Blog: October 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.

My day in court

One morning back in June a police officer stopped me, said I hadn't stopped "long enough" at a stop sign (he didn't say I ran it), and gave me a ticket. He also told me that he was being ultra-picky because there had been complaints in the neighborhood, he didn't think highly of his current assignment, and if I were to plead "not guilty" he wouldn't show up in traffic court unless specifically ordered to. O...kay. Not how I particularly wanted to spend a couple hours, but my unblemished record and exaggerated fees were at stake, so I did that. (Traffic tickets are kind of like phone bills, apparently -- $20 or so base cost plus $100 or more in fees...)

My hearing was this morning and, as expected, was successful. Most hearings took about a minute: the clerk tells the judge what the charge is, the judge says "talk to me" after swearing you in, you tell your story, and he either says "ok" or "no" and sends you on your way. I didn't say anything about what the officer had told me, of course; I merely said (honestly) that I had stopped, that the officer had an obstructed view (he was on a narrow side street behind another car, with buildings going almost to the street), and that I've never had a moving violation in (mumble) years of driving. That was sufficient.

What was interesting were the cases that weren't so straightforward. These were generally the ones that people brought lawyers for. These included:

  • A charge of driving on a suspended license. There was a quiet, heated exchange, and after the judge ruled the defendant guilty I heard his lawyer say "I need to talk to you right now". Sounds like somebody wasn't completely straight with his counsel...

  • A charge of an illegal turn (admitted) with an add-on of reckless endangerment. The lawyer argued that the latter requires intent and this wasn't intentional; the defendant hadn't seen the sign -- and also, this would carry six points. The judge asked the police officer if he was ok with that, there was a huddle, and the officer agreed.

  • Aside: that police officer stayed there for three cases in a row all at that same intersection. I couldn't tell if they were on the same day, but I assume so. (Locals: a no-left-turn sign at the five-way intersection on Blvd of the Allies.)

  • One defendant said it was his car but he wasn't the driver. The officer said something like "I always process these the same day; either he has a twin out there or it was him". The judge asked him how confident he was on a scale of 1-10; he said 8. Guilty. (I have no idea what "process" means here.) Since no mention was made of a driver's license having been shown, I suspect this was a case where the driver didn't stop and the ticket was issued based on the plates.

  • One defendant was initially stopped for an expired inspection sticker, which led to the discovery that he was driving on a suspended license. The defendant said he had borrowed the car from a friend and who thinks to check the stickers? (I can sympathize for that part, though not the suspended-license part.) The police officer took a hard line with him, saying that it's his responsibility as a driver to check these things. There was then a discussion I couldn't hear, and I think he was found guilty on all counts. (Aside: how can they even read those stickers on moving cars? They're not big. Are they relying on cameras with zoom or something?)

  • A feeble, elderly man who, on being asked how he pled, launched into a long, fairly-incoherent babble about how he's a good driver and not like those reckless kids and blah blah blah, and he's 93 years old and knows how to drive -- and never actually answered the question or said what happened during his traffic stop. The judge just said "ok" and sent him away. Were I that guy, I might have considered paying the ticket by mail even if I wasn't guilty, because the alternative might risk too much scrutiny -- though, demonstrably, his approach can work.

Simchat Torah

This year's Simchat Torah services were, I'm pretty sure, the best we've had during my time there.

The evening service always includes consecration for new religious-school students, so there are tons of kids there, generally somewhat unruly. Sometimes in the past this has led to more being cut from the service than I'm comfortable with. This year that didn't happen; most notably, we got a full amidah that we could complete individually, rather than the usual congregational reading. (This is something we've been doing for a while in the morning minyan, but it's the first time I've seen it in our sanctuary.) I am very pleased.

(I suspect that being a Sunday may have helped with kid-control; they weren't coming from a day of school, with parents coming from a day of work. And there was a congregational dinner before services, too.)

This year we opened the back wall of the sanctuary; for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we do that and fill the space back there with chairs, but this time it was left open. This meant there was much more room to dance, and everybody could see everything as the torah scrolls were carried around the room. I think that made a big psychological difference.

