Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fashion Fail

Sometimes, I should just quit trying to follow fashion and listen to my inner voice.  Does the leather trend fit my wash and wear lifestyle?  This is the second faux leather fail of the year and I am finished with this trend.

I used a fake vinyl leather with a knit backing for the sleeves and a thermal knit for the body.  I wore it for about 30 minutes before the clamminess of the non-breathable vinyl became unbearable.  I could cut off the sleeves into a short-sleeved T-shirt, but do I need a thermal knit short-sleeved shirt?  It went into the GoodWill bag.

BTW, I used Kwik Sew 2555, a basic non-fitted T-shirt pattern.  The dropped shoulders and looser fit belong to an earlier era.  My measurements place me between a S and a M and I cut a straight size M.  With the stretchy thermal knit, I should have cut a S.

As with most Kwik Sew patterns, this is a well-drafted pattern.  You may need to alter the neck binding length to suit the stretch and recovery of your fabric and check the bicep measurement against your own for comfort.  Those are minor quibbles.

I bought 3 yards of the thermal knit (for a whopping $2.39/yd at Fabrix) so I had plenty for experimentation and one shirt that I plan to wear a lot.  Good foresight.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.  I hope it is not too soggy for the kids to go trick or treating.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So, what are you taking?

Currently Enrolled and taking seriously:

Took seriously and recently completed:

Took seriously and completed in the past:

Enrolled while course shopping but not completed:

Too many to list. Perhaps this explains why Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) completion rates are so low, ~10%. If they offer a "sample the course" option, they can collect more accurate course completion statistics.

I'm loving 6.00x from MIT. The content, interface and projects are excellent. If you have 8-10 hours a week to spare, I highly recommend this class.  This is the best use of the MOOC platform I've ever seen for the sciences.  In the first four weeks, we've implemented bisection search, Newton-Raphson, Hangman and Words with Friends (but really against a greedy search computer algorithm).  I can't wait to see what else we'll do in the next eight weeks.

 I've always wanted to learn more about biostatistics and epidemiology*. So far Harvard's Public Health 207 is underwhelming.  I can complete the homework before watching the often slow and confusing lectures.  Fortunately, EdX let's you speed the lectures up by increments of 0.25 between 0.75 to 1.50.  (Coursera allows [0.75-2.00].)  The CC transcripts also let you zip through review materials.

 I'm also taking Writing in the Sciences and Greek and Roman Mythology through Coursera.  I recommend WitS with Kristin Sainani for anyone that wants to write better; you need not be a scientist. Sainani has degrees in Philosophy, Statistics and Epidemiology and teaches BioStatistics and Writing at Stanford. Someone posted one of her talks in the discussion board for PH207 after a headscratcher of an explanation of life tables in the class.  I wasn't the only one confused by it.  Fortunately, a classmate posted a ppt that she found helpful and I laughed out loud when I saw Sainani's name on the opening slide.  She's an excellent teacher and writing coach.

Bad Dad and I have recently completed Statistics 1 and Data Analysis through Coursera and agree that both are very good and worthwhile.  We became comfortable with R after using it to complete homework and programming assignments for the two courses.   Stats 1 is geared toward the social sciences and Data Analysis is more useful for sciences that don't include science in their title.

However, Stats 1 is not easy.  I give kudos to Princeton's Andrew Conway for explaining the subtleties of experimental design in the social sciences.  There's less math, but plenty of mental heavy lifting.  As a result of Stats 1, this physical scientist has learned to respect well-designed social science experiments.  Conway is planning to repeat Stats 1, using the lessons he learned from the inaugural class.  I highly recommend signing up for that when it repeats.

*I had never heard of epidemiology until my senior year in college. One of my friends/classmates mentioned that she was applying to grad school in epidemiology at UC Berkeley's school of Public Health. Then my academic advisor in the Chemistry department told me that roughly one third of their graduates went on to med school, one third to PhD programs in Chemistry and the remaining third were evenly split between graduate programs in related fields like epidemiology and industry. Two mentions of epidemiology in one week!  I never forgot and always meant to go back and learn more about it later.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reading Tea Leaves

Bad Dad and others have asked if the high visibility of U.S. Satellite Plans Falter, Imperiling Data on Storms means I will be recalled to work soon.

I don't know.  I can't predict the future.  If someone had asked me 15 years ago, I would have never predicted that meteorology and data housekeeping, the inputs to keeping good climate records (my chosen profession), would become so highly politicized.  I can't believe that my career funding depends on such purposefully uninformed people.

When I was completing my PhD thesis in computational physics, Wall Street recruiters called me.  I said no, I wanted to use my technical background to help my country.  Now, I wonder if I made the right choice.  The pay differential is 10 to 1 and, I might not be unemployed today if I looked after myself before others.

It's a big weather week.  Let's talk about that instead.

But, when you do go to vote, think about which candidates support objective and rigorous science--and support funding the sciences.

Binary Birthday

We survived the birthday party.  Erin made another beautiful cake, based on Iris' drawing.  Iris dressed up as the girl in the window, aka "bloody Mary".

She selected a gorgeous white satin from Fabrix during our last trip to SF.  I made the Lois Hinse Barcelona Dress pattern, but I'm not going to show the dress because I sewed the skirt and bodice 90 degrees off.  (Note to self; RTFD.  The skirt seams are at the CF/CB, and not at the sides.)  I figured this out after sewing and serging the seam allowance.  There wasn't enough time to unpick all that stitching, get ready for the party and turn in homework for 2 Coursera and 2 EdX classes and the final for another Coursera class.

Anyway, The dress bubbled badly at the CF and CB waist seam.  But Iris told me not to bother unpicking the seams when she was just going to cover the dress in red paint.  Good point.

We went minimal on the candles.  We were surprised that only Iris knew that the candles gave her age in binary.

The kids use computers from such an early age, and none of the others knew binary?!?  Bad Dad and I really liked alternate number systems in elementary school.  We learned base 2(for computing) and base 9 (for casting out nines) in elementary school!  What are they teaching in school these days?

Bad Dad and I also went to elementary school in California.  The difference is a change in educational philosophy and curriculum.  California used to teach advanced math concepts at an early age.  But, under the guise of competitiveness and raising standards, they are dumbing down the curriculum.  Enough said.  My blood pressure is going up as I type this and I need to relax and wind down from a tough week.

Next week, I have an informational interview, a volunteer day in the classroom, and 4 more problem sets.  If I have enough time, I still have white thread in the serger and two more white print projects for Iris in the hopper.  Perhaps, there will be a white blouse for me, too.

Have a safe, fun and happy Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chevron El Segundo Refinery Community Tour Day November 3, 2012

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to tour the Chevron refinery in El Segundo with the local MIT club.  The tour proved so popular, they had to add a second bus and put others on the wait list.  I was disappointed because they wouldn't let us off the bus.  However, no one is allowed off the bus at a refinery these days unless they have had extensive safety training.

On rare occasions, Chevron runs tours for the general public.  If you live near El Segundo, don't miss this Community Tour Day.   (I don't know how they define 'neighbor', but you must enter your city of residence on the reservation web form.)

Aren't you curious about the source of your gasoline, jet fuel and the terminus of that natural gas pipeline that runs through your neighborhood?

Kids are welcome, but younger kids may not get much out of the tour.  The guide for our Chevron tour said that it is suitable for high school and college students.  However, middle school children in the MIT club group seemed to understand the information just fine.

Make sure the kids use the restroom in the visitor center before embarking on the bus.   There is no bathroom on the bus and they won't let you off!   The public tours are 60-minutes.  (Our private group tour lasted nearly 2 hours and some kids got squirmy at the end.)

If the tour sells out or your city isn't on their 'neighbor' list, don't despair.  Talk to your children's science teacher about a school trip.  Your school group need only provide round trip transportation to the refinery and the rest is free.  Contact for available school tour group times.

