Friday, 30 November 2012


Thank goodness it's Friday! I'm really looking forward to the weekend - and one of the things I have planned to do is starting the Xmas baking. There shall be cookies!

Otherwise, my main item on the to-do list today is to finish the submission of a paper (another one about the spinning experiment). It's the deadline today... and yes, that proves that I am a perfectly normal person, submitting right on deadline day.

And once that is done, I am planning to clear a bit of the rubble, er chaos, off my work desk (which includes some updating of my book database). And maybe play a little with the small digital microscope that I now have...

And next week, it will be back to normal winter-type work.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tea. Winter.

I'm taking it a little more easy today, since yesterday was a day of very, very intense work. It has snowed a tiny bit overnight, but it's all gone again already, and now it's only raining - perfect weather for tea and cookies and a slow day.

I have nice links for you, however:

a science article about 30 000 year old flax fibres (h/t Cathy Raymond);

the Geese Book, a late 15th/early 16th century choir book from very near I am living has been in the US for a long time and is now available as a digital book (website both German and English);

TechKnitter is analysing the kitchener stitch in her usual meticulous and well-illustrated way;

I have stumbled (again, probably) across Phiala's list of online databases with textiles;

and finally, an article from Nature about nettle as bronze age fibre plant is online.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I could so use a few minions.

I'm still struggling with data floods - I have solved a few small problems only to find more (of course there are more). Some of them, I guess, are the usual things - details so small that they are not listed in the normal tutorials because, duh, everyone knows that is how you do it. I know I have been guilty of the same thought in some instances, but alas, I also know the other side much, much too well.

And somehow, I can understand why there is so few statistics in archaeology or historical sciences in general, even where something like a statistical analysis would be good. The learning curve, oh, it is steep. (Or I am a little stupid - but since others agree with me, I'll go with the former assumption.)

As of now, the analysis and visualisation I've been able to do has not yielded any new and really evident things (apart from the usual - that spinners are individuals and quite, quite unpredictable).

Ah, what I would give for a few minions. One to do the boring scanning work that is now left to do. One to work out which programme best to use for the visualisation and give me an intro to it. One to finish entering books into my book database. One to make me coffee.

Okay - I can live without the last one. But the others! That would be so good!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Excel Woes. And Coffee Differences.

I am wrestling with Excel, and it is winning. I have not yet made it to the breakthrough in R (I think I need someone to teach me R for dummies, as I am somehow shattering on the most basic things, like importing an Excel workbook with several sheets and saving that as a dataframe) but I need some quick results. Not much, mind you; not the full analysis... but at least something. Something! And I would know how to get it! But... I have made the mistake of saving the formulas in one workbook, and now I need them in another one. And due to the perverseness of my system, and that of Excel, and that of the worksheets... I get an out-of-memory error every time. No, the workarounds all do not work. Yes, I have tried them all (at least all that I could find). Arrr...

And since two people posed the same question yesterday: From what I remember of Swedish coffee (real Swedish coffee drunk in Sweden, from a cafe or a selling point for caffeinated hot drinks) they are large, they are strong (but not overly so) and they are delicious to my taste - with neither too much acidity nor too much bitterness. Not like the thing we termed "Swedish coffee" at the Forum - though of course there are different strength and quality coffee experiences to be found in any country.
German plain coffee roasts often have a tendency to be quite acidic, and the sourness is something I neither like nor can stomach well, so I am fond of the "milder" kinds of beans here, and I generally prefer the fancy coffees with lots of milk (latte macchiato, anyone?). And the coffee I tasted in the Czech Republic was not really acidic, but always quite, quite strong, plus the beans and/or roast and extraction must have been different, since it was very bitter (at least to my taste).
Your coffee-when-traveling observations are very welcome in the comments - I'd be interested to hear what experiences you have had!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Back to the desk.

It's back to the home desk for me today, after spending a wonderful long weekend abroad. The little conference in the Czech Republic was thoroughly nice, with lots of friendly people and interesting topics (even though most of the costume topics were a little later than my main interest time). The only thing I regret is that I do not speak or understand Czech better than I do; as it is, I can order dumplings, tea or coffee, but I probably won't understand the answer. The lovely people at the conference, however, took great pains to supply me with translation of all the talks of the day - no mean feat, and something I greatly appreciated.

My presentation, as well as that of another speaker, were also translated for the benefit of the audience, which for me meant cutting out all the bells and whistles and asides and extra jokes that I normally insert. It has never become as clear to me before how much of all that is in all of my normal presentations that are not stripped for easy translation.

And now I also know Prague a little better than before, having had two long walks through the city; I have had the traditional Wenceslaus sausage (that I love) and sampled several different Czech sandwiches; I have been stuck in a train for more than three hours due to several accidents on the track all happening in one afternoon; I have also learned that not only plain Czech coffee is very different from plain German coffee (something that can be well expected), a Czech Latte Macchiato is also very different from the German (or even the Italian) one. But the most beautiful thing to become aware of (again) during this trip? Laughter is international, and you do not need to understand each other's language to be able to laugh together.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Oh no, Friday already?

Sometimes, it seems to take ages until Friday arrives - but then in some weeks, it seems as if it's Friday instantly. And this was one of these weeks.

That is surely partly due to my cutting away some of the normal week length by travelling. Tomorrow is the Clothing Seminary in Zlin where I will be speaking about crafts, experimental archaeology and spinning, and I'm already looking forward to this very much - it will, I hope, be a very interesting meeting.

And next week it's back to writing article and working at the home desk, with a nice hot coffee and all autumny colours outside the window. This is a good time of year to sit indoors, read and write! (The cat, by the way, agrees. Not with the reading-and-writing part, but with the sitting indoors part; there are mornings now when she thinks it's enough to take a little sniff of the cool outdoors air and then settles back for another nap.)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Data mining, next go.

Here it is again, my neverending spinning experiment. After my successfull using of ImageJ for the processing of visual survey cards from the experiment, I now have this huge stack of data that is still mostly un-mined. And I am convinced that there is more to be had from it, much more.

So I'm having another look at the data, and consequently at several programmes that might help me in tickling more insight out of the stack of numbers that I have. During my browsing of the net, however, I found this introduction into statistics and data mining - which is a very nice, easy to understand intro explaining all the things that data mining GUIs offer.

It's on my reading list now - while I go hunting some more for the perfect programme for my needs. There are still a few on the list that look promising...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Databases (again), part II.

Endnote is, according to their makers, the bestest citation software ever. As is Zotero (according to their makers). And probably a bunch of others as well.

Back when I was still trying out stuff and relatively new to the world of people working in physics (who have an affinity to LaTeX-the-programme), I wrote one article in TeX. I had to re-do it in MS Word to get it published, but this little stint meant that I got to know the powers of BibTeX, which is the citation system thingie that comes with TeX. It is, more or less, a reference database that you cite from, and the programme does the formatting.

Sound familiar? That's just what EndNote does with Word. Back when I then found out that there was, indeed, such a programme, I bought it for the hefty sum they asked for the student edition back then and have been using it ever since. There's connection files to get data from online library catalogues (something I should have used more, I now think, it might have saved me lots of work), style files that can be altered to suit individual needs, and both a field for "notes" (which I use for making general, personal notes about a reference) and "research notes" (which I use for typing excerpts or snippets including the page number so they can actually be used for working without the physical copy of the book). Plus there are custom fields - those I have used to mark whether I own a book (physical or digital copy), where it stands in my library (well, that's a work in progress to be honest), if I have pictures in my picture database (by noting down the prefix of the image files, such as schweppe_ which is, in the actual files, followed by a page number so I have files like schweppe_10.png) and if I have already read it or just jotted it down for future reading.

