Blog: May 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.

Modest dress in uncomfortable social situations

A teenage woman who recently started following the laws of modest dress asked on Mi Yodeya how to balance staying modest with not embarrassing family members and others who are embarrassed by her "odd" dress. I wrote:

You are to be commended for taking on a socially-challenging mitzvah. It's not always easy to be Jewish and be seen as different, whether it's through dress, food, or how you spend your Friday nights and Saturdays.

With any observance that sets you apart from others, take care in how you talk about it. It's about you, not about them, especially for your secular friends. Make it clear that you're doing this for your own reasons; you need to steer clear of anything that will be perceived as a superiority attitude, because people don't like to be around people they think are judging them. Since that is not your attitude, this just means listening to how you talk and imagining how it will be perceived. One simple, truthful explanation you can offer is "I find these clothes more comfortable".

(Some of your friends are probably Jews who you might wish were also keeping tziniut, so perhaps there is some subconscious judgement there. Don't ignore them, but you need to get comfortable yourself before you can be effective at drawing others in. Being a role model will likely work better than trying to persuade them.)

Another thing you can do is to spend time with your female friends (without any guys around); in those settings the rules are more relaxed, so a swimming suit, for example, is not a problem. That won't work on beaches and at public pools, but it could work at a spa, for example.

Finally, if you act like this is (1) unremarkable and (2) not open for debate, eventually people will lose interest in arguing with you. If you don't make a big deal about it then, in time, they won't either.

Parlor game: let's talk about... (7 things)

This parlor game comes to me via TalvinAmarich: "Comment to this post and I will pick seven things I would like you to talk about. They might make sense or be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself."

He gave me: Lisp, On the Mark, Accessibility, Books, Role-Playing Games, Filk, Faroe Islands (one of these things is not like the others).

LISP turned out to be a longer story. On the Mark, ditto. Read moreā€¦

On the Mark: origins

Part of that "7 things" meme:

On the Mark:

So it's like this. I enjoy making music, both singing and playing, and while the SCA was providing opportunities to do that, it couldn't scratch the folk-music part of that itch. Filksings at SF cons, while also enjoyable, couldn't scratch much of the itch either; I don't play guitar and I don't write my own songs, so I felt like my offerings there amounted to "reasonably-well-done a-capella songs we've all heard before". But there was this group playing at cons called Clam Chowder that was doing the kinds of music I wanted to do -- rich arrangements, a variety of instruments, a mix of folk songs and filk and "found filk" and the occasional oddball piece. And I wondered if there was room for more of that kind of thing in fandom and perhaps occasional coffeehouses and stuff, so I asked three musical SCA friends if this sounded interesting to them, and it did, and off we went. (Because we were all in the SCA, we could easily incorporate the renaissance music we were already doing there into other performances -- bonus!)

Now this all worked pretty well when we were in our 20s and didn't have such demanding jobs and I wasn't yet paying attention to Shabbat and the only group members who were married were married to each other. We had a lot of fun for about 15 years and then shut it down on a high note. We didn't want to be one of those groups that slowly degrades while its friends sigh and hope you'll put it out of their misery, y'know?

I still listen to our CDs (well, mp3s now) sometimes and, well, gosh, we were pretty good. In my biased opinion. :-) I wish we'd done more music that we'd be free and clear to post online; I'd like to be able to share.

How LISP changed my professional life

Part of that "seven things" meme:


The most valuable part of my education as a technical writer was my student internship with the Common LISP project. It was also either the first- or second-most important part of my education as a software developer. Yes yes, the classroom stuff was important and the software-engineering project course was essential for putting the pieces together, but this was the real world and the real world is far less tidy than the classroom.

I was brought on to help write the documentation for this then-in-development language. (Other varieties of LISP existed; this was an attempt to unify them.) But unlike all my previous tech-writing work, this was for a thing that did not fully exist yet, and I was part of the ongoing design process. I was there in the (virtual) room with the lead designers, Guy Steele, Dave Moon and dozens of others big and small, and if my contributions had merit it didn't matter that I was an undergraduate with no real experience. On the ARPAnet nobody knows you're a dog undergrad. Mind, being an undergraduate with no real experience, I didn't necessarily have a lot of design ideas to contribute, but even then I was pretty good at catching inconsistencies and asking key questions. I learned to write software-interface documentation there, but even more importantly I learned to be part of a real software-development process, to ask questions even if they might seem "stupid", to argue for technical positions and support those arguments, and to be a full member of a team.

