Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Just a Quick Shag

I bought a couple of balls of Rowan's Tapestry some time ago, and could never decide what to do with it. Too fine for this, too thick for that. Then I was wandering round Ravelry last week when I came across this (hi, Judith!), the wonderful Shag pattern from Knitting New Scarves, knitted in that very yarn. It's not stealing if you steal from the best, so I cast on right away.

I'm nearly half-way through the second skein now and this time I'm managing without a row counter thingy and am counting the purl ridges instead. It's got three of my favourite colours - light grey, mid grey and dark grey - and I love it. I think it's the sixth of these I've knitted.

I did another little coat for my new friend, in Debbie Bliss Pure Cashmere - before you faint, it was the leftovers from my Felicity Hat.

I've picked up Lara again and she's looking beautiful. All the colours have settled the way I wanted them in the collar, no huge swathes of loud green near my face, which was entirely down to good luck. I did change the order of the colours one night when I was knitting in a bad light, but I ripped it the next morning and put it back the way it would have been if I hadn't interfered. The Noro colour master, he knows best.

I've made a jigsaw of this - lots of stripes in the floor and in the colours - see the sidebar.

It occurs to me that everything I've got on the needles just now is something I've knitted before - Shag, Lara and a Forest Canopy Shawl. I must do something about this soon.

Graham Norton Show
If you follow the Yarn Harlot, you'll know that she (or at least her voice) was on the Graham Norton Show recently, when Greg Kinnear was a guest. Then last week, or it might have been the week before - I record it and watch it later - Graham was talking about the German knitting grannies at NetGranny (they're Swiss, but I think he said they were German) and he spoke to one of them, this one. And, I remember a while ago he had Carol Meldrum on the show - not as a guest, but in the front row of the audience. It was when her Knitted Icons book came out and she showed some of them. So, and sorry if I've been a long time getting here, there must be a researcher on the show who's really into knitting. Who will we see next, I wonder?

Photo Blogs
When I'm not peering at other people's knitting, I sometimes peer at their photographs. I discovered the Big Picture earlier this year and have been stunned at regular intervals since. Click on this one to see it full size.

A U.S. Marine patrols with an opium poppy flower on his helmet on March 19, 2009 near Baqwa in Farah province of southwest Afghanistan. (John Moore/Getty Images)

This is from a recent selection on Signs of Spring, and have a look at these for Earth Hour: you can turn the lights on and off in the photos. Cool.

Fuzzarelly, who has a fibre blog, also has a photo blog called Back Roads of Harrison County. All her pictures can be embiggened and some of them have a lovely, lost quality, sort of Andrew Wyeth-y.

The osprey mum is back at the nest. You can see her on the webcam. No, really, you can sometimes. I saw her yesterday, honest. They don't seem to have the sound turned on; I used to like listening to the wind, but maybe they'll turn it on if and when there are chicks to listen to.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

This is my post for Ada Lovelace Day, to commemorate the woman who is known as the first computer programmer, although she was born and died long before computers were invented.

She began her life as the only legitimate child of Byron, the poet, but she didn't know him. Her parents parted when she was tiny and her father showed no interest in her. He died when she was eight. Her mother was a difficult person (you have to ask, did Byron drive women mad, or was he attracted to crazy women?) and Ada had a lot of childhood illness, but it was her mother who ensured that she had an education: one of her teachers was Mary Somerville, who has an Oxford college and a crater on the moon named after her. When Ada was 19, she married an aristocrat, William King-Noel, who subsequently became the Ist Earl Lovelace, so she became the Countess of Lovelace when she was about 24. The Earl was a scientist and member of the Royal Society, so it must have been an interesting household. She had three children, and died at the age of 36. I'm always fascinated by family resemblances and characteristics, so I'm pleased that her great-great-great niece is Dr Honora Smith, who has worked for IBM and is now a lecturer in mathematics.

I won't attempt to summarize her work with Charles Babbage because it has been done better here.

The purpose of today is to nominate a woman, or women, in technology whom I admire. My first impulse was to identify someone who works in a particularly masculine field, someone very hard-edged who had to fight lots of opposition to achieve her curent position - you get the picture. In the end though, I'm naming Jessica Marshall Forbes of Ravelry - in spite of all her achievements, I bet she still gets 'It's just a knitting site,' so I think she deserves extra kudos for that.

My last job before I had to give up work involved setting a up a large database and persuading the people who should have been interested in it to use it. It was, as they say, challenging, but also enormously stimulating, exciting and satisfying. There weren't many of us doing that sort of work in that field internationally and we all knew each other; I can remember going to a meeting with our whole database, then about 200,000 records, on a DAT tape and producing the tiny cassette from my handbag to show off. Everyone was madly impresssed. As well as organizing the structure of information on the database, I was endlessly interested in how people approached looking for it, and how it should be structured in order to make it easy to retrieve. I realize this doesn't make everyone's heart beat faster, but it did mine.

So after I had been sitting at home stewing for a few years, I wasn't actually happy to hear about Ravelry at first. In fact, I was quite jealous. Not to mention eaten up with envy and bitterness. I wouldn't look at it at first. And I wouldn't go on the waiting list. When I read about it on knit blogs, I blanked it. But eventually I got over myself and had a little peek. Then I added my name to the list; even checked at intervals to see how near I was. Then I got my invitation and went in and had a look around. And I was right to be eaten up by envy, because she had done a wonderful job. She had thought of everything.

You can approach your subject by what it is, or what it's made of, or who made it; you can post your own stuff or you can lurk; you can photograph every scrap of yarn that has passed through your hands or gaze at other people's stash; you can see how this shawl looks in that yarn and how this sweater looks on several different sizes of wearer. You can do all of this to the extent that you want, in minute detail or broad brush; there is no pressure. (If you knew how much of my life I have spent considering 'the optimum minimum record' ... )

And not only this, but you can talk about it to all sorts of people about knitting, or enter into furious arguments with them if that's what you like. You can make friends with people you already know virtually, or with ones who have knitted the same socks or ones who live in the same place or ones who have the same disease. Myself, I wouldn't have done that as I don't do social networks (yes, I'm on Facebook but not under my real name, for goodness' sake) but it's what makes Ravelry what it is.

And all of this is so flexible, and it's made to look really easy; no sign on the surface of the pedalling that must be taking place below the water line. It's still in beta and I think maybe it always willl be. Employers (and government) think you can set up a database and then leave it to run itself, but in practice they need attention. Information is organic and if it's left alone it tends to decay or take off in unexpected directions. Jessica's design is never rigid, and to the user it is easy, friendly and endlessly diverting.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, Jessica.

You can follow more Ada Lovelace Day blog posts on the map here, and read them here.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Knits in Action

We have some modelling today, first of all by a boy and a bear. Felicity hat in Mirasol Miski, and ad libbed scarf in Kid Classic.

And now by two boys. Two Felicity hats in Mirasol Miski. These are very effective on the snowboard slopes, I understand.

Aren't they cool? All three of them. Jigsaws at the right (scroll down).

And yes, there has been rather a lot of playing with this, thanks to all of your ferocious enabling, for which I am eternally grateful (see comments, last-but-one post).

And yes, I did get iSteam, and I think it's been worth every penny of 59p.

I also got a knitting app, but it remains to be seen whether I will be any better at tapping than I am at clicking.

And I finished its little coat.

Thanks for the recommendation for French Girl Knits, Cinders. I'll keep an eye out for it. It looks too fiddly for me (I like fiddly shawls, but not fiddly garments: I think the anxiety about fit is too much to bear.)

Thank you, Amy - you're very kind. I'm glad to know you're there.

Thanks to everyone else who dropped in while I was thinking; you are appreciated.

I did try a Mallory, Joan - the first one. I always read books in order, which is tiresome of me but I can't help it. I enjoyed it but couldn't keep track of who was who: this might have been down to my brain fog rather than the author's abilities and I'll certainly read more.

Knitting Mags
I've given up looking so hard for The Knitter. If I come across one, well and good. It's interesting that they've put so much energy into distributing it in the US (Borders, and Barnes and Noble), but not got it into the chain that covers a lot of Scotand and is the largest chain in Britain. I check my local one every time I'm passing and although they have swathes of Knitting, Simply Knitting and on and on, there's no Knitter (can't someone think of more distinctive titles?). I expect Smith's have it, so I'll check next time I'm at the station. I hadn't realized it was monthly and I'm amazed that the UK market can bear as many monthly knitting mags as it does; presumably the same companies are advertising in all of them?

On the subject of distinctive titles, what about 'Designer Knitting', the new name for Vogue Knitting outside the U.S.? They must have been up all night thinking of that one, and the cover looks as if it was designed at gunpoint. I always get the sense that the people who produce VK do so under very difficult conditions, where they're not allowed to talk to each other and no-one has access to a computer. I don't mean that I think it's really like that, just that it seems that way, and there was all that strange business last year when the new editor was disappeared.

The webpage is full of bells and whistles, but is seldom up to date (the About Us page has the old editor's name!) - it doesn't have a direct link to Knit 1, or Knit Simple amongst other things (podcasts are hidden under Web Exclusives); the blog is intermittent to say the least, and the stuff they send out on their email distribution list is frankly poor. They seem to be really struggling and at times it's as if there's a Svengali working there, plotting its overthrow. Interweave Knits do it so much better, particularly the Knitting Daily stuff, which is frequent and lively.

The complication is that Conde Nast own the rights to the name 'Vogue' and Soho Publishing have to pay to use it, but that's not difficult to explain and they could try: perhaps the next issue will have an editorial which includes some effort to make readers outside the U.S. not feel as if they have been cast into the outside darkness. I hope so, and I hope they get their act together, because we can't afford to lose them.

If you're an Annie Modesitt fan and you're in the UK, you might be interested in this, which I spotted while I was wandering recently. I don't think Annie's mentioned them on her blog yet.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Law and Order: UK

I've now watched four episodes of Law and Order: UK, and I have to say I'm a little underwhelmed. I remember a few years ago when CSI: Miami started, a friend of mine said it would be funny if we did spin-offs like that and had The Bill: Newcastle, and we all laughed. I think we were right.

I think one of the oddest things about it is that they've re-used old plots and just re-jigged them. Last week's was a new version of the one that Felicity Huffman was in as a soccer mom-turned-escort, with Elaine Stritch as her defence counsel, and last night's was the one where an old body (you know what I mean) is found at the beginning and turns out to be the victim from an old case; the accused is in prison and has to be re-tried. He has been reading lots of law books while incarcerated, and does a neat job of beating Jack McCoy, sorry, James Steel. If you've watched repeats, and let's face it if you watch L&O you watch the repeats too, you know what's going to happen. There are some changes made to fit with local practice, but the whole thing is like reading one of those web pages that's been translated by a bot. All the characters have been given equivalents, regardless of how detectives or barristers actually work in Britain, and I don't think it works.
A lot of the emphasis on plea bargaining has been retained and it simply doesn't translate: although a sort of plea bargaining takes place in England and Wales, it's not the same. (There has been some discussion of this on the IMDB boards, if you want to follow this up.) Another thing is that there isn't a single legal system in the UK: there separate ones in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would make more sense if it were Law and Order: London. Confused? You will be.

I think a lot of the actors are good.

Bradley Walsh has the Lennie Briscoe role and it's funny seeing him oldified after he played a serial adulterer in Coronation Street (see above with the glasses and right with added mascara), but he's doing a lot with what he's been given. You can see him talking about the role and fattening up for it here.

Jamie Bamber is the cute one, although I think we could be allowed to have an episode off from everyone pointing this out.

Bill Paterson has got lots of opportunities to twinkle.

Ben Daniels was good at first, but last night his character was being so wibbly that it was quite unconvincing. No prosecution counsel would allow himself to look as overwhelmed as that in court, but maybe that's the director's fault, not Ben's. I'm not very convinced by Freema Agyeman: if you think how clever and how hard-working a woman, espcially a black woman, has to be in order to become a barrister, she should be a bit less drippy. I can't help thinking she should dress better too.

The lawyers spend too much time explaining the law to one another, which is always a problem for legal shows, but more annoyingly, they also spend a lot of time getting steamed up about 'justice'. In my experience, which I'm happy to say is limited, lawyers concern themselves with legality, not justice.

There doesn't seem to me to be very much London in it either. Apart from the big set pieces like the Old Bailey, much of it is shot in such tight close-up that it could have been filmed in a car-park in Doncaster.

I wonder how it will pan out. Will it go the way of L&O: Trial by Jury, which I actually found embarrassing to watch even when I was alone, it was so wooden; or will it gain a life of its own? I hope it takes off and that my complaints turn out to be teething troubles.

Real Life
I did jury duty at the Old Bailey in the late '70s. I served on two juries, but of course I can't tell you about it because we're not allowed to discuss what happened. They were fairly trivial cases because it was August and cases from lower cases were being swept up at the end of the summer to get the decks clear, so nothing juicy, thank goodness. The courtrooms we sat in were bland and modern, although we did sit in Court Number One while a clerk took us through some of the routines and I took the opportunity to soak up the atmpsphere.

I found that I would sit there listening to people and think. 'I wonder how this is going to turn out,' and then I would realize that it was real life and it was partly up to me how it was going to turn out, which was very alarming. As always happens when you find yourself in a group of people, strangers, the individuals start to take up different roles. (I got stuck in one of those big lifts in the London Underground once, with about seven people, and I swear it was like an Afternoon Play on Radio 4). We weren't exactly the same group on both cases, but close enough, and I was really reassured by them; everyone took their responsibilities seriously and spent time on going over the details. We were about 7 men and five women; eleven white and one black; eleven straight and one gay; eleven Christians and one atheist, and no, we didn't include a gay black atheist; I don't remember the ratio of middle-aged to young, although I would notice it now.

We were fairly much of one mind. Although we spent time discussing details and establishing why we believed this or that, there were no dramatic Twelve Angry Men moments. In between making life-changing decisions, we chatted about nothing in particular.

In the second case we found the accused Not Guilty and I think the court was flabbergasted; they never satisfactorily explained to us why it might be a crime to sit in a pub with something in your pocket and their evidence gave away far too much about what went on in police stations for us to be interested in punishing anyone else. I was amazed in that case by how unprepared the police were when it came to giving evidence: they actually addressed the female counsel as 'Sir'. I thought at first that this was some bizarre courtroom ritual, but then I realized it was just sheer terror and unfamiliarity with women barristers.

In the other case, I remember watching the accused and wondering if I would be able to tell whether he was lying, and then suddenly realizing that he had stopped lying and it was as clear as day. When the evidence reached a certain point, he relaxed as visibly as if a puppet-master had let go of his strings.

At the end, I collected my expenses - tube fare to court for a couple of weeks, and maybe some lunches, I don't remember - and went and spent it on underwear in Marks and Spencer to cheer myself up.

For those of you thought this was a knitting blog, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Internal Dialogue

I've decided to get myself an iPod Touch for my birthday. I didn't used to get myself presents, especially not ones which cost money like this, because I thought that sort of thing could wait until I was older, richer, maybe more deserving, but while the first is definitely happening I've decided not to wait for the other two.

My birthday is still two months off, so this has sparked an internal dialogue.

You could just go ahead and get it now.

No, you (i.e., I) should wait until the right time.

My Shuffle's packed up and I can't fix it because I've lost the disk. I need the Touch now in case I have to go on a train journey.

You have no train journeys scheduled for the foreseeable future.

But I really want it now.

But if you get it now, it won't seem like a birthday present.

I don't care. There are lots of things I want to do with it now. And there will be more things I will be able to do with it then because new apps are being added all the time. You could use Spotify on it. Have you seen Spotify? It's absolutely amazing. (I understand that theoretically Spotify isn't available in the US, but some people seem to be able to access it so give it a try. You don't actually need an invitation like it says.)

Yes, but you can use Spotify on your home pc. In fact, you do, quite a lot.

Yes, but I could use it on a tiny gadget with earphones and that has to be better.

You don't even know if you would be able to use it at home because you don't have a wireless connection any more; you got rid of it when you upgraded because it slowed things down too much. You don't know where your nearest hotspot is. You might have to go out in order to use it to access the Web.

Don't care.

Short pause.

But I could use it for other things now. I could play Solitaire without getting a numb arm.

That's not really a convincing argument. You could just play less Solitaire. And while we're on the subject, less Mahjong Titans.

I coud get iSteam, the app which makes it look as if the Touch screen is steamed up.


You could get organised about Skype and Fring and use the Touch as a phone.

But I already have a perfectly good deal with Virginmedia which allows me to call anywhere in the UK for free (it depends on how you define free, but we needn't go into that here).

I could get into jailbreaking.

You probably shouldn't invalidate the guarantee. Let's face it, you're more the sort of person who gets an extra year's warranty than the sort who hacks things.

I could watch movies.

Yes, on a tiny screen while you're sitting in front of the television.

I could read ebooks.

Your flat is full of real books, which you can read any time you want.

Yes, but I could read them on a tiny gadget. I might get round to re-reading all sorts of things. I could get my cousin in Indiana to give me his credit card number so that I could download the Kindle app.

Anyway, those are just reasons for getting it, not for getting it now.

But I want it now.

You should really wait until your birthday, or at least a bit nearer it; say, one month before.

What about two months? Next Thursday?

And meanwhile, I can knit little covers for it.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Swift and Scathing Resumption

I did the lace club thing and parcelled up some yarn and patterns. I've marked one of them - Fyberspates yarn and the Adamas Shawl - with the number One, but the rest will be done randomly. One effect of this has been to bring home to me fully just how much lace yarn is lying about the place - this is far from all of it, just the stuff I want to knit first - and has caused some sharp braking on the spending front. Probably not a bad thing.

I finished two more Felicity hats. This one is Drops Classic Alpaca in 4434, used double, very soft and pretty.
This one is black Drops Karisma, which seems harder than the cream Karisma that I used for the Pinwheel but that may be an illusion of some sort. I did this one on two needles instead of four and seamed it up the back, and I think that's made the increases less obvious.The black one is the last one, not the last forever but the last of all the ones I decided to do over Christmas when I was thinking, 'Oh, I could make one for X and one for Y... ' ad infinitum.

Still in the world of accessories, here's a Harry Potter scarf for a teddy bear.

Here's the Sea Silk Forest Canopy blocking. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this one before.

I'm not too nuts about it. I didn't particularly enjoy the yarn, which I found floppy although that might be my fault for using needles that were on the large side (5mm), and the colourway is fairly dull. It's Ocean but it's only blue and grey, no greens at all.

Still, I hope the recipient likes it. It's for my goddaughter and it's intended to introduce her to the idea that might like a shawl or stole for her wedding day. Or indeed a veil. I was thinking about a Pi Shawl veil but I have fallen totally for the Queen Anne's Lace circular shawl, which could be worn as a veil. In fact, I have fallen so hard that I just want to knit it anyway and I don't really care if she wears it or not. She can have it as a doily for her hall table if she likes. It has a mixture of lace and mathematics which makes my heart beat faster. The pattern (I mean the actual recipe, not the design) is interesting in that it's been written by someone who hasn't read many patterns so it does terrifying things like leaving out the plain rows (look at the numbers up the side of the chart) but innovative things like printing the word-by-word instructions side-by-side with the chart. (Is that innovative? I haven't seen it before.)

If I knew whether she was going to wear white or ivory, I would probably have bought the silk and cast on by now, although finding silk that's fine enough might have slowed me down. I want something plied (or do I mean 'thrown'?) for the flexibility: I think I will have to get my head around NMs, which sound a bit too much like NOMs for me to keep a straight face.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Of course I could just knit and then dye it if it wasn't the right shade, couldn't I? Couldn't I? The trouble is that natural silk isn't white so that could be risky.

My back did that thing that it does sometimes and I had to go to the osteopath. She's always very good about fitting me in quickly so I thought I'd do her an FC, this time in Kidsilk Haze. She's pale with black hair so she really suits those shades which can look a bit drab on the wrong person. This is a nice dark bark.

I started this on a bamboo Addi circ, but the joins were annoying me so I switched to an Addi lace circ. It's much better, although I have noticed quite a lot of dropped stitches - not a problem with KSH of course and very easy to detect with this pattern.

This arrived last Saturday. Simple Style by Ann Budd.
When I ordered it from Amazon it had a publication date of June, but it must have arrived early. I ordered it without seeing it because I like the sweater on the cover, and you can't really go wrong with Ann Budd, and I thought it would save me dithering in June.

The only complaint I have about it is that not all the patterns go up to my size; since they're all simple, would it have hurt to do a few more sums and work out the larger sizes?

I know I could do the sums, but there's not much point in buying a book with the word 'simple' in the title and then having to do a lot of sums, is there?

I was wandering around Etsy one night recently and came across these. Aren't they cute? They're from Paper and Yarn, and she dyes wool as well.

She sent me this as a little extra.

More later. Not least, I still have to bring you up to date on Law and Order: UK, which I have been watching diligently on your behalf, and to catch up on comments.