Monthly Archives: September 2011

Seen it in the movies

Seen it in the movies

The Captio

I like seeing places I’ve seen on TV in real life, or seeing places I know on TV. It’s like stepping into a film – and there are a lot of films I would like to step into, to visit.

K and I usually plan out which bits of a town we’d like to see based on which of our favourite movies or TV shows were filmed there. We often wind up in odd parts of town, in the suburbs or among the office blocks, off the beaten track and away from the tourist areas. We didn’t do any of that in DC.

Washington DC’s famous bits are so famous that they’re used in pretty much every establishing shot in every film which wants you to know the characters are in the capital. So we were total tourists for the day and did the National Mall, starting at the White House then heading to the Lincoln Memorial and trekking all the way up to the Capitol via the Washington Monument.

It was pretty awesome. But a lot slower going than the sweeping flyovers suggest.

Unfortunately we picked a grey, rainy day to visit DC so this photo of the Capitol building is unlikely to inspire you to visit. However, there are a million shots on Panoramio and it’s sunny in some of them. 

Train Travel in the USA

Train Travel in the USA

View out of the window of an Amtrak train with a blue seat back on the left. The window frames a blur of green trees.

We got on the train in Charlotte at 07:00, and got off about 19:00 after twelve hours of travel and three hours later than we expected. Despite this, it was a good trip.

This is the only train trip I’ve taken in the USA and it was more like travelling by plane than by a European train.

Book in advance – the pricing system, while less complex than the British one, goes up the closer you get to departure. Not knowing this cost us $40.

You’re told to get to the station early - 30 minutes before the train leaves which is like hopping on a commuter flight in Europe. This is because…

You must check large bags which freaked us out slightly, as we didn’t know that until we got to the train station. Luckily ours counted as handbaggage.

Only 2 pieces of handbaggage per passanger – I told you it was like flying, right? They even have those wire boxes so you can check if your bag will have to be checked in.

Food is reasonably priced but limited. The dining car looked like a diner on wheels with cute booths with blue leather upholstery and cost about as much as the Starbucks we’re in right now.

Only major hubs are served so you can expect to have to travel further once you reach your destination as stops are up to 90 minutes apart.

Trains go slow here. If you’ve got a car (and don’t need to take breaks) it’s probably about the same time to drive as the train – when it was moving – seemed to be going only a little faster than the cars on the road: I would guess about 70 miles per hour.

Our train had plenty of legroom – and I’m 6 foot tall, and had room to cross my legs in economy – and plugs for laptops plus Wi-Fi is coming soon. There’s space to move around and the toilets were roomy and clean, all of which made the trip surprisingly pleasant although brutally long. I’d strongly recommend taking a packed lunch and dinner and more water than you think you’ll need. And a good book or five, of course!

Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, NC

Looking up at two skyscrapers against a dark and cloudy sky

These two skyscrapers are in Independence Square in central Charlotte. If you peer through the windows you can see peoples’ offices.

All the guidebooks I looked at before our trip said that Charlotte had a lot to offer business travellers. That’s probably true – it’s got a lot of offices down town (but they call it ‘Uptown’) with coffee bars, restaurants and pubs at their feet. As a tourist, the city centre isn’t much cop so we spent an hour wandering around and then headed back out to the edges.

Easy Ribbed Hat – free pattern

Easy Ribbed Hat – free pattern

This works for any yarn and any size head. You need to do a little bit of maths first, then fill in the blanks below with your specific numbers.

Yarn gauge (stitches per inch or cm) ___
Head circumference (in or cm) ___

Stitches per inch x head circumference rounded up to the nearest multiple of 8 gives you the number of stitches to cast on.

For example, if the ballband says the yarn has 22 sts to 4in (or 10cm) that’s 4.5 sts per inch. So if the head is 21in around (small adult) then you get  94.5 sts. Round up to the nearest multiple of 8 and you get 96 sts to cast on.

Head circumference divided by two gives you the ribbing length.

Cast on __ sts. I recommend using Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast-on as it really is super stretchy and well worth the extra effort.

Row 1: *P2, K2; rep from * to end of round (i.e. 2×2 rib starting with purl).

Repeat this row until your hat ribbing is __ in/cm long. This should give you enough hat to cover your ears or turn up a brim.

