Friday, May 13, 2016

Tough Week

It's been a very tough week. I notified my UK squints that we were closing the UK offices and that our work together as a team would soon be over. It's particularly hard as they are excellent engineers and while I understand the corporate strategy, I still struggle with the human (and material) cost. I have no idea what this means for bwo and I. I suppose it will be back to Israel sometime in the nearish future, but when is not clear at this point. I would like to spend more time in the UK as I really like it here. The weather agrees with me and it's heaven for the dog (walking the dog is where I seem to spend a lot of my free time). But I will first get my team organized before I can think about my future.

All in all I cannot complain. It has been a marvelous three years here and I have learned and grown. I don't know of many other companies that would have supported me as well during this relocation. I can really only blame myself at this point for lack of future clarity. Over the years I have moved away from the hands on technical work that is indispensable and become just another management drone. While I have been writing a lot of code for the archaeological season and have worked out how to get some of the data accessible from the cloud, programming has become a hobby. Still, it has been fun and challenging. So finding the kind of job I dream about could be hard.

One of my first thoughts when all this became clear was that everything would fall slap bang in the middle of the Megiddo dig, as it indeed seems it will. The UK has some strict laws governing site closures and we will undergo an extended period of consultation only after which the team will be let go. Seeing as I belong to a different geo, my story is way more complex, and is completely unclear at the moment.

All in all, it sucks and I have had trouble staying focused this week. I'm not the only one. At least the typical post apocalyptic black humor is always better in an English accent. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Bank Holiday

It's a "Bank Holiday" weekend, an English public holiday, so we have Monday off. Bwo is still in San Diego bonding with her family, so I have been out walking. Yesterday (Sat) I did the "Epsom Downs and Walton on the Hill" walk on ifootpath. It was wonderful. We watched race horses galloping by in training and came across foxes, rabbits, squirrels, deer and all sorts of birds on the footpaths. It was pretty cold early in the morning with some frost, but Roxy and all the wildlife seem to love it. The only downside was that dogs must be kept on a lead before 12 noon due to the horses. The walk took us past Walton on the Hill and this is where I want to live, I think. It's lovely little town surrounded by open fields and rolling hills.

This morning Roxy and I walked down to Richmond Park and Isabella Plantation. The flowers are not in full bloom yet, perhaps another week, but it is still very colorful. We were the only two there at 7am this morning, so it was absolutely quiet with only the sound of the birds. We sat for about a half hour by the little lake just breathing. Spring is really something in this country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


It's been a tough few weeks here in squintland. Layoffs are happening all over the world and good people are now out looking for jobs. Of course, those of us on this side of the ocean are still waiting to hear our fate, although I am not optimistic. So it's been a stressful time for all. Bwo is off with her San Diego family in sunny California, and it snowed here yesterday. I know I should be down and depressed, but honestly, I am fine. Change is good and maybe it's about that time for us.

On top of it all I started watching Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe on Netflix while lazing around last weekend. I was a little disappointed with all the CG and "pyrotechnics" at first but by the second episode I was hooked. There is nothing like huge existential questions like "Why are we here and where do we come from" to put this short stay on earth into proportion. The immense size, diversity and age of our universe is just so mind boggling that the every day issues like employment seem to pale in comparison. I have since watched his Wonders of Life and started on the Wonders of the Solar System last night. These have really helped keep me grounded. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

10 Israeli Whys

i. Why is it that drivers here feel they need to "take an option" on the next lane while driving. What is wrong with the lane you are in that you need to have 10% of your car in the adjacent lane? Pick a lane and go with it.
ii. Why do drivers here feel that they need to swing half their car into the adjacent lane when making a U-turn at a traffic light? There is enough room usually to make the turn without encroaching into my lane and nearly wiping me out.
iii. Why is it that our Israeli ISP is not able to get the whole static IP address thing together? They are as useless as BT in the UK.
iv. Why is it that lawyers never call you back unless it's about your payment?
v. Why is it that the squints here in Haifa seem unable to handle the simple task of flushing the toilet, not to mention using the brush to clean up after?
vi. Why is it that the bathroom next to our bedroom, downstairs in our apartment, has only a cold water faucet? Would it have cost that much extra to put in hot water?
vii. Why does the Coke machine at squint central Yakum only have Coke and Coke Zero? Diet Coke is the second best selling soft drink in the world but it's missing in Yakum.
viii. Why has BA changed from an A320 to a 777 on my usual routes to and from Heathrow? I'm not complaining, but it's a whole lot more annoying people in one place.
ix. Why does it seem that each time I come back to Israel I seem more disconnected and it's harder to find sense in what I do?
x. Why are borekas just so delicious?


Monday, April 4, 2016

The Sculpture Park

This past weekend we went to The Sculpture Park in Churt (near Farnham in Surrey). It's well worth a visit. There are hundreds of bits of art scattered between the trees in a wonderful woodland setting. The weather was perfect on Saturday morning and even better was lunch at Bel & The Dragon, a very nice country inn across from the park's entrance. Both the food and the beer were excellent. We had a good day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

She's 4 today

Roxy is four today. It's probably not her actual birthday, we don't really know that date, but after she was rescued the vet guessed she was born some time in late March, early April of 2012. So we picked April 1. She has been a gift to all the family. She is a good dog. According to my Fitbit we have walked somewhere in the region of 7500 Kilometers together. She has loved every step. She has chased hundreds of rabbits, caught tens of thousands of balls, cost thousands in vet bills and every second has been pure joy. She does not complain in the rain or snow or frost, she love dips in the river and rolling in the muddy puddles and she loves anyone who just looks at her with fondness.

She has given us so much more than we could ever return. We did not buy her anything fancy or make some sort of stupid doggy cake. Roxy and I just went out for her favorite walk, through the copse, down cutthroat alley, past the playground and next to the horse pasture, onto St. Georges Field with the ball, then onto the big field chasing the ball and flying as high as she could, had a hundred pee stops, through the gap and into the Thames (she lost the ball in the river and sadly watched it float away in the strong current) back home past Ham House and onto the avenues. Once home she got her two treats and lots of water.

A good girl.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Weekend

It's been a good Easter weekend. Except for a quick ride to Hounslow to drop off bwo I have not had to drive since Thursday evening, this is splendid. Rather I walked a lot in the area. The weather has been very strange. It hailed yesterday and 10 minutes later the sun was out and the sky blue. This morning Roxy and I went out in torrential rain and hurricane force winds, by this afternoon I had to take off my North Face as the sun warmed my back, and now it's dark and pouring again.

I spent a while doing some stuff I had put aside for too long. I played with my Raspberry Pi. I set up the camera and my first project will be a wildlife camera. I am still researching how much juice it will need and if one of those external phone batteries will do the job. It's a cool little computer (I bought the Pi 3 - it's the British thing to do). For £30 you get this excellent little computer. With a power supply and SD card and case and camera it comes to closer to £50, but it's a great thing to play with and I'm working on improving my Python.

Besides doing some reading I also watched Michael Pollan's (of Omnivore's Dilemma fame) Cooked on Netflix. I was not too impressed with the first episode, but the next three were all excellent. Definitely worth a watch. All in all his major point is that we should spend more time in the kitchen cooking. He makes a great case, much of which I always believed and agree with. He has harsh criticism for the food industry, who's goals, he claims are to get us to cook less and buy more prepared food as it's more profitable.

Today is bwo's birthday. I am very grateful to have her in my life. I watched a TED talk by the guy who runs the Harvard Study that has followed people for 75 years. He came to the conclusion that happiness comes from being connected to others. Having people you can rely on, not being lonely, close connection to family and friends is what made people the happiest (you can watch the 12 minute video here). Sounds simple and obvious, but I know how lucky I am to have someone who will stick by me through thick and thin. As bwo and I grow older, we have our differences, but underneath it all there is deep love. Happy birthday bwo, have a happy, healthy year. Let this year be the best so far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Favorite Tree

My current favorite tree is this giant Ceder of Lebanon in the little forest on the corner of River Lane and the tow path. I visit it every day and am just amazed at is stateliness and majesty. It must have seen a whole lot in its life along the river. The pictures really suck and don't do it justice. Come see it for yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Toad Crossing

One of the most splendid thing about the British is their loves for signs. There is a need to explain things, politely mind you, to everyone. I came upon this one a few days back on our walk through Richmond Park. Each spring the road just past Ham gate is closed for "migrating toads". It's just lovely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Dozen Reflex Loathings

I have been listening to Bill Bryson's latest book "The Road To Little Dribbling" while in the car. I used to think he tries too hard to be funny, but I like this book because he comes across as even grumpier than I am. I particularly liked his notion that "everyone should be allowed a dozen or so things that they dislike without having to explain or to justify to anyone why". He calls these "reflex loathings". His include such things as kettles without an indicator light and people who call an invitation an invite. The has 15 by the way but he justifies this as it's his concept and therefore he can have extras. These cannot be rational dislikes, like traffic jams or Donald Trump. They have to be things that some people will disagree with.

So here are some of mine:

  1. Things that auto-format text for you (like this blogging app) and force you to go to all sorts of tricks and hacks to get things to look the way you like.
  2. People who cannot figure out how to open the toilet doors on an airplane. Worse yet those that don't lock the door.
  3. The Grateful Dead.
  4. Microwaves with dozens of useless buttons. All you need is the 30 second full power increment.
  5. Vegetables that start with A.
  6. Confusing public place doors that do not have an obvious push or pull action. Put a damn handle on the door if you want me to pull and a push plate if I should push.
  7. People who put the lid down on the toilet after use (This is a UK thing, I always think there will be a nasty surprise waiting for me when I lift the lid).
  8. Family videos (especially having to watch those of my in-laws) and most other peoples personal photos.
  9. Any email, whatsapp, SMS that is more than 3 words of Hebrew.
  10. The Archers. Oh and Game of Thrones.
  11. Sitting idle at the table (in a house or a restaurant) after a meal.
  12. Weird fruity drinks (such as banana, apple and raspberry juice). My wife loves these.
That's my current dozen and I reserve the right to change them at will. Give it a try.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Having a Ball

After a long week of driving around the UK, I decided to remain in Richmond this weekend. All those orange cones were getting me down. It's been pretty misty of late, probably due to the weak spring sun warming the cold air. When I set out with Roxy early on Saturday morning, we took our usual morning route through the copse towards the river. As I walked down past the bin, I saw a nice brightly colored tennis ball and stooped to pick it up. It's the archaeologist in me - I cannot walk by anything interesting and not stop to examine it and to see its origins and purpose. Hmm, I noticed a few more balls on the path to the little green which on further inspection in the dim morning light was littered with hundreds of tennis balls (see above, this was after many of the balls had been removed by passers by). Roxy ran around picking one up then dropping it to pick up another obviously better one which she would drop at my feet, then run off to pick up another. It was all rather mysterious. I mentally build a hypothesis, I reckoned it's the kids who had found a batch of balls in one of the school yards around and decided it would be fun to launch them all over the field. I once found hundred's of golf balls, obviously pilfered from somewhere, strewn across St.Gorges Field near Ham house. At this point in the story (let's call him) Fred appeared.

Now Fred is not the most popular on the copse. He has two dogs, nice dogs (there are no bad dogs, only bad owners, you know) if a little boisterous. We chat about the weather for a moment (this is England after all) and I gesture to the balls with a shrug. He tells me it he who put them out. "Why?" I ask. "Oh they don't bounce so good any more, and people seem to like em" he answers and strides off shouting at his two dogs (as usual). This is Interesting. I picked a few shiny yellow ones, put them in my pockets and walked on, much to Roxy's disgust.

Some background on Fred. I think he's a postman or something. At least that was what (let's call her) Mary, who has a giant black dog, tells me. She hates him. He shouted at her once and she feels he treats her and her huge (gobby) black dog without respect. Bwo and I met her on our way back from my second walk later in the morning. Many of the balls had indeed been removed, but there was still a decent number on the field. Mary seemed quite OK with the balls littering the field until she found out just who had put them out there. Then she was livid. This is not the first time it has happened it seems. As you can see above, Roxy finds the politics of the copse less than interesting. All she wants is someone, anyone to throw the damn ball.   

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orange Cones

What is with this British love of orange cones? There are millions (I am not kidding, millions) of these littering the highways and byways of the UK. On the M3 going west there is maybe a 15 miles or orange cones, and I have never ever seen a single workman doing anything on that stretch. I have noticed that they have a strange work pattern here when it comes to cones and roads. About three days before they plan to do anything, they block off the road and put down dozens of cones to inconvenience as many people as possible. They then leave them there for a few days, probably for us to "get used" to the idea that the road will be partially blocked for a while. The workers then appear for a few hours one day and dig a hole and scratch around in the dirt, before filling the hole and leaving. The cones then stay around for a week or so, to show us that work has been done.

If this was Israel I would be convinced that the importer of cones was somehow connected (family or friend) of the Minister of Transport, but, of course, that would not be British. Still I am amazed at the sheer number of orange cones that surround us here. Most people don't even notice them any more. They have become part of the scenery and the British are a patient lot. In fact in 1992 then Prime Minister John Major implemented a "Cones Hotline" to allow frustrated motorists to report areas where cones had been deployed for no apparent reason. It shut down in 1995 due to lack of interest by the public (actually was renamed/re-purposed the Highways Agency Information Line or HAIL) and was largely considered to be a waste of public funds. It appears "Cone Syndrome" is now used to describe a piece of legislation that seems to serve no purpose (thanks Wikipedia). 

Last night on the way back from collecting bwo from Heathrow, as we entered the M3, we caught a glimpse of yellow jacketed men setting out more cones. They were actually moving the cones from being in a straight line along the highway to rows of three to five cones perpendicular to the highway. Maybe they just don't have anywhere to store the billions of cones they have so they just keep moving them from motorway to motorway. These looked exactly like the cones I saw on the M11 on my way to Cambridge last week.

Petersham Road has had it's fair share of cone work in the last three years. I have probably spent more than a day in total, waiting in serious traffic and having to maneuver around construction obstructions in the road. It's a busy road and the main artery between the transportation mecca of Richmond (underground, overground and SW Trains) and the shopping mecca of Kingston (Primark and pound shops, just ask bwo or look at our Visa bill). But every so often (for example, two nights back) the cones come out. I very rarely see any yellow Hi-Viz jacketed workers, but in the morning there they are, cones aplenty. Like fairy circles except orange and in the road. 

Just wait till I get started on the "Temporary Traffic Signals". Now there's a completely British phenomenon. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Elstead Common

Took a walk today on Elstead Common. It was very cold, but very, very nice. Both Tikva and Roxy seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Passport Perils

What is it with the women in my family and their passports? I'm not sure how to tell this tale, should it be based chronologically or on the personalities involved? I think I'll go with personality.

First personality is blackdaughtero. On her way to South America a few weeks back, bdo left Israel via London. She gets to the airport and it appears her Israeli passport has expired. She forgot to check (although we had spoken about this months before). They want 1500NIS ($350+) to issue a passport at the airport, which she (or rather I) refuses to pay so they somehow let her leave on her US passport. No problemo she says, I will use my US passport in my travels and all will be good. Bdo spends time and money in London with the Boyf and Shir her travel partner and a week later jets off to Buenos Aries. As she arrives at passport control in Argentina they a demand $160 "reciprocity" fee. It seems all US, Canadian and Australian citizens need to pay this in advance in order to enter Argentina (it seems these countries charge Argentinians to enter, hence the "reciprocity"). Israelis do not have this issue, they are happy to have anyone come to Israel and be ripped off by the general public rather than the govenment. Of course, bdo is outraged, tears flow (I assume), so somehow they let her in on her expired Israeli passport. Turns out that her hostel is next door the Israeli Consulate in Buenos Aries and she gets a new passport in a jiffy at a cost of something like 100NIS. Only bdo.

Second story is blackwifeo's. Last time she left Israel (Dec) seems to everyone's surprise her passport had expired (In November 2015). They let her out on her US passport (sound familiar?) and told her she should renew it in London. After the sad news about Auntie Masha on Sunday, bwo decides she must go back to Israel post-haste. When I drop her at Heathrow Sunday night she is convinced they will let her back into Israel even though her Israeli passport has expired, as she always has the US one for backup. I get a frantic call an hour before her flight is about to take off saying she cannot find her US passport (actually it was more like a text "I LOST my passport. May not let me on the flight"). She used it to get past security but between there and the gate her passport had disappeared. She did no shopping (strange in itself). She runs up and down the airport, back to security, unpacks her bags, searches her pockets (women have no pockets - this is the problem) but no luck. So now all she has is her expired Israeli passport in a country where following the rules is next to godliness. But bwo soldiers on,  she tells her sob story to the ground crew at the boarding gate, and believe it or not they now cheat the system and enter her Israeli passport info to get on the plane, but they have to force it to expire in the future, in fact the following day, or else the system will not let her past the pre-flight passport check. She boards the plane and on arrival in Israel they seem understanding of her plight and let her in. She has an appointment at the US embassy tomorrow and will then go to the Ministry of Interior to get her Israeli passport renewed.

I mean really. What? Are we new at this travelling game?

Monday, February 29, 2016

An Aunt

Auntie Masha passed away yesterday. She was an amazing woman. There were many things that made her special: she was an amazing cook (her cooking is one of the things I missed most when I turn vegetarian), she was well-read, interested in the world, and had views and opinions, she was nobody's fool. She did have the most unbelievable hearing. In the old days she would be in her kitchen in Rehov Shwartz and hear every word we whispered to each other on the balcony on the other side of the apartment, with the door shut. She was always a slight, slip of a woman, who got even slighter over the last few years, but she had a strong heart. Auntie Masha and Uncle Gus sort of adopted me when I first arrived in Israel as a fool-hardy, innocent and oblivious youngster of 17. They opened their arms and made their home in Raanana, my home. They were always there for me during those confusing days of early adulthood. I was so fortunate to have them.

I looked through my old pictures to see if I could find a defining picture of Auntie Masha. Of course, I couldn't. Firstly I only have digital pictures on my machine here, and those were the days of Kodak Instamatics and getting pictures "developed" the store on the corner of Borahov. Any picture like that would be somewhere in our myriad of boxes stored somewhere in the world. I did find the following picture. On second thoughts I decided not to post it. I am sure Auntie Masha would have hated it. She really was one of a kind.

She will always be Auntie Masha to me. I could never image any of my nieces or nephews call me "uncle", but Auntie Masha deserved the respect. She earned it over thousands of cups of coffee and Broadway 100s.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Bus

Most people who have worked for me have heard the "bus speech" more than once. The short version goes something like, "You know, life is like a long bus ride. People get on the bus with you, some people get off. Some ride a long way, some are only on for a few stops, but whether they sit next to you for miles or just stand in the aisles, they all add something to the journey". I have been fortunate in my life to have had some amazing rides with some very special people. Today I had the good fortune of meeting up with some of the Israeli Squints that are and have been on that bus with me.

We had lunch at a pasta place down the road from the Salt Mines. Many of my co-passengers on these bus rides came from all over to share their time. It was great seeing them. They are all doing well in life and work. They are what make this country special to me. I have been very lucky to be able to share my travels with them. (I hope they don't get upset that I posted a picture - we know the camera steals your soul). 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I'm always amazed just how noisy life is in Israel. The Petersham house, while on a busy street between Kingston and Richmond, and directly under the Heathrow flight path when the wind is right, is so quiet. When it rains in the UK, which is quite often, we can never tell and I have to go look out the window in the morning to see if I need my rain gear. Last night, the rain started here in Raanana some time in the evening and went off and on all night. I could hear every raindrop. I hear the neighbors cars arriving and their arguments over how he does not talk nicely (hmmmm). Yes, we now have neighbors all around and opposite and below. I hear their kids coming home in the early hours on the weekends. But mostly it's the elevator that really bothers me.

You know when you move to a new house after 15 years there are bound to be some new noises. The creaks and bangs are different. The doors squeak at a different frequency and the cat's meow echos weirdly. Our new room is on the lower floor, near the kitchen and lounge dining room. We picked this room, because it's smaller and seeing as we are living over the water, it seemed a good idea to let the kids have the upper floor and bigger rooms. What I did not realize is that the wall our bed is against, is right against the lift (elevator) shaft. Every time anyone uses the elevator I hear the door open and close, the whir of the machinery and the door open and close again. Sometimes it starts with the whir then he doors. I can now tell whether it's stopping at the first or second floor. Luckily our building only has two floors and eight apartments, so it's not like being next to the elevator in a 20 story hotel, but still.  

Buckets of Broccoli. Leagues of lettuce.

The Hebrew Squints and I did some volunteer work this morning. We went to help out Leket, an organization that does amazing work feeding the needy with "left over food". Apparently it all started with an American New Immigrant who started collecting left over food from restaurants, then supermarkets and cafeterias, then on to surplus agricultural produce. They are mostly volunteer supported, with a lot of volunteers (55K says the website) and they produce over 1.5 million meals yearly. I particularly like that they don't let food go to waste. 

We arrived to find huge crates filled with lettuce and broccoli, which we had to pack into smaller more manageable trays to be shipped around the country to soup kitchens, schools and other places of need. We then moved onto beetroot and radishes. My fingers were destroyed after two hours, but as usual, I am proud of my squints work ethic. They worked, and worked. We were the first group to arrive and the last to leave. It was good fun and I think we all left feeling we had done something good.


Sunday, February 21, 2016


Alon posted a pointer to this "NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert" and I have watched it five times over the last few days. It makes me so happy. The joyful, smiling cellist, and the semi-serious one in the middle and the Marge Simpson one drumming on the end are so cool. And then there's the dude. I love it, It's one of the best things I have seen on the internet for ages. Watch to the end.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Home Again

I arrived in Israel yesterday afternoon after a pleasant and emptyish flight. I whipped out of the airport, collected my rental car and zoomed home all in about 40 minutes from row 35D to front door. I like coming home to this new apartment. The boy (bso) had actually gone shopping and moved all the junk that had collected out of my office. All in all the apartment here on HaHayil street is light and airy. It now has enough of "the look" that it feels like home. It was great to see bso. He is in good spirits, having done well at university this semester and enjoying the time off. I did the family rounds last night for dinner and after. All are doing OK, except my aunt who is not doing at all well. I hope this week goes well for her. The strain on her children, my cousins, is enormous. Sigh!, all around us people are getting old and health becomes more and more central.

Well I am happy to be here in the holy land, but I do miss bwo.