Saturday, 31 December 2005

Hot Stuff

It's hot.
The morning started with a bit of a breeze and it wasn't too bad. We went to Williamstown beach where the trees provide some shade and it was actually cool for a while.
But then the mercury started rising. By the time we got home the walk from the carport to the house was bad (luckily, the Canyonero's air conditioner works and works well). Then the temperature got to more than 42 and it got to 29 inside...
The aircon and the fan are working, but we're still feeling drained. Looking forward to the change that's supposed to come tomorrow, but tonight is going to be bad. At least I got the camera and the tripod ready for some fireworks action.

Friday, 30 December 2005

Narnia

The latest forecast says the hot weather will stay with us till Monday. Lovely.
In the mean time, and as promised, we went to see the Narnia film. How shall I put it? The Lord of the Rings should not worry about its status. Just like I didn't like Narnia much as a book and preferred to read LOTR one more time (note: 15 minutes before entering the cinema we did buy the complete Chronicles of Narnia book from Big W for only $25), I didn't like the film that much. Not that it's a bad film, by any means, it's just one of those cases where high expectations made it into a bit of a disappointment. Jo liked it, though.
There were two things I didn't like much. First and foremost, the film's plot/agenda: The fact there is a "prophecy", the fact the kids fit into it without really doing much, the coming back from the dead... A lot like the faults plaguing Lion King. From reading others' reviews I realize that these are Christian ideas, but I can't really comment on them as such because I'm as familiar in Christian theology as I and most people are familiar with quantum physics: I know there is such a thing, I know a bit on its basic principles, but please don't ask me complicated questions (the main difference would be that while I admire the sophistication of quantum physics, I despise religion). Bottom line: film's not much good in there, but neither is the book.
Then there are the small details, which Peter Jackson masters well and Narnia cuts corners with: Things like the way the oldest boy holds his sword, plus plenty of holes in the plot (I suspect many were due to the film's already too long a length for a kids film's), etc. Both Jackson in his King Kong and Narnia overdo it when it comes to digital effects, which hinders both films.
One thing I did like was Tilda Swinton, whom I remember very favorably from the film Orlando (one of the reasons for me keeping a hold of my laserdisc player). She definitely impresses as the evil baddie.
I guess that as a kids' film the film would work well (albeit being on the scary side of things); I just can't escape the inevitable comparison with the books and the films I like the most. Get your head clear of that, and you'll have two hours and twenty minutes of fun.

Lion King

Two weeks ago, on Jo's birthday, we went to see The Lion King - not the film, but the Broadway show (and no, we weren't in Broadway, it's showing in Melbourne).
Now let it be said that I was never a big fan of the theater. If you ask me, I would say that's an understatement: theater sucks, and musicals suck even more. The reason is simple: The theater medium is so severely limited when compared to film that I see no reason to compromise; and the so called advantage that theater has, being "live", is not that big an advantage if you're watching it from more than 2 meters away; and let's say you're less than 2m away, you're probably suffering from a very stiff neck.
It's not just for technical reasons that I dislike the theater. In order to compensate for its deficiencies, theater is usually over played - and the result is that my suspension of disbelief is severely suspended. Can you compare that to a movie that can go from the very lows to the utmost highs, that is not limited by sets, camera angles, and the lack of a worthy actor?
Anyway, the bottom line is that theater usually settles today with not much in the "telling the story" department but rather puts the emphasize on the "ooh, I'm so inferior, I'll put the effort on the way I am telling the story rather than the story itself".
Case in point: The Lion King, a show which is all about "look how originally we manage to recreate the shit film on the theater's stage". And yes, don't get me wrong: I did like the film when I first saw it on laserdisc, but a lot of mud has went down the Yarra since; today I think it's a shit film with lots of fascist motifs in it (e.g., the destiny to be a king, the total reliance of the others on the king) - but then again, what can one expect from Disney.
So yes, it was quite spectacular to watch for a live show, but story wise I would take the film any time. The most problematic aspect? That guy who sat in front of me, who wasn't particularly tall, but had to lean forward all the time, which meant that I had to sit as straight as I could (thus losing the last remnants of suspension). I don't know why theaters tend to always suffer in this department while cinemas no longer do (probably because they're try to pack thousands of people into the theater, but I'm not sure about that).
I'll be fair and say that I've enjoyed the show, and I think Jo too - and quite a lot, which is more important. But you won't get me to say too many good words about theater in general. Still, if you have to go and see a play from time to time, this one is probably on the better side of things.
Me? I'm happy that the cinema is much cheaper and the DVD rentals are incredibly cheap, with so much to choose from despite the flux of Hollywood's shit crap all over. And I even like a lot of that shit, too...

Donkey Kong

At last, we went to see King Kong last night.
We didn't really have much of a choice: It's been high thirties weather for three days now and it's going to be this way for another two (tomorrow it should even top forty). Usually in Melbourne it gets cooler at night even in summer - to something like 14 degrees, which is enough to create an overall nice balance, but in this streak it only goes down two twenty something which is far from enough to relieve the soul. At least, unlike Tel Aviv, it's quite dry.
Anyway, back to the main point, Peter Jackson's latest. Well, I liked it, but it's certainly no Lord of the Rings. For a film longer than 3 hours it didn't feel long to me (it did to Jo, though) and I found it very well structured and tense enough to make me forget the passage of time (well, actually, because I really needed the toilet, I couldn't quite forget the passage of time, but let's forget that). I do have to hand it over to Mr Jackson, his attention to details is quite astounding; I was quite impressed with his resurrection of New York in the thirties.
Still, as nice as the film was, it has some major shortcomings. Message wise it's quite a repeat on what Jackson was trying to say in LOTR. However, the films always feels as if Jackson is trying to outplay himself and come up with bigger and better stuff: Remember Legolas' scene with the oliphants in Return of the King? Well, there are many of those over the top scenes in here.
The film's biggest problem, however, is Jack Black, who plays the role of a John Howard supporter interested only in making more money and lacking anything in the way of morales. I don't know what Peter Jackson saw in him, but he gives such a shit performance with his single expression face that I kept on hoping Kong devours him and gets rid of him for the benefit of us all.
So, overall: a good film, certainly better than the fourth Potter, but not something that would linger. At least it made me start reading Heart of Darkness, although I'm not sure yet whether I'll go through the entire ride. The book's main attraction, after all, is the fact that Apocalypse Now is based on it.
Next on our list: Narnia.

And before I forget: Jo has asked me to specify that the film did not have any barrels.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Dream Job

We came back yesterday from our Xmess break adventure (more about that later in another blog entry; it's a long story and I've only finished its exposition so far) with a very dirty Canyonero. It's all the fault of some dirt roads and lots of dead bugs, but it forced me to break out of my now regular habit of washing my car on a yearly basis.
As I told you before, we're not supposed to wash the Canyonero at a tunnel. The dirt inside and the tunnel taboo meant I wanted to try new options, so I went to one of those coin operated places that let you vacuum and clean per coins.
And I'm very glad I did! I can see myself doing this car wash all day and all of the night: You get this huge gun to hold, and you can set it to whatever car cleaning mode you're interested in (soaping, heavy rinsing - the coolest, spot cleaning, drying, waxing, etc). All the water is recycled, so you get to just spray this gun all over the place.
There was this old woman watching her husband cleaning his car next to me, but she was watching me most of the time, sporting a very obvious laugh on her face. Can't blame her, given the huge smile I must have had on my face.

