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The talmud is discussing lost animals and the obligation to return them to their owners. A mishna teaches: if one finds an ass or a cow feeding by the way, that is not considered lost. But if one finds an ass with its trappings overturned or a cow running among the vineyards, those are lost and must be returned. If he returned it and it ran away again, and he returned it again and it ran away again, he must keep returning it, even four or five times. If his lost time is worth a sela (this is more than typical wages) he can't demand that price but is paid for his time as a common laborer. But if a beit din is present he can stipulate a wage in their presence. (30b)

Today's daf is 31, and contains the g'mara that expounds this mishna.

A while back a friend recommended Wool by Hugh Howey. She described it to me roughly as follows: a city-sized group of people live in a dystopian underground silo because outside is dangerous. The rule is strict, and when somebody is convicted of a death-penalty offense, the sentence is to go outside and clean the sensors so those in the silo can continue to monitor what's going on out there. (The environment is toxic, which is why this is a death sentence.)

But wait, I said -- if somebody is being sent to die, what on earth is his motivation to help the people who did that to him on his way out? Why in the world would people actually clean?

My friend said that answering that would be a spoiler, but the "books" are not book-length and the first one is free (as a Kindle book). So onto the Kindle it went.

During our trip to Europe I was facing a smaller chunk of time on a plane -- not enough to start a novel, but about right for this. It's a nominal 56 pages -- longer short story or short novella or what, I'm not sure.

The first story stands alone; in fact, from what I've read, the author didn't intend to write any more than that. Midway through I thought I knew where it was going, and the author managed to surprise me later. Yes, we get an answer to my challenge to the premise.

Since then I've read the rest of the five-book series. (There's also a prequel series that I haven't read.) The books increase in length as they go, with the fifth a nominal 264 pages -- so still shorter fiction as modern trends go. The first one is free, the next couple are 99 cents, then $1.99, then $2.99.

Each of the first three books focuses on a different main character; the last two books have multiple foci. As the series progresses we learn more about the real power structures in the silo and how things came to be this way. The series ends in a satisfying place but there is room for more stories to be told.

The first book stands alone. The second can, but ends a little tantalizingly so I wanted to immediately read the next one. The third through fifth are more joined at the hip; I don't think it would be very satisfying to read 1-4 but not 5.

I recommend the series. I especially recommend investing an hour and a half (maybe less for you; I'm a slower reader) in the first book.
At Sukkot services on Monday I heard a teaching I liked, and I forgot to include it in my earlier Sukkot post. I heard this from Rabbi Yisroel Altein, who taught it in the name of the last Lubavhicer rebbe.

On Sukkot we take up the "four species"; this is one of the obligatory mitzvot of the holiday. The rabbis (I'm not sure where and he didn't say) compare the four species to four types of Jews:

- The etrog (this is a citrus fruit) has both good taste and good fragrance; this is like a Jew who both has learning and performs mitzvot.

- The myrtle has fragrance but is inedible and the palm is edible but has no fragrance. One of these represents a Jew with learning but no mitzvot, and one represents a Jew with mitzvot but no learning (one who does the mitzvot because he's been instructed to, but lacks deeper torah knowledge).

- The willow has neither fragrance nor taste, and represents a Jew with neither learning nor mitzvot.

But, the rabbi said, just as you can only perform the Sukkot mitzvah if you have all four -- if you're missing one of them it's not kosher -- we as a community aren't complete if we don't include all four types of Jews. Not, heaven forbid, that we should encourage people to stop learning or doing mitzvot but, rather, that there are people with neither, and they are still Jews and deserving of being included in the community.
Some found items belong to the finder; others must be announced so that the owner has a chance to reclaim them. In a mishna a few pages back, R' Meir listed items that the finder can keep: scattered fruit, scattered coins, small sheaves in a public thoroughfare, round cakes of pressed figs, baker's loaves, strings of fishes, pieces of meat, fleeces of wool brought from the countryside, bundles of flax. R' Yehudah, however, said that anything with something unusual about it cannot be kept (for example a loaf of bread containing money).

That was Monday. The next mishna, on today's daf, considers the other side, saying that the following must always be announced: fruit in a vessel (or a vessel by itself), money in a purse (or a purse by itself), heaps of fruit (that is, it was placed not dropped), heaps of coins, three coins stacked, bundles of sheaves in private premises, home-made loaves, fleeces of wool from the craftsman's workshop, jars of wine, jars of oil. (21a, 24b)

What are the principles at play here? One is identifiability; there is no way to prove ownership of scattered coins and all baker's loaves look the same. Another is intent; items neatly stacked, even if in small quantity, were put there, so we presume that the owner is coming back for them. Another is whether, upon learning that he's lost something, a person searches for it or gives up hope of recovery. (The rabbis say that small sheaves in the public road get trampled and destroyed, so people just accept the loss.)

