Blog: April 2022

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.

Decisions as barriers to entry

I've been hearing a lot about Mastodon for a while and thought I'd look around, see if I know anyone there, see what it's like, see if it seems to work better than Twitter... and the first step is to choose a host community/server, from dozens of options. The options are grouped into categories like "Tech" and "Arts" and "Activism" and there's also "General" and "Regional". None of the regional offerings are my region, so I browsed General and Tech.

All of the communities have names and short blurbs. Some sound serious and some sound less-so. Mastodon is a Twitter-like social network, so -- unlike topic-focused Q&A sites, subreddits, forums, etc -- one should expect people to bring their "whole selves". That is, a person on a tech server is likely to also post about food and hobbies and world events and cats. From the outside, I can't tell whether the mindset of the Mastodon-verse it "well yeah, duh, the server you choose is really just a loose starting point because you need to start somewhere" or if there's more of a presumption that you'll stay on-topic (more like Reddit than Twitter, for example).

A selling point of Mastodon is that it's distributed, not centrally-managed; anybody is free to set up an instance and set the rules for that instance. One considering options might reasonably want to know what those rules are -- how will this instance be moderated? But I see no links to such things. Many instances also require you to request access, which further deters the casually curious.

I guess the model is that you go where your friends are -- you know someone who knows someone who knows someone with a server and you join and you make connections from there. That's a valid and oft-used model, though I wasn't expecting it here.

Seder-inspired questions

An online Jewish community I'm fond of has some unanswered questions that came out of Pesach this year. Can you answer any of them, dear readers?

  • Why do we designate specific matzot for seder rituals? We break the middle matzah; we eat first from the top one and use the bottom one specifically for the Hillel sandwich. Why? What's the symbolism? (I'm aware of the interpretation that the three matzot symbolize the three "groups" of Jews -- kohein, levi, yisrael -- but that doesn't explain these positional associations.)

  • If your house is always kosher for Pesach, do you have to search for chameitz? That is, is the command to search for chameitz, period, or is it to search for any chameitz that might be in your house, and if you know there isn't any you skip it?

  • Why does making matzah require specific intent but building a sukkah doesn't? When making matzah (today I learned), it's not enough to follow the rules for production; you have to have the specific intent of making matzah for Pesach, or apparently it doesn't count. This "intent" rule applies to some other commandments too. But it doesn't apply to building a sukkah; you can even use a "found sukkah", something that happens to fulfill all the requirements that you didn't build yourself, to fulfill the obligation. Why the difference?

I tried searching for answers for these but was not successful. I have readers who know way more than I do (and who can read Hebrew sources better than I can). Can you help?

A conversation on erev Pesach

Them: Do you have room at your seder for two more?

Me: Of course.

Them: We don't want to impose.

Me: We'd love the company.

Them: Are you sure? We don't want you to have to cook extra at the last minute.

Me: "Let all who are hungry come and eat." Also, I cook on the assumption that Eliyahu and his entourage will appear at the door. It's fine.

(And if Eliyahu doesn't show up, I have food for lunch the next day.)