Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Things you can do Wii with

June 14, 2008

A while ago i wrote about things you can do with Wii. Now i learned about a group of young Israelis, Veronica’s former colleagues, who created a software that allows you to make Wii using a regular webcam. The product is called CamSpace and they have already registered a company that is promoting it. Check out their video and feel free to sign up for beta-testing. I think it is very impressive!

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In the meantime, in a kingdom far, far away…

March 22, 2008

While the Israeli legislators are passing laws for big-brother-like censorship of the Internet, the “developed” world is taking more complex, yet more thoughtful steps towards the same goal – online safety for children. For example, the EU is going to spend 55m Euros on educational efforts in the next four years to promote online safety. In the US there is a similar initiative fighting its way through the Senate, even though with some difficulties. Even Google is partaking in the educational effort, even though they are perfectly fine with promoting safety through better algorithms. It seems like everybody, but the Israeli lawmakers (together with their colleagues in other Middle Eastern countries and in Asia) realize that in order to keep the balance between openness and safety we need education.  We can definitely create a very limited version of the internet, hoping it will be safe, but it is that openness of this platform that drives the internet as we know it today.  Education may be a more expansive and a more demanding solution, but it appears as the most substantial one

It seems like there is a great distance between the rhetoric employed by proponents of the law and their action. If you read the linked articles you will see that even the definition of threat to the children is different. While the Israeli MK see their role as protectors in preventing the children from viewing naked bodies online, everybody else are actually concerned with more tangible issues such as utilization of online resources for child abuse. Maybe I am missing some highly philosophical part of an argument that suggests that child abuse originates in corrupted minds of those who consume porn (or any other sex related content for that matter), however I doubt that.  There is actually a real threat for children actively participating online and it has to be addressed.

When put side by side, both types of efforts apply the same rhetoric for defining the goal. However when one is aimed at addressing a real problem rooted in contemporary issues, the other is taking advantage of people’s prejudges and fears in an attempt to promote one way of life at expanse of another.  This later part is really warring and it results in different types of action with different types of broad repercussions.  While following the censorship route brings with it limitations on creativity, openness, etc. thus hurting the long-term technology driven innovation, I cannot foresee similar difficulties with the education route.  On the contrary, i believe that following the education route would bring additional benefits in terms of capacity building for the society and its economies.  I hope that MKs will do some research before they register their votes in the second and the third rounds of hearings for the internet censorship law.

Israel is not alone

March 17, 2008

It is believed that people who spend a lot of time together, tend to acquire characteristics of each other. It seems like countries that spend a lot of time side by side, tend to acquire similar policies. Here is a recent update about Iranian government now demanding the internet cafe users to register (including their ID numbers and specific times of using the cafes). Reminds me of earlier attempts of Shas to do practically the same in Israel and seems perfectly in line with the internet censorship initiative they are (unfortunately) successfully leading.

Tired of boycotts

March 1, 2008

One of my RSS subscriptions follows the blogosphere for instances of OneVoice. I blogged about this initiative before and about the ridiculous calls for boycotting it. Recently, thanks to this feed, i learned that a new season of boycotting Israel has began. How come the organizers of the boycott are not getting tired? It seems like even the media are tired of covering it and the current season is passing primarily unnoticed. Hopefully this lack of public attention will finally make the organizers rethinking this method and understanding that it is wrong and counterproductive.

A very dark day for Israel

February 27, 2008

Last night I had a conversation with a friend about some issues I have with organized religion. And here, today it is striking again and the victim of the day is the State of Israel.About half a year ago I blogged about the pending law for internet censorship in Israel and about emails I sent to members of the Knesset advocating against it. What happened today is extremely sad – the law was actually passed in the first round of hearings (HE1; HE2; HE3; HE4). Well, it looks like it was passed primarily as a result of political opportunism of Shas, the largest religious party in the Israeli Knesset, but more about it later.

The essence of the law (assuming it will pass the committees and another two rounds of hearings as it is) is that by default the internet in Israel will be screened for “inappropriate content”. The screening will be done by a committee in the ministry of communication that will set the standards for what “inappropriate” means. People will be given an option to opt out from the screening program, but the default will be a limited version of access to the Web with screening done at the level of the ISP. The articulated logic of the law is that of guarding the children from online predators, from explicit sexual conten, and violence. In order to opt-out from the screening program, one will have to prove their age.

The problem with the law is quite obvious for it in fact introduces government censorship to the internet. The idea that a committee of government officials will decide for the citizen what is appropriate and what is not for them to consume sounds as if taken from a really bad science fiction movie. In this day and age, there is no democratic society that in the world that practices such a rude and intervention in the private information-life of their citizens. Any decision on the appropriation of content will bear ideological flavor and more so, as the act of passing this law indicates, to political pressures. But beyond the expected “flexibility” of definition of “appropriateness” the mere act of intervention of the government into my personal information seeking practices is mind boiling! The places where it happens, it refers to explicitly unlawful content, such as child porn or Nazi propaganda, with solid definitions and free of political pressures.

