Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why I Hate the Olympics

Once upon a time I enjoyed watching some Olympics events like gymnastics. Now I don't care.

1. The IOC has turned what was once grassroots and heartfelt into a moneymaking sponsor-driven ad fest.

They security firms were unable to find enough security personnel needed to secure the games, but they managed to find almost 300 brand enforcers to walk around taping over faucets at local establishments bearing company names that haven't sponsored the event.

Their corporate money-driven greed prevents anyone except NBC, who signed an exclusive contract for over $1 billion, from broadcasting the event so many people didn't get to see it and it wasn't live streamed on the Internet (what was, was plagued with delays and problems). Live events should not HAVE exclusivity contracts; they should be unenforceable. NBC wouldn't have covered the games otherwise?

The IOC has tried to geoblock social media reporting about the event. My ONLY choice for seeing the Olympics is via illegal download (simple, but not interested). Update: Turns out I can see the Olympics on IBA (thanks Bassie).

You can't even mention the word Olympics, the date 2012 and the word games, or any symbology associated with the games without being hit with a lawsuit. A 30 year old Greek restaurant named Olympic Gyro was forced to change its name to "protect the rights" of the corporate sponsors. An 81 year old grandmother making little teddy bears to sell for $1 was shut down.

The IOC went so far as to try to prevent anyone from linking to their site if the link was in a context that wasn't positive (to universal scorn and derision).

Ticket prices range from a mere 15 GBP for cheap seats at events that last 30 minutes to over 700 GBP for good seats in some events. Most seats are 50 GBP or up. (To be fair, there were some 20 GBP seats at the opening ceremony, with other seats ranging as high as 2000 GBP.)

So much for the games of the people.

2. The competition brings out the worst.

Winning is far more important than competing. The World Doping Agency is now an integral part of the IOC, and several athletes have already failed doping tests. Bizarrely, even the players in the mind sports games are subject to doping tests, as if someone playing Chess is ever going to take steroids to win a game!

Never heard of the World Mind Sports Games? They're part of the Olympics, but they don't televise well so no one seems to care.

As for the former humans who now complete, don't even think about it unless you have a ton of money for the computers and science that can analyze your every twitch to sculpt your body and movement into robotic perfection.

Does the competition break down stereotypes and increase world peace? Apparently not, if you consider the recent spate of athletes tossed out of the game for racist tweets. The Lebanese team refused to train near the Israelis and the Iranian team won't compete against them.

Does the competition at least bring pride to their nations? I don't know, but it sure doesn't do anything of importance for them. Did you know that Syria has an Olympic team? Has that registered yet? Who in Syria is going to benefit right now if their team wins or loses?

Does the competition even inspire anyone to exercise? Or do we just live vicariously through those who do?

Countries don't benefit internally from having their players win or lose, and countries don't make peace as a result of the competition.

3. It costs too many resources.

The UK taxpayer has spent more than $14 billion (Sky News reportedly thinks it may end up at over 24 billion GBP) to host the games, and the only one benefiting from that is the IOC and its sponsors. They spent $500,000 just on 17 sandstone toadstools. The people of England could have used that money at this particular time (when they are cutting pensions, sick pay, or simply firing public sector workers). The people lost a vast amount of public space, either destroyed or permanently turned over to corporate ownership. Other countries have spent millions to billions of dollars to send their athletes.

The UK assigned more armed forces to protect the Olympics than they deployed to Afghanistan. Don't these people have anything better to do?

4. It takes up too much media time.

7 rockets aimed at civilians have hit Israel since the start of the Olympics. These were not in response to any activity on Israel's part, just the daily fun time of Islamic militants. Did your news cover that?

The only English language radio I receive here is the BBC, whose reporters appear to be in a continuous state of climax over the games and believe that all their listeners are too.

Around the world, real things are happening; other than a great monetary, privacy, and human rights loss to UK taxpayers and the imaginary importance of winning some games, nothing is happening in London.


P.S. And I didn't even mention the minute of silence controversy. The IOC said that the minute of silence for the Israeli victims of massacre 40 years ago at the Olympics was not appropriate for an Olympic opening ceremony, but the 4 hour ceremony managed to include a minute of silence for people killed in WW1 and WWII. Past Olympics ceremonies have included minutes of silence for those killed on 9/11 and in London on 7/7.

Read: we don't want Arab countries to boycott the Olympics. How about this: tell any country that threatens to boycott the games that they are violating the spirit of the games and then throw them out? Oh right: money.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fast is Slow

Last year, a few days before Tisha Baav, I arrived in Raanana. On Tisha Baav I went to the Carlebach shul for the first time and, as I sat down, I volunteered to the gabbai and Rabbi that I could read a chapter of Eicha if they needed. They smiled and assured me that they had planned the reading well in advance, so thanks but no thanks.

And then one of the readers didn't show up and they frantically signaled to me from across the darkened room. I was asked to read chapter 2 with zero preparation time.

My previous Eicha reading experience had been chapters 3, 4, and 5, so chapter 2 was a new experience for me. I know the trope (and I think I sing them well) but I stumble a little over the Hebrew when reading for the first time. So I read very slowly, which is all the better for Eicha anyway.

Last night I did the same thing: I volunteered to read, was told that they have it all covered, and then again one of the readers didn't show up.

This time the missing person was the reader for chapter 1, the remaining chapter that I had not previously read. So I fumbled and sung my way through it, and hopefully didn't ruin anyone's enjoyment of the evening.

Another example of my roller coaster philosophy: I don't know what I'm doing, it looks scary, I volunteer.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Son Joined the IDF Today

Getting on the bus

This morning Saarya hugged his mother and father, handed in his induction card and boarded the bus to begin his service in the IDF.

I've experienced both of my step-children's (Ariella and Eitan) IDF service - they joined, they worked hard, they completed their service (Eitan is on yearly active reserves) - so I'm not totally unprepared. But still.

Saarya spent the last two years in yeshiva as part of the Hesder program, which combines study and army service over a five year period. The bulk of the student body of the second year of his yeshiva entered the army today or will soon. Saarya will serve in the Golani together with around 16 of his friends.

He feels great and he's looking forward to it. I don't want to put any pressure on him, but if he performs as well as he did in yeshiva, and as he does in so many other areas of life, I expect him to not only serve successfully but to have helped his entire platoon along the way.

God willing, all of our residents and neighbors will lay down their weapons, justice, compromise, and peace will prevail, and there will be no need for him to complete his service. Barring that, may God keep him, all of our soldiers, and all of our country safe from harm.

Saarya and his parents


Shabbat Gaming

Fri night with aunt/uncle and cousins: I entranced them with the cards from Whatzit, a useless game with fun cards (aka Dingbats in Europe, or rebus puzzles).

Sat night with friends and their kids aged 8 and 10: Games of Crazy 8s (I won the one hand), Rat-a-Tat-Cat (I lost twice), No Thanks (I won, barely), Hearts (I was winning after two hands), and some other card game I can't remember. I also played baseball for the first time since I was about 10?

Well, it might have been baseball. There were three people on one team, and four on the other. We played in a small park area with a metal bat and a tennis ball. The pitcher pitched underhand, and we had no umpire or catcher. After our team, who played first, scored a few runs, we voluntarily ended our turn and gave the other team a turn to play and score a few runs. Then we ended the game.

In fact, barely any rules of baseball were followed, and most of the rules and the play area were created, abandoned, or changed at will during the game play. The only resemblance to baseball were: a bat, a ball, teams, taking turns to hit the ball, running around the field, trying to tag you out. Yet pretty much anyone would say that we were playing baseball.

How many of the core rules could we have broken and still have been considered to be playing baseball?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bluetooth Transfer; Book Progress

Thursday night our phones discovered each other across a crowded smoky bar (ok, it was across a table at Cafe Hillel and they don't allow smoking, but hush).

After making contact, and discovering that we were compatible, I asked for permission and she granted me access. With permission granted, and a connection established, we fumbled around for a while I tried to figure out how to share my data with her phone. With much hesitation, blushing, and apologies, I finally figured it out and send her my packet which went straight into her address book. After that we disconnected and I had a cigarette.

The whole thing took fifteen minutes. I'm pretty sure it would have been faster to just type my number into her phone.

Book Progress

Relevant sources that I've read while researching my book, so far; I've got fifty more waiting to be read, and every source leads me to another several potential sources. I wish I had an academic adviser.

