Monday, 20 July 2015

It's time for a break.

If you're hanging out in the internet, you might have come across this one:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

I have a job I love, but I really, really disagree with that saying. Yes, having work that you love is a wonderful thing. It makes spending the bulk of your adult waking life on it something which is nice instead of dreary... but. But. It's still work.

I love running the little shop I have, finding new sources for tools and materials that are as close to the historical originals as possible. I love editing, and writing - this blog, the occasional book, instructions, or research excerpts for museums. I love preparing and giving presentations, talks, seminars and workshops. I love cutting and tailoring and sewing. It takes energy and effort, though, and energy needs to be recharged from time to time.

Furthermore, it's never just doing things you love, or that you enjoy, and nothing else. There is bureaucracy stuff to take care of, and there's the occasional troublesome thing coming up that needs to be dealt with, or you mess something up and have to own it and sort it. There is no work on earth that is all loveliness and rainbows all the time, ever.

What's even worse about that quote, if you ask me, is that it sort of insinuates that if you are feeling like you are working... you're not loving your job enough. Or you did a bad job at choosing your job. In any case, you're not doing it right, right?

Here's the thing - I love my job. It's full of challenges, it makes me look at all kinds of different things, it gives me the opportunity to work with people and with things, to do research and crafts. But it's still work, it will take energy and effort, it will tire me out after some time, and I am looking forward to having holidays just like everybody else.

Which is just a lengthy way to tell you that I'm on summer break from today until August 24.

I won't blog during this time, and any orders sent via the shop will be taken care of after the break. I'll spend the time taking care of things that had to take a back seat during the last months, and relaxing, and I am really, really looking forward to that. Especially the relaxing part...

See you on the other side of my summer break - and I hope you have nice, relaxing, wonderful holidays yourself!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Maney Journal of the Month, and other stuff.

Time for a few links for your reading delectation!

Maney's  Journal of the Month is Costume, the journal of the Costume Society. Which means they are offering 50 articles for free access until the end of this month. Most (if not all of them) are post-medieval and modern in focus.

Not enough reading? Not early enough? How about some Egyptian stuff? A 2010 conference at the Egypt centre had quite a few textile-related topics. The conference papers have now been published in book form, and there's also a streaming archive on this website so you can download the individual presentations in podcast form.

Not medieval enough? Go over to historyextra, where Gillian and I co-wrote an article about 7 weird and wonderful medieval facts in celebration of the Beast's publication.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Beast Blogtour has started!

You have surely been waiting for the exciting things to announce that I hinted at a bit ago... and I can finally reveal the news!

Do you remember that I posted about the blogtour we were planning a while ago, to celebrate (and promote) "The Middle Ages Unlocked"? Well, as things you plan tend to, it has shifted from the traditional blog tour we had envisioned. While there's still a blog or two in our list (such as Elizabeth Chadwick's blog), most of our pieces will appear on sites that are not typical blogs, or in some cases not blogs at all.

I'm very, very excited about this, and finally it's time to share.

Living the History: Guest post "Reconstructing medieval garments"

Gillian has also posted three posts on The History Girls, related to The Middle Ages Unlocked:

The History Girls: The Problem with Medieval Medicine
Historical Sources for Historical Fiction
On History and Medieval Cosmetics 

We're also having a series (a whole series, wheeee!) of six posts on

In the near future, we'll also have some more posts to tell you about, also in exciting places... so stay tuned!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Something new and wooly in the shop.

Just in time for some summer spinning, I have new wool in the shop - from a very rare sheep breed: Rouge du Roussillon.

Rouge du Roussillon, picture: Eponimm, CC BY-SA 3.0 (wikimedia)

These are red-legged, red-headed sheep originating in the French Pyrenees, with short-staple, fine wool. Just like many other heritage breeds, they have suffered with the changing times. These days, there are very, very few animals left - probably about two hundred.

Half of them are in Germany, and one herd for conservation breeding is living quite close to my place. You can see pictures of the herd in Nuremburg here.

A few weeks ago, I bought some of the freshly shorn wool from these sheep; now, finally (after a long wait for enough water for washing), the wool is ready to be sold.

It's almost white wool, fine and not very long staple, with a fine crimp. You can find out more about the wool here - and also get some of it, if you are so inclined!