I expect value to play in here too, but if so I'm surprised that a finder can keep (many) scattered coins but must announce a mere three if stacked, and that a finder can keep meat and fish but must announce an empty purse. But there's a lot of g'mara here that I haven't learned yet, so maybe this is addressed.

The high holy days went very well for me this year. It's hard to explain in words, but they did what they are supposed to do. I feel like I'm in a good place for 5777.

I co-led the Ruach service on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur mornings again (with the associate rabbi). That went well, and I was particularly tickled by the person who privately asked me if next year I could do it all by myself. (She likes the way I lead.) I pointed out that it would be rather awkward for me to bring that up with the folks in charge.

We started this service several years ago because the sanctuary service, still being done out of Gates of Repentance which has many deficiencies, was hard for some of us to engage with. It's not about formal music; I'm all about some of the formal music of the season. But it sometimes felt like we were being performed at instead of being invited in. So we started this service to do things differently. This year we bought the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, for the whole congregation (previously we had enough copies for the Ruach service, and previous to that we used draft photocopies). And we've just concluded our first year with a real cantor, who is working hard to make the sanctuary service more engaging. So, it is possible that in the not-too-distant future we could get to a point where we no longer need this service. Some (like my fan from the previous paragraph) might think that's a bad thing for me, but I'd actually be delighted to bring more of the congregation to the level that our smaller cohort strives for. We shall see. None of this has been discussed yet; it's just ideas kicking around.

On Sukkot morning I went to Chabad. I met the Chabad rabbi a few years ago when I took what would be the first of (so far) three classes that I've taken from him. He's friendly and welcoming and he encourages women to learn. So I showed up (unannounced) and I felt welcome. There was one other woman there at the beginning, and we got two more by the end, with maybe 15 or 20 men. (Kind of hard to see with the mechitza and some left immediately after.) Most of us went to the sukkah after for a little food and drink, and the conversation was friendly. I chatted with a woman who's a cancer researcher (i.e. she works, in a professional position) and we talked about technology and medicine and conducting clinical trials and stuff.

I only had one problem. Well, two I guess -- I can never keep up with Orthodox prayer; I'm just not that fast. So that wasn't unexpected. But the other was the language barrier. Not Hebrew; while I'm by no means fluent I do ok there. No, I mean that even though they were praying in Hebrew I found it really hard to follow because of pronunciation. There were times when I knew exactly what words I should be hearing, had the siddur in front of me -- and couldn't match up what I was hearing with what I was reading. I wouldn't have expected that to be the steepest learning curve...

(This isn't just about Ashkenazi versus Sephardi pronunciation; I've got a reasonable handle on that. Chabad seems to change vowels compared to other Ashkenazim, so that's two steps removed for me and my Sephardi pronunciation.)

This Chabad, unfortunately, doesn't have their own Friday-night services; part of the reason I'd gone was to scout for alternatives to what are often unsatisfying Friday services at my own synagogue. Bummer. But there will be other occasions to visit; I went on Sukkot because my congregation and another join forces for the festivals, alternating locations, and I wasn't interested in walking two miles each way to the other synagogue.
I realized today what I need for my sukkah for next year: cable ties.

Not for the sukkah itself, but for the lights. I use strings of lights of the "plug one into the end of another" variety, to make a long chain of them, but they all lead with a fairly long expanse of cord without lights. That makes sense for the first set of lights in a series, if they're assuming these would be plugged into a wall somewhere (instead of my outdoor-rated heavy-duty extension cord run from the garage), but the result is expanses of non-light or wrapping up that extra cord length somehow. I wrapped up the extra cord length in a suboptimal manner, and then remembered that a solution exists.

Onto the shopping list, then.

Sukkot starts pretty soon here, so chag sameach to all who are celebrating.
Today's daf is Bava Metzia 17, which is in the middle of a long discussion about returning (or not returning) found legal documents like bills of sale and loan documents. Because we've just finished Yom Kippur and are heading into Sukkot, and for another reason I'll explain at the end, I'm taking a side trip to Sukkah today.

The first several mishnayot in tractate Sukkah describe the basic building requirements of a sukkah. It must be no more than 20 cubits high, be at least 10 handbreadths high, and have three walls (one can be partial), and its roof must provide more shade than sun (but not be completely enclosed or solid). We then get to this: if he trained a vine or gourd or ivy over the sukkah and then covered it (with the roof cover), it is not valid. However, if the covering provides more cover than the vine (etc) does, or if he cuts the vine from the ground, it is valid. While a sukkah covering must be made from something that grows from the soil, it can't still be attached to the soil. (11a)

This part in particular caught my attention because of the haftarah we read yesterday afternoon, the book of Yonah. After Nineveh repents, which upsets Yonah greatly, he builds a sukkah to watch what will happen and a gourd grows on it to provide him shade. He's not observing the festival of Sukkot so that's fine (and besides, God sent the gourd and He can do whatever he likes), but seeing a discussion of a gourd-enhanced sukkah mere hours after hearing Yonah caught my attention.

