July 30, 2006

Saturday, Sunday

Filed under: Personal Blog — marcstober @ 10:16 pm

On Saturday they had a Tot Shabbat service at the synagogue which was very nice, but even nicer was the happy accident which happened after–what I think Christians would call “fellowship”–where a number of the under-5 kids managed to wander back into the sanctuary, and started playing together there, and it gave the parents a chance to wander in and talk to each other as well. I do want kids to respect the sanctuary and the books there, but I think any lack of synagogue attendance is not caused by too much respect keeping people away 🙂 so I’d rather that first of all they’re comfortable and happy there.

On Sunday I volunteered at Sunday’s Bread, also organized by the temple as I have a few times before. Theoretically I could be serving food to the same people I ignore on the street since I work a few blocks away. This used to bother me a lot, but somehow I’ve more started to accept it’s just the way the world is. I think I like this volunteer job because it’s sort of like a little vacation–none of the stresses that loom so large in the rest of my life, like my house and work, bother me at all when I’m actually dealing with such a basic need as helping hungry people eat.

What’s Up with Lebanon?

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 9:41 pm

I’ve been wanting to write something about the war in Lebanon, but it’s been difficult to know what to say. On the one hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening to Beirut. On the other hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening in Haifa, and Israel’s actions are completely understandable and certainly justified.

I wish that the government of Lebanon would ask for peace. Peace, meaning not a ceasefire, but a normal relationship and a peaceful border. It does not seem like they have the ability, or maybe not the desire, to do so.

It seems that there are a lot of voices saying that Israel is not winning “hearts and minds” in Lebanon; that Lebanon’s recent moves toward democracy should be encouraged and Israel’s strikes will set things back. Inevitably these voices talk about the forward-thinking young Lebanese in Beiruit and the great new developments, cafes and nightclubs there. I don’t really think it’s the IDF’s primary job to win hearts and minds or Israel’s responsibility to support Lebanese democracy at all costs. Israel was attacked by forces operating out of a sovereign country, and that country is allowing those attacks to continue. While it’s great in theory that democracy is taking hold, it’s obviously not working yet, in that it doesn’t have control over an effective military and foreign relations. And as for the constant reports of cosmopolitan Beiruit–I don’t see how that matters. I don’t think anyone says that the cafes of New York or Moscow or even Paris are the key to a stable government, as compared to, say, strong institutions with support from the heartland.

For that matter, the whole concept of Hezbollah has me perplexed. Isn’t the idea that in a modern country, only the state has legitimate use of force, certainly against foreign powers? How is this in Lebanon even a matter of serious debate? It seems like this war is not just about Israel vs. Hezbollah vs. Lebanon, but about the surival of the whole concept of the liberal, democratic state–and I don’t mean in the American “blue state” definition of those terms but rather the idea of a sovereign state whose government is based on freedom and democracy, where people are pretty much free to do as they choose but rely on an elected goverment to create law and have the power to enforce it. (For further reading on this see this by Fareed Zakaria, which also makes me wonder if the whole red state/blue state thing could action be the right amount of choice so as to be good for democracy.)

The bottom line, then, is that this may be a fight for freedom and democracy, which may be something we’d rather not have to fight for, but is something worth fighting for when needed.

I would love on my next trip to Israel someday, after visiting other great places in the north like Haifa and Tsfat (Safed), to go spend a couple days on a side trip to thriving, cosmopolitan Beiruit. But until I, as a Jew visting Israel, can make such a trip as safely as going from the US to Canada, England to France, or even Israel to Jordan, it’s not peace.

July 26, 2006

I Love You Melanie!

Filed under: Personal Blog — marcstober @ 1:15 pm

Melanie is no longer appearing on Sprout.

There was always something odd about Melanie. She was too pretty, artificial. I guess she was the actress for the job because the Good Night Show was sort of a kids version of the other genre she appeared in—the perfect fantasy of someone you could go to bed with, no strings attached. Not like a real parent who might not want to read you a story tonight because he has a headache. 😉

I think the only actress PBS could cast successfully is maybe Simone.

Sprout’s production ethic seems to be to erase any evidence of there being real people running a television network. It’s an interesting concept, but maybe not a good one.

It’s also not how it used to be. Remember when Mr. Hooper died? Sesame Street was the seminal PBS kids show and they didn’t pretend that the world was without problems. Nor did the local affiliates, whose pledge drives would teach us that our favorite characters didn’t just appear out of the ether; they depended on hard-working adults at a nearby TV station.

Kids (and adults) need to known that actors are real people with grown-up lives, and that what you see on TV depends on factors beyond your screen. Sprout needs to start teaching kids that pretend is pretend. Maybe if they had introduced Melanie Martinez as a real-life mommy and actress who worked at a TV station this wouldn’t have been so difficult to handle.

By the way, I hope all the people who are outraged about this actually contribute to their local PBS stations.

July 21, 2006

Shalom, Shalom Beijing

Filed under: Greater Boston, Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 5:18 pm

Now that Shalom Beijing is closing its (kosher) doors I feel really bad that I never went there when we lived in Brookline. We were big fans of Chef Chow’s House which was a little closer, a lot more inviting from the outside, but of course not kosher. We kept say we should try Shalom Beijing but with a two year old (who might be mildly allergic to peanuts) trying new places is never really appealing.
On the other hand, a new Kosher chinese restaurant just opened in Newton near our new neighborhood! So maybe it’s just evidence of some demographic trend. Of course I’d rather a kosher butcher follows this trend–not only because I personally do buy kosher for cooking at home but because for everyone, carrying grocery is bags from the Butcherie without a parking lot is a lot more of a schlep than carrying Chinese leftovers!
I do like jabbett’s comment that when they changed from Shalom Hunan to Shalom Beijing they changed the meaning of Shalom from “Hello” to “Goodbye.” 🙂

July 17, 2006

Heating Help (and maybe something I can relate to)

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 11:58 am

I’ve started a thread on HeatingHelp.com to get advice on what to do with our old oil-fired steam heat system.

Being a software developer I feel like in some ways I can relate to these guys; in plumbing as in coding there are a lot of little internal technical details that make a system run well and maintainable that the end user never looks at. The debates between oil and gas or steam/water/air are also something I can relate to. I’d say it goes something like this:

Warm Air Windows No one says it’s perfect, but it’s the best overall choice most of the time, and most customer-friendly experience.
Hot Water Linux Great technically, but not as slick and not supported by a big national brand, you need to find a local guy who knows what he’s doing.
Steam Unix Industrial-strength, but you are much more dependent on paying good people/vendors to keep the thing running.

I could make the comparison with Macs but I think central heating is more like running a server.

July 14, 2006

Breakaway Synagogue

Filed under: Judaism, Newton — marcstober @ 10:16 am

The Jewish Advocate reports that some families are leaving Temple Emanuel to form a new congregation with Cantor Osborne: Cantor forms breakaway shul after bimah walk-off

I think this will make parking easier.

Seriously, I don’t think we’ll be leaving, but — cool! This is one of the reasons I moved to Newton. The town I grew up in could barely keep its two synagogues going. Here there are enough people who take their religion seriously that we already have more Jewish congregations than I can count on one hand, and there are people willing start another. That’s the sort of community I want to live in.

July 13, 2006

Cheesesteaks and Politics

Filed under: Personal Blog, Politics — marcstober @ 2:32 pm

Jeff Jacoby writes about a controversy over the “english only” sign at Geno’s Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. What’s cool is that I actually was there and saw the sign on a trip to Philadelphia last winter.
Misreading a sign of the times – The Boston Globe

Personally I think it’s dumb sign, but he should be free to keep it up if he wants.

July 11, 2006

Laptop Sync Solution

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 5:27 am

For the past year or so I’ve been looking for a way to keep files on the family desktop in sync with the family laptop. (Have you ever noticed that everyone says “laptop,” but the manufacturers insist on calling them “notebooks”? But I digress…) I’ve tried a few solutions and I think the winner is SyncBackSE which I just downloaded tonight.

So far I’ve managed to sync all of our pictures…megabytes and megabytes of them, in a few minutes. (Fast enough that I didn’t get frustrated waiting, more significantly.) Syncing other documents and settings is next. But first, the reviews of the runners-up:

  • SyncToy: This was a free download from Microsoft. It was slow, and I’m not convinced it was perfectly reliable.
  • FolderShare: Seems to be quite popular, but it didn’t make sense for me. Why do I need to connect to the Internet to sync two computers in my house? The Web sharing feature might have some applications, but it’s a read-only, un-encrypted web access system so not really useful. (I’m still looking for a secure way to access my home computer files from work.)
  • SmartSync: Read about this in an article by Walter Mossberg. Similar to SyncBack, but more confusing and locked up the computer for hours until I had to kill it. (To be fair, it may have been doing some detailed comparison over the network that I asked for, but not very user friendly.)

So, what do I like better about SyncBack?

  • The “simulated” feature so that paranoid me can see exactly which files will change.
  • FTP features – haven’t tried but might be useful for backing up my website, etc.
  • Great help files and clear labels of things on screen (e.g., that hashing is a more accurate but slower comparison method).
  • Pre-programmed to ignore a lot of typical temporary files, including the thumbs.db files that Windows peppers throughout folders of pictures.

As to theory, I notice all these programs except FolderShare – basically run on one computer and sync to a network share. Ideally a true peer-to-peer program could perform better; for example, by doing compression or hashing on each end. I suppose one way to approach this would be to keep everything in Subversion, but that’s a lot more overhead, and as long as I can sync fast enough, I’m content.


Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 4:01 am

The electricians have started work! They came with a huge crew of maybe 4 or 5 guys and more tools than I even own. There are already new lights working in the bathroom and the spare bedroom where there were none before, which already makes a big difference–but I need to clean the bathroom now that I can see the dirt!

Electricians 001 Bathroom LightThey used the replacement pushbutton switch I bought from Classic Accents for the bathroom light and seemed to be impressed by it, said they had never seen it and would recommend it to other customers.

It’s a good thing I hired them to replace the lights because it turns out the existing lights were a “canopy” style that didn’t have a box in the wall behind them, which one of the guys tried to explain to me is okay if that’s the type of fixture you have, but you usually need a box for new fixtures. So, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with this surprise on my own; and I’ll know to pick up a new box if I decide to replace any other fixture on my own.

I think what differentiates real, professional electricians though–i.e., from a handyman or do-it-yourselfer–is not in how they install the fixtures but in how they fish wires through. The real electricians seems to take pride in getting new outlets in almost anywhere so you have to scratch you head, “how did they get a wire in there?”; I guess they just have the experience to know what’s behind the walls.

July 5, 2006

My House is Giving Me Anxiety Attacks

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 9:57 am

Yes, really. But it’s not about me, it’s about the house. We met with a couple architects last week and the main take-away is that what we thought was a lot of money, is only a fraction of what we’ll need to do what we want.

The main issue seems to be that our sunroom is on footings. Even though this space is insulated and seems sturdy, we really need to tear it down and build a proper foundation if we want to use that space as our new kitchen. My gut feeling agrees with this; footings are OK but we’ll have a much more valuable home if we do a real addition.

The good news, however, is that once we build such a foundation it’s only marginally more expensive to build it two stories up and include a master bath. I’ve thought that the lack of a master bath is the #1 reason I’d want to move someday, so this is exciting.

What this leaves open is the question of whether we try to make some small alterations, like a patio door off the living room and/or squeezing a half bath out of a corner of the kitchen, or just wait until we can do the “whole enchilada.” It’s going to be a frustrating few years if we don’t do these things in the meantime; on the other hand, why go broke making changes I’m never really going to be happy with?

(Doing some quick calculations at ELoan, borrowing the amount we need will cost about the same per month as Hannah’s daycare – so there is hope we can do what we want when we have school-age kids and still have years to enjoy it, but when the only toilet in the house is clogged who can think that long-term?)

The other take-away from our meetings is that we might as well get started on certain improvements, such as HVAC improvements, separately. This is all well and good but I was really hoping that we’d be able to turn things over to a builder for a few months, and basically just bear with the dust knowing that we’d have a nice house when it was done. Instead it seems like there is no end in sight to the cycle of missing work to make calls, get estimates, let people in and generally play part-time project manager. And I think it’s this that’s going to keep with awake with anxiety at night for at least the next few years.