Blog: February 2010

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.

Baldur and the vet

Baldur is a cranky patient, so when he spent yesterday at the vet's for an ultrasound and chest X-ray (looking for cause of weight loss) it came as no surprise that they reported a lot of growling and hissing. The folks doing the ultrasound suggested a blood test that requires taking blood before and after eating, so they called to see if I'd authorize that. We also had roughly the following conversation:

Them: Do you think he would eat if --
Me: Yes.
Them: He seems awfully upset.
Me: Don't put any body parts you care about between him and the food.
Them: Does he have any food preferences?
Me: Already dead is best; he's not a mighty hunter.

When I picked him up they confirmed that they had slid a bowl of canned food into his kennel, covered the kennel (to try to calm him down; didn't know that wasn't just a bird thing), and immediately heard much slurping and chomping. That's my little vacuum cleaner!

Baldur has been losing roughly 2 ounces per week since early November despite starting then to treat him for hyperthyroidism (and despite the fact that he has all the food he wants), so my vet and I are concerned. We did assorted blood tests that were mostly normal -- T4 still good, WBC fine, PTH low, calcium tending high over the last year or so, ionized calcium high, ALT a little high). She recommended a tumor hunt and also, because he has a heart murmur, a look at the heart.

We've spoken briefly but she didn't yet have the report, so we'll talk more on Monday. The X-ray was fine, she said, and the ultrasound mostly fine (no tumors). She reported that his liver is bigger than it should be and "speckled", whatever that means. Also his bile ducts are a little dilated -- nothing like what Erik had, but not completely normal. I asked what this means and she said she's not sure but her working hypothesis is cholangiohepatitis -- what his brother has. (What's wrong; wasn't catching the hyperthyroidism wave enough? :-) )

When I picked him up they gave me a copy of the report, which says: "Assessment: Chronic hepatic disease (cholangitis/cholangiohepatitis, other) is suspected based upon the sonographic appearance of the liver, long term chronic low grade ALT elevation and chronicity of weight loss. Other causes of liver disease (lymphoma, mast cell tumor, hepatic lipidosis) have not been excluded but the degree of chronicity would be unusual. A cause for the hypercalcemia was not identified. Differential diagnoses include idiopathic hypercalcemia (likely) and occult neoplasia."

I am glad I live in the Google age, because otherwise I wouldn't have known what some of that meant. "Occult neoplasia" is med-speak for "hidden tumor", just to save you the search.

So there isn't a big obvious cause yet, which is both good and bad (depending entirely on whether big obvious causes would have been fixable). But it's very weird for the "big" cat to be under 11 pounds, so if it is cholangiohepatitis I hope treating it fixes that.

LOST theory

Time will tell whether this is correct or utterly silly, but... I think I know what's going on with the apparent alternate timeline on LOST. Read more…

Or l'Simcha

Friday night I went to Or l'Simcha, an unaffiliated but ancestrally-Conservative congregation, for services. I'd heard good things about Rabbi Diamond ("Rabbi Chuck") and this was a good week to check them out.

There were about 60-70 people there, many of them young families. Rabbi Diamond engaged with the children without talking down or ignoring the adults, which was refreshing. (It's not the way to bet, in my experience, with "family" services.) He did not abridge the service. We sang much of kabbalat shabbat (some tunes were not my "usuals" but I recognized from Young People's Synagogue) and read the rest. He sometimes invited congregants to lead readings (always in English). There was no d'var torah. Most of the time was spent in kabbalat shabbat; a different person led a ma'ariv that was matter-of-fact but not rushed. It ran about an hour total. This is pretty much the pacing and division I have come to expect from traditional services.

He did one thing I had not seen before, and he commented that it was the first time he was trying it so it was new for everyone. He had brought a bouquet of roses, and at times throughout the service he would invite (by name) the various kids up to take a rose to give to {mom and dad, sister, etc}. (He handed me one directly, so I was not left out. Nice.) This had the effect of both connecting people just a little bit more and adding a little beauty to people's Shabbat tables when they got home. I wonder if he'll keep doing it.

At the end of the service he also handed out chocolate bars. The flowers were for the parents, but I think we all know who those were for. :-) (But he was giving them to adults too.) A few months ago I saw a huge box of chocolate bars in Tree of Life's kitchen (the two congregations are sharing space) and wondered; now I know.

They had expected to have an oneg shabbat afterwards but nothing was set up -- some communications glitch about who was supposed to bring food, it sounded like. So people left pretty promptly, which meant I didn't get a chance to talk to many folks. Rabbi Diamond approached me, said he recognized me from somewhere, and asked my name, and we chatted for a couple minutes. I've seen him around but didn't know who he was; I guess he had the same experience.

Bottom line: positive experience, would return.

Now we know

Remember this funky snow formation, from the storm on Feb 6?

tall thin pile of snow in wave pattern

I wondered then how long it would hold that form. (It had already survived most of a day when I took the picture, which is longer than I would have thought.) The answer turned out to be: 12 days. It was there last night when I came home from work, and gone this morning. It did suffer some minor degradation along the way, but only minor -- the form was intact.


Ok, now what?

SCA Inc. charges a $3 tax per event for people who attend but are not members of the corporation. I find this offensive because SCA Inc. does not bear the cost of putting on events; the local groups do. (So it's not like the higher admission fee you pay a museum if you don't belong.) There are some small benefits that the corporation provides to the hosting group, such as access to insurance, but the last time I ran the numbers this amounted to about $2/person/year. So, the tax is somewhere between price gouging (if you believe they have the right to assess a fee) and thuggery (if you don't).

I don't go to a lot of events these days; my local group doesn't hold very many and I don't travel for them. And I don't really want to be on the membership rolls of this corporation, so thus far I have been paying the fee. The presence of the fee does influence my decision to attend an event; if I'm waffling that can push me. (There is an "out" that is available to local groups, so charging the fee represents a decision on the part of the hosting group. A surprising number of local-group officers feel it is their moral obligation to charge this fee. To each his own. (I am speaking generally here, not about one group.) It's not the $3; it's the principle.

The corporation announced today that this fee will be rising to $5 per event.

My goal is to minimize the money the corporation gets from me while enjoying marginal participation in events. (This is not identical to maximizing money in my pocket because of the Pennsic non-member tax. Some of that money -- I've sent email asking how much -- goes to Pennsic, not to the corporation. I am willing to pay a higher price to Pennsic.) An associate membership costs $20, so now I have to figure out how many fee-charging events I am likely to go to in a year. Working against this analysis is the temptation to just say "screw it" except for Pennsic and free local events. I've been drifting away from the SCA (Pennsic is different; that's family vacation), and I wonder how much I care any more.

No decisions, just thoughts.

Additions from comments:

Sadly, the corporation has a long track record of poor-to-reckless financial planning. This is part of why I don't want to give them money; they have not been good custodians of membership dollars in the past. (They also never, so far as I know, corrected the illegal bylaws change that allowed them to assess this fee in the first place. But I haven't been reading recent BoD minutes/reports, not since they stopped publishing summaries online.)

A big factor in my participation over the last decade has nothing do with either the society or the corporation: Shabbat. (Well, two things -- also kashrut. It's a lot of trouble to bring my own food and keep it both safe and appealing for the day, so if the feast doesn't work for me that's a big point against.) Shabbat has two effects: first, going to any non-local event, and the occasional local event, costs me morning services (at least), and second, Shabbat restricts some activities that I would otherwise do at events, such as shopping or cooking. (And yes, I am waving my hands wildly around the issue of how I get to the event. I don't go to events (that I can't walk to) that Dani isn't also going to. If he's going to go I'll go along; no one has gone out of his way for me. This is the compromise we've reached for social activities on Shabbat, whether events, family visits, or gaming.)

The logical consequences of snow

We had had about 30" of snowfall (in two batches) when I took these pictures this morning.

Though it's getting an assist from the side of the house so maybe it doesn't count, this is our longest icicle currently:

icicle running down side of house for about 10 feet

We've got some pretty long free-hanging ones too. I'm glad these are over the back yard (which is currently deep in snow so no one's walking there), because I don't think I'd be able to reach them to knock them down with tools currently on hand. (We have already knocked down the ones in front that threaten mail delivery.)

icicles hanging from roof, maybe 6-7 feet long

Dani and I have been watching this one, which is only a couple feet from the snow below it at this point. We're kind of hoping it makes it all the way down.

thick cluster of icicles from porch roof, most of the way to the ground

Google Buzz: bzzt!

