Friday, December 16, 2011

Knitting and the Binary Code

Here's a checklist to help you figure out if you are no longer in that sweet spot demographic of 18-35 years:
  • Some of your friends have reading glasses and you know you aren't too far behind.  Double points if you find yourself looking at the fancy colorful ones and find yourself thinking, "I will definitely be buying a beaded chain to match."
  • Your oldest child fingers your hair and says, "Momma, you have a A LOT of gray hairs."
  • Your learned to type...on a typewriter.
Mrs. Huebner, I would like to thank you for drilling us mercilessly that, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."  Because of you, I became a very good typist who never needs to look at my hands while typing.  Unfortunately, this may soon become an unmarketable skill as I now apparently need to only type with my thumbs into a keypad sized for Barbie and Skipper.

What happened?  I think I can pinpoint the day that it all began to change.  It was when my parents came home with our family's first computer.  It looked like this:

A Commodore 64, my friends.  And, no, the entry level did not come with a monitor.  Instead, it came ready to plug into this:

A Sony Trinitron TV complete with several dials and absolutely no remote control.  I wasn't fooled.  I knew that the Commodore 64 sans monitor was a joke.  I mean, if my parents were really serious about us having a computer, we would have had a keyboard that was attached to the monitor and they would have bought a modem that looked like this:

Given the set-up we had going in our house I wasn't too interested in computers.  I figured that I would leave the computer programming to the geeks. I, on the other hand, would happily continue to type my school papers with my dad's very fancy electric Olivetti.

Imagine my impatient intolerance when we seniors were introduced to a little something our teachers liked to call the "computer lab".  I remember that room well.  It was down by Mr. Shogren's (a perennial favorite as the psych teacher) office and I am pretty sure that it was windowless.  I seem to remember the lights being dimmed and the screens flickering with a special green light as we sat down to learn to write our papers using a computer language called "BASIC".  I hated it, of course, as most of us did.  I went through the motions of writing papers using this "language" but was only too happy to get back home to my dad's Olivetti and White Out.

There was one thing that fascinated me about computers, though: the binary code.  I was stunned when I found out that at its most elemental, computers run on configurations of two numerals, 1s and 0s.  What?!?!  That just blew me away.  I have never been able to comprehend how this could ever be...until I started knitting.  Mmmm hmmmm, knitting.  Before I began to knit I figured that there were untold numbers of stitches that a person needed to learn in order to be able to knit.  Not so.  Imagine my surprise when I was met with the binary code for the second time in my life.  Instead of numerical digits were the simple words: knit and purl.  Think about that.  If you can knit and purl you can knit pretty much any pattern out there. 

It sounds so simple.  In a way it is.  The simplicity takes a dive, however, when a knitter is faced with a complex pattern.  This is especially true when a knitter has ADD (ahem, just clearing my throat).  I have glanced at directions to some intricately beautiful patterns and felt my brain fold like punched dough.  And yet, at the core, it all comes down to knit and purl.  Knit and purl.  Zero and one.  Zero and one.  The only variable is the sequence.

This was forcefully brought to my attention when giving it a go at the seed stitch.  After learning the garter stitch (straight on knit stitch) and then stockinette stitch (one row of knit followed by one row of purl) I was ready to tackle the seed stitch (knit one, purl one, alternating stitches).  I compared the directions in two different books.  One of them gave the unenlightening directive to, "knit the stitch as it appears."  Well, thank you very much, Knitting Author, I'll do just that.  After a few rows I said to Husband Jim, "this doesn't look right."  (I have to add at this point that regarding knitting, whenever I express any emotion on the scale of annoyance (1) to horror (10) Jim becomes instantly uptight because there is absolutely nothing he can do to help me resolve the problem.)  A few more rows of "this really doesn't look right at all".  And then, "Is this...are you kidding I RIBBING???"  Yep, I sure was.  Apparently, I didn't know what it meant to knit the stitch as it appeared (I still don't).  I grabbed my book, read the directions again and thought, "well, why don't I try ribbing based on my understanding of this gibberish and see what I get?".  I guess it is a foregone conclusion that while attempting to rib, I accomplished a very nice seed stitch.  How did this happen?  Do you really want to know?  It happened because my sequence was one stitch off.  Just one.

That night when my knitting pulled a Freaky Friday it occurred to me that I could be in for a long haul as I trek toward becoming an experienced and skilled knitter.  Binarilly speaking, I have been hunting and pecking on a Commodore 64 keyboard.  Knitting a fair isle sweater would be the equivalent of building a Cray computer.  I guess I wasn't kidding in my byline. This really could take awhile.    

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