Saturday, December 22, 2007

Los Angeles Rainfall: Dec 2007

Brent has been sharing his rain gauge readings. Our house got 1.4" this week through Friday evening when the rain slowed to a drizzle and I emptied the gauge. Then Mark went to the grocery store without a jacket and walked home in a miserable downpour. The gauge showed another 0.2 inches from that brief rain band. Add the inch we got the previous week and the early storm in October, and LAX rainfall is at 106% of normal for this time of year. Still not enough to make up for the severe drought last year.

For the latest rain year data, see the California Nevada River Forecast Center page for data for the most recent two years. Or data for the past 6-24 hours.

Some thoughts on water policy.
[LA] Mayor Villarairgosa called for voluntary water conservation, but only if it does not involve sacrifice or inconvenience for anyone. I suggested to Mark that we let our small patch of lawn in the front yard go brown in anticipation of replacing it with EasyTurf like in the backyard. Mark was adamant that we will not do any more conservation of any sort because we will be punished again.

(Remember Stick that Up Your Light Socket? We conserved electricity in 2000 so we weren't eligible for $ credit in 2001 when people were rewarded based upon how much they reduced their electricity usage between 2000 and 2001.)

If we conserve water now, we will be punished again when water rationing is implemented for real. They are suggesting baseline water allotments based on historical use. If you used more in the past, you will be given a higher allotment. There will likely be an appeal process, which will be as inconvenient as possible to discourage people from using it. Unlike Brent, I object to being put through administrative hoops to get a reasonable water allotment. (I am busy enough.)

It will be galling to watch profligate water wasters be given a higher allotment because they "need" more, based upon prior history. Consumers do learn--the wrong lessons. Perhaps we should fill our jacuzzi tub for nightly bubble baths for everyone to establish that we have a "need" for huge amounts of water. Or maybe I will wash our cars in the driveway twice a week.

Links
Los Angeles Rainfall
California and Nevada Precipitation Data both real-time and archival long-term history

The Spirit of the Season

Taken outside Macy's in Torrance at lunch yesterday.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Color Cue 2008

Pantone has pronounced Blue Iris, a purplish blue, as the color of 2008. Read the Pantone press release. Read the NYT story about the surge in blues overall.

We like blue/purple in our household. We also like green, both figuratively and literally. Sadly, another NYT article, Flash in the Can, says that green (as in eco) is so over. That's the problem with fashion. It's in, it's out; but the earth still pays for our sins.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fiber and Air Free Pattern

I am not making any holiday presents this year. But, in case you want to make any last minute presents, I am posting instructions for a quick gift made of recycled bits of fabric, ribbon, yarns, thread and air. Mostly air.

I posted instructions a long time ago, on my sister's blog. See the
picture of Iris in this scarf.







General Tips:

I generally followed the directions given in the Sew News Threads of Distinction article. I also searched the web and read that some people had trouble removing the stabilizer completely or removing the residue from the basting spray. I decided to use plain old Solvy instead of the thicker Ultra Solvy. Sure enough, it dissolved fairly easily when swished around in a sink full of warm water and a little shampoo.

Further cruising seemed to indicate that the basting spray does not dissolve easily in water so I used it very lightly. I used the very minimal amount of spray that was still tacky enough to hold the fibers in place as I worked. Other people's blogs indicate that the brand of basting spray matters. I stayed away from the brand that people had trouble with and used the June Tailor basting spray as recommended by the Threads of Distinction article.

The ToD instructions say to spray both layers of Solvy. But, if you spray both layers of Solvy, then how do you put the top layer of Solvy on without getting a wrinkled mess? I enlisted the help of a friend and we still had trouble laying it on straight and wrinkle-free. For the second scarf, I sprayed only the bottom layer of Solvy with basting glue. I rolled the top layer of Solvy up and then carefully unrolled it over the fibers and bottom layer, starting at one scarf end and finishing at the other.

Machine stitching the grid can be rather tedious. If your sewing machine chews up metallic threads in the needle, try putting it in the bobbin instead. Rather than buying multi-colored embroidery thread, you can use up bits of leftover colors of sewing thread in multiple colors. Different colors of thread in the bobbin and needle produce an interesting twisted color effect.

Materials:

  1. Solvy
    1. For a 9” wide scarf, buy enough yardage for the desired length of the scarf.
    2. For an 18” wide stole, buy double the length of the stole.
  2. Ribbon yarn
    1. 5 times the length of the scarf
    2. 8-10 times the length of the stole
  3. Bits of lightweight fabrics
  4. Small amounts of different yarns
    1. Try some fluffy eyelash and/or recycled silk yarn
  5. Sewing and embroidery thread in coordinating colors.

Instructions:

  1. Cut a piece of 19" wide Sulky Solvy to the length of your scarf.
  2. Cut it in half lengthwise to two 9.5" wide pieces.
  3. Roll one piece up and set it aside.
  4. Lay the other piece out on newspaper and spray enough June Tailor basting spray to make it tacky enough to hold your fibers down.
  5. Move the newspaper out of the way (so your fibers don't stick to the newspaper).
  6. Weight the tacky Solvy down with sewing weights at the corners to keep it taut.
  7. Lay ribbon or ribbon yarn around the perimeter of your scarf.
  8. Lay a few pieces of ribbon lengthwise to give it a bit more structure.
  9. Lay your other yarns, fibers, and fabric bits down in any way that appeals to you.
  10. Admire your work. Fill in sparse areas because you want the density of the scarf to be roughly even and balanced.
  11. Carefully unroll the remaining piece of Solvy over your fiber collage.
  12. Pin as necessary to keep the sandwich together.
  13. Sew with a medium straight stitch (~2.8 mm) around the perimeter of your piece.
  14. Sew a mesh (both lengthwise and crosswise) about ½ to ¾” apart.
  15. Admire your work. If there are areas where the grid is spaced too far apart, fill in the area with more stitching.
  16. Swish the piece in a sink full of warm water and a few drops of shampoo until the Solvy is completely dissolved. Rinse.
  17. Roll the piece up in a towel to blot the water out, and then air-dry.
  18. Admire your work.
Enjoy, and please use this pattern only for noncommercial use, etc. And send photos of your completed work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Accidental Haul

Iris said that our skirts would not be mommy and me unless we had the exact same waistband elastic. Because I bought the ruffled elastic 20 years ago, I can't get more of the same. I stopped by SAS fabrics on the way home from work.

SAS sells odd lots of fabrics and trims left over from the fashion industry at generally low prices. I took a picture of the trims in the window.

I also took a picture of the zippers (mostly YKK w/ some Talon) before the manager told me that photography is not allowed in the store. Too bad, because the trim aisle is incredible, and incredibly cheap.

I found some elastic for 10 cents a yard, but I came home with a bit more than on my shopping list. Look at the cute penguin crepe de chine. At 99 cents/yard, I expected it to be polyester. The manager says that the piece was sold to them as silk. I thought it had to be very good quality polyester because it felt so much like real silk. At any rate, it would make a good lining. When I got it home and did a flame test, it really was silk. If you want some silk for 99 cents, they have a few other prints in the same barrel, to the right of the door. Maybe the one with basketballs swooshing through a hoop against a black background?

