Monday, May 29, 2006

Lag B'Omer Pictures

As promised, here are some pictures from Chabad of Walnut Creek's Lag B'omer Barbecue (only a couple of weeks out of date.)

Me with Ezra Klug, our chipper pick-yourself-up-from-your-own-bootstraps self-made man (and survivor.)

Rabbi and some guy I've never met before.

Me and Ariel, our local Golani Brigade veteran, Jewelry Salesman, and full-time snappy dresser.

My cousin Lee.

Rabbi tries to deliver a discourse on the deeper significance of our barbecue. Of course, he made the mistake of serving the food first, so he lost a lot of his audience.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Visa Papers Arrived

A-Minus: 2 Months, 3 weeks, 2 days

My visa paperwork arrived on Friday. I put it off all weekend, but started on it today. Gotta get four more passport photos. It sometimes seems like EVERYONE has my passport photos these days. Next time I'm just going to print a few dozen and be done with it.

The items they requested are:
-My passport
-4 Passport pictures
-4 copies of my application for immigrant's visa
-Processing fee of $8
-2 copies of a letter of recommentdation from my aliyah office signed by my shlichah
-3 copies of my declaration (this is a declaration of intent to make aliyah)

So it's all done now and off in the mail. In about one month, my passport should come back with a real immigrant's visa stamp in it.

The countdown starts now!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Morbidly Amusing Warning Signs

I was sitting here at work, bored stiff while reviewing a pump submittal, when I came across these morbidly amusing warning signs.

How a shaft key can cut off your fingers is beyond me, but it makes for an amusing illustration. He's still got eight more, I suppose.

Well, I guess we all gotta go some time, but this fellah picked a, um, unique method of collecting on his life insurance.

I didn't know fingers could do that.

Notice how the fluid is under such high pressure that the spray from the leak is powerful enough to break the victim's skin, poisoning him from the inside.

Gut Shabbes everyone.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lag B'Omer

A-Minus: 3 Months

I finally got a hold of my shlichah last night, who just returned from Israel and is going on vacation for a week tomorrow. It turns out they had the wrong address for me, which is why my visa application never arrived. She corrected the mistake and sent me another application last night, so hopefully this one will make it. Now I have to get together four passport photos, fill out the visa application, and fill out another medical form answering questions such as "Are you crazy?" and "Are you dying of cancer?" I then send the originals back to my shlichah. I send copies to the consulate along with my passport, passport photos, and a check for $10, and I keep copies of the paperwork for myself. If all goes as planned, which it seldom does, I will then receive my passport with my visa stamp in it after 3 weeks. Then, I send copies of the visa stamp to my shlichah and to Nefesh B'Nefesh.

With my aliyah business out of the way, I was free to go to the Chabad of Walnut Creek Lag B'Omer barbecue! I'm back on weight watchers, trying to lose a few pounds before I hit the dating scene (wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean) but I had to obey my special rule of totally ignoring counting my weight watchers points during a simchah (happy event, holiday, celebration, etc.) Well, instead of my normal seven ounces of turkey with vegetables, I ended up eating two hamburgers, a hot dog, and about a pound of chicken. And that's not to mention all the cole slaw I shoveled down. I felt a bit guilty going off the diet, but there's nothing like dead animal flesh to liven the spirit. Took some photos, which I forgot to bring with me so I'll post them later (tomorrow or something.)

I've also started running again on the ankle I sprained last October. I can feel it's weaker, but at least it functions.

My continuously running internet garage sale is going, um, okay. I have been running my ads on Craig's list every day, and I receive tons of responses. Usually about ten people per day tell me that they're coming over that night to pick up something, but maybe one of them will actually show. It's frustrating because I have to be sitting there at home, since I told my customers I'll be there, and then nobody shows and it was all a waste. It's not as if I would be doing anything else anyway, but it's frustrating to feel tied down, like I couldn't leave if I wanted to.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Selling Goes Slowly

I set up the internet garage sale. I promised to be home from 1 to 5 PM for anyone who was interested. I sat and waited and waited. But nobody came by.

But I got a lot of work done while I was waiting, so it wasn't a total loss. This morning I checked my inbox and saw that a bunch of people had written me offering to buy certain items I had listed, so I gave them all directions and told them to meet me at my apartrment at 6 PM tonight.

We'll see who actually shows up.

Also, special thanks to fellow blogger (or in her case, blogress) emahs of Movin On Up, who emailed me the application form for my visa. I still haven't heard from my shlichah about the visa issues.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Internet Garage Sale is UP!

After great effort and hours of work, my virtual garage sale website is finally up and running!

Check it out!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Flight Date Set

A Minus: 3 Months, 4 Days

A few minutes ago I received an email from Nefesh B'Nefesh. They confirmed my flight date as Tuesday, August 15th, which happened to be exactly my target date. Excellent!

Last year, almost all flights left from JFK in New York, but there were so many Canadians making aliyah as well that they decided to have two syncronous flights, one leaving JFK and one leaving New York City, which landed in Tel Aviv simultaneously amid great fanfare. This year, NBN 0pened a new office in London, so there will be three simultaneous flights landing in Tel Aviv. What's next, Australia?

