The Forever Watch

My son has been playing a game lately on his PS4 called Destiny. It has a minimal storyline; mostly the game seems to involve building weapons, armor, working in teams to complete missions, and blasting everything in sight. My favorite thing that I see him blasting is a tank that looks like a giant spider. See, there is biology even in space-themed shoot-em-ups. I do idly wonder about the storyline of this game. The premise is that a “Traveler” came to Earth with new technology that boosted the human condition. Following this event other aliens followed the Traveler to Earth, there were horrific battles, almost all the inhabitants of the Earth and its  colonies on the other planets in the solar system were lost, and humans are now engaged in an endless war.  Or maybe this is all wrong; the game scenario involves activating a long-dead person to participate as a “Guardian” in service to the “Traveler”. The player only knows what he/she is told. What is the truth? Where is the Destiny? Why is the game called that, anyway?

All this has to do with a book that I read recently that continues to haunt me. In the book “The Forever Watch” by David Ramirez we meet Hana Dempsey and her fellow travelers on the spaceship Noah traveling to a distant planet called Canaan. The Earth has been lost; all that remains of mankind is the population of this ship. The journey is a long one; centuries have already passed and there are more to come before the journey is completed and mankind arrives at its new home.

We quickly discover that life on the Noah is very different from the one that we know, and that things aren’t quite right. The Noah is enormous. There are entire cities and biomes contained within its hulls. Everything and everyone on the ship is subject to highly regulated conditions that are designed to maintain the ship, preserve the genetic diversity and survival of the crew, and ensure the success of the mission. Everyone has been tested, enhanced with cybernetic implants, and slotted into jobs that fit their physical, psychometric and mental abilities. There is extreme control of information and society is structured into a type of caste system.

It is in this environment that Hana serves her mandatory Breeder Duty and awakens to find her child gone forever. Say, what? Children aren’t raised by their parents; that duty is assumed by specialists who raise the children of the ship. Hana struggles as she returns to her job as a city planner and reconnects with her friends after the lost months of her pregnancy. She enters into a relationship with Leon and joins him in an effort to solve the mysterious death of his friend and mentor. Here’s the problem of life on the ship: the crew only know what they are told. What is the truth? What should they believe? What actually did happen to the Earth? Are we really on a ship? Where did all of this technology come from? And what is up with all these mysterious and violent deaths?

A lot of questions. I asked all of these and more while reading the book. This is an extremely intelligent book, and it took many twists and turns as the story unfolds and we discover the true history of the ship, the nature of the inhabitants, and the mission that they serve their lives fulfilling. Finally, at the end of the book, the title takes on meaning. Hana, suffering the loss of a child, gains much more at the end of her life.

This is a good book, but it is also not a book for everyone. There are some serious challenges for the reader and flaws in the book. It is assumed that everyone understands homeostasis. Since I have failed to fully explain this concept to neighbors who have invested thousands of dollars into pH machines that are supposed to cure all illnesses, I suspect that it is a more elusive concept than we biology teachers want to believe. I know from personal experience that the alternation of generations in plants is beyond EVERYONE. At one point the author used the conjugative propagation of plasmids through bacterial populations as an analogy of something to do with computers. Seriously. Not everyone has a degree in microbial genetics. It would help readers of this book, however, if they do have a degree in computers.  And what is it with all of the colors? I had to look up some of the colors in descriptive phrases just to figure out what they were. It was kind of fun, but only because I was reading on a NOOK.

OK, enough with the venting. I feel much better. It is mostly because of these negative factors that I put off writing about this book for so long. Truthfully, this book was so good that it continued to nag at me for a long time after I finished reading it. Forget the technical problems; the plot was well conceived, the basic scenario convincing, and the twists and turns took me down paths and through doors that I didn’t expect. I look forward with longing for the next book by this author.

Back to the game. I think that it is time for another mission.

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Successful Reboot: Socks are done!

A couple of weeks ago I started a pair of socks, decided that they were a disaster, ripped them out, and then started over in another pattern that I thought would keep the colors from pooling so badly. (The chronicle of that effort is my post “Sock Reboot” in case you want to see what I’m talking about.) Well, I finished the socks last night, and here’s what I got.

Finished socks.
Through some happy accident both socks pooled on the foot in the same manner. Kind of fun, huh.

Wow. I couldn’t be happier with how the colors worked out on the socks. The legs are kind of striped, the colors pooled on the foot in a way that I kind of like, and then the toe ended up with an interesting stripe effect. I think that they are really cute and am glad that I ripped out the first effort with this yarn. The fabric of the upper part of the sock is very stretchy, and it fits my fat little Swedish leg well. The twisted rib on the foot was a little fussy to do, but it brought out the best in the yarn and makes it fit my foot snugly.

