A snow story for cynics

January 10, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Environment, Israeliness, Life 
Our dog has his own "snow boots"

Our dog has his own “snow boots”

When my editor here at Israelity asked me to write about today’s snowstorm in Jerusalem, I thought – what could I possibly add that hasn’t already been posted on every Israeli news site? My Facebook news feed has been one non-stop jaunt through snowmen and snowball fights and cars buried in snow.

I could write about how I don’t actually like snow in Jerusalem. That it’s just a big inconvenience and the city gets totally over-the-top panicked at the mere thought of freezing temperatures and slick streets, and how those of us who grew up in the States find this all borderline OCD.

Or I could recall the time I nearly got stranded in the big snow of 2002 while trying to make it home from Tel Aviv by way of Highway 443 (the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway was already shut down). My wife Jody had to stay on the speakerphone from home for nearly 2 hours to talk me through zero visibility and cliff-side skid marks. And that was before unlimited mobile plans.

I could show you photos of our leaky roof – the buckets and towels artfully arranged around our kitchen and the mold forming above the windows – and complain about how our contractor apparently goofed on waterproofing our upstairs terrace. But I’m sure you’d rather read The Jerusalem Post’s Beautiful Homes column.

But the truth is, as much of a grump and a snow cynic as I can be, waking up this morning to a city covered in white and running out together before breakfast as a family (schools and work were closed and everyone was at home) to walk the dog along the deserted streets (it was his first snow, the dog’s not one of the kids) was actually kind of magical. The snow was higher than I remember at any point since we made aliyah in 1994 and, instead of throwing snowballs at each other, we tossed them past the dog who tried to chase after the projectiles and looked truly confused when they imploded on impact.

And then the cold snuck in under my gloves, my unprotected nose began to bite and it was time to head indoors to work out on the elliptical machine to work out and warm up (I started watching Homeland, thank you for asking).

In the morning, the snow will probably be gone and it will be back to normal life, whatever that means in Israel. But for a few moments, I allowed myself to be “in the moment,” to let down my maniacal fear of frostbite, and enjoy a once-in-a-decade kind of day.

Snow day in Jerusalem

snow jerusIt doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we know how to make the best of it. I’m talking about snow in Jerusalem.

The capitol received around a foot of heavy, sticky snow over night Wednesday, and Thursday morning, it looked like a white paradise. All of the major roads leading into the city (from Tel Aviv and Modi’in) were closed, but the internal roads were pretty clear. So at around 8:30 am, my son and I drove in from our desert town outside Jerusalem, and being just about the only ones on the road, easily made our way to Sacher Park, near the entrance to the city.

There we joined a couple hundred other hearty souls in sliding, throwing snowballs and building snowmen. It was a blast seeing how much native Israelis – who rarely or of ever have had the pleasure of snow fun – took so joyously to it.

And judging from the photos of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his family and of President Shimon Peres, they also found the time to share in the true novelty of playing with snow in Jerusalem.

bibi snow

snow peres

The gorgeous envelope around the holy city began to melt mid day, and by Thursday evening was heading on the way out. But as far as diversions go, the once-a-decade Jerusalem snowstorm is one that can’t be beat.

Is “Ayaloning” the new meme?

Graupel is a word meaning “soft hail or snow pellets” and it is graupelling right now here in Jerusalem. Or maybe its sleeting, with a chance of snow flurries later in the day. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that climate change has brought us Israelis to the point where we, like the Sami people of the Arctic, now need 180 words for all the different kinds of wet stuff that comes down from the sky.

But this slushy downpour is only a chapter in the ongoing saga of a violent rainstorm that has amused, bemused and occupied our collective attention since the beginning of this week. The shut-ins among us have put their talents to good use — including Israelity contributor Benji Lovitt who came up with Twitter hashtag #Geshempocalypse and Israellycool’s Brian of London with the now trending #shelegeddon — with some creating humorous images of the overflowing Ayalon riverbed. As with the Bibi-bombing and Bibi-bomb memes of 2012, they’re going viral. So let’s do our part in pushing them along!

Most popular, perhaps, is this submarine patrolling the Ayalon by Dima Shapira…
Russian-sub-Ayalon

Although the engineering students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev swam waaay upstream to get jump on them with the “Hydro-Camel” underwater vehicle…
BGU-sub

Here’s the new submersible Egged bus…
Egged-submarine

Which would likely end up at the Tel Aviv Submarine Docking Station.
Marine-station

Rony Ve Oren Balbus envisions Tel Aviv’s lifeguards being called in from the beach for highway duty…
lifeguard-Ayalon

While Facebook group Religious Coercion – Time to Stop It also riffs on a beach-related issue with its take on gender separate swimming lanes: one for men, one for women.
men-women-Ayalon

And no large body of water would be complete without a visit from the elusive Nessie, (thanks to the creative energies of Ran Hertz).
Nessie-Ayalon

Rain-related Tel Aviv municipal topics ranged from Tal Shoham’s idea for kayaks to supplement the Tel-o-fun rental bikes
Tel-o-fun-boats

To a poster from the Social Justice movement declaring that “We’ve had it up to here” with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (the pun works better in Hebrew).
TLV-up-to-here-poster

Our own Brian Blum was apparently not the only one to experience troubles with Waze. 100Meme did too…
Waze-flood

Trending now is this Titanic takeoff that reads “You and your shopping… this is the last time I go with you to Modi’in”.
Modiin-Titanic

And if you’re not clear on the reference, check out this amazing video of the crazy flood-waters as the broke into the Modi’in mall’s SuperPharm branch. (I particularly like the smiling woman standing on a stool amidst the frenzied all-hands-on-deck mayhem).

Rain shuts down Israel

January 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, design, Environment, General, Israeliness, Life, News 

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Most things in Israel are done to the extreme. Like the weather.

Last Friday I was playing tennis outside in a short sleeve shirt and shorts. Yesterday, I was one of those hapless sorts with the runaway inverted umbrella, with shoes soaked through and hands numb with cold.

We can’t even have a normal winter without record rain falls, gusty winds that have felled trees, flooding that has closed the MAIN road leading into Tel Aviv (the Ayalon) and electricity outages being the norm.

It’s been raining and blowing now for three days, with more expected (including the likelihood of snow in Jerusalem and the country’s other high altitude areas). The good news is that the Kinneret, which for years has been dangerously low, is rapidly filling up. Yesterday saw a record one day windfall with the Galilee lake rising by 22 centimeters.

The Kinneret is now only two meters, 70 centimeters below is full mark, and forecasters predict it could come close to reaching its peak before the winter ends, and onward. That’s because while the rest of the country is being drenched, the Hermon area of the Golan is being blessed with a couple feet of snow. That snow will be melting and making its way to the Kinneret long after the rain has stopped.

The bad news is that, considering we are the Start-Up Nation, with innovative solutions to every world problem you can think of, we aren’t too good with handling stormy weather like this. Our road and building infrastructure has been exposed with failings, to say the least.

Hundreds of thousands of the labor force not being able to get to work in Tel Aviv? It’s inconceivable. And the enclosed video clip of the upscale mall in Modi’in, which wasn’t build that long ago, resembled a man-made lake, as leaks don’t even describe the gaps where rain water poured into the building.

The rain will eventually end, and next week, I’ll probably be back on the tennis court in shorts. But if a political party running in the upcoming elections was smart, they would focus some of their campaign ads (which begin airing Tuesday) on their plans to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Because, for once in Israel, like it always is in the US, everyone’s talking about the weather.

Waze: data doing good

December 31, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Environment 

Waze from iPhoneI love Waze. The Israeli-made driving directions and crowd-sourced traffic app is my constant companion when I leave Jerusalem, and sometimes even when I’m still in town.

For Waze virgins, Waze is a mobile app for the iPhone and Android devices. In addition to providing accurate turn-by-turn directions (making it an awesome and totally free GPS device), the app can calculate where all its active users are and then, simply by determining how fast they’re moving, automatically display traffic jams and advise drivers on which alternative routes will be the fastest.

Waze occasionally gets it wrong but, in 99% of cases, this little app gets me to the church on time. That’s one reason 1.1 million Israelis use Waze (and millions more around the globe – I wrote about the company here for Israel21c).

Waze users are also able to add in information proactively. If you see an accident, pass a police car or slip through a speed trap, there are one-tap buttons to report those. Or you can write more extensive comments (like “car on fire in right hand lane”) – useful to other drivers when stuck in a stand still with no idea what’s up ahead.

Behind the scenes, of course, Waze is collecting this massive amount of data, and now a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has shown how, with a little ingenuity, Waze can reveal some useful highway insights that go beyond whether to take Highway 2, 4 or 6.

The student, Michael Fire, and his team at the university compiled their findings into a report called “Data Mining Opportunities in Geosocial Networks for Improving Road Safety.” Fancy name, but the basic focus was to determine where accidents are occurring most frequently on the Israeli road system, and whether there are enough police nearby.

The researchers collected 5,369 accident reports and 29,789 “police nearby” reports, then divided them into a grid of cells based on geographical area. Some of their conclusions:

  • 2,743 areas had at least one accident during the one-month time period used in the research (earlier in 2012)
  • 579 locations had at least five recurring accidents
  • 75 percent of the 20 areas that had received the highest scores for recurring accidents were intersections
  • 40 percent of the 20 areas that received the highest scores for “police nearby” statuses also were intersections
  • 67.9 percent of the accidents reported did not include police intervention. For those that did, police response time for an accident was 28.66 minutes

With the constant harping about how websites are abusing the information they collect about us, it’s refreshing to hear about data doing good. Hopefully, this will be only the beginning of similar student data mining projects with Waze (and other social networks where appropriate), and that the police, the ministries in charge of road safety and the student researchers will find a way to cooperate and use this data to make real improvements in our highway system.

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