Go low! A comparison of 5 bass flutes

I had never seen a bass flute before I joined the Pittsburgh Flute Academy flute choir about 5 years ago. The director, Wendy Webb Kumer, loves low flutes and wants every member to have the opportunity to play them, so she makes sure that everyone gets assigned a low flute part every now and then. The flute choir owns several alto and bass flutes, along with an enormous contrabass flute, so there are low flutes available for those who don’t own a low flute to play. The bass flute was a little intimidating at first. It was big and heavy! And the first time I tried it I had only recently picked up my C flute again after a two-decade hiatus. But as my C flute skills improved, I grew excited about trying the low flutes again. After everyone else in my house (husband and 3 kids) started playing electric bass guitar, I decided I needed a bass flute.

The bass flute is an octave lower than the C flute, but the music is generally printed an octave higher than it sounds so you can read it on a treble clef. You play a bass flute exactly the same way you play a C flute, although the embouchure (mouth) position takes some practice and getting used to. And bass flutes are heavy so can be tiring to hold up for long periods of time.

Flute playing is a hobby for me, and one I don’t actually have much time for with my real job as a computer science professor. So shopping for a bass flute was also something I didn’t have much time for either. But several months into the pandemic, with no vacation travel plans for the foreseeable future, I took some time out to shop online for a bass flute.

Shopping for a bass flute online is actually fairly difficult because there is very little information available about the different bass flute models and almost no reviews. I have shopped for cameras and lenses online and there is a ton of information, with lots of reviews and detailed comparisons between models. People say you really need to just try playing flutes yourself and even try the specific instance of the model you want to buy as they aren’t all identical. Nonetheless, reviews and comparisons would be helpful for narrowing down the options and deciding which flutes to trial. Thus, I am going to go into some detail about the differences I observed in the flutes I trialed and my experience playing them (as a non-professional flutist and very amateur bass flutist). Obviously, your mileage may vary.

There are not a huge number of bass flutes to choose from, and especially if you want to stick to a budget, there are only so many types of bass flutes to try. Nonetheless, I did not get to try all the options in my price range. I set my budget at $4,000. I ruled out the plastic flutes (which some swear by, but mostly due to their lighter weight). And I ruled out those that didn’t have any trill keys (a flute without trill keys seems somewhat limiting). Then I asked around for recommendations. A member of my flute choir raved about his Pearl bass (check out this cool video featuring a Pearl bass). My flute teacher Sarah Steranka loves her Gemeinhardt bass. Joan Sparks at Flute Pro Shop told me that her store was having bass flutes made just for them, including horizontal and vertical bass flutes. I found a video about Trevor James bass flutes. I ruled out the Jupiter bass flute (despite a nice video) because the current model doesn’t have trill keys. I thought about trying the Di Zhao bass, since my C flute is a Di Zhao, but a couple of people told me they didn’t like it as much as the Pearl. The Di Zhao vertical bass is intriguing as well, but exceeded my budget.

I ordered C-foot Gemeinhardt and Trevor James bass flutes to trial from Flute Specialists. Flute Pro Shop sent me a B-foot Pearl, a C-foot Flute Pro Shop, and a B-foot vertical Flute Pro Shop bass flute. Over the course of a week they all arrived at my house, which was very exciting! I played them all, discussed with the two flute stores, and even had a socially distanced meetup with Sarah and Wendy before deciding which one to purchase.

5 bass flute cases
The 5 bass flutes I trialed, in their cases. From left to right: Vertical Flute Pro Shop, horizontal flute pro shop, Pearl, Trevor James, Gemeinhardt.

I’ll start with the Gemeinhardt ($3,199) and Trevor James ($3,895) bass flutes. These two flutes were amazingly similar, except for the price tag. As you can see in the photo above, they both come with the same kind of case cover — except the Trevor James has a brown leather handle, a pocket, and nice fleecy lining.

When the Trevor James arrived I initially had some trouble with it. I noticed right away that I could not play a B flat (with either fingering). I called Flute Specialists and in about 5 minutes on the phone they walked me through diagnosing the problem (a spring that had slipped out of place) and fixing it myself.

The photos below show the flutes themselves (click on a photo to enlarge). They look really similar, except the Trevor James has really pretty mother-of-pearl inlaid keys. They both have the same construction and similar shapes, sizes, and positions of most keys. They both have B flat rollers and shaped wooden hand crutches. The most important differences I found are the shape of the left first-finger key and the shape of the trill keys. I liked the Trevor James oval shaped first-finger key which is less of a stretch to reach. However, the Trevor James trill keys are small and pointy, and harder to hit than the wider and rounder trill keys on the Gemeinhardt. The shape of the head joint, lip plate and embouchure hole are very similar, and the feel and sound are also very similar. I found them both fairly easy and comfortable to play in all octaves, despite my lack of bass flute experience. With only minor fiddling with the head joint positioning I was able to quickly get a decent sound on both instruments. The middle and low octave of both have a nice full resonant sound, and I found all octaves pretty responsive and I was able to maintain fairly consistent intonation. On both flutes I found the upper octave responsive, but the sound was thinner. While the Trevor James is pretty and I wish the Gemeinhardt case was fuzzy and had an exterior pocket, these differences were not enough to make me want to pay $700 more for the Trevor James.

This is the Gemeinhardt bass flute with C-foot. It has a nice slim case with a storage box on the bottom right (where you see the hand crutches).
Here is the Trevor James bass flute with C-foot. It has the same case except a different color on the inside. Note the nice fleece lining on the inside of the case cover. Even the wood cleaning rods are the same except the TJ is stamped with the brand name.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) head joints – almost identical except for the connecting bar. They both have cork where the straight part of the head joint slides into the curved part.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) flute bodies – very similar in most respects, including hand crutch. The TJ has inlaid mother-of-pearl keys. Note the differences in the left hand first finger key and the trill keys.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) flute bodies – very similar in most respects. Here you can see the B flat rollers on both. I like the B flat rollers but some people do not.
The Trevor James inlaid keys are lovely. I also like the shape of the left hand first finger key, which allows more options as to where you place your finger.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) foot joint — almost identical.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) foot joint — almost identical when you look at them upside down too.
Trevor James (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) foot joint — almost identical front or back. If you look carefully the TJ is engraved with the brand name at the far end.

You can tell the Pearl flute ($3,999 with a B foot, there is a C-foot model that is less expensive) is a bit different from the Trevor James and Gemeinhardt even before you open the case. The look is much more square and industrial, especially once you open the case. There’s no velvet, but instead more utilitarian egg crate foam. The case does come with a lock and key.

The flute itself is also different from the Trevor James and Gemeinhardt in some significant ways. The Pearl flute bend has a noticeably wider diameter. It also has a larger lip plate and embouchure hole. I had been told that the wider bend allowed for better weight distribution (with more weight on the left side of the flute), but I did not find that to be the case. However, I was comparing a B-foot Pearl to other C-foot flutes, so I couldn’t do a direct apples-to-apples comparison (I wanted to try a C-foot Pearl but couldn’t find one immediately available to trial). Overall, I found that the Pearl wasn’t all that comfortable to play. I found the metal hand crutch to be so uncomfortable that I had to wrap a sock around my hand for added cushioning (this lead me to invent the “bass flute glove” — more on that below). The crutch attaches to the flute by screwing into a cylinder lined with a plastic sleeve. On the flute I tested, the plastic sleeve had come loose and kept coming out when the crutch was removed. I also found the right pinky key to be quite a stretch for my smallish hands.

When I picked up the Pearl I had a hard time playing the lowest notes, and had difficulty with the D, E, and F in both the first and second octave. However, the highest register sounded full and fabulous (my 16-hear-old flute-playing daughter picked it up and just wanted to play all the high notes repeatedly). After trying different head joint positions I was able to eventually get all the octaves to sound good, but any minor change in head joint position threw everything out of wack. I suspect the larger embouchure hole just doesn’t work as well for me as the smaller hole. Perhaps it is something I would get used to with practice. When I played the Pearl for Wendy and Sarah they noticed how much I had to fiddle with it and commented that it had a less resonant sound than the others when I played it. It is possible that the particular Pearl I played had a problem, and the difficulty I had with D, E, and F suggests maybe a leaky key on the right hand. The Pearl didn’t work well for me, but it seems to have many fans.

Pearl flute case.
The Pearl flute has a more industrial looking case (with a lock and key) and a more angular style than the Gemeinhardt and Trevor James. The case cover has a fleece lining and a pocket. There is no box for accessories in the case. This Pearl has a B foot.
The Pearl (top) headcount has a much wider angle than the Gemeinhardt (bottom). The lip plate and embouchure hole are also much bigger. You can’t see it in this picture, but the Pearl does not have a cork where the straight part of the head joint connects to the curved piece.
Pearl (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) flute bodies with a number of notable differences. You can see the different style hand crutches. The Pearl does not have B flat roller. If you look carefully you can see that some of the bars are a bit different on the Pearl.
Another view of the Pearl (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) flute bodies. You can see that the Pearl has smokey grey key inlays, that are also very pretty. The left-hand first finger key is more to the right, making it a bit more accessible for those of us with smallish hands.
Pearl (top) and Gemeinhardt (bottom) foot joint. The Pearl is a B-foot so obviously longer. You can see the Pearl’s more angular style here when you look at the right-hand pinky keys.
Gemeinhardt (left) and Pearl (right) foot joints. I took this photo at this funny angle so you can see how hight the right pinky keys are. No matter how I rotated the foot joint, I still had to stretch my pinky to reach them.

To add more cushioning where the hand crutch rests between my left thumb and first finger, I sewed a bass flute glove out of a piece of fabric cut from a soft old t-shirt that had a bit of stretch to it. It is just a rectangle of t-shirt fabric sewn into a tube with a slit for the thumb and a cushion made from layers of cotton/polyester quilt batting. The photo below shows the second one I made, with six layers of padding and a tighter fit than the first one. I may try some more variations, but this general concept seems to effectively cushion the weight of the flute on my left hand without restricting finger and thumb movement.

My bass flute glove made from a rectangle cut from a soft, stretchy t-shirt and six layers of cotton/polyester quilt batting. The padding is sewn between the thumb and first finger.

I found the Flute Pro Shop horizontal flute ($2,878) to be somewhat similar to the Pearl flute, with the wider bend and large lip plate and embouchure hole. Like the Pearl, I found this flute somewhat hard to play and had to fiddle with the headjoint position quite a bit to get a good sound. I found some of the notes a bit easier to play than the Pearl, but it did not have the Pearl’s strong upper register.

This flute is somewhat of a budget version of the Pearl — no inlaid keys and no fancy details. The flute looks a little rougher around the edges than the Pearl — some of the weld joins are not as smooth as you might like and there are some odd angular connections with thin metal strips. The hand crutch is the same shape as the Pearl, but made of wood and I found it just as uncomfortable as the Pearl. The case is an all-in-one case (rather than a separate case and cover).

On the plus side, the Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass has a nice wide left first-finger key and I didn’t have any problem reaching the right pinky key. It does not have a B flat roller.

Overall, this is a solid bass flute for the price, and if you like the Pearl but want something less expensive, this one may be worth checking out. But this style of bass flute doesn’t seem to work well for me.

Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass flute comes with an all-in-one flute case with built-in-cover. It has a nice zippered exterior pocket.
Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass flute in its all-in-one case. There is no box for accessories inside the case.
The Pearl head joint (top) is fairly similar to the Flute Pro Shop head joint (bottom) — both have a wide curve and a large lip plate and embouchure hole. You can see the bar is less decorative on the Flute Pro Shop had joint and the embouchure hole is more squared off.
Pearl (top) and Flute Pro Shop (bottom) flute bodies. You can see the Flute Pro Shop’s nice large oval left first-finger key. The bars on the Flute Pro Shop are the more typical style.
Pearl (top) and Flute Pro Shop (bottom) foot joint. The Pearl is a B-foot so obviously longer. The Flute Pro Shop has a similar style, but note the weird angle bracket to the left of the pinky keys.
The Flute Pro Shop right-hand first-finger and ring-finger keys are attached to the keys with strange metal brackets. All the other flutes I tried have them attached to the bar. Functionally, these seem to work just fine and this approach arguably makes more sense since the keys you press are directly connected to the keys that actually cover the tone holes, but they really are strange looking.
The Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass does not have a B flat roller.
The Pearl (top) and Flute Pro Shop (bottom) hand crutches. I didn’t find either of them to be comfortable.

The most unique bass flute I trialed was the Flute Pro Shop vertical bass flute ($4,288) — slightly above my budget but it was listed on sale on the website for $3,998 and I really wanted to try a vertical flute. There aren’t very many vertical bass flutes available, and this was the only one I could find that fit within my budget. I was eager to try a vertical bass flute, as it seemed like it would be much less tiring to play. I also play saxophone (again as an amateur), so I’m comfortable with the vertical hand positioning.

The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass comes in a pretty hefty all-in-one case. It’s well padded but has no pockets. The bass comes with a very long peg that you screw into the flute. You can adjust it to play either sitting or standing. I’m 5’2″ and when I played it standing there was still a lot more peg left to let out, so I suspect even someone about 5’10” tall could probably play it standing up, but taller than that you might need to put a block under the peg to play while standing.

Like the Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass, the vertical bass has a large lip plate and embouchure hole. However, it doesn’t have the wide bend in the head joint. It comes with a B foot, but I didn’t have a problem reaching the right pinky key on this one. It has a nicely-placed left first-finger key that is easy to reach. The right-hand first and ring-finger keys are attached to their respective key covers as with the horizontal bass, but they are closer together and don’t have the strange-looking brackets. It is also a basic, low frills style — a little rough around the edges, but only if you look closely.

I put the vertical bass together and had to figure out how to adjust it. A horizontal bass flute can be adjusted in 2 dimensions — the angle of the entire head joint as well as the angle of just the mouth piece. The vertical bass flute has more variables — how far in front and how far to the side you place the peg on the floor. I had the best sound when I kept the peg fairly close to me so the flute was more vertical. However, I also found that when I put my chin up to the mouthpieces, the whole head joint acted like a lever, causing the flute to rotate. I tried to brace the flute with my hands to stop the rotation, but found this fairly difficult. I could barely lean my right thumb against the bottom hand rest and the top hand rest was way to far away for my hand to reach. I tried attaching my tenor sax neck strap, but it didn’t really help. I also tried playing with only the neck strap and not the peg. The flute still rotated and I found myself trying to play it like a saxophone, with side keys that it doesn’t actually have. Eventually, I was able to get the head joint adjusted and everything balanced on the peg just so, minimizing the rotation and getting a pretty good sound. But it was still fairly difficult and required a bit of fiddling every time I picked it up. When I played for Sarah and Wendy they also noted that I was holding my wrists at an awkward angle. We concluded that the vertical flute was probably too big for me.

I still think the vertical bass is a really nice concept, and if it fits you well could be a great instrument that puts a lot less strain on your hands (no need for a bass flute glove), arms, and shoulder than a horizontal bass. I imagine it might also be easier to play in a flute choir without knocking into the person or music stand to your right. Vertical bass flutes are significantly more expensive than their horizontal cousins, but if you have trouble with the weight of a horizontal bass it could be worth the extra cost. Since the end of the flute is aimed directly at the floor I was concerned about how well it would project. However, I thought this one projected just fine (for a a bass flute… they are generally quiet instruments). Standing and holding the flute felt really good and practically effortless, but it was not effortless to play. This flute just didn’t fit me well and was actually harder for me to play than some of the horizontal flutes. Maybe with more practice I would have gotten used to it and found workarounds. Since this is the only vertical bass I tried, I don’t know if the problems I had with this one are unique to this instrument.

The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass comes in a hefty padded all-in-one case with no pockets.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass in its case with cleaning rod. You can see the peg at the back of the case.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass (top) has a more typical diameter in its bend than the Pearl (bottom), but it has the large lip plate and embouchure hole.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass (top) has a foot joint similar to the Pearl (bottom), but it is longer and has a knob to attach and adjust the peg. Like the Flute Pro Shop horizontal bass it has an angle bracket.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass has no B flat roller. It has a bracket near the top with a loop to attach a neck strap and an adjustable left-hand rest.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass has a second place to attach the strap lower down and an adjustable right-hand rest.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass has a nicely-placed left first-finger key that is easy to reach. The right-hand first and ring-finger keys are attached to their respective key covers as with the horizontal bass, but they are closer together and don’t have the strange-looking brackets.
The Flute Pro Shop vertical bass has a bend in the tube connecting to the main flute body. Notice that it is wider than a 90 degree angle, so that the flute will end up being played at a bit of a diagonal rather than completely upright (which is also how saxophones are usually plaid).
This is how the peg connects to the Flute Pro Shop vertical bass.
Here I am trying out the Flute Pro Shop vertical bass standing up with the peg out in front of me a little bit. You can see the diagonal positioning.
Here is a close up of my hands while playing the Flute Pro Shop vertical bass. I had trouble positioning my hands so that my wrists weren’t at a funny angle. Also my right thumb just barely reaches the lower hand rest but my left hand doesn’t come anywhere near the upper hand rest (I assume that’s what that is… maybe it is for another purpose?).

Travel points for domestic peace

A former graduate student who will soon be a first-time parent emailed me this week to ask about that system he had heard me talk about for keeping track of travel. I’ve mentioned this system to a few people, and they’ve told others, and every now and then someone sends me an email to ask how exactly it works. So, I’m finally writing it all down so that those who find it useful can read more about it.

I used to travel a fair bit for work, but cut back significantly when my first child was born. By the time I had three kids, I wasn’t traveling much. Once the kids were all in elementary school, my work travel increased. There always were more conferences I wanted to attend, and more speaking engagements I wanted to accept. However, realizing the stress it put on my family when I was out of town, I tried to choose my travel carefully and said, “no” to a lot of it. (As a side point, most academics I know believe they must travel a lot or their careers will suffer. I believe that some travel is required, but that most of us could probably do quite well with significantly less travel. Perhaps I will blog on that some time….)

While I felt that I had settled on a reasonable amount of travel, my husband and kids did not see it that way. Every time I prepared for another out-of-town trip, they complained that I was traveling too much. I should note that my husband does not enjoy travel as much as I do, his job requires less travel, and he usually is able to keep his business travel to 2-4 days per year. On the other hand, I was typically traveling 2-4 days per month, even when trying to travel less.

Somewhere that I no longer recall, I had read about the idea of keeping a budget for travel — not a monetary budget, but a time budget. So I decided to give it a try and devised a “travel points” system. My first thought was to simply to negotiate with my husband and decide on a maximum number of days I would travel each year. But when I suggested this idea to him he told me it was too simplistic. He explained that when I travelled during the week, the kids were in school most of the day and it wasn’t too difficult for him to handle the morning and evening routines himself, with an after school babysitter to help out with transportation to afternoon activities. However, when I travelled on weekends, he had to single-handedly get three kids to all of their weekend activities and make sure they ate three meals per day. After further discussion, I realized that when I arrived and departed also made a difference. Ideally, I would make it home for dinner, but getting back later in the evening was still better than coming home the next day.

Based on my husband’s feedback I came up with the following points system. Each week day away from home costs 3 points. One point for being away for breakfast, one point for being away for dinner, and one point for being away over night. Weekends work the same way except they count double. I applied this formula to past trips to see how much they would have cost, and negotiated a total budget for the year of 84 points.

As we’ve used the system over the past six years we’ve made a few additional adjustments. I get a discount for bringing one of my kids with me on a trip (I’m not able to do that very often because they usually have school, but every now and then it works out). I get a discount for working in a visit to a family member while on a business trip. I also get a discount for travel associated with paid consulting, since my husband appreciates the extra income that brings in. One year I signed up for a training course with three out-of-town sessions that used up 70 of my 84 points. Before I signed up for the course I made sure my husband was on board with the increased level of travel and we negotiated a higher points budget for that year. Last year, when I was traveling to Washington, DC from Pittsburgh for three days every week we suspended the points system completely rather than add up the 400+ points. We all knew that I would be away a lot and the whole family (even my kids) bought into the plan. Now that I’m back, we have reinstated the points system.

The travel points system works pretty well for us. I typically get a handful of out-of-town speaking invitations every month, so calculating the points cost of each potential trip is helpful as I choose which invitations to accept. I try to pace myself, and reserve points for the conferences I like to attend. I also try to shorten trips to shave off a point or two if I can. When possible I leave early in the morning rather than going the night before. I sometimes leave a conference early to make it home for dinner. Whenever possible, I avoid traveling on weekends. While my husband still thinks I travel too much, he is much less grumpy about it when he knows that the amount of travel will be bounded.

The travel points system is a simple application of basic budgeting principles that helps me put limits on my travel and practice moderation. People use similar systems to limit their financial spending or their caloric intake. You can apply this time budgeting concept to other activities besides travel. For example, if you have a time-consuming hobby not enjoyed but other members of your household, allocate points for the hours you spend on that hobby. If it makes sense in your household, you might develop a system that allows you to trade points with other family members, for time, money, or other activities — e.g. if I can travel two extra days, when I get back you can go on a two-day yoga retreat.

