Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Imperfect Knitting

I was upset to discover that the odd balls of cotton ease I am using for the cabled tank come from two different dye lots. I wondered if I should have ripped back and alternated the two dye lots for a few inches to blend them together. But, if it took me several inches to discover the slight color difference, then why bother ripping out 3 inches of work? Still, I pondered and stewed.

Serendipitously, I took Iris to the bookstore and saw Dan Ho's latest book. (Who is Dan Ho? Read the Passionate Imperfectionist entry at the bottom of Stuff.) I dimly recall a Kawabata novel in which two characters obsess over a tiny flaw in a raku teacup and the novel did not have a happy ending. I decided to embrace imperfection. The two dye lots have personal significance to me; seeing them makes me smile. Therefore, I will act like I meant it all along and mix the two dye lots willy-nilly.

Years ago, I made the chic little French sweater called "Kate" from a Phildar pattern. It came out a little bit too tight because I switched from 4.5 to 4.25 mm diameter needles after swatching, but forgot to add a few extra stitches to compensate. The sweater fit a lanky 12-year-old very well. Her mother said it was not appropriate for her daughter to accept a hand knit sweater from someone she had just met. She told me to put the sweater away until it fits Iris.

Kate is the more muted of the two shades of blue. You can read more about Kate at Fiber Musings. (In blog prehistory, I used to post my knitting notes on my sister's blog.) Rock Chick co-hosted a Kate-along. However, the Kate-along blog appears to have been deleted. I linked instead to Rock Chick's announcement about the KAL and her sweater.

The brighter of the two blues are left over from one of Iris' outgrown sweaters. I took a picture before giving it away to her younger cousin. However, you can see an adorable picture of Iris in this sweater along with my notes in my sister's blog archive.

Iris discovered surfing the web quite early. I was browsing the Berroco free patterns website for toddler sweaters when Iris fell in love with Cutie Patootie (pattern link). I am not sure which she loved more, the sweater or saying Cutie Patootie. She said she wanted the sweater just like that; only she wanted it to be blue, white and gold. Iris was quite the impatient taskmaster and CP was finished in double time (for me).

We trekked down to the San Diego area for the third time in a single month. Of course, we went to JamRoc101 for the whole red snapper. Chef Garcia posed with the snapper for a photo op.

Then we kissed her grandparents, aunt and cousin goodbye and headed north. Last weekend, Iris was bereft that we missed the Oceanside Art Museum, arriving 15 minutes after closing. (OAM is the home of Visions, a fantastic biennial juried art quilt show.) We missed Visions, which closed in January 2007. We did see some interesting California contemporary sculptures at OAM.

We also enjoyed outdoor art.

We celebrated Memorial day by shopping at IKEA and hanging cabinets in the home office area. Mark stocked up on Swedish foods while I shopped. (His parents met while they were both living in Sweden; his family is fond of foods I won't touch, even though I am an adventurous eater.)

On the home from IKEA, we stopped at Men-Bei ramen house in the Mitsuwa Marketplace center (conveniently located midway between Honda and Toyota USA HQs) in Torrance. I find it slightly embarrassing (but a big relief) to go to restaurants with Iris now that she reads so much. She will read through meals rather than converse with us.

Fortunately, that is normal at Men-Bei. Iris is posing in front of one of three bookcases full of Japanese manga books. Patrons are welcome to help themselves to reading material while they are in the restaurant. In about 2/3 of the tables, patrons devour the manga with their ramen rather than speak to their companions. See?

Wow, we visited Jamaica, Sweden and Japan in one weekend, within 100 miles of our home. Globalization has a positive side.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Birthrates and Housework

I have alluded before to the connection between distribution of housework and but I was not aware until recently about a small study that showed exactly that. I pulled a few quotes from a BBC News summary about the study.
The researchers from Brown University studied 265 married couples in which both partners were employed.

The husbands and wives were asked to report how much time they and their spouses spent per week on nine common household tasks, such as cooking, shopping and cleaning.

...81% of couples in which the husband does at least half the housework will have a second child.

...when the woman did between 54% and 84% of the housework, the likelihood of the couple having a second child went down to 55%.

...more traditional couples, where the woman did more than 84% of the housework, frequently went on to have a second child.

She (Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate) said some couples may decide it is better for one half to stay at home and take on all of the household tasks. "If one of them is taking complete responsibility for the housework it means the other one doesn't have that on top of everything else. "It may well indicate that one of them had decided to stay home and look after the family, in which case maybe for that couple having a family is more of a priority than working," she said.
Reading this, it looks like women who expected an egalitarian marriage but did not get one, are the ones most likely to stop after one child. It is the expectation versus the reality that causes low birthrates.

The one child family is the norm in many countries such as Italy and Australia. No wonder health and pension ministers from those nations have been trying to get men in their countries to do more housework. I wonder when American politicians are going to "get it".

I am also surprised by people who talk about falling birthrates as if that would be the answer to the huge influx of immigrants we have experienced in recent years. The reason we need so many immigrants is partly because American parents, particularly mothers, are so overworked.

Remember the quote from Sharon Lerner from the What do I tell her? post? She said that birthrates in the US would be as low as in Europe if it weren't for high-fertility recent immigrants. It is easier to build 20 foot fences around our borders than to take a hard look at home.

The anthology, Global Woman, may be somewhat uneven, but it contains some excellent, well-researched treatments of the global effects of "the care deficit" at home. When women do not get the help that they need nearby, they look farther for solutions. That is as true for the wife in a dual-career household in the USA as the single mother in Mexico who leaves her children behind with relatives to seek paid work "El Norte". Both women are doing what they must do for the survival of themselves and their children. Why do we know Zoe Baird's name but not her husband's?

In the preface to the second edition of The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild wrote that the narrowing of the gap between percentage of housework performed by husbands and wives in dual-career couples is not because the men do more. It is because the wives have outsourced more of it. In fact, husbands are doing less now than in her initial study.

I would like to add that people work at different efficiencies. Just because a husband expends 30% of the household work hours in a home does not mean that he performs 30% of the work. ;-)

I also encountered this article about division of labor between the sexes in Turkey in the BBC News archives. Mark wonders why Europe prefers immigrants from Turkey over east Asia.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Baby Names Again

How could I blog about baby naming without linking to Martin Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager? I can only blame a momentary memory lapse. The NameVoyager is one of the most beautiful and elegant pieces of graphic design I have ever seen. That's saying quite a great deal because I took the Edward Tufte class a few months ago.

The NameVoyager is a Java Applets that displays the frequency of use of the top 1000 baby names from 1880-2005, broken down by gender (2000 total).
The NameVoyager tracks names of babies born in the United States, as reported by the Social Security Administration (SSA). We have cleansed the raw SSA data and performed statistical transformations to allow meaningful historical comparisons.
Names are arranged alphabetically. Boys are in blues and grays. Girls are in pinks and gray. The thickness of the colors denote frequency of use. Put your mouse over an area and a box with the name and rank appears.

Type in a name (look at the blinking cursor at top left). As soon as you type in the first letter, the graph changes to show all names that start with those letters. I typed in "I" and saw that "I" names had drastically fallen out of favor between 1930 and 2000. In the early naughts, the popularity of "I" names exploded again.

Type in "IR" and see that Irene used to be much more popular than Iris, but not since the 1990s. Type in "Mad" and see the recent explosive popularity of Madison and Maddox!

I especially like this caution about statistics.
The graphs in the Baby Name Wizard book and web site show the frequency of use of different names. If one name stripe is twice as thick as another on the same screen, that means the name was twice as common.

You may have seen other graphs based on popularity rank. Be wary of any information source which does this--it's a fundamental misuse of data, and the graphs just aren't meaningful. For example, the name Joseph has risen from the 13th most popular name 50 years ago to #10 today...but the name is actually significantly less common today.
Anyway, don't delay. Visit this website now! You have time to kill and I don't have time to explain all the amazing features of this program.

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager
Open House
See Martin Wattenberg's other Art and Science projects

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Open House

Iris finished her report and turned it in on Monday morning. She made her diorama Monday night and turned it in this morning. She worked independently for the most part. We corrected the spelling and tried to correct the grammar on her first draft. She took the spelling advice but ignored our "outdated" grammar advice.

The kids were so cute this morning in the school yard, clutching their dioramas proudly. Mark cut the end off of the box that formerly held his new bicycle helmet. Iris ran upstairs to the scrapbook center and chose a few sheets of card stock. She asked for her watercolors which I set out for her. I then went to do the dishes and take a shower. Afterwards, I came down to see if she needed a hand. She was done.

She showed me how she had painted the rabbit hole that the rabbit escaped down into. The cheetah, still hungry, was about to leap up and catch a bird to eat instead. She had obviously internalized the lessons of cheetah life. She had cut up and folded a bunch of putty-colored paper. She said that they were rocks. They blew around so she taped them to the bottom. We were really impressed with her imagination.

Tonight, at the open house, her teacher walked over to us and thanked us for bringing in a wonderful student-made project. It never occurred to either of us to help her with her diorama. However, looking around, we realized that we were the exception to the rule.

Iris attends first grade in the morning and second grade in the afternoon. We visited her second grade classroom and Mark remarked that the dioramas looked the same in both grades. I replied that the parents of first and second graders are roughly the same age and level. ;-)

We are so clueless. It wasn't until I read the baby names book that I learned all those little Madisons are named after Madison Avenue and not the university town. I understand that names are often aspirational. But, Madison Avenue just doesn't resonate with me the way the university does.

My work sometimes takes me to the university town. I adore the students. The intellectual intensity, the midwestern politeness, the blue hair--their moms must be bursting with pride. Iris' cousin is about to join them. He will be starting graduate school there in the fall. Are we proud? What do you think?

