Dr. Mellow's Knitting Origin Story

I learned how to knit almost a year ago, in June of 2012, a few weeks after my daughter was born. Rorie was born at 30 weeks, two-and-a-half months early. She was a tiny baby -- two-and-a-half pounds -- and as a result of her premature birth, she spent five weeks in the NICU before she was able to come home.

Life in the NICU is often described as a roller coaster, in that it is full of ups and downs. Compared to the experiences many people have in the NICU, we were blessed with a relatively easy stay, but we did experience our share of setbacks, disappointment, anxiety, and all of the difficult emotions one encounters in a situation like this. We also experienced our share of milestones met, accomplishments, joy, pride, relief, and happy surprises.

One of the highlights that will always stick with me was one of the NICU happy surprises. One night while we were sitting by Rorie's isolette watching her sleep, one of the nurses came by with a handful of tiny hand-knitted hats. They were made and donated to the hospital by volunteers who do such things. The nurse gave us a few of the hats and went along the hall, distributing hats to the other families who were in the NICU. Those hats were such a welcome gift to us. Not only were they practical -- they helped Rorie regulate her own temperature when we were holding her outside of her isolette -- but they were also whimsical and fun. They were full of color and really did a lot to brighten the atmosphere whenever Rorie was wearing one of them.

As I looked at those hats, turning them over in my hand, I thought to myself that knitting hats like that was probably something I could learn how to do. I could almost see how the stitches were constructed, and I was sure that if I could get someone to show me how to knit, I would be able to make my own hats for Rorie. That was something I really wanted to do, because a lot of my time while she was in the NICU was spent feeling helpless and watching her sleep. I thought that if I could give her some hats, that would be something I could do to help.

I found a simple hat pattern online -- the Preemie Stocking Cap pattern from Lion Brand Yarn -- and convinced my mother-in-law to teach me the basic stitches I needed to know to knit it. My wife had knitted scarves in the past, so we had some yarn around the house, and I found a skein that would work for a hat. After a little tutorial from my mother-in-law, I was off to the races. Knit two, purl two, knit two, purl two.... Get all the way to the end, turn it around, and do it again. After a few rows, I had a respectable band of ribbing on my needles and switched to the main portion of the hat. Knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one.... Turn it around. Knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one.... Turn it around. Repeat. And so on. Soon enough, it was tall enough. What is this "knit two together" that the pattern talks about? A quick demonstration from my mother-in-law, and I was decreasing. Soon enough, I'm done, with a triangle-ish looking thing hanging from a few stitches on one needle, curling over on the sides. How do I sew it together? Once again, another quick demonstration from my mother-in-law, and I'm sewing the seam together then weaving in my ends.

Imagine my joy when I was holding in my hand a complete, finished, tiny hat, hand-made by me, just for my daughter.

It was a day or two before we got a chance to put the hat on her head. And when we did, it barely fit (that's a good thing -- she was growing quickly!), so she didn't get to wear it often before she completely outgrew it. But it really did make me very happy to look down at her in her isolette, wearing that hat. She seemed to like it, too.

After finishing that hat, I was definitely addicted. Knitting is a perfect NICU activity. As a parent, I spent a lot of time in the NICU, pretty much actively doing nothing. Knitting helped pass that time. And what fun it is when a completed project comes off the needles. I kept up my knitting when Rorie came home and expanded to things other than hats. I knitted booties (that she only got to wear once before growing out of them). I knitted her a small teddy bear. I knitted more hats. I knitted the cutest frog toy -- the body is stuffed with a tennis ball for added bounce and fun! I expanded my knitting audience to include hats for my wife and friends. I knitted geeky dishcloths for myself. I learned how to do simple lace work with a triangle shawl. I learned what blocking was, and how it magically makes something ugly look good. I dove into Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket -- and loved it. Recently, one of my friends had a premature baby, so I immediately knew to go to my needles and whip them up a whimsical hat. I'm currently working on a cardigan for Rorie, and my wife has already put in orders for sweaters for herself. She has a good time going into my Ravelry account and adding projects she wants me to do to my queue.

