Blog: November 2008

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Notes on the digitizing-music project

Notes to self (and any interested onlookers) on technology, processes, and playback options:

We are using this pre-amp to connect a turntable and cassette deck to a computer. Their web site is full of cheesy hype, but the hardware and bundled software deliver. We've been able to get pretty clean recordings from less-than-clean sources. It can't work miracles, but it's doing much better than I would have thought. (The software UI has some annoying quirks, but nothing that's a show-stopper.)

After we rip the source and run the clean-up software, we use WavePad (don't have a URL handy) to split the album/tape side up into tracks, fade in/out where needed (particularly an issue with tapes, which still have residual hiss), adjust volume where it's really problematic, and stuff like that. This software can do a lot more (and more still if you pay for the better version; we have the freebie), but I'm a beginner at this stuff and I'm sticking to the basics. At this stage I'm saving both WAV and MP3 files.

After WavePad, we use Tag&Rename (no URL here either) to process the MP3s. We could do that right in iTunes, but we started down the path of tagging first and then importing and it's working well. (The tagger's UI might be a little easier to use, which is a factor when you're doing thousands of files.)

After tagging, we import to iTunes, sanity-check a random track snippet, and add the new imports to a "test" playlist for verification. Once things are verified they move from the "test" playlist to the "verified" playlist, so we never have to answer the question "did each of us assume the other listened through this album?".

Edited to add: We are using the "comments" field for certain kinds of tagging, like "looking for a better recording of this". Currently our tag set is: TAG_REPLACE (we need to replace this somehow), TAG_WEAK (this isn't a good recording but we might not care deeply), and (going in a different direction) TAG_CHILD_#_ for Child ballads. That final '_' is what lets us tell the difference, with iTunes search, between Child 1 and Child 10.

(When we can acquire replacements for our albums/tapes affordably we've been doing that, saving the ripping for the impossible or expensive cases. But there's a lot of that. We got major help from a friend who has much of the same out-of-print music we do who ripped his collection some time ago. But we'll still have ripped stuff from hundreds of tapes/albums by the time we're done.)

Once we have it all in digital form (and have synched our iTunes libraries to account for all this), we'll need a way to play it back. I don't want to listen to music on my computer; I want to listen to it on the stereo in the living room while sitting in the comfy chair with the optional feline installation. We are currently thinking in terms of getting a household iPod to connect to the stereo. (Mine is a Nano, which meets my needs but obviously won't hold our collection.) Another possibility is to broadcast from iTunes using a radio adapter; this means the sound is available via any radio in the house, but we're not sure how much we would use that versus the hassle of running back to the computer to change playlists/albums/etc. (The answer to that is a household web interface, but we don't yet have the internet in our pockets... nor a wireless network in the house, but were that the only barrier we'd fix it.)

Another playback consideration is that sometimes one of us will want to listen to music. So we also want good headphones to be part of this mix. We're currently thinking wireless headphones (those have volume knobs, right?) talking to the stereo; we sampled some (wired) Bose headphones that seemed to meet our needs, so assuming we can find that in wireless, that's a plausible scenario. We also talked about plugging headphones into the iPod (put the iPod in your pocket and you can go anywhere), but the wireless headphones are slightly more versatile and don't require you to carry another device around (which someone will inevitably set down somewhere for "just a minute" and then lose track of). By the way, neither of us can stand earbuds, so the solution that comes with the iPod is a non-starter.

Antepenultimately, for my own reference because this happened to me tonight while we were testing stereo stuff: how to reset a frozen iPod. Because it otherwise never would have occurred to me that (a) this could happen or (b) how the heck you recover from it.

Finally, does anyone know of a good home for no-longer-needed LPs in Pittsburgh?

Advanced Civilization

I've played a fair bit of Advanced Civ (and Civ before it) over the years, but I think yesterday was my first eight-player game.

We actually had nine people (and were going to play other games), but one of the people was feeling fuzzy-brained and didn't want to play a long game, opting instead to team up with a partner (which was fine). Of the nine, three had not played before and one had played only once (but that one picks up games really quickly so doesn't really count). It went pretty well anyway -- my previous thinking had been that Civ can accommodate up to two new players at a time without descending into chaos, but this worked. It helped that all the experienced players were willing to help support the newer ones and that we played a fairly friendly game.

That was one of the surprises, actually -- with eight players I expect a crowded board, so I had anticipated a lot more conflict. We didn't have much, probably because the calamaties knocked people down before other players could do so more directly. :-) (With that many players you're getting half a dozen calamities per turn once things get going. Some of the calamities can be traded, so you can try to target the front-runners.)

Predictably, we had all positions in play except, err, orange -- I forget what civilization that's supposed to be, but in our group it is widely believed to be the weakest position on the board. I played Illyria, which I haven't done in a while, and had friendlier relations with my neighbors Thrace, Iberia, and Crete than I expected. I never got up to nine cities; Illyria is definitely challenged for suitable city sites (I think Crete usually grabs a couple that I grabbed), but it's also true that most players never got to nine cities. Egypt and Assyria did, and I think Babylon did once. Cities came and went at a higher rate than usual because of the calamities.

Amusing geography: due to civil wars we had Cretans in the Nile basin, one Assyrian city on the plains between Illyria and Iberia, and Illyrians in Africa. Also barbarians in Iberia and Babylon -- we managed to give the barbarian hordes to Crete (who is immune) a few times.

We ended the game a few turns early (someone had to leave); we all thought Egypt was far and ahead the winner, but in fact he beat Assyria by only 20 points. Hmm, sneaky Assyrians. :-) I was fourth, I think. One thing I like about (Advanced) Civ is that it can still be a lot of fun even if you're not in the running for the top spot.


I'm thankful for many things:

My husband, who is kind and caring and a true partner in our marriage.

My family, who are all basically healthy (albeit seeing the effects of age in some cases).

My cats, and having the housing and financial support to be able to have them. They've brought a remarkable amount of joy into my life, even despite the 3AM meow-fests, the hairballs and other exports, and the mysterious ailments (for which I'm also thankful for an excellent vet). I don't know what wiring casues me to have such affection for cats (and even dogs) but none whatsoever for small children, but I'm glad to have it.

My rabbi, who teaches and encourages me and lets me do things that most congregants don't get to do. He has been (and is) a real mentor for me.

My friends, both those I know in person and those I know only online. You have enriched me.

The grace that brings me health, intelligence, happiness, and the ability to pursue the things I find fulfilling, largely free of interference. May it continue to be so.

The coming changes in our national leadership. While I don't think the new administration has all the answers, I do hope that much of the damage and ill will of the last several years will start to diminish. I also hope that the minority keeps the majority honest; we need multiple views, not just one, at the helm.

Interpreting Vayeira

I chanted torah and gave the d'var torah yesterday. I read the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak, which is a challenging passage.

The text itself is pretty sparse: God decides to test Avraham, telling him to offer up his son Yitzchak as a burnt offering in a land some distance away. Avraham gets up in the morning, gathers what he'll need, and heads off with Yitzchak and two servant-boys. Three days pass and then they arrive. Avraham tells the servants "wait here and we'll return". Avraham and Yitzchak head up together, and Yitzchak asks "err, dad, where's the lamb?" and Avraham dodges. Avraham builds an altar and binds Yitzchak on it, and just as he's about to slaughter his son an angel cries out "stop!". Avraham sees a ram and offers it instead. The angel then tells Avraham that he'll be rewarded through his descendants -- they'll be as numerous as the stars or as grains of sand on the shore, they'll possess the gates of their foes, and everyone will be blessed through them. Avraham then heads back to the servants (Yitzchak is not mentioned) and they leave for Be'er Sheva, where Avraham will live.

It says somewhere in the talmud that a sage who can't find 150 reasons for a beetle to be kosher is no sage at all. I don't have 150 interpretations of the Akeidah, but I can see more than one. Here's the one I brought out in my chanting:

God gives this command. Avraham reluctantly heads off to comply; God gives him three days to stew over it (either to be sure or to bail). Yitzchak questions him and, with tears in his eyes, he says "God's in charge". Once they arrive and things are set in motion, though, Avraham's approach changes: it's like pulling the big sticky bandage off your skin; you can try to do it slowly and make things worse, or you can just grit your teeth and yank. I read it as Avraham gritting his teeth and trying to get it over with, which is why the angel had to rush in (calling from heaven instead of arriving) and had to call Avraham's name twice. After a tense moment, Avraham snaps out of it and says "yes?". For the first time Avraham looks up and sees the ram, which he offers up in place of his son, while Yitzchak sits by, stunned. The angel gives his promise, Yitzchak bolts, and Avraham returns alone, knowing he can't go home to his wife now.

Last time I read it I read it differently, and presumably next time will be different too. Torah is like that.

Even though I made some mistakes and had to be corrected, I think this went pretty well and I got lots of compliments. People appreciated the effort I put into reading it interpretively. (They didn't have the text in front of them, so I gave a summary and some keywords to listen for in advance.)

We had a visiting rabbi this morning. (Not known in advance and not official; this was a relative of a member of the minyan.) I noticed that she was very quietly chanting along with me. Alas, she and her family left right after the service, so I didn't get a chance to talk with her. It did strike me that, usually accidentally, the more-knowledgeable-than-most-laypeople visitors tend to show up disproportionately on my weeks. Hmm. (It's not always accidental; there was one time we were having a visiting cantor who declined the offer to chant the portion, and consensus was that I was the congregant least likely to freak.)

Hmm, never noticed that before

The torah uses different names for God in different places, with the most common being Elo[k]im and the tetragramaton (yud - hey - vav - hey). When I've been paying attention they've been distinct -- the first creation story is the E-name, the revelation at Sinai is the Y-name, and so on.

In preparing this week's portion (specifically the binding of Yitzchak) I've noticed something odd. The God who commands Avraham to sacrifice his son is the E-name, and Avraham uses that name when he tells Yitzchak that God will provide the sacrificial animal (there's some nice ambiguity here, but that's a tangent). Then, when the angel intervenes, it's suddenly an angel of the Y-name, and Avraham names the place "awe of Y-name".

Is the mingling of these two names in a single passage common and I haven't been paying enough attention? Is it uncommon but random/not meaningful? Uncommon but meaningful in some way?

Comments pointed out that the E-name is often used for judgement and the Y-name for mercy, which makes sense here.

Barely a line

My voting place is a school gym that hosts four precincts. This morning the line for one of them was about 50 people long, while the others were only 2-3 people long. Fortunately for me, I'm in one of the others, and there was one person ahead of me at the table. Time of arrival at the building (not the gym): 8:35. Time out, including a stop at the bake sale (the school kids actually went to the trouble to have kosher goods, so I rewarded that): 8:48. I hadn't seen in advance the text of the one ballot question, so that might have accounted for as much as one minute of my time there. All in all, this was much smoother than I expected, and I was at work by 9:05. (I think it took me longer to vote in the mid-terms two years ago.)

I saw no campaigners or pollsters at all, by the way -- pretty unusual.

If I correctly interpreted things, I was voter #82 in my precinct. I understand turnout is supposed to be high today, but you can't tell that from my precinct.

I have never had, or even seen ("in the flesh"), an "I voted" sticker. We get paper stubs -- "receipts" in the sense of showing we were there, but there is no paper trail for actual votes.

I had received some private offers from "non-swing" states of vote trades, but in the end I decided that my vote for Bob Barr in PA is more important than that vote would be in some other state. In PA it affects our ballot access, among things; in another state it's just a statistic -- so in my eyes my vote here is worth many times what it would be worth in a trade scenario. I didn't feel it would be ethical (and perhaps not legal) to ask for an exchange rate other than 1:1.

Protecting marriage

I'm late in adding my voice to this. California's Proposition 8, and similar efforts when they crop up in other states, destroys families. Its supporters like to argue in the abstract, but it has real effects on real people, and if you can't look the affected people in the eye and say "yes, I intend to attack you", maybe you ought to rethink your support.

I am married, religious, and heterosexual. I cannot see what recognizing other types of unions could possibly do to threaten my marriage. On the contrary, equal acknowledgement of all unions helps protect the institution; it makes it more likely that the folks in marriages actually want to be in them, rather than settling just to get legal protection (for, say, your kids).

What threatens marriage? Taking it lightly and not working with one's partner(s) to strengthen the family. The high rates of divorce and abuse demonstrate that we heterosexuals don't have a great track record on this. Why should I believe that my gay friends will do worse? I expect they'll do better, because when you're a minority, it takes a certain degree of commitment to your marriage to be willing to put yourself out there in the first place. I suspect there is a far, far lower proportion of casual marriages in the gay community than there is in mine.

You know what consittutional amendment I'd like to see? The abolition of marriage as a legal entity. The avenue of legal partnership -- for the sake of inheritance, custody, power of attorney, taxes, finances, etc -- should be available to any group of people who voluntarily and compently choose to enter into such an arrangement. The state should simply register them, as it does for business partnerships. Beyond that, it's not a state concern. This is not marriage; this is a civil union.

Marriage, on the other hand, is a religous matter. Different religions have different rules for what they will and won't accept. That's fine; all communities have rules that apply within that community. It is equally valid for Roman Catholics to say "no divorcees need apply", for Jews to say "no intermarriages here", and for Pastafarians to say "marriages must be trios of any two adults and a pasta product". Your community, your rules, and your own enforcement problem. Please leave the rest of us out of it.

If there is anyone out there who is at this late hour still able to turn dollars into efforts to defeat this proposition, please let me know. (The link I've seen expired before I saw it.)

Birthright dogma

(This is somewhat stream-of-consciousness.)

This morning in torah study we talked about this part of Nitzavim: "And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath, but with him who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day" (Deut 29:13-14). The context is Moshe's final address to Israel; we can prety much take as given that this is not referring to people who slept in that morning. The rabbis understand this as a source for the covenant being binding on all Jews, the ones who stood at Sinai as well as those who came later. In other words, Judaism claims you by virtue of your birth. (I knew that, of course, but I learned a new term for it: "birthright dogma".)

This is hardly unusual; some other religions do this either as a birth condition or based on an action that your parents take very soon thereafter. We say "once a Jew always a Jew"; the Roman Catholic church says the same thing once you've been baptised. Surely there are others. (I'm not sure if Muslim status is automatic at birth; I have the impression it is.)

Some modern Jews have a problem with this, but I don't. We're born into other obligations that we got no say over; why should this be different? The issue to me isn't what you're born to but what you're going to do about it and what anyone else can or should do about it. As a convert from one "we claim you forever" religion to another, I find myself in an interesting position.

There are folks out there who try to preach obligation to the people they see straying -- and that just doesn't work. The church thinks I'm a lapsed, sinning Catholic -- fine for them, but I don't care, because I don't subscribe to their belief system. That they think they have a claim on me means nothing to me; I think they're wrong. (No offense meant to my Catholic readers, of course.) Any attempt to reach me via the "but you have to" path would utterly fail. (Ok, any attempt to reach me at all would fail now, but there might have been times in my life when that was not true.) And we have this in Judaism too; there are people who are very concerned with bringing back those who've strayed by going down the "obligation" path. Going down the "benefit" path is much more likely to be productive. You'll almost never succeed (long-term) in intimidating people, but if you can show them the beauty, fulfillment, or richness of a religion or tradition, you might hook them. Chabad, for all its other problems, gets this; the people who stone cars on Shabbat do not.

If status is forever, then we should be picky about entrance criteria when we can be. If a gentile eats bacon cheeseburgers on Yom Kippur, so what? But once he becomes a Jew, he's sinning. if the members of the beit din (the rabbinic court) think he's not committed, they can and should tell him "not now". This is part of why Judaism requires a significant period of study and evaluation, which can take years. The rabbis on the beit din need to assure themselves that they aren't making things worse for K'lal Yisrael (the community of Israel), while of course also weighing the issues of the individual candidate. As a candidate I expected that kind of rigor and would have been unhappy if I hadn't gotten it. (In fact, during my studies I met one local rabbi who said "I always say yes", and I made sure that rabbi was not on my beit din.)

Somehow from here we ended up talking about interfaith families, but that's another set of topics for another time.