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My personal (but public) notes about my homebrewing, knitting and other random stuff

Monday, May 22, 2006

Man does not live on bread alone...

I realised today with some shock that it's well over a month since I last blogged anything. It's been quite a busy time, with moving to my new flat and then going away to visit my parents last week, but things are now beginning to settle down a bit.

Today I became the proud possessor of a new bread machine - something I've wanted to do for several years but had to put off while I was still sharing a kitchen. At the moment it's working away at my first loaf of bread - I've gone for a plain white loaf this time, but hope to get more creative soon.

I also got a steamer so that I can cook vegetables in a more healthy way. This is just one of those little metal basket contraptions that sits inside an ordinary saucepan, but it's perfectly adequate for my current needs. Tonight I had steamed cabbage, carrots and onion for dinner, together with boiled potatoes (mainly because I couldn't fit them in the steamer too) and a tin of fish. I was particularly pleased with the steamed onion. Very tasty.

Not much to report by way of knitting. I'm nearing the end of my first sock - about an inch to go before I have to start work on the toe. At this rate the first pair should just about be ready to go by the time it gets cold enough to merit woolen socks again. I've just borrowed some knitting patterns from my mum, including several for Aran jumpers/cardigans. I'd like to have a go at knitting one of those soon too.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

LANs and lines

I'm slightly confused at the moment (even more so than usual). Here's why...

On Friday we had new windows fitted. Proper, double-glazed ones. All very nice, but unfortunately the workmen seem to have bashed the exterior phone cable while they were at it, leaving us without a working phone line - and hence no home internet connection. I mentioned it to them this morning when they came back to tidy up round the windows, and they promised to have a look at it. On returning home from work a few minutes ago, I discovered that my internet connection is back up and running, but we're still without a working phone. I assume that they tried to fix the broken wiring but didn't do a very good job and somehow only the component of the signal that makes up the broadband connection (I forget whether it's the high or the low frequency bit, or I could be completely wrong about the technology) has been restored. For my immediate purposes it's good, as I tend to make much heavier use of the internet than the phone in any case, while my housemates both use their mobiles quite a bit. However, I guess I may have to call out the BT engineer in any case.

Also on the subject of networks, I had my first LAN party last Saturday. It was hosted at my house, largely because I was the one with the network hub (aka my broadband modem - which still functioned as a router even without the external phone line). There were four of us in total, with 3 desktop PCs and one laptop. The main downside was that we had to use Windows (as that's the only OS the other three run, and I've not managed to get my games working under emulation in Linux) and virtually all my (limited) networking experience is with Linux. After quite a bit of fiddling we managed to get the computers to acknowledge each other's existence. That's when we discovered the other problem.

Initially the idea had been to play a 4-way multiplayer game of Civilization III, given that we're all keen players of Civ (to varying extents - I enjoy it now and then, while my friend Phil is almost fanatically devoted to it). Unfortunately we only had 2 copies of the Conquests CD needed to play a multiplayer LAN game. In the end we set up a game on two computers and used the other two to play a different game - Shogun: Total War. That's also a fine game but had the distinct disadvantage (for me) that I've only ever played it a couple of times, a long time ago, while my opponent was quite an expert at it. Still, I didn't lose nearly so comprehensively in the second battle as in the first. I was still completely massacred, but it showed progress, at least.

It was good fun and I hope to do something similar again, but next time we'll have to make sure that we have enough copies of the same game.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I think I first heard about freecycling a few months ago on Wulf's blog. It struck me at the time as being a great sounding idea, but I didn't get round to pursuing it any further.

I'm now gearing up to move from my current (shared) house to a flat of my own (well, still rented, but no more housemates with conflicting ideas about stuff like washing up) and have had to start thinking about getting rid of some of the surplus junk I've acquired over the last few years. What better than to freecycle it?

Checking out the Freecycle homepage, I found a reasonably active group in my local area and signed up. That was about 3 days ago. Fairly quickly , I posted my first offer - of an old 1-row melodeon that I'd picked up on eBay in the vain hope that it would be reasonably playable. I had a good crop of responses, with about half a dozen people showing interest. The first person I offered it to changed her mind, as she'd found out that the person she'd had in mind to get it for had just got one of their own. The second person called round this evening to collect it, and he seemed delighted with it. It gave me quite a warm glow.

I've now offered some bits that I salvaged from my old car before I scrapped it, which I've realised I don't actually need, and I have a few other things I'll probably offer soon too. I'm going to try to resist the temptation to get any new things until I've moved to the flat and found out whether I'll actually have any space for more stuff. Unless someone happens to offer a washing machine, as I'll be needing one of those.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Turned on

Rejoice with me, for my computer which was dead is now alive again!

