23 August, 2009

Facebook frustrations

Filed under: General,Technology by Joel @ 12:41 pm, 23 August 2009.

Many things have annoyed me about Facebook lately. I ranted at their representative at ACL the other week, but his job was natural language processing, not bug-fixing.

Things have become especially frustrating when dealing with two of their most under-baked utilities: Pages (whataretheyanyway?!) and Events (beentheresinceforeverandstilldon’twork) in order for my Page, Barefoot, to advertise its concert series.

Pages have confused people since their inception. They might be better titled Organisations. They are a bit like groups, but they have fans instead of members, and I think Facebook didn’t want them created quite so freely as groups are (were?). They’re also a bit like personal Profiles in that they have a wall and apps and everything, and they can be fans of other pages. And they’re publicly viewable (and crawlable) on the web, so they act as web sites, and can help bring in FB’s bread. Basically, they’re what groups should have been, but never were.

Events are very popular, but they’re impossible for something like a concert series. You can only state one start and end time, so people get confused by our concert being over 6 days long, or say they can’t come because they’re unavailable on the first evening.

In the intersection between Pages and Events is an abyss of madness. One of the neatest features Facebook ever added to Events was the ability to message groups of people, depending on whether they were attending, not replied, etc. But if you create the event through a Page, you can’t do that:

if an event is hosted by a Page, the Page admin will not see the option to send a message to event guests. Individuals may be added as event admins in order to have this option. (Facebook FAQ)

Oh, I just need to make myself an event admin! But I can’t because Page admins can’t be added as event admins if the Page hosts the events.

Yet, if I remove another Barefoot member from being a Page admin, I can add them as an Event admin. And indeed, then I can add them back as a Page admin.

So somehow, very dodgily, now a person is both a Page and Event admin and can (yay!) send messages to event guests.

Another frustration: after finally finding this hole in Facebook’s foolishness, I could no longer send to people who’ve replied Not Attending. I can understand that those not attending are probably not interested in hassle messages. But when people reply Not Attending because Facebook makes it seem like we only have one concert, not five, I’d like a way to send them a clarification… :(

End rant.

31 July, 2009

To Sing

Filed under: General,Music by Joel @ 6:04 pm, 31 July 2009.

Music has become a rapidly growing part of my life over the past year. While I first soloed on stage singing Yerushalayim Shtot Fun Golt in year 1 with the Moriah Collage Yiddish Group, it was in June that I finally began receiving vocal tuition, with the wonderful classical teacher Sue Falk. Some do say that mid-twenties is the right time to start, but it’s common to begin much earlier.

Up from the first two choirs I joined as an adult in 2006, I’m now singing with five groups, each presenting different styles of music, ranges of talent and opportunities. Between the universal lack of confident tenors and my own curiosity, I just keep joining.

Most of my singing time is spent on Barefoot Musica Antigua, a small group (up to eight) singing early (up-to-17th century) music. Since our wonderfully successful March concerts, we’ve been focussing on the music of Salamone Rossi, a 17th-century Jewish composer of Mantua, Italy. Our concerts at the end of August will be well worth your while.

Rossi was controversial at the time for bringing polyphony to the Synagogue, and although it became accepted in 19-20th century European choirs, his Renaissance-Baroque settings of Hebrew prayers were a first and a last; no other composers seem to have followed up on his choral approach to the synagogue service. But his works are simply emotive, creative, beautiful to the ear (Dad always thought they were the best the Madrigal Society offered), and Barefoot will not merely be singing “white notes”; we intend to interpret and feel the music.

Our director Jenny’s attention to historical context has involved finding and identifying manuscripts of Rossi’s music and Rabbi Leone Modena’s poetry; reading an autobiography of the latter; and constant communication with Rossi expert Don Harran debating, among other matters, the significance of breaks in the music. In preparing other traditional Hebrew tunes for contrast, I have made my first attempt at arranging a full piece of music for the choir; I’ve had to get a grasp on the idea of maqam; and Jenny has lost much sleep listening to the wonderful library of music at (and thus acquiring another 15 concerts of repertoire). We’ve unfortunately also dipped into controversies of Kol Isha, which will aid the Orthodox Jewish community in persisting to not hear Rossi’s works.

I do hope to see everyone and anyone at our concerts, entitled Songs of Ascents: Barefoot in Venice on the 28th and 29th of August, and the 2nd of September.

One down.

At the Sydney Jewish Choral Society, the tenors are the strongest in ability but the weakest in number. Our eclectic repertoire under Rose Grausman’s direction would be better served with a more proficient choir. The group has a habit of not learning the music until the last minute, leading to some stressful rehearsals. Hopefully we’ll do a good job of our next couple of concerts for the year, in which I’ll probably have a solo or two, and maybe next year I’ll consider asking the choir to sing some music I arrange… we’ll see.

The Sydney University Madrigal Society lacks men in general. In fact, the first rehearsal this semester indicates that almost all it has is altos. So if you know someone at Sydney Uni who’d like to sing, send them along! The Madrigals have been a wonderful group in the past, and our last concert under Jehan Kanga was a treat, so his upcoming Italian Tenth-Anniversary Spectacular has much potential.

I’ve also found myself singing with the overflow High Holiday choir at South Head Synagogue, which is a different experience altogether (no sheet-music, but little improvisation); and I am occasionally singing contemporary a cappella tunes with my friends Dan, Mud and Saritha.

Unfortunately, more time spent on music means less time spent on writing blog posts (among other things). So once again excuse my lack of recent insights into Bible, Judaism, Hebrew, linguistics, technology, society, or whatever else I might otherwise have had a moment to ponder and prosify.

13 May, 2009

Too much to learn!

Filed under: General,Judaism by Joel @ 11:36 pm, 13 May 2009.

The Limmud-Oz 2009 programme is out. It’s the tiniest shard of what’s available at London’s Limmud, or other copycats in North America, Europe or Israel. It clearly lacks their masses of Jewish-learning celebrities, but does what it can considering our distance from the rest of the Jewish world and the fact that we have a habit of exporting our best.

Still, it is exciting to see a Sunday scheduled with 11 hours each generally packed with over 10 presentations. Warning! Keep away from me: I will be a black hole of indecision.

It’s the first time I’ll present, too. Unfortunately, one session, on finding the correct Hebrew accent has been stuck in the last slot. Another, on learning the Bible with secular and traditional texts is in the same evening hour of the previous day. I guess I’ll need to find a way to keep people awake… I’m also helping to bring the Limmud chavruta programme to Sydney together with Lior.

All very exciting. Hope to see you there!

16 April, 2009

Finding Israel’s moment

Filed under: General by Joel @ 10:33 pm, 16 April 2009.

I’ve belatedly decided to enter the “Israel In A Moment” photography
competition being run for Yom Haatzmaut. I need a max of three, chosen and sent in tomorrow (Friday April 17).

Which are your favourites? Let me know ASAP!

  1. Evening on Rechov Yafo
    Evening on Rechov Yafo
  2. Train views of Haifa
    Train views of Haifa
  3. Fences and fruits of hebron
    Fences and fruits of hebron
  4. Boy at the Wall
    Boy at the Wall
  5. Many types of Jew
    Many types of Jew
  6. Sunset over the West Bank
    Sunset over the West Bank
  7. Paper prayers 1
    Paper prayers 1
  8. Paper prayers 2
    Paper prayers 2
  9. Haifa rooftops
    Haifa rooftops
  10. Olive branch over Jerusalem
    Olive branch over Jerusalem
  11. Overlooking Jerusalem
    Overlooking Jerusalem
  12. Jerusalem’s children
    Jerusalem's children
  13. Haifa’s cats
    Haifa's cats
  14. Mall in snow
    Mall in snow

21 March, 2009

Looking for a new laptop..?

Filed under: General by Joel @ 9:55 pm, 21 March 2009.

My laptop’s been beaten up a bit much over the last three years. It’s not the most stable/reliable machine, although it became somewhat less stable in some senses since I deleted Windows and installed kubuntu a few months ago, which has trouble going into “hibernate”, among other useful things. It’s an ugly, heavy, widescreen Dell Inspiron, with a broken hinge to its monitor, and with great troubles at properly sleeping and waking up if I close the computer.

And recently, its battery finally told me it’d carked it. While I can live without it working detached from power, it’s got its obvious advantages. And I’m still in the habit of pulling out the power-cord when it’s not completely shut down, and it doesn’t like that without any other power source to rely on.

I need a computer to rely on, and one I can carry around on my back. For the next three years at least.

Do I keep the laptop and find myself a new battery? Or should I go and buy a new one, and forget all my worries for at least another few months until I’ve damaged it enough? What should I get? What do I do with my old one.

I have no interest in Windows currently, and am enjoying my experiment with Linux, but would be happy with an apparently more reliable, and certainly better-supported, Mac system. But I have little idea about what’s worth purchasing out there… Help! And quick!

6 March, 2009

Pedestrian philosophy

Filed under: Humour by Joel @ 7:52 am, 6 March 2009.

The Australian Jewish News weekly asks a question of people its reporters meet on the street, in a “Vox Pop”. This week the reporter was apparently feeling particularly existential, as the following issue was picked for the community to respond to (Sydney Edition, Friday March 6 2009):


Some of the more inspiring responses printed include:

Yes I think there appears to be, you hear about situatons happening that make you wonder what is really going on.
Ricki, 48

I have heard that there is, but don’t know about one personally.
Henry, 75

I don’t think so, well I hope not.
Sarah, 26

And then there are more obscure responses, such as:

Yes, because they don’t have a Jewish place to go.
Eitan, 72

How would you respond to this insightful survey?

PS: Yes, their use of commas is perhaps also less-than-desirable.

13 January, 2009

Coughing on my blog

Filed under: General,Travels by Joel @ 12:27 pm, 13 January 2009.

The coughing on my blog is a fairly desperate sign that I should write something. It’s certainly been a while since I submitted my thesis.

At least I should have written about Tasmania, which I visited in the first ten days of December. Galina and I saw the sights of the island over the first week: Wineglass Bay, Bicheno’s Penguins, Cataract Gorge, the Spirit of Tasmania turning around in Devonport (?!), Cradle Mountain, Bruny Island, Salamanca Markets, Port Arthur and the Devil’s Kitchen. In sum, I drove 1300km over five days in a hired Lancer, before shabbat in Hobart and a day-tour to the Tasman Peninsula. Some other highlights:

  • We met an Israeli couple on our first walk who were completely oblivious to the news (Mumbai, etc.), and who desperately needed CDs for the small car they were travelling and sleeping in, which I gave them (Mashina and Dudu Tasa).
  • Having left our warm clothing in sunny Devonport, we turned up to ice and snow at Cradle Mountain. Our hike there was shorter than planned, and we dried off at Tasmazia, a hedge maze filled with strange quotations.
  • A chocolate factory.
  • The GPS system we hired took us on the least scenic route from north to south, featuring hydroelectric power plants and unsealed roads.
  • It also sent us north into rush-hour traffic when trying to go south to catch the last ferry to Bruny Island. We made it, thanks to a little speeding, some generous ferry operators who lifted the closed boomgate for us, and a lot of luck.
  • Bruny Island, and its every scene — while Tassie is stunning view after stunning view, this island off an island off an island exceeds.
  • I gave thanks to our shabbat lunch hosts by recording tunes for them the following Tuesday.

But the real reason I was in Tasmania was for ALTW, the tribe-meet of Australia’s students and academics in language technology. While I enjoyed the conference, it was a little disappointing to be one of only about thirty attending, twenty of whom (myself included) made presentations. Since then, a paper of mine has been accepted to EACL, which should be big enough to give attendees options for each lecture session.

It seems I’m returning to USyd in March to take the PhD path, and despite this being my last real holiday from such stuff for the next three years, I’ve been doing lots of other computery stuff, such as attending the awesome National Computer Science School as a tutor (first time!); preparing material and puzzles for a talk on linguistics and language technology presented at the latter; making contributions to the Natural Language Toolkit; helping to edit their upcoming book; and playing around with a few other ideas.

There has also been a lot of music in my life lately, rehearsing regularly with Jenny and the gang, working towards a March concert (no date set yet) of Mediaeval, Renaissance and early Baroque music. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met once with a more jazz/pop-oriented a capella group, and might finally get around to arranging the Screaming Jets’ Helping Hand for them. I’ve even been looking back at an unsung piece I arranged in 2006, wondering what I need to do to make it more singable. Jenny and co. will be pushing me soon to find a voice teacher, and want me to use more of my alto falsetto range…

I guess the silence is also because, for whatever reasons, I’m writing (perhaps thinking?) less about Jewish and Classical Hebrew stuff, which had often been the topic of this blog. While I wrote a few posts on Rashi and Ibn Ezra last year, I’ve been reading Ramban over the last months, and he is simply not as witty; his long rants correspond with low comprehension, and his determined point of view leaves one with little to say, even while disagreeing. But I continue to read (although reading the Mishna Berura is falling behind), enjoying the interpretation and the language, even if I say nothing about it.

And there’s a social life to be had, and time to be spent with a girlfriend. And if I get around to it this holidays, I might teach myself some Russian so I can understand her grandmother. So far I’ve changed my Facebook interface to Russian, but it hasn’t helped much yet.

Amid all this, I should also think about Thailand where I’ll be spending a fortnight from the end of the month for a wedding of Galina’s friend Raquel. It’s very exciting, but right now I feel like there’s enough to do in my life without another holiday… my inherited workoholism shining through.

I hope the coughing ceases, and maybe I’ll even try push out a few posts amid all the other madness…

23 April, 2008


Filed under: General by Joel @ 11:53 pm, 23 April 2008.

I just remembered that I’m now well past page 123 of The Surgeon of Crowthorne (I’m well past the book’s end). Unfortunately, I can’t say that the 6th, 7th and 8th sentences on the page (see the meme) are the most exciting:

Each and every time he found a word that piqued his interest he wrote it down, in tiny, almost microscopic letters, in its proper position on the eight-page quire he had made. The unique manner of his procedure was soon to become a hallmark of Minor’s astonishing accuracy and eye for detail.

I used to write in tiny, almost microscopic letters. It was actually somewhat more legible than my usual scrawl.

I never wrote any entries for a dictionary, though, which is the subject of this book: a man with paranoid schitzophrenia who made an enormous contribution to the Oxford English Dictionary from his padded cell. The book also uses this as a channel through which to marvel at the creation of the OED, whose concept of popular collaboration, along with its “complete” historical review of the English language, had been revolutionary and extraordinary (and in many ways still is). One could say it was really Dictionary 2.0.

Yes, you might see parallel’s to our contemporary grand collaboration, Wikipedia (which I have contributed to). Though it is much more based around consensus (or it would like to be) than editorial subtleties, and is a little more post-modern than to be concerned with extactitudes on some topics. And there is also an important immediacy factor playing a role in modern (espeically collaborative) media that wasn’t there before. And of course the monstrosity of Wikipedia brings me back to my honours work, which really I should be doing right about now…

So I guess even with a poor effort from myself, I have to tag. (For the tagged, take 6-8th sentences of p. 123 of nearest book, discuss and pass on as per meme.) I’m curious to hear what Alicia and Eve are reading in their respective corners of Asia. And Frikle has good literature. And DLC might find an interesting word to talk about on the 123rd page of some book. And, why not, my brother. See if he has the time for books at the moment…

Yay. My first not-so-viral meme over and done with!

23 March, 2008

Tagged in turn

Filed under: General by Joel @ 12:24 am, 23 March 2008.

I should read Simon Holloway‘s blog more often. Not only do I enjoy his clearly-put insights, but I managed to miss by over a month the one time he was tagged in a blog meme and decided to tag me in turn. As he puts it:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

Now for him this meant not only quoting from Waltke and O’Connor’s, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, but then discussing the fascinating notion of honorific plurals in Biblical Hebrew (among things).

Not all of us keep quite as neat a desk as Simon, though.

The state of my desk…

Mine is packed with relics from various moments of the past months of my life, as well as long before that, and some quite useless things indeed. Some day I’ll clean it. (My desk at uni is cleaner, but still piled with papers left by its last occupant!)

Now, the nearest book to me happens to be the university diary I don’t use. While it has more than 123 pages, it doesn’t number them, so I’m defaulting to the second-nearest book, which is The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester.

And thus, after such a long prologue, I’m going to cop out. I’m not up to page 123 yet, and I don’t intend to tell you what it says there until I am. So this post is more an IOU than anything. (If you’re in suspense and want to speed up the reading process, you could try poisoning my food with laxatives.)

18 March, 2008

Famous faces!

Filed under: General by Joel @ 11:15 pm, 18 March 2008.

First, Keren became USyd’s sample student. Now this:

Westpac’s new mascot

Trudi told me he was everywhere. But it was hard to avoid a full-page in Honi Soit…

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