
        A "Marxist Kid" can apply reason and reject Marxism as an adult.
        Religious Kid cannot, because Religion generally rejects objective reasoning.

    Science and Meaning? "Think of us who die as lucky ... to have existed!"

    Dave Klein strikes again: Separating people making up gods from people's religion. Different phenomena. Not necessarily linked.
    Professor sounding guy: "I'm a little disturbed by your certainty." If you're wrong yesterday, who's to say you won't be wrong tomorrow?

    I didn't take good notes in the Q&A section, and didn't write down his responses. On the whole, it was definitely worth a good think, even if I don't agree with many of the conclusions. I'm glad we can talk about this topic without people getting heated and nasty.
    Does Gould's NOMA extend to philosophy? Philosophy tends to deal with un-knowables... e.g., this could all be a very vivid dream, and we can't prove it's not with science. I'm amazed by how Dave Klein can ask such pointed questions, even when it looks like he's not paying attention. We are lucky to still have him around. And finally, there was a very good crowd there. I wonder how many people show up to the next talk on Richard Dawkins' biology books. Those I'm infinitely more familiar with - The Selfish Gene is a must read for all graduate students.


    What can I say? They know how to make an offer people can't refuse.

    Wednesday, 7 April 2010

    Bear Rancher update

    Remember Charlie the Bear Rancher? He's the guy who decided that he was going to feed a whole mess of bears dogfood for years. He was training them to... who knows. Musically fart Easter hymns, for all I know or care. The man is clearly not engaging his brain, if he thinks romping around with bears is a fantastic idea.

    Well, the Bear Rancher has plead guilty to feeding wildlife, and is going to get slapped with some fine and probation. I don't see this stopping the next brilliant person who wants to do this, because the state let it go on for 20 years before acting. Treadwell was a good demonstration that Bears are not Pets.

    The commentators in ADN, as usual, prove we have the brightest and best here. Some people asked why they're going after a guy who feeds bears when they only tried and punished people engaged in the wanton waste incident in the North-West. Like this fine person:

    This man taught us a lesson that hopefully the youth of today will remember, that harmony is possible under the proper conditions. As usual, the authorities must impose their will upon those who don't conform. I can only imagine the price of his fine might equal the value of his property. This is just plain wrong, we have a person who feeds bears in a remote location and is looking at a minimum fine of 20K. And meanwhile back on the tundra we have a caribou slaughter that results in a comparative wrist slap.
    I think the blindfolded broad with the scales has lost her freaking mind.
    Ah, yes. Because, you know a guy who can afford to ship 10,000 lbs of dog food to feed bears each year just can't take a fine. Where is he going to find money to feed the 2011 bears, I ask you? Why, with such a large fine, he won't be able to feed bears for at least five years! Big brother is out to get us!!!!one
    pkidwell  wrote on 04/07/2010 06:41:11 AM:
    I long for the days when the government will get out of our lives and allow us to live as we had before the kooks took over.
    Don't you love how this person just claimed Charlie the Bear Rancher is one of the sane, normal people needing protected from the "Kooks?" Nothing says "Normal Behaviour" feeding bears for 20 years to train them to do stuff. Why, that's our god given right to do that!

    Anton_Chigurh  wrote on 04/07/2010 07:52:22 AM:

    A 100 years ago no one would have given a care in the world as long as he was not hurting himself or others. Complete government take over of almost every aspect of our lives is on the horizon. You'll see
    Top on the Obama commo-fascist take over's agenda is to take your god given, constitutional right to feed random bears and strip them like ladies at a Republican fundraiser in Vegas. Yes, it turns out the New-World-Order is mostly concerned with getting states to enforce laws they had before the New-World-Order. How insidious.

    Alaska. Seriously:

    Top Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game / The Associated Press


    Tuesday, 6 April 2010

    The midnight Rainbow

    Hopefully I can get some better pictures before summer comes.

    When it doesn't matter where you're from

    ResearchBlogging.orgPeople move animals around. It's what we do. Why are there Elk on Afognak island? Some guy thought it was a good idea at the time. Wildlife managers in the past were some of the biggest conduits for moving animals around, frequently en mass, back before biology really caught up with the profession. We can cite plenty of examples where moving animals around to do population rescues was a bad thing - the Arabian Oryx got both inbreeding and outbreeding depression at once! And there's others, still.

    Why? We predict animals to be generally well adapted to their environment, or well adapted to it pre-human mucking around. What it takes to be a good Elk in Hungary is very different from what it takes to be a good Elk in Norway. Norway is pretty different from Hungary.

    Quick side note: Names are confusing, even to a professional Here, I'm talking about what North Americans call Elk, or Wapiti. What Europeans call Elk is Alces alces, or what North Americans call "Moose." They call NA-Elk "Red Deer." In any event, it's Cervus elaphus. North American elk are sometimes called Cervus canadensis, but frankly, I think that's a load of hooey. But that's an argument for another day. When I say "Elk," I mean Cervus elaphus or C. canadensis.

    Just reading my explanation of the nomenclature makes me want to get a stiff drink!

    "Strangely" enough, the situation I just gave to you as a hypothetical happened. So, the question is... does it matter? Does putting Hungary blood in Norway animals make them maladapted? Well, Haanes et al. studied whether these long-distance translocations hurt a population on an island called Otterøya. What a wonderfully Norwegian looking name! The population on Otterøya was down to 12-14 individuals, 3 or 4 or which were stags. Since Elk tend to have very skewed reproductive success in the males (meaning, either you're the big bull and get plenty of reproduction, or you get little-none), it means you can basically 2 or 3 individuals contribution into the next generations. That brings it down to 9-12 individuals who contributed their genes to the next generation.

    To avoid expatriation, 17 German•Hungarian 'Hybrid' elk were brought in for a population rescues. I say 'hybrid', because supposedly those are different subspecies. I have issues with that, which I'll outline later. Regardless, the population exploded, shooting up to 100 Elk in 10 years, and even higher since. Obviously, the population rescue worked. But what's the long-term consequences of the German•Hungarian animals' introduction? It could be that the Elk are less successful than they would be, if they didn't introduce that linage.

    Well, Haanes et al. decided to take a two-prong approach. First, they took blood/tissue from Elk on Otterøya, they sampled Elk on mainland Norway, and they sampled 20 Elk in Hungary. They took DNA from all of them. They would have loved to sample the German Elk, but since the translocation, the rest of the German Elk were bottlenecked, translocated some more, and probably experienced some introgression. Basically, they're not the same Elk anymore. Finally, they measured body characteristics for the various populations, hijacking some datasets to do so. I'm fine with that; it's hard to get good data on hunter-derrived samples because hunters bias their hunts to tasty/big animals.

    I'll skip ahead to the results. First, using STRUCTURE, they found a best solution of `there are two populations. The program STRUCTURE tries to assign individuals to populations without knowing anything about where they're from. It doesn't make assumptions in that regard (although it can, if you tell it to). I've put the STRUCTURE bar-plots next to this paragraph. Each vertical bar represents an individual, and each colour represents one population assignment. So a half red, half green vertical bar represents 50% assignment to both red and green cluster. Next, they found that their mtDNA showed that there was a hybrid origin of the elk. The morphometric measurements suggest that body size is large in the Otterøya Elk. Take together, the message is "Hybridization happened! But it looks like things went well for them."

    First, I'm not sure that their various elk are deserving of subspecific designation. I'm not too familiar with the lit on Eurasian Red Deer, but Europe is where a lot of taxonomy was developed, so they've gone through and divided Europe up with a fine tooth comb. Just about everything has its own subspecies over there, and I'm not sure legitimately so. The reason why this matters is that a subspecies implies a whole lot more adaptation than just two unconnected, remote populations. I do see that other people are skeptical of the taxonomic assignments. Taxonomy matters.

    Second, I draw your attention to the STRUCTURE plots. I've seen this sort of plot before, where my most likely solution is lower than what my true apparent tree is. I suspect STRUCTURE focuses on lower k values, stopping at some high level divide and not going any deeper. For example, I have one data set where both the highest likelyhood solution and Evanno's ∆K method solve for K=2, when in fact I have very clear structure, and structure we expect to find, at K=5. I think STRUCTURE is biased to the deepest divisions.

    Still on the STRUCTURE topic, I think the Hungarian sample was just too low. Sample size matters. Fogelqvist et al. (2010) argues that 8-10 is enough in STRUCTURE. I think that might be true in selfing organisms, but I seriously question whether that's enough in most of the organisms I'm working in. Obviously, the thing to do would be to do a simulation study, which I haven't done. 20 for Hungary, for such fine scale differences, feels too small. And I wonder if how spatially distant they're sampling their populations is biasing their very high He (which is ~.8, astronomical for a mammal.) And they have a ton of private alleles too, which I have a hard time explaining - is it just a function of northern animals being lower diversity? Or maybe a function of Fennoscandian isolation - but that would support a model where Norway has something closer to a sub-specific division. And look at the number of haplotypes in the below table. I wish they rarifacted...

    Finally, how do we know body size isn't environmentally induced? In my own experience, Caribou seem to follow a few different life history strategies that we've lumped into 'ecotypes.' In general, folks have found that the sedentary type is smaller. However, these aren't genetic differences, but instead diversity that seems to lie among all Caribou. The first or second generation migrants should be more like wherever they end up growing up, and plausibly not retain their sedentary phenotype. I'm hesitant to use body mass as a marker of success for supposed hybrids, for this reason. Better would be rumpfat, ovarian markers (for reproduction), etc. It's clear from the census alone, though, that these animals are doing quite well.

    Too often, us in the conservation world take too much of an adaptionalist point of view. This is amusing because what we work with to get at population demographic history is almost entirely neutral markers. But few people I know will be too enthusiastic about neutral hypotheses of genomic evolution! This serves as a good counter-example to many of our examples of translocations being bad. Did Norwegian Elk lose a little bit of adaptation to their environment? It's possible, but these results wouldn't support that. Or if they did, they're currently "adapted enough" to make a good go at being Elk in Norway. Even if those crazy Europeans call Elk the wrong name. ;)

    As usual, here's the abstract:
    For several centuries, game management has involved translocations of non-native individuals of many species to reinforce local native populations. However, there are few quantitative studies of potentially negative effects on population viability as expected when taxa with different local adaptations hybridise. The European red deer has been subject to particularly many translocations. Around 1900, a total of 17 red deer of Hungarian (Cervus elaphus hippelaphus) and German (C. e. germanicus) ori- gin were introduced onto the island of Otterøya in Norway where few native red deer (C. e. atlanticus) remained (n ~ 13). To assess interbreeding, the present stock on Otterøya and the indigenous Norwegian and Hungarian populations were characterised in 14 microsatellite loci and in the control region of mtDNA. An intermediate level of genetic variation in the Otterøya population and the pres- ence of population specific alleles from both the indigenous Norwegian and the Hungarian population demonstrate that the introduced red deer interbred with the native. Even distributions of one indigenous and one non-indigenous mtDNA haplotype in the Otterøya population and two point estimates of admixture indicate similar genetic con- tributions from the two parental populations into the hybrid stock. Low numbers of migrants identified with Bayesian assignment tests demonstrate low recent gene flow from Otterøya into the Norwegian mainland population. The Otterøya hybrid stock has grown vastly in numbers during recent decades, suggesting a high population viability. We observed that the body mass of red deer on Otterøya was similar or greater than in adjacent indigenous Norwegian stocks, indicating that population performance has not been reduced in the hybrid stock and that gene flow probably has not had any negative effects.
    Haanes, H., Røed, K., Mysterud, A., Langvatn, R., & Rosef, O. (2010). Consequences for genetic diversity and population performance of introducing continental red deer into the northern distribution range Conservation Genetics DOI: 10.1007/s10592-010-0048-1

    Monday, 5 April 2010

    Beware the moose!

    It's about that time, when people are getting into trouble with our state's bigger residents (and I don't mean people who watch too much TV!). Around this time of year, cow moose are deadly, and more people have problems with moose than bears. And on the Kenai, they're already having problems! Usually we have to wait until mid-may for this kind of excitement!
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Wildlife Troopers rescued two Ohio men after the pair interrupted a life-or-death struggle between a moose and a wolf.

    Sean Evans, 31, of Toronto, Ohio, and his cousin, Josh Clark, 30, of Scio, were snowshoeing out to a cabin on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage on Thursday when they rounded a bend in the trail, ducked under a fallen tree and saw the spectacle crashing toward them from about 20 feet away.

    "The wolf had torn off some skin from the moose's neck and was hanging on its neck," Clark told the Anchorage Daily News. "We kind of looked at each other for three seconds and decided to start moving."

    The wolf took off when it saw the pair, but the moose charged them. They dropped their packs. Clark climbed a birch tree while his cousin got behind the fallen log.

    They couldn't spook the moose, even when they yelled and threw things at it, he said.

    "Anytime one of us moved, it kind of charged and paused," Clark said. "I was in the tree. I didn't care. So anytime (Evans) would start making noises, I would try to sort of distract it, because I felt pretty safe."
    I wonder if it was a cow who just had her calf eaten? It's not uncommon for a nearly-yearling to still be around a cow this time of year...
    "They were totally blocked. The moose isn't going anywhere," Acton said. "They'd been hiking and snowshoeing in, so they didn't have all of their cold-weather gear on because of perspiration and all that, and now one's been up in the tree for four hours. I mean, he was visibly shaking, I think not only from adrenaline but from the elements as well."

    For the men's safety, troopers decided to kill the moose.
    Too bad. Still, not much else you can do in that situation.

    Friday, 2 April 2010


    I couldn't throw my blog post up for today, due to problems with blogspot. Sorry folks! I'll sit on it for monday, for now. Instead, here's a picture of a waterfall. :P I can't wait for things to start greening up!

    Thursday, 1 April 2010

    Three things

    Three ways the LHC could destroy the world, ranked by how silly they are.
    I believe that I don't need to add anything there. :)

    In other news, Clean Up Day is May 8. To be honest, at the rate snow is melting I think we'll be in garbage wonderland far before then. My neighbour's roof is nearly snowless already, and the road leading to my home is nothing but slush. Given how warm it's been, and how little snow we got to begin with, I think mudseason is here to stay for a bit.

    Finally, an observation: I tried to teach a student that things aren't black and white in wildlife management, the other day, but I absolutely failed.

    :ducks the rotten fruit:

    Happy April foolish day!

    Click for Fairbanks, Alaska Forecast