Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Thistle Threads Summer Closure

There will be two summer closure times where I will have almost no ability to communicate and definitely won't be doing any shipping.

July 19-29th and August 9-20th there will be no shipping.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ugh... I hate my Dyslexia

So to make it easier for the staff at Access Commodities it was requested that I use their normal ordering system which I have avoided like the plague for years for a specific reason - I am dyslexic.  So since I started doing it a month ago, I have been making mistake after mistake after mistake even when double and triple checking.  Here is yesterday's shipment I was patiently waiting for two weeks.  I made another series of mistakes that will again delay orders.  I have 4626 instead of 2646, 2112 instead of 2212, 3414 instead of 3314.

It is essentially a multiple choice test.  A long sheet of numbers of silks in order and you write the number of tubes you need on the side.  Sitting with the orders I need to fill on the left and the sheet printed out on the right - I lose the information between reading a 4-digit number on the left and looking for it on the right.  Often, I transpose the numbers or choose the number with one digit in the middle wrong (I see the beginning and the end and loose the middle).  Contrary to the belief that we transpose letters and numbers - it is actually forgetting part of the data string of letters and numbers and putting down or choosing what we do remember.

After spending all year in the agonizing process of proving AGAIN to the new school district that my A/B grade student is dyslexic and needs accommodations in certain situations, I can pretty much explain exactly how this exact mistake keeps happening.  For you teachers out there - I started the process with old testing in hand in June.  My kid got his accommodations in May.  So 8th grade is down the crap hole due to administrative feet dragging.

So our (I say that to represent the three dyslexics in our family) CTOPP digit recall scores are extremely low - in the 25th percentile of all people.  Even worse is our rapid digit naming scores - in the 15th percentile.  And the working memory scores are in the 25th-50th depending on which one of us you test.

What does that mean?  Well, I went around looking for research papers to see a few years ago because shockingly the professionals that handle the 'what do we do next' after the neuropsychological tests are great at telling you the 'what the score is' but absolutely horrible at telling you how that will present to you in life and what you can do about it.  Generally they are presented with kids who test very poorly and do poorly in school and so they shuttle them off to some resource room, lower tier of classes, or extra tutoring (or call them lazy).  They are very bad at being presented with kids whose parents have already spent ten years having specialists work with their kids so the kids is 'preforming' in school as they have learned how to read well but the kids have these weird blips all the time with a test coming back at 60% when they obviously understand the material really, really well if you talk to them.

They don't know how to write legal accommodations that are useful and targeted to what will help the kid and stand up to time.  What I mean about stand up to time is that every year you have to sit down after they have queried all the teachers about how the kid used the accommodations and go through a process of making the kid and parent defend themselves and take accommodations away if the kid is getting A's.  I can't tell you how stressful that meeting is every year.  One year my kid made an excuse to leave the room for the bathroom and apparently spent a few minutes punching a wall and then came back in and hid his hands so he would not yell at the school administrator telling him because he had done so well they should remove some of the accommodations he gets.  Apparently getting Bs is better than getting As is the philosophy - as they never expect kids in this situation to do that well...

So in my research, I found that the link between different types of operations in the classroom and the exact neuropsychological tests is pretty sparse.  You would think it wouldn't be.  If it was known - then teaching and testing petagogies would change.  But one paper made the direct link between multiple choice tests and both digit recall and working memory scores.  No matter how high the IQ of the person or how accomplished - the only predictor of the final score on a test that uses multiple choice and especially the type where you transfer a letter or number of an answer to a bubble test score sheet - was what your working memory score is.  So after you choose the 'correct answer' you have to then move your eyes to a different paper, find the place to put it and recall the "a, b, c, d, e" and color in the circle.  By then, the information in your working memory is gone.

This was a horror show for my son in high school.  The science department only used  bubble test multiple choice tests for most of the classes and even worse needed to keep the testing book clean so did not allow marks in it so when you forgot what letter you were going to fill in - you couldn't look back at the booklet to see what you had chosen and had to solve it all over again.  The only B he ever got was in the first year honors science class.  I had to fight with the teacher over these multiple choice tests.  She, being an analytical person, decided on her own to test this argument I was making. She gave him specific tests and came to that meeting at the end of the year and showed her data - if she allowed him to do this extra stuff to help him transfer the answer - he got a 100%.  If she didn't and he used the normal system - he got 70% at best.  I had to appreciate that she verified the problem/solution.   (What he didn't appreciate is she still gave him a B even though she knew half his tests were invalid).

