Greenhouse Living

After a few years of deepening our “crack gardening” addiction to cacti and succulents, Taylor decided last fall it was time for us to dramatically up our game. When we moved into our house a couple of years ago, we lost quite a bit of window space for our plants, all of which are hungry for heat and harsh sun. In September, Taylor gifted me a 6x6x7-foot greenhouse for my 30th birthday. Today we have evolved into succulent savants, and our plants look bigger and better than ever.

The greenhouse itself, made entirely of aluminum and corrugated plastic panes, came in two flat boxes. It almost seemed so lightweight as to be useless in windy, stormy Nebraska. However, as we put it together, we found the frame light but sturdy. The opaque panes seem so durable that I doubt anything other than a tree limb or tennis-ball size hail could do much damage.

We “enhanced” the greenhouse with a wooden base of 4x4s, ensuring it’s anchored to something heavy just in case. We also added black paver base to the floor, which acts as both insulation and a heating element, soaking up the sun and reflecting heat back into the greenhouse. As a plus, it keeps most insects and small critters out.

We spent about six hours one October weekend putting the greenhouse together, and with a few cheap shelving units from Amazon, we maximized the space and light distribution. Today, we could fit a hundred or so potted plants inside.

We put our most hardy plants in the greenhouse last fall, just as the days were getting shorter and colder. This simulated a more natural environment for a cactus, and it helped them more easily go into hibernation. As the temperatures dropped, we added a small heating unit and sealed the edges with a special insulating plastic tape. This kept the greenhouse from going below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We admittedly were lucky to have a mild winter. However, even on our coldest days in December and January – when the wind chills hit -10 degrees – the greenhouse never dipped below 40, and the heater only added about $10 to our electric bill.

With minimal care and once-a-month watering from November through March, we lost not a single plant. Some of the plants even continued to bloom throughout the winter! As spring arrived, many a cactus started to wake up. Unlike anything we’ve seen before, the greenhouse plants started to sprout and bloom. Here’s a sampling of the show we witnessed:

greenhouse_0 greenhouse_1 greenhouse_2 greenhouse_2a greenhouse_3 greenhouse_4 greenhouse_6 greenhouse_5 greenhouse_7 greenhouse_8 greenhouse_10 greenhouse_9
This sempervivum is now in our rock garden outdoors, but it was hardened off in the greenhouse and turned this brilliant shade of purple.

Now that summer’s here, the greenhouse can get up to 120 degrees. That’s too hot for my liking, but for a cactus it must be pretty pleasant. The greenhouse has a vented roof, so we’ve kept that open almost all summer to regulate the temp and keep it around 100. This also helps with air circulation and fighting off any pests or rot. Essentially, we’re simulating a year-round natural environment for these plants – hot, bright and dry in the summer; cool, dark and bone-dry in the winter.

The greenhouse has proven to be one of our better investments and one of our more successful experiments, although it does seem to deepen our addiction. We’re hoping in a year or two it will pay for itself when we start winning all that lucrative metro-area cactus show prize money. Watch out, Kathy from Papillion.

BONUS: Last summer I posted about the cold-weather cactus garden I planted in our backyard. I did not know whether some of the plants would survive the winter. I covered the garden with two inches of dead leaves to insulate. But as it turned out, my fears were realized. Two of the cacti did not survive. However, the prickly pears took a beating, but now are thriving in our hot and dry Midwestern summer. In fact, a pad broke off one of the plants, so after the broken end hardened off I stuck it back in the dirt. Today it’s growing pads of its own. This is why cacti are so amazing!

Puggle Vision

Check out a day in the life of our dog, Newman. He’s a one-year-old puggle, and he doesn’t sit still for very long. I think this footage proves that. I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be Newman. Judging by this video, if I were my dog I’d be motion sick like 90 percent of the time.

