Apple Was Right to Buy Beats

A few weeks ago, Apple announced their intent to purchase Beats, a company founded by two powerful men in the music industry.  Apple Inc, the company founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak is without either of its founders today at the helm for the first time since Steve Jobs returned to the company after Apple purchased Job’s company NeXT.  Wozniak or “Woz” as some call him left full-time employment at Apple in 1987, but is still considered an employee while Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 while on leave from Apple with pancreatic cancer.

Tim Cook was pushed into the lime-light following Job’s death.  Tim Cook, who became CEO when Jobs stepped down  earlier in the year, had previous served as the companies COO.  In his new role he was was expected to be not only Chief Executive Officer, but also Chief Showman like his predecessor.  Jobs had led the company through a massive resurgence following some difficult years.  He’d repositioned the company from mostly selling to computers, to one that also excelled with selling portable devices.

“An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone…are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is. ” -Steve Jobs at the MacWorld Conference in 2007 introducing the first iPhone.

Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone in 2007

Fast-forward to today and we’ve had seven different generations of iPhones hit the market, the successful launch of the iPad, the iPad Air, as well as changes to the desktop PC, notebook computer, iPods, and AppleTV lines.  These lines are relatively mature with various adjustments as new technology becomes available. Can’t miss features like Siri, a fingerprint scanner, and a completely re-tooled mobile OS with the upgrade to iOS7 have left shareholders and the public wondering where the innovation is for this tech giant.  Have they lost it without their fearless leader?

Enter Beats, the company founded by Dr. Dre, a rapper and music producer and Jimmy Iovine, the former recorder producer and founder and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M record label.  Both come with a great deal of credibility in their backgrounds.

Iovine in the studio with John Lennon in 1974 (credit NY Times Bob Gruen)

As detailed in a Newsweek profile of Iovine, the son of a longshoreman started out in the record industry as a janitor.  Before long, he was working as a recording engineer up to where he is now.  The profile goes on to describe his vision for success.  Iovine recognized that rap could be commercially successful before other labels had.  And it isn’t just this, Iovine is relentless in his pursuit.  Not only that, but he’s been a partner with Apple since the beginning of iTunes according to an article in the New York Times about the acquisition.

“Jimmy was one of the first people we showed iTunes to,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s content chief.

The Wall Street Journal revealed the Dr. Dre played a similarly powerful role at Beats as Mr. Iovine.  Dre’s obsession with making sure their signature product, Beats by Dre have the best sound possible was only one part of his role at the company.  The man whose real name is Andre Young served as a sort of eye for the company on culture despite being forty-nine years old.

According to his biography in Rolling Stone, Dre grew up in South Central Los Angeles.  He was one of the pioneers of gangster rap, working with Iovine and groups including NWA.  Dre later moved into producing music and partnered with Iovine to start Beats.

As part of the deal, Iovine leaves his long time position at Interscope, but takes on a Senior role at Apple along with Dr. Dre.  So what does Apple get beyond the talent of these two music industry titans?  This will be the first time in its history that Apple has purchased another brand not to just swallow it up.  There is a great deal of equity in the Beats brand.

In terms of hardware, it comes with the signatures headphone line, Beats by Dre.  Apple has stuck to ear-buds since it launched its first iPods in 2001.  While they are sleek and small, their are serious limitations based on their size for us in new apps.  Having an existing popular headphone brand to build off of for application for apps is a game changer, especially with recently announced changes include in iOS8 like the Health app.

The brand also comes with a subscription music service.  The popularity of the music service Pandora led Apple to launch iTunes Radio.  Unfortunately, there has been virtually no talk about Apple’s service while Spotify has gobbled up market share.  Consumers have begun to care less about actually owning music and more about having access to it (something I’d like to explore further down the road).  Recognizing changing consumer taste for the current standing music ownership model, Apple knew it had to jump in head-first to compete with Spotify, but didn’t want to re-invent the wheel.  This purchase positions them well in music business while not abandoning the current successes of iTunes.

At $3 billion, it seems that Apple bought more than tangible assets.  Apple will almost certainly have to recognize goodwill on their books for this purchase, but in return will quiet down investors after years of hoarding cash and breathe new life into the company.   Human capitol and product additions from this acquisition make me confident in Apple’s future.

 

 

The Zappos Experiment

Zappos, the Amazon subsidiary that sells shoes and clothing online announced that they would put an end to using traditional job posting boards.  This is another big step away from traditional business actions that make Zappos a unique player in the marketplace.  I think this action solves one of the biggest concerns I had for Zappos, but to understand why, we have to take a step back.

