Monday, October 5, 2009

Inbreeding and a Genetics Lesson

Recently in a discussion about something completely unrelated, a person made some very incorrect statements about how inbreeding works. Their argument was that it actually benefits small populations, helping to eliminate disease- and disability-causing genes from the gene pool.

Um, no, that's not how genetics works. At least, not in people. See, breeders of all kinds, but especially those who deal with livestock, use some degree of inbreeding to produce the best traits in the largest proportion of animals. They tend to use quite a few females, but very few males. So a half a dozen males - let's say dairy breed bulls - that have historically produced daughters that calve easily and give lots of high-quality milk may be the fathers of hundreds of children (ah, the miracles of sperm production and freezing), and some of those children may be more males that are also excellent breeding stock and are bred to many of their own half-sisters in an attempt to make the grandchildren cows even better producers. This, in combination with a careful management program and the odd infusion of outside stock, is a very successful way to make a highly inbred, highly successful herd of dairy cattle.

But wait! We're not dairy cattle! The reason inbreeding works to remove less fit alleles from a cattle population is because we kill off all the ones that aren't good enough out of the offspring. We, as human beings, go looking for cows who have poor milk yields, diseases, or defects, and we cull them without letting them reproduce, or in conjunction with not breeding their existing offspring (i.e., selling them for veal). This is a very artificial environment with extremely unrealistic gene flow conditions. We certainly can't artificially inseminate women with sperm from a small group of men chosen to be the breeders and kill (or at least sterilize) all the other men, and we definitely can't selectively kill babies with disabilities and the women that gave birth to them!

Lesson One: We Are Not Dairy Cattle. Human populations cannot be assumed to produce the same results from inbreeding as livestock populations, because the mating system and selection pressures are completely different.

This person quote-mined an article on wild bird populations (of all things!) to try to support the argument that inbreeding makes things better. However, the context of the article was that inbreeding is a problem that can be compensated for by birds mating with non-relatives most of the time even if they mate with a half-sibling once in a while. That is true. However, by compensating for inbreeding the researchers mean "offsetting the likelihood of nest failure" in inbred bird pairs. In other words, birds are far less likely to have surviving offspring in the inbreeding year, but the impact of that on their general reproductive success is small, as long as they mate with non-relative birds in other years, producing live, healthy chicks.

Do humans have babies every year? Technically we're capable of it, but most people don't. And even among those that do, very very few (hopefully none) are mating with a different person every year, raising babies for a year and then getting rid of them only to start over again the next year with someone new.

Lesson Two: We Are Not Birds.

Getting away from the tongue-in-cheek a bit here, let's talk a little bit more about why the initial statement of "eliminate disease- and disability-causing genes from the gene pool" is ridiculous. Not only can we not kill (or forcibly sterilize) people that have disabilities or genetic flaws - hello eugenics movement - but doing so would not eliminate bad genes. Not only are a large number of genetic problems recessive - that is, they are only disease-causing in people with two copies of the bad gene, so carriers are totally healthy - but there are also a number of diseases that are cumulative, ones that are due to spontaneous mutations, and ones that are not fully penetrant.

To explain in more detail, cumulative genetic diseases includes many types of autism as well as Huntington's disease. What happens in these cases is that the bad gene in question is bad because it has an excessive number of repeats in the "junk" part of the gene, and this number often increases in each generation. So someone who has Huntington's disease but does not show symptoms until their 50s may have children with the disease that show symptoms in their late 40s and grandchildren with the disease that show symptoms in their early 40s. There can be many generations with no problems, but once the number of repeats passes a certain threshold, each subsequent generation is affected and over time the disease gets worse. But before that threshold is reached, there is no way to know that the family is carrying the possibility of developing that disease. So inbreeding wouldn't make any problems show up - the gene needs time to copy that section more times, and inbreeding won't make that happen any faster.

Diseases caused by spontaneous mutations are not something inbreeding can help "weed out" either. About a third of haemophilia cases are de novo (Latin: newly occurring) mutations where neither parent had a bad gene. Since there is no way to predict when these mutations will happen, they will occur at random and at the same rate regardless of what kind of breeding occurs. Not to mention spontaneous chromosomal disorders such as Down's Syndrome are also impossible to predict and can happen to any couple, related or not.

Many diseases generally labelled "dominant" do not behave like one would expect when that term is used. Normally, dominant genetic diseases mean that if you have the bad gene, you have the condition. But a few strange cases where diseases thought to be dominant seem to skip a generation helped geneticists discover that many of so-called "dominant" genetic diseases are not fully penetrant; that is, there is not a 100% chance that someone who has the bad gene will show any symptoms of the condition it's associated with. So, in some cases, a person with a genetic condition can have children that are totally unaffected, and yet they may go on to have affected children anyway. Again, so much for using inbreeding to draw out and eliminate genetic disorders.

So, we're not dairy cattle and we're not birds. We ethically can't kill off people that don't meet our standards of what is "normal", we can't produce offspring in litters, and we don't get a chance to start over every year. Not to mention that genetic diseases are not simple enough that we can just eliminate them by breeding - often they are phenotypically invisible, occur spontaneously, or build up over time. They are not something you can "weed out", nor, might I add, is it ethical to encourage people to try to produce fatally ill children just so those genes are exposed.

This idea of inbreeding to strengthen a population is a myth. It won't work and it has serious racist and ableist undertones that make me very nervous, not to mention the genetic problems it can cause. The Human Genome Project has taught us that each human being carries, on average, between 7 and 10 recessive genes that can cause fatal conditions when no dominant gene is present. So producing offspring with siblings and cousins brings with it a serious increased risk of those children being fatally ill. Diverse parental genes are also a benefit to children's immune systems due to a mixing of genes for immune proteins that protect us from disease.

With much increased risks, and no benefits, inbreeding is not a solution to any sort of problem, in any situation. Sometimes it is necessary because there are no other options, but in a world where it's not difficult to meet people outside the family, why anyone would advocate choosing to "keep the gene pool pure", for any reason, is totally beyond me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yes, I Do Suck

I have seriously failed at updating lately. I'm in a very intense university program for the next 8 months that is seriously kicking my ass. Don't worry, I still have opinions, knitting projects, and recipes to share, but The Boyfriend is out of the country (so not much baking until he gets back), and I haven't had a chance to knit in over two weeks. After this week my workload should lighten up some and I should have a chance to get back to updating this regularly.

I'm trying to find time to read The God Delusion, and I am also now the proud owner of God Is Not Great and The Portable Atheist, so those should provide lots of atheist fodder. I also have a beautiful edition of On The Origin Of Species (a Boyfriend graduation gift!), The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and The Ancestor's Tale to help me cope with not being immersed in biology for the next little while. I do have at least one more Nintendo washcloth in the works, hopefully two will be done by the end of the year (poll to be posted soon on which one to do next!). The lace sweater I'm designing is past the bust now and the neckline appears to be working. If I get to the armpits and find it is screwed up yet again, there will be a Sweater Design Odyssey entry for sure. I have a scarf most of the way finished as well - I'm usually a fairly monogamous knitter, but the difficulty level of the sweater has me becoming poly to save my sanity. However, now I'm finding that I'm not finishing the sweater because the scarf is easier. I really need to finish the scarf so I can focus on the sweater again.

Just so this post has something more than lame excuses, here's a link to the cinnamon roll recipe I made last week. They turned out great - I took them to class for my turn to bring an afternoon snack and they disappeared so quickly that I felt badly for not making more! Do NOT be intimidated by the use of yeast. The instructions are really easy to follow and they were fun to make, if a little messy.

Not to worry - I'm still alive and I'll be back to at least weekly postings soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Toad Washcloth!

I know, it's about time I got this up, since I finished it about a month ago.

But here it is:
It's the Toad Washcloth!

Pattern:

The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long, just like the others, and is also worked from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):

Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

Toad is just so helpless and lovable. He's so cute that you just want to pinch his cheeks!

Enjoy!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 40

All religions, with their gods, demigods, prophets, messiahs and saints, are the product of the fancy and credulity of men who have not yet reached the full development and complete possession of their intellectual powers.
~Mikhail Bakunin

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why the Anti-Vaccine Movement is Completely Illogical

Today I'd like to post some information about vaccines. This is, to me, a very important issue. Let me preface anything I rant about here by saying that I have a degree in biology and I studied virology, pathology, epidemiology, and statistics as part of my education. I am not just some opinionated person here - I have read the original research papers and evaluated both the methodology and the statistical analyses for myself. I understand how viruses and human bodies work better than most people.

Just thought I would point that out first.

In recent years, people have begun to distrust the vaccines that people cheered about just a generation or two ago. Mostly this began with a UK study about the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, which I will tear apart in detail further on, but it is partially a problem with visibility. Half a century ago, people died or were disabled due to polio, measles, rubella, etc. on a regular basis. No, scratch that - children died from those diseases at a predictable frequency. Many, many families lost children to measles encephalitis, had a child blinded by rubella, or had a child confined to a wheelchair (or worse, an iron lung) by polio. It was tragic, but it was not uncommon. Vaccines changed all that, and at first people were grateful. Those people who are now in their 50s and 60s all vaccinated their children (those of us born in the 1970s and 1980s) because they remembered losing a classmate or having a disabled relative from theses diseases and they knew that a few pinpricks were worth the protection.

Then people forgot - or, more accurately, never knew just how bad it had been.

Now is a good time to explain herd immunity. As an example, measles is highly contagious and requires well over 90% of the population to be vaccinated in order to prevent disease outbreak and protect the small percentage of people that react badly to vaccines or cannot get vaccines for whatever reason. We do not force people with certain allergies to the serum, or who have parents or siblings that have had a bad reaction to a vaccine, to get vaccinated. For those few people, vaccines are dangerous. But as long as enough other people are immune due to the vaccine, those people who are not immune are still safe because it's very unlikely that a sick person (say someone new to the country from a place where a vaccine is not available) will come in contact with a non-immune person. They are far more likely to only come into contact with immune people, who will not catch the disease and therefore there will be no outbreak to endanger the unvaccinated few. That is how herd immunity works.

So, as long as people felt a responsibility to protect their own families by getting vaccines, everything was fine. Most people were vaccinated and many childhood diseases became things of the past in developed countries. However, people are self-centred and so once the drive to protect your own children was not as strong because people didn't really know firsthand how dangerous the diseases were, the drive to protect your neighbours and your community was not very strong. As soon as people had an excuse not to vaccinate, and bad information splashed all over the newspapers about how "dangerous" vaccines are, they stopped.

As for where that bad information came from, at first it was just anecdotal - someone had a kid with autism (which begins to show as symptoms around the time vaccinations are being given - six to twelve months of age) and they decided that the symptoms were due to the MMR vaccine, and not some other genetic or environmental factor, and they would sue the doctor or shout to the media about the chemicals in vaccines. This earned some publicity, but the biggest problem was a paper published in the UK claiming that such a link truly existed. Now, it should have raised flags in the scientific community when every scientist collaborating on the paper refused to have their name associated with it except someone who was notoriously anti-vaccine, but it managed to get published somehow anyway (an embarrassment to the scientific community, as far as I'm concerned). It said that it found that getting vaccinated was a huge risk factor for autism, and this is what the papers all ran as the headline the next day. What they failed to mention, however, is that the study only looked at 12 children (a statistically useless sample size to start with), and these children were not chosen at random from the population to get a good sample. Instead, the researcher went out and found 12 infants who displayed the early musculature warning signs of autism, and asked if they had gotten the MMR vaccine. Most had by that point, which was to be expected at the time and with the existing vaccine schedule. Since they all had known possible early autism symptoms, it was no surprise that 8 of them presented with diagnosable autism as they got older, and since most of them had been vaccinated, it was also no surprise that most of those had been vaccinated before they started showing symptoms. There was no control group in the population to see how many kids without autism had been vaccinated versus unvaccinated (which would have at least shown whether the percentage of unvaccinated versus vaccinated in the autistic children was different from non-autistic children). The methodology was so poor that the bias in the study alone made the results totally confounded by other factors and utterly useless for drawing conclusions.

And yet, because all that information was missing from news reports, people believed it. And even after the researcher behind the study has been widely discredited and hundreds of studies showing he was wrong have been published, many people still think vaccines cause autism and so they put their children - and, due to herd immunity requirements, the children of other people with legitimate concerns about vaccines in their family - at risk for the diseases that twenty years ago were largely eliminated from their community.

Why is it that people are so much more willing to believe unscientific crap (even long after it's been thrown out and stomped on by every reputable scientific journal) than they are to believe actual science, like human evolution and early-universe physics? I don't get it. I don't know why people will cling like crazy to totally wrong information that puts their families and their communities at risk. It's totally ridiculous. People need to smarten up and realize that getting measles is not a hand-waving risk. Out of every 1000 cases of childhood measles, three of those sick kids die. Of measles. I don't know about everyone else, but if all the kids in my elementary school had've gotten measles, that means that one or two of them would be dead now rather than healthy, productive adults. And that's just my school. Multiply that by thousands and thousands of schools and the effect becomes clear: before the vaccine, thousands of children were dying of measles (not to mention the tens or hundreds of thousands that needed hospitalization), and now they're not. However, measles is extremely contagious and it doesn't take much of a gap in the herd immunity for it to get back in.

So, anti-vaccination advocates, those are your options: either vaccinate your kids with a vaccine that has been shown to be safe by all reputable research, or put them at risk of dying of a preventable disease. Choose to protect the kids who are actually at risk of a bad reaction to the vaccine, or leave them exposed to death as well through no fault of their own, because of your inability to think logically.

Your choice.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Atheist Quotes of the Week 38 and 39

Okay, I know, F for "you suck at updating your blog, for sure's on dat, eh". Here's another double atheist quote post to get me caught up, and I promise I have a really good rant in the works to post later in the week. I'm back in Canada now, so I'll be working on the sweater project and organizing some Nintendo washcloth designs in the next few weeks.

The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.
~Arthur C. Clarke

The rash assertion that 'God made man in His own image' is ticking like a time bomb at the foundation of many faiths, and as the hierarchy of the universe is disclosed to us, we may have to recognize this chilling truth: if there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods.
~Arthur C. Clarke

Truly a brilliant man who could see beyond the past and the present to put the consequences of both into sharp focus by writing about the future. I particularly like the second quote, since it reminds us that we are completely insignificant on the spatial and temporal scales of the universe. It must be nice to think that some god is out there, totally concerned by human beings, but the fact is that even if there was a god that created the universe, people are not even a blip on the universe's radar. So reality is that we live in a universe that has no guiding force to care about us at all, and even if it did, it still wouldn't care about us at all. It's a cold dose of reality, but somehow it makes me appreciate the fact that I'm alive at all, considering how many cosmological phenomena could have wiped out life on Earth at any time (and still can), but we've been able to evolve for a few billion years. That's pretty impressive.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Atheist Quotes of the Week 36 and 37

I know I missed last week, but I was packing, then flying, then adjusting to jet lag so it just kept getting put off. Here are two quotes, one for last week and one for this week, to make up for the difference. While I'm in Europe there will be no new Nintendo washcloths (watch for one of those potentially in late June/early July, however) and no updates on the lace sweater project, which remains in Canada during my trip. I do have wifi though and will use it to rant if necessary alongside the atheist quotes each week.

But people ... don't even know what atheism is. It's not a negation of anything. You don't have to negate what no one can prove exists. No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man's ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. I'm thrilled to feel that I can rely on myself totally and absolutely; that my children are being brought up so that when they meet a problem they can't cop out by foisting it off on God. Madalyn Murray's going to solve her own problems, and nobody's going to intervene. It's about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: "Well, we are men. Let's start acting like it."
~Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Agreed. One of my main complaints about religion is its ability to explain everything while solving nothing. Anyone having a problem can say that it was "God's will", as if that somehow makes it better, or they can give their god credit for their success, thereby negating the effort they put into their achievements, or they can even say that current problems facing society are their god's way of punishing us because some of us are doing something it doesn't approve of. Why is there HIV? Because God hates gays. Why did Katrina destroy New Orleans? Because people there were sinning. Why does a child die of starvation and disease in a poor country? Because God wanted it that way. It explains everything but offers no compassion, no solution, no nothing.

The main reason, I think, is because if you remove God from the equation, suddenly HIV exists because it jumped from primates and it spreads today at least in part because we fail to teach proper sex ed in North America and religious organizations denounce the use of condoms in Africa. Katrina destroyed New Orleans because the government of the country failed to maintain the levees and so many people died or were left homeless because that same government failed to act swiftly in the face of a natural disaster. Children starve to death in poor countries because greedy rich countries do not behave like the world is one community and we would rather have another widescreen TV than help provide the essentials of life to other human beings. Those explanations are hard truths, and demand action to improve things. That's much less simple than just hand-waving some deity into the mix. It scares some people to death that we might have to actually work hard and sacrifice some wealth and some superstitions in order to make life better for our fellow human beings. Why not blame them instead? That is just so much easier.

As Madalyn says, it's time to start acting like men.

Why am I an atheist? The short answer is that I cannot accept any of the alternatives. I simply don't find them believable. As for the accusation of intellectual pride, surely the boot is on the other foot. Atheists don't claim to know anything with certainty—it's the believers who know it all.
~Barbara Smoker

This is related to the above quote in that it also references the easy answers believers seem to need. Rather than using their brains, they prefer to have pre-packaged answers for questions that really require thought on an individual level. While it must be nice, in a way, to have simple answers to any and all questions about life and the universe, I wonder why we, as thinking human beings, should be content to just be fed answers to everything. We are able to think for ourselves, so, even if it creates more questions than answers and more uncertainty than reassurance, it's independent thought, critical thinking, and scientific truth that should be what we are looking to achieve, not soundbite "truths" that are really just bedtime stories to make us less unsure of ourselves.

Atheists are not afraid to say, "I don't know." We are not afraid to face constant uncertainty and a neverending set of questions that may never have satisfactory answers. It is the believers who are afraid to not have an instant answer to any question. It is the believers who are afraid of change, afraid of needing to adjust their worldview, and constantly clinging to comforting but completely incorrect ideas and insisting they are true.

So, then, who is it that is arrogant, closed-minded, and know-it-all? Not the atheists, who by definition go where the evidence goes and must therefore be open-minded, humble in the face of being wrong (which happens all the time), and able to freely admit when they do not know the answers. Those sorts of insults are the product of frantic defensiveness on the part of believers who are trying to discredit a point of view that is contrary to the easy answers that make them feel safe and keep them from needing to think too hard about anything. Atheism, despite the fact that it is not an organization and does not have goals or some kind of agenda, is extremely threatening to religion, but for an interesting reason: as a philosophy, it promotes thinking for yourself. And, as it turns out, thinking for yourself usually ends with people moving away from organized religion.

I wonder why that is? Maybe to a thinking person (which we all have the ability to be), those "easy" answers aren't so easy to swallow after all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 35

The scientist yearns to find and eventually know the truth; the religious man wants the truth to fit his preconceived mold. So, as a result, the scientist alters his perception to conform to the facts, while the religious man tries to change the facts to conform to his beliefs.
~Anonymous

I do try to avoid quotes ascribed to "Anonymous" as much as possible, but this one is so accurate and succinct that I wanted to include it anyway. Scientific thought is not instinctive for humans (we prefer to see patterns that we want to see, instinctively, which is why scientists must always be self-aware about their own biases), but it is the best way to truly understand the universe. Again and again we have found that conclusions we like (for example, the Earth is the centre of the universe) are not necessarily the conclusions that are correct, and it requires someone to put aside preconceived "truths" to discover that the actual truth is something more interesting than we ever thought possible. It's never popular (Copernicus refused to publish until he was on his deathbed, Galileo got put under house arrest by the Vatican, and Darwin is vilified by religious leaders even 150 years after publication), but that's just because some people are resistant to change and too proud to admit that they are wrong. Ironic, isn't it, that the very same religion that places pride as a sin also has too much pride to admit that some of the details of how they think the world came to be are incorrect, while the scientists they vilify are constantly behaving with humility by admitting their errors and adjusting their worldview according to new insights?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 34

I do not support religion because it demands that we give up our most important human asset, the ability to question. It demands that we simply believe. Isn't that true of any dictator, of any totalitarian society? Insofar as social development is concerned, nothing is of greater importance than the human function of questioning... Questioning led to the development of civilization.
~Vladimir Pozner

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Sweater Design Odyssey, Part 2

So, yesterday I took the sweater apart and started over. But I didn't cry and I didn't slam my head into walls. At first, I thought I might do both those things; I initially was frogging several rows of hard work because I failed to pay attention to my own decreasing notes. However, once I got the work off the needles, I tried it onto my hips and discovered that I could have fit a third bum cheek in the space the sweater bottom wanted to enclose. And I am not a skinny girl. So, in a way, screwing up the decreasing to the waist made me catch a much more devastating and much more important problem that I might not have otherwise noticed until I got to the armpits. Silver lining on the dark cloud of moronic mistakes, I suppose.

Did I mention that I'm terrible at picking up stitches (especially lace stitches) onto the needles again once they're off? Before I realized that I was making myself a maternity sweater, I was ready for tears because putting it back on the needles after frogging was an exercise in futility. I freaking hate yarn overs. Thank goodness I ended up starting over, or else there may have been a balled-up pile of bamboo yarn in the corner rather than a reborn sweater on new needles. I was that close to giving up on this project.

Before I totally tore it apart, though, I was smart: I measured gauge again. I found that it was significantly different on the circulars than it had been on my little gauge swatch (what the point of that was, then, I don't know), and then recalculated everything. That, plus the re-planning, took several hours and I failed to do the laundry again as a result. The boyfriend is going to run out of clean socks in short order, but he'll survive until my knitting crisis has gotten under control. Priorities, people, priorities.

Now I had to move onto a shorter circular needle set and cast on about 70% of the stitches I had before. I'm now on row 1. Again. Lessons learned: one, do gauge swatches for projects in the round in the round, and two, don't just talk about putting in a lifeline - freaking do it! Just because one repeat goes well doesn't mean you're not going to make a mess of things partway up from there. Especially if you're me.

Part 1 of this saga of trying to design and then knit a lace sweater can be found here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 33

The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation.
~Emma Goldman

Monday, April 27, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 32

They felt that science would be corrosive to religious belief and they were worried about it. Damn it, I think they were right. It is corrosive to religious belief and it's a good thing.
~Steven Weinberg

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Sweater Design Odyssey, Part 1

After I made my Tempting sweater, I've been dying to try making a lace sweater with a V-neck. I looked around and found a few patterns I really liked and will probably make at some point (notably Marnie McLean's Bijou), but nothing that suited exactly what I was looking for. I also am afraid of seaming (i.e., I am very, very bad at doing it properly), so knitting my first lace sweater in pieces, then having to painstakingly sew them together just sounded like torture. So I took some of what I learned from Tempting and some new ideas of my own, adapted a lace pattern to suit my needs, and studied up on some construction details (like how to make a V-neck). Now I'm going to try designing my first lace sweater (um, actually, it's my first major lace project ever) and we'll see how it turns out.

I got my yarn (15 skeins!) last week from Yarn By The Bag and now I'm ready to get started. I also bought one skein ahead of time from a Michael's to do a gauge swatch (I will admit that I've never done that before, but it was necessary for this), then did the math to figure out how much yarn I needed to buy (then added two more skeins, just in case). Today I'm working on some more calculating (good thing I'm good at math!) so I can cast on the right number of stitches and start knitting.

This pattern is going to allow for great flexibility in sizing so that anyone can make it to fit their body - I'm planning on creating instructions for sizes beyond just S, M, L, XL. This isn't going to sort-of-fit - it's going to flatter every woman's body. It is an intermediate-level lace pattern knit seamlessly in the round using a non-traditional waist shaping technique that makes it easy to customize the pattern, even for novice knitters like me. I want people to make this sweater and be happy with how it fits them. However, I have to try making it for me before I'll know if it even flatters one woman's body, and right now I still have a lot of holes in my mental pattern. I don't know how I'm going to do the shoulders, the sleeves are a constant source of concern, and I'm terrified that I'm going to screw up the lace a lot (but I suppose that's what lifelines are for).

I figure this project will take at least the whole summer to complete, and I'll post periodic updates as I accomplish things, solve problems, and want to tear my hair out in frustration.

Part 2 of this saga of trying to design and then knit a lace sweater can be found here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boo Washcloth!

It's another one of those freaking Mario-gang washcloths! When am I going to stop? Never!

(Hey, this is too much fun to stop!)

Without further ado:


It's the Boo Washcloth!

Pattern:

The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long, just like the others, and is also worked from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

This washcloth is super-easy and really fun to make. Boos are such hilarious-looking things to start with (what are those little fin-like things supposed to be, anyway?), but I like this version with the fangs and the frowny eyebrows. I would have done it with the tongue out, but it's just not as recognizable that way in knitting.

Enjoy!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, and Yoshi patterns available!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 31

Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.
~Chapman Cohen

Monday, April 13, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 30

You don't have to believe in atheism, because atheism is based on REASON.
~Manfred F. Schieder

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Yoshi Washcloth!

Before posting this pattern, I wanted to thank all the people who have left such positive and supportive comments here or on Ravelry about this series of Mario-gang washcloths. I'm having a ton of fun making them and I'm so glad that other people are enjoying the patterns as well! The Bowser version was posted on Knitting Pattern Central, so now the traffic on this blog has increased tenfold just in the last week. I'm honestly quite surprized at all the interest, but I'm just glad everyone is enjoying something that I created.

Anyway, now it's time for:


The Yoshi Washcloth!

