Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Intersection Issue

I was talking with some of the squints (I love that word, squints, thanks to "Bones") at work last week about GPS's. I don't think they work all that well in Israel because over here no one knows the names or numbers of the roads. Here, people identify where they are going according to the names of intersections. Now I have travelled over a lot of the Western world and this is the only place I have been to that no matter who you ask for directions, they will tell you "go 10 Ks down this road when you get to X junction take a left and then when you get to Y junction take a right". Should you wish to know the number of a highway, you are sure to just get those blank stares and an Israeli shrug (a wordless way of ensuring you understand its you thats the idiot).

No one at all knows names of highways. To get to Eilat you take a right at Tzomet Haravah. To get to work you tell people to come into Herzliya at Tzomet Hasirah and then take the first left and then the first right. So a GPS is useless unless it tells you what's the name of the junction you are approaching. Yes all these junctions have names, and no one thinks thats strange at all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Habit

Perhaps I am strange (of course I am not) but I am a creature of habit. You know what I hate. I hate it when someone takes my parking spot. In the underground parking here at work we have a bunch of parking spots assigned to our company and our neighbours on this floor. I have one I like. Its not the closest to the elevator. Its not the most secluded. Its not even the easiest to get into or out of. Its just one that I use all the time. I usually come in quite early and so its always free.

But, sometimes, I need to leave in the middle of the day or I come in a little later and then some inconsiderate fool will have taken MY spot. It makes me irritated and annoyed. So annoyed, I want to key the offending (usually a blue car belonging to the neighbours) vehicle. I never said I was perfect. I can see why most wars are fought over space.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ben Gurion's Worm Hole

I have discovered that there is a worm hole that extends from Israel to any airport where there is a flight to Tel-Aviv. Its an incredible piece of physics. Its well known that the measure of a good vacation is how not Israel the place is and how gut wrenching it is to leave. What is amazing is that Israel does not begin when the plane touches down at Ben-Gurion airport but as soon as you arrive at the check in counter to your flight to Israel. Its as if there is a virtual Israel that travels the world and appears (like Brigadoon) three hours before departure anywhere where there is a direct inbound flight.

After a week in Portugal and a day in Spain, we arrived at Madrid airport with pulse rates well below the norm. As soon as I saw the ELAL counter protecting my place in the line became paramount, maybe someone would cut me off. I even found myself worrying about whether someone would steal my vegetarian meal. Basically I was back in Israel. I waited patiently on the jetway and could not help listening to the heated argument between a Habadnic and the know all "learned" secular chap over whether the Gemara encourages investing in gold or in dollars (but certainly not in hard work). And what is it with Israelis and newspapers. Things came close to blows when it was discovered that someone had taken two copies of yediot and there were none left. People ould not wait to read the bad news from home. I don't know what came over me, I grabbed a Haaretz (in Hebrew) and would not let go, I hid it in the overhead bin and did not even read it - its not only a worm hole, it also gets you into the correct frame of mind.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Banging in Portugal

I have been trying to publish this for a few days, but using a cell phone modem in Portugal was so slow that it took about 10 mins to get to blogspot. The Cascais internet cafe was out of the question at 15euro an hour. Luckily Hotel Arosa here in Madrid has free wireless. This internet stuff is just not going to work out, I tell you. Here goes:

In order to save me poisoning the last uncynical mind in Israel, my team sent me on vacation to Portugal. Its hard to find things to complain about while going for scenic walks along the Atlantic coast, drinking fresh beer at the German Beer garden next door and admiring the fit Portuguese women, but I understand my responsibilities well.

Our hotel, is being renovated. They are rebuilding the forth and fifth floor from 7am to 7pm each day. I am not sure what they are doing but it messes with the quite necessary afternoon "drooling on pillow" naps. On our reservation form they promised that the "build work" would be done by last weekend. According to the Lonely Planet guide, the Portuguese have been proven the laziest people in the world (how do you prove this? see how many people are just too lazy to take the motivation survey?) so I should not be surprised. When Jo went to complain they looked at her innocently and agreed, yes, they will be banging from 7 to 7. No matter how sweetly she smiled they refused to comp us the 5.50e breakfast. Still, its hard to get too upset while I sit here on my balcony and gaze out at the English couple lying around the empty pool. Its been most enjoyable to watch the maintenance guys try fix the busted drain with a hose for the last three days.

Nice people here mind you. Although a few of the women working in the Tourist Information stops could definitely find a home as a cashier in our local supermarket.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Night Symphony

What is it with car alarms. Every night I am subjected to a veritable cacophony of sound. The weather has warmed up a bit and so we sleep with open windows. All night long when the local cats and dogs are not wailing, all you hear is the sound of various alarms. Who actually pays attention to these. They have become background noise to our lives. Even the leasing companies that we use at work have realized that noisy alarms do nothing - no one pays any attention. All the current cars have codes and various forms of immobilizer hardware, so happily no more running out in our pajamas with the remote to shoo away the cat that triggered an alarm.

But still, all night long we are subjected to the noise pollution. Surely people realize this is just useless. It rarely storms here but every loud clap of thunder is followed by a chorus of car alarms. Every Saturday afternoon, just as I teeter on the edge of a drool inducing nap, I realize something is bothering me. Yep, the annoying klaxon of one the neigbours alarms destroying the peace. The Friday night/Saturday afternoon symphony is particularly irritating because they are usually ceaseless. We have a lot of religious people around us and you know you can't turn off an alarm on the Sabbath - thats work, and its the day of rest.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Free The Electrons

Look closely at the picture. You think its simply the underside of a Pentium III processor, but look very carefully and you see it. Its a concentration camp. Look at the little dormitories and the guard houses, there, you can see the perimeter fence patrolled by vicious rottweilers. There is even a sparsely forested wood on the outside with snow covered trees. Its terrible. All day and night hard working electrons are being persecuted, I tell you. Let them free!!! Toiling all day tirelessly, calculating, adding doing direct mode operations. Its inhuman!!! They have no future, no joy, 700 million times a second answers are demanded. I bet there is even an "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign over the entrance.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I have recently noticed a new phenomenon. I call it spellingcheckitis. In the old days it was easy to recognize nonnative English speakers by the multiple spelling mistakes in their writing. Well, spelling checkers have gone and changed the whole identification process. Now the only time you find real spelling mistakes is when someone is too lazy to check their work or they are using their cell phone. Instead we are now flooded with emails that while spelled correctly, use the completely wrong word or grammar.

I am tired of seeing "bye the way", have instead of had and wear in place of where. Pre ubiquitous spellchecker days it was easy to get what people were trying to say. Now, because of the aggressive way that spellcheckers correct your writing, I often need to read something multiple time to understand what is meant. And I have not even begun to go off about chatspeak, what with C U, LOL and BTW. WTF!!!

Go and mess with your own language!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Call Waiting

We have a very advanced cell phone system here in Israel. Cell phones are so important here that they issue you one when you arrive at the airport. This is a country of talkers, and cell phones are key. In Israel there is two busy signals. The well know "beep...beep" when the phone is busy (you left the received off the hook, fool), and the unique "beep.beep...beep.beep" when the phone is busy but the callee has call waiting. The busy/call waiting signal is interesting. What it means is, yes, I have my phone, its not only working but I am currently using it.

So now the dilemma. Say you call someone and they are talking on the phone. You get the busy/call waiting tone. What do you do? Do you wait till they either answer you, telling you they are talking to someone else and go away or wait till you get their answering machine, or do you immediately hang up. The problem is that there is no standard. One more crucial piece of information is that the callee (who is currently enjoying a meaningful conversation) hears an annoying beep (or conversation dampening click on a land line) when someone calls and they are busy. Lets analyze this, the caller knows the person they are calling is busy, the callee knows someone is trying to call them. Now you either interrupt your call or ignore the caller, but you have to call back later because they know you are around.