In January, Zappos announced that they would rid their company of managers and the traditional corporate hierarchy. The Las Vegas based company would move to a system called holacracy.  Holacracy was developed as a system that depends on teams, rather that typical departments. This system also distributes authority throughout an organization unlike traditional top down systems and more recently popular bottom-up approaches.  In order for this new system to work, teams must develop that can perform at a high level to complete projects using clearly defined processes, following clearly implemented governance and operations standards.

Holacracy.org has a really great graphic that encompasses everything that is part of an organization being a holacracy:

Zappos is growing quickly and had an identity that it didn’t want to lose.  They saw this as a way to keep their character.  They brought in Tony Hsieh to help move them forward under this new organizational structure.

“As we scaled, we noticed that the bureaucracy we were all used to was getting in the way of adaptability,” says John Bunch, who was brought on to advise Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

 

Zappos is by far the largest company to adopt this new model. Years ago, I can remember hearing about consulting firms approaching a model with some of the same elements, but not to the degree of Zappos.  A flatter organization like this could lead to innovation and keep Zappos from creating silos.  Even with these benefits, I’ve had my concerns.

My biggest concern for Zappos is created from one of the benefits.  As people adjust to the teams of a holacracy, you will have employees that will find niches that are nearly impossible to replace.  People will fill positions without titles, but with skills that aren’t typically found together in a traditional recruiting approach.  Replacing employees following turnover would not only be incredible difficult, but also incredibly costly. The new recruiting strategy Zappos is rolling out to find new employee in a huge step in the right direction towards a solution.

Rather than using typical job posting boards like Monster and Career Builder, Zappos has created a social network for its candidates.  Positions won’t be posted the way they typically are, but rather candidates will have to talk to the teams they want to join.  In the blog entry posted today on the Zappos website, the post states,

” Instead of posting jobs, we are simply asking people to find a department they are interested in and make an introduction. By introducing themselves, people get to become a Zappos Insider and can actually… you know… talk to us.”

 

Zappos is going to have the opportunity moving forward to get a better feel for fit of potential employees before they even come in for an interview. They’ll have an easier time being able to find the right applicants and free up their recruiters to work on strategies to retain some of their current employees as they continue to try to expand.

I look forward to watching Zappos expand.  I want to see how their new recruiting model will work in practice.  I’m not sure how long it will take before it makes a significant impact at Zappos, but I think it is an incredible opportunity to be one step ahead of their competition and I applaud them.  Who knows, they may be creating the recruiting model of the future.

Sources:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586300322355082?mg=reno64-wsj

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2014/01/15/making-sense-of-zappos-and-holacracy/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/01/03/zappos-gets-rid-of-all-managers/?utm_content=buffer93d6c&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer#!

http://blogs.zappos.com/blogs/zappos-family/2014/05/27/goodbye-job-postings

http://holacracy.org/

 

Driver-less Cars

I’ve been dreaming of a car without a driver since I first saw the Back to the Future movies growing up.  The thought of being able to roll out of bed and read the newspaper or eat breakfast on the way to work is way to exciting to describe.  I knew Google was doing some research on this.  I had heard somewhere that they were testing some cars, but I didn’t know  what kind of success they were having.  I found a really cool video of ones of the test rides with a blind driver named Steve Mahan.

In the video, Steve takes the car along with the team working on this technology from Google and goes to Taco Bell and the dry cleaner before heading back to his house.  While in the past I had considered this technology interesting, I hadn’t considered its benefits to society.  This technology is more than just something to give me a few extra minutes.  A driver-less car is first about accessibility for the disabled.  Think of all the people you know who can’t drive, from those that are born without sight to those with other disabilities.  According to the National Federation of the Blind in 2011, 6.6 million people in the United States reported to have a visual disability.  Giving just these people more independence would be life changing for both the disabled and their loved ones.

Beyond the benefits to blind and otherwise disabled , vehicle safety can be seriously improved with driver-less cars.  Driving accidents today are most often caused by human error. Eliminating the human elements of driving through programming will not only increase safety, but also lead to more efficient traffic patterns.  Traffic jams could become a thing of the past once Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication becomes the norm.

In February, the Federal Department of Transportation announced that it would allow lights cars to activate V2V communication. Early adoption of V2V travel will be fairly simple, since the majority of cars won’t have it.  The strength of V2V systems will multiply as more people adopt it. V2V systems will one day combine complex algorithms to create routes for the greatest efficiency of all drivers on the road.