Pattern:

The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long, just like the others, and is also worked from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

The Yoshi cloth is a simpler pattern than some of the other ones in the series, but the small details give it the impression of highly complex workmanship. (This will impress non-knitters, but in reality the cloth is just knit and purl stitches.)

Enjoy!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 29

I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion is anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.
~Bertrand Russell

Monday, March 30, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 28

If we go back to the beginning, we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve their own interests. If the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, the knowledge of nature is calculated to destroy them.
~ Baron D'Hollbach

The Baron D'Hollbach was a French aristocrat and perhaps the first modern atheist to express his views pointedly and without reservation. He did write his incredibly controversial book anonymously, but at his home he hosted many gatherings of like-minded people to give them an opportunity for expression of controversial views and a feeling of belonging to a common mindset about religion. If atheism has a modern "founder" of the philosophy, it would probably be him, and not the Hitchens and Dawkins phenomenon of the last decade, who took the first steps to make saying "there is no god and believing in one is neither necessary nor a foregone conclusion" acceptable in society.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 27

Let us overthrow the totems, break the taboos. Or better, let us consider them cancelled.
~Pierre Elliott Trudeau

That guy was awesome. I'll bet Stephen Harper is embarrassed to even share the same title with the man, which just makes it even better. There's someone who had a take-no-crap, say-what-he-thinks attitude. Not like the Harper Gag Order routine. And beyond just a great persona, he set the tone for society to accept things like totally secular government and same-sex relationships. It's hard to complain about that!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bowser Washcloth!

So, as per the poll results (thanks to those who voted!), it's time to start introducing some bad guys to the Mario character washcloth lineup!

This is the first one that really seems appropriate black!


It's the Bowser Washcloth!

Pattern:

The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long, just like the others, and is also worked from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

The Bowser cloth is probably the most complicated of the four patterns so far. However, it still only took me a couple of evenings to whip up the test cloth. I know it's been a month since the Peach cloth, and I'm trying to put out the cloths sooner. The next one will be Yoshi (since he was a close runner-up in the poll), and I'll try to get that out around the end of the month of March. Watch for it!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 26

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
~Bertrand Russell

Russell's Teapot in his own words. In short: it's not my job to prove something does not exist when there is no proof that it does. Anyone can claim something exists and, when challenged, say that it is impossible to prove that it doesn't exist. That's not an argument. That's avoiding the issue. When someone says, "There's no proof that teapot exists", the correct response is not, "But you can't prove it doesn't exist!" The correct response is, "Here is my evidence for saying the teapot exists" or "Here is my sound reasoning as to why you should believe me when I say the teapot exists".

It makes far more logical sense to not believe in the existence of something for which there is absolutely zero proof, then to believe in something for which there is no proof, just because there is no evidence to the contrary. After all, the logical extension of the non-belief stance is that a person believes in only things which have evidence to support their existence, and, as new evidence comes in, that person adapts their beliefs to suit what we understand about reality. On the other hand, the logical extension of the believer's stance is to believe in everything unless someone can prove it's not true, which means believing in anything anyone tells you unless someone else proves otherwise. Fairies, unicorns, every deity ever imagined, leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, etc. Which of those two options sounds more rational?

And, more importantly, which one sounds more like the person is thinking about and engaged in the world they live in rather than believing whatever they're told?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 25

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes... A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.
~Bertrand Russell

Monday, March 2, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 24

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
~Carl Sagan

This is truly the root of atheism. Believers are always presenting Pascal's Wager in some form or another: "Why not believe? If you believe, and there is a supreme being, you get to go to heaven. If you don't, and there is one, you'll go to hell. Either way, none of it matters if there is no God, so what difference does it make? Believing could win you eternal life, or nothing. Not believing could get you eternal suffering, or nothing. Why choose the option with no good outcomes?"

As always, they focus too much on the hypothetical afterlife - and only their version of it, might I add - and not on the life we know we are currently living. I consider it a massive waste of my precious time alive to sell my integrity, my dignity, and my intelligence for some vague sense of reassurance that nothing is my fault, "God has a plan". I refuse to live in a state of deliberate ignorance and vapidity just so that I get to have easy answers to all the great questions of existence. Why would I want to ignore the way the universe really works just so I wouldn't have to learn and grow throughout my lifetime? Why would I want to have morality dictated to me so that I don't have to make any difficult decisions using my own mental faculties? It's laziness, it's fear, and it's an unwillingness to accept that we are not special and that there are no easy answers.

Sure, it would be nice to believe that some father-figure deity up there cares about me and has created some kind of destiny just especially for me. And it would be nice to think that this guy wanted me to live forever in eternal happiness (just as long as I believed in his existence, no matter how much doublethink and willful ignorance it required). But it's more important to me to be honest in my search for purpose and knowledge in the lifetime I know I have, rather than to sacrifice my integrity and my intelligence in exchange for something for which no one can offer proof. Why focus on an afterlife when I can have a sincere and fulfilling present-life?

Delusion, no matter how much more comforting, is not worth losing the ability to understand the sober truth of the reality of the universe.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lime Pop Rocks Cheesecake

They said it couldn't be done. "Pop Rocks will not survive within a recipe," they said. "They will fizzle out and all you will be left with is melted Red Dye #3."

They were wrong!

This is a recipe I created based on the No-Bake Lime Cheesecake recipe from tasteofhome.com, but with a popping twist: there are Pop Rocks in the crust, embedded in the cheesecake layer, and sprinkled on top for a final product that is both a light and delicious cheesecake, but also a truly unique dessert that both kids and adults can appreciate. The sour lime flavour keeps it from being unbearably sweet, and, surprisingly enough, the Pop Rocks survive the process quite well, with lots of popping in every bite.

Lime Pop Rocks Cheesecake

Note: This recipe works with practically any two kinds of Pop Rocks. I recommend choosing two flavours that are different colours for the contrast, and the only flavour I wouldn't suggest using is the bubblegum. You will need three packages of each of two flavours (six packages total) to make the finished cheesecake. Using only one flavour, possibly the green-coloured sour apple flavour, might be more appropriate for a more formal occasion and a more subtle presentation, but I used blue berry and red tropical punch flavours and it was very festive-looking when finished.