I've heard it said that knitting is good therapy. For me, it certainly is. I'm a software developer, and knitters are human computers. After a long day at the office, I love coming home, settling in my favorite chair, pulling out my needles and yarn, and getting a few more rows on whatever project I'm working on done. I can't knit fast enough -- there are so many projects I want to do, and just not enough time to do them. So I just keep adding them to my queue. Whenever I finish a project, I love going though my queue and picking out the next thing that is going to go on my needles.

So from one NICU Dad, on behalf of NICU parents everywhere, to anyone who has ever knit and donated an item to the hospital for preemies -- thank you. Thank you so very much. I know you probably never get to see the recipient of your gift, that you never get to know just how meaningful a gift it is. I want you to know what a great joy it was to our family when we received those hats. I'll never know who knitted them, so I can't thank them personally. And in addition to bringing us some joy during our NICU stay, receiving those hats turned me into a knitter.

We just celebrated Rorie's 1-year birthday and she's doing great. I pulled out the first hat I knitted for her almost a year ago and put it on her head to get a gauge of how far she's come.

It's really hard to believe that her head used to fit in that.

Greg Cohoon is a husband, father, knitter, worship leader, amateur theologian, musician, IT professional, amateur radio (ham) operator, geocacher, baseball fan, marathoner, novelist, and poet. He's drmellow on Ravelry and loves making new knitting friends.

"Dr. Mellow's Knitting Origin Story" originally appeared on the With Hook In Hand blog as "Meet Greg Cohoon; Husband, Father, Knitter".


Book Review: "The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn't"

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn'tThe No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suspect that the the essay that was the basis for this book was a better read than the full book. I absolutely love the premise and the fact that it is important to build civilized workplaces. It is absolutely true that the working world is full of assholes, which really tends to make things suck. But once you establish that, and give some high level advice on how to avoid it, how to get away from it, and how to recognize it in yourself, there's not a lot of need for something deeper.

I was particularly happy that the author chose to use the word "asshole" instead of something less offensive like "bully." He describes why he did that, and how it was an intentional, important choice. Using that word is more forceful than a less offensive word, and tends to make the ideas presented carry more weight. For organizations that implement the rule, they are more likely to be successful with it if they call it the "asshole rule." He does use that word a lot. I listened to the audiobook version (read by the author), and by the time it was over, it didn't even register when he said it. So maybe he overdid it some -- again, I think the shorter essay was probably a more appropriate treatment.

It's a good rule to enforce at work. It's a good thing to keep in mind when examining yourself, to make sure that you're not the asshole. And if your workplace doesn't enforce it, it's a good thing to recognize, and to take steps to move on to a workplace that does. Unless you work for Apple, maybe.

It was a good listen, but I wouldn't recommend spending any money to listen to or read it yourself. Borrow a copy from the library if you want. Or search the web for a number of blog posts (some by the author) about the subject, and you'll be fine.

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Congratulations To The Next US President!

At this point, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the next US President. Unfortunately, I don't know who that is. What is obvious, however, is that I will not receive enough write-in votes from my anti-DST campaign to be a factor, so I am respectfully conceding the 2012 election.

I extend a warm "thank you" to all of my supporters. Without your encouragement, running this grueling campaign singlehandedly would be excruciating. But knowing that you are out there, depending on me to be your voice, I toil onward. We shall not be silenced! We will have our day!

I will be back again in 2016, fighting for the same platform. Until then, I humbly offer my services to the next US President -- whomever that may be -- in the crusade against the tyranny that is DST.

DST: It's bad for your health, it's bad for our country.
flying monkey

Dr. Mellow's Guide To Voting

Every year since 2006, when I posted my first election guide, I try to do my best to inform the readers of my blog on the very important things to keep in mind when it's time to vote. This year is no different!

The US election is Tuesday. If you didn't know that, this guide is for you. Many places allow early voting, so you may have already voted. Is so, good for you! You're probably somewhat informed. You don't need this guide this year, but you may want to read it to keep in mind for future years.

