Friday, December 17, 2010

Purple Heart Day

I took a workshop with artist Ellen Anne Eddy years ago. At the beginning of class, she passed out purple hearts (made out of her hand-dyed fabric). She said something to the effect of, "There, you've all earned or will earn a sewing purple heart. Get over it and get to work!"

I came across the purple heart late last night after a huge row with Iris earlier that evening. They should give out purple hearts for motherhood. Well, I just took Ellen Anne's and reissued it to myself for motherhood.

At the very least, don't you think that our society should give health insurance for people willing to perform the hazardous duty of growing a baby, giving birth and raising a future taxpayer? Apparently, we don't think so.

Economists actually did the math on the point I made in Insufficient Margin. The Present
Value of Producing Future Taxpayers
. Keep in mind that $200,000 is an average value. Higher-earning parents and parents of children that require above average care & resources lose more. In addition to a purple heart, I would like the same lifetime health coverage given to veterans, a thanks every year, and a check accompanying the thank-you note. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My little constitutional scholar

Iris said that she caught a violation of the first amendment in her Holt California Social Studies workbook (page 33 of World History, sixth grade).

See her take on the issue.

She has a long history regarding this issue.

Her father's daughter
My house will never be in House Beautiful

Is a ten year old that thinks this way a desirable or undesirable draft pick?

Read her father's take On Confederate Flags and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your child, the draft pick 2

Another friend, a high school teacher, told a story about the influence of class rosters on teacher effectiveness.

Some (perhaps most) schools deal out students like cards, from the top of the deck to the bottom. It literally is a draft pick with the principal doling out the students. That way, the teachers all get roughly equal numbers of easy and difficult students.

One year, my friend's school was surprised by high enrollment figures and needed to hire an extra teacher. The district process took about 5 weeks and the students were told that 5-6 volunteers from each of the other classes would be transferred to the new teacher when he arrived. The students were also told that the volunteers would be given tabula rasa (a blank slate) on grades when they moved to the new class.

Not surprisingly, all of the kids that transferred to the new class were the kids that wanted to extend their summer vacation by 5 weeks. ;-) The volunteers in her class stopped doing work and she had no hold over them. She just taught the kids that chose to stay. A few weeks later, the volunteers left.

That was her best teaching year ever. Absent the 5-6 discipline problems in every classroom, she could focus more time on lessons. They covered more material and in greater depth than ever before. The kids in the class were more engaged and less inhibited in classroom discussions. It was great all around.

It wasn't until the next year, when she was chatting with the other teachers about the past year, that they realized that they had ALL had their best teaching year ever.

The rookie teacher hired at the last minute to teach all of the problem students/volunteers? He left the teaching profession after that one year.

As my friend told this story, I could tell she was clearly ambivalent about her role in the affair. Should she and the other teachers have noticed and spoke up about the nonrandomness of the assignment process? Should the principal have used a fairer system?

We have an expression, "eating our young". I think that the seniority-based system for teachers and the two-tiered wage/benefit structures in other industries are forms of eating our young. Some schools in LAUSD lost more than half their teachers, including many highly effective ones, during recent layoffs.

In part 3 of the draft pick series, I will explore why 'fast learners' are no longer grouped together in elementary schools.

(Your child, the draft pick 1 deals with uneven assignments of problem students. It isn't always favoritism. There are good reasons to assign challenging students to certain teachers, such as safety and common languages.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Your child, the draft pick 1

The LA Times has published two more stories about Value-Added Teaching (VAT). I don't live in LAUSD, but I can't resist a good statistical analysis.

The latest story includes a valid point from a critic of VAT.
Jesse Rothstein, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley who has been critical of the value-added approach, says the preliminary results didn't answer some of his key concerns, such as how results are affected by the way students are assigned to teachers.
Consider the corollary.

If we grade teachers by the VAT methodology, then our children immediately become draft picks. If teachers become coaches with public accountability, then shouldn't they also be able to pick their team players?

I spent an hour browsing the teacher comments on the LAT VAT database. They raise some troubling questions.

One teacher asked to see the data pertaining to him. He wrote that, according to the LAT database, he was more effective raising the math scores of his students than the writing scores. The data that he has received show the opposite effect. He asked if the database had mixed him up with another teacher or if they were using different years' data.

Another teacher said that he was proud to be of average effectiveness given the difficult circumstances of his job. After retiring from the military, he went back to school to become a school teacher. He taught at a very low-performing south LA school nearly entirely composed of poor Latino students.

He claimed that the principal assigns him a disproportionate number of disruptive young males because of the perception that he is better equipped to deal with them than the female teachers. The amount of time he can spend on teaching is curtailed by the time he spends on discipline. He works much harder to maintain classroom control than the other teachers. He wants the other teachers to take their fair share of the difficult students.

It's not all black and white. He said that if he, an ex-marine, feels physically threatened by some of these students, he understands why they are not assigned to female teachers. (He mentioned that many of the students and/or their family members are involved in the drug trade or fleeing the violence of the drug trade to the south and many carry weapons to school.)

If his pay is reduced and the other teachers with easier class rosters get raises, he will quit the profession.

This reminds me of stories from two school teacher friends.

One taught English learners at the elementary level. One year, she taught at an urban school with 300% turnover during the school year. How is that possible? She explained that no student from the beginning of the year stayed for the entire year. On average, they stayed only a few months and then followed their migrant farm worker parents.

Furthermore, her district required home site visits for all students. Because she had such high turnover, she had to do many more home visits than teachers who were assigned students from more stable homes. That's how she learned most of her students had parents who followed their crop. (Migrant farm workers can be skilled workers who specialize in certain crops and they move north and south with the need for their skills.)