The footage is from a GoPro-esque camera I bought for our trip to Machu Picchu and Galapagos this summer. However, I thought it needed to experience some more challenging assignments. I strapped it to the back of Newman’s walking harness. He seemed comfortable enough, and it seemed stable enough (barely) so we took it for a spin around the block:

Sadly I don’t believe Newman’s career aspirations as a cameradog will pan out. Maybe for a Jason Bourne movie or something, though.

You can follow Newman’s adventures on Instagram. He has a larger social media following than I do (unsurprisingly). But at least most of my audience is human…

Open Yale Courses

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

I’m late to the game on this, but I love Yale’s Open Yale Courses. The university used to post full introductory courses at this site – complete with syllabi, readings, and videos of each lecture of the course. They seem to have stopped updating, but many of the classes are on timeless topics.

I’ve listened to a dozen or so full courses this year, and with each lecture I’ve been learning something new (or relearning something to which I should have paid attention in actual college). So far I’ve made it through:

I’m looking forward to listening to more in the new year, especially Financial Markets, Environmental Politics and Law, Game Theory, and Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics. With any luck I’ll listen to them all at some point.

Lots of universities and organizations offer online courses, but I like the OYC site because it offers all lectures for free at any time. You have to register for many other schools’ courses and listen to the sessions on specific dates. But Yale provides a wide variety of topics and allows you to digest at your own speed. I also like that I can listen to the lectures in the background while I do something else productive. Hooray multitasking!

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Civilization on Repeat


Picture yourself as a tourist visiting the Collosi of Memnon (above) near the city of Luxor in Egypt. The two statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III tower above you, but lacking their original glory. Wind and sand have weathered the monuments for centuries, and other visitors have carved graffiti into the pedestals and chipped away pieces as souvenirs. Channeling Shelley, you ponder how the creators of these behemoths – an ancient, glorious civilization – could have fallen away so dramatically. But they are long gone and you now live in the greatest global world ever to have existed. Having seen enough, you part ways with the statues and being your trek back home to Classical Rome to catch the big gladiator fight at the Colosseum.

Yes, you could have been looking at the ruins of an ancient civilization as a citizen of the Roman Empire. It’s sort of mind-boggling sometime to think about human civilization’s age and the various iterations we’ve already been through. I know I tend to think that the world we live in today is some linear culmination of thinkers, tinkerers, explorers, poets and leaders who have slowly built us to this time. But it’s obviously not that clean and straight-forward. As The Guardian argued recently, “there’s no such thing as Western Civilization.” That is, our conception of “the west” as shorthand for everything good, just and advanced about the world just doesn’t hold water. While Europe was wandering around in the Dark Ages, librarians in the Middle East served as the curators of Greek though and Andalusian thinkers developed advanced mathematics. We as “the west” lay claim to many ideas and advances that aren’t really ours.

We’re also not especially sophisticated or original when it comes to trade, international relations and globalization, either. David Cline makes this point in his book “1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.” This book describes the known Bronze-Age world of 3,000 years ago, and it bears many similarities to the world we know today. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Minoans, Mycenaeans and others built and occupied great empires that we now know were intricately intertwined. Heads of state kept in frequent contact, merchants traded freely among well-established routes, and all corners of the world benefited from sharing ideas, goods and labor. Then, right around the 12th century B.C., all of these civilizations declined at once. What happened?

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Guantanamo Diary


President Obama, if you are still planning to close the prison camp at Guantanamo, now would be a really good time.

The notorious site, opened by the Bush administration post 9/11 to hold “enemy combatants,” continues to represent a stain on America’s human rights record. Since it opened in January 2002, 779 individuals have been held there, some subject to the worst of the American torture program, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, mock executions and, more recently under the Obama administration, force feeding. Currently, 60 individuals are still imprisoned, 20 of whom were cleared for release and 31 of whom remain uncharged with any crimes and unable to access any legal or justice system. The prisoners have ranged in age from 89 to 13. Yes, 13 years old. In fact, the U.S. has detained 21 child “enemy combatants” since opening. Nine detainees died in custody, and it’s not clear in each case from what causes. Here are more facts from the ACLU (which you should support!)

