Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hot? Take A Video Break At Ptarmigan Creek, Alaska

Last Tuesday we hiked up along Ptarmigan Creek to Ptarmigan Lake.   It was as beautiful as ever.  We saw some patches of blue in the sky.  The temperature was in the high 60's or low 70's.

Above is the lake at the end of the hike up.  (Actually the trail goes to the other end of the lake, but we stopped here.)

Here's some video of the creek at a point where the water rushes over some rocks.

 Here's another view of the creek.

The beginning of the trail has been made a bit too civilized for me.  

But it soon was back to the old trail.   

Although this is Ptarmigan Creek, we saw no ptarmigan.  But we did see a couple of spruce grouse hens with chicks.

We heard the flutter of wings as the chicks with this hen flew up to the tree.  Then the mother led us along the trail away from the chicks in the tree.  She'd stop to make sure I was following her, then she'd rush further down the path until she suddenly flew up into a tree.

The chicks.

At one point there was a cut off and this sign on a nearby tree.  Yes, the trail is Ptarmigan Creek Trail, but since the creek is below and you have to climb up to get to the lake, it's understandable that people might think this was the point.  It's good that someone added to the sign.   
Here the trail has  split from the creek and goes up along the side of the mountain and the trail gets even iffier here and there.  Here you can see brush crowding the trail with one of the peaks around the lake ahead coming into view. 


The trail was a bit overgrown.  We made a lot of noise to alert any nearby bears as we pushed through the cow parsnip to open the trail.  I don't know if any bears heard us, but we didn't see them.

There were lots of blue berries to eat along the way.


We saw this wrenching French film tonight.  It follows a team of police in the Child Protection Unit as they deal with pedophiles, messed up kids, and their own difficult relationships in and out of the office.   I was exhausted at the end of the film and slightly disturbed.  It was powerful and I didn't think I could write much.  Maybe just a giant exclamation point.

I looked on line to get some background and found a Guardian review that pretty much blew it off:
There can hardly be an odder or more uncomfortable film this week than Maïwenn's Polisse, a drama with interesting moments, but also some false notes and a wildly bizarre ending.
 Whoa, this won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011.  I found another review.  This from  New York Times reviewer, A.O. Scott,  who loved it.  Maybe a little too uncritically.  As a film, it was good cinema.  As an accurate depiction of the Child Protection Unit in Paris?  I can't judge. It's supposed to be based on real cases.

Here's a video clip of what I understood to be a Muslim police officer grilling an Iman who is sending his underage daughter back to the home country to be married.  He doesn't take her seriously as she gets ever more angry, finally pulling out a Quran and demanding he show her where it says women shouldn't work, or that young daughters should be given away.

This is rough and powerful stuff and the officers have trouble dealing with it themselves. A lot of the movie is highly confrontational.

Monday, July 30, 2012

10,000 Hours - Gladwell's Outliers Part 1

One of the American truisms is that anyone can succeed if they work hard.  But the ones who make it to the top of the top both work hard and have a particular genius for their field.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, challenges this notion.  He doesn’t dispute the hard work part, but most ‘geniuses’ are, for him, just people who have put 10,000 hours into their craft, and then landed at the right place in the right time.

I heard about this book when it first came out in 2008, because the media covered an early chapter of the book which focused on Canadian hockey players.  The key to succeeding in hockey, it turned out, was not simply being the best hockey player, but rather being born in January, February, March, or April.  This is not because of astrology writes Gladwell,
“It’s simply that in Canada the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1.  A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year - and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents and enormous difference in physical maturity.” (p. 33 - note that I found a large print book at the library so the pages are off from a regular print volume.)
The best of those kids get chosen to play in games two or even three times more often than their younger teammates and get better coaching.  And at the end of three years, with all that extra playtime and attention, they actually are better. 

