Tuesday, 30 September 2014

News from the Wheel.

The spinning wheel test yesterday was... half successful. I took the measurements for the new whorls from my previous prototype hack of the original flyer and whorl, and in theory, there should have been next to no pull on the thread, thus resulting in a lot of twist being delivered while the yarn winds on to the bobbin very slowly. I had significant pull on the thread and thus by far not enough twist to suit my taste. Due to the temporary fixings of the new flyer, it was also not possible to just hold the thread tight until enough twist was delivered. I've tested the flyer whorl before, with the hacked old spool from the old flyer, and it did work quite well, so the excess winding speed is probably due to too much friction between the bobbin and the axle.

The new flyer and bobbin arrangement sits differently on the axle than the previous one, so the wheel and the whorls are out of proper alignment. This, in turn, means that I have to adjust the alignment; I fiddled with it yesterday, but did not arrive at the best final solution yet.

The orifice end of the axle also needs some kind of stopper. The old flyer had a snap ring to prevent it from going too far through the leather bearing, and the new one will need something similar. That, too, is on the list of things to do.

And finally, the bobbin itself was in need of some smoothing out of the insides, to reduce the aforementioned friction on the axle. Because it's difficult as whatnot to drill an absolutely straight, absolutely centered hole through a round dowel, I decided to laser-cut a lot of small rings and glue them on top of each other, stacked on the axle. That did work, mostly, with a little leftover snaggyness. Taking a round file to the insides, though, did take care of it, and it now spins much nicer.

The next steps in the process are thus clear. Now I only have to do the drilling, clamping, glueing and smoothing connected to them...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Almost done.

The spinning wheel tuning is almost finished - I had planned to do the remainder of the work, not easily done in the FabLab, yesterday, but then a large-scale cooking session got into the way of that plan.

All that remains to do, however, is glue the parts of the flyer together and then test if the setup works well enough for a good, long test-run. I might have to make a new holder for the flyer, too, but for the moment there's a temporary contraption on the wheel consisting of the old holder and an array of clamps holding it in its new, better-aligned place.

So. Ten minutes for this glue batch to set, then I'll glue the next one. Then the wooden parts need to be fixed, permanently, to the metal axle. And then comes the moment of truth.

Hopefully it will all work out as planned!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Friday Linkfest.

They have accumulated again, those pesky links. Or are they pesky? You might want to decide for yourself. Here they are:

Cathy posts a review of Marianne Vedeler's book "Silk for the Vikings".

Jonathan Jarrett has put together a resources page you'll definitely want to check out.

There's a German article about silk relics (tunic pieces) from the fourth century.

King Richard III has undergone multi-element isotope analysis, and seems to have liked his booze, judging from that.

That's it for today - now I'll go back to my presentation writing.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Spinning wheel tuning.

Part of this morning was spent on preparing another session at the FabLab (planned for this weekend). I've finalised the 3D printing data for the whorl bit on the bobbin, and finalised the lasercutting data for the bobbins themselves as well as the flyer "wings". The previous incarnations have already proven that the numbers and setup do work, and that I will be able to quickly spin thin, high-twist yarns with the tuned wheel.

Unfortunately, it seems that I will also have to replace the part that holds the flyer and the bobbin, because the new arrangement of bobbin and flyer and flyer whorl results in a slightly shifted alignment between drive wheel and whorls. Slightly, in this case, being big enough to cause trouble.

A bit more planning is thus necessary. But if everything works out as it should, I will have a functioning, fully-tuned wheel on Sunday.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A bleg. To handweavers.

It's been some time since I posted the last bleg, I think - and things have lined up in a way that, well, blegging you for information seems the thing to do.

As you probably know, I am not a weaver. I do know a few weavers, but not enough for a proper survey... and that is just what I would like to get.

The survey is connected to yarns (I'm working on a spinning paper, after all) and hopefully, it will let me either toss my subjective impression on what is used for weaving, or will corroborate it. Either way, it will be very helpful for me to see what is used.

So, here it is. The Survey. If you are a weaver, I would very, very much appreciate your help - please fill it out, and pass it on to your weaver friends. If you are no weaver, but have weaver friends, I would also very much appreciate your help - please pass it on to your weaver friends and ask them to fill it out and pass it on to their friends. Or copy the rest of this post, from "Handweaver Survey" on down, and post it on your blog, weaver's newsletter, or similar communication gateway. The more input I get, the better - if I can get more than 20 answers, it starts to get seriously useful for research purposes.

Thank you so much.

Handweaver Survey

Background Questions:

What kind of loom or weaving frame do you use?

How much, approximately, do you weave per year?

Have you woven custom work for others?

Have you woven for a museum display, living history purposes, or similar?

Weaving Questions:

How important is choosing the yarn type (grist, fibre types, hard or soft spun, single or plied, spinning direction) for you when you design or plan a weaving project?

What yarns do you usually choose for weaving - plied or single yarns?

Please measure the twist angle/ply angle of your most commonly used yarn (you can find an explanation of twist angle here, together with an instruction on how to measure it); with the measurement, make sure to state whether it's the singles twist or a ply angle:

Are you interested in historical (pre-industrial) fabrics?

Have you ever tried to re-create such a fabric?

Have you woven with high-twist singles in warp, weft, or both?

If yes:
Did they have a spinning angle of 30° or more?

Was it difficult to source these yarns?

How was it different from weaving with lower twist singles or plied yarns?

Can you share any tips or warn of any special difficulties?

Once you have answered these questions, you can get them to me either by email to katrin.kania@pallia.net, or post the answers to the survey on your blog and post the link to your blogpost in the comments here: http://togs-from-bogs.blogspot.de/2014/09/a-bleg-to-handweavers.html.

Again, thank you for helping me by filling out this survey! If I can get enough answers, I'll write up a proper report and post it on this blog.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Working on Spinning, again.

Spinning, as a research topic, has been occupying me a lot lately, and the next paper that I'm going to give, and that is currently in preparation, will also focus on spinning as an important part of textile production.

This time around, I am planning to look a bit more at the physics of what holds a yarn together, and to the properties of yarns with high vs. low twist, before launching into a look at different spinning methods - the one typical for modern hand-spinners today in the western world, and the two methods that can be reconstructed for medieval spinning.

The topic of spinning never ceases to rope me in and keep me interested. There are so many questions left - such as why there is a different spinning technique depicted on the few images from Hallstatt and the many more images from medieval times, even though Hallstatt threads were also high twist? Why is our modern technique not the medieval one anymore? When did those changes take place, exactly?

Spinning, to me, is the building block for almost every other textile technique that comes after. The properties of the yarn will influence everything done with said yarn - which means that you have to start with the spinning if you want something specific reconstructed as closely to the original as possible. And that, in turn, is a wonderful challenge for a spinner.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Monday! Back to work!

Now can I please find my enthusiasm for the work week?

Before I settle down to tackle a myriad of things that need doing, you'll get an update. On stuff.

I have recently discovered another online learning site, called Coursera. You can sign up for a lot of courses about a myriad different topics there, teaching you stuff from art to statistics. I've started to learn a bit about the latter (including signing up for a course on R programming), and I'm very curious to see how it will play out.

Also recently, also something I learned: Grains are actually fruit, not seeds. See here. The site this article is on is... interesting, since it ranges from explanations of the difference between twin and double rooms (in a text that, to me, seems rather long to say the one has two normal beds and the other one two-person-sized bed), to explanations such as the one linked above.

And for those of you in the area: Stockholm library is offering journal access to library card holders, with journals linked to the databases VITALIS and LIBRIS, both relevant for archaeologists. A shame I live so far from Stockholm.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Gobbled up.

