Author Archives: Ellen Lundgren

Ellen Lundgren

I am a student currently in my last year of undergrad at Grand Valley State University earning my BFA in Visual Studies and a minor in Writing. I have been a student leader of the Grand Valley Secular Alliance for a year and a half. I am currently in my final semester completing my Senior Project for my culminating Senior Exhibition in April. I am also looking forward to life after graduation and finding a job to serve my passion for creativity in the secular movement.

Knitting Podcast??

So, I’ve been on a monster binge of watching knitting podcasts mainly on YouTube. And I’ve been thinking about starting my own and soo… I did. Watch it below, it’s kind of long so if you’re not into this sort of thing, feel free to skip.

I’m probably going to see if I can switch my funding interval to monthly rather than per post/thing because I have a goal of podcasting once a week, and if I add that in addition to blog posts, that puts me over my original 2-5 posts a month estimate for you guys on Patreon so this should make it easier.

In where Ellen introduces herself and idlecatknits, the craft room, and gets super excited about new socks.

(My show notes will improve with time. I totally winged this episode so I’ll go over some details I missed on my next video.)

You can find me on the following websites:
Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/people/idlecat…
Instagram: https://instagram.com/idlecatknits/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/idlecatknits

DIY Sock Blockers

So as I’ve written, I’ve been knitting a LOT of socks lately. And one thing I haven’t done is blocked my socks. (For non-knitters, blocking is when you wet a project and stretch it into it’s intended finished shape and let it dry that way. This eases out any kinks and unevenness in your knitting tension and gives the project a finished, professional look and can help hide any goofy little mistakes.)

Pretty much the only tool you can use to assist in blocking socks, besides your feet, are called sock blockers. But in my research to purchase sock blockers, I found that they’re all pretty much ridiculously over priced for something I could easily make myself out of some wire coat hangars. So, I thought I’d share my process.

IMG_7884

Luckily, materials are easy. Just grab some wire hangars from your closet or get some nicer ones from the store – mine I stole from my partner’s closet (with permission) but we think they’re from Target. They’re a nice silver and a thicker gauge metal than what I was thinking of so they kind of wrecked my hands, but they look really nice. You’ll also need a ruler (not pictured), pen or pencil and 1-2 sheets of paper that your foot will fit on. Printer paper will be fine for most unless you have ridiculous clown feet (no judging). You may also choose to use some heavy pliers but I found it was much more effective to just use my hands.

Step 1: Trace your foot! It doesn’t need to be beautiful, just be sure to put some standing pressure on your foot to get your full-size foot print. Then measure the longest and widest parts of your feet. Now take your nearest modern device that can do some calculations and take your two measurements and multiply them by 0.9. This shrinks your foot measurements giving the sock some negative ease so it will still have some “hug” left in it to stay on your foot. So for example, my measurements were or 9.875 inches long by 3.875 inches wide. Multiplied by 0.9 gives me 8.9″ by 3.5″ (rounded to the nearest tenth). (Calculations from this blog post of a similar tutorial for cardboard sock blockers.)

IMG_5522

Step 2: Draw these two new smaller measurements onto your second piece of paper to start drawing the shape of your sock blocker. I aligned mine to the corner of the paper  to give some room for the angle of the leg. Draw out the shape you want. I like a nice big rounded toe, and be sure to increase the width of the ankle/leg as it goes up to account for any calf shaping that went into your socks. Don’t stress over getting this perfect, you won’t get the hangar to bend perfectly to this shape, but this will just give you a guide template to compare to as you begin bending.

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Step 3: Start bending metal!

Metal Bending from Legend of Korra
Metal Bending from Legend of Korra #geek

I tried using pliers, but they weren’t big enough for the hangars I had but they may work for you – although if they have the grooved teeth, they may leave marks in your wire which may snag your yarn – so use at your own discretion. I just used my hands, but found the hard plastic arm of my office chair to be a great tool to press against to create gentle curves with pressure from the palm of my hands rather than just killing my thumbs. The edge of a table would work just as well, but the chair arm I could fit inside the space of the hangar as well for interior curves. But work with whatever you’ve got!

Bending tips:
Reverse-bend the sharper corners that the hanger starts with to try and straighten them out as much as possible before beginning the sock shape. This will minimize any of kinky-weirdness you may get from those being bent already (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

If you want the hook to be in the top-center of the leg, then start with the top two corner bends (1, 2) in the mid-calf area, then do the top-foot corner bend (3), followed by the toe (4), then the heel bend (5) last. This means that the toe bend will not be the exact opposite center of the hangar from the hook. The “middle” of the hangar will actually be somewhere on the ball of your sock blocker’s foot, so resist the temptation to just pull down the middle like a kite shape to start the toe.

IMG_7879bendorder

 

Refer to your drawing often as you’re bending your sock blocker to make sure all the bends are landing in the right place. Don’t worry too much about perfect angles and curves, you’ll have time to perfect the shape at the very end.

When you think you’ve got it about right, stick a pair of socks on and see if they fit!

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When I first put this sock on, it was loose in the inner-foot bend, and wasn’t filling out the heel enough so I adjusted my bends to make the heel a bit sharper and the inner-foot a bit flatter and further away from the heel to get rid of the looseness. Above is the final result! Below you can compare my drawing with my final sock shape to see what adjustments I made.

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My final sock blocker measurements are 8.75″ from toe to heel, about 3.4″ wide in the foot, 3.5″ at the ankle and about 4.25″ at the top of the leg. Just about perfect I think!

I hope this tutorial helps you! If it did, send me pictures on Twitter or Instagram or consider contributing to my Patreon! Thanks!!

Patreon

Shiny & New

This last weekend I got my new gaming computer parts in the mail and I spent Sunday and Monday with a good friend building it and getting everything set up and ready to play. This is mainly a picture post with captions to tell the story. (Sorry for some potatoes.) Here’s the PC Picker Parts List for those who want more specific details. Enjoy!

Computer Parts! They all arrived on Saturday. The case (not pictured) had arrive a couple days earlier.
Computer Parts! They all arrived on Saturday. The case (not pictured) had arrive a couple days earlier.
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Sunday night, putting in the motherboard first…
It has cool dragons on it... I was amused because you're never going to see this again.
It has cool dragons on it… I was amused because you’re never going to see this again.
Ran into a small snafu where the optical drive doesn't fit in with the size of the motherboard we got.
Ran into a small snafu where the optical drive doesn’t fit in with the size of the motherboard we got. No big deal, we managed to install all the drivers needed with some creative applications of USB drives.
All the guts are in!
All the guts are in! Minus the CD/DVD drive.
Glamour shot of the case. Nice and minimal.
Glamour shot of the case. Nice and minimal.
The mesmerizing blue light from the power unit.
IT LIVES!! The mesmerizing blue light from the power unit. The power status LED on the front of the case shoots a bright blue circle onto the ceiling too.
Here's my first set up! I've got a 42" TV as a 2nd monitor, a 24" Dell monitor for my main computer, and my old 2011 iMac off to the side, currently off because I ran out of outlets.
Here’s my first set up! I’ve got a 42″ TV as a 2nd monitor, a 24″ Dell monitor for my main monitor, PC on the floor, and my old 2011 iMac off to the right, currently off because I ran out of outlets.

The total was just over $700 with all parts from Newegg. The monitor was purchased separately on Amazon.

 

Sometimes I draw

Sometimes I just like to draw. Here are a few quick-ish drawings I did last week.

Red Lip Kitty

They aren’t my most polished work, but as I said, they were quick.Couple by Lake

You can see the full album including the reference photographs here.Wedding KissI also accept commissioned portrait work on my Etsy.

 

You should start an Etsy!

As someone who is underemployed and always looking for opportunities to make a living doing what I love, I’m always trying to find ways to sell my abilities or products of my creativity. But I think it’s harder than most realize.

People see the things I create all the time and go, “You should start an Etsy!”

I have, and I do have one actually.

It’s a full time job just to keep it afloat and get the views you need to be seen to get found and make sales. And when you also have a part-time day job and a life to live, it’s just not feasible to spend 12 hours a day trying to plug your Etsy store to make a single $35 sale.

Not to mention that Etsy has grown to be huge. It has hundreds of thousands of users. Many of which are taking advantage of the new rules that allow manufacturing to be a part of the handmade process meaning you can order bulk trinkets from China, slap a chain on it to call it a necklace and sell it for 3000% profit and it’s preventing real Etsy sellers from getting business.

8pairsofsocksBut by far the hardest line of competition are hobbyists. These are people who are making their handmade items for fun and not profit. Take hand knit socks for example – something I’ve really been into making a lot of lately. I’ve been cranking out about 1 pair of socks every month since January of this year. I occasionally make another project in there, but most of the time I’m just working on socks. If you take a look on Esty and search for “handknit socks” you’ll find socks for $40, $25, and even as low as $16 for an adult-size sock. The yarn alone for some of my socks is well over $20, and the time I put into them and the skill I’ve honed in making perfect socks? I wouldn’t likely charge less than $100 for a pair of socks. And I’d still only be make a few dollars an hour, only a fraction of minimum wage. If I wanted to pay myself a living wage on socks, they’d be unaffordable to all but the pickiest sock fanatics.

