How to Stop the Habit of Taking a Nap on Weekday Afternoons

I started to take a nap after lunch on Saturdays several years ago, partly in order to supplement lack of sleeping time on weekdays. I usually sleep six hours on weekdays (I go to bed at 23:00 and get at 05:00), but I seem to need seven and a half hours of sleeping daily. When I started the habit of taking a nap on Saturday afternoons, I used to sleep only for one and a half hours, but these days I sleep for three hours.

Gradually I came to allow myself to start this habit on Fridays. Since I started my sabbatical this academic year, I often find it difficult to resist the temptation of taking a nap on weekdays, too if I take lunch at home, which I usually do after the Talmud class at the yeshiva in the morning. So I end up sleeping seven and a half hours when I take a nap after lunch on weekdays.

Taking a nap seems to be a healthy habit, especially in the early afternoon, when our brain becomes less active than in the morning and late afternoon, but it also seems to be a waste of time. Once I finish my sabbatical, this habit will never be an option at all, but I would like to stop it even now so that I may be able to function properly after lunch next year.

So I am racking my brain over how to really stop this seemingly healthy but time-consuming "luxurious" habit of taking a nap on weekday afternoons. There seems to be only one simple solution - to start working at some public library. When I started my sabbatical, I originally planned to take with me a lunch box I would prepare in the morning and go to one of the libraries of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after the Talmud class at the yeshiva. But because I was too lazy to prepare a lunch box in the morning and did not waste my time taking a bus to and from the library, I found myself returning home directly from the yeshiva, preparing lunch then and, alas, succumbing to the temptation of taking a nap afterward.

But the question remains whether I will be able to start working efficiently after lunch without taking a nap. One (or probably the only) possible compromise or solution is to take the so-called "power nap", which lasts 15-30 minutes. It seems to maximize the benefit of a nap versus time. I can probably use the time of my bus ride from the yeshiva to the university library, which lasts about 15 minutes. Actually, I am reminded now that when I taught at Bar-Ilan University, I often took a nap on my way back to Jerusalem and this was so refreshing.


Worst Mistakes in Web Accessibility and Usability

Surfing the web with a computer that has a smaller screen is like being physically challenged, but not because such a computer has a problem in itself but simply because many websites - I would say more than 90% of those I visit regularly - pay little or no attention to accessibility and usability. Now that I use my new Windows 8 hybrid computer with the display size of 11"6, the web looks totally different physically because of these barely accessible and usable websites.

The very root of many common mistakes made by web authors and especially by web designers in terms of web accessibility and usability is their WYSIWYG mentality as if web publishing were word processing or desktop publishing without understanding what web publishing is all about.

Before I elaborate on the worst mistakes by web authors and web designers, I would like to share with you some of the worst websites in terms of web accessibility and usability among those websites I visit frequently. If the screen of your computer is bigger, let's say, 13", you may not notice any problem. If you have a device with a smaller screen, please visit these sites with it, and you will also understand how problematic they are.

The biggest irony is probably the fact that two popular websites about life hacking, including computer productivity, make all the worst mistakes: Lifehacker, MakeUseOf. A very high concentration of barely accessible and usable websites is found in the category of newspapers and magazines, probably because they cannot think but in terms of print publishing; examples include: Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Economist, National Geographic Magazine, Scientific American. No less problematic are websites of many research institutions and universities; examples from Israel include: National Library of Israel, Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, Israel Science Foundation, World Union of Jewish Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University.

Probably the worst mistake as is made in these websites is to specify the width of a webpage and its various parts with an absolute unit of measurement (e.g., 800 pixels) instead of making it "fluid". This unfortunate decision is based on the assumption that all the potential visitors have the standard screen size. But this is less and less true in the age of mobile computing. You can never assume the screen size of any visitor, and making your website with such an assumption seriously harms its accessibility and usability.

The second worst mistake is to use graphics for site navigation. Since the size of images is also specified absolutely, this causes a serious problem in accessibility and usability for the same reason mentioned above.

What really frustrates about these websites is that the average visitor has no way to change their barely legible design. There are some ways to do so, but they are only for computer mavens. Actually I have been trying to apply one of them - a famous Firefox add-on called Stylish - but I have not been successful so far as the above mentioned websites are authored so badly with physical markups that I cannot decipher the structure of pages there, which is a precondition to use this add-on.

What then are truly accessible and usable websites? Unfortunately, they are the minority. Among the websites I visit regularly are W3C, Wikipedia, Wictionary, Microsoft, Windows. I cannot praise them and those who made them more.

Although I do not think this insignificant blog can change the bad practice of many web authors and designers, I would like to share with you four of the most useful online resources for those who want to make their websites truly accessible and usable to all visitors regardless of the size of their respective screen: Web Accessibility Initiative, Mobile Web Initiative, Universal Usability, Web Style Guide. I think that everyone who makes a website, especially if it is of public nature and he or she is a designer by profession, should read them. It goes without saying that they are excellent examples of universally accessible and usable websites.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Here are two of the academic websites I built and maintain, incorporating the advice from the above mentioned four websites: Jewish Language Research Website, Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Bar-Ilan University.


New Windows 8 Hybrid Computer

This Sunday I could finally acquire Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, a new Windows 8 hybrid computer for whose arrival to Israel I had been waiting impatiently for a few months. It has impressed me more than any other Windows 8 hybrid computer I could find on the web. Here are some of my random thoughts about this device itself, Windows 8, preinstalled "Modern UI" applications and how legacy desktop software programs work in this new environment after five days of using them quite intensively.

Ever since I got disappointed with Android tablets in terms of both hardware and software, I have been thinking that the future of mobile computing lies in a hybrid computer that can be both a notebook computer and a tablet, and that with a single operating system. Before I purchased this hybrid computer, I feared that 11.6" might be too small as the size of the display, but I find it big enough thanks to its high resolution and clarity. Although the computer turns out to be a little heavier than I thought both as a notebook computer and as a tablet, it is the lightest and slimmest (but the most powerful) computer I have ever owned. The only thing I am sorry for is that the battery life does not seem to be long enough as I wanted.

Windows 8 is probably the most revolutionary but controversial upgrade in the history of Windows though internally it is only a minor version upgrade from Windows 7. Actually, Windows 8 is quite similar to Windows 7 when it is in the traditional desktop mode. What makes it both revolutionary and controversial is its "Modern UI", which is best experienced with touch interactions instead of a keyboard. In spite of many negative reviews I have read online about "Modern UI", I find it quite sophisticated and comfortable when I use my new computer as a tablet. But I have not found an efficient way of switching between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes yet, and feel as if I had two operating systems on one computer.

The source of the biggest confusion (and complaint) for many users, including myself, is the lack of the "Start" button and menu in the desktop mode. Fortunately, I have already found a number of software solutions. Start8 appealed to me most; I have already purchased and started to use it. This (or some other similar tool) is probably the single most important desktop program for people who are migrating to Windows 8 from an earlier version of Windows. I still wonder why Microsoft had to remove this indespensable function from its new operating system.

Having tried all the preinstalled "Modern UI" applications, I have already come to a conclusion that this UI is meant basically for passive computing. So I have even uninstalled all the preinstalled applications except for four by Microsoft for four main types of my passive computing, i.e., reading ebooks, viewing photos, listening to music and watching videos. Actually the ebook reader by Microsoft called "Reader" was a pleasant surprise to me. It has already become one of my favorite programs, especially when I use my new computer as a tablet, and it will probably remain the single "Modern UI" application I will continue to use on a daily basis.

It did not come as a big surprise that I encountered no problem in installing and running any of the legacy desktop programs I used to use on Windows 7. Because of the small size (and high resolution) of the display I had to change its virtual size to 175%. This has caused serious usability problems with some desktop programs with an old UI which seems to rely heavily on graphics. Among those programs with these problems which I use frequently are LibreOffice and Adobe Reader.

All in all, I am very impressed and satisfied with this new Windows 8 hybrid computer by Samsung and would even recommend it to anyone who is looking for a well-balanced Windows 8 hybrid computer, though it is rather expensive (nearly $1,600 including VAT in Israel). For Windows 8 I have a mixed feeling. Although I think there should be more seamless integration between the desktop and "Modern UI" modes, I fully agree with Microsoft in that the future of mobile computing is to use a single operating system for notebook computers and tablets (as well as smartphones), pace Apple.


Neglect of Physical Order and Fitness in Traditional Jewish Culture

The first thing I do every time I arrive at the yeshiva in the morning is to return books other students used and left scattered on the tables in the study hall to the bookshelves and clean these tables they make dirty with spills of coffee and foods. Although this is extremely bothering, I do not intend to ask them to change their behavior; instead, I repeat this Sisyphean labor every morning. This neglect of physical order, which seems widespread not only in our specific yeshiva but in traditional Jewish culture in general, is also enigmatic, for they are supposed to strive to make conceptual order out of the seeming intellectual chaos of the Talmud. I cannot help wondering why lack of physical order does not bother their persuit for conceptual order.

