Comic #3

Ok, party people. Here it is. Enjoy (and click to enlarge): Comic 3: Yes, guys can be this desperate. Not a pretty sight.

Here We Go

So, apparently, due to this unexpected (though totally appreciated) plug, I now have some fans. Like, people I don’t know personally in the real-world-out-there. Weird. To think, all it took was an hour with a digital drawing program and my twisted take on the uncomfortableness of first dates. (Ok, ilan, enough with the linking to your own posts, already!) Problem is, it looks like to fulfill people’s demands (and anyone who knows me well knows that I need,need,need to please people, sometimes to the point of psychological malady) I’m going to have to come up with some more comics, when I wasn’t really planning on making a series out of it. It was just another one of my dabblings. I tend to try various media on for size, and in that vein, I’ve made movies, mixed music, and played with Photoshop and other digital imaging – that sort of thing. Some of those results appear here and there on this site. I thought I’d give the comic a shot, but didn’t plan on continuing. But here goes. Expect another comic, say, within a week or so, ok? We’ll see where we go from there.

Ah, the burdens we bear. I already feel like a martyr to the holy cause of entertainment.

Matthew Lukwiya, Passion, and Competence

There’s a tragedy I see often: well-meaning people who lack of competence to get their ideas off the ground, to be able to help the world in the ways that they think it needs help. And they are amazing ideas, to be sure. (I think this is the part where I’m going to upset people….Please understand that I’m not saying that I know any better than these people, only that I wish I could help them.) I see this most tragically in chinuch. Teaching, since it is not the highest paying job in the world (and that’s a gross understatement here in Israel) is done by a group of people self-selected – not necessarily for ability, but desire. People who want to teach children are the ones who do. And a job that delicate requires a certain kind of intuition, a certain kind of competence that can’t always be taught.

But I digress. What I wanted to get at is that there are people who are really good at things, and there are people who truly have their hearts in the right place, but to find both present in abundance is rare. This is why I was really, really impressed by Doctor Matthew Lukwiya, fom Uganda. Lukwiya isn’t a household name or anything, but he should be. In the fall of 2000, Ebola broke out in Uganda. The fact that it “only” took 173 lives can largely be attributed to Dr. Lukwiya. You see, containing a disease as incurable, deadly, and contagious as Ebola is requires a very special mix – a fierce determination to help, even in the face of possible infection, and the professional rigor required to properly isolate existing victims and diagnose new ones. These qualities are precisely what Dr. Lukwiya had, and why he was so effective. A less dedicated man would have run away in fear, and a less competent man would have gotten infected himself before he even started containing the threat. I’ll stop talking about the story. Read it for yourself. Here’s a bit I copied from the Wikipedia article on him:

On the morning of 8 October, Lukwiya informed staff of his suspicion that the illness was a viral hemorrhagic fever. That afternoon, a group of local community leaders came to the hospital reporting that entire families were dying in their villages. He ignored the usual bureaucratic protocols and placed a direct call to Dr. Sam Okware, Uganda’s commissioner of community health services, who dispatched a team from the Uganda Virus Research Institute to take blood samples. By the time the team arrived, Lukwiya had already set up an isolation ward for suspected Ebola cases, in line with the WHO guidelines. The special ward was staffed by three doctors, five nurses and five nursing assistants, all volunteers.[1] When a South African lab confirmed the Ebola outbreak in October 15 , and a WHO delegation arrived in Gulu, they were astonished at the efficiency of the operation.

The crisis continued to worsen. By the third week of October, the number of Ebola patients had increased to almost 60, overwhelming the volunteers in the isolation ward. Lukwiya ordered other nurses to assist the patients and tried to lead by example, working with Ebola patients from 7 am to 8 pm. However, despite instituting risk minimization procedures, including wearing of robes, multiple gloves, surgical masks and goggles, hospital workers continued to fall ill. Twelve more died. At the funeral of an Italian nun on 7 November, he attempted to rally the morale of his workers: “It is our vocation to save life. It involves risk, but when we serve with love, that is when the risk does not matter so much. When we believe our mission is to save lives, we have got to do our work.”

Matters reached a breaking point in late November. While the national epidemic had already peaked, St. Mary’s endured a terrible day. In the 24-hour period ending at the dawn of 24 November, seven patients died, three of which were health workers. Two of these were nurses who did not work in the isolation ward. The thought of infections being passed to health workers who did not directly care for Ebola patients panicked many and the nurses mutinied. The day-shift did not go to work; instead 400 health workers, nearly the entire staff of St. Mary’s, gathered in the assembly hall of the nursing school. When Lukwiya rushed down to ask what they wanted, at least one nurse yelled that the hospital should be closed. Lukwiya silenced the nurses, most of whom he had trained himself, by stating that if the hospital closed he would leave Gulu and never return. He then spoke on how he had let himself be abducted by the rebels rather than risk St. Mary’s and that they would be responsible for the deaths that would result if the hospital closed. After hours of contentious discussion that extended into the afternoon, Lukwiya switched back to a conciliatory approach, stating that he would remain no matter if everyone left. The meeting ended with him and the nurses singing a song together; he had prevailed.

I simply read the article and was floored by it. He was a truly impressive man. Unfortunately, though, he died in the process of ending the epidemic. Dr. Lukwiya was a hero whose example we ought to emulate – both in his passion and his competence. May he rest in peace.

Comic #2

So, since my first try at writing a comic met with some positive feedback, I figured I’d have a go at a second one. I think it’s kind of how I imagine things going before I say what’s on my mind. That, taken to a ridiculous extreme. Enjoy (and click to enlarge): Comic 2: alternate-universe girl is kinda cute....

Serendipity

With the new site finally up, I decided to get around to writing all sorts of backlogged posts I had planned. Here goes.

I came across this article a while ago, and it struck a chord. William McKeen, a professor, the chairman of the University of Florida department of journalism, writes about serendipity, and how we may be losing it in the modern era of efficient searching and information at our fingertips:

There’s an art to finding something when you’re not looking for it.

In my freshman class at the University of Florida, I require the 240 students to subscribe to the New York Times Monday through Friday. I haven’t even finished announcing this in class the first day, when the hands shoot up. “Can’t we just read it online?” they ask, the duh? implicit.

“No,” I say and the eyes roll. They think I’m some mossback who hasn’t embraced new media.

“Why not?” Challenging, surly, chips on the shoulders.

“Because then you would only find what you’re looking for.”

Serendipity is a historian’s best friend and the biggest part of the rush that is the daily magic of discovery. It’s one of those small things that make life worth living, despite all the torment, pain, tragedy and stifling Interstate traffic.

Serendipity is defined as the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally. There’s so much of modern life that makes it preferable to the vaunted good old days – better hygiene products and power steering leap to mind – but in these disposable days of now and the future, the concept of serendipity is endangered.

Think about the library. Do people browse anymore? We have become such a directed people. We can target what we want, thanks to the Internet. Put a couple of key words into a search engine and you find – with an irritating hit or miss here and there – exactly what you’re looking for. It’s efficient, but dull. You miss the time-consuming but enriching act of looking through shelves, of pulling down a book because the title interests you, or the binding….

Keep reading…

This stuff interests me on several levels. First of all, I like thinking about the computer revolution and what it has done (and is doing) to our society. I’m not sure if we realize just how radically some things are changing. This is a great example. McKeen isn’t just talking about how we manage one area of our lives; this is pervasive. It’s about how we approach information, be it informative (e.g. a research paper, a newspaper article), entertaining (movies, music, books) or somewhere in-between. And as he points out, it extends even past there, to a sense of shared ideas. If we all listen to the radio, there’s commonality. But if I listen to my music and you listen to yours, and no other, then we lose that. I think McKeen is right – that’s a problem. Question is, what do we do about it?

Funny thing is, the other reason I found this article so interesting was that I tend to rely on serendipity quite a bit, especially when surfing the web. McKeen didn’t note that while we tend to browse less in the Internet Age, when we do, it’s a lot more productive (not efficient; I don’t know if you can talk of efficiency in an activity like browsing.) And I don’t think I’m alone. How many people look one thing up in Wikipedia, then get sidetracked on a fascinating exploration of some topic they’ve never read about? And how many are doing that simply because it’s just so easy to navigate from one to the other with a single click? I read a lot on the web, and it isn’t usually what I’m looking for. Often, I’m not even looking for anything specific. Isn’t that serendipity too?

Comic

So, I decided to try my hand at writing a comic strip. Not regularly or anything, but this just popped into my head more or less fully formed. It seems to have concerned my friends. No, in case you were wondering, I’m not that bad:

why I shouldn't date

The Ending is Where We Start From

Notice: This post is cross-posted at both of my old sites. Read on, and you’ll understand why.

Life’s a funny thing, they say.

I started blogging in 2003, as a sophomore in college. It was at the encouragement of a few friends who found my goofy sense of humor funny, and were willing (even eager) to read humorous pieces I had written. And boy, were they goofy. Some of the most creative (and dare I say inspired?) stuff I’ve written came out of that period, actually. And much to my surprise, people started reading. Not the ‘public,’ whoever they are, but people I knew – my siblings, and other friends and family – people who I wasn’t even writing for originally. They actually found me genuinely funny. It was weird. My siblings, both older, never seemed to really admire me for anything, and now, it seemed, I was impressing them, and their friends. It was very cool, a real ego boost. And time went on, and I continued updating, with the occasional 3-month dry spell. I never got to the point of posting regularly or particularly frequently, likely due in a large part to my commitment to producing original work, rather than linking to other people’s creations. Well, that and procrastination….

Allow me to digress here for a minute. I was something of an oddity in the blogging world. Most bloggers maintain readership by posting often. Typically, either these posts involve descriptions of their day-to-day lives, something which one never really runs out of material for, or they’d post links to other creative work, occasionally with added commentary. I was not prepared to broadcast the details of my life to the general public, and I didn’t want to exist remora-like, living off the scraps left by the real producers of writing, images, music, and video. I wanted to be one of those producers, by writing relatively impersonal, humorous pieces. And that’s pretty hard to do regularly, or it was for me, anyhow. But I kept at it, because even though my number of daily hits rarely crept above 10, it also didn’t really sink down to zero. People were reading, so I continued writing, albeit sometimes infrequently. About a year and a half after starting blogging, it occurred to me that I had what to write that wasn’t goofy and humorous. The material I had in mind was downright serious. And so I had a problem. I couldn’t just post those pieces on the original blog, like nothing was different, because I didn’t want to turn away readers who had come to expect humor. But I still wanted to share my thoughts on weightier matters than the odd contents of my fridge.

So I started a second blog, this site.

This just compounded my problems. Ideally, I would have a regularly updated blog, with many readers and an active and lively comments section. By creating a second blog, for my ‘serious’ stuff, I was splitting my efforts and my readership, and ultimately hurting my progress in reaching my goals. But what could I do? I kept updating both blogs, and people (still very few) read both. I wanted to upgrade. But how? Well, for starters, if I was going to maintain two blogs, when one could probably suffice, I could at least make them both stand out. Thus began the big redesign. After a few false starts, I redesigned each blog in turn, from the bottom up. The functionality remained the same, but they got all dressed up in what I thought were nice makeovers. Still, while I wasn’t getting at the main issue, I ran into others. Blogger wasn’t giving me the flexibility and control I wanted to have with my site, nor did I have online storage to use. Plus, the web addresses were long and cumbersome – there were regular readers who sometimes forgot them. So I decided on a new non-solution, something I’d been planning on doing anyway. Enter the as-yet-unused bitsofink.com. I thought it was a neat little title which happened to be available – using a play on the word “bits” to connote digital writing, and a kind of meshing of the past and present, something I try to aim for in my writing. (Ok, so I guess that sounds a little pretentious. Mea culpa.) So then the question was “now what?” Well, I could (and did, actually) import the two blogs into one, hosted at bitsofink. But this wasn’t a solution either – not yet, anyway. People would need to be redirected to the new site (actually, not such a difficult problem to solve), plus, what would become of the new designs? They centered around their banners, and the new combo-blog would be called something different. So if I wanted a new site, I’d need a new design. I got as far as designing the banner, which I just dropped into a (fairly boring) pre-made template. But I continued updating the two Blogger sites, and nothing really changed.

