Thursday, July 31, 2008

When you are bankrupt of ideas, insult the customer

The Thoughtful Dresser has been on the lookout for attractive mid-heel shoes. She has not found any.
Read It's true. Shoe designers hate us.

Or read the article she refers to, Linda Armstrong's
Is it time to knock down skyscraper heels?
“So,” I asked the head of the shoe design studio at Louis Vuitton in Paris recently, “when are you going to do a shoe for you know, wearing?” The slightly wounded reply was that if they had money for every time someone made a smart-aleck comment like that, they would be very rich indeed, but that actually, there were no plans to introduce lower heels in the foreseeable future.

It's pretty much the same story at other fashion shoes houses - officially, at least. “Our customer is a fashion customer” one PR said, implying that anyone not prepared to stagger through her day in 105mm has obviously given up the fight to look good. Another told me that their 35mm to 55mm heels were doing very nicely - with the “older” customer.

Great. Wanting a shoe you can walk in now categorises you as a geriatric. In some of the more fashionable stores, you actually have to ask to see a mid-height heel - they're not on display.
Coincidentally, did you see Bill Cunningham's audio slide show on Sunday about the wholly impractical shoes of summer? The Appeal of the Heel Notice how many of the women on the street, beside the women in ultra high heels, are wearing flip flops. Ugh. Can the shoe designers give us nothing in between?

I have arthritis. I can't even wear mid-heels much less high heels. I cannot wear flip flops to work. I like fashion. I earn a professional income and am willing to pay for quality. Rather than cater to me, the designers would rather insult me by calling me geriatric?

From the archives:
What is Wrong With This Picture?

Not so free range kids

Judith Warner has really hit her stride as a blogger at Domestic Disturbances.

Read her essay about how affluent parents teach their kids that rules are for the little people, Camp Codependence. I wonder if that is how they also pass on the philosophy that "taxes are for the little people"?

It reminds me of Oona's piece about the code "Never Complain, Never Explain" or Death of the gentleman's code.

It also reminds me of the time I sent home a student from Freshman Chemistry Lab for coming to class, late and stoned. He always ran a bit late. That day, he came in after the rest of the class had already measured out their ether and set up their Bunsen burners. He proceeded to rush through setup, spilling ether all over the bench. I rushed over to help him clean it up before it caught fire in a neighbors' Bunsen burner.

That's when I noticed the size of his pupils. I didn't go to Berkeley for nothing. I knew why his pupils were so huge and his hands were so unsteady; I wanted his dangerous ass out of my lab. I told him that he needed to put his stuff away and come back during a makeup session.

The next day, the laboratory coordinator called me in for a dressing down. His mother had called her to complain about my conduct. When I told the coordinator my reason, she said that I must have been mistaken. His mother was an educator and said that her son doesn't do drugs.

If I had been savvier, I would have marched him immediately down to another lab (or the laboratory coordinator's office) to corroborate my observation. It never occurred to me that my judgment would be questioned when he was so obviously stoned. This is another reason why I never wanted to go into teaching.

The NYT article:
Dear Parents: Please Relax, It’s Just Camp

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

She's too clever II

We had major IT troubles at home this week. It took a fair amount of wrangling and we are still not fully in business at home. While I was doing the basic stuff like disk cleanup, backing up the disks, updating virus and spyware definitions and scanning the disks, I had a great idea.

Why not use child labor?

Iris is always looking for ways to earn extra money. Why not train her to do simple IT tasks?

I couldn't convince her.

"You know how you are always looking for ways to earn money? Babysitting only pays $8-10 per hour. But you could earn $25, maybe $30 per hour doing computer maintenance. I will teach you how. Both Mac and PC. I will even teach you UNIX Sys Admin. You are so lucky you have a mommy who can teach you all these things."

"No, thanks!" and she went back to her book.

"What do you mean, 'No, thanks'? You are always trying to earn money, and I am willing to teach you valuable skills for free."

"It looks boring."

A budding Megan McArdle.

From the archives:
She's too clever
Child Labor
Child Labor II


Urban infill and higher density sound like a good idea until you live the dream. Grr.

Remember my bad neighbors who moved away? Another bad neighbor just moved into the apartment next door. (You can see their unit, 10 feet away from my townhouse, in the photograph at bad neighbors.)

When we moved in, the apartments next door were reasonable enough that families with kids could afford to live in the larger units and singles lived in the smaller units without roommates. Now that rents have more than doubled, 3-4 singles pile into each apartment, each bringing their own car, or even 2 cars apiece. (One single owns 3 cars, but then another family in a 2 bedroom unit owns 7 cars.) Anyway, this is not a post about parking.

This is about neighborliness.

I was not happy to come home from the Lair to find glass bottles and beer cans in our side yard. Who throws bottles and cans over a six foot fence? I was so mad, I called the police and a guy came from next door to apologize.

Then lit cigarette butts started coming over the fence. What's up with that? Our clothesline is on the other side of that fence. He wants to set our laundry on fire now, too?

The past couple of weeks, it has been unbearable. Their patio is 5 feet to the west of our home. We don't have air conditioning. In the summer, we open our windows to catch the ocean breeze (natural a/c). The guy smokes outside. But does he smoke to the west of his apartment? Noooo. That would cause the smoke to blow into his own apartment. That's why he smokes downwind of his apartment. Upwind from mine.

