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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Other

Other stands for everything that isn't on the standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Because there is so little time for science in Iris' elementary school, a concerned mother volunteered her time to run an after school science program once a week. The PTA gave her $800 for materials. There are so many things she would like to do with the children, but she doesn't have enough time or money. (BTW, this is the last year she can do this. Next year, she has to go back to the paid labor market to support her family.)

Interest was so high; last year, she had to divide the kids up into two groups, each attending on alternate weeks. Even then, the groups were too large for her to handle. This year, she limited the kids further by dividing them up by grade. Different grades attend in rotation. So kids get science in 45 minute sessions, every other week, for 1-2 months. If I do the math right, that is about 2-3 hours a year per child that signs up. About 2/3 of the children at the school sign up.

Art is also a monthly activity, run by volunteers. One parent per classroom, usually a mother, attends a one hour training class led by an art teacher. That parent volunteer than goes into the classroom and repeats the lesson with the children. It is done during the regular school day, unlike science.

Apparently, our local school is not the only one that has relegated science to an optional, volunteer led activity. I recently received an email from sciencekit.com about their after school science kits. They have a whole page dedicated to helping parents find funding sources for after school science classes!

Do we sound like a nation that is serious about tackling the complex scientific and technological challenges that face us? Bake sales for science?

NCLB. RIP.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gold

Iris' favorite color is gold. We live, after all, in 'the Golden State'. So take a look at Studio Forbes' blog entry and slide show in celebration of gold (and orange). I am especially smitten with the photo below. (Click to make the photo large enough to see the pulley contraption in detail.)

Anyone here know where I can buy one of these laundry pulley thingys stateside? If you believe the realtors, and the home owners' associations in cahoots with them, visible laundry lines bring down property values. Mark and I want to do our part to keep Los Angeles affordable.

Aside: Iris passed her Tae Kwon Do belt test yesterday. She is now an orange belt with black stripes. She has markedly improved her skills and attitude since last spring, when she failed a belt test. Mr Anton (Kasabov) has a genius for bringing out the best in kids. I just wish his official website was viewable in Firefox. IE and Safari work, though.

If you are a design hound, you may want to visit the Studio Forbes blog of Design Within Reach founder, Rob Forbes. I don't always agree with him, but his blog makes good reading.

I am still at home, still sick. The leaves outside our bedroom window are turning gold. I will take a photo and post it later.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Public vs Private Schools

Reading Learning to Conform by Fredrick Kunkle gave me a shock of recognition. Their family's experiences and ours are eerily similar, even though we are on opposite coasts.

Mark and I still don't know if we did the right thing by moving Iris from a private to a public school. She was perfectly happy and well-served educationally by the private school. The public school 2 blocks away appears to be obsessed with testing standards to the exclusion of all else. Iris is extremely bored academically and hasn't made any close friends at her new school. She still mainly plays on weekends with kids she met at her old school and the daycare center before that.

But, when she was at the private school, there were uncomfortable conversations about why she had been to Hawaii only once and not every year like other kids. Why didn't she have a nanny? Why didn't we have a second house? Why is our house so small? Were we poor? Why did I have to work? Why don't I go back to the daddy store and get a rich one so I can be a stay at home mom (SAHM)?

The old school was a strange atmosphere. Several of the family's were embroiled in divorces that lasted much longer than the marriages. These are the divorces that lawyer's salivate over. There were tens of millions (or possibly a hundred million, depending on stock prices) at stake. This was not an appropriate milieu for a child of two scientists working at a non-profit. I just flinch every time I think about the carbon footprint of some of the families at that school.

There is an upside to public schools. With the money we saved, we upgraded an occasional babysitter to a two night a week nanny. With the extra help around the house, my health improved. (We were so sad when she moved away for college.) Best of all, no more mommies with breast implants to contend with.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Seiri and Seiton applied to books

Inspired by Kathleen's How to organize books, I signed up for LibaryThing. I started with the books in the sewing and craft room. I also cataloged just one bookshelf in the family room/library/upstairs hallway. Amazingly, that's already 274 books. See my current catalog. There is also a fun thing in the right sidebar that shows a random selection of covers from my library.

Now, on with the books in the home office and the cookbooks in the dining room before I tackle the main household library. There are 3 full height IKEA Billy bookshelves in the library, one more in Iris' room, and 2 full-height bookshelves in my office.

We really have to be more selective about the stuff we keep. I have no interest in the books about window treatments; Iris and I are allergic to dust. Iris also said she is bored with most of her books; they are for babies. Maybe we can purge books together as a mommy and me activity.

Today, she is a 7 year old. She acts like she is 14. I can't wait for adolescence. ;-P

Tomorrow, Iris and Mark (and 3 of her friends and her Aunt and cousin) are going to Disneyland. I developed a secondary infection following a cold. I will be staying home with hot fluids, antibiotics and rest tomorrow. Maybe I will post about some of the books I have read while on home confinement.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ahead of the (energy) curve

Mark has this annoying habit of taking the food out of the microwave when there is 1 second left on the timer. Because the microwave faces a window, it is hard to see the display. Thus, the next person who uses the microwave oven will enter in the time, wonder why it isn't working, realize why, then hit clear and reenter the time. This makes that person (usually me) very cranky. He couldn't wait one more second?

It turns out that there is method in his madness; even he was not aware of his brilliance. According to Action Earth, "The average microwave oven uses more energy powering its digital clock than it does cooking food."

When Mark leaves the oven at 1 second left on the timer, he is leaving it in the most energy conserving state, short of unplugging it. Think about it. 3 or 4 numerals to display the time or a single digit? And it's the one formed out of the fewest light bars!

Thanks to Bek's Friday enviropostings for the heads up. See more tips at Action Earth.

I have one more tip that Action Earth omitted. The energy usage on refrigerators is just an estimate, based upon typical usage. You can improve the energy efficiency of any refrigerator by keeping it full.

Why? Because, when you open the door, the cold air spills out and warmer air from the kitchen flows in. After you close the door, the refrigerator has to cool all that air down. Empty refrigerators use more energy than full ones. (Unless you keep nothing in your fridge and never open it. In that case, maybe you should unplug it altogether.)

As you use up the food in your refrigerator, put bottles of water to displace air. This is akin to placing a brick in your toilet tank to conserve water when you flush. While you are at it, fill your freezer with containers of water, too. As a bonus, all that ice and cold water will minimize food spoilage during power outages.

While I am enviroblogging, I might as well add a link to the story about the Great Plastic Garbage Patch aka the North Pacific Gyre.
Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris - which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas - is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean.
Thanks to Here in Malibu for the heads up. Also, read more about the Great Plastic Garbage Patch in the Synthetic Sea. They find 6 pounds of plastic for each pound of zooplankton in the North Pacific Gyre. See the pictures of the junk on the Algalita website.

Aside: They do the analysis in Redondo Beach's very own SEA Lab (a good place to tour with your kids).

Deadly Fashion

Wow, death by high heels.
Two women who escaped from their car when it became stuck on train tracks in Riverside overnight were killed when the train hit the vehicle and dragged it over them as they walked away, apparently struggling in their high heels, authorities said today.
Gee, I previously blamed high heels for traffic congestion, injuries and climate change. I never expected them to be immediately deadly. I would have expected people to take off their shoes and make a run for it. What an awful way to go.

I can't help wondering if there is more to this story and that the police find it easier to blame the shoes than go into the details of the accident.