The Third Attack of Gout

Somehow I forgot the fact that I have a "landmine" called gout in my body as more than a year and a half had passed since its last attack (I experienced the first attack of gout in May 2013 and the second a few months later). It took me two days to recognize the swelling and pain on my right foot as a result of gout as it was not a big toe but an ankle that was attacked first this time (four days before Yom Kippur, which fell on last Saturday this year). But by the time I realized this, it was too late. By then I could barely move even inside my apartment because of the pain, so I had to live on what few foods that remained in the fridge for two days, until I decided to rent crutches and shlepped myself, though with great difficulty.

In a sense I was surprised that I didn't have this third attack of gout until now, as I had enough reason to experience it earlier because of my overdrinking of red wine. Though I'm rather ashamed to confess how much wine I used to drink every day, I'll do so only so that other lovers of wine may learn a lesson from my mistake. After I had the second attack of gout, I was supposed to have reduced the daily consumption of wine significantly, so I don't remember how it reached such a high level - one bottle on each of the five weekdays and two on Fridays and Saturdays totaling ten bottles a week in the past year!

Partly because of the timing of the attack this time, I've decided to repent and stop drinking wine - I'm not used to drinking any other alcoholic beverage on a regular basis - except on Sabbaths and holidays, and even then I won't drink more than one bottle during the whole Sabbath or holiday. I've been successful so far in keeping this self-imposed resolution. It was not until the day before yesterday, the first night of Sukkot, that I nervously sipped a small amount of red wine as part of the celebration of this holiday, fearing that I may have another attack of gout. This one-week abstinence from wine seems to have already made my body so sensitive to alcohol. I could finish one bottle quickly and without being affected very much, but this time I felt it was more than enough after I drank a third of a bottle.

Ironically, I'm grateful to my body for giving me this warning. Otherwise I might have continued drinking, thus causing other kinds of damage to my body. Actually, I was told by a good friend of mine to try alcoholics anonymous, but I don't think I need to try this solution. I was offered a very painful solution, but it seems to work very well.


Xenophobe's Guides

My recent visit to England made me feel like knowing more about its culture and the mentality of its average people. While looking for some handy guide to the English, I remembered that I stumbled upon a hilarious series called Xenophobe's Guides at one bookstore in Reykjavik when I visited it last summer. Guides to the following 30 nations have appeared so far:

Before buying the guides to the English and some other major European nations for the sake of comparison, I first bought the guide to the Japanese to make sure that the series is reliable, and found that the descriptions there are accurate, though some of them are rather shallow because of the page limitation. Here are some excerpts from this book:

The Japanese

  • The Japanese way of dealing with something they find unacceptable is by not talking about it.
  • Because of all the indecisiveness, the Japanese are trained from an early age to read each other's minds in order to ensure some progress.
  • "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down."
  • In Japanese society, everybody owes somebody, and everybody is owed by somebody else.
  • The Japanese do not criticize each other, or anyone else, even in trying circumstances.
  • When a Japanese is intoxicated, he (and, increasingly, she) can be his true self.
  • In Japan everybody wants to be different from everybody else in exactly the same way.
  • Only by making fools of themselves can the Japanese feel truly comfortable with each other and able to laugh.

Once I started reading the guide to the English, I couldn't stop reading the other guides I bought together. Here are excerpts from the guides to the English, the French, the German, the Italians, the Spanish and the Russians:

The English

  • The admired way to behave in almost all situations is to display a languid indifference.
  • The capacity to greet life's vicissitudes with a cheerful calm is an essential ingredient of Englishness.
  • The English ideal will be reached when everyone in English is living alone, on their own individual island.
  • To the rest of the world the entire English race is eccentric. To the English themselves, the concept of eccentricity is a useful way of coping with the problem of anti-social behaviour in one of their own kind.
  • Supplication, gratitude and most important of all, apology are central to English social intercourse.
  • In English eyes one may be pardoned for all manner of social sins if one is able to laugh about them.
  • In England, brains are optional but a sense of humour is compulsory.
  • Without the conversational topic of the weather, no two English people would ever get to know each other.

