Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Keeping my cool

In terms of personalities, I'm pretty even-keel. It takes a lot to make me angry.

"Lots" easily describes the last few weeks.

It turns out my boss is not a bad "substitute fish mom." He did exactly what was asked of him, and kept my fish healthy and alive. He was on top of things. His fish-sitting privileges have been reinstated.

So what happened in my tank?
Why was it nearly fish soup?
Why were lines detached?

Well, the answer is quite simple. Some idiot is trying to actively harm my little zebradanios.

At first I felt paranoid. The line must have snapped. The custodian could have easily unplugged the other line by bumping some furniture. The heater must have shorted due to technical malfunction. It was just a perfect storm.

So I tested my heater in a 5 gallon bucket. I could not get it to raise the water temp that high without pegging the thermostat. It's not a mechanical failure. The dial needs to be physically moved all the way to (+) or the heater won't run constantly at max wattage.

I also reattached the lines. The cut line was put back together with a cheap-o plastic valve. Anyone who's seen what I'm talking about knows that those are pieces of junk if you want to regulate air flow. The plastic screw isn't so much threaded into place as coerced, and tightening it to reduce air is a royal pain in the behind. When I left that evening, air was flowing. When I came back the following day, the valve had been forcefully shut. This cannot happen by accident. (I'm actually a little surprised that it could be effectively shut at all, so golf-claps there, I suppose.)

It was around this time that my boss called the cops. Our lab door wasn't closing because of the AC pressure. The front door to the building wasn't locking at night. It could just be idiot kids with nothing better to do than vandalize helpless fish. We filed a police report. Pictures were taken. Doors were repaired. I got to know the maintenance staff a lot better. Nice folks.

2 weeks passed.
Yesterday, I came in to find my new heater smashed with exposed electric coils in my tank water and glass littering the bottom of the tank.

It doesn't matter if the door is locked. Someone has a key.

We're moving the fish. I'm not telling anyone but staff and faculty where. My males from the effected tank all appear to be sterile, now. There's a strong chance their testes were permanently damaged. When you keep fish explicitly for their gametes (ie, eggs and sperm), if they stop making them it becomes really difficult to justify keeping them to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. If they don't recover by mid-October, I will be forced to sacrifice them (because ethics. There's a rant in there about fake ethical justification for the sake of a moral system based exclusively on how fluffy the animal is.)

I am legitimately angry right now. I'm in a lab that has a stated goal of ensuring reproductive success in species. Our whole perspective is that every animal is valuable, and that we do what we do to make sure that both individuals and populations are healthy.

And someone is trying to kill my fish.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In which I try not to kill someone with my bare hands. (Also, sweater)

I took my first real vacation of the summer last week. A dear friend came out and we drove to pretty places, looked at pretty things, and on the whole sat still and went to bed early. It was a very good and proper vacation. Because I am the sole caretaker of some 600 zebrafish (that is the real figure), I had to pawn the week's fish care on to my boss. I cleaned the tanks before I left, I bought spare food, and I walked away.

I came back to school on Monday to find what can only be termed a complete and utter disaster. I am not prone to swearing--I really don't get angry enough most of the time, and I try to be more careful with my word choice when I am, but let me tell you, I swore. If my boss had been there, I might have chewed him out, which, if you know me, is basically like saying I was insane. Fortunately he was out for the day and my temper has since cooled.

One of the tanks was so hot it was off my thermometer, which goes to 94 F/34 C. The fish are kept commercially at 70 F/21 C give or take and I keep them at summer breeding temps of 82 F/28 C.  It was so hot that the room felt like a sauna when I walked in in the morning. Fortunately no one died, but they were all at the bottom of the tank in the "colder" water.

Normally, the water down there would be cycled and evenly heated by the bubbling air. Unfortunately there was only 1 functioning air pump out of 4 attached to the tank. One line was unplugged, one pump is broken, and the last line appears to have been PHYSICALLY CUT. This was even more disturbing because hot water doesn't dissolve gasses as well as cold water, so not only were the fish too warm, but they were probably suffering from hypoxia. The door to the office/lab/animal housing room is not closing properly either. It no longer latches shut. I am feeling awfully paranoid.

So I blew my lid and spent the next 3 hours changing the water out 10 gallons at a time--remove, replace, acclimate for 30 minutes, rinse, repeat. Both the heaters are out of the tank and 3 of the bubblers are functioning again.

My work for the day was shot, so I went home and finished the sweater.

