Monday, April 27, 2015

Color Scheme

I don't understand why the tile and rug colors look true, but the paint chips are so washed out.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fashion Revolution?

Today is the 2-year anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh where thousands of garment makers worked and died. Has anything really changed in two years?

Will wearing our clothes inside out, as Fashion Revolution urges, make any difference?

I really don't know.

I know that my shopping habits have not changed in the last two years--but mainly because I had already changed it about 10 years ago.  Read my stuff diet and wardrobe refashion threads to review the evolution of my habits and thinking.

I'm going to spend a quiet evening at home, making myself a new shirt from a thrifted t-shirt and some scraps I purchased from an LA odd-jobber (waste from a garment factory).  I liked Iris' shirt so much, I decided to make one for myself.
I already cut it out. The pieces on the left will be used in the shirt.  The small scraps at the top will be used to test stitch tension and then tossed in the trash afterwards.

Shams posted a photo of how she uses those small scraps and a light bulb went off in my head.  The medium-small scraps to the right were cut into pieces about 2/3 the size of paper towels.  I keep a basket of them under both the kitchen and bathroom sinks and use them instead of paper towels for messy cleanups.  (I use reusable rags for most of my cleaning jobs.)

As you can see, I do not run a zero-waste home.  But things get used and reused and then tossed.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Double rainbow light show

I saw a double rainbow on the evening of April 21.  The stoplight wasn't red long enough for me to frame the picture with both arcs.  Try to imagine a faint secondary rainbow to the right.
The picture has so many layers of meaning.  Rainbows are a light phenomena.  Then there is the traffic light.  And the red light camera.  You can't tell from the picture, but I was driving southbound on Broadway, right outside the Department of Commerce labs in Boulder.  Those labs are famous for their light (laser) experiments.

When I was an undergrad at Berkeley, a professor told me to go to CU Boulder instead of MIT.  He had postdoc'd in Boulder and he extolled the advantages of high altitude for scientific productivity.

Spectroscopists usually make measurements under vacuum (relative to ambient air pressure).  Labs at high altitude get a head start on the ambient air pressure.

OK, that is not that much of an advantage with a good roughing pump.

The real advantage is the dryness of high altitude.  Water is a sticky molecule and it sticks to every surface of your apparatus.  Then it off-gases as the air pressure descends in the vacuum chamber.  Then it keeps off-gassing...  You can speed up the process by "baking" the chamber with a heat blanket as you pump it out.  But, it can take a whole day to get the water vapor level in a chamber low enough not to interfere with your signal to noise.

My former Berkeley professor said that those days add up to a whole lot of productivity when averaged over the years.  He thought that a spectroscopist's publication count should by handicapped like golf for the time spent pumping out water vapor.  ;-)

And you thought that Boulder has 3 national labs (NCAR, NOAA and NIST) because scientists have a high affinity for alpine recreation.  It's the lack of water vapor.  Really.

Did you read the scientific explanation Amanda Curtis' QUADRUPLE  rainbow photo?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Earth Day 2015: Water on my mind

It's almost Earth Day (in my time zone) so this one is a bit rushed. Please tune back in a day or so when I get all the links to references up.

There is so much I want to tell you about my beloved California and the danger it faces from people with lawyers, lobbyists and PR staff working to bleed it dry before everyone else notices.

You've probably read the headlines about the three years with nearly no precipitation and quotes by people who say it is just random chance or god's fault.  The truth is much more complex.  But, as a scientist and a Californian with a love for the outdoors, I can clearly see that this is a man-made disaster and the culprit is not Carly Fiorina's conveniently mute scapegoat.

Firstly, California is mostly dry for over half the year.  We get most of our rain and snow between October-April, when the atmospheric high pressure dome called the Pacific High moves south.  Only then can moist air masses from the ocean reach California instead of being deflected to the north.

The past 2-3 years, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge has not budged even during the winter, causing our perpetual (and dry) summer.

Google Earth depiction of Landsat imagery of California showing the mountains and valleys.
When the weather is benign and we are lucky, winter rains fill our reservoirs.  Snowmelt in the early summer replenish our reservoirs until late summer and autumn.  Then we mine ancient aquifers, aka groundwater, until the winter rains return.

It was estimated that 30-40% of California's water usage came from groundwater.  However, the amount is murky because there are no rules governing groundwater pumping and even where users are required to self-report the extent of their groundwater pumping, the data is kept secret to protect the privacy of water users.

