Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My bunny socks at the pool

I thought this was too cute not to take a picture of:

Hopefully no one was too creeped out that I took a picture in the locker room.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Matty!

Happy birthday to my brother Matty!  I hope you have a great day!  You can consider the previous post about toilet flushing to be a birthday present :)

Water efficiency

Toilets here almost always have 2 options for flushing, but they're usually two buttons.  I liked this toilet style with the small handle and the bigger one.  It's really obvious which one is which, which is sometimes not the case!

I find this one really confusing, for some reason:

Or this one - what are you supposed to do here?

This one always gets me:

Seriously, which one is which?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A pretty flower

Here's a really pretty flower that we passed on a walk (uphill, of course):

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Updates from English High School

English High School is the Boston school where I taught 9th grade physics for the past two years. The schools is often called "troubled" or "underperforming," but based on my experience there, I would say a better word is "failing," as the school is certainly failing in its goal (and purpose!) to educate all students to a high standard.

I'm not there this year, so I am not really in a position to comment on what is going on, but there have been some reason headlines about the school that I wanted to share.

Lagging schools in Mass. take on partners
It seems that EHS is among 8 schools in Boston that are near the point of facing a state takeover. This occurs when a school has been underperforming so badly, and for such a long time, that the state determines that the only way to get the school out of the rut is to come in and completely overhaul it. In order to stave off state takeover, EHS and these other schools are being encouraged to partner with private groups to help run the school more effectively.

This is a complicated issue. As a former consultant, and a future consultant to school districts, I obviously believe in the power of outside partners to improve a situation or solve a problem. However, that doesn't mean that every situation is right for an outside partner, or that every partner is right for the situation.

A very smart person I know at English once described EHS as having a "christmas tree problem": When you decorate a christmas tree, you need to choose just the right decorations and arrange them in just the right way to get the best possible outcome. If you go overboard with ornaments and decorations, your tree stops looking good and soon buckles under the weight of all the uncoordinated decor. From my experience, I think this is exactly the situation at EHS - too many programs, too many partners, too many priorities and no clear guiding plan, so the staff buckles under the weight of handling all the different programs and partners.

English High headmaster to leave troubled school
Though it is not a surprise to hear that the headmaster is leaving, it is a disappointing sign of continued trouble for EHS. One thing that can help overcome the "christmas tree problem" is some degree of continuity in leadership and vision. Now, with changing headmasters and outside partners, the school will be shaken up yet again. The school will likely find little continuity from its teaching staff, with another year of high turnover expected (the past 3-4 years have all seen more than half the staff turn over, so that when I was in only my second year I was "experienced").

So, as EHS heads into the homestretch of another challenging school year, I just have to express my admiration for all the teachers who work so hard to make sure that the wonderful students there can in fact get an education in this troubled school - ECS, GB, KW, Dr. RL, and many others who I am probably forgetting.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"How can this be true if Jesus Christ is our lord and savior?" (Part 2)

At the very top of the Baha'i Gardens, looking down into Haifa's bay on the Mediterranean.

This is the continuation of this post about touring the north coast of Israel with my parents, in late March.

After seeing Caesarea and Tel Aviv, my parents came up to Haifa to visit the areas where Caroline and I have been living and working. The main event for the day was seeing the Baha'i Gardens, the 2nd holiest site for this religion (the top holy site for them is just 20 minutes north in the city of Acco, where their prophet and founder is buried).
The Baha'i sure do know how to cultivate a garden. Wow!

We arrived late for the tour, and they are very strict about entry to the gardens. Caroline and I had accidentally gone to the middle entrance instead of the top entrance, where it turns out that the tours begin. We managed to talk the guard into letting us run ahead to join the tour by telling them that my parents were already there and we needed to catch up. Of course, this made us feel a little silly when a few seconds after we entered, my parents arrived - even later than us! Oh well, the guard let them in too and we all caught up with the tour.

The tour was led by a young israeli woman who was not Baha'i. She did a nice job explaining some of the basic tenets to us: the Baha'i believe that all older religions are different aspects of the one true religion (including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism and Hinduism and others). Their religion is focused on equality between genders and between different groups of people, and peace throughout the world. Actually, sounds pretty hard to disagree with!

Well, we did have one person in the group who disagreed. At one stop on the tour after explaining about the Baha'i prophets who founded the religion around 100 years ago, the guide asked "any questions?" but I don't think she was expecting this one.

A middle aged woman raised her hand and asked: "How can the Baha'i believe in this? Do they know that Jesus Christ is the true lord and savior?"

The guide tried to politely deflect the question, and said that she was just a guide, not a Baha'i herself, so she couldn't really answer that.

The questioner didn't take the hint, and didn't notice everyone else glancing around uncomfortably, so she asked again: "But their religion cannot be true, because Christ is the only true path to salvation."