Do visit the link to the University of Wisconsin at Madison CIMSS Satellite Blog on the right. Scott currently has a wonderful post about the moon in GOES satellite imagery.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Catching Up

How did the Bike to Work Day Challenge go? We won the trophy (and bragging rights) back. Check out my two favorite bicycle commuters. Actually, Mark rode Iris to school and came right home to put away her trailer. Then, we rode into work together.

The meeting at UCSD was very worthwhile. None of the attendees could figure out why the college of engineering was graced with a granite teddy bear sculpture. (The Aussies called it a Koala bear.)

After the meeting, I headed north to meet Iris and Mark at a hotel in Del Mar. Mark went for a bike ride while Iris and I were still asleep. After a swim and a bath, Iris and I drove to Encinitas and lunched at JamRoc101. We have got to return there for the red snapper plate. Amazing. Iris is also asking when we can go back for their home made potato chips.

I couldn't resist buying Iris some more art supplies at Rhino Art. She looks so good on the Vespa, I was tempted to buy one. It will get much better gas mileage than my minivan, for sure.

Aah, the finish line! Mark rode 102 miles. There were also runners and triatheletes at the finish line. I do not know why the banner says 1 km.

The neighbors moved into their home made of recycled shipping containers.

Learn more about my neighbors' house in Recycling Shipping Containers.
The architect's website.
LA Times story about the house.

Looped Wire Sculpture

Ann, Susan and I sat in the front row as Aiko Cuneo, Ruth Asawa's daughter, demonstrated her mother's technique. Here, she shows how her mother taped her fingers to help save her skin. Even with the tape, her fingers were often beat up from working so many hours with the metal. The sample wire pieces in on the table were made by Aiko and one of her nieces.

Aiko explained that her mother used only wire, a dowel and her fingers. The wire cutters and pliers were used only to begin and end a piece. The crochet hook that I noticed in one of the pictures is used only when repairing pieces.

Aiko said that we could take pictures, but she asked that we do not post a step by step tutorial of her mother's technique on the internet. We practiced with 22 gauge copper wire wrapped around a 1/2" dowel today. Here is my piece in progress. The final result, when I ran out of wire, is at the top of this entry.

Aiko said that she didn't really pay attention to her mother's technique when she was young; Ruth usually worked late into the night after putting her six kids to bed. Her mother didn't sleep much.

Balancing the wire pieces is the most difficult part of the construction process. Aiko says her mother would not allow her unbalanced pieces to be shown. However, a great number of them exist. ;-) It took great patience and thought to build up her forms. After learning how she did it, I am in awe.

This workshop was great fun. I hope this is the first of many experiments.

Link: Mommy Art (and Science)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Opting Back In

Lisa Belkin wrote in the NY Times today about how the labor shortage has forced some employers to woo mothers who had previously "opted out". Read After Baby, Boss Comes Calling.

That sounds so logical and enlightened. Compare and contrast the attitudes of the employers profiled in that article with The State of the National Security Space Workforce. There is a huge shortage of US citizens with advanced degrees in science and engineering. The shortage is especially acute for people my age and experience level.
Although the aerospace and defense industry has made a concerted effort to attract new employees, there is a large gap in the 30–40-year-old range, where it is estimated that supply is actually 29–46 percent below demand. These are the people with theoretical as well as practical knowledge—the individuals who will be the program managers, both in industry and on the government side in the next 6–10 years, and the concern is that there may not be enough of them to fill vital positions
Several suggestions are given. Yet, pay attention to the last paragraph.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done at the 30–40-year-old range. These are individuals who either left or never came to the defense industry during the early 1990s. Attracting back these individuals from alternate industries is the challenge for the United States to meet in the next 5–10 years.
There is no mention of luring back mothers that were forced opted out.

I am writing this from a hotel room in La Jolla, CA where I am attending Geoinformatics 2007. Mark and Iris will join me Friday evening. Saturday, Mark wants to do the century (100 mile bike ride) in Encinitas. Iris asked me to take her to the San Diego Zoo on Saturday.

I have to get back in time for the Ruth Asawa technique workshop on Sunday. Mark and Iris will spend that time at the JPL Open House. The Huntington Garden Annual Plant Sale is also this weekend. No housework will get done this weekend at chez BadMom.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Heart of Africa and Knitting News

I just couldn't resist this card. Any guess why?

Iris has chosen cheetahs for her year-end mammal report. This generated a trip to San Diego's Wild Animal Park to photograph them for her multimedia extravaganza project.

We have a very happy camper.

As we walked out of the park, we saw an encounter between a flock of geese and a flock of flamingos. Here is the start. The geese look very serious.

Here is a video of the encounter. (Sorry about the low-resolution. I am still learning how to balance video file size and resolution.)

Then it was onwards south to San Diego to her grandparents' for a dinner of stuffed cabbage and strawberries and cream. All this driving allowed me time to knit Iris her own Curlicue Ruffle Scarf. Notice she is also showing off the plastic cheetah figurine we bought for her cheetah habitat diorama. $4.95!?! for a plastic figurine made in China?

