Friday, February 28, 2014

Chainmail Sweatshirt

A sewing and knitting blog should include some content about sewing and knitting, right?

I woke up one morning in January and thought, I want a sweatshirt resembling chainmail. I know; it must be a common dream based on the number of metallic sweatshirts in the stores this season.  I might have dreamt about it because I came across this scrap when going through my fabric collection recently.

I had purchased it ~5 years ago for a costume for Iris.  Because she played one of two guards,  this scrap wasn't large enough for both of them.  I found another piece (also from SAS) that could pass for chainmail at a distance and sufficiently large to make two costumes.

With some creative layout (I hope this fabric is without nap!), I managed to squeeze the front and body pieces out of the scrap.  I backed them with lightweight gray rayon/cotton jersey for opacity and contrast.

I purchased some black cotton/lycra jersey on my last trip to Fabrix in San Francisco.  It wasn't beefy enough for the neck and bottom bands so I used some cotton doubleknit found at Trash for Teaching.  Try not to imagine the piles of fabric in my sewing room that can yield exactly the right material for my last few projects without having to go out and purchase anything extra.

Instead, let us coo at the unbearable cuteness and genius of guinea pig armor.

Look at that intimidating warrior face!

I've added the photos to my Flickr Kwik Sew 2874 set. Kwik Sew 2874 is still in print.
The pattern illustration may be dated, but the pattern is timeless and well-engineered. If you look at the Kwik Sew 2874 gallery post, you'll see this pattern has potential.  I've made it 9 times already.  I highly recommend purchasing it while you still can.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

In defense of Home Ec 3

I realize that Home Ec has become unfashionable in feminist circles, but it is historically important as a career path into science for so many talented women in prior generations.  Universities were willing to accept women in some departments only because they had viable career paths in industry working in food and textile sciences.

Make no mistake about it.  The nutrition science major at UC Berkeley is among the most challenging ones on campus.  Nutrition students have to learn everything required of biochemistry majors, take all pre-med requirements and then take nutrition classes on top of it.

I read in The Queen of Fats that the reason it took so long for other labs to replicate/confirm UC Berkeley's research in omega-3 fatty acids and cholesterol ratios was because no other food science department had access to the special centrifuges at Lawrence Berkeley Labs.  (They were a holdover from the Manhattan Project.)

Women who were interested in studying chemistry could sneak into their local universities as Home Ec majors and take everything that chemistry majors take.  Then they can apply at more enlightened universities further from home for graduate studies in chemistry.

Topologically-inclined women also studied Home Ec so that they could work as pattern-makers--an engineering discipline that pays much better than fashion design.  I was delighted to read that David Hockney's mother had been a pattern-maker in her youth.  I was less delighted when he wrote about how she was harassed into quitting by a colleague who was jealous/threatened by her superior abilities.  She continued to sew for her family.  When Hockney first sold a painting, he purchased a better sewing machine for his mom (along with more paint for himself) with the proceeds.

I've written about sewing and topology before, and will do so in the future, but let's get back to my intended subject.

I initially applied to graduate school to chemistry departments as a physical chemist.  I was particularly taken with spectroscopy and the study of reaction dynamics.  There is something so intellectually satisfying when you go from the micro world of quantum mechanics, compute the available energy before and after chemical reactions according to quantum rules, and then come out with a pretty accurate prediction for bulk reaction rates.  It's better than magic.

Science departments commonly fly prospective graduate students to visit in person after acceptance.  "Prospectives" receive schedules that provide time to meet with students and professors in their research field of interest.

My undergraduate research advisor, who had guided me through the application process, expressed surprise to see Dick Bernstein on my UCLA visit schedule.  He thought that Bernstein was no longer taking graduate students in preparation for retirement.  Did that mean they had to pad out my schedule because not enough active professors were interested in me?  Was that a bad sign?

No matter.  This gave me 30 minutes alone with the co-author of Molecular Reaction Dynamics and Chemical Reactivity and co-creator of Surprisal Analysis (the degree with which we are thermodynamically surprised by an experimental outcome).  I mean, who wouldn't want to spend time alone with someone with the imagination and humor to get IUPAC to accept Surprisal as an official chemical term?  Calculating surprisal indices is one of the funnest things imaginable.  But, it does take a lot of math and hard work in lab to get to the point where you can calculate one.