This went on for a few more back-and-forths. Needless to say, it was pretty awkward, especially on a tour about a religion that preaches peace and understanding between all groups of people. Oh well.

Here are some more pictures of the beautiful Baha'i gardens:
Haifa is a VERY hilly city, which means that the gardens have great views throughout.

I think this is some sort of archive building.
They do a great job with use of colored materials. The white stone looks great against the green gardens, and they have red gravel paths that add another accent (can't see them here).
The gardens are symmetrical along the center line. You can see the red gravel paths here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The names to remember from Boston

It's been a weird week to be a Boston ex-pat. As I'm sure many of you did, I spent most of yesterday absolutely glued to the news updates, and that was after a week of tension after the bombings on Marathon Monday. Needless to say, it was such a relief that both suspects were caught relatively quickly (though it sure didn't feel quick as we were experiencing it!).

My friend "kschu" wrote a really nice post about her emotions and experiences during the past week, having also left Boston after moving there for her college years. As we all read the news updates yesterday, I think many people just kept thinking "this is practically happening in my backyard." I know it felt that way to me.

While I was unequivocally glad not to be in Boston as the events unfolded yesterday, I still really wanted to be connected with Boston friends. Turned out many people felt the same way. My google chat list was greener than usual, probably because everyone was stuck at home anyway, and throughout the day many different friends who were also Boston "ex-pats" were chatting - we didn't have much to say, but we needed to check in with each other.
The windows of MIT's Green Building were lit up as a memorial to officer Sean Collier, only 26 years old when he was shot last night.
Rather than focus on the bombers, I think there are many other names to remember from these past few days.

Obviously the shooting of the MIT police officer strikes very close to home, and for now it's still difficult to understand the reasons that led to his shooting. As the rest of Boston celebrates and returns to normalcy, his family and friends are experiencing something completely different. MIT has posted an obituary to officer Sean Collier, along with a place where people can share memories and express condolences. The memories and photos shared by the MIT Outdoors Club (of which he was a member) remind me how he was so young and so much a part of our community.

Similarly, the families of the two American victims (and of course the Chinese victim as well) who were killed in the bombings may be glad to hear the suspects have been caught, but it doesn't alleviate the sadness and tragedy that has come to their families. For the families of Krystle Cambell and Martin Richard, there is still a great deal of sadness ahead of them. The same goes for those who had family members maimed and seriously injured in the blast.

During the chaos of the past couple days, I was continually impressed by the amazing and professional response of both the medical and public safety workers of Boston. This piece tells the incredible story of doctors, nurses and emergency responders who stepped up and self-organized in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings. And I think it speaks greatly about the police work yesterday that not a single bystander was hurt in the manhunt, despite hundreds of rounds fired and bombs detonated.

Finally, I wanted to mention the amazing work done by local reporters from the Boston Globe and local news stations in Boston. This was the first time I ever followed a developing news story on Twitter (and Reddit) instead of the mainstream news sites. Especially during the crazy events that happened over night, Twitter and Reddit were leaps and bounds ahead of CNN, NYTimes, etc. in terms of both speed and accuracy.

A lot of people have been saying "wow, this just proves that Twitter is a great news source!" but it's worth remembering that Twitter doesn't actually do the reporting; that happened thanks to many dedicated reporters on the scene in Watertown, who published their first-hand accounts to Twitter from smart phones. To me, it was a good reminder that even in an age where newspapers are dying and journalism is struggling, I was glad that the local reporters who really knew the area were there.

I think I speak for many people when I say that I hope next week is a supremely boring and normal week.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Congrats to Alan!

We just heard some very exciting news today! Behavio, the startup of our good friend Alan was just acquired by Google! Apparently there aren't a lot of public details, so I'll just refer you to a news article about it.

For those who aren't familiar with their company, their big idea is to use all data from the low-level sensors on our smartphones (accelerometer, barometer, sensing other phones, GPS, etc.) to produce actually useful data that app developers could use to make apps smarter about responding to your real life. (Hope I got that right, Alan!). The team was acquired by Google so now they'll all be working there...and that's about all I know. Very exciting! Congratulations to Alan and the whole Behavio team.

The north coast of Israel with my parents (Part 1)

The Baha'i Gardens are one of the most prominent sites in Haifa
This post is out of order again. This takes place about a week before the post about the cave, when only my parents were here and my siblings hadn't arrived yet.

Caroline and I were so excited to welcome my parents to Israel when they came to visit. We wanted to show them all around Haifa and the places we would go for our daily lives, and also to tour some other cities in the area with them.

My parents were not staying in Haifa, because they were able to stay at the apartment of our good friends in Caesarea, about 40 minutes south (thanks Snitzers!). Caroline and I got on the train to head down there to stay for the weekend. We had a nice Shabbat dinner with mostly delicious food. There was only one small problem.

My dad and I had been tasked with buying ice cream for dessert. We went to a small corner store, and many things were already covered up if they were not kosher for passover, because the holiday was starting in just a few days. No problem, we found the ice cream freezer and picked out a good flavor. But then at the last minute, I switched it to a different flavor without checking it carefully. When we went to open it after dinner, we found that it was non-dairy and kosher for passover. Terrible! My dad and I choked down a few bites to make it seem tolerable, but overall we didn't make much progress on it.  
I don't know why this was there, but I guess there must have been some giant statue originally.
The next morning we went to the Caesarea national park, with ruins dating back to the start of the common era. Caesarea had been the major port town on the coast of the Roman province of Palestine, originally built in order to attract traders from the spice route to come through this port instead of Alexandria in Egypt. The ruins are pretty well preserved and displayed and you could really envision yourself back in Roman times. Honestly, I've also been reading and watching Game of Thrones lately, and being able to refer in my mind to that fantasy world actually helped me imagine how things would have worked in these Roman ruins.

This ancient theater has been somewhat restored, though a few rows of the original stone seats remain so you can see them. The view faces out onto the ocean; it's beautiful! They hold concerts here in the summer, so maybe we will go.
Here you can see the view. I always think the color of the Mediterranean is so beautiful.

I think this floor is original, or at least parts. Maybe the more broken tiles in the bottom of the photo...
The Romans sure knew how to relax!
There were GIANT waves crashing on the rocks. Here you can see the spray going up higher than the building!
Caroline climbed up into an old Roman aqueduct while my dad looked on. We heard that the aquaduct only dropped about 30m over the course of about 30km. Amazing engineering!
OK, I'm out of time for tonight but I want to share this with you, so this post is to be continued...!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A perfect day to descend 65m into darkness

Caroline and I have gotten a little behind on blogging because we have been so busy! In the last few weeks, we had Passover, a visit from my family, and a visit from our friend Mike. We've logged a lot of hours on buses and trains, but this weekend we are taking it easy, so we hope to catch up on blogging a little!

My parents and siblings came to visit us here in Israel for Pesach (Passover), and we had a lot of fun adventures together. Our first few days were a real whirlwind. We went to see our family friends the Mosses in Ra'anana, and they hosted us for a really nice Seder. We brought my family up to Haifa to see Caroline's museum, the Technion where I work and our apartment.

From there, we went to Jerusalem and the surrounding area, where we went on an awesome hike together. My dad had found this hike, called Fox's Chimney, and it was a great find!
Wow that is a shiny reflective spot on my shirt!

The setting of the hike was really beautiful, in the hills alongside the Dead Sea. I'd been to the Dead Sea area many times before, but we have usually gone early in the morning. I had never seen the area in the late afternoon light as we did this time. The views were even better than ever.

We started by hiking up the hills. The Dead Sea is actually the lowest elevation anywhere on Earth, about 1300 ft below sea level, so that even as we hiked up we were still very low down! The hike was a lot of fun, since it included some areas where we had to use our hands to almost climb a little.
This is my favorite type of hike, where you have to do a little bit of light climbing.
We felt pretty cool when we made it to the top of the hills, and we were rewarded with great views!
From the left: Tamar (Joel's wife), my sister Tali, my dad with Caroline, my mom, and then my brother Joel
After a bit more climbing, we arrived at the namesake of the trek: a 65m rappelling descent into the Fox's Chimney cave. Our guide helped us put on our helmets and harnesses, so we looked really cool:
The girls
The boys
From there, our guide helped us go one-by-one into the gaping maw of the 65m descent.
Here is Tali with our guide, as she begins rappelling into the cave
Here goes Tamar, looking like she's totally got this under control!
My mom, looking cool as she heads down!
Caroline had this huge smile on her face the whole time!
The start of the descent was what you might imagine when you think of rappelling. Your feet were against the rock, and you slowly let out the rope to lower yourself down, walking along the wall. However, after about 5m, the wall curved way inwards and you found yourself hanging freely, dangling in the cave. At that point you are just lowering yourself down into empty space. It was a pretty crazy feeling!
This picture kind of gives you a feeling what it was like. Just realize that the black spot a little below the opening is a person! The drop is so big that the people looked really tiny at the start.
Inside the cave was really cool too. The Dead Sea is known for having extremely high concentration of salt, and even the rocks in this nearby cave had tons of salt too.
All these stalactites are made from salt deposits 
It was also COMPLETELY pitch black. There was absolutely zero light, so we all had to wear headlamps as we climbed. When we turned the lights off, we couldn't even see our hand an inch from our face. It was a very cool experience.
More fun climbing!
This photo without a flash shows what it was like when we were climbing in the dark
When we finally made it out, night had fallen and we were treated to this beautiful view of the moon rising over Jordan and reflected in the Dead Sea.
Please leave comments, we love hearing from you all! We will post lots more pics and stories soon