Handmade To Online

How Etsy gives crafts people access to an online market

By Jian White                                                                                                          

The holidays are on the horizon. People across the country are searching for the perfect gifts to surprise their family and friends with, as well as treating themselves to something special. However, they aren’t shopping only in the traditional department stores anymore.

They’ve taken to the internet to do a lot of their holiday shopping. However, it’s not only the big box stores seeing all this extra influx of customers. Small business owners are seeing it too, even shops that don’t have their own website.

This age of mass produced items has shifted some people’s values. More people want to connect to the people making their items. “I really feel good about buying things that have a story behind them,” said Sophie Mongoven, a senior at Bryn Mawr College. “I also like buying things for myself and other people that you know everyone else won’t have.”

Etsy

“It feels really good when you buy jewelry or accessories and someone asks you where you got it and you can say that it was one of only five made and add in the interesting background story of the owner.” said Mongoven. “That’s why I really like shopping on Etsy compared to bigger stores.”

Shopping isn’t only getting personal. It’s getting handmade.

Mongoven isn’t the only one who enjoys buying unique, handcrafted items with a story. Statista.com reported that Etsy annual merchandise sales had risen to 2.39 billion dollars in 2015 from 895 million in 2012. Etsy is currently the home to 1.7 million active sellers with upwards of 27.1 million active buyers across the world, since opening its online doors in 2005.

Etsy found its niche within the handcrafted world of online goods. It appeals to artisans, thrifters, and crafters alike to showcase their talents and finds with the rest of the world. People are selling every from their vintage clothing to art prints. “It’s really easy to get art prints that aren’t too expensive and not everyone else has on Etsy.” said Mongoven.

The site has built a community around not just for buyers like Mongoven, but also for the crafters that are selling on Etsy itself. That’s what sets it apart from other retailers like Amazon and eBay. Sellers and buyers alike can come together to ask questions and share ideas on Etsy online forums boards. Continue reading

Doing God’s Work

At age 76, this Franciscan nun is still spreading the good word

By Colleen Williamson

Sister Ann Marie Slavin is a self-described rebel.

She buys children’s coloring books, colors the sky green and the grass purple, and doesn’t live by other people’s rules.

“A reluctant rebel,” the Franciscan sister clarifies with a laugh. “You have to be brave to be a rebel, and I’m not very brave.”

As she talks, however, it becomes clear that the sister is more fearless than most. On this brisk mid-October Saturday, it’s hardly been 24 hours since she’s had back surgery, but she’s already back to work. She’s traveled all around the world and worked across the country and now, as Associate Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, blogs about her life and justice issues.

Slavin could certainly write this feature herself; part of her job entails featuring other sisters in her congregation for their website and internal news publication. While the features are called “Spotlight on…,” she finds instead that her fellow sisters often shy away from this spotlight due to their training in humility.

Admittedly, she also tries to steer conversations away from her life, so Slavin knows the right words to get the sisters to open up: she tells them not to focus on themselves, but on their mission. And what is this mission?

Sister Ann Marie Slavin with a statue of St. Francis

Sister Ann Marie Slavin with a statue of St. Francis

“We try to be sisters to everybody that we meet,” she explains. “We try to be a voice to those who have no voice.”

And her voice reaches far. At 76, she has more Twitter followers than an average 17-year-old—an impressive 2,300 people follow Slavin on the social media site, waiting to hear her opinions on anything from her favorite Bible verses to her thoughts on this year’s presidential election.

Slavin is a master both of old and modern media: she not only writes and edits a print newsletter, but also adapted to the shift towards online communication and became proficient with Twitter, Facebook, and online blogging. Continue reading

Meet Madame Rust

That horrid creature at the Fright Factory is a Bryn Mawr student

By Maire Clayton

Weekend nights, Helen Hardiman can be found covered in sliver paint in a dimly lit toolshed. Skeletons, ropes, and blades surround her as she lures customers into their nightmares.

Hardiman is a Bryn Mawr College junior, majoring in English with a double minor in Classics and Education. She plans to become a high school English teacher.

But, for five weeks a year, Thursday through Sunday, she works as a contortionist at The Fright Factory.

The Fright Factory is an evening tourist attraction in Philadelphia. In its few weeks of operation every year, the Fright Factory pulls all its customers for the entire year, brave souls looking for Halloween scares. The 103-year old warehouse features a set of rooms from toolsheds to toxic waste rooms and everything in between. Actors improvise each set.Fright Factory

For Hardiman, the afternoon feels like the early hours of the morning. Her shift starts in the evening and occasionally finishes at 3 a.m. During the interview, she vigorously clawed at the glue remaining on her face from the previous night.

“She’s my baby,” said Hardiman in a giddy voice, referencing the character she created. At work, she transforms into Madame Rust, a girl horrifically disfigured in a factory accident. Ever since, Madame Rust has replaced her injured parts with metal.

Dressed in all black with a corset cinching her waist, Madame Rust is a slender creature with long, wavy, raven hair. Hardiman often hears, “Oh my God, you look like the grudge!”

“She is incredibly polite, to a fault,” said Hardiman. Just do not make her angry or she will spider crawl towards you.

It is impossible for Hardiman to become Madame Rust in the daylight. “She just kind of emerges,” said Hardiman.  “I can’t do her voice or her persona outside of my room of the haunt.”

“You get into a weird zone,” said Hardiman about portraying Madame Rust. “As soon as 7:30 hits, everyone is in character.”

The intense environment does not stop until the lights come back on. Continue reading

The Science of Everything

The rise of environmental science in the classroom

By Sophie Webb

Stepping into the Baldwin School’s main building does not feel like stepping into a school at all. The building, which is a former hotel designed by Frank Furness, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a towering vision of red. The entryway still resembles the lobby it used to be, complete with coat racks, ornate rugs, and a crackling fire.

Students parade by in snappy plaid uniforms, and the essence of the former hotel gradually dissolves into the noise of the lunchroom, the backpacks of the students and the other small clues indicating that Baldwin is no longer a hotel, but an all-girls private school on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

The Baldwin School

The Baldwin School

Although the uniforms and the grandeur give Baldwin an old fashioned air, the institution is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to course offerings like environmental science, a relatively new offering in secondary schools.

Environmental science is the study of the earth through biology and physical science, as well as the examination of environmental issues and potential solutions.

According to the 2012 Horizon Research, Inc. National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, only 48 percent of high schools nationwide offer any sort of environmental science course, and only 18 percent offer more than one year of environmental science. Although these numbers seem low, they have been growing over the past two decades.

In Horizon Research, Inc.’s report on trends in science and mathematics education from 1977 to 2000, they found that from 1993 to 2000, the percentage of high schools offering environmental science courses increased from 24 to 39 percent. Their 2012 report shows that the percent is still on the rise.

At Baldwin, the science department offers two environmental science courses at the high school level, each a semester long. Continue reading

Eat Jewish Food and Be Happy

Warning: This story will make your mouth water

By Sabrina Emms                                                                                                    

At Mama’s Vegetarian on South 20th street in Philadelphia, sabich is served up in a warm whole wheat pita slathered with hummus; a fried eggplant slice nestled next to an hard boild egg and spiced with the hot mango sauce, amba, all wrapped in foil.

Two miles away, at Zahav, a very different hummus is served with roast kohlrabi and a little pool of olive oil accompanied by pita dusted with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend. Salatim & Hummus, salads and hummus, are only the first plates of a many course meal.

Zahav is a prime example of Jewish and Israeli food moving from being street food or individually adopted dishes, like lox and bagels, to a new place as a mainstream upmarket cuisine. While Zahav was not the first modern Israeli restaurant, it has fast became one of the better known ones. Michael Solomonov is the chef behind both Zahav the restaurant, and Zahav the cookbook, as well as Abe Fisher and Dizengoff an authentic hummusiya (a restaurant serving primarily hummus).

Dinner at Zahav's

Dinner at Zahav’s

As Jewish food becomes more popular and more upmarket, there are a growing number of foodies, especially in this do-it-yourself age of food, who desire to replicate iconic dishes, like Zahav’s incredibly smooth hummus. Also Philadelphia based, Soom, is a company that has risen to fill the niche made by the rise of Israeli food. Soom is a distributor of tahini, the paste made of sesame seeds best known as a key ingredient in hummus. In Zahav Michael Solomonov writes, “Israelis love tahina like Americans love Doritos and wrestling — unconditionally, but a little irrationally.”

Tahini used to be considered almost solely as an ingredient in hummus. Now it is gaining a wider place in the American diet. This might reflect the place tahini holds in Israeli food. Zahav has an entire chapter on tahini, including cookies, other dips and halva, a soft, distinctive candy.

Halva is one of the main offerings at Seed + Mill, a counter in Chelsea Market that opened in 2016, which sells tahini and tahini related goods, like halva. Seed + Mill doesn’t have a lot of competition yet, as it, Soom and Brooklyn Sesame are some of the only companies with a focus on tahini specifically. All were opened in the last five years. Soom does not make halva, or anything other than tahini, but they do pay a sort of homage to halva, with a chocolate tahini spread (halva is also popularly chocolate). Continue reading

Polaroid Redux

The return of the instant film camera

By Maire Clayton      

College students are known for hoarding books, alcohol, and ramen noodles. Recently, a blast from the past has flooded into college dorms.

Instant film cameras have found a new home among the young generation.

Though smartphones have dominated the amateur photography industry, the old-fashioned technology has rebounded.

Instant film photography, which was made famous by Polaroid, has carved out a niche as an artsy and fun pastime.

Caroline Link, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, loves instant cameras. On the weekends, she often uses a small Fujifim instant camera with her friends at parties. “There really cool and only artsy people do them,” said Link. “I have only ever used them with my friends.”

Instax Mini 90

Instax Mini 90

“I know people’s angles!” exclaimed Link. “I have an eye for what looks good and what looks unappealing.”

Link believes instant cameras are definitely making a comeback. Almost everyone she knows has one or is about to get one. Link believes instant film is coming back because it is a great way to mark memories with friends. Continue reading

Standing Learning on its Head

It’s called Flip learning and two Bryn Mawr profs are using it in class

 

By Nicole Gildea   

While most breakthroughs in science were discovered in the lab, one recent breakthrough has its origins in an unlikely place, the classroom.

Many science teachers across America are revolutionizing the way they teach by using a new educational model called flipped learning. In a flipped classroom, the lecture part of class becomes homework while the homework part becomes classwork. This happens when teachers make their students learn course material first outside of class. Then in place of a traditional lecture, class time is devoted to written work and to problem solving.

Two physics professors at Bryn Mawr College have adopted this model. One is Kate Daniel.

“I firmly believe in learning by doing,” she said.

Kate Daniel

Professor Kate Daniel

Students in her statistical mechanics and thermodynamics class are assigned reading for homework to introduce them to new topics. They collaborate in class to discuss these topics and to solve problems from the textbook. Daniel says this is when real learning occurs.

Carl Weiman, the 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, helped popularize the idea of the flipped model after making an appearance on NPR this year.

“You give people lectures, and some students go away and learn the stuff,” he said. “But it wasn’t that they learned it from lecture — they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture, it’s just really small.”

More teachers are beginning to flip their classrooms because it helps their students learn better. Scott Freeman, a lecturer at the University of Washington, flipped his introductory biology class to help improve a 17 percent failure rate, The Seattle Times reported in 2012. The course’s failure rate dropped to 4 percent, and the number of students earning A’s increased from 14 percent to 24 percent.

Professor Elizabeth McCormack first introduced flipped learning to Bryn Mawr in 2012 after wanting more time to work on group problem solving with her students.

“One of the challenges of teaching physics is you’re often teaching concepts in physics to students at the same time you’re using a mathematical language,” she said. “It’s difficult to learn two things at once.”

She flipped her electromagnetism class as a result. Here is an overview of how it ran: Students were introduced to concepts outside of class through weekly reading and podcast assignments. They spent class time mastering the mathematical skills related to those concepts by solving problems.

Not all her students were thrilled at first with this new method. Some even came to her office hours asking for extra lectures because they felt they were not learning in class. Continue reading

The Magic of Canning

It all happens in Marisa McClellan’s tiny kitchen

 

By Sabrina Emms   

She may can in her grandmother’s kitchen but she isn’t making her grandmother’s jam. Armed with a potato masher and a worn wooden spoon, Marisa McClellan is a kitchen revolutionary.

McClellan wants to lead city folk back to their tiny kitchens, and, on those modern hearths, breathe life back into the art of canning.

Like other DIY pursuits, canning may be making a comeback. McClellan, through her blog and then her books, has had quite a bit of influence on the Philadelphia canning scene. She is using this influence to encourage adventurous, brave canning, for everyone from beginners to experts like herself.

---- Marisa McClellan

—- Marisa McClellan

In her Amazon author’s profile McClellan looks more scrap booker than rabble-rouser, in her late 30s, with shoulder-length blond hair, and a large, bright, necklace. She looks far too young for old school canning’s target demographic. On the surface, her books promise to teach people to make their own delicious seasonal jams. Her deeper mission is to demystify the production of canned goods, encouraging people to forgo store bought and make their own. She doesn’t sell her jams, jellies, preserves or chutneys,

“Urban canning”, is what McClellan calls it in her books and on her popular blog, Food in Jars. “Up until recently all canning recipes were written for people who were canning in order to have enough food to make it through the winter.” McClellan explained to Mother Nature Network an online new source. Her passion — small batch urban canning — liberates canning from its previous function. Preservation brought McClellan back to canning but her blog has taken spectacular leaps from there. Already a food writer when she started Food in Jars in 2009, McClellan paired innovative, often beautifully colored combinations, with easy instructions and charming anecdotal writing. Soon, gleaming jewel-tone jars filled her shelves and food writing flowed with the ease of a natural talent. “Writing about food felt the most natural, an abundant and juicy area,” she explained.

McClellan isn’t just about unique or intriguing flavors, she also wants to share the joy and satisfaction of canning, and to extinguish some of the fears. “Hear me now. If you stick to the high-acid foods—most jams, fruit butters, and pickles—you are not going to kill anyone,” she writes in her third book, “Naturally Sweetened Food in Jars”. McClellan tells new canners that while there are real dangers in canning, like botulism, the acidity in jams blocks the growth of the botulinum bacteria. Continue reading

A High Price for Being Pro-Trump

Just mentioning his name got this Bryn Mawr student in big trouble

 

By Anna V. Gargiulo

If you stepped onto the campus of Bryn Mawr College on the night of September 20, it would have seemed relatively calm and routine. However, on the Facebook site called Bryn Mawr Ride Share Group, anger and chaos was unfolding among students on campus.

“Nobody has the right to an opinion of bigotry. 0 Tolerance for fascists!

“It would be great if you didn’t invoke the honor code to justify your racism…”

“So, you want to feel safer on your way to make the world less safe for everyone else…?’

Words like “ignorant shit” and “toxic white” were used. There were several hundred comments on the Facebook group, created for the innocent purpose of letting students ask for ride shares or anything else related to transportation.

The avalanche of comments were all aimed at one first-year student: 18-year-old Andi Moritz, of Hershey, Pa.

What did Moritz say to set off such a fierce reaction?

She posted that she was a Donald Trump supporter and asked if anyone wanted to share a ride to a Trump canvassing event in nearby Springfield.

She clearly did not expect her posting would draw such outrage from her classmates. In fact, the incident caused her to leave the college two days after the event, even though she had only recently at Bryn Maw as a freshman a month before.

“My dad is a Republican, my mom is a Democrat; I’ve grown up with political conversation to be very normal,” Moritz said during a recent phone interview from her home. “Most of my friends at high school were very liberal; my boyfriend is very liberal.”

Disappointment could be heard in her voice when she remarked how it upset her that people supposedly committed to freedom of speech and liberal ideas did not respect other people’s political beliefs.

“It’s always been very normal to me to be friends with – even get married to – people who don’t agree with you in the political arena,” she said.political-correctness-at-university

What exactly did Moritz post on Facebook on that Tuesday night in September? It read:

“Do you have anything to do this Saturday…? Perhaps you wouldn’t mind campaigning for Trump? I’m headed into Springfield to do just that but I’m carpooling with a guy I don’t know. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to go alone, so would anyone be willing to go with me?”

Instantly, comments to her post started flooding in from Bryn Mawr students. Moritz shared with me the screenshots of the comments she got.  Though she did not keep an exact count, there were clearly hundreds.

The post and the comments are no longer on Facebook. Moritz deleted both after it attracted negative attention for hours.  They were a mixture of people saying she was a “white supremacist,” “fascist,” and “bigot.” Others tried to ask people to calm down. A few others defended her, saying that: “We shouldn’t be crushing people’s freedom to think how they want to.”

In an interview, Moritz expressed frustration on how, on that night, people were judging her based on her “political beliefs, without bothering to know me or what my stances on things are at all.”

People she knew posted comments defending her; those who were against her had never met her. Even her roommates who were Chinese and Hispanic – two groups Trump has talked about in disparaging ways – stood by her.

“When people started jumping on that very angry bandwagon, I started getting more and more upset,” said Moritz.

At one point, one of her dorm’s peer mentors approached her, but not to offer her support. As Moritz recalls it, the mentor told her where the people commenting against her “were coming from” and said that she had “personally attacked” people on campus by posting on Facebook that she was a Trump supporter. Continue reading

Searching the Maze of Math

A Haverford Professor’s search for bias in algorithms

 

By Audra Devoto

“I like this algorithm; it’s clever” Sorelle Friedler said to her Haverford College class, tilting her head back and admiring what looked to be a tangle of dots on the screen. The algorithm she was referring to could discern which two dots out of millions were closest to each other in the blink of an eye—clever indeed.

Algorithms, or computer programs designed to solve problems, are gradually becoming so sophisticated that referring to them with human qualities is not unwarranted. Now used to make decisions ranging from the advertisements we see to more sinister outcomes, such as the sentencing order a judge might hand down in court, algorithms are quietly and constantly affecting our daily lives.

Friedler is well aware of the power of algorithms. She has purposefully embedded them in her life by studying them in an academic context.

In an interview sandwiched between classes, labs, and meeting with thesis students, Friedler talked easily and with obvious ardor about her research on algorithms.

-- Sorelle Friedler

— Sorelle Friedler

After graduating from Swarthmore College, she attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, where she studied the algorithms that can be used to describe objects in motion. Then she left academia seeking a different kind of challenge: Google.

“It was a lot of fun to get to see inside the belly of the beast for a while,” she recalled almost wistfully. But she said doesn’t miss the corporate atmosphere.

“It doesn’t give the leeway necessarily to work on what you are interested in”, she said, “or to go off on a tangent that might not be related to the task at hand”.

Friedler worked in a semi-secret division of Google called simply ‘X’, on a project aiming to provide universal internet access through weather balloons. If it sounds crazy, well, that’s kind of the point.

“[X’s] goal is really to tackle moonshot problems” Friedler said. But ultimately, Friedler said, “I liked the autonomy of being a researcher in an academic environment.”

Friedler’s current work is a reflection of something that she cares about deeply: discrimination and bias. Continue reading