A footnote explains this is a great example of a self-fulfilling prophecy:
 " . . .a situation where ‘a false definition, in the beginning  . .  evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.’  Canadians start with a false definition of who the best nine-  and ten-year-old hockey players are.  They’re just picking the oldest every year.  But the way they treat those ‘all-stars’ ends up making their original false judgment look correct.  As [sociologist Robert] Merton puts it: ‘This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error.  For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.'” (pp. 34-35)
 I'd heard this example discussed, thought it interesting, but was skeptical about the book because I'd formed a negative opinion (possibly erroneously) about Gladwell from an earlier book, The Tipping Point.  It seemed to make one good point repeatedly.  

But my book club is reading Outliers now, and so I've been giving Gladwell another look. 

So, the secret to success in Canadian hockey is ten thousand hours devoted to improving one's skills which certain boys are more likely to get because they were born in January, February, March, or April.  Again, those boys that don't work hard, aren't going to make it.  But equally talented boys who work just as hard, will be passed over because when they first qualify, they are competing with kids up to a year older than themselves.

He goes on to look at other 'geniuses' who had to get their ten thousand hours in so that they were ahead of the pack.  He writes about Bill Joy who Gladwell says is called the Edison of the Internet and about Bill Gates. He acknowledges both as exceptionally smart and hard working, but also ties their success to having had early access to computers - Joy at the University of Michigan which
 "had one of the most advanced computer science programs in the world. . .Joy came to the University of Michigan the year the Computer Center opened.  He was sixteen  he was tall and very thin, with a mop of unruly hair. . . late in his freshman year, he stumbled across the Computer Center - and he was hooked."(p. 50)
What was critical was that he was at a computer center that had time-sharing.
". . .when the programming bug hit him in his freshman year, he found himself - by the happiest of accidents - in one of the few places in the world where a seventeen-year-old could program all he wanted.
"Do you know what the difference is between the computing cards and time-sharing?"  Joy says.  "It's the difference between playing chess by mail and speed chess."  Programming wasn't an exercise in frustration any more.  It was fun."  (p. 65)
[I'd note when I took a FORTRAN class in the mid-70s at USC, we used cards.  You had to punch each card.  Then take them to be put in the machine.  Then wait for the printout to come.  That could take an hour or more.  Then if you had one card punched wrong, it wouldn't work and you had to find the bad card and redo it. So it could take over an hour to find out you missed a comma and another hour to run it again to make sure you caught the error, instead of getting instant feedback and and being able to type in the correction immediately and get instant feedback on your next try.] 

He got a job with a computer science professor and went on to Berkeley.
"There, he buried himself even deeper in the world of computer software.  During the oral exams for his PhD, he made up a particularly complicated algorithm on the fly that, as one of his many admirers has written, 'so stunned his examiners [that] one of them later compared the experience to 'Jesus confounding his elders' . . . Working in collaboration with a small group of programmers, Joy took on the task of rewriting UNIX, which was a software system developed by AT&T for mainframe computers.  Joy's version was very good.  It was so good, in fact, that it became - and remains - the operating system on which literally millions of computers around the world run."(p. 51)
 What was important for Joy was that he arrived at Michigan when they switched from computer cards to time sharing, one of the first universities to do that.  Gates had a similar stroke of luck.  The parents at his private school, Lakeside, arranged to buy a computer for a computer club.
It was an "amazing thing," of course, because this was 1968.  Most colleges didn't have computer clubs in the 1960s.  Even more remarkable was the kind of computer Lakeside bought.  The school didn't have its students learn programming by the laborious computer-card system, like virtually everyone else was doing in the 1960's.  Instead, Lakeside installed what was called an ASR-33 Teletype, which was a time-sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle. . .  Bill Joy got an extraordinary, early opportunity to learn programming on a time-share system as a freshman in college, in 1971.  Bill Gates got to do real-time programming as an eight grader in 1968. (p. 74)
 Gladwell goes on to argue that Joy and Gates, both unquestionably gifted, were able to achieve what they did, because they had very early access to fast and unlimited computer programming before most people.  They got their 10,000 hours in before anyone else.

