This is where you belong

I finished This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, on finding belonging wherever you live, very relevant in the year of our horde 2020 when most of us are the least physically mobile we’ve been in years.  Warnick discusses place attachment, and measuring this attachment, as well as feeling connected to the civic goings-on of a city.

When I first moved to Tucson, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the city, and figured I wouldn’t be here for very long. Work travel and chronic illness made it hard to commit to anything long-term, so I didn’t get involved in many things outside of work.

Sometime in the last few years, I started taking a bit of responsibility for enjoying Tucson.  I realized I agreed with most of the statements in Warnick’s first list, and could answer ‘yes’ to all but one item on the latter.  It’s been an interesting transition, and this book has helped me articulate that I’ve been engaging in better practices for intentionally appreciating and eventually loving where I live.  I am taking responsibility for Tucson as my home.

How do you love where you live?  How do you want your city or home to be during the pandemic?  What would you like it to be afterward?  How can you ensure it’s more of a place you, and others, love?  

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Mask sewing and donating

My roommate (a former Broadway costume sewist) and I have been sewing masks for ourselves, our friends and family, and to donate, both to nurses at local hospitals and the Tohono O’odham Nation. We’ve used a variety of patterns and techniques; this is what is working for us. I’ll update in the coming months, as those of us living in the United States will be wearing masks for quite some time.

Sewing masks aligns with my values of community- and cooperative-based thinking: wearing a mask protects the people around you. It shows you value caring for society broadly. If sewing masks with a ridiculous unicorn-cat-rainbow print makes mask wearing that much more enjoyable, bring it on. Plus, it’s improving my pressing skills and incorporation of pressing into my sewing workflow.


  • NurseMade: my go-to favorite mask. Fits over an N95, has cloth ties, and a filter pocket. We’ve figured out how to add a removable nose bridge wire to the top binding: when stitching the binding in place, leave a gap of about ⅜–½” roughly 2½” from the center of the mask on one side of the top binding. Lockstitch on each side, then slide in your nose bridge wire. If you find the tutorial lacking in information, the original Instructables AB Mask 2.0 for a nurse by a nurse instructions are a little more detailed.
  • Japanese pattern book 3D contoured mask. Excellent fit, doesn’t get sucked in while breathing. The sizing is very tiny for someone of European descent. I don’t think I’ve a particularly large face, but the XXL fits me, and the XL fits but is less roomy. I wouldn’t sew smaller than an XL for an adult in the US. I’ve made a nose bridge pocket cut on the bias to sew into the liner, using techniques similar as shown for the Craft Passion mask. Update January 2021: this mask shrinks interestingly in the wash unless it’s been lined or you use a very stiff fabric. Either non-fusible interfacing or silk or a third layer helps prevent shape changes.
  • Craft Passion: roommate has been busting out these, and I’ve been topstitching them as she puts them in front of my loaner sewing machine. These fit people with very narrow faces, or a short distance between their nose bridge and their chin. Modification #6 by Jesse Killion is my current favorite, as the extra fabric beneath the chin makes this mask more versatile in terms of who it fits. Some modifications allow for side channels for replaceable ear loops. We’re now sewing the Zippy modification and I’m pretty happy with that one.
  • Emily’s Mask: Emily Lakdawalla’s mask, involving some pleating, but not a lot of pressing overall. I learned how to do box pleats! Can accommodate filters and removable nose bridge wires. I’ve had problems with inhaling the fabric while speaking, but maybe a silicone mask bracket insert would help.
  • Todaro: similar to NurseMade, but no binding required, and no restrictions on selling the resulting mask. Easily modified to add binding similar to the NurseMade mask


  • Fashion Incubator has some fabulous videos and links for efficiently producing masks with a minimum of pressing or pinning.
    • Particularly keen on the binder attachments she links to in the first video. If you’d like to buy us one, let me know in the comments 🙂
    • Some friends have had success taping a simple metal bias tape maker to their machine to minimize pressing and expedite the binding process.
    • For NurseMade masks going to friends and not nurses, instead of adding 42″ of binding to the top and bottom for straps, I extend the binding 1″ on the top and bottom of the mask, fold over these tabs, and vigorously zig-zag stitch in place to create four loops on the corner of the mask. I then string 54″ inches of some sort of pre-made strap material (shoelace, elastic, cords or ties pilfered from other garments, etc.) through the loops as shown in this diagram. Saves a lot of time and effort at the ironing board making ~90″ of binding overall for one of these masks. With elastic material, I shorten the length to 44″ and add a cord lock or pony bead.
  • Some folks have been adding zip ties to provide a frame structure to masks to prevent it from being inhaled while breathing. You can cut up plastic bottles for a similar support structure effect.
Black and white mask tie design from with tabs on the top and bottoms of the sides of the mask, and one continuous 54
A better mask tie design (including attachment tabs) from Fashion Incubator.


We’ve been using coffee bag crimps for nose bridges, but you can make your own out of two pieces of wire between strips of masking or painter’s tape.

Why I Love Tucson

Tucson, for the first time and the first place in a long while, feels like home now. 

I like that Tucson has a “funk factor”.  I like that it lacks pretension.  I like that there’s no dress code; I can wear jeans or hiking pants most anywhere and it’s perfectly fine.  Even swankier places like Kingfisher don’t merit dressing up.  I like 4th Avenue.  I like watching the progress of Bawker Bawker as the owner renovates it.  I like that there’s an wonderful artsy community here, with absurdity and irreverence and general delight.  I love going to GLOW at Triangle L with Sarah. I like watching waitstaff at Ermanos tease my friends who are regulars there. I like going to BICAS fundraisers with the Back Up Band playing in their gold lamé.  I like places like Xerocraft and Spadefoot.  I like biking up to the farmers market on my own or with friends and getting food truck pupusas.  I love listening to KXCI and hearing stories from David Grinspoon about fundraisers he played when they helped start the station. I like stumbling into random no-cover shows at the Boxyard.  I like seeing movies at the Loft alone or with friends.  I like festivals like Return of the Mermaids.  I love Cyclovia, seeing new neighborhoods, dancing Zumba in the street, enjoying the art bikes, and getting freebie rescued cacti from the Wheat Design Group.  I like watching the Tuesday Night Bike Ride cruise through town, a cloud of pot smoke and beer odor trailing behind them amidst music blaring from speakers and flashing LEDs.  I love taking the streetcar, even if it means bystander interventions with cranky old men.  I love driving out for the Tohono O’odham Rodeo, and learning about the history of Nation.  

I like running into people I know at La Cocina and taking out-of-town friends there and to my other favorite haunts. I like seeing Gabby Giffords or Mark Kelly at Bentley’s, and fist-bumping Eli Schneider. I like walking or biking to get places, seeing the little details of neighborhoods and alleys to catch glimpses of others’ ways of living. I like that everyone seems to know one another: acupuncturists, dance and yoga instructors, creatives, etc.  I like the people I’ve met doing fascinating work in a variety of arenas, and their belief in a better future and ability to bring about change.  I like having non-scientist, non-tech friends.  I love that I’ve been brought into the family by my friends’ mom on the east side.  I love that I can walk to homes of a dozen friends.  I like that the Joes loan me tools and paint, and help troubleshoot problems at the house or fix them with angle grinders. I like that a cat I extracted out of a bush off Stone Ave as a kitten now lives with a friend.  I love that people call me to catsit.  I like my walking commute to campus through the leafy parts of the med center, or through Sam Hughes for variety on the way home.  I like watching construction projects go up at the med center, and knowing people who helped make the building not only more sustainable but more pleasant to work in.  I like that I’ve assembled a decent medical team here, and that I don’t have to fly anywhere to get good care. I love that the head pharmacist at Campus Health knows my name and asks about my life, and lets me ‘break in’ her pharmacy student interns.

I am so, so incredibly grateful for the community I’ve amassed here and how people are taking care of me during the pandemic and are otherwise invested in my safety and longevity, including some relatively ‘weak links’, people I’d interacted with a handful of times before everything went to plaid.

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Transmitting to the ISEE-3 spacecraft from Arecibo Observatory

I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE” is what Dana must have heard.

We were talking about the ISEE-3 spacecraft during lunch at Arecibo Observatory some day in early June, just another day on the job. The transmitter to talk to the spacecraft, the only one that was capable of communicating with ISEE-3 on June 9, required manual intervention to switch between transmit and receive. I probably said something to the extent of, “It sounds like fun to spend 2.5 hours sweating profusely in a barely ventilated dome in a confined space 152 meters (500 feet) in the air with a something-hundred-kilowatt transmitter requiring manual switching to talk to a spacecraft launched before my parents even considered having kids,” or, “That might be fun to do later this week.” Not, “Sure, I’ll go spend my afternoon plugging and unplugging a cord in the name of science and archaic flight hardware”. To microwave receiver specialist Dana Whitlow, one of the few people on site trained to do this switching, this meant “Absolutely, yes—today.”

Read the rest of how we used a 50-year-old radio telescope in the jungle of Puerto Rico to communicate with an ancient spacecraft at my guest post on the Planetary Society‘s blog.  Writing this was a blast; I hope you enjoy it.

She had some horses (Part I)

October 4, 2013


I traveled to Denver for the 45th Division for Planetary Sciences conference in October, conveniently located three hours east of a dear friend of my mother. I drove west from the airport as the sun set and the haze around Denver gathered, darkening from a dusty rose to grey to black.  I went over two mountain passes over 10,000 feet tall, feeling no ill effects as I adjusted to the altitude.  Around the tunnels of Glenwood Canyon it began to rain, far better than snow for driving, but still exciting as the Jeep hydroplaned and lost traction on the highway.  I continued onward and wound up in the tiny town of Silt, 97 miles from the Utah border with Colorado.

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Boat and Beach Camping on Tomales Bay, 2013

August 17-18, 2013

Arriving at a beach on Tomales Bay by boat and spending the night must go back to the time of the Miwok.  Inverness Yacht Club members have sailed, motored, paddled, and rowed to Kilkenny or Marshall or Heart’s Desire beaches for overnights for so long that it’s a hallowed tradition. Continue reading

How planetary radar works at Arecibo Observatory

We know Arecibo Observatory for its 305-meter (1000-foot) diameter telescope and its appearances in Goldeneye and Contact.  Aside from battling Bond villains and driving red diesel Jeeps around the telescope (grousing at the site director about the funding status of projects is optional), several hundred hours a year of telescope time at Arecibo go toward radar studies of asteroids.  Tasked to “find asteroids before they find us”, a group of us four planetary radar astronomers at Arecibo (as well as collaborators and colleagues at institutions outside of Puerto Rico) observes asteroids for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation program. We study the orbits and surface properties of our rowdy neighbors, near-Earth asteroids.

William E. Gordon telescopeHow do we transmit and receive radio waves using the klystrons and radio receivers at the observatory, and how do we turn these into images of asteroids?  Read more on my guest post at the Planetary Society on how planetary radar at Arecibo Observatory works.