Monday, March 30, 2009

Hoo. Catching our breath

What a week.
The Fool had a computer conference in San Jose, and as we had frequent flier miles to spare and a relatively portable life, Jamie and I went along. The Fool spent his days in the company of geeks, and Jamie and I, with stroller and train map, explored the San Jose area. We opted not to drive, as neither of us wanted to lug the car seat around with us, and I didn't want to navigate unfamiliar highways with Jamie yelling at me.
San Jose is not the most interesting place I've ever been, unfortunately. Japantown was good for an afternoon of walking around (and some fun sushi the night before with the Fool).
Jamie and I went to the children's museum one afternoon, which was great. They have a room set aside for crawlers, with different surfaces for them to crawl over - stairs, undulating slopes, that kind of thing. There are mirrors and lots of toys, and dioramas of stuffed animals with handles and levers that make them wiggle. Jamie was fascinated by a crocodile. The only drawback was that the room was really warm, so I had to keep fighting to stay awake, which made me less-than-fascinating when the other mothers tried chatting. I'm sure they thought I was stoned.

The next day, he graciously accompanied me to the quilt and textile museum. It's a small museum, and now, they have a traveling exhibit of works from China, so they didn't have anything displayed from their permanent collection, which I was curious about. I took this picture of a woven hanging before I saw the sign that said "no photography." So it doesn't count, right? It was my favorite piece.

Jamie was also kind enough to go to the lace museum with me, although halfway through my slow circuit of the room, lost his patience with looking at lace altogether, so we beat a hasty retreat ... to Purlescence Yarns, just a few doors down.

They are very nice to women with screaming babies there. There's a changing table and room to nurse and bookshelves that small people can practice pulling themselves up on, and a little friendly dog who likes to meet people. (Jamie was puzzled by the dog; you can totally tell he's being raised by cats.)
In short, it was the kind of place that upset babies and frazzled mothers can regain their composure enough to pick out sock yarn.

(I decided Socks That Rock was a regional product and counted as an appropriate souvenir.)
We also visited another yarn store in the neighboring community of Campbell. Green Planet Yarn specializes in sustainable fibers and non-wool yarns and I got a huge kick out of seeing all the different kinds of stuff I could knit with. I made it out of there with some made-for-the-store stitch markers and a package of cable needles, although the racks and racks of O-Wool were super-tempting.

Down the street from Green Planet Yarn is a used bookstore, where Jamie and I found not only some books, but Isbn. Here he is. I love working cats. Even if their job seems to be mostly about sleeping in the sun.

Over the weekend, we went to Cincinnati for Pigtown Fling, a big contra dance weekend. It was huge fun. Jamie got to meet more of our friends in the contra community, big and small. He also continued his explorations of the world of solid food. Here he is, sharing a banana with the Fool. I think the arrangement was that Jamie wanted the peel and the Fool ate the innards. We're still working on some of the nuances.

I gave Adina her new monstersocken, which were a lot of fun to knit. I might do this pattern again. It's from "Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn."

I've been knitting a lot of things in dark green recently, and I feel like branching out some tonight. I've got some fun Mini Mochi sock yarn in rainbow stripes that I'd like to knit, but I don't know how the yardage will hold up. Perhaps it's time for me to overcome my unreasonable prejudice against toe-up socks. Someone in knit group mentioned a pattern that starts with a small square you pick up around for the toe. I should go hunt for that.

(story from our sordid past: When the Fool and I were not dating, but I kept seeing him at contra dances, I decided one night to attempt conversation. He was wandering around the back room of the Abbey Pub during the break, honking on this weird instrument. I asked him what it was. He said curtly, "It's a melodica," and went honking off. I thought to myself, "Wow, he's not so friendly, is he?"
Anyway, dear, this one is for you. It's a melodica. I had to pretend I was very interested in photographing this statue of McKinley because I feel a little weird taking pictures of people, even when they're doing their thing in a public park for everyone to see.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thanks, KnitML!

The Child's French Sock, from "Knitting Vintage Socks," made in Socks that Rock Puck's Revenge, knitted from a chart the Fool made using KnitML. See! Lace!
Off to take Figbash in to the repair shop, which is why I didn't make it to knit group last night. Grrr. Hopefully this will be something they can fix today with parts in stock for less than hundreds of dollars.
Ha. Who am I kidding?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Meg can now testify that KnitML has actually, truly been useful to her. The Child's French Sock pattern from Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks only provided written directions, and she thought that a chart would be nice. "Can the Knitimal do this?" she asked. "Why, of course it can!" I replied. Well, at least I suspected it could.

So I entered the part of the pattern she wanted a chart from into the KnitML editor. I crossed my fingers, ran the program and...

Whoosh! It worked!

What's more is that she even commented that it was very attractive looking and that I should take a picture.

At first glance, this isn't all that exciting. There are many programs available today (some of them on the web) that will allow you to type line-by-line instructions and they will convert them into a chart. But if you were to take a closer look at the KnitML pattern, there are two things that are exciting.

The first is the clarity of the KnitML pattern itself. To create this chart, I typed this into a KnitML template file:

Row 1: p1, yo, k1, p1, ssk, k3
Row 2: p1, yo, k2, p1, ssk, k2
Row 3: p1, yo, k3, p1, ssk, k1
Row 4: p1, yo, k4, p1, ssk
Row 5: p1, k5, p1, k1
Row 6: p1, ssk, k3, p1, yo, k1
Row 7: p1, ssk, k2, p1, yo, k2
Row 8: p1, ssk, k1, p1, yo, k3
Row 9: p1, ssk, p1, yo, k4
Row 10: p1, k1, p1, k5

The row-by-row instructions are indistinguishable from a real pattern. That's reason enough to use software from the KnitML Project for your instructions-to-chart conversions. But there's another reason to be excited.

If the pattern were provided to you in KnitML form (by the designer), you wouldn't need to trouble yourself with any of this. You could simply open up the pattern in your KnitML pattern reader, and... voom! All of your preferences would be taken into account, and you would magically have charts if you so desired.

I've told the world about KnitML's chart producing capabilities (well, at least the KnitML Blog and on Ravelry). Unfortunately, I've gotten absolutely no response or feedback from anyone. It's a little disheartening.

Except for Meg, who is finally convinced that this is useful. Sorry it's taking me so long to knit you socks, sweetie!

Monday, March 16, 2009

This post is about poop and the Yarn Harlot

One thing the Fool and I have been utterly stunned about is how two intelligent, well-educated adults can spend valuable dinner conversation discussing poop. Has Jamie pooped today? When? Did the diaper cover contain it? How's the broccoli? Can I get you another piece of chicken?
If this also surprises or grosses you out, uh, here's a couple more pictures of orchids. And then you should go check out this site, which will be - I promise - more intelligent.

Over the weekend, while the Fool had St. Patrick's Month gigs, Jamie and I hopped on a bus and headed for Madison to help Thorny with some spring cleaning and enjoy the Madison Knit In. Saturday morning, we stopped for coffee and breakfast, and headed for the shuttle bus pickup site. We were running late.
This is what we were behind.

Three guys in a slow-moving pickup, and see which one is driving? The one who ought to be sitting on a phone book so he can see over the dashboard.
Anyway, we got there in plenty of time to hear the Yarn Harlot's talk. Jamie had fallen asleep in the sling on the bus, and slept through about a third of the talk and when he woke up and wanted to get out of the sling, it became clear that there was, as the household joke goes, a big prize in his pants.
I went to the back of the auditorium, changed his diaper, and discovered that it was, well, a really big prize. Possibly a jackpot. So we went off to the women's room afterwards so I could wash my hands and his feet and left leg and returned to our seat to hear the rest of the talk.
Which was funny, I think. Because as soon as I sat down, I smelled a distinctive odor again, one that I thought I had removed from my general surroundings, and it started to drive me crazy.
It made the Yarn Harlot's talk sound like this:

"Knitting, brain function, blah, blah, blah ... oh, no, what smells? ... monks meditating ... But I just changed him! ... Joe's old truck, blah, blah, blah ... is it his feet? I washed his feet .... knitting, self-esteem ... maybe his butt? Does he need changing again?! ... hotel room, blah, blah, blah ... his hand? Did he get it on his hand?! ... underpants with 'cowgirl' on the butt ... Are you sure his feet are clean? ... hiding naked behind the ice machine ... better look between his toes ... knitting makes you a better person. Oh God. I think it's on my sleeve."

Nevertheless, I managed to quell my horror - and push up my sleeves - so we could spend a little time (and some money) in the vendor area, and say hello to the Harlot afterward, as the last time Jamie had been to hear her speak, he had still been on the inside. He was asleep again.

Furthermore, he's been busy growing teeth (four on the top!) and this requires him to wake up frequently during the night and so in the photo Thorny took, the Harlot looks about like she does, and I look like someone who was woken up five times a night for three nights running. So, uh, take my word for it. We were there, she was there, it was great fun.

(This is an extra photo I took when I went to look for my wallet and realized my purse had been completely taken over by yarn and Jamie. Sigh, again. All I need is a Tupperware of Cheerios, and I'm done for.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Driving the cold winter away

Last week, my friend Susan called up to see if I wanted to go to a local greenhouse's annual orchid open house. Sure, I said, so Jamie and I met Susan and Liam, her 4-month-old, and Susan's mom and we enjoyed a little break from the Midwestern winter.

I explained to Jamie that it was kind of like visiting his ancestral home. His grandfather, my father, spent a lot of time in greenhouses, either while in college, while teaching or while researching. I have a greenhouse in the back yard that is, unfortunately, in disrepair and something I have to make up my mind about, because it's not a little greenhouse.

It's bigger than the garage and taller than the house.
Helpful friends have suggested I use the greenhouse to, er, grow illicit plants. When I point out that I wish to avoid getting a police record or attracting the attention of the child welfare agency, they suggest that another reasonable thing to grow might be orchids. Because that takes no special knowledge. Hah.

After seeing how it's done, I think not. They're beautiful, but temperamental. We saw one room in the greenhouse that had hundreds of glass jars where the orchids live on growing medium for years before being transplanted to pots and soil.

Anyway, I explained to Jamie that his grandfather liked greenhouses and plants a lot (mostly because he didn't like people so much) and that if he wanted to grow up and hang around in greenhouses, it was a good thing to do - as long as he didn't get himself a police record in the process by following the advice of his mother's insane friends.

And I resisted the urge to buy a $15 houseplant that one of the cats (Spoot? I'm looking at you) would eat. Aren't they gorgeous, though? Such a temptation.

In other plant-related news, I finished my version of the Tulips baby sweater. Although I have a kit, I raided the bag of worsted weight yarn for a selection of blues and greens instead. It's funny; I bought the kit - which is the "girly" version with all the pinks in it - long before I was pregnant, thinking for some reason that I was going to have a girl once I had a baby.

Now I have what's going to be a really nice baby present for someone down the line and a good blue and green sweater for Jamie when he gets a little older. Here it is, unblocked with the ends not woven in on a kid who is a little too small for it yet. I'll put up a better picture when it fits him in a few months.

The next question is, what sock pattern for this yarn? It's Socks that Rock, Puck's Mischief, and I love this colorway with a mad passion.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A new high, or maybe low, for the Fool

"I was walking along today and I really needed to blow my nose, but I didn't have a handkerchief or a piece of paper or anything in my pocket, but then I remembered I had Jamie's sock. So I blew my nose on that. It worked great! Don't worry, I'll wash it before I give it back to him."

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Impaled on the horns of a non-knitting dilemma

... for the animal lovers out there.
As longtime readers of the blog know, chez Sock Knitters, we have three cats. We started with Spoot and Mab, who are females of about the same age, and two years ago, we added Angus, a younger male cat.

('I would like a friend, please. Or else I will bite you.')

Angus and Spoot and Mab have a policy of mutual tolerance now, unless Angus gets in the ladies' faces, in which case Spoot pitches a hissy and Mab smacks him upside the head.
Every so often, if Angus really wants to play, he'll just tackle one of the girls, and then the peaceful quiet is rent with hissing and thumping and a blur of rolling cats goes whizzing past on the hardwoods and the Fool and I are leaping to our feet and waving our arms and, yeah.
Generally, I think Angus would be happier if we played more with him, but we can't always do that, especially since Jamie was born.
Enter the dilemma.
A friend of ours has to get rid of her cats. She has a male cat, Romeo, who is four, but acts like a one-year-old cat - i.e. is very playful - and the Fool and I, in a moment of something, started wondering if Romeo might be a good friend for Angus, someone he can roll around with and wrestle with and do guy-cat stuff with.
On one hand, if Romeo and Angus hit it off, Romeo won't go into the overburdened animal shelter system, and Angus will have a buddy and will quit bothering Mab and Spoot.
On the other hand, if Angus and Romeo do not hit it off, then we will have a house full of four squabbling cats.
Either way, we will have four cats, and the Fool feels like four cats is a line to be crossed - three cats is fine, but four cats is heading down the road to Crazyville and next thing you know, we'll be making tinfoil hats and wearing Kleenex boxes on our feet or something.
A veterinarian friend said basically, either this will work great, or it will be terrible, and the only way to know is to try it.
I'm not sure what to do. Things are OK now. They could be better, but they're not bad. Maintaining the cat status quo (the cattus quo?) would be fine.
What do the experienced cat owners out there think?

(Spoot says, 'maybe with a fourth cat, they'll quit making me pose in dumb hats.')
Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Challenges of Presenting a Pattern

I think every knitter at some point in their lives has been frustrated by a pattern they couldn't understand. Perhaps the wording was vague and a chart would have helped, or maybe the chart was unclear and written instructions would have been better. Maybe the pattern designer assumed familiarity with a certain technique when a more thorough explanation would have helped.

Though many of these challenges are surmountable, some of them are not. What if the pattern were written in a language completely foreign to you, and translation software weren't much help? What if you were visually impaired and your voice browser couldn't read charts, and no written instructions were provided? What if you simply could not figure out what the designer meant by some terminology, and you couldn't get a hold of the designer? You either would have to go to extraordinary measures to get the pattern to work for you, or, more likely, you would give up and move on to a different pattern.

It's unreasonable for us to expect that designers can write a pattern to fit every knitter's preferences. Even if a designer managed to publish a pattern with written instructions in 5 different languages, a chart, English and metric measurements, summary instructions with detailed explanations, all in 5 different sizes, there may still be factors that she didn't consider.

Consider combination knitting, for instance. Knitters who knit combined tend to prefer that decreases are expressed in terms of their lean rather than the technique itself. For instance, a k2tog to non-combination knitters implies a right-leaning decrease. Under certain circumstances in combination knitting, a k2tog, if taken literally as a technique, will actually produce a left-leaning decrease. One solution would be for a right-leaning k2tog to be expressed in the pattern as k2tog-R. While this may be an optimal notation for a combination knitter, it may be more confusing for a Western knitter unfamiliar with this more uncommon convention. What is optimal for one person is not optimal for another.

Considering the wide range of people's preferences, wouldn't it be great if everyone could use a pattern in the format they wanted most? Wouldn't it be incredible if the knitters themselves were empowered to do this, rather than putting the burden on designers and publishers? Is this too much to ask? Is this impossible?

No, it's not. KnitML can and will solve this problem.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Random Thursday

1. I don't know why I needed a recipe to tell me this, but if you take eggplant slices, bread and pan fry them, and then put them on a pizza crust with sauce and mozzarella cheese ... it's an eggplant parmesan pizza and it's very good.

2. I spent last night saying, "Geez, Jamie doesn't seem very interested in crawling long distances; he just likes to try to stand up." Today? I set Jamie down on the floor while I answered the call of nature, so I could keep my eye on him (when, oh when will I ever get to use the bathroom without an audience? Between Jamie and the cats....) and he immediately scooted off to the kitchen and started messing with the cats' water bowl. I think I'll lobby the Fool to set up the play yard so I have a place to deposit the kid when I have to.

3. I was reading Lime and Violet's Daily Chum, and clicked on this link to Norwegian purling, and I'm fascinated. I gave it a try on some 2x2 ribbing I'm working on a sock cuff, and although I think it's looser than my typical continental purling, I'm trying to figure out how to tighten it up, because, wow. I can see how this is much faster than the way I've been doing it, flipping the yarn from back to front with my finger.

4. The Fool had a really good day and I'm going to brag about him for a minute. He had a great performance review at work and got a promotion, so hooray that. It's apparently the kind of promotion that makes a man think maybe he ought to go out and buy a new pair of khakis and get rid of the ones with the frayed cuffs and the mouse nesting in the pocket.
And then, he did something cool with KnitML - and for me, the non-geek, to say it's cool - he trained the Knitimal to make charts out of written directions. He's working on training it to go the other way, too.
He said, "So this is the first useful thing I've done with this, as far as you're concerned."
I said, "No, no, I can see how all of it is good .... yes. I think this is the first useful thing you've done with it."

5. Tried a set of Hiya Hiya dpns for a sweater sleeve I knit at knit group last night. I had some Inox ones, (I think) and they were squeaky and sticky, and I was knitting Cascade, for pete's sake. I like the new needles very much.

6. I'm too lazy to take pictures of my current projects right now, and we're heading out for a little bit of a session anyway, so another day. I've mostly been knitting a pair of socks for my uncle in 2x2 rib, so, erm, that's not exactly groundbreaking. Instead, here's Spoot and Mab, cuddling up on a floor cushion, just like they used to do in the days B.A. (Before Angus.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

10 miles

I have a love/hate relationship with exercise.
Actually, it's more of an intellectual-understanding-of-the-benefits/hate relationship with exercise. I keep trying to find some kind of physical activity I adore and well, I can't. So I've been running. Which I don't hate. I don't love it, either, but at this point, that's good enough.
At the beginning of February, I bribed myself and said if I ran 10 miles on the treadmill at the gym by the end of the month, I could go out and buy Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush, which I've been looking at, on and off, pretty much ever since it was published.
It was close, but I made it, with a mile and a half to spare because it felt really good once I hit 1.5 miles.
I've been having some interesting internal dialogues about motivation and whether, at my age, I should need a bribe to do something which is good for me, and makes me feel better and blah, blah, blah, blah.

To my internal voice, I say this: Shut up. I ran 10 miles in February. And now I'm going to go read my new book.

I jokingly said to the Fool that I planned to run for spending money at Maryland Sheep and Wool. It would be a good system, because unless I start running marathon-length distances (no chance of that), I'd probably be able to earn myself a skein of sock yarn and a bar of handmade soap.
In other news, I finished a pair of socks this week. They're from one of the Trekking yarns, and in the Piers and Waves pattern from the Little Box of Socks. They went to my friend Susan, and a good thing they did, too, because it snowed today.

Rachel called this afternoon to report that she has gotten to the very end of her first sock. I'll show her how to kitchener tomorrow night. Here she is after the gig we had together Thursday night, waving her sock around in a parking lot. She said she's already thinking about the next one.

And finally, Jamie's mobility has increased to the point that the Fool and I packaged up all the yarn not in immediate use (i.e. attached to a pair of knitting needles) and packed it back into the baskets, for an eventual trip downstairs. It was getting a little hairy; every time I turned around, the kid had fished another ball of yarn out. This morning, he ate part of a Mountain Colors sock yarn label. We can't have that, so into the ziplocs it went.