Unfortunately, neglect of physical order seems to be so deeply ingrained in traditional Jewish culture. Generally speaking, the more religious a certain neighborhood or even a whole city is, the dirtier and the less physically orderly it is, as some people who live there themselves have told me. In Israel even many of those who are otherwise far from traditional Jewish culture are also quite "traditional" in this respect. Public libraries suffer from the same neglect of physical order. People scatter books everywhere and do not return them to the shelves after using them.

Another symptom of traditional Jewish culture that is also common even among many of those who are otherwise disconnected from it is neglect of physical fitness. Actually, Jewish sages, including, e.g., Maimonides, stress the importance of physical fitness, but in reality, it is largely neglected. Here again the more religious a person is, the less physically fit he or she is. This is not only because religious people are less likely to engage themselves in regular physical activities (except for eating, of course) and more likely to overeat on Sabbaths and holidays. To serve more than one can eat and be tempted to eat more than one should whenever possible is a sign of culture of poverty, but this culture still lingers in Israeli society, which has become quite affluent.

In the past two weeks I could neither run nor swim because I had caught cold and did not feel physically strong enough. Even after only two weeks of lack of these regular physical activities I could feel some physical changes in my body. The biggest change is felt both externally and internally in the buttocks. Actually, the buttocks are the body part that shows more than any other body parts whether someone is engaged in any regular physical activity or not. I have also wondered what happens to someone who has been neglecting their physical fitness all their life by not doing any physical activity regularly except for eating, and unfortunately, there are many people like this in Israel, especially among the religious but also amonth the secular under the influence of traditional Jewish culture.

There is and should be no contradiction between Judaism and physical order and fitness, but I am afraid that it will take a long time until the majority of the people in Israeli society start thinking more about physical order and fitness and behaving accordingly.


Bothering Verbal Behaviors in Interpersonal Communication That Are Common among Many Sabras

Six weeks have passed since I started my Talmud study at the yeshiva. This is the first time that I officially study in English so intensively. All the teachers and the other students are from Anglophone countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, etc. I spend about three hours with them every day. This also turns out to be a precious opportunity to reexamine the mentality of the sabras and the Japanese more objectively and in a wider perspective.

It is true that certain students behave in a way that is totally beyond my understanding (e.g., many of them are always late for the class, and some of them even continue to come to the class empty-handed without the pages of the Talmud we are studying), I am spared a few bothering verbal behaviors in interpersonal communication that are common among many sabras (native Israelis) but seem uncommon or nonexistent among those from Anglophone countries, whether they are Jewish or not, and Japanese as well as Russians and probably many other nations.

Of course, not all the sabras behave this way, but I would say that at least every tenth sabra whom I met for the first time at the dinner table, parties and other social events and with whom I struck a conversation did display these insensitive behaviors.

The most bothering verbal behavior in interpersonal communication that is common among many sabras is their verbal intrusion into privacy even, or to be more precise, mainly, when they are speaking to strangers they meet for the first time. The fact that few of them have any malice does not make this behavior of theirs less bothering. On the contrary, this makes it even more bothering as they are not aware that they are disturbing others. This is fundamentally different from sincere desire to know more the person they are speaking to personally but nothing but peeping.

Another bothering behavior is what I consider "slips of tongue" (but they are just normal ways of speech for these people). I think that what distinguishes naive children from cultured adults is that the former say whatever comes to their mind about someone they are speaking to without thinking even for a moment what effect it will have upon him or her. Again, this is totally different from expressing their sincere opinion. I believe that there are certain things that you should never tell your interlocutors face-to-face unless you are naive children. When I encounter their "slips of tongue" that offend me, I am more sorry for the fact that they have not learned to speak like cultured adults than for the offense they cause to me.


What It Means to Write a Book

The main research project during my sabbatical this academic year is to start to plan to write a book. I wish it were to write a book, but I am two fundamental steps before this. I am not even planning to write a book , but am just starting to do so.

I think I have found a good topic for a book in many respects. First of all, it combines many areas of linguistics I have studied. Second, it suits my characters, including perseverance, order and attention to details. Third, the (first and) last time someone wrote a book on it is more than four decades ago; a serious update is required. I have submitted to the university a rather detailed plan about what I would like to do in order to start to plan to write a book on this topic, and I really hope that I will be able to prepare a detailed table of contents by the end of my sabbatical. At the same time I am wondering what it means to write a book in general and on this specific topic in particular.

Since I started thinking about writing a book, I also started reading books by other researchers, especially those by my colleagues, from a new point of view, too. What interests me now is not only the content of the book in question but also the whole process of writing it. I like the process of selecting and reading relevant research literature and collecting and processing primary sources, but I am very bad at and slow in writing. In my simple (or simplistic) calculation it will take me at least five years to finish writing a book. I have several colleagues who publish a new book every few years. What and how they do so is simply beyond my imagination. Writing a book seems to me a daunting task, all the more so repeating this process every few years.

Although I think I have found a topic which both interests me and is a niche in (Modern Hebrew) linguistics, the topic seems to require a fundamentally different method of research from topics like grammatical description of a language that has never been described before. The topic I have in mind does not involve linguistic data collection in its conventional sense of the word; rather it involves metalinguistic analysis and review of end products, both of which are rather new to me.

In the meanwhile I am just trying to read as many relevant books and articles as possible. In retrospect I was and am always interested in this area of linguistic research, but it was only about a year ago that I realized that it is possible to investigate it, so everything I read now is so fresh and stimulating, which is very important as I thought I would never encounter such an area. But on the other hand, since I am quite new to it, I have so many things to catch up with the research outputs of at least the past five decades.


Farewell to an Android Tablet Computer

In spite of my initial enthusiasm with an Android tablet computer I bought in July 2011, I found myself using it less and less, until I decided recently to give it away to someone else who showed an interest in it. My disillusionment and dissatisfaction with it concern both its software and hardware.

As a satisfied user of Windows since Windows 2000, which met my needs in multilingual computing for the first time, I find Android far inferior to Windows as an operating system in many ways. My biggest frustration with it is that though it does support input in multiple languages, you have to choose only one and cannot switch between several languages. I am also bothered by the fact that Android is integrated too much with Google Account. And many applications working on this platform are not so sophisticated as those for Windows, though there are exceptions. In short, Android is not for serious computing.

I also find it very inconvenient to have to have two separate devices, that is, a tablet computer and a laptop computer, especially if they run on two different operating systems. In my opinion Windows 8 offers a much more convenient ecosystem than what is offered by Android (only for tablet computers) and Apple (two separate operating systems for tablet and laptop computers). Windows 8 can be installed both in a tablet computer and in a laptop computer. This is a big advantage, which in turn opens the way to devices that can be both.

What I find the most appealing way to do so in hardware is the so-called hybrid computer; it is essentially a laptop computer, but it can also become a tablet computer if its keyboard is detached. Many computer manufacturers have announced their plans for such hybrid computers running on Windows 8, but as of now, only a few weeks after its official release, many of them have not been sold yet. I am most curious about Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro among all the hybrid computers that have been announced so far.


Talmud Study at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva

One and a half week has passed since I started my Talmud study after about 12 years' absence at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I spend about two hours every morning studying what I consider the most difficult book I have every studied with a rabbi and several other students. The ever growing general feeling is that it is a great privilege to be able to study the Talmud from someone who is part of the presumably unbroken chain of oral tradition. I also feel that it is probably impossible to study and understand it unless you are initiated to it in this traditional framework.

There are at least three factors that make the study of the Talmud very difficult and challenging. The first obstacle is its language, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, which is far less known and described grammatically and lexically than, for example, Biblical Hebrew. But knowing the literal meaning of each of the words comprising a sentence does not guarantee you to understand it as it is written in a very cryptic style, so you have to supplement it with many missing words. Even overcoming this second obstacle does not guarantee you to understand it, which is always quite frustrating. But the most serious obstacle is its logic; it is often necessary to read the same passage many times.

What has impressed me in this traditional method of Talmud study is that you are required to understand what we study 100%; even understanding 90% is considered a compromise. The best way to check if you understand something 100% is to explain it to someone else using your own language. To attain this goal, our teacher explain the same passages at least seven times, and you are also required to review it alone or preferably bekhavruta/bekhavruse with someone else.

Even in our early stage of learning we are required to review what we were taught with someone else from the same group. I still do not understand why this method works. I and my study partner are more or less is the same low level, so we often find ourselves totally lost, unable to go beyond the literal meaning of what we study together. In this respect it is a great help to be able to continue to study the Talmud once a week bekhavruta/bekhavruse with a good old haredi friend of mine, who is far more advanced than I. We used to study other chapters, but since I started my Talmud study at the yeshiva, we simply make a weekly review of what I studied during the week.

In the meanwhile I enjoy my daily Talmud study. I hope I will be able to persevere until the end of the program in the middle of next July. I am already curious to see how I will feel when I reread the same passages I am struggling with now after the end of this nine-month program.


