Blog: SCA

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.

Pennsic: new kitchen trailer

Here are a few photos (from Pennsic) of our new kitchen. We brought it back to Pittsburgh to continue to improve it.

Read more…

Making progress on the Pennsic kitchen trailer

It's been a while since I've given an update on our Pennsic project. The exterior is mostly done (just some small touch-ups left), and the interior has insulation, flooring, walls, cabinets, and -- today -- shelves. The electrical panel is complete (lights aren't in yet, but soon) and plumbing is in progress. Things are looking good!

Pictures: Read more…

[SCA] kitchen trailer

My Pennsic camp, Polyhymnia, is working on a new kitchen trailer. Today we got almost all of the exterior sheathing in place. (We did about half of it today; the other half was done on Saturday, though not by me.)


inside, with roof over ribs

exterior front, two people on scaffolding working on roof edge

In case you're wondering about access: we'll have a little porch over the trailer hitch to get to the door you can see, and there's another door on the other side. The side with the two arched windows faces the road; the side with one window and a door faces the camp interior.

Pennsic 46

I'm home from Pennsic. Brief notes in the form of bullet points:

  • My good friend Yaakov HaMizrachi was elevated to the Order of the Laurel! Yay! The Laurel is the SCA's highest award (peerage) for arts and sciences. He's also now known (additionally) as Yaakov HaMagid, Yaakov the Storyteller. The ceremony felt like a reunion of old friends, and it was a nice touch that they had his son chant the scroll (in Hebrew).

  • The part of Atlantian court that I attended (because of the previous) was very well-done and engaging. I don't live there, I don't know most of those people, and yet I was not bored. They moved things along without it feeling rushed, and everybody speaking from the stage could be heard clearly. They also mixed it up, instead of doing all recipients of one award and then moving on to the next. Sprinkling the peerages throughout the court works well and, really, it's not a big deal for order members to get up more than once in an evening. (Also, if peerage ceremonies are burdensomely long -- theirs weren't; ours sometimes are -- it's nice to be able to sit down between them.)

  • I don't think I've ever heard "we're ahead of schedule; let's take a 10-minute break" in the middle of court before, though. I wonder if someone on the stage had an urgent need?

  • They elevated another bard to the Laurel, and that one sang his oath of fealty. While he was doing so I wondered if the king would respond in song -- and he did. That he used the same melody suggests some advance coordination (beyond "we're singing"), I wonder which of them wrote the king's words.

  • I had long, enjoyable conversations with both Yaakov and Baron Steffan. I miss the deep email conversations I used to have with both of them, before the great fragmenting of the digital-communication world (some to email, some to blogs/LJ/DW, some to Facebook, some to Google+, some to Twitter, some to places I don't even know about). It's harder to track and stay in touch with people than it used to be.

  • No I am still not going to start using Facebook. It's frustrating that by declining to do so I miss more and more stuff, but I'm not ready to let yet another thing compete to be the center of my online life. Also, Facebook in particular is icky in some important ways.

  • SCA local group, that means you too. Plans for a baronial party at Pennsic were, as far as I can tell, announced only on Facebook. (I've checked my email back to the beginning of April, so no I didn't just forget.) And thus I did not bring a contribution for your pot-luck. I do not feel guilty about that.

  • The Debatable Choir performance went very well. I conducted a quartet singing Sicut Cervus (by Palestrina), which I think went well. Two of the four singers had not previously done a "one voice to a part" song with the choir, and I'm proud of them for stepping up and doing a great job. I hope we got a recording.

  • I went to a fascinating class on medieval Jewish astrology (taught by Yaakov in persona). I've seen zodiacs in ancient (and modern) Jewish art and in synagogues, and a part of me always wondered how this isn't forbidden. It turns out that astrology is more of an "inclination", a yetzer, than a hard-and-fast truth -- there are stories in the talmud where astrology predicted something bad but the person, through good deeds, avoided the bad outcome. Also, in case you're wondering (like I did, so I asked), the zodiac signs get some solar smoothing, so if there's a leap-month (Adar Bet) there's not a 13th sign in those years.

  • Our camp has two wooden buildings (besides the house on the trailer, I mean), which we wanted to sell this year because we're making a new kitchen trailer that will replace both of them. We succeeded in selling the larger one (yay!). Maybe we'll be able to sell the other next year. (We'll set it up and use it for something else, because potential buyers would want to see it set up.)

  • Overall the weather was good. There were big storms on the first Friday ("quick, grab snacks and alcohol and head for the house!" is our camp's rallying cry), but only occasional rain after that and it wasn't sweltering-hot, which makes a huge difference.

  • The last headcount I saw was around 10,500.

