Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fight Back Against Content Theft

Many bloggers have been plagued by content theft, including myself. Plagiarism is an age old problem and will never be fully eradicated. But, there are a few ways you can reduce your chances of being ripped off.

I'm not an intellectual property expert, but my understanding is that your work is implicitly understood to be copyrighted UNLESS you specifically say that it is not. Just to make it abundantly clear, you can put a copyright notice on your blog to let people know that it is not OK to take any content from your blog. On blogger, put a footer that says something like this:
Copyright © 2011 YourBlogName/BusinessName All Rights Reserved.

[In dashboard, click on your blog, then on the design tab at the top. Then click on "Add a gadget" at the bottom of the template. Type your copyright text statement into the box.]

That cuts out the naive but honest actors. What about the dishonest ones?

Many websites had reposted part of What Do Automobiles and Spacecraft Have in Common?, a guest post I wrote for the James Fallows' blog at the Atlantic Monthly website. Only one had the chutzpah to repost it verbatim in it's entirety. Grrr. Very bad karma.

The upside is that I did a little research and learned some interesting lessons for this new post.

The overwhelming majority of blogs are known in the industry as "spam blogs" because they exist solely to serve up ads. To generate a large quantity of content as cheaply as possible, they resort to stealing it.

There are many companies that sell software to automate the process of "content scraping". (This cuts out the hard work of generating content and stealing it by hand!) There are a few legitimate reasons to scrape a website, e.g. to back it up. But I am just going to talk about the search and theft issue here.

This problem became particularly acute in Pakistan after news stories were published about a few spam bloggers (including a school boy) earning real $$$$ from the Google AdSense program. See this Express Tribune article from Pakistan that estimates that ~90% of Pakistani blogs were serving exclusively stolen content. (I've heard that is an underestimate.)

Note, the bloggers were not blocked from blogging and that their blogs continued to be included in search and referral. They were merely banned from participating in the Google AdSense advertising (for $) program. They could still earn money from other sources. Some articles in the media, including Global Voices, don't make that distinction clear. It's not censorship. It's just preventing people from profiting off theft on your ad network.

If you find your content someplace it doesn't belong, take these steps.

[This is not meant to be a complete list because I am not an expert. If you know more things to try, please teach us by leaving a comment.]

If you find a theft, don't link to it. You'll only drive up their importance ranking for search.

Instead, inform the search engines so that they can devalue the ranking for that webpage, and possibly for the entire site.

Google provides a Report Scraper Pages online document. Fill it out with the URL addresses of the original content that you wrote and the offending webpage and submit. (If you know a similar link for other search engines, please leave the link in a comment.)

It may take a while, but the scraper website will slowly disappear from the Google search engine. After several days, I noticed that the entire site that stole my content was excluded from the Google AdSense program and had slipped in the keyword search ranking.

Get the stolen content removed. You may want to give the search engine companies a few days to look at the offending website before you do this.

Do a domain trace on the URL address to find out who owns it and where it is hosted. You can use any one of the many whois lookups on the web.

For instance I did a trace at both Network Solutions and and found out that the address was bought through a domain reseller rather than registered directly (a common obfuscation trick) and that the domain registration contact is hidden rather than public (there are sound security reasons to do this, sometimes).

Scroll down to see the name servers. That tells you the name of the ISP that is hosting the website. In my example, I saw:
Name Servers:
Write the ISP at abuse@hostingcompany.whatever. In my case, that would be Include in your message the page of the stolen content that they are hosting, the url of the original content, and request that they take down the stolen content.

I lucked out because gothost is an American company based in Florida and needs to comply with US laws. They took the content off their servers immediately. Abroad, you may be out of luck.

Robots are your friend.
Do you know what your robots.txt file says? I didn't even know what it was until a friend told me about it a month ago. Wikipedia has a synopsis.

Basically, it tells webcrawler robots where they can and can not access. This is purely advisory and nonbinding, but the major search engines all follow the instructions you set.

On blogger dashboard, select your blog, then click on the setting tab. Select yes for "Let search engines find your blog?"

If you do that, then your robots.txt file will look something like
User-agent: Mediapartners-Google

User-agent: *
Disallow: /search
Allow: /

Note: robots.txt must always reside at the top-level root directory. If you put it anywhere else, it won't work.

Why do you want robots to "crawl" your content? Because that's how they index what your website is about and refer readers to you. It's also how they find high quality and original content.

If you don't allow search engines to "crawl" your data, the first time they see your content is AFTER it has been stolen and reposted elsewhere.

I know you are a good writer and you have tons of original content and creative ideas. Take credit for them. Make sure the search engines know where to find you.

How I became a victim.