Why I Prefer an English-Speaking Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva to a Hebrew-Speaking Modern Orthodox One

Every time I tell someone, whether a friend or a stranger, that I am planning to spend the morning hours of every weekday during my sabbatical in Jerusalem, studying at an English-speaking ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, almost everyone asks me, and that with good reason, why I will not study at a Hebrew-speaking modern Orthodox yeshiva, which seems to them to be a more natural option for me. Here is my public reply.

First of all, I believe that one of the benefits or even obligations of a sabbatical is to break the routine. This can be done ideally by living in a foreign country. But since this is not a practical option for me, the best I can do is to spend at least part of my sabbatical in as different an environment as possible within Jerusalem.

Secondly, I feel (and have seen) that ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are more "authentic" than their modern Orthodox (or "national religious") counterparts in a number of respects. Being a linguist who prefers tradition to innovation, I like the fact that the former still preserve the traditional Ashkenazic pronunciation in reading the Tora and the Talmud and davening, even when their mother tongue is Modern Hebrew, while the latter have completely abandoned this traditional pronunciation. And I am also affected by the difference I have witnesses in the results of the ultra-Orthodox and modern Orthodox education, especially in derekh-erets.

Ideally, I would study at a Yiddish-speaking yeshiva, which is the closest to the yeshiva tradition. But this option is available only for very advanced students in a very small number of elite yeshivas in Jerusalem. It goes without saying that I meet none of the requirements for this option. I would also like to have some rest from Hebrew and Israeli society by being at an English-speaking "ghetto". Besides, only ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for the beginners like myself are available only in English even in Jerusalem, at least to the best of my knowledge.

Last but not least, I simply love the specific English-speaking ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem where I spent about four months about ten years ago: Ohr Somayach. This is the place where I was first exposed to ultra-Orthodox Judaism and its philosophy. I still remember vividly the intellectual surprises I experienced there. I am so happy that finally I can study there again from next Tuesday, though only in the morning.


Exemption from Teaching on Sabbatical

My long-awaited first sabbatical started this week. I am really excited that I will finally be able to have one whole academic year exempt from teaching (and bureaucratic obligations). This does not mean that I do not like to teach. I will surely miss the thrice-a-week opportunity to interact with motivated students. But I have been feeling more and more strongly in the past few years that I am getting worn out.

I started teaching in the university in October 1991, when I was still a PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since then I have been teaching for 21 years with no sabbatical. It was only eight years ago that being on sabbatical became a possibility since I was "saved" by Bar-Ilan University.

The main reason why I have been feeling that I am getting worn out is that my "output" in teaching has already exceeded the "input" I made previously, that is, I have been feeling as if I were in "overdraft" pedagogically.

In addition to studying the Talmud at a yeshiva and working on one project of mine, I want and have to recharge myself with new and/or more knowledge in those areas in which I have been offering courses, whether obligatory or elective, including morphology, lexicography, sociolinguistics and onomastics. I am sure that this one-year period of "input" will benefit not only myself but also my students-to-be after the sabbatical.


Writing a Book as the Next Self-Imposed Academic Goal

One of the main differences between scholars in Japan and Israel, at least in the humanities, is their respective research output in the forms of articles and books. Average scholars in Israel publish far more articles and in far more respected places than their Japanese counterparts, partly because of the more rigid criteria for promotion in Israeli universities. Having books, especially those in English by internationally recognized publishers, in your list of publications, is what distinguishes scholars in Israel, while in Japan this criterion is almost meaningless as not many have such books or any book even by the time they retire as full-time professors. In the Israeli academia there also seems to be a correlation between promising scholars and the fact that they have published their first book on the basis of their respective PhD dissertation.

Unfortunately, I am not one of them, though I may have published many articles in Japanese terms, at least in comparison with those in my age in Japanese universities. As I am approaching the age of 50, I feel both a pressure and a desire to write (and hopefully) publish my first book as the next self-imposed academic goal. One of the three things I am planning to do during my first sabbatical in the next academic year, which is about to start in a month, is to start planning to write such a book. According to my rough calculation it will take at least as many as five years from now to finish it, considering the fact that I am a very slow writer and I will have many other obligations again after the sabbatical.

This has naturally lead me to wonder how some people succeed in publishing their second book (after the first one which is based on their dissertation) before they read the age of 50 or sometimes even 40, in spite of the fact that they all have more or less the same obligations as I do and many of them, unlike me, have even a family. The more I think about this question, the more convinced I am that the answer to it must be their talent. This also reminds me of the following well-known generalization about academic output: those who publish more often write in higher quality, that is, there is a correlation between quantity and quality. In this respect I can immediately think of several scholars I know personally as good examples of this generalization.

Of course, to envy them is the last thing I would do. I compete only with myself. Nevertheless I cannot deny the fact that I also feel peer pressure to publish a book. I only hope that I can use this peer pressure for the better so that even a "tortoise" like me may be able to reach my self-imposed goal of writing (and publishing) a book (probably in English), though with a long delay compared to many other prolific scholars.


We Are What We Eat

Israel is a fascinating place for those of us who are amateur anthropologists interested in man watching, as it is an ingathering of people with such diverse cultural backgrounds. One of my recent favorite pastimes is to watch people while waiting in line at the cashier in a supermarket, especially on Friday mornings, when many people buy for the whole weekend and sometimes even for the next whole week. To be more precise, I watch what foods they buy and how physically fit they look. Then I am reminded that in many respects we are what we eat, though regular physical exercises also affect our fitness.

Unfortunately, many people seem to have unhealthy diet, at least according to what they buy. Not surprisingly, those who buy a lot of foods that contain a large quantity of fat or suger are more likely to be developed horizontally ;-) in certain parts of their bodies. It also makes me so sad to see many children whose parents accustom them to two modern poisons, industrial fat and oil. Taste acquired in our childhood is one of our most stable daily habits. Even otherwise progressive people turn out to be very conservative in what (and how) they eat.

Since I started recently cooking not only supper but also lunch by myself (I have no custom of eating breakfast), I have become more aware of and particular about what I eat. My typical meals now consist of rice, vegetable or soy soup, a lot of steamed vegetables, fish or tofu, and yogurt together with some read wine or beer. Since I can control not only over supper but also for lunch now and can eat what I feel is good for my body twice a day instead of once a day, I have already started feeling a positive internal change in the way I feel in my body, even in spite of the fact that I can run and swim less frequently these days for a hectic schedule.

After I started living alone at the age of 18 away from my parents, my eating habits have changed several times. It is ironic that I have "returned", as it were, to traditional Japanese diet of my childhood in many, if not all, respects. This "return" is not because of culinary conservatism but as a result of constant pursuit of foods that make me feel better physically.


Suppressed Negative Emotions and How to Release Them

One of the psychological effects that drinking of alcoholic beverages has upon me, and probably on many other people, is that the feeling of shame diminishes or disappears. This psychological change often makes me eloquent, and I start making compliments or letting loose my suppressed negative emotions, be they toward specific indivituals or the society. This week I found myself (again) criticizing someone mercilessly for something that seems to have been irritating me for a long time. I was sorry that this way I spoiled the atmosphere, but I am not sure any more if this was a mistake.

Many of us, including myself, of course, seem to have many suppressed nagative emotions. In this sense we are like volcanoes. When the suppressed energy passes our limit, we erupt. And when we are drunk and can rationally control ourselves less, our limit is also lowered. Although I am not sure if this is the best way to release our suppressed negative emotions, we do need to do so every once in a while in some way or another.

Every eruption of this kind makes me realize what negative emotions I have suppressed toward certain individuals. This realization often scares myself. But on the other hand, I think that if I remain in contact with someone while suppressing some strong negative emotions toward him or her, that relationship is a fake one. The best way to evade such an unpleasant conflict would be not to remain in touch with such a person, but we are often forced to do so under various social contexts.

There seem to be many ways to release suppressed negative emotions toward the society even constructively, but when it comes to specific individuals, I cannot see many constructive ways to do so. The longer we suppress our negative emotions toward someone, the more difficult it becomes to release them without running the risk of damaging the relationship with him or her seriously. And unfortunately, being drunk is often the only condition in which we find ourselves allowing ourselves to say directly what we have been suppressing toward someone else.


Supervising a Thesis or a Dissertation

It is frustrating and depressing that even more than a decate after I finished my doctorate I still find it quite difficult to write academic articles. Although I have never given birth to a child (nor will I be able to), I feel as if I had undergone the pain of a childbirth every time I finish one article. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to write an academic book, which I would like to start planning during my sabbatical in the next academic year.

But no less difficult than academic writing is supervising a thesis or a dissertation among all the responsibilities of a full-time faculty member in the university. Of course, this does not mean that the other obligations, including teaching, come especially easy to me, either.

What makes it especially difficult for me to be a thesis or dissertation supervisor is that I have to take on so much responsibility for another single individual. This is in marked contrast to racking my brain to write my own article, which is totally my own responsibility for myself alone.