According to the version history, my purchase of the programme must have been in 2004. Which means that my version is a little... older. Now, I have no problem with older software (I'm happily using Word2000, and not planning to change from that), but sometimes, it pays to look for alternatives. Especially since my EndNote is sort of iffy on the connection files, with quite a few of them not working (or not working anymore), and I cannot download the whole set of new ones from the site (there is no such button in my installation menu).

Due to the recent mention of Mendeley by Phiala in the comments of some other post, I did a little looking and found Qiqqa - a .pdf organising software with built-in OCR, a wizard to help with filling out the reference data for each imported .pdf, and the possibility to cite to Word. I quite like it on the first try and am currently using it to get some order into my .pdfs. I have even considered changing to this programme from EndNote for all my referencing, but it does not do a few things that I have grown accustomed to, and I have also read that it's not too easy to modify citation styles (something I regularly need to do).

Qiqqa is intended for use over the web, with web storage of .pdfs, something which I don't need (and don't want). It allows "vanilla references", that is those without a .pdf attached, but then I get a nasty popup if I want to associate a file with it now. It also does import from EndNote - but not the "Research Notes". There is the possibility to search for duplicates, but I found it rather hard to compare the actual duplicates with each other and decide which one should stay and which one should go. I have not tried the citation thingie yet, but from the overall feel, it's very much geared towards .pdf files only, and I don't want to use two programmes. So at the moment, my plan is to use Qiqqa to get some order into my .pdf files, then export the data via BibTeX and a converter to EndNote, and merge the two databases. (That's the plan only, though - and it might change if problems with the import should arise. Or if Qiqqa should evolve some more, and then I might reconsider using it as my new reference database thingie.)

I'd be happy to hear about your experiences with Qiqqa, EndNote, Zotero or whatever you use!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Databases (again).

As the long-term readers among you might know, I am using Endnote for my references and bibliography, and a programme called Fototime FotoAlbum. Both have been on my system for years now, so I have gained a bit of experience with them.

FotoAlbum is making a good job of sorting and handling my image database, and their online support is one of the best I know. There was no instance where I didn't get a speedy reply, and things were taken care of whenever possible (I realise that not all my requests would fall in line with the needs of the normal customers, so it's understandable they are not adapting the programme just for me).
The programme allows notes and comments, ratings, copyright notes, keywords and captions; it has filters and an "album" system that makes it possible to store pictures in a given folder structure, yet have them as part of several albums. There's also the possibility to define smart albums, automatically putting pictures in there if they have the right keywords, date, or other defined thing.

Speaking of dates - I use the programme to sort my picture database which, logically if you are working about medieval stuff, consists mostly of old things. The photo timeline is quite generous, since it allows to go back until 1700 (there were no photos before that time, right? Right? Yes.). For stuff from the 9th or 12th century... that's a bit late, though. So I developed my own system that has been successful for years now: I use the 1700 as code for my centuries, as in 1708 - eighth century, 1715 - fifteenth century. And I even have a months key, for example January 1713 means from 1200 to the 1220s. The months key is not perfect (due to my less than perfect definition, that is) but it works fine and it allows me to sort all my pictures by date. And I have a lot of pictures.

So if you are in search of a picture database, I can fully recommend the programme. I use the paid-for edition, due to a few reasons of my own, but FotoAlbum is also available in a free edition that will already serve for most database-related needs, including handing out your pictures or a selection of them, with all the data attached and viewable, to someone else.

As for Endnote... that's something to write about tomorrow.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Start into the week!

It feels weird to be at the desk again after the weekend - we were visiting my family to celebrate a birthday, which was nice and full of pleasant hustle and bustle and laughter, and then it was already time to drive back home and get back on track.

And now I even have to get back on track really quickly, since I will be spending the coming weekend away at the costume seminary in Zlin, CZ. I'm looking forward to that a lot already, but it also means that there is a stack of things I have to prepare before I leave (and that includes giving the presentation one last little polishing).

At least I know what my work on the bus will be - there's a(nother) paper to finish and a book to read that the library wants to have back really soon. One decision taken care of.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bringing the old to the young. Exeter does it.

