Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roadside Attraction

We drove the coastal route between Los Angeles and San Francisco, stopping at the Piedras Blancas rookery, on Highway 1 seven miles north of San Simeon.  We arrived 4 days after the first births of this season.  Look at this nursling.  Watch an incredible birth video.

There's tons more information about visiting the largest elephant seal colony in California at elephant seal.org.  Click through to their Sights and Sounds page.

People always ask, how close do you get to the animals? You basically walk along a wooden boardwalk right above them.
How many are there? Friends of the elephant seals says that the colony boasts 17,000. We didn't see that many, but there were plenty.
The males fought for dominance, but not very hard while we were watching.

Just watch them move!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Geographical Cues

Where did we go last week?  This is a blurry cell phone camera, but it tells a geographic story.  Learn more about tetra phobia.  I'll give you a hint.  We drove from LA to this hotel.

If you want to blend in with the natives, don't call it Frisco!  Herb Caen explained why to generations of San Franciscans in his daily column.  (BTW, a friend in HS showed up in class one Monday and exclaimed that he met Herb Caen at his sister's wedding the prior weekend.  We were both very impressed by his sister's coolness quotient.)

While we are on the subject of nomenclature, don't call it Cali, either.  It's just not used in polite company.  And you shouldn't buy any merchandise with this infringing logo.  Merchants just use this bastardized logo to avoid paying royalties to UC Berkeley for the use of their official logo.
Don't buy this rip-off graphic shirt!
This is the official University of California at Berkeley logo.
While I am at it, I would like to time travel back to grad school and explain that, while there were two American women in the first year physics classes, we were/are not the same woman. She went to Caltech (California Institute of Technology in Pasadena) and I went to Cal (University of California at Berkeley). Both are great schools in California, but they are 400 miles apart.  While we both like to wear tie-dye, she wears fringe and beads and I don't.  ;-)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday Art Date

Bad Dad works a 9/80 schedule and we sometimes take Friday art dates.  This time, we booked tickets for the Turrell's Perceptual Cell and Dark Matters.  Wow.  Perceptual Cell is fantastic.  Too bad it's sold out through the rest of the run.
We took Iris and schoolmates to see the rest of the Turrell and Calder shows.  Those are not sold out, but it pays to book your tickets ahead of time as timed entry tickets tend to sell out early in the day.  Kids visit LACMA, including ticketed exhibitions for free.  But, accompanying adults need to be purchase either tickets or memberships to see those special ticketed exhibitions.

LACMA gave members a copy of the beautiful and informative Calder catalog/book.

We had originally intended to eat at an Ethiopian buffet before our ticket time, but I ran behind schedule running last minute holiday errands. We ended up eating at the food trucks on Wilshire Boulevard across the street from LACMA instead. Yum.

We ate just before the trucks closed down from lunch and watched the careful orchestration between MFVA members of the changing of the guard (between lunch and dinner).  I even saw one vendor leave his truck holding two lunches, bring them to another truck and share an after work snack with them before they all packed up their trucks and left.

The spots didn't stay open long.  In fact, the trucks pull forward or backward to allow members to pull out, then move again to spread themselves out until a fresh truck arrived.  Then they would compress to make room for the newcomer.  This happened repeatedly while we ate.  I was impressed by the high level of cooperation and professionalism.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Unselfish knitting

I stopped by Peet's to pick up a half pound of beans and saw their seasonal display of holiday gifts.  The lady who helped me said that a woman had just come in and purchased 20 (!) tins of peppermint bark, one for each teacher at her children's school.  Some people are such brown-nosers.

Anyway, that reminded me that I needed to get knitting.  I bought a Trader Joe's Singular Stack of lemon verbena-scented soaps and looked in the bin of odd ball leftover yarns under my bed.  Behold, four hand-knitted wash/dishcloths wrapped around four soaps.  I put them in Iris' purse and told her to hand one to each teacher and wish them a happy winter break.
I wonder if she remembered to hand them out?

My kid says she is embarrassed by all of my weird recycling practices.  In response to her complaints, I have bought a roll of birthday wrapping paper so that her presents are not the only one at the party wrapped in old maps.

But I think her teachers would appreciate a hand-knit dish scrubbie.  They are really hygenic because you can wash them in hot water.  The garter ribs scrub well and the cotton never scratches.  Plus, the lemon verbena smells so good.  (I feel a tad guilty that the soap comes from France while we grow plenty of lemon verbena in California.  But I take solace in that it probably came via container ship instead of air freight for a lower carbon footprint.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Unselfish sewing

I've been cranking out the presents.  Are you sick of unselfish sewing yet?  I know that I am ready to get back to selfish sewing.

In an effort to appear housebroken to dates, Bad Dad's nephew is learning how to cook.  A 6'3" XL guy can't easily buy aprons that don't have a BBQ theme.  I picked a manly black/gray abstract pattern for his XL apron.  (I used my size M pattern available free here, and graded it up two sizes.)

Bad Dad bought himself a new TV capable of showing 3D movies.  I worried that the (expensive to replace!) glasses would get scratched up.  I bought this spectacle print when Iris first started wearing glasses and felt self-conscious about them.  (Yes, it's been marinating for 5 years because I never made her the spectacle dress.)  

I lined the bags with recycled cotton jersey (lots of old t-shirts in my sewing room) and put the glasses in a handwoven basket we purchased from a women's weaving cooperative in Tanzania.  (I've been meaning to blog about that for years.  A very interesting lesson in both weaving/dyeing technique and global economics.)  The poster behind the basket was another travel souvenir from a trip to Stockholm.

Iris' cousin got a flannel nightgown.  Iris has a pair of PJ pants in the same fabric.  I had to piece the back of the nightgown to use up all but a few scraps of the fabric.

I set the larger scraps for a friend who makes flannel quilts with 6.5" squares.  I cut the smaller scraps into pieces that I keep in a basket to use instead of paper towels for messy cleanups.  How do you use your scraps?

Our housecleaner asked me to make her a shirt.  She selected this paisley from my collection.  I've mentioned many times before that I purchase most of my fabric from odd-jobbers.  The stuff is sold by an odd-jobber for a reason; it pays to check the fabric over carefully to make sure you it will suit your needs.  This fabric was mis-printed near the edges.

I like the contrast side panels in Kwik Sew 3567.   Since she fell between sizes and the pattern envelope says this is "close-fitting", I cut the larger size.  When I took her measurements, I found that she and my mom are similar in size.  I'm going to have my mom try this on as a fit test before I gift it to the intended recipient.  If it fits, I will have a second TNT pattern for my mom.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sewing for Children Sizing Tips

This information is effective for Kwik Sew, but may not work for the Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick and McCalls--especially McCalls), which suffer from inconsistent sizing.  Some of the older Simplicity children's patterns also have consistent sizing similar to KS and this may work for them.

Sizing is confusing and even more so when sewing for children.  Kids grow in girth until they suddenly shoot up in height (aka growth spurt).  When they experience a vertical growth spurt, they may actually shrink in girth at the same time!  It's unrealistic to expect children's patterns to work right out of the envelope for all children all the time.

Take a look at the CDC Growth Charts for children.  I took a screen shot of the part of the one for girls with lines for [95, 90, 75, 50, 25, 10, 5] percentiles lines.  90% of 8 year old girls fall within the range of 46 to 54 inches.  Even if you sew the for the median, 50 inches, a great deal of children will end up with too long or too short sleeves and pant legs!

Kwik Sew sizing correlates well with the CDC median children's sizes.  For instance, if your child is tall for their age, draw a line at their height, and then look across to see where their height intersects with the 50th percentile line for another age.  Use that age/size as your baseline size for length.

Measure your child in girth and compare that to the measurements on the KS sizing chart.  Use the size that corresponds most closely with your child's girth as the baseline girth size, and add or subtract length based your baseline length size.  KS patterns are nested, so trace out your pattern, drawing new length/hem lines as necessary.