Whenever we get a lungful, we have to scramble and close all the windows quickly. It's like a fire drill. One of us runs upstairs to get all the upstairs windows while the other one shuts the downstairs ones. It is especially hard when only one of us is at home.

Monday, I was working at the potting bench in the side yard when he lit up. I yelled over the fence if he would mind smoking on the other side of his house so it doesn't blow into ours. He didn't say a word and just finished his cigarette. It it interesting to note that, when he smokes in his patio, he closes his patio door. Maybe I should have tried to ask him to give us fair warning so we can also have a chance to close our doors and windows?

Today, I was so mad, I went over there and spoke to his roommate, the one who apologized for the party that got out of hand. The roommate said that the smoker is a new roommate that just moved here from Europe. OH. NO.

I asked if he would be living here short-term. No such luck. He will be living and smoking here for a very long time. NO! NO! NO!

The backstory:
I have severe asthma and lymphocytes that are very sensitive to Volatile Organic Compounds. Cigarette smoke is full of VOCs.

[I am just one of the lucky ones that inherited this "canary in a gold mine" genetic ability to be sickened by VOCs at much lower concentrations than the general public. My immunologist says this genetic trait is very beneficial for the population as a whole, but I say it sucks to be the canary.]

We bought this townhouse because we were smoked out of a condo by a chain smoking next door neighbor. When we looked at the place and signed the lease, she was at the hospital, recovering from a stroke. She came home, and started puffing away immediately. We tried sealing the place up with tricks like tape over the electrical outlets on our adjoining walls. But, we just couldn't keep our windows closed during the summer. It was too hot. And she liked to smoke on her balcony during the summer.

Before that, we were smoked out of an affordable ocean view apartment by a cigar smoker. (Notice a pattern?) He would go out on his balcony, close his window so that the smoke doesn't blow into his apartment, and smoke a cigar while gazing at the ocean. That sounds lovely, only he didn't warn anyone else in the complex. Everyone has their windows open for the ocean breeze and sounds. Of course, we had no warning and our apartments filled with cigar smoke as the ocean breeze blew the smoke right into the open windows.

Grr. I can't afford to move again. Now, how do I retrain this bad neighbor?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

I took the tandem in for a tuneup and learned they have a long wait list of bikes that also require attention. I am glad that so many people are using bicycles for transportation AND fun. Recently, newspapers are full of stories of people bicycling instead of driving. I will provide just a few links.

For the Hard Core, Two Wheels Beat Four
What a good idea! A meet-up place for long-distance bicycle commuters. It is kind of an informal carpool without cars.

About the Mandeville Canyon "war" between bicyclists and motorists.
Conflict rides a narrow road
Cyclists and motorists -- maybe we can get along
See the video of good cooperative behavior between bicyclists and motorists starring our bike club acting president, Dan Gutierrez.

Aside about Bicycle Commuting in the South Bay:
If you would like to get started bicycle commuting in the South Bay, you are welcome to contact our bicycle commuting club for route information, tips and a personal "bike buddy". It can be intimidating to bicycle commute for the first few times. We will ride with you and show you the ins and outs.

"Speaking" of ins and outs, there is also much local information that isn't written down anywhere. It's not a conspiracy. Some of the area employers are in a legal bind. Their transportation coordinators want to encourage more employees to ride. Their health care administrators also want employees to be more active. But, for legal reasons, they do not wish to publish maps that show bicycle routes cutting through their private property.

Contact your employer's transportation coordinator for info about your area. Ours showed a map put together cooperatively between several major area employers with dotted lines showing possible paths through parking lots and private roads. Some employers are cooperative, some are VERY unfriendly. Hint, the movie studios are patrolled by VERY unfriendly guards. Do not attempt to ride through either the movie studios or the military base.

Ride safely and predictably, obeying all traffic laws. Be courteous. Behave like you know what your are doing and where you are going. Keep your photo badge handy to flash at security guards if they ask for one. I've never been asked for one, but others have. It doesn't matter if you don't work for that particular company, it is enough to show that you are going to work nearby and aren't a threat to public safety. (That's why it is important to obey traffic laws, whether you are a motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian.)

From the archives:
Word Watch Ped X-ing
Nobody walks in LA

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Carless Sunday

We rode the "family bike" 30 miles round trip (the pedometer above misses some of the zigs and zags of our actual route) to bring Iris to a playdate in Venice on Sunday. It took 75 minutes each way, which is competitive with weekday driving time--especially because Iris required a pit stop each way.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Judging by the number of smiles, comments and thumbs up we received, others enjoyed watching us ride. We really need to do this more often. We saw the ocean, supertankers, jets taking off, birds, hang gliders, the Goodyear blimp, sailors, kayakers, skaters, runners and other bicyclists. The kids (and adults) had a good time at the playdate and we ate some fantastic Thai takeout.

We look like a rolling billboard for Pearl Izumi. (We have no affiliation with them, but we love their products.) I could ride two hours in cheaper six-panel shorts, but I will never ride longer than that in anything less than the eight-panel UltraSensor shorts. Some things are just not worth skimping on, especially in the groin.

Iris wore this pink jersey and tie-dyed Dharma Trading bike shorts padded with generic maxipads. (It's very important to get the generic house-label ones because the name brand ones are too thin.) She says the padding really works. If she really gets into cycling, I will buy her kids' size Ultrasensor shorts, too.

