view from a distance

Aug. 21st, 2017 06:59 pm
cellio: (hubble-swirl)
[personal profile] cellio
We didn't travel to see the total eclipse. Here in Pittsburgh we got just over 80% coverage, so some coworkers and I went to the roof of the parking garage armed with minimal tools to see what we could see. The pinhole cameras were mildly interesting but low-res; none of us had thought to bring interesting things like collanders to make eclipse art on the pavement. One of the other people there lent us glasses for a few minutes, which was nice.

The view through the glasses was very neat -- just a sliver of sun. The picture I took through the glasses shows a much fatter sliver than was really there. I think the yellower sliver inside the larger orange-yellow sliver might be real and the rest bleed-through or something:



It was still pretty bright and sunny out, even with only 20% of the sun directly visible. It's not like you get dusk-quality lighting. I did notice that it wasn't *as* bright as usual; in particular, not only did I not have to squint like I normally do when outdoors on bright days, but I could even *take off my glasses with transition lenses* and not have to squint. That was pretty neat!

I took a quick photo without the glasses (I figured my phone could handle a very brief exposure). It shows no occlusion. Is that what people foolish enough to look with the naked eye would see? So they'd endure vision loss for... not a whole lot of anything?



These people improvised a pinhole camera that worked better than the one I'd prepared in advance:

short fiction

Aug. 21st, 2017 05:57 pm
cellio: (writing)
[personal profile] cellio

I wrote a short short story (~500 words) inspired by today's celestial events. Check it out on Universe Factory, the blog of the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange community.

I got the idea a few days ago and, well, I just had to.

camwyn: Me in a bomber jacket and jeans standing next to a green two-man North Andover Flight Academy helicopter. (Default)
[personal profile] camwyn
1. Left foot OFF the pedal
2. Down collective (while saying the words 'Down collective')
3. Roll the throttle off (while saying the words 'close throttle')
4. Right pedal (while saying the words 'right pedal as needed')
5. Lift collective about an inch (while saying the words 'Check collective')
5. Announce something scatological (do not actually do anything scatological at this time)

While an actual engine-failure-inspired autorotation has to be done very quickly and without hesitation, the practice ones can be handled at a slightly slower pace to make sure you learn to do them quickly. Turns out that if you announce each step out loud it paces you properly, plus if you announce 'Down collective! Close throttle! Right pedal! Check collective! Piss your pants!', you feel much, much less need to actually dump core in any way.
batwrangler: Just for me. (Default)
[personal profile] batwrangler
I was looking up the details on making antivenin, like you do, when I found the above quote in a Popular Mechanics slide-show about the process: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/g561/how-to-make-antivenom-why-the-world-is-running-out/?slide=1&thumbnails=

oh, good, it's a to-do list

Aug. 19th, 2017 02:07 pm
celli: two bears hugging, captioned "wuv" (hugs)
[personal profile] celli
* finish picking up & taking out garbage & recycling (you're so close! you can do it!)
* dishes, dishes, dishes
* play with cat
* finish first draft of PODSA/SGA fusion

* write more PODSA mpreg
* review Star Wars OT3 and brainstorm last scene
* declutter
* put up CAT TREE OMG - skipping
* laundry - skipping
* pack
* litterbox

policing the Internet

Aug. 17th, 2017 10:35 am
cellio: (avatar-face)
[personal profile] cellio

Yesterday Cloudflare, a service that increases reliability (and speed?) of web sites, shut down the Daily Stormer web site. Daily Stormer, if you haven't heard, is the site for the a hate group with broad impact in the US, most recently in the violence and murder in Charlottsville.

Their CEO's blog post announcing the termination isn't just a "they're evil and they're gone" announcement like you sometimes see. It's a thoughtful post that explains the dilemmas faced by the organizations that, by and large, make the Internet work, and what dangers this decision opens up.

Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for years about what the right policy was on censoring. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare.

Now, having made that decision, let me explain why it's so dangerous.

[...] Someone on our team asked after I announced we were going to terminate the Daily Stormer: "Is this the day the Internet dies?" He was half joking, but only half. He's no fan of the Daily Stormer or sites like it. But he does realize the risks of a company like Cloudflare getting into content policing.

I also found this tidbit interesting:

In fact, in the case of the Daily Stormer, the initial requests we received to terminate their service came from hackers who literally said: "Get out of the way so we can DDoS this site off the Internet."

After finding that post I found this post on Gizmodo that, among things, quotes from internal email he sent.

This was my decision. Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough.

Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. It was different than what I’d talked talked with our senior team about yesterday. I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. I called our legal team and told them what we were going to do. I called our Trust & Safety team and had them stop the service. It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company. [...] No one should have that power.

I don't have a coherent opinion yet. On the one hand, policing content is a dangerous game and why I support net neutrality. On the other hand, private companies (and individuals) should be free to act (legally) in their own interests; companies have been refusing service to unacceptable customers on a case-by-case basis for years. On the third hand, there are differences between competitive markets and monopoly markets. (Within monopolies there are government-sponsored ones and we're-big-and-drove-everybody-out ones too.) Balancing all of that is hard.

daf bit: Sanhedrin 32

Aug. 17th, 2017 08:57 am
cellio: (talmud)
[personal profile] cellio

The mishna begins a chapter with an overview of how civil and capital cases are conducted:

  • Both civil and capital cases require inquiry and examination of witnesses. (This is done by the judges; there are no lawyers.)

  • Civil cases are tried by a court of three; capital cases are tried by a court of 23.

  • When the judges deliberate on civil cases, they may begin with arguments for either acquittal or condemnation. When they deliberate on capital cases, they must begin with arguments for acquittal.

  • Civil cases may be decided by a majority of one; capital cases may be decided by a majority of one for acquittal, but require a majority of at least two for condemnation.

  • In civil cases the decision may be reversed in either direction (for example upon the discovery of an error). In capital cases the decision may be reversed from condemnation to acquittal but not the other way around.

  • In civil cases, all present (including the pupils who are observing) may argue for or against the defendant. In capital cases, anybody may argue for acquittal but only the judges may argue for condemnation.

  • In civil cases, one who has previously argued for either acquittal or condemnation may then argue for the other side (for example because he realized his argument was faulty). In capital cases, one who has argued for condemnation may then argue for acquittal but not the other way around.

  • Civil cases are tried by day and concluded by night if necessary.
    Capital cases are tried by day and must be concluded by day. Civil cases can be concluded on the same day (either way); capital cases can be concluded on the same day for acquittal but not until the following day for condemnation. Therefore trials are not held on the eve of Shabbat or a festival.

  • In civil cases we begin with the opinion of the most eminent of the judges; in capital cases we begin with the opinion of the least ("those on the side benches").

  • All types of Jews (presumably they mean men) are eligible to try civil cases, but converts and bastards cannot judge capital cases.

(32a, which begins chapter 4)

Housefilk Coming Sept 3!!

Aug. 16th, 2017 08:06 pm
sdelmonte: (2014)
[personal profile] sdelmonte
Hear ye, hear ye!
 
There will be a housefilk on Sunday, September 3 (the Sunday of Labor Day weekend) in Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, New York, at the home of [personal profile] sdelmonte and [personal profile] batyatoon. The festivities will run from 1 pm to approximately 5 pm. The address is 144-32 71st Road, accessible from the LIE and GCP, and by subway and bus.
 
Interested? Reply to this post and let us know. And spread the word!
 
Need directions? E-mail me at simondelmonte @ gmail.com.
cellio: (star)
[personal profile] cellio

The torah portion begins with Moshe describing to the people the rewards they'll receive for following in God's ways -- people and flocks will be fruitful, crops will be bountiful, none will be barren, there'll be no sickness or plagues, and they'll be victorious over the other nations. This is one of several places where the torah describes rewards for doing mitzvot. This is hard to understand, though, because the world doesn't work this way -- we do have people who want children and are barren, we do have sickness, crops aren't always bountiful, and so on. The good sometimes suffer and the wicked sometimes flourish. So how are we supposed to understand this?

(Spoiler warning: I don't have deep answers to this age-old problem. I have some thoughts.)

One approach we could take is to place it in context. Moshe is speaking to the Israelites at the end of their 40-year trek to the promised land. They're standing on the shore of the Yarden, about to cross over and conquer the land after this speech. Perhaps Moshe is speaking to these people in this time. There's even an ambiguously-placed "in the land that He will give you" (in 7:13), so maybe this promise isn't for everybody forever.

That's not very satisfying, though. The torah is supposed to be eternal, for us and not just for them.

Another approach was taken by the rabbis at least as early as the mishna (in Pirke Avot): Olam HaBa, the world to come. If we aren't rewarded in this world, Olam HaZeh, then we will be later. There are even mitzvot for which we get rewarded in both; we list some of them in eilu d'varim in the morning service. We should still focus on this world, not obsess about an afterlife like some other religions do, but an afterlife gives another opportunity for reward. I'm not sure how satisfying this is to most people, either.

I'd like to propose two additional dimensions to what the torah says about rewards, two additional axes to consider.