The French

  • It is the passion for matters of the intellect that makes the French natural philosophers. They worship ideas and those who generate them.
  • What makes French snobbery easier to accept is that it is based on good taste.
  • When the French are rude, it is because they consider that the occasion demands it.
  • They approach verbal humour with the same subtlety they bring to love-making, but with a bigger laugh at the end.
  • The French are not afraid of normal body odours, which they regard as natural.
  • There is neither the time nor place for the mediocre in the lives of the French.
  • It is as though having to work is incompatible with the notion that the French have discovered the secret of the good life.
  • To the French there is little point in living unless one is obsessed.

The Germans

  • Contrary to popular belief, the Germans don't know everything, they just know everything better.
  • The Germans long to be understood and liked by others, yet secretly take pride that this can never be.
  • It is axiomatic in Germany that everything needs sorting before you can achieve anything.
  • Perfectionism is a prime German characteristic that benefits their auto industry, but can be a trial at parties.
  • Fitting in is a virtue, standing out an offence.
  • The accidental and unplanned is something no German likes or feels comfortable with.
  • No self-respecting German has confidence in anyone but an expert.
  • The Germans take their humour very seriously. It is not a joking matter.

The Italians

  • Italians know how important it is to act the part, and look the part as well.
  • If they are not sorry, they feel they don't need to say anything, and if they are sorry, they can say it in the confessional.
  • Italians grow up knowing that they have to be economical with the truth.
  • Losing face is considered far worse than being found out.
  • As they also have great respect for the role they are playing, they prefer not to ruin the effect with levity.
  • Italian enthusiasm knows no bounds when it comes to arranging a meal.
  • All Italians are individually perfect, but all Italians know that other Italians are imperfect.
  • Italy's laws would be perfect without the Italians, who pay little attention to most of them.

The Russians

  • Scratch a Russian, and you will find a romantic. Russian romanticism is invincible, insuperable, unsinkable and unreasoning.
  • Drinking prowess is a matter of pride. To drink a lot without getting really drunk is the secret wish of every Russian.
  • Never, ever ask a Russian how things are - that is, unless you are truly interested in whether or not his bowels moved this morning.
  • Russians are unsurpassed in the masochistic skill of being able to laugh at oneself.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to rid oneself of the impression that Russians are very good at creating problems, and then heroically overcoming them.
  • The grown-ups used to be avid readers on buses and trams but, since the advent of the capitalist market, the number of readers has visibly shrunk, and the majority of readers would rather sit (or stand), quietly giving their tired brains a chance to relax.
  • Every Russian knows that you are nobody without your dacha, a summer house with a little garden attached.
  • There isn't anyone who doesn't have an original plan for saving Russia from incompetent rulers.

The Spanish

  • Self-reliance results in a reluctance to sacrifice any part of their own interests to the common good.
  • The words "please" and "thank you" exist, but are seldom put to use.
  • The Spanish are never in a hurry to finish anything, whatever they are telling you may take an hour or two, or three.
  • The Spanish never go to bed at night if they can possibly help it, as they might be missing out on something more exciting than sleep.
  • Noise does not affect the Spanish, who seem to thrive on it, and any excuse to make even more is, apparently, most welcome.
  • The Spanish sense of urgency, or rather the total lack of it, affects everyone's eating habits.
  • The Spanish do not drink to release their inhibitions because they have none.
  • The Spanish take little heed of any rules or regulations - they are not enjoyable.

I'm fully aware that generalizations can be dangerous, but on the other hand, according to my experience, about 80% of people in a few nations I know very well behave according to these generalizations or stereotypes. These guides have only confirmed what I already felt about these six European nations, but having read these guides, I've understood clearly why I've always felt comfortable with Russians, then with Germans (and admire the English), though not in every aspect. Some national characters also seem to be able to explain why some nations have achieved accomplishments in certain areas, while other wouldn't be able to. What is more interesting is how these national characters were formed, to which these guides can't answer.

I can't resist the temptation of continuing to read the rest of the series, but I'll allow myself to read one at a time as a present to myself for finishing one task at work. I'd also like to see the following additions to the series.

  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Arabs
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Argentinians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Brazilians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Hong Kongers
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Hungarians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Indians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Iranians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Jews
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Koreans
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Lithuanians
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Maltese
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Mexicans
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Romanis
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Taiwanese
  • Xenophobe's Guide to the Turks

If you are planning a trip to some country and/or are just curious about some nation, I highly recommend you this series. Each guide follows the same template, is very cheap, has only 100 pages (I could finish each guide in about one hour), and is written with a lot of humor. They are also available as ebooks, for example, at Kobo Books.


