Monday, March 31, 2008

Vortex Streets

I found this moth-eaten cashmere sweater at Goodwill (a thrift store). It was too nice to trash so I decided to refashion it with an asymmetric scarf collar a la Norah's Cabled Cardigan from the Fall 2006 Issue of Vogue Knitting.  Some may recognize the cabled panel as the center panel for the Vortex Street Pullover in Norah Gaughan's book, Knitting Nature.

I plan to cut off the ribbed portions and hem up the bottom and sleeves. Of course, a portion of the center front and the V-neck ribbing will be trimmed away, but I may need to add some clear elastic to stabilize the back neck.

A little bit of darning will be required. I don't have the right color wool and may tea-dye the ecru wools auditioning in the above photograph.

While I was at it, I darned the 20 year old fuchsia wool sweater below, in holey state. I didn't have any wool the right color, so I took one ply of Encore (100% acrylic, sacrilege!) and darned away. You can't tell from a galloping horse.

I became melancholy while repairing this sweater because my stepmother bought it for me when I was in college. She used to moonlight as a bookkeeper for several Benetton stores. When stuff I might like was about to be marked down, she would sometimes set it aside and buy it with her employee discount.

It was supposed to be a one day a week job, which it was initially. Math and bookkeeping was not the store owner's forte and he had given her the books in quite a state. After she straightened out the mess she inherited, it took her only 3 hours a month to maintain the books. When the owner found out, he wasn't miffed at all. He told her that she was saving him more than one day a week so she could keep the same pay and leave whenever she was done.

The part that makes me cry is that she was an artist that worked as a bookkeeper. She would get back to her painting "someday", in retirement. Her someday never came. She died of complications of cancer when she was 60.

Aside about Vortex Streets

One of the things I love about my job is walking into lab in the morning to see that morning's satellite overpass. In Los Angeles, the most recent overpass often flew over Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Baja California. When the cloud deck and wind speed and direction are just right, we see a double von Karman vortex street on the lee side of Guadalupe Island.

This image of a vortex street near Guadalupe island (as does the next two after it) comes courtesy of Earth Science World Image Bank. Go visit their site for more images of Vortex Streets.

Vortex streets form near the Canary islands off the coast of Africa.

And near the Kuril islands.

NASA's visible earth site also has vortex street imagery.

Don't miss the CIMSS Satellite Blog's entry about vortex streets near Guadalupe island. Follow this link and watch the GOES imagery vortex street video! on von Karman Vortex Streets

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beware of the off-ramp

WaPost published After a Baby, Full Time or Part? It is subtitled, When Family and Career Collide, Working Mothers Struggle With Their Answers. Fathers, presumably, experience no such conflict.

I say, beware of the off-ramp. How do you know you will find an on-ramp when you are ready? In science, there is no on-ramp. Well, NSF (National Science Foundation) ran a one-time call for proposals for women who experienced career hardship due to family obligations. 7 years ago. I haven't seen anything else since. Until I see on-going programs with all the science funding agencies, until I see national labs allowing part-timers to act as P-Is (principal investigators) of projects, I would warn women to steer clear of the off-ramps. Don't even mention conflicted feelings about leaving your child.

Doubtful Sound Trip Pix

Cloud over at Wandering Scientist says that the thing she misses the most about pre-Pumpkin days is the annual international trip she and her hubby usually took. Iris was born in November 2000. In October 2003, we spent 3 weeks in Australia. In October 2005, we spent 3 weeks in France and Italy. In December 2007-January 2008, we spent 3 weeks in New Zealand. Do you notice a pattern?

She laments that it is difficult to save up vacation days when they are also used for taking care of ill children. That is very true, but we found that it is possible to take a no pay (unpaid leave) day here and there to take care of ill children or for a long weekend trip. At my workplace, 10 days (2 weeks!) of no pay a year are allowed without a hassle. If you document that you are taking care of a sick family member, they will often allow even more days of no pay. (I just love the family leave act and California labor law.) Add that to the 3-4 weeks of paid vacation, and it is possible for us to go on a long trip every other year.

