Blog: June 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.

Quick notes

Wednesday's talks: Donniel Hartman "Do I have to believe in God to be a good Jew?" was very interesting and thought-provoking; more to come. And Yitz Greenberg "The nature of faith in an age of absolute divine hiddenness and total human responsibility" was a little hard to follow; I'll see what I can distill later maybe.

Thursday morning: "Faith and reason", Donniel Hartman and then chevruta study. He talked a lot about the Rambam (with a little Ramban in the later study). I plan to write more about this, but some tidbits: reasoon is not the same thing as rationality, and (per Rambam) if religion seems incompatible with rationality you don't understand Torah (not "science is wrong").

The program so far is suitably intellectual for me (perhaps even a bit too much). There will be other experiences too, so it'll be a nice blend.

An open letter to Air Canada

TL;DR: Not one but two late flights causing me to miss connections, and I've lost a day of my vacation (and a lecture I wanted to attend). Most of the Air Canada reps didn't seem to give a hoot about passengers. (Note: the flight crews are not included in that statement; they were fantastic. The rest of AC could learn from them.)

An open letter to Air Canada: Read more…

Pennsic house version ~1.5

We built my Pennsic house in 2000 and it's taken a beating over the years -- from harsh weather, from being moved and I suspect at times bumped, and most especially from sitting in a field with waist-high grass between Pennsics. The folks in my camp have been great about helping to make repairs, patching the wood and doing other work, but the accumulation of patches was starting to get problematic. It was time to strip the exterior sheathing and redo it.

The work is almost done now, and with luck this version will be more durable. That is in large part due to a new material that is supposed to be more moisture-resistant and durable. See that stucco look in the picture below? That's not a paint mixin; that's part of the fabrication. The siding is infused with cement somehow, but doesn't weigh too much more than the plywood we took off. (It's heavier, yes, but not problematic.)

We also got my "stone" corners back.


As you can see the window trim isn't back on yet, but it will be. (New pieces.)

New Leslie Fish album

Leslie Fish's new album, Avalon is Risen, is out. I'm impressed by the quality of this recording. If I hadn't known that Prometheus Music was doing it I would have expected Leslie's "smoker voice" and guitar; what we actually get is a smoother voice, richer arrangements, instrumental depth, and, yes, Leslie's excellent guitar playing too.

I'm glad to see the increased focus on musical depth; Leslie's songs are good on their own, but the right accompaniment -- in addition to guitars and backing vocals I heard horns, oboe, recorder, and a variety of excellent percussion -- makes a difference. You don't need to have the full orchestra of Divine Intervention to make a difference.

Many of the songs on this CD were on the long-out-of-print tape Chickasaw Mountain, including the tape's title song (now labelled as a tribute to Phil Ochs), "The Sun Is Also a Warrior", "Lucifer", "Mount Tam", and lighter fare like "The Earth's Fire-Breathing Daughter", in which a coven has trouble with the neighbors, and "Jack the Slob and the Goddess of Love". A few songs I had not heard before, like "The Arizona Sword" and "Polaris/Recall". The latest copyright date I saw on the liner notes was 2002 so I clearly don't get out enough, but even if you've heard some of the others before I don't think they've been recorded. And if they have, it probably wasn't anything like this.

There were a couple minor artistic choices I wished were different. When listening to "Berserker" I felt the absence of the "echo" backup vocal that was on the first recording I heard; I hadn't realized how integral to the song that was for me. The other was in one of the sound-effects; it's cool that they recorded a real blacksmith to use in "The Arizona Sword", but it wasn't exactly on the beat. I'll get over it.

There is a short little half-song half-spoken word ditty at the end, "Invocation of Cthulhu". The treatment didn't grab me, but the punch line is worth waiting for. It may be a funny-once; I'm not sure how much replay value it'll have for me.

I am not a sound engineer, but I've had the privilege to work with some excellent ones in making my own recordings, and I see the handiwork of an excellent engineer in this recording. Kristof Klover has impressed me with this, both in the handling of the multiple instruments and voices and in bringing out the best in Leslie.

The booklet that comes with the CD includes all the lyrics, specific credits, and introductions, but the real treasure here is the art. If you buy the MP3 download instead of the CD you'll get a PDF of the book, but I'm glad to have the physical book. Gorgeous.

"7 things" parlor game

There was a parlor game going around where someone else picks seven things for you to write about and you do -- short or long, meaningful or random.

Justin gave me: Faith. Family. Communication. Study. Music. Language. Service.

Faith: Faith is a combination of commitment, fidelity, and trust. It does not come easily to me; it has to be earned. Which poses a problem: how can I have faith in God, when I can hardly make demands of God? What could God do to earn my faith? This is something of a conundrum, and perhaps the answer is that I don't so much have faith in God as have entered a partnership with him. And perhaps this is why the Catholic view of God I was raised with never resonated but the Jewish view makes perfect sense: we have a contract with God, with obligations on both sides, and however hard it is to explain, I do have faith that keeping this contract will produce -- and has already produced -- positive outcomes.

