Category Archives: life

Learned how to replace a zipper

One of W-‘s winter jackets had a zipper that started to separate at the bottom. In retrospect, I should’ve tried squeezing the slider with pliers to see if that simple fix would take care of it. Then again, W- had probably already tried that before checking out zipper replacement tutorials on Youtube. Besides, replacing the zipper would also let us swap out the coil zipper for a plastic molded zipper (or what YKK calls Vislon zippers), which W- wanted.

There’s a tailor near us that charges $1/inch for replacing zippers, but I figured I’d give it a shot first. Free opportunity to learn a potentially useful skill, after all. I used a seam ripper to open the zipper-related seams. One of the sides came apart pretty quickly, but the other side required reaching through the lining of the jacket in order to loosen a few stitches before I could cut the rest of the threads.

Since I had the lining open anyway, I figured it was a good time to unpick the over-zipper flap’s hook-and-loop tape segments so that I could replace them with snaps. (Velcro is not a good idea when you have three cats.)

Yesterday I went on a long walk downtown to pick up supplies, since the fabric warehouse near us didn’t have the zippers or snaps I was looking for. I wasn’t sure what length to get and I forgot to bring the old zipper along, so I bought a 24″ zipper and a 26″ zipper from Fabricland – both one-way separating locking plastic moulded zippers. I bought rust-resistant snaps from a small store on Queen Street near Spadina.

I spent most of today learning how to replace the zipper. I took the time to baste both sides, which worked out well. I was a little concerned about the holes for the bottom snaps letting in wind and water, so I hand-sewed some polyurethane film behind the bottom snaps to catch some of that. My machine-stitching was a little wobbly because of the thickness, and there were parts I still needed to hand-stitch with the help of a thimble. Maybe next time I might hand-stitch the whole thing so that I can line things up better. The underside of my machine-stitched zipper wandered a bit. Still, I’m sure W- won’t mind!

Sewing the zipper and installing the snaps took me about five hours, but I’m sure that will get faster with practice. It was good to see things take shape, and the time passed quickly enough with Youtube videos in the background. I might take future zippers to the tailor if I’m pressed for time. Today, though, it was good to cross off another unexpected addition to my bucket list. =)

Pattern-making: Generating SVGs for sewing with Python and tmtp

I like sewing simple clothes, and I’d like to be able to continue doing that even as measurements change without having to rely on commercial patterns that would need to be manually adjusted anyway. I also want to experiment with computer-assisted cutting, like the way the laser cutter at made it super-easy to precisely cut the same top in different fabrics.

In sewing, there’s the idea of drafting a pattern based on a set of measurements and a few calculations. You could do this with a large roll of paper, a ruler, and some way to draw a smooth curve (French curves, hip curves, or even tracing around the edge of a plate). There are software programs to do this as well, but the commercial ones tend to cost a lot if you want one that automatically drafts the rest of the pattern based on your measurements. Still, you can translate the manual instructions to digital form by drawing the appropriate lines and curves in a vector drawing program such as Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator.

While researching open source options for pattern-making, I came across Tau Meta Tau Physica (tmtp). At its core, it’s a Python script that produces an SVG based on a programmed pattern and a set of measurements. With a little fiddling (downgraded pySVG, fixed some case sensitivity issues), I got it working on my system.

Both documentation and actual code samples were pretty sparse, but I figured out the basics by reading the library code and the test patterns. I spent the day working on translating some of the basic patterns from Cal Patch’s book Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Pattern Making Simplified. So far, I’ve put together plausible-looking replicas of the A-line skirt and the basic shirt.

One of the nifty things about writing programs to draft patterns is that I can use the library functions to calculate the lengths of the cubic Bezier curves I’m using for necklines and armholes. This is handy when calculating collar length or adjusting sleeve caps. In particular, it’s neat to be able to use a loop to adjust the sleeve cap by offsetting the bicep point, although I’ll probably tweak the algorithm because it might be good to balance that with other ways to adjust that sleeve cap length.

I still haven’t tested the patterns, though, and I’m not even sure I’m collecting all these measurements correctly. At some point, I’ll print them out and sew a muslin yet. It would be good to test the sleeve cap. But the patterns look reasonable, so that’s a start.

