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The mishna teaches: one who renders unfit another's foodstuffs, or mixes terumah (a portion set aside for the priests) with them (thus making them unavailable to a layman), or makes a libation with another's wine -- if he did so inadvertently he is not liable, but if he did so intentionally he must pay compensation for the loss. (Terumah could be eaten only by priests; unfit terumah could only be fed to their animals; and wine from which a libation has been made cannot be drunk. Thus there is a loss to the owner of the food or wine.)

The g'mara discusses the case of the libation -- what exactly does this mean? They understand it to mean that he prepares to do so or mixes the other's wine with non-Jewish wine, and not that we're actually talking about pouring out a libation to a heathen god. Why do we conclude this? Because pouring a libation to a heathen god is idolatry, which is punished by death, and when there is a greater penalty halacha does not tack on a lesser penalty. That he is liable for a fine is evidence that he is not liable for death, meaning he didn't commit idolatry, so he must have done something else to make the wine unfit. (52b)

This is different from the American legal system, where somebody might be judged guilty of capital murder -- and also assorted weapons charges for which he's given another ten years in jail.

(Today's daf is 53, where the g'mara continues to discuss all this.)

As I gather is increasingly common in larger US companies, my employer tries to entice people to actually get annual bloodwork by offering a discount on insurance to people who cough up some basic stats -- cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and a couple other things. (Assurances of confidentiality are made; cost-benefit analysis is left to the employee.) I had a physical recently, so I collected the data in case I want to use it later.

I noticed, after the call from my doctor's office, that he hadn't given me one of the required numbers, so I called back to get it. Oh no, he said, we don't routinely test blood sugar any more, because insurance companies don't cover it as part of preventative care. So he'd have had to charge me for that, and since I didn't present any relevant symptoms he didn't pursue it. I hadn't specifically asked about it up front, so I'm not faulting him for this.

But let me see if I understand this: my employer's health insurance will not pay for a test that my employer's benefits department wants me to obtain. Er, right.

I pointed out this gap to a coworker, who said that as these things go, this is one of the easiest problems to solve on your own: find a diabetic friend and ask to borrow a glucose meter. Yeah, I guess that could work. I can also (since I don't work at the main office) order a do-it-yourself test kit at no charge, but I begrudge the extra hassle (and needle-stick) when my physical was supposed to take care of this already.

But that's all assuming I'm willing to share this data. I haven't decided about that yet; it's a little creepy, and I might be willing to pay a slightly-higher price to retain that bit of privacy. Really, why do they need to know? Wouldn't a receipt from my doctor saying "yeah, saw her this year" be enough?
Forwarded by siderea: How to win at Monopoly and lose all your friends.
Your goal is to play conservatively, lock up more resources, and let the other players lose by attrition. If you want to see these people again, I recommend not gloating, but simply state that you're playing to win, and that it wasn't your idea to play Monopoly in the first place.

Do some research on BoardGameGeek.com, and head down to your local gaming shop, where more often than not, you'll find knowledgeable staff and even demo sets for you to try before you buy. It shouldn't be too hard to convince your friends to try something new, especially if you offer to play another round of Monopoly.
We are obligated to redeem fellow Jews who are taken captive (e.g. by bandits, or at some times in our history, malevolent governments). We learn in the mishna: captives should not be redeemed for more than their value, to prevent abuses. Which abuse are we concerned about, the g'mara asks, exorbitant demands from emboldened bandits or excessive burdens on the Jewish community (to come up with a large sum)? While not answering the question directly, the g'mara relates a tale where a man ransomed his daughter for 13,000 denari of gold, but says he might have acted on his own without the permission of the sages. (I don't know what the going rate for captives was, but the implication is that it's way less than that.)

The mishna continues, saying that captives should not be helped to escape, to prevent abuses (like putting them in chains or maltreating them). Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says the reason is to prevent ill treatment of other captives. Why does the difference matter, the g'mara asks? It matters if exactly one captive has been taken; if the reason not to help him escape is fear of what they will do to the other captives, that doesn't apply here and we can help him escape. (45a)

Let's hope bandits are not learned in talmud, lest they always take captives in groups.

(Today's daf is 46.)

You're being too productive. Let me help.

The Worldbuilding blog, Universe Factory, has been publishing a nice mix of articles. (We aim to post something new every three days.) Some recent posts that my readers might be interested in:

- The latest in my "revelation for RPGs" series, in which I talk about transformations in the world and in some of the characters (previous posts in this series are linked)

- Hey look, I was interviewed!

