Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Everything old is new again

I got a new laptop: the old one is working well enough, but was a bit cranky at times (being left alone seems to make it unhappy, and sometimes it just locks up if left unattended). I also fell in love with Dragon Age, which meant it wasn’t going to be enough. It can run Dragon Age II, after a manner of speaking (when the graphics card gets overloaded I had to close the window to get it to come back) but it won’t even launch DA:I.

I was, however, planning to keep it because my preferred application for working photographs is LightZone, a program which wasn’t able to compete with the behemoth which is PhotoShop.  It was written for XP, but when I got the last machine (running Win7, and bought because I wasn’t going to let them force Win8 on me: this machine was bought because I knew WinX was on the way, and glad I am of it.  Win8 is so annoying I’d rather be running WinME, but I digress) I discovered it was orphaned.  The team had folded up shop.

But it could still be downloaded and was, fundamentally, stable.

This morning, on  whim, I decided to see if it was stable in Win8.  I popped it into Google and lo!, they have released new versions as open source.  So I called my father and gave him the good news.

I like it because it’s built by someone who grew up using  darkroom.  It’s not “intuitive” (I don’t think that’s a useful word for user interaface in the first place, because it implies there is some Platonic Ideal which all users will “just understand”, that’s bullshit, and leads to assumptions of PEBKAC when it’s nothing of the sort), but once one gets the idea (which is that of Adams/White and the zones between black and white), it’s graspable.  If one has internalised that idea (as one must to become good at black and white darkroom printing) it seems intuitive, because it’s familiar (and if you read Ctein’s “Post Exposure” [available for FREE: here: probably until such time as Ctein does a new edition: it’s not as nice as the print edition, but it’s out of print, and this can be read on a tablet], this is the sort of thing he’s talking about).

Gah… that lost the plot.  I like it because it plays with images the way I learned to play with them, back when my fingernails were brown from fixer and smelt vaguely of vinegar from slopping in and out of D76.

So, it looks as if I’ll be trying to find a new home (or new use) for my middle aged laptop.  Happy days.

 

P.S: the HP envy series have less than stellar keyboards.  The click isn’t positive enough and I find I have to work more to be accurate: as well as pressing harder, so my arms get tired faster.  I hope I get used to it.

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Another of the “Lost Secrets” school of stories:

The “Ulfberht” swords:

Ignoring the guy they have chopping away in the opener (his technique is terrible, no way I’d let him play with any of my swords), there is a lot of blather in this, right down to saying the guy they found to make the sword is, “one of the few people on the planet who has the skills to unravel the mystery of how the Ulfbehrt was made”.  It’s bullshit. Lots of people know how it was made.  They talk to several.

The question isn’t how it was done.  I can tell you the basics.  The question is where it was done, how the steel made it to Scandanavia, why it stopped coming, etc.  That the smith they got to take part is good is obvious, but there are a lot of people who could do what he did: sure, in relation to some 6 billion people on the planet, there are only minuscule number who can do it, probably between 20-100,000.  I have a knife worked by a guy in Ukraine which, were you to give him the same sort of steel, I’ll wager he could work up as well (into a knife, I doubt he has a market for swords, and so hasn’t bothered to learn the specifics).

If you look at the documentary, the things they make such a big deal of: how to make steel, mumbo-jumbo about, “the bones of one’s ancestors, burnt to char and used to turn iron to steel…” is rubbish.  The steel came from elsewhere (perhaps from the same area the swordsmiths of Damascus were getting theirs) and when the supply dried up, the blades stopped being that good.

There is no mystical magical “Steel of Ulfberht”, there is just steel, and it got made into a style of (really solid) sword.


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The holidays are coming ’round

Which means some of you might be thinking of getting gifts for people. If the people you know happen to like knitting, crochet, or weaving, I can help you out.

Because I will make yarn to order. For a basic yarn (two-ply, semi-woolen), in weights from light to “super chunky), I figure twice the fiber weight is a reasonable exchange.  It’s not so little that I feel I am underselling the market (or my time), nor yet so dear it’s too expensive to consider (roving goes for between $2.50 and $50.00 US an oz, depending on type).

For more complex yarns (e.g. cables,) or more difficult materials (silk, camel hair, alpaca silk) I will probably ask for a bit more than double; because that takes more time/effort, attention.

I mention this now, because it takes a bit of time to get the yarn made (assuming I knuckle down and waste not a minute) a 4. oz skein is two-four hours of spinning singles, a day of rest on the bobbins; and then another hour or so of plying.  Then it’s overnight to set the twist.  Counting in the time for fiber to get to me, and then yarn to get to the recipient, this is the time to start thinking about it, esp. as it’s a first come, first served proposition.

