Wednesday, July 2, 2014


In my CES post, I told you about how excited I was to meet the Pressy guys, a Kickstarter project I backed. Well, 6 months have passed, and my Pressy finally arrived - way behind schedule. And as it turns out, way over the price of its competitors. To the right is the 'Klick', one of Pressy's cmpetitors, sold for quarter of the price, arrives in a nicer box, and available 2 months before Pressy was released.

To read my full review and impressions of the Pressy, the Klick, the Kickstarter project and more, please jump to my Medium article.

I'm currently trying a new micro-blogging platform called Medium. It allows fast posting of short stories, including simple, frictionless, online editing. Since this is my main blog, I'll include a reference to any Medium story I post, and you can always see all my stories at my Medium profile page.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hanukah in Munich

The moment you realize it’s impossible to forget childhood memories — a story for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014

Gate of Dachau, after the American army liberated it (
Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period. This year it was observed on April 28th, and commemorated 70 years since the annihilation of Hungarian Jewery.


As a child, growing up in Israel in the ‘70s, I was very fortunate to have all four of my grandparents alive. Almost everyone I knew had lost a grandparent, uncle, relative in the holocaust. All four of my grandparents lost their entire families; and all had a blue number tattooed on their arms, to forever remind them of their loss.

My parents kept mentioning how lucky I should feel, as they never met their grandparents. I heard many stories as a kid — and not just from relatives. There were still many people alive who had personally survived the horrors in Europe. They saw it as their moral obligation to pass their stories on, lest anyone forget.

Speaking of Germany or Germans at home was usually accompanied by a swear word, or simulated spitting. I remember watching football (“soccer” in Americanese) world cups, and rooting for whoever Germany was playing against. This was not strictly an Israeli behavior: in Montreal, where my cousin and his family live, no Jew dares buying a BMW, Audi or Mercedes — even if they could afford it.

Flash forward to 2004. At that point in history, the attitude toward Germany has changed amongst the younger Israeli generation. People had German customers, and even friends. Some Israelis even migrated to Berlin, seeking education and job opportunities. I myself worked with some German colleagues, and found them to be nice, professional, and even possessing sense of humor (which they were rumored to lack). General hatred toward Germany was considered an older-generation affliction.

Of my four grandparents, only my dad’s mom is still with us. (In fact we celebrated her 92nd birthday this past March — may she live to be a 120.) My grandma was livid when she heard my parents and I went to visit Hungary. Her hatred of Germans is only surpassed by her hatred towards Hungarians, whom she considered worse than the Nazis. My visit to Budapest confirmed some of her opinions: to kiss up to the Nazis, the Hungarians voluntarily annihilated their Jewish population in less than a year — starting in 1944, when the war was nearly over.

I had been working as a professional services consultant at a small startup, in charge of European accounts. My week usually started at Ben Gurion airport on Sunday afternoon and ended there on Friday night, or Saturday morning, after a full week on site.

In December of that year, I was assigned a lucrative account: a major German company, based in Munich. I got in touch with our sales guys in Munich over phone and email. We agreed that the training I was supposed to deliver in English, would instead be delivered by one of them in German — to make it easy on the students. I would shadow the class, and assist with questions and exercises.
I told my dad where I was headed the next week. He was not thrilled, to say the least. He asked me to not tell grandma where I was going. He also reminded me that the next week was Hanukah — the Jewish holiday celebrated by lighting a menorah every evening. Sadly, I had forgotten his second point.


Leaving Israel’s always-summer weather, I landed in frozen Munich, just in time for Christmas season. Every place had Christmas trees and decorations; Christmas stores were everywhere. I met my colleague for breakfast and we took his car, a finely-tuned BMW, to the customer’s site. I was introduced to 8 developers and their manager, all of whom were extremely nice and welcoming. They were relieved to hear that they wouldn’t have to strain their English skills to become fully trained. I spent that day sitting at the back of the class, listening to my colleague deliver our slides in German. All conversation was in German. Whenever I jumped in, the pace of the class slowed, to allow for back-and-forth translations. It was a jarring experience.

The next day, I was supposed to get to the customer site on my own. “No problem,” said my colleague, “Munich has one of the best underground networks in the world, and our client has a stop right next to the office.” That evening at my hotel, I downloaded a map and started to plan my commute:
Munich underground map
Scanning the list of train stops, my eyes were attracted like a magnet to a name I recognized immediately: Dachau. You couldn’t have grown up in ‘70s Israel and not have heard about Dachau, the first concentration camp. I never knew it was in Munich itself. I located the line I needed to take, and looked for the last stop, to know which direction I need. My eyes landed on the second Munich landmark I recognized: the Olympic Stadium. A place where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in 1972. My destination was located between 2 places where Jews were killed for being Jews.

