Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Lull, part 26

Vision this: My professional association, Society for Technical Communication, is conducting dozens of small discussion groups around the globe to collect information for strategic planning. Sleep deprived and overworked, I must have let my attention wander for a minute during a meeting, as I suddenly found myself appointed facilitator for Israel’s discussion group. Despite disruptions in train service, major road detours, and fast-looming holidays, seven volunteers show up at our offices in Akko on Friday morning to discuss the future of our careers. The session itself is lively, but nothing compared to the impromptu debate that errupts when we start to leave! It is always a delight to talk to professionals who feel passionate about their work.

But while we take our field very seriously, we also recognize the unintentional humor supplied by poor practioners of the profession. You can find some good examples in these winning entries from the 2005 Worst Manual Competition. (Thanks to Karmiel reader LS for sending this.)

Bar Mitzvah Blogging: The youngest son of a good friend at Shorashim (the moshav next to Karmiel) is bar mitzvah today. Genetically incapable of carrying a tune, Matan still blasts through the service with aplomb, and manages to hit a vague approximation of the trope (the liturgical chanting used for Torah and Haftorah readings) a few times along the way. Shorashim has a tradition of putting on a show after services, with skits and songs to roast the bar or bat mitzvah kid, and today was no exception. Then, after stuffing ourselves with a massive lunch buffet and catching up with friends, we waddle home.

A diatribe on “disproportionate”: During the war, there was a joke making the rounds about a little girl in Paris who gets attacked by a rottweiler. A passer-by leaps in to pull the dog off of her. He manages to get the dog into a choke hold, but the dog won’t release its grip on the screaming child. The man finally breaks the dog’s neck, saving the child in the nick of time. A reporter pushes through the growing crowd.
“That was amazing!” he exclaims, slapping the exhausted and bleeding man on the shoulder. “You’ll win an award for valour for this, for sure. What is your name and where are you from?”
“Yuval Sapir, from Israel,” replies the hero.
That evening, Le Figaro runs the headline, “Israeli Murders Family Pet.”

It’s the first thing I always think of when someone uses the word “disproportionate” these days. Check out Honest Reporting’s latest on the myth of the disproportionate response.

The Lull, part 25

Train travels and travails: I head down to a meeting in Tel Aviv yesterday, catching the 15:16 train from Akko. A huge piece of equipment is sitting on the far track, hunched over like some evil sci-fi instrument of doom. I look at it and raise an eyebrow at the guy standing next to me on the platform. “They’ll be working on the tracks again,” he grumbles. But the ride down goes by quickly as I am able to conduct a pre-meeting meeting with a colleague.

At the train station in Tel Aviv, we link up with another colleague and try to grab a taxi to our meeting site. There are several taxis lined up outside the station, so flagging one should be a simple procedure. But this is Israel, where taxi drivers fail to observe the same rules of logic or commerce (and sometimes physics). One driver calls to us. He already has a fare in the front seat, and is in the process of getting a ticket. But hey, he wants us to pile into the back seat, squashed like sardines, and then go along for an undetermined detour to drop off his first fare—and all this after waiting for the traffic cop to finish writing him a ticket. We decline his offer.

The next driver in line refuses to use the meter, and wants 25 shekels. It is illegal for taxi drivers to refuse a fare unless they fear for their safety; as three middle-aged, lumpy, briefcase-clutching nerds with English accents, we hardly fit the profile of potential terrorists. One of my colleagues marches up to a policeman who happens to be standing at an adjacent bus stop, and asks him to confirm that this is the law. The poor guy, probably on his way home after a long shift, clearly doesn’t want to get involved. He shrugs. At this point, the three of us have our anti-friar genes kick in, and we decide to walk.

The concept of friar is an important element of Israeli culture. A friar is a sucker, a sap, a mark, a softie, a pushover. The effort of avoiding being a friar at any cost is the driving motivational force behind much of our behavior. It is such a dominent phenomenon that eminent psychologists and sociologists discuss it. I’ve even heard some scholars suggest that it is one of the explanations for our amazing survival as a people. All I can say is, last night it gets us to trudge to our meeting on foot.

After a productive meeting, it is time to head home. I dash off to catch the 20:13 train back north. One of my colleagues rides with me as far as south Haifa, so the journey goes by in a blur, as we get into a lively debate about professional certification. We get a few odd looks from our fellow travelers, but this can’t dampen the pleasure of a good debate with an intellectual peer. The only downside is the temperature, as Israel Railways insists on using the meat-locker setting for the AC. Despite my jacket, I feel my blood start to crystalize in my veins. Luckily, a few zoftig Russians squeeze in next to me, and their collective radiant heat is enough to keep me from slipping into hypothermia. Large and lumpish, they sit stoically through the ride, clutching their vast shopping bags to their even vaster bosoms. Clearly, I would not have survived in Siberia.

It is almost 22:30 when I get home. Another long day…

The Lull, part 24

Do as I say, not as I do: For years, I’ve been trying to convince other technical communicators that numbered headings make for poor signposting. You can’t look at a chapter number and intuitively know what it’s about. And yet I fell into the trap of using a generic name with sequential numbers for my post titles. Bad enough. But then I skipped a number. Eagle-eyed reader SG in California was the first to notice. Glad she did. She’s a lawyer, so she had better pay attention to details! So the problem is fixed, and eventually I will leave The Lull and move to more descriptive post titles. Consider it a new year’s resolution.

Nadine discovers her roots: Our Fearless Leader helps trace Nadine’s family back to the great Rabbi Katz of Chelm.

Sadly, the Fat Girl lacks the dignity and discipline of her ancestors. She is unimpressed by past glories of her lineage. “Tuna me,” she says. “Tuna me now.”

Why Pugs rock: (Or, why dogs bite people…) MS of Karmiel sent in some great pictures. Halloween or Purim, we don’t care; if you have a dog, it is your duty to dress it up in funny costumes and publicly humiliate it at every opportunity. (This is a challenge, because it is extremely difficult to embarrass a dog.)

The tyranny of technology: Bear with me as I indulge in a short rant. Today, for the umpteenth time, I run headlong into bad design. It isn’t so much that the technology doesn’t support what I want to do, but that no one has actually analyzed the needs of the users to figure out how to design something a little better. Case in point: the anti-spam filter on my ISP consistently flags mail from some list servers and subscription email newsletters as spam. There should be a simple way of bouncing the mail back to the server with the message, “White List” (or “Black List,” as the case may be). But noooooo. My email client is only the one of the most commonly used ones out there, but it doesn’t reveal header information clearly, so I would have to install a plug-in app and jump through about a dozen hoops that I am not willing to do. So no solution. Even worse, the ISP’s lists are universal, which means that when one knucklehead decides that something is spam, everyone gets it filtered out. So suddenly push email from the Jerusalem Post or Strategic Forecasting gets filtered, while endless garbage about burning fat or enhancing certain bedroom activity gets through. Aaaauuuugggghhhh!

Sorry. I feel better now.

The Lull, part 23

Lull? Not so much: S’derot has been getting a steady pounding from Gaza. Qasam rockets hit the city square this morning. And there’s no chance of the Palestinians running out of arms, because they are now getting Hezbullah hand-me-downs.

I spend the day avoiding the news. The information deluge is almost entirely negative: governement scandals, budget squables, ongoing terror attacks, and typical anti-Israel rantings by the foreign press. In light of all this, it becomes increasingly hard to maintain a cheerful perspective. In fact, I am feeling downright depressed.

It may be the flu talking—a low-grade fever and achiness that has kept me feeling crappy for the past week—but it may be Life. So I have a choice:

launch into a rant and drag you down with me, or…
try to think of some reasons why life is not entirely bleak.

I look over at Nadine, who is also feeling depressed this morning. She is worried about her best boyfriend, a mature, generously proportioned, fluffy ginger cat who sends her long and passionate emails from California. This morning’s mail hints at possible kidney problems, and Nadine is concerned. A rant is clearly not going to make my girl feel any better. So I scoop her up and plop her on my lap, and tell her that life is not so bad:

  1. We are not alone (I tell her). Israel has a few friends, including those plucky Aussies and a few honest Canadians. (Of course, if you want to be depressed, you can note that about 95% of all UN verbiage is anti-Israel speeches and resolutions.)
  2. Sometimes, justice wins and people are held accountable for their actions, like the neo-nazi knucklehead in Greece.
  3. Sometimes we do pretty darn well in sports for such a small country. Here’s the year in review.
  4. A few brave and creative people instigate a small change that could have a very positive effect on how millions of teenage girls view themselves. Read how Israeli fashion chains stop using emaciated models in their ads.
  5. In the face of overwhelming odds, we continue to develop cutting-edge technology, including some of the world’s best medical devices. (Of extra note is that this article is written by the very talented KK from Shorashim, our neighbors over the hill.)
  6. We enjoy a level of freedom of speech and democracy that exceeds the standards of much of the Western world. Rather than using the ever-present security threat as an excuse for massive censorship and control, we’ve taken the high road. Our Knesset is widely diverse with parties that span the political spectrum; we produce newspapers in many languages and viewpoints; comics gleefully skewer all sides in political send-ups that would land them in jail in any other country in the region.

