Tales from the Technoverse

Commentary on social networking, technology, movies, society, and random musings

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Seder – 2016

April 21st, 2016 · judaism

Every  year we are fortunate to have many friends who join us for our Passover Seder, and I am lucky to have married Ellen who plans, organizes, and works to make it a special event. My role is to find a bunch of quotes, see below, and lift and carry stuff up and down stairs and around the house.

One of the goals of the Passover Seder is to create, in whatever fashion makes the most sense to the participants, an evening of discussion and thought about the themes that flow from the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people as they left Egypt. Since I am not fluent in Hebrew, Ellen has allowed me to, subject to her review and approval, create an evening that I can understand better and more actively participate in, largely in English though singing some of the Hebrew prayers from a ‘standard’ Seder.

Each year we identify a theme that we want to focus on. To supplement the theme, I identify quotes from various sources associated with the theme. During the Seder a participant will read a portion of the Haggadah, literally in Hebrew “the telling”,  the book which contains the fifteen steps of the traditional Seder, and then read the quote they have been randomly assigned. If the participant wants to they will then discuss what the quote, and/or any other aspect of Passover, may mean to them.

This year we return to expand on an issue we have touched on before, the uncertainty of change and how people react to the uncertainty. It felt to me that one of the driver’s behind some of the political events in the 2016 Presidential race and in the US in general derives from the great economic and social uncertainties that are impacting large segments of our country. In my most optimistic points-in-time, I hope, as is mentioned in one of our quotes, that it is not the end point of change that is the problem it is the situation in the middle when we have left what we are familiar with and not arrived at the next step in our journey. This was comparable to how I felt after Game 3 of the current Capitals-Flyers first round Stanley Cup playoff series. When I am feeling less optimistic, I worry about whether that next step is actually the problem and that we may be ultimately heading to a not so great destination. This is comparable to how I feel, like any long-time Washington Capitals fan thinks, after Game 4.

Regardless, the key aspect to me is the direction found in every Haggadah that each of us should consider ourselves as having been there at the original Exodus during that difficult transition and to consider the implications for us today in what seems an increasingly contentious time here in the not-so-United States and a complex and complicated world.

Here is a copy of the directions I will read from at the Seder: 2016 Seder Script. The quotes are organized into groups of ten, here are the three files setup to be printed (poorly) on labels: First 10 Quotes, Second 10 Quotes and Final 6 Quotes.

We reference a few external readings in the course of the Seder:

I find Passover perhaps the most accessible to non-Jews of all Jewish holidays, the theme of striving for Freedom and exactly what that means is a universal one and worth considering for all of us.

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April 17th, 2016 · life

ME: “Ellen, I am thinking that I might, in the near-term future, throw out the pair of pants that are sort-of falling apart.”

ELLEN: “Which one?”

ME: “…”

It is my feeling that Ellen and I even after all these years have not developed a common understanding as to the desirable broken-in status that clothes should have. Just saying.


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The Exam Time/Dead Grandmother Syndrome

April 4th, 2016 · General

Now that I am in my 3rd (4th?)(nth?) career, this one as an academic at the University of Maryland University College, I am lucky enough to be able to experience new events and learn new pieces of information.

One of the areas which has become apparent is the seemingly consistent relationship between the fragility of elderly grandparents, in particular grandmothers, of students around exam time.

Here is an article, from 1999, reprinted in a newsletter I very much enjoy reading called the Conversable Economist, which explains what is meant by this relationship and provides an explanation for why it happens.

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Batman v Superman – My Thoughts

March 30th, 2016 · movies, Serenity

Since I wrote about the fact that I was going to see Batman v Superman on Sunday, a few people (to my amazement) actually asked what I thought about it. And since anytime I can talk about something that does not tie directly to the 2016 Presidential race is a happy place for me, I thought I would write a short set of comments. BTW, no guarantee about spoilers since when I write a blog entry it is almost always complete stream of consciousness and anyway since so few people read it, it doesn’t matter a lot anyway.

The short answer is I liked it. It was not the greatest movie I have ever seen, but on the other hand it is based on a comic book and I grew up being a comic book fan.

