Monday, 19 February 2018

On Knitting 1: Why I Don't Like Seed Stitch

In my first crafting update, I mentioned that I was modifying the pattern for my shawl because I didn't like seed stitch, and I'd explain why later. Now that it's later, here's an explanation.

Seed stitch looks like this (image from Knitting For Dummies):


It's a rough, bumpy texture that feels like it's full of tiny knots. I prefer textures that are soft and smooth, especially in things I'm going to wear. In the case of this shawl, it puzzled me that the texture switched so abruptly from nice squishy garter stitch to basically the opposite.

Not only does it feel uncomfortable, it's also annoying to knit. It goes something like this:
Cast on any number of stitches.
Setup: *knit 1, purl 1* across.
Row 1: Purl the knit stitches and knit the purl stitches.
Repeat Row 1 as many times as you want.

Seed stitch is a perfect combination of being really boring and needing lots of focus. I find it very easy--and I've spoken to a number of other knitters to agree with me--to forget that on each stitch, you have to do the opposite of what you did to it in the previous row.

It's easy, especially if your mind has a tendency to wander, to do the same thing you did before, and then you end up with ribbing, which looks totally different and is much softer and stretchier.

I'd been really enjoying working on this shawl as a sort of mindless fidgety knitting, and I didn't want to switch abruptly to a technique that required more of my attention just to end up with a texture I don't care for. So I went hunting for alternatives. The new stitch had to:
  • Be reversible, so it would lie flat.
  • Be softer than seed stitch.
  • Alternate knit and purl stitches in a way that looked kind of like seed stitch.
  • Look good when I add stitches to one end of each row and subtract them from the other, which is how the basic shape of the shawl is made.
The best-looking and -feeling answer I came up with was Little Pyramids, which looks like this:

Don't be afraid to modify patterns if there's something in them you don't like. There is always a way to avoid seed stitch.

Friday, 16 February 2018

On the Needles 3

Here are this week's project updates.


This week I finished a couple of small projects: the entrelac thing, which I'm probably going to turn into a pillow and stuff with rice at this point, and a pair of slippers. And now that I've wrapped those up, I feel less bad about starting another new project: a shawl I'm test-knitting for a friend on Mastodon. It doesn't look like much yet, but I should be starting the first lace section this weekend.

Side note: I've become a lot more open to the idea of digital photo filters since I realized my phone has one that's basically color correction. I can take a picture in yellow light, and the filter makes it look like it was taken in white light. Makes it a lot easier to take project photos.


Today is Pokemon day 446.
Pokemon Art Challenge #446: Munchlax, the Big Eater Pokemon
This is your regular reminder that Munchlax and Snorlax are the Pokemon version of Totoros.


The first two chapters of my Magic fic are now on Archive of Our Own. Chapter three is progressing a sentence at a time.


I now have a Zacama, Primal Calamity for my dinosaur deck, and a Rekindling Phoenix for my pirate deck.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

On Books 10: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet & A Closed and Common Orbit

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a lovely book, and so is its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. If you liked Firefly but wish it was less depressing, or had a more diverse cast, or developed its romantic arcs properly, or even if you just wish it had aliens, you will enjoy these books.

In this setting, humans have long since abandoned Earth, though a few religious fanatics have gone back to try living in the woods without technology. Humanity is a minor player in galactic politics, still struggling to heal the rifts caused by all the rich folks going off to colonize Mars and leaving everyone else to escape in generation ships. Our story follows Rosemary, the estranged daughter of a Martian politician, leaving home and joining the crew of Wayfarer, a wormhole-making ship, as administrative personnel.

Spoilers ahead.

Monday, 12 February 2018

On Linguistics: What is a snack?

In the chat thread of a Twitch stream I watched recently, someone named Project_Hope asked "is Chinese food a snack if I don't move from in front of the fridge while eating it?" The streamer, Kate Stark, had just gone on break, and encouraged her viewers to take a break at the same time, to stretch, have a snack, etc.

