2010-10-29

Parental education

There are two groups of people who are teaching without certificate or often even without any formal training. They are university professors and parents. It is true that professors poor at teaching deter the learning process of their students, but their negative pedagogic effect cannot be compared to that of those parents who do not (know how to) educate their own children.

In my opinion there are two kinds of people who are not supposed to be parents: firstly, those who cannot feed their own children; secondly, those who do not (know how to) educate them. Unfortunately, we see here in Israel quite a few people who beg on the street or by visiting our houses for money to buy foods for themselves and their children. From time to time I give money to those in other situations of distress, but I find it difficult to have mercy on people who have brought new lives to this world without securing first their most fundamental physical needs. The consolation is that these children often learn an important lesson of life from their parents.

The negative effect of the second type of parents is far more pervasive. They need parental education (education to become parents) before parental education (education of their children as parents). In many cases they also need education to become social beings before becoming parents. Their guiding principle of their life is often egoism with no attention to others around them. They are sometimes even unaware that their egocentric behaviors bother others, and when they are complained about, they never apologize. It would not be difficult to imagine what kind of children they have. This is a vicious circle. I am sure that the parents of these egocentric parents were also like them. In my opinion many of the interpersonal problems in society are causes by those "educated" by these unsocial, if not antisocial, parents.

Is there a way to put an end to this vicious circle? Unfortunately, I do not think so. The only possible action we can do I can think of is to explain to them rationally how detrimental the (un)social values they are transferring to their children directly or indirectly, and they are not acceptable in any civilized society. One of the nightmares of life is to have such people as our neighbors. It is not always easy to remain rational with these people, who often seem as if they had escaped from a zoo not long time ago.

2010-10-22

Verbal intrusion into privacy in Israel

One of the bothering behaviors of many Israelis to which I have not become used is their verbal intrusion into the privacy of others. By "verbal intrusion into privacy" I mean mainly those questions they ask people they do not know well or at all not so much as for their genuine interest in others as potential friends as for temporarily satisfying their uncontrollable desire to peep into the life of others. Every time I become a victim of such "peepers", I cannot help being amazed how they are not ashamed to ask such private questions even in public, as I would not dare to do so even in private.

What is bothering about this verbal intrusion is that it has no relevance whatsoever to the services we are going to receive or the tasks we are going to perform. For example, why do I have to answer the owner of a photocoping store where I come from and how many years I live in Israel?

What is even more bothering about these verbal intruders is that their questions are reciprocal. Someone who asks someone else something private should answer his or her questions first, but these people never do so even after being asked to by someone they ask.

Of course, I cannot deny anyone the right to ask these questions in his or heart, but to verbalize it is something I would not expect from a civilized adult. I have learned how to cope with these uncivilized people best by simply ignoring them instead of getting angry with them, as they will never understand that they are intruding into my privacy by asking these questions.

2010-10-08

Total Immersion Swimming

Both running and swimming are aerobic exercises, but they have at least one fundamental difference - running is probably an innate activity, while swimming is an acquired skill. Of course, the improvement of running techniques can also improve one's running itself, but it depends more on one's physical fitness and power. In contrast, skills seem more important for good swimming than physical fitness and power, though they are also important.

I am rather ashamed that although I was born and brought up really near the sea, I have never learned swimming systematically, and I can only swim the breaststroke, and that in my own way. For various reasons I started swimming regularly two and a half years ago. I have been frustrated to see people who are much older and in a far less good physical shape than I swim faster than I. Nevertheless, I was even more ashamed to take a swimming lesson. This week I told myself that time had finally come to start learning freestyle (front crawl) swimming systematically.

While looking for a method appealing to me, I stumbled upon a method called Total Immersion Swimming developed by Terry Laughlin in the United States. I did not expect that this method is also taught in Israel, but to my pleasant surprise, it is even in Jerusalem! I will probably start taking a private lesson in this swimming method next month. In the meanwhile I have ordered a DVD teaching how to swim freestyle (front crawl) swimming in this method. I also found a number of YouTube clips demonstrating it (cf. my most favorite clip). I am so impressed by the elegance of this swimming style. I hope that by the end of this private lesson lasting ten weeks I will have learned at least the basics of this elegant swimming skill.

For those who are interested in Total Immersion Swimming, here is a list of its centers outside the United States (disclaimer: I have no commercial interest in this swimming method):

2010-10-01

Epublishing

My interest in Amazon Kindle has kindled my interest in epublishing (in its narrow sense, i.e. ebook publishing) in general. I spent a whole day this week investigating various aspects of epublishing, including, ebook formats, ebook readers, ebook converters, ebook editors, ebook vendors and ebook libraries, and whether Kindle and Kindle format are the best ebook reader and format respectively. The following is a summary of my discoveries and opinions.

There are a number of ebook formats. The most important one is probably EPUB. It is an open format based on XHTML and CSS, and is supported by the majority of major ebook readers. Kindle is one of the few exceptions; it uses its native, proprietary format by default. I even thought of purchasing Kindle, but the more I have discovered, the less enthusiastic I have become about it. It is true that it is one of the cheapest ebook readers available in the market now, and there are probably more books available in Kindle format than in any other format. But this seems a good example of the so-called vendor lock-in; purchasing ebooks in this closed format is to ensure that they may not be readable in the future. For the same reason I evade Apple hardware, Adobe software, Microsoft office suite, to mention just a few.

There are four types of ebook readers: hardware, desktop software, browser addons and online ebook readers. Amazon Kindle is the most popular example of the first type. The greatest advantage of this type of ebook readers is that they use the so-called epaper. Unfortunately, I have never seen how it looks, but it seems better suited for reading than computer screens. I wish there would appear personal computers with epaper. Because of its proprietary format Kindle cannot be my choice. My ideal ebook reader of this type has to support Hebrew and Japanese in EPUB format, though there are not many ebooks like this. PocketBook seems a good choice, but it is still too expensive and its design is not sophisticated enough.

There are also a number of desktop ebook readers for personal computers and handheld devices. Kindle as software is also available for these devices, and I tried Kindle for PC, but I did not like it at all. The ebook reader I like best as of now is FBReader; it is opensource cross-platform software, but it still needs more sophistication in functionality and interface. EPUBReader and Bookworm have impressed me most as a browser (Firefox) addon and an online ebook reader respectively.

EPUB has both pros and cons in comparison with PDF. One of the pros is that documents in this format are fluid. There are a number of online tools for converting documents to EPUB. One of them is ePub Converter. It is easier to convert existing documents to EPUB than to prepare documents directly in EPUB. One of the best ebook editors I have found is Sigil; it can also edit documents in EPUB format.

As I wrote above, I would not purchase ebooks stored in a proprietary format such as Kindle format, however popular it may be at this moment. Vendors that sell ebooks in EPUB format include eBooks.com (in English) and Mendele (in Hebrew). I have not found any vendor that sells Japanese ebooks in EPUB. Japanese ebook industry is plagued by a plethora of proprietary formats never used outside Japan. One of the main reasons for the chaos is that EPUB does not enable epublishing in ways that are common in Japanese print publishing. Having found it necessary to adapt EPUB as the default ebook format, Japan Electronic Publishing Association has issued Minimal Requirements on EPUB for Japanese Text Layout.

In addition to commercial vendors there are a number of digital libraries where one can get ebooks in EPUB for free. Project Gutenberg and Google Books are two of the biggest and most famous digital libraries. If one does not mind taking the trouble of converting electronic documents to EPUB format and reading them as they are in PDF and other formats not meant for ebooks, there are more digital libraries even in Hebrew (e.g., Hebrew Books and Project Ben-Yehuda), Yiddish (e.g., Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library) and Japanese (e.g., Aozora Bunko).

In conclusion I have decided to purchase neither Kindle nor any ebook stored in its proprietary format. I have started to use FBReader to read ebooks downloadable for free from the above-mentioned digital libraries. As for new books, I am looking forward to Google Editions, which is said to open in the near future. I can easily foresee that ebooks will soon outnumber printed books because of their many advantages, but they pose a problem for observant Jews on Sabbath and festivals.