I bought some trims. The entire roll of cotton/rayon grosgrain (so soft) was $4.

I was also on the lookout for more of the snakeskin vinyl that we used as a tablecloth for the last 2 years. (See Stencils Before Dinner for a picture of the tablecloth.) It had finally worn through and ripped in several places. SAS had sold out of the natural/black color. They had purple/black and green/black for $2.99/yd, but they didn't look appetizing. Then I found the entire missing roll of natural/black at the Cotton Shop for $7.99/yd. Actually, I suspect that the Cotton Shop gets some of their fabrics and trims from SAS. I know some people feel too nervous to go to Lawndale to shop at SAS. But, then other people might feel nervous about coming to "felony flats".

I also bought some stuff at Artfibers during my San Francisco trip. The retail prices at the store are significantly higher than on their website. It occurred to me too late, that it would be cheaper and easier to order on-line. Pay the shipping and stop worrying about cramming stuff in my suitcase. But, if I ordered on-line, I wouldn't have seen the tweedy black color, which is so new, it isn't on-line yet. I am going to make Connie's Henley Perfected with the black Alfabeto (silk/superkid mohair/wool).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Santa Chronicles III

We have been so swamped, we forgot to light the Hanukkah candles for the first two nights of Hanukkah. Then we couldn't find any candles at our local grocery store or drugstore. (We found them at Whole Foods.)

Truth be told, Iris is not too happy about our upcoming trip to New Zealand. To get affordable (to us) airfares, we need to catch a red-eye leaving Los Angeles on December 23. Flying east, across the international dateline, we skip Christmas eve and land in Auckland on Christmas day. Iris is bereft.

How will Santa find Iris? No airplane we know has a chimney. I don't think he can come in through the jet engine exhaust; that sounds kind of dangerous. We will just have to hope that Santa's magic will overcome all obstacles.

(Never mind all that stuff about how you have to be good to get a visit from Santa.)

I have a sneaking suspicion she doesn't think Santa is real. Read The Santa Chronicles and The Santa Chronicles II. A smart kid would rightly guess that the minute she lets on that she doesn't believe in Santa, the presents stop. The real act isn't for the parents to pretend that Santa exists. It is for the child to convince the parents that she still believes. That said, Mark has asked Santa for a blu-ray player for Christmas.

All is not bah humbug at Chez Bad Mom. We have been counting down the days at NORAD Santa (website available in many languages). This year, you will have to download Google Earth in order to Track Santa. We did that. While waiting for the big event, the website has many games and puzzles for children.

Aside:
NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, a joint venture between the US and Canada. Since 1955, they have used radar and satellites to track Santa's journey around the world. The annual "video" footage is hilarious.

The Importance of Being Multi-Culti

Mark and I are just checking our to do lists and having an "Aack!" moment. He traveled for work one week. Than we played tag team and I went on work travel for a week. We are at home together for one week and then off to New Zealand. Add to that, a personal family crisis that is not blog fodder.

Lovely holiday cards and letters are arriving daily, adding to our sense of failure. I haven't even started my holiday shopping. Why can't more people call a gift moratorium?

Luckily, we are a multi-cultural family. My mother in law sends out our holiday cards before the Jewish New Year in the Autumn. My mother sends out her cards before the Lunar New Year in late winter. Thus, anything in between those two holidays counts as on time! Saved by multi-culturalism.

Besides, we hope to have some lovely pictures from our trip.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shedding Skin

This post, from six and a half stitches, just about made me cry.
Today I resigned.

I've alluded before to the fact that I haven't been comfortable back at work. I always felt I returned because I had to, not because I wanted to. Once back at work, I've felt incredibly torn between how I am defined - a mother, an architect, a designer. Up till now it's always been a relatively free definition, without much compromise or contradiction. But 2 children have changed the balance. I myself, the person I am, has changed the balance. I've been frustrated at my inability to lock down each role as I need to. Work crossed over into home life, and home life crossed over into work life, and I really felt I was being pulled in too many directions. Compromise is viscous.

Go read the whole thing, and the comments, especially the one by Wenchequilts:
Hi, as a woman architect in Norway, with full time architect job, 4 kids (3-14y), I have to say that I respect your decision. But how are things to change? My daughters have to learn that a woman must work and earn money to be independent of her husband...
Is it really her choice? Or was she pushed over a cliff?

Greenwashing

Remember my post on the unlikely choice of "green car of the year"? The post was up for only an hour before someone from greencar.com left a comment about how Dan Neil and I missed the significant advance... blah blah blah.

Notice that the use of a generic name like greencar.com that sounds sort of like greenercars.org, a website of the veteran non profit, The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy? ACEEE has been working to enlighten the public about the environmental impact of cars for years.

Back in high school physics, we had to calculate the speed at which two vehicles with two different centers of gravity (approximating a passenger vehicle and a truck) can safely take a turn before tipping. The takeaway lesson was that the truck tips over at half the speed that would tip over a passenger car. This lesson stuck with me for life. I am very careful when driving around trucks and I would NEVER, NOT EVER ferry my kids around in a truck. (The SUV hadn't been invented yet.)

The insanity of driving a car on stilts, endangering myself and my passengers. The waste of carrying a ton (or 3) more weight around in stop and go traffic than necessary. The increased emissions of surface level air pollution and greenhouse gases. The antisocial attitude of blocking the sight lines of everyone else, thus endangering them even further...

The worse part about it is that the SUV/truck craze has forced the passenger cars to get taller and fatter as well, just to protect their occupants. This causes all vehicles to use more fuel. It also makes passenger cars more top heavy and tippy as well.

Greenwash that!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

San Francisco Slideshow

Look, AGU (American Geophysical Union), warrants a street banner!

That's me and a buddy from grad school, former assistant seismologist for the state of Alaska. Hey, if you are a seismologist, you gotta be willing to live in places with earthquakes. He makes a great companion for after meeting dinners; he holds black belts in several styles of karate.


Moscone Center West is a beautiful building. Notice this staircase on the northern end of the building. That's one single tree, taken apart and reassembled on site.











Note the lovely grain and carving. Does anyone know what kind of tree this is?














I work in a windowless office. My home has a great view of the apartment building 10 feet away. I miss seeing the sky.



Fortunately, I had a corner hotel room last week with bay windows on two sides. It was wonderful to work at the desk in one bay window. I almost didn't mind the morning sun directly in my eyes, especially when the clouds rolled in.

The view from the other window, towards Union Square.







I had one free evening without meetings and work-related dinners. I went to Artfibers and Neiman Marcus. Despite the huge markdowns at NM, I managed to resist all temptation.

I tried on an Issey Miyake pleated polyester dress. It was several sizes too big, but you get the idea.




