Posted by Dani Kollin
This past Sunday I had the honor of interviewing Jewish Astronaut Garrett Reisman. He was attending the opening ceremony of the Ilan Ramon Day School. This wonderful question came up from one of my readers. Click here to listen to Garrett’s answer.
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September 26, 2011 | 3:25 am
Posted by Dani Kollin
On January 20th, 2003 the seven crewmembers of the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia woke up to the song, Hatishma Koli (Will you hear my voice?):
Will you hear my voice my far-away one
Will you hear my voice wherever you are
A voice calling with strength, crying in my blood.
Over time it sends a blessing
The song had been chosen by Rona Ramon, wife of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Last night I heard that voice – only it was coming from Ilan.
Last night I watched in awe as one dignitary after another stood up to speak about Ilan’s ineffable drive to rise above his own remarkable achievements. The shuttle taking off into that crisp, blue sky on the morning of January 16th 2003 perfectly exemplified the holocaust survivor’s son who rose through the ranks of the Israeli Air Force to command with humility while striking with certainty. In 1981 Ilan planned, flew in and finished off Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. A few years later this youngest member of that strike team was a Deputy Squadron Commander, then a Squadron Commander and finally at age 40, promoted to colonel and Head of the Israeli Air Force’s Weapons Development and Acquisitions Department.
Planet/land so big and has many roads
we meet for a moment, separate forever.
A man asks, but his legs fail,
He can never find that which he has lost.
In 1997 NASA asked Ilan to fly even higher. A few months later he began his training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. A few years after that he found himself sitting upright in spaceship atop half a million gallons of hydrogen and oxygen about to blow through a thousand gallons per second as the space shuttle Columbia punched through the atmosphere into the dark recesses of space. Seventeen days later the Columbia disintegrated over Texas during reentry, 37 miles up and still traveling 18 times the speed of sound. A piece of foam would prove to be the eventual culprit that, having smashed into the wing on takeoff at an unearthly 500 miles per hour, ended the lives of Ilan Ramon and his six crewmembers.
The last of my days is already/so close perhaps
Already/so near is the day of goodbye tears.
I will wait for you until my life will end,
like Rachel’s wait for her lover.
Last night Ilan Ramon flew again. A facility once known as the Heschel West Day School officially changed its name to the Ilan Ramon Day School. They chose Ilan for his heroism, his tenacity and his humility. They chose someone their kids could look up to and their community could be proud of. But I suspect it was the other way around; that it was Ilan who chose them. After all, was it not Ilan who brought up a holocaust survivor’s miniature Torah scroll into space? Who took with him “Moon Landscape”, created by a 14-year-old Jewish boy, drawn during the child’s incarceration in the Theresienstadt ghetto? Who even though a secular Jew, observed Shabbat in space? It was because Ilan believed – in the importance of being a role model to all Jews; in achieving his potential in order to help others achieve theirs; in reaching for the stars with one hand while extending to us his other.
Last night the community watched Ilan Ramon launch their school. Tomorrow, as hundreds of children pour into a building bearing his name, that same community will watch him launch their dreams.
Hatishma Koli – Will you hear my voice?
Our brave and beautiful Ilan – we are now assured to hear it for generations to come.
To learn more about the Ilan Ramon Day School follow this link: www.ilanramondayschool.com
September 20, 2011 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
If you haven’t heard of TED, you’re missing out on some mind-blowing stuff. The acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and their tagline reads: Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world. I came across this incredible display of iPhone visual virtuosity by magician Marco Tempest. Enjoy the show.
Marco Tempest: The magic of truth and lies (and iPods)
September 16, 2011 | 5:11 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
In one of the most iconic scenes in the sci-fi epic, Star Wars, Luke Skywalker stares up into a fading sky framed by two setting suns over the dusty plains of the planet Tatooine. Yesterday, NASA announced that their exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope had discovered the first unambiguous example of a Tatooine-like planet, now called Kepler-16b.