She mentioned how difficult it was to maintain classroom control. At that time, there was a much publicized study showing how teachers focused ~80% of their time on the boys and only 20% of their time on the girls. She said that, if someone put a camera in her classroom, they would find her near average in that respect. There were a handful of boys that were a total drain on her time, energy and a real drag on the rest of the classroom. They would climb anything if you turned around for a minute.

Years later, I read studies linking prenatal exposure to organophosphates (insecticides) to ADHD, particularly in boys. I wondered if the boys in her classroom were exposed in utero through their farmworker parents.

She also learned that most of her students' parents were not literate in any language and that they lived in crowded homes with no books or reading matter of any kind. How could her students be judged by the same yardstick as kids from middle and upper-middle class homes. Our kids grow up in incredibly print-rich environments. (I, like several friends, can't even remember a time I couldn't read at least a little bit.)

Should teachers be financially penalized or rewarded for difficult assignments?

As a parent, do you want your child to be in a classroom with kids with severe ADHD, suffering from PTSD or carry weapons to school?

Lots of questions, no easy answers.

To a large extent, parents have been voting with their feet. We have seen an exodus from troubled schools/neighborhoods that has bid up the housing prices of areas that enjoy above average schools and safety and below average chemical residues. But what do we owe the children left behind? Or the teachers willing to serve those areas?

Friday, December 03, 2010

It was cold,

especially when dusk fell,
but the views, food and company were excellent.
Thank-you Fiber Musings and SYC!

Some of the wildlife we encountered.

I can't find the photo of the raccoons that begged for food. (Of course, we didn't feed the wildlife.)

Can you see Berkeley? (Look for the white Campanile.)
Gratuitous artsy-fartsy photo.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Read me a quilt

I mentioned this quilt in the seven minute quilt top post. Our quilt guild also makes quilts for children in the LA county foster care system. Many of these kids were removed from neglectful or dangerous homes. They don't have many things that are theirs alone. We endeavor to give the kids a book and a quilt that matches the theme of the book.

Can you guess which book I bought to go with this quilt?

I received a bundle (one of about 10 given to our guild) of Dr Suess-themed fabric from the line put out by Robert Kaufman. They were scraps from their cutting room. Once I started assembling the strips, I realized that there was nearly enough to make a twin-sized quilt. I went through my quilting cotton collection and pulled some candidates.
I added borders around each edge. until it was large enough.
Then I ran out of time and passed the quilt top and some backing material from my fabric collection to our guild's "Read me a quilt" coordinator. She will finish it and present it to a child at this weekend's party for LA county foster children. Many quilt guilds throughout the region work on this project, so each child gets something special made just for them.

If you would like to help give time or materials for our community services quilts, contact me.

This year, I kept track of fabric in and out of my collection. I thought I was showing restraint and selectivity. I used 80, gave away 25, but my collection still grew by 20 yards. How is that possible?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I solved the deficit!

Actually, I overcompensated and shaved $685 and $2,158 billion respectively off the projected 2015 and 2030 federal deficit with roughly equal parts cuts in spending and tax raises. Here's how I did it.

Try it and tell me how much you saved. Show me yours in the comments!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The PVC-free shower curtain

Iris had informed me that the yellow rubber ducky shower curtain was too babyish.

I am attached to the rubber ducky shower curtain because her first word was "duck", which meant any bird in the generic sense. The first thing she called a duck was the rubber ducky in the bathtub and I bought her a clear plastic shower curtain printed with dozens of yellow rubber ducks to commemorate the event.

That shower curtain stank. It literally stank. It stank up not just the bathroom, but the entire house. I had to hang it outside on the clothesline for weeks until it had off-gassed sufficiently so that we could tolerate it inside the house.

No wonder that the big box housewares store where I purchased the shower curtain also stank. I got sick just going there to buy that shower curtain.

I wondered how the people could stand working in that environment all day. And what about the people who work in the plants that manufacture the PVC goods? What is the cumulative health effect of all that Poly-Vinyl Chloride?

I tend to hang on to my shower curtains for a very long time. First, I am a frugal green and don't replace things that work just fine. I don't have the time or inclination to use a hemp (or organic cotton!) shower curtain that needs to be washed regularly. I don't like the off-gassing that has accompanied every plastic shower curtain I had ever bought in the past.

Then, a friend mentioned at her baby shower that she loved yellow rubber duckies and was using them as a decorating theme. I immediately told Iris that we found a new home for her shower curtain and that we can go shopping for a new one.

She retorted that she didn't want to get a new one. She liked this one.

What changed?

It turned out that, when she found out someone else wanted the rubber ducky shower curtain, she immediately wanted to hold out for $$.

No, the completely off-gassed shower curtain was going to a new home and that's that. There was no way I was going to subject a newborn to the dangerous fumes that come off new shower curtains.

We went back to the big box store and discovered that the shower curtain area did not stink as much as it did 9 years ago. In fact, the whole store stank less overall. The chlorine chemical vapors were down, but the 'home scents' were still unbearable.

We discovered that, for a few dollars more, we could get "chlorine-free" shower curtains that didn't reek. We bought the most basic one for about $10. The PVC ones cost slightly less, but at what price to the environment? To the workers in the manufacturing plants* and in the big box store? Or the hassle to the consumer of hanging it outside for weeks while the curtain off-gasses?

The rubber ducky shower curtain has a new home. I also bought a wooden sculpture of a madonna and child from west Africa in the shape of an infinity symbol. (The new parents met as MIT freshmen and are both engineers.) Perhaps the new mommy will send me photos of her baby in tie-dye?

All this is a long preamble to a pitch that a PR agency sent me about PVC in toys. I get pitches from PR agencies representing all sorts of customers. It's interesting to see how astroturf works, but I rarely do anything about the pitches. I am simply too busy.