Here are some screenshots based on my current measurements, and some links to the patterns on Github:

A-line skirt: My default measurements have this skirt sitting at my natural waist, although I’ll probably drop the waistline a bit lower before sewing it.

2015-09-29 20_57_39-foo.svg

Basic shirt: Totally untested. Would be interesting to see if this sleeve actually works, or what needs tweaking.

2015-09-29 20_59_55-_foo.svg - Inkscape

I’ll work on encoding the Burda bodice block, and then I can use that to sanity-check the shirt. Then there’s figuring out poster printing, taping up the pattern, and trying it out. Looks promising, though! I’m still boggled that the math I did for squaring lines seems to actually work. Now if only I can figure out proper seam allowance calculations instead of leaving that as a post-processing step in Inkscape or on paper…

My Github fork of tmtp

Bubble tea and tapioca pearls

We’ve been on a bubble tea kick at home, inspired by Peaceful Cuisine’s video.

Well, W- and J- have been having bubble tea. I’ve been enjoying my allotment of tapioca pearls in ginataan along with some bilo bilo (glutinous rice flour dumplings). Yum.

The only supermarket that carries tapioca pearls near us is a short drive or a 40-minute walk away. While browsing through the bulk food store that’s closer to us, W- discovered that they carry tapioca starch. It turns out that all you need to do is add 1/3 cup of boiling water to 1 cup of tapioca starch, knead it until it’s a smooth dough, and make whatever shapes you like. Here’s the video I picked up the instructions from:

A package of tapioca pearls is $2.39 for 250g, or $9.56/kg. The store-bought pearls contain food colouring and other additives. Tapioca starch was on sale today at $2.78/kg, and the regular price is $3.27/kg. Kneading the tapioca dough and rolling it into small spheres was fun and relaxing, so even the labour is worth it. Besides, it’s nice to know that even if I’m not near an Asian supermarket, I can make these little treats.

2015-09-26 19.09.29 2015-09-26 19.08.58

The bulk food store also carries soy milk powder, so we were joking about stocking up. That way, in an emergency situation, we can still have bubble tea. Bwahaha!

Hmm. Now I’m tempted to experiment with making soy milk from soybeans – these instructions look pretty straightforward…

Making things around the house

After what felt like a couple of months of brain fog, I’m slowly starting to feel more like myself again.

We finished two major house TODOs: basement tiling and bathtub reglazing. W- spent a long time grinding the uneven basement into some semblance of plane. He wanted to keep the slope for drainage, so self-leveling cement wasn’t a good fit for us. Anyway, once that was sorted out, I helped W- tile the laundry area and bathroom in the basement. Between Youtube and various DIY/contractor forums, we figured out what to do with our floor. It feels really nice and solid now, and we’ve been able to move the laundry machines in. W- also painted and reinstalled the fixtures in the basement bathroom, and we managed to pull everything together a day before the deadline set by our bathtub reglazing appointment. The contractors for that one needed to block off the upstairs bathroom for two days, so it was good that we managed to get the backup bathroom online!

Anyway, it’s been great being able to do laundry at home again. We’d been taking must-wash items to a nearby laundromat, but the rest of the lower-priority things had been piling up. Not only did I go through quite a few loads, I was able to finally pre-wash the fabric I’d bought for some sewing experiments. Once I set up the sewing machine and serger on my desk downstairs, I got to work on converting a thrifted bedsheet into a long drawstring skirt, and on making various small necessities with the cotton flannelette that I’d bought a few weeks ago.

In other news, the recent Emacs Conf was tons of fun. I’ve downloaded the Twitch videos and will start splitting them up into individual presentations. If the on-site organizers figure out a good way to send me the backup videos they took, I’ll splice in some of those shots to help set the stage and compensate for technical difficulties.

We still have a bit more to do downstairs, such as figuring out how to transition between cut-slightly-too-short carpet on an uneven floor and the much more even tile. The carpet’s higher than the tile, and it looks like most carpet-to-tile transitions assume the opposite. The carpet doesn’t seem quite long enough to stretch, either. Ah well. It’s held down by duct tape at the moment, which is classic in its own way.

