Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Biking as portrayed in the Newspaper

The Toronto Star is featuring bikes in the Wheels section of today’s paper (I would love to link you to the actual articles, but all I have is my iPad-hence all the typos you will be seeing-and Wheels is not part of their mobile site nor could I find it clicking through to their regular site. You can click through from there to, but I couldn’t find any of the same articles there, though there is a link to a video of one of their writers talking about why he loves biking). If this doesn’t seem that exciting, keep in mind that Wheels typically features motorized vehicles. Also keep in mind that they didn’t put out this special issue because it’s some official sort of “bike-to-somewhere” day or because there has been an unfortunate run of accidents involving cyclists or because some politician got all het up about the “war on the car” and decided to talk about licenses and insurance for cyclists, which are some of the more common reasons newspapers have had in the past for focusing on cycling. Nor does the decision appear to be related to the ongoing Tour de France, which is covered in the sports section, but not really the kind of cycling they’re talking about here (in spite of the picture on the front of the section, which appears to be of a race).
No, they put together this section because, in their words, “If it belongs on the road-and bicycles do-then it belongs in Wheels”. I could not be more thrilled about this. It is like saying, we are talking about bicycles because people ride them and care about them and that’s reason enough. I am also pleased they seem to have avoided the common trap of taking a writer who hasn’t been on a bike in ten years, throwing them onto one of the busiest streets in Toronto and having him write about how harrowing this experience was. I know those sorts of articles are often supposed to convince folks we need better cycling infrastructure and while that’s a laudable goal, an inexperienced rider on a busy street is obviously going to give a biased report and rather than changing minds may just end up scaring off people who were thinking about giving biking a try.
No, they seem to have found a couple of writers who are also riders, one seemingly mostly on the city’s trail network and another who has an $8500 bicycle (crazy) and rides it along Steeles (crazier).
They avoided all these traps and yet I’m still not happy. A minor quibble, if you will. It would be such a shame for me not to uphold the stereotype of the angry self-righteous cyclist given such a golden opportunity.
The amazingly informative article on websites and resources for cycling around the city (did not know about, but I’ve been contemplating a longer, possibly-overnight trip recently, so I’m very excited to check it out) is on page 12 (not page 14 as the paper suggests). The article on fancy shifters and lightweight components and expensive tires? That’s on page 16. And the article on the best cars for transporting bikes, which is kind of a cool idea for an article that I don’t think I’ve seen before, is on page 20. The editorial stating everyone should wear a helmet? That’s on page 2.
Let me get this out of the way since it seems to be a compulsory thing for some people if you want to discuss cycling with them: I wear a helmet. I grew up when the mandatory helmets for under-16s law came in, so I feel naked without one. Although I should note that it’s over three years old, when some manufacturers recommend replacing (but there is some suggestion this is a cash grab). Also I’ve dropped it a few times, which means it may need to be replaced, but all these editorials that claim to be so interested in the skulls of cyclists often fail to mention this for some reason. (Other thing the Star fails to mention: the guy with the fancy bike worries about his speed, but speeding laws in Ontario only apply to motorized vehicles, although obviously they can still charge you with careless driving so 90 kph in a 50 isn’t recommended. I’m just trying to indicate that sometimes these bike articles seem poorly researched).
So with that out of the way, let me now say what I really want to. Cycling is so much more than helmets. To me it is fun and physical effort and getting to know new corners of the city and the pleasure of owning a vehicle simple enough that I can do basic repairs myself. And I’m sure to other people it’s even more than that. And I know that if they hadn’t mentioned helmets, someone in the comments would have (if I could find it online). And I know that if they had dared to show a picture of a cyclist without a helmet, it would be basically the only thing anyone in the comments mentioned. It’s frustrating as a cyclist to have something so minor dominate so much of the talk. It gives the impression that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is and that feeling safe is more important than being safe. And so I wish that the Star had left it out of their special issue. Or at least that it wasn’t the first thing they brought up about cycling. Or at least at least that they could mention it without the fear-inducing anecdotes.
But since they did, let me turn in my scientist card for a few minutes and fight anecdotal evidence with anecdotal evidence. Less than a year ago, a girl I worked with was walking in a quiet residential neighbourhood on the sidewalk when a car that had somehow lost control (still not clear on the details, but witness reports were of the car driving wildly through a stop sign beforehand) ran up on the sidewalk, knocked her through a fence and she landed on her head. Her brain shifted several centimetres; there was blood on it and she was in a coma. Several weeks later she died from her injuries.
Even just writing this out I feel silly using her death to try to demonstrate some point about safety, but no one ever seems to feel this way about using bicycle accidents, so I’ll press on. No one at her funeral suggested she “looked stupid” (as the editorial put it) for not wearing a helmet when she was hit. No one suggested they had a right to tell her what safety equipment she ought to have been wearing even though she needed the health care system and was thus “costing them money”. Because that would be silly. And because people are reasonable when it comes to pedestrians (mostly).
People get that when you leave your safe little home and poke your head out in the world, you are taking on a certain level of risk and that you wouldn’t have gotten hurt if you had elected to just stay home, but that we as a society have decided that this really isn’t a practical way to live. So we let some people walk without safety equipment and some people with further to go or more stuff to transport drive large motorized vehicles right alongside them. And we understand that when we let people do that, sometimes someone loses control. And sometimes someone else is, tragically, horribly, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I don’t know if wearing a helmet would have saved my friend. The same way everyone with a near-miss bike story who claims the helmet saved them can’t know that that’s true. But I am pretty confident that newspapers that have chosen to run features on pedestrian issues have not opened by suggesting all pedestrians should encase themselves in protective gear because walking is dangerous and it just makes sense.
But helmets so dominate the cycling conversation in North America that people do think it’s the most important thing to ask or mention any time cycling comes up. First, before anything else. Even if the original conversation was not about safety to start with. Look, even if the talk is about safety, helmets shouldn’t be the first thing mentioned. The best way to stay safe is not to get hit. And the best way not to get hit, assuming you’re not willing to stay home, is to be visible and predictable and follow the rules. Take a course if you need to.
So to take my own advice, I hope this is the last you’ll hear about helmets on this blog. Let’s try to offset that big rant with a more positive cycling story. I played Ultimate this week at Fergy Brown Park and decided to bike there from work. I have been over it a few times and can’t figure out a reasonable route that doesn’t take me a few kilometres down Eglinton Ave. This section of Eg is six lanes wide and, although that mean traffic moves freakily fast, there is also a lot of room to pass. Except now they are starting construction for the Eglinton crosstown and it’s down to two lanes, one each direction. Which is how I found myself facing down a row of pylons at rush hour on the Thursday before a long weekend with a huge line of cars behind me. And I ended up totally fine. Thanks to the kind drivers who let me in and didn’t try to sneak past when there wasn’t room to pass safely. Thanks to everyone who waited behind me. I’m sure some of you were cursing the 30 extra seconds it took you to get through, especially Eastbound where I swear I biked my little heart out to get up that hill. I know it can feel like forever when you’re slowed down so much, but know that I very much appreciate you not honking impatiently. Seriously. I’ve been biking here a little over three years and only had a few bad incidents, but those are the ones that stick with you. So glad this was not one of them. You all made my day.