While you can remediate that child learning to read by doing slow explicit reading instruction so they learn to decode words, you can not solve the digit recall and working memory problem.  That is where accommodations come in to give you extra time to quadruple check or to allow marks in testing books.

The working memory/recall problem comes up in many things for me.  Since I was never taught to read the way my sons were, I recall how I have heard the word before or sight read a word like a picture.  So new words can not be decoded phoneme by phoneme.  So I will tend to recall the first letter and the ending of a name or word and spell it that way or pronounce it that way.  Doing introductions at international science conferences is something that is so anxiety producing for me.  My husband sometimes speaks the names into my phone recording and I play it back just before I go up and that still only gets me maybe a 20% improvement and I embarrass myself in front of a group of 500 and insult the person I am introducing.  Now imagine me taking a foreign language.  Yea.  That doesn't happen well.   And my oldest son was denied the power points the teacher used all year and had to take written notes.  Finally I threatened to go to my lawyer and got him some of them a week before the final exam.  I came to that 'meeting' with his notes and the power points pasted side by side to show that he only had the first word and then last two of any sentence put up there.  His working memory got in the way of listening to what she was saying and reading it on the board and trying to transfer that to the paper as she sped on.  So the modern way teachers ignore the blackboard and use powerpoints - that destroys any child who has an average working memory because they go faster than the kid can transfer information.  They have useless notes and can't study for any test.  And they don't have time to go back and re-read the whole science book (what the teacher told him when he begged for her powerpoint).  His ability to use his notes is 100% correlated to if the teacher writes on the blackboard or uses powerpoint.

I am going over this all because I know some readers are teachers, some are parents or grandparents of dyslexic kids and maybe it will help you help them.   It also should make you think about this horrible college admissions scandal.  Everyone in the dyslexic community is freaking out as the outgrowth will be to tighten requirements on who gets accommodations.  Throw Aunt Becky in jail as she and the rest have now hurt so many innocent kids who need them to get to college.  And the new SAT concept on adversity score is just so unjust to kids like my sons who have to run this gauntlet every year and then will have their super hard fought test scores devalued because they come from a town that is affluent.  Legally, the College Board and ACT is not allowed to tell colleges that a child used accommodations for their tests.  So no college knows the child was dyslexic and therefore disadvantaged in the testing process.  They just see what race and social-economic background they come from.  Adversity comes in many forms.   The prevailing thought is to not reveal that on your college applications either as 90% of the readers of college apps are the newly minted 20-somethings they hire who have just graduated and have no life experience and thus are still prejudiced like most people against learning disabilities.  I had a long conversation just this weekend with a college professor in an education department who actually said 'isn't dyslexia where you turn the letter upside down?'.   Oh god...

Today, my robot-army helper in my office will take all the silk ordering forms and black out all the colors on it that I don't ever order.  I tried and - what a surprise, I screwed it up and had to keep starting over.  Then we will xerox it many times so I have modified copies that I can't screw up.  Those are the extra steps that are exhausting in life as a dyslexic.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Hand Skills - Doctors of Sewing Needed

I found this article on the front page of the New York Times today and it is funny as I had been planning on writing this myself whenever I got a chance to blog again.

Because I teach kids robotics, I get to see the dexterity of kids and how long it takes to develop.  While our robot kids were doing LEGO for several years, they were pretty good already but the transition to screws, nuts, plyers and screwdrivers was the hardest thing they had to tackle all year.  One guy kept snapping the heads off screws, permanently ruining parts we couldn't now get the screw body out from.

So what is happening to our kids?  Well, this article goes over how we have removed shop, hobbies and other activities that develop good hand eye coordination, dexterity and three-dimensional thinking from our kids daily life.  Parents would rather give babies an iPad that work with them and the frustration of LEGOs or heaven forbid, have them help them with tools.

So it highlights that if we want our kids to become doctors - have them become great needleworkers. Yes - it said that.  I am challenging you all to find yourself some aspiring doctor, vet, surgeon, etc and teach them needlework.  Show them this article.  We can save the needlework industry...

