Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stuff Accumulates

While putting away the laundry, I counted Iris' skirts and skorts:
  • 14 in total
  • 3 second hand
  • 1 second hand and refashioned
  • 4 made by me
  • 6 bought new
  • 4 were school uniform skirts that she wears to her new school even though they don't require uniforms
  • skirts range in age from 1-3 years (in her possession, though second-hand ones are older)
Why on earth does she need 14 skirts/skorts? Even though she prefers them to pants and shorts, she doesn't need that many. We do laundry at least once a week.

I looked in my own closet:
  • 55 skirts
  • 5 part of a suit (used for work)
  • 10 second hand
  • 15 made or refashioned by myself
  • 1 gift
  • Did I really buy 24 skirts?
  • I have had them from 1-20 years.
  • Some of the vintage ones are older than that.
  • On average, I probably make or buy 3-4/year and get rid of 1-2.
  • Stuff accumulates.
It is obvious why Iris has so many skirts. It is hereditary. ;-)

In contrast, Gina has 56 items of clothing (+ a few more that she found after the census). Dan Ho has 47 items. There is no reason to buy another skirt until I wear out these 54. However, I can't possibly do so in my lifetime. Though not a heavy consumer, I enjoy the novelty of new things now and then. What to do?

  • These numbers are after Iris and I culled our closets of things that don't fit. We sent those off to new homes and repaired/refashioned a few tired ones that we kept.
  • I read a while ago that the average American woman buys over 40 clothing items per year. Evidently, I am not a heavy consumer by American standards, but I hold on to things longer than most people. I actually like all of my remaining skirts.
  • Time to go through the bookshelves again.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Strange Bird or Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

Maybe an accomplished birdwatcher can identify this strange bird whizzing by at sunset today?

Actually, we see this sight quite frequently in the South Bay. During the day, the Spirit of America Goodyear blimp flies toward the coast. When the sea breeze* kicks in, it returns to its hanger in Carson.

* The land-sea breeze refers to the diurnal coastal cycle. It blows from the land towards the ocean when the land is cooler than the sea. When the land heats up, the 'sea breeze' blows from the sea towards the land. Locals call this our natural air conditioning. Airships (blimps) make use of this daily cycle for their cruises.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Spring Fashion Preview

Remember this Shibori experiment? I was feeling slothful about not getting around to correct this, until I saw the spring 2008 Marni fashion show pictures from

I was just ahead of the fashion curve.

The clothes were interesting, but don't do anything for the female figure. If it looks bad on the sticks walking the runway, what chance do mere mortals have?

All the girls in the show look skeletal.

Take a look at this girl's leg. Her knee is as wide as her thigh.

This image is grotesque.

Read Guy Trebay's essay, Still Too Thin, and Getting Younger.
There, one might be startled to find, scattered on the makeup table alongside the iPod and the Motorola SLVR (a device that electronics blogs approvingly call the anorexic phone), other currently common tools of the trade like Vicodin, clenbuterol and Marlboro Lights.

Vicodin, of course, is the prescription painkiller Eminem liked so much he immortalized it on “The Slim Shady LP,” and a drug better appreciated in the fashion business for its appetite-suppressing powers than for the truly unappetizing truth that it is only slightly less addictive than heroin. Clenbuterol is a steroid used by athletes, horse trainers and models to reduce body fat (one study of clenbuterol in horses showed significant weight reduction in a matter of weeks). “A lot of girls are using it now to keep their weight down,” said Kelly Cutrone, the founder of People’s Revolution, a fashion production company.
I am not going to say any more about fashion, because Everyone's a Critic.

More about skinny models at What is wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We had a hectic day. After I dropped Iris off at school, I came home to do the dishes and my exercises. Then I went to work. I left my desk at 5:30, picked up dinner at McDonald's and picked Iris up at daycare at 5:50.

We went to the girl scout house at 5:55 and ate our dinner in the car in the parking lot. Scout meeting lasted from 6:00 to 7:30. I filled out girl scout administrative forms and chatted with the other moms for a few minutes.

Then I headed out to Target and Trader Joe's. Driving between the two, I saw a huge harvest moon resting in the V made by two palm tree trunks. Of course, I was driving in traffic and couldn't stop to take a photo. By the time I got to TJ's and found a parking spot, I was committed to grocery shopping instead of photo taking.

I speed shopped and headed west again. What was I doing? Iris was to the east! I needed to go back up to the top of the hill and take that photo. Of course, it was too late and the moon was higher. You will just have to use your imagination to run the back trajectory that puts the moon between the palm trees again.

Another incredibly busy day, but there was beauty. And there was progress on the analysis software. And there were french fries.

More sky photos and a hectic day in Reflections on Time

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why are men happier than women?

Don't miss David Leonhardt's article, Why are men happier than women? There is much there to comment upon, but it is late.

I had a long day of doctor's appointments, lab tests, software wrangling and single parenthood. It was so satisfying today to get the satellite data matched up so neatly with the modeled data. The few anomalies are clearly visible now. And I just love trying to figure out why the unexpected occurs. (I write this without a trace of irony. I truly love this kind of stuff.)

Green Party

I found this on the Prius' windshield after lunch today. An identical one was placed on it a few weeks ago, when it was parked near our house. The (glossy, non-recyclable) flyer promises, "Drive a hybrid and save more than the planet."

Why does this bother me? Let me count the ways.

This is nothing more than marketing gimmickry. "Green" is just another affinity group and market segment to these folks. This guy is trying to sell car insurance (which is required in CA), but most "green" marketeers are trying to sell goods that people don't really need. The greenest choice is NOT TO CONSUME SO MUCH STUFF. But, then, what would all the marketing folks do for work?

Most "green" marketing is fairly transparent, and this is no exception. Flip the car over and there is a guy washing his SUV in the driveway. (I already wrote about the environmental damage caused by driveway car washing.) Why would an advertiser shoot himself in the foot like that? Not terribly bright. Is this the kind of guy you would want for your insurance agent?

A t-shirt on the cover of a 'back to school' circular said, "Green is the new black". The young girl/woman wearing the shirt looks so cute and happy in that shirt. And why shouldn't she? This has become a common catchphrase. (Type it into your search engine of choice and you will see many articles, some quite thoughtful.) But I feel uneasy about all this green consumerism. Buying a shirt made of organically grown cotton won't help the environment as much as wearing out the clothes that you already own (and using a clothesline instead of a dryer). The best thing we can all do is to consume less, a lot less.

Thomas Friedman put it most eloquently in the Ideas and Consequences page in the Atlantic:
I am not a skeptic about global warming. It’s happening. I am a total skeptic that we are really doing anything about it. I think we are in the middle of a huge green bubble …
Did you ever study a revolution in history? You ever seen a revolution in history where nobody got hurt? That’s the green revolution. In the green revolution, nobody gets hurt—we’re all winners … Exxon’s green. They give $100 million to Stanford … Dick Cheney’s green. He’s for alternative fuels, yeah. He’s for liquefied coal. Dick Cheney’s green. We are all green now. Welcome to the green revolution, where nobody gets hurt.

… This isn’t the green revolution, friends. This is a party … [snip] And ladies and gentlemen, today the old-legacy industries, they control this story; they control that policy mechanism in Washington. They are tough, and they will fight dirty. They are not going anywhere.

And that’s why we are having a green party, not a green revolution. Do not kid yourself for one second.

If you follow the Ideas and Consequences link over to the Atlantic, you will see billionaire Richard Branson at the top of the page, talking about his new commercial space venture, Virgin Galactic. Branson is no stranger to green marketing. His airline, Virgin Air, will sell you carbon offsets with every plane ticket. How many trees will need to be planted for every joy-ride into space?

This is not an idle worry as lifting things into space takes enormous expenditures of energy. There is a reason why space launches are so expensive. But marketeers pick their target price point and design their product around that. So, how do they bring the price of the ride down to $200,000? For starters, they get someone else to pay for the infrastructure.

Oh, I digress again. This is a post about seeing through feel-good green marketing. But I can't resist this quote from the above article.
Carol Garcia, 52, of Las Cruces, said: “It’s just a rich man’s dream that he needs us to help pay for. If it’s your dream, build it yourself.”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Trail of Destruction

I went to Iris' bathroom this morning to straighten up. I usually find damp towels on the floor, but never expected this sight.

When I got home from work, I found these pieces on the entry table. She named them.

This is how they fit together.

I am such a bad mom, I stayed late to puzzle over a computer algorithm. I hired a babysitter to schlep her from Hip Hop dance class to Tae Kwon Do and then to cook dinner tonight. (Mark is on travel, making me temporarily a single mom.)

Iris' nanny, M, received a full scholarship to a good liberal arts school 40 miles away. They are paying for her tuition and housing. Good for her but boo hoo for us. A new babysitter is very nice and responsible, but no one can take M's place in our hearts. M is coming home for a visit this weekend and she and Iris have a date this Friday.

Addendum: Iris said that some hair refused to stay in place, even after repeated applications of water and hair gel. She had no choice but to cut off the stray locks.

From the archives: see Iris break a board with her jumping scissor kick in December 2006.


A friend and I lunch together weekly. We eat unhealthy things and don't tell our spouses. We take his Porsche which gets awful gas mileage, just because it is fun.

Waiting for the bacon cheddar turkey burger with fries.

Checking out the surf before heading back to lab.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Box Pleat Skirt

Iris has claimed my old sewing machine.

