Archive for December, 2012

New Years’ Eve, and the sun will rise at 10:55 this morning and set at 2:52 this afternoon for not quite 4 hours with the sun above the horizon. We’re gaining about 3 minutes a day now, and it’ll be up to 4 minutes a day by next week.

It’s warmed up quite a lot, though we haven’t had any further snow. Lows are generally about 0°F or higher; highs are still well below freezing but feel positively balmy after the 40 below we had. The air pollution, though, is still quite bad — very unhealthy is the official level.

It’s still beautiful, all pink and blue. I’ll put up a really old photo later in the week, but the ones with today’s post were taken about an hour after solar noon last Thursday.

sunset, Alaska

An hour after solar noon, and less than an hour til sunset. Dec. 27.

Alaska Skies

Even the smokestacks look pretty.

Veil Nebula, hubbleThe four original passengers and the pilot are all accounted for and free, and Coralie has gone from suggesting to being a little more firm that they get out of the clearing and find shelter from the approaching rain. But she suddenly realizes that a fifth passenger is missing.

They were all together, which had been her first priority.  [Coralie] glanced around, and suddenly realized her dog was missing.  “Bounce?” she inquired.  “Didn’t you come in with her, Audi?”

“Yes, but then she ducked back–over that way, I think.  Audi pointed, and Coralie wove her way over to that side of the clearing.

So where’s Bounce?

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Any color horse, full color, dilute, or with intermixed white hairs, can have white body markings. These have long been recognized as falling into two categories: leopard (Appaloosa in North America) and pinto (or paint, piebald, skewbald, or parti-colored.) I’ll leave the leopard complex for later, beyond noting that the horses in Tourist Trap have leopard complex markings. For today, I’ll just give a brief overview of the paint/pinto nomenclature.



In British usage, a piebald was a black and white horse, and a skewbald was red and white. This distinction is rarely made today. Rather, the color of the horse—bay, black, palomino, red dun roan silver, or whatever—is followed by the pattern of marking. And there are a lot more patterns recognized today, often due to quite distinct genes, than was the case when I first became interested in horse genetics!

Paint and pinto are in fact synonyms when they are used as descriptive terms, though they have separate breed registries. In North America the word pinto may be more common in the east and the word paint in the west, but either may include any of the patterns of white body spotting.

Black & White Frame

Probably frame, based on the wide blaze and generally dark legs.

The first breakdown came when tobiano was recognized as being genetically distinct from overo. Then it turned out that there were several genetically distinct patterns being lumped together as overo—just about everything that wasn’t tobiano, in fact. The latest version of Sponenberg gives no less than seven patterns of white body markings, not including the leopard complex or the dark-eyed solid white of the American Albino. I’ll give a very short summary of the seven here, and cover specific patterns and what is known of their genes in later posts.

Tobiano is a relatively clean, crisp spotting with white legs but generally dark heads. White markings tend to be vertical and generally cross the back in all but minimally marked animals.

The frame pattern was once considered typical overo. It is horizontal, tends to affect the head first and the legs last, and white rarely crosses the spine. Frame to frame breeding can produce white foals that die shortly after birth.


Sabino, showing both the ragged outlines and the roaning typical of this pattern.

Sabino-1 horses normally have both face and leg markings, and often have roaned areas as well. They are usually not as crisply marked as tobianos, but they vary widely and confusion with almost any of the other patterns is possible. Roaning often occurs and is an expected part of the pattern.

Splashed white gives the appearance of the horse being splashed with white paint from below. The legs are normally white, and so is the belly area. In addition, white is normally present on the head, often to such an extent that the head is entirely white.

Polygenetic sabino and the form of dominant white that sometimes produces colored areas are not well characterized genetically. but are apparently distinct from the other forms of white spotting.

The final pattern, which is very rare, is called manchado, and has been seen in several breeds in Argentina. In this pattern, white first appears along the top line, and can produce a white mane on an otherwise colored horse. The head and legs tend to stay dark as the white areas grow larger, and there are often dark spots in the white, giving a superficial similarity to some leopard patterns.

All of these patterns vary widely in the amount of white, and all have pink skin under the white portions of the coat. I’ll take them one at a time in later posts.

Year 4, Day 295

ThunderstormNote to myself: never fly in a thunderstorm without setting up the parameters for an emergency teleport!

In fact, never fly in a thunderstorm, period. And check the weather at the spot you’re aiming for in a teleport!

