Monday, October 31, 2016

Israel 2016: "Raining Cats and Dogs"

Travelers to Israel know of the omni-presence of cats.

What's relatively new is the increase in the number of dogs. Tel Aviv is apparently the world's most dog-friendly city.

One answer I heard is that there's a perception that Arabs fear dogs and that during the most recent spate of "lone wolf" attacks about a year ago, there was an increase in dog ownership (as well as gun permits).

Another theory I heard was that the increased dog ownership is actually a proxy for increased wealth.

As my friend Gil said, "when you have food and housing security, you feel like you can get a dog."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Autonomous Vehicles Displacing Jobs

When my dad and I were in Nebraska, we stopped at a truck stop for bathroom, etc.

As I looked around at the showers, supplies, and more, I said to him, "in the future, this entire industry won't exist...once autonomous trucks become commonplace."

And so that disruption is now underway as Otto delivered 50,000 bottles of Budweiser.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Israel 2016 - Day 4 Observations

The major activity for today was the Machon Ayalon also known as the "Bullet Factory," which produced 2.1 million bullets in pre-state Israel (aka Mandate Palestine) in the time period between 1945-1948.

Following the mantra of "hiding in plain sight," the plant operated only a few hundred meters from a British army camp.

They utilized a sophisticated web of deception, misniformation, and organizational alignment to keep it clandestine and make it work for 3 years.

It was an inspiring look at a key part of early Israeli history.

As I watched the movie, I was struck by a feeling that I suspect was there but was dormant. One of true admiration at people's abilities to live (and be willing to die) for a cause truly greater than themselves.

The people of Tzophim Aleph who were 18-20 years of age were idealists and were willing to put that belief on the line in the most serious of ways.

In some respects, I think this is the seed of the modern Israeli mentality of being able to cope with the challenges of life...and maintaining that going forward, as the founder generation (see Shimon Peres) dies out and the country continues to grow and prosper.

The tour was intensified in its value by a world-class guide, Sagi, who deserves a major shout-out (will cross post this to their FB page).

A number of people recommended this activity to us very highly and I can see why.

Not only is it exciting and interesting, but it gives you an authentic glimpse into the essence of modern Zionism and the can-do spirit of the pioneers.

I think seeing matter what your purpose inspirational.

I did feel a twinge of pain as I thought about the recent IDF raids on Palestinian gun manufacturing plants, as I am confident there are many who would draw parallels and moral equivalency.

Ah...the complexity of today's Middle East.

Still, a nice additional puzzle piece to our journey through Jewish history.

And a final note....Dinner at the vegetarian paradise in Jerusalem...the Village Green. Pricey, but recommended.

Israel 2016 Day 3 Observations

I don' t know if I'm alone in this feeling or not, but I kind of feel like the drive to the Dead Sea through the Judaean hills and desert is the "real" Israel.
That of the Bible. Where, to this day, you still see shepherd boys riding donkeys tending flocks.

There is a rawness to the land, a peacefulness that comes of the desolation of the environment. Bordered by the Dead Sea and 400 meters below sea level, you are whisked away from the hustle/bustle of Jerusalem through a time warp to another era.

Stop 1 was Herod's fortress of Masada, the site of the last stand against the Romans which ended in a mass suicide and which has become a symbol to the State of Israel: "Masada shall not fall again."
It's an engineering marvel on top of a mountain (and a mini-series that my brothers and I used to love) and, in an ironic twist for me, represents both the old and new Israel at the same time.

The last time I was there, was 1991 and the parking lot was dirt and there may have been a ticket booth and the cable cars.

Now, there is a world class visitor center with indoor parking and much more.

That's the new Israel.  I felt the same way when I first landed at the new airport in 2002 (I think) and I said, "ok, the country has arrived."

The Masada team knows that the tourist industry makes or breaks them.

It's about an hour or so drive from Jerusalem and very pleasant.

We elected to take the cable car up (smart), walk around for an hour with the map and read the signs while educating the kids and then walk down (possibly smart). It's very doable, but with kids, it definitely takes longer than the advertised 30 minutes.

It was hot.

As I said to them many times, the "key to Israel is water, hat, backpack, and sunscreen."  If you have those, you're off to the races.

The way to experience Israel (or any country for that matter) best is by foot and hiking in Israel is a special component.

Figuring we hadn't walked far enough, we then went to Ein Gedi, which also has Biblical significance, most notably as the hiding place of the future King David by his father-in-law Saul. 

The best part is jumping into the cool spring water stemming from the oasis that forms the basis of the nature preserve.

The 2nd best part is meeting other travelers...including a group of 10 pastors from around the world on a trip to the Holy Land.