I found one seller who had lovely lace socks for $60-80 but had to have a line on her shop description explaining that she spends 10-16 hours per set of socks and to “please keep that in mind” when considering the price of her socks. But how many people will read that and consider it but still see all the other $20-30 socks for sale and go with those instead?

Maybe ten years ago before Etsy went public, before it had so many scammers, before it was totally overrun by hobbyists just trying to make a buck I could have been successful. But these days it seems all but impossible unless I had a supportive spouse to bankroll me. Seriously, nearly every “success story” I’ve seen come out of Etsy has a spouse that supported them in the early years before they made a profit. I don’t have that. I have me and a part-time job on the weekends to get me started.

Keep that in mind the next time you tell the artist/crafter in your life, “You should start an Etsy!”

P.S. You can still help me make a living any time I post here by donating to my Patreon page! It’ll help keep me afloat and keep you updated on my crafts, life, and general thoughts and struggles.

Yarn: My biggest hobby

I first learned to knit in high school. I forget who taught me, but I learned English style throwing. It sucked. I didn’t stick with it.

In college I would get stressed out and watch TV with my roommate who would knit the whole time. I wanted to learn something that I could do during down time like that but wasn’t so finicky about being put down in the middle of a row so she taught me to crochet. I never looked back.

I may have gone a little overboard with my first project but I completed it, and I learned a lot.
I may have gone a little overboard with my first project but I completed it, and I learned a lot.

I crocheted constantly throughout college for 6 years before I picked up knitting again – this time Continental style, much easier. One of my first knitting projects was this:

I finished in summer and said "screw it" to sleeves.
I finished in summer and said “screw it” to sleeves.

Since then, I’ve gone kind of nuts and now I also spin my own yarn on my Ashford Traditional spinning wheel:

Spinning Wheel
My love – my Ashford Traditional wheel.

Here is only some of the yarn I’ve spun so far… click the image to see details.

Handspun Yarn - click through to see details via Ravelry
Handspun Yarn – click through to see details via Ravelry

If you are also a yarnie, you can keep up with me on Ravelry, add me here. Otherwise I will update here semi-regularly when fun new stuff is happening.

If you don’t know half of what I even said in this post, stick around, I’ll cover the basics in the future.

Thanks for reading! If you like what I write, please consider supporting me monetarily on Patreon.

Patreon

Gaming Newb Tutorials

Roller Coaster TycoonI was never a gamer growing up. My brother and I were not allowed to ever own a console. We would be allowed to rent a Nintendo 64 and two games for one week each if we had good grades at the end of a school year. Besides that, we had a limited selection of mainly educational 90’s PC games and my brother would buy the various iterations of Game Boy controllers with his own money where I preferred to save my dollars. Still, we both had some interest in games and while he went towards first-person-shooters and RPGs, I gravitated towards simulation and adventure games. Although we both played the original Roller Coaster Tycoon on our parent’s old Windows ’98 desktop for at least ten years after the fact.

These days though, I’m beginning to find more fun and value in video games, but I find myself a bit stunted in the inherent knowledge of gaming many others (especially guys) in my generation seem to have. The barrier to entry seems to necessitate having had a childhood filled with gaming experience that I just never received. But with a lot of wiki-reading and getting lost in some forums and a considerable amount of help from my more savvy friends, I’ve found a way to enjoy some rather complicated games today.

Still, I hate to think of others wanting to give these games a try without the help I’ve had and it’s inspired me to have the idea of creating gaming newb tutorials. Videos for other beginners with very little assumption as to skill level, intended to help people who didn’t grow up with gaming to get into games. Below are some games and ideas, what do you think?space-engineers-cover

  • Space Engineers
    • This is my latest obsession and is rather complicated – there are many video ideas I’ve had for this game for getting started if you’re unfamiliar with WASD+ to more specific game items and updates.Minecraft
  •  Minecraft
    • I know there’s a million beginner tutorials out there on this already, but one more couldn’t hurt.CIVILIZATION-V
  • Civilization V
    • A turn-based classic that could use some beginner basics that aren’t hours long.Skyrim
  • Skyrim
    • Another relatively simple but super fun game for beginners to learn on… it’s probably what got me back into gaming.Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I & II
    • An older but still really fun set of games with a great balance between story, adventure, puzzle and more. I’m currently playing through II for the first time.

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing what other games I play, here I am on Steam!

Confederate History and why the flag should be history

I am beyond happy that the confederate flag is being brought down from government buildings. It had no place there in its representation of an attempt at secession that divided our country in two only 150 years ago. It further has no place in today’s society as it is primarily a symbol of white supremacy brought on by the racial divide in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement, and I am glad to see it go in all areas except for that of a context of history.

Now for the history lesson. The flag with a diagonal blue cross isn’t the actual confederate flag. There were many different battle flags throughout the war. Watch this video to learn more about the various flags and where they all fit in history.

 

With freedom of expression in this country though, we have the right to display whatever symbols, images, flags, etc. that we want. Do I think any version of the Confederate flag should be mass produced in hues of polyester? No. And any company that has profited from this culture of racist bigots should be downright ashamed. But should we ban the image of the Confederate flag? No. I care about this because while I may be disgusted by today’s connotations of displaying this flag, I believe in protecting everyone’s right to free speech.

Also, I am a hobbyist Civil War reenactor. For me, it’s a fun excuse to make giant poofy dresses à la Gone With the Wind and show them off. I don’t care about the battles and though I started with a Union reenacting group back in Michigan, I’ll happily join in Confederate events here in Texas. Now, are there Confederate reenactors who are racist? Probably. Are all of them? By no means. I have respect for many of the Confederate reenactors I have met. They have all been kind and civil and I would be upset to learn if they had any of these racist leanings. But without someone reenacting the Confederacy this hobby would be pointless. I wish the Confederate Flag were as rare as it is for me to see the 1860 US flag on battlefields. But the point is its not rare. I see it on bumper stickers, on trucks, in windows, in houses on shirts and in many more places in the rural conservative parts of the country. In these places it’s only context is that of racism and bigotry. No Civil War reenactor I know would ever hang a Confederate Flag outside of the context of a historical reenactment.

Civil War era U.S. Flag with 34 stars
Civil War era U.S. Flag with 34 stars – don’t see these anymore!

The Confederate Flag belongs in a museum. That is the only place it rightfully belongs.

Religious Intolerance

guest post by Brian Schmied

Nobody is quite as good at intolerance toward religions as other religions. It makes sense when you think about it. Secular people aren’t worried about becoming the collateral damage in a violent fit of divine jealousy, and they don’t worry about their children turning away from the light and burning in eternal hellfire.

Religions don’t like to mix, and they do a great job of worming their way into public policy to either violently suppress diversity or keep it out entirely. The obvious modern day examples are traditionally Muslim nations, which either punish formerly Islamic apostates with the death penalty, or do a terrible job of preventing vigilantes from carrying it out, depending on how progressive their legal system is.

It’s deeply unfair to limit this discussion to Islam, however. If you’re looking to be persecuted for your religious convictions, you don’t need to board an airplane. Radical and genocidal American strains of Christianity are surprisingly comparable.

Imagine you are a Muslim American officer attending a military school and ending up in this class. American military officers have been taught to believe that nuclear genocide of Muslims is not only an option, but necessary for American security. That is not an exaggeration.

The U.S military headquarters, the Pentagon, hosts a Christian Embassy, to better help America’s top military personnel defer their decisions to deeply unqualified, glorified shamans. Given such evidence, Mickey Weinstein’s assertion, “…that a Christian Taliban is running the military.” doesn’t seem so absurd anymore.

As much as these big religions hate each other, nothing gives them the heebie-jeebies quite so much as new religions. Small and strange religions evoke an interesting reaction among the adherents to culturally mainstream superstitions.

In our Christian society, it is very interesting how black and white some things are to the culture. To them, David Miscavige could just as easily be a Wiccan or a Satanist. It’s all boils down to the same Satan worship to them. Never mind that the official Church of Satan is atheistic and doesn’t believe in the existence of Satan, or a god, or any other supernatural things, and certainly doesn’t worship anything.

It’s a very strong Sith versus Jedi mentality that completely shuts down thought and examination. Earlier this year, conservative writer gave voice to the general bafflement among Christians. Raymond Ibrahim wondered aloud about the world’s complete lack of reaction to some anti-Christian mobs in Egypt, which he interprets as an official declaration of war by 1.4 billion Muslims against all of Christendom.

Never mind the 120,000 corpses in Iraq. Never mind that Afghani death tolls are not reported. Of course the U.S military, which has long struggled with the inordinate influence of fundamentalist Christians, couldn’t possibly be motivated to commit war crimes by Christian anti-Islamic sentiment.