For example, Iris' 8 year olds cousin is in the 95th percentile for height.  I look across and see that puts her near the median for 10 year olds.  Her weight for height is about average, so I can sew a girls' size 10 for her and expect it to fit.

Iris is slim and tall for her age.  I usually sew the pattern size for her age or one smaller, but use the length for 1 size/age larger.

If you don't have access to the child (i. e. the child doesn't live with you), asking the parents what size the kids wear in RTW may not be useful.  RTW sizing varies all over the place.  Many people don't own tape measures or can't measure squirmy children accurately.

Ask the parents how their kids compare to the CDC growth charts at their annual physicals.  Kids tend to remain close to a percentile (in height for age) throughout their childhood.  Then consider their girth for height.

Burda and many European patterns go by children's height, not age.  The sizes fit average weight children in Europe, but American children may be a bit heavier on average.  They fit my slim Eurasian child well, but YMMV.

Lastly, check pattern measurements against something that currently fits the child (or is a bit too small/large) and adjust accordingly.  I call this benchmarking.  ;-)

If you are sewing remotely, ask the parents to email you photos of the child wearing the item to check the overall fit.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sister Shirts

I couldn't show one sister's refashioned shirt

without showing the other.

I used Kwik Sew 2555 for both.

When I helped my mom move, she gave me a bin of over two-dozen event t-shirts collected over the past 20 years.  I sewed them up into about ten long-sleeved t-shirts, using one shirt for the body and another for the sleeves.

I've collected* 51 women's Kwik Sew (KS) patterns and only used four of them so far.  However, I used Kwik Sew 2555 27 times (since I began record-keeping 5 years ago).  I have used three of the ten Kwik Sew children's patterns in my collection.  However, I've sewn dozens of things from the Sewing for Baby, Toddlers and Children books.

* I didn't purchase all of them.  Whenever people give away old KS patterns, I scoop them up.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I have a new favorite t-shirt.
Remember when I sewed 8 knit tips in 3 days back in August 2013?  Two of them were refashions using Kwik Sew 2555.  Because the twin sisters left sunny SoCal for rainy Seattle, I refashioned a couple of beach cities t-shirts into long-sleeved tops more appropriate for their new climate.  I started with a men's XL, chopped off the bottom, sleeves and a bit off the side, and then added striped sleeves.  (The color balance is a tad off and the picture below most accurately represents the purple of the shirt.)
I've been meaning to use the leftover hem piece for a color-tipped stripe t-shirt of my own.  I liked the look of the purple and black/gray heather knit together, so I started with the same combo.  Then I thought it would be fun to cut the sleeves and neckline from a thinner stripe.  Once I cut out the yoke pieces, the remaining purple scrap looked like it would make a perfect pocket.

The back neckband seam is virtually invisible...
...as are the side and sleeve seams.  (Pats self on back smugly.)
I purchased the striped knits from an LA-area odd-jobber. They are reclaimed factory waste so this project is made from both pre and post-consumer waste fabric (stripe and purple respectively).

I really should clean the lint off the mirrored closet door.

The sewing room is a complete mess, but at least I cleaned off the machine table.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let's do lunch--but not at In-N-Out

We are planning on meeting friends for lunch as we cross paths on I-5 (a north-south interstate highway).  Bad Dad is fond of In-N-Out burgers and talks it up with Iris like In-N-Out is a road-trip treat.

I don't like to eat commodity beef hamburgers, but In-N-Out fills me with special alarm.

For the last time, let's eat anywhere than there!

Most people know In-N-Out by the great PR it received in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, originally published in 2001.  Schlosser said that the only fast food burger he ate was from a southern California chain, In-N-Out, that took a bit more care with their people and sourcing their beef.  After that, In-N-Out got a reputation as the ethical burger.

However, the internal struggle within In-N-Out between the camps that wanted to quickly expand nationally and those that believed that it was not possible to expand more quickly than they could line up high quality beef suppliers flew under most people's radar.

In 2006, the executive that cautioned against a fast national expansion won the lawsuit, but lost the battle.  Esther Snyder, the founding matriarch, also died in 2006.  A very young granddaughter and quick buck thinkers on the In-N-Out board took control.  I followed the story in the local papers because of both the public safety and the human interest angle.  (For the record, I think it is dreadful to declare your ailing grandmother mentally incapacitated in order to wrest control of the company a few months faster.)

In 2008, an undercover worker for the Humane Society infiltrated a Chino, CA slaughterhouse and filmed downer cows being slaughtered and sold for food.  That led to the largest beef recall in US history. Buyers from that plant included fast food chains Jack in the Box and In-N-Out along with the US school lunch program.  Most of the other fast food chains kept closer tabs on their supply chain after that incident and have mostly kept out of trouble and the headlines over food safety.

In 2012, another California slaughterhouse was caught selling downer cows for food.  Not only was In-N-Out caught up in another downer cow scandal, they are the only fast food chain caught .AGAIN.  Central Valley Meat's (CVM) only customers were In-N-Out and the US school lunch program.  In fact, CVM supplied 20-30% of the beef served at In-N-Out.

For the record, I also think it is dreadful to (repeatedly) serve downer cows in order to make a quick buck.  I also don't understand why our nation serves the cheapest and lowest quality food in school lunches.

So this is why, if you ask me to meet you for lunch at In-N-Out, I will suggest another place.  And that is also why I tell my kid not to eat hamburgers at school.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Planet Money Math Followup

The Planet Money published data is definitely incomplete.  They did report that the Bangladesh factory did a few more steps, but did not elaborate.  I'll just assume that Jockey did their math correctly with their proprietary $ numbers.  This story did illustrate for me how much this global supply chain depends on cheap and reliable shipping.  Add time and cost to shipping, and savings evaporate.

It truly is an industry on roller skates seeking an instantaneous local minimum in cost.   People are treated like the commodities they make.   Why does it have to be so?   Is there anything we can do to change this system?

I'm off to make some holiday presents, follow up on a job interview and do some edX homework.  If I'm productive, I'll post some pictures of the presents before I mail them out.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Planet Money Math

Please help me with my math because I don't understand why Colombian labor costs more than Bangladeshi labor. They say:
The Planet Money men's T-shirt was made in Bangladesh, by workers who make about $3 a day, with overtime. The Planet Money women's T-shirt was made in Colombia, by workers who make roughly $13 a day, without overtime.
Later, they say:
In Bangladesh, on one sewing line for our T-shirt, 32 people can make about 80 shirts per hour. One sewing line in Colombia has eight people and can make about 140 T-shirts per hour.
In another segment, they say that the Bangladeshi workers put in 6 10-hour days per week.  Assuming that Colombian workers put in 8 hours per day (they have time left over to run side businesses so they have probably work fewer hours in the factory):

Bangladesh labor cost per shirt:
= ($3 per person per day/10 hours per day) * (32 people/80 shirts per hour)
= $0.12 labor/shirt

Colombia labor cost per shirt:
= ($13 per person per day/8 hours per day) * (8 people/140 shirts per hour)
= $0.09 labor/shirt

(I'm sorry that the fractional formatting is such a mess, but Blogger doesn't accept the MathML extension and I can't figure out a way to inject MathJax into Blogger.)

Jockey also says that the Colombia factory turns jobs around more quickly, can make smaller lots (to minimize the amount Jockey has to mark down due to lack of demand), and shipping is $0.10 from Bangladesh and only $0.07 from Colombia.  This makes Colombia the winner at $0.16 vs $0.22.

So why does Jockey say that they can save 20-30% by producing in Bangladesh instead of Colombia?  What data am I missing?  Or is my math wrong?

BTW, both the Colombian factory workers and the African shirt recyclers say that Americans must be gigantic (fat) people based on the sizes of our t-shirts.  Hmmm.  I guess we are over-consuming more than t-shirts.


The Planet Money published data is definitely incomplete.  They did report that the Bangladesh factory did a few more steps, but did not elaborate.  I'll just assume that Jockey did their math correctly with their proprietary $ numbers.  This story did illustrate for me how much this global supply chain depends on cheap and reliable shipping.  Add time and cost to shipping, and savings evaporate.

It truly is an industry on roller skates seeking an instantaneous local minimum in cost.   People are treated like the commodities they make.   Why does it have to be so?   Is there anything we can do to change this system?

Friday, December 13, 2013

CopyrightX 2014

CopyrightX is looking for a few curious and hardworking students like you.  If you create original content or derivative works based on the work of others, this will be very helpful to you.  Applications will be accepted December 13-23, 2013.  To apply you'll have to write essays explaining why you want to learn about copyright.

The toughest thing about the class for me was learning legal writing; it's vastly different from anything that I had done before.  However, learning how to decide cases based on arcane rules is a lot like abstract algebra.  You take a bunch of arbitrary rules, stir them up, and then see how they interact to produce a world that behaves in all sorts of unexpected ways.  Great fun but hard mental work!

From the assessment of the 2013 course:
We received over 4100 such applications during the three-week window in which applications were being accepted. When evaluating those applications, we looked for manifestations of intelligence, facility with English, and commitment to completing the course – but we did not privilege educational attainment or legal knowledge. Instead, we strove to select a class that would be diverse on many dimensions: gender, country of residence, age, occupation, and interests. We achieved at least the last-mentioned goal. The 500 admitted students included:
  • 53% men; 47% women
  • 29 lawyers; 43 persons with Ph.D.s; 177 persons with Master’s Degrees (not including those with Ph.D.s)
  • a spectrum of ages, from 13 to 83
  • 291 residents of the United States; 203 residents of other countries
My section of 25 included 3 working lawyers, 4 PhDs (2-physics, EE and music) and three archivists/librarians/historians.  How many times have you ever wanted to ask an archivist/librarian/historian how s/he decides what is worth preserving?  Or wanted to ask legal scholars  about ownership of intellectual property versus physical property?  This is your chance.

PS.  About half the admitted students stuck through the class till the end.  49% attempted the final (nearly everyone who stuck it out) and about 80% of them passed the final.  Interestingly, the PhDs struggled with the final more than the MA or JD students.  It could be the difference in expected writing style, but the sample size and difference is probably too small to give a definitive answer.

PPS.  I previously wrote in Notes from a RCT guinea pig that we were divided into four groups along two dimensions.  Half read a US-centric case law curriculum (much like the HLS students) and half read a broader global law curriculum.  People expected the global reading students to be at a disadvantage.  However, many students studied the readings for both groups anyway.

Half used Nota Bene, a collaborative pdf markup tool, in addition to the edX discussion forum.  Although I found Nota Bene extremely useful, they found no statistically significant difference in the exam scores between the four groups.  In other words, a sample size of 125/2 (initial sample times completion rate) lacked statistical power.  I would like to see the completion rate by RCT exposures.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My planetary t-shirt

I fear that, if I don't write about some of my projects in the past year, I will lose my street cred as a sewing and knitting blogger.

Have you heard the Planet Money T-shirt series about the life of an ordinary cotton t-shirt? They started from the seed, and then followed the story through the farmer, yarn spinner, fabric knitter, sewer, first consumer, recycler and second consumer.  That's old news to readers of this blog, but I was surprised by how little ordinary consumers know about who makes their clothes.

Why ship a t-shirt to Africa to remake them?  We can save on transportation costs by mining our old stuff for raw materials in situ.

I present the third life of my current favorite t-shirt.  Does this look familiar?

Do you remember the Tie-dye family?

I tie-dyed two thrift store shirts and purchased a "prepared for dyeing" (PFD) blank dress for this family photo.  Those were second life t-shirts.  (Hmm, these are two different men's shirts that I dyed in the same batch back in 2006.)