The Uni of Exeter is planning to turn the Book of Exeter (and a few others as well) into an app - well, not turning, really, but making an app to allow young people exploration of these old manuscripts. This includes turning elements of the book into games and puzzles - very fitting for an Anglo-Saxon riddle book that is not completely surviving and therefor a riddle in itself!

There's a short explanatory video about it on vimeo, and even if you're not interested in the app, it's worth watching for a) the lovely accent of the speaker (I just love British accents) and b) the pictures of old books.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Things are picking up.

Usually, for someone working with demonstrations and in connection with living history events, the late autumn and winter months are the slow season - the time to kick back and think about stuff for the next season to come. The time to pack away things, repair stuff, make new stuff (or plan to do it until it's time to frantically do at least a bit of all that work in the week before the new season, in time-honoured tradition and in tune with the old reenactor's joke "Winter is the week before the first event in the new season").

But this year around, I don't feel as if things were slowing down; on the other hand, there's plenty to do and some juicy projects and other things have reared their heads, promising interesting times and a chance of income.

So I am emailing and reading and writing and planning... while drinking coffee (always good) and eating highly motivating sweet substances (aka cookies and chocolate). After all, the brain needs sugars, right?

Link for today: Not a medieval dress, but a spectacular one - and it has been restored recently. It's the Victorian stage costume of actress Ellen Terry, and the article is brought to you by PastHorizons.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

This, and that, and do I have enough wool?

I'm still feeling a little swamped by work, though pleasantly so - things are coming up that might mean really interesting projects in the future, there's some progress on the writing front (though there's never, ever as much as I'd like) and I may have figured out a way to find out whether the yarn I have is enough for a knitting project.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Should I? Or should I not?

I have been asked to consider turning my blog into a book, and I'm now pondering the idea. It's true that I have written a lot of stuff over these past years, but I'm not convinced enough of them would be non-internet-specific enough for a print version.

It is certainly less work than writing a book from scratch - but it's also sort of non-ordered, non-sequitur, and containing a lot of filler posts or link lists.

And I'm just not sure whether anyone would really want to buy a version of this blog in form of a book. So I would be grateful for any feedback - what do you think about blogs turned books? Are there any articles I wrote on that blog that you'd like to have in a print version? Or should everything rather stay as it was?

Monday, 12 November 2012

Late Links.

I slept longer than usual today (it was not my fault at all - I was pinned down into bed by a cat sleeping on my leg, so I could not move, right?). This was followed by a phase of frantic editing and planning work, so today's blog post is much later than planned. I blame the cat. Who is, by the way, sleeping (again).

Via Isis of Medieval Silkwork, a link to a blog post about two extant dresses from the late 16th century in Pisa. It's a very detailed post, and they are beautiful dresses.

And the Bavardess has posted two longish blog posts about interdisciplinary research, well worth a read!
Interdisciplinary research is very fruitful if it functions well, and really necessary for many topics, but it's not all easy to get started with it. In her blog post "Notes for a method of interdisciplinary research" part I and part II, the Bavardess sums up a two-day workshop, with very helpful hints for a framework before getting started. This is especially important for a collaborative effort, but helpful as well if you are doing it on your own.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Libraries are so good. And databases, too.

I had a really nice and very intense day of sitting in the library and reading and taking notes yesterday - which felt absolutely fine.

I have started to take notes for each book that I store in my bibliography database so I can have an excerpt and check again if necessary where something came from, and I now somehow sort of regret that I haven't started this years and years ago. I'm still working with EndNote and will continue to do so, I have never gotten onto good terms with Zotero, though it seems to be a good (and free) choice. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have also never really tried hard to get onto good terms with Zotero.)

And let me state again that I am a huge fan of databases, both for bibliography and for pictures - because having a searchable, tagged or keyworded heap of information is much better than having an unorganised, non-searchable heap of information.

So if you have pictures, or collect pictures for research reasons, and read books for research purposes, I thoroughly recommend you to get a database thingie - there are heaps of free ones on the Internet - and at least note down the following: who took the picture (if it wasn't you) or the book it came from (including the page) if it's a scan, and for books you read the author/editor, book title, year, and a short note of how you liked it. You can put in much more - excerpts, keywords (both for book and picture), picture captions, a note of how you liked the book, further citation traces to follow, where the book is located, when you looked at it, or whatever would be good but is not on my radar at the moment. But having at least a note of the minimum things will mean you being able to remember whether you had that book in your hands already... or not.

Having said that, I should probably spend a little time on the care and feeding of my databases today.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

German Art Recipes. In the Internet.

While conversing with a friend about something completely (well, not completely - slightly) different, she pointed me to a database with the full, rather unwieldy name of "Datenbank mittelalterlicher und frühneuzeitlicher kunsttechnologischer Rezepte in handschriftlicher Überlieferung".  

If you can read German, that title tells you all you need to know. It's a recipe database for hand-written, medieval and early modern recipes for art supplies. (In German - sorry for those of you who don't read it). Most recipes are not only transcribed, but also translated, and there are search masks to hunt for specific ingredients or techniques - such as textile-related techniques. This is an ongoing work by Dr. Doris Oltrogge of the FH Cologne, and it's a brilliant idea.

Recipe database! Hooray!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Amazing. Really.

It is a very, really, utterly amazing thing how much work can go into a single book. There's this project I'm working on? Together with a friend half-way around the globe? We've spent oodles of hours, both, on the computer and chatting over how to fix this or handle that and on ourselves thinking and writing and editing and checking and noting.

And now we are nearing a stage where we can take a first look at what the thing has become. It has certainly changed a whole, huge lot from what it was (both in writing and conceptually) when we started. There's still a good bit of work to do, but things are getting clearer.

That's amazing. And a tiny bit scary - nearing a new stage.

Oh, on today's agenda, by the way (among a few other things): more work on that project. Which I will now be off to...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


It's NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month, for those of you who don't know the abbreviation). And while I'm not going to write a novel, it sort of fits - I have a paper to write and a presentation to finish and finetune.

So... I will be writing today - and hopefully lots. Because it's NaNoWriMo

Monday, 5 November 2012

Knitting time.

Somehow it seems as if winter (or at least the colder months) are my main knitting time - though judging from the output, you would not suspect that.

On my (small, but existent) pile of unfinished objects lies a pair of socks with shadow-knit cats and an almost finished pinwheel sweater. The socks are millimetering towards being done (inching would be too fast, you see?), but the sweater has been huddled into a heap, abandoned, for oh-so-long now.

I'm still in love with the concept of the pinwheel sweater (you take a round blanket, stick two sleeves in, and wear it), but even though I tried on a friend's version of it, I'm not at all happy with mine. It's knit in bulky yarn which may have been a bad choice, since that makes it really heavy; and in this version, it just does not fall right for me. It doesn't.

So I have decided to frog it. And now I've stumbled across a very nice how-to-fit-a-sweater tutorial that helps with choosing flattering projects. So I'll look for another thing, better suited to my shape and figure, to knit... some of these days, this means, I will sit down and cast on something. (And if I'm good, I will finish the socks first.)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Archaeology texts... not in English, though.

I have stumbled across two new things (thanks to mailing lists) that might be of interest.

The first one is a French publication about reconstruction and reconstitiution in archaeology, with ideas or articles from several different countries. The main texts are French, but there are English summaries to go with them.
The volume is published online, can be downloaded for free, and you find it here.

Secondly, Rainer Schreg is pondering the unusual layout of an early medieval settlement and how modern thought might influence our interpretation on Archaeologik. That one's not French, but German.

Thirdly, on Archivalia, there's an article about German copyright law and the possibilities to publish online as Open Access - looks like there are quite a few possibilities! Fittingly, that one too is German.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Today is a holiday hereabouts - so no proper blog post.

Instead, have this: