Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Gone Sailing

Due to illness (mine) and work deadlines, I am leaving tomorrow (instead of yesterday) for vacation in San Francisco. My sister and I have plans to hit Thai Silks, Artfibers and go sailing. Iris and Mark have plans with my SIL and Iris' cousin to visit Exploratorium. When I asked Iris if she wants to go sailing, she asked if she would get seasick. I better make sure I pack the mercalm. I wonder if I can buy that in the US?

See you next week. I hope to have nice pictures for you.

Nature's Casino

The cover story in last Sunday's NY Times contains many elements that fascinate me. It mixes an immigrant story, mathematical modeling of statistically improbable but extremely damaging events, risk analysis, meteorology, a motherhood story and human behavior. Read Michael Lewis' In Nature's Casino. It is delicious.

I especially like the part where a visibly pregnant modeler, Karen Clark, explained to a roomful of men at Lloyd's of London that they faced extremely high financial exposure when an Atlantic hurricane hits a heavily populated area. That one had not done so recently was just dumb luck and the luck would eventually run out. They told her that they understood their risk quite well, thank-you very much. Then Hurricane Andrew hit and bankrupted many of the Names of Lloyd's.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Child Gets Ahead

Susan Goodkin and David G. Gold wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, The Gifted Children Left Behind. They assert that No Child Left Behind harms gifted children in that the schools devote nearly all their resources to getting kids that might pass the standards, but are not guaranteed to pass them without a great deal of drilling. The drilling bores the gifted and nearly gifted students to tears and kills their love of learning.

Nothing left to say except, I agree. That squares with my experience with our local public school, principal and superintendent. (The teachers have been great, despite getting no support from the district.)

The disturbing thing is, I think my local school district wants us to pull our daughter out of public school and put her back in private school. Why else would they stonewall us? Why else would they promise in October to buy appropriate curriculum materials for her, but deliver them the last week of April? Why would they repeatedly ask her why we put her in public school?

If we follow the growth model, she progressed about 2 months in her first academic year in a public school. We gave them a first-grader that loved school and learning and had mastered skills on average two grade levels ahead (based on their assessment the first week of school). At the end of the school year, they gave us a kid who begged to get out of going to school every morning, was about the same place in math, and had progressed slightly in reading and writing.

I disagree with Half Changed World about the merit of clustering gifted kids together. Some people think it is harmful to the self-image of both the kids identified as gifted (IQ>130) and the ones not. I am sympathetic to this argument. But research has also shown that kids tend to befriend kids within 30 IQ points of each other.

Putting an exceptionally or profoundly gifted (IQ>160) child in a regular classroom is an incredibly alienating and lonely experience for the child. My husband and I only felt normal and accepted when we were in segregated gifted classrooms. Only then, were we free to be ourselves and safe from bullying. We know the difference. Why is it elitist to want to give our daughter the same experience that was given to us?

(Don't bother trashing California schools. My husband and I are both proud graduates of CA public schools and the flagship state university.)

Our community can do better by our kids. We must. Don't the school officials know that there is a shortage of people with advanced degrees in science and technology?


Monday, August 27, 2007

Political Firestorm

There is so much in the news about Katrina right now. Sadly, our nation's failure is not unique. Read A Political Crisis Brews in Greece as Fires Rage. Note how the fires spread uphill, but unusually strong winds blew it up and over a ridge.

Science is easy, the political will to do something about it is hard. Keeping equipment, supplies and staff "just in case" is not wasteful. It could save your life and livelihood someday. In the words of one survivor who stayed and saved his home and that of his neighbors:
“I was disappointed, honestly,” he said. “Because not only was there no one to help me, there was no one in sight. ‘Am I just standing here alone? What happened to all my townspeople? What is the purpose of life if I am all alone?’ ”

Mood Indigo

Start, progress 1, progress 2.
The green Artfibers scarf kit. I just can't seem to follow directions. ;->

It is a double refashion because 1) the kit has been marinating in my stash for some time 2) the kits are assembled from odds and ends of coordinating yarns at the Artfibers millshop.

The pattern tells you to knit loosely in garter, tying on new yarns whenever you like it. Get it? Improv. Jazz. Mood Indigo?

(No, one kit won't make a whole sweater. I mixed in ~2.5 skeins of Cascade 220 and a little bit of Sirdar Evita, a wool blend boucle.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Refashioned Skirt

I attached the bottom part of this pattern, Vogue 8001, to the cutoff shorts shown in Vacation Wrapup.

My first reaction when I took this photo is, they make me look so wide. I didn't taper the side seams at all so they poof out. As you can see below, the center front poofs out, too. Additionally, the lightweight rayon challis does not have the necessary weight to hold down the heavyweight denim.