Read the background information in If You Think the Water Crisis Can't Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained and weep.
Groundwater comes from aquifers—spongelike gravel and sand-filled underground reservoirs—and we see this water only when it flows from springs and wells. In the United States we rely on this hidden—and shrinking—water supply to meet half our needs, and as drought shrinks surface water in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, we rely on groundwater from aquifers even more. Some shallow aquifers recharge from surface water, but deeper aquifers contain ancient water locked in the earth by changes in geology thousands or millions of years ago. These aquifers typically cannot recharge, and once this "fossil" water is gone, it is gone forever—potentially changing how and where we can live and grow food, among other things.
How bad is it? In the past, we didn't know. Even where self-reporting was required, how could we check the accuracy of water users' self-reported usage?

We can measure the Earth's gravitational field--and hence it's mass distribution--so accurately from space, that we actually know the answer.  Weighing Earth's Water from Space (written in 2003) gives an excellent background of the technique (be sure to click through all three pages).

"Potsdam Potato" vertically exaggerated depiction of the earth's gravity field or mass distribution.
I have a data CD with an one-year animation of the earth's gravity field that showed snowpacks being built up and then melting away.  But, it is in LA and I am in Boulder this week.  You'll have to make do with a gif of a static gravity model (which is averaged over a long time period).
Global visualization of a gravity model created with data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) showing variations in Earth’s gravity field.
After 10+ years of flying satellite sensitive enough to measure the gravity field of underground aquifers, we have the answer.  The general trend is down, even during comparatively wet years.  During dry years, about 60% of California's water use came from exploiting the aquifers.

A smart and resilient society would treat the aquifers as a piggy bank.  Bank water during wet years and then withdraw during the dry ones.  Instead, we've been drawing unsustainably even during the wet years.  We are simply living beyond our means.

Grace observed trends in groundwater levels, October, 2003 – March, 2009Image Credit: University Of California Center For Hydrologic Modeling via JPL.

Integrate these groundwater depletion trends a decade or so and you can understand why portions of the Central Valley have sunk 30 feet.

Remember the part above about "spongelike gravel"?  Dry out a sponge and it shrinks.  Portions of the Central Valley (CV) have sunk 30 feet--often to below sea level.  Unlike a sponge which can swell up when wetted, ground compaction is permanent.  That means the sunken areas are permanently sunk.

The economic gains from groundwater depletion go to a very few. Don't let the pictures of unemployed farm laborers fool you. They weren't making much money even during the wet years. The money flowed to a very, very small group of (mostly corporate and/or absentee) landowners.

Having privatized the water beneath all of us, they socialize all the costs by sticking it to the rest of us to pay for the infrastructure destroyed by the sinking ground.  More about that.

From the SJ Mercury:
The groundwater legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday requires local water agencies to replenish underground aquifers that have been depleted. Farmers will likely have to meter their wells, and some may be forced to cease or dramatically reduce pumping.By 2017, groundwater management agencies must be created across California.
By 2020, groundwater basins that are "overdrafted" (meaning more water is being pumped than replenished) must have "sustainability plans."
By 2022, all other basins must have such plans.
By 2040, all "high and medium priority" basins must achieve sustainability.
The moneybags with the lobbyists got everything they wanted. By 2040, the aquifer that took millions of years to form will be completely dry at the rate they are using it up.

Then there are the atmospheric rivers I mentioned earlier. Read Lynn Ingram's California Megaflood: Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe about a two-month series of storms that submerged Sacramento and the Central Valley for months.  It would be even worse today because groundwater pumping has lowered the CV 30 feet below the 1862 level.

BTW, California's population is growing fastest in the lowest-lying areas.

Are you as worried as I am?  How do we stop the bullshit?

Monday, April 20, 2015

On the needles, another Absorba

Countertop and floor tile samples with bath mat.
We are in the thick of home remodeling in Boulder. I've been busy in the evenings making things in anticipation of moving in in about 6 weeks.  I've posted my many previous variations of Absorba, a garter-stitch bath mat.

The latest incarnation uses yarns that pick up the gray and olive tones in the quartz countertop and porcelain floor tiles I selected for the kitchen and baths.  This bathmat is destined for Iris' bathroom.  Do you think the color combination is too subtle for a teenager?  Her bathroom is also the guest bathroom.

The olive yarn is actually 8 strands (of 2 ply) cotton/rayon/linen blend mill ends on cones from Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins.  I picked up the gray Bernat cotton at Joann's.

It's been a stressful week and I popped into SSS for some TGIF yarn therapy.  Two cones of the olive may have come home with me.  How do you think the rest of the olive yarn would look knit up in Chance of Showers?  Sized for me or for Iris?  Do you know anyone in Boulder who can ply up the yarn for me?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Don't be bamboozled by big agribusiness PR bullshit

The media is being flooded with PR factoids planted by PR flacks working for big water robber barons. I just about choked when I read a news story that repeated the line about how walnuts now use 1/3 less water per calorie than a decade ago.

A serious journalist would have reported on the wasteful baseline irrigation techniques or about the growth in nut grove acreage in the period. But, this factoid was repeated with no background reporting whatsoever.  Let us now have a moment of silence to contemplate the slow death of serious environmental journalism in the MSM.

Then let us fight back against the PR flacks and help the inexperienced newbies that staff newsrooms around the country for peanuts.  BTW, peanuts are not nuts and not the permanent tree crops I am railing against here.

The western states' water crisis did not have to be a crisis.   Some have seen it coming and have warned against it.  Mostly, we were ignored or called not very nice names.  I'm a mother of a teenager and have pretty thick skin.  So let me wade it.

Nut groves were being watered by the ancient practice of flood irrigation (USGS info page).  Below, you can see the reflections of the almond trees on the surface of the water flooding the grove.  They pump this much water out of the aquifer to make almond milk.  Vegan cuisine is not without environmental harm.

Flood irrigation of almond grove picture courtesy of
Another USGS page on irrigation technologies explains that flood irrigation wastes more water at the edges of the field, but loses less to evaporation than sprinklers.  That is also true.

But, let's talk about the total evaporation loss budget.  Water is lost at every step in the process: evaporation from the water surface, evaporation from the sprinklers, evaporation from the soil and evapotranspiration through the plants.  It's one big clusterf*ck of evaporative water loss.

Moreover, these water-intensive crops are being grown in one of the world's driest regions with the highest potential evaporation.

Global mean monthly potential evaporation via Arid Lands Research Sciences at U of Arizona.
If you use a clothesline, you will notice that your laundry dries more quickly on hot days or when the air is drier. If you have lived both at sea level and high altitude, you may also know how much more quickly laundry dries at high altitude (and low atmospheric pressure).

Now, you may ask, why would someone be planting ever more nut orchards in the extremely hot (> 100 F in the summer) desert basin of the San Joaquin valley or in the hot foothills of the Sierra Nevada (~3,000 feet elevation, 90 F in the summer)?  Where do they get the water for this boondoggle?

The answer is that they rob the earth by dipping their straws/wells into ancient aquifers in a race to use it all up before someone else does.

There are many unsavory characters in the CA water wars.  But, meet two of the biggest players, the Resnicks.  They are the minds behind Pom and Fiji water, two health and environmental scams that deserve their own posts someday.

I hope this whets your appetite to parse some data on your own.  May I suggest one of our fine datasets that contain potential evaporation fields, including the NOAA/Cires 20th Century Reanalysis, V2c.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I noticed the "Blue" microphone and blue vase on my desk today.  The serendipity tickled me so much, I had to take a photo.  This was going to be my Wordless Wednesday post, but I have a few thoughts about Blue.

Blue and orange is one of my favorite color combos, and I don't even care for the Broncos or football in general.

Coincidentally, Is Now the Bluest Time in Art? appeared on the art blog, Hyperallergic, yesterday. Martin Bellander analyzed 100 randomly-selected pixels of images of 130,000 paintings gleaned off the web and plotted color prevalence vs. time.
Visualization of the colors of 94,526 paintings from between 1800 and 2000 (courtesy Martin Bellander)
Isn't this interesting?  What's going on?  Can you tell when synthetic "Prussian" blues were invented?  Or when travel to Afghanistan became more or less perilous?  (This makes sense if you read Color: A Natural History of the Palette.)  Are our aesthetics changing in response to technical and market advances or vice versa?


I have mentioned previously that I married a spectroscopist and that we met across a laser table at Berkeley. Most people don't know what a spectroscopist is. The short answer is that they infer stuff about stuff based on the color(s) of light that the stuff absorbs or gives off.  It's basically applied quantum mechanics.

You may have noticed that we visit art museums a lot. We talk about both the aesthetic and technical aspects of color more than most families.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dressing Rodents

I've heard of dressing up dogs and cats, but rodents? I saw this hamster in an intarsia sweater at Cute Overload and it certainly deserves that title.

Then I saw Nina Leen's series of photographs of "Tommy Tucker" in costumes sewn by Zaidee Bullis.  I guess there is a long tradition of sewing and knitting for rodents.

But, could this bizarre picture be for real?  Can you make a teddy bear that tiny?

What about you? What's the smallest being you have made clothing for?

I think I started making stuff for Iris when she was a baby. But, not all the stuff got worn; babies grow so fast and I was unskilled at anticipating the season when something will fit.

Thursday, April 09, 2015


Bad Dad and Iris are visiting me in Boulder over her Spring Break.  Is it a staycation if 2 out of 3 of us don't live in Boulder and one of us is working half days?

I've been working half days at the office and then joining them at the Conference on World Affairs (CWA) 2015 after work.

[CWA is a week-long conference full of panels and talks about everything under the sun, and even in other solar systems.  Unlike other conferences, it's free and open to the public. Speakers and panelists are not only not paid, they actually pay their own travel expenses.  They are hosted gratis by community members in their own homes.  It's the anti-conference.]

We particularly enjoy Ebert Interruptus every afternoon between 4:00 and 6:00 at Macky Auditorium.  This year, we did a cinematic 'close reading' of A Face in the Crowd.  Wow.  What a great movie.  By an amazing coincidence, one of the drum majorette extras in the movie was in the audience with us.

Macky Auditorium and flags of the world set up for CWA.
Because we are on vacation, I'm not cooking dinner.  We've been trying restaurants all over town.

The "Rocket Ghee Roast" dosa at Jai Ho.  Yum.
Boulder is so pretty right now, with the trees showing off.

In front of Hale Science building on the CU campus.
In other news, our new home (a 46 year-old home being remodeled) passed the "rough" inspection today.  All electrical, plumbing and HVAC were deemed up to modern code standards by the city.  Next week, our condo gets new energy-efficient windows, insulation and drywall.

Bad Dad, not the city, required Cat 6 data ports in every room.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

1938 atmospheric river that caused the Los Angeles flood of 1938

At least one person asked why I used a reanalysis that does not assimilate satellite water vapor data to study an atmospheric river (AR) event.

That's a good question because the NOAA/CIRES Twentieth Century Global Reanalysis Version 2c (20thCR V2c) only ingests three things: surface pressure, sea ice coverage and sea surface temperature. The rest of the analysis is generated by the physical models of NOAA's Global Forecast System (GFS).

The short answer is that 20thCR V2c extends all the way back to 1851, which means you can compare storm intensity between storms, including events that occurred before the modern satellite era.

E.g. how does the AR event of 2004-2005 compare with one responsible for the Los Angeles flood of 1938, that felled thousands of buildings?  Let's take a look.
Global animation of PWV from 20thCR V2c for 1938-02-27-00 UTC through 1938-03-03-18 UTC.
Click here to read the rest.

I am happy to announce the NCAR Research Data Archive Blog.  My fellow data whisperers and I will blog about weather and climate data analysis. This is part of my omnimedia strategy, which will include YouTube tutorial videos for performing your own data mashups. Stop by and visit!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Mythic Creatures

Bad Dad and Iris are here for Spring Break.  Our year of the dragon baby wanted to see the Mythic Creatures exhibit at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature (formerly the Museum of Natural History).

I managed to find needlework there.

Bye for now!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Simplicity 1199

After I made a Vogue 8175 top from scraps leftover from making the Kwik Sew 1139 PJ pants, I still couldn't bear to throw the scraps away.  I pawed through my patterns to see if I could eke out a top for Iris out of the remainder.

I paired it with yet another thrifted organic cotton T.  This one advertised alcohol, which would be inappropriate for a teen.  Fortunately, the shirt was large and my daughter is XS, so I was able to cut around the advertising.

I like the longer tail in the back

and the princess seaming.

I fused tricot to the shoulders on both the F and B sides and also stitched them with a straight stitch for stability. I like to press and sew the seam allowances of the shoulder down flat. I find it less irritating to sensitive skin. I topstitched with a straight stitch at the shoulders and a slight (0.9 mm wide) zigzag elsewhere.

The topstitching is a bit uneven.

On Pattern Review, one reviewer dissed the pattern because it bunched up at the underarm.  I didn't read the instructions, but I suspect that they did not explicitly explain the importance of clipping curves.  I stitched the seam with a narrow zigzag and made two tiny clips at the underarm.

Another reviewer said it was impossible to sew the side seam with a serger due to the side slit.  I sewed to the slit opening and back-tacked.  Then I clipped the seam above the end of stitching and serged from the underarm to the bottom clip.  After serging around the slit opening and hem, I topstitched the whole thing down flat.  Just to show off, I mitered the corners, too.

It is possible to get flat and even results; there is nothing wrong with the pattern.

I sewed an XS-S, which is the size corresponding to Iris' measurements. It's a bit tight on my dress dummy and my body, but we are a size M. This is an oversized top and you can probably go down one size for a closer, but not tight, fit.

Note to self:
It fits.  It looks cute.  It provides the perfect amount of back coverage.   She refused to model it for the blog.  She wants the sleeves lengthened 2" next time.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015