Chevron El Segundo Refinery Community Tour Day

Tour Welcome

Saturday, November 3, 2012
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Chevron El Segundo Refinery
Administration Building
324 W. El Segundo Blvd.
El Segundo, CA 90245
The Chevron El Segundo Refinery will be offering free bus tours of the facility to our neighbors on Saturday, November 3, 2012. The 60-minute tours will leave from our Administration Building, and will be given completely via bus. Parking will be in the Chevron Lots located on the north side of El Segundo Blvd. between Richmond St. and Virginia St.
All adult participants will be asked to show a photo ID. All bags, backpacks and purses are subject to search. No photography of any kind, including photos taken with cell phones, are allowed during the bus tours.
Reservations are required and can be made at: The first tour will depart at 9 a.m. with subsequent tours leaving every 15 minutes.
Please direct questions to 310.615.3747 or
We look forward to seeing you on November 3!
Don't delay. The (free) tickets are selling out quickly.

We can discuss the tour later.  I am buried under EdX homework and birthday party plans.  Iris' Halloween costume is still a hot mess (my operator error, sigh).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Decisions, decisions

It's a tough decision. (And some guys can't follow directions.)

My choice? I took a brisk walk where sand meets the surf and returned home to do Coursera homework.

A paper nautilus aka Argonaut was accidentally caught by local fishermen and taken to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro.
News stories mention that these normally live in tropical and subtropical waters. However, the ocean temperatures in the Santa Monica Bay have been warm, even by our seasonal standards. Click on the Navy's global sea surface temperature (SST) analysis to enlarge the area off the California coast.

For reference, compare the climatological SST for this time of year on the same color scale. The Santa Monica Bay is experiencing offshore SSTs normally found halfway down Baja California (near the latitude of Bahia Tortuga).

NOAA provides a close-up of the California coast, but they don't provide the climatological mean for context.


  • Navy SSTs (in Fahrenheit with climatology and anomaly plots)
  • NOAA SSTs (in Celcius with anomaly plots)

Friday, October 12, 2012

More make do and mend

Sometimes,  couture is not worth the effort. Bad Dad's old polo had many tiny wear holes, mostly at the bottom. I marked them with masking tape so I can easily tell where not to place the pattern pieces.

Scraps of paisley cotton poplin and black/white lawn were used for the center panel, sewn burrito style.

I was too lazy to switch serger thread colors so I used a narrow 0.5 mm zig-zag (aka drunken straight stitch) to sew the entire top. Notice the fused strips of nylon tricot interfacing along the shoulder and sleeve openings. I simply sewed, trimmed and pressed flat the shoulder and side seams. The armholes were turned under and stitched.  The neckline was not interfaced because bias binding holds it in.

The hem was turned over twice and stitched down.  Notice that a few holes (backed with fusible knit tricot) sneaked into the top.

The fabric was so worn to begin with.  It wasn't worth putting much effort into a top that will likely only last two seasons.  Purple and paisley, quick and easy.  It's everyday plenty meets make do and mend.

Ann Steeves made an excellent video explaining how to sew knits with equipment from the humble straight stitch machine to a zig-zag sewing machine through a serger and coverstitch machine.  You can use whatever you have and still produce something durable and attractive.

Version one of this top was made from a stretch cotton poplin that looked terrible with my complexion.  It, along with some regrettable rayon challis pants, lives in Boulder with a friend's teen aged daughter.  The outfit looks great on her.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Everyday plenty AND make do and mend

I admit to purchasing an Eileen Fisher that I didn't need*, partly because the hang-tag describing the sweater ended with "Everyday plenty." It made me think about value in a different way.  How much do you spend on a blazer and how often do you wear it?  How much do you spend on a tank top and how often do you wear it?

I have enough blazers that sit unworn in the closet.  What I needed was cool and easy-care tops to wear around the house during warm days.  That brings me back to "everyday plenty".  How much time to you spend sewing a "couture" jacket and how does that translate per wearing?  Do the same for a tank top.

YMMV, but the investment return of a tank top beats the one for a jacket in my real life. 

My sister is returning to sewing and asked me to recommend shell patterns.  I was wary of recommending something that works for me and not for her.  For instance, I have excellent results with vintage Calvin Klein patterns from the 1980s and 1990s.  Iliana, who performs FBAs in her sewing, wrote:
I've always felt like Calvin Klein depended on having very flat-chested, boyish-figured models as there's not much shaping in evidence, and the people you see successfully wearing the designs generally seem to be that body type.
So, when my sister admired the Liberty lawn shell made up in Vogue 1071, I could not recommend it for her.  I like it enough to have made it three times, but I cannot recommend it for her very different figure.

