Flash cards!

Today I found this great application for the Mac called iFlash. It allows you to create your own (virtual) flash card decks. Flash cards hearken back to elementary school days… why would anyone want to use such a boring old metaphor for testing their memory? Aha! Because of the following iFlash features:

  • Cards can have more than two sides (I know my topology friends will love that). This is useful, for example, when studying Japanese; you can have kanji, kana, romaji, and English versions of the same word/phrase on different sides of the same card.
  • You can attach pictures to any side of any card via drag-and-drop.
  • You can record sound clips (or attach existing sound files) to any side of any card. This is ideal for a foreign language flash card deck. (You could even attach the sound of the word/phrase to a blank side of the card, to strictly drill listening comprehension.)
  • iFlash will shuffle the cards (if desired) and then drill you on them. You indicate whether or not you “got it” for each card, and it records this (as “memorized”) so that you can visually see your progress. It can also use this information to bias future card choices towards ones that you don’t yet have memorized. There are three different scoring methods you can choose between.

At right you can see a screenshot (click to enlarge) I took of the flash card file I started, using the vocabulary that’s been covered so far in the sixteen lessons I’ve had from japanesepod101.com. You can see that I’ve entered all of the hiragana “sides” and am in the process of filling in the English sides. (Actually, one of the English entries is wrong in this screenshot; anyone catch it?)

This would have come in very handy when I was memorizing mineral chemical compositions in Mineralogy three years ago!

How to knit with a magic loop

Knitting round things, like sleeves and socks and other tube-like structures, requires some work-arounds. If the item has a large circumference, like a sweater, then you can knit it using a circular needle, which is two straight needles connected by a flexible cord. For this to work, the item you’re knitting must have a larger circumference than the length of the needle — otherwise, the stitches have to stretch across to fit the needle, and that will distort (or render impossible) the work.

For smaller items, the usual approach is to use a set of double-pointed needles (dpns). These needles are short (usually 5-6 inches long) and, as the name suggests, they have points on both ends. This allows you to knit onto and off of either side. Using a set of these needles, you knit the round shape with a piecewise linear approximation, as shown at left. However, this setup is somewhat awkward, particularly if you’re on the move — the needles stick out at all angles and pierce holes in unintended places.

Enter the Magic Loop technique. My pro knitter friend Kate showed me how to knit a small item, like a sock, using a long circular needle. It turns out that this *is* easier than working the dpns, at least so far (I haven’t gotten to turning the heel yet). Here’s how you do it (links are to pictures of each step):

  1. Obtain a really long circular needle. I’m using a size 2 circular that’s 47″ long. You can probably get by with a 40″ needle.
  2. Cast on the number of stitches needed for the pattern (here, 56).
  3. Divide the stitches into two groups. Pull the loop of the needle through the gap between your two sets of stitches and move the stitches so that each half is on one of the needle ends.
  4. Rotate so that the loop is on the left. The working yarn should be on the right, coming out of the back row. Adjust needles if necessary to get this arrangement.
  5. Pull the back needle through the stitches, leaving them in place. Pull the needle out enough to give yourself some working room. Insert this needle into the first stitch in the front row and follow your pattern for the first half of the stitches. (This will be tricky, since you only have the fragile cast-on row to hold things together.)
  6. When you finish the row, the other needle end will be free. Continue pulling the loop out the way you did in the last step, which will bring the free needle up and into the back row of stitches. The loop will be on the right. Repeat from step 4.

So far, this is working out great! Since taking this picture, I’ve just about finished the 1.5 inches of ribbed cuff and soon will move on to the leg of the sock.

Thanks, Kate!

New words

During my freshman year in high school, my English teacher had a bright idea for how to help us all increase our vocabulary. “I just want you to pay attention when you encounter words you don’t know, in your daily life, and write them down, and look up their definitions, and then submit your list each week.” This is a well intentioned idea. A great idea. Being aware of the world, and of what you know and don’t know, and making an effort to fill in your gaps — why, that’s brilliant. (Leonardo da Vinci was of a similar mind.)

But it all fell apart when she added, “Your list must have at least ten words on it.” I soon discovered that if your vocabulary is already pretty healthy, it becomes effortful, then difficult, then just plain onerous to meet a new-word quota each week, if the requirement is that they’re words you just happen to run into. After all, most news articles are written at an eighth-grade reading level. Eventually I gave up and resorted to opening the dictionary at random. Sure, I probably learned some new words, but the feeling of being forced into an ethical compromise (it felt like cheating) left a bad taste in my mouth.

Since then, I’ve found a better way to learn new words. I signed up for A.Word.A.Day and thereby get a new word in my inbox each day — and it’s okay if I already know the word! However, the best ones are ones I didn’t already know. Here are ten words I particularly liked, in no particular order:

  1. redoubtable: Arousing fear or awe; evoking respect or honor.
  2. intenerate: To make tender or to soften.
  3. facinorous: Extremely wicked.
  4. corybantic: Wild; frenzied; uncontrolled.
  5. crapulent: Sick from excessive drinking or eating.
  6. kvell: To feel proud; to beam; to gloat.
  7. excerebrose: Brainless.
  8. verecund: Bashful; modest.
  9. philodox: Someone who loves his or her own opinion; a dogmatic person.
  10. irrefragable: Impossible to refute or dispute; incontrovertible.

Now go forth, redoubtable reader, and kvell in verecund fashion about your word-wise knowledge. You might want to avoid situations in which the other words apply.

Conversational Japanese

I recently discovered the podcasts put out by Japanesepod101. They offer a roughly 10-minute lesson each day, and you can access a year’s worth of archives via the iTunes music store. And it’s all free! I’ve taken to listening to a lesson each morning while doing my stretching exercises. It passes the time and I learn a little tidbit of Japanese each day.

I’m starting with their Beginner archives. I’ve studied Japanese off and on, but it’s been a while, so this is a great refresher. A lot of the basic material they’ve covered so far has, in fact, been familiar (mostly greetings). However, here are a couple of new things I learned (or re-learned). I’m posting hiragana versions of some of the words because a) I can (the Mac rocks!) and b) it helps me practice recognizing hiragana (boy, am I rusty).

  • Another way to respond to “[o] genki desu ka?” is “zekouchou desu” (ぜこうちょう です) = “I’m on top of the world!”
  • Another way to respond to “hajimemashite” is “kochirakoso” (こちらこそ) = “Same here.”
  • The pronouns: watashi (I), anata (you), kare/kanojo (he/she), watashitachi (we), anatatachi (you plural), karera/kanojora (they)
  • Some useful adjectives: isogashii (いそがしい) = busy, samui (さむい) = cold, omoshiroi (おもしろい) = fun/interesting, tanoshii (たのしい) = fun

How to knit a basketweave pattern

I got together last night with some knitting friends to work on a joint project. We’re using up some spare yarn in a collaborative project: we’re each knitting a set of 6×6-inch squares, to be sewn together into a baby blanket that we’ll donate to charity. I’m having a lot of fun with it, since I can experiment with new stitches and it’s okay if they don’t turn out perfectly!

For my first square, I decided to learn how the basketweave stitch is done. This version goes in blocks that are four rows long, so every four rows you change your stitch pattern. But although it looks nice and regular, there’s an interesting trick to it. Each little square does not, as you might otherwise assume, have the same number of stitches in it. The knit ones are only two stitches across, while the purl ones are four! This works out because the leftmost and rightmost purl stitches “bend around” the knit ones, so the overall visual effect is as if they were the same width. But they’re off by a factor of two! Pretty clever.

Here’s the full stitch pattern, to make this particular basketweave (K = knit and P = purl):

Cast on a multiple of 6, plus 4, stitches.
row 1: K4, repeat: (P2, K4)
row 2: P4, repeat: (K2, P4)
row 3: K4, repeat: (P2, K4)
row 4: P4, repeat: (K2, P4)
row 5: K1, P2, repeat: (K4, P2), K1
row 6: P1, K2, repeat: (P4, K2), P1
row 7: K1, P2, repeat: (K4, P2), K1
row 8: P1, K2, repeat: (P4, K2), P1

From “The Everything Knitting Book” by Jane Eldershaw.

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