When I graduated and met more of the real world I would learn that it usually doesn't work like this. In a lot of places, tech writers are not part of the development process (and may not even be in the development department) and the attitude is that they can come in after the big boys are done developing the product. Phooey on that; this important early experience taught me that it doesn't have to be that way, and I have held firm on this in every place I've ever worked. If I hadn't had this early lesson, I might well have fled the field.

It is also because of the Common LISP project that I went into programmer documentation (and expanded from there). I wouldn't have pursued tech-writing jobs that were all about walking the menus in the UI and stepping through wizards and such; I want to look under the hood, understand what's there, and use that knowledge to help users. Building software development kits like I do now is exciting and nourishes my inner geek. When I went to college I hadn't even heard of technical writing (I went there to do computer science), but I came out as a technically-proficient writer who knows the good that is possible. I have Common LISP to thank for that.

Baldur's heart

Since last I wrote about Baldur a few things have happened. A week after that post we went to Toronto for Pesach and I boarded him at the vet's so they could monitor him. (This is a new service.) While he was there they did another X-ray and reported that the fluid he'd been retaining was nearly gone, so they had me reduce the dosage of the Furosemide (diuretic) and told me to bring him back in a month.

Last week was that visit, and he had a lot of fluid in his abdomen. (Not in his lungs -- just running around in there, um, somewhere.) The vet tried to get a sample with a needle but reached the "feisty" threshold before succeeding, so didn't. She recommended another ultrasound to see if there's been a change in his heart. That was today. She also had me raise the drug dosage (splitting the difference) a few days ago; they recommend checking bloodwork 3-4 days after doing that so we timed it for the ultrasound day. (This drug can rapidly cause kidney damage; that's what they're looking for.)

The ultrasound confirmed that he has congestive heart failure; at the previous ultrasound they used words like "possible" but not this time. His heart hasn't changed much since the last one, which is good; I guess they got a closer look this time. There is also still a fair bit of fluid, though it's down some, so I am to increase the dosage again (back to that original level) and bring him in for a quick blood test Monday morning. We will probably also increase the dosage on the Enalapril (the heart medicine), but my vet understands the value of isolating variables during testing so we'll do that after confirming that the other drug's dose is fine.

She also strongly recommended that I board him with them when I go to Israel this summer. I said my cat-sitter is excellent and diligent, thinking she was worried about him not getting all his meds or something, but she pointed out that if he's there I can authorize them to use their best judgement about any on-the-fly treatments. Good point. Being in a cage, even a nice large one, for a week and a half won't be much fun, but on the other hand he spends most of his time sleeping so maybe he doesn't care?

My vet is unsure about prognosis. We're pretty sure that he won't be going out to celebrate reaching drinking age in two years, but beyond that... At this point we need to get his heart problems under control, which risks kidney problems, which -- if they show up -- we'll need to do something to compensate for, and the dance goes on. I don't know what end-stage heart failure looks like, but I do know what kidney failure looks like and that's not fun, so let's hope he continues to tolerate the heart meds. (Today his BUN was 40, last week 37, normal is up to 36. Erik and Embla stayed around 60 for a year or two before going downhill. So I'm cautiously optimistic about the kidneys.)

His pulse, on the other hand, was 100 both this week and last. Normal for him is 160-200. That's kind of freaky.

On the bright side, a friend gave me some home-grown catnip today for him and I can report that he found his first sample quite satisfactory. :-)

But those were useful features!

A very helpful (yes, really!) technician at Verizon diagnosed our network problems as a flaky router, so he sent us a new one and we swapped it in today. The old router had two features that I found useful: I could name devices on the network, and the "my network" list showed me everything that had connected since the last router restart, not just the currently-connected devices. These, particularly in combination, were useful for monitoring my network. (Why yes, since I can be punished for anything done from my IP address even if I didn't do or authorize it, and since no security that is still usable is perfect, I do care.)

The new router lacks both of these features; it shows currently-connected devices by MAC address (and IP address), but short of my maintaining the name-MAC mappings externally, that's of limited utility. And it doesn't tell me if a neighbor found his way onto my network while I wasn't watching. Now my neighbors seem like decent folks, and in a different legal environment I'd rather be the sort of person who shares my spare bandwidth with anybody who needs it, but that's not the point.

Oh well. I guess I am now relying more strongly on decent neighbors and passwords, as I haven't found anything like router logs that tell me this stuff.

I know that some of my readers are pretty security-conscious. How do you handle this?

Lots of helpful discussion in the comments.