When I started hearing about Google Buzz several days ago I mentally filed it under "could be interesting; look into it when you've got some time". Then in the last day or so I started hearing how they'd rolled it out. It sounds like the Buzz team made two decisions that were individually marginal and, in combination, terrible. The first decision was to automatically create links between you and your most frequent contacts. The second decision was to make links public by default. The privacy concerns here are pretty obvious, I trust.

A third decision was unambiguously (IMO) bad: they made it opt-out instead of opt-in. I am having trouble thinking of a single case where it would be a good idea to automatically, and without notification, make changes to existing accounts. [Edit: I meant good for the customer, and not counting things like "hey, we gave you more disk space". I mean new behaviors.] Auto-on for new accounts is quite defensible (with documentation); changing the behavior of accounts that people set up on the basis of a different implicit contract, no. Especially if you haven't previously sent out an update to your privacy policy.

There's one more problem with Buzz: opt-out doesn't really work. If you do the obvious thing and click on the "turn Buzz off" link, all that does is remove a shortcut. Your connections are still there. That's just bad engineering.

Google says they have heard the feedback and will fix things in a few days. And, while I can't verify this without a second account, some people believe that deleting your profile keeps Buzz at bay. [Edit: confirmed with the help of another gmail user, thanks.]

Buzz could, potentially, be a useful tool, though it remains to be seen whether the world really needed yet another attempt at a social-networking site. But their roll-out of it has left a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm likely to wait a while, until I hear positive reviews from people whose opinions I value, before I touch it. And I'll have to be certain that they aren't publishing information that (otherwise) exists only in my mailbox. Linking to my public Picasa album is fine; it's public (same as the vast majority of this journal). Telling the world who I correspond with and how often, however, is not.

Snowstorm pictures

The official snowfall was 21". Photos: Read more…

Yes we talk like this (Hebrew edition)

Scene: I have turned one of Dani's tapes of Israeli dances into MP3s and am typing (well, pasting) in song titles.

Me: Does "Haman" mean something other than the villain in the book of Ester?

Dani: Desert food.

Me: Oh good. "Ta'am Haman" had the potential to be highly disturbing...

Dani: Nothing good could come from the direction you were going.

Me: I know. Maybe next time you could help me out with capitalization or punctuation or something?

That said, I'm not sure there is a consistent way to transliterate definite articles that get pasted onto the front of the noun. Sometimes you see something like "ha-man" or (in a title) "HaMan", but not always.

(If you've read this far and don't know what I'm talking about, "man" is the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert for 40 years, and "ta'am" means "taste" or "flavor".)


If Pittsburgh got DC's (predicted) snow, what did DC get? (National news seems to be saying ~20 inches; what say the locals?)

I haven't measured, but this morning when I left I estimated 18" average, with drifts up to hip-level and snow still falling. It took about 40 minutes to walk to my synagogue rather than the usual 20, and I mostly walked in the streets (which were at least flattened-down if not actually plowed). I passed one person on skis, which struck me as an excellent idea. (I saw several more skiers later while shovelling.) I lamented not having a pair of snowshoes.

When I got to my synagogue I found one other person there. We later learned that services had been officially cancelled, but I had left the house before the phone call came. On the way home I contemplated going somewhere else, though I was dressed casually (per my minyan's custom). I figured I would try Young People's Synagogue; my plan was to talk to the first person I encountered, acknowledge the inappropriate dress for their community, and ask if it would be disruptive for me to come in anyway as my own minyan had cancelled. Maybe I'd win and maybe I wouldn't, but I'd never know if I didn't ask. However, their snow-covered walkway and steps were undisturbed by traffic, so I assume they cancelled too. Next up the street was New Light, which had a lone set of tracks and no evidence of any activity. So I went home.

Dani and I took the shovelling in shifts and it took a few hours. Two people parked in front of our house were digging out their cars; one heeded my directive about where (not) to put the snow and the other semi-did. So the walkway to the street is curvy, but it's there.

We usually go out for dinner on Saturday night, but even if the city and county hadn't declared a state of emergency I don't think we would have tonight. Perhaps I will make French toast for dinner.

Pictures tomorrow, I expect.