Check with your HR department and your manager for the rules in your workplace. I am fortunate to have a manager that understands my urgency to travel. In our discussion of my diagnosis and the minor accommodations that I need to continue working, he was smart enough to realize that I can't take it for granted that I will be able to travel "someday" (in retirement). Truthfully, none of us should take it for granted that we will live till "someday".

That takes care of time. As for money, we lived on graduate student and postdoc salaries for so long, we really spend very little money outside of housing, childcare and medical expenses. (And my medical expenses have gone down dramatically in recent years. Yay!)

I always wanted to kayak in a fjord and Mark always wanted to visit New Zealand. Here we are, cruising in Doubtful Sound, in New Zealand's Fjordland.

We took an overnight cruise with Real Journeys that involved taking a catamaran across a lake, then a bus ride to the port where we embarked on the cruise ship.

Right after we were shown to our rooms and given an orientation aboard the ship, they got out the kayaks. There were 30 kayaks and about 100 passengers on board. 28 of them were with the Tandems East tour. Competition for the kayaks was fierce and we weren't fast enough to make the first group. They kayaked into the sound during slack tide, with the wind at their backs.

After about an hour, the first kayakers returned to the ship and the second group set out in the reverse direction. (The ship stayed behind the kayakers, like a sag wagon.) They tied Iris' kayak to the back of Mark's. They looked so adorable, in their matching yellow kayaks--a baby duck swimming after her father. I went separately in a red kayak. I didn't have my camera handy (not waterproof) so here's a picture from the Tandems East website.

After kayaking and a hot shower, we went back up on the observation deck to see the seals at the mouth of Doubtful Sound.

The water got really choppy here. I wonder if this qualifies as a cataract?

Sailing back into the sound, the captain unfurled the three sails.

After dinner, a powerboat boat came up and docked at the rear of our ship. The cook traded a few slices of leftover cheesecake with a fisherman for a large crayfish, caught in one of the pots dotting the sound. (The cook says lobsters and crayfish differ in the size of their claws. Doubtful Sound has only crayfish.)

I was glad we splurged for the overnight cruise. We were the only boat that spent the night on the sound. Sunset was amazingly peaceful.

As was the sunrise.

Another waterfall. Ho-hum. We lost count of how many we saw. Notice that the water is so fresh, that the vegetation grows right down to the water line. Most of the world's fjords contain brackish water with a dead zone above the water line due to the salt.

Then it was time for brunch and the crayfish and the reverse bus and catamaran ride back to Te Anau.

I previously posted Multimedia of Milford Sound, including the tour bus that caught fire and exploded.

When I Phinally Phinished my thesis, we took a 3.5 week trip to Argentina and Chile with short excursions into Uraguay, Paraguay and Brazil. 1997 was a strong El Nino year with the rainfall to prove it. ;-) We spent 3 days in Puerto Varas and never caught a glimpse of Osorno volcano. Don't miss Yarn Crawl's pictures of Osorno. Actually, read the whole vacation series. It sounds like they had a great trip.

Despite its name, Doubtful Sound is a fjord, not a sound.

Iris is so devilishly clever. While Mark paddled furiously, she sat back and enjoyed the scenery. When he asked her if she was paddling, she would splash a few strokes and report in the affirmative. He asked her if it was tiring. She replied that it was sooo exhausting. I was so amused, I kept her secret until now.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Say it ain't so

The University of California is facing huge shortfalls of money (and goodwill). So what did the regents of the University of California do? They hired a new president, and will pay him twice as much as the outgoing one.

Big sigh.

This is so wrong.

He is going to ask the faculty and staff for huge sacrifices. He is going to ask the students to pay ~10% more fees. How is he going to have the political capital to ask others to sacrifice, when he is pulling in on order of $800,000/year in salary and deferred compensation (pension)?

How is he going to get any money out of me (or any alumni) with a salary like that?

The UC search committee argue that this is only a 12% pay raise for him and that the UC system is larger than the UT system. But UT is partly funded by oil revenues. A friend who interviewed for a position there was shown the actual oil wells (which the above link says were decommissioned in 1990). But I digress.

Executive compensation is a hot button issue for me. The whole rationale is suspect.

One argument, which is made in this case, is that you have to pay top dollar in the competition for talent. So you take a survey of comparative pay and then you give the new hire above the going rate because he is better than average. Why else would you hire him, right?

But the people who determine the compensation tend to be in the same type of positions as the people they are hiring. So they will be on the receiving end of the largess some day. Your above average pay day will arrive shortly if you play the game right.

The second argument is that he will not be the highest paid UC employee. He will be out earned by several athletic coaches. Grrr. Is the UC a university or a farm team for pro sports? Enough said.

He will also be out earned by several medical school professors with clinical practices on the side. Compensation of medical providers is another hot button issue for me so let's not go there lest my blood pressure go even higher.

The UC system has historically been been led by a scientist or engineer who has risen from within the ranks. Yudof will be the first lawyer to head up the UC. Oh, that explains why he is worth so much more than the previous presidents. (Read the "aside" below.)

And let's not discuss why investment bankers need to be paid bigger bonuses in a bad year to keep them from jumping jobs. Or why hedge fund managers should enjoy an effective tax rate 1/3 of mine while earning 1000 times my salary because they are providing such a valuable service to society.

Let's Whip Inflation Now--starting with executive compensation.

Hopefully, the shortage of US citizens with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills will result in an increase in my salary. Maybe I will make 1/900 as much as a hedge fund manager some day.

LAT story on his hiring
Contra Costa Times story
NYT on Executive compensation and backscratching
Internet Resource Guide for Executive Compensation (UCB's COHRE)

A friend (and fellow mother) and I compared hours worked and salaries. In the last year she worked (she is one of those opt-out mothers that Linda Hirshman rails against), she earned more than ten times my full-time equivalent salary while working nearly twice as many hours as I do. I work 36 hours a week or 90% time. You do the math.

She earned a BS in science before going to law school. She paid her dues as an associate in a major law firm. We figure, that's equivalent to earning a PhD in science and doing a postdoc. She figures she is as smart as her scientist friends who stayed on the science track. Yet the paydays are so different. She will be the first one to admit that her work, helping rich people sue each other, is not as beneficial to society as science research (even mediocre science research which she figures does no harm, unlike the legal profession). Is it any wonder that an intelligent and thoughtful person would save up her enormous salary and quit at the first opportunity?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mommy Research

My favorite type of thesis-writing (avoidance) procrastination is to read another book. Apparently, I am not unique. Wandering Scientist admits to reading many parenting books in her post, Reading Ahead.

When I was on bedrest (week 14 to week 37!), I read stacks of them. When Iris didn't follow the scripts, I referred back to those books. Either the books are all wrong, or Iris is all wrong. Like I wrote earlier, Iris did not read any of the parenting books and had no idea how she should behave.

[Sure, lots of books claim their system trains any baby to eat/sleep/potty train/clean up. Let them come over to my house.]

Recently, a trusted friend recommended the child development books by the Gesell Institute of Human Development, written by Louise Bates Ames et al. My friend said that, at every age, the books gave her insight into the development of her children. But, which one should I read? Iris has been diagnosed as highly asynchronous in her development; she is chronologically 7, but she exhibits behaviors from terrible twos on up to adulthood.

I went to the library and checked out everything they had between 5 and 9 inclusive. The have such cute titles:
I read a couple of them, but they got repetitive. In fact, they resemble Tarot cards. I could read anything into them I wanted. I skimmed through the rest. They can be reassuring, though.

The basic premise is that cognitive development, like physical development, goes through growth spurts. Children behave badly in inconvenient ways when their cognitive growth is most rapid. They can't help it. They are adjusting the best that they can. Once they adjust, they will behave like semi-reasonable human beings again. Unlike physical growth spurts, the results are not visible. You have to watch for subtle cues.

On an airplane, I met a mother that was reading Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. (I started a conversation with her when I turned around to ask her to tell her child not to kick my kidneys repeatedly. It was going to be a long flight and I need my kidneys.) I also checked that out from the library and read it.

What a relief to read about children more spirited than my own! The book has many good tips for how to avoid meltdowns. We had already stumbled upon many of them through trial and error. I highly recommend reading that book, whether you have a spirited child or not. Chances are, you will encounter spirited children in your child's classroom and this will help you relate.

I also found some comfort in Counseling the Gifted and Talented , edited by Linda Kreger Silverman, particularly chapter 7, Counseling Families.
Most parents are not joyously enthusiastic to learn that they have a gifted child. When I share test results with parents of exceptionally gifted children, the tissue box is always close by. For some, it is as big a shock as being told that their child is developmentally disabled. They mourn the loss of their fantasy of having a "normal" child whose needs will be easily taken care of within the regular classroom. Any exceptionality places a heavy burden of responsibility on the parent, but parents of other exceptional children have societal support and sympathy, whereas parent of the gifted have neither.
The first time I read that passage, my mind changed the wording to, "They mourn for the loss of the 'normal' childhood they hoped to give their children." It took me several months to work through that grief.

The best piece of parenting advice I ever read came out of a knitting book. (I wish I could recall which one.) The author counseled placing a stitch marker every 20 stitches or so while casting on. Why? Because, when a child calls for your attention, you should never make them wait more than 20 seconds before giving them your undivided attention. It is appropriate to tell them, "Hold on until I finish this repeat. Then I will attend to you." (There are exceptions like they are bleeding to death or the house is burning down.)

There you have it. Parenting in a nutshell (and from an unlikely source!). Children learn that attention will be paid, but they might have to wait a few seconds for it. In other words, you should put on your oxygen mask before helping your children with theirs.

This precludes me from knitting any lace with repeats greater than 20 stitches for a few more years.

Topography and Rainfall Bands

This week, I took a bit of time each day to clean up my desk at work. The stack of unread issues of Eos, Physics Today and BAMS (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society) was about to topple over.

BAMS wrote a short piece about Corene Matya's research, combining meteorology and geography. Science Daily has a good synopsis here. She showed that the most intense rain bands (aka rain shields) of hurricanes after landfall coincided with the underlying topography. She combined GIS information about terrain elevation with radar measurements of rain shields and discriminant analysis methodology.
With hurricanes crossing Texas hill country, the rain shields tend to line up parallel to the main axis of the hills, running west to east. Storms near the Appalachians also line up parallel to the mountains, whose axis runs southwest to northeast, with the heaviest rain consistently occurring to the west of the track.
West of the Appalachians is the leeward side. This agrees with Rob's simulations and my rain gauge observations in February 2008 Rainfall II. Although we aren't talking about hurricanes here in LA, we do have a similar situation when the Pacific storms' airmasses encounter colder and dryer continental air as they cross the coastal hills and mountains.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A few more pictures of the inn

I have wanted to stay at this inn for some time, but vacancies during springtime are so rare. Some of the families we met booked in October or November! Because we booked only a month in advance, we were able to get this cabin only for one night.

The room description said that it was possible to lie in bed and view the stars. Unfortunately, the moon and the twenty-nine palms city lights were much brighter than the stars. Nevertheless, gazing at the moonlit Pinto Mountains while lying in bed was magical.

Iris loved her own private loft.

Look at her view!

The springs at the Oasis of Mara fed a little lake. Imagine sleeping in the houseboat!

The second night, there was a last minute cancellation and they put us in the Bottle Room.

Can you guess how it got its name? Iris wanted a night light so we left the bathroom light on so it could shimmer through the wall.

I miss the claw foot soaking tub at the Victorian flat we called home in Boulder.

The artificial lake aka pool. In warmer and less windy times, inn life revolves around the pool.

Water attracts birds. This is the only one that posed for a picture, though. Does anyone know what type of bird this is? View the inn's bird checklist.

In such a remote locale, the inn has always grown a large amount of the food served at the restaurant. We ate the yummiest mixed greens, picked just before dinner.