If you have time to kill, you can visit They even have a graphic of rubber duckies! I have no idea who is funding this effort. The wooden toy industry?

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be any concern for the workers that produce the stuff. The images and wording all talk about effects for the consumer and kids. Take a look at the first picture on the document, Our Health and PVC. PVC stinks. So does this kind of scaremongering**.

I have lots of thoughts about the overuse of plastics and plasticizers in the environment. But I have to go work now. If you have time to kill tonight, at 6:00 PST, you may want to contact to sign up for this web event. I have a time conflict so I am interested in what you learn, if you attend.
Join us on a call for parenting/health bloggers at 9pm EST this Wednesday, November 17th, with Lois Gibbs, to discuss why PVC toys sold at Toys ‘R’ Us are a problem for families and children across America.

Lois Gibbs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and is a recognized national environmental leader. Over 30 years ago after she discovered her children’s school was built on top of 20,000 tons of toxic waste, Gibbs led the fight to relocate 900 families from the contaminated neighborhood, Love Canal.
* You may want to read Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang. Most Americans are unaware that the girls (literally!) that produce plastic toys and housewares for us are locked into factories so that they do not run away. They are supposed to be allowed outside the locked gates 1-2 days a week, per their work contracts. In actuality, some factories never allow the girls outside at all because they would never come back to the horrific conditions once they have been inside. Not all manufacturers are bad. The book chronicles the journeys of a few girls as they navigate from the bad ones to the good ones. This eye-opening book and put a real damper on my enthusiasm for shopping.

** At least the picture shows a pregnant lady NOT wearing nail polish. I cringe when I see the ubiquity of nail polish in young girls and women. What good is it worrying about PVC in toys when you are exposing your children to phthalates, toluene and a whole chemical soup of dangerous chemicals in nail polish?

Plastics are truly a miracle. But we should use them sparingly and appropriately. Stop the recreational use of endocrine disrupters on your children today.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The seven minute quilt top


The Community Services chairwoman of the South Bay Quilters' Guild claims that her pre-cut charity quilt kits can be sewn in 6:49. I think that means she can sew them that fast. I couldn't meet her par.

The strippy quilt below was sewn that quickly, if you don't count pressing time.
I think that she means that, if the squares are stacked in piecing order, and you don't press until AFTER the entire top is pieced, she can sew the top in under 7 minutes. While I can't sew as fast as she can, I could have sewn this really fast, if I hadn't mixed up two of the squares. Rip and redo took longer than the initial piecing session.
The rest of them went well.
I think Bad Dad would have liked a bicycle-themed quilt.
This one is my favorite; if I could keep it, I would.
Anyway, these five lap-quilts (36"x36" or 36"x42") are destined for our local battered women and children's shelter. When children arrive at the shelter, they are often very scared and have nothing but the clothes on their backs. The kids are led to the "quilt closet' where they are allowed to select any quilt there as their own. When they leave the shelter, they take the quilts with them.

(We also provide bags of toiletries that guild members collect from hotels. Before TSA took our shampoo away, I used to bring home a bunch of those little toiletry bottles home from every business trip. Some of the champion business travelers in our quilt guild bring in a lot.)

Our guild makes over 500 of these quilts a year and there is never enough.

I didn't make the seven minute par, but I did make 5 of these quilt tops and half of a twin-sized quilt for a LA county foster child last weekend. I didn't get to sew this weekend at all for reasons I will explain later.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The noncompetitive competitor

My sister likes to think that she is noncompetitive and not a contest person. But I know better. Why, yes, she is the oldest child, why do you ask? ;-)

Not only did she win the 2009 Spin-Off Contest, All Wrapped Up in Natural Fibers (in the popular sheep wool category), but she won the "technical excellence" and tied for first in the "popular choice" categories for the one-hour Batts to Hats competition at SOAR 2010.

Go check out her blog and follow the links to her Picasa album. Have you ever seen someone spin yarn right off a bunny?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Birthday Outfit

When I knit Norah Gaughan's Manon cardigan for myself, Iris asked for one of her own, but without sleeves. The pattern is sized for adults and uses aran-weight yarn at 4.5 sts/inch. It could fit a 10 year-old if I used a DK weight at 5.5 sts/inch. I just happen to have some in bright blue, her current favorite color.

Notice that I knit the sweater differently than the instructions. Look at the construction photos of the first sweater. The instructions say to knit the waistband ribbing with the triangle sections. The weight of the triangles drags down the ribbing, which I find rather unattractive. (A non-knitter might never notice.)

I knit the triangles using a size 5 needle and a size 4 needle for the garter edge rows.
Then I did a tubular cast-on with size 2 needles for the first 4 rows, switched to a size 3 needle and knit a band to match the length of the peplum made up of 7 triangles. I picked up stitches for the body of the sweater and knit with a size 6 needle. (My needle collection got quite a workout during this project.)
Then I stitched the peplum to the bottom of the band. The tubular cast-on and cast-off don't quite match, but at least I got the topology right.

You can't see it from this photo, but I mastered the tubular cast-on and cast-off for the cuffs on the sleeves.
You can't imagine the tantrums when I started to knit sleeves for the birthday sweater. She insisted that she wanted A SWEATER WITHOUT SLEEVES! But, I had just enough yarn to make the sleeves and my artistic vision included 3/4 length sleeves. Let her knit her own vest.

We also had a fight on our hands when I tried to retire her last swirly black skirt. It was made of polyester knit and getting too short for swirling. She insisted that there was nothing wrong with the skirt and she wanted to keep wearing it.

I made the new skirt, adding 5 inches in length to the pattern I used last time. Then I put the skirt that she didn't want, a t-shirt I bought her last year that she never wore, and the sweater with the sleeves that she didn't want on her dress form. I finished the outfit late at night, when she was already in bed. When I woke up in the morning, the dress form was naked and my girl was wearing her birthday outfit, 3 weeks early.

Note that I didn't finish a birthday outfit for myself.

She wore the black skirt again today and admitted that she likes this one better. The cotton is softer than the polyester, and she can swirl and swirl to her heart's content with the longer length. She also said that sleeves are OK for a jacket (but she is still waiting for a sweater without sleeves).

Tomorrow, I will surprise her in the morning with a brooch to close the sweater jacket.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Shop and Home Ec

I am 2/3 of the way through Shop Class as Soulcraft.  I would have finished the whole book, but he mentioned his father was a physicist at Berkeley and then I looked at the cover and dedication and realized that name is familiar, and then I took out his father's classic book and then I started Googling his dad and then I found the on-line notes for a waves and quantum mechanics class going on RIGHT NOW at Caltech, and then I started looking at their problem sets....

It's really kind of funny that, at the same time he (the son) was a teenager living in a commune in Berkeley, I was living in Foster City and sitting next to Luis Alvarez' niece in HS science class.  I left FC for bohemian Berkeley and Boulder while he ended up in an soulless job in FC*.  Small world.

So far, I am really enjoying the book, but he is really preaching to the choir. The main weakness of the book, and of Robert Pirsig's book, is that it is focused only on a small part of the culture of making and fixing, a world that is mainly inhabited by men.  There is nothing wrong with that.  As he admits, he is writing from his own experience, and it is a rich experience.   But, there are whole other worlds out there.

I have been swamped at work, my child's illness, and then my own illness.  In September, I was the September Patchwork Star at the South Bay Quilters' Guild meeting.

Here's an excerpt from the questionnaire with my thoughts about making.
How long have you been a member of the guild? Have you served on the board or community service? What else?

I joined the guild in 1997, when I first moved to the South Bay. I spent time on the Usenet bulletin boards when I should have been writing my PhD thesis. I met P (the president of the quilt at that time) on-line and she gave me info about the SBQG. I also joined the local chapter of the American Knitters’ Guild. I would have joined ASG (American Sewing Guild), too, if they had a local chapter.

I meet very few women at work or school. Wherever I live, I always sign up for fibery groups for the company of other women who like to make stuff. Advertisers want to create communities of consumption around their products. These guilds are communities of production and creativity. The women here are much more interesting than the random person on the street.
At the time that I left Boulder, I had belonged to the Boulder chapter of ASG and a quilt group that met in the Physics building on campus.  Eric's wife belonged to the quilt group, too.  There were 5 current or former IBM systems engineers out of about 20 members in the local ASG in the late 1990s.

At my first SBQG meeting, they announced the "Sunshine and Shadows" for the month.  I was one of two women that had recently been awarded PhDs.  Many women came up to me at the break to introduce themselves and I met 3 other women with PhDs that night, including a grandmother with a PhD in algebraic topology.  Somehow, she talked me into becoming the guild's first webmaster and thinking that it was my idea.  Clever, isn't she?

I did make it over the lecture at the Fowler museum last week; Bad Dad and Iris went to her team's soccer game instead of tagging along.  Atta Kwami gave a very interesting lecture about the contemporary scene in Africa.  It was followed up with a thought-provoking conversation between Kwami and Professor Sylvester Ogbechie (UCSB).  I was struck by one phrase that Atta Kwami kept repeating.
"My passion lies in making."
Yet, he did write a book about contemporary artists in Kumasi, Ghana because no one else was going to do it and he felt it was really important to get the story down.  Kumasi Realism is listed on, but is not on the US site yet.  Kwami showed some slides from the book.  Hopefully, Bad Dad will be going to the UK again on business and can bring it home as a gift.  Hint, hint.

* It sounds like Matthew never got out of the office park and mall corner of FC.  It's actually a much nicer place than he describes.  Where else can kids spend all summer sailing, canoeing and kayaking from backyard docks?  Or go Christmas carolling by canoe?  Or just hangout in modernist homes that blur the distinction between inside and outside? Or bike around the island on the network of bike paths?  Or birdwatch in the 30% of the city limits set aside as a wildlife sanctuary?  It did sound like he had a sucky job, though.  That can color your whole perception of a place.

More about making stuff:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day of the Dead Activities for Kids

I dread sugar holidays.  I was happy about having an autumn baby until I learned about the industry around childrens' birthday parties and the difficulty of getting inside the Party Store during the Halloween season.  A smarter, more systems-thinking mother would have taken American marketing cycles into consideration when conceiving.

LA is full of so much culture, that visitors cannot take it all in.  Many hit just the highlights, like the Getty Center and Disneyland, but we also love the smaller venues.

One such gem is the Fowler Museum on the UCLA campus.  It's free, though you pay for parking in lot 4.

It's not an ART museum; it was founded as the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. It's also home to the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology (yes, that Cotsen).  The level of curation at the Fowler is extraordinary.  Take some time, read the exhibit materials, watch the multimedia content and TAKE THE AUDIOTOUR.

Actually, pick up both the adult and children's audiotour guides.  They're both free, as is admission.  Unlike other museums, the childrens' audiotour is not a dumbed down version of the adult one.  It repeats very little information, focusing instead on the things that children might notice and care about.

Our daughter can spend a long, long time listening to the audiotour and examining the objects.  The museum curators at the Fowler know their stuff, and understand children.  I cannot recommend the place highly enough for families.

Anyway, for a deeper exploration of Halloween, Day of the Dead and death rituals, take your kids to tomorrow's Kids in the Courtyard event, Life Drawing Meets Dead Dancing: A Day of the Dead Celebration.   The kids can have fun, learn about Mexican and Korean cultures, and make some arts/crafts.

Get them the audiotour for kids and that might even buy you enough time to sneak in a lecture about African Art while you are there.  Or at least that is my fantasy.  The lecture is in the basement and the kids' activities are on the first floor.  You can't expect to leave younger kids alone for that long.  Teenagers, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Democracy 2

Anyone figured out how they will vote on all the California initiatives yet?  I am still waffling on Prop 19 for reasons I will explain later.  What about Redondo Beach's measure G?

I wish I knew of a California website as thoroughly-researched and thoughtful as Colorado and Boulder Ballot Issues.   Even if you don't live in Colorado, it is worth a read.

Disclaimer: I might be biased because I have talked politics with the anonymous blogger aka Your Ballot Issue Educator over many a meal.  A very good cook, and convincing debater, too!

All happy families are alike

Which would make for a really boring blog.

The last few months have been a blur with all three of us coming and going in all different directions for various commitments.  I think my arthritis flare-up was at least partially due to the stress of it all.

I came home late tonight to watch Bad Dad and Iris curled up on the couch together (she, wearing a flannel nightgown I made for her), watching Iron Man 2.

Well, our life is glamorous and dangerous, just like in the movies.  You want proof?

Mama went to Edwards/Dryden out in the Mojave,
 and saw two generations of Global Hawk UAVs,
 and even slipped out of the meeting to buy my little girl a present from the visitor center store,
while Bad Dad risked his life, flying with his experiment in a thunderstorm nearby.

In true super-hero fashion, I registered you for classes at your new school, did your laundry and helped you pack for your trip that week.

Your parents are superheroes in disguise.  Just remember to let us sleep in on the weekends.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seam Avoidance 2

I still haven't sewn up October Frost, mainly because I am not sure how to handle the button bands and buttonholes.  But check out another seamless sweater!
Traveling ribs across the front.

Plain ribbed back
Front detail
  • Pattern: Cookie A's Katrina Rib 
    • A really nice top-down design knit in the round
    • My cable cast-on (written in pattern) looks wonky; next time, I will try a tubular cast-on
    • The sleeves were lengthened to 16 rows before the bind-off.  I also picked up extra stitches at the underarm join, which helped keep the rib pattern continuous
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Swish DK in Garnet Heather
    • Is it really merino?  It feels so scratchy compared to other merinos I have used.  
    • I love the color.
    • Note to self, treat myself to better quality materials.  The price difference isn't very much after I factored in the time I spent with materials that didn't thrill and inspire me. 
    • I bought the yardage called for in the pattern, but I have about 120 g (of 350 g) leftover.
Cookie A made this a shareware pattern. Users are expected to donate what they wish for Haiti. Coincidentally, OxFam called our home and asked for a donation for Haiti earthquake relief.  I asked how much we donated last year and then pledged the same amount this year.

This pattern turned out to be the most expensive pattern I ever bought.  ;-)

Seam Avoidance 1

Economic integration of schools

My child attends a Title 1 school, which means 40% or more of the students come from low-income homes.  I didn't know what Title 1 meant until recently, when I saw the sign at her school and looked it up.  Here's what Title 1 means in California.

What does low-income mean? defines low-income as families with incomes less than half of their local metropolitan census tract, which means that 40% of the kids at her school come from families with incomes in the low $30,000 or less.  Some quick arithmetic with sales prices of the new townhomes in our neighborhood and I deduce that there is a full order of magnitude range of household incomes at this school!

Some affluent parents in our neighborhood used to apply for permits to neighboring middle schools (MS) in more uniformly affluent areas.  In recent years, we've seen a big change in parent willingness to send their kids to our neighborhood middle school.

It's a beautiful campus, recently remodeled with a combination of  local bond and Title 1 money and donations.  The teachers I met at back to school night have impressive credentials, enthusiasm and energy.

I read with great interest, Study of Montgomery County schools shows benefits of economic integration.
Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool.
Our neighborhood MS has lower average standardized test scores, but produces an outsize share of our city's HS valedictorians.  Bad dad and I wonder if economic integration helps both the poor and affluent children.

We are rather cynical about standardized test scores, but perusal of the STAR test results for 2010 is educational.  Kids that are on the fast track don't train for the tests, but kids on the slow track (at least in elementary years) spend more time being coached for the exams; it is not a valid comparison.  For this reason the scores don't tell you as much as the type of classes the kids are taking. 

Take a look at the scores for the economically disadvantaged kids.  The school has an honors track and the population in them is biased towards kids from middle and upper income homes. 

Kids on the fast math track take pre-algebra in 6th grade and algebra1 in the 7th grade.  Notice the number of low-income kids at my child's school that take math classes that put them on track to take Calculus in 11th grade.  It's not as high a percentage as for the kids from more affluent families, but it is still pretty impressive.

I have some other thoughts about standardized testing.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Our water footprint

I walked my watershed for Blog Action Day 2007 to show where my water comes from and where it goes. This time, I will show one stop of our water cycle in detail.

Last November, I had the opportunity to chaperone my daughter's class when they visited the West Basin Water District's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California.

Here's a Google Earth view of the area.  Most of the waste water from western LA county goes to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant for removal of solids and biological treatment with bacteria that eat the smaller particles before settling to the bottom of the holding tanks.  The water is then pumped to the water recycling plant marked by the red asterisk (*).

The world's second largest Whole Foods (marked with the red WF) is adjacent to the water recycling plant, proving that there is absolutely nothing smelly or off-putting about the place.   Some of this country's most expensive real estate is in the southwest corner of this picture.

Notice the density of the residential neighborhoods.  The small plots save tons of water, both because we use less for landscaping, and because of the embedded water in the gasoline we don't consume.

Here's one of the giant tanks on the site.  I am not sure if this is the beginning or the end for the water's sojourn here.

The water goes through a two-step filtration process, first traveling through hollow fibers held together in these rods to remove the larger bacteria and viruses.

It gets scummy looking during the process.

A dispersant agent is used in this step to keep things free-flowing.

The water then undergoes a second filtration, using reverse osmosis through these filters.  The water is pushed with high pressure from the outside to the inside.  The clean water flows out of the center tube.

Here are some filter rods awaiting use.

These are in use.

This removes the smaller bacteria and viruses as well as salt and some pharmaceuticals.  Yup, we collectively take a lot of drugs (both legal and the other kind), excrete them, and then flush them down the toilet.  It all ends up here.

The water is then treated with ultraviolet light to break up the pharmaceuticals and kill any viruses that survived the earlier processes.  UV treatment can create radicals, which are corrosive to pipes.  The water pH is adjusted with lime as a buffer agent to prevent that.  See the characteristic blue-green lime color of the treated water? 

It reminds me of the swimming holes at the base of the water falls in Havasu canyon.  (Havasupai means people of the blue-green water.)

OK, now let's talk about recycling.  The outflow is piped around the Southland for landscape irrigation, flushing and other industrial uses (like cooling water at the many refineries in our region).

It's no accident that the Chevron refinery and two golf courses are located so close to the water recycling plant.  They use reclaimed water.  In fact, many office buildings in our region use reclaimed water for both outdoor irrigation and flushing toilets.  LA Air Force Base and Toyota USA Headquarters are two notable sites.

We also sit upon a giant aquifer, which we pump for drinking water.  During the rainy season, rainwater percolates down to recharge the aquifer.  (Actually, too much of it runs off into the storm drains before they get a chance to percolate into the ground, but that's another discussion.)

At the coast, it is always a battle against salt water incursion into the fresh water aquifer.  That's why we have built a line of injection wells (blue dots) along the coast.
The treated waste water is injected at the bottom of the aquifers.  We also pump water from the top of the aquifers for drinking water.  About 30-40% of my local water supply comes from these wells and directly from the recycling plant. 

At the plant, they are careful to show the injection wells and water source wells on different pictures.  ;-)   Perhaps they think we will be grossed out?  I am not bothered by it.  In fact, I am proud of the ingenuity demonstrated in this water recycling plant.

Did you know that 20-25% of California's electricity usage is to move water around?  The more we recycle our water, the lower our carbon and water footprints.

As we walked around the plant, I found many golf balls
that had escaped the driving range next door.

Please leave more links in the comments.  Thanks!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Water Harvest 2010

The focus of Blog Action Day 2010 (October 15) is a subject I revisit periodically, water.

How timely that our own West Basin Municipal Water District is hosting Water Harvest Day on Saturday October 16.  View the flyer here
Join us for a fun-filled, half day festival that includes stage shows about important water issues, free food and games and fun booths to explore. Tours will be offered of the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility. Event is from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Ed Little Facility, 1935 S. Hughes Way in El Segundo.  FREE parking and shuttles are available at 1960 E. Grand Ave (off Sepulveda, near El Segundo Blvd) from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes.
I took the tour with my daughter's fifth grade class and it was very enlightening. It's worthwhile even if you don't have kids.  More later on Friday, Blog Action Day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Bending the metrics

Here are a couple of examples that I observed that you won't be able to detect no matter how much time you spend online looking at CA STAR test results or

My daughter's third grade teacher did not originally impress me.  For one, she was always late picking up her kids before school or at the end of recess.

But, when Bad Dad and I walked around open house and looked at the writing samples on her classroom walls, we were astonished at the sophistication of the writing for third grade.  The kids actually developed their ideas logically in addition to mostly correct grammar and spelling.  We strolled through other classrooms to compare.  Nope, the other classrooms showed more uneven writing samples.  What was different in her classroom?

A chance conversation with another parent cleared up the mystery.  She explained that this quiet teacher was the best teacher her children had in the whole school; she worked individually with every child to get them a solid start on writing.

How did she find the time?  She met one on one with the kids before school, at recess, at lunch and after school.  We were aware that she had worked one on one with our child, but we didn't know she made the time for every child.

Writing is not tested in third grade.  Her work will not be recognized on the battery of standardized tests.  If exceptional teaching is not tested, does it still exist?

California tests kids on science in the fifth grade.  I don't particularly care for the laundry list or the rote memorization aspect of the tests, but I have to give the tests credit for ensuring that every school in California now teaches some science in elementary school.  Before that, many elementary school teachers skipped teaching science altogether.

I was initially puzzled by the way my daughter's fifth grade teacher taught the textbook chapters out of sequence.  She started with the physical and earth sciences in the middle and back of the book, and then went back to the life sciences at the beginning of the book in the Spring.

I figured it out when the test scores came out.  Many classes don't get to the end of the book.  The standardized tests are front-loaded; there are more test questions from the beginning of the curriculum.  A teacher confident that her class will be able to cover the entire book can safely teach out of sequence, knowing that she will have the time to cover the life science at the end.  This way, the material is fresh on the kids' minds and they will ace the test.

I don't consider this cheating.  I think this just proves Iris had a smart teacher.

Don't confuse metrics for outcomes

I just want to add a caveat to my earlier post, Value-added teaching.

Higher test scores are an indicator of higher test scores.  We hope that they mean the kids learned more, but measurements are not necessarily reality.  Metrics can be gamed.

For instance, when we took a trip to Hawaii during late April a couple of years ago, we were astonished at the number of children at the hotel.  Didn't the kids have school?  And why were all the school-aged kids at the pool incredibly precocious?

The other parents clued me in.  (One was a pediatrician at a major research hospital & medical school.)

Standardized tests are given in May.  April is drill and kill time at schools around the country.  Kids that already know the material covered in the tests are bored to tears by drill and kill.  The teachers don't want them in the classroom, causing a ruckus and distracting the other kids.  Late April, after Spring break is over, is a wonderful time to book cheap airfares and hotels.

So how do we know whether a high score is due to coaching or deep mastery of a subject? 

We don't. 

As a scientist and a mommy, I am comfortable with ambiguity, but I know that I can never run for public office.  ;-)

To better measure how well someone has learned something, wait a few years and test their skills again.

Because we can't time travel and see if that kid really understands fractions and long-division, perhaps we can test their parents.

Sandra says that real-estate agents really stress school test scores, whipping potential home buyers into an emotional buying frenzy.  Perhaps real estate agents should be tested in elementary mathematics and the scores can be posted on the internet for easy comparison shopping?

If you read my education posts, you can see how my feelings toward our local school and school district have evolved.  I think that our family arrived in the school district at a particularly turbulent time, with a new principal and new district superintendent--both bent on making their mark.  Once they relaxed a bit, and we learned how to play the game, our experiences have been much, much better.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

A really big firecracker

Spaceflight Now reports that:
The Minotaur 4 rocket and an innovative space surveillance satellite have a Saturday night launch date scheduled at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Liftoff time is 9:41 p.m. local (12:41 a.m. EDT) from Space Launch Complex 8 on the southside of the base.

The evening's launch opportunity extends 14 minutes to 9:55 p.m. to ensure the mission reaches the desired orbit. 
We're going to a Bar Mitzvah near the beach tonight so we will be sure to look for the bright spot on the western horizon shortly after launch time.  It's been a long time since we had a clear evening so that we can view a satellite launch in CA.  This summer has been so foggy.

The ground track map shows the flight track heading southwest from VAFB.  It might be too far over the horizon.   If you see (or don't see it) tonight, leave a comment about where you viewed the launch.  (No points if you watched from the STARS lab or on the space channel.)

Related posts:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

10 to the 4th

At 10 AM on 10 October, 2010, CicLAVia will take over a 7 mile stretch of Los Angeles streets for bicycles or pedestrians.
CicLAvia is a car-free festival where bicyclists and pedestrians take over select L.A. streets. The 7-mile CicLAvia route goes from Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, through Downtown L.A. to the Bicycle Kitchen in East Hollywood. It's a free, family fun event with lots of activities for all - and just a great day to ride a bike.
Learn more about itSee the route and see you there!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Making Stuff Again

Via Fashion Incubator, two more stories about how we are losing our ability to make stuff.

Genteel Majors

I am feeling somewhat better, but not able to sit up for very long.  I've been meaning to blog about this for the past two years, but never got around to it.

Today, I read several pieces that jogged my memory.
I don't see much evidence of journalistic detachment in any of the three pieces; they all have their ax to grind.  They are worth reading anyway.

Blogging doesn't require any detachment or coherence, so I will begin with a couple of stories.

While dining on my own at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco, I noticed that a man at the next table was also dining solo.  I asked him if he would like to share a table and entrees and split the check.  That way, we could sample more dishes.  He agreed. Because there was a wait for tables, the restaurant waived their 'no split checks rule' to free up another table.

He was attending the biomedical conference that was also at Moscone center that week as an exhibitor.  I enjoy hearing stories and he had a good one.

He had majored in engineering and then rose through the ranks to become the US manager of a multi-national medical equipment company.   He employed about a hundred engineers and technicians.  Their division was modestly profitable, but they had to hustle to remain profitable in a competitive field.

He earned enough to live in a nice east-coast suburb and afford for his wife to work full-time as a stay at home mom.  He estimated that, through his kids' schools and activities, he knew about 100 other dads well enough to know their occupations.  Only six of them were in businesses that made or fixed stuff.  He counted in that six plumbers and mechanics that owned their own businesses (and earned enough to live in that suburb).  The rest of the dads worked in the service sector, mainly in financial services.

That is one anecdotal statistic, but it is a shocking one.  It shocked him, which is why he made it a kind of mission to find other dads "who make stuff".

One of the highlights of our last Lair week was meeting a pioneer in my graduate field of study.  He was the first guy who applied Liouville's theorem to the study of chemical reactions in phase space.  While we both found theoretical chemical physics very intellectually satisfying, it's not a very lucrative field.  ;-)

Like a secret society, we exchanged stories about how we currently earn a living.  He parlayed his math skills into other, more lucrative, fields and made some sound investments.  That allowed him to live in a very expensive neighborhood.

We discussed how few of the college students we meet seem to be majoring in technical subjects that require math.  He said that, among his neighbors in genteel SF society, there was a prejudice that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors are for immigrants and not something worthy of their children.  I can't afford to live in that kind of neighborhood or hobnob with those people so that was a revelation to me.

So maybe David Brooks was on to something.

The CNNMoney article covers some of the same territory.
The top 15 highest-earning college degrees all have one thing in common -- math skills. That's according to a recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks college graduates' job offers.

"Math is at the crux of who gets paid," said Ed Koc, director of research at NACE. "If you have those skills, you are an extremely valuable asset. We don't generate enough people like that in this country."
That article ends with some shocking statistics:
What happened to well-rounded? There are far fewer people graduating with math-based majors, compared to their liberal-arts counterparts, which is why they are paid at such a premium. The fields of engineering and computer science each make up about 4% of all college graduates, while social science and history each comprise 16%, Koc noted.
First off, I would like to take issue with the implication that STEM majors are not well-rounded people.  If you are a history major who reads as much math for fun as I read history, then I would like to invite you home for dinner.  ;-)

I am aware that our nation is not graduating as many students in STEM fields as our economy requires, but are the numbers as lopsided as that?

