Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to School Tech Guide 2016

Summer, where have you gone? Yes, it's that time of the year again. Summer jobs and internships are coming to an end for college students and they're getting ready to pack their parent's minivan and move back to school. Lined paper notebooks and yellow highlighters aren't on the packing list for today's college students and grad students any more. Previous generations schlepped bulky desktops and tube TVs to campus. Students in 2016 are taking lightweight laptops and tablets along with 3D printers, high end 4K TVs and lightning fast routers.

This year's Back to School tech guide isn't your typical list of technology gadgets. The list includes some great values in addition to some products that require splurging. Some products will help college coeds be more productive, while others are helpful for unwinding after a day of classes and homework. After checking out these products most parents will wish they were able to turn back the clock and return to campus this fall.

Featured: Kenmore Elite 50" 4K UHDTV and Roku Streaming Stick - When it comes to ultra HD TVs, Kenmore isn't often on the list of the most impressive options. However, the Kenmore Elite 4K TV crushes the competition. It's the perfect TV for a college apartment, fraternity house or sorority house. Now available at Sears stores and at Sears online, the Kenmore Elite 4K UHDTVs are an amazing value for the quality and students can instantly stream with a Roku Streaming Stick (also available at Sears) to get over 1,000 channels with the most movies, music, sports and shows of any streaming player. The picture quality is excellent and there are enough HDMI ports on this model. $549.99

Kenmore Elite 50" 4K UHDTV

Featured: LG Gram 15 Laptop - There's simply no lighter high-performance laptop on the market than the LG Gram 15. This super lightweight lapper (only 2.2 lbs.) comes with Windows 10 OS installed, a powerful 6th generation Intel Core processor, full HD picture quality and many connective options including a built-in HDMI port for easy connectivity straight into a TV. No college student would ever complain about having to carry around this computer, which is lighter than most tablets and feels as light as a pile of a dozen sheets of paper. The Intel Core i5 version ($1,099) comes with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage, while the  i7 ($1,199) has 512GB of storage.

LG Gram 15 Laptop

Intel Compute Stick - This computer the size of a stick of gum immediately became my favorite tech gadget for 2016! This little device transforms any HDMI TV or monitor into a fast computer running Windows 10 OS (or a Linux option). The quad-core Intel Atom processor delivers maximum performance, but it doesn't use a lot of power so it's energy efficient and ideal for student living. Simply plug the Compute Stick into a TV or monitor and you have a computer. It's perfect for communal living because roommates could have one TV for leisure time, but each student could plug in their own Compute Stick when it's time to do some school work. When the student returns home on a school break, they just throw the stick into their pocket and their "desktop" goes with them. Prices vary.

Intel Compute Stick

LG 21:9 UltraWide Full HD IPS LED Monitor - Most students aren't going to want to lug two monitors to school this fall even if they're used to using dual monitors at home. This full HD monitor from LG, however, is like having a dual monitor with one unit. The UltraWide 21:9 aspect ratio makes games and movies more immersive than ever before, while the clarity of the 1080p pixel Full HD resolution with IPS is a game-changer. Everything looks more crisp and detailed from any viewing angle. With a monitor this good, a separate TV is unnecessary making this a must-have for any college dorm room this year where space is at a premium. The sleek design with a smooth curve base brings a touch of elegance to the monitor too. $599.99

LG 21:9 UltraWide Full HD IPS LED Monitor

Arris Surfboard Routers and Extenders - Today's college students don't remember a time of dial-up modems and wonky connections. They have come to expect lightning fast internet speeds and Arris products won't let them down. The Arris system of routers and extehttp://sears.comnders solves the common and persistent problem of Wi-Fi dead zones. Using a unique combination of next-generation networking technology and intelligent software, Arris tailors the Wi-Fi to the user's needs -- whether they're in a dorm room, old fraternity house or small apartment. The simple plug-and-play installation and iOS or Android app makes using Arris technology quick and easy. The routers range in price from $119.99 to $299.99 and the extenders are all under $100.

Arris Surfboard Routers and Extenders

3Doodler - While adult coloring books are the "new new thing" parents are doing after they send their kids off to college, the college students are doodling with 3D technology. Billed as the world's first 3D printing pen, the 3Doodler has won countless awards for tech innovation. This new form of art is taking the world by storm and it's become a fun collaborative activity for young people. On a rainy, lazy weekend college students are going to put away their homework, turn off the TV and create amazing little projects together with the 3Doodler. The pen comes in assorted colors and the plastic strands are inexpensive. There are several books available from 3Doodler to suggest fun projects and designs. $99


BEOPLAY H5 Wireless Earphones - The incoming class of freshmen on college campuses this year aren't impressed with wireless earphones because they are the generation that expects wireless everything. They also are different than students a decade ago who were content with the standard issue white earbuds that came with their Apple products. Today's students are going back to school with high quality, expensive music listening devices. Beoplay H5 provides an immersive listening experience around campus without having to carry bulky over-the-ear headphones. A bonus feature of the H5s is that you can customize presets on your iPhone and quickly access them from your Apple Watch. Ideal for fitness buffs, the H5 fits snugly in the ear and comes with several ear tips options including a Comply Sport version that has a membrane to prevent moisture interfering with the electronics. $249

