Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Maker Wrap-up

This year, I kept a spreadsheet of my projects and craft purchases.  I purchased ~250 yards and used ~150 yards of fabric in 117 projects.  The fabric usage is a bit low because I did so much refashioning and and worked with used clothing and odds and ends from my 'zero-waste' bin.  Scraps yielded  linings, facings, pocket bags and bias bindings.  I also produced many a quilt top and toddler clothes for LA County foster children from them.

In numbers:
  • 33 items for me (nearly all of my new clothes for the year)
  • 17 for Iris (about half her new clothes this year)
  • 67 for others ranging from quick baby pants to twin-sized patchwork quilts
  • 10 knit projects
  • 107 sewn projects

My favorite project has got to be the whale fluke quilt I made for an anonymous LA county foster child.  Someday, I would like to make one for myself.

In other news, Iris and I took singing lessons together.  We had fun.  They helped.  She scored a principal role in her school musical and I no longer feel embarrassed singing in public.

We traveled all over the western US, skiing, bicycling, hiking and visiting friends.

I'm busier than ever.  On top of my CSA coordinator role, I am also serving as a nutrition docent, 3x a week math tutor and making the sets for the play (with Pennamite) for Iris' school.  The schools are so hard up for money that parent volunteers are filling in so many roles.  

Bad dad and I are taking several MOOC (massive open online courses) and enjoying them immensely.  For some reason, he also expects me to do all of the housework and child schlepping.  I'm exercising and cooking from scratch more.

I hung out a shingle as a one-woman consulting company and STEM tutor.  I had a third interview and hope to sign the first consulting client soon.  Meanwhile, I discovered that, while there is very little work for earth scientists, there are many opportunities for someone with my data wrangling skills.  Headhunters do call, but only for full-time positions in other cities.

Aside from the money thing, life is full and good.  Our money situation is not dire so I am not complaining.  I just want to stress that family work is work, even though it doesn't pay as well as market work.  LOL.

The same goes for community volunteer work. I already made my sentiments about NCLB and high-stakes testing known.  I'm trying to make life better for the children in my community that fell victim to them.   Like family work, the pay is lousy.   But it is work and it is important.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cool Roof

Last week, we replaced our 23 year old conventional roof with a cool roof.  The roofers also removed the skylight and installed new flashing and sealer all around each skylight to minimize air infiltration.

I forgot to take a picture of the old roof.  The new one is lighter in color and contains blue and white grains that reflect sunlight.

We picked up considerable solar gain from the old charcoal gray asphalt shingles.  We were worried a cool roof would increase our heating costs during the winter.  The installers laid down a thicker underlayment than the stuff they took out.  Hopefully, that will give us more insulation value in the winter.

Unfortunately, financial incentives for cool roofs vary with the % reduction of energy consumption.  Because we never had air conditioning, we won't show any reduction in energy use.  We'll get the lowest rebate possible.  It's so unfair that we are punished for past responsible behavior.  We hope to feel more comfortable in our home, however.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vogue 8859 Take 2

When Iris came home from school, I asked her what she thought of the teal pair.  She looked me up and down and replied, "Unfortunately, they are cute".  Based on that assessment, I decided to see how Vogue 8859 would fit using a stretchier fabric. I made a pair out of purple-blue ponte the very next day. The fit speaks for itself.
Bad Dad works a 9/80 schedule and we spend a childless and workless Friday together every other week. We took a walk along the beach.  He says that the pants are incredibly flattering.  Add that to Iris' comment and the pants get 3 thumbs up in our family.

Last Friday was a 3-tanker day.  I used to think that was some sort of backlog or scheduling error on the part of the Chevron.  When I took a tour of the Chevron refinery in El Segundo with the MIT club of southern California, the tour guide explained that just means a supertanker made a delivery.  Supertankers (the largest class of oil tanker) are too large to maneuver inside the Catalina strait.  Smaller tankers, like the ones you see behind us, meet the supertanker west of Catalina island and transfer the oil to the off-shore oil terminal.

El Segundo has two oil terminals so they can load (or unload) 2 tankers at a time.  El Segundo means the second.  El Primero is Chevron refinery #1 in Richmond, California (north of Oakland, east of San Francisco).  The two refineries, spaced 400 miles apart, act as one.  That is, rather than switch configurations of the refineries to make different products, they may do one step of oil refining at one plant and then do the remaining steps at another.  The oil and intermediate products move between them via tankers.

The MIT club tour lasts 2 hours and the attendees asked very technical questions.  The general public tour lasts 1 hour and doesn't get very technical.  If you have a chance to take the MIT one, sign up early as space fills quickly.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vogue 8859 Marcy Tilton Pants

I'm ready for something upbeat, like a pair of teal jeggings. Are you with me?

Shams' two pairs of pants inspired me to give Vogue 8859 a try.  Hers fit more loosely about the thighs, but mine have the semi-jegging look of the pattern envelope.  I think it is useful to assess a pattern by looking at it on different women.  We are both 5'5" tall with 38" hips, but shaped very differently.  See this photo of the two of us side by side.  I made a size 14 overall, but let out the side seams slightly;  she made a size 14/16.  Our pants are roughly the same size.

Notice that the side seam is moved toward the front--a flattering look for most women.

The pockets will be useful for change or a credit card.  Next time, I would place them closer to the side seams.
The knee pleats allow me to sit comfortably or ride a bike.  Yet, they don't scream "technical outdoor sportswear".  Several comments on Shams' blog asked about the crotch curve.  Even though we are shaped very differently, both of us obtained a good fit right out of the envelope.  That's a pattern engineering marvel.
I used a variant of option two in the instructions.  I sewed the pleats together from the inside for 2" from each side edge, but I did not edgestitch the pleats on the inside.  The pleats ended up semi-structured.  Shams shows option 1 and the full option 2 pleats on her blog.
I used a teal stretch twill from SAS Fabrics. The pattern calls for a knit or a stretch woven with two-way stretch. I fell in love with the color (and < $3 price) of this piece, and plowed ahead with the project even though I had a sneaking suspicion that this fabric wasn't stretchy enough. It doesn't stretch along the lengthwise grain and has the slightest width-wise stretch.

Honestly, I thought this was going to be a wadder because it felt so tight when I pulled it on.  But, it loosened up after a few minutes and fits perfectly now.  I only wish that I had used a shorter piece of elastic at the waist.  The pattern suggests that you cut a piece of elastic that fits comfortably and then zig-zag it around the waistband twice.  When you stitch through most elastics, they loosen up.  Now I'm glad it is tight enough to stay up without the elastic. :-)

Look at the lovely yarn from my current knitting project.  It includes yarn from my three favorite yarn shops, Slipt Stitch in El Segundo, Twist Yarns of Intrigue in Manhattan Beach, and Artfibers in San Francisco.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our children

I wrote something after Trayvon Martin's murder and then deleted it before posting.  I have nothing more  to say about Newtown that hasn't been eloquently said elsewhere.  I share the universal sorrow.

I recently read Richard Florida's The Geography of Gun Violence and that reminded me of the LA Times Homicide Report.  Each and everyone of the victims is someone's child.  I took a screen shot of the Homicide Map today.  Go to the map and zoom in.  The larger red dots will dissolve into smaller ones marking the location of every homicide.  Click on the small dots to learn more.

Gunshot is the predominant cause of death, cited in 3263 of the 4298 homicides in LA county since January 1, 2007 (just under 5 years).  Take a look at the senseless violence here.  Sometimes, the entries become a virtual wake for the victims, where people post their memories of the fallen.

Black, latino, white or Asian, they are all our children.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The bike as accessory

Sigrid had fun with the incongruity between the bicycles and the clothes featured with them.  That made me smile, too.

But I do really like this shirtdress that comes with separate bodice pieces for different cup sizes. I wouldn't attempt to ride a century (metric or English) in a dress, but I can certainly ride a bike for quick errands in a dress like this.

If McCall's actually made a separate pattern piece for A cups and the McCall's patterns didn't fit so inconsistently, I would be tempted.

The tech drawing shows pockets on both skirt options and a separate collar and band--exactly what I want in a classic shirt dress.  I also like the sleeve options and the bias slip.  It would be great for a cotton lawn with a silk habutai slip.

I've been burned too many times by McCall's inconsistent sizing to try this. I will watch the pattern reviews. I'm looking for a really good shirtdress pattern.  If you found one, tell me about it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Furnace Wars 2012

Do you play furnace wars? That is, do you delight in smugly NOT using your furnace when weaklings others succumb to cold weather and turn on their heaters?  We fired up our furnace for the first time on Dec 9, when our house temperature dipped below 67F (about 19.6C) during the daytime.

Behold, our secret weapon in the furnace wars.  (This photo will look familiar to those who read Blog Action Day: Walking My Watershed.  I hope you read it; it's one of the most popular posts on this blog.)

Our bathroom sink and one of the twin sinks in our kitchen hold about 10 liters of water. Suppose we fill it with the tap water at 50C (122F).  That's 10 kg of water with a heat capacity of 4.2 kJ/(kg-K).  One liter of water will release 4.2 kiloJoules of energy for every degree C it cools.  Suppose the water cools to a comfortable 25C (77F), then it releases
10 liters * 25 degrees * 4.2 kJ/(kg-K) = 1050 kJoules.

Our kitchen is roughly 12x12 feet with 8 feet ceilings.  Convert that into meters and we get an air volume of 32621 liters.  The molecular mass of air is about 0.029 kg/mole. (Air is a mixture of gases so this is the weighted mass of it's constituent gases.)

One mole of gas at standard temperature and pressure (STP), a comfortable temperature for humans at sea level pressure,  fills up 22.14 liters.  So the air in our kitchen weighs
32621 liters * 0.029 kg/mole / 22.14 liters/mole = 42.7 kg.

The heat capacity of air at STP is 1.00 kj/(kg-K), so the 1050 kiloJoules of energy released by the cooling sink water can heat the air in the kitchen
1050 kJ / (42.7 kg * 1.00 kJ/(kg-K)) = 24.6 C

If the air in the kitchen started at 20 C, and is warmed another 24.6 C, then it would be a toasty 112 F.

The kitchen does not get that warm because some of that heat is transferred to the porcelain sink, heat capacity 1.07 kJ/(kg-K), furnishings, etc.  But, you get the general idea.  You used an awful lot of energy to heat that hot water, so you might as well get as much of that energy back before you send it down the drain.

Fancy new houses might have an expensive heat exchanger system*, using waste heat from the water leaving the house to heat up the water coming into the house.  But, we have an older and simpler house;  we use the same cheap and effective technology our grandparents used, our brains.

Now calculate the equilibrium temperature when 10 kg of water at 50 C meets 42 kg of air at 20 C.  Assume that it is a closed system (no heat loss to the sink or furnishings).  Leave your answer in the comments.

* Actually, heat exchanger systems are not that high tech or new.  They just run tubes of hot and cold water around each other.  I first read about that in the 1970s.  But, they did not gain traction in mass-market housing.  They were recently resurrected in expensive and huge LEED homes.

Alison makes a good point in her comment.  You do get much bang for your energy buck if you let the bathwater cool before you send it down the drain.  When we used to take baths, that's what we did in the winter time.  We take showers now--with a very low flow shower head.  If you don't mind rinsing the soap off your feet in the faucet before you exit the tub, you can recoup a great deal of heat from your shower water, too.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Physics, abridged

Bad Dad and I are taking Coursera's Introduction to Astronomy class. There is something comic about going through all of physics in one week of review. This week's docket covers classical mechanics in a bit over an hour.  Then we spend an hour covering electromagnetism and then finish up with quantum mechanics in half an hour.  It's a good thing I served as a teaching assistant for quantum mechanics for three semesters, or else I might be lost.
Next week, we get to do astronomy, the stuff that's new to me.  I hope I can keep up.
This reminds me of the Reduced Shakespeare's complete works of William Shakespeare.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Ship Tracks 2

Little Hunting Creek asked, "What can we to change marine diesel use?" in a comment on Ship Tracks and our changing weather.

What an excellent question. Spoken like a true UC Berkeley alumna! ;-)

We enjoyed lovely and brisk post-storm weather today, except for the haze near the harbors, which is visible in today's NASA Aqua afternoon imagery.

South-facing coasts are generally clearer than west-facing beaches because of the extra sunshine they receive. However, the south-facing harbor area is decidedly hazier than Malibu to the north, which does not get heavy ship traffic.

In 2008, California passed a law regulating the amount of sulfur allowed in fuel for ocean going vehicles (OGV) within 24 nautical miles of the California coast, from Oregon to Mexico.  Environmental News Service wrote a summary at the time.
The new measure requires ocean-going vessels within 24 nautical miles of California's coastline to use lower-sulfur marine distillates in their main and auxiliary engines and auxiliary boilers, rather than the dirtier heavy-fuel oil called bunker fuel.

Both U.S.-flagged and foreign-flagged vessels are subject to the regulation, which the board says is the most stringent and comprehensive requirement for marine fuel-use in the world.

The regulation will be implemented in two steps, each requiring lower sulfur content in the fuel - first in 2009 and final in 2012.

In 2009, eliminating about 75 percent of the sooty diesel particulates, as well as 80 percent of the sulfur oxides and six percent of the nitrogen oxides is the target.

In 2012, when the very low sulfur fuel requirement takes effect, reductions of diesel particulate matter will be 15 tons daily, the board said.
As a result of the new regulation, the board estimates that sulfur oxides will be reduced by 140 tons daily, a 95 percent reduction, and nitrogen oxides will be reduced by 11 tons per day, a six percent reduction.
The first phase was not contested. The California 2009 standards are on par with those in other special SOx Emission Control Areas (SECA) such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.  I found some excellent background information in Brian Shrader's U.S. Regulation of Large Marine Diesel Engines under MARPOL Annex VI in the Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal.

The second (2012) phase, that further restricts allowable levels of sulfur, is tied up in litigation.  I read about the litigation in the LA Times, but I cannot find the article on line right now.  If you find it, can you post the link in the comments?  I dimly recall that the shipping interests challenge California's standing to regulate ship fuel use off it's own coast.

Both the US Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the international body, MARPOL (see below), regulates ship fuel and pollution.

Assistant (Florida) State Attorney Shrader wrote:
Balancing valuable maritime shipping interests with environmental concerns is one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers charged with regulating air pollution from large marine diesel engines in the U.S. and around the world. A fragmented, country-by-country approach raises the specter of inconsistent regulatory regimes – a highly ineffective and burdensome state of affairs.

Achieving uniform regulation of shipping is difficult because of the global movement of people and goods through many sovereign jurisdictions. U.S. participation in the effort to globalize an international standard for air pollution from ships through Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) can serve commercial and environmental interests by increasing worldwide compliance and easing the burden on regulated entities.
What are the chances that the current US Congress will join an international body to legislate minimum standards given that 38 US senators voted against joining the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities on the grounds that it will undermine US sovereignty and destroy American families?  Or that presidential candidates for a major party ran on a platform that included abolishing the EPA?

If the California regulations had gone into effect on schedule, the CA Air Resources Board's epidemiological study estimates that:
Between 2009 and 2015, an estimated 3,600 premature deaths will be avoided, said the board, and the cancer risk associated with the emissions from these vessels will be reduced by over 80 percent.
A friend who had worked in pediatric oncology at UCLA medical school told me that epidemiologists call the area around the (Long Beach and Los Angeles) harbors and the roads used by the diesel trucks visiting the harbor "the cancer zone".

Who cares?  Most of the kids who live there are poor, often undocumented and lack access to health care anyway.  Let them eat cake so we can keep shipping those cheap goods cheaply.

Or we can hold the feet of our elected officials to the fire.

Do you have any other ideas on how we can get action on this?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Cable-wise, but in Merino, not Cashmere

I mentioned in Cable-wise, but not cashmere how I wanted to knit this pattern again, but in a nicer wool.  I had purchased a bag of Merinos Otto Shadow in Rose for another project, but found that the intricate cables of that pattern did not show up amid the yarn variegation.  I ripped that back and tried this pattern.

Now the yarn and the simple cables don't fight with each other for attention.
The cuff detail is lovely.

But, there is too much bulk in the upper sleeve and too much height in the sleeve cap.

In the cold, harsh light of day, I showed the color contrast between two balls of yarn from the same dye lot.  I ripped back one sleeve and reknit it, switching yarns every round or every other row (when knitting back and forth).  I can also see the striping effect where I switch between two balls, one light, and one dark.

I can live with the color shifts. If you look back at the top two photos of the front and back, you can see the subtle color shifts where I joined new yarn. Every ball is slightly different. But, I'm not happy with the sleeves. I may have to unseam them and reknit both sleeves. .Again.

Yes, Merinos Otto is a very soft yarn.  But I am done with superwash wool (except for socks).  Please remind me before I succumb again.

Ravelled here.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Reading Serendipity

The CRC handbook is now available online so they can update the latest and greatest fundamental constants with ease.  I came across my 1980s-era hardcopy on the bookshelf last week, took it down and leafed through it.  There's so much good stuff in there.  I like to open it up to random pages and try to figure out what it's about.  Often, I'm clueless.

But, I recently came across the heat capacity of water, which reminded me to look up the the heat capacity of air, and I feel a series about kitchen thermodynamics straining to get out.

Hardcopies of older editions of CRC handbooks are easy to find and cheap.  Every household should have one on the reference shelf next to a really big dictionary.  Sure, you could look up specific words and properties on the internet, but you can't browse serendipitously and learn things you don't really need "right now" the way you can with a book.

