Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in books

2016 has been a rough year for me.  I really didn't know how to respond.  But, I recently read a book that helped me make sense of what I was observing.

So, I'm gathering my friends and family around me by throwing a party tonight for LA-area friends.  I need to get back to picking up clutter and cooking.

I'll quickly share my eclectic 2016 reading list on Goodreads.  I read to learn; I read to connect to other humans; I read for entertainment; I listen to audiobooks to help me fall asleep.
My thoughts about the book, What is Populism, by Jan-Werner Mueller:
This is a short book and should have been readable in one evening had the last election not freaked me out so much.

I had to put it down when too discomfited by PTSD from all the rhetoric that reminded me of living under Chang Kai Shek and martial law.

Even my 6 yo self could recognize the lies in our textbooks. I never expected to live in a post-truth United States.

Chapter 1 describes 'What is populism.' This is the scariest part for me, which brought up PTSD.

Chapter 2 explains 'How populists rule.' This scares me.

Chapter 3 gives some proscriptions for how to fight populists, from a scholar who has studied how populism waxes and wanes in regimes around the world. It gives me hope b/c some countries have defeated populists. But it is difficult as they change rules as soon as they are in charge to make it difficult. E.g. North Carolina voting changes and the Supreme Court that ruled that Lily Ledbetter couldn't file for discrimination because she didn't do so within 6 months of the wrong-doing, even while ruling her employers can withhold information and stall requests for info as long as they like. This is populism.

It's a difficult book, because of the emotional stuff. The language may be difficult for people who aren't used to academic treatises. But this book is essential reading for our times.
Bad Dad's thoughts on the same book:
With the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America, What is Populism? is officially promoted from useful reading to essential reading. Jan-Werner Muller first defines populism both in terms of what it is and isn't - the defining feature of populism being a claim to represent a "real" citizenry that excludes elites and/or minorities. Another important feature is a derisive attitude towards the give and take of the political process and a rejection of the entire idea of political pluralism.

Then comes the scary part of this monograph, where Muller describes how populists rule. Populists start by controlling and purging the government bureaucracy (note the Trump transition team's requests for names of DOE climate scientists and State Department personnel working on women's rights issues). After decrying the corruption of the previous regime, populists are incredibly tolerant of their own corruption and don't seem to care when this corruption is pointed out (sound familiar?). Finally, populists change the rules of government so that their party is difficult to remove and their policies are difficult to change (are events in North Carolina a sign of what is to come in Washington?).

The third chapter is about how to talk to populists, and explains how those who want to protect political liberalism need to address the very real concerns that are causing populist movements to flourish. Many, including me, will feel that they are reading this chapter a bit late in the game.

Muller's monograph is very well researched, and has numerous examples from populist movements of both left and right (including countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey). Although its tone is very academic, the intelligent layperson should have no problem with this book - unless it totally freaks him or her out.
If you view his list of 2016 books read, you can see why I love him so and hate his housekeeping.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Colorado Gives 2016 Update

I already explained my misgivings about Colorado Gives and the inefficiency of philanthropy.

I found the Colorado Department of Revenue's Annual Report for 2015.

The dismal results of Colorado Gives 2015 proves my hunch is correct. A very, very small number of people (less than 63,690 Coloradans) gave a measly $28.5 Million (much of that in recurring gifts that would have occurred anyway.) estimates that Colorado has 4.2 million adults 18 and over.  This means about 1.5% of Coloradan adults gave something.

Colorado taxes are a regressive disgrace.  They manage to be even more regressive than the sad nationwide average.  See how your state stacks up.

 To file part-year taxes for Colorado and California, I first calculate my taxes as if I solely resided in CA or CO.  I would pay about 3% more of my gross income to live in CA over CO. But Californians enjoy more legal, environmental and economic protections as well as higher levels of service from government.  If Colorado just followed California's example, we wouldn't have to resort to begging.

During the presidential campaign, one candidate bragged that not paying taxes makes him smart, normalizes tax avoidance.  Furthermore, he also gave virtually nothing to charities.  This normalizes selfishness.  He didn't just normalize it, he celebrated selfishness.

Giving to charity is for chumps under the current system.  Charities (thousand points of light) fills holes in the societal needs dike while states enable wholesale avoidance of responsibility to society with regressive tax codes and low tax rates.

I'm sitting out Colorado Gives.  It's a band-aid as long as Colorado has TABOR (the so-called tax payor bill of rights.)

If you feel like giving, please donate to High Country News.  I like to buy an e-subscription and donate a hard copy to a classroom.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Big Data, Big Planet

I wrote Big Data, Big Planet for UCARConnect explaining what I do to K-12 teachers and high school students.

Climate reconstruction with atmospheric rivers, including the one that flooded one third of Los Angeles in 1938.