BEOPLAY H5 Wireless Earphones

Lumo Run - There's been a lot of talk about Lumo Run and it's finally available to the public. A limited pre-sale last fall impressed runners and the prediction is that this little device will fast become the must-have tech product for athletes. If you've ever visited a college campus you know that running is the most prevalent workout activity. Lumo Run determines key metrics for targeted form by wearing this smart sensor that combines the powerful data of a running lab with the personal attention of a coach. Lumo Run's features include real-time audio coaching, insights after the run, plus personal recommendations for drills and exercises for long-term improvement. $99 (or $199 for running shorts with the sensor built in)

Lumo Run

Naim Audio Mu-so Qb Wireless Music System - This extremely compact yet powerful wireless music system is the perfect size for a dorm room or small apartment. It provides amazing sound and connects to everything imaginable. While the price is high for college students at $999.95, it's well worth the cost for a group of roommates to go in together and enjoy the booming sound on a daily basis. The quality beats out any other small size speaker in its class and the design will surely turn the heads of impressed coeds.

Naim Audio Mu-so Qb Wireless Music System

Tile and TrackR bravo - As Bluetooth has become more of a standard that allows devices to communicate wirelessly, more companies are developing devices with Bluetooth to solve everday problems. One of the most common problems people have (and the most frustrating) is losing things. Many products have been created using Bluetooth to help us locate these items. For example, for the past couple of years I've been using XY Findit ( to locate my keys when I misplace them. Two companies have come up with some creative new devices that use Bluetooth to keep track of things like pets, bikes, mobile devices or anything else that could go missing. Students can place Tile or TrackR bravo Bluetooth devices inside expensive textbooks, on their laptop case or even in a friend's pocket (so they don't lose their friend at a crowded party). Both Tile and TrackR bravo have alert notifications and connect to iOS and Android devices. TrackR bravo also integrates with home Wi-Fi and Nest network to disable alerts from sounding when wandering around the house. Both are under $30 or

Tile and TrackR bravo

Dacuda PocketScan Wireless Scanner - While textbooks seem like they would be obsolete for the college student in 2016, they are not. Students are still lugging around heavy texts, but Dacuda’s PocketScan can be a lifesaver for them. This has quickly became one of the most popular tech gadgets of the year. It scans textbooks, documents and photos perfectly. PocketScan, which flawlessly connects to popular software programs like Microsoft Office, has a built-in OCR engine for recognition and editing of text and tables. It offers seamless Bluetooth connectivity and a rechargeable, long lasting battery (over 400 Scans). I've never found a portable scanner of this high quality. $149

Dacuda PocketScan Wireless Scanner

Logitech CREATE Backlit Keyboard Case and Logi BASE Charging Stand for iPad Pro - I've long been a fan of Logitech and its newer Logi brand. It was difficult choosing only two of their new products to include for this Back to School rundown, but these two products will really add productivity to students. Earlier this month Logitech unveiled the CREATE Backlit Keyboard Case with Smart Connector for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and its already become the must-have add-on for iPad Pro users. It is compatible with the Smart Connector, eliminating the need to power on, connect or charge the keyboard. The backlit keyboard case comes with an Apple Pencil holder and is lightweight at under a pound, yet fully protective for the iPad. The Logi BASE Charging Stand also uses the Smart Connector. It provides the perfect viewing angle to turn the iPad into a monitor and as a bonus the tablet charges quickly. Keyboard: $129.99 Logi BASE: $99

Logitech iPad keyboard and Logi Base for iPad Pro

Swiftpoint GT Mouse - I first encountered the Swiftpoint mouse at CES a couple years ago and it immediately became my favorite mouse. While it's on the pricier side for a computer mouse, it's well worth the price. This ultra-portable wireless ergonomic mouse is perfect for small working environments. The same mouse that I always recommend to business travelers will be ideal for students working in classrooms and lecture halls where there's not a lot of extra desk space. The mouse combines natural touch gestures with the precision and convenience of a traditional mouse. Switfpoint works perfectly with Windows 7/8/10, Mac OS X and Android. I'm also excited for Swiftpoint's The Z gaming mouse, which comes out in December. $149

Swiftpoint GT Mouse

Corentium Digital Radon Monitor - When the discussion arises of what technology parents should send with their kids back to college this year, the thought of a radon monitor likely doesn't make the list. That off campus apartment your daughter and her friends rented is likely very old and potentially has high levels of radon gas. The Corentium radon gas monitor is a state-of-the-art measuring instrument combining ease of use and performance. Its LCD screen displays the average daily, weekly and long term concentrations of radon. Powered by 3 standard AAA batteries, the monitor makes it easy to take measurements from one room to another in order to get an overview of the concentrations of radon. The unit requires no annual calibrations throughout its useful life and is estimated at over 10 years. $199 (pro models are more costly)

Corentium Digital Radon Monitor

Blink Cameras - College students today have the ability to monitor their dorm room and apartment in an easy and cost efficient way. Blink has a trusted track record for being an ultra-affordable home security and video monitoring system that comes with free cloud storage. It is the ideal way for students to keep an eye on their possessions while they're at class or at a party. Blink is wireless, intuitive and easy to set up. It captures 720p HD video and includes a motion detector. $99 (1 camera and sync module) or $219 (3 cameras and sync module)

