Will psychokinetic powers propel Shaul Mofaz to the top?

Oren Zarif with a happy patient

For several years the local “In Jerusalem” supplement to Friday’s Jerusalem Post ran series a full-page ads for a “miracle worker” named Oren Zarif who claimed to heal people through his psychokinetic powers. His ads featured rows of elated  patients with brief quotes about how Zarif had “saved me from painful back surgery,” or “made the pain in my neck go away” (the latter presumably had nothing to do with ridding the patient of an ex-husband or wife).

Zarif never explains how he does it, but the ads featured graphics of some squiggly lines going from Zarif’s head to the now-cured-ones.

Frankly, I always found the ads kind of pathetic. I mean, who would feel the need to pay good money to have some unknown guy with long stringy hair send squiggly lines across the ether.

Apparently, Zarif thinks that Shaul Mofaz should. In a letter to Mofaz, the new head of Kadima who displaced Tzippi Livni in the party’s primaries last week, Zarif has apparently demanded that Mofaz make him his number two man in Kadima. This comes from this morning’s online edition of The Times of Israel.

Zarif has always had a big ego – the copy in his ads leave no room for modesty – but this latest play goes over the top. Zarif claims that it was only because of his supernatural powers that Mofaz won and that “the political system can’t operate without the aid of [his] alternative powers.” It’s also not the first time that Zarif says he has intervened in the past on behalf of other politicians, though he wouldn’t provide specifics.

Zarif operates four treatment clinics in Israel where he “transfers energies to the subconscious of the patient, awakening a process of self-healing,” according to his website. This, however, appears to be his first foray into politics.

It comes with an explicit threat. If Mofaz doesn’t heed his demands, Zarif says, he will send those squiggly lines towards Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, ensuring his future success in the next election.

Perhaps Mofaz should give in to Zarif’s psychic blackmail. Zarif promises that “if I am number two on [Kadima’s] list, I will retire from my business.” That might not be good for Mofaz, but it sure could help the rest of us. And isn’t that what politics is all about – helping the voters.

Squiggly lines coming your way, Shaul.

Foto Friday – The Innovators Way

Foto Friday – The Innovators Way

The Innovators Way is a new photo exhibition showcasing 27 researchers whose innovations, developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, improve quality of life and human welfare worldwide in fields such as health, safety, environment and nutrition.

The exhibition celebrates the work of those researchers whose initiatives have led to commercial products on the market today.

These creative initiatives came about as the result of intensive and wide-ranging scientific research, followed by patent registration, commercialization and finally marketing by Israeli and international companies.

None of this would have been possible without Yissum – the Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University. Yissum is solely responsible for the commercialization of innovations and technologies originating at the university. The company was among the first of its kind in the world when it was established in 1964, and is today ranked among the world’s 15 leading companies in this field.

To date, Yissum has registered more than 7,000 patents on more than 2,000 inventions, and has established 72 spin-off companies.

The scientists and innovations documented in the new exhibition include:

Prof. Haim D. Rabinowitch (right) and Prof. Nachum Kedar established the foundations for the introduction of genes for extended fruit shelf-life into standard tomato cultivars, turned cherry tomatoes into a global commodity, and developed the cluster tomatoes. (The original research was conducted jointly with Prof. Yosef Mizrahi of Ben Gurion University and Dr. Ehud Kopeliovitch. The seeds are produced and manufactured by Vilmorin (France), Monsanto (USA), Syngenta (Switzerland) and Bayer (Germany).

Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin who developed Exelon, a medicine prescribed for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Exelon can slow the progression of the disease in a significant proportion of patients and improve cognitive function in some subjects. Exelon is manufactured by Novartis (Switzerland).

Professor of Chemistry David Avnir, developer of Sol-Gel Technology for the formation of new materials which combine the properties of glasses or ceramics with the properties of organic and biological compounds. Applications of Sol-Gel Technology have been developed in the fields of optics, catalysis, sensing, polymers, biochemistry and pharmacy. Many researchers at the Hebrew University have participated in the various developments. Sol-Gel Technologies, Inc. (Israel) was established to commercialize products based on these newly invented materials, and is active especially in the fields of dermatology and agriculture.

Prof. Alexander Vainstein, the Wolfson Family Professor of Floriculture, who developed the MemoGenetechnology which enables the creation of new traits in plants and the enhancement of agricultural crops through genetic modification. MemoGene is a groundbreaking process for targeted and site-specific plant genetic modification, using highly innovative novel tools for genomic modification. The technology, which was patented jointly by Yissum and Danziger Innovations (Israel), is applicable to all plants.

Prof. Shmuel Peleg has developed technologies upon which two Israeli startups were founded. One technology creates panoramic stereo images from photographs taken by an ordinary camera, which has been commercialized by HumanEyes Technologies (Israel). The second is a technique for video synopsis, which enables hours of video surveillance footage to be viewed in minutes, and which has been commercialized by BriefCam. [Full disclosure: I work for BriefCam and know Prof. Peleg personally. I also thought the photo really captured his spirit.]

The exhibition’s photographer, Nati Shohat, is the founder of Flash 90, a photographic agency that supplies images to newspapers, magazines and other customers in Israel and abroad. Shohat’s news photography and artistic and portrait work have been exhibited in many venues and in publications such as Stern Magazine, Paris Match, Le Monde, Time and others.

Hebrew University has about 1,000 senior faculty members and a student body of approximately 23,000. To date, it has conferred over 120,000 degress. The University has some100 research centers and more than 4,000 research projects. Faculty members and alumni have been awarded 8 Nobel Prizes, 1 Fields Medal, 269 Israel Prizes, 12 Wolf Prizes, 18 EMET Prizes and 41 Rothschild Prizes. Founders include Chaim Weizmann, Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, Chaim Nachman Bialik.


Orange you glad I didn’t say Pelephone?

Orange has a nifty iPhone app that shows you exactly where they're ripping you off

Earlier in the week I wrote about my new iPhone 4S. I took a rather crafty approach in obtaining the phone. The local cell phone operators – Orange, Pelephone and Cellcom being the largest – are more than happy to give you a phone for “free” along with a plan with a minimum price of NIS 200 – NIS 250 (about $50-$65) a month. That fee, of course, includes a “hidden” charge where you pay for the phone over a period of 36 months; so the actual price of the phone comes to more than $1,000.

But that same phone is available from Apple in the U.S. for $700-$800, depending on how many gigabytes of memory you want. If you’ll be in the States or have a way to get a phone brought over from the old country, you can save several hundred dollars.

That was especially the case for me. I’m not a big phone talker. I needed a new phone (my ancient decidedly-not-smart Ericsson would unexpectedly just shut off, so I frequently missed calls) and I liked the idea of not having to carry a separate iPod and paper calendar.

My average talk and SMS bills have averaged about NIS 75 ($20) per month (true, now stop laughing already). All I needed was a cheap data package so, for example, I could use Waze to monitor traffic conditions or check email when I was away from a WiFi connection. That could result in a savings of at least NIS 100 – NIS 150 a month. Do the math and you’ll see that, in addition to getting the phone cheaper, I’d be doing pretty well over the three-year period.

With great optimism, I entered the Orange store in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood and asked for their minimum data plan. I was delighted to learn that I could get 250 MB/month for just NIS 24 ($6.50) above my regular plan. If it turned out I needed more data, a full gigabyte was just NIS 42 ($11). Sign me up, Scotty.

Imagine then my surprise when I received my first bill and the price for the data plan was not NIS 24 but NIS 38. What gives?

We called Orange. The polite customer service agent checked and assured us that there was no such thing as a NIS 24/month plan, that the NIS 38 was correct, and there was nothing we could do about it, short of going into Orange and confronting them in person. Nothing I like more than a round of verbal fisticuffs in Hebrew

Now, we had asked the salesperson at the Orange store for the deal in writing, but she refused. “It’s all in the computer.” This is a common tactic (friends at other cellular providers report the same thing). I don’t know if it’s even legal. Silly us for being trusting in the first place.

Now, without the great optimism of the first trip, we headed back to Orange. By some great luck, we got the very same salesperson. She appeared as startled as us by our bill. “Yes, it’s NIS 24/month,” she said. But the computer didn’t agree. Apparently, there had been a glitch and the first time around the computer was offering an old price that had already been discontinued. When she tried to fix our bill now, the NIS 24 option simply didn’t appear.

She seemed genuinely apologetic, but we were determined to get something out of the inconvenience (waiting for the Orange representative on the phone, driving back to the Orange store, waiting in line, etc – that had to be worth something). She offered us a refund for the first month. I demanded six.

“It’s impossible,” our salesperson said, not looking so apologetic anymore. “The computer won’t let me.” Sure, I thought to myself. Then the computer “suddenly” obliged and we settled at three.

The salesperson then suggested that we upgrade our plan. “You’ll save money,” she said, doing her best to coo us into compliance. We spent the next 20 minutes running calculations – cell phone plans are so convoluted they’re nearly impossible to decipher.

Let’s see: the new plan cost 38 agorot a minute for calls with 50 minutes free between Orange subscribers. We were paying a very high 89 agorot a minute but with 100 minutes free between family members and another 90 minutes free to other Orange users. One plan had the data package built in to the price; in the other it was extra.

And what’s to guarantee that, if we switched, once we got home we wouldn’t discover the same bait and switch?

Ah, but here’s where that new iPhone came in very handy. Before we started the conversation, I surreptitiously opened the voice recorder on the phone. The entire exchange was now preserved for posterity…or battle.

In the end we decided to stick with the plan we already had. And I have no idea if making a recording like this is even legal or admissible in court. But I don’t imagine it would ever come to that. After all, you can just switch to another carrier. I’m sure that would work out much better…right?


ISRAEL21c goes to college

“Four years ago, two students came to my office and said they really wanted to do a business-related trip to Israel,” he tells ISRAEL21c at the Jerusalem hotel where he and 18 students stayed for part of the recent spring-break trip. “I was in Israel in 1990 but, like most people, I knew little outside the cultural, the religious, the conflict. When I started doing research I was surprised to find how Israel was thriving.”

Malter began fashioning a full-semester course that begins with six weeks of learning about Israel’s economy, its industries, its politics and culture. The 2009 book Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer is the primary text for the class.

“ISRAEL21c is a recommended resource,” says Malter. “I get [the newsletter] every week and find it incredibly helpful in staying current so I can introduce the latest advances in Israel directly into the classroom.”

Malter is assistant dean for student development and strategic initiatives, and he is also a member of the Israel Business and Technology Committee in St. Louis. “ISRAEL21c gives us good relevant information and helps us see what types of speakers and events we want to bring to the St. Louis community,” he says. “It has a really good balance of business and high-tech news – it’s very comprehensive.”

Jennifer Glick, a sophomore from the Chicago area, said she heard Malter talk about the course when she was visiting the campus in her senior year of high school. “I thought it sounded amazing and I knew I wanted to take it if I went to Wash U, and it actually was one of the reasons I decided to come to Wash U,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

“I had visited other schools that had study-abroad programs but I’ve always loved Israel and looking at it from business perspective was something I really wanted to do.”

Prof. Steve Malter and his students at Better Place.

Antony Santiago from Houston says that before the class he thought of Israel as “just a nation that warred with those around it. So when I came here it really changed my mind, because I saw how it’s really innovative and creative.”

He especially enjoyed the group’s visit to Intel-Israel in Haifa (“They have ‘clean rooms’ where no dust can reach the silicon they operate on”) and Better Place, the electric car network.

“At home I’ll be able to tell my parents and friends on campus that Israel is a bountiful nation with very interesting and active people,” says Santiago.

All the students blogged daily (www.olinbizinisrael.wordpress.com) during the journey. And when they return, each will do a final project analyzing a particular Israeli industry, looking at its challenges and opportunities and comparing it to a similar US industry.

Wash U has a semester exchange program with IDC-Herzliya (www.idc.ac.il), where 12 American and 12 Israeli students pair up to plan a startup company.

“We hope to put together some additional collaborations with IDC,” says Malter.


Parent apps

They’re not just new parents, nor are they merely a couple, one of whom is a physicist/amateur computer programmer and the other a Arabic literature and comparative religion university lecturer.

Jerusalemites Miriam Goldstein and Michael Feigenson are now app developers, having created two apps that will appeal to the new parent set, all part of Parents2ParentsApps, their “mom and pop, family business that creates mobile applications for parents. We build apps that answer our own needs as parents, and strive to make them useful to others and as user-friendly as possible,” writes Michael on their website.

Perfect Timing was their first app, using FAM, the Fertility Awareness Method, to help learn about and identify and chart natural family planning. They found the method helped them get pregnant easily, and the app is an easy way to keep all the information in one place.

Once their son was born, they came up with Sound Sleeper, a white noise app that can identify when a baby wakes and play a selected white noise — ocean, rain, car ride, even the sounds of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market — to lull the baby back to sleep.

As I always say, whatever works. And now I know why they always seem so happy and rested. Smart.