What’s most important (and probably most difficult) is negotiating the rules of the system so that the points provide appropriate incentives and all involved are satisfied with the total points budget. Once I agreed to significantly penalize weekend travel, my husband was much more agreeable about the whole system, since weekend travel was what he most wanted reduced. I also would prefer to be home and spend time with my family on weekends, so the weekend penalty adds an extra nudge for me to do what I would like to do anyway. Every family is different and you will have to find the incentives and budget that work best for your family, and be prepared to renegotiate over time as you gain experience with the system or your situation changes.

BSides, Black Hat, and DEFCON

I spent 4 days in Las Vegas this past week attending the back-to-back BSides LV, Black Hat, and DEFCON 24 hacker conferences.  This was my first trip to Vegas and my first time at these events (although I have attended local hacker events, such as ArchC0n in St. Louis last September). Here are some thoughts on my experience and some photos from my trip.

You know you are in Vegas when you get off the plane, because who wants to wait until you leave the airport to start gambling?

Slot machines at Las Vegas airport

Usually I try to stay at a conference hotel, but I had been prohibited from using any of my  government devices in the conference hotels (too much of a security risk), so I opted for the Westin, where I could also get a government rate. BSides was a short walk down the street at the Tuscany. It was nearly 100 degrees in the mid-day sun, but without all the humidity we’ve been having on the East Coast. (And the hotels were heavily air conditioned so I was glad to have a cardigan for inside the hotels!)

Westin hotel in Las VegasTuscany Suites

I gave the Gave opening keynote at BSides LV Tuesday morning in a noisy room with about 1000 people…. a few hundred people were sitting at tables, standing, or sitting on the floor paying attention to my talk. The rest were collecting swag from vendors, talking to each other, learning how to pick locks in the back of the room, or getting a drink at the bar (at 10 am!). Nonetheless, I had good audience participation when I quizzed them on password strength, and an artist captured the key points of my talk pretty well. And my talk got some nice press coverage. I wore my password dress (as requested) and many people asked me to pose for selfies with them throughout the day. After my keynote I spoke on a career panel and attended some of the Passwords talks (kudos to Per Thorsheim for organizing a great event). I also enjoyed Andrea Matwyshyn‘s talk on hacker kids.

Besides LV chill out roomvisual summary of BSides LV keynotes

BSides is the scrappy conference of the week. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it is also the least overwhelming. Volunteer staff (known as “goons”) are mostly polite, but I did have a run-in with one who refused to let me back into a session for the end of the Q&A because I had stepped out into the hall.  The hotel is not so classy and the whole thing smells like cigarettes, but the event is free to attend and not nearly as crowded as the other two events. And bonus points for the visual notes, speaker lunch, and providing a nice women’s cut v-neck speaker t-shirt.

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday at Black Hat at Mandalay Bay, a 15-minute taxi-ride down the Strip from BSides. This is the classiest, most corporate, and most expensive of the three events. It was also the most traditional conference, the only one that did not require walking through a casino, and the conference badges actually had peoples’ names on them. Some people even wore button down shirts and suit jackets, although black t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies were still totally ok. Everything about Black Hat is big and polished. The breakfast/lunch room (this is the only event that includes meals) was an enormous matrix of banquet tables and professional staff who greeted everyone with a smile and directed people to the open buffet lines politely and efficiently. The plenary room was full of flashing lights and a glass cracking theme for the opening session (I assume the idea is glass cracking as in breaking things, not cracking the glass ceiling, since there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence of glass ceiling cracking here). I got to see Jeff Moss and Dan Kaminsky. Among other things, Dan urged hackers to “break things faster,” encouraged companies to publish their code so that it would be indexed by Google and easier for their own employees to find, and suggested outsourcing more security functions to the cloud.

Black Hat breakfast and lunch roomBlack Hat opening keynoteBlack Hat opening keynote Black Hat opening keynote - Jeff MossBlack Hat opening keynote - Dan Kaminsky

The Black Hat business hall was also enormous, and many vendors were handing out swag. I collected enough t-shirts to clothe my kids for quite a while, plus bags, pens, and light-up balls. I would not come home empty handed. I was excited to visit the Wombat booth. Down the hall from Blackhat, in the same hotel, was the Superzoo show for pet retailers. The carts stacked with dog beds and cat food were an amusing contrast to Black Hat.

Black Hat business hall Black Hat business hall - Wombat boothSuperZoo at Mondalay Bay

I attended several really interesting talks at Black Hat, mostly on the human factors track (including a talk by my former PhD student, Patrick Kelley). There was a fun talk about dropping USB sticks in the parking lot. I was mostly interested in the data about how often they got picked up, although I think many in the audience enjoyed learning about how to make a fake USB stick that would automatically deploy malware when someone sticks it in their computer. One of my favorite talks was on using forensic linguistics to identify signs that a phone call is from a scammer. And of course no hacker conference is complete if you don’t see someone who has brought their own ATM machine.

As with the other hacker conferences, the crowd was not particularly diverse, although I did not find the climate uncomfortable at Black Hat and I was glad to see that all the staff in the business hall booths seemed to be dressed appropriately for the event. The Black Hat organizers had posted their code of conduct all over the place, and there were a couple of sessions focussed on getting more women into the security field (thanks EWF and Equal Respect!). When asked what they could do to attract more women to apply to be speakers I suggested personal invitations (which is the main reason I was at BSides, thanks Per!) and childcare and/or kids track (my kids were not available this week, but had they been I could have brought them to BSides and DEFCON but Black Hat would have been prohibitively expensive).

Patrick presenting at Black Hat ATM machine for Black Hat demo Black Hat code of conduct

I didn’t have much time to sight-see, but did check out some of the other hotels and casinos. I visited Ancient Egypt, where I discovered you can eat sushi. Then on to New York, which was an adorable scaled-down replica of the real thing, but so much more peaceful without honking horns and huge crowds. The Excalibur castle looked like something out of Disneyland.

Inside the Pyramid in Las Vegas New York New York New York New York Excalibar at night

I had to taxi over to DEFCON and back on Thursday mid-day to pick up my speaker badge and was back there in the evening and then all day on Friday. DEFCON is the largest of the three events and uses space in both the Bally’s and Paris hotels. The Paris has a casino at the base of the Eiffel tower and cute Parisian streets lined with over-priced cafes where they require you to show ID when you buy a $3 yogurt with a credit card.

Las Vegas stripParis hotel Paris hotel

DEFCON has something like 15,000 attendees, but you can’t register in advance and you have to pay cash at the door. Badge distribution and crowd control in general is quite a challenge, and there is a lot of waiting in line at DEFCON. Nonetheless, the DEFCON goons were friendly and managed the crowd well. And they looked stylish with their red t-shirts and police-style goon badges. I walked by the DEFCON kids track which looked like it would be fun to check out if I had brought my kids.

Bally's to Paris connection at DEFCONDEFCON at Paris HotelDEFCON at Paris Hotel

I checked out the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge and saw the Mayhem team with CMU colleagues being interviewed after their victory. I met up with some of my fellow “feds” to prepare for our Meet the Feds panel.

Cyber Grand Challenge Cyber Grand Challenge Cyber Grand Challenge Allan and Jonathan at Cyber Grand Challenge at DEFCON Allan, Jonathan, and Lorrie at Cyber Grand Challenge at DEFCON

We reported to the speakers room 45 minutes before our talk and our goon escorted us to the room we were speaking in, a long walk through the casino and into Bally’s. We had about 800 people for the Meet the Feds panel and it was standing room only. We had some good questions, including from a high school student who wanted to know about careers in government.

DEFCON speaker ready room, with Eric Mill and goonDEFCON, Meet the Feds Allan, Eric, Lorrie, and Jonathan - DEFCON, Meet the FedsAllan, Eric, Lorrie, and Jonathan - DEFCON, Meet the Feds

My second panel was back in the Paris hotel in another large room. Commissioner McSweeney and I talked about the FTC and our research wish list. I discovered that the super cool podium looks great, but is not so good for short people as I could hardly be seen behind it.

DEFCON FTC session DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie DEFCON FTC session - Terrell and Lorrie

FTC folks all wore the FTC DEFCON t-shirts I designed, complete with secret code (successfully cracked by my son in about 90 minutes).

Joe, Lorrie, Aaron, Terrell at DEFCONFTC DEFCON t-shirt frontFTC DEFCON t-shirt back

The DEFCON vendor room did not have much for free, but lots of fun things to buy like lock picks and hacking tools. Contest rooms and “villages” featured tables full of hackers working on competitions and projects, lots of people soldering (not sure what exactly), cars for car hacking, and phones for social engineering. There were beauticians offering mohawks in any color. Hacker jeopardy was a low point, as interspersed between geeky technical questions were questions full of sexual innuendo, which produced the predictably inappropriate and vulgar responses from contestants. Not classy! While this sort of behavior seemed to be the exception and not the rule at DEFCON this year, it should not be tolerated.

Overall, I did not see too many women at DEFCON. One attendee who saw my speaker badge asked if I was Radia Perlman. Perhaps she was the only female computer scientist he could think of who might be a speaker? There are worse people to be mistaken for, but she is about 20 years older than me and we look nothing alike.

DEFCON Venders DEFCON contest room DEFCON contest room DEFCON contest room DEFCON car hacking Hacker jeopardy DEFCON soldering DEFCON

On the flight home the couple sitting next to me asked if I knew anything about all those people walking around the Strip with skull badges. Yes, indeed, I told them as I pulled my DEFCON badge out of my backpack and showed them how I could press the buttons in the right order and make it light up.


Davos Trip Report

I attended the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland with a group of faculty from Carnegie Mellon. We were there to be the entertainment — we had earned our (otherwise very expensive) Davos badge by agreeing to present a panel session. I brought my camera (Fujifilm X-T1 with 18 mm lens) and took lots of photos. Here is a selection of photos and some thoughts on the whole Davos experience.