I have laughed in a knowing way to my husband that I could make some real money in my town if I opened up needlework classes for kids who want to go to medical school.  It would be a really attractive thing on their resumes.  I live in a town where every person wants their kid to be an engineer or doctor, a top school district in the USA that is half asian or southeast asian.  I am a PhD, MIT grad, world-champion robotics coach, and internationally known needlework expert and I have the right last name.  I could charge a mint to train aspiring doctors.  I have been mildly considering it as the next career after caskets are done.  It helps both keep the craft alive and performs a great function as well.

Funny but needlework got me into MIT and it got my resume selected out every time for grad school and job hunts.  Why???  Well I asked and the answer always revolved around "it says you have great hand skills (think lab work) and creativity (problem solving)".  Wow.

Now that my robot kids have gone to college I see the result of the hand skills they developed in my basement.  My oldest son was hired immediately as a freshman in a well known professor's lab whose policy it is to not hire undergrads.  The grad students have forgotten he isn't a grad student.  He has been given his own project and now some of theirs as well as he can make anything.  He completed the four hour labs for the design class in 20 minutes and would leave early.  No one has three-dimensional thinking skills, hand skills and dexterity right now - and this is engineering school which attracts the people who have been getting some!  As I said to my husband - if the world imploded, he would be able to get a job always and really won't have a problem at all going forward anyways as he is useful the day he walks on a job.

I was talking to my favorite electrician the other day.  He and everyone I talk to in contracting can't hire.  Not that there aren't people to hire or want the jobs, but they are so far down the hand skill learning curve that they can't afford the number of years it will take to get them to apprenticeship level.

So when we go on outreach for the robot team these days, we take basic hand skill items - screws and screwdrivers.  We don't teach robotics as the kids don't have the skills to get there yet.  We work on basics.  It is so sad to see that their minds might be ready but their hands aren't.

Time for adults to get out there and do it themselves - schools have been pressured to remove all this in favor of tests.  It takes patience to show a kid how to make something - but you are giving them real commercially viable job skills while you are doing it.  Don't take the easy way out and do it for them to get it done in your harried life.

Teach a kid how to sew - they may be your doctor someday.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Just One More Trip - But Open for Business Again

Thank you to everyone who has been extra patient waiting for orders placed since April 1st.  I am back up and running and am (almost) caught up with shipping.  I have yet to do the deep dive back through my emails to get all the rest of the custom orders ready to bill or questions answered.

I can tell the hustle and bustle have taken a toil as I just am not up to my usual 10-12 hour workdays and am petering out around 5pm.  One last trip this Friday to the MET for a meeting in the Textile Conservation Department and then I swear I am staying put for a full month!!  Just canceled a trip out to the west coast.  Just can't do it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Those who know me well know I live life on fast forward but I would have to say that even this month has taken me by surprise.  I am currently in the last two hour stretch of 'quiet time' in a hotel in Canada that I will have for the next eight days.  Savoring it as I finally had a full night of sleep on top of it.

Since April 1st the things that have happened.  Oh my.  I have been to six countries on three trips.  Finished two caskets.  Investigated embroidery in the back room of the MFA.  Kayaked through a mangrove tunnel for miles in the pitch black to see glowing bio-luminescent water.  Gazed upon dozens of amazing samplers in a small room in Amsterdam.  Saw a bodybag at Moulen Rouge.  Explored an amazing museum of technical machines looking for something for us.  Ran out of gas talking too long with a friend while she was driving cross country and I was jet lagged.  Snorkeled for hours.  Briefly got back to town and ran a robot scrimmage in front of 15,000 visitors.   Bicycled through tulip fields.  Visited Au Ver a Soie.  And got out of a car in front the moment Norte Dame caught fire and witnessed it all and wept with the French.  (Our apartment faced the South Rose Window).

Only a few in the crowd had noticed the smoke starting.  We turned and walked to a police lady and said "I think Norte Dame is on fire" as the first police car screamed up. 
Wow.  And for me the month is only half done.  I am headed to Detroit with 35,000 kids and robots for the exciting and exhausting week of the World Championship.  Then a few trips to NYC and VT for events thrown in and I can finally sit back on the couch and work.

And in those exciting things - was something privately momentous.  I finished two embroidered caskets!  For me the culmination of over 12 years of research and embroidery.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am with the results and how they look.  And with all the chaos of above, I only have one good picture at the moment and a dozen bad snapshots on my phone.  So I will share the one good picture as a tease.

My first finished Stumpwork Casket - The Harmony with Nature Casket.  An online class for this piece is coming this
fall for new people to the Thistle Threads universe.

Let's hope the next few weeks are only somewhat exciting...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Shipping Orders

Well there is a major confluence of events that will be taking me away from my business for the month of April and a bit into May so I will be shutting down all shipping of orders between April 3rd - May 3rd as it will be virtually impossible to do so.

If you have any thread or material needs that you anticipate, especially special order threads - please get the orders in ASAP so I can order them in for you and get them shipped to you.

It's all 'good stuff' and I will be in town for some of it but not able to get to the post office as my time will be wrapped up with conferences, etc.

It wasn't going to be 'that bad' and I was going to be able to juggle things a bit because a had a good stretch between two big things but now I have to somehow squeeze a five day World Robotic Championship in between and four days of driving the robot across the country in there and that just took up all my slack!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How Internet Retail Works

I keep saying I am going to write this blog post as a way to dispel the most common misperceptions out there about how companies run their businesses on the internet.  I would say that I answer easily more questions related to this from customers and students than any question regarding embroidery.  So this will form a faster response.
The most often asked questions are:
1) can you add something to my order...
2) can you change the date of my subscription...
3) I forgot my password to X
4) My password doesn't work in X
5) I don't like using the internet - can you just charge my card, the last one I used on your shop?
6) Please use a different email address for my post office notices
Industrial designers know that  you need a 'mental model' to hang your product on when designing a new product.  If you don't provide one, the user will revert to what they know and assume that the product works that way.  Big mistake by the seller and the consumer.  Internet retail has been a MASSIVE mental model mistake by the companies that provide services to businesses.  They never put up how their service works on their sites because they ASSUME that you get it.  That is because the services were originally developed by 20-something computer hipsters for their friends, never ever envisioning that it would take off like wildfire and that everyone's grandma and grandpa would be buying and selling on the internet and would need some more explanation to override their old bricks-and-mortar and paper catalog model.

So most of my customers aren't the 20-something hipster computer science nerds (surprised?).  I have spoken on the phone so many times to customer service at internet companies, begging them to put together a 'how it works' page so I can refer people to it.  No go.  They don't get it.

Why There Are 3rd Party Providers on the Internet - The Change from Internet 2.0 to 3.0

The internet could be the wild west of retail - any snake oil salesman putting up fake products, getting your address and credit card number and going to town selling that number to every scam artist and identity thief out there, racking up tons of charges before you even realize that the product isn't coming in the mail.

As the internet was developing, it was obvious to retailers it would be a way to reach customers.  The big guys - big catalog places like Land's End - treated it like a branch of their print catalogs and hired tons of computer scientist to build early custom sites for them to emulate their mailing catalog and allow you to enter your payment info.  This was highly successful and those companies have hundreds of IT professionals running their websites.

Then there were internet-only businesses that popped up.  The most visible one is Amazon.  They built their entire business around their concept of internet retail and are mostly a computer science company.

That left the businesses who were niche and small realizing that the internet might be the way to reach a small audience that is distributed around the world.  Companies that feed hobby interests are definitely those types of businesses.  They needed a way to reach their audiences to stay alive as brick and mortar was becoming more expensive.  But there was no way to build a website other than to hire a web designer or a small programming group to do it for you if you didn't know how to code.  There were some rudimentary shopping carts using databases that were developed that you could buy the code for.  Doing this cost about $50,000-$100,000 for a custom website and well, looked pretty bad when we revisit them today.  But outlaying that kind of money is a huge stretch for a little needlework shop.  So most didn't do it (and often went out of business in the next 10 years).  Those who did couldn't update often because they were still trying to get the value out of the first build.  Their sites would return to them the order and the credit card info of the customer and they would then process it on their in store processing system (a box in the store).  This had repercussions.  Bad guys realized that there were hundreds of thousands of these systems out there and in Internet 2.0 days, they could write small hacking programs to roam the internet and steal the credit card info when you purchased.

