Monday, February 27, 2006

Some random thoughts from the past week.....

1. I watched the Closing Ceremonies last night, the first Opening/Closing Ceremonies I have watched in about three cycles of Olympics. I was somewhat disappointed, especially when some singer (Avril-something? I'm so out the loop...) was performing, and the cameras only focussed on her. There was all this activity behind her- people wheeling around in rings, skating, etc, and I wanted to see them, not an overly-made-up singer whose voice I could have heard while they were showing the interesting things. And the same interview with the same athletes they always interview. And what was up with all the brides?

HOWEVER. The giant fan that lets people fly? I want one.

2. The urchin shawl is proceeding nicely. I did 14 rounds last night. I'm up to a total of 600 stitches, and have finished 113 of 291 rounds. I didn't knit much on it last week, but worked on the chart instead. I finished all the additional charting over the weekend, including designing the edging pattern. The final round will have 1440 stitches.

3. While watching a home-improvement show on TV, I was horrified to see how they were refinishing a door from an old house. The perky female co-host explained that since the house was old, they had sent a sample of the paint out for a lead test, which came back positive. She explained that this presented a health risk and needed to be "taken care of." Well, good. I'm all for cleaning up toxic and dangerous elements in the environment. She then proceeded to grab her POWER SANDER and a PAPER DUST MASK, and started sanding the door! Dry! Outside! In the wind! With nothing to catch the dust!

What a complete and total idiot. The lead-coated door was admittedly a hazard, but by dry sanding it, she multiplied the danger by a zillion percent. You could see the billows of dust on the breeze. Now that toxic dust is spread across the town, being breathed by everyone. And you need a HEPA filter mask not a paper dust mask, even if you're a professional (or a normal, smart person) and actually know what you're doing.

Removing lead paint yourself can be dangerous unless you know what you're doing, and in my book, showing this on a home-improvement program is criminal. Especially when they show it WRONG. I don't care how many disclaimers are flashed on the screen when they come back from commercials.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I’m making some progress on the sea urchin shawl, finally. I didn’t work on it much at all this past week, but I’ve made it up to round 100 and yesterday I really wanted to see how the pattern was shaping up. When I did a test stretch back at about round 50, I put all the stitches on a string and tried to pin it out. This did not work at all satisfactorily. The string didn’t give enough support, and I couldn’t get a good sense of how it would really look. It was all scallops and wavy edges.

Last night, I got the idea to use my blocking wires. It worked great. And it was SO much easier to transfer the stitches back to the needle from the blocking wires than from a string, where all the stitches had distorted and pulled the string down into the row below.

Anyway, here’s what I have so far.

As always, click to see it bigger. The detail shows up much better in the bigger version.

It’s a bit more than 24” in diameter right now. I didn’t stretch it out as far as I would have if I were actually blocking it because the wires weren’t long enough, though I suppose I could have added a third wire. But I mostly just wanted to see how the pattern was coming out.

Based on this test, I’m definitely going to add to the chart. I’d like this to end up roughly 80” diameter, including a fairly wide border. I’ll probably chart another 100 or so rows.

I must say, I'm quite pleased with it so far!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Well, it's official. Shaun has accepted the job at Eastern Oregon University. He found out today that he was the runner-up at Dickinson, and the guy that was offered the job had a better "pedigree." He's a graduate of Harvard and some other snooty school. While I'm sure this isn't the only reason he was offered the job, it does make one wonder, especially as Shaun felt like his interview went so well. Oh, well, too bad for them. They could have had Shaun, but stupidly let him get away.

Hope that doesn't sound too much like sour grapes. I didn't mean it to, really. It's just a letdown.

I do think Eastern Oregon will work out, and if it doesn't, it's not like we have to stay.

Holy moly, this means we have to move again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

That didn't take long. Look what I found in the aquarium yesterday.

