Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting Things Under Control

Funny how it works out. I was up north on my American shopping spree buying all the things you can't buy in Israel, or at least all the things that cost double or triple the American price in Israel, when my Dad spotted a laptop. Dual core, a gig of ram, WIFI... you know, all the trimmings. And it was only $400! (after rebates, discounts, etc.) I haven't owned a laptop since I lived in Israel back in 2000, and I had such a horrible experience that I vowed never to get one again. I mean, really, how often do I need to work outside of my apartment? But this was just too good a deal to turn up. I would be moving into my apartment a mere five days after I got back to Israel, so it would be hard to justify the purchase on those grounds. I vacillated for ten minutes or so and decided to buy it anyway. After all, if I don't end up using it much, I could still sell it for double the American price in Israel.

Once I suddenly found myself homeless, I immediately thanked God I had decided to buy the thing. At this point, who knows how long it's going to take me to find a place? So I sat down to open some of my design files. Now, the store versions of the laptop show shortcuts to Microsoft Office, hinting that the computer comes with Office already installed. Of course, once I tried to open Microsoft Excel, edit some of my design files and save them, a window popped up demanding a registration number. Turns out they show the software on your computer, but it's just a trial version, and you've gotta pay a huge sum to get the registration number. Poor old Uncle Billy Gates was back at my door with his upturned palm again.

Unfortunately, all of the disks with the software I typically use are in the storage locker out in Mishor Adumim, deep in the “West Bank,” accessible by appointment only, and they aren't answering the phones. So, I moved my base of operations to Moish and Deena's house, sleeping on the patio in their sukkah, and working from their daughter Rivka's room, where I set up my old desktop system which has all of the software already installed on it, and I've been able to get a good bit of work done. While I'm homeless I'm trying to move from place to place to distribute my load, but now if I want to move about and still be able to work, I have to disconnect absolutely everything and schlep it all back down to my car one piece at a time, and then reassemble it at my destination.

But then I figured it out. As I mentioned, I need MS Office, which costs like $400. Then I remembered hearing about this suite called “Open Office.” It's basically the same as the Microsoft version, and even opens and saves Microsoft Office documents. The only difference is that it's totally free. I downloaded it, got it running on my laptop, and am now writing this email on “OpenOffice Writer.”

Then, I went to the Bluebeam website and downloaded a 30-day trial version of bluebeam PDF Revu, which I use to review and mark up engineering drawings. It works great, way faster than it does on the old desktop.

Lastly, I got CHVAC up and running, a piece of software which I use to size air conditioning and ventilation equipment from buildings, and I was on the road again! I also have my entire library of basically all building codes, regulations, and engineering textbooks scanned and digitized, so I carry the equivalent of an entire engineering library with me on my little system.

Next step: communications. I purchased a “Home” card from Bezek International (phone company) which lets me make long-distance phone calls for a pretty reasonable rate (comes out to about 8 cents per minute.) The only thing I can't do is receive incoming phone calls since Vonage, my phone-over-Internet line, is disconnected until I get my own apartment. But Vonage has a service where people leave voicemails, and then Vonage uses speech-to-text technology to transform the voice recording into text and email it to me. Then, I can read the message and immediately call the person back on my calling card using my cel phone or a land line. It's as if I were just sitting in my office but busy on the other line. No need for them to know I'm living like a bum.

All this gives me a bit of breathing room. I can continue working in this state indefinitely, although I would, of course, like to find a place as soon as possible. But some of the stress of falling behind on my work and missing deadlines, is alleviated.

So what it all ads up to is I'm in this weird limbo state. I'm sleeping on people's couches and eating out of their refrigerators. This is uncomfortable, but it's not unfamiliar. After all, I was once a starving student, and I've been unemployed before. But the weird thing is that while I'm depending on my friends and family, I'm also busy with a backload of work, I'm financially solvent, and I'm cruising around the country in the Magic Carpet (my new car.) What a strange mix this is.

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