MEET: the end of teaching

The last week of MEET came and almost went with the instructors, especially in year 2, feeling a little overwhelmed. Despite some brief breaks for Greek dancing and other shenanigans, we were a bit worn down.

Ted teaches Greek dancing

The projects weren’t going as well as they could have been; we were constantly being interrupted by visitors; and it didn’t feel like we’d really taught the students what we’d set out to do at the beginning of the summer. A circle of students had formed during lab one day, channeling “ghosts from the underworld” and all chanting “Java sucks, Java sucks, Java sucks…”

Java brings students together

I’d been up past 1 am for two consecutive nights trying to debug my students’ code to no avail. Something worked at one point, and Ted managed to capture the “it compiles!” moment. Probably the happiest I was all week.

It compiles!

Even the year 3 instructors were having trouble focusing during the end-of-the-day meetings: their goofing off escalated into a full-scale card-throwing war that enveloped several year 2 instructors in their skirmish.

Card Fight I

Card Fight II

I know you’re thinking, “This place has really gone to the dogs!” And you’re right. It was a balagan, without the positive connotations. Then, one afternoon, one of our board members came by and started telling us what the visitors had been saying. Who’d been visiting MEET? You know, the usual suspects: The ambassadors from Norway, Japan, and Germany; Ethan Bronner of the New York Times; Warren Spielberg of the New School; Ben Reis; Dan Ariely… and that was just the beginning. Anat began telling us how impressed the visitors were with what MEET had created: “normal” interactions for our students in both the lab and outside on the field during snacks. Even Media Line did a nice piece on MEET, available here, as well as a video. After a particularly taxing few weeks, it was nice to hear some external encouragement and validation for the work we’d been doing.

The program ended on Thursday with the students’ final presentations and class council elections. After a few delays, we all made it down to lunch and an inflatable water slide. Some of the year 1 girls decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to ponytail Justin’s hair.

Justin's new hairstyle

“More about the water slide,” you demand! My students thought about trying to dunk me, but I pre-empted them by changing into a year 2 t-shirt and shorts and going down head first. Eyal decided that since he was so soaked that it would be a great opportunity to provide some very damp hugs to Veronica, who appeared very dry and happy with her current state.

Wet hug, part I

Veronica, as expected, wasn’t not terribly enthusiastic about this idea.

Wet hug, part II

Eyal persisted. Veronica was about to relent when…

Wet hug, part III

… two more friends of Eyal, also sopping wet, decided that Veronica needed more than one soaking wet hug. Needless to say, Veronica was non-plussed. But then she went and hopped in the slide, all smiles.

After cleaning up epic amounts of trash, the instructors piled into vans and headed into Jerusalem for MEAT BURGER. It is what it sounds like. And not kosher, so if you want cheese and bacon on your burger, you’re set.

Meat Burger


The next evening, after writing evaluations of my students, updating the wiki, and filling out more surveys, I went into Jerusalem to meet my (distant) cousin for dinner. I passed through the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and encountered a gathering of protesters. I wasn’t entirely clear what they wanted, but the signs in English said, “Jerusalem will not be Hebron”, and “Co-existence in Sheikh Jarrah”. They also had a pirate flag.

Jerusalem will not be Hebron (complete with pirate flag)

Further down Route 60, I walked past the Museum on the Seam (the 1949 Armistice Line) with its sign that reads, “OLIVE TREES WILL BE OUR BORDERS”.

Olive Trees Will Be Our Borders

All I knew before meeting my cousin was that his name is Mario Baras, and that he immigrated here at age 16 from Brazil after his family fled there from Europe before the Holocaust. He and his son Yoav picked me up and we drove almost down to Tel Aviv, where they live on a moshav (a community of ~100 families, several of whom farm the land). We stopped to get gas, and I saw a Haredi man filling up his motorcycle’s tank. On the back seat there was a specialized holder for his black hat!

Hat holder for haredim

Mario’s moshav is very quiet and is in a lovely area south of the road to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I ate figs directly off the tree Yoav planted when he was tiny, as well as passion fruits from the neighbor’s tree. Sababa! We then headed into Rehovot for dinner, and the pasta bar had GLUTEN-FREE PASTA. Granted, it tasted sort of like cardboard, but it was still EDIBLE PASTA.

