Now, 24th May 2020

A Now page is a dated update about what I’m currently focused on.

Thinking about
I am one of the lucky ones. My employer mandated everyone who can work remotely should do so, as of March 16th. I’ve done ten weeks working from the table in my craft room and business has largely carried on as usual for my division. We have excellent healthcare and our employer pays the lion’s share of the costs. We don’t know when we will go back to our offices, but we have a corporate update every other week telling us we won’t go back until we can do so safely, and that it will probably be months from now.

Inputs
Biggest influences recently are Janelle Shane’s book “You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place,” and Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson’s book “Remote: Office Not Required.”

The first book made me look into data science and machine learning as a possible study avenue, so I’m watching PluralSight classes on data science. The second book I read because I wanted to check I was doing remote work right. Turned out there was a lot I could improve on.

Craft and Creating
My 1914 Singer sewing machine was made in Clydesdale, Scotland, between January and June of 1914. I oiled it thoroughly and used it to make face masks and drawstring bags. After hearing we will be home for months, I got a Babylock Presto 2 electric machine, and I’m amazed to see the innovations in a hundred years of sewing machine technology. The new machine will thread the needle itself! There’s a lever for that now.

I’m carving a cooking spoon for a friend in New York from maple wood. It is a right-handed spoon with a shallow bowl and a right-angle corner on one side to reach into the edges of pans and jars. Sawing it out took a while because I couldn’t go to Perennial and use their band saw.

Finished three dishcloths on my loom from kitchen cotton using a pattern with a pick-up stick, which is a new technique for me. After that I warped to make a pair of kitchen towels. Found a new way of messing up the warp by leaving it loose and floppy, fixed it and the loom is back in business again.

Started knitting a 1950’s inspired bolero from Mongolian wool I got from a Kickstarter last year by ULA + LIA. The wool winds well with no knots or tangles, which is a treat.

Husband has been watching Asian bread videos with subtitles, we have made carrot buns, caramelised apple buns, and tomato cheese buns so far, all were delicious. There’s still regular sourdough bread baking going on.

Artwork I love

Posting some favourite artists and artwork for a serenity break in your day.

Hasui Kawase

Caz Novak’s Pacifica and European series

Harmston Arts serigraphs

galleryReina colour pencil work

Serena Supplee

Katsushika Hokusai

Karen Spratt especially the Hokusai and Venus pieces

Ben Kwok’s Bioworkz animals

Heather Brown’s Surf Art

Old friends in verse

I’ve been reading poetry lately and my newest favourite is Warning by Maw Shein Win. Below are older friends, from school and old books and dusty libraries and long summer holidays, in approximate date order of writing.

The Flea by John Donne
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud by William Wordworth
She Walks in Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson
Smuggler’s Song by Rudyard Kipling
Adelstrop by Edward Thomas
Night Mail by WH Auden
Walking Around by Pablo Neruda
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
A Martian Sends A Postcard Home by Craig Raine
Warning by Jenny Joseph
First Day At School by Roger McGough

Working adaptations

You don’t have to smile all the time on a video conference. Maintaining ‘interested-engaged-face’ is exhausting. Tell people it is OK not to smile, and OK to turn their video off for a few minutes. Spending a whole day bouncing from one video meeting to the next is exhausting.

A little yoga helps with tight hips and legs, especially pigeon pose and downward dog. Mid-morning workout breaks are a mood-booster, if nothing else for the smug feeling of not having to workout after work. I have to make myself get up, stretch, pace, and walk during the day, where in the office I spent a lot of time walking between meetings and to talk to people.

It is a rare meeting that is without a visiting cat, dog, child, or spouse. That’s absolutely fine too!

Commute time has turned into ‘purring cat wanting to show how cute she is so she gets fed’ time. It’s an improvement but I really miss my highway driving time and singing in the car. Singing in the car in the garage isn’t the same, and the neighbours can hear me.

Karate lessons and group class is happening over Zoom, and it’s working, I’m learning Long 4 kata, which is new to me. Sworkit is making me get regular workouts in also.

My sewing machine, a 1914 Singer model 28k (‘k’ means it was made in Clydesdale, Scotland, obviously) with a turn handle, still works. So far I’ve made a face mask for a friend and a lined drawstring bag for me, which is more sewing than I did in the previous decade and a half, or possibly ever.

The new normal

This has been a weird week for everyone. My company went global ‘work from home if you can’ starting 16th March, 2020, and I’ve never done more than one day of remote work before. Getting a home office organised, negotiating for desk space with sun-loving cats, and dealing with both Cisco WebEx and Sococo struggling under the load was tough. The quiet was deeply strange after being used to an open-door office outside the kitchen in an open-plan company.

On Wednesday, my karate studio closed. On Saturday we heard that St Louis county will be mandating people stay at home for 30 days as of Monday 23rd March 2020. We baked bread this week, and made curry and chilli and lentil soup. Hubby and I watched some of the movie Outbreak, but it struck too close to home and we turned it off. My church is doing the second week of streaming services at 10am today.

I ripped out a hat I was knitting because it was too tight, and washed and blocked a shawl from handspun yarn. I got the fibre from Punkin’s Patch at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber festival in Lexington in May 2019 with my friend Laura H, two days of sun and chatting and wandering and animals, with a bourbon distillery visit.

We don’t know how long this new normal will last, and how much things will change afterwards. Be kind to people. Check in on your peeps.

Summing up 2019

Did a lot of reading in 2019, 61 books in total, 48 were new to me, 13 re-reads, 5 on Audible, and 11 books left unfinished. 23 were nonfiction, 39 were fiction. I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of books I read per year, going to keep tracking that to see if it correlates to my level of burnout and stress. 2017-19 were big reading years, and stressful burnout years.

I bought my first sheep fleece in 2019, at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber festival in May. Round Barn in IL processed it into 8oz of roving and 4730yds of yarn that looks like fingering weight. For the non-knitters, that’s about enough to make a sweater for a minivan. Planning a loose cardigan and a weaving project from that. The fleece was from a sheep called Blue 620, a cross of the Bluefaced Leicester, California Variegated Mutant, and Texel breeds, which I had never encountered.

Took a class at Perennial on 14th December, carving wooden spoons. I made my first spoon there and caught the bug, I have now made five and I’m still a long way from being good at it. I like the smell of the wood, the smoothness of the knife cuts, and the sharp, sharp tools. My Kevlar safety glove has saved me many times.

Lots of work travel in 2019, to Springfield MO four times, and Denver CO four times. I spoke at three conferences, Connectaha in March, KCDC in July, and CodepaLOUsa in August. I’m accepted to speak at Connectaha again, and I’ve submitted to KCDC.

I am wondering about the future of this blog. I’ve had one since January 2002. We’ll see what 2020 brings.

Kitten harness training

Our eight month old kitten seems to be desperate to get outside, either into the garage or out the front door. We started harness training him so he could go outside on a leash.

Day 1: Harness sized for an adult cat barely fits 8 month old kitten. Velcro is no match for kitten ingenuity. Thank goodness they don’t have opposable thumbs.

Day 2: Dog harness fits, and kitten cannot escape the clips. Will play fetch while harnessed. Progress!

Day 3: Outside, on the leash, digging at a shrub. Success!

Day 4: In the garage, on the leash, rolling around on the concrete. What is going on in that tangerine-sized brain? Need to replace garage door handle with a door knob. Just in case…

Day 5: Kitten lunged for the front door and got it shut on his head. No apparent damage, got to be more careful.

Day 6: Photographic proof of kitten in a dog harness, on a leash.

New Mac build

I got a shiny new Mac laptop for work use this week, and was thinking about the stuff you put on a machine to make it useful. This is my current set of necessary-for-work software:

Homebrew (to get everything else)
Chrome
Firefox
Git (to get code in progress)
Node.js (to get npm, and all the other hundreds of node modules)
Java (trying v9)
Gradle (was a PITA to get working, needed manual config)
IntelliJ IDEA community edition (to make sure Java and Gradle are both working, took some tweaking)
Visual Studio Code (nifty for JS work)
iTerm2
MS Office and OneDrive
The Slack app

It is a very different list to a few years ago. Android Studio isn’t currently needed on the work machine, Sublime was supplanted by VS Code, and Node is a relative newcomer.

Norfolk Rusks

Back in the distant past in Britain, there was the Yorkshire Television company, who had a show called Farmhouse Kitchen. I went to university with two volumes of recipes from that show in books that were copyrighted in 1975. This is an adaptation of one of those recipes to be more Paleo-friendly.

Ingredients

Makes about 13 rounds

  • 10oz almond flour (might need a bit more if dough is very wet)
  • 0.5 tsp salt plus a “good pinch”
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2.5 oz butter
  • a beaten egg

Mix the dry ingredients, then rub in the butter until you have a breadcrumb-like mixture. Add the beaten egg and fork the dough around until it is one lump. Roll out the dough to about 10mm thick and cut into rounds. The dough will be sticky and resist rolling, I put some all-purpose flour on the work surface and that helped.

Put the rounds on parchment paper on a baking tray. Put the baking tray in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill the dough. Set the oven to 400F.

Bake the rounds for 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom.

These turn out as pleasant, buttery, slightly crumbly, savoury cookies. You could add herbs (rosemary, or Herbes de Provence) to add flavour. I was craving cookies and these are a gluten-free version.