Have you read Kathleen's classic post debunking the myth of vanity sizing? She is right. A medium should be the median of the target customer. I am a Pearl Izumi large because I am quite wide compared to most serious cyclists. Yet, I am a Lands' End and Eileen Fisher small; I am thinner than their median customer. Samples should be made in medium, and then graded up or down as needed. Different demographics have different medians.

Kathleen, if you are reading this, spread this to your DEs. Once a year (in winter), Pearl Izumi sold shorts at a discount through a contact in a local bike club. We ordered and paid in advance. Bike clothes are sold through stores mainly during the summer. Why not keep your production people busy year-round by selling to loyal repeat customers at a discount? Expenses and risks are kept low because the clothes are made only to order, and pre-paid to boot.

Work Travel

I woke up early and drove to San Diego Supercomputer Center for a meeting today. A coworker spent the previous night at our house so we could carpool. Not having to arrange a meet-up place meant we could both get an extra 20-30 minutes of sleep and I didn't have to scramble for an early morning babysitter.

SDSC has geek glamour. My life is incredibly glamorous in a geeky way if you consider that, less than a week ago, I visited the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon for a meeting with the winner of the DARPA Urban Challenge.

It occurred to me that not many people in the general population have occasion to visit a national supercomputer center. I took a few pictures and movies to show the immensity of rack after rack of servers and the sound of all that HVAC. Unfortunately, all I could hear when I downloaded the movies was a hiss that does not resemble the actual sound of the room at all.

Supercomputer sites used to be rarer and even louder. There are no water chillers here today. (Those used to roar as if you were standing at the bottom of Yosemite Falls in the springtime.) The racks of computers are bolted to a false floor and cold air is blown upward through the racks. Hot air is sucked up through large inlets in the ceiling.

The health of the system needs to be constantly monitored for early signs of failure and quick response.
Low-tech, but effective monitoring.
Geek humor.
A robotic tape library carousel. When someone requests a volume of data, the robotic arm swings around to pull the tape, then loads it into the tape player. The data is read and delivered via wire (internet).
SDSC digitized data from the Library of Congress from the 18th century to present and serves up the data over the internet to users around the world. If you need sea surface temperatures going back 200+ years, this is the place to look.

We walked past the Geisel Library (Dr. Seuss) at lunch. I am showing off a stuffed Salmonella toy I bought for Iris at the bookstore. It was an impulse buy because I went to the store to buy her a molecular model set and I found the giant microbes irresistible. It was hard to pick just one. I almost picked the T4 bacteriophage because the label is so informative and entertaining (click label at the link above to read it) and because of my work with TC4. In the end, I thought the T4 story might be too scary for Iris.

Buying a molecular model set was tougher than when I went to college. Back then, only one type was sold in the bookstore. (The other kind, used by professors, was too expensive $$$ for students.) Today, there were half a dozen to choose from at the UCSD bookstore.

Which to buy?

At first, I reached for the familiar one I had used as a student (kicking myself for not hanging on to my old one). It has the paddles that show p and spn orbitals so I can demonstrate reactive sites. But then, those have rigid bonds and I didn't want to teach her that molecules are rigid. When I taught Molecular Quantum Mechanics, some students just could not get beyond their static view of molecular shapes and representations. I don't want to handicap her.

What if she fails MQM and blames her mommy for imparting to her an erroneous world view of rigid molecular bonds at a young and impressionable age?

I bought her the flexible set.

From the Archives:
Business Travel for Moms

Shoes of Summer

Materfamilias showed off her shoes of summer. Mardel showed off her current favorite pair of sandals. I thought I would show off mine, too.

I bought these during the Nordstrom Anniversary sale a year or two ago. In LA, I wear them year round. I used to think that Munro American shoes were expensive, but then the dollar weakened against the Euro and they seem downright inexpensive compared to Italian shoes of the same quality. The cost per wear makes them a bargain.

TSA also pointed out that these sandals have a substantial steel shank; most sandals don't have them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not the whole story

The LA Times Bottleneck Blog posted these LA employment and population density maps. (Click on the link above to go to the post with the map legends.) The red areas in the employment map shows a high density of jobs downtown, Westwood and Century City areas. Yellow areas are the next highest density employment areas followed by green.
The darkest green areas have the highest night-time population density, followed by medium and light green. My neighborhood is medium green, 8,934 to 10,178 people per square mile (though I calculated slightly over 11,000 for my block).
Transportation folks use these maps to argue for more public transit in the Westside. Builders use these maps to argue that they should be allowed to build more dense urban infill projects in the Westside.

There is some truth to both arguments, but both views distort reality. Traffic will increase when you build housing near jobs unless the people who work in a neighborhood can afford to live in that neighborhood.

While the night-time population of Beverly Hills is largely very affluent and white, the daytime population is primarily brown. In fact, Spanish is the dominant language in Beverly Hills during the day time. Do Beverly Hills workers live anywhere near Beverly Hills? No, they take a two hour bus ride from dense Eastside neighborhoods. (The best Mexican food in Los Angeles comes from taco trucks that service the residential neighborhoods of Beverly Hills.)

Do you think the servers at Jamba Juice or the Cheesecake Factory at the Americana at Brand in Glendale will be renting the $5000/month apartments or buying the $700,000 condos above their workplaces?

Housing people near their workplaces is a good start, but it won't magically cure LA traffic. The 800 pound gorilla is international trade. We, the denizens of LA, are not fully responsible for our own traffic. The collective American public, and our insatiable appetite for cheap imports and cheap air travel, is also largely responsible for LA traffic and pollution.