Bad dad's shirt had frayed at the edges and developed a few holes.  I cut a smaller t-shirt front and sleeves from the usable sections of the front and back, hence the odd placement of the chest pocket.  I purchased a small piece of incredibly soft cotton jersey from an odd-jobber that sells scraps from the LA garment industry.

I used that for the back and binding.

This was the first time that I tried Kwik Sew 2555's binding finish and I love the results.  You can replicate this with a plain old zig-zag machine, but I used my serger for speed.

I used a narrow zig-zag on the shoulders because serged shoulder seams irritate my skin.  You can't see that I stabilized the shoulders before sewing with narrow strips of fusible knit interfacing.

If you are keeping track, the original pocket t-shirt enjoyed a first life as a white T with it's primary owner until it got stained and was donated to Goodwill. I purchased it from GW for $1 and dyed it in my kitchen in 2006. That was the shirt's second life.  In 2013, I recut the usable parts of the shirt, added cloth scraps from a local factory and created a third life for the t-shirt.

How many lives do your clothes enjoy?  Tell me stories!


Monday, December 09, 2013

Admiral Grace Hopper gets her own Google Doodle

The San Diego Supercomputing Center wrote:
Her work embodied or foreshadowed enormous numbers of developments that are now the bones of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative addressing, the linking loader, code optimization, and even symbolic manipulation of the kind embodied in Mathematica and Maple.
I've also written previously about her.  

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Waste Heat

A (physicist) friend in Boulder said that incandescent light bulbs and "waste heat" get a bad rap. So what if incandescent light bulbs put off heat if you use them in the winter or at night, when your house could use the "waste" heat anyway?  Heat is not wasted if you need it.

I'm reminded of this because we are experiencing the coldest temperatures of the year (so far) without home heating.  We are awaiting a new motor and other replacement parts for our 15 year old furnace.

Our thermostat keeps track of how many total hours the furnace runs and we've been logging about 50 yours per winter.  This doesn't sound like much, but the total includes only times when the furnace cycles on.  The motor also runs the whole-house fan, which is hooked up to an electrostatic air filter.  We run that any time of the year when dust or pollution is a problem.  The motor ran for more than 50 hrs*15 years and we should have checked the system *before* we needed it.  Live and learn.

We replaced most of the incandescent light bulbs in our house with fluorescent ones.  Right now, I am really grateful for the few remaining incandescent bulbs in our home because of the welcome heat they put out.  Our indoor temps have been hovering between 55-63 F this past week while outdoor temps have dipped as low as the upper 30s.  At home, we dress like we do at night at camp.



I just love this vintage lamp my MIL gave me. I need to replace the rotted leather lacing, but it's in great shape otherwise.  I've received some fantastic mid-century pieces from Sweden and Japan from both my mom and my MIL in their recent decluttering campaigns.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

This could get a little complicated

says the guy who wrote a short 2-page basic guide on how to use our last TV set-up.

The real secret to how I can read/sew/knit/cook so much?  I honestly don't know how to watch TV any more at home.  It's a big time saver.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Yesterday in Pictures

The Goodyear blimp made multiple trips between its hanger in Carson and the coast.
School let out early but the school officials and Beach Cities Transit (who runs the bus system) did not coordinate schedules as they have done on prior minimum days. Iris called an SOS and I ran two trips in my Prius to haul kids home to North Redondo Beach (NRB).

Afterwards, Iris and I were famished. We longed for hot bowls of noodles. An image of Black Ajitama ramen from Ramen Iroha flashed in my mind and off we went.  For $2 more, they double the serving size and give you an extra bowl.
Happy holidays from chez BMGM.
BTW, Iris is wearing Simplicity 2689 top in a rayon/silk challis and (you can't see it) Kwik Sew 3476 leggings in RPL ponte.  I sew more than half her clothes, but I'm too busy to blog about it.  I will try to list pattern numbers and whether or not I recommend them for those that are also sewing for coltish girls.  These two patterns are staples in her wardrobe.