A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this Jerusalem Post article on WEIZAC, the first computer in the Middle East. Seems that the thing's 50th anniversary arrived, for some definition thereof. (As best I can tell, it didn't actually begin operations until more like 1956.) Two things struck me in reading the article. One is that Einstein needed some convincing that a computer was a wise investment for Palestine. The other is that it is still here, gathering dust in a corner of the Comp. Sci. department.
So, time for a quick photojaunt.
[29 Jan 05 Update: In the comments, Estrin points out that, had I been able to get the full text of the '91 Annals article, I would have seen that WEIZAC actually did begin working in 1955. I stand corrected.]
WEIZAC was one of the IAS machines. The original was designed by John von Neumann at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, and hashed out the concepts on which our digital electronic computers are based. In fact, we still call them von Newmann architecture machines, although that's considered somewhat unfair to the builders of ENIAC, which worked in much the same way.
At any rate, the design for von Newmann's machine at Princeton was given away to all and sundry, including a student of his named Jerry Estrin who came to Israel in '53 to build one of the fifteen known descendants of that system. Much is made of the claim that there were no applicable parts, tools, or skills in the country prior to his arrival, and that it thus had to be cobbled together from bicycle parts and large components given by wealthy donors. The rest, evidently, is history, and to this day Israel sports a kick-ass information technology industry. (Good thing they weren't counting on tourists or anything.)
But poor Einstein! The late '40s roll around and he's stuck in committee meetings being hauranged into giving his approval for the Institute to dump a fifth of its budget into some newfangled computer. (And probably still leery of randomly approving things after the incident with the letter, too.) Fifty years earlier -- in fact, 100 years ago next year -- he was changing the world. Hey, I'd be perfectly happy just to
To be perfectly honest, the kitchens in Beit Clore don't particularly inspire great feats of culinary artistry. In fact, with the exception of having a sink and full-sized refrigerator, they aren't really any better than the last time I lived in a dorm, when my room contained an electric burner, a toaster oven, and a hot-pot. Nevertheless, some basic baking supplies really are necessary, and for the life of me I wasn't able to locate them.
In fact, I'd looked right over them many times in the supermarket, and I've taken this picture as a reminder of just how invisible things can be when they're a completely different size than what you'd expect. What I'm ever going to do with a half-kilogram brick of yeast is utterly beyond me.
Frequently thanks to, and on occasion in spite of, the meager cooking facilities we're allotted, food plays a considerable role in the social life of the Clore House. So continue reading and meet the crew.
That we go out for food together on a regular basis is easy to understand; especially in the gregarious cafes of Rehovot, going out alone is a good way to be ignored by your waiter. Moreover, better service can often be obtained by hanging around in the lobby until someone who speaks fluent Hebrew can be convinced to come along. Fortunately, this doesn't generally take long.
I don't know that I'd go so far as to actually recommend anyplace here to eat. Of course, lunch is easy -- Israelis are big on lunch. On the Institute campus, there's about a dozen decent cafeterias serving up large and mostly tasty lunches, plus numerous bakeries, pizzarias, and fewer falafel joints than you'd expect out in Rehovot. And, the Shekel being what it is relative to an international grad student's pay grade, it's all quite cheap. For dinner, on the other hand, the many restaurant-slash-bar-slash-cafes in town are all mediocre copies of each other, serving the same beer and bland vegetable sandwiches.
So some of us make it a point to cook. Above, a picture I took of the crew at our first rooftop dinner party, featuring Miki's homemade pasta. He's not actually a student, but a local (well, a Michigan-educated Israeli who came back) who we met because he likes to play the piano in the lounge. I'm not clear on how the rest of the group met, since most Beit Clore residents arrived about a month before me.
Evidently Andreas (a self-identified "weirdo Swede"), visible behind Miriam, is responsible for merging two groups of acquaintances, by virtue of his habit of playing Go in the lobby and thereby attracting an audience. My first trip to Tel Aviv was in part to check out his Go club there. He's especially handy because he has the power to summon Christian, who has a car (and a Ph.D., a Danish background, and friends who seem to know everyone in Tel Aviv).