Family: My parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer. Their commitment to each other seems as strong now as what I remember when I was a child. That's fabulous, and I wish more of my friends (and my husband) had the benefit of such strong parental relationships.

On this Father's Day, let me list some of the important values my father in particular taught to me, not through words by by modeling the right behaviors. (a) Principles matter, and that can mean not taking the easy, expedient path. (b) Education, and in particular learning how to reason, is critical. (c) Reaching and failing is still better than not trying.
(d) Stand up for yourself, or for others, if you see something that's wrong. (e) You can accurately judge a man by how he treats animals. (f) Power tools are dangerous.

Communication: I communicate pretty well through the written word most of the time. I struggle with the other forms. I am not nearly as articulate and quick-thinking in conversation as I would like to be, and I miss subtle body language. On the other hand, I seem to have developed some sort of perception that can detect when a conversation is going badly (e.g. boring or frustrating someone) when others around me don't seem to, and I don't know what's up with that. But all in all people are hard, and I am most comfortable in environments where people are not afraid to be blunt and don't take offense if people are blunt with them. Fortunately, the software industry is full of such people. :-)

Study: I don't remember who said "when I stop learning, bury me", but that's spot-on. Study is the active pursuit of learning, but more than that, I've come to understand it as a pursuit of its own. I study talmud with one rabbi and midrash with another, both on a regular basis, and for most of what we're studying there is no earthly reason that knowing this material will help me (it's not practical knowledge), yet I love it anyway -- there is a "meta" level to the study that is about how arguments are formed and what factors are important to the rabbis and what implicit or explicit questions they had that needed to be addressed through law or stories. In a way, the same can be said for the historical study I do; knowing thus-and-such about Viking culture, or 15th-century cooking, or Iberian Spain, or military tactics, or any of a number of crafts doesn't really matter in the modern world, but it sure is neat.

Music: I enjoy singing, but spent a long time thinking I wasn't any good at it. (Public-school choir and its crappy alto lines of doom, I'm looking at you.) One of the things that's great about the SCA is that it provides a venue to try things you might not (yet) be any good at, so when a local choir formed I joined and learned some of the things I'd been doing wrong, like that there was something other than chest voice. (Getting some voice lessons also helped.) On the instrumental side, after several years of childhood piano lessons (I think I also wasn't very good at that, in retrospect), I didn't do anything until college or just after, when I started listening to folk music involving non-guitar instruments. I started with mountain dulcimer and then moved to hammer dulcimer, which seemed very natural and comfortable and didn't care how I breathed or whether I could fret chords. For all that the layout looks funky, it's a linear instrument, like the piano that was my introduction to playing instruments. Aside from the challenge of tuning a bazillion strings (and perhaps hearing them go out of tune in the span of one concert in a bad environment), it's a very nice instrument.

Language: I was and probably still am a slow learner when it comes to vocabulary. But when it comes to structure, I have strong instincts. This is a blessing and a curse; it does help me to write what I mean, but I will notice a misplaced "only" or a dangling modifier and wonder what the author really meant, and that can be frustrating when I'm just trying to read for enjoyment. It's kind of what I imagine having perfect pitch must be like. On the other hand, this makes me pretty good at reviewing laws and policies, a skill I've deployed in SCA and synagogue contexts. AEthelmearc arguably has me to thank for preventing the law that said all the crown prince and princess have to do is to choose a champion. :-) (They meant that choosing the champion is solely the decision of...)

Service: Service, to me, is the stuff that has to be done that isn't enough fun to be worth the effort on its own. I realize that lots of fun things are also service, and in the SCA we reward that service and I think that's good, but when I'm doing it, if I'm having fun I don't think of it so much as service. For the not-so-fun service, some people find altruism to be a core motivation. I don't, usually; I take more of my inspiration from the adage "if you want something done right, do it yourself" and the rest from social obligation, recipricosity, and avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Maybe that makes me a bad person or maybe just a realist, but there it is.

User-experience fail

All I wanted to do was to buy some stamps.

The last time I did this (a couple years ago, I think), I went to the USPS web site, chose my stamps, and supplied a credit card and shipping address. It took about three minutes.

Last night I went through the following process: Read more…

"7 things" #3

There was a parlor game going around where someone else picks seven things for you to write about and you do -- short or long, meaningful or random.

Alaric gave me: Pittsburgh, writing, your favorite song, chicken, D&D, knowledge, and al-Andalus. Read more…

"7 things" #2

There was a parlor game going around where someone else picks seven things for you to write about and you do -- short or long, meaningful or random.

Unique_name_123 gave me: computer, spirituality, laurel, rules, games, travel, artichoke. Read more…