This sweater has WAY too much armpit. I'm going to rewash it and see if I can shrink it down a little. The hips don't actually fall at my hips, which makes the (correct) hip measurement too large (since, you know, no hips). Overall, I think it's very cute, but I don't know if it's something I'll wear. The buttons and neckline are charming, I didn't biff the crochet, and it does look exactly like the picture in the magazine, so I can't really say it's a bad pattern by any stretch.

Also, today when I went in to lab my research actually worked for the first time. Finally, after 3 months of 40 hour weeks I can finally get this bad boy under way.

So, not a complete loss on the fish front. (and no, it was not the 94 degree tank which produced good results. Those fish are on "bed rest" for a while, because seriously, I'm lucky they are alive. My boss is a bad substitute fish-mom.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I haven't had the stomach to blog for a while now. This is, in large part, because I have not been knitting. I have been working on my Masters research, which has been a bit of a total and complete spiral of nothing working, and when I get home from a day in the lab it's all I can do to make dinner and sit still for a while. I was getting tense, and when I get tense my hands get sore. Tired mind and sore hands do not a knitter make.

But that doesn't mean I haven't been knitting at all. I started the Victoria Yoke Pullover, which is yet again one of those projects which has been swimming around in the back of my brain for a few years. I have to really be feeling the drive to knit sweaters, though, and so I put it off. I think the Fresco yarn had always been intended for this project, whether or not I realized it. I cast on in mid July and set to work. The yoke was very interesting--the basket weave pattern was simple enough to memorize at a glance, but subtle enough that I never guessed the repeat.

Unfortunately, stockinette in the round is about as boring as watching paint dry. It's usually an activity I reserve for either reading or watching something with subtitles because frankly my brain needs to be entirely occupied with something else if I'm going to get any real knitting done.

I've been whittling away at it for a month and a half now and finally (FINALLY) I finished the knitting portion of the work. Unfortunately I cannot locate my 3 mm crochet hook (I found my 2.75 and a 3.5, as well as the case for the size 3 hook... story of my life), so it's not finished quite yet.

So the sweater is blocking, where it will languish for a while. I only really block my sweaters on the first wash--it's my "given that everything about this sweater is exactly as the designer has intended, do I actually like it?" test. If the answer is yes, I'll just lay it flat to dry from here on out. If the answer is no, well, back to the frog pond with ye!

Unfortunately, I started this project to use up my Cascade fresco. I have 3.5 hanks left.

Maybe I'll have to make some button-on sleeves or something awful like that.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I don't own enough tunics

I have finished the tunic--

I am deeply pleased. It fits absolutely perfectly. There's about an inch and a half of ease through the chest, and I have a 7 inch flap of fabric at the hip without exposing my sides. Awesome.

I ended up doing a mixture of my potential ideas for fixing this piece. I did rip it back to the beginning, add 4 stitches, work to 8 inches after the start of the chart (not the CO edge), and finish the whole chart, but I also shortened the final garter by 4 rows and only worked it over the neck stitches while maintaining the diagonal for the shoulders. The overall effect is more unified than I think it otherwise would have been. The completed chart cleans up the overall design and the shoulder modification (which you can't see in the photos, but it's awesome. Trust me.) make the top section make more sense.

I love this shirt. It makes me want to knit more tunics, buy more tunics, and just wear this all the freaking time. It's soft, cozy, and perfect for our summer heat.

Unfortunately, knitting is on a bit of a hiatus because I accidentally dipped my hand into a pot of boiling soup on Friday (... ... ... yeah), and I'm nursing one heck of a blister. To add insult to injury (and injury to injury), when I went to add more ice to my bucket of cold water I shot myself in the face with an ice cube as I cracked the tray. I now have a nice gash on my brow. It was a rough day. On the plus side, the soup is absolutely delicious. It's a Greek Avgolemono which I understand to mean Lemon/Chicken/Ricey delciousness. I am looking forward to feasting upon the left overs.

I'm waffling about what to knit next. I have 8 hanks of Classic Elite Fresco that have been living in my stash for a while. I think it's about time to give them a go, but I'm at a loss as to what. They're a sort of muted mint. I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm an idiot (part IV)

My inner perfectionist won  out (score one for maturity, I suppose), and I ripped back the tunic to the pre-shaping mark. I put my needle back in and began again for about 3 rows, and then I had a revelation. There were fewer stitches in the hips than there were in the bust. This discrepancy is supposed to be alleviated by the fact that you don't sew up the last 7 inches (pre or post garter band, I can only wonder... a pox on unclear patterns). Here's the thing, though. I don't mind some slits, but I would prefer that they weren't letting my sides swing freely in the breeze. I don't really like showing skin, especially that skin. I'm no where near self-conscious enough to properly monitor exposure levels.

So I tore the whole thing back to the beginning and added 4 stitches--an inch. I figure an extra 2 inches (1 per side) would even out the hip issue and give me some positive ease through the chest. Because I'm using a larger gauge, I've got a bit of "negative space" when the fabric stretches at all. That should be effectively alleviated now. I think the yarn will bloom a bit after a few washes and completely eliminate this, but I'd like to actually where the darn thing before then.

Anyhow, I trucked along, excited to work the entire chart, excited for a tunic that would fit perfectly, excited to actually not be at 0% any more.

And after I finished the first ball, I looked down. Something was off. More specifically, something was off center. 3 stitches off center, in fact.

You see, when I count, I count by 3's (or rather I count 3 as 1 and multiply by 3 at the end). It's a hold over from spending every New Year's week doing inventory at my folk's clinic. The pharmacy is the largest chore, and if you're going to count 1859 amoxicillin tablets and keep track of the numbers when someone walks up behind you and says, "47, 13, 8, 29..." you start to develop systems to keep track of numbers. I would use 5 stitches (easier head math), but it's harder to eyeball 5 at a time. Almost all stitches will move in groups of 3.

So when I counted the stitches I tacked on an extra 3 to the first stockinette panel during the set up row (I can't count to 6. hoo boy). 35 rows later, I caught the mistake.

I am my own worst enemy, of this I am certain.
I'm almost through the first diamond now.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Vogue! *Shakes fist at sky in rage*

Now that I'm finished plunging tiny swatches into subzero baths (and now that the quarter is over), I can actually get some good ol' fashioned knitting done. It's a project I've wanted to do for a few years, but there's always been this nagging issue--the yarn I want to use will not knit to the appropriate gauge. It is otherwise perfect for the project: it has the right drape, the right color, the right stitch definition, and the perfect amount of character. It's just a little too dense.

Fortunately, my math cannot be conquered by mere issues of gauge, and so I finally bit the bullet, knit a proper swatch, properly blocked the proper swatch, measured, and went to town. Everything was going swimmingly. The math was working out surprisingly well. I had even figured out how to make the whole chart fit when I had 4/5 of the rows in the original (shorten the diamonds). It looked lovely. I should have known better.

After all, this was a Vogue Knitting pattern.
(specifically, #22 sleeveless tunic)

And we all know how the last thing I tried to knit from a Vogue pattern went.

 (Vogue, I love you, but test knit your patterns for the love of everything good and holy in this world.)

Do you know what really throws a wrench in my plans for perfect math? Failing to include all the measurements properly. What do I mean? Well, the center panel is 133 rows. 133 rows works out to exactly 18" in gauge, which just so happens to be the exact length of the sweater before the armpit. How convenient, how lovely, the chart is the perfect size.

Except it's not.
There's 12 rows of garter before you start that chart.
That's an extra inch and a half that's not included in any measurement or diagram, and when the pattern tells you to start waist shaping 8" from the beginning, it really means 8" from the beginning of the chart. As a result, my perfect plan was 2" off (due to the change in gauge), and I had to cut out the top triangle.
Now the top and bottom don't match...
I soldiered on, though. It didn't really look bad, after all, and the measurements were still perfect. Plus I had already committed hours to this piece and I don't like ripping back things that don't result directly from my own mistakes.

Well, now I'm 6 rows short of the finished measurement, which is also 7 inches from the end of the center panel chart. Everything was working out perfectly. The measurements matched the diagram.

And then I went back to the directions.
There's 7 rows of garter after this section. I have completed the diagram, and I still have an inch and half of knitting to do.

For the love of everything.
The tunic's waist is not going to be at my waist if I drop it an extra inch and half. Everything was contingent on these measurements. Why do they lie to meeeeeeeee...

So, I see 4 options.
1) Keep doing what I've been doing, and maybe it'll work out okay when it's all sewn up. (the old me. I'm a process knitter, right? I don't care about finished products. It's about the journey.)
2) Start the garter right now. (the paranoid me. She's currently screaming "You're going to wear this in public, right?")
3) Work 2 rows of garter and call it a day. 3 needle BO the top to make up for the difference. (the problem solver me. She doesn't really care about the pattern that much anyway)
4) Rip the whole stinking thing out and redo it to accommodate what I've learned. (the perfectionist me. Usually this one doesn't get to have its day in court, but she's been making some pretty good arguments lately)

3 and 4 look like the best options, but I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Subzero Fiber (Results and Discussion)

Fiber Cheat Sheet (by defining constituent--I is technically 75% tencel, but the bufallo is what sets it apart from D)
Figure 1--Swatches used in this experiment. Moving clockwise from 12, swatches are as follows: H, E, A, C, B, J, F, D, and I in the center. I didn't weave in the ends because I was concerned that it might change the character of the fabric under extreme temperatures. I also feel I may have missed an opportunity by not spelling something with the little swatches...

