Monthly Archives: August 2006

The Lull, part 1

Welcome to my temporary quiet: I’ve changed to a new thread on this blog to better reflect the uncanny sense of fragility in our daily lives, as if things could start up again at any minute. We talk about the quiet as temporary—something to grab and enjoy while it lasts. Ketushot still fall in my dreams; sometimes I watch them coming towards me while I try to estimate where they will hit. Sometimes I see them hit and explode and feel the shrapnel shredding the air around me. Friends alos report having sirens and rockets invade their dreams. Bracha writes, “I think that we are all suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress. Our minds and bodies are now allowing us to release all the stress, sadness, fear, and anxiety that we suppressed while the fighting was going on. We were then busy with just trying to get through each day, worrying about each other, sitting on the phone and on the email trying to calm friends and family, and just coping with a situation that was so far from normalcy that no one can even grasp it — not even us. We were busy putting up a brave front and using humor (sometimes black humor at its worst!) to keep us going. The whole cope-with-the-rockets-structure that we built for ourselves has suddenly become obsolete and crumbled, leaving an adrenaline-drained vacuum in its wake. I find myself exhibiting all the signs of a person under stress — I jump at every loud noise and at ambulance sirens, I dream of rockets, wake up in the middle of the night, think about our future here and what is awaiting this country in the next round that is sure to come (bets are being placed as to when) and my imagination runs wild — Iran, Syria, the US, our soldiers and civilians caught up in an apocalypse that will leave us so broken and devoid of resources that it will take us years to recuperate (if we do at all). All this while the TV cameras roll and the world watches, keeps score, judges our conduct, and assesses our strength and likelihood to win and survive this one.”

Propaganda spin of the week: HonestReporting, a media watch-dog organization, once again exposes the ugly side of the Red Cross. I’m not surprised; this is the same organization that allows Moslem religious symbols on ambulances, but not a magen david (Star of David). There have also been a number of cases of Red Cross ambulances used by Fatah and Hamas to smuggle arms and terrorists. For a very good overview of this problem, see Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air video.

More bodacious bovines: Planning a hiking trip in Switzerland? Beware of the cows!

Gadget alert: I’m still learning my way around my new Nokia 6101, my first tri-band, third-generation cell phone. (I won’t mourn my ancient Motorola, which had become tired and had a crappy interface.) One great feature is the ability to record something and instantly turn it into a ring tone. My frantic chicken squawking enchants Gill so much that I add it to his phone, too. Now his phone’s ring tone is the envy of all the other poultry scientists and nutritionists.

Voting update: So far, only a few of you have voted on the usability issue (links to the same browser window or to a second browser window). How many times in your life will you be able to directly influence a website’s design? Vote! Write a comment telling me your preference! Remember, I have opened comments so that you don’t need to have a blogger account to participate.

Deadlines strike again: It’s alligator time for me (as in up-to-my-a**-in…), so I won’t be updating the blog again until 2 September. But just so you won’t be bored, I have homework assignments to keep you busy:

  1. For the metric-phobic Americans among you, get to know liters, kilos, kilometers, and degrees Celcius. Don’t be afraid! The rest of the civilized world uses them and you might want to talk to us at some point. Here is a good all-purpose conversion site.
  2. For the geographically-challenged, try to discover where I am in the Middle East, and stop thinking of Europe as a single large blob. These online games are fantastic learning tools. Yes, they are designed for kids, but the drag-and-drop versions (Level 3) are a hoot!
  3. Always meant to learn some Hebrew but never got around to it? It used to be that all the online resources focussed on siddur (prayer book) Hebrew, but now there are some fabulous resources for learning modern Israeli Hebrew. Check out this site and try a free lesson. If you can already read and just want to pick up a bit more vocabulary, try this. I like the way you can select vocabulary by functional concepts.
  4. Take your digital camera with you when you leave the house. Find a sign with garbled English, bad punctation, or confusing text? Send me the picture! Each year, I award a few small prizes to people who can submit original photos that can be used in one of my conference presentations on English bloopers.
  5. Most important of all, go outside and enjoy the day! Get some exercise. Drink plenty of water. Pat a dog. Eat some chocolate. And remember that each day is a blank check—it’s up to you what you do with it.

Kav Imut, part 15

What we fear: Sometimes the real insights don’t come from the so-called experts. “Cease-fire? A cease-fire isn’t peace. It isn’t even a truce. A cease-fire is simply an agreement to take a break in the fighting. In this case even that modest goal has not been achieved in its totality. Hizballah is still shooting at Israeli soldiers, they have not ceased to fire.” So writes Forest, our chiropractor’s talented daughter. You can see the rest of her blog here.