Give Me a Break




Both Jo and I needed a break.
I have been noticing lately that I'm going through a rather tense time at work using the oldest and most reliable indicator I have: I have been chewing my fingers like crazy (which, sadly, ruined the lovely resurrection work done by my body during that month we were away). It's a combination of two factors: We have lots of work to do but I can't be bothered because I've been doing pretty much the same thing for the last three years and innovation and ground breaking stuff are quite a thing of the past, which means that I'm in a constant [losing] battle to keep myself interested with what I do at work in the hope that I will do it well; and the fact that my company is in the shits lately, with its stock price plummeting very nicely if you're into bungee jumping and the talk about redundancies that followed, peaked by a takeover bid issued by a larger companies just before the holiday break. The status of the IT industry in Australia is such that work is the only thing I truly worry and feel insecure about, and when you add the continuous false promises for a raise and a general improvement at work you end up with low morale, zero motivation, crap outputs, and in general - tension.
Jo, on the other hand, just keeps on working like a TGV train: full throttle all the time. I don't know how she manages to keep going like that over long periods (she doesn't even remotely surf the internet at work!), but the end result is that she needed a vacation, too - with only 3 months gone since we came back from our round the world trip.
So, off we went on Saturday morning for a long 380km drive to Cape Bridgewater, armed with only one Canyonero and a fully esky (also known as a container that keeps food cool, or a Tseidanit in Hebrew) - quite a necessity given that almost everything is closed on Xmess day, especially if you're 380km away from civilization.
Saturday's forecast was supposed to be quite nice in Melbourne - something like 23 degrees or so, but the main feature of the weather that day was the wind. Now I have joked here before about the Canyonero consuming more gas if you drive against the wind, but this drive has made it very clear that drag is a major factor in its gas consumption. Consumption during the 380km to Cape Bridgewater was lower than the normal city consumption of about 9km per liter, whereas the not windy way back - in which we used the aircon almost all the way - was something like 14km plus per liter. In both cases I've used the cruise control to keep us at the legal limit. Still, we didn't need to look as far as gas consumption to "enjoy" the wind; during all that long drive, which took place in majorly boring roads full of nothing but fields and more fields with cows and more cows (and sheep, too) we only stopped once for a very short lunch which consisted of sandwiches because anything more sophisticated than that would have gone with the wind. At least the setting was nice at lake Colac.
Anyway, we got to our pre booked accommodation at Cape Bridgewater, the Sea View Lodge, at about 16:30. First thing's first: Cape Bridgewater turned out to be this very small collection of houses by the beach , but the beach is not your average beach: It's quite a spectacular white sand beach in an oval shape surrounded by cliffs on both sides (well, there is a reason why they called it a cape). Quite spectacular. So we were still mesmerized by the view when Dennis, the hotel's manager, told us that he had us booked for the next three days but not for that particular night we arrived in. We talked things out a bit, and all I can say is that I was reminded of a word from my ancient past that had a long lasting impression on my life: "overbooking". He didn't admit to committing that dreadful, but it certainly smelled that way. Anyway, he arranged an alternative place for us, so it wasn't an issue even if we could have managed without the drama.
That other place was up the hill so it sported an even amazier view (and it was cheaper, too!). With the wind, the overbooking's excitement, and the long drive we didn't bother going out much (not that there's anything to do at a place such as this, especially on Xmess eve, other than go to the beach). We spent the night playing Monopoly (Jo tore me apart) and listening to the wind whistling outside.
We woke up the next morning, Xmess day itself, to pretty much the same scene - only that the wind has grew even stronger. We decided to follow the policy my brother always states when I wimp about the weather: Stick to your plans regardless of the weather (unless it's heavily raining). So we stuck and went to see two attractions in Cape Bridgewater itself, a blow hole and a petrified forest. The blow hole is this cliff that's hit by the sea, and because of different rock material and erosion and stuff develops this hole that causes pounding waves to smash at it and blow themselves up in quite a spectacular fashion. With all the wind on that day, it was indeed quite a spectacular fashion; at first we thought it was rain but quickly enough we realized that we're just being constantly bombarded by sea water even though we were at the top of a very high cliff. We were quite salty for the remainder of the day.
The petrified forest was quite interesting, looking very much like an alien planet from Star Trek. Our away mission quite enjoyed it (there's not much of a forest there now, but apparently an old forest got itself cast in the limestone; the forest is now gone, but the cast is still there), only that by the time Scotty was able to beam us back up to the Canyonero my ears were severely hurting. It wasn't cold at all, but it was the noise that the wind made that caused my ears to hum and physically hurt for the rest of that day. I just find that amazing!
In an effort to combat the weather front which was coming from the west, and given that the forecast was for the weather front to clear, we decided to head off to the west - to South Australia's Mount Gambier - and enjoy its volcanic attractions.
So on we drove for about 90km or so. It was my first time in SA (South Australia) - Jo has been to Adalaide before for work - but it didn't seem promising at all. While the wind didn't bother us while inside the car, most of the drive took place inside a cloud. To say it rained was an understatement!
However, the minute we got to Mount Gambier itself the rain has stopped, and we were able to enjoy its blue lake, situated at the top of a not so old volcanic crater and sporting a very unnaturaly deep blue color. Quite interesting. Also interesting to note is the fact that the lake's blue-ness will not be captured by normal digital cameras, which utilize the RGB color palette to save photos, because that color palette cannot "digest" that type of blue and will instead degenerate it into a different type of blue. Luckily, my Nikon handles the Adobe format that can do it, but it is still funny to watch the photo on my RGB monitor at home and see how the color is a more "simple" blue than what the lake really looks like. In your face, monitor.
We had lunch by the banks of a similar lake (sans the color effects) and read in the Lonely Planet that Mount Gambier has a boardwalk on a lake in some nature park. We went driving looking for it, only to discover after a few circling operations that it was 10 meters away from where we had lunch. So we came back and went in that nature park and walked on that boardwalk in the middle of the lake (which we called "the bridge of death"), but the most interesting aspect of it was the mother kangaroo and baby kangaroo that spotted us the minute we went in and tracked us for a while. There were also emus there. By then the sun actually came out and it became a nice t-shirt weather day.
From Mount Gambier we drove south to a small place called Port McDonnel which we mainly remembered from SA's tourist ads. This so called "capital of the lobster" (everything was shut, though) turned out to be a very nice place with some spectacular views and houses for sale for only $25 (it could have been a pot that they were trying to sell, though) and scenery that is quite similar to Victoria's Twelve Apostles.
From there we drove back to our previously overbooked hotel and spent the rest of the evening/night playing Scrabble.
So how would I summarize my first venture into SA? Well, I don't think it would surprise anyone if I say that the eastern part of SA looks a lot like the western part of VIC: Farms and more farms. It is also very cheap: We did not spend a cent in SA, with our eskied food and the lake boardwalk thing being free, which goes to show that there is something to the saying "the best things in life are free".
One thing that is very interesting for greens in the making such as us was the huge collection of tree farms on the area's roads, where you get lots of very large plots of trees at different stages of evolution as you drive - baby trees, young trees, middle aged trees, mature trees - and then you get something that resembles the portrayal of a nuclear war's aftermath - the areas where the trees have just been picked up so that people like us can buy furniture at IKEA or something similar. Although it's probably an efficient way of generating wood, Jo did pose an interesting issue when she asked what happens to all the animals living in the trees once they are turned into a World War Three aftermath zone? With all the farms that we've been through driving, I could not escape the feeling that we are using pretty much everything that nature has in our favor. The problem is, are we using or abusing? But more about the adverse effects later.
Back to SA itself, we were amazed by the lack of any height differences between the sea and the land; it seemed as though a few more ice caps melting in the North Pole would cause half of SA to disappear below the sea. It was also interesting to note how fond the South Australians are of fishing, because next to every bridge we saw - even a two foot long stick put on top of a small muddy puddle - there were signs saying that fishing from the bridge is forbidden. Strange folk.
Day three was supposed to have the best weather of all, but it started as a pretty gray day. It was also quite cool, so we decided that instead of deciding on where to go that day we'd visit the information center in Portland - the nearest city - and then decide.
We discovered why Portland, situated 15km east of Cape Bridgewater, is called Portland pretty quickly: It's basically a port. According to the locals, that was also the place where Victoria was first settled, long before a certain Melbourne became famous (at least that's what the locals would have you believe). However, as dull as a port may be (and this one probably is), it does suppose to feature the occasional visiting whale; in fact, they used to hunt them there using just small boats, because the whales would come there instead of people having to chase them out in the seas.
Despite the information's office recommendation for tourist traps in Portland that won't interest anyone that is actually alive (e.g., a tram or some old car museum), we decided to go for a tour of Portland's own cape where the main attraction is called "The Enchanted Forest". Now, I have no idea who is in charge of the Australian Ministry of Naming, but you can quickly catch their drift: In order to get to Portland from Melbourne, you would usually drive on "The Great Ocean Road"; once you're in the Portland area, one of its biggest attractions is "The Great South West Walk", and in that 250km walking track you get "The Enchanted Forest". Anyway, when we got to the enchanted part we met another ingredient of Australian greatness: The Great Australian Fly. Now I know that Bill Bryson has said it all before, but excuse my lack of originality when I say that unlike its European counterparts, the Australian fly is the world's best homing device: It would quickly home in on any place of possible moisture on you - your ears, eyes, nose, and lips - and whatever you do, it would come back again and again and again. And again. Totally different to their easily deterred continental counterparts. Mind you, Australian mosquitoes are different too, in an opposite way: You can easily and quite slowly kill them with your fingers without them offering even the slightest resistance. Well, I guess things should be opposite normality this side of the world, but allow me for becoming serious and saying that the flies are the price Australia pays for defying its natural habitats and raising cows everywhere. Again, it shows that you can't get too many freebees from nature, although I am sure the beef raisers couldn't care less about the flies.
The rain that started dripping at a casual rate and the constant need to wave my arms around me - Team America's signal style - in order to scare all the flies away - meant I didn't enjoy the 45 minutes of the enchanted forest that much, despite the fact it was really nice: A rain forest in an environment that is quite different to where rain forests normally are, with the nice sea and spectacular breaks and cliffs added to the equation.
On our way back to the car we missed a turn and got a bit lost. We quickly realized our mistake and while cursing the track we noticed an echidna crossing our path. An echidna is Australia's version of a hedgehog (Kipod in Hebrew), and it's very cute and we've seen many in zoos, but it was the first time we had a live encounter with one which is always that much more impressive. At first we just observed it digging from a distance, and when we got closer it moved to the side of the path and pretended to be a ball of thorns. Cute.
From there we went to Cape Nelson's lighthouse, which is the one in charge of the entrance to Portland's port. I have to say I'm wondering why in this age of GPS one would need a lighthouse, but hey - some company probably needs to get of the some tax payer's money, and who am I to complain if they pay some government official so they'd be able to get away with it.
Anyway, the lighthouse will be remembered as another area that looked like yet another Star Trek beam me up Scottie alien planet. I guess it's the combination of winds, weirdo vegetation and soil that cause it.
We drove back to Portland through an area of paddocks that is used for sheep shipping. Yes, you got that right. One of Australia's more famous exports is sheep: apparently, they are grown in huge numbers for their wool, but not enough people are interested in their meat (especially in the Far East; I have to identify with them, I hate sheep's meat). So they put lots and lots of live sheep - like 150,000 of them - on a ship at a time, and ship them to countries that do like sheep, usually Arab countries in the Middle East. The thing is that the cheapest way to conserve the meat is to ship it alive, so they just load them to these huge ships where they live one on top of the other without much airconditioning or air at all. No one attends to them, they just eat and shit on top of one another, and as a result something like 10-20% of them die in the process and those that survive are not exactly happy to report about their international travel adventures (makes Heathrow airport feel like the Garden of Eden). While in the past Portland's sheep paddocks were a tourist attraction, recent public awareness and green protests have caused the locals to lower their profiles and stop advertising them. Instead, they are now planting trees so you won't be able to see the paddocks from the road (that would require major forests to be planted - 150,000 sheep take a lot of space) and also planting these weird metallic trees that carry messages such as "fuck off, this is private property" on top of them. When I asked about this at the information center the lady was a bit ashamed to answer me, but still - it is obvious the locals still go for the money rather than being humane. Or maybe preferring the money is the human thing to do?
The weather still sucked so we went to Portland's maritime museum, where we took photos of Jo being eaten by the skeleton of a southern right whale (thus named because it was the "right" whale to hunt with all its oil) and me in a diver's helmet (check the top photo above).
From there we decided that the best place to go in order to hide from the weather is this cave in Nelson, some 65km away, that features stalagmites and galgamites. Since I was 6 or so and my family took me to this cave near Bet Shemesh I haven't seen live stalagmites and galgamites, so I was eager to go. But first we had to exercise the stomach muscles, and with the weather being as it was we just went for a restaurant. The restaurant's cakes were very attractive to the eye (and the stomach), so we stayed in the restaurant longer than anticipated. Then we learned that the cave, although published as a Nelson attraction, is actually 15km or so further away from Nelson (and on some very dodgy dirt roads) - and as a result, we got to the cave 10 minutes after the last cave tour has started. We seem to excel at that - we had exactly the same experience at New Zealand and now we just have to go back there again (tough luck for us!).
In disappointment we drove towards this place that's supposed to have artificial waterfalls. We kept seeing signs that said something like "waterfalls [blank] km", so after a while of driving on very shit dirt roads and getting nowhere fast we started thinking that maybe we should just head back. The clincher was the body of a rotting kangaroo in the middle of the road that had its rib cage opened and piles of flies feasting on it. We turned back.
The road actually winds through South Australia a bit, and we stopped at this lovely place called Donovan by a river. Very tranquil and very picturesque - New Zealand grade - if it wasn't for the fucking flies. By then it became quite a hot day, so when I saw this swing in there and I practiced some long lost skills; it both ventilated me and the scared off the flies.
We drove back to Dennis' hotel where we had a room with sea views that night, which meant that we had a door leading to a balcony just across the road from the magnificent beach. We had another eskied dinner in our room, but then went socializing with Dennis - who seems to enjoy getting drunk with his guests on a nightly basis while saying that it's because he's Irish (his great grandmother might have been, but he's definitely Australian in my book) and another couple from a place called Winchelsea near Geelong (some 100km from south west of Melbourne).
The husband was a truck driver that totally defied my image of truck drivers. By now I'm used to Australians being nice: You see these bearded bikers everywhere and you think "fuck, I better get off or they'll stab me", and then they come over and help you out. But what I liked about this truck driver was the way he described doing his job: He went on telling us how nice it is to drive through this stretch of 200km in South Australia during the summer, where you get the smell of wine grapes, wine making, and forests alternating as the kilometers go by. I do great injustice to his descriptions, which I can only describe as true poetry in motion. They definitely moved me.
His wife, on the other hand, seemed to share my views (and dare I say Jo's views, too) about the qualities of our so called "Liberal" government with Johnny at its helm. Dennis, on the other hand, turned out to be the representative Liberal for the night, and while we claimed that Howard's policies end up causing alienation between Australians Dennis answered by saying he doesn't understand what the problem is because he's alright thank you and if you have a problem come live in Cape Bridgewater. I doubt if he'd really like more people to come and change the place's atmosphere (and probably rob him of some income), but his self centered views definitely proved our point. Quite an entertaining night.
Next morning was plain hot, with the forecast talking about 37 degrees. We decided to go back to the blow hole / petrified forest and pay a visit to some nearby springs (a 2km round trip), but when we got there and saw that the heat was hot we decided to just visit the blow hole / pet forest again. As expected for this dead calm and hot day the blow hole didn't blow much, but we got some nice photos of the petrified wood (where before I didn't dare taking my beloved Nikon out of its bag). However, the major point of that experience were the flies: Swarms of them attacked us to the point we couldn't stand being out of the car. Check out Jo's photo of my backpack above to see we weren't joking.
So that was it as far as exploring went, and we drove back towards Melbourne. Some 50km or so away we stopped for a tour of a wind farm located right at the coast. Both Jo and I were very impressed: We were told that each of the quite magnificent propellers generates enough electricity to power 800 houses, which I find interesting because in Scientific American they said 1000; I wonder if that's because Australians waste more, have bigger houses, or built inferior wind mills.
There are a lot of protests in Australia against wind farms. It's the typical Australian notion of "not in my backyard", with people claiming that they ruin the natural vistas, create noise pollution and kill birds. I can't understand those claims: With such a long coastal line, already populated by farms and power lines and lots of other shit, I actually find the wind farms quite majestic. The noise they make is certainly not a factor: You have to be within 200m or so to hear it, and when you do hear it it's not obtrusive at all. And as far as killing birds goes, you'd have to be a very thick bird to commit suicide on these gigantic propellers turning at 15rpm.
If you ask me, that's where we (as in humanity) should go for power, especially in Australia which doesn't like wind (especially in its politicians) and sun light. And I definitely don't understand the calls for nuclear power: Besides being danger, we'll be leaving behind some very contaminated legacy for like 100,000 years to follow, and we'll also quickly deplete a very useful resource that future generations might benefit of even more - when we can easily use wind power as much as we want if it wasn't for all of John Howard's voters afraid for the value of their real estate investments and therefore object to wind farming. Just how little people know about these issues and just how easily John Howard can get away with his spin was evident by this couple that went on the tour with us and asked "what is fossil fuel". That said, as someone who just bought a big gas gobbling car, I would have to ask you to look for perfection elsewhere.
From there we drove towards Port Campbell and its 12 apostles, but this time we were driving from the west on not from the east as you would coming from Melbourne. For the record, Jo didn't want to stop at Cheese World on the way, but the major discovery was that there are 12 apostle related lookouts to the west of Port Campbell which we never saw before because we always went back to Melbourne once we reached Port Campbell. So to Jo's obvious "delight", we took some photos of these new angles.
From there we drove home, with only one stop at the now traditional KFC stop in Colac.
How can I summarize this very long blog entry? Jo said it only shows that I need to be concise, but I don't give a shit. Hardly anyone reads this anyway (although I was surprised to hear that Anthony does - hi there, Anthony!), and it's mostly written for my own pleasure, and if I enjoy lengthy bullshitting then so be it.
But to truly sum up: We enjoyed it all despite the weather and the files; the Canyonero was obviously designed for just this type of trips; we learned a lot about the environment; and most importantly, we relaxed a bit.
You're more than welcome to join us the next time. Plenty of room in the Canyonero.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Nobody Told Me There'll Be Days Like These

