Monday, February 28, 2011

Hello Goth!

Iris told me that her new style ideal is a t-shirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones adorned with a hair bow. Several manufacturers make them; some even come with pink sequined bows. I offered to buy her one but she doesn't literally want those shirts. She just likes the ironic humor of melding frothy girliness with the darkness of goth.

I thought it looked like Hello Kitty Gone Goth. She told me to shorten it to "Hello Goth!" Then she told me that she would prefer to call it "Girly Goth". A coworker asks how this differs from "Perky Goth" and "Gothic Lolita". Well, it is not a relentlessly upbeat as the former and has none of the sexual overtones of the latter.

May I present "Hello Goth!" the mommy and me edition? I made three of these skirts using two old sportshirts and three yards of stretch cotton poplin.
In the back view, you can see how I incorporated the hems of the shirts for an uneven hemline effect.
The pocket is too shallow to be functional now.
I also kept the sleeve placket just for fun.
In the lower left corner, you can see a sliver of skirt #3, which we gave away to someone* who admired Iris' skirt.
I've been sewing a lot of black and gray for my girly goth, including the Iris-sized blouse made of black cotton/lycra jersey with semi-sheer black dotted Swiss sleeves.

It wasn't until I used up 3 of the 3.5 yards of the stretch poplin before I realized it was perfect for Vogue 1220, a dress I really want to make up for spring. I went back to SAS Fabrics to see if they had more, but all I found was a 2 yard piece of it in black--not enough to make the dress. I will have to continue searching.
* I don't normally sew for people outside of close friends and family. But skirt #3 went to a doctor who saw me through a period of depressing and life-threatening illness. I strongly suspect that she spent more time with me than she was able to bill my insurance company for; I made an exception.

In 2011, I have sewn 15 things and blogged 6. That's a better ratio than 2010.

Related posts:
The first 4-tiered skirt
on a zoo outing.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Serengeti Traffic Report

There are not that many roads in Serengeti National Park. During high season, the roads are full of safari outfitters, especially when the animals are active near the road. However, traffic is so much more courteous than on the 405.
We saw many types of vehicles serving visitors on different size budgets. Most western visitors ride in pop-top 4x4s (Toyota and Range Rover) with 5-9 seats holding 4-5 passengers and one driver/guide. Western students and visitors from India and other parts of Africa may ride in larger vehicles like the bus below. The roads are narrow and guides are allowed to go off-road only to pass.
This is the cause of the traffic jam. I thought that watching a leopard stalk a herd of wildebeasts and zebras was a reasonable cause for a traffic delay. ;-)
The drivers/guides are highly incentivized to drive courteously. Not only will they be fined and/or banned for breaking the government rules, but they are also subject to the cold shoulder from other guides.

We were there on vacation, but the Serengeti is a workplace for the guides. We saw cell phone towers on top of every sizable hill and on many of the kopjes (granite intrusions that form hillocks on the Serengeti plains) as well. The guides were constantly on the phone and radio with one another with news of animal sightings. Even if they don't work for the same outfitter, they help each other out.

When there is an animal by the road, each driver gives their group enough time to observe, take photos, and then moves out of the way for the next vehicle. If a guide acts discourteously and hogs more than their fair share of animal viewing time, do you think anyone else will tell him/her about subsequent animal sightings? Their career will be over.

The worst traffic jams we encountered were at this leopard sighting and the lion sighting in the prior post. Most of the time, we didn't see much more than the four vehicles in our convoy. One guide said that, when a pride of lions actively hunts for prey, every vehicle working in the Serengeti rushes in. That's how he learned that there were ~150 vehicles working on the Serengeti.

We didn't see a kill. But we didn't encounter monster traffic jams either. We did see the big five (elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhino). In fact, we saw 4 of the big 5 our first day. Rhinos are rarer and we only saw two, and only in the Ngoro Ngoro crater.

BTW, check out the green lushness of the Serengeti highlands in December. That took Bad Dad and I by surprise.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How close do you get?

Many people asked, "How close do you get to the animals?"