The November 2016 issue of UCARConnect is all about Data: The Currency of Science.

Animation from The atmospheric river that caused the Los Angeles flood of 1938.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The unique pain of living in a swing district

If Leo Tolstoy lived in the South Bay, I wonder what he would make of this election?

We've received most of these flyers.
Due to gerrymandering, very few races are really in play. The California 66th Assembly seat in south coastal Los Angeles county is an exception.  This may be the most important Assembly race in California.

Al Muratsuchi (D) won in 2012, helping CA Democrats win the 2/3 super-majority in Sacramento necessary to pass laws in the aftermath of Proposition 13. David Hadley (R) narrowly won in 2014, which ended the super-majority and brought back gridlock. Now they are battling it out in a rematch.

The burden of living in a swing state pretty much sums up our experience living in a swing district within blue California.

We are being stalked at home by phone calls.  We get postcards from Independent Expenditure (IE) groups accusing Hadley for being a Trump surrogate (which he denies) and Al Muratsuchi of protecting pedophile teachers and of voting to repeal Proposition 13 for residential properties (both lies.)

At first, I wondered why we were receiving so many postcards from the Hadley camp (both from the official campaign and also by IEs funded by out of state right-wing billionaires.)  This election season has been a crash course in election tactics.

The postcards with bold fabrications against a Democratic candidate, sent to a home with registered Democrats, is all about suppressing Democratic votes.  If they can sow enough confusion, they hope to dishearten us enough to not bother to vote.

It worked in 2014, when Hadley won by 700 votes by using the exact same lies and tactics.
In 2014, only 40 percent of the 66th Assembly District’s registered voters showed up to the polls, versus 70 percent in 2012. That led to a loss of about 78,000 total votes.
I think that the total disregard for truth--lying about your opponent early and often--is Trump-like. So I do understand the logic of comparing Hadley to Trump.  The two candidates are not equally bad.

#nastywomen and #badhombres, get out and vote!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Your Colorado Voter Guides

Hey, that's me, a volunteer!
This week, I've been walking around my precinct distributing the BoCoDems 2016 Voter Guide.
This Voter Guide was dropped off at your door, or mailed to you by a neighborhood volunteer!"
It's a long ballot, with many Ballot Issues.   By press time, the BoCoDems had made recommendations on all but 4 of the initiatives.

Once again, my Colorado friend has written a well-considered guide to the issues.  To learn more, go to Colorado and Boulder Ballot Issues.

The two guides differ on Boulder County Issues 1B & 1C and BVSD Issue 3A.  So please read them and make up your own mind.

As long as I have your attention, vote the down-ticket races.  If you don't vote, then someone else decides for you.  Moreover, you won't get national candidates that you are happy with unless you give them experience at the local level.  Get civically-engaged.  Convince your friends and family to become civically-engaged.

We have a presidential candidate for a major party that says very dangerous things about minorities, women, the disabled and climate scientists.  This election hits very close to home.  If nothing else, please vote to protect me.

Monday, October 03, 2016

A tale of 2 t-shirts

I made two woven t-shirts this summer.

I used an old pattern for knits (8998 left) and a new one for wovens (6610 right).  I bought the black/gray ikat in NYC while shopping with Claudine.   I found the blue batik in the remnant basket at Fancy Tiger*.

Both envelopes describe the tops as semi-fitted.  I had previously used Burda 8998 with wovens before, and remembered to size up from 14 to 16 (going from knit to woven).  Since Burda 6610 is designed for wovens, I made it in size 14.  If I lay 6610 on top of 8998, you can see that the black one is slightly roomier.

 6610 has bust darts, for a better fit.

It also has back shoulder darts!

I shaped the hem on the black t-shirt for a slight elliptical high-low effect.  To help the hem lay flat, I hemmed it with a bias strip instead of a turned hem.  I'm wearing it with Simplicity 1887 shorts Version 2 in the photo below.

The front shoulder slope for 8998 does not match the slope of the back piece.  If you don't trim it to fit the back, the shoulder seam slants toward the back in an odd way.  The rest of the pattern is drafted accurately.

Burda 6610 is drafted really well, and I appreciate the way the darts elevate the fit and look.

It's a bit tighter around the upper chest than I like.  Next time, I will either size up to a 16 or use a stretch woven if I sew a size 14.  YMMV.  Fit is subjective and I prefer roomy over tight.

I think this top will go to my DD, who says she would like some more color in her wardrobe.

* Last Saturday, I took a fabric shop tour of Denver, visiting Fancy Tiger, Fabric Bliss and Colorado Fabrics while working my way south to IKEA.  I chanced upon Fabric Bliss while going to an exhibition at Metro State Univ Center for Visual Arts.  The Broadway and Santa Fe corridors are chock-full of galleries and interesting shops for makers.  If you are visiting Denver, I highly recommend spending a half day or more in this area.

