2015-12-18

Sleeping, Sabbath, and Email

Since exactly four months ago, when I started something unprecedended in my life, I usually sleep only for three hours on weekdays - I go to bed around midnight and wake up around three. I feel that I can't wait for the start of a new day. I don't feel tired or sleepy, at least during the daytime, and feel instead fully recharged every morning. But I sleep 9-12 and 3-6 hours on the night and day respectively of every Sabbath in the last four months.

I used to think that this is because of the so-called neshama yetera (in Hebrew) / neshome-yeseyre 'the additional soul (a Jew is said to possess on Sabbath)'. But this week I suddenly realized the true reason for this abnormal sleeping pattern. It has something to do with Sabbath but only indirectly - on weekdays I check email, but on Sabbath I don't.

This something unprecedented in my life makes me rely heavily on email as a means of communication, resulting in a huge increase in the number of private, often confidential, messages I send and receive every weekday - about 10-50! At least one message composed and sent while I'm sleeping at night is waiting for me in my email inbox every weekday morning, and I simply can't wait to read it! It fills me with positive energy every day anew. Since I don't check email on Sabbath, I don't have this unconscious urge to wake up as early as possible for this daily infusion of positive energy.

Of course, such an abnormal sleeping pattern can't continue for ever. But it can't come to an end until this something unprecedented in my life also comes to an end. In this and other respects I'm very happy to see that I can already see its end in the horizon though I may have another, good, reason that has nothing to do with email for another type of abnormal sleeping pattern then even on Sabbath.

2015-12-04

Asus ZenBook

My hybrid computer, which can also become a tablet if its screen is detatched, suddenly stopped working last Tuesday, and all my efforts to resurrect it for the next few days ended in miserable failure. I was left with no choice but to buy a new computer. My original plan was to buy a new one, preferably a hybrid computer with a touch screen like the dead old one, in a year or so. After a series of unexpected coincidences I ended up buying a totally different computer instead - an ultrabook with no touch screen called ZenBook by Asus - this Sunday. And I'm so satisfied with it that I've even started recommending it to some of my computer-savvy friends.

Asus was never a candicate for me, nor had I heard of its ZenBook series at all before until a sales clerk at my favorite computer store in downtown Jerusalem recommended it to me. Then I also identified it as the computer my S/O bought recently, which was also an important factor in my decision to buy this computer.

Before I met ZenBook and fell in love with it, I used to think that the future lies in hybrid computers with a detatchable or rotatable screen. But ZenBook has totally changed my mind.

The most important discovery I've made is that a hybrid computer is a compromise of two different worlds after all, and it can compete with neither a dedicated laptop nor a decidated tablet. Having realized I seldom used my old hybrid computer as a tablet and having realized that I seldom did so, I was reminded that actually I would be able to find a far better laptop computer for far less money.

This new ultra-thin and light-weight ultrabook is no comparison to my old hybrid computer as a laptop. Now I see clearly that I paid a higher price, both literally and metaphorically, for the latter. I don't even miss a touch screen. Asus ZenBook is a perfect computer for a minimalist like me, focusing on one thing and doing it better instead of trying to do two competing things and doing each of them less well. Its design is also very minimalistic. ZenBook is a perfect name for it.

2015-11-13

Always Ten Years for Achieving Important Goals in Life?

Finishing PhD was probably the first important goal in life I achieved. It took me about ten years to do so. Since then this number of years seems to have become the amount of time I'm forced to spend in order to achieve subsequent important goals in life.

The next important goal I set for myself after PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was to return to Israel, which I was forced to leave in the middle of preparing my PhD dissertation-shmissertation, but as a lecturer in Hebrew linguistics, on which I received my PhD, and not as a teacher of Japanese, which only happens to be my native language and nothing more though I studied systematically how to teach it as a foreign language and did teach it for ten years. Like many truly important things in life I was offered and eventually received a position as a lecturer in Hebrew linguistics at Bar-Ilan University without even applying for it myself! Again it took me about ten years to realize my dream of returning to Israel, to which I'm eternally indebted to Bar-Ilan University, where I've just started my 12th year.

Unlike these two first two important goals in life, where were professional, the next one was purely private. If I had known in advance that this life-changing project would also take me another ten years, I might have thought at least twice before deciding to undertake this daunting project. Luckily in retrospect, I didn't know it would take me so many years to finish it. The solution to this lingering project also came in a totally unexpected manner I had never even thought of. Anyway, having achieved this important private goal has been having a more profound impact upon me than every other single event that happened in my life until then.

Immediately after achieving this goal I sent for myself another, even more important, private goal, which is probably the biggest project for most of us. Years went by without any sign of my approaching this goal at all, until I encountered the first important sign for achieving it, again totally unexpectedly in a way I had never dreamed of, when an ideal helper for the project suddently appeared rather recently. Since then I've been making an unbelievably fast progress in this most important private project in my life as if I were making up for all those barren years. It's only today that I realize that actually I'm in the tenth year since I started it, and to my pleasant surprise, it even seems that I'm in the right path to achieving this goal during this tenth year!

The next important goal after this one will probably be a professional one again - writing (and publishing) my first book. I wouldn't mind the above pattern of ten years for achieving important goals in life being broken next time after achieving the present, fourth one.