I hate to abuse John Lennon’s brilliant lyrics, but this entry is actually about this Xmess period we’re currently going through.
Now, Xmess is supposed to be a time for merriment: joy to the world, all the boys and girls. Well, excuse me, but this independent third party onlooker thinks it has all the ingredients to make it the most stressful time of the year. Allow me to elaborate…
First you got the Xmess gifts thing, where you’re expected to give away gifts to anyone that matters in your life. On paper, the concept of spending a thought on others and showing your love to them is quite a nice notion (even if I reject the materialistic aspects of it). However, in reality you’re in a constant fight to think of the proper gift that would not disappoint and to actually get it (by now we’re officially avoiding shopping malls as of early November). The fact that you’re expected to give the gift means added pressure: It’s no longer a nice thing to do – it is your duty; and if you don’t get someone a gift, that implies you don’t really care for them, which means you’re in the shits again.
The same thing applies to Xmess cards. Effectively, you’re ranking your friends and relatives: The top would get gifts and cards, the middle bunch would have to settle for cards, and the lower ranks get nothing. Again, coping with the pressures induced by this ranking system could be very hard, and I’m not even mentioning the aspect of the cards’ quality (previously discussed in another blog entry).
Add the cards and the gifts together and you end up with up with severe financial pressures peaking over a period of time where your income is likely to be the same as always if not lower. We’re doing relatively fine financially (albeit with a huge mortgage), and by now we buy the gifts throughout the year whenever we spot something suitable, but we’re the exception rather than the rule with first degree family members on both sides living from day to day.
The thing that’s supposed to compensate for all those stresses is the family togetherness brought by the holiday spirit combined with some leave from work. However, as the family is on the other side of the world, we don’t get to enjoy that at all – but we do get the added stress of realizing the family is far away. Mind you, if Jo’s family is anything like mine, you’d go crazy after a very short period of togetherness: A forced and unnatural togetherness brought by an artificial factor (a holiday) is much more likely to induce stress than to reduce it; however, if things do work, it is probably a great thing. Just like anything else in life that is worthwhile you need to work really hard to get a genuine benefit, it’s just that in this case “work” actually means being open to others.
In our case I would say the main relief of the holiday season is the nice (and warm) weather, but that’s something unique to us southern hemispherers. For now I will conclude by stating there’s a reason why I refer to this holiday as Xmess. Merry Xmas everybody!