- The third in a series on hard magic (see also part 1 and part 2)

- A Day on Planet Sitnikov, on unusual orbital mechanics and, also by this author, a planet's-eye view of globular clusters
There is, apparently, a construction company out there that will build you a house styled on a Hobbit hole. Naturally, an important question arises for Jewish owners of such homes: do you put a mezuzah on a round door, and if so where? The mezuzah is the scroll (containing certain torah passages) in a case that is affixed to your doorpost -- so what exactly is a doorpost?
According to the torah Jews can become slaves to other Jews, but not permanently -- Jewish slaves go free after some time. Heathen slaves, however, are permanent slaves.1 Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel that whoever emancipates his heathen slave violates a positive commandment, as it is written: they shall be your bondsmen forever (Lev 25:46). An objection is raised: once R' Eliezer came into the synagogue and they were one short for a minyan, and he immediately emancipated his slave to make up the ten. (So apparently an emancipated slave could immediately convert?) An objection is raised to the objection: where a religious duty has to be performed we set aside the rule, but otherwise it's still a rule.

Rabbah said: for these three offenses men become impoverished: for emancipating their heathen slaves, for inspecting their property on Shabbat, and for taking their Shabbat meal at the time when the discourse is given in the Beit Midrash (study hall). The g'mara relates a case where two families in Jerusalem did this last and became extinct. (38b)

I bet a lot of people don't know about the heavenly penalty for skipping out on the rabbi's talk! :-)

1 We are not talking about slavery like in the US's terrible history; slaves are still human beings made in the image of God and must be treated well under Jewish law.

(Today's daf is 39.)

Somebody asked a question on Writers about batch-converting document reference numbers (like ISBNs but for papers, not just books) to full citations, which sounded like a "simple matter of programming web services", so I did a little poking around. I have a (single) peer-reviewed publication, so I looked up its reference number (DOI) to test with.

That's how I found out that I have two publications. Er, what? Apparently that paper ended up in a book several years later, and apparently the process of doing that calls for neither permission from nor notification to authors. Or at least second-string authors; maybe the lead author was involved. (I wouldn't know; I haven't interacted with him in ages.) It's a paper in computational linguistics; I was just the (main) programmer, not the linguist or the PhD.
The mishna considers the case of a man who dispatches a proper get (bill of divorce) and then changes his mind. If he goes after the bearer, or sends a messenger after the bearer, and says it is cancelled, it is cancelled. Similarly, if the man goes to his wife or sends a messenger to his wife before the bearer arrives and says that the (forthcoming) get is cancelled, it is. However, once the bearer delivers it into the wife's hand, she is divorced and the man cannot revoke it. In earlier (pre-mishnaic) times a man was allowed to bring together a beit din (rabbinic court) to cancel a get, but Rabban Gamaliel the Elder laid down a rule that this should not be done, to prevent abuses. (32a)

According to the g'mara, Rabban Gamaliel is concerned about illegitimate children -- if she remarries and has children and then, retroactively, was not divorced after all -- and also with creating an agunah, a "chained woman" who is unable to remarry. Allowing an ex-husband to do either of these things grants him too much power over her. (Or, in my own words: if you've said you're moving on, then move on and leave her alone.) I don't know if the rabbis considered time limits for cancellation; cancelling a week later seems different to me than cancelling years later.

A bill of divorce (get) must be written carefully and precisely, so a husband hired (and I believe still hires) a scribe to prepare the document. (This is similar to how, today, many hire a lawyer to prepare a will.) The mishna teaches: any bill of divorce that was not written specifically for the woman being divorced is invalid. If a scribe is practicing and writes a get for Ploni to divorce Sarah, and a man says "I'm Ploni and my wife is Sarah and I want to divorce her", he can't use that document. Similarly, if a man wrote (or hired a scribe to write) a get to divorce his wife and then changed his mind, he can't pass it along for somebody else with the same name to use -- so even though it was written with the intention of divorcing (rather than practicing, as in the first case), it still doesn't count. And further, if a man has two wives with the same name, he can't tell the scribe to write the name and he'll decide later which one to divorce; it has to be written about a specific wife. (24a-b)

On 26a, the next mishna is going to talk about forms -- even in rabbinic times, apparently scribes wrote out documents with blanks to fill in the names and dates later. There is a dispute about whether you can do this with a get.

(Today's daf is 25.)