(If you missed that episode, you can read all about it here and here.)

The new PSU I ordered arrived today, so I fitted it this evening. A pretty straightforward job, involving no more than taking the cover off the case, unscrewing the old PSU, unplugging the various cables from the motherboard and disk drives, taking the unit out, putting the new one in, plugging in the relevant cables (the new PSU has a couple of extra connectors, but I'm pretty sure I don't need them as the machine worked fine without them before), putting the screws back and refitting the cover. I then plugged the machine in, hit the switch, and ...

... was very disappointed when nothing happened. Fortunately, before defenestrating the PC in my frustration, I remembered that the new PSU had an on/off switch on the back of it. On checking, I found that this was indeed in the off position. After switching it, the machine started beautifully.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Socks and scarves

Unfortunately the temporary power failure on my PC I wrote about yesterday seems not to have been quite so temporary after all. It appears that the power supply unit is dead, so I've ordered a new one. I'm hoping that once that is fitted the machine will work ok, and no other damage was sustained in the power cut (assuming it's not just a coincidence that the PSU failed then). As a fringe benefit, hopefully the new one will be a bit quieter than the old one, which had a particularly noisy fan.

More positively, I've managed to get a bit more knitting progress done recently. I finished my garter ridge scarf several days ago (but didn't get round to blogging it before now, mainly as I was awaiting a photo). I still prefer the ribbed scarf (which I wore on a canal boating trip last weekend, where it proved to be very useful - lovely and warm even in wet weather), but I'm quite pleased with this one too. It has a definite tendency to roll up into a tube, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as it's a one-sided design (fortunately it rolls with the ridged pattern on the outside). Here's what it looks like on me:

In addition, my first sock is now coming along quite nicely. After 6" of 2x2 ribbing fo the leg, I've started to work the heel flap. Unlike the test heel I did earlier, where I switched to straight (single pointed) needles for this, I've stuck with my dpns for this one. Half the stitches (i.e. 30 of them) are left sitting on one needle, while I work backwards and forwards in stocking stitch on the remaining ones, with 3 stitches of garter stitch at each end (and starting each row with a single slip stitch and finishing it with a purl). I'm still following Elizabeth Zimmermann's sock pattern from Knitting Without Tears very closely (I can't remember if I already mentioned that). At the moment it looks something like this:

The first time I tried to upload that picture of my sock, I accidentally put up this image instead:

I guess that's something like my sock looked a few months (or years?) back. In actual fact, that's some sheep I photographed on a hillside somewhere near Llangollen during my aforementioned canal trip last weekend.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fried chips?

This morning while I was at work, there was a momentary power cut which caused my desktop PC to reboot. I was working on my laptop at the time and I assume that it must have switched temporarily to battery power when the mains cut off. Unusually the desktop PC, which was running Windows XP, didn't complain too much about not being turned off properly, like it usually does.

However, on reaching home I discovered that my desktop PC here was also affected, despite being turned off at the time. Nothing happened when I hit the "on" switch. I've checked the physical connections and also tried swapping the PC and monitor cables to check that the fuse was ok (the monitor was getting power). The rest of my system seems to be fine - e.g. I'm able to connect my laptop up to my modem (otherwise I wouldn't be posting this just now) but the actual PC is unresponsive. I seem to recall that it did something similar one time a couple of years ago when there was another momentary power cut (I was actually using it at that time). On that occasion the PC seemed dead and, since it was very late at night, I went to bed instead of trying to fix it. When I tried it again in the morning it worked fine. Perhaps there's some kind of slow-resetting fuse inside? Anyway, I'm inclined to leave it for a few hours before I start to worry too much about it.

It's especially annoying as I have the afternoon off work (using up the last of this year's annual leave allowance) and was hoping to spend the time tweaking my new Ubuntu installation. I'll just have to read a book or something instead!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I need a blogroll

I've been blogging for a while now, mostly on this (my original blog) but also on two other blogs, both accessible via links from the sidebar. These are both in different languages and are mostly to give me a chance at writing practice (or an excuse for free composition in the relevant languages). One is in Welsh, a language I've been learning and using for almost seven years now and in which I'm reasonably fluent (the fact that I live in a moderately Welsh-speaking area of Wales helps a lot). The other is in Spanish, which I actually started learning before Welsh (I first had a look at it at least 12 years ago) but have only been studying reasonably seriously for a fairly short while. In fact, that blog started out in Esperanto, but switched to Spanish when I decided to focus my language learning efforts there instead.

