Sunday, November 15, 2015

Benchmarking government

I'm still processing the terrorist killings around the world right now.  I'll leave discussions about that to people who understand it better than I do.

Right now, I want to shed light on a little corner of the universe that I do know better than most.  Hopefully, the amount of understanding in the world will go up a little bit because of what I write.

I am a data specialist in a geophysical data archive so I follow news about geo-referenced data more than the average citizen.  Actually, I'm a bit obsessed with how data searches work or don't work and why.

This editorial appeared in my customized news feed and I was completely flummoxed by the ignorance displayed by the editorial board of a purportedly top-tier newspaper.

The LA Times Editorial Board was incensed by Governor Brown's request to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources--just days after the governor had appointed their new chief--to supply him with a report on the mineral history and the potential for mineral extraction of his family's ranch in rural California. The editorial said:
It's inappropriate for the governor to call the head of an agency for help with personal business, especially someone he had just installed in the job nine days before. It also was wrong for his aides to follow up with the agency to ensure that there would be a map and other specific information. State employees are paid to do state business, not take care of the governor's personal matters. Brown received his report within a couple of days after he asked for it — an uncommon alacrity in state government — and also received a satellite map drawn up especially for him.
When I read that, I was shocked, but not for the reason the editorial suggested.

I was impressed that Governor Brown, a 77 year-old philosophy major, understood the scientific method and how to apply it to data problems.

Whenever you tinker with a system, you run benchmark tests before and after.  If you install a new chief of a department, you measure his effectiveness by testing response time and job quality for a common task required by the department.  Moreover, you run this test for a case that you know well, so you can assess the accuracy of the results.

Asking for all the info on oil and gas extraction in the past, and potential for the future, for the family farm is a great idea.  His family has owned that land for more than 150 years.  If there had been oil and gas exploration on the land in the past, he would have known about it.

I asked my husband, a field scientist, what he thought of the story.  He said that you always test in an area you know really well, so you can gauge the quality of your measurements, before you go to an unknown area.  So that's two scientists who were impressed with the governor's grasp of the scientific method.

The governor got the correct answer in 24 hours, according to this later story with more details.
The wire service story said that "after a phone call from the governor and follow-up requests from his aides," the regulatory agency "produced a 51-page historical report and geological assessment, plus a personalized satellite-imaged geological and oil and gas-drilling map" of the area.

You know, just like any ordinary citizen would expect to receive.

But the characterization of the service appears to be a stretch. Except for a one-page personal memo, all the material collected for the governor amounted to merely a pile of old letters sent other property owners, historic data from yesteryear and some oil field maps.

"Everything is available on the [state] website," said Nancy Vogel, chief spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Agency, the umbrella entity for these regulators. "If you know how to find it.

"They did not do a formal assessment. That would have been many weeks of work."

The governor got back his answer within 24 hours. "The potential for significant oil or gas in this area is very low," the memo read. As for mining, that potential also "is exceptionally low."

Steve Bohlen, Brown's appointee as chief regulator, said the governor asked him about the geology of the land, past oil or gas production and potential for any future production. "I said that was easy to do," Bohlen told me. "It wasn't like 'drop everything.'"

Two petroleum experts who aren't necessarily Brown fans confirmed to me that all this stuff is available on the state's oil and gas website.
That "just like any ordinary citizen would expect to receive," is a low blow. Ordinary citizens in this data-driven era should be able to look up the mineral history of their land (or surrounding land) as that is the best predictor of future mineral development.

The Center for Public Integrity gave California a C- in their 2015 State Integrity report card.  The grade was largely brought down because of an F on Public Access to Information.

Making public information easily available to citizens should be a high priority and the governor should appoint public officials who are committed to improving data processes and data access for citizens.  Running a benchmark test at the start of a new department chief's tenure was the right thing to do.

Let's hope that this media 'gotcha' campaign doesn't deter him from running the 'after' benchmark test to see if they turn up more (or less) data faster (or slower) after Bohlen has been on the job for a while.


Geophysical data is extremely difficult to search for many reasons.  Records are messy, inconsistent, and often came from the pre-digital era.  So many things can get lost in the translation--or get plain lost.

We are so accustomed to nearly instantaneous searches on the internet, we forgot how much work goes into making this magic mundane.

For instance, do you know how much software and data engineering went into creating this data order form?
Do you know the international treaties that enable the sharing of this data? The small army of people who worked to clean up and standardize this global dataset? It took a whole lot of work to make this look easy. But it was anything but easy or simple.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The snowpack starts here

I took this photo two weeks ago, flying westbound between DEN and LAX.  The snowpack has deepened due to our recent snowstorms.

I believe we were slightly west of the Continental Divide, so this snow will eventually make it into the Colorado River and some of it will wind up in LAX.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Now that's a windsday!

The snow blew sideways outside my window for much of the afternoon.  When I left work tonight, I worried that I would be blown off the mesa!