Blink Cameras

Max Flossolution - Oral hygiene might not be the first thing parents think of when sending their kids off to school this fall, but let's face it... we parents care about our kids' teeth and have a lot of our hard earned money invested in it (braces are expensive!). Max by Flossolution is the best oral hygiene technology on the market. It is the first of its kind flossing and brushing system utilizing patented Flossguard and Bite Bumper technology. The kit includes a charging base, a Sonic Motor, a Flossarm, and a cartridge of 14 reusable microflossers with a brush arm. Max comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts more than four weeks and provides five sonic power modes: Smart, Fresh, Bright, Happy and Healthy. I've been using Max for a few months now and my teeth are truly feeling healthier and cleaner. It's a really enjoyable teeth brushing experience. $99.99
Max Flossolution teeth brushing technology

XYZ Printing da Vinci 3D Pen - XYZprinting is a world leader in desktop 3D printers and has now entered the 3D pen market with the versatile da Vinci 3D Pen. Lightweight and mobile, this 3D pen allows you to move freely along a surface and extend your creation upwards to easily add dimension to your drawings. No computer or software is needed to create fun and impressive 3D art with the da Vinci. I've been very impressed with XYZ Printing's line of 3D printers so it's no surprise that their first 3D pen is a huge success. Students will be able to create amazing art while taking a break from the daily grind of homework at college this fall. $49.95

XYZ Printing da Vinci 3D Pen

BEZALEL Latitude iPhone Wireless Charging Case and Prelude Portable Charger - This Los Angeles startup develops and sells some very innovative wireless charging technology. Most college students use iPhones and know how frustrating it is at night after a busy day on the go when their phone has no juice left. BEZALEL's Prelude wireless charger renders charging cords, cables and Mophie packs obsolete. It's the first wireless charger that's also fully mobile (other chargers must be plugged into a power source to get juice). The Latitude fits iPhones like a glove and with the built-in Lightening cable connector it also makes it easy to sync and charge the old fashioned way. Prelude: $79.99; Latitude: $49.90

Bezalel Latitude iPhone 6 Wireless Charging Case & Portable Wireless Charger

Satechi Headphones Stand - Satechi makes great products. I've been using their 7 port Mult-Charging Dock, which allows members of my family to charge up to seven devices at once in a well organized and convenient station. I also love their phone holders, battery packs and travel wall chargers that provide extra USB outlets. Now, they've released the amazing headphone stand that provides simple storage for headphones, allowing you to charge the headphones or listen to music through the stand. It comes in four brushed aluminum finishes. $27.99

Satechi Headphones Stand

Quirky Pivot Power Genius - Smart technology doesn't have to be expensive. With so many electric gadgets in college dorm rooms and apartments, extra electrical outlets are a must. This power strip has four total outlets, but two of them can be turned on or off remotely from an app on your mobile device (manually or scheduled automatically from anywhere). Another advantage of the Pivot Power Genius I like is that the outlets pivot to accommodate plugs and adapters of all shapes and sizes. $23.99
Quirky Pivot Power Genius

Fizzics Beer Maker - Sure, most college and grad school apartments have a fridge well stocked with beer, but today's 21+ students have more refined tastes than previous generations of coeds. Enter Fizzics. This company sought to answer the age old question of why beer tastes so good fresh from the brewer's tap, but not from a can or bottle. The Fizzics Technology Platform improves the flavor, taste and mouth-feel of any carbonated beer. It's portable (4 AA batteries) and doesn't require CO2 or Nitro cartriges. $169.99

Fizzics Beer Maker

SodaStream Fizzi - What parent doesn't want their college student well hydrated throughout the day? Cans of carbonated beverages are unhealthy and tap water gets boring after a while. SodaStream's new Fizzi actually brings some excitement to water drinking with sparking water and flavoring that isn't bad for you. Fizzi Sparking Water Maker makes carbonating water easy with a quick snap-lock bottle insertion, making it ideal for the busy, on-the-go college student. It doesn't require electricity and it’s new slim design makes it ideal for any dorm space. $79.99

SodaStream Fizzi

Stringify App with Amazon Echo or Amazon Tap - Just when I thought I couldn't love my Amazon Tap any more along comes the Stringify app. It actually makes your smart things smarter and it's a really cool way to integrate IoT (Internet of Things) into your daily life. Parents (and certainly grandparents) won't recognize the college dorm or apartment of the 21st century. Everything is connected. Stringify takes that connectivity to the next level by making everything connected through an Amazon Tap, Echo or Echo Dot. Integration of such things as alarm systems, thermostats, light bulbs and speakers is only the half of it. Using Stringify's Flow Ideas, students can have a weather sensor send a notification to their phone to bring an umbrella when there's rain in the forecast or keep the side door unlocked when a roommate's Fitbit alerts it that she's on a run. The app is currently iOS only with Android coming this fall. Free download.

Stringify App with Amazon Tap

TomTom Spark Cardio + Music Fitness Tracker - I've long been a fan of Fitbit trackers and the Microsoft Band, so it takes a lot to get me excited about yet another activity tracker on the market. TomTom's Spark Cardio is extremely impressive and certainly got me excited. It's ideal for today's active student in that it's water resistant (up to 50 meters), has strong GPS and stores over 500 songs. The eight multi-sport modes cover a range of fitness activities including outdoor runs, outdoor cycle, swim, treadmill, freestyle, stopwatch, as well as the newly introduced indoor cycle and gym. $249.99
TomTom Spark Cardio + Music Fitness Tracker