Colorado Fabrics is the largest fabric store in our time zone and, when they move in January, they will be huge.  Right now, they don't have enough room to stock everything they would like; the selection of apparel fabrics is hit or miss.  Last June, I didn't find anything to tempt me other than the hard-to-find notions on my shopping list.

They offer a good selection of designer overstock fabrics in the front, mostly from LA and NY, at NYC garment district prices.  They also have a big and well-organized bargain section in the back with lower quality (but still good!) fabrics at LA-area (lower than NYC) prices.  Last weekend, I wanted to take home all the fabrics from the front section.

These digitally-printed rayon challises have a delightful hand.  Three of them came home with me.

If we want brick and mortar fabric stores to stay in business, we have to support them.  I'm happy to do my part.  And the fabrics I brought home are drool-worthy.  I'm sure you'll see more of them later.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#sewphotohop Day 27: other interests

It's day 27 and I'm running out of steam for #sewphotohop.

One look at the word cloud in the column at right shows that I have a lot of interests.

When I started this blog, I had to be coy about my day job because I worked in a military lab, and the security officers really, really did not want their scientists to be out in public. It's not that I was doing anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I really enjoyed the work I did there. It's just not in the culture there to bring attention to oneself.

Since 2014, I've been providing data support for climate and weather research.  We are an open access data provider, funded by the National Science Foundation.  Both the data and the data tools are provided free thanks to governments around the world.  If you pay taxes (and I hope you do), then you help pay for this data infrastructure.

All this is an excuse to provide a list of data links.
I have a passion for making stuff.  I have a passion for data.  I have a passion for sharing my knowledge and skills.

*National Software Reference Library, a division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  I received my PhD at JILA, another part of NIST.

Pockets on my mind

I'm a big fan of pockets in my own clothing.  There was a time when I skipped them, or only inserted them in the side seams (totally unflattering and uncomfortable for my build), in the rush to be done with a sewing project.

Now, I sew to get exactly what I like.  If it takes longer to make it, then so be it.

Imagine my delight when I saw this slideshow of Marni's S/S 2017 collection:

Photo from NowFashion via NYT
An entire fashion collection devoted to exploring pockets!

BTW, I read the NPR fact-check transcript, but could not bear to watch the debate last night.

Did you read the Politics of Pockets?  There's all sorts of good historical stuff about suffragettes, rational dress, the "New Woman", and Hillary Clinton's pantsuits.

Read this story about Susanna, a custom clothier in Beverly Hills who makes some of HRC's pantsuits.  Fox and right-wing pundits tried to deflect criticism that Trump-branded clothing is all made abroad in low wage countries by suggesting that HRC's pantsuits are made in Bangladesh.  They lie.
Susanna Forest, of Susanna Beverly Hills, has been handcrafting women's suits in the United States since 1976. From design to manufacturing, every step of her process is carried out entirely from her atelier in Beverly Hills, California. Susanna Beverly Hills garments are the product of hundreds of hours of American labor, and women, including Hillary Clinton, can be proud to wear a garment that has been crafted with the absolute most care and skill here in the United States.
I have a small quibble.  The article says that this white suit she wore at the convention does not have pockets.  Click to embiggen the photo.  Do you see a faint outline of welt pockets on her jacket just below the waist?  Methinks her jacket has a pair of pockets, but they are so skillfully done, they are practically invisible.

Enlarge this to see the hip jacket welt pockets.
I'd like to make the jacket below for my S/S 2017 collection.

V8732 is sadly OOP.
But first, I need to make progress on F/W clothes from DD and myself.  I promised her 2-3 colorful tops.  I need to make a few for myself and clear a backlog of 3-4 sweaters patiently awaiting seaming and finishing touches.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pushing back against Weapons of Math Destruction

I'm such a huge Cathy O'Neil fan, that I put Doing Data Science: Straight Talk from the Frontline on my very short list of recommended books for scientists and data scientists. I wrote:
The most hands-on of the meta books or the most meta of the hands-on books? Not many introductory books include a chapter on ethics but more should.
Weapons of Math Destruction is the book about data science ethics that I've been waiting for.

Listen to the interview with author Cathy O'Neil on All Things Considered.

I especially like this exchange:
MCEVERS: So it sounds like when you're saying, you know, we have these algorithms, but we don't know exactly what they are under the hood, there's this sense that they're inherently unbiased. But what you're saying is that there's all kinds of room for biases.

