25 February 2007

The Alien Illusion

I'd give credit to the souces of this photo, except I don't remember where I got it from. If you recognize it, please let me know.

I mentioned, a few postings ago, that I was going to try knitting the Alien Illusion Scarf with the i-cord cast-on, selvege, and cast-off from Annie Modesitt. Well, I started that this afternoon. I really didn't like it, so I frogged it after about twelve rows. It just didn't work at all.

So then I started again with just the bare pattern. I'd copied the graph on my color all-in-one and blown it up until it was page-sized. That meant I'd clipped off the stitch key. Well, I was just sure that the colored squares on the chart were for the black rows, not the green ones. So I knitted away and, after twenty rows (nearly a thousand stitches), realized that I was knitting a black alien, not a green one. It was frogging time again, rip-it, rip-it, rip-it.

OK, here's the color key. Two rows of green stockinette stitch and two rows of black garter stitch for the background, two rows of green garter stitch and two rows of black stockinette stitch for the design. Or white is green, red (or gray) is black.

I've just finished the twentieth row and it really is a green alien on black this time. What a relief. The yarn, Lion Brand Microspun, is pretty resiliant, but even the best yarn has its limits.

If this scarf comes out looking reasonable, I'm going to do a Space Shuttle Orbiter scarf in white on black, using the planform. I may also try an SR-71 Blackbird planform in black on a blue background. Maybe an F-4 Phantom, too. The hardest part of drawing up the pattern is getting the aspect ratio right. Stockinette stitch and garter stitch arent the same height, so standard knitting graph paper doesn't work.

So, lessons learned:

1. Don't cut the stitch chart key off the copy.
2. If you do, don't pack the book in one of five cartons until you know it's working.
3. Size 4 (US) needles and DK (double knitting) yarn are a little too small to knit for hours.
4. There aren't many knitting patterns for aircraft, particularly classically handsome aircraft like the F-4 Phantom.

23 February 2007

Indecision Strikes The Digital Knitter

Or, at least, sneaks up quietly and stands around looking inconspicuous. It's trying not to draw attention to itself, in hope that it can just vanish while I'm not looking.

We're packing up to go down to Palm Desert, where we have another house, for about three months or until it gets too hot down there to hang around. I've been racing around the house in an absolute frenzy of packing and stacking stuff to take with us. Now that I've got the easy stuff out of the way, I have to figure out what I want for knitting down there.

I can't take my entire stash with me, as it's too big (I've been collecting it for a while, after all). I was thinking I'd take the yarn I bought for warm scarves, which is mostly two or three skeins of very nice stuff, and the fingering and lace-weight yarn that I plan to use for lace. I might also take some of the ribbon yarn for fashion scarves. I'd thought of taking the afghan yarn I got, but I think it's too warm down there already to be knitting an afghan.

Of course, there's an excellent local yarn shop, just around the corner from a fabulous local bead shop, and both about as close to my house as retail stores get. It's just a quick two-mile dash down Washington, over the freeway, and turn right at the first light (Country Club), then right again at the first light.

However, I'm trying to knit from my stash as much as I can. I didn't sign up to do this formally, so I don't have any public promises to keep. I need to do it anyway because my stash is getting too large. I discovered buying yarn on eBay, particularly luxury fibers and hand-painted yarn, and maybe bought a little more than I actually needed. Here in Lancaster my only sources for yarn are Michaels, Walmart, and Joanne's. No wonder eBay looks so good.

The next question is what books to take. I refuse to drag my entire knitting library down, but I'll need part of it. I think, based on the yarn I'm taking, that I'll take scarf and accessory books, as well as the sock books. I'll also take the three Vogue Stitchionary books and the five Harmony Guide books. You can look at my knitting library here. To look at the knitting books, type 'knitting' into the search box, select 'Tags', and click 'Search'. If you see anything there you think I should include, let me know.

The only thing I'm not indecisive about is knitting equipment, needles and stuff. I'm taking all of that. It's already packed up in a nifty rolling crate I got on eBay.

Cool, isn't it? I've also got a couple of these folding crates, without the fabric organizer, that I use a lot. They're really handy, partly because they fold up so small.

21 February 2007


I can't resize the images to have them fit into the format I'm using. You may be able to see all of the map by right-clicking on the image and selecting "View Image". It works that way in Firefox, which is what I use. It should work that way for all versions of Firefox and Mozilla, I believe.

I'll keep working on the problem. Sorry about this.

Here's an update. I'm going to try using the Blog picture function to insert a resized version of the images here. This should work.

Places I've Been

This is a quick map of places I've been. It doesn't include Antarctica, but since that's not a country per se I can hardly complain. It's probably also wrong in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

Create your own visited country map. Try this; it's a lot of fun if you've been anywhere. The site also has similar maps for the US states and the Canadian provinces and territories (I've been to all of the states and to all of the provinces, but none of the territories).

Here's my husband's map; he went to Finland, Ukraine, and Russia before we were married. Actually, he went to the USSR, which then included a lot of states that are independent now, but I didn't include them.

My husband and I decided to travel when we were young, rather than waiting until we'd retired. When we arrived at the airport in Cairo, Egypt, in 1978 we saw a group of older Americans who were waiting to depart for home. Frankly, they looked dreadful. Exhausted, sick, overwhelmed. We decided then and there not to wait to see the world.

NASA sent us both on a number of overseas trips, mostly to NATO or AGARD conferences, but sometimes just to visit aerospace research organizations. For the latter, we mostly took a few days from our own pleasure trips, for which we, not NASA, paid our airfares and expenses. We just saved a day or two of annual leave and had all the security, etc, formalities taken care of by the government. Generally, it's impossible for a foreign national to just drop in on such establishments; invitations have to go through embassies. An example is the CSIRO research establishment in Melbourne, Australia.

In 1991 we spent a month in Australia and a day there, visiting and talking about aerospace research, mostly in relation to F/A-18s, which the RAAF flies. They sent one of their young engineers to Dryden on an eighteen-month exchange tour about two years later. He worked on the F-18 HARV, High-Alpha Research Vehicle, doing stability and control parameter estimation. While he was there, I got him a flight in the variable-stability Learjet, just as I did for Dryden research engineers, to show him what aircraft handling qualities feel like. I also wrangled him a ride in the backseat of an F-18 just before he left. That was a real thrill for him. His exchange tour would probably never had happened if we hadn't stopped by that day and talked with his management about it.

19 February 2007

Costco Trip, Glasses, and More Scarves Knitted

We went to Costco this morning, driven by the need for dog treats and paper towels. OK, there was some other stuff, too, but we resolved not to go through the entire store. We even had a list and stuck pretty close to it.

I was surprised at how much we got for Neil the Collie. The chicken breast strips, fish oil capsules, and glucosamine/chondroitin pills were on the list, but the freeze-dried salmon cubes and sausage treats weren't. Of course, we spoil him outrageously, but he's pushing 14 and we won't have him around for much longer. We lost his brother Buzz to cancer about a year and a half ago. I think Neil might be the last of his litter of nine still alive; he was the firstborn (Buzz was third).

We got batteries and baby aspirin and naprosyn and Tums and paper towels and toilet paper and diet Coke (with and without caffeine) and ciabatta rolls and laundry detergent and fabric softener and potato chips and bread and a paperback mystery and 9-volt batteries. We didn't get bananas (they were out) or pastel K. Bell socklets (but I was seriously tempted) or a fleece blanket or a huge flat-panel TV or a storage bin or any of the other items that caught our eyes at least briefly. We really didn't get anything frivolous, except maybe the paperback mystery. Still, we spent hundreds of dollars.

We'd spent the weekend getting glasses at Lenscrafters. I need reading glasses, bifocals, and bifocal sunglasses. Because I'm so near-sighted without my glasses that I can't reliably find my glasses, I get two pairs of each kind. That way I always have the right glasses for driving, both day and night, and for playing on the computer and knitting. My husband ended up getting three pairs of glasses because he wanted one pair at each house and one pair in his pocket. That was more expensive than going to Costco, but I didn't have to make half a dozen trips unloading the car afterward.

I finished an Argosy scarf variation made from two skeins of Noro Kureyon. It's only three squares wide, not five like in the pattern. The colors are purple, hot pink, rust, orange, and brown and it came out really nice. I'll take a photo tomorrow, when the sun is out, and post it. I'd have taken it today but it rained from about 0300 to about 0900 and was cloudy and dismal most of the day.

I also finished a garter-stitch scarf made of one skein of Red Heart Light & Lofty in burgundy. It's 16 stitches wide, which is eight inches, and not quite five feet long. It's for my friend Pat's daughter, a California girl who lives in South Dakota now and is, she assures us, freezing to death. Pat had picked up the yarn at a sale a whole back and brought it by for me to knit up quickly. I'm going to drop it into one of those UPS plastic bags and send it off 2nd Day Air before the kid gets frostbitten. This was really fast to knit, on size 15 (10 mm) needles but I'm not fond of boucle yarn, acrylic or not.

I started an Alien shadow-knit scarf from Stitch 'n Bitch, using Lion Brand Microspun in black and lime green but frogged it because I wasn't happy with the selveges. I'm going to try the knit-on I-cord selvege that Annie Modesitt uses on so many patterns instead. I just don't like the plain edge.

12 February 2007

Household Repairs

I spent the last seven months in a state of semi-suspended animation and didn't get much done around the house. I was nervous about scheduling anything because I didn't know when something might blow up with my mom. Now I'm clearing up those arrears.

About a year ago, the 1.5-inch clear plastic disk on the kitchen faucet leaped off the faucet and dived into the garbage disposal. Shortly thereafter, not knowing the disk was there, I turned on the garbage disposal. Loud shrieking noises, stench of hot plastic and overheated motor, smoke wafting out--it got my attention right away. I shut down the disposal and let it all cool, then tried to clean the jam. I pressed the reset button, I did the broom handle trick, I used the Allen wrench, I did everything, but it was jammed.

So I did manage to buy a new pull-down faucet in a nice modern-ish style from Overstock.com, as well as a new faucet for the RO filter. That was maybe six months ago. Finally, last week, I called the plumber and, on Friday, the plumber came over and replaced the garbage disposal and installed the faucets. He discovered that the drain assembly had a crack in it and replaced that, too. Is it ever nice to have all that put back together. The faucet is just fine, although taller than I expected.

A couple of weeks ago the top part of the agitator in my washing machine stopped moving. It's one of those extra-large Whirlpools, maybe fifteen years old, that can be repaired forever. Anyway, I looked at Appliance411.com for clues and discovered that it was worn-out dogs on the clothes mover (that's the upper half of the agitator). I'd gotten by washing medium-sized loads, but I was slipping behind, so I called the repair people. I had a call scheduled for last week, but one of their repair men had a stroke and their schedule kind of fell apart. They moved my appointment to Monday. The repair woman arrived right on time and confirmed my diagnosis immediately. She whipped out the old dogs, slipped in the new ones, and put it back together really quickly. She didn't charge me for the service call because I'd known what was wrong, saving time and effort.

My dog, Neil the Collie, defended the house from the repair people by lying in the family room and barking occasionally. He's thirteen and doesn't have a lot of energy, so we thought he was doing pretty well to stay awake the whole time. Needless to say, the service people didn't exactly cringe in terror at his bark.

Neil doesn't know it, but we're getting ready to do the thing he hates most in the world. We're going to load him, with a lot of stuff, into our van and drive down to Palm Desert. It's about a 2.5 hour trip if all goes well. He hates it. He doesn't mind being in Palm Desert; he just hates the trip. He'll be glad to be there, as it's a lot warmer, particularly first thing in the morning. Here it's freezing when he goes out at 0600 or so. Down there it's a lot warmer.

09 February 2007

Knitting A Coracle Or Scribble Lace Or Free-Form....

Some readers have probably realized instantly that I just got Unexpected Knitting, by Debbie New. (Read the Cat Bordhi review if you visit the link.) What a wonderful book!

Like Cat, I'd seen the coracle in A Gathering Of Lace and been greatly intrigued by it. Here were all these lovely lace garments, shawls and stoles and scarves, and suddenly, right in the middle of them was a knitted lace coracle. How could it not fascinate me? It isn't something I'd ever knit, but I was struck by the unorthodoxy and inventiveness of it. After studying it, I wondered if I could knit a lace Space Shuttle or, more modestly, a lace SR-71 Blackbird. I didn't ever try it, but I'd think about it whenever I came across white or black lace-weight yarn in my stash.

About a month ago I went to Amazon.com, looking for Knitting for Anarchists, by Anna Zilboorg. Unexpected Knitting was offered as a companion book, listed in the alternates, and referenced elsewhere, so I went off to look at it. When I read Cat's review and realized that the author was the coracle knitter I knew I had to have this book. I just knew that anyone imaginative enough to knit a coracle had to have written a book I really wanted to read. I was right.

I'm probably not going to knit a coracle or a free-form coat or spiral socks, but I am going to try scribble lace. I'd seen it around in magazines and on the Web, but I hadn't understood it or really seen it until I read about it here. There's a lot more to it than just alternating between fishing monofilament and polar-weight yarn. I've got a couple of skeins of Noro string yarn and some Magnum wool that I'm considering for a scribble lace scarf now. At least that's my starting point. We'll see what eventually results.

In reference to my most recent posting, it looks as if Anna Nicole Smith's death has driven the astronaut scandal right out of the news. I'm sorry that someone had to die to do so, but I'm glad to see the story fade. The poor woman doesn't need more hounding by the media. Nor do the other elements of the triangle, who are, it appears, innocent bystanders in this last event.

07 February 2007

Scandal At NASA

By now everyone has probably heard about the NASA woman astronaut who drove from JSC, in Houston, to KSC, at Cape Canaveral, to assault another woman astronaut, supposedly because of a third, male astronaut. I've known a lot of astronauts, test pilots, and military pilots in my career and I have to tell you that this is really weird.

I mean, no one gets to be a captain in the Navy, a fighter pilot, and a test pilot, much less an astronaut, as this woman has, by being unstable. Obviously, I don't know what happened to her, but I'm pretty sure that after the psychologists and psychiatrists get done figuring it out, they're going to use a lot of Latin- and Greek-based words to tell us she flipped out big-time.

Of course, NASA has reacted to all of this scandal by a) standing behind their astronaut, b) suspending her for thirty days, and c) promising to examine and tighten up the psychological tests they give to aspiring astronauts. The last is about as stupid as NASA gets. There is no magical "astronaut profile" that they can define and measure with all their tests and they're kidding themselves if they think there is.

I'm not saying that any of the astronauts are crazy, mind you, but some of them are a little odd. Sort of like management, if you know what I mean. NASA doesn't give would-be managers a battery of psychological tests before promoting them, though. Maybe they should start....

So many books, so little time...

Hi, I'm Mary and I'm a bookoholic.

I have accomplices in this, including some of the nicest people in AFCA, AFU, and rec.org.sca, not to mention the bloggers. Some of my accomplices are authors (the horror, the horror); not only do I like their books, but I trust their recommendations.

I'm not alone in this depraved addiction. I, like my fellow addicts, have fallen into the clutches of the evil bibliopushers. Amazon.com, overstock.com, amazon.com.uk, abebooks.com, alibris.com, and all the rest have mercilessly tempted us with books. They send us e-mail catering to our interests, their links appear all over the WWW, they're ubiquitous.

Now we bookoholics have internet gathering places where we can display the dreaded symptoms of our hopeless addictions and confess our powerlessness. My forum of choice is LibraryThing, where I use the name shafer. There are others, some more powerful, but this is the first one I found and I like it best. I don't have a lot of DVDs or CDs to catalog, though, so I don't care that LibraryThing doesn't handle them.

It turns out that cataloging the books is almost as addictive as are the books themselves. I bought a CueCat barcode scanner to read in the ISBNs and I find myself carrying multiple stacks of books out to my computer, scanning them in, and lugging them back to the shelves. I'm getting a lot of exercise doing this. Of course, some of my books were printed before barcodes were invented. I haven't yet found one from before the invention of ISBNs, but I'm sure I have some. I've also imported my amazon.com purchases, as well as adding the books from overstock.com.

I've spent more time playing with LibraryThing this week than I've spent reading, I think. Selecting descriptive tags, for example. I hesitate to lead any readers further astray, but I just can't help it. Try one of the library cataloging sites if, like me, you have more than about two dozen books. I think you'll enjoy it.

01 February 2007

Stealth Sighting

I was coming back from Palmdale, via Hwy 14, a couple of days ago and saw an F-117 turning right out of the pattern at USAF Plant 42. It was cranked around in a steep turn, so I got a good look at its planform. Probably not as good a look as I thought, of course, because it's fairly difficult to see much difference between, say, 60° and 90°. Mostly the plane just looks a little too skinny at 60°.

I would have recognized it even if it had been flying level, though. It's pretty distinctive, being the only small black airplane that flies out of Plant 42 or Edwards AFB. It's a cool airplane and I really like it, so I'm always happy to see it flying.

I once had a cow orker quite impressed by my ability to tell F-15Es (the ground-attack version) from earlier F-15 models at a glance. I guess he thought I could pick out the differences, even from a few miles away. I almost didn't have the heart to tell him that the Es were painted a darker gray than the earlier models and that was the only way I could tell them apart.

I could tell F-4Ds and F-4Es apart, from the Dryden ramp, but not much further away than that. There's no way I could have told the F-15E apart that far away.

Speaking of airplane recognition, I have to tell a story about my maternal grandmother during WWII. She lived in Allison, CO, in the Four Corners area. They'd had some itinerant War Department speaker come around and lecture on recognizing enemy aircraft, complete with hand-outs. My grandmother, with her oldest son in the AAC as a B-17 navigator, studied the material carefully. A few months later she saw an airplane which she identified as a Focke-Wulf 190*. She walked into town from their ranch and, using the only phone in town, called the number on the hand-outs. She got a real ration from all her neighbors, who were certain that she'd mis-identified an American airplane because there was no way a German plane would be flying over Allison. She got her own back when the letter from the War Department came, explaining that she had indeed seen an Fw 190, which had been captured and was being tested in the Southwest US.

*I think it was a Focke-Wulf 190, but I could be wrong. I only saw the letter once, when I was about 12 and not very interested in military aircraft.