On Simchat Torah we make seven "processions" around the room with the torah scrolls while singing and dancing. These are called hakafot. In some (many? most? I don't know) congregations this isn't organized; people get up and join or drop out as they like and it just works. My congregation always invites people in groups for these, with the groups being things like "families with students in religious school", "new members", etc. At times this has ended up being so family-focused that there were people who went three times before I got to go once, and that was off-putting. This year the groups were better-chosen, including having some that were mutually exclusive and collectively all-inclusive. Yay. Meanwhile, our cantorial soloist and band did a great job of keeping the music flowing.

Inter-shul anthropology question: how long do you spend on your hakafot (total)?

The morning crowd was smaller and older, and we were joined by another local congregation. (We take turns for the festivals.) On the way in I asked my rabbi if he wanted me to read torah and he said sure and gave me an assignment. This is not the problem you might think it is; I know the portion and have read parts of it most years recently. One of the rabbis from the other congregation read the first half (end of the book of D'varim), and I and my rabbi split the other half (beginning of the book of B'reishit).

In the morning we had the cantorial soloist and our pianist but not the band, but the music was still nice and lively. The service was about what I expect for our combined services. I wish that Mishkan T'filah, our siddur, didn't reduce the prayer for rain (and the one for dew in the spring) down to practically nothing; having heard tal for the first time at Pesach in Toronto, I would have enjoyed hearing its bookend geshem. But I assume I just won't get that in the Reform movement; oh well.

I didn't go to the other synagogue for Sukkot last week [1], so I don't know how many people were there, but attendance yesterday was higher than I've come to expect for festival services. I'm glad to see that.

[1] Rather than walk two miles there and back I went to Young People's Synagogue a couple blocks from my house.

How I work

LifeHacker is doing a series on how I work and one of my coworkers brought the concept to our wiki late last week. This is approximately what I posted. (I hadn't yet seen the LifeHacker posts, so the style doesn't exactly match.)

The Basics:

  • Name: Monica

  • Occupation: the business card says "software developer"; really a mix of software interface designer, application programmer, technical writer (emphasis on technical), and budding architect

  • Location: Blueberry (our office has neighborhoods)

  • Current computer(s):

    • Work: standard developer desktop (Dell XP)
    • Home: Mac Mini (Snow Leopard), a legacy PC (XP) I haven't turned on in half a year, and the corpse of a recently-dead iBook
  • Current mobile device(s): Android phone, (new) ASUS Transformer tablet (Android), classic Kindle (e-ink)

  • I work: inquisitively and caffeinated

What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
Live without? Nothing. But near-essential: emacs, a command line, Firefox with Stylish. Looking for a text editor for Android.

What's your workspace setup like?
Semi-chaotic (I know where everything is). The stacks of papers are organized into epochs. A barrier is strategically placed to block light flooding in from beyond my space. At work, whiteboard and corkboard provide auxiliary storage.


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What do you listen to while you work?
Ideally, nothing (though the gentle purring of a cat at my feet is most welcome). For me, music in headphones is in my face demanding my attention, no matter what it is or what volume it's at. Music in the background in the room (on speakers) isn't that way, but doesn't work in an open-seating plan.

In practice, at work I listen to the often-disruptive sounds of every phone, conversation, or other activity within about 50 feet, with no volume control or "off" button.

What's your best time-saving trick?
Iterate in short cycles, fail fast, and keep asking "is this what we really want?". (Also, automate anything time-consuming I have to do a lot.) I take the long view on saving time. Also, like (a coworker), explain it before doing it; you find a lot of bugs that way.

What's your favorite to-do list manager?
My memory, paper and pen, browser tabs.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
Again, nothing I can't live without, but paper and pen, Google, and my pocket magnifying glass are all pretty important.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
Close, critical reading. This lets me find problems in specifications (software specs, law/policy, game rules, etc). The secret is both reading carefully and thinking creatively about what users could do that you might not have planned for.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Best" changes frequently, but here's one that my current job has really brought out for me: You are not the user. That is, don't let your own assumptions cloud what you're building; go find out what your users actually need (which may not just be what they're asking you for).

Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to your coworkers?
I've been around (this company) for a long time so I tend to know odd bits of history, trivia, design rationale, etc. I also like learning new things. I enjoy helping people, so feel free to come chat (especially new people) and maybe we'll both learn something new.