We had friends over for dinner last night. One said that some skirts are supposed to have the A shape. He also said that it had the bohemian hippy look. That was not the look I was shooting for. Perhaps the refashion will be refashioned*.

We also went to Main Street, El Segundo yesterday. (If it looks familiar, it is because it is often a stand-in for small town America in movies and on TV. In reality, it is the home of LAX and many Fortune 500 companies with a daytime population ten times its nighttime one.) We ate lunch, Iris hung out with some playmates at the car show, and I pre-shopped the Slipt Stitch big sale. How do you think the minivan would look with a flame paint job?

* The skirt was refashioned again and turned into two skirts.  See them in Refashioned Refashioned Skirt.

School Anxiety

School doesn't start until the Thursday after Labor Day. But my stomach is already tied up in knots with worry about my child. I am too swamped over here to blog about it, but I wanted to provide some timely links. If you know of others, please let me know.
  • Labels Aren't What Kids Need Washington Post article about how pushy middle-class white parents distorted a Talented and Gifted program in Virginia and the push back from the school district.
  • Are We Failing Our Geniuses? Cover article from last week's Time magazine. I have mixed feelings about this article as it focuses mainly on one school and only on kids only at the extreme end of the IQ spectrum.
  • Who's keeping score and why? My thoughts about school testing and why it is a disservice to kids who score well without pushing.
It probably won't be wise to blog about it anyway, as we are still in negotiation with the district about what they will or will not. They do not start the "great sorting" until third grade and the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program does not start until fourth grade.

Other parents have complained that the district GATE program is practically nonexistent anyway. The district has a $50,000 grant to serve ALL the gifted students in the district, and doesn't appear to add money of their own. This translates to 8 HOURS per academic year of after school activities for GATE identified kids.

The district is broke because they must provide many autistic and other "special needs" children with full-time aides just for them. In Iris' first grade class (of 20 students) last year, two other children had aides assigned to them and another was sent to the "learning center" for special tutoring.

Charges of elitism, racism and pushiness were thrown out at a parents' meeting last spring when parents suggested clustering, which costs the district nothing. At that meeting, and an earlier private meeting concerning our child, school officials repeatedly asked me why we don't put her in a private school A mother's job is to fight for her kids. I am not concerned about how people perceive me; I worry for my child. I know mother's who have allowed their gifted children to be labeled autistic just so that their kids could get the aide and a tailored curriculum. Luckily, Iris is too well-adjusted for that to work.

I don't want to blog about the time she came home with a "test taking skills" worksheet that included one-digit arithmetic sums and bubbles. The real intent of the sheet was for the first graders(!?!) to practice filling in the scantron bubbles quickly and cleanly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When Smart Women Reproduce

Update: Di gave permission to post the photo of baby C in hat here. Go over and see more of her sewing, knitting and baby photos. She also makes shoes.

You have got to see this picture. Elizabeth Zimmerman's spiral (conch/snail/Dairy Queen) hat pattern, Malabrigo wool, and a baby the equal of my little Iris at that age. It is sure to inspire baby lust and bring about an uptick in birthrates.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The tjaps are here!

Remember the cool copper tjaps I showed in Stuff, Sewing and 5S? They produced the designs in Weekend Follow-up. This just showed up in my inbox.
Hi Dharma customer!
Our only shipment of Copper Batik Tjaps from Indonesia for this year has finally arrived! We will start taking orders some time this week. As before, they are all different shapes, sizes and complexity and some are in really good condition, some less so. They are priced accordingly. They are interesting to both collectors and users and would make great gifts for the artsy folks in your life.
I really shouldn't be advertising this for them because then you will compete with me when they open the on-line sale. Every time the copper tjaps are on sale at the website, their server is swamped. I mean, try back every 30 seconds swamped. But, I did get 5 of them and I think it is only fair that others get a crack at them.

In the past, they posted pictures of the tjaps a few days before they go on sale. Write down the numbers of the ones you want in a prioritized list. When they go on sale (~10 am PT on the announced day), you login and start going down the list to put them into your shopping cart before someone else buys them. If you login at 10:10, chances are that 90% of them, including the ones you want, are sold.

The tjaps are priced by weight and by conditions. For instance, the celestial one is about the same price as the smaller shell one because it was in worse condition. Among equal condition ones, the heavier ones will cost more. Luckily, an engineer at my last tie-dye playdate knew how to fix the celestial tjap and did it while I was still noshing on a bialy.

Read all about it on the Dharma copper tjap webpage.

I have no affiliation with them whatsoever. I am just a very satisfied customer. Besides, I think they are really cool folks with a business model worthy of emulation.

Have any other bloggers out there been contacted by PR firms to blog for their clients? I think that is really tacky and I don't do that. Besides, I read in the newspaper that some bloggers earn money as paid shills. Maybe I am offended because the PR firms in question didn't offer to pay me. ;-) But seriously, people who take money for blogging should make their affiliations clear.

Why do PR firms expect bloggers to do their jobs for free? Who do they think they are? Newspapers?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Speaking of Rockin' Women

Meet my new boss. She's a mom, too. She joked that the whole company watched her sons grow up because she brought them in with her so often.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why don't smart people have children?

When I first moved out to LA to join Mark, I went bike riding with a senior manager at our company. He was not in my management chain and he is a personal friend so he could ask about my reproductive plans. He pointed out other couples we knew, all PhDs and MDs, none of whom had children. He was perplexed and unhappy. He wanted to know, "Why don't smart people have children?"

I didn't have a good answer for him. I still don't. But I have a few (in)coherent ideas. As usual, it starts with a digression and a narrative.

I spent the past week reviewing the plans for a satellite program and trying to come up with a coherent report about it. Independent reviewers are supposed to help reduce the risk of these large programs by spotting and heading off trouble early.

In one briefing, a key engineer/physicist for one of the sensors on the satellite explained what she (and her team) had already done and what she still needed to do. She was clearly nervous. I could see that she had deep subject matter understanding. But, I could also tell that she had an awful lot left to do before launch and a small team to do it.

That's not that unusual. What was unusual, was that I kept staring at her stomach. I couldn't tell, but I kept wondering, "Is she pregnant and beginning to show?" Thoughts of an important (to my career) briefing I gave about another troubled satellite program when I was 4 months pregnant with Iris raced through my mind.

I looked at her tummy. I looked at the timeline. I looked at her scheduled software delivery milestones and mentally added notations for birth, maternity leave, teething, first steps and potty training. I added margin for all the unscheduled interruptions of parenting. There wasn't enough time. Even if she wasn't pregnant there was scarcely enough time.

Maybe she wasn't pregnant. Maybe that is her nominal body shape. I couldn't bring myself to ask her point blank. I doubted it was legal for me to inquire. Yet, I had a responsibility to report back about the availability and quality of key staff and whether the staffing ratio was adequate for the schedule.

She wasn't forthcoming and she has every right to be afraid if she is pregnant. Yet, it would be nice for others to know as early as possible in order to make contingency plans. Why do we feel like we have to hide our pregnancies as long as possible? The first trimester is often the worst. Yet we suffer in isolation, hiding how terrible we feel, pretending that nothing is happening. It is troubling that we even need laws to protect pregnant women in the workplace against discrimination. (The protections end after pregnancy which is why there is so much workplace discrimination against mothers.)

What to do?

By the time a woman has an advanced degree in Physics, she is usually in her late twenties or even early thirties. Add a few years to become established in a position and the biological clock is ticking awfully loud. You can't plan reproduction around satellite deliveries and launches because they are delayed all the time. (I work with one satellite that was delayed three years.)

The circle of life must go on. Bearing and raising children is important work. There is no earthly reason we should take women with exceptional drive, talent and skill out of the gene pool.

What to do? My report is due on Monday. I should be working on it now instead of blogging.

Read more thoughts about Career and Birthrates

Well, my preliminary report is in. I consulted a more senior woman who had led another study in which I was a team member. She told me that a pregnancy for a contractor is not our business. A man could quit at any time; the manager would have much less notice than a pregnancy.

She suggested that, in any program with a tight schedule, it would be appropriate to put a sentence asking for a contingency plan in the absence of any key personnel.

So when in doubt, ask people with more experience.

Genetic Discrimination

This story about how the US military practices genetic discrimination hits really close to home. Almost exactly a year ago, when I was about to go back to work after a period of disability, my health suddenly turned south in a really bad way. I went to a series of doctors, treating the symptoms, but we had no idea why someone as young as me should have these ailments. One doctor suggested a genetic test; it was a long shot because this gene is extremely rare in Asians. It was a new test; even my immunologist was not aware that this gene test had become available.

It came back positive. Suddenly, all the seemingly unrelated ailments made sense. I received appropriate care, made lifestyle modifications and my health started to improve. I told my employer my diagnosis and what kind of modifications I needed in order to continue working. My family was briefed on what they needed to do to protect me. I spend an order of magnitude less on medical care than before this genetic test.

