Not Spam, Exactly….

An actual email I just got:

from Ski Safe <onlinequote@skisafe.com>
to Trevor Rans <_______@gmail.com>
date May 24, 2007 6:15 PM
subject Thank you for using SkiSafeWeb (2819240821)

Thank you for your interest in insuring your craft with Ski-Safe. We have assigned a password so that you can access your records later, either for this quote (if we have been able to provide it), or for another one that you might want. If your quote required approval, it will be accessible after we have reviewed it.

Your password is [removed] and you can change it any time.
We also have representatives standing by to help you and are happy to take your
call at 1-800-225-6560.

My actual response:

from Ilan <_______@gmail.com>
to Ski Safe <onlinequote@skisafe.com>
date May 25, 2007 12:10 AM PM
subject Re:Thank you for using SkiSafeWeb (2819240821)

Dear SkiSafe and SkiSafe affiliates/loved ones,

    I do not recall expressing an interest in insuring a craft with you, nor is my name Trevor. However, as I do not, to my knowledge, own a craft of any sort currently, I would be very interested to see the craft you speak of. I would even go by the name Trevor if you would prefer. What sort of craft is it? Does it have skis, as the name of your company would imply? If so, how does it navigate on non-slippery terrain (e.g. the road outside my friend Bobby’s house, where there are several large, intimidating potholes)? Or perhaps it is a craft of an as-yet unspecified type. If so, can I choose? I believe I would choose a hovercraft (that, or a jetpack, but I hear that jetpacks tend to chafe). Yes, I think a hovercraft would be a fine choice. (They had one in that film, Back to the Future – I highly recommend it. It stars Michael J. Fox and an older fellow, whose name I cannot recall. He’s the one with white poofy hair like Einstein.)

In sum, please let me know where and when I can pick up my hovercraft and how much the insurance you are offering will cost.

Thank You,

Ilan/Trevor

I will keep you updated with whether they write me back.

Update: They responded. Proof that some organizations have a sense of humor:

from Onlinequote <onlinequote@skisafe.com>
to Ilan <_______@gmail.com>
date May 25, 2007 12:31 AM
subject RE: Thank you for using SkiSafeWeb (2819240821)

Thank you for injecting some levity into what might have been an arduous day.

Had you requested a more ordinary yacht or jet ski we might have been able to accommodate you, but alas, none of our programs cover hovercrafts (or submarines) so we must regretfully decline.

However, I appreciate your lending credence to the statement of Galileo Galilei who said:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Have a great weekend!

[name removed]

Who Was that Masked Infection?

So, short post.
I was sick last week. All of it. I had all the wrong stuff coming out of all the wrong orifices at all of the wrong times. I went to the doctor twice and the immediate care place twice, and had needles put in, fluids taken out, other fluids put in, etc. And they still don’t know what it is I am just now getting over. They checked for what they thought it was (Death-Causing Spiridium from Mars) and it came up negative, and…that’s it, it seems. So, I decided to help them out by giving them a picture, featured here. If I had to guess, I’d say that they may have been thwarted in their identification attempts because it normally appears in the wild in a clever disguise.

Ping-Pong with the Army

I went to the lishkat hagiyus, the army recruitment office, last week. It was suprisingly organized and efficient. Until the end.

In the end, I went into the final office, where they tell you, bottom line, what’s going to happen with you.

They told me that I didn’t have a giyus (enlistment) date yet, but I would get one when I got a profile (i.e. the number that represents your fitness). So I wasn’t done with them yet. Let’s start the cameras rolling…

Me:Am I not allowed to leave the country until you give me a date [as previously had been indicated to me]?
Girl 1:Yes, you won’t.
Me: When will I have a profile, then?
Girl 1: When you bring in the medical documents that you’re missing.
– Begin quest for the missing documents. –
Girl 1: Go back up to the 2nd floor, and walk into an office and ask what documents you need to get a profile.

