Older blog entries for epsalon (starting at number 99)

A Political Post

Today is Election day in Israel, and I’m voting for the extreme left wing party Hadash. Why? Because I think war is wrong. Period.

Why is war wrong you ask? Well, killing or hurting innocent people is obviously wrong. People should be considered innocent until proven guilty in court. At war, people are killed and hurt just because they belong to some nation or group, or believe in a different set of beliefs than the attacker.

It seems to me that there are for major causes of conflict in the national level: Religion, Nationalism, Greed, and Vendictiveness.

Let’s start with Religion. The same system that allows people to wholeheartedly believe fairy tales with no shred of truth gives those people justification to do the most horrible things to others. However I believe that people are basically good and would not follow a religion to extremism without other circumstances.

The second point I would like to mention is Nationalism. That is, a feeling, that your nation is better or more important simply because you happen to have citizenship there. It seems silly to me to be proud of, say, Israeli athletes or other achievements. Most of those people share little of my belief system, and I feel much closer to people of other nations who do. I also do not agree with my elected officials, just like most Americans were no proud to be represented by George W Bush.

The third point is Greed. Very rarely do the spoils of war cover the human and even financial cost of the war, even to the “winning” side. There are no winners in war. That said, people who have nothing to lose are much more likely to be aggressive and try to get ahead by force. Therefore, the solution to war prevention is not arms or security, but financial support and fair trade. A person with a good financial situation does not become a terrorist!

The final point is vindictiveness. This is what causes the vicious cycle of war. A well-known experiment asked participants to try and match the pain levels caused by another participant. The results: Although the other participant accurately matched the former’s actions,
the participants kept escalating their responses due to perceived escalation from the other side. That is why we should break this cycle and stop responding with force. That is the only way to finally achieve peace.

To conclude, I would like you to listen to the lyrics of Imagine by John Lennon:

Syndicated 2009-02-10 02:06:21 from Alon's Blog

The strange world of Macs (Part 1)

If you need to name the two most common operating systems, you would most likely say: Windows and Linux. Well, in the US there is a third common operating system. In fact, it’s even more popular than Linux. It’s called MAC OSX. In the Bay Area, not far from Cupertino where Apple Computer is headquartered, Macs are very common. It sometimes feels like more people use Macs than Windows.

Macs are supposed to be easy to use and intuitive, so I tried using one in my local Apple Store in Palo Alto. They have working laptops there than anyone can come and use.One of the first things I’ve noticed was a lack of mouse buttons. We’ve all heard about Macs have only one button, well the new ones don’t even have that. The trackpad is the button, and there is no right or middle button. Dragging requires manual effort to keep the heavy trackpad pressed, and if you’ve reached the end of the pad, you’re out of luck. Can’t just hold the button.

Another thing lacking was a scrollwheel, the standard right-side-of-pad scrolling didn’t work. I  happened to find by chance that you can scroll on a Mac by using two fingers on the trackpad. It’s weird but it works pretty well.

The other input device I was having trouble with was the keyboard. Ctrl combinations don’t seem to work, and there are no PgUp/PgDown keys. I had to ask to know that most Ctrl combinations are replaced with a new key called “command” (it’s similar to Meta), though some things like ctrl-left/right to move a word back and forth is actually with the alt button, which is also labeled “option”. The PgUp/PgDown require yet another modifier key “fn”. The total of five modifier keys leave little space for the space bar, and the most useful one (”option”) is not near the edge of the keyboard as one might expect, but near the spacebar.

One of the first things I tried to do was install FireFox and an IM client called Adium (I googled “mac IM” and that was the first result). Software installation on Macs is different from Linux or Windows. Downloaded files are “Disk Images” (something like an ISO) which you have to mount. Then, (and this is never explained, I had to ask), you need to drag the application icon to a nearby icon of a capital “A”. I tried to attach a screen cap of that but the capture application only saves to TIFF.

 Mac Disk Image

Anyway, even after you install the software, it only appears in a secret menu called “Applications” that you need to do the following to reach: Click on the desktop, click on the “Go” menu, click on “Applications”, browse to the application among a whole lot of stuff (like the “Programs” menu in Windows, but not sorted by vendor). The terminal BTW is under another sublevel “Utilities”. No wonder I couldn’t find it.

Now, I tried to look for some tutorial to explain these basic features. I found a help page about transitioning from windows that didn’t explain anything (such as scrolling, or the “command” button, or how to install or uninstall software).

I can talk all day about how non-standard Macs are. The close/minimize/maximize buttons are on the LEFT and are only color coded (red=close, yellow=minimize, green=maximize). Alt-F4 and other common combos don’t work (well, it opens an “Expose Settings” screen). Command-F4 doesn’t work either. It seems the combo is Command-W (I guess W is for Wlose, or they copied it from Firefox’s close tab combo). I tried some of the pre-installed software too, but about that in a future post.

Update: I figured out how to use an image conversion program called “Preview”. It seems Macs copy the awful Windows default of hiding extensions, so I had to guess what version of the image I’m uploading…

Syndicated 2009-02-04 01:34:53 from Alon's Blog

Uncle!

Today, Jan 14, 2009, I have become an Uncle. Yes, my older brother is now a father of twin girls, and all is well. I have not yet seen the babies, but once I get photos, I’ll post them here.

The growth of the family is a good reason to celebrate, and in our case, it means a family union in Israel scheduled for February. My brother is coming from Germany and I’m coming from the US for a first meeting the newly-extended family.

For those of you who care, my dates in Israel will be Feb 9 to 16 — one week. During those days I plan to vote. Although I’m not yet sure what party I’ll vote for. The options I’m considering “Meretz” and “Hadash“, both left-wing parties. Hadash is the only left-wing party that opposed the war in Gaza, but Meretz stands a chance of actually taking part in a central-left government.

Those of you who live in Israel and have the right to vote, don’t forget to vote for peace because war isn’t good for anyone.

Syndicated 2009-01-15 02:37:29 from Alon's Blog

Desert Snow

In the SnowAs I have updated before, my parents have arrived and have been here for a week now. Two days ago (Sunday), we started our road trip to Las Vegas through the California central valley and interstate I-5.

We spent most of the first (sunny) day driving until we reached Mojave, CA. Located in the Mojave desert, this town is home to one of the driest airports in the continental US and the world’s first civilian space port. Well, by the time we woke up the next day, it was on of the rare rainy days in the Mojave desert, with very poor visibility. However, our plans didn’t change and we took a tour of the airport.

Our next stop on the way was planned to be the Mojave national preserve HQ in Barstow to get tips about visiting this desert national park. However, on the way there something weird caught our eyes. What seemed for a second to be white sand turned out to be snow. Real white snow. In the desert. Barstow was covered with snow, an event unseen since 1985.

The snow was so bad that the direct route to Las Vegas (I-15) was closed and so we decided to go through the Mojave National Park in the snow. The result: some spectacular photos of desert plants in the snow, and a near-accident in 55mph (90km/h) with a truck on a narrow desert road.

When we finally arrived at Las Vegas and checked in to our hotel/casino on the strip, we went right to business and made more than $70 gambling. We’ll see how much of that we’ll lose…

Syndicated 2008-12-16 15:10:52 from Alon's Blog

Turkey, India, and Thanksgiving

This weekend was Thanksgiving. As always, holidays in the US are designed to create long weekends, and Thanksgiving is no exception. Scheduled on the third Thursday of November, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter holiday period. As I did last year, I went to the traditional Stanford Thanksgiving dinner, which was nothing too fancy. I spent black Friday playing boardgames for nine consecutive hours, winning almost all games I’ve played (except Pandemic and Stone Age).

This Thanksgiving, I couldn’t avoid hearing the news about Mumbai, India. I thought to myself this is not the first time Inidans are killed on Thanksgiving, though this time they weren’t native Americans. That also made me think about the traditional Thanksgiving dish — Turkey. In almost all modern language this bird is named after some far away land. Many languages refer to Turkey, many others, including Hebrew and Turkish, refer to India. The interesting this is, the Turkey, like the American Indians, is in fact a native American, a fact most closely reflected in Vietnamese, referring to it as “Western Chicken”. For more information, see Wikipedia.

In exactly one week (and 3:30 hours) my parents will be arriving here for the first time since I moved here. I’ll get to show them my office, my room, and play games. We’re also going to go on a road trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon! I’m happy!

For those of you who asked what  I got from Tanga Trash. Here’s your answer: 20 Questions card game, The Fabolous Fifites Shaped Jigsaw Puzzle, and a Space Alien Test Kit, I kid you not.

Syndicated 2008-11-30 03:29:49 from Alon's Blog

A hard day’s night

So, as I wrote earlier, I am in charge of an NSF grant proposal, and today was the deadline, which meant me and my professor had to work the entire day from 10 to 9 on writing the proposal, which meant I had to arrive late and miss on playing Agricola with my awesome new friend. We did play other games though, and I came back home tired but happy.

You could have known all this in real time, because I have signed up for Twitter, where I make short updates on my whereabouts and actions. You can follow my twitter by signing up, by looking at the twitter box on the right of this blog, or by signing up for the RSS feed.

For example, if you read my latest Twitter, you’d see that Tanga has sent me trash, which I paid good money for. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

Syndicated 2008-11-25 08:58:46 from Alon's Blog

A new friend

I made a new girl (space) friend this week, and together we have founded to awesome peoples’ league (Bay area chapter). She and her fiancé are into boardgaming in addition to using free operating systems. They also watch many similar TV shows and enjoy hanging out and playing the same games I do (and in a good level).

As part of my ongoing commitment to resurrect this blog, I’ll tell you all that I’m happy. It’s amazing how happy a friend could make you when you need one!

In other news, I am in the process of writing an NSF grant proposal, which basically means write something about your research and beg for money.

One of the great things about being a postdoc is that you have students who do all the work, so I will have at least two papers submitted to IJCAI (probably more), and all of them in collaboration with different authors, both here and in Israel.

BTW, If you like my blog, please comment so I’ll be encouraged to write more!

Syndicated 2008-11-24 06:04:07 from Alon's Blog

Happy Birthday?

It’s my birthday today. I’m 28, and at work. One year older and not much to show for it. Maybe I’ll start updating my blog, but for now that’s all.

Syndicated 2008-11-18 23:23:05 from Alon's Blog

$400 to spend a night in Georgia

That’s what I got offered, I accepted. They took back their offer. I’m talking obviously about Atlanta, GA, and the offer was by Delta due to overbooking in my flight back to San Francisco. The offer was revoked due to the fact they didn’t need volunteers after all. Too bad, I was looking forward to a day in Atlanta.

Syndicated 2008-09-08 22:02:24 from Alon's Blog

Oral Surgery

After SurgeryToday I underwent oral surgery under general anesthesia. The procedure was the removal of my two lower wisdom teeth which were impacted. This procedure is uncommon in the US for people my age (27). Usually people get their teeth removed in their teens even if there aren’t any complications.

The clinic I have chosen was within short walking distance from my home and I arrived there in less than half an hour: