Sunday, January 26, 2014

And the moonbeams kiss the sea

I'm slowly recovering from the bug that swept through our family.  Meanwhile, I've been streaming a lot of old TV shows such as And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea, an Inspector Lewis episode where Shelley's Love's Philosophy plays a central role.  I love the two lines:
And the sunlight clasps the earth
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
That reminds me of earth imagery in reflected moonlight.  Imagine that those photons travelled from the sun, bounced off the moon, and then bounced off the earth and back out to space and finally landed in a detector out in space.  Whew!  What a wild and improbable ride.  Through the magic of satellite remote sensing, we can ride along vicariously.

Read Night Vision for Weather Forecasters to learn more. You can download the full-resolution images here. And read the entire poem at the Poetry Foundation website.

Friday, January 24, 2014

That Ridiculously Resilient Ridge in (non)action!

Thanks to some sips tips from Stackoverflow and OSXDailymy sister's pointer to, and the NOAA/ESRL Daily Mean Composites visualizer,  I managed to create an animation of the quasi-stationary Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR) between December 23, 2013 and January 21, 2014.

The RRR is a remarkably scary phenomena because it's been sitting there, deflecting rain from California, for THIRTEEN consecutive months.  In fact, the high-pressure ridge is often so large, it's deflecting moisture from most of the west coast of Canada and the Unites States!

Remember Newton's First Law of Physics?  An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

The earth's atmosphere behaves like a shallow pan of fluid on top of our rock ball.  The atmosphere responds with waves when pinged (water analogy) or plucked (string analogy).  You can see the opposite phases of the waves in blue (low pressure) and red (high pressure) below.  Normally, the waves move around a bit, spreading the sunshine and rain over time and space.

However, the RRR has been quasi-stationary with practically zero momentum for more than a year.  It would take a lot of energy to budge something so big and so stationary.  The strength and persistence of the RRR makes that an unlikely event.

This is a severe event.  In a widespread drought like this, it's simply not an option to pull water from another water shed (e.g. the Colorado River Basin).  No one in the west has any water to spare.  This is not media hype.  This could be a catastrophic disaster.

It't time to prepare for the worst drought and wildfire season in California in my lifetime.


I showed it in Lambert Conformal (conic projection) instead of Polar Stereographic this time.  Which do you prefer?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In defense of Home Ec

I've made no progress on Capecho since 2007 because of an unfortunate meeting with the (then) new superintendent of our local school district. It was supposed to be a charm offensive but he made me so mad, I completely twisted up my Capecho and it's been sitting in a box ever since.

First off, why do EdD's go by Dr X when PhDs go by their first names?

He talked about the usual stuff like how he grew up nearby and he wanted to prepare our students for the twenty-first century economy.  He was aiming to send 100% of our high school students on to college.  As a scientist, my ears prick up at the mention of 100% anything.  What about the special ed kids?  Should we throw them under the bus (out of the district) lest they mess up our "metrics"?

To head off criticism, he clarified that his broad definition includes trade schools and vocational training at SCROC (Southern California Regional Occupational Center).  He suggested training at SCROC to be a medical assistant (average wage, $14/hr) as a viable career because of growing demand in the healthcare field.  He also proposed industrial shop as a good career due to the plethora of businesses of all sizes in the South Bay that make goods such as helicopters and satellites.  He praised the arts because of the contribution that it makes to our local economy*.  He finished up his spiel with a jokey, "In today's economy, Home Ec just isn't going to cut it."

Well, I just about choked right then, but I swallowed my anger and quietly knitted on.

There are so many things wrong with that statement.  Let me count the ways.

Why did he single out Home Ec as outdated?  It's hard .not. to see sexism in that statement.  Why train people to care for ever more patients sickened by lifestyle diseases if we could prevent the diseases in the first place?  What is wrong with teaching students how to cook healthily and economically at home instead?

Home Ec is the kind of cooperative, project-based, hands-on science training that educational pundits claim they are trying to bring into the classroom.  So why dump it?

I first learned microbiology from my Home Ec teacher when she explained how to safely store and cook food and why we needed to thoroughly wash our hands before and after food prep.

She had recently returned from a one-year exchange program in which she traded homes and jobs with another teacher in Wales.  She taught us a couple of Welch recipes and then sent us home to collect family recipes of our own. From those recipes, we compiled lists of common ingredients in different cuisines around the world.  (I grew up in a diverse suburb near San Francisco/Silicon Valley.)

