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Today the United States Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next Supreme Court justice.

Watching the video of Vice President Harris announcing the tally gave me chills, brought tears to my eyes, and made me cheer.

I am am not sure how cautious or optimistic to be, but this event feels a little bit like progress. Congratulations to Judge Jackson!

One of the suggestions (nominations?) I received for female mad scientist was the inimitable and indomitable Edna Mode.

My first instinct was to defend Edna. She is NOT a mad scientist … except that she totally is.  I was thinking her as more of an eccentric, but she has powers of her own.  She is trusted by the supers.  She knows who they all are.  She knows what their powers are and how they work, and she designs their suits accordingly.

Thankfully for all involved, she uses her powers for good rather than evil.

My favorite Edna moment:

As I spend Camp NaNoWriMo brainstorming writing and story ideas, I am still thinking about cooking and baking robots, so I started doing a little research.

Nautilus magazine has become one of my favorite science resources. The description on the website says, “Our stories take you into the depths of science and spotlight its ripples in our lives and cultures.”

There have been several articles about robots recently, so I have added them to my reading list.

Somehow my brain segued into the idea of writing a story with a female mad scientist — brilliant STEM ladies using their powers for, well, not necessarily evil, but definitely not for selfless good — and I tried to come up with ideas for reference. I came up empty other than possibly Harley Quinn, but somehow mad psychiatrist wasn’t working for me. I remembered correctly that Poison Ivy is a scientist who is labeled as an eco-terrorist. Possible. Possible. Closer to what I had in mind at any rate.

I posed the question to my small social media circle and was rewarded with a list of possibilities. Several were from video games and anime, so they will expand my horizons. The most perfect example I got was Screenslaver from Incredibles 2. She is so perfect that she borders on cliche. There is also a character from my current favorite book who qualifies.

Now that I have a starting point, I know a little better what I am looking for as I sift through books I have read and movies I have watched.

Then I can start writing my own.

MWA-HA-HA!

Since discovering Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal maxim of “the compound effect of incremental change,” I have been applying it pretty much everywhere I can.  There are all of these things that I want to do from mundane to interesting, from simple to complex, and I am trying to apply the incremental change approach to all of them.

While the effort is starting to pay off, sometimes if feels similar to the advice about eating the elephant one bite at a time.  But what happens when you get so sick of eating elephant that you can’t possibly stand to eat another bite because if you do, all of the bites you have already eaten might come right back up on you?

At what point do you run out of increments in your day? What happens when you end up not having much in the way of flexibility because you are busy checking off all of the items on your daily list? There also might be occasions where you have to break the projects or activities down into such small increments that you can’t get through them all before it is time to start all over again.  Cleaning the house fits squarely into this category for me.

The question has become more pressing now that I have returned to working full time. So far I have been able to keep up such daily disciplines as Morning Pages, going for a walk, and a certain amount of knitting. There are also professional development plans I need to keep moving forward, and those are proving to be more difficult to break down into increments.

I am holding steady for the moment, but how many increments are there in a day?

Spring Startitis

As previously mentioned, sock knitting is my happy place, and I tend to do more knitting than finishing. So far this year I have cast off eight pairs of socks. I have completely finished — woven in the ends and washed — one pair. Last year I think I got to thirteen pairs before I did any finishing.

Finishing almost happened this weekend, but the opposite of finishing — startitis — kicked in instead. I don’t know that I can really blame this urge to start many new projects on spring because it can happen (and has happened) at any time of year. I think that there was one December where I cast on a new project pretty much every single day.

The cause varies, but this time around I am pretty sure that I can credit casting off a couple of pairs of socks in March and making significant progress on a third pair which inspired me to keep up the momentum, ignoring the fact that there are plenty of partially finished projects to which I could apply that momentum. Another cause is that while the projects which have already been started are not terribly complex, they do require some amount of focus, and it is nice to have a few projects which are simply meditative and soothing and can be knit while listening to music or watching a video.

I cast off one pair of socks made from Noro Silk Garden sock, and I have one more skein left, so I wanted to start another pair right away. I cast on a pattern called If You Know Where to Go (link goes to Ravelry).

