05 May 2015

Intentions of Splitting Off Blogs [Metablogging]

While I have been blogging for almost ten years now, a relatively new endeavor of mine has been blogging more publicly, which led to this blog being more of a personal blog, with other blogs being more for public consumption.  So, you might ask, why did I spin off my blogging (initially, with Drew's Views, which then turned into Matters of Interest), which had been primarily here, to be elsewhere, yet keep this blog?  And what are my goals with doing so?

One purpose was to have certain posts viewed more broadly and not simply being seen as simply one person's personal blog.  In other words, I wanted greater exposure for some of my pieces.  And, if I was going to spin off a separate, more impersonal blog, that would leave space for this particular blog to be more of a personal nature.

I also further realized that, in addition to putting out thoughts, material, and more, I could get access to things which I had never previously received.  One such opportunity might be to receive press passes - I had heard of other bloggers receiving them; I wondered if I could get into things because I had a blog and was willing to write about events.  Well, I was super-happy when I received word that I had gotten my first-ever press pass last spring.  Since then, I received two more in 2014 and have received two so far in 2015 :)

Another opportunity is receiving items for review, since I knew bloggers sometimes got items to review, I was hoping I could get some.  While I haven't yet received a lot, I did receive a book, as well as, through a tech blogger, a tech item to review.  I haven't received anything else, but I am hopeful….

Another is getting paid to do promotions.  So far, I've twice done an annual promotion for Oh! Nuts in the spring, and am open to receiving more promotional opportunities.

And I would love the opportunity to get money, perhaps through advertising or through other streams, but I haven't succeeded in this endeavor.  However, I have some particular aspirations for money, were I to receive any significant amount

  • Goal #1: Get enough money to cover the costs of blogging (i.e. domain name and hosting).  
  • Goal #2: Get enough money to cover the costs of blogging paraphernalia (i.e. hats and other "promotional" items).
  • Goal #3: Get enough money to cover the costs of going to events for blogging purposes (just because I get into events for free on a media pass, doesn't mean I don't have to pay for parking…).
  • Goal #4: Get enough money to buy a DSLR camera (I've never had one, but would love one and it would certainly enhance the quality of pictures I post).
  • Goal #5: If I somehow get enough money for everything aforementioned, that would be wonderful and I could have extra spending money :)
Since I am still working on Goal #1 on the list above, it seems it will take me awhile to get a DSLR camera, but one can hope….

19 April 2015

Having Withdrawal with Star Wars Celebration Anaheim Concluding

At Star Wars Celebration this weekend

With today's conclusion of Star Wars Celebration VII ending, it is quite sad; I definitely feel as if I am experiencing some withdrawal. With so much Star Wars stuff having transpired over the past several days, it is sad to think that something like this won't happen for a while. Yes, the next Star Wars Celebration will be only next year, however, it will be on another continent, being in London (although I will try my best to watch what I can of its being streamed). Plus, I don't know that even once it comes back Stateside that I'll be able to attend it.

I thought it was really great not only to be exposed to so much news about upcoming Star Wars movies, television, and more - all of which is exciting - but also to be around people and to be able to discuss what's coming up and what's happened in Star Wars with other people.  There's also a lot of excitement in the Star Wars fan community about what's going on and what's coming up that it's a great opportunity to unpack everything.  

Yes, one can go on the Internet and read blogs and listen to podcasts, as well as to produce them, but it's not the same as the in-person opportunity.  In dealing with my withdrawal feelings from the post-Celebration phase, I wonder if I am just missing an opportunity to meet with other Star Wars fans to engage in discussion around Star Wars.  Perhaps a discussion group meeting in a regular fashion, engaging in a salon-style discussion, with particular topics for each get-together.

We'll see what happens.  In the meantime, I am thankful I had the opportunity to take part in Star Wars Celebration and am processing the excellent weekend.

13 April 2015

4th & 5th Press Passes: Beyond Comic Conventions

At the 2015 US Coffee Championships

A month and a half ago, I was able to use my fourth and fifth press passes(!).  While I was able to use three press passes last year, these two were special because not only did they take place on the same weekend, but they were also not for comic conventions.  My first three were for Long Beach Comic Expo (see here for a round-up of my posts about it), Long Beach Comic Con (yielding three posts: one, two, & three), and Stan Lee's Comikaze (yielding four posts: one, two, three, & four), while my fourth was for the US Coffee Championships and my fifth for the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show.

