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.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Quantum Mechanics and the Electoral College

Eric, Bad Dad and I have been discussing election statistics off-line.  Eric sends this:

"I can rant all I want about the misinterpretation of p-values and how it leads scientists who are (perhaps) otherwise competent to say stupid things.  But, as always, Randall Munroe at XKCD cuts through the fog and says it so much better (and more hilariously)."

Please click through and hover your mouse over the cartoon to read the joke he embeds in the image metadata!  It will show up in a popup box.

Bad Dad also pointed out the relationship between the electoral college and quantum mechanical expectation values.  And thanks to Eric, I understand how Nate Silver apportions out the votes.  Both explanations sounded like Bayesian statistics.   Randall Munroe explains it all.

@ LHC, I'll remember that when my daughter starts her own band.  I did a really tiger mom thing and got her vocal coaching because her drama teacher confided that the only thing that held her back from a larger role last year was her singing.  She got a big part this year.  ;-)

Monday, November 05, 2012

So grateful to be an American

There are times I make jokes at the expense of Americans*.  But, I am so glad to be an American.

Take today, when I was rushing to finish Problem Set 3 of EdX's Public Health 207x.  I got one problem wrong initially, so I checked the online discussion forum for the problem set.  One student posted that the professor walked us through a very similar problem in lecture and gave the lecture number.

Another student posted that would be great, except that the lectures are posted on YouTube (PH207x) and YouTube is blocked in his country.

BTW, the class is picking up and becoming much more interesting now that we are moving out of the mathematical preliminaries and into epidemiology.  You can still sign up and join the learning.

Consider this a Public Service Announcement (PSA): 

  • Democracy is a fragile living thing.  
  • Remember to go out and vote tomorrow, if you are eligible.  
  • We all have a responsibility to tell the truth and call liars on their lies.  
  • Don't let bullies get away with bullshit.

* The joke:

Q: What do you call someone who can speak two languages?
A: Bilingual
Q: What do you call someone who can speak three languages?
A: Trilingual
Q: What do you call someone who can speak one language?
A: American

We get away with this joke because English was a second language for both Bad Dad and myself.  However, it has become our primary one and our poor child is a true American.  We are shipping her off to sister city, Lareto, Mexico to help rectify that.