Foto Friday – Worldcam tripping around Israel

Here’s a question: If you take a picture and don’t post it on the Internet, was that picture ever really taken? After all, mobile phones have made photography an immediate experience and smart phones apps have made sharing pictures so easy, its almost compulsory to share our photos not only with circles of friends but with the public at large.

Instagram, with its 100 million registered users, is the most ubiquitous of the photo-sharing programs. Users can use the Instagram social network or share photos over other networks. That’s where sites like This is Now and Worldcam come in.

WorldCam bills itself as “the best way to find the latest Instagram photos from around the world, or around the corner” and answers the need to find Instagram photos taken in a specific locations.

So, for example, if you want to sneak a peek at what people have been snapping at the Tel Aviv bus station, type that location into Worldcam’s easy to use interface…

Or check out the Jerusalem bus station…

Haifa’s bus station…

The bus station in Beersheva…

And no virtual tour of Israel would be complete without the bus station at Eilat!

Worldcam (@theworldcam) was created by Kinda Like a Big Deal – a small creative collective out of Sweden consisting of Oskar Sundberg (@gori) and Per Stenius (@fimpen), helped out by Sam Dallyn (@SDallyn), Johan Sahlén (@jsahlen) and Hugo Wiledal (@etthugo). The site was built using application programming interfaces (APIs) from Instagram, Foursquare, Geonames and Geoplugin.

Click on any of the images to access their Instagram author. Have fun tripping around Israel and happy trails!

Teaching the basics

October 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, education, General, Israeliness, Life, Technology 

Despite sending four children through the Israeli educational system, one aspect that’s remained difficult to adapt to is the number of pupils in classrooms. Rarely under 30 and generally bursting the seams in the mid-30s in tiny rooms, classes here more resemble commuter trains from New Jersey to Manhattan.

When I brought my 11-year-old son to speak to a 5th grade class in the US last May, his first reaction as viewing the 21 children spread out over the spacious classroom was “Are most of the kids sick today?”

Whether it’s the class size or something else, Israeli pupils seems to be learning less these days, if the results of the annual standardized Meitzav exams are any evidence. The test is administered to fifth and eighth graders at schools around the country every four years and tests language, math and science skills.

Students in fifth grade who took the exam in the spring of 2012 showed a decline in achievements compared to previous Meitzav results. Among fifth-graders, the average math score declined from 549 points in the last exam to 542 points this year. Scores in science and technology also decreased by 4 points. But in language-related subjects such as Hebrew and English, a 10-point increase was recorded. For eighth-graders, the results showed a significant decline in all subjects. The greatest fall – a 21-point drop – was recorded in mathematics.

Pretty troublesome stats there, but unfortunately with other issues taking the forefront in the upcoming elections, it’s unlikely that a pro-education party would make much of a dent among the voters.

Fortunately, as ISRAEL21c reports, some Israelis are still getting smart and developing some innovative educational materials to help others on the way. Read here about new startup Skills & Knowledge which has created the application sCoolWork to helps students write essays better and faster. According to the company, the app is an organizational aid to format an assignment, spell-check it, check grammar, put in a bibliography and even search the Internet more effectively.

Maybe with this app and other like it on the way , the Meitzav grades in four years time will show an improvement. Now if we can just do something about the class sizes.

Want an iPhone 5 in Israel fast? Try Gaza

October 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

There’s no Apple Store like this in Gaza yet. (1000 Words / Shutterstock.com)

Want an iPhone 5, Apple’s latest model, but can’t wait until it arrives officially in Israel later this year? In the past, early adopters with family or friends overseas would often buy a phone in the U.S. and “jailbreak” it so it could work in Israel. They’d have to pay cancellation fees to AT&T; still, it would be cheaper than the exorbitant prices the Israeli cell phone companies charge, and of course, it would get here faster.

Last year, Apple made things a bit easier: the company sold an unlocked version of the iPhone 4S that would work worldwide. Same issue though: you’d have to somehow get it over from the U.S. to here or wait a few months.