2015-10-23

Languages as the Best Things I've Learned Academically

If I'm asked what are the best things I've learned academically, I'll answer immediately without hesitation that they are languages (together with the skill to learn something new academically by myself in case of need). In addition to my native language Japanese, I've learned, or at least tried to learn, the following languages in the chronolocial order with different degrees of success: English, Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Esperanto, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Italian, and Spanish. In my private and professional life I use English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto, and Japanese actively in this order of frequency, have been working very hard to make my Russian active, and also use Aramaic, German, and French for reading. The rest of the languages are either very passive or almost forgotten.

Though each of these languages has shown me a different new world and worldview and enriched my life, I have to single out five languages that have especially affected my life - they happen to be those five I use actively now both privately and professionally. English and Japanese have enriched me mostly intellectually, while Hebrew, Yiddish, and to a lessor extent Esperanto have done so more emotionally. Now Russian is gradually joining the second group.

In addition to this cultural value of languages, I'm of course happy that I've learned all these languages, especially English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian as means of communication, with each of them playing a different communicative role. The communicative value of languages can also be either intellectual or emotional. English has a purely intellectual communicative value for me, while Yiddish and Russian are more emotional for me communicatively, that is, the very fact that I use them is no less important that what I say in them, with Hebrew in between.

So I feel I'm extremely lucky both culturally and communicatively that I and my S/O share more or less the same intellectual and emotional culture, speak Yiddish with each other as our main means of communication with a smattering of Russian, and have several additional common languages, including English, Hebrew, German, and French. If I had been very poor at languages and/or hadn't decided to study these specific languages, this linguistic luxury would have been totally unimaginable and unattainable.

2015-10-16

Unforgettable Research Trip to France and Germany

I returned last night from an unforgettable two-week research trip to France and Germany. I spent the first ten and last one day at BULAC, the library of INALCO in Paris, and three more days in between participating in this year's annual Symposium in Yiddish Studies at the University of Trier in south west Germany. I was also joined by my S/O on her own expense.

This trip was unique professonally because this was the first time that the main purpose was not to participate in a conference, whether actively or passively, but to live the life of a scholar in residence, though only for 11 days. I've never spent my sabbatical abroad, but I imagine it must be like this one. It was so nice to work in a different, quiet workplace in a civilized environment away from all the noise. I simply visited no sites of tourist attraction in Paris except for a half-day excursion to the Jewish quarter and Monmartre, my two favorite places in Paris, when the library was closed. I also benefitted greatly from meetings with two colleagues of mine living in Paris - a researcher of Judeo-Arabic teaching at INALCO and a researcher of Jewish onomastics originally from Moscow.

The presence of my S/O enormously enhanced the private part of this trip. We met every evening after our respective work during the daytime and talked about many things without being distracted by anyone and anything else. One of the things I liked best is the fact that we speak Yiddish with each other! Since her French and German are better than mine, I spent these two weeks speaking mostly Yiddish. Except with her and the two colleagues and two good old friends I met (and spoke in English) I had few conversations with locals.

No less unforgettable was our participation in the above mentioned symposium in Trier. I benefitted from it very much, but here again the presence of my S/O who not only knows Yiddish but also specializes in its linguistics increased my intellectual benefit several times. With no relation to this specific academic event it's so nice that I share this and many other research interests with her. We even had brainstorming sessions for conducting joint research projects, which we find is a lot of fun not only intellectually but even emotionally.

PS: Here are three pictures of me dancing a traditional Ashkenazic folk dance, which I studied for quite some time in Jerusalem from one of the few specialists in the world, at a subway station in Paris. :-)

2015-09-25

Psychological Counseling and Its Positive Effects

Unfortunately, I had to put a formal end to my psychological counseling this week for a couple of practical reasons though both my counselor and I feel that it's still premature. It was simply a pleasure and privilege to meet once a week and work with this truly amazing counselor for about four months. He has helped me embark on a never-ending arduous voyage of self-discovery and self-reconciliation, which I could not have undertaken alone.

The most significant discovery I've made about myself is that I'm a highly emotional person but suppress my emotions with my mind, and they erupt suddenly when they become too strong to control because of unbearable stress or frustration in interpersonal relationships, which in turn leads to some socially unacceptable behavior on my part. So my main task is to bridge my mind and emotions. It's so complicated and demanding that I'd probably have to spend a lot of time, even my whole life, to accomplish it, especially if I'm to work alone. I only hope, however, that my counselor has shown me the right direction I should follow and given me a compass for staying on this winding path.

This precious experience has had a number of positive effects on me. The most significant of all, on which my counselor also agreed, is without doubt that it has enabled me to get rid of deep scars that remained in my heart for the past five years and prepare myself for new significant encounters. And to my great surprise and joy, I did have such a significant encounter totally unexpectedly in the middle of these four-month period! This has shown me again anew that truly significant encounters in life occur when we don't look for them but simply become ready for and attract them, so to speak.

This amazing counselor-cum-rabbi also offers counseling in another, no less important area of life, which still remains terra incognita for me. I hope I'll also be able to receive this counseling of his in this new area in the near future.

2015-09-18

Free Online Collaborative Plain Text Editors with Markdown Support

The start of new joint research with my new collaborate living outside Israel has created sudden urgent need to find appropriate online collaborative tools, preferablly free ones, for our preparing proposals, handouts, slide presentations and papers, and keeping multiple to-do lists for the first time for me (but not for the first time for my collaborator).

Though my collaborator has been using Google Docs for this purpose for a number of years, using it was out of the question for me because of my deep scepticism about a word processor, be it an online or desktop one, as an efficient productivity tool not only for purely academic purposes but also for any computing need!

The minimal requirements I imposed upon myself (or to be more precise, us) in our search for such free online collabrative research production tools were the following three in the descending order of importance for me:

  1. Use of plain text as the format (cf. Plaintext Productivity)
  2. Support for Markdown, if not MultiMarkdown
  3. Reflection of changes in real time

To my surprise I could easily find a number of free online collaborative tools that met all these three minimal requirements. In the meanwhile we've decided to settle on the following four:

  1. Typewrite - text editor
  2. Swipe - slide editor
  3. Checkvist - to-do list editor
  4. Draft - text (as well as to-do list and slide) editor

The one we've already started using, and that quite heavily, is the third one. Two serious limitations of Checkvist if one is to use it as a tool for brainstorming are 1) lack of support to highlight what's being typed now and 2) lack of a sidebar window for possible text chat. In spite of these two limitations I strongly recommend this free tool to any pair or group of people who have to plan their joint research together. I and my collaborator have already classified our common and separate tasks into as many as nice categories, each of which has a separate to-do-list. I've never realized that "collaboration is power" to quote my collaborator.

We haven't tried the second tool seriously yet as our nearest possible joint presentation is planned for the next summer. We did, however, tried the first tool a little bit. I would say that of the first three tools this one is the least collaborative. It's more for authoring the same thing together than for real collaboration in writing, including version control, comments, etc. The fourth tool is the one we've found for this more demandinc purpose of real collaborative writing. Draft also supports many other functions that may be fully appreciated only when we start writing something together. Since we don't have any need to do so now or in the near future, we haven't dug deep yet into it and its mulple functions. But at least I already have a gut feeling that this is going to be one of my (and probably our, too) most heavily used plain text editors. It can be used as a slide editor and to-do list editor, too. If you are wise enough to have started looking for a plain text alternative to Google Docs, I strongly recommend Draft to you. Even my otherwise stubborn collaborator will agree with me at least about this. ;-)

2015-09-11

Newly Found Intellectual Pleasure of Joint Research

I was never good at working together or even doing things together with other people, especially in a group. So it's no wonder that when I belonged to some sport club in school, I felt suffocated after a while and left it. I belonged to five such clubs from junior high school until the university, and I left all of them after a year or two.

This was also the case with research. I didn't do any joint research with any other researcher, except for editing a Festschrift and a special journal issue with two good old colleagues of mine. I wrote the first sentence of this paragraph in the past tense because this is not the case any more! Recently I've got acquainted with a linguist who has turned out to be an excellent collaborator with whom I share a number of research interests as well as chemistry in other areas of life.

I've never imagined that doing research together can be such a pleasure if my collaborator is an appropriate one. This is like studying the Talmud in partership with someone else who is compatible with you intellectually (and probably emotionally, too). One plus one can be more than two! I and my new collaborator share the combination of at least three research interests shared by few other fellow linguists each of us knows personally: corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and the study of the Hebrew component in Yiddish. We've already planned three joint research projects for the next three years - each for one year.

What makes this joint research with my collaborator very unique and so pleasurable is the fact that we conduct it orally in Yiddish! This way we defy pessimists about Yiddish as we use it for the highest intellectual purpose, that is, as our common language of science.

Working with such an intellectually compatible collaborator, I'm constantly refilled with new ideas I could never have come up with alone. I'll definitely be able to think up new joint research projects, too. Simply a mekhaye!

2015-08-21

New Tribulation

Let's suppose you've found some hidden precious gem which you thought was far beyond your reach but you also know that keeping it with yourself requires tribulation on your part. Would you dare to pick it up? You can decide either to evade that tribulation simply by ignoring that precious gem or to pick it up and face the tribulation. I've decided to opt for the latter simply because the gem seemed (and still seems) so precious.

The fact that this newly found hidden gem is so precious to me doesn't make the tribulation I've already started experiencing much easier in particular, to say the least. My tribulation is twofold - physical and temporal.

I'm physically tormented because after I enjoyed my initial touch of the gem, it had to be at a distant place, so I'll be able to touch it only very infrequently. This gem is a "fresh" one that deserves an equally "fresh" owner, and I've started being tormented by the question if I'm "fresh" enough to keep savoring it.

This new tribulation doesn't allow me to sleep. But I've already learned a lesson that He doesn't allow me to pass any important stage of life very easily. I try to take this as a kind of compliment. ;-) I've already experienced more difficult tribulations, so hopefully I'll also get over this one successfully. Wish me good luck. ;-)

2015-08-14

eLex 2015 in England

This week I revisited Herstmonceux Castle, a beautiful medieval English castle in Sussex, in order to participate, though only as a listener, in eLex 2015, the fourth biannual international conference on electronic lexicography that took place there this year. It was also the venue of Lexicom 2014, an annual international workshop electronic lexicography I participated in (and enormously enjoyed).

When the venue of eLex 2015 was officially announced during Lexicom 2014, I immediately decided to revisit the castle. My initial plan was to give a talk at the conference, but since I'm still rather new to lexicography in general and electronic lexicography in particular, I couldn't come up with any clever proposal. So I gave up the very idea of participating in the conference itself and planned to attend the 100th World Congress of Esperanto in Lille, France instead this July. For a couple of professional considerations I reverted my plan two months ago and decided to take part in eLex 2015 even as a mere listener, hoping that my trip will be approved by the university.

This last decision has turned out to be a very clever one. In spite of my initial fear of feeling lonely as I'm still nobody in the field, I gradually got acquainted with other participants, including some of the leading figures in the field. I was especially honored and glad to have met and spoken to Patrick Hanks (England) and Yukio Tono (Japan), two of the most important lexicographers in the world. Meeting one of my two ex-teachers at Lexicom 2014, Michael Rundell, as well as five other participants in the workshop dispelled my initial fear. The presence of Ilan Kernerman, my Israeli colleague and a widely known lexicographer in the international community of lexicographers, including eLex, also helped me feel comfortable.

Not only have I learned a lot of new things about recent advances in electronic lexicography but also have I been inspired by witnessing how advanced and established (electronic) lexicography is in many European countries, especially in comparison with Israel, where practical lexicography still remains by and large in a displorable condition, and theoretical lexicography barely exists. Especially surprising was to see first-hand the flourishing of electronic lexicography in Eastern European countries, including Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Estonia. Israel is light years behind them.

No less eye-opening was the use of English as an academic lingua franca. All the non-Anglophone participants, including those from Easten Europe, spoke English alomost as native speakers not only in their lectures but also in small talks. I've never experienced before how firmly English has already been established as the academic lingua franca not only in writing but also in speech. This new experience has also reminded me of the intellectual frustration I had felt with Esperanto. First of all, many self-purported Esperantists don't know the language well enough for academic purposes. There aren't too many linguists who also know Esperanto at this high level, and such scholars in Jewish studies are few and far between.

I've also realized one important aspect is totally missing in the academic culture in Israel and probably in the Jewish world at large. It's the custom of drinking together in the evening with other conference participants in order to socialize. During this conference I also visited the pub in the castle every evening to enjoy not only my favorite English cider but also to shmooze with other participants who happened to be there. Many European scholars seemed to share this custom. I learded no less there than in the conference itself.

I can summarize eLex 2015 as one of the most fruitful and unforgettable conferences I've ever attended in my entire academic life. I'm already planning to attend eLex 2017, hopefully as an active participant. Though its venue hasn't been decided yet, it's most likely that it'll be in Europe as the majority of the participants this time and in the previous three conferences were Europeans. Before this I'll also hopefully participate in Euralex 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Precisely in the digital age it's becoming more and more important to meet fellow researchers face-to-face in both conference halls and corridors as well as pubs and exchange ideas directly.

2015-07-31

Windows 10 - The First Impression

Since my computer had been refusing to update itself from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, I was about to give up any hope of updating to Windows 10 in the foreseeable future, as this upgrade required Windows 8.1 as a precondition. But early on July 29, the very day when Windows 10 was supposed to be released officially, I stumbled upon a page on Windows 10 Media Creation Tool on the website of Microsoft itself. This tool also allows users of Windows 8 who had technical problems in migrating to Windows 8.1 to upgrade to Windows 10 for free and without waiting. So I decided to jump at this generous, but hidden, offer from Microsoft.

It was a breeze to install Windows 10 using this tool. It took me only a couple of hours to do so. All my software programs that worked on Windows 8 also seemed to be working on Windows 10, until I found that one keyboard layout manager to modify Windows keyboard was not working anymore. After I tried to upload my customized keyboard files, the system crashed. This nightmare happened one day after I migrated to Windows 10. I tried every conceivable solution to fix this problem. But unfortunately, nothing helped, and I had no choice but to try the only seeming solution that still remained I didn't want to try - resetting my computer (while keeping all the personal data intact). I spent a whole day on the following day reinstalling (and recustomizing) about 100 software programs I had before this crash that were erased in the process of this resetting. The only consolation for this waste of time is that now I have a cleaner system with no leftovers of already uninstalled programs and other things I'm not sure about. This way the usage of my SSD shrank by almost 50 GB!

The first change one notices immediately in Windows 10 is the return of the Start menu, though it's not the same as that of Windows 7. So the first thing I did when I installed Windows 10 was to install Start10, a ridiculously cheap but super-useful tweaking tool for restoring the Windows 7 Start menu, just as I installed itse predecessor Start8 for Windows 8. I consider this the single most important program for any user of Windows 10 who prefers typing to touching. Another thing that impressed me is that Windows 10 starts up even faster than Windows 8.

Windows 10 isn't, however, free from problems, and they are actually the same ones inherited from Windows 8. When I encountered them while still using Windows 8, I was stupid enough not to write down the solutions I found. So I had to look for them on the web from scratch. But this time I wrote them down in a plain text file for myself and probably for others, too. Here are the main nuisances and their solutions:

  • Don't display the lock screen at the startup: Local Group Policy Editor (available only on Windows Pro) > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalization > Do not display the lock screen: Enabled
  • Don't show OneDrive in File Explorer: Local Group Policy Editor > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > OneDrive > Prevent the usage of OneDrive for file storage: Enabled
  • Don't forget folder view settings: Registry Editor > HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell > In the right side pane right click > New > DWORD (32-bit) Value > Name it BagMRU Size > Right click BagMRU Size > Click Modify > Select Decimal and type, let's say, 10000
  • Apply the customized view of a folder to all the other folders of the same type: File Explorer > View > Options > Change folder and search options > View > Folder views: Apply to Folders
  • Do not combine taskbar buttons: Control Panel > Taskbar and Navigation > Taskbar buttons: Never combine

All in all I'm very satisfied with this latest version of Windows and strongly recommend users of Windows 8, if not of Windows 7, to consider Microsoft's free offer to upgrade to Windows 10.

2015-06-12

Personal Plain Text Workflow

I don't remember exactly when I realized the beauty and efficiency of plain text for the first time, but since I did at least more than 15 years ago, I've become an enthusiastic supporter-cum-user of this future-proof format. I have good reason to believe that none of my colleagues and students in Israel understands what I'm talking about. Unfortunately, they are using what I consider the worst crapware called Microsoft Word. Please don't get me wrong. This isn't another Microsoft-bashing. I believe that Windows after version 2000 is the best operating system, at least for polyglots like myself, but I refuse to use any other software program by this company simply because every other program is bloated. I'm both a minimalist ("Less is more") and an essentialist ("Less but better").

I don't think many people take the trouble of checking my occasional kvetching, that is, this blog-shmog, but I feel I have to write just for the record what I've been thinking about this issue as well as what constitutes my personal plain text workflow. But before I continue, I'd like to ask what few visitors to this specific blog entry to read first the following amazing pieces: Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient, Plain Text, and Plaintext Productivity.

It took me a while to come to realize the irreversible damage word processors, especially Microsoft Word, did to about 99% of the people on this planet in terms of computer literacy. In my humble opinion word processors should be the last thing to be taught. So what's so wrong with them? The main problem is that they obscure the distinction between three things - 1) text, which is always the most important thing, 2) its logical structure, and 3) its physical layout. Word processors tempt their naive users to waste too much time in the last aspect, which is, of course, the least important thing, which you have to assign to a professional typesetter.

Fine, here is my personal plain text workflow. The kind of software I use most frequently is a text editor, or to be more precise, text editors. In computing, bigamy or polygamy is allowed. ;-) This is the most fundamental thing. I looked for my ideal text editor for years, until my search came to an end when I met EditPad Pro. You have to be very computer-savvy to appreciate this super-amazing program! Simply amazing! I do my varous note-taking with this unbelievable text editor.

When it comes to the so-called distraction-free (or "zenware") writing, I've recently stumbled upon a free writing tool for Windows called WriteMonkey. I recommend this nifty tool to every user of Windows who is also a zenwriter. I'm writing these lines with it now. Such a pleasure - totally distraction-free!

And as for more complicating writing like academic writing, I've been a big fan of Scrivener, but only together with the so-called MultiMarkdown. The process of combining the two is rather complicated, especially for those who use Microsoft Word for every possible writing. I seem to need a separate blog entry about all the technical procedures or even a webpage.

2015-05-29

First-Time Experience with Psychotherapy

To solve or at least ease my problem of malfunctioning in certain social contexts here I started taking psychotherapeutic counseling this April. My counselor, a psychiatrist by training and also an ordained Orthodox rabbi, is simply an amazing person to whom I could relate immediately at our first meeting. Since then we meet once a week and I've even started looking forward to each new meeting.

Since this is my first-time experience with psychotherapy, I simply didn't know what to expect from it. Having had several meetings so far, however, I can say that it helps me a lot, though I still find it rather funny that I pay money in order to kvetch. ;-)

The purpose of this counseling, on which we decided in our first meeting, is that I'll be able to be more conscious of my subconscious and have full control of my emotions in every possible situation. For this purpose my counselor-cum-rabbi asks me all kinds of "nasty" questions, whether spontaneous on the spot or planned in advance, that make me think about my innermost self. The latter questions include "three descriptions of myself in three years", "basic values of my life", and "the love letter", where I was asked to think of one of the most annoying experiences I had in the past and finish sentences on the six layers of emotions I had (or should have had) then: 1) anger, blame and resentment; 2) hurt, sadness, and disappointment; 3) fear, insecurity, and wounds; 4) regret, understanding and responsibility; 5) intention, solutions and wishes; 6) love, forgiveness and appreciation.

Thanks to this counseling I continue to understand myself, especially my "Mr. Hyde" part, more and more. Let's see where this new understanding will lead me.

PS: If you are also looking for an excellent English-speaking psychotherapeutic counselor in Jerusalem, I can recommend mine. He works only with men, but his wife works with women. Details upon request by email.

2015-04-24

How to Have the Last Laugh

I remember being humiliated in public when I was a junior high school. Though I didn't have enough life experiences, the decision I made then to cope with this traumatizing experience turned out to be a very positive one in retrospect. I decided to turn this negative energy into positive motivational force by always remembering this scene of public humiliation and visualizing the day when I would be able to show them that they were wrong to treat me as worthless. Every time I encountered difficulties in persevering, I told myself that I would have the last laugh, and this worked wonderfully, though not in the same area where I was humiliated. By repeating this all the time, what is in your consciousness penetrates your subconscious, which in tern leads you to what you really want.

Some people may think that this is not a healthy way of dealing with humiliation, but it's at least healthier than trying to take revenge on the person who humiliated you or accepting the humiliation and trying to convince yourself that you are indeed worthless.

Time has come again to be helped by my subconscious. This time it's to show those people who looked down upon me privately recently that they were wrong, and that in the very area where they treated me as worthless. In parallel I've also checked my daily and long-term schedules and realized how I waste my time and how I procrastinate to start big things. I've decided to be stricter with myself. Every time I feel tempted to be lazy, I now remember how they despised me and visualize how I'll have the last laugh at them, though it'll take me long years of self-discipline to show them they were wrong, but I'll persevere this time, too.

2015-04-03

Skillful Academic Teaching

During this sabbatical of mine in this semester between March and June I've been trying to spend weekday evenings reading (and thinking) about topics that may have little or nothing to do directly with my research-shmesearch but can enhance my life, not only privately but sometimes even professionally. Every one or two weeks I have another topic. The one I chose and decided to read about this week was academic teaching.

We university lecturers are expected to have acquired skills in the the following four main academic activities: 1) teaching, 2) oral presentations in conferences, 3) writing articles and books, and 4) supervision of graduate students. I'm really sorry that I was taught none of them systematically when I was a graduate student and I had to learn them by myself by trial and error after I started working as a university lecturer.

Teaching is probably the one that takes more of our time and affects our emotions more significantly than the other three academic activities, at least during school terms. Being exempt from teaching because of the sabbatical, I can now reflect upon my academic teaching, especially in the last semester, more objectively, and think of ways to improve it.

While searching for guides to academic teaching, I stumbled upon the following two excellent ones: The Skillful Teacher (1st edition: 1990 / 3rd (latest) edition: 2015) by Stephen B. Brookfield and Teaching as Its Best (1st edition: 1998 / 3rd (latest) edition: 2010) by Linda B. Nilson. I simply devoured these twoo books. They are the kind of books I should have been recommended or even required to read at the start of my academic career, when the first edition of each of these books was already available. But better late than never. What especially appealed to me in these amazing guides are the chapters "What Students Value in Teachers" and "Preventing and Responding to Classroom Incivility" respectively.

Prof. Brookfield, the author of the first book, writes that a teacher must be perceived by his or her students to be credible and authentic in order to be valued by them. He goes on to define credibility and authenticity in this specific setting as follows:

  • Credibility is the perception that the teacher has something important to share and that whatever this "something" is (skills, knowledge, insight, wisdom, information), learning it will benefit the student. Credible teachers are seen as teachers who are worth sticking around because students might learn something valuable as a result.
  • Authenticity is the perception that the teacher is dealing with students in an open and honest way. Authentic teachers don't go behind students' backs, keep agend as private, or double-cross learners by reversing expectations midway through the semester. They are also regarded as flesh-and-blood human beings with passions, enthusiasms, frailties, and emotions.

Prof. Nilson, the author of the second book, gives a long list of what is considered as incivility by many university lecturers in the United States, including:

  • Talking in class
  • Noisily packing up early
  • Arriving late and leaving early
  • Cheating
  • Wasting class time a general category spanning being unprepared for class, dominating discussion, repeating questions, and asking for a review of the last class meeting
  • Showing general disrespect and poor manners toward the instructor and other students
  • Eating in class
  • Acting bored or apathetic
  • Making disapproving groans
  • Making sarcastic remarks or gestures
  • Sleeping in class
  • Not paying attention
  • Not answering a direct question
  • Using a computer in class for nonclass purposes
  • Letting cell phones and pagers go off in class
  • Cutting class
  • Dominating discussion
  • Demanding makeup exams, extensions, grade changes, or special favors
  • Taunting or belittling other students
  • Challenging the instructor's knowledge or credibility in class
  • Making harassing, hostile, or vulgar comments to the instructor in class
  • Making harassing, hostile, or vulgar comments or physical gestures to the instructor outside class
  • Sending the instructor inappropriate emails
  • Making threats of physical harm to the instructor

I've experienced some, if not all, of them. She proposes the following six solutions to prevent incivility, but I wonder if they can be applicable in the Israeli context:

  • Balancing authority and approachability
  • Showing that you care
  • Setting ground rules
  • Rewarding civil behavior
  • Modeling correct behavior
  • Commanding class attention

Anyway, I strongly recommend these two books to every university lecturer who, like myself, is emotionally highly sensitive and (or probably therefore) is perplexed about how to keep teaching and/or how to improve it. I wish you (and myself) good luck. ;-)

2015-03-27

Electronic Books and Bookstores

Partly because of my presbyopia and partly because of the problem of storage space in my library, I started buying electronic books in English about three years ago. Many books published in English after, let's say, 2000, to say nothing of new ones, are also available electronically, be they academic or not. Now most of the books I buy in English are electronic. Two open formats are used for these books: PDF and EPUB. They are better suited for academic and non-academic books respectively.

