Thursday, April 28, 2011

What would Rachel wear?

When Iris saw me in the dress, she squealed that this is very, very Rachel. We are a Gleek family.

Burda World of Fashion 16-1996-114.
The dress back. I finally understand the topology involved in the Fashion Incubator centered zipper tutorial . But there was a slight problem with the execution. ;-)
Afterwards, I discovered that I could pull the dress on over my head without opening up the zip. I could have saved myself a lot of work, but wouldn't have learned so much.

Speaking of learning so much, remember Burda 7517 FAIL? I got the idea to put a tuck inside the midriff dart from that pattern. So the experience was not a complete fail because I learned what to do and what not to do.

Here's Iris' catalog shot with a garden prop. We've had such lovely weather.
I wanted to make myself a little something from recycled textiles for Earth Day. This dress is 95% recycled content, about half post-consumer waste. The bottom section is made from a men's thrift store poplin shirt. The top section is white quilting muslin lined in cotton voile. The only new stuff is thread.

  • Burda World of Fashion 06-1995-114.
  • Size 40.
  • I narrow the neckline for all my tops and dresses.
  • The original pattern had plain darts. I changed the bodice dart to gathers and removed some of the width as a SBA.
  • I added the tuck in the lower section to give my quadriceps more room.
  • The dress pattern called for one color, but I like the color contrast. Besides, how else could I have used the shirt?
  • One men's XL poplin shirt, 1/2 each of white cotton muslin and voile lining.
The pattern review.
The Flickr photo set.

It's the first English language BWOF I ever bought and the issue I've used the most often.
Their dress is quite snug and I went up from my usual 38/40 to 40/42 to get the ease I normally like.
This pattern was rated beginner. But BWOF instructions were never clear for the beginner. If you need directions to make such a simple dress, then you won't be able to decipher these instructions. ;-)
I am not sure this issue has any more distinct patterns that the new Burda Style magazine. There are many variations on the same theme.
As usual, the most classic patterns are for plus size.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What the STAR tests really tell us

It is school enrollment and STAR (standardized testing and reporting) season in California so I want to dispel some myths that "everybody knows".

I spent Earth Day, last Friday, sewing with three friends. Between the four of us, we had earned 3 PhDs and were raising 4 kids. Unlike most (famous) education reformers, we had gone to public schools and are sending (or plan to send) our kids to public schools.

Of course, we conversed about standardized testing and NCLB and the limits of what metrics can tell us. Pennamite happens to have a PhD in Education, and she was surprised that anyone paid attention to the standardized test scores. I also wrangle data for a living and we discussed some glaring flaws in the data collection. People who actually looked at the data know that they are a better proxy for parental income and educational attainment than for teacher and school quality.

First, a bit of background.

The California Academic Performance Index, API, is a single number distillation of school performance based upon standardized test scores. The data is further distilled by binning the schools in deciles by API (10 highest, 1 lowest). After criticism that it is too simplistic, a second 1-10 number was introduced to represent school performance against schools with similar demographics, the similar schools rank.

How would you like your work performance reduced to a scale of 1-10 and published on the web with no place to explain the extenuating circumstances?

Magnet Yenta Sandra Tsing Loh (another science-trained mom) observed firsthand how real estate agents attempt to whip home-buying parents into a frenzy with school API and STAR test scores. She wrote a book about it, and privately told me that most of it was absolutely true. Only a small portion was exaggerated for comic effect.

For instance, as local realtors will be happy to point out, everyone knows that the best school district in the beach cities is Manhattan Beach Unified. Redondo Beach schools are a mixed bag, but stay away from gang-infested Adams Middle School in "felony flats" (our neighborhood school). The conventional wisdom had been that, if you must live within the Adams MS boundaries due to the lack of a half million or so in change, get your kids permits to attend Parras MS (in south Redondo Beach) or Manhattan Beach MS instead.

It's not just realtors. I was surprised to meet a new hire at work who spoke so authoritatively about the schools in our region, despite living 30 miles away. I asked her how she knew so much. She had been trolling the school test score websites. She felt like she knew the schools without ever stepping foot on a single campus.

Standardized test scores can give false impressions of schools and a false sense of security that one understands something that is very complex.

To prove that the conventional wisdom about STAR test scores is wrong, I will use--STAR test scores! Yes, I know that is ironic.

Anyway, let's compare the APIs of Manhattan Beach MS (941) with Adams MS (858). Notice the school demographics. MBMS students are 68% non-hispanic whites and AMS is 30% non-hispanic white.

(I am surprised that people will say in polite company that AMS has a gang problem, when there is absolutely no gang activity there. I think they are making assumptions based upon the melanin levels of the kids, but I am too polite to ask that people clarify what they mean by those remarks.)

Let's forget race for now and look at economic and class differences between the schools.

3% of the kids at MBMS are economically disadvantaged compared to 39% of the kids at AMS. 55% of the kids at MBMS have at least one parent with a graduate degree compared to 14% at AMS.

Like I wrote here and here, there is a huge amount of difference between going home to a 4000 square foot home with a full-time housekeeper AND a stay at home mom near parks and the beach and a one bedroom apartment with 5 other people in a neighborhood where kids get shot in the cross-fire in their front yards. It's hard to study effectively in the latter. (Though gang warfare is not a problem inside the AMS boundaries, some of the inter-district transfer students are trying to escape from those nearby neighborhoods.)

Wow, that was a long preamble to my rebuttal to real estate agents and trollers of

It's late so I will just tackle the parental education angle. Take a look at the statistics for
The students at MBMS have higher test scores than the AMS. The difference narrows when comparing just the kids with parents with graduate degrees, but MBMS is still slightly higher. But, the language scores can easily be due to the much higher number of English learners at AMS.

Let's look closely at the math scores for just the kids with parents with graduate degrees (henceforth labeled "grad").

All 6th graders at both schools take the CST math test and MBMS edges out AMS with a mean score of 429.9 vs 417.9. But then the results are confounded by the different math classes that kids can take. Actually, let's just look at the data in tabular form.

Math 6, 7 and 8 mean regular math classes. When Bad Dad and I were students in California in the 1970s, the "smart" students took pre-Algebra in 7th grade and Algebra in the 8th grade. The regular kids took pre-Algebra in the 8th grade. 8th grade math was considered remedial. In AMS, the regular kids take pre-Algebra in 7th grade, a year earlier than at MBMS.

(But, Governor Schwarzenegger has moved the goal posts and wants them to push all CA students into Algebra by 8th grade, a year (or more) faster than a generation ago. He also does not make exception for kids with learning disabilities, hence the rush to create Algebra preparedness classes that qualify as Algebra for this purpose--but that's another story in itself.)

There is no standardized test for pre-Algebra so students who take pre-Algebra in 6th grade take the same 6th grade math test as the rest of the kids. Notice that, for all groups and schools, the kids that are accelerated in math score much higher than the students taking the same courses, but a year or so older. That suggests that the accelerated kids really are different than the rest, or that teaching advance math concepts at an early age helps them learn more. Unless we do a controlled experiment, we won't know.

We want kids that are good at math to be accelerated to a level that challenges them. The point of schooling is to teach the kids as much as they are capable of learning--not to maximize mean standardized test scores.

Adams Middle School 2010 STAR results

# Grad % Grad Mean Grad # All % All Mean All
Math 6 42 100 417.9 262 100 375.6
Math 7 23 68 360.1 227 80.5 359.9
Math 8 5 12 * 63 23 312.2
Alg-1 7 11 32 454.8 55 19.5 425.7
Alg-1 8 20 48 371.8 157 58 372.2
Geo 8 17 40 427.2 51 19 433.4
Alg-2 0 0 * 1 0 *

* means the score was withheld for subsets of < 10 students

Manhattan Beach Middle School 2010 STAR results

# Grad % Grad Mean Grad # All % All Mean All
Math 6 247 100 429.9 431 100 415
Math 7 220 88 417.8 414 90 407.3
Math 8 96 47 394.2 241 55 385.8
Alg-1 7 31 12 496.7 44 9.6 496.9
Alg-1 8 87 42 471.7 136 35 470.5
Geo 8 23 11 458.4 36 9.3 456.1
Alg-2 0 0 0 0 0 0

Notice that 77% of all kids at AMS, the school with the lower API ranking and the one labeled by realtors as "worse", met the new standards. Of those, 19% took Geometry in 8th grade, exceeding the new goal and besting their parents by 1-2 years. In contrast, only 45% and 9.3% of the all kids at the "better" school did the same.

Why are only half as many kids in the "better" school taking the same difficult classes as the kids at the "worse" school, despite having the advantage of coming from wealthier homes with better-educated parents?

It's even more dramatic for the "grad" kids. At AMS, 88% of those kids had taken Algebra 1 and 40% of those had taken Geometry while one had taken Algebra 2 (3 years ahead of my generation). In contrast, at MBMS, only 54% of the kids had taken Algebra by 8th grade; of those, 11% made it to Geometry.

Remember that 8th grade math, under the new state standards, is remedial math (though it was par a generation ago). So 55% of the kids in the "better" school took remedial math, including 47% of the "grad" kids. At the "worse" school, it is 23% and 12% respectively.

Most damning, the "grad" kids at MBMS are 4.2 times more likely to take the Math 8 exam than the Geometry exam. At AMS, the "grad" kids are 4.6 times more likely to take the Geometry exam than the Math 8 exam.

Yes, the mean test scores for nearly all subjects and groups is higher at MBMS than at AMS, but the kids are taking different classes and tests! That is, if you move 19.5% of the highest performing kids into pre-Algebra instead of Math 7, the mean test scores for the remaining kids in Math 7 will go down.

A high median test score hides a multitude of sins.

On the flip side, selecting only 9.6% of the kids for pre-Algebra in 7th grade probably allows you to cover more material in the school year. The higher test scores at MBMS in the Algebra and Geometry sequence are a result of this more selective/elitist approach.

Which is better? My conclusion is that neither school is "better". They have different demographics and different philosophies.

But, if you want to increase your kids' chances of being given the opportunity to take more difficult math classes, you might be better off in the cheaper neighborhood with the lower median API scores. You can use the half million of so you save by doing so for sending your kids to college and funding your retirement.

Looking more globally, if you want a student population that has been exposed to more difficult math before college, then the AMS approach will better meet those goals. Study after study has shown that success in college, particularly for under-represented minorities, is strongly correlated with mastery of Algebra. Correlation does not imply causality, but who will come out against taking tougher courses before college?

I've written plenty about educational statistics. Look for the Education and Statistics tags. School Correlations is another lengthy interpretation of school test scores.

Additionally, the test scores don't tell you how much class time was devoted to the state standards and preparing for the tests. That is, some teachers may teach the more able student material beyond the state standards. If the standardized tests don't measure those content areas, they won't get credit for their work.

I don't know what happens at MBMS. But, at AMS, the kids taking pre-Algebra skip the 6th grade math text, diving directly into the 7th grade pre-Algebra textbook. (This is possible because of the "spiral learning" vogue in which concepts are repeatedly re-introduced with greater complexity each time. The 4th, 5th and 6th grade math books look cursorily similar because they cover the same territory.)

Adams students see the 6th grade textbook only for the three weeks before the state test, and only to work exercises in a few of the chapters not covered again in the pre-Algebra book. There is some test-prep, but not an excessive amount. I don't consider reviewing 6th grade math in 3 weeks an excessive amount of test prep, especially when the rest of the year is spent accelerating the kids a year ahead in math.

Bad Dad reminded me that MBMS kids are much more likely to be red-shirted in Kindergarten than AMS kids. MBUSD kids are about 6 months older than their RBUSD counterparts in every grade. That's great for athletics and gives a boost in test scores at the primary level, but that puts the MBMS kids even further behind in math.

Don't judge a school by median test scores.

More thoughts on STAR testing
STAR test scores and external influences

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Robot Sumo

I accompanied Iris' robotics class to the First Lego League Spring Showdown 2011 at Legoland in March. Her school sent four teams, one comprised of all girls.

Part of the competition involves running an obstacle course aka mission on the main stage. The first mission is announced two months in advance so that the kids can program the robots and practice at home. The cameras trained on the tables are used to project the action on the large screens behind them. I wonder if it makes the kids feel like rock stars?

Later, the kids are given an hour to program an "on the spot" mission. That tests the kids' abilities to think algorithmically and execute their vision quickly. It also helps judges determine if the kids or their team mentors did the programming for the pre-announced mission.

In order to leave the kids alone, the coaches were all pulled into another room for the coaches' challenge: robot sumo. Iris wasn't around to help me program the Bot, but the other members of my team were very capable.

We agreed that our bot should be small, with a low center of gravity. We wanted a scooper in the front that would slide under the other bots and then tap repeatedly.

The kit has 3 motors. The first motor went on the sensor, which looked for the nearest object (hopefully, the combatant bot). The second motor moves the bot toward the object at full speed, which we hope will slide the scoop underneath the other bot. The third motor does the tapping.
We won the first match because the algorithm of our first competitor (not shown) moved their bot out of the ring with no interference from ours.

Our second competitor looked so large and formidable next to our little bot. But, he first two matches against this bot were a draw.
The way the two bots were designed, it would always be a draw if they both started in opposite ends of the oval from a dead stop. In order to introduce a little bit of variability into the initial conditions (encourage the butterfly effect), the judges had the competitors run to the table and drop the bots quickly.

Here's what happened next. Our bot is the one that started on the left.

See another time when parents were separated from children in Lego class--to the benefit of all.

Burda 7517 FAIL

It looks really nice on the dress dummy.
I like the curved pleats and the cut-on cap sleeves.
The back darts/tucks stuck out in a most unattractive way, so I removed them, using a belt instead to rein in the fullness.
The back neck darts give a nice fit there.
But you should be very, very wary of a dress pattern that is afraid to show a clear full view of the dress. Notice that neither model looks directly at the camera, and that an arm or handbag obscures the dress in both pictures?
That's because the pleats pull out whenever the wearer moves or breathes. It's not just me. Susannah at Cargo Cult Craft had the exact same problem.

Read my Burda 7517 Pattern Review for the full rant. Bigger pictures of the dress are on Flickr.

The fabric:
The same green/black cotton I used in this skirt (Butterick 3133). I love this fabric and still have nearly 3 yards left.

The changes I made:
  • The dress was ‘not quite right’ and I kept futzing with it. The pleats in the back would not fall gracefully, no matter what I did. So I let them out, took off the ribbon ties and used a belt instead.
  • But the front pleats were not quite at the waist, but not quite empire. I tried to bring them down 1.5″ to my real waist, but then the pleats wouldn’t stay put. I then elongated the pleats to extend from the pattern start point down to my waist.
  • Still .not.quite.right.
  • The bell shape of the skirt also poofed out in an unattractive way.
  • The neckline is cut very, very wide. As printed in my normal size (38), they would have slid off my shoulders. I brought them in to a size 32.
  • The bateau neckline was so high that it was uncomfortable; I lowered it half an inch. It still felt uncomfortable.
This pattern is a huge FAIL. I put the dress in the donate pile and the pattern in the recycling bin. This is very unusual because, normally, if a pattern doesn't work for me, I donate it. But this pattern was so bad, I didn't want anyone else to waste time and fabric on this monstrosity.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Slow Art Day

16 April, 2011 is Slow Art Day.
Slow Art Day was started to invite novices - and experts - to experience the art of looking at art slowly.
Iris is celebrating Slow Art Day 2011 by spending the morning at choir practice, something that Sitting Knitting calls Slow Music.
That's where you spend hours and days and weeks, months, and years of your life learning to play a musical instrument so that you can make your own music for entertainment.
When we prodded Iris to choose an instrument, she said that she wanted to learn how to sing. That way, her instrument is always with her when the muse strikes and she can't leave it behind accidentally. ;-)

I am starting the day off with a Bernina Club meeting with other makers. After that, I am going to round up some of the folk art I have collected and made over the years and show them to Iris, telling her what I know about the history, meaning and techniques used in each.

How are you spending Slow Art Day?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Visual Rhyme

Modern Art Notes recently posted another visual rhyme. So here's mine.

A complex pojangi, "traditional wrapping cloths that are hand stitched from scraps of ramie or moshi cloth" showcased at Sri Threads.
And this oil painting by Hedda Sterne, which I found via MAN's very interesting post about her life.

More Visual rhymes from MAN:
More cool stuff from MAN
and Sri Threads.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thinking beyond pink

When I was browsing the web for spring dresses, I saw this page in Jenna's Picks. Commercial imagery like this, showing such intimate and unhurried moments between mother and child invoke a wistful response in me. But it doesn't quite manipulate motivate me to purchase the items because I know my life will not be like that if I purchase the stuff in the picture.
I digress. This is actually a post about pink nail polish.

I initially cringed because she is shown applying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors on her child. I know that this is commonplace in our society, but it doesn't make it any less harmful.

My second thought was, "Wow, that boy has chutzpah! He admitted that pink is his favorite color and agreed to model pink nail polish on the internet to further his mother's career." (I do hope his mother asked for and received his permission.)

In Color: A Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay wrote that, a century ago, people used to dress their boy children in pink and their girl children in light blue. Somehow, the color association was reversed in the middle of the twentieth century. But I worried that the boy's school mates might not have such a long view of history.

Sure enough, the blogosphere lit up with the "controversy" over the pink nail polish. E.g. this superficial piece quoting these luminaries.

Erin R. Brown writing on the website of the Culture and Media Institute -- whose mission is to uphold traditional values -- says the spread “features blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” She adds that “Jenna's indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future.”

“This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity -- homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such ‘psychological sterilization’ [my word choice] is not known,” Psychiatrist Keith Ablow writes on

I think they are missing the point here.

The boy's manhood is more threatened by the high level of phthalate in the nail polish. Phthalate is a common ingredient in nail polish and an oestrogenic compound (a chemical that mimics estrogen) that can be absorbed through the skin or inhalation. Anything that mimics a hormone is an endocrine disruptor. See the NRDC explanation. Or read the NIH explanation.

Boys with high environmental exposures to endocrine disruptors experience delayed onset of puberty. Males with higher levels of endocrine disruptors in their bloodstream also have lower sperm counts.

In girls, phthalate exposure leads to earlier onset of puberty. It is also suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer and implicated in many other disorders of the reproductive system.

This is how we know that child obesity is not alone responsible for early onset of puberty. If it were, then boys, as well as girls, would also be experiencing earlier puberty. But they are not.

Nail polish is more than just phthalates (up to 10% by weight). It's main ingredient is a carrier solvent--typically toluene--which is a carcinogen and neurotoxin. Actually, there are a whole bunch of dangerous chemicals in nail polish.

Look at the nail polish ratings at the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. EWG gives the ingredient list and safety rating of 584 nail polishes. Most get a moderate to high hazard rating. There are no safe mass-market nail polishes.

If you look at the bottle in the picture carefully, you can see the Essie label. A search for Essie nail polishes at the cosmetics database shows that all of the Essie polishes are rated 7 (out of 10) or high hazard. I looked at the Essie color chart and guess that this pink is similar to Bachelorette Bash, which is more hazardous than 86% of the nail polishes in their database. Read the ingredient list and follow the links to educate yourself about any of the chemicals unfamiliar to you.

Ablow, a psychiatrist and therefore, a medical doctor, should have been aware of the health hazards posed by nail polish. So why is he harping on the increased risk that this boy will need psychotherapy instead of his increased risk of sterility and cancer?

We can't remove every carcinogen, toxin and endocrine disruptor from our homes. We need some plastics. But we don't need to thoughtlessly expose ourselves and our children to recreational chemicals like nail polish.

This has serious national health consequences as we grapple with climbing health care costs associated with the growth of cancer rates in children, treatment for infertility and complications of fertility treatment (multiple births and increased incidence of cancer).

If we are to have any hope of taming the health care beast that is eating our economy, we have to quit doing stupid stuff.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good news from the science education front

My daughter loves Tuesdays and Thursdays because she has two class periods* of earth science with her favorite teacher.

What makes him a favorite teacher with kids and parents alike? Let me count the ways.
  1. He told the parents at Back to School Night at the beginning of the school year that the kids in the class are all bright enough--as evident from their quiz scores and the sophistication of their questions in class--that they don't require drilling. Instead, he will use the found time to let them loose in the science laboratory set up for the 8th grade physical science classes.
  2. In class, he teaches the kids the difference between the right answer in their textbooks, which they should use on the standardized tests, and the much more complex physical reality. The kids really appreciate not being talked down to.
  3. He covers all the state standards. It would be difficult not to with today's idiot-proof textbooks that start every section with a checklist of standards, review of standards that should have been mastered in prior sections, and the final standards-based quiz at the end of the unit. But he doesn't drill the kids over and over. If they get it, the class can cover something else.
  4. Something else often takes the form of long digressions that integrate related principles not in this year's science curriculum standards.
  5. This parent really appreciates the depth with which he covers the topics and the other topics that he pulls in. It leads to some very interesting dinner conversation.
  6. This week, she told us about the triple point in phase diagrams as she stirred a glass of ice water at dinner.
  7. Last week, she asked me about the butterfly effect and we discussed the Lyapunov exponent, a subject near and dear to my heart and something I calculated for "my" set of equations in my PhD thesis.
  8. The science content of the 6th grade California earth science curriculum is not bad. Among other things, the kids learn how to read a weather chart using the same notation as professional meteorologists. This is way more than I did 30 years ago.
* They are on a "stacked" schedule with six 45 minute classes on Mondays and a "block" schedule with three 82 minute classes on TTh and WF. This gives them more time for project-based lessons.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do you want the true answer or the right answer?

Iris found another mistake in her most recent math "benchmark" test.

Her school gives multiple choice assessment tests at the beginning of each trimester to determine the appropriate class assignment and then to determine if students mastered the material. This is in addition to the state-mandated tests that they will take at the end of April. The textbook publisher writes the tests. But, as Iris has already pointed out in Error! Error! Error!, the publisher is fallible.

On her last pre-Algebra benchmark test, there was a picture of an equilateral triangle and the kids are supposed to select which choice describes the figure. Both equilateral and isosceles triangles were possible choices, but saying both was not an option.

Iris had a dilemma. The true answer is both as all equilateral triangles (all 3 sides and angles the same) are also isosceles (at least 2 equal sides and angles). But the test implied that there was only one right answer.

Which should she choose?

She had to guess. In the end, she decided that the test-writer didn't realize that all equilateral triangles are also isosceles so she had better select equilateral.

Then she came home and told me about it.

Then I emailed her math teacher, who was very annoyed with the publisher for making such a bone-headed mistake. (Do the publishers employ copy-editors?)

The teacher said that all the tests would be hand-checked so that kids were not penalized, and that they would flag that question when they used the test in subsequent years. She didn't mention alerting the publisher about the mistake.

That's too bad. So I am alerting Holt, Rinehart and Winston right now that there is a problem with their California state Mathematics Course 2: Pre-Algebra materials.

Perhaps you would like to hire my ten-year-old to copy-edit for you? She's been a proven beta-tester since she was five.

Don't miss Stanley Fish's classic gem, The True Answer and the Right Answer. I do like cranky and opinionated done well. ;-)

I agree that kids need to learn the distinction between the true answer and the right answer to get along and get along in our society. But, as Hopeless but not serious pointed out in I never really liked marshmallows, we lose something as well, when we bring up kids to perform the 'right' way.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The maker's dilemma

I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have acquired for making stuff. It's really quite scary. But, occasionally, I am really happy that, when the urge to create strikes, we have enough to do just about anything.

Iris used to play imaginative games with another girl in first grade and her teacher suggested that I invite the girl over to our house to play. She mentioned that the play dates should always take place at our house because things at the other girl's house were quite rough*.

During one play date, I suggested the girls paint. Iris has two craft carts full of supplies--one for painting, another for scrap booking. We set up the paints and papers and I let the girls at it. When I walked by again, the guest asked if she could have another sheet of paper.

I pointed to the stack and told her to help herself. She painted another and then another. Iris got bored and read a book while her friend painted. I overheard them talking.

The guest asked Iris what happens when she uses up her supplies. Iris told her that I buy some more. The other girl was stunned.

I was reminded of this incident when I came home with this skort from the Lands' End clearance rack. Iris said that it fit, but she would not wear it so plain. She wanted an asymmetrical motif on the front.

I got out my stencil books and paints. None of them were what she had in mind. Then I remembered a Japanese pattern book that had some simple, but bold embroidery motifs. She found the perfect one immediately.

All I had to do was scan the motif and display it with Picasa. I moved the size slider bar until it was enlarged to just the right size. Then I traced it onto a piece of printer paper using the computer screen as a lightbox. I transferred the motif to the skirt using carbon tracing paper and a plastic Hera marker while Iris rummaged around in my tin of embroidery floss, looking for the perfect shade of blue.

I showed Iris how to do a back stitch and she went at it with surprising perseverance. When she got tired and went to bed, I finished the last ~20% for her. The project was conceived and executed in one evening because I had all the supplies on hand.

Another morning, I decided to make the Star Fragments quilt out of the book, Flying Colors. I've been dragging this poster from one home to another since 1983. I saw the George Costakis collection at and was completely blown away by the saturated colors and composition. The poster is faded now, and I wanted to put something really bright in its place. I found everything needed to complete the project in the sewing room.

I thought about cropping out the clutter, but then decided against it. There are so many commercial images of clutter-free perfection, I felt like it would be a public service to show what an actual house with children looks like.

(Lest you remark that I only have one child, have you met my husband yet? Yes, that is the Lego NXT set I wrote about in What Do Automobiles and Spacecraft Have in Common? while guest blogging for the Atlantic Technology site. Iris made that Duplo rainbow when she learned the colors of the rainbow--and their order--in kindergarten. We keep that around to remind us that red goes on the outside and violet goes in the middle. The rainbow sits on a set of nesting boxes that she used to play with as a baby. No, the stuff diet is not going well. Why do you ask?)

After I bound the quilt, I put it through the washer and dryer. While I was waiting for that to finish, I made this charity quilt top. Sometimes, I just want a brainless project that is ready to go. I always keep a few 7-minute quilt top kits stored in Ziploc bags in the sewing room. It took considerably longer than 7 minutes.

In other news, I finally recovered my ironing table. The old cover was so stained and ripped. The padding also needed new augmentation as it had compressed to the point where you can see the impressions of the metal grill underneath. I was really happy to find the perfect fabric, this sturdy African printed cotton, in my collection.

20 years ago, I had a heat-sensitive mahogany dining table that required a cotton insulator pad under the table cloth. I got rid of the table, but saved the pad--for 20 years. I must have known that I would need to recover an ironing board someday.

Using the old cover as a pattern, I cut and hemmed the replacement cover. I tried to thread a piece of string around the edge the same way as on the old cover, but I used the only thin string I had, crochet cotton. It lacks the tensile strength to allow me to gather up the cover taut. It snapped immediately, sending me to the fabric store to buy some polyester cord. I found polyester cord, but some more fabric also came home with me.

I did take a trunk full of stuff to Goodwill and another trunk load went to Iris' cousin. While we cleaned up her room, Iris found some neglected but well-loved toys. While I was taking the boxes downstairs, she built an assemblage, complete with Snap Circuit sound effects.

So her floor was clear for like, 10 seconds.

* I had previously mentioned that we moved into what realtors euphemistically call a "neighborhood in transition". The other girl was an old timer family that people like us are pushing out. She lived with her grandmother, who couldn't afford the rents here any longer. A few months later, they moved a mile to the east, where rents are lower, but the homicide rate is 10 times higher and the elementary school has a ~90% poverty rate (vs ~20% here).

Our neighborhood school was full up and she was unable to get an inter-district transfer. She attended another school for one year before she was able to get readmitted to our neighborhood school.

By then, she had completely changed. She became very quiet, didn't play imaginative games any more and had become obese. The changes occurred in just one year.

People in that neighborhood are scared to let their children play outside. Several children have been shot in gang cross-fire in recent years. Check out the excellent LA Times interactive homicide map to see the disparities. We live sandwiched between gang warfare on one side and a resort-like beach community where homes sell for $2-20 Million.

Meanwhile, we are cozy inside our home, but we are up to our eyeballs in tools for creating.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

High-energy physics, p-values and the sporting life

Eric sends this link:
When you look at the data it's not some disagreement with the Standard Model, it's a nicely formed bump in the distribution that looks really like the kind of bump you'd get if a new particle was being exchanged in this process," said Fermilab's Dan Hooper. "There's a 0.1 percent chance that this is a statistical fluke. Other than that possibility that lingers, this is the most exciting new physics we've learned about in my lifetime.
Eric adds this comment:
There you have it: There is only a 10-3 chance that this is not the most exciting new physics in his lifetime. Gosh I'd love to fade that action. Hooper suggests 1000-to-one odds, so surely he'd jump at the opportunity to put up a mere ten grand against my one grand.

BMGM adds this comment:
I think it is really sad how "new" particles are discovered whenever particle physics funding is imperiled. In this era of limits to science funding, I think it would be wise to have rational discussions of science and funding priorities.

There are actually some good uses for particle physicists outside of the academic realm. But do we need so many? And how do we match the graduates to those job openings? Or perhaps there are more optimal academic paths to train for those jobs?

I'm not just talking about "accelerator fodder"--the armies of cheap graduate students needed to run particle accelerators and sift through the data. I am also critical of ballot-box initiatives that direct science funding to trendy topics like breast cancer and stem cell research. They are worthy of research, but are they worthy of the huge sums (relative to other fields) spent on them? Students (necessarily) follow the funding and these highly politicized allocations of science funding skew our nation's available talent base for decades.

I am off to bed. Perhaps I will wake up to a functioning government?