What NASA’s calling a “circumbinary planet,” I’d just assume call “bitchin’”. This wondrous little world is orbiting some 200 light years from your local falafel stand, is made of a volatile mix of gas and rock and at minus 100 to 150 F is, in the words of astronomer Laurance Doyle who led the team that first observed it, “kind of like a nippy day on Mars.” The larger of the two suns is roughly 69% the mass of our Sun, while the smaller, red star is closer to 20% of our Sun’s mass.
Because there is no actual “surface” on Kepler-16b, Luke, or any carbon-based life form foolish enough to book a ticket, might have a hard time appreciating the sunset. Ah, but Kepler-16b could, according the NASA team, have a moon. And you can just imagine what that view must look like. You’d see a large orange star twice the apparent size of our Sun and a smaller, fainter red star companion orbiting around each other at 41-day intervals. At that rate, you’d often have two sunsets and two sunrises per day. Great, if you’re a sci-fi geek. Not so great if you’re an Orthodox Jew. And don’t even get me started on what that might entail for a two-day yuntiv.
So what’s it all mean? Only that the universe continues to amaze, as it should, and that for a brief moment in time, there was no upcoming election, no UN resolutions, no bills to pay. There was only a lonely, distant world quietly ambling its way between two suns, capturing our imagination and fueling our dreams.
September 15, 2011 | 11:44 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
Picture this. An author forced to write his masterpiece in pieces because A) in order to generate revenue, the publisher needs eyeballs hooked on his story for as long as possible and B) once the installments are finished the publisher can sell the entire work as a single volume and double his money. To add salt to our poor author’s wound, he’ll need to keep up with the publisher’s schedule and he’s probably not getting that great a cut from either the installments or the finished book. In fact, our author is probably just a few coins shy of welfare and is more than likely glad for the work—any work. A sad testament to our day an age? Only if you’re talking 1859.
Welcome to the world of Charles Dickens. The scenario described above was his, though you might have noticed how strikingly similar it is to ours. Today, an aspiring author wishing to sell his or her novel to a publisher comes up against the following harsh reality - very few people are willing to shell out an average of thirty bucks for a book, especially one written by an unknown author.
So what’s an aspiring Dickens to do?
Not fret, according to Molly Barton, president of Book Country, an online community for genre fiction writers, and VP of Digital Publishing, Business Development and Strategy at Penguin Group Online. “Stories don’t have to be ‘mainstream’ to succeed…storytelling of the future will be targeted to audiences that have a clear and expressed interest in that particular sort of content. Writers will continue to become more keenly aware of the depths of their chosen niche as they become as accurate as possible about whom they’re writing for and how to reach those people.”
In short, Dickens didn’t have a choice because there was no social media to speak of; no audience to reach out to other than the one the publisher chose to deliver. Dickens, arguably one of the greatest writers of all time, was at the mercy of the man paying the bills. Today “the man” is us. We’re an insistent lot and we like our lit like we like our caffeine - made to order. For those able to deliver, the world is their oyster and traditional publishers can all go to hell. For those who can’t, well, there’s always a job at Starbucks.
September 13, 2011 | 5:26 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
When The Jewish Journal offered me a gig writing a blog from the perspective of a science fiction author I never imagined that one week into the assignment my brother/co-author and I would be signed by International Creative Management Agency (ICM) . It’s a big firm with a wide reach and we’re thrilled to be on board. Before you ask “what does that mean?” The answer is, “I don’t know!” I do know, however, that we’re now a lot closer to seeing our Unincorporated universe of books turned into a movie, TV series or whatever else can be imagined in this new millennia of entertainment. It’s going to be an interesting experience (to say the least) and I’m really looking forward to taking you all along for the ride (which I’d like to imagine may one day be in a stretch limo - Hey, a guy can dream).
September 8, 2011 | 4:24 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
We’ve all seen it and we all hate it. And by “we” I’ll go out on a limb and say pretty much anyone over 30. There they are, a group of teens hanging out, but somehow not hanging out. In fact the only thing they all seem to be sharing (besides proximity), is an appalling taste in fashion and significantly strengthened thumbs. So what gives? Do they portend the end of social cohesion, manners, and dare I say it, society as we know it?
Not so much.
They do however represent what will probably be the greatest generation gap like…ever. Why? Because they’re actually thinking and processing information differently than most of us. In the grand scheme of things imagine, if you will, a chart of the learning and communication process since the time of Og who one day figured out that sharpening the end of a stick was far more effective at bringing home the bacon than say, poking the enraged, carnivorous hog. Og then taught that skill to his kids, who taught it to theirs. Short of occasionally being bludgeoned into somnolence by someone wanting to show off his or her PowerPoint skills, the “Og” method of linear communication has mostly held true. But neither Og nor us (his unwitting acolytes) ever bargained for Steve Jobs, Google, Facebook and Twitter. Collectively, those entities have taken the roiling cauldron of data unleashed on us in 1992 by the world’s first web browser, Mosaic, and made it all so horribly intuitive.
What does this mean for those of us who still prefer wearing a watch on our wrists? Not much. There’s no real need to embrace any of the social media trends currently holding court in today’s ether (unless of course you have something to sell – a topic for another time). What it does mean for those being inculcated with it today is entirely different. Let’s go back to our group of teens.
They don’t seem to be talking to each other much less aware of their immediate surroundings. But in fact, studies show they are. The Digital Youth Project (the largest and most comprehensive study of young peoples’ internet use ever undertaken in the US) is a three-year ethnograph of kids’ online usage. In a nutshell, the stuff we believe they’re not doing (communicating effectively, building healthy relationships, etc.) they are in fact doing. But here’s the kicker, it’s only possible within a framework of hanging out, messing around and geeking out in that etherworld. That is to say, (quoting the author, Cory Doctorow) “all the ‘time-wasting’ social stuff kids do online is key to their explorations and education.”
To wit, this terrifyingly brave new world seems to be providing today’s kids with previously unimagined avenues for extending their social worlds, learning capabilities, and ultimately, their independence.
The research, by the way, is available to download in a succinct two-page summary , and a 55-page white paper. There’s also a full-length book called (no surprise) Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.
So the next time you see a gaggle of teens texting to their heart’s content, fear not – it doesn’t represent the end of society as you know it (bad fashion never having killed anyone); it does however represent something far more extraordinary - a whole new beginning.
September 1, 2011 | 4:42 pm
Posted by Dani Kollin
It’s not everyday that you’re gifted an Iphone from a high priced hooker, especially one you’ve never met. But that, in essence, is exactly what happened to me. I’ve retold this story so often I’ve decided it bears repeating in the blogosphere; not just because it’s pretty damned amusing but also because I’m tired of telling it in person!
A few months back I went bike riding in the wee hours of the morning (4 a.m. to be exact) with my friend, Lisa (the aforementioned cop). A good half hour into our ride we’d just polished off the roughly 6 mile ascent of Benedict Canyon and and had just made our way onto Mullholland Drive. It was there that I spotted what appeared to be a purse lying in the middle of the road. I turned my bike around and sure enough, it’s a purse. Lisa and I inspect its contents and find a credit card filled wallet with a Nevada drivers license and a $20 bill stuffed inside. There was also a full set of keys, and last but not least an iPhone4. My first thought was, “Lady, whoever you are, this is your lucky day. Not only has your purse been found by two religiously observant Jews, but one of them also happens to be a cop!”
Lisa and I finish off the ride at Peets Coffee shop (a tradition). We immediately call the numbers listed on the backs of the credit cards and report that we’ve found their customer’s belongings. We then, based on the driver’s license name and picture, find the woman on Facebook - a slam dunk! We message her not to worry - we’ve got her stuff and better yet, it’s being held in safety by an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department. We leave our contact info and then we wait….and wait…and wait.