Lexicom 2014 and eLex 2015 at Herstmonceux Castle / Cambridge

I participated in Lexicom 2014, an annual international workshop on corpus and electronic lexicography that took place between August 11 and 15 at Herstmonceux Castle, a picturesque medieval castle near Brighton. It was one of the two most exciting and enriching learning experiences I've ever experienced in my entire life (the other being the experience of learning the Talmud at an ultraorthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem during my sabbatical last year).

The workshop far exceeded my expectations. Everything was amazing - course materials themselves, two teachers, two assistants, other like-minded participants from various countries in the world (it was strange that no one participated from the UK, and many of the participants, including myself, live in countries other than the ones they were born), and of course "extracurricular activities" some of us, including our two teachers, had every evening at the bar inside the castle, from which I learned no less than from the official part of the workshop.

The course materials can be divided into three main categories: corpus lexicography taught by Adam Kilgarriff, practical electronic lexicography taught by Michael Rundell, and theoretical electronic lexicography taught by both of them. I especially enjoyed and benefited from the sessions on the use of Sketch Engine for building corpora and searching built-in and custom-made corpora taught by its developer himself (Adam) and sessions on practical tasks of writing a dictionary by the editor himself of Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners and Macmillan Collocations Dictionary (Michael). Having made a personal acquaintance with these amazing linguists is a priceless asset for me. I recommend this workshop to everyone who wants to learn recent advances in corpus and electronic lexicography from the best imaginable pair of world-renowned experts.

I'm even planning to revisit the castle next August, but for a different purpose. The next biannual conference on electronic lexicography, eLex 2015, will be held there. I still have to think about a topic for my lecture proposal. Even if I may not be able to find any, I'll probably participate in the conference as a listener.

After this unforgettable international gathering I visited a good old friend of mine living in Cambridge who I first got acquainted with 22 years ago when I was a student in Jerusalem, and spent three days there. I was impressed with the cultural richness and maturity I couldn't fail to notice there, and felt sorry that I never thought of studying in the UK (or the US), too. My present academic life must have become quite a different one.

This travelogue-shmavelogue of mine wouldn't be complete without my telling about one important thing I lost and three things I fell in love with (again) in the UK there. I proved my extraordinary absent-mindedness by losing my one and only credit card during the workshop. Luckily, I had enough cash to survive, and this was the second time to lose my credit card, so I remembered all the necessary procedures to withdraw cash through the Western Union in the UK.

Many people, both in and outside the UK, seem to be making fun of British foods. But having eaten the best fish and chips I had ever eaten at some local pub in Cambridge, I fell in love again in this popular British food. I miss it so much that I've found two restaurants in Jerusalem that serve fish and chips and am planning to visit there this week. British cider was also such a culinary pleasure that I drank it every day during my short stay in the UK. Of all the brands I tried there I liked Bulmers Original. I'm not sure if I can find it or any British cider here in Israel. I'm even thinking of importing it personally.

And one more thing that has made my present visit to the UK this time a very pleasant one, in addition the workshop, my friend in Cambridge, fish and chips and British cider, is the British sense of humor, which I'm inclined to interpret as a sign of cultural maturity. I encountered it among several ordinary people I met there.

PS: The above mentioned friend of mine in Cambridge can offer her therapy sessions not only to those living in the city but also to those outside it through Skype in Russian, English and Hebrew. If you are interested, please take a look at Soultap Therapy, her website.


Imagined Life of a Lexicographer

I'm really excited that I'll finally be able to participate next week in Lexicom, an annual workshop on electronic and corpus lexicography to be held this year at Herstmonceax Castle near Brighton in England. Though one may be able to learn theoretical lexicography from books, practical lexicography, or how to make a dictionary, seems to be learnable efficiently only from those who already have a first-hand experience in this art. This is probably the only workshop on electronic and corpus lexicography, both theoretical and practical, that has been taking place annually for years, and its two teachers are among the most eminent and admired experts in the field.

The main reason why I long wanted and have decided to participate in this unique annual workshop is that I myself want to compile a couple of bilingual dictionaries electronically that involve Modern Hebrew either as their source or target language and are based on or driven by corpus evidence.

