Looking Through Google Glass at Jewish Education

How will Google Glass affect Jewish education? This is the blog post I recently published on The Jewish Week’s “Jewish Techs” blog on that subject:

In 1982 when I was in first grade at Hillel Day School, a Jewish day school in Metropolitan Detroit, my father brought in our family’s Apple II computer for show-and-tell. There were no computers in the school at that time so it was a seminal technological moment for the school. I’m sure my father figured he would blow my classmates minds by showing them how to type a few lines of the LOGO programming language and get the turtle cursor to turn and move across the screen. However, my peers didn’t have any mind-blowing experiences that day — it was only the beginning of what our generation would come to expect from computers and technology.

Fast forward to 2013 when, earlier this week, I was a guest speaker in my son’s third grade classroom at the same Jewish day school. Speaking on the subject of technology and Jewish education, I became nostalgic and told the students how when I was their age we would save one word processing document on a floppy disc. I then took a USB flash drive out of my pocket to explain Moore’s Law — the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. They weren’t impressed. These young people have become accustomed to better, smaller, faster technology being rolled out every few months. They see their parents turning in their smartphones for better ones and downloading new versions of operating systems. They know that the graphics on the next generation of video game consoles in their basements will be more realistic than the ones before.

Rabbi Jason Miller wearing Google Glass at the Macklemore Concert during the AT&T Developers Summit

Rabbi Jason Miller wearing Google Glass at the Macklemore Concert during the AT&T Developers Summit

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Google’s Android App Marketplace Offers Inspirational Hitler Quotes Apps

Apple has been criticized by mobile app makers for the difficult process involved in getting their apps into the AppStore. The reason for all the red tape in this process, however, is so Apple can approve each app for content ensuring there is no hate speech or racist material in the app. In France, Apple has even removed an app that was in violation of that country’s strong policy on anti-Semitism.

Google, on the other hand, has made it much easier for developers to offer their apps in Google’s Android marketplace called Google Play. According to Google’s website users are asked to “not distribute content that promotes hatred or violence towards groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin and religion.” When Google is notified of potential policy violation, it “may” review and take action by removing or restricting content, however, it doesn’t have the same screening processes in place that Apple does for its app marketplace. Google’s checklist for app developers to submit their creations for consideration in Google Play includes the requirement that one informs Google Play users of the app’s maturity level before publish. The available content rating levels are: Everyone, Low maturity, Medium maturity, and High maturity. However, Google does not provide for apps that are created in bad taste. A Google spokeswoman explained that the company removes apps that violate its policies against hate speech.

Such is the case with a new app for users in search of inspiration from non other than Adolf Hitler. One app in the Google Play store is simply called “Adolf Hitler.” The description states, “All about Adolf Hitler. Get everything in one place – Bio, Pictures, Videos and Quotes. Not only can you get them in one place, you can share all your favorites with your friends in a click.” Another app, Infamous Adolf Hitler Quotes, proclaims: “Looking for Adolf Hitler Quotes?? Then this is the App for you!” The apps often provide a quote of the day and allow the users to search a database of anti-Semitic quotes including such things as, “Jews are like mosquitoes that suck our blood.”

While quotes from The Fuhrer are searchable throughout the Web using any search engine in any browser, mobile apps dedicated to glorifying Hitler’s hate speech are something else entirely. Hitler’s writings, famous quotes and excerpts from Mein Kampf should be readily available for research purposes on the Web, however, Google should think twice before marketing mobile apps that celebrate the words that motivated the Holocaust.

According to the Anti-Defamation League website, the free app from kutaa provides users with vile quotes attributed to Hitler and has been installed by over 10,000 users within 30 days through Google Play. The Arabic-language app, “Hitler’s Sayings,” allows users to read and share what it describes as Hitler’s “beautiful sayings that we could benefit from in our lives” via social media networks. A description of the app says, “Hitler combines the charisma of the skillful physician and the grand juggler…Read in this application all of Hitler’s sayings and share them with your friends.”

These free apps (some have been downloaded as many times as 50,000 times) are not being used by Holocaust scholars or those seeking to gain a better understanding of the Third Reich. Rather, they are being downloaded and installed to extend the reach of Neo-Nazis in the U.S. While the Arabic language app Infamous Adolf Hitler quotes from the Arab app maker kutaa seems to have been removed from Google Play (it’s still available for download at AppsZoom), other mobile apps tauting Hitler as an inspirational leader are popping up in the Android app market.

The other issue with these Hitler apps that extol the Nazi leader is the vitriolic language in the comments section on the review pages of the apps. In the user review section of one of the free English-language apps dedicated to Hitler’s quotes, one of the more than a thousand reviewers called Hitler a great moral leader. Another user writes in a review dated August 2012 that the “app is so great and useful,” and explains that he wanted to learn how Hitler was able to “kill all the yahudi people.”

