Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Celebrating Women Scientists

Today is Ada Lovelace Day so in the spirit of the day I'm sharing some inspirational history. In spite of the fact that neither of us now work as scientists I'd like to dedicate this Ada Lovelace Day blog post to Dr Yvonne Beale and the exhibition that wouldn't have existed without her.

Back in 2002, Yvonne and I were members of Edinburgh Women's Science Forum (EWSF).  I had been a member and an office bearer for over ten years and met Yvonne a couple of years earlier at Orkney Science Festival.  She came to Edinburgh to study for a PhD in genetics and got involved in EWSF activities.

Although there is still a need for groups like EWSF, this particular organisation seemed to have reached the end of its natural life span but Yvonne inspired me and the rest of the group to create a small legacy before closed down fully. We proposed to spend our remaining funds on a flexible exhibition that could easily travel to different locations for a few years after we wound up.

EWSF had started in 1989 with an exhibition about female scientists past and present.  It was shown at the Edinburgh International Science Festival that year and then toured many Scottish schools until it was worn out and more than a bit dated. This is what it looked like in around 1996.

International Women's Day celebrations in Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
It formed the starting point for our new work. We kept the core Scottish subjects but widened the scope to include international high achievers. We created 19 panels covering the stories of women who worked in the sciences in some form in the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition was launched at the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's first Nobel Prize. As well as the exhibition, we had a special screening of the 1943 film Madame Curie followed by an audience discussion with Professor Victoria Amador at Filmhouse Cinema.

Madeleine, Yvonne and Victoria

The exhibition went on to be shown in the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, the John Innes Centre, Norwich and quite a few more.  It was part of the launch event for what is now Equate Scotland, then called the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in SET.

at the launch of the Scottish Resource Centre
The panels now sit in a folder in my study and haven't been out for a long time.  So I thought I'd share a few of them here on Ada Lovelace Day.  I've picked ones that haven't gone out of date and included Ada herself.  Hope you enjoy them.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Randomizer your knitting - part 4

So here at last is what we made at Mini Maker Faire in April with the Knitting Wheel of Fortune! Four pure wool scarves, all textured and twisted according to visitors' wheel spins.
Many  thanks to Carmen Moran for designing the graphics for the wheel and helping make  Knot Unknot look so fabby on the day.  We also had a small reprise of Attack of the Knitted Tentacle which Carmen and I created in 2010 - enormous fun!
Life has run away with a lot of my time recently and this blog has had a bit of a gap  in postings. There have been two main things to report: a move to a larger studio in May and a group exhibition in June. The new space is great and once it's organised it should make a big difference to what I can make and to what you can see at Open Studios  (next one 8 &9 August ). The exhibition looked lovely but after the opening weekend virtually no one came to see it. Ah well, we live and learn. I'll post some photos next time
I'm off to the studio right now to make some exciting machine knits to show off at Open Studios in August.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Randomizer Your Knitting - Part 3

The Knitting Wheel of Fortune is finally taking shape! I'm really looking forward to launching it at Edinburgh's Mini Maker Faire on 19 April.

This weekend I acquired some gaming dice and started trying out different stitches. This activity has to be something complex enough to be interesting but reliable and quick enough to be "performance knitting" - not just in public but with a participating audience - and it has to produce something that doesn't look like a waste of yarn. So, a bit of tinkering with the initial conditions is required.

I'll be using the Knitmaster Zippy 90.  It's light enough to transport easily and compact when it's set up too. It works with chunky yarns so things will grow quite quickly. There's no punchcard and manual colour changing is very slow so each piece will be one single yarn.  I didn't want to just randomly generate stripes - there are websites that can do that for you, like this very nice one on Biscuits and Jam. Instead, I've stuck to textures and shaping like these ones.

The basic options (cables, change width, eyelets etc) will be chosen by spinning the wheel and then decisions will be made using different dice depending on which style comes up.  If I start with 30 stitches and work 24 rows of each spin with two rows to separate the sections then we should end up with scarves of different lengths.

The plan so far is this

  1.  cast on 30 stitches
  2. knit 2 rows
  3. spin wheel & throw dice to choose pattern
  4. knit 24 rows of chosen pattern
  5. repeat from 2.

As any coder will tell you, when you're writing patterns with lots of repeat loops like that you need to plan a way to stop it too. Lines 1 to 5 above are a recipe for infinite knitting and a very weary arm!

Stopping can take one of three forms.  First of all, if we run out of yarn it has to stop. Also, the Knitting Wheel of Fortune includes a "change width" option. The dice will tell you to increase or decrease and the number of rows between each increase or decrease row. This can bring about the other stopping conditions. If the work decreases to zero stitches we're done. If it increases to more than will fit on the machine we're also done.

Once I worked that lot out, I made a sampler scarf. I wanted to have something that definitely included all the basic options to show what the stitch styles look like.  So it's not been made exactly as described above (I've yet to make the actual wheel.) - though it could have been. All the decisions about stitch variations were made using the dice and it started and stopped the same way.  Anyway here it is.

You'll be able to see the real thing and control the new work at Mini Maker Faire on 19 April - come and take a chance with the Knitting Wheel of Fortune!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Randomizer Your Knitting part 2

Following on from my last post about dice decision knitting, I'm now looking at making holes instead of stripes to create a lacey effect. This involves many more decisions than the stripes you have to decide how far apart the holes are, vertically and horizontally. You also have to decide how often to repeat that pattern  before changing to another.  You could also use the dice to set the starting parameters and to decide when to stop. It depends whether you want a wearable piece or a high concept art piece.
For the piece in the photos, I set the parameters for a scarf in aran weight yarn and decide to stop after 400 rows or whichever dice decided section brought me close to it. I used different shapes of dice to decide each aspect of the placing of holes. This gave me some control over the process, setting different ranges of outcomes in each case. A purist might  have used the dice to decide which dice to assign to which decision but you run the  risk of developing an infinite regress of dice made decisions. Also I wanted the outcomes to be reasonable within the scarf format.
As I worked through this piece I realised that there were even more things that could be controlled be dice decisions. For instance, in machine knitting the holes look slightly different depending on whether you move the stich from the left or the right, especially when they're close together.
The next development in this work should be to wtrite an exhaustive decision tree covering all possible choices for lacey knitting.  Which is a great excuse to buy a really big notepad 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Randomizer your knitting -part 1

A long long time ago I read Luke Reinhart's The Diceman. It seemed edgy, dodgy  and intriguing to think of living a life controlled by the throw of dice. Not something to apply to real life though - until now!
You see, the thing is that you set the parameters before you throw the dice. So you decide on the questions and the set of answers. You can apply the principal locally and have "rigidly defined areas of uncertainty" (to quote Douglas Adams). For example:
I have grey yarn and red yarn.
What shall I knit?
I have a dodecahedral di to help decide.
even numbers = scarf,  odds = hat
Throw again
Evens=holes, odds=stripes
I got even,  then odd, so threw to decide the first colour and then the size of each stripe. The scarf finished when on of the yarns ran out. The final outcome is pictured below. Next time we'll see what happened when throw two was even.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Shine on, you crazy knitted flu!

The Shine Dome in Canberra put my knitted neuraminidase on display on 23 January 2015. I'm so pleased that this amazing project has come together so well.  Thank you to Crystals in the City (especially Helen) for inviting me to take part and to Yuri for designing such a great plinth for my work.  And, of course, thank you to the Society of Crystallographers of Australia and New Zealand and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for funding the project.
It was hard work but enormous  fun and I am delighted to be part of this collection of sculpture celebrating the International Year of Crystallography 2014. 2015 has been designated International Year of Light and I have some fun ideas for marking that with art and craft - just waiting for the funding. If you can help with that then please get in touch.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Professor's Beanie Hat

Earlier this year the Scientific Director at my day job moved on to a new post.  As well as a big collective leaving present, some of us thought we'd like to give him more personal souvenirs of his time at ICMS.  One of my colleagues suggested I knit him a new hat to wear while standing outside on his cigarette breaks. So this is what I came up with. As a hat for a mathematician, of course there are mathematical features - simple ones that could be made quickly and which don't detract from a classic shape. There are powers of two in the rib, the Fibonacci sequence in the sides and then a seven-sided (heptagonal) crown.

It's knitted in the round  with one skein of Rowan's Lima, an amazingly soft, baby alpaca yarn that's approximately aran weight.  I picked this colour because it's similar to the ICMS logo colours but it's much richer, with a lot of detail in the drifting shades. Different yarns will work but beware of tension etc.  I don't have the hat anymore so can't measure it to give you a tension measurement. The yarn I used came out soft and slouchy but others will give different textures.  I like to experiment so I'll probably make at least one more in a quite different yarn and see what happens. Here's what I did for this one though.
Cast on 84 stitches with 5.5mm dpns and join in a circle and place marker for start of round.
Work 2 plain, 2 purl rib for 8 rounds.
[that's your powers of two - 2x2 for 2-cubed rounds]
Knit 1 round
Purl 1 round
Knit 2 rounds
Purl 3 rounds
Knit 5 rounds
Purl 8 rounds
Knit 13 rounds
[alternating knit and purl stripes following Fibonacci sequence - each width is the sum of the previous two]
Purl one round
[this defines the edge of the crown]
Heptagonal crown rounds
1. knit 10, knit two together 7 times
2. knit to marker
3. knit 9, knit two together 7 times
4. as row two
5. knit 8,  knit two together 7 times
6. as row two
7. knit 7,  knit two together 7 times
8. as row two
9. knit 6,  knit two together 7 times
10. as row two
11. knit 5,  knit two together 7 times
12. as row two
13. knit 4,  knit two together 7 times
14. as row two
15. knit 3,  knit two together 7 times
16. as row two
17. knit 2,  knit two together 7 times
18. as row two
19. knit 1,  knit two together 7 times
20. as row two
21. knit two together 7 times
Thread last remaining 7 stitches onto yarn, pull tight and fasten off.  Weave in the ends and your hat is finished.
If you have a go at making one I'd love to see it.