The Dog Gets a Vote- or, the Mother’s Day Present

Some years ago I was in the process of moving and my father had come by to help me pack. He’d lost Shadow a few months before, and, having spent the year carrying the elderly dog everywhere, kept looking around as if expecting to see him. So, Dad needed a dog.

We took a walk, making sure my little dog had sufficient exercise, and there she was. Or rather, there they were. Numbers are hard to discern in a flood of moving fur and barking, but it was definitely a number of Pomeranians. Their owner admired mine, and we got to talking. I mentioned Shadow, and remarked on how Dad needed a dog. As it happened, she had a five year old Pomeranian, who was retiring from a life of having puppies and needed a home. Her name was Kiki.

It hadn’t been that long since she’d had the puppies and she’d shed a considerable amount of hair. She was a bit chubby, apparently shy, didn’t bark, and Dad got to hold her. Seeing what was looking a lot like love at first sight, I went home for the checkbook and bought Dad a dog.

Kiki was shy. She was so attached to my father that she trembled on my lap the entire time he was gone for a shower. Dad spent the evening reassuring and comforting the little thing and wasn’t looking around for the little dog he’d buried, being preoccupied with the one in his arms.

Cheerfully contemplating my success, I realized that someone would have to tell my mother. Glancing at my phone told me that, as it happened, it was Mother’s Day. I am, unfortunately, terrible with dates. I can forget my own birthday. Presents, cards, good wishes all come terribly late.

It is always a wonderful experience when two problems solve one another. I needed to tell Mom about the dog. I had forgotten Mother’s Day (again), and consequently hadn’t gotten her anything, or even sent her a note. Opportunity! I took a picture of the very cute little creature in Dad’s arms. “Happy Mother’s Day”, I captioned it.

A more recent photo of Kiki.
Her coat has grown back and she is much fluffier now than she was when we met her.

Sometimes, I am not quite so clever as I think I am. Dad drove home with Kiki, and introduced the Mother’s Day Present to my Mom. While I’m not certain that Kiki hated my mother at first sight, it must have been close. When purchasing a dog as a gift, it is important to remember that the dog gets a vote. And Kiki certainly voted!

When my father would rise to make coffee, Kiki would rush to the bedroom, barking loudly to wake her up. When Mom reached to pet her, she would rush away and hide under furniture, or she would growl and threaten. When Mom passed by the window outside, Kiki would bark. She adored my father, following him around, always a step behind him. She spent the sleepless evenings keeping him company, supervised and kept watch while he worked outside, and provided the constant canine companionship he had missed.

A year after I had purchased the Mother’s Day Dog, it had become apparent that she and my mother were not going to make friends. “I don’t have a present.” I told my mother, that Mother’s Day, rather apologetic (I had, once again, forgotten the date); “Good!”

Of course, it was becoming apparent that my mother needed a dog…


Trego School Continues Distance Learning

Trego School has adopted something of a wait-and-see approach to determining the date they will resume in-person learning.

In any school, the requirement that individuals that have been exposed must quarantine themselves for fourteen days can quickly make in-person learning impossible. Substitute teachers are always difficult to find, and finding one that is able to teach two weeks’ worth of classes on short notice is even more difficult. School districts with multiple staff members required to quarantine can quickly exhaust their “sub lists”.

In a smaller school, while there are fewer staff members and students to expose one another, there is also a greater degree of interaction. While in large school districts, kindergartners are seldom exposed to 8th graders, interaction among students is almost guaranteed in smaller schools.

It’s worth remembering, especially as favorite places are closed and much anticipated events are postponed and cancelled, that the school board is not responsible for mandating/enforcing quarantine. Rather, they have the difficult challenge of figuring out how to keep education continuing. For further information on who exactly is responsible, I’ll quote the county health department.

You can read the full text of the County Health Department’s COVID FAQ here.

Updates on the number of active cases of Corona Virus can be found from the county health department, and from the state. Monday’s update has a total of 67 active cases in North Lincoln County, with no current hospitalizations in the county. While the county does break the cases down by location and age, it doesn’t combine the two.. The county had 53 cases in the 0-19 range, but knowing it at the county level isn’t as good as knowing it at the school district level. The requirements of quarantine create a situation that mandates quick decisions. The available data? Never as good as we’d like it to be.