In September of last year, Google removed a mobile app of the conspiracy theory book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Google eventually removed The Protocols app from its website amid a large public outcry. Google will continue to remove these apps that praise Hitler, but more Android apps will crop up to plague its app market. Google needs to be more vigilant in prohibiting such hate spewing apps from ever residing in Google Play in the first place.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog on The Jewish Week’s website

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media Sites Get Political About Israel

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

Spending a week in Israel earlier this month I kept my eyes open to the way Israelis use technology. Even on my first time in Israel over 18 years ago I noticed that Israelis thirsted for the latest tech gadgets. Being a country that struggled with telecommunications early on in its existence primed Israel for a telecom revolution. In the first decades of statehood, stories persisted about families who waited years just to get a telephone in their own home. So when mobile communications took off in the middle of the 1990s, Israelis were eager to adopt the new technology.

One thing I noticed during my recent visit was that the Apple iPhone is much less common in Israel than it is in North America. I also got the sense that Israelis prefer the GPS app Waze over other GPS services. That could be in part due to Apple’s decision not to link Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in its Maps application or World Clock on its new operating system. Back in September when Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted that Apple’s mobile Maps application was inaccurate and had many flaws (including the Jerusalem situation), he advised users of OS5 to download alternative navigation apps including Waze which was designed by Waze Ltd., an Israeli company.

Other questionable situations in social media have led many to question whether these are really honest mistakes or politically motivated actions. A recent Huffington Post article titled Did Flickr Delete Israel From Its Map? raises questions about the maps plugin of the photo social networking site Flickr. When the user zoomed in on Jerusalem there were no streets or landmarks as there would be for every other city in the world. The article triggered two responses from Yahoo which now owns Flickr. The first email from a company representative stated that Yahoo was aware of the issue and was working to quickly improve what is a third party map provider problem. There was no mention of why Israel was the only city in the world affected. The full email message from Yahoo read:

The geographical data that appears on Flickr and Yahoo! Maps comes from a third party map provider and we are working with them to understand and improve the gap in geographic coverage that has been reported. Yahoo! always wants to ensure the best possible product experience for our users, and this falls short of those expectations. We are continually working to source and roll out coverage where there is room to provide greater mapping details. In particular, we hope and expect that you will see improved maps coverage of Israel shortly.

The next day Flickr debuted a map that rendered Jerusalem as a normal city with its streets and landmarks returned to the way it was. There was no explanation for the error.

Of all the social networking sites, Facebook seemed to be the least problematic with Israel labeling. It is a very popular site in Israel. However, one Facebook user found that according to the site she no longer lived in Israel proper. Laura Ben-David, writing in the Times of Israel, explains how she suddenly was listed as living in Palestine rather than in Israel on her Facebook status updates:

Sorry, I didn’t share the news that I recently moved. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone. It was so sudden and so fast. We’re not just talking about moving from one street to another, or to a different neighborhood. Not even to another city or region. We’re talking about moving out of the country; out of Israel. Yes, I know it’s a shock to you. It was a shock to me as well. In fact, I found out about the move the same way most people find out things these days: on Facebook. I found out when friends saw a photo I’d taken from home and posted on Facebook, and they told me it was tagged with this new, previously unheard of location, ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’

Apparently Facebook no longer lists my town of ‘Neve Daniel’ as ‘Israel’, but rather as a city in ‘Palestine.’ Truthfully, this type of geographical blundering isn’t a particularly new development. In fact, I remember a time when I could ‘choose’ to tag my location either ‘Neve Daniel, Israel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ Since 2010, Bing Maps have powered Facebook’s Places and locations. Frankly I don’t hold much stock in Bing Maps. A simple search in Bing could not even find Neve Daniel at all, in any country. I don’t know the back end of these programs, or how they work or fail to work. I can say that I successfully tagged the location on a photo, as I’ve done many times, as ‘Neve Daniel, Israel.’ Though what I saw, depending on where I was viewing it, was either only ‘Neve Daniel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ What other people saw, and what they rushed to tell me and send me screen shots of, was ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’

While the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis is indeed a complicated one, full of nuance, I think most would agree that these social networking sites are not the proper forums to play out the political situation. As far back as March 2008 Israeli settlers were fighting with Facebook to list their home city as part of Israel rather than Palestine. Ultimately, users in such settlements as Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel were able to switch their hometowns back to Israel. However it seems like Facebook is once again taking it upon itself to determine which country users live in. Facebook groups have popped up urging Facebook to remain neutral in this political matter and not unilaterally list Israelis as living in Palestine.

As Ben-David explained, “We are living in a new reality where our sense of history is being molded – crafted, even – through social media. News outlets are barely fast enough to keep up with the speed by which social media spreads information. Hence it is social media that people today turn to for their news. And their facts. Today’s information from social media will be tomorrow’s history. In other words, if Facebook says it’s Palestine, it must be true. Even though it isn’t.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online

After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave in Qumran in the winter of 1946–47 by Muhammed edh-Dhib, a Bedouin boy, and his cousin, it still took two decades until they were placed on display in a museum. Now, about 65 years after their discovery they can now be accessed online.

Today, the Israel Museum launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, which provides access to high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as additional data and background information. This is a joint project between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google, which has a research and development center in Israel.

So far, five scrolls have been digitized: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll. It marks the first time that the collection of scrolls is being photographed in its entirety since the 1950s. The entire collection includes 900 manuscripts comprising about 30,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

“We are privileged to house in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea Scrolls ever discovered,” said James Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher director of the Israel Museum. “They are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world culture, and they represent unique highlights of our Museum’s encyclopedic holdings. Now, through our partnership with Google, we are able to bring these treasures to the broadest possible public.”

The site allows for comments from users and offers insightful videos to further ones understanding of the scroll being viewed. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project is being funded with a major gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, with additional major funding from the Arcadia Foundation and the Yad Hanadiv Foundation.

Academics once had to travel to Israel to research the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the scrolls’ accessibility online should now yield an even greater amount of higher biblical scholarship in the coming years. This is not Google’s first time being involved in digitization project of this nature. Past projects have included the Google Art Project, Yad Vashem Holocaust Collection and the Prado Museum in Madrid. The scrolls are accessible online.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

How Do You Spell Hanukkah?

The #1 question during Hanukkah is: What is the correct way to spell the name of this holiday? Since it’s a Hebrew word that is transliterated into English, there are several acceptable spellings. But people still want to know if there is a consensus.

A non-profit theater company in California, the North Coast Repertory Theatre, even performed a show this past weekend entitled “How Do You Spell Chanukah??- The Stage Show.” Their website described the performance as “What is Hanukkah… or Chanukah? How do you really spell it, anyway? What’s it ever done for me and why should I care? Hash it out (a nice lean kosher hash) with our hosts Marc Silver and Doug Dickerman for a unique evening of fun and music and story telling. We’ll share, we’ll kibitz, we’ll have a little something to eat! What can I tell you, even if we don’t solve any baffling Jewish mysteries…we’ll have a lot of fun not getting anywhere together. Oy! Did we mention that we’ll have a little nosh?”

Melissa Bell, writing on the Washington Post’s blog, recalls that NPR’s “All Things Considered” addressed this very question back in 2005. They quoted Rabbi Daniel Zemel of the Temple Micah in Washington who said, “There’s no uniformity in transliteration.” Rabbi Zemel ordered a steering committee at his synagogue to come up with a uniform spelling. They decided on: Chanukkah. But then Bell noticed that this year, Zemel’s synagogue website was using “Hanukkah.” When she asked him what ever happened to his resolute steering committee’s decision, he explained that he was overruled and “an editor in the congregation made the convincing push to adopt the spelling used by the Reform Jewish movement in North America. Transliteration is an art, not a science.”

I’ve been using the “Hanukkah” spelling and I believe that this has become the most accepted option based on Twitter. While some might do a Google search to determine which spelling of Hanukkah appears the most, I just looked at Twitter where #Hanukkah was one of the trending terms this past week.

I was thinking about this Hanukkah spelling debate today while listening to the Sirius-XM Satellite Radio Hanukkah station. I had to laugh at this song by The Leevees which makes the confusion surrounding the ambiguous spelling of Hanukkah very funny. Check out “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?”:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Google Doodle for Israel

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Google.com’s logo has quickly become one of the most recognizable corporate logos. It also has been changed more than any other logo, sometimes even daily.

According to the Wikipedia entry, “The current official Google pop logo was designed by Ruth Kedar, and is a wordmark based on the Catull typeface. The company also includes various modifications and/or humorous features, such as cartoon modifications, of their logo for use on holidays, birthdays of famous people, and major events, such as the Olympics.” When Google adapts its logo for special occasions it is called a “Google Doodle.” I was curious to know whether Google would honor Israel yesterday on its 62nd anniversary of statehood with a special Israel-themed Google Doodle.

Well, it did and didn’t. There was no Israeli Google Doodle on the U.S. Google search engine site, but the Israel version of Google featured a Google Doodle with an Israeli flag (pictured).

The first Google Doodle was in honor of the Burning Man Festival in 1998. The doodle was designed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were attending the Burning Man, as an “out of the office” notification.

Israelis are already familiar with Google Doodle because of the Doodle 4 Google competition in 2008. Google Israel invited first to 12th grade students to reinvent Google’s homepage logo around the theme “My Israel” for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Google Israel received thousands of wonderful doodles and chose 40 drawings which would go on to the next stage. The winning doodle, selected from over thousands of entries, was created by Ilona Flaxsman, an 11th grader from Givatayim.

Ilona’s doodle graced the Google Israel homepage on June 30th, 2008. Ilona described her Google Doodle on the website: “My picture has simple symbols that everyone is familiar with. A white dove, known for bringing peace, and the flag with the colors that make it distinctive. The fact that we have a country that is 60 years old is testimony to many things (strength, hope, unity…). And what remains to achieve is peace. We all hope that some day a white dove will fly bearing witness to this.”

Another Google Doodle for Israel appeared on Israel’s version of the search engine in 2008 for Israel’s 60th birthday and had an Israeli flag with the number 60 replacing “oo” in “Google” behind the flag. It’s reprinted on the Googlified blog in which the blogger adds the Wikipedia definition of Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) followed by the phrase “Now talk about being controversial.”

Hopefully in the future Google will pay tribute to Israel on her Independence Day with a Google Doodle on the U.S. version of the Google.com website too.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller