Category: Science and Technology

Episode 29 – Masorah 2.0: Risks, Rewards, and Recommendations for Using the Web to Teach Torah

On May 17th 2011 I delivered the following presentation to the Rabbinical Council of America’s annual convention titled “Masorah 2.0: Risks, Rewards, and Recommendations for Using the Web to Teach Torah and Build Community.” Below is the audio and Powerpoint slides in PDF.

Masorah 2.0 RCA Presentation Slides (PDF)

Masorah 2.0 RCA Convention 2011

Ending an MT Relationship

Dear MovableType,

In the 6.5 years we’ve been together I’ve shared with you my innermost thoughts. You know more than anyone else how hard it is for me to let go and move on, so you also know just bad things have gotten to get to this point.

Simply put, I’m leaving you for WordPress.

Sure things were great in the beginning, you were the best blogging software around, dynamically generating php pages before blogger could even support comments (remember HaloScan?). And I know you might be thinking I cheated first when I spent all that time with WordPress in creating the new site for The Stanton Street Shul, but you know as well as I our problems started long before that. The world changed and became progressively more dynamic, but you always stayed the same. While other platforms kept innovating and providing nifty new plugins and themes, you couldn’t even be updated without throwing a hissyfit.

Basically I got tired of your tantrums, and how we needed to rehash (or recompile) all our old discussions in order to move on. Yes, I’ll miss the convenience of having the occasional static PHP page, but if I could find a way to get past your quirks, I’ll find a way to handle it or I’ll ask the huge community of followers for help (though I must credit Sarah Hughes for her help in moving my stuff out of your possessive clingy clutches – seriously, you wouldn’t even let me export my own posts!).

I’m reasonable enough to know that life with WordPress won’t be without its hiccups – I already know I’ve got permalinks to cleanup and Hebrew text to fix in earlier posts – but despite those issues I am very much looking forward to taking advantage of its massive theme and plugin repositories to make YUTOPIA easier to maintain and to add more features. Heck, I’m even experimenting with Podcasting.

To paraphrase Beit Hillel, you’ve burnt my soup one time to many and in the words of R. Akiva, I’ve found someone better than you (See B. Gittin 90a). I trust you’ll do well in your future endeavors, but I simply can’t be constrained by your restrictions anymore.

It’s simply time to part ways.


P.S. I’m taking full custody of my domains.

Thinkpad Blank / Dark Screen Workaround / Solution

I just had a problem with my IBM Thinkpad1 (T60) where the screen would go dark/blank after a couple of seconds. The only way I could get anything was to keep hitting Fn+F7 as a sort of refresh, but that wouldn’t last longer than seconds at best.
Apparently this is not an uncommon problem with Thinkpads. One theory is that the problem is with the inverter but someone else had to replace the whole screen.
After doing some fiddling, I found that my problem was be solved – at least temporarily by dimming the screen down from full brightness. I have no idea exactly what the problem is or why this worked, but if you’re having similar trouble you may want to try dimming your screen before shelling out hundreds for a new screen – or thousands on a new computer. So far it seems to work ok for me, but I have no idea how long it will last. Minimally it should make backing up easier while you go computer shopping.2
Please let me know if this was a helpful solution.
Update: Turns out this solution lasted one day – a valueable day for backups, mind you, but one day. If this works, do not close the screen.
. 1. Yep, that’s right – an IBM Thinkpad – was one of the last runs before the change to Lenovo.
2. Thankfully, I actually ordered a new Thinkpad on sale earlier in the week before the screen went dark. I did notice some screen problems, but I was having more performance and HD issues typical of a computer several years old.

Thinkpad “Windows 98 Viruscan” Trojan Fix

Over the past month, myself and several acquaintances of mine – all with ThinkPads have been infected with a similar trojan/spyware infection. This trojan constantly opens up windows telling the user that the machine has been compromised and opens up an IE window directing the user to order a particular virus scan program.
For the most part, the trojan is more of a nuisance than a critical problem – the computer will still function despite the annoying prompts. However my infection was severely worse in that the trojan disabled control panel, task manager, and even locked me out of editing the registry. This meant that I couldn’t remove the trojan either with an anti-virus program or manually.
When I was first infected with the trojan, I needed to pay someone to recover data and reinstall the machine. The second time – yes it happened twice – I was able to handle it myself, though the process was still time consuming. If you’re having trouble with your thinkpad, here are my suggestions for the homemade nuclear option:
1. Backup Data Files: Fortunately I recently purchased an external hard drive (I can officially recommend the Lacie Rugged line). As far as I can tell the trojan will not be transmitted through an external backup of data files.
1a. Backup Installation Files: If you have “must have” programs on your machine, it’s sometimes useful to save the installation files so that you don’t need to spend time redownloading everything. Furthermore, if you’re using a free anti-virus or spyware program, you’ll probably want the latest versions installed immediately as well. Even with the trojan, you should still be able to download the exe files and backup to your hard drive.
2. Reboot Computer, Press F11 While Rebooting: This will effectively wipe your machine to the system defaults from when you first got the computer. Yes, you will need to reinstall all programs but you’ll also find your computer will work faster.
Like I said, this solution time consuming and it’s technically not really a “fix” in that you’re wiping your machine and starting over. However, I can say that it works and you can do this without paying anyone.
As a final aside, I should hope that none of my Loyal Readers are gullible enough to shell out the $50 to purchase the advertised anti-virus program. The techie who fixed my computer said that there were people who did get the program, and surprise surprise, it didn’t help.

Rambam’s Yehareg V’Al Ya’avor In Pseudocode

Last night in my weekly Rambam havruta, we started chapter 5 of Yesodei Hatorah. Rambam begins the chapter by discussing the obligation to sanctify God’s name (kiddush hashem) and its corollary prohibition against desecrating God’s name (hillul hashem). In providing examples, Rambam segues into the laws of yehareg v’al ya’avor – the conditions under which someone should allow himself to be killed rather than violate a commandment under duress.

But while the laws in Rambam are usually straightforward, the laws of yehareg v’al ya’avor have several qualifiers and criteria to evaluate, to the point that it became difficult to keep track of all of them in proper sequence. Being the computer geek that I am, I figured that pseudocode could come in handy. The following snippet assumes the functions do(); which entails preforming the sin in question and die(); means to allow oneself to be killed. It’s not necessarily the most efficient code mind you, but I’m going for maintainability.1

big3[] = {murder, idolatry, illicitSexualRelations};
if (governmentDecree == true){
else {
    if (big3[].contains(sin)){
        if (nonJewBenefits == true){
        else if (numJews < 10){             do();         }         else {             die();         }     } }

There, that should make everything perfectly clear.
Update: Seth Berger contributes the following optimized code:

if( (!governmentDecree || !big3[].contains(sin)) && ( nonJewBenefits || numJews < 10)) {     do(); } else {die();}

Update 2: Reuven Weiser corrects Seth's optimization since in Seth's code a non-big 3 sin could still result in do(); if a non Jew benefits. This is incorrect and should rather be:
if( (!governmentDecree && !big3[].contains(sin)) && ( nonJewBenefits || numJews < 10)) {     do(); } else {die();}
This sort of confusion often comes up with too much negative logic. We can flip things around to create a slightly more readable optimization:

if ( (governmentDecree || big3[].contains(sin)) || (!nonJewBenefits && numJews >10)){
else {do();}

1. For Brisker’s, of course

Spitting Headache

New Scientist reports on an advancement in painkillers which might seem hard to swallow:

Saliva from humans has yielded a natural painkiller up to six times more powerful than morphine, researchers say.
The substance, dubbed opiorphin, may spawn a new generation of natural painkillers that relieve pain as well as morphine but without the addictive and psychological side effects of the traditional drug.

On the downside, it kind of gives new meaning to “lohesh ‘al hamaka” (M. Sanhedrin 10:1), so if you’re planning on taking this, just don’t say anything.

Cellular Suggestions?

Last night my cell phone decided to shuffle off this mortal coil frequency. My options are as follows:

  1. Keep my much better than average deal with Sprint and spend $200-$300 to replace the phone.
  2. Cancel my Sprint contract with no penalty and sign up for another service, most likely T-Mobile (best rates on a GSM network).

Keep in mind that with me being me I have no idea where I’m going to be in the near to far future.
Any thoughts?
UPDATE: Moot point – I’d have to pay the $150 cancellation fee because the grace period ended yesterday. *sigh* At least I’m certain I will not be renewing with Sprint when the current contract is up.

Get Me To The Church Online

Apparently, if I’m not blogging. people think something terrible must have happened. Between numerous e-mails and random IM’s I realized that either have a loyal fan base or disturbed cult following. Either way, I figure I’ve got to get back and somehow work out a way to turn a profit. In the meantime, I’ll try to respond in due time.
As to what I’ve been doing for the past month or so, I leave that as an exercise to the reader, especially if you’re proficient with Photoshop.
Getting back to normal here, you might have seen the stories about the Church Of Fools, the first interactive sanctuary on the net.1 As part of my ecumenical procrastination, I decided to check out this community which serves the spirituality seekers who cannot be inconvenienced to leave their computer.
Behold, my first foray into Church.2 Screenshots included.
Disclaimer: I don’t have the time right now to thumbnail the images. If you are offended either by Christian imagery or slow web pages, please to not read any further.

Bar Ilan – Bar None

I’m surprised this one wasn’t caught by The Juggle Zone. TES, purveyor of fine Jewish software, is running a sale on the popular Bar Ilan CD-ROM. Why is this blogworthy, you may ask? The sale creates an unusal pricing plan:

  • Cost to purchase new: $529.00
  • Cost to upgrade from v. 5: $599.00

So if you own Bar Ilan Version 5 and you want to upgrade, don’t tell them about it. It’ll cost you $70.