Thursday, March 22, 2012

World Water Day 2012

By coincidence, our CSA delivery day this week falls on the UN's World Water Day 2012:
There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.

When a billion people in the world already live in chronic hunger and water resources are under pressure we cannot pretend the problem is ‘elsewhere’. Coping with population growth and ensuring access to nutritious food to everyone call for a series of actions we can all help with:
  • follow a healthier, sustainable diet;
  • consume less water-intensive products
  • reduce the scandalous food wastage: 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost!
  • produce more food, of better quality, with less water.
As residents of an arid basin surrounded by mountains on one side and the Pacific ocean on another, most of our region's food and fresh water is imported over high mountain passes. Ironically, less energy may be required to truck vegetables from the Central Valley over the El Tejon pass aka "The Grapevine" (4160') than to grow vegetables locally inside our basin with water imported via aquaducts reaching ~750'.

Why? Because water is heavy and crops need water nearly continuously throughout their growing cycle.

Worry not about what your CSA box does to your annual carbon budget. Farmer Tanaka employs ultra-efficient drip irrigation, often in conjunction with plastic row covers that minimize evaporative losses from the soil, AND he uses reclaimed water from the Irvine Ranch Water District.
On my farm here in Irvine we use a drip irrigation system on our crops that puts the water right in the root zone so as to use our precious water as efficiently as possible with no runoff. We also use reclaimed water supplied by the IRWD (Irvine Ranch Water District) who produces the cleanest and safest reclaimed water in the country.
Using reclaimed water gives the added benefit of not adding salts to his soil. Gardeners in this region may be familiar with the heavy load of salts in our "hard" water. If we irrigate regularly with hard water and the water evaporates or is taken up by the plants, you may notice a white powdery substance left behind. That's the salt building up in the soil. (Even if you are not a gardener, you can see the white calcium salt deposits in your kitchen and bathroom.)

If the winter rains do not come to flush the salts away, gardeners and farmers need to deep water (often repeatedly) the land to flush the salts away artificially. This is very water intensive.

The reclaimed water is so pure, it doesn't have the salts found in freshly-imported river water. Thus, Farmer Tanaka can drip irrigate just the amount needed by his plants, without worrying about poisoning his fields with salt.

What does that mean for your CSA food? It may have a lower carbon and water footprint than even food you grow in your own backyard*.

* Residents of north Redondo Beach get about half our water supply from local aquifers, which are replenished with reclaimed water from West Basin Water District's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California. Read a report about a visit to the facility. You can also learn more in walking my watershed.

Unfortunately, pumping the water into the ground and then pumping it back up uses energy and loads the water up with salts. I'd much rather use the cleaner reclaimed water directly from the plant, but the general public is still resistant due to the "eww" factor. I hope you will be a vector for getting the truth out.

Have you noticed that people have completely irrational beliefs in the purification capacity of nature vs. industrial facilities? For instance, cities draw their water from a river, treat it, use and then treat their sewage so it is cleaner than the river water they originally took in. Yet, instead of using the treated water, they dump it into the river so it can pick up more chemicals (often running off farmland) before the next city downriver goes through the same cycle.

I see the same absurdity in the West Basin water district injecting the water into the aquifer so it can pick up salts before they pump it back up again to treat and deliver to our homes.

Or the Fiji water marketing speak about how Fiji's water is purified by the tradewinds.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't pin me down

I've been watching the experiments of other bloggers with Pinterest with interest. As interesting as it looks, I just haven't had the time to play around with it. I did find out via email that some of my images from this blog and Flickr were "pinned" in Pinterest.

Initially, I was flattered and interested in watching the viral life of imagery. But I also found it slightly disturbing as the image was repinned, and attribution was lost. It's one thing if you like an image on someone's blog and download it to your personal hard drive for your own personal mood board.

But it's another thing when someone who has never even heard of this blog and is not familiar with the source at all repins an image they found on Pinterest. The image has lost it's provenance. And provenance is how we assign credit.

