How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

June 1, 2013

The Israel Conference in LA

Filed under: Good News,Israel,productivity,technology,work — Tags: , , — howdoyoujew @ 22:48

I attended the Israel Conference in LA this past Thursday (it continued into Friday but I had other commitments), and wrote up this reflection for publication. I’ll be doing reviews of several of the startups that exhibited there in the coming days and weeks, and, as referenced below, I’ll also be reviewing The Unstoppables, a new book on entrepreneurship that heavily draws on the Israeli startup spirit and culture (the book’s author, Bill Schley, and Graham Weston, who wrote the foreword, spoke on a panel at the Conference, hence the connection).

***
There’s some inherent risk to getting any group of hundreds of people together for a conference at a boutique hotel in Los Angeles. All sorts of logistical snafus could arise with the meeting spaces, Internet connectivity might be slow, traffic could of course be a problem, causing speakers or vendors to be late to their sessions, and on and on. But make this a gathering of people who tend to talk with their hands as much as Israelis are wont to do, and you’d just be asking for trouble. Or so it would seem if you only knew The Israel Conference on paper.

In practice, the fifth annual such meeting, which took place at West LA’s Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd. May 30 & 31, was a dynamic and injury-free event, featuring hundreds of attendees and representatives of dozens of Israeli and Israel-facing companies doing what people who love to talk do best – networking, making deals, and sharing ideas. The businesses included brand new to mid-stage startups, more established companies, and venture capital firms, all looking to be or be behind the next big thing. The driving force behind The Israel Conference is Sharona Justman, managing director of STEP Strategy Advisors, a business advising firm focusing on improving their clients’ profitability and market position through acquisitions. After being in Sharona’s presence for just a few minutes, you can’t help but be swept up in her positive energy, secure that her smile would light the way forward even if the electricity went out.

If you weren’t as immersed in both the Israeli economy and technology tools and toys as I am, you might be surprised at the plethora of innovative ideas coming out of Israel. You’d be less surprised if you’d read Start-Up Nation, the 2011 book that opened many people’s eyes to the remarkable success of the Israeli high-tech sector and broader economy (with its consistent growth over the last decade, even as countless other global economies have stagnated, shrunk, or utterly melted down). And you’d get completely over your surprise and just move into being inspired if you’d read The Unstoppables, the new book by Bill Schley (with a foreword by Graham Weston, founder of Rackspace). Schley and Weston, having read Start-Up Nation but with no previous experience in Israel, wanted to follow up and get another perspective on Israel’s entrepreneurial engine, so they did something incredibly Israeli: they flew to Israel with no agenda, no meetings set up, and no idea if they’d succeed. Of course, this being Israel, one contact turned into eight, which turned into dozens more, and by the end of the week, they had enough material for a book (a formal review of the book will follow). They shared the story of the genesis of the book and some of their impressions of Israeli ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit that imbues the Holy Land on a panel at The Israel Conference moderated by the conference’s co-chair, Yossi Vardi (known as the Godfather of Israeli high-tech).

Other panels at the conference covered topics such as cyber-security (particularly in the mobile device space), fundraising for startups at various stages of product and capital development, gaming, emerging sustainable energy solutions, and other areas where Israeli companies are on the bleeding edge of innovation. In between the panels, conference organizers built in plenty of time for attendees to network, schmooze, and – this being a Jewishly informed event – eat. The conference’s Pavilion of Companies featured some remarkable products and services offered by companies in varying stages of the startup cycle (some seeking funding to come out of limited beta testing, others that were just there to build awareness and maybe score additional clients and customers; I’ll review several of these individually in subsequent posts). But as often happens, some of the most interesting (and profitable) conversations happened off the beaten path, at small tables with three or four people who may not have known each other before this event. Arguably the greatest value in an event like The Israel Conference is to provide a space for people to find common ground and mutual personal and business interests that lead them to collaborate in ways that not only benefit them financially, but in many cases, in true Israeli and Jewish form, make the world a better place.

The next Israel Conference will take place in Los Angeles on May 29 & 30, 2014. Information is at http://www.theisraelconference.org/.

February 26, 2013

Remember ICQ?

Filed under: Israel,News,San Diego Jewish Community,technology,UCSD,work — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 11:40

Do you remember ICQ, the first Internet-wide instant messaging service? Do you remember that it was invented by four young Israelis? You do? Well, I just met the guy who gave them the money to start the company – his name is Yossi Vardi, and he’s known as the Godfather of Israeli High-Tech. His son Arik was one of the four kids who created Mirabilis, the company that marketed ICQ and was sold to AOL for around $400 million a year and a half after they released ICQ to the public.

Anyway, Yossi was in San Diego this week and I had the pleasure of attending a reception and lecture with him at the Rady School of Management at UCSD. I wrote up the evening for publication thusly (it was intended as a journalistic piece, not a blog entry, hence the non-bloggy voice). Make sure to read my note at the bottom.
**
Sunday night at UCSD’s Rady School of Management, Israeli entrepreneur and high-tech investor Yossi Vardi gave an informative, at times uproariously funny talk on the culture of innovation and creativity that has innervated and driven Israel’s economy for almost two decades. Vardi should know a thing or two about this topic: in 1996, he gave his son and three of his friends the seed money to found a tech start-up. They created ICQ, the first Internet-wide instant messaging service, AOL purchased the company less than two years later for over $400 million.

Vardi regaled the 200+ member audience with many amusing anecdotes about his upbringing, which he says drove him to take the risks necessary to be successful as an entrepreneur and later a venture capitalist. Most notable were the stories about his mother, whose absurdly critical admonishments included telling him he was an idiot and negatively comparing him to all his “smarter” cousins. He also noted, however, that his mother was one of the first start-up entrepreneurs in Israel, saying that she started a small restaurant in Israel in the 1950s, when the country was under severe austerity measures. As he put it, she excelled in bioengineering, as she could turn any organic ingredients into chopped liver.

Interspersed between these tales were nuggets of business and innovation advice and trivia, including listing some of the major American technology companies that have major operations in Israel. Sitting in the audience and on the receiving end of a great deal of praise from Vardi was Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the founder of San Diego-based tech giant Qualcomm, which has purchased several Israeli companies and employs hundreds of people in its Israeli R&D center.

Vardi noted that entrepreneurship is a cultural, rather than technological or educational phenomenon, and that San Diego seemed to share a culture of innovation with Israel. He described innovators and creators as people who are impatient with the status quo, and noted the “hacker” mentality – the frame of mind of computer programmers, engineers, and other like-minded folks – as key to creativity. As an example, he pointed out that most people – typical users of technology – would look at a cellphone and ask, “How do I use this?” Hackers, innovators, dreamers who could go on to create the next big thing, look at the same gadget and ask, “How can I improve on this? What can I make it do that people haven’t thought about yet?” and other probing, out-of-the-box questions.

Vardi concluded his remarks by explaining how the Internet has changed the way products and services are developed, by empowering individuals to create and share ideas and tools. The engaging Q&A session, and the evening as a whole, was capped on a positive note as Vardi and a colleague, Rami Lipman, were joined by Dean Robert Sullivan of the Rady School of Management. All three spoke about technology innovation serving a greater need, and the importance of tech innovators and entrepreneurs, who are some of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the world, giving back to society.

Yossi Vardi’s visit to UCSD was co-sponsored by the Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering; the lecture was part of StandWithUs San Diego’s Israel Startup Nation Series.
**
Best part of the night for me, besides all of it, was getting to meet Irwin Jacobs, the aforementioned founder of Qualcomm. Vardi had called out to Jacobs earlier in the evening to bring back Eudora, the much-loved email client Qualcomm discontinued supporting some years ago (yes, I know there’s an open source version available now, but it’s not the same). So when I chatted with Dr. Jacobs for a moment, I repeated that request, telling him that they had to pry the last supported version of Eudora away from me by force here at work. He smiled and told me that he still uses it! So yeah, I had a moment with Irwin Jacobs. It was awesome.

February 9, 2009

Twelve minutes of excellence

Filed under: Blogging,Life Online,productivity,technology,video,work — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 16:55

Seth Godin is a guy whose work I’ve been meaning to read/browse/digest for a while. This was an easily consumable chunk I thought I could handle in the middle of the day, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you are at all interested in social networks (online and off), technology, and people reaching their potential, watch this:

(via)

June 4, 2008

HMO = Hellacious Medical Offerings

Filed under: Family,Health,Parenting,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 21:16

OK, that was a stretch, but I couldn’t come up with a good Kaiser joke. I just need to vent my frustration at the situation I encountered yesterday when I took Hadarya for a physical and vaccination appointment.

Now, I’ll begin by saying that we love Hadarya’s pediatrician. Dr. S is a sweet, caring professional who takes her time with us and seems genuinely enamored with our little girl. Unfortunately, she works for an organization that is peopled with automatons blindly following rules and regulations and apparently at the mercy of the computer system they so proudly inaugurated within the last year or so. See, we made this appointment a couple of months ago to make up for the 18-month checkup we missed because Hadarya was sick, and the automaton who made the appointment had access to all our previous visits, of course. We are first-time parents, so there was no way for us to know that the second Hep A shot Hadarya needed had to be given at least six full months after the first one. Kaiser staff who work in the pediatrics department, on the other hand, should presumably be informed of this fact, yet our appointment was set for a date exactly one day short of this six-month period. Thus it was that after checking Hadarya out and giving her a clean bill of health, the doctor informed me that we were early and she was so sorry.

Did I mention that all this was happening between 8 & 10 in the morning, meaning that I was missing work?

She went on to say (in between further apologies) that Hadarya could, in fact, get the shot, but that the computer system wouldn’t register the early shot and that someone might try to give Hadarya another Hep A booster after the six-month mark passed. I was so flabbergasted and pissed about the one-day error, that it didn’t occur to me until after I made another appointment for later in the week and left the medical offices to argue with this absurd line of illogic. How, exactly, with me (and, by extension, Jenn) knowing that Hadarya got her shot already, would someone else give it to her again without our knowledge or consent? It’s not like she takes herself to these appointments. Yes, she’s developmentally advanced, but even we don’t think she’s THAT precocious.

I honestly got more angry with myself after I left the medical offices than I had been at the system. I was mad for not standing up for myself and my innocent daughter, to whom I’d given a prophylactic dose of Tylenol to help ease the anticipated pain of the shot and who would now have to go through another doctor’s office visit, with all the inconvenience that entailed for all of us. I was mad that I yet again allowed myself to be cowed by the arbitrary authority of someone in a white coat, while I find myself able to rail against all sorts of authority when not faced with it directly.

Yeah… I guess that’s it: I felt like a wimp, and that made me mad, because that’s the last thing a father wants to feel like, no matter how old his little girl is.

November 27, 2007

Professional development/putting myself out there

Filed under: education,history,humor,Israel,SDSU,technology,UCSD,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:48

Last week I participated in an IT Careers Panel organized by our colleagues across town at the UCSD Career Services Center. There were three other panelists (all UCSD alums), and a whopping TWO students attended. So, yeah, it wasn’t a resounding success in terms of attendance, but the two students who were there sure got lots of personal attention and customized advice from all of us. I was honored to be included (thanks, Bobbie, Craig, etc.!)

This afternoon I taught the second-to-last session of my University Seminar, an introduction/orientation to Career Services, and this evening I taught my Hebrew High class, the 12th Grade Seminar (we began a unit on dealing with Israel issues, anti-Zionism, and the like on college campuses).

I love an audience, but public speaking engagements depend a lot on the audience’s reaction, and I’ve had very different responses along the way (tonight’s Hebrew High class was great; the University Seminar class, not so much). For me, the more reactive and participatory the audience (whether they’re responding to my questions or laughing at my jokes), the better. I still remember the first time I got a feel for working a crowd, delivering my bar-mitzvah speech. I had some native Hebrew-speaking guests, and I inserted a section of Hebrew into the middle of my speech. When I switched back to English, my first words were, “Hi! I’m back!” and I got a nice laugh (which I wasn’t really expecting, frankly). I got such a rush out of that, and have used that as motivation in driving my public speaking ever since. I fed off the energy of my audiences in high school speech & debate (and yes, I’m aware that the people in the photo banner at the top of the page look like they’re in a SNL sketch), and I continue to do so these days, when I present at the occasional conference or speak about Israel or other topics I’m passionate about.

I’m available for weddings, birthdays, and bar-mitzvahs. Thank you, thank you… try the salmon!

November 19, 2007

Playing around online

Filed under: Blogging,education,fun,Life Online,productivity,SDSU,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:38

My buddy Avraham has provided a lot of great intellectual (kosher) meat for me to chew on ever since we met in grad school way back around the turn of the 21st century (can you believe it’s been that long, dude?). He challenged me again recently by asking how I keep up with news of emerging technologies and trends (and which technologies I thought were setting the most prominent trends), and in the conversation that ensued, he reminded me of Netvibes, which I’d signed up for when it was first introduced, but hadn’t played with at all. It may have been David Pogue, it might have been one of the editors of BoingBoing, or it could have been someone else entirely who turned me on to netvibes originally, but I just didn’t take the time or have the inclination to mess around and explore too much.

Well, leave it to Avraham to prod me into action by 1) asking my opinion as an expert user (ha!), and 2) appealing to my ego by telling me he wanted to add my blog feed to one of his netvibes tabs. I figured out the latter task and recognized right away the signs of an impending addiction coming on. Thanks, man. Thanks a lot. Please don’t forget to come visit me when I’m in rehab.

November 14, 2007

Linking, reading, commenting, calendaring, working, relaxing

Filed under: Blogging,Family,Life Online,movies,productivity,technology,webcomics,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:03

I have to go back to my webcomics post from the other day to add links.

I have to let my family and friends know I’m updating the blog regularly and I’d appreciate it if I got some readers and comments.

I have an account with Gootodo, a terrific web-based to-do list application created by Mark Hurst, who I’m proud to know. I have to start using gootodo more, and more efficiently. The week of the wildfires was more disruptive than I previously thought, so this week and next (which is short due to the Thanksgiving holiday) are busier and more packed than usual. I got an account with Jott, too, which I’ve used a couple of times and like, and it might be helpful in conjunction with gootodo: think of something I need to do, and if I’m not in front of a computer, call Jott with a reminder to add the item to gootodo. So far I’ve been using my Treo‘s calendar for personal reminders, but I need a system for work stuff.

I have to stop feeling guilty for watching fluff like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer when I want to veg out and relax at the end of a long day. I’m going to try to offset the fluff with stuff I should have seen already, like Network (Blockbuster’s one copy was checked out when I went the other day, so it’ll wait) and Say Anything (waiting for me and Jenn to find time together).

Hey, I’m glad we had a chance to have this little talk. It’s been really helpful! Thanks!

November 13, 2007

Quality time, and Spider-Man 3 pre-review

We spent time tonight with E and S, good friends with whom we have a weekly dinner, rotating between our two houses. We were scheduled to go up to their house, but S called to let us know their laundry machine is on the fritz again, so we switched the date to our place, and they brought their laundry to do at our house. Considering that we’ve stored S’s breast milk in our freezer, hosting them for laundry wasn’t such a big deal. E & S have a little girl about four and a half months younger than Hadarya, so we’re enjoying spending time together for our girls’ sake, too. It’s a real treat to watch them play together, and we look forward to many more evenings of this sort (without this last part when Hadarya woke up screaming, possibly from teething. We’ve gotten her back down thanks to S’s suggestion to use the portable swing we’d moved out the garage because Hadarya didn’t like it when she was younger. She’s sleeping like the proverbial baby now.).

We started watching Spider-Man 3 this afternoon. We’re about an hour in, which means

  1. I’ve already enjoyed the Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameos, and I’m very afraid that they are the highlights of the film;
  2. I am already annoyed with Mary Jane for being such a prima donna while simultaneously being irritated with Peter for being so self-centered and full of himself; and
  3. I’m very aware of how long this movie has to be to deal with all its subplots, and that is way too freakin’ long. I mean, an hour in, and we still haven’t seen what the stupid black alien thing is actually gonna DO (not that I don’t know this from the previews/commercials/etc., but come on!

I hope I have time to watch the rest in the next day or two, since it was due back at Blockbuster yesterday. I’m teaching my University Seminar and Hebrew High classes tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll have something more interesting to say.
Laila tov.

November 2, 2007

THIS is how you spend Shabbat?!

Filed under: Blogging,Jewish holidays,SDSU,Shabbat,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:09

Well, not normally, no.. er… wait a minute! Why am I making excuses? This is MY blog!

Yeah, well, I decided long ago that Shabbat observance for me was not going to look like the traditional, Orthodox version. The key elements in the concept and point of Shabbat for me were the separation from the rest of the week and the relaxation and rest. Thus, I decided that if that meant getting away from the grind of wherever I happen to be living and working/going to school by driving out of town or otherwise distancing myself from my daily surroundings, so be it.

When I first moved to San Diego for grad school in 1999, I made a conscious decision to not engage in schoolwork on Shabbat. I knew I’d be plenty busy with it the rest of the week, and I wanted to establish a set time for a break, so I took the time our tradition has already set aside. This served me very well, and was indeed extremely relaxing, for most of my grad school career. Then came time to prepare for the comprehensive (final) exams for my program, and the discovery that they are administered over a weekend. Normally, you are provided with the exam questions on Friday and turn them in on Monday.

I was so firmly entrenched in my Shabbat habit by this point, that I was fairly comfortable speaking with my faculty and asking for an accommodation based on my religious observance. My position was aided by the presence of a fellow student who was even more explicitly observant than I (Avraham [I’ll never get used to calling you Greg, dude] wears a kippah full time, was a first-rate study partner and remains a good friend, and would find it quite amusing that I’m blogging about this after sundown on Friday, even though he won’t be reading it until after sundown Saturday night. One of the brightest, most open-minded people I know.) and required the same accommodation. So it was that my esteemed teachers and department administrators agreed to provide me and Avraham with the comp exam materials on Sunday and accept them, without penalty, on Wednesday. And yes, we both passed.

And so it is that we hosted Shabbat dinner tonight, with Jenn’s parents and sister and my mom, celebrating Jenn’s birthday, enjoying our daughter’s company while she was up, then sat around talking and laughing with everyone, and eventually wound up flipping open the laptops, searching for stuff on the interwebs and finally getting around to making good on this commitment to post every day for a month.

I love saying Shabbat shalom – it’s a greeting that encompasses so much, so compactly (like many words and phrases in Hebrew). So let’s leave it at that: have a peaceful, restful, happy Shabbat. Shabbat shalom!

July 16, 2007

Things that make me sad…

Filed under: Christianity,Commentary,SDSU,Torah Commentary,work — howdoyoujew @ 16:27

Sad in a cosmic, global way, not a “boo-hoo” way:

Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who co-opt Hebrew, specifically Hebrew sacred texts and liturgy, without understanding or respecting their meanings.

I was prompted to post this by an example I ran into today, which itself reminded me of another from a couple of years ago.

Today I manned an information table on behalf of Career Services for incoming freshmen at SDSU as part of the orientation program that runs throughout the summer. At one point, two young ladies approached the table and my colleague and I asked them if they were interested in finding work on campus, thinking about their careers, etc. – the standard questions we ask to engage the uninitiated and create an opening to tell them about our services. The two immediately informed us that they weren’t, in fact, incoming students, but that they were from Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively. When I asked (politely) what they were doing on campus, they asked if we’d ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ. My colleague Adam and I admitted that we had, and they told us they were here representing their respective campuses as part of a training program or some such.

This made the fact that one of them (the Minnesotan) was wearing a necklace with a silver pendant reading “אשת חיל” (Eshet Chayil – Woman of Valor) much more interesting to me. I’d noticed it before they’d identified themselves, and I commented that I liked it. When the wearer said she’d been told that it meant “Excellent woman” I noted the standard translation, and she balked, saying she didn’t want to be a woman of valor at all – that it implied things like courage (and a couple of other qualities she spit out) which she, apparently, either didn’t possess at all or didn’t aspire to. It turned out the other girl had an identical pendant (as did, presumably, all the other girls in their study group), and that they’d “studied” Proverbs 31 (Google search results, revealing thousands of pages of Christian reflections on this beautiful poem and nary a Jewish take; I guess all the Jewish web references to it refer to it by its title, as these searches for Eshet Chayil and Woman of Valor show) along with some other important women in the Bible, including Hannah and Rahab.

This exchange reminded me of one that occurred at the end of the 27 hours of parenting classes Jenn and I had to take when we signed up to adopt through the county a couple of years ago. During the last class session, we schmoozed a bit with the other “students” – all prospective adoptive parents. I don’t remember how, but I got to talking to a woman who was wearing a ring with “אני לדודי ודודי לי” (Ani l’dodi ve-dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). She rubbed me the wrong way to begin with by basically quizzing me on the phrase, not satisfied when I told her I knew what it meant in Hebrew; she had me recite the verse, then she showed off her knowledge by parroting the next couple of lines. When I asked about how she came to be wearing the ring, since she wasn’t Jewish, she said she’d gotten it through her church, and that she wore it around the house when she was doing chores and cleaning and stuff.

Wonderful. So our sacred texts are reduced to accompanying non-Jews on their chores and missions. Of course, we elevate the texts when we truly study them, reflect on them, and live by them, but should we be more possessive of them? Seriously, I’m asking.

p.s.: My favorite part of the exchange with the Campus Crusade girls was that the colleague I was at our table with is a practicing Muslim. He and I had a good chuckle at the irony of the whole situation after they left.

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