This year there are so many people who want to go that the New York flight is overbooked, so we West Coast folks are being shifted over to the Toronto flight. Fortunately, my friends Meshullam and Miriam, who helped me so much with my Hebrew, later moved to Toronto, so I'm going to try to swing in for a quick visit if possible.

The latest issue to deal with is my Visa, which NBN requires before approving me for my aliyah flight. My shlichah told me she would mail me the application forms for the visa, but they never arrived. When I tried to call her today, I got a message saying she's out for a week or so. I called the Los Angeles consulate and they told me that there is some sort of "Booking form" that I need to send them before they will send me the visa application. I don't think it's a problem. Then again, I have no idea what they're talking about, so maybe it is. Just one more thing.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Operation: Trash Heap Continues

A Minus: 3 Months, 1 Week

Operation: Trash Heap is proceeding apace. Yesterda I finally finished photographing everything I own. And I do mean everything. I've spent the last day just working on editing my photographs and putting together a very basic website. I'm hoping to get it online before the weekend so I can get started disposing of useless objects.

Unfortunately, I received back all those books I sold on ebay. I had shipped them last Thursday, only to have them returned to my doorstep Saturday morning. It turns out the US Post Office increased the rates for media mail but did not bother to modify the rates shown on their website. Now I have to explain to 40 irate customers why their shipment of books will be late. Reason #434 to avoid ebay.

Today I received another call from my Nefesh B'Nefesh contact. She managed to get a hold of me this time, and we talked for a while. There was nothing substantive, she just wanted to get a general feel for my plans and where I'm going to live, to make sure I'm not making any serious mistakes. It's comforting to have a contact in Israel already, even if I didn't learn any particularly new information.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ebay Exhaustion

Every time I sell on Ebay, I promise myself that I'll never do it again. Ebay seems like such a dream; millions of web surfers with billions of dollars, all looking for new and exciting ways to be separated from their money. And all you have to do is put your item up for sale and wait for the money to come in, then you ship it out and you're done. But every time I play the game, my ebay dreams turn to ebay nightmares.

This time, I had to sell 40 of my books, and I thought, "Well, it can't be that bad."

In reality, you have to do the following:

1. Scan each book cover
2. Crop the scanned photographs to show only the book cover
3. Find a description. Sometimes ebay doesn't have a description, so you have to go to Sometimes even Amazon doesn't have a description, so you have to write one yourself. Usually I just type a few paragraphs from the inside of the dust jacket.
4. Decide on pricing.

If you can get through one book in 12 minutes, which is really fast, you can be done with 40 books in 8 hours.

The next day, you have to do the following:

4. Upload the photographs you took
5. Set up the auctions
6. Run the auctions

Assuming you are ultra-fast, steps 4-6 take at least 6 minutes per book, which is a minimum of four hours. Auctions usually last seven days, so you are constantly answering questions from ebay bidders like, "What's the condition of my item?" and "How long does shipping take?"

Once your auction finally finishes, you now have to collect the money and ship the books. This involves:

7. Sending invoices
8. Chasing after reluctant customers
9. Generate a list of names/addresses and a list of the books to be shipped to each.

Ebay helps to generate invoices and track auctions, so that part only takes an hour or so.

Then comes the hard part; the shipping. This involves:

10. Trying to stuff the books into manilla envelopes.
11. Once you realize that the books don't fit into the envelopes, driving out to the liquor store or back to the office to find some emty boxes.
12. Tear apart the house to find tape and scissors.
13. Weigh, address, stamp, and apply the requisite postage to each box.
14. Load boxes into the car.
15. Drive to the post office during business hours to leave the boxes full of books on the post office's desk (since they don't allow you to ship packages from home any more, thank you Muhammad Atta.)

The above takes approximately 4-8 hours, depending on how well you've planned.

And now, to count my money. My apartment is a mess, snippets of tape, bubble wrap, and carboard everywhere, but I've earned a paycheck. Aaaah.. $150 big ones in my paypal account. $3.75 per book, which isn't bad considering I was going to throw them out. But wait! Now comes the last step:

16. Pay your fees.

Ebay charges about $.70 per listing, plus they take a cut of your profit. That's $28.
Ebay also takes a cut of the final sale price. That adds up to $20.
Then Paypal takes a cut, about 5%, for performing the service of borrowing your money. This adds up to $7.
The cost of manilla envelopes, bubble wrap, and tape comes out to be about $15, and that's being conservative.
And don't for get all the money you spent on shipping, about $35

That leaves you with about $45. So, for 40 books you're never going to read again, that's not so bad, right? But, think about 8 hours of prep time, 4 hours running your auctions, followed by 6 hours packing and shipping, you're talking about 18 hours.

And now, we calculate our wage:
$45/18 hours = $2.50 per hour.

That's less than half of minimum wage.