Some mornings, even having "Blog" on my to-do list doesn't really help to get you a timely morning blog. I sit down at the computer and then I fall into a hole, doing something and being utterly gobbled up by that.

This morning, for example, I started out checking emails (as usual), writing a few short ones, and then the phone rang. Then I did my Czech lesson. And then had a bit of chat on Trillian for the current book project, and then I thought I'll just do one pomodoro's worth of work on the book right now so that I can send a file over to Australia. Which utterly enthralled me and now I'm in the second hour of work on it, and when taking a short break I suddenly realised that a) the bit of breakfast I had much earlier in the morning was not very much, and b) the blog post is yet unwritten.

So... there's the blog post. Of me telling you why it's late. And because that's not much to blog about, here are some things related to why it's late:

Pomodoro. After a long hiatus in this, I have re-activated the use of pomodoros as productivity aid yesterday. At the moment, it's mostly to make me stick with one subject for at least 25 minutes. It's nice to use this technique again, and it does help - I have gotten quite a bit of work done yesterday and today already.

Czech lesson. I've been at this for two weeks now, and I have the feeling I'm making good progress. Since I'm still quite happy with the programme, I will pass a link on to you. It's from Strokes International; they offer 24 languages (well, 22 if you want the course based in English, and counting English as second language), and you can test the first three lessons for free. They have some of the harder-to-get languages, such as Czech, Polish, Romanian, and you could even learn Japanese.
The programme has the usual problems of a computer language programme with speech recognition - sometimes you need to repeat a word a trillion times, sometimes you don't really know why it won't accept your pronounciation, and there is nobody telling you whether you are really off or whether it's a fluke in the speech recog. Still, it makes you speak a lot. It also makes you write a lot, in a not too nasty way. There are plenty of repetitions, plenty of pictures to help in learning, and a lot of "game-like" exercises such as a memory with the written term on one card, the picture on the other, and you get the spoken word for both as you flip them.
While there are a few small things that irk me (such as having to adjust the window size to my preference every time, and the programme not remembering that I want the keyboard picture at all times), I do enjoy the lessons and have the impression that yes, I am learning stuff, and not just in short-term memory - and that is the most important bit, after all. (I can memorise things quickly and easily for short term, which is nice, but not too helpful when it isn't settled into long-term brain storage, too.) For now, I can recommend it - and I hope it will stay that way!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Strap weaving.

Though I love all (or, well, almost all) textile techniques quite a bit, and I work in a good number of them, weaving cloth is not among those. There are a bunch of reasons for this - one is space consideration (looms take up space, and quite a bit of it if you want to work seriously), another is the limited time that any day has, and there are only so many techniques you can fit into one life while still doing them justice.

Another reason - much the same reason why I don't dye my own fabrics or yarns - is that there are enough proficient people out there who already know how to do it, have the equipment to do it, and are willing to do it faster, better, and probably much more efficiently than I could do it if I started out now. (That does not mean that I won't jump at any chance to dabble in these techniques, have some fun with the equipment and get some more practice.  That, after all, is both for my enjoyment and for furthering my understanding of these crafts. Or do an experiment concerning them. But I won't offer anybody to hire me for that kind of work, as I do for other techniques.)

Narrow wares, however, are a different beast, and I've done my bit of weaving these. So imagine my delight when I found out that there is a repp band weaving tradition in Ireland that is still a little bit alive: Crios belts.

Makes my fingers itch to do a little more rigid heddle weaving...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Random Linky Stuff.

Here are things, randomly assorted, that might be of interest.

If you like manuscripts and haven't checked out the medievalbooks blog yet, I thoroughly recommend doing it. Take a look at this post about Medieval Super Models, or this one about personal touches or personal statements in the margins.

A 3,500 to 3,900 year old suit of armor, made of bone, was found in Siberia.

Chloe Giordano is making really beautiful, really detailed animal embroideries. (h/t Heather)

Modern stair solutions - some of them really breathtaking.