This is a noncommercial blog. I purposely set out to create a blog where I don't try to sell you on anything except that you should develop and exercise your own ingenuity and bullshit detector. I made the decision not to try to profit off this blog. So I don't want others to take what they find here and put it on Pinterest so someone else can profit off it.

Read the Pinterest Terms of Use:

Key Terms related to Content

"Content" means text, graphics, images, music, software, audio, video, information or other materials.

"Pinterest Content" means all Content that Cold Brew Labs makes available through the Site, Application or Service, including any Content licensed from a third party, but excluding Member Content.

"Member" means a person that completes Cold Brew Labs’ account registration process, as described under "Account Registration" below.

"Member Content" means all Content that a Member posts, uploads, publishes, submits or transmits to be made available through the Site, Application or Services.

"Site Content" means Member Content and Pinterest Content.

[and then later on...]


The Site, Application, Services and Site Content are protected by copyright, trademark, and other laws of the United States and foreign countries. Except as expressly provided in these Terms, Cold Brew Labs and its licensors exclusively own all right, title and interest in and to the Site, Application, Services and Site Content, including all associated intellectual property rights. You will not remove, alter or obscure any copyright, trademark, service mark or other proprietary rights notices incorporated in or accompanying the Site, Application, Services or Site Content.

[emphasis added.]

Uploading content that you do not own the rights to means that you have given Pinterest/Cold Brew Labs intellectual property rights that are not yours to give.

I'm watching the Pinterest vehicle with all the curiosity of a scientist, technologist and crafter. But I am not ready to hand over my intellectual property rights in such a broad and blanket manner. As the footer on this blog says:
All content copyright © 2005-2012 badmomgoodmom. All rights reserved.
It's fine to quote small passages or a thumbnail on your blog and link back if you are making a point that moves the discussion forward. I consider that fair use. But, if you are going to use any more than that, please ask permission. By the number of guest posts I write for other bloggers, you can see that I am fine with sharing content as long as I get attribution and keep my intellectual property rights.

I am currently writing a white paper about data provenance so I am very interested how long it takes for imagery to lose its provenance and in the fallout over Pinterest's terms of use.

Interesting analysis from a lawyer/photographer/Pinterest user:
DDK Portraits: Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest inspiration boards
DDK Portraits: Top 50 responses to questions about Pinterest

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Happy Half Tau Day

Even though I concur with Bob Palais that Pi is Wrong, I hope you have a good day tomorrow.

I am swamped at home and at work, and the tutorial on how to knit a circle in any stitch pattern will have to wait. Perhaps Tau day would be a good target deadline. After all, the method relies on the crucial fact that
circumference = τ*radius
which looks so much more elegant than
circumference = 2*π*radius

I never did like how it takes 2π radians to go one full rotation. The beauty of τ is that one τ is one rotation. How intuitively easy to remember! τ and π were both in historical usage but π had better PR and edged out the more elegant τ.

May I suggest you view Vi Hart's lighthearted take, Pi is (still Wrong)?

Math and physics aficionados should read Pi is Wrong and the Tau Manifesto. The first time I read Pi is Wrong, I smacked myself on the forehead. Doh, why didn't I think of it before? I am not to blame for those pesky factors of two; it's the stupid notation! Read section 3.1 Quadratic Forms of the Tau Manifesto and admire the elegance and consistency.

I took Numerical Analysis with Bob Palais while he was teaching at UC Berkeley. It was a really fun class and I never forgot the lessons he taught me. I remember the day he explained higher order Runge-Kutta schemes and their numerical stability looked to be the best thing since sliced bread. Then he broke out in a rendition of The Rolling Stones' You can't always get what you want.

Unfortunately, there is always a catch. Numerical stability and accuracy is gained at the cost of computational speed and memory usage.

When I needed to implement Runge-Kutta integration of Hamiltonian systems for my PhD research, I found myself humming the Rolling Stones. I found the right trade-off balance so that my molecular dynamics simulations converged quickly and accurately enough to allow me to graduate. Thanks, Bob. ;-)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Oh, Captcha, how I hatecha!