The most important thing to remember when voting for President of the US is to vote for me! Just write me in. I have exactly one plank on my platform: the elimination of Daylight Saving Time. DST is evil, it is responsible for unnecessary deaths every years, and it must be destroyed. DST: It's bad for your health, it's bad for our country.

After voting for me, if you've got questions on how to vote in the other races, this guide is here to help. It's applicable for every jurisdiction. It might even be applicable internationally, but I make no guarantees about that.

So, here it is, my (slightly edited) original guide to voting:

Don't forget that in the US, Tuesday is Election Day. Make your voice be heard. Go vote. If you're an informed citizen and have already carefully chosen how you will vote, then I applaud you.

But what to do if you've made it all the way to Election Day and you haven't bothered to inform yourself about the issues and the candidates, or if you simply aren't sure how you should vote on a given issue or candidate? Then you're the person for whom I'm writing up this handy election guide.

First, don't worry if you're uninformed -- most Americans are completely uninformed, but that doesn't stop a lot some of them from voting! Why should you be any different? Such a small percentage of people come out to vote, anyway, so it keeps politicians on their toes when uninformed voters show up and vote in unpredictable ways. The important thing is to show up and vote.

If you can spare just a little bit of time to research the candidates, your vote will be much more effective. Now, when I say "research," I'm not talking about finding all the information about where a candidate stands on various issues. I'm not even talking about finding out what the party affiliation is for any candidate. All I'm talking about is determining which candidates are incumbents -- that is, which candidates are currently holding office. Once you determine that, be sure not to vote for any incumbents. I don't care how good you might think your current representative is, the fact is that all government stinks, at every level, and the easiest way to change that is get everyone who's currently in office out.

What if you don't want to do the research to determine who's the incumbent? That's OK, too -- you still have two different methods you can choose to systematically make an uninformed decision. The first method involves voting "party line" or "straight ticket" and is very popular. The idea is to decide which of the two major political parties you hate the most and to vote for candidates that belong to the other party. Personally, I don't see much difference between the Republicrats and the Democans, so I'm not really sure how to advise you on choosing which party to vote against. I'm told that one of the parties likes to raise taxes to make sure that everyone is poor and the other party likes to poison the environment. *shrug* I guess you could just flip a coin to determine which party to vote against if you wanted to. The second method you can use to systematically make an uninformed vote is to always vote against both major parties. There are lots of third-party candidates out there, and they're all equally as crazy, so you pretty much can't go wrong with them. The disadvantage of this technique is that not all races include third-party candidates, so you might have to resort to a different method of casting your vote.

Often, you have the opportunity for a complete wild-card vote -- the write-in option. This option allows you to cast your vote for someone who did not care enough about running for office to actually file any election-related material. Write-in candidates rarely win, but choosing to cast a write-in vote allows you to have a little fun -- you can write in your own name, or the name of one of your friends, for example. As a bonus, the election counters really get a kick out of keeping up with all of the various people who get written in, so if you decide to cast a write-in vote, you might just make some government worker's day a little brighter.

The other decision you might have to make is how to vote on bond issues. This one is easy -- always vote "NO" on any bond issue. The reason to always vote "NO" is because bond issues always result in raising your taxes. No one wants higher taxes, so no one should vote for a bond. Actually, there is an exception to this rule. The taxes that are affected by bond issues are property taxes, so if you don't own real estate (if you rent an apartment, e.g.), your taxes wouldn't be raised by bond issues passing, so it's OK to vote "YES" on a bond issue if you want -- since you're not paying property taxes, you don't care if they get raised. It's not like it affects your rent or anything.

OK, Dr. Mellow's Guide To Voting turned out to be a little more complicated than I thought it would when I started writing it. So if all of this is still too confusing or complicated, you can always just go vote randomly. Choose people who have funny sounding names. Make it so that the marks on your ballot are in pretty designs. Whatever works for you, just be sure to vote.

Or, you can stay home like most people are going to do today anyway.

The Glorious Return Of Standard Time

This is a (slightly edited) repost of a post that I made two years ago.

Thank the heavens we are finally back on Standard Time! The horror that it DST seems to run longer and longer each year. The preciousness that is Standard Time seems shorter and shorter with each passing year. Cherish the next several months knowing that Standard Time is the time God intended. Throughout history, there has only been one legitimate time to fiddle with your clocks: that is the event chronicled in the Bible, Joshua 10:1-15, where God stopped the sun in order for the Israelites to be able to have more time to fight and destroy the Amorites. OK, if the laws of nature are suspended, I can get behind changing your clock. But if we're asked to change our clocks as a hold over from when some greedy New York bankers wanted to be able to engage in arbitrage and take advantage of changing market prices between the European markets and the US markets, I simply can't get behind that.

DST is a lie, and remember that a lie agreed upon is not the truth.

DST kills. Read through my previous entries about DST to see proof about how deadly DST is.

For those of you who enjoyed your "extra" hour last night, go ahead and start preparing for when the government takes that hour right back away from you next spring.

Remember, when I'm elected president (vote for me on Tuesday!), I will eliminate this vile lie once and for all. It's time we stood up for what's right.

DST: It's bad for your health, it's bad for our country.

Book Review: "The Gods of Moab" by Stephen Mark Rainey

The Gods of MoabThe Gods of Moab by Stephen Mark Rainey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun read, the 2nd Stephen Mark Rainey book I've read. (The first being The Nightmare Frontier, which I also enjoyed.) This story focuses on a pair of couples out for an enjoyable New Year's Eve dinner and celebration. While at dinner, they meet an interesting stranger who sets events in motion for a horror-filled evening. Who will survive the night? What is this stuff about the Gods of Moab? Well, that's spoiler territory, so I'll steer clear.

One of the details I particularly enjoyed about the story was the use of hijacked smart phone technology to move the plot along a bit. It made it especially fun as a bridge between ancient culture and modern technology.

It's a quick read. Less than a dozen easily digestible chapters. I especially appreciated that, as I currently find myself with only tiny blocks of time to read. This fit the bill perfectly, letting me set it down and pick it up as my schedule demanded. But, after about 1/3 of the way through, I found it increasingly hard to set down. Fortunately, that worked well with my schedule.

I don't know much about Lovecraftian horror, but this is apparently a good example of it. After having read this, I will be exploring the genre further.

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Earth Standard Time

I'm catching up a little bit in my Google Reader. My go-to folder is "webcomics," and my favorite one is xkcd. The May 28, 2012 one is awesome. It's about "Earth Standard Time."

As with every xkcd, it's worth clicking through to the original site and hovering your mouse over the image in order to get the alt-text Easter Egg.

When I am elected President and eliminate DST, I will be working closely with Randall Munroe to help educate the public about time-related issues. He clearly has a good understand of the many complex underlying issues.

I think I can get behind Earth Standard Time.

Book Review: "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had my eye on this book for a little while, then I saw the movie and pushed it to the top of my reading list. This is a very cool book. Make no mistake, it's a baseball book, but it's also a business book. The book chronicles the real-life story of the Oakland Athletics' quest to field a winning team despite their tiny payroll. Impressively, the A's were highly successful because, under the management of Billy Beane, they were successful in purchasing players who were dramatically undervalued in the baseball market. This was largely possible because Beane quit paying as much attention to the traditional baseball offensive stats (notably, batting average) and started paying attention to on-base percentage. The tactics that the A's pioneered changed the way baseball is played, as more teams have started to adopt similar strategies.