So he's got hockey players and computer geeks getting ahead because of access that gets them their10,000 hours.  He cites a study of elite musicians.
The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else:  six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing - that i purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better - well over thirty hours a week.  In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.  By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours. . . 
The striking think about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the think that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That's it.  And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder. (pp. 55-56)
 He talks about the Beattles' apprenticing in Hamburg strip clubs where they worked non-stop, and in so doing, got their 10,000 hours.

What Gladwell is saying here is that hard work and talent aren't all you need.  Luck plays a big role.  You need access to your 10,000 hours - whether it's by being born in the right months to get enough playing time on your hockey team, or having access to a time-share computer before anyone else, or obsessing at your music lessons, or playing in clubs in Hamburg.  

I'll end this post here.  As the book continues, Gladwell looks at other situations where timing and cultural background and other factors make the difference between people who have talent and work hard and succeed and those who don't.

There's something about the way Gladwell puts all this together that seems a little too neat.  Has he gathered the data that supports his argument and left out other data that might raise doubts?  I don't know.  But in any case, it raises questions about how we know what we know, a topic dear to my heart, and central to this blog.  I'm optimistically calling this part 1. 

UPDATE:  Here are the other two posts on Outliers.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Primulas, Peonies, Poppies, Penguins, Pothead and More

The Anchorage Garden Club Tour is always fun.  I see hidden neighborhoods and get to discover plants that might work in my own yard.  I can enjoy the beauty of others' gardens with no sense of guilt or envy.  The time they put in the garden I spend cultivating the blog.  So here are a few glimpses of what we saw in south Anchorage today.  (We just didn't make it to the cluster of Turnagain gardens.)

The person said it was a Shirley Poppy and it may well be.  I remembered the ones I had differently and the ones I found on line looked like the ones I remembered.  Whatever it is, it's beautiful. 

You can learn more about the primula vialii and the primrose drumstick - denticulata.

I've been a sucker for giant peonies ever since L and her mom took us to see them in full bloom at the park in downtown Beijing.  Here's another view.

One of the gardens backed out over the coastal plain.  They've terraced the yard and it's growing a winter's worth of potatoes and other edibles. 

Rich, dark blue delphiniums used to be in every Anchorage garden, but over the years as people experimented with more and more imported flowers to see which could make it through our winters, I don't see as many as I used to.  

I liked this tank which catches rainwater.  It has a net over the opening where the storm drain empties to catch leaves and other debris and a faucet near the bottom to fill up the watering cans. 

This black and white beauty is, according to the label, a fava bean flower. 

One of the houses seemed more like a demonstration ad for a landscaping company.  Each of the plants had neatly installed labels.  Unfortunately one label was totally wrong, which someone pointed out to the owner who'd been told once already by someone else.  It was labeled a very common garden plant, but the plant in there was an invasive, if beautiful, campanula.  I know because I've fought a losing battle against them and their white radish like tubers. 

Here's a typical of the 17 negative comments on Dave's Garden where these are for sale:
O.M.G. I've never encountered anything like this. The comments that refer to it as the "cancer of the garden", "aliens", and nightmares are all dead on. I've dealt with invasives with success in the past, using organic methods, even, but this beast cannot be bested. Pull one plant, and two will grow in its place- literally.
And, yes, how is it that a vendor actually has this plant for sale here? Yikes. Don't buy it, don't take it for free, build a moat.
The last garden had a lot of tshochkes in it including the pothead figure on the bench.

And when I got home I felt pretty good to be greeted by these newly opening lilies in our front yard.  I their own way they are as beautiful as any flower we saw on the tour.

Damned if You Do, Damned If You Don't

From the New York Times email teaser of article:
In the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Britain offered a display of humor and humbleness that can only stem from a deep-rooted sense of superiority.
 The whole article seems to be an attempt to mimic the style of the ceremony.
[UPDATE:  I realized it makes the whole opening ceremony sound a bit Monty Python, but he never mentions them.]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Musical About Gold Rush Prostitutes Premiers at Cyrano's

Barker (scum of the north)
After the show I told Ed Bourgeois that he was lowlife scum and I'd never speak to him again.  And just last week when I talked to him he seemed so nice, but as Barker in Gold Rush Girls he was such a despicable villain that the audience even booed him a few times. Ed was also the director of this musical. 

It was dark on stage after the show and my pictures didn't turn out well, but Barker doesn't deserve a clean, crisp picture.  Fuzzy and out of focus is still too good for him.

 I keep saying this, but it continues to be true.  Anchorage is lucky to have such good local theater in small intimate venues.  Cyrano's Playhouse holds 99 people.  We were on the side and we were closer to the action at times, than other actors on the stage.

Cyrano's stage from our seats before the show
Lael Morgan

 And the actors were all so good.  The acting and, more importantly, the singing voices were strong and beautiful.  The music was strong.  This was a cast of seasoned actors and singers (the program lists lots of notable experience)  bringing to life this musical "Gold Rush Girls" about the people in an Alaska dance hall.  It's based on the book Good Times Girls by Lael Morgan who was there for opening night.  So were the composer and playwright, Jerry and Karmo Sanders.

A good story, good music, great cast.  It's scheduled to be here through September.  It's a perfect night of entertainment for tourists who want to see good musical theater with an Alaskan theme as well as for locals who just want to see a good musical. 

The playwright and composer notes in the program say:
Gold Rush Girls has been through many incarnations in the past 10 years;  with numerous readings, 5 of them being at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, and a 2 week workshop at the New Repertory in Watertown, MA.  After each one of those adventures, we came home - and re-wrote.
I'm sure after seeing it actually performed now, they'll be doing some more tweaking.  Despite it being over two hours long, I was fully absorbed throughout.   There were so many great performances.  It was like an old Perils of Pauline plot with several heroes, some weaker souls who went with the flow, a love-struck "Schoolboy", and an ambitious woman who is easy prey for the devious villain.  So the boos from the audience fit right in.  I wanted to grab Lily (Regina MacDonald) and tell her, "No, don't be a fool!!  But the lead character, Eudora (Katie Strock) told her for me. 

I want to point out Christina Gagnon, who played the ghost of Kanoontuk, and hovered around the stage throughout singing advice from the afterlife in her amazing, powerful, and beautiful voice.  My favorite moment was Schoolboy (Leo Grinberg) and Rose's (Ali de Guzman) duet.  They were standing about six feet from us and Kanoontuk was looking on from the doorway, even closer to us, adding her beautiful encouragement. 

We've had many great experiences in this intimate theater.  An evening of opera stands out - hearing those penetrating voices up close without amplification.  Another evening with Dan Bern - two shows worth - just totally into the music and the audience.  This was a night like that.  If this play ever makes its way to Broadway, the people in New York won't have this magical intimacy with the actors.

I don't take pictures during performances without permission. This was during what would have been the curtain call had there been a curtain.   I'd note that during the performance the actors did not ignore those of us sitting on the sides of the stage. 

Productivity and Teaching

 Legislators want more productivity these days.  In classrooms, particularly at the college level, this often means more students per faculty member.  If you give a lecture to 20 students, they think, you'll be twice as productive if you have 40 students in the class.  What they really like is the idea of faculty teaching internet classes with 90 students. 

There are two basic ways to increase productivity:
1.   have the same output using fewer resources
2.   increase the output using the same or fewer resources

When legislators want to increase class size, they may achieve an increase in productivity if by that they mean more tuition coming to the university for the same resources, or more students complete the class for the same resources.  But if you mean how much each student learns, the output goes down.  Learning involves interaction between the students and the teacher - during class, after class, and through comments students get about their work.  The more students in the class, the less interaction and feedback (and learning) students get.  (I'm assuming a good teacher here, who does actively give students in depth feedback.)

 All this comes up because I've been reading Robert Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members, in preparation for the new faculty mentor program I'm working on this coming semester.  A key concern for Boice is that new faculty work way too hard.  He's come to this conclusion from studying new faculty for many years.  I got to that conclusion by living it.

Boice quantifies the work load of a new faculty member teaching six hours (typically two classes) a week, a lower than average course load.
  • 6 hr/wk in class plus some 20 min/day interacting with students before and/or after each class meeting (total = at least 10 hr/wk)
  • 18-30 hr/wk preparing lectures/classroom materials via reading, notetaking, writing, plus another 2 hr/wk, on average, grading tests and paper, etc. (total = at least 18 hr/wk, often as much as 40 hr/wk)
  • 6 hr/wk for office hours (total= at least 6 hr/wk, much more for faculty who do not keep office doors closed past official office hours) (p. 13)
This comes to  between 30 and 56 hours a week.  We're only talking about teaching now.

This is a reality I faced as a faculty member.  My preparation for class, after many years, could be reduced by relying on notes and handouts from previous semesters, though usually I wanted to tweak my old materials and that could get me back to the 18-30 hours Boice lists for new faculty.  I found, though, that my grading load was much higher than 2 hr/wk.  I had  students write essays and short papers.  I found I needed at least 30 minutes per paper to read them carefully and give useful feedback.  For papers that needed more feedback, an hour wasn't unusual.

Boice's example above is the load just for teaching two classes, while many, if not most faculty, have a three or four class schedule.  Boice's example  doesn't include time for the other two major functions of faculty - research and service.  At the University of Alaska Anchorage where I taught, the normal faculty load was 3-1-1.  That is 3 parts (60%) teaching, 1 part (20%) research, and 1 part (20%) service.  So, in addition to teaching, there is another 40% expected, and again for research and service, another eight hours each, isn't going to cut it.

Boice writes:
". . . where campuses demand loads of 9 - 12 hours, time spent at teaching usually equals 50-60 hr/wk during the first two years.  . . [T]hese averages afford far less time than anticipated for good starts at scholarly writing, for setting up labs and research and field programs, for preparing grant applications, for reading of the professional literatures, for keeping in touch with colleagues at other campuses, and for socializing on the new campus.  [Finally] the dearest costs of this heavy demand come in social/family life, exercising, health, and sleep." (p. 13)

People would hear that I taught three classes a semester - nine hours a week in the classroom and think I had it pretty easy.  They didn't consider the prep time, grading, and the research and service work that made my work week go into 50 - 70 hours.

But when I think of elementary school teachers, who are in with the students for six or seven hours a day, five days a week, I know my load was easy.  Being in charge of a classroom - the learning and the behavior of a classroom of students  - takes a lot of energy.  It's like performing and directing.  And so good teachers have to do most of their class prep and assignment feedback on their own time. 

Yet many legislators and the some of the public think that teachers have it easy.

Are there problems?  Plenty.  Some college faculty do take advantage of their autonomy and don't spend that kind of time on teaching.  The vast majority though are conscientious and there is a lot of pressure to get way too many things done in way too little time.  There's no such thing as overtime.  And for K-12 teachers, the much higher amount of in classroom time makes for a very exhausting job. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can Astrology Explain The Strange Events The Last Few Days?

 Thursday, there were several stories in the paper that were so unexpected that I finally checked an astrology page for Wednesday (July 25) to see if there was some sort of strange star alignment.  From Cosmic Life Coach:
Intellectual Mercury in creative Leo is forming a 120-degree trine to Uranus in self-expressive Aries (9:27 am EDT). Uranus is considered the higher octave of Mercury and is linked with our more brilliant or genius impulses and also our intuition. Mercury-Uranus tends to quicken our mental activity, in addition to helping to showcase our original perceptions. It can also suddenly ignite our intuition, or the voice of our spirit. Accordingly, today may be an excellent day for brainstorming, trying new approaches to old problems, making discoveries, and for tuning into that “still, small voice within” for wisdom and guidance. [emphasis added]

Trying new approaches to old problems?  Is that what explains why Sandy Weill, the man everyone is crediting with shattering the Glass-Steagall Act, was now saying he was wrong and that the wall between banks and investment companies should be rebuilt?

Then there are the Republicans, led by Senator John McCain and Rep. John Boehner, who have publicly disawowed Rep. Bachmann for her unsupported anti-Muslim slurs against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff.

