Category: Personal

2014 Resolutions Status: January

January has passed. That’s almost 10% of 2014, gone for good. How am I doing with my 2014 resolutions? Each resolution and its status for January:

  • Happy: 5/10. Better than before, but could still use some improvement.
  • Healthy. 7/10. Worked out 16 times. Starting biking to work.
  • Save time. 6/10. Do not recall many instances of staying in pointless endeavours, waiting for them to end.
  • Travel. 1/10. Visited Ofek’s base in the Negev and drove to Jerusalem and Haifa. Nothing to brag about.
  • Family. 6/10. 3 birthday parties with Agam,
  • Write. 8/10. 2.5 chapters rough draft for SA book, 8 blog posts.
  • Experience. 2/10. Few adventures this month.

Altogether: 35 points, with room left for improvement.

Shabbat Shalom! 🙂

Happy New Year, 2014!

Happy New Year!

2013 is coming to an end. As the Hebrew saying says – ‘it was good, and good that it was.’

I look back at my 2013 resolutions and, well – they left some to be desired. 2013 was a year of ups and downs.

But that’s OK. 2014 will be an awesome year; we’ll do all of our previous resolutions and then some.

Here are my resolutions for 2014:

  • Happy. Life is short, let’s have fun.
  • Healthy. No junk food. Work out 3-4 times a week.
  • Save time. Life is short, don’t spend time doing stuff you don’t like.
  • Travel. At least 3 foreign countries, of which at least one is new.
  • Family. Spend more quality time.
  • Write. Blogging once a week, South America first 10 chapters.
  • Experience. Try to do at least one thing every day that makes that day worth it.

OK, time to put our party hats on. Catch you all next year.

Happy New Years! 🙂

Character Development

Belonging to the pee-standing-up half of people, I’ve never taken shame in enjoying the “stuff blowing up” genre of movies. Dialogue and plot can be win or miss, but the standard of things exploding has been steadily improving, to a point where you can be sure that even if a film will be a complete dud, the vague faint adrenaline rush created by the depiction of fictional action should be enough to carry out a film. 

As I grow older, slower, and wearier, I’ve found my interests shifting. “Die Hard 5” (a disappointing movie even to the franchise fans as myself) being a clincher, action is ho-hum by now. As the past decade has seen TV series rise in quality to a level on par with the cinema, new dimensions of quality have arisen, inherent to format of multiple episodes (and seasons), such as (my personal favorites) overarching development of plot or characters over time.

Plot developments seem to be tricky, as by standard practice some climax / resolution is generally expected towards a series end, and this is contingent upon knowing before-hand the length of the run. Production priorities are not solely artistic, and thus a series’ main focus is usually closer to ‘let’s try to squeeze one more season out of this’ rather than ‘OK, time to wrap things up nicely’. Indeed, episodes (not to mention entire seasons) are rarely written that much in advance. Consequently, while some series offer superb plot arcs (“24” being an old-school prime example) within a single season, it is very hard to sustain suspense over several seasons while maintaining quality writing. “Prison Break” and “Lost” were some of the first major-league series to run into this problem; hit successes in their first seasons, it was too difficult to consistently rise up to the same standards as the first season had. The results were meandering, lack-a-daisy subsequent seasons, much criticized for the plot getting out of control.

Character development brings a softer, more subtle touch – and one that can be developed with less regard for untimely ending (or unforeseen continuation) of a series. “Lost” was epic in its depth of both character multifaceted personalities and motives, and inter-personal relationships. In contrast to a plot (which we expect to be ‘resolved’, including any mysterious unexplained phenomenons previously thrown at us), characters and relationships can get arbitrarily more complex, as long as their creed is at least perfunctorily backed up.

Breaking Bad is another series in which the character development seems indeed to be the best thing about the series. A relatively slow-paced turn of events, in which the prime motivations are the humane characters, which cause you to easily identify with them. This is true both for the supporting cast and primarily for the two protagonists, whose gradual maturation in light of the unfolding story leaves you wondering – could that happen to me?

On with Season 5, I say; how many shows leave you cheering for and identifying with a druggie teen and a murderous, dying chemistry teacher?

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.

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.)

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.