At the appointed time, I went to his office.  I asked why he was on my schedule even though he was winding down his research lab.  He said that my personal statement reminded him so much of his childhood, he wanted to meet me.  One of my science heroes wanted to meet me!

My personal statement was personal.  I broke the rules about not bringing any additional attention to my gender.  I wrote about staring out the window as a child and wondering why the sky was blue (common enough for spectroscopists).  But, I also wrote about learning to love chemistry in the kitchen with my first science teacher, my mother.  I learned about oxidation and chelation by squeezing lemon juice on bananas or in tea.  My mom told funny stories about her chemistry lab in nursing school and encouraged me to take science classes whenever possible.

His extended biography showed more parallels.  We both double-majored in math and chemistry.  His mother sewed and ran a dress shop.  And, we both puttered around in the kitchen with our moms, learning chemistry and being surprised.

I highly recommend reading both the extended biography published by the National Academy Press after a conference to celebrate his life and contributions and his NY Times obit.

You never know where Home Ec will lead you.  I'm certainly glad that it led me to meet this extraordinary man.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In defense of Home Ec 2

I attended a parent informational meeting about Common Core implementation in our school district. I saw the district superintendent from In defense of Home Ec. The scene was too, too funny and brought to mind Tom Wolfe's classic piece, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.  If you are not familiar with that piece, I recommend reading it here.

Imagine a room with a very tall white male boss sitting silently while putting three women (flak-catchers) up at the front of the room to deliver bad news to a room full of hostile suburban moms.  All three women hold EdDs and went by Dr So-and-So; two of them are women of color.

I sat in the back, as did many of the other moms I know to be skeptical about the latest educational reforms that would solve world hunger, bring about world peace and an expanding economy for all.
He wants to implement an integrated curriculum?  Let's talk again about how Home Ec can be part of the educational renaissance.

It may not surprise readers that I recycle ingredients in my kitchen as well as in my sewing room.  While we don't eat much meat, I save the bones in a freezer bag.  When we receive a CSA box, I wash and trim the produce as I put it away in the refrigerator.  The scraps go into another freezer bag.  When they are full, I throw them in a stock pot along with garlic, a quartered onion, some aromatic vegetables (carrots, celery, parsley family), herbs and half a lemon.

The acidity from the lemon juice helps dissolve the calcium in the bones, making a calcium-fortified broth.  It also helps bring out the nutrients in the bone marrow.  (I am a lapsed Buddhist; I feel strongly that, as long as you are going to eat dead animals, you should use as much of them as possible.)

Your grandmother didn't need to be taught this.  Recall how many chicken soup recipes include lemons.

When I make stock, I use the pasta insert in my 8 quart stock pot.  When everything has cooked down, I just lift up the solids in the pasta insert to drain and throw them into the compost bin.  Then I strain the liquid concentrated stock.  Yum.

A friend brought back a gift of Herbes de Provence after bike touring in Provence, which I used often in lieu of a "bouquet garni".  Rather than buy more when that supply ran out, I snipped rosemary, thyme, garlic chives, and bay and lemon leaves from my backyard.  I call that "Herbes de Redondo Beach" or "Herbes de Felony Flats" depending on the mood.

I don't have a recent picture of stock-making.  But I snapped a picture when making chicken-cilantro soup recently.  Notice I browned the quarter chicken, skin-side down, before adding the onions.  After the onions browned, I added water and the other ingredients.

When I worked in a chemistry lab, we read the experiments and planned our laboratory time so we can multi-task, yet focus on one thing at a time while other things were on a burner, cooling, or drying in an oven or on the roto-vap.  I do the same thing in the kitchen.

I gathered extra ingredients from the garden and washed then at the same time to make salad dressing while the soup simmered.

As Mark Bittman explained in this video, you can make myriad salad dressings with the formula: a fat, an acid, and flavoring.  I use olive oil and juice from a Meyer lemon from our back yard.

The dressing after blending.


Notice the yogurt maker behind the blender?  I heated the milk in the microwave before starting the soup.  After I got the soup going, the milk had been held at a warm temperature long enough for the remaining steps.  If you don't let the milk rest at a high--but below boiling--temperature for a sufficient amount of time, your yogurt won't set.  That's a lesson in polymer chemistry.

My sister knitted the fair-isle hat for Iris before realizing that Kauni is too scratchy for Iris to willingly wear. Fortunately, the hat fits my EasiYo yogurt maker.

Making yogurt is a good biology project to learn about microbes in different environments.  The air is damp by the beach and contains a little bit of mold.  Yogurt can pick up microbes from the air.  If I keep using the old batch for a starter. they develop a yeasty bread smell.  Not unpleasant, but not yogurt-y.

I need to use 1/4 to 1/3 of a packet of yogurt mix to add fresh L.bulgaricus, S.thermophilus, Bifidobacteria, and L.acidophilus to compete against the local micro-fauna.  The yogurt mix also contains milk powder from free-range cows in New Zealand, adding omega-3 fatty acids to our diet.  By using both milk and milk powder, I add calcium and protein, too.

A morning in the kitchen can provide lessons in project management, geography, ecology, chemistry and biology.  A science experiment you can eat!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hey, that's me!

edX released some working papers on what they learned from MOOCs (and their students).
A graduate-level course in public health should attract different registrants, on average, than an introductory physics course, or a course on global poverty.
As someone who took all three courses, I want to ask why would you find this odd? Isn't curiosity normal? None of these courses assumed prior knowledge other than some high-school level math so they are accessible to a broad audience.
One interesting subpopulation is the group of people who enroll in and complete multiple courses. More than 4,000 registrants across MITx and HarvardX earned more than one certificate, including 1,912 who earned at least one certificate from each institution. Seventy-six registrants earned five or more certificates.
So our household accounts for 2 out of the 76. What about yours?

BTW, if anyone from edX is reading this, please note that you did recoup beaucoup bucks from us for these free courses. Bad Dad and I both attended Bricks and Mortar schools in the edX consortium. We both volunteered to work on our class reunion gift campaigns and give generously in part because we believe edX is a fantastic idea.

Go Bears! Go Beavers!

Bad Dad and I are now taking Jazz Appreciation and Probability together. He began playing jazz standards on our piano in spare moments. He does this even when it is not Valentine's day. Now, that's romantic. Actually, he did something even more romantic after Coursera's ModPo; that was so special, it deserves it's own post.

When I was volunteering as a tutor at a Title I school, I referred a couple of advanced students to edX and Coursera. They didn't complete every course they sampled or earn certificates. But, they did learn something and gained from the experiences. edX is great for motivated low-income kids who have access to broadband and adults who can help them in person. That's a lot of ifs. Instead of branding MOOCs a failure for disadvantaged students, we should try to help them access the tools to help improve their odds: broadband, a quiet place to study and adults who can help them in person.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Big Cottonwood, Big Snow


Driving up Big Cottonwood canyon on the way to Brighton Ski Resort while listening to jazz on the radio.

One of the staffers at Canyon Sports, where we rent our skis and purchase discounted lift tickets, mentioned that we should read the Wasatch Snow Forecast blog.  Check out this great snow water equivalence vs. time plot from Where do we stand now?.

See those stairsteps?  Each one represents a storm.  The week before we arrived, Utah received the light and fluffy stuff known as Greatest Snow on Earth.

[If you want to generate your own plots like this, visit the NOAA Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) Map page, click on your station of interest, then click on the mini-graph pop-up window.  That opens up a page where you can customize a full-size plot for that station.]

Last weekend, a warm storm dumped 3-4 feet of warm, wet snow (a pineapple express) on top of that.  Put something heavy over something fluffy/flimsy and watch the bottom layer collapse.  That's why we no longer put real (and heavy) clay tile roofs over lightly-framed wooden houses in California.

In snow country, those conditions spell severe avalanche potential.

Little Cottonwood Canyon (Alta and Snowbird) was closed for avalanche control, squeezing snow chasers into Big Cottonwood Canyon (Brighton and Solitude).  We got a late start on Saturday and were warned by the sign on I-215 (SLC's beltway) that the Brighton parking lot was full.  The ski bus' park and ride also looked full and we decided to skip skiing and see the Lego movie instead.

On Sunday, I saw gray stuff that looked like ice, but in an unlikely spot for ice, from the chairlift.  Another skier explained that it was gunpowder residue from a bomb thrown by ski patrol to trigger avalanches .before. the resort opened to skiers.

The first day, we arranged to meet up and ski with a SLC skier we met last year.  He studied engineering physics in college and worked as a part-time ski instructor.  I've never heard ski mechanics explained so well and I learned not to fear the bumps.  Iris is now giving me skiing tips.

As you can see from the video, we had another good ski trip.   Anyone want to plan for a second trip this winter?

Bad Dad's list of Salt Lake City must-visit restaurants:
  • Red Iguana: Start with the mole sampler and finish with the flan.  
  • Settobello: Save room for gelato, too.
  • Red Rock Brewery: The onion rings are so unhealthy, and yet so irresistible.
Also very good:
  • The Wild Grape: A locavore restaurant with an extensive wine list.  Order the Brussels sprouts fried in bacon-infused olive oil.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hurricane-force is no exaggeration

I was browsing the news coverage of the Olympics abroad when I noticed that, not only is our SoCal drought continuing, but the barrage of storms hitting the UK continues as well.  Hurricane-force winds is no exaggeration.  And more is on the way.  Take a look at the forecast for midnight Fri/Sat night.  Click the plot below to make it bigger and you see a low of 956 mb.  That's consistent with a category 3 hurricane.
The winds will behave like a hurricane, too.  First, the winds come.
Then, as the low passes, the winds calm.
Then the winds return.

Go to the California Regional Weather Server to view the animation.

The visualizations come from Unisys and CRWS, but both display forecast data from NOAA/NCEP's GFS Global Forecast System Model.  A certain senator may want to cut the NWS budget because he gets his weather from Accuweather.  Commercial weather services are good at "branding" the weather with nice graphics.  But, in the end, everyone gets their data from a government center.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why is ice so slippery?

In Countdown to Olympic Curling, I calculated that the stones used in curling do not exert enough force to melt the ice.  Did anyone do the math and figure out the answer to "What's the maximum contact area for an ice skate so that a 60 kg figure skater will melt the ice under her?"

Well, Science Friday (or Robert Carpick, professor and curler) did the math and it would take a gargantuan ice skater.  So the textbooks are wrong.  UC Berkeley chemistry professor Gabor Somorjai and his lab also explain.  I just love the mental picture of every other water molecule vibrating up and down but not side to side.  Remember how people danced to punk rock?

Speaking of rock and ice, there is one instance where the pressure is absolutely positively large enough to melt ice--rock glaciers.

When I first moved to Boulder, I tried to hike up to Isabelle Glacier (pictured above in a 1920 photo from the Library of Congress) with a geomorphology grad student who had also recently relocated from Berkeley to Boulder for grad school.  I got altitude sick so we never made it up to Isabelle Glacier.

However, he pointed to a pile of dirty ice and rocks and announced that we had climbed high enough to reach a glacier.

"Where?", I asked.

"There."

I just saw a pile of rocks and a little patch of dirty ice/snow.

"It's a rock glacier.  It's mostly underground."

Who knew that glaciers can be like icebergs, lurking below the surface?  The pressure above melts the layer at the bottom, which then flows downhill and refreezes.  The toe of the glacier inches downhill underground, grinding up the rock into soil along the way.

I should have remembered that water moves even when you can't see it from the artesian well on CA highway 92, between San Mateo and Half Moon Bay.  In order for the water in the artesian wells to reach the surface, they must have flowed from somewhere higher.  The only thing higher than the coast mountain range is the Sierra Nevadas.

Wow, there is so much more than apparent to the eye.  I never thought about water and ice the same way after that day.