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Australian Wedding

We ended up not going to see King Kong tonight, which means that a better opportunity to tell you about the wedding we've been to on Sunday will not come.
So yes, we've been to a wedding on Sunday, our third wedding in Australia if you count ours; this was for a work friend of Jo's, and for me it was a unique opportunity to meet the faces behind the names mentioned by Jo. Obviously, it was also an opportunity to see how wedding are celebrated by the "locals".
Set in the Dandenongs (a hilly area to the east of Melbourne), it was all nice and green around - but also quite cool, so it was nice to be inside most of the time. Without further ado, here are a few of my impressions:
  • Religion: Just as with our wedding, this was a non religious one. Although it took place in a chapel like thing (sans the killer benches), and the music had religious motifs, the ceremony was a demilitarized one; that's the way, aha aha, I like it. To put things into perspective: In Israel you cannot have a non religious wedding!
  • People: As with everything Australian there were people from all over the place. The groom was from a German family - his parents spoke English with a very thick accent. Our table included one ugly Israeli, a very good looking English chick, a Welsh couple (they're not British or English - they're from Wales!), a guy with an Arab name and somewhat of an Arab look that spoke and behaved in a more Ozzie fashion than most Ozzies, people from the Far East, and yes - some made in Australia goods, too. As I said on previous occasions, I think quite highly of these mixes.
  • Uniform: For a culture deeming itself casual, I find the fact that every serious occasion has to be attended in a suit to be one big loophole in the grand design. All the guys looked like they were wearing uniform. At the table people took the jackets off, but the ties never came off (hate them; they break your neck). The thing I find funniest is that while most Ozzies think someone is a suit looks distinguished, when I see someone is a suit I immediately think "here's a crook who has to dress up to try and hide the fact". And to think that in Israel only the groom, if anyone, would wear a tie or a suit. P.S: I even shaved for the wedding; I hate shaving on a weekend.
  • Speeches: None of this exists in Israel, so the speeching of speeches is a unique experience for me. Which reminds me of my biggest fuck up at my own wedding: My speech. I started it by saying that I would like to thank all my friends for not coming to my wedding, with the intention of thanking them for the huge gifts they sent us (second only to 1st degree family members) while by not attending they didn't cost us a thing; but I went too far, and it sounded as if I was mocking them for not bothering to show up. I know apologies will not do for all of them, but I truly apologize, and I would also like to say that in Yuval's case I actually recommended he doesn't visit during the wedding because we won't have time to pay him much attention. Anyway, for the curious amongst thee, my speech was relatively short and comprised mainly of a line from a song that I really like and with which I truly sympathize: "I get by with a little help from my friends".
  • Friends: The concept of best man and best women and all is another foreign thing to me. I found it interesting to note that in both Australian weddings we've been to (ours not included for this purpose) the friends and best men were relatively recent friends - usually friends from uni. While there's nothing wrong with that (re Yuval again, probably the one friend to whom I owe the most), in Israel most of the "hard core" friends are those from primary school or high school (and for fighters, army friends play an important role). For example, I know Haim since the age of 7 and Uri became a close friend at the age of 14; if you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me who my best friends were, these are the names I would give you, and in that order. The string "Haim & Uri" is deeply embedded in my mind. Anyway, I wonder why childhood long friendships are not as popular in Australia as they are in Israel; explanations would be welcomed.
  • Gifts: I spoke before of the gifts sent by my Israeli friends who didn't even attend my wedding; they really stood out from the crowd, because in Australia it seems that people do not attempt to cover the cost of their own hospitality. This makes sense to me: If everybody goes to weddings and also has a wedding of his/her own, the equilibrium state should mean that you're equal even if you don't sell your house to pay for a gift to a friend's wedding. Another interesting note is the currency: In Israel cash rules, and gifts are considered to almost be an insult; in Australia it's the opposite - cash means you can't think of something proper and everyone has a gift registry.
  • Dancing: I am not much of a dancer (and that's an understatement: Jo & I have never danced, and I would be very happy to keep it this way), and luckily you do not have to be one in Australian weddings. This wedding was the only one that had dancing, but it didn't have people forcing you to join.
  • Sound levels: Although not as high as Israeli weddings or Turkish restaurants, this wedding still had its share of overworked amplifiers and deeply distorted speakers. I can't stand the shrilly sound of clipping, but Jo kept pulling my fingers off my ears.
  • Number of guests: Australian weddings are significantly smaller than their Israeli counterparts. In Israel, 450 guests would make an average wedding; in Australia anything higher than 100-150 is considered very big. Personally, I was very happy with our small scale wedding: yes, I missed my friends and most of my family, but I can not be bothered with a host of people I only "like" at best or "don't want to offend with a non invitation" at worst. But I think this goes with the thing about the longevity of friends that I mentioned before: I am truly curious for the reasons.
To conclude: The food was ok, and the lack of any Kosherness meant the desserts were more than ok. As usual, my well trained stomach muscles worked hard on the cakes.

Monday, 19 December 2005

Couldn't have put it better...

I know I'm repeating myself here, but today there was a letter in The Age that gave me that weird deja-vu feeling of "I couldn't have put it better myself".
Well, since I think so highly of it, I would ask you to please allow me some cutting and pasting. Here goes:

PRIME Minister John Howard was quoted as saying: "Remember, you don't achieve any advances in this world through the use of violence, thank you," (The Age, 16/12). If this is what he genuinely believes, it prompts the question of why he involved us in the illegal war on Iraq.

It also leads to the wider question of why it is that under Mr Howard's leadership, Australia has become a nation almost unrecognisable as the one to which I migrated in 1957. I am not talking about the changes in economic development and technology, which you would expect to see over almost 50 years, but attitudes.

There is now a culture of them and us, exclusion and division. The message coming out of Canberra is: if you can't flourish in this brave new world of economic rationalism we have created for you, it must be your own fault and, for your own good, we will punish you for your failure.

If your job is not secure and you are anxious about the industrial relations changes, if that dream of home ownership has been receding further and further with every new increase in house prices, if the Government's heavy-handed terrorism laws make you look over your shoulder and mistrust every person of Middle Eastern appearance, then xenophobia and racism have a good chance of flourishing, as they did at Cronulla.

The only advance that John Howard's Government has achieved is in the area of economics. However, even that is questionable, considering that we are still creating most of our wealth by simply digging stuff out of the ground and shipping it overseas, by speculating and borrowing.

Advances within societies are not achieved by making higher education affordable only for the rich, by taking away modest public dental schemes from pensioners, by hoarding budget surpluses so that they are available for pork-barrelling at election time instead of using them to improve services and infrastructure and by reforming the tax system.

Advances are certainly not achieved by the increasing Americanisation of our nation. Genuine advances require a united, not a divided country, one based on the principles of equity and social justice, inclusion and nurturing the best, regardless of their capacity to pay. Advances are also achieved through increasing funding for education rather than reducing it in an increasingly complex world, and by investing in research and in the development of promising inventions and discoveries by our scientists. Advances are not achieved by creating large pools of badly trained waiters, sales assistants and call-centre operators to be exploited as casual labour.

The advances that are worth striving for require a government with a broad vision, one that takes its ideas not exclusively from the United States. Most importantly, they require a government capable of setting and upholding standards of openness, accountability, honesty and decency in public life - standards that the Howard Government has either never held or has long forgotten.
Edith Wilke, Mount Waverley


In conclusion I would like to mention the first article I've been reading from my new Scientific American subscription. The article discusses links found between poverty, and mainly the stress caused by poverty, and health problems.
It is quite obvious when you think about it that in places where there is an extreme difference between the rich and the poor the rich do not benefit much from having their tax money used to elevate the average well being of everybody, since they're so rich the slight elevation won't affect them much; instead, it would be much more effective for them to buy personalized solutions that improve their well being, such as hiring a chauffeur to combat bad roads or living in a guarded neighborhood to fight crime.
However, the point the article makes is that statistical evidence from the USA, where such a wide gap already exists, shows that the implementation of such solutions (as opposed to the elevation of the general level of well being) increases the stress on the majority of low income earners and - that's where the novelty is - causes, amongst others, for the low income earners to live between 5 to 10 years less. They are not talking about not being able to afford housing or exposure to diseases and such - just the effects of stress.
I warm heartedly suggest you read that article. I would also suggest Mr Howard and the rest of his so called "Liberal" gang reads it, too.