On the one hand we have an angry religious mob attacking “non-believers” in their community, and on the other we have a global military network full of religious zealots with a budget nearly the size of Russia’s GDP conquering and occupying entire nations with blatantly made up excuses about WMD’s.

It’s hard to tell if the religious people are using the government to kill their enemies or if the politicians are wielding religion to motivate people to kill in their political interest.

 

Brian Schmied studied political science. He enjoys learning and writing about religions, politics, and the mayhem that ensues wherever they intersect.

‘The Faith Fallacy,’ and other fallacies

A few days ago one of my friends notified me of an op-ed publication in her university’s (Grand Valley State University’s) paper Lanthorn titled “The Faith Fallacy: Why belittling believers makes no sense.”  The piece of course attempts to defend faith, particularly religious faith, particularly by showing how everyone else has ‘faith’ in something else.  If everyone else has ‘faith,’ then religious people are at least safe in, maybe justified in, their faith.

Gee, haven’t heard the old “you do it too!” one before.  It’s a very difficult argument to construct well, and has to be premised on actions from non-believers that really do mirror religious faith in one critical aspect: lack of evidence for these beliefs.  In accordance with this argument’s tradition of throwing things at the wall until they stick, the action-flavor of the month is getting a college education:

“College, like religion, is an institution. […] In both cases believers in these institutions take a gamble, hoping their investment makes a return: most students believe they will leave college with a degree/career potential and most religious people believe when they leave this earth they will be rewarded for their faith.”

Before addressing this basic premise though, I would be amiss to not mention a following line that struck me as out of place (my emphasis):

“Believing in something, so long as it is not blind faith, should be commended– not chastised.”

That’s basically the whole point, the crux of one of the most important reasons why non-believers don’t believe in a god or in religion.  Right there is a written rejection of the ‘critical aspect’ of religious faith I mentioned earlier.  I would ask why this statement was put into an article that is trying to refute non-believer arguments against religious faith; it’s not clear from the rest of her article, however, that Christine Colleran has an understanding of what non-believers even mean by ‘blind faith.’  I think that a useful illustrative tool here would be contrast to something else we might believe in: college.

“Despite evidence proving that great success is attainable without college, we continue to have faith in the power of a degree.”

Christine’s cited evidence is a handful of (admittedly extremely) successful people: Mark Zuckerberg (who actually did attend college – Harvard no less! – but dropped out because he developed Facebook while in school), Richard Branson of Virginia Atlantic, and computer entrepreneurs Michael Dell and Steve Jobs.

oscar_reutersvard_impossible_13

I suppose that this technically is proof that success is possibly attainable without a college education.  I’m not really sure whoever said that you’re guaranteed to fail; I would bet money that Christine was told at one point that you’d be more likely to succeed with a college education.  Is there evidence that around 90% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs have college degrees?  Is there evidence that unemployment rates for college graduates is lower than people without college education; that Master’s degree holders have lower unemployment still; that PhD graduates have even lower unemployment?  Why, yes there is.  It’s not proof that you’ll get a job – these rates are progressively lower, but none of them zero.  It’s a belief without total certainty, but a very justified belief to hold.

Since we’re contrasting, we might ask the same questions of religious claims: is there evidence that being religious gets you into heaven?  Is there evidence that a particular religion is correct?  Is there evidence that there’s even a deity to worship in the first place?  Why, no there is not.

Encompassed in the questions for religion is also a distinction that warrants its own mention: you can make judgments throughout your college career about whether or not it will actually be beneficial to you in the long run.  If you notice that your major’s unemployment rate is almost up to 20%, you can factor that into your decision to pursue your education.  Demand for jobs in particular industries is reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there is research you can do in general to find if jobs are available.

The potential outcomes for religious beliefs, however, are only realized after death.  There is no indication while you are living of whether you’ll be successful, whether there’s something you should perhaps do differently that will cost you in the end.  Adherence to a belief system that has no evidence and no means of validating itself along the way is definitionally blind faith.

If a belief makes you a better person, then more power to you.  Worthwhile to consider, however, is if you even have reasons for believing in what you do.  It’s a good way to get people off your back who think that uncritical belief was, is, and/or will be a detriment to society; think of all of the help it would be in writing op-eds too!

 

Guest post by Alexander Coulter from the University of Michigan. Cross-posted with permission from U of M SSA’s blog: http://michiganssa.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-faith-fallacy-and-other-fallacies.html