Don Young's campaign ad endorsing Representative Mazie Hirono in the Hawaii Democratic primary isn't quite as shocking.  After being repeatedly elected to Congress since 1973, he seems to feel he can say or do whatever he wants without worrying about  reelection.  Plus, Alaskan and Hawaiian members of Congress have a history of reaching out across the aisle to protect their common interests.  But prominent national Republicans don't normally endorse Democrats these days, particularly not in television ads.

And while I was checking the star alignments, I thought I might see whether Mitt Romney's horoscope (he was born March 12) for July 26 might have warned him to be nice in London yesterday.   Possibly, except there was no agreement. And most it was  ambiguous.

Here are some examples:


February 19-March 20
Remain stable, strong and straightforward in the duties you must perform today. However, remain receptive to the advice an experienced and knowledgeable female friend will offer you regarding a particular money matter.    Lucky Number:  401   Financial Outlook:   very good   Compatible Sign:   Scorpio  (Star Telegram)
I imagine Romney's financial outloook is always 'very good.'  Strong and straightforward probably wasn't good advice.  And whatever female friend warned him, financial matters weren't the problem. 

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/07/26/4126940/horoscopes-for-thursday-july-26.html#storylink=cpy

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20). You’ll be in the position to choose your focus. Look at the moral implications, and let them weigh heavily on your decision-making process. Enjoying what you do is not a sufficient reason for doing it. (Philstar) [emphasis added]
His problem (the ones we know about anyway) was more in the realm of etiquette than morality.  Perhaps the last line is the one he should have paid attention to.  

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20) • • • • Reach out for more information. You might be more perplexed than you realize and could be thinking on a different level from many other people.  (The Spokesman)
Looks like Mitt should have read this Spokane newspaper - get more info. . .perplexed . . . thinking on a different level from other people.  He should cut this one out and read it every day.

PISCES. (Feb. 18 - March 18): This is an auspicious time for dusting off an old project or aspiration. See where it stands. You may find it's more doable than ever.  (SF Chronicle)
Well, he is revisiting the Olympics, isn't he?  Maybe the folks in London are going to show him how doable it is.  What did the Prime Minister say?  "it's easy to run an Olympics in 'the middle of nowhere.'"  Ouch.  Not exactly the good host either.  (The mayor of Salt Lake City has since invited Cameron to 'the middle of nowhere.')

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
If you’re travelling, just go with the flow today and tomorrow. If you’re not travelling, the next two days are a poor time to book a reservation somewhere. There’s a goofy element at loose in the world. It is what it is.  (National Post)
This Canadian newspaper seems to have been telling him to chill the first couple of days and it did warn him about a 'goofy element.'  It just didn't say he was the goofy element.

PISCES (Feb. 20 - Mar. 20):
The pressure has been cranking up for quite some time and over the next few days it may even become intolerable. But you are tougher than you look and will rise to the challenge. Give as good as you get. (Globe and Mail)
Is this one suggesting a turnaround for Mitt in the next couple of days?  Will Mitt seem smarter and the Brits look dumb if something goes really wrong during the Olympics?   Does being right override being a polite guest?  Except that Mitt has since said he "expects a highly successful Olympics."

The Independent (Ireland) didn't gave me their July 26 horoscope.  I got July 27 instead and I couldn't help but feel they wrote this especially for Mitt, with the knowledge of his first day in London:
Pisces: Be disciplined and careful not to alienate people with your powerful feelings. This will make life less intense and you will find it easier to cope. Watch out for your need to control events and circumstances just now. You will feel much more relaxed if you do not try so hard. Love will find a way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Romney retroactively cancels visit to London" and other tweets about the Republican Candidate

I don't have a Twitter account, but I saw at Immoral Minority that Mitt Romney had done so badly on his first day in London that someone started a new Twitter RomneyShambles hash tag.  Here are just a few of the tweets about England's response to Mitt.

