Thursday, October 29, 2009

Meet the blogger

On Saturday night, October 17th, I attended a blogger's night out that was organized by Hannah who blogs at A Mother in Israel and Cooking Manager (ooh, ambitious) and hosted by Mimi of Israeli Kitchen. You can read Hannah's account of the evening here and Mimi's account here, as well as read what One Tired Ema, Risa (aka Isramom), Baila of I'll call Baila (note the apostrophe please), Commenter Abbi (who brings you Confessions of a startup wife), and Robin from Around the Island had to say about the evening. Others who attended but did not blog about the event are the Baroness Tapuzina, Sarah from Food Bridge, Pesky Settler who's In the middle. On the right, Sarah of Oh so arty, and the xy chromosomed representatives, David of the Terror Finance blog, and Jonathan of Shomer Shekalim

Hannah said something which gave me the idea to showcase some of the blogs I follow. If you look to the right you'll see my blogroll  divided by theme and though it seems incredibly long, those are only some of the 175 (!) blogs I actually follow in my Google reader. I know though that you can't really look at that long list and easily say, hm this one looks interesting, so I decided to choose some of my favorites and highlight them for you. If possible, I'll try to include a short interview with the person behind the blog.

I can't remember how I first became aware of Jonathan Degani's blog, Shomer Shekalim,  but it was  most likely a link from another blog I read. Jonathan is an American oleh who blogs about budgeting and living within your means in Israel and is highly recommended for anyone living in Israel (or planning to make aliyah), no matter how long you've been here.

Jonathan graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions so without further ado,Heeere's Johnny!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I am an American Oleh from NY and Chicago. When I made Aliyah, I decided to go to business school and was met with a financial crash 20 minutes after graduating. Since then I have been building a system of budgeting that has helped me budget my way through this recession. I am now following my new calling to help others learn to live within their means and find happiness in moderation in life.

2.  How long have you been blogging?
Back in high school, my friends and I would blog in a livejournal group.  I left blogging for several years until I used it once again to document my time in the IDF.  I only started blogging about finance and budgeting about 5 months ago.

3. Why did you start blogging about finance and budgeting?
The idea originally came when I asked my Rav if I could give ma’aser with my own professional time if I could not afford to give money.  He said “yes” and so I dedicated 4 hours a week to trying to help others with money issues in Israel.  Since then I have used blogging as a wonderful tool to use to interact with others.  I enjoy talking with other American Olim.

4. What are your goals for your blog?
 When I came to Yeshiva in Israel years ago, I noticed something strange. Most items in Israel cost about the same as they do in the US, yet Israelis live on a lot less.  How could they do it?  It is not a simple answer, and in my mind, it is one of the issues that American Olim struggle with the most.  My goal is to try to help Olim adjust to life here and break out of a “consumerism” mentality that American put them in. 

5. What goes into the preparation of a typical post?
Depends on the post.  When I make a list (how to save on shopping, vacations, holidays) I write a list as a document and leave it on my desktop for a few days to add to it when I have the time or when I think of something.  When I write an argument or economic analysis, I go through the old essay style of preparation and research.  Alternatively, some posts are just off the cuff stories of economic survival that came across my eye that I try to use to illustrate a point.

6. What blog post are you proudest of and why?
I have two favorites:
How to pay less for your purchases despite the increase in VAT and How to save 1000 NIS on your next vacation.  I think that these two posts exemplify my goal in blogging.  They are simple ways to learn how to switch to a more frugal mindset.

7. What have been some of the highlights of blogging for you?
Arutz Sheva did a cover story about my blog when I wrote about saving money for Rosh Hashannah; I guess every blogger likes to be noticed.  But by far the greatest highlights come from interactive talkback and encouraging feedback from the readers.  It makes me feel like I am making a difference and serves as a major source of encouragement. 

8. Anything else you want to share with readers?
The most important thing you do in life is interact with people you care about.  At the core of frugality is reallocating time and money to what is important.  We often get caught up in the technological buzz of only approaching one another via e-mail and checking on one another through status updates and twitter.  These tools are nice, but without seeing a person, hearing a voice, and regular interaction, the internet becomes a cold world.  When you value what is truly important, you may find that you are richer than you thought.  

I just want to add that I enjoyed Jonathan's posts on celebrating the holidays on a low budget, including Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, and look forward to what he has to say about Chanuka (no pressure, Jonathan!). And since both Arthur and I are job hunting (not fun!) I've appreciated Jonathan's series on job searching in Israel - part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4

Although I hope the economy improves I hope Jonathan will continue to supply us with tips on managing financially in Israel. You should definitely add Shomer Shekalim to the blogs you follow, and if you don't read blogs, Shomer Shekalim is the place to start!