A terrorist at the 1972 Olympic Massacre
Memories started flooding in. I left the room and wandered the streets. My dad called: did I remember to light the Hanukah candles? I was ashamed I had forgotten. I started going from store to store, looking for candles. The only ones I could find were small, red, heart-shaped Christmas candles. I bought 5 (it was the 4th night, so 5 candles were needed), rushed back to my hotel room, and lit them on the windowsill. I remember hoping people on the street would look up, see the candles, and know that 60 years later, a grandson of holocaust survivors is back in their city, lighting Hanukah candles.

I Quit

Despite everyone around me being extremely nice and welcoming, the next day was torture. I cringed every time I heard German spoken; I eyed people on the subway suspiciously; I started feeling physically unwell. After work, I rushed back to my hotel room and called my boss. I told him in a few quick sentences how I felt, and told him I wasn’t sure I could continue doing this. I even offered to quit, if required.

I had one of the best bosses one could have (sadly, hindsight is 20-20 ☺). He had plenty of experience working in Germany, and he even speaks German. He calmed me down, explained it’s a common issue with first time visits to Germany by Israelis, and rejected my resignation. He said it’d get better. And he was right — it did.

Since that first time, I’ve visited Germany several more times. I met some very lovely people (and some that were not — but then, you have those everywhere). I helped close my biggest deal ever with a large German corporation. I worked long hours with German engineers. I heard plenty of German spoken next to me, and have not gone into culture shock again.

But I still never told my grandma where I went.

Originally published on Medium on April 29, 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014

CES Days 2-4 - Drones, Wearables, and 3D Printing

`Wearables` is still not a word in the Oxford dictionary (and consequentially, marked with a red dotted line every time I type it somewhere), but it would probably be added soon. The idea of equipping humans with sensors is age-old: remember the $6M Dollar man? With miniaturization, advances in technology, and price drops, I'm guessing Steve Austin would probably retail for $199 + tax if he were made today.

Tinke Blood Sensor for iPhone
People and machines generate huge amounts of data, even when at rest. One of the figures I heard this week is 15GB of data per hour generated by a modern car. For humans, many things can be measured: pulse, blood pressure, sweat, salinity, speed, location, altitude, steps - the list goes on and on, with new measurable data added every year. We are finally at a point where, on the one hand, sensors are cheap, and on the other, data analysis methodologies have advanced enough to find useful patterns in huge amounts of data (aka 'Big Data'). These are the main reasons why we're seeing a boom of sensors integrated into watches, wrist-bands, necklaces and clothes.

Smart watch
I don't know the percentage of booths that promoted wearables at CES this year, but it seemed like
there were a good number of them. I've had enough of smart watches on the first day: they all looked bulky, and none looked like it can be worn comfortably on a daily basis, or be worn by a woman.

I did like seeing sensors integrated into shirts, allowing you to improve your athletic regimen on one end of the spectrum, and predict an impending stroke or heart attack on the other. Imagine a day in the (not too distant) future, when your shirt will signal you to take a drink of water, or call a doctor immediately.

Printed chip
Just like last year, 3D printing had a big footprint at the show. It was less interesting to see the printers in action again (I've seen them all last year). But the rapid commoditization of the printers is really exciting: the sizes are coming down, prices are dropping and the resin spools are coming down to manageable prices. Being the non-artistic person that I am, I probably won't be able to design anything to print, even if I own a printer. But the good news is that this opens new markets, where you'd be able to purchase new designs online, to print at home. Or maybe purchase a design, and have a the company print out the result and send it to you - I can already see a potential Amazon 3D Prime offering in the future (you heard it here first).

Friday, January 10, 2014

CES Day 1 - A Future With More Pixels

ATTDevSummitDay one of CES 2014 behind us. For Suz and I, CES actually started yesterday at 3am. We flew out of Oakland at the @ss-crack of dawn to attend the AT&T Developer Summit. After voting for the hackathon winners (great competition, but my by-far favorite, Simon Signs – an app that translates sign language to English – did not win), we attended some sessions to hear about the new AT&T services, APIs and future directions. I learned a lot, and am especially looking forward to trying M2X – their new platform for connected devices (aka “internet of things”).
We followed the sessions with some clubbing and a Macklenmore concert. We finally got to our hotel at midnight.

Today, we made our way down to Las Vegas Convention Center to see CES itself. We started by visiting with Robert Scoble. I asked him about his latest “Google Glass is Doomed!” post. His take is that pretty soon, Glass would be more acceptable and accepted. Once price drops (his sweet spot price is $399 btw), and more people own it, it and its users will be treated with more respect (right now, people refer to Glass users as “Glassholes” – at least in the bay area). The future, according to Scoble, is that by 2020, you’d be able to ask Glass to get you a car to go to your hotel. Glass will give you directions to a self driving car, and charge you $15 for the ride. He’s aware of current limitations (some intended, and some mistakenly added to the product), but ultimately, we’re going towards a “Glassy” future. I bought a copy of his book “Age of Context” and got his autograph.