A Yohji Yamamoto dress made for someone much taller than me. Notice the folds around the bodice. They shouldn't be there. The fashion industry thinks that only very tall and thin women are interested in fashion. I wonder why?












The YY dress has an attached skirt that ties with an elastic cord. The skirt is attached to the front in beautiful curved seams. It was marked down to a price that I could afford. Too bad the dress was made for giants (with very thin arms).

Anyone notice that I tried on dresses by the same designers featured in Stylized Sculpture?

Tulip Skirt Nearly Complete

Only about 25 more rows left on the tulip skirt. I will line the skirt with this bright navy slinky rayon/acetate/lycra for contrast and modesty. The ruffled edge elastic was bought 20 years ago for a long-abandoned project. Now Iris wants one of her own.

Bamboo Baskets Slide Show


I was so enamoured of the bamboo sculptures and baskets of the Lloyd Cotsen exhibition on view at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, I posted a Flickr slideshow of the baskets. There are over 900 pieces in the collection; pieces are rotated every 6 months. These are the ones that were on view in December 2007.

The museum has a on-line catalog with 224 pictures from the collection.

Read more about the collection at asianart.com.

I have had a crush on Lloyd Cotsen since my first visit to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. This guy collects textiles. He donated a whole wing to the museum. The museum displayed a picture of a very young shirtless stud man, holding up a basket with a huge grin. When he was in the Navy, he used the opportunity to seek out folk art, especially textiles, wherever he went. Utterly charming.

If you like bamboo sculptures, consider buying the book, Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Arts by Robert T. Coffland. He helped Lloyd Cotsen build his collection.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What we eat

Yesterday, I serendipitously walked by poster H41C-0661 at American Geophysical Union (AGU): Tetracycline Resistance in the Subsurface of a Poultry Farm: Influence of Poultry Wastes

* You, Y (you.yaqi@jhu.edu), Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University and a whole bunch of other people, including her PhD advisor.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are considered to be important man-made reservoir of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Using the electromagnetic induction (EMI) method of geophysical characterization, we measured the apparent subsurface electrical conductivity (ECa) at a CAFO site in order to assess the movement of pollutants associated with animal waste. The map of ECa and other available data suggest that (1) soil surrounding a poultry litter storage shed is contaminated by poultry waste, (2) a contamination plume in the subsurface emanates from that shed, and (3) the development of that plume is due to groundwater flow. We focused on understanding the spread of tetracycline resistance (TcR), because tetracycline is one of the most frequently used antibiotics in food animal production and therefore probably used at our field site. Microbiological experiments show the presence of TcR bacteria in the subsurface and indicate higher concentrations in the top soil than in the aquifer. Environmental DNA was extracted to identify CAFO- associated TcR genes and to explore a link between the presence of TcR and CAFO practices. A "shot-gun" cloning approach is under development to target the most prevalent TcR gene. This gene will be monitored in future experiments, in which we will study the transmission of TcR to naive E. coli under selective pressure of TcR. Experimental results will be used to develop a mathematical/numerical model in order to describe the transmission process and to subsequently make estimates regarding the large-scale spread of antibiotic resistance.
Why did this poster catch my eye? The words tetracycline and poultry, together. Then it hit me.

My doctors and I have been trying to figure out if I am sensitive to chicken in some way. I tested not allergic to chicken proteins. There is a theory that chicken is high in arachadonic acid, a chemical in the inflammation pathway. Perhaps the arachadonic acid found in chicken and beef are exacerbating inflammation of my joints and skin?

If so, then why don't fruits like bananas, also high in arachadonic acid, cause inflammation? Why is it sporadic? Why don't I have the inflammation every time I eat meat?

I am allergic to tetracycline. They feed it to animals. When I eat the dead animals, I am taking tetracycline. Only it is not labeled anywhere. That is apparently legal.

Ya Qi helpfully told me that tetracycline is fed to chickens to help shorten the time to market (40 days from hatchling to roast chicken!). It is fed to pretty much all 'conventionally raised' animals. tetracyline is so prevalent in our food system that the TcR gene has been found in organic beef (and even flies). The presence of the TcR gene in an animal doesn't mean it has been fed tetracycline. It only means that tetracycline resistance is now a common characteristic in our environment, due to heavy and indiscriminate use in the past and present.

How did dumping drugs and other chemicals into our food chain become 'conventional' farming and not doing so become 'alternative' farming?

Her poster showed the apparatus that she used to get a core of the soil floor of a poultry shed. It is like the ones used to get ice cores from glaciers. So cool. The stuff she told me about factory farming in the US and China, not so cool. It kind of turns the stomach, actually. We eat organic dairy and eggs. But we don't always buy organic meats. Now I know better.

See the full abstracts for that poster session. It is hair-rising. Don't read it right after eating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Universe in a Basket

Order and disorder. The universe in a basket.
Mr. Cotsen, a resident of Los Angeles and the former CEO and chairman of the Neutrogena Corporation, assembled his collection during the course of what he calls a “forty-year love affair” with Japanese bamboo baskets. In explaining their appeal, he says, “I was attracted by the tensions created by the balancing of forces: of cohesion and chaos, structure and nature, refinement and exuberance, and ultimately, simplicity and complexity.”
Learn more about the collection.

Monday, December 10, 2007

AGU @ SFO

Two days of Multisensor Atmospheric Data Intercomparison, Synergy, and Fusion: Aerosols, Trace Gases, Clouds. Quickens the pulse, doesn't it?

Before the meeting, I visited the Stylized Sculpture exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.
...this special exhibition spotlights the sculptural essence of contemporary Japanese fashion through the works of Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and others.
20 ensembles on loan from the Kyoto Costume Institute. Bamboo baskets from the Lloyd Cotsen collection. I am on sensory overload from both the meeting and the museum. The books and shibori scarves in the Asian Art Museum gift shop were also a treat for the eyes.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Preparations

I was so good today, packing Iris off to her Brownies outing and then to a birthday party/slumber party. Her bear is afraid of the dark so we had to leave the top unzipped.

I wrapped the presents, one new and one recycled, in outdated maps that would otherwise have gone into the recycling bin. I tied them with leftover trim from the time I sewed 22 Bavarian costumes for her Montessori class concert. Notice that a reusable fossil magnet is taped on instead of a plastic ribbon bow. So eco-chic.

I am leaving town tomorrow, so I stopped by the city library and the quilt guild library to exchange books. Using the library instead of buying more books is part of my stuff diet.

Buying 24 yards of quilt fabric off the $2/yd shelf at a local quilt shop (home of the South Bay Quilters' Guild Library) is not part of the stuff diet.

Tulip Skirt Progress

It's not much, but it is progress. I will knit a few inches further than the pattern indicates before starting the decreases. I want the skirt to sit higher at the waist than pictured in the book. Also, the model and I are shaped differently.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Making it right or wrong?