Mitt Romney retroactively cancels visit to London.
You can tell 's doing badly when he starts getting booed by rich white people
Mitt Romney is now, officially, an international embarrassment. Our policy of containment has failed.
Romney couldn't possibly offend England right before the . Oh, he did
RT : Next up: Driving around London with the queen's corgis on the roof.
I've rounded up Romney's gaffes, all in one place. It's been quite a day
Americans: This Mitt person is some sort of American Borat, right?
Dear Great Britain: Yeah. We know. Sorry. Welcome to our world. --Signed, America.

This is not my usual style of post, but then you don't want me to be predictable do you?

[UPDATE July 27:  While Romneyshambles might be cute for Americans, it appears for people in the UK it has a special ring.  The term omnishambles is already in use in the UK.  The R gives an already good word even more spin.  From an article called "The Omnishambles and the Power of Political Language" in the Daily Telegraph:
"Omnishambles is a hybrid too, and the words “shambles” has come to mean simply a mess or muddle, and has more or less lost its more vivid meaning of a fleshmarket, slaughterhouse, or place of carnage. But omnishambles is OK. It says neatly what most of us think of most governments. The only wonder is that Ed Miliband dares to use it, thus inviting the suggestion that he should look in the mirror."   (There's more at the link.)]

Airshows And The Cost Of Military Fuel

We came out after dinner to see a plane skywriting above us.  Eventually it spelled out:

That's how I learned that this weekend, the Thunderbirds and other groups will perform at JBER. (Does anyone else think of someone picking their nose when people say Jayber, the newish acronym for Joint Bases Elmendorf and Richardson?) 

Skywriting is a very cool way to advertise an Air Show and the person we were with had never seen skywriting before.  He was duly impressed. 

I've been to an Air Show at Elmendorf.  It's impressive and loud.  I think just having planes swoop down on villages - without bombs - is terrifying enough. 

I also couldn't help but wonder about all the fuel used in an airshow.  If (data from the US Air Force Thunderbirds fact sheet)
a)  the 800 gallons an hour figure for F16s (see below) is our rough guide, and
b)  the Thunderbirds have an hour and 15 minute show (both air and ground) and
c)  there are four planes per show (see photos of the Thunderbirds in a show here)
then let's conservatively estimate that between the four planes, flying an average of 15 minutes each per show (to make the calculations very easy) for a total of a combined one hour of flying or 800 gallons. 

That would mean, just that part of the Air Show, if jet fuel is $3.84/gallon  (a big if) it would cost $2400.  After working this, I found some other sites asking similar questions.

Wiki-answers explains it all and concludes,
"Some sources claim 1 hr for F-16 is $4000"

Someone answering that question at Yahoo - Ask, who claims his father is an aerospace engineer, says $20,000 to $30,000 an hour in fuel costs to fly an F16.

The Thunderbirds fact sheet says they perform 75 such shows a year.  At $4000 a show that would come to $300,000 a year.  A figure so tiny in the Air Force's overall budget as to be of no consequence at all.  Even at $20,000 per hour, it would be $1.5 million.  Still a  tiny fraction of the overall budget.  Of course, this doesn't count practices and flying from show to show or any other costs besides fuel.  And how many 'tiny' $1million programs are there hidden in the budget that are not necessary, like this one? 

As you can see, figuring out how much fuel an F16 uses isn't easy.  There is a nice simple article at New Launches, but I can't find any sources for their information.  My sense of this, after looking around the internet, is that there is no simple calculation.  It depends a lot on how the plane is being flown.  I would imagine that the type of flying at an air show would consume more fuel than a steady flight at high altitude.  Here's a post at a forum at Defense Talk which tries to calculate fuel use.  I can't figure it out, and apparently the poster isn't sure either.

But for my purposes, it doesn't have to be exact.  I'm just trying to get a ballpark figure.   New Launches says an F16 uses 800 gallons an hour and also puts that into some context about how much petroleum the US Department of Defense uses altogether.
3) In 2006 Air Force consumed around 2.6 billion gallons of jet-fuel which is the same amount of fuel U.S. airplanes consumed during WWII (between December 1941 and August 1945). The mighty B52 bomber (pictured above) consumes 3300 gallons per hour, the F16 Falcon burns 800 gallons per hour and the KC-135 Statotanker an aerial refueling tanker aircraft consumes 2650 gallons per hour.
2) The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S and the US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world. In 2006 the US Military consumed 117 million barrels or 320,000 barrels per day.
I wonder how this affects the price of gas around the world? 

This Armed Forces Journal article supports the basic premise that the jet aircraft fuel is a major cost - in dollars, logistics, and casualties:
Aircraft, particularly jet aircraft, use a great deal of fuel. The Air Force is the largest consumer of fuel in the Defense Department. In 2006, the majority of DoD’s fuel use, about 58 percent, was jet fuel, dwarfing the next-largest category, marine diesel (13 percent). In 2008, fuel deliveries to Iraq and Afghanistan exceeded 90 million gallons per month — 20 percent of the DoD consumption. While the overall consumption of petroleum increased only slightly between 2004 and 2008, the dollar cost increased threefold. Because of the poor in-ground petroleum transport infrastructure, the heavy use of fuel in Iraq and especially in Afghanistan can be directly tied to casualties incurred by ground operations required to get the fuel to U.S. bases. Overall, roughly half of the total tonnage hauled overland is fuel.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the tie between fuel demand and casualties is significant and quantifiable. With fuel and water being the majority of the tonnage hauled, the Army has developed a model from historical casualty data. In Afghanistan, one U.S. soldier or contract civilian is killed or wounded for every 24 16-truck fuel convoys. In Iraq, that number was one per 38.5 convoys. During fiscal 2007, there were 38 casualties incurred moving 897 “average” fuel convoys in Afghanistan. The Army data do not include casualties among allied forces or the Marine Corps. The Marines track their data differently, but the Corps’ Expeditionary Energy Strategy does highlight the issue: “During a three-month period early in 2010, six Marines were wounded hauling fuel and water to bases in Afghanistan during just 299 convoys. That is one Marine wounded for every 50 convoys.”
The o-ax alternative
The direct link between fuel and casualties is not news. However, the impact of high fighter fuel consumption remains poorly understood and rarely discussed. If there were no alternative to the current tactical air fleet, the discussion would be moot. But for the kind of irregular warfare challenges faced in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere), there is a viable alternative: a turboprop-powered light attack aircraft. The proposed aircraft is not notional — modern light attack aircraft are flown by a number of air forces worldwide. Air Combat Command has a designation for its proposed light attack aircraft: the OA-X. Among its other capabilities, the fuel consumption of the OA-X will be a fraction of the consumption of fast jets. [This is just an excerpt, click here for the full article.]
Gives us something to add into the equation when we discuss US oil consumption and climate change.  

By the time we biked home, the letters in the sky were starting to disappear.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ptarmigan Creek Bugs

I'm just going to put these pictures up.  I checked my Insects of south-central Alaska book and I can't say I'm sure about any of these and a couple I can't find.

There are two basic sets.  The first is bugs feeding on cow parsnip flowers.  These huge bouquets of little white flowers host a huge number of bugs.

This first one appears to be tiny wasp.  The closest I can find in the book is the subfamily of bachinae in the family Ichneumonidae.

The four above are all the same fly.  Not sure what it is.

The second set is bugs on the windshield.

This one is orangish and I couldn't figure out from the book what it is.

Another unidentified flying insect.

Potter Marsh At Sundown

Sundown in late July is a little before 11pm in Anchorage.  We'd left town Monday morning - I needed bad to be in the woods - and came back late Tuesday.  Over 24 hours, Alaska outdoors replaced a computer screen*.  Closing in on Anchorage we hit the board walk at Potter Marsh.  There were some yellow legs, teals, sand pipers, and the eagles that have been there all summer.

I stuck my little lens into the eye piece of the scopes available on the boardwalk to get a closer picture of one of the bald eagles that have watched their nest.

We were only gone over night, but it feels like longer.

*Tuesday morning's post was pre-scheduled before we left.