I drink quite a bit of caffeine, which poses a problem come Yom Kippur each year because of the 25-hour fast (food and drink). Every year I start ramping down the caffeine on Rosh Hashana (10 days earlier), try to reach zero caffeine the day before Yom Kippur, and soldier through. But I always get a caffeine headache anyway. Somebody once suggested that I needed to be at zero caffeine for more like three days, which I haven't managed to do yet. (Yes, I admit my substance addition. Moving on...)

Monday night we were wondering how quickly caffeine leaves the body anyway, and Dani found this article. Lookie here (emphasis mine):
The dosage of caffeine consumed can impact how long it stays in a person’s system. Someone who ingests low dose (especially relative to their body mass) should clear caffeine from their body quicker than someone who ingests a high dose. Though other factors play a prominent role in clearance, the body can only metabolize and excrete a set amount of caffeine at a time; if this threshold is exceeded – metabolism and clearance is compromised. [...]

A heavy caffeine consumer may ingest over 400 mg per day (equivalent to 4 cups of coffee). At this point, enzymes in the liver may be overtaxed and more caffeine (and its metabolites) may accumulate within the body. This accumulation may prevent efficient clearance and result in reabsorption, prolonging excretion times relative to dosage consumed.

Oh really? I had never considered the possibility that one could slow down caffeine loss by overloading. This, I decided, called for science.

Tuesday I drank three cups of coffee, about 12oz of iced tea (equivalent of two teabags), two cans of Coke Zero (Cherry, if we're being precise), about 12oz of apple cider, and about six cups of water. I ate as I normally do in advance of the fast. Then at dinner I had a glass of Coke Zero (maybe 8oz?), followed by a glass of orange juice and a glass of water.

This should be sounding alarm bells to most people experienced with Yom Kippur. All of this is in extreme contrast to the near-universal advice one hears about caffeine and fasting. Possibly that advice is geared more toward the folks who drink a couple cups of coffee a day; I don't know. Also, caffeine is a diuretic so I was concerned about thirst, even with all the water/juice.

But I am here to report that I did not get a caffeine headache today, and I didn't feel any more thirsty than I usually do. In fact, after some thirst pangs this morning, I pretty much didn't notice thirst for the rest of the day. (Also: yes, I slept as well as I usually do on Yom Kippur last night.)

Wow. It's only the one data point, so further research is called for, but initial research results show promise.

(Monday night we also discovered the existence of caffeine patches -- like those nicotine patches smokers wear, but for caffeine -- but there was no way to get some in time.)
I forget how I got there, but I recently found two interesting posts about my curious-but-not-very-useful "superpower". This Guardian article (from 2002) talks about animals (and people) that can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Did you know that raptors can see into the UV? Do you know why that's important? Because rodents -- that is, prey -- emit urine trails, and urine is visible in the UV spectrum (as anybody who's tried to find and clean pets' urine stains knows).

And then there's this fascinating post from someone who sees into the UV (due to aphakia), in which he describes and shows what he sees and talks about some cool testing he did. It's hard to evaluate such things when monitor calibration is in play (do you see what I do on my monitor? probably not), but it looks like "black lights" are lighter and more purple for him than for me.

One of the ways he tested the bounds of his vision was with a simple prism. I never thought of that. Now, where can I find a prism? :-)
With all the drives to get people registered to vote in time for the November election, and at least one state reportedly headed to court over deadlines (caused, apparently, by Columbus Day being a holiday), I've been wondering... why do we even need voter registration today? (Aside from preserving some government jobs, I mean.) What's wrong with saying: show up at the poll in your assigned location, show proof of citizenship and of residence, be checked against a list of people who can't vote (mainly people who've already voted, but I think felons can't vote?), and vote. Since voting is districted, election officials can make sure any no-vote list is distributed to the right places in advance -- no Internet connection required. From there, it's just checking that the person is in the right polling place and hasn't already been here. Nobody has to have done paperwork in advance; everybody who's eligible and wants to gets to vote. Wouldn't this enfranchise more voters than the current system?

(You already have to give your name when you show up to vote and be checked off the list, so there's no privacy issue that isn't already present.)
I'm slowly sorting through the pictures from our trip. We spent a couple days in Barcelona, where we took two tours: a half-day tour of Montserrat, and a full-day city tour. The latter had lots of architecture by Gaudi. I've collected some pictures. I don't know why Google decided to make the very last photo the first one, nor could I figure out how to fix it, so...meh. One bit of Gaudi is out of place; people will manage. :-)

The last time I used Picasa it looked different. I don't know if people can still comment there, but you're welcome to comment here.

