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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in geoffstechno's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
10:06 am
Something useful I found out. Although I probably will never go camping, hiking, etc again, I was playing around with a Chinese fire starter. The kind that are a rod with a plastic knob at the end. The rod consists of a magnesium alloy with a groove in it, and an iron alloy rod glued into the groove. It comes with a lanyard and a small relatively dull blade attached to it.

The iron rod replaces a flint, which as a child, I used to go into the woods and collect and then try to get them to spark. Some of the rocks really were flint and would spark, many were quartz and would crumble and most were just rocks, and did nothing. Once you scrape the black paint off of the rod it sparks. It's not a very accurate device, so you need a fairly large pile of something to light.

This brings us to the other side of the rod. Magnesium burns very hot and very bright, as a child I used to buy at the mall magnesium ribbon and light it with a match. It will burn through almost anything, and is almost impossible to put out. Powdered magnesium (also from the hobby shop at the mall) would light much easier, but burn out faster.

This side of the rod can be shaved using the blade into little pieces (shavings) which will light if they are hit by a spark. You need a lot of them, a pile about the size of a US quarter, to be sure to catch them and burn long enough to light something else.

I saw several YouTube videos where people claimed that dryer lint works better, and I can verify that. If you scrape some magnesium shavings onto the lint, it catches more easily and stays lit.

So if I were going to put together an emergency fire kit, I would start out with a disposable gas lighter as they are the cheapest and easiest way to light a fire, and add one of these sticks. They vary in quality from good to useless so make sure to test it (safely) before you take it on a trip. I would also take a small ziplock of dryer lint to act as kindling.

I saw people recommending that you carry Vaseline soaked cotton balls if you need a long lasting kindling that is water proof. That should be fairly easy to carry a few. On the other hand if you are carrying (or have in you gear) a first aid kit, a tube of Vaseline, or as it is sold here in Israel as White Soft Paraffin, BP, and some cotton balls in a ziplock would do double duty as both a first aid creme and lip, etc protector and with the cotton balls kindling.

Note that it does not have to be an emergency kit, after watching some neighbors struggling with their barbeque, and filling the area with smoke that smelled of petroleum distillates, I would think some Vaseline soaked cotton balls would make their barbequing, my breathing, and our over all fire safety (their barbeque is under a canvas awning) a lot easier. It also made me appreciate my gas grill a lot more.

I'm note even sure that my sons will ever need it, the last time one of them went camping they were in a large communal tent, with cots and Wifi. Who needs fire if you have Wifi?????

According to my Vet, Vaseline also makes good hairball medicine for cats, so every home with a cat should have some.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
2:23 pm
After the virus

I started to feel bad Thursday night, and obviously came down with an intestinal virus. It also affected my blood pressure, which affected my heart rate and breathing and so on.

This was probably the worst weekend in Israel to be sick. There were high winds, lots of rain and snow was predicted (but did not show up). Our apartment (a rental) is fairly sheilded but the windows and doors leak cold air, especially when it is windy. We've done things over the years to help keep them out, but what is needed is to replace the windows with double pane aluminum frame windows. It never freezes so the problems with the aluminum frames getting to cold which people had in Philly do not happen here.

The doors need to have storm doors added to them.

A working heating system would be nice, but that's another problem, There is one in the apartment  with new radiators and pipes needed and the boiler replaced. It ran on oil, but most of the heat went up the chimeny. I say ran and went because besides the price of oil went through the roof as it were, I noticed the exahust pipe was cracked and pointed it out to my landlord. He did nothing about it. He also did not fix the fill pipe for the tank when it was removed by a neighbor's garden renovation.

Probably good for us, when the park behind us was set on fire (July 2010), the flames reached very close to the oil tank. If there had been any oil in it, it would have been a disaster.

The fire was set to drive us out of our homes so that oppoisition to developing the gazelle valley would have moved with us, but thank G-D, the fire did not do any real damage, just some fences, lawns, antennas, etc. Needless to say our landlord has not replaced the fence or irrigation system which was burnt or ever provided help (which was promised) in cleaning up and replanting).

Meanwhile I got an answer on the oxygen machine, it will cost me 250 NIS a month, but I can have as any refills of the 5 liter tank as I want  (Sunday through Thursday) for free.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012
2:01 pm
This should of been posted on thursday, but never made it.

Still stuck in my 4 meter rut. It has in a way become worse because I am now more dependent upon the oxygen than before. It used to be that I would take several hours a day off of it and sit at my computer. My problem is that you can't reduce it slowly, eventually you reach the point where there is a period of "cold turkey" where I feel like I no longer can breathe.

During that time I need to sit still, take deep breaths and wait while I readjust to the thinner air. The fact that the air is around 12% lower in pressure here in Jerusalem than at sea level hardly helps.

Even switching to the portable tank is an adjustment, the air flow is reduced. Using the oxygen concentrator, I need to set it to between two and three liters a minute of air flow, while the tank, i use at one half liter per minute. It's not a real comparison, the regulator on the tank puts out the oxygen at a high enough pressure that hose length, as far as I have gone, 6 meters, is irrelevant, it still comes out at that flow rate.

The oxygen concentrator uses a bouncing ball indicator, which really reads pressure and it is calibrated with a 2 meter hose. So to get the equivalent of one half liter per minute of oxygen from the tank, with a 2 meter hose I need to set the output of the concentrator to 1.5-2 liters per minute, 2.5-3 for a 4 meter hose and at 5, the maximum for a 6 meter hose.

So switching from the concentrator to the tank requires some getting used to, and even more to nothing at all. With nothing at all, eventually things settle down, but not at 99% saturation, so it is far less comfortable, and leaves me with a prolonged sense of being unable to breathe, no matter how hard and fast I suck the air in.

This also is a problem switching the other way, as I tend to gulp air through my mouth and the oxygen is coming in through my nose. More air, no improvement.

I have not even tried to address the issue of a gas mask, as we turned our old ones in and never got new ones. Now it looks like we may need them, and there isn't enough money for the state to buy new ones. I still have no idea of how it will work, if at all. I guess  I could buy one privately that includes a drinking hose (to be connected to a special canteen), and connect it to the oxygen tank instead.

I have two tanks, one is a 5 liter portable tank, which I mentioned before. It will provide me with 1/2 a liter per minute (sitting still) for 8-10 hours.  I also have a large one used for emergencies when the concentrator stops working (which is relatively often, every three months or so) which will provide 30-35 hours. It's impossible to tell as the pressure gauges are approximate and calibrated in pounds per square inch, which is not exact. My estimate is that at 2000 pounds per square inch (the nominal fill amount of the tanks), they provide one liter per minute for an hour per liter of tank. It's a guess, but seems to be close with my actual usage.

The hose itself has its own challenges. The most obvious is to not get it caught on anything. The second was not to pull too hard or loop it because it disconnects from the machine. Th first few times I did it, I wasn't aware I had and ended up wondering why I suddenly could not breathe. It's hard to tell, the hose I use goes not to the unit itself, but to a water bottle.

The water bottle provides some humidity to prevent my nose and throat from drying out completely while I use it. There is a small curved hose from the water bottle to the output of the machine, and if I am not careful it gets kinked or wrapped around the bottle and pulled off of the machine.

It also has to be removed when I turn the machine off, one of the failures  I had of the machine was that when it was turned off there was a vacuum and water was drawn out of the bottle into the machine itself.

So far the rental company has replaced them free, without complaint, but I would prefer that they would just come by every other month and swap it out with another machine and take the one I have back the shop and PM it (perform preventive maintenance)

I guess is they figure it is cheaper to fix the when they break instead of PM them.

On the computer front, I tried one last time to upgrade the BIOS in the ThinkPad 770 and found a way to do it without the battery.  Now it is up to date (if you consider 2001 up to date) with the correct BIOS, but it still has the problem. Oh well, back to the drawing board as it were.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012
4:20 pm
more in 4 meters
Today is the third day of the new plan, bring the oxygen concentrator into the dining room and sit here all day. Surpisingly although I have dozed off for a few minutes here and there, I have not had a nap, nor have I slept that much more at night. I've made a point of going to bed at midnight and I get up at 6:30 to get my sons out, but I still don't fall asleep right away, and I get up early on my own.

Since I have to pay 15 NIS per hose (from the concentrator or tank) to me, I called up and ordered 6 of them, figuring I would pay by credit card and replace them about once a week. I've been nursing the old ones along, the one on the concentrator was starting to turn brown. :-(

When the hose was delivered this afternoon, it was exactly that, one hose. I called and hopefully the others will show up next week.I ask for the 4 meter (12 foot) long ones, and they must be rare. Not that rare  expect, for a 2 meter one to work, the concentrator would have to be next to you and you could not move.

I tried using a 2 meter hose on the portable tank I have and it was too close too be of any use.

I'm also trying to clean and sort things, in the last few days I've thrown out almost 100 disks I was keeping, almost all backups of things I no longer wanted, or had better backups of, or obsolete software I did not really care about, for example various releases of Fedora, and internet explorer.

I regularly use old versions of Winows and DOS on computers, but I.E. is not worth keeping around because although they still run the software I need them for, which won't run on a faster computer or more modern windows, old web browsers just don't work. Too many things have changed for them to render webpages in an useable form.

There have also been advances in virus technology and unless you have an up to the minute antivirus you are likely to find your Windows computer infected. These old computers are just too slow to run a modern antivirus program, so I use them for what I need them for, but don't surf the web.

I could put LINUX on them, but the latest versions of LINUX are so bloated that they take as much (as many?) resources as Windows.

One of my projects was to get a new laptop to program a certain type of radio. I have two that I currently use, both have broken hinges and will soon break the cable to the screen inside of them and become useless,. The latest one I was given was an IBM ThinkPad 770. It's a nice early Pentium II laptop with a good screen. It runs DOS and Windows 98 fine, except for one thing. It has a serial port, but the serial port can not be accessed under DOS. This makes it almost useless to me.

I'm trying to get rid of some old Macintosh Laptops in various types and sizes, the latest a Pismo, most are pre-G3. Anyone interested?
Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
2:39 pm
Life in 4 meters.

Last April I was hospitalized for over a week due to a blood clot in my lungs. Exactly where was never known, it was small enough that I was able to call for an ambulance and when the paramedics came, they gave me a shot which broke up the clot.
Since then  I have been using oxygen to assist my breathing.

My HMO (Kupat Cholim) pays for an oxygen concentrator, which re-arranges the air. About twice the oxygen that is normally in air comes out of a hose, and the air coming out of the vents in the machine is depleted. In the end there is no net loss or gain in oxygen in the room because most of the extra that I breathe in from the tube comes back out again.

For me it is a big gain because my O2Sat (oxygen saturation level) is 99% when I use the machine. It probably is 100%, but the meters I have only go up to 99 to reduce cost. Without the machine it ranges from 96% sitting still during the day, to around 90% if I move around or are sleeping.

Think of it this way, your lungs are like a cafateria with 100 seats. 100 red blood cells arrive looking to be fed. With 100% saturation, they all leave full and carry the oxygen to various parts of your body. With 95% saturation, 5% leave empty. This keeps going on and on, so parts of your body are oxygen starved, while others are not.

The biggest user of oxygen is your brain, so it means that a portion of my brain is not functioning 100%. This is the same effect you get when you fly too high and start to make mistakes, pass out, etc. Mostly what it meant is that I was sitting around slightly dazed.

It also has other effects, while I sleep I often would wake up having a dream where I was trapped. Using the oxygen machine, I rarely have those dreams and wake up feeling better. 

Unfortunately due to the size and weight of the machine, I can have it in my bedroom or my kitchen, but not both. I can move it with help, but there is no help during the day. I have to sit in the kitchen or lie in bed. I need to do both. Due to my staying up until my sons get to bed (or they wouldn't) and the effects of the medication I take, I need a morning nap.

If I don't take one, I fall asleep anyway, which in a chair can be a disaster. I also need to get a chair with arms (hard to find and expensive due to my weight) that leans back slightly so when I fall asleep I fall into it, instead of out of it.

The 4 meters refers to the length of the tube from the machine, 4 meters. So everything I do must either be within 4 meters of the machine, or I need to use a portable tank provided by my HMO. Note I said portable, it's a 5 liter tank, about 1 meter high. I have a small cart to carry it around, but it's too heavy to drag up the stairs, etc.

If I call between 8:30 and 9:00 AM Sun-Thur, it gets replaced with a full tank, which is good, but it means that I am limited to one tankfull  from Thursday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. A tank lasts 9-10 hours on minimum demand and if I need it for walking around, 4-5 hours.

I'll go into it more tomorrow.


Thursday, September 16th, 2010
1:01 am
back again
I had not realized that I had not posted anything for almost 2 years, so I'm going to try to get back into things again.

Last week was Rosh Hashannah. In Jewish custom, it is a time of new beginnings, so I think it is an excellent time for me to start my blog over again. 

It's hard to summarize the last 2 years in a post, or even thing of how, so I will start with a problem I had and how it was resolved.

Being a ham radio operator, I have radios and antennas. In between are wires. The wires are the point of this discussion.

When the undersea telegraph cables were laid around the turn of the 20th century, there was a problem with the wires. Each wire had to be bundled together with a return wire. Basically for each each out there had to be an in, or there would be problems with the signals being crossed. To save space and effort coaxial cable was invented. This is a wire within a wire. The center conductor is covered with insulation and then another wire is wrapped around it.

When radar was being developed before WWII (yes, there was a radar set at Perl Harbor), someone figured out that a coaxial cable was the best thing for those signals. Instead of a wire wrapped around the inner wire, a copper braid was used.

Coaxial cable or COAX as it now called (pronounced coh-axe) is used for almost all radio applications and things like video cables,

There is my problem. Ham radios use a specific type of coax and connectors on the ends. TV signals use a different type of coax, and different connectors. Ham radio coax here in Israel is hard to find, the connectors (I thought) next to impossible,

It turns out I was wrong about the connectors, they can be ordered, they are just very expensive. In the US they are called PL-259 plugs and SO-239 sockets. In Japan they are called type M connectors. Here they are called UHF connectors. They used to be called UHF connectors in the US, but that was when UHF frequencies were below the FM broadcast band (just after WWII).

Since 1965, UHF has meant something very different due to the UHF TV channels, which became mandatory in the US on all TV sets.

So I went for around 13 years looking for connectors I could not find, because no one knew what I was talking about.

Meanwhile the coax cable hams use is still hard to find and has to be ordered by the 100 meter roll. There is someone near the airport who sells it in shorter lengths, but they are not anywhere I can get to. 

UHF connectors are expensive (I said that, didn't I), and have to be soldered onto the wires. Soldering UHF connectors is an art. I once was passable at it, but 13 years of not doing it has taken its toll.

