Blog: May 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.

Cirque du Soleil followup

Sunday I wrote about the current Cirque show and our bad seats. I also sent them polite email expressing my disappointment and suggesting that they downgrade seats with obstructed views. (I figured the show was a sunk cost; I was trying to modify their future behavior.) I received an email reply asking me to call them, which I did today.

The person I spoke with said that the posts were indicated on the seating chart but that they're hard to see. On re-examination I can infer them from some "cut-outs" in the seating area, but I don't see anything that looks like "obstruction here" signals. He also referred to a 3D view, which I couldn't find a path to today. Perhaps it is only available during the seat-selection phase of a purchase; I don't know. He said they were unlikely to reclassify seats but he would look into clarifying the chart.

Nonetheless, he said, he wanted us to be able to see the show and offered free tickets to another show. They're only here for a few more days and the remaining dates don't work, so I declined that. At that point I thought he might offer a discount on their next show, or (on a really good day) a partial refund. What he actually did was to refund the base ticket price (he apologetically explained that he couldn't do anything about the service fee). He said that they want their customers to have a good experience. This is more than I expected and has repaired the negative feelings I had for them (though I'll still be wary about the seating chart in the future).

An aside: when I called their 800 number I was greeted with "blah blah blah... for service in English, press 2". This mono-lingual American is not used to being on the other side of that branch. :-)

Cirque du Soleil Totem: eh

Several years ago we saw and enjoyed Cirque du Soleil's show Varakai, so today we saw their current show, Totem. It, like the previous one, is a collection of acrobatics, dancing, and alleged comedy tied together by the loosest of themes. I treat the titles of the shows as random tokens; it's easier that way. Theoretically Totem is about the creation of the world.

Varakai had very rich staging and stunning acrobatics. Totem was weaker in both regards. On staging, it usually had just one thing going on at a time (not much interesting background action) and they did much more of the show on the back portion of the stage. As for the acrobatics, the actual feats seemed a little less visually engaging and challenging to me in this show. There were some good acts, to be sure -- the guys doing stunts off the tops of very tall poles and the ones doing jumps, flips, and spins off of what were effectively very skinny trampolines impressed me. (Even though in the first case the tethers, which were clearly visible, were doing a fair bit of the work; they weren't just safety measures.) I'm sure the trapeze/rings aerials were technically very good, but they didn't grab me.

Most of their attempts at comedy fell flat for me, but one bit was very cute: they had actors in ape (etc) costumes lined up to depict that famous "evolution of hominids" drawing, and at the head of the line they added a guy in a business suit carrying a briefcase and talking on a cell phone. Not all progress is improvement. :-)

The lighting was effective (as last time), and they used the ceiling too (to project stars). The costumes were a little less flamboyant for the most part but worked well in context. Having the creatures that just crawled out of the primordial water in swim trunks was cute.

Our seats, for all that they were in the second of four pricing tiers, were very bad in one respect: you couldn't tell this from the seating chart, but we were behind a large post that supported lights (and possibly the tent itself; couldn't tell). This was a serious impediment to the stuff done on the back of the stage (that "backstage" area behind the round center section, for those familiar with their tent setup), though it didn't block most of the round stage. In addition, this put us directly across from a similar pole, and several times we had a spotlight aimed straight at our eyes. Not downgrading the seats along the "spokes" behind the posts is very bad form, especially in combination with all the other ways they've found to boost revenue (like disingenuous "service fees" on ticket sales). If we go to another Cirque show we'll now know that the seating chart has these kinds of gotchas, but for $100 a ticket we should have had clear sight lines without asking. (The tent was full, so moving at the intermission didn't seem to be an option.)

Cirque has many shows and most of them seem to be well-regarded. I've only seen two and I found Totem by far the weaker one. If you're considering your first Cirque show, you might want to hold out for something better. If you've seen them before and would enjoy them even "dialed down" a bit, then this is a reasonable show to go see.

Or, to sum up, "eh".

Edit: followup from customer service.

Avraham's "sister" Sarah

Two times in the book of B'reishit Avraham represents his wife Sarah as his sister because he fears that the people around him will kill him to get her if he tells the truth. [1] Both times, a foreign king takes her as a wife (because, after all, she's not claimed!) and difficulties ensue. The torah doesn't endorse this behavior, but neither does it condemn it, and someone in our torah study yesterday pointed out that both times Avraham ends up richer as a result. (Of course, that's reward in this world, and the rabbis have things to say about rewards in this world versus the next. But I digress.)

That Avraham would so easily hand his wife over in either case is a problem. But the second incident is especially problematic for a few reasons. First, he's been down this path before, so the first incident didn't cause him to rethink the approach. Second, we are to believe that a man who rescued Lot from his captors, who was victorious in war, and who has found favor with God (not that he should rely on miracles) cannot protect his own wife? Third, he could have avoided the problem entirely; unlike in the first case where he had a specific reason to go to Egypt, in this case nothing in particular directed him to Avimelech's land; he could have gone anywhere in Cana'an. And, fourth and most important to me, this was clearly pre-meditated; the torah tells us that he told Sarah to agree to the ruse before they entered Avimelech's territory.

Someone at torah study argued that you do what you must to survive if it's not a violation of the "big three" (you can't commit murder, idolatry, or sexual immorality to save your life). But we are not talking about the case of bandits setting upon you from out of the blue and demanding your wife or they'll kill you, and you have to react in the moment without thinking things through. Against the possibility (not certainty) of this happening, Avraham plans a deception to give up his wife up front. I would have expected some of the commentaries to call him out on this.

