2010-09-24

Two difficulties on Sabbaths and festivals

I find it more and more difficult to spend Sabbaths and some Jewish festivals not because of their observance but for two other, non-religious, reasons.

Being a single, I really appreciate those families and synagogue congregants who invite me regularly to meals on Sabbaths and festivals at their places. The foods are all delicious, and the familial atmosphere surely adds special taste to the meals. But I often find my body react negatively several hours after such meals, because what and how much I eat is so different from what and how much many people in Israel, including my hosts, eat. I eat no meat and nothing sweet, including fruits, at home. When I am invited to a meal, I still decline to eat anything sweet, but I do eat meat. I have also noticed that many cooks compete with each other in the quantity of foods they serve. On such occasions I tend to overeat. I am not surprised that so many people are physically unfit because of a large quantity of unhealthy foods they consume regularly. Americans are said to be the fattest nation on earth, but at least in Manhattan I saw far less obese people than in Israel. Actually, I have seen such a large concentration of obese people nowhere else as here, and generally speaking, many immigrants from the Unites States I know are physically more fit than their Israel-born counterparts. In the swimming pool where I swim on weekdays I hear mainly English. I am surprised that the average life expectancy in Israel is quite high in spite of such unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical exercises.

We are meant to rejoice on Sabbaths and certain Jewish festivals, but instead of rejoicing I often become depressed for lack of a significant other with whom I can share my joy (as well as other innermost feelings and thoughts). I feel more and more keenly that we, or at least I, are not meant to spend our life alone. But considering my age, I have also started to think about the possibility that I may remain single all my life. I do not know from where the "salvation" will come, if at all, but I am trying my best not to give up my hope altogether.

2010-09-08

Finding new meanings in the routines

It was ten years ago that I started to keep this weekly reflection on the evening of Rosh Hashana. I am celebrating the tenth Roth Hashana since then this evening. It is true that I have experienced a number of unexpected things in life, but on the other hand, it is also inevitable that the older I become, the less unexperienced things I will have. One of my new year's wishes is, therefore, to be able to find new meanings in the daily routines, though this will preclude me from wishing to have my dream come true this new year.

We never get bored with various things we have to repeat every day or even every minute for our physical survival, such as eating, sleeping and breathing. But we are liable to get bored with things we repeat for our spiritual and intellectual nourishment and growth.

Prayers are certainly among the most difficult challenges for me in the spiritual domain. It is difficult to pray every time, even on special occasions such as Rosh Hansha, with kavana, so it is all the more difficult to find new meanings in the same prayers we repeat all the time. Actually, this is the most difficult mitsva for me in Judaism, but I assume that precisely because of its difficulty it is a mitsva, as we would not do it otherwise. I am only starting to find some Jewish wisdom in repeating certain things even blindly in the beginning.

But my greatest struggle with the routines is probably in the intellectual domain. We as researchers are supposed not only to find new phenomena but also to give new explanatins to known phenomena. If one spends decades in certain academic disciplines, one can easily get used to them and even fail to notice something new, as everything becomes self-evident. This is my biggest intellectual fear. I do not know yet what I can or must do so that everything I already know and witness again (and again), whether directly or indirectly, may keep instigating me intellectually.

2010-09-03

Solutions to two computer-related issues

I think I have found solutions, at least temporal, to two computer-related issues that have been bothering me for quite a long time. The first is email as a serious cause for wasting my time and losing my concentration on work, and the second is secure storage of data.

It is becoming more and more difficult for to live without email as my preferred means of non-phatic communication, but at the same time it is no less difficult to live with it. Among the main problems email poses to me are the increasing quantity of messages I receive on the one hand and their decreasing quality on the other. In order to cope with the first, I used to keep my mailer running in the background and let it check new messages every ten minutes while I work at home. I was (and still am) unable to resist the temptation of checking email upon receiving alerts for new messages, suspending my work. I always thought of stopping this harmful habit, and I finally found a very simple solution. It is simply to disable automatic checking of new messages. Instead, I have started to check new messages manually at fixed hours of the day. My ideal is to reduce the number of checking email to three or four times a day.

In order to keep abreast of the state of the art of research, I subscribe to about 30 mailing lists on various academic disciplines. Few of the messages I receive from these lists require immediate answers or even immediate reading. So I have made a filter that will automatically put the incoming messages from the mailing lists into a separate folder so that I may not have to pick up manually those messages sent to me personally. I have also made a filter that will automatically delete those who do not stop bombarding certain otherwise interesting academic mailing lists with non-academic anecdotal remarks. Now my email inbox is cleaner and more compact.

The worst nightmare that can happen to a computer user is the loss of his or her data. Many years ago, when I still lived in Japan, burglars broke into my apartment while I was in the synagogue and stole my computer together with my (then Japanese) passport, which was seemingly their main target. Luckily, they did not steal the floppy disks where I backed up my precious data. External physical storage media have exponentially increased in size since the days of floppy disks, but there still remains the same danger of losing all the data if something unexpected happens physically both to the computer and storage media. For quite a long time I looked for some nice online storage service as securer additional medium for data storage. I tried a number of such services, but I did not like any of them, until this week I found a free online storage service that satisfied me. I feel a little more secure about my data now. I have no commercial interest with this service and it is free, but I can recommend it to every user of Windows and Mac OS X who is also worried about his or her precious data but has not found a storage medium that is securer than hard drives and USB flash memories. It is called MozyHome Free.