Theses on Binge Eating

16 June, 2015

A random assortment of things I have learned in course of the struggle with my inner Cookie Monster.*

  1. Don’t “go on a diet”. Eat three good-sized meals a day.
    • Don’t skip breakfast. Or lunch.
    • Eat good food. Tasty. Varied. Plenty veggies.
    • Control your portions. Ask the advice of someone you trust, if you don’t feel confident in judging a “good” portion.
  2. Delay your gratification. The food will still be there in ten minutes. Your cravings may not be.
    • You just need to get through the next ten minutes, the next hour, the next day. The weeks and months will take care of themselves.
  3. Enjoy your cravings. Turn them into food-themed daydreams. A fantasy of eating has no negative health consequences.
  4. As you bring your eating under control, you will feel empty, anxious, bereft. This will pass. In a few months time, someone will serve you the sort of meal you used to eat every day and you will think, “that’s too much food!”.
  5. Sometimes, you will find yourself on a binge. This does not mean you’ve failed. You can’t expect the road to be smooth – you’ve just hit a pothole.
  6. Just because you binged yesterday, does not mean you have to today.
  7. Try to accept support. Find an eating disorder support group. Find someone you can trust. Admit to them that you have a problem.
    • Hugs and Cuddles are good. If you can get them.
  8. Start positive change wherever you can. Controlling eating was more challenging for me than getting more exercise. But exercise helps with stress and depression, which helps with the urge to binge…
  9. Do things which are less compatible with snacking. It’s too easy to watch TV with one hand in a bag of something. Read, crochet, play an instrument, keep your hands busy (wouldn’t want to get grease over my books, would I?).
  10. Never eat out of the packet or the pan, or at the kitchen counter. Get a reasonable plate or bowl of whatever, put the rest away, and go sit down.
  11. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others. Many of us find it harder to be as compassionate to ourselves as we would be to someone else. What would you say to you if you weren’t you?


Reversible Easter chick – crochet pattern

16 March, 2014

My mother sent me a pic, and asked me if I could make some of these for Easter…

Reversible chick amigurumi

This is the pattern I’ve come up with – feel free to use and adapt it. I’m already thinking of a few variations (would make a good penguin, methinks) – if you come up with any interesting ones, or improvements, I’d love to hear.


  • Body: 4-ply yarn – light yellow
  • Shell: 4-ply yarn  – white through to light brown
  • Beak and feet – small amount of 4-ply yarn – orange
  • Small safety eyes x 2
  • 2.5mm or 3mm crochet hook
  • Tapestry needle

The yarn I’m using for body and shell is Regia “4-fädig” sock wool – a wool/nylon mix that has a little stretch in it. I haven’t worked out exactly how much yarn is needed for each chick, but one 50g ball of body colour should do you for 3 or 4 (and less is needed of the other colours). NB it is very important that both body and shell are worked in yarn of the same weight (I recommend using the same brand), as otherwise they will end up being different sizes. The orange yarn I used for the chick in the pictures is really a little too heavy, as I was having trouble finding proper 4-ply in the right colour (I may try going lighter at some point, and doing beak and feet in embroidery thread).

I’m using a 3mm hook, but I do tend to crochet tight and others may prefer a slightly smaller one. The chick does not want to be crocheted as tightly as most amigurumi, though, as otherwise it can be difficult to get her to come out of her shell.

Body and Shell (make 1 in each colour)

Work in single (US) / double (UK) crochet throughout, and join each round with a slip stitch.

1. 6 stitches into magic ring (6)
2. 2 stitches into each stitch round (12)
3. 1 stitch into first 3, 2 into next, repeat round (15)
4. 1 stitch into first 4, 2 into next, repeat round (18)
5. 1 stitch into first 5, 2 into next, repeat round (21)
6. 1 stitch into first 6, 2 into next, repeat round (24)
7. 1 stitch into first 7, 2 into next, repeat round (27)
8. 1 stitch into first 8, 2 into next, repeat round (30)
9. 1 stitch into first 9, 2 into next, repeat round (33)
10. 1 stitch into first 10, 2 into next, repeat round (36)
11 – 18. 1 stitch into each round (36)
19. 1 stitch into first 4, decrease over next 2 (30)
20. 1 stitch into first 3, decrease over next 2 (24)

Finish off, leaving a long tail for joining (at least 30 cm)


1. 6 stitches into magic ring (6)
2. 2 stitches into each round (12)
3. 1 stitch into first 2, 2 into next, repeat round (16)
4. 1 stitch into first 3, 2 into next, repeat round (20)
5. 1 stitch into first 4, 2 into next, repeat round (24)
6 – 10. 1 stitch into each round (24)
11. 1 stitch into first 2, decrease over next 2, repeat round (18)
11a. place eyes, start to stuff head (push a small amount of stuffing in above the eye stems first, to avoid a “bug-eyed” look).
12. 1 stitch into first, decrease over next 2, repeat round (12)
Finish off, leaving a tail for joining. Stuff the rest of head (fairly loosely)