And now for something completely different: Transgender people tell about the differences between how men and women are treated at work.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Gratuitous Cat Pics.

It has been way, way too long since the last cat pictures here. And this weekend, Madame was sleeping especially... um... curiously, so here you go.

Portrait of a Sleepy Cat with Vampire Teeth:

Sleepy Cat Snoozing on her Back:

Not Elegant, But Oh So Comfy:

She's having a vet appointment today, so she'll be less relaxed and comfy this afternoon... but surely everything will be fine again in the evening.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Games of a different kind.

I like games. I like board games (especially cooperative ones), and I also like computer games. Most of the ones I play (or we play together) are not very deep - more like light entertainment to pass some time, such as hidden objects or lightweight adventures.

Recently, though, I stumbled across two very different games. Both are online, both are free to play, and neither of them can be called lightweight.

The first one is called "Depression Quest", and it lets you explore the life of a person with depression. Depression is a nasty illness, and the game captures very nicely how it takes away perfectly sensible choices that seem obvious, easy and attainable - unless, that is, you are too depressed to be able to make them. DQ is a pay-what-you-want game, and it might be a good help in explaining to someone else how depression works.

The second one is called "Buried" and you play an archaeologist, newly returned from fieldwork, grappling with burial and death in both personal and professional circumstances. ("Buried" is not intended for the archaeologist, but more for the lay person. Plus, according to the game, it's possible to write a short paper in one evening even when starting out tired. Talk about game superheroes!) 

Both are not recommended if you are currently struggling with depression or grief, or if you have problems with death and burial as game items; but if you are not, and willing to explore these topics - I do hope you have a memorable experience doing it, and I'd love to hear what you thought of the games in the comments!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Ah, the joy of learning.

I am trying it again. Even though the last two tries did not last for very long, or were very successful, this time I have an event to work toward which is far enough in the future to actually be realistic.

If you are wondering what I am talking about - the next NESAT conference will be in Liberec, in the Czech republic, and since the last one was in 2014, it will be in 2017. (NESAT is, sadly, only every three years.)

I do not, yet, speak Czech, nor do I understand spoken Czech. That is true for a lot of languages, though - quite important for reading archaeological stuff - I can read a lot more languages than I can speak. I cannot even read basic Czech, though. That is something that I would like to remedy, and having a NESAT in two and a half years should give me enough time to learn some. Add to this the motivational tidbit extra - the most patient of all husbands and myself have a challenge going to do a ten minute foreign language improval stint every weekday - and it might just work. So yesterday I invested in a computer language learning programme. We'll see where it goes from here.

Did you ever, successfully or unsuccessfully, learn a language using a computer lesson packet? Or some other alternative way? I'd love to know. Life interaction would surely be better than just the 'puter, but Czech lessons hereabouts are hard to find, and I can deal better, time-wise, with ten minutes a day than with longer lessons with larger gaps inbetween.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Isn't it Friday already?

Well, yes, I know it isn't. Yet. Would be nice, though!

My parents dropped by yesterday evening, having been in the area, and we had an impromptu cooking session together with two friends, serving them a nice three-course meal. That was a lot of fun, but also a bit exhausting - and now I'd much prefer today to be Saturday, or at least Friday.

So while I am trying to bring my brain into gear, you are getting links (again). One of them is a book review on "Experimental Archaeology" by John Coles. Another friend and colleague recommended that book to me, saying it would be a very good read. The book is from 1979, so it's not the newest work about ExpArch, but seems to be worth a look.

Speaking of books, Doug is posting about Archaeology and publishing, another series of posts, starting with #1: Formatting. If you, like so many others, use Word for your work and wish to do layouting, I recommend taking a look at editorium.com - when I was layouting and tweaking my PhD thesis for handing it in, their information did help me a huge lot. And while it's not easy-peasy, my impression is that Word will do everything you want it to - if you know how to kick its (micro-)soft little backside hard enough and in the right way. (Mind you, it might mean having to record and edit, or write, a macro or two. Expands the horizon. Never a bad thing.)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pirate Hat offer ends today!

