Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Early Lettuce--Cute Cotyledons

I planted a little patch of lettuce in early February. Most years, such early plantings are unsuccessful--they sprout and freeze, or get washed away in heavy rain, or they mold. This year, the rain did wash all the seed into low spots, but it looks like I might get a bit of early lettuce. It needs thinning, as soon as the plants are big enough to grab hold of.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Great-Grandmas, Balanced Diets, and Cookies

The whole "If your Great-grandma wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it" seems to assume great-grandmas with limited culinary experience. My own great-grandmas grew up during the Irish potato famine, the Prague Upheaval, and the American Civil War. I feel sure that not one of those women was a picky eater. I also know that three of them worked as cooks in rich people's kitchens before they took command of kitchens of their own, and my Prague great-grandma was remembered as a notable cook 40 years after her death in 1938.

In What Would Great-Grandma Eat? - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education, we see some other reasons to wonder about the "great-grandma dictum:"

In 1890, 90 percent of the country's bread was baked in homes. The rest was purchased from tiny neighborhood bakeries. By 1930, this trend had reversed completely: 90 percent of bread was purchased, and purchased from increasingly large, increasingly distant factories. Despite their success, industrial bakers lived in constant fear that bread would lose its place on the nation's tables. Compared with newfangled fruits arriving by refrigerated train from California, or the novelty of modern wonders like Jell-O, bread was just basic. But something remarkable happened during the first three decades of the 20th century. Not only did Americans switch to store-bought bread en masse, but also per-capita bread consumption increased. Modern factory bread wasn't just a more convenient version of the ancient staple; it had taken on new meanings and appeal.

A couple more unrelated food links:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Some Shale Gas Links

Paleoclimate Links: Atmosphere Evolution, Carboniferous Climate

Some paleoclimate references my environmental science students might find useful:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Whose Emancipation Is Next?

Via Northwest History, a selection of negative ads for the presidential race of 1864: The Ads that Could Have Won George McClellan the Presidency. I believe I recognize the organization that paid for this ad in particular.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

To Greet You On St. Patrick's Day

"To Greet You On St. Patrick's Day." There's no message or signature on the flip side, just the address: "Miss Florance [sic] Williamson, Prescott, Iowa, RR3" in black ink and the postmark "Des Moines 1912."

phpMyAdmin and MySQL — Drop Tables

phpMyAdmin and MySQL — Drop Tables with Common Prefix | DigitalWindFire: A handy tip for my Wordpress experimentation--this is how I delete the Wordpress portion of my database without touching the Drupal installation:

WHERE table_name LIKE 'wp_%'
) a INTO @stmt;

PREPARE statement FROM @stmt;
EXECUTE statement;

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wool Double Four-Patch Coverlet--Finished At Last

Wool Double Four Patch

Here it is, tied, bound, and hung on the clothesline for photographs. This double-bed cover is made from my wardrobe from the 1980's and 1990's, with a few squares from a 1970's era blue wool skirt I wore for band concerts, and a red wool bathrobe of my mom's (circa 1950).

Polar Fleece Quilt Backing

I backed the wool top with a pieced expanse of fleece remnants. This was a tricky procedure, as the fleeces were stretchy, each in its own way. I didn't get it perfectly flat when I tie-tacked it with the sewing machine, but I'm pronouncing it "good enough."

Almost All the Squares

You can see that I couldn't wait for the completion of the new clothesline to photograph my completed project. Clothesline is still under construction.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

State launches gas-drilling database for public

State launches gas-drilling database for public  - News - The Charleston Gazette - West Virginia News and Sports -: "CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians interested in oil and gas drilling plans can now study permits and get other details online. The Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas has launched a website with information on horizontal drilling operations. The site was mandated under legislation passed in December."

'via Blog this'

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Knitting Down Memory Lane

pink mohair Fair Isle hat

I've been knitting hats again. I haven't figured out a good way to photograph hats, but I remembered that I have some hat images from this blog, 2005. At that time, I didn't have a digital camera, so I slapped these hats on my flatbed scanner before I consigned them for sale. These look OK squashed flat, I think, because the colors draw the eye. Cabled hats displayed flat have a shriveled, sad look.

The skullcap style hats don't look so great on my own "cannonball" head, and I don't have a mannequin, so I'm brainstorming for some suitable form to make cabled hats look nicely three-dimensional.

Pink wool colorwork hat White Fair Isle mohair hat

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Wild Silk

Yesterday, I needed to make a label for a hat I'd knitted from some 1980's-vintage silk yarn. The search engines showed me this excellent (but not new) article: Silk is the Bomb[yx] (Knitty, Spring 2006) by Michael Cook. Here's what I needed to know:

Species silks, or "wild" (actually semi-domesticated) silks, used to be very hard to find. Nowadays, hand knitters and spinners can get Tussah fibers and yarns in a wide range of colors and preparations, and some vendors even offer Eri and Muga yarns and fibers. Each of these is produced by a different species of moth. In India, which is where most of the wild silks are produced, they are called "vanya" silks; these silks each have a distinctive feel and color, and they are a treat for the hand spinner.

I was equally charmed by Michael's website, where his blog features wonderful chickens as well as all the giant silk moths a gal could wish for. I guess eggs are the common denominator.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Sweater-Knitting with a Sewing Pattern Template

I haven't knit a sweater for a long time, mostly because I haven't been pleased with the fit. I've tried dozens of approaches to alterations, and I've unraveled every one. This winter, I had an idea--why not knit a sweater using a successfully-altered sewing pattern as a template?

I hauled out my much used, much altered Kwik-Sew 2900, selected a couple of lace patterns from my Barbara Walker library, and grabbed some soft and fuzzy synthetic yarn that I got cheap long ago (during the G.H.W. Bush administration in College Park, Maryland, I think).

I knit the cardigan top down, and eventually, it was all one piece. I started at the top because running out of yarn near the bottom is preferable--you can make it a shorter sweater or swap in some other yarn and act like it's a design detail. Also, I rely on frequent tryings-on to check fit and appearance.

Knitting to match pattern pieces would be much easier if one were content to knit flat pieces and sew them together, and sensible people avoid knitting set-in sleeves from the top down, but if I were sensible, I'd order an ill-fitting cardigan from a catalog and just put up with it.

Here follows a tediously detailed description of my method, suitable for some idle moments. (Don't feel obliged to read it.)

I cast on stitches for the width across my shoulders, and knit the top of the back first, shaping the arm scythe by adding stitches on each side. (Circular needles are the way to go here, because there are going to be lots of needles with knitting on them for a while.)

When I was almost done shaping the arm scythe, I got more needles, went to the cast-on, and picked up stitches to make the left side front. I knit downward, shaping the neck edge and the arm scythe by adding stitches at the edges, and I managed the full bust adjustment by making three sets of short rows, which work out to be three nice little darts around the armhole and underarm area. (I tried it on frequently at that point.)

Then I did the same thing for the right front. At this point, I had three sets of needles flapping in the breeze, and I needed to add some more stitches at the underarm areas so the sweater would go around me. I had the extra complication of lace panels down the front, which needed to be on the same pattern row or the cardie would look cock-eyed, and I'm probably not attentive enough to keep track of two different spots in a lace pattern.

This was the least fun part. I made sure I had both sides of the front on the same pattern row, and I figured out how many stitches I needed to add at each underarm. I didn't have exactly the same number of stitches on each side front piece, so this is where I needed x more stitches on the left side and y more stitches on the right side to achieve sweater symmetry.

I picked up the left front needles at the cardie opening point, knit around to the end of that piece, cast on x stitches on that needle, then grabbed the needle with the back on it, and knit it onto the same needle as the left front.

Then, I cast on y stitches to the now-quite-full needle, grabbed the needle with the right front on it, and knit across. At last, I had all three chunks of knitting on the same needle. I knit even for a few more inches, and tried it on again, and, fortunately the fit was fine.

I picked up stitches at each shoulder to match the width of the sleeve cap pattern piece--about three inches.I knit back across, picked up a few more stitches, turned and knit back, picked up a few more stitches, turned and knit back, etc. I decided how many stitches to start with and to add at each repeat by holding the sleeve cap pattern up to my knitting. Eventually, I picked up stitches all the way around the armhole, and started knitting in the round. I shaped the sleeve down to the cuff by decreasing whenever it looked right.

I finished both sleeves, and then resumed knitting the body until I ran out of yarn. Then I crocheted the front bands with a different yarn. (I've never knit a really successful button band.)

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Chaff Which the Wind Driveth Away

I've been reading philosophy and ecology papers, trying to get ahead of my students on the fly with courses I took over mid-semester. Since my personal flight from academia, I have kept up on ecology literature, but philosophy, not so much. I'd be in better shape if the topic were "biology and the literary imagination," or "aesthetics of natural history," or "nature, prose, and poetry." In fact, I'm sneaking in all the Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson I can manage, on the grounds that they are much cited in environmental ethics texts.

Thus, Prairiemary's recent blog post, Meanings of Vegetal Life fit right in with my current reading lists. Mary's introduced me to Deleuze and Guattari in the past, although I can't claim to understand postmodernism enough to explain it in my own words. In this blog post, she reprints a call for manuscripts on "Critical Plant Studies: Philosophy, Literature, Culture."

The goal of the Critical Plant Studies, a new book series at Rodopi Press, is to initiate an interdisciplinary dialogue, whereby philosophy and literature would learn from each other to think about, imagine, and describe, vegetal life with critical awareness, conceptual rigor, and ethical sensitivity....Ethically stated, the aim of the book series is to encourage an incremental shift of cultural attitudes from a purely instrumental to a respectful approach to vegetal beings.

I suspected this overlaps with environmental ethics topics I've been reading about, but I really couldn't imagine how, so I tracked down what I could find by the book series editor, Michael Marder. He has a 2012 publication in Peace Studies Journal entitled Resist Like a Plant: On the Vegetal Life of Political Movements. Here's the abstract:

This brief article is an initial attempt at conceptualizing the idea of political movement not on the basis of the traditional animal model but, rather, following the lessons drawn from vegetal life. I argue that the spatial politics of the Occupy movement largely conforms to the unique ontology of plants and point toward the possibility of a plant-human republic emerging from it.

This is where I run into trouble with modern philosophers. How is this anything more than a search for a metaphor? And isn't this already an ancient trope? Here are King David's botanical similes from Psalm 1, verses 3 and 4:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

This famous simile has moved into politics, from spiritual to protest song: Just like a tree that's planted by the water./ I shall not be moved. Perhaps I can use this to justify shifting the course emphasis from ethical theory to literature. The whole Deleuze and Guattari: Concept of the Rhizome seems to me to rest on an inartful metaphor. I think a "stolon" would better represent lateral, multidirectional movement of ideas.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Iceman's Genome Cometh

I don't know why this fascinates me so, but the Tyrolean mummy they call the "Iceman" has made (or unmade) more science careers than you can shake a stick at. Genome sequencing reveals Iceman Was a Medical Mess

Earlier computer scans had revealed Ötzi's severe arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. But the new analysis shows that Ötzi had a genetic predisposition to the condition, despite the fact that as a hunter-gatherer he had none of what are currently believed to be the relevant risk factors, such as being overweight, getting too little exercise, and smoking or drinking.... He was also the first known carrier of Lyme disease: the sequencing yielded genes from the disease-causing Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium.

I particularly enjoy the way the stories keep changing: Iceman May Have Been Buried in a Ceremony

Researchers have long thought that Ötzi, the 5000-year-old Iceman found in the Alps in 1991, died wounded and alone, perhaps the victim of a raging blizzard. But a provocative new paper tells a radically different story. The first comprehensive map of Ötzi's body and belongings suggests he was ceremoniously buried by his fellows in the warm summer months.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Agriculture and World Water Consumption

I'm currently flapping around the Internets, scavenging for articles suitable for my environmental science classes. The good news is, it's quite interesting; but the bad news is, much of what's interesting is behind pay walls, like that of AAAS. We're left with interesting teasers like this:

Is Agriculture Sucking Fresh Water Dry? - ScienceNOW:

Agriculture accounted for about 92% of the world's water footprint, the researchers estimate. The water needed to grow so-called cereal grains such as wheat, rice, and corn accounted for about 27% of global water consumption; meat and dairy products accounted for another 22% and 7%, respectively. "Grain is the currency by which we trade water," Postel says.

Agriculture's huge water usage offers hope that humans can reduce overall water consumption, Hoekstra says. Improving the efficiency of irrigation, for example, will allow enhanced use of surface water derived from precipitation and reduce dependence on unsustainable withdrawals of groundwater. Each cubic meter of water that's drawn from surface sources, which are generally renewable, is a cubic meter that doesn't have to be pumped from aquifers. Such underground sources of water typically aren't considered renewable at timescales relevant for humans, he notes.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Poetry, Xtreme Essays, and Procrastination

My computational hours are still taken up with preparations for the classes I'm teaching, but Sherry Chandler has posted a miscellany of wonderful links, which should be visited immediately. Her book, Weaving a New Eden, is also wonderful, and should also be read (or in my case) re-read immediately.

Sherry's brief diversions threatened to turn into a longer procrastination episode for me when I discovered Xtreme Walden by Jason Harrington. For example:

In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they should aim for each other, in a profoundly epic game of Walden Paintball. Teams of self-reliant individuals will take cover behind shelving rocks, pines, and majestic beaver dams, to gain Shelter from the withering and varicolored fire of the opposing team. No longer in civilized country, masses of marker-toting men will lead their enemies to be pelted into quiet desperation, until they call resignation.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Amazing Giant Flea Fossil

Follow this link to an amazing insect fossil: Super-sized fleas adapted to feed off dinosaurs--Nature News & Comment: "The flea fossil record consists mainly of modern-looking species from the past 65 million years, and the identity of possible fleas from the Cretaceous period (145 million to 65 million years ago) has been debated by experts. But Michael Engel, a palaeoentomologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and his colleagues have now extended the history of the parasites by at least 60 million years. Their work is published online today in Nature1."

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