We arrived in Zurich and took the bus (provided by WEF) to Davos. It was about a 2.5 hour drive and the scenery got progressively snowier and more beautiful as we went along. We started meeting our fellow attendees on the bus, including McGill University principal, Suzanne Fortier, who was staying at our hotel, and later invited us to Montreal after return flights to the US were being cancelled.

landing in Zurich, hardly any snow at the airport World Economic Forum Davos bus arriving at the registration center in Davos

We stayed at Club Hotel, a comfortable ski hotel (at high-end luxury hotel prices) at the far end of Davos from the Congress Center. This was the hotel that many of the academic speakers had been assigned to stay at. Across the street was a building with a big sign that said “Bernina.” As an owner of a Bernina sewing machine, I got very excited when I saw it, but it was just an apartment building… no sign of sewing machines. There was a shuttle stop on the corner across from the hotel, and shuttles came by frequently. However, at least once each day I did the 20-minute walk between the Congress Center and the hotel. Most of the daytime events were in and around the Congress Center, but some were in surrounding buildings, and most of the evening events were at hotels around the city.

Club Hotel Davos at Night, WEF 2016DSCF5451Walk the talk sign at WEF 2016

The walk between the hotel and Congress Center took us past the storefronts and fancy hotels on the Promenade. Many companies (and even UC Berkeley) had rented out store fronts for the week. Some had been turned into Cafes where participants could stop in for a free lunch. Facebook had setup a house with a mini-museum that explained that it takes more energy to make a latte than it does to power one person’s Facebook usage for a year. There were police and security guards everywhere, but none seemed to be able to give directions. The best way to navigate was with Google maps, or looking for signposts along the way indicating the direction and walking distance between conference venues.

The Promenade at night, WEF 2016Berkeley storefront on Promenade, WEF 2016Facebook house at night, WEF 2016Facebook house, WEF 2016Signpost outside of the Loft, WEF 2016

The weather was fairly pleasant, all considering. The temperature stayed around the high twenties with no wind. It snowed about every other day. My tall, waterproof leather boots (ECCO Babett 45 GTX) were perfect for the snowy weather, and I could wear them inside all day and was able to avoid carrying shoes around to change into. I was glad I brought a long down coat. With insulated tights, I was able to wear dresses comfortably all week without freezing when I went outside. Inside most buildings it was quite warm. We quickly got used to the process of arriving at a building (on foot or by shuttle); having our badges inspected by armed (but very friendly) guards; loading our bags, laptops, and coats onto the conveyor belt for screening; walking through the metal detector; collecting our bags; sometimes heading outside and then back into another building; scanning our badges; checking our coats (or holding on to them to save time); and finally getting to our destination.

Congress Centre - transportation hub, WEF 2016Lorrie with boots and long coat at transportation hub, WEF 2016Davos WEF middle entryMiddle Entry, WEF 2016Inflated Tunnel into Congress Center Middle Entry, WEF 2016Middle Entry cloak room, WEF 2016Congress Centre with fresh snow, WEF 2016Lorrie at Congress Centre main entrance, WEF 2016

On the first evening I attended the opening ceremony with awards presentations and a concert by Yo-yo Ma and a multi-cultural ensemble. Will.I.Am talked about education and Leonardo DiCaprio discussed global climate change While not exactly an expert in climate change, DiCaprio has apparently contributed a lot of money to the cause, and encouraged others to do likewise. I was surprised to see DiCaprio read his remarks, rarely looking up at the audience (the photo here is the only one I took where he is looking at the audience). Yo-Yo Ma’s performance was amazing, and worth sitting through the speeches to hear.

Hilde Schwab presents Crystal Award to Will.I.Am at WEF 2016 Hilde Schwab presents Crystal Award to Leonardo DiCaprio at WEF 2016 Yo-yo Ma and ensemble performing at WEF 2016 opening session

Following the opening session I found the shuttle to the InterContinental Hotel for the expert reception. Having just arrived, I was still wearing jeans and suddenly felt under dressed. I did not wear jeans again until I left for the airport to go home. Besides learning about Davos fashion, the expert reception was also a good introduction to eating at Davos, where sit down meals are few and far between for those of us not on the VIP lists. Coffee and alcoholic beverages were plentiful, but food required some foraging. We all got very good at spotting and making a bee line for waiters passing tasty, but small, snacks in the Congress Center or at whatever receptions we were attending.

I joined my colleagues, who were talking to John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, and his wife. When I arrived they were having an entertaining conversation about educational videos and it took a while for me to catch on and figure out who he was. John posted a brief video about his Davos experience after he got home.

I spent much of the next day practicing for and being nervous about my own talk. Three colleagues and I had been invited to Davos to do an “Ideas Lab” session, which uses the fun-to-watch but awful to prepare for Pecha Kucha format. We each had five minutes to give a talk with 15 slides (all images, no words), which advanced automatically every 20 seconds. We wrote out scripts weeks in advance and spent hours memorizing the scripts and checking the timing. I give talks and teach classes all the time, so public speaking comes pretty easily to me, but I don’t think I have memorized anything word-for-word since high school. Even the TEDx talk on passwords I gave a couple of years ago was easier to prepare. For my Davos, I made notecards, recorded myself reading my script and listened to myself over and over again, and practiced my talk repeatedly on the plane. The group of us did three rehearsals together before finally doing our session at Davos on Thursday, and again on Saturday. Our session was the Promise and Perils of the Connected Sensors. Two of my colleagues presented upbeat promise talks, one introduced security perils, and I finished out the panel with privacy perils. The talks were recorded and available here. (As you may notice in the video, I had two wireless mics attached to my sleeveless dress. The AV crew was used to putting mics on guys wearing suits, and wasn’t really sure how to attach the mics to me. They didn’t have surgical tape to tape the transmitter to my back so you’ll see one of the transmitters attached to the back of my dress with an antenna sticking up. The other one is in my boot with the wire running up my leg and under my dress.) There was also a scribe who made cool drawings while we talked.

The Ideas Lab session went very well, and we received a lot of positive feedback from attendees. Attendees at our session included a nobel laureate, a Microsoft executive, and Kofi Annan (yes, that’s him in the bottom right photo below). Connected sensors and the Internet of Things were topics that seemed to resonate with a lot of Davos people. Indeed, the toilets near the plenary hall in the Congress Center featured water sprays and dryers that could be controlled wirelessly through tablets mounted on the wall of each stall.

Amy and Lorrie at CMU ideas Lab, WEF 2016Scribe's board at CMU ideas lab, WEF 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 CMU Ideas Lab session in the Loft, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 DSCF5719Congress Centre toilet with remote control, WEF 2016

The CMU President, Subra Suresh, introduced our panel, and the dean of our School of Computer Science, Andrew Moore, participated in another Ideas Lab session that was moderated by NPR correspondent, Joe Palca. Some of our colleagues, including Justine Cassell, got to speak on the big stage in the plenary hall.

Andrew Moore at Nature Ideas Lab session, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016 Andrew Moore at Nature Ideas Lab session, World Economic Forum, Davos 2016Justine, Anthony, Lorrie Amy, Chris, and Andrew after CMU Ideas Lab, WEF 2016Justine Cassell on Staying Human panel at WEF 2016

I attended a lot of sessions in the plenary hall of the Congress Center. This is where most of the heads of state spoke. In four days I saw the following government leaders speak: the Presidents of Switzerland, Cyprus and Mexico; Prime Ministers of Turkey, UK, Israel, and Canada; as well as John Kerry and Joe Biden (who was interesting, but went on much too long). UK Prime Minister David Cameron was the only head of state I saw speak standing in the middle of the stage with no notes, podium, or teleprompter. Benjamin Netanyahu had the funniest comments when he talked about Israel innovation and explained that Jewish Israeli cows make more milk per cow than any other cows and “every moo is computerized.”

DSCF5268 Joe Biden speaking t WEF 2016 DSCF5346 DSCF5349 David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, WEF 2016 DSCF5412 John Kerry, WEF 2016 Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, WEF 2016

Most thrilling, perhaps, was attending an interactive lunch with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several members of his cabinet. You could sign-up online for interactive lunches and dinners, but many of these events were full by the time academic attendees were allowed to sign up. After seeing that the lunch session I wanted to attend was full I noticed that the Canada lunch still had room so I signed myself up. Lunch was setup at banquet tables for a total of about 60 guests. A member of the cabinet was assigned to each table. When I came into the room I spotted a table that nobody was sitting at, with the name card Trudeau, so I sat down. Prime Minister Trudeau arrived late and when he came in he shook hands with  Naheed Nenshi, the Mayor of Calgary, who was also seated at my table, and then took the microphone and began speaking. Trudeau gave his whole speech standing next to where I was sitting at the table. I snapped several good photos of him against the hotel’s butterfly wallpaper from where I was sitting 2 feet away. He finished his speech and left before I could get a selfie. (I did manage to get a selfie with Nenshi the next day when I ran into him at the Congress Center.) Nenshi was quite entertaining as he MCed the event, inviting the other cabinet members to make brief remarks and asking some pointed questions. I was quite impressed with Trudeau and the other cabinet members, who exhibited an energy and youthfulness that you usually don’t see in American politics. And they are incredibly diverse. Other than Trudeau, the cabinet members joked, they hadn’t brought with them any straight white guys.

DSCF5485 DSCF5497 Lorrie with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi at WEF 2016

My favorite session all week was a panel on “Progress towards Parity” with Melinda Gates,  Sheryl Sandberg, and Justin Trudeau, along with SOHO CEO Zhang Xin and ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising, When asked whether it was difficult to find enough qualified women to make his cabinet 50% women, Trudeau said the only thing difficult was choosing among all the great qualified candidates.


Other highlights included hearing US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker talk about Safe Harbor on a panel with Microsoft President Brad Smith and others, watching Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain moderate a panel on the digital economy, and an interactive dinner for women in science. I took some pictures during Zittrain’s session and went up to talk with him afterwards. One of his panelists, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, was eager to get a photo of herself on the WEF stage, so I told her I would send her the photos I had just taken. At the dinner I chatted with Joe Palca and his wife NIH Deputy Director Kathy Hudson, along with danah boyd.

DSCF5261DSCF5426 DSCF5305

There was a lot of discussion of refugees at Davos, and I attended an interesting simulation session called “A day in the life of a refugee.” As we entered the room, women were handed headscarves and we were told that for the next half an hour we were to obey the guards. A sound track of machine gun fire played, the lights went out, and we were eventually ushered into small, crowded tents. As we lined up for bread and water, guards took our jewelry and cell phones. It was an interesting simulation, but I think some of the power of the experience was lost as I was crawling around in tents with business executives wearing expensive suits. After the simulation concluded, we heard personal stories  from people who had been refugees themselves or had worked at refugee camps. I found that to be the most compelling part of the session. As they returned our phones and jewelry. the session leader handed us postcards for feedback and asked us to list actions we could take to address the refugee problem. However, there had not been much discussion about what we could actually do.