Of course the torah shows us the patriarchs and other leaders as real people who make mistakes and don't always behave well. It's one of the things I like about the torah; we don't claim that everybody is a saint. So maybe the act is so obviously wrong that the commentaries don't feel the need to mention it -- we can learn the negative lesson without help? On the other hand, commentaries sometimes latch onto some pretty minor points. And it's not obvious to at least one person who was at torah study yesterday... hmm.

[1] Yes yes, I'm aware of his claim that she's actually his half-sister so that's not really a lie. Clearly his intent is to mislead and he is omitting a pretty important fact.

Spam levels significantly down?

I've been noticing for a while that my spam traps are identifying less spam but this is not due to any ineffectiveness on their part -- the amount of spam that gets through has not increased. To check my memory I drilled some core samples in my reports from In spring 2008 I was routinely receiving 500-600 pieces of spam a day; over the next year it seems to have averaged closer to 350-400, still high, with a brief rise to 500-600 in April/May 2009. Then, starting in May 2009, the volume started to drop to about 250/day over the course of a month. Over the next year (to May 2010) it dropped to about 150. It has continued to drop slowly and now hovers around 100, but I've gotten several daily reports with two-digit numbers in them in recent days. Last night I was comparing notes with somebody else who has data available, and it's not just me.

This sent me to Google. I couldn't find the motherlode -- a graph of global daily spam levels over a 3-year period (or more; I'd take more :-) ), but I did find some reports from Symantec suggesting that there is something big going on. this announcement from Dec 2010 links to a report (PDF) that suggests a two-thirds drop in spam between August and December of last year, and this report for February-March 2011 shows a big drop just in that time. According to Symantec, in August 2010 the global spam level was about 220 billion messages per day; a month and a half ago it was about 30 billion. (I'm eyeballing charts, so some approximation has occurred. But you get the idea.)

Really? Wow. They attribute this to the shutdown of major botnets, and I saw other articles making that claim too (without citing data). Sure, there have been some big hits that evn made the mainstream news, but I didn't realize the effect of multiple counter-attacks on the spammers had been so strong. I feel kind of bummed that I didn't really notice a 90% drop in spam, but that's because the filters were doing their jobs and the volume was too high to make review practical.

Former email spammers have moved on to other venues, I'm sure. I assume that Facebook and Twitter get a fair bit. (I'm not on either, so have no direct observations.) We've all seen LJ comment-spam; I assume it happens to other blogging sites too. So it's still out there, but less of it is being aimed at our individual inboxes, it appears. Neat.

SCA music & dance event

Yesterday's music & dance event was a lot of fun. We knew we wouldn't get the usual contingent from the East Kingdom because of a dance event there (that we didn't know about in time), but a bunch of people from the Cleftlands came from Ohio and that allowed us to have some good cross-fertilization. It's nice when you don't know all the people in your classes, after all.

I taught "Reconstruction 201: Balli". 201 because it's more complex than Arbeau and Playford, but only 201 because it's not ultra-advanced either. Ordinary people can do this, and I was pleased to see people who had never tried to work out a ballo from the sources do so in the class.

There were seven students, including Alaric who I had specifically asked to come with a recorder. (The class was advertised for dancers and musicians, and I wanted to make sure there would be at least one non-me musician there prepared to play from the original manuscript.) There are some ambiguities in the notation for the dance I chose (Marchesana), which is one of the reasons I chose it, and Alaric picked up on one I hadn't seen and made it work. Cool! I don't know if his interpretation is right, but it works well with the dance steps so I'd say it's a keeper. (And because the students were mostly dancers and not musicians, we just breezed past some of the music-specific ambiguities like use of accidentals. At a basic level dancers don't care what notes you play if the timing works.)

I taught the technique that Rosina and I used when we reconstructed the balli for Joy and Jealousy: start by independently counting up how many tempi (measures, in modern parlance) of what misure (think time signatures, sort of) you think the dance and the music call for. Then compare and start reconciling, drawing on other manuscripts and translations as needed. We did not get all the way through the dance -- I find workshops really hard to plan, timing-wise, and I talked too long at the beginning before diving in -- but we got far enough that people seemed to be getting it and enjoying themselves. Several of the students were non-local and I failed to get contact information, alas, so I don't know if I'll ever hear about reconstructions they end up doing. I hope I do.

One of the visitors from Cleftlands, whose name I asked and have failed to retain (sigh), was amazing to watch on the dance floor. She had excellent posture, made eye contact, knew what to do with her hands, and seemed to always be aware of the room around her. I asked: she's a professional dance teacher. :-) Maybe next time she'll teach a class on these things!

(A class I would like to see, but don't know how to structure, would be something like "beyond the specific dance" and would cover things like that, using the space (constraints and opportunities), and adjusting your styling based on the instruments providing the music. This last is something that the Italian sources specifically call out as something to strive for, and I have only the basics of it.)

The choir performed a subset of our Pennsic concert and I thought it went well. There was somebody in the audience who was the perfect magnet for making eye contact; I hope we didn't all pick him. :-) (Ok, I did move around the room, but not necessarily with an even distribution...) The consort also performed, and the students in a choral class sang three songs. It was a good set of performances.

The food was tasty and there were more vegetarian-friendly dishes than I'm used to (yay!). The assorted sauteed veggies in which ginger and garlic (separately) were treated as full-fledged components rather than scant additions were particularly nice. :-)

It turned out that this was Ts'vee'a's 30th anniversary of autocratting her first event, and her co-autocrat was a first-timer. Nice blend of seasoned and new there.