One thing I need to state is that I was very glad I was able to get a press pass to something not a comic convention, especially since that's not something into which I want to pigeon-hole myself as a writer.  Also, before 2014, I had never attended a comic convention, yet I ended up attending four of them (three of which I attended as press).  I am fortunate to have been accepted to receive media credentials at these two events in 2015, especially since they provided me with the ability to provide content that was different than anything I had previously done at Matters of Interest.
Showing my press badge at the 2015 LA Travel & Adventure Show

As to the US Coffee Championships, I was able to go for a couple of hours on its first two morning, before heading off to be able to get to my regular job.  This was especially helpful, in that I was able to caffeinate up before encountering the rest of the day.  Having received the press pass, my wife decided to come along and check out what was going on on the first day.  While not a whole lot was going on, I was also able to meet a couple of blogger brothers who were there on a press pass, which was neat to get to chat with other fellow bloggers. I also got to have my first-ever espresso, which was very bitter!  I had my first-ever macchiato, although I found it to be too milky, so I returned to espressos. 
My first-ever macchiato and my first-ever espresso

On the second day, which had more going on, I returned for another couple of hours, this time with someone else, who knew more about coffee than me, which was definitely helpful to me, to have someone with me who knew more about coffee and help guide me.  Also, this was an interesting aspect of having received press pass: I promoted the event beforehand on Facebook and let people know it was going on, and people even bought tickets to come along with me to the US Coffee Championships - this is definitely advantageous to those giving away press passes: these are sales they would not have otherwise made. 

Getting some coffee at the Roasters Choice competition
Picture I took while in the pit at the barista championship
The 2015 LA Travel and Adventure Show was busy
On this second day, I greatly enjoyed having fifteen different roasts of the same coffee bean by different roasters - I was glad I had a drinking buddy with me to share our thoughts of the roasts and to detect which ones had been roasted more and which had been less so.  This was certainly very neat.  Also, it was novel to me in that I did not drink the coffee with any sweeteners - ever since beginning to drink coffee in the summer of 2011, I have always had it with sweeteners.  However, these coffees were so good, they really did not require sweeteners.  That was so neat and eye-opening for me. 

Beyond that, though was a new experience for me, one that was afforded me through having a press pass.  During the barista championship competition, when they were performing their craft in sort of Kitchen Stadium-like set-up, they only permitted those with press passes to go down in that area to take pictures of video.  At first, I was timid and though, "I am just a mere blogger, how can I go down in there with those professional photographers and videographers?"  Then, after a while, I got up the courage and decided, "Why not?  Let's see what happens."  Well, having a press pass, no one questioned me and I was able to snap a couple dozen of pictures before heading out.  I think, for me, it was really exciting to get that special sort of access, even though I didn't have such cool cameras.

Not being able to return to the US Coffee Championships on Saturday, due to it being Shabbat, I was able to come back on Sunday morning.  The funny thing was that the US Coffee Championships were taking place in the Long Beach Arena and right next door to it was the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show, for which I had also received a press pass!  I was super excited that I could easily attend both events!  So, I started with coffee, of course :)  After having tasted some really yummy coffee from the six finalists in the roasters choice championships, I then made my way over to the LA Travel Show.

Wow - it was impressive, with so many countries represented, as well as travel companies, various locations in the western US, and other vendors.  It was almost overwhelming. I was able to make my way through all of them, I think.  And it was pretty neat.  I made sure to stop by the booths, including the Israel booth, where we had travelled the previous month and Turkish Air, upon whom we had flown (and enjoyed). 

After a quick stop back for more coffee at the US Coffee Championships, I then returned to the LA Travel Show for a couple of really helpful talks for travelers: the first one was by Angel Castellanos, who spoke about packing and preparation for travelling.  Following that, I also heard Peter Greenberg dispensing advice when it comes to booking any sort of travel arrangements.  While I could have written about the travel show, writ large, I really didn't know what, in particular to write.  However, finding the Greenberg and Castellanos talks to be very insightful, I stuck with covering those two talks and hopefully other people will be able to get some useful tips out of those posts.
The press badges I received at the two events

As to the US Coffee Championships, I wrote about the mood and what was going on each day (as opposed to focussing on specific elements, as I had at the LA Travel and Adventure Show): Day One, Day Two, and Day Four

I am looking forward to see which events I can cover in the future - we'll see what they may be....

09 February 2015

Recent Trip to Israel

With my family at the Western Wall
Recently, I went with my family on vacation to visit Israel, primarily to visit some of my wife's family, but also to show Israel to our daughters, and, of course, for us to enjoy Israel, as well.

While I had been recently in May to co-lead a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, it was my first time back in Israel on vacation in three years.  While the weather was mild and only slightly chilly (okay, it was good weather), I, unfortunately, got sick on one of the flights there.  I then spent the rest of the trip trying to recover.

Nevertheless, it was nice to be there and reconnect with the land, with some family, and bumping into other folks there.  Of course, it was also great to have our girls have such an experience and, for the older ones, hopefully remember their trip.

24 November 2014

Back into Brewing Beer!

