Thursday, April 30, 2009

$300 million dollar mistake

Surprisingly enough, traintalk did not send me this article, which details how small things in e-commerce can make such a huge difference.
A huge retailer took away their forced customer registration on their website and they realized $300 million dollars more in sales.

The first thing I did after reading that was to send a message to my web developers that registration should happen automatically, and it should send a password by email so the user can check their account status.

atzmaut tiyul

Yom Haatzmaut we planned a nice tiyul in the morning. Our family BBQ was at 3:00 PM, which gave us plenty of opportunity to enjoy the day. David Bellin, a friend and tour guide operator, recommended that we hike Nachal Katlav. The nachal is between Bet Shemesh and Jlem (through the back) and was perfect for our hike. We ate lunch at a precarious angle half way down the mountain. It was rocky, and rough and slightly strenuous. There was nana growing there and we found a couple almond trees as well. My eldest picked some wild beans and told me to eat them, slightly spicy and good.

The hike took us approximately 3 hours. We parked a car at the end, so we would not have to climb all the way back up. I heard the climb up is the fun part, but we passed on it this time. We got to the bbq on time and had a great time eating and playing around. There was very little traffic all the way home and we arrived before 10PM.

Special Prayer Session

One of the most contested things about Israeli Independence day among various religious sects is whether to say hallel and if so, with a bracha or without. Before moving to Israel, I had never celebrated Israeli Independence Day (though as I'm writing this, I seem to recall a BBQ at my parents house once). After I got here I joined a religious zionist community and started celebrating the independence. I have been going to special prayers every year since I got here, though I still haven't said hallel with a bracha. It's a lot more then just hallel, they add in a whole bunch of stuff including blowing the shofar at night and reading a haftorah (without a bracha) during the day.

This year after the bris, we had thought we were going to hang out with my aunt and uncle who are here (for the first time) on a mission. We couldn't get ahold of them right away so we decided to go to the kotel for a little bit. They called as we were driving to their hotel and told us that the group was doing something that evening, so they wouldn't be able to get together with us until the next day for the family BBQ. We realized after we hung up that their hotel was across the street from the parking lot, so we stopped in the hotel anyways and visited for a bit. We continued on our way to the wall and the kids were all complaining that they were starving hungry (apparantly they forgot you are supposed to eat at a bris) so we stopped for pizza (70 shekel a pie in the old city, איזה מכה.

We then realized that we would be right on time for special prayers at the wall, so we hurried on down. They were just finishing up the speeches and we watched as they raised the flag to full mast and put out the big memorial flame that had been burning next to the Wall throughout Memorial Day. We then proceeded to do special prayers. Special Prayers (which includes the normal evening service) was very, very long. The first part was read repetitively half of a pasuk by the chazzan and the other half by the people, sometime. They were chanting sefardically as well (though nobody slaughtered a goat) and tried to throw in the tune of Hatikva as many times as they could during the reading/chanting. Hallel took way too long. Did you know that you could do the entire hatikva tune for each הודו לה' כי טוב. I hadn't know it was possible.

We decided to leave immediately afterwards and did not stay for the dancing.

We got to my brother's in Modiin (where we were staying) around 11:00 PM and then we started the grill up. My brother made a rub for the grilled chicken that was a bit strong, it was based on spicy paprika. It was a good way to end the evening.

the bris

My brother's child had his bris on Memorial Day so we headed on down to jlem for the festivities. There is a dichotomy of emotions involved when memorial day meshes with a happy occasion, as you have to intertwine the seriousness of the day and the sensitivities of the people remembering their lost ones along with the happiness of the day.

The child was named Shoham Amitai. In my brother's speech he said that he didn't want to name after a dead person and especially not after someone who died so young, so he hinted at a friend of his who was killed in action during the Lebanon war, whose name was Amichai. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the name had to signify both Holocaust Day (the day of birth) as well as Memorial Day (the day of bris). Though my brother did not mention it (and probably doesn't know), the name Shoham hints at the holocaust as the Shoham Geriatric Center in Pardes Hanna is the home to the larget number of first generation Holocaust survivors in Israel.

May baby Hammy be zoche to Torah, Chuppah and good deeds.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

memorial day

Today is Memorial Day in Israel, whcih is noted in a different manner then Memorial Day in the US. This is a very solemn day, there are no big sales or BBQs, as most of the population in Israel has lost a loved one in Israel's wars. This is a day for visiting graves, of family or friends who you served with in the army.

I feel very much an outsider on this day, as I did not serve in the army and in my family only one brother served in the army and he made it out unharmed, thank God.

Last night, we went to the city's memorial service, which included the El Malei Rachamim, and a speech by one the city's rabbis as well as other people. The mayor did not get up to tell us how important he was, though the MC let us know. They have a slideshow where they mention all of the locals who were killed in Israel's wars. It is a very touching service, though a bit much for the little ones so we left in the middle.

Monday, April 27, 2009

word for single purpose item

In Hebrew I have often heard the term yehudi when talking about something that has a single use. For example, if I want my own server for something that would say it is a sherut yehudi.

The word yehudi means Jewish, and I thought it was funny that they would use that term in Hebrew to talk about designating something for a specific purpose. I have used the term myself and people have understood me.

Today I learned that the word that is used in not yehudi, Jewish, it is yeudi, designated. The difference in spelling is יהודי vs. ייעודי. Hebes (native hebrew speakers) don't always pronounce the hay, so they can sound the same.

I realized this when reading some literature and it suddenly struck me that the word they were using was the word tht I thought was something else.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

mazel tov

My little brother had a baby boy today. It is Holocaust day and the bris will be on Memorial Day. I wonder if the planning people did this on purpose. Anybody born on Yom Hashoah should have their bris on Yom Hazikaron.

They are going to need a name that will incorporate all of these events, such as Massuah or something similar.

Friday, April 10, 2009

the pesach seder

Seder was surprisingly fun. We ended up without any guests and the army never sent me the soldiers that I requested, so we were going to be alone. Seder is generally more fun with more people so we were a bit sad. We heard another family was without guests, so we invited them over. They turned us down and then invited us the next day. We agreed and invited them for lunch.

There are a number of different kinds of seder people. Some people read through the hagaddah quickly without commentary, other people discuss it, some people like to analyse every word and other families sing the whole thing. We like to discuss the hagaddah on the level of the children at the table, and the family we went to is more of a read it through kind. We didn't really discuss it, but we compromised as I interrupted the reading with questions and discussion points. I had prizes for the different age groups and the mixture of our 2 styles went very well.
I asked a couple difficult questions, one of which was partially answered by their teenage daughter who had been listening when I spoke to bnei akiva on shabbos. I hadn't given them the full answer, to the question I asked, but I was amazed that she was able to repeat what I had told them.

They brought a gift when they came for lunch and we hadn't brought a gift when we went to them, which is kind of awkward. Now we have to decide if we have to gift them back. The intricacies of human relations are always confusing.

One thing that is very different about where I grew up and where my children go to school is there is no focus on the hagaddah in my children's schools. I always came home with notebooks full of information on the hagaddah, as did my siblings. My children didn't know the first thing about it and I went through it a little bit before the seder with each of them so they would be prepared.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Blessing God for the sun

Every 28 years, on the day before Pesach, the sun is in the exact spot that it was on the day that God created it (at least according to Abaye). To celebrate this we say a special blessing to God, who creates things. My wife wore a yellow scarf in honor of the day.

Today was that day. The last time this happened I was 5 years old and I don't remember it. Today someone in shul asked me to remember him the next time I say the prayer. He just turned 60 and assumes he won't be around for the next time around.

I went to 2 sun blessing ceremonies, the first was at our shul after davening. Everyone went outside and said the bracha together. The second one was the community event, where there were speeches (The head of the religious party, an official rabbi and the mayor) and musical accompanyment. I went with the wife and children to that one.

If you haven't thought about it recently, just look up at say out loud, "Thank God for the sun"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

searching for chametz

Tonight begins the search for chametz. We do this even though my wife
has already been through the house and is sure that the house is ready
for Pesach. The odd thing is that sometimes we find chametz. This is
not, chas vshalom, a criticism on the cleaning efforts, this is a fact
of life. Some things get missed.

We should learn a life lesson from this process.

As we continue through life striving for perfection it is worthwhile to
stop and do a check and see if the part of your life that you have
"cleaned up" is truly clean or if there is still a bit of chametz lying
around. It is only when we take the time to do the check, as opposed to
all the time spent cleaning that we are able to find the missing spots.

This year after you finish your search for chametz, take a minute and
think of a way that you could finish a process of making yourself
better/cleaner spiritually/physically and how you would be able to do a
search afterwards to make sure that the process did not leave any spots

Have a great Pesach.

Monday, April 06, 2009

(non) kosher for pesach

I was talking to a co-worker about Pesach and what the company does on
Chol Hamoed. I believe they generally order from places that are not
kosher for pasech. My co-worker is not religious and does not keep
kosher, but he was concerned that there wouldn't be anything for him to
eat. He does not eat chametz on pesach. He doesn't necessarily keep
kosher during the holiday, in fact he told me one of his favorite pesach
foods growing up was matza, cream cheese and meat.

Very odd, but in my opinion it is better to keep Pesach wrong and at
least identify with your Jewishness then not to keep it at all.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

another false alarm

Today my wife called me that the air raid siren went off while she was
grocery shopping. She didn't hear the siren in the store but was told
about it by someone afterwards. They have already announced that it was
a false alarm and that they will be checking into the spate of false
alarms recently. According to one of our commenters, it is a natural
reaction by the radar watcher who were wrong on thinking that real ones
were false, which is understandable but still keeps us on edge.

My children are currently all out and about, the oldest one is who knows
where with a friend, and 2-4 were at the park with friends. They have an
older girl with them, but she's only 13. I hope they didn't completely
flip out, especially since they were at the park close to the siren.

bnei akiva peula

Bnei Akiva asked me to do a "peula" for them on Friday night. Peula means activity, but it is actually supposed to be an interactive discussion on any topic that I want.

I actually volunteered to be on the list of people they call, after they posted a letter in our shul lamenting how hard it was to get anybody to help them out and it was our responsibility to provide them with quality peulot and they posted a sign up sheet for anybody willing to give one. So I posted my name and a month later they called me.

The age group is high shool (15-18) and I recognized most of the kids by face, if not by name, and most of them knew who I was. I had heard a great Radio Lab a while ago which gave a situation that is perfect for a teenage discussion.

You are standing on a bridge and you see a train coming towards the bridge. You look behind you and see that the tracks are broken and end in a big pit. If the train keeps going it will fall in the ditch and kill or injure hundreds of people. There is no way for you to warn the train. You have 30 seconds before it arrives. Suddenly you notice a fat man sitting on the bridge over the tracks. Not just a regular fat man, huge. You know that if you push the fat man, he will fall on the tracks and stop the train. He will die, but all the other people will be saved.

Would you go over and push the fat man?

On Radio Lab they asked this question and alomost everyone said no. They then changed the question slightly.

You are on the same bridge, and see the same train going towards the same problem. This time there are a parallel set of tracks and the fat man is sitting on the parallel tracks with his back towards the train. Next to you is a lever and if you pull the lever you will switch the tracks that the train is going on and it will kill the fat man and save all the people on the train.

Would you pull the lever?

This time, a signaificant number of people answered yes.

So I put the question to the teenagers. The topic of my discussion was not, would you kill a man to save 500. It was on making decisions and what goes into them. I gave them both cases, they didn't see any real difference between the two cases and if a teenager is going to theoretically kill someone he would prefer to push him.

There were about 70 kids in the room,50 girls and 20 boys, sitting separately (who would have thought that would happen in BA), so it was easy to see the differences between boy responses and girl responses.
In the initial response, only 7 people answered, 5 wanted to kill him and 2 didn't. I explained to everyone that all of the rest decided not to make a decision, which was a decision in of itself.

I changed the role of the fat man a number of times to gauge the responses:
* What if the fat man broke the tracks dug the pit?
Suddenly a lot of the kids wanted to kill him and there were a bunch who decided that we shouldn't kill him, even though they hadn't decided not to kill him before (from the undecideds).
* What if he was your friend?
* What if you know he had 5 kids at home?
* What if your brother was on the train?
* What if he wasn't Jewish, but he was completely innocent, someone from Mexico that had never seen a Jew before?
Here a couple kids said that didn't see any difference if he was Jewish or not, and an argument broke out about whether his descendents would become terrorists.

To finish off, I explained to them that the facts of the situation remained the same during all of the scenarios. What changed was the emotional factor. I told them that we are always aking decisions and emotion plays a big part in it and that it is very important to understand ourselves and understand what pressures we are open to, and what our buttons were that cause us to react when pushed. I told them that if they did not understand what made them tick, then they were open to manipulation as soon as someone else figured out what buttons to push.

Finally I tied it into Pesach, and expalined that when God hardened Pharoah's heart, he removed the emotional equation. From a logical perspective, Pharoah still wanted to keep the Jews enslaved. However, he had reached a breaking point emotionally. God therefore removed the emotional factor from him so that he could finish showing Egypt, and the world, the rest of the plagues, until form a logical perspective they recognized that God ran the world and all of nature and decided that if God decided that the Jews should leave, he could take them.

I got mad reviews, everyone loved it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

lieberman and annapolis

Avigdor Lieberman, the new Foreign Minister of Israel, responded to
Tzipi Livni's speech, in which she berated him and everyone else in the
government, with a proverbial slap in the face.

Livni has been spent countless hours working on the Annapolis initiative
for peace, which was what the former government had based their peace
efforts on. However, this initiative was never ratified by any Israeli
government. The latest peace initiative that was ratified by the Israeli
government was the Road Map for Peace brought by the Quartet. Lieberman
started his first day in office by declaring Annapolis dead and buried
and declared that Israel would only be obligated to the ROad Map which
was approved by an Israeli government.

The Road Map for Peace has stages including obligations that the arabs
have to fulfill before Israel has to continue fulfilling. The reason why
Livni needed Annapolis was because Israel had already gone beyond its
obligations and the arabs hadn't done anything. In order to keep the
ball rolling towards ??peace?? Livni created a new initiative to
obligate Israel to more concessions without asking anything in return.

It's a good thing for the country that the only thing she can do now is
shriek from the opposition instead of continuing her policy of damage
towards Israel.

air raid siren

My wife just called that they are down in the bomb shelter again. She
didn't hear any booms and it was only a single siren. They were probably
cleaning the siren for Pesach when it went off by accident.

lone soldiers

We would like to invite 2 lone soldiers (חיילים\חיילות בודדים) for the first day of Pesach.
Does anyone know who to get in touch with?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

new government

Netanyahu presented his government yesterday and then he and Livni spoke. I prefer Netanyahu to Livni as prime minister, but I think he paid too large of a price. I also feel that the government is way too big. 1/4 of the Knesset members are ministers. Netanyahu's speech was very positive and he was constantly heckled by Kadima members. Livni's speech was bitter. There are no other words for it. She personally attacked everyone in the government, basically calling them a bunch of liars and thieves.

Livni is just a bitter old woman, crying that she received more mandates, so she deserves something.

Netanyahu did not mention the Kadima corruption in his speech, he thanked the former prime minister and did not wish him a comfortable prison cell. He did not talk aboout how crappy the last government was. One of the prices of victory is that it is very hard to attack the losers and make sure they stay losers for ever. Hopefully Netanyahu's government will actually do something positive in the next couple years.

Regarding the National Union - On one hand I'm sad that they were left out of the government, because I share a lot of the same ideas and plans as National Union voters. On the other hand, I'm happy they were left out because they are a bunch of backstabbing fools who don't know when to say enough. I feel that the NU and their voters are the epitome of "My power and the strength of my hand won for me this victory."

I'm also not happy that Labor is in the government. Barak is a crackhead and will probably be deposed of in the next Labor primary.

We'll see in the upcoming months if Lieberman is indicted for his crimes that have been investigated for the last 10 years. None of the facts have changed in 10 years, the issues just come out during election season. How odd is that.

Finally the Jewish Home, Daniel Hershkovitz's party settled for minister of Science. I really wanted education, but I guess science is part of education. Hopefully they can throw a bit of Judaism on the fire and have some spirituality and Zionism thrown back into the equation.