Sunday, January 28, 2007

Capecho Progress

Do you understand why I switched needle sizes rather than changing the number of stitches to size the pentagon?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Los Angeles Rainfall

Heard on KPCC (Pasadena Public Radio) this morning, "LA only received x (I forgot, but it was ~ 1.5 inches) or rain this year when we should have gotten 7 inches."

What does she mean, we should have gotten y amount of rain? Rain falls or it doesn't fall. There is no should about it. After all, we are not owed rainfall.

I believe she meant that we have received quite a bit less rain than the average rainfall. That is quite true. But average rainfall in the arid west is highly misleading. Take a look at the monthly rain statistics from 1921-2006. LA rainfall is highly variable. In fact, there doesn't seem to be an average year.

Luckily, Charles Fisk has plotted up the LA rain data so I don't have to. The top plot shows deviation of rainfall from the mean (~15"), the bottom shows deviation from the median (~12.5"). Immediately, one can see how few years have close to the mean rainfall. We have mostly dry years (relative to the mean) with a few exceptionally wet years that skew the mean. (When the median and the mean vary by such a relatively large amount, one suspects that the data is skewed, in the statistical sense.)

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

Capecho news
The capecho continues to grow. I completed 2 swatch pentagons while trying different construction techniques. Then I settled upon a technique and completed 2 more. Remember, I wanted a ring of 6 pentagons. I can't use the 2 swatch ones; the reason will be clear when I get the photos up. So I have 4 more pentagons left to knit.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Better Late Than Never

I occasionally surprise unbearably adorable children with tie-dye clothing. It's my form of cute overload. The only stipulation is that I must receive a photo of the kids in the tie-dye for the scrapbook I will make someday. Here are two sisters in dresses from last summer's Dye Workshop.

That's all folks.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How 'Green' is Your T-shirt?

Can Polyester Save the World? touched on many issues dear to my heart (link to the NYT article published 1/24/07 and good for 7 days) . I had never before read a full analysis of the energy impact of a cotton t-shirt and a polyester blouse.

The pop up graphic on the left side, How 'Green' is Your T-shirt?, is particularly interesting. Before adding in the impact of laundering, the energy use for both the polyester blouse and the cotton t-shirt is nearly identical. Although I have a few quibbles with the assumptions used in the calculation, the results are close enough to the energy impact analysis for "Paper or Plastic?" that they make intuitive sense to me. (Our household receives both Chemical and Engineering News and NRDC's OnEarth magazines.)

I have personally heard some people sneer that polyester is made with petroleum and cotton is made is renewable. Well, it depends on whether one counts the petroleum used in farming (fertilizer and pesticides), transporting and processing the cotton. Cotton T-shirts, like paper grocery sacks, are heavier than polyester blouses and plastic grocery bags and, thus, require more energy to transport. (Let's not even go into the energy expended to move trucks of bottled water around to places where tap water is plentiful and safe.) Additionally, I have read in several other places that more pesticides are applied to produce cotton than any other crop in the world. I also know, from living in California, that cotton is an enormously water and energy-intensive crop. Water is heavy; pumping water around is also very energy-intensive.

Several of the assumptions in How 'Green is Your T-shirt? may not apply to you. They certainly do not apply for our household. For both energy and safety reasons, we set our water heater to 130 F. After Iris' birth, we lowered it even further to 120 F. We wash most of our laundry in warm and cold water. We also use a clothesline for our synthetics, t-shirts, towels, jeans and other items that take a long time to dry in the dryer whenever the weather is amenable.*

What can be done about this problem? We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. I cleaned out my closet last weekend and was shocked at how my wardrobe had multiplied like bunnies in the darkness of the walk-in closet. The fashion cycle moves so fast, it is dizzying. It is also so easy and inexpensive to buy disposable fashion now. Moreover, like food, we can buy clothing in more venues than in the past.

