Blog: February 2011

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.


What party affiliation do cats old enough to vote claim? Independent, of course. (But since neither can produce proof of citizenship, and anyway they are not allowed out of the house on their own, we don't need to worry about feline domination coming through that particular path.)

Baldur has spent most of his life being gravity-challenged. He'll stand (or sit) on the floor in front of the couch and contemplate jumping up to join you but conclude it's too much work. In the last month or so he has, pretty consistently, jumped up on the desk to be with me when I'm using the computer. (He goes by way of my lap; he can't do floor to desk directly.) I am at a loss to explain this sudden change in outlook. Yes he's lost weight (and that's actually a concern), but I had always assumed this was governed by attitude, not mass.

Erik, meanwhile, can be relied upon to crawl under the bed-covers at night, at least until spring. He has never considered gravity to be an impediment to this.

A torah thought on fundraising

This past shabbat's parsha, Vayakheil, describes the collection of materials that went into building the mishkan (the portable sanctuary). An appeal went out -- we need gold and silver and linen and "red and purple and blue" (dyes? wools?) and so on, and the people answered the call. Voluminously. Enough that Moshe had to call it off -- they had enough for what they needed now. (Where they got all this stuff is a different question.)

I've heard lots of comments (usually from synagogue treasurers and the like) about how this was the first successful fundraising campaign and would that we could be so fortunate when we need to raise money. I was thinking about this during the torah reading yesterday and found myself thinking that modern fund-raising would do well to follow the guidelines laid out in the parsha. Specifically:

  1. There was a clear connection between the donations being requested and the goal that was being pursued. Everybody would be able to look at the product (the mishkan) and see how the donated materials were put to use. That's easier with goods than when everything is mediated through bank accounts, but I think many organizations can do better on this nonetheless -- starting by disclosing the costs of the fundraising (i.e. how much of my donation never makes it to its intended purpose?). In my own experience, when my congregation had a campaign several years ago toward building renovations, the board was very up-front about the planned renovations and the budget, and also that any excess would be placed in such-and-such fund for such-and-such purpose. Very open and up-front, and the donations came.

  2. They asked for contributions at various levels. Not everybody can afford to give gold but some of them can give linen. They didn't say "ok, if all you can send is linen that's ok"; they asked for linen. The person making the donation could feel like a first-class donor. How many times has your donation to some charity been met with "can you do any more?" outweighing the "thank you so much for helping"? Great way to make donors feel valued, eh?

  3. When they had enough they said so. This idea seems ludicrous to many fund-raisers I've spoken with -- they ask "why would you cut off donations if they're still giving?". I don't think you necessarily need to cut them off but you do need to be clear that you've met your goal. I experienced a blatant case of this problem some years ago: I was part of a group that was taking pledge calls, and when we were done and somebody asked about some discrepancies, they admitted that we had received more money in pledges than what they announced on-air as progress toward their goal (by quite a bit). They said they did this to keep the pressure on. I said that was dishonest and that was the last time I helped them.

Fund-raising is always going to be with us, and some of it will work well and some badly. The parsha urges us toward clear goals, valuing the donor no matter his contribution, and transparency to help it go well.


This is why we can't make the bed in our house:

bed covers with just the tip of Erik's tail sticking out

He usually crawls under the covers at night and is often there in the morning. In the last few weeks he has started returning there immediately after his breakfast. (I don't understand how he breathes under there, but obviously he does.)

7 Ages

Yesterday we played in a five-player game of 7 Ages. We have not played this game a lot because it is long (and has lots of fiddly bits), but I enjoy it when we do play.

7 Ages isn't exactly a civilization-building game (like Advanced Civilization) or a world-conquest game (like Age of Renaissance, Diplomacy, and many others). It's a little closer to History of the World, maybe -- instead of playing one civilization through the entire game you will, in theory, play several different civilizations, discarding and replacing them as they start to decline. (But no, not really like Vinci either, though maybe a little.)

That's the theory, but yesterday we only saw a few replacements, with people mostly playing their starting civilizations all the way through. In a game with an uneven distribution of possible civilizations I expect that more, but in a five-player game each person is guaranteed access to three at a time and that can't be taken away from you. I can't speak for anybody else, but what deterred me was the combination of my current civilizations doing OK score-wise and the cost -- in time and in conquering a new board position -- of starting a new one. Perhaps I do not play aggressively enough.