I mentioned this is also a business book. It is, because it examines the business of baseball. It demonstrates what every business wants to do: be successful (however you define success) with the lowest possible cost. The main point the book makes about how to achieve that is to discover what the market undervalues and exploit it. It's a simple business principle, but one that is worth going back and being reminded of. Surprisingly, in baseball, as the A's were generating great success by using this method, they were laughed at and dismissed. It really did take a little while for the rest of baseball to catch on to what was happening, and in those few years, the A's were able to take advantage of their visionary strategy.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book, as true in "real life" as it is in baseball:
"Managers tend to pick a strategy that is least likely to fail rather than pick a strategy that is most efficient," said Palmer. "The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move."
One thing in particular that I enjoyed about this book is how the plot narrative was structured throughout the story. The book was more a case study than a plot-driven book, but there are several plot-like threads that run throughout: Beane struggling with his personal demons, the A's working to build a successful team, and the rise of the importance of different baseball statistics. The author skillfully wove all these themes together in a way that kept me engaged, providing a narrative framework that kept the reading from becoming dry.

If you love baseball, you need to read this book. If you don't love baseball, go see the movie instead.

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Book Review: "Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection: Book 1" by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Astonishing X-Men By Joss Whedon & John Cassaday Ultimate Collection - Book 1Astonishing X-Men By Joss Whedon & John Cassaday Ultimate Collection - Book 1 by Joss Whedon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book because I really wanted to read some stories that featured Beast. I asked my comic book store what they had, and they said there wasn't really anything currently on the shelves with Beast, but that I should take a look at what Joss Whedon and John Cassaday did in "Astonishing X-Men" and sold me a copy.

I love the serial nature of comic book reading, where issues often end in cliffhangers and you have to wait a month for the story continuation. But when the writing and art are as superb as contained in this run of "Astonishing X-Men," the waiting would become agonizing. That's why I love having twelve issues collected in one volume, comprising two main story arcs.

The main story thrust revolves around the creation of a "cure" for mutants. Understandably, this kicks off a huge ethical debate. If this is a "cure," are mutants "diseased"? Will the cure be optional or mandated? The conflict is framed universally, but explored on individual levels. Since I was specifically looking for a Beast story, this did not disappoint, as Hank struggled with whether or not he would take the cure if it proved to be viable. The X-Men titles, more so than other books, always seem to touch on weighty ethical issues as well as story lines revolving around acceptance and being different. As such, it's always a title that resonates with teens, going through the awkward stage of life. This collection of "Astonishing X-Men" delivers on that front as well.

The secondary story revolves around a new danger the X-Men are facing. Without delving into spoiler territory, I can mention that it flows directly from the "cure" story line and revolves around a situation that starts in the Danger Room. I enjoyed the "cure" story line more, but liked how the "danger" story line starts to set things up for further conflict. After getting to the end, I was anxious to read the next issue, so I will be hitting my comic book store up for Book 2 when I run by to pick up Wednesday's haul.

Oh, yeah, this collection also sees the reappearance of an X-Man believed to be dead. I didn't really see it coming, and loved how it played out.

A wonderful touch in this collection are the "extras" in the end of the book. The character design sketches that are common in these kinds of collections are here, and are nice to look at. What I particularly enjoyed were the pieces with creators Joss Whedon and John Cassady. For Joss, they included a series of email correspondence between Joss and the Marvel editorial team, giving a wink and a nod to some interesting insight into the creative process. For Cassady, they included an interview, where I was extra-thrilled to see they spent some time discussing the character design for Beast.

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Book Review: "Area 10" by Christos N. Gage and Chris Samnee

Area 10Area 10 by Christos N. Gage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of police procedural novels, but I used to watch a lot of cop shows on television. This was a really cool graphic novel, following an interesting serial murder case from partway through the investigation to the end. There were several well-placed plot twists, which helped keep the pacing particularly exciting.

The story is well-written, and the art is fantastic. I could look at Chris Samnee art all day long. His style of using a lot of dark and shadows really worked well with the tone of the story.

The main plot deals with a series of murders that include decapitation. As the investigation proceeds, the investigators learn that the murderer is also performing experiments on his victims. And it gets kinda weird. The main investigator has personal demons to wrestle with, and gets injured in the course of the investigation, which really complicates things.

I read this over the course of a couple of days, but it can easily be read in one sitting because it flows so well.

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