A few reactions:

  • Ben Affleck was a pretty good Batman, though I will admit the growl that Batman does when he speaks thanks to Christian Bale still seems an affectation to me.
  • Henry Cavill is a pretty good Superman (at least to me).
  • The basic conflict while it was a bit far-fetched in its genesis I thought was pretty good. These two characters are inherently at opposites in approach. Superman, the often Christ-like figure, represents the desire to be ‘good’ always, something only a ‘super’ person could consider in comic-bookish-real-life. Batman represents vengeful reaction to bad deeds, portraying the perhaps more complex actual-real-life conflicts and choices we all need to take in dealing with evil.
  • On the other hand Superman is always a problem to deal with in a serious movie, since in fact he is, well, super. Inevitably the only solutions lean toward having a bad guy who is REALLY super (often ignoring the high-collateral damage likelihood because of such a fight, a topic actually touched on in this movie I thought in an effective fashion) or making Superman less-super for one reason or another (in which case we are really dealing with not-quite-super-Superman, which is sort of missing the point).
  • Wonder Woman is sort of a throw-in, just sort of pops in and acts powerful. She, like some even less integrated Justice League characters who are touched on but are not part of the movie, are basically infomercials for upcoming movies.
  • The CGI effects were very good. I saw the movie in 3D, iMAX and found it entertaining to watch.
  • Jessie Eisenberg was a pretty weak Lex Luthor. I thought he was channeling the Joker or perhaps just himself from previous roles. Perhaps the blame really should be pinned on bad directorial choices.
  • It occurred to me that every person who is an anchor on any national news show may have had a scene or two in this movie, and some people wonder about the blurring between serious news and entertainment.
  • There probably was too much going on. We got to see backstory rehashes for both Batman and Superman, we got the fight between them, we got Wonder Woman, we got a fight with a monster. The only thing we did not get was anything interesting during or after the credits (which was a disappointment).

Bottom line was that I thought the movie was worth seeing, was not as awful as the critics said, but considering its source material was not going to have a life-changing plot line. To be honest, however while there have been some comic book based movies I enjoyed more and some less, few (if any) are movies that I am particularly interested in seeing more than once (my bottom line for movies I really like, like Serenity).

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Going to Movies as a Singleton

March 27th, 2016 · movies

So early this morning I am going to go see Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

There are some movies that Ellen just does not want to see, mostly those based on comic books (though she is selective, she just generally avoids those that get terrible reviews and on reflection probably should avoid those with R ratings, to say she did like Deadpool hardly captures her reaction). While I, on the other hand, try to remain a ‘fanboy’, a term I am actually not entirely sure I understand the definition of, but that lack of understand is only increasing as I get older.

I reflect on the fact that there was a time I subscribed and read carefully Rolling Stone magazine. Now when we go to Washington Capitals games and they ask the crowd to text their choice of three songs to be played after the second period, not only do I rarely know anything about the songs, but I generally have never heard of the groups.

In any event, when Ellen does not come with me I tend to try and go early Sunday morning to see the non-Ellen movie, because that tends to conflict with less events we are doing. The other side benefit is that since Ellen gets dizzy when we go to an IMAX, 3D movie, when the movie in question should be watched in that format, like Batman v Superman, I get to see it in IMAX 3D. AND since the IMAX 3D movie theatre in Tysons has reserved seating, that is where I end up.

This time the movie theatre is going to be fairly crowded as us fanboys go even though the Rotten Tomatoes rating has dropped below 30%. But often I will go to the typically 9am or so start and I will end up being one of two or three people in the theatre.

Inevitably there is one guy who is pretty heavy, not that I am so thin, but he will almost be always be wearing shorts, even in winter, and have a large soda and a tub of popcorn. He sits in the front row. It is very important to me that I never become that person.

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Let Them Eat Cereal

March 6th, 2016 · family, humor, life

The other day Ellen told me a life lesson that a friend told her (and I know I am paraphrasing here, since my porous memory has become even more so).

Her friend said that a mother should know that if she waits long enough eventually everyone in the family will just eat cereal. Something I am embarrassed to admit has some resonance in our current empty nest existence. Though I hasten to add Ellen has become one of the truly remarkable chefs in my experience (I am, in this as in many ways, lucky), while I remain convinced that if I was supposed to cook on a regular basis God would not have caused microwaves to exist.

It occurred to me that there are many other aspects of our life that fit this pattern, though there are many responsibilities that end up being sort of assigned to one spousal member or the other. For example, trash being taken out to the trash cans in the garage and from there to the street is mostly mine.

Our biggest joint responsibility is emptying the dishwasher. We both wait to see if the sounds of the dishwasher elf occurs when we know the dishwasher is ‘clean’. One of the great everyday pleasures is hearing the sound of plates and glassware being put away and/or opening the dishwasher and finding it empty.

It is a comment on the continuing lack of gender equality (I am working on this) (really) that the dishwasher elf, at least in our house, is more likely to be a she and that when it is a he, the elf gets extra credit when in fact none is deserved. There is the additional challenge when I serve in that role, that there almost always is some odd-shaped bowl or plastic container that for the life of me I cannot figure out where it should go. Thus these are left on the shelf for expert analysis or put away in some creative destination. Ellen has noted that from time to time when she is looking for something that seems to be missing she is amazed at my creative shelving capabilities.

It is nice to know that even after 35 years I still retain some creative and unexpected capabilities.

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Robot and Frank

February 20th, 2016 · Entertainment, movies

I just finished my latest watching-while-walking-on-the-elliptical-walker movie, Robot and Frank.

It is a fairly short film, just shy of 1.5 hours that tells the story of an aging jewel thief, Frank Langella, who is given a healthcare robot to take care of him because of a failing memory and general inability to take care of himself.

Langella, as usual, gives a wonderful, warm, human performance. The interaction between Langella and the robot are touching, the story does not attempt to reach grand themes on the future of robotics as shown in films like Ex Machina. However, it does make some statements about growing old, something I am working on these days, a little bit of human-robotic interactions, which are becoming closer and closer to relevant, and is well acted with Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden in the cast.

Nothing terrible profound but worth a look.

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Who Knew

February 15th, 2016 · Entertainment, tv

In the continuing series of my realizing that I am out of touch with, well, just about everything, Ellen informs me that Downton Abbey, whatever that is, is not about an Abbey.

Next she’ll probably tell me that the show Dawson’s Creek was not about a creek.

There seems to be nothing that I can hold onto in this confusing world we live in these days.

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On C-SPAN at the Karl Rove Book Signing

February 12th, 2016 · books, history, politics

If I had a bucket list, which I do not (I suppose creating a bucket list is my one current entry in my bucket list), and if being on C-SPAN was on that list, it has now been met.

Last year on December 12 we returned home from our entire family visit to Disneyworld and Ellen and my visit to her parents in Hilton Head. We had tickets to see Kiss Me Kate at the Shakespeare Theatre that evening, but also had received an invitation to a book signing by Karl Rove for his newly released book on William McKinley’s 1896 election, The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters.

I remember listening to Karl when we visited him in Austin in 1999 talking even then about the McKinley election and his hopes, not entirely realized, of using that as a model for a then only possible George W. Bush presidency. I had planned to buy the book anyway, so decided to drop by the book signing on the way to the theatre. For once there was an overlap between my political interests and background and Ellen’s book focus.

What Ellen and I did not know was that the entire event was being filmed for C-SPAN Books on TV (Ellen finds it funny when sometimes I listen to C-SPAN Books on TV on the radio which I guess integrates a fairly mixed media provisioning).

In any event, here is a link to the video. Ellen and I wander in around 7:14 for a minute. Then Ellen has a lengthy chat with Karl about his book starting at 11:45 or so, along with another long-time friend Bob Weed, I join again at 15:55. Karl signs my book starting at 19:58. We shortly had to leave unfortunately missing Karl’s discussion of the book and William McKinley’s political significance starting around 39:00.

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I Think Not

January 29th, 2016 · healthcare

For reasons I am not sure I can articulate I am on an email list from academia.edu (I guess because I play one these days at UMUC).
I received an email from them today generated I assume by some automated search engine saying they had found 90 papers that I may have written including one by “Daniel Mintz, George Kyriakides, Alexander Rabinovitch, Les Olson, et al” entitled:
“Long-Term Study of Vascularized Free-Draining Intraperitoneal Pancreatic Segmental Allografts in Beagle Dogs”.
The question asked was whether this actually was a paper I had written.
I am leaning toward “no”, though I am sure Beagle Dogs everywhere are thankful for the work that other Dan Mintz has done.

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