I will also have some skeins available later (right now I have about half a dozen), which will be available for cash.


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When the shit hits the fan

I am a prepper’s wet dream.

I’m male. I’m a vet (and a combat vet). I was in Intelligence (and better yet Interrogation, with time spent instructing). I know how to make gunpowder, and turn that into grenades, bombs and rockets.

I’ve studied martial arts. I know how to use bladed weapons. I can ride a horse, and a motorcycle. I know how to make minor mechanical repairs. I’ve studied fortification. I can use swords, pikes, axes, knives, bows, crossbows and firearms. I’ve made cannon.

All of which makes their eyes glaze over as their breath gets short. They see me as some massive asset in the bloodbath they expect to come when The Shit Hits The Fan.

And they are wrong. Not only is that not the likely scenario, even if it were I’m not on their side. I’ve studied history. All those times of death and destruction from one end of, “the world” to the other… were not because society fell apart. Nope, the death and destruction were why society fell apart. The plague comes, people hunker down and try to ride it out (or they move to cities. France didn’t recover the population she had in 1300 until 1900, but the distribution of population changed, a lot).

Preppers don’t get that. Even the ones I’ve interacted with who seemed to get it (that more than just gun and guts are required), still fail to see how things work. I was on a couple of panels with John Ringo a few years ago. Now John seems a tolerably decent fellow, but in the course of a couple of hours of discussion I realised he’d picked up some of the same blinkered ideas that so many End of the World sorts have; mainly that the end will be sudden, and then it’s warlord city.

So when the conversation got to farming, he was dismissive of pretty much everyone; until I told him I’d run a small farm (and I do mean small about ½ an acre). That said, with a bit of work, and some knowledge of what was required, that’s enough to add a fair bit of food to the table for a family of six (which is what I was doing with it).

Some chickens, some attention to the compost and putting in a balance set of crops (such as with the milpa systems in Meso-America) can get a lot of food out of a moderate amount of land. It’s not that tricky to set up, and a small investment in practice (a working vegetable garden is often enough to see what’s needed), and some books are all one needs (that, and seeds).

Want to have fun with a prepper… ask them where they intend to get socks. Most clothes are pretty durable, so it will be a couple of years before the supply of pants, shirts, coats and hats run out. But socks, socks get a lot of wear, and (as one who spent a lot of time in the Army) if they don’t get washed frequently your feet rot. Also, if they don’t get changed/washed regularly, they wear out. I have a lot of socks, and I change them. A four day weekend means I pack six pair (yeah, I might obsess a bit about socks).

That’s where my predilection for books, and futzing, comes in. I’ve done a lot of crafty stuff. I was a machinist for several years. I can run a lathe, or a mill. I understand the basics of using brakes. I’ve done a bit of forging. I make yarn. In theory I can weave.

This is where the preppers fall apart. They think of marauders. They contemplate a world of scavengers, living off the plunder of those fools who didn’t prepare. They imagine Mad Max, and envision the wasteland of the 30 Years War. They forget it was marauding soldiers who made that wasteland.

They don’t know how to make things, and they don’t know how to run things. I’ve been fortunate. The choices I made in my life mean I’ve never been rich. I have (through good fortune, and the help of my friend and my partners) been able to live a life which allowed me to indulge in hobbies which are modern luxuries, but used to be essential skills.

Take my spinning. I have a wheel at home. It cost, all in, about a grand. I paid for about half of it, and my partners kicked in the rest (as an early holiday present). I spin when we watch television or when I need to take a break and compose my thoughts for some piece of writing. I use it as therapy when I see something ungodly stupid on the internet, and as a way to unwind at the end of the day (the moreso when the winter comes and I can’t garden). It is, for me, an interstitial pleasure.

For much of “civilisation” it was an interstitial need. Women did (and do, if you look at the Andes today, as well as the highlands of Afghanistan, parts of India, etc.) spin when they had, “nothing else to do” (women, largely, did the spinning, while men did the weaving). I’ve got a project on spindles right now. I have about an oz. of Merino/silk spun up. I think I might be able to get to an oz. and a half before the total weight is too much to keep working.

That oz. is about 450 yards of fine yarn. To make sock-yarn (you thought I’d forgotten the socks), needs three plies. It happens I intend to spin three singles (ea. of which becomes one ply), and then make some sockweight yarn. For the other singles I have alpaca/silk (80/20) and pure merino. Socks last longer when you have cellulose, like tencel, or bamboo, or silk in them, which is part of why I’m adding to this yarn; but mostly because the fibers I had were blended, and I thought they would be pretty together.