The monotony of British and northern European recipes was an eye opener.  It made me so grateful for my heritage because my mom's recipes were so much more varied and tastier than those brought in by most of my classmates.

Then we investigated the geographic distribution of ingredients and the natural and human history of those ingredients.  In the process, we learned about weather and trade routes.  That was the first time I noticed how far north Ireland and Wales lie and how short their growing season is.  Most importantly, I learned about the Gulf Stream, that great conveyer belt of heat that makes life possible for such a large population at such a northerly latitude.

I learned way more science in Home Ec in the 1970s than my daughter learned in the parody that passes for science education today.  (California now requires all students to take science all three years of middle school.)  Today's watered-down science curriculum is so depressing, it deserves a separate post.

In homage to my 8th grade Home Ec teacher, who kindled and nurtured my interest in the natural world, I will post a couple of sea surface temperature analyses by NOAA/NCEP and the Navy/FNMOC.  Can you spot the Gulf Stream?

Or its Asian analog?  Or the inverse effect across the oceans?
I could bore you with the details of how the two different models and data assimilation systems differ or the difference between an operational analysis and a climatological reanalysis.  But, it involves lots and lots of physics and higher math--the kind they don't teach in Ed.D programs.

(It's late.  I've been running a fever for three days.  My crankiness is showing.)

Notice the subtle differences beyond the coarser 1/2 degree lat/lon resolution (~50 km square) of the NOAA model and the finer 1/12 degree (~10 km) resolution of the Navy one.  They both ingest the same remotely-sensed satellite data, but their in-situ datasets--provided by buoys and ships--differ slightly.

Which analysis do you expect to contain more in-situ data? Why? Can you track fleet movement and buoy drift by studying temporal changes in global analyses?

San Francisco weather is predictably dull.  Will tomorrow be cold and foggy, or foggy and cold?  But I first became interested in weather for the food.

Please leave your Home Ec stories here in the comments.  Include region, era and curriculum information.  I want to hear your stories!

* He never mentioned the value art for the its own sake.  I overheard some of the teachers discussing how the music program was saved only because musical training correlates with higher standardized test scores in math.  If true, that is beyond pathetic.  Why isn't making music/art for personal enjoyment, and sharing the fellowship of other artists/musicians, sufficiently valuable to preserve in schools?

I really should clarify that this happened at our first meeting in 2007.  He has earned my respect through the way he led our district through the lean budget years.  He cut administrative staff before classroom teachers.  He even took furlough days (and the accompanying pay cut) himself.  I still think it was wrong to single out Home Ec as unworthy of study and irrelevant today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Shop Class 2*

The creeping crud swept through our household and I'm the last one still sick. Instead of writing a weightier post from scratch, I am going through my list of drafts (UFOs) that I never posted for one reason or another. I came across this quote from Shop Class as Soulcraft, which I have previously written about. Go and read that first.
I have tried to make a case for self-reliance of a certain kind -- being master of your own stuff. This requires a basic intelligibility to our possessions: in their provenance, in their principles of operation, in their logic of repair and maintenance, in short, in all those ways that a material object can make itself fully manifest to us, so we can be responsible for it.
I mostly agree with Matthew Crawford, but I think he shares the common myopia of dismissing/ignoring the similar value of Home Ec entirely.  As someone who has taken both Shop and Home Ec, I can aver that Home Ec is harder.

* @LHC Your comment about international food merits a separate post.

But, I just noticed an article about the DIY kits that mentioned Heathkit and Altair but not Frostline.   I am disgusted at the omission.  Sewing is not for girls only.  In the US, Frostline kits were the first introduction to sewing of many boy scouts.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Early Start to the 2014 Fire Season

Bad Dad asked if it was his imagination that the air quality is better now than this morning. Was it an artifact of the sun angle?

After looking at today's two NASA MODIS images of this area, I can say that the peak of the smoke passed over us shortly before the NASA Terra satellite overpass (first image, about 10:30 AM).  When the fire first started, the fuel was abundant and the fire produced the most smoke.

By the NASA Aqua overpass (second image, about 1:30 PM), the thickest part of the smoke plume had moved past us and offshore.

Blogger is doing something very strange to the color balance of the images. Go see them yourself at the MODIS La Jolla subset page.  The Terra 7-2-1 Bands image shows two distinct hotspots.  The police already have suspects in custody for setting the fire.