I applaud Brad Pitt's commitment to making environmentally sound homes for the non-wealthy. You can read more about the project at Make It Right 9. The project plans are very exciting from a design standpoint. See some of the drawings in the NY Times Architecture article. You can even buy a low-flow toilet for someone who needs one, instead of buying more stuff for people you know that already have more than what they need.

But, I can't help wondering if we should be rebuilding in the middle of a flood plain. The reason that the lower 9th ward was built later than the French quarter and the garden district is because it is lower in elevation. The place is more flood prone and dangerous. Should we really encourage people to resettle there?

In fact, the area is more risky than when it was originally built. The land is settling so that the elevation is actually decreasing. Storm intensity is up for global, regional and local reasons. E. g., beachfront development has reduced the acreage of saltwater marshes that absorb the impact of storms. The levee system prevents natural processes such as sediment build up that gradually raises ground elevation. Urbanization (paving over) has made the area less porous to rainwater and more prone to flooding. Irrigation of crops between storms has decreased the ability of the soil to absorb rainwater. Increases in the temperature of offshore water intensifies the energy of hurricanes. The list goes on and on.

The only rational argument I have heard for resettling the area is to rebuild the social fabric of the neighborhood. Mark and I can attest to the friendliness and worthiness of the neighborhood first hand. When we visited New Orleans, we escaped the crowds and the Disneyesque atmosphere of the French quarter and gravitated to the lower 9th ward.

What if the populace of the lower 9th ward were to pick up and rebuild together on higher ground? It has been done in the past. Whole towns, or subsets of towns used to move together to new territory in the pioneer days. (Are the pioneer days gone or do we still have some pioneer spirit left?) Think of the residents of Salina, Kansas moving west and founding Salina, Colorado. Recall the Mormon pushcart emigrants. Think big.

Friday, December 07, 2007

DIY Satellite Tracking

Update:  These instructions worked for OS X 10.6 but do not work for 10.8.  I am working on a new instruction set for the 10.8 port and will post the link here when that goes up.

Suppose you are an amateur astronomer and you want to track a satellite or know when it will be visible over a certain spot? Or you want to calculate the location of the moon on a certain night? If you have a Mac or Unix/Linux box, then wonder no more.

I installed John A. Magliacane's Predict program on my MacBook Pro and wrote down a few notes in case anyone else wants to try it.
  1. Install Xtools if it is not already installed.
  2. Make sure you have the ncurses library. (Do a "man ncurses" to check. It should be part of the Xtools package.)
  3. Make sure you have a c compiler. (Do a "which cc" to check.)
  4. Download the latest predict tar file from http://www.qsl.net/kd2bd/predict.html
  5. Untar the package. cd into the predict-2.2.X directory.
  6. For a Mac running OS X, the soundcard library can trip you up. Delete the "#include " line from installer.c
  7. type "./configure" (don't ask why typing "configure" doesn't work)
  8. If you want to track a satellite that is not in the standard file, create a *.tle file using default/predict.tle as a template. You can download two elements (TLE) for a variety of satellites at www.celestrak.com. For the uninitiated, they even explain what a two line element is.
  9. Create a custom ground station site *.qth using default/predict.qth as a template. Remember that predict uses degrees west.
  10. Invoke predict and your non-default files (using your filenames): "predict -q losangeles.qth -t dmsp.tle"
  11. Invoke logging by typing L to toggle logging on/off. Your logfile will appear in SATNAME.txt

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Performance Review

Sigh. Some days are like this. I also signed the final copy of my annual performance review at my market (paid) job today.

Dances with lint roller

In retrospect, I shouldn't have debuted this sweater (aka Papyrus Lace Cardigan) at the house of friends with a long-haired cat. A white cat and a dark sweater. Fortunately, their cat is afraid of strangers so Iris' and my allergies were not too bad.

It is hard to photograph this sweater because of the color. I wore it with a teal blouse and black pants today so you can decide whether the yarn is black or green. I can't decide. It depends strongly on the lighting. In the sun, it looks off-black. Under fluorescent lighting, it looks like a shaded malachite green.

Note the length of the sleeves. I knit and washed a swatch before measuring the gauge (18x24). I calculated the changes to the pattern to meet my desired measurements. After knitting, I blocked to the measurements. Then I put the sweater on and saw gravity work its magic upon the 100% cotton tape yarn.

The knit fabric stretches about 10% in length (and shrinks about 5-10% in width). In retrospect, I would have shortened the sleeves by 2" and widened the sweater by at least 2 inches.

When Artfibers discontinued Papyrus, I grabbed three 1100 yard skeins off their clearance shelves. I still have two more in pearl gray and medium green. I already chose a lace pullover pattern from the same Adrienne Vittadini booklet for the pearl gray. With gravity adjustment.

Currently, I am working on Annie's Butt Skirt in Cotton-ease, in the toned plum color. Spanx and I are ready.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Speechless no more

Remember Speechless? I can finally articulate why I find the toy package so disturbing.

In Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, he argues that about 38 million Americans constitute a "Creative Class" that creates ideas for a living. I count myself as one of them.

In his Rant chapter, he described how "creatives" do not see a distinction between work and their "real" lives. Working merely as a means to consume later is anathema to us. I would further add, trading your lifeblood for consuming crap is tragic.

What are women for?

I have quit weeping sniveling and am busily doing research and gathering materials for our big meeting with the school officials in two weeks. I am aghast at the number of "experts" that have suggested that I quit work and home school. Not one suggested that my husband do the same.

She is a girl. I, too, was a girl, full of idealism and spatial skills that rarely occur in nature, much less in the same person. ;-) Through much effort and expense, I trained for my dream career, performing environmental science research in the public interest.

Like I wrote in The Mommy Wars,
One point that is not discussed much is the obligation that women in traditionally male occupations feel to not let down the women coming up after them. Throughout my education, I heard comments about how so and so (professors) had a point in not supporting female graduate students because women were going to quit science anyway when they had kids. Thus, scarce resources were preserved for men who would presumably stay in science. Therefore, if we quit, then we will prove those people right and make it more difficult for younger women.
While I was ill last month, I watched Raise the Red Lantern. Read a description of the movie and the criticism about 'Confusion Ethics' here. The wives depicted in the movie have value only as bearers of male children.

What was the point of educating me if I were to quit (paid, market) work now? What is the point of educating my daughter? Why go through this charade cycle if our only value to society is when we bear a male child/future worker? (Hopefully, one that shares our spatial and analytical reasoning skills.)

Fear

I had lunch with some coworkers and a woman from another company yesterday. She was early in her second trimester, but afraid to ask her company about maternity benefits out of fear.

Why must she be so afraid?

Remember the post, Why don't smart people reproduce?

This woman had recently earned a PhD after many years of struggle with a research project that was more complex than originally believed. (Is there any other type of PhD research project?) Throw in some family tragedy that also slowed progress. If she wants children, she can't put it off any longer.

The birth of a first child, any planned and hoped for child, should be a joyous occasion. Additionally, I would like to see more smart and nice people like this woman and her husband in this world. Why does she have to be made to feel like a criminal?

