July 30, 2015

Starting From The Very Beginning - The Big Bang

The time has come to reveal my cards. Not only are my politics tilted towards the left wing, I'm also a religious person, even if I don't obey all of the Mitzvot (I hope that the ones I'm missing are the ones between me and god, but I'm not entirely sure).
So if I believe in god why do I also believe in the Big Bang and modern geology, and Evolution and so on? Only because I think that the theories of modern science are doing a pretty good job of explaining the world around us. I would try, with my very humble abilities to explain why and how, but many authors, far better than myself have already done so. The photos at the end of the post mention two very good books about these subjects.
So if I believe in god, why do I also believe in the big bang? simply because I think that the Big Bang proves god's existence. After all, if the constants for creating the universe were even very slightly different, there would be no atoms in it, much less planets or life. I think it a proof of god's existence that he (or she) managed to create such a wonderful universe based on such a small number of particles and principles.
What does all of this have to do with left wing politics? Very simple. If any left wing ideology does not insist on the fruits of modern science, it has given almost all of the ground right there. There is no way of convincing anyone of doing something 'against nature', if there aren't very powerful arguments at the other end of the scale...
Note: the video above is of Amnon Yitzchak, a Jewish religious person who clearly does not believe in the Big bang, Evolution and the rest of the lot, kudos for anyone who tells me of Christians using similar lines of reasoning and rhetoric.

July 22, 2015

Radio Ramallah vs. Halfon Hill

So last week I said that I wanted to start describing my left wing ideology in a more or less chronological order, and this is what I want to start doing now.
Despite of my chronological obligations, I think it makes sense to first describe my general way of thinking, which could be stated thus: 'The aim of Zionism in general, and of the State of Israel in particular should be the creation of an Eastern Democracy.'
It seems to me that more or less all of the political spectrum represented in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), would not agree with this statement, (certainly not the Jewish parties), either in theory or in practice.
Generally speaking Israeli left wing politics is influenced by western democracies in general, and left wing parties in these states in particular. Sometimes one might hear the left wing fighting against the discrimination of Arabs (or even Israeli Jews of Mizrahi origin), but my impression is that the main claim in these cases goes something like: 'They don't know how to be Western like us, so they are further back, and we should, out of the goodness of our hearts, help them move forward.'
Generally speaking I can't understand the vision guiding Israeli right wing politics, at least in the last quarter century. On the one hand the Israeli right wing is 'For Mizrahi Jews', but it does not really incorporate Mizrahi Jews in key positions. On the one hand it is for equal opportunities to Israeli Arabs, on the other hand it is not. On the one hand it says that we are the only democracy in the middle east, on the other hand it sabotages the aforementioned democracy out of fear, coupled with admiration to the states surrounding us. The least I can say is that I don't get it.
Now I think, and will tediously explain later, why I think that my vision is not only 'nice to have', but rather, the only possible vision under the current constraints (the State of Israel is a very small force in the middle east, or in any other region that we'd care to define ourselves as a part of), but for the rest of this post, I'm just going to explain the title.
'Radio Ramallah' is a song appearing at the very end of the very influential 1986 disc 'Dust and Ashes' by Yehuda Poliker. The lyrics to this song were written by Yaacov Gilad, an Ashkenazi Jew, who was in his youth a member of a communist youth movement. The song describes the life of an adolescent  in 1965 who draws his ideas about Rock music from the Radio Ramallah station (an Arab station, beyond the border in 1965). Layla, his favorite broadcaster stops broadcasting after the conquest of the city and the radio station by the IDF in 1967, as a part of the six Day War.
This represents my vision in its tragic form. We may draw some inspiration from the countries (and the cities) around us, including 'western' inspiration, but the wars are disturbing the realization of this vision.
The movie 'Halfon Hill Does not Answer' is a very famous Israeli 1970s comedy usually screened at least once every Israeli independence day. It represents my vision in a comic way. According to the movie both the Israeli and the Egyptian soldiers have relatively low interest in matters of defense. There is some 'action' in the film (the character of Victor Hasson is taken captive by the Egyptians and then freed by the Israeli forces), but the impression created is that Hasson is not really a captive with the Egyptians, but rather an good conversational partner regarding such issues as the proper way to make black coffee, and the relative merits of different Cairo neighborhoods (the actor playing Hasson, Shaike Levy, did make Aliyah from Egypt.)
It is worth remembering in this context the Hasson was taken captive after taking the wrong path to the sea, wishing to fish.
In conclusion, there are certain flashes resembling my ideas in Israeli culture, but certainly they are not central in it...

July 16, 2015

More or Less Chronologically

I'm going to make a gross generalization now, and I don't care so much.

