You keep using this word.

I know I have a lot of historian and/or textile-inclined friends, so I was wondering if anyone has ever heard the word “stitch” used to mean “stitched textile goods”, in contexts like, “The importance of stitch during World War II…”?

I ask because it keeps being used that way in the book I’m reading: “Stitching for Victory” by Suzanne Griffith. I thought I read a fair bit of textile history and I’ve never encountered this usage before. Is it just this author’s idiosyncracy, or am I missing something?

(This post brought to you by a half-assed resolution to blog things that are too long for Twitter, rather than spreading them across two or three tweets.)

Fresh links for July 27th through August 31st

Fresh links for June 20th through July 11th

  • Cities and Citizenship: Anti-Graffiti, Part 1: Aesthetics – An interesting take on the aesthetics of the anti-graffiti movement, and how it often co-opts graffiti to its own ends. Lots of interesting example pics from Sydney.
  • Revising The Revisionists – Excellent article about the 1898 armed coup and massacre of black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina. Reminds me of the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me", and of course Australia's own "history wars".
  • The Strongest Woman In America Lives In Poverty – This top weightlifter, on her way to the Olympics, can't afford to eat. She needs 3000-4000 calories a day while she's training, and relies on food banks. No sponsorships because of sizeism — they don't think she's hot enough, or something. She has an indiegogo fundraiser here if you want to help her out: http://www.indiegogo.com/loveforanolympian
  • Adaptation by Remix: Vidding Feminist Science Fiction – My friend Alexis writes about Chaila's Wiscon premiere vid, taking visual sources and creating a video for Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents" that draws from the genres of book trailer, fanvid, and political remix.

“Utopia Girls”: I’m disappointed

Me, elsewhere: this is a crosspost of something I wrote for the Australian feminist blog Hoyden About Town. If you’re interested in comments, you should check there as well as here.

About a week ago, the ABC aired Utopia Girls: How Women Won the Vote, a documentary about women’s suffrage in Australia. I’d seen a few positive mentions on Twitter and Facebook, so this afternoon I went and hunted it down on iView and watched it.

The documentary opens with the narrator, Dr. Clare Wright, stating that:

These days, we all enjoy equal rights and seemingly endless choices. But just one hundred and fifty years ago, women were far from equal.

It’s nice that she thinks inequality is in the past, but she’s deluding herself. It would be facile to list all the groups who don’t enjoy equal rights in Australia (same-sex couples who want to marry being just one current and obvious example) but even if we limit ourselves to women’s rights and choices, it’s far from true. Women still earn about 15% less than men for the same work; abortion is still illegal or effectively so in Queensland; and take a look at the sort of misogynist crap that’s flung at Julia Gillard, Gina Rinehart, or the latest victim of a popular footballer’s rape if you want to see what attitudes to women in our country are really like.

So, no, Utopia Girls, the smug “we all live in a 21st century feminist wonderland” attitude doesn’t exactly fly with me. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Should we really be telling women there’s nothing left to work or fight for, or giving anti-feminists reassurance that women’s current concerns are unnecessary?

If that was all that Utopia Girls had wrong with it I’d be annoyed enough, but it just gets worse. The main focus of the documentary are the stories of a handful of middle class, white Anglo- and Irish-Australian women and their work for women’s suffrage in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. I can’t claim an exhaustive knowledge of the subject matter or the period, but it’s obvious even to me that there are voices missing here.
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Fresh links for May 24th through May 31st

  • How Headphones Changed the World – "A short philosophical history of personal music", at The Atlantic
  • Amanda Palmer And Steve Albini On ‘Piracy’: It Only Helps Musicians – Surprise! (NB: not actually surprising) Steve Albini "rejects the term piracy" and thinks sharing music for free helps musicians, especially those who tour and play lots of live gigs. BTW, if you've never read Steve's rant about where money goes when you sign with a major label (linked from this article) then you definitely should.
  • A respose to Tom Tom’s OSM FUD – Tom Tom (the satnav provider) tries to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about OpenStreetMap; here's a great takedown of their claims. Via David Gerard.
  • Commodore 64 Bass Guitar by Jeri Ellsworth – A bass guitar made out of an old C64. Nuff said.
  • Internet Arbitration | Judge.me – I honestly don't know whether this is an excellent disruption of a broken system, or a sign that we're heading even faster into an SFnal dystopian future. The fact you can pay by bitcoin makes me think the latter's more likely.