It is a double edged sword. Once I am aware of the gene I carry, it becomes a preexisting condition. I won't be able to get life or disability insurance in the future. (It was probably not possible anyway due to my symptoms in the past half dozen years.) I won't be able to get health insurance on my own or with all but the largest employers. Yet many large employers check medical databases before hiring employees so I am unlikely to be hired by anyone. I am grateful that I have a job I like and that they are happy with my job performance.

But imagine losing your job because you have a gene that causes illness or disability. Imagine not just losing your job, but losing access to retiree health benefits that are promised to every soldier. Ill, without a job and health insurance, where do you turn? It is an incredibly shoddy way to treat a fellow human being.

Also read Now Can We Talk About Health Care? by Hilary Clinton. She talks about genetic diseases and discrimination as well.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Gaia Girl and Monique named me a Rockin’ Girl Blogger. Thank you very much, but I don’t think of myself as rockin’. Mostly, I am (barely) holding it together.

Now let’s talk about the weather. I found a couple of newish sites that were not yet in my bookmarks that I want to share.

Remember when I had trouble seeing the jet stream analysis at low latitudes? Well, the Navy Research Laboratory in Monterey has put up a new page of satellite imagery with NOGAPS (numerical weather prediction) overlays. It is beautiful AND useful. You can navigate to it from their general satellite page click on “Images with NOGAPS Overlays” on the right, then scroll down near the bottom of the next page to “Jet_Stream” Atlantic.

The National Center for Environmental Prediction’s runs Ensemble Forecasts, a set of NWP runs with different initial conditions. The spaghetti plots are difficult to understand, even for meteorologists. However, check out their Tropical storm performance monitor page. Different storms are tracked in separate columns. The date and time that the models were initiated are on the left. For the latest Hurricane Dean predictions, click on the topmost 04L link.

Aren’t the “spaghetti plots” pretty? Unlike the plots I showed two days ago where each line was the forecast from a different model, the same model produced all these predicted storm track lines. The difference is in the initial conditions fed into the model. The initial conditions are produced by a method called “bred vectors”.

That brings me back to Rockin’ Girls again. Rather than name other bloggers, I want to honor some rocking women that made a difference in my life.

Firstly, there is Admiral Grace Hopper, a mathematician and the mother of modern programming languages. She invented the concept of compilers and was instrumental in developing the standards for COBOL and Fortran. It is hard to imagine numerical weather prediction without Fortran. No wonder so many streets and buildings are named after her in Monterey, home of Navy Postgraduate School, Navy Research Laboratory, and Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center.

A colleague, who served in the Navy during the era of the Tailhook scandal, told me that Fleet Numerical is the only duty you can draw in the Navy where women outnumber men. He was in heaven when he arrived. He loved the work, and the work atmosphere. The example set by Admiral Hopper has a great deal to do with the relatively large number of women in numerical weather prediction.

Secondly, I want to introduce Eugenia Kalnay, who tirelessly championed ensemble forecasting at the operational centers. This may be obvious to us today, but it wasn't an easy sell when computational power was more limited and we had to think long and hard about how we spent it. She was also instrumental in developing the mathematics for optimizing selection of the ensemble.

Lastly, I want to introduce Jenny Harrison, a mathematics professor at my alma mater, UC Berkeley. This very sad tale makes me squirm, but I think it is important to talk about it. I never took a class from her. In fact, in my entire 8 semesters at Berkeley, I never took a class taught by a female science or math professor.

Berkeley had only one tenured female professor when Jenny Harrison came up for tenure. She was denied. She was told that she was merely average and average is not good enough for Berkeley. She asked to see her tenure review file. She was stonewalled on the basis of privacy (for the tenure committee members). After much legal wrangling, her file was released to the public. It said that her production of research was average when compared to tenured Berkeley math professors. That is, she was par for the set that she wished to join.

Why, then, was she denied? It is not explicitly stated, but I think it had to do with her personality. Men and boys were really put off by her. I remember a male Freshman at my dorm who complained about her teaching technique. I asked him what he meant. He said that she never called on a male student as long as a female student was available. He would hold his hand up high and she would ignore him and pick female students time after time. Gee, he was complaining about treatment I endured every day in every class. Of course, nice girl that I was, I didn't tell him that. I merely dropped the subject.

Fast forward to the end of the semester and my male professor handed out the final exam and said, "This exam will separate the men from the boys." The other woman in the class and I looked at each other in panic. What did he mean by that remark? We were stressed out enough by the exam itself without being told that we were either invisible or not welcome there.

Fast forward another semester when another student told me that my math teaching assistant was rating the physical attractiveness of the female students in his section during office hours. He told me this because he thought I would be happy to have been rated highest. I was devastated by this and never went to office hours again.

In fact, I was ready to drop out of math altogether until a friend introduced me to Jenny Harrison in the lunch area outside the math building one day. He told her that I was good at math but thinking of discontinuing math studies. Would she talk to me? She motioned for us to sit down and eat lunch with her.

She asked me if I liked math. I told her yes. Then she asked why I wanted to stop studying math. I told her about the uncomfortable environment. She told me that, if I quit, then I had let them win. She told me to study what I wanted and not to listen to the others. (She might have had stronger words than that, but I can't recall her exact words.) I do recall her forcefulness and her total lack of deference towards men. I think it cost her dearly. She won the legal fight, but it took a heavy emotional toll.

So today, I want to honor the women who came before us. They proved that we are good enough and that we deserve a place at the table.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Child's Play

Remember our vacation at home week when Iris amused herself with self-directed play? Howard P. Chudacoff would have approved. He wrote a new book, “Children at Play: An American History”; read an interview with Chudacoff in the NYT book section.

The interview is full of quotes from "experts" on child play who agree that children need more unstructured time to exercise their imaginations in imaginative play. There's history in there about Mattel and Disney marketing, too.

Playtime (BMGM)
Why children need to play (CSM)
Children's Play (NYT link expires in 7 days)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vicarious Weather

[Post updated with more recent storm track graphic and proper credit to Weather Underground.]

I am a weather geek living in a place that has almost no weather to speak of. Luckily, I have friends in places that actually have weather. A friend sent me a link to the hurricane track below from Weather Underground's Tropical Weather site.

She asked if I thought it would make landfall or go out to sea. Hmm, I need no excuse to go pore over weather data and make proclamations that I am not qualified to make.*

Off I went to look at the jet stream plots from the California Regional Weather Server. Unfortunately, their plots stop short of the tropical region. I could make out at the edge that winds aloft were rather weak and moving toward the east. (See how the arrows are rather puny and point to the left? The longer the arrow, the stronger the winds aloft.)

Then I took a look at the surface winds. In this type of plot, the "wind barbs" have lines showing the directions that the winds came from. That means the winds are coming from the east near the surface.
That is favorable for hurricane formation. If the winds aloft and at the surface moved in different directions, a condition known as wind shear, the storm can be ripped apart. With little or no wind shear, the storm could really grow.

Warm water below also fuel monster storms. So I looked at the sea surface temperature, SST. That looks pretty warm to me. To put it in perspective, it helps to look at the SST anomaly, or the deviation from the climatological mean. Any way you look at it, the water is warm and conducive to formation of a large storm.
We have an office pool about hurricane storm tracks. As the only non-classically trained meteorologist, I use a naive method. I bet the storm will follow the warm water. So right away, you can see that two things can happen. If the storm blows into the hot water north of Puerto Rico, it will blow out to sea instead of hitting the mainland US. If the storm continues to the east, it can linger in the Caribbean over the very warm water and hit the mainland.

What do the real meteorologists do? They take into account momentum and Coriolis forces. Some pore over the surface pressure maps. Others look at the water vapor ahead of the storm. (Water vapor holds a great deal of latent heat energy which also fuels storms.) Better yet, we can feed all the information into a weather model and crank up the supercomputers. The National Hurricane Center does this, but
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) does not generate a graphic of the models it uses to produce its forecasts. We do this because our past experience indicates such plots have confused users and detracted from our final message, which is producing official tropical cyclone forecasts and advisories. Some users have also become too reliant in the individual forecast scenarios presented by the many model forecast lines, some of which have little or no chance of being correct. This is not the message the NHC wants to send. (Please read our Mission and Vision).
It is ok because the Navy is willing to show you their model hurricane track.

Actually, NHC runs an ensemble of many models. Some are more realistic than others so they don't plot them all out, lest they mislead the public (see above). The Environmental Modeling Center is willing to share their ensemble plots. MIT's hurricane group collected hurricane models from multiple weather forecast centers and plotted them all together.
Why am I showing you so many spaghetti plots? Don't take too much stock in a single forecast. In the words of a newspaper headline on my bulletin board, "Weather Tip: Get many forecasts; 1 may be right"

On a more serious note, the ensemble of forecasts help us understand the uncertainty of predicted hurricane tracks. NHC has an (outdated, but still a gem) web page showing model performance against actual storm tracks for several models and for an entire hurricane season. (nm = nautical miles) See how the models vary in accuracy. The geospatial uncertainty for all models increase with forecast time. In other words, the further in the future, the more difficult it is to accurately predict a hurricane track.