In the name of security, the U.S. has imprisoned individuals in Guantanamo, some for 14 years or more, without being able to provide evidence of their alleged crimes . Furthermore, little actionable intelligence has been gathered from these individuals that we know of, whether through conventional interrogation or torture (Chicago Tribune):

We now know that, in spring 2002, after months of intensive and “enhanced” interrogations had failed to produce any useful intelligence, the CIA sent its top Arabic specialist to the island prison. He interviewed dozens of the detainees and discovered why we weren’t getting actionable intelligence: We had the wrong guys. He reported that most simply “didn’t belong there.” His report was buried.

By summer 2004, however, it had become generally acknowledged that none of the detainees then at Guantanamo was a significant player. Most had been picked up soon after 9/11 in and around Afghanistan and sold into captivity by local tribes people for bounties. They were not the leaders who were known to have escaped, but at most low-level foot soldiers, as well as a lot of innocent people swept up by mistake.

It’s at best unclear how Guantanamo has kept us safe. In fact, to the contrary, we have pretty solid evidence that Guantanamo has helped produce more terrorists, not fewer.

President Obama promised to close Guantanamo’s prison camp on his second day in office. He has certainly tried, albeit with little cooperation from Congress. However, given the circumstances eight years later, it’s time for him to make good on the promise.

President-elect Trump has stated that he not only wants to keep Guantanamo open, he wants to fill it with “bad dudes.” He has also expressed comfort with detaining and trying suspected terrorist American citizens at the camp, something prohibited by the Constitution. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of Trump’s finalist for Secretary of Defense, has said every detainee still in Guantanamo should “rot in hell.” It’s possible the 20 individuals cleared for release could remain for another four years just because Trump feels like it. Guantanamo stands as a sordid remnant of a dark chapter in American history that would best be ended before Trump’s administration continues it indefinitely.

Who could better make this case than a Guantanamo detainee?

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The Myth of Race


Less than a week after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, hate crimes and hate speech are spiking across the country, much as they did after the Brexit vote earlier this year. Just this week it was announced by the FBI that hate crimes against Muslims are up 67 percent, to the highest levels since the post-9/11 months. And this is data from before Trump’s election. Regardless of the reasons for Trump’s victory – “economic anxiety,” Democratic party incompetence, sexism, bigotry – his win has emboldened those with racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic views who have interpreted it as a national endorsement of their worldview.

Back around the start of the primaries, when we were all laughing at the idea of a Republican Trump nominee (let alone president), I read through a harrowing book: “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea” by Robert Wald Sussman. The book is predicated on a fact the author believes needs no further litigation – there is no such thing as race. There are no biological, intellectual, or scientific differences between humans of various skin tones or facial features. This is accepted science worldwide since at least 1950 and the end of the appalling hegemony of the eugenics movement, which sucked in even American presidents (in 1912, three presidential candidates – Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson – all supported the eugenics movement, so, yeah, Trump’s words have presidential precedence).

I already agreed with this premise prior to buying the book. I thought surely anyone exposed to this idea would agree. Yet, even many who don’t consider themselves racist today are slow to accept this truth. Here’s a powerful article from Sussman about how deeply ingrained the idea of race is from our earliest formative days. The myth of race goes unchallenged for most of us during our upbringing, and that its rejection is the anomaly seems very backwards in 2016. However, that’s clearly still our reality.

“The Myth of Race” tells a history of the concept of racism, and of people and organizations that continue to reject and undermine this idea, from the Spanish Inquisition through colonialism and slavery to present day. Even now, the ideas of “scientific racism” persist. Even now, professors at actual universities in the United States are publishing articles within a framework inherited from eugenics, often disguised as research from the “evolutionary perspective.”

