Friday, December 31, 2010

Lessons from 2010

I generally view my life as a continuous flow of experiences and personal development. Sometimes I control my circumstances, and at other times I react to events beyond my control.

The New Year is an opportunity, albeit rather arbitrary, to look back over my recent life.

Here are a few things I learned about myself, or that were reinforced for me, during 2010:

  • I am capable of taking decisions and acting upon them.
  • I can undertake a large project and see it to fruition (NaNoWriMo).
  • I am realizing that I am increasingly known and appreciated within my professional community.
  • I have a much clearer idea of what I want to do with my life, both creatively and in terms of my personal mission.
  • I still react badly to extreme events beyond my control (the Carmel forest fire).
I have achieved many of the things I planned to do with my life in 2010. In the coming months, I intend to continue growing and developing in the same way. More writing, better use of my time, and focusing my professional efforts on the work I enjoy most and do best.

Happy 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Multiverse experience

The theory of the multiverse speculates that every action or decision creates a split, where each possibility actually happens in a different universe. I often think about this when something dramatic happens. It is easy to think "Let this not have happened", and then imagine a world where it did not happen. I thought like this when I heard that the Columbia space shuttle had exploded on re-entry, when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, and, of course, on 9/11.

Recently I have been thinking about this because of a book I read (to be discussed in a future post), and today something happened that made me very aware of this way of thinking. My husband was on a train that caught fire. He was unharmed, though about a quarter of the passengers suffered smoke inhalation or were injured by broken glass or when they jumped off the train to escape. Nobody received any burns.

Along with my relief that Ivor survived a potentially serious accident, I started thinking about the universe where he died. The version of me in that universe must be thinking "Let this not have happened", and I can only hope she finds some solace in imagining my situation.

Ultimately, this way of thinking is not all that helpful. Despite the speculations of SF writers, I don't think there is any way these different universes can communicate with each other. All we can do is imagine all the alternative situations that might have happened in given circumstances. So many things could have happened differently, and there is no point in regretting that we are in our particular version of the multiverse.

The only advantage of imagining alternatives is to create some emotional distance between yourself and your situation. If you become aware that things could have happened differently (and perhaps did, somewhere), you realize this is just one version of your life, so you can be more detached about it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lessons from the Carmel Fire

The forest fire on Mount Carmel was put out on Sunday night, after three and a half days of intensive efforts. Here are some of the things I have learned from this tragedy:

First of all, it seems that Israel needs a serious public fire safety education program. The fire was probably started by someone's negligence, and the thought that a moment's carelessness can lead to such a vast disaster is very scary.

I was deeply disturbed by the seeming lack of coordination between the various emergency services, at least at first. Ideally, I would have expected there to be clear procedures defining the responsibilities of each body and the chain of command. I heard there were cases where the police were ordering an evacuation of certain streets, while the Mayor was saying he hadn't ordered this and people should stay at home.

Israel's fire services are the smallest and least equipped in the developed world, which is incredible considering that Israel is a hot and dry country that sees forest fires each summer, and that the value of land here is high. I have been speculating that perhaps part of the problem is that young Israelis wishing to help save lives and property are more likely to think they will do this during their military service. I don't think I have heard Israeli children wanting to be fire fighters when they grow up. Perhaps now the status of fire fighters will improve.

The lack of coordination and the sorry state of Israel's fire services do not bode well for the home front during the next war.

Of course, my main feeling after this ecological and human tragedy is deep sadness. But there are also some behaviours and attitudes that made me angry:

  • People who stopped their cars or slowed down on the roads to see the fire and take photos, making it difficult for the emergency vehicles to get into and out of the crisis area, and creating traffic jams that slowed the evacuation.
  • People who later tried to enter evacuated areas to get a good view of the fire fighting planes, giving the police extra work in trying to save their lives.
  • People who were evacuated and returned to their homes before they were allowed to, presumably to try to save something they had left behind, risking their lives and endangering the emergency staff who had to evacuate them again.
  • Those who quickly assumed that the fire was started either deliberately or negligently by Druze or Arabs. This racism is not helpful, and even if it turns out to have been negligence by two Druze youths who are being investigated, this should not lead to blaming their whole community.
  • Arsonists who started other fires in other parts of the country, forcing the fire fighters to split their forces. The cruelty of such actions is staggering.
  • The Israeli Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishay, who will not take ministerial responsibility and resign. In other developed countries, it is considered the decent thing for a minister to resign when something goes wrong. Here, Israeli politicians' first concern is to shift the blame onto someone else (often previous governments) and avoid or deny any responsibility. I would say "Shame on you!", but they are impervious to the whole concept of shame or decency.
  • Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who claimed that the fire was punishment for people not observing the Sabbath. Expressing such opinions is offensive, divisive, and shows an incredible degree of hutzpa.
Looking on the bright side, there are also many things I am grateful for:

  • The immediate response of many other countries in sending Israel their fire fighters, planes, and equipment. It is gratifying to know that in cases of ecological disasters at least, the world does not hate Israel. It is also good to be on the receiving end of the sort of help Israel routinely sends, such as Israeli field hospitals and rescue teams sent overseas following earthquakes and other disasters.
  • The fire fighters were able to prevent the loss of many houses (though not all), and even managed to save most of the animals in a wildlife sanctuary on the Carmel.
  • The Israeli public demonstrated its caring side when many volunteers came out to help the emergency staff and the evacuees.
  • And finally, this morning I was woken up at 4 a.m. by the sound of the first rain! Even though it would have been more useful earlier, it is still going to help prevent the fire from breaking out again in the burned areas, and I am always grateful for rain.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fire in the Carmel

Yesterday (December 2, 2010) at about 11 a.m., a fire started in the Carmel forest. At the time, Ivor was in the nearby Haifa University, and could see the flames from the Eshkol tower. He came home at about 2 p.m., when they started evacuating the university.

It soon became apparent that this was a very serious fire, and the fire fighters could not control it. We were instructed to close the windows and remain indoors. Here is the view of the smoke from our balcony during the afternoon. Note how the sun was covered by the smoke. It got dark early.

We started listening to the local radio station, Radio Haifa. They were our main news source during the 2006 Lebanon war, and the experience seems similar. Their professional and responsible reporting was careful to avoid reporting unconfirmed rumours, and they encouraged people to stay out of danger.

Soon we heard about the tragedies of this fire. A bus carrying cadet prison officers coming to help evacuate the Damon prison was caught in the flames, killing 40 people. Haifa's chief of police was following this bus and tried to help the victims, sustaining serious burns, and she is now in hospital in a critical condition. A few other fire fighters and police officers are injured or missing. The fire consumed Kibbutz Beit Oren after its residents were evacuated.

During the evening and night, the fire approached Tirat Karmel, a town just south of Haifa, which has been partially evacuated, and the Denia neighbourhood of Haifa, where some of the residents were told to leave in the early hours. The idea that the city itself might burn was alarming.

In the morning, the fire had moved south-west, and there was less smoke. Here is another view from the balcony this morning:

Several countries have sent firefighting planes and helicopters, equipment, and fire fighters, including Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, the UK, Spain, Egypt and Jordan.

It is worrying to realize how our fire services have been underfunded and underequipped, despite repeated warnings of the potential for disaster. This is particularly bad since Israel is a dry country and has forest fires every summer, and is also often attacked by rockets that can cause fires. The failure of the emergency services to deal with this disaster does not bode well for the next war.

This fire is also the result of the very hot and dry weather. We have not yet had any significant rain this autumn, and temperatures have been around 30 degrees C throughout October and November.

The loss of life and property is tragic. It is also very sad to think that the beautiful Carmel forest has been completely destroyed, and they say it could take up to 50 years for it to recover. Two million trees have been burned down, and most of the wild animals that live in the forest (including wild boars and jackals) are unlikely to have escaped.

My conclusions from this event: First, it is important for officials to act on warnings, such as the repeated requests for increased fire fighting capabilities, before the disaster happens. Second, this fire was probably the result of arson (or negligence), which would make it a serious crime.

I mourn for the great losses in life, property, and nature, and hope for the quick rebuilding of the damaged homes and the restoration of the forest.

This week was supposed to be a happy one for Haifa. The Carmel Tunnels opened, and this weekend I was planning to attend the Festival of Festivals, a co-existence event held every weekend during December to celebrate Christmas, Hannuka, and the closest Moslem festival (their lunar calendar means this changes each year). This has now been cancelled, but I hope to go next weekend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

As I reported here earlier, this year I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I challenged myself to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Yesterday I completed my novel, the longest piece of writing I have achieved!

I learned a lot from this experience, both about myself as a writer and about the novel I was trying to write. Here are some of my conclusions, and I hope writers reading this will be able to apply some of them to their own writing.

First of all, I found it quite easy to write. I think I approached this project after years of having wanted to write, and having finally committed myself to do it, I removed my internal resistance and inhibitions. Reaching the daily word count was quite easy, and I managed to avoid writers' block.

An important part of my success was due to my awareness that this novel did not have to be perfect. In fact, I consider it a first draft of a practice novel. I knew from the beginning that it would need a lot of editing and revision, and that allowed me to write without worrying too much. I may spend as much time, or more on rewriting it later as I spent writing it this month. The achievement here is just getting the story written. It is now out on the computer, not locked in my head.

I learned the importance of writing every day. I wrote every single day from November 1 to November 29, apart from one day when I was away at a conference. I knew I would be going away, so I wrote a bit more before then and got my word count high enough so it wasn't difficult to catch up afterwards.

The story I wrote was based on ideas and characters that I had been thinking about for a long time. Of course, once I started writing, the emphasis changed, new ideas emerged, and the end result is not quite what I was expecting. It felt good to have these inspired moments when new plot twists and turns emerged.

In the future, I think it would be better for me to prepare an outline and decide where the story is going in advance, and how to pace the various events. Some writers like the control that comes from having an outline, while others like discovering things as they go along. I want to try outlining and see if that makes it easier for me.

Throughout my writing experience, I thought several times how much easier it would be for me to write non-fiction. I have always wanted to tell stories, but I also enjoy writing factual or educational pieces. This blog is currently my main outlet for writing non-fiction. It is interesting to consider the differences between fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, the author's imagination creates everything that happens. Non-fiction is mainly an attempt to describe some aspect of reality in a clear and entertaining or educational fashion.

In terms of writing skills, I feel I need to work more on the principle of "show, don't tell", to improve my dialogue and descriptions, and to structure the story so it is better paced and everything leads up to the conclusion. Much of this can be done during the editing stage.

I intend to put the novel I have just finished aside for a few weeks, and then return to it and read it with fresh eyes. I will then rewrite it and see how much I can improve it. It may turn into a rather different work.

I plan to continue my newly acquired habit of writing every day. My next project is a non-fiction work, and I will be able to compare these writing experiences.

To all writers, whether or not you have taken the NaNoWriMo challenge, I strongly recommend writing every day. Let it become a daily habit. Sometimes what you write will be good, sometimes not so good, but at least you are practicing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jasmine Conference for Businesswomen 2010

On November 24, 2010, I attended the annual conference of Jasmine Businesswomen's Association. This was the third time I attended this conference. This year, it was held at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya.

The conference was hosted, as in previous years, by journalist Iman Elqasem Suliman. She was highly professional, introducing guests in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and providing some brief summaries of the English lectures. Simultaneous interpretation from Hebrew to Arabic using headphones was also available for those who required it.

The morning session was opened by Kiram Baloum, CEO of Jasmine and coordinator of the women's empowerment unit of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED).

The first guest speaker was Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, MK, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. He spoke about the economic development of the Arab sector and the importance of small businesses to the economy. He explained that Israel has 450,000 small businesses, constituting 98.5% of the businesses in Israel, and employing 55% of the country's workforce. His ministry is establishing dedicated loans and training for Arab women.

The next speaker was Helmi Kittani, CJAED Director, who stressed the importance of integration, and stated that the inclusion of Arab women in the workforce would guarantee a rise in the standard of living throughout Israeli society.

Next, we heard from Ran Kaviti, CEO of the Israel Small and Medium Enterprise Authority. He told us he had participated in an OECD conference entitled Road to Recovery, which stressed the importance of small businesses in economic recovery, and explained the role of the Authority in helping small businesses receive funding, training, and better regulatory conditions such as paying VAT on a cash basis.

Then we heard a regular participant in the Jasmine conferences, Dr. Lars Hansel of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, who impressed the audience by opening his talk with greetings in fluent Arabic, though he then continued in English. He spoke about the situation of women in Germany, where women are still paid 15% less than men, and constitute only 11% of board members. He noted two issues on the public agenda in Germany: gender diversity and pluralism, which contribute to companies' success; and arguments for and against a quota system. Supporters believe this is sometimes the only way to increase female participation, while opponents worry that women will be hired for reasons unrelated to their professional competence, and many women do not wish to be perceived as "token women" within an organization.

The next speaker was Yael German, Mayor of Herzliya. She is one of only 3 female mayors out of 71 mayors in Israel. She mentioned that only 15% of Israel's business owners are female, and stressed the importance of vision, decision taking, and optimism for women's success.

Billy Shapira, Director-General and Vice President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told us of her career development in the administration of the university. She noted that women constitute a majority of students and administrative staff, but only 22% of the academic staff. She attributed this partly to women's tendency to give in too easily, and said she had never encountered a "glass ceiling" in her career.

Yoav Zilca, CEO of Mentor Me, spoke about success, using terms whose initials created the Hebrew word success: decision (successful people decide quickly and change decisions slowly), growth (personal development and lifelong learning), faith (to overcome fear), vision, and persistence.

Next was a presentation about the Cartier Women's Initiative Award, by Israeli businesswoman Galia Albin, who has been a past juror for the award, and Freja Day, the award's project leader, who explained that each year three female entrepreneurs are selected as finalists from each of the five continents, and they receive coaching, then present their businesses to the jury, and one winner is selected from each continent. The winners receive $20,000, one year of coaching, networking opportunities, and media exposure. The presentation was aimed at encouraging Israeli business women to apply for the award, and it would certainly be an inspiration if one of the Jasmine members reached the finals.

The next talk was by Daniel Homyonfer of Hynon, about succeeding in international markets, and the importance of obtaining relevant information about the society and business atmosphere, for example through the local Chambers of Commerce.

Then, social media expert Hadas Adler spoke about social networks and the importance of providing free, useful content to form a personal brand and encourage followers to seek out your paying products.

The final lecture before lunch was by public relations expert Barak Rom, who spoke about the importance of achieving media exposure by combining professional knowledge with current events and offering to speak to the media, and publishing relevant content on social networks.

After lunch, the first speaker was Dr. Eyal Doron, who had created a television show about happiness, and gave an interesting talk about the research he explored for this purpose. He defined happiness as a moderate, positive, long-lasting emotion, stressing that happiness is not the same thing as pleasure, and should contain an element of meaning. People are happier when their work is a mission, giving meaning to their lives, rather than just a job (for money) or a career (for status). He also spoke about success, noting the importance of bringing up children to think independently and to practice their skills.

Next there was a panel of businesswomen, entitled "Succeeding against all odds". It was chaired by Iman Qasis, who stated that it is better to take risks than to avoid them. Dr. Amal Ayoub, CEO of Metallo Therapy, told us of her journey from studying physics to founding a start-up business dedicated to using nano-particles of gold for cancer treatments. She deserves to become a role model for young women embarking upon a scientific career. Alona Shechter overcame psoriasis and founded a successful cosmetics business. Julia Zahar inherited her husband's tahina factory in Nazareth and had to struggle as a woman in a traditional society. Natlia Corzon immigrated to Israel from Russia and started a business exporting cosmetics to Russia. The panel members answered a few questions from the audience.

Avishay Braverman, MK, Minister of Minority Affairs, spoke next. He argued that women are less narcissistic, more practical, and more organized than men, and hoped that women in Israel could bring the Jewish and Arab communities to get to know each other better. In Israel, the employment rate among Arab and Druze women is less than 20%, but he claimed this could not be for cultural reasons, since in Arab countries the rate is about 45%. His ministry is aiming to create more daycare facilities, better transport, and dedicated projects to enable Arab women to find employment. They are also devoting special budgets to higher education for the Arab sector, where there are already more female students than male.

The next speaker was another politician, Tsipi Livni, MK, Head of the Opposition. She told us that before entering politics, when she had her own law office, she did not feel there was any discrimination against her as a woman, but when she ran for Prime Minister in 2008, she encountered sexist reactions, but also widespread support from women. She encouraged Arab women to succeed, both for their own sakes, and also to become role models for others. She mentioned legislation aimed at providing appropriate representation for women on the boards of government companies, where there are currently only 3% female board members.

Yehuda Yizreel spoke about financial planning for businesses, stressing the importance of taking responsibility, saving for retirement, creating contracts for every business engagement, and so on.

Finally, business coach Osnat Rubin gave useful tips for business success.

The conference was enjoyable, but as in previous years, some talks started late, and some of the later speakers had to cut their talks short. The atmosphere of time pressure was not conducive to learning. I really hope this problem can be addressed by the organizers in future events, as I have attended several conferences that started on time and gave each speaker the allocated time. It can be done!

A new feature this year was the two prize raffles held immediately after lunch and at the end of the day. This was intended to get the audience back into the lecture hall after lunch, and to persuade everyone to stay until the end. The prizes included training and coaching sessions, and everyone was pleased to see that they were won by participants who would benefit from them.

I look forward to next year's conference.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My history of personal computers

This month marks twenty years since we bought our first computer. I thought some readers, especially the more geeky types, might be interested in my computing history.

First there came typewriters. As a child, I was fascinated by my parents' manual typewriters. They had different typewriters for three different languages: English, Hebrew, and Greek. When a document contained more than one language, they had to leave spaces on the page, then transfer the paper to another typewriter and calibrate it carefully to fill in the text in the other language.

When I was about seven or eight years old, my mother received a new typewriter and gave me the old one to play with. I was certain that my future self would write books on such a device. I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter in Hebrew at junior high school (a course that was available only for girls, and I wonder if such sexism still exists), and taught myself to touch-type in English.

As I grew older, I became aware of the existence and growing importance of computers. My first real encounter with computers was when I was 18 and worked in the library at Tel Aviv University. One of my tasks was transferring the card catalog to a computerized system. It made me sad to see the card catalog disappear, and the library's computer system was, and to some extent still is, rather user-unfriendly.

When I started university, I typed a few papers on manual typewriters. Most people still gave in hand-written papers, and students were not expected to type their work (or get it typed professionally) until they had to submit a thesis.

Then, in November 1990, exactly twenty years ago, we decided to buy our own computer. Ivor had turned his M.A. thesis into a book, and was required to submit a camera-ready copy to the publisher. One of his requirements was a computer that had a Greek font with all the accents used in Ancient Greek (no, the Symbol font used for mathematics was not good enough). One day, he arrived at the university and saw signs advertising a demonstration of a new Macintosh computer. He went to see it, and fell in love. The computer was very compact (an important factor considering the size of our home at the time), could use the sort of fonts he needed, and was much more user-friendly than the DOS-based computers we had previously looked at. We checked how much money was in our bank account, and discovered we had just enough to buy the computer and a pin printer. We also had to ask a friend to give us a lift home in her car, since it would have been difficult to carry the boxes on the bus.

So, our first computer was a Macintosh SE30. It had 1 MB of RAM, which we soon expanded to the maximum 4 MB, and a 40 MB hard drive. It accepted 1.44 MB floppy disks, had a small black & white screen, and was, by today's standards, painfully slow. We loved it, and spent hours working and playing on it. We had a bi-lingual, bi-directional word processor, painting and drawing programs, a few games, and HyperCard, a program that let us experiment at creating links. The user interface was friendly and easy to learn, and we could create documents with text and pictures and print them on the pin printer. The camera-ready manuscript had to be printed out on a laser printer, and for this purpose we visited the Apple Center and paid to use one of their printers.

Since then, we have owned the following Macintosh computers: Color Classic II, LCII, Quadra 650, G3 Graphite iMac, Lime iBook, G4 Flatpanel iMac, eMac, MacBookPro. Each new computer had more advanced features than its predecessors. The screens grew larger, colour was introduced, the speed and memory of each model was more impressive, and soon we got a modem and connected to the Internet. The software we used also developed and changed over the years.

The Macintosh market share in Israel has always been smaller than in other countries. One of the reasons for this is the dominance of Microsoft. We soon learned that in other countries Microsoft made fully compatible localized Mac versions of MS Office, but in Israel they refused to do this for what they considered a negligible market segment. This is why Mac users in Israel have always had compatibility problems when sharing documents with the majority, PC-using world.

Many people also attribute the weakness of the Mac sector in Israel to its local distributors, first Yeda and then iDigital. Mac users thought the local distributors were not pushing hard enough to get Apple to promote its products in Israel and localize them quickly. However, it is possible that no Israeli distributor would be able to use sufficient leverage in negotiating with a powerful multi-national company.

Another example of how Apple still treats Israel as a less important market is the iTunes Store. Israeli iTunes account holders can currently buy apps (for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) in the app store, and download free content from the iTunes Store - podcasts and the free books available for iBooks (Apple's ebook reader). Israelis are not allowed, for reasons known only to Apple, to purchase music and video on the iTunes Store. For some reason, Israelis' money is good enough to pay for apps, but not for other content.

On the bright side, Mac computers have become much more common in Israel since the iPod and iPhone came out. Israelis are learning that the MacOS is easy to use, and the ability to run Windows on the Mac means they are getting two computers in one. It took a long time for the iPhone to be marketed in Israel, much longer than in some less westernized countries, but the iPad arrived here more quickly. Perhaps Apple is changing its approach to the Israeli market at last.

Now it's time to confess that I am no longer using a Mac as my main computer. My translating work has always required me to hand in Word documents. When the document was in English, I could use Word for Mac to create a PC-compatible document, but when it was in Hebrew I had to use whatever Mac word processor we had at the time and then convert the document to Word for Windows (usually this created an RTF document). Later, I was able to run Windows on my Macs using Virtual PC. As time went by, I realized I was spending much of my time using Windows, and while I still consider it inferior to the MacOS, I learned how to use it well enough.

Nearly four years ago, my new eMac started having problems and became unusable. At the time, I decided to buy a PC, and have since been using a desktop PC running Windows XP. I have adapted to using PC software, and still sometimes use Ivor's Macs.

I cannot imagine my life now without computers and technology, and will always be grateful for that first discovery of the Mac SE30 twenty years ago that started my personal computer journey.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Networking For Translators

This article was first published in Targima, the journal of the Israel Translators Association, in October 2010, and is republished here with permission.

Networking for Translators

Ruth Ludlam

Having just completed four years of membership in a networking group, I would like to share some networking advice with my fellow translators. First I will provide some tips that anyone can use, and then discuss networking groups.
The premise behind networking is that each person is the hub of a net of other people. Networking happens when two individuals talk about their needs and think of ways to help each other through their networks of contacts. Ultimately, networking is a mutual experience, but sometimes it works indirectly rather than as a simple exchange. Successful networking is based on an attitude of giving. Instead of meeting people and trying to sell your services to them, think of how you can help them with their own needs.
The first step in successful networking is knowing how to present yourself. Take some time to think about how you would explain to a new acquaintance what you do for a living and what sort of customers or contacts you are looking for. Describe what sort of problems you solve, or what needs you satisfy, for your customers. Focus on the specific sort of work you want to do most.
Make sure all your relatives and friends know exactly how you like to present yourself, so they can listen out for opportunities for you and identify potential customers of the sort you are looking for. Take any chance to talk about your profession, even at social events. This is not inappropriate, since you are aiming to help people who may need your services. Our professional identity is an important part of who we are.
Always carry with you the essential tools: business cards, diary, address book, and pen. Today many people’s diary and address book are on their mobile phones, but it is important to carry a pen anyway. Business cards should look professional and contain basic contact details: name, profession, phone number, email address, and website. As translators, we may want to have bilingual cards. Always give people two business cards, saying: “One for you and one for you to give to someone else who may be interested”. You should also create a consistent system for filing business cards you receive. Some people scan them or type the information into a database; others file the cards themselves in folders or boxes.
When meeting a new person, remember to listen and ask questions. Some good questions to ask a professional you have just met: How did you get into this line of work? What do you enjoy most about what you do? What sort of contacts are you interested in meeting? And, most importantly: How can I help you? Then take their business card, and make some notes (either on the card or in a notebook, diary, or on your phone), recording where and when you met the person, and if you promised to do something for them, such as introduce them to a contact or send them some information.
Then, within the next 1-2 days, follow up. This is the most important stage in networking, and many people neglect it. The follow-up can be a phone call or email. Introduce yourself again, saying where you met, and if you promised to help, this is the time to deliver. One meeting does not make someone into a contact, and the relationship has to be developed and nurtured.
Sometimes, when meeting new people, you can already arrange a further meeting with them for a later date. This is why you need to carry your diary at all times. If you know you want a meeting, the sooner you make a firm appointment, the better. Then call to confirm the meeting the day before.
Attend meetings of professional bodies (like the ITA) and more general meetings, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, and any conferences or lectures that interest you. I have found that many business people at these events consider translating an interesting occupation. At these meetings, wear your name tag on the upper right side of your chest, since when people shake hands, their gaze tracks from the shaking hands along the right arm, up to the name tag, then to the face. Never wear a name tag at waist level, as this is not a part of the body most people want strangers staring at!
Finally, for a more serious networking education, join a dedicated networking group. For four years, I was a member of the Haifa Chapter of BNI (Business Network International). The group contains one representative of each occupation, and members try to bring in new customers for each other. The group meets each week for a breakfast meeting. Members learn how to present their business and to interact with other professionals.
I learned a lot from my time in BNI. I started out rather shy and introverted, and gradually gained confidence in public speaking. My fellow members gave me useful feedback on my presentation of my occupation. Obviously, I made many useful contacts with a large number of local professionals from all walks of life. I also filled the various leadership roles within the Chapter, and even served as the President, chairing the meetings and running the group. This experience of leadership taught me a lot about myself, and would have been difficult to obtain in my normal position as a self-employed freelancer.
Networking groups are not for everyone. Membership requires a serious commitment to attend the weekly meetings and find customers for fellow members, and a willingness to learn and change. Most members cover the cost of membership, and more, from the referrals they receive. For two of the four years of my membership, referrals accounted for a third of my income. If you feel this might suit you, attend one meeting of your local group. You can find details of the BNI groups around the country at There are also other similar networking organizations.

Ruth Ludlam is a translator specializing in academic material in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Heb-Eng and Eng-Heb).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stever Robbins - Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More

Stever Robbins, Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, St. Martin's Griffin, 2010.

I have been listening to the author's podcast, "Get-It-Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More" for a while, and when this book was published, I knew I wanted to read it.

This is useful and practical guide to making the most of the time we have for the things we have to do, and those we want to do. It can be applied to work life and personal life, which can become rather mixed-up for those of us who work from home.

The book deals with people's attitudes and mindset, which must change when they decide to become more efficient. It also gives easy steps to apply the desired changes.

Where relevant, the book offers a choice between different options to suit individual styles. For example, readers can choose whether they prefer to be contacted by phone or by email. However, on some points the author has a clear opinion, supported by evidence. So, he explains why multitasking does not increase productivity, but actually decreases it (pp. 90-93). This may not surprise some readers, but there has been a popular trend encouraging multitasking that did not sufficiently value the different sorts of energy and concentration required for various tasks.

Many of the lessons of this book are ones I have been learning and applying myself over the years. I have learned to say "no" to work I don't want or don't feel qualified to do. Like Stever, I keep a handwritten to-do list on my desk. I have found what works best for me in many of the situations described in the book. I continue to learn and experiment, and this book is part of my journey of discovery and improvement.