Dear Charities1 That I Already Support,

I sent you a sizable donation this year. Recently, even, because I mostly do that at year-end when I know where the annual finances ended up. You acknowledged receipt.

So stop bombarding me with email asking for donations, will you? If I weren't inclined to support you the repeated appeals would not change that -- in fact they would drive me away, as they've done with some of your predecessors. And even though I am inclined -- I like you and support you, after all -- I'm starting to weary of this. It feels like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Get your fundraising people in sync with your receipts people, please. I want to support you, but your methods are growing frustrating.

1 Yes, the use of the plural is correct. I have gotten several email requests this week from each of two organizations I have a long record of supporting with single, annual donations.
When a couple divorces, the woman must wait at least three months before remarrying. This is so it is clear who the father is of any child born soon after. Since a get (divorce document) can be written and delivered later, perhaps with travel (if the husband is in a different city), from when do we count the three months? Rav says we count from when the get is delivered, and even if the bearer lingers on the road three months before delivering it, she must still wait another three months. R' Shmuel says we count from the time it is written, and we need not be concerned because the husband has not been with her in the interval. The halacha is that we count from when it is written. (18a)

In my neighborhood a minority of houses have Christmas lights (which makes sense; we're about 50% Jewish, I think). Of those, a majority are tasteful and a few are over-the-top. But Friday night on my way to services I saw one that was both under-stated and remarkable.

Four posts, about three feet high, were arranged in a diamond and wrapped in lights -- three red, one purple. It took me a moment to parse: advent candles. Somebody actually managed a religious light display that didn't involve statues of people. That's pretty cool.

On Saturday, in daylight, I noticed that there was another post, white, in the center. I didn't know its significance without Google; Wikipedia says this is an optional additional candle that's lit on Dec 24 or 25, though it was not lit on Friday night.
We move on to Tractate Gittin, divorces. (A get is the document of divorce. "Gittin" is the Aramaic plural.)

When a man divorces his wife, he goes to a beit din (rabbinic court) to have the bill of divorce written. This is then delivered by a third party to the wife. The first mishna of this tractate teaches that the bearer of the get declares to the wife: "in my presence it was written and in my presence it was signed". Why? Because it could otherwise be difficult to find witnesses to confirm the validity of the signatures. The bearer is serving as a witness.

But wait! Why do we trust a single witness, the bearer, when the torah tells us that on the word of two witnesses a matter is decided? How can we have only one here? An argument is made that two witnesses are required for damages, but for ritual matters one suffices. This is challenged: we're not talking about the kashrut status of a piece of meat here, but rather about a woman whose permissibility to other men is at stake! So this should require two witnesses -- two bearers, in this case. But, the g'mara goes on to say, the rabbis allowed a single bearer as a leniency for the woman, to reduce the chance of creating an agunah, a chained woman who is unable to get out of a marriage and go on with her life. (This is an issue if a man won't give a get or if he disappears.) (mishna 2a, g'mara 2b-3a)

Today's daf is 4.

Several weeks ago I wrote about a series of blog articles I was starting over on the Worldbuilding blog called "Revelation for RPGs". This is a series of posts about techniques GMs can use to build, and reveal to players over time, interesting and rich worlds. I'm basing this series on a game run by ralphmelton years ago and chronicled in ralph_dnd.

I've added a couple more posts since then. Here's the list so far:

Revelation for RPGs I: Setting the Stage

Revelation for RPGs II: The Written Word

Revelation for RPGs III: Your World is Made of People

Revelation for RPGs IV: I Can See Clearly Now

I'm telling (in high-level outline) the story of the game as I talk about how it was played. We're about halfway through the campaign now; the latest article shares the "big reveal" of that part of the game. (Those who remember the game should know what I mean by that, and for the rest of you, I don't want to spoil it.)

I have a few more planned for this series.
I see a lot of phishing attempts and more than a few spear-phishing attempts, but a recent one is leaving me wondering what the phishers were trying to do.

A couple days ago I got email, purportedly from eBay, acknowledging my new account. The email came to my Gmail address, which I don't publicly use but is easily guessable. The account had a goofy name starting with the first few letters of my email address.

Whenever I think there could be an unauthorized account in my name on a real service I try to reset its password, just in case. So I fired up an incognito window and went to eBay (really eBay, not using the link in the email), went to the login page, gave that account name, and clicked "forgot password". This generated email to me -- which means, I think, that an account of that name really was created (not by me). I reset the password.