What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the law is hypocritical on so many levels. The hypocrisy is at the very core of justification behind the law – the desire of guarding the young and gentle minds from all the horrors of the internet and especially from online predators. Here are a few points on that topic:

  • Following the debates surrounding this law proposal, the Israeli ISPs agreed to subsidize screening software for their clients, offering it practically for free. This way any concerned parent could simply ask for this service and gain piece of mind (HE).
  • Not only that, but apparently there was an alternative law proposal suggesting to make the previous point a legal responsibility. It asked to make it obligatory for the ISPs (1) warn their clients about the “dangers” of the internet and (2) offer them opt-in solutions to screen their internet access. This law proposal was rejected (HE).
  • On a related note, the “save the kids” logic still does not justify the “opt-out” nature of the program. Does the state has so little face in parents’ ability to make decisions about their kids information diet? Shouldn’t parents be responsible for making those decisions, particularly when options such as those in the previous bullet are offered? Because right now there is a strong sense that be apparently taking the responsibility from the parents, the state is encouraging sort of an intellectual laziness on behalf of the parents most of whom will not know about or bother to engage with issues of information consumption of their kids. Moreover, many of those who don’t have kids, will most probably not know or not bother to take care of this issue when they are those who have to initiate (you can take a look at some numbers of online behavior patterns in US, which shed light on the level/lack of engagement of people with the medium, and at Eszter’s thoughts on why people do not switch from Google).
  • On a slightly more sophisticated note, if the proponents of the law would actually study the issue before making a political/ideological decision that is going to affect lives of an entire country, they would see that content (porn) is not the primary threat. For example, they could read a recent study on the subject and see that in order to guard the children fro m online predators, they should be educated for appropriate online behavior. Moreover they would see that in fact the only way to block “inappropriate” content is shut down the entire internet because a lot of “inappropriate” content is generated in online interactions and not in static web pages. Maybe they would understand that there is no simple blocking solution in this case, but instead embracing the medium and learning/educating how to deal with it (also see HE).

Lastly, I think the way this law was passed adds to its own inappropriateness (here is a complete list in HE of who voted and how on this proposal). Apparently this proposal was not even part of the agenda for this particular session of Knesset. However, the shaky position of KadimaAvoda government, gives Shas a lot of power to manipulate what is being discussed these days by the lawmakers and how. Just today another Shas-driven law proposal was discussed, aimed at strengthening the limitations on abortion (HE) and at the same time 475 million shekels were granted to Shas religious institutions (for example, they maintain an independent education system, which is cheaper than the governmental one – oh the absurd) , which is apparently higher than government subsidies to the entire cultural sector in Israel (HE). The political discipline of the religious voter is paying off, while the secular and progressive voters spend their time expressing they outrage in talkbacks on major news websites (until those will get censored too – HE), but when it comes to voting or holding their elected representatives accountable, they find more important things to do (HE). Even the Israeli bloggers who used to advocate strongly against the law (for example HE1; He2) are silent and as up to this point there has been little or no reaction (last posts are dated back in summer last year).

As i said, today is a very, very dark day for Israel…

Go identify yourself!

A classic media event

January 9, 2008

George Bush is coming to visit Israel and it is a great example of media event. I was watching a morning program today (on channel 10) and the anchors proudly announced that the entire day today will be dedicated to the visit (mind you, he hasn’t even landed yet). And this obsession is characteristic of all the Israeli media today. A classic example of media event.

Something is wrong with the Israeli education system

December 6, 2007

In light of the ongoing strike of the education system in IL, i took a few minutes to browse the recent UNESCO report comparing the school education systems across the globe (the full report in PDF is here).

I have start with a warning that i did not read the 200+ pages. I did glance at the graphs and the numbers, as well as occasional mentions of Israel in the text. That brief glance left me a little bit puzzled. If my understanding of the report is correct, the Israeli numbers are not that bad. They are not that bad both in terms of performance, but more so in terms of investment in education. But something is fundamentally not working.

On the one hand, Israel is far from being at the bottom in terms of the investment in education proportionally to its GDP (22.3% for primary education and 22.7% for secondary in 2005, with 71.7% going to the salaries). This is contrary to the argument of the striking teachers claiming further public investment in the education system. On the other hand, Israel seems to have one of the highest proportions of private investment in education (2.1 of GDP in 2005). This suggests that there is room for further government involvement.

The main question is why with all this investment things seem not to work well? Although the report does not assess the quality of students’ knowledge, the numbers it sites are of people who actually finish school, and that nears 100% in Israel (which is also much higher than what i’ve heard so far). But something is still not working… something is wrong in the system? Or is it me misreading the report?

A couple of interesting facts before i stop. First, when it comes to “Top five destinations (host countries) for outbound mobile students” the numbers are: U.S.A. (3,471), Jordan (1,695), Germany (1,225), United Kingdom (1,122), Italy (1,002). Just to remind you, these number refer to school students. However i am still wondering who are the students studying in Jordan (second largest group) and i was really surprised to see Italy in the top four. Another peculiar issue is that the geographical group for Israel was North America and Western Europe. I understand that it is probably according to the level of development, but still… :)

Laughing for peace

December 4, 2007

Another positive piece of news i find on the Mideast Youth website – an Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. They are a rather eclectic group of people – an orthodox Jew, a black Jewish convert, a Palestinian-American, and an American-Israeli. Interestingly, non of them is actually “native” in a sense of being born and spending their lives in a single place with one dominant identity. But they are united in their ability to laugh at themselves and to laugh at the situation. On an optimistic note, who knows… maybe if people can laugh together, they can also talk.

Joining me, CNN…

CBS:

and a selection of sketches from their DVD:

Here is more about how the show is received in their own words.

Is it hypocrisy or very short memory?

November 17, 2007

In the beginning of this year the Israeli students went on strike. In fact the strike was about potential rise in the tuition fees, however the rhetoric used by the student leadership and activists claimed that they are fighting for changing the national priorities and for saving the Israeli education.  The semester was in danger, but utilizing the high ideals and revolutionary spirit, the students were kept out of campus for about 5 weeks (if i remember correctly). The faculty showed solidarity, even if just limited, and put an effort to resume the semester that got prolonged because of the strike.

A few weeks ago, the Israeli senior faculty went on strike (HE). In fact the strike is about the material conditions of the faculty and to a degree the Israeli academia in general.  The core rhetoric is remarkably similar to that used by the students earlier this year.  Seemingly, one would expect the students to join the faculty and do what they were claiming they are doing just a few months ago.  However, there are different voices sound, at least in the media (HE).  The students are angry that there are no classes, and that their studies may be delayed, while the student leadership is getting organized to demand a refund of tuition fees.

And I am asking myself: is it hypocrisy of the student leadership, and to a degree of the students themselves, or they just got very short memory and once it is not their pocket, the high ideals are forgotten?

Bona

November 7, 2007

Riding on the hype of social networks, the Israeli Ynet is offering one of its own.

After i experienced a wave of Facebook (FB) adoption by my friends in Israel (probably a few dozens connections in a few weeks + a growing number of articles in the Israeli press), now it seems like there is an attempt to offer something of their own. Today there was another product placement on Ynet, but this time for its newly launched social network for youth – Bona.

To be fair, this is not the first attempt. There was a rather pioneering venture named Hevre (meaning something like friends or buddies) that was launched about two years prior to FB. Although it had a similar idea behind it, the enterprise failed miserably (HE), but was recently acquired (HE article) for about NIS 20 million. Also, there are social networks for kids in Hebrew. My niece, for example, has a page on Tipo, which is kind of a version of MySpace for kids.

Bona is clearly targeted towards the high school teenagers. When you register you are supposed to choose your school with the options ranging between the 10th grade to 2007 alumni.  If you log in you can of course create a profile, communicate with your cohort, and do all the stuff you can do on any typical social networking website these days.  It looks busy and is full of slang that is supposed to make it “cooler” I guess.  And of course it is stuffed with advertising (I saw dating website, gossip pages of Ynet, and random Google advertisement).

So, the bottom line is that there is no revolution, and looking at my school’s group on FB with almost 300 members (most of whom joined in the last few weeks), i wonder what is that Bona offers that others do not?  One thing is clear, that is language (even though there are plenty of groups in Hebrew on FB as well).  But is there anything else?  FB seems to crack the interface and HCI aspects of social networking website for youth.  It is apparently so good that in Russia they copied it practically one-to-one claiming there is no link between the two initiatives.  Bona’s interface, on the other hand, resembles the not-so-successful messy design of Hevre or even the childish design of Tipo.  What it has compared to others, is a marketing machine of Ynet to push it forward.  I wonder, however, if it can actually take off, or FB has that critical mass that will not allow other ventures thrive  regardless of the language barrier.

A few things are interesting about Bona’s timing. First is the timing of its launch. It comes during a prolonged teachers’ strike and is advertised as a panacea from the boredom of strike (interesting set of values right there). It also comes soon after FB caught the titles of media worldwide with Microsoft buying a minority stock in it, and after the website finally arrived to the “Holy Land” (there are real debates going on in the Israeli media about whether it is a positive or negative trend).

But other than timing, i find it hard to see why and how another social network website can take off in Israel, and i wonder if it’s not yet another sign of coming bubble 2.0.  Also i wonder if there are localized social networks elsewhere.  I know there are in Russia, but are there any in other places?