This year, there’s a new alternative: buy it in the Gaza Strip. Reuters is reporting that the smuggling tunnels, which bring food, supplies and guns from Egypt into Gaza, are also carrying iPhone 5’s now. The phones are apparently coming from Dubai and, with all the middlemen involved, the prices are still high: almost double what it costs in the U.S. (or about what it usually costs to buy an iPhone in Israel from Orange, Cellcom or Pelephone). That’s $1,170 for the 16 GB model and $1,480 for 64 GB vs. $650 and $850 respectively in the States.

And then of course there’s the cost of a visa to Gaza (as the old Visa ads used to say, “priceless”) not to mention armed Hamas escorts to the local Gaza Apple Store. Oh wait, there’s not one of those either…

Electric range anxiety and Big Brother

October 16, 2012 by · 12 Comments
Filed under: Environment, Technology 

Unrolling our new Better Place 100% electric car

We picked up our brand new 100% electric car from Better Place on Sunday. Being an early adopter has its perks – when we walked into Better Place’s showroom, the entire staff stood up and applauded. There was a big screen reading “Mazel Tov Brian and Jody Blum.” We were given our own special license plate (with “392” on it – indicating more or less what number car purchase we were). And the cookies and juice weren’t bad either.

The electric Renault Fluence that Better Place sells is as much a computer as a vehicle. Our subsequent “training” session lasted nearly two hours and we were invited to stop by again in a month for a refresher session.

The centerpiece of the Better Place Fluence is called OSCAR (“operating system” for “cars,” I’m guessing), which controls everything from the entertainment system to the GPS navigation and location of the next battery swap station.

The latter is particularly important: if you input your route (and you’re strongly recommended to), OSCAR will calculate how long your battery will last and if and when you’ll need to stop to get a fresh one. For example, if you enter a trip from Jerusalem to Karmiel, then to Tiberius and back home again, OSCAR will automatically insert the closest swap stops at various points during the trip and even modify your route to make sure there’s a station along the way. It’s really quite ingenious.

The car “learns” your driving behaviors, too, to adjust when it thinks you’ll need to swap. Speed demons will drain the battery faster, as will climbing up a hill. Going down recharges the battery. There’s cruise control (steady driving improves battery life) and a speed limiter. Every driver gets his or her own “log-in” so that OSCAR will know the difference between Jody and my driving habits.

After training, photo, and more cookies, we headed back to Jerusalem from the Better Place headquarters in Herzliya with 97% battery left. OSCAR told us which way to go and if we followed his (or her?) instructions (OSCAR speaks with a woman’s voice), we’d arrive home with 29% battery left. A nice comfortable journey We’d then plug in to our home charging spot overnight and the battery would be back at 100% in 7-8 hours.

Except that we didn’t follow OSCAR’s instructions exactly. First we took a slight detour to visit a sporting goods store nearby. Then, although OSCAR wanted us to drive home via the Ayalon, Waze (my iPhone’s GPS best friend) suggested going via Highway 6 would be faster. When we got back to Jerusalem, OSCAR plotted us through the center of town, but I know that taking Highway 9 and looping down the Begin Highway is generally quicker.

All good decisions as far as travel time goes. But each option added a few kilometers. And I didn’t always stick to 100 km/hour. Plus, there’s a really big hill coming into Jerusalem. Our % battery remaining was dropping faster than we expected. And the swap station in Jerusalem isn’t open yet.

As we were rounding Har Hotzvim, already in the city limits. OSCAR started beeping frantically. Red warning lights splashed across his (or her) face. We had just passed the 10% left threshold. And, according to OSCAR, we didn’t have enough juice to make it home.

And then the phone rang. It was Better Place Customer Service. They had received an alert that we getting too low on power. Where were we, the Better Place representative asked?

Jody began relaying instructions. “Drive slower. And watch the charge indicator.” If I kept it slow and steady, the car would recharge ever so slightly and we might just make it.

“Would you like us to monitor you on the rest of your ride home,” the Better Place lady asked. Yes please!

The next 10 minutes were far more nerve wracking than I’d expected on our first day out. The battery monitor continued to drop. 4%. 3%. 1%. And then 0. The “battery empty” icon flashed, just like it would on your laptop. Except this was a very heavy laptop. We were opposite the gas station at Oranim Junction, no more than a minute from our apartment.

If the car went kaput, would we even know it? After all, the 100% electric Fluence is completely silent when not moving. How ironic if we were to run out of energy directly opposite a gas station which would do us no good.

Our hearts were racing. But OSCAR nudged us a bit further and we made it into our parking spot, plugged in the charging cable and finally exhaled. The truth is, we knew that, even on empty, the car can usually drive another 7 kilometers. But that didn’t particularly calm us. Red flashing lights will do that.

Better Place’s Customer Service was uniformly excellent. They “know” us and address us by our first names…in English (our preferences are recorded in the computer). Still, there is something eerie about the fact that Big Brother Better Place is tracking you. And yet, if you can get past the privacy issues, it is also incredibly comforting to know that you have a caring partner watching out for you.

Despite our harrowing first day, I have no complaints. It’s all part of the learning curve – just like if you switched from a PC to a Mac. Once OSCAR has internalized how many kilometers I really get, hills, speed and all, it should prevent recurrences. And because you don’t “own” the battery, whenever the technology is improved, you get the “upgrades” automatically. Better Place says the range will extend 7-10% a year. Also, just this morning, Better Place sent an email to tell us that the swap station at Hemed – on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway – is now open.

Moreover, the Fluence rides likes a dream – smooth, silent. It’s roomy and you sit really high up given this is a sedan and not an SUV. There are all kinds of nice touches (the speaker phone automatically pairs with your cell phone via Bluetooth; there are sun shades in the back seats).

But if there is one lesson learned so far it’s: Listen to OSCAR when s/he tells you which way to go. Big Brother sometimes does know best.

There’s more on our Better Place adventures in this previous post.

Nostalgia Sunday – As Always Hadassah

Over the past decade, Israel21c has written dozens of articles about Israeli advancements in healthcare and medical research. A hefty percentage of these mention the word “Hadassah” because, in fact, Hadassah — the hospital and the organization that funds it — are all but synonymous with healthcare and medical research in Israel.

Hadassah’s Centennial Convention opens tomorrow in Jerusalem — a nice moment to make note of a few of the Women’s Organization’s many accomplishments and contributions that have benefited healthcare not only in Israel but around the world as well.

Hadassah medical ‘firsts’ include the first double bypass surgery in Israel (1964), the first successful bone marrow transplant in Israel (1977), first “Test Tube” baby in Israel (1983), first successful heart transplant in Israel (1986), first successful liver transplant in Israel (1991) and the first successful lung transplant in Israel.

In the new millennium, Hadassah’s medical success went global, conducting the first computer-guided hip replacement in the world (2004), the first successful freezing of ovaries before chemotherapy treatment (2007) and the first successful pregnancy using ova genetically tested prior to implantation (2008).

Hadassah was also responsible for opening the first ambulatory surgery center in Israel (1986), Israel’s first trauma unit (1991) and has pioneered many other innovative and unique medical treatments. In 2005, Hadassah was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for its ongoing initiatives to use medicine as a bridge to peace.

A list of highlights is available online, as is a fascinating timeline of the history of Hadassah. Below, we present a few movies from the Hadassah vault — they serve to illustrate the organization’s long-standing commitment to healthcare in Israel, the Middle East and the world.

As Always Hadassah (from The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive)

A Lifeline for Israel – The Hadassah Medical Organization, 1913-1967

Hadassah: In The Midst of Crisis 1967

Hadassah & Israel: A Partnership of Distinction

Hadassah: A Day to Remember

Hadassah: How the Future Was Built

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