I've also recently joined a communal blog on the subject of creating tote bags. This blog, the Tote-along, is for people who like making bags in any style although my interest is essentially in knitted ones. I've so far made one small bag (which I've already blogged about at the Tote-along and on this blog) to hold my knitting accessories (tape measure, crochet hooks, pins etc.), I'm in the process of knitting another, larger bag to use for holding future knitting projects, and I have one or two more ideas for bags I'd like to knit when I've got another one or two of my current projects finished.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my relatively new interest in blogging has also led me to start reading other people's blogs. There's a fairly small number that I check out regularly (mostly using Rojo - a web-based blog reader recommended to me by my brother). I think I should probably set up a blogroll at the side of my blog to list some of them. (Not tonight though, as I want to read a few more chapters of the Silmarillion before bed.)

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Celtic Cheese

Recently I've taken to browsing the "reduced to clear" items on the cheese counter in my local supermarket. That way I can get a variety of more interesting (and usually more expensive) cheeses at a lower price. What's more, they are usually nearing the optimum age for eating once they approach the sell-by date (the usual reason for clearance) so I don't have to either hold on to the cheese for days or weeks (nigh-on impossible for me) or eat it before its prime. As an added benefit, it makes cheese shopping more exciting, as I never know what (if anything) I'm going to come home with.

Last week I picked up a block of Cheshire - not particularly exciting, but good for cheese on toast (the Welsh national dish, apparently). Today was even better, as I got not one but two varieties of augmented cheddar. The first was (still is, as even I don't eat cheese that fast) called Harlech and is a Welsh cheddar flavoured with horseradish (described on the label as "hot", but I disagree with that assessment) and parsley. The other one is Scottish, and is called "Highland Honey and Herb cheddar". I'll leave you to figure out what that was flavoured with. :-)

I'm hoping they'll have some green cheese on offer again soon, as I haven't had any for a while.

BTW I haven't done quite so much knitting lately, but my sock and other projects are still coming along slowly. My first scarf is definitely proving its worth in the cold weather. I'll try to get some more pictures posted soon.


Monday, March 20, 2006


While waiting for a website to load this afternoon at work, I wrote a couple of haiku. I decided to blog them straightaway, to avoid losing them when I inevitably misplace the scrap of paper they are on. One is written in Welsh (mainly to see how it would work) and is on my Welsh-language blog (my first post there for nearly two months). The other one, inspired by the chilly weather we've been having lately, runs thus:

Chilly March morning
gives way to an afternoon
that is colder still

It occurs to me that I don't know the conventions for capitalising Haiku. Obviously that wouldn't be a problem in the original Japanese, as they don't distinguish capital letters, but I don't know whether each line in an English haiku is usually capitalised (as in most traditional verse) or not. I've gone for the latter option in this case.

I find haiku a very satisfying form of poetry to write, and also good to read. For my birthday last year, a friend gave me a book entitled something along the lines of 100 Great Books in Haiku. Essentially what it does is take 100 books (ranging from Beowulf to Lady Chatterley's Lover) and summarises each one in a single haiku. Some of the ones for which I've actually read the original (and am therefore in a position to judge) are actually extremely perceptive (and often very funny) summaries.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ribbed for my pleasure

I've finally finished another knitting project! As I suspected the first one of the current batch to get finished was the Ribbed for her pleasure scarf that I started just over a month ago. On finishing the fourth skein of yarn (bringing it up to 200g), the scarf measured 56" long, which is plenty. The width was about 4.5" wide. I say was because I've now had a go at blocking it (made difficult by the fact that I didn't have anywhere sufficiently large to lay it out flat, so it's currently drying, carefully folded, on my windowsill) and I suspect that the dimensions might change a little after that (I didn't measure carefully).

I was going to include a photo of me wearing the scarf, but the Blogger photo upload thing seems to be playing up at the moment. Instead here's a link to the same photo on Flickr. While you're there, you could have a look at some of my other photos too.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Happy Pi Day!

I don't know whether it's officially celebrated at all, but I always think of today as pi day. That's pi as in π, the Greek letter, or more specifically the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, rather than pie as in what you eat. Although, it must be said that my main way of celebrating pi day is to eat at least one pie. Today it was steak and kidney, for dinner, and I also had a slice of lemon torte (sort of lemon meringue pie sans meringue) at a friend's house this evening.