What I am not so certain of yet (or probably even less certain of) even after having two MA theses and one PhD dissertation I supervised approved is in which areas and how much I am supposed to "interfere" with a thesis or a dissertation. This difficulty derives partly from the fact that I received virtually no advice for my MA thesis and only general advice for my PhD dissertation.

But one of the few things I am fully certain of is that a supervisor is not supposed to be a coauthor of a thesis or a dissertation. This means that I am supposed to take care neither of grammatical or lexical mistakes or inexactitudes of my student nor of processing of data, which is the very basis of any academic work.

I have also learned a lesson from a mistake I made. I will never agree to supervise a thesis or a dissertation if a student comes to me with no precise topic in advance. In my opinion, finding a topic on one's own is probably the most important thing in writing a thesis or a dissertation, so someone who cannot meet this very fundamental academic requirement and asks his or her potential supervisor for a topic is unfortunately destined to fail.


Shtender 'Portable Pulpit' as a Productivity Tool for Knowledge Workers

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that those who remain seated while they give a lecture at the university and conferences seem much less energetic, hence less inspiring than those who remain standing (and sometimes walking around) during their lecture. Almost instinctively, I have always preferred to remain standing with occasional movements of my upper body, including arms in this context. But when I read a book or used a computer, I had no choice but to sit down at the desk.

This changed this week as I finally decided to look for a shtender at Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and did buy one. For those who have never heard of the word shtender or have never seen it before, it is a kind of portable pulpit with four vertical legs supporting a slanted board. It is widely used by rabbis and yeshiva students as their "productivity tool", as it were. The upper board is a little bigger than two opened pages of a full-sized volume of the Talmud. Many rabbis and yeshiva students use a shtender when they give a sermon and study the Talmud respectively.

When I first saw someone giving a sermon in this way at the yeshiva where I studied about ten years ago and will study again in the next Jewish year, I was almost electrified by the energy he emitted around himself. Since then a shtender remained in my memory as an excellent productivity tool, but did not take any action until this week.

I immediately started using it for reading books, if not all the time, and teaching an intensive summer course of Esperanto for beginners at my apartment. Reading a book with a shtender is to giving a lecture while standing what remaining seated while reading is to doing the same while lecturing. I feel that it helps me get more stimulated and inspired intellectually. My hypothesis is that if you engage yourself in some intellectual activity while standing, your legs are stimulated physically, which in turn stimulates your brain and leads to inspiration. I have already recommended the use of a shtender as a productivity tool for knowledge workers to a few friends of mine.


Burden of Daily Cooking

Theoretically, I like cooking, and ideally, I would cook for myself not only supper, which I do, but even lunch, which, again ideally, I would take with myself to work. But in reality I do not do so for two reasons: I can save time of cooking by eating lunch cooked by someone else; I am likely to get bored less by eating lunch cooked by someone else. On the other hand, if I cook for myself, I can save money and eat what I consider healthier. In other words, there are two conflicting pairs of factors in cooking for myself vs. eating outside: money and health vs. time and boredom.

Are these two pairs of seemingly conflicting factors really incompatible? Unfortunately, I have to find a solution as soon as possible as I am also left with no choice but to prepare lunch for myself in my sabbatical in the next academic year. I am very excited that I will be able to return to my Jewish alma mater, an American Lithuanian-style haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem, spending four hours every weekday studying the Talmud there. As a formal student I will be entitled to have lunch for free there, but it is both unhealthy and boring. So the only benefit I will have is that I will be able to save time, but I am afraid that if I eat lunch there every weekday, my health will be seriously damaged. It is so sad that an institution that excels in developing intellectual and spiritual health of its students puts so little emphasis on their physical health.

So my "mission impossible" now is to find a solution for cooking something healthy every weekday without getting bored with it and without spending too much time in preparing it. The interim solution I have found so far after spending days and nights on the Internet is to use a steam case by a Spanish company called Lékué. I have not tried it yet, but I am planning to buy and try it in the near future. From what I have read in many testimonies of its users, it seems an ideal solution: it will allow me to prepare a variety of healthy foods within a short period of time, thus liberating me from the burden of daily cooking. If this method works, I will take with me what I prepare in a lunch jar made by a Japanese company called Zojirushi.


Why So Many People Make Promises They Cannot Keep (and Do Not Apologize for Breaking Their Promises)

I believe that if each one of us were a little more sensitive even in one of the ways we relate to each other, our society would be a more habitable place. One example of these ways is making and keeping promises. I cannot help wondering why so many people, including those I know personally, make promises they cannot keep. But what confuses and disappoints me far more is that many of them simply do not apologize for breaking their promises!

I have been extremely careful in making promises. Before I make a promise, I consider all the imaginable conditions, and only after making sure that I will be able to keep it, I make a promise. But I have an impression that many people do not bother too much to ask themselves before making their promises. Do they do so simply in order to please others with their promises that sound pleasant at that moment? I simply cannot understand their mindset, as I prefer disappointing someone by not making a promise unless I am sure that I will be able to keep it.

But of course, there may arise conditions you could not foresee. So it sometimes happens that you are left with no other choice but to break your promise. I think this is understandable and pardonable. But what I can neither understand nor pardon is lack of apology for breaking a promise whatever the reason for it is. In my opinion someone who could not keep his or her words has an obligation to explain why and apologize. I can be rather tolerant of people who cannot keep their words as long as they apologize for this, but I cannot be equally tolerant of those who do not apologize for breaking their promises.

It takes a long time to gain trust of someone else, but it often takes a moment to lose his or her trust instantaniously. Unfortunately, I continue to encounter people who do not share the same view with me about the above mentioned two principles of sensitive interpersonal relationship. But every time I encounter such people and suffer from their misconducts, they remind and convince me that I should be extremely careful so as not to behave as they do, as theirs is one of the best ways to lose trust by many sensitive people, including those whom we considered as our best friends. In my life I have no room for such untrustworthy people.


Looking Forward to Windows 8

I am not ashamed to say that I like Windows as an operating system since Windows 2000, though I prefer not to use other software programs by Microsoft. Being a linguist working on multiple languages in multiple scripts, I consider multilingual support as the most important feature of any operating system. Windows meets this demand of mine better than any other competing operating system in overall terms, again since Windows 2000. The subsequent versions of Windows, i.e., Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, did not add many new essential features to my computing experience as Windows 2000 did with its multilingual support, nor do I believe that next versions of Windows will be able to do so.

Nevertheless, I have a good reason to look forward to Windows 8, the next version of Windows that is slated to be released in the fourth quarter of 2012. It is the fact that this new version is optimized for both conventional and tablet computers. This approach of Microsoft makes more sense and appeals to me more than the approach of Apple, which uses the same operating system for tablet computers and smartphones but not for tablet computers and conventional computers.

It is almost one year since I started using a tablet computer running on Android. Although I still like the idea of tablet computers as hardware, I become more and more dissatisfied with Android as an operating system; it is far inferior to Windows in terms of multilingual support. But what frustrates me most is the fact that I have to use two different operating systems on two different physical devices.

There is a chance that with the advent of Windows 8 this frustration of mine will be dissolved. In terms of the operating system, this is for sure. When it comes to hardware, some manufacturers, including Microsoft itself, have already released (what I consider prototypes of) convertible computers that can serve both as tablet computers and as laptop computers. I really hope that by the time Windows 8 is released, more mature convertible computers will be available. I will definitely purchase one of them instead of continuing to use two different operating systems on two different physical devices. This way I will be able to use the same favorite software programs I use on Windows for tablet computing, too.

Unfortunately, many of the Android applications I have tried are a kind of watered down version of Windows applications, with a few exceptions, including Mantano Reader for reading both EPUB and PDF documents. If I stop using my Android tablet computer, I will surely miss this amazing EPUB and PDF reader. For all the other Android applications I use I have far better alternatives for Windows. But I have not found anything comparable to Mantano Reader for Windows. I wish it were exported to Windows.


How to Remain Self-Disciplined Mentally

A four-month summer vacation started today in Israeli universities. This means that my sabbatical also started today in practical terms, though it will only start officially in October after the end of this summer vacation. Of course, I am very happy to have this present of time away from the obligation of teaching as well as most of the bureaucratic work in the university for about 16 consecutive months. But I also have to be very strict with myself, as it would not be very difficult to pamper myself, making all sorts of excuses. So I have been asking myself recently the question of how to remain self-disciplined for this long period of time when only I am responsible for myself in time management.

I am quite self-disciplined about daily routines that are not related to work, including keeping the same early hours, eating meals at a fixed time, and running and swimming regularly. It is easy at least for me to remain self-disciplined about these daily activities as they do not require any mental concentration. The only "enemy" I have to fight inside me is physical laziness, which I have already tamed since I was still in my teens.

My main problem with my own self-discipline is about my work of producing new ideas in the forms of lectures for conferences and articles for periodicals. This kind of work, unlike the above mentioned activities, requires mental concentration, only through which I can be inspired to find new ideas and putting them into words. By its very nature, such work cannot be planned, that is, one cannot plan in advance and at will when one is inspired. But I believe and hope that there must be ways to raise the possibility of keeping my mind self-disciplined, as it were, during my work hours. Now I am reminded that what sets the standards for the rest of the day for my body is when I get up and what I do upon rising. This must also be the case with my mind.