Then I started on Latoya, a knitted asymmetrical tank from the Berroco free patterns library. The pattern needs some serious copy editing. When I am done, I will post a full errata.

I am continuing to chip away at the stash. I found one full and 3 partial skeins of Cotton-Ease in Candy Blue under my bed. It might be as much as 200 grams in total. The 32" chest, XS Latoya called for 200 grams of Love-it. I hope to eke out a tank top, sans shoulder straps out of the yarn on hand. Hopefully, the slightly thicker yarn (17 sts/4" vs 18 sts/4") and the width of the seam stitches (I am knitting this in the round) will yield a 34 or 34.5" chest sweater.

We ate Mother's Day brunch at the D.Z. Akins deli. My MIL and a woman at the next table stared at each other before realizing they had previously met each other at New Life Club of Holocaust Survivors functions.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Holistic Crap, Batman!

Officials attributed some of those changes to a more "holistic" admissions process this year in which applicants' grades and test scores were reviewed more fully in context of their life experiences and achievements. UC leaders say that process was race-blind.

UCLA says that their "holistic" admissions process is race-blind. Perhaps they can explain why that lead to a significant drop in the number of Asian-American admitted students. If they claim it has to do with "life experiences", then why didn't white students experience a similar drop?

This is reminiscent of when my beloved UC Berkeley tried to justify their admissions process prior to Proposition 209. They said that without Prop 209, the number of white students would go down because they would be forced to admit more qualified Asian students. The alumni association, upon hearing this, and seeing statistics (the family incomes of white students were double those for Asian students and the average SAT for admitted white kids was 150 points lower than for admitted Asian kids), said that the old method was tantamount to affirmative action for rich white kids. They could not support that old system.

Well, Prop 209 went into effect and UC Berkeley is now a majority Asian campus. The world didn't stop. UC Berkeley did not become any less interesting or academically rigorous. Maybe UCLA can learn from this.

Wildfire Season ad Nauseum

Although it is only May 11, we have already had quite a busy wildfire season already. I am worried about how the summer and fall will shape up. Fall is traditionally our most active fire season.

Take a look at the MODIS visible spectrum imagery of Catalina today taken by the Terra and Aqua satellites. Terra flew by in the mid-morning. The area lies near the edge of the image so the resolution is not optimal.

Aqua flew by in the early afternoon. The marine layer had burned off a bit. Catalina is near the center of the image so the resolution is better than Terra's today. (This coverage changes daily and Terra gives better coverage than Aqua some other days.

The smoke plume gives you a pretty good idea of the wind direction. Now, take a look at the terrain. (I just love the tilt feature in Google Earth.) See if you can predict where the fire will go next based upon Fire is a river that runs uphill.

There are several species that live on Catalina island and nowhere else on earth. I hope they will survive.

You may also want to look at the USDA Forest Service Wildfire Maps. Click on California/Nevada. Click anywhere on the map to zoom. See how many fires have burned since January 1, 2007 in California. Yipes.

Allstate has decided to halt writing homeowner's insurance policies in California, citing the fire danger. They've been writing policies and collecting premiums here for years. The policies even have clauses excluding flood damage. So, if they collected premiums during the wet years and now want to stop covering the state because they might have to pay out fire claims this year, then why do we carry insurance?

Bike to Work Week Info

I searched the web and found that the info for Bike to Work Week in the South Bay, our local area, is somewhat sketchy. In particular, there are several "Bike and Breakfast" events. I lifted some info from email circulated by my company's transportation coordinator.
The seventh annual Bike-To-Work Challenge will be held from 6 to 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 16, in Visitor Lot/Gate C located on Douglas Street.

A number of other El Segundo employers will participate in this event. All cyclists who ride their bikes to work that day, regardless of their starting point or whether they ride with a group, will receive a continental breakfast, t-shirt, and promotional items.

Thursday, May 17, Pit-Stop, 6 to 9:30 a.m. at the El Segundo/Nash Green Line Station in recognition of Bike-to-Work Day. All cyclists are invited to stop by for refreshments and giveaways.
So you can get free breakfast both Tuesday (Douglas street south of El Segundo Blvd.) and Thursday (El Segundo and Nash Green Line station). But t-shirts will only be given out on Tuesday on Douglas street. I would like to add that, in past years, pedestrian commuters were also given free breakfast and t-shirts. Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. ;-)

How did she do it?

Remember when I blogged about the Ruth Asawa retrospective? The question on everyone's lips at the exhibit was, "How did she do it?" I speculated but I really don't have a clue.

Wonder no more because her daughter, Aiko Cuneo, will demonstrate the technique at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) between 2 and 4 pm on May 20, 2007. Grandma Ann of Sitting Knitting and I will be in attendance. Space is limited so call 213.625.0414 to reserve your place. See the JANM events schedule. Read more about the Sculpture of Ruth Asawa exhibit at the JANM.

It seems like everyone in LA has a connection to a celebrity, however tenuous. Well, BadMom is not immune. As proof, I offer a picture of Iris sparring in Tae Kwon Do practice with Ruth Asawa's grand-niece. Yes, we are well-connected. ;-)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Walking and Biking

Iris and I are reading Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby series in order. In Ramona the Pest (link to entire first chapter), 5-year old Ramona was left alone in the house one morning while her mother took her older sister to the doctor. Her mother instructed Ramona to walk to school at quarter past eight. Ramona knew exactly what time that was. A quarter is 25 cents so she left the house promptly at 8:25. Where were all the other children? The streets were eerily empty. She ran to school and found out that she was late.

Why can't we do that today? Nowadays, one could be prosecuted for child neglect for leaving a 5 year old alone in the house. Is it because our houses are more dangerous? I doubt it. The Quimby house likely contained lead paint and exposed wiring. Are there more child predators than 40 years ago? Again, not likely. Parents today are just more focused on the dangers.

In addition, our school district insists that children younger than 4th grade be accompanied to campus by an adult. Because Iris attends after school supervisory care, an adult also needs to sign her in each day. That means parents can't just pull up to the curb and push their kids out the car door. This has lead to a mad scene on the streets surrounding the school each morning as parents (in cars) double park, block driveways, dart across streets or even park across sidewalks in order to find someplace to park.

In our quest for safety, we have made the world a more dangerous place. We know the number one killer in this country is heart disease. We know that inactivity is the primary cause of heart disease. Yet, we insist on driving our kids everywhere instead of allowing them to walk or bike places.

Moreover, we are driving them around in ever more massive vehicles with higher centers of gravity and larger blind spots. The number of children being crushed under the wheels of the light trucks used to ferry them around in the name of safety is staggering.

Help end the madness. May 14-18, 2007 is Bike to Work Week. Consider walking or biking to school with your kids before continuing on to work. Join me at the El Segundo Bike to Work Day challenge on May 15 on Douglas street ~200 yards south of El Segundo Boulevard. Free breakfast and Goodie Bags (with useful stuff) for every pedestrian and bicycle commuter!

One year, I made elastic pant leg straps for everyone who rode in. This year, I will just post a pattern. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Curlique Ruffle Scarf

M and Iris graciously agreed to model the Curlique Ruffle Scarf.

Pattern: Decidedly Different Scarves by Jennifer Hansen

Yarns: Lion Brand Microspun in ivory (A), Caron Jewel Box in ivory/taupe (B) and Lion Brand Fun Fur in champagne (C)

Needles: 2 29" circulars in size 10 1/2 (6.5 mm)

Alternations: I used smaller needles and cast on ~15 stitches more than the pattern called for. I attached yarn B at the other end and knitted instead of purled that row. (My wrist hurt just thinking about purling such a long row.) Similarly, I attached yarn C at the opposite end and bound off knit-wise with a crochet hook.

Here is the scarf reclining on the desk. See the sweeping curve at the end of the scarf? That new technique alone is worth the price of the pattern. Plus, the patterns come with email support from Jennifer herself. I highly recommend the pattern. It is very clear and well-written. I emailed her only to ask about knitting the Brugmansia scarf in the round.

I lost my knitting mojo for a while. However, we drove to Disneyland last Friday to meet a college friend (freshman chemistry lab!) for dinner. Afterwards, she had to go back to her conference, Iris and Mark went to California Adventure, and I retired to the lodge-like lobby at the Grand Californian Hotel for three hours of knitting and reading.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I finally watched An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about Global Warming as explained by Al Gore. I had expected all kinds of distortions of the truth after reading the popular press. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie's accuracy. He had the science straight. The few places where people can quibble with his science are minor and, I believe, might be due to oversimplifying the science for the lay audience.
  • The National Snow and Ice Center posted a Q&A about the movie that concurs with my assessment that the science facts in the movie are as right as can be explained in layman's terms.
  • Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground, posted a excellent critique of the movie. He mostly agrees with Gore's assessment of the science, but has a quibble with the thickening the atmosphere remark. I was puzzled by the same remark, but I think I know what Gore was trying to say. More on that later. His closing paragraph is especially worth reading. "NSTA (National Science Teachers' Association) does not offer much content on climate change in their list of recommended materials. One of the recommended books, "Global Warming: Understanding the Debate" has no business being on their recommended reading list. This book is written by Kenneth Green, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). This fossil-fuel funded think tank recently offered $10,000 to any scientist willing to criticize the recent landmark 2007 Summary of Policy Makers climate change report issued by the United Nations sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."
  • National Geographic polled several scientists and they mostly concur with Gore. Like me, they think that the fault is with over simplification.
  • Read Gregg Easterbrook's piece in Slate and wonder what kind of ax he has to grind with Al Gore. "An Inconvenient Truth spends too little time on what audiences might do about global warming, too much time trying to impress us with the Ask Mr. Science side of Gore's personality." Then why does he devotes the first half of the article criticizing Gore and not the science? Then he zeroed in on the atmospheric thickening remark and tried to impress the readers with his own knowledge of quantum mechanics. "Carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced by fossil-fuel combustion and forest fires, has molecular bonds that vibrate on the same wavelengths at which infrared energy radiates upward from Earth's surface; the vibration warms the CO2, trapping heat. The main atmospheric gas, nitrogen, does not absorb energy on those wavelengths. It is the chemistry of carbon dioxide, not its density, that matters." More on this later.
I was also initially puzzled by the remark about thickening of the atmosphere. Easterbrook and Masters interpreted the remark as meaning that the atmosphere would become denser or more viscous, which would not be true. However, meteorologists often use a prognostic called the 500 millibar (mb) height as a proxy for surface temperature. (Surface pressure at sea level is 1000 mb; 500 mb is the half height of the atmosphere. This is a convenient measure because the atmosphere has a soft boundary with no real cutoff point.)

Warm air expands and the earth's atmosphere actually grows in volume when the surface warms. Look at the 500 mb heights from the European Center for Medium Range Forecasting, ECMWF model at See how the 500 mb height is about 5000 meters high in the colder regions and 5800 meters high in the warmer regions? I have heard meteorologists say in shorthand thickening of the atmosphere when referring to a warming trend.

OK, back to Gregg Easterbrook's own Mr. Science comment. First off, molecular vibrations are in the InfraRed (IR) part of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Molecular rotations are mostly in the microwave part of the EM spectrum. The earth absorbs EM radiation in the UV and visible (higher energy) wavelengths and then reradiates them out in the IR and microwave (lower energy) wavelengths.

Molecular nitrogen comprises about 80% of our atmosphere and has two nitrogen atoms. Each atom has 3 degrees of freedom (DoF) for a total of 6 DoF. 3 of them are taken up by translation, 1 by vibration and 2 by rotation. Try this with a pencil, you can rotate it two ways.

Now consider O-C-O. It has 3 atoms, 9 DoF. It has 3 translational DoF, 4 vibrational DoF and 2 rotational DoF. See this cool applet of CO2 vibrations. The pull-down menu only had 3 types of modes, but the bending mode is degenerate, meaning it can happen in two different directions and count as 2 DoF.

4 vibrational modes can hold more energy than 1 vibrational mode. It is as simple as that. (oops, see correction * below) Methane, CH4, has 6 vibrational DoF (3 rotations because it is nonlinear) and has even more heat capacity. The frozen tundra contains methane. Melt them, release the methane, and we have moved to an all new regime. Yipes.

Energy transfer via molecular vibrations and rotations is not really chemistry. See, no molecular bonds were made or broken. It is the structure of CO2
. I think Mr. Easterbrook should get his own facts straight before casting any stones. ;-)

* Mark reminded me that N2 and O2 are homogeneous diatomic molecules. Their dipole moment does not change when they stretch. Hence, their vibrations are infrared inactive. Oops, I forgot about that. It has been a long time since I taught molecular spectroscopy. Luckily, he currently works as an infrared spectroscopist.

The careful reader will think, "Wait a minute, the dipole moment of CO2 does not change when you stretch it out." Yes, the symmetric stretches of CO2 and CH4 are also infrared inactive. But CO2 has a heck of a dipole.

Successful Mothering

Biologically speaking, a mother is successful when she has taught her young how to hunt for themselves. (No, that does not mean getting them into Harvard.)

One of the reasons that I am not worried that Iris is in the right activities is that I have larger concerns. Read Peacekeepers of the Immune System in the October 2006 issue of Scientific American to learn about all the functions of regulatory T cells and what can happen when they stop functioning. I shared the article with my immunologist who remarked, after reading it, that it basically describes all the things that I am living through.

I explained much of this in my essay published in Cheaper Than Therapy: joy, healing and life lessons in fiber. I have been too sick to engage in the type of competitive mothering that Judith Warner described in Perfect Madness. My largest concern is Iris' emotional development and that I can be there for her through her perilous adolescent years. I pace myself and try not to let the little stuff get at me. I can't allow that to get to me. The stakes are high.

(Besides, people who know us in real life, and regular readers of this blog, already know that Iris literally kicks butt.)

Remember that coworker I mentioned who returned from four weeks at McMurdo Station in Antarctica to find that her husband had not done a single load of laundry in her absence? She's dead now. She felt a lump in her throat when her son was 4 months old. It turned out to be lymphoma, a type that is believed to be an autoimmune reaction to stress. By the time he was 10 months old, she had died of complications from chemotherapy.

She had worked nearly full-time while tending to a newborn and through chemotherapy. She wanted to work part-time, but she was the main income in her family; assistant professors earn very little. Apparently, they also do very little housework. She became a casualty of this crazy, upside-down society. She was 34 years old and her son will not have any memories of her.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Perfect Madness

Rebekka asked if I had read Judith Warner's Perfect Madness. It has been on my to do list. But I didn't get around to reading it until this week. I found the book unsatisfying and somewhat disorganized. This post will be somewhat disorganized as well.

She is a journalist, not an academic. The book covered too much ground for such a short book; she could only treat the topics superficially. As she wrote in the preface, it is a book exploring a feeling. On that level, she is successful. Too bad that I don't share the feeling.

First off, I do not believe that France is as much a feminist utopia as she makes it out to be in the early chapters. (Only in the last chapter does she write about the dark effects of the French laws upon working women.) That said, I do agree with several of her arguments.

I had a hilarious and somewhat sad conversation with a French scientist at a meeting about feminism and motherhood in our respective countries. Bear with me during this digression.

She told me about how mothers get Wednesdays off at full pay to stay home with their children. I exclaimed how wonderful that would be. Mothers could take Wednesdays off and Fathers could take Fridays off and children would only be in daycare for 3 days a week!

She looked kind of taken back. She said that she supposed fathers could take time off, but they never do. I asked why. She said that it was because they would have to take time off without pay.

Then it was my turn to look taken back. I asked, "You mean the law treats fathers and mothers differently? Why would anyone hire a woman, then?"

She scoffed, "You Americans want everything to be equal. Look where it has gotten you. Nowhere." Judith Warner did write that French women think that American women lead dog's lives. Well, this French scientist certainly agrees

Anyway, back to Perfect Madness. I slogged through the chapters about eating disorders and women who internalize things rather than deal with the root cause of their misery (society and their husbands). In fact, I found that women at Berkeley with eating disorders often did blame "the patriarchy" for everything that was wrong with their lives. For the most part, those women weren't science majors and I didn't hang out with them. I just didn't identify with the perfectionist motherhood malaise Warner chronicled in her book.

That might be part of the problem. Judith Warner, her subjects, and the essayists in The Bitch in the House are mostly writers or in other feminine professions. (A friend called them pink collar ghettos.) Except for a few, most are likely out-earned by their husbands. Like Linda Hirschman pointed out, if you choose a low-paying profession, don't be surprised when you are economically forced out of the workplace by childcare costs.

I mainly hang out with working moms or retired women who have paid their dues. Though I did see a little bit of that when my daughter attended a private Montessori school in Manhattan Beach, a very expensive enclave. Many of the stay at home moms complained about their busy schedules even though they had full-time nannies and/or housekeepers. They spent their days on conspicuous grooming, cosmetic surgery and chauffeuring their kids around in Escalades and Range Rovers.

(I read an epidemiology article that said that the spread of breast implants fits the mathematical models of a socially communicable disease. That led to my rule that Iris has no playdates at the homes of mothers with breast implants. This is a non-negligible subset in LA. A radiologist friend, an MRI guy, said that women whose breast implants have gone awry make up 30% of his practice.)

Back to Perfect Madness again. The kids of the really worried and anxious moms have very full schedules. They can be booked for 2 months out. Since those are the kids with the moms more likely to have breast implants anyway, Iris doesn't play with them anymore.

I do object to the way Warner disses women who are careful about what they feed their children, e.g. mothers who feed their children soy products. Her book is ostensibly about how women shouldn't undermine each other and cut each other down. Yet, she appears to do the same thing. At the very least, she is culturally insensitive; Asian women have always fed their children soy products. I don't find that in the least bit weird or control freakish. In fact, I find it very yummy and environmentally conscious. (She is conscious of her bias. Warner herself admits she is mainly describing the lives of upper middle class white women in the DC area.)

The same goes for her criticism of women who breast feed longer than a few months. We don't do it because we are control freaks. We do it because it works for us. I breastfed until Iris was 18 months old, weaning her in May, after her second flu season had passed. I didn't find it as onerous or as strange as Warner found it. It was the only guaranteed way I had of putting Iris to sleep. ;-) My employer also guaranteed me a private office as long as I was pumping at work. It is also very common to breast feed in Asian cultures, even children up to 4-6 years of age.

Anyway, the book improves in the last section, when Warner turns her anger at the way American society and work is structured. I wish she spent more of the book building up her case here.

Joan Williams wrote a devastating analysis of how the legal profession, and American society in general, fails mothers in Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It. Williams does a very thorough job, explaining why we are not failing. Society has failed us. The workplace, and our husbands, has given us a Sisyphean task. The whole setup is a farce and I refuse to shoulder the blame for it on top of my already monumental workload.

Read Joan Williams book. Amazon users give it 4.5 stars; Perfect Madness only gets 3. I would have given them 5 and 3 respectively.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Foodie Heaven

The largest Whole Foods Market in the universe opened up near work last week. Mark had to check it out the day it opened. I need to stay away from crowded areas for health reasons. We ate lunch there today, after the massive opening week crowds had died down.

(An even more massive Whole Foods will open up shortly in Pasadena. LA Curbed has pictures of that project. Sigh, we lose another one to our cross-town rivals at JPL.)

Plaza El Segundo has many chi-chi stores. However, look across the parking lot. Notice the penchant for SUVs in the area. Look in the distance and you will see storage tanks for compressed gases. El Segundo is home to many industrial and light industrial businesses. It got its name because it is home to the second Richmond Oil refinery in California.

Back to the food. Walk inside and you encounter the chocolate bar, complete with a chocolate fountain.

The fresh breads make me rethink my commitment to eating less carbs.

Noodles and sushi.

We split a sandwich and each tried a different soup from the soup bar. We also ate a small selection of antipasti. ($10 per pound!) Everything was delish.

We dined at the indoor tables near the door. Mark warned me that they do not give you cups for water from the fountain. We brought our own cup and avoided the expense, calories and packaging of a purchased drink. They sure use a lot of packaging and plastic for such a green place.

You really do need the map when you enter the store. We encountered a display of mangoes (conventionally grown in Mexico) and strawberries (conventionally grown in CA). The strawberries were well-priced at 2 pints for $3. The mangoes were displayed in boxes of 8 and marked $4.99 each. I could not figure out if they meant $4.99 for each mango or for each box. I read that measured pesticide residue in all tested produce, after washing, is highest in conventionally grown strawberries. Well-priced or not, we didn't buy any.

This stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard is also known as Pacific Coast Highway, CA 1.

Mark is a real foodie. In the 1980s, when it was fashionable to make fun of yuppies, Mark used to go around defending them. He said that we have yuppies to thank for being able to purchase more than one type of tomato in the grocery store.

I planted four different kinds. See the ripening strawberries in the foreground? They are half hidden by the garlic chives.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mommy Blogging, con't

I am halfway through Judith Warner's Perfect Madness. So far, I am underwhelmed.

Joan Williams' Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It is a much better read. Williams is an academic, so her prose is heavier going than Warner's. But it is packed full with supporting data and footnotes. I find that more satisfying than a bunch of anecdotes.

Surfing Hummingbird Style

The beach cities of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo are arguing with Huntington Beach to the south over bragging rights to the name, Surf City USA. Well, the hummingbirds were doing it first.

My coworker, BAM over at Breathing Treatment, posted today about fashioning copper pipes into a fountain to attract hummingbirds. We can attest to the efficacy of this tactic.

Last weekend, I wondered why we haven't seen any hummingbirds yet. Iris and I normally watch them drink from the fountain and "surf" on the jet of water each morning. It makes for great breakfast-time entertainment.

Our hummingbird visitors are late in appearing this year; this is the first one we saw. However, it lingered for some time. I wonder where the mate is? Last year, they came in a pair.

Our garden was designed and built by Pacific Coast Landscape in Redondo Beach. If you check out their web page of residential services, click on water features. Water feature #6 in the slide show should look awfully familiar.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Domesticity and CFL

The WaPost says that Fluorescent Bulbs Are Known to Zap Domestic Tranquillity [sic]: Energy-Savers a Turnoff for Wives.

That is very much not the case in our household. Whether or not I wanted the job, I was always responsible for stocking and replacing light bulbs around our home. You would not believe the wide variety of light bulbs used in fixtures around our house and garden. Some stores stock one kind that we need, but not the others. I have to shop the lamp store, the hardware store and Target. Then I have to save the old bulbs and bring them to the hazardous waste collection point on my next trip. It was not a job that I really enjoyed or had time for.

When CFLs were readily available at the places that I shopped routinely, I replaced the incandescent bulbs that burned out with CFLs. Sure, the light spectrum is a little bit different, but I got used to it. In fact, I now prefer the whiter light of CFLs to the yellow light from the "warm white" incandescent bulbs.

Seven years without changing a light bulb. Gotta love that. Would you believe that Mark never noticed a thing throughout the changeover period? Come to think of it, he did have to do some of the shopping and light bulb changing while I was on bedrest in 2000.

Back to the WaPost article. Articles portraying women as only concerned with aesthetics really annoy me. He makes it sound like we are concerned with the appearance of our skin tone more than planetary stewardship, rational energy policy, our nation's balance of trade or national security. It's all connected and women are good at making connections.

After Mark and I attended the MIT on the Road lectures about global climate change, he started to turn off the lights when he left the rooms. 20 years of my nagging didn't do it. He had to hear it from Daniel Nocera, a chemistry professor who specializes in energy research. I hate nagging. It is another job that I never asked for or wanted. Thanks, Dan!

We recently received confirmation of our Lair of the Golden Bear reservations. I am one of the week 2 after dinner speakers this year. I will be speaking about our climate measurement record. E.g. What do we know and how well do we know it? I can explain the physical measurements, their uncertainties and their interpretation. I can try to explain the climate models. They have much in common with the weather models that I use in my own work. But, I need to prepare for broader questions. I have been reading John Houghton's Global Warming, The Complete Briefing in preparation.

Yoga or Pilates classes before breakfast and dinner every day, throwing pots at the art shack, hiking, kayaking, bicycling, archery, reading, watching the sunlight on the creek, knitting circle, cocktail hour, swimming and tie-dye! Iris said I forgot to mention Disco Bingo, the camper talent show and Kub Korral activities.

I can't wait. See you at the Lair. I posted my packing list last year.