I'm very happy to be able to offer this wool. Selling it supports the conservation breeding herd and, in addition, the conservation of the habitat that the sheep graze in, which is a very species-rich kind of grassland on poor, sandy soil (Sandmagerrasen in German). Plus it's a beautiful and rare fibre - what's not to like?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The blog silence, explained.

If you've been wondering about the unannounced blog silence yesterday... that was because of a relapse into my childhood days.

The little town where I grew up has a festivity each year, something like a country fair, perhaps - there's a parade of the school children through town, and some dances and sports things for and by the children, and then there's the fair area which is full of fun rides and booths where you can buy food, and a big tent (the Bierzelt) for sitting in (if you don't mind very loud music, that is). And a place where you can buy helium-filled balloons.

The fair runs for two days - Sunday and Monday - and everything is closed on Monday, because it's like an extra Sunday. It also feels like an extra Sunday, which is why I completely forgot to blog yesterday. After a few years of not being able to make it to the Wiesenfest, I managed to go home again this year for the two days. Most of my time was spent at the place where you can buy balloons, helping to knot them after filling with the gas.

My parents have been part of this since it started, so I have fond memories of the place, and the people, and I've always liked helping there. Let me tell you: I have knotted many balloons over the years, and I can knot a balloon very, very quickly.

I came back and it was just like always this year - a lot of fun, and on Monday a lot of knotting of balloons. A huge, huge lot of knotting, because one of the fair's traditions (and tradition is an important thing for this one) is children taking one or two balloons into town on Monday evening, when it's the official end of the fair, and letting them fly.

It is a spectacular thing to watch when almost two thousand balloons in all colours rise up into the sky. It's also slightly weird to know that you have held a substantial percentage of these balloons in your hands... and that everyone letting go of a balloon has done a good deed as well, since the money from selling them goes to charitable organisations that help children in need.

So this is why you got no blog post yesterday - because in my personal universe, it was totally a day off and everyone of course knows that nothing work-wise ever happens on Wiesenfest-Montag, because for all practical purposes it's just like an extra Sunday. (And now you know that, too.)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Friday Linkfest.

I can't believe it's already Friday again, time really is flying by!

Here are a few interesting or amusing links to spice up your Friday:

The Con Man trailer has been released.

Andreas has found an interesting snippet about dietary preferences of the French as compared to the Germans - from the fifteenth century.

Alasdair blogs about the Amazon review system (which the Big River wants to tweak), and reviews in general.

Finally, if you read German, here's an article about a lawsuit that Unicef is running against one of their benefactors. If you don't read German, here's the summary: A man who died in 2013 willed two thirds of his >one million Euro to go to Unicef, the rest to his brother. His brother died before he did, but, assuming it is clear that the money then would go to his brother's family, he did not change his Last Will. Now Unicef is trying to get all of the money through a lawsuit... and the internet is not amused.

That's it for this week. Don't forget to tune in (if you can) for the radio interview Gillian and I will have on this afternoon, some time between 14:15 and 15:00 CET (see yesterday's blog post for details if you need them).

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Update your Adobe Flash Player!

There's been a leak about a possible exploit for the Adobe Flash Player, so if you are having that thing installed on your machine (chances are high you have), you should update it as of right now.

You can do that by installing it from the Adobe website (don't forget to uncheck the boxes that say you totally want their crapware), or use this link to download the full installer you need and get it without the crapware stuff.

I do not want your antivirus thingie, Adobe. Go away.

Go download and install. Do it now. Seriously. Adobe classifies this as a real risk, and the how-to instructions on using the loophole in their code has been leaked to hacker sites. According to Adobe,

Successful exploitation could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system.   Adobe is aware of reports that an exploit targeting this vulnerability has been published publicly. Adobe expects to make updates available on July 8, 2015.

Theoretically, you could deinstall the thing completely and be utterly safe... but so much on the 'net these days uses flash that it could really prove a nuisance. If you are running Firefox, however, you could consider using noscript to block unnecessary stuff including flashy stuff when you don't want to see or use it.

And that's your internet security note for today. : )  Surf safely.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

All your questions about the radio interview, answered.

There've been questions about the radio interview that Gillian and I will be doing on Friday. (Yay radio interview!) In case you missed the first announcement, here it is again:

...totally excited about being on a radio show on Friday, together with Gillian. We'll be interviewed about our book "The Middle Ages Unlocked", and the really cool thing? It's a radio station that is also sending via the internet. It's the afternoon show in Talk Radio Europe, and we'll be on air this Friday, 10 July, somewhere between 14:15 and 15:00.

Tune in if you'd like to hear us talk about the book - there might be a fun fact or two for you to hear about...

And now for the questions.

What's that in Greenwich time? 

Ah, yes, the joy of time zone differences.
Here's a little table of the times we'll be on:

UTC/GMT (Time Zone)    Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 12:15 UTC 
Nuremberg (Germany)    Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 14:15 UTC+2 hrs  
Sydney (Australia, NSW)Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 22:15 UTC+10 hrs 
London (England)       Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 13:15 UTC+1 hr
Malaga (Spain)         Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 14:15 UTC+2 hrs 
Los Angeles (U.S.A.)   Friday, 10. Juli 2015, 05:15 UTC-7 hrs  

Gillian will be in Sydney, I will be in Erlangen, the radio station is based in Malaga, Spain, and our host is, if I got it correct, British. So we'll be a very international bit of the show!

Will the interview be in English?

Although I would really like to hear Gillian attempt to speak German one day, and the station is based in Spain - yes, it will be in English. You'll get to hear my slightly weird accent, and Gillian has promised to practise British English in the hours before the interview so she's not too Australian-sounding.

Will it be downloadable if we can't hear it live? 

Yes, it will! Talk Radio Europe offers all their original shows to listen to again for seven days after the shows ran. It's their "Listen On Demand" offer.

So. Tune in, or download later - and we hope you'll enjoy our radio interview!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Eventful times.

Things I did today: Take a walk. Restore some friends' website from a hacker attack (thankfully, that was quite easy). Scratch the mosquito bite of doom on my left calf. Cuddle the cat. Write emails. And...

... be totally excited about being on a radio show on Friday, together with Gillian. We'll be interviewed about our book "The Middle Ages Unlocked", and the really cool thing? It's a radio station that is also sending via the internet. It's the afternoon show in Talk Radio Europe, and we'll be on air this Friday, 10 July, somewhere between 14:15 and 15:00.

Tune in if you'd like to hear us talk about the book - there might be a fun fact or two for you to hear about...

Monday, 6 July 2015

It's too damn hot.

We're still in full-on heatwave mode here, and though there are a few clouds in the sky, it remains brightly (and hotly) sunny. Well, at least this year nobody can complain about a nasty, cold grey summer!

In spite of the weekend's heat, we managed to have fun at a wedding party, relax, and get a new (and larger) rainwater tank installed at the back of the house. Now if it should rain, we'll get all the water that lands on half of the roof of the house (it's a saddle roof, so naturally you only get half the roof with one tank). I'm very excited to see how much water will come through into the tank from one "normal" rain. (I could do some maths and estimate how many square metres the roof has, and calculate from there, but... it's too damn hot for maths.)

I also spent some time during the weekend on website updating work*. You don't see anything of that yet, though - I have managed to clone the online shop to my local system, where it's now happily running on an installation of XAMPP. Installing that was the easiest part, though! It took a few tries and thus quite a bit of time to get everything running...

The first issues were with getting the backup extension for Joomla! to run. Akeeba backup and my hoster have sort of a strained relationship, it seems. After a while, that did work; so then I got to figure out how to get the copy to run locally. And then... several tries of updating from Joomla 2.5.x to 3.x. There's a number of steps that has to be taken in the correct sequence, and in the end I had to manually unpack the update package into the root directory and run the database fix. Main problem seems to have been template issues... but now it seems like it's running.

So I'm currently updating the shop system on the local copy, and then I will have to find a nice template for the new site. It will probably take a few months before I'm ready for the relaunch, but at least the most important step is done now - getting the upgrade to Joomla 3.x to work.