P.S. I am so far behind with all the stuff I want to add to the blog it's not funny. Tomorrow we may go and see King Kong, so the wait-list will just have to keep on getting longer and longer.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Scientifically Ameri-Canned Automatons

Prepare yourself for yet another story of crap customer service. Don't say I haven't warned you.
As regular readers of this blog would know, I have recently renewed my Scientific American subscription after a four year break in which I was busy settling in the world's other side (a polite way of saying the world's behind, given Australia's distance from any interesting places other than New Zealand). What I didn't realize is that in addition to a subscription I will also get to encounter a few robots, possibly Cylons.
In order to subscribe, I simply accessed www.sciam.com and clicked on the "subscribe" link, which led me to this wonderful and glorious page that promised a free issue as a demo. Thinking that I will receive 13 issues instead of the yearly 12, I happily filled in my details and even gave them my credit card number.
Two weeks have passed and I got no feedback whatsoever from the obviously busy American scientists. I sent them an email asking for some confirmation on my order; the first reply said "Who are you? We don't know you". I answered with "What do you mean you don't know me - I'm the one whose credit card number you have", and eventually got an answer saying my subscription will start on December.
Two months went by and my Visa was not charged. Then last week I received my first issue (indeed, the December one) together with a letter asking me to pay for my subscription.
So... I've emailed my pals and asked whether they really want me to pay as I already gave them my details and I don't want to pay twice, a feeling I am sure they can relate to. Well, they couldn't, because all they did was reply and say (allow me to copy and paste):
"According to our records the first issues were mailed. When we did not receive your payment, we discontinued service. We hope you still wish to subscribe to our magazine. As soon as your payment of $44.00 for 12 issues is received, service will resume. The expiration date on your subscription will be extended for any missed issues."
What can I say other than "what the!?"
Talk about answering my question. Subsequent parts of their email have revealed that if I do pay my subscription will only last until November 06, which means that the sample issue I've received was taken out of my 12 issue quota and was not a generous scientist to scientist offer.

Anyway, what am I trying to say with this stupid story? As [almost] always, there's a higher purpose. This time it's to tell you what I think of the poor American consumer, who has to face these automatons whenever he/she has a problem to handle. I have had similar love affairs in the past, mainly with Amazon. In particular I remember a time where a glitch of theirs caused the emails they've sent me to be sent to a wrong email address, and each time I've complained I got the usual "out of the box" answer on "how to update your email address with us". After the 6th or 7th time I finally got a proper answer.
Now I know that when I write I tend to be lengthy with my descriptions, but I also think I am not that vague. Why can't these people actually relate to what I am complaining about?
And why is it that only American companies answer you like robots and treat you like a complete moron?
I've used these pages to complain about Australian Honda, but in their case they definitely understood my problems and never denied that I did receive shit service; with American companies you feel like you need a lawyer for an email address change or in order to figure out whether you'll get 12 or 13 issues.
So ultimately my question is: Since America is supposed to be the leader of the consumerism culture, and since it seems as though it is stuck in a limbo where it only bothers selling and cannot handle servicing, is this where the rest of the world should expect to be heading in the not too distant future?

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Steak Surprise


This entry is in here compensate for my previous entry, which I think serves best to show that I don't have the time to put my thoughts down properly. I seem to really like blogging, but like pretty much everything else I like doing I don't have much time for it; and as much as I can be appreciated for putting stuff to paper straight from my brain, some things should better go through an editing procedure first. Still, if I manage to stir up a few feelings, I will consider it a success.
Anyway, after writing that previous entry we went around doing the usual round of weekend shopping. Amongst others we stopped at the Hampton Meat Market, which has the best raw material for steaks in the world [that I know of ]. I got myself a 750gr rump steak (pictured on the right) and Jo got herself a miniscule eye fillet. The place is quite expensive, but you get what you pay for ($20).
When we eventually for home we had ourselves a very Australian barbecue, with the above photo taken by my PDA confirming it. Jo suggested I put the photo in the blog because my steak was just so ridiculously big. Still, it melted in my mouth, that steak.

P.S. In case you're curious for the state of my stomach muscles: I didn't manage the entire 750gr, but I was pretty close - I would say north of 600gr.

Mortars

A few weeks ago I discovered there's a bit of a gap in our backyard between the tiles and the gutter that's supposed to collect all the rainwater washed off the tiles. Since we prefer this water to go down the gutter rather than go in any other creative way, we called the guy who did the tiling to ask for advice.
His answer was that we should use some "ready made mortar" to mind the gap. So, a week or two later we were off to the nearest Bunnings DIY shop and asked them for the most suitable mortar they have. Expecting answers along the line of "we don't deal in weapons and arms" I was really surprised when they ended up leading us towards this pile of 20kg sacks ($7.50 or so each) which did not look at all like the hollow tubes I was expecting; and they didn't even have the projectiles in stock.
Last weekend there was no threat of rain in the air so we bombarded the gap with our new mortar.
Now, why am I telling you this? Two reasons.
The first (and boring) reason is to show you that I'm actually doing DIY stuff that I never even dreamt of doing while in Israel. However, the second reason was to tell you that compared to Australian standards, we're parsecs behind. In fact, we are what the locals would refer to as "un-Australian".
What does the phrase "un-Australian" mean? Well, in a country where "you, me and we" are all Australian, being un-Australian is the ultimate sin. During the last year or so politicians, led by the much beloved Prime Minister John Howard, have grown to use this word every time they talk about something in society that they don't like or someone in society that they don't like (such as the leaders of the opposition to start with, and lately everyone that disagrees with their lovely views of where Australia should be heading to (mainly, the USA)).
Over the last few years, the most Australian thing to do is to buy real estate, or as the locals call it, "investment property". The reason for this madness is a collection of tax related laws introduced by the Howard government when it came into power, which gives huge benefits to property owners come tax season. Your mortgage literally pays itself off with the rent you get paid, and eventually you're rid of the mortgage and you have a house to spare. It became so ridiculous that it is much cheaper to live in a rented place, own another place as an investment property, and rent that place out.
The results of this madness is that house prices have jumped up the roof, the only possible investment alternative that people can come up with is investment properties, boring TV programs on house resurrections rule on high, everyone is into DIY and raising the value of their properties, everyone has 10 mortgages that they might be able to pay in a few generations, and the Howard government has assured its eternal re-election because people would not risk their money on an opposition that might change the status quo.
So why are we un-Australian? Because we hardly do anything with our house. Take Wabby the dog for a walk in the neighborhood and you'll see that our garden is by far the crappiest around. But I can't be bothered with it, because I'm un-Australian. The last time I paid it some attention, I sprayed the grass with this "feed and weed" material which is supposed to fertilize the grass and kill the weeds; it worked very well the last two years, but this year it simply killed all of our grass - barring a few cm^2 of green patches, it's totally annihilated - which, once the dead grass is cleared would leave us with lots of empty real estate in our garden. But personally, I just can't be bothered - I'm imported goods.
And what is the lesson of this story? That I detest everything the Howard government stands for, and that I do not have too many good words to say about Australians who vote for their own pocket rather than the greater good.
Which naturally leads me to the subject of the racial riots going on in Sydney lately and threatening to expand elsewhere. Now, I can't really blame John Howard for the racism in Australia, since it was there way before he was even close to coming into power; but I will still do it. First, because he was the one that said this week that the riots are not racial riots and that they will not hurt Australia's worldwide reputation, two statements which everyone who has an IQ > 1 will know to be total bullshit.
But second, and more importantly, because his reign of fear from terrorism and fear from refugees is the exact grounds in which pre-existing flowers of racism need for a perfect blossoming season. It is John Howard that paved the ground for political parties such as One Nation which openly says that Australia is for white Australians and that aborigines and bloody foreigners should fuck off.
Obviously, my representation of facts and events is just a one big oversimplification of things. I just think that at a time like this when there are obvious raptures to the fabric of society, Australia needs to be led by a decent leader who would do his/her best to address the situation rather than by a representative of the rich who only does his best to help the rich become even richer. Sadly, it doesn't seem like Howard has any reason to worry for his seat, if only because of the lack of any alternative leader of any stature whatsoever. And also because of this investment property shit.

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Faster Than the Speed of Light

Now I can make the Castle Run in less than 12 parsecs, coz I got myself a faster internet connection at home! Woo hoo!
It's not exactly warp speed, though. For the last year and a half we had Ozemail at 256/64 ADSL connection; we chose that because it was the cheapest ADSL available at the time ($30 a month, zero connection, free modem). The worst thing about that plan was that after 300mb I was slowed down to dialup, which I could live with when dialup is all I knew; But now that our commitment period is over and we're free to roam, and since lately I've discovered the charms of podcasts (I listen to JJJ's popular science programs in the car with my PDA and an FM transmitter) I used to opportunity to go for another cheapie option, albeit twice as fast: 512/128 with Aanet for $32 a month with a 1gb limit, after which is a peanut $3 for each extra gig.
ADSL 2 will have to wait until it's cheaper. At the moment Aanet (which seem to be the cheapest decent provider; according to reliable sources in the family their main problem is weak support, but who needs support when Martin and JM are a phone call away?) offer a 1500 with 9gb for $55 a month. Ozemail, on the other hand, offer a stratospheric 8000 connection if you take their VOIP offer too, but that would cost about $80 a month and limit you to a miniscule 1gb per month before you're relegated to dial up.
Will life no longer be the same? (I doubt it)

Short Round

A collection of short news items:

Since Martin’s infamous email complaining about smokers at the entrance to work, which resulted in a blanket email from “management” ordering the foot soldiers to keep away from the door while smoking, it is obvious that most smokers think I’m the one responsible for the complaint. As one probing agent acting on behalf of the smokers and trying to get me to admit responsibility said, “you’re someone who is able to make such a complaint” (I took that as a compliment). I’m also someone who is used to openly tell the smokers at the door what I think of their habits (in language such as “stop killing yourselves”), while Martin hardly ever uses the smoking entrance. Anyway, it’s sort of funny to see them staring at me with murder in their eyes; reminds me of days gone by in the West Bank. The only problem is they know which car I’m driving.

