Blog: April 2014

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.

Seder #2

Tuesday night I had assorted friends over for an all-adults, talk-as-long-as-we-want seder. I thought it went quite well. There were ten of us (planned to be eleven but somebody stayed home sick, alas).

As we did last year, we had the first part in the living room -- if we're reclining in comfort, why not use the comfy chairs? (I think, but am not certain, that I have Lee Gold to thank for this idea.) The haggadah I use (Silverman, revised/enhanced) has transliteration for many of the key parts -- part of why I chose it, for accessibility -- but not all of them, so I made a supplementary sheet with the rest of what we'd need. With luck I got everything this year that I had missed last year; it's an iterative process. People were good sports about faking their way through unfamiliar melodies, and I got to hear one or two new ones from others. (When you bring diverse people together you don't all have the same traditions, which is cool because we can learn from each other but can leave people feeling a little off-kilter while they get used to it.)

Somebody brought the Velveteen Rabbi's haggadah and shared some readings from it. Note to self: go download that. One thing in particular that I want to pick up for future years: as pointed out by one of my guests, the haggadah spends more time recalling discussions of the exodus than the exodus itself; we don't read from the book of Exodus, for example. The VR haggadah has a nice engaging summary that we inserted into the magid to good effect.

Note to self: get more grape juice next year! Last year we only used one bottle and this year I bought two (had a couple more people); three would have been better. Also, it's worth it to get the nice bottled sparkling grape juice, not the stuff from the juice section of the grocery store.

We went for about 2.5 hours before the meal, I think, with lots of good conversation. The meal was pleasant and we did the rest of the haggadah and sang some of the songs after.

Note to self: get a different, or additional, folding table for next year. There was no good way to seat 11 people with the tables and chairs I had; I set up something that I thought would work but people rearranged while I was getting the soup ready, so I guess it didn't. Since we only had 10 they were able to make that work. But I don't want my furniture to limit my guests in the future. (When the dishes start to limit the guests I'll just get more or use plastic or something.)

I'm glad my friends were able to be part of this, and I'm glad Dani was there this year.

Seder #1

Monday night I went to Chabad for the first seder. This was new for me; the only other community seder I've been to was a university Hillel, and the only other time I've been to anything Chabad was a Shabbat dinner when traveling once. The people there were nice, and it turned out I knew one person at my table, someone who was in that class I took last year.

Unanticipated (but if I'd thought about it...): a community seder draws people who don't have anywhere else to go, which includes people who aren't otherwise very Jewishly involved. (So it's great that somebody is there for them.) Being asked to teach somebody the blessing for candle-lighting came as a surprise to me. (She was very nice, and at my table. Later I taught her the blessing for hand-washing.)

Halachically speaking there is a minimum amount of matzah you have to eat and a minimum amount of wine (or grape juice) to drink. Handing out matzah in pre-measured bags makes sense in retrospect, but I was surprised by it at the time.

Acoustics in a large room with children running around making noise where the leader can't use a microphone are challenging. I hope the poor rabbi had a voice left the next morning.

Noted in passing: Chabad doesn't do matzah balls. (I don't know if that's "at all" or "at the seder". I think the former, and that this is something called gerbrokts.)

Interesting logistics: they gave us a small meal (which they called a "snack") before the seder got started, which was after 8PM. We probably got to the meal around 9:15 or 9:30, which I don't think of as terribly late, but people with kids may have a different view. (In a similar vein, both last year and this I put out munchies -- raw veggies, pickles, etc -- during the first part of my seder, so people would have more than a sprig of parsley before the meal.)

Contrary to what I've heard about the length of Chabad seders, we were finished before 11.


Pesach starts tomorrow night. The kitchen is ready and the grocery shopping is done. I'll be going to Chabad for the first seder Monday night (definitely a new experience for me!), and hosting one for friends on the second night -- this year with guest appearance by Dani. :-) (We were just in Toronto a week ago for a wedding celebration, and he decided he wasn't going to go up there again this week. He doesn't want to join me at Chabad and we didn't receive any other invitations, but he'll be with us on the second night.)

Chag sameach to those who celebrate, and happy mid-April to the rest of you. USians, don't forget to file those taxes...

Not the result I expected

As many of you know, I'm a moderator on two Stack Exchange sites, Mi Yodeya (where I was elected) and Writers (where I have a temporary appointment, until the site graduates out of beta). Stack Exchange has more than a hundred sites and I participate on some other ones to varying degrees. One where I've answered a lot of questions is The Workplace, which, as the name implies, is for questions and answers about things that come up in working life -- management, working with remote employees, job-hunting, work environment, recruiting, work-life balance, and so on. The Workplace graduated from beta several weeks ago.

Graduation means electing moderators, and people started lobbying me to run. I wasn't going to; I can do a lot of good for the site as a high-reputation regular user and, while I'm willing, I wasn't itching to pick up a third moderatorship. Eventually I consented to run (and you can see my answers to questions from the community). As one of six candidates for three positions (and there were no bad candidates on the list), I figured I'd probably come out in the middle of the pack somewhere (3rd means elected, 4th means not). After all, there were other candidates who wanted the job and are capable.

You can see where this is going, of course.

But, seriously, roughly a third of the first-place votes in a single-transferable-vote (Australian ballot, preference ballot) scheme? (See the results.) For context, jmort235 (the next-highest first-round vote-getter) was a beta moderator widely considered to be doing a good job; I assumed he would be the top vote-getter by rather a lot. And I don't think it's that people were gaming the ballot;1 it doesn't seem like that kind of community.

I haven't downloaded the ballot data to see what else was going on in there; I've only looked at the summary charts (and corresponding output from the tally software). It looks like for most ballots only the first-place votes mattered, so I'd have to look at the raw data to see how I compared to others on second- and third-choice votes. I might at some point but it's not a high priority for me. (On the other hand, if I could slurp all the data into CoMotion... but I can't.)


1 In a preference ballot you do a round of voting and if you don't have a winner, you drop out the lowest-voted candidate and redistribute those votes. (In this particular flavor you also redistribute "excess" votes for winners.) Since it's "safe" to assume that jmort235 will get a seat, people might deliberately vote for other people first and give him their third vote (everybody gets three choices, ordered). That can backfire, of course, so if you're that kind of voter you need to make sure you're not hurting your candidate.

Interesting job development

This was a locked entry at the time, because one doesn't generally talk publicly about applications in progress, but it's ok to open it now.

My employer recently laid off some people, including me (government contracting, yay). Many of us think they made some bad decisions about who; it was very tactical, who's doing billable work right now, and not at all strategic (who will we need in the not-too-distant future), but eh, not under my control so not worrying about it, and there's pseudo-severance money. I spiffed up the resume, filed for unemployment, and began the search.

Not long after, a former coworker contacted me, saying (essentially) "I love the place I'm working, we're building out a Pittsburgh office, and I'd love to work with you again". So we had lunch and talked about what they're looking for and what I'm looking for, and I sent him a resume. A week or so later they opened a new requisition that was pretty clearly based on my resume (though it's reassuring that they chose from among existing job descriptions -- reassuring because this means they already value some things I consider important).

I had the HR phone screen, and two days later the Skype interview with the hiring manager, and a couple days after that the informal interview (and lunch) with the Pittsburgh team (all five of them). The next day the hiring manager asked if I would consider a trip to the main office to interview with the folks up there (the job is in Pittsburgh, but much of the team is up there). So I'll be making a quick interview trip next week.

Meanwhile I got email from my ex-coworker to check in and see if I'm still interested in them. He also said they've just today gotten new office space (they'd been renting some crappy temporary space when I last visited), and would I like to come see it and have lunch? Sure, twist my arm.

I do believe I'm being courted. This is new for me. Cool.