Blog: August 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.

Household mysteries

Household mystery #1: Dani and I both take multi-vitamins so we just share a jar. (And by the way, do you know how hard it can be to find "just plain vitamins", as opposed to vitamins for men over 53 or menopausal women or left-handed couch potatoes or... but I digress.) I've been noticing that the level in the jar is going down more quickly than I would expect, and his perception is the same. After the exchange of "I take one a day; how many do you take?", we were left stumped. Even if the cats could reach the medicine cabinet the lack of opposable thumbs would hinder them in opening the jar. It's hard to believe that somebody is breaking into the house daily just to steal vitamins out of the jar. (If someone is and you're reading this: hey, I'll just buy you your own jar, ok?) Perhaps we have gremlins. So, a mystery.

Household mystery #2: this year more than in the past, Baldur has been shedding prolifically -- not just in the spring, but all summer too. I think he sheds enough hair to make another cat about every week. I have no idea how he manufactures it at that rate. I speculate that he has opened a private worm-hole to the planet of the cat hair and that this year he got an upgraded baud rate.

Theory: these observations are related. Vitamins support growth, after all. Cat hair goes in one direction; vitamins go in the other direction. I don't know if the gremlins are giving Baldur vitamins (and there is no worm-hole) or if they're sending them through to the planet of the cat hair, but clearly our vitamins are causing an explosion of cat hair.

I liked it better before they were messing with us. :-)


At first I thought the person next to me, whose desk touches mine, was having a really intense hacking session. Then I realized two things: I wasn't hearing the clickety-clack of keys being pounded upon, and my chair was vibrating. And no, not construction downstairs either, as it turned out. Oh, ok.

This is my second remotely-felt earthquake in this modern office building (third floor). This one was more intense than last year's; when I stood up I felt the floor moving and while I could walk without difficulty, it felt weird. I felt movement for a good two minutes. Weird, for a quake a few hundred miles away, but this one was shallow so it traveled farther.

Time by my watch was 1:56PM (at the start), which is five minutes after the reported time at the epicenter. I'm too lazy to do the math to figure out if that's plausible.

SCA kingdom newsletters

SCA Inc. announced earlier this year that kingdom newsletters will be moving to electronic format next year. (PDF, it was clarified at the Pennsic BoD meet&greet.) People who want paper will still be able to get it; while pricing hadn't been determined as of the Pennsic discussion, the sense I got was that there would be an extra charge for this.

Do you see what they did there?

There are two primary levels of membership, associate ($30) and sustaining ($45). The difference between the two is that with the latter you get your kingdom newsletter. The vast majority of that $15 difference goes to the cost of printing and mailing that newsletter. I edited a kingdom newsletter for four years (about 15-20 years ago, ack, but I've talked with more recent chroniclers and it hasn't changed much) and saw this process up close.

So now, your $45 membership will get you access to online newsletters (all of them, I learned at Pennsic), whose incremental hosting costs are tiny, and if you want paper you'll pay more than that (beyond the sustaining membership). Meanwhile, the kingdom chroniclers who are donating their labor for a break-even proposition now, out of deep caring for their kingdoms and the satisfaction of a job well done, will instead be donating that labor for the corporate bottom line. The directors at Pennsic were very clear about this: the corporation has a deficit and this will help plug it.

Put another way, the corporation is set to make a profit of, let's say, $14/member/year from the substantial and unpaid efforts of the kingdom chroniclers. For my kingdom that's something over $20K/year. What the chronicler gets out of it is no longer having to arrange printing and mailing -- a win, but I'm not sure it's a $20K/year win.

I'm surprised I haven't seen any commentary about this aspect of the change. The FAQ on this change has a rather disingenuous answer that extols the value of membership while completely ignoring the fact that an associate member gets all those benefits -- so what costs are incurred by a sustaining membership that justify the higher price? Near as I can tell, electronic kingdom newsletters are pure profit and nobody is talking about whether that affects the people currently producing them for free. Does the new arrangement make the job of kingdom chronicler more attractive, or less?

There's a bigger issue I haven't addressed here: why have an online newsletter at all when you can just get the information from the web site? It is possible that the prospect of pointless work will deter more would-be chroniclers than the pricing structure will (though kingdoms are required to find somebody to do this job). Time will tell, I guess. I asked about this at the Pennsic meeting and it sounds like kingdom newsletters will continue to exist for a good long time. It's in the corporation's best interest to make that happen, after all. (That's me talking, not the BoD.)

I don't have a dog in this race, being neither a member of SCA Inc. nor a kingdom chronicler. But having been both in the past, I still care.

Somebody asked in the comments how donating labor to produce a newsletter is different from the other labor we donate to run events, organize practices, and so on. This person also pointed out that not everything in the newsletter is on the web site. I replied:

Here's the thing: for an online delivery vehicle, a PDF newsletter is pretty far down on the usability scale. We should put the event announcements, letters from officers, articles, etc. on the web site as first-class items. We already do this for event announcements and some articles. Why create an index of PDF files to find specific content (as the commenter proposed) instead of just indexing the content directly? If I want to find a particular court report or set of meeting minutes, isn't it easier to go to the "court reports" or "minutes" page and choose the event/date from there? (I read the online newsletter when it comes out, at least most of the time, but I never refer to old issues -- in case you were wondering.)

Now since paper newsletters are also being produced, I totally understand why we post a PDF. You have to do the work anyway; why not? But duplicate work is being done and -- demonstrably -- not all of the content is making it to the web site beyond the PDFs. So consider an alternate model: make the web site primary, not secondary, and assemble the paper newsletter from the content on the web site. It could even be (largely) scripted. The chronicler does less work, the chronicler and webmaster do less redundant work, people using the internet get consistent and easy access to information, and people getting paper copies still get them.