1. 6 stitches into magic ring (6)
2. 1 stitch into first, 2 into next, repeat round (9)
3. 1 stitch into first 2, 2 into next, repeat round (12)
4. 1 stitch into first 3, 2 into next, repeat round (15)
5 – 10. 1 stitch into each round (15)
11. 1 stitch into first 3, decrease over next 2, repeat round (12)
12. 1 stitch into first 6
Finish off, leaving a tail for joining.


1. 3 stitches into magic ring (3) – not too tight, or the next round gets very difficult
2. 2 stitches into each round (6)
3. 1 stitch into first, 2 into next, repeat round (9)
Finish off, leaving a tail for joining.


1. 6 stitches into magic ring (6)2. 2 stitches into each round (12)3 – 4. 1 stitch into each round (12)Finish off, leaving a tail for joining

Making up

Body and shell:

The next one I make, I will try to remember to get some photos of this part of making up

Turn shell inside out, pull end from magic ring through, and sew through to make a loop on the inside of the apex, tie off end to secure. Pull end from magic ring through body, and sew through this loop, so body and shell are joined on the inside at the apex (without having sewed through either using the opposite colour).

Pull the shell over the body and line up the edges. Using the long tails you left, crochet the edges together – start by pulling a loop of shell colour through the first stitch on the shell. Now, pull a loop of body colour through the first stitch on the body, so that you have 2 loops on the hook, and  pull a loop of shell colour through the same stitch on the shell, and through both loops on the hook, so you are left with 1 stitch of shell colour on hook. Continue to work in this fashion into each stitch round. NB do not stitch too tight, and stretch out the edges ever 2 or 3 stitches, so that the opening retains some stretchiness.

Reverse the piece, so that the body colour is outwards.

Head and beak

Tidy away end from magic ring. Position against body (lining up seams at back), and sew through final row around, using tail (take care not to sew through shell). Pull end from magic ring through, and stuff into beak. Position on face and sew through using tail.


Tidy the end from the magic ring (pull through, and stuff into foot). Squash the feet so that they make a double-layered semicircle, and sew through both layers onto the bottom row of the body.


Flatten the wing, with the six stitches from the final half-row all on one side, and use the end from the magic ring to put a few tacks through to keep flat. Tidy away. Position with the final half-row on top, and stitch through “shoulder” using the the tail, then lift wing and stitch “armpit” to body.

Learning out of place and time

27 February, 2013

The tensions in the course have been between technology as dehumanising or allowing us to create a new humanity, visions of futures in which it is used to control us or offers the opportunities of greater freedom. And I have to say, overall I am on the pro-technology end of these dilemmas. Without the internet, it just would not be possible for a team of educators in Edinburgh to offer a course to students in Nova Scotia, Romania, Spain, Canton, New Mexico, Argentian, Greece, Denmark, and to interact with those students in real time. A face-to-face seminar might be a more intense and intimate experience than a Twitter, but if I missed the seminar, I would have to rely on the (perhaps faulty) memories of my  classmates, not be able to review the conversations myself. Unless (perhaps) someone had thought to video it:

But then, this relies on the use of technology. Which brings me to the main part of my artefact. One of the most striking things about the #edcmooc course has been the interaction beyond the Coursera site. There have been active communities on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, perhaps elsewhere. And, as the course has progressed, it is in the Twitter periphery that I have engaged most actively. This is a distinct contrast to the Cryptography course I had completed previously.

It occurred to me that it would be interesting (and perhaps useful) to archive these tweets. As the course started, the Twitter search API only gave access to Tweets for the past week. Unaware that other people had had the same idea, I started creating a twitter archiving solution on some web space I rent:

Chart of #edcmooc tweets

Requiring no manual intervention, once it had been set up, this technology tirelessly harvested the results for the searches I had given it. Over the past five-and-a-half weeks, the archive has gathered more than 15,000 tweets in the main edcmooc archive, and over 8,000 for the twitter chats – 22,000+ individual tweets* in all, by 3,000+ participants.

Chart of #edcmchat tweets for 23/02/2013

Faced with a course on such an overwhelming scale, it is still possible to form into smaller, more “human-sized” groups. I decided early on that I could not cope with course interaction on more than one social-networking site. Looking more closely at the figures reveals a core group of participants on twitter – out of these 3,000+ users, only a little over 300 contributed more than 10 tweets, and less than 40 contributed over 100, and many of the Twitter usernames became very familiar to me.