Scene: second floor office, several minutes later.
Me: I need to know how to get my profile.
Girl 2: Did you see the doctor here?
Me: Yes.
Girl 2:: (Checking computer) Ok, let’s look at your profile.
Me: (Waits)
Girl 2: You don’t have a profile yet.
Me: Yes, I know. How do I get one?
Girl 2:You need to bring the required medical documents.
Me: Right. Which ones?
Girl 2: Oh. (Passes me off to another girl.)
Girl 3: (Checking computer) You need some missing medical documents.
Me: (Through clenched teeth with a strained voice) Yes, I know. Which ones?
I get passed off to a 4th girl who says she’ll be with me soon. I sit patiently until I don’t feel like it any more, then go back into the office.
Me: I need to know which medical documents I need to get to get a profile.
Girl 5 (or maybe this was Girl 2 again): Isn’t someone already helping you?
Me: Yes, but I don’t know where she went.
Girl 5: She’ll be with you soon. She hasn’t forgotten about you. [She had.]
Girl 4 finally walks by, and I follow her into the office.
Me: Which medical documents do I need to get?
She turns to the other girls expectantly.
Other Girls: You need medical documents.
Me: (Head explodes.)
(Practically yelling) But which documents?
One of the girls (I am fairly certain either Girl 2 or Girl 3) checks the same computer they’ve been checking all along.
Girl 2/3: You need to come back for a psychological examination.
Me: (Really wondering ‘what about the documents?’ but certainly not curious enough to bring that up again) When?
Girl 2/3: We’ll call you.
Me: (Not taking any chances) When will you call me?
Girl 2/3: Within two weeks.

And I’m spent.

Dreaming for a Day

So I wrote about Yom HaZikaron and put off writing about Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day) for almost two weeks. But I really should write about this one. Here goes.

I was walking back home from Yom HaAtzma’ut festivities with a (new) friend at 3 in the morning. Like all Jewish holidays, it started in the evening and would continue until the next evening. I had spent all night in town and I was exhausted but elated. It had been a good night. She, who’d made aliyah several years ago, turned to me and asked, “So what do you think of your first Yom HaAtzma’ut as an oleh?”

I was too jumbled to answer properly. “Ask me again in a few days,” I replied.

But she pressed me. “Come on, what’s your first impression?”

“Ummm….” I hesitated for a moment and thought back on the evening’s events. I thought back to Yom HaZikaron, and how it worked as a lead-in. The siren sounded, and the country became one organism and that organism held its breath for a minute. And this? Well, in some ways, this was the opposite. Lots of noise – people singing, dancing, teenage hooligans crowding the streets and having shaving-cream fights. And the following day? I knew what was coming: barbecues, hikes, and family time. Religious Zionists said a special set of prayers, as the day has both religious and nationalist significance. And most Jews – religious or not – were joining in the festivities in one way or another. Myself, I prayed the evening prayers with Bnei Akiva, the Zionist youth organization that had some influence on my decision to move here. It was really nice. It was right and good and appropriate. Afterwards, they showed us a video, a typical “Israel is great, look at all of our accomplishments” presentation. I found it odd, and I got the sense that those around me just weren’t that interested in it either. Because this all seemed very after-the-fact, very much preaching to the choir. We were there already, living in the Land of Israel, contributing to the State of Israel in one way or another. We didn’t need to be told how great Israel is. And in any case, if we wanted to see something to be impressed by, we could just walk outside, and marvel at everything around us that wasn’t here 60 years ago, and how it’s connected to everything that was here 2000 years ago.

Normally, while watching these presentations, I kind of get a little uncomfortable. Because when you get right down to it, they’re propaganda. They do more than put Israel in a positive light. They don’t mention all the problems we have here and therefore (1) give people a distorted image of Israel (as distortion in the positive direction is still distortion) and (2) prevent people from grappling with the issues more with the aim of resolving them.

But amid everything I was feeling, that uneasiness wasn’t there this time. I thought maybe that we could lie to ourselves just a little bit, just that day. For a moment, I focused on the positives and only the positives. For a moment, the problems – and boy, do we have problems – faded into the background.

For a moment, Israel was perfect.

I think that that moment extended for the rest of the day. I saw a friend later who I had corresponding with about political issues. It was her turn to respond. When she saw me in person, she said, “I haven’t forgotten you. I’m still thinking of what to respond.”

“It’s ok. I don’t want to talk about politics tonight anyway,” I replied, and as I said it, I realized just how true that was.

Then I saw rikudei am. It means “folk dancing,” and the closest thing we have to it in the U.S. is square dancing. But in the areas I come from, at least, it’s unpracticed and obscure. But in Israel, it’s more a part of the fabric of life. And so I found myself in Kikar Safra (Safra square, a large plaza near a bunch of the government buildings in Jerusalem) watching hundreds of people dance in synch. Most people seemed to just know the steps – at least well enough to fake it. It was surreal, like I had just walked into the middle of a musical. But the Israelis didn’t find it the least bit odd. Yes, they realized it was campy and quaint, but no one was bothered by the campiness. Rather, they reveled in it. For a moment, I could see in that group of dancers the children and grandchildren of the chalutzim, the pioneers, who hold a legendary status in Israeli cultural memory, as the original kibbutznikim, who proudly worked the land by day, spoke of a glorious future at night, and joyously danced the hora somewhere in-between. Oh, they had problems themselves aplenty, and in our day, we see some of their legacy in that regard as well. But not the night of Yom HaAtzma’ut. That night, I just saw the legends. And somehow, that felt right.

I turned to my friend to answer, and these thoughts came pouring out much more articulately than I had formulated them in my head. It was something like this:

“I think it’s a day of escapism. Normally, escapism is bad. It prevents us from dealing with the reality as it is, and excuses us from responsibilities we should be facing. But for one day, it’s inspiring. For one day, we let each person see Israel as an ideal, whatever that may be for that individual. For one day, we let people believe that Israel is as it should be, to remind them what it could be.”

And for me, that’s as it should be.

Generation Gap?

An actual conversation between me and my parents. I’m honestly not sure if this is going to make me want to talk to them more in the future or less.

Mom: have u used your webcam? we also have one but haven’t tried it yet

me: Not yet.

I feel that it’s a bit too early in my career to start uploading compromising videos to the internet.

Mom: no no no compromising videos, just your face when we are talking. or else we’ll upload those baby pix!!

me: Which ones?

There are lots more of Noam and Tali. I’m the 3rd child, remember?

Mom: how about the bathtub shots?

me: You don’t have those of me.

Mom: want to bet?

me: Yes.

[long pause]

Dad: mommy is busy fruitlessly trying to find compromising pix of u

me: I know.

Dad: …now Mommy is more determined than ever

don’t b surprised if a Noam picture is claimed to actually b u

me: I won’t.

I think I can tell the difference. Not sure.

Dad: uh oh, u should never challenge your mother, she found some

me: No way!

In an album?

Dad: how about dressed up as a classic nerd 4 Purim

me: Not good enough. She said “naked.”

Dad: Or being hugged and kissed by Judy E. at camp when you were a wee one

me: Or “bathtub” at least.

So?

Dad: How about topless in the back yard?

me: Still not doing it for me…

Dad: The Purim nerd is pretty bad

Dad: But the mother is still on a quest, still looking for naked

Dad: Busted, found the bathtub

with a girl

me: No way!

That’s Noam!

Which girl?

Dad: Tali

Since she’s bigger than u in the pic, it has to be you

me: Is this a naked picture of Tali, where I just happen to be there and naked?

Dad: Just found 11 more

many at the beach in public

me: I am “b’shok.”

That’s Israeli for “in shock.”

Dad: U and Tali are sharing a bathtub

There are also solo shots of u

me: ….

Dad: can we stop — your mother doesn’t give up and I’m hungry. This could go on all night now. I’m gonna waste away to nothingness, dying of starvation

all because you challenged your mother

u should know by now you can do that

especially if u think you’ll ever win

me: I’m stubborn. You should know that by now.

Dad: BTW, it’s a good humbling lesson for marriage as well

just something to keep in mind

me: …and we’re back to this.

Dad: how about the three of u naked in an outdoor shower

me: Ok, now you’re just making stuff up. [Editor’s note: otherwise, I should go back in time and turn them into Child Services]

Dad: U want compromising, we got plenty, now go out and find a girl so we can thoroughly embarrass u

me: …I’ll work on it. -sigh-

Dad: have a great night. I’m going to eat the woodwork (or other inedible stuff not nailed down, while your mother searches the archives.