Colors on the finished sock.
Here’s another view of the socks that shows off how the color pooling changes on the sock. I really like what happened on the toes.

The pattern on the sock is kind of cool. The criss-cross stitch forms lace columns down the sock that continue along the edge of the heel flap. It is pretty hard to see in the painted yarn, so I cast on another pair of socks last night in a solid red merino sock yarn. The adventure continues…

Sock Pattern: Traversus Socks found in Knockout Knits by Laura Nelkin.

Yarn: Simple Sock Fingering Weight by MJ Yarns in the colorway Midnight Orchid

Owls for Eleanor Part 2: Safe Landing in California

A couple of weeks ago I made some little owl mitts for my grand-niece Elly who sustained an injury to her hand that required surgery. I got the mitts done and into the mail just in the nick of time. Here’s how things went down.

Cast coming off.
Elly heading out to get her cast off. This is the first time she’s seen the injury since she landed in the ER. Did you notice that she loves purple?

 

Mail delivery
Not long after getting home the mail delivery brings her a package!

 

Mitts!
Perfect landing! Owls have arrived.

 

Best timing ever. Enjoy the mitts little lady and keep safe.

Love,

Aunt Marilyn

Sock Reboot

Gosh, I really like Corriedale sheep. The very first fleece that I spun was from a lamb named Bob with long, lustrous locks and a gentle crimp. The owner of the flock and I became friends, and I would go out to visit her sheep and even helped skirt fleeces  when she had her flock sheared.

So when I saw this yarn at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado, I  had to have it.  It was Corriedale sock yarn, dyed locally at MJ Yarns in a wonderful colorway called Midnight Orchid. I couldn’t wait to get started on it, and cast on to make simple garter rib socks to show off the fabulous colors.

Orchid Pooled Yarn
Gee, look at all the orchid pools on this side of the sock.
Midnight Side of Sock
But the other side of the sock is all midnight with one lonely orchid strip…

Yikes! The orchid colors all pooled on one side of the sock, and the midnight ended up on the other side. NOT the look that I was hoping for.  Be strong, I told myself, and ripped it all out in under a minute flat.  Back to the drawing (knitting) board; I started looking at other possible patterns. After going through some pattern books (OK, I have way too many sock books…) I settled on a sock pattern that uses wrapped and twisted stitches.

Criss-Cross stitch
The criss-cross stitch pattern in this sock really changes the fabric of the sock and made the pooling stop.

Problem solved. The colors have settled into stripes and the front looks just like the back. I like the way the twists show off the yarn. As a bonus, this fabric is also very nice and stretchy.

Yeah! Happy knitting again. I hope to have these socks done by the end of the week. 🙂

Sock Pattern: Traversus Socks found in Knockout Knits by Laura Nelkin.

Yarn: Simple Sock Fingering Weight by MJ Yarns

Owls for Eleanor

My grandniece Elly suffered a medical misadventure a couple of weeks ago that landed her in the ER with a badly cut and mangled finger. Wouldn’t you know it, not only was it badly cut, but the bone was also broken. The next morning she was taken into surgery for the repair and ended up with a purple cast. Sad, sad day.

Heading into surgery
Here she is heading into surgery…
After surgery
and here she is afterwards. See the purple cast?

The cast comes off in about a week, and I decided to make her some little purple fingerless mitts to wear as a little padding for that hand. She is into owls in a big way, so of course the mitts had to feature knitted owls.

Elly3_Cropped
Here they are, ready to fly to California. Hope they bring a little TLC to that finger!

These were a fast knit. I cast on 28 stitches and got started Friday and finished today. I used a bulky single ply yarn from Crystal Palace and size 7 and 9 needles. They go into the mail Monday, and I hope that she will like them. 🙂

Elly looking at her mitts on the blog.
Elly discovering her mitts in the blog this morning. Look Mom! I’m in a blog!!

Morning update. I texted Elly’s mom this morning to let her know about the finished mitts and the blog posting. She likes them!

Knitting in the Key of LIfe

“Now, let us all take a deep breath and forge on into the future; knitting at the ready.” – Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter

The last four weeks have been terribly hectic for me. I’ve been fighting a chronic condition for some time now, and in May it decided to get ugly. My wonderful doctor ordered a huge battery of tests, and wouldn’t you know it, I tested positive for an autoimmune condition. “Good to be diagnosed, but also a shame,” my doctor tells me. Things have been busy for me as I’ve completed batteries of additional tests, visited new doctors, driven to new clinics, and started new medications. Huh. It’s like I’m starting a whole new life.

How best to respond to a body blow like this? Obviously the thing to do is to stay calm and knit! I have knitted though all the crisis of my life. I knitted a new sweater the week that my mom died, made a pair of socks while sitting in the ICU with an ill son, and created an afghan while recovering from surgery. Stranded in an airport for two days? No problem, I have knitting! Knitting can sooth and center me in a way few other things can. I feel calm, hopeful and pleased to be creating something of beauty and purpose during the process. Cheapest therapy around!