Finally, the final straw came. You see, as I continued writing in the ‘serious’ blog, I found that I was writing more and more personal material. And life has a way of not being easily placed into ‘humorous’ or ‘serious’ boxes. Life just is, and we just live it – lovely and crazy and giddy and depressing as it is. It’s sometimes so terrifying you have to laugh, and sometimes so laughable you have to cry, and sometimes, it’s just wabi-sabi. So I was coming up with posts that didn’t belong in one of the two blogs, but somewhere in-between. So I decided I’d just have to bite the bullet and do it. So I worked on a redesign that I think is nice enough to justify the move and the abandonment of the old sites. I’ve imported all of the old posts and even marked them with which blog they originally came from (using fun little icons. I still have a few things to tweak, and I need to clean up the old imported posts so they look right and such, but things are more or less up and running. Now I can get back to posting in earnest, and maybe even persuade some of the other bloggers who read my stuff to throw a link or two my way (hint, hint) to help me finally get this operation off the ground. The old sites will remain up, and I’ll put up a notice to that effect within a week, but all new updates will be at the new site.

Phew, who knew blogging could be such hard work?

Conversations, Part 2

So I seem to get weirder when I get more tired. I finally got my American (VOIP) phone line working at something like 1 or 2 in the morning, so I called some friends to let them know. After all, for $200 / 15 months, it’s free to call anywhere in the U.S. (Nice, eh?) So I called my friend R, and we had this conversation:

[Phone rings.]

Me: Hey.

R: Who is this? Jesus?

Me: [Hesitating] Yes.

I have a mission for you. Go out and buy lots of flamingoes. Buy all the flamingoes. Form a flamingo army.

Tie them to your waist, and [dramatic pause] fly, fly, fly.

Fill the sky with pink.

R: What???

Me: I don’t know. You said I was Jesus.

R: Yeah, but- what??

Me: Never mind.

Yelling With You?

A story today – one of the best illustrations of typical Israeli behavior that I’ve ever heard. A friend of mine made aliyah with her family when she was 10. She had 3 sisters (one older, two younger) and their father stayed back in the U.S. to finish up some business stuff, intending to join his wife and 4 children as soon as he could. Their first apartment was 7 floors up, in an otherwise empty building that (as luck would have it) had the electricity and water turned off. (Let me emphasize for any readers out there who are not familiar with Israel: Israel has a first-world infrastructure. This was an oddity.) The mother of the family called and tried to get the city to turn on their utilities, as they were supposed to, but despite promises she received, nothing changed. This, in addition to dealing with everything a new immigrant has to deal with, on top of having 4 children under the age of 13 in a country fairly foreign to them, with her husband over 6000 miles away, was more than a little stressful.

So one day, she was driving the car they had rented for the first couple of weeks, and she accidentally turned the wrong way onto a one-way street. It happens to the best of us, especially when we’re stressed and preoccupied. She encountered another car driving the correct way, who responded in typical Israeli fashion by honking his horn vigorously, to alert the poor woman that she was wrong and he was right, and she should therefore get the heck out of his way. He soon escalated. He got out of his car, walked over to hers, and started yelling at her, a far more effective way of informing her in no uncertain terms that she was driving the wrong way and what the heck was wrong with her and was she an idiot and so on and so on. It was too much. She got out of the car and started yelling back, letting all of her troubles out, emphasizing that she wasn’t an idiot, she just had no power, no water, 4 daughters underfoot, an absentee husband, and she was a new immigrant. The other driver still worked up, just got angrier, but this time on her behalf. “You have no power, and no water? That’s just unacceptable!” He promptly marched down to the city offices with her and yelled at enough people till they turned on her power and water.

That’s Israelis. They’ll yell at you about the small things, and yell for you about the big things.

Conversations

I seem to have some of my more interesting conversations online.
Take this one, from today. I was complaining about not getting enough sleep to my friend Eli:

Eli: may i suggest a method?

set an alarm for when u want to go to sleep…

me: And train a monkey with a tire iron to knock me out when he hears the alarm?

Eli: and treat it like the wake up alarm

lol

yeah, that might work

me: Been there, buddy.

Eli: ah

ok

i never knew u had a pet monkey, though

that’s pretty cool

me: Well, I don’t have one anymore!

The migraines were unbearable. And there was that incident with the guest.