I've already started to imagine how my life will look like if I start working on any of these planned dictionaries in an intensive manner as the main task of my routine. Ironically, I'll probably find myself speaking less and less with living people, though the purpose of a synchronic dictionary is to describe their living language; instead, I'll spend more time checking corpus evidence in a written form.

Practical lexicography is probably one of the few areas in which linguists can make a practical contribution to the society. What has attracted me to it is not so much this reason as my feeling that my characters seem to be suitable to endure Sisyphean work called dictionary making.

This workshop next week will tell me if my feeling is justified. I also hope I'll be able to share my experience there with what few regular patient readers of this blog-shmog after I return to Israel in about ten days. Having read impressions of the workshop by past participants, I'm already quite sure that my experience will also be an unforgettable one.


Profound Influence of the Study of the Talmud on the Way of Thinking and Arguing

One of the two pinnacles of my weekly activities is my weekly study of the Talmud in the traditional Ashkenazic manner, that is, with a study partner. Outsiders who are not familiar with this method of learning and see two of us arguing might think erroneously that we are angry with each other, as we scream and interrupt each other when we argue. I'd even call the study of the Talmud in this traditional manner mental martial art.

Though I started this only about two years ago, I already see how profoundly it already influences the way I think and argue. Though the color of my "belt" is not black yet, I'm surprised to see how easy and boring to argue with someone, whether Jewish or not, who has no background in the study of the Talmud. Since the experience of learning the Talmud is so intence, I can't help noticing immediately any logical flaw in anything written, including messages posted to mailing lists I subscribe to. I try not to "abuse" this byproduct of my study of the Talmud, but someone writes something utterly stupid in public, I can't resist the temptation of counterarguing it.

And every time I reread afterwards how I reasoned my counterargument, I'm surprised to see how Talmudic my reasoning is (and has become). I'm afraid that I've made a bad reputation for myself in many circles this way, and some people seem to be even afraid of arguing with me in public. Actually, one person even "confessed", though in private, that he feared of arguing with me in public. What a compliment! ;-)

I may be wrong, but I can't help thinking that the Ashkenazic ingenuity has much to do with the study of the Talmud and its profound influence on the way its learners think and argue. Of course, only a small part of the Ashkenazim studies this amazing book, but this learning experience and its influence seem to have been distilled even into the way common people who have otherwise nothing to do with the Talmud think and argue.


Unfortunate Commonality between Israel and Japan

In terms of the mentality of their respective average citizens, it may not be easy to find two countries that are so different from each other as Israel and Japan. Their sociocultural differences may be characterized by such pairs of terms as directness vs. indirectness, rudeness vs. politeness, informality vs. formality, to name just a few. But these two countries also have some positive things in common; for example, they are probably the only mature democracies in Asia, and important contributors to the advancement of the world's science and technology. Recently I have noticed one more commonality between Israel and Japan, but unfortunately, it's a negative one which has nothing to do with them.

Israel and Japan have been put to a series of attempts by their respective haters to demonize them. Israel has been accused by a group of rogue countries, mostly on the basis of religious hatred, and sometimes even by the whole world, including some of the otherwise civilized and fair countries in Western Europe. Japan has been harassed by a pair of no less rogue "brother" countries - let's call the older and younger "brothers" X and Y respectively - that keep distorting and even fabricating history not only about Japan but also about themselves.

Though Israel seems to be hated by more countries than Japan is, I'm not sure anymore if the latter is in a less bad situation, as the harassment it has been absorbing is rather subtle, mainly because Y has been considered erroneously as a civilized country. Fortunately, the whole world has started to witness how "courageous" it is in its incessant attempts to depict Japan as the enemy of the humankind, while it doesn't stop copying many things Japanese, including karate, kendo, sushi, etc., and doesn't even feel ashamed to claim that they are of Y's origin.

Actually, I feel really sorry for Y's citizens, as Y has been X's dependency for about one thousand years, so it has no glorious history to teach its children at school. Instead, it hasn't had no choice but to fabricate its own history and demonize Japan, which actually civilized it. What does Japan get in return? Normal countries wouldn't stop thanking it, but instead, Y keeps accusing Japan and asking for monetary compensations. Because of Y's false accusations I've started learning about Y and its history; quite surprisingly, the more I know Y, the more disappointed I am with it. To the best of my knowledge, it's the only country in the whole world whose very existence is based on a series of lies. Even those countries that hate Israel have something to be proud of about themselves.

I have to "confess" that as far as I'm concerned, I don't know any better farce than a body called the *nited *ations, which was founded on noble causes but has been "hijacked" in the meanwhile by rogue countries, including X and Y. Its Human Rights Council is a real shame to humanity. I think both Israel and Japan, together with the United States, the United Kingdom and other civilized countries, should abandon this defunct organization and establish a kind of new "exclusive club" whose membership will be checked rigorously.

I'd like to conclude this rant of mine by saying that there is one thing that Japan should learn from Israel. It shouldn't remain silent when it's accused falsely. As an old cliché says, offense is the best defense.


Tenure and Academic Productivity

Though five years have already passed since I received tenure at the university where I started working ten years ago, I still remember how difficult it was, especially pscychologically, to continue working for tenure. But I also remember that this struggle had at least one advantage - it enhanced my academic productivity, at least quantitatively, if not qualitatively. If I measure it quantitatively in terms of the number of peer-reviewed publications, I was far more productive before I received tenure, especially in the last two years, than afterwards. I'm not trying to be lazy, but things are not the same.

Besides, probably just by coincidence, something unexpected has also happened after I got tenured - to my (pleasant) surprise, I have started receiving invitations to contribute entries and chapters to international encyclopedias and handbooks on those areas in which the editors somehow thought I am one of the world authorities-shauthorities. Actually, I also used to receive such invitations from Japan before getting tenured, but now I also receive them from the English-speaking world.

Of course, receiving such invitations is a great privilege and honor for me, and I'll continue accepting them if I receive any in the future. But on the other hand, they are by nature more like summaries of what is already studied and known and/or what I myself have already done, and they have prevented me from preparing peer-reviewed journal articles.

While continuing to write these encyclopedia entries and handbook chapters, I feel I also have to find time and an incentive to keep my academic productivity, at least quantitatively, by continuing to publish peer-reviewed journal articles; such an incentive must be a positive alternative to the negative psychological pressure I was under for five years before getting tenured. If someone out there knows such a positive alternaive from his or her own experience or from other fellow researchers, please share it with me; I'll be eternally indebted to you (sorry for my Jewish hyperbole).


How to Cope with Insensitivity in Israel

Though I've learned how to deal with most sociocultural problems I encounter in Israel better than in any other country, there still remains one fundamental problem I don't know yet how to cope with fully, which sometimes makes me wish I could leave this society for ever never to return. It's the special kind of insensitivity of people, mostly non-haredim, that affects me personally, and it's the kind of insensitivity I've never encountered in any other country I've visited. I know it's not directed toward me personally, but I can't help taking it personally. I'm still working on this weakness of mine.

What is more problematic than this problem of insensitivity itself is the very fact that these insensitive people are unaware of their insensitivity. I used to protest against and sometimes even curse these people when their insensitivity affected me personally for the sole purpose of making them aware of their own insensitivity. But I seem to have learned some lesson from the weekly musar lecture I've been attending since several months ago.

I wish I could simply ignore these insensitive people, but unfortunately, I haven't attained that spiritual level. But instead of protesting against them verbally in order not to lower myself to the same spiritual level as theirs, I've started using - hopefully not too insensitive - strategies, again for the sole purpose of making them aware of their insensitivity, while trying not to lose my temper and be aware of what I'm doing.

The main strategy is simply to walk away from someone without saying anything in the middle of his or her insensitive speech or behavior. Fortunately, I've encountered this in non-public contexts so often, though I do encounter insensitive remarks by students of mine every one in a while. I encounter it mostly in stores that also employ insensitive people, who have already seen me many times there; I'm quite sure they are also insensitive in their private life. I boycott these stores and stop buying there though I know this won't affect their business very much and I'm the one who mainly suffers, especially if they are near my apartment.

My personal black list of those stores in Jerusalem with insensitive workers is growing slowly but steadily. I only hope I won't have to boycott all the stores in my neighborhood. I'm just curious to know what has made so many native Israelis, who are otherwise nice people, so insensitive, at least according to my standard.


Feeling More Comfortable in Israel than in Any Other Country in Spite of Sociocultural Problems

It's rather funny to realize that after all is said and done, I nevertheless seem to feel more comfortable in Israel than in any other country on earth in spite of many complaints I have and have made agaist a number of sociocultural problems I have encountered here in Israel.

I never felt comfortable socioculturally back in Japan, where I was born and brought up. I seem to have been to naive to think that since I felt so comfortable living in Israel as a student, I would feel equally comfortable back here even as a full-fledged citizen. Little by little I came to realize that I was too naive. I kept encountering anew many culture shocks back in Israel one after another. To tell the truth, I felt so disgusted with Israeli society that I even thought of leaving this country, if not back to Japan. But I also realized that I might be a kind of person who would never cease to complain wherever he might be.

Having been planning a long awaited trip recently to a country I greatly admire, I've started to feel quite uneasy, which has made me realize that after all I can manage better in Israel than anywhere else. This was quite a revelation and surprise for me. Then I continued to analyze this strange feeling of mine. I think I felt and am still feeling this way mainly because I do know how to cope with the sociocultural problems I have here and I feel it's totally acceptable to criticize them both publicly and privately, unlike, for example, in Japan.

The following is my personal (and totally irresponsible) list of things that might be able to make Israel a better place to live in both for its citizens and for new immigrants socioculturally:

  • To start being more pround and confident of their own language Hebrew, which is, after all, not such a difficult language, as many of them think erroneously
  • To start thinking that stealing someone else's time by being late for the appointnemt, etc. is the second worst kind of theft after killing, which is the theft of someone else's life, and behave accordingly
  • To start reexamining all the damages that Zionism has brought about socioculturally and stop discriminaing haredim, who still keep the good old Jewish values not contaminated by Zionism socioculturally (disclaimer: politically, I embrace Zionism wholeheartedly)

Unfortunately, however, the only viable option to make all the drastic sociocultural changes in Israel is not to try to educate the natives but to bring in more Jewish immigrants from those coutries, such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zeeland and South Africa, where such values seem to be part and parcel of their mentality.


Working Efficiently with PDF on Windows

Mostly because of my problem of getting used to new multifocal glasses I made a few months ago for presbyopia, more and more books I (buy and) read have become electronic, mostly in PDF (but sometimes in ePub). So it has become far more crucial than before to work efficiently with PDF. The following is a list of my most favorite PDF tools on Windows, which other users of Windows might also find useful.

I buy most of my ebooks from eBooks.com and Kobo Books (I would never buy ebooks from Amazon as it uses a proprietary document format). The ebooks they (and many other ebookstores and publishers) sell are protected by Adobe DRM, which forces readers to use Adobe Digital Editions, which I find bloated and intrusive.

So the first thing I do every time I buy a new ebook protected by Adobe DRM is to circumvent it by using PDF ePub DRM Removal (commercial). A number of similar tools are available, including Ultimate DRM Removal (commercial), All DRM Removal (commercial), PDF DRM Removal (free), to name just a few.

This way I can use any PDF reader instead of being stuck in Adobe Digital Editions. Adobe Reader, which is probably the most widely used PDF reader (and annotator), is no less unbearable. My favorite is PDFlite (free), which is a minimalist and light-weight PDF reader. I have tried many Windows Modern UI applications, including Adobe Reader Touch, but I haven't found any that is less bad than Reader, which is preinstalled in Windows 8. I hope Bookviser, my favorite ePub reader, will support PDF soon as its developers are planning. I also wish Mantano, which used to be my favorite PDF and ePub reader when I still used Android, would also become available for Windows Modern UI.

When I annotate PDF documents, I use dedicated programs instead of those that can be both readers and annotators such as Adobe Reader. If money were not a problem, I would use PDF Annotator (commercial), but I'm satisfied so far with PDF-XChange Editor (free). For Windows Modern UI an amazing but inexpensive application is available: Drawboard PDF (commercial), which is a pleasure to use.

Other PDF tools I use all the time for making and manipulating PDF documents include PDFCreator (free) for converting printable documents to PDF, Print Pages to PDF (Firefox addon) for converting webpages to PDF, Page Cut (commercial) for breaking PDF document pages, often scanned ones, into smaller ones, and PDFtk Pro (commercial; a
free version is also available) as well as PDF Tools Pro (commercial; a free version is also available) for tweaking existing PDF documents.