I have a whole series of posts about birthrates, but What do I tell her? is most especially pertinent.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My house will never be in House Beautiful

"Iris, why do your toys have to always be spread out all over the stairs? Can't you play somewhere else?"

"The stairs are the mountains. I'm a goddess; I live on Mount Olympus. Duh."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What's your superpower? Part 2 and a Callout

As the mother of a 7 year old, I think a great deal about superpowers. Iris and I discussed our superpowers walking to school in What's your superpower? I took the What Should Your Superpower Be? quiz in I wish.

But I have to say I am disappointed in the quiz. For instance, you would expect choosing a cheetah for an animal companion to strongly influence whether or not you are super fast. Guess again. If you made the same first 4 selections I did, the fifth and final question can still give four possible superpowers. How do I know? Well, my first instinct was to pick wind, but I thought I should put down weather because I am a meteorologist. But I didn't want to be invisibility and I decided to go back to my first instinct. That gave super speed. BTW, the last three options on question 5 all give invisibility. Then I played around with some other combinations and I don't see the reasoning at all for the selections.

What does this mean? It means that I should quit taking on-line quizzes and get ready for AGU and our trip to New Zealand.

Thomasina suggested a trip to Artfibers in downtown San Francisco as a break from AGU on Wednesday. Leave a comment with your email address if you want to join us.

We are going to visit both the north and south Islands. Mark has set up an itinerary that includes both glaciers and volcanoes. From Clementine's Shoes' Flickr photos, it looks we might have to bundle up for hiking around glaciers. Anyone know how cold it is in midsummer in the glacier fields of the south island?

Anybody have suggestions for yarn shopping in New Zealand? My sister suggested I buy possum fur yarn while I am there. My budget is more modest than hers. I was thinking more along the lines of soft merinos. But, I might buy a little possum/merino blend for a scarf or Moebius neck ring.

I did shop for some host gifts today. Two families in Auckland and Christchurch offered to house us--offers greatly appreciated as the dollar continues to plummet. From what I can tell, NZ is a very friendly country. One host family are old friends that we have hosted. But his parents offered to host us as well, though they have never even met us. I gave some new neighbors Iris' outgrown toddler seat. When we met the visiting grandparents from NZ, the grandfather immediately offered to host us. Unfortunately, they didn't live on our itinerary so we took a raincheck.

Green Car of the Year?

How does a gigantic SUV become "Green Car of the Year"? I am not the only one wondering that. Read Dan Neil's Doing well, not good.
It seems to me the objections to the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid's being called "green" fall into three categories:

Symbolic: The Tahoe Hybrid is not merely a Prius that can tow a boat. It is a 5,716-pound supertanker of a vehicle that is still twice the mass necessary to do the job it's typically assigned to do, that is, move a person or persons in and out of the suburbs. The Green Car Journal award seems to enable the continuing American fixation on super-sized vehicles.

Practical: The charge is "greenwashing," which is to say, the Tahoe Hybrid program will be a painfully small-volume effort that will net more positive media than real economy.

Strategic: This is the strongest objection. In a time of surpassing urgency -- whether your pet issue is global warming, oil security or economic disruption -- we are accepting, even rewarding relatively modest and incremental changes in efficiency that require no sacrifice, no change in consumer behavior at all. This isn't going to get it done, people. The notion that American drivers can sally on as before, driving the miles and tonnage they do, and only the technology under the hood has to change, is complete bollocks. We will incrementalize ourselves to the crack of doom.

I wish

Your Superpower Should Be Super Speed

You're quick witted and fast to act.
You're mind works at warp speed. From your perspective, everyone else is living in slow motion.
You get so much done, people have accused you of not sleeping.
Definitely not a couch potato, you feel a bit crazy if you're not busy doing something.

Why you would be a good superhero: You're be the first on the scene... and likely to finish the job before anyone else shows up

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Being bored by everyone else. Including other superheroes!


In the mean time, I had to settle for this kind of Time Machine. Fortunately, the OS X Leopard upgrade went off without a hitch. I connected a brand new 200 GB external hard drive before the first reboot and voila!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Speechless

Writing Maternity muses about her ambivalence towards the whole princess thing. When her girls are older, she can look forward to Pixel Chix! Iris received this as a present last weekend. Otherwise, I would have never let this into my house. Breathe deeply. Serenity now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hogwarts was not built in a day

We have proof.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

iPod U

I read the LA Times story about university lectures available for free from several universities. Apparently, the top rockstar at iPod U is UC Berkeley's philosophy professor, Hubert Dreyfus. Philosophy 6: Man, God and Society in Western Literature is the most popular lecture series.

That brings back memories. Dreyfus' picture in the LAT story shows his hair is gray now. The reading list is as I remembered. Back then, I was a 17 year old engineering major swamped with lectures, labs, and weekly theoretical problem sets and practical labs (with reports!) for each of my 3 other classes in math, chemistry and computer science. I didn't give the assigned reading for Philosophy 6 the close reading that I gave my technical classes.

Also, I found the vocabulary of the humanities professors and TAs esoteric. I'd never heard anyone use the phrase, 'paradigm shift' before that class. I recall having to look up paradigm in the dictionary because the usage didn't square with my understanding of the meaning of the word paradigm that I learned in science classes. When I approached my philosophy TA for help, she might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Then I asked the professor after class. Again, unintelligible. (Science and philosophy are two disciplines divided by a common language. LOL)

Maybe, now that I have more life experience under my belt, I can try again to understand his lectures. There is enough room on my iPod to download the entire 29 lecture series. I still have the old class reader. (During my stuff diet inventory of my books, I found my old philosophy and history readers from college.)

Iris has been asking all sorts of existential questions lately. She is obsessed with Greek mythology. She thinks the world would be a better place if people believed in gods instead of a single god again. She needs to read more about creation myths around the world. I just happen to have that in one of my old readers. See, you never know when you are going to need the old baggage, impedimenta, that you save. Hmm, I can give her my old Latin textbooks, too.

Aside:
Many people assume that Iris is named after the flower. After all, I grow several types of irises in the garden. Additionally, many girls are named after flowers, myself included (but in Chinese). That is not quite the whole story.

Mark and I were sitting in the dining room when he asked me what those pretty purple flowers were in the backyard. I said they were irises. Didn't he remember from the time we bicycle toured around Mendocino and Sonoma counties in the spring? He asked me the name of the blue flowers by the road and I pointed out the characteristics of irises to him. (He also didn't know that those pretty yellow flowers were the California state flower, the golden poppy. It is a mystery how he graduated from high school in California.)

Anyway, he said, "Iris is a girls' name. I think she is a Grecian or Roman goddess. Let's look it up." So we ran upstairs (he ran, I waddled) and pulled the dogeared copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology off the shelf. Iris is the Grecian goddess of the rainbow, a wonderful name for a multi-racial child.

When she was old enough to ask how she got her name, we told her about the goddess. She was enthralled, reading every Greek mythology book she could get her hands on. In addition to playing princesses and fairies, Iris likes to direct her playmates in 'gods and goddesses' play. But first, they have to decide if they are playing Greek or Roman. I asked her the difference. She says they have to use different names and the stories get a little garbled in the Roman version which gives them more freedom to improvise. Oh.

Retail Therapy

Mark and I received the shock of our lives last Tuesday. Statistically improbable events tend to visit our family with alarming frequency. After drying off my tears, I went shopping. Mark acted as my chauffeur and really got into the spirit of retail therapy himself. I am not going to show all that we got. I am not proud of falling off my stuff diet.

But the books I picked up at Books Sanseido are too cool to keep to myself. No, we didn't drive to Japan in the minivan. We visited the branch in Torrance, California.

It is late so I will blog about what attracted me to each of these 4 books later. I also special ordered a copy of Pattern Magic 2. I know that YesAsia.com probably could have gotten them to me sooner. But, I wanted to make sure that my local bookstore knows that there is a market for that book here. Maybe they will order two copies. You can always visit the store in about 2-4 weeks to find out.

In the meantime, I make a Flickr! photo set of the scans so you can see more detail. Check out the Knitting or Sewing sets.

While I am at it, you can visit me on Ravelry here.
Visit me at LibraryThing here.
Browse Mark's DVD collection here.
(Keep in mind that I have only uploaded about 30% of our books so far and Mark's DVD collection has grown considerably in the last 18 months.)

We are having our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Yesterday, we rode our tandem bicycle with the LA Wheelman for their annual Thanksgiving Day Ride (long route, ~39 miles). It was a lovely day and the views were amazing.

Thursday, November 22 - 9:00 a.m. THANKSGIVING DAY RIDE. (Long 39, Medium 36, Short 27) This is our traditional Thanksgiving Day ride, giving you an opportunity to work up an appetite for dinner later. All routes are almost the same length and most riders could probably do any of them, so it just depends on how fast you need to get home. If you have a small 10 lb. hen in the oven, maybe you need to do the short. If you have a 15 lb. bird roasting, maybe the medium, and if you have a 20+ lb. tom, you can do the long and still have time to spare before that little pop-up timer pops. The long and medium both go to the Pacific Palisades before a trip down to Marina Del Rey for a break and then return. The short skips the Palisades, but is otherwise the same. No matter which route you choose, it’s a pleasant way to start the holiday and a surprising number of riders usually show up. START: THE "CORNER", Olympic Blvd, 1 block west of La Cienega in Beverly Hills. From the Santa Monica Frwy (10), off & north La Cienega 1½ miles, L - Olympic 1 block to R- Le Doux.

Of course, we forgot the camera. It was good to ride with the club again. Bicycle people are the best. See the LA Wheelman 2 month ride schedule to catch up with them.

I have another terrible non-green confession. We are flying on a jet across the ocean just because we thought it would be fun to visit New Zealand. Mark has always been intrigued by the natural scenery there, I am fascinated with volcanoes, and we are all eager to visit our friends. We had so much fun when they visited us in LA last year, we wanted to see them again ASAP.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Minimalist Camera Case

Our subcompact camera is too small for the smallest generic camera case I could find. Consequently, I often carry it around without a padded case. Not optimal. I looked through my stash of felted thrift store sweaters until my eye fell on a nice plum one. I had the perfect vintage green button to complement it.

I stitched the felt into a snug, but not tight, case. Then I sewed a buttonhole with my new sewing machine. (I had to futz around with the settings a little bit because the felt is so thick and slightly stretchy.) Lastly, I stitched through the bottoms perpendicular to the sides at roughly the thickness of my camera. (Look at the diagram in step 5 of the Classic Open Tote instructions for help.) The bulk gives extra cushioning at the corners-just what I wanted.

With 20/20 hindsight, I should have made the buttonholes prior to stitching the side seam. Live and learn. Next up, a new laptop case. I might break out my new Bernina Decorative Needle Punch Accessory. Look at the cool things someone with more time can do with it.

Addendum:
I finished both sleeves of the lace cardigan. Pictures will be posted after I set in the sleeves and sew the hooks and eyes in.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More statistic manipulation

Read Japan's police see no evil to learn the secret behind Japan's low murder rate. Bad things don't happen if we ignore them.

People are literally getting away with murder.
Police discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher homicide rate in their jurisdiction, and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart failure, the group alleges. Odds are, it says, that people are getting away with murder in Japan, a country that officially claims one of the lowest per capita homicide rates in the world.
On this side of the world, a rape occurred at our local community college. A female student was grabbed from behind and raped at knifepoint as she left a class. Read El Camino College student assaulted. In the news story, El Camino College (ECC) Police Chief Steve Port said [that] there had been no sexual assaults on campus over the last three years.

"I've talked to sergeants and they can't remember when or if this has happened over the last 10 years, so this is very extraordinary," Port said.

That's another tricky statistic. A former student there told me that men would grab and grope her as she left class there. The men wait outside the classrooms for the women to exit. She fought them off and reported it to the campus police. They told her that boys will be boys. They also told her that, with her figure, she should wear baggy clothes. Of course, they did not take down a report. Once, she was assaulted in this manner while a campus police officer watched and did nothing.

Does being grabbed from behind and being groped while leaving class every day count as sexual assault? In how many ways does the ECC Police condone violence against women? Did the 'boys will be boys' environment that the ECC Police fostered help lead to an escalation of violence against women? Were there more unreported incidents because women knew they would get no help from the police?

No sexual asssaults on campus in the last three years indeed.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What is Lego class?

Ann asked why Iris needs to attend a class to put together Legos. That's a good question. I thought I would show you some samples of stuff she puts together in her weekly class at Mr. B's Bricks.

Last Spring, she did the simple machines series of experiments using an older version of the Mindstorms set. The Lego didactic materials are very impressive. The kids are given a booklet that shows, step-by-step, how to put together a project. At some steps, there are little characters on the side (like in IKEA assembly instructions) jumping up and down (pay attention) or scratching their head (what is going on here?).

When she reaches those steps, the instructor walks over to discuss the things she is supposed to notice or try. (I imagine the teachers' manual goes into more detail than the student booklets.) Then, the kids are given a problem that is not shown in the students' booklet and left alone to work out a solution. Whenever my schedule allows it, I stay for class and work independent of Iris. Let's just say the puzzles are challenging. One time, I got a different solution than the 7 year old kid beside me--and it took me longer. Mr. B said that the boy came up with the most common solution and I came up with the second most common solution. (See what I mean about the teacher's manual?)

Anyway, the teachers are around and available, but do not interfere with the kids' exploration. They help only when asked or if the kids are ready for the 'challenge' problem/puzzle.

You can see some of the projects on my Google videos page. Look for the ones uploaded last spring.

In the current Fall session, she is using the MSM Motorized Simple Machines kit.


This is a pumpkin for Halloween and a project that teaches the relationship between gear ratios and torque. I have a longer video in which Iris explains how the gear ratios determine how hard it is to stop the turntable. Alas, it is over 100 Mb and I can't upload it. It is really cute.


Here is a partially built conveyor belt.

Eventually, the kids will graduate up to the Lego robotics kit. They will learn how to write computer programs that control the robots. The kids can also join a competitive Lego team. I wasn't aware before this that there was a competitive Lego league.

Most of the pupils at Mr. B's Bricks are boys. When I pick Iris up early from daycare on Fridays for Lego, one of Iris' (girl) school friends keeps saying how much she wants to go, too. I asked her dad if she could take the class the same time as Iris. I even offered to walk the girl to her house after class.

The father scoffed, "$100 to watch a kid play with Legos? What a ripoff!" ($100 for 8 semi-private 1-hour lessons with individually tailored curricula.) Then he got into his Lexus and drove off. I drive a Toyota (and Mark rides a bike), which is why we have money left over to pay Mr. B.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Physics-based cartoons


Remember when our family went to see Ratatouille? Mark posted about it and I commented that the fur and water motion was soooo realistic.

One of my coworkers gave a talk about his PhD work simulating water flow and rendering it in 3D. It took a long time on a supercomputer to make the movie he showed of water being poured into a glass. The sewer scene in Ratatouille reminded me of my coworker's PhD work.

Sure enough, this month's Physics Today has an article called Animation uses old physics to new effect which discusses recent technical breakthroughs in animation. The article cited the scenes that most (technically) impressed me in Ratatouille.
Achieving visual realism with physically based simulations while taming the result to fit artists' imaginations is the goal in animated filmmaking and gaming.

Ever wonder how animated films such as The Incredibles get hair, clothing, water, plants, and other details to look so realistic? Or how, like the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia, animated characters are worked into live-action films? If not, the animators would most likely be pleased, since they don't want special effects to distract from the story. Behind the scenes, though, is a lot of artistry, computation, and physics.
My coworker told me the real reason that the Incredibles do not wear capes. It is not because they are so dangerous to the superheroes. They just put that in the storyline to help justify the lack of capes in the movie. Apparently, it is very difficult to make physics-based animated capes show up only behind the superheroes. Sometimes, the capes pop up through the figures and show up where they shouldn't.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's your application?

Have you ever been to a big box hardware store and been greeted by a Caltech grad asking, "What's your application?" I didn't think so. That's why we like Kurt True Value Hardware in Redondo Beach. When I first started work and moved here, I was introduced to the store by a neighbor/coworker/MIT alum. Hey, we are a diverse and tolerant neighborhood where Caltech, MIT and IIT alum live alongside one another and all get along.

Friday, I dropped Iris off at Mr B's Bricks for her weekly Lego motorized simple machines class. Then I crossed the street to go pick up a couple of things at Kurt Hardware. I was greeted by the proprietor, Dick Hyde. He has an engineering degree from Caltech and worked as an engineer/inventor or many years before buying the hardware store. (When I met Dick, I asked if he was Kurt. He said that Kurt retired and sold the store to him.)

Anyway, going there is such a pleasure compared to a big box store. You don't wander the aisles looking for stuff or help. Someone, usually Dick, actually comes up to me to ask what I need. And they don't act impatient if you don't know what you need or what to call it. They ask, "What's your application?". Then they listen and make recommendations. He didn't even bat an eye one day when I said I wanted to hang pictures up. He just asked the weight of the picture and frame and what kind of substrate would it hang on. He handed me a bunch of stuff that cost $2.50 total and told me those are the ones I want for supporting that amount of weight on drywall. Another time, he sold me an assortment of plastic leveling shims for $1 because he diagnosed that was all I needed. Always nice, always helpful.

On my way home, I passed the post office to mail some letters and dropped in at Soul Performance, a surf shop, next door to ask (still in a whisper from laryngitis) if they could recommend a skateboard for Iris. The proprietor, Mark Brog, can build you a custom surfboard to suit your body and your surfing style. He met his wife when he built her a surfboard. The boards are made at a workshop a couple of blocks away, near Kurt Hardware.

Anyway, he came through and had a selection of skateboards suitable for a neophyte Iris' size, at a very reasonable price. Later, when I picked Iris up from Mr. B's Bricks, we stopped by Soul Performance so that Iris could pick her design. After all, the skateboard has to fit her style, too. You can't see the back side, but it is a flame design.

Since it was nearly closing time, Iris had to go back the following morning for her skate lesson at the store. (That's another service that big box stores don't provide.) To help Iris tell which end is which, Mark drew a flower on the front. :-)

Iris' upper front teeth have been loose for so long, yet have been clinging surprisingly tenaciously. She wrote a note to the tooth fairy to please hurry it up.



Update

Dick Hyde passed away but his son, Leland, still runs the shop. Dick had been a hardware pioneer, employing local women to run his store and they are still working there today with his son.  While Leland majored in History, he has spend plenty of time tinkering with his dad and while working with grips in the movie industry.

Papyrus Lace Cardigan

I blogged about this project two months ago on the Wardrobe Refashion blog.
While communing with my stash one day, I noticed that there was a black cotton tape yarn with a greenish cast near a piece of green rayon with a black cast. A marriage made in heaven (or my stash closet).
[snip]
I went to San Francisco for the long weekend and did not buy any new or used clothes. I did do some major shopping at Artfibers, Thai Silks and Black Oak Books. Slideshow and store links here. The black tape yarn above is actually a second from Artfibers (Papyrus, a discontinued yarn). The yarn did not take to the dye evenly. I prefer the look anyway.
The pattern is from the Adrienne Vittadini Fall 2003 booklet. Isn't it pretty? The pattern is written for two strands of 'Carmela' (cashmere) with a gauge of 16x22. I am using 1 strand of Artfibers Papyrus (100% cotton tape yarn) with a gauge of 18x24. Of course I am following directions for the sweater 1 1/2 sizes larger than the one I want to make up for the change in gauge.

I had trouble with the lace swatch. The yarn has no elasticity and the yarn overs looked terribly sloppy. So I did not perform any yarn overs. Let me clarify. On the right side, I ignored the yarn overs. On the wrong side, I lifted up the bar between stitches, where the yarn overs should have been, and purled that. I am much happier with the results of this method than the standard yarn over.

I knit the sweater body in one piece, dividing at the armholes. I finished the two fronts first, binding off the center back collar sections with a three needle bind off, using a crochet hook for the third needle. Then I knitted the upper back section and performed a three needle bind off across the entire back, joining the front and back shoulder stitches. At the back neck area, I pulled the crochet hook through every other stitch on the center back collar section before pulling a loop of yarn through. That way, I don't have to sew the collar piece on! Very clever. Very lazy.

I thoroughly soaked the sweater in warm water and put in through a washer spin cycle. I gently tugged the lace sections to open the fabric up and pinned it to the ironing board to dry.

I had planned on using the top pattern, but thought it would be too busy with the lace cardigan front. I may use the TNT (tried and true) pattern on the bottom. I have made that woven T-shirt several times and it fits very nicely in the neck and shoulders. I even used that pattern as the basis for two maternity dresses.

I may not make the green blouse after all. This morning, I looked at the green rayon and thought maybe the two pieces don't coordinate after all. In the sun, you can see the green cast to the black yarn. With the pale winter light today, I don't see any green. The sweater would look nice with a simple shell or t-shirt.

Aside:
I have been home for 13 days straight with one illness or another. I was so sick, I didn't even feel like knitting for the first 10 days of that. Like my cousin, the surgeon, says, I am a delicate flower. When my body goes off-balance, things can go downhill rapidly. Thursday, one doctor said I was well on the road to recovery and cleared me to work a little bit. Friday is my half day and I telecommuted. What would I do without high speed internet at home? Tomorrow, I go back to the office. I still don't have a voice, but I didn't expect it to come back until next week anyway.

The Library

When Mark finished installing the glass doors on the (ubiquitous IKEA Billy) bookshelves and I sorted the books, we stood back to admire the view. This looks so much better than before. The books used to be so jumbled. The cleaning lady used to empty the shelves, vacuum and wipe, and pile the books back in random order. (We asked her to keep them in the same order, but she works too fast to pay attention to little things like that. ) Consequently, our book shelving system had no rhyme or reason. Now that we have these glass doors, she doesn't have to empty the shelves or shuffle the books anymore.

I entered half the books in this picture into our LibraryThing catalog. We noticed that the shelves are heavy with the books that one or both of us haven't read. If we read a so-so book, we get rid of it. (We are not completists; if we hate a book, we don't finish it.) If we read a great book, we want the other one to read it. Alternatively, we loan it out to as many friends as we can so that we can discuss it with them.

In an organizing book, the author cautions against hanging on to books that you have never read, and will likely never read. We will read these books some day. Just not today. Over time, I think we will read and discard more of these books.

I am at a stage in my life where I get more satisfaction from losing 'stuff weight' than acquiring more stuff. Mark is reaching the same conclusion. Iris has to hold on to everything. We have a secret plan. When we ship her off to college, we are going to move into a smaller place. That's why we are starting the stuff diet early.

LAX Insomnia

In case you, too, are wide awake, listening to jet aircraft noise, you might find these links useful.

LAX Noise Complaint Form is really hard to find from the airport website.
LAX Airport Monitor lets you view a map of the area with all planes in the vicinity. It is animated so you can see planes appear and disappear as they take off and land. All flights from near real time up the the past 3 months are viewable.

From the airport monitor, I can see that flights went directly overhead at 3000' and 3200' in the past hour. They should be flying at a minimum of 4000'. I reported them.

We normally don't hear jet traffic from LAX because the planes take off to the west, toward the ocean. However, we sometimes here them when they reverse the pattern. The wind is currently coming out of the east so aircraft takes off toward the east. The planes that went overhead then turned clockwise to head out over the ocean.

Why are they running the north LAX runway in the normal (take off toward the west) pattern and the south LAX runway in the reverse (take off toward the east) pattern? Weirdly, they are also allowing planes to land on the south runway in the normal pattern (toward the west). That requires flawless coordination and execution.

There goes another one.

At least it isn't a summer weekend with all those banner towing aircraft, circling the beach. Let's boycott all the businesses that advertise that way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Where the time goes

I put this in the comments for Other, but decided to repeat and expound upon it in a separate post.

A decade ago, when we bought in this neighborhood, our local public school used to get very respectable math scores and above average language scores. It is a very mixed neighborhood in both racial and economic terms. You can see section 8 apartments and million dollar + townhouses existing on the same block. Back then, about 1/4 of the children in the school qualified for subsidized school lunches. About the same number were English learners and the children spoke 30 different languages at home. (These statistics were gleaned from a variety of school websites when we were home shopping.)

Our neighbors said that the principal had been there forever and she was beloved by kids, parents and teachers. She supported multi-age classrooms and clustering. The earlier test scores showed that the school was reasonably effective, given the diverse backgrounds of the families here. It certainly wasn't failing. We thought that would be a fine place to send our future children.

Just as Iris was about to start school, the principal retired. Her replacement did not last a year. The district also went through 3 superintendents in 2 years. The newest superintendent's first hire was the new principal of Iris' school. He was to be the model of the new vision for the district. Gone were the combined first and second grade classrooms (where we had hoped Iris would spend just one year before advancing to third grade). Gone were 'elitist' programs such as gifted programs.

In answer to Mardel's question about how they fill the day, here's a synopsis. (This schedule is my recollection of the schedule they handed out at the beginning of the year and may be off slightly. But you get the gist.)

They have PE from 8:15 to 8:30. Since test scores show a 'weakness' in language arts, the first ~3 hours of the day, when the children are freshest, are devoted to language arts. (There is a 15 minute recess in the middle of that.) Lunch is 11:15 to noon.

After lunch, the children get 45 minutes of math 3 times a week. Never mind the research that shows people are more receptive to learning math in the early morning. The other two days, they go to the computer lab and play some kind of math computer game. Then they get 15 minutes of silent reading time. After another recess, the kids get 45 minutes of other.

Wednesdays are early dismissal so the kids go home or to daycare after silent reading. Fridays, they have library period. Another of those days, they get 30 minutes of music. Once a month, they get art. Birthdays are also celebrated in the other time slot. So they get history, social science or plain old science for 45 minutes about twice a week.

Science is tested only in the later grades so they start devoting more time to it in 5th grade.

This is how science becomes an optional after school activity, dependent on a volunteer parent and funded by the PTA. Other parent volunteers run a chess club one afternoon a week. Chess and an after school dance class (fee charged) conflict and Iris chose dance.

I have written about this earlier in The metrics are running the insane asylum and Who is keeping score and why? We really need to pay attention to the shortcomings of the metrics. I saw nothing wrong with the earlier test scores. According to the other parents, the test scores rose, not because the kids are learning so much more, but because the kids are drilled on them so much. In fact, they are learning less than before.

But the language arts scores did increase slightly under the new methods. The math scores have been stagnant. In other schools in our district, the math scores have already started to go down. Parents are complaining about the obsession with language arts and the disappearance of everything else. Parents are pulling their kids out of the public schools, especially the gifted kids.

In the mean time, gentrification continues. The newcomers are wealthier and presumably better educated than the ones driven out. The number of students receiving subsidized lunches has been halved. It should surprise no one if average language arts test scores increase when kids that aren't fluent in English are replaced with kids who are. The only meaningful statistic would be a 'growth model' of progress for the individual children.

I read that, in some wealthier districts, test scores are starting to decline because parents are pulling high-performing kids out of public schools. Many kids aren't learning anything and the parents can afford to leave. This leaves the neediest kids even more isolated and worse off. Is this what they mean by school reform? If the intent of NCLB is to disgust parents to the point that it erodes support for public schools, then it has succeeded.