The end of the article gives me some hope for change, but also shows how far we still need to go in terms of changing people's attitudes:
And so Marks & Spencer is thinking about whether its customers will be willing to change their buying habits, to pay more for less-fashionable but “sustainable” garments. After all, consumers have shown a willingness to pay more for clothes not made in sweatshops, and some are unwilling to buy diamonds because of forced labor in African mines.

On a recent day outside Marks & Spencer on Guildford High Street, where everyone was loaded with shopping bags, Audrey Mammana, who is 45, said she was not “a throw-away person” and would be happy to lease high-end clothing for a season. She would also be willing to repair old clothes to extend their use, although fewer shops perform this task.

But, she added: “If you cut out tumble-drying, I think you’d lose me. I couldn’t do without that.”
It is good to read that such a large retailer believes that there is a market for sweatshop-free clothing. It is not so heartening to read that the consumer cannot make her own clothing repairs. I am especially disheartened to read that she rules out line-drying her clothes.

I joined Wardrobe Refashion for a two-month period. I wrote about refashioning clothes and sweatshops previously in I want to be let alone. I wrote about how using a clothesline can save you time (and energy) in Another Way.

Read Joel Achenbach's article for the WaPost entitled Another Way, and the subsequent discussion. Joel, too, also categorically ruled out using a clothesline even though he admitted to using one in childhood.

Sigh. You don't have to give up tumble drying altogether. You need only tumble dry less. One good thing, maybe the only good thing, that came out of the electricity crisis in California is that the state legislature made it illegal for homeowners' associations to penalize residents for using a clothes line in places where it is against the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R's). How can it be legal to waste energy and be illegal to conserve energy?

* The weather forecasts that are pretty darn good. Use them to plan your laundering around non-rainy days. During el Nino years, we have long stretches where we use the dryer more than usual. However, we hang our jeans and towels on in indoor rack. Even cold weather can freeze-dry your clothes. ;-)

That's all folks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Thousand Oaks Wildfire

Check out the fantastic eyewitness photographs of the fire last night in Thousand Oaks at Are you cereus? (I cribbed the photo from his blog; visit his site for more dramatic photos.) Amazingly, no one got hurt and no structures burned down. Equally amazingly, Rob managed to make our 10 AM telecon this morning on time, despite the hectic and exciting night.

Read the story in the LA Times for more.

That's all folks.

The View From My Seat

Mark posted about our family bike ride this Sunday. However, he tends to exaggerate. I checked our mileage with Gmaps Pedometer and we only rode about 19 miles. It sounds more impressive if I write 30 kilometers.

We asked a gentlemen we met on the bike path at Marina del Rey to take our picture with the ocean behind us. Alas, only a sliver of the Pacific is visible, but you can see Malibu behind us.

Mark trained Iris to run to the sidewalk, press the walk light button, and run back to the bike at red lights. Iris was the only member of the family without bicycle shorts. We had to go shopping after the ride to outfit her. She takes after her fashionista mother; I have 6 pairs of bicycle shorts (4 are Pearl Izumis). Sports garb make up over 40% of my wardrobe of 50 black bottoms.

These are my most expensive pair of shoes. They are black, leather and made in Italy. They fit like a glove. (He told me pick out any pair of bicycling shoes in the store for my birthday. He didn't set a price limit.) You will appreciate the finest in bicycling garb if you ever go on a 12 hour death ride with Mark. Look back at the top picture. Do you know the meaning of randonneuring ?

That's all folks.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Very LA Day

We left home so late, we went straight to downtown Montrose for lunch before strolling the gardens. I picked Pho 21 on Honolulu Avenue just because it was so crowded. That was a good call. Honolulu Ave also boasts a Bernina dealer AND an excellent yarn shop, Needle in a Haystack.

The camellias at Descanso Gardens were hit hard by the cold and dry weather but there were still some blooming beauties.

Iris took control of the camera and she has a good eye for interesting textures. I especially like the one of the knothole in the bridge plank. She decided to work in a series, e.g. shoes and rear ends. I have no idea how she got such a straight shot of her own backside.

We then went to LACMA. Mark offered to take Iris to the 5pm screening of The Wizard of Oz so that I could see the Magritte exhibit.