“But surely these people represent a fringe of society and a dying ideology?” I thought to myself then. “Surely the vast majority of people would soundly reject bigotry when confronted with it?” Today, I’m reassessing that conclusion. I don’t believe all Trump voters are racists or committing hate crimes. But certainly a lot more people in the United States are willing to look beyond these deplorable acts and beliefs than I once assumed. Sussman’s book lays out a historical case why this has been true in the past and still is today.

In truth, many of the racist and hateful organizations of the past never went away. They went undercover.

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NCHC Prediction 2016-17


Welcome back, NaCoHoCo fans. It’s been a long offseason – partying for some of us (North Dakota, Denver), pangs for others (Omaha, Miami), pleading for others still (Arizona State, Mankato). But the days are getting shorter, the lattes are getting pumpkin spicier and the rev of distant zamboni motors grows and grows. Let’s talk college hockey, eh?

It’s destined to be another exciting year in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Sure, it’s tough to beat a national championship season. How about another one? And sure, the conference lost a lot of talent to graduation and pro contracts, but there are incredibly talented goaltenders, forwards and defenders returning for another year of play. How will it all shake out?

The writers and experts have had their say, and once again, I’m taking a stab using shot data from last season to predict how the conference race might unfold this year.

We haven’t always agreed, these hockey writers and me (me being “data”, I mean). In the last couple of years I’ve been doing this, the data has uncovered some interesting trends that bucked conventional wisdom. Two years ago, this statistical model helped predict an insurgent UNO Maverick team (that ultimately made the Frozen Four). Last year, it pegged Denver as the conference favorite – wrong, but the Pios did make the Frozen Four.

Sometimes data finds the trends that we don’t normally see. Other times, it simply confirms what everyone already knows. This year, as we’re about to see, is one of those years.

I’ve collected individual-level data on all NCHC players from 2015-16, primarily goals, shots, shot%, save% and a derived possession-share (individual shots/all shots). That data is readily available thanks to better tracking by the NCHC and more in-depth shot statistics compiled by College Hockey News. (P.S. to NCHC’s marketing team: I love the new website and data page – huge improvements. Someone’s been reading?)

As is tradition, we’re going to adjust sh%, sv% and possession for each team based on what we know about roster changes, particularly about who is returning and who has left. To do this, I have to make some assumptions about players and teams. I’ll try to keep these as safe as possible:

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NCHC 2016-17: Returning Defense


This week I’ve been looking at returning 2016-17 NCHC talent. I’ve evaluated the goaltenders and forwards. Today, let’s tackle the defenders.

In the forwards article, I mentioned just how much offensive talent has left the conference this year. But with the exception of a trio of North Dakota juniors, defensive talent largely sticks around. Coupled with the solid goaltenders who remain, this could be a year of defensive chess matches in the NCHC – very exciting stuff.

Before looking at any data, however, we need to have a quick discussion about the analysis itself, because this category is always more subjective than the other two. When we’re evaluating defensive players in hockey, we tend to conflate their actual defending abilities with their offensive contributions.

Defensemen are the most difficult position to assess in hockey, at all levels. You can evaluate them in the same way you do forwards, but that only tells you who the most offensive-oriented guys are. Trying to determine the most defensive defensemen can be difficult, especially with the lack of data we have at the NCAA level. For so long, plus/minus was the standard, but the stats community has come to a consensus that +/- is unreliable and useless. At the NHL level, two-way blue line talent can be looked at through ice time, relative Corsi, player usage charts, etc., (see here, here and here) but we simply don’t have that kind of data in college yet. We’re stuck with shots, shot blocks, faceoffs, goals and assists.

We’ve tried to make do with what we have, knowing that we still need a better way. But in working with the extant data, we can do a pretty good job of evaluating who is helping the team score goals from an offensive perspective, and we might be able to infer some things about who is actually playing good preventative defense. We’ll return to this discussion at the end of the article, because there are a few more preferable indicators of good defense (and they’re not that hard to get at), but it would take some investment from the NCAA and the conferences.

For now, let’s play with the data we’ve got.

Top Losses

NCHC teams lose 17 defenseman in 16-17, just one less than last year. Let’s take a quick look at the top departures before getting to returning players:

Team Player Year Total Shots Blocks Expected Points Actual Points Rating
SCSU Ethan Prow Sr 136 73 29.19 38 1.30
NDAK Troy Stetcher Jr 253 54 31.28 29 0.93
DEN Nolan Zajac Sr 198 77 18.13 20 1.10
UMD Andy Welinski Sr 214 49 20.52 19 0.93
NDAK Paul LaDue Jr 216 51 21.60 19 0.88
NDAK Keaton Thompson Jr 134 34 16.38 17 1.04
UNO Brian Cooper Sr 133 64 16.16 16 0.99
MIA Matthew Caito Sr 119 40 18.17 11 0.61
UMD Willie Corrin Sr 106 33 6.20 10 1.61
MIA Chris Joyaux Sr 58 40 10.85 6 0.55

Last year, I suspected Ethan Prow would be the best defender in the conference. That held up pretty well – Prow led blue liners in points, and overperformed statistical expectations by about 30%. Similarly, Nolan Zajac and Troy Stetcher – also in my top five – had good years. Matthew Caito was someone of a miss, though. Perhaps he had an off year, but he earned about 40% fewer points than I would have expected. Though quite a few top Miami defenders had poor years – perhaps something about their systems? Could be an artifact, too.

The Fighting Hawks lose the most at defense, as three juniors depart. Interesting, Western Michigan has zero returning defenders, a good sign for them in a year they’ll be seeking a new goalie. Also interesting is that some of the “best” defenders have very even ratings (close to 1.00), which differs from top forwards, who tend to have high ratings. This supports my theory posed last year, which suggests the best defenders cluster around 1.00, or “at offensive expectations.”

Traditional Analysis

Let’s get to it – who are the top returning defenders in the NCHC? There are 47 returning this year, just one less than last year. Let’s look at the top d-men in a few of the more traditional ways – points, blocked shots, and blocks per game.

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NCHC 2016-17: Returning Forwards


Last year turned into a banner year for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s offensive players. Two seasons ago, the top 20 NCHC forwards combined for 703 points. Last year? 808 – nearly 15% more scoring. High-powered offense certainly made for more than a few exhilarating tilts.

Now as 2016-17 approaches, NCHC hockey returns but without 14 of the leagues 20 top forwards, six of whom departed early. Adios, Kalle Kossila. See ya, Danton Heinen. Peace out, Nick Schmaltz. Jack Roslovic? We hardly knew ye.

A huge vacuum of talent waits to be filled, but in this league the wait never lasts long. Who’s going to step in for all that lost offensive production? My goal here is to figure that out.

Earlier this week I looked at returning NCHC goaltenders, finding few surprises. That’s not so with the NCHC forwards. Much like with the goalie model Taylor and I developed, we have utilized the new data available from College Hockey News to look beyond the traditional scouting reports. With a more complete picture of the shot statistics available, we can get closer to understanding who’s really changing the game with their ice time, and who stands out as the most effective forwards in the league. I’ll spare you the gory methodology since it’s about the same as last year’s analysis.

Let’s get warmed up by applying that analysis to those NCHC forwards not returning in 2016-17.

Top Losses

Looking only at guys who played in 50% or more of their team’s games, the NCHC loses 31 forwards, just a few more than last year. As I mentioned above, though, the list is top heavy, and some teams get hit harder than others.

St. Cloud State loses its top five point earners, for starters. The represents 61% of their forward’s scoring from 2015-16, and even for a strong program like SCSU, that’s a tough roster to reload. Denver and North Dakota each lose three of their top five scorers, though for Denver that includes underclassmen Heinen and Trevor Moore. For North Dakota, Nick Schmaltz leaves early, as does Luke Johnson. Most unscathed is probably Western Michigan – losing only 15% of their scoring from last season.

Teams losing their top-scoring forward include Colorado College (Hunter Fejes), Denver (Heinen), Miami (Roslovic), St. Cloud (Kossila), Duluth (Tony Cameranisi), and Omaha (Jake Guentzel). Only Western Michigan and North Dakota return their top forward. Woof.

Let’s warm up by applying the advanced model to the top 10 departing NCHC forwards by points earned:

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NCHC 2016-17: Returning Goalies


Who’s ready for year four of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference? So much off-season intrigue. A national champion among our ranks. A bunch of big names going pro. A will-they-won’t-they melodrama of expansion talk. Thank Gretzky the summer is almost over and college hockey is nearly here again.

It should be a very interesting year in the NCHC. The parity of the first two years seemed to dissipate in year three, with contenders separating themselves from teams not quite there. Also, the incredibly loaded rosters of last year have… uh, unloaded. This year, 15 of the top 20 point scorers from last season will not return, and six of those are early departures. In the year prior, the league lost only eight of the top 20 point scorers. From a qualitative perspective, that makes it tough to know what to expect, and even tougher to know who will emerge as the conference’s top talent.

Lucky for us, we can get quantitative! Last year, Taylor and I developed a series of models to assess returning players’ contributions. The model constructed an average NCHC position player and compared each individual real player to that standard, determining if they were overperfoming or underperfoming expectations. This helped (successfully, I might add) identify who some of the key players would be in the new season.

In this post, I’m revisiting that model and applying it for 2016-17. This is part one of a three-part series on returning NCHC talent. We’ll start with goaltenders, arguably the most important position on the ice, with the most potential to change a game. Later, we’ll look at forwards, and then we’ll wrap up with defenders. All of this should hopefully help inform some predictions for NCHC finishes in 2017.

Once again, my data comes from the invaluable College Hockey News database of Corsi events, which tracks every NCAA player throughout the year. I’ll try not to get to into the methodology in this post. If you’re really interested in that, I’ll have you check out last year’s installment, which explains everything in detail. This time around, let’s get to the good stuff.

Players left behind

The NCHC collectively loses nine goaltenders for 16-17, seven of whom saw significant playing time. With no disrespect to Duluth’s Matt McNeely or St. Cloud’s Rasmus Reijola, who combined saw less than 100 shots and appeared in two and five games respectively, let’s take a look at those seven significant contributors:

Team Player Year GP GAA Saves GA Sv%
UMD Kasimir Kaskisuo Jr 39 1.92 904 75 92.3%
SCSU Charlie Lindgren Jr 40 2.13 1019 83 92.5%
MIA Ryan McKay Sr 17 2.57 371 39 90.5%
MIA Jay Williams Sr 22 2.58 491 53 90.3%
CC Tyler Marble Jr 13 3.66 323 39 89.2%
WMICH Lukas Hafner Sr 28 3.67 804 96 89.3%
UNO Kirk Thompson Jr 15 3.27 294 42 87.5%

Duluth’s Kaskisuo and St. Cloud’s Lindgren leave the biggest holes to fill. Both performed well above average and appeared in nearly every game for their team. Our model shows both of these netminders let in 11% fewer goals than expected from an NCHC goalie, which puts them in “very good” but not “great” territory. The rest on this list, frankly, underperformed expectations. Nevertheless, this particularly leaves Miami and Western Michigan in a bind, because neither returns an heir apparent between the pipes. All in all, it looks like at least four NCHC teams will open the season with a fresh face in goal.

Let’s move on to the returning talent.


NCHC teams will have 10 returning goaltenders this year who saw significant playing time in 2015-16. I would consider five of them returning starters. Below is a breakdown of each player’s performance in four situations – all icetime, even strength situations, penalty kill situations, and close-game (defined as play when it’s less than a 2-goal game). These players are sorted by total save percentage:

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