An aspect of the game that makes it fun, though also harder to track, is that each civilization has different victory conditions. I watched another civilization sprawl out next to mine and thought the player was setting his sights on my territories -- but his victory conditions weren't helped by conquering me, so he didn't. (And mine were only tangentially helped by conquering him, and I had other options, so I didn't.) I was playing the Assyrians (points for most land units on the board, among things), the Siamese (points for money, dominating southeast Asia, and others), and some guys in India who got points for India and world domination. ("Domination" means having the most territories.) That last seemed doomed until late in the game -- civilizations in China and elsewhere in Asia had gotten very big and I couldn't compete -- but then I realized that "world" could be anywhere, so my Indians started building boats to colonize Australia. If the game had gone two more turns we would have seen Rajeesh Columbus sail east hoping to discover Europe. :-) (There were unclaimed spaces in the Americas.)

The game ended up being very close, with the top two scores at 103 and 100, another in the 90s, one in the 80s, and one trailing behind. Everyone seemed to have fun and even the combat was good-natured, such as when someone started the Free States in the midst of a Chinese civilization and started what would be skirmishing between the two for the rest of the game.

We started at 1:00 at the beginning of age 2 (so most players were in age 1 after offsets), and -- after deciding to play a certain number of turns -- finished at around 10:00 with the lead civilization in the middle of age 5, about half the civilizations stuck in a dark age late in age 2, and everybody else spread out between. We are definitely playing more efficiently than when we first learned the game, without feeling rushed. I still think playing through all seven ages would be a weekend project at least; I expect that the game gets more complex as better military units afford better mobility.

There was a definite end-game effect as, on the last turn, everybody brought out the things they'd been holding in reserve. Perhaps a better way to limit the game is to set a limit (time, age, turn count) after which you start rolling a die to see if the game ends, increasing the probability each turn. That way you don't know when the game ends until it does; you don't get the last-minute hostile events and attacks and stuff, but you get people playing as if they expected another turn. I don't know which way is better.

An IT rant

This is (basically) a rant I posted on the work wiki, with serial numbers filed off of course.

I have (customer-supplied server) running on a (corporate) laptop with a scrawny little hard drive. The C partition is only 83GB, and while there's another 40GB languishing on D, IT can't repartition without risking data loss and it took too long to get this set up in the first place. So there's a "why can't I just use Partition Magic to fix it?" rant wanting to get out here, but that is not this rant.

This week I ran out of space on C. Usually this means the server has written a bunch of logs that I need to delete, but that wasn't it this time -- I reclaimed maybe 2GB that way. Defrag wouldn't even run well because it didn't have 15% free and couldn't buffer on D -- but that is not this rant.

No, the rant is that when I went looking for the culprit (it's a pretty lean machine as these things go), I found that Proventia Desktop (firewall -- it ought to be called Prevent-ya, as in "prevent ya from getting any work done"!) had written 70GB of logs -- and tampering in any way with firewalls can be a firing offense, not that I have privileges anyway. 70GB -- really? On an 83GB partition? Haven't the guys who make that ever heard of rolling logs? Or archiving? They zipped down to a hundredth their original size. Sheesh!

(Fortunately we have a very helpful on-site support person who was able to fix this for me.)


This Pennsic the Debatable Choir will mark its 25th anniversary. (Whether this is actually the 25th anniversary depends on how you count some early proto-choir formations, but this doesn't really matter. It's 25th anniversary observed. :-) ) We've started working on the music for it and I am jazzed. This is going to be fun, and is looking to be a longer concert than we usually do, which makes me happy.

Arianna asked me to direct one piece, which we started last week. Somewhere around a third of the choir (maybe a little more) has sung it before though not recently, and at least one person who hasn't is an excellent sight-reader, so after two practices at which we also did other music, people know it well enough that we can start putting some shape to it next week (dynamics, paying attention to what the words mean, that sort of thing). Except I short-changed the altos this week on going through parts, so I'll have to make it up to them.

I've lost track of how long I've been in the choir. I was one of the original members, but I took two breaks. I think I've been there for about 20 of the 25 years, but it never seemed important back then to track such things. There are two other original members, also with gaps (for moves to other cities, in their cases). But we manage to have a good supply of newer members too, so even though the choir is approximately a quarter-century old, we have plenty of vim and vigor and lots of fun.

But I must admit that even after that many years of choral singing, I just cannot wrap my head around French. Italian? Sure, no problem -- I don't speak the language at all but I don't think you'd know that from my singing of it. Latin? I understand a little of it but it's basically like Italian in my brain. Hebrew (we're doing one Hebrew piece)? I understand what we're singing; no problems there. English? Mostly fine; the 12th-century stuff is rough but we're not working on any of that right now. German? Eh, I can make it work. But French, on the other hand, to my brain is nothing but a sequence of random-ish phonemes with "eur" sounds mixed in. Memorizing French songs really challenges me. I don't know why. Fortunately for me, currently the Italian songs outnumber the French ones in the concert list. :-)