Month: January 2013

Quora Blog

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” used to mean having a nice-enough car or house or TV-screen. Now even abstract concepts such as your blog provider must be taken into account. I guess this just a natural, perhaps overdo extenuation of the email provider caste indication.

The new kid on the block, Quora, has unveiled their blog platform. Naturally, I opened my own shop there – http://sellarafaeli.quora.com/ – but I guess it’s mostly just to try it out. I am not moving just yet, and am wondering whether this will be another Google+ experience. (Which people might claim has succeeded in its own way, but in my life it is the same as if it had never existed.)

It seems Quora’s best feature would be integrating your blog within the Quora community, perhaps allowing for good exposure along the way. I think this is indeed the key metric for most bloggers (along with a decent UI interface for the writing itself, in which Quora offers a decent experience but is nowhere near WordPress’s integration with MS Word, for example). For the meantime, that’s not any goal of my own blog, though it does make you think about it.

For one person’s list of qualms regarding Quora Blog, read here: http://dijest.quora.com/Quoras-blogs-arent-blogs. Noteworthy is the fact that this was posted on Quora itself, and not only as tongue-in-cheek; Quora is full of anti-Quora posts. This not only expresses a general tolerance of the site (unimpressive in itself, since anything else would have been totally unacceptable), but is also a display of the type of vibrant tolerant discourse taking place on the site. For a deeper investigation of this topic, check out http://rage-against-quora.quora.com/.

Communities play on your sense of social commitment: you commit yourself to a higher level of participation, in volume and/or in quality. For some of us, perceived in-ability to maintain a high (enough) level of quality results in a lower quantity of output. Couple that with a lack of time to commit to yet-another-online-community , and I think I’ll just stick to writing to my own personal, non-exposed, community-less blog for now.

Well, or maybe I’ll just cross-post some posts to Quora, too, just to give it a shot. Just the number of times the word ‘Quora’ itself appears in this post might be an indication of the attractiveness of that company/platform, for myself or in general.

Advertisements

Run, Atheists, Run

One the things Israel makes me sick off is the constant religion / Judaism forced upon you. It is interesting how Judaism does not seek new converts from other religions(proselytize) but does work very hard at maintaining / strengthening the religious ( ~= nationalistic?) ties of Jews. (Secular ones, and in general) This also has to do with Judaism as a race / nation / community other than a religion / belief set, and with Israel’s security / national needs (as a country), but the end result is the same: similarly to many others, I get the wrong end of the ‘Religion Penis Rule’: 

Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one. It's fine to be proud of it. But please don't whip it out in public  and start waving it around. And please don't to try to shove it down my children's throats.

I get no public transportation on Saturdays; My tax money (that’s ~50% income tax in Israel, mind you) is spent on God’s work, be it ultra-religious studying the Torah or settlers building Judea’s Third Kingdom; I get a country-scale load of guilt every Jewish holiday; luckily for an Israeli, I am straight and my female partner is also Jewish, otherwise my love life would be legally disapproved by the state. That’s fabulous.

I was disheartened to read the following on Quora:

http://www.quora.com/Atheism/If-Atheists-are-so-upset-with-the-laws-and-policies-of-the-United-States-why-do-they-not-move-to-other-countries

The answers themselves (and the ‘answer wiki’) are worth the read, but the general premise of the question is most interesting to me, since it echoes similar preconceptions (and indeed, the very same question) in Israel by conservative people. (I equate ‘conservative’ with ‘theistic’, but to hold the point, we may just observe the intersection of the two.)

Amusingly, the more conservative a person is, not only does he hold a conservative standpoint on the issues under contention (in our case, separation of church from state, etc.), but his very position on the legitimacy of differing opinions is also conservative. I.e., the more conservative your opinions are, the surer you are that you are right and the less open you are to accept other people as free to hold their own line of thought, account to themselves only, etc. In a nutshell, conservatives seem to think they hold a monopoly on to the “truth”, while liberals have their own version of the truth, but think others should do whatever they feel like (within some social borders, of course).

This may be an over-generalization, but I wonder how far it is from being valid by the very definition of being conservative, as least in the political sense. The core value of being politically (as opposed to personally) conservative is in telling other people that they have to live their personal lives according to my values.

The above-mentioned question saddened me a bit, because this is ever-present in Israel, and some Israelis (myself included) view the US as better-off in this aspect.

It seems nowhere in the world is perfect, and we must ever strive for personal freedom over those who would oppress us. (As an end note, I’d rather that in a place where personal freedom wasn’t the exception, but the norm.)

Blocked Sites at Work (or: Gimme my Google Docs Already!)

Big IT companies usually include a private intranet and corporate proxy and all that jazz. The intranet facilities are both for security and ease of intra-office communication. Unfortunately, this type of overhead usually quite quickly becomes bloated and sub-optimal, introducing random obtrusive quirks to the daily workflow.

One such quirk is the list of banned sites. In general in the high-tech industry employee productivity cannot be micro-managed (at least, not by today’s best practices), and so employee focus on the job must be more macro-managed (goal-oriented measurements such as ‘getting the task done’ rather than ‘how many hours did you spend not slacking off’). This is a common rule by now in many jobs, but all the more so in one where you would be expected to the use the Internet constantly. However, some sites / protocols are still ‘banned’ by the corporate proxy – disallowing access from behind the corporate firewall.

Some bans are understandable, such as banning non-domain ssh protocol or other security-intrinsic loopholes. Other bans are not acceptable – those where the security is heuristic, or where the ban seems to be productivity-inclined. Two examples from real life:

  • Facebook – I need Facebook for my job. A prime example is logging into StackOverflow (a programming Q&A site) with my FB account.
  • Google Docs – I am stumped as to why this is blocked. Security cannot be to blame (do we fear illegal intrusions by Google spies? Is it 2084 yet?). The key here is that I use my personal knowledge-management tools (some of which are online) in my day-job, too. Many professionals would do this. I need access to this information while I work.

The above examples relate to immediate work-related needs. A more common pattern is indeed performing tasks unrelated to the job, but tasks which still need to be done and would be done fastest with said tools. If I need to message someone using FB or use a GoogleDoc to organize the list potential new apartments I am going to see that evening, let me do it.

If the site is blocked, I’ll have to find a way around it, by either using a more cumbersome tool or by surfing the site by smartphone. Blocking the site only aggravates the corporate worker (never good) and wastes their time by having to work around it.

We’ve learned not to micro-manage workers’ time; on anything not compromising the corporate information security, the company has to just trust the employee all the way on spending his time responsibly. And if he’s going to ‘slack off’, at least him get it over with quickly.

Israeli Elections 2013 – A Benchmark

In a few hours we will know the results of the 2013 Israeli elections. We will gradually learn the composition of the next parliament to come. Barring a major surprise, what we do know is that nothing yet will change – not in the elected assembly, nor, more importantly, in the electorate. The elections and their results are but a mirror, reflecting the Israeli society. A populace ‘united’, if at all, not by underlying morals and ideals, but rather by a tentative religion / race, the definition of which in of itself not agreed upon by all members, nor its importance in relation  to any other values.

Anticipating the distribution of ideologies to be presented by the elections results, I presume once again to feel I share little in common with most other Israelis. Barring a major surprise, I presume to once again feel like most of what we have in common is a collective vague concept of “Israeliness”, a tautological reference with not much to back it up.

I am a staunch critic of (well, everything, and) Israeli society in general. Every few years the election gives me a(n arguable) benchmark with a nice mix of qualitative and quantitative properties by which to evaluate my existing preconceptions.

Let’s see how the 2013 benchmarks hold up.

When In Rome, Do As the Linguists Do

Linguists will tell you they don’t study the correct way to speak a language, but rather the way it is (empirically) spoken. The rest of us, however, do abide by the rules (grammar, semantics) and view them as a social norm to be observed.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason why speaking a language ‘correctly’ is necessary or desirable; though one could single out social constructs as a reason to disfavor those who fail to ‘speak correctly’, hard objective truths as to maintaining correct form are hard to come by or prove. After all, we all know any modern language is basically a corruption / variation of older languages. Last decade’s mistakes are today’s rules, so is there a point to making a fuss about people’s mistakes?

Two easy examples are הַנְגָּשָׁה and literally.

The first, הַנְגָּשָׁה, has always annoyed me personally. (If you don’t speak Hebrew, I would skip this paragraph). Hebrew verbs are constructed via root and conjugation. The root נ.ג.ש. in the binyan of הפעלה already exists, namely הַגָּשָׁה. The nun was ‘swallowed’ over time into the gimel (explaining this is in English is kind of ridiculous); this is the meaning of גזרת חסרי פ”נ. In the fact, the meaning of הַגָּשָׁה is literally (snicker, see next paragraph) הַנְגָּשָׁה – to make something more accessible. For some reason in this present, post-modernistic world, people feel they have to make up a new word to convey a pseudo-new meaning. Well, the meaning isn’t new. “Making accessible” does have a modern liberal meaning relating to helping disabled people – be they blind of sight, have a language barrier, or in need of special physical access – but the core meaning (as in, “make this accessible to someone”) has always existed, even in the simplistic version of could you pass the salt? == make it accessible to me?, which is of course a common use of the word הַגָּשָׁה. So we don’t need this new, contrived creation of הַנְגָּשָׁה: we already a/the word for that (and it’s basically the same word).

The second example, one which might be more familiar to the English-speaking world at large, is the use of literally – or rather it’s misuse, as in “the movie was so good, I was literally glued to my seat.” To many people’s chagrin, this word seems to be gradually losing its meaning. I was enlightened to recently read on Quora a humbling perspective on this, in the same vein of the above – many words gradually lose their meaning, so no need to get worked up about just another word. The prime examples would be reallywhich literally means/reads “in reality” (and thus should be used the same way ‘literally’ is, but in effect is of course often used just to emphasize) and very (from the Latin root for ‘truth’; should be used for in truth but is of course just another tool for emphasis). So it seems literally may just be going down the same path – or more importantly, we use so many words in a non-literal sense that it doesn’t make much sense to get worked up about one more.

Despite any such objective legitimacy, however, it is hard to respect someone with a faulty grasp of their language. It seems the standard is social, rather than absolute; ‘correct’ language would such as spoken and understood by those around you – including any arbitrary rules observed or neglected.

Perhaps as in when in Rome, then – when speaking a language, do as the linguists do.

Lonely Days in Curitiba

While touring Haifa the other day, we ran into Barbara, a girl from Curitiba, Brazil. This was a rare opportunity for me to remember my short time (3 days) in Curitiba in early 2009. I was on my way from Uruguay to Rio de Janeiro. Having vowed not to ‘skip’ any too large of a chunk of land, I got the chance to see some quite ‘off-the-beaten-track’ regions; in Brazil, this also meant cities of 1.5M+ inhabitants that no-one had heard of anyway.

To be frank, I was quite lonely in Curitiba. I was traveling alone, which usually means you hook up with other travelers (in singles or groups) you meet along the way and you travel with them. This is naturally usual when traveling in the more popular destinations. However, traveling alone also entails spells of being literally alone, in the most basic sense – no company, nobody who knows who you are, nobody to talk to. Not to presently analyze this point too much, but I believe both kinds of loneliness are profound chances to discover and strengthen your character.

One variation of this loneliness is going solo into the wilderness (which I had experienced in other countries such as Argentina, Bolivia or Ecuador); another one is in an urban setting. I had only been in Brazil for a few days, and spoke almost no Portuguese, so I could literally barely converse with anyone, nor even understand most of the signs.