Seriously, have a great night. Talk to u tomorrow.

me: Ok.

Later.

Dad: bye

I am speechless. For me, that’s a big deal.

I Think I’m a Clone Now

A while ago, in January, while I was training in the U.S, Nefesh B’Nefesh called me to ask if needed any help with my aliyah. It went something like this:

GUY: Ilan, hi, this is [whatever his name was; we’ll call him Stanley] with NBN. I was wondering how we can help you with your aliyah.

ILAN: I already made aliyah.

STANLEY: You did?

ILAN: Yes.

STANLEY: When?

ILAN: August.

STANLEY: Oh.

-awkward silence-

(Recall that he’s calling my American cellphone)

ILAN: I’m in the U.S. now. [pause] But only for a short while.

STANLEY: Oh.

-awkward silence-

STANLEY: Well, if you want, you can still apply for our services. Give us a call when you get back.

ILAN: Sure, thanks.

STANLEY: Bye.

ILAN: Bye.

I’m not sure if he ever realized that not only did I make aliyah, I made it with NBN. In truth, NBN is a wonderful organization, which does amazing things for many people, myself very much included, so I shouldn’t make fun of them. But it was funny.
I think I downloaded their application twice or something, and I’m in their database twice, so that in their files, there’s one Ilan who planned out the aliyah process, made aliyah, even got a generous cash grant from them; and one Ilan who never quite got off the ground.

Parallel universe much?

Kitten Leasing

So, on a scale of 1 to disturbing, should I be scared by the fact that the email indicated in this screenshot is not spam, but rather, sent by a close friend?

My life is…different than other people’s.

600,000 Flowers

So here we are again, on the eve of another Yom HaZikaron, (Israeli Memorial Day), only this time it’s different. At least, for me, it’s different.

Last time, it was the Other People we were mourning – people from stories, people from history. Even when I was living in a Yeshivat Hesder, where many of my peers were soldiers on active duty, even (and I truly hate to admit it) when those I knew were affected or even killed, I still had a level of detachment. I see that now, because I can feel that falling away. Now these people don’t just include my friends or family. They’re also the neighbors downstairs whose kids make so much noise, the barber who cuts my hair, the strangers I exchange glances with on the bus.

And now, I look at the soldiers still protecting us, mourning their fallen comrades, and realize I could be one of them. Because I recently received a tzav rishon, the first step in the army draft process. Now, I know that at 24 years old (having moved here at 23), I won’t be assigned anything resembling a standard tour of duty, and I might not end up getting drafted at all. But I’m on the list, and when I saw that letter, it affected me more deeply than I’d expected. I mean, I knew it was coming, but like a lot of things in my life lately, seeing it out-there-in-the-world caught me by surprise. There it was. The Israeli army, talking to me, asking me whether I should join them. Israelis are ‘us’ now, not ‘them.’

This morning, I opened the newspaper and saw two stories plastered across the front page: “Israel Remembers the Fallen, page 2,” and “Kassam Rocket hits House in Sderot, page 3.” One can’t help but be struck by the odd juxtaposition. We are remembering those fallen in the past even as we tearfully add the recently killed to the list. I’ve heard it said once that Israel’s problem is that it remembers too much. Past injustices and hatreds and problems don’t go away, because we’re always caught up in what happened, never able to put it behind us. That may be so – I don’t know – but I wonder if we really have a choice. We aren’t just remembering the past; the past is constantly protruding uninvited into the present. We’re putting flowers on the graves of the fallen, while missiles crash into our houses.

And the flowers. 600,000 of them are being laid on graves tomorrow, according to the newspaper. 600,000. A significant number: the population of battle-ready Jewish males that left Egypt for the Land of Israel, and roughly the population of Jews in the very same Land of Israel in 1947, right before the creation of the state. In Ancient Egypt, there was an enemy with an irrational hatred of us, who subjected us to inhuman suffering just because. And we left, the 600,000 men taking their families with them. 3000+ years later, 600,000 Jews faced a similarly implacable enemy. And now, we put 600,000 flowers on 22,305 graves, get up, and continue fighting the same war we’ve been fighting for 60 years, the same war we’ve been fighting for 3000 years, ever since we were forged into a nation in the iron furnace of Egypt.

Put the past behind us? Some days I wish we could. I really do. But it’s simply not possible.

The question here, the real important question, is what do we do on Yom HaZikaron? Because I think this says a lot about us – how we remember, how we mourn. Rather than succumb to the bitterness that, arguably, we have a right to, we hold our ceremonies, and we tell our stories. We honor our fallen and commit ourselves to pursue the values they died fighting for. And we sound a siren, and for a full minute, everything else stops. Everything listens to the siren wailing for potential lost, families torn asunder, and rivers of tears shed. The same siren is sounded on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the two couldn’t be more different. True, both are for Jews killed by their enemies, and both are a way of remembering and honoring the departed. But while the deaths in the Holocaust stand silently in defiance of explanation, dragging reason kicking and screaming from the room, the deaths in Israel’s wars are a result of people fighting for Israel. They’re a result of people living lives of meaning, lives of purpose, lives of dedication to something greater than themselves. And when you look at it that way, it’s a bit easier to staunch the flow of bitterness. When you look at it that way, it makes a lot more sense that at the moment that Yom HaZikaron ends, Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day) begins. We’re not just fighting the wars of the past; we’re also living the dream of the past. The two are linked.

Last night, I heard in great detail, the story of Roi Singer, a doctor who was among the first miliumnikim (reservists) sent into Lebanon last summer. As he told his story, I tried to imagine myself in his shoes, performing surgery under fire, or as one of the soldiers he was treating. It was a weird feeling, to say the least. Yes, I know: I likely won’t see active combat any time soon. But there’s still that letter from the army sitting on my desk. I still have a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday to see if I’m fit for combat. And I’m still going to the enlistment office in a week or so, as ordered by the government. No matter how this turns out in my particular case, that little letter was an important one to me. Here’s the government saying, in its own bureaucratic way, “like it or not, you’re part of our story now, not just a spectator. You can’t stand on the sidelines anymore; we have more than enough people there. It’s time to be an active participant.” I just hope I’m up to the task.

Question Thursday Extravaganza

So… I’ve moved into my apartment and things are starting to calm down (see the response to Lauren’s question below for more info on that) and to make up for missing the last few Thursdays, I am going to answer every single question I’ve received to date. Granted, that’s only eleven questions, but that’s all I got. Hmmm…perhaps it would be more impressive if I said I’m going to answer every single question while submerged upside-down in a 200-gallon tank of water. You can’t see me right now, so let’s assume I’m bubbling away here, answering in my own damp fashion1. Ok, so here we go:

Eli: Why?
Answertron 3042: Because I said so. Kids? Kids? Stop fighting back there, or no porridge for a wee- Ow! That’s it! Once more, and I will turn this blog around. No rollercoasters, no funnelcakes, no watching slaves getting fed to lions, do you hear me?

Eli: Why me?
Answertron 3042: According to one popular theory in modern physics, there are an infinite number of possible universes in existence. Hence, in a smaller, but still infinite number, there are an infinite number of Elis all asking “Why me?”2 If you got this infinite number of Elis in a room together (yes, it would be a big room) and gave them an infinite amount of time with an infinite number of typewriters, a lot of Elis would probably get pretty stained with all that ink. Other Elis would form a free-market economy, using the typewriters as a currency, while still others3 would use the typewriters as crude weapons, vying for brute-force dominance of the infinite Eliverse…
In other words, um, I dunno.

Stuart: What’s the best place to store nuclear weapons around the house so the kids don’t get into them?
Answertron 3042: Nebraska.

Stuart: Can white men sing the blues?
Answertron 3042: Yes, if you upset them enough. Try telling them that their pimped-out Escalade doesn’t make them look ‘ghetto.’ Or drill a hole in one of their yachts. Or remind them that they are just cogs in a consumer-driven, laissez-faire free-market economy, where while nothing’s truly free, value is placed on nothing, resulting in overindulgence in their drab and meaningless existences in a vain attempt to ignore the desperate ennui slowly sapping all life from their bones. Then kick them in the groin really hard. That should work.

Stuart: Can blue men sing the whites?
Answertron 3042: Only in Canada. You sicko.

Stuart: What is the circumference of Rosie O’Donnell?
Answertron 3042: Three Olsen twins.

Stuart: If a woodchuck would chuck as much as it could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood, doesn’t the woodchuck have a pretty boring existence?
Answertron 3042: Who are you to judge the woodchuck community? They have had many great contributions to society, including the invention of sporks, the concept of irony, and vocal intonations indicating the end of a thought. (Before woodchucks, people would poilitely wait for a few seconds of silence before replying in a conversation. Dramatic pauses were dreadfully difficult, and a episode of West Wing would take 3 hours, at which point the actors would all collapse from exhaustion from all that walking and talking.4)

Stuart: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie roll center of Tara Reid’s brain?
Answertron 3042: Now you’re just being plain mean. ::crosses robotic arms:: That’s it. I refuse to answer. Now go to your room, Stuart, and think about what you’ve done.

Reb Chaim: Here’s a question for you: The Torah says that during the Exodus the Jews did not have enough time for their bread to leaven, so they ate unleavened breads, which is why there is an obligation to eat Maztah on Pesach. However, let’s say they had enough time for their bread to rise, they still would not have eaten leavened bread because it’s Chametz and it was Pesach, so why do we need the reason that they had no time for the bread to rise, just say they didn’t eat leavened bread because it was Pesach?
Answertron 3042: So the children would ask. No, seriously – both happened, and there are two different aspects to matzah, each part of a (somewhat ) separate holiday that starts on the 15th of Nissan.

Lauren: What is wrong with the Thursday question thing?
Answertron 3042: I am now in fully functioning order, ma’am, and I suggest you be more sensitive in the future. How would you feel if someone asked you what was wrong with you, then you went and told the teacher and the other kids heard and didn’t let you play with the nice red ball and you got stuck with the stupid blue ball and you could only play with Harold, the kid with all the food allergies and the inhaler, but who needs those other kids anyway and no, I’m not crying. I just have a cold.

Lauren: And how serious are the Thursday questions allowed to be?
Answertron 3042: As serious as you want. Mind you, I won’t necessarily answer serious questions seriously. I might even answer them ironically.

Lauren: Is it too late to submit a question?
Answertron 3042: Can’t…. continue…. questions too…. meta…. ::Answertron 3042 explodes, leaving pieces all over cyberspace.::5

  1. We are going to deliver all answers using the new, high-tech Answertron 3042, to expedite the answering process, and because robots are freakin’ awesome.^
  2. Some of those Elis have tentacles.^
  3. Probably including the tentacled Elis.^
  4. Plus, William Shatner couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but I’m not saying that was a bad thing.^
  5. Lauren, you owe me a new question-answering robot. And chocolate. I want chocolate.^

Breaking Design Rules

I’ve been getting into web design more and more these days. I mean, in-between moving into a new apartment, the various random holidays around now, working 8-5. You know. Web design is really interesting in that it blends graphic design and programming and demands quite a lot of the designer (or team of designers) and presents some really interesting challenges (e.g. architects never have to worry that different users of their building will see different things based on the configuration of their eyes…) I’ll spare you further elaboration.

As he tends to, Jason Kottke linked to a really interesting website, which, as he notes,

breaks pretty much every rule that contemporary web designers have for effective site design. The site is a linear progression of images, essentially 30 splash pages one right after another. It doesn’t have any navigation except for forward/back buttons; you can’t just jump to whatever page you want. July barely mentions anything about the book and only then near the end of the 30 pages. There’s no text…it’s all images, which means that the site will be all but invisible to search engines. No web designer worth her salt would ever recommend building a site like this to a client.

And he’s completely right. Believe me, I’ve read enough web designers’ writings (and boy do they looove writing about it) to know that they would turn up their noses at the idea of this. Yet I wonder if they would when confronted with it face-to-face. Because the site works, Kottke continues,

because the story pulls you along so well….The No One Belongs Here More Than You site is a lesson for web designers: the point is not to make sites that follow all the rules but to make sites that will best accomplish the primary objectives of the site. (emphasis added)

Which is a terribly good point. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid of the web design community; they have mantras that they repeat and follow, not blindly, but with an implicit understanding that they are not to be violated without a really compelling reason. And sometimes, when you do that, you miss the point.