This close.
We had to use the zoom a bit to get this pride of lionesses resting in the tree.
Their cubs were nearby, playing king of the mountain on this log. A herd of elephants walked by at just the right moment. The black dots in the background plains are wildebeasts and zebras.
When we first encountered this pride of lions, consisting of 12 lionesses, 10 cubs and a napping male, they were all sacked out.
A couple of the lionesses made halfhearted attempts to hunt a cape buffalo, but the others just couldn't be bothered. Our guide said that it would take about 4 lionesses to hunt and kill an animal that size. It looked like this pride had eaten well recently and had no desire to hunt again so soon.
We went during high season on the Serengeti. It's when you see the most animals.

BTW, we went to the national parks, where the guides adhere to strict rules of conduct. We cannot go off-road to chase animals the way guides in private game parks do. This is better for the animals because they know that, if they want privacy, they need only to leave the road. This is less stressful for them and for their young.

People who run tours in private game parks tout how much closer you can get to the animals. We don't feel any desire to get closer than we experienced. And we don't want to stress out the animals any more than we have to.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good-bye la Nina

Bad Dad does the taxes and I make the tough call of whether we should ski the southern or the northern storm track each winter. Because of the la Nina (a colder than usual pool of water in the equatorial east Pacific near Peru), the northern storm track seemed like a safer bet this year.

But our recent weather doesn't seem like a la Nina. Check out this animation from, a site for professional meteorologists.
See the moisture plume coming from the southwest? That kind of weather pattern can happen any year, but it is less likely during a la Nina year and more likely during an el Nino year. It's like playing with loaded dice. Anyway, that's been happening more often than I would have expected during a la Nina year. (Remember the epic storm in late December?)

Dr Jeff Masters' Wunderblog breaks the news that the la Nina is over.

Take a look at the latest weekly sea surface temperature (SST) and SST anomaly (deviation from climatological mean temps) from NOAA. Notice that the equatorial SST near Peru is slightly warmer than usual this week?
Watch this NOAA animation of global SST anomalies for the last six months. See the waters off the coast of Peru turn from indigo (-2.5 C colder than usual) to yellow (1.0 C warmer than usual) over the last six months? Here's the latest weekly still, but click on the link above to see the full mesmerizing movie.
Hopefully, the abatement of la Nina will bring relief to flood-stricken Australia.

Think snow!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The view from my window

The view from my cot one morning on safari. She was taking a picture of the cape buffalo in the trees. All night long, I heard noises that the guide later identified as hyena, zebra and lion. No wonder they told us to stay inside our tents after dinner until sunrise.
Sunrise over the Serengeti plains, as viewed from outside our tent.
Tent interior. You can glimpse the bathroom area through the door on the right.
Notice the LED bedside reading lamps and the overhead lights. They are powered by a solar panel attached to the roof of each tent and a battery pack under the rear cot.

Hot safari showers are offered each evening before dinner. The water is heated over a wood fire and mixed with cool water in a gravity-feed elevated water bag. A 35 liter bag yields two military showers (turn the water off while soaping, turn it on to rinse) with fantastic water pressure. Showers are at dusk (5:30 or 6) so that the staff can get back to help prepare and serve dinner. It is also not safe for the staff to be in the bush area behind the tents after dusk because of the wild animals.

Dinner is served at 7:30 with drinks and hors d'oeuvres a half hour earlier. They light big torches at the front of the tents and the lodges and patrol the path to safely guide us between the dining tent and our sleeping tent. Then early to bed because the animals are most active early in the morning.

Don't you love the decor? The sinks and water ewers are made with hand-blown recycled glass. The wall hangings and baskets are handwoven in the region. I will post later about our visit to a weaving cooperative that produced the baskets in the Thomson safari camps and about those fantastic wall hangings.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Threads Downtown

Los Angeles Conservancy gave tours of Union Station today.
Iris was in charge of the camera and it is fun to look at the outing from her vantage point. This is the ticket hall that is normally off-limits to the public.
I showed off a new skirt made with Vogue 1358. Iris and I both love this dark turquoise/teal supplex & nylon blend. It packs well, dries quickly and works with so many items I already own.
Iris wore Kwik Sew 2666 pants made of gray cotton interlock and a white Dharma Trading* smocked top.
I got the fabric for both the skirt and pants at SAS Fabrics in Hawthorne, CA. It's an odd-jobber that sews factory leftovers by the pound. In a way, these are recycled fashions because these scraps would have ended up being dumped at a fiber recycling plant if hobbyists like myself didn't find higher uses for them.