One week later, nothing. I send out a few more messages to her on Facebook and call back the credit card companies. They too are at a loss for why their client has not gotten back to them (via email and snail mail). In the meantime Lisa’s run a (legal) search on the woman’s license in Nevada. Turns out she no longer lives at that address. Yet another dead end.
Ok., I figure, let’s do this another way. We’ll bring the iPhone into an AT&T store and ask them to track it back to their client based on the SIM card. Simple, right? Not so much. They tell us that they’re not allowed to do that and that we’ll need to bring the phone to the Apple store and have them use the serial number to track her down. Ok, then…we shlep the phone over to the Apple store where we’re promptly told that they’re not allowed to do that either and, you guessed it, suggest we contact AT&T directly. Sheesh, what’s a guy gotta do to return a phone around here?
At this point I have no choice, I need the phone’s serial number which means I’ll have to reset it (hoping the woman’s got everything backed up). Now armed with the sim card number AND the serial number I contact AT&T’s customer support line. When I tell the customer service agent the story (in brief) he tells me he’ll have to contact his supervisor. “Why?” I ask. “Because,” he answers sheepishly, “no one’s ever returned an iPhone4 before and I have no idea what to do.”
A minute later a very thankful supervisor gets on the phone, apologizes for his need to get involved and then reiterates his subordinate’s statement. Armed with the pin and serial, he begins his search in earnest. I can hear the clacking of the keyboard over the phone. Then I hear, “hmmm, that’s odd.”
“What is?” I ask.
“She doesn’t appear to exist.”
The supervisor explains that it could be that she bought the phone in another region and that he’ll need to expand his search radius to other parts of the country but it’ll take some time. It took three hours. He rang me up and said, “Searched everywhere. Whoever she is, she’s no longer in our system. Congratulations, the phone’s yours.”
Well I may be an honest Joe, but I’m not an idiot. It’s a friggin’ iPhone4 man, for free. Needless to say I was pretty excited by the prospect. I got the supervisor’s name and badge number (in case the Apple people gave me the stink eye when I brought the phone in to register it under my name). And I tried one last time to contact the woman on Facebook. Ready for this? Her page was gone! Whatever, I figure, I tried. I bring the phone into the Apple store and they don’t bat an eye when I tell ‘em the story and they’re more than happy to re-register the phone under my name. One small problem. It won’t start up. The tech looks at it askance and tries all his secret genius bar tricks; nothing. Finally he tilts the phone under the light and spots something. He shares his “aha” moment with me by explaining that you can see by the red/blueish hue that it’s sustained some serious damage (“Like a car rolling over it?” I think ruefully). Oh well, I tried. I let out a sigh, smiled stiffly and got ready to leave. At which point genius bar guy asks me perhaps one of the most beautiful questions I’ve ever heard in my life:
“You know you have 8 months left on your warranty—How’d you like a new iPhone?”
Yeah - that was my reaction too.
Dude disappears for a minute and comes back out with a brand spanking new 32g Iphone 4. I sign on the digital dotted line and I’m now the officially registered owner. Not willing to leave well enough alone I ask him, “what just happened?” To which he replied that “what happened” happens all the time—specifically with call girls and drug dealers. Apparently they’re the type of “vocations” that when they feel their cover is blown they toss everything and start fresh. The guy told me that the second we typed the words “police officer” into her Facebook page, she began to close up shop. He further said that at least once a month someone turns in a laptop or iphone under similar circumstances.
Well of course I go home armed with this new information and immediately google the woman’s name but now add any number of other sultry words to the search parameter. Bingo. There she is under “girls who like to party” and “Hot girls of LV.” You get the drift. Believe it or not, even after everything I’ve been through I try to contact her AND the guy who took the photographs (via the website). Neither ever answered back. No surprise.
And that my friends is how I am now the proud owner of brand spanking new iPhone 4, not to mention a drink-winning story at any bar for as long as I live.
Thanks for listening,