Fresh links for May 18th through May 24th

  • Plan a Trip Through History With ORBIS, a Google Maps for Ancient Rome – How come it took three weeks for me to hear about this mapping hack to help you understand travel routes and expenses in Ancient Rome? Maps, history, digital humanities — what's not to love? I only wish this existed for other time periods. Imagine how useful it would be for people writing historical fiction!
  • Criminal Creativity: Untangling Cover Song Licensing on YouTube – A few interesting things here, including the little-known fact that you need a (nearly impossible to get, if you're an ordinary person) synch license to post a cover song on YouTube, and that ContentID can now identify cover songs, up to and including drunk guys belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the back of police cars.
  • Brodustrial: WWJD? – Via jwz: an industrial music performer discovers he's booked to play alongside some really nasty bigots. Asking, "What Would Jello Biafra Do?" he ends up calling out the racism and sexism of the other bands' lyrics, videos, and album art in a PowerPoint presentation — while opening for them. It's good viewing, but NSFW.
  • bootlegMIC | Open Music Labs – A better mic for your iPhone, inspired by the crappy sound of all the concert videos on YouTube. Sold as a kit, the bootlegMIC is a small electret mic that plugs into your phone's headphone jack. Gain adjustment is done by swapping out resistors til you find one that works for your phone and use case.
  • DJ Rupture’s Sufi Plug Ins – Great post about Western assumptions built into music software such as Ableton, and some plugins that challenge those assumptions.

Fresh links for May 16th through May 17th

  • Ravelry API – Wait, what? How did I miss this. Ravelry has an API now, and they've been using it internally since Feb 2012, so it isn't just an unloved add-on. (You probably can't follow the link, which is to the Rav API forum, unless you're a member. But anyone who might be interested in this probably is already, so…)
  • Our real first gay president – Newsweek says Obama's the US's "first gay president", ignoring James Buchanan, who was openly gay in the 19th century. This article has some great context and thoughts on the ideology of progress. "Remembering that James Buchanan was homosexual complexifies our national narrative, to be sure, but it is a complexity that we need."
  • The world’s hottest digital markets: a music map – Interesting… this map is trying to show you digital music services' market share worldwide, but it also lets you see which digital music services are available in which countries.
  • Welcome to Life « Tom Scott – A science fiction story about what you see when you die. Or: the Singularity, ruined by lawyers.
  • The Bombay Royale – Karle Pyar Karle – Check out The Bombay Royale. They're a Melbourne band (including some recent graduates from my school) who play surf/disco/funk/Bollywood fusion, and apparently they've got a gig at the HiFi Bar on Swanston Street this Saturday. I'm planning on going.

Knitting as programming

I’ve seen a few people, over the years, compare knitting to programming. It usually goes something like this:

Wow, have you ever looked at a knitting pattern? It looks kind of like source code! Those knitters must be real geeks!

And it’s often accompanied by a snippet of a set of actual knitting instructions that look like incomprehensible gibberish to the uninitiated, but which your grandma could probably read and turn into a jumper or a scarf or an attractive toilet-paper-roll cover (my Nanna actually knitted these!)

In case you haven’t seen this kind of knitting pattern before, here’s an example:

1st Row: P. 3, * k. 1, p. 1, k. 1, p. 3, repeat from * to last 4 sts. (k. 1, p. 1) twice. etc.

A typical knitting pattern from the 1940s. This one is Sun-glo pattern #2616, "Country Club", a sporty cabled sweater in two colours, in case you were wondering.

There was even a post a little while ago entitled Knitters and coders: separated at birth? that talked about knitting patterns as code, and worked through some examples using regular expressions. It was a good post, but I don’t think it went far enough, so I want to riff on it a bit.