According to this generalization the difference between the political left wing and the political right wing is as follows:

- The left wing has a bold and shiny plan for a bold and shiny future

- And the right wing wished to return to an imagined past, where everything was fine.

According to this gross generalization, the problem with the left wing is that the bold and shiny future it offers us might include all kinds of problems we didn't think of (as far as I understand, this is the problem that the Israeli right wing has with the Oslo accords, and both the Israeli and the US right wing have with the recent deal with Iran).

The problems with the right wing are that the past it offers us did not really happen (this is just a problem with the truth value of these claims, not necessarily with their efficiency a political agenda), and that the imagined past does not fit present day problems and concerns (this is the main problem of Israeli society at least in the past decade, in my opinion).

Therefore, I'll try to create a left wing agenda while considering the past (the real one as far as we can tell), while trying to learn from it as much as possible, in order to avoid mistakes in the future.

The order of the posts from now on (at least in the near future) will be more or less chronological).

July 9, 2015

There Are Many Roads

So like I said last week, in the foreseeable future I'm planning to devote this blog, to an Israeli left wing ideology.
I don't think that there is only one conceivable way to be an Israeli left winger. On the contrary, I think that there are many ways to do it.
I'm trying to think of such an Israeli left wing ideology, that there would be enough space to its left to create another fully Zionist left wing ideology, and enough space to the right so that again, there would be yet enough space for a left wing ideology.
I hope I'll have enough inspiration...

July 1, 2015

Added in Translation

I have written in my Hebrew blog earlier this week, which is already a cause for celebration.
The point is that what I have written is a justification for what I plan to do in my Hebrew blog from now on for the next while.
What I plan to do in my Hebrew blog for the next while is to write out an Israeli left wing ideology.
What I have written is that the loss of the Israeli left wing in the last elections (last March), was all my fault.
It all referred to a Hebrew video by the once famous Hachamishia Hakamerit (chamber quintet), where one of the members explains in a serious monologue why Israel's loss in the Lebanon war (1982-2000) was all his fault.
as far as I know, there is no translation for this video, so I provide it here in the original, perhaps it will help to elucidate my point even in English...

June 22, 2015

Moving On

I started the series of posts regarding technology something like four years ago, after reading the Steven Jobs biography.
During this time, my job writing educational plans ended, I worked as a translator for a short while, but mainly I've studied how to be a teacher, and I've taught math for almost three year in various schools and colleges in and around Beer Sheva for the past three years.
Teaching is not at all what I thought. I thought it's an easy lousy paying job, but turns out it's a hard well paying job...
Hence I have less time to write, but more stuff to write about.
On the plus side I have a summer vacation (started yesterday), so prepare for a new (and perhaps surprising) series of posts.
I plan to blog often during the summer, but after that, all bets are off...

September 1, 2014

Google - a Force for Good With a Few Qualifications

Google started off as a search engine. This is certainly not news. Along the way, in the past almost sixteen years, it has tried to be many other things:

An Email giant,
The guys who would replace Microsoft Office with a free alternative,
The guys who would write a new programming language for the web,
The guys who would digitize all the books in the world,
The guys who would replace Facebook as a social network,
The guys who would map the entire map street by street,
The world's biggest video website,
and a bunch of other stuff.

When you try to do this much, you evidently step on a few toes, such as the ones of the people who appear on the maps, of the people who own the copyrights to the books you want to digitize etc.
Sometimes just trying 'Not to be Evil' is not good enough.
But nevertheless, I hope some of the stuff they are doing is going to change the world for the better...

August 25, 2014

Amazon - A Force for Good - With a Few Qualifications

I am pretty sure that when people will talk, say in the year 2100 or 2200, about the early years of the 21st century (and actually also about the last days of the 20th century), one of the key developments they will mention is the move from books to eBooks.
Right now we are in the middle of this development, indeed revolution, and so we don't see how huge it really is, but it is huge.
Twenty years ago in a normal sized town, one had access to maybe 40,000 books in normal bookstores. Nowadays its closer to two million at one's desktop.
Of course there has been a parallel change with academic libraries and online research materials.
At the end, IMHO, this is what will eliminate ignorance.
While there are other noteworthy endeavors, such as Project Gutenberg, and Google Books (quite limited where I live), I think Amazon is the main force behind this revolution.
Of course there are problems with Amazon, such as tax problems, this whole Hachette business, and other stuff, but all in all I think they are a force for the good.
I only wish they would pay their employees a bit more...

August 19, 2014

Why I didn't Like Amazon's Letter

The funny thing about the letter I got from Amazon a little while ago, is that I perfectly agree with its beginning.
I think paperbacks were a great thing. Most of the books in the house I grew up in were paperbacks, in several languages.
I even recognize the claim made by 'serious literature types' regarding the danger of paperbacks back then, and regarding eBooks now. The claim that these 'new inventions' are 'ruining the industry'.
Heck, I'm a publisher who publishes only eBooks in the past four years, you really don't need to convince me on that account.
However, I don't think that the policy of asking publishers to set their prices a certain way is a good thing.
Amazon asks Hachette etc. to lower the price of eBooks, and in a way it asks me to raise them (like I said, I can no longer give free samples of my books via Amazon).
So this policy by Amazon asks everyone to play on the same field at least as far as prices are concerned.
I don't think that this is a good thing. I don't think that the average customer trusts me the same way it trusts Hachette. Probably they never even heard of me.
So how can I get some market share if Hachette and I are required to play on the same field?
I can't, is the short answer.
Ergo, this policy by Amazon is actually not so good for the 'biodiversity' of the eBooks industry...

August 11, 2014

A Letter I Just Got from Amazon

Here is a letter I just got from Amazon:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

Am I going to write a letter to the Hachette group? I don't think so...
I'll explain why next week...

August 4, 2014

Why KDP Doesn't Work For Me Any More

So, like I said, my book "Keter Malchut" has been available on Amazon for a bit more than two years now.
During this entire period, I think I sold something like four copies, and this is fine by me.
It used to be that once every quarter one could offer one's book for free for five days. It was possible to to it for any five days, not necessarily consecutively, but I almost always did consecutive.
All of my sales resulted from these 'discounts', but better yet, something like 240 people downloaded my free book.
Nowadays, it's only possible to offer my book at a discount, and this doesn't work for my book... :(
I'm not sure what I should do next...

July 29, 2014

The Trouble with Kindle Fire

Something like five posts ago, and more than a year and a half ago, I said I would get both me and my (now) nine year old son a Google Nexus 7 tablet.
Well I did. About eight moths ago. While no one and no thing in this world is perfect, I am rather pleased with it and so is my son.
Thing is, I made this decision after I already owned the (original) kindle fire tablet. Actually it was an OK tablet (I gave it to my mom a while ago), as far as reading books on kindle is concerned. It even worked sort of OK as a web browser, except Hebrew websites sometimes got partly written backwards. Arabic websites were plain terrible (I do try reading them from time to time), which is odd because you figure if Hebrew works (mostly) OK, so should Arabic  ...but no.
What was absolutely ludicrous were the apps. Turns out I could not install any apps, even free ones, unless I had a credit card with a valid US address. As far as I can tell this is still the case.
Lucky for me there were these two days when I could, so I did install some free apps...
My niece thanks me to this very day...
So if you plan on using a kindle fire outside the US for any prolonged period of time, consider some other tablet...

July 21, 2014

Intermission- My Book on Kindle

I published my first book on Amazon a bit more than two years ago. So far it's the only book I published there, but I hope to publish more in the next few years (my Hebrew publishing works faster, thanks for asking).
The book is not perfect. Actually it's twice not perfect:
First, because it's my first book, that was published in Hebrew back in 2007. I didn't exactly know what I was doing back then.
Second, because the translation is far from perfect. I translated it myself, and it's the first book I translated, so, again, not perfect...
Nonetheless, it is a cute book, I think.
It used to be that if you published via Kindle Direct Publishing, you could give away your book for free, for five days every quarter. According to Amazon something like 200 people got my book for free this way in the past two years.
Less people actually paid for it, of course.
Nowadays I cannot give it for free, but I can give it for a discounted price, and I am starting tomorrow, for five days.

So you can get your copy over here:


Hope You enjoy it...

July 15, 2014

It Has Been a While

I have not written in this blog for more than a year and a half now.
I actually have a good excuse for that - i became a teacher, so at first there was a lot of studying to do, and later there was a lot of teaching to do.
So in the near future I plan to wrap up this series about tech companies that has dragged beyond its intended scope (in time, if not in actual posts...)
Later a plan to talk here, just as I do on my Hebrew blog, mainly about my job as a teacher, but in a general detached kind of way. You'll see...
Stay tuned.

January 3, 2013

Kindle Apps Everywhere

Like I said last week, the choice of English books in Israel is usually not overwhelming.
Knowing that I can get into the Kindle bookstore at any time and get one of more than a million books is a wonderful feeling.
Though I now own a Kindle fire device, I installed the Kindle  app on pretty much everything. It's a great app, I highly recommend it!
With the latest Pratchett novels it was more of a read it on everything attitude. 
This is how I got to read Snuff for example...