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by Jehuda Saar
Tuesday
Mar162010

iPhone HD

Some people definitely have too much time on their hands. This "commercial" is unbelievably well done. It is SO well done that for a split second I imagined I was actually looking at the real thing. Whoever created this thing is incredibly talented and their rendering skills are amazing. They are also quite imaginative. Time will tell what the next generation iPhone will really look like, but for now we'll have to satisfy ourselves with these sort of fantasies. Enjoy.

 

Thursday
Mar042010

Saudi Reality Distortion Field

In a piece entitled "Loosey Goosey Saudi" that appeared in The New York Times on March 3 '10, Op-Ed Columnist Maureen Dowd interviewed Prince Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, about the "liberal" trends of his country as opposed to the stark conservatism of Israel. While some of the article's most unnerving comments about Israel obviously come from this "leader of the free world", Ms Dowd herself is responsible for some pretty annoying and shortsighted utterances herself. She refers to Israel as growing "less secular" but backs this assertion up with....absolutely nothing, describing a "chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh...interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society". I point to the words "would like" as key in that sentence. Assuming that is even correct, Israel is still a democracy and nobody is imposing anything on anyone without laws being passed in the Knesset.

She is quick to downplay the "progressiveness" of Saudi society and yet, reading this piece, one could walk away thinking that there is some sort of tectonic shift in the Middle-East distribution of democracy and liberalism. She makes light of the fact that women are still not allowed to drive in the kingdom and refer to the most minute hints at tolerance as "60s-style cataclysmic social change" given how closed Saudi society is and continues to be. 

I won't downplay the fact that there are indeed vexing problems in Israeli society, that "women in the back of the bus" kind of issues do creep up in certain places and need to be dealt with, but at least in Israel these rules are not imposed from the top. These are expressions of an ultra-orthodox minority in a secular democratic society, not dictates of a religious, totalitarian, family controlled hegemony. But more than anything I find myself wondering: what's the point ? Who, besides Ms Dowd of course, actually buys this BS ? What's the strategy here ? Who are they trying to convince ? Does anyone out there really fall for this stuff ?

Still, even if I were to take the column literally, if our shift to the "religious right" is as "swift" and "dramatic" as the kingdom's monumental move to the liberal and progressive left, I would rather tread water right here my friends, nowhere else.

 

Friday
Feb262010

Confessions of a former email addict or "How Inbox Zero Changed My Life"

Those of you who are prisoners to their email, whose work is very "email-centric", who live out of their "Inbox" know what it's like: to have an inbox with close to (or, in my case, well over) 10,000 messages, to flit back and forth between messages seemingly without aim or reason, to somehow try to make priorities out of such an enormous amount of messages and watch nervously as the quantity grows every day. Before long you are so busy with your email you start believing that spending your day in your inbox is equivalent to "getting work done". And what generally happens is you stop making calls, you stop meeting people, you are so busy in that inbox with these thousands of messages, you try to keep track of the new stuff coming in, you tell yourself you will "deal with them" at some stage, some you respond to, some you flag for later...but they all stay right there in your inbox, they never leave. Then you start feeling funny about deleting messages. What if one day you will need that obscure message that Joe Schmoe sent you back on October 7, 2008 ?


A while back I found out about two "systems" of getting work done more efficiently, and before long I realised they were somehow connected to each other. The first one was the GTD method: Getting Things Done. This system for getting organized and optimizing workflow developed by David Allen was not specific to email at all, and actually wasn't exactly what I needed to get out of my email problem.

But as soon as I started reading about the second one, I realized I was on to something. Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" method is essentially some sort of adapted GTD for email. I won't get into too much detail here since Merlin does it well enough himself on his websites and videos, but I will tell you how I ended up adapting it to my own workflow and got myself to "Inbox Zero". In the past I used an email filing system of dozens upon dozens of folders: by country, by client, by product, you name it. No wonder my inbox grew to be so enormous: who has the patience, the courage or the time to go through every email message, deal with it and then start filing it in the right folder or subfolder when your filing system is that extensive. But my own version of the Inbox Zero system only requires three folders: Action, Filing and Later.