It's been a while since I last brewed beer, largely because we haven't had a kitchen. The last time that I brewed beer was actually not at my house and I left it, unfortunately, too long fermenting, so I had to dump that batch. So, last week, I finally brewed once again and, similarly to that previous batch, I put 6 pounds of extra pale malt extract in along with California Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP001).

And here is the hops schedule:
90 minutes before end of boil - 1.5oz Centennial (9.0% AAU)
75 minutes before end of boil - 1.5oz Columbus (15.6% AAU)
60 minutes before end of boil - 1oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
45 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Centennial (9.0% AAU) & .5oz Columbus (15.6% AAU)
35 minutes before end of boil - 1oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
15 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
10 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
5 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)

Looking forward  to seeing how this lighter brew will turn out :)

01 September 2014

Thoughts on She-lo Asani Ishah (ברכת שלא עשני אשה)

Growing up, there were different things in life that I perceived in which I felt grateful that God created me a male and not a female.  The most obvious of these to me was appreciating the ability to urinate wherever (especially outdoors) when I needed to and not needing to sit down.  Moreover, the lines at bathrooms were significantly shorter (or non-existent) for us males, which was nice to be able to take care of one's expulsive business swiftly.  

And, as I grew older, I also did not have to deal with menstruation or carrying a child, let alone giving birth to a child, etc.  I took cognizance of these physical differences and thanked the Lord for not having saddled me with these biological challenges.
As I became an adult, I also noticed social challenges in different societies with being a woman versus being a man, including - but not limited to - the ability to walk (or go jogging) on a street at night and not be so scared of being raped or otherwise assaulted, verbally harassed, etc.

I thank God every day that I do not have to withstand the challenges of being a woman and am doubly thankful that our tradition has a blessing not only for us men to thank our Creator for having done as such, but also that we are able to connect to our Creator in such a way.  
I have never seen this blessing as a way to denigrate women or to express our superiority over them, but simply to acknowledge to God how thankful I am that I don't have to deal with the same challenges as women. 

13 August 2014

Forthcoming Posts on נידה (menstrual impurity)?

Eight years ago, while in rabbinical school, the focus of our studies centered around the Jewish practices around menstruation.*  During that time - fall-winter 2006-2007 - I had a lot of thoughts concerning what we were studying and - what I consider to be - some interesting reads of the the texts of our tradition.  However, for whichever reasons, I did not write about many of them.

While I wrote about one such topic concerning a Talmudic text ("White Days") and also a couple of topics, as well ("My First Attempt at a Critical Text" and "Explaining My Disgust with the term "'Family Purity'"), there are certainly other texts I had encountered during my time studying this topic about which I have kept wanting to write.

So, I am hoping (but not promising) to write some more about this topic, primarily concerning rabbinic texts, although I may be discussing some medieval texts, as well (very useful for rabbinical students!).  All of these posts will appear on Matters of Interest.

* Years later, I was amused when I was speaking with my local Moishe House about doing a program on menstruation in Judaism that they were utterly shocked that we had spent time - let alone so much time - to Jewish women and their menstruation.

12 August 2014

Fifth Batch of Homebrew

Yesterday, I brewed my fifth batch of homebrew beer and, just like my fourth batch, I used California Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP001), although I decreased the amount of extra pale malt extract to only 6 pounds, making this the lightest amount of malt extract I will have used in my brewing. Although I was pleasantly surprised with my previous batch, I still thought it was a bit on the malty side, so I sought to reduce the body of it. Plus, this batch will be ready for the football season, for which I would prefer a more sessionable ale!

My hops schedule is as follows:

90 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Galaxy (15.0% alpha acids)
75 minutes until the end of boil - 1.5oz Columbus (15.6% alpha acids)
60 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Galaxy (15.0% alpha acids)
45 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Mosaic (11.6% alpha acids)
30 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Mosaic (11.6% alpha acids)
15 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Chinook (11.4% alpha acids)
at the end of boil - 1oz Chinook (11.4% alpha acids) & .5oz Columbus (15.6% alpha acids)

Hopefully, it ferments nicely!

11 August 2014

Surprisingly Satisfied with My Fourth Batch of Homebrew

Over a month ago, I brewed my fourth batch of homebrew beer and am actually surprised how well it turned out.  Really my first thought on drinking it was that I was surprised that any deficiencies it has are not readily noticeable.  My first batch and my second batch were to heavy on the body and the third batch was better, yet I was not a fan of what the Belgian ale yeast had done to it.  Also, as opposed to the earlier batches, I don't have to worry about the foaminess overflowing (the second batch was crazy), as this has a mellow foaminess on top.

The body is pretty solid - not light, but not heavy, either.  It's got a really good amount of hops, which is noticeable (but not overpowering).  I think there's some slight fruit aroma to it.  One drawback (for me) is that it is still a bit on the malty side, but it's certainly a lot easier to drink than my previous batches!