Once the basement and the bathroom are sorted out, we’ll finally get to clear out the stuff that we’d temporarily moved into the living room. It’ll be nice to let that space breathe again.

I’m also looking forward to organizing my fabric stash and turning some of them into projects. I’d like to pick up some more fabric for projects, too. I still find sewing frustrating from time to time – especially when I try to go faster than I can – but I feel it slowly becoming something enjoyable in its own right. I like exploring the patterns and textures. I love making simple, ordinary things, since that means I get to enjoy a little extra infusion of memory and satisfaction in my everyday life.

In terms of tech, I’m glad I’ve been able to continue consulting throughout this. I find programming easy to do when it’s more like a conversation with other people, figuring out what they want and adapting the tools to them. When I’m fuzzy-brained, it’s difficult to come up with something on my own. I look forward to dusting off my Emacs configuration and exploring the neat ideas I picked up from the conference, though, and writing more blog posts about what I find.

I’m also looking forward to blogging more often, and to moving my weekly review back to the weekends instead of letting it creep to the following Friday. =) I’m sure that as I get back into various interests, I’ll be overflowing with notes to write and share. Someday I might even respond to the e-mails languishing in my inbox.

So that’s what life has been like for the past couple of weeks or so. Onward!

Thoughts about time

A friend sent me a link to “Your Life in Weeks”, which got me thinking about my changing attitude towards time and ambition. Here were the key points I picked up from the blog post:

  • It’s good to be aware of the passage of time and how limited it is.
  • Measuring your life against famous people’s accomplishments or lifetimes can be eye-opening.
  • You should ideally spend your time doing things that improve your future or the lives of others and that you enjoy. Utility without pleasure or pleasure without utility is okay but not great. Don’t waste your time doing things that are neither useful nor pleasant.
  • Every week can be a fresh start.

I agree with some aspects of these points. I can remember being the sort of person who agreed more, and that’s interesting for me – tracking the changes in my attitude towards time.

2015-07-27a Thinking about time and role models -- index card #time

2015-07-27a Thinking about time and role models – index card #time

I can remember a time when I kept an eye out for the milestones by which other people had achieved a lot: the youngest people who did X/Y/Z, the lists of thirty under thirty, the stats in math and physics of early achievement and momentum.

I moved on from that in my late teens or so, when I realized people used stories like that to beat themselves up, give up, or push themselves to an unhealthy pace. I wanted to find something to tell people who told me, “Wow, you’re so young and you’re already good at computers! I could never do something like that.” For myself, I saw the kinds of lives people sketched out for people who had “high potential,” and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted them. Instead of those stories of young CEOs and world-changers, I resonated more with attention to those who continued achieving later in life, or even started late, like Grandma Moses taking up painting at 78. I liked the stories those lives could help me tell to people who felt they missed the boat. I liked the stories of deep interest, like Isaac Asimov’s decades of writing, and how those stories illuminated the possibilities. I liked examples of older people continuing to engage, like Benjamin Zander.

The books and magazines and newspapers I read were filled with stories of mainstream success, but I found myself more curious about people who had thoughtfully explored alternatives. I liked discussions of frugality and deliberate consumption more than luxury and excess. I liked communities around lifelong learning, experimentation, and early retirement.

2015-07-24a How do I want to feel about time -- index card #time #pace

2015-07-24a How do I want to feel about time – index card #time #pace

One of the things I picked up from looking at other people’s lives was the possibility that you could feel time as abundant instead of scarce – not so plentiful as to be wasted, but enough for the important things in life. Life didn’t have to be a rat race or a hurried rush from one thing or another. I didn’t have to do everything. I didn’t have to have it all. I could do what I can and enjoy where I was.

Still, I was curious about acceleration. I periodically experimented with the productivity techniques that other people liked: making lists of goals, plotting out timelines, looking for ways to accelerate. I found that committing to an artificial deadline or target date to a goal didn’t really resonate with me. I decided not to be my own taskmaster, trusting instead in my shifting evaluations and priorities. I’m nowhere near where my far-past self might have guessed I’d be, but I like where I am. I’m somewhere my far-past self couldn’t even have imagined.