However, none of this impresses my girl. She stares at me and blinks. “We love you very much,” I say, rubbing her ample tummy. “Do you want some tuna?” Pudgy legs kick wildly as she struggles to turn over. The meows are both frantic and joyful as she trots ahead of me to the kitchen.

Could it really be that simple? But maybe that’s the secret, after all.

So here’s wishing all of you a little love and a little tuna today.

The Lull, part 22

Post-new year’s recovery: No champagne and parties on our new year, but lots of hour logged in beit knesset and way too much food consumed. Nadine, allowed to gorge herself on homemade challah, works off some of the calories by throwing a tantrum when one of the neighbor’s cats comes into the yard.

Snakes in a shul: A visiting knee-biter livens up services by running in clutching a large rubber snake. He shakes it vigorously and then stampedes back outside. He is not accompanied by Samuel L. Jackson.

New year, same old news: Another Moslem cleric calls for holy war against the Pope. Meanwhile, the south is still getting hit by rockets fired from Gaza.

Olmert and Abdullah: It now appears that PM Olmert and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met secretly about ten days ago. Or maybe it was Olmert and a senior Saudi official. Point is, there is some sort of diplomacy going on, which is probably a good thing.

Quote of the day: uh, isn’t this a contradiction in terms?

SMS as a policy initiative: Now you can use SMS for more than sending annoyingly cryptic messages to friends or voting for your favorite competitor on some shlocky local reality show. Now you can initiate a new Knesset proposal.

Shana Tova!

Getting ready: Last night’s cleaning session leaves the house fresh and tidy, while a gentle rain during the night leaves the yard dust-free and bright. All is ready for erev rosh hashana except for the cooking. As a terribly lazy cook, I like things that can be thrown together with minimal effort, so tonight’s festive meal is built around our favorite simple dishes. The one exception is the challah (traditional sabbath bread, braided in a complex pattern and brushed with egg yolk), which is a family recipe handed down from my great-grandmother (and namesake). Time-consuming and tricky, it requires a major effort to make, but has a texture and flavor that is worth it. Nadine and Gill will both gorge themselves into a carbohydrate coma on it, if allowed… I usually only make it a few times a year, including a special rosh hashana version that is round and studded with raisins to symbolize a sweet new year. I have many good memories of my mother baking this amazing bread for shabbat. Since I have no children to pass the recipe to (at least, no children with opposable thumbs), I decided a few years ago to teach a friend how to bake it. The challah lives on!

In light of the holidays, there won’t be any new entries for the next few days. To keep you amused, here is a festive grab-bag of the fun, the weird, and the whacky. Enjoy.

  1. A cat fatter than Nadine. Really fatter.
  2. Another compelling reason why professional editors are a Good Idea. Thanks to reader, co-trainer, and also-blogger LC.
  3. Ready to play a round of Jewpardy? Thanks to Northern LS.
  4. Geeky British guys and treadmills: a winning combination. Thanks to reader MN.
  5. We can all rest easier knowing that when a cow falls into a well, someone will find a way to get her out.
  6. It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it’s very funny. Northern LS sends us this special shana tova greeting from Nasralla and his friends. We especially like Osama’s orange Crocs…

Shana tova to all of you. May this be a year of peace, sanity, and justice in the world. May all of you enjoy the best possible health, the love of your friends and family, satisfaction and success in your careers, good chocolate, fat kitty bellies to rub, and enough adventure to provide a little spice.

The Lull, part 21

Pope in the scope: International security experts are all scrambling to prevent an attack on the Pope. Stratfor gets it right again in their analysis. I wish more people would understand that terror is not triggered by something the potential victim says or does. You’re never going to be PC enough to satisfy a fanatic:

Jihadist attacks against Christian targets can be expected to continue in Muslim lands. This was to be expected even had the pope not quoted a passage from history that described the teachings of Mohammed as “evil and inhuman”…

But somehow, people don’t get the message. Everyone wants to make nice to Ahmadinejad in hopes of talking away the specter of a nuclear Iran. Is Livni the only one awake at the wheel? These days, our foreign minister seems to be the only one left in the government with a backbone and a brain still attached to it. Go get ’em, Tzipi.

Best news of the day: IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz says that all our soldiers should be home by Friday, erev rosh hashana.

Bling it on: What would I do without my eagle-eyed readers? Northern LS keeps us informed of the latest in pet dental care.

Biker dude: Gill models his birthday bike shoes. These are specialized bike shoes for off-roaders who need sturdy hiking shoes to portage their bikes over rough terrain, but also want the added power of a clip pedal. Yes, I first wrote about his shoes back in early August around his birthday, but couldn’t manage to load the picture. Don’t worry—I’m not planning on showing you his padded underwear…