Sunday, November 25, 2007

I've been pretty busy but just had time to learn a bit of JavaScript and the canvas element. Since I'd been playing with cellular automata ideas in knitting, I put together one of those. Pretty!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blogging here is going to continue to be light for the foreseeable future. I am now a member of Ravelry, so that's a more obvious place for me to post knitted projects -- the whole point of doing that was so that other knitters could find my projects as they research what project to do next, as I do. Ravelry was built for that purpose and makes it easier for knitters to post their own projects, and to find other projects done with a certain yarn, or with a certan pattern, etc.

But I did want to post a link to this Telegraph article by Liz Hunt, and that doesn't fit naturally either on Ravelry or on the CommerceNet blog. The article bitterly critiques a book called The Gentle Art of Domesticity (not available in US yet), by Jane Brocket. I wish I could figure out what has Liz Hunt so bitter, because I can't see anything intrinsic in the work of this enthusiastic cook and craftster to inspire the tone. The comments on the Telegraph article vary from wondering how Jane Brocket could be so "perfect" to angry reactions to the article's tone and criticism of a domestic lifestyle.

I've been following Jane's blog since she started it in early 2005, staying as she progressed her writing style and particularly her photographic abilities (from this to this, for example) even as her posts on knitting became more and more infrequent. Most of what she documents and extols I have no desire to imitate. I'd rather bake oatmeal squares and butter tarts than elaborately decorated cakes and "fairy buns". I hate gardening and do not want to live in a remote town or in the country. I do knit and sew but I've been knitting for five times as long as her blog has been up so I already have my own style and inspirations. But it's a gentle, beautiful picture she paints, and it's like visiting an English village house and garden for a quiet moment when I read a new post on Jane's blog.

The only way I can reconcile this with the Telegraph article is the tension over feminism vs. domesticity again. Liz Hunt brings up careers and Shirley Conran in opposition to the domestic values. I haven't got a copy of Jane's book yet but I suppose Jane even started the argument by extolling domesticity as an antidote to ambition and stress. But I'm pretty sure that if a woman wrote a book extolling jogging, swimming, line dancing, playing cello, online gaming, sculpture, reading, bird-watching, photography or dirt-biking as an antidote to ambition or stress, it would be seen as trite at worst rather than threatening.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I frequently try Web applications out just for the sake of seeing what they can do, and usually abandon using them. But I like keeping up with the field, particularly for email, calendaring and task-related applications.

Today I tried one that does all three, that I heard about originally from Rael Dornfest (back when I worked at OSAF; it wasn't available then and it is now). I might abandon this online app too because I like to manage my time offline better than online, but there was one point when testing the application sent a frisson of pleasure down my spine. Usually that reaction is reserved for either more private pleasures, or when fondling yarn.

The site is, launched last year. The site is very smart at telling what kind of note you're creating, detecting todos and events from linguistic cues. For example, it detects Quiltathon on September 30 as an event and puts it on the correct date on the calendar.

The 'frisson' moment was when I created a task to email somebody. It was recognized as a task by the phrase do send mail to So Andso. Then I noticed that the new task had a linked stikkit for a person: "So Andso". When I clicked on that, the automatically-created stikkit had a line reading name: So Andso. I intuited that if I added another line to the stikkit with email: would make the new stikkit into a contact, and voilĂ , it did!

It was a little disappointing to find that while Quiltathon on September 30 was detected seamlessly as an event, September 30: Quiltathon was not. Also when I had a space between the "name: ..." and the "email: ...." lines in my second attempt at creating a contact stikkit, it didn't work until I removed the empty line.

Oh, and I love, love love applications with hotkeys so that I don't have to mouse around. Even better when they can be discovered.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

These cute kid items were knit by Uta Hayward for her son. I'm completely tickled to see the blanket because it's the pattern I published on For the Love of Yarn. It looks very different in the multicoloured yarn chosen by Uta's son, but it looks terrific. I like the way the colour pooling forms little arcs because of the decreases, and that the little arcs are separated by the yarn-over columns. Maybe I'll knit the pattern again myself in multicoloured yarn!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence day. Then again, I'm working today -- I've got IETF stuff scheduled tomorrow with people who aren't in the US and they'll be prepared.

I would have said Happy Canada Day three days ago, but I was travelling home from Canada on that day. There were nice people on the plane with maple leaf body paint or temporary tattoos or something. Even nicer, the man who switched seats to give me more room for the baby, and his wife who held the baby while we switched.