In an early course team blog post, Christine Sinclair alluded to a similar issue for the instructors. Just as it took time to learn “how to be” as a student on the course, Christine wrote  “It takes time to work out ‘how to be’ as a lecturer too, when the configuration changes and the teaching repertoire has to be adjusted or supplemented.”

Technology, though, can help. Just as it allows interaction on this scale, so it can bring ways of managing that interaction, and getting an overview of it. My archiving tool was one attempt to do this. Others used ways of analysing the conversations to produce results that are quite beautiful.

Visualisation of Twitter #edcmchat from 23/2/2013

When I started writing my archiving software, one of the drivers behind it was that Twitter only returned search results from the last week. However, a recent update to their API has meant that it is now possible to get search results much older than this, reducing the need for external archives. Things move on.

I have placed the software I used to build the archive under the GNU General Public Licence, and it is available on Github if you would like to check it out.

* Some tweets ended up in both archives.

Libraries and MOOCs

12 February, 2013

I recently attended Library Camp Sheffield. During a session on developing information literacy, the subject of massively open online courses came up, which set me wondering what opportunities these offer for libraries (and particularly public libraries).

Libraries already offer a valuable information and learning resource in the heart of may communities. They provide internet access for people who don’t have a broadband connection at home, and offer a range of learning sessions. Many of these sessions will focus on basic, essential, skills (such as searching the internet or email use) as well as topics like local and family history. MOOCs, however, could enable these sessions to be widened.

Through online platforms such as Udacity, Coursera and P2PU, learners can access specialist instruction in a wide range of courses. The drawback is a lack of one-to-one support, and (for some) access to the computing resources needed to participate. Could libraries fill this gap?

It might be difficult for community libraries to provide subject-specific support in a range of courses which could range from computer science, to genetics, history and physics. However, the library could bring people together, offering space and resources, while the staff play a facilitative role. Obviously, the “student experience” would not be the same as for university students attending seminars led by tutors with high-level qualifications in the relevant subject. However, the opportunity to “attend” online lectures together, with peer support and encouragement, and to discuss the material face-to-face as well as online, could enhance the learning experience. In any such group, there will be some who find the concepts easier than others. These students could act as peer mentors to those who are finding more difficulty.

With this in mind, I was excited to come across an event that OCLC is running on 18-19 March (which will be broadcast live online):

Moocs and Libraries: Massive opportunities or overwhelming challenges

Looking at the outline programme, it engages with some of the challenges for MOOCs, such as “the challenges for licensing and clearing copyright for materials used in courses”. However, it does look like it is focused on academic settings – I hope there will be some consideration of public libraries.

This, of course, is another reason to defend our libraries from closure.

Learning on a local and global scale

30 January, 2013

This is the first week of a new MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on, E-learning and Digital Cultures (edcmooc) organised by the team who run the MSc on E-learning and distance education at the University of Edinburgh. So far the experience has been stimulating, exciting and just a little overwhelming.

This is also, though, a bit of an experiment in blending online and face-to-face learning. As well as participating online alongside the 40,000 who are enrolled, four of us from my small university will be doing the course together. We are from different departments, and have different roles (lecturing, admissions and widening participation, and IT). Many claims are being made about MOOCs, but they are certainly something with which traditional universities are going to have to engage.

I recently completed another course on the site, Cryptography I designed by Dan Boneh of Stanford. That was an excellent course, very structured with video lectures and regular problem sets and programming assignments. It had active user forums, and encouraged active learning, but was very instructor-led (appropriately, for the subject material), and confined to the Coursera site. Edcmooc is different.

The course started before the course started, with activity on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Last Saturday, there was a Twitter chat (#edcmchat) with more than 130 users and over 1,100 tweets sent in an hour. more than 3,600 tweets have now been sent using the course hashtag #edcmooc. I have now given up any attempt to keep up with activity on the other social networking sites, but my email account was being swamped by notifications from the course’s Google+ community, before I turned these off.

On the site, the experience is also different. The course leaders have provided links to online articles and videos illustrating and exploring the main themes (Utopias and Dystopias for the first two weeks, then on to the experience of being human and posthuman). But there are no quizzes, no problem sets. Instead, the instructors kick off discussion, and intervene occasionally. The feel is more virtual unconference than virtual lecture theatre, with participants expected to organise their own learning. Instead of an exam at the end, we are expected to produce a “digital artefact” relevant to some of the themes of the course, and make it available online.

The course overall does feel like a bit of an experiment in ways of doing learning, and inevitably there are some people who “get” it and others who do not. But it is an interesting and worthwhile experiment, I think.