Crust:
1 1/2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs
4 1/2 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 pouches of Pop Rocks, one of each flavour

Filling:
2 envelopes unflavoured gelatine
1 cup lime juice
1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
Green food colouring (optional)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
4 pouches of Pop Rocks, two of each flavour

  1. In a bowl, mix together Oreo crumbs with melted butter and the 2 tbsp sugar. Wait for the butter to cool down and then combine the 2 packages of Pop Rocks gently into the crushed mixture.
  2. Immediately press into the bottom of a well-greased 8 or 9" spring-form pan. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes or until needed.
  3. In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatine over lime juice and cold water; let stand for 1 minute. Stir in the sugar and eggs. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until mixture reaches 160°, then remove from heat.
  4. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter with electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in gelatine mixture until combined. Add several drops green food colouring, if desired, and blend (without the food colouring, the eggs make the cheesecake very yellow). Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes or until partially set, stirring occasionally.
  5. In a small bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into lime mixture and stir to mix evenly. Spoon about half the filling into the crust. Evenly sprinkle 2 packages of the Pop Rocks (one of each flavour) over the filling. Spoon in the remaining filling and cover. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours or until set.
  6. Before serving, evenly sprinkle remaining 2 packages of Pop Rocks (one of each flavour) over the top of the cheesecake. Serve chilled and refrigerate any leftovers.

I made this as a contribution to a friend's 90s-themed party, and it was a big hit. In fact, it was so popular that I didn't get to get a picture before it disappeared! When I make it again (and I will), I'll post a picture of it here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 23

We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.
~Charles Darwin, Notebook N (1838)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Princess Peach Washcloth!

Now that we have Mario and Luigi, what comes next? They need someone worth saving, of course! And that someone is the Princess.

It's the Princess Peach Washcloth!

Pattern:

This is the same size as the Mario and Luigi versions: 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long. As with the others, I went a little unorthodox on the charting and worked the raised-stitch pattern from right to left instead of from bottom to top. The photo above was based on a first draft of the chart, which I have since slightly modified to make the face part look nicer and to fix the weird way the hair-defining lines look. If I make a second cloth, I'll post a picture of the results of the better chart.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. In the next row, follow K2, P40, K2, then knit one row. The next row (row 6) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row. For the next (WS) row, follow K2, P40, K2. Knit the next 3 rows, then BO with knit stitches.

Compared to the Mario and Luigi patterns, this one is by far the easiest to knit with the simplest pattern (it's all that hair!). It is based on the same aesthetic that I used for those two patterns and so it complements them well.

Enjoy!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 22

"Faith" means not wanting to know what is true.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

And wanting to know what is true is what makes us truly human - intelligent, curious, sentient. So why is not being religious and not believing in a supreme being, especially in such an age of knowledge and science, treated like something unnatural? It is more natural for humans to ask questions and seek the truth than for us to accept easy answers that are clearly not good explanations for the world around us. That attitude is a denial of the extraordinary intelligence we have and a spit in the face to the natural world that caused us to be this way.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 21

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

(Hey, why didn't anyone tell me I'd already used this one? Here's a bonus quote to make up for my ineptitude.)

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
~Albert Einstein

Monday, February 2, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 20

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
~Seneca the Younger

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rotisserie-Style Turkey

This recipe was inspired by the Rotisserie-Style Chicken recipe over at A Year of Crockpotting, which I have made and I loved, but I significantly altered the spice combination to better suit the turkey thighs I got on sale after the holidays. If it wasn't for that blog, I never would have thought that a slow cooker could make poultry crisp up just like an oven does. It's like magic!

Slow Cooker Rotisserie-Style Turkey

2 large frozen turkey thighs, bone in, skin on
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1/3 tsp cayenne
1 tsp parsley
  1. Place turkey thighs in the slow cooker, arranging them so that the lid of the cooker will fit and they are overlapping as little as possible.
  2. In a small bowl, mix salt, paprika, onion powder, thyme, sage, cayenne, and parsley until well-blended.
  3. Rub spice mixture over the outside of the turkey pieces, coating them generously. If some falls into the bottom of the cooker, don't worry, it won't burn.
  4. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours or on high 4-5 hours. Some drippings will accumulate in the bottom of the cooker, but do not drain them during cooking time.
  5. Serve over rice.
I am not a fan of spicy-hot food, and I really enjoyed this. The little bit of cayenne is just enough for flavour, but not enough to add zip, so if you like more heat in your food, I'd double the amount listed above. However, the proportions I used made for lots of flavour and meat that was so tender it fell off the bone. Keeping the drippings in for the whole cooking time prevented the meat from drying out and also kept the wayward spice particles that didn't stick to the meat from burning onto the stoneware. I cooked my thighs directly from the freezer, so they were frozen solid. I would reduce cooking time by 1-2 hours on low (1/2 hour to an hour on high) if fresh turkey is used.

I love my slow cooker. No fuss, hardly any mess, and food that appears to have been carefully monitored all day long with almost no real work.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 19

He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dares not reason is a slave.
~William Drummond

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Political Spectrum

My Political Views
I am a left social libertarian
Left: 6.32, Libertarian: 4.38

Political Spectrum Quiz


I found this test very American-centric. The opinion on cutting military spending was a problematic one, for example, since our military is massively under-funded, so even though I don't support offensive military action, I would support them being adequately funded for peacekeeping and sovereignty duties. However, it was clear the question was geared to Americans, whose military has a black budget and is inclined towards offensive military campaigns, so I would support cuts to their military spending. Regardless, my results are fairly predictable. I think I'm less libertarian in reality than the quiz indicates, since I support government taxation to fund social programs to a greater extent than the questions asked could explain, but again, it was clearly US-centric.

The quiz divides it up into foreign policy and culture specifically as well:

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -6.77

Political Spectrum Quiz


My Culture War Stance
Score: -7.43

Political Spectrum Quiz

No surprises there. I like peacekeeping and I don't like governments trying to legislate their religious morality on everyone else (big shocker there, I know).

Now might be a good time to outline (briefly) my position on several major issues:

I am pro-choice. Pro-every-choice. I believe both that women have an absolute right to their reproductive freedom, and so abortion should be both legal and easily available, but I also believe that women should not be criticized for choosing motherhood as a career path. Feminism gave us the ability to choose something other than being a housewife and a mother. That doesn't mean we are obligated somehow to not pursue that option.

I am pro-gay in general and pro-same-sex-marriage. Being gay is not a choice, nor is it somehow immoral in the least. Marriage is not a special word that only religious people get to use. It is the name of a legal contract that two people choose to enter that has secular consequences. It can have spiritual consequences as well, but the religious ceremony and the legal contract are two separate things. My favourite argument is this: if marriage is solely a religious commitment, why can I, a mouthy atheist, get married in a hall by a justice of the peace to another atheist as long as the other atheist is a man? If marriage is a religious thing, you should be trying to annul all the atheistic marriages, not all the same-sex ones. My second-favourite argument is that it's been legal here for nearly five years and so far, no divine retribution. Either your god doesn't care, or your god doesn't exist. Either way, you're wrong.