Now I'm no facist, but I think that they may have been on to something with those heaps of flaming books.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Visa: It's Everywhere You Want to Be

A minus: 3 Months, 1 Week and 5 Days

I finally got a hold of my new shlichah (Israeli aliyah helper) yesterday. I had been calling my old shlichah, Shiri, who I met at the consulate in San Francisco last September to open my Tik Aliyah (aliyah file), to check about what I should do for my visa. After receiving no answer for some time, I heard from Noah (female), the new shlichah, who informed me that Shiri had left the job to have a baby.

Normally, an American landing in Israel can simply show his or her passport and have it stamped with a tourist visa which is good for 3 months. When I lived in Israel I met several semi-permanent "tourists" who had been in Israel for years. Every three months they would simply drive to the Egyptian border, cross over, then cross back to receive a brand new 3-month visa stamp upon re-entry.

The aliyah visa is a different story. The aliyah visa becomes necessary once in Israel in order to receive one's Teudat Zehut (personal identity card.) In order to receive a visa for aliyah, you first have to be approved for aliyah (which I am.) The visa is only valid for six months, so I had to wait until now to get it to avoid expiration before my departure date. When I last talked with Shiri, she had told me that I need to physically show up at the consulate, which would mean a trip out to San Francisco and missing at least half a day's work. But yesterday, talking to Noah, it sounds like it can all be done by mail. She sent me the paperwork to fill out, so now all that's left is to fill it out, mail the paperwork, four passport photos, and my passport to the consulate, and get it back. At that point, both my shlichah and Nefesh B'Nefesh want copies of the visa for their own purposes.

And the process moves forward...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rental Issues

As some may remember, my original target date for Aliyah was June 1, 2006, which is only 29 days away. Knowing this, I signed up last year at this time for a lease which would end on June 1st. Unfortunatly, now that I've delayed my aliyah by 2 1/2 months, I'm stuck with all this junk and no lease for the summer. I've asked the management repeatedly if I can extend my lease and now I'm just waiting to hear back, but they haven't been responsive for the last week or so. It's a catch 22. I'm nervous about having to leave in a month and that I won't photograph my stuff and sell it in time, which keeps me awake at night, which means that by the end of the day when it's time to photograph my stuff, I'm so tired that I can't get much done, which means I fall behind schedule, which makes me nervous, which... well, you get the point.

In other aliyah news, I received a phonecall from Nefesh B'Nefesh yesterday. They just wanted to talk to me about my plans and where I'm planning on living, and really just giving me some individual attention to make sure I'm not making any false assumptions or missteps. Meanwhile, I mailed back my Nefesh B'Nefesh contract last Friday. The deal is that Nefesh B'Nefesh gives you a financial package which starts out as a loan without payments. If the Oleh (immigrant) remains in Israel for over three years, the loan becomes a grant. I will also receive a $100 travel voucher to get myself to JFK International Airport. It will still cost me a bit to get there, but the $100 definately helps.

The next step on my aliyah checklist is to get my visa stamped at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Blog it is a Changin'

A-Minus: 3 Months, 2 Weeks, 0 Days

Up until now, I've been using this blog as a dumping ground for all of my writings and emails. A sort of online storage site. No more!

Things are moving quickly towards aliyah, and I want to keep my friends and family (and strangers on the internet who wander in) up to date without flooding their email inboxes, so I've decided to start posting more regularly on this site.

So let's get started...

With the PE exam out of the way, I have commenced "Operation Trash Heap"

Code Name: Operation Trash Heap
Mission Objective: Terminate with extreme prejudice all unneccessary or bulky items. Reduce posessions to an amount suitable to fit into two checked bags and one carry-on luggage. 70 lbs maximum. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

I posted all my books on ebay for sale last week, and the auctions will be ending in the next few hours. I hope to make a few bucks, but it took me all day to actually scan and post the pictures, so I'm not sure I'll make a profit. Ebay is a vast money trap. It's exciting to post and watch your auctions increase, but when you calculate the hours you spent writing the ads (it took me all Sunday last week) and then compare to the amount I make per hour at work, it really just doesn't add up. Still, its good to know that my books are going to loving homes, and won't simply be dumped into a recycling bin.

Right now I'm sitting at my desk, feeling awfully sore and tired, just glad to be sitting. You see, yesterday, I began the process of photographing everything I own, since I have to sell it. I'm going to set up an internet garage sale, which will consist of a website presenting pictures of all my fine hardwood furniture, antiques, computers, and other worthless junk I'm trying to offload. I will then advertise the website on craigslist. Potential buyers will be able to contact me via email so we can arrange a time for them to pick up the stuff they want to buy. That's the idea, at least.

So, yesterday morning I cleaned up and got the place looking spiffy. My grandfather came over to watch and videotape the event. I went through the entire apartment, photographing everything. I began at 11:00 AM and didn't stop until about 7:30 PM, constantly lifting and moving and photographing. I moved with great speed and agility, but even after 8 1/2 hours, I was only able to photograph approximately 73% of my posessions. I'll have to pick it up some time later this week.

Today, I'm so tired I just want to sit at my desk and work on my engineering drawings and submittals. Fortunately, there's a ton of work to be done, and now there's even more since I've been sitting here and not doing it.

There's lots more to write, lots more going on with my visa, Nefesh B'Nefesh, and my future plans, but I'll save it for my future posts. Stay tuned!