Afterwards, we went to Ocean Seafood in nearby Chinatown for dim sum. Yum!

Clockwise from left to right: house special roast chicken, shrimp with honey walnuts, rice wrapped in lotus leaves, double soy (tofu and soybeans) with mustard greens, congee/jook/shi fun/rice porridge, seaweed salad with home-style sweet pickles.
Kwik Sew has awesome patterns in awful wrapping. Would you be attracted to a pattern that looks like this?
Not many people would, which is why this pattern is now out of print, OOP. But, straighten out the leg flare and this pattern for knits with lycra makes the best fitting pull-on pants. Iris has had 8 pairs of these in her lifetime. I made pair #8 in black last night.

This is the 5th time I made the skirt in Vogue 1358. This time, I cut the front in one piece and the back in two pieces. Iris says it looks much nicer without the front seam. You can see iteration #4 here.

I do sew from new patterns, too. I made a new linen skirt yesterday from Vogue 9414 and will show it off later.

* BTW, if you know me in real life and want to place an order with Dharma, let me know ASAP. I am putting together a group order. Babies are arriving really soon and I can't let them go home without tie-dyed onesies.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Real Astrophysicists Wear Pink*

Methinks that Peggy Orenstein should lighten up a bit about the pink princess thing. As the mother of a girl that has emerged on the other side of the princess phase, and who went through her own two-year phase of wearing only pink and purple (in HS!), I can say that it does no lasting harm.

In fact, pink is very becoming. We sleep on pink sheets. Our bed faces a wardrobe covered in pink curtains. Besides being very flattering to the complexion, pink accentuates the greenness of bad dad's eyes.

Linda Wertheimer, made a comment during the interviewer about how girls might emerge out of it as an astrophysicist sporting a pink scarf. That brought back a flood of memories from my time as a graduate student at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).

The department used to have an office supply closet where we could take binders. By the time I got there, the gray and blue ones had been snapped up. I took a bunch of rose pink ones back to my office. I still have them in my office at work--a wall of pink with labels such as "Quantum Mechanics", "Statistical Mechanics" and "E&M" (no, not S&M!).

Lands' End had a huge sale on pink lambswool sweaters and I bought a cardigan that I kept in my office, draped over my chair.

One day, I found the JILA Unix sysadmin and numerical analysis consultant standing by my open office door. I looked up from my homework and asked her if she wanted to speak to me.

She replied, "No, I just love to look at all the pink in your office."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it reminds me how far we've come, for you to be confident enough to wear pink here."

She had earned a mathematics degree from UC Berkeley the year I was born. It was not a friendly place for women then--it still wasn't when I was a mathematics major in that department 18 years later, as I wrote about here. But a friend who attended grad school there a decade later said that things were much improved.

Every department and university is different. They also evolve over time, for better and worse. JILA is not Berkeley. And that woman did not have the opportunity to earn a PhD in physics as her husband did. Nor did she have his research career. But she had what she considered a good life, and sends pictures of her retirement life. (She knows the Dalai Lama personally!)

I just made a pink skirt last month for my spring wardrobe using Vogue 9789. It's 240 degrees or a 2/3 circle skirt. Yes, I got out a protractor to measure it.

I lifted the pattern pictures from this seller. This pattern was printed in 1986, exactly 25 years ago. It qualifies as vintage!?!