07 August 2014

Some Reflections on Hillel Institute 2013 [Throwback Thursday]

Eric Fingerhut addressing Hillel staff at Hillel Institute 2013

With the summer Hillel Institute going on this week, I realized I have not yet shared my thoughts on last year's Hillel Institute (no time like the present!).  At the time, I had not known that it would be the last full Hillel Institute with all staff present (and which I will miss), but I enjoyed it, nevertheless, with it being my fourth consecutive such conference in the summer with fellow Hillel staff.

To begin, I was very glad that those who put last year's conference together decided to rethink how Hillel Institute runs as opposed to the prior three years. I am thinking primarily of getting rid of the Track Sessions, which were the focus of the conference in which we were with our staffs with a few other Hillels and going through some thinking about our Hillels and moving forward for the year to come. Not only do we not need to do it there, but it was, largely, a waste of time and frustrating and we could be gaining tangible elements to bring back with us and by which to be enriched. 

They did so with giving us options, which was splendid! There were two majors which had three sessions and a minor which had two parts.

The first major session I attended was on Jewish Professional Development, which was with a bunch of rabbis, so it wasn't the typical group.  In the first two sessions, the discussion leaders "lifted up the hood" on the curriculum so we could go through it, which was interesting to see it from that perspective, which is also helpful in seeing how they had put together a curriculum for new professionals to consider their Jewish identities. 
Rabbi Daniel Smokler leading a lunch and learn session
The third part featured Rabbi Daniel Smokler, which was amazing and, clearly, the highlight of the conference for me.  Rabbi Smokler led a discussion, in which we flew through ideas, tools, and methodologies for our work and understanding young Jews.  It was very impressive.  His whole talk deserves many, many words, but, instead, you can listen to it for yourself (which he graciously permitted me to record).

There was an option of a lunch and learn session - I chose to go listen to the one in which Rabbi Smokler was speaking and it was a great discussion.

The second major I attended was on fundraising ("development"). I was hoping it would be about making asks, conversing with donors - skill sets for raising money. Well, apparently, that had been in the first time slot (while I was in the Jewish Professional Development session); however, mine was for development professionals  about thinking about time spent on development and coming up with a development plan etc. so I left in the middle of the second session to go make better use of my time and schmooze.

There were also a couple other sessions with just rabbis, however, they mixed in some rabbinical students and non-rabbi Jewish educators, so it did not have the same flavor as being with just rabbis, which was not as powerful as in previous years in which it was just rabbis.

After having gone to City Museum for three straight years as a night out, it was very good for us to not return.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy City Museum and it's great to go once or twice, but four times would have been too much.  Instead, we went to Dave and Buster's, which was great, especially since they had an open bar :)

Rabbi Julie Roth & Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman of Princeton & Berkeley Hillels
The "minor" that I attended was really, really good!  I was very impressed with the Berkeley and Princeton Hillels for not only coming up with qualitative metrics (which is, apparently, rare amongst Hillels) but also skillfully weaving it with their vision, goals, mission and strategies. Some of the staff had shared that having goals helped them have a clearer sense of their roles and towards what they were all working.  Afterwards, it dawned on me that the phenomenal material and ideas shared would be amazing for ALL Hillel staffs to be considering.  I hope they will continue to share their great work.  It also got me to think about one of the aspects they shared - surveys reflecting goals and what we want students to come away with.

Awards Ceremony
Some other reflections about the conference:
  • As always, Hillel Institute is a great opportunity to meet really great people as well as re-connecting with folks from my past.
  • I was disappointed about the hours in the day - would've really enjoyed spending some more time in deep conversation with certain people. However I did enjoy those that I did.
  • I was glad that colleagues were interested and willing to read the articles/essays on rabbinic literature on which I've been working in my free time. I was really appreciative of one colleague who spent some significant time with me going over my pieces (it was also flattering that he told me he enjoyed them).
  • I got to exercise for three straight days while there (I ellipticalled Monday through Wednesday).
  • Hanging out with fellow rabbis from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was nice, and much appreciation to the school for having the vision to sponsor beers for us to hang out together.
  • After having one or both of our children with us for the first three years, it was nice to finally have no children with us and not worry about babysitting and being back in the room to be with a sleeping child (or two). It was incredibly liberating!
  • The food was okay - I wonder if I, perhaps, got my expectations up from the previous year.
  • The weather was so good. After the first year of over 100-degree temperatures, last year's weather was pleasant :)
  • Unfortunately, there was not much twitter action :( I am not sure why there was a drop off from last year. At least there was some action during Eric Fingerhut's plenary speech.
  • The awards presentations were really great, as had been in the previous three years.
I don't know if I will ever return to Hillel Institute in St. Louis, but the fourth of the four that I had attended was certainly a high note :)