Table 3: Average Errors (nm) of the Early Track Models for 1996-97 Atlantic Tropical Cyclones

Forecast Interval (hr)
Model 12 24 36 48 72
No. Cases346310279255207

And what is the point of all of this?
If you live in hurricane country, you need to prepare well in advance, when the uncertainty is still high. Remember the horrible traffic as people tried to evacuate ahead of Katrina?

If, like the couple in the Dream Home Diaries Blog, your home is on an island, then you need to evacuate even further in advance because of the possibility that bridges will be closed due to high winds or gridlock. Thus, many people whose homes have only a moderate to low probability of being directly hit by the storm should evacuate anyway. If they wait too long, they will have missed their opportunity. Now, where are we going to put all those evacuees?

If you want to think about something even scarier, look at the vast area that could be under water in the event of a storm surge. Suppose they had an 8 meter storm surge. How far from their dream home would they need to evacuate? The flood map generator is just way too much fun for a professional worrier like me. ;-)

* Disclaimer * I am not academically trained as a meteorologist. But the American Meteorological Society let me join because I
hold a baccalaureate or higher degree from an accredited institution of higher learning in some other science or a related field and be currently engaged in a professional activity in which his or her knowledge is applied to the advancement or application of the atmospheric or related sciences

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Weekend Follow-up

My first attempt at batik was a mixed bag. The sun motif on the blue children's apron had the cleanest imprint of all my attempts.

The prerinsed apron is a few shades darker. Notice the smudges of soywax. FYI A dry apron was stamped with soywax on an antique Indonesian copper tjap. 4 cups of soda ash solution and 1/4 cup of turquoise dye stock was mixed into a 1 gallon ziploc bag. The apron was added;the bag was sealed and massaged to dye more evenly.

The shibori shirt looks very dark and has no discernible texture before rinsing. Perhaps it was becase thin kitchen twine was used instead of thick cotton yarn? Or maybe it was wound too loosely?

Post rinsing and washing, the shirt is much lighter. The thread resist does not show up on the front at all, a disappointment.

The back shows the thread resist slightly. I will wear the shirt for a while. If I don't like it, I can always lighten the dye and re-dye the piece. This was dyed with half a cup of midnight blue, aka navy, dye solution.

Miss Iris likes her turquoise blue iris sundress very much.

The iris imprint is very faint.

The orchid space-theme dress came out slightly uneven. She likes it nonetheless and promises to wear it.

Iris' cousin gets a peacock blue space theme t-shirt, too.

The golden yellow dress was put in a 2 gallon bag. The others were put in 1 gallon bags. Notice that this dress is dyed more evenly than the other pieces. Note to self; use 2 gallon bags in the future.

Click on the Dyeing keyword below the post for how-to information.

The asymmetric sweater rests on a "pattern sweater" to determine the length of sleeve I need to knit. I am knitting the sleeves top down a la Barbara Walker.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tie-Dye Playdate Progress Report

If I was less tired and thinking more clearly, I would have photographed the tie-dye playdate. We tried shibori, batik, dyeing in plastic baggies/bins and the paint or squirt on type of tie-dye. I sent the 4 other participants home with their bags, bins and a small amount of synthropol.

Let's look at a picture of a thrift store shirt, tied to a piece of PVC pipe. I took the picture last month, when I was trying to discharge (remove) color using gel dishwasher detergent. Some fabrics are receptive to this treatment and bleach almost white.

This shirt obviously is not one of them. The color barely changed, even after two hours.

Iris used up all the toothpicks in the house and a great deal of tape. I couldn't get mad at her because this really was very cute and creative.

Today, I tied up the shirt again, poured soda ash solution over it, and then painted dye stock solution on top of that.

Here is the shirt lounging in the sun with some friends. Starting from the left, the bins are golden yellow, orchid, and peacock blue Procion MX fiber reactive dyes from Dharma.

You can find my basic soda ash and dye stock solution recipes in More Dyeing Adventures. The shibori shirt tying technique is illustrated in Dye Workshop.

I wound some plastic wrap around the shirt to keep it moist while it basks in the sun.

Blue and black are the most difficult to get nice and dark. You must use a great deal of dye. Time, heat and salt can also help.

I will wash and dry them tonight. Stay posted for the results.

Why is the grass so green during a drought?
That's not real grass. It is a synthetic outdoor carpet called EasyTurf. I read about it in the newspaper and clipped the article. I filled out an electronic quote request form on the EasyTurf website. A day later, the local franchise operator (YourTurf) called to schedule an appointment to measure my yard. There were a few glitches because of new staff that needed more training. But, in the end, we are happy with the result and the service.

