Stef (firecat) wrote,

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Things I keep meaning to write about

Things I've done lately:

rented a Prius
I rented a 2005 Toyota Prius for several days. I had been wanting to test-drive one, but the dealership only had one sample car and you could only test-drive it for like five minutes. Renting it gave me a chance to check it out thoroughly. They ended up giving me the wrong one at first and I had to go back in to trade it for another one, and for my efforts I got one day off my rental. Plus if I order a Prius there, the rental money I paid will apply to the purchase price.

I mostly loved it and found all sorts of excuses to drive it. (Which may not be good if I buy one - if I drive more often I'll use more gas and defeat the purpose of driving a Prius.) I had a great time watching the little info screens that show you the car's energy consumption. The screen even displayed what song was being played on certain radio stations. The car is a tiny bit sluggish to accellerate from a full stop, because it starts up using only the battery. But once it's moving, it's very peppy, because the battery can be used to augment the gasoline motor.

I drove it in the city, on the freeway, and up and down lots of hills, without making a big effort to conserve gas, and I averaged about 40 miles to the gallon.

The thing I disliked most was the poor visibility out the back. There is a bar across the back window and the window is kind of narrow.

I was worried the interior would be uncomfortable because the OH has a Corolla and I find the bucket seats a bit tight. But the 2005 Prius has very generous seats and a very long driver's side seatbelt.

I want one. I have no idea how long the wait is at this point.

attended a knitters convention
I went to Stitches West, a convention sponsored by the company that publishes Knitter's Magazine. I took two classes there. One was called "Knit Weaving" and it explored a technique of deliberately dropping and unraveling one or more stitches as you are binding off, and weaving yarn into the ladder created. This can create textural or color interest and it can also change the size of an item. The second was called "Helix Knitting" and it taught how to create circular items in several spiraled colors with no color "jogs." They were both fun classes, with enjoyable and knowledgeable instructors, and I especially liked the camaraderie of working with other knitters. But I'm not sure it's necessary for me to learn such things in classes, and classes tend to be more expensive than magazines or books, so I am likely not to take classes at future Stitches events.

My favorite parts of Stitches were: The enthusiasm and friendliness! Whenever I sat down and took out my knitting, someone would come talk to me, admire the felted bag I made, and/or want to show me something they had bought or were working on. And there were so many people (OK, so many beautiful women - and a few men) wearing gorgeous luxurious handmade knits.

The market has to be seen to be believed. Loads of beautiful hand-dyed yarn! But go early, because by noon or one, it's basically too crowded to even move.

visited Las Vegas and knitted instead of gambling
The OH and I went to Las Vegas over President's Day weekend to visit chickenwitch and the OH's cousin Michael. Due to their efforts we got to stay for free in a house just a few steps away from theirs. Even when the OH and I go away for only a weekend, it seems we can fill up an entire house with clutter! It happened that our friends Maureen and Chris were also in town for a vacation, so the six of us got together at chickenwitch's and Michael's house for overwhelmingly large sandwiches and gossip. I had brought my new set of Denise interchangable knitting needles and I also showed chickenwitch how to knit. She got it right away, which has more to do with her cleverness than my teaching skills. Michael already knew how to knit but hadn't done it for a long time so I gave him a refresher. The next morning he got on the Web and found instructions on how to perl, so he and chickenwitch were doing stockinette and stitch patterns that day. I was fiddling around with various ways of combining two colors of yarn and I frogged various experiments all weekend until finally settling on a Fibonnacci sequence scarf that I will probably use the "knit weaving" technique on once the knitting is finished.

Interesting movies I've seen lately (the reviews have major spoilers):

Beautiful Boxer, about a transsexual Thai boxer, based on the life of Parinya Charoenphol. Asanee Suwan, the actor who plays the main character, is completely charming (as well as a skilled boxer) and makes the premise (that zie dislikes violence and is pursuing a boxing career reluctantly, only because zie wants money for zir family and zir sex change) almost believable.

The movie gets into a lot of problematic gender role issues. I found myself somewhat put off by the notion that this person was both the perfect man (because he knows how to kick ass) and the perfect woman (because she is innocent, modest, family-oriented, and looks good in makeup) - or to put it another way, the notion that a man can be a better woman than a woman. I was also annoyed at the cliched equation of feminine identity with externally feminine trappings such as stockings, makeup, pink frilly things, and so forth. (Cue the obligatory shots of makeup and stockings being donned.) But I found it interesting that in this movie, unlike in Western mainstream culture, male roles involved more physical and emotional exposure than female roles (the boxers have to fight, and fight half-naked; women are almost invariably covered up), and men in general act more emotionally sensitive while women act more practical.

Some Kind of Monster is a documentary about the metal band Metallica, done around the time they decided to see a relationship coach to resolve some interpersonal issues that were affecting their work. I didn't find the movie quite as raw and unrepentently honest as a lot of the reviews made it sound. Sure, various members of the band sound like jerks at one point or a dozen, and talk about their fears and other negative emotions, so it wasn't a puff piece. But I still felt the movie was very carefully crafted to tell a particular story, and that story had a lot to do with marketing. Nevertheless, it was interesting from many angles - what was left in, what was left out, the lack of any particular heroes, villains, scapegoats, and so on. (If relationship drama requires heroes and villains, as has been suggested elsewhere on my friends list lately, then there wasn't a lot of relationship drama in this story, even though there were people squabbling.)

I have heard Metallica's music before, but never with much attention or any understanding of how fucking enormous the band's success has been. I like metal quite a lot. So I enjoyed the parts of the movie that showed the band working on songs for their new album. I especially liked the fact that they all looked like perfectly ordinary guys - the lead singer even wore glasses that made him look a bit geeky - and that they would pick up their instruments or microphones and create this driving, intensely angry music.

And last but not least, Robert Trujillo makes me drool.

Interesting books I've read lately (some of the reviews have major spoilers):

Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi. nellorat mentioned she was reading this book, and it sounded so interesting that I immediately ordered it from the library, bypassing the high two-digit or low three-digit number of books already on my to-read list. The book focuses on how the human embryo develops, especially the amazingly delicate mechanisms by which tissues figure out what they are supposed to specialize in. Leroi sees mutations that disrupt the process as clues about the way the process usually works. He illustrates development by discussing human mutations that were written up in the scientific literature of the past half a millennium. There are lots of illustrations, some of which are pretty gruesome looking. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book to people who are pregnant or close to someone who is. (But no doubt there are plenty of exceptions.)

I've long been fascinated by the mechanisms of fetal development and those of evolution. At the age of 8 or 9 I regularly pored over the prenatal development exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. (And, looking at the web site, I see it is still there, which pleasantly surprises me, given general hysteria in the US right now about stem cell research and other research involving human embryos and fetuses.) More recently my favorite source for reading on this topic was Stephen Jay Gould's collection of essays. Since he died, I hadn't found any new sources, although Science News occasionally has something.

Leroi's style is very poetic, to my taste a bit excessively so, and I could really have done without the disappointing sociobiological rehash of the last chapter (about how human notions of beauty have their basis in genetic health - [*yawn*]) - but the rest of the book is superb.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. I completely enjoyed this book, which won last year's World Fantasy Award. It's built on two very simple ideas that work amazingly well together. The story deftly combines lighthearted and serious themes. It treats emotional relationships especially sensitively. I also read Jo Walton's earlier books, The King's Peace, The King's Name and The Prize in the Game. They are very well done, but Tooth and Claw has an extra something. (I'm not feeling very articulate here.) I'm a real fussbudget when it comes to fantasy, and it's rare for me to like fantasy as much as I liked this.

Beauty by Robin McKinley. papersky kindly sent this to me quite a while back, and I finally got around to reading it. It's an expanded and modified retelling of the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. I understand it was McKinley's first published novel. She has since written many more, and she is one of the guests of honor at this year's Wiscon.

For a while now I've noticed that many novels which qualify as feminist have a gentleness to them that tones down the intensity of the suspense. The author lets the readers know somehow that we needn't worry anything truly horrible will happen to the characters, and that characters will respond with grace and strength to adversity. Beauty is a novel in this tradition. There are no bad guys. No nasty sisterly rivalry (although there is envy). No hatred that isn't soothed by reason. The descriptions of the castle's magical perfections are wonderful. The developing relationship between Beauty and the Beast is subtle and believable. The greathorse character is a wonderful addition to the traditional story. The way Beauty's attitude toward her appearance changes throughout the story is superbly portrayed and a powerful feminist message in itself. (She's portrayed as a comparatively ungainly and unfeminine girl who mostly learns to derive her self-worth from her mental and physical abilities and to spend less time feeling inadequate about her looks - and her choices in this regard lead directly to her being willing to undertake an adventure.)

But. I am always disappointed when the Beast turns into a handsome prince. In this book I also get to be disappointed because at the same time that the Beast turns into a handsome prince, Beauty turns into a beautiful princess. It's slightly unclear whether this is a magical transformation or whether she has finished her adolescent awkward phase and was going to turn out beautiful all along. But because the reader learns about it so suddenly, it seems to cheapen all the work she and the Beast have done to accept and understand themselves as they are. I suppose it's meant to be symbolic of how, once you accept and understand yourself and are in love, you are so much more beautiful inside that you seem beautiful on the outside too. But that symbology doesn't work very well for me.
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