Archive for May, 2007

Jew me

My name is Amir Aharoni and i am a Jew.

(Thanks to Elad for the link.)



There’s a word in Hebrew – schtinker. It probably comes from Yiddisch and it means informer, snitch (“stinker” appears as an English word in Babylon dictionary, but not in Merriam-Webster). I do it.

I inform the Ministry of Environment (nonstandard) about people who throw garbage from their cars (mostly cigarette butts) and pollute the air with stinking black smoke from their exhaust pipes. I “schtink” on them, which may be not so nice, but the stench of what they do is worse.

Mr. Naphtali Cohen, who is responsible for air pollution in the Ministry of Environment called me before Passover and told me that my reports are really good. He has less than ten air pollution inspectors for the whole country and he depends on volunteers like me. That’s right, less than ten inspectors for a country of more than six million people. In the end he wished me happy holidays:

— “Happy holidays, teimani.”

— “Happy holidays to you too…” I wasn’t sure what was the last word he said.

— “Ha-ha! I am also teimani! Well, happy holidays.”

Then i got it: He saw my address – Giv’at Yearim. It is a moshav which was founded by teimanim – Jews from Yemen but is now pretty mixed.

Polluting emissions test

My car was tested for polluting emissions and passed (the red frame at the bottom). Now i know that while i am informing the authorities about other polluting cars, i am not a hypocrite.

Notice the emblem of the Vehicle Testing Facilities Union of Israel at the top right square – it looks quite a lot like Square and Compasses and also like the coat of arms of Communist East Germany.

Reality – 9 May

9th of May poster, courtesy of Mr. Arcadi Gaydamak

Hebrew: Keeping the heritage

Russian: Thanks for your valiant feat

These signs were put all around Jerusalem by Mr. Arcadi Gaydamak. Remember him? This time he is organizing a parade of The Great Patriotic War veterans, which the municipality of Jerusalem allegedly tried to cancel.

Gaydamak has money, so the design of these signs is very good. The writing is in Hebrew – throughout the whole city i’ve seen only one in Russian. There’s an Israeli flag too. But what is that Yellow-Black stripe? And the flowers? And what heritage is the sign talking about?

Every year as the 9th of May comes Soviet-born Israelis are shocked to find out that nobody knows what happened on the 9th of May, let alone celebrates it.

On that day the Soviets, with a little help from from the Western Allies, kicked the German Fascists’ ass – at least that’s what they taught us in Soviet schools. In the USSR “The Great Patriotic War” was usually said instead of “The Second World War”, “German Fascists” was usually said instead of “Nazis”, “Soviets” was mixed up with “Russians” in various ways, and the role of the Western Allies is a matter of heated discussion, but the main thing always remained – the 9th of May is День Победы, the Victory Day. Many countries have their national holidays in the form of an Independence Day, but Russia needs no independence from no-one (although there is some ridiculous “Independence Day” in Russia since 1992, but few people take it seriously.) USSR and Russia’s greatest national holiday, one with which the people really identify is the Victory Day. The concept of Victory was pretty strong in the USSR; it was especially convenient to talk about The Great Victory over the German Fascists, ‘cuz hey – the whole wide world agrees that the German Fascists were the bad guys.

In Israel few people know what happened on the 9th of May. So they don’t understand what is that “heritage”.

The Yellow-Black stripe is Ribbon of Saint George, attached to the Cross of Saint George award in the Russian Empire, canceled after the October Revolution and restored in The Great Patriotic War under the name “The Order of Glory”. Now it is called George’s Ribbon again and is becoming a semi-official symbol of the Victory Day in Russia, like the Israeli flags on cars on Israel’s Independence Day. Together with the flowers it looks very much like a Soviet greeting card for – you guessed it – 9th of May.

There’s also a linguistic curiosity: In Hebrew the date is written as “9 מאי” – literally “9 May”, while it should have been “9 במאי” – literally “9 in/of May”. But in Russian there’s no preposition, but a case ending – “9 Мая”. I wonder what exactly were they thinking. I’m quite sure that it’s not just a silly mistake – there must be a sensible reason for that.

Hard is not Impossible

I did a talk at Jerusalem Perl Mongers meeting.

I showed a little script that i wrote two years ago when i wrote a paper about Lithuanian grammar. The script searches a text for uses of the nearly extinct Illative case. In the paper i tried to understand why do authors still use even though there are other ways to describe motion in Lithuanian. The paper was surprisingly well-received back then. (See also discussion about it in Debesėlis forum.)

Anyway, the script is not too clever in any special way. Scanning a text for words with illative endings is almost the same as scanning a log on a server for errors. (I once heard a co-worker using the phrase “perling through the logs”. He said that it’s his own invention!) Except that human language is much more complicated.

Now i say that clever analysis of a text in a natural human language is not impossible. I am thinking of a unified way to translate grammar books and dictionaries to machine-readable representation – to describe English, Lithuanian and Hebrew in the same way. I tried to search for other projects that did something like that, but found only theories without implementations or implementations which were too language-specific (Hebrew-only, English-only, etc.) After thinking about it for a few weeks i also started to truly understand a lot of concepts that i learned have been taught in the five years of studying for a Linguistics degree.

With modern tools such as Google, Perl 6 grammars, Semantic Web-related technologies, and some older ones, such as Prolog, building such a system seems technically feasible, just a question of man-years. At the Perl Mongers one of the participants also turned my attention to WordNet, which is mostly English-specific, but seems promising.

A lot of my friends want to establish a start-up company. If i shall ever do that, that’s what my company would do.

Live to tell

I don’t like Microsoft’s Live Search but for some reason it likes me.

Look what it finds if you search for coffee drinking.

If you don’t understand what am i talking about: One of the pics that it finds is this.

People Speaking – Me-e-e-e-e

— “I wonder – now, with all the fuss about Winograd committee and all that, what can Olmert want? Cause one day, sooner or later, he won’t be a prime minister. Is there still anything that he actually wants?”

— “Mmm … To go to Ame-e-e-e-erica …”

Reality – Parking Parking

a parking coupon from Jerusalem, saying מדחני החניה מופעלים על סינגלור בע"ם. שמור עירך נקיה

This “Pay and Display” parking coupon says: “Parking parking meters are operated by Singelor ltd. Keep your city clean!”

There’s a nice short Hebrew word for parking meter, which is מדחן (madkhan), so מדחני החניה essentially means parking parking meter.

With this post i am finally starting the new series called “Reality”, which i planned for a really long time. For a somewhat similar (and daily updated!) series in Russian, see Art. Lebedev’s Idioteque. Unlike Lebedev’s, this collection is not supposed to be always funny.