My Scientific American subscription has commenced as of yesterday (I was also subscribed between 1999 and 2002). It’s a very interesting magazine, the type that really opens your mind, but the only problem is it reduces the amount of time available for reading proper books. Alas, it seems Einstein and Picard were right: Space / time is the final frontier.

Last, but not least, here are some instructions for UK relatives on how to calculate the time difference between the UK and Melbourne while the UK is off daylight savings. They probably don’t read this blog but they do tend to wake us up in the middle of the night (it seems like the Israeli side has been well trained during the last 20 years). I know it’s complicated, so bear with me; hopefully you’ll stop waking us up (luckily we were quite awake last night):
1. Take your current time (say, 4:00pm)
2. Subtract one hour (which would make it 3:00pm)
3. Unless you’re between the hours of 11 and 12 switch the am to pm and vice versa (so, in our previous example, you’d end up with 3:00am; and 3:00am is not the best time for a communicative call).
I promise to repeat these instructions again when you move to daylight savings.

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Yoogoogly

After long deliberations on whether I should be there or not, I decided to attend Tarek Moustafa's memorial service today. On one hand, I hardly knew the guy, and didn't even know his name; on the other I was definitely touched by his sudden death. Eventually I decided to go, knowing very well that a part of me has made this decision in order to cover for other cases where I was not there in time to support someone in need.
In retrospect I can say that I'm very happy I went there (with the Canyonero's help). I learned a lot, I learned about the person, and I can say it also helped my general philosophical thinking process (the ongoing debate in my head on what's wrong and what's right and what would be the best thing to do etc).
It turned out that Tarek was buried yesterday in a very Muslim traditional way; today's session was only a memorial service (I didn't know that before the session itself, although I suspected that would be the case given the location - Brighton - which, given its sky high real estate prices, is not a place for mere mortals to be buried). The first thing we were told when we entered the chapel in which the service was held was that this chapel used to be a church but that is no longer the case; it's now officially demilitarized with no particular denomination in control. Call it what you want, I still think it was a church: Tainted glass Jesuses beamed at us from all directions, and the benches were a fu*king pain in the ass (and back), literally. No wonder they complain about falling attendance.
Besides the fact this was only my second time attending a church not as a tourist, I found the ceremony to be very interesting from an anthropological point of view. In contrast to the Jewish memorial services I was used to from Israel, where the ceremony purely involves the reading of so called "holy" passages from some books and that's it (obviously, food is then served), this ceremony was very much devoid of religious symbols - despite the deceased obvious and very evident beliefs. Instead, it was a session where music was played, speeches were given, and jokes were made - all in honor of the dead. Unlike those above mentioned Jewish rituals, I wasn't dead bored and didn't feel totally stupid for reading something I don't only fail to believe in but also feel a lot of resentment towards (due to its contents); instead, I learned much about the guy and his family, laughed a bit, and in general felt as if I was taking part in one big catharsis session. In short, as a none believer, I think this is a much better and effective way of doing things. But then again I always maintain that the religious way is the shit way (anyone offended?).
The next thing I found interesting was the guy's life story, especially given the similar backgrounds and geographical locations. Tarek was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 1950 to an army general (zero points for guessing what country was probably on the general's mind at the time). At the age of 26, after finishing his engineering degree (I wonder whether he took part in the 1973 war), he left off to London to develop a proper career. There he met his wife, a Christian New Zealander. Together they went to live in New Zealand, and four kids later they've migrated to Melbourne (again, for career related reasons).
The friends' stories were interesting. They all told of a very believing person who was tolerant and accepted the surrounding cultures, trying to integrate them all (especially amusing was the story of how he was given a piglet as a gift from a cousin while fasting for Ramadan). The guy didn't mind making a fool of himself, and Arab music mixed in techno style was played because it used to make him laugh. Friends from every conceivable nationality said their last words, often noting how their friends have become their family when their real family was so far away. Last, but not least, the guy was said to be a major Beatles fan; they played "Let It Be" at the memorial's conclusion (for the record, I would like to make it clear that I'm much more of a John Lennon guy; please play "Watching the Wheels" when my time comes).
I don't have any impactful statement to conclude this entry. I'll just mention that the guy's eldest son asked everyone attending the ceremony to go and tell their loved ones how much they love them as soon as they can because you never know what's going to happen. Given the distance between me and the majority of my family (and my parents' age), this is certainly something I agree with, especially with the way I was never really grateful and appreciative to everything they gave me. Only now, in retrospect and from a long distance away, I can tell how much of an effort that was and still is.

Cards. Xmess Cards.

I know I’m not exactly their target audience, but I have to say a thing or two on the subject of Xmess cards, the ones which seem to attack you from all directions this time of the year.
When Jo goes out to buy some, she switches on quest mode looking for something original and funny (she goes for the Monty Python type of humour) to satisfy the closest family or friends, with the rest receiving some charity’s card (if you got a card from her, you should now be able to tell your ranking).
However, Jo seems to be the exception. The vast majority of the cards we have been receiving are pretty bland and boring, depicting conservative notions (re the above note on me not being the target audience; I also assume you are aware of my views on brain washing – oops, sorry, I meant religion).
“For the life of me” (in quotes because I don’t really care about it that much), I cannot fathom why people bother using cards for a greeting. Why is it that they need to pay some third party company for a card that says nothing and means nothing in order to convey a greeting? Give me a phone call, write me a personal note that will touch me - it doesn’t have to be long - not some anonymous’ drawing on an overly priced piece of toughened paper; and not some generalized message conceived by a marketing executive and aimed at the lowest common denominator (e.g., “merry Xmess from someone who loves you”), I want something personal (e.g., “you sure are getting bald”).
In this world ruled by big companies, Xmess is supposed to be about the personal touch and not about making those big companies bigger. That is something even bloody atheists such as yours truly will go for.

Monday, 12 December 2005

Today's Letter to "The Age"

Re Steve Fielding defending his decision to vote for the abolishment of involuntary student fees on the grounds that most students do not use the services provided by these funds:
I have decided to stop paying my taxes. I rarely get anything back from this huge amount of money that I spend; most often I see this money being used to fund some government advertising campaign that tells me why I really need this new legislation which would only hurt me and make my life harder. Definitely something I can live without.
I am also wondering what big a portion of my unnecessary taxes were allocated in order for Mr Fielding to vote the way he voted.

Sunday, 11 December 2005

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

As regular readers of this blog would know, last week I serviced the Canyonero (our new Honda CR-V) for the first time.
The first service is supposed to be for free - you only pay a ridiculous amount of $55 for the oil they replace (which must be gold based or something similarly special for the price they charge), so I pretty much had to do it at the much beloved dealership in which we bought the car.
The amount of fuss they made around this car service was just amazing!
First, there is a guy in the dealership's reception area whose sole purpose is to crow around the customers and make sure their needs are taken care of. For example, when I asked "can you tell me how to get to the train station from here?", he wouldn't answer, but rather drove me there (it's about a five minute walk) and insisted I call him back for the return pickup.
When I returned to pick the car up (got a lift with a friend from work) they gave me this long speech on all the things they did to the car during the service. The speech used lots of superlatives and slogans along the lines of "we did a Honda certified safety inspection of the driver seat to make sure it is worthy of an ass such as yours" etc. The speech ended with the guy saying "and all this is for free because Honda is waiving $180 off your bill and you just need to pay for the oil". Nice speech, but the bottom line is that they did nothing to the car but change the oil. And give me a nice speech about it.
A few days later I got a call from the dealership's "customer relationships" woman (aka the bitch that lied to us during the sale of that infamous paint protection scheme). The purpose was to ask if "everything's alright with the car" (it's brand new, not much can go wrong), whether I'm happy with the service (I am sure they managed the oil replacement well) and whether I'm happy in general (I would be happier if she was to be jailed for fraud).

What am I trying to say?
I've already established that the quality of the dealership's mechanical work is rather lackluster (re the job they did installing the tow bar). I would therefore greatly appreciate if instead of wasting so much effort making such a big fuss of the service they would actually do the servicing properly. I would prefer my money to go there rather than on paying for an unnecessary ride and some professional liar calling me.
Sadly, this is not only a reflection on the Brighton Honda dealership, but rather a reflection on the world entire. Take, for example, the Australian government: The current Prime Minister would have never got as far as he did and as far as he does if it wasn't for his superb acts of media spin. It doesn't matter what you do and how you do it, it's all about how you manage to make others perceive your actions.
And that's very sad.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Googlization

The other night Jo's sister called us at 01:00am to tell us that the family is sending us a pack of Xmess gifts (plus, probably, birthday gifts) and that the shipping cost turned out to be a whopping 90 British Pounds.
With the exchange rates being the way they are I would expect to receive a box weighing 90 pounds (is it like 0.4kg?). How much glitter can one pack into one box (private joke)?
Anyway, my point is that with the timing of the call and the shipping costs involved, it definitely smells as if someone out there is not fully aware of the options available through this medium called Internet. Say, Amazon.
I won't even start discussing the Israeli side of the family, which is totally ignorant in anything that might remotely smell of technology with excuses such as "but it's all in English". Actually, I won't discuss the British aspects of it either; I'll just say that in this day and age where I buy, say, an FM transmitter for my PDA in order to listen to MP3s in the car from an American vendor selling to the British market and I pay with PayPal in British Pounds and have it shipped to me in Australia, and it all costs me about the same as a paperback, and it's all dead easy to arrange - the news of someone paying 90 GBP to send me something is, well, rather astounding. Obviously, hearing about it at 01:00am does add to the astonishment factor.