Cassia Hub - Think about how many Bluetooth devices there will be in the typical college dorm room or apartment this school year. Cassia Networks new Cassia Hub allows them all to be controlled from one iOS device. The hub extends the range of all Bluetooth devices on the network. Users can set the mood using an iPhone -- that means study time will automatically brighten lights and put on some inspirational music, while party mood will dim lights and automatically setup the playlist for the night. The range is about 1000 feet which alleviates dead spots and multiple devices can be set up. $99.99 ($239.99 for the audio kit with 2 wireless speakers)

Cassia Hub

booq Daypack - College students will love any of booq's products. They are stylish, versatile and comfortable. booq's new Booqpad is an impressive and protective case for the iPad Pro. The booq product that really excited me this fall, however, is the Daypack. For years I've been lugging around a heavy Tumi computer case that has not been friendly to my lower back. I've since switched to the booq Daypack for both comfort and versatility. booq's comfortably cool backpacks provide a surprising amount of interior storage for everyday carrying. It has a slim profile and an interior that touts a large main compartment with multiple pockets including a slip pocket for a tablet and compartment for a 17” laptop. Daypack is available in four colors: blue-aqua, black-tarp, brown canvas and gray-red. It comes with booq’s Terralinq lost and found service and a five-year warranty. $90

booq daypack computer carrying bag
Originally published at the Huffington Post

Friday, August 12, 2016

Anti-Israel Actions Tarnish Goals of Olympics

Every four years I surprise myself by how engaged I am with the Summer Olympics. While I don't plan to sit in front of the TV watching the swimming, volleyball, gymnastics or track and field events, that is exactly where I wind up. Together with my family, I'm passionately cheering on the American Olympic competitors, fascinated by the personal stories of many athletes from all countries, and embracing the principle goal of the Olympic Games -- to bring athletes from around the world together.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympics are a feel good moment for everyone around the globe. The delegations proudly march into the stadium behind their nation's flag. The flame is displayed and we all understand the symbolism behind the intersecting rings of the Olympic emblem. Yes, we all know there are horrific conflicts in the world, but for these two weeks of Olympic competition we like to think that we can put these disputes behind us and enthusiastically embrace the core mission of the Olympics.

Unfortunately, a handful of athletes are tarnishing the goals of the Olympics with the dishonorable and reprehensible way they are treating members of the Israeli Olympic delegation. The tone was set before the opening ceremonies when Israeli athletes were blocked from boarding a stadium-bound bus packed with the Lebanon team. The Israeli sailing coach who first publicized the incident, posted, "How can it be that something like this occurs on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony? Does this not directly oppose what the Olympics represent and stand for...I cannot begin to express my feelings, I'm in shock from the incident." This hostile act by the Lebanese caused their delegation head, Salim al-Haj Nakoula, to be reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee who said they would not accept any further instances like this.

However, further incidents have been occurring often at the Rio Olympics. There has been much animosity toward the Israel competitors and members of their delegation. Today, after losing to Israeli Or Sasson in a judo competition, Islam El Shehaby of Egypt refused the traditional bow to his opponent and then declined a handshake when Sasson extended his hand. Not only was this a significant breach of judo etiquette, it was a disgusting display of a lack of sportsmanship. El Shehaby should be disciplined for this gesture.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mitzvah Tools: Virtual Learning for Bar and Bat Mitzvah Students

Scrolling through my Facebook feed a few weeks ago, I noticed that the young woman whose bat mitzvah I officiated just weeks after being ordained as a rabbi a dozen years ago had walked down the aisle as a bride. That, combined with the realization that my oldest child will become a bar mitzvah early next year, caused me to feel nostalgic and also to consider how the bar and bat mitzvah training process has changed over the years.

While the bar mitzvah ceremony is a relatively new institution in Judaism, it hasn’t changed much in terms of what the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl actually does in the synagogue service. Of course, the ceremony differs from synagogue to synagogue, and what a girl is allowed to do for her bat mitzvah ceremony varies in Orthodox congregations and in some Conservative congregations.

What has certainly changed in recent years is how these Jewish teens are trained for their coming of age ceremony and how the synagogues handle the process. During my final year of rabbinical school I was serving a fledgling synagogue community in Northern Virginia while attending classes in New York City and living in News Jersey. The few b’nai mitzvah students I had to train that year met with me mostly over a speaker phone. I remember that when I had the opportunity to meet with these teens in person during one of my weekend visits to the congregation I realized how much of the important interaction I was missing because I couldn’t see their faces during our tutoring sessions. The technology to tutor them virtually through video conferencing was not yet available.

Today, many bar and bat mitvah tutors are training Jewish teens who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away thanks to the advent of such video conferencing apps as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom and Apple FaceTime. Even beyond these communication apps, there are other technological tools being used to allow for a more interactive bar mitzvah training experience. Many online tutors use the Trope Trainer application, a computer software that has lessons, blessings and full readings for students. There is no shortage of online options for the parents looking for virtual training for their child’s bar mitzvah preparations. In many cases, it is the family that is unaffiliated with a congregation that is looking to use technology for training. However, with busy extracurricular schedules for the teens and hectic work responsibilities for their parents, it is oftentimes easier for teens to be trained at home in front of a screen.

Online training websites and virtual tutors for bat mitzvah

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Another Rabbi Hijacked My Writer's Workshop Class Yesterday

This was my final post for the Rabbis Without Borders blog as I have chosen to focus my time on some of my other writing opportunities. For my final post I intended to write about how critical the Rabbis Without Borders program has been to my rabbinate and my thinking in general about the future of Jewish communities. I certainly could have written about that two days ago and I would have articulated how Clal's fellowship program has benefitted me in myriad ways and helped to expand my understanding of the "beyond borders" approach we religious leaders should be taking in 21st century Jewish life.