"The twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles handle 43 percent of the container cargo entering the United States, clogging the surrounding roads and rails." Those containers get loaded up onto trucks taking up 20-50% of the traffic lanes of our freeways. In fact, a coworker says he dreads Wednesday and Thursday, when the laden trucks head out of the harbor. Read Clogged Arteries for the story and to view the graphic below.
Moreover, LAX is one of the world's busiest airports. By day, airliners pack the twin runways continuously. By night, air freight land semi-continuously. The air freight terminal at LAX disgorges diesel trucks carrying air cargo onto the surface streets near LAX around the clock. Particulate levels near the airport are measurably higher during the holiday season due to the rise in air freight traffic. This is another reason to plan ahead and send your holiday presents by surface methods.

I live and work (and get my medical care) in the area bounded by LAX to the north, LA and LB ports to the south, the ocean to the west and I-405 (one of the busiest and most congested freeways in the USA) to the east. Did I mention that it takes 1.5 hours to travel the 17 miles to UCLA because it is on the other side of the busiest freeway interchange in the country (I-10 and I-4o5)? Hermitdom never looked so attractive.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Birgitte and her Rock Star came over for a mommy and me playdate today. Birgitte was kind enough to help me fit the cover for an Uniquely You dress form. I have no idea how long she thought she was going to help. I thought it would take a couple of hours. It ended up taking all afternoon and we still weren't done.

I worked on it a little bit more this evening and the cover is now zipped up over the foam dummy. The cover needs to relax for a few days before the final fitting. Birgitte was kind enough to offer to return in a couple of weeks for that. That works out because the only way we could get the girls apart was to set a firm date for the next playdate. ;-)

Thank-you so much, Birgitte. You did such a meticulous job. Of course, anyone who reads Bubblegum 4 Breakfast would expect nothing less.

I have to go out of town for work next week. Pictures of the dummy and Iris' performance will be posted after my return. In the meantime, can you help me name the dummy? I don't think she wants to be called a dummy forever.

Birgitte prepped Rock Star for the playdate by showing her pictures of Iris on this blog. (I did the same.) Iris was upset because, when she showed off her new dress, Rock Star said she had already seen it. Moreover, Rock Star had seen nearly all Iris' dresses on this blog.

Iris wailed how is she going to surprise anyone with her fashion choices if I plaster her clothes all over the internet?

I told her that I only post the things that I make. This is, after all, a creative blog.

This will be a subject of further reflection and negotiation.

She's too clever

Iris has developed a habit of running away into her room and locking the door as a work avoidance measure. The doorknob fell off the hallway closet. We went shopping for doorknobs.

The plan was to lure Iris with pretty crystal passage doorknobs so that she would allow us to swap out her locking privacy doorknobs.

Nothing doing. She saw through that right away and asked the sales lady to be sure to get down the kind with a lock.

We also replaced the doorknobs on the downstairs bath. It would have looked odd to have new doorknobs on the closet door and corroded 18 year old builders' grade knobs 3 feet away on the bathroom door.

Mark says that it took several times longer to install the Nostalgic Warehouse Crystal Knob than the two sets of Schlage Sienna Knobs downstairs. He observed during the installation process that the Schlage is better engineered. The parts fit together more easily and the design of the locking mechanism is superior.

Iris found this out when she locked herself into her room today and could not open it from the inside after she had unlocked it. I told her we can exchange it for the passage door knob set so that doesn't happen again. She refused. ;-)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stuff Diet Success

In the past month, I managed to pare down from 3.5 to 1.5 bicycles. I feel so much lighter.

I overheard my neighbor's daughter ask her dad for a ride to a friend's house. He replied that he had 1.5 gallons in the tank until the next payday and he was not going to drive anywhere unless it was an emergency. (Fortunately, he works from home and all major services are walking distance in our neighborhood.)

I always liked the girl. She takes care of our plants while we are gone. When they cleaned their garage, she gave her outgrown bicycle to Iris. The next time I saw her, I offered to give her my about town cruiser bicycle. She loved it. I had the pleasure of seeing her ride it until it became too dark and her parents called her inside.

This morning, I sold my racing bicycle to the fiance of a coworker. She is training for her first triathalon and needed a racing bike. She got a very good bicycle for not much $, and I got more space in the garage. We are both very happy.

How did I became the owner of 3.5 bicycles?

I used to ride my bicycle everywhere in grad school. First, I bought a used rental mountain bike, then I traded it in for a new Diamond Back Apex (Bike 1). When I had enough money, I bought a second set of rims, tires and (gear) cassette. On pavement, I used road slicks; off-road, I rode knobbies.

Mark and I toured overnight many times, most notably in the south of France and California wine country. I used to ride difficult single-track trails in Colorado, including those marked "experts only". (Have you experienced the thrill of a single track descent through trees? Any sane person should be scared. I have the scars to prove it.)

I used to scoff at the middle-aged people, with their much fancier bikes, who couldn't keep up with us twenty-somethings on our cheaper, non-suspended bikes. However, I was enough of a gear-weenie to know that I would ride better with a lighter bicycle that shifted more quickly. So, the first summer after I landed a real job with a real paycheck, I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper (Bike 2) with Shimano Deore XT. XT really does shift more crisply than LX. You can feel the difference.