Money Grab 2, by Steve Wampler, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license


Sunday, October 25, 2009

The winter is heating up for e-book readers

Amazon isn't going to be rolling over for the nook or any other ebook readers. In November, Amazon plans to release a free software application that will allow people to read Amazon ebooks on their computers. According to the LA Times, the software will run on Microsoft's new Windows 7 as well as the older Vista and XP, expanding Amazon's customer base exponentially.

In January, at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Plastic Logic will unveil the QUE. The QUE is geared toward businesspeople and will support PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and "features the largest touchscreen in the industry." 

In February, Entourage will start shipping the eDGe, a dual ebook reader with a netbook on one side and an e-reader on the other. According to Fast Company, the eDGe will support the open e-Pub standard and read PDFs. And via ghacks, I learned that the eDGe has a webcam and microphone, built in speakers, allows you to browse the internet and write e-mails, and supports Mp3, MP4 and 3GP file formats. It also comes with a hefty price tag of $490, more than $200 above the price of the Kindle or the nook.

One thing seems to be certain - we'll be seeing more and more manufacturers coming out with e-book readers as the market heats up. According to Forrester Research, 3 million e-readers will be sold in 2009 and up to 10 million will be sold in 2010 (via Read Write Web).

If you're confused by all this talk about e-readers, check out this cool graphic on TechFlash of the ebook universe, as it is today.

(Hat tip to Helene Blowers of LibraryBytes for the info which inspired and informed this post.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Barnes & Noble VS. Amazon - meet the nook

Meet the nook. Yesterday afternoon Barnes & Noble held a coming out party (in NY of course) for its ebook reader, nook, which can be pre-ordered for delivery in November. Amazon definitely has the better name (nook takes me to places I'm not going to mention on a PG-rated family blog) but other than that, it looks like B&N is going to give Amazon a run for its money. 

One of the biggest differences between the nook and the Kindle, according to Wired and  Read Write Web is nook's LendMe feature, which will allow users to share a book with a friend for up to 14 days. And that friend doesn't need to own a nook; any smartphone or computer with B&N's ereader software will do.

The nook also supports epub, an open format which will give users access to thousands of free e-books, and though I haven't seen anything yet about reading library ebooks on the nook, it seems that if the ebook is in PDF format, it would work on the nook. 

The nook is priced at $259, as is the Kindle, still a hefty amount of money for a luxury. One advantage the Kindle still has is that Amazon came out with an international version that can be shipped to users outside the U.S., though it's not available in Israel. 

The nook has a small color touchscreen for navigation and a removable back panel that you can customize with four other colors. From November 30th, you can test drive a nook at your local B&N.

You can view a comparison of features between the Kindle and nook on the B&N site. 

In more ebook news, the Internet Archive,  a non-profit organization based in San Francisco which is building an online library, announced the creation of Bookserver, an open system to allow users to find ebooks to buy or borrow. According to Read Write Web, you could search for a book and find out all the places where the books is available to buy or borrow, including libraries and directly from the publishers. 

I enjoy watching these new developments in the world of ebooks. I love all the new ways it's now possible to read or listen to a book and can't wait to see what else the future holds.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Google editions or why I'm glad I haven't bought a Kindle yet

(Please click on the photo to see the full size comic on Milt Priggee's Web site)

If you follow my blog (and if you don't, why not) then you know that before we returned to Israel from California I debated about getting a Kindle. Of course, right before we left the states Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle making me very tempted to buy one but in the end I decided against it. One reason is that at $259 it is still expensive for an indulgence that is not a necessity and that I can't use on Shabbat (when I do the bulk of my reading) but the even greater deterrent is the whole digital rights management (DRM) issue. DRM is how companies protect content and restrict its use. They use a proprietary format that can only be used with their firmware, as in the case of the music downloaded from Apple's iTunes store which could only be played on Apple products before they started offering DRM free music this year.

When I want to read a book I have the option of borrowing it from the library or a friend, buying it new from a bricks and mortar store or an online shop, or buying or mooching it secondhand. If I've bought it, when I'm done with it I can do what I please with it. Loan it to a friend, donate it to the library, swap it, or leave it on my shelf so if I feel like it I can read it again. And again.

Not so with an Amazon e-book. There's a limit on how many times you can download an Amazon e-book that you've paid for before Amazon forces you to pay for it again. That's what Dan Cohen found out to his surprise when he tried to move some of his books to his new iPhone via the Kindle app. And after talking to a customer representative he discovered that "there’s no way to find out in advance how many times a book is able to be downloaded." 

And with the Kindle you're limited as to what books you can read. You have to buy them from Amazon. You can't download an e-book from your library and read it on  your Kindle. There is a hack to allow you to read MobiPocket books on your Kindle but Amazon threatened to sue the site which linked to it.

With the Kindle, you can't share your e-books with friends. So even though you've bought the book and it's supposedly yours, you can't do what you'd like with it. Not only that, in July, Amazon really brought this fact home when they remotely deleted George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from users' Kindles (ah, the irony)

So I decided to wait and see what develops in the e-reader market before shelling out a few hundred dollars for a Kindle. And I've been heartened by the articles I've been seeing about other alternatives to the Kindle, including the iRex the cool-er, Plastic Logic, Cybook, and the Sony Reader.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Google announced that they will launch an e-store, Google Editions, that will offer electronic books that can be read on ANY web enabled device including laptops, smart phones, and e-readers. Consumers will have the option of buying the book directly from Google Books, from a retailer, or from the publisher. This will give users freedom to buy from whomever they please and read it however they please. Once the book has been accessed once, you'll be able to read it offline.

If you're not sure that e-books are for you, and you want to just stick with the paper version, check out the NY Times commentary, Does the brain like e-books, in which five professionals weigh in on whether reading is different when done on paper or a screen.

As for me and my Kindle, I'm still going to watch and wait but I am looking forward to the new developments that seem just around the corner.

(Please click on the photo to see the full size comic on the Social Signal Web site)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

That Was The Week That Was

Tomorrow begins the Israeli season officially known as "acharei hachagim." Nothing much happens in Israel beginning in mid-August when any arrangements you managed to find for your kids ends and people go on vacation as they attempt to survive the last weeks of summer vacation and ending when the fall holidays are over (even though the kids don't go back to school till Monday).

Hopefully, job hunting (or job finding) will get easier though Arthur gets annoyed at me when I say that. But I'm optimistic (hard to believe, but true) and wanted to share some of my reflections about our Sukkot holiday.

First of all, only one day of chag!!!!! Can I say it again? Shout it from the rooftops? It is so great to have one day of chag and not be penalized for living in galut (Yes, that's right. As good as you think you have it you are in galut). It's weird to think that in our old community of San Jose they are not even done with shul yet on their first day of chag while here hakafot shniyot with a live band are in full swing (pun intended).

We were home for the first days of sukkot and our sukkah went up in record time thanks to the help of our neighbors. We were invited out for both meals and had a great time at both meals.

Although Arthur would probably disagree, one nice thing about being unemployed is that we were both at home during chol hamoed, which doesn't usually happen. This gave us the opportunity to visit friends and family and tour the country a bit. On Sunday evening we headed to Yokneam for a barbecue with friends, one couple we've known from our days on Kibbutz Beit Rimon and a couple from San Jose who made aliyah 2 years ago. It was great seeing them all again (and borrowing some books of course) and catching up. Both friends have businesses and web presences, so if you're in the need of a live band or DJ check out the Joel Abramson Simcha Orchestra and if you're looking for silk rose petals, spices, gifts from Israel, or pearls and semi-precious stones check out HolyRoses.

Monday we met Arthur's cousin in Beit Guvrin and checked out the many caves before heading to Beit Shemesh for pizza followed by Shemeshfest. We ran into some old friends, enjoyed the music, and headed home tired and satisfied.

Tuesday we headed to Akko with our neighbors where I stupidly managed to get lost and missed out on most of the fun but I think Maor had a good time.

Wednesday Maor and I headed to Nes Harim for a barbecue picnic with my aunt and cousins (Arthur wasn't feeling well and stayed home). It was great to hang out, eat, and celebrate my aunt's birthday (ad 120!) together.

We headed to Beerot Yitzchak for Simchat Torah, an almost annual tradition. Hosted by my best friend, Esti, who I've known forever (since first grade - you do the math), we also got to see people we haven't seen for a long while. I spent my year after high school on Hachshara on Beerot so it's always nice to go back. We got back to Zufim in time for hakafot shniyot and will take down the sukkah tomorrow. Maor already has plans for tomorrow, her last day of chofesh (vacation) before school starts up again.

For those of you not on Facebook, here's a link to some pictures from our Sukkot adventures.

Being back after 3 years in the states made me aware of some of the things I love about living in Israel. Not huge cataclysmic things, just small mundane ones.
1. The news broadcasts begin with "moadim l'simcha"
2. The electronic highway signs that announce traffic jams also wish me a happy holiday
3. National parks and restaurants put up sukkot so their patrons can eat there
4. Local councils and cities trim palm trees so people can take live schach (and sometimes dates) for their sukkot
5. Not only did the rock and soul concert at Beit Shemesh include a dvar Torah, the Rabbi who delivered it also had the crowd repeat a prayer for Gilad Shalit's release

If you haven't had the opportunity to spend Sukkot in Israel, I hope next year finds you here celebrating with us. Or even better, consider Aliyah today!