The first is communal versus individual actions and rewards. Sometimes the torah addresses us in the singular and sometimes in the plural. Some rewards, like bountiful crops, are clearly communal -- it's pretty hard for me to have a good harvest with rain in its proper season and so on while my immediate neighbor has the opposite. Some rewards could be individual, like health. Obligations, too, come in individual and communal varieties; we all have individual obligations in the mitzvot, but the whole community together has some too, like setting up courts, bringing communal offerings, and conducting wars in particular ways. And sometimes individual obligations can bring communal rewards -- there's a rabbinic tradition that if every Jew in the world were to keep (the same) Shabbat once, we'd get the moshiach. Quite aside from the individual rewards for keeping Shabbat -- you get Shabbat, a day of rest -- there can be a big communal reward.

When looking for rewards for our actions, therefore, we should look to both our individual and our communal benefits. Even if you're not feeling personally rewarded for following torah, maybe you're helping your whole community live in safety, health, and comfort. That counts, too.

The second dimension is the question of whom we do mitzvot for.

The Reform movement is not a halachic movement. Ok, technically we do say that the ethical mitzvot are binding and it's only the ritual ones that are optional, but those ethical mitzvot align pretty well with values we already have anyway like not stealing, being honest in business, caring for the poor, and many others. Among the others, we choose -- sometimes as a community and sometimes individually -- which mitzvot have meaning to us and we do those. Many of us find meaning in Shabbat, in communal worship like our morning minyan, in study, in many social-justice pursuits, and more.

If our progressive values and halacha conflict, however, we reinterpret (occasionally) or set aside (usually) halacha. By and large, we do the mitzvot that we do for ourselves, for the good feelings they produce and the values they align with.

When we do mitzvot for ourselves, maybe that good feeling that we get is the reward for doing the mitzvah. That's fair -- we're rewarded here and now, in Olam HaZeh, for doing mitzvot. Isn't that what we wanted?

So we tend to do mitzvot for ourselves, but there's an alternative. If we believe that torah is mi Sinai, from God, then we should do mitzvot not for ourselves but for God. Even the goofy ones, the ones we don't understand and don't find personal meaning in. (I struggle with this, to be clear.) I don't know too many people who find spiritual fulfillment in sha'atnez, the law against combining linen and wool, but it's something God cares about. Last week a friend and I were talking about kitniyot, the additional foods that Ashkenazim don't eat during Pesach even though they're not chametz, forbidden grains. (A bunch of other foods got implicated by association.) My friend is a thoughtful, intelligent person who wrestles with torah and seeks to understand; he's not one to just say "tell me what to do and I'll do it". He told me that some of these decisions about kitniyot are clearly wrong -- but nonetheless the halachic system that God gave us produced this result, so he follows it. For God, not for himself.

The name of our portion, Eikev, comes from the same root as Ya'akov, heel-grabber. I don't remember where I heard this idea, but perhaps this word is meant to remind us not to trample on mitzvot just because we think they're minor or goofy. Who's to say which ones God most cares about?

What's the reward for doing mitzvot for God and not for us? Is there a reward for putting up with ridiculous-seeming food restrictions for Pesach, for waving greenery around on Sukkot, for checking fiber contents on our clothing, for separating meat and milk dishes, and many other things? When we're not doing mitzvot for our own benefit the rewards can be less clear, but if we have faith that God gave us the torah at all, why shouldn't we also have faith that God will deliver on His promises in some way at some time?

When looking at rewards for torah, either individual or communal, perhaps we should have less focus on specific rewards for specific deeds. Instead, let us do right and trust God to respond.

Tap dancing

Aug. 13th, 2017 09:32 pm
scarlettina: (Default)
[personal profile] scarlettina
My tap teacher was complaining about being old today. He's 35. I'm in the oldest person in the room by at least 20 years. I suspect he knows I'm older than him; I'm not sure he realizes by how much. I'll tell him at some point.

Last class, we did paddle rolls, a step I remember from childhood. I can still do them, and do them fairly quickly. I did them in front of the teacher and he asked me why I wasn't in Level 2 yet. "Next session," I told him. "I wanted to make sure I had everything down." Practice, practice, practice.

Which reminds me, when I have money again, I need to order myself a practice floor.

I came home today and massaged both my feet. I've had some pain in both my feet and my ankles. I'm going to keep dancing. I will not let this stop me. I will just have to baby my feet and ankles more. Also lose some weight.

I'm loving these classes. It gives me joy to be doing this. I feel competent and I'm having fun. And it's something only three other people in my life are doing right now, one of whom is far away. It feel like it's mine. I know that sounds strange. No one has a monopoly on their art. But I love that it's different than anything nearly anyone else I know is doing. You can see a little video of me with a small sample of what I've been learning, if you like. It all makes me wish I'd done this a lot sooner.

Pennsic

Aug. 13th, 2017 04:43 pm
cellio: (sca)
[personal profile] cellio

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.

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