Gluten-free pasta

It’s been incredibly hot here: ~100˚F/38˚C, with more humidity than usual. I’ve been brave and have been wandering the Old City and East Jerusalem in search of postcards, ceramic pomegranates, scarves, and other souvenirs, but I sort of feel like I’ve been swimming when I return back inside.


Tonight is the year 3 students’ graduation, and then we’re leaving early in the morning to hike Masada at sunrise. We’re also supposed to head to Eilat tomorrow for a few days of R&R on the Red Sea, and the weather seems to get hotter and hotter every time I look at the forecast.

Picture 4.png

On top of that, some folks have decided that this morning was an excellent time to fire rockets at Eilat, which missed and injured some folks in the neighboring city of Aqaba, Jordan. I hope this doesn’t cause MEET to cancel our retreat down there. It’s only acceptable in my mind to lob rockets at inanimate things like the moon, Mars, asteroids, Neptune, Trojan asteroids, etc. And by “lob at” I mean “carefully design a mission to”. We clear on that? Thanks.

EDIT: okay, we’re now not going to Eilat. Nothing can abate the strength of my displeasure.

Games

Weeks begin here on Sunday, and rather than starting off this one with lectures and labs, the year 2 students piled into a bus and we drove down to Caesarea, a former port city conceived of and built by King Herod on the Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea, named for the obvious ruler in Rome, has changed hands a number of times in the last 2,000+ years since its founding. Ruled by the Romans, Christians, Muslims, Crusaders, refugees from Bosnia and the Caucasus in the 19th century, and finally the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, Caesarea remains standing watch over a relentlessly blue sea by a coal plant between Tel Aviv and Haifa as it has for thousands of years.

Mediterranean Sea

Coal plant

Mustafa divided us into three groups and I set out with nine students to build a scale out of ropes and pulleys. We then created a catapult out of crooked sticks and rope, solved pattern puzzles as a team, crossed 50′ of sand using boards on top of blocks, poured water from a jug to a bucket 30′ away using bamboo slats to carry the water, and even got to dabble in archery for a few minutes.

Balancing act

Returning to the van

What an astounding place to have such easy access to: Roman ruins of a stadium and racetrack; artisans’ shops; great SCUBA diving; and lots of lush grass. Did the year 2 students come down here often on their own? One remarked that he couldn’t visit the sea unless he was with MEET due to where he lived and the permit process. Couldn’t we have a bit more unstructured time with our toes in the sand, watching the waves and skipping stones?

A brief moment of normalcy


We split on Monday into project groups to build the different components of our instant messenger client. My group is developing a plugin that lets you play games against different buddies, regardless if they’re on Google Talk, Yahoo, or Facebook chat. We didn’t start building until today, but I’m really excited to see how the students will run with the project and make it their own.

One pair in lab has all but implemented the graphics for their own version of Pong (complete with paddles and a moving ball); the hard part for them is understanding the underlying “physics” of how to make sure the ball doesn’t go through the paddle. We’ll see how it goes playing collaboratively over the network!


Earlier this week I was playing a theater game with a number of year 1 students, the one where you point at another person in the circle and say either “zip”, “zap”, or “zop”. The next person in the circle then decides whether to continue zipping or zapping around the circle, or opts to point at another player and choses one of several actions. My favorites from high school include “viking” (the selected person uses their fingers to form viking horns and the two people standing next to the viking begin paddling and chanting “Viking! Viking! Viking!”); “impersonation” (the selectee has to act like a celebrity, a mutual acquaintance, or even an animal); and “baroogah!” (everyone jumps up and shouts “baroogah!”).

The students had some other variations: “Charlie’s Angels” (three folks do the Angel pose); “astronaut” (selectee pretends to be walking in a spacesuit; folks on either side make alien ears and go “beepbeepbeepmeepbeep”); and “toast” (people on either side pretend to be a toaster oven; person in the middle hops up and calls out “bing!”). My favorite one, which almost had me falling over while laughing, had a distinctive Middle East flair: “schwarma”.