As a result, I've decided to educate my readers with a short survey of the latest in technological tools that I'm using on my computer. By "latest" I mean that I won't bother you with the virtues of Picasa again or with the joys of selling stuff on eBay:
  • Google Desktop: A lovely application that maps everything on your PC and also provides you with live stuff from all sorts of sources on the web (news, weather, emails - I think that in Apple language these are called "widgets"). An excellent tool if you're struggling to control a PC full of music and films or if you just want news pushed at you.
  • Skype: We've installed the latest beta version of Skype (downloaded from http://tinyurl.com/8tph6 ), and now we can have video calls with our fellow Skype users. Now, Skype has already revolutionized the way we use the phone: With Skype, international phone calls are now so cheap we no longer think about them as an unusual cost. It's actually cheaper to use Skype for calls inside Australia, even inside Melbourne if you talk for less than 10 minutes (which is pretty much all of the calls we make). Our main problem with Skype, though, is that none of our relatives would bother using it in the first place, which would make (1) the calls totally free and (2) video conferencing possible. And to think Yuval had to persuade me to install Skype in the first place!
  • Mozilla Firefox: As I'm not such a big fan of Microsoft's rather unstable grip on my (and everyone else's) PC, I've started using Firefox as my default web browser. It only takes two minutes to realize it's way ahead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, despite Microsoft stealing ideas from Firefox on a regular basis. It's a case of having the future now in a much stable-r and safer environment.
  • Adsense: As you can see at the top of this blog, I now asked for Google to stick their ads to my blog. I'm supposed to get paid by exposure (number of people viewing) and clicks, although they won't say how much exactly. My current plan is now to publish this blog's existence to all my friends, and thus retire in a month's time and focus on my career as an eBay entrepreneur and a writer...
To conclude: These are all small things, but when combined with all the information available on the internet, one can do great stuff. The internet has definitely revolutioned lots of things in my life. The biggest challenge is to find the information that would help you most, but Jo and I are more than willing to help.

Friday, 9 December 2005

Chinese

One of our team members at work, Cindy, is leaving Australia after 15 years to go back to her "home" (if you can call it a home after so long, especially when she left it at the age of 13) to Brunei.
Now, Brunei is a place (actually, a country) I've first heard of only because of her. According to a Lonely Planet book of mine, it's a very small Muslim country ruled by a Sultan (is he into swing?) which has become excessively rich because of oil that is soon to run out. Anyway, it's somewhere next to Malaysia, you just never see it on the maps because it's even smaller than Israel (and definitely causes less trouble than Israel).
To celebrate us getting rid of Cindy she took us to a lunch in a Chinese restaurant in Geln Waverley. We were told that this is an area where "it's all happening lately", so for a minute I felt very cool (No I didn't; I have nothing but contempt for people who think they're call because they bought something, wear something, or hang out in some place. Want to be cool in my book? Go help the victims of the tsunami).
Now I've been to Chinese places before, some more authentic than others, some more expensive than others, but this one was special:
  • Food: I can't imagine the food being more authentic Chinese than what we had today. I've been to sophisticated Chinese places in Israel that had stuff of a similar nature, but never this extreme. From squids to prawns to ducks to veggies to pork to I don't know what but it looks like pieces of plastic, everything felt like it was of another planet. I doubt there was anything even remotely Kosher in that meal.
  • Waiters: The waiters were so disrespectful it was funny. They ignored us "whites" altogether; they even ignored the Vietnamese sitting with us. They talked and addressed only the two Chinese at our table. Need I mention the language they spoke? Actually, don't ask me if it was Cantonese or Mandarin. When I asked for a knife and fork they didn't even blink in my direction, but after a couple of minutes a pile of forks and spoons (why spoons?) was laid down next to me.
  • Price: Given the cost of the meal vs. the amount of food consumed, this has to be one of those "you don't want to know what it was" meals. As usual, my well trained stomach muscles have coped with the challenge very well with the challenge: I ate like the pig I ate.
  • The table: We were sat at this big round table with this turntable like thing on it, to enable everyone with easy reach for their food (they should use it in those Arab restaurants that serve you lots of dips). Anyway, I couldn't hide the deja-vu feeling: I thought I was being threatened by Low-Che to give him the remains of Noorachi or he won't give me the antidote throughout the lunch.
The meal's creme de la creme dish was chicken feet. Literally: a pile of claws was laid down next to us, and people grabbed them and sucked the skin out of the bone. I don't think you can see much in the photo above, but to me it seemed like a scene from Alien where a monster puts a detached limb in its mouth.
My personal favorite: most of the stuff was deep fried, and I've learned not to like that; therefore, I'll have to go with the coconut jelly with corn dessert. But overall I have to say that I don't remember such a distinct culinary experience for a long while.

Tarek Moustafa

Yesterday morning we’ve received an email telling us that Tarek Moustafa has died the night before of a heart attack.
Being as good as I am with names I felt sorry for the guy, but moved on with the daily work routine. Not long after that I learned from a colleague that the deceased is actually the guy who sits next to her; a guy I’ve been talking to and exchanging jokes with on a daily basis, and in general someone who always welcomed me with a smile whenever I entered their room.
It felt so weird: On the very day he died we talked a bit and had our usual laugh; we both went home afterwards, but while I had dinner and played a bit on the computer (organizing our trip’s photos, not games), he just died. What a waste! What a shame to go out like that without any warning whatsoever, without any preparations, without telling people important things you’d like to tell them but you usually don’t, without doing the stuff that you could have easily done but postponed. I walked over to his desk and everything there was still the same way it was when he left the night before, ready for another day of action that will never come.
Usually this is the spot in a eulogy where one enters words involving god and mercifulness, but given my ongoing dispute with that so called entity I’ll refrain from doing so. I will, however, say that I hope his family will manage (rumours speak of a son suffering from a chronic disease).
As far as I’m concerned, this is all a very good example concerning the things that are really important in life. Between mortgages and people that sell us cars by cheating one tends to forget the bigger picture and the things that really matter in life: relationships, whether they’re with family, friends or oneself.
Another interesting aspect is the way people at work handled the news. From working at El-Al, a company full of older employees, I remember that whenever someone died there will be buses taking fellow employees to the funeral and people would be excused from work in order to exchange their condolences with the deceased’s family; effectively, entire departments would stop working for several days. Here, however, things are a bit different: people just seem to go on with work as usual, despite the gaping hole that is the missing person’s cubicle. I have to say that this is one area where I definitely think the Israeli / Jewish way is far superior; I cannot comprehend how people can just go on like that as if nothing has happened, but I guess it’s a cultural thing.

And now for something completely different.
As you probably noticed, the guy’s name is definitely a Muslim name. As an Israeli I definitely feel proud to be working together with several Muslims, some of them Iranian. They’re all very nice guys to work with, and the only disputes we have are due to one of the Iranian guys being a Manchester United supporter. Sadly, it seems as if one has to go all the way to Australia for us to be able to get along together.
I do, however, have some very politically incorrect thing to say: As much as I would like to think of myself as a highly ethical person, I admit that I would probably feel very much intimidated if the majority of people around me were Muslims; I will probably feel the need to look behind my back all the time. Which is probably the way most of them are feeling lately.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Golbet of Fire

We went to see the new Harry Potter last night.
Unlike the first two films in the series, the Goblet of Fire does manage to have a plot which it easily ploughs through in a nice manner that never leaves your bored and always leaves you in touch. However, significant parts of it do feel more like a teenage film along the lines of Princess Diaries as opposed to a magical fantasy film, which is understandable given the target audience but together with the now regular over the top special effects also help encourage the film’s biggest deficiency: Its lack of inspiration. You watch the film, you’re enjoying it and you’re thrilled, but a few seconds later you forget all about it.
It’s understandable, though, when you think about the source material. By the time she got to write the Holy Goblet, JK seems to have run out of the first books’ originality and settled instead with lengthy soap opera like descriptions (just like I do in my blog) and the introduction of dozens of new characters in each new book as the main means of keeping the books alive. I enjoyed reading the book, but it did not leave a long lasting impression on me; if anything, reading the Holy Grail and watching the film mainly gave me the impression that Dumbledore is really dumb for not figuring out what’s going on and that the entire world of wizards is dumb for letting a “holy artifact” have the final word; that’s exactly the bad thing about religion, yet they do it in the book and they do it in the film.
Bottom line is that I think Azkaban is still the best Harry Potter film so far. Call me a sucker for time travel, but I think it was the only film of the series that could stand as a good film on its own rights.

The next magical fantasy film that interests me is the upcoming Narnia one. I remember reading the books in my early teen years and not really thinking highly of them, preferring the Lord of the Rings as the real deal. Now that I’m hearing the books are full of Christian motifs my impression levels are getting lower and lower, but perhaps this is a good thing: The lower my expectations are the more likely I am to actually enjoy the film.

Monday, 5 December 2005

The Curse of the Suspended Bike


A weird weekend came and went, both in its exciting events (or rather lack of them) and strange weather (but then again, that's Melbourne).
We didn't have anything planned on Saturday, so as we always do when we don't have a clue we went shopping. Jo wanted a thick exercise mat, I wanted a bike rack.
Now, why would I want a bike rack? Well, allow me to flash you back.