On the way, we passed Little Ethiopia and saw a political protest. I am so glad to see people standing up for human rights around the globe.

Afterward LACMA, we headed back to Little Ethiopia to eat at Rosalind's. It was a late and Ye Doro Wot and the vegetarian sampler never looked so good.

When Home Baths Became Spas

Do you remember a time when the bathrooms at the Hearst Castle were considered opulent? That was the thing most people remembered about the house tour. People walked out of there exclaiming over the size and number of the bathrooms in that house. Now, middle-class homes have caught up with and perhaps even surpassed the Hearst Castle.

Even Sunset Magazine, has an article about creating your own spa bath. The bathrooms in that article put the Hearst Castle to shame. Sigh. I remember reading Sunset to learn how to make my own bath sink from a copper bowl from the housewares department.

My favorite architecture critic, Witold Rybczynski, recently wrote a slide-show essay about America's growing obsession with bathrooms. The only thing I would add to his comments is to think about how one would clean and maintain all the fancy finishes in these baths. Is there a connection between our high maintenance homes and our insatiable need for low-cost household labor?

Rybczynski also wrote about the design trend in the location of bathrooms in new construction over a decade ago. That deserves its own post another time. Right now, we need to head out the door to Descanso Gardens to see the camellia forest in bloom.

Links: I explained how Rybczynski became my favorite architecture critic in Recurring Themes.
Thanks to Dynamist for the heads up on the slide show essay.

That's all folks.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Five Things

I have been tagged by Purls and Murmurs. It works like this:
  1. Someone tags you.
  2. You post five things about yourself that you haven’t already mentioned on your blog
  3. You tag 5 people you’d like to know more about
I wrote and successfully defended a PhD thesis entitled "Simulations of Energy Transfer and Collision Dynamics in Small Molecules & in Cluster Ions" aka JILA thesis #257. JILA is the place formerly known as the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics. As you can see from the title, JILA has strayed far beyond Astrophysics. The thesis involved performing a 10-dimensional symplectic coordinate transformation. Sometimes, I can't believe I am the same person that pulled that one off. [BTW, I also have a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Mathematics from UC Berkeley.]

In fourth grade we were asked to write about a day in our lives 20 years in the future. Everyone else wrote about their big homes and fancy cars. I wrote a science fiction story about going to work in my electric vehicle running off solar energy. In this story, I took my daughter to school first before going to work in a government laboratory where I did something related to space and environmental science. Maybe it was a lack of flexibility or imagination on my part, but I became exactly that. OK, I don't go to work in a solar electric vehicle. However, until I became ill, I bicycle-commuted or took the bus. I was even the co-president of my workplace's bicycle-commuting club. I am fueled by food that grows in sunlight.

I was a late bloomer academically. In fact, I often got into trouble for not paying attention in class. Once, in kindergarten, I spent the whole morning in the wrong classroom and didn't notice until lunchtime. To be fair, the teachers didn't notice either.

In one of my earliest recollections, I was looking out a sunny window at the sun, the sky, and watching the Brownian motion of the dust particles indoors. I was also stroking a piece of cotton fabric, alternately making folds and then smoothing them back down. I liked the feel of the fabric and looking at the shadows that the folded fabric made in the sunlight. I was attracted to sun, sky, particle trajectories, topology, and fabric from an early age.

In high school, I worked harder and longer on competitive sports than academics. This was a poor use of my time as Caltech was the only school interested in me athletically. However, I doubted their sincerity; I thought they were secretly interested in my math skills. I ended up at a division I school where the coaches told me not to even bother trying out.

Now whom to tag? For some people, it might be an imposition. Therefore, I must be careful.
Sitting Knitting, Studio 78 Notes, Red Shoe Ramblings, croque-choux, and Bad Dad, consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Diets Don't Work

I have realized that decluttering my home before the start of the new lunar year is about as unrealistic as miracle weight loss. It takes time, energy, and discipline to lose "stuff" weight. I have made some real progress, but it will be a slow process.

