Blog: January 2012

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.

Daf bit: Erchin 13 on the Levitical band

A few days ago began a discussion of the Temple choir and band. The Levites sang when certain offerings were brought and were accompanied by instruments. A mishna on today's daf enumerates some of the instruments: there were never fewer than two trumpets and their number could be increased to infinity; there were never fewer than nine lyres and their numbers could be increased to infinity; but there was only one cymbal. The g'mara clarifies that the limit on trumpets and lyres (each) is actually 120. It also asks about one cymbal since there is a proof-text about somebody striking them together; the answer is that since the pair of cymbals performs one function, it counts as one. (13a mishna, 13b g'mara)

A note in my edition of the text (Soncino) says that some editions omit the "to infinity" language in the mishna. (I'm not fluent enough to have an opinion on that word in the Hebrew.) The g'mara doesn't appear to address the concept; it just states a number (which is based on a proof-text about 120 priests sounding trumpets).

See comments for some interesting discussion and humorous commentary.

How have I not known about this before now?

The Shabbat before last there was a beit midrash (study session) after morning services, but I had to be somewhere so I couldn't stay. But I always take study materials if they're available, so I picked up a packet. The topic was one line from the passage about Moshe at the burning bush. The materials included a page of commentary -- a few lines of the Hebrew torah passage near the top center, translation beside that, and passages from several of the "big names" filling the page (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, Ramban, etc).

Seasoned torah students will recognize this: it's called Miqra'ot Gedolot, a standard compilation of Hebrew-language commentaries. It's an established tool of the trade, and I have been hoping that someday I would maybe build up enough fluency in Hebrew to be able to start using it. Which will take a while, but such is my linguistic lot in life.

This was in English (aside from the torah passage itself). It was this, published by JPS.

I have never seen a Miqra'ot Gedolot in English. I had no idea such a thing existed. Today when studying with one of our rabbis I asked "was that what I think it was?", wondering if it were just excerpts, and he said it's real. (I see that one of the Amazon reviewers says it's abridged, though.)

This is fairly new as these things go and so far only three of the five volumes have been published (2005, 2009, 2011). But hey, three is better than zero! Even if abridged -- by the time I can understand the original the investment in abridged translations will have long since been paid off.

Good customer service: Matt at Sq Hill T-Mobile

Last night my four-month-old phone (my first smartphone) died -- wouldn't power on and didn't light up when plugged into a charger. This said "dead battery" to me; I briefly considered popping and replacing the battery on the theory that that's probably the control-alt-delete of the phone world, but I was stymied by the case.

A word about the case: I didn't get the phone with a case and wasn't looking for one. I'm pretty careful with my portable electronics and don't expect to be using a phone in situations where I'm likely to drop or crush it. A month after I got the phone the screen-protector peeled off and they replaced it since those are supposed to last a year or more. (So maybe the initial application was faulty, I figured.) A month after that the second one peeled off, despite my being very careful in how I handled the phone. I carry my phone in an otherwise-empty pocket, same as bunches of other people; this should not happen. So that time the guy suggested that a case would help hold it down; the price of the case was comparable to the price of a two-pack of protectors, so I grudgingly bought a case and he put it on for me.

I've not had cause to try to remove the case since then, until last night when I found I wasn't sure how to do it without damaging something. And this "pop the battery" idea was just a theory anyway. So today I visited the T-Mobile store and spoke with Matt.

Matt's first guess was "confused phone", not "dead battery", and he took the case off, popped the battery, put it back in, and plugged the phone into a charger. This time it responded. I asked him to show me how he'd taken the case off and he said that it's very fussy. He then went to put it back on so he could show me, and discovered that it wouldn't go -- something had cracked or bent or something. He apologized for breaking the case and replaced it with a new one. I decided at that point that if somebody who probably does this dozens of times a week couldn't succeed, there's no hope of me doing it -- next time I need to access the battery I'll take it back to the store.

From Matt's point of view this is probably "stupid-customer 101" stuff, but he never said anything that implied that I was anything less than a smart person in an unfamiliar situation. He was very friendly and helpful and not at all condescending. While we were waiting to confirm that my battery could hold a charge, I overheard as he helped someone with questions even more basic than mine -- a customer trying to learn how to use a new "plain old phone". He was just as courteous and patient with that customer.

The salesperson told us when we bought the phones that we could come in any time for help; this wasn't just a sell-and-forget operation. Today they delivered on that, and I'll be asking specifically for Matt if I need to go back there again.

Added in a comment:

After posting I had intended to email a link to somebody at T-Mobile customer service, but they don't post an email address or have a feedback form, so I had to call and tell them about it. The person I spoke with seemed rather stunned that somebody was calling them with praise and not a complaint, and he assured me that this would get back to the appropriate manager. (There were only two people in the store today and this seemed to be the more-senior one, so there was nobody to speak with in person. I did, of course, thank him for his excellent customer service, but that's not the same as sending the word up a level.)

That was fun!

The baron of our local SCA group runs an occasional open-mic night at a local club, so he asked our choir to perform tonight. We said "renaissance choral music? really?" and he said yes, so we went and sang five short songs (two in English, three not). I couldn't actually see the audience very well (dark club), so I don't know how much of the enthusiastic response we got was due to local shills and how much due to the regular crowd liking this change of pace. But either way, that was fun.

There are some unwritten rules of these sorts of things. One is to support the other performers -- stick around, applaud, consider buying a CD (especially if they bought yours). When we walked in the act then on stage was not at all to my taste and I wondered how typical that would be, but it turned out there was a wide variety and many of the performers were very good. I've forgotten most of their names (I need to ask the baron for a list), but one of the surprises of the night for me was Double Shot. I don't even know the name of that genre and it's not something I would normally listen to, but the singing was good and their stage presence was excellent. Cool. There were also a few singers with guitar (one reminded me, stylistically, of Michael Spiro in his college-circuit days), a band with guitar, bass, and drums, an a-capella singer doing folk songs, and others. (We heard people call it "a-capella night", though as noted there were instruments.)

During the show I found myself thinking of songs I'd like to perform there and wondering about standing up a group (On the Mark or otherwise) for the occasional night like this, but it'll probably never happen. The performers there were mostly regular performers doing a circuit or with other gigs, while what I'm thinking of would be targetted -- get good musicians together on a Sunday, learn three songs or so, and perform them the next night; that sort of thing. I don't know if that could get traction with either other musicians or the people who run open-mic nights.

I also realized belatedly that attending this sort of thing has only become really feasible for me in the last several years, since Pittsburgh banned smoking in restaurants. On the Mark did a few coffeehouses/clubs/etc back in the day, and while the music was good the environment was sometimes toxic. I love music, but not enough to sit in a cloud of smoke for a night.

I wish we could just talk about it

Baldur has become more vocal of late. It's not just since Erik died; it's been building for a while longer. But it has gotten worse, maybe because of that or maybe coincidentally. The vet can find nothing wrong with him (other than that he's almost 19 years old); she suspects senility. Near as I can tell his vision and hearing are still ok -- at least, he chases the laser dot and hears a can of food being opened from a floor away. But he'll stand in the middle of the hall, yowling piteously and failing to respond to being called. If I go get him he stops for a while, usually. It's weird.

Alas, he has been doing a fair bit of this in the middle of the night of late, which is wearing. Tonight I shut him in the basement -- with plenty of warm soft stuff to sleep on, food, water, litter, and a light, of course, but still... He cried for a while but seems to have settled down. We'll see if it lasts.

I don't want to have to do this every night. I want my cat to be able to curl up on my feet (or, of late, my arm) while I sleep. This feels like I'm failing both of us.


First look: Origins, Bios Megafauna

A few years ago Dani bought a copy of American Megafauna, which I have written about before. The idea is that it's 250 million years ago and the players are playing proto-lizards and proto-mammals competing for viability in a world that's still changing due to things like ice ages and continental drift. The game concept is interesting but overall I found the game mechanics and physical set-up too challenging for the amount of enjoyment the game provided, so I stopped playing. Dani wasn't as frustrated as I was, but he did agree that the game was broken in some ways. So we ended up not playing it much, even at larger game days where it seemed possible to find four people interested in playing it.

There had been rumors of an impending new edition for a while, and when it opened for pre-order Dani went ahead and did so despite the early reports from play-testing. Basically, as I understand it, the play-testers were saying that some things needed to be changed, but the publisher really wanted to hit a deadline (a particular gaming convention) so he went ahead anyway, apparently with the idea that he could publish rules updates. Not auspicious, but Dani is more willing to invest the effort to figure these things out, so more power to him.

Meanwhile, at Origins this year Dani saw or heard about another game by this designer: in this one the players are various hominids competing to see who gets to be homo sapiens. Do you detect a theme? :-) Origins: How We Became Human was published a few years ago, and Dani ordered a copy.

We've played each game once, so it's too early to draw conclusions, but some notes: