Sunday, February 28, 2010

Activity whirlwind

With tax season in full swing and us experiencing a snowier than usual winter, I've found myself spending every spare minute knitting, reading or spinning. I'm in love with all the projects I'm working on too which contributes to the desire to always have something in my hands.

Reading: On the Kindle, I finished Snow Ball and have moved on to The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse by Leann Sweeney. I've read a few of her Abby Rose mysteries and enjoyed them quite a lot. This book seemed right up my alley, a cozy mystery centered around a cat loving quilter. It took me a good third of the book to really get into it, the main character comes off as a crazy cat lady a lot of the time, but once the murder investigation got going, the book picked up pace and is pretty good. On my nightstand I've got a Nancy Ahterton book, Snowbound. Literally only a page or two in, though. I've been so tired at night I don't think I've read a paragraph without falling asleep!

Spinning: Finished spinning and plying the Fat Cat merino in Chasm. I didn't get my spinning quite as even as I accomplished with the CMF BFL I spun last. Could be the difference in fiber, could be that I wasn't being quite as careful this time. I got to use the new Jumbo Flyer on my Minstrel to ply. What a joy. I was able to get the entire 4 ounces onto one bobbin with room to spare. Well, not quite 4. I ended up with a small bit of singles left on one bobbin and at least one layer of singles on the last bobbin. I hate when that happens. I did split the roving evenly by weight before I started. But as I said, my spinning didn't seem quite as even. I'm thinking that last bobbin may have been the one I spun at the higher ratio and thus was a bit finer than the other two. I think I might use that extra singles to practice navajo plying. Now I'm spinning the superwash merino I dyed the other weekend. It's interesting to see how the colors are coming out. I've decided I need to dye larger patches when dyeing roving. I dyed this similar to how I dye yarn, with relatively small areas of color. In roving, that's just not enough to make a patch of color. It will be interesting to see what the yarn looks like when it's all done.

Knitting: I've finished the knitting on Skully 2 and have the arms sewn in. I still need to sew the side seams, weave in the ends and knit on a neckband. I hate finishing work so it will probably languish for awhile now. Two pair of socks going, plain vanilla socks in Salvia yarn are in the home stretch. I'm halfway down the foot of the second sock. I've also got a pair of 6 ply socks going, just finished the ribbing of the second sock so I'm better than halfway done the pair. I'm also working on the Bitterroot shawl. Now that I'm on the 3rd chart I'm really starting to like the shawl. Lace is just so addicting to knit.

Unfortuneately all this activity has brought on a nasty case of tennis elbow. I'm having to slow down a bit and remember to take more frequent breaks. I've found keeping a pillow under my arm when knitting provides good support as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning to love ratios

I've been spinning for a little over 2 years now and am finally starting to feel competent at it. Competent, not proficient. I've still got a lot to learn. But I'm getting there. Reading books, watching videos and just spinning all contribute to learning more.

Just about every yarn I've spun has been on the 1st (slowest) ratio. I've ventured occasionally to the 2nd ratio, but that's about as far as it went. Ratios control the number of times the flyer on the spinning wheel turns in relation to the number of times the drive wheel turns. On my Minstrel, I've got 4 ratios. On the slowest ratio, for every time the big wheel goes around once, the flyer turns 6 times applying six twists to the fiber. Each subsequently smaller whorl is a higher ratio, each applying a bit more twist than the previous ratio. So I've read this umpteen times. I get it. But I've never really tried it. I mostly spin worsted range yarns which don't require tons of twist and that slow ratio is ideal for that type of yarn.


But recently, I've been desiring to spin sock yarn. Sock yarn is thin. The thinner the yarn, the more twist it needs to hold together. I successfully spun the Crown Mountain BFL into sock yarn a few months back on the second ratio (8.5 to 1). To achieve the amount of twist necessary to hold the few fibers together to form the fine singles I was treadling 6 to 8 to sometimes even 10. This works, but is labor intensive and takes FOREVER.

I moved on to my next project, more sock yarn, and continued in this same manner. My singles are lovely but I was getting frustrated at how long it was taking. I've got so much fiber I want to spin! So when I got to the last third of this current roving, I decided to give the 12 to 1 ratio a try. <<<>>> The difference was immediate and amazing. I spun through that last third in maybe half or a third the time it took to do the other bobbins. I'm able to treadle only a few times per draw to achieve the correct twist. I feel enlightened and excited at the prospect of actually being able to spin up sock yarn at a respectable rate.

And to top it all off, I've still got one more ratio to go...can anyone say lace weight?!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

All dressed up

As further proof of how much I love my Kindle, I decided to spend my birthday money on dressing it up (thank you family for the fundage!) Although the white color of the Kindle is easy on the eyes I'm afraid it's going to end up getting dirty in no time. I've kept mine in a silicone skin, but discovered dirt was getting under the skin plus it was really ugly. Then someone on the Rav boards mentioned Decal Girl skins and I knew I had to have one. There are hundreds of cool designs over there. I went with Tree of Books.

The skin is made of vinyl and was pretty easy to apply without bubbles (unlike the screen protector which requires something in the line of a Level 4 clean room to prevent dust bubbles). The nice thing about the skin is it gives just a bit of grip - I find the naked Kindle to feel slick and am in fear of dropping it. Plus it's really pretty!

I also upgraded from my standard clip light to a Kandle. The old light worked ok but I found I had to adjust the arm often to get the light just right on the screen. Plus it was kind of bulky and I had to remove it to store my Kindle. The Kandle provides a nice even illumination across the screen and is very light and compact. I can leave it attached all the time so it's there when I need it but is unobtrusive when I don't.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Big snow

I'm going to join many other east coast bloggers with my pictures from the big snow (aka snowpocalypse, aka snowmagedon). Two back to back snow storms this past week dumped in the neighborhood of 3 feet of snow on us. The first storm hit on Saturday February 6We ended up with around 20 inches of snow. Thankfully it was the light, fluffy variety and was fairly easy to shovel. Although this also meant it drifted pretty easily. But we dug out from that one and went about our business. Then Wednesday rolled around and dumped another 20 inches of snow on us.I went out mid afternoon to clear a spot to put out some birdseed and got a yardstick shot. It's showing 14 inches but hubby had shoveled the walks once in the morning already and there had been about 5 or 6 inches then. The snow did not stop until after 5. So we and all our neighbors were out in the dark shoveling snow. This snow as also pretty light, but since the existing piles of snow were already quite high it took much more effort to shovel. Once we made it to the garage C was able to use the snow blower to clear behind the garage and help the neighbors unbury their cars. Not that having our cars accessible did us any good since the Borough did a piss poor job clearing the roads. Granted, this was a difficult situation and I'm sure budgets are tight, but we did not see a plow or salt truck from Wednesday morning until Friday morning. Thursday the roads in town were solid packed snow and ice. Thankfully the sun shone on Thursday and Friday and the Borough trucks did get out Friday to salt and plow so the roads were much improved by Friday night. We still have giant mounds of snow at most intersections which I imagine will be here until spring! The weather folks are watching another potential storm for Monday and Tuesday. Forecasts are ranging from less than an inch to over a foot so I guess we'll just have to wait and see what we get. All I know is spring can not get here soon enough!

I've taken advantage of all this cold miserable weather to spend quality time with my Kindle. I'm reading
Snow Ball at the moment. It's probably best described as a dark comedy. Enjoyable and engaging reading.

Jen sent me some fiber for my birthday last week. I mentioned I'd like to try my hand at dying fiber again (having been put off by my first rather disastrous attempt a few years back) and she'll happily obliged me with some superwash merino fiber. So while snowed in last Sunday I gave it a try. I followed the directions for hot pour dying in the Twisted Sisters sock book and here's the resultI'm still having trouble with the dye striking too fast and leaving white patches in the core, but the colors are deep, which I love, and the fiber is still lofty and uncompacted. I was careful not to handle the wet fiber much so there was only minor fiber disorientation. I'm excited to try spinning it! I only dyed a portion of the fiber so still have more to play with. I just got Gail Callahan's new book Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece in the mail yesterday. Although I haven't had a chance to sit down and read it yet at first glance it looks wonderful. Full report soon.