I am having fun despite the work (hey, work's fun too). I just discovered the FireFox plugin Tab Mix PLus, which I have used to set it up so that each new tab opens to my local home page which has quick links to stuff I use a lot. Yay smoother work processes!

I was also sucked into Facebook last week by my cousins and siblings. I initially felt too old but then a bunch of people in my class in grade school and high school contacted me immediately so I already feel like I belong a little. We were making fun of Facebook at work recently. One jibe was that it's a classic force multiplier: it allows you to form cliques and shun people at great efficiency! Before you could only shun people in sight, while out socially -- but now you can shun people anywhere, anytime!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reading Tukey's Exploratory Data Analysis:

If we want to see what our plots ought to tell us, there is no substitute for the use of tracing paper (or acetate). If we slip a well-printed sheet of graph paper just below the top sheet of a pad of tracing paper, we can plot on the top sheet of tracing paper almost as easily as if it were itself ruled. Then, when we have the points plotted, some boundary or reference lines drawn, and a few scale points ticked, we can take away the graph sheet and look at the points undisturbed by a grid. We often gain noticeably in insight by doing this. (And we have had to pay for a sheet of tracing paper rather than for a sheet of graph paper.) [...]

An alternative that:
  • can be even mre effective,

  • is no more expensive,

  • takes a little more trouble to prepare for,

replaces the tracing paper by the thin sheets of transparent plastic (acetate) made for use in overhead projectors. Two cautions are important:
  1. You can only use markers specially made for the purpose. [...]

  2. It is important to keep one's fingers off the plastic until the picture is completed. (A piece of thin graph paper, placed upside down, works very well as a hand shield.)

Much of this classic textbook is obsolete tips and tricks -- e.g. for collecting data on paper and checking that you've copied it accurately to another piece of paper. The notes on cost of tracing paper vs. graph paper vs. acetate strikes me as quite funny now!

I think I learned to graph by hand in school but never had to except as an academic exercise -- I was using graphing software before entering University (summer job in a water testing lab). I wonder what kids today do in school, if they even bother with the academic exercise. I hope so, because it was kind of fun playing with numbers on paper. For some values of fun :)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Random Stuff

If you know me, you know I've been pretty busy and no surprise that I've been neglecting my blog! Rather than let the blog languish for even longer waiting for the perfect post, I'll just be random today.

1. The Atom Publishing Protocol (APP) is up for approval by the IESG this week and I'm the sponsoring Area Director. I'm excited about APP because it will serve as a model or basis for much future work in accessing and editing structured content on the Web. (Will the IETF APP area one day be assumed to stand for Atom Publishing Protocol rather than APPlications?) I observed some of the Atom Interop event last month (summarized by Tim Bray here) and it was great.

2. I am apparently a sucker for some kinds of advertising copy, not necessarily what one would call good copy. Witness: here is the entire Product Description for the ice cube trays I bought online when my freezer was mysteriously not making ice cubes automatically, before it mysteriously started to again.

Ice Cold Fun! These wild and wacky Flexible Ice Trays are just plain crazy. The flexible designs allow ice to just pop out! Its quick and easy. And fun! Better still are the nutty shapes the ice forms into Stars or Hearts! Wild! Fun! Each tray container contains twelve individual molds perfect for all the fun ice youll be making. Blue star tray and pink heart tray. Made of high quality rubber.

Nutty shapes! Wild and wacky! Oh the fun we'll have with ice cubes!

3. I continue to knit stuff. I just don't have time to post about it any more. Here's a shot of me with other knitters at a meetup at Nine Rubies, and the project at my feet is now a completed scarf (with an estimated 40,000 stitches, which is why I normally don't calculate stitch counts).

4. I also made a mei-tai baby carrier. Again, this photo is obviously not taken by me, otherwise I probably wouldn't have a photo of the carrier at all. I don't even have photos of the sweater or bag I finished a while back.

5. Looks like IETF Chicago will be exciting: the Apps area will have BOF meetings on HTTP, notifications from email stores, and personal address book access.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"For the Love of Yarn", an online knitting magazine, has now published my Cielo baby blanket pattern in their spring '07 issue. Oh the fame!

Seriously I did get a query already about yarn substitutions. I knit this with "Den-m-nit" but that appears to be discontinued. There are two special effects inherent in this yarn: one is that it will fade like blue jeans over time as it's washed and used, and another is that it will shrink %10 to %20 the first time it's washed. Rowan Denim yarn behaves the same way and is widely available, thus it's a perfect substitution -- but expensive. Another less-well-known option is Twilleys Freedom Denim Yarn. I found a couple online vendors for this:

  • Texere in the UK
    sells this for 2£/50g, which is currently about $3 US. Even with the shipping, for 13 balls (what the pattern suggests) this is cheaper than US sources.

  • Erica's Yarn sells and ships in the US for $5/50g.

It should be easy to substitute other worsted weight yarns to get other colours besides indigo, although of course the faded jeans effect won't happen. Note that there are two main kinds of 100% cotton yarns, mercerized and unmercerized. Mercerized cotton yarns do not shrink, therefore behave differently than the denim yarns. Still, some of these can be wonderfully cheap and colourful, like Sonata, which has great stitch definition and sheen and is $1.98/50g. It's also possible to use cotton blend or non-cotton worsted weight yarn for another kind of look. To substitute a yarn that doesn't shrink, the knitter just has to stop knitting the main body when the blanket is big enough, and knit the edging on as written.

Some unmercerized cotton yarns do shrink and others don't. Worse, unmercerized cotton yarn isn't always advertised as such. For example, I've used Mission Falls 1824 cotton and Blue Sky Organic cotton without any noticeable shrinking (and they're both great yarns though with the Blue Sky you have to live with some pilling and fuzzing). Knitter's Review confirms that Mission Falls 1824 cotton is unmercerized and various blogs say that the Blue Sky cotton is unmercerized. So just getting an unmercerized yarn doesn't guarantee that it will or won't shrink.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I hadn't yet seen the talk by Hans Rosling, last year at Ted 2006. It's fascinating from a technology perspective but even more so from a political or social welfare perspective.

I browsed a little further into other Gapminder presentations, including one given by Ola Rosling at Google a year ago, where he talks about the significant differences made by left vs. right politics in achieving health advances vs. wealth advances -- a point which didn't appear in Hans' talk.

What is news is that Google bought the Trendanalyser software and hired its team from Gapminder, announced last month. The Gapminder foundation continues its mission separately although I'm not entirely clear what that is now.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Needed: Web 2.0 Hackers

CommerceNet (my employer) would like to start a bunch of Web 2.0 projects in the areas of calendaring, security, schemas/standards and health information. We're looking for some hot Web 2.0 developers to help us prototype some of these sites. The job descriptions and address to apply to are here but you can ask me directly for information if you'd like -- I'm a hiring manager.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I am part of a panel hosted and organized by Scott Rosenberg on why Software is Hard at the Hillside Club tomorrow evening. Scott's got more exposure to this than any other journalist I can think of, perhaps you've seen his book Dreaming in Code. Eric Allman and Chad Dickerson will be part of the panel too.

Friday, February 23, 2007

How to shop at Ikea with a Prius:

Prius packed with Ikea purchases

This is packed with $860 worth of furniture and storage boxes from Ikea. The big-ticket items were a full height and width Bonde shelf unit with doors, and a four-unit-tall Effectiv unit with doors. Even bulkier, however, were the two storage baskets and various plastic bins. The amazing thing was that we still fit two adults and a baby in his carseat in the car, too. The adult passenger had to hold plastic boxes on her lap for that to work.

Other pictures: another view of the packed car, and the purchases spread out on the driveway.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Just posted pictures from yet another baby project -- a lace angora/silk handspun baby hat -- to my current knitting page.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Perogies from Lisa's Test Kitchen!

I was inspired by the America's Test Kitchen approach from the Cook's Illustrated folks, which results in the full-disclosure style of "The New Best Recipe", and from there, my newly-reliable baking skills. So for my yearly Ukrainian 12-meatless-dishes feast, since I scaled down to making only perogies and kutya this year and my lovely friends brought the rest of the food, I decided to do some testing. Like Cook's Illustrated, I began by collecting a range of perogy dough recipes that differed significantly, and tried three of them. Here are the results of testing three different base recipes, with the main criteria being handling (rolling out dough and sealing the filling in side is hard to do properly with my mom's recipe) and tenderness.

1. Growing Alberta's recipe: in one of the many, MANY ways of combining just oil, flour, water, salt and eggs, this recipe is very simple and similar to many pasta recipes (e.g. ravioli dough). Most other perogy dough recipes I found online had the same basic ingredients in only slightly different quantities. Results: the dough itself is easy to make up, and then sufficiently easy to work. However, when boiled, this ended up making mutant-looking perogies: oddly lumpy, with a surface texture that looked a little more shiny and bubbly. The texture, more importantly, was a little more rubbery than ideal, and was not anybody's favourite in taste-testing.