* I'm a firm believer in "never change a running system" and "if it ain't broken, don't fix it". Case in point? My graphics programme is 19 years old. But that's an old programme that works, and there are no internet security issues connected to it. In case of my website, support for Joomla 2.5 is running out, and that will in time leave the website open to attacks. And make it become more and more outdated, so... nothing left but to embrace the change. At least it's a nice reason to finally tackle the website and get it up to date again!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Sunny Friday.

It's getting hotter and hotter outside; too hot to think or to do a lot of stuff. Even the cat prefers being inside today, out of the sun and heat.

In fact, she prefers lying on my arms. As I sit at the desk, trying to work. If she weren't so cuddly and cute as she's curling up between the computer and myself, with her one paw on my one forearm and her shoulder and head on the other... it's not conducive to good and typo-free typing, though. Especially not when her paw is on the touchpad, doing things with the cursor it's not supposed to do.

Thank goodness it's Friday, though, and there's an end of the week's work in sight. On the list for today, among other things: Looking at pictures from 12th and 13th century German manuscripts, preferably pictures that show peasants. The image database at the British Library is my friend for this, for now.

Searching takes time, though. Especially if you want to make sure you get as complete a picture as possible - because then you can't narrow down the search terms too much. After all, the search terms only find the things other people have identified and tagged as such a thing.

This means you might find mis-labeled items and miss a lot of unlabeled ones. So I learned a long time ago that if you want to have the bigger picture, or a proper overview, nothing beats using a very general search term and then just going through every single entry in the massive list of hits. Yes, it is a nuisance, but I have hit a lot of paydirt with this method.

So, even though I cannot search for "peasant" and get all the things I want to find, advanced search is still really, really helpful. I'm narrowing down place and time, and then I look at the pictures. Which is a nice task for a hot Friday afternoon...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

So many things.

Today's blog is late, and it will be short, because much of the time that has passed until now has been spent on getting things ready for the blogtour Gillian and I have planned. There will be exciting things to announce very soon!

In other news, I've found out that it might be a good idea to do a little update to my shop system, so I'm looking into this. (Which includes making a site backup and the usual other stuff...) I'm also drinking tea, because that is always a good thing, and planning two presentations, one due very soon and one due in August, when I will travel to Berlin to give it - I'm already very much looking forward to that!

To make up for post shortage: gratuitous cat pic for you.

That's not her friendliest expression - she's probably thinking hard about something...

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Someone is always bound to notice.

Yesterday, I posted the picture of the finished fleur-de-lis embroidery on Facebook - and promptly got a reply that the form of the fleur is not corresponding to the typical medieval form.

The side petals on the historic versions are much wider, much more curved, and they go out more to the sides. Does that explanation even make sense? Here, let me show you:

British Library Royal 16 F II, f. 137, detail.
Netherlands, around 1500. 

This should make it pretty clear what the differences are. If you search the British Library database for fleur de lis, you'll get some more hits, some of them shapes that are very far from what a modern eye would expect.

So why have I opted for something so different? Part of the differences are due to the medium. The motif is much clearer if you have gaps inbetween the individual petals, as my first tries did show - so running the individual parts together as in the 1500s version would not work just as well. Partly the decision is also due to the shape of the frame - a taller, more slender version fits better with the oval frame shape than the more squat version.

Finally, my personal experience is that motifs with the pronounced changes between slender and fat (as in the leaves of the medieval version) are harder to embroider for a beginner than shapes with only gentle changes in thickness.

The whole embroidery kit is a hybrid of medieval and modern things. Gold thread and silk thread? Medieval. Basic technique? Medieval. However, a medieval gold embroidery on linen fabric would usually cover all the ground fabric, not only a little bit of it - so having the ground fabric dyed blue with indigo, and only embroidering the lily, is a compromise as well (because embroidering everything with blue silk... that's lots of work, and quite a bit of material too).

The frame itself, with its rubber rim and plastic inner rim, and its oval shape, and the hanger so it can serve as a picture frame is very, very modern as well. So are the needles that I will supply with the kit.

It's a hybrid, a compromise to offer a chance to do gold embroidery without investing insane amounts of time and money in trying it. A compromise between appealing to today's embroiderers and offering the experience of working with historically correct materials. A compromise that results in a piece with a lot of decorative value without the need to mount it into a proper frame first.

I've put a lot of thought into this, and I hope that it will turn out to be a good compromise. Let me know what you think, please?