I do most of my spindle spinning (up to about .9 oz. before the spindle start to be too heavy to manage when the train slews) while I’m on the subway, so it really is interstitial. I’m making yarn when I don’t really have a task at hand. I could, read (or play games on my phone, but I do this (and it ties me into the work of women going back some 10,000 years, maybe more). I will probably sell this yarn, so I can afford to buy more fiber to make more yarn (it’s sort of Ourborosian).

So, to get 450 yards of sock yarn, I need to spin about 1,500 yds. of singles (because twisting them up to get the final three-ply will reduce some of the total yardage, which varies based on how tightly the yarn is spun). I’ve spun about ½ oz. of the second spindle in the past five days of commuting, but it’s the sort of thing preppers don’t account for.

They see cans, not chickens (to quote @civilwarbore), and don’t think about the nature of the lifestyle they imagine. Yes, one can be a marauder, if there is a stable society to pillage, but as with any predator, the prey can’t be depleted if they want to survive. Since the actual prey of Vikings, Mongols, Huns, etc. was the fruits of urban cultures, it behooved them to not destroy those cultures (which is why they tended to settle down, and set up shop… thus becoming potential targets for the next wave of marauders).

And they somehow think it’s impossible for people to co-operate. They ignore the aftermath of disaster. New York has a blackout… people come together. Post Sandy, when Lower Manhattan was dark… restaurants were running on cash, or tab. There wasn’t any light, but the gas worked. They didn’t have refrigeration, but they could get deliveries. I stopped into a liquor store, and they offered me lunch. The vast majority of people are, at root decent. Not saints, maybe not even nice, but decent.

So, when I said, in one of those panels, that while I didn’t have experience in lots of things (e.g. I’ve never tanned leather), but you should see my library, John Ringo laughed, and said that wasn’t going to be good for much. Perhaps, for him, it wouldn’t, perhaps he’s not good at research (one of his books says black powder has more energy than smokeless), but for me, they would be.

In part because I trust that other people will pitch in, that we can divide the labor, and find materials to let us make mistakes. Some things (like brewing, and pickling, and salting), I’ve already practiced. But when the “Next Dark Age” comes, it will, as with Rome (both of them) probably be more a gradual loss of the trappings of easier living than some cataclysmic catastrophe.  I know how to do more than I can do (run a herd of cattle, tend sheep, grow grapes, grow cereals, thresh grain, harvest corn, make pots, build ovens, dry lumber, felt wool, make a yurt; or a tipi, build a weir, build a dam, make a catapult (or a trebuchet), fashion bows, entrench a town, set an ambush, cook, knit, plough, sharpen, play pennywhistle, play baseball, football, soccer, skittles, turn wood, make glue, make wine, beer, and vinegar, press olive oil, prune fruit trees, &c. &c. &c.), and I can teach.

And for that, I am as prepared as I can be. Preppers aren’t. Because people who can do violence (and well) are easy to come by (e.g. me). People who can do the rest of it are more common than people think. People who can do both aren’t thin on the ground. And people who value comity will band together, where those who are good at violence will (in all probability) leave the plough as needed, to put paid to those who plan to live off the sweat of other’s labors.


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Too much of a good thing

I have the trial of pleasant excess, which is to say I have a plethora of fiber. I’ve been trying, but life is busy and it’s not just that I’m failing to gain on the gifts of the holidays (when I gained 8-plus lbs of fiber), but I’ve fallen behind the acquisitions since then. I was weak. I saw that Paradise Fibers had some of a rare breed (California Red), and it sounded interesting, so I bought a lb.

Therein lies some of my problem, I want to make a useful quantity of yarn. I look at Etsy and see skeins of 1-2 oz., and think it’s inane. How is someone going to make anything out of so small a quantity, so I tend to get between ½ and 1 lb. of fiber (that, or I take a pair of 4 oz rovings and combine them to make some sort of interesting yarn.

It doesn’t help that I like to spin fine. I’ve gotten decent at it too. I’m no longer, “chasing cobwebs”, but rather I’ve moved to spinning gossamer. The cashmere I bought at Christmas is ridiculously fine. I decided to ply some of it up with the tail end of the Targhee I had left over from plying. I expected to have a thinner strand around a thicker one. Nope.   They were the same diameter. As I recall it was 1/45 for weight (these are cones used to hold the yarn for the weft on commercial looms), which is about 11,000 yards per lb. My estimation (from the skein length on the 4 oz I’d spun up) was about 13,500 ypp).