By the way, so far as I know baronies are required to have chroniclers, but there is no requirement that chroniclers produce newsletters of any particular quality or frequency.

On labor donation, Alienor (in another comment) has it exactly right in my book: donating labor so that my friends (writ large) can have fun and/or so we can do things that wouldn't happen otherwise is very very different from donating my labor so some third party (which assumes none of the burden) can profit. This is why I will no longer contribute significant work to events that unnecessarily charge the corporate tax; I don't grant the corporation the moral right to demand that money. (I would, however, support a franchise model where local groups choose to purchase services from a national organization, and wouldn't have a problem with those prices building in significant profit.)

Pennsic: other stuff

Yesterday I wrote about performances and later I'll write about some corporate-level stuff (BoD meet-and-greet, SCA census). And I still have to pull pictures off of the camera. This post is miscellaneous other stuff. Read more…

Pennsic: performances

This was a good year for performances. I participated in one and attended several others, including two that exceeded all my expectations. Read more…

Erik update

Erik is doing better since my last post on the subject. Two weeks after restarting the Methimazole and starting him on Prednisone his weight was back up (6lb 4oz, so still a way to go), his T4 is back to normal (2.8), and his bilirubin is down by half (1.9, still too high but this is progress). In other news, his liver numbers are up when we expected them to be down; SALT was 644 in June, 1035 in July, and 1364 now. This surprised my vet, who thought it would track the bilirubin somewhat. Also, his kidney numbers are up (this is new): BUN is 63 and Creatinine is 3.6 (was 2.4, which is considered normal). Also, he continues to be anemic (18% now, was 20, normal 28). The vet had expected the Prednisone to help with the anemia, but not so far.

We changed two things at once (the two drugs) so we can't debug as easily, but getting Erik back on track trumped engineering rigor. Now, however, the question is: with the stats being basically back to where they were in June before we suspended the Methimazole, is the turn-around due entirely to the Methimazole and the Prednisone is doing harm, or are both contributing to the improvement in his weight, bilirubin, and T4? Prednisone is a wonder drug but it is not without side-effects. My vet will consult with others; I predict that we will end up lowering the dose of Prednisone.

Everything is connected; the body is a delicate system and changing one thing has ripples elsewhere. Erik has a complicated set of conditions and drugs at this point, so there's a lot of veterinary improvisation going on here. Can't be helped.

And through it all he remains a content kitty. I am grateful for that.

Judaism and SF

Wandering Stars is the classic compilation of SF around Jewish themes, including halachic issues that just don't arise in day-to-day life like whether space aliens can convert (and, IIRC, managing the calendar on other planets). Some of my readers might be interested in the following speculative questions that have been asked on Judaism.StackExchange:

Does the torah discuss (space) aliens?

Time travel and Judaism

If a pig was genetically modified to chew its cud would it be kosher?

(I just posted these on an old entry in response to a comment (was cleaning out spam and noticed it), but I then thought they might be of more general interest.)


The following were contributed by Isaac Moses in a comment:

Can a robot be your rabbi? (As if we don't have enough trouble with people thinking that a website can be a rabbi.)

Does Robot = Golem?

Can a robot be your official agent? Looks like your anthology can have a whole section on robots.

If you can drive a car using only your brain, can you do that on Shabbat?

And based on another comment, I just asked: When does somebody living in space observe shabbat?

Indian food in Squirrel Hill: Coriander

Coriander is an Indian restaurant in Squirrel Hill that opened last fall. We finally tried them a month or so ago for the Sunday buffet and I was impressed. I've since been there for lunch once more and hope to try them for dinner sometime. (And more Sundays. And maybe the occasional group take-out order from work. You get the idea. You can play along too, you know. Well, if you're local.)

The buffet ($8.95) has a nice spread of both meat and vegetarian dishes, along with soups, nan, chutneys, and desserts, which they keep well-stocked (I never saw an empty pan) and at appropriate temperatures. I couldn't actually find some of what I ate at the buffet on the menu on their web site, which makes me think they may be trying out new dishes or making things that are seasonal (so they don't want to put them on the print menu). Pure speculation; I didn't think to ask.

The standards are there, of course -- tandoori chicken, chana masala, some paneer, some potato dish, etc. Noticably absent both times were lentils; I thought dal was a fixture of Indian restaurants. (Though I didn't investigate the soups; it's been a hot summer.) The first time I went they had papadun (those thin wafers, one of my favorites); the second time they didn't. Both times they also had some sort of tasty vegetable fritters that I didn't recognize. The menu has one section titled "South India", which makes me wonder if the rest is from the north. (I don't know what characterizes the difference, but you might so I mention it.)

The flavors were nicely balanced with the spicier dishes being spicy but not overwhelming and the mild dishes being mild the way they're supposed to be. I didn't encounter anything hot other than one chutney (which was so-labelled). I'm used to chana masala (that's the dish with chickpeas and spices in a tomato-based sauce) being kind of bland, but theirs is nicely flavored and the chickpeas are not overcooked the way they sometimes are. The nan (flatbread) was tasty with and without the various chutneys (all the standard ones were there).

The rice pudding (first visit) was so-so. The vanilla custard (second visit) was excellent (though I wondered if it should be a little thicker). I have yet to see those cheese balls in syrup that are oh so addictive and probably terrible for me. :-)

The challenge of a buffet, often, is getting drinks refilled, since the waiters aren't coming by to bring you food on a regular basis. Both times I found the service to be attentive; I never ran out of water and plates got cleared away mostly invisibly (while I was at the buffet).

Someday I'll presumably order from the menu and be able to talk about that experience, but when the buffet is an option I'm likely to always prefer that for the variety.