Read more about sewing for Purrfect Kitty in Refashioned Refashioned Skirt.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Big News

The rain gauge shows 0.5" of rain last night and this morning.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Artwork Bombs

I can't believe the ridicule across the internets heaped upon Star Simpson, the MIT student accused of wearing a fake bomb to Logan Airport. In case you haven't heard about the story, read the Boston Globe account or The Tech (MIT student newspaper) account. (Disclaimer, I shared an office this summer with one of the contributors of the Tech account.)

Why do so many people have a difficult time believing that Star's shirt is Art? Why do they insist on calling it a fake bomb? I personally think that the story reflects badly upon the airport officials.

Instructions for making clothes embedded with LEDs are everywhere. Craft Zine showed how to make The Electric Tank Top. Make Zine shows HOW TO - Sew Smart DIY LED shirts and the Make Zine Blog also links to the Craft LED shirt project. See more LED shirts on the Make blog. Machine Project in LA even held a workshop for making DIY LED bracelets.

Take a look at the Electric Tank above. It sure looks like a work of art to me. I coveted one.

However, one look at the required materials picture and I decided I could live without one. ;-)

Anyway, let's look at what this poor girl is alleged to have done. (I spend more time with MIT grads than most people. My workplace is full of them. My spouse is an MIT alum. I like to think that I have some insight into the way they think.) She had been wearing this LED shirt she made for a couple of days; she is obviously very jazzed about the shirt. I would guess she had been receiving lots of positive reinforcement about her shirt around the MIT campus.

She went to the airport to pick up her boyfriend. She wore her cool new shirt. She wasn't sure where to go to meet him so she went up to an official and asked. Sounds really suspicious. She is focused on seeing her boyfriend again, perhaps she didn't catch the question from the official about her shirt. Airports are also very loud places.

She was holding something in her hand that was mistaken for plastic explosives but turned out to be play-doh. Have you ever heard of people who squish play-doh as a way to help them calm down and focus? I have. But maybe it is because I work around out of the ordinary people who do stuff like that. Or maybe it is because I have a 6 year old.

People wonder how she can not understand that she looks threatening. Look at her milieu. She is in Course VI for heavens sake. She is also very young. Like the school official said, she is atypical in a typical MIT way.

Step back and look at your assumptions. They might be wrong.

All right, the picture of her shirt in the Boston Globe shows she was not much of a craftswoman. However. the shirt is art according to Mary Anne Staniszewski's definition of art in the book, Believing is Seeing.

Late Arrival

It is actually raining now! I am posting the current radar as proof. Earlier, we saw lightning. I opened the windows so we can enjoy the sound of rain falling on the leaves of the tree outside our bedroom window. Ooh, I just heard thunder.

It is so tough to be a weather geek in LA.

Many people were making fun of Angelenos and meteorologists today. I can explain everything. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation why so many traffic accidents occur when it rains here. It is because it rains so seldom.

Road grime is greasy. It builds up on the roads unless rain washes it away. LA is a desert. When the first rain arrives after a long dry spell, and we have a lot of long dry spells, the roads become incredibly slick. Accidents can happen even to good drivers (not that I am saying we are uniformly good drivers here). People from wetter parts of the country don't properly appreciate the difficulty of living in a desert with so much traffic and, hence, road grime and so little rain.

About the other matter. People have been making fun of meteorologists all week because it seemed like the predicted rain would never come. First, it was supposed to arrive Wednesday. Nope, Wednesday was sunny. Then it was supposed to arrive on Thursday, anther bright sunshiny day. Why can't we get the day right?

It has to do with the difficulty of predicting the behavior of a cutoff low, an area of low pressure hemmed in by surrounding higher pressure areas and removed from the jet stream. For technical reasons that I don't completely understand but my coworkers do (it involves technical terms like isobaric and hydrostatic), cutoff lows don't have any place to go. So, they tend to stagnate over areas. When they do move, their motion is highly unpredictable, depending on slight pressure differences. (They can retrograde!) It is much harder to make landfall predictions for a cutoff low than for a big old hurricane with lots of momentum.

More things my mother never taught me

I am working from home this morning, installing new required software for working at home. (I need to install Lotus Notes on 3 different systems; XP, PowerPC and Intel Mac.) As long as I am here, I am doing system maintenance.

So, I cleaned up the caches, made sure that my virus and spyware software is up to date, checked for other system and software updates, thoroughly scanned all the hard drives for nasty stuff, defragmented the hard drives, scanned for bad sectors on the drives, and made sure that the backup scripts are really running as they should. When I am done, I will also do a backup restore because I am paranoid.

This is another case of upping the ante. Our mothers didn't have to administer the household computers.

OTOH, I do have the ability to work from home when my health demands it. I also shop by computer in my jammies late at night rather than try to rush to the stores after dinner and before they close. Technology is a double edged sword.