Spinning that finely takes longer.

So I’ve spun some, but I doubt I’ve managed more than a pound since New Year’s. It’s been interesting. The Finnish is nice, Polwarth is a dream. The Kraemer Mauch was really nice. The yarn has a very pleasant heather/tweedy look, and the hand is soft. It also spins up easily, needs little in the way of prep to go from roving to wheel and is easier to spin in a heavier yarn, which I am trying to teach myself to do. Right now I have two project on the wheel, and both of them are a bit frustrating.

Part of the frustration is that I want to spin a bit thicker, and I have trained myself to spin fine. That’s not too much of a problem, save that I have managed to choose rovings that don’t want to be spun “thick” (which for me means an end weight which a knitter/crocheter would think of as, “worsted”). The one is an alpaca, which is just not a very well prepped fiber. It’s been over carded and is not only chock full of noils, but clumps in the hand, so I get “slubs’ of fat fluffy stuff. At first I thought it was me having trouble with the nature of the roving, because, it’s, “pencil” (which means it’s a long thin strip, instead of a fatter “tube” of fiber). Pencil is supposed to be easier to work, because it doesn’t have to be thinned out as much to feed into the “drafting zone”, but I’ve mostly spun from the thicker sort of rovings.

That isn’t it. Looking at the slubs, when I try to thin them out, what I see is a tight yarn, surrounded by a halo of fluff. I’m going to finish this skein, and think about not spinning the rest of it at all. I may need to find someone who is interesting in felting and sell them the remainder of the two colors I have.

So decided to spin something else, and take it in stages (so as not to have something which seems a bit of a chore when I think about sitting down to the wheel). Silly me, I chose some alpaca/silk. It’s got, for different reasons, some of the same habits. First, it wants to spin fine. Second it needs a to be held with a firm looseness; a bit further back in the fiber bundle, or it becomes a slippery mess in the hand.

The other quirk is that if the twist gets into the fiber, the silk locks it right up. That makes opening a section which is too thick a lot harder than it would be if this was wool, or even pure alpaca.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve spun alpaca/silk blends before, it was sort of cranky, but I’ve gotten better, and I figured it would be ok. Mostly it is, but it’s not the best of “relaxing interludes” from the other.

The other thing making it so that my fibercrafting friends just laugh at me when I state a desire to reduce my stash, is that I joined a fiber club when I bought the California Red. My first delivery came today. Three rovings, 7 oz. total. A plain merino, a merino/tussah, and a merino/yak/silk blend. They are all lovely. The yak blend, in particular, is amazingly chatoyant. It’s a white yak, and a grey merino, it’s got a charcoal-silver effect. I may set aside the other 2 oz. of the alpaca/silk I’m using now, and spin it up very fine (which will be easier than what I’m doing now) and perhaps one of the other silvery alpaca blends I’ve got and make a 3-ply yarn with a really nice drape.

I can, of course, get the yak blend at a 10 percent discount, if I decide I want more of it; though that means I need to spin a little up in a hurry.

The last thing I’ve been doing is (finally) getting to work on spinning the Arapawa I got as a gift.  I bought some viking combs  and a set of Howard hand cards (I tested them out at WEBS, and was able to limit myself to just a bit more of the Kraemer Mauch. I didn’t buy a small loom, which was really tempting, nor any of the really pretty fibers.  We did get some dyes, so I we can play with making our own colorways from things like the California Red, or Polwarth, etc.).  I’ve got to work on the scouring, because the wool still feels a bit greasy.  It’s really fine, but crimpy, and I need to work on getting the carding done, since it’s full of vegetable matter, and the locks are kind of clumpy, which makes it hard to gauge the amount of distance to keep between my hands.


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Supper

Tonight’s dinner is pretty simple:

Pork Chops, pan fried

Salad (romaine, basil, cucumber, tomato: perhaps some roasted cubanelle)

Baked potato

Side dish of onion and apple compote:  In bacon fat lightly caramelise one large onion; when that’s done add four apples, chopped small (I used pink lady, and braeburn).  cook until soft:  when it’s half done (still a bit firm in the apples), add a splash of cider vinegar.

I don’t have a dry white cold, so I’ll serve with either a märzen, or Anchor Steam Lager.  Guinness would be too mild.


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On fibers

I’ve not been spinning as much as I ought.  Given the way this year is scheduled, I’m never going to catch up to the fiber in the stash.  It doesn’t mean I’m not spinning, I am.  Right now I have two active projects on the bobbins (a blue and white twining cable, spun Z/S/Z, to end up with a 2×2 cable, which I am sending to be used in crochet), and a striping Targhee on the wheel right now (2-ply Z/S: which means it will be better for Continental/German/Pick knitting: It turns out I’ve been making yarns for the less common style of knitting in the US, which is British/Throw knitting.  On the flip side, this seems to be the more common style of yarn, so no one has complained.  It seems the books I was using as reference assumed the default was Continental, that or I misunderstood them).

I’ve also got a batch of generic white, which I’ve dyed with saffron. It’s got a lovely yellow shade to it.  I’ve washed about 6 oz of dirty wool (from an Arapawa fleece I was sent), so I need to pick/card that and see how it does.

But I’ve spun about ten different fiber types in the past year. I have been “chasing cobwebs” (i.e. I spin pretty fine yarns).

Merino:  Smooth, but a bit grippy.  It want’s a lot of opening our before drafting.  It’s also pulls fairly slowly, even when being done as a woolen.  I’ve gotten better at avoiding “slubby” patches, but I’m still not spinning it as evenly as I’d like.

Herdwick: Not sure what I think.  Short, tough, rough.  Has some kemp.  Spins to a very durable; if prickly, thread when fine.  I’ve not managed to spin any up with any bulk.  Would be great for weaving carpet-backs.  Could be used as an outer sweater.  Face the cuffs and neck.

Lopi:  Easy spinner.  The yarns I’ve had the easiest time getting some intentional bulk into.  A bit less than soft, but not all that rough.  Blended with some silk it might make warm, long wearing, socks.   Good for sweaters.  Not best for large areas against the skin, but would be nice as a hat.

Polwarth: CREAMY!  This is (to date) the nicest spinning I know.  It’s a long-wool (like the Targhee, and Merino), but it slides easily, so pre-drafting is both easy and less critical.  It’s smooth through the fingers, responding well to being semi-worsted (by passing the yarn over, then under, the fingers in my orifice hand).  As with all long wools it benefits from a more open hand position.  It’s very nice to spin fine. The time it takes seems to be less, because the feel is so nice.  One gets a little lost in the sybaritic pleasure of it sliding through the fingers.

Suri (Alpaca): A different sort of longwool.  Not as grippy as those from sheep.  Has to be handled with some care, as it gets really wiry (and harsh) when overspun.  Underspinning is easy to do, and that can make plying a bit more tedious (to say nothing of the frustrations that can lead to when one loses the drafting end and has to fish it off the bobbin; at which time bit, after bit, after bit, just frays to nothing).

Huacaya (Alpaca): Shorter, a bit less soft.  Easier to spin woolen, though it also needs to have a careful balance of twist.

Yak: Very short.  Warm, and soft in the hand. Not as elastic a yarn as wool, nor even as Alpaca, but the spring to the plied yarns is wonderful.  It’s plush.  Good for scarves and gloves.  If you can find some white/tan yak it would make a very nice shawl; from fairly open, to middling dense lacework.

Targhee: A lot like Merino.  Feltier, so it needs more opening before drafting, but it’s more forgiving in the working; both sliding a bit more before it locks up, and locking up pretty solidly when the twist sets in.  Spins very finely.  It would probably full very well,  so weaving it into peacloth, or a a beret/tam o’shanter would be a good use for it too.  Might not be as good for socks (felting), certainly that would want a fair bit of silk/tencel/bamboo added to the wool.

Suri Alpaca/Silk (80/20):  Nice to be done with.  The silk makes it very prone to the top/roving developing halo (this might be static, so a little water/spinning oil might help, if you don’t mind the way they make the fiber feel in your hands).  Once it’s spun it’s lovely stuff, but it does need more handling.  It’s also very slippy, so you have to be careful with your hands, not to tight (or the twist runs tighter than anything), nor too loose (or it flies out of your hand, onto the bobbin, and needs to be fished out).    [I’ll be playing with some plain silk, and that should help some.  I wonder what a 70/30 ratio would do, since the silk has a different luster (larger bundles stand out, as chatoyent gleam).  I suspect being better with silk (which has huge issues with trying to fly away), will help with this.

Finnish:  Very nice.  Easy spinner, moderate staple.  Can be spun fine, so 5-plies for guernsey/aran sweaters with lots of clean cabling would be doable.  Has a moderate halo (but not prickly), so blending it with some alpaca to make it a bit softer (with looser decorative elements) would still look/feel good.