The widespread adoption of cars with major V2V systems will be only as fast as the regulatory environment and car manufacturers can implement it.  Will state and federal governments be able to charge tolls to take the most efficient routes to keep roads clear?  Will the market be slow to innovate with these new technologies, much like Kodak was after developing digital photography?  Or will these companies take advantage and make the cars of today obsolete.  If I have any say, I hope that car companies follow the words of Steve Jobs, who in an interview with Inc Magazine said, ” You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. ”

 

 

On Internet

The idea I’ve been thinking about the most recently is accessibility to high speed internet. The UN a few years ago declared internet access to be a fundamental human right and I can’t agree with them more. Internet access is an equalizer on the same scale as the printing press and government sponsored public education.. The World Wide Web levels the playing field more than any technology that has been developed in my life time.

The striking question that seems to be facing many places is basic access to this service. In the United States, internet access is dominated by a relatively small number of service providers (ISPs). There is little challenging the current status quo of large ISPs. This is mostly due to major barriers to entry, such as infrastructure cost and upkeep. These barriers to entry leave these goliath-like oligarchs on a mantle where they can’t be challenged.

I wanted to look at what kind of challenges to existing providers exist, since I know they have been limited. Bringing internet access to low income areas and rural communities could be a game changer. While this has implications for promoting economic growth around the world, I plan to examine how this might impact Pittsburgh, while also looking at existing models where ISP giants are being effectively challenged.

The most obvious example of a disruption to the traditional ISP model has been the implementation of Google Fiber. Using advanced fiber-optic cable, Google has installed Gigabit Internet access as well as High Definition television service into the homes of people in select cities. Cities across the United States made bids to become Google Fiber cities, but only a select group have been chosen.

The reason behind Google’s expansion to serving as an ISP isn’t entirely clear. Brand recognition for this service is beneficial, but there are massive costs related to installation and upkeep of this service. Google benefits, because they provide a competitor to existing ISPs to improve their service. When other ISPs improve their service, Google also stands to benefit, since it allows users to access Google’s services more quickly. Having its own ISP may allow Google to maintain greater control over data about subscribers in given areas, especially in growing markets like Research Triangle (Greater Raleigh-Durham, NC) and Austin, TX.

While what Google is doing is great, the disruptive effects they will have will be felt mainly in areas where they expand their fiber services. Virtual monopolies by single providers haven’t faced a force that would push down prices in most areas, but it seems that this may change. Some communities in North America are solving the problem on a small scale by creating ISP cooperatives. Rather than buy internet service from Time Warner, Comcast, or AT&T, these communities are banding together to own and operate an ISP.

I’ve started thinking more about what would actually lead to consumers going to a new ISP and why they choose someone like Comcast or AT&T. I think the lack of familiarity with other options hurts. Name recognition is the name of the game in being an ISP. Having the actual infrastructure in place is key and a major barrier to entry as I described before. Creating a critical mass of members that can pay for the services and keep fees down is also key.

As the semester goes on, I’d like to revisit this and get a better understanding of what it actually would cost to bring a co-op Internet ISP to Pittsburgh. I will explore more closely existing models in the United States and Canada and consider how installation, implementation, marketing, and sales of such a service could impact the local economy. I’d like to explore closely who my potential partners could be in this and how beyond providing Internet service we can impact the economy of Western Pennsylvania’s economy. I invite you to consider a future with the PGH Fiber Co-Op.

Nearly a Year in Pittsburgh

I went for a trip to Atlanta recently and was listening to music on my phone while I was working from my company’s Atlanta office and the song Heroes by David Bowie came on.  For those of you who don’t know, this song has had a somewhat recent surge in popularity due to it being included in two key scenes in the film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”.

In the film, the main characters listen to the song while riding in a pickup truck through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which takes you from south of the city straight to the Fort Pitt Bridge with an incredibly view of the City of Pittsburgh.  Every time I hear the song, I am reminded of the experience of riding through the tunnel myself.  Hearing it away from the city made me realize that Pittsburgh is really home now.  It has been about a year and I don’t know everything about this city, but it is certainly home now.

What are my new goals for Pittsburgh?  I want to explore more. I’ve got a list of things still to do in Pittsburgh seem to be key to really experiencing the city. I’ll List them below and have crossed out the ones I’ve already done. If you have suggestions of true “Yinzer” things to do other than drink an IC Light, drop me a comment and maybe I’ll add it.  I know my list is a bit incomplete.  My list isn’t in any particular order.