After all these linky posts, it's time to do a "what is happening here" post again.

Yesterday, I finished the current state of a project - sewing basic garments for a new open-air museum, the Freilichtlabor Lauresham - and sent the things on their merry way to their new home. The project is not completely finished yet, but the next part will have to wait until the cloth for tunic and hose have been woven and dyed, which will take at least a few more weeks. I'd have loved for them to have all the clothes in time for the opening on this Sunday, but unfortunately, we were not able to get the cloth issue sorted out in time for that. (This proves again: textile stuff just gobbles up time.)

With this off my back and off my agenda, it is time to turn to the next exciting bits on the to-do list. So today, I'll do my level best to get some more work done on the Textile Forum. Check our website at www.textileforum.org tonight or tomorrow for the preliminary programme. And if you want to join, you can still register for the conference!

Another conference I have to prepare for is Crafting Textiles from the Bronze Age to AD 1600, taking place on October 10 and 11 in London. (This year is the year of travelling to England for me!) I will be giving a presentation about spinning as a historical craft, and I'm looking forward to that conference very, very much already. The programme is full of interesting papers!

Today's the last day of the Free Shipping offer on the Dread Pirate Roberts knitting pattern. If you were planning to get one, today is the day to do it!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


I've been blogging about food before. Naturally, since it is a thing that I enjoy a lot. (Especially baking. I've been called a "cake extremist" recently, and man, I'm proud of that. My cakes tend to feed legions.)

With my recent forays into different-nutrition-land, due to the elimination diet, I have read what feels like gazillions of articles about food and what you should eat, and what not. Eliminating a lot of the previous staples and mainstays of a diet does pose a challenge, and I was happy to find that there are a lot of suitable or almost-suitable recipes out there already. You can find them if you search the 'net for "paleo AIP recipe". AIP stands for "Auto-Immune Protocol", and that's basically the elimination diet scheme. It is a sub-section of eaters who eat what they call "paleo".

Now. I'm of the opinion that "who heals is right" - no matter what the approach. But I am also, due to my profession, attentive to things such as proper terminology. And calling a modern diet "paleo"... that just... gah. GAH. (I'm not alone in that, by the way! See here. Or here, where "archaeologists officially declare collective sigh over the paleo diet". I'm in!) I have enough colleagues who try to learn more about diets from the past - medieval, 19th century, and inbetween - and if you talk to them at any length, one of the things guaranteed to come up is the impossible task of sourcing raw materials that are like they used to be back then. (Just like in textiles. Ah, I can so relate.)

Mind you, we're talking about foodstuffs less than 300 years old, in some of these cases. Or less than 2000 in most. Paleolithic stuff? That's at least 12 000 years ago. More than twelve thousand! Folks! We know about nothing on how food was back then! (I blogged a very nice video about that ages ago, by the way. Here.)

There are a few other things that irk me. Some are due to personal tastes, such as the liberal use  of coconut flour about everywhere where baking is concerned, or the liberal use of other coconut products. (I like coconut a lot - but only in very specific circumstances. Not everywhere.) Some are due to a different personal stance on things, such as the declaration that sugar is really, really bad because it's so nutrition-poor and has been processed so much - but then these same authors happily use stevia (processed) or other weird sugar replacements, also very much processed; or honey which is less processed and yes, not as nutrition-poor as honey, but not that far away from sugar either. (There are some who agree with me in that stance, though. Like this one.)

So. My summary? There's this scene that calls itself "paleo". While the name still makes my hackles rise, a lot of the articles and essays on nutrition for healing are interesting, helpful, and do give food for thought. As always, though, every person is different, and different things will work for each and everyone, so finding out things for yourself is still the thing to do. That said, the recipes - both "normal paleo" and AIP - are really worth looking at, if only for interesting combinations of things to cook or prepare. And if you suspect having a food intolerance, they will be insanely helpful when you try to figure out what to eat and what to forego.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Even more stuff.

Just in case you are looking for even more blogs to read, I will send you (again! that guy is on a roll) over to Doug's blog. He's doing an archaeology blog round-up, which lists not only the blog title, but also gives a link to each post of the last week. That's a brilliant idea, since you can get a first glimpse of how active a given blog is, and sometimes see what direction the posts take, guesstimating from the post titles. There are definitely a few blogs among those listed that will find their way into my feed reader. I'm also very happy that my own blog was featured in the very first post of that new series!

If you are interested in Near East (archaeology) stuff, you might find this interesting: The Netherlands Institute for the Near East is offering their out-of-print publications for free download. This is always a glorious thing and I'm utterly happy about each museum or publisher who does this! (I was particularly delighted about York and the MET.)

Also online: The Robin Hood project from the University of Rochester (Nottingham would have been funnier, though). It's a database of texts, images, bibliography and information about Robin Hood and other outlaw stories.

And finally: LARP is entering the archaeological record. (LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing - which means you dress up in an appropriate way and head out to play a part in a non-scripted or sparsely scripted adventure story with other people.) (Did anyone reading this actually need the explanation, I wonder?)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Stuff that has been on my to-blog-about-list, like, forever.

I am one of these people that open lots and lots of tabs in the browser. A non-tabbing browser, for me? Unthinkable. I rarely have few enough tabs open that horizontal scrolling is not necessary.

And, of course, the browser gets unwieldy. And the tabs tend to be too many for easy use... so a while ago, I installed the add-on called Pocket, which lets you read things later. The most patient of all husbands uses his to temporarily store pages, which he, indeed, does read later. And then removes from the list.
I wanted to use it in a similar way, especially for things that I wanted to blog about later. That worked well for about, oh, a month or so... when it got entirely too easy to push stuff there and forget it. These days, I have oodles of pages to go through in that thing, and I could probably toss out 95% of them because it is now too late, or it is not that interesting anymore, or...

More recently, I have added TooManyTabs to my Firefox. It adds a bar below the rest of the menu lines, and it has a limited number of rows (which you could up at any time, but it means taking the action, not just adding more stuff). So now I have 6 rows which I can use to store things, thematically, that I think I will need soon(ish). And when I want to add more for a new topic... I have the strange idea that I might be able to make myself empty an old one first.

One of the rows, you guessed it, is filled with things that I thought might be an interesting thing to blog about. Most of them are just links - so here you go:

Harry Ransom Manuscript Image Database. 215 manuscripts from between the 11th and the 17th century.

A find of 3000 year old trousers, excavated in China.

Paleolithic engravings in stone - the first in Germany (article in German).

A blog post about the hypothesis that the Roman dodecahedrons may have been knitting aids. (That is more or less exactly my reaction when I first heard about that. Also, the total killer in any way, even if the Romans had had knitting: Efficiency, that technique has it not. And efficiency is, otherwise, seen everywhere in crafts. Even in the Romans' crafts.)

Aaand that has cleared the long overdue "to blog about" row of tabs. More (and fresher!) things to blog about can now go there... to lie and ripen and grow old, because too many other things seem much more important or urgent to blog about. You know how these things work, right?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Norse Garment Patterns - you want this.

Yesterday I received an e-mail telling me about a free e-book from one of my lovely colleagues... and that did make my day.

It seems that Aarhus University Press is doing a "free e-book of the month" series, which I had never heard of before. And this month's offering is the book Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns by Lilli Fransen, Anna Nørgård and Else Østergård.

I did not own the book before, since I have "Woven into the Earth", and much of the content regarding the general information (textile techniques, weaves, stitches, ...) is similar or the same in both, with WitE having more info. What WitE does not have in such an extent, though, is the patterns as taken from the original garments, including those of hoods - and these are published in MGR.

Aarhus Press? Thank you. With this, I'd guess that you have made a lot of folks really, really happy. Including me.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Archaeologists and the Press.

You all know what to think of archaeologists, right? We are the brothers and sisters of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft... not.

When I was still studying, one of the colleagues explained to us about the public image of archaeology, about the problems with bad press (or not-easy-to-understand press), and how to deal with press people and journalists. What I remember from that as the most important lesson is: It's not the journalist's job to learn about archaeology. It is your job, as the interviewed archaeologist, to give the journalist correct and concise information, in a way that he or she can easily use it for the piece. That was highly helpful!

If you want an in-depth treatment of the topic, you are in luck: Doug has written a multi-part blog post about archaeology and journalism, and I highly recommend reading it if you are in any contact with press people or journalists, even if you are not an archaeologist. Go read part I of Archaeology and the Press right now.

(To top things off, he's also posting about Archaeology Publishing at the moment, another series of posts... also very informative.)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Glorious free stuff.

Free stuff! On the Internet! Who would have thought it, right? Apart from... all of us?

Here are some exciting things for you to enjoy. At least I find them exciting. Especially this one, about which I learned at the LonCon, from one of the lovely English Heritage folks:
English Heritage Research Department Reports Database. The Research department of EH has recently put all their reports online, and they are free to download and peruse. There is a keyword search, and "textiles" yields 190 reports.

You are still here? Next one, then.
Maney Publishing is featuring Postmedieval Archaeology as their Journal of the Month - which means that the last 6 issues (3 years) are free to read and download during September.

In case you prefer to read conservation literature, you can visit the Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network, BCIN for short.

Too many words, too little pics? Heather sent me this BBC article link, which I pass on to you. The TL;DR version: someone has uploaded millions of pictures from 1500 - 1922, auto-tagged for search convenience, all copyright-free. Here's the direct link to the flickr site.

Anyone still here?


Good. Thought so.

Monday, 1 September 2014


This post is personal, and it's health-related. If that is the last thing on earth you want to read on this blog, I'm sorry and suggest you go somewhere else for today's reading. It's personal, and I usually try to limit personal things here, due to different reasons - but this is something I feel a need to blog about.

There's such a thing as invisible illnesses. Invisible illnesses are, well, invisible (just like the name hints), and that is one of the hardest things about them.
If you break your leg, you go to the hospital and get a cast - and everyone can see that you have a damaged leg and will thus not be able to do some things. However, if you have an invisible illness...

And there are many, many invisible illnesses - in all levels of severeness. Diabetes. Lupus. Chronic Fatigue. Hashimoto's. Depression. And lots and lots more. Being invisible, it's quite probable that nobody will tell you to go see a doctor. To make things even more nasty, these things can sneak into your life better than any ninja - they can come on so gradually you never even realise something might be wrong, until you suddenly realise that things are so bad you can't do this, or that, and that too.

I've been losing energy and instead gaining weight slowly and steadily over the past few years, with no discernible changes in my eating patterns. I've also started getting slightly swollen feet in summer heat. It crept in really slowly, really gradually, and I could not see any pattern to when my feet would be bloated and when they would not. Movement helped, sometimes, as did propping them up. Since my legs are too short for most chairs, I thought maybe sitting on too-high seats was partly to blame. I tried drinking lots and I tried drinking little, without effect, and finally I just sighed and thought it might be a part of getting older, and the body's changes that go with it.

Then the last bit of last year and the start of this year got very, very busy - big museum projects, preparing events, and the NESAT conference. I was feeling fatigued before, but after NESAT, it seemed like I just could not recover. I had no energy left. I woke up thinking about the things to do that day, feeling good enough to tackle them all, but by the time I had been to the bathroom and found my way the 6 or so metres to my desk, I was all tired and lackluster again. Clearly, something was wrong. Really wrong. The ninja had finally stumbled into the spotlight.