An experience that occurred yesterday, however, concretized the Rabbis Without Borders perspective even more for me. I've returned to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio for the second year to serve on the faculty of Kenyon Institute's weeklong Beyond Walls Spiritual Writing workshop. My daily course focuses on using social media to further publicize ones writings on the internet. The class is made up of about 30 religious leaders (mostly clergy), of which about a quarter are rabbis.

In our second session yesterday I was discussing the benefits of blogging as a way to disseminate spiritual leaders' perspectives on the various issues of the day. I talked about how the medium of the blog gives us a borderless audience with which to share our "Torah" and bring comfort, inspiration and learning to a limitless amount of readers around the world. Immediately the hand of one of the rabbis went up and he began to challenge everything I had just said.

"This is a Ponzi scheme you're selling us," he said. The rest of the class just looked on in utter surprise. I questioned his use of the term, refusing to allow him to group me with a criminal like Bernie Madoff -- especially for the supposed "crime" of encouraging him to blog a few times a month and not bilking billions of dollars from innocent people. He went on to suggest that blogging would be a huge waste of his time because no one would read it. Furthermore, he argued that having a blog wouldn't get his congregation any additional members. He noted that he's already been watching his membership shrink over the years. Regrettably, I let him have the floor for a few more minutes as he criticized blogging and social media as a waste of time for rabbis.

Rabbi Jason Miller teaching at Kenyon College

I responded that the very nature of this writers' workshop, for which he applied, registered and is currently participating, is to take your writing beyond the walls of the brick and mortar congregation. I explained that if he's a good writer and has some meaningful perspectives to offer, he should try to extend his "Torah" beyond the reaches of his own synagogue and make it available to a larger audience. Moreover, I lamented his woeful perspective that his ultimate goal as a rabbi is to grow his congregation's membership rolls rather than to try to inspire more people -- potentially helping those in need with his enriching words. I then allowed some of the other rabbis in the room to refute his pessimistic perception.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Honoring Elie Wiesel

Jewish tradition tells us that Joseph, Moses and King David all died on Shabbat. Thus, it should be no surprise that the modern day prophet Elie Wiesel passed away on Shabbat as well. Wiesel, an educator, writer, humanitarian and visionary, died on Shabbat, July 2, 2016. He was the voice of the survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the voice for those who perished in the Shoah.

Like so many, I was fortunate to have the honor of meeting Elie Wiesel and hearing his words of wisdom on several occasions. He was an inspiration to millions around the globe. His books occupy a section of their own in my library because they seem to be their own genre. Wiesel was a leader, but more important he was a voice of reason in our fragile, broken world.

Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Jason Miller

Rather than trying to write a blog post to honor Wiesel, which feels impossible with everything he accomplished in his life and all of the deserving accolades he received, I'd rather share his own words below. What follows is Elie Wiesel's speech upon receiving the Nobel Peace Price in 1996.

Monday, June 20, 2016

In Memory of Alan Weinkrantz

About 5 years ago I was in New York City to speak at a technology conference called #140edu. It was one of Jeff Pulver’s 2-day conferences sort of modeled after the TED Talks. On the evening before the conference was to start, Jeff hosted a meetup for the speakers and select guests. I arrived unfashionably on time and there were only a few others at this trendy NYC bar/lounge. A gentleman named Alan Weinkrantz walked up to me and said, “So, you’re the tech rabbi?” We talked to each other for most of the rest of the evening.

I was intrigued by the work Alan was doing in the tech world – both in the U.S. and in Israel. He tried to convince me to come out to Texas for SXSW later that year (and each year ever since). What I liked most about Alan was that in that first conversation, he seemed to get me. He thought it was just so cool that a rabbi was so entrenched in the technology world. He peppered me with all sorts of questions about how rabbis and other Jewish educators were using social media and mobile apps. He wanted to know which applications I used for Torah text and for reading other Hebrew documents. He asked which social networks I recommended to synagogues and how they should be using them.

Alan Weinkrantz

At the end of the evening, Alan told me he was creating YouTube videos of all of the speakers at the conference and asked if he could do a video interview of me the next morning. I explained that I was set to speak on the second day of the conference and actually had little idea about what I’d be saying. Somehow he still convinced me to do the interview… and I’m grateful he did.

Alan’s questions – both before he began recording and during the actual interview were essential to helping me construct my talk at the conference. Alan helped me frame my views of technology and social media that would allow me not only to deliver a more thoughtful speech at that conference, but Alan also helped me formulate the basis for my outlook regarding the intersection of Judaism and technology over the past few years.

A friendship with Alan Weinkrantz was formed at that conference in NYC that allowed us both to challenge each other and think deeper about the world of technology, social media and startups -- especially in the Jewish world and in Israel. The best part of meeting Alan for me was that he totally got me. When I explain to some people that I am both a rabbi and a technologist, they just look at me quizzically. Alan, however, just seemed to understand what that entailed and he thought it was so interesting how I managed to intersect those two worlds.

Alan would interview me again a couple years after that initial conference. We were both in Las Vegas for CES and Alan asked if we could meet up so he could ask me some questions about the Israeli startup companies that were exhibiting at CES. It isn't easy finding a mutually convenient time to meet anyone at CES and it isn't very easy to coordinate meeting locations because of the throngs of people in attendance. However, Alan and I were able to find some time (and find each other) so he could interview me for a Times of Israel video series he was doing on technology. It was great to see him and catch up. That was the last time I would see Alan although we corresponded by email and through social networks all the time.

On Saturday night as I was about to go to sleep in a hotel room, I got word of Alan's untimely death. He had been at an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv (where he was spending more time lately) when a driver had a heart attack and drove full speed into the diners at the cafe. Alan and two others were killed. I immediately went to Alan's social networks to see recent photos of him. It was eerie to see the photo of his final meal that he had posted on Instagram, likely only moments before his demise. A friend of his posted that he had called her to join him for dinner that night, but she said she was too busy. As I perused the early responses on social media from friends who had just heard of Alan's tragic death, I was feeling intense grief, but I was also intrigued by the way we mourned this sudden loss through social media. And then I realized, that this was exactly a discussion that Alan I would have had.

I will forever miss Alan Weinkrantz, a visionary who was so amazed by technology. More than anything, Alan was a mensch. I'm grateful I got to become his friend, even if it was only for a handful of years. Yehi zichrono baruch, may the memory of Alan Weinkrantz be for blessings for all who knew him.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Don't Forget About the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot

Shavuot has become the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays. It gets no respect. Maybe even worse than not getting the respect this holiday deserves, it is often completely ignored by the Jewish community.

While Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals along with Passover and Sukkot, it seems to take a back seat in importance of many Jewish people's lives. While no American Jewish family would allow Memorial Day or Father's Day to go by without a proper observance, Shavuot just doesn't seem to factor in the lives of many non-Orthodox Jewish families. This year, Shavuot came late on the calendar, occurring just this past weekend after many Jewish day schools and synagogue Hebrew schools had already concluded the year. Even in leap years, such as the current Jewish calendar year, Shavuot arrives too early to get proper treatment at Jewish summer camps, which have historically taught Jewish youth to observe Tisha B'Av.

Ask most Jewish people to identify which holiday is the one with matzah and they'll all say "Passover." Ask them which is the one when we build temporary huts in the backyard to eat in for a week and they will correctly identify "Sukkot." Ask them which is the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah and some might respond "Simchat Torah," the second day of Shemini Atzeret when we return to the beginning of the weekly Torah readings again (in Israel, Simchat Torah is Shemini Atzeret). Even the Jewish holidays of less importance like Hanukkah and Purim receive heaps more of attention than Shavuot.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Father's Day Gift Guide - Technology Edition 2016

In the Digital Age, there are two types of dads. The first is the dad who would love to get any technology-related gift on Father's Day. The second dad doesn't realize he would love to get anything techie, but when he does he's excited and eager to open the box to set it up. As Father's Day 2016 approaches, the amount of eye popping tech gadgets is overwhelming. This year will be Dad's best Father's Day ever because of the cool tech products on the market.

From security cameras, smartphone controlled drones, and audio products to fitness trackers, smart appliances, and computers, this Father's Day will be Dad's lucky day. I put together a list of some of the most impressive tech gifts for this year. In addition to high end headphones and super fast routers, I tried to include some new products that will let Dad upgrade the home to a smart home. Not only will your father or grandfather appreciate a deadbolt lock that is controlled with his smartphone or a smart kitty litter contraption, but he'll love the chance to tinker with them during setup. All of these products are available on and at local stores. Many of these products are discounted during the Father's Day shopping season so check the Web for the best prices.

Here is this year's tech gift guide for Father's Day:

Raumfeld Stereo M and Raumfeld SoundBar - The German company Raumfeld only makes serious audio equipment for the true audiofile. These elegantly designed speakers deliver the only wireless multi-room streaming solution to fill any home with true wireless high fidelity sound. I set up the Stereo M in my living room and every member of my house can stream their own music selections to these beautiful speakers. The Soundbar hangs from my mounted flat screen TV in the family room and has transformed this room into a home theater with the most impressive sound imaginable. Raumfeld's free iOS and Android apps allow Dad's smartphone or tablet to control the speakers, toggle between his personal music collection, USB, internet radio, or one of the popular streaming services that Raumfeld supports, such as Spotify.

Netgear Nighthawk X4S Gaming Router - There's a reason this was ranked #1 for Best Router Performance this year. It boasts the fastest gaming performance of any comparable router with its 160MHz, MU-MIMO and Quad Stream technology, which delivers WiFi to multiple devices simultaneously for faster speeds. Dad will enjoy ultimate WiFi speeds up to 2.53Gbps. Plus with features such as NETGEAR genie remote access and ReadyCLOUD, Dad will be able to easily manage the network, have access to a secure personal cloud, access home network remotely, and share photos stored on the storage from anywhere. Dad will love this router and the rest of the family will benefit too!

Eleven James Membership Club - Known as the Netflix of watches, Eleven James is an annual membership club that gives Dad or Grandpa unprecedented access to hundreds of the world's most exquisite watch brands and styles. A membership to Eleven James will allow your father to pick his new luxurious timepiece and enjoy it for a few months at a time. Then he'll simply return the watch and a new one will be shipped right to his door. Their Concierge Team will help complete his personal profile building upon the favorites he's selected. Eleven James members are given preferential access to a multitude of member services and events, and also build points towards a watch purchase as they continue to rotate timepieces.