Woman loses toes to frostbite: OK, not quite, but why do the trains have to have their AC cranked up sooooo high? My ride to and from Tel Aviv yesterday for an STC meeting leaves me shivering and cranky. OK, I was probably cranky before I got on the train, but…

We miss the 20:13 train back north and have to wait another hour. Larry (aka Our Fearless Leader) herds us over to the mall’s food court, where we sit at sticky tables and try to block out the noise of suger-hyped kids. As we nurse our ersatz Thai food, the conversation inevitably turns to our favorite stories about Israeli attempts at international cuisine. Larry reminds us of the time he debated ordering a dish with mushrooms, for fear of getting the crappy canned kind. “Are the mushrooms fresh?” he asked the waitress, and was encouraged by her assurances. But when his dish arrived, he was dismayed to see the same rubbery slices of tasteless, processed shampions. “You said the mushrooms were fresh!” he accosted the waitress. “They are!” she insisted. “We opened the can today!”

Our ride back passes quickly with an animated debate about politics and world views. The trick to stress-free traveling on public transportation here is to be the ones making noise. Though I do recall one train ride with another technical communicator, where our discussion of French spacing and em dashes become so lively that someone told us to be quiet.

And you thought we were bad drivers! This breaking news story is giving Nadine ideas.

Techno-geeks rock! Nerds to the rescue

Demand your rights: In a bizarre twist of marketing logic, Wrigley’s, an American company, does not market Airwaves gum in the States! At least, this is what my family tells me. I have to send them care packages. It could be that the flavors, such as menthol-anis, are popular in Europe but don’t go over well with American palates. On the Wrigley’s site, I find a link to Airwaves. Das icht über gum!

Kav Imut, part 14

Can you say that again, please? Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad says that Palestinians have to stop blaming Israel and fix their own screw-ups. Color me surprised.

Just gimme a KISS: Gene Simmons to the rescue. And you thought they were just a bunch of freaks in face paint…

Can you spell irony? It looks like former MK Yossi Sarid won’t be able to attend an international conference on freedom of expression and tolerance in Bali, Indonesia. His invitation was rescinded because he is Israeli.

Things that make you go hmmm: Ha’aretz columnist Amir Oren points out, “The makeup of the multinational force means trouble for Israel. The European Union refuses to include Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations. Three Muslim countries from Asia who are willing to join the Europeans in the force are Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, which do not recognize Israel. Such a force will not be keen to confront Hezbollah.”

Nasrallah tells all: In a Lebanese TV interview, Nasrallah admits to being a wee bit surprised by our response. This reminds me of the following story. About 40 years ago, we had a Golden Lab named Lance. One summer, guests arrived with their incredibly obnoxious little yippy dog. Lance tried to be the gracious host, even when the little dog ran in circles around him, barking hysterically and nipping. But when the little dog darted under him and bit his unmentionables, Lance finally lost his patience. He picked the dog up, carried it to the end of the dock, and flung it (unhurt) into the lake. I bet that dog was surprised by the response, too. Lance could have killed the dog in a matter of seconds, but he found a humane way to remove the source of irritation. Our guests were horrified and complained bitterly about our “vicious” dog. Lance never started a fight in his life, but if he was attacked, he would defend himself. He also regarded me as his personal responsibility, and spent my toddler years herding me away from danger, including once getting between me and a rattlesnake. Seems now that Lance was misnamed; we should have called him Izzy.

Don’t forget to vote! Do you prefer links to a new browser window or to the same window? The choice may be yours, but you have to send in a response. Remember, anyone can post a comment now (you don’t have to have a blogger account), so don’t be shy. Yes, I mean you!

Kav Imut, part 13

Oops! (aka: it’s about #%$*!! time!!) One of my friends wants to buy this pilot a drink…

Spy novel, anyone? While Frederick Forsyth is best known for his thrillers, he also writes opinion pieces. This one appeared in the UK’s Daily Express on 11 August, and is one of the more lucid answers to that idiotic chant of disproportionate force.

Still no pictures: Those bodacious dudes at Blogger have got to get their act together; the server has suddenly become unreliable with regards to picture uploads. I’ll keep trying, never fear. I know that you’re all dying to see Gill’s bike shoes.

Instant usability research: Your vote counts! Add a comment if you prefer links that open in the same browser window, or links that spawn a secondary browser window. If in the same window (the way posts up until yesterday’s were), you can select a link, read it, and click the browser’s Back button to return to the blog. The problem is that many of the sites that I send you to have plenty of tempting links of their own, so it is all too easy to navigate away from the blog when you’re still in the middle of reading it. If it is in another window (as are the links in today’s post), you have a lot more control. It’s a matter of taste. As one of those geeky types who actually cares about things like usability, design, and MMI (man-machine interface), I honestly want to know your preference. Yes, you can now influence navigational design on someone else’s website. The power! The responsibility! The mind-numbing geekiness!