Just as birdwatchers look for elusive and rare birds, I hunt for the desert five-spot. I managed to find exactly one on my last three spring flower trips to the desert. A ranger at Death Valley said that I must be extremely lucky; some people come back for twenty years and never find one. My trick was to skip the drought year so as not to break my streak.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Desert Monster

New Monster sighted at Joshua Tree National Park last weekend!

We caught her by dangling a geology book as bait.

She's rocking the Mod Squad meets Out of Africa fashion statement.

Too bad the Vogue photo crew staying at our inn didn't see her.

It took great restraint for me not to tear open those cases full of clothes from the photoshoot to study them up close.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maternal Care or Harm?

The LA Times story ran a disturbing article about the Udvardi family, Maternal care--or harm? Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with doctors who were unable to recognize rare genetic conditions and diagnosed mental illness instead. In this case, they accused Leslie Udvardi of "Munchausen syndrome by proxy, fabricating or inducing illnesses in her own children."

It is a harrowing story. Child protective services took her away from her children. Even though all four of her children were eventually diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic condition that caused all the seemingly random and unrelated symptoms for which she sought help, the whiff of guilt still hangs over her.
No one even told them when the criminal investigation was dropped. And no apology came from the doctors and social workers, Leslie said.

The only acknowledgment from the hospital came from its attorney, in response to a packet of documents Leslie sent as part of a written complaint. At the end of a three-page letter defending the hospital on every point in dense legal prose, E. Nathan Schilt wrote: "I am deeply sorry for the ordeal you and your family have undergone."
Why would a mother do the things she was accused of?

The childrens' school nurse told detectives that she suspected the mother of four and former high school math teacher of trying "to get attention and to be able to continue to stay home and not work."

Since when is taking care of 4 seriously ill children not work?

I have been home the past two days taking care of Iris while she recovers from a cold. Mark is on travel so I have to handle it alone. It is way harder than my market (paid) job. I am exhausted. In fact, I worry that I have caught it also.

In some ways, she was easier to handle earlier in her illness. She read the entire A Series of Unfortunate Events, all 13 volumes. I actually got work done yesterday.

Now that she is on the mend, she is bouncing off the walls. She is so creatively destructive. See the kilt pin in her hand (that I use to close shawls and sweaters)? Note also the uncapped and nearly empty bottle of jojoba oil in the background. The significance dawned on me later.

She found the pin while rummaging through my jewelry tray. What a big pin! How sharp! Let's look for something big and plump to deflate.

Did she go for the cheap Costco knockoff? No. She had to go for the biggest and most expensive exercise ball.

The remains of the (physical therapist recommended) Swiss Ball.

The bottle of jojoba oil? She slathered it all over herself and then rubbed herself all over the furniture and rolled across the carpets.

Serenity now. Think about how nice the bathroom looked in The Bubble Bath post. Look at the ranunculus that popped up in the backyard.

Mark gets home tomorrow. Let's hope I don't pull a Medea before then.

In another motherhood gets no respect rant, read this profile of Mike Rowe, host of the TV show, "Dirty Jobs".
It's a dirty job, but Mike Rowe wants to do it.

Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" show, tags along with workers in the grittiest of trades, from sewer inspector to lobsterman, trying them out on camera. In an age when for many, "labor" means staring at a computer in a cubicle, Rowe's job is to spotlight work that is grueling, often dangerous and always dirty.

The onetime wannabe actor has showcased more than 160 people who work with their hands and become one of Discovery's biggest stars. Rowe sees himself as an advocate for a kind of job and class of worker that usually elicit more disgust than respect.
I just want to know when he is going to shadow a mother.

Read my out of office message.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Another Shibori knitting experiment

I cast on for this scarf during the Virgina trip. (You can get an amazing amount done on a transcontinental flight.) I used a different color of the sport-weight wool I used in the first Shibori knitting experiment and size 8 needles. Here it is all sewn up with periwinkle acrylic yarn; I made 16 alternating pleats.

Taking out the stitches took as long as the stitching.

Our mommy and me dress dummies modeling the scarf and the Butt Skirts.