  • Abt, Clark C.
  • Adams, Ernest W.
  • Archer, Robyn
  • Bartle, Richard
  • Bateman, Chris
  • Bateman, Chris & Nacke, Lennert E.
  • Bergström, Karl Jones
  • Björk, Steffan & Holopainen, Jussi
  • Bogost, Ian
  • Brown, Stuart
  • Caillois, Roger
  • Calleja, Gordon
  • Chalker, Dave
  • Consalvo, Mia
  • Costikyan, Greg
  • Crawford, Chris
  • Crawford, Gary
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaky & Abuhamdeh, Sami & Nakamura, Jeanne
  • Deák, Gedeon O. & Ray, Shanna D. & Pick, Anne D.
  • Deci, Edward L. & Ryan, Richard M.
  • DeKoven, Bernie
  • Eigen, Manfred & Winkler, Ruthild
  • Ellis, Jonathan
  • Ermi, Laura & Mäyrä, Frans
  • Faidutti, Bruno
  • Ferreira, Emmanoel & Falcão, Thiago
  • Flanagan, Mary
  • Fluegelman, Andrew (editor)
  • Frasca, Gonzalo
  • Ginsburg, Richard D. Ph.D.
  • Gobet, Ferand & de Voogt, Alex & Retschitzki, Jean
  • Goffman, Erving
  • Henricks, Thomas S.
  • Hewes, Jane PhD
  • Huizinga, Johan
  • Humble, Rod
  • Hunicke, Robin & LeBlanc, Marc, & Zubek, Robert
  • Izuma, Keise & Saito, Daisuke N. & Sadato, Norihiro
  • Järvinen, Aki
  • Johnson, Cynthia E.
  • Juul, Jesper
  • Kelley, David
  • King, Darrell G.
  • Klabbers, Jan H. G.
  • Kohn, Alfie
  • Koster, Raph
  • Kramer, Wolfgang
  • Kreimeier, Bernd
  • Leo, Francisco Miguel & Sánchez, Pedro Antonio & Sánchez, David & Amado, Diana & Calvo, Tomas García
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude
  • Logas, Heather Lee
  • Lundgren, Sus & Bergström, Karl Jones & Björk, Steffan
  • Luvmour, Ba
  • Malaby, Thomas M.
  • Mandigo, James L. & Holt, Nicholas L.
  • Marinak, Barbara A. & Gambrell, Linda B.
  • Maroney, Kevin
  • McGonigal, Jane
  • Montola, Markus
  • Murphy, Curtiss
  • Myers, David
  • Nichols, Steve
  • Parlett, David
  • Piaget, Jean
  • Poremba, Cindy
  • Rodriguez, Hector
  • Ruch, Adam W.
  • Salen, Katie & Zimmerman, Eric
  • Schijns, Guus
  • Schmittberger, R. Wayne
  • Sicart, Miguel
  • Smith, Ronald E. & Smoll, Frank L. & Cumming, Sean P.
  • Sniderman, Stephen
  • Steinkuehler, Constance
  • Stenros, Jaakko
  • Stenros, Jaakko & Waern, Annika
  • Suits, Bernard
  • Sutton-Smith, Brian
  • Sutton-Smith, Brian & Avedon, Elliot
  • Taylor, T.L.
  • Van Eck, Richard & Hung, Woei
  • Vanderschuren, Louk J. M. J.
  • Vygotsky, Lev
  • Walther, Bo Kampmann
  • Williamson, Rebecca A. & Jaswal, Vikram K. & Meltzoff, Andrew N.
  • Wilson, Gabriel
  • Winther-Lindqvist, Ditte
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig
  • Woods, Stewart John
  • Zimmerman, Eric

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Shabbat Games

Had over some gamers and semi-gamers on shabbat.

My friend David and I played Go on a 19x19 board. Go is still the Best Game Ever, but I am entirely inadequate with regard to playing on a board of this size. I still don't even comprehend the basics of tactics on the 9x9 board. I tend to give up nearly all of the edge space, which is most of the territory.

David and his wife Sharron played Scrabble one or two times, and my daughter played It's Alive and (what they call) Chinese Speed with their daughter.

I played Troyes with Abraham, Sara, and Nadine. It's bad enough that I realized that I was losing by round 2 out of 6. What made it particularly trying was the glacial pace at which the others took their turns. We started play at something like 3:00 and didn't finish until after 6:00. Nadine was far ahead of me, but she always thinks she is a) losing, b) about to be losing, or c) winning entirely due to luck, and has a compulsion to assert this endlessly, even when it is perfectly obvious to everyone that she is far ahead and playing well.

Abraham looked like he was her closest competition, so they concentrated on attacking each other (which is not so easy in Troyes), leaving Sara to scoot ahead of Abraham just a bit by the end of the game. Nadine ended with 46 to Sara's 38, Abe's 37, and my 30 points.

A fair amount of shabbat was spent discussing my ideas on the semiotics of games and play.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Discount on Firenze Luxury Games

The manager of Made in Firenze just noticed my three year old post about the top ten most expensive board games in the world. He was pleased to see one of his products listed.

(Unfortunately for him, if I did an update to the list his games wouldn't make the cut; since I wrote the post I've been made aware of a number of additional games costing over a million dollars.)

If you're so inclined, he is offering a 12% discount to my readers who buy any of his beautiful products using the code 03AA100YEHUD2012 at checkout. This code expires at the end of 2012.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Things Fall Apart (Mostly MY Things)

In the last two weeks ...


I'm supposed to change the outdoor water filter every three months or so (or so they tell me). I've been renting since last August, so I thought it was about time. I ordered some filters and went outside to find my water main.

Lucky for me, there were six pipes corresponding to the six apartments on my side of the building, and each was numbered clearly on the pipe itself with magic marker 1 through 6. My apartment is apartment number 1, so it seemed clear enough. Only three of the mains had water filters, and mine was one.

What didn't enter my mind was the following fact: the six apartments on my side of the building were not numbered 1 through 6, but apartments 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, and 10.

Foreshadowing: the mark of great literature.

The filter container is a plastic cylinder that screws into an upside down plastic dish permanently connected to the water pipes. Water flows into the cylinder from a pipe that enters a side of the "dish" to the center, flows down the filter which is a hollowed out smaller cylinder, through the filter, and out the other side. It looks like this:

On the top of the dish is a red button. Pressing the red button lets water out from around the button sides. You can't easily unscrew the container until the water pressure goes down. So you have to turn off the water, let it drain out in your apartment or by pressing the red button for a while. Then you can unscrew.

After turning off the water, I went back to my apartment and tried to drain the pipes but the water never slowed down. It occurred to me even then that I may have turned off the water to the wrong apartment. But I thought it was more likely that I had some kind of reservoir water tank on the roof. So I went back down to the main and held down the red button for a while. I unscrewed, replaced the filter, and re-screwed. Unfortunately, when I turned the water back on, the area around the whole screw wasn't tight enough and the water was spraying out in all directions. Try as I could, I couldn't tighten it any further.

So I resigned myself to leaving the water off for a day and calling a plumber. Can't have a continuous water leak. The water pressure in my apartment stayed steady during the evening and the night, nevertheless, and I began to suspect that I had gotten the wrong water main after all.

In the morning, I went outside to find the water tap turned back on and no leak from the filter. I was confused, and decided to check it again later in the evening.

I came home from work to find the entire pipe between the apartment main and the the water filter I had replaced GONE with a note from the water company saying that the water was turned off due to unpaid bills.

Finally finally I went looking for a permanent resident in the apartment building, aka someone who would know which is actually my water main. Yes, it turned out that a) my tap is number 4, not number 1 (even though my apartment is number 1), b) the water company and unpaid bills is entirely coincidental, and c) the apartment that belongs to that pipe doesn't rely on the outside filter since they also have an in-house inside filter. So I could have my filter back. They were confused yesterday as to who had turned their water off. But not at all confused that the water company turned it off and took their pipe the next day.


I noticed that the soles in my sandals were cracked all the way across. There's only one cobbler in Raanana, but his store opens after I go to work and closes before I return from work. I just happened to have Thursday off last week, so after weeks of waiting I went to him to see if he could fix them but he said it wasn't worth it, since it would cost as much as new sandals.

I was trying to be Earth-conscientious - repair and reuse, rather than toss out - but he wouldn't touch them. Ah well.


When my shaver broke two weeks ago, I approached the repair with the same attitude. I found three places on the Internet selling replacement parts for the shaver. The part that broke was the top frame that holds the circular blade guards in place. A new frame cost half the price of a new shaver, but Earth conscientiousness and all that. So I ordered the part. Still waiting to receive it (two weeks later). In the meantime, I went on a date in Beit Shemesh to which I showed up scraggly.


My car broke down in Beit Shemesh last week following the date. The car kept overheating, so I brought it back, kilometer by kilometer to a garage in Beit Shemesh. Foolish me. It would have been better for me to have called a tow truck and have it towed to Raanana.

I thought it might be a busted fan, but the garage replaced the entire radiator, temperature gauge, some hoses and fluids for 1,850 NIS. I wasn't convinced that all of this was necessary, but there you go.

Today (5 days later), my car breaks down and won't start while I'm halfway to work. I look around the car and under the hood and all the fluid had drained from the radiator within a few seconds - the ground was covered with the green fluidy goop that the mechanic had put in.

Of course, I don't live anywhere near Beit Shemesh, but of course I had the tow company tow it to Beit Shemesh since he was the one who had fixed it. So 3 hours of missed work, a taxi to work, and a 90 minute train to Beit Shemesh after work (and a subsequent hour drive back to Raanana), to discover that - of course - my new car problem had NOTHING to do with what had been fixed before, says the mechanic. This time a hose burst and the fan stopped. But it wasn't a hose that he had fixed. And there was nothing wrong with that hose last time he checked. So I owed him another 600 NIS. That was after he graciously threw in more green fluidy goop for the radiator, for free.

And now

And now my freezer is frosting up all the time and the door won't close all the way unless you shove it. I chipped my stapler and broke three glass cups on three separate occasions in one day.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Updated Elevator Technology

I had an eventful weekend.

- Wed night I went to an engagement party.

- Thursday I had a day off, since my company moved buildings (one over to the left).

- Thursday morning: chores, haircut, pick up three pairs of pants I had patched up. When I paid the bill, I pointed out to the store that they misspelled their service as "Swing Services" in English, instead of "Sewing Services" on their card. The owner was shocked. "I just ordered 40,000 more cards today!"

- Thursday noon I attended the funeral of a lovely 52 year old man who died after a long illness. The funeral was at the cemetery outside of Beit Shemesh. The chevra kadisha performed some odd kabbalistic (and undoubtedly idolatrous) ritual of holding hands and walking around the body some number of times chanting verses and waving their hands to ward off spirits (I'm guessing Lilith). Less and less like Judaism and more and more like idol worship. Please don't let anyone do that over my body when I'm dead.

- I spent the rest of Thursday working on my book at a restaurant in Beit Shemesh. I've started an Excel sheet to track all of the articles and books I've now read as research for the book. Lots and lots about the "magic circle".

- Thursday evening I had a date in Beit Shemesh. I liked her, but I received a termination notice from her on Sat night. Oh well.

- About 10 km out on my way to Jerusalem from Beit Shemesh, my car lost its ability to regulate temperature; i.e. it went from cold to severely overheated in a matter of a km. I had to slowly return (drive, wait, drive, wait, ...) to Beit Shemesh. Fan problem? Radiator? Temperature gauge? Oil?

- After dozens of calls, I finally found a friend to put me up for the night in Beit Shemesh.

- The car had a blocked radiator; I don't know what repairs were actually required, but what I ended up with was a new radiator, temperature gauge, some hoses, fluids, etc costing1,845 NIS. Bleah.

- I missed two engagements I had scheduled for Friday morning in Jerusalem (a game designer who wanted to consult with me about publishing, and another date).

- Shabbat with mom and my shul.

- Shiva visit Sat night

- Sunday morning I arrived at my new building on the left. I'm fairly sure that the technology defining the elevator interface (buttons) has remained relatively unchanged for 100 years or so. This elevator's designer decided that "Up" and "Down" wasn't interesting enough. Instead, the controls are a number pad - no instructions as to what to do with it. Apparently you key in the floor to which you want to go to, whereupon the pad informs you by which of four elevators to wait. There is no indication as what floor the elevator is currently, so no progressive feedback as to how long you will be waiting for it to arrive. The elevators have no floor buttons in them. Once you're inside one, you have no opportunity to change your floor number. The only controls are "keep open", "close", and "emergency".

Update: apparently this is called a "destination control system".