Haifa Adventures (January 2013)

Some fun experiences from the past week or so, all of them with Limor, we:

  1. …hiked in and around Zichron Yaakov (“in and around”) because in my interpretation a ‘hike’ consists of walking in the nature, while Limor’s consists of parading European-style down the streets. 🙂 
  2. …hosted (via CouchSurfing) Federico from Verona for a couple of nights. He shared Friday night dinner with my parents and later coffee with friends (and was our first CS guest in Haifa after a long hiatus since leaving Jerusalem).
  3. …hiked down Nahal Ezov, from Margalit street in Haifa all the way down to southern entrance to the city, visited the mall and bused back. Pictures here
  4. …hosted Eric and a friend of his (from Philadelphia) for a night. I love Americans. This was on the night of the first day of my new job, which was kind of over-ambitious, but it worked out the way I intended/expected it to – long tiring days full of good experiences. Experiences are more important than time to rest! (Hey, even on small scales.)
  5. …hiked around Stella Maris, and met up with Barbara, a red-headed Brazilian from Curitiba who is interning at Beit Itzhak in agronomy (or some other form of agriculture work. To programmers, it’s all the same). With her  we hiked down to Elijah’s Cave and down to the Bat Galim beach and went back up by cable car (And dig it, a Wikipedia entry on Haifa’s cable cars). 

Here’s to even more weeks of adventures, hosting and friends 🙂

New Job

Two days ago I started a new job, as a software developer at a company called 3i-mind. This is exciting, as this is my first full-time position in software development outside of the army (sometimes you gotta phrase things a certain way to make them headline-able). I will be focusing on front-end development, of which I’m a big fan.

The company is based in Kfar Netter (near Netanya), which necessitates a medium-longish commute by car from Haifa, where Limor and I just moved in. So now thinking forward, we are looking for a place nearby to move to. Ideally we would be interested in a small place in a moshav, but next to public transportation: Beit Yehoshua would be perfect; other options include Tel Itzhak or Kfar Netter, Even Yehuda or Hertzeliyah, or eastern Netanya.

Starting a full-time position, similarly to any other commitment, is a scary prospect. Have I chosen the right path? Am I ready for this commitment? What about the other options? Where is my life going?

Oh, well. There’s no point constantly re-evaluating your decisions. I’ve made my choices and now it’s show-time; hard work is ahead and I welcome it.

All the Places You Have Been

As part of my ongoing “live a fun life” project, I’m trying to organize a list of cool things I’ve done and cool things I want to do. One good place to start would be a list of countries I’ve been to. (And a better place to continue would be a list of countries I yet want to visit! But hey, one step at a time.) 

Of course, classification by ‘country’ is hardly representing: do 5 years and/or a cross-country trip in the USA count the same as 8 hours in Madrid? Should I count a day in Budapest spent entirely in the airport, or a week in Gaza during the Israeli disengagement, as the territory shifted from Israeli to Palestinian occupation? What about places visited when I was young enough to barely remember (or not at all)? Oh, well: so here’s the list and some notes, accurate as of January 2013 (and as far as my memory doesn’t currently fail me):

Country Name When (last/longest) Visited Length of Visit (approx., in days)
Argentina 09′ 30
Bolivia 09′ 30
Brazil 09′ 30
Canada 98′ 7?
Chile 09′ 30
Colombia 09′ 14
Costa Rica 12′ 9
Cuba 12′ 7
Cyprus 03′ 7
Czech Republic 11′ 3
Dominican Republic 91′? 7?
Ecuador 09′ 14?
England 07′ 7
France ? ?
Germany ? ?
Guatemala 12′ 30
Holland ? 7
India 06′? 14
Ireland 09′ 14
Israel N/A 1,000+
Italy ? 7?
Jordan ? 7
Mexico 98′? 7?
Paraguay 09′ 7
Peru 09′ 30
Russia 11′ 14
South Africa 10′ 14
Spain 12′ 1
Sweden 08′ 14
Switzerland ? ?
Turkey 03′ 1
Uruguay 09′ 14?
USA N/A 1,000+

(Link to original list here.)

Notes:

  • Gaza, ’05, some two weeks of presence in evacuated Israeli settlements, safeguarding against looting mostly (and sweating like hell). As this was still part of Israel at the time, not mentioned.
  • Budapest, ’09, about fourteen hours spent entirely in the airport with a dislocated shoulder, en route between Dublin and TLV. This had been the tail end of my trip to South America, and I was sick and tired of discovering new places and in physical pain enough to eschew the site-seeing. Not mentioned.
  • Madrid, ’12: On the way back from Central America with Limor, we had an 8-hour (total) stopover in Madrid en route from Guatemala City to TLV. We hit the pavement hard, procured a local CouchSurfing guide and had an eventful site-seeing afternoon downtown (photos here). Mentioned.
  • Several (mostly European) countries as to which I am uncertain of the dates – mentioned.
  • USA & Israel, each with 5+ years in total. (Uh, mentioned.)

I even drummed up one of those maps-with-marked-countries pictures. It is, as outlined in the intro paragraph, highly misleading and misrepresenting, but as it is still a graphic it seems like a good way to end this post. Hurrah!