The toe of a handknit sock resting on a cake of yarn.  The sock is knit with the magic loop method in striping yarn.
If You Know Where to Go in Noro Silk Garden Sock

This is one of those patterns which is not difficult — knits and purls — but the pattern is a 14-row repeat, so you do have to keep track of which row you just knit and which row to knit next. As I said, not difficult, and having a slightly more involved pattern can make the knitting feel as if it moves along more quickly than, say, knitting every row. The color changes in the Noro yarn as motivating, too. Right now, I am in a dark section of the yarn, so the pattern doesn’t show up too well. It will in other parts, and even if it didn’t, the process is still enjoyable.

Deciding that I needed something even simpler (and that I could knit on a slightly larger needle), I then cast on Seedy Ribbed Socks (Ravelry link). This pattern is a two-row repeat — much easier to keep track of. No notes or row counting required. I just have to read the stitches of the previous row to know that I need to knit the other row next. Also, for some reason this yarn just called to me and insisted on being knit right away (nevermind that it has been in my stash for about six years). Its time had come.

The toe of a handknit sock resting on a cake of yarn.  The sock is knit with the magic loop method in variegated blue, black, and coral colored yarn.

I am only two rows past the toe, so there is really nothing to see here but pretty colors.

Those two really should have been enough to keep me occupied for a while, but my mind wandered to some leftovers from previous projects, and for some reason it made sense that if I were starting projects with new, unused skeins of yarn, I should also make sure that the leftovers didn’t get left too far behind. Is it a good justification? Probably not, but it is what I have. Plus I had all of these empty needles just waiting for projects.

Before I knew it, I had cast on Vanilla Latte (Ravelry link) socks and Crunkled Socks (Ravelry link). I am knitting both patterns with double-stranded yarn on size two needles.

The toe of a handknit sock resting on two messy cakes of yarn -- one is blue and the other olive green.  The sock is knit with the magic loop method.
Vanilla Latte Socks in Samite and Noro Silk Garden Sock
The toe of a handknit sock leaning against two cakes of yarn.  The sock is knit with the magic loop method and has a black toe.  The foot is a marl of orange and green.
Crunkled Socks knit with leftovers from a cowl project

There had been a brief shining moment when I was focused on finishing existing sock projects. I had cast off a pair of socks which I started about five years ago, and I had been making progress on another pair which had been started at least three years ago but possibly four. Great! I could just keep going and get some other the other projects finished.

Alas, it was not to be, and I am once again awash in a sea of in progress sock projects. Do I regret it? No, no I do not. Having a variety of colors, patterns, and yarns from which to choose when I sit down to knit makes for a happy knitter.

The Wool Channel

The wool, fiber, and textile world includes a variety of passionate, interesting, entertaining folks. Knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, dyers, designers, farmers, and ranchers are all advocates, but Clara Parkes is a true evangelist in the best sense and definition of the word.

I “met” Clara (and, yes, I am going to use her first name) through her website Knitters Review fairly early on in my knitting endeavors. She reviewed books and yarn and tools in great detail without ever being boring. Her tests and observations were practical and insightful. I was an avid reader. At this point the site is an archive of those reviews and posts as well as links to her books and online classes, but the fiber events calendar is current.

Her Instagram account is quite active. And delightfully opinionated. Some poor soul was recently brave or foolish enough to suggest that Clara “stick to yarn” and stay out of politics. That person inspired a series of educational posts from Clara. (I tried embedding straight from Instagram, and the embedded content was ENORMOUS, and WordPress help was unhelpful\inconclusive, so I opting for screen shots. I know that blocks are supposed to make life simpler, but I miss the old days of fumbling my way through HTML.)

Another passion is outing products masquerading as wool or fleece when they contain little to no actual wool or other animal fiber. Her review of the L.L. Bean holiday catalog last year was epic.

Clara’s current project, celebrating its first anniversary, is The Wool Channel. The free option gets you a newsletter, but the subscription opens up a whole world. There is a community with lively discussions. There is a monthly Flock Talk with Clara in which she answers questions and shares information. There are interviews with fiber farmers and processors and scientists and video tours of facilities collected into a series called Voices in Wool.