I discovered What Do Automobiles and Spacecraft Have in Common? on a spam blog. Perusing it, it looked like the blog was set up to serve car ads for Google Adsense. 100% of their content was stolen. The "About Us" page said:
All content in this Site is gather from all over the internet. From All of the best resource of internet. That can be digitized – books, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals, research, music and film – is being digitized and distributed via the Internet. This Site aim to provide the world’s easiest-to-use, most flexible and most affordable solution for getting all this content online.
We always strive to bring you the best information available, in the internet, Our vision is to give readers information and provided, as fastest and fresh as it can. Finally we want to create a platform that is completely open so publishers and developers can shape it anyway they want to meet their own special needs.
So I am not sure if I should be offended or flattered to be considered among the "best resource of internet". ;-)

It looked like it was one of a family of websites--each organized around an advertising theme--that all link to each other. There was not one iota of original content, except possibly for the "About Us" info above. (Are they non-native English speakers? Or just pretending to be?)

I wrote some guest posts for They have a very restrictive file.
User-agent: *
Disallow: /james-fallows/*/*
Disallow: /james-fallows/*/?cid=*
Disallow: /megan-mcardle/*/*
Disallow: /derek-thompson/*/*
Disallow: /marc-ambinder/*/*
Disallow: /ta-nehisi-coates/*/*
Disallow: /chris-good/*/*
Disallow: /alyssa-rosenberg/*/*
Disallow: /william-powers/*/*
Disallow: /jeffrey-goldberg/*/*
Disallow: /matthew-yglesias/*/*
Disallow: /bruce-falconer/*/*
Disallow: /daniel-indiviglio/*/*
Disallow: /derek-lowe/*/*
Disallow: /culture/category/*
Disallow: /special-report/archive/*
Disallow: /*/print/20*
Disallow: /*/this-week/*
Disallow: /*/last-week/*
Disallow: /*/thisweek/*
Disallow: /*/lastweek/*
Disallow: /*/magazinearticles/*
Disallow: /*/magazine-articles/*
Disallow: /*/blogarticles/*
Disallow: /*/blog-articles/*
Crawl-delay: 5
Allow: /
This is very unusual. Take a look at
User-agent: *
Disallow: /search.html

The Daily Beast makes everything visible to the search engines.

Now go peek at the robots.txt file of all your favorite news sites. I'll wait.

Inside Search, the official Google Search Blog, recently wrote about some search tweaks. If you were a web crawler, you'd know how much badly-written dreck there is out there on the internets. They program their web crawler robots to search for original content that can't be found elsewhere. I put significant effort into What Do Automobiles and Spacecraft Have in Common? and it's not a connection that I've seen pointed out in the popular press. Unfortunately, the first time the web search robots encountered it was on a spam blog. Don't let that happen to you.

There are sound reasons to exclude some portions of your website to robots. I've seen this at the beginning of several robots.txt files. It looks like a template was passed around and I don't know the original source.
$Id: robots.txt,v 2008/12/10 20:12:19 goba Exp $
# robots.txt
# This file is to prevent the crawling and indexing of certain parts
# of your site by web crawlers and spiders run by sites like Yahoo!
# and Google. By telling these "robots" where not to go on your site,
# you save bandwidth and server resources.
# This file will be ignored unless it is at the root of your host:
# Used:
# Ignored:
# For more information about the robots.txt standard, see:
# For syntax checking, see:
If you are a scientific data center, serving terabytes of data to the public, you need to be careful about what you allow the robots to crawl. Otherwise, no science users can get through to download data to actually use. I asked around at AGU for best practices. Several people suggested blocking off most of the data areas but leaving a few selected examples of data that can be downloaded from the site open to the the robots.

Friday, December 16, 2011

AI Finis!

Remember when Iris and I signed up for the online AI (Artificial Intelligence) class as a team?

I carried on alone.

But she wandered by while I was working with the (logic) Truth Tables for a final exam question and asked me to explain the notation.

Then she proceeded to rattle off the correct answers by inspection.

It't not cheating because I would have gotten the correct answers in the end. Truly.

Besides, we signed up as a team.

And, is it fair that a guy who competed in all of the DARPA Grand Challenges (and placed quite highly on some of them) and already has a PhD in robotics is also taking the class?

Yes, the percentage of people in the on-line version of the class that has gotten perfect marks on all the homework assignments and the midterm is double the percentage among the students actually taking the class at Stanford, but what if we disqualify all of the ringers like the one above? From the discussion forums, it appears that quite a few professors are taking the class to learn about e-learning rather than robotics.

Or is it sour grapes because I can do complicated Bayesian statistics calculations but can't subtract 14 from 100 correctly? (I was a math major. We don't use actual numbers after the first year.)

This class was a blast. It took the full 10 hours a week that the teachers estimated we needed to put into it. But, looking back over the homework and exams, I can see how much makes sense to me now. Before the class, I had no clue even how to read the gobbleygook notation.

Serendipitously, I embarked on a new project at work where I can apply some of what I learned. What fun! And I get paid for it.

A big thank-you to instructors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun and all the IT staff that kept the servers (mostly) running during this record-breaking huge class.

Related Posts:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And the feathers flew

In 20 consecutive days, I was away for all but a 10 hour stretch and a 36 hour stretch. Within those 46 hours, I unpacked, did laundry, repacked, went to work (and unpacked from my office move in abstentia), and slept a little bit.

It's been hectic. No wonder I came back a little under the weather.

What did I find at home? Not toilet paper. We were running low before I left, but I didn't have time to get any. Do you think the other toilet users in my household would have bought some on their way home from work or school? We don't lack for stores en-route in our high density urban infill neighborhood.

OTOH, Bad Dad helped out on a coworker's field experiment in addition to his regular work and he was a single dad two weeks in a row. Plus, they claim that we haven't truly run out unless ALL bathrooms are out of TP and we have no facial tissues in the house.

When I got home, Bad Dad said that he had to spend Sunday at the office so I had to supervise homework and take care of the home front on my own. I have to admit that the field campaign and single dad trump cards are compelling.

I also discovered that my daughter had only one weekend day left before her end of semester video project was due. She told me that her partner dropped out the prior Wednesday, she wrote her script on Thursday, and it was due on Friday of the following week.

The script had more than half a dozen characters so I asked her who she had lined up as actors and her filming schedule.

You guessed it.

I told her to work those phones double time.

Then she showed me the script with her notes on costumes and wanted me to make them .right now.

In the end, she rounded up two friends who brought their own hats. That pile of cut up brown paper bags on the dining room table turned out to be headdresses (who would have guessed?) and we found all the feathers, fabric, belts, jewelry and pins she needed in my sewing room and closet.

There were feathers flying everywhere downstairs during and after headdress construction, but I have to admit the headdress was very creative. It's pretty cool to come home to a child who sees a grocery sack as an Aztec headdress (with paper curls) and a husband game enough to put it on and read dialogue like he means it.

I was always a method actress anyway. If you play a happy family, you can almost believe it yourself.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Meeting Shams

Yesterday, I took a break from work meetings to lunch with Shams. We did NOT plan to coordinate, but we did. Note that she made her coat, cowl and pants. The only thing I made in the picture is my sweater.

We didn't natter on as much about sewing as I expected. We were both taking a quick break from work and the conversation flowed between Berkeley (which both of us attended), working in tech, raising our daughters and fitting exceptional figures.

What is an exceptional figure? Chances are very good that you have one.

Suppose something is engineered to work for 90% of circumstances, from between the 5th and 95th percentile in some metric. That seems reasonable and your product will work for 90% of the market, right?

Not so fast. Think multi-dimensionally.
(0.9)6 = 0.53
In six independent dimensions, nearly half of the potential market will fall outside your engineering specs in at least one dimension.

Ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing manufacturers can't fit everyone. They have to make decisions about who their market is. Consumers have to take RTW items to tailors. Even people who can't sew can become virtual dressmakers by hiring custom clothiers. (I haven't sewn for others for money since my undergrad days, but I do swap favors with friends. Eric's wife gets clothes and I get a place to stay when in their town.)

Look back at the picture at the top of this post. Who is easier to fit?

That's a trick question. Shams' hips are an inch smaller than mine. We are both 5'5" tall, but our torso to leg proportions vary. She has to add inches to bust darts and I have to take them out.

In college, I had a 14" drop between my hip and waist measurements, 39" to 25" . In mid-life, that has decreased to 9-10"; my hips are still 39" but my waist is ~29-30". I can sometimes find RTW pants that fit, but it is still not easy. It was nearly impossible 20 years ago.

We both agreed that we are not fitting experts. But we are experts in fitting our own unique bodies. And we like to think that we fit our own unique personalities, too. ;-)

We had such a good time in our short meeting, I invited Shams to visit me in LA. She's never shopped the LA garment district. That needs to be rectified.

Shams posted her account of our meeting. Go there to see another photo.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

When you shouldn't trust the GPS

That's the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge looming above us and shown in red on the Garmin's screen. That's fine, but the unit appears to be telling us to drive right into the water. (Click to see bigger and in more detail.)

Since we didn't have a boat/car combo, we decided to use the on-ramp from Fremont via Folsom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When the proxy becomes more important than reality

I am experiencing technical difficulties posting the podcast. While I sort that out, I am going to beat a dead horse shed light on another improper use of statistics.

Here's another quote from Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard):
The latest research also suggests that there could be more subtle problems at work, like the proliferation of grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences, which provides another incentive for students to leave STEM majors. It is no surprise that grades are lower in math and science, where the answers are clear-cut and there are no bonus points for flair.
[Aside: That's a totally unfair and ignorant comment about flair. Flair matters a lot in STEM. I've gotten some pretty nice approbation from professors (and peers) because of the atypical way I solved some homework and exam questions. Some even offered to write letters of recommendation for grad school, despite my mediocre overall grades.

In STEM, flair means solving problems with elegant and/or unconventional, but correct approaches. Remember the emails in climategate with praise like "slick trick"? That's praise for good work, not evidence of a cover-up.]

What is the point of giving grades? Is it to spur students to work harder? To distinguish the stronger students from the rest? To measure the amount learning or mastery of a subject? A progress report?

Did we really mean to turn GPA into a Hogwarts-like sorting hat?

Why do we fetishsize absolute GPAs? Why do employers give hard floors on GPAs when selecting students for interviews, regardless of differences in median GPAs and difficulty of fields of study? Why do scholarships--even the largest need-based scholarship at my alma mater--require a minimum GPA of 3.5 (higher than the average GPA of science majors at the school)?

In the article above, many possible solutions were suggested such as raising the average grades in science classes to match the easy grading in humanities, social sciences and business. However, the simplest thing to do is to just not attach such extreme importance to absolute GPA.

Science departments aren't wrong to grade toughly. Why should a department compress the dynamic range of grades? (If you don't know what a dynamic range is, then you weren't a STEM major.)

I found these two great visualizations from It is well worthwhile to visit the site and read their research and methodology in full. I will wait.

There is about a 0.3 point difference in GPA between natural science and humanities. If you were a STEM major receiving a Berkeley Undergraduate Scholarship, the largest UCB program for need-based financial aid, and you were in the top 1/3 of your class, your GPA would still be too low to receive need-based financial aid.

Why punish the poor students for choosing hard majors? Don't we want all majors to be open to rich and poor students alike?
Read also, the 5 hardest and easiest college majors by GPA.
5 Lowest Grade Point Averages
  1. Chemistry 2.78 GPA
  2. Math 2.90 GPA
  3. Economics 2.95 GPA
  4. Psychology 2.98 GPA
  5. Biology 3.02 GPA
5 Highest Grade Point Averages
  1. Education 3.36 GPA
  2. Language 3.34 GPA
  3. English 3.33 GPA
  4. Music 3.30 GPA
  5. Religion 3.22 GPA
Is the average Chemistry major that much dumber than the average Education major?

Ironically, I was a Regents' and Chancellor's scholar while at CAL. It's the most selective academic scholarship for undergraduates:
The Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship carries the highest honor awarded by the University of California, Berkeley to entering undergraduates.
Yet, the minimum GPA required is 3.0, lower than the need-based Berkeley Undergraduate Scholarship. I don't mean to pick on BUS, the California Alumni Association's leadership scholarship has an identical 3.5 GPA cutoff. I guess they think that STEM students lack leadership potential. (IMHO, I would like to see fewer elected officials who are trained as lawyers and more trained in STEM.)

While I was at Cal, I asked an administrator for the RCS program why their academic scholarship would have a lower GPA cutoff than the nonacademic ones. She replied, "Our students choose harder majors and we don't think they should be penalized for that." How refreshing!

Another way that the hard floors on GPA reinforce the gap between rich and poor is that you can buy a higher GPA simply by attending a private school.

Yup, you can buy a 0.4 point boost to your GPA, helping you land that job over the plebes at State U.

What can you do to help?
I called UC Berkeley to complain, but the nice folks at the University Relations office are all humanities majors and had no idea that STEM departments grade so much harder. They thought that a GPA of 3.5 should be a cakewalk.

I was getting nowhere with them so I decided to start a need-based financial aid program for STEM majors with no minimum GPA cutoff. Students need only be making adequate progress, and their academic departments get to decide what is adequate, based on the rigor of the department and how hard the student is working.

Thus, the bootstrap fund was born. It is not an endowment. Whatever money comes in is awarded that year to STEM majors at UC Berkeley that demonstrate financial need. In case you want to join me in this crusade, just send a check with a letter that looks something like this.

Your Name

City, State Zip


The Board of Trustees

The Regents of the University of California

c/o UC Berkeley, University Relations

2080 Addison St, #4200

Berkeley, CA 94720-4200

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

To help the University of California, Berkeley uphold its commitment to excellence and opportunity, and in consideration of the generosity of other alumni and friends of the campus, I wish to support the University in the following manner.

I hereby give to the University of California, Berkeley the sum of X Thousand Dollars ($X,000). Payment will be in the form of cash, marketable securities, or other property acceptable to the Regents.

Please use my gift to create a fund to be known as The Bootstrap Fund. The Bootstrap Fund shall be used at the discretion of Financial Aid to support students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields of study and who are in good academic standing and demonstrate financial need.

I understand that under campus policy the University will assess a one-time administrative fee of not more than 2 ½%.

Please indicate your acceptance of this gift by signing and returning to me a copy of this letter.


Your Name

Related posts:
Bad Dad and I have been accused of having a competitive marriage. I beg to differ. When I pointed out that his alma mater, MIT, beats Cal in grade inflation (see the links by specific schools at the bottom of the page), he protested.

It's notable that the growth in Cal student population, like the national trend, has been nearly entirely in fields with high GPAs and easier coursework. So, if you compare just the science departments against each other, the grade inflation might be even greater. But he insists that couldn't be the case.

Some men just can't win graciously.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

STEM is hard, but the headlines are wrong .again.

Don't miss Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard).

It makes some good points, but it also misses some, too. Journalism on a deadline will never capture the complete picture, so this blogger who has graduated with two STEM degrees from Berkeley will fill in some gaps.
Professor Chang says that rather than losing mainly students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with lackluster records, the attrition rate can be higher at the most selective schools, where he believes the competition overwhelms even well-qualified students.

“You’d like to think that since these institutions are getting the best students, the students who go there would have the best chances to succeed,” he says. “But if you take two students who have the same high school grade-point average and SAT scores, and you put one in a highly selective school like Berkeley and the other in a school with lower average scores like Cal State, that Berkeley student is at least 13 percent less likely than the one at Cal State to finish a STEM degree.”
You can't compare apples to oranges. For instance the mathematics curriculum for majors is at Cal State prepares graduates to teach mathematics at the K-12 level. Berkeley does not train math teachers, they train math researchers. It's not due to elitism; the California master plan for higher education defined the roles of the two campus systems. Cal State (CSU) educates for practical professions like teaching and nursing, and the UC system educates more broadly.

The STEM classes at Berkeley and Cal State are taught at a different level and with different texts. We routinely used the graduate texts in mathematics (GTM) series in undergraduate classes. We were taught the theoretical underpinnings to help us perform research, not to go out and teach math right away. To do that, we'd need to attend a Cal State for a teaching credential.

Berkeley math and science majors can complete the core required curricula in just three years and then spend their fourth year on individual studies. Math majors can select from clusters of classes with emphases in different math specialties or interdisciplinary studies in physics, biology, statistics and economics. (I chose mathematical physics.)

Berkeley chemistry majors can also select from specialties and interdisciplinary studies. (I chose physical chemistry and spectroscopy.) Many of my classes counted toward both majors so I could easily complete both majors in four years.

Had I not come from a strong suburban school, I could still have completed a STEM major (though not necessarily two) within four years. I had a friend who was a class valedictorian at an inner city school. She was not as well prepared as I was, but she took advantage of the resources available to her. She took remedial STEM classes her first year and really worked hard. She went to office hours and the professors and teaching assistants helped her. Her grades went from very low to very respectable. She took a semester or two longer to graduate than I did, but she graduated. The last time I talked to her, she was headed for med school.

By the end of our second year, we are told to start looking around for our undergraduate research topics. Some people start on research in their junior year; others wait until their senior year. I started one as a junior, found it was a bad fit, and started on a different project in a different lab the summer between my junior and senior years.

One of my chemistry professors told me that 1/3 of the college of chemistry undergraduates went to med school, 1/3 went to PhD programs in chemistry, and the rest were roughly evenly split between industry and graduate programs in related fields such as epidemiology and public health/public policy.

The undergraduate programs at Berkeley have to be harder than the ones at CSU because they are preparing students for different futures. While one can obtain a Bachelor of Science degree at either university system, the experiences will be very different. Telling a poor kid that they should attend CSU over Berkeley because they are more likely to graduate is selling that student short. Ask them about their goals. If they are unsure, encourage them to aim high, but have a back up plan.

I also want to point out .again. that Berkeley leads the nation in producing female students that go on to earn PhDs in STEM--in absolute numbers and per capita. It's hard, but you are not alone. And, if you manage to survive, you'll belong to an elite sorority that will help you for life.

UC Berkeley also differs from other state flagship universities such as Michigan and Illinois. Those schools offer mathematics tracks for future K-12 math teachers as well as tracks for students heading for PhD programs in math and related fields. You can't compare graduation rates without looking more deeply in the curriculum of the different schools and programs.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Improvisational Quilt

Is this the "right side"?
Or is this the "right side"?
I had intended the orderly one as the right side and improvisationally-pieced side as the backing, but I think that I like the "wrong" side better.

It all started when the Santa Monica and South Bay Quilters' guilds got together last Spring to sell everyone's bits and bobs as a joint fundraiser. I walked away with three shopping bags full of fabric, yarn, patterns and oddities that I thought I might have a use for. Bad Dad thought the point was for me to unload my own surplus. Silly man.

Anyway, I saw the two skull fabrics and thought that my girly goth girl might want a quilt made out of these scraps. She didn't like them.
Plan B had me making a "Read me a quilt" to accompany the book, Treasure Island. I challenged myself to use only what I already had in my collection, which meant that I had to piece some fabrics like the reds below.
For the backing, I sewed scraps into blocks and then sewed the blocks together. (I promised in Zero Waste Goal to show an example of scraps sewn into fabric and here it is.) I added a black and white striped shirt from Goodwill. I call it the "Big Kahuna" shirt because it measured 70" in circumference. I harvested the buttons for a future shirt and cut up the body for the backing. Notice the triangular patches in the holes left by the armscythe of the shirt.
There were other triangles, too. I had barely enough fabric to pull this off.
The solid red is a Kona cotton leftover from another quilt. The red/white and yellow/white prints are pre-consumer waste from SAS. The black/white geometric is a remnant from Joann's premium cotton section.

[ I was surprised that the selvage says 2005 and they are selling it as current fabric. But, if you look closely, their premium fabrics are often old stock that the independent fabric stores cleared out years ago. I guess that's how they can mark it up to $10/yard and then mark it down to $5/yard and still turn a profit.]

The red/white pindot is a fabric second. The dye is spread unevenly where it became jammed in the machinery. I like the visual texture that the mistake provides.
I pieced this before I read Gwen Marston's Liberated Quiltmaking I and II. The seams were so crooked, I was thinking more Gees Bend than Liberated.

Anyway, Read me a quilt was started by a SBQG member 10 years ago. Working with Court Appointed Special Advocates (for children in foster care), CASA, we try to provide each child with a book and a quilt that goes with the book. If your quilt group would like to join our effort, drop me a line. You need not be a member of SBQG, or any guild, to help out.

I chose Treasure Island to go with the pirate theme. I couldn't decide between the unabridged one with beautiful illustrations, but archaic language, or the modernized and simplified version. I decided to buy both. I figure the child can read the simple one on his/her own, and an adult can read and explain the unabridged one to him/her. This quilt is about 55"x67"; there should be plenty of room for two under this quilt.

Iris was sorting out her unused toys and we thought this pirate bear should go in the care package. Aargh!
We found this puppy (squeeze it and it barks!) and Jack London's The Call of the Wild in her giveaway pile. I already know what next year's quilt will look like. I think I just might have the fabric I need already in my collection.
The South Bay Quilters' Guild takes the philanthropy aspect of our 503c nonprofit status very seriously. We provide hundreds of quilts each year (nearly a thousand) for local charities and college scholarships to students studying for the garment trades. Our community services chair takes fabric donations. She says that we use 160 yards per month from the donation stash for our charity quilts. Yet, the stash never seems to get smaller. I wonder how many sewists can relate. ;-)

See my 2010 Read me a quilt, another improvisational piece.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Divergent Thinking

Iris and I recorded a podcast last night and we will post it shortly. But, it will make more sense if you knew what we meant by divergent thinking. So, in preparation for our first podcast, I am embedding this RSA Animate video in which Ken Robinson explains it (very well).

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Zero Waste Goal

The October 23, 2011 LA Times business section ran one of their occasional "Made in California" series--this time, about jeans maker Adriano Goldschmied. Don't miss Premium denim maker AG Adriano Goldschmied has a leg up on rivals. One of the things that struck me about this operation is the quote:
With carefully designed cuts, all but 3% to 5% of the fabric is used.
Look at how little is left after they cut the jeans parts! But is that really 3-5% waste? I like to think that I use efficient layout. What is my waste percentage? That weekend, I was making baby sweats from 1 yard of pre-consumer waste navy fleece. (You can see it, and other examples in Preconsumer waste fashion.) It was too late to weigh the total piece, but I weighed the cut pieces and the scraps leftover:
  • 301 g used for the sweatshirt and two pairs of pants
  • 158 g scraps
  • This doesn't count the scrap of gray rayon/lycra at the neck, leftover from another project.
This means my frugal cutting still generates 10 times as much waste as the AG factory. Additionally, at the factory, they can bag up all their scraps and send it to a textile recycler to be turned into household insulation, upholstery and such. I just toss mine in the trash.

I do toss my larger scraps into a large bin in the sewing room. Iris makes art projects and I sometimes piece together scraps to create larger pieces of fabric and make stuff from that. I will show examples in a later post. Improvisational quilt is an example.

I'd used scraps from the same fabric for one of my tops, too.

Do read the article and see the slide show. I found the photos of how they lay the fabric out on a long table under tension and then suck the fabric down to the table with a vacuum fascinating. That explains the little short ends of premium denim that I can buy for $1.50/pound a few miles from their factory. I don't know which jean factory they came from, but they are very good quality--not the stuff you see offered at Joann.

The NY Times also recently ran a story, Stone-Washed Blue Jeans (Minus the Washed). Note that lasers are used to "distress" jeans in both stories. Lasers can use quite a lot of energy, too. This is also done under an industrial-sized fume hood because the fabric outgasses quite a bit of nasty stuff.
Why are lasers and fume hoods eco? Because the alternative, sandblasting, can give the workers silicosis. In this case, workers' deaths could be directly attributed. I suspect that many more are sickened until they are too weak to work. Their deaths may be attributed to malnutrition or tuberculosis at a later time. But they were weakened by producing our jeans.

Do you remember a time when we saved up, bought one pair of jeans a year (stiff as a board) and spent the summer weathering them ourselves until they were ready for the first day of school? Wasn't that fun? Did it kill us like the workers in the factories today?

Zero waste applies to not just fabric, but to people as well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Have a spooktacular birthday

Launch schedules slip. Due dates go by and babies .still. fail to make their appearance. Don't try to plan kids around satellite launch schedules. They are both moving targets.

Iris was supposed to arrive before Halloween, and we had to induce labor after Halloween. Do you know how hard it is to find birthday party supplies at the party store when they are stocked for Halloween? This year, we decided to just go with the flow and celebrate a spooktacular birthday.

After the success of last year's cake, we contacted Erin Smith of A Piece of Cake by Erin for an encore. The cake was breathtakingly beautiful, and tasted great, too!
She even put cobwebs along the sides. (Pardon my finger swipe when I lifted it out of the box.)
Can you believe this cake design came out of this drawing that Iris and I made with iPad Brushes?
Erin is a true artist. We'll be calling her again.

I survived the weekend. 10 teens and tweens at a party, 6 of them stayed overnight. Throw in a one day machine quilting class with Frances Moore and the homework for AI* on top of the normal mayhem of soccer and housework and I am ready to go back to work to get some rest.

Oh, wait, I need to get 8 technical reports out the door (no kidding, I counted) and we are entering satellite Cal/Val.

Dear Santa, all I want this year is more hours in the day.

* Mommy and me AI is not going so well. I lost her at Bayesian algebra and haven't been able to pull her back in. This is a nontrivial class. When they said it was geared toward upper division or first year graduate students, they weren't kidding. That, coupled with AI class server crashes and my workload at work and home mean that I finished the homework at 2AM last night this morning.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Insomniac's delight

In case you are awake at 2:48 AM (or want to set your alarm clock), the viewing conditions from the Los Angeles region should be just about perfect. From Spaceflight Now's NPP mission status page:
The Launch Readiness Review occurred today to verify the NPP spacecraft and Delta 2 rocket are standing in perfect shape for blastoff at precisely 2:48:01 a.m. local (5:48:01 a.m. EDT; 0948:01 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Friday's launch opportunity extends 9 minutes and 10 seconds to ensure NPP reaches the desired orbit. The window closes at 2:57:11 a.m. local (5:57:11 a.m. EDT; 0957:11 GMT)
NPP is a meteorological satellite that will fly a sun-synchronous polar orbit in the 13:30 (early afternoon) local time plane. It will be launched southward from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) slightly less than 12 hours from the desired local time plane so that it will go northbound across the equator at the named local time (aka local time of right ascension).

Sun-synchronous satellites fly over each region twice a day, once at the named local time plane, and again ~12 hours offset--one dayside, one nightside. Relative to the sun, they orbit in a stationary plane (other than circling about the sun along w/ the earth) and the earth rotates under them, through the orbit plane. If this is unclear, catch me at the next school or soccer event and ask; I can demonstrate with a piece of fruit.

Anyway, NPP is fairly large as met satellites go, so it will need to go up on a relatively large Delta 2 rocket. That, coupled with the night-time launch and 0% predicted cloud cover, mean that the rocket should be visible for a long distance. It should be easily viewable from the beaches south of VAFB. (VAFB is slightly north of Santa Barbara.)

Read A really big firecracker for a smaller Minotaur rocket launch. It was very bright and visible when viewed from the Redondo Beach harbor area. This one will be even more so.

Sign up for Spaceflight Now's twitter feed. Head down to the beach or the hills--anywhere you have a good view over the ocean--and watch the show. A very bright moving object, the rocket, will appear over Malibu about a minute after launch from VAFB. You can watch it move southbound across the sky for a couple of minutes.

Rouse your kids from bed to watch from the beach. They can sleep later in school. ;-)

Friday, October 21, 2011


I told my daughter the way to improve her writing is to write more often. Deliberate daily practice and all that. In response, she started Iris' Everything Blog, where she wrote some stuff that made her mommy proud. But she had a little trouble deciding what to write and what to keep private. Don't we all? Why do you think I blog so much about knitting and sewing?

Then she discovered Wizard 101. (Has anyone called Club Penguin the gateway drug to Wizard 101?) You can tell when she started playing Wizard 101 because it precipitated a drastic decline in my blogging frequency. Our photo library is on our household's sole Windows PC and Wizard 101 only runs on the Windows platform. I can't blog if I can't get time on the PC.

She became so obsessed with the game, we had to limit her computer time in order to get our daughter back.

But she's a clever one. She started a new blog devoted to Wizard 101, Wizzy101 Myth Style, where she posts semi-regularly. I thought it was just a ploy to get screen time. "I'm not avoiding homework/bedtime/chores; I'm doing research for my blog." It works, somewhat. We let her play a limited amount on weekends.

If you read her blog posts aloud, you can experience the authentic flavor of her verbal style and rhythm. It's not baby talk, but it's still delightful.

She sent an email out to her friends about her blog, but not many of them play Wizard 101 so she expected her readership to be low.

You know that new blogger dashboard feature that let's you see your blog readership stats? We clicked on her stats and discovered that she has gotten up to 5,000 visitors a day, especially when the Friendly Necromancer added her blog to their sidebar.

I've been blogging for years and only get 5,000 pageviews per month. In fact, when I guest blogged for the Atlantic magazine's website, I don't think I picked up 500 visitors from their links. I guess more people are interested in Wizard 101 than in my take on the state of science and technology in America and the history of women in STEM.

In case you missed it, I've compiled a list of my posts for the Atlantic.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Preconsumer waste fashion

Have you ever looked at the label on your recycled paper that says, "100% recycled content, 30% post-consumer waste" and wondered what that means? Post-consumer waste is stuff that has been used by consumers (end users) and then collected for recycling. The What would Rachel wear? dress, made with a men's shirt from Goodwill, is an example of post-consumer recycled fashion.

Pre-consumer waste is collected in the manufacturing process. For instance, denim scraps from jeans factories can be collected and turned into home insulation and high-quality rag content paper. Sometimes, the larger scraps can be sold to consumers like myself to make the pants I showed in Kids Clothing Week Challenge.

Here's a trio of adult-sized pre-consumer waste t-shirts
made from the TNT Burda 2565. It's an excellently-drafted basic, slightly fitted t-shirt.
The snakeskin-print T is made from 4 scraps of poly/lycra found in a bin for 50 cents a piece.
It's very difficult to photograph it, but this flash photo shows the scale. Although I made it years ago, the snakes skin print is very au courant.
The red/white jersey is 100% cotton. The blue stripes are rayon, but the black stripes are synthetic (nylon?). I lined the fronts of both with bamboo rayon jersey. The shoulder seams are enclosed, but the rest of the seams are sewn as one with the face fabric.
I was inspired by Vogue's Maine Attraction feature last June. Stripes and polka dots, what's not to like?
Which was the inspiration for pairing this silk polka dot skirt I found at Goodwill ($2, post-consumer waste) with the red/ivory t-shirt ($2 pre-consumer waste). I don't live in Maine, so I swung by the beach on my commute home and asked two old guys carrying skateboards to snap my picture. They grudgingly did it; I could tell they were eager to hit the "strand", a paved trail that runs the length of Santa Monica Bay, from Torrance in the south to Malibu in the north.
We tried the other direction, because the sun is low in the west after work and you can't see the outfit at all. This is not the most flattering shot because the guys were really, really impatient.
Iris snapped this picture of the blue/black t-shirt before school/work.
In the same Vogue feature, I was inspired by this cabled sweater.
But I have a plan to address this void in my Fall wardrobe, using some pre-consumer waste cotton/cashmere blend yarn from Colourmart.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kids Clothing Week Challenge Wrap-up

I didn't officially join kcwc (kids clothing week challenge), but here's what I sewed in the month of October.

I bought nearly all of the fabrics that I used from SAS fabrics, an odd jobber near Los Angeles that sells leftovers from the garment industry by the pound. The fabric often has oddly-shaped chunks cut out of it or stains or writing or rips. This makes pattern layout challenging at times. But, at $3.49/pound, this piece of good-quality cotton French terry was worth the effort. Besides, I couldn't resist fabric printed with the fashion capitol cities of the world.

A pound-sized piece was enough to make this jacket made for Iris. She picked the buttons out. They also came from SAS (25 cents each).I lengthened the jacket in Burda 9574 to waist length and the sleeves to full-length.

There is an interesting double dart detail at the sleeve cap. Overall, this is a very well-drafted and quick pattern.

I used Kwik Sew 2666 again for two pairs of shorts. The black double knit rayon/lycra might have come from Kashi at Metro Textiles, but the turquoise cotton rib knit came from SAS.

It's baby season at work so I pulled out some of my Kwik Sew favorites, Sewing for Babies/Toddlers/Children.

If you want to sew quick basics for kids, you couldn't go wrong with these books. Here are line drawings of all the things you can make with these books.

I used some remnants to make 3 pairs of baby pants, 2 small, 1 large. They were a hit.

Los Angeles is the epicenter for the "premium jeans" craze. Much of the sewing and "distressing" takes place in Gardena, CA, near SAS Fabrics. Scraps of really nice denim are sold for $1.50/pound at SAS. I bought two 24" long, full-width remnants ($1.75), cut out two baby pants (L) and have enough left over for another pair of baby pants or a girl's skirt.

I tucked this note in with the pants.

An estimated 10% of Los Angeles’ landfill waste is textile*, much of it from the garment industry. Some factory waste is collected by odd-jobbers and sold by the pound at centers throughout the region.

The fabrics for these pants come from this type of pre-consumer waste. The thread and elastic are scraps left over from other projects. All components of these pants were diverted from the waste stream.

Dress your baby in garbage! ;-)

* This is from a 1991 estimate, before much of our apparel industry went overseas. However, a recent EPA study showed that over 5% of municipal waste nationally is textiles. LA, which has become the largest remaining garment manufacturing region in the US, will likely have somewhat higher than 5%. Fortunately, we have an economic ecosystem diverting scraps from the waste stream and I am happy to be part of this food chain.