I hadn’t come across Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life until a few years ago, but when I did, I found it in things that I had come to believe about my own life. “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

What does it mean to invest it well, though? I remember occasionally measuring my life against the estimate of my remaining days, tallying up what I had done and what I wanted to do. I felt the passing of time in the days and the months. I remember observing the differences in familiar people and in the world around me: my parents’ graying hair, my friends’ lifestages, the shifts in technologies. Back to the tick-tock. I think one of the reasons I’ve found it so easy to keep a weekly/monthly/yearly review (and now a daily journal) is that I don’t want to wake up one day and wonder where all those years went, as people often do.

Something has shifted in my perspective, though. I’m not sure what caused it. Maybe philosophy has helped me let go of the worry about making sure I live a life of great significance. I don’t need to be in history books. I can focus on living life well, and other people can decide how much they want to take from it. Maybe this equanimity had something to do with the day-to-day focus of my current phase. These days, I’m mostly focused on being when I am – not trying to fast-forward or rewind, but rather seeing and making the most of now.

I still want to make something of my life. I want to leave behind notes, tools, and ideas that will make it easier for other people to go a little farther or a little faster. I’ve felt that way for as long as I can remember. It feels a little different now, though. Instead of worrying that I’ll fail or that I’ll choose the wrong path, I know I can keep building and exploring, and that the benefits will grow and grow.

Pleasure and utility

A friend mentioned that the Venn diagram in “Your Life in Weeks” resonated with him. The diagram focused on the intersection of what you enjoy and what builds your future: try to spend your time on activities that do both; one or the other is okay, but if something doesn’t address either of those, you should probably stop doing it.

While reflecting on the diagram, I realized that I prefer an X-Y chart instead. It reminds me that there’s a mix of pleasure and subjective utility in everything I do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t choose to do it. Pleasure and utility vary by activity, and even for a particular activity, they may vary based on factors such as time or energy. There are no hard cut-offs or fixed measurements. I can adjust things up or down with attention, too.

2015-07-25a Pleasure and utility -- index card #choice #utility #pleasure #time

2015-07-25a Pleasure and utility – index card #choice #utility #pleasure #time

For example:

  • I can increase my actual utility by double-checking subjective utility against what actually happened (decision reviews, etc.).
  • I can increase my subjective utility by thinking about what I could get out of an activity. For example, co-op gaming turns out to be a fun way to spend time with W- and practise managing small stresses.
  • I can break an activity down into the things I enjoy or find useful about it, and find similar activities that might be more enjoyable or more useful.
  • I can increase the pleasure I get from a useful activity by focusing on different factors
  • I can decrease the pleasure I get from an activity by focusing on the opportunity cost or thinking about what I enjoy about other activities.

Here’s where a few of my current activities are on this chart:

2015-07-25b Utility and pleasure - activities -- index card #utility #pleasure #time

2015-07-25b Utility and pleasure – activities – index card #utility #pleasure #time

This reminds me a little of my reflection on leisure activities (noble, advantageous, or pleasant, following Aristotle’s distinctions). It might be useful to analyze utility (noble/advantageous) and pleasure with the extra dimension of energy/effort.

While the sweet spot of high utility and high pleasure (for me: prototyping and learning) is fun to be in, I also like spending time outside that intersection. It’s not all about “Hell, yeah! or No”. Experimenting with things that make me feel awkward or mediocre might lead to discovering an activity that I enjoy or find really useful.

Lately, I’ve been giving myself permission to focus on things I enjoy, even if they aren’t particularly useful – like playing video games in the middle of the day. At the same time, I’ve also let go of the desire to enjoy everything. Some activities are not pleasant, but they’re necessary. Even as I get through them, though, I’m happy about my growing ability to get through them. I might be annoyed for a few minutes, but I’m happy about the decisions of my past self and the results that I anticipate for my future self. I’m learning to enjoy adapting to my circumstances, even as I know those circumstances will change.

2015-07-27b Pleasure and satisfaction -- index card #pleasure #philosophy

2015-07-27b Pleasure and satisfaction – index card #pleasure #philosophy

I like being able to step back and think about what I do, why I do it, and how I feel about that. Because I can influence how I feel about something, I can change why I do it, and even what I do. Through little nudges here and there, I want to make things that are good for me both easy and fun. If I can’t, I want to make them extra-useful and satisfying.