The platform and its founder definitely do not just stick to yarn (or even sheep for that matter, although they are the focus). There is a larger discussion of textiles and manufacturing, how fiber is farmed and harvested, the people doing that farming and harvesting, and what words like “sustainable” really mean in the context of clothing and home goods.

You don’t have to be a fiber artist to benefit from and appreciate what The Wool Channel has to offer. If you want to move away from fast fashion made of synthetic materials and disposable home goods, if you want to learn about the many personal and environmental benefits of wool, or if you want to learn about the many (and I mean MANY) possible uses for wool, The Wool Channel is the place to be.

Just draw it.

Ten years ago Neil Gaiman gave a brilliant commencement speech which became knows as the “Make good art” speech. It’s on YouTube. It is thoughtful and funny and wise and not just for artists. Go watch it.

But he was talking to graduating art students who are presumably already good at making art. They just need to go forth into the world and keep doing what they already do and get better.

What about those who are just starting out and who are not at the point of making good or even consistent art?

Last night I watched livestream of the countdown to the end of the Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter.  For a good part of the two hour live stream, the artist Steve Argyle was the special guest.  He is the artist for one of the books included in the Kickstarter, and he spent a fair amount of time talking about process, and much of what he said doesn’t apply only to drawing and painting.

Someone asked for advice about learning to draw when you can’t even draw a straight line.  I was not surprised when his recommendation was to just draw.  Accept that it will be frustrating, but just start drawing.  Do a little bit each day.  If you try to do some big marathon session, you will only be discouraged and quit.  He also recommended drawing the same subject – person, object, pet, landscape, whatever – over and over and over.  If you do, you will keep discovering new things about that subject, which I thought sounded really cool (as well as making a lot of sense).

Someone asked about reference, and he mentioned that insects were some of his reference for armor drawings.  He wanted something more organic.

Then he talked about about figuring out how to draw something in the first place — how to even get started transforming the idea in your head into lines and shapes on the page.  He referenced the artist Iain McCaig as the source of this approach.  McCaig has some YouTube videos but also interviews and classes.  His particular art isn’t quite my thing, but his enthusiasm definitely appeals to me.  He reminds me a little bit of knitting designer Stephen West as far as making challenging undertakings fun and accessible to anyone and everyone who is willing to take the chance and put in the effort.

Argyle recommended breaking down what you want to draw into components.  Write all of those down.  Then look around the room (or wherever you are) and pick out random objects.  Write those down.  Take elements of those objects and apply them to the thing that you want to draw.

For example, say you want to draw a dragon.  What does your dragon need?  Horns?  Wings?  A breath power (which I am assuming means fire but I am sure could mean other things)? Tail? Scales? Four legs?

Great.  So you look around the room at random things – a fish sculpture, a can of energy drink, a lamp, a coffee mug.  Then you take elements from each thing and use those to make a part of the dragon.

The fish sculpture is curved and smooth but kind of scaly and iridescent, so you use those elements for the horns.  The horns don’t look like fish, but they are iridescent, smooth, and curved, with a bit of scaled texture.  Maybe the scales are only at the base of the horns where they meet the head of the dragon.

Then the textured looking graphic design on the can looks like shark skin, and the font looks kind of torn, so maybe the wings are a little worse for wear and have more of a thick, heavy skin than any scales.

And so on.

I think there are lessons in there for writing stories.

It was all fascinating. I would have happily listened to Steve Argyle for two hours.

Click this link to visit his web site.

Be inspired. Start drawing. Even if you can’t draw a straight line. ESPECIALLY if you can’t draw a straight line.

It’s getting late, and it is a work night, so I need to get to sleep, but I am going to sneak in a quick post and hope that I can stay on track because even though I am going to post about what I was planning to post about, there are other things running around in my head which are trying to take over the post (and are apparently encouraging me to try out a Marcel Proust imitation).

In the book Sourdough by Robin Sloan, the great, unsolvable problem at the robotics company which employs the heroine Lois is the “egg problem” — teaching a robotic arm to properly crack an egg into a bowl.