So I have been using cables I brought with me from the US. They were outside for a few years when I lived in Philly, and so they were getting pretty old.

TV coax was not very good, and generally you had to order it from a specialty shop to get anything decent. In the last 14 years, the advent of high quality home television, satellite and cable TV has changed that. The standard TV coax you can buy at the mall is far better than the average ham coax that I could get 14 years ago and a lot cheaper.

They are different and can not be used for the same things. If you try to transmit a high power signal, I am licensed for 1000 watts, it will melt and short out, causing all sorts of havoc. Using it for reception, or low power transmitting is not a problem. Modern coax is designed to keep signals in, so that your cable or satellite dish signal does not interfere with your radio or TV. It therefore keeps any interference out, and does not leak transmitted signals into the world, causing interference.

Satellite dishes have equipment at the dish end that needs power, and it goes up the coax. So the coax is designed to carry a decent amount of electricity.

This makes it perfect for ham radio use, or at least my ham radio use. Someone wanting to run microwave links, or use high power would find it is not what they want, but I am perfectly happy with it.

The problem is connectors. TV coax uses a copper center wire, but aluminum as the outer conductor.  It is very difficult to solder to aluminum. A company called LACO sells special compounds to make it easy, but their middle east distributor will not answer any requests from Israel, and the company won't "go around" them.

Well, I have lucked out. Since the demand for good, weatherproof, easy to use connectors has been fueled by the cable TV and satellite industry, a new type of connector has been made. They are called compression connectors, and work by squeezing the front and back of the connector together trapping the coax in it. They have internal water resistant seals, so the connectors can be left out in the rain.

Previously the connectors were screw on, which worked by trying to grasp hold of the cable by screw threads. Most of the time, they did not make a good contact with the braid, and often fell off. The other kind were crimp on, where you stuck the connector on to the end of the coax, and squeezed a ring around it. Squeeze too hard and you deform the coax, making it bad at radio signals, squeeze too softly and it falls off. Squeeze just right, and it still falls off after a few years.

There were good crimp on connectors for TV coax, but they were so expensive, and the tools so hard to get that only the cable TV company installers had them.

So now I can go to the local Home Center (our equivalent of Home Depot) or ACE and buy a roll of TV coax, cut it to length and install compression connectors on it. The connectors and tools are available here and from hundreds of eBay dealers. I've bought them from both, but that's another topic.

Adapters to UHF connectors are hard to find and have to be ordered from outside of Israel. I found a local source of adapters for a different connector, and found compression ones on eBay.

So I was able to run new coax cables to my antennas. They only lasted a few weeks, but that's next time's story.

Thursday, November 6th, 2008
11:58 am
Radio day part 2
I spent some more time with the HA-350. It's good to get back into things, though the only real tools I have a set of screwdrivers and what's left of my wits. I also have a voltmeter and something that can be sort of used as a signal generator (an MFJ Antenna analyzer), but it's stable nor calibrated in strength.

The problem is that it was dropped on the preselector knob, breaking the capacitor inside. This is not an electrolytic capacitor like I mentioned before, it's an air variable capacitor. You've probably seen them in old photos. It has stationary vanes of metal with others that move in and out. As you turn the dial, they mesh (but don't contact) more or less, changing the capacitance.

Here's a picture of a single one I found with an image search, the one I need has two (I think identical) sections on the same shaft.


I have a manual for the radio which I was able to download and it shows the capacitor on a schematic (wiring) diagram, but does not give any information about it. My guess is that it is a 365mmf air variable capacitor as they were commonly used in AM radios of the time.

The good news that the radio works on 7mHz, which was the band where the capacitor was set with minimum meshing of the plates. I moved it there by hand. Unfortunately it does not work on any other band.

Any information as to what it really its, a source for or a replacement, or a donation of one would be gratefully appreciated.


8:35 am
radio day
Last night I received another gift. :-) (Completed and corrected posting). Part I.

I use the smiley because I'm not sure my wife agrees that it is a gift. It was three ham radios from the 1960-1970s. They all use tubes, although one of them has 4 transistors in it. The first one is a Lafayette HA-350.

The HA-350 is a ham band only receiver. Lafayette was the competition to Radio Shack. At the time they sold the Ha-350 there was a going business in ham radios, parts for experimenters and CB radio. CB was less than 10 years old then and had still not "caught on".

It was not until the cheap transistorized CBs of the 1970's did they become noticed. During the 1976 oil shortage there was a US wide trucker's strike over the high price of gasoline. Although you needed a license to operate a CB, you did not need one to buy a radio, and almost every night every long haul trucker had one in his cab.

That's where Radio Shack and Lafayette diverged, both sold CBs, but Radio Shack specialized in them. This lead to Radio Shack being what it is today, a store that sells cell phones, cheap technology toys and satellite dishes. They even funded a movie Called "Citizen's Band" with long shots of truckers talking on their CBs with the camera carefully showing their Radio Shack radios instead of the actors. It was so bad that I can't even find it on the IMDB, but it may have been renamed.

Lafayette took another direction and was bought out by J.C. Penny. Penny made some big mistakes with the way they tried to expand the company and Lafayette folded and it's brands gone forever in about two years. The modern concept of liquidate the company, keep the brands had yet to be invented.

Back to the radio. For those that were not around in the 1960's "made in Japan" was synonymous with "POS". Hence the comment by Dr Emmet Brown in "Back to the future" about the camcorder, "no wonder it's junk, it's made in Japan". The Japanese rise in technology exports had yet to appear.

Sony products were sold by Supserscope, not Sony, Nikon had not yet built their famous "F" camera, Japanese cars were not exported and so on. While Japan did have some good technology and far better steel mills than the US having rebuilt them all after World War II, none of it reached the U.S. What did arrive was of the same grade that the cheap junk from little villages in China produce now.

The HA-350 was built by a company called Trio. In the 1960's their radios were sold by US importers under their own name. The same also with Yaesu, which we will come to later. Trio later started to sell their products outside of Japan on their own and adopted the brand Kenwood. Eventually they changed their name to Kenwood and dropped the Trio entirely. My 1990 vintage Kenwood TS-430 has both on it.

I believe this is the same company that sells consumer electronics such as stereos, etc under the Kenwood name and they have an excellent reputation in their still very active ham radio business. I also believe that my beloved Kenwood mixer is no relation to them at all. In fact, Kenwood mixers are not sold in the US, except for the bottom of the line which is sold by Delonghi.

I'm not sure what is really going on with this radio. It seems to be working, but when I got it the tuning knob was so tight against the front of the radio, it could not be turned. I don't know if this was a problem or things shifted with age or it was dropped. :-) However it turns on lights up and you can hear static in it. It did not make any sounds at all when I first turned it on.

I think that was caused by there being so much corrosion on the switches, etc from sitting around, and the electrolytic capacitors no longer working well due to lack of use. Electrolytic capacitors are devices for storing electricity usually for very short periods of time. They are used to smooth out alternating (household) power into DC used by radios, computers, etc.

You may remember the scandal in 2002-2003 with Taiwanese exploding capacitors. This was caused by the electrolyte (the liquid inside) missing a critical component and they did not "age" well. Six months was about how long they lasted. The ones in this radio are around 44 years old, I found what I think is a date code of day 245 year 4 inside it. While most Japanese radios of the period used Japanese years (from the date of crowning of the current emperor) for date codes, Lafayette (and Radio Shack) used dates as they would in the US, so it probably is 1964.

Using what little signal generator I have, I was able to determine it works but is almost "deaf". I don't know where the problem with it lies, I'll have to investigate it more. Ham radios of that era were generally far less sensitive than their modern counterparts, around 1970 or so there was a "quantum leap" in the sensitivity of ham radios.

There were some radios with sensitivity as good as modern ones, but they were very expensive. If you could get one military surplus they were affordable otherwise they were too expensive for the average ham to buy.

Back when I lived in the US, I had a tube tester and spare tubes, I sold them all when I moved here in 1996. To be honest, I never expected to see another tube again in my life, except picture tubes (CRT). I assume if I had gone a few more years without these radios, I would have converted all my TV's and monitors to LED/LCD technology and really would have been "tube free".

So if you are reading this and happen to be in Israel and have a tube tester and a stash of tubes, please let me know. Or even know where I can find one.

More on the other radios later.

7:59 am
radio day
Last night I received another gift. :-)

I use the smiley because I'm not sure my wife agrees that it is a gift. It was three ham radios from the 1960-1970s. They all use tubes, although one of them has 4 transistors in it. The first one is a Lafayette HA-350.

The HA-350 is a ham band only receiver. Lafayette was the competition to Radio Shack. At the time they sold the Ha-350 there was a going business in ham radios, parts for experiementers and CB radio. CB was less than 10 years old then and had still not "caught on". It was not until the cheap transistorized CBs of the 1970's did they become noticed.

During the 1976 oil shortage there was a US wide trucker's strike over the high price of gasoline. Although you needed a license to operate a CB, you did not need one to buy a radio, and almost every night every long haul trucker had one in his cab.

That's where Radio Shack and Lafayette diverged, both sold CBs, but Radio Shack specialized in them. This lead to Radio Shack being what it is today, a store that sells cell phones, cheap technology toys and satellite dishes.

Layfayette took another direction and was bought out by J.C. Penny. Penny made some big mistakes with the way they tried to expand the company and Lafayette folded and it's brands gone forever in about two years.
Wednesday, November 5th, 2008
3:57 pm
Laser printer.
It's been a long time since I posted anything to this blog. I've been bogged down in politics and did not want to express them here. After all this was supposed to be a technology blog, not a political blog. I had thought about starting a separate political blog and just decided it was not worth it. No matter which side you were on, which candidate you loathed or loved, you could find a blog to fit your point of view. There was no need for me to add to that.

Meanwhile, I got a laser printer. At one time when we were in full swing with the company I used to be part of, I had more printers in more places than I needed. Most of them were old and scrounged, but they printed. We live in an apartment with an office underneath. Upstairs I have a small corner of my living room dedicated to a communications which includes a computer I use as a file server and router. There is also a computer running MythTv we use as a DVD and networked file player. The are both getting pretty old, but it's beyond my means to replace them.

At one time the router/file server had a laser printer connected to it. My wife had an HP inkjet printer connected to her computer. It came as a package with a long defunct HP 2mp digital camera. The camera was great, although slow, but it failed the spilled Kool-Aid test.

Downstairs I had another laser printer, a black and white HP inkjet, a low end Epson color inkjet and a QMS postscript laser printer. The QMS and the upstairs laser printers must have been 10 years old by that time.
I also had an HP plotter for those nice line drawings and printed circuit layouts we never did.

My oldest son lived about a block away and due to the way the cable modems were set up, he had a fixed IP address on the cable network, but not on the Internet. I used that to my advantage and set up an OPENSSL ppp tunnel to his apartment with a print server and file server there.

They were all connected via CUPS, software for controlling printers and managing print jobs. It was open source, meaning you could use it for free, but you had to pay for support. Apple used it with MacOS X and eventually bought the product.

Things move on and the laser printers used too much electricity, took too long to print and took up too much space. Not only that but I had very little to print. My wife's printer was replaced with an all-in-one printer, scanner, copier and fax from HP. It uses a color inkjet printer. My Epson printer failed because the ribbon cable to the printheads got a nick in it. The other HP printer got sticky rollers as they all do if you don't use them.

My son moved away and is now married, so his takes care of his own computer and printer problems.

So we were down to one printer and that got used for 4-5 pages a week. Not much of a load.

The other day I fixed a computer for a friend and used some blank DVDs to backup her files. She was so happy, she took me to lunch at the mall and while we were there we went into Office Depot to buy replacements. She offered to buy me a gift and I chose the laser printer. I know that sounds like a lot, but it was a cheap Samsung laser printer model ML-1610. It is gratefully appreciated.

It's small, compact, and uses a lot less power than old ones. Full tilt, it uses 300 watts, about one third of the power the old printers used. In sleep mode it uses 6 watts and it does not keep the fuser hot, the way the old ones did, so it really only uses 6 watts until it you print something. You can leave it in sleep mode as long as you want without a surprise in the electric bill.

Print quality is pretty good. I'm used to inkjets and 300dpi laser printers, this one is 600. I can't say anything about speed because I have yet to print anything big on it, and the pages I have printed were from computers in another room. I set it up in the living room computer corner.

Using CUPS was relatively simple. There is a driver for it from Samsung and an open source driver that did not work. Once I figured out that I had to have a recent version of Ghostscript (a postscript interpreter for the computer), the driver worked. The beauty of using CUPS is not only does it control the printers, it has a simple interface to Windows and it provides postscript support. Files sent to it as "raw" files, i.e. print files it understands from Windows, are passed through to the printer. Postscript files are first RIPed (translated) from postscript to the printer's format by CUPS calling Ghostscript, without my doing anything. So I can share the printer between UNIX (MacOS/Solaris), Linux, and Windows. Using Netatalk, which I already had running, I can also print on it as if it were a networked Apple Laserwriter with my old Macs.

To my wife and sons who use Windows, it looks just like a regular networked printer and uses the regular printer settings and control panel. My middle son who has his own computer always did his homework on his mother's computer because it has Microsoft Office and the printer.

I recently installed OpenOffice on his computer and last night he wrote a book report (in Hebrew) on it and printed on the laser printer. I did not even know he was doing it until he came over and showed me the results, which he liked.

My youngest son was introduced to OpenOffice at school last year, but so far has shown no interest in doing any word processing. He spends his computer time with flash games, a multiplayer shooter (LAN game) in contest with his brother and watching YouTube. He goes to the Lego web page to look up his favorite toys and then "cut and pastes" their names into the YouTube search.

BTW, as for materials cost, the printer, complete with a 1000 page "starter" toner cartridge, cost 60 NIS ($20) less than a 2000 page regular toner cartridge. The printer has a "toner save" mode which uses 40% less toner, but I don't know if that means if I use it, the printer will get 1000 or 1400 pages from the original cartridge.

Friday, July 25th, 2008
3:55 pm
One Laptop per Palestinian Child.
Pardon any typos, spelling or grammatical errors, I'm trying to get this done before I shut down for the sabbath.

The following blog article got me going again. :-)


Ynetnews on a new “laptop for every palestinian child” project.

I replied:


No, it’s just a way to get rid of the OLPC aka $100 laptops that Negroponte has been trying to sell off.

His design is so bloated and overpriced that no one will buy them, he’s 100% over his price goal, and they suffer from what is called “creeping features” to the point that they are useless.

It shows you what a committee of rich Americans (MIT students) can do if they are allowed to decide what every poor “third world” kid would want with no reality checks.

It’s loaded with “culturally imperialistic features”, bad power systems, and over complex screen design and so on.

I really like the idea of giving everyone a really cheap laptop, but it has to fit the limits of the culture and be provided with real support. I’ve worked on similar projects, and yes you can build a cheap laptop that would be acceptable in an “Islamic Republic” or Beni Baraq for that matter.

Besides my brainstorming people with more money are really working on it, China has a product cooking and India is working on a real $15 laptop, hoping to get donations of the parts and assembly making it a $0 laptop.

Anyone want to build one in Israel?


If you know me from any of several computer related mailing lists, you know my feelings about the OLPC. It was designed by a committee of MIT students to provide what every poor starving kid in Africa (and other places) would want. It has so many expensive unneeded features that raise the price, add to power consumption and complexity and make it unacceptable to the local rulers that they are impossible to give away IMHO where they are the most needed.

For example, the laptops use a strange power system that includes a hand cranked generator. This adds cost both for the generator and the case around it. If the case is too weak, when you crank it, you will rip it out of the computer. I don't understand why they can't just use AA NiMH batteries. These batteries are everywhere and if you buy a case of 100 on eBay, they are about $1 each. Imagine what they would cost if you bought a million of them. Each one provides almost 3 amp hours of electricity and to get the proper voltage, you need 4 of them. They can be recharged at least 300 times.

If you have a central recharge station that gives you a new set when you bring in the old one, each set can last a year. Newer versions of the same batteries are available that can be recharged 1,000 times, meaning one set would last almost three years if recharged every day. All of this for a few dollars.

The second issue is the screen. To make a long story short, it uses a special screen that can be used in full sunlight without a shade. Maybe in Africa there are kids without a shade tree or roof over their heads, but no matter what the PA wants you to think there are very few of them in Palestine. Or in India. Or in most of Africa.

They include WiFi so that you can use them for collaborative (every kid in the class participating) applications and the Internet. Well if you remember an old posting of mine about a cheap satellite based system for distributing information, WiFi is useful, but not needed. Unfortunately my one attempt at getting funding for it failed, and due to medical problems, I had to abandon the idea of a patent on it.

In most countries where they would do the most use, WiFi and Internet are forbidden or frowned upon. The people that run many places don't want school children to have access to the corrupting influence of the Internet. It's not just Islamic Republics, Jewish religious communities here have the same restrictions. I'm sure there are similar ones in China and many of the countries of Africa.

There is a way to make a connection for file and printer sharing, collaborative applications and so on which does not require a radio or wires. If you can't guess it, I'll keep that one to myself. My method adds less than a dollar, maybe less than 10 cents to the price and can not be used to "sneak" the Internet from someone you pass by's office.

When I built "the gizmo" we had planned on a cost to us of about $75-$80 (for 10 million) and it had a far better CPU and was constrained by the hardware limitations of 2004. Now with cheaper memory, screens and so on, we could build a real $100 laptop even in smaller quantities. Even the OLPC if it were pared down to the minimum could be produced for about $100 each in the quantities they are producing them.

The other problem is that in order to be accepted in these environments it must be limited in what it can do. I'm sure the news floating around the Internet that porn had been "ported" to the OLPC made it a lot less attractive.

As I said, anyone want to build our own in Israel? We could finish it in blue and sell it as the "kosher laptop",
then license it to another company to build in green as the "halal laptop" :-)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
7:25 pm
They cut my wire too.
About two weeks ago, several fiber optic cables across the Mediterranean Sea were cut. Since many companies that do business with Arab countries refuse to do business with Israel, we were lucky and none of the cables cut carried Israeli Internet traffic. This left some of North Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and most of the oil states in the area without Internet access. Israel ostensibly was never affected, our traffic goes a different way, via a company started by Israelis.

There have been many culprits blamed for this, including G-D (a storm), an errant anchor, and deliberate sabotage by your choice of Israel, the U.S., Al-Frieda's or some combination of all of them.

After a few days, things were restored, via different routes. That is where the trouble lies. Before the cut, I was able to get a ping time (round trip data) of around 287ms (about 1/4 of a second for people who think that way) 24/7. Now instead of being directly routed to the U.S., it is now routed via London. The connection from my ISP's ISP to their ISP (the site I am connecting to is an ISP on their own) is now made in London. The connection must be very busy. Late at night, the ping time has dropped to 127ms (about 1/8th of a second). During the day until midnight, it goes up and stays at about 1.3 seconds.

If I were just using it to surf the web, I would not notice, except for the web sites I go to being "sluggish". I occasionally see the FireFox error panel that the website could not be found (DNS service too slow), or that the page does not respond. Now I see it more often, but not enough to worry. Unfortunately I use it for VoIP (an Internet phone). It is now like the old days of satellite long distance calls. If you are old enough to remember those days, for a while long distance calls from the east to the west coast of the U.S. were carried by satellite. There is a long delay as the signal travels the 26,000 miles from earth to the satellite and back around a quarter of a second. This adds up to well over a half a second from the time you finish speaking and the person on the other end replies. It is quite noticeable.

AFAIK, what killed the satellite long distance business was MCI. Instead of trying to compete with a satellite network, they built a coast to coast terrestrial microwave network and undercut the price of AT&T long lines. In order to compete, AT&T built their own network. Both are long gone, having been replaced with fiber optic cables. Or maybe AT&T just went to fiber optics, I don't know.

However for me, that time is back. Hopefully not for long.

Sunday, February 17th, 2008
11:37 pm
changes to bus routes to my home.
I know this will probably not interest most people. Egged, the local bus company is changing the bus routes to my home. I figured I needed to document it somewhere, so here is as good as a place as any.

For those that don't know, but are curious, I live in a neighborhood called "Givat Mordechai". According to my son, it means Mordechai's hill. According to the plaque on the wall at the entrance to my street, it means "Mordechai's housing unit", named in honor of someone whose Hebrew name was Mordechai. It also has his English name, which is probably what his family and friends knew him as, but I've forgotten it.


Givat Mordechai is built on a hill. A main street runs down it, called Rechov Shachal (Shachal Street). Shachal is one of those meaningless Hebrew words, it's an acronym of an organization's name, Pioneers in service to Israel (or the State, I've heard both). Since it really does not exist as word, it is transliterated into latin letters 5 different ways on the street signs in the area. At one end was a small street, which has now become a major feeder to the Begin (as in Menachum Begin), not as in "start" expressway. It's also were the afore mentioned sign is.

The other end is Herzog street a very large street (6 lanes of traffic). At the Herzog end of the street is a statue called "Jacob's Ladder". The artist must have been a Led Zeppelin fan, it really is a "Stairway to Heaven". At that end is also the local fire department.

The east side is a valley that is not very noticeable, but it has the main entrance to the Botanical Garden, run by Hebrew University. The University is beyond the north end of the area, on the other side of the Begin. Before the Begin was built you could walk here from the University. The west side is a former orchard, now a valley of grass and trees. It is inhabited by a small herd of Gazelles. If you search the web for it, you can find several people's photographs. In Google Earth it is called both by its proper name, and by Antelope Valley.

I've bookmarked about where my house is on Google Maps under Satellite View, I don't know if you can find it or not by looking for me.

Now to the bus routes. Currently there are two buses which pass by my home. The 17 bus comes from Ein Kerem, a small village now engulfed by the city. At one time it was inhabited by Christians, but many Jews have moved in as it expanded and became a neighborhood. Nearby is a large hospital run by the Hadassah organization, called Hadassah Ein Kerem. The bus runs along Herzl street, past Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial), and up to Jaffa Road. It turns on Jaffa Road, runs past the central bus station, the shuk (open air market) and turns down King George Street. Eventually it winds through Rechavia, a neighborhood built in the 1930s, by German Jews, which looks vaguely like a pre-depression middle class German neighborhood. Considering most if not all of them in Germany were destroyed in the Second World War, it may be the only existing one left. Then the bus goes near the Kenesset (our house of government), the Israel Museum, The Yitzahk Rabin Youth Hostel, the Botanical Garden and turns on to Shachal street. At the bottom of the street, it turns west, goes to the Malcha Shopping Mall, and goes off into what was once an Arab village on a hill. The village is still there, from the mall you can see the minaret of the mosque, but it is now surrounded by homes occupied by Jews instead of empty fields.

The 17 route will not change for now.

The 6 bus is a complementary route. It starts at the train station near the mall, passes the mall, goes on Herzog to the Jacob's Ladder, up Shachal and then turns left instead of the 17's right turn back to the botanical garden. It passes Shaare Tzedik, a large hospital and turns right on Herzog and duplicates the 17 route until it reaches King George. The 6 stays on Jaffa Road, and at the old city snakes around it until it goes near French Hill and off to Pisgat Zev. Pisgat Zev is one of those housing areas built after 1967 to create "facts on the ground", taking empty land and putting a whole lot of Jews on it. It has since been annexed by the City of Jerusalem.

The 6 is the route that will change. It's going to be split into two routes. The 5 (which now sort of follows the new 6 route) and the 6. The 6 will go from the train station, past the mall, and through Givat Mordechai. Leaving Givat Mordechai, it will turn right, get on the Begin and the next stop is the Central Bus Station on Jaffa Road. It will then follow it's current route except that it will end in French Hill, instead of going on to Pisgat Zev.The Pisgat Zev part of route 6 will be taken over by a new route, 66. Going back, after it leaves the Central Bus Station, it will get on the Begin and the next stop will be in Givat Mordechai. It will then follow the old route to the train station.

The 5 bus now goes from the train station, past the mall and then gets on the Begin at Herzog Street. It pops out again at the Central Bus Station and ends. It will now go into Givat Mordechai, and at the north end turn left and sort of follow the old 6 route. It will end on Jaffa Road at the Central Bus Station.

Assuming the buses run with similar frequency to the old routes, it will be good news for us and everyone who lives in Givat Mordechai. The people who need to
go to Shaare Tzedik (me) or along Herzl will be able to take the 5 bus and get there at about the same time as they do now. The people who go into town (my wife) will have about 10 minutes on a good day, and a half hour on bad day cut off of their commute.

Monday, February 11th, 2008
7:53 pm
New TV Shows
Now that the writer's strike is almost over, I'd like to present my ideas for new shows to replace the ones we no longer care about because of the gap. Some of them are serious, some are jokes, most could go either way. :-)

The first is the all time perennial favorite Star Trek. With the demise of all of the TV shows, even the worst of the lot, Enterprise, which IMHO had its moments. Bring back the writing and production crew that did the last few episodes, they were along with "Carbon Creek" the best of the series. Buy the team that produces the "New Voyages" and produce a decent Star Trek series. Concentrate on plot, toss in some decent actors and what are now personal computer grade special effects and you would have IMHO a winner. They don't have to dilute the long gone characters, of Kirk and Spock, etc, they can use other ships and slightly later crews. There was 70 years between Kirk and Picard, so there is plenty of room to stick something in.

Jericho. I did not like the middle of the first season. It was canceled for good reason, but they were able to recover, change their direction and close out the season with a decent finish. Everyone with a computer or most people that don't but know someone who does has seen the leaked first three episodes of the second season and it shows promise. Meanwhile, there was a lot going on between the explosions and the attack, and it could be filled in with out takes of the main characters and people we have not yet met. Concentrate on the story. Jericho is not "On the Beach" or "Doctor Strangelove" part II, it's about people.

24. I don't know about you, but I think that 24 died a permanent death in the middle of the last season. His father should have shot him and let the series die a merciful death, However Jack Bauer was not the only CTU agent in the country, and there are plenty of 24 shows that could be done with other agents in other cities. Maybe a set of 4-6 hour miniseries, each of which could encompass a full day.

Babylon 4.5. I would love to see stories about Babylon 5 which did not go off on the strange alien religious bent. I don't really care about the Minbari and the fact the whole time loop culture, we could spend years watching stories about the station and the people on it without them. We don't even need the crew. It could be set before or after the shows we've seen and if the crew we knew were needed, they could be pieced together from out takes. It does not even have to be on Babylon 5 itself, it could be Babylon 1 or even something completely different. In fact, Near Space 1, a combination of the B5 and Star Trek Universes would be a good combination. Place it in time after Enterprise, but before the Original Star Trek, and in space a few hours from Earth by warp (hyper)drive.

Family Guy. Same show, same characters, but make it more "family friendly". Shows that my kids can enjoy without my wife cringing.

House. The shows with him being persecuted by a cop in the third season darn near sunk the series IMHO. They seem to have recovered and this season is much better. Right now they have toyed with him having a girl friend by presenting candidates that don't quite make it. My vote is for the "Virgin Mary". Forget the tension between Cuddy and House, it was fun at first, but it got old. By now, we don't want them to hook up. I would love to see the new improved Amber come back.

CSI. Now that we know that Sara is coming back and Grissom is leaving, it's time for a new guard to take over. Maybe the best thing to do would be promote Grissom to his boss's job. Then he can marry Sara, she can come back as a CSI, and he only needs to show up for a few minutes the entire year. If the fans don't take to it, the undersheriff can always restructure the lab and bring him back working on cases (and showing up each week). While you are at it hook up Wendy and Hodges.

CSI Miami. This is one that is going to get me in trouble. :-) I believe that Delko is really a Jew. His mother is a Converso, one of the descendants of the Jews that went into hiding after the Spanish inquisition, and his father a Russian Jew named Delkowitz. In the series, he claims to be a Catholic, but his parents would not even show up at his sister's wedding to Horatio, who is a good never married Catholic. They did not have the wedding in a Church, and her funeral was off camera. If you look at the graveyard where she is buried, there is not a single cross, statue of the Virgin Mary, or any inscription relating to Christianity on hers or the other graves. From what I can see it's an atheist or a Jewish cemetery. So let's see some shows where Horatio finally finds love, and Delko marries a nice Jewish girl.

CSI New York. Doing fine on its own with the fourth season revamped "look". Get Mac to loosen up, maybe bring back Peyton.

BattleStar Galactica. Why bother? It was a great show, but it always dies in the middle of the season. It would be good to cut the season to half the shows and get rid of the filler.

Torchwood. Not related, it's a BBC series, but come on, everyone liked it better when we thought Captain Jack was bi, and did not have to see it. The season opener would have been much better without the kissing.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
1:44 pm
Time to invest in a startup.
All investments have a risk. A friend once told me that the best investment for me was to stick the money I had under my mattress. Considering the success I've had with startups, he probably WAS right. I use the past tense. If you follow the value of the dollar, it has gone down almost 10% on the world market. The Sequel has done well so far in relation to the dollar, but as time goes on, it will "adjust" itself. The Israeli economy is based on the Dollar being 4.25 Sequels. More likely, it will be closer to 5 to 1 than 4 to 1 or last week's low of 3.70 to 1.

If you have followed other investments they all have been dropping in value. Real estate, both as a short term investment and a rentals have gone down. Many people have mortgages far beyond the current value of their property. Rents peaked here in Jerusalem last summer, when airplane loads of immigrants arrived and not understanding the market went on a feeding frenzy to rent apartments in what they had been told were good neighborhoods. When they arrived and found that they were paying twice as much rent as their neighbors, and that their rent did not include things they thought it would, they passed the word back to the next group. Not only that, but there are very few people coming with large sums of money to spend, and many are arriving, or planing to arrive to escape debt.

In the U.S. it is worse in some places, real estate is a worse investment than hi-tech stocks. Hi-tech stocks have always been risky, if you ask someone who invested in CISCO, they tell you how well they did, but what about people who invested in the competition? There was in the WSJ about the difference in value you would have if you invested $1000 in a well thought of router company, or beer. After the bubble burst, if you held on to the stock for a year, or drank the beer, the empty cans would be worth more than the stock.

Similar things are in motion now. My last posting was about Crocs, the brilliant Summer shoes, in their winter of (investor) discontent. (sorry, Bill.) Even Apple, which has been a darling of investors since they successfully faced the choice of going bankrupt or giving the company to Steve Jobs. My speculation is that the company will split into a company that makes the iPod, the love it or hate it iPhone, and iTunes which is doing very well, and a computer company, which is doing better than others, but that won't be saying much.

So if you have money to invest, either made when the market was hot and is now festering in 2%-3% savings (or going negative in stocks or real estate)? My suggestion is to invest in startups. The risk is high, very high, 95% of all startups (not just hi-tech) exit in failure and loss, and 75% of them do it in the first year. However, the rewards for those that succeed are as great. If you look at it from the point of view of someone with $100m to invest, and I understand that such a person probably would not be reading this blog, and they invest that $100m in a startup, they are likely to loose it all. If they invest $1m in 100 startups, they are very likely to make it back, and could end up making many times their investment.

So how does a small investor do that. Look for startups in the pre-seed money phase. Many startups need small amounts of money to get going. Money to incorporate,
write a business plan and shop it around, file U.S. provisional patent applications, and feed the people behind it for a few months until they get the seed money. This is not the same as an angel investor, who funds the company well into the development of the product, at least until there is a prototype and enough of a company to go to a VC fund.

The point is to never over invest. Don't put in more money than you can afford to loose. I've seen many companies here that call themselves "young", meaning no adults involved. It's usually kids just out of the army, or college and have an IDEA. They convince a family member to empty their savings, mortgage their home, or cash in their retirement plan and angel their company. They don't have any experience working on large projects, doing it all as opposed to one small part (for example programing), and don't have a clue of how to write a business plan, develop a product, or what management they really need.

You can spot them easily if their CEO is under 30, no one involved is over 50, and they are looking for a CTO, but have already chosen their technologies. You can also spot them if when they first pitch you their IDEA, they have to ask for an NDA (non disclosure agreement). If they have not already written up a description that tells you what they want to accomplish without giving it away, they it is obvious they did not do their homework, and may not even know that they have to.

Here in Israel, you have to avoid pitches for IDEAS from Israelis who believe that an Israeli patent is worth anything, or they can incorporate here with a software only idea and expect a U.S. company not to to a similar thing, only better, and crush them. I have seen many of companies that work that way. Luckily for them, I have no desire to steal anyone else's idea, even if I can see where they went wrong and can make it work. Yes, people really do publish descriptions that are so detailed I can do it. I'm sure if I can, so can 100 other people, and among them at least one who is not as ethical as I am.

I have tried to politely (and sometimes more directly) let people know that, but usually I get no response, and if I do, it's a refusal, not always polite.

I should point out that this posting is not 100% altruistic, I'm looking for someone to pre-seed a company ($20k-$30k) range, or angel ($250k-$300k) it, and I know several other pre-seed ideas that could become IDEA's with the right funding, and might even make it into products .

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
12:15 pm
A day early and a lot of dollars short.
P(ardon the spelling errors and typos, I'm using the web interface and can't figure out how to do anything usefull with the spellcheck.)

I have been following a web based video program on the stock market called "WallStrip". I found it on YouTube accidentally looking for a video about Israel and they had done a show on a mutual fund of Israeli stocks. I've been watching ever since, but not paying any attention to the stock market.


In August they had a contest to predict the pric of Crocs (CROX) stock a month later. At the time it was almost $60 a share and flying high. I predicted it would be down to $38 a share in September. I based my prediction on Crocs being summer shoes, although they do sell boots, and the strong Canadian dollar.

The season for Crocs to sell their shoes to wholesalers, which is where their profits come from, was long over by August but no one seemed to notice as in the U.S. people were still buying them. retail. A few days later a child in Singapore had a bad accident on an escalator wearing Crocs, but if you read the fine print instead of the headlines, she was wearing Crocs clones, not real Crocs.

I figured that with the increase in value of the Canadian dollar which would make Crocs more expensive, the lack of wholesale sales
and what turned out to be a public bashing of them in the press, their stock would fall.

I was wrong.. In September Crocs stock peaked at around $60 and in October peaked even higher at almost $69. I've since forgotten about Crocs except that I have a pair of them, purchased at a rediculous Israeli price (they are price fixed here) and wear them whenever I go out.

Today I was watching WallStrip and noticed in the comments by the person behind the stock predictions of the show that Crocs
are now really down and lots of money was lost and made selling them off. So I checked and the current price of Crocs stock is $29.52, up from $28.94 last week.


Oh well,  if only I had the money to invest in them and knew how to make money on a falling stock.

12:14 pm
Monday, September 24th, 2007
1:08 pm
While I was sleeping
While I was sleeping the U.S. economy has slid into a deep hole, and seems to be going further. I've been here trying to lose weight (try the South Beach Diet) and slowly recover. Meanwhile things do not look good for the U.S. economy.

Since this is an Israel and technology based blog, I'll try to keep focused on those things. In the last few years the real estate boom in the U.S. has fueled a very specific kind of oleh (immigrant). People have come here with lots of money from the sale of their home. Instead of coming here when things were bad, and hoping to send their children to the cheap colleges here, people were waiting until their children reached college age, selling their home and using the equity to buy a cheap apartment here and pay for their children's education.

Now things have changed, the same people no longer have large equity in their homes. Without cheap mortgages, no one will pay those inflated prices of a few months ago. Since most people have adjustable rate mortgages, as the rates are adjusted, they will go up. It's impossible to predict how far, but it looks like they will double in the next year or two. If inflation continues like it did in the Carter administration, they could jump from 4% to 20% per year.

Already, many homes are being foreclosed upon. Before the rate hike of the last few weeks, in some areas it was already happening. A friend who lives in rural Colorado said she has been seeing foreclosures starting around a year ago. Even with cheap money people could not keep up with the payments. They banks were happy with this, if they held on to the property for a few weeks, it would go up again, assuming they could find a buyer.

Now all of that has changed. People who were not in bad situations last month will soon be. Builders will stop building new homes and may be unable to complete ones they are working on. People who bought houses before they were built will not be able to pay for them when they are. I saw an article on an online news site about housing developments in the U.S. where there are two houses in the development still occupied.

Where do these people go? I expect that some of the Jewish ones will come here. They won't be like this summer's olim, complete with large sums of cash and a willingness to pay U.S. rents for apartments while they look for a house to buy. Rents here are much less because you get less. By the time you are done paying the taxes and other bills at the end of the month, a $1,000 a month rent is closer to $1,500. There are no real estate taxes here, instead there is an occupancy tax, which is payed by the occupant (tenant). Other taxes and utilities are paid by the tenant and if it is an apartment in a building, you pay a fee to the "building committee". This fee ranges from very little in a building where the committee only lights and sweeps the stairways, to much higher if the building has a garden, elevators or communal heating.

Years ago people came here and stayed in absorption centers. The first ones were tent cities for the olim from the Arab countries and were leaky muddy places with nothing. They are well documented in the comedy film "Sallah Shabbati" which stars Topol (of Fiddler on the Roof fame) when he still had a first name (Chaim).

The absorption centers are much nicer than that, sort of a old creaky graduate dorm. Most people from the U.S. did not want to go to them because they were crowded, dirty, had small rooms and were loaded with foreigners. Two adults got two rooms, a living/dining room/kitchen and a bedroom. Often two singles had to share a two room apartment. A family also got a two room apartment unless they had many children, then they could get three.
There are laundry facilities in the basement. Recently you could sign up for cable TV and Internet.

Most olim from the U.S., coming here with lots of money, did not want to go to them and the money used for their rent was converted into a cash benefit instead. Some of the centers were closed and the rest are not open to olim from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Recent olim preferred to ship all of their belongings except for their cars and appliances because the appliances would not work here and buy new ones. A private organization called Nefesh B' Nefesh (soul to soul) also gave them large cash payments. The actual amount they get is not known, but the maximum they give is $5,000 per person, or $20,000 a family. It's a loan for three years and if you are still here then it becomes a grant.

IMHO those days are gone. People will not be able to sell their homes for the inflated prices they had been and many will be coming because they lost their homes and or jobs to foreclosure. They will no longer be waiting for their teenaged children to "leave the nest", so there will be many teenagers coming. Teenagers often have difficulty adjusting to new situations and a totally different social structure and language will really causes problems.

My expectation is there will be a requirement for new absorption centers, school programs for teenagers that don't speak Hebrew and jobs for their parents. In the first Internet bubble, you could get a job without speaking any Hebrew, but those days are passed. Many people who speak English but not Hebrew work at call centers. Working at a call center is a good job for someone with the right personality and skills. If you are good at it you can make 2-3 times the national average wage ($1250/month) . People who are not, and are just a low level "answer the phone person", make less.

Taxes are high here, so take home pay is much less. It does include nationalized health insurance and in most cases it is better than the health insurance in the U.S. Obviously some people in the U.S. have better coverage, but most people don't.

So as the old song goes. "The Times, they are a changin'."

Sunday, June 24th, 2007
1:08 pm
The U.S. television show Jericho is coming to Israel. Jericho is about the life in a small Kansas town, called Jericho, after a nuclear attack by terrorists.

Jericho suffered from the "new" scheduling that has since failed tried by CBS and other U.S. networks. Since most people in the U.S. are busy doing other things instead of watching television from Thanksgiving to New Year's,
they stopped showing new programs. Some programs were repeated, some just disappeared.

Unfortunately, so did the viewers. When Jericho came back in the spring, the viewership, which was small before, was even smaller. If that was not good enough, there was a change in the direction of the show, and a major character became a different person. I was not happy with it happening, and so were some of the other viewers.

CBS also make a scheduling error. The worst TV time slot is against American Idol. It is so popular that Star World shows it live (at 3am in the Pacific Rim) and again that night. Both YES (which does not carry Star World anymore) and HOT, which does, show it on Saturday night. To be quite honest, the other networks could show dead air during that time, they get so few viewers and no one would notice.

While Jay Leno is always commenting on how few people watch NBC these days (his is one of the most popular programs), all the other networks compete with them for the bottom when American Idol is on. That's when the new Jericho was shown. While I am sure many more people watched Jericho via recordings, it does not count for viewership.

In the final episode of the season, the famous reply "nuts" from the "Battle of the Bulge" in World War II is featured. Unfortunately for the program a major character dies in that episode. Although they had promised a new season of Jericho after the numbers came in, they canceled it. IMHO the only thing they could have done after that episode, which to me really was bad (sucks is too kind), was to put it out of our misery.

Fans in the U.S. were far more taken with it and started a letter and email campaign to keep Jericho. The also sent nuts to CBS. Twenty tons of them. With such a loud and vociferous following, CBS announced that they would show the current season again during the summer on a different night. The night does not matter that much, American Idol is off for the season. They also promised a "mini season" next year and a full one if the viewership improves.

The letter from CBS to the fans ended with "P.S. Please stop sending us nuts".

In the life imitates art department, in one episode the Chinese parachute containers of food into Jericho. They also send blankets, a generator and fuel. Another town says their shipment came from Germany. Friday's Jerusalem Post had a story on the front page that the IDF (Israeli Air Force) is considering parachuting food into Gaza. If they do and the civil war spreads to the "West Bank", there may really be food parachuted into Jericho.

Monday, April 30th, 2007
2:51 pm
I'm back
I've been "off the air" for a while. I had some health problems which resulted in early February with a minor heart attack. I was lucky, while it happed at 3am, I was able to wake up my wife who called for paramedics. At no time did I loose consciousness, and I was in the hospital for less than a week. More about that later.

It was brought on by my weight which at the time was 185 kilo. (405 pounds). I'm doing much better now. I'm following the South Beach Diet. Since I don't have a scale that can weigh me, nor does my doctor, I have no idea if I lost any weight. I think so, but can't say for certain.

I'm eating more healthy food now, sleeping more and am able to move around more. So far, I've been on the diet for
a month and a half, hopefully I'll stick with it.

I was not blogging because I did not want the stress involved with it. Most of my readers were helpful, friendly and supportive, some where not. Just thinking about them bothers me, but I think I can go beyond them and start over.

I have a question though. I'm still into getting my old Macintosh computers going and I found a mailing list that I thought would be useful to me. It's a low volume, members only list, provided by a large organization. The list is not actively moderated (you post and if the owner does not like it, he complains or removes you) and he pays the organization nothing for the use of their computers, bandwidth etc.

I joined the list, which you need to do to see the archives. I went back and read all the messages from the beginning of the year. One of the threads was about donations. The "owner" of the list was soliciting donations to "keep the list going".

I simply don't "get it". Their only expense is their personal internet connection and computer and few minutes a week to read the postings. There is no real management time, no administrative work, no mainframe to support. If there is, then the organization running the list incurs them and he is not passing the donations on to them. I assume since the list is just a few emails a day, he spends most of his time online doing something else. Since he is a "computer geek", he would have the computer and internet access anyway.

So what are the donations supporting?

It's not this list alone, I see it on many lists, including Yahoo lists. Yahoo lists allow donations to the list "owners", but they do not allow charging membership fees or selling advertising. I can see from the lists that I am on that they don't police them very well and if someone is found to be reselling the lists (by selling their own advertising), they are told to stop, but never checked again. One list I am on had the advertising disappear for a few weeks and now it is back again.

It's interesting to note that the most active list I am on is moderated and is trying to make a business out of itself. The second most active list I am on is run by two people who contribute several times a day. At no time have they solicited donations, sold advertising, etc.

Then there are some lists, which the organization that runs the list itself charges nothing for their services, does not solicit donations and the moderator is not paid for their services. I guess like the rest of the world, it takes all types.

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