It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Yeah, it’s a plane.

Israeli crop duster plane? probably?Universe, if you know how liable I am to get distracted, why would you send low-flying planes buzzing past my window, across the street from my house… for two hours?!

First, I was all, go go go WARPLANE!

Then I was all, go go go FIREPLANE!

Finally, I concluded, it’s really probably just go go go crop duster.

Still, it’s fun to get really close up views of bright, loud airplanes right outside your window. When they’re not bombing you, of course.

Hey, remember when they were WARPLANES?!

And we’ll have the rest of the talk in about 8 years

Yeah, yeah, I need to shave. It gets WAY more complicated than just getting dressed, Bebe.

Let today be marked as the day my 2-year-old daughter discovered… armpit hair.

Dozing in bed together, Bebe’s head nestled into my side, she’s stroking her fingers against my inner arm. Suddenly, she lifts her head up, eyes wide.

“Ima! Ima… Ima… what’s this?”

I stir and look over at where she’s staring. “Huh?”

“Ima’s arm?!’

Oh. Even without my glasses I can see the shadow of one-day lazy dark fuzz.

“It’s hair.”

“Hair?! Ima’s arm?”

“Yeah. It happens, B. Hair under armpits.”

She’s in shock.

“Hair in Ima’s armpit?” She looks over at her snoozing father, bear king on the other side of the bed. I know what she wants to say.

“Ha, yeah it’s like how Abba has hair there, too.”

She turns towards my huz, looks back at me and then calls out to him, in a voice of desperate concern, what I can only translate as:

“ABBA! Look! Please, look! Look at YOUR WIFE’S ARMPITS!”

#tomorrow13: The missing demographic; the outsiders left further out

Private propertyFrom the first couple hours I spent at the Israeli Presidential Conference on Wednesday, throughout the end of my attendance today, I had a nagging thought I couldn’t shake.

Someone was missing.

I had the same thought last year, when it was awkwardly clear there were barely any women speaking (though the ones who did were awesome).

But this week, it wasn’t just that there seemed to be no Israeli-Arab speakers – I could barely pick out any Israeli-Arab attendees.

Here, at an international discourse on tomorrow, Israel’s tomorrow, hosted by the man whose name makes-or-breaks the Peres Center for Peace, the outsiders were not even inside the building.

Actually, last year we did get an intro to Peres’ Ma’anTech efforts. And this year, a couple hi tech/media panelists mentioned hiring in Ramallah as well as Israel.

And plenty of speakers – including former world leaders and, oddly, Sharon Stone – had what to say about Israel trying harder for peace with the Palestinians.

But where were the Israeli-Arab perspectives on tomorrow? Were they invited? Where were the Israeli-Arab attendees, so that we could take some of the high-level intellectual stagetalk and apply it to building connections with the people who could have sat with us in the audience?

Before the morning plenary started, I sat down behind an Israeli woman who writes for a social change blog and we got to talking. She mentioned this was her first time at the conference. I asked her how it was going.

“I find it all very… high level,” she said. “Where’s the tachlis?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I gotta admit… this whole thing seems to be catered to American/Anglo tastes.”

It was the other half of the nagging feeling I had had since the start. The taste for intellectual discourse on a weekday, for rubbing shoulders with high level politicians, former world leaders, celebrities and of course, the Israeli president – it all felt a bit university AIPAC road trip for me. American Jews tend to find this stuff dazzling.

Where was the tachlis?

Where were the Israeli Arabs?

Where are we Israelis headed tomorrow, if we’re not at all focused on the missing demographic today?


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#tomorrow13: Dan Ariely on online dating & the ideal BMI to snag a man


What is it about online dating makes us roll our eyes?

The lying? The misunderstanding? The misleading profile pics?

At a panel at the Israel Presidential Conference today, Professor Dan Ariely, famed and beloved behavioral economics expert, presented what he’s found are the major issues with the online dating platform, and how it could be improved.

Online dating makes people boring

Ariely said his team was given access to loads of data – communications between online daters. They thought they hit the jackpot! Until they read through it.

Turns out, online dating correspondence is boring.

Ariely chalked it up to two possibilities:

  1. When you let people talk about anything, they choose boring, easy things
  2. Actually, we just don’t know how to talk to people – so we bring it to the lowest common denominator and talk about the most basic topic: your personal CV.

The problem is, we usually take the safest option when it comes to other people. Think about a couple online daters choosing a restaurant or where to have coffee.

His team created their own online dating ‘platform’ in which people were restricted to 20 conversational questions, all different, all interesting: Why did you break up from your previous relationship? Are there crazy people in the family? What’s your sexual fantasy?

Everyone was happier: the askers were more interested and the answerers were happy to talk about something other than parroting their resumes.

What attributes make some people successful at online dating?

In economics, this area is called labor analysis. For instance, it’s often discussed how some people can get higher salaries compared to other attributes, like height, weight, education, etc.

Similarly, Ariely’s team took into account the  attributes of daters against their salaries, and desirability. What makes someone more attractive as an online profile? Which attributes make some successful in their communications in online dating?

Turns out, women really care about men’s height.

How much more money would a man have to earn a year to be as attractive as someone an inch taller? It would take a yearly salary hike of $40,000!

A basic flaw of the online dating interface helps people search for partners based on exaggerated superficiality – superficial attributes – like height.

By the way – Ariely found that online dating men really care about women’s BMI – ideally measuring at a nearly anorexic 19. And how much do women need to earn to be one BMI point higher?

For men, it makes no difference.

What happens when we convey superficial information about ourselves?

On average, as we learn more about people, we like them less. When we’re missing info about a person, our brains fill in the gaps in over-optimistic ways – so when we do meet for coffee, we get disappointed.

Obvious fact: Women get more disappointed than men – and never seem to learn.

So what can we do to improve the online dating platform?

Ariely has tremendous hope for online dating. It’s complex to find a partner to fall in love and spend the rest of life with. Online dating is supposed to help, after the match maker disappeared. Ariely found that for every six hours spent on online dating – searching profiles, corresponding – on average, people get one coffee. It’s not a great trade-off: it’s like driving to Eilat and back for a cup of coffee with someone that doesn’t work out.

To improve the online dating process, it’s worth looking at dating in the real world. It doesn’t look like an interview. You go outside the framework to experience something together. When we experience together, we can reflect on the other person in a better way.

So Ariely’s team created a virtual world in which online daters went on ‘dates’ to  virtual spots, like museums, parks, etc. Then they had something to talk about in their online communication, other than interview questions. That actually doubled the probability of going on a second date.

In India, Ariely studied the happiness levels of love marriages and arranged marriages. He found that the love marriages start happier, but decline, and the arranged marriages do the opposite. The crossover between the two? Year three of marriage.

The online dating market is trying to help people experience dating like they do in the real world, but with a major inherent flaw: online dating profiles are structured to be easy for computers to process – attributes, like height, gender, job – and not how people actually process other people.

Ariely likens it to wine vs digital cameras: We taste wine, and we know we like it but may not be able to list the exact reasons why. Digital cameras, though, have measurable specs.

So whether you’re an online dating platform programmer, or a starry-eyed hopeful seeking romance, Dan Ariely would like us to consider: we humans, as opposed to our computers, relate to experience goods, not information goods.

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#tomorrow13: Guessing at tomorrow – health, terrorism, climate, economy, politics, and of course, Yair Lapid

By far the most engaging panel of the day: Will Tomorrow Be Better? Some great sound bytes in here, and not just because the panel was moderated by Channel One’s Oren Nahari and joined by former newsman Yair Lapid.

Note: Some of these excerpts are transcription, some shortened for readability. 

Israel’s economy: Finance Minister Yair Lapid

When we ask ourselves what is the one thing that distinguish between successful human societies and non successful societies – the answer is – ability to change. Successful societies know how to adapt.

Israel has this ability – we have the ability to change in a non-violent way, the ability to reinvent ourselves.

We did it in 1948 – when a nation of holocaust survivors became a state. In the 1950s, when immigrants flooded and changed the demography. Changed from the nation of Talmud, to the nation of kibbutz, to the nation of education, to the start up nation.

There’s something in the Israeli DNA, the biography of the Jewish people – that is especially legible to the information era. Centuries of studying Talmud and Torah and now looking to the information highway. Intuitive uptake of the data. Ability to dig more and more in the same place and the ability to find within it new things.

In the next two years we’re going to be changed once again: the big move we’re doing now to enter the ultra orthodox into the labor market. It’s seen by many people as a solution to a problem or a financial move. But it’s a great social opportunity.

They know how to think, they know how to explore – if we want to create an economy based on innovation – this can only be compared to when in 1991 hardworking educated immigrants came from the USSR and lifted the Israeli economy to the sky.

Intelligence and flexibility of the young Charedi kids, combined with innovation and possibilities of the Israeli economy, will change again the Israeli society.

The US, our big sister, is emerging from the crisis. Growth is better, markets are recovering. the boom in the east is not going to stop. even Europe is going to recover. One of the first beneficiaries is going to be Israel. The fact that we kept an economy in high growth – innovation based  and one of the least unemployment rates in the western world – puts us in a position without competition now that the global tendency is changing.

I sat with India the other day, discussing R&D opportunities. I sat with the CEO of Cisco the other day – who wants to expand, recently bought an Israeli company (NDS) for 5 billion. I met with a business delegation of 30 from China; a delegation  looking for investment opportunities.

They all know the world is changing. Don’t miss this opportunity. Come and change with us.

Our health: Dr. David Agus, University of Southern California

This week the US Supreme Court decided you can no longer patent human genes. Our DNA is now democratized. This will herald a new form of health care and awareness of each of us, of ourselves. Each of us has the ability, for a small amount of money, to look into our own DNA.

You can control most of your risk with this info. You’re body is talking to you all the time – we just never listened. Health care in the future: we will be listening.

The microbiome is the next field of growth. We have more bacteria in our bodies than we do hormones! Since the global climate is changing, so global micro organisms are changing, which means we are changing.

Growing genetically modified food: we have to because of the climates changing. We already have the remarkable technology that Israel has been developing for years – now we have to scale it not just for amounts, but also health-wise.

The human brain is an art. and the role of our technology is to make it a science.

Terrorism vs Global climate change: Professor Dan Gilbert, psychology at Harvard

Will tomorrow be better? Very easy to answer yes and very easy to answer no. Tomorrow will be better or worse depending on how we respond to a variety of threats.

Global terrorism: we have made great progress in the war on terror. there’s no chance that terrorists will ever wipe out the human race.

Global warming: this is a problem on massive scale  – we have made no progress in the last ten years – only backwards.

Why do humans respond to some threats so well, and some so poorly? We’ve evolved to respond to threats that have four features – and terrorism has all four, whereas climate change has none.

  1. Intentional
    1. The brain devotes specific networks to understanding other human minds – what others think, want, plan hope.
    2. This makes us hyper-vigilant for signs of all things human – that’s why we see faces in the clouds, and not clouds in faces.
    3. It’s why we care about underwear bombers but not the flu (which kills 400,000 a year). Or our children being kidnapped but not about child obesity. Terrorists, child molesters – human agents. Viruses and french fries – objects.
    4. In the same week: Boston marathon bombing – 3 people died. 4 died in fishing accidents, 186 in a China earthquake, 1,000+ in the Bangladesh factory, 
    5. If the WTC had fallen from lightening hitting the towers, we wouldn’t remember the date it happened. 
  2. Immoral
    1. Humans feel disgust and anger as reactions to moral rules. Moral rules, as they’ve been known since the beginning, are generally about food and sex. Most societies have moral rules about food and sex, but not about air conditioning.
    2. Global warming makes us worry, but it doesn’t make us disgusted – the way gay marriage and flag burning do.
  3. Imminent
    1. The human brain is a ‘get out of the way’ machine. Good at getting out of the way of oncoming dangers.
    2. Then, 400,000 years ago, we got a new trick – thinking about getting out of the way soon – not in the moment now. Our ability to think about the future is a new skill, relatively.
    3. Terror is a threat today, and climate change is all of our tomorrows.
  4. Instant
    1. The human brain is very sensitive to changes,like weight, size, light. But it’s not sensitive to these changes if they happen very slowly. It can be massive but still go unnoticed…
    2. For example: baldness happens one hair at a time!
    3. When environmental disasters happen all at once, we get upset – like a massive oil spills.

We are all the progeny of people of humans whose fear was a man with a stick coming to take their food and women. When confronted with these threats, we respond quickly and strongly.

Will tomorrow be better? if we chose our battles like our ancestors, there is no doubt tomorrow will be bleak. But if we can use this new part of our brain to consider the danger coming, our tomorrow can be quite bright.

Israel’s international politics: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, women’s rights activist

Today Israel is an oasis of peace and economic prosperity in a difficult region. Today Israel has made effort. Today Israel has no peace.

It has something else – quiet.

A better tomorrow would be for this to come to a peaceful end for the Palestinians and Israelis. This peace has become an elusive thing; very few people believe in it, with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Despite what it is up against, Israel is stronger than it was ten years ago. Sometimes I think that the more they wish for Israel’s destruction, the stronger it becomes.

But what worries me is that Arab and Muslim leaders say they will not rest until Israel is destroyed. In the Arab spring, young Arab and Muslims are trying to stand up to their leaders. But in their passion and hatred of Israel, nothing has changed.

In their tomorrow, Israel does not exist.

Today, the ordinary Israeli man and woman in the street knows this, and is willing to live with this reality.

if Israel’s tomorrow seems incredibly hard to contemplate, we must think about Israel’s yesterday.

People who know that – people as old as the president or older – will maintain faith in Israel today, for I’m sure, if you continue to be as resilient as you are, that tomorrow will be better.

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#tomorrow13: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely says we’re good, dishonest people

Waiting on line to enter a session, I became totally consumed in fascination over the behavior of some of the other people in line. Of course I use the term line loosely. People queued up early, creating a mob scene within five minutes.

I couldn’t help but focus on a particular woman at the absolute front, pushing at the rope cord, snapping at the stubborn security guard, and even tattling people who seemed to be getting ahead and sneaking through a different door.

All that, and here we were waiting for a talk by renown professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely, who was to address dishonesty and our tendency to act dishonestly.

Here are my notes from his highly entertaining talk:

There was a troubling piece of research: two people in a room. We ask them to please talk to each other for ten minutes, introducing themselves. Ten minutes later we asked ‘did you lie in the last ten minutes?’ Everyone said no. When we played back a tape… turns out, on average, people lied 2-3 times in ten minutes.

We all lie from time to time… but we all generally think of ourselves as generally nice and honest people.

How do we rationalize this?

Well, even God lies: In the story where He tells Sarah that she will have a child with Abraham, she laughs – my husband is too old! God tells the same to Abraham, but tells a white lie in there – after all, it;s for shalom bayit!

How do we measure dishonesty?

Here is one method: We gave people a sheet of paper with 20 math problems – everyone could solve all the problems with enough timem but we only give five minutes. After, they are told they get a dollar for every coreect answer, and to tally them and then shred the paper. On average, people were given six dollars for siz correct answers.

What the testers knew is that on average, people were actually getting four right.

Is it a few people who lie a lot?

No. There are a lot of people who cheat a little bit. There were 35,000 people in that experiment!

And it’s not too far from real society: there are big cheaters, but only a few. There are more little cheaters, like us, so we can feel ok. However, the economic impact of all that small cheating is actually higher.

What do we stand to gain and lose – is it worthwhile?

We changed the experiment – offered different amounts of money per correct answer. As the price went up, the cheating didn’t get higher. It stayed the same.
Lots of people cheat just a little, regardless of the probability of being caught.

People try to balance two forces:

  1. we look in the mirror and want to see good people
  2. we want to benefit from cheating

Due to our flexible skill, we can do both – as long as we cheat a little bit.

What influences rationalization?
A biggie: ‘I’m not really hurting anybody.’
People download illegal music… but they won’t sneak from a restaraunt without paying; that’s something that they enjoyed and interacted with people throughout.

Another way: Like stealing 50 cents from the office petty cash vs stealing a pencil – no one feels bad for the pencil.

We are becoming a society that has multiple steps between us and the people were dealing with. money is becoming more abstract – we’re not just dealing with cash. As the distance between ourselves, other people and money concepts, grows – what kind of people are we becoming?

How could you decrease rationalization?

We experimented with people signing honor codes – gave them a chance to cheat – but saw no cheating whatsoever. Even though it was a meaningless document, and they knew that, it still worked.

What happens when people are given many chances to cheat over time?

People cheat a little bit and balance feeling good, and then at a certain point people switch, and start cheating all the time. We call this the: what the hell effect.

So why would people ever stop?

Experiment: give people the chance to ask for forgiveness, confess. Once they do, cheating goes down dramatically.

South Africa used this idea for their reconciliation period after apartheid. If people can have a chance to say they are sorry then people can move on and change.

What are the cultural implications? 

Actually, Israelis cheat just like the Americans. Who cheat like the Italians, Chinese, Germans, English, Canadian, Colombian – all tested, all the same.

But dishonesty looks different in different places – how can it be the same?

The experiments are abstract and general and not embedded in any culture. They test the basic backbone of human culture. In that regard we’re all the same. But culture operates on top of it – it takes a domain – like illegal downloads, bribery, speeding – and tells you it’s ok to cheat. It matters per country, per domain.

My favorite part of Dan Ariely’s talk? 

When a moderator came in and handed him a note he had 5 minutes left. Dan looks up and says, “but my clock here has 8.5!” he looks cheekily at us in the audience and says, “I’m going to take the bigger one because we’re talking about fudge factors and cheating.”

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