Kwikset Kevo and SmartCode 915 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolts - For Father's Day this year, consider giving Dad an upgrade to some basic household devices. The traditional lock and key has probably not changed since Dad moved into his house. Kwikset has brought door locks into the 21st century with electronic deadbolts. With Kevo, there's no more fumbling for keys. Dad can use his smartphone to unlock the door and can even keep it in his pocket. The Kevo app is available for both Apple iOS and Android devices. Installing Kevo and setting up the app take less than 30 minutes and the instructions are very clear. If there are multiple people living in the home and you don't want everyone to have to use the mobile app or have a FOB with them, the SmartCode 915 is the best touchscreen electronic deadbolt on the market. It's easy to program and looks nice. It's available in polished brass, satin nickel or venetian bronze.

Litter-Robot III Open Air  - When it comes to litter boxes for cats, the traditional model comes to mind. However, modern technology has been used to create automatic self-cleaning litter boxes. The Litter-Robot III uses a patented sifting system to automatically separate waste from clean litter, so Dad will never have to scoop litter again and it helps remove odor too.  With an expansive litter chamber and larger, upward-facing entryway, this newer model of the Litter-Robot is more comfortable for large cats. A self-adjusting weight sensor easily detects small and larger cats. An automatic night light is a nice added bonus for elderly cats

BeoPlay A1 - Give Dad this BeoPlay portable Bluetooth speaker for Father's Day and he'll thank you immediately and then again every time he provides the music at the tailgate, family BBQ, beach party or by the pool. Beoplay A1 is small, but it has ambient True 360 sound. The rounded aluminium grill is beautiful like all BeoPlay products and this lightweight speaker will be something Dad cherishes. BeoPlay is an affordable offshoot of Bang & Olufsen, who have been known as a leader in the audio industry for decades.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2045 Projector - We used to think of projectors only in terms of giving presentations at work, but Epson's Home Cinema 2045 wireless projector is designed to be a home entertainment hub. This powerful projector delivers full HD 1080p content from most devices. With 2200 lumens of color brightness and 2200 lumens of white brightness, Dad will be able to show HD movies to friends and family. He'll also be able to wirelessly stream content via Miracast and Intel WiDi or use his Blu-ray layer, gaming console, streaming device, tablet or smartphone and project up to 300".  Imagine how thrilled your father or husband will be to get this cinema projector and be able to show outdoor movies in the backyard this summer.

Aurvana Noise Canceling Headphones - There are so many high-end noise canceling headpones on the market, but many of these are over $200. Aurvana's version is under $150 and they are so lightweight that Dad will forget he's even wearing headphones. The soft leatherette earpads are very comfortable, they look stylish and the headband mirrors the contours of the head. No matter if your father is a frequent traveler or just wants to listen to his music without all of the extraneous sounds, he'll really appreciate these great headphones.

Maximus Smart Security Light - It might be your father's job to protect the family, but that doesn't mean you can't you can't give him a Father's Day gift to help him keep an eye on the house. Maximus isn't your typical porch light because it boasts an integrated 720p video camera enabling Dad to stream live surveillance video from the house to his smartphone. The mobile app receives real-time alerts when motion is detected at the door or around the house wherever the light is installed. The light also has a built-in speaker and microphone for conversations with the visitor or delivery person. The light also has a 100dB alarm that can be activated remotely using the app.

Logitech Harmony Elite - Let's face it... dads love remote controls. Even if many TVs and stereos can be controled by mobile devices these days, a powerful remote control is still the best. Logitech's Harmony Elite is an all-in-one remote control on steroids! It will control up to 15 home entertainment and connected home devices. With a full color touch screen, your father will simply swipe and tap to control channels, movies, volume, 50 favorite channels and smart home devices like Philips Hue lights. There are programmable one-touch activities like "Watch a Movie" to automatically power on and switch devices to the right settings. A nice feature is that the Harmony Hub lets you control devices in closed cabinets, or even when away from home. Best of all it works with over 270,000 devices including satellite or cable boxes, Apple TV, Roku, TiVo, Blu-ray players, game consoles, door locks, thermostats, sensors and more.

ALLie Home 360 Degree Interactive Camera - The ALLie camera will give any father or grandfather peace of mind because because he'll never miss those important moments in life. There's no more fumbling for a camera or smartphone to capture a child’s first steps or a pet's funny bloopers. ALLie isn't a security camera. Rather, it's meant to capture events in fully immersive 360° x 360° and then share them on YouTube or Facebook. He can also view what’s happening live in 4K hi-res. The cloud recordings will help your favorite guy go back in time and see what happened while you were away in the most immersive way possible.

Beastgrip Pro Wide Angle Lens and Fisheye Lens - There was a time when every Dad showed up at dance recitals, sporting events and graduations armed with an actual camera. In the modern days of phoneography, he's likely relying on the smartphone in his pocket to capture the memories. Beastgrip's products help the smartphone photographer by providing a better lens for higher resolution photography. The Beastgrip Pro is compatible with just about any smartphone and with the included Beastgrip DOF adapter, it's easy for Dad to mount SLR lenses to achieve a shallow depth-of-field and create unique photographs and videos with his camera phone. The included Beastgrip Wide angle lens lets him capture approximately 2x more of the picture in the frame than a just using a camera phone lens. The Beastgrip Fisheye lens has a 180° field-of-view allowing him to achieve unique visual effects for fun. Both lenses have a removable macro attachment that can be used separately for extreme close-up shots. Now all Dad needs for those important events are his phone and his Beastgrip Pro lens.

Parrot Jumping Race Jett MiniDrone - Drones have really come down in price over the past year, but if getting Dad a Parrot Bebop 2 is still too pricey, consider the less costly Jumping Race MiniDrone from Parrot. This agile and lightweight drone comes with an embedded mini camera that sends photos and videos directly to his smartphone or tablet plus a microphone and speaker capture and broadcast audio. This minidrone is Adapted for high speed with large racing tires and can be used both indoors and outdoors. It reaches speeds of up to 8 mph and jumps up to 2.4 feet high, always landing right back on its wheels to avoid damage. Dad will love the fact that he can record videos from the family picnic directly onto the internal memory.

DLink AC3200 Ultra WiFi Router - With so many tech gadgets in our homes, today’s families require an extremely fast router to support laptops, tablets, phones, Smart TVs and game consoles that are often all connected at the same time. DLink's AC3200 has Tri-Band technology and boasts speeds up to 3.2Gbps. There's no question this is the router to handle high-bandwidth activities like HD streaming and gaming. The best part about this router is that the entire family will be connected to high speeds even in the farthest corners of the house. Using Smart Connect Technology, the router chooses from the 3 Wi-Fi bands and automatically connects each device on your network to the best, clearest band available for the best connection every time.

Logi ZeroTouch Dashboard and ZeroTouch Air Vent - It might have only been a few years back that you taught your dad to text, but now he's a text messaging machine and that means you want him to put safety first when he's driving. These two gadgets from Logitech together give any driver a true hands-free, in-car experience that can provide the best features of a connected car. The mobile app is automatically triggered when Dad docks his phone to the magnetic air vent or dashboard mount, allowing him to use voice controls to text back and forth, place phone calls, and share his location with friends and family in real-time with Glympse. He can also stream his music using Spotify and navigate with Google Maps or Waze.

Audeze SINE Headphones - If your father or grandpa is an audiophile, you'll definitely make this a Father's Day to remember with a pair of Audeze Sine headphones. These are a high end, premium pair of headphones with serious sound quality. Planar magnetic headphones, like the SINE, combine acoustic engineering with beautiful craftsmanship. They are light, comfortable and will transform Dad's listening experience for music and movies. There's very low distortion, good bass, a seductive mid-range and crisp extended high frequencies. At $499 these are not inexpensive headphones, but if siblings are pooling their money for an extravagant gift, you'll want to order a pair of the SINE headphones before Father's Day.

Lima - What started as a Kickstarter project is now one of the best Father's Day gifts for under $100. Lima lets Dad build a personal cloud in just seconds. He'll install the Lima device by plugging it to his router and to an external hard drive. In the blink of an eye, it will enable him to access all of his files from any device. He'll never complain that there's no more space on his computer or smartphone to take photos or download big files. If he's worried about security, Lima uses Military-grade privacy, it syncs quickly and there are never any fees.

Ballistic Case - So, Dad finally came around and got a new smartphone. Now, he needs a sturdy and fashionable case to protect it. Ballistic makes some of the best phone cases around. They offer inexpensive models like the Jewel for iPhones, which are under $20, and they also sell more durable options like their Hard Core Tactical which retail for $100 and have even better drop test certification. All of Ballistic's cases have reinforced corner and six-sided drop protection, but for the most protective option go for a case with screen protection too.

HUDWAY Glass HeadsUp Display -
 Driving has certainly become more dangerous as drivers are moving their eyes from the road to their GPS device, in-dash navigation or a smartphone running Google Maps or Waze. In an effort to bring more safety to drivers by freeing them from these navigational distractions, HUDWAY has created a new HeadsUp Display. It projects navigation information off of a smartphone screen directly in the driver’s line of sight, so that drivers can focus on the road ahead without being distracted.  The glass is semi-transparent and allows the driver to see both the navigation information and the actual road at the same time, just like the HUD screen in luxury vehicles. After installation, your dad would need to download any HUD-based app of his choice. A Kickstarter project, HUDWAY Glass will be released on the market this August, but a pre-order would make a wonderful Father's Day gift, plus pre-orders are still available at the discounted price of $49 instead of the eventual retail price of $79.95.

Rowkin Mini - The Rowkin Mini is the world's smallest, wireless earbud on the market making it easy to fit into the ear. If your dad loves listening to music, but hates the cord or even having a band connecting the left from the right earbud, he'll love the Rowkin Mini. They look and feel like two small dots in your ears and are virtually invisible. Using Bluetooth 4.1 technology the Rowkin Mini connects to any smart device and the tiny earbud has a built-in mic to easily make phone calls. They come with a portable charging case. If your father is the type who loves the latest technology available, he'll go crazy when he unwraps his new Rowkin Mini earbuds.

Vitrima VR Lens - If Dad got a GoPro for last Father's Day, you'll want to up his game this year. Vitrima's VR Lens transforms his GoPro. It's a 3D action camera lens that requires no additional processing to capture 3D video. After shooting video with Vitrima, it can be viewed in immersive 3D using a virtual reality headset or viewer like Google Cardboard. A waterproof is pre-attached to a standard housing so it's ready to be mounted to standard accessories. A lightweight version quickly snaps onto the front of the GoPro camera for easy filming of video without a housing. The price is $129 for the waterproof version and $99 for the lightweight version. I couldn't believe how easy it became to shoot 3D video with Vitrima and I'm sure your dad will love this inexpensive upgrade to his GoPro.