The arrows are pointing to two of the four egg masses recently deposited by my hitch-hiker snails. The eggs on the right are a bit farther along than the ones on the left, probably 12-24 hours older. It's no wonder these little buggers can be such a problem in aquaria. I checked the plants pretty thoroughly when I brought them home, and didn't see any adults or egg masses in the pots or on the roots/leaves. So the adult snails that are in there now were either well-concealed eggs or itty-bitties when they entered my tank.

I got the first set of plants on Jan 15, before the guppies, and the second set on Jan 21, with the glowlight tetras. So it's conceivable that the snails went from hatching to reproducing in 28-29 days, maybe less if they came in on the second set of plants.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The trip to Oregon was fun, though we’re both so tense about hearing from Dickinson that it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been. The administration at Eastern Oregon has given Shaun a deadline of Monday at noon to accept or decline the position there, and he still hasn’t heard anything from Dickinson. Can you say “stress?"

But Oregon was pretty, although like no other landscape I’ve ever been in. We ended up driving south to Portland then east to La Grande, instead of just going southeast over the Cascades from Seattle. It was really windy and stormy when we left on Saturday, and we didn’t want to risk the road conditions on Snoqualmie Pass. We’re talking hurricane-force winds, here. We weren’t even sure the ferries would be running.

Anyway, we made it off-island, and the cool thing about taking the long way around was that we got to drive through the Columbia River Gorge. Granted, we did most of it at night, but what we did see on Sunday was pretty incredible, in a stark sort of way.

This is just a little ways east of The Dalles, Oregon (where we spent Saturday night), looking north across the river into Washington. There are extremely cool cliffs made up of basalt that crystallized into columns. Actual hexagonal columns lined up in orderly ranks, naturally occurring as a function of the way the lava solidified. They’re close to the road in some places, but we didn’t stop to get a good picture (these were taken from the moving car). I’ve seen pictures of this type of formation in books, but to see it in person was really neat.

Once we left the Gorge, the land got flat. FLAT. There’s a lot of sky out there, folks. It was a bit of a relief (ha!...get it?...sorry.) to get to the Blue Mountains. This is taken from a scenic overlook on the way up the mountains:

That’s actually four pictures stitched together- aren’t I clever? Actually, kudos to Shaun for taking such a good series. The land between Pendleton and the Blue Mountains is flat, flat, flat.

The university was pretty, nestled in a tiny little town in the valley between the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains.

That’s the building Shaun would be working in if he takes the job. The peak directly behind is Mt. Emily, part of the Blue Mountains.

This is looking east across the valley toward the Wallowa Mountains.

The campus was pretty, the faculty seemed nice, and I could probably find a science-related job if we moved there. There are several state agencies that actually have offices in that same science building where Shaun would be, and it would be nice to have a job where I actually have to use my brain.

It was very strange, though, to be in a place where there are no trees. The Blue Mountains are forested, true, but the whole valley and the lower Wallowa Mountains on the other side are treeless. There’s a lot of farming and ranching, but I think that the treeless state may be natural- a shrub-steppe grassland ecosystem. Shaun and I both felt a little unsettled by how open and treeless it was, especially when we drove over to the east side of the valley. We did a loop of the valley, to check out the area, and when we got back to the west side and the forested slopes of the Blue Mountains, we felt much more at home.

We headed home on Tuesday, this time taking the more direct route over the Cascades. What a gorgeous ride, and I saw my first elk! Through the hills, up to Yakima, to Ellensburg, then into the mountains. The Cascades are beautiful, though Emma’s tummy took exception to the winding, hilly highway before Ellensburg. Ick.

So remember that project I showed a preview of at the end of January? The picture was of a sea urchin shell. Here’s what it inspired:

I’m designing a Sea Urchin Shawl! This is how it looked on Feb. 2, when it was still small enough to spread out on the needle. Here’s how it looks now:

Yep, looking like a tangled mess o’ string. You’ll just have to trust me that it looks OK when it stretches. I’m a bit more than a third of the way up my chart, and I’ll evaluate if I need to chart more when I get closer to the end. I wasn’t sure how much it would stretch, so charting 175 rows was a guesstimate. I think what I have so far will block to about 25” diameter.