I do unequivocally recommend Simplicity 2938.  I've made it three times.  The princess seams allowed me to make a SBA in the bust and a broad chest adjustment in the chest.  The end effect is a top that fits perfectly smoothly.  There are 31 reviews on Pattern Review.  Look at the variety of figures of women wearing Simplicity 2938 on Google images. Look how many are smiling! 

There is a connection between these disparate thoughts. Don't save your "best" sewing techniques for things you wear on special occasions. Take the time to do it on the pieces you wear the most often. It's my version of everyday plenty.

My most recent version of Simplicity 2938 began as one of my father in law's old shirts.  The collars, cuffs and center front placket were worn, but the rest of the fabric had enough life in it to become this top.  The two fronts became the side front panels.  The shirt back became the tank back and one sleeve was cut up into bias strips for binding the neckline and armholes.

The other sleeve would have yielded a large enough piece for the center front panel, but I opted for a double layer of this delicious piece of preconsumer waste cotton lawn.

The front panels can be sewn into a burrito as shown below.  Then pull the blue pieces out through the openings at the top or bottom.

The straight-ish shoulder seams can be sewn with a flat-fell seam.

The curves side seams can also be flat-felled into submission, but I opted for easier French seams here instead.

2" bias strips were then folded in half to 1" wide, seamed at the short ends into tubes, and then applied in the round to the openings.  The finished product is completely smooth and clean-finished inside and out.  Everyday plenty out of make do and mend.  See it out on the town in Carmegeddon 2 adventure.

* I wore that sweater enough times to obviate any guilt over an impulse purchase.  The color, texture and feel of the sweater all sing to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What is the p-value of chocolate?

Eric sends this link about the benefits of chocolate.
Drum roll, please: The higher a country's chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it spawns per capita, according to findings released today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And guess who leads the pack? The Swiss, of course, closely followed by the Swedes and the Danes. The U.S. is somewhere in the middle of chocolate consumption and Nobel Prize winners per capita. To produce just one more laureate, the nation would have to up its cocoa intake by a whopping 275 million pounds a year, according to Dr. Franz Messerli, who did the analysis.

"The amount it takes, it's actually quite stunning, you know," Messerli chuckled. "The Swiss eat 120 bars - that is, 3-ounce bars - per year, for every man, woman and child, that's the average."
Bad Dad, a PhD in Chemistry, says that these are fighting words:
"I attribute essentially all my success to the very large amount of chocolate that I consume," said Eric Cornell, an American physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 2001.

"Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid," he added. "Now dark chocolate is the way to go. It's one thing if you want like a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize, OK, but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate."
I was inspired to make our own ice cream after watching Eric make it with his daughters.  He recommends the Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book.  For the past two years, we've been making all of the ice cream we eat at home.  Our chocolate flavor uses 1/3 of a bar of Trader Joe's "pound plus" (500g) dark chocolate (72% chocolate) per quart of ice cream.  (That pinch of salt and dash of vanilla in the recipe makes all the difference.)

We have to make a double batch because it's time, again, for a certain spooktacular birthday party.  The birthday girl wants chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting and chocolate ice cream.

I wonder if I can administer cognitive tests to the birthday party guests before and after chocolate consumption?  Now that I am taking two Coursera statistics and data analysis courses, I can crank out the (often meaningless) p-values in R.

What are you doing to help our nation achieve total world (Nobel) domination?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


I dub this design streamlines.
Because this sweater reminds me of weather charts with streamlines.
I stole the yoke increase method from Cookie A's Katrina Rib, which I knit in 2010.  My yoke is even simpler because all 10 sections are patterned in 3x3 rib.  Because of the different row gauge, I slowed down the lowest increases to every 5th row instead of every 4th row for 50 total yoke rows.

A back waist detail nips in the waist--perfect for those who need to make sway back adjustments when they sew.  I saw that pretty touch in one of Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Knits books.  It's such a good idea, it begs to be replicated.
It's not possible to do waist decreases in an allover rib pattern.  I switched from a size 5 to a size 4 needle in the waist area to further shape the waist.