I am also pro-universal social services, so pro-universal health care, pro-welfare, pro-universal drug plans, and pro-subsidized higher education. I think our health care system needs work (and could benefit greatly from creating a fast-track qualification program for foreign-trained doctors), but it is a great equalizer. If no one ever needs to worry about paying a hospital bill, they are far more likely to seek treatment before things become critical. Freely available health care improves the health of the whole population and gives the poor the same ability to maintain good health as the rich. In the US, I hear a lot about the inequality of the races. I don't think race is the problem anymore. At one time, visible minorities were oppressed and became impoverished as a result, and then, despite the civil rights movement, they couldn't achieve equality with their white oppressors not because of racism, but because of their continued poverty. There was no support system to keep them healthy and fed, no universally funded education system to help them learn, and no subsidization of the costs of higher education to help them get better jobs and so to give them a fair chance at achieving true equality. The problem in the US now is poverty more than any remnants of a racist past. A better social support structure would eliminate a lot of the inequalities like no anti-racism equality plan ever could.

I am anti-war. I am patriotic, and I can see the justification for some past conflicts, so I support the sacrifices of the military. I will never belittle the dangerous position they put themselves in for our sake. But I think world conflicts are only exacerbated, not solved, by war. Peacekeeping, diplomatic negotiation, and economic sanctions are all better ways of managing foreign conflicts than killing people.

I am also anti-gun. Hunting, fine. Police, fine. Sport shooting, fine. Personal handguns? No freaking way. Those aren't for shooting moose or ducks. Those are for killing people. The less guns there are out there, the less guns the criminals have access to. And we have very few gun murders in a year in this country, the majority of those being gang-related, not as a function of criminal activity against innocent citizens. If ordinary citizens don't have guns, most of the time criminals don't bother getting them either. But if everyone has a gun, it's more likely that someone will get shot. Especially if those people with guns are not experienced hunters or trained to handle guns, but ordinary people who don't know enough about using a deadly weapon to be expected to store it safely and to keep calm in a dangerous situation.

Obviously, I am anti-morality legislation. Legislating religious beliefs into "blue laws" or other rules that have no value as laws except to impose the morality of a single belief system onto everyone in a population is not only ridiculous but also unsupportable by the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As an atheist, those sorts of things mostly just piss me off.

I am, however, anti-hate speech. This may seem at odds with free speech, but I believe that if it is a narrow enough definition, it is a very important tool to prevent the spread of hate and continued oppression of minority groups. I do think that the government in a democracy has a responsibility to protect the minority groups, even though they are elected by the majority. People shouldn't be able to get away with trying to convince people that some group is worthy of derision by publicly decrying them with hate speech. Hopefully one day hate speech laws will be irrelevant. But for now, they are a way to protect minority groups from propaganda meant to damage them just for belonging to that group.

I am pro-capitalism, but only with industry regulations and anti-monopoly statutes, as well as unions and minimum wage/workplace safety laws. Competition produces a healthy economy and a better quality of life in a country, but unregulated capitalism produces a 95/5 problem where 95% of the wealth is held by 5% of the population. Social responsibility and some government regulation helps that wealth spread out a bit.

Finally, I am anti-censorship. Hate speech should have consequences, but should not be hidden. "Bad" language, video game violence, and pornography are things that we should learn to adapt to and respond appropriately to, not things that we should try to ban. Parents should control what their children are exposed to based on their parenting philosophy, but the violence and nudity still exists and needs to be dealt with, not censored.

Overall, I think that putting someone somewhere on a political spectrum is maybe too simplistic. A person's views are not one-dimensional or even two-dimensional; they are so multi-dimensional that each person has a political spectrum position that is not exactly the same as any other person on the planet. That is why I don't like labels for political opinions in general; I am left-wing in relation to my own country's definition of the word, but other than that I'm not willing to use many other labels, because (as seen above) there are just too many to list in an easy package of opinions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Luigi Washcloth!

What's Mario without Luigi?


After making the Mario Washcloth chart, I immediately thought of making a complementary pattern with Luigi on it. And so the Luigi Washcloth was born.


It's-a the Luigi Washcloth!

Pattern:

This is very similar to the Mario version and they look very much like a matched set. The Luigi one has a teensy bit more stockinette stitch at the beginning and end of the chart so that they would both be the same size: 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long. As with the Mario pattern, I went a little unorthodox on the charting and worked the raised-stitch pattern from right to left instead of from bottom to top.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

I'm the sort of person who roots for the guy in second place, so I have a special place in my heart for Luigi. The guy deserved his own pattern too!

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Mario, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mario Washcloth!

When I finished my Scottie Washcloth project, I discovered that I had way, way overestimated the quantity of black accent yarn I needed. What on Earth was I supposed to do with piles and piles of black, dishcloth-quality cotton yarn?

I'm a take-lemons-make-lemonade sort of person, so I designed a new washcloth pattern. Since the yarn is black, I figured something unusual was in order, so I chose to knit a Mario washcloth. After all, I am a part of a generation that grew up with Super Mario World.


It's-a the Mario Washcloth!

Pattern:

The finished product is 44 stitches wide and 61 rows long. I went a little unorthodox on the charting and worked the raised-stitch pattern from right to left instead of from bottom to top as is conventional. I found that way easier to chart so that it turned out looking correct.

CO 44 stitches. Knit three rows. The next row (row 4) will be a WS row and the first row of the pattern chart (click to enlarge):


Start and end every row with K2. For the 40 stitches in between the edge stitches, follow the chart. Blank spaces are knit stitches for RS rows and purl stitches for WS rows. Dots are purl stitches for RS rows and knit stitches for WS rows.

After the chart is finished, you should be about to start a RS row. Knit this row and the next two (three rows total), then BO with knit stitches.

VoilĂ ! It's a bathroom accessory worthy of a Nintendo geek.

(Psst! Looking for the other Mario-gang washcloth designs? There are also Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, and Boo patterns available!)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 18

History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again.
~Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Knowledge and its continued availability, not faith in some supreme power, is the means to immortality. In increasing somehow the sum of human understanding, even just by a small amount, and passing that knowledge on to others, we become a part of that intelligence. Though we as individuals may die and disappear, our contribution to society lives on as others use it at a starting point upon which to build their own understanding.