Iris' dummy can be adjusted with knobs as she grows. Right now, it is set at the smallest setting and is still slightly larger than her measurements.

The Uniquely You cloth cover needs to be fitted to my measurements and zipped over the form. There is a lotta foam there.
How will I ever get that cover zipped? How many people does that maneuver require?

Real-time Sewing

This will probably never happen again. But I bought the March 2008 edition of Burda World of Fashion on 8 March and sewed up one of the designs on 9 March.

This top (#133) looked easy enough for Iris and I to tackle together.

Unfortunately, after selecting fabric, she lost interest; I made it on my own. I had to bribe her with a soda just to get her to model it.

I made a size 116 cm and lengthened the back by 1", tapering it gently to match the front at the side seams. She says it looks a bit babyish. She hopes the other kids will be too busy looking at the dragons to notice.

I learned I was pregnant in late January 2000. The year of the dragon commenced in February 2000. A year of the dragon baby! I was over the moon. I headed over to the Cotton Shop to stock up on dragon fabric. (Independent fabric stores know their market. They stock up before the lunar new year with fabric for the zodiac sign.) Even though I didn't know yet that Iris would be a girl, I went out on a limb and bought the pink. Actually, I bought the whole rainbow because it would be 12 years before the selection was that good again.

For straight stitching, I really prefer my old Janome/New Home to the new Bernina. There is no substitute for the 5 (count 'em) feed dogs on my Janome. OTOH, the Bernina knee lever presser foot lift is handy. The Janome has more intuitive and ergonomic buttons and an easier to find on/off switch. The Bernina has the stitch regulator...

Now I know why people have multiple machines. If money, space and consumer guilt were not an issue, I would also have a Pfaff with the integrated walking foot.


Kathleen had a few hours to kill before catching a flight at LAX and I offered to help her kill them. At first, I thought a walk and brunch at the beach would be nice. Uncle Bill's Pancake House is a good, unpretentious place with views of the ocean. We made plans and she put out a call on her blog that any of her friends in the area were welcome to join us. I forgot that she has a HUGE fan base and UBPH is not a good place to take a large crowd on a weekend.

I picked her up at her hotel, which is conveniently across the street from the European bakery/deli where I buy Burda WOF and Mark buys his German groceries. It was only that morning, as I was leaving my home (with Mark's shopping list) to go pick her up, that I realized that she would probably want to visit Sanseido, the Japanese bookstore where I bought my copies of Pattern Magic and Pattern Magic 2.

Silly me. Southbound traffic on the 405 cost me some time. Then, hoards of people descended upon the deli just as I got there. The wait for the loaves of rye and salami was interminable. I had to fight jostle past two older German ladies for the last loaf of farmer's rye. Then rubberneckers created another traffic jam on the trip northbound on the 405, making a pre-brunch visit to the bookstore impossible.

Brunch, and waiting for the only table in the place large enough to accommodate us, cost us more valuable time. Afterwards, the group reconvened at the sewing books section of Sanseido. We should have changed our plans and just eaten at the excellent food court in Mitsuwa marketplace.

Here's Kathleen and Birgitte, before we cleaned out the bookstore.

Actually, I was rather embarrassed and disappointed. I had talked up their selection, but they had only half as many pattern books in stock as the last time I visited back in November. I wanted to buy the patten book of fashions inspired by classic movies. (They even recreated shots from the movies!) Alas, I didn't find it. However, I couldn't resist this book.

I know that my sister and I have a gift moratorium, but she NEEDS this book. I mean, she loves fleece. She loves her dog. This book was written for her. They also have directions for making fleece dogs without dog hair. Their needle-felting cushion is shaped like a bone. Gotta love that.

Does this not look like Iris' cousin, Waldo?

After Kathleen left for the airport with her ride, Birgitte and I headed back into the store to special order copies of Pattern Magic 1 and 2 for her. When she heard that I bought Iris Hello Kitty jello molds at Mitsuwa, she had to get some for her six year old daughter. We struck out again. I couldn't find them either.

At least we found the table of bargain-priced past issues of Japanese fashion magazines.