Things that make Surveys Hard

I was asked to describe the problems with political polls. It is a great year for showing the problems in predicting from opinion polls. Projecting isn’t the problem – we take partial duration series (like flood data) and project the likelihood of larger and smaller events occurring. In my 70 years on the planet, I’ve seen a couple of hundred-year floods on the same river – and it isn’t a big deal. When you project a hundred-year occurrence from 38 years of data, it is a question of how wrong you’re going to be. Poker odds are easy – there are only 52 cards (unless you play with a joker). A pair of dice have only 12 potential combinations. The potential combinations of weather and climate during our planet’s existence aren’t quite infinite, but they approach it.

In January, 2016, Gallup announced that “Democratic, Republican Identification Near Historical Lows”, and explained that 26% identified as Republicans, 29% as Democrats. On January 16, 2020 30% identified as Republican, 27% as Democrats. Gallup’s most recent stats were on September 14, with 28% identifying as Republican and 27% Democrats. If I start with a good model based on the 2016 election results, I have a problem in 2020.

For political polls, our universe consists of registered voters – but that gets to be a problem: “The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) found that 244 counties across the United States exceed 100% voter registration. Counties in 28 states plus the District of Columbia and Alaska have more voters registered than adults living in those jurisdictions.

After a review of records submitted to the federal government, The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) discovered 244 counties in which voter registration levels exceed the number of living adults in the jurisdiction. Additionally, 279 counties have registration rates ranging from 95%-99%, which PILF determines are “implausibly high.”

Polling is based on “best available data.” It is a coincidence that the initials are BAD. Starting from poor data makes it hard to develop a way to project with accuracy, and it’s hard enough anyway.

California has more immigrants than any other state – in 2017, 27% of California’s residents were foreign born – and a little over half of them are US citizens. About one of eight contacts is a non-citizen and not eligible to vote. If you survey Montana, 2% of the residents are immigrants, and 58% of those are naturalized citizens. Less than 1 percent of Montana residents aren’t citizens. Few calls reach non-voters. It isn’t easy to develop a national model that projects surveys accurately.

And then there are the folks who lie to pollsters – in 2012, polls in South Dakota had shown strong support for legislation that would limit abortion access – but the vote turned out the other way. It was the first time I encountered what is now called “the shy Trump voter.” When you think about it, it isn’t particularly rational to believe the guy who calls you and interrupts dinner has your privacy as a main concern. On that issue, it looks like 3% or more of the survey respondents weren’t truthful. Face it, there was more than a zero chance that the voice on the other end of the phone might report your comments back to your Aunt Sally!

I am glad I never had to make a living polling and predicting elections. It’s easy to look at the data and predict Trump will carry Montana and Biden will carry California. It’s a bit more risky to project Florida, or North Carolina, or Ohio.

Community, Wildlife

Game Camera Fails

At 6 am, Mike was out collecting firewood from the stack to start the days fire. Kiki, the older, chubby white Pomeranian was out with him.  Kiki positioned herself off the back steps and started trying to raise the dead with her bark. With enough firewood in hand, Mike called Kiki to the house.  Remarkably, she came when called.  Mike noted that some critter was out there but thought a follow up investigation was better left until daylight.

Later that day, we received a call. “Looks like a grizzly walked down your driveway” the caller reported. We had received 1 ½ inches of snow during the night.  “How’d they know it was a grizzly?” I wondered. Mike replied the prints probably had claws. 

Bear tracks wider than a size 12 insulated boot but not as long as the boot

Wandering down the driveway with the dogs, we found the tracks in the fresh snow.  Holy **** ! That’s a big bear. We followed the tracks up and down the driveway. The bear had lumbered by all 3 game cams.  I pulled the SD cards from the cameras to look for pictures of a big bear.  The Stealth camera did not have pictures of a bear despite the bear slowly walking by the camera. The Stealth camera’s record remained unbroken. (Game Cam 2 link) The Herter’s camera missed the bear.  It had daylight photos of cars and deer but no nighttime photos.  Time to change the batteries.  Only the Cabela’s camera had a not very good picture of the big, fat, healthy grizzly.

