Blog: September 2018

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.

Election changes?

On Stack Overflow, elected moderators have no term limit; they can serve as long as they want to (modulo something unusual happening). A then-employee on the community management team asked if we should consider election reforms, including more-frequent elections to allow more people to serve? I wrote: Read moreā€¦

TIL: equinox, kind of

Yesterday was the equinox, but I couldn't help noticing that sunrise was at 7:07AM and sunset was at 7:16PM. That stretches the definition of "equi" a bit. Looking ahead, the day won't be within a minute of 12 hours until September 25 or 26. (One's a minute longer, one's a minute shorter.) So off to Google I went.

There are two things going on, it turns out. The first is that the equinox is relative to the center of the sun, but we count sunrise and sunset from when the top is visible. But that only accounts for 2.5-3 minutes at my latitude.

The bigger factor is atmospheric refraction: after the sun has actually set (all parts past the horizon), or the reverse in the morning, you can still see the sun. What? Yeah, apparently you can look westward at sunset and see "the sun" even though the sun is not in your line of sight; light bends. This effect varies with atmospheric conditions, but is usually good for about six extra minutes of day.

I said that I won't see a 12-hour day here for a few more days. Apparently that effect gets stronger as you move toward the equator; this site says at 5 degrees North that date isn't until October 17. It also says the day is never exactly 12 hours at the equator, when I thought the equator was the one place where you had reliable 12-hour days all year. Today I learned.

I wonder -- because I'm the sort of person who wonders about stuff like this -- what the effect is in halacha, Jewish law. The day starts at sunset, but when beginning Shabbat we add some extra time just to be safe -- 18 minutes in most communities. That's l'hatchila, what you should do from the outset, but b'dieved, after the fact, if you cut into the 18 minutes with your preparations, it's ok because it's not actually sunset yet. Except... maybe it is? If you have a bad week and light candles two minutes before (nominal) sunset -- when you can still see the sun in the sky, except it's not there -- have you kindled fire on Shabbat? Or do you go by what you can see anyway? I plan to ask this on Mi Yodeya if it's not already there, but first I have to finish Sukkot preparations.

I later asked on Mi Yodeya but didn't get an answer. Much later, I asked on Codidact.

Talmud: obligation of tzitzit

(From the Daf Yomi cycle.)

The torah commands men to place tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their garments. Is this an obligation on the person or on the garment? That is, are you required to wear a garment with corners (and attach tzitzit to them), or are you allowed to wear anything, but if it is a garment with corners, you must put tzitzit on it? In the g'mara in Menachot 41, Rabbah bar R' Huna says it is an obligation on the garment, and not just the garment you're currently wearing -- all of your four-cornered garments must have tzitzit. There is some disagreement, and then the g'mara tells the following story:

An angel once found R' Kattina wearing a wrap (a garment that does not require tzitzit) and exclaimed: "Kattina, Kattina -- a wrap in summer and a cloak in winter, and what is to happen to the law of tzitzit?" R' Kattina answered: "and do you punish a person who omits to perform a positive precept?" "In a time of wrath, yes", the angel said. Now if you hold that tzitzit is an obligation on the person this makes sense, but if it's an obligation on the garment, why is there any punishment incurred? R' Kattina argued thus to the angel, asking "would the All-Merciful punish somebody for wearing a garment not subject to tzitzit?" The angel replied, "you find every excuse to free yourself from the law of tzitzit." (41a)

Despite the angel's opinion, as I understand it the halacha is according to Rabbah -- the obligation is on the garment, not on the person -- but there is really strong urging to seek out the opportunity because it's an established custom and not difficult. (This is probably part of the reason for the custom of the talit katan, a four-cornered undershirt with tzitzit.)

A few Rosh Hashana (5779) links

Sunday evening our associate rabbi gave a sermon (video link) on how we use words to include or exclude. Readers of this journal will recognize the talmudic tale she includes. (So will lots of other people; it's kind of famous.) It's easy for discourses on this topic to be pat bordering on dismissive of real human complexities, but this talk was more nuanced. When she posts a text copy I'll add a link, but for now all I have is a video (~20 minutes).

In the limited and judgmental environments around us, it no longer feels safe to share complex and nuanced thought processes, because disagreements become fodder for personal attacks and expulsion from groups with which we might otherwise align. Growth, which often involves changes and shifts in our opinions and ideas, is treated as inconsistency and flip-flopping. We hone our defenses instead, becoming jaded, snarky, and cynical, to protect ourselves from a society that seems to want to chew us up and spit us out. We wield our words with more force and more violence than most of us would ever inflict physically outside of armed combat.

Monday morning our senior rabbi spoke about pachad, deep fear (video link, ~21 minutes; text). I'm not going to try to summarize it.