Sam's my roommate, a Minnesotan physics undergrad at MIT, along with suitemate Alexi, a Ukranian who somehow manages to make Borchst by the gallon in our apartment. Since he'd already met them, Sam introduced me to the other two Americans in Beit Clore, Miriam and Naomi. Although Sam likes to reminisce about the industrial-size dishwasher and deep fryer in his frat house, I'd wager that I'm actually the better cook under dorm conditions where some, shall we say, flexibility is required. Just as well, as Sam's too fond of his meat to have much interest in my meals. Miriam appreciates them, though.
Others appearing in the above photographs: Lin, an Oxford-educated Israeli who hangs out with Naomi; Ian was a visiting grad student from Manchester for a week; and Olivia, the Estonian student who organized our Thursday movie nights.
Rehovot had its first rainfall last night. That's my assumption, anyway, since for the first time since I arrived, I awoke to the unique shushing of tires on wet pavement outside my window. Just a light shower, probably, since the streets were barely damp by the time I left the building.
They tell me it's a bit early for rain. December's the rainy season, evidently.
Clearly a good sign, at any rate. According to this morning's email, NASA has approved our group's proposal, so this contraption I'm helping design should actually get built. Now we can stop biting our nails and bask in the land of the funded.
Where by bask, I of course mean to evoke an arduous multi-year race against our grant's clock and our collegues' competing projects.
Nice thing living in a country where nothing's actually designed for rain. Yesterday the clouds returned and delivered a veritable monsoon -- if I read the (Hebrew) rainfall totals correctly, many areas received over a centimeter of rain, resulting in widespread flooding. The street running down the hill outside my dorm was practically a sluice. And my apartment, my second-floor apartment, was a lake!
No, the water wasn't meters deep. But the architects seem to have neglected to consider that water does
So maybe we'll invest in some sandbags. But no damage done (at least to
Here's hoping you all have a happy Dia de los Muertos! Now, if you're being traditional about the celebration, you should have set out your
Incidentally, I was curious to know when was the last time a presidental election fell on All Souls' Day. Turns out to be that post-Vietnam, post-Watergate election that was a disaster for the Republican party, 1976. Take that however you will, but since I don't see another Regan coming down the GOP's pike anytime soon, I choose to be encouraged. And, while we're at this silly game, the time before that corresponds to Truman's 1948 suprise victory over Dewey, which proved early and conclusively that public opinion polling is, in fact, a black art.
To those who were concerned, incidentally: yesterday's suicide bombing was in Tel Aviv, and the only direct impact on Rehovot is that the place is crawling with soldiers now. Which affected me only insofar as I opted to skip being searched on my way into the Institute campus by cutting through my dorm. The consensus so far appears to be that there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the event, despite the seemingly loaded timing.
And now, the western hemisphere is starting to wake up; time to jack in. This should be interesting.
They tell me there's an election going on back home. That might explain why I haven't gotten any work done this week. Following the news, the polls, the legal battles, and so on and so forth -- seems to be sucking up a lot of time. Which would be okay if only it would end tomorrow. But I think we can all guess how likely that is.
Of course, given that every other blog on the planet has declared itself to be Election Central this week, there may have been some puzzlement at my decision, thus far, to essentially ignore it in this medium. It's not that I don't have opinions on the matter ... quite to the contrary, and we'll be trying to get it out of my system for the remainder of this post. But since I can count the regular readers of this site without resorting to too many of my toes, and since a healthy fraction of them are doing far more for the good guys than I would even know
Thus I feel okay saying this just once: vote. And make sure everyone you know does too. But as I said, I know my audience, and I know that for many of you, that's been your mantra this fall anyway. Good for you.
But, if you care to know how I think this is going to turn out, read on.