My perhaps ill-advised response was along the lines of "I have an MA into linguistics. I can turn that question into a half-hour lecture." To my surprise, Project_Hope wanted to hear what went into that lecture.

Half an hour might be exaggerating, but the question illustrates the difficulty of drawing boundaries between semantic categories. Chinese food is generally thought of as a meal category; what changes do we have to make to make it a snack?

Friday, 9 February 2018

On the Needles 2

Here are all the things I made this week.


The shawl is done, and I love how it looks.

I took this cowl I've had on the needles for a while to a knitting circle last night, and realized I'm not really sure what I want to do with it. Someone suggested I make it a pencil case or a small pillow, and I'm considering it.

I also made some progress on my Desert Bus project, and I'll probably finish this first piece over the weekend.



I haven't had much brain space for writing this week, for work reasons, but I did add a scene to my planeswalker fic.


This week at Lady Planeswalkers, I drafted a blue-green Merfolk deck and won two rounds with it, which is better than I usually do. My normal plan at drafts is to make an aggressive deck that ends up running out of steam halfway through the game. This deck didn't do that, and I felt really good about it, like I was solving a puzzle every time I played. I should aim for more of that--and since my Standard pirates deck, which is descended from an especially successful aggressive draft deck, is slowly turning into a "make my opponent discard stuff" combo deck, I may get a little more of that. One of my prize packs had Angrath, the Flame-Chained in it; in theory, he'll make my combo even better. A friend at the draft gave me an Elder Dinosaur I need for my dinosaur deck, and I've updated my elf deck with some cards from the draft and the prize packs.


Yesterday I went to a hamentaschen-making party at my local synagogue. "Party" in this context means me and five grandmothers setting up an assembly line to turn premade dough and filling into about two hundred delicious cookies, which will be frozen for the next three weeks and then thawed and eaten at the Purim event at the end of the month. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed rolling dough and folding the cookies--I miss baking, and I should do more of it. Luckily, I have the option to make more hamentaschen next week.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

On the Stack 2: My 20 Favorite Magic Cards

This topic was suggested by my sister Sophie, whose writing can be found here.

There are about twenty thousand cards in the game of Magic: the Gathering. I can't even pretend I know them all off the top of my head. But I will endeavor to name my favorite percent of a percent of them here, and explain all the different reasons I like them best.