Here’s the thing. Let’s say you have a pattern that says:

row 10: k2 p3 *(c6f p6) rpt from * 8 times c6f p3 k2

(Or as the aforementioned article would put it would put it, (c6f p6){9}.)

You read those instructions and do what they say, producing a row of knitting that incorporates a number of cable twists against a purl background.

Is what you’re doing programming? Of course not! It’s the reverse of programming: you’re reading a series of low-level instructions and doing what they say. It would be more accurate to say you’re an interpreter, or possibly a compiler, since it’ll usually save you time and trouble to read a pattern right through before you begin. (Ask me how I know. Ugh.) You might even be called a human computer.

But let’s be clear: even though what you’re doing when you read a pattern is a complex technical skill, and involves code, it’s not programming.

Despite that, I very firmly believe that knitting is like programming. I just think that the common analogy drawn — of printed knitting patterns as source code — is not a very good one for describing the intellectual process of knitting as it is practiced by the current generation of geeky crafters.

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Fresh links for May 14th through May 15th

  • Mitt Romney, Bully In Chief? – s.e. smith brings a solid analysis of Mitt Romney's school "pranks" (read: homophobic bullying) and what it could mean for his possible presidency.
  • Chumbawamba – The Diggers’ Song – YouTube – Who knew that Chumbawumba had recorded an album of songs of political rebellion from 1381-1914? Not me for sure. This is their rendition of "The Digger's Song", a 17th century song by the same group that Billy Bragg sings about in "The World Turned Upside Down".
  • MOTU 4pre – Really nice looking 4-channel mixer/analog-digital converter from MOTU. I've got the Ultralite Mk2, but if this had been around when I was shopping, I would have bought it for sure. The two "Hi-Z" inputs so you can plug in an instrument without a DI look particularly handy.
  • What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece? – A good overview of what's going on with Greece and the neo-Nazi party "Golden Dawn", who won a surprising number of seats in the country's recent election.
  • Mapping hacks for the 17th-18th centuries – Say you're an early modern historian with a bunch of data about 18th century Paris. How do you display it using modern mapping tools, given that old streets may have changed or disappeared?

A whole lotta hoot, and just a little bit of nanny

I’ve recently had the misfortune of having had to sit through a series of classes on Western Music History that managed to make just about every form of music prior to 1900 seem deathly dull, irrelevant, and inaccessible. It amazes me how they can do this. I mean, it’s not hard to find some truly amazing stuff even within the confines of “Western Art Music”, and present it in a way that’s engaging. So why don’t they? Do they not know? Are they just teaching it out of a sense of obligation? Did they sit through dull music history classes back in the day and figure that we have to suck it up just like they did?

The Medieval period. What we learnt in class: there was Gregorian chant, which was basically monophonic vocals without much rhythm or melody to speak of, and then mumble mumble something happened and there was polyphony, SURPRISE! RENAISSANCE!

Yeah right. As if that’s all that was going on musically in the middle ages. We’re talking about an era that gave you St Vitus’ Dance, an uncontrollable urge to dance all over the place as if possessed by the devil. You think they did that to Gregorian chant? Of course not.

Here’s Corvus Corax with a little something to show you how it’s done:

Yeah, those dudes have a lightshow and moshpit. Their interpretive choices for this Saltarello (a 13th century number, if I recall correctly) are, ahem, somewhat non-standard, but no more ridiculous than the early music ensembles that play medieval dance tunes as if they were lullabies and dirges. No self-respecting medieval musician would’ve been able to earn his or her living unless they could get the village green jumping.

Corvus Corax use a range of medieval instruments including medieval-style bagpipes, ear-shattering shawms (clocked at 98dB!), and of course a buttload of percussion. But if you really want to appreciate the full ridiculous awesomeness of medieval instruments, you need to check out some of these Youtube videos:

  • The krumhorn, which is what you’d get if you crossed a kazoo with an old-fashioned walking stick turned upside down.
  • The hurdy-gurdy, which would be the medieval answer to the keytar, except you have to wind a handle to play it.
  • The portative organ, which is basically the bastard child of a pipe organ and bellows, giving you a kind of early accordion. There are quite a few home-made portative organs on the tubes — looks like they’re a great hacker project.