This specific loneliness spell had been going on for a while by the time I reached Curitiba. I was still trying to get over the shock of Portuguese; the worst thing for a newcomer to this language is that the letters are not pronounced the same as in English. In the southern dialect, for example, the R is pronounced more or less as an H. Crazy, I know — or rather, I didn’t know. Getting off the bus in the darkness and asking complete strangers where Rua Flores was (“Flores Street”, according to my guidebook, where there was some hostel) was greeted by blank stares (I don’t blame them; imagine someone asking you where Elm St’heet is). Coupled with general my apprehensiveness about stories about violence in Brazil  in general and especially in metropolises, this coupled the loneliness with tension above the norm for a solo backpacker in a never-seen-before-don’t-speak-the-language city.

Anyway, back to Curitiba. I was traveling alone and did not even meet/see any other travelers. I decided I might as well save some money and checked into a place just opposite of the main bus station. This turned out to be one of the rattiest places I ever slept in (matched years later by a horrible, ant-infested dump off the beautiful Manuel Antonio beach in Costa Rica).

At least it was cheap-ish, at some 14 Reals, I believe (~7$). The room — cell is a better description – was consisted of a single bunk, and wooden walls so close together I could spread my arms out and touch opposite sides at the same time. 

I don’t blame the city itself; Curitiba seemed like a nice city. It’s famous for its bus stations (which form a system allowing for fast and convenient bus networking. Read about that somewhere else :).

I took the scenic train ride around Paranagua, one of the ‘must-do’s in Curitiba. Honestly, it was nothing you couldn’t see somewhere else, but when you’re alone, you take/do what you can get.

Other than that, I walked up and down the city streets. Saw some sites…

…and ate at one of the ubiquitous all-you-can-eats. I ate so much my belly ached and I could barely drag myself back to my cell-bunk. I read my Jeffrey Archer novel, purchased at a rare store for used books in English. As you can see, none of the photos includes myself or anyone else.

After Curitiba I took a bus to Rio de Janeiro, where I spent two weeks in an Israeli-infested hostel. It was sort of a binge overdose to compensate for those lonely days in Curitiba.

(Further pics from Curitiba here).

WolframAliph

My brother Agam is working on a personal project succinctly describable as “the Wolfram Alpha of Literary Arabic”; a web service to allow standard linguistic queries commonly performed today with “dead tree format” dictionaries. I.e., checking verb roots and conjugations, etc. In passing e-conversation the other day he had asked me if I had a good name for this project. When I found some spare time today to think about the issue I needed to recall the details of our exchange, and it took me a good minute or two (infinity by today’s standards; my attention almost ran elsewhere) to remember/find on exactly what e-platform the conversation took place.

Not via proper text messages (phone SMS’s), nor WhatsApp messages (I am a regular user, Agam a heavy user). Not in an email nor gchat, either; I was perplexed by this point – perhaps it had been over the phone? Improbable; I detest speaking on the phone, and Agam is one of the rare people who are even more terse in phone conversations than I am. It eventually (oh-the-suspense, right?) turned out to have been on FB, whose messaging/chat platform has improved vastly over the last year, but would still definitely be (and evidently is) last on my list.

So, having given it a bit of thought, here are my suggestions.

  • The “Alpha” naturally lends itself to be replaced with an “Aliph”.
  • The “Wolfram”, derived more or less from the creator’s name, could be replaced with any of the following three:
  1. Rafaeli, for the creator, resulting in Rafaliph, Rafaeliph, RafAliph, or RafaAliph. 
  2. Kamus (“dictionary”) to indicate the usage, resulting in KamusAliph. 
  3. Wolfram, as an homage (and easy explanation of the product), resulting in WolframAliph.

Notes:

  1. In each of the above, perhaps Aliph should be Alif, but the ph lends itself nicely to echo the Alpha visual.
  2. My personal favorite tends to be either of the last two options.
  3. I found the creative process to be fun (quality of results notwithstanding). Kind of like graphic design, but with words instead of colors.

Cheers! (or should I say: صِحَّة!)

Modern Standard Arabic – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.