I think I made this skirt 6 times: view A x3, view B x2, view C x1. Each time, I got a little bit better at selecting the right view/fullness for my fabric. I made the outer skirt using a 26" version of view C and a lightweight cotton stripe. I lined it with view B, cut at 24", using a hot pink washed rayon.
I also substituted a grosgrain waist finish for the waistband that came with the pattern. My pattern is size 8-12 and my waist has expanded over the last 25 years. I cut the skirt pieces with 1" seam allowances, trimmed the skirt length to fit the 2 yard remnants in my stash fabric collection, pin basted the outer skirt to my dress dummy, and let it hang for a week. (I mainly sew on weekends anyway.)
I really like the way the yellow in this thrifted silk blouse intensifies the pink in the skirt and the cardigan.

*Actually, I am not a real astrophysicist, even though I earned a PhD from the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics (before it was renamed simply JILA). One of the JILA professors was so horrified to discover that I had not taken a single astronomy class in my entire undergraduate or graduate career, he made me promise to read an introductory astronomy textbook within a year of graduation. He said that they couldn't let a PhD with their imprimatur out in the wild without some rudimentary understanding of astronomy. Otherwise, I would reflect badly on them.

He's safe. I can keep up with cocktail party chatter about the Hubble constant now. ;-)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Comments wanted

Iris tells me how disappointed she is that her appeal for game ideas did not generate a single comment. When I first saw that post, I didn't think anyone would answer her. After all, why would anyone give away their ideas for free?

I thought that her appeal was not specific enough and that the post did not show much legwork on her part. That isn't to say she hasn't done the legwork. I find drawings of characters and story threads all over the house. She just hadn't demonstrated that she had put work into the project.

Do you want to see some of the mythology-inspired characters she has drawn? Leave her a comment and let her know!

I just learned today that HuffPo's 6,000 bloggers work for free. How much of that $315 Million will Arianna share with her serfs?

If that is how I feel about free labor, why do I work as a volunteer CSA coordinator? (So that the program doesn't disappear and I can continue to enjoy my veggies.)

Why did I volunteer to help Iris' middle school robotics team? (So they can have a better chance against teams that have a lower than 38:1 student teacher ratio.)

Why did I agree to work as an unpaid guest-blogger the week of March 7 for James Fallows while he is on book leave? (Because I look forward to reading his book when he is finished and also because I am a long-time subscriber to the Atlantic--a for-profit enterprise that runs in the red as often as it runs in the black.)

Posting may be light as I try to bank up blog posts for my stint at It should be an interesting week with a science and technology theme.

I am also furiously reading up about how to build and program Lego NXT robots. The programming API is built on LabVIEW, so I am hoping it will make intuitive sense to me.

Northrop Grumman sponsored two FLL teams (of 10) for the school and provided several NXT kits. In December 2010, the two teams competed in the qualifying round in Manhattan Beach. Iris was one of 3 kids moved from team A to team B to rebalance them a bit. Her original team did great and advanced to the next round. Her new team fell just short, and placed as an alternate.

For the Spring Showdown Robotics Tournament at Legoland, the school came up with the money to send an all-girl robotics team! Iris and three other girls were selected. They are working assidiuously with the aid of one of the girls' fathers. He's in PDR* and he still finds time to volunteer so I have no excuse not to shuffle my work schedule so I can help, too.

I wonder if the girls want to tie-dye their old team shirts pink?

*PDR is preliminary design review. All satellite programs go through thorough design reviews at various stages or milestones. Engineers and managers for both the contractor and the buyer work very long hours leading up to and during the design review process. PDR is the last chance to catch gotchas before proceeding to build the satellite.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Another Reason to Ditch Internet Explorer and Microsoft

Your searches are a private matter between you and your search engine provider of choice, right?

Think again.

Check your privacy policy with Microsoft. If you performed your search with Microsoft Internet Explorer, you may have given them "permission" to spy on your searches. From the WSJ:
Stefan Weitz, director of the Bing search engine at Microsoft, said in an interview the company studies how certain users interact with Google in order to improve Bing. It does this by looking at "clickstream data," or information that users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer or the Bing search toolbar voluntarily share with the company.
Read Google Says Bing Cheated at the WSJ.
Search engine land has the most thorough discussion.
Machine Learning has an excellent piece about user preferences and privacy.
Hat tip to Geeking with Greg for the links.