Nadine visits Dr. Ofer: Time for that rabies shot and other vaccines. We wrestle Nadine into her carrier and drive her to the vet. It is a two man job. She moans the whole way. As we’re finishing up, Gill asks Dr. Ofer if he has any good cat treats, because we’re out. I see the poor doc biting his lip in an attempt to keep from laughing, as in your friggin’ cat is grossly obese already, and you want to give her more treats?! Nadine, knowing that I am making fun of her again, is sulking on top of my office cupboards.

Kav Imut, part 12

Another belated birthday bash: We gather last night to celebrate (3.5 weeks late) Gill’s birthday. Gill’s brother suggests Siam at Hamat Gader, and we happily agree. We remember the crisp table linens and even crisper service; we salivate at the thought of the extensive pan-Asian menu with subtle and creative dishes. Unfortunately, all has changed, other than the physical building and the restaurant name. Still, family gatherings are great, especially for a happy occasion. Here is Gill’s birthday chocolate soufflé (the sparkler has already burned out). If you look carefully, you can see that they’ve written mazal tov (congratulations) in chocolate syrup on the plate.

The birthday celebration continues: How often do you turn 50 (and in the middle of a war, no less)? Gill continues to celebrate by trying out the new bicycle shoes, a gift from his sister. (Can’t see the picture? Yell at the guys at Blogger; the site isn’t working at the moment. I’ll try to upload the file again later.) Designed for mountain biking, the shoes have a metal plate that fits a pedal clip, but also feature a rugged sole to allow the off-road enthusiast to actually walk over those difficult bits.

Stretch and kvetch: My first day back at the gym was not too bad, until I hit the locker room and found a large cluster of women blocking the showers while they discuss reisisim (shrapnel). “I always hated that sofa, anyway,” confesses one woman. And we continue to kvetch (complain) for a long time, it seems. It is as if the need to tell our stories has become a common instinct for everyone here. At today’s memorial service, many conversations around the refreshment table are of the how-close-were-you category. And at last night’s dinner. And on the train. And in line at the bank. Therapists say that talking about your experience is the best way to cope with trauma; if so, we are doing a bang-up job of self-healing!A question of language: Some of you have commented on my use strange expressions. I have always been an avid reader, and as a kid I read a huge amount of British fiction from the 1920s–1940s. This means that I picked up some very curious colloquialisms. Here in Israel, English quickly becomes an unnatural mixture of American, British, Australian, South African, and who-knows-what-else English. (Sidebar: Yesterday I run into Peter, a fitness trainer from Wales. Wales? you ask. I once asked him if there was much of a Jewish community in Wales, and he replied, “Not so much; I mean, I’m here now, aren’t I?”) While I still use the trunk of my car (not the boot), and stop at traffic lights (not robots), I occasionally find myself going to a shop (instead of a store) or navigating a roundabout (instead of a traffic circle). If you tell me that you served aubergine to your auntie, which she wasn’t mad keen about, so she ran to the loo, and just when everything started going horribly pear-shaped, a lorry pulled up to the flat and the bloke said he just wanted to chat her up, so Bob’s your uncle… well, I know what you are talking about. I am bilingual in English.

However, as a profession TC (technical communicator) I have to be careful to write my documentation strictly in American English. It’s only in this blog that I can let these ridiculous idioms run amok. Of course, the more perceptive among you will notice that I use an equal number of American slang expressions, so don’t get your knickers in a twist, mate (translation: Chill, dude!). And the confusion works both ways; the other day, a colleague was stumped when I used the oh-so-American baseball idiom drop the ball. Oh, pul-eeze. I’m supposed to master revise, chemist, and car park (study, pharmacy, and parking lot, respectively), but you can’t figure out drop the ball? Sheesh…

But being a lover of language has its own rewards. At a management meeting last week, I was delighted to notice that the goodies came from a bakery named after the owner: ma’afia ronshi (resh vav nun shin yud). Sorry, but the only logical way to pronounce that for an English speaker is Raunchy Bakery. Now, this is great fun, because all the English speakers get to have a good giggle over it, and then they get the added entertainment of trying to translate raunchy for the others. Cheap thrills, yes, but why else would anyone attend these meetings?

Kav Imut, part 11

So much bad news, so little time: There are days when it just doesn’t pay to stay informed. Seems like there are more and more of them lately. Yesterday’s topics included:

  1. Analysts all speculate what will happen if Iran’s President Ahmadinejad ever becomes the ultimate power in Iran; in technical terms, we’ll all be in deep doo-doo. Currently, the only thing stopping him from launching missile attacks on Israel and other western powers (it really makes sense to let them become a nuclear power, yes?) is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. Of course, calling Khamenei rational is like calling Nadine svelte, but unlike Ahmadinejad, he at least doesn’t have a death wish.
  2. Local analysts say that we have pretty much given up on the idea of disarming Hezbullah or even keeping them to the north of the Litani. Crap, crap, crap…
  3. Annan asks France to lead UNIFIL forces in Lebanon for six months (Italy will take over after that). And we all know how warm and sympathetic the French are to us. France has consistently been leading Europe in anti-Semitic attacks for the last few years, to the point where we’ve had a huge increase in French aliya (Jewish immigration to Israel). To underscore the point, French President Jacques Chirac said UNIFIL forces in Lebanon don’t need 15,000 troops, calling that figure excessive. Yet all military advisors make it clear that a very large ground presence is exactly what is needed to keep Hezbullah from launching attacks again. Yeah, these are really the guys to put in charge.
  4. President Katsav’s sexual misconduct case gets uglier and nastier; Shelly Yacimovich, one of the few bright lights in a tarnished and aging Avodah (Labor party), calls for him to step down while the investigation is going on.
  5. One soldier dies and another remains in critical condition from heatstroke during the intense training exercises conducted on recruits trying to get into the IAF pilot training program. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of washouts for every pilot who actually completes the program. Granted, we have some of the best combat pilots in the world, and many international experts consider our training to be pretty cutting edge, but something is going wrong if our kids are dying of heatstroke.
  6. Even though traffic cops are back on the roads now, armed with radar and writing tickets with a vengeance, we have still managed to return to the pre-war levels of highway carnage. For example, a man was killed in a head-on collision between a car and a truck near tzomet Oshrat (up here in the north in our area) on Friday morning when he tried to pass in a no-pass zone. But it’s important to remember that despite our narrow roads, livestock hazards, and insanely bad driving, our actual mortality rate is one half that of the States on a per capita basis. The only factor that I can think of is that alcohol is not yet as big a problem.

So I have to find other ways to cope. The best way, as I’ve mentioned before, is reading alternative press; not so much the wacko-fringe-eyeball-rolling-nutjob press, but the small, quiet stories that never seem to make the front page. They inevitably give me a sense of hope about our future on this planet. And they are out there, if you know how to look for them:

  1. Linguist Alert: cows have accents!
  2. Inventors tackle serious challenges, like creating a device to fling a rubber boot.
  3. A cow is spotted flying above Madrid.
  4. Not another cow story: this one is about ram groping in Iceland.
  5. Trying to figure out what kind of a grand send-off you want? The Chinese have a few ideas of how to liven up your funeral.

Friends may die, but they never really leave you: Today marks the ten year haskara (memorial) for a friend of mine. We were the same age, both living alone in Karmiel, both English-speakers, and although we didn’t have a lot else in common, we became friends. When I think of her (which I do frequently), I always smile; I remember her at her quirky best, not at the end of her battle with cancer. Perhaps this is the most any of us can hope for—to live good, full lives and trust that when friends remember us, they will smile.

Go out and do something today that will make your loved ones smile.

Kav Imut, part 10

Waiting for the other shoe: I leave the relative comfort to venture out for some critical errands (bank, accountant, etc.). It is noon, and the hot, sticky air hangs over the city like a soggy blanket. I end up parking only a block away from my accountant’s office, but am soaked by the time I get there. It is just Too Darn Hot.

Orly, the bookkeeper who handles most of my account, grins at me. It has been over a month since she’s been able to return to work in Karmiel. The office was closed during the war, and Orly stayed at home in Kiryat Bialek (part of the suburban sprawl of the Kriyot, a region that starts at Haifa and continues up and around the bay). We tell war stories. It is simply what we do now when we meet someone we haven’t seen since Before the War. Where were you? Did you get any hits close to you? Someone at my brother’s company was killed in Haifa. You know the factory at Nesher?… And so it goes. Everyone has their story to tell, their need to have someone understand the fear and tension that permeated our lives for that dreadful month. And everyone, without exception, refers to the current situation as sheket z’mani (temporary quiet). We don’t know what is coming, but we know that it is not going to be good.

Hezbullah PR: In a flashy show of might, the Hezbullah press engine releases a photo of an Israel ship being blown up. Or so they say. Andrew Bolt’s piece on this silly fabrication was my first official spit-take of the day. Do not read this if you are drinking coffee or have a weak bladder. Good on ya, mate!

Is anyone listening? Well, last night between 20:00 and 21:30, apparently over a thousand people were. But they didn’t log in to hear about this war; rather, they signed up to hear me discuss the battle over software interface design. This was one of the webcast seminars that I produce for the Society for Technical Communication. As always, the sessions are late at night for me (to accommodate the bulk of the audience in the States), and I finish drenched, exhausted, and jittery with adrenaline. Gill and I have a late dinner and I try to wind down slowly, but it is almost midnight before I can manage to sleep. Nadine, annoyed at being locked out of my office during the webcast (and therefore unable to meow her two-cents-worth to my audience) boycotts the bed.