What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I’ve read a few things over the past few months and although I didn’t have an entire post’s worth of stuff to say about any of them, I thought I would do a quick summary of a few of them here.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins (The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Flavius tilts up my chin and sighs. ‘It’s a shame Cinna said no alterations on you.’

‘Yes, we could really make you something special,’ says Octavia.

I flew through this one in about a day again and yet I can’t say I really enjoyed it as much as the first. I thought things were headed one way and then they sort of twisted back to repeat a lot of the first book (I actually wrote “Not again,” at one point in the notes). Not a lot of new ground covered and, if anything, this time Katniss gets really lucky and has a lot of help rather than relying on her own skill. Which is fine. She’s just one girl being thrown toward death by a nefarious government desperate not to lose control. It’s okay for her to have help. But in a first-person narrative I think it gets a bit tough to tell the bigger story that is going on in this world, especially when Katniss is in the dark about what’s really happening 90% of the time. And the love triangle gets frustrating what with everything else seeming to be of so much more immediate importance.

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Peace, Harmony and Ralph Lauren

So there was a bit of a knitting dustup about knitting social network Ravelry using the term Ravelympics for knitting toward specific, self-imposed goals while watching the Olympics and making use of the online forums to post results, and the US Olympic Committee, who felt that the name might constitute trademark infringement (there is also an issue with the rings logo, which I actually understand and agree with the USOC on). I’ve never participated in the Ravelympics (though this whole incident is the first time I’ve really looked into it and I’m thinking about joining in, although maybe on Team Apathy. But then again maybe not.), but I’m not aware that anyone ever thought the hat dash was an official Olympic Committee-sanctioned activity and so I was going to write some snark stating pretty much that and maybe make a pun about knitting needles near the dressage making it difficult to stay on their high horses and then try to get a dig in at the US for being so litigious. But then the USOC apologized and the Yarn Harlot showed up to be all reasonable and I decided maybe I should just let it go.

But as it turned out, I couldn’t exactly do that. Because apparently I have a lot of feelings about the Olympics and actually maybe some of my anger about this letter was not about knitting or Ravel-whatever-it-ends-up-being-called specifically, but more frustration about the general commercialization trend.

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WIP Wednesday: Orion’s Belt Shawl

I started Paulina Popiolek’s Orion’s Belt Shawl and am really liking it so far. As with most things in life at the moment, it’s not quite what I originally planned, but Lilia Bella is only in Knitting Magazine. I’m really not good at paying attention to things like that when I queue stuff. In spite of having grown up before the internet really came of age, I still find myself surprised when things are not immediately available electronically. Why no instant gratification? 😦

Fortunately I love a large number of her designs (I wasn’t even aware of her before my last queuing binge. I’m not sure how that’s possible), so I just picked a different shawl and started out. I biked back down to The Purple Purl to pick up a ball of Tanis Fiber Arts in Shadow to go with the Cobalt I already had. I swatched, although more to check colours than size.


Checking colours. Going with the blue and grey.

I’m a bit short on the main colour yardage, so I’m doing it on 3.5 mm needles and may still have to adjust the final few centimetres with an extra contrasting colour stripe. Or add in some of the purple yarn. Or make another trip down to the yarn store for another hank of Cobalt. But I’ll burn that bridge if I come to it.

It’s going pretty well so far. The short rows kept the first bit interesting and I seem to have done the wraps okay for once so there were no big holes after the pickup. I’m just getting to the coloured pattern now, which I just assumed was going to be a stranded thing, but is actually slipped stitches and stuff, so that’s kind of cool. I never thought of doing a colour pattern like that. The rows are obviously long so I’m only doing them one or two at a time, but the whole pattern isn’t that many rows, so I’m already halfway through it.

Orion's belt shawl

I thought about going to buy a longer needle, but I think it will just barely fit on this one.

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Graduation: Second Time’s the Charm

Friday was the convocation ceremony for my PhD. I had initially though I wouldn’t go because I’ve done it before for undergrad and I celebrated after my defense and there would be so many people. But then someone else from my program who graduated last year recommended going and I thought “Well my parents will be excited to see it and get some pictures,” but actually it was really nice and I’m so glad I went.

It was a beautiful day to start with. And then a friend who actually started a post-doc in the UK last September and defended in December flew back in for it so I got to see her. My Dad had already joked that it was like Harry Potter because I took them to the bathrooms in Med Sci and I never noticed but the sign for the men’s bathroom directs you through the wall, like platform 9 ¾. Then you show up and there are robes and the marshalling room where you check in is this great hall-esque room with high ceilings and two guys in robes at a big table with a stained glass window behind them.

I have to say that I don’t have the greatest record when it comes to uplifting speeches by the honourary graduand. This one was Michael Kirby on the poor state of mental health care. And my undergrad was Gwynne Dyer talking about global warming and how like 80% of the world could end up underwater. However, the pre-convocation organizational speech to get everyone in order and into the hall was very entertaining:

“Frequently asked questions, in order of importance. #1-Where is the bathroom? Through this door. Don’t go until I’m done with the rest of the info. #2-How do I put on this stupid hood?” Then he climbed on the table and proceed to describe the process, finishing with “You might try to pull it up, but you’ll notice it’s weighted to the back. This is because it’s designed to look good from one angle and one angle only. That is the back, which is what people will spend most of the time staring at when you shake the chancellor or President’s hand. If it feels like you’re being strangled by a very weak person, you’ve got it on right.”
U of T also graduates people in 2s – a handshake from the Chancellor or the President-for maximum efficiency. Pictures at the side of the stage by the mace. Through the hall to sign for and pick up your diploma, grad picture with the fake diploma. Grad picture without the diploma. Say your name into the recorder please. Bam Bam Bam Bam. You’re done. This was also part of the organizational speech.
“Everyone should have a white card with their name and a number on it and I apologize for this but to us, for the next hour or so, you are that number. Hey, it’s U of T. You knew what you were getting when you signed up.”
Anyway, we got in line in the marshalling room and the super-efficient marshaller who did the seating made a very sweet little speech about today is about you, but it’s not just about you. For many of you, you might be the first person in your family to graduate with a Masters or a PhD or from University at all. And that was possible because your parents maybe went to University and then worked hard. And that was possible for them because their parents worked hard. And so this is really all the culmination of the work of a few generations of people, together, and maybe reflect on that as we walk across the grass to convocation hall. I don’t usually go in for the whole American dream thing, but I got a little choked up.
Afterward, outside for a zillion pictures, get your diploma frame and cram onto the subway with your flowers at 5 pm on a Friday. Wheeee.
Grad flowers

They made it home through the rush hour crush intact. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Anyway, I just want to add a bit about Michael Kirby’s speech. He is the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and his speech included some staggering statistics about mental health, particularly in Universities (over half of students are stressed and overwhelmed; 7% have contemplated suicide). This is actually the fourth time that mental illness and suicide have come up in a short period for me, including a friend who was shocked when a friend of hers committed suicide recently.

So I just want to say, because the numbers indicate that it really doesn’t get said often enough: if you know some one who is depressed, please take it seriously. I don’t think it is really possible to extrapolate from our own experience of being down for a few weeks to the kind of experience where you contemplate ending your own life. So the things that work to cheer you up aren’t going to work for someone who is depressed and you might need to encourage that person to seek more help than you can give.

And if you are depressed, please know that you’re not alone, not by a long shot  these numbers would suggest, and that although I can’t really understand what you’re going through, there is no reason to be ashamed or to think that you shouldn’t get help, that you will be a bother to people by asking or that you don’t deserve help. And if no one in your life understands what you’re saying or knows what to do, well I’m not sure exactly what to do as it probably depends on location, but your doctor or a hospital should have resources or links to the mental health community. Kirby was focusing on, which is a way for Canadians to support this cause, including by changing the way mental health is viewed and spreading the word. I know raising awareness has developed something of a bad rap for some causes, but in this case it really is a big part of a solution because the stigma attached to mental illness, not just depression but psychoses and substance abuse as well, is making people afraid to seek help or even admit they have a problem. Please let’s all try to be more aware and sympathetic when someone comes to us for an ear.

Enfin, Vendredi d’Achèvement: $5 in Paris

$5 in Paris

Completed $5 in Paris

$5 in Paris

A little closer, you can see that it’s a bit lumpy and weird, but in a way, aren’t we all a bit lumpy and weird? In a way.

Pattern: $5 in Paris by Anna Peck-Maliszewski

Yarn: Knitpicks Brava Worsted, 425 yards Tidepool and 316 yards Eggplant

Size: 40″ bust, 32″ waist, 24″ long, with longer sleeves than pattern (~16″ along outer edge from shoulder).

A few more pictures and then I will get into my way-too-long modifications section.

$5 in Paris from the side

From the side

$5 in Paris from the back

From the back

$5 in Paris off the shoulder

Wearing it off the shoulder

Modifications: I got way too fiddly with things just because I was worried about it not fitting and kept doubting myself. Also, I knit a big chunk of it on a plane and on vacation where it wasn’t really convenient to keep track of things in Ravelry, so my notes were scratched onto the back of an envelope (literally) and since I didn’t get around to weaving in the ends for a over a month, I’m not sure I quite remember what all of them are supposed to say, but here is my best deciphering of some of the things I claim to have done.

Cast on 176 stitches and did 8 increases for the shoulders (I have big shoulders), then knit one row even before setting the sleeve stitches aside just to finish the first non-ribbed green stripe before the colour change. Cast on 6 sts backward loop for the colour change.

Bust shaping: Three sets of short turn rows along the front: rows 10-11 of second purple stripe, rows 7-8 of second green stripe, rows 3-4 of third purple stripe. This was my first attempt with Japanese short rows and I liked them, but I was getting a hole on the one side, I think because I wasn’t sure what to do knitting in the round: at the second turn you actually have two extra rows vertically and I couldn’t find a way to get rid of the gap during knitting. I patched it up a bit when weaving in ends and after washing the thing, it looks okay now.

Waist shaping: Started the waist decreases (ssk when one stitch past the side marker, k2tog one stitch before marker) on row 6 of the third green stripe. I didn’t feel like the decreases in the pattern were fast enough and I calculated it out using my bust and waist measurements and decided I needed to decrease four stitches every three rounds. I thought I would need seven sets of decreases, but I stopped at six because it was getting a bit tight. I think maybe I started the decreases a few rows too early and also they were a bit fast. Would maybe go every four rows if I did it again.

Started the hip increases on row 5 of the fourth green stripe (Make 1 front one stitch after the marker and make 1 back before the marker). Other increases row 9 of the fouth green stripe and rows 4 and 8 of the fifth purple stripe.

I ran into a small problem because I’m taller than the original pattern was designed for, so I was going to have to do two extra stripes to finish with a purple before the green ribbing and I was worried that would be too long, so I only did 12 rows in the last two stripes to shorten things up a bit (could not stop nervously fiddling with the pattern. One row here, try it on, one row there, try it on) and then did 2.5 inches of ribbing on the bottom. I’m happy with that length.

Sleeves: I had 51 stitches on the holder + 11 picked up. I wanted longer arms so I knit three stripes, decreasing two stitches roughly every 6 rows:
second purple: rows 3 and 9
second green: rows 2 and 8
third purple: rows 1, 7 and 13
I went down to the smaller size needles for the ribbing, but I was still worried it wasn’t tight enough, so I actually decreased four stitches on row 16 of the ribbing, adjusting so the rib pattern stayed okay (hid the icky part on the inside of the sleeve). I would not recommend doing this, but, yeah, first sweater, nervous, fiddly, etc. Then knit 5 more rows and cast off.

So that’s it. I haven’t actually worn it around yet because I finished it just in time for 30 degree weather, but I like it except it’s maybe a bit tight in the bust and I’m worried the acrylic won’t breathe much and will make me really sweaty. But otherwise I like the yarn and it’s pretty soft after the first wash and dry. I have a bunch left, plus some in Fairy Tale, so I will probably end up ordering some more to do another sweater or something at some point when I have more money.

I’m off to my graduation. Check out today’s other FOs on Tami’s Amis.

Subway Token Holder

I notice a lot of people keep subway tokens in their wallets where they get mixed in with their other change and they’re never quite sure how many they have. You can buy a token holder of course, but I discovered a while ago that tokens (in Toronto; can’t make any guarantees about other cities) fit very nicely in an empty chapstick case. My old one was starting to get cracked along the top

Subway token holder

Old and busted token case (cracked along the top)

so I thought I would take some pics while constructing the new one in case anyone else wants to make their own, even though it’s really straightforward.

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