Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Israelis cannot trust Obama

An open letter to President Obama from Avi Ifergan, father of Alma (5), Shira, (3), Netta (1).
Rehovot, Israel

Dear Mr. President,

Earlier this month, your Secretary of State told a forum of Jewish leaders that 'sometimes friends need to tell each other the hard truth'. Well Mr. President, allow me, on behalf of my people, to return the courtesy. You have always been rhetorically supportive of Israel, but the incongruence of your actions in the first year of your presidency have left us Israelis, and Jews worldwide, scratching their heads in bewilderment. Mr. President, here's the hard truth from an Israeli father of 3 daughters, under the age of 6.

No we can't take any chances when it comes to the physical security of our land, our people or my girls. There exists no room for error. Security is the primary priority. You see, we learn from our history, and it teaches us a simple truth:

No we can't count on the promises or protection of other nations when our people face an existential threat. The world watched, immovable, as we were slaughtered by the Nazis; In every decade of Israel's existence, its neighbors, or the Palestinians waged war on us, and the world watched in relative silence. In the years after the so-called Oslo Peace Treaty, the world remained silent as Israelis faced hundreds ofPalestinian suicide bombings, stabbings, drive-by shootings, and kidnappings. The world did however feel free to openly criticize us when we set up check posts and built a security fence to protect ourselves.

No we can't understand how, in 2006, when over 4,000 Hezbollah missiles rained down on a third of the Israeli population, the leaders of the world found it important to criticize Israel's military reaction. Similarly we read their criticisms that were splashed across the headlines of the global media during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008. They remained silent during the preceding 6 years that the Kassam rockets from Gaza forced Israel's Southern population to sleep in bomb shelters, and did not commend Israel's military restraint. Of course, that changed as the Israeli military went into Gaza to locate and destroy the Hamas rocket launchers.

No we can't believe that you would expect your governments to react any differently, if you and your children were faced with the similar threats.

No we can't stomach the thought of a holocaust-denying, Hezbollah- and Hamas-funding Iranian President, who in the same breath openly states that his intentions are for Iran to achieve nuclear capabilities, and for the destruction of the 'Zionist entity'.

No we can't imagine you doing anything more than proposing more painful sanctions on Iran - and what do you call it - 'containment'? This is where he ends up getting the nuclear weapons he seeks, right?

No we can't accept a divided Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, and of the Jewish people. It is not 'the third holiest city', as it is for the Moslems. It is the only holy city of the Jewish people. It has been so for over 2,000 years. Since coming under Israeli sovereignty all religions have been able to visit and practice openly and freely. Oh - and you should know that the 'Waqf', those Palestinians who control the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, do not allow any other religions, Jew or Christian, to pray there. I even hear that swaying or the silent moving of the lips is forbidden.

So, no we can't have friends dictating to us where in Jerusalem we can or cannot build - or feeling insulted when we do as we please in our own land.

No we can't believe that giving the Palestinian people a land of their own is such a high priority on your foreign policy agenda. Considering their civil rights and terrorist track-record, and the growing influence of Hamas as the likely ruling party. Mr. President, did you know that when the Palestinian Authority came to power in 1994, the first piece of legislation that it passed was the death penalty for any Palestinian who sells land to Jews. Over 100 Palestinians have died, under sentence or extra-judicially, for such sales in the last 15 years. Is this the 'two-state solution' that you imagine?

No we can't comprehend why you would spend the first year of your presidency hugging, bowing and warming to those shining leaders of freedom and democracy Venezuela's Chavez, King Abdullah ofSaudi Arabia, or Mubarak of Egypt. I know you're aware of the brutality and lack of freedoms in such non-democracies - the beheadings, the inability of a woman to bear witness in court, or to simply drive, the lack of tolerance when it comes to people who are different - be it culture, religion, or sexual orientation.

And No we can't understand why ,in Israel, where the opposite is true, where Arabs enjoy more freedoms than in any Arab country in the world - freedoms of speech and expression, the press, religion, tolerance to the gay and lesbian community, gender equality, you choose to make a big deal about Jews building in their holiest city - Jerusalem? We're an easy target, we know, but please, how about finding something more substantial to make an issue of - and about a non-democracy.

No we can't fathom why on earth you don't get us Israelis yet. We Israelis and our governments have repeatedly
demonstrated an unwavering commitment to peace, and a willingness to pay a high price for it. In 1947, we accepted the UN's 'two-state' resolution on the partition of Palestine, despite the fact that we would not have had any control of Jerusalem or the surrounding neighborhoods; The Arabs rejected it, and instead 6 Arab nations declared war on our fledgling state. In 1979 we gave up a piece of land greater than the size of the state of Israel, the Sinai, for peace with Egyptians. In 1999, we unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to set up its bases in our stead. A year later, Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians 'the deal of the century' - 97% of the West Bank, 100% of the Gaza strip, the dismantling of 63 settlements and agreeing that the East Jerusalem neighborhoods would become the capital of their new state. This too, was rejected by the Palestinians. In 2005, Israeli PM Sharon, without negotiations or demanding of concessions, unilaterally pushed through his disengagement plan that led to the dismantling of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and 4 in the West Bank.

No we can't trust you....yet. Trust is earned. You see, Mr. President, I teach my girls to pay little attention to words and close attention to deeds. My people have demonstrated by deed that we are willing to pay a high price for peace and security. On more than one occasion you have said that you are committed to Israel's security and will not tolerate a nuclear-capable Iran. Now it's your turn to match your words with deeds. A two-state solution with the Palestinian people is of little relevance if Iran achieves its nuclear goals.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Standard curricula

There was interesting thread recently in the Israeli Linux mailing list talking about digital educational content - one of the opinions in favor of the current, paper model - explained that the textbook industry exists for a reason.

1. I think an argument against competitive alternatives on the basis of an incumbent industry's economic interest is, to say the least....weak.

The Israeli textbook industry is a racket. This thread would not be happening if our children would be learning from standard paper textbooks. Virtually all of the K12 educational content from math to science to language was invented over 100 years ago - which means that there is no functional justification to recreate the content in different forms (workbooks, experimental programs etc...) every year and throw out the content just to generate more revenue for the folks who feed off the Ministry of Education pork barrels.

Israel can save billions by using and recycling standard paper textbooks. I'm talking about impact on family budget, if you factor in impact on the environment of throwing out 5-10 million workbooks every year- then it looks really bad. After we standardize, then we can talk about a OKLP project (One Kindle per Little Person) project.

2. To set the record straight: there are free digital content (i.e. music and video) business models. All of the artists on MySpace music, Garageband and now the big studios provide free content as a way of promoting live performances, movie tickets and paid-for content - whether in a VOD subscription model, pay per track or pay per view.

3. The Israeli Ministry of Education is teaching technology in the classroom instead of using technology to teach. The worst example I can think of is (and I kid you not) a program in first grade to teach children how to use Microsoft Windows Paint.....


On Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 9:47 AM, Jonathan Ben Avraham wrote:

On Tue, 8 Sep 2009, Dov Grobgeld wrote:

Date: Tue, 8 Sep 2009 09:40:58 +0300

From: Dov Grobgeld
To: Jonathan Ben Avraham

Subject: Re: eTextBooks (for kids)

That argument is like the arguments against writing free software because it
will put the software vendors out of business. It is clear that the interest

No, it's a very different argument. The correct analogy here is music. The content market is not the same as the sotware market. There is a free software market, but there is no free content market. And the main reason is that there is a revenue model for free software, but no revenue model for free content.

- yba

of the consumer is to have the information available for free, and if
someone wants to volunteer their time to provide this information for free,
then all the more respect to them. Of course this will make the publishers
unhappy, and they'll have to compete harder to have someone pay for their

But this is all hypothetical as I have yet to hear about any such project.


2009/9/8 Jonathan Ben Avraham

Hi All,
Don't forget that there is a large industry of authors and publishers who
make their living on the current paper book model. Like music, this is a
content market whose reason for existence is payment for content.

I think that a better idea for a free education project in this direction
would be an online publishing house the would sell kindle style versions of
the current content offering.

- yba

On Mon, 7 Sep 2009, Dov Grobgeld wrote:

Date: Mon, 7 Sep 2009 21:22:37 +0300

From: Dov Grobgeld
To: Dotan Cohen
Subject: Re: eTextBooks (for kids)

This reminds me of a "public service" project that I have thought about
some time. It would be nice if someone created some free (as in license)
books that would pass the requirements of the education ministry. These
could then be downloaded as e-books or printed, copied partially,
photocopied, translated, modified, read in audioform, etc, which would be
great service to the all kids and parents.

Just my 2 ag,

On Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 14:06, Dotan Cohen wrote:

Is there a place to buy electronic versions of textbooks for (israeli)

school children?
The schools don't have places for kids to keep their books on premises,


they have to schlep all their books all day long. They are heavy. I'd
rather they carried a small laptop or e-book reader.
Any ideas?

You are ahead of your time. What grade are the kids in? You should
know that the books are likely used for more than reading, for
instance they may have to write in the book.

You should also know that Education Ministry limits the sacks on one's
back to 10% of their body weight. If your kid's books and a reasonable
pack exceed this, complain to the school management. Keep us informed.

Dotan Cohen

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The role of pasta in software development

According to the Military Health Research Forum (MHRF) 2009 - and an article published on MedScape Medical News
high-carb and/or high-fat diets can improve cognitive performance.

I guess that means - pasta eaters make better programmers - just like milk drinkers make better lovers

September 1, 2009 — Diets high in carbohydrates or fat can lead to significantly better cognitive-performance and inflight-testing scores in pilots than diets high in protein, according to results reported in a poster presentation at the Military Health Research Forum (MHRF) 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri.

In addition, a high-carbohydrate diet helped study pilots sleep better, and a high-fat diet appeared to lead to significantly faster short-term memory.

"We started out thinking that the high-protein diet would lead to being the sharpest afterward," said colead investigator Glenda Lindseth, RN, PhD, licensed registered dietician and professor of nursing at the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks. "But we were surprised by our findings that it was actually the high-carb or high-fat diets that were the best. Eating a diet that's high in protein just isn't going to help you perform optimally."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Creativity and learning

One of the most annoying things for me is thinking how the Israeli school system misuses technology in the service of education.

The Israeli Ministry of Education teach technology in the classroom instead of using technology to teach. In other words, we have teachers taking 90 hour courses in learning Excel and first grade students being taught to use Microsoft Paint.

This is of course - a total waste of time and tax-payer money. Children already know about and use technology like the iPhone, social media like Facebook and online video like Youtube and Hulu.

I started thinking about this in a discussion in the car yesterday coming back from a wonderful visit to Yad Hanadiv - I asked my wife why small children stop being so inquisitive after first grade - I've always thought it was the educational system that destroyed their curiosity by spoon feeding knowledge and regimenting problem solving.

I then got into an argument with my daughter about why the primary school system in Israel 20 years ago (when she was in first grade) used בדידים - colored pieces of woods of different lengths - I think white was 1. The idea was to that using colors and physical lengths of things you can hold was a good way of teaching addition and subtraction. I recall participating in a PTA meeting with her first grade teacher who tried to teach the method to the parents - I vividly remember that I was never able to correlate the colors with the lengths of the pieces of wood.

This morning I took back what I said about the colors after listening to Gell-Mann's 2007 lecture on getting creative ideas.

We used color coding of entity types during a system analysis of the facilities area at Fab8 and I remember that beyond serving as a memory aid - the colors stimulated social interaction in the group - as we collected data in wall charting sessions in a conference room.

Social interaction is an important part of learning and it seems that the colors help reinforce the interaction.

So - using colors is a creative idea - that may have been useful, although to this day I cannot understand what is wrong with rote learning of arithmetic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Battle for the rights to UNIX

I had forgotten about the battle for the rights to UNIX but
a appeals court just overturned the assignment of UNIX to NOVELL giving SCO clearance to sue IBM for billions. SCO are litigious and have deep pockets - will be interesting to see if there is any impact on the embedded market - like cell phones and wireless routers

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Customers and suppliers a love/hate relationship

My friend Nissan Ratzlav-Katz starting blogging about customer service in Israel and how tolerant many of us have become to sub-standard and even really crappy customer service.

One of the key Israeli Linux IL community objections to Google is that they don't give customer service - although I would argue that great products delivered that work on a global scale for free definitely qualify as great customer service.

How do startups make customer service scale into awesomeness? touches on many good points including a I Love/I Hate Ratio (Virgin Atlantic scores at the bottom - Microsoft is about even and Amazon, Google score at around 8 - meaning that 8x as many people love Google as hate them. Which is pretty impressive I thought.

Still - one thing we miss is the synergy between love/hate and suppliers and customers. If you give great service, customers will love you and if you're a great customer and pay on time - suppliers will love you.

The only counter-example I know is Israeli corporate customers that will pay the best supplier in the world Net 180 days and take a 20% discount just because they felt like it.

Bottom line - Israel may be a country with a poor service ethic but it's a country with a poor payment on time ethic.

In my book - it's not an accident.