No watering, chemicals, pollen, slugs or snails. A few weeds come up at the seams between the pieces of turf and at the edges of the step stones. Weeding is so much easier now; we spend ~3% as much time as before. Plus, it is permeable and so cushy underfoot. The "grass blades" are held upright by a blend of sand and pellets made out of leftover rubber after athletic shoe soles are stamped out.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Household Division of Labor and Foundations

Iris and Mark went to see the Simpson's movie without me as a "Daddy and Me" outing. No amount of entreaties from Mark to include me convinced her to let me join them. When he told her that my feelings were hurt, she had an answer. She planned a similar "Mommy and Me" outing to see the Bratz movie. Why do I always draw the short end of the stick when the household duties are divided up?

I went with them to the mall because we were all going together to the UCLA Fowler museum afterwards. (See the El Anatsui Gawu post from two weeks ago.) I had an hour and a half to kill so I decided to see what was new at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Nothing really screamed, "Buy me, take me home." That's a good thing because I took another Wardrobe Refashion Pledge.

However, the Wardrobe Refashion rules allow purchases of underwear and Nordstrom does have the best trained staff of any department store that I frequent. My back and hips were aching since my last relapse and I heard that some doctors were recommending, ahem, foundation garments for back pain relief.

I stared at a pair of Spanx that were on sale ('Hide and Seek') and asked a saleslady what size I should try on. She tried to get me to try on a M when a L looked more fitting to my untrained eye. I took both into the dressing room with me.

For a frame of reference, I asked her which ones she wore. She said they were not on the sales floor at the moment because they sold so fast, they hardly get a chance to put them out on the sales floor. She offered to get some of those in both M and L to me in the dressing room. Really? More expensive, not even on the sales floor and yet flying out of the store?

So I tried on the ones made from a double layer of nylon and spandex. They were about what I expected, except that the elastic did not bind at the top or bottom. However, the 'Slim Cognito' she brought to the dressing room was amazing. It is so much better than the other ones, damn the price difference. As Jane Russell used to say, "It lifts, it separates." It defies gravity. It made me look like one of Phillip Roth's peaches in Portnoy's Complaint.

I am ready to knit Annie's Butt Skirt.


Iris gives the Simpson's movie 5 stars--high praise indeed. She is a tough critic.

We have yet to see the Bratz movie. I just have a psychological barrier against seeing yet another movie in which the Asian (or is that hapa?) character is a science whiz. I abhor racial stereotyping and stereotyping of scientists in pop culture. The Bratz movie, and Charlie's Angels, packs a double whammy.

FYI, I avoid Madame Butterfly stories like the plague. I also won't see movies about math or mathematicians. I made an exception to see Proof on stage and it was OK. I went to see Copenhagen, a play about Bohr and Heisenberg, and managed not to squirm too much. In fact, both of those plays had a meaningful message about the the nature of truth. But, those authors worked really hard with scientists and mathematicians to get their representations right.

Just don't mention Matt Damon in our household.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Is this the future?

The Economist ran a cover article about Japan's changing demography. Birthrates have a huge impact upon pyramid schemes pension plans.

This graphic is also inspirationally information-dense.

There is so much I want to say about birthrates, sustainability, pension programs and equity towards mothers, but I have so little time right now. Aack! Too many projects at work.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Birthrates Stories

I have been meaning to blog about birthrates again, but haven't had time to formulate my ideas properly. However, don't miss these recent news stories about birthrates.

Career Women in Japan Find a Blocked Path in the NYT. Link will expire in 4 days or so.
They [women’s rights advocates] point to studies showing that nations with greater workplace participation, like the United States, actually have higher fertility rates. Advocates say this is because working women in other countries start having children earlier in life, while many who leave the work force do not do so until their 30s.

“Birthrates here are declining because of a lack of equality for women,” said Ms. Inoguchi, the former minister. “The population shortage is forcing a change in attitudes.”
I wouldn't point to the US as a feminist utopia, but I have no argument with their statement that we have it better than women in Japan. Like I wrote in What do I tell her?, none of my female cousins in Japan with children are employed outside the home. None of my employed female cousins have children. None. Without exception.

NPR recently broadcasted a story about how the wealthy are having more children. Kids are the new luxury.

When people see a large family, "they just know that they have to be making serious, serious money."

"I am not working, this is what I do." Having more kids make them more comfortable with not working outside the home. "This is a full-time job."

This isn't a new phenomena. During the whole "remaking welfare" debate, some sociologists actually crunched the numbers. They found that mothers on welfare had only slightly more children than the average. In fact, the highest fertility in the US was among the ultra-wealthy. Billionaires had, on average 5 children. (This was more than a decade ago when there were fewer billionaires.)

