Friday, October 31, 2008

Variegated Cabled Vest!

So it's Halloween and I have no plans - I'm not willing to brave the bars on Halloween in general, but when it falls on a Friday? Definitely not. So what have I done, in the absence of costume preparation?

I finished a knitting project! For me!

Introducing...
The Variegated Cabled Vest!

I got motivated and finished it this afternoon. I had to teach myself how to pick up stitches around the neckline and armholes properly (there were some early disasters while attempting to do that), but it still turned out well. I'm happy with the overall end product, but it over-emphasizes the flab at the waist a little more than I would like. (Oh well, maybe it'll be motivation to go for a run later.) The pattern can be found here, but be warned that there are some typos. They were mostly in the back section, and it was pretty clear that it wasn't intended to be that way. I figure they're pretty minor, since I could find them and adjust for them without frogging rows and getting angry.

I did need to add 16 stitches to the circumference to make sure it would fit, and I also made the sleeves longer by about 4 cm. I can't believe this is labelled M/L sizing - there is no way. I may not be stick-thin, but I'm 5'7" and I wear a size 12 (usually a large or sometimes a medium), and as written this would never fit me. Heck, with 36Cs it would sit way too high up on my body to fit me, regardless of the waist size, with sleeves that short. I liked that it measured everything in cm rather than rows because the gauge on the yarn the pattern author used was unusual, but it still was more like a size small, maybe a medium as written.

I was thinking that I'd be finished the vest by Christmas, but now it's done and I still have almost 2 months. That gives me time to get the dishcloths for Christmas done (and this year the projects are getting done in November, not Christmas Eve), and possibly my new sweater as well. We'll see.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 6

An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.
~Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No More Babies!

Well, at least no more baby stuff that needs to be knitted. I finally finished the toddler-size kimono dress for the little girl who will be 2 around Christmas.

May I present:
It's the Kimono Dress!

The pattern is one I found on Ravelry. I love variegated yarn, so it's not really a shock that I chose a pattern ideally suited to that sort of colour patterning. I chose the lavender for the accent because, while the variegation is mostly blue and green, there is that same colour in there as well as a more subtle part of it (it's mostly only visible in the photo right near the hem of the skirt).

It was actually a really fast knit. I didn't like the thick garter stitch around the sleeves and skirt bottom, so I reduced them to just a couple of rows. I also did 7 rows between increases, not 5, because I wanted it to be a bit longer. I wanted to make sure it fits, even with a diaper on.

Now that the summer/fall of knitting baby stuff is over, I've been able to start a new project for me. I'm making a vest out of a less wild variegated yarn, suitable for wearing over dress shirts. It has cables (and I have been missing my cables... I haven't used them since the DNA scarf:
with three cables knit in intarsia that I made for myself last winter). The vest only needs finishing on the neckline and armholes right now, but that may take a while. I've already had to knit and completely frog one armhole because it was painfully small. I've already adjusted the pattern for width, and now I see I'm going to have to adjust the armhole finishing as well. (I swear, my arms are really quite thin! I may have needed extra waist space, but as written the armholes are stick-figure tiny. And it wasn't the binding off either... even pre-binding off the armholes were way, way too small.) So much for an easy first adult vest/sweater/etc. project. But it looks great enough that I'm willing to work at it to get it right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 5

There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages.
~Richard Lederer

I get angry on a regular basis about this. Humanity wasted a thousand years on superstition, corruption, suppression of intellectualism, and control of the poor through what was essentially propaganda.

I am forever asking myself: Considering where the Greeks were in terms of philosophy, and where the Romans were in terms of technology, what would have happened to Europe had the Christians not taken over the Roman Empire? It was ultimately ideological differences that made the Empire split, weaken, and eventually fall. The descent into the Dark Ages came swiftly from there.

We could have achieved this level of enlightenment in society hundreds of years ago, and who knows where we would be now if religion hadn't punished scientists and intellects and kept the common people illiterate and impoverished.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Welcome to Canada...

...where we hold elections that change nothing.

I sat and watched the election coverage last night until they started showing Vancouver information only at about 1:30 am my time. My riding was highly contested and I was anxious to see if my vote mattered.

See, in this country, unless you vote for the person who gets elected in your riding, your vote doesn't count. It is put into the popular vote numbers, but they're mostly just fun statistics, since the popular vote numbers never accurately reflect how the seats in the House of Commons are divided up.

To prove my point, here are the popular vote numbers for the five main political parties in Canada, plus independents:

Conservatives - 37.63%
Liberals - 26.24%
New Democrats - 18.20%
Bloc Québécois - 9.97%
Greens - 6.80%
Independent/Other - 1.16%

and here are the seats won:

Conservatives - 143/308 = 46.43%
Liberals - 76/308 = 24.68%
New Democrats - 37/308 = 12.01%
Bloc Québécois - 50/308 = 16.23%
Greens - 0/308 = 0%
Independent - 2/308 = 0.65%

Does there seem to be some discrepancy in those numbers? The Bloc only runs in Quebec (because they're a separatist party that wants Quebec to cease to be part of Canada), and they get a disproportionately huge influence over the government with over 1.5 times the number of seats that their popular vote percentage would suggest they are owed. The Greens and the NDP both get ripped off for about 6% of their popular vote, and, in the case of the Greens, they get no voice in parliament as a result despite representing a portion of the population only 3% smaller than the Bloc's support. The Conservatives very rarely get more than 40% of the popular vote (that tends to be the left/right split in Canada: 60/40), yet with the right vote-splitting on the left side, they can get 10% more seats than they should. In fact, this election caused only an overall change in popular support of 1% in favour of the Conservatives, but it earned them a 5% increase in the percentage of seats in the House that are theirs.

Fortunately, my somewhat-strategic vote for the Liberals actually mattered this time and my riding went Liberal despite the overwhelming trend towards Conservatives in the non-Toronto, non-Ottawa, non-Hamilton part of southern Ontario. But that didn't make me feel better about the election results.

It costs about 300 million dollars to run an election. Harper called an election way earlier than he needed to in an attempt to get a majority government (probably my worst nightmare). He failed. (This was mostly due to the fact that no one in Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritimes trusts his Alberta Big Oil agenda and religious undertones. Or so I would like to think... it's probably mostly because he does a very poor job of pretending like he cares about or understands ordinary - a.k.a. non-Big-Oil - Canadians at all.) So basically we paid 300 million dollars for nothing, because Harper is still PM (dammit), but still doesn't have a majority (thank goodness).

What I can't understand is why more people aren't suspicious of Stephen Harper. He is a former Canadian Alliance party member - does anyone else remember them? They were the right-wing nutjob party with the ignorant morons who are anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-privatization, anti-social programs, pro-American, anti-evolution, and pro-Bible. In the wake of the Everyone Hates Mulroney (And Campbell Too) party that was 1993, the centre-right Progressive Conservatives (who are completely reasonable, for the most part) got decimated in the House. To try and bring them back up to their former glory (Mulroney actually had two majority governments prior to his 11% popular support downfall), some members of the PCs decided that a merger with the Alliance crazies (who at the time were doing well out west) was their best option. Joe Clark, my favourite PC leader, was opposed to the idea, as were many others in the party, mostly because although their economic ideals lined up, the Alliance had some seriously Republican ideas about social policy.

The merger went through anyway, and in the ensuing leadership race, they made Stephen Harper, the former-Alliance candidate, their leader. Since then, he has surrounded himself with former-Alliance crazies that he has spent most of his past two years in office trying to keep quiet. After promises in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal that he would run a transparent and open government, he did NOTHING OF THE SORT. Chrétien may have been involved with some misappropriation of government money, but at least he spoke to reporters briefly and answered questions nearly every day while parliament was in session. Harper, once elected, hid from the media and kept a very tight leash on his cabinet to prevent the nuts from saying anything ignorant and offensive (which they will do, if given half a chance).

Progressive Conservatives, you were complete idiots. You only had to wait a couple more years and the tables would have turned back towards you from the Liberals (hell, with over a decade in power, they were bound to screw it up sometime). Now we're all stuck with our only right-wing party being full of pseudo-Republican lunatics. You will never get a majority government as long as Eastern Canada sees your party as being controlled by the crazy portion of the Albertan right-wing. Harper (and all his cronies) scare the crap out of us. The PCs would have been a viable option when the Liberals fell into corruption. The Harper Conservatives are not.

In a way, this minority government is the best-case-scenario, though. While I feel like Stéphane Dion is sincere and intelligent, he lacks the charisma (in French as well as English) to consolidate the left vote. With this incredibly poor showing in popular support and in seats, Dion will be gone within six months. With luck, the Liberals will get a leader that Canadians can feel good about voting for. And Harper has to be the PM during an economic crisis he is ill-prepared to deal with, and he is totally clueless about Quebec and about the concerns of ordinary Canadians nationwide. If he screws up badly enough, his party might get rid of him later. Best-case-scenario is that the party revolts against his oppressive leadership and too-far-right agenda and they either go back to centre-right or split back into a reasonable party and a nutty party.

In a way, it's a relief to know that Harper got a minority last night. Because if he can't get a majority under last night's circumstances (weak Liberal leader, NDP and Greens pushing hard to split the vote, poor economic conditions that the Conservatives are reputed to be good at fixing), he'll never get one. Ever. And considering the fact that he ended his victory speech with "God bless Canada", I feel like that says a lot for the ability of my fellow Canadians to judge when someone is putting on a nice face until they get enough seats to impose biblical rules on us. We won't put up with that Christian-agenda-pushing Republican-esque shit up here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 4

A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
~Albert Einstein

I have always thought it was bizarre and illogical that very religious people should claim that they have the moral superiority over me because they have religion to provide their moral guidelines. When pressed, they will almost without fail insist that without God to tell them what to do, they would lie, cheat, steal, and harm others. So, then, who is the better person deep inside: the very religious, who require the constant threat of punishment to prevent them from doing wrong (or who require the dangling of eternal reward in order for them to do good); or me, who is moral out of a sense of inner ethics, who wants nothing more than a stable, peaceful society, and who expects no reward and fears no punishment?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Atheist Quote of the Week 3

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
~Aldous Huxley

I think it must be easy to tell when I've been watching BBC specials on atheism and evolution for a week.

Note to creationists: creationism (or its identical twin with a face lift, "intelligent" design) is not science. Science is the sum total of facts and evidence gathered together, and the conclusions drawn from that indisputable data. There is no evidence and not a single piece of factual data that promotes the acceptance of the hypothesis that the Earth was created by anything intelligent. In fact, as a biologist, I would say that nothing intelligent would have ever created humanity with so many obvious design flaws (food and air sharing a tube is a very bad idea) and completely useless parts that can blow up (hello, appendix). So either this "creator" is a complete moron or we developed without a plan, directed only by which traits helped us survive in our environment at the time. And the evidence supports the latter.

Since I was in university, I have been collecting research papers from scientific journals that explain some of the tougher things about evolution. I have detailed data on the evolution of bacterial flagella, complex eyes, hind limb loss in marine mammals, hormone receptor complexity, and many other complex traits that creationists try to argue are "too complicated" to be attributed to the forces of nature. To paraphrase Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame), I say, "Evolution. It works, bitches." All the most complex traits humans have down to the cell walls of bacteria - it can all be explained by billions of years of slow changes and tough selection pressures. Who needs God? I can explain why I'm here and why my body works the way it does without needing to believe that some intelligent thing chose humans to be its favourites.

What a juvenile thing that belief is, really... it's so transparently due to a need to feel reassured that people are somehow special. Why else would it be so important to them to deny all the facts of evolution and insist on believing mythological nonsense that has been proven wrong again and again? Clearly they are insecure, and it's too bad, because the elegant simplicity of the natural selection concept makes the world seem more miraculous than any religious bedtime story ever could. I appreciate my existence because I know that the odds against me being here are astronomical. The fact that life is hardy enough to exist at all, and that human beings survived a near-extinction and thrived, and that my ancestors managed to remain healthy and safe long enough to reproduce without fail - those are real miracles.

I can't understand the fear and disgust at being labelled an animal, either. I'm an animal. I eat, drink, have sex, excrete waste, and someday I'll die. Sentience is, in a way, irrelevant. It hasn't freed us from the basic bodily functions every other animal has to perform, and in terms of evolution it was more or less a fluke. It's the byproduct of an evolutionary pressure to be innovative enough to survive in an incredibly hostile environment. In order to be creative enough to not starve to death, our frontal lobes had to develop. We lived in groups, so our social and communication skills had to be excellent in order for the whole tribe to work together to eke out a living. At some point, that became complex language, altruistic behaviour, and extreme creativity in the form of arts, and we became aware of ourselves like no animal ever had before. We were the first to wonder why we existed and ask how our world worked. Nothing designed us to be this way; being smart was a survival skill, and some part of that just went far enough to push us out of the rules all other animals live by. I'm not ashamed that I can think enough to write this sentence because of a quirk in our adaptation to our environment. It overwhelms me with how amazing it is.

Who wants to be a pawn in some spiteful god's game when the evidence tells us that we're some of the heirs to a genetic lineage that has lasted 3.8 billion years, and the only survivors that can comprehend the significance of that? What a waste of the brains we have to refuse to acknowledge that it was the pressures of nature that gave them to us.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When I'm Sick, Everyone Suffers

...at least, the boyfriend does when it comes to meals. Since last Thursday we've been living on a steady diet of soup, store-bought pasta dishes, and, one lucky day, some of the meatballs I froze last week. (He gave me the cold, so don't feel too bad for him.) Finally, today I'm feeling better (and we're running out of easy meals in the freezer), so I'm making real food.

Specifically, I'm making chicken thighs in the slow cooker with the Brown Sugar Chicken recipe from Crockpot 365. It smells good right now (it's been in there for three hours or so on high), but I have no idea how it's going to turn out. I had to improvise on several fronts: first of all, my chicken was completely frozen and has bones in it, creating considerably more meat mass than the recipe calls for; also, I had no fresh garlic so I used a bunch of granulated garlic instead; finally, I only had about a third of a cup of brown sugar, so the rest of the cup was made up of white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses. This is going to be interesting. It is highly recommended on Crockpot 365, and I've loved everything I've made from there, so I'm sure the recipe is great when made correctly. My "what I had in the cupboards" version, however, may not be.

Also, since Thanksgiving is traditionally a really big holiday in my family, we're seeing the boyfriend's family this coming weekend for an early Thanksgiving. I think I'm going to make the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from Dozen Flours to contribute, and that means a big shopping trip because my baking supplies are severely depleted.

A couple of weeks ago, I made up a bread machine recipe that I need to write down before I can't remember what I put in. I used the basic part of a buttermilk bread recipe, then added some spices to create something that sounds weird, but it tasted great (which surprised me more than anyone, let me tell you). It was a bit of an odd greyish colour, but that didn't stop it from disappearing! Introducing:

Buttermilk Chai Bread

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
3/4 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
2 1/4 tsp yeast

  1. Place ingredients in the bread maker in the order written above, being careful not to let the yeast touch the liquid or the salt while it's being put in.
  2. Set bread maker for 1 1/2 - 2 lb loaf (I did 1 1/2, but this should work on a 2 lb setting as well), light crust. Run on white cycle, ensuring that the dough is not too wet or too dry during the initial mixing. It should stick to the sides of the pan a bit, but peel itself off of them cleanly and regularly during mixing. (I added a little more buttermilk, I think, but I'm also a little haphazard with my flour measuring, so no guarantees that more liquid will actually be necessary.)
It was kind of a greyish colour inside when I cut into it, but that's just from the cardamom. It tasted great warm with butter - but hey, what doesn't?.