I am afraid that many people, including many intellectually workers, start their daily mental work with no or little mental warm-up. Actually, I am one of them. Since I would like to make the best use of my sabbatical and get as many things as possible done which I am planning to do, I would also like the best use of what little mental capacity I have. So I wonder what can be the mental equivalent of this physical warm-up I can do in the early morning before starting to work. What I am planning to try is to dedicate an hour upon getting up to learning a book that requires mental concentration.

From my recent experience of learning the Talmud, though with a far more knowledgeable person, this can be an effective way of warming up my mind, even by myself with no study partner. So I am also thinking of joining the so-called daf yomi 'daily folio (of the Talmud)', that is, a daily study framework of the Talmud that was initiated in 1932 and has been accepted widely in the Jewish world. Many people throughout the Jewish world study the same folio, that is, two pages, of the Talmud in the cycle of about seven years and five months, and the new, 13th, cycle will start on the 3rd this August. This may be a good opportunity to join this regimen from the new beginning. Having such a framework will surely help me persevere. Although I am not sure yet if I can read every superficially one folio of the Talmud alone in one hour, it seems worth my while to try this.


Factors Disturbing Concentration

One hour with concentration is often far more productive than hours on end without concentration. It seems to me that when I was much younger, I could concentrate better in my study and learn more than I can now. This change for the worse may simply be due to my "internal" factor, that is, as I become older, I can concentrate less and less for physical reasons. Even if this is the case, there must also be other, "external", factors disturbing my concentration now. Since I will start my first sabbatical in October (and a four-month summer vacation before than in about a week), I must detect these factors and find solutions to combat them so that I may be able to get as many things done which I have planned to do during this precious gift of time away from the obligation to teach.

So what external changes could have had a negative effect on my concentration? The only negative factor I can think of is the Internet, including email and the web, especially after the connection to it has become so ubiquitous. When I entered a university at the age of 18 and started living alone, I decided not to have a TV set in my apartment in order not to be disturbed by it. I realize more and more clearly that email and the web do to me what a TV set might have done to me. They do not always allow me to concentrate on one thing for a long time. University and other public libraries used to be "safe havens" until the free wireless connection to the Internet became available. So the only time when I am not connected to the Internet is while I use public transportation. Actually, I consider the intercity bus I use when I commute between my apartment in Jerusalem and my workplace in Ramat Gan my most efficient office as I have no Internet connection then.

My life, both private and professional, depends so much on email and the web, but I have to make a firm decision to use them more sparingly and efficiently. In this respect I probably need two separate approaches to email and the web. The main problem with email is that many of us tend to become addicted to it, checking it very frequently. I am one of them. Some time ago I made what I consider a wise decision - to disable the option of automatically checking email periodically so that I may not be bothered by an alert every time a new message arrives. My next mission is to check (and answer) email only during fixed hours before and after work or during breaks but never during work. But I still do not know how to stop my addiction to email. Possible solutions include not to open my mailer and to disconnect myself from the Internet while I am working.

The web poses a different set of problems, at least for me. I do not check it so addictively, partly because I receive updates of those websites important to me through a feed aggregator extension of my browser. As of now, my main problem is my addiction to Japanese TV dramas that are uploaded to the web and are viewable for free. In each season there are about 30 such dramas. Of course, I do not watch all of them. In each season I choose about five dramas. Unfortunately, watching these dramas has become one of my few entertainments as I stopped going to the movies, concerts and theaters for various reasons. So it may not be easy to stop watching them completely, but I definitely have to find a way to watch them in a less disturbing way such as recording and watching them only on Friday, when I do not work.

The Internet is without doubt a revolution in the history of human communication, but it has its price. I have to find ways to tame it instead of being subjugated by it, having my concentration disturbed and wasting my time. Of course, all this is easier said than done.


Email as a Double-Edged Communication Tool

I consider email as the most efficient communication tool for most work-related matters. But unfortunately, I feel that this efficiency is being eroded constantly in my life for a number of reasons that in principle have nothing to do with myself or with the very essence of email. When I started using email 16 years ago, most other users of email were more or less the so-called "early adopters", therefore also geeks. I did not have many people to email back then, but on the other hand, I almost always received an immediate response from many of them, and no less importantly, they all knew email etiquette and followed it. With the popularization of the Internet in the following years and the resulting widespread use of email among more and more people with less and less computer literacy, email has become a double-edged communication tool. I feel that it often causes more agony than good to me.

What makes email as a more and more frustrating communication tool is not the fact that more and more people fail to follow email etiquette but the fact that they also fail to follow etiquette in general which is common to other settings of communication. There was a time when I waged a Quixotic fight against violators of email etiquette, including using plain text format instead of HTML format, bottom-quoting instead of top-quoting, to name just a few examples. But now I find myself fighting against those who have little or no etiquette of communication in general. Among what I consider the most serious violations of etiquette are failing to apologize for breaking your promise, failing to acknowledge receipt of something you asked someone else to send you, whether verbally or physically, and ignoring someone else's sincere questions (such as "Will you come to the next meeting you asked me to invite you to?") and remaining silent. I wonder how many days average users of email can wait for replies to their questions by email. My limit is three work days unless the person from whom I am expecting a response is on the go and has no Internet access. According to my experience, most of those who do not reply to me within three work days never reply to me. There are even those who ignore my repeated simple requests for confirming something that concerns them rather than me. The destiny of their email addresses is deletion from my email address book. ;-) I have to confess that I have a hard time with those who have no email address, but I have a much harder time with those who do have at least one email address but do not use it at all.

As of this writing, nearly half of my genuine questions of the above-mentioned type seem to be ignored, and my impression is that the percentage of these ignored questions is increasing steadily. I also realize a rather strong correlation between lack of etiquette of communication and the cultural background of my interlocutors by email; those with, e.g., the Japanese, Russian or American cultural background use email as a communication tool far more efficiently that those with the Israeli cultural background. Communication is possible only if there are two people. If the person with whom you are trying to communicate remains silent, email communication is impossible though in face-to-face communication silence can sometimes tell you volumes.

The main technical reason for this failure I can think of is the failure to use the email inbox wisely. One of the best ways to ensure unwise use of your inbox is to check your email with the web interface instead of using a mailer. I have realized that there already exist a whole generation of people who have never heard of a mailer and believe totally erroneously that the web interface is the only gateway to their email. Again according to my experience, people who check email on the web respond far less frequently and far less promptly than those who use a mailer. As far as I am concerned, my mailer (Thunderbird) is even more important than my browser (Firefox). If you check your email on the web, it is much easier to bury many important messages into oblivion without answering them. Another unwise use of the email inbox is not to keep it clean. As a number of experts in "getting things done" recommend, I always see to it that my email inbox is empty by the time I go to bed at night. I classify incoming messages by their importance and handle them accordingly, i.e., by answering them immediately, putting still empty replies to them in the drafts folder, or simply deleting them after or sometimes even without reading them.


Learning the Talmud "bekhavruta" / "bekhavruse"

In addition to my monthly reading circles in four languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto and Japanese) with like-minded people in Jerusalem, I started a few weeks ago a weekly reading session of the Talmud in the traditional Jewish manner (known as bekhavruta in Hebrew and bekhavruse in Yiddish) as a preparation for an intensive Talmud study at a haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem in my sabbatical in the next academic year.

Although both this traditional reading session of the Talmud and a conventional reading circle aim to learn (from) what is read, the former is distinguished from the latter in a number of significant ways: 1) the number of the participants is two; 2) you constantly question every wording as well as its supposedly hidden intention and argue about this with your partner; 3) you learn in order to implement what you learn in your daily Jewish life.

My haredi study partner is a good old friend of mine. Actually, I made friends with him since we first learned the Talmud together in this method for the first time about 15 years ago during one of my annual summer visits here (before I eventually moved here for good). Since then I also spent about four months in total at the same haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem where I am going to spend the next academic year, though not full-time. In these two experiences of learning the Talmud I was attracted neither to the language nor to the content, or to be more precise, I could understand neither of them.

I am still a baby in my level of proficiency in navigating "the sea of the Talmud", but compared to that really miserable state in the past, I seem to fare much better now. Although the language (i.e., Jewish Babylonian Aramaic) is still an obstacle, I can now follow discussions of the Jewish sages and even ask my own questions about them from time to time. In short, I can enjoy learning the Talmud now in this very lively manner. I can also feel that although the text was compiled about 1500 years ago, it reads like a living text in the traditional Jewish world. I have also noticed that this learning method requires a lot of concentration, as the reading of the text is not passive but highly active or maybe interactive. It also sharpens your mind.

This learning method is often said to be the most efficient one that we human beings have invented. But there is a seeming paradox here: How can two people learn without a teacher simply by arguing with each other? I myself have no clear answer to this question. But what I do know is that in this method you can always learn something new at each of the levels as you advance.

This weekly session is temporary, i.e., until I start my study at the above yeshiva. But I will probably find a partner to learn the Talmud and/or some other classical Jewish text bekhavruta / bekhavruse on a regular basis.


When I Lose My Temper Completely in Israeli Society

Although I consider myself a person of a placid temperament, there are times when I lose my temper completely in Israeli society and protest directly, often in a very harsh language, to the person who has caused this. The following are some of the typical contexts in which this happens:

  1. When someone treats me stereotypically: This is probably the single most disturbing context for me. I am especially sensitive to linguistic stereotyping. One of its commonest forms in Israel, though it does not happen to me so frequently, is to be spoken to in broken English by a non-native speaker of English who thinks that I do not understand Hebrew.
  2. When someone brings in his private things to the public sphere: This widespread childish behavior takes a number of forms in Israeli society. Someone can carry out a personal cellular phone conversation loudly in public. Someone can email a personal message in public instead of sending it only to the person involved. A bus driver can listen to his favorite music loudly without paying attention to the passengers.
  3. When someone keeps silent when he should say something explicitly in my opinion: I call this "Israeli silence". Many people here simply ignore my sincere questions. Many people do not have the minimal etiquette of thanking for what they requested and received. Many people do not apologize for not keeping what they promised.

Yes, I am fully aware that I am a difficult person to get along with. ;-)


Intermittent Fasting

At least for the past 15 years I have been taking two meals a day, that is, lunch and supper but no breakfast. I did not start this after reading some book, but I simply found myself following this habit of (not) eating instinctively as if I listened to the inner voice of my body. Although I run every weekday morning before work, I take in nothing but water afterward until I eat lunch around 11:30; I eat supper around 19:30 after daily swimming on weekdays. In other words, I fast for 16 hours every day and eat at the beginning and the end of the "window" of 8 hours. Actually, religious Jews also follow this habit on Sabbaths and holidays, but the problem is that many of them overeat.

Although many people seem to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I feel this habit of eating two meals a day suits me, every time I am forced to eat breakfast for some, mostly social, reasons and feel bad physically later. In short, breakfast destroys my day. Incidentally, academic conferences in Israel also destroy the rythm of my body, as they are organized by and for people who eat breakfast rather late in the morning and eat lunch between 13:30 and 15:00, which is too late for me, as I have to fast 18 hours instead of 16.

Several years ago I stumbled upon books by two Japanese medical doctors recommending this diet and explaining why it is good for the body. Being only a linguist-cum-runner-cum-swimmer, I cannot validate these explanations of theirs, but the fact remains that I feel much better physically without breakfast.

While reading a new book entitled Fitness for Geeks by Bruce W. Perry this week, I found a section recommending this diet. I also found it has a name ("intermittent fasting") and has followers among athletes. The author cited medical explanations about why intermittent fasting is good for the body, and they made sense to me. One of them is that our body is used to fasting but not to overeating, which characterizes many people in our age and seems to cause a number of modern diseases that were not known to ancient men.

In spite of all the physical benefits intermittent fasting seems to have, it may not be for everyone. And if you should decide to try it, please follow guidelines available on a number of websites about it and/or even consult your family doctor in advance. Like every new habit, you also have to adjust yourself to intermittent fasting little by little.


Digital Research Tools for Linguists (and Other Researchers)

This week I had to prepare a list of digital research tools, i.e., desktop programs (for Windows and sometimes also for other operating systems) and online services, that in my opinion facilitate and enhance research input and output, and sent it to a certain group of linguists. I expand and reproduce it here, hoping that it might also benefit other linguists as well as researchers in other areas and simply anyone who wants to get things done efficiently. I myself use (most of) these digital research tools. All of them, except for EditPad Pro, are free.


Intercultural Pragmatics

For the past few weeks I have been working on a talk I am invited to give at some huge international conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Israel to be held in the beginning of May in Jerusalem. The talk I proposed is entitled "Cultural Differences and Possible Misunderstandings in Communication between Japanese and Israelis". This is the first time that my talk at an academic conference will be based not so much on purely academic research by myself and others as on my personal experiences, observations and reflections (in this specific case, first as a Japanese citizen, now as an Israeli citizen, as a speaker and teacher of both Japanese and Hebrew, and as a researcher of Hebrew).

I remember reading some books about how cultural differences affect intercultural communication and being fascinated by the subject when I was still a high school student. I continued to study various languages and linguistics since then, but it was not until a few weeks ago that there exists an independent linguistic discipline studying this and similar subjects called "intercultural pragmatics" or "cross-cultural pragmatics". In the meanwhile I have found and started reading two fascinating books (Cross-Cultural Pragmatics by Anna Wierzbicka; Pragmatics across Languages and Cultures edited by Anna Trosborg) and checking one academic journal (Intercultural Pragmatics) devoted to this discipline.

These two books have given me a clear academic answer to what I felt during and after the World Congress of Esperanto last summer in Copenhagen: what we say in intercultural communication may be correct grammatically but not culturally, hence communicatively; cultural differences in pragmatics (= how to use the language in real contexts) must also be understood. I am even inclined to go so far as to say that true communication is possible only between people sharing more or less the same culture.

Having been "hovering" between Japanese and Israeli cultures for the past 24 years, I have an impression that it will not be so easy to find two cultures that are so different from each other than these two cultures. In terms of communication, Japanese and Israeli cultures can be characterized as indirect and context-dependent, and direct and context-independent respectively. There are also fundamental differences in their respective strategies for various speech acts, including apologizing, requesting, inviting, agreeing, refusing, complaining etc., as well as in aspects of non-verbal communication.

This is an excellent occasion for me to formulate differences between Japanese and Israeli cultures of communication and become aware of possible misunderstandings that they may cause.


Learning for Free vs. Learning in Exchange for Money

If we can receive the same merchandise either for free or in exchange for money, perhaps almost all of us will not hesitate to choose the former option, at least as long as this is legal. Learning seems to be a special kind of "merchandise" in this respect.

The truth is that I have been thinking of teaching an intensive summer course on a certain subject. It never occurred to me to charge the participants, as the purpose of the course is not to make money but to promote this subject here in Jerusalem. I am still of two minds about whether to organize it this summer, but as part of theoretical preparation for it I have started consulting other experienced teachers of the subject about this plan (or even dream) of mine. All of those whom I have asked so far told me unanimously that it would be a pedagogical mistake to allow the participants in the course to learn for free and I should charge them for the course, even at a symbolic amount.

This advice of theirs reminded me another advice I had read in a book by one of the most famous linguists-cum-polyglots in Japan: "If you want to learn a new foreign language, you should pay for your learning, even by hiring someone whose only task is to sit still beside you and just listen to you read aloud or speak that language for yourself." This seems to apply not only to learning languages but also to learning other things.

Unfortunately, many of us, including myself, are built psychologically in such a way that if we can learn something for free, we may not take it and the very process of learning it very seriously and may even feel free to quit it very easily. Paying money for our learning surely helps us commit ourselves to what we (are to) learn and persevere.

But in spite of all this, I am also worried that if I should decide to charge a tuition fee, I might end up having no participant in the course as its subject is already known to be not so appealing to many people, especially among the young. So I am looking for some alternative to money as an incentive to commitment and perseverance.


Standalone Mailer vs. Web Mailer as a Personal Information Manager

Ever since I became a netizen about 16 years ago, email has remained the most important service of the Internet for me; this may also be the case with many other netizens. But having observed the behaviors of other people during these years, I have noticed two significant changes in the way many of them use email. The first change is that more and more people use web mail addresses as their primary or even only email addresses instead of those assigned by their respective providers, schools and/or workplaces. The second is that more and more people check email with a web mailer, i.e., through the online interface of the sites of their respective web or non-web mail services, instead of using a standalone mailer.

I myself use (two) Gmail addresses as my primary addresses for both private and professional purposes, forwarding to one of them those messages reaching the other addresses. It is true that the online interface of Gmail and other mail services has been improving constantly, but it has not surpassed the best standalone mailers in terms of functionality, customizability, hence efficiency. I need to spend at least twice as much time with a web mailer as with a standalone mailer because I have far less control over what I read and write with a web mailer than with a standalone mailer. The time I waste for each small operation may be tiny, but it can accumulate to a large amount of time because I, like many other netizens, use email all the time. So every time I receive an email message from a friend or colleague of mine who composed it with a web mailer, I cannot help feeling really sorry for the time he or she is wasting every day, perhaps even without being aware of this very fact.

I am especially sorry for those who used to use a standalone mailer, but once they have switched to Gmail or some other web mail service, they have also abandoned their standalone mailer, probably without knowing that switching to, e.g., Gmail, does not have to force them to stop using a standalone mailer. Actually, I think using Gmail with a standalone mailer is the most efficient combination with occasional use of its web interface, first and foremost in order to prevent my accounts from expiring (Gmail accounts will expire if you do not check them through the web interface for more than nine months), or while you are on the go without shlepping your computer.