When I lived in Japan, I remember visiting Kyoto and thinking "this is eternal Japan." When you see the desert surrounding Masada and Ein Gedi, the hills leading to Jerusalem, you can't help but think that this is a part of "eternal Israel." 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Israel 2016 - Day 2- Jerusalem

You can walk through the Old City of Jerusalem 100 times and each time, see something new.

Such was the case on Sunday as we took a walking tour with a guide (something that is worth doing no matter how many times you've been there).

One of the unique moments for me was going onto the rooftops above the Arab Souk (market) and looking into it from above. From the same vantage point, you could see all 4 quarters...the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian.

I had always wondered why the Armenians had their own quarter (as the other ones certainly made sense), but our guide explained it as the fact that the Armenians were (apparently) the first country to fully adopt Christianity and thus received a quarter of their own.

Another was discovering small synagogues tucked away into corners and back alleyways, inlaid with fantastic and inspired designs.

The guide had a nice graphical illustration (looked like the South Park characters) that showed who ruled Jerusalem all the way from the time of the First Jewish Temple until the modern day.

Again, one of those things you kind of know, but seeing it all laid out on a timeline helps you internalize just how deep, rich, and complicated this place has always been.

Being there, walking the ancient streets, passing through the just know that the people in foreign capitals who are trying to impose a solution...well, I think there's a lot of wishful thinking there.

Of course, the highlight of the day was, as usual, the visit to the Kotel-the Western Wall, where we were able to put in notes (as is the custom) expressing the prayers which we hope God will answer, and say additional prayers.  My girls were there with some of their cousins, which made the visit all the more meaningful.

What's so inspiring to me about Jerusalem is how it can be experienced over and over again while being both new and old.

It's almost like pulling a layer back on history and your soul at the same time whenever you go there and explore.

BONUS: Thanks to reader Billy for sending in this video in response to yesterday's post.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Israel 2016- Day 1 Thoughts

The experience of Arabs in Israel and vis a vis Israel is obviously complex and multi-faceted, but sometimes I feel like it is oversimplified.

I was thinking about this as we arrived at Ben Gurion airport and I was struck by the number of Arabs at the baggage claim and passport control, mostly because of how perfectly normal it was for everyone there.

I had the same thought when, on our first full day in country, we took a 2 hour raft trip down the Jordan River at a place called HaGoshrim. It was really fun for kids of all ages, anyone above the age of 5.  In adjacent rafts on the river were a number of Arab teenagers, having fun, splashing us and others (as we were to them).

It was just a moment where I kind of thought..."you know, I think most Israelis and Arabs just want to get along in 2 states side by side and it's only a few percent of haters that keep the animosity going."  It was both sad and uplifting at the same time.

Then, I contemplated the would Hassidic-garbed people or people in yarmulkes get treated arriving in Riyadh or Beirut or engaging in a recreational activity in Egypt or Algeria.  That just made me sad.

But I'm burying the lead.

The primary reason for our trip is to celebrate my nephew's Bar Mitzvah next week. In the lead up to that, however, 33 (yes you read that number correctly-- THIRTY THREE) people (all related to each other) spent shabbat together at the Kfar Giladi Hotel on Kibbutz Kfar Giladi.

It is rife with history (in fact, tomorrow is their 100 year anniversary celebration).

It wasn't cheap (full disclosure), but it was SO worth it.

The food spread was...RIDICULOUS, but again, I'm burying the lead. The surroundings were magical.

We were right on the border of Lebanon and had beautiful vistas of the Hula Valley, the Golan, and Mt. Hermon.

The weather was perfect. Balmy, a nice breeze, and secluded.  I took a few long walks around and it was a perfect space for reflection and meditation and family bonding.

I also took advantage of the sauna, workout room, and the kids utilized the pool.

The rooms were great as well.

I can't recommend it highly enough (well, I didn't love the cats, but as any visitor to Israel knows, that's not unique to this one place.)

This is visit #11 or #12 (I think) for me to Israel and it's always fascinating to see how the country stays the same and how it changes from trip to trip.

One thing that has stayed the same, for me, at least is the genuineness of Israelis.  I noticed this in many encounters. I think it comes from a deeper appreciation of how tenuous life is and recognizing that it's not always worth it to sweat the small stuff (though, of course, they have their moments).

I particularly enjoyed a chat I had with 2 ten year old twins (and their dad) who were born in Ukraine and came to Israel 8 years ago in the sauna.  They were so cute, saying "everything we learned about America, we learned on the computer and everything in America is just SO MUCH BIGGER!"

