Monday, April 21, 2008

Top Gear Polar Challenge

I just ran across an incredible, possibly incredibly stupid (at times) effort by Top Gear to be the first to take a street legal car to the North Pole. And they succeed.

Yet another testament to the durability of a (heavily modified) Toyota pickup.

Here's a few highlights from the saga:

You can watch all eight segments on YouTube or download the Torrent.

Friday, April 11, 2008

You Call That a Pansy?

You call that Pansy?
My father always said that the expression was incorrect. You shouldn't call someone a pansy. You should call them a petunia, because pansies are hardy.

Pictorial proof-positive of pansy vigor. In fact, this one over-wintered in Idaho.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Swing Season

Despite my last post concerning winter's grip on Idaho, these boaters we encountered on the trip home from Donnelly suggest otherwise. Swing season has begun, and in Idaho it doesn't involve the World Series and Monday Night Football overlapping.

No, in Idaho this lands you in the North Fork Payette with snow-covered banks. Class V water that was a solid earlier in the day. Perhaps boaters are just skiers following temperature and gravity.

Nork Fork Payette

North Fork Payette

North Fork Payette

North Fork Payette

North Fork Payette

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Winter is Alive & Well

Winter is Alive and Well
Winter is Alive and Well in Donnelly

In case you're looking ahead or confused by the tulips and daffodils in the Treasure Valley, I'm here to report that Winter is alive and well. At least in Donnelly.

I'm late to the keyboard on this one, but here's a few pictures from an outstanding weekend up in Donnelly and Tamarack. Shelly's friends A&R invited us up to their "cabin" for the weekend, which served to remind us just how white trash our homes are in Boise.

A&R's "Cabin"
The "Cabin"

Cabin Gabbin'
Cabin Gabbin'


A&R were outstanding hosts. We had a fabulous time hanging out and I made my first visit to a pay-to-soak hot spring. I was really apprehensive about the idea, but Gold Fork was excellent. Completely different. Communal, pool-like, but excellent.

We hung out in the water just talking as night came on. They lit up tiki torches and the stars added some light too. I prefer natural hot springs still, but I wouldn't turn Gold Fork down for a second next time I'm up that way.

Tamarack was again spectacular. We expected spring conditions so were in no rush, instead we got firm powder and the slopes to ourselves. The powder was completely untracked in many places in the trees. It was too good to believe. It's been weeks now since I've been to Bogus, but I'll have to at least wander up there for closing day on the 13th. It looks like Tamarack and Brundage could stay open until May.

Lot nearly empty
We practically had Tamarack to ourselves

Shel Shoeing
Shel Shoeing

Happy Kids
Happy Kids

Color Considerations

I love the odd places my job takes me. Today I am building a database to house all of the "marks" we place on animals we capture. Tags, Collars, Leg Bands, RFID Tags (they're in fish and your passport), Tattoos, Radio Collars, GPS Collars, Backpacks, Wing Tags.... the list is seemingly endless.

The fun thing about designing databases is figuring out ahead of time all the exceptions. For the moment at least, I now know more details about tagging animals than many field biologists.

So far we have the following attributes:

Tag TypeCollar, Band, Round, Square
Tag LocationRight Leg, Left Leg, Right Wing, Left Wing, Neck, Nose, Right Ear, Left Ear
Tag ConstructionPlastic, Metal, Leather, Ink (tattoo)
ColorRed, Green, Yellow, Black, White
MarkR-2345, 562626849057, TIGGER, Y-7892-23
(We'll leave radio frequencies out of our discussion and focus purely on the visual aspects)

The challenging part of this is deciding what to leave in, what to leave out.

I can probably discard Tag Construction and just allow color to cover it. But discarding color and moving everything over to tag type (e.g. Yellow Right Ear Tag, Pink Fluffy Collar) would result in an unusable dropdown-list-from-hell.

In designing databases, you search for the optimal combination of fields which allows the user to subset the information when necessary, but not fragment it so far that information cannot be located or easily entered.

For example, when looking for a Wolverine with a Yellow Ear Tag (but you don't know the Tag Number) one may query by Species, Tag Color and Tag Location and get a list of yellow-tagged wolverines in return.

This all sounds simple, but for this to work you can't have a free text field for color. If you do, and many of our historical spreadsheets and databases do just this, you get the following "Y" , "Yellow", "Yell", "Ylw" and "Yellew". So oddly enough, you need a pick list for color. And the same rules apply. Not too many or you'll end up with "Marigold", "Wheat", "Burnt Umber*" and "Mustard" and when searching for "Yellow" you won't find any wolverines. Add too few and the appropriate color may not be available (e.g. Pink).

We need a standard list of colors. Wikipedia assists:
In the 1969 study Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, Brent Berlin and Paul Kay describe a pattern in naming "basic" colors (like "red" but not "red-orange" or "dark red" or "blood red", which are "shades" of red). All languages that have two "basic" color names distinguish dark/cool colors from bright/warm colors. The next colors to be distinguished are usually red and then blue or green. All languages with six "basic" colors include black, white, red, green, blue and yellow. The pattern holds up to a set of twelve: black, grey, white, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and azure (distinct from blue in Russian and Italian but not English).

From which we now have our final color list** (user additions will be possible of course, but strongly discouraged).
ColorID Color
-99 Unknown
1 Black
2 White
3 Red
4 Green
5 Blue
6 Yellow
7 Grey
8 Pink
9 Orange
10 Purple
11 Brown
12 Azure

Granted, graphic artists and Donnie Hoyle will tell me that we should probably have two lists, one for hue and one for saturation, but these are biologists we're talking about. I'll catch enough flack for "Azure".

More Reading:

* There actually is no "Burnt Umber" in a Crayola pack, although it is my favorite random color name. It is an amalgamation of two other Crayola colors, "Burnt Sienna" and "Raw Umber," both fine colors in their own right.
** The optimal solution would probably not use named colors at all, but instead a graphical color picker where one used an eyedropper to capture the color. Then searches would be performed using a fuzzy threshold slider (like photoshop's select by color) to select tags with a similiar hue and saturation. One problem with this approach however would be that it would lack color blind usability. And again, these are biologists, not graphic artists.

Color Considerations is cross-posted on my work-related blog oneidía.