SOURDOUGH SPOILERS (sort of)

When Lois decides to scale up her bread making enterprise, she enlists the help of a robotic arm, and there is a wonderful chaotic scene in which the arm recreates her own initial breadmaking attempts with great accuracy. The flour sprays everywhere. Dough ends up on the counter, the floor, the cabinets as she tries to configure proper, effective stirring technique. Ultimately she tackles the egg problem, and, as so many great discoveries are, the solution is an example of less being more.

Today I learned that some fine folks in the field of robotics are teaching (read: programming) robots to make pizza dough!

To really get the whole picture, I think you need to read the book and the article, but the article is shorter, so maybe start there.

And I need to stop here. Otherwise I will be up much later writing much longer about robots and technology which will somehow segue into electricity and waste, and then I will make an abrupt leap into being inspired by an artist talking about process which led me to think that there were lessons in there about story building which could be used for Camp NaNoWriMo, which officially kicks off in about 25 minutes.

Posts could be interesting for the next few days. Or maybe just rambling. Time will tell.

It’s difficult to say when I stopped paying attention to the annual awards handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I know that I never forgave the Academy for not giving the best actor award to Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, I remember Bruce Springsteen picking up his award for “Streets of Philadelphia.” Both of those were quite a while ago.

The only information I picked up this year was that Hans Zimmer was given the award for best score, and it is the second time he has won the award. The information came from my favorite classical radio station. I was more than a little surprised to learn that his first award was for the Disney movie The Lion King. Really?!? That fact was even more surprising than the fact that he had only won two.

There was a period of time when I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks and scores. Even so, I didn’t usually pick up on the composer until I saw the name in the credits. Hans Zimmer was one of the exceptions. His style is not only distinctive but uniquely rhythmic, giving each movie its pulse. It’s mesmerizing.

He scored one of my favorite films of all time, The Power of One.

Wow, that’s big. I will have to learn how to make YouTube links smaller.

My other favorite composition of his is The Last Samurai.

I adore The Last Samurai. I am not a big Tom Cruise fan because every movie just felt like I was watching Tom Cruise, Superstar! The Last Samurai didn’t feel that way. Cruise gets top billing because he is the box office draw, but his character’s story, while interesting and redemptive, is not the most important in the film. The scenery and cinematography are breathtaking, and the Japanese actors make you practically forget the superstar in their midst.

But I am supposed to be writing about Hans Zimmer. The other big film of his which came immediately to mind was Gladiator, another favorite. I knew there were more, but gadzooks, there are at least 150 more. That almost puts him in the realm of that other famous film composer who has been working more than twice as long. Okay, not really, but he has still composed a LOT of film scores. He has worked on everything from Sponge Bob to the Simpsons to James Bond to Kung Fu Panda. Thelma and Louise, Bird on a Wire, and Driving Miss Daisy are all his.

I dare you to go look at the IMDB list and not find some of your favorite films.

Meanwhile, I need to go make a decision about backing the Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter campaign.

Happy Wednesday!

And yet it’s already Tuesday. It’s almost April, even.

I wouldn’t say that going back to work full time on short notice is like going from 0 to 60, especially since there is training, and I don’t have to be a subject matter expert right out of the gate, but it is definitely a big shift. Maybe more like going from 20 to 60.

I have been working on other projects and trying to cultivate good habits, which I knew would be a challenge to maintain, but I am already struggling. And I have plans for Camp NaNoWriMo in April which I am pretty determined to execute.

I know that people don’t do everything perfectly every day in terms of balancing work and exercise and personal projects and home life, but it is feeling like a serious challenge to even get close. Of course, it has only been two days, and I knew that the first week would be rough. It’s kind of nice to have a reason to get up and dressed and out the door first thing in the morning, and while I am tired, I am not feeling worn out or stressed. More like curious. How am I going to work, keep up my good practices, and continue my career development path? Where am I going to find the right hours in the right place in the right order?

I will admit that I am not at all sure, but for the first time in a long time, if not ever, I am fairly certain that it is indeed possible. Perhaps it is this “piece at a time”\”compound effect of incremental change” approach I have been taking to things that I want to do. Maybe that approach is what will make the pieces fit together.

The only way to find out is to try it.

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