Selfie Sunday

I took this Selfie on Sunday. When I looked at it, I thought, "I'd look much younger if I didn't spend so much time outdoors, especially at high altitudes."

Then I looked at what I would miss and thought, "Not worth it."

The sun finally broke out intermittently on our last afternoon.  Iris refused to take off her glove to take a picture of me.  But, I documented her.  I sewed the neck/chin warmers for both of us.  You can't see it in the picture, but I made her a matching pink/white goggle bag, too.  We wear matching leopard print hats so that we can easily spot each other on the slopes.  Pun intended.

Gotta run.  More later.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

AcaDec adjusts to grade inflation

I hate to be nit-picky, but want to point out that the media is not quite accurate when they say, "Each decathlon team includes students with A, B and C grade-point averages."

If A/B/C/DF grades are assigned 4/3/2/1 points, what constitutes an A, B or C student?

If you look at the Academic Decathlon eligibility guidelines,
Honor: 3.750 – 4.00 GPA
Scholastic: 3.000 – 3.749 GPA
Varsity: 0.00 – 2.999 GPA
I would categorize a GPA of 2.5-3.5 as a B student, > 3.5 as an A student and < 2.5 as a C or lower student. What would you use?

Don't blame AcaDec. They are only responding to grade inflation around the nation.

Each team fields three competitors in each GPA category.  The total scores of the top two out of three scorers in each group establish the team score.  Thus, kids really need to work on their weaknesses to help the team.

For instance, Iris' team has an Honor student who is a first generation Mexican American and who does spectacularly well on math, econ and science*.  However, he was not so strong in arts and literature--the things that Iris is especially good at.  Iris is only a Freshman and hasn't had trigonometry or most of the science curriculum yet.  The scores of only one of them will count. (The other Honor student is an all-rounder.)  Therefore, Iris needed to improve her math/science** and the boy needed to improve his knowledge of history/literature/art.

He's been staying up late cramming on subjects he had previously believed unimportant and discovering that they are interesting (to him).  Regardless of how their team scores, I count this as a win for him and AcaDec.

* Colleges should be lining up to recruit this boy because he is so smart and kind in the way he mentors younger kids.  He's taking AP Computer Science and wants to study EECS in college.

** Iris would rather die than study math with her mom.  A parent just has to pick the battles carefully.  I laugh when people suggest homeschooling.

Grade Inflation background:

Monday, February 03, 2014

Congratulations, team!

We interrupt science and Home Ec blogging to do a little mommy bragging.  My daughter has been a stress monster as she and her team prepared for Academic Decathlon competition.  Unlike competitive athletics, where performance over an entire season determines who goes on to compete at the next level, AcaDec has just one competition spread out over two Saturdays: subjective events the first week, multiple choice subject exams and Super Quiz the next.  It's a great deal of pressure.  I wish there was a longer season so that a single bad day doesn't stop a team.

We won't have the total results until February 12, but early indications are good.  They tied for first in the "Super Quiz" team competition event.  Inexplicably, the LA Times article mentioned that Redondo Union had tied for first, but only quoted other teams.

AcaDec is the kind of integrated curriculum that I favor.  Each year has a theme such as the First World War.  They study and take tests in the music, art, literature, social science and economics of the era.  Math and science themes also vary, but do not necessarily have anything to do with the main theme.  This year, the kids are tested on algebra/trigonometry and genomics.  Last year's math test focused on statistics and another science topic.

According to the LAT article, the co-winning Super Quiz team held 24 hour weekend practices and studied until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. Iris' coach believes in keeping it fun and held optional after-school practices until 5:30 once or twice a week. Kids could and did study independently, but her philosophy is not to pressure kids out of their childhood.

Many schools find enough money to pay for multiple coaches for different subjects.   However, Redondo and the highly ranked Torrance teams have just one coach.  Redondo's is an English teacher so the older kids who have already taken the math and science classes teach the younger kids.  It's really quite cute and Montessori-like.  I helped coach math a few afternoons a month.