Inside the church on Montserrat:

Some Gaudi architecture:

Part of a ceiling in Sagrada Familia:

These buildings make me think of Hansel and Gretel:

I came across a thought-provoking post from Pieter Hintjens, who until two days ago was dealing with terminal cancer. I found it a cogent commentary on things that I have been blessed to never have to have thought through.
So this is my first point. Everyone fights cancer, all our lives long. From birth, our immune systems are hunting down and killing rogue cells. I grew up in the African sun, pale skin burned dark. Do I have skin cancer? No, thank you very much, immune system! Much of my adult life I drank a bit too much, ate too much red meat, too few vegetables. Do I have bowel cancer? No, thank you again, you over-active beast of an immune system, you! Hugs.

And most of us can say the same thing, most of the time. We are all cancer survivors, until we're not.

Secondly I want to attack that notion that we can and should "fight", as a conscious effort. Then third, I'll try to explain some of the real fights that we the terminally sick do have.


I'd much rather not die, yet if I'm going to (and it does seem inevitable now), this is how I'd want it to happen. Not fighting the cancer, with hope and positive thinking, rather by fighting the negativity of death, with small positive steps, and together, rather than alone.

Go. Read. Worth five minutes of your time.
A mishna on today's daf talks about acquiring property through an agent, and this leads to a discussion in the g'mara. The g'mara discusses gleaning the corners of a field, which by torah law must be left for the poor. If a man gleans and says "this is for that (specific) poor person", R' Eliezer says this is permitted but the Sages say he must give what he gleaned to the first poor person he sees. In the end it depends on who is gleaning. If a rich man is gleaning for a poor man, the sages say that he couldn't acquire the gleanings for himself and so cannot then transfer ownership to another. If a poor man gleans for another poor man, however, all agree that he can bestow ownership on the other person because it was his to give away. (9b)

The difference isn't that R' Eliezer was talking about a poor man and the sages about a rich man. Both were talking about a rich man, according to the discussion, but R' Eliezer's argument was based on the idea that he could give away his property and become poor, at which point he would be eligible, so against this possibility he could be an agent. The sages appear to be more concerned with current state; they don't outright say "so let him do that and then we'll discuss it again", but to my reading it's implied.

(Today's daf is 10.)

Dear brain trust,

I finally have a new Mac, but it came with OS 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion). I'd like to update to El Capitan. No problem, I figured; my older Mac was practically begging me to do this for a couple months, but I wasn't going to risk it on an older machine.

So -- I'm moved in, most (but not all) things work (I might need to just re-buy Pages), time to look at the OS -- and El Capitan isn't available from the Apple app store. They really want you to install Sierra.

I've heard some uncomfortable things about Sierra, particularly relating to applications that didn't come from or get blessed by Apple. It's my machine; I get to decide what I install on it, and I very much doubt that some of the obscure stuff I need has been vetted by Apple. I want El Capitan, not Sierra.

Googling leads me to a few pages on sites called things like "Tom's Downloads" where I can, allegedly, download it, but I don't know what's safe and what's not there. I should also mention that I have never, ever upgraded an OS before; I use machines with their original OSs until they die and I buy new ones. Or did before I switched teams from Windows to Mac, anyway; my Macs last a lot longer than my PCs did. Anyway, I'm just saying this to set expectations about my level of experience and knowledge here.

Where, oh brain trust, can I get a safe, easy-to-install copy of El Capitan (10.11)?
I recently spent a lot of time on airplanes without an Internet connection -- a perfect time to catch up on some reading. First up: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.

Somebody recommended this to me but I don't now remember who. I'm very glad to have been exposed to speculative fiction from a culture not my own. (This will be a continuing, though unplanned, theme; book #2 was The Three-Body Problem.)

The story is set in Lagos, Nigeria (the author's home country). Aliens have just landed in the nearby ocean and they bring change. These aliens feel alien; they are not just humans in different skin or with different appendages like aliens sometimes are in fiction. Their motives and methods are mysterious, and I'm still not sure if they're good guys, bad guys, or...something else. I like the ambiguity.

To this American reader, Lagos feels a little alien too, and the author does a good job of conveying the feel of the city.

There are three primary characters, and a whole bunch of others, some major and many minor. The three have been chosen by the aliens for, well, something. They're an unlikely group -- a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rap singer -- who don't know each other at the start. Over the course of the book we learn their individual stories.