  • Go to The Warhol Museum 
  • Go to the Mattress Factory
  • Go to Phipps Conservatory
  • Heinz History Center
  • Carnegie Museum of Natural History
  • Carnegie Museum of Art
  • Carnegie Science Center
  • Go to the Pittsburgh Symphony (Heinz Hall)
  • Go to a Pirates Game
  • Go to a Steelers Game
  • Go to a Penguins Game
  • Go to a Pitt basketball game
  • Eat breakfast at De Lucas
  • Eat breakfast at Pamela’s
  • Go to Primanti’s
  • Go to Burgatory
  • Drinks at the Cage (Squirrel Hill Cafe)
  • Get a hot dog at the O in Oakland
  • Have dinner on top of Mt Washington 
  • Cathedral of Learning (go to top floor elevator goes and explore bottom floor)
  • Ride one of the inclines
  • National Aviary
  • Go to the fountain at the Point
  • Bike the City portion of Three Rivers Heritage Trail
  • Go to Kennywood

Experimental Cooking

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve started to cook quite a bit since I moved to Pittsburgh.  I’ve started to play a game that I think all of you should try and it is pretty simple, especially if you are cooking just for one.  Here are the directions if you want to try it out:

  1. Buy and freeze a variety of meat.  In my case this means ground beef, steak, pork chops, pork loin, boneless skinless chicken breast, chicken leg quarters, and lamb chops.
  2. The night before you are going to cook, take something out of the freezer and put it on a plate in your fridge to thaw out.
  3. Come home from a day at work and without any prior planning on the way home or throughout the day, rummage through your cabinets, pantry, drawers, and refrigerator for things that will go with this unplanned meal and cook.Now while I can’t recommend this enough if you feel comfortable with the way things might come out, this is a real fun way to experiment with food and create a really interesting dish or to just make something without a recipe. Here are some things I’ve ended up with:
  • Romaine salad with grilled chicken breast with a raspberry vinaigrette.
  • Teriyaki Chicken with grilled zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms with basmati rice.
  • Chicken Piccata with sautéed mushrooms (I didn’t have capers) and angel hair.

Those were just a few recent examples and I know they sound simple, but I want to hear about what you are cooking.  Is it something really simple that seems complicated?  Is it from scratch?  I want to hear.

Meeting Joe the Barber

Despite my quickly receding hairline, I still have a need for a quick haircut once a month. I said goodbye to my longtime Atlanta barber Stuart.  Before I left and asked him the same question I imagine many my age with a sense of humor who watched the cartoon Doug ask: Do you have a cousin who cuts hair where I’m moving.  Sadly, Stuart didn’t get my joke and didn’t know anyone and has never been to Pittsburgh, so on this front I was alone.

Fast forward to this Friday and I am sitting in traffic on 376 East, just trying to get home after a week of work and veg out.  I decide that today would be a perfect day to get a haircut.  I start thinking about which of the few barbershops I’ve passed on Murray Ave make the most sense.

After sitting through the traffic, I finally arrived back at my apartment and pull into a spot outside my building before checking the mail and running up to my third floor apartment.  I Google barbershops nearby and see the ones I’ve walked past and then check Yelp to look for reviews.  They all seem like fancy stylists who will charge me upwards of $20 and to be entirely frank, I don’t want to spend that on something that is frankly a buzz cut.

I glance at one of the places listed called Harry’s Barbershop.  I don’t remember ever passing it and it is down the hill on Murray Ave.  I figure it is worth my risk to see if this is the kind of barbershop I was looking for.

I quickly change into jeans and a t-shirt and walk towards Murray Ave and stare at my phone looking for the shop.  Harry’s is not a shop you would be able to find if you weren’t looking for it.  There isn’t really a sign on the outside other than one that says that the barbers use “RK products”.  I don’t honestly know what that means, but it is just the same.

I walk in the door of Harry’s and to the right I spot a yellow couch that is covered in plastic.  To the left I see an old stereo system and a setup reminiscent of my grandparent’s house.  The radio plays big band tunes just like the radio my grandmother always left running in their kitchen.

I spot the barber with a customer in his chair and another person sitting on one of the plastic wrapped couches and the barber offers me a seat.  I start to look around the shop, trying to soak in every detail.  In every way a barbershop could look like my grandparent’s house, this shop does.  It has this vibe that makes me want to sit there and just relax.

After mostly silence other than the music for a couple minutes, the barber and his customer start chatting.  The man in the chair is about the same age as the barber and they are talking about how much things have changed over the years.  It turns out he’s been coming there for a long time.  I hear him call the barber Joe to my surprise.  I just assumed up to this point hat his name would be Harry because of the name of the shop.