In alphabetical order:
  • Archangel Avacyn / Avacyn the Purifier: Shadows Over Innistrad, the set this card was a big part of the advertising for, was the first time I really paid attention to Magic story as it was happening. I got really into the riddle-solving events that led up to the major card reveals, and was inspired by Christine Sprankle's amazing Avacyn cosplay. I also had plans to make a red/white Angels and Clerics Commander deck if I ever got a copy of this card. (I never did.)
  • Behemoth Sledge: I play this card in my Elf tribal Commander deck. It's an Equipment that gives the equipped creature +2/+2 and trample, and giving creatures trample (especially big ones like Elvish Aberration and Realm Seekers) feels good.
  • Curious Homunculus / Voracious Reader: If I had to describe myself using a single Magic card, it would be this one. I get interested in things the way Hazel Grace Lancaster fell in love with Augustus Waters: slowly, then all at once.
  • Gishath, Sun's Avatar: This is the Commander of my new Dinosaur Commander deck. He's a big powerful legendary dinosaur with a lot of abilities. I can't wait to play him.
  • Ground Pounder: This is one of the creatures I had a lot of fun with in Unstable draft. I love being able to roll a die in the middle of combat and turn a lost battle into a victory.
  • Imposing Visage: This card probably has my favorite Phil Foglio art. Granted, I partly base my assessment of Phil Foglio's art on how closely it reminds me of Girl Genius, the comic he and his wife write. (She also used to draw Magic card art.)
  • Jace, Cunning Castaway: Also known as Stupid Sexy Jace. This card was created right after a change to the Planeswalker uniqueness rule which allows him to make copies of himself. Which he does. It also represents a major positive change in his personality and outlook that happened during Ixalan block.
  • Llanowar Elves represents the core philosophy of my Elf Commander deck, the first deck I ever built. Cast elves to make mana to cast elves, and attack with six or seven creatures at once.
  • Meandering Towershell: There is just so much flavor in this card. It's a giant turtle with a city on its back, and it's so slow that when you tell it to attack, it doesn't get there until next turn. This was also the first card I associated with LoadingReadyRun, who are 90% of the reason I started playing Magic in the first place.
  • Mirari's Wake: I always get warm fuzzies when I cast this in Commander. It makes my creatures bigger and doubles my mana. As a bonus, it makes my opponents nervous.
  • Narset Transcendent: Narset is the Planeswalker I think I would get along with the best. She's coded as autistic, and she's always hungry for knowledge.
  • Presence of the Master: More Phil Foglio art, of Albert Einstein this time.
  • Pore Over the Pages: I nicknamed this one "Jace's Porn Collection." The Geek tells me it's the best card nickname I've ever come up with.
  • Realm Seekers: This might be the most powerful card in my elf deck. Its power and toughness is equal to the number of cards in everyone's hand. Since Commander is a multiplayer format, this is a big deal. Combine it with Behemoth Sledge, and I might actually win with it someday.
  • Spike, Tournament Grinder: The third card representing one of Magic's three player profiles (the others are Timmy and Johnny), Spike is the kind of player who has something to prove and plays to win. She's also the only one of the profiles represented by a woman in the card art, which feels pretty damn good. And her flavor is spot-on: you can pay life instead of mana to cast her and use her ability, which lets you play cards that have been banned for being too powerful.
  • The Locust God: This card makes me feel especially powerful. It represents one of the three old gods of the ancient-Egypt-like plane of Amonkhet, corrupted by the evil Elder Dragon Nicol Bolas and brought back to destroy the plane and help create an undead army. And he brings his own plague of locusts with him--one more every time I draw a card.
  • Tolsimir Wolfblood: The Commander of my elf deck. He's an elf knight who rides a wolf. And that's just awesome. I got a custom-made wolf token for him.
  • Tranquility: This particular version of the art is beautiful, and it perfectly illustrates the end of the story in the set it comes from.
  • Wasitora, Nekoru Queen: Cats and dragons are two of my favorite things. Wasitora is both of them. And her kittens are adorable.
  • Westvale Abbey: When this was in Standard, it was the star of my favorite deck. It's a land that can transform into an almost unstoppable demon. As you may have noticed, I like cards that make me feel powerful.
Tolsimir Wolfblood comes with a legendary
wolf. Here's the sparkly token I use.

To those of my readers who play Magic: what are some of your favorite cards? Got any recommendations?

Monday, 5 February 2018

On Books 9: Every Heart a Doorway

Every now and then I find a book that just gets me, that illuminates some part of my identity or experiences that I’ve felt alone in having, and welcomes me into a community of...survivors isn’t always the right word, but people who share my identity and have had similar experiences because of it. I’ve been finding more and more of them recently: Shira Glassman creates worlds where my Jewish heritage and traditions are the norm, while Rose Lerner and Ruthanna Emrys put those traditions and my own family history into historical context. Kaia Sonderby captures the feeling of being the only neuroatypical person in a room. And even Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden series (previously) is full of bisexual math nerds and characters all over the autism spectrum.

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway represents a part of me I’ve never seen in a novel before. It’s a story about people who feel more at home in fictional worlds than in their own. Where so many young adult fantasy novels feature teenagers thrust into fantasy worlds, finding themselves suddenly important and needing to save that world from some threat, this book is about what happens after those teenagers have gone home, closed the book as it were, and found themselves unable to settle back in on Earth.