One depressing thing about the series The Universe is the sobering reality of the fact that someday the Earth is going to be obliterated, either by our sun dying, or by a nearby larger cosmic phenomenon, or by the universe ripping itself apart atom by atom. It is very difficult to accept that, no matter what we do or how hard we try to survive, reproduce, and pass on our experiences to the next generation, someday all of our effort will disappear, as if it had never happened at all. It's important to focus on the present, sure, and the pursuit of knowledge has innate value, but no matter what we do to prevent ignorant human beings from destroying sources of human understanding, someday our universe will destroy every hint that we ever existed not due to malice, but due to the laws of physics. I can see why believing there is intelligence controlling the universe is comforting, because knowing that it is simply the sum total of fundamental forces with no central mind to choose to protect us is terrifying. Nothing out there cares what happens to our tiny little planet in our insignificant corner of the universe, and we can't make anything care, no matter how smart we are, or how nice we are, or how much we want to believe in its existence. It's not there. Nothing is out there caring about our little primate species, or about anything at all whatsoever.

We need to stop hoping that something out there will protect us and save us from destruction, because nothing will. Someday, each and every one of us will die. Far in the distant future, someday our planet will be obliterated and all evidence of our existence will disappear. There's nothing we can do about that. We need to focus on what is innately valuable, even if it will inevitably be lost in the future - we need to forget about our petty disputes over land and resources and (pettiest of all) religious worship sites. We need to work together to achieve great things and improve the quality of life for everyone. If each generation is happier and more peaceful than the last, and each one increases our knowledge of the universe, then we are doing valuable things with our lives. It's important to focus on the big picture. Life is too short and the capabilities of human beings are too unusual to waste both on war and religious dogma.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread

I improvised this recipe on New Year's Eve while getting ready to have people over. I knew some of the people would be staying over, so I needed a breakfast plan. I had already organized omelet ingredients, but I thought we could use a bread to go with them, and I thought something sweet would be nice. It disappeared so quickly that I didn't get a photo of it before it was gone!

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread

6 tbsp water
6 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
3 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 1/2 tsp yeast
  1. Place all ingredients in bread machine in the order listed above.
  2. Set for 1/2 lb or 2 lb loaf, white bread cycle, light crust and start.
  3. Double-check the consistency of the bread during the first mixing cycle. If it is sticking to the sides too much, add flour, and if it is too dry, add a little bit of milk or water. (I found that the generous amount of cinnamon made it a little dry, so I added more milk.)
I found that in my machine the chocolate chips survived intact. If your machine tends to melt them down, I would wait to add them until the second mixing cycle, because otherwise the chocolate might overwhelm the cinnamon flavour if it's all mixed together. We toasted the bread and put butter on it, and it was a big hit.

The funny story associated with this is that I had a small panic attack after the second mixing cycle when it looked like it wasn't going to rise at all. Don't panic if this happens to you! I suspect it just was due to the greater mass of the bread with all those chocolate chips. It turned out fine in the end - plenty big and not too dense.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 17

If the Bible is mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust it to tell us where we're going?
~Justin Brown

This is not directly related to this week's quote, but I just found out about the History Channel series "The Universe", and I've been watching the first season. It illustrates perfectly what I mean when I say that the reality of the universe is far more awe-inspiring and magnificent than any mythological creation story. Our very existence is fascinating not because we are unique, but because we endure. Earth has been pounded by asteroids and comets, flooded by radiation, and is destined to one day be burned away to nothing by its own sun. And yet, as soon as there were conditions even remotely suitable for life, there was life. Life finds a way to replicate itself, obtain nutrients, and maintain its systems even in the harshest and most unforgiving environments, some with no sunlight, some with toxic chemicals, some extremely frigid, and some exceedingly hot. When an object pounded into Earth and killed nearly all living species, those that were left did not give up and die - rather, they went on to repopulate the entire planet with the body forms we recognize today, such as tetrapods, arachnids, and insects. We are a powerful astronomical phenomenon away from ceasing to exist at all times, and yet life still strives on.

My point is, life isn't unique. It almost certainly exists, or at the very least once existed, elsewhere in our solar system. The inspiring thing about life is that it keeps showing up. Conditions do have to be within certain parameters, but they're much wider than we once believed, and life is far from being a miraculous occurrence. It turns out that us being in a very narrow "habitable zone" in our orbit around the sun is just one favourable circumstance that made life turn out the way it has on our planet, but it is not necessary for life to develop. Scientists believe microbial life once existed on Mars (and possibly still does, underground), and that Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, also has the right conditions for life. Mars may be close to us, but Europa certainly isn't anywhere near the so-called "habitable zone".

The series so far makes me feel a little bit insignificant and vulnerable, and that's scary. In a way, I can see why religion might make that feeling go away for some people, but I feel it's more honest to admit we're only a blip in history, a tiny spec on the arse of the universe. That doesn't make us unimportant, because life is always important, even if it isn't unique, but it does give us a sense of perspective. Specifically, we aren't special little favourites of some divine power. We don't have "dominion" over the rest of the life in the universe. We aren't separate from it; we're part of it. And we're as vulnerable as anything else to things beyond our control.

We should remember that, rather than spending our time hiding under the covers with books we already know to be fiction, hoping desperately that we're more "special" than everything else.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My First Sweater!

Today I completed the project that officially makes me a knitter: the first sweater. (And no, I did not invoke the Sweater Curse by making it for the boyfriend. If he's lucky, he'll get one next winter.) It was surprisingly simple: a tube with two little tubes dangling off of it. I don't think I've ever had so few ends to sew in. There is a major advantage to making things just one colour!

This is my Tempting sweater with a cable adaptation created by Catherine:


It's the Tempting Sweater with Cables!

The last photo didn't come out quite the right colour (I took it in a room with compact fluorescent light bulbs), but it's a good closeup of the cabled yoke. The other two photos represent the correct colour of the sweater.

I like the final product (though I'm still getting used to not hiking up the off-the-shoulder look), which I made one inch longer than the pattern suggested. I also extended the sleeves by an inch or so. Knitting it was incredibly boring, though... K2 P2 rib for 16 inches? Not my idea of a brain workout, and having to switch every two stitches from knitting to purling made the work go slower as well. I'm thinking about using the same principle of ribbing for stretch to make something less mind-numbing in the future. We'll see.

As for my next project, I'm not going to make the same mistake I made last year and start a scarf in January, only to finish it at the end of March when things are warming up. A toque, maybe, because it's faster than a scarf (and I really, really want to make one for myself with a Darwin fish on the front), but I'm mostly thinking about spring clothes next. But not having a project feels bizarre. I'd better get another one going soon, or else I might do something drastic, like lug the laundry down to the machines.

Overall, the sweater was very easy and produced something worth wearing. Hard to complain about that!