That 1990's study found that two career families with slightly above average incomes, my peer group, had the lowest fertility. We tend to be concentrated in areas where wages are high, but the cost of living is even higher. I look around me and the one child family is as normal as the two child family.

Birthrates in the US are highest among immigrant women at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and wives of the very rich. Those two groups do not enjoy the most egalitarian marriages. I have not seen convincing proof that egalitarian societies produce higher birthrates.

Economist story about European Birthrates
My birthrate blogging

Monday, August 06, 2007

Another Tie-Dye Playdate

This Saturday morning at my home. Tie-dye, shibori, batik, fabric painting or stamping, discharge. Whatever your hearts desire (space-permitting).

Coffee, noshing, prewashing and perusing how-to books at 9:00. We put away the food and begin mixing colors at 9:45 or so. RSVP so we can coordinate who brings what.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

There is no place like home

Some people have to visit their parents in places they were eager to leave. Mark and I are lucky that we and our parents live in places that people go to on vacation. We spent the weekend in San Diego.

Traffic between Los Angeles and San Diego was murder so I made plenty of progress on my asymmetric blue sweater. You are looking at the right front and back, with the right side "seam" in the middle of the picture.

I looked forward to the southbound drive because it means a stop at the European Community Market at the Beach Street exit of Interstate 405 (aka the San Diego Freeway). My mother in law calls ahead to order her "Old World Bakery" German breads, kuchen and Italian salami. We pick it up on the way and deliver to her house. Much as I like the bread and salami, the real reason I like the store is because they carry Burda WOF. Imagine my horror when they were sold out.

On the way back, I asked Mark to get off the 405 one exit early so I could pick up some soba noodles, kombu and fish cake at Mitsuwa, the Japanese supermarket in Torrance. When we strolled inside the supermarket complex with its food court and small shops, our whole family suddenly felt hungry.

Then it hit me. We live in the south bay region of Los Angeles. The south bay has the largest concentration of Japanese Americans on the mainland. There is a bookstore right there.

The fashion magazines are in front. But I didn't see the pattern books. Fortunately, the south bay is very much like a small town. My neighbor strolled in with her kids right behind us. Her kids showed Iris the kids' section for bilingual books. My neighbor showed me the Japanese pattern books. There were two whole bookcases full of Japanese knitting, sewing, crochet and embroidery patterns. I didn't have to order pattern books from after all. It was all right here.

Pattern Magic is on the shelf below. The skirt book I also wanted was right next to it. They didn't have the book of designs for black clothing I bought, but they had the companion book of designs for red clothing on the bookshelf above.

This book, Girls at a Recital, was especially sweet. Look at all those well-behaved children in those gorgeous dresses.

I especially love this one, with the transparent bows up the back. My sister and I never looked this good at Suzuki recitals. (Click on the picture below to see the details 1600 pixels wide.)

Because I have been thinking of tea lately, I visited this store. I heard that only Seattle and Torrance have outlets for this Japanese chain.

Beware of high concept but nonfunctional design. A blue bowl sink looks lovely until someone actually uses it.

Not only is there a cloth to soak up the splashes, but a mop stands out of camera range, ready for patrons to wipe the splashed water from the floor.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


I have two Norah Gaughan projects so close to completion, but I cast on for a new project instead.

It started with a sketch (left). I then pulled out Ann Budd's grand plan sweater pattern from the Summer 2002 issue of Interweave Knits. I changed my original plan slightly, placing the waist decreases at the sides instead of darts. My pattern deviation from her 40" pullover in 5 sts/in gauge pattern is shown at right.

I used the second Artfibers scarf kit I bought last December. (Here is the result of the first scarf kit.) I supplemented with some leftover yarn from my stash and three skeins of Cascade 220 from my LYS.

A closeup of the texture:

I had plenty of knitting time on date night last Thursday. We had dinner at Rosalind's in Little Ethiopia followed by browsing at LACMA. No photography was allowed inside the galleries of the Dan Flavin and Latin America shows. Mark is a fan of neon art so it was easy to convince him to see fluorescent light art. You can see the glow of my favorite piece below. We quickly strolled through the Arts in Latin America show just before closing. That is a huge and interesting show. We must come back again and allow more time.

When I looked in the other direction from the catwalk, I saw the sunset reflected off an office building. That's the La Brea tarpits below. Can you see the methane bubbling up?

In theory, putting a subway line below Wilshire Avenue, all the way to Santa Monica, is a good idea. But imagine the complexity and cost of digging through a tar and gas field and then making the air safe to breathe down there. I am happy with the MTA Metro Rapid bus that runs on Wilshire. The drivers have transmitters that turn the red lights green for the bus! You can't drive it any faster than that.