A Day in the Life of a Refugee, WEF 2016A Day in the Life of aRefugee, WEF 2016 - refugee speaking

I was interviewed for the Swiss public radio in a studio in the local public library, which had been turned into a media house.

Reuters house takes over the Davos library + police stand, WEF 2016  Inside Reuters House (Davos Library), WEF 2016DSCF5333

There were not a lot of sessions related to my research interests. I attended an interactive session in which they talked about the growing number of people who were using ad blockers online. They broke us up into small groups, and I joined the group on “trust and user empowerment.” I was amused at this because I was giving talks on this topic as far back as 1997. When the moderator asked us what companies should do to build trust I suggested that companies should actually be trustworthy and actually empower users. This comment did not go over well with the corporate participates in my group. Later I attended a session on privacy that included a lively discussion by panelists who had  somewhat limited expertise in privacy. A number of questions came up that the panelists didn’t have good answers for. During the audience Q&A I answered some of these questions and received a more positive reception. One of the panelists remarked that I should have been on the panel. I noted that most sessions seemed to follow an unwritten rule that there could be at most one woman or one academic on any panel, so this session was already at quota.


Between sessions we explored the Congress Center and the nearby Promenade. We discovered that the Microsoft Cafe served lunch. The lounges were good places for people watching, but it was sometimes difficult to find a seat. A few times I went into the plenary hall just so I could sit down and check my email. You never knew who you would run into in the Congress Center. If there were a lot of people with cameras, there was probably someone famous. Following the cameras led me to the Prime Minister of France, and IMF director Christine Lagarde.

Congress Centre with fresh snow, WEF 2016Anthony having lunch at Microsoft Lounge, WEF 2016Central Lounge, WEF 2016IMG_20160121_082519View of the Congress Centre Plenary Bar and Earth Space, WEF 2016  media scrum surrounding Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, WEF 2016

The most unexpected celebrity encounter was meeting Yo-Yo Ma and his wife in the hallway of the Congress Center. I was introduced to them, shook hands, and mumbled something about being a computer science professor and having enjoyed his concert. Maybe I pointed to my password dress and said something about passwords. I only regret that I didn’t tell him I co-founded a company called Wombat Security and ask him about the time he was photographed on the floor with a wombat. Yo-Yo Ma was super friendly, and seemed to actually enjoy meeting all the people who were eager to shake his hand.

Mary Suresh with Yo-yo Ma and his wife in Congress Centre, WEF 2016

No Davos experience would be complete without Bono. I didn’t get to meet him, but I did see him on stage from the third row when he appeared briefly to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the (RED) campaign.

Bono  at 10th Anniversary of (RED) campaign, WEF 2016 Bono  at 10th Anniversary of (RED) campaign, WEF 2016

Davos is not a great place for eating or sleeping. Before we arrived we had already received dozens of invitations to evening receptions at hotels around Davos. However, once we arrived we realized that our invitations were to only a small fraction of the parties that were taking place. We were able to talk our way into some of these parties, but many had fairly tight security. There were some interesting breakfast events every day but neither I nor any of my colleagues were able to get up early enough to attend them. CMU sponsored a small party at a local chocolate shop, but big companies and even countries sponsored enormous parties with open bars, food, swag, live music, and robots serving beer. Some hotels had so many parties going on that they posted electronic directories to help people find the parties they were looking for.  Friday night I skipped most of the partying to attend the annual (and somewhat hard to get an invite to) Davos shabbat dinner. Sadly, the celebrities were no shows this year, but I did have an enjoyable evening.

Anthony watching beer robot at Infosys reception, WEF 2016 Chris at PWC party in Belvedere hotel, WEF 2016 Indonesia night, WEF 2016 DSCF5439 DSCF5434 directions to lounges at Belvedere hotel, WEF 2016 KPMG reception, WEF 2016 Shabbat dinner, WEF 2016

The last evening in Davos was a formal soiree with music, a large buffet, and lots of swiss cheese. I wore a floor-length gown and 3-inch heels because I don’t have too many excuses to dress up, and how often do you get to wear a ball gown and pose with two St. Bernards? Unfortunately, we had to leave the ball early to rebook our cancelled flights due to East Coast US snow storm.

Davos Soirée: Jazz and African Rhythms at the InterContinental, WEF 2016 Davos Soirée: Jazz and African Rhythms at the InterContinental, WEF 2016 DSCF5813 BKKL5532

So how was Davos? The event is crazy and amazing, and not like anything I have ever been to before. The closest comparison I can make is South By Southwest. Only Davos is colder and had fewer artists, musicians, hipsters, and free tee shirts. And Southby is a festival and Davos is a place where heads of state go to talk to each other and everyone seems to have an agenda. I didn’t go with an agenda, other than to make it through my talk, take it all in, and help promote Carnegie Mellon. I met some interesting people, heard some interesting talks, saw lots of celebrities, and made a few contacts that may be useful for my research or my career.

Scarves, scarves, and more scarves

DSCF7849Last summer I took photos of a bunch of my favorite paintings by Grandma Gladys (see also this article about her and this TV interview), and then turned them into fabric designs on spoonflower.com. I then turned a couple of my favorite designs into infinity scarves, and when I told Grandma about it, she requested one of each. It has taken me a while to make this happen, but with the help of Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs, I now have a big stack of infinity scarves ready to ship to Grandma. These were all printed by Spoonflower on performance polyester. They each use a half yard of fabric (so you get 2 out of a 1-yard cut). Fabric is folded the long way, sewn in a tube inside out, joined at the ends with a small opening, turned right side out, and the opening stitched closed.

I setup a tripod and took a lot of selfies so you could see all the scarves. Since I had enough fabric for 2 of each, I’m keeping the duplicates of some of my favorites for myself… but so hard to decide!

Tartan Tango, now in scarf form

Lorrie modeling Tartan Tango infinity scarf

A few months ago I got a request from the powers that be at CMU to design a scarf based on my Tartan Tango quilt design that they had commissioned when I was on sabbatical back in 2013. I was happy to oblige. I dusted off my Interleave quilt design software and produced a fabric design based on the quilt. After experimenting with the design in both a large and small size, we settled on the smaller version.

But they wanted 50 of them ASAP, which is well beyond what I could possibly sew in a week (or even a year given my current schedule). So I ordered a huge bolt of fabric from Spoonflower and subcontracted the sewing to Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs.  Jen cut the fabric and sewed it on her serger, and was able to deliver the first half of the order within a few days, and the second half not long after.

I also learned a bit about scarf packaging, and acquired suitable glossy white boxes and gold “stretch loops” for a finishing touch (yes, that is the proper term for those gold elastic cords, tied in a bow, that decorate small packages… I just learned that).

I have another slightly smaller project in the works that Jen is helping me with, and will sew a few more scarves myself with fabric I designed from Grandma Glady’s paintings.

25 Tartan Tango infinity scarves

25 Tartan Tango infinity scarves on my kitchen table

Password fashion and home decor roundup

Bad password fabric

I’ve been collecting images of all the cool things that I and others have made with my bad password fabric. The fabric is available from Spoonflower in three size and both with and without the naughty words. It has a purple background and includes 501 passwords. Spoonflower offers a variety of different kinds of fabrics, including a performance knit, basic cotton, and faux suede. They also will print this design on wrapping paper and wall paper.

Bad passwords dress (Security Blanket quilt in background)

Recapping for those who are just seeing this, I designed a series of bad password fabrics based on the most popular passwords stolen in a Rockyou.com data breach. First I made a “Security Blanket” quilt printed on basic cotton fabric in pastel colors. This quilt appeared in Science Magazine and was on display at the residence of the Carnegie Mellon University president for most of last year. Then I designed a purple version of the fabric and made a password dress with performance knit fabric. The dress has gotten some nice press on CNET, the Trib, and the Women you should know blog.

Then my friends started requesting other password apparel. Mary Ellen Zurko commissioned my friend Jen Primack of Upcycled Designs to make her a t-shirt from cotton knit fabric. Then Jeremy Epstein asked for ties, and we found Jen Knickerbocker of LoveCrushDresses and got her to offer regular ties and bow ties in her Etsy shop. The ties are made from cotton sateen.

Bad passwords t-shirtbad passwords tiesbad password bow ties (two)

Then Jen Primack bought an old chair and reupholstered it with my passwords fabric in heavy cotton twill. Doesn’t it look great in my living room?

password chair upholstered by Jen Primack password chair upholstered by Jen Primack

Kristin Briney emailed me to tell me she had made a password dress from cotton poplin. And I just made a password infinity scarf from silky faille (a woven polyester).

Kristin Briney's bad password dresspassword infinity scarf

Password baby quilts and couch throws made out of kona cotton are coming soon….

In the mean time, I’ve gotten many requests to wear the password dress to events. I wore it to give an invited talk at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (where I was referred to as a “password researcher and fashion idol“). I also wore it to a couple of briefings I gave to Congressional staff on Capitol Hill.

Lorrie speaking about passwords at Grace Hopper Celebration Lorrie with Jeremy Epstein wearing password apparel Susie, Lorrie, and Roxana at NSF Congressional briefing

And for those wondering about the different types of fabric. The polyester fabrics are much brighter than the cottons. They are all fairly consistently bright with nice saturated colors. My favorite is the performance polyester, which doesn’t wrinkle and has a little bit of stretch and a nice drape. But it’s not really what you want to use for a quilt or a tie. The kona cotton is a little disappointing because the colors print a little dull. The basic cotton (which is similar to the kona but slightly lighter weight and less expensive), cotton sateen, and the heavy cotton twill produce brighter colors. They aren’t as bright as the polyester, but they are noticeably brighter than the kona cotton. The cotton silk also does not produce bright colors. I think the polyester silky faille might work well for ties and some other applications where you might otherwise use a woven cotton but want brighter colors. It’s a little slippery and harder to work with than cotton though. I got samples of the polyester faux suede and polyester eco canvas. They are both lovely bright fabrics, but I haven’t made anything out of them yet.

1/22/15 update: Von Welch, Director of the Center for Applied Cyber Security at Indiana University Bloomington wore his Password tie for a local TV interview. The reporters loved the tie and commented on it at the end of the interview.

2/6/15 update: Baby quilt in kona cotton finished!

DSCF7245 DSCF7251

7/16/15 update: I made a password bolster pillow for the CMU ECE department head’s conference room.

