Friday, November 30, 2007


I got my ISE5 scarf!! Here is a shiny picture of the package--I was so eager to unwrap it that I couldn't take a better photo. I then didn't post for a couple days because my electricity went out from a fuse that blew itself while I was sleeping. It's harder to find fuses here than I thought--I got yelled at by one clerk in a store that didn't have them, finally found them in another store and the cashier wouldn't let me by them, possibly because I appeared a bit suspect because I was buying the store's entire stock of baking soda (which comes in pathetic little 50 g packets here--trying to make bath fizzies means a lot of packets), which irked the nosy neighbor behind me in line who asked me three times what I did I need so much baking soda for. I should have said cleaning, which I know the german word for. Instead I just kept saying I didn't know the word. Anyway, I finally found, and was able to buy, fuses at another store. Really, if my life was a movie, I wouldn't believe it, it's so absurd! Onto the goodness:

Here is the scarf--I love it!! I had requested something a bit longer, but I actually *love* the length of this. I'm such an automaton that I had requested exactly what I'd always knit for myself, and I tend to get stuck in ruts. That's what is so great about this scarf exchange--someone else makes something and of course the minute I put it on I love it, and it gets me out of the little box I sometimes get stuck in! The yarn is so soft and I love the colors! Plus it was all minty smelling from the other goodies--mmmmm! Thanks, Cecily!!!

And, yes, that IS the periodic table on my shower curtain. Partially hidden in the mirror by the poster of Geometric shapes with formulae for their areas and volumes....

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Swiss underbelly

So today I went on a little expedition. My Alexander Technique instructor gave me a flyer from a store that carries chairs and accessories for people with back problems, so I went out there to give a few chairs a spin so that, in the event that my employer will pay for a new chair, I'll at least know which one to order. The store is in Oerlikon, a Zurich neighborhood about half an hour from my apartment. I painstakingly sketched out a little street map (no printer at home) so I wouldn't get lost after getting off the train (happens to me a lot) and jumped on a train, read When They Severed the Earth From the Sky (by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, one of my all time favorite writers) for a while, got off, and found myself walking down some kind of seedy streets. A strange kind of seedy--not just whores and junkies seedy (that's over here, a few blocks from where I live now), but just sort of run down, dumpy looking seedy. I passed a car repair shop and realized that's the first one I've seen in 2.5 years! I even found the building without any hitch (possibly another first??). They had a big sign listing all the business inside, with each name preceded by an arrow pointing up. Except the place I was looking for, which was preceded by an arrow with an elbow:

Somehow I'm never able to interpret this kind of instruction. I'm generally pretty sharp but certain things, especially spatial, just confuse the shit out of me. I finally decided this meant I should go along the left side of the building. I skirt around the cars and start down the parking lot along the side and feel a bit creeped out. The building's a real dump--filthy, rusty metal doors, cracked pavement kind of dumpy. There are some service or delivery type doors over here on the left side, but definitely no high end chair shops. I go back and try going inside--maybe there's a big corridor to the left? The building gets even dumpier--stairwell isn't really lit, there are closed doors everywhere, most of them unlabeled or labeled private. In fact, its starting to seem like exactly the kind of building that, were this a movie, would turn out to be mostly porn filming studios behind all these unlabeled doors, and I'm starting to wonder where the coked out 'actresses' are when I round another set of stairs and see that, in fact, there IS some kind of film studio here. They are playing a video of dirt bike racing or something (perhaps just a sham?) outside their closed door. The next flight of stairs is marked private, so I turn around and leave the building.

Weird. Maybe the place was behind one of the unmarked doors, but I was hardly about to start opening them, and it clearly isn't a live-shop kind of business, or they would have made themselves more apparent. Internet shopping really doesn't exist here, so perhaps they are only telephone, but since the point of this was to sit in some real chairs, it was a total bust and a waste of my afternoon playing hooky, when I could have been working on the fireflowers bag!!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Felt weekend

I spent the weekend knitting, when I should have been practicing for the choir that I ill-advisedly joined for Lessons and Carols services this year. I've been wanting a felted bag, and decided to design my own, even though I claim to hate designing my own knitted things. I guess it depends on what it is--sweaters I find stressful (all that shaping and construction to work out) and scarves too (it curls, it curls, but a garter stitch edging on lace just looks hideous!). Felt bags, apparently, don't stress me out. I'm all about the felt these days--I'm a fairly productive knitter, but I'm actually kind of a crappy one, if you actually look at my knit stitches, which tend to be uneven. And I gloss over a LOT of details, because I'm far more interested in the process than having a perfect final product, and I'm happy to wear things with mistakes and so forth. Now that I know I can felt in my building's washer, I revel in the glory of felt, which hides all such imperfections!!

So I started this bag, which has a garter stitch base and then picked up and knit up in the round. The pattern is Fireflowers from Barbara Walker's second treasury. I lurve this bag already!!!

I felted and blocked the kittypi--another happy project which I will send off to my folks today for my cat.