While I was there I checked the transaction history and looked for private information. That was all clean. I initiated an account-deletion request, choosing "concerns about identity theft" from their menu of reasons. (Aside: eBay's short list of deletion reasons includes "concerns about identity theft"!) eBay holds such requests for a week to ensure that transactions close, even if there are no transactions (I consider the latter a flaw). I set a reminder to check back in a week.

A day later (just about 24 hours, in fact), I got password-reset email, identical to the email my own reset request had generated (other than the specific link).

Now if the phishers tried to log in and clicked "forgot password", they should already know that that would only work if they could intercept that email. I am as confident as I can be without server access that my Gmail account has not been compromised (I'm very careful about that), but I nonetheless changed my password and reviewed recent access logs. No new devices had accessed my account in this timeframe.

It is always possible, of course, that I am dealing with somebody who is just inept. But if this is a viable attack vector, what's the deal? How is it supposed to work? How does creating an account on eBay attached to an email address you can't access help you?
The torah tells us that if a person is found slain outside a city, the elders of the nearest city must testify to their defense and then break a calf's neck in atonement. The mishna says that if the body is found near the frontier, or near a city of mostly heathens, or near a city without a court of justice, they don't break a calf's neck and instead measure the distance to the nearest city that has a court of justice. The g'mara clarifies that we exclude these cases because the torah requires that the enlders of the city participate, and cities such as those do not have suitable elders. (44b mishna, 45b g'mara)

I'm not sure what the purpose of measuring to the nearest (suitable) city is, since we're told explicitly that they're not going to bring a calf. I guess they still testify? If I find out more I'll update this.

The mishna discusses the priestly blessing, in which the kohanim (priests) bless the congregation. We have learned in the previous mishna that this blessing must be said in Hebrew. The current mishna discusses how they say it.

The passage consists of three individual blessings, and outside of the temple they are said as three (with responses of "amen" after each). In the temple, however, they are said as one. Outside the temple they do not say the divine name, using the usual substitute instead, but in the temple they pronounce the name. Outside the temple they raise their hands to shoulder-height, but in the temple they raise them above their heads (but the kohein gadol, the high priest, raises only to his forehead). (37b-38a)

I don't see anything in the g'mara on in the next few pages (through the next mishna) that says why there are these differences, though I was skimming.

Dani: Do you want to go to Gencon with me?

Me: Ack. Gencon is huge. I'm much more comfortable at a convention with 1000 people than one with 50,000.

Dani: So you'd prefer Pennsic be smaller?

Me: At Pennsic the 10,000 people in attendance aren't all trying to move through the same corridor at once.

Dani: Battlefield.

Me: That's a feature. And the 3000 people involved chose it. I'm not one of them so I don't care. :-)

In principle I do want to join Dani at things that he enjoys and that might be interesting to me. It sounds like Gencon has a lot of interesting programming (gaming, filk, SF...). But I find Worldcons to be overwhelming and they're a tenth the size of Gencon... so maybe not this particular one.

I wish I didn't have an "ack, too many people!" reflex, but I do.
We have previously learned that if the woman accused of infidelity refuses to drink the bitter sotah waters, she is divorced and does not receive the ketubah payment. (That is, they can't compel her to go through with the ordeal, but she also doesn't get a divorce settlement.) The mishna on today's daf talks about some similar cases. If the couple had marital relations on their way to Jerusalem (where the ritual is conducted), or if the husband is unwilling to let her drink (presumably at the last minute, else they wouldn't be in this situation), she receives her ketubah and does not drink. If the husband died before she could drink, Beit Shammai says she receives her ketubah and does not drink, but Beit Hillel says she either drinks or does not receive her ketubah. (24a)

In the cases where they have relations or he prevents her from drinking, it sounds like they are nonetheless divorced, which seems odd. Unless the mishna is telling us that she's not disqualified from her ketubah if they later get divorced. I'm not sure; need to do more reading.

Today my phone buzzed with an emergency notification. The icon resembled the hurricane symbol used by weather alerts. The text said "shelter in place". I looked out the window at the clear blue sky.

I opened the notification and got a slightly longer notice (maybe this was a Google Card?) saying something like "sent on behalf of the emergency something-or-other, Allegheny County, shelter in place". Still confused, I opened that to get the full notification...which said people in such-and-such township are to shelter in place because of a fire at the site of a chemical spill.

Needing to get an alert out and using a system already in place for that (the weather service) makes sense. And, of course, you'll have to use their icons, and of the weather symbols on tap, a hurricane is probably reasonable.

Sending alerts based on current location is a well-understood problem. My provider -- or rather, whatever computer at my provider pushes these notifications -- knew that I was, in fact, in Allegheny County.

But didn't that same system also know that I was nowhere near such-and-such township? And would it have been too hard to put that very important location information into an earlier phase of the alert, instead of waiting for people to click through twice?

I sure hope nobody in such-and-such township got the alert, looked at his phone, looked out the window, said "hurricane? are you nuts?", and went out to rake his leaves.
About a year and a half ago, I backed a Kickstarter campaign for Solartab, a heavy-duty solar charger that can power, as the name implies, tablets. Delivery was expected before Pennsic in 2014. Well, that was super-ambitious, so I wasn't surprised that that didn't happen. I was disappointed to not have it in time for Pennsic 2015 either, but I borrowed a battery charger and carried on. Yesterday, finally, my Solartab arrived.

I haven't had a chance to test its solar capabilities yet (it's November in Pittsburgh...), but last night I used its wall charger to charge its battery so that today I could try using it to charge my tablet. (The Amazon product page, by the way, makes an even bolder claim than "tablet": it says "Charge your phone, tablet and all other USB powered devices anywhere and anytime!". We'll come back to that.)

I plugged my Asus Transformer Infinity into the Solartab using the Asus's USB cable and got nothing. No charging light on the tablet, no "dispensing power" light on the Solartab. I plugged the cable into the wall adapter instead and the tablet started charging. I plugged my phone into the Solartab and it started charging. Off to Google.

Ok, according to the Internet Collective, you can't charge the Asus's keyboard, to which I usually leave the tablet connected, from anything but wall current. (I think I charged it via a heavy-duty jump-start battery at Pennsic, but maybe I'm misremembering.) So I disconnected the keyboard and connected the tablet directly to the Solartab.

After about a 30-second delay, the Solartab indicator lit. But the tablet reported that it was not charging. Off to Google again.

I found a thread about a different charger that somebody was having trouble getting to work with an Asus tablet, and the verdict there was that charger would charge it very slowly (like 3% an hour), and only if the tablet was turned off. So I noted the current battery level and turned the tablet off, and I'll see where it is tomorrow.

I get that tablets are thirsty and maybe Asus is especially thirsty (beats me; it's the only tablet I've ever had), but I bought the Solartab to charge my tablet, and according to the specs it ought to be able to supply enough power to do so. I'll be disappointed if it can't do that.
The torah (Numbers chapter 5) describes the trial of the sotah, the woman accused of adultery by her husband (but there aren't witnesses to testify against her). The priest writes curses (the mishna here argues about exactly what he writes) on parchment and dissolves it in water. He also adds some dust from the floor of the tabernacle. Raba asked: why does the torah command the dust? He answers: because if she is innocent she will produce a son like Avraham, who said "I am but dust and ashes", and if she is guilty, she reverts to ashes (she dies from the effects of the trial). (17a)

Once a year the local SCA group has an informal gathering that includes a pie competition. "Pie" is pretty loosely defined. For today's I set out to make a ginger cheese pie, extrapolated from the cheesecake recipes in Digby and Platina. Basically, I used Digby's proportions for cheese, butter, and eggs, but replaced his cinnamon and nutmeg with Platina's ginger. I didn't just start with Platina because he uses lard. (In the filling! Ick!)

I wanted to make a ginger-lover's pie, though, and the small amount of fresh-grated ginger called for in Platina just would not do. So I expanded on that, but it still wasn't ginger-y enough, so I'll keep tweaking. Mind, it was still good; it was just...understated.

Here's what I did:

First, turn a pound of fresh ginger into crystallized ginger. Read more...Collapse )
The mishna describes some cases of "what goes around comes around": Samson followed after the desire of his eyes (i.e. he lusted after Delilah), and so the Philistines put out his eyes. Absalom cohabited with the ten concubines of his father, and so he was stabbed with ten lances. The same idea applies to good too and not just bad: Miriam waited by the banks of the river to see what would happen with her baby brother Moshe, and later all of Israel waited seven days for her to be cured of her affliction so she could rejoin the camp. And Yosef went up to bury his father Yaakov in Cana'an, and later Moshe took Yosef's bones up out of Egypt to bury in the land of Israel. (9b)

According to the midrash, Moshe recovered Yosef's bones on the night of the exodus -- while everybody else was occupied with gathering their own households and Egyptian loot (as commanded), Moshe was tending to the dead.

(Today's daf is 10.)