Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fibery Math

I've spent the past two days playing tourist, which shows that I am not as smart as the mathematicians who've spent the days locked up in a cozy hotel ballroom. It's cold, it's raining, and my feet are blue - although my Mountain Colors socks are more to blame for that than the cold.

I tried to take a look at the Capitol building, to see the Inaugural preparations. But this was as close as I wanted to get, walking through the rain, and as clear a view as I could get through the rain.

Even with the rain, this is the best view of the White House I've ever had. I think the cold left me absent-minded - I decided to walk from the wonderful Founding Farmers restaurant at 20th and Pennsylvania, to the Obama souvenir store at 15th and Pennsylvania, not realizing I'd pass anything interesting along the way until I stumbled across 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I must be the most absent-minted tourist in Washington.

Once there, I did clue in and realize something was going on - in part because this blocked my way. If I lived in this cold and rainy town, I'd be rather envious of the President-Elect's enclosed seating for the Inaugural Parade. I think it's a good measure of just how cold and wet I was that the "wow, this is cool" took a long time to sink in. But at least I had the presence of mind to get pictures.

It was much cozier inside the museums. I finally got to see the National Archives, which was incredible. Then I dropped by the newly-remodeled Museum of American History, to see the changes. Some things are the same, like the Nearly Naked George statue, when neoclassicism goes terribly wrong.

And there are some new things, like the Stephen Colbert portrait. I suspect the National Portrait Gallery's display was nicer, and I don't just say that because my friend works there. But I'm sure he helped make it nicer.

That's not a sock checking out the portrait; it's my Bellini Lace Shawl. It's been my first choice for on-the-go knitting in Washington, both because of its sentimental associations, and because I hope the wooden needles will slip past security checkpoints. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, back at the conference, there was knitting. Mathematical knitting. And crochet, and cross-stitch, and all sorts of other goodies. They had a whole special session on "Mathematics and the Fiber Arts" - how cool is that? Very cool, I assure you. didn't get it. The math, anyway - the whole knitting thing made perfect sense. It was probably the only time "i-cord" was the punchline of a math talk, so I got that part. And a lot of the things were cool.

They had a small display of mathematical fiber arts. I recognized some things from Ravelry, like the Celestine star. I'm not so sure about the other things here, but they're nifty. (I believe the things with the wiggly eyes are knots, sort of like the one that was running for President in Monday's debate.)

Other things led me to Ravelry pretty quickly, like Daina Taimina's crocheted Hyperbolic Plane, which I think is a teaching tool. She gave a talk about folding things to produce other things - so you can fold a two-holed torus (donut, for you non-math types) from an octagon, provided your octagon is made with 90-degree angles. Since they aren't usually like that, you have to crochet one. Makes perfect sense, right? No one would ever know that I'm about to marry a mathematician, would they?

The brightly-colored thing is a hexaflexacube, which was loads of fun to play with. It's based on a hexaflexagon, so there's nothing too weird there. Something mathematical that made perfect sense, and you can play with it. It's already earned a spot on my Ravelry queue.

I'm still working on my Moebius scarf, whenever I don't have to worry about having my metal needles confiscated. I can't wait to see what it looks like - and to make sure it's long enough to wear. I should have it finished in time for the Inauguration, which will be nice - and it will also be nice to not be standing out in this cold rain to watch it!


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