Zev News – Dec 2008


December started with the XonTech holiday party.  Being bought out by Northrop Grumman finally killed our annual holiday luncheon.  On the positive side, spouses were now invited which hadn't been true in the past.  On the negative side, it was in Huntington Beach on a Wednesday night.  And the two free drinks that XonTech used to provide went away.  Despite the strong thought that everyone should send a message by RSVPing yes but not going, Jackie and Marc went.  It was nice to see people Jackie knew from other offices.  Another nice thing was that they had a raffle (just like in the past) and we won a gift card (unlike in the past!)  A not-so-nice thing was that Jackie asked for a box to take home the substantial uneaten part of her meal and was told that that was against regulations.  When she expressed disbelief and annoyance, she was offered a drink to placate her which was reasonably effective.


The next night was a busy one.  Marc and Benjamin had Scrooge rehearsal and Jackie had a Sisterhood board meeting.  In addition, there was a Robodox parent meeting and Jonathan wanted to attend a square dance class Granada Hills.  But we managed.


Jackie had looked online for a teen square dancing club and found a phone number in Granada Hills.  But when she called, she learned that although there are some teen square dancers in Granada Hills, the teen club is defunct.  One of the teens, Bethany, is the daughter of the person Jackie called.  When he dances, she dances with the Granada Hills club.  Jonathan is taking lessons with the Simi Valley club, because it meets Monday while the Granada Hills club meets Thursday.  And since Jonathan has Hebrew on Thursday, it's easier to get his homework done on Monday than on Thursday.  But we arranged with Bethany, that if Jonathan could come to the Thursday Granada Hills class, he would call her and let her know, and she would come to.  So this was the situation on Thursday. 


The next day was a busy one too.  Jonathan and Benjamin had been part of a music recital put on by their piano teacher last September which Marc had missed since he'd been in San Jose at the time on business.  A family down the street uses the same piano teacher for their two girls, but the girls had not been taking lessons long enough to be part of the September recital.  So we arranged a small recital for the two families at out house.  However, the best laid plans of mice and piano teachers…  A week or two before the recital, we became aware that Benjamin's school's holiday band performance was on the same night.  So we moved the private recital up to 5 p.m. and moved it to the neighbor’s house.  We had the recital and dinner and then at 6:15 we took off for Lawrence.  The day before the recitals, Benjamin discovered that one of the keys on his clarinet was broken.  For the home recital, Benjamin borrowed his teacher’s clarinet.  For the school recital, he used his clarinet and just couldn't play that key.  Having only attended elementary school recitals before this one, our expectations were (very!) low and we were pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded.


The next day (Saturday) was a busy one as well.  The Platt library’s bookstore (the Shel Schuster bookstore) had a major book sale, and Jackie and Jonathan came by to help out, while Marc and Benjamin were at a warm-up for Scrooge.  After lunch, Jackie and Jonathan went to see Marc and Benjamin's Scrooge performance.  Then, that evening was TLC Sharim (Jackie’s singing group at the temple)


The next day with similarly busy with Benjamin, moving from religious school in the morning, to his Scrooge performance in the afternoon, to Jackie's mom's house for dinner in the evening.


The next day (Monday) Benjamin was sick – and throwing up with a fever – and stayed home from school.  That night, Jonathan wanted to go to square dancing and Jackie wanted to go to a lecture by Steven Morse in Thousand Oaks.  Steven Morse is Jackie's favorite genealogist.  He has developed a number of interfaces to genealogical databases that are substantially better than the interfaces provided by the database providers themselves.  These resources include the census pages and ship manifests among others. The talk was basically a speed tour through the interfaces he has developed.


And Jackie was already familiar with Steve Morse's tools, so the talk itself wasn't so useful to her.  She had come because she wanted to meet the man who had made so much of a difference in her genealogical research.  But Steve made one point that really made Jackie think.  He said that he doesn't make interfaces for just any database.  He only makes an interface when he can improve on the existing interface to a database.  He also said that if we wanted to improve on the interface to a database, he has tools to help us.  Jackie heard this and thought, “there's a database we use all the time with a horrible interface that desperately needs improvement.”  The database is the Los Angeles Public Library database.  So Jackie decided to check out his tools and write a better interface to the LAPL database.  But she didn't have the time for almost a month. More on that later.


Anyway, Jackie had to rush off during the Q&A, he has Jonathan needed to be picked up from square dancing.  She is feeling a little bit like she might have caught something from Benjamin.  She was disappointed not to be able to shake these hands and talk to him in person.  As it turned out, maybe it was all for the best!  She picked up Jonathan came home and went straight to bed.  In the morning she woke up and thought, “I don't feel so bad.  I could go to work.”  Then she stood up.  So much for that idea!  Like Benjamin, she was laid up for two days. 


The following weekend was the Los Angeles Vex championships, which was held at CSUN and hosted by the Granada robotics team.  That consumed most of Jonathan’s time that weekend, although he did make time for the latke dinner at the temple Friday night.  The temple did a great job with the dinner and we all hope they will do it again.  The Granada Hills team did a phenomenal job hosting the Vex championship.  One example was that they had two arenas and while there were running a match on one node set up for the next one on the other.  For the time between matches was almost nothing.  They did such a good job they were invited to Dallas to help host the World Vex championship.  They won the ? Award and the ? Competition. 


While Johnson was competing and hosting,  Benjamin and Marc put on back-to-back Scrooge shows.  Then they put on another show (the final show) on Sunday.  Jackie missed the Sunday show because she was at a Bat Mitzvah,  the following weekend.  Scrooge was over.  So instead of putting on a play, Benjamin and Marc (and Jackie and Jonathan) went to one instead.  We saw “It's a Wonderful Life” at the little theatre in Santa Clarita.    Normally, when we had theater tickets for this theater, we have dinner with our friends who also have tickets.   For this night, we went down the street to a party at our neighbor’s house instead.  The boys love the annual Christmas party because they always have cookie decorating and other art projects for the kids.  For the second night of Chanuka, we celebrated with Al and Irene.  Then for the third night we celebrated with Jackie's mom.  Normally. we would have had dinner with Jackie's mom on both the Sunday that started Chanuka and the Sunday that ended it, Jackie's brother's family couldn't be there on either Sunday, so we celebrated Hanukkah with Jackie's mom on Tuesday. 


On Wednesday, we celebrated at home, and then Jackie and Marc went to a potluck karaoke party.  At the karaoke party, Jackie met someone who had been a member of Temple Solel,  the temples she attended when she was growing up.  How do they figure out that they had both attended this (now defunct) Temple?  Well, because he started seen the version of the Aleinu that this temple used (which Jackie had not heard in some 30 years) and Jackie joined in.  It was a very fun evening.  Rather than run it in traditional karaoke fashion, with each person choosing a song and singing it, they just let a karaoke machine run and everyone sang all the songs – more like a sing-along.


The next day was Christmas, and we celebrated it in a traditional Jewish fashion – we went out for Chinese food (with cousins Kevin and Rachel and kids.)  We know this is the traditional Jewish way to celebrate Christmas, because we ran into Jewish friends at the restaurant, and afterwards heard of other Jewish friends and family that had done the same thing.  After dinner we all came back to our house and lit candles and open presents.  The next night, we celebrated with Blanche and Walter.


On Saturday we had our very first opportunity to sit down as a family for dinner and celebrate Chanuka and not rush out afterwards.  Sunday, the last night of Chanuka, there was a dinner and Shiva service in honor of a friend's mom, which we attended.


The following week Jackie had off from work and she started on the project that she conceived of almost a month earlier when she attended the Steve Morse lecture.  She wanted to create a better interface to the Los Angeles Public Library.  Jackie has a number of issues with the interface to the LAPL database.  The biggest is that when searching for books, she almost always wants to restrict the search to books only - no videos, no DVDs, no audiotapes, and no CDs.  If one goes to the “Advanced Search” screen, one can use a drop down to limit the search to only videos or only DVDs, etc. but one cannot limit one search to only books using the drop-down menu.  In theory, one can type, “and not video* and not audio* and not DVD and not CD” after the keywords on every search, but that is a royal pain.  Another complaint is that Jackie almost always wants only books in English.  One can restrict the search to only English books by going to the “Advanced Search” screen and using the language drop-down menu on the screen, but again, itt is a pain to do this on every search.  Another frustration is that the default is to show only 10 records at a time.  Once again, showing more requires going to the “Advanced Search” screen.  Here the number of books displayed can be increased – but only to 20.  To add insult to injury, on the main search screen, one can do an author search or a keyword search or a title search.  But if one uses the advanced search screen the only option is a keyword search.  Her final complaint is that the default sort order for the results of a search is not by title or author or anything useful is by publication date.  She has never, not once found, this to be her desired sort order. 


So Jackie took a look at the tools available for writing a better interface available on Steve Morse's page.  She soon found that they are more design towards developing an interface to one's own database, then to developing an interface to a third party's database.  She did find a tool for creating the webpage that the user sees very useful for eating started, but then she had to develop all the code that underlines that webpage itself (and in a language he never used before!)


But after today, she had a website up and running, where you could enter an author and a title specify a language (English was the default,) specify a format (books only was the default,) specify the sort order, and specify the number of records to display (50 was the default.)  The site did exactly what she wanted, but does have the slight problem that it is slow.  The slowness was caused because Jackie's interface works by doing a title or author search and then querying each item to determine if the item should be included.  When a high percentage of the items returned are filtered out, the search was taking on the order of a couple of minutes.  Jackie spent a couple of days trying to speed up her interface and got most queries under a minute, which was a big improvement.  Jackie would like to speed up things even a little more because waiting 45-50 seconds is still too long. 


As she tells people about her better interface, people express skepticism that she will be able to convince the LAPL to the use her interface.  Jackie's response is that she has no intention of convincing LAPL of anything.  She has no intention of talking to LAPL at all.  Just as Steve Morse didn't try to give or sell his interfaces to the organizers with genealogical databases.  He just put his interfaces out there for people to use.  That's what Jackie plans to do.


The year ended with a visit from Jackie's friend Patty and her two boys.  They had lunch and went geo-caching Patty's boys loved it.  It was great to see her again.