The same cable appears at the center back and front chest.  I stole the cable chart from Berroco's free pattern, Latoya, which I knit in 2007.

The tubular cast-on was my idea.  That creates a k1-p1 rib.  There's a bit of a discontinuity when changing from k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p1 to k3, p3 because a k becomes a p and vice versa.  However, it would be rude for someone to come up close enough to notice it.

The asymmetrical dip detail in front also owes a debt to Latoya.  I increased every other row 18 times (instead of every row 24 times).
Auditioning playmates from the stash. The textured poly that drapes so well is crying out to be made into another Unsuitable for plaids or stripes.  But Iris' Halloween costume is next up in the queue.

The nights are getting cooler.  I might just get an opportunity to wear it soon.

Sea surface temperatures typically peak in Sept-Oct so the days are perfect for walking on the beach.  Warm days, cool nights.  Ocean breezes.  We really do live in paradise.

Ravelled here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

My gym

One of my priorities during unemployment is to exercise every day, strenuously 2-3 times a week.  That means light housework/gardening most days and walking or biking many of my errands.  I go to the gym 1-2 times a week and walk on the beach at least once a week where I walk along the water between the Manhattan and Hermosa Beach piers.  Yes, the high leg/low leg thing is a nuisance.  But, the trade-off is worth it to me to feel the sand and water around my toes.

Now that I am getting stronger, I alternate walking along the surf and walking briskly in the loose sand.  That is a strenuous low-impact cardio workout!  And the scenery is so much more inspiring than watching a TV screen mounted to a treadmill.

You can't see it in this photo, but dolphins frolicked and fed offshore as I walked.

The climb from the beach to the parking garage to beat the meter maid reminds me of the wind sprints my high school volleyball coach used to add to the .end. of our workouts to remind us that, even when we think we are tired, we still have more strength left.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cinerama Nerd Heaven

One of the perks of living in this large and crowded metropolis is that there is something for everyone.  As I mentioned in Carmegeddon 2 Adventure, Bad Dad bought the entire family tickets to a screening of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm at the Cinerama Film Festival.  We were greeted by a cinerama camera and two guys in lab coats demonstrating its features.  Note the crowd of film nerds surrounding the camera.

Later, I managed to take a picture of the camera sans crowds.  See the drive belt?  There is a drive belt for each of the three rolls of film.  Can you imagine the difficulty of synchronizing them all?

"That's a narrow field of view!", exclaimed Bad Dad when he looked through the eye piece.
Peter Rondum, son of the developer of the camera, Eric Rondum, stepped forward to explain that the eye piece can be unbolted and rebolted to approximate the field of view for each of the three film strips.  There is actually one lens, projecting images onto three rolls of film, with a slight overlap at the two "seams".  Moving the eye piece is a cumbersome process, not embarked upon lightly.  That explains the heavy reliance on marks that Russ Tamblyn mentioned.

While I chatted with Peter Rondum, Bad Dad chatted with Walter Thompson, who edited .every. movie shot in Cinerama.  Walter explained that there are multiple registration marks to aid in alignment.  Peter showed me his father's resume, circa 1971.  I was not surprised that Peter Rondum worked a short stint at the National Bureau of Standards.

What wasn't on his resume was more surprising.  Peter said that his dad was brought in as a consultant for the U-2 spy program.  The camera lenses froze at the high altitudes flown by the U-2.  His dad developed a solution, but couldn't talk about it until the cold war was over.

If you explore the links below, you can learn more about the technical challenges of stitching together three (moving!) images into one field of view.  The movie audience saw discontinuities of color and brightness at the movie joins, which reminded me of the difficulty of "stitching" satellite imagery together.

Actually, both types of imagery merges involve correcting the distortion at the edge of the imagery, and then stitching them together.  This can be an average of the two images (with superposition) or it can be a simple overlay with the more recent image taking precedence over the earlier one as is commonly used in satellite imagery.

It is not an accident that the film industry and the satellite industry grew up in the same area.  ;-)  Viva Los Angeles!