The Russians Used a Pencil

There’s a story that goes:

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 million developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300C*. When confronted with the same problem, the Russians used a pencil.

Even though this anecdote isn’t true (partly because of the problem of graphite dust in the space capsule), it points to the elegance and obviousness of using something pedstrian rather than a bloated Rube Goldberg-type solution.

Rube Goldberg could have worked for NASA.

I practice voluntary simplicity, which is how I can fund my life by teaching yoga so I can stay home all day designing knitwear. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad or any other iThingamabob (and its associated costs), so I don’t use any apps.

I do, however, know of several knitting apps—knitCompanionVogue Knitting iPhone App, JKnitBeeCount, etc. that enable you do such things as count rows, view charts, store patterns, take notes, keep track of yarn stash and needles, and advise you on the best snack to eat while knitting a lace snood. They’re mostly designed for usage on-the-go, but I knit and design at home. Plus, I’ve been knitting long enough to know how much yarn I need for a sweater, so I don’t need to consult an app if I stumble upon a sale at my LYS. And except for counting rows and viewing charts, I use Ravelry (free) for all the other stuff.

When it first came out, this Sirka™ counter made all the knit blog rounds.

Tracks three different counts AT THE SAME TIME (all caps theirs).

I appreciate the thought that went into its design, and I love that it’s analog, but it comes with a manual and video tutorials, which makes it twice-removed from obvious and pedestrian. Plus, it’s $20.49 + $2.49 shipping, so almost $23.00** for a dedicated device to do something that can be accomplished thusly:

Tracks as many counts as I need AT THE SAME TIME (all caps mine).

That’s Clover’s clicky analog Kacha-Kacha row counter [which isn’t absolutely necessary, but it speeds up my knitting (until I can learn to make tick marks with a pencil held between my toes)], some graph paper from a custom cabinet maker that I got for cheap at a thrift store, and a pencil. [Yes, it’s a mechanical pencil. (Graphite dust in my space capsule and all that.) And apparently, I like things that click.] Plus, I can use all three items for other things, like counting the number of times my redneck neighbor’s Doberman barks in the middle of the night and writing a note to them to please teach him that white-tail deer are not a threat to his safety.

When I use charts, which is often because I love cables and stranded colorwork, I make copies of them and pin them to a Lo-Ran Magnetic Board set against a music stand.

Pedestrianism at its best.

With this setup, I see the entire chart and can easily flip among multiple versions of a chart I’m testing for a new design. Can you do that with an app?

I’m not anti-technology. I own a computer and a netbook; my car has electric windows; I have a flip phone; my house has central heating and air conditioning; and I would save my Cuisinart in a fire. But I want technology to make my life simpler***, which is why when it comes to my knitting, I’ll always используйте карандаш.


 *Astronaut or not, if I’m in a 300C-degree environment, I’m not going to care if my pen works.

**With the right sale, I could buy a sweater’s worth of yarn for $23.

***I acknowledge that technology does enhance other people’s lives. My friend Angie uses an app on her iPhone to track her rows, because with two dogs, three kids, five cats, and a ferret, a Kacha-Kacha counter would get kachewed, kaclicked, or kahidden, and she’d never finish anything.

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