I have been using a crossplatform open source standalone mailer called Thunderbird as my default mailer for nearly eight years since its version was still less than 1.0. In the first several years it was not so impressive, but as the time went by, it has become a quite sophisticated mailer. I have also tried a number of other mailers, but none of them has impressed me so much as Thunderbird in functionality and customizability. It allows you to add many functions through a variety of extensions.

An extension called BiDi Mail UI turns Thunderbird into one of the best and rare mailers with excellent support for RTL text direction as in Hebrew. But what I consider the most important for Thunderbird is a calendar extension called Lightning. Since I started using it a few years ago, Thunderbird has evolved from a communication tool to a personal information manager for me, i.e., I also use it as an electronic scheduler. I know that some of those who are otherwise computer-savvy still stick to paper schedulers, but they have to be aware that this way they are also wasting time; besides, paper schedulers cannot alert you about forthcoming events and tasks. Thunderbird also has some other built-in functions and other extensions which make it a very efficient personal information manager.

Many users of Gmail may also be using Google Calendar. In this respect I also prefer a standalone electronic calendar to an online one. Besides you can also check integrate Google Calendar into your Lightning through an extension called Provider for Google Calendar.

If you feel like trying a standalone mailer for the first time or after years of interval, I would strongly recommend Thunderbird to you. For people like you I have a webpage called Thunderbird: Guide for the Perplexed, which is the most popular page on my website TS-Cyberia. You can download the software for free from the above link to it. As is well known, there are two ways of checking email with a standalone mailer: IMAP and POP. You can check Gmail with Thunderbird in any of the two ways. But unless you are completely sure about your eventual switch to this mailer, please choose the former method. Gmail Help has a page explaining how to configure Thunderbird to check Gmail with IMAP. Even if you should decide not to switch to it in the end, you lose no data from your online inbox. Personally I prefer POP, though it is considered an older technology. But please do not try this method if you are not sure yet about your switch to Thunderbird, as your data will be transferred from your online inbox to that of this mailer. Again, Gmail Help has a page explaining how to configure Thunderbird to check Gmail with POP; I have been using this method together with the so-called recent mode. If you do not want to install the program on your hard disk and you use Windows, you can also try Thunderbird Portable, which you can install on your USB flash memory.

* Warning: It is true that Microsoft Outlook has similar functionality, but it is less customizable and is bloatware.

* Disclaimer: I have no commercial interest with this noncommercial software.


The Book That Has Affected My Life Most

When I left Japan for Israel in August 2004 to assume an offered position at Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Bar-Ilan University, I sent all my books here. But for some reason I do not remember I left one book at my parents' house. Paradoxically, it is the very book that has affected my life most:

Mansoor, M. 1973. Hebrew Course. London: Linguaphone Institute.

My late grandmother (on my mother's side) bought this book for me as a present for my forthcoming 20th birthday; this was in January 1983, that is, almost 29 years ago (I was born in March 1963). When she asked me what present I would like to receive from her for my 20th birthday, she apparently expected me to ask for a nice suite or something like that. Instead, I asked for the above book as I wanted to learn Hebrew.

One may ask me why Hebrew out of the blue. Although I was born in a small rural town in the north of Japan, I was always interested in other languages and cultures. I even started learning English alone from some audio course (with all the explanations in English), which I had received from a niece of mine, before I started learning it formally at junior high school. I always liked learning this language, but it never occurred to me to study it at the university. I wanted to specialize in some "exotic" but important language in the university. I had some candidates, but in the end I chose Arabic, mainly because I was interested in the Middle East back then, and I did study Arabic as my major in the university. The idea of learning Hebrew was a kind of continuation of learning Arabic because they belong to the same language family.

When I started learning Hebrew from the above mentioned book, I could never imagine that I would end up receiving my PhD in Hebrew linguistics in Israel and teaching it there. Even the wildest imagination would have been able to foresee this. Anyway, a few months after I started to learn Hebrew, I told myself that I would like to dedicate my life to the study of this language. Since then I persevered in the pursuit of my dream, and very fortunately, teaching Hebrew linguistics at an Israeli university is my present occupation. All this started with the above mentioned book. It also reminds me not only of my late grandmother, who bought it for me, but also of my late supervisor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Shelomo Morag, who turned out to be one of the advisers to this book.

Now I see this book every day. Every time I see it, I am reminded of the days when I started learning Hebrew and the feeling I had back then, of my late grandmother and later supervisor, who affected my life very profoundly, and, of course, of the strange path I have taken in my life.


Fighting against Insensitive People in Israel

As I feared, the relief I felt upon my return here from a very fragile society called Japan last week, or my renewed "honeymoon" with Israel, did not last long. I was sure that I would encounter insensitive people back in Israel very soon. Unfortunately, I was right; it was only four days after returning here that I encountered the first insensitive person this time. I am already too familiar with this specific type of insensitive behavior; I have encountered it so many times here. I decided rather recently to fight against such people both by protesting them on the spot with a harshest language and by boycotting their businesses if they are in the service industry. So I did the same thing to him this week, though I do not think his business will suffer from my boycotting it; actually I am the one who suffers, but my self-dignity is not for sale. And I am afraid that the list of the businesses I may boycott here will continue to grow.

Although I prefer Israel to Japan as a place of residence, this preference is only a relative one, or the lesser of two evils. It is true that professionally and when I am with my close friends and colleagues, I enjoy myself here (back in Japan I did not have even this professional joy), but otherwise I cannot say that I am very satisfied with my life here, partly because I encounter too many insensitive people regularly. What makes me even sadder is the fact that insensitivity is also quite rampant among the so-called "educated". Of course, there are also enough sensitive people here, but considering the frequency of encountering various forms of insensitivity here, I am afraid that it may be one of the characteristics of Israeli culture.

I am not sure which is worse, fragility or insensitivity, but as long as I live in Israel, I have to cope with the latter, which is becoming more and more unbearable for me. I know that we can only change ourselves but not the whole society, but I have to tell insensitive people explicitly every time anew that their deed and/or speech are totally unacceptable to me and explain why this is so, instead of simply ignoring them, which the wise would do, because they are insensitive to their very insensitivity!

When I still lived in Japan as a Japanese citizen, I thought very naively that Israel would be a rosy garden, but it did not take me long to realize my naiveness and, to be honest, also become quite disillusioned with a number of aspects of Israeli society and culture, especially after I became an Israeli citizen. I am also rather ashamed to admit this, but I am afraid that actually whatever society I may live in, I will always find fault with it and kvetch about it. This is one of the conclusions about myself to which I have come rather recently. But on the other hand, I would not be able to live alone in a social vacuum, for example, on some unpopulated island, even with the best Internet connection and two synagogues. ;-)


Japan as a Very Fragile Society

Last night I returned to Jerusalem from a two-week trip in Japan. This time I had only a minimal contact with the general society there as I squeezed as many things as possible into this rather short itinerary in five cities (Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, Yurihonjo and Tokyo), including giving two talks, spending one entire Sabbath at the orthodox shul, meeting friends and colleagues, my parents, sister and her husband, and taking private lessons in Total Immersion Swimming. But even this minimal exposure to the general society was enough to get a strong impression for the first time that Japanese is actually a very fragile society.

This fragility takes a number of forms, whether physical or not. But before enumerating them, I would like to point out that the common denominator among various forms of the fragility of Japanese society is its approach to tackling possible problems. People try to protect themselves against these problems instead of developing immunity against them, which in my opinion is not healthy.

Probably the most conspicuous physical self-protection is the rampant use of masks in public. Nothing looks more weird and scary than this in the human "landscape" of Japan for those who are not used to its sight. People are also too sensitive to hygiene in public toilets and other public places.

Many companies in Japan try to protect themselves against possible claims from their clients and customers by inundating more and more places with officious warnings and precautions in speech (from loudspeakers) and in writing (on billboards); trains and buses are among the worst in this respect. When I still lived in Japan, I used to complain and fight against this audiovisual noise. Now that I do not live in Japan, I do not care much about its various sociocultural problems, but this noise still makes me angry both at those who make it and at those who do not complain against it. I still cannot help wondering why people have to be treated as small children who cannot be responsible for themselves and why they do not complain about such a treatment.

Another fear-based self-protection is the use of formulaic and too polite language. Many people seem to be in constant fear of being hurt verbally. Few people express in a straight manner what they really mean, hoping and believing that this way they will not be criticized and hence be hurt by others in turn. As a result what they say or write is seldom taken verbally as they are interpreted as hinting at something unsaid or unspoken. A typical Japanese conversation seems to me like that between two cowards. This alone is a good reason for me to prefer living in Israel, where you are allowed in principle to express freely what you mean. There is no wonder that true verbal interactions and dialogs do not and cannot exist in Japanese society. This also seems to explain why sophisticated humor has not developed there as it also serves as a kind of buffer against verbal aggressiveness.

Accumulation of these and other forms of fear-based self-protection leads to a society where many people are faceless and robot-like and do not look happy. During this short stay of mine in Japan I felt as if my positive energy were constantly drained with few opportunities to recharge myself except in the synagogue, which serves for me as a Jewish enclave in the Land of the Rising Yen. Paradoxically, I have learned a lesson of adopting this self-protection in Japanese society, not for fear of being hurt but in order to minimize the loss of my positive energy, by minimizing my contact with people emitting negative energy there. I can now appreciate more what I have here in Israel, at least in terms of interpersonal communication, in spite of my constant complaint against Israeli society.

PS: Although this may not be a form of self-protection, constant nodding of so many people there while they speak was so widespread that it distracted and prevented me from concentrating on the contents of conversations when I was spoken to. Being forced to see this repetitive vertical movement all the time was a torture for me even when I was not spoken to.


In What Respects (I Feel) I Have (Not) Been Affected by Israeli Culture

If I include the five years I spent as a PhD student at the Hebrew University, I have lived in Israel for almost 13 years. In spite of my increasing awareness that I should not and would not fully assimilate here culturally, I am sure that I have been influenced by Israeli culture for better or for worse. As I am going to enter Japan with my Israeli passport for the second time next week, I have asked myself in what respects I have (not) been affected by Israeli culture as a kind of "rite of passage" from Israel to Japan and then vice versa in two weeks.

Areas in which (I feel) I have been affected include (in random order):

  • Self-confidence: I am more confident of myself now, especially when I speak in front of strangers. This is not only because of Israeli culture but also thanks to some positive changes in my professional life, but I am sure that Israeli culture has an important share in making me more self-confident. Japanese culture, on the other hand, has several things that make many people have little or no self-confident. At the same time, however, I am careful not to be too self-confident and become conceited as many people are here.
  • Laughter: I laugh and make others laugh much more frequently. Joy of life is in my opinion one of the greatest commandments in Judaism. Laughing or making others laugh is one of the most efficient ways to attain it. I also tell spontaneous jokes all the time, though not everyone, even here in Israel, notices the very fact that I am joking.
  • Direct speech: My speech is far more direct now. I do not hint at anything except humorously or ironically. I am quite sure that my speech sounds quite aggressive to many native speakers of Japanese.
  • Sociability: I am more sociable now, mainly after I Hebraized my name. Before that I always hesitated to present myself in social gatherings as few people could catch my Japanese given name and I had to repeat it a number of times, and even then few people were successful in pronouncing it correctly.
  • Hospitality: I have come to host friends etc. at my apartment. Hospitality is mainly a feature of the religious people here. Although I live alone and my cooking skills and facilities are limited, I enjoy having people here, especially when I am successful in making my guests feel at home and enjoy the time we spend together.

Areas in which (I feel) I have not been affected (so much) include (in random order):

  • Eating: I still maintain a healthy diet, refraining from eating what I consider junk foods, including cake and other sweet things. And eating has not become my only physical activity (or even state) as is the case with many people here.
  • Drinking: Although I had to stop drinking beer (for fear of gout), I have switched to red wine and still continue drinking quite a lot, at least in Israeli terms (I drink one bottle almost every day). This is probably the only dietary "sin" I make. As a kind of excuse for this "sin", I can say that red wine made in Israel is simply too good not to enjoy.
  • Physical exercises: I continue to do physical exercises regularly - I run and swim five times a week. The majority of the regular members at my swimming club are Anglophones. I wonder how many native Israelis do any physical exercise regularly except for eating.
  • Not promising what I cannot keep: I have been very careful not to promise what I cannot keep. But even in spite of this caution there are times, though very rarely, in which I cannot keep my words due to external circumstances that are beyond my control; then I always apologize to the person I promised something. I am extremely bothered by people, including those I thought were my friends, who neither keep promises nor apologize to me later for that; unfortunately, this is a very rampant behavior here.
  • Punctuality: I still come to personal meetings and social gatherings on time, even if I know in advance that many others will not show up on time and will be late. I have an impression that quite a few people think illusionally that being late and making others wait for them make them more important socially. I cannot trust people who cannot come on time, either, as they steal my time. More people in Israel should be aware of this severe sin called theft of time.


Socializing with All the Tenants of the Same Building

You cannot always choose your neighbors, especially if you rent an apartment. One bad neighbor is often enough to turn your daily life into a living hell. One of the worst things that a neighbor can do to me is to make noise constantly, whether intentionally or not. I used to suffer a lot from such noisy neighbors. If I could choose neighbors, I would also evade unsociable people who do not even offer greetings not only to me but also to anyone else in the same building.

A good neighbor, on the other hand, is an asset hard to come by. By "a good neighbor" I mean someone who not only is not noisy but also is sociable. Now I am not only blessed with something rarer - all the tenants in the building where I live are such neighbors - but also am experiencing something I have never experienced anywhere else in my entire life - all of us socialize together! So far we have had two parties and one Sabbath meal together; one of the tenants even composed a special poem for this occasion, intertwining the given names of all of us! I really hope that we will have more of these gatherings. I will probably initiate and host one in the near future instead of just waiting passively for others to do so.

Such socialization of the whole building must have been enabled by a combination of chances. One is the fact that most of us are in our thirties or forties. Another is the fact that most of us are frum though our exact affiliations vary.

This precious experience has made me realize three things. First of all, those who have initiated these gatherings have made me think that we should focus more on what we can give to others than on what we can get from them. The above mentioned Sabbath meal is a good example; each of us thought how he or she would be able to contribute to the meal. Second, having so many good neighbors, especially under one roof, and socializing with them, even only once in a while, can greatly enhance our life. Third, even a group of many good neighbors, however, cannot be a substitute for a significant other, whom I do not have now.


Why I Do Not Use Microsoft Word

By saying in various occasions, often in passing, that I do not use Microsoft Word, I have almost always been successful in surprising its many (often blind) users, including many friends, colleagues and students of mine, as if it never occurred to them that there are alternatives. Almost all of them ask me then what is wrong with Word. I generally answer only that it has a number of problems, but I do not get into their technical details.

I have to emphasize that this is not Microsoft bashing. Actually, I like Microsoft Windows, especially since Windows 2000, as an operating system with the best multilingual support, and have been using it since Windows 3.1. I also used to purchase and use various versions of Microsoft Word in English, Hebrew and Japanese editions for many years, until I became increasingly aware of its problems, stopped using it altogether and switched to what I consider better alternatives. Although I have liberated myself from the "yoke" of Word, I still suffer from the problems it causes as I still receive Word documents from others constantly. So I have decided to explain in detail why I do not use Microsoft Word and what are its problems, hoping that at least some of my friends, colleagues and students who happen to follow this blog may become at least aware of its problems.

When one talks about Word and its problems, one must distinguish between three things: 1) problems of word processors in general, 2) problems of Word as a word processor in particular, 3) problems of many formats used by Word. I will explain these problems in the reverse order.

The main reason why I have stopped using Word is its problematic formats. Software programs come and go. You can never know whether Word will follow the same fate. But we have to future-proof our documents. So the "best" way to "bury" them so that we may not be able to read or even open them in the future is to save them in a proprietary format such as Word formats. It is true that the latest format of Word as of now (docx is its file extension) as an international standard approved by ECMA International, but it is not as open and crossplatform as Open Document Format used by LibreOffice Writer and many other open source crossplatform word processors. I am sorry that few users of Word seem to be aware of this problem. Although these alternative programs can read Word documents, their compatibility is not perfect. Someone who sends Word documents to others without their prior concent is actually depriving them of their right to choose which word processor or any other text authoring tool to use and forcing them to use a specific commercial software program instead. This is in my opinion nothing but sheer violence!

The second reason concerns Word as a software program. It has becoming more and more bloated, especially with the introduction of the so-called "ribbon interface". On the one hand, it offers its users "fancy" functions, but on the other, it conceals a number of important functions of word processing, including use of the so-called "styles", and discourages its users from using them. Of all the Word documents I have received by email here in Israel in the past seven years, only one did use "styles" correctly, and I received it today (not from myself but a very famous scholar in Jewish studies living in Jerusalem) while writing this very blog entry! Purely from the viewpoint of usability, Word has become bloatware. I feel really sorry for people who waste their precious time struggling with this frustrating interface.

The third reason is not specific to Word in particular but is common to word processors in general. As I wrote above, few users of Word or any other word processor seem to fully understand what word processing is all about. The fact that they do not use "styles" is an eloquent proof for this. If the majority of people fail to use word processors as they are meant to be used but use them as electronic typewriters instead, its very design must be fundamentally flawed. They only encourage the illusion of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), which contradicts the very foundation of word processors, which are supposed to be WYSIWYM (what you see is what you mean) tools.

The biggest mistake many average users of computers make is that word processors in general and Microsoft Word in particular are their first text authoring tools. They should first be introduced to text editors and be taught how to use them, especially together with regular expressions, concentrating on the manipulation of text and its content without being distracted how it should appear physically. I am so sorry that so many people, including most of my friends, colleagues and students have not been initiated into the world of text editors and regular expressions. They are so efficient and "beautiful"! I cannot imagine my (computing) life without them.