While cleaning up the sewing and craft room, I found Exhibit A. What kind of person keeps one of these lying around? Someone who was taught to always be prepared! You never know when you might need to send something into the stratosphere.

Unfortunately, this one has expired. Latex this old is unlikely to survive for long at sub-freezing temperatures. (As long as we are on the subject, have you checked the expiration dates on your other common household latex consumables lately?)

I really don't need this anymore. I have 50 fresh ones in my office. If anyone wants a weather balloon, leave me a comment and I will send it to you, domestic postage only.

Our whole family culled our bookshelves for books we no longer need and Dave's Olde Book Shop gave us $20 credit for them. The few books he rejected went to the local library along with many old periodicals. We will read the back issues on line from now on. Goodwill accepted a small table and many bags of toys and household items. I feel lighter already.

Two books that we didn't need to take to Dave's were Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh. I borrowed the former and read the latter in the store so these books will not be adding to our home's clutter. I am not sure if the books actually caused me to get rid of more stuff than if I had skipped the reading and gotten straight to work.

Don't be put off by the title; Apartment Therapy (AT) is a very useful and inspirational book. It explains how to explore your home with all five senses, diagnose it's ills and then fix them. I never thought to feel the walls of my home before. If I had, I might have noticed a damp/termite problem before the little critters did so much damage. A friend might have noticed her drainage/mold problem earlier and saved herself much grief as well.

MGR said that many people live in cluttered homes because they don't spend much time in them. They run in and out and treat their home as a place to dump stuff between outings that are their real lives. I definitely see that in our household. On weekends, when I ask Mark to help clean the house; he treats it like a huge imposition and says it is waste of time that would be better spent on another trip or outing.. Even though Mark doesn't like inspirational movies, I asked him to read AT.

It's All Too Much didn't resonate with me even though I liked Walsh's other book, How to Organize (Just About) Everything. I found the pep talk annoying. Maybe it was my mood at the time. But I am a real stickler for logical consistency.

In one part of the book, he recommended getting rid of craft supplies for crafts you never have time to do. In another part of the book, he wrote that we wear the same 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time (no proof offered but it might be close to the mark for me). However, he recommended dressing for the life that you want instead of the life that you have.

But this is so wrong. Craft supplies are just as aspirational as clothes. Craft supplies represent a fantasy life with more leisure time and the health to enjoy it. I would ditch the aspirational clothes and keep the yarn and fabric stash. Well, maybe I could ditch some of the fabric.

My husband said that he heard Peter Walsh on KPCC while working in his lab two days ago. I asked why this was so memorable that he discussed it at home. Mark said it was because PW talked about how clutter blocks people's lives. Mark never understood before how he could work productively at home while I could not. It is a question of noticing that there is so much stuff around that needs to be put away and taken care of. One of my many doctors said the same thing happens at her house. Her husband can work from home because he feels no responsibility to clean up the home whereas she sees this that needs to be done, then that, etc.

It took another man, Peter Walsh, to get through to him. Mark is even talking about strategies for organizing our stuff in the computer room. So perhaps I should have liked IATM more. Maybe I will check out How to Organize (Just About) Everything from the library for Mark.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. ~William Morris

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Capecho Pentagon Swatch

I finished a full capecho pentagon swatch. After gentle steam blocking, it measures a hair more than 4.5" on each side and is 7" tall.

Here is a side view of the "volcano" in the center before steam-blocking.

In the top view of the unblocked pentagon, the starfish motif really leaps out.