I chanted torah on the second day. I didn't realize it was being streamed/recorded until somebody told me on Shabbat. Since it was, I'll share video evidence for anybody who wants to know what I'm talking about when I talk about chanting torah. (That's high-holy-day trop or cantillation, which is different from how we chant on Shabbat.) I decided fairly late to do my own translation from the scroll; by default my rabbi would have read it out of the book. It's not a hard translation, but word order is different between Hebrew and English, which is why there are some brief pauses in places you might not expect just knowing the English. (Also, I never really did settle on a good English word for rakiah; I've heard several.)

On the text for the torah reading: the Reform movement has long read the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) on the first day of Rosh Hashana, and didn't always observe a second day. When my congregation started doing the second day, instead of moving the Akeidah they chose to read creation, because Rosh Hashana is also the birthday of the world. So that's why you're hearing B'reishit there.

More new games

A couple months ago I listed some games we played at Origins. We've now played a few more new-to-us games, some that a friend brought back from GenCon and some that coworkers introduced me to.

Orleans is is a worker-placement game with decent interaction. A novel feature is that workers are not generic; there are seven different types, and at the start of your turn you draw a designated number of workers from your bag. What shows up is what you have to work with that turn. Different assignments require different combinations of workers. As with games of this type, there is always more to do than you have time and resources to do. You can recruit workers, and each type of recruitment has a beneficial game effect like giving you resources (farmer) or advancing you on the knowledge (scoring) track (scholars) or increasing the number of workers you draw (knights). You can travel from town to town, building guild halls, which act as score multipliers. You can go after "citizen" tokens on various tracks, which are also score multipliers. You can focus on income or goods production, which add to victory points. You can permanently send some of your workers away to work on communal projects for various dividends. Every turn an event is announced at the beginning and enacted at the end -- taxes, plague, income, and more. When you've enacted the last of the 14 events, the game ends. I think a four-player game works best, though a two-player game is possible.

Istanbul (the dice game, not the card game) is a dice-allocation game. The goal is to collect six rubies. Rubies are available on several tracks; on each track the price increases with each one taken. On four tracks you buy rubies with resources of one of four types; on one track you buy them with combinations of resources; on one you buy them with coins; and on one you get them (for free) when you build five mosques. On your turn you roll a set of customized dice that give you resources, coins, or card draws. (Cards usually give you either resources or money, but not always.) After you roll you can take two actions based on the die rolls (take resources, take money, etc). After that you can buy rubies (as I described) or mosques, tiles that have prices and game effects. For example, one mosque might cost one resource of each color and give you an extra die. Another might cost three red resources and give you a red resource whenever you use the "take coins" action. One might cost three green and give you an extra action. You can also buy re-roll tokens to use when you really don't like some or all of your dice. A friend brought this over and said it works well for two players.

Trainmaker is a quick "push your luck" dice game. There are city cards; each city produces one of six types of goods and requires some combination of railroad cars to get there and get the goods. You are trying to collect cities, and win if either you collect all the goods types or you satisfy a secret victory condition. (Mine, for example, was to collect three corn or three coal.) On your turn you roll a bunch of dice that have, on their faces: locomotive x2, the three car types, and a caboose. (I didn't notice how many dice there are -- 7 or 8?) To start you must play a locomotive and at least one car; you then reroll the remaining dice and must play another car. Iterate until you play a caboose to end your train or run out of dice/rolls without doing so and derail. If you don't derail and the cars you played match one of the three visible cities, take it. If you're feeling lucky, you can start all that by playing two locomotives, which means that after you finish your first train, you get to go again -- but, of course, this means you took a die out of circulation for that first train. With learning, this was maybe 20 minutes -- a good filler game when one group has finished a game and is waiting for another group to finish theirs so we can shuffle players around.

I described First Class in my Origins post. We've played it a few times with two and three players and like it. Thus far we have only played modules A and B, the ones they recommend for new players. We'll explore some of the other three, though one of them sounds wholly uninteresting to me so maybe not that one.

Magical Treehouse is a card-drafting, engine-building game with a speed element. In each of four rounds you draft five cards, one of which you will use to bid for turn order and four of which you can play in ascending order within "suits" to build one or more treehouses. Some cards let you place "familiars" on a board to collect resources; some levels of your treehouses require resources as inputs. There's an extra score-influencing reward for finishing quickly. After four rounds of this you score -- visible cards have points, plus things you can actually make based on the resources you've claimed score points, plus there are some "have the most of resource X" points. Meh; I don't expect to play again.

Shards of Infinity is a deck-building slugathon for up to four players. The mechanic is similar to Dominion: draw cards from your deck, optionally buy cards that are for sale, play cards from your hand, deal damage to other players or their champions (cards) based on the cards you played, discard and draw a new hand. One thing I like about this game over Dominion is that card "affinities" are easier to see; there are four colors of cards and many of them give enhancements within color -- e.g. playing two green cards gets you something that playing one doesn't. (For one color, there are some enhancements if you play all three other colors.) I suspect that, like Dominion, this game will generate gazillions of expansions, none of which we'll buy.