So, I made a pair of socks for my sister’s birthday present the week I was diagnosed.  I then started a big project for one of my friends (a cushy vest that she can wear to Colorado Avalanche hockey games),  and bought the yarn to make little purple mitts with owls on them for my grand-niece who just had hand surgery to repair a badly mangled finger. Still, I needed more. I needed to make… a cat!!

My cousin loves all things cat. We saw this meme that has been making it’s way around Facebook that shows a box of kittens with the  “Crazy Cat Lady Starter Kit” stenciled on the side.  Of course she asked for a starter kit of her own. Of course I started looking for a cute pattern to knit a cat. This pattern by Kath Delmeny fit the bill.

Knitted Kitten
First kitten in the “Starter Kit” crate. We’ll have to get a larger crate as I add kittens!

Here it is. Cutest cat ever! I finished it today (on her birthday) and I couldn’t help posing it all over the yard.  I’m so pleased with how spunky it is, and can’t help but imagine that it will be a little rascal that gets up to no good once it’s at her house.

Kitten in Flower Pot
Doesn’t this look like a kitten that will break house rules?

Why do I knit? Because it makes me feel wonderful!

That’s the best medicine ever.

“Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” — Elizabeth Zimmerman

 

All the Light We Cannot See

One summer I spent a few weeks at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado taking a course for teachers. We learned about light (the electromagnetic spectrum), stars, space exploration, and all things fun for geeks of the science teacher persuasion. We developed lessons and activities to teach these topics to our own students, and we even built simple AM radios.

Out in the courtyard between buildings at LASP my team and I spread out our antenna (yards and yards of wire hung in trees and across the ground), plugged in the earplug, and hunted up and down the radio-wave spectrum using our tuner looking for a signal. Suddenly, it was there. A voice and music from far away; a momentary connection to an invisible person that launched us into yelps and leaping high-fives in the afternoon heat. Even for people who can’t survive without computers and smart boards it was a magical moment.

In the book All the Light We Cannot See the author Anthony Doerr tells a tale about connections such as these and so much more. On the surface it is a tale about a boy, a girl, and a fabulous diamond. Under the surface we discover that the “Sea of Flames” diamond is cursed with mystical powers, the boy is a genius whose talents will be consumed by the Third Reich, and that the girl is blind but sees better than many others around her. Their story is framed within the shocking human waste and chaos of war.

This should have been a grim story, and the likelihood that I would continue reading it was slim, but I was captured quickly by the humanity of the characters and the sense of wonder they brought to their worlds. Werner, our young boy in this book, keeps a book of “questions” of the kind only a budding scientist would collect. He builds a radio from scraps, and he and his sister Jutta listen to voices over the airwaves. They learn about the world outside their oppressive coal mining community, and they hear science lessons for children in a French voice that captivates them. “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever,” says the voice. Their eyes are opened.

Sea Shells
Marie-Laure loves to explore the inhabitants of the ocean shoreline. She especially loves the whelks and collects shells.

Marie-Laure, our young girl, blind from a young age, is raised by her father in a museum in Paris, France. She is a clever young lady who observes, learns, and applies logic to the world around her. She collects pine cones, explores the inhabitants of oceans shores, learns how to classify mollusks by variations in their shells ,and reads Jules Verne  novels in Braille.  Her father loves her greatly.

The lives of Werner and Marie-Laure intersect through the radio. Werner becomes part of a unit that hunts for radio transmissions by freedom fighters in occupied Europe. Marie-Laure becomes involved in outlawed radio broadcasts. Through the radio these two are destined to meet each other. Because this is war, and there is an enchanted diamond of immense worth involved, nothing will be simple. Lives are lost, conditions become desperate, both Werner and Marie-Laure will be trapped in fire-bombed and burning Saint-Malo, and the sea reclaims its own. Human potential will be lost, a promising future obtained. What a book!

The book is much richer than the central characters and storyline. It is peopled with a host of other characters who are connected to Werner and Marie-Laure. It has themes within the central theme. Science lives in its pages, and books shine throughout. We become aware of the immense destructiveness of war; lives and cultures will be impacted for generations to come. We begin to understand our inability to control our own lives, and glimpse the amazing power of self-determination. As with the diamond in the book it is possible for great gifts and curses to exist at the same time. What is the light that we cannot see? I’m pretty sure that it is radio waves, microwaves, the heat from burning coal, and so many things that are obvious looking at an electromagnetic wave chart. “How does the brain, locked in darkness, build for us a world full of light?” Marie-Laure’s great-uncle asks in the book; the light we cannot see is also about souls, promises kept and lost, and the connections that bind us all together.

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”