Oh, *you*

Our camp's Pennsic prep is a little unusual:

Me: dials phone
Her: Castle Towing1
Me: Hi. I'm going to need some towing at Cooper's Lake this weekend. Can I book that in advance?
Her: Oh you don't need to. We offer 24x7 road service; you can just call.
Me: It's a 20' trailer. Probably 3-ton, but we don't really know.
Her: ... oh. Uh, I don't know if we can do that.
Me: For what it's worth, you did it two years ago. That's why I specifically called you. But I understand things can change.
Her: I need to check with a driver. I'll call you back.

Return call:
Her: He remembers you. When did you say you need him?

With luck, this will be the last year we have to do our own towing for the house. The Coopers declared it too heavy for them to tow a couple years ago. A lot of what makes it too heavy is the kitchen structure and furniture we store in it. We are well under way with building a new kitchen trailer, which will replace most of that and store the rest between Pennsics. And that will make the house light enough that the Coopers should be willing to tow it to and from our campsite like they had done for years before the new rules. And hey, kitchen trailer instead of having to build and take down our current structure every year.

1 Yes, that really is their name, and yes they're familiar with the Pennsic site.

Social dancing and rejection

A person who attends a weekly dance felt the group was becoming cliquish. In particular, this person would invite someone to dance, the person would decline (which the poster had no problem with), and then the person would dance the dance with someone else. The poster felt snubbed, said this happens more often than it used to, and wanted to know how to fix it.

I answered:

I used to be part of a weekly open dance group (renaissance dance). Two factors that were challenging for us were:

  1. Some people were there to dance; others were there to socialize.

  2. Among the people who were there to dance, some were there to "up their game" and some didn't care if things went wrong so long as people seemed to be having fun.

Dance involves other people -- at least a partner, but sometimes a set. If you're an experienced dancer who's focusing on dancing well, you might be frustrated if half the people in your set don't really know the dance and aren't in the right place at the right time (so the figure doesn't work). You might also find it not very much fun to have to guide your partner through the dance. I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong; I'm just saying that it happens. We saw it too. So if the person you're asking is much more advanced than you and is taking a more focused approach, and that person knows about the imbalance between the two of you, that person might decline your invitation.

The answer isn't to enforce an "everyone dances with everybody else" rule with dance cards to keep track and stuff. The answer is to find ways to help everybody meet their needs while encouraging a more open attitude. Here are some things we did: Read more…

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?

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.

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.

Memories of Countess Aidan

I met Countess Aidan ni Leir when I became Chronicler for the East Kingdom. I'd been active in the SCA for some years by then, including having been chronicler for my local barony for four years. Our barony was, at the time, somewhat isolated from the main body of the East: aside from Pennsic the bigwigs didn't come here much, and I hadn't been to much of the rest of the kingdom then. I was an experienced writer, editor, and publisher, but working at the kingdom level with its attendant quirks and politics was new. So becoming a kingdom officer had something of a feel of a kid from hicks-ville moving to the big city.

My predecessors in the job helped guide me, and there were people in the local group with more kingdom-level experience. But regular contact with the Kingdom Seneschal was especially helpful. That seneschal was Countess Aidan.

Adian had been royalty (hence the title) and had worked with royalty for years, and from her I learned how to handle them. I knew that just because a guy has a crown on his head doesn't mean what he's saying is reasonable, but that guy with the crown could also fire me. And sometimes the other kingdom officers had unreasonable expectations; I remember one officer who sent something like ten pages of advice for the space-constrained "laws and policies" issue, who didn't take kindly to my saying that that was really too much and I'd need him to cut that down to just the part that was actually, you know, laws and policies, and I was expecting more like a page or two, not ten. Aidan taught me some useful things about diplomacy -- but also about when to wield the stick and just say "no" -- clearly and politely, in a way that would survive escalation.

One of my funniest memories of Aidan is a conversation we had, oh, maybe two years into my stint as chronicler. This was an actual phone call, not email (email still wasn't ubiquitous then, though she had it), so I remember her tone of voice too. I was talking about the accumulation of different kinds of paperwork -- reports from the local groups, my quarterly reports, stuff from other officers that wasn't newsletter submissions, minutes from board meetings, correspondence of lots of different types -- and how I was having trouble organizing it usefully. Did she have any advice? She said the way she handled that kind of stuff was to make one big pile, and every now and then stick a marker in with the month and year. If you ever actually needed any of that stuff that was probably good enough, but... she left the sentence incomplete.

I in fact didn't need the vast majority of that stuff (though there were expectations of keeping records). I tried to neaten it up some before passing the office on to my successor. I also passed on the advice.

At the time Aidan lived in New York. Several years ago she moved to my barony so I got to see her more, though not as much as I now realize I wish I had. Aidan was friendly (yet did not suffer fools), highly competent, and fun to be around. I'll miss her.