My favorite electronic bookstores in English are eBooks.com for books in PDF and Kobo Books for books in EPUB (this bookstore has a number of affiliates around the world, so depending on where you live, you may be redirected from the address I see in Israel - http://www.kobobooks.com/ - to another one). Both of them protect the books they sell with Adobe DRM, which in turn forces their readers to use Adobe Digital Editions, which, in my opinion, is a very heavy and intrusive electronic book reader program. But because of this protection you can't use other (and better) programs - my favorites are SumatraPDF for PDF and Bookviser for EPUB - unless you remove it. Fortunately, I could easily find ways, both free and commercial, to remove the protection and start reading my purchased electronic books with these favorite readers of mine.

The situation of electronic books and bookstores in Hebrew is still much more primitive than in English. A few academic publishers have started to distribute their books electronically, too, but I haven't tried them yet. For non-academic electronic books Mendele seems to be the biggest electronic bookstore, but again I haven't tried it yet. One thing I know is that it used EPUB and its books are protected by Adobe DRM.

The situation in Japanese is really deplorable. There are a growing number of electronic bookstores in Japan, but unfortunately, most of them use proprietary formats and force their customers to use their reader programs. This is why I hesitated to use any of them, just as I refuse to buy electronic books from Amazon and its affiliates as they also use a proprietary format. I don't know whether it's these bookstores and publishers who are too stupid to make a consensus to distribute electronic books in PDF and EPUB, which are two default (or often the only) open formats used for electronic books in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and even Israel, or it's me who is too stupid to understand some ulterior motive of theirs behind this seemingly stupid decision.

I used to check the websites of major electronic bookstores in Japan and their review sites to see whether they decided to switch to PDF and/or EPUB. About two weeks ago I stumbled upon a few review sites, writing that Rakuten Kobo Electronic Bookstore uses EPUB and it's the only electronic bookstore to do so in Japan. My curiosity got the better of myself, so gave a try to purchase one electronic book there as an experiment.

I don't know if this bookstore really used EPUB, but the fact remains that you are stuck with its reader applications to read its books. But since I read only non-academic books in Japanese to get new information and broaden my knowledge on various topics, I've decided to keep using this service. In spite of this technical limitation, I have to confess that I enjoy this old-new intellectual pleasure and was reminded of the days when I still lived in Japan - I used to visit a few big bookstores on Friday, buy several new (printed) non-academic books, and read them on Saturday.

I also realize both from this pleasure and from my recent visit to Japan that Japanese can be a great source of new information, if not of deep knowledge, and after all, it's also my native language. So it's a pity not to use it. When I immigrated to Israel a little more than ten years ago, I thought I would have to give up my weekly pleasure of reading books on diverse current topics in Japanese, which was what happened, until I was reconnected to this world.

2015-03-13

How to Stop Being Critical

I've decided to make the best use of my sabbatical in this semester that started this week for taking care of some psychological problems I've been suffering from which have started to prevent me from functioning normally. I've consulted, among others, my spiritual mentor and musar ('Jewish ethics') teacher and received his very accurate diagnosis of my character traits, both positive and negative, as well as his two "recipes" for treating these problems - one is to stop being critical, and the other is to develop the character trait of joy.

Having realized and been amazed to realize how critical I used to be of everything and everyone, including, of course, myself, I've started to try his first "recipe". Being critical may help you academically, but surely not in interpersonal relationships. I simply don't remember when and how I became so critical, but now I'm fully aware that by remaining critical I can make sure that I'll remain unhappy my whole life.

But this character trait of mine is so deeply ingrained in my inner self that I'm simply at a loss to figure out where and how to start. Now I watch my every word before I utter it. I try not to say anything critical of anything or anyone. But of course, this is not so easy, to say the least, as kvetching has already become my second nature. Now I'm reading some musar book that addresses to this specific issue.

I only hope that I haven't criticized anything or anyone in this specific blog entry. ;-)

2015-02-27

Half-Month Trip in Japan

I left Israel for Japan on February 12, spent about half a month there, and returned here yesterday (on February 26). Though the main purpose of this trip was to give an invited talk at a special meeting of the Japan Society for Jewish Studies in Tokyo, the trip turned out to be a timely opportunity to escape, though only for half a month, from Israeli society, or to be more precise, from the abundance of insensitive people living there. I was simply on the verge of a nervous breakdown as my immunity to such rampant insensitivity was running out.

During this half-month trip in Japan I didn't encounter but one insensitive person, and he happened to be a native Israeli living in Japan. But upon my return to Israel I encountered several insensitive people in one day on the first day. In Japan insensitivity is an exception, while in Israel it seems to be a norm. All the emotional energy I recharged in Japan thus drained away in a single day in Israel! Of course, I socialize in my private life here only with sensitive people, and fortunately, there are enough of them, but they are concentrated in a very small number of specific sociocultural groups comprising Israeli society.

One thing that I reappreciated in Japan this time is the existence of big bookstores, especially in big cities. By scanning through shelves there I cound find a number of new books, not only in Japanese but also in English, I might not have noticed online. Some of them seemed to me very helpful in my attempt to cope with my emotional high sensitivity (and the problems resulting from it here). Big phyical bookstores can't be substituted yet by online ones, at least as far as new books are concerned. Unfortunately, we are deprived of such intellectual stimuli in Israel with no big bookstores around.

I have to single out the following two events as the most touching and unforgettable experiences I had not only this time but in all the ten annual trips in Japan combined since my immigration to Israel in the summer of 2004. One was a class reunion of one alma mater of mine. Out of about 50 students I studied with about ten turned out. I met most of them for the last time about 11 years ago. It was like riding a time machine. I was especially moved by the fact that they kept caring about me all these years though we didn't remain in touch. I left them, promising to see them again during my next trip in Japan.

The other unforgettable event was a talk I was invited to give at another alma mater to the audience of teachers, about 500 students and some of their parents. I talked about Jewish ways of teaching, learning and thinking, summarizing what I myself have learned first-hand. This must have been a culture shock to all of them, not only because of its content but mainly because of the way I spoke. I consider it a great success if this talk of mine can affect even one student in his or her decision of his or her future path.

2015-02-06

How to Protect Email Privacy from Any Infringement

This week I found out that several people I trusted infringed my privacy in email communication with them by forwarding my private messages addressed to them to a third party without my prior concent in order to complain against me. Of course, I'm to blame for having sent these messages to them, which they found bothering (this has nothing to do with sexual harassment, of course). But my worst mistake is the very fact that I trusted them. I'm not sure if forwarding someone else's message to a third party is legal or not in Israel, but it's not morally acceptable to me whatever the reason is.

I really hope I won't have to remain in touch with these people in the future, but if I should have to email them at all, I would do so by the so-called self-deleting (or self-destructing) email, which I happened to find while looking for a way to combat email privacy infringement. I'll also use it for other occasions in which my email privacy may be violated.

I've found several free services that offer such email. The one that has impressed me most is Pluto, which was launched by two Harvard Law School students. The only problem is that because of a high demand for the service, there is a very long waiting list. When I applied for this service yesterday, I found nearly 6,000 people waiting in front of me. I happened to email this service to clarify about one technical issue, then one of the founders, David Gobaud, also sent me an invitation to start using the service by skipping this long waiting list. He was kind enough to allow me to share this invitation with other people. It can be used 500 times. Since I've used it twice for two of my email addresses, there still remain 498 places. If you also care about your email privacy and/or have encountered its infringement by people you trusted, I highly recommend you this free service and take advantage of the above invitation. You don't have to change your email address in order to use this service. It's meant to work on many platforms. Unfortunately, however, I've been struggling with its configuration, in vain, but you may have a better luck. If you do, please let me know so that I may be figure out what I did wrong.

In the meanwhile, I've found a much easier free web service called Fade.li, which I also highly recommend, if you don't have to use RTL script. This service displays RTL script "backward", so for Hebrew, for example, it's not usable at all. If you know a better service, please share your information with me.

Email is a two-edged sword - it's a very fast and convenient means of communication, but on the other hand, almost everything you write to others is stored forever without being deleted. You have to think twice before you send an email message to someone by regular email. Those you trust right now can become your worst enemies by violating your email privacy. But let's outsmart them!

2015-01-30

To Blog, or Not to Blog

Whole two months have passed since I posted my last blog entry. This is the longest break between any two entries, including breaks during my trips abroad. I've been wondering whether to continue to blog, or not to blog, as I seem to have lost my initial motivation to do so, and the main platform for sharing one's daily thoughts online seems to have shifted from blogs to social networks since I started blogging more than 14 years ago on another website (the archive of this second generation of this blog is only since five years ago). Blogging was a way to share what I considered bothering in Japanese society, where I spent the first four years as a blogger, in order to warn possible foreign students of Japanese.

Since I moved to Israel in August 2004, I've seen myself blogging - mostly kvetching - naturally, more and more on Israeli society, until I've stopped writing on Japanese society except on my annual trips there. Having written on Israeli society for more than a decade, I feel I've exhausted all the major issues that interest me for better or for worse in this society and people who live here, so I feel I can only repeat writing on the same topics, though probably from slightly different perspectives.

So what kind of motivation do I still have to continue to blog? I'm not so sure. I wonder what motives other bloggers who write on the society where they live or on their private life there. The only thing that seems to justify my contining to blog, though probably less frequently, is that this helps me reflect on the society and my inner self on a regular basis and verbalize these reflections. During this two-month break I thought of making this blog personal by limiting an access to it to myself. But I also thought that the awareness, and not necessarily the fact, that my blog-shmog may also be read by someone somewhere might be able to help me formulate my thoughs and feelings more clearly and accurately. Another benefit of keeping a publicly accessible blog is to have been able to get acquainted with a number of interesting people who stumbled upon this blog.