Around here, schwarma is meat of either the lamb or turkey variety roasting on a big spit rotating vertically in an oven. At the schwarma shop, the fellow behind the counter uses an electric shaving device to cut off little bits of the meat into a pan, transfers the shavings to your pita, laffa, or plate. The game version? The student in the middle rotates while the folks on either side make sizzling noises and hold their hands up, pretending to be the heating elements of the roasting oven. A fourth person begins making shaving noises and pretends to trim pieces of schwarma off of the rotating “meat”.


One of the Y1 students was having a bit of a rough day, so Michaela asked her if the student would feel better and work in lab if the student got to draw a mustache on Michaela’s face. Believe it or not, it worked.

Michaela is gangsta


Dvir and Rene were horsing around a little too rowdily before lecture the other morning, so I had the taller of the two carry the smaller up the stairs to our lecture hall. At the very least, we were all entertained.

Piggy back rides


We had Sports Day yesterday, with lots of soccer (that’s what American Football is called here), Ultimate, basketball, volleyball, paddleball, and a mysterious game involving acting like a ninja. I lost on the first round every time, but the Y2 students managed to hold their own against the other instructors and Y3s. For lack of photos of the game, here’s one of Tiny Cat from two weeks ago. See his white-tipped tail?

Tiny Cat returns!


Tonight marks the beginning of the weekend, as well as the parent event. We leave tomorrow at 7 am for the north to see the Golan as well as Nazareth. Afterward, we’re going kayaking on the Jordan! Next week we’re having some visitors from the Japanese and German embassies (the former sponsors MEET; the latter is considering doing the same), and our students will start having enough time to make great progress on their projects. We’re really looking forward to the results.

This week’s questions:

  1. What are you most looking forward to this weekend?
  2. Did you have any opportunities to “play” this week?
  3. What was something you did with unexpected results?

Thanks for reading!

Mediterranean Sea

We drove down the hill to Tel Aviv-Yafo on Friday morning, leaving behind the dry heat of Jerusalem and our first week of teaching for a weekend of humidity along the coast.

South from Old Jaffa

Jaffa/Jappo/Yafo/Yaffa has been around since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks: it’s where Perseus rescued Andromeda from the jaws of a sea monster. Even the Egyptians had a gate on the hill dedicated to one of their pharaohs.

Ramses Gate

The Ottoman Empire built fortresses in the city overlooking the transparent ocean, as well as fountains for caravans with elaborate inscriptions in Arabic.

Watering hole

On a clear day you can see to the snow-capped mountains of the north and the Gaza Strip to the south; alas, Friday proved hazy.

Tel Aviv from Jaffa/Yafo

The most incredible part of the tour was a citrus tree suspended in air growing out of an egg. Seriously.

Floating tree

Citrus in egg

We found the flea market in Jaffa, next to which a pickup truck was overloaded with watermelon. At 1 NIS/kilo, these things are incredibly cheap and tasty.

Watermelon truck

We had a lovely tour through Old Jaffa with a hilarious tour guide recommended by the American Embassy, then headed to the beach in Tel Aviv. Warm, decadent water. Big waves. Lots of wind. Random catamarans and paddle boarders bobbed by as we played in the surf.

Catamaran navigating the waves

More photos here.

Saturday morning I rolled out of bed at the youth hostel and ate the breakfast provided by the hostel (yay, free food; boo, kosher dairy meals), then went back to our room to take a nap. I woke up to find out that several of the other instructors had gone out to get brunch at a place with gluten-free bread. And didn’t bring me any. Oh, the injustice of it all. Woe.

We drove over to a beach north of the power plant in Tel Aviv for the afternoon where I spent as much time as possible swimming in the incredibly clear water. Eric and Shin got stung by jellyfish, and I still have water in my ear four days later, but it was incredible to be somewhere with no deadlines, no computers, and just sunlight, sand, and water.

In other news, teaching is going pretty well: the year 2 students adore Domo-kun, and only 24 hours after being introduced to the idea of interfaces I was able to convince an anti-interface student that this concept is awesome. Labs are occasionally a bit chaotic (big balagan), but I think for the most part our students are getting the ideas we want to convey. Hopefully week two will prove to be even better.

Students arrive tomorrow!

Our lectures are prepared, our labs are tested, but we’ll still have to check our classrooms for cats tomorrow. Twenty-nine year 2 (Y2) students arrive tomorrow, and we’ll get to introduce them to the wonders of software engineering as well as abstraction and modularity. (And no, I haven’t been having dreams about model-view-controller, why do you ask?)

But! Before my life becomes all IM client all the time, here are some more images from around Jerusalem taken during the last week.

Parking

I’ve driven about 80% of the time we’ve been here, and it’s actually a lot of fun. Aside from no right turn on red, it’s like driving in Boston, except you’re a lot more likely to get cut off by someone driving at warp factor nine. One of these days, Eric and I are going to take the standard transmission van out and try to refresh our memories on how to use a clutch. Adventures in transporting eight or so people from point A to point B aside, here are some images of the stunning parking jobs we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks.

Parking: you're doing it right

You see some pretty epic parking jobs around here, namely this sedan neatly positioned under a staircase in the Old City. How did they do this? Three hundred-point turn? Your guess is as good as mine.

Parking: you're doing it wrong (or right)

Mr. Timmons is just as befuddled as I am at this parking job at Mount Scopus.

Cats

Tiny cat investigates

Remember Tiny Cat who hid in the classroom? I finally got a photo of him, scared to death. Unfortunately, you can’t see his adorable white-tipped tail.

Around Hebrew University

Taking notes

We spent a lot of last week preparing for the students’ arrival. Domo-kun couldn’t wait to take notes.

As part of the teaching workshops, we got to teach anything we wanted for five minutes. I did my usual instruction on how to tie a bowline knot. Justin taught us all about vampires. I’ll give you a hint as to which presentation made it on to YouTube.

Working outside

Eventually we became bored of working in the lab known as the Aquarium and migrated out under the trees on the lawn. Thank you, Hebrew University, for having such lovely, shade-providing arboreal specimens as well as strong outdoor wireless!

In Search of Food

Since I haven’t eaten gluten in over a year, getting proper nourishment around here is a bit of a challenge since almost everything is made of wheat. I know you’re about to say, “try the hummus!”, but you are most certainly incorrect: that stuff is like spackle and turns one’s stomach into concrete. We maintain our rating on the stock of Middle East Hummus Producers Unlimited as a STRONG SELL. Put your NIS toward raw materials instead.

Things here on Mount Scopus shut down on Friday afternoon, and don’t generally reopen until Saturday night at the earliest, though usually it’s Sunday morning when most businesses resume commerce. Thus, everyone does their shopping early on Friday afternoon, so by the time I make it to the grocery store on Sunday it’s like a Soviet supermarket with nothing left on the shelves. Since prepared food doesn’t do much for me, I’m generally good about buying my own food and cooking for myself. The vendors at the Damascus gate have great prices on fruits and vegetables, and Mahane Yehuda’s sellers have good prices on Swiss chard and peaches, though the dried fruits and nuts are a bit expensive. Too bad I haven’t found a source of gluten-free bread yet.

Domo-kun and a pita full of falafel

Domo-kun tried some falafel and chips in pita bread. Verdict? “Domo domo domo…”

Wedding celebration

Last night we decided to head out for dinner, heading vaguely for a schwarma place that George recommended in East Jerusalem. After a long and slightly exciting stroll down Wadi Al-Jos (horses! no sidewalks! accosted by street kids who punched Ben!), we found the place to be closed, so we decided to press on to the next street, where we encountered a wedding celebration. The groom was lifted onto another man’s shoulders while another man played the bagpipes. Everyone was dancing, chanting, and clapping. Fireworks kept being set off further down the street. We later passed the women of the wedding party, hanging out in front of a building further down the street and watching the men dance. The groom, however, did not look like he was particularly enjoying the merriment.

We, on the other hand, promptly discovered the nearby wonders of Azzahra Hotel and Restaurant, and did we ever enjoy that experience. Reasonably priced menu for an upscale place (dishes starting around $14), great service, lovely atmosphere (huge windows surrounded by trees and ivy), and tremendous lamb dishes. Kim and Larisa reported the pizza to be amazing. Our rating on this establishment is a STRONG BUY.

Finally, you’ve reached the end of this installment with a dose of this week’s questions. Respond via email or comment if you so choose, and thanks for reading!

  1. What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten in the last week?
  2. What made you laugh the hardest in the past few days?
  3. Anything particularly awesome you’ve seen on the roads?