I'm on a bus with 16 kids now so it's a bit hard to concentrate, but we're headed to Jerusalem now and I'm sure that it will be (as always) stimulating.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

One Possible Reason Why Americans Can't Stand Trump and Hillary

I keep promising myself that I am done with this election, but like a bad addiction, I keep coming back to it.

We flew to Israel on Wednesday which gave me the great fortune of missing the 3rd debate.

But it also gave me some perspective.

I am of the opinion that there are very few countries in the world that were founded on a clear set of ideals and values.

Two immediately come to mind.

The United States- life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.

Israel- Jews need a place where they can be safe and not get killed and it should be the place to which they have a historical connection.

Other countries (say France) have incorporated ideals (Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite), but they weren't part of the founding of France (which obviously predates the Revolution).

There may be others (India?), but most European countries pre-date democratic or eternal ideals, and many Asian, African countries are artifacts of colonialism.

Maybe Argentina or some South American countries, I don't know.

But back to the election.

I suspect that what gets 70% (or whatever the number is) of people riled up about both Trump and Clinton is the perception that they don't have true core values.

Or at least core values consistent with America.

The perception is that Trump's core value is himself and Clinton's (actually both Bill and Hillary) have a core value of political expediency in the service of self-enrichment/power.

You may not like Obama, but he is principled. So is Gore. So is Kerry. The Bushes, McCain, Romney.

I suspect that, like Hillary said about previous GOP nominees in Debate 2, "I didn't agree with them, but I respected them," the majority of Americans felt the same way about each party's nominees.

"I don't necessarily agree with them, but I recognize that they do have principles and values outside of themselves."

For example, evangelicals who are pro-life/anti-abortion. I definitely don't agree with them, but I do respect their principles.

My sense from afar is that most Americans simply think that neither Trump nor Clinton really have values bigger than themselves...which is why so many of us are so disappointed with what is going on.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Here I Am (Book Review)

I was talking to my therapist the other day about the new book, Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer and said to him (I like to offer free marketing advice),

"It's really a great book, but if you can get the author as a client, you'll be set for life, because THIS DUDE HAS ISSUES."

Now, I've never read another book by Safran Foer (I did see the movie of Everything Is Illuminated and enjoyed it), so I had never been exposed to his writing style.

It's intense.

It's raw.

It peels back some pretty bare truths about the human condition.

A friend of mine who has read his previous works said, "it's pretty wild the first time, but it gets old after that."

I could see that.

But I will say that I was really riveted by the book.

Maybe because it was so familiar in so many ways. It takes place in the DC area with so many familiar landmarks.  It is VERY Jewish in its thematics and concepts.  It was appropriate for this time of year as it deals with many of the ideas in the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur liturgy.

In fact, the statement of "Here I Am" is a central statement that Abraham makes prior to being asked to sacrifice Isaac.

I am not sure I fully get the market for this book. It feels like it is custom-built for married Jewish men between 35-50, admittedly not a huge group, but I suppose if you can get past or just accept the fact that some of the layers of nuance will be missed by virtue of things being so heavily entrenched in Judaism, you can get pushed to think deeply about relationships, kindness, sensitivity, thoughts that are said and unsaid, feelings, and truths about yourself and it can be very rewarding.

It's definitely not a book for everyone because the rawness is bound to offend some so much, but if you have a strong stomach, I think it could be worth it.

Two quotes from the book really stuck out with me. I took a picture of the pages.

On closeness...

and the drama of living...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Please Don't Automate Your Way to Apathy

Jonathan writes an article about how we should avoid the temptation to automate relationships, entitling it "Don't Automate Your Way to Apathy."

He gives me a shout out, which I appreciate.

I don't call people on their birthdays for the kudos. It's obviously nice to be recognized.

Even better when it is used as an example to help people build more meaningful connections with each other.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Diminishing Value of College Alert

Been on this kick for a while...that college (as it's currently organized and with very few exceptions) doesn't really prepare people for the actual world of work.

Granted this is from the UK, but the situation is analogous.

Again, don't get me wrong...I think there's value to a classical liberal arts education, but it's been so watered down and de-valued by most places (and inflated by cheap US gov't loans) that it's no longer recognizable.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Investing in Cryptocurrencies: How I do it

One of the questions I get a lot is: "How do you decide which cryptocurrencies to invest in and how much?"

Also, "where do I get started?"

Disclaimer: Before I begin, let me state unequivocally (or else our lawyers will kill me), I should say that this is in no way a solicitation, advice, or anything that could be construed in any way as investment advice.  You're on your own. Caveat emptor.

Ok, now on with it.

There are two ways to get into cryptocurrencies.
  1. Mining
  2. Outright purchasing

Without going into all the specifics of mining, suffice it to say that "mining" is the way that coins are minted. Just like digging for gold.  It's an investment in companies that verify the transactions on the blockchains of different currencies.

I bought a contract with Genesis Mining (you can use my affiliate code [xcUN4Q] for a discount. Full disclosure: I get a small commission]  which I found to be the easiest and my research suggests to be the most trustworthy.

Essentially, you put in however much money you want (i.e. you can afford to lose) and then you point your dividends to your cryptocurrency wallet(s) in whatever allocation you want.

Note: you will need to set up a wallet for this. BitGo, Xapo, Coinbase.

This is how I got started.  Then, you let the miners start sending you  cryptocurrencies. Keep in mind, your returns won't be huge on day 1.

Outright Purchasing

Being the motherlode of all altcoins, Bitcoin is kind of like the reserve currency of the crypto world. So, if you want to buy pretty much any other type of coin (and there are hundreds), getting some Bitcoin is the best way to go.

The most user friendly site is Coinbase. You'll figure it out. Connect your bank account and just click "Buy." It's backed by very reputable investors so I'm personally comfortable.

Oh...and remember to turn on 2-factor authentication!

Another site that allows you to transfer USD to Bitcoin is Kraken.  Nowhere near as user-friendly, but it works and the primary advantage of it and Bittrex, another site where I hold digital currencies is that wide variety of coins they support.  Kraken can also send you encrypted email directly, which is a nice touch.

Coinbase only supports Bitcoin and Ether which are the 2 biggest and (relatively) safest in which to invest, but if you are looking for broad support, they are more like gateway drugs to the cryptocurrency world.

Anyway, once you have Bitcoin, you can send it from one wallet to a wallet at another exchange and then use that to buy other currencies, which I have done.

Probably the best (and cheapest) way to do this is  You'll still need a wallet address for EACH different currency you want to buy though.

Currencies I hold

Here's what I currently own.
  • Bitcoin
  • Ether
  • AMP
  • Steem
  • Dash
  • Lisk
  • Storjcoin X
  • Ripple XRP
  • Stellar XLM
  • Bitcoin Dark
  • Ethereum Classic
How I decide

I suppose there are 3 stages.
  1. I read the blog feed of CoinDesk which is sort of the industry rag. There's a lot of noise and you have to be careful because they allow sponsored posts which are not always inherently obvious that they are sponsored, but it's a good way to stay "in the know."  I would never make a decision off of CoinDesk alone.
  2. Read the blog posts and whitepapers of the site. See if it even makes sense. I don't know enough technically, but I ask myself "is this a problem that could be solved through decentralization?" Synereo is a good example of this one where I said (again, no endorsement) to myself "yes, I think it could be." Storj is another one as is Ripple.
  3. Look to see if they have any reputable investors, VCs, board members. That's kind of a gut thing, but it helps.
  4. Never invest more than I am prepared to lose.
  5. Make a small bet and follow what happens. Like any investment.
Now, this can obviously be time consuming and it's not my full-time gig, but it's critical for me to understand how things might evolve.

Again, the big question I always ask myself: is this a real-world problem that could be solved efficiently with crypto-currency?

The resurgent PotCoin is one such example (I don't own any)...with legalizing marijuana at the state level and people concerned about their privacy, you could see how this might get some traction.

Advisory Sites

I haven't really watched the evolution of the altfolio advisory market though I know it's here and growing or the complementary altfolio advisory sites.  Recently, I was introduced to the CEO of Metastable Capital, author of the  who covers a lot of this stuff. He had a great write-up (link coming), much more in-depth than I ever could so that's another area to watch.

Bottom Line

Remember-- I am not giving any advice of an investment nature. I do foresee the day where crypto-currencies are a part of a diversified portfolio for the average investor. Today isn't that day, but it's coming.

To me, the way to understand them is to play around with a bit of money and "pay to learn."

To be clear, for the most part, it's speculation at this time, but hopefully this gives you a bit of insight into how I do it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Cold Brew Coffee Experiments

Over the summer, I got kind of excited about cold brew coffee.

Then, I started getting adventurous (more or less) with my own spice-infused homemade cold brews.

Recognizing that coffee and the associated spices are a subjective experience, I wanted to share the tracking sheet to-date for your own use (if you so desire) and to solicit any suggestions for spices/flavors that I haven't tried yet.

One limitation: I only use what the NFO already has in the house. I'm not going to buy anything custom for this hobby.

So far, the only downside to the experiments have been all the space I've taken up in our refrigerator as I try these out.