Anyway, back to π. It has a numerical value of roughly 22/7 or 3.14159.... I can't actually remember any more decimal places, although to be honest five is plenty for most hand calculations. Even with a powerful computer program you'd probably never need more than twenty for the most accurate of calculations. Still, if people want to spend their time calculating π to billions of decimal places that's fine by me. They will, of course, never be able to calculate it completely since it is an irrational number - or more specifically a transcendental one (it doesn't appear as the root of any algebraic equation, if I remember the definition correctly).

That's enough going back to my mathematical roots (algebraic or otherwise) for now. More knitting to follow soon.

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Update: I've just checked out the Technorati tag for pi and discovered that pi day is indeed widely celebrated, if not official. Also, if you're wondering why today is pi day, notice that in the American system of writing dates (which I think in general is far less logical than either the ISO or British systems as there's no clear progression from larger to smaller time units or vice versa as with the others), 14th March is written numerically as 3/14, or 3.14 if you use a dot separator. QED.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How many projects?

I'm pondering the optimum number of knitting projects to take on at one time.

At the moment I have 4 on the needles and one more (a wedding present, so I'll need to get a move on as the big day is rapidly approaching) in planning. I've also got several more ideas for projects I'd like to start, but I'm inclined to finish at least one of my current projects first. On the one hand, having several projects means that I can switch between them for a bit of variation (e.g. my tote bag is quite long rows of stocking stitch, so it's very straightforward but not the most exciting thing to knit) to suit my mood or the available time (if I only have time for a quick burst I'll probably do a row or two of my ribbed scarf). On the other hand, having too many projects means that progress is slow at all of them.

I think it's probably good to have at least two contrasting projects at once - and I suspect that I'll usually have at least one sock on the go as well as something non socky. Probably having too many more than 4 or 5 would get too much at once, so I'll probably try to stick between those limits. For the moment, then, I'll aim to get one of my scarves finished before I start on something else. I want to have a go at a Tam o'Shanter soon, but I'll need to finish my tote bag first as it uses the same yarn (a 400g ball of aran weight acrylic/wool, which should be big enough for both projects). I also want to get the bag finished as soon as possible so that I can use it to hold my next project.

By the way, I've decided on the next few books I'm going to read. First up will be John Wyndham's Stowaway to Mars (one of his early novels (c. 1935) and probably originally published under a pseudonym). Then The Silmarillion by Tolkien, followed by Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov and after that The Hobbit. I'll probably then choose something a bit different before tackling The Lord of the Rings (for the third time - I've also read The Hobbit at least twice before, and The Silmarillion once, but they are all good enough books to sustain multiple readings). Of course, I may change my plans entirely, but that's the idea for now.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Need to read

While tidying my room this afternoon (a rare occurence and not one I particularly enjoy, although it's nice to be able to move around unimpeded for a few days afterwards) it struck me that I've hardly read any books so far this year - at least not in the way of fiction. I've read (or am reading) a number of knitting books and other factual things.

Over the years I've observed that my reading tends to come and go in bursts. Sometimes I'll read avidly for several months and do hardly anything else with my leisure time, while other times I'll go for weeks or months and hardly touch a novel or short story collection. This time my low-reading phase corresponds fairly well with my new found knitting passion. While knitting goes very well with watching films, and even better with listening to music, I find it doesn't blend so well with reading, as I need hands to hold my book open as well as to knit.

At some point soon I want to reread The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (and probably also The Hobbit while I'm at it), but I think I'm in the mood for some science fiction first. I'll probably start with the fourth book in Asimov's Foundation series (I forget the exact title, although I was looking at it earlier today). I've also got a novel by John Wyndham (one of my favourite authors) that I picked up from the library recently (it was on sale for 25p), and plenty of other books of all kinds waiting to be read.

The question is, do I start my book (whichever one I choose) before I've done a spot of work on one of my knitting projects (whichever one I choose), or leave it till afterwards, by which time it will probably be past bedtime. Life would be so much easier if it wasn't for stuff like sleep and work!

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Techno makes me ratty

In case you're wondering about the Tags thing that's mysteriously appeared at the bottom of my last post, it's because I've recently discovered the joys of Technorati. As far as I can make out at the moment, it's essentially a system for live searching of blogs across the web. In particular, it enables you to set keywords for your blog entries so that people can do keyword searches on blogspace.

Along with blogging itself, and other things like wikis (such as the venerable Wikipedia and photosharing via Flickr (and doubtless other similar sites, but that's the one I use - under the name of magnuscanis), this is part of the current generation of web technology, sometimes dubbed Web 2.0, that is replacing the more passive web browsing experiences of the previous generation. The main hallmarks of this stuff seem to be interactivity (allowing people to publicly comment on, if not change, the content of webpages), searchability (largely via tags) and a reliance on XML as the main underpinning technology.

All very interesting stuff.

And, in case you're wondering, my first sock is now about 2.5" long!

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The sock of 1000 feet begins with a single stitch

I've finally started my first sock!

I wrote about it here with details of the yarn, needles and number of stitches, but I don't think I mentioned that the calf part of the sock will be in 2x2 rib all the way down. I'll then turn the heel using Elizabeth Zimmermann's conventional heel and continue to do 2x2 rib down the top while using stocking stitch for the bottom. I'm planning to use the same yarn throughout on this pair. Doubtless I'll try out some different ideas for later socks. I'm already thinking along the lines of one using stocking stitch for most of the body and confining ribbing to the very top, one (possibly the same one) with stripes (probably horizontal ones), one with contrasting colours for toe and heel (and probably the top ribbed band), and perhaps a cabled one. Obviously I mean one pair each time, although it is alarming how many of my pairs of socks seem to end up as single socks.

Anyway, all that's in the future. I'm enjoying sock knitting perhaps the most out of all the knitting I've done so far (it's challenging enough to be interesting without being impossibly difficult, and provides a very practical and useful end product) and I'm sure it will form a large part of my knitting activity, but so far I've only got 1" of the first sock done!


Monday, March 06, 2006

Learn by doing

For several days now I've been putting off turning the heel of my practice sock because I didn't feel that I understood the instructions in the book (Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears, which I was beginning to feel was inappropriately named) at all well. That's had the knock-on effect of stopping me from making a start on my real socks too. I'd got as far as finishing the heel flap and then ground to a halt.

Tonight I finally decided to bite the bullet and have a go, and I found that once I got started a fair amount of puzzling over the written instructions, a small amount of lateral thinking and a quick peek in Montse Stanley's Knitter's Handbook (which, despite being a pretty comprehensive reference work doesn't have much to say explicitly about socks, but does have a useful section on picking up (or knitting up) stitches - just what I needed to make sense of EZ's rather terse instructions).

The actual turning of the heel, which consisted of knitting various short rows (the first time I'd tried that technique), was actually very straightforward once I realised that I was supposed to work back and forwards across the centre of the row, gradually bringing in extra stitches from the edge and decreasing the total number of stitches. It took a bit longer to figure out the next bit, where EZ referred rather cryptically (at least for a knitting newbie like me) to knitting up stitches. From the photo in the book, and a small measure of common sense (about all I could muster), I was able to figure out which direction I was supposed to go in, and intuitively knew (or at least thought) I had to pick up stitches along the edge of the heel flap. It was only when I consulted Stanley for how to do that (since EZ didn't seem to talk about that technique - or perhaps it's just that the index is rather skimpy) that I discovered "knit up" to be more-or-less a synonym for "pick up" and was able to make sense of the instructions at last.

I hit upon one more small problem when I'd worked round to the bottom again. I'd transferred from double pointed needles to single pointed ones while doing the heel flap, and I suddenly found I needed to get my stitches off the wrong end of the needle. It was no great problem, as I could simply slip them across to a dpn and get to work. However, when I do the socks for real it will be easier if I remember to switch back to dpns the row before I start to work up the edge, or even if I just stick to dpns throughout.

Also, while I was using 5mm needles for the test piece (partly to make it bigger and slightly easier to see what was going on, and also so that my 4mm dpns would be free to start the real socks, as I intended to do before finishing the test heel), I'll be using 4mm ones for the real socks and I only have a set of four of those, while I have a set of five 5mm ones. Most of the time that won't be a great problem as I've only been using four anyway, but there was a point when I was starting to work in the round again after the heel that I needed to bring the fifth needle in to play. I'll have to be a bit more careful with my needle management next time.

Because I'm so chuffed about cracking the heel, I've decided to upload two photos of it. One is (or should be) at the top of the post and other one right here:

As well as my sock knitting, I've done another 16 rows of my garter ridge scarf today (including 2 rows before work this morning, as I decided to break away from having to do it in 8 row blocks) and a handful of rows of my tote bag. I may start the new skein going on my ribbed scarf before I go to bed, but I'll probably start my first real sock instead. I reckon to have at least one of my scarves finished by the weekend - it's just a shame that the snow round here has already more-or-less melted!

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