mon, 19-dec-2005, 08:36
Flying Squirrell

I guess I was wrong about the flying squirrel being disturbed by the boreal owl we had last week. The squirrel has been visiting our feeders regularly since, and we've even seen a pair of them on occasion. His eyes are actually black, but they're so large that when the flash hits them, they turn completely red. The photo has been edited so they're white instead.

My wife took the photo. You can see some more of her pictures at her Flickr page.

tue, 13-dec-2005, 16:57
Boreal Owl

A few days ago we had this little guy show up at the tree nearest to our house. The photo was taken by my wife, standing about four feet away from it. We've got a whole bunch of bird feeders all over the deck, and we think the owl was probably harvesting voles that come out to eat birdseed that makes it to the ground. We often see a flying squirrel occupying the same perch on that tree, but he's been absent for a few days now.

You can see larger versions of the photograph at my wife's Flickr page.

tags: birds  deck  house  owl 
sat, 03-dec-2005, 16:56
Journal Template

I'm in the process of making a blank journal book and once it's finished I'll want something to guide my writing. A few weeks ago I saw a posting on moleskinerie about a template based on Robert Bringhurst's great book, The Elements of Typographic Style. The link led to Rod Graves' blog, where he had a couple PDF templates for a Moleskine journal book. You put the template behind the page you're writing on, and the lines show through the page, helping you stay on course.

But my journal book is 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches tall, and I wanted to be able to customize the line spacing, and the other proportions mentioned in Bringhurst's book. Such things are easy using Metapost, which is a programming language for drawing, and TeX to place the images on the page. I wrapped the whole thing up with a Python script.

For example,

$ make_template.py -w 5.5in -h 8.5in -m 1.618 -x template.pdf

creates a template for the journal book I made, saves it as template.pdf and opens it using xpdf. The program requires Python, a basic TeX installation, and the xpdf program, if you want the tempate to be displayed automatically.

Download make_template.py.

tags: journals  metapost  TeX  writing 
wed, 30-nov-2005, 19:26

A week ago I posted some data from the Statistical Abstract of the United States. On today's local newscast there was a story about cancer rates in Alaska and one of the people interviewed mentioned that cancer is the leading cause of death in Alaska. In the U.S. heart disease kills 26% more people than cancer. But the numbers for Alaska are quite different than the national averages.

Here's the same table I showed last week, except from 2001, and including Alaska, and Alaska's rank for some causes:

[Cause][National Rate][Alaska Rate][Alaska Rank]
(lower numbers are better)
All causes848.5469.41
Heart disease245.895.21
Cancer194.4108.73
Cerebrovascular57.424.91
Lower respiratory43.223.23
Accidents35.754.446
Motor Vehicle Accidents15.416.3
Diabetes25.112.61
Suicide10.816.145
Homicide7.16.0

The values are deaths per 100,000 residents, so they've already got population size factored in. The Alaska rankings are interpreted such that a low number means Alaska has much lower rates for that cause relative to the rest of the United states. Alaska ranks number one (lowest deaths per capita) overall, and for the individual causes of heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes. And we've got the third lowest death rate due to cancer and lower repiratory diseases. Alaska ranks pretty low (high death rates) for accidental death and suicide, however. The extreme environment and very long winter probably contribute to both of these higher death rates.

So more Alaskas do die from cancer than anything else, but relative to the rest of the United States, we have remarkably low death rates. Perhaps there is something to all the open spaces and the clean air and water that keeps the average Alaskan healthy?

tags: Alaska  society 
mon, 28-nov-2005, 18:40
Watershed Opening

I've discussed the problems with our water supply on other pages (going into the tank to clean it, new water tank, watershed) but the most recent pages end just after I finished installing the new tank.

Last winter the outlet pipe that transitions from the base of the tank inside the watershed to the warm garage froze several times. I eventually installed heat tape, but that proved ineffective. Each time it froze I had to disassemble the piping and heat the area with a heat gun until the slug of ice slid out and flow was restored. Not a fun activity at 5 AM when all I want to do is wash my face and make coffee.

This year I tried a new technique -- creating an insulated box around the opening to reduce the cold air flow and a small computer fan to gently blow warm air into the insulated area. I installed an indoor / outdoor thermometer in the insulated space with the probe extending into the shed. As winter approached, the temperature in the shed started declining, but the insulated area stayed right around 50 F.

Yesterday I put my beer thermometer into the insulated area on a whim. The indoor / outdoor thermometer read 48 F in the insulated area and 36 in the shed. But my beer thermometer was reading 30 F! Turns out the battery was close to dead in the thermometer I'd been trusting; the temperature in the shed was actually 26 F, and the temperature in my insulated area was down to 30 F.

I quickly upgraded the fan, and as you can see from the image, it's still 26 F in the shed, but it's a comfortable 52 F inside the insulated area. All the water in the shed has enough thermal mass that it can be below freezing for weeks (by which point it'll be filled again with warmer water) without freezing except around the edges. And the outlet pipe is now a steady 50+ F.

Just goes to show that you shouldn't put too much faith in a single instrument. It hit -34 F in Fairbanks this morning, and if I hadn't noticed it, the outlet pipe would surely have frozen.


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