So I did what I always do when something is wrong, or a problem: I read the Internet. This time, I read what felt like all of it. And found out that I might have issues with my thyroid, and possibly general hormone levels, and that both might be connected to auto-immune problems. And those, in turn, might be connected to food intolerances that are so low-level, or developed so gradually, that I just never keyed on to them. I got myself a doctor's appointment, but that would be about two weeks of wait. Clearly, something had to happen before that.

Since I had already read about all the Internet (haha), I had stumbled across lots of sites connecting gut health to overall health, especially to auto-immune issues and disorders. They all recommended special diet versions that differ in details, but are all basically aiming to rule out anything that might irritate at first, then gradually re-introducing elements to test whether they are tolerated or not. So I decided to take the plunge, and I opted for one system recommended by a doctor that specialises in hypothyroid issues. (Basically, it was just to pick one of them. A proper strict one, because I like to jump into things full throttle. Even when I'm sick.)

That was a diet that rules out about everything except vegetables, meat, fruit that are not too sweet, and herbs. That was a large change, but to my great relief, it did work almost instantly. I won't count the first three days or so of it, because you never know how much of a placebo-effect that was, but after the first days, I lost quite a bit of water weight, the swelling in my feet went down, and I had more energy again. Still not up to normal levels, still needing more rest than usual, but it was definitely an upward trend.

Meanwhile I had that doctor's appointment, and nothing looks so very bad - I lacked a few vitamins and minerals, and thyroid levels were not perfect, but also not too far out of the ordinary. Now I am in the stage of figuring out what is good for me, food-wise, and what is not. That is a lengthy process with a goodly amount of documentation and deduction (and some guesstimates), and it makes eating not at home a little difficult - so I have turned into a person that lugs food around, just in case. The first few culprits are already found, too - though my tastebuds really love fried or cooked onions, the rest of me does not agree that they are a good thing. And then I had two oat biscuits recently, which tasted lovely but raised havoc later. There are a lot of things left to test and try, but at least I can find out what works and what doesn't. (There is, by the way, no other sure way to determine food intolerances but the elimination-provocation approach; any tests are iffy at best, a waste of money at medium, and harmful due to wrong outcomes at worst.)

The curiousest thing, to me, is that I never had any discernible issues with any of the foods that are now off-limits or suspect before. It just drained my energy and made me less healthy overall, to a point where I could not function well anymore. If this happened to me, it could happen to someone else, with as little clue about why things become harder as I had. And that, dear readers, is why I think this is an important thing to share.

So... should you suspect a food intolerance doing bad things with your guts and your life, I can tell you, from my own experiences, that an elimination diet may sound awful, but might be just what you want. I won't say it is easy - you have to go without a lot of things for a few weeks, after all, and with many things for quite some time until you have re-introduced them. It's not all bad, though. My appreciation for high-quality foods, my cooking-fu, my knowledge about the human innards and the human immune system, and my resourcefulness in packing food* have all benefitted from this diet change. As has my appreciation for my friends, who after a short second of being shocked did their very best to support me and went several extra miles, in some cases, to make sure that I could eat with them. Friends are wonderful. Feed them to the best of your abilities - they might return the favour one day when you really need it.

* Very soon, I developed a more-or-less-healthy apprehension that I might get hungry and not find something that I could eat, resulting in packing emergency food (and plenty of that) in case of travel. The masses of food that I brought to Herzberg? Ridiculous. (Just enough, though.) Considerable amounts of food also travelled with us to England, and then through England, for our vacation. (Optimised for packing space and weight-to-nutrition-ratio, of course.)
For parties and similar things, I also found that it is immensely helpful to have something to eat that is both delicious or appealing to me and safely within the limits of the current diet - just in case everyone else enjoys something I cannot have. Food envy, to me, was the thing I feared most, and the "pack your own" strategy works beautifully for that.