ARS Colleagues: Updated Furlough Notices & Shutdown Resources

Attention ARS Employees: Effective January 21, the current furlough notices will expire.  Updated notices have been uploaded to the USDA Be Prepared Website:

Additional shutdown resources including FAQs regarding benefits, unemployment information, guidance on outside employment, EPP password resets, and other documents are available at:

25 Irish Fiddle Tunes for Mandolin

(Originally posted 26 December 2014)

So, I was sitting around in a post-Christmas torpor, watching the Louisiana Tech-Illinois bowl game (cry for me, this is what I’m reduced to), and I decided to Google around for some more fiddle tunes to learn on mandolin. I was lucky to find an excellent songbook of 25 Irish Fiddle Tunes scored and tabbed by Michael Pilgim over at Mandolin Cafe. I’ve heard some of the tunes before, but not all of them, and I wanted to collect links to YouTube performances of them for later reference. So, here goes! (Note: Not all of the
performances are on the mandolin, I was more interested in melodies that were easy to pick out of the mix.))

For my own reference, Trying to explain the difference between a jig, reel and hornpipe. One performer on YouTube noted that jigs are hard to play with the right spirit on the mandolin, and she proposed that it’s got to do with the right hand. I don’t know about that, but I know that a lot of the jigs I listened to sounded off somehow. I’m not saying I’m better than anyone, I’m just agreeing with the proposition that jigs take a special touch, and it might be better to start with some reels.

Thanks to Michael for sharing the PDF with the community, and for all the people who shared their skills on YouTube. It sure makes it easier to learn when there are so many resources available on the Internet!

Five books every animal breeding student should read

(Originally posted August 29, 2014.)

For a couple of days I’ve been thinking about the canon of animal breeding, the important works that every student should read. I’m not up to the task right now of assembling a list of key scientific papers, and I suspect that there’s already a good list somewhere that I can use as a starting point, so I’m going to go for low-hanging fruit instead. These are five books that I think that every graduate student in animal breeding should work through, reading the text and working the exercises as they go.

  • Cameron, N.D. 1997. Selection Indices and Prediction of Genetic Merit in Animal Breeding: I’m not sure how many people have actually read this book, but I find it to provide very nice coverage of selection index methodology. It’s much more accessible to me than Van Vleck’s “Selection Index and Introduction to Mixed Model Methods”, but some may also prefer Weller’s “Economic Aspects of Animal Breeding”, which also includes a lot of material on selection index.
  • Falconer, D.S., and T.F.W. Mackay. 1996. Introduction to Quantitative Genetics (4th Edition): This is the classic introductory text on quantitative genetics, and is essential reading for anyone whois going to work seriously in animal breeding. It also lays the groundwork necessary to tackle Wright’s epic four-volume series “Evolution and the Genetics of Populations”. The chapters are relatively short, but there is a tremendous amount of material packed into each. I still return to Falconer frequently, and I’ve been a full-time animal breeder for more than a decade.
  • Henderson, C.R. 1984. Applications of Linear Models in Animal Breeding: This is one of the foundational works in animal breeding, but it’s very terse. I recommend that you work through this book with the help of Larry Schaeffer’s Animal Model Notes.
  • Lush, J.L. 1945. Animal Breeding Plans: This is a very old book that I sadly ignored for years. Jay Lush knew a lot about practical animal breeding, and he set some of it down in this book. This a treatise on applied animal breeding, it’s not a [purely] academic work per se. Many of the tools discussed in the book have been supplanted by more modern approaches, but reading this will provide the student with a very good historical overview of the field, and will help you recognize old things that sometimes become new again. (Note: I bought my copy from a used bookseller on the Internet. As best I can tell – so take this with a grain of salt – the book is out of copyright in the US. It looks as though there is a publisher that sells an e-book edition for about $9. Somebody should probably spend the time to reset the book using LaTeX, like Schaeffer did with Henderson’s book, and make it available as a free e-book. Maybe I’ll get to that one day.)
  • Mrode, R. A. 2014. Linear Models for the Prediction of Animal Breeding Values, 3rd Edition: Mrode’s book is the [definitive] work on models for the estimation of breeding values, and the new third edition includes material on genomic selection models. It is full of examples that the reader can easily implement in Python or R as they read through the [book]. The material is very accessible, and the references list comprehensive. It dovetails nicely with the very theoretical approach taken in Henderson’s book.

Note that these are just my opinions, and there are some other very good books out there. Bourdon’s introduction to animal breeding text is dated, but has some very nice things in it. Sorensen and Gianola’s “Likelihood, Bayesian, and MCMC Methods in Quantitative Genetics” is [mathematically] intimidating, but very good. Ignacy Misztal’s course notes on Computational techniques in animal breeding (link to PDF) are a great resource for anyone interested in the software implementation of genetic evaluations. I’m sure there are other great sources that I’m not thinking of at the moment.