There was obviously a need for Internet 3.0 - a safe way to purchase online.

Internet 3.0 - The rise of Elon Musk

Most people don't know that Elon Musk was the founder of Paypal.  That was his first 'disruptive business'.  He realized that there was an enormous market for retail on the internet, yet unless you were Lands' End or Amazon, you couldn't afford to build the internet banking/encrypted interface.  So he decided to build it.  The other thing he realized was that to have a thriving internet retail business, the customers would need to have faith in the system.  That they would get what they bought and that their financial and personal information wouldn't be stolen.  One of the best ways to do that was to prevent the small retailers from getting that information in the first place.  That is the biggest failure of the mental model for my customers - they think I see their credit card.  Never do.

Paypal is a bank that processes financial transactions on the internet.  It is PERMISSIONS only.  That means that the seller puts out a link spelling out exactly the financial transaction the customer is giving permission for.  The link contains the item, the item cost, and shipping cost and where it is going.  The customer then gives permission for the 3rd party - Paypal - to collect those fund and ONLY those funds from the customer's bank or credit card.  Paypal then takes a fee from the funds and sends the rest to the seller.  Paypal retains the seller's bank information and a permission from them so they can remove the funds back from the seller if there is a dispute from the customer, protecting Paypal and the customer from snake oil salesmen.

So PayPal acts as a 1-stop locked wallet that the customer can use to process transactions with hundreds of sellers and only one company, Paypal, has the actual numbers to their credit card.  No one can access or charge the card without the direct permission of the customer for specific terms.  It also offers a dispute means for the customer, much like calling your credit card to dispute a charge.  But since the customer did actively authorize the charge, they are dealing as an arbiter between the seller and customer over the damage or non-shipment of a product.

In the case of subscriptions, the link contains the product or service, the amount of the installment payment, the date the payment will be taken and how many of the installments there will be.  The seller gives that link to the customer and the customer authorizes PayPal to act upon it only to the terms laid out.  There can be no changes at all to the terms.  The only change allowed is cancelation of the remaining payments by either the customer or seller.  If PayPal tries to act upon the installment payment and for some reason the customer's credit card or bank is unable to process, the subscription is 'suspended'.  But that is a misnomer - it is actually canceled as the seller has no way to restart it.  The two parties (customer and seller) have to act upon a new link with new terms to continue the payment plan.

Based on the financial model of Paypal, several companies pop-ed up to more completely service the small business retail industry.  Gone are the days where you need to hire a computer scientist to custom code a shop site for you.  You buy the services of a place like Shopify which provides the templates of typical shopping site pages, a database that you load your product text, prices, and pictures into, and an internet banking platform to process the credit card payments in a permissions only scheme like PayPal.  The retailer NEVER gets your financial info and we can't go back and make changes other than refunds.  They even will allow you to use PayPal as your payment method.  They charge the small company a yearly fee to have the pages up on their servers (that the small company has modified using their online interface), a transaction fee for processing each financial charge and then lots of addition fees monthly for other wiz-bang features.  One in particular that confuses my customers is the use of blue links in the text of the product for monthly subscriptions.  Those links take you directly to PayPal to set up a monthly subscription.  There is a module in Shopify that would allow me to make it part of the drop down menu.  But I would pay $40 a month to have it there and then also pay Shopify a 3.0 percentage for the transaction or PayPal a 2.5 percentage for the transaction.  So by passing it with the links embedded in the text saves me $40/month per class that I don't have to pass on to the customers in pricing.

So one complaint I hear all the time is 'I hate PayPal'.  I can understand that and it is often due to a variety of issues including confusing customer service (remember that you are talking to someone who understands the internet and you might be working off the mental model that I just crushed above - you are talking two different languages).  There is a mistaken perception that data can be easily stolen.  But remember that their entire business is built around encryption and not passing information onto the sellers.  But the one thing they can't control is your own computer, the spyware software that you clicked on yesterday that is passing on your keystrokes, and your use of super easy to break passwords on the multiple sites over and over so you don't need to remember them.  That is usually the way the data is stolen - the fraud walks in the front door with your password.