And finally....hope for spring
My onion and tomato seedlings are sprouting, hooray! I've had some difficulty in the past starting seeds. Our house is small with poor natural light. I've got a nice big grow light, but the only place I have room to set it up is in the (unheated) basement. This year I invested in a seed germination heating mat. Boy has it made a difference. It feels only very slightly warm to the touch, but apparently that bottom heat must make a world of difference. The seedlings are thriving.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Kindle resources

As previously mentioned, I luvs me my Kindle. And I like to feed it regularly. To be honest, it gets fed new books WAY faster than I'll ever be able to read them. But that's beside the point. With the dubious ebook price increase rumors flying around and increased competition from Apple's iPad, I'm always on the look out for free/cheap books to stock my library. Thankfully there are some great resources out there. I hope to get these into my sidebar one of these days, for now it's easier to put them in a post.

Even if you don't have a Kindle, you may want to check these sites out. You can read the books on your computer (with Kindle for PC) or iPhone (with the app). Plus, many of the free books are only free for a very limited time (some only for one day). If you even think you'll want to read it someday and might maybe possibly be considering a Kindle of your very own, get the book while it's free. (Just last week I preordered a book for free and the next day Amazon raised the price to $8.49. Because I ordered during the free window, I got it for free.) Even if you never read the book, you aren't out any money.

Ok, so here we go....

Kindle Nation Daily
Stephen Windwalker's blog for all things Kindle. He wrote an excellent book on using your Kindle (so worth the buck it costs). He often posts a few times a day with Kindle related news and free/cheap book listings.

Books on the Knob
Mostly the same free books listed on KND but without the news and tech talk. Also lists books for other ereaders (like Sony and Nook) and freebie online games.

Project Gutenberg
Source for free public domain books. Be sure to download the Magic Catalog to your Kindle. You can search from your Kindle and download ebooks directly to it. I've only scratched the surface of this service, but it does work. Magically.

Jungle Search
One thing I find immensely frustrating about Amazon's Kindle store is it is very difficult to search for books by price. Jungle Search allows you to search on umpteen different levels (price, subject, keyword, reviews) and takes you right to Amazon with the results.

Inkmesh

Another search engine that helps you find the best price across the web for ebooks. Search by title, author, keyword, whatever. You can narrow your search on many criteria as well...price, type of content (ebook, audiobook, etc), even by device.

Smashwords

I believe this site is mostly all indie published books. I've not checked it out much, but it looks like they've got a good selection of free/cheap books if you aren't looking for big name authors.

Fictionwise

This store sells books in all eBook formats so you have to be careful to get Kindle compatible books. They've made it a bit easier by opening a Kindle dedicated site, but it doesn't offer a wishlist and some of the other features the main site does, so I tend to stick to the main site. They have lots of features I love including a wishlist, user ratings for books, book length references and tons of discounts. If you sign up for the mailing list you get a weekly newsletter with new releases tailored to your interest and most every weekend there are discount coupons. You can also join their Buywise club for even bigger discounts. I've been very happy with this source.

Calibre
My final recommendation isn't a store or search engine. It is a software program to manage your ebook library and facilitate getting books onto your Kindle. If you get all your Kindle content from Amazon, this is probably unnecessary, but if you are like me and get content all over the place, Calibre is fantastic. You can take ebooks in any non-DRM restricted format and it will convert them to a Kindle friendly format and copy them to the device (via USB cable). I've done it with pdf files (no having to go through Amazon's conversion process) and prc files and it has worked flawlessly. It also has a news fetching utility so you can get newspapers and such without having to subscribe through Amazon (yes that means free). The trade off is your Kindle has to be connected to your computer and Calibre has to be running to download the news, whereas with the paid Amazon subscription it's delivered automatically via Whispernet. You can also grab single issues of newspapers, which is what I tend to do. Calibre also has a built in book reading utility so you can read your ebooks all from one reader. It's a pretty cool piece of software.