The writing is entertaining, with Stever's sense of humour apparent in the examples. But the underlying message of the book is serious, and readers who want to improve their use of time will benefit from using this book (and the podcast).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My First NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short, a rather ugly acronym in my opinion, and it is now international). Participants challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. The purpose is to gain experience and know what it feels like to finish a novel. Of course, not everything people write will be publishable, and that isn't the main point of the exercise. I have decided to treat my first novel as a practice novel and not to expect it to be published.

I have always wanted to write, and have written intermittently for as long as I can remember. Since reading has always been such a central part of my life, I decided as a child that one day I would write books of my own. This blog is part of my practice writing. I have been writing here for over two years now, sometimes every week, sometimes less. I like receiving feedback on my writing, and so far those readers of this blog who have commented on my writing (rather than just on the content of my posts) have been very supportive and encouraging. I have been building up the confidence, self-discipline, and working habits in preparation for November, and have finished off a large work project. I will probably undertake some work during the month, but I hope it won't take up too much of my time and energy.

One problem with my profession is that being a translator uses up similar sorts of energy as writing. I am always thinking in language, trying to find the right words and structures, and evaluating the consistency of what I have written. In some ways, it might be better for aspiring writers to have a non-verbal day job. Still, I have to start somewhere, and I feel ready for this challenge.

I have read two opposing theories regarding sharing your goals in public. The first recommends it, saying that when you commit to something in public, you are more likely to follow through rather than face the shame of failure. It talks about accountability. This seems to be the theory behind communities like NaNoWriMo and various support groups. On the other hand, the second theory says that once you have told people about your plans, your brain already feels like you have achieved them, so you are less likely to feel driven to actualize them. Since writing is a form of story-telling, if I tell someone the story I want to write, I have already engaged in the act of story-telling, albeit in a non-written form. So my intention is to tell people that I'm writing a story, but not discuss the actual details of what I'm writing with anyone.

I'm starting this challenge with full confidence that my experiences this November will change my self-identity forever. I will go from "aspiring writer" to "author of an unpublished novel", which is an achievement by any standards.

Charles Stross - The Fuller Memorandum

Charles Stross, The Fuller Memorandum, Orbit, 2010.

This is the third novel in the Laundry series. Once again, agent Bob Howard embarks on an adventure, attempting to prevent the vast, scary monsters from other universes from destroying our world. This time the threat is in the form of reanimated corpses, more usually known as zombies, an unpleasant meme in popular culture, with a more serious twist in the context presented here.

As always, I enjoyed the combination of humour and realism. The geek-talk, office politics, and historical background make this series very vivid and current. At the same time, serious issues are tackled. Bob has a convincing rant against cultists. While in our world, people who choose to act out made-up rituals can easily be ridiculed, in the Laundry world they pose a real danger since they might wake forces beyond their control.

Being predisposed to religion has its uses, but it's a real Achilles' heel if your civilization is under threat by vastly powerful alien horrors. (p. 149)

The novel shows the strain experienced by operatives like Bob and Mo, who have to live with their secret knowledge of the real nature of the universe, are regularly exposed to life-threatening and potentially world-ending experiences, and know that there is not much hope for the future. This can make depressing reading, so readers are advised to remember that our reality is in many ways less dangerous and more chaotic. Knowing that the risks described in this series are not real in our world can put things into perspective.

Quite early on, I knew the identity of two mystery characters. This knowledge did not spoil my enjoyment of the story. I often wonder how authors find the balance between leaving enough clues for the reader to work some things out in advance and gain the sense of superiority, while keeping the characters credible all the time they know less than the reader. In this case, it worked quite convincingly.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend the whole series. It is worth reading the books in order, and finding the other stories set in this universe, which I hope will one day be collected into one volume. I look forward to following this series in the future.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jeff VanderMeer - Finch

Jeff VanderMeer, Finch, Corvus, 2009.

This is the final novel in VanderMeer's Ambergris series. I received this book without having read the previous novels, so this review reflects the reaction of a newcomer to the setting. My conclusion was that the book can be read alone, but that reading the others first might have provided additional depth.

The setting, and one of the main characters, is the city of Ambergris. It seems to have reached a twentieth-century level of technology, with items such as telephones, typewriters, guns and tanks, and to have been involved in wars with neighbouring cities and civil wars, before being occupied by an alien race called the gray caps, who have risen up from caves beneath the city. This species uses various types of fungus, and they have been changing the face of the city and its population. Many humans have simply disappeared, and a few collaborators have become hybrids. These are known as Partials. Some of the humans have become addicted to certain types of fungus.

The protagonist is John Finch, employed as a detective by the occupying force. As the story starts, he is called in to investigate a crime scene, where a human and a gray cap have been found dead. As he proceeds with this case, he finds the background more complicated and interesting than a simple crime. We encounter his partner, who has been infected by fungus; his gray cap boss; his mysterious lover; his book-collecting neighbour; and discover things about his hidden past. Eventually we learn about some surprising technology, and more about the city's history (which might be more familiar to readers of the previous novels).

This is the story of living under foreign occupation. What are you willing to do in order to survive? How far would you collaborate with the enemy? How much would you risk to become involved in the resistance? Who can you trust? All these issues paint a dark picture, and the future seems dim. The novel paints a vivid picture of the struggle to maintain a sense of human dignity and authenticity in an ever-changing world. As I read it, I found it hard to feel any hope for the future in such a dystopia. This made for an uncomfortable experience, and required some perseverance to overcome the pervasive sense of despair.

The novel is in the noir detective genre, which blends well into the fantasy setting. The style sometimes reflects the genre, using short sentence fragments. The author managed to create a reasonable balance between a more normal, descriptive style, and the choppy, blunt fragments that added to the overall feel and atmosphere of the story.

The story reaches a dramatic climax, providing a satisfying conclusion that was not the sort of taken-for-granted happy ending seen in many series. The character of Finch goes through a difficult journey, both in his experiences and in coming to terms with his past.

This was an interesting, well-written and dark novel, and I may read the other stories set in this world.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Being you own boss

This idea started when I was thinking about my work duties as a self-employed professional, and then I realized it is also applicable to every aspect of life.

I see individuals as being their own bosses. This means they are responsible for deciding what needs to be done, motivating themselves to do these things, providing quality control and feedback, and rewarding themselves for successes.

Have you ever thought, “If I were my boss, I would fire myself”? This sort of disappointment in one’s performance often results from things like procrastination or doing something with less than one’s full attention.

Imagine the sort of boss you would like to have. This person would be responsible, sensitive, fair, and would provide appropriate, constructive feedback. You would like your boss to take all aspects of your life into consideration, be aware that apart from work you also have a family, friends, hobbies, and your own personal needs. At the same time, your boss needs to help you keep your priorities straight. A good boss doesn’t accept excuses, and is aware of the difference between genuine reasons for avoiding doing something and the avoidance that results from “just not wanting” to do it.

Now, imagine the sort of employee you would like to have. This employee has a clear set of priorities, does what is most important first, takes responsibility, manages time efficiently, and is honest.

In our lives, we have both these roles. We are our own bosses and our own employees in living our lives. To function well, we have to take responsibility for all our actions, thoughts, and feelings. We have to decide what is important at each given moment, and act accordingly.

For example, what started me thinking along these tracks is a particular piece of work I have been procrastinating about. I find myself sitting down and doing other things instead of starting working. I know that I need to finish it and get it out of the way. I know I am capable of doing it well. I also know that I don’t particularly enjoy it, and so I find myself avoiding it. So I started imagining a boss observing my actions.

Self-employed people can benefit from imagining they have a boss standing behind them. This will encourage them to spend more time working and less time engaging in the sort of avoidance activities that have become so common: checking email, visiting social networking sites, reading online news sites and blogs, and so on.

Extending this metaphor from the work arena to the management of our entire lives, we can think about ourselves as having bosses watching over us at all times, motivating us to do what we know is important. We can be benevolent bosses to ourselves, balancing what we need to do with what we want to do. This should help both productivity and happiness, as avoiding the things we need to do but don’t want to ultimately leads to pressure, guilt, and stress.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger - Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry, Vintage, 2009.

Spoiler warning!

I enjoyed the author's previous novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, so I was looking forward to reading this book. As I expected, it contains the same combination of present day realism, detailed characterization, and a less convincing supernatural element.

The story takes place in a house adjacent to Highgate Cemetery in London (which sounds like a wonderful place to visit), and tells the story of the occupants of the building's three flats (apartments) following the death of one of them.

From the beginning it is clear that this is a ghost story, with Elspeth Noblin dying and becoming a ghost. The ghost element is not clearly explained, reflecting the inconsistent portrayal of ghosts in popular culture. The ghost seems to be energy rather than matter, but with time she learns to move physical matter and to manifest and become visible to some people. Also, it is not entirely clear why she is confined to her flat (not the place of her death), unless this is related to the psychological reason for her afterlife. The characters encountering Elspeth's ghost, and the readers, cannot infer from her existence that everyone becomes a ghost upon dying, or that all ghosts are confined to their former place of residence.

The main characters are Elspeth, her lover Robert, who lives in the flat below her, her American twin nieces Julia and Valentina, who inherit her flat and move in, and Martin, who lives upstairs. Their stories become intertwined, as the twins, rather predictably, form complicated relationships with Robert and Martin. There are also hints of secret between Elspeth and her twin sister Edie, which explains why Elspeth chose Edie's daughters as her heirs.

Robert is writing a history of the cemetery, and gives guided tours of it. Valentina starts a relationship with him, which is overshadowed by his grief for her aunt, Elspeth. Martin writes cryptic crosswords, and suffers from OCD, which is depicted very well. His wife moves out, and eventually Julia tries to help him recover.

The relationship between Julia and Valentina is described in great detail. Julia, the elder, is more outgoing and confident, but also overprotective and possessive about Valentina, who wants independence. Identical twins have always been interesting characters in fiction, sometimes because their similarity enables swaps and mistaken identities, and sometimes because their closeness is something most of us never experience. Much has been said about people's fear of the other, the different. I think there is also a deep-seated fear of the identical, which explains people's discomfort with the idea of clones or of humanoid robots. The phrase "you all look the same to me" is never a compliment. Twins have not only the greatest possible degree of physical similarity, they also have an intimacy grown out of shared experiences that in many cases seems to inhibit the development of their individuality. In this case, Julia and Valentina still dress in identical clothes at 21, and have yet to embark on career paths or have boyfriends, mainly because this would separate them from each other. As the story progresses, Valentina starts expressing her separate identity. This leads to inevitable and painful conflict. It made me grateful that I'm not a twin, and I wonder how many twin readers will identify with this sort of situation.

The supernatural story-line involving the ghost develops mainly in the second half of the book. It was very clear to me quite early on what would happen, so one of the main plot events was no surprise to me. I personally found it hard to accept, but readers who more easily suspend their disbelief might find it satisfying. The long-kept secret is revealed, and many loose ends are tied up in a way that gives relatively happy endings for most of the characters.

The writing is good, both in the descriptions and in the dialogue, where the author often conveys the personalities of the different speakers through their words. In some places there were turns of phrase that distinguished American and British characters and indicated their age and social class, something that many authors fail to achieve.

This novel is worth reading for the characters' interactions and development, even for readers like me who find the idea of ghosts difficult to accept.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jeffrey A. Carver - Sunborn

Jeffrey A. Carver, Sunborn, Tor, 2008.

Usually when I read a book, it is a book I chose, based on knowing the author or reading a review, or at least a book I received from someone I trust. In this case, I picked up the book without knowing anything about it, or the author, just because the bookshop was offering a "second book at half price", and I couldn't find anything else I wanted for the second book.

The first indication I got that I might have made a mistaken choice was when I opened the book later that day and saw on the inside front page: "Volume Four of the Chaos Chronicles". I feel very strongly that books in a series should mention this fact on the outside cover. In fact, I have often avoided buying books for exactly that reason. If a book is part of a series, I would prefer to read the first in the series before deciding whether to continue. I wonder if this is, in fact, why the publisher failed to make it clear on the cover. I feel slightly tricked, and this is not a good feeling to have toward a publisher I often buy books from.

Different authors have different approaches to writing series. Some assume, correctly in my mind, that the series will be marketed in such a way that readers are likely to read the books in order. This leaves them free to develop the characters, the world and the plot line over many volumes, as if the series were a much larger work that can be taken as a whole (and some series are eventually issued together, in an omnibus edition). Other authors prefer to consider each volume as a stand-alone novel, and state that readers can read the books in whatever order. This requires them to include a lot of explanatory background material about previous events in each volume, which is often insufficient for readers encountering the series for the first time, and can be annoyingly repetitive for readers who have followed the series. In this case, I think the author managed to strike a reasonable balance, which may explain why it was not considered necessary to state on the cover that this was book four of a series.

The following review is from the view point of a reader unfamiliar with the series, encountering this author for the first time.

The plot is a standard quest. Our hero is a human called John Bandicut, who is travelling with three aliens and two robots. They all have translator stones, some sort of advanced technology or sentient artifacts, enabling them to communicate with each other. From what I understood of the backstory, they were given these stones and then taken from their home systems and sent on various missions. Bandicut also has a telepathic connection with some being called a quarx.

These characters are brought in to try to prevent a major disaster. It is unclear why they are considered qualified to do this, apart from having succeeded in their previous missions (described in the earlier volumes). As is usual in this sort of story, they encounter various dangers, team up with powerful allies, and eventually there is a happy ending as the disaster is averted.

I have to state here that I did not really enjoy this book, and found it lacking in many ways. I spent a lot of time while reading it trying to work out what wasn't working for me. I consider it insufficient to say "it wasn't well written", and more interesting to try to find out exactly in what way it was deficient. However, I did read it to the end, as I usually finish books I start (which is why I try to be careful with my choices).

First of all, the nature of the story meant that the characters were helpless. They were thrown into the mission without having any say in the matter, without any real reason for them in particular to be suited to the task, and without any driving motivation to solve the problem, other than the threat to all biological life in the galaxy... As the mission proceeded, at each point, the more powerful allies undertook the most important parts of the action, and our team on their own would have achieved nothing. Even the self-sacrifice at the end, a theme I seem to appreciate in most cases, did not involve one of our heroes, since in this sort of story they must all survive to the happy ending.

The characters were superficial and stereotypical, and despite the author's best efforts, did not engage my sympathy. Bandicut had the typical combination of courage and inner anxiety. His three alien companions were insufficiently drawn (perhaps on the assumption that readers knew them from the previous volumes). They didn't seem to have specific talents that would account for their being chosen by the translator stones or sent on missions for the good of the galaxy. The female alien, Antares, is an empath, one of the tritest stereotypes for females in SF. She is also humanoid enough to have a sexual relationship with Bandicut, which serves to reduce his sense of isolation in a way that does little to enhance the plot. The other two, Ik and Li-Jared, are male. It is not surprising that the aliens designated male adhere to human male attitudes, though Ik later joins Antares by developing his empathic side. The relations between these characters are explored to some extent, as is their reaction to being exiled from their worlds and everything they knew, but this failed to impress.

The two robots in the team, named Napoleon and Copernicus, in a human-centric naming trend that appears throughout the story, are intelligent but annoyingly servile. It seems to me that once AI exists and becomes superior to natural intelligence, "artificial" beings will not be subordinate or inferior to "biological" beings. These robots were supposedly intelligent, and played a role in the story, but their actions and words did not portray much of their intellectual superiority over the biological characters. Also, they were unfortunately and patronizingly, given childish nicknames, Nappy and Coppy. I assume that Americans may not know that "nappy" in UK English means "diaper", but any readers familiar with this usage will probably find it amusing.

The other beings in this story include two other robots, Jeaves and Delilah; an alien whose world is under threat; two entities from another universe; several sentient stars; and the enemy, known as the Mindaru. It bothered me that characters were referred to as male or female despite not being the sort of entities that require two genders for reproduction or social purposes. I would have referred to them all as "it". The enemy was another standard theme, the advanced artificial sentience that wishes to obliterate all biological life. This sort of enemy has been portrayed much more persuasively, and chillingly, by other authors.

The novel also contained another story, interspersed between the chapters but mostly unrelated. It features Julie Stone, Bandicut's human ex-girlfriend, who is on Triton, working with the Translator, an advanced entity connected to the translator stones the main characters possess. This story interested me more, as it was easier to relate to characters in a human setting. Julie embarks on her own adventure, showing a bit more initiative than the other characters (despite also having an advanced and powerful ally), and eventually survives. The happy ending implies that Julie and Bandicut will meet up in the next volume, which will be complicated by Bandicut's relationship with Antares. A love triangle! How original!

One of the most frequently cited bits of writing advice is "show, don't tell". This book was almost entirely "tell", with everything being made explicit. The attempts to show us the characters' inner feelings usually involved either spelling out their inner thoughts, or sometimes conversations about these feelings, rather than showing how these feeling influenced their behaviour and relationships. The descriptions of the empathic communications assumed a basic similarity in concepts that would enable some degree of understanding between vastly differing beings, that was bridged by the various advanced entities involved. All the impressive speculative astrophysics was explained in great detail, somehow removing the sense of wonder that it should have invoked. The great contrast between the immensity of the mission and the banal nature of the characters, who go through so much, mostly passively, and emerge unharmed and largely unchanged, makes the whole thing seem like a waste of time.

I do not expect I will read any further work by this author, unless I am given persuasive evidence that his writing, plotting and characterization have improved by at least an order of magnitude. In future, I will be even more careful when selecting books to read. Caveat lector!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leaving BNI

Today an important stage in my life came to an end. I left my BNI chapter after four years of membership.

BNI (Business Network International) is the world's largest networking organization. Each chapter has one representative of each occupation, and members meet each week to give each other business referrals through word of mouth marketing. The weekly meeting is structured, with members and visitors presenting their business, a central talk by one member, and the passing of referrals. Members are also required to meet each other for personal "one to one" conversations.

When I was invited to join, I was unsure how useful it would be for my translation business, but I knew it would help me develop new skills. Being a member of BNI taught me how to speak confidently in public, how to present my business, and how to interact with business people from all walks of life. My development was relatively rapid, and my newfound confidence enabled me to give a public lecture at a professional conference.

It was also good for my business. During 2007 and 2008, one third of my income came from BNI referrals. This is considered a good result. Members achieve differing levels of income from referrals, but most cover the cost of membership many times over.

Throughout my membership of the Haifa chapter, I have been an active member of the chapter's leadership team. I have served as Visitor Host (several times), VP, Education Coordinator, Membership Committee, and President. My term as President was an important achievement for me, and I learned a lot about leading and motivating a team. I was also chosen by the chapter as the Outstanding Member for 2007, and my name was recorded on the chapter's cup (see photo).

My main reason for not renewing my membership for a fifth year is a change I am planning in my business. I am reducing my translation workload to make time for my own writing and creative projects. This new business is less suited to word of mouth marketing. I feel I have given and received a lot from BNI, but now it is time to move on.

I would like to thank the following people:

BNI Founder and Chairman, Dr. Ivan Misner, for establishing this organization that has helped thousands of business professionals worldwide over the past 25 years. I listened to Dr. Misner's podcasts each week, and was thrilled when he graciously commented on a blog post I wrote here about International Networking Week.

The co-National Directors of BNI Israel, Yarden Noy, who has been a role model for me since I first met her at my first MSP, and Sam Schwartz, whose lectures at various BNI events have been an inspiration.

Dr. Itai Plaut, who started out as a member of my chapter, and later became Area Manager of the North of Israel, and accompanied my chapter. Itai gave me guidance during my term as President.

Danny Weiss, another member of my chapter, who was President when I joined. Danny chaired the Open Table meetings I attended every month, and generously shared his knowledge of BNI procedures.

Finally, I would like to thank all the current and former members of BNI Haifa Chapter for the time they spent with me, for the referrals and connections they made me, for supporting and witnessing my development, for giving me the opportunity to become a leader, and for everything I have learned. I will keep in touch, continue to make referrals when possible, and perhaps one day return.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Windsor Day Tours

During my reports on my holiday in England last September, I mentioned that my sister-in-law Jill took us out on some of the tours she planned to offer as part of her new business.

Now I am pleased to announce that she has opened her tour business to the general public. Windsor Day Tours offers personalized private tours, including the sites we visited (Jane Austen country and Stonehenge) and others.

Some may have considered it unethical for me to write a testimonial on Jill's site, being a relative (and therefore possibly "unobjective"), so I haven't done that. Instead, I feel I can write about Jill's tours here, with full disclosure of our connection.

Jill has always loved travelling, and throughout the years of our acquaintance, I have enjoyed many trips in her company. She has extensive experience in guiding small tours, first for friends and relatives, later also for overseas students. Since deciding to set up her own tour business, Jill has studied the background to the places she visits, and also explored each site fully. She has invested in a luxurious car, and acquired all the licences and insurance coverage required to drive small tour groups. Jill is a people person, with an outgoing personality, and her previous work experience in nursing and teaching English as a foreign language, make her a pleasant and considerate companion for adults and children.

The tours are ideal for small groups wishing to explore various aspects of England's landscape and heritage with a personal guide. Many people are reluctant to join large coach tours, where they might not get an opportunity to ask the questions they want, and where the schedule is dictated by others. On the other hand, some find it difficult to tour independently, by car or public transport. There is often a feeling that even with a good guide book, it is hard to know the best places to see. An experienced private tour guide can solve these problems and create the ideal day trip.

If you visit Jill's site and decide to contact her about a tour, I would appreciate it if you told her that you first read about Windsor Day Tours on my blog.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Porcupine Tree live in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2010

Last night I saw one of my favourite bands perform live, and it was the best rock concert I have ever seen (not that I have seen many...).

[Photo of Steven Wilson from jonklinger's flickrstream]

Porcupine Tree is a British progressive rock band with metal influences. In my opinion, they are the best current progressive rock band, and among the best rock bands I know in terms of musical skills. Their songs are complex, interesting, and varied. They usually combine loud and quieter sections, original rhythms, various solo sections featuring the outstanding musicianship of each member, and thought-provoking lyrics.

This concert was held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, in a large, airconditioned venue. I find it hard to estimate numbers, but it seemed to me that there were between 2,000 and 3,500 people there. I have been unable to find any report of audience numbers online. That makes this quite a large concert for a band that is not quite mainstream, and shows the band's lasting popularity in Israel. The audience seemed to be 60-65% male (which seems normal for rock concert audiences, judging by videos I have seen), and probably about 60-65% aged under 30, though there were several older people and a few pre-adolescents.

There was a long wait outside before the audience was allowed in, and the female ticket holders were asked to stand in a separate queue so their bags could be checked by female security guards. I have never seen this done anywhere else, and wonder where this idea came from.

The acoustics and sound balance were probably not perfect, but sounded good enough to me. I don't have enough experience to say if another local venue would have been preferable in any way, and the airconditioning  helped make it more bearable on a humid summer's night than an outdoor concert would have been. Unfortunately, people were smoking, and this is the first time in years I have been exposed to so much smoking, which I hate, but it was to be expected.

The supporting act was an Israeli band called Eatliz. I hadn't heard of them before, as I'm not really interested in Israeli music, I don't really like female vocalists, and so I can't say their music was to my taste. Some members of the audience appreciated them, but I got the impression most were impatient for the "real" concert to begin (especially after the long delay in getting into the venue). Supporting acts are always in a difficult position, playing for an audience that is waiting for someone else to come on stage. Also, the sound during their show was quite bad, for some reason.

It is ten years since Porcupine Tree's last concert here, and accordingly they played not just songs from their latest album, The Incident, but also many songs from previous albums. I was easy to please regarding the choice of songs, since I like all the albums. I was happy to hear one of my favourite songs, Dark Matter, and didn't mind that some other favourites were not included. In general, the songs selected seemed well suited to live performance. Of course, there will always be some people who either have clear preferences among the songs and albums, or perhaps don't know all the material, and they are more difficult to please.

The band's leader, Steven Wilson, is known as a great friend of Israel, having lived in Tel Aviv on and off over the past few years. I have heard this originally started with an Israeli girlfriend, but that he continued to spend time in Israel even after this relationship ended. He started the show speaking in Hebrew, which impressed everyone. As you can imagine, Israelis are particularly sensitive to the way foreigners treat them, especially after so many artists either refuse to perform here or cancel shows at the last minute. So Wilson's attitude earned him and the band great respect.

Apparently, drummer Gavin Harrison didn't really want to perform here, as he supports the Palestinians. Of course, he is entitled to his opinions, and I really respect him for performing here with the band despite his personal objections. He is an outstanding drummer and gave a great performance. I don't think the audience held his opinions against him.

I am not a fannish person. In the two main fields of art I consume, music and literature, I have a tendency to collect all the disks/books of artists/writers I enjoy, but I don't feel the need to publicize my support by buying posters or t-shirts, and I don't need signed copies. For me, it's all about my personal reaction to what I hear/read, and it's a private thing that happens in my head.

So, I was wondering why I felt the need to attend the live concert. First, in practical terms, I know that nowadays bands obtain most of their revenue from live performances rather than from selling recorded music. It is said that in the past bands toured to promote their albums, while today they release tracks to support their concerts. This is one reason why I wanted to attend, to pay back the creators of the music I enjoy. I believe in rewarding artists I appreciate. Secondly, since there are so few concerts in Israel by groups I want to hear, the moment I heard my favourite rock band was coming here I knew I had to go. I bought the tickets at the end of March, when they first went on sale. I felt quite confident the concert wouldn't be cancelled, and I'm so happy it wasn't.

As I mentioned earlier, I haven't attended many rock concerts in my life, and I don't go out dancing. So before the concert started, I was standing around wondering why I was waiting among a loud, sweaty, and smoking crowd of strangers just to hear music that I can listen to whenever I want. As soon as the concert started, I began to realize why. The experience of live music is so different to recorded music. First, there is something magical about seeing the creators of music I love in person, making music and talking to the audience. It felt slightly more personal than just listening to recordings. Second, the live versions of the songs included some solos that are not in the albums. Third, the light show and the video art were very impressive.

For me, it was an other-worldly experience. I was in a large crowd, but felt completely alone and uninhibited in dancing and singing (badly) along with the songs. I was aware that every audience member was experiencing the music differently, and I just went with my instinctive reaction to the music, based on my feelings about the songs. I was able to forget about externals like how I would appear to others, and just make the direct connection between the music I was hearing and my expression of my response to it. I felt at home.

Thank you, Porcupine Tree: Steven Wilson, Gavin Harrison, Richard Barbieri, John Wesley, and Colin Edwin! You have made thousands of Israelis very happy.

(Also, thanks to the music shop manager who first thought I might like Porcupine Tree a few years ago - I did, and he benefitted from his successful recommendation when I bought all their albums in the space of a few weeks!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hit and Run Accidents

Recently there have been a lot of hit and run accidents, where drivers hit pedestrians and then drive away without checking to see who or what they hit, and without providing assistance. Some of these accidents are fatal to the pedestrians.

Sometimes the pedestrians are to blame, when they jump out into the road and the driver has no time to stop. Sometimes the driver is going too fast, or just not looking. In some cases the drivers are drunk.

The hitting may be an accident, but the running is not. Drivers often say they didn't know they hit something, or they thought it was an object rather than a person. This is not convincing, especially when one sees photos of the car involved in the accident.

The law states that whenever drivers hit something, they must stop and investigate. If they hit a person or caused damage to property, they must report it and get help for the victim. Apart from this being a legal requirement, it is also a sign of human decency and even common sense.

It is sad that so many drivers seem to think they can avoid the consequences of their actions, and are more interested in protecting themselves than in possibly saving their victim's life.

I call upon all drivers to drive carefully, never drink and drive, and to stop if they hit something. I also call on pedestrians to be more careful, and never assume that drivers have seen them or will stop for them. Our use of public spaces like roads requires us all to be responsible and considerate.