Once messages come into my inbox I do the following: if I can deal with the matter at hand immediately, that's what I do and then I either delete or file it in the Filing folder. If the message cannot be dealt with immediately, either because it requires me to make a phone call, create a spreadsheet, scan some papers or whatever else I need to do before I can consider it dealt with, it goes into the Action folder. I check the Action folder a number of times a day to ensure it doesn't become like another "fat" inbox from my past and go through the items one by one, getting things done. Then there are items I can deal with later, joke emails that I might not be able to read immediately and delete, potentially interesting videos or articles I might want to spend time going through etc. These go into my Later folder. These items are not necessarily time sensitive and I get to them when I have a moment. Anything else goes into my Filing folder, or gets deleted. With today's "Search" features in email clients and webmail services there is no need for a detailed filing system anymore. Anything you're looking for is only a "searchbox" away. That's all there is to it. My inbox is no longer a repository for a few generations' worth of email. Now I am on top of stuff, I deal with things immediately, no procrastination, I follow everything I need to be aware of as it happens, not retrospectively or retroactively. And I absolutely love it. Yes this requires a lot of self-discipline. Yes, it took me a few years to work up the courage to really set this in motion. And when I decided to go for it, getting rid of those 10,000 + messages was a daunting task, but I got there ultimately. Now every day I have to make sure I stay on top of it. From now on this is a way of life. So long as email will remain the "lingua franca" of our business, I will have to make sure I stick to the program. But if anyone out there reading this happens to be an email slave like I used to be, take the time to go through some of Merlin Mann's stuff, check out 43 Folders and some of his other sites. You won't regret it.

Thursday
Feb182010

Subjective Art

Often when an artist wants to make a (mostly negative) statement about Israel, Zionism, Judaism you name it, the result can be quite shocking. Generally the intent is clear enough in the "final product". One look at the "art" and we know exactly where his opinions lie with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Gaza-offensive, settlements in the West-Bank or even the general existence of a Jewish State in the Middle-East.

But today we hear of an art exhibit in Spain that, while it leaves me a little uneasy, is still ambiguous enough about its intentions that I can't quite decide what to make of it. The artist's name is Eugenio Merino and I have to admit that I don't know much about him except for the fact that he seems to like to provoke and that others as well have found him to be somewhat confusing (most famously when he portrayed the Dalai Lama holding a machine gun). 

 

Two of the pieces in his new exhibit attracted the attention of the Israeli Embassy in Madrid: one portrays a "hassid" holding an open book (apparently in prayer), standing on top of a kneeling priest who in turn is on top of a prostrate muslim. The second one shows a menorah growing out of the barrel of an Uzi submachine gun. And this is where it gets complicated: the Israeli Embassy felt the need to make a statement yet did not demand the removal of the works. Part of the statement read: "Values such as freedom of speech and creative freedom are sometimes used to disguise stereotyping, prejudice and provocation for the sake of provocation". The artist meanwhile stated "The aim was to display the wonder in the co-existence of the three religions, each making a common effort to reach G-d". Leaving aside for a moment to what extent the artist's statement was or wasn't genuine and looking at it from a practical point of view, given the accepted stance for prayer in the three religions, it would have been hard for the muslim to lie on top of the kneeling priest on top of the standing hassid. One could argue that there was no need to position these three on top of each other at all of course, but that's where we get into matters of artistic expression and for every two people we will get three opinions. Arguments could be made for or against the Menorah/Uzi piece as well. 

But the rest of the Israeli Embassy's statement actually points to the complexity of this situation: "We express our opinion on this issue though we recognize that provocations like this are successful only because it is not possible not to respond" (at no point in the statement is the term "anti-Semitic" used, apparently a deliberate choice). Which really poses the question: what is the right way to react to something as ambiguous as this ? Are we better off not responding ? Are we obligated to say something even though arguments can be made one way or the other ? Do we take an absolute approach without ever making a distinction as to intent or result ? Judge for yourselves as you contemplate the "Art" in question.

 

Saturday
Feb132010

B.A.P.

I realise I have been quite absent from this site lately. The main reason was work on a video I hope to be able to post here soon. But in the meantime I ran into this little picture that I thought was pretty funny so I figured I'll post it here....and yes, sorry, once again it's about the iPad.

 

Thursday
Feb042010

Broken Windows

Reading a piece on the Op-Ed page of today's New York Times I suddenly realised to what dramatic extent the world of technology has changed over the past few years. I am talking here specifically about tech companies. Back in 1987 I bought my first Mac. I remember getting looks from "serious" PC users at the time. "Nice toy" they were thinking. Over the years I stuck to the Mac, upgrading hardware every few years and enjoying all the innovation that came with my choice. What a "regular" PC could never do for me and the Mac kept giving me in abundance was a sense of empowerment. It was both funny and frustrating to see PC users discover "windows" or attach mice and sound-boards to their PCs some 10 years after the Mac had come out with all of those things built in. When I told people that MS Excel had been a Mac product since 1985, way before it showed up on PCs, or that AOL had actually been an Apple only product in the 80's, they often looked at me like I was insane. 

 

But I always knew that, at the end of the day, persistent innovation would be recognized. That constantly copying and repackaging other people's ideas does not a long term strategy make. Nobody ever accused the masses of having vision and so Microsoft thrived despite their lack of originality. And today's Op-Ed piece by Dick Brass called "Microsoft's Creative Destruction" gives us an inside look at the beginning of the end. It is written by someone who lived through this story from the inside, so I can't say I agree with everything he says, but what counts is the gist of the message. Microsoft still makes money and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But how many tech students today dream of working for MS when they graduate ? As Mr Brass says in the piece: the company's profits are generated almost entirely from products developed decades ago. How long can you milk THAT cow ?

And so I am no longer part of the "underdog" Mac community. Actually  as a younger generation comes of age and becomes computer savvy, how many of them even know that things were once different ? Still, when all is said and done, it's not really important who was right or what was better. In the final analysis it's us, the users, who are best served by this innovation. All we can do is marvel at what's coming and enjoy the ride. The journey IS the reward!

Wednesday
Feb032010

Open Door Policy

A little event this morning reminded me of one of the most important principles in this country. Very often you might get to a door, you know you are supposed to be on the other side, but the gatekeeper will tell you you can't get in, you don't have the right paperwork, you don't have an appointment...whatever. You know he is wrong, but he is adamant you won't get in. Anywhere else in the world you would just turn around and walk away. But in this country one has to understand a simple rule: that closed door is actually not closed, it is wide open. It just doesn't know yet that it is wide open. It's up to you to go back there and turn NO into YES, turn black into white.

 

This sort of thing applies to pretty much everything here. The negative connotations are that rules are meant to be broken, that contracts are not really meant to be honoured, that a deal is not a deal etc. Where does it all come from? How come this is the thinking process around here ?

There are a great number of reasons, and to some extent a vast number of prejudices against Jews have resulted from such behavioural patterns. But actually a basis for such thinking can be found in our ancient tradition as well. Our sages tell us that Evil is actually Good that hasn't matured yet. And when you apply that thought process to other things and everything in life kind of contains its opposite within, you realise that with such thinking ingrained in us for generations, it is no wonder that I describe a closed door as one that doesn't know yet it is open and hence it is your right, no, your obligation (in these parts at least), to argue your way in. Lesson learned.

Monday
Feb012010

René Magritte - La Trahison Des Images

I thought this was pretty cute. An adaptation of a famous Magritte painting applied to the iPad. As to what it means, to each his own. This illustration works both for the people who say the iPad is just a big iPhone/iPod touch or for those who say the iPad heralds the beginning of a whole new era in mobile computing.

 

Monday
Feb012010

PhilacteWHAT ?

Late last week I had occasion to debate with some people the now infamous story of the US Airways flight from New York to Kentucky that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia because a crew member saw a boy putting on his tefilin and mistook it for a bomb (sounds like "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat"). My personal view was that the crew of an American airline company should be aware of tefilin and what they are. Some disagreed with me.

I find the below fake ad to be very appropriate considering the circumstances.

 

Monday
Feb012010

iPad...again

OK, so I promise not to make this site too iPad-centric. It just so happens that so much is being written, discussed, debated about it, it is almost inevitable that I should feel like disseminating some of it. Last night Stephen Colbert even used an iPad while presenting the Grammys. But I read a little piece in the New York Times the other day and David Pogue had this to say:

"Like the iPhone, the iPad is really a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential. It may become many things. It may change an industry or two, or it may not. It may introduce a new category — something between phone and laptop — or it may not. And anyone who claims to know what will happen will wind up looking like a fool."

Other than that Michael Gartenberg, who always has interesting insights on these sort of things, had the following piece up on engadget.com:

Entelligence: Lessons from the iPad launch - Engadget

 

 

 

 

Monday
Feb012010

Day 1 on my new site

Following the recent introduction of the iPad, there have been a lot of opinions expressed in the press, online and all around me. Knowing that I am somewhat of an Apple-fanatic, I have been asked for my opinion by a number of friends and acquaintances. Usually these comments were accompanied by various criticisms people have picked up in the press. More often than not these comments and criticisms were expressed by journalists who didn't really understand much about the iPad and the potential impact it could have on the way we work and interact with computers. 

To say that the iPad is going to change things is an understatement. I will include two links to articles that I believe express beautifully some of the things we are going to experience. The main gist of it all is that the iPad introduces a concept that should have been part of what using computers was always meant to be: helping us do what we want to achieve. Rather than having to learn new skills, read through mounds of documentation and spend hours in frustration trying to figure out how to get computers to do the simplest things, the iPad is a step in a new direction. One in which we will simply "get the job done". These two gentlemen, however, express it way better than I will ever be able to. Enjoy.

http://www.macworld.com/article/146038/2010/01/ipad_future_shock.html?lsrc=twt_macworld

http://stevenf.tumblr.com/post/359224392/i-need-to-talk-to-you-about-computers-ive-been

 

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