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.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The case against antibacterial soap

Yesterday's big environmental news was the FDA ban on triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other toxic chemicals commonly added to soaps.  Scientists' reactions ranged between "Huzzah!" to "Why did it take 40 years for the FDA to listen to us?"

Bad Dad and I both earned BSs in chemistry so we are familiar with the issue.  However, I realize that most families don't have even one BS in chemistry, especially because chemistry is one of the least popular majors in the United States.  (Which is a shame, because chemistry is truly the "central science" that bridges the life and physical sciences, and gives people a great foundation for understanding the world.)

Here's some stuff to think about and discuss around your dinner table.  OK, we are comfortable discussing bioreactors and biosolids around the dinner table, but maybe you want to wait until after everyone has finished eating in your home.  ;-)

Any soap or body wash that says "antibacterial" probably contains one of the newly-banned substances.

For these to work effectively, you have to wash with them much, much longer than most people do.  You know how long surgeons and surgical nurses scrub their hands (until they are red and raw?); that's how long.  That means, outside of hospitals, antibacterial soaps are not doing anything but going down the drain.

What happens to stuff that goes down the drain?  Glad you asked!  I wrote a series of posts about that.

Think about all the stuff you send down the drain (kitchens, bathrooms, laundry).  Think about everything you ingest and then excrete.  BTW, waste water is a great way to find out how much and what type of drugs/pharmaceuticals people are ingesting.

Your sewage is sent through a screen to separate solids from liquid. The solids are often sent through a bioreactor with bacteria that breaks down the solids. The biosolids (with or without the bioreactor step) are spread on agricultural fields as fertilizer, landfilled or incinerated.

This can be a good thing. Incineration reduces waste AND produces energy. Biosolids are cheaper for farmers (about 1/4 the cost of petrochemical fertilizers) and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

The problem is us. We send too much non-necessary chemicals down the drain.

ASU Professor Rolf Halden gave a plenary talk last month at the American Chemical Society's meeting in which he showed that just two chemicals, triclosan and triclocarban, make up 60% of the pharmaceuticals found in municipal biosolids.

This chart is a screen shot from his article in Nature. Note that the horizontal axis is logarithmic so a difference of one tick mark is a factor of ten.  Click to make the graph bigger.

The US produces (and we presume, use) about 2,000 metric tonnes each of triclocarban and triclosan.  4.8-48.2% of the triclocarban ends up in biosolids.  The rest probably remains in the water.  1.8-18% of triclosan ends up in biosolids; more of it remains in the water than triclocarban.

Excerpt from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Archived U.S. Biosolids from the 2001 EPA National Sewage Sludge Survey:
Of the more than 7 million tons of sewage sludge produced in the United States in 2004, about 50% was applied to land as fertilizer or soil amendment, and 45% was disposed of in landfills or as landfill cover.
 I've already written about how triclosan can photo-degrade into dioxin under UV light. ("Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.") It doesn't matter whether the triclosan is applied through biosolids or irrigation water. This finding has now been replicated in labs around the world and is accepted scientific fact.

But, incinerating triclosan is also extremely risky.  Excerpt from Halden's research home page:
In addition to toxins in wastewater, Halden’s team is researching the emission of toxic dioxin into U.S. air from incineration of triclosan-laden municipal sludge, or biosolids
Furthermore, these newly-banned substances have all been found to bio-accumulate, not just in earth worms and frogs but in you and me.  These are hazardous chemicals that should not be in our ecosystem.

Antibacterial soaps have their uses--in hospitals--but should not be in widespread use in homes.  They do nothing beneficial under normal home use, but cumulatively do great environmental and health harm.

 Read more:

Friday, September 02, 2016


September is both National Preparedness Month and National Sewing Month.

I'm spending September updating the NCAR Upper Air Database, which can be used to help assess weather hazard risks, and sewing my daughter's back-to-school wardrobe.
There is a Fall wardrobe in here.
#natlprep is giving me the kick in the pants I need to discuss with my family our disaster plans.

What are you doing in September?