Crown decreases
Row 1: *P2, K2, P1, k2tog, K1; rep from * to end.
Row 2: *P2, K2, P1, K2; rep from * to end.
Row 3: *P2, K2, k2tog, K1; rep from * to end.
Row 4: *P2, K4; rep from * to end.
Row 5: *P2, K1, k2tog, K1;  rep from * to end.
Row 6: *P2, K3; rep from * to end.
Row 7: *P2, k2tog, K1; rep from * to end.
Row 8: *P1, k2tog, K1; rep from * to end.
Row 9: *k2tog, K1; rep from * to end.
Row 10: *k2tog; rep from * to end.

If you cast on more than 80 sts you may wish to repeat row 10 one or two more times before casting off. Aim to have about 5-8 sts when you finish.

Cast off by drawing the yarn tail through the remaining live stitches and pulling tight.

Head sizes
Newborn babies’ heads start at about 9in for a small preemie or 13in for a full-term baby while adult heads are typically 20-24in. As this rib pattern is very stretchy it will fit heads both larger and smaller than the size you’re aiming for so round up a little and don’t worry too much.

Hat length
Obviously, the suggested length given here is a rough estimate. Turn-up hat brims are cute on pretty much any hat, and can be any length so if in doubt go long.

If you want to be more precise, measure the head in question from ear to ear over the top of the head, starting and finishing where you want the hat to come down to (e.g. just below the ears). The crown shaping takes about 10 rows, so you can use your row gauge to calculate how long to make a particular length hat as follows:

Over the top measurement divided by two = total hat length (in or cm)
Total hat  length (in or cm) x rows per in or cm = total rows
Total rows – 10 = rows of ribbing needed before crown shaping

For example, if your head is 14in from ear to ear, your total hat length is 7in. Let’s say your ballband row gauge is 28 rows to 4in or 7 rows per in. 7×7 = 49 total rows. 49-10 is 39 rows of ribbing required before starting the crown shaping for a hat with no turn up.

This is a Bigfootknits original pattern. You may knit it for your own use or to donate to charity or to sell to raise funds for charity. All other rights reserved. You may not copy it, sell it or sell hats knitted from it without written permission.

The Real America ™

The Real America ™

The USA flag waves in the breeze against a background of blue sky and framed by palm tree tops.

Visiting somewhere for just a few days, I never feel like I get to see the ‘real’ place. It’s like meeting someone for a few minutes – you only see one mood, and whether it’s sunny or gloomy that’s your whole experience.

Travelling through the USA for a month is giving me a bit more time to check my prejudices and preconceptions. Here are some things I’ve seen on TV – and in real life, too.

Shops are massive
Obviously, there are small shops. But there are so many huge shops, too. We went to a Walmart which was roughly the size of the mall I used to hang out in as a teenager, and a mall the size of a British town centre.

Alcohol is expensive
And you will be carded if you try to buy it in a store. But soft drink refills are free.

Everything is sweet
Even things like bread and salsa are sweeter than in Europe.

Suburbia is real
The area where my friends live looks like it could star in Desperate Housewives or The Brady Bunch.

Everyone drives everywhere
There are no sidewalks, the shops are so big it takes an hour to walk around them and I haven’t seen a bus in Charlotte yet. So it’s not surprising that the car is king.

Everything is big
Trucks, SUVs and minivans are common, big houses are standard, regular drinks are large and even bottles of Coke are more than 500ml.

Y’all is a real word
And is now singular, apparently. To say (you plural), you can say y’alls or for (you plural possessive) say y’allses. It’s surprisingly useful.

You can buy guns at the mall
We didn’t. We bought cookies.

We’re really enjoying being in the USA, and so far everyone has been very friendly and put up with us not understanding things and talking funny. Although one guy did seem to think that England was in the southern hemisphere – not entirely unreasonable when you think that the Great British Summer seems to be about as warm as a Charlotte winter!

Take advantage of jet lag

Take advantage of jet lag

The sun, just about to rise over the sea off South Beach. The sky is a pearly blue, the sea dark, and between is a band of soft yellow light.
In Miami, the sun rises at about 7am in Septermber so it’s easy to catch a sunrise over the ocean when your hotel is a block from the beach.

Jet lag kicks your body into a new circadian rhythm and it can be disorienting. I like to take advantage of being awake at odd times to see things I wouldn’t usually see.