I can't wait until Iris is a little bit older and I can foist this stuff off on her. Right now, I am a little bit peeved at all the spyware installed by Broderbund games.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Missing Guest

On the northbound drive from LAX to SFO last month, tiny pellets fell on the windshield. They appeared dark silver or gold, depending upon the peekaboo sunlight. They rolled UP the windshield. I looked up to see if farmers were spraying some kind of nasty chemicals on the fields from crop dusters. I saw nothing but a few dark clouds off to the east.

It took me a few minutes to figure out that those pellets were actually rain. It had been so long since I had actually experienced rain, that I forgot what it looked like. Additionally, I had never experienced rain in the Prius, which has a sharply raked windshield. The car is so aerodynamic, and the droplets so small, that the force of the wind actually overcame gravity and moved the raindrops UP the windshield.

Technically, it was virga, not rain; the droplets evaporated almost immediately and the road surface was dry.
Wisps or streaks of water or ice particles falling out of a cloud but evaporating before reaching the earth's surface as precipitation.
Anyway, there is much weather excitement in LA because it might actually rain here this week. I took the Prius in to the car wash yesterday to make sure that it would rain. Note, I did not wash the car. Everyone knows that driveway car washing is the largest contributor to groundwater contamination and runoff pollution into the ocean in LA, right?

  • No, it is not narcissistic to believe that I can cause rain by getting the car washed. It is merely a statement of fact. The car was washed in preparation for the trip to SFO and it worked like a charm.
  • It was news to me that driveway car washing is so detrimental to the environment. I learned it a few years ago at a groundwater workshop at UCLA's Institute of the Environment.
  • I go to a car wash where they recycle the water. In fact, the stuff coming off cars is so toxic, that the sediment in the water holding tank at the car wash has to be hauled away by a toxic waste hauler. That's right. Road grime is toxic. In addition to the organic alphabet soup of petrochemicals, they also contain lead residue and heavy metals that escape from catalytic converters.
  • Commercial car washes are required by law to recycle water and properly dispose of the sludge. The heavy metals can even by separated and recycled. It makes me feel better about my laziness environmental responsibility.
  • Numerical weather prediction (NWP) models estimate we will get 1/2 to 1" of rain out of this storm. Rob at Are you cereus? was able to show convincingly that NWP models sometimes precipitate out the moisture too fast. They estimate too much rain on the windward side of the mountains and not enough on the lee side. In at least one instance, he was able to convince people to change their model. So don't just complain about bad weather forecasts. Do something about it. Document the bias and show it to the forecasters.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Child Labor II

Oops. Speaking of Child Labor, I realized that Iris has worked as an electronics beta tester since she was 5 y.o. Read Improvising.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Paperweight

Spring 2006, nearly a year and a half ago, I bought a Bernina aurora 440 QE. Until today, it had only been used twice--both times at the dealer training classes.

In my defense, I bought it at a weird time. My doctors had discovered that something was seriously wrong, but didn't have a diagnosis yet. The possibilities being kicked around were not reassuring. They took me off work while they ran me through a series of tests that took several months. What did I do?

I went shopping.

That's all I am going to say about that. I don't feel like flashing my stash. I am a little bit embarrassed by its size.

Anyway, I had this fancy swiss-made paperweight in the sewing room. It was time to clear up the clutter and put it to use. So that I wouldn't cheat and use my old machine, I cleaned and packed it away. If I need to sew something, I will have to use the new machine.

I have nothing sewing or knitting related to show (unless you want to see stitch samples on scrap fabrics). I puttered around, practicing Seiri and Seiton around the house. I made a dent in the mountain of paper in the home office. There was a trip to IKEA. The lighting and tool layout in the sewing room is much improved. We also unloaded a large box of books and magazines at Dave's Olde Book Shop and the public library.

  • Who knew that DARPA Net would become the mother of all shopping malls?
  • I took Mark by the Bernina dealers to see if he could talk me out of it. Instead, he asked me why I didn't also buy the optional embroidery unit.
  • Today is our 17th wedding anniversary. We canceled our dinner reservations at Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills because I didn't feel up to it. Instead, we celebrated at a more modest restaurant close to home with Iris. I want to try the Omakase menu there when I am feeling stronger. Maybe, I will even sew the kind of fierce dress that would be appropriate for the setting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


This is one of my favorite photos. One night, when Mark was away on one of his many work-related trips, I finally got Iris bathed and dressed in pajamas. I wearily trudged to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Iris ran in and grabbed the step stool. I looked down. She looked up. She said, "I have to climb up high." Then she ran out of the bathroom with the stepstool.

I quickly ran out after her. She put the step stool next to the nightstand to form a staircase. She was halfway up to the top of the dresser when I came in. She quickly came down and turned around to give the, "Who, me?" look.

That's when I noticed she had put on the Groucho Marx glasses that had been in her nightstand drawer. How can you get mad when she looks like this?

Child Labor

Michelle Slatalla's article about elementary school-aged computer consultants is too, too funny.
As Henry Jenkins, a director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it in an interview: “The rate of change is so intense that the expertise you have as a 9-year-old may be obsolete by the time you’re 12 or 13. You need to keep an eye on the kindergartner who knows what you don’t.”

Then she went home, found her father struggling with the Windows emulator, and explained that to actually quit it, it was first necessary to shut down all the windows within its own virtual window.
I will not bore you with my struggles with the Windows emulator on my MacBookPro at work. Don't ask me, "Why would you want to do that?" Just get it to work like the documentation says it should work. Or change the documentation?

The Big Picture

I had a health setback this week. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to reflect on people with real problems. Imagine living in this region.

What are we doing about it here? Will we be ready if something similar happens in California? Will we even hold a statewide drill?

The LA Times ran a story about a town vulnerable to wildfire that held a fire drill. About two dozen people participated in the evacuation drill.

One of these days, I have to blog about an evacuation model that a UCSB geography professor showed at a seminar series at work. (Hey, they put me in charge of the seminar series one year so I invited people who I wanted to hear.) Rural settings and killer views come at a price.

You can generate the latest map of this region at the USGS Latest Earthquakes in the World - Past 7 days site. Click for the Australia region (or whichever you want to see). Then click to zoom in for the 10x10 degree lat/lon map.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Truth Telling

Anita Roddick died yesterday after a period of illness, much of it attributable to Hepatitis C. Even though she likely contracted it in 1971, she wasn't diagnosed until 2004. When asked about it, she said, "I live with a sharp sense of my own mortality, which makes life more vivid and immediate."

That's the silver lining of bad medical news. The blinders fall off and what really matters stands out in sharp relief.

My mind wandered to another woman known for truth telling. Patricia Limerick functions as the University of Colorado's self-styled 'campus fool'. The university did not properly appreciate her until she won the MacArthur prize in 1995. ;-)

Patty is known primarily for her insightful essays which eschew academic jargon for accessibility to the general public. She covers history, multiculturalism, geography, energy and water policy and everything in the universe as it pertains to the American West. There are links to many of her articles at the website for the highly interdisciplinary Center for the American West. There is no blog, but the news page is set up with wordpress.

In one of my superhero counterlifes, I would like to do a postdoc with her to ponder energy and environmental policy. To get a taste of her clarity, read how Patty Limerick solves America's problems of energy dependence, the obesity epidemic, workaholism and sense of grief and loss in one breathtaking swoop.

Also read Witnesses to Persecution for her insights into discrimination and violence against Chinese Americans. Here is a short sample:
"We must acknowledge that nothing has immunized us against the unhappy effect that economic disappointment works on the soul, or against the temptation to find scapegoats to hold responsible for deeper problems."
And that's all I am going to say about today's anniversary.

Monday, September 10, 2007

School yard fashions sure have changed

The LAT Image section last Sunday ran a piece called Design schooled about teen and tween fashion spending habits. It is truly horrifying. These kids wear a school uniform every day. So how do they assert their identity? With 'it' bags. Teenagers with multiple Birkin bags? Didn't Martha get sent to the big house for just one Birkin?
"Chanel is definitely my favorite designer," she says, emerging from the dressing room, unvictorious. She adds that her most prized purse is a black Yves Saint Laurent Muse bag, which sells for about $1,200. Her best friend, 14-year-old Jennifer Hourani, prefers her Chloé Paddington bag. But today, Jennifer is carrying a pristine white leather Dolce & Gabbana tote (it was shelved after Labor Day).

Designer labels make up about 15.3% of purchases by 13- to 17-year-olds, according to a recent study by New York-based marketing research firm NPD Group. Five years ago, that figure hovered at 9.6%.

No wonder teens talk waaaaay more about labels than their parents. A recent survey of more than 2,000 13- to 17-year-olds by marketing consultants Keller Fay Group found that kids have 145 conversations about brands per week. Adults invoke brand names about half as often.
I find even 70 conversations per week about brands excessive.

Has anyone read Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Back to School

She selected her outfit for the first day of school months ago. She wore turquoise socks with coral mary janes. She is a natural born Fauvist.

I did not position that man in the Cal cap. I never met him before the first day of school. Their family recently moved here from Japan.

Iris was placed in a second grade classroom along with two boys who will be doing third grade math with her. Her teacher was not able to get an aide for the three children who are ahead. So she wondered if Iris could help the boys while she was busy with the rest of the kids. I provided some math curriculum to get them started. It just takes too long for the school to order stuff. I have no idea why.

Refashioned Refashioned Skirt

Remember the Refashioned Skirt made from a thrifted pair of jeans? I wasn't happy with the way it hung so I cut the lower part off and remade it. The moderately heavyweight rayon brocade has the necessary heft to hold the yoke in place. It is a vast improvement over the lightweight challis.

The backview.

I bought the fabric intending to make a pantsuit out of it. After this project, I will be lucky to eke out a short jacket and a slim knee-length skirt out of the remainder. Good thing that slim skirts are back in fashion this fall. (Am I the only one who has fashion whiplash? It is a good thing I hung on to all those high-waisted mommy pants.)

The lightweight rayon challis from Refashioned Skirt #1 was itself refashioned this afternoon. Iris wore it on our outing to the Cotton Shop. What led us to stroll over to the Cotton Shop? Iris wanted to make pink ballet slippers for Purrfect Kitty.

She saved up 5 weeks' allowance so that she could go to Build a Bear. She had only enough to buy Purrfect Kitty and one dress. She wanted the back to school backpack set but decided she would have to come back later when she had the money. She also wanted shoes but thought they were overpriced. She asked if we could make some.

The two felt squares set us back 30 cents each plus tax. Iris embellished the slipper with "bows" drawn on with a pink felt tip marker. How I love having such a wonderful independent fabric shop so close to home!

Half of the trim section. Iris is telling me to quit taking pictures and go home already.

A small glimpse of the fashion fabric area.

Part of the home dec area.

Look, another customer also likes the aqua and chocolate brown color combination! She was ahead of me in line but let me go first because she wasn't done making her selection yet.

The view leaving the Cotton Shop.

See this piece of blue sky with the mountains behind it? Click on it to blow it up larger. On a clear day, you can see the Hollywood sign. Take a good look because this view will disappear shortly. Watt Communities is building 6000 sf of retail on the ground floor with three stories of condominiums (48 senior units) above and two levels of parking below. If you do the math, that is six stories. Note the one story surrounding buildings.

Take a look at their sketch. Just half a million dollars and you can own one of these 1-bedroom condominiums on a busy thoroughfare. Note that their website extols the virtues of Redondo Beach and it's picturesque harbor area. It doesn't mention that this corner is 2 miles from the ocean and 4 miles from the harbor in question. The developers also talked the city into zoning the lot to allow for more housing units by arguing that greater density would make the units more affordable.

See how the street drops off a cliff there? That lot backs up to condominiums, a parkette and a storm overflow catchment basin in the valley below. Those condominiums below are three stories tall, but their roofs will be level with the parking garage. The new development will be their neighbor to the south so they may never see sun again.

See the rainbow flag on the bar next to the new condos? It is the only gay bar in the South Bay. Our realtor tried to discourage us from buying in this area. He showed us homes in 'Beryl Heights', 'Alta Vista', 'Golden Hills' and 'the Hollywood Riviera'. He couldn't understand why we kept bidding in 'Felony Flats'. Historically, this is the low rent part of the Beach Cities. It is also the only place where the rents are low enough for cool businesses to thrive.

He pointed out the gay bar and how close it is to our home. Mark and I looked at each other. We had just read Richard Florida's article about The Rise of the Creative Class. His research shows that property values rise faster in neighborhoods that are gay-friendly. Why? Because the creative class prefers diverse neighborhoods. We can walk to many ethnic eateries, food shops, thrift stores and independent art and craft shops (representing 20 different nationalities). There is even an independent hardware store where where one can be waited on by a guy with an engineering degree from Caltech. But that store deserves its own post.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Home is a State of Mind

I have been thinking about the idea of home for the last week. I had such a sense of homesickness as I drove the (San Francisco) Peninsula. Although I have lived in many places, I still think of myself as a mid-Peninsula girl. As I drove between San Jose and San Francisco last week, the sense of homecoming was palpable. It wasn't because I was driving to my mother's house; she moved there after I finished college. It was the familiarity of the landscape.

The sunsets of my youth haunt me. We never even saw the sun at sunset, but no matter. The fog banks poured like molten lava through gaps in the coastal range. The setting sun lit the fog up in Technicolor hues of orange, yellow, hot pink, violet, indigo and every shade in between. The mountain backdrop appeared cloaked in a dusky blue-black, deepened by the complementary colors of the sky. I used to take evening history classes at the College of San Mateo, near the top of one such gap in the mountains. I felt like Dorothy driving into the Technicolor dream world.

One summer in the middle of high school, I took Field Biology. We spent 3 days a week in the field and two days in the lab. We explored the entire bay area that summer. I can make out the rock formations and tell you how they formed. I can't remember the names of the plants any more, but I can tell you their distinguishing characteristics and how they are adapted for their home. Over there, my fellow students, hunting for wild orchids that grow by artesian springs in the coastal range, stumbled upon an ingenious pot farm, complete with a drip irrigation system. We slowly backed away and I never did get a good look at the orchids.

Behind every exit of I-280, there is another memory. I found myself pointing out every landmark for Iris. See that monolithic rock over there, that is serpentine, the state rock. She looked up from her book and said that it looked more like a mountain than a rock.

Look, the ridge above Stevens Creek is on fire! She was not impressed. She has seen a wildfire on every SoCal-NorCal trip. This was a two alarm trip because we saw a fire on the I-5 in the central valley on our return drive.

Remember that lake? We stopped to view it after my stepmother's funeral and before we interred her ashes at the top of the ridge over there. Actually, I choked up just thinking about that and didn't point it out to Iris. Her nose buried in a book, she was blissfully unaware of the sadness of that freeway exit.

Each California Mission Bell Marker triggered more memories. They mark the route of El Camino Real, "The Royal Highway", that connects the Spanish missions between San Diego (Mark's hometown), through Los Angeles (our current home) and San Francisco (my hometown), and terminates in Sonoma. Our route crosses the "El" north of Los Angeles and follows it for a short stretch along California Highway 82.

In a land where everyone is from somewhere else, that's how you can tell a native Californian. We ask each other which mission we recreated for our 4th grade California mission unit. Every student, in public or private school, would have made one. Most would have visited at least one mission with their parents as homework. Mom and I went out to visit Mission Santa Clara. I procrastinated and then turned in a shoe box turned into a "generic" mission.

However, a non-native made me feel especially Californian. She met a Californian and followed him out here. At first, whe wondered why so many people want to live in a place so crowded and so expensive. Then they settled in, bought a house and joined a church. She raved about her parish priest. As a bridesmaid, I would get to meet him at her wedding.

As we followed her directions for getting to the wedding rehearsal, we saw some mission bell markers. Mark remarked that Mission San Jose was in the vicinity. As we got closer to the church, the realization came to us at the same time. We were headed for Mission San Jose! My friend, who hailed from the other side of the country, was getting married in not just her parish church, but one of the oldest churches in the new world. I always cry at weddings, but this one was especially poignant because of the history of the place.

Perhaps home isn't San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego. All of California is our home.

  • Iris brought 3 books along for the northbound drive which would have been exactly the right amount. However, she lost one of them and had to read one of the remaining books twice. I later found the book under the front passenger seat.
  • I drove our new (to us) Prius and only used 9 gallons of gasoline each way. The brief patches of stop and go traffic only served to increase our gas mileage.
  • What is it with Californian priests and their Birkenstocks? Mark and I have been in the wedding party for two CA weddings in which the priests (one Buddhist, one Catholic) officiated in Birkenstocks.
  • I made my bridesmaid's dress. The bride and I shopped for fabric in LA. She sent each bridesmaid (scattered across the country) some heavyweight Thai silk dupioni, china silk lining, a pattern, thread and zipper. Each of us made our own dresses or hired a seamstress.
  • Missions are like presidential libraries. If Mark and I are in the vicinity and not in a hurry, we always make a detour for a visit. It doesn't matter how we feel about the conquistadors or the individual presidents' legacies, we are history buffs.
  • I cruised the "El" once and only once with a friend from high school. I didn't see why she would want to do that every weekend. It looked as lame as American Graffiti.
  • Environmental monitoring is truly dual use. A helicopter pilot, making a routine inspection for possible wildfires, found an elaborate pot farm near Glendale, CA. Read about it here.

Waste Couture and Made in LA

Wardrobe Refashion posted a link to Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. The Environmental Health Perspectives article pulls together a great deal of information about the social and environmental cost of fashion, especially fast fashion. It is really worth reading. One of the photos accompanying the article showed a 10 year old boy using a sewing machine with the factory owner threatening him with a club. The boy works every day, 10 hours a day, for about $1/day, in order to bring relatively rich people in the west cheaper t-shirts.

Tonight, PBS will air Made in L.A. Check your local TV listings for time.
Like Lupe, Maura and María, many immigrant women around America struggle to make a better life for themselves by working in garment factories with low pay and unsafe working conditions. P.O.V. asked activists and policymakers in the fields of immigration and labor to comment on the film and on the opportunities and setbacks that immigrants encounter in America.
The same subject has been popping up in the media lately. The NYT published Love It? Check the Label, an article describing how both nativists and liberals have been searching out clothing made in the U.S.A. While I applaud the movement, I think the rationale of some of the customers profiled is shaky. Buying locally produced clothing changes the carbon imprint of the clothing very little. As Waste Couture points out, 60% of the energy used in the life cycle of a t-shirt is from laundering and drying.

[I use a clothesline and treat myself to that long-staple cotton from South America or Africa. I also help women around the world help themselves. Iris and I are very fond of the Bolivian Co-op sewn clothes sold by Dharma Trading at Fair Trade prices. It is difficult to describe their irresistible softness. They come both undyed and colored now! The only downside is that Iris is on the tall side and the clothes are better suited for petite kids.]

How 'Green' is Your T-shirt?
Goodie Bages and the Wealth of Nations

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Old News

I came across this old Boston Globe article from 2005 recently. NSF reported that, of all women who earned doctorates in science (and mathematics) between 1997-2001, more attended Berkeley as undergraduates than any other school. Jenny Harrison is quoted extensively.

All of the top 10 schools, with the exception of Cornell and Harvard, were also state flagship universities. But raw numbers do not tell the whole story. Some schools have larger undergraduate populations than others. For instance, a higher percentage of Caltech ( ~250 undergraduates per class) graduates might earn doctorates than Cal (~4-5000 undergraduates per class).

Mark wanted to know the comparable rankings for men. I recall an earlier study that showed successful scientists were most likely to have attended state flagship universities as undergrads. A few private schools such as MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Cornell, Northwestern rounded out the list but the Ivies were not hotbeds for science. (Cornell is both an Ivy and a state agricultural college.)

That said, there is something special about Berkeley. The undergraduate populations of other state flagship universities, especially the large Midwestern schools, overshadow Berkeley's. Yet Berkeley produces more people who go on to earn PhDs in science and engineering than other larger schools.

I am not a sociologist, but I think that the heavy debt loads incurred by students at the Ivies would scare students away from a career path as risky and low-paid (relative to other professions with fewer years of training) as science.

Read Cream of the Crop: The Impact of Elite Education in the Decade After College
Jenny Harrison's impact upon my career

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Astronomical News

Grandma Ann, over at Sitting Knitting, never ceases to amaze me. She has been posting gorgeous photos of the lunar eclipse and other astronomical objects. She copyrighted her images so you will have to follow the links to her blog. The images of the lunar eclipse are breathtaking.

Miracle Weight Loss!

The hotel slid a USA Today under our door yesterday. Mysteries of autoimmune diseases unravel caught our eye. There is not much new information in the article (USA Today is one of the least information-dense papers), but I found a couple of interesting points.
In the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Immunology, researchers estimate, based on a random telephone survey, that another group of immune disorders called primary immune deficiency diseases may afflict as many as one in 1,200. In these diseases, caused by an inborn genetic defect, the body can't mount an effective immune response to infection.

"We know from surveys there's a really unacceptable time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of primary immune deficiency, as high as nine years," says pediatric immunologist Jordan Orange of the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
My immunologist says that her typical primary immune deficiency patient is a mother in her early thirties. She says that immune function decreases with age in everyone and people don't notice anything is wrong until their immune response drops below a critical threshold. People are born with high or low immune function and most people with the gene defect hit the critical point in their early thirties.

When the first child goes to school or daycare the mother becomes continuously ill. In our society, we accept that mothers will be ill for the first year that their child enters school or daycare. Fathers are also more ill during this period, but less so because they get more sleep than mothers. Also, mothers tend to be primary caretakers of sick children and thus, more susceptible to picking up diseases from their children. Because of human variability, medical practitioners are not alarmed until after the mother has been ill for two years continuously.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that the sufferers don't look ill. Most signs of illness are actually signs of immune response. Take away the immune response and the world sees a whiny malingerer. (I fired one internist after she told me to go home, she had actual sick people she needs to attend to in her waiting room.)
Immune system disorders often cluster in families and within an individual, says Virginia Ladd, president of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. "Once you have one, you have others. Some patients say if you live long enough, you can collect them."
We live in a crazy society when, at my sickest, people kept telling me how great I looked. I was so thin! What kind of diet was I on?

The trip home

I am never sure whether the drive from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) or the reverse trip from SFO to LAX is the homeward direction. I am sure that I am lucky to live in either place.

Sailing with my sister, Ann, and her friends on her boat, Matsu.
The view from Grandview Park is indeed, grand.
Moon rise over downtown San Francisco. Can you make out the Transamerica Pyramid?
Another view from the place more people on earth say they want to visit than any other. I never tire of the place.
Iris and her cousin, Waldo the wonder dog, in Ann's backyard.

Thai Silks in Los Gatos (NorCal) gives Oriental Silk Co. in Los Angeles (SoCal) a run for its money. I love them both. I spent so long trying to make up my mind, Ann had time to shop at Uncommon Threads across the street and Iris read an entire book. Ann and I also shopped Artfibers in SF, but I was too overcome by the fibery goodness to remember to whip out the camera.

Much book shopping occurred, at Village Stationers (in Palo Alto), the Great Overland Book Company and especially at Black Oak Books (the SF location). These came home with us. (A few left home with us for on the road reading.)

Iris' haul.
My haul. Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman is a gem. If you see it in a bookstore, buy it.
Mark's haul.