G (silicon) was dropped from the study. The manufacturer lists the brittle point at -62 C, and the polymer itself was difficult to work with and impractical for the end-game of this study (actually lashing things together).

Heat Transfer
Thermocouple data was nonparametric and therefore analyzed using a Kruskal-Wallis. Pairwise comparison was performed with a 2 sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov using Systat statistical software. Comparison of ranks yielded significant differences between groups (p <0.001) (Figure 1).

Figure 2--Rate of temperature change of thermocouple when the swatch was plunged 1 cm into LN. The lowest mean temperature change +/- SEM belongs to E, I and J. 
Table 1--A comparison of differences between groups. Column one displays the group in question and column two lists the groups which are statistically no different from column one (KS, alpha = 0.05) I apologize for how crappy this looks, but apparently if you try to make a table in Blogger, you have permanently committed to having that table RIGHT THERE for all eternity. There is no way to display this easily graphically, unfortunately, as there are 3 fewer groups than variables. It gets ugly fast.

Stress Test
No swatches ripped, tore, or became glass-like when completely submerged in LN. All fabrics were able to curl, stretch vertically and horizontally, and twist 180 degrees without breaking. Swatches A and B became far stiffer when submerged than at room temperature. H froze in shape on the 180 degree twist and maintained the shape post thaw. Because A, B, and E are the only synthetic polymer containing fibers in this experiment and because all 3 changed their behavior under LN, it is my opinion that synthetic fibers, regardless of composition, are inferior to natural fibers. Of the natural fibers, plant fibers retained the most flexibility and behaved as though they were submerged in a room temperature water bath.

In this experiment, I asked which fibers--both synthetic and natural--transfered the least heat while retaining their strength and flexibility in a LN environment. I found synthetics to be inferior to natural fibers in the stress test. The heat transfer experiment favored fibers with greater amounts of protein or synthetic makeups. Furthermore, animal and plant fibers were capable of drawing up LN using capillary action. Swatch J easily became completely saturated when only a small portion of the swatch was submerged. Because of this, I cannot recommend using plant or animal fibers for use between LN and non-LN conditions.Teflon, though, not ideal in terms of flexibility, would be best for this task. Cellulose and protein based fibers would be most useful completely submerged in or in close proximity to LN. They retain their strength and flexibility. Each fiber type has its strengths and weaknesses when placed in extreme conditions, and decisions regarding which fiber type to use where and when should be evaluated on an individual basis. There is no universal best fiber for use in LN, but experimental and technological design can and should exploit the strengths and weaknesses of each fiber's unique properties.

Limitations of this study

Because I was limited by available fibers and overhead costs, and because many fibers work best when spun particular ways, there is little uniformity among yarn weights. Ideally, all fibers would have been no denser than fingering weight. This discrepancy also made it difficult to determine the best method for working with the teflon and silicon (which did have a swatch knit), as those polymers were manufactered to an arbitrary appropriate thickness. However, given the consistent behavior of the fibers represented in multiple swatches, the discrepancy is most likely negligable. Any further research from this point should include fibers represented individually and in blends, spun to similar weights, and might include a wider variety of polymers.

I would like to thank Dr. Charles Herr and the CANBE lab, as well as the good people of Ravelry.com for their wisdom and insight while designing this experiment. It's been a blast. 


And, without further ado, I present to you "lashing together two teflon containers, " featuring Buffalo Wool Company's "Moon Lite" and making use of my carefully honed 2nd grade level friendship bracelet skills. I ended up settling on the buffalo because it was only moderately absorptive when compared to other plant or animal fibers, and because of the strong tensile strength of the fiber. The rocking gold color doesn't hurt too much either. The other candidate was Kollage "Milky Whey," and that fiber was far more difficult to work with and potentially difficult to acquire if I ever required an additional hank.
Ends have since been woven in. This is one of the components to a larger contraption which we'll try it out for the first time this upcoming Saturday. I am giddy with anticipation.

Can we just pause for a moment and meditate on how undeniably gorgeous this yarn is? Because it is. Good gracious is this yarn beautiful.
When I presented my findings from this work to my boss, he was fascinated and as a result we've actually changed several protocols entirely to incorporate animal fibers. He doesn't think this experiment is "silly" any longer.