Around town

I keep passing these adorable felt shoes in the window of a shop near my Alexander Technique teacher's studio. I covet them. I haven't been in the shop yet, because I have never seen a pair of women's shoes in my size in Switzerland, so why go in and humiliate myself by speaking my crappy german and asking if they have Sasquatch sizes, when I know they don't? I also haven't been able to find anything about them on the net, which is strange. The brand is Living Kitzbühel, which appears to be a small Austrian shoemaker specializing in girl's shoes. These are definitely adult sizes (although they probably would have fit me when I was a girl...)

This was a sunrise view last week from my flat. I don't know what "gummi" is either, and I've been staring at that sign for 2 years.


Monday, November 19, 2007


I am a bit obsessed with agriculture, it's history and development, and our food choices past and present.

Noah's Ark was real, and it spawned farming.

Some thoughtful comments about the food bill and how, perhaps, government policy might be related to the epidemic of obesity. Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, is outstanding and really covers all the aspects of navigating the modern food system.


This press release about a book about living the good older life started off really promising by reminding us of something obvious but which everyone seems to forget it (quality counts over quantity in things like "life"). It then goes on to degrade into some absurdly oversimplified advice such as "enjoy a stable marriage." I realize I'm criticizing a press release, and presumably the book has far more content about how to achieve such a thing. But still! They also tantalize you with "you just need to have fun and dance" and then go on to prescribe the same boring routine of going to the gym and lifting weights and doing cardio, which has got to be the most unhelpful advice ever. All the people who are actually going to go to the gym regularly already go to the gym regularly. I used to think, when am I going to get my shit together and start going to the gym 3 times a week? and then I realized, I already have my shit together and I'm just not a gym kind of person.

There are 14 volumes of books about pipes and permafrost. Who knew?

My favorite quote in this press release about a new traffic control system is:
traffic optimizing for a situation that basically is true on average but that is never true for any single day or minute: essentially for a situation that never exists.
It somehow captures my current frustration with medicine--the mythical average person/response which isn't helpful/relevant to individuals.

On Katrina. I wonder if the toxic sludge/floodwater everyone was exposed to somehow had some kind of effect. One of my new theories this week is about low grade but chronic exposure to environmental contaminants contributing to the rise of anxiety disorders and stuff. There seems to be Something Big missing from the whole picture when you think about the prevalence of many diseases and the "mysterious" origins of all of them (when studied with correlation studies, which is another whole rant).

Thank god they've got the postal workers on here!

When I was in St. Petersburg earlier this year, I was using my trusty Diva cup and was irrationally* worried about getting giardia (which is in the municipal water supply) from rinsing it. Really I should have been worried about squirting a load of (let me quote) "butyl methacrylate, which is used in coatings, adhesives, solvents, resins, oil additives and to finish leather and paper" up there. I don't know why we have this epidemic of cancer in the modern world........

*Giardia, of course, needing to be in the digestive, not reproductive, track to make one sick.

What is a chocolate placebo??


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Random bits

I just came across a neat blog and I liked how she just kind of gives little updates of stuff. I'm still a blog newbie (although I made my first blog in 2003 after meeting Glenn when I was in NYC for a long weekend, applying for a NYC Teaching Fellows program that I am still grateful I didn't get into. I would have been eaten alive...) and have never really figured out what to write about. Leading to a terminally dull blog. Terminally, as in, so boring it might actually cause someone to have a fatal accident when they fall, asleep, off their chair...

One of the perks of having an office job is that I can whip through a lot of blogs in between getting little bites of work done. I do this on purpose after reading the article "Working it Out" by Virginia Valian. This was right after reading her book Why So Slow. Both of them were hard-to-put-down good. The article in particular completely changed my view of how I work. I tend to work really hard for, like, 4 minutes, and then fuck around for at least 30. I always felt really guilty, and I have all this anxiety about being 'caught' (having an officemate who looks over my shoulder and makes comments about what is on my computer screen does not help). But the thing is, this is just how I work and trying to force myself to work continuously results in actual physical agony as I literally wrestle with myself I'm squirming so hard in my chair, and I don't actually get any more work done. I just make myself miserable. I seem to produce a reasonable amount of work, in the end, working at my 4:30 pace. My bosses have always been happy as far as I could tell, and I keep on getting new and better jobs. Valian talks about her own struggle to accept a somewhat similar working style, and I just thought, yeah, why not just accept that this is how I am?

Anyhow, short story long, I spend a lot of time reading blogs and stuff. And I love it. I love science, not so much the actual, nitty gritty doing of it, but the idea of it and all the exciting stuff going on. I subscribe to a lot of science press releases at Eureka Alerts. I am like some kind of science vacuum cleaner, hoovering through tons of material in a very superficial way and then dropping little tidbits into my conversations. My friends love me for this. They love that when they need info on some obscure something, they can come to me and 99% of the time my mouth will open and the words, "Oh I just read a book/article about that" will come out. I can't quite figure out how to turn this talent into a job, which is a shame because I am really, really good at it. I can't exactly charge my friends for 5 minutes of information! But god damn, if I could just spend my time sifting through all this stuff that interests me and then directing people to exactly what they need to know, I would be a happy camper. Whoa. That sounds like a librarian, now that I think of it. Except not just books, but info in general and general resource locating (be it the store where you can buy that obscure cleaning product or the website to learn about yarn conversions).

So here I introduce a new 'feature', a kind of web round up of the most interesting stuff I've stumbled across 'lately' (where lately is just however often I get around to this. Ideally daily, but I guess not quite).

The process of science
, which is supposed to be objective, but it operated by subjective, irrational humans.

One of my eternal, lingering anxieties, is about my published work. I am always finding mistakes in my code, and I worry that after I send something in I'll find this huge mistake in my work. Apparently, all science has the possibility of being wrong, and most of it is. Now, they mean this in the sense of new discoveries changing or contradicting old ones, but I guess a lot of it is just plain mistakes or bad thinking or bad math.

The whole vaccine-autism issue is a great example of ordinary people having lost their faith in the scientific process. This is really interesting to me. On the one hand, I'm a scientist and I see that the scientific method is ideally a logical, evidence based method of testing hypotheses and moving forward. It should be objective. But there's that word should. The process is done by humans, and we are subject to bias in what questions we choose to investigate, how we frame the question, and how we present the results. As a person who has been pretty maltreated by the western medical system, I've lost a lot of faith in this process. For example, I think massive studies looking at the 'average' response are kind of beside the point in a lot of cases. In my case, you might go out and test 100 people and ask "does wheat make them sick?" You would get a 'no, pretty much not" answer, with some responses floating around the outlier of 'yes'. You might conclude that "wheat does not make people sick". That answer isn't helpful, though, if a person has celiac disease. In that case, wheat makes us very, very sick. I see the point of testing large numbers of people for an average response, but I am not the aggregate of large numbers of people. I am me. So I don't really care about some mythical 'average' response. This entire "this is irrelevent" aspect applies to a lot of things in medicine, as far as I can tell, and really drives me nuts.


music and the brain

how praise affects kids

sleep deprivation

yes they are this obsessed with rules here.

BBC and their cat obsession

I think on of the BBC editors must love kitties, because they always have these great cat stories on there. I like kitties, myself...


This week I am obsessed with the incredible colors in Estonian unspun yarn, as seen in these shawls. Two yarn vendors are here and here.


Kittypi done

Woo hoo! The kittypi is ready to be felted. I think I'm going to do it today, even though using the washing machine is strictly forbidden on Sundays.... I know it kind of looks like a Sasquatch hat just now... Since I'm a bit of a Sasquatch myself here in Switzerland, I'm partial to misfit, quirky items.

This thing was fun to knit. I love big bulky scratchy yarns, but I don't know why! I just love how they feel on the needles, and I *lurve* the colors I used. I have a little stash of Lopi and Lamb's Pride bulky and I have some ideas about a couple of felted bags!


Thursday, November 15, 2007

help me use this yarn

This photo was for the Knitter's coffee swap, where we were composinng still life images. Artistic arrangement is not my strong point, but I figured this yarn is so gorgeous it could hold its own! My problem is that I love this yarn so much I am afraid to use it. My problems:

  • I'm not sure how much yardage I have. It's 120g. I need to go figure out the approximate diameter and guesstimate.
  • I don't know what to make. I think a shawl would be best to show off its gorgeousness, but that leads me back to the first point--I'm afraid to cast on because I don't know if I'll have enough.
  • The shop owner suggested I knit it with another strand since it's unspun, but I can't imagine how that will look and I'm afraid to swatch because I guess I can't frog unspun!!

Advice and words of encouragement always welcome!!!


Monday, November 05, 2007


Wow this came out nice! I guess that whole blocking thing is a good idea!

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

scarves, cats, and shawls

I finished my ISE 5 scarf! It was fun to work with a totally new yarn that I would never buy for myself. I got kind of irritated with it by the end, though, because it was so hairy and shed like mad which not only covered me in pink fuzz but also cranked up my anxiety level as I was worried I'd have a bald scarf in the end. I am pleased with how it came out. Here it is before blocking:

I've never blocked before so hopefully I didn't just destroy this thing!!

As a reward I cast on a little kitty pi for my cat Frances, who is living with my folks, patiently waiting for me to return to the US. I'm using Reynold's Lopi and Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky. I love it!!! I also actually figured out a bit about washing machines so I can hopefully have a successful go at felting this time around. Last time I got lost because I assumed US 'hot wash' would just be the hottest setting here. Well, the hottest setting in cleanliness obsessed Switzerland (seriously, the toilet seats are all removable for quick cleaning) is 90C, nigh onto boiling! No wonder I destroyed a pair pf mittens. Turns out 'hot' in the US is like 50C (120F). OOPS!

And here's the latest on the Mystic Waters KAL, including my first ever lifeline (made of dental floss!). I love how this is coming out too. Can't remember the last time I was so happy with all my various knitting!

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