IMG_20140107_191559 IMG_20140107_124600

The rest of CES suggests that the future is going to have w-a-y more pixels in it. We spent the rest of the day visiting the large companies’ booths: Pioneer, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Sony – all are featuring 4K displays, curved displays and other UHD monitors and solutions.
I’m convinced my next TV will have a 4K display, and probably so will my next computer monitor. By far my favorite was a 4K 27” Samsung monitor, that allows you to choose whether to connect to one device at 4K, or 4 separate inputs and view them all at the same time at HD resolution each. The monitor also supports axis rotation, and different color compositions. Definitely geared towards professionals.

In the phone front, LG grabbed my interest with the G2, Nexus 5, and the curved Flex. Both G2 and the Flex have their main button on the back. To compensate, the phone can be turned on and off by double-tapping the screen (a feature LG calls “Knock”).
The current trend with cell phones seems to be ever growing screen size – completely the opposite of a few years ago, when everyone was trying to shrink technology. The Flex looks amazing, and its self-healing plastic back (you should watch a demo) blew my mind, but it’s just too damn big.

As if to prove the point, the Alcatel Hero is well aware of its size. Not only does it come with a special cover that uses LED for notifications, but it actually has a small accessory called “Sidekick” – that looks like a phone from 10 years ago – that connects to the Hero over Bluetooth, and allows you to make calls and send texts without pulling the big device out of your bag. BTW, Alcatel reps asked people to not take pictures of the Hero. I guess they completely forgot they were at a show. Next time, if you want to keep a secret – stay at home. So here are some photos of the Hero, and its Sidekick (pay attention to the white LED on the cover):

After walking the halls for hours, seeing screen after screen after screen, and hundreds types of cameras, the funniest thing I heard all day came from a guy at a line to see ShutterBall – a selfie button (it's a button that connects to your phone using Bluetooth, allowing you to appear in your own photos): Where do you put all the selfies? On the shelfie

Looking forward to seeing more tech tomorrow. We have 22,000,000 square feet to cover…

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Note: to read the full technical breakdown on developing Shrtr for Windows Phone, see my code blog post.

I made several forays in the past into Windows Phone development. I actually like the platform, and the development tools. Having experienced iOS (XCode) and Android (Eclipse) development environments, Visual Studio looks like it's in a completely different league. I think Microsoft made some major marketing mistakes promoting the platform, but they're getting better, with a lot of community outreach, developers' resources, and hackathons.

Last year I got myself a Nokia Lumia 710, and started hacking in WP7. 5 minutes later, Microsoft announced WP8, along with the enraging tidbit that my brand new phone will not be supported (why? they claim hardware compatibility, I claim greed). I was pissed off, so off to eBay it went, and off to Android development I went.

A year later, I just had to try again, so I got the very well reviewed Lumia 620 (in blue), and looked for an incentive to develop anything. It came in the shape of an invite to a DVLUP hack day at Nokia HQ in Sunnyvale. I became aware of DVLUP, the Nokia developers community, at the AT&T summit I attended last year. This year, they promised a new Nokia 620 (yay! another one), to any developer who builds a WP app, and publishes it to the Windows Phone store within 2 weeks. The challenge was on!

I've already been toying with an app that uses URL shortening services, to allow you posting/sending/sharing manageable URLs (rather than the jumble of random characters URLs have become lately). Since my girlfriend is doing a lot of URL sharing as part of her marketing job, I validated the need, and set to work.

You can find all the nitty-gritty technical details, and dev challenges, in my code blog post, but suffice it to say, I had the app ready within a week. I had to wait another week, or so, for Microsoft to approve the app for the store. In the meantime, I got the domain, and deployed the server side of the app. After successfully publishing the app, I had to wait for 2 more days for the DVLUP site to recognize the app, and attribute it to me. With the help of Paras from Nokia, I managed to accomplish the task in time, and the new Lumia is on its way to me!

I actually think I'll gift a 620 to my mom. She's been begging for a "smart phone" for a while. I believe Windows Phone is the best starter mobile OS - the UI can be turned to Hebrew (or any other language) completely, it has a very simple navigation paradigm - the tiles are big, readable, and self explanatory.  And frankly, you can't "break" anything in it. I'll try it, and report back on my mom's experiences.

Finally, due to the design decisions I took while developing the app, I ended up with the app logic on the server side, allowing me to develop an Android app (to be released later) and a Chrome extension, both using the same URL shortening services. You can download the WP app and the Chrome extension at Leave me some feedback and comments. Feel free to ask for your favorite shortening service, or feature. I can't promise I'll get all of them, but I'll try.

Final note: as can be plainly witnessed from bot the extension and the app's UI, I lack in the graphical design department. If anyone out there feels they can elevate the state of my UI (in either HTML/CSS or XAML), please let me know.

Download links