Once upon a time in 1998, way back in Tel Aviv, Malka (who used to work with me at El-Al) took me to buy a bike rack for my then Mitsibushi Lancer. It was a Thule, it was very fancy, but it always was a pain the the @$$ to assemble and actually put the bike on. I brought it over to Australia and used it several times, but for the last two years I just couldn't be bothered. In time it gathered rust and paint peeled off to the point I would never let it touch the Canyonero; its story ended the way stories usually end for our items lately: sold on eBay for $43. But this meant we had to get ourselves a new bike rack. Which means it is time for me to finally go public and expose the ancient curse put on my bicycle. Please suspend all lights and disbelief and hum a slow "whoooo..." while reading the ancient account of this rather recent curse...
I bought my bicycle for a lot of money roughly two months after arriving to Australia. At the time I thought of it as a means to keep me fit at this gymless age, but I can tell you the only muscles of mine which are fit are in my stomach; again and again I'm proving to myself that there's no amount of food I can't digest. At the time I was unemployed and didn't enjoy pretty much anything I did and everything that happened; it was a pretty gloomy period.
The curse's first appearance was on that April day back in 2003 Jo and I drove to Queenscliff. We parked our car at the train station, took the above photo, and then boarded this collector's item steam train for a 15km ride with the bikes, with the intention of riding the bikes back to the car. Alas, a very short while after we disembarked the train and started riding I got a flat tyre; the 12km or so to the car were spent walking, since we did not have any replacement tubes (and also no idea on how to do it anyway). Mind you, we got lots of offers for help, but I gallantly turned them all down (mainly because I didn't realize how far we were from the car). At least it was a scenic walk... Back home we had another long walk with the bike to the repair shop.
Last year we took the bikes from our tool shed for the first ride of summer. Obviously, we had to inflate the tyres, but then the curse had struck again: I managed to break one of the tyre's "ventils" (valve), and once again we had a long walk ahead of us to replace the tube.
This year we decided enough's enough, and that we should get ourselves a decent bike rack to go to nice places with. The primary requisite was easy installation, which meant getting a tow bar. I booked the Corolla for a Saturday morning tow bar installation, but on that Wednesday night I crashed it. By now it was obvious that this third time lucky thing is not a mere coincidence but rather an ancient voodoo curse. The rest is recent history: We bought the Canyonero with a two bar factory installed (and might I mention once again the shit job that Honda did?).

End flashback, back to Saturday's shopping.
We started with the mat first, but then we've stumbled across this wholesale grocery store that had lots of fresh stuff at almost half the normal price. We asked what the wholesale deal was, and in typical Australian fashion we were told that in general you have to give your ABN number (Australian Business Number) when you shop there but "we usually don't ask for it". I was already fantasizing on "007" as my ABN, but really didn't ask for it. As a result we now have a few containers of celery sticks in the fridge, some mangos, strawberries, tomatoes, apples, pineapples, and 12 kilograms of washing powder. Feel free to drop by and help us consume.
We had less then a quarter of an hour to buy a bike rack, but we made it: we got this very easy to install bike rack, which can carry 3 bikes (in case you want to tag along), and the next obvious step was to go for a test drive / ride to the tune of a certain Queen song.

And so I wanted to go to Williamstown on Sunday morning, a Melbourne suburb that's very close to "downtown" but feels a lot like a village with a calm and more importantly flat bike path along its beach. But Jo didn't feel that well, and so we wasted a few hours deciding what to do.
Eventually we decided to have a go; Jo would lie down on the grass reading Footfall and I'll ride around. So we easily installed the bike on the rack and the rack on the Canyonero and went our way: to the nearest gas station, since we haven't used the bike since last summer and the tyres were deflated.
Alas, the curse struck again: the tyre was so deflated I couldn't fill it up... So on we drove to the bike shop again; we left it $50 poorer but with one of those heavy duty pumps. And on to Williamstown we drove!
Or so we thought. Jo was still not that well, and the weather was very strange: Sun with heavy winds with clouds with dirt with lots of insects. So Jo suggested the brilliant idea of going to Albert Park instead.
Half way to Williamstown, Albert Park is where Melbourne's Formula One race is held. And it doesn't only sport a race track: There's also a bike path around the lake. And off I went while Jo sat on a bench and tried to Footfall. How many times does one get to pedal around a F1 track?
The wind was tough and riding against it was tougher; gusts of sidewind threatened to throw me to the lake; but most of all, I realized once again that my bike's weakest link is its engine.
But survive I did, only to see that Jo has retreated to reading in the car because the wind was so bad it simply blew dust all over her. Sweaty and with the taste of dirt in my mouth we drove back home.
A day has passed and now I'm all stiff (except for the well trained digestive muscles). Still, it's that good type of stiffness you get after doing something productive. Could this be the end of that mystic bike curse? Could we be on the brink of bike riding across Australia and back? I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike!

Friday, 2 December 2005

Turkish Delight


As that holiday in which we celebrate days getting shorter is coming up on us again, we had a team Xmess dinner tonight. It's not exactly a genuine Xmess party, because it was financed by a reward our team has received for selling the most software services at a certain quarter, but it was shaped to be this way by the team manager, which was fine with everybody and their partners. Everybody that could actually come, which was about half of our team; Jo and I always seem to be able to attend these events, maybe because we don't have many friends and kids to babysit.
A note about the organizer, Mr Martin Wain: I don't know why he bothers with it given the gratitude he gets and the primadonnas he needs to handle in the process, but you will probably be able to read all about it in his blog at http://wains.blogspot.com (which I deeply urge him to entitle "Wain's World" or "Wain Enterprises"; I also think he should call his soon to be born baby Bruce Wain or John Wain no matter whether it's a boy or a girl).
The party was actually a dinner at a Turkish restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg. For those that don't know, Coburg is the suburb that's used in all the books and films that want to show Melbourne gangsters and/or crime in action. We were told to expect to make the return trip with fewer hubcaps than the we arrived with. It's in Melbourne's western suburbs, which look and feel totally different to the east (where we live); not that I'm into classes or classifications, but the east is generally regarded as where people would want to live. I don't know how true all this is, but it definitely doesn't feel there like it does in the east; I'm not saying it feels inferior, I am saying it feels different. Jo is saying I still sound like an asshole despite all the disclaimers, but I'm just looking at it from a tourist's point of view.
It's the same in Sydney, by the way, which sort of makes sense because the east is by the sea there, but it doesn't really make sense in Melbourne. The comparison with Tel Aviv's north vs. south is inevitable, especially as in Tel Aviv it's the west that's next to the sea. But I'm straying.
I had high hopes from the Turkish restaurant. It had the potential for some proper shawarma, something you don't get much of in Australia, and maybe even proper dips (dare I say good humus and thina - which the locals pronounce "ta-hhhi-ni paste"?). The reservation was for the "king bouquet" (Jo insisted that it was actually a "king banquet", but what does she know about Turkish food?) which for $30 a head was supposed to guarantee an endless supply of meat and dips at the table. However, rumors also spoke of some belly dancer (don't like 'em, and I definitely don't like the music they dance to).
As always, the lesson was not to build my hopes way too high. The place was huge and full, and when combines with the acoustics of a well designed toilet you couldn't hear much of what the people around you were saying.
The food would best be described in one word: cheap. It definitely felt like a bouquet and not a banquet. The dips were nothing spectacular - the ones we've recently had in Abu Gosh would kick their ass, and the Israeli restaurant we go to from time to time in Melbourne's Jewish ghetto would also beat them up with their right hand tied behind their back. The humus, for example, tasted like the Telma combat rations tins you'd get in the army.
As shawarma they served pieces of lamb on a plate with yogurt all over it. Yogurt! The blasphemy! I don't like lamb, and this was more like a very old mutton because you could smell it from a few light years away. Then they had some chicken shishlik that was probably made of KFC's rejects. And the meat supply was very finite for an all you can eat thing.
But then the main event started, and this awful keyboard player started delighting us with some Turkish music. Now, with all due respect to my Turkish born aunt, I despise Turkish music despite and maybe because of years of attempted conditioning. And that keyboard player didn't do Turkish music much favor either. Neither did the amplification system, which was so loud and badly equalized you could hear the high frequencies penetrating your head through your ass. And then a singer came along, and all I could say about that is a quote from the Simpsons episode of "Paint the Wagon", where Homer says about this film he rented that's supposed to be an action western - "Look Marge, they're singing! Why aren't they killing each other?"
After about an hour of sitting there with my fingers deeply stuck in my ears (others were more resourceful and stuck tissue paper up their ears, but I'm still traumatized from using this measure at army shooting practices) we didn't wait for the belly dancer and just left.
In conclusion: The idea was good, and I really like some of my team members (who are the best friends we have in Australia); but I doubt we'll go near that restaurant again. I hope Martin will still fight for our right to party, even if he's always forced to arrange something that would suit the lowest common dominator (which Jo always incorrectly corrects to lowest common denominator, but as I said already, what does she know?).
One positive thing I have to mention is that it was nice to see people from all over the world sharing tables at that Turkish restaurant, and not only in our table. It's nice to see a table with a family celebration where some people seem to be from the Far East, some of European origins, and some of Mediterranean sources.

This Is the 51st State of the USA


It's a sad day for Australia today: the Howard government, led by the so called "Liberal" party that is anything but, is about to pass its industrial relations reform in senate.
An odd law this one is: Its effects will not be felt for quite a while, but I do think that its long term effects on Australian culture will be deep and painful, leading towards a fully Americanized job market. To paraphrase on Midnight Oil's "Read About It", the rich are going to get richer, