wed, 01-feb-2012, 18:41

January 2012 was a historically cold month in Fairbanks, the fifth-coldest in more than 100 years of records. According to the National Weather Service office in Fairbanks:

January 2012 was the coldest month in more than 40 years in Fairbanks. Not since January 1971 has the Fairbanks area endured a month as cold as this.

The average high temperature for January was 18.2 below and the average low was 35 below. The monthly average temperature of 26.9 below was 19 degrees below normal and made this the fifth coldest January of record. The coldest January of record was 1971, when the average temperature was 31.7 below. The highest temperature at the airport was 21 degrees on the 10th, one of only three days when the temperature rose above zero. This ties with 1966 as the most days in January with highs of zero or lower. There were 16 days with a low temperature of 40 below or lower. Only four months in Fairbanks in more than a century of weather records have had more 40 below days. The lowest temperature at the airport was 51 below on the 29th.

Here’s a figure showing some of the relevant information:

The vertical bars show how much colder (or warmer for the red bars) the average daily temperature at the airport was compared with the 30-year average. You can see from these bars that we had only four days where the temperature was slightly above normal. The blue horizontal line shows the average anomaly for the period, and the orange (Fairbanks airport) and dark cyan (Goldstream Creek) horizontal lines show the actual average temperatures over the period. The average temperature at our house was -27.7°F for the month of January.

Finally, the circles and + symbols represent the minimum daily temperatures recorded at the airport (orange) and our house (dark cyan). You can see the two days late in the month where we got down to -54 and -55°F; cold enough that the propane in our tank remained a liquid and we couldn’t use our stove without heating up the tank.

No matter how you slice it, it was a very cold month.

Here’s some of the R code used to make the plot:

library(lubridate)
library(ggplot2)
library(RPostgreSQL)
# (Read in dw1454 data here)
dw_1454$date <- force_tz(
    ymd(as.character(dw_1454$date)),
    tzone = "America/Anchorage")
dw_1454$label <- 'dw1454 average'
# (Read FAI data here)
plot_data$line_color <- as.factor(
    as.numeric(plot_data$avg_temp_anomaly > 0))
plot_data$anomaly <- as.factor(
    ifelse(plot_data$line_color == 0,
        "degrees colder",
        "degrees warmer"))
plot_data$daily <- 'FAI average'

q <- ggplot(data = plot_data,
    aes(x = date + hours(9))) # TZ?
q + geom_hline(y = avg_mean_anomaly,
        colour = "blue", size = 0.25) +
    geom_hline(y = avg_mean_pafg,
        colour = "orange", size = 0.25) +
    geom_hline(y = avg_mean_dw1454,
        colour = "darkcyan", size = 0.25) +
    geom_linerange(aes(ymin = avg_temp_anomaly,
        ymax = 0, colour = anomaly)) +
    theme_bw() +
    scale_y_continuous(name = "Temperature (degrees F)") +
    scale_color_manual(name = "Daily temperature",
        c("degrees colder" = "blue",
          "degrees warmer" = "red",
          "FAI average" = "orange",
          "dw1454 average" = "darkcyan")) +
    scale_x_datetime(name = "Date") +
    geom_point(aes(y = min_temp,
        colour = daily), shape = 1, size = 1) +
    geom_point(data = dw_1454,
        aes(x = date, y = dw1454_min,
            colour = label), shape = 3, size = 1) +
    opts(title = "Average Daily Temperature Anomaly") +
    geom_text(aes(x = ymd('2012-01-31'),
        y = avg_mean_dw1454 - 1.5),
        label = round(avg_mean_dw1454, 1),
        colour = "darkcyan", size = 4)
tags: weather  temperature  R 
tue, 31-jan-2012, 19:05
Skiing at -34

Skiing at -34

This morning I skied to work at the coldest temperatures I’ve ever attempted (-31°F when I left). We also got more than an inch of snow yesterday, so not only was it cold, but I was skiing in fresh snow. It was the slowest 4.1 miles I’d ever skied to work (57+ minutes!) and as I was going, I thought about what factors might explain how fast I ski to and from work.

Time to fire up R and run some PostgreSQL queries. The first query grabs the skiing data for this winter:

SELECT start_time,
    (extract(epoch from start_time) - extract(epoch from '2011-10-01':date))
        / (24 * 60 * 60) AS season_days,
    mph,
    dense_rank() OVER (
        PARTITION BY
            extract(year from start_time)
            || '-' || extract(week from start_time)
        ORDER BY date(start_time)
    ) AS week_count,
    CASE WHEN extract(hour from start_time) < 12 THEN 'morning'
         ELSE 'afternoon'
    END AS time_of_day
FROM track_stats
WHERE type = 'Skiing'
    AND start_time > '2011-07-03' AND miles > 3.9;

This yields data that looks like this:

start_time season_days miles mph week_count time_of_day
2011-11-30 06:04:21 60.29469 4.11 4.70 1 morning
2011-11-30 15:15:43 60.67758 4.16 4.65 1 afternoon
2011-12-02 06:01:05 62.29242 4.07 4.75 2 morning
2011-12-02 15:19:59 62.68054 4.11 4.62 2 afternoon

Most of these are what you’d expect. The unconventional ones are season_days, the number of days (and fraction of a day) since October 1st 2011; week_count, the count of the number of days in that week that I skied. What I really wanted week_count to be was the number of days in a row I’d skied, but I couldn’t come up with a quick SQL query to get that, and I think this one is pretty close.

I got this into R using the following code:

library(lubridate)
library(ggplot2)
library(RPostgreSQL)
drv <- dbDriver("PostgreSQL")
con <- dbConnect(drv, dbname=...)
ski <- dbGetQuery(con, query)
ski$start_time <- ymd_hms(as.character(ski$start_time))
ski$time_of_day <- factor(ski$time_of_day, levels = c('morning', 'afternoon'))

Next, I wanted to add the temperature at the start time, so I wrote a function in R that grabs this for any date passed in:

get_temp <- function(dt) {
    query <- paste("SELECT ... FROM arduino WHERE obs_dt > '",
        dt,
        "' ORDER BY obs_dt LIMIT 1;", sep = "")
    temp <- dbGetQuery(con, query)
    temp[[1]]
}

The query is simplified, but the basic idea is to build a query that finds the next temperature observation after I started skiing. To add this to the existing data:

temps <- sapply(ski[,'start_time'], FUN = get_temp)
ski$temp <- temps

Now to do some statistics:

model <- lm(data = ski, mph ~ season_days + week_count + time_of_day + temp)

Here’s what I would expect. I’d think that season_days would be positively related to speed because I should be getting faster as I build up strength and improve my skill level. week_count should be negatively related to speed because the more I ski during the week, the more tired I will be. I’m not sure if time_of_day is relevant, but I always get the sense that I’m faster on the way home so afternoon should be positively associated with speed. Finally, temp should be positively associated with speed because the glide you can get from a properly waxed pair of skis decreases as the temperature drops.

Here's the results:

summary(model)
Coefficients:
                     Estimate  Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept)          4.143760   0.549018   7.548 1.66e-08 ***
season_days          0.006687   0.006097   1.097  0.28119
week_count           0.201717   0.087426   2.307  0.02788 *
time_of_dayafternoon 0.137982   0.143660   0.960  0.34425
temp                 0.021539   0.007694   2.799  0.00873 **
---
Signif. codes:  0***0.001**0.01*0.05.0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 0.4302 on 31 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared: 0.4393,    Adjusted R-squared: 0.367
F-statistic: 6.072 on 4 and 31 DF,  p-value: 0.000995

The model is significant, and explains about 37% of the variation in speed. The only variables that are significant are week_count and temp, but oddly, week_count is positively associated with speed, meaning the more I ski during the week, the faster I get by the end of the week. That doesn’t make any sense, but it may be because the variable isn’t a good proxy for the “consecutive days” variable I was hoping for. Temperature is positively associated with speed, which means that I ski faster when it’s warmer.

The other refinement to this model that might have a big impact would be to add a variable for how much snow fell the night before I skied. I am fairly certain that the reason this morning’s -31°F ski was much slower than my return home at -34°F was because I was skiing on an inch of fresh snow in the morning and had tracks to ski in on the way home.

tags: skiing  R  statistics  PostreSQL 
mon, 30-jan-2012, 17:41

Lightning Rods is another Tournament of Books entry. It’s the story of a salesman who comes up with an idea to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace by installing “lightning rods”—women working in the office that have agreed to perform anonymous sexual favors at work. It’s a silly story, funny in that DeWitt takes the concept beyond all possible reason, but eventually a bit tiresome too. And if you spend too much time thinking about it, maybe it isn’t even all that funny. Either way, once the idea is clear, and you’ve laughed at some of the things that come up in the implementation, there isn’t much else going on. So I can’t say I hated it, but it would be near the bottom of my choices to win the contest in March.

tags: books  book review 
wed, 25-jan-2012, 18:25
Turds in snow

Yetch.

I couldn’t bring myself to waste any more time on Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, suffering all the way through the first two parts. I must be missing something, since it was selected for the Tournament of Books and was supposedly a surprise omission from the Booker short list. Maybe I’ve reached my tolerance threshold for upper crust English families and the irrelevancies of their pampered lives. Hollinghurst simply didn’t give me any reason to care about the characters, possibly because we know them from their inane dialog and their restrained physical activity (sitting around, mostly), and I couldn’t find a meaningful plot or conflict that made me want to start reading again after I had put it down.

I had the same reaction after watching the first episode of Downton Abbey, but by the second episode, it had won me over. Great characters, interesting plot, believable dialog. Things I wish I had found in this book.

tags: books  book review 
sun, 22-jan-2012, 17:14
Hot water supply, Rescue Tape

Hot water supply, Rescue Tape

Sitting on the couch watching the Giants v. 49ers, I heard a hissing noise coming from the bathroom—and not the kind that comes from battling cats. When I went to look, there was hot water and steam spraying out of the hot water supply line coming out of our water heater. We’ve got a copper line coming out of the heater into a T-fitting that supplies hot water to a heat exchanger that circulates glycol on the other side of the exchanger to keep our water and septic lines thawed. After that is a Shark Bite connector holding the main PEX hot water line to the house. The leak was coming from just above the connector, underneath some red electrical tape I had always assumed was to indicate “hot,” but may have been there to disguise an injury to the tubing. I don’t know how else to explain PEX suddenly springing a leak, and the contractor that did the original work has a very bad reputation around Fairbanks for doing much less than the “Best.”

At the Fair this summer we stopped at the booth advertising Rescue Tape and bought a couple rolls. It's a silicone “tape” that bonds with itself when stretched, and can supposedly handle very high pressures and temperatures. I’m very glad we did. I wrapped a foot-long section around the leak, and for now, it’s holding. If you don’t have a roll of this stuff around, you may want to get one for a similar emergency.

tags: house  plumbing  PEX  Rescue Tape 

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