The grizzly that left the bear tracks on the driveway at 5:53 am

This grizzly approached the driveway through the woods, lumbered onto the driveway and exited onto Fortine Creek Road before making its way back to the creek bottom. From the time stamp, by the time Kiki was reporting on it at volume the bear was probably on the road.  Our neighbor reported that the bear had been leaving signs in the lower pastures that bordered the creek for several weeks.   Seems we might have a couple more weeks of bears around the place. 

Great pictures of game cameras are frequently a matter of luck.  We have a “good enough” picture to confirm the type and relative size of the bear.  Two of of the cameras completely missed the bear. Even the “best” camera had 1 poor picture but that time stamp sure caught our attention.

Update: A day later with the fresh snow and more reports of tracks, we again went hunting.  This time we found 2 sets of tracks. One large set and a smaller set of tracks that sometimes were adjacent to the larger tracks and sometimes they overlapped the larger tracks. We followed the tracks into the woods to find a deposit from the smaller bear.  Lots of hair in that deposit;  the bears appear to be eating well. Again the bears had walked by 2 game cameras.  Not 1 picture of either bear on any camera.  There are multiple reports of bear tracks in the neighborhood. The bears appear to be making a large loose loop around the Trego school.


Community, Demography

Political Junk Mail

I took 19 pieces of political ads out of the mailbox, and one piece of mail from the American Association of Retired People offering me the opportunity to become one of them.  It was 11:15 am, and there was no room left in the post office trash can, so I reluctantly took them all home.

Now if I take them all as valid, we have the most rotten group of candidates ever fielded in Montana.  The descriptions of their character flaws would make the devil himself wonder if these despicable characters could be safely stored in his operation.  I share this observation merely because most people put the advertisements in the post office trash before I was unable to do so.

I examined the return addresses, etc.  I’m pretty sure that they’re funded by folks from outside Montana who are looking to keep their side in the majority.  OK – an “F” rating from the NRA is usually earned and I can check that.  Most of the other accusations seemed a bit less solid.  Well, I could probably check on the attorney general candidate who never prosecuted a case – but at least he is no less qualified than I am.

I don’t have a problem with non-Montanans trying to influence our elections.  I can live with it.  But I would like to see them have to provide larger garbage receptacles for our post offices.


Trego School moves to Distance Learning

In accordance with the school’s Health and Safety Plan, the school has moved temporarily to distance learning. The School’s Health and Safety Plan is a three part plan outlining the response to each potential scenario. Part A is “Traditional Learning with Precautions” and has been in place since the school year started in September.

The screens around the desks are one of the precautions outlined in Part A of the Health and Safety Plan.

The school had recently moved to Part B, “In the event a community member in School District becomes infected”. During Part B, traditional in-person learning continued with additional precautions beyond those outlined in Part A.

As of Monday (October 19th), Trego School is in Part C: “In the event a student or staff member in School becomes infected”. Taking advantage of some very lucky timing, the school board has been able to put over two weeks between the date of potential exposure and on-site learning resuming with only a week of distance learning.

How? As parents know, last week had some time off of school. While there were not holidays there was MEA, a statewide conference hosted by the Montana Educators Association. This, combined with well timed absences, will allow for two weeks between the potential exposure and on-site learning, with a single week of distance learning.

In keeping with the Health and Safety Plan, the school bus will be delivering breakfast and lunch to students. On-site learning is scheduled to resume on Monday (October 26th). The school board, after taking input from parents, will be deciding whether to resume on-site learning in Part A or Part B of the Health and Safety Plan, but it regardless, students will be back to in-person learning on Monday.


Chronic Wasting Disease

As the start of the hunting season for deer and elk approaches (general, not archery), Chronic Wasting Disease becomes increasingly relevant again.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion disease, fatal, with no known treatments. While there are no known transmissions to humans, the CDC recommends having elk, deer or moose tested if there’s known to be Chronic Wasting Disease in the area. If the animal tests positive, they recommend against consumption.