First of all, let's get something straight: we're past the point where the news cycles can affect the election. Not bin Ladin's fireside chat, not scientific proof that we're killing genocidal numbers of Iraqis, certainly not today's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, and in fact probably very little short of a nuclear war. After all, we've only got about one news cycle left, and the three or four percent of voters that admit that
And for all we know, the decicive margin is already out there. After all, something in the neighborhood of 30% of registered voters have already voted via early ballots in Florida, and the numbers are evidently similar in some other swing states. And of those voters, it appears that Kerry is
The big potential spoiler this cycle is legal shenanigans involving voter challenges and provisional ballots. There are several legal actions running already, so keep an eye on Ohio and the federal case in NJ. Thankfully, the public appears to have wised up somewhat to the GOP's assorted efforts to intimidate and confuse the voters, as evidenced by the fact that this stuff is getting reported
So will there be a clear winner on the 3rd? Doubtful. Look for Bushco to declare an early victory and try to cast all subsequent activity as Democratic efforts to steal the election, considering how well that strategy worked for them four years ago. However, unlike last time, such a declaration will hopefully not be seen as credible this time around. This is why nobody has any business voting for Nader or staying home tomorrow though; the larger the popular turnout for Kerry nationally (yes, even in the "blue" states), the more difficult it will be for the Republicans to spin things in their favor.
Conventional wisdom holds that the election is too close to call, which has stopped pretty much nobody from weighing in with their prediction. I'd ordinarily be concerned with how few of the American Prospect's staff are putting Kerry above 50% even while they predict his victory, but their numbers suggest that they are giving Nader entirely too much credit this time around. This is actually my favorite analysis so far, in that it is methodical, consistent, and supported by actual data. Plus, Ruy Texiera endorses it, and he knows more about analyzing polling data than anyone else I've run across. So while I tend to find that result a bit optimistic, I'm inclined to follow the same general line of reasoning. Therefore, if I had to take a guess, I'd say the end result is going to look approximately like:
Popular vote: Kerry, by about 51% to 49%
Electoral College: Kerry, about 280 to 260, God willing. But Florida of all places is back in play, so a blowout isn't out of the question.
From Minnesota to Texas to Israel, my absentee ballot has completed better than half of its rather substantial round trip. Now just as soon as I can establish who around here has "authority to administer oaths" I can get this thing back on its way. Of course then I need to figure out how to express the idea of "This should go quickly, and not via the Cargo Ship Express."
But that's the sort of thing department secretaries are good at. And we have those.
In fact, the inventory of things we have on campus is suprisingly long.
This came up over pizza with my advisor and my officemate last night, at which time it was observed that some staff and faculty around here have been known not to leave the campus for days or weeks at a time. After all, we have our own grocery store (and although the two in town are much better, for enough shekelim they will deliver), health club, restaurants, museums, and so forth. Altogether self-contained. A bit like the Red Sea.
Whether or not you get off campus regularly (and I do, since I like the walk and the good baker and the cheaper everything), the Red Sea has been on people's minds of late. The whole point of the Sinai resorts that were attacked last week was to cater to people that like a quiet, undeveloped beach to lie on, or warm, clear water to go diving in. Bounded as it is by largely undeveloped desert, the Red Sea seems to fill this need in a way the crowded, polluted, and built-up coastlines of the Mediterranean don't. And for that matter, neither do the Texas Gulf Coast nor the Minnesota lakes, back in either of the places I call home.
It began as an offhand comment by my officemate that the Mediterranean is warmer than the Red Sea despite being farther north, and that he'd been told that this was related to the Red Sea's depth. My advisor, being who he is, promptly seized upon a distantly-related and seemingly contradictory point: given that geothermal heat causes mineshafts to heat up at great depth, the ocean floor at great depth should also be hot -- in which case, why is the bottom of the ocean so cold?
As it happens, I think he is overestimating the actual amount of heat seeping through the deep sea floor (the abyssal and hadal zones, or the "abyss"). However, a bit of quick research suggests that I was on the right track when I pointed out that cold water sinks. Thanks to the thermohaline cycle, the water in deep basins originated in the polar regions, where it cools, sinks, and spends a few centuries wandering the globe before showing back up in equitorial upwellings. As a result, the water at the bottom of the ocean is pretty consistently close to freezing, and frequently a little below that, remaining liquid only thanks to its salinity.
Which brings us back to the slightly odd temperatures of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Neither, the astute will quickly point out, is well-connected to an ocean, and as a result, they lack access to the cold deep abyss (a word that I rarely get to use seriously). In fact, it is reported that the bottom temperatures of these bodies are nowhere near freezing, but something like 13 C (55 F) for the Mediterranean, and 21 C (70 F) at the bottom of the Red. But hold on! That means the bottom of the Red Sea is warmer than that of its northern neighbor, despite the top supposedly being cooler.
The key, I think, is salinity. The Red Sea is evidently the saltiest of the non-landlocked seas, thanks to the fact that no rivers flow into it (c.f. the desert thing) and it's pretty sunny and windy around here, driving lots of evaporation. Which is what I meant by calling it "self-contained." As a side effect, this lack of input means that there is very little sediment in the waters there, either; hence the famously clear and blue nature of the "Red" Sea. The same kind of thing happens in the mid-Atlantic, and when the resulting dense, salty water cools off up north, it sinks with enough force to drive a planetary circulation system. I wonder if a similar process is at work on a smaller scale here, causing the surface water to be more effectively mixed with the bottom than in the Mediterranean. This would lead to an unusually small temperature difference from surface to floor, or cooler swimmer-depth water and warmer at submarine-depth.
The Wikipedia, incidentally, blames the "Red" moniker on either the occasional red tide or on the red mountains nearby in Egypt. It, like everything else, asserts that the Red Sea is famously blue and wonderful for diving.
Now I wonder if we have a SCUBA trainer on the campus. I wouldn't be surprised.
On closer reading of the instructions in consultation with my advisor, we believe that he, as another registered Minnesota voter, is able to witness my absentee ballot. But if anyone with a stronger grasp of Minnesota election law has an opinion on this, feel free to leave a comment.
Those of you who regularly follow world events are likely aware of the recent bombings in two resort towns on the Sinai Red Sea coast. In fact, seeing as I am hundreds of kilometers from the site and do not have CNN, some of you quite likely know more than I do about the event. That's okay with me, actually; I have no great need to indulge in the pornography of rubble.
The Sinai, it should be pointed out, plays a very special role in this part of the world. After the 1979 peace accords between Egypt and Israel, the desert peninsula was demilitarized and a policy instituted whereby Israelis may more or less freely visit it. Sparsely populated save for the Bedouins and small towns along the coast, the Sinai desert is altogether remote, where distance and solitude can provide a comforting buffer against the world, and in particular the claustrophobic and violent land that is Israel. Or so went the story.
The most touching response I have so far found (in English -- it'll be some time before I can read the Hebrew dailies) comes from Ha'aretz: this column is a lament for the Sinai that was until a few days ago. In the isolated resorts,
a vacation in Sinai was a singular experience that had no substitute. Something happened to Israelis when they entered Sinai. There was no other place where you would see so many of them immersed in a book, for example: The beaches of Sinai were the real place to check out our best-seller list. For the veterans of the place, being in Sinai was much more than a holiday. It was the only place of refuge, a haven from day-to-day troubles, from the terror that is all around us, and an escape from Israelis and from Israeliness, too. Something in the atmosphere of the place created a sense of relaxation that couldn't be found elsewhere.
More importantly, however, the author wants to believe, perhaps rightly, that Sinai represented the last place where Israeli and Muslim could comingle as human beings, developing with repeat visits lasting and stunningly normal relationships. As a dream in its own right, Sinai became a symbol of a peaceful future, conveniently right aross a mostly non-hostile border.
Sinai also became the last meeting place between Arabs and Jews where violence and racism didn't reign. ... There are Israeli youths and adults here who since childhood have developed bonds of friendship with local Bedouin and Egyptians. There was no other place where they treated one another on equal terms.
Despite the fact that the Israeli government warns its people to stay out of Sinai, if it was as good as all that, I would imagine that they will be back. However, Israelis hereafter will look twice over their shoulders and remain suspicious of conspicuous gathering-places and unattended packages, as they are most everywhere else in the world.
After all, if we are to accept Bush's glib assertion that terrorists don't
If the Israelis are, not completely unreasonably, drawn toward despairing of peaceful coexistence, what, in the grand ecology of hopes, might we find surging in to fill the vacuum? Framed in this context, it may be less suprising to discover that evangelical Christians are a waxing presence here, illustrated recently by the figure of America's very own Pat Robertson leading tens of thousands of evalgelicals through the streets of Jerusalem during last week's festivals (yet again, we are led to suspect that America just might not be good for these people).
Ariel Sharon was until recently quite the darling of these dear Likudniks, and has fallen out of favor with them for the same reasons that his own party is none too fond of him just now, which is that he wants to disengage from a guerilla war he cannot possibly win in Gaza. This to the religious right-winger of either flavor equates to carving up the Promised Land, an apparent error of apocalyptic magnitude. Pat puts it more succinctly than I could (with a straight face), as quoted in the above article:
"I see the rise of Islam to destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan's plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord," said Robertson.
Evidently he would also like to blackmail Bush against wavering in his support for complete Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, with the threat of taking his evangelical following and starting a third party. Personally, I wish him all the best, and suggest he name his newly organized wingnut cadre the "Apocalype Now" party.
I'm living in a bizarre cross between a Jetson's office and Homer Simpson's nuclear reactor.
The Israelis who work here, being culturally literate folks, actually do refer to this as the "Homer Simpson room." They find the comparison extremely funny. I have yet to ascertain the opinion of any of the system operators, who actually sit at that gigantic console, on the matter. The truly wonderful part, though, is the contrast between stuff like this, and the surrounding architecture. For instance, the curved walls, frosted glass door, and round porthole windows in my office fairly exude 50s hypermodernism. Except that I think it was built in the 70s.
It's true. For obscure reasons having to do with renovation schedules, Ilan and myself have been assigned to the side office of the linear accelerator's control room. For the record, I have absolutely
Another odd point. This is the only linear accelerator I've ever seen that was built
Everyone agrees that the thing looks extremely odd, especially at night when it's lit by eerie blue floodlights. I feel like I'm working under a spaceship.
Okay, progress is being made. Having convinced my laptop to make like R2D2 and talk to the particle accelerator's computer network, watch this space for illustrated posts.
That picture of Orion over there? That's me being a total sucker for long-exposure photography. I tried to filter out the city lights as much as possible. This is a densely settled region, so there's a lot to filter.
For anyone keeping track, the timestamps on the photos are still Central Daylight Time. I'll change that eventually, but for reference, this shot corresponds to about 1:40 am on the 8th. Like I said about early-morning teleconferences in Calfornia...
My father is very interested in the notion of the crescent Moon rising "horns-up" in the mid-east, as this evidently plays strongly in the mythic symbology of ancient cultures in the region. You might call the orientation pictured here "horns-up," but it's worth pointing out that the moon has been up for an hour or so at this point, so it rose a bit rotated from that. I'll also make an effort to take one where the moon's not quite so overexposed at some point, too.
A number of necessary things have so far not been done, thanks to my timing. Wouldn't you know it, I've arrived in the midst of the week of Sukhot, which is apparently not altogether unlike that week between Christmas and New Year's back in the States when everyone is either on vacation or working in a restaurant feeding people on vacation.
I am, incidentally, going to shamelessly exploit this condition to explain the recent gap in posts. I'm building up a hefty backlog of photos in my camera, which I am unable to upload for two reasons: whoever runs the network in my dorm is on vacation, and thus I can't connect the laptop to the net; and my sysadmin is on vacation, so nobody has the ability to make the extremely minor configuration change that would let me plug a flash drive into my workstation. If there's a cybercafe nearby, I can't tell, because I haven't learnt the Hebrew alphabet yet. So that'll have to wait ... something tells me hacking the Institute network my first week here wouldn't be the grandest idea.
Aside from the Institute staff being "on collective vacation" as I was told, it's little things like the fact that the grocery store I've managed to locate has been closing earlier than they let me out of the lab (hint: an early-morning teleconference in California keeps us in rather late) and that I thus have some yogurt and an apple to get through Shabbat. And the wonderful baker next to my dorm who's been selling me breakfast pastries didn't open today, either. Long weekend.
My officemate swears that there actually is some commerce in this country. Guess I'll see it next week.
Got into Israel yesterday afternoon, and now have lodging, an office, and some Israeli currency in my pocket, so things are coming together. Will put some effort tonight into assembling a more complete account of my journeys so far. Anyone who's expecting an email, updates should be going out shortly, now that I have a connection for which I am not paying by the half-hour.