Blog: August 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.

SCA: required newsletters

My kingdom, AEthelmearc, is -- not for the first time -- having trouble finding somebody to fill the required office of Chronicler (newsletter editor). Newsletters are published online, as PDFs, with the same schedule as their print predecessors. Because they don't contain timely information and reading them is a hassle (PDF, plus behind a paywall/subscription-wall), almost nobody reads them. Because nobody reads them, people aren't willing to spend time writing articles for them, so they just contain stuff that's already posted elsewhere (like event announcements). Recently our chronicler posted an issue consisting mostly of blank pages as a test; the only person who said anything was the corporate boss.

This came up on our mailing list because the current chronicler is looking for a replacement. I'm just going to paste here what I wrote there.


I was a kingdom chronicler for four years, back in the days when newsletters were on paper. I found it a satisfying job and was glad to be able to push the limits a little, publishing articles in addition to announcements (and an annual A&S issue). The bulk of the membership price difference between associate members (no newsletter) and sustaining members (newsletter) went to the chroniclers for printing and postage.

Several years back the SCA moved to electronic publishing and phased out the paper newsletters. (Basically, they would fulfill existing subscriptions only.) The chroniclers no longer got a stipend because there was nothing to print and mail. The SCA didn't at the time change its pricing structure, though, so chroniclers were donating their labor for the SCA to resell at nearly 100% profit. That feels like an abuse of volunteer labor to me, but some people were still willing to do it.

Now we are in the situation where nobody reads the newsletters but the SCA still requires chroniclers. This, to me, is an even bigger abuse of volunteer labor. The SCA runs on the dedication of its volunteers, and to take that labor for no good purpose, when those same people could instead donate their labor to something productive, is wasteful and, dare I say, unchivalrous. We should be lobbying for the removal of the requirement. There is no benefit to a newsletter compilation that can never be as up to date as the kingdom web site and that has no readers, and thus no audience for articles and art.

Meanwhile, our kingdom is rich in technically-minded folks. Surely somebody can write a Perl script or something to collect the relevant contents from the kingdom web site and spit out a PDF for Milpitas once a month? Then nobody has to be stuck with the soul-sucking task of spending hours every month producing something that nobody cares about, and the office can be filled by anybody who's willing to warm the seat.

Any volunteers to automate this job until it can be properly ended?

Can you be "too orthodox"?

A question on Mi Yodeya was asked by somebody who recently moved from a large Jewish community to a small one. The asker dresses more modestly than those in the new community and has gotten critical comments about it. The person asked: is there such a thing as being too orthodox?

My answer:

There is not such a thing as "too orthodox", no. There can be such a thing as "too pushy" when people are too direct in trying to change others, but that's not the situation you've described. Never feel guilty about following halacha for yourself.

There can also be such a thing as "unfamiliar and thus different". The only synagogue in town is the only place for Jews there to go, and those Jews might come from a range of backgrounds and observance levels. People at both ends of that spectrum of observance are likely to be a little uncomfortable with people they don't know who are from the other end. There are probably people there whose dress and behavior make you a little uncomfortable, but you're probably keeping that to yourself (and kudos for that). Read moreā€¦

Brief Pennsic

Short takes from Pennsic:

  • At the A&S display we casually walked past high-quality displays just because we couldn't see everything and there were other high-quality displays. Well, that and crowds. Nifty. No musicians in evidence, but I'm not surprised -- that kind of setup doesn't work well for performance arts.

  • Our camp was visited by Duke Cariadoc, who entertained us with poems about William the Marshal. For all our years at Pennsic this is actually the first time he's visited a camp while I was there. I had the impression he didn't get up to the Serengeti much, but maybe I've just been unlucky.

  • The choir concert went pretty well, I thought. We had a pretty good audience, too -- something I always worry about with a 30-minute performance, given people's tendencies at Pennsic to have a pretty approximate relationship to time.