So I often get non-encrypted emails from people saying (1) they don't use PayPal because it isn't secure and so (2) here is their credit card number with the security code, their address, and in several cases - oh my god - I was handed a social security number.  My head explodes at that point and without reading the email I trash it and wipe my trash out immediately to try to help protect the person.  Email is not secure EVER for a credit card or social security number.  NEVER.  And now, since there is internet banking to be used, all insurance companies are pushing data breach policies on small companies to protect us from lawsuits over not protecting customers personal data.  So it is in my interest to never collect or store your financial information.  So I don't.  That means that while I could contract with VISA/Mastercard to directly take credit cards, I don't.  One reason is that the fee is huge because it would be only a few a year.  You would call me in the middle of the night from a foreign country to give it to me.  Then I would need to take a thousands of dollar policy on data security.  And I am pretty sure I can't even get decent terms on that because I use my laptop to do business and it goes everywhere with me, my business is in my home and I run a robot team in the house with 22 teens in a pretty fluid open door house.  So using a 'latest encryption' internet banking provider makes a ton of sense for both the customer and me, the seller.

More Services - Internet 3.0

Well Internet 3.0 with all its banking services and now its companies with templates to build your shop site integrated with internet banking is Fabulous.   You can make websites that look like your one person company is the work of 100 people.  That is good and bad.  The good of it is you look professional and it is easier than ever for the customer to understand your products and purchase them.

The bad list goes on and on.  First, the customer assumes you are Amazon and that as soon as they hit buy on a Saturday night from Austrailia your 24-hour warehouse got jolted into action and the robots are pulling the shelves into the picking bay and the boxes are filled and in an hour the box is off via UPS or USPS.

All the internet companies like Shopify assume that you might be at least larger than one person who needs to take vacation, have sick days or be out of town on other business, etc.  So they don't enable a means to change the emails that go back to the consumer to say 'hi, out of town for a few days'.  So, well, that causes problems when the customer doesn't get a response while you are sleeping to their email that they 'forgot something and need you to charge their card for it' and gets pretty annoyed by it.

The other thing that is a big problem for businesses like mine is the lack of flexible integration of functions.  Right now all the 3rd party companies assume that your business is straight retail and that is their business model to service.  But my business is a mix of retail AND teaching content that needs video, downloadable pages, blogging, email marketing for retail, email to small lists of students in a particular class, and a Q&A means.  There is no platform for all that under one interface.  So, as you see in the graphic, it is a patchwork of platforms.  I make it work - BUT because it is using so many companies - each one has their own database system controlling the personal information of the people using it.  That means that I have no control over user names and passwords and never know them in the first place.  So I can't answer these questions nor can I uniformly assign the same set across the platforms to make it easier on you!

In Internet 3.0 a complicated business needs to use many providers of services to do all the functions of the business.  This means that I can't provide uniformity across the business of email addresses, user names, passwords, and mailing addresses as each has their own privacy settings and databases for that information - some of which I can and can't access.  So mistakes of old emails, lost passwords and new addresses being missed abound at times!

To run the business I have no less than seven databases that information is stored in.  That is also complicated by some little hick-ups of internet banking.  You can't have more than one internet banking account per actual bank account number.  So the vast majority of you have allowed your husband to set that up and so I get your order information for classes in your husbands name and email.  But you want the emails to go to you, not surprisingly.  And some families share only one email address - and husbands often get annoyed with their wives buying supplies or getting so many class emails.  So guess what - they mark me as spam or unsubscribe from the email mailings - something I can't undo because of spam policies by Constant Contact.  And tons of you live now in two homes - sometimes across countries in some extreme snow-birding.  There aren't systems to take care of these things yet.  And to make it even more complicated - there are actually several pairs of name doppelgängers out there who love historic embroidery.  What I mean is that there are ladies with the same name but live in different cities.  Yes - blows the mind and causes a bit of confusion when the web guy is assigning passwords for a new class.

So this is what we are all living with for this complicated teaching/retail business in Internet 3.0.  I wonder if Internet 4.0 will ever come along with ways to integrate more of these things under one interface.  I am not sure it will.  But one can only hope!

I hope that cleared up a bit of the internet for you and why you get so exasperated by my apparent incompetence over your passwords or updates to your email addresses and why I can't 'just add that to your order' like people used to...