Ravelry is an amazing resource organized around knitting and crocheting (with some weaving and sewing). Even if you don't knit or crochet, I recommend checking it out. The level of international cooperation and friendliness is unparalleled on the web.

As on any other social networking site, you friend people who have similar tastes and then watch what they knit, put in their queue (want to knit) or just plain like. The genius of this site is that you don't have to speak a common language other than yarn. Bilingual volunteer editors also serve as ambassadors.

If you want to see inside knitter's homes around the world, this is the place.

Anyway, one of my contacts on Ravelry queued a_simmetrie (Italian for asymmetry), and I purchased the pattern and some yarn immediately.  Click on the link above, and you will go to the pattern information page.  If you join (membership is free but donations are greatly appreciated), you can see all the a_simmetrie sweaters knit and uploaded by Ravelry members (29 so far).

For instance, you can see my project notes here.

As written, the pattern uses dk weight (8-ply) wool for the main body and fingering weight (4-ply) for the sheer panels and neck yoke.  I didn't have fingering weight in the right color so I used Habu tsumugi silk, ~3 ply.  The silk has no elastic recovery, so I used the dk wool for the yoke instead.
Since the silk panels droop, I decided to roll with it and make the back hem longer than the front. Eileen Fisher calls it an elliptical hem so I named my project Asymmetric Ellipse.

Isn't that sheer panel pretty?
The pattern is unusually clever.  You knit top-down, but in two pieces instead of in the round.  Each piece includes most of one side (front/back), one sleeve, and a sliver of the opposite side (back/front).  When you reach the bottom of the armhole, you put sleeve stitches on a holder and complete the body.  Then you go back and knit the sleeves in the round.

With the lighter yarn and small needles, pick up one stitch in each row of one piece, then knit a garter stitch wedge using short rows.  Crochet bind off the wedge while attaching it to the opposite edge of the other piece.  Repeat for second wedge.

Now pickup the provisional cast-off and knit the slanted yoke.

The sleeve increase sequence produced the nicest-fitting armhole I've ever seen in a top-down sweater.  I'm going to copy that for my future top-down projects.

Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to wear it in public yet.  It's been 80 F outside and not wool sweater weather.

Oops, I forgot to mention that Colourmart sells mill ends which come on cones and contain oils to facilitate machine-knitting or weaving.  Handknitters can also use the yarn, but must wash a test swatch in HOT water to remove the oil, fluff up the wool, and obtain an accurate gauge.

I admit that I was a bit nervous about submitting wool to a HOT water and detergent bath.  But, plenty of other people on Ravelry and Colourmart forums did it successfully so I plunged ahead. I threw in some citric acid crystals to lower the pH and suppress felting, but don't know if that helped.  The oil came out, the wool fluffed up nicely and the gauge didn't change at all.


  • Size 6 (4.0 mm) needles when knitting back and forth, size 7 (4.5mm) when knitting the sleeves in the round.
  • Size 2 (2.75 mm) needles for the garter stitch panels and yoke
  • Colourmart 8-ply merino wool for the main body and yoke
  • Habu Tsumugi silk for the sheer contrast panels
  • Reduced the # of yoke stitches and rows by omitting increases and reducing 4 rows (2 ridges)
  • Short-rowed the hem so that it dips in back for an elliptical hem. Back gusset is longer than front gusset for a gentle curved swing shape.
  • Lengthened sleeves to full length by stretching out sleeve decreases to every 8 rows 11 times.
  • Garter hems instead of turned and stitched hems.
  • Stretchy bind-off using a crochet hook.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bridgegate and political murder

In Bridgegate news coverage, writers sometimes ask if the bridge closure killed anyone, specifically a 91 year old woman who subsequently died after emergency responders were delayed by the traffic jam.

That's a tough thing to pin down, because 91 year olds do die for myriad reasons, even if emergency care is provided in a timely manner.  You can't measure "excess deaths", the number of people who actually die versus what you would expect in the absence of some "treatment" (denial of care), with a sample size of one.

As a scientist and a mother, I monitor air pollution indices and adjust our family's daily activities accordingly.  Air pollution kills.  Air pollution kills at much lower concentrations than previously believed.  For most people, air pollution isn't immediately deadly, but it makes them feel crappy, leads them to use a rescue inhaler or to the emergency room.  It's a different story for people with cardiac and pulmonary disease.

My advice to Bridgegate watchers is to look more broadly.   Did the closure of the George Washington Bridge lead to more air pollution than the meteorological conditions would have generated if the bridge had not been closed?  A quick look at the AirNOW's NYC Archive would suggest that.  The bridge was closed down September 9, 2013 and reopened September 13.

However, this isn't a smoking gun unless you do a detailed air quality simulation using coupled weather and air pollution models with actual air pollution emissions for those days and compare them with controls performed with emissions inventories of more typical days.  Has anyone done that?  Can you explain that to a jury?

Is this map more easily understood?  That rectangular orange hotspot is Fort Lee.  It 's important to note that "excess mortality" can be detected even at moderate levels of 30 ppm.  We now know that "Moderate" really means unsafe for sensitive groups and "USG" (unsafe for sensitive groups) means unsafe for everyone.  Multiply the increased risk by the number of people affected and if that is not a crime, then perhaps we need to change the laws.

Governor Chris Christie (and/or his staff) committed environmental terrorism against the residents of Fort Lee and possibly the entire NYC metro area--tens of millions of people.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

There can be multiple polar vortices

There's a lot of chatter about the polar vortex sliding off the north pole into NYC. The reply from meteorologists is, "which polar vortex do you mean?"

The northern hemisphere (NH or Boreal) polar vortex is a bit more irregular than the southern hemisphere's (SH or Austral) due to greater anisotropy of land masses near the north pole.  See NOAA's Arctic Climate and the Polar Vortex page.

500 mb NH wind speed (screenshot
Cameron Beccario has written a beautiful visualization of global wind model data from the models run by NOAA/NCEP.  I took screen grabs of the animation for 500 mb (half height of the atmosphere) and 250 mb (near the vertical peak of the jet stream).  Notice one of the polar vortices (N or Russia) rotates clockwise instead of counterclockwise!
250 mb NH wind speed (screenshot
A fast-moving river of air acts like a barrier or separatrix between regions that can have very different characteristics.  But, you can see that this fence is kind of irregular and spotty.

Occasionally, the vortex becomes VERY wavy and dips down into mid-latitudes, bringing cold air along with it.  These episodes are often associated with a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW).  SSWs and mid-latitude cold blasts happen every few years (more if you count both poles).

I feel your pain and will think of my midwestern and east coast friends while I sip coffee in my shorts at the beach today.

People better qualified than me have explained the connection between SSW, arctic cold air masses, and how a single event like this is not an indicator of global warming.

Cliff Mass is particularly vehement
Jennifer Francis suggests that reduction of arctic ice leads to more waviness in the polar vortex
Elizabeth A. Barnes sees no net increase in waviness over 1980-2011

NASA on the SSW in January 2013
NASA background on SSW and Ozone

The Barnes article is a Geophysical Research Letter (GRL), a short communique to disseminate preliminary research.  I think that a 31 year study is a good start, but I withhold judgement until I see more evidence and a longer-term study.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

That Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

When I read about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, I wondered, "how unusual is this phenomenon?"

I spent some time with the Earth System Research Laboratory’s data visualizer web portal to find out.

The global sea level pressure is about 1013 millibar (mb); some places run higher, others lower.  Short-term fluctuations are called weather.  As I explained previously in The rain gate has opened,
High pressure systems are associated with warm and sunny weather.  Low pressure systems are associated with 'disturbed', cloudy and stormy weather.
Our “normal” January 1 northern hemisphere sea level pressure looks like this.  (This climatology is an average of the thirty January firsts between 1981-2010 inclusive.)  We enjoy a relatively dry and warm climate in southern California due to a moderate offshore high-pressure region aka the "Pacific High”.  The magenta area to its northwest is the "Aleutian Low” that normally steers storms into the Pacific northwest.

This is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. Do you see that yellow offshore blob? You could call it a banana, but meteorologists call it an (atmospheric) ridge. That high-pressure region is deflecting storms away from the entire west coast of North America.

Subtract the daily weather from climatology and you get the anomaly or deviance from normal.  A 10 mb anomaly is a strong feature capable of bringing rain or sunshine depending on the sign of the deviance.

A 10-15 millibar anomaly is just the day to day fluctuation we call weather. But, over a longer time period, it spells trouble.

What's the persistence?

I made a plot for the climatology of December sea level pressure.  In a typical December, a series of storms form in the Aleutian low and move towards the Pacific northwest, then push southward toward SoCal.  We experience light and cool rains (or snowfall at higher elevations) from this type of system.

In 2013, there was a persistent ridge of over 12 mb above normal for the entire month of December!  No wonder we have received only trace rainfall in December 2013.
Compare this with the anomaly in December 2010, when we received over 10" of rainfall.  That's an anomaly of -10 mb instead of +12 mb.  What a difference 22 mb makes.


That low pressure trough in the north Atlantic in December 2013 isn't a picnic for people in the UK.
Parts of southern England have seen double their usual December rainfall.


Thursday, January 02, 2014

PSA about that annoying pop-up window

Are you getting an annoying pop-up window asking you to login to when trying to view a page or leave a comment on this blog?

I fell prey to a Blogger glitch and I'm putting this info out in case you also experience it on your Blogger blog.  I'm generally careful not to hotlink to other sites.  I have made an exception for a very large file from the CIMSS satellite blog, but I asked permission first.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was inadvertently hotlinking to and triggering this login window when trying to view any page on this blog displaying the Blogroll widget.

If you run the Blogger Blogroll widget on the sidebar of your blog, then it hotlinks to images on other blogs. That's not a problem for other Blogger blogs. But, for some non-Blogger blogs, such as the Colletterie blog, this can be construed as bandwidth theft.  The owners of those servers have a legitimate complaint and may use means (such as this pop-up) to restrict such uses.

Anyway, I took the Colletterie blog off my Blogger Blogroll widget.  Clear your server cache and this annoying thing will stop happening to you when you view my blog.  If you also have the Colletterie blog on your Blogger Blogroll, be aware that the same thing may happen to your blog.

The webmaster at the Colletterie blog is aware of the situation and trying to find a resolution that won't lose them inbound links.  If you experience this problem, I hope you find this easy short-term fix useful.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year

We rang in the new year sitting on the couch with old friends and sparkling grape juice.  After we slept in, we went on a tandem ride to the beach.  We had a slow leak in the back tire and a spectacular pop in the front tire.  I watched the dolphins swim while Bad Dad changed the tubes in both tires.  I forgot to take pictures then, but I did snap a couple of pictures while riding along Esplanade.  (His cell phone was handy in the seat-back jersey pocket .)

For you statistics wonks, I'm posting a tally of 2013 projects that I bothered to document on my spreadsheet.

For ? # of Projects

I clearly need to improve my selfish and selfless sucker sewing ratio.  Although I made 98 projects, nearly 4/5 of them were not for myself.  Moreover, some of them were made for complete strangers through CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).  What is wrong with me?

I've done a lousy job on the Stuff Diet, too.  How did I use only 98.5 yards to make 98 (92 sewn, 6 knitted) things?  It seems that I did a fair amount of refashioning and working with recycled materials in 2013.  Developing a reputation for refashioning can be dangerous.  People keep bringing me stuff to refashion.

I spent one month helping my mom move out of her house and settle into a much smaller apartment in a more convenient location.  She sent me home with over two dozen event t-shirts collected over the last 20 years.  I refashioned them into about 10 long-sleeved t-shirts.  My doctor has just offered a dozen more shirts left behind by her sons when they moved out.

I purchased or brought home (through free share tables) 246 yards of fabric and used 98.5.  I measure fabric when I bring it into the house and before I cut it.  Even optimistically allowing 10% for shrinkage because I prewash all of my fabric one or twice before cutting, that still leaves an embarrassingly large net increase.

The $$ doesn't bother me because most of the fabric I buy is industrial waste purchased from odd jobbers for $1-6/pound.  Furthermore, I sew most of Iris' and my clothing and sew for friends and strangers, too.  My sewing studio just needs more breathing room.  I will give away some stuff to good homes until I find a comfortable and workable balance.

Let's not get into the UFO (unfinished object) count.  Why did I finish only one (unblogged, too!) sweater and leave four sweaters awaiting a few hours worth of seaming/finishing work?  I'll write more about this sweater later.  It's fantastic.  I love it.  Even Iris likes it.

Iris has taken up making and I need to rearrange the sewing room to accommodate two makers and our ongoing projects.  This may involve hiring a handyman and more IKEA kitchen cabinets.  It will definitely involve giving stuff away to make more room.

Right now, we're making soft-circuit bracelets with LEDs and felt.  That means I can't sew until we finish that up and put those materials away.  We had some engineering design disagreements and the fact that I wanted to do more research before proceeding to cut.  She actually said, "Now I understand why you are a theoretical physicist."  How sharper than a serpents tooth…

I had the self control not to bring up the Dunning-Kruger effect.