The Details:
  1. I used Andee, a 50% Alpaca and 50% Merino blend yarn from Dharma Trading. It looks like one ~500 yd hank will be sufficient.
  2. I used my Plymouth bamboo modular knitting needle set, casting on with a size 9 needle and knitting in the round with size 6 (4.25 mm) needles before switching to double-pointed needles
  3. I had to use Plymouth needles because they make 4.25 needles; most other companies provide 4.5 mm (size 7) and 4.0 mm (size 6) needles. My first swatch with 4.5 mm didn't look right so I started over with 4.25. It is exactly what I want.
  4. The pattern is written for knitting back and forth and then seaming up one side. I knit the pentagon in the round.
  5. I cast on 5*28 stitches and started with chart row 5, omitting the k2tog and ssk.
  6. Finished size: s = 4.5" (side); h = 7" (height)
If you read the link about the needle sets, and want to know what happened to the neighbors with the monster trucks, read Size Matters II--but only if you are over 18. If you are under 18, don't let your parents read it.

Size Matters is hosted on my sister's blog, before she told me to get my own blog.

Click on the Pentagon label on the right to see more posts about this and other Norah Gaughan pentagon projects.

I added a new link, Sitting Knitting. Grandma Ann is an excellent photographer and chronicler of South Bay life, in addition to being a knitter and professional musician. She also threatens to post gluten-free recipes, too. I thought about putting her in under coworkers because her late husband was a coworker and mentor. But Grandma Ann and I never worked together, unless you count tie-dyeing.

That's all folks.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Icelandic Yoke Sweater FO

We shared brunch today with old friends at a fantastic house which would have been perfect for photographing the debut of a new sweater. However, we forgot the camera at home. Try to imagine a gorgeous modernist home in Beverly Hills with views to Santa Monica and the ocean beyond. Cypress, pine, coast live oak, and jacaranda trees frame the views out of every window.

Instead, you get shots of me wearing the new sweater in the computer room. It is dark now, but we also have a jacaranda tree outside the front window.

The waist darts and short-row neck shaping below the patterned yoke combine to form princess seam shaping at just the right places. It was like I planned it or something. I used the same number of stitches in the front and back. The upper back could have been taken in by one motif repeat, 8 stitches.

The motifs are so bold in the Best of Lopi pattern book. Yet, in this DK/light worsted gauge yarn (5.25 sts/in), the motifs appear a tad bit wee. The purple Lane Borgosesia Maratona is sooo soft. I almost forgive it for being so splitty. Those are just quibbles because, overall, I am quite happy with this sweater.

When we left the party to return home, Iris said, "Pool party, baby. I'm there."

More houses by the same architect can be found in this book.
More about this Icelandic Yoke sweater

That's all folks.

The Last Word

Taking A.O. Scott's advice to heart, our whole family watched The Devil Wears Prada together. Mark and I were unimpressed by the movie, but Iris adored the fashion and wants to watch it a second time.

Before she fell asleep, she told me that Miranda always says, "That is all," because she has to always have the last word.

That's all folks.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Technology Fatigue

I have technology fatigue. I just don't feel like learning yet more arcane things that will become outdated and change once I master them. For example, I am the only person in this household who has not learned how to use the DVR cable box yet.

Mark is the only person I know who can write a two-page "Home Theatre Operation (Fundamentals)" in 10 point font, single spaced with a straight face. If those are just the fundamentals, how much more is there to learn? Come to think of it, how can someone who can write a whole page about managing screen aspect ratios not remember where we keep the extra cleaning supplies?

Iris has that child-like facility to master electronics just by playing with them. That's what makes her such a good beta tester of consumer electronics. Read improvising for proof.

Me? I know how to open a book.

Readers of Mark's new blog know that he got an iPod for the holidays. Once he had ripped his entire CD collection into iTunes, I thought our household would go back to normal. Wishful thinking. Then he wanted to listen to the iPod in the car. However, my sister had warned us that the wireless iPod transmitters are not useful in urban areas due to FM interference. Mark bought a cassette adapter but quickly rejected that because of the terrible sound quality.

A friend, the one who brings home electronics (meant for adults) for children to beta-test, told Mark about a product that allows one to hook up an iPod USB port to the CD changer input inside the dashboard. We don't have a CD changer so that input would be available for this doohickey. Mark went online and ordered it right away. Mark is a bit of a klutz. I told him to please, please, don't open the dashboard without the help of this friend.

Unfortunately, this doohickey arrived a couple of days ago--during the Consumer Electronics Show. The engineer friend always presents his company's new wares at CES. Of course, Mark couldn't wait until next week and had to pull apart the dashboard right away. OK, he waited until after dinner.

The installation, even without the help of a consumer electronics engineer, seemed to go OK. Aside from the long black cable hanging out from the top of the dash, he couldn't put it somewhere less obtrusive, the dashboard looks the same as before. He dropped a screw but we hope it landed in a harmless place. The thing worked! When I went to bed that night, I left my Mark sitting in the minivan in the garage, rocking out.

Fast forward to the next morning. Flustered, as usual, I couldn't find my keys. When I did find my keys, the engine wouldn't turn over. The ignition just made ominous clicking noises. Yet, the electrical system appeared to be functional; the radio and the lights worked. I called Mark to tell him about this development. He was about to step into a meeting and said he would deal with it later.

I checked my watch and realized with a sinking feeling that I had just missed a bus. I grabbed my coffee mug and walked to Starbuck's, making a slight detour to the post office first because I had time to kill. Because it was such a beautiful day, I kept walking along the bus route while enjoying the coffee. By the time I got to work, I was much calmer.

The high winds and record cold snap produced two gorgeous days. The light has a special quality, like in paintings of Venice. Yesterday, during physical therapy, I watched the alpenglow wash across the snow-capped San Gabriel mountain range in the distance with the skyscrapers of Century City and Downtown Los Angeles in the foreground. I didn't have a camera available, but the colors of this photo are close.

That's all folks.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Capecho Clarification

I was explaining to my sister via instant messaging (bad case of laryngitis) that I didn't intend to make the entire Capecho pictured on the cover of the winter issue of Vogue Knitting. It does tend to bulge out at unfortunate places, even on the tall, thin model. I want to make a ring of cabled pentagons for a shoulder wrap. Look at the pictures of the completed Plum Blossom yoke aka Swirled Pentagon Pullover yoke.

When I tried on the yoke, it looked a bit small. However, when I sewed the sweater body on, the weight of the sweater pulled the yoke down gracefully to fit my shoulders (see the completed sweater at Home From Camp II).

My main conundrum is, should I make a circle of 6 or 7 pentagons for my shoulder wrap? That determines where those volcano bulges will land. Where are the most flattering positions to place them on my frame? The number of pentagons will also determine the size I need to make them. It is a good thing I wrote up notes on sizing knitted pentagons last summer.

I am also not entirely sure the seams are right for my vision. On the one hand, the seams (or edges where one picks up stitches to begin the adjacent pentagon) break up the cable pattern. A provisional cast on might be the ticket. On the other hand, seams also give it a fractured crystalline look. That construction would also be simpler to execute. Hmmm. I must knit faster and get off sleeve island! Meanwhile, I have plenty to ponder.

That's all folks.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Seasonal Renewal

For Lunar New Year, we are supposed to clean our houses from top to bottom, clearing out detritus and bad chi. That's pretty tough following the consumption orgy of the western holiday season. But I did take some unneeded housewares, including the chrome fruit bowl in the background, to Goodwill.

Check out the new copper fruit bowl that Mark got me from Gump's. The palm leaves are made of weathered and then burnished iron. The bowl is from the Philippines, the apples from British Columbia, the bananas from central America and the tangerines from California--a very good use of shipping containers.

That's all folks.

Winter Obsession

Norah Gaughan is a genius. I am as obsessed with this sweater as Mardel over at Purls and Murmers. I had planned to make a shoulder wrap with a ring of pentagons ever since I finished Plum Blossom aka the Swirled Pentagon Sweater from Knitting Nature. I was going to make it in 1x1 rib again until I saw this picture on Mardel's blog. I must make this right this minute.

Well, I don't subscribe to Vogue Knitting and will have to wait until the issue hits the newsstands tomorrow. But that didn't stop me from poring over the pictures over at the VK magazine website and starting a swatch.