For a deer, sampling requires removing the lymph nodes, packaging them, and mailing them to the wildlife health lab in Bozeman. More detailed information about having an animal tested can be found here. Expect results to take about three weeks. A map of where Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in the state is here.

Prion diseases are in something of a unique category. A bacterial or fungal infection can usually be treated with an antibiotic or an antifungal medication. Both a bacteria and fungi are living things, made of cells the same way we are. Kill the cell, kill the organism, stop the infection. While antibiotic resistances can complicate the matter, the end objective is still fairly straightforward.

Viruses, such as the one that causes the flu, are more complicated. By the basic definition of “living thing” we teach to gradeschoolers, viruses are not living. We teach students that all livings things have cells. A virus doesn’t. A virus is not a cell, rather, it is a rogue piece of DNA, of the code of instructions that is at the heart of each cell. It inserts itself into the cell, and, not unlike a computer virus, takes it over and uses the cell to make and distribute copies of itself. How do you kill something that is not alive?

Antivirals are the classic treatment for viral infections, such as the flu, HIV, cold and cold sores. They don’t kill the virus, but they do decrease its ability to spread, which reduces the severity of the infection. Because the only way to eliminate a virus is to eliminate all of the cells its infecting, viral infections in long-lived cells are pretty much permanent (cold sores are an excellent example of this).

Prions are like viruses. They are larger, made up of proteins instead of DNA. Functionally, though, they are very similar. They warp other, similar proteins, until they take the same shape as the prion. Prions build up in neural tissue, that is in the brain and spinal column. While an animal with Chronic Wasting Disease will have prions throughout its body, the reason the disease is fatal is the build up in the brain.

There is no prion equivalent to antiviral medications. While there’s some promising research, prions and prion diseases are still a relatively recent discovery. Treatment is focused on alleviated symptoms, as prion diseases are currently incurable. Prion diseases are, fortunately, rare.

Community, Demography

Covid’s Mask and Pascal’s Wager

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) offers a pragmatic reason for believing in God: even under the assumption that God’s existence is unlikely, the potential benefits of believing are so vast as to make betting on theism rational.” As a stats guy, I could write this from memory, as a scientist, I need to cite a source.

Pascal’s statistical argument is a gambler’s view of the universe – the cost of believing, of the ante, is so small compared to the infinite reward (the size of the pot).  I worked with an accountant who had a system for buying lottery tickets – his break from understanding Pascal was that both cost and reward in the statistics of lottery cards are finite – the odds really can be calculated.  Lotteries are a tax on people who don’t want to do the math.

Covid is also a game for statisticians.  It’s still at a point where we have a bunch of unknowns, but there are fewer unknowns than there were 6 months ago.  Then the Diamond Princess was a horrifying news story – now it is data, as taken from “A total of 712 people were infected with COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship – 567 passengers and 145 crew members. The cruise ship, which had more than 3,500 people on board, was quarantined for around two weeks. All passengers and crew members had finally disembarked the ship by March 1, 2020.”

Wikipedia shows 14 deaths among the 712 infected people on the Diamond Princess.  Somewhere right around 2%.  About the same as Texas and California, and lower than New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

We’re still looking at less than perfect representative numbers – but Diamond Princess has provided some data:  roughly 20% of those exposed between January 20 and February 19 wound up infected.  In March, we had estimated R0 values from 1.5 to 3.5.  Now, we have Rt values (Average number of people who become infected by an infectious person with COVID-19 in the U.S. as of October 17, 2020).  Those numbers vary from 0.91 in Mississippi to 1.31 in New Mexico.  Montana scored 1.2. 

Generally speaking, in the absence of data, we have a tendency to assume the worst.  We have data now.  The actual infectivity is lower than the initial data – perhaps because the precautions have been effective, perhaps it is related to the fact that 80% of the people on Diamond Princess did not catch covid.  Correlation is not causation.  Causation is inferred from statistics, not proven.

This week, an article from the American Society of Hematology stated: “Blood type O may offer some protection against COVID-19 infection, according to a retrospective study. Researchers compared Danish health registry data from more than 473,000 individuals tested for COVID-19 to data from a control group of more than 2.2 million people from the general population. Among the COVID-19 positive, they found fewer people with blood type O and more people with A, B, and AB types.

Making statistics personal is a challenge – data suggests that my risk factors are increased by age (70), height (6’3”), asthma, and diabetes.  How much we don’t know – for neither my asthma nor the diabetes scores particularly high.  My risk factors are reduced by my blood type.  So let’s look at masking.

My mask is like Pascal’s wager – it seems logical that any level of masking will reduce transmission.  The question is: “How much?”  I don’t have that answer.  Does my mask protect me significantly?  When I have been in surgery, the surgeons and medical staff were masked to protect me.  Similarly, is my mask to protect others?   Business Insider offers an article comparing mask effectiveness, but cautions that “Mask studies should be taken with a grain of salt.”  My mask is like Pascal’s wager – and I hope wearing it adds a sense of security. It costs me little to wear it.

Patches' Pieces, Wildlife

The not so perfect game camera, part 3

Although I am still looking for the perfect game camera, I do have some favorites.  I like my Cabela’s brand cameras.  Cabela’s brand cameras are not inexpensive.    Be sure to look at the reviews online before contemplating a purchase of a new model. I have early versions of the camera. Cabela’s cameras are easy to program. The cameras are easy to operate. Batteries last and are easy to change.  In my opinion, most important Cabela’s brand cameras have a good depth of field.  Close and far objects are in sharp focus.  The cameras do not hold up well when the deer play soccer with the cameras.  My last purchased Cabela’s camera lost part of its programming only a couple months after purchase.  For the premium price, it should have been reliable and included the metal camera mount. The deer did not play soccer with this particular camera so that was not the reason for the malfunction.

Deer in velvet. The camera was on a tripod, just a lucky placement of the camera
This is just how a camera is broken. Note how much of the photo is actually in sharp focus.

My other favorite brand of camera is by Moultrie. This camera was not easy to program. Setting or turning on the camera is not intuitive. The programming in this camera allowed timed photos every 5 minutes or as far apart as 60 minutes.  I used the timer function to scan the background surrounding a trail.  I wanted to know what was in the woods that was not triggering the motion sensor.  I found a bear with 2 cubs in the background. I also found a deer surprised by a mountain lion a few minutes after I’d set the camera.  I got a series of blurry photos with only a startled deer and a long tail in focus. I also used the timer function to take pictures of the house looking for the picture with the best background clouds. The Moultrie camera has a good depth of field. The deer did play soccer with this camera and caused the programming to malfunction.

Bald Eagle. we placed the camera where we sure something would step in front of the camera. This was one of about 3000 pictures.

The best wildlife pictures depend on location of the camera.  I looked at one blogger who had his camera set on a log crossing a stream where wildlife crossed the log year round.  The blogger compiled videos of the wildlife crossing the log.  The variety was impressive.  A water supply with signs of wildlife use is a good place for a camera.

For certain types of wildlife, a camera placed on a found carcass will yield interesting pictures.

Mountain Lion over his deer kill.
We happened upon the deer cached in the woods and placed a camera pointed at the carcass.

Frequently, game cameras include a strap for a mount. The strap has a limited outdoor life. The length of the strap limits the size/circumference of tree to where the camera can be mounted. I have found bungee cords to be helpful in mounting cameras to trees and overcoming the limitations of straps. Metal camera mounts that attach to trees are good for semi permanent locations. The metal mounts are screwed into the tree.   But trees aren’t always conveniently located to where you’d like to place the camera.  

This is where a tripod comes in.  The main disadvantage of a tripod is that deer run over the camera and the camera may break. But cameras on tripods place strategically can yield some interesting wildlife pictures.       

Sandhill Cranes hunting in the field, taken with a camera on a tripod. The camera was placed where we’d seen cranes earlier in the week.
Sandhill Cranes in flight, taken with a camera on a tripod, a lucky placement of the camera