I went to the National Center for Educational Statistics 2009 Digest Tables.  The most recent year for which they have data is 2007-2008.  Check out Table 271. Bachelor's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2007-08. Or 1970-2011.

In 2007-2008, 1,563,069 bachelor's degrees were conferred; 68,676 in engineering; 38,476 in computer and information science; 161,485 in social sciences and history.  4% of 1,563,069 is 62,523. But how did 161,485/1,563,069 become 16% each in social sciences and history and 32% total? I get ~10% for the two fields combined.

If you have time to kill, read Tables 302-319, degrees conferred in specific major fields of study for each year from 1970-2008.  While the number of bachelor's degrees increased 86% from 839,730 to 1,563,069, the number of STEM majors has been flat or declining in both percentage and absolute terms (especially in math). In the same period, the number of journalism and communications majors increased 750% from 10,802 to 81,048. Too bad the ones employed at NACE and as fact-checkers at CNN can't do arithmetic.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Out for the count

I am flat on my back, propped up in bed with half a dozen pillows, full of pain killers and muscle relaxants.  They must be working because I can actually bear to sit up enough to prop the laptop on my legs.

Another mother told me about the night she heard her potty-training daughter get up, tinkle, flush, wash her hands, and put herself back in bed without asking for help.

I just heard my free-range child let herself into the house after walking home from her new school (1.2 miles away).  She was singing and she remembered to close the door.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Math class is tough!

People keep mentioning to me the 1980s era 1992 talking Barbie that says, "math class is tough!", expecting me to be outraged by it. Actually, I don't have any problem with that statement at all*.

I was offended by something else that the Barbie said. Does any one else remember that the doll also said, "Let's go shopping!"? The doll was conditioning girls to become consumers, but didn't give any balancing encouragement for girls to become producers as well. Are we valued solely for our purchasing power?

This weighs on my mind as I have been bombarded with back to school shopping messages for the past month and I am taking my daughter to register for middle school (6th grade) on Monday. Moreover, we still don't know which math class she should take. The students were given a couple of math placement tests in the Spring, but her scores were inconclusive. It may just be decided by what will fit with the rest of her schedule.

At least she will be rocking the back to school wardrobe I made/refashioned for her. We had fun putting it together, but I am under press embargo until after she has debuted them at school. She has given me permission to blog about the two dresses I made her for her 5th grade graduation. Stay tuned, and visit her blog.

* If you don't find that "math class is tough", then perhaps you should take a more challenging math class. One of the things I found most attractive about math was the state of "flow" that I achieved when working on difficult problems. This has helped me over many a rough patch in adolescence and early adulthood.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Shoes

Iris and I both got new purple suede shoes this Fall.  When she said that mine were only a little bit too big for her, I tried hers on for size.  It's a bittersweet feeling, the first time you realize that you can fit into your daughter's shoes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life in the TMZ

I spoke too soon; the death march is NOT over.  Bad Dad is off doing field experiments for three weeks in a row and I am holding down the fort alone while trying to keep all of the end of fiscal year balls in the air at work.  I am so tired, I can barely type and write grammatically.

Summer camps keep shorter hours than daycare.  I am stuck doing both dropoff and pickup and all the stuff at home that keeps the household running.  Seriously, from 6:30 AM, when I should be up doing my back exercises (but I hit snooze instead), till 9:30 PM, when I hit the sack, I am running as fast as I can.  There is no margin for errors or surprises in my schedule, especially in the morning.

Imagine how thrilled I was to get an email alert about TV filming near work on Friday.  The bounding box for road closure is a worst case scenario.  How dare they film on the route between Iris' summer camp and my office?  Why do they have to film during the AM rush hour?

I mentioned in Free Range Kid 5 that our daytime hometown is one big movie set.  I read that movie studios have to pay for travel time for filming at locations outside of a certain radius from a certain street corner.  That's why some sound stages were built near work.  They fall inside the zone.  Today, when I was waiting for a return phone call, I looked up the zone rules.
It is a 30 mile radius used by union film projects to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members.

The center of the studio zone is located at the southeast corner of Beverly and La Cienega in Los Angeles, California. More than 90 cities and parts of three counties including Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties fall within the 30-mile studio zone.
See an interactive map of the 30-mile zone.

Wikipedia said that the website, TMZ, is named after the thirty-mile zone.  Well, that would explain why so many of our neighbors work in the entertainment industry*.

Traffic in the TMZ sucks, even without movie filming, freeway construction and presidential visits.  

But, I did manage to sew Iris' theater costume between dinner cleanup and bedtime tonight.  The performance isn't even until Friday so I beat the deadline by one evening!  That means we have time to celebrate with a meal at the El Segundo farmers' market tomorrow.  Iris wants to go to the Farm Stand because their fries are so good.  I was hoping for Chef Hannes because he does a special menu with farmer's market ingredients every Thursday.  In prior years, the peach cobbler was amazing.

* At the end of school, it is common to discuss summer vacation/camp plans for the kids.  This year, one classmate's mom told me that they weren't doing any camps this summer because they are going on location (for two movies) with her husband.  Another dad said that his band had a couple of tours and the family would accompany for one, possibly two of the tours.  Is it too late to be adopted into one of those families?

One dad from the local school friended me on Facebook.  He works as a forensic accountant for the film industry.  (Who knew you could make a living doing that?)  He posted on fb a scan of the requirements for a scene from a decades old classic movie.  I guess he takes the head count, multiplies by the rates, and comes up with how much the movie filming should cost.