I knew I was getting far enough north that I was getting into the fringe of the winter rain belt, but between sand and dead grass I hadn’t paid much attention. I followed the coast northward until it turned back toward the west, noting only vaguely that the shoreline was steadily getting not only more mountainous, but greener. The coastlines I’ve been passing must have owed part of their condition to drought, because when I aimed a teleport at where I’d been the day before, over the coast but far enough in the air to have a good view, I landed smack in the middle of a violent updraft, surrounded by roiling clouds and lightning.

Lucky for me that it was an updraft! If I had arrived in a rain shaft, I would have been smashed into the ground before I had time to react. As it was, I spent several minutes frantically deflecting lightning and keeping myself aloft, too busy even to notice that I was soaked through. Then I was suddenly being pelted by hail. By that time I had recovered enough to realize I’d hit a downdraft and remember the “home” coordinates to get out of there!

I’d known that there was probably a winter-wet zone north of the desert; I just didn’t realize that once I followed the coast northward I’d be in the heart of it. As a result, I totally forgot that at least in theory, it is possible to check the weather at any point for which one has memorized the teleport coordinates. It wasn’t something I’m particularly practiced at, after all I hardly ever teleported at home. But I’d better see what’s in the computer and relearn that particular aspect of teleportation. I don’t want to land in another thundercloud!

Jarn’s Journal is the fictional journal of a fictional human-like alien stranded in Africa 125,000 years ago (early penultimate interglacial.) This is part of the remote prehistory of my novels Homecoming and Tourist Trap. The journal to date is at my author site.

I had to share this video. For years I worked in an office with a south window just a block down the street from the museum from which this was taken, and I have seen the low arc of the sun over the Alaska Range. This video was on the Alaska Dispatch as a time-lapse of the Mayan Apocalypse (which just happened to be the Winter Solstice) with comments from the photographers.

The museum (and my old office) are on a ridge north of the Tanana Valley, with the main part of Fairbanks to the southeast, and part of the residential portion of College directly to the south. The bright patch below the Alaska Range on the horizon is the sun reflecting off the top of the ice fog; the discrete streamers are exhaust from chimneys.

Quotes from Tolkien

Book Cover, The HobbitThis is the third week I’ve quoted from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book, just made into a movie, is the source of the quotes I tweeted between Dec 20 and December 25. The one today is from my own work.

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.” The proper way to say goodbye to an eagle, as Gandalf knows.

“We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not.” Gandalf to the dwarves and Bilbo when he parts from them at the borders of Mirkwood.

“He has more about him than you guess.” Gandalf is speaking to the dwarves about Bilbo.

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world.” A last reminder from Gandalf.

“Dream-dinners aren’t any good, and we can’t share them.” The starving dwarves are complaining when Bilbo tells them of his dream of the elven feast.

“No spider has ever liked being called Attercop.” Bilbo has been taunting the giant spiders, trying to draw them off so he can rescue the dwarves.

“Couldn’t you at least have warned me what to expect?” Sue Ann Bowling, Homecoming. Roi has reacted very badly to controlled dreaming.

Merry Christmas and a Snow Carol

3 snowflake basblgrnMerry Christmas (or happy whatever solstice holiday you celebrate.)

In honor of the season I’m posting one of my Geophysical Christmas Carols, and to help the words go with the music, a recording of my singing it. I’m not much of a singer, but this might help you hear how it goes together. (I’m still trying to figure out how to do this sound thing, so you may have to go through several clicks.) Meanwhile, to see the words while listening to the song, open the blog in two windows, click the audio link in one and then switch back to the other. (And you’ll catch me making a couple of mistakes that way!)

In the air, vapor’s swirling,535basblyel
On the pond, folks are curling,
The vapor makes drops, the drops freeze and pop,
And six-sided snowflakes fall down.

On the lake, skates are gliding,
Overhead, clouds are hiding,
Ice in the sky is growing, oh, my,
And six-sided snowflakes fall down

snowflakeSnowflakes could be square or five pointed,
Or octagons, or spherical, you know,
But water with water is jointed
So that only six arms can grow.

On the slopes, skiers swish on,
Snowflakes hide stars to wish on,
They fall through the air, and catch in your hair,
The six-sided snowflakes fall down.baslev

(The snowflakes were Photoshopped from those included on the CD-ROM with Bentley’s book.)

The sun will rise at 10:59 this morning (as it has for the last several days) but it will set a little later, at 2:43. Christmas eve is almost a minute longer that December 23, though the sun at noon is only a tenth of a degree higher in the sky. Temperatures are a little bit warmer, though warmer is relative – it was fifty below toward the end of last week. My digital thermometer did get above LL yesterday evening, though it’s still well below zero. (Update 8 am — the temperature is up to 22 below.)


Snowstake December 22. Notice the bump left as the snow settled.

Believe it or not we are still getting closer to the sun every day. The moon, on the other hand, is getting higher in the sky as it is approaching full, and is beginning to shine in my bedroom window. The Star Gazer episode last week (Moon of the Short Shadows) was on this opposition of sun and moon, though the graph they used was dead wrong as far as the positions of the rising and setting sun and moon were concerned. The sun this time of year rises in the SSE and sets in the SSW (at least here) and the full moon is already well north of east when it rises.

No new snow, and no snow forecast. What snow we have is settling and leaving a noticeable bump around the base of the snow stake that makes it difficult to read, though I’d guess it’s settled to about 1’ 3”.

We had some serious ice fog last week, and the air quality has been pretty bad. I don’t live in the center of North Pole, but the air quality there is “very unhealthy” and is forecast to remain that way. Why? Wood burning, leading to very high levels of PM-2.5 particulates: the kind that stick in your lungs. Incredibly, in the last Borough election the vote went against regulating wood stoves, which simply means the state and/or the EPA will step in and do it. I have a friend in North Pole who’s on oxygen, and it really does have health effects.

Hubble imageWelcome back to War’s End. Kelty is trying to explain what he attempted to do as far as asking for assistance is concerned before they were captured, just before their sudden translation to the jungle.

 “I tried my best.  But with a Council ship blocking — no telling if it got through.  Main priority’s survival, in any case.”

“Which means we get out of this clearing and rig a shelter and something to catch rain, now,” Coralie said firmly.  She was as puzzled as anyone about where they were and how they’d gotten there, but that could wait.  Right now, it looked more like rain every moment.

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Rabicano under saddle

Rabicano under saddle

This week will be a bit of a catch-all, covering a variety of patterns of white hairs that are neither grey, classic roan, face and leg markings, or associated with white spotting. (Varnish roan, for instance, is a leopard gene pattern, and sabino and dominant white may also produce roaning as part of the pattern.) The genetics of none are well understood. Following Sponenberg, I will list and describe them here. Sorry for the lack of photos, but I haven’t even seen all of these patterns myself.

The first, frosty, may be a variant of classic roan, as it is found in the same breeds. In this pattern, the roaning is most pronounced over bony areas such as the hips, and roaning may affect the mane, tail and head as well as the body. “Squaw manes” and “squaw tails” with white hair mixed in often indicate the frosty pattern. Although there is little doubt that the pattern is genetic, it is not well understood.

“Roaned” is used to refer to horses with a scattering of white hairs not due to the roan or grey genes. It is not always possible to distinguish them from minimal classic roans, but they do occur in breeds where roan does not occur.

Rabicano tail

Rabicano horse, showing the white at the tail base.

White ticking is a much more specific pattern, involving the base of the tail and the flank. It is not progressive and may occur on any base color. Tails with the base white are sometimes referred to as “skunk tails” or “coon tails.” In Spanish the pattern is called rabicano. This pattern is one of the few “roan” patterns to occur in Arabians. Inheritance is thought to be dominant.

Birdcatcher spots are small white spots scattered over a horse’s body. They are named for a Thoroughbred horse, Irish Birdcatcher, who had such spots. They run in families so probably are genetic, but no studies have been carried out.

Rabicano horse

Rabicano, showing how white hairs are arranged in stripes on the sides.

White striping is very rare in horses. The vertical white stripes may be a form of roan, as seen on the rabicano photos. Or it may simply be an accident of gestation. One striped Thoroughbred in Australia, Catch a Bird, is himself striped but is producing as a classic roan.

Finally, minor white markings may occur as a result of scarring. These are most common with freeze branding or saddle sores, but one pattern, called white lacing, is commonly due to a skin problem called reticulated leuktricia. Most often the growth of white hair in a net-like pattern over the hips and back is preceded by the formation of crusts in the skin, but not always. Both genetic and environmental causes seem to be involved. If you have an Amazon account, you may be able to see Sponenberg’s photos here.

Next week I’ll start discussing the patterns usually called paint or pinto.

This information is an update of an earlier post.