Cultural excursion

Cultural excursion

Photo only shows the lace/sock weights but that's lots and lots of yarn and knitted things in the Knitting Garden shop.

At first glance the inside of the Knitting Garden appears to be a giant heap of yarn and knitted samples. In fact, it’s tidier than that suggests but packed with lovely things.

We did think about going to the Bass Museum of Art, but instead we went to the Knitting Garden. It’s bloody marvellous.

The shop is narrow but long and filled to the brim with yarn. I spent absolutely ages (even by my assessment) wandering around looking at things and petting the pretties.

There were lots of American indies including Madeline Tosh, Cherry Tree Hill and several I’d never heard of (and therefore won’t attempt to spell). It also carries a wide selection of international yarns including Manos del Uruguay, Rowan, Lang and Kauni and American workhorse yarns like Cascade 220.

While many of the yarns are available in the UK, there’s enough on display that isn’t to make the trip worthwhile.

As an added bonus, there’s an Italian restaurant down the block called Peppy’s which served us a good lunch at a very reasonable price.



The leafy green head of a palm tree takes up most of the shot. In the background, a very blue sky and a white wall.

The view from our window: if you look up, palm trees against a blue sky; if you look down it’s boarded-up windows and a rubble-strewn courtyard. 

We’ve been in Miami for over 24 hours now, and have sampled several of its delights.

Warm weather
While a rarity in Britain, Miami seems to have sunshine in abundance. We’ve invested in a half-litre of factor 70 sun cream and will be approaching this unfamiliar substance with caution.

Sweet Tea
Ours isn’t the authentic, home-made kind as we bought it from Walgreens in a gallon jug. But it’s rather nice all the same – nicer than the fruit juice we’ve sampled, which is about as sweet.

Ice cream sundaes
We went to Ghiradelli’s soda fountain for lunch. Turns out they only do ice cream so that’s what we had. And it was delicious. With a cherry on top.

Donut Holes
Disappointing – like mini doughnuts, but powdery and a bit odd. But again, we bought them from a drug store, so perhaps not top quality.

American lemonade
It’s not fizzy! But very refreshing and less sugary without being tart. We had ours at the Victor, with a view of Ocean Drive and the sea.

Jellyfish stings
Better than I expected. It turns out that most jellyfish aren’t like the fatally poisonous ones which make headlines. Getting stung by one is about as bad as a wasp sting and is treated the same way: with vinegar. Next time, though, I’m going to try to avoid getting stung on the arse!

Part of the reason we came to Miami is because we’d seen it on TV in the totally excellent Burn Notice. This afternoon, we’re going to check out some of the locations used in the pilot episode – there are a bunch on Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road Mall, within walking distance of our hotel.

A pale grey concrete path stretches into the distance. On the left, palm trees and a white sand beach. On the right palm trees and grass. Overhead, a blue sky with puffy white clouds.This park between Ocean Drive and the beach isn’t one of the spots we’re looking for, but it sure is pretty. 

Continuity – free online game review

Continuity – free online game review

Screenshot of Continuity Level 3 showing three boxes with paths through them and a stick figure trying to get to a red door

Continuity is a free online game designed as part of a student project. The rules and interface are simple but the puzzles are challenging and interesting: I’ve played it all the way through twice. And started again when writing this review.

How it works
The goal is simple: get the stick figure to the door. And if the door is locked, get the key first. There aren’t even monsters or spikes to slow you down.

The puzzle is the path which you create as you go. Press space to switch from controlling your character to controlling the rooms and move them around with the arrows.

Why I like it
Continuity uses the otherworldliness of computer games to its advantage. You can walk right for twenty minutes by going through the same two tunnel pieces over and over. You can fall endlessly or step back through a door and find yourself in a different room to the one you left.

In this virtual world, the player is in control of the terrain, so the switches and inconsistencies which make playing certain labyrinth games I could name frustrating just make Continuity more interesting. You can see where you’re going – you just have to line up the rooms to walk through to get there.

It’s a small game, but it’s properly virtual: you can do things which are logically possible but real-world impossible such a freeze a character mid-jump then switch the ground out from under them (shown in the screen shot) or chop your character in half by standing in two rooms at once (this does not end well).

All in all, it’s a fun way to spend an hour or two and I definitely recommend it.

Time-suck rating
It’s compelling but only has 32 levels so the potential to lose a weekend is limited.