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Harley Quinn hat

I really didn't want to draft a pattern for the helmet-like Harley Quinn hat.  Fortunately, I found Alchymyst's tutorial for a simpler jester hat in Harley Quinn colors.

Behold, my simplified Harley Quinn hat.
I deviated from her pattern by using longer, curved hat legs. But I copied her method of sewing a hat-sized pair of leggings, cutting off the body, and then rotating it 180 degrees for a contrast band. Very simple and effective.

We stuffed the legs with crumpled up plastic produce bags to plump them out.

The hat will come in useful for those crisp mornings that are a little bit too cool to go hatless, but too warm for her fleece hat or her hooded winter parka.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Harley Quinn collar

I was resigned to purchasing white satin at a big box store and making an one-use collar. But, I scored 4 yards of white poly satin for 99 cents at the ARES thrift store.

I laid the front and back pieces of Kwik Sew 2555 (the pattern for the top) together and traced the shoulder line and around the neckline.  I used a saucer to draw round shapes--3 in the front, 2 in the back.

I checked the pattern piece against the top to for scale.
I wanted to use something with more grip than satin for the bottom side.  I found a scrap of white cotton jersey.  I stitched the shape all the way around with a 1/4 inch seam allowance and then trimmed close to stitching.

This is a technique often used in machine applique.  This left me a dilemma.  In machine applique, we snip the underside lining to turn the piece right side out.  The open cut side is then applied against the backing so that it never shows (or frays).

How do I close the cut opening on the collar so that it doesn't fray, stretch or tear?  I eventually used a carefully-placed piece of fusible interfacing under the hole and tweezers to hold it in place while I ironed it in place.

I sewed snaps on the back collar edge and then called it done.

This is the only part of the costume that won't have a post-Halloween afterlife.  It's pretty small and made from scraps.  I won't lose any sleep over the waste.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Harley Quinn top

I puzzled about how to get the Harley Quinn one-piece look with two pieces. The bodice reverses the legging colors, but the color change needs to occur higher than the top's hem.  Some online costumes reversed the colors in two places: below the bust (empire) and again at the hem of the top.  I wanted one sweep of color from the empire line to the bottom of the legging.
I switched thread colors to ensure that contrast stitching (on the outside) did not distract from the overall color-blocking.
Ordinarily, I center the neck band seam at the back. However, I offset it a little bit to reduce bulk at the back of the neck.

This top is built to last and is now a part of her everyday wardrobe.

BTW, this is my 30th rendition of Kwik Sew 2555 since I started tracking my pattern use.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Harley Quinn leggings

A second-skin unitard is a nonstarter. A one-piece is just not practical for all-day wear. From the beginning, I knew that I would be making a top+leggings.
This pair of leggings may not look like much, but it is a milestone.

The last pair of leggings I sewed for her, back in January 2015, was made with the child-sized pattern, Kwik Sew 3476. I had to add so much length to the pattern, I decided to trace out the adult-sized Kwik Sew 3636 this time.  My baby is growing up.  Sniff.

Colorado Fabrics had a nice assortment of cotton/lycra stretch French Terry this summer.  I brought some home in red, dusty pink and olive.  I combined the red with the black cotton/poly/lycra stretch French Terry I bought from CF last winter and used for the non-Hammer pants.

The rest of the costume required more thought and planning.  Stay tuned.


Halloween costumes can be an unseemly waste of resources.  Think of all those costumes that get trashed after one wearing.  I try to make clothes that have a life after Halloween in a non-costume-y way.  These leggings are now pajamas.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The visual evolution of Harley Quinn

When my daughter told me that she wanted to dress as Harley Quinn for Halloween, she showed me the PG-13 picture below rather than allowing me to do a Google Image search.
Smart girl, because I was very, very unhappy with what I saw when I did the image search (after agreeing to the costume).

With a few subtle changes, HQ goes from PG-13 to soft-core p@rn.  Guess which image is more prevalent on the internet?

At least that is better than the version in the computer game, which is plain p@rn.

H/T (hat tip) to Sarah, this is for her post about the evolution of Harley Quinn. Why does HQ's outfit get skimpier and skimpier over time while her boyfriend, the Joker's, stays pretty constant?

Also, read Boing Boing and the Hawkeye Initiative for more responses on the same theme.

This hyper-sexualization of female figures in comic books and computer games alarms and discourages me, on so many levels.  How can pointing out the misogyny of these portrayals be portrayed as an attack on men?

Portrayals such as these are attacks upon women!  Pointing out the hyper-sexualization and victimization of women in computer games is truth-telling.  How can the Gamergate crew twist this around so that they are the victims?

These pathetic excuses for human beings cry foul: Boo-hoo, women are taking our fun (violent misogyny) away from us.  I know, let's threaten and harass them on line and in real life.

They even sent a SWAT team to the home of the mother of one critic of on-line culture.  That's not harassment, that's terrorism.

Read Vox and the Daily Beast's coverage of Gamergate's tactics to shut down a discussion about the problems of gamer culture and how to make online games a safer place for women.