The yarn is Ornaghi Filati “Merino Oro”, 100% merino, 1250 meters per 100 gram skein. It measures about 40+ wraps per inch, and is incredibly fine and soft. I got three skeins of this yarn on sale after New Year’s at my local yarn shop, (marked down 60% --score!), so even though I don’t like the color, it is dyeable, and too good a deal to pass up. Especially as I used a gift certificate to get it.

Finally, an update on my aquarium. The glowlight tetras had been doing OK for more than a week, so two weeks ago I got five black neon tetras to put in with them. Very pretty, with a black stripe and a brilliant iridescent green one.

However, I don’t think that was a good idea with the filter I had, a small Whisper internal. It seemed like it just couldn’t keep up, and it was always getting clogged. I lost three of the black neons in the first day (HOWEVER…I stupidly got these from Petco, and we know how well the guppies did. I’m never buying fish from Petco again.) and one of the glowlights two days later. That one had always looked a bit stressed and possibly the water quality dipped, because the filter wasn’t keeping up with the additional fish.

When we went away this week, I got a Penguin 100 external filter with a Bio-Wheel. I did a bit of research online, and this one got really good reviews, so I thought I’d give it a try. So far I’m extremely pleased. It’s quiet, and it cleared up the cloudy water in less than three hours. The Bio-Wheel is a very cool innovation in filter technology. It looks like a paddle wheel on a riverboat, with the “paddle” part made of accordion-pleated material.

(cover removed for blogging purposes)

This provides a large surface area for the beneficial bacteria to grow on (which remove ammonia and nitrites from the water), and because the wheel rotates and is never completely submerged, the bacteria always have plenty of oxygen. The bacterial colony on my wheel isn’t established yet (it takes a several weeks), so right now I’m still using ammonia-remover chips in the filter to supplement until the bacteria establish. We’ll see if the filter lives up to the hype, but the principle seems sound, and the science of it makes sense.

The fish look lots happier, and the tank is cleaner. They dart around now, and investigate the plants, and come to the surface to nibble the flakes when I feed them, instead of hiding on the bottom and waiting for the flakes to sink. Part of this was probably just getting over the shock of going into a new tank, but there was an almost immediate improvement after I put the Penguin filter in. I’ve also noticed that one of the black neons and one (possibly two) of the glowlights are definitely female. They have developed a bellyful of eggs, especially the black neon. It’s doubtful that I’ll get any fry to hatch in my tank, as the water isn’t soft enough, but it’s cool that they’re happy.

In addition to the glowlights and black neons, I discovered that I have three (at least) additional residents in the tank.

I have snails! These were not planned- they probably came in on the plants. I’ve seen two about ½” long, and one tiny one. No doubt there are more. If they become a problem, I’ll have to take action (a snail eating fish, perhaps?), but for now, I’m enjoying them. They are some sort of Physidae.

Whew! That was a long post!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Blogger's (Silent) Poetry Reading

Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Poetry reading instigated by Grace's Poppies.

Delightful nonsense that I've always loved, and which definitely deserves purple ink.

In other news, I will say "Callooh! Callay!" myself, because Shaun has been offered a faculty position at Eastern Oregon University! He went for this interview a week and a half ago, and was offered the job Saturday. Very quick!

He had another interview this Tuesday, at Dickinson College, which he is very excited about, and we are hoping that he is offered that job as well. If Dickinson offers, I think that's the one he'll take, but he really liked Eastern Oregon and says he would be happy there too. We won't hear from Dickinson for at least a week and a half, so we're just waiting anxiously at this point.

It's a huge relief to know that there is a backup plan, even if his first choice (Dickinson) doesn't pan out. Maybe we can actually get those student loans and credit cards paid off within our lifetimes.

We're off to Eastern Oregon this weekend, so Emma and I can see the campus and surrounding area. Should be fun, and one of the professors wants to go birding with me, so maybe I'll see some new birds!