  • A couple months ago I'd seen a note that Yaakov HaMizrachi was going to be performing (storytelling), right after the choir concert but across camp. I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to attend (or, at best, would miss the first 15 minutes getting there). But I was in luck -- the performance immediately after the choir was cancelled, so they moved him to the main tent from the smaller stage he was to be on, so I got to hear him. He told a single hour-long story with nesting (three levels deep). I enjoyed it. (Alas, I didn't get to talk with him after.)

  • Day-tripping Pennsic (we were only there for two days) is a PITA, mainly because of the parking. The first day we happened to catch a bus up to the parking lot, but they'd stopped running by the time we were leaving on the second day, which was also my first experience with the overflow area.

  • Also, the food court has basically nothing to offer a vegetarian. I always take my own food to Pennsic, but that requires a cooler and we were just day-tripping and I figured maybe it's gotten better in the years that I've been ignoring the food court, so I hoped I'd be able to find a tossed salad or something. Eventually I found tuna salad at the Coopers-run place up by the barn (where one can also buy produce).

  • Note to future self: if you ever day-trip Pennsic again, which you shouldn't because it really stinks, bring a flashlight. Walking along an unfamiliar, rock-strewn, uneven dirt road just a couple days after the new moon was difficult. Because of the aforementioned unevenness and rocks, I wasn't really interested in carrying an expensive cell phone in my hand to use its flashlight app.

  • The weather cooperated the days we were there -- on the warm and humid side, but not unbearable and it didn't rain.

I like my credit-card provider

Me: books hotel in foreign city. Me: books tour in that city. Me: books another tour in that city. Me: attempts to book tour in a different city. Booking site: couldn't get approval. Me: tries a different tour (and different vendor). Booking site: nope, we don't like your credit card either. Husband: tries (joint card) and fails.

Phone rings.

Caller: Hi, this is (bank). Me: Oh good; I was just about to call you. Caller: There were these transactions... Me: Yes that was me. Caller: Ok, better safe than sorry. We'll unblock your card now. Me: By the way, here are some travel dates and locations. Caller: Got it.

I'll gladly accept those five minutes of inconvenience for that level of fraud protection. I even still had a valid session for the failed transaction, so retrying was easy.

I would have called them with the dates and locations closer to the trip to avoid card declines, but I didn't think about how the advance charges would look.

Miscellany (no US politics)

We went up to Cooper's Lake on Sunday to help with Pennsic camp setup. It sure is weird to not have the house in camp. But we're only going to be there for a couple days (middle Sunday and Monday), because we have other plans for that vacation time later in the year.

There is now a solar panel on the pantry roof in our camp. It has begun.

Earlier this summer I finally read Pangaea, a shared-world anthology that also has an overall story. It includes a story by Mabfan, which is how I became aware of it in the first place. I quite enjoyed it and wrote a post about it on Universe Factory. A second volume is due out later this year.

I picked up the first three books in Jody Lynn Nye's Mythology series (the first book is Mythology 101) in a Story Bundle a few months back. I almost didn't get it because I see Story Bundle as a way to get exposure to new authors/series/concepts, so having three of the ten (? around ten, anyway) books in the bundle be from the same series was counter to that. But I've now read them all and bought the fourth separately, so that turned out to be a win. The books revolve around an eccentric college student who finds out that the Little Folk are real, and living under his college's library. Antics ensue.

In June my employer sent me to a conference (to work, not to attend) in Las Vegas. Now I know, from TV and general media, that Las Vegas is larger than life. And I was still surprised. I was also not prepared for it to take a long time to get anywhere within the hotel complex, because of course they need to route you through the casinos that are everywhere. Casinos are not smoke-free, so I hurried through. Also, my hotel room -- the base room type, nothing fancy -- was larger than my first apartment.

No, I did not play any casino games. Casinos have two kinds of games: games of chance that favor the house, and games of skill that I'm not good enough at and that favor the house. I don't like those odds.

I've been with my current employer for a bit over two years now and I'm still loving it. My coworkers are great, I get a lot of control over what I work on, and I can tell that even though I am the single remote member of my group, I'm still able to teach and mentor and inspire. I think I know a thing or two about technical writing in the software world, and I am glad that I can flex those muscles and impart some of what I've learned. And they appreciate me (including tangible demonstration of same), and that matters too.