It's a rainy day.  Curl up with a really big book.

I hot-linked this comic from xkcd.  BTW, if the geeks in your life already have hardcopies of the CRC handbook, how about buying them a gift from the xkcd store?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Worthy playmates

A Nordstrom saleslady introduced the concept of walking new clothes around my closet.  I love my new streamlines sweater and the weather is finally cool enough to wear it.  Inspired by Carolyn's six different ways series, I put together a couple of outfits.

Unlike Kate Moss, I am not afraid to wear twin sets and mom jeans.  I buy one each every year with the Loehmann's birthday discount.  Look how well last year's corduroy jeans* work with my new sweater.  I think the turtleneck dates to my Colorado days.

A dressier option with a new version of Vogue 7607 and plaid shirting earmarked to become a coordinating blouse.  I used the same pattern for Unsuitable for plaids and stripes and Alabama Stitch Book, the abridged version.

This time, I lengthened and evened out the hem.  The back piece should have been cut bias, but I accidentally cut it on grain.  Thankfully, it looks fine in my loosely-woven polyester fabric.

The left front piece was evened up at the sides and extended slightly.

In hindsight, I would not have lengthened the front dip so much.

All three skirt pieces overlaid.

When I pulled out the pattern, I realized that the previous versions were cut with a size 16 yoke. No wonder they were so loose. I cut a size 14 this time and it fits the dress form much better. I lost weight this past year and I could have cut a size 13. Well, this size leaves me room for holiday desserts.

Full length view with lining peeking out.  I forgot to photograph the inside of the skirt.  Imagine an inside yoke of teal cotton Indonesian batik and a turquoise sueded rayon lining.  The lapped zipper came out satisfactorily, to my big relief.

I cut the front drape along the selvedge. This odd polyester fabric** doesn't want to press flat, so I tried to eliminate bulky doubled hems. I used the selvage or serged the hems instead.

* These jeans were made right here in Los Angeles in a factory less than 20 miles from my house!  I don't buy much RTW, but when I do, I often buy Not Your Daughter's Jeans.

** Do you remember the heydays of Denver Fabrics when they purchased fabrics leftover from the domestic apparel industry and sold them to home sewers at very reasonable prices?  I've never experienced such a great fabric store (in selection, service and price) since.  The current bricks and mortars DF store is a shadow of it's former self and the online store is not affiliated with the Denver one.

The owners downsized the store because both their customer base and domestic apparel manufacturing declined.  There was too little quality fabric to sell to too few customers.  I wish they could have just held on for the resurgence in interest from twenty-somethings.  Sigh.

This was one of their monthly specials for something like $3/yard and I purchased two colorways.  So it was marinating in my stash fabric collection for 20 years, awaiting it's destiny.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beware of college rankings

Beware of college rankings like this list.  A higher ranking based on someone else's arbitrary metrics may not suit your needs.   A coworker, who had attended Cambridge University (ranked higher than UC Berkeley) horrified me with a description of his university education.

Teenagers in Britain are expected to pick a course of study when they apply to university.  Some universities do that in the US, too.  But the horrifying thing is that, under the British system, they study nothing but that subject.

He majored in chemistry so he took mathematics classes offered just for chemistry students, teaching him just the mathematics that he needed to solve chemistry problems.  He never took another history or humanities class after secondary (high) school!

Can you imagine being allowed only to take classes that you "need" for a profession you selected when you were 17-18?

Cambridge's smaller overall class sizes boost their ratings.  I did suffer through a handful of lower-division classes with hundreds of fellow students.  Berkeley is also so cash-strapped that some classes are cross-listed as both upper division and graduate classes at the same time.  Those can be incredibly difficult classes with brutal grading curves.

Running service  classes (courses offered by a department for students in other fields) specifically designed for each major is financially out of the question at Berkeley.  But that forced me to take history classes alongside history majors, english with english majors, mathematics with mathematics majors, physics with physics majors, etc.  In no way should that be considered inferior.

This cost-effective approach also allowed me to learn other disciplines in depth--and not just what I needed for chemistry.  In fact, I discovered a love for useless ("pure") mathematics and persevered through some pretty tough classes (cross-listed as graduate-level classes) to earn a BA in mathematics.

A BA also requires an area of concentration outside of your major, which gave me an excuse to take  four semesters of history and more coursework in language, literature and sociology.

I would never have had those opportunities under Oxbridge's narrower educational system.