O'NEIL: Yeah, for example, like, if you imagine, you know, an engineering firm that decided to build a new hiring process for engineers and they say, OK, it's based on historical data that we have on what engineers we've hired in the past and how they've done and whether they've been successful, then you might imagine that the algorithm would exclude women, for example. And the algorithm might do the right thing by excluding women if it's only told just to do what we have done historically. The problem is that when people trust things blindly and when they just apply them blindly, they don't think about cause and effect.

They don't say, oh, I wonder why this algorithm is excluding women, which would go back to the question of, I wonder why women haven't been successful at our firm before? So in some sense, it's really not the algorithm's fault at all. It's, in a large way, the way we apply algorithms and the way we trust them that is the problem.
I hope you read or listen to the interview. Perhaps we can do a virtual book club and read it together?

In case you were not a reader of this blog in 2008, I wrote about my experiences using a proto credit-scoring algorithm while in high school student working part-time for Citicorp in the mid-1980s.  I did (with my boss' support) what I could to push back against arbitrary scoring algorithms when I felt they did not accurately capture an applicant's credit-worthiness.  It's also a time capsule for a time when we could assume that health insurance companies would eventually pay so that healthcare liabilities did not count against employed people.

What I didn't write in 2008 and should have, was that I applied to both Kelly and Kelly Technical Services. Kelly sent me to do the lower-skilled clerical work for slightly above minimum wage. Kelly Technical Services sent a male former classmate (who needed my help to debug one of his homework assignments) to work on implementing the software algorithm that eventually replaced the clerks like me. He got paid more. A lot more.

Bias was not created by algorithms.  We built the algorithms in our own image.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Low-carbon laundry

When I posted the picture below on Instagram, several people asked for more info about this Nina Soft centrifuge/extractor.
Yesterday, the Nina Soft spun over a liter of water+residue out of three loads of laundry.
My condo doesn't have an in-unit washer or dryer.  I have to walk all the way to the other side of the building to use the washer ($1) or the dryer ($0.75 for 50 min).  Moreover, the washer doesn't have a second rinse option, which I need because my skin is so sensitive to detergent.

When sharing a washer with others, I have no control over what kind of products they use.  They might put in perfumed detergents or fabric softeners.  That leaves residue in the washers and dryers.

In Los Angeles, I use a clothesline.  I hang most of my laundry on the line, but put small items like socks and sturdier underwear in the tumble dryer along with shirts.  By the time I am done hanging up the clothes on the line, I can hang up the slightly damp shirts to finish air-drying.  The undies and socks take just a few more minutes to complete.  I probably run the dryer for about 15-20 minutes per load of wash.

At the condo, the dryer won't start until you put at least $0.75 cents.  It doesn't matter if I want to run it for 1 minute or 50 minutes, it costs $0.75.  Each additional quarter provides an additional 20 minutes.  The clock runs even when the dryer isn't.  That means you pay for time when the machine is idle and the next person can't use your unused time.  The contractor that has the monopoly on our building is not interested in changing his pricing scheme.

My home laundry equipment.
Over the last year, I developed a system that works for me.

The Nina Soft is a home version of the extractor that you find in laundromats.  It's essentially a big centrifuge for your clothes.  The Nina Soft spins out water, detergent, chemicals and hard mineral deposits that would otherwise bake into your clothes.  It also reduces dryer time by ~50%.

I originally bought it for tie-dyeing.  Spin the excess dye out before rinsing, and you save tons of time and water.

I hand wash small amounts of laundry in the green baskets in my bathtub with the Breathing Washer.  It's a plunger-like thing used by campers, dyers and felters.  Unlike plungers, the Breathing Washer doesn't splash.  It does make a wheezing sound that gives it it's name.  It's a good 10-minute upper body workout.

When I wash things in my tub, I can rinse twice.  Then I spin it in the Nina Soft and air-dry it.  This also helps humidify my condo in arid Colorado.

When I have a lot of laundry, I use the shared machines in parallel.  At 7 AM, the earliest we are allowed to start laundry, I can usually find three open washers on consecutive floors.  (Dark, Light and Medium colors.)

When I take the laundry out of the washer, I spin all of it in the Nina Soft.  Then I either tumble dry them or hang them up.  I found this large maple folding drying rack at McGuckin Hardware.  It's made in the US and much sturdier than any other racks I've seen at any price (including the one from LL Bean).  It's not expensive, either.

In this way, I limit my exposure to detergents and reduce dryer use to about an hour for all 3 loads of laundry.

I got my Nina Soft from Dharma Trading, my preferred supplier of all dyeing/fiber art goodies.  I have no affiliation with them other than ordering from them for 20+ years and wanting to make sure they remain in business.

I bought the Breathing Washer and a plastic washboard from Japan from Amazon.  They also sell the Nina Soft.

The green baskets and laundry octopus come from IKEA.