The storytelling jumps around, showing us vignettes involving different characters whose stories, naturally, will come to intersect. And they're not all human (or alien); the point-of-view character in the opening scene is a swordfish, and there are others later. A bat that seems to be a throw-away detail in an early scene shows up later; it's all connected. We see characters grow, change, scheme, and sometimes fall apart.

In reading the book I was challenged by one thing: the author sometimes writes characters speaking Pidgin English, and I came away from those scenes thinking I had the gist of it but hadn't gotten everything. It was also a reminder that the rest of the time these characters weren't speaking English at all, but of course the book is in English. Having the dialogue that, in the story, is the closest to English be, in written form, the farthest from English took some getting used to. I didn't notice until I got to the end of the book that there was a glossary in the back.

I enjoyed getting to know the people and the world of Lagoon.
Day 0: Receive newer machine (yay!), discover it needs a video connector I don't have. Oops; should have noticed that in the specs.

Day 1: Get cable, start Migration Assistant. It announces this will take 16+ hours because, despite being plugged into the LAN and wireless being turned off on the other machine, it's using wifi. Oh well.

Day 2: Migration hangs; aborted around the 24-hour mark. Connect the two machines directly via ethernet and make sure wifi is turned off on both. This time Migration Assistant says 1.5 hours.

Day 3: Hung at "4 minutes remaining" for 12 hours. Since the previous day I've been attempting to get support online; at this point I wait through the support phone queue, spend an hour or so with a first-level technician who can tell me nothing new, and finally get escalated to the next level, where we spend another hour debugging. He convinces me to try again even though we've changed no settings ("but isn't it deterministic?", I asked) and I wait up for the completion -- or, rather, the hang at 3 minutes remaining. By the time this happens that second-level support person has gone home for the night. I leave voice mail, to which he never responds.

Day 4: It always hangs when migrating apps. What happens if I migrate everything except apps, and I'll try to solve that separately? That works. Migrating apps by themselves still hangs (but it only takes about 15 minutes to get to that point now). I ask a question on Ask Different which, like my previous attempt to go to the elves for counsel, has not gotten much traction. (Actually, that's not fair; last time my question was completely ignored; this time somebody answered to say "it depends". Progress.)

Later in the day I try to copy individual files in the Applications folder directly (using a network share). The copy operation says no to Firefox, claiming the file is corrupted (err, works just fine on the source machine); upon trying to do a fresh installation I learn that Firefox has dropped support for my OSs (both). Huh, Chrome gave me notifications when that got close; Firefox never breathed a word. I will be upgrading the OS on the new machine, but I'm not going to do that mid-move. I find a Firefox download that's still available and, oh glorious day, when I start it up it has my state from the other machine! I didn't have to use sync or anything! So I still don't know where user application data is stored on a Mac, but apparently the migration got it. Yay.

Most applications can be copied but a few fail, claiming permission problems (even though the permissions are fine). The iWork suite copies fine but does not run; might be an OS incompatibility. Shabbat arrives.

Day 5: Shabbat. After, I learn that the files that couldn't be copied across a network share can be copied just fine using a USB drive. No idea why that makes a difference. I begin testing whether applications actually run. Spend way too long finding an activation code from the original CD packaging for one of them. Note to self: add activation codes to the file of important information you'd be sad to lose.

Why are printer drivers so difficult? Apparently that's something that didn't come over in the migration. Spend an hour or so hunting the driver I need online after failing to find it on the source machine. (It's a driver. That means it's a file. That means I should be able to find and copy it, right?) Just as I reach the "it'd be less frustrating to buy a new printer even though this one works fine and meets my needs" point, I find the driver and print something.

Day 6 (today): Still haven't tested all applications, and I'm not touching the scanner before Rosh Hashana. Spend lots of time tuning video. I initially set up the new machine with a different monitor (so I could retain easy access to the old machine); when I couldn't get it tuned to a good balance of brightness, contrast, and color temperature I swapped monitors. And the old monitor is wacky too. So it's something in the OS, I presume. I spend lots of time in advanced calibration settings and reach a point that seems workable. It's not the same as the old one (Stack Exchange and LJ colors are slightly off, but not in a way I can fix in hardware or calibration), but presumably I'll get used to it. I now realize that I have no idea what the true colors of any web site I use are, because they look a little different on every device I use, including ones where I've never adjusted any display settings. Some day I should line up the two Macs, my work (Windows) laptop, my tablet, and my phone and have a show-down. (I used some photos to sanity-check all this.)

But, all that said, it sure is nice having a newer machine! I had not previously appreciated solid-state hard drives, and now I'm not resource-starved. I wish Apple had updated the product (they haven't since 2014), but I couldn't wait any longer and this used machine will do just fine.

Tonight begins Rosh Hashana. I will pick this up in a few days.
We now start the second of the three "Bava" tractates on torts. We begin with a mishna about a dispute over a found item. If two people appear before the court holding a garment and each says "I found it" and "it is all mine", then each must swear that his share is not less than half and then the value of the garment is divided between them. If two ride on an animal, or one rides and the other leads, and they both say "it is all mine", then as with the cloak, they both swear and then they divide the value. If they admit each other's claims or they have witnesses to establish their claims, they receive their shares without swearing. (2a)

Swearing is a serious matter because swearing falsely is a serious transgression, so if things can be settled without swearing the talmud generally prefers to do so, from what I've seen.

Holding the garment, and riding or leading the animal, is significant because ownership is staked by physical means. You can't call "dibs" on a found cloak just by seeing it, for example; you have to pick it up. In the case of something you can't pick up (like a donkey), you have to move it a certain distance. Riding and leading are both ways to do that.

(Today's daf is 3.)

There is an old joke that goes something like this:
A man in a helicopter has become lost in a heavy fog. He finds an office building and pulls up alongside a window. He leans out and asks the person inside "where am I?" (Yeah I know; office-building windows usually can't be opened. Work with me here.) The person inside says "you're in a helicopter 500 feet in the air". With this information the pilot is able to proceed directly to his invisible destination. When asked how that answer helped, he said "I got an answer that was completely true and utterly useless, so I knew I was outside the Microsoft customer-support building".

Microsoft is the traditional butt of that joke, but today I've had that experience with Apple, from whom I expected much better.

I got a new(er) refurbished Mac Mini this week (having given up waiting on Apple to update their product line; my 2009 Mini is showing its age). I plugged in the ethernet cable, booted it, and was greeted with a prompt to migrate data from my current Mac. Great! I've heard good things about that tool. So I went through the prompts to start, and just after the point of no return, it announced that this would take 16 hours. It had completely ignored the ethernet connection and was using wifi. (I should have been more suspicious that earlier in the start-up sequence it asked for a wifi password, but I figured they just always did that as a fallback. I don't remember setting up wifi on the other machine, but I guess I did.)

Everything I found on Google with my phone (you can't use either Mac while this is happening) said that aborting this is bad and you might have to reinstall the OS on the new machine. Since my new machine came with neither installation disks nor a CD/DVD drive, that was going to be tricky. The Apple store was by this point closed, so I tweeted to Apple support asking for guidance.

They responded pretty promptly (good) with a link to instructions about how to run the migration tool (bad). Here's what followed:
Me: Thanks, but that doesn't tell me how to recover from where I am. I plugged new mac into ethernet (old was already), booted, & followed prompt to start migrating. It ignored ethernet & used wifi. Looking at 16+ hours. Am I stuck or can I restart with ethernet not wifi?

Nine hours later:

Apple: The best way to be 100% sure it's using ethernet for migration is to disable Wi-Fi on both computers before starting the migration process.

I repeated that I had already started and asked if there was anything I could do now, as opposed to have done differently earlier. Their answer to that was that I could turn off the machines but I'd probably need to erase the new machine, so I should probably just let it run.

I'm disappointed that the migration tool (a) didn't use the ethernet connection and (b) didn't tell me it was going to use wifi (or give me the time estimate) and give me a chance to bail before it started. But I'm even more disappointed by responses from Apple that make me think nobody was actually reading my messages. Was I talking to a bot?

My past experiences with Apple support have been good. (Also rare, which is good for me but bad for data sampling.) I hope this experience is an anomaly.
I've been away for a couple weeks (and thus haven't seen anything on LJ or DW); we spent a couple days in Barcelona and then a week in Rome and environs. I expect to post more later (including pictures, once I sort through them), but some short bits for now:

When we booked English-language tours we were not expecting them to actually be bilingual or trilingual. A guide repeating things in multiple languages has one of two effects: either not everybody hears everything, or the bits are small so there's time for all of them. We experienced some of each. I'm not sure how one looks for an English-only tour, but next time I'll know to look. (All of our experiences in this regard came from a single company, Green Line Tours in Rome.) Yes, I know how Anglo-centric this makes me sound, but I'm probably never going to be fluent in Spanish or French.

We took a small-group tour (eight people) of Barcelona. That worked very well. But the bigger surprise was our half-day trip to Montserrat; we didn't know what to expect or how interesting it would be, but our guide was very good, and when he gave us some free time he gave a good overview of options for spending that time and how long they should reasonably take. (For example: you can hike up to that point for a nice view and it should take about 15 minutes, and if you go another 10 minutes up to that other point you'll get an even nicer view.)

We saw the Pantheon on our last day in Rome. We almost didn't (we were getting tired), but we figured we'd seen all the other archaeological sites so we should see that one too. I was expecting a shell of a building, like the others. There's less inside the Colosseum than you think from the outside, and ditto the Forum. With the Pantheon, though, there's lots inside. Some of it is church do-overs of the original structure, but some original parts remain. Very impressive.

The church is everywhere. There was a pervasive assumption in the parts of Italy we visited that of course everybody is Christian (and probably Roman Catholic). One tour guide referred in passing to a synagogue (that we didn't get to see) as a "Jew church". I knew that Italy is a Christian country, but its implications were more extensive than I'd anticipated.

We went to Ostia Antica, which was described in one review as "Pompeii done right". We also went to Pompeii. Both were interesting. Ostia Antica did more with less; Pompeii is better-preserved but the tour was more shallow. (A different tour might of course go deeper.)

The hotels we stayed in had wardrobes or clothing racks but no drawers, and had no alarm clocks (or clocks at all). We were surprised.

The Vatican museum sure is big. You walk a while just to get there, and then a while longer to get from the ticket office to the actual entrance, and then a long while inside (and we didn't see anywhere near all of it), and then a while longer to get out... I think we walked five miles that morning.

I drank a beer in the Munich airport, but it was not a new Oktoberfest offering, just a weissbier. Oh well; at least I've had beer in Germany. :-)

Meals in Italy take at least an hour and a half. Universally, in our experience.

I've seen cab drivers in other countries claim the meter doesn't work, but I've never seen one outright lie about the fare before this trip. We saw the price on the meter right before a driver in Rome cleared it and told us a higher number. Sheesh.

Our flights were all fine. (Lufthansa, operated by United.) I was a little surprised not to go through passport control when going from Barcelona to Rome; sure, EU citizens can move freely, but I thought everybody else had to get stamped on the way in and out of each country. But no, my Spanish entry stamp and Italian exit stamp both have EU logos in them, and not having an Italian entry stamp was not a problem for getting out. Huh.

I had previously had a very good international-flight experience at Newark. This time, on the way back, it was hard to find where we needed to go. A little investment in better signage would pay big dividends.
Last week we talked about compensation for stolen animals where the animal changed state, such as a cow birthing a calf or a sheep being shorn for its wool. The mishna now moves on from theft to errors that affect the value of property.

A mishna on today's daf teaches: if one gave wool to a dyer to die and the dyer burned it in the cauldron, the dyer has to compensate the owner for his wool. What if he dyed it the wrong color? R' Meir says that, here too, the dyer must pay the owner the value of the wool. (The dyer buys the now-dyed wool, in other words.) R' Yehudah, however, says we compare the increase in value from the dyeing (even the wrong color is an increase over undyed wool) to the dyer's outlay (such as for materials). If the increase in value is greater than the outlay, the owner of the wool pays only the outlay. If outlay is greater than the increase in value, the owner pays only the increase in value. (100b)

According to R' Yehudah, in other words, if there was benefit the owner keeps his wool and still owes the dyer something, but since the dyer messed up he's only going to get the smaller of (a) his actual costs or (b) the increase in value.

A friend brought some new games home from GenCon and brought them over this past weekend. We played each of these games once, for three players.

Mystic Vale is a deck-building game (like Dominion, for example), but instead of adding cards to your deck you augment cards. Your deck always has 20 cards, each of which has three "slots". Some are blank and some start with one slot filled. Slots produce resources, which you can use to buy overlays. Each card is in a plastic sleeve and each overlay is a transparent sheet of clear plastic with one of the three regions filled in; you slide the overlay into the sleeve to use it. On your turn you deal out some cards (the exact number varies), use the resources to buy overlays (or some other special cards), and then discard all those cards. You go through the deck a lot, gradually building up resources so you can buy better stuff. Some of the cards grant victory points, which is ultimately what matters.

The game is very pretty, and it's pretty in a non-invasive way. (I often find pretty games to be hard to play, because the art overruns the function.) I think our game was about an hour, though the next one would be faster because we were learning. I liked this game a lot and would gladly play it in preference to Dominion; Dani thought it was ok and much prefers Dominion.

Next up were two quick games from Perplext. These are tiny games with few moving parts; they're designed to fit in a pocket and be playable, for example, on a table at a restaurant while you're waiting for your food. In one game, Gem, you bid to buy cards with gems on them, which you can use to buy more cards; goal is to corner the market on particular gem types. There are six gem types in the game; you get points for having the most of any type, and one point for each gem you have at all. It's a lightweight auction game that calls for some planning and strategizing. I'd like to play this one again, too.

The other Perplext game was Bus. You lay out a (randomized) grid of city streets with some bus stops and some destinations (color-coded). At bus stops you can pick up fares, which you score when you deliver them. A fare card has a point value and a speed limit and they tend to add up to the same number -- so the more benefit you get from a delivery, the slower you'll move to do it. There was one usability problem with this game: the red and pink passengers/destinations were quite difficult to distinguish from each other. It was a cute game but not one I'd seek out again.

Somewhere in there we also introduced our friend to Roll Through the Ages: think Advanced Civilization distilled down to a dice game and abstract commodities and improvements, playable in about 20 minutes.

The last game we played, and a clear winner for all of us, was Fantahzee. The similarity of that name to "Yahtzee" is quite intentional. Players are defending a town that's under attack by an army of monsters; on your turn you can play heroes from your hand, then (try to) activate them this round, then attack monsters. If you don't kill the lead monster you lose part of the town (negative points to you). You get victory points for killed monsters.

The activation is dice-based. Each hero has an activation cost represented in die rolls -- "4", or "2 of a kind", or "1 2 3", and so on. The powerful ones are harder to get. You start with five dice and get up to three rolls; after each roll you can allocate any dice you want to activate heroes and then reroll the rest. Some of the heros, once activated, grant you extra dice or extra rolls, which is essential. Many of them have other special abilities, like extra defense. There's a lot of randomness, but you also need to plan your party of adventurer heros to balance between power and ability to actually activate. I think this one took about an hour.
We have already determined that in the case of robbery the thief owes damages based on the value of the stolen goods. (He pays a multiple of this value.) What if the value changed after the robbery? The mishna on today's daf addresses this. If one stole pieces of wood and made utensils from them, or stole pieces of wool and made garments from them, he owes damages for the value of the pieces of wood or wool. Similarly, if he stole a pregnant cow and it then gave birth to a calf, or he stole a sheep ready for shearing and he then sheared it, he owes the value of a pregnant cow or a sheep ready for shearing. However, if he stole a cow and it then got pregnant and gave birth, or he stole a sheep and it then grew out its coat and he sheared it, then he owes for a non-pregnant cow or a sheep not ready for shearing. This is the general principle, the mishna tells us: all robbers pay in accordance with the value of the stolen goods at the time of the robbery. (93b)

That the thief owes full restoration if he has diminished the value of the stolen items seems obvious to me. That the thief gets to benefit from the proceeds of his theft, for example the calf if the stolen cow later becomes pregnant, comes as more of a surprise to me. What happens if he stole a cow, it became pregnant, and he then paid damages before it gave birth -- if the thief returns the cow, would the owner owe the thief for the increase in value? I suspect that the practical answer is that you treat livestock and goods as commodities -- the thief pays the value of a cow but doesn't necessarily return that specific cow. I'm speculating, and perhaps it's addressed somewhere in the coming pages.

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?
A mishna a few pages back taught: one who injures another becomes liable for five items: for depreciation (reduced valuation because of the damage), for pain, for healing, for loss of time, and for degradation. A mishna on today's daf continues on this last theme, saying: one who insults a naked person, or insults a blind person, or insults one who is asleep, is liable for degradation. In the g'mara the Master asks: is somebody who walks around naked capable of being insulted? R' Papa answered: this is talking about a case where a wind suddenly came up and lifted up his clothes, and then someone raised them still higher, putting him to shame. The g'mara then goes on to ask the question: is degradation paid because of the insult to the person, and so maybe we should not owe it if the person cannot be insulted, or is degradation paid because of the act itself regardless of whether the person perceived it? We learn elsewhere that degradation applies to a minor and a deaf-mute but not to an idiot, and from this the g'mara concludes that the payment is due if he is insulted or would be if he learned about it later -- the minor when he is older can understand, or the deaf-mute will feel the insult when somebody tells him about it. (86b)

We know from the torah (and last week's daf post) that one who steals an ox or sheep and sells or slaughters it owes five-fold payment for the ox and four-fold payment for the sheep. The g'mara on today's daf expands on this: in addition to selling or slaughtering it, he owes the extra payment if he:

  • gives it to somebody else who then sells or slaughters it
  • consecrates it
  • gives it as a gift, including as a betrothal gift
  • barters with it or uses it to settle a debt
This list includes some transfers of ownership that don't involve payment (so not sales but similarly beneficial to the thief), but the case the g'mara calls out further is the first. We learn here that an agent's actions -- selling or slaughtering the animal -- are as if they were done by the principal (the person who appointed him as agent). That's normal for "positive" cases of agency -- for example, a man is considered to have circumcised his son if he hires a mohel to do it. But (according to the g'mara), nowhere else in torah does agency reflect on the principal for a transgression -- but it does for selling or slaughtering stolen livestock. (79a)

I presume that if you, say, hire a hit-man, while you might not be liable for capital murder under Jewish law, you'd still be liable for other penalties from the hiring/conspiracy.