Before I get going on the capecho, I must finish the Icelandic yoke sweater. I am sooo close. I had finished 2/3 of the left sleeve last night before I tried it on. Oops, I didn't like the how drastically I had reduced the sleeve stitches in the beginning. (In order to reduce 82 sts to 48 sts, I had originally planned to make matched decreases every 4th row 10 times and then every 8th row 7 more times.) I frogged it back to the armpit and will try it again with decreases every 6th row until I get a width I like. At tonight's quilt group, I will be knitting instead of quilting.

The 17" sleeve length (including ribbing) recommended by The Best of Lopi matches my pattern sweater exactly. Because I am using a finer yarn than the pattern called for, I added a few rows of plain purple to the pattern chart to increase the yoke depth. The 10 shortrows for neckline shaping also helped.

Here's what the sweater looks like now. My sister was right, the mild corrugation of the yoke disappeared with gentle steam blocking. I used 108 stitches of 2x2 rib for the neck. I probably could have used a bit less.

That's all folks.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stretching the Definition of Family Movies

My husband was so inspired by A.O. Scott's article about taking children to movies other than "kids' movies" that he started a blog. I guess he wasn't content with my meager coverage of Iris' film education. You will find the link to Bad Dad on the right, along with some of my other coworkers' blogs. (It hit me the other day that I am 40 now and I have known him for 20 years, seeing him both at work and at home.)

Now we can be like Maribeth and Richard. We can leave comments on each other's blogs instead of actually talking to one another. I am jealous, I have never gotten a marriage proposal via blog comment like Maribeth. Oops, on more careful reading, that wasn't exactly a marriage proposal. However, I never got one of those proposals from blogging, either.

MPAA Ratings Decoded
MPAA Rating and Parental Complacency
Bad Dad

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mommy Art (and Science)

“That’s really something!” exclaimed my mother when we walked into the gallery showing Ruth Asawa’s work at the de Young museum. The show is very comprehensive, covering both her career and life history. There are also numerous photographs taken by her friend, Imogen Cunningham. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to see the show before it closes on January 28. (If you live in Los Angeles, you are in luck because the show will be coming in spring 2007 to the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. It will also be going to New York City in fall 2007.)

You really have to see it to experience firsthand how she masterfully develops three-dimensional volumes with a single one-dimensional line of continuous wire. It took my breath away. I walked through the exhibit twice. The first time, I walked alone, reading about her life and trying very hard to figure out her technique. The second time, I wandered through with my mother and enjoyed the pieces purely aesthetically. (I know most people would think this is backwards but I have the right to enjoy art my own way.)

It is too bad that the art world had to wait until she is in such frail health to recognize her genius and contribution to humanity. She has a wonderful website discussing her art, her life and the impact of her career and family on each another. What it doesn’t say is how she did it.

The exhibit and her website were purposefully skimpy on her technique. I read that she was sensitive about the subject because of the derisive manner in which the art establishment relegates women’s art to craft. (I will not go off here and discuss the strange western obsession of distinguishing between art and craft.) You have to imagine a world without a “knitting scientists” web ring—when calling an artists’ work knitting or crochet could be meant and taken offensively.

The art world was (is?) notoriously hostile to women. Additionally, Asawa was not just a woman, but a mother. Motherhood and art were both central to her self-image. She and Cunningham collaborated on images showing Asawa at work with children playing all around her.

Ruth Asawa is the great aunt of one of Iris’ playmates. Asawa’s niece said that the ground floor of Asawa’s house is one giant play space and studio. It also opened up to the backyard. The kids played all around and she worked when she could while playing and teaching her kids. She often worked early in the morning before the kids woke up or late in the night after they were asleep—typical mommy hours.

I believe that Asawa’s choice of media has a great deal to do with her dual role as a mother. She works in paper and wire, things that can be easily be put down and picked up at a later time. Unlike paint and clay, they don’t dry out. They are also nontoxic and do not require sharp implements. She worked in kid-safe media because she had to.

Gender and motherhood also influenced my decision to leave the lab and pursue computational science. The modern scientific experiment has become such complicated beasts. If they are fully working, a rare event, you need to stay there and take as much data as you can before something breaks down.

Pioneering nuclear scientist Dr. Darlene Hoffman used to teach a computing class for chemistry majors at UC Berkeley. She told students how women, especially, should embrace computational science. She explained how we could start a batch (computer) job in the afternoon before going to pick up our kids from school.After they were asleep, we could log in remotely to find out whether our batch jobs were running smoothly or had crashed. If the latter, we could troubleshoot the job and resubmit it before bed.In the morning, after we had dropped the kids off at school, we could come to work and analyze the data from the prior night’s run. I thought, yeah! Sign me up for a life without sleep!

What about Ruth Asawa’s technique?
I didn’t have time to watch the video accompanying the exhibit. (Iris was impatient). Another museum goer who did view it said that Asawa described her technique as starting with a loop and then going from there. In one photo, she is shown taking wire off a huge spool and coiling it with her bare hands into a tube of smaller coils of about 1-3 inches in diameter. In another picture, she held a long crochet (afghan?) hook in her hand.

Examining her work, I saw loops pulled through loops, making a twisted stockinette fabric. In my limited experience knitting with wire, I can imagine she could have worked knit fabric with a crochet hook. That wire is not going to unravel. She increased by introducing loops between existing “stitches”, a make one increase.She decreased by knitting two together. Her mastery of technique is amazing. Her stitches were flawlessly smooth loops with nary a kink anywhere.


Christopher Miles' review of the Asawa retrospective from the LA Times.

Tracy Krumm is an artist that crochets with wire. She is not afraid to be associated with a women’s medium.Read her artist’s statement.

Daina Taimina is an artist and mathematician who explores geometry with crocheted models. See a gallery of her work here. I took a workshop with her and you can read about it here.

They both work in familiar single and double crochet stitches.


I later took a class with Asawa's daughter, Aiko Cuneo. She taught us the rudiments of the looped wire technique. It's really very simple. Click on the link for a pictorial tutorial.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bicycling in LA

"To ride a bike in L.A. is to examine the accepted ways of doing things."
Read the whole interview with LA bicycle advocate, Monica Howe, in the LA Times here.

Monday, January 01, 2007

January 1

January brings Camellia blooms to southern California. We planted 10 Camelia Japonicas (Jordan's Pride) trees in summer 2000. They are 8-11 feet tall now. Don't the big, fat buds just fill you with anticipation?

The picture in the nursery link above shows a much more deeply hued flower than we observe. Ours are a more delicate pink. Some are striped. ( Gardeners call them "peppermint".)

Oh, yeah! I stopped reading and started knitting.

After much dithering, I decided to go with the "Bergmar" motifs on pages 24-25 of The Best of Lopi. Only two colors are used on any given row. However, the first row has a seven stitch float! I tried twisting the yellow behind the purple with uneven results. It shows in some places.

Note that I carry the dominant color continental style and drop the secondary color, throwing it with my right hand as needed. I also knit the tube inside out. Hopefully, by leaving the floats on the outside diameter of the tube, the tension will not be too tight.

Here is a close-up of the yoke.

This is the progress so far. Knitting the sleeves first and then joining to the body for the yoke made me nervous. I didn't want to get stuck with the wrong length sleeves after putting in all that work. So I used a provisional cast-on with waste yarn. After I try the completed sweater body on, I can decide how long to make the sleeves. EZ was right. It is fun to go round and round on the decreasing yoke with the pattern developing before my eyes. I really am getting along "like a house on fire".

I put the cone of blue cotton yarn that I used for the provisional crochet cast-on just to show off. If you live in LA, the Marukai 98 Cent store in south Torrance on Hawthorne Boulevard is selling entire cones of cabled cotton yarn (in ~10 colors) for $7.98. Although the only thing the label says is "Made in Japan", it looks and feels like the stuff I bought last summer for Plum Blossom. The wrapper for that yarn said 100% Peruvian cotton made in Japan.

That's all folks.