2. Epicurean's recipe: this had a cup of sour cream instead of any water, and it also adds some baking soda (the rest is flour, egg, salt). This seemed sufficiently different to be worth trying. Result: this made a fine dough that rolled out reasonably well and sealed well. This was the most robust and even dough: every single perogy made using this dough looked like a perfect, even, golden half-moon, even after boiling and frying. At least one person decided this also produced the best texture or tooth.

3. My usual recipe, from my mom, given to her by a Polish friend in Edmonton who was a fabulous cook. This dough is my standard to compare to because I've made it before: it's very tender and everybody loves it, but it's a pain to roll out and use for perogies as it's so fragile. There are usually a few casualties during boiling, where the dough opens and water gets inside the perogy even if the filling doesn't spill out. It's also unreliable: it uses 1/2 cup of mashed potatos, which is hard to standardize (varies by type of potato, size, how long boiled, how carefully mashed, and how long left to stand to accumulate or release moisture after boiling/mashing). I couldn't find any recipes on the Web that had mashed potato in the dough, so it appears to be a unique recipe. Taste-testing results: most people found this was the best texture.

Here's that "heirloom" recipe for comparison:

1 and 3/4 cup flour2 egg yolks
1/2 cup mashed potatos2 tablespoons shortening
1 teaspoon cream of tartar1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt

Mix flour, cream of tartar and salt together. In separate bowl, mix mashed potatoes, egg yolks, shortening and water together. Now mix wet and dry ingredients together, adding flour as necessary for a workable dough [this always comes up too wet, I need to adjust that]. Let sit 10 minutes before rolling dough. Roll a portion of the dough to a couple millimeters thick. Cut circles [I use a water glass inverted]. Put a spoonful of filling on each circle. Fold over circle and seal with water.
The next step in this testing process appears to be to start varying the best recipe found so far, to see if its most important advantages can be improved, its drawbacks minimized, or its technique simplified. This is helped along by hypotheses about what makes this the best (or by what makes it difficult). These are the variations on my usual recipe that I've tried so far.

  • Try omitting the cream of tartar as its role is not apparent in the absence of egg whites. Result: the exact same dough made with and without cream of tartar had apparently the same texture, but turned quite grey while standing, as the potato starch interacted with air. The grey blotchy dough was so unappealing that I threw it out without attempting to roll it out, cook it, etc. Conclusion: keep using cream of tartar as long as the recipe contains potato.

  • Try using a beater on wet ingredients, both to save labour and to improve consistency and robustness of dough by making sure the potatos are well-mashed. My regular dough always has a few visible bits of potato once I roll it thin, and sometimes this creates a weak spot as I form or cook a perogy. Results: using the beater made the dough turn out too gluey and it stuck to everything, making the rolling/folding even harder than normal and without making the dough any more robust. This result could have been guessed if you knew not to over-mash potatoes.

  • If letting it sit 10 minutes is good, is letting it sit longer even better? I tried a couple variations here. Results: Overnight wasn't good (though the results may be conflated with having used a beater on that batch). I also didn't see any difference waiting 10 minutes or an hour when the recipe was otherwise done the same way.

That was enough experimenting for one person for one year. What are the promising avenues for testing next year?

  • Sometimes the Cook's Illustrated people form a hypothesis about what makes a recipe good, and try to achieve the same goodness with a different approach. My hypothesis here is that the point of adding mashed potato to the dough is probably to increase the amount of starch relative to the amount of gluten. This should make the dough a little less rubbery or more tender. This hypothesis suggests there might be a more reliable way of reducing gluten ratios than using mashed potatos -- for example, using more cake flour and less all-purpose flour. Thus, I should look into how to reduce gluten ratio without using mashed potatoes (or using less of them). How much all-purpose flour should be replaced with cake flour?

  • Try to simplify technique and increase reliability by using instant mashed potatos. This approach would not suffer from variability in the starch content or waxiness of the potatoes, or from changes in the details of cooking and mashing.

  • Try the sour cream dough again. It was definitely easier to work with and people were not unhappy with the result. I want a bit more direct comparison (with the exact same filling, side by side) and evaluation to be confident that this is as tender, or just about as tender, to see if it's worthwhile switching from my traditional recipe.

  • Combine the two most successful recipes: what about using the mashed potato recipe with sour cream instead of water?

Also, next year I need to take pictures. As I write this blog post two days later, it's too late: they're all gone. Very popular, I tell you. My guests take home leftovers if there are any (last year there weren't) although I insist they leave leftovers for me too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I guess the new year is a good time for me to finish projects. I finished a sweater that I've had on the needles for months, as well as a period baby hat (a rare non-knitting project). I'm almost done a Noro Kureyon felted purse, too.

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