There are lots of things my Mom did intentionally, to model proper behavior for my sister and I. Share! Be nice! Eat your cheesecake parallel to the crust! I’m not sure either of the following two things were intentionally done on her part as examples for my sister and I, but they sure stuck.

When I was in seventh grade, my Mom got my sister and I a puppy. A tiny, squirming too-smart-for-her-own-good mutt who knew when it was a friend coming up the walk, effectively blocked a 250-lb repairman from coming near anyone in the family despite her less-than-imposing 7-lb weight and instantly became one of the family. Turns out D.J. was the model by which I now judge all dogs (and to be brutally honest, people), but it was a difficult adjustment to learn how to take care of her, to integrate her daily needs into our lives when we were just kids who wanted to go play.

Right about the same time, my Mom brought home a “laptop.” A huge, hulk of a machine that weighed as much as I did, had a tiny 7″ orange-type screen and a detachable keyboard that formed part of the hard outer-shell case. It ran DOS and made sad little beeping noises when you accidentally typed “D:\” instead of “C:\” at the > prompt. She used it to create really complicated documents, muttering the whole time about “reveal codes” and how she always had to fix other people’s stupid formatting mistakes. But it had Q-Bert and that made putting up with her muttering and carting its bulk up and down the stairs to my room worthwhile. Turns out that big, giant hulk of a machine was the model by which I now judge technology. And–let’s also be brutally honest here–some people (especially the ones who make sad little beeping noises when you make tiny mistakes. Sadly, these people tend not to pass the dog-yardstick test or come with the redeeming Q-Bert install).

Thankfully, the model the dog provided and the model the computer provided serve very different purposes. I know now that dogs and people often live up to the admittedly-high D.J. yardstick, but computers will forever outpace my ability to measure them. And I learned that we add things to our lives because, even if they complicate life in some unpredictable ways, our lives get better. Easier. Faster. More rewarding.

I am who I am–a geek with a willingness to accept that things can’t stay the same forever and a great longing for both fountain pens and bleeding-edge technology–because my Mom brought home the dog and then the computer. Because Mom always questioned her environment and looked for the right thing to change. She got the fantastic dog who added so much responsibility and joy to our lives. She used reveal-codes when most people just selected text and pressed the “bold” key regardless of what might happen.

That means Mom has the longest-running geek-grrl influence in my life, making her my Ada Lovelace Day/Women in Technology/Let’s Honor The World’s First Programmer role model, whether or not that’s what she intended. Instead of hanging back and staying in the typesetting field with which she was so familiar, she taught herself how to code and now runs Web sites. She is–and she will kill me for saying this–nearing retirement age, but instead of coasting and doing stuff that makes her comfortable, she pushes boundaries, tests herself. She’s learned HTML, CSS, and basic scripting in 2 different languages, all in the last 2 or 3 years, and mostly on her own, and that list doesn’t include all the things she’s taught herself beyond the scope of that 2-3 year timeline.

Still, the most important thing I learned from her about technology is even more fundamental: she never uses technology solely for the sake of using technology, and she never sticks old methods solely for the sake of comfort. It’s easy to do both. Newspaper closures all over the country suggest how difficult it can be to break free of an old model, in much the same way that every failed new-new-thing product demonstrates how stupid it can be to do something bleeding-edge solely for the sake of doing something new.

What I learned from my mom is that wisdom applied to technology is the real key. Changes in paradigm that use technology can, when they’re done right and for the right reasons, make life better. Easier. Faster. More rewarding.

And let’s not forget: more fun….

In high school, my physics teacher called it thermoGoddammits, not thermodynamics. And for good reason, because any isolated system will tend to become more disorderly over time, even with intervention. And if constant vigilance doesn’t have an effect, well, then that seems to me like a perfectly good reason to swear.

Swearing also takes work. Effort. Involvement. And I have enough work-effort-involvement elsewhere in life right now, what with conferences, teaching, writing, researching and begging for cash to fund the aforementioned conferences, teaching, writing and researching. It takes lots of work–and swearing–to keep the isolated system I like to call “My Life” from spiraling completely into chaos, so I thought I’d try something different.

I thought perhaps if I let entropy do its work on one part of the isolated system, as embodied by my current pair of WIP socks, I might be able to keep the rest of the system under control.

Randomly Ribbed Sock Toes

Random! Disordered! Unplanned cables! Whee!

This has turned out to be harder than I expected. Either I’m not random enough, or it really does take planned effort to make something look effortless. I’m not sure how to interpret this turn of events. If it takes effort to make something *look* as though it’s descending into an unplanned spiral of madly placed cables, does that mean I can just leave well enough alone in the rest of the “My Life” system and things will fall neatly and nicely into place?

If so, the stupid second law of thermoGoddammits has it all wrong.

Dear other person in the dorm cafeteria:

I am very sorry I stared fixedly at your back for 10 minutes. I was reverse-engineering your sweater, not engaging in some sort of odd lovelorn behavior.

Or perhaps, on second thought, I do have an unrequited crush on your knitwear.

Either way, I’m not creepy. Really. I promise.


People all day have been describing their role in today’s inaugural events–whether they’re spectating live or watching remotely–as “making history.” I felt some of that myself, and that played a role in the fact that I let a(n early American history) class out 5 minutes early so they could see our new president take the Oath of Office live.

Still, the impact of people’s participation in something as momentous today makes me really wish we saw our day-to-day lives as historical artifacts. I’ve been thinking about the many knitted heirlooms people brought in to Knit Purl in to be admired, repaired, copied and reknit. These physical remnants of the things we do every day–the things we take for granted and which others often mock as frivolous–are proof that the mundane is just as much a part of the history we make for ourselves as grand events like this inaugural celebration we’re all watching intently.

And that’s what’s got me really thinking. Today is important, sure, but how can we take rhetoric that makes us feel good and turn it into reality. The only answer I can think of is this: We can’t just make history on big days like today. We have to make history, with intent and vigor, on days like yesterday and tomorrow, with the little tasks we have at hand individually. We have to treat each component of our lives as a little piece of history or we may again lose sight of how much each of us individually contributes to the world around us and to the successful completion of the big tasks that face us as a nation and a planet.

There is something profoundly weird about the life academic. The strange juxtaposition of grade-or-die work binges slammed up against equally intense periods of absolutely nothing can be a little jarring, even though that parabolic cycle of rest and ruin fits my own preference for a very strict, careful division between work and play. I have, if you will, my own little personal firmament* that divides work from play, semester from break.

This winter break, the division between work and play wasn’t accompanied by a plane ride anywhere. Instead, the play** of break wrapped itself around the same geographic surroundings that had marked the real work of the semester. Finding a way to reconcile the change in behavioral patterns without a concomitant change in environment was a little isolating and required quite a bit of readjustment. Ultimately, the new non-geographic way of dividing work from play rendered up any number of worthwhile things, some corporeal and tangible, others slightly less so.

Among the corporeal:

Socks On Ice

Finally! At long last! I had time and leisure to finish the final edits on a basic 2×2 ribbed-sock pattern that has sizing for the forked heel. It’s available for purchase now at Ravelry and it never would have gotten done if not for the photographic stylings of chemgrrl. (Thanks!)

The socks (and a hat/scarf set that is still to come) were accompanied by intangible rewards: personal validation, though that too had a corporeal form in the shape of evaluations from students. Good ones. Really good ones. So good that I’m almost afraid to talk about them any more, lest I jinx myself for this term….

2008 was a very serious test, in many many ways. The early part of last year’s academic summer break, and the accompanying early-summer break-up, tested my will to pursue a life undertaken with great care and intent, and that meant serious consideration for what’s most important in that life. Fall semester brought with it not just another division between work and play, but a growing division between gloomy past and promising future. Friends and family (hey, that’s you!) have provided support in spades, but it still came down to whether or not I could harness all of the help and good will flowing in and channel it effectively in the unexpected process of reshaping my life. As a result, the fall semester was one long pep-talk. I kept reminding myself over and over again that the measuring tape that matters most is the one in my own head, not the one that someone else handed to me.

The ongoing emphasis on internal validation coupled with the strange, isolating, unfamiliar shape of this winter break meant I had lots of time to think. That’s been good, but it also had me feeling a little bit like I was tuned to a different frequency than everyone else. The stack of very important papers sitting next to me, heavy with the penciled-in scribblings of students, proves that occasionally, regardless of how sure you are of what you want, what matters is some sort of sign from the outside world that you and it are orbiting the sun at basically the same rate.

*You know, the firmament? From Genesis? It divides the waters below from the waters above. And God called the firmament heaven? Nevermind….
**”Play“! Hah! Take that, Derridaean critical theorists!

It has been so long since I did anything other than Judy’s Magic Cast-On that I actually goofed in a serious and vital way when I went to cast on for a scarf tonight.

Guess I need to go to remedial knitting school. Think there are night classes for that sort of thing?

Hope you all had a lovely winter holiday (of whatever persuasion) and are prepped for an equally lovely entreé into the 2009 New Year. Pictures of the holiday fog and the new scarf tomorrow. I promise.

I love my camera. My Canon SD1000 is a tiny thing of limitless wonder, and I have spent the last year finding ways to use the Canon camera hack to make my life as a graduate student better after reading a post about it on Lifehacker.

To wit: A 10″x13″ piece of half-inch thick plexiglas and a bendy tripod coupled with the camera hack that takes automated interval shots gets me an upside-down scanner that can shoot high-quality OCR-able scans of a 250 page book in under 20 minutes. Voil√†, an electronic book in PDF format that I can use with Skim to double my reading speed and still take good notes. Truly a life saver when I have a big chunk of reading to do.

But the qualities that make my little point-and-shoot darling a fantastic scanner sometimes get in the way of real photography. Unless you’re made of stone, the camera sometimes doesn’t focus properly, and trying to get a nice photo that’s well lit under any circumstances is a near-impossibility. Even with a decent flash and good ISO control, no photo taken in normal lighting will ever be a great photo because the optics aren’t the best.

Lifehacker to the rescue again. This time, they pointed me toward a DIY photo studio in a box designed to create near-professional lighting and backdrops. I still need to get a better camera, but this will tide me over for the time being…

Macro Photo Studio

The subject? A new pattern, a baby set that’s been turned on its head. The knitting, testing and pattern editing are nearly complete, and it should be out tomorrow. Today. At some point in the next 24 hours. Whatever…. Clearly I need to re-regularize my sleep schedule.

Twisted. Kinked. Matted. Torturous. Snarled. Chaotic.

I could go on.

The sock blank is a truly wondrous thing; its swift changes of color heed not the worrisome siren call of the Fraternal Twin Sock Syndrome, creating a thing of beauty that is, in fact, paralleled by the other thing of beauty right next to it. And knitting two socks at the same time, toe-up, is equally awesome (in the original sense of the word, “something fantastic that inspires awe,” rather than in the Bill-And-Ted’s-Excellent-Adventure sense of the word, “something random that makes Keanu Reeves say, ‘Whoa!’”). The two things together?

Apparently, two rights make a wrong. A very big one.

Things were humming along swimmingly until I hit the heel turn and started to use yarn from one strand at a different rate than yarn from the other. I’m halfway through the heel turn on one sock and have had to slip stitches across to the other heel to work on it just to bring the second, long, unwieldy, difficult, wearisome, obstreperous strand into the world of seemly, appropriate yarn behavior.

As usual, life and art imitate each other, so the week, too, has been twisted, torturous, snarled, chaotic, wearisome and obstreperous. As a reminder that my wounded knitting and wounded week will eventually work themselves out, however, I have full use of my faculties. And my thesaurus.

I spend most of my days–all but a very few a year–on a gerbil wheel, walking the same 20-block route to and from the markers that divide day from night, work from home, classroom duties from research duties.

Friday’s trip took me off of the gerbil wheel and on an almost overwhelmingly sentimental trip to one of the biggest landmarks in a geek’s life: Frys. There were, admittedly, a few non-geek things thrown in for good measure, including a very satisfying trip to an Ann Taylor store that resulted in one of the most coveted shopping experiences a well-endowed woman can have (a good-quality perfectly fitted white button-down shirt in the right size, on sale for less than $20). Still, the indisputable stars of the day were the fumes of computery goodness in that most precious of geek meccas.

On those rare instances when I do set foot off of the gerbil wheel, it’s always a little strange, a little limiting, to come back to it, especially when a trip to Frys feels just a little bit like a homecoming. It’s times like this when I appreciate more than ever one of the projects I undertook at the beginning of the year: a pictorial of change to remind me that my gerbil wheel is as much a thing of beauty as the unchanging haven of silicon that is Frys.

These three photos are all from October of this year, taken from my living-room window, spaced evenly 2 weeks apart. It’s amazing how much can change in the space of a month.

Equally amazing is the lack of knitting that has gone on in the last week, but that is a post best saved for tomorrow.

Or, potentially, both, which is even better!

The pesto is colorful, and it’s in single-serving ice-cube format. How cute!

The knitting has come down to socks, socks, socks and more socks.

The socks are even more colorful! They’re very pretty and one of them is even the product of my own hand-dye.

I’m probably going to rip back the hand-dyed version, though, because I want to put together another pattern with the forked heel in several different sizes. The issue at hand is how to do the ribbing so that the sock pattern itself is a worthwhile contribution to any sock knitter’s repertoire, rather than merely a vehicle for the forked heel. Chemgrrl suggested a column of 3×1 interspersed with 3 columns of 1×1. What do you think?