Blog: April 2016

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.

Some seder notes

Last night, as has become traditional (three times makes a tradition, right?), I held a second-night Pesach seder that I bill as the "it takes as long as it takes; you had lunch, right?" seder. In other words, the goal is plenty of good discussion, tangents welcome, and we'll get to the meal when we get there and meanwhile I'll put out some snacks.

We were five this year, having lost a couple people at the last minute. Our group included our new associate rabbi and another minyan member joining us for the first time; the others have been to this before. I asked everybody to bring something to share -- something from another haggadah, other readings or teachings, new songs, etc -- and, of course, plenty of questions.

We had a blast! We left few tangents unexplored, and I saw some haggadot that were new to me and interesting. (When people have a chance to answer the email I just sent, I'll update this post with specifics.) I heard some new songs (learning will take more than the one hearing, but now I know about them), and it turned out that some of the melodies I know were new to some others. And I take it as a good sign when a discussion about torah text gets to the point where somebody says "do you have a BDB" (a standard lexicon) or "pass the Jastrow" (dictionary of Aramaic terms). Why yes, we were taking apart grammar on the spot to answer niggling questions.

Here's a thing that only registered for me this year, despite using this same haggadah for three years now: you know that part at the beginning of Magid (the story) where many haggadot say "My father was a wandering Aramean"? Our haggadah (Silverman 2013) says "An Aramean sought to destroy my father". !!! The latter understanding is Rashi's (we learned), reading oved (wandering) instead as ibed (destroyed). That raised some eyebrows over grammar, and it turns out it does with Ibn Ezra too, who opts for the "wandering" version. Huh, interesting. Tonight I found an article at My Jewish Learning that talks about this.

I didn't notice exactly when we started, but it was about three hours until we got to the meal. To make that possible and not butt-numbing, I continued something I learned from Lee Gold: do the pre-meal part in the living room on the comfy chairs. We're supposed to be able to recline in comfort during this part; if space permits, I've found it helpful to actually do that. This wouldn't work with a large group, but with a large group we probably wouldn't be able to have this kind of discussion and interaction anyway.

Dinner conversation was enjoyable and wide-ranging, and then we went back to the living room for the after-meal parts, including a pretty rousing Hallel. It turns out we all like Hallel. :-)

I was able to share some things from "Hagada - Mi Yodeya?", and I sent everybody home with a copy. (You can download yours here.)

Food notes: During the earlier part, in addition to the ritual foods, I put out raw vaggies and almonds to munch on. Dinner was: (hard-boiled eggs,) ginger-coconut soup (with assorted veggies), gefilte fish, baked chicken with rosemary and sage, roasted red peppers stuffed with butternut squash and sweet onions, roasted small potatoes (golden and red) with sea salt, green salad with fruit (brought by a guest), and assorted desserts including cookies brought by a guest. (I was a wizard of multi-tasking on Friday!) For those wondering about the soup: everybody is presumed to have had chicken soup with matzah balls the previous night and one guest is a vegetarian, so I wanted something non-meat and didn't want to just use something that came in a box. I saw this soup recipe in a newspaper recently (it was a fish soup but I adapted it) and decided to make that.

"Hagada - Mi Yodeya?", second edition!

Three years ago, we at Mi Yodeya put out our first publication, a Hagada supplement full of questions and answers related to the Passover seder, hand-picked from the thousands of great Jewish Q&As at Mi Yodeya. Seders around the world were enlivened, thanks to people bringing printouts of this booklet.

Today, for Passover 5776, we are proud to present a second edition, significantly expanded and improved. With eleven additional Q&As, "Hagada - Mi Yodeya?" now covers every step of the seder, from preparation (how can I make an engaging seder?) to the closing songs (why does Echad Mi Yodeya stop at 13?). It includes questions of theology and philosophy (did hardening Paro's heart mean he wasn't really responsible?), practical questions (what do you do with the wine in Eliyahu's cup?), and other things you might have wondered about (is two zuzim a lot of money for a kid goat? how much is a zuz anyway?).

You can download the new edition at "> Please download, enjoy, and share! I'll have copies at my seder; perhaps you will at yours too?

The comments problem

"Don't read the comments" -- common, often-correct advice when browsing the Internet. But comments are important, if you want to build community instead of just publishing stuff.

The Guardian looked at trends in the 70 million comments they've received. Not too surprisingly, articles posted by identifiable women get more abusive comments than those posted by men -- except in the fashion category. About 2% of the comments they get are blocked by moderators as way over the line; I'm surprised it's not rather higher, actually.

People who find themselves abused online are often told to ignore it – it’s only words; it isn’t real life. But in extreme cases, that distinction breaks down completely, such as when a person is doxed, or SWATed, when nude photos are posted of the person without consent, or when a stalker assumes the person’s identity on an online dating site and a string of all-too-real men appear at their door expecting sex. As one woman who had this experience said: “Virtual reality can become reality, and it ruins your life.”

But in addition to the psychological and professional harm online abuse and harassment can cause to individuals, there are social harms, too. Recent research by the Pew Centre found that not only had 40% of adults experienced harassment online but 73% had witnessed others being harassed. This must surely have a chilling effect, silencing people who might otherwise contribute to public debates – particularly women, LGBT people and people from racial or religious minorities, who see others like themselves being racially and sexually abused.

Is that the kind of culture we want to live in?

Is that the web we want?

They talk about their research methods.

My browsers hate my Mac

For the past couple weeks -- but not before then -- both Firefox and Chrome have been randomly seizing up on me on my Mac at home (running Snow Leopard). When this happens, first that application and then (about 10-15 seconds later) the entire machine become unresponsive, presenting the spinning beachball of doom. After a minute or so, but occasionally longer, things go back to normal. Sometimes I see a Chrome pop-up about an unresponsive site flash by. When this happens and I can watch in the Activity Monitor, neither CPU nor memory is pegged. Sometimes this happens once a day; sometimes it happens a couple times in an hour. It's becoming a pretty big usability problem.

All browsers are up to date (and not beta versions). This doesn't happen on my work machine (Win7). Dani says this happens to him on his brand-new iMac with maxed-out memory, but only with Firefox. (So he uses Chrome -- problem solved.) For me on my dusty old Mac Mini, it's happening with both browsers. I can't figure out what changed -- why is this happening now?

Googling told me that disabling the Flash player extension/addon/plugin/whatever could fix this, but it didn't. I've also looked through extensions and disabled anything I'm not actively using; it's pretty bare-bones. I do have several userscripts, none written by me, but I don't see anything glaringly suspicious in their code. I've already disabled the ones I can live without at least for a while, but a couple of them really are critical. I'm not finding any help on the Apple forums.

I've been thinking about upgrading my hardware anyway, as even before this started my Mac was starting to get sluggish sometimes. I bought it in something like 2009, so that's not too surprising. But the Mini hasn't been updated since October 2014, so this is the wrong time to buy -- something better should be coming before too much longer.

Meanwhile, I'd like to diagnose and fix this problem. But I'm out of ideas. :-(