For context, it's important to note that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Los Angeles County outside of LAUSD hold separate competitions. The populations of Los Angeles, the county, and Los Angeles, the city are 11 and 4 million respectively. Although LAUSD draws from a smaller pool, their teams are VERY competitive, winning state and nationals more often than not. LAUSD is a huge school district.  Not surprisingly, some of their schools are among the best and worst in the nation.

Los Angeles County excluding LAUSD tends to be the second most competitive league in the nation, so just placing in the top ten is an honor. If LA county (excl LAUSD) were a state, it would have about 7 million residents--more than Washington state, the 13th most populous state.  Whatever their final ranking in the league, we are very proud of her and their entire team.

Of course, the kids want to go all the way to nationals because they are held in Hawaii this year.  ;-)  But, when I helped out at practice, and saw the sunset over the ocean outside the classroom, I think these kids are already living the dream.  Their school is situated on a hill above King Harbor, with spectacular views of the Santa Monica bay.  How many kids dream of living in a southern California beach town with views like that?


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Countdown to Olympic Curling

Are you participating in The Ravellenic Winter Games 2014? I will be competing in the finishing as many WIPs (works in progress) as possible event.

The event I am most looking forward to is curling, which starts on February 10.

 I agree with Bleacher Report.
Curling is the next curling. There is no other winter Olympic sport with as much personality and flair that people can play as easily on a recreational level around the world.
The slowness of curling allows me to .see. the competition in a way that I can't with the faster sports (without slo-mo and instant replay).  I'm also interested in the rapid changes in women's curling.  It used to be mainly about finesse and placement of stones.  But, now, women are aggressively knocking out competitors' stones as the men have traditionally done.

In 2010, I caught a cold during our ski trip and spent an entire day in the hotel room immersed in Olympic curling and watching the nail-biter finals. I was so excited, I wrote about my newfound love of curling. Since then, I became such a groupie.   I stalked a guy at Lair just because he was wearing a curling team t-shirt.

Who knew that Silicon Valley and the East Bay has a curling league? Would it be obsessive to move back to NorCal so I can join their league? Did you know that the Japanese curling team hails from Aomori and Sapporo, where I've been meaning to take Iris to meet her cousins? I wonder if I could sneak off from family visits to the curling center?

Read the fascinating story of how Ayumi Ogasawara (nee Onodera) and Yumie Funayama (nee Hayashi) retired from international curling to marry and raise children, but came out of retirement to rescue Japan's chances of qualifying for Sochi.  Size and strength counts, so their victory over third-ranked Norway to qualify is doubly impressive.

In Canada, curlers are treated like rock stars. 1 million Canadians (out of 38 million) play the sport.  Canada's Project Explorer created a video explaining the science of curling.


The Science of Curling from ProjectExplorer.org in Canada from ProjectExplorer.org on Vimeo.

They put out a version for younger viewers, but I don't see much difference between the content.


The Science of Curling from ProjectExplorer.org in Canada (jr. version) from ProjectExplorer.org on Vimeo.

This phase diagram explains why curling is done on water ice instead of some dry (CO2) ice or pretty much any other substance.  Slide from Columbia Environmental Chemistry class.  The melting point of water decreases with increasing pressure.  If you press down hard enough on the ice, you can melt it.


Until I saw the Project Explorer video, I hadn't realized that curling is done on a pebbled surface. But the pebbling and brushing is crucial if you do the math.

Pebbling reduces the contact area between the stone and the ice by a significant fraction, probably 50% or more.  That allows the stone to glide further.

A 20 kg stone with a 10 cm radius (bottom contact area) would yield an extra 628 Pascals above atmospheric pressure (101300 Pascals).  That's not enough to melt the ice.  (What's the maximum contact area for an ice skate so that a 60 kg figure skater will melt the ice under her?)

Brushing with something rough, like the scouring pad material would create enough frictional heat to melt the ice so that the stones can slide easily.

And then there are all the things you can do with angular momentum when throwing the stone.

Thanks for the emails enquiring about my health.  I am happy to report that I am over the cold and the subsequent asthma flare-up.  I hope to get back up to speed next week.