PDF Hacks, a book written by the developer of the last tool mentioned above, lists many other tools for working efficiently with PDF not only on Windows (but the book needs to be updated).


Intellectual Anglophilia

While there are quite a few countries in the world that don't fail to keep disappointing me, a small number of countries impress me constantly. England is one of these few countries in the area of intellectual culture. I even feel that I have become a sworn anglophile in this area after I realized that this country has been answering my intellectual needs more than any other country, including even the United States, which I also admire.

I rely on BBC and The Economist rather than, for example, Voice of America and Time as the best broadcasting station and weekly news magazine in the world respectively. If I had no problem with my budget, I would subscribe to Financial Times instead of reading Wall Street Journal, which is my most favorite American newspaper, for free online. More books I have are by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press than by all the American university presses combined. My two favorite monolingual English dictionaries - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Oxford Dictionary of English - are also British rather than American though I am used to and definitely prefer American English to British English. These are only a few examples that have made me readmire and reappreciate England intellectually once I have become aware of them rather recently.

Then I have started wondering what has made this country excel so much intellectually (and in many other areas). I may be totally wrong, but my impression is that its intellectual excellence is part of the legacy of the British Empire. It has become a stock rather than a flow. I have just read one introductory book and watched one documentary film, both of which were made, of course, in England, on the history of the British Empire and its legacy, but I haven't found any unequivocal answer to this question of mine.


Unblocking Websites That Block (or Are Blocked in) Certain Countries

I can somehow accept the fact that certain computer hardware, especially the new one, is not available in Israel, and even when it becomes available, we pay much more than, for example, in the United States, while we earn much less. But I can't accept the fact certain websites block certain countries, including Israel, refusing to give their service to us. They include three websites I wanted to use: Google Play Books, Google Play Newsstand, and Zinio Store. The third one does allow me to enter, but it refuses to sell me certain magazines because of my physical location, while the first two don't even allow me in for the same reason.

This is nothing but discrimination, and the reason for it is absurd and unacceptable. Those websites that are freely accessible in certain countries must also be equally accessible in others. This is what the Internet is all about. I thought there was nothing I could do except for relying on the mercy of these websites, until I found three types of solutions this week.

The first solution, which is the easiest, is to use an online proxy. There are hundreds of free online proxies. The one I have bookmarked is Hide My Ass. It does work, but it's so slow. I'm afraid that many other free online proxies are slow. Though I don't have to install anything, I find it rather cumbersome to have to visit the website every time to surf some blocking website.

The second is to install the so called VPN software. It helps us not only unblock websites but also protect our online privacy. There seem to be a number of free VPN software programs. What I've found attractive is Hotspot Shield. I've installed and confirmed that it enables me to have an access to Google Play Books and Google Play Newsstand as if I were living in the United States. But personally I find this method an overkill as these two stores are the only services I want to use at the moment.

The third, which is what I've decided to keep using after trying it and seen it works, is to use a proxy add-on with my browser. Firefox, which is my default browser, has a number of proxy add-ons. On all the add-ons I've tried I find ProxMate the best not only because of its ease of use but also because it doesn't slow down the speed of page rendering. It's also available for Google Chrome from the website of the add-on.

These methods can be helpful not only for those like myself who feel that they are discriminated geographically but also for those lucky ones who have full access to certain websites in their own countries but have to visit a country whose regime blocks these websites. But unfortunately, they can circumvent country restrictions only as long as you view contents, but I couldn't complete any business transaction at Google Play Books with any of these three tools.

So in short, I still remain at the mercy of these discriminating websites, and the Internet is still far from being a truly universal platform, at least in terms of access and contents.


Weekly Yoga Lesson

My teenage dream was to become a yogi. ;-) When I was a high school student back in Japan, I realized that there was (and still is) something more fascinating for me than yoga - languages, until I ended up becoming a professional linguist teaching Hebrew and Jewish linguistics at an Israeli university.

When I was a junior high school student, I taught myself the so-called asanas of Hatha yoga from a book I stumbled upon at a local bookstore. The author of the book turned out to be the person who popularized Hatha yoga in Japan. I practiced it for a few years, until I switched to running (with stretching) as a way of maintaining physical fitness, and I'm still running. About five years ago I also started swimming for the same purpose, but I soon found that it could also relieve my stress enormously.