High school seniors are making some tough decisions this season. But don't let the pursuit of a brand name education and fear of a few large classes dissuade you from a large and broad university.

A brand name education can also narrow your choices after graduation.  College rankings factor in alumni career earnings.  But, alumni of private colleges need to earn more so that they can pay back their higher student loans.  Attending a large public university can give you the financial freedom to pursue careers that make you happy and/or make a difference to society in ways that aren't measured in dollars.

Part of the appeal of elite private schools is the hope that you will meet children of the elite that can help you later in life.  A big public university educates a fair number of children of the elite, too.  But, part of the value of Big State U is that you will meet people from all walks of life.  Meeting people from public housing and the first in their extended family to attend university is also valuable.

One thing I can't argue with is that private colleges hand out higher grades for the extra money.  See this and other illuminating statistics at  Think of that as an opportunity to write an extra personal statement (under "explain any circumstances affecting your academic record not covered in the other questions").

I'd like to end by making a shameless plug for chemistry--the central science bridging the biological and physical sciences--and for mathematics--the language of science.  This liberal education has helped me make sense of the world.  Technology inevitably changes, but the sciences, mathematics and historical perspective will never be obsolete.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dyeing to match

I don't like to make orphans. New projects that don't match existing items in my wardrobe get playmates that do them justice. As I approach the end of the rose pink cabled sweater, I looked for fabric in my collection to make a pair of corduroy pants or skirt to match. This corduroy has a grayish-lavender cast that didn't quite work. But I thought I could overdye it with burgundy or wine.

I remembered a blotchy pink cotton (or linen blend?)  with sun fade damage that could also use a dye bath.  I  liked the Japanese feel of the leaves, vines and flowers print, but didn't love the background color.  I used 2 parts burgundy to one part fuchsia red fiber-reactive dye from Dharma Trading and my high-tech vat-dyeing setup.

It's hard to see the change due to the differences in light exposure in the before and after pictures. After dyeing, the corduroy is darker, with a distinctly rose cast.  The other piece, remains blotchy.
I do love the print on the right.  However, the fabric is too stiff and rough for the shirt I had envisioned.  At 2.5 yds and 60" wide, it would make excellent pillows, a table cloth, napkins or the top layer of a twin-size duvet.  If you want it, leave a comment.  Otherwise, it goes on the share table at the next South Bay Quilters' Guild meeting or to Goodwill.

The dyed corduroy and cable pairing.  See how they harmonize, yet don't matchy-poo?

Monday, November 26, 2012

BA or BS?

The daughter of a friend called me up for college application advice and I thought that this might be useful information for other kids as well.  Ack!  College applications are due this week!

Her parents met at a selective liberal arts school and then went together to UC Berkeley for grad school in physics and history.  She's inclined towards the liberal arts, too.  However,  mindful of job prospects for purely liberal arts majors, she's considering combining a major in English or Journalism with a minor in Chemistry.  Her mom told her to call the family friend who likes to write about science and holds both a Bachelor of Arts AND a Bachelor of Science.

Actually, I earned my BA, BS and MRS at UC Berkeley (to a PhD and MIT alum).  Sing Harvey and Sheila along with me.  ;-)

Most liberal arts schools only award Bachelor of Arts, even for science and engineering majors. Some schools, like William and Mary, don't even offer engineering degrees and some of their physics majors actually studied more engineering than straight physics.

UC Berkeley is somewhat unusual because they offer BOTH BA and BS in certain majors, most notably in Chemistry and Computer Science.  They also offer minors.  Why would someone choose one over the others?

Read the course catalogs.  The details vary from school to school (and may have changed since I was at Cal).  In general:

  • A BS requires more math and science coursework.  
  • A BA requires more writing, foreign language, humanities and social science coursework.  
  • A minor may require almost as much as a BA so it may be worth summer school or loading up with a heavy course load to stretch for a double major.
  • If double majoring with a social science or humanities discipline, it's much more difficult to fit in all the required coursework for a BS.  Those long laboratory sessions will kill your schedule. (This also applies to art and architecture studio classes.)
  • The more you take in high school, the less you need to take in college.  You can take the more advanced math or foreign language if you place out of the introductory stuff.  This saves you so much time and let's you take the good stuff that you can only find at college!
For instance, Chemistry BS majors were required to take 4 semesters of mathematics (a year of Calculus followed by a year of Linear Algebra/Differential Equations/Multivariate Calculus).  BA students only needed to take the Calculus.

If you want to be a science/investigative journalist that exposes environmental crimes, then a BA in Chemistry with significant coursework in history, sociology, rhetoric, English and a foreign language or two would be more useful than that extra year of physical science laboratory.  (Not that I'm dissing lab.  If you can squeeze in those courses and graduate on time, go for it!  It's a thrill to replicate the Millikan oil drop experiment to measure the charge of an electron and to measure the rovibrational constants of HCl using quantum mechanics and an FTIR.)

Much as I like Coursera and EdX, online classes are no substitute for the campus experience.  It's not just the professors.  You want to hang with the smartest cohort of students that will let you in (and still treat you nicely and share your non-academic interests).  I know that I pat my own back frequently for the good fortune of having friends like your parents.  ;-)

Can readers chime in on whether they went the BA or BS route and how that worked out for them?

Process or Product?

Do you create for the process or the product?

This Sideways Spencer is a wadder due entirely to operator error.  I knit one size down because I was using a thicker yarn, and I forgot that I have muscular arms and could have used the extra few stitches.  Then I overcompensated by knitting the body too large.

I also changed the silhouette from empire to waist length by adding a repeat.  But I used the ribbing stitch count for the empire sweater, so it is too loose at the waist.

I practiced picking up ribbing from both a cast-on and bound-off edge (CF bands), making neat buttonholes in ribbing, the tubular cast-on (neck, wrist and bottom) and cast-off (one wrist), and attaching a neck binding with backstitch.  Oh, I also used a 3-needle bind-off to attach the bottom ribbing to the body.

I made a sweater for a M-L person with toothpick arms.  It's available at Goodwill if you are shopping for such a person.  ;-)

Knitters can read the gory details on Ravelry.

This project is definitely about the process.  The practice and trial and error gives me the confidence to tackle the finishing steps of Smoke and Ash.  The completed pieces have languished for three years because I was afraid that my finishing skills were not up to the level that the sweater deserves.  So this project is not a failure because I learned how I wish to approach that project.  Stay tuned. 

This experience falls very definitely in the process category.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The cold, harsh light of day

All blocked and ready to sew in? Not so fast. What is that line of demarcation at one sleeve cap?

Does it look less noticeable when laid against it's matching bodice?

No, it looks like I accidentally placed the lightest against the darkest ball (of the same dye lot, wtf?).  I will need to rip back the entire light ball and then alternate balls every other row to blend colors.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Picky AND Sneaky

My daughter has come up with a new reason not to eat her veggies. She refused to eat tonight's green bean casserole because I did NOT arrange the beans in a vector field.  But I did recently knit a sweater that resembles one.

The video reminded me about my idea for a real-time crowd-sourced global gravitational field mapping app. What a great way to teach geophysics to kids!  Sadly, the accelerometers in iPads and iPods are not accurate or precise enough for that.

Back to the drawing board.  Or, tonight, pecan pie and coffee.  ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Farewell, Twinkies!

Our family is in mourning at the news that Twinkie factories around the country, including one in Los Angeles, are shutting down.  Although I have eaten only one Twinkie in my entire life, it was a formative experience.

25+ years ago, my office and lab mate was astounded to hear that I had never eaten a Twinkie.  He marched me upstairs to the vending machines and bought a pack, saying that everyone should try a Twinkie at least once in their life.  I was touched by the gesture, but didn't feel any need to eat another one.  But I did marry the guy.

When's the last time you ate a Twinkie?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ship Tracks and our changing weather

The Coursera class, Writing in the Sciences, ends this week.  I received many helpful comments from  anonymous fellow students.  I thought I would share the edited version of writing assignment #1: summarize the findings of an important or classic paper for the lay public.

When I met Matthew Christensen at AGU in 2010, where he presented these results, I was struck with the significance of this work right away.  I don't understand why the general press hasn't picked up on this story yet. I sent my summary to Matt for review to make sure I didn't get any of his conclusions wrong.  He told me  about some hair-raising new data, which I hope to follow up after I finish the edX 600x homework due today.  ;-)

Numerous ship tracks are evident in this MODIS earth imagery from the La Jolla subset.

Matthew W. Christensen and Graeme L. Stephens [1] examined changes in cloud properties near the West Coast of the United States due to ship tracks, smokestack plumes produced by ships. This paper received scant attention outside of the cloud physics subculture of the satellite meteorology community, largely due to the amount of science background necessary to understand its significance.
The appearance and ubiquity of ship tracks amazed viewers of the earliest satellite imagery over fifty years ago. Prior to the advent of satellite cameras, few suspected that human activity impacted the earth in unpopulated areas strongly enough to be evident from space.

Marine diesel is the dirtiest of all fuels in wide use (only one grade above asphalt). The large amount of combustion byproducts—in the form of soot, sulfur and nitrogen compounds—would be intolerable near population centers. People burned this fuel over the oceans because they assumed that the oceans were vast enough to spread out ship pollution to negligible levels. Satellites proved that wishful thinking wrong.

In the last 50 years, airplane contrails have joined ship tracks as a major source of changes in cloud distribution, frequency and characteristics. Contrails enjoy higher public awareness. Who can forget the clear and sunny skies after all commercial air traffic was grounded after September 11th?

Geographic distribution distinguishes ship and air traffic. While airports can be placed virtually anywhere, large-scale seaports cannot. The Los Angeles-Long Beach harbors share 40-46% of all US shipping container traffic in recent years [2]. In contrast, the busiest US airport, Atlanta (ATL), accounts for less than 5% of all US airplane departures per year [3]. Thus, the people who live and work near harbors shoulder a disproportionate share of the negative consequences of ship traffic.

Changes in clouds due to ship tracks have been studied on small scales from boats and airplanes since the 1980s [4, 5, 6]. Christensen and Stephens were able to study regional-scale effects by harnessing the world-wide coverage of satellites. Since 2006, they have collected data from AQUA and CALIPSO, two satellites in the A-train constellation of polar-orbiting satellites [7].

They divided data into two cloud regimes, open and closed. Closed form stratus (stable) clouds cover wide horizontal areas and occur within a few kilometers above the earth. The open cell clouds characteristic of convection are more localized and can reach over 10 kilometers above the surface. Ship track free times under both cloud regimes provided controls.

Hot smokestack emissions rise until they reach equilibrium with surrounding air. As they rise, they entrain neighboring air and bring that up along with them. In closed form clouds, ship tracks don’t change the height or water content of the clouds, but skew the distribution of the droplet size smaller so that the clouds reflect more sunlight into space, but it also reduces the area coverage of the stratus clouds. This cools the region underneath and suppresses light rain or drizzle because the affected droplets become too small and light to precipitate.  The rain will also cover a smaller area.

In contrast, rising ship tracks drive open convective clouds even higher and increase their water content, increasing the likelihood of hard rains and flash floods.

While the extension of “June Gloom” stratus decks into “May Gray” and “Joyless July” is a cause for Angelenos’ complaints, the real danger comes in changes in rainfall patterns. We can expect less slow, soaking rains in the form of drizzle and stronger and more frequent localized cloud bursts. The frequency of slow and steady rains that recharge our aquifers will dwindle, while the frequency of quick storms that pack a wallop will increase. The latter lead to flash floods, rock slides and pollute near shore waters by running out to the sea before the water can soak into the ground.

While Christensen and Stephen’s paper isn’t well known outside the cloud physics and satellite meteorology communities, it shows how marine diesel plays a key role in downwind weather systems. While we are already aware of airplane contrails, we all need to realize that ship traffic is changing not only the air that we breathe, but it is also changing our weather patterns and usable water supply.


[1] Christensen, M. W., and G. L. Stephens (2011), Microphysical and macrophysical responses of marine stratocumulus polluted by underlying ships: Evidence of cloud deepening, J. Geophys. Res., 116, D03201, doi: 10.1029/2010JD014638.
[4] Radke, L. F., J. A. Coakley Jr., and M. D. King, 1989: Direct and remote sensing observations of the effects of ships on clouds. Science, 246, 1146–1149.
[5] Platnick, S. et al (1997), The Role of Background Cloud Microphysics in the Radiative Formation of Ship Tracks, J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 2607–2624
[6] Ferek, R. J., et al. (2000), Drizzle suppression of ship tracks, J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 2707–2728.

Wow, you made it this far.  How about re-reading these related posts?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weather Whiplash

We've experienced a huge weather swing. Today's high temperature of 62F is the equal to the low six days ago!

Not only that, but the wind is whipping.

As I did in Do you know where that's been?, I visited NOAA's HYSPLIT Trajectory Model and found the source of our extremely cold air mass, SE Alaska.

Five days ago? Our air mass came from north of Hawaii and was further warmed by adiabatic compression over mountain ranges.

The website caters to scientists, and we want to see the temperatures in Kelvin. A 17 Kelvin difference is 30 Fahrenheit.  Perhaps this is not as serious as hunkering down in New York without heat, but, this is brrr by our standards.