DSCF0090 DSCF0097

6/28/20 update: Given current circumstances, password masks were required! I printed my design XX small on cotton spandex jersey and lined the inside of the mask with fabric from an old cotton spandex t-shirt (outer layer and lining each cut 10.5 x 5.5 inches; sewn together at top and bottom; left and right sides folded in and stitched to make a casing on each side; long 1-inch strip of stretchy t-shirt fabric pulled through the two casings and tied to make 2 loops to go around the back of the head). Spoonflower also sells masks already made (and lots of other things) for those of you who don’t sew. This link at Spoonflower might work: https://www.spoonflower.com/en/products/2126447-bad-passwords-clean-edition-xxsmall-by-lorrietweet?product=homegoods-kitchen-dining. See also the images and links at https://www.secmeme.com/2020/06/bad-passwords-face-mask.html.

Interleave quilts from all around

I haven’t had time to quilt in way too long, but I have been enjoying the photos of other people’s interleave quilts, based on my instructions.

First Monica emailed me to tell me she was experimenting with interleave quilts. She made some small ones that were lovely. Then she made a gorgeous interleave bed quilt using tartan fabric as a gift for her daughter, who graduated from CMU in May. She even taught a class on interleave quilts for a local quilt store.

Monika’s interleave bed quilt

Then Melissa emailed me a pointer to photos of her beautiful quilts including an interleave quilt in blue, black, and purple. Melissa says, “I decided to use stabilizer to draw the lines on. It worked really well and I didn’t find it took long at all.”

Melissa's interleave quilt

Melissa’s interleave quilt

I wish I had more time to make more quilts myself. But the next best thing is looking at other peoples’ wonderful quilts! Thanks for sharing!

July 2015 update: Julie from South Australia emailed me, “A huge thankyou for your online tutorial on making an interleave quilt. I found your page today, and produced this small quilt, even finishing the binding!”

Interleave Quilt by Julie

Julie’s interleave quilt

August 2015 update: Sandie emailed me: “I recently took a class on interleaves and got hooked experimenting in black and white with a slight touch of color.  It’s been interesting.” Sadie said she took the class from Mel Beach in a group with the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association (check out the link above for lots of other quilts from this class).

3 & 4 crop 1&2 crop


November 2016 update: Rosemarie Waiand from Houston, Texas emailed me: “I have now made several cushion sets, and am thoroughly enamored with this technique.In fact, my samples were quite the hit at my Houston Modern Quilt Guild meeting this weekend! I am especially fond of the ombre fabrics, as the gradation seems to impart an extra set of colors to the mix.”



December 2016 update: This was posted in July but I just came across it. Mel Beach, who lives in San Jose, CA, made lots of “Intriguing Interleaves” including this one below.



September 2017 update: Just saw this blog post from the Diablo Valley Quilters who made lots of cool interleave quilts for their 2015 show.


WWW Oatmeal Honey and Pumpernickel Breads

I have two more white whole wheat bread machine recipes to share today: a brown bread and a white bread.

DSCF0439The brown bread is a pumpernickel bread based on one I found on the back of a bag of Arrowhead Mills Organic Rye Flour. The brown color comes from using cocoa powder. Most of us in my house liked the original recipe pretty well, with it’s nice tangy flavor. But some in my house are partial to sweeter breads, and liked it better when I used honey instead of molasses. One lone holdout does not like caraway seeds at all and would not eat it until I made the recipe with flax seeds instead of caraway. Sesame seeds would probably be nice too, or you could leave out all the seeds. Download the recipe for Whole Wheat Pumpernickel Bread here.

Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal BreadThe white bread is an oatmeal honey bread. This is a basic bread that is simple, but really tasty. I add dry milk for some extra protein and a slightly softer texture, but you can omit the dry milk for a non-dairy version that isn’t much different. Download the recipe for Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread here.

White whole wheat ricotta bread machine goodness

White whole wheat flour has all the health benefits of regular whole wheat flour, but it is made from a different kind of wheat that is softer and has a milder taste. While regular white flour has little nutritional value, white whole wheat flour is actually good for you!

Shane with his muffin project Shane's science fair projectWhen white whole wheat flour started showing up in stores about 10 years ago, I was intrigued. I followed everyone’s advice and started swapping out a third or a half the white flour for white whole wheat to add whole grains to my baked goods. Nobody in my house seemed to notice. Tentatively, I started increasing the whole grain to white flour ratio, and nobody seemed to notice. Thanks to my son’s award-winning sixth grade science fair project I gathered conclusive, scientific evidence that swapping out all the white flour for whole wheat in chocolate chip cookies and in blueberry muffins makes no difference to a classroom full of hungry sixth graders.

In January I decided to replace my family’s still functional, 20-year-old bread machine with a more modern model. It turns out that the era of bread machine baking has come and gone, and most bread machine manufacturers have not come out with any new models in years. So the Panasonic SD-YD250 we bought is actually the top model of the last decade, but it remains the #1 top seller on Amazon.com. And the new machine turns out to be a big step up from the machine it replaced because it has a bigger pan, warms the ingredients, and doesn’t add the yeast until it is time.

Panasonic bread machine, top view Since acquiring the new machine, I have baked bread 2 or 3 times a week, every week. And I have baked only 100% whole grain bread. Baking whole grain bread is trickier than swapping out the white flour in cookies and muffins, because whole grain flour has less gluten than bread flower, and this affects how much the bread will rise. If you are not careful, breads made with whole grain flour can end up pretty dense. There also aren’t that many bread machine recipes that have been tested with white whole wheat flour, because white whole wheat flour was not widely available back when new bread machine cookbooks were actually being published.

Chuck removing the Whole Wheat Ricotta bread from the bread machineI’ve tried some of the whole wheat recipes in the cookbook that came with my bread machine. We’ve enjoyed the 100% Whole Wheat, Honey Walnut, Whole Wheat Yogurt, and Seven Grain bread recipes from that cookbook. I have followed those recipes as written, except for using white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat, and flax seeds instead of sesame seeds in the yogurt bread. I’ve also tried the 100% whole wheat with honey instead of molasses for a sweeter bread. So far I’ve found that any whole wheat bread recipe can be made with white whole wheat flour and the results are excellent.

I’ve also found some bread machine recipes online, and adapted some bread-flour recipes from some other cookbooks to work with white whole wheat, reduce the amount of fat, and work with my bread machine. In general, bread flour recipes seem to work with white whole wheat if you add gluten or if the recipe includes dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or milk). I’ve also successfully removed the butter and oil in a number or recipes and replaced it with apple sauce. As I perfect these recipes, I will share them here.

The first recipe I would like to share is a recipe for Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread that my family loves. Even when I bake the extra large size, it rarely lasts it more than 24 hours in my house. I baked this bread four times in the past couple of weeks to tweak the amount of liquid and experiment with two different kinds of ricotta cheese. Each time it disappeared very fast.

DSCF0210The key to this bread is the ricotta cheese, which makes this bread moist, slightly sweet, and very rich tasting. Use part-skim or low fat ricotta to cut the calories and fat considerably. In my experiments, I found that the part-skim ricotta I used causes the bread to rise a bit more than the low-fat ricotta (that contained less fat). But it is good either way. I haven’t been able to find fat-free ricotta at any of the stores I shop at. I’m guessing that will work well too, but might result in a little bit of a denser loaf. I also made this bread with non-fat greek yogurt instead of ricotta. This was also a lovely bread, but it was not as moist, and did not have the richness or flavor of ricotta bread.

You can download my recipe for Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread here.

Whole Wheat Ricotta Bread, size XL (made with part-skim ricotta)

My quilt in Science magazine

IMG_6002I’m really excited that my Security Blanket quilt won honorable mention in the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge and is featured in an article in the February 7 issue of Science magazine. No, they don’t have a category for quilts, but that didn’t stop me from entering (and winning).

The quilt is currently on loan to Carnegie Mellon University, and is being displayed in the home of our university president. My daughters and I stopped by a couple of weeks ago to check it out.

Science also did a little profile of me in their Career Magazine.

badpasswordAnd for those of you who want to make your own security blankets, pillow, ties, curtains, or dresses, I now have a few different versions of purple “bad password” fabric available by the yard at Spoonflower.com (update: you can get ties made from this fabric too!). You can order it on wrapping paper or wall paper too. I have small and large versions of the print, with and without the naughty words. (The quilt includes all the naughty words for authenticity.)

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5"x39"

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5″x39″


How to make an Interleave quilt

My Interleave quilts are pieced using a quilt-as-you-go technique in which thin strips of fabric are sewn to batting and backing. The interleave design results from cutting these strips from two panels of fabric and piecing alternate strips from each panel. In my quilts, some of the panels are pieced and some are photos printed on fabric. For added interest, I often shift my strips in a wave pattern. The result of this process is a complex-looking quilt that can be pieced quickly from thin strips sewn in straight lines.

Here is a quick tutorial on how I make a small Interleave quilt. I put this together for a 1-day workshop. We will be making a roughly 18 inch square interleave quilt with .5-inch stripes that can be used as a wall hanging, placemat, or pillow top. You can make a smaller sample if you prefer, but I would not suggest going any larger for the class project.


  • 5 fat quarters (or larger) of cotton quilting fabric – Select 4 fabrics that go well together for the top, and 1 backing fabric that can be whatever you want. There should be some contrast between the 4 top fabrics – if they all blend together too much the interleave design won’t stand out. You should have enough left over from the top fabric fat quarters to make a binding. But you are welcome to provide extra fabric for a binding or to turn the finished quilt into a pillow. You will probably be doing the binding at home after the workshop.
  • Gridded cutting mat, at least 18 inches long
  • Ruler, at least 18 inches long (you need a ruler that will allow you to easily cut 18-in long and 1-in wide strips)
  • Rotary cutter
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Ironing pad or towel
  • Sewing machine and needles with a ¼ in. foot (if you have a ¼ in foot with a guide, even better!)
  • Neutral cotton piecing thread (I recommend Aurifil 50/2 in grey, but whatever you like to piece with is fine)
  • Pencil and pen
  • Pins
  • Fat quarter of cotton/polyester fusible batting
  • Fat quarter of quarter-inch grid cotton fabric —  available at http://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/2046219
  • Instructions and templates


Select four fat quarters of four fabrics for the quilt top. They should be fabrics that go well together, but have some contrast between them.

Select four fat quarters of four fabrics for the quilt top. They should be fabrics that go well together, but have some contrast between them.

Interleave - straight

Next elect the style of interleave you want to try. The most basic shape would be straight, with no shifting. If you follow the instructions below and do not shift your fabrics, the result will be something like what you see here to the right. If you want to try this, just join your pairs of fabric on one edge rather than making tubes and skip the part about templates and cutting open the tube.

Interleave - vaseIn the instructions below I used a vase shape (shown here on the left) to shift my interleave design, but there are lots of other designs you might choose.

Below are example of the following shapes: sine wave, mirrored sine wave, skewed sine wave, hour glass, helix, and marquise. These shapes are all based on sine waves of differing frequencies and amplitudes. I generated them all using a computer program that I wrote. But once you have a feel for how this process works you can adapt these designs yourself without the aid of a computer.

Interleave - sine wavesInterleave - mirrored sine wavesInterleave - DNA Interleave - hourglass Interleave - DNA Interleave - marquise

Once you select the shape you want to use, you will need to create a paper template. I have prepared templates for the designs you see here. You can enlarge, reduce, or adapt them to suit your needs. This template is a PDF file designed to print on 11×17 paper.

The next step is to prepare the foundation for your quilt. Since this is a quilt-as-you-go technique, we will be layering the batting with a backing and a foundation. I like to use a fusible batt so I don’t have to baste it. I also find it makes things easier if you mark your foundation fabric with parallel lines. After marking several foundations by hand with pencil, I designed a grid fabric and had it printed at spoonflower.com on basic combed cotton. I know it is a little pricey for fabric you will never see in the finished piece, but it does save a lot of time and effort. If you would prefer, you can use any white or light-colored fabric and mark it with parallel lines, .5-inch apart.

Layer backing, fusible batting, and grid fabric and fuse together.

Layer backing, fusible batting, and grid fabric and fuse together.

After your foundation is prepared, follow the instructions below to cut your fabric and assemble your quilt.

Cut a 18x9.5 inch strip from each fat quarter.

Cut a 18×9.5 inch strip from each fat quarter.

Decide how to pair your strips; I suggest pairing them so the strips with highest contrast are paired together. Place a pair of strips right sides together, and sew along both long edges with a 1/4-inch seam allowance to form a tube (leave the short edges open). Repeat for the other pair of strips.

Decide how to pair your strips; I suggest pairing them so the strips with highest contrast are paired together. Place a pair of strips right sides together, and sew along both long edges with a 1/4-inch seam allowance to form a tube (leave the short edges open). Repeat for the other pair of strips.

Cut out a paper template with shape you will use to shift your strips.

Cut out a paper template with shape you will use to shift your strips.

Lay the paper template on one of the fabric tubes and trace along the edge with a dark pen. Flip the template over and repeat on the other tube.

Lay the paper template on one of the fabric tubes and trace along the edge with a dark pen. Flip the template over and repeat on the other tube.

Cut both tubes open along the lines you just traced.

Cut both tubes open along the lines you just traced.

Press all the seams to one side. You should now have two panels that are cut to match the curves in your design. To make it easier to keep track of your panels, place a piece of tape on each panel and label them "1" and "2."

Press all the seams to one side. You should now have two panels that are cut to match the curves in your design. To make it easier to keep track of your panels, place a piece of tape on each panel and label them “1” and “2.”

Using your dark pen, draw a line down the left edge of the front side of each panel. Remember "the Line is on the Left" so that you know how to orient your panels and strips when you sew them together.

Using your dark pen, draw a line down the left edge of the front side of each panel. Remember “the Line is on the Left” so that you know how to orient your panels and strips when you sew them together.

Starting at the bottom of each panel, use your ruler and rotary cutter to slice a 1-inch strip. You may want to slice several strips at a time, but if you do, I suggest numbering them along the edge so you can keep track of what order they are in.

Starting at the bottom of each panel, use your ruler and rotary cutter to slice a 1-inch strip. You may want to slice several strips at a time, but if you do, I suggest numbering them along the edge so you can keep track of what order they are in.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 2 on the bottom edge of your grid fabric, aligning with the line 1-inch from the bottom edge. The strip should be face up with the edge where you marked the line on the left side. Since the edges of the strip are not perpendicular the alignment with the left and right edges will be approximate.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 2 on the bottom edge of your grid fabric, aligning with the line 1-inch from the bottom edge. The strip should be face up with the edge where you marked the line on the left side. Since the edges of the strip are not perpendicular the alignment with the left and right edges will be approximate.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 1 face down on top of the strip from panel 2. Pin in place.

Line up the bottom strip from panel 1 face down on top of the strip from panel 2. Pin in place.

Using a 1/4-in foot sew along the top edge of your strips. A foot with a 1/4-in guide can make this easier. You may prefer to use a walking foot,

Using a 1/4-in foot sew along the top edge of your strips. A foot with a 1/4-in guide can make this easier. You may prefer to use a walking foot,

Press open your strips. Then cut another strip from the bottom of panel 2 and layer it face down on top of the previous strip you sewed. Sew the next strip in place.

Press open your strips. Then cut another strip from the bottom of panel 2 and layer it face down on top of the previous strip you sewed. Sew the next strip in place.

If your strips are not precisely 1-inch thick, don't worry. You should line up the top of each new strip with the next grid line, even if the previous strip falls a little short of that line. In the even you have a strip that goes over the line, you may want to trim it so you can see the line or use a ruler to help with alignment. You can use pins to hold the strips in place, but you may find that after some practice they are not necessary.

If your strips are not precisely 1-inch thick, don’t worry. You should line up the top of each new strip with the next grid line, even if the previous strip falls a little short of that line. In the even you have a strip that goes over the line, you may want to trim it so you can see the line or use a ruler to help with alignment. You can use pins to hold the strips in place, but you may find that after some practice they are not necessary.

Continue alternating between panel 1 and panel 2 strips until you cover the grid. You may have a couple extra strips left over. (To avoid leftover strips, your grid fabric should be at least .5-inch taller than your fabric tubes.)

Continue alternating between panel 1 and panel 2 strips until you cover the grid. You may have a couple extra strips left over. (To avoid leftover strips, your grid fabric should be at least .5-inch taller than your fabric tubes.)

Once all your strips have been sewn down, your quilt is not only pieced, but also quilted.

Once all your strips have been sewn down, your quilt is not only pieced, but also quilted.

For a little extra pizzaz you may want to do some free motion quilting  or other embellishments.

For a little extra pizzazz you may want to do some free motion quilting or other embellishments.


You can achieve some interesting effects by starting with fabric panels that include interesting shapes. For example, you might cut your fabric into right triangles instead of strips, and interleave them without shifting.

Right triangles Right trianglesInterleaved right triangles

You could use the same panels shown above, form them into tubes, cut them open on a curve, and produce one of the designs below, depending on the shape of the curve you use.

Interleaved and shifted right triangles Interleaved and shifted right triangles

You might also start with panels that have three or more shapes and interleave them as shown on the right below.

side triangles side trianglesinterleaved side triangles

I used this approach to make Interleave #1.

four colored panels, sliced and sewn back together four colored panels, sliced and sewn back togetherIMG_2531

For Interleave #2 I assembled five diagonal strips on each panel. Instead of cutting 1-inch strips for interleaving, I used 1.5-inch strips so that they would end up 1-inch after accounting for seam allowances. In order to keep everything lined up nicely with proper spacing, I had to cut a .5-inch strip after cutting every 1.5-inch strip. These narrow strips are not actually used in the quilt, but they do make for some colorful ribbons. This approach requires more cutting, but a lot less sewing, so the quilt assembly goes faster.

Panels ready to interleave for Interleave#2: Sunset over water Panels ready to interleave for Interleave#2: Sunset over water  Interleave#2: Sunset over water, 24x24" machine pieced and quilted

Finally, interleaving large prints or photos printed on fabric, results in all sorts of interesting possibilities. Below are examples of using wavy striped fabric in Interleave #4, plaid fabric in Interleave #5,  and photos printed on fabric in Interleave #6.

IMG_3421IMG_3527 IMG_4313

Have fun, and let me know how you use this technique!

February 17, 2014 Update!

I’ve been so excited to see the quilts created by some of my workshop participants as well as by a quilter in the San Francisco area, Monica Tong, who found my blog post and followed the instructions to make two quilts. Monica adapted the instructions to use three fabrics in each panel instead of two — which is exactly the idea.


Quilt lecture and Interleave workshop

I will be giving a lecture and teaching a workshop for the Pittsburgh-area “Quilt Company East Guild” later this month. If you are interested in attending either of these events, please contact Sally Janis <SallyJanisQCE@verizon.net>.

Info on both events below from the QCE newsletter.

QCE Guild Meeting 
Monday, January 20, at 7:00 pm, Beulah Presbyterian Church
Lorrie Faith Cranor 
Engineering with Fabric

Question: What happens when you combine the mind of an engineer with the soul of an artist and turn them loose on fabric?

Answer: Magic!

Quilt artist Lorrie Faith Cranor has been exploring design, form, and color since she taught herself quilting as a distraction from her engineering and policy graduate studies in the mid-1990s. Her work is a treat for both the eye and the brain.

She is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where she is director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS). During the 2012-2013 academic year she spent her sabbatical as a fellow in the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University where she worked on fiber arts projects that combined her interests in privacy and security, quilting, computers, and technology.

Lorrie has won a number of awards in local and national quilt competitions. Several of her quilts have been featured on the covers of books and journals. She had a solo exhibit at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum in the Summer of 2013.

Interleave#2: Sunset over water, 24x24" machine pieced and quiltedInterleave#2: Sunset over water - detail

January Workshop 
Interleave Technique
Tuesday, January 21, 9:30—2:00, First Baptist Church in Monroeville 

Here’s a chance to learn Lorrie Cranor’s original Interleave technique. Lorrie’s Interleave quilts are pieced using a quilt-as-you-go technique in which thin strips of fabric are sewn to batting and backing. The images above show one of her finished quilts (left) as well as a close-up (right). The interleave design results from cutting these strips from two panels of fabric and piecing alternate strips from each panel. In Lorrie’s quilts, some of the panels are pieced and some are photos printed on fabric. For added interest, Lorrie shifts her strips in a wave pattern. The result of this process is a complex-looking quilt that can be pieced quickly from thin strips sewn in straight lines. In this workshop, Lorrie will break down her process into easy steps. Participants will create their own unique interleave wall hanging.

Non-member Workshop fee is $30 payable to QCE. There is also a $12 materials fee.


Here is a sample of a project for the Interleave workshop

For more information on Interleave quilts see the blog posts on Interleave 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

To infinity… and beyond!

While I often imagine myself making homemade gifts for everyone on my list, that doesn’t actually ever happen. This year I got a fun idea for one special gift, and liked it so much that I decided to make several more on a similar theme. This year was the year of the infinity scarf (a scarf with the ends sewn together in a loop). But not just any old infinity scarf…. this year I designed three original fabrics, had them digitally printed at spoonflower.com, and turned them into infinity scarves.

The first scarf was inspired by a colorful painting that my grandmother made earlier this year in her art class. The painting is framed and on display on a shelf in my kitchen. I love the bright-colored swirls and spirals, reminiscent of my own doodles, and thought it would look lovely on a scarf. I took a digital photo of the painting and loaded it into Photoshop. I played with it a bit and realized that all I needed to do was tile it in a mirror-image pattern to create an absolutely stunning design. The shapes in the painting combined with their mirror images to form new shapes and an intriguing pattern.

Painting by Gladys Lipton 2013   gladys-668x900    gladys-tile1


I uploaded the design to spoonflower and ordered two yards of performance knit fabric, a washable polyester knit. Then I waited about a week for my custom fabric to arrive in the mail (the worst part of using spoonflower is the wait!).


Two yards is enough fabric to make three infinity scarves using the free pattern from Sewn Studio’s Jersey Infinity Scarf Tutorial. The tutorial was super easy to follow. The hardest part is cutting two yards of this slippery fabric into three 24-inch pieces. I made my first scarf in less than an hour and was quite pleased with the results. The scarf can be worn long, or looped around twice. It can also be knotted in various ways for a different sort of look – although one of the great features of infinity scarves is that you don’t have to mess around with tying them. I made three scarves – one for Grandma Gladys, one for my mother, and one I kept for myself.


I decided to try my hand at some more fabric design. I went back to the Processing computer program I had used to design my Interleave quilts and adapt it for fabric design. My first design is based on my Interleave #3 quilt. I used the same pattern and color scheme, but added gradients so each bar is a lightly different color. The addition of the gradients adds dimension to an otherwise flat design, and makes it almost appear to glow.

My second design was based on my Interleave #4 quilt. Here I completely changed the colors and used gradients to not only add dimension, but also to introduce more colors. I love the way the colored stripes mix to produce the illusion of additional colors. Here you can see the fabric pattern, as well as the scarf being modeled by me as well as by my mother-in-law.

output_20_22_17  Lorrie with interleave infinity scarf 

The infinity scarves were big hits. Here you can see them modeled by my grandmothers and by my mother. Grandma Gladys, second from the left below, made the painting that is featured on the fabric. (Did you guess that we all like purple?)

Gertie, Gladys, Judy, and Lorrie

These fabrics are all available for sale from my shop at spoonflower. You can have them printed on your choice of fabrics (or even wallpaper or gift wrap).


Password dress

IMG_5014This is old news, but just now getting around to posting it. I made a password dress to go with the password quilt. I wore it to the opening of the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show and to give my artist’s talk.  I also wore it to a faculty meeting and disrupted the meeting.

As with the Security Blanket quilt, I generated a Wordle from the RockYou password set, and then edited it in Adobe Illustrator. I selected brighter colors for the dress and had it printed at spoonflower.com on performance knit polyester fabric (UPDATE: You can purchase similar fabric on spoon flower that I created and ties made from this fabric on Easy…. and read about lots of other passwords stuff made by me and other people) I made my own pattern by tracing a store-bought dress I own that fits me well. It is just two pieces of fabric. The only tricky part was finishing the neckline and arm holes. I bought a double needle and used it to do the hem. This was my first foray into sewing with knit fabric.

And here are some more photos from the Computers, Quilts & Privacy show at the Frame. There is also a video of my talk that I will post after it is edited.

Computers, Quilts & Privacy

Quilts from my staybatical will be on exhibit at the Frame Gallery on the Carnegie Mellon campus October 24-November 3, 2013. The Frame Gallery is at 5200 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, on the corner of Forbes and Margaret Morrison.

Artist’s talk
Friday, November 1, 12:30-1:30 pm
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, College of Fine Arts Room 111
Lunch provided, please RSVP to studio-info@andrew.cmu.edu.

Join us for a talk by quilt artist Lorrie Faith Cranor. Lorrie is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where she is director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS) and co-director of the MSIT-Privacy Engineering masters program. During the 2012-2013 academic year she spent her sabbatical as a fellow in the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU where she worked on fiber arts projects that combine her interests in privacy and security, quilting, and computers. In this talk she will discuss these interests and how she combined them during her sabbatical. For directions or more information contact Marge Myers at 412-268-3451.

Opening Reception
Friday, October 25, 2-5:30 pm

Gallery Hours
Thursdays: Oct. 24 + 31, 5-9 pm
Fridays: Oct. 25 + Nov. 1, 2-7 pm
Saturdays: Oct. 26 + Nov. 2, Noon to 5 pm
Sundays: Oct. 27 + Nov. 3, Noon to 5 pm

Exhibit flier
Exhibit poster

Security Blanket

As I’ve been thinking about quilt ideas related to security and privacy during my staybatical at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry all year, the title for this quilt was obvious: Security Blanket. Less obvious was the design of a quilt that would fit this title. Ultimately, I took inspiration from the research on the security and usability of text passwords that I’ve been working on with my students and colleagues. While this quilt started out as an art project inspired by my research, what I learned from creating it will likely influence my future password research.

Security Blanket, machine quilted, digitally printed cotton fabric, 63.5″x39″

Our research group has collected tens of thousands of passwords created under controlled conditions as part of our research. Among other things, we have compared these passwords with the archives of stolen passwords that have been made public over the past few years. Perhaps the largest such archive consists of 32 million passwords stolen from social gaming website RockYou and made public in December 2009. These passwords are notably weak, having been created without the requirement to include digits or symbols or even avoid dictionary words. Security firm Imperva published an analysis of these passwords. More recent analyses of stolen passwords have found that passwords stolen in 2012 are pretty similar to those stolen in 2009.

The media had fun publishing the most common passwords from the RockYou breach. As with other breaches, password and 123456 figured prominently. But after you get past the obvious lazy choices, I find it fascinating to see what else people choose as passwords. These stolen passwords, personal secrets, offer glimpses into the collective consciousness of Internet users.

I asked my students to extract the 1000 most popular passwords from the RockYou data set and provide a list to me with frequency counts.  I then went through the list and sorted them into a number of thematic groups. I assigned a color to each group and entered the passwords with weights and colors into the Wordle online word cloud generator. I then saved the output as a PDF and edited it in Adobe Illustrator to rearrange them in a shape that I liked, with some pairs of words purposefully place in close proximity. I designed a border, and had the whole thing printed on one large sheet of fabric by Spoonflower. When the fabric arrived, I layered it with batting and quilted it. I bound it with matching fabric from Spoonflower that I designed.

Sorting 1000 passwords into thematic categories took a while. While a number of themes quickly emerged, many passwords could plausibly fall into multiple categories. I tried to put myself in the mindset of a RockYou user and imagine why they selected a password. Is justin the name of the user? Their significant other? Their son? Or are they a Justin Bieber fan? Is princess a nickname for their spouse or daughter? The name of their cat? Their dog? (It shows up frequently on lists of popular pet names and a recent surveyfound that the most common way of selecting a passord is using the name of a pet.) Is sexygirl self referential? What about daddysgirl? dreamergenius?

When I didn’t recognize a password I Googled it. Most of these unknown passwords turned out to be ways to express your love in different languages. For example, I learned that mahalkita means I love you in Tagalong. Love was a strong theme in any language; there seems to be something about creating a password that inspires people to declare their love.

Not surprisingly, the top 1000 passwords list includes a fair share of swear words, insults, and adult language. However, impolite passwords are much less prevalent than the more tender love-related words, appropriate for all audiences.

There are a couple dozen food-related words in the top 1000 passwords. The most popular is chocolate and most of the others are also sweets (and potentially nicknames for a significant other), but a few fruits and vegetables, and even chicken make their way to the top as well. Among fruits, banana appears in both singular and plural.

Animals are also popular. While felines appear on the password list in a number of forms and languages, monkey is by far the most popular animal, and the fourteenth most popular password. I can’t quite figure out why, and I don’t know whether or not this is related to the popularity of “banana.”

Fictional characters are also popular, especially cartoon characters. The twenty-fifth most popular password is tigger (which might also be on the list because it is a popular name for a cat). A number of super heroes and Disney princesses also make the list, as well as another cartoon cat, hellokitty. Real life celebrities also make the list, including several actors and singers. While at first I thought booboo might refer to the reality TV star Honey Boo Boo, I realized that the date of the password breach predates the launch of that TV show.

A number of passwords relate to the names of sports, sports teams, or athletes. Soccer-related passwords are particularly popular. There are several cities on the list that I’m guessing were selected as passwords because of their sports teams, especially soccer teams.

Besides the obvious lazy password password, and also PASSWORD, password1, and password2, some more clever (but nonetheless unoriginal) variations included secret and letmein. And I love that the 84th most popular password is whatever.

Some passwords puzzled me. Why would anyone select “lipgloss” as their password. Why not “lipstick” or “mascara”? Perhaps it refers to a 2007 song by Lil Mamma?  Why “moomoo”? Why “freedom”?

Even more popular than the word password were the numbers 123456, 12345, 123456789. Other numbers and keyboard patterns also appear frequently. When I laid out the 1000 passwords on the quilt, I scaled them all according to their popularity. The most popular number sequence was chosen by more than three times as many people as the next most common password and was so large that I decided to place it in the background behind the other passwords so that it wouldn’t overwhelm the composition.

I made a few mistakes when designing the quilt that I didn’t notice until I was quilting it (quilting this quilt provided an opportunity to reflect on all the passwords yet again as I stitched past them). One problem was that when I transferred the top 1000 password list to Microsoft Excel while categorizing the passwords, the spreadsheet program removed all the zeros at the beginning of passwords. As a result there are three passwords that are actually strings of zeros (5, 6, and 8 zeros) that are printed simply as 0. In addition there are three number strings that start with a 0 followed by other digits are printed without the leading 0. Another problem was that the color I selected for jesus, christian, angel, and a number of other religious words blended in with the background numbers when printed on fabric, making those words almost invisible (even though they showed up fine on my computer screen). I had carefully checked most of the colors I used against a Spoonflower color guide printed on fabric, but had inadvertently forgotten to check this particular color. I reprinted about half a dozen of these words in a darker color and sewed them onto the quilt like patches that one might add to repair a well-worn spot.

There are also some passwords that I colored according to one category, and upon further reflection I am convinced more likely were selected for a different reason and should be in a different category, but we’ll never know for sure. I invite viewers to discover the common themes represented by my color-coded categories and to speculate themselves about what users were thinking when they created these passwords. Zoom in on the thumbnail images above to see all of the smaller passwords in detail.

The colors, size, and format of this quilt were designed to be reminiscent of a baby quilt, which I imagine might become a security blanket. Like the passwords included in this piece, a security blanket offers comfort, but ultimately no real security.