Unfortunately, however, the stress I feel because of the insensitivity of too many people in the Israeli society has built up so much that running and swimming alone have stopped relieving it enough. So I thought of practicing yoga again after about 35 years. Having looked for several months for a weekly yoga lesson convenient for me in terms of both time and place, I have found one and started participating in it regularly. I participated in it only twice so far, but I already see that it helps me ease my mental (and physical) stress so much that I have decided to get up one hour earlier in the morning than I used to for practicing yoga every weekday morning, and not only in the weekly lesson.

Here is a list of links I have collected as a preparation for starting yoga. Some of the them may also be useful for someone, especially in Jerusalem, who is interested in starting yoga. Hatha yoga is the most popular school of yoga now; Iyengar yoga is the most popular modern derivative of Hatha yoga; and my yoga teacher practices a variation of Iyengar yoga.

By the way, I have also made sure that enough people, including frum Jews, consider yoga "kosher". The following is a list of links about yoga with a Jewish slant.


Positive Thinking

It is about two weeks since I returned from a two-week stay in Japan. I was there from the middle of the last week of January through the middle of the second week of February.

A few days before my flight to Japan I received a piece of advice from one of my two haredi mentors in Jerusalem, Rabbi Naftali Weinberg. He told me not to say or do anything negative about anything anywhere, especially in Japan, as those who know me might see me as a kind of Jewish "ambassador" in that they might not see personally whatever I say or do but generalize it, and actually this is what I experienced this time there.

So this time I decided to focus on positive things Japan has to offer instead of finding faults with it and kvetching about them. To my pleasant surprise, this new way of thinking made me enjoy my stay in Japan so much. I immediately noticed at least two positive sociocultural traits there - order and punctuality. Many people living in Japan may take these two things for granted, but having spent years in Israel and knowing the situation in many other countries in the world, they are exceptions rather than rules in the world.

I liked this idea of positive thinking so much that I continued to apply it even after I returned to Israel. I have spent two weeks so far. Unfortunately, I have already encountered quite a few manifestations of what I consider the root problem of Israeli society - lack of sensitivity. But on the other hand, I have started enjoying (and appreciating) at least two positive sociocultural traits here - flexibility and spontaneity, which I never encountered during this short stay of mine there.

I may be wrong, but I consider myself both well-ordered/punctual and flexible/spontaneous, so I see no contradiction between these two sets of characters. Both Japan and Israel can be better places with more proper ways of thinking, and I only hope that this is not only my wishful thinking.



I used to organize four monthly reading circles in four different languages - Hebrew for speakers of Japanese, Japanese for speakers of other languages, Yiddish, and Esperanto - on Thursday evenings. Unfortunately, I had to close the last three one after another for a number of practical reasons in the past few months. I am very sorry that I had to do this because these three monthly reading circles gave me precious opportunities to socialize with interesting people who shared the same respective interest with me on a monthly basis, and I really miss them, that is, both monthly meetings and their participants.

I may be a misanthrope, constantly kvetching about insensitive and other bothering behaviors of other human beings, but on the other hand, I am also aware that I have to keep socializing with other people both for my mental health and for my intellectual and spiritual advancement.

Since all these monthly reading circles took place on Thursday evenings, and only one of them still survives, I can allow myself now to start participating in some social gathering on Thursday evenings, which are the only time during the weekdays when I can allow myself not to work, though I have to miss it once a month for the pleasure of the one remaining reading circle.

There are several things I have always wanted to learn systematically. Yoga and some musical instrument (either clarinet or Baroque recorder) are among them. I have been looking for a weekly yoga lesson in my neighborhood. I think I have finally found one, and it takes place on Thursday evenings! Recently I have also started participating in an inspiring weekly musar lecture every Tuesday.

But since these two gatherings are mainly for physical and spiritual advancement respectively, I have been looking for some social events for intellectual stimuli in the areas that interest me. I have found at least one so far called Digital Humanities Israel, and I am really looking forward to its forthcoming events in Jerusalem and Haifa.

I have been socializing mostly with frum immigrants from anglophone countries living in Jerusalem, and I really like them and their culture. But on the other hand, I am not against the idea of start socializing with both sensitive and intellectually inspiring native Israelis I did not meet so far every Monday and Thursday.