I didn't ride it much. There just isn't much dirt on the west side of Los Angeles. And I kept getting injured, even though I wasn't riding anywhere near as many miles as I used to.

Mark became obsessed with randonneuring, ultra-marathon bicycle events. I couldn't keep up with his racing bike on my mountain bike. I bought a racing bike to match his (Bike 3). We were so cute. His Cannondale was blue with yellow, mine was red with yellow. I think I rode it between 200 and 250 miles total. I kept getting injured or sick. I couldn't keep up.

We bought a Santana Sovereign Tandem (Bike 3.5) about the time I became pregnant. We thought that would be a good way for me to stay in shape during the pregnancy. As soon as I got over the morning sickness, we could ride all through the second trimester (the "good" trimester).

That never happened. The morning sickness ended at week 13. I had a cerclage at week 14 and was put on bedrest until week 37. I gained 50 pounds, lost muscle tone and had a horrible, horrible birth experience. ( I will not narrate that story here because I want to encourage those sitting on the fence to reproduce.) Anyhow, after the bleeding stopped, when Iris was 10 weeks old and sleeping 4-5 hours at a time, we got right back on the tandem.


Then my hip gave out, I was unable to walk or even move my leg more than half an inch and I spent 3 months in 3x weekly physical therapy to learn how to walk again. (The orthopedicist says that is a common complication from long bedrest, which he thinks should not be so widely prescribed because of all the damage it does to a woman's body.)

Once I was able to walk again, and Iris was old enough to sit up in the rear child seat, we planned to go out on the tandem as many weekends as our work schedules permitted. We did go out a few times.

But I kept falling ill, one infection after another. Two sinus surgeries and a set of ear tubes later (3 if you count the two sets Iris had), we were ready to try riding again. My joints were too swollen for me to ride in the low road bike position. I could only ride in an upright position, and only for short distances around town. I wanted to carry stuff around on a rear rack but the Stumpjumper did not have brazeons (mounting points) for a rear rack.

The solution, of course, was to buy a hybrid bicycle to ride around town! (This is still Bike 3.5 because I gave the Apex to the owner of Aviation Cyclery in Manhattan Beach. Russ fixes them up and gives them to rural kids in Mexico. So many drop out of school because their villages are too small to have a HS and their families can't afford bus fare to school.)

Because I would only ride it for short trips around town and to work, I decided to try a step-through frame so I could also ride it while wearing a skirt. This was a mistake as I learned later that it was impossible to mount a water bottle to the curved frame. Moreover, it was a mid-level bicycle and I was never happy with the way the shifted. Once you have used XT, you can never go back, especially several grades down to Altus. Just ask my friend who drives a Porsche.

Somewhere in there, we also bought a Burley trailer to tow Iris around when she was too big for the rear seat. We didn't use it much. When she was too big for that, we bought a Burley Piccolo so she can ride along. That got a little bit more use and is the system we still use today.

See a pattern here? I kept thinking that I would get better and then I would ride more. More mileage and better health were always right around the corner. I was buying fantasies, not bicycles.

Two summers ago, I found out that maybe just staying alive and somewhat mobile would be as good as it gets. The gene test and family medical history finally made me face reality. Meanwhile, the bicycles sat gathering dust and taking up space in our small, townhouse-sized garage. They weighed upon me. So much hope and disappointment. I had to get rid of the evidence.

My first thought was to sell all three single bikes and replace it with a single city bicycle with a horizontal top tube so I could easily access a water bottle and cage. (See? More retail therapy!)

Trying to sell three bicycles simultaneously was daunting. I went to Beach Cities Cyclery in Hermosa Beach for advice and to see what they would give me in trade. Brian, the owner, is too nice. He talked me out of buying a new bike. He gave the Stumpjumper a tuneup, figured out a way to mount a rear rack and swapped out the SPD pedals for flat pedals and toeclips.

It does seem like sacrilege to ride a Stumpjumper only on pavement around LA, but what could be greener than re-purposing an old bike? Plus, they don't make city bikes with XT. Gotta have the XT. You can't go back.

Repairing versus buying new

My sister wondered why we repaired the 11 year old washer instead of buying a new, more energy -efficient one. Others wondered why we didn't call a repairman. It's complex.

A year ago, when the dryer broke, I actually went out to look at new washers and dryers. However, the new front-loading ones are 30" deep while the top-loaders are 27" deep. Our laundry room is very tight as it is. With 27" appliances, we can barely open and close the door and access the pantry door. Another 3", and we could have to remodel. That would not be cost-effective or green.

We could have bought a new 27" top-loading washing machine, but Consumers' Reports had said that the new top-loaders use so little water, that they cannot get clothes clean effectively. They could only recommend the new front-loaders. We don't have room.

Additionally, I became interested in fulling (mistakenly called felting) knits. With a top-loader, I can check on the progress as often as I wish and pull the item out at the precise moment it has shrunk to the desired size. Front-loaders' doors lock during the wash cycle and I would lose control of the fulling process. Then I would be stuck manually moving a plunger in a bucket to full knits (which my sister swears doesn't take too long and is a good upper body workout).

Furthermore, Mark experienced such a feeling of accomplishment when he fixed the dryer last year, I couldn't call a repairman until after he had taken a crack at it. We can afford to hire help when we need it. But, we wanted to set an example of self-sufficiency for Iris.

$200 in parts and an exciting week later, our washer works again. Our laundry is done. Iris watched her parents repair an old broken item instead of throwing it away and buying new.

Goodie bags and the wealth of nations
The great flood of 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

In defense of Paddington

Paddington has been savaged by Writing Maternity and Hopeless but not serious for lacking a narrative arc and embodying episodic sit-com humor. How on earth did it garner children's classic status?

Well, I love Paddington because my first boyfriend loved him. When he traveled halfway around the world with just 2 suitcases, he carried a little Paddington with him. Why did Paddington so strongly resonate with him?

Paddington is a light packer. He left deepest darkest Peru for London with only one battered suitcase. My friend had two suitcases (and a backpack) and carried Paddington as a reminder that you don't need much.

Moreover, Paddington is optimistic. He tries to be helpful, and he relies on others for help. Things turn out ok for him because of the goodwill he finds in others.

I also appreciate that Paddington has found a look that works for him and doesn't fell any need to sartorially stray. He has his yellow hat and blue duffel coat. What more does a bear need?

In that sense, Paddington is aspirational. He owns little and travels light.

True, he gets into some funny situations when he takes people literally. So do Amelia Bedelia, Ramona and Clementine. Literal meanings are sometimes silly. That's why children find the books so funny. Like sit-coms, the stories allow children to anticipate Paddington's mistakes. Children can laugh and feel smarter than Paddington. That's the whole point of the stories.

The chapters are self-contained and can be read in pretty much any order. If that makes them episodic and lacking in narrative, so be it. At the end of a chapter, you can turn out the lights and go to sleep. You won't be begged to read one more chapter to see how it will end. That's a good thing.

If you take the stories for what they are, amusing little fluff stories, you can have a pretty good time. Iris and I have shared some deep belly laughs over Paddington's first bath and other misadventures. Sometimes, we lie in bed and say things like, "Remember when Paddington tried to clean the chimney?" or "Remember when daddy tried to fix the washer and caused the great flood of 2008?". Then we both convulse with giggles.

For me, Paddington's appeal is mainly aspirational. If only my stuff diet could whittle my belongings down to one suitcase. I would settle for getting my belongings into one carry-on and one "personal item" each time I fly.

The great flood of 2008

We went a week and a half without doing laundry and lived to tell the tale. Actually, we tried to do laundry last weekend but the washer got stuck on the same wash cycle, over and over again.

After spending some time perusing and, Mark ordered a new burn timer (pictured above) online and paid for 2-3 day shipping. He had successfully repaired our circa 1997 dryer last year using the wisdom of the web. (A laptop and wi-fi are wonderful things when you need to see how to take apart a large household applicance.) We were both feeling confident.

The part came on Wednesday. He installed it. The timer worked, but no hot water came in. Further perusal of troubleshooting webpages and examination of our washer suggested we needed a new hot water valve. (11 years is a good run for a hot water valve. It was probably already in creaky condition and gave out when we took the washer apart.)

We did not want to order online again. We ccould not go a second weekend without a working washer. Additionally, Mark removed the entire washer shell in order to inspect all the other parts for signs of failure. The inner carcass of the washer rested in its usual location in the laundry room, the exoskeleton stood in the middle of the kitchen, add piles of laundry everywhere and even Mark was disturbed by the mess.

The Sears Appliance Center in Culver City had the part we needed in stock. Dare we brave the dreaded I-405 to fetch it? Mark was low enough on socks and underwear to volunteer to drive there at lunch on Thursday. Thursday is the highest traffic day in LA, which gives an indication of his desperation.

That evening, we had dinner downtown and saw the Drowsy Chaperone. When we got home, he changed and went right to work at 11 PM. He needed my help for some parts of the reassembly process, but mostly worked alone. Shortly after midnight, we were able to start a load of rags in hot water and watch the timer rotate through the wash cycle.

Success! He began to clean up. I went upstairs to the shower. Before I even stepped in the shower, I heard, "Oh, no! Oh, sh!t!, Oh, [insert stronger expletive]! I ran downstairs as he yelled, "Quick, throw me some rags!"

One look at the sheet of water flowing out of the kitchen and heading to the front door and I didn't think we had enough rags to stem the tide. I ran out to the garage and brought in 2 string mops (to form a dam) and a bucket. We worked for a few minutes, settling into a rhythm where he mopped and I wrung the mops into the bucket. Then we exchanged the wet and dry mops.

After 2/3 of the water was mopped up, I asked, "Do you think we should have used the shop-vac?"

BTW, the washer repair was fine. He just forgot to reconnect the drain hose. When the washer hit the first drain/spin cycle, the water shot out across the floor from the laundry room through the kitchen and into the hallway. By 1 AM, we put away the mops and shop-vac, and headed upstairs to a hot shower and slumber.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Finishing Tutorial

I thought I would show you in depth how I constructed the Vera Jacket. Like the Papyrus lace cardigan, the collar extends from the front and wraps around the back. I did not want this sweater to stretch out like that sweater, so I knit it with side seams to give it structure. I forgot, that in a striped sweater, this results in 3x the ends to weave in (x is a much larger number than a single color sweater). I wove the ends in as I went along to spare myself the grief of weaving in all of them at the end. (Vivian Hoxbro nicely illustrates the weaving technique in Domino Knitting.)

I short-rowed the shoulders and then performed a three needle bind off across the entire shoulder/back neck using a crochet hook for the third needle. While binding off the back neck, I stuck the crochet hook through both the stitch being bound off and a loop of the back extension. No need to sew in the back neck extension! No extra bulk!

I didn't have enough hands to take a picture to illustrate the technique. But Mark was around to take a picture of the bind off of the front edging.

I agree with Maggie Righetti in Knitting in Plain English, "buttonholes are bastards!" But this button loop wasn't half bad. I will definitely use this technique again. If you have ever used Mags Kandis' patterns, you will know they are rather terse. They don't even have schematics.

I was supposed to bind off till the marker, cast on 8 stitches, turn, bind off the 8 stitches I just cast on, bind off 3 edging stitches, then attach the end of the loop while binding off the next stitch. Is that clear?

I was supposed to start the button loops at rows 41, 61, 81 (or 61,81,101 because I added 2 stripes to lengthen the sweater). But, in a 10 row stripe with 7 garter stitches per stripe, it looked more balanced to start 2 stitches into the stripe. 2+3+2=7.

There are several ways to cast on stitches with only one yarn end. After experimenting with the backward loop and the knitted on cast on, I liked the look of the crochet cast on best. The astute observer will notice that this is really a crochet chain provisional cast on, nicely illustrated in Lucy Neatby's Spun Yarn #13.

I cast off with the crochet hook until the start of the button loop, then I bring a spare knitting needle up, perpendicular to the band with the working yarn BEHIND the needle. Chain one. Throw the yarn back behind the needle. Repeat for a total of 8 stitches.

Now chain stitch into each stitch on the spare needle (that's a bind off). The working yarn is back at the base of the chain with one end dangling. The single thread that holds the chain to the front band looks lonely. Chain one into the bar between the last stitch you bound off before forming the loop and the next stitch (yet to be bound off). That will make the loop more secure. Bind off 3 more front band stitches. When you bind off the next band stitch, put the crochet hook through the stitch, then the middle of free end of the chain, yarn over, and pull through.

Here's how it looks from the inside. Pretty neat, huh?

Read more about the Vera Jacket in What I did last week and Lemonade.

More details:
  • 3 balls of deep blue and 2.5 balls of turquoise Cotton Ease (100 g balls).
  • Vera Cardigan from Mags Kandis' In Living Color.
  • Size 7 needles
  • Body knitted combination style
  • Sleeves knit in the round
  • Size S for a 40" sweater.
  • Added 2 stripes or 20 rows.
  • Added waist shaping.


You know the old saying about when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? We didn't go to San Diego for the holiday weekend because of my illness. We didn't make it over to the Huntington for Tanabata either. Iris and I whispered our wishes to each other instead.

[I also took today off from work in an attempt to get over the creeping crud. Fortunately, I am NOT in the 43% of Americans in the private sector who get no paid sick leave.]

But Iris had a chance to play with a friend before his family took off for their big camping trip. Would you pay 50 cents for a cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade from these two?

We used Meyer lemons from the backyard tree and organic cane sugar from Trader Joe's. I didn't charge the kids for the ingredients because I thought they would make, at most $2, and I wanted them to have something leftover for their trouble.

Ha! They grossed $14.50 but $1 blew away. Another friend/neighbor dropped by to help in the end. The two partners gave him $1.50 and kept $6 each.

Illness and house arrest gave me plenty of opportunity to knit. Surprise! The Habu green sweater kit isn't green after all. It is really a melange of non-colors. Like others have pointed out, the yarn rustles.

I can also show you a finished sweater. Keep in mind this is how I look when I am sick and spending the day at home.

If you look very, very carefully, you might notice that I mixed two dye lots of turquoise popsicle blue. The bottom 4 stripes on the back are made from a different dye lot than the rest of the sweater. The 5th stripe up from the bottom was knit with alternate rows of the two dye lots to minimize the color change.

The yarn had languished in the stash because I had 5 balls of the deep blue (blueberry) and 2 balls of turquoise. The pattern required 3 balls of each color. Fortunately, Brynne was de-stashing a truckload of Cotton Ease, including the color I needed. I sent her two knitting/sewing magazines in trade for 4 balls of turquoise and a couple of other oddballs.

Why 4 balls when I used only 1? I had thought I would make a matching tank. But, after shopping my closet, I realized that I have plenty of coordinates for this sweater.

Read more about the Vera Jacket in What I did last week and Finishing Tutorial.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Color Talk

My sister called me and said that she found two Habu Textiles Kit 36s on closeout in the green/brown/gray colorway (shown above in gray/brown). It was an odd sort of green, but she liked it. Should she buy the second one for me? I had my heart set on red, but the green on my monitor also looked appealing. She bought both and mailed one to me.

When I opened the package, it was after dark and the yarn (by artificial light) didn't resemble green; it looked like baby poop. I was worried. When my sister asked me how I liked it, what would I say? Fortunately, the kit looked much better in morning light in the sewing room. Next to the charcoal wool jersey, the colors absolutely sing.

I am not so sure about this combo. Perhaps it looks better with more color contrast?

I am not convinced that this color is, indeed, green. It looks more like yellow-green than green-yellow. I pulled out Jeanne Allen's Showing Your Colors.

Sure enough, the linen tape yarn is closer to a gold or mustard than green.

The book gives suggestions on how to use the color.
Mustard, much misused and maligned, can be an innovative accent color if treated carefully. Some guidelines: Use it with caution and away from the face; use it in an interesting texture; use a yellow mustard rather than a green, or the mustard will appear dirty.
For good measure, I pulled out Jeanne Allen's follow-on book, Dressing with color. (Both books are out of print, OOP, and available through and They are cheaper on amazon, though.)

It is definitely an interesting color that needs to be treated carefully. However, I am glad that Ann pushed me out of my "safe" color zone. I auditioned the colors against items in my wardrobe. I see many possibilities.

Edward Tufte would have approved of Jeanne Allen's layouts.

Philosophy Talk

"Philosophy and the clarification of ideas and the firming up of ideas and the criticizing of ideas is an important thing."--Ken Taylor, chairman of Stanford's Philosophy Department and co-host of Philosophy Talk (along with John Perry).

Don't miss Maria L. La Ganga's Column One piece in today's LAT about the weekly radio show, Philosophy Talk.
The top 10 radio audiences in America today, according to Talkers magazine, largely belong to the likes of Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio, and Michael Savage, author of "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder."

But Taylor believes that there are millions of listeners out there looking for something more, and that if he and Perry could offer a thoughtful and reflective hour, they would come. Or as they opined on their 100th program:

Taylor: "I think that our culture, our public discourse especially, is utterly debased. . . . It's meant to manipulate rather than enlighten and inform. . . . It's a disease that we've caught. Philosophy is one elixir, one magical elixir for helping to cure that disease."

Perry: "Ken, I knew Socrates. And you're no Socrates. But we do our best."
It airs in only a few radio markets. Through the magic of the internet, you can download and listen to the shows at

I am much more optimistic about the influence of the internet on culture than Nicholas Carr (Is Google Making Us Stupid?) and Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation). The culture of the internet is produced by the collective. What are you doing to make the internet a more collegial and information-dense place?

I agree with this guy's take.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

On not measuring up

This is what 41 can look like.
Read the NYT Magazine profile about Dara Torres.

Torres is now 41 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace. She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at 14, and she has retired from swimming and come back three times
Torres’s retinue includes a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach, two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny, at the cost of at least $100,000 per year.
This really taps into my insecurities. I, too, am 41 and the mother of one. At 14, I was not breaking world records. I was just happy not to be cut from my high school volleyball team. I was disciplined about conditioning, diet, weight-training, stretching, practice--I spent 20-30 hours a week training.

Despite my devotion, I was never more than mediocre for a competitive athlete. Moreover, there were pesky recurring infections and sports injuries. (The reason became clear years later with the gene test that explained everything.)

I joined a gym a month ago. Gyms had always been places of refuge for me, but this time was different. I haven't exercised regularly for more than 8 years. The years have not been kind to my body. I felt downright flabby while changing in the locker room.

It's a gorgeous gym and the denizens are friendly enough. I have swam there a half dozen times and lifted weights twice. Amazingly, each time I go to this pool, I get a lane to myself. Hopefully, my flabbiness will decline and I will become one of the buff chicks at the gym. Mark also joined and we signed Iris up for unlimited time at the Kids' Club.

The day after the NYT ran the profile about Dara Torres, the LAT ran a piece by Linda Alcorace.
When you're lying in bed and can't keep food down, muscle metabolizes first.

Dr. Zhaoping Li, my UCLA clinical nutritionist, says the rate is two to three pounds of muscle wasted for every pound of fat. Bug-eyed and big-bellied with fluid after four months' hospitalization for liver failure, I had legs and arms like matchsticks. I could walk no farther than one block. Me, the lifelong athlete, former aerobics instructor and dancer -- now wait-listed for a transplant.

My diagnosis seemed unbelievable: An ultra-rare disease, Budd-Chiari Syndrome.

Two years later, not yet dead, not yet given a liver transplant, I'm told by Li that I must increase my muscle mass. If I am hospitalized again, I'll lose even more muscle and might not survive.

And so I find myself one foggy Tuesday morning at a low-impact aerobics class. The instructor is world-renowned, a fitness leader. A volley of words echoes around the studio: "Oh, isn't her body amazing?" and "Look at how toned she is." I squish down memories of days when I looked that toned.
That knocked me out of my self-pity.

My rheumatologist wants me to lose weight to minimize wear and tear on my joints. My internist is opposed; the thinner I am, the higher the risk of osteoporosis. I may also not have enough reserves to survive the frequent infections. (I have had a few close calls already.)

I asked my immunologist as a tie-breaker. She looked warily and said, "Don't you have enough to worry about without developing an eating disorder?" She added, "You've given up so much, I don't want you go have to give up food, too."

I won't be going to the gym or San Diego this weekend. I caught the cold that Iris is getting over. I will send Mark and Iris to the gym as my proxy. Perhaps Mark will look like the guy in the pool photo.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Wish Upon a Star

This weekend, you have an extra-special opportunity to wish upon a star at the Huntington Library and Gardens.
July 6 (Sunday) 1:30 – 3 p.m.
Celebrate Tanabata, the Japanese Star Festival, with children from the Kodomo No Ie preschool in San Gabriel. According to ancient legend, Tanabata tells the tale of two stars, Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair), who are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. To mark the happy event, children are invited to write their wishes on strips of colored paper and tie them to bamboo where the wind can carry them to the sky. Origami crafts will also be offered. General admission (children under 5 enter free). Japanese Garden
Iris and I have already picked our wishes.

See the Huntington calendar for address and contact info.