Joe is in his mid to late 70s.  There is a picture of him on the wall from what looks to be about 20 years ago.  His hair somehow is the same color it was then, a dark black color nearly long enough for a pony tail.  He is simply dressed in a smock and wears an old pair of black sneakers that are part of every grandparent’s wardrobe.

They started talking about the old days.  The customer had been in the Army and Joe in the Navy.  Judging by their age, I would guess that they were Korean War veterans, but that is purely based on speculation.  You could tell they had a special friendship formed from years of one sitting in the chair while the other trimmed his hair.

I had noticed a portable oxygen machine on the ground and worried that it belonged to the barber, but once he finished with the first customer, I watched the customer pick it up and put the machine over his shoulder.  They both asked me a few questions since the other guy on the couch was keeping mostly to himself.  They wanted to know where I came from and why Pittsburgh, so I told them in brief about my job and how I thought Squirrel Hill seemed like a pretty safe neighborhood.  I got a bit of a lecture about that from the customer before he left and then things quieted down.

Joe looked at me when the customer left and told me that the man had been coming to his  shop for many years, which I could tell.  He told me the reason he was on oxygen is because he smoked for many years and didn’t quit until it was too late.  He told me how important it was to stay healthy.  He said it as a friend would say and not in the way someone might lecture you to eat your spinach or something.

The shop was quiet again as Joe started working on the next customer.  I sat quietly and tried not to monkey with my phone as I didn’t want the battery to die.  I noticed in the corner of the room an old looking mechanical cash register with a sign on it reading “Haircuts: $9″.  I thought to myself that it had to be an old sign.  $9 for a haircut?  Maybe when I was a child, but in 2013, this seemed impossible.

A few moments later, an old woman walked in.  It was clear that Joe knew her, but she was a little bit off. She walked in saying something about the bathroom and went to hang up her coat before sitting down on the couch close to me.  She smiled and I could see her age if from nowhere else from her teeth.

She asked me if I belonged to Temple Sinai, which funny enough is the Reform Synagogue I’m thinking about checking out.  She invited me to go over there for shabbat services and despite my disheveled look in jeans and a t-shirt insisted that they would take me dressed that way.  I kindly thanked her and told her I would check it out another time when I felt like I was dressed appropriately.

She asked me what my name was so I gave her my full name.  She told me her first name, but insisted on not giving her last, because her family was famous in the area.  I told her even if they were famous in the area, I probably wouldn’t know who they were since I had just moved from the area.  So like every other time I say this, she asks where I’m from and I tell her Atlanta.

She starts to tell me what seems like her life story as I sit there and starts complaining about something.  I don’t know how it comes up, but I end up talking about Cuba and she insists that the country is an impoverished hell-hole of sorts and how things were better there before Castro.  I respond in the way I always do, by tell her nobody is starving and the literacy rate is far higher than it ever was before he took power.

She claims that the literacy rate stats are bogus and goes on to tell me about some time spent in Miami in the 1950’s.  She says that the Cubans in Miami danced really well and that she was a good dancer too.  She tells me she’ll show me and gets up and starts dancing by herself around the shop.

Joe looks like he might start laughing, because the whole scene is ridiculous.  She looks at me and smiles and tells the woman that she dances like a North Korean.  Offended, she stops, and for probably the 15th time says something about how his father was a good man, invites me again to go to Temple Sinai and leaves.

Joe looks to me again and sort of apologizes for the woman and I thank him for the amusing show I’m getting.  He tells me that after the old woman got divorced something happened and she’s never been the same.  He says that she is lonely, so she acts out like that and that you just have to have pity on her.

Joe finishes the other customer’s haircut and before he leaves wishes him luck finding a job since he is about to finish school it seems and it is finally my turn.

I walk over and sit down in the barber chair and he covers me with a bright red smock.  It appears that at some point in time, Joe or somebody else went to a fabric store, bought a sheet of fabric and then ripped it to the size he needed.

Joe asks how I want him to cut my hair by asking if I want it short, medium, or long.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a less specific question for how I want my hair cut, but after seeing his work on two previous customers, I trust it and ask for it short.

Joe is the kind of barber I love.  He is the old school of barbers who turn their chairs into a sort of therapy session.  While he cuts your hair, it is like sitting with a therapist, but his tools are scissors and talc rather than a copy of the most recent edition of the DSM.  He talks to me about his long time marriage and his parents marriage.  I tell him my certain level of jealousy for that era.

He asks me if I have a wife or a girlfriend yet and I explain my simple living situation.  I ask him about his kids and he says they live pretty far away, so he doesn’t get to see them much.  He looks like a loving grandfather, I can just feel it.  He tells me that his father was a barber in the area before him and so was his mother.  I now can guess that Harry, the shop’s namesake was probably his father.

Joe tells me I need a girlfriend to help me clean my apartment and I chuckle saying it would be nice to have someone clean up when I’m done cooking.  He seems impressed that I can cook and want to know if I prefer store bought tomato sauce or homemade.  This is clearly a sort of litmus test from an old Italian cook.  I tell him I prefer it homemade and with some good wine in the sauce and he agrees.  He mentions using a recipe from the old country which makes me smile.

The whole time, Joe is talking to me and paying intense attention to every little part of my head to make sure I leave with a nice haircut.  When he finishes, he blow dries the small amount of hair off of me and smiles.  He looks at me and says,”That will be $9,” and I of course question this thinking he is joking despite the sign inside.  I pull a $20 out of my wallet and ask him for $5 back thinking he deserves a good tip, especially for the nice haircut and his general kindness.  He wishes me luck as I leave and tells me that I’ll find someone when I least expect it.  I walk back to my apartment knowing that this is the first of hopefully many times Joe will cut my hair.

 

Sderot

This is an excerpt from my journal from Israel from visiting Sderot, a city that borders Gaza.

I zoned out listening to my iPod for a while until we finally reached our first major destination of the day Sderot.  The name Sderot may not ring a bell to you, as I don’t honestly remember often seeing its name highlighted in the news.  Sderot is a city that borders the West Bank and Gaza.

The first thing I noticed upon exiting the bus was a sign that said, “Danger of Death”.

I thought the sign was referring to the area.  It wasn’t until later that I was told it was to make sure children didn’t try to climb the pole and get electrocuted.

Nadav informed the group that no matter where you were in most of Sderot, you were with in 10-15 seconds of a bomb shelter.  If you were to hear the alarm saying a rocket was being dropped, it was time to run and find one of these, because the alarm only gives you fifteen seconds.

The strange thing about Sderot as a city was its beauty.  It reminded me of standing on Omaha Beach in France.  Sderot is a beautiful city, but war makes it a scary one to be in.

After a couple minutes, we piled back into the bus and drove near an area where we could see the Gaza Strip.

We stood on a giant pile of dirt where it was fairly easy to see Gaza as well as in the far distance Egypt.  Nadav told us the story of an attempt by terrorists to destroy a power plant near the Gaza Strip, which ironically enough would have taken out power in Gaza.  It was crazy, but so much of what goes on in the Middle East is.

Nadav did his best to explain the relations between Palestinians and Israelis and all of the conflict related in a short period of time.  A crash course of sorts on the subject explaining the elections that brought Hamas to power.  He also explained the fact that it seems almost more likely that there will be a three state solution than a two state one.

This made me think about conversations I’ve had in the past couple years about terrorism.  There is a great episode of the West Wing that talks about this and the ongoing debate about what makes a terrorist.  A terrorist is only a terrorist to one side typically and a patriot to another.  I personally have trouble understanding anything patriotic or brave about shooting rockets from hospitals to avoid face retaliatory fire.

After standing on the hill of dirt for a while, we all started to walk down because it was time to go to talk to some of the local people of Sderot.  Before doing this, we stopped at a local makeshift museum rockets shot from Gaza were being kept.  They were sorted and spray painted with the dates they were shot.

We visited a local synagogue and talked to a woman who had moved from the US to Israel and lived in Sderot with her children because her family lived there.  She talked about how despite war, you had to go on with life.  She mentioned turning running to the bomb shelters into a game for her kids and that really made me feel awful.  I can’t imagine having to do something like that, but it was part of the expectation in this town.

A bomb shelter outside the synagogue in Sderot

After listening to the woman and asking her some questions, the Rabbi of the synagogue we watched a film about the town.  It showed how beautiful the town could be, but how dangerous it was at times.  It was really powerful to watch.

What amazed me probably the most was that everything and everywhere had a bomb shelter.  Even the playground had a bomb shelter, which looked like a giant cement caterpillar.  

After fooling around for a couple minutes on the playground, it was time for lunch.  I could hear my stomach growling pretty loud, so I was happy to go.  We got back on the bus and drove to a small downtown type area in Sderot for lunch.