This whole busy/call waiting signal is ridiculous. Just give the caller a normal ring tone and let the callee decide to interrupt their call or to ignore the caller and let them get to voice mail. All phones have caller ID so you know who is calling (leaving messages is so 80s anyway). The worst fall out of this additional tone is that some of us have obsessive compulsive people in our lives that once they know you are on a call and will not interrupt it, call back every 23 seconds for 10 minutes straight causing beeps and clicks and dropped words. Aggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Potato Chip Packet Theory

I have another theory. Only first world nations have the technology to make packaging that open easily. Take your average Cheetos packet for example. In Israel, as in the rest of the world, to open you grip both sides near the top and pull. And pull. And pull. Nothing happens. So you take a deep breath and pull really hard and the packet rips open and the tears in two and an orange snowstorm covers your keyboard and monitor. In the first world, they know how to make things that take a linear amount of effort to open. You pull just hard enough and the package opens sweetly along its perforated edge, just as anticipated. Not so in Israel. Nothing opens easily. They have the technology to pretend it should (its an 80% thing), there are perforations - they are just stronger than the rest of the package. Some packages even have a tab or V and wordage to "pull here" or "lift" - none of them work.

So what do we do. We use our teeth. To open your Cheetos, you grip one end in your teeth and pull. This is way more controlled than believing the documentation. We're an inventive lot us Israelis. One of the best things they make here are chocolate coated wafers (the Elite brand is best). In order to know how to open these without crushing the contents you need to have been in the army. You grab both sides of the packet with the perforated seam facing upwards, then sharply bend the your two hands towards each other, tenting the packet along the seam which will open cleanly. Its not easy living in the third world, but at least the wafers are good.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Supermarket Lines

I went to the supermarket to buy my usual for lunch. A few cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and such for my salad. We have two supermarkets and a spiffy new natural food store all within a few meters of work. I select my veggies in the veggie section, walk over to the bread section and buy two whole wheat rolls for Tal (its all she eats anyway) and go to the check-out lines.

As usual in these supermarkets all the the cashiers are busy, so I select to shortest line. I never go to the express lane because the cashier there sports a scowl that will cause my carrots to rot. Not that any of the cashiers are pictures of happiness. Most of them look like their on the job training was saying "neut" to shoppers in the bread line in Vladivostok. Anyway, we are not talking about cashiers today. So I patiently wait my turn, meditating on whether to first glue the finger braces before the X-brace, when I am jarred out of my reverie by a flash of sheer annoyance. The woman at the front of the line, having had all her goods swiped, and being presented with a total is only now fishing around in her bag for her chequebook. After much blind grouping she finally comes up with a beaten purse. She then painstakingly writes out the total and the supermarket name, asks for the total again, signs her name and finally hands over the scrap of paper. The next woman in line, when presented with her total, spends a good three minutes searching for her credit card, spends thirty seconds deciding she wants three payments and ignores the cashier when asked to sign because she is busy bagging her groceries. You get the message here.

Why is it that paying at the grocery store always comes as a surprise to these people. Surely after 50 years of doing this, they get the idea. You take your goods to the cashier, she figures out how much it will all cost and you pay. Get the damm cheque ready, take out your credit card while she is working, find your purse in the black hole of your bag, its is almost certain that you WILL have to pay -- so stop making me wait. This "gosh... I have to pay now" realization is nauseating for the rest of us in the line.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Basic Elevator Manners

Lets talk basic manners. When the elevator arrives at your floor, stand back and wait to see if there are people exiting, once they are out, you can go in. For some reason this trivial process is not understood here. Our building in the Herzliya Industrial Area has exactly three floors of offices (and at least three floors of parking lots below ground). I'll be minding my own business traveling to the ground floor, the elevator will jerk to a halt, the doors will strain to open and instead of a clear passage to the outside world, the way out will be blocked by some idiot singlemindedly focused on getting his pay cheque from the builders that live on the two upper floors. We then begin that strange dance where I move to my left to try squeeze past, like blocking line-backers they always move to their right to ensure you cannot escape. We play this game right-left-right vs. left-right-left for a few seconds till they just barge in. They are usually talking on their cell phone while all this goes on.

Why is it so difficult to just stand back and wait to see if there is anyone in the elevator? I suppose in this world of ego, its inconceivable. If you are waiting expectantly and blocking the elevator door, can't you take a step back when you see there are people wanting to exit? Is there some game I do not know of that gives bonus points for entering the elevator first? I especially like the look of disgust you get for daring to break their world view and actually daring to be in the elevator when they did not expect it. Its just plain rude.

They usually smell of cigarette smoke, but thats another issue.