Blog: May 2013

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.

Feline allergist

Giovanni has what appears to be some sort of allergy. He's currently on a hypo-allergenic diet, but my vet thinks there may be something else going on. So she referred me to a veterinary allergist. They make those?

I made an appointment today, and the person on the phone was giving me instructions. (Go to our web site and fill out such-and-such form, etc.) Then she told me not to bathe him for a couple days beforehand. I said "no problem". After a pause, she added "I guess that wasn't really necessary." I asked if they do mainly dogs at that point. :-)

Shavuot morning: not what I expected

For the festivals my congregation does combined services with another congregation and today was their turn to host. I didn't want to walk that far (especially since the combined services are still, um, struggling to find their stride), so I had planned to go to either Young People's (been there before) or Beth Shalom (haven't been there before for a morning service, so new experience). But on Tuesday I learned that the wife of my "mentor" in the weekday morning minyan had died, and I hadn't found out in time to go to the funeral, and a festival ends shiva (the mourning period during which the minyan goes to the mourner's house for extra support), so I decided at the last minute to go to their service today so I could at least express my condolences to him in person.

I wasn't sure how many people to expect there, but I wasn't expecting to hear, upon walking in (half an hour late, it turned out; I didn't know the start time), "now we can do Hallel". Yup, I was the tenth person there. (We got more over the course of the morning, maybe twenty total.) This is comparable to the weekday-morning turnout.

A few minutes later the rabbi told me he was giving me an aliya (one of the several torah blessings). A few minutes after that he came back and said "can you lead musaf?" I said I don't know musaf -- specifically, the middle part of the amidah that's specific to that service. (Reform doesn't do musaf.) He said no problem; we don't do a chazan's repetition, where the service leader chants the entire multi-page amidah by himself, preferably with nice melodies that I probably don't know. Instead, as with other instances of the amidah I've seen there, we would do everything together through the kedusha and then continue individually. That text is common, so I said sure, I can do that.

Boy am I glad I looked. A few minutes later I approached him and said "this text for kedusha -- it is not the text I'm used to and I don't know how to make it scan to any melody I know". (Well, I once sang one part of a choral setting of it, but...) He said no problem; we'll help you out. Feeling somewhat uncertain about the whole proposition, but noting that the whole service seemed to be lay-led by a variety of people, I figured that if he was ok with it, so was I.

So in the end I led part of the service, from the chatzi kaddish at the end of the torah service through musaf, Ein Keloheinu, and aleinu, with the torah reader propping me up during that kedusha, and it was fine. I hadn't expected to do more than sit in the congregation. Neat.

This was, it turns out, the first time I've been to a Conservative festival service. (I've been to Conservative Rosh Hashana, once, but that's different. Also, it was a long time ago.) I've been to Orthodox festival services, where all this content is standard too, but somehow they've never asked me to lead, so it hasn't come up. :-)

Design failure

Dear First Data (online payment system):

If, on the first page of the transaction, you asked me for the credit-card type, and then on the second page you gave me a text-entry box for the card number that allowed enough characters for me to type the spaces between the groups of numbers on the card, do not get all snippy at me about "wrong format". First, you should have told me "no spaces" up front; second, you shouldn't have let me type more than 16 characters there for my Visa card. You had enough information to present a correct-for-my-card-type input box and remove all doubt. It's not 1995 any more; we have web technologies that can handle this. Actually, given your multi-page setup, we could totally have done that in 1995 too. I think I did, actually.

Also, after clicking the "pay" button I should not be presented with a blank page that takes nearly two minutes to show a receipt, leaving me wondering what happened. A simple "working, please wait" could do wonders.

I would be happy to refer you to someone who could fix your user-experience problems for a reasonable fee.

A belated answer and a new puzzle

I don't have any lenses in my eyes. Some time back, somebody asked me what keeps my aqueous humor from mingling with my vitreous humor, since the lens usually does that. (These are two different kinds of fluid in the eye.) I wondered if they combined, or if they had different viscosities (like oil and water) and so naturally separated, or what. This morning I finally remembered to ask my ophthalmologist.

Her answer was that it's basically the latter; the aqueous humor is watery (and, by the way, exits through a duct that is often the source of glaucoma problems -- it gets plugged up, raising intra-ocular pressure), while the vitreous "has the consistency of egg whites". However, she said, the vitreous thins out as we age; parts break off and become floaters (yup, got some of those...), and it tends to liquify. So yes, in my case they'll eventually blend, and perhaps they are already. But, she said, this doesn't actually hurt anything; both exist primarily to supply nutrients to the eye and they'll keep doing that regardless. Apparently the different parts of the eye can eat each others' food, or something. (That's my conclusion, not something she said directly.)

She seemed pleased to be able to answer a question more advanced than "do I need new glasses", too. :-)

And now the new "puzzle": I wonder why the eye chart, the set of letters you read on every visit to measure your distance vision, is always the same. I understand why it was, back in the days of paper charts. But now it's all digital -- yet, on every test, it's the same set of letters on each line, in decreasing size as you go on. I have to work pretty hard to avoid memorizing this so it'll be a fair test, since I see my doctor a few times a year (not just once a year like many people). I understand why they want to have a certain mix of letters; I'm sure it's quite intentional that they use a G that can be mistaken for a C, or an F that can be mistaken for a P, and so on. But why not mix it up? Is it important that the F be on the 20/40 line and the G on the 20/50 line and so on? In the same order?

I didn't ask that question.

Les Mis (movie)

I never got around to seeing the Les Mis movie in the theatre, but I watched it on DVD last night. (Remember when we had to wait a year or more, rather than a few months, for a movie to come out on DVD? My, how times have changed.)

It appears that my standards for musicality, for a musical, are higher in a film than they are on a stage. On the stage you get one shot, and sometimes you have to sing in challenging postures (like while lying down or leaning over), and you have to account for the acoustics of the hall. None of these considerations apply on film. So while I enjoyed many aspects of the movie, particularly being able to see details of gesture and facial expression and setting that I would never be able to see on a stage, in the end I was disappointed because the singing was not, in general, as good as I had hoped it would be. I've seen three live productions, and all had stronger singers. So I'm disappointed; I guess I expected that to be even better in the movie. I'm not saying the singing was poor; most of it was quite serviceable, and Javert and Marius were consistently good. Oh well.

Every time I see this show my appreciation of Javert as a tragic character increases. Here we have someone who is so bound up in a worldview as to be harmful, yet he doesn't come across as a nut-case as sometimes happens.

One question: in every production I've seen (including the movie), the child at the barricade has a thick, exaggerated accent (which I would call Cockney were this not set in France). What's up with that?

Answer in comments: the accent is a proxy for "low-class".