Like many others that blog about sewing, I have ditched the captcha. You no longer have to type a captcha so comment away!

I read and appreciate every comment. But I find deciphering captchas so difficult, I often forgo commenting on others' sites. How many others do, too?

So, as an experiment, I decided to ditch captchas.

Then I discovered that Blogger has a pretty good spam comment detector. I did not know about it until last week. From the Blogger Dashboard, select the blog you would like to manage, then click on the comments tab at the top. You should see something like this:

The comments that Blogger suspects are spam are not published until owner approval. I found a genuine comment in there that had languished in spam purgatory since 2010. (Sorry!)

Now that I have figured it out, it's fairly painless and easy. Whenever I post, I make it a new habit to check the comments, delete the spam, and (possibly) liberate the "ham*" mistaken for "spam". The Blogger algorithm must be pretty good because I have only found one false positive, a genuine comment in the spam box, and EVERY spam comment has been correctly identified.

Read more about the Google/Blogger Comment Inbox. I hope you, too, will decide to take advantage of AI and get rid of captchas.

* Don't you love the technical terms, "ham" and "spam"? I learned that in the online Artificial Intelligence class I took last year. For homework, we even calculated the odds that strings of words were spam or ham based on a "training set". Fun!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures

This is for International Women's Day. See feMOMhist for links to other stories.

I was rather surprised to hear a younger woman tell me that I am an inspiration. I really feel like I am barely holding on, especially when my husband is gone for extended trips. I can't even hold on to my white blood cells lately.

But, on the outside, it looks like I am holding it together. I have a 36 hour a week job with flexible hours and the ability to work from home when my health isn't great. I am married to a field scientist and we have a (mostly) healthy child. I volunteer in my community. I have friends and hobbies. Except for my health, this is the life I that I wanted since childhood.

I have a really oddball job where it is a miracle that I found such a good fit and they found such an ideal candidate. The job requires a PhD in CS, EE or something related like math, physics, robotics or another computationally intensive engineering discipline. (Although I was thrilled to discover one of my coworkers has a PhD in neurobiology!) I've written before about how computation jobs can be highly compatible with child-rearing. With a few more years of experience, I am even more convinced of it than before.

Rather than get all rah-rah, I thought I would post a few helpful tips for the long slog ahead. Yes, it can be slog, but enjoy the journey. Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Choose your partner wisely.
Cloud is a big proponent of that. I would like to add that the new age sensitive man will always promise that he will be an equal partner. Will he deliver?

2. Bank time.
Working parents are always short of time so bank it for the future. How does one do that? Time travel is, unfortunately, not possible.

You trade money for time and buy yourself some time. So bank yourself a lot of cash and spend it to help you with housework and childcare in the future. Buying help is useful if your new age sensitive man turns out to be a liar or he splits. Hope that doesn't happen, but be prepared just in case.

You can also bank time by taking good care of your body before children, BC. Finding time to exercise can be difficult after kids, so it helps to start with a good base fitness level.

Learning to cook healthy meals at home also banks time. The time to learn how to cook is NOT when you are trying to take care of a baby at the same time! BTW, I cook large batches on weekends. My husband is in charge of weeknight dinner assembly. If you find another family that also batch cooks and wants to swap meals, all the better.

So bank friendship, fitness, skills and money. They will save you time when you most need it.

Live close to work and shorten your commute.
That one hour each way commute may seem doable before kids, or to a one-earner couple, but do the math. 2 people, each commuting 10 hours per week, costs you 20 hours or half a workweek. And many commutes take longer if you are not able to shift your work schedule to come in before or after peak rush hour, turning the 2 hr commute into a 3 hour one.

Find a good enough home in a good enough area and school district, close to work. Don't get trapped by huge housing or car expenses. The bigger the home or yard, the more maintenance required and the more stuff you accumulate. The bigger the commute, the higher the transportation expenses. You'll use more daycare, too, and that will cost you.

I've seen so many women derail their careers because the amount they earn isn't worth the hassle of the commute and the struggle to keep up with the home front. Keep it simple at home.

The more expensive the home, the larger the payments (rent or mortgage). And then there is the keeping up with the Joneses. Your idea of what is a reasonable amount to spend creeps up to your peer group. Before you know it, you are on a financial treadmill keeping up with payments.

We bought an urban infill townhome close to work in a safe but not fashionable area. It turns out that our neighbors are (with a few exceptions) wonderful. When I was ill and my husband was working out in the field and our daughter was younger, no fewer than three families on my block took care of her so I could rest.

Living in a dense urban area also means my errands are all in close range.

Create your own village.
This is really helpful if you have the worse case scenario of living far from family and friends who can help you. My husband and I are both PhD scientists with a two-body problem. I found myself at 30 with a new job, new city, no family or old friends nearby and a ticking biological clock.

We used a very well-run day care center near our home. Most parents who selected it had similar incomes and values and lived in the same area. (People who use daycare centers close to work, and use their babies to enable them to use the carpool lanes for long commutes won't build this kind of support network.)

Good daycare centers are expensive and many people will opt for a nanny in their home when they have their second child. Thus, we met many other one-child families with two working parents. Several were in the same position in that one parent traveled a great deal for work. The remaining parent would then rush in just before closing time at 6 pm.

I'd invite them to share a meal at one of the many fine inexpensive ethnic restaurants in our neighborhood, or grab takeout and eat it at our home. If the parenting styles were similar, we'd exchange cell phone numbers and put each other on our pickup list. That means, if you are running late, another parent can pick up your child for you.

Because I live so close to the daycare center, I did more picking up than others. But this paid off when my husband traveled on weekends and I was too physically weak to handle a toddler all day.

Save money early, save a lot.
Hopefully, you will beat the odds. But motherhood likely means salary compression and moving in and out of the paid workforce. You likely won't get much of a pension.

Phooey. The old pension system, which rewards earnings just before retirement, is really stacked against people who do not work flat-out continuously and won the lottery ticket of a company that stays financially solvent for decades.

Many a financial planning book will explain the time value of money. The money you save before 35 is the most important. Luckily, that's the time before motherhood. So live frugally BC (before children) and save. If you and your partner are both professionals, try to save half your net or about 1/3 of your gross. Max out your 401k/403b and then your IRA and then save after tax. It will buy you time and freedom later.

After you save, pay attention to your asset allocation and expenses. Get a finance book, read it, and follow the advice. I was fortunate to read Making the most of your money NOW when I was 23 and it was great advice.

6. Enjoy the journey.
One area where we weren't frugal was in buying experiences. We traveled extensively BC, and then also as parents. This is like banking experiences, so you won't feel too deprived later on. I also think that our prior familiarity with travel BC emboldened us to travel more with our daughter. 100 travel posts and I haven't even mentioned all the great places we've been and the great experiences we've enjoyed.

In closing, I want to say that I know that combining career and motherhood is not possible for every woman. But there are rewards to using both our brains and our uteruses (as Congresswoman Pat Schroeder famously said.) If we don't normalize combining career and motherhood, we risk declining birthrates or young women leaning back on their careers before they even get started. In that kind of world, where the standard of career engagement and productivity is measured against childless workers or workers with the backstage support of a full-time homemaker, the workplace may become increasingly hostile to women even before they have children.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The agile home

First Cloud shared how she and her husband juggle the logistics of two full-time careers and two kids in Having it all: The Logistics. Then FeMOMhist proposed a blog carnival for sharing logistical solutions in celebration of International Women's Day on March 8.

I got tired just reading Cloud's description of a typical day.

I have no tips to share. Marriage to a field scientist means that he will leave at the drop of a hat and come home--or not come home--based on so many factors beyond our control. My white blood cells go AWOL at the drop of a hat. And they appear to have gone south for the winter, hence my blog silence of late.

I feel like I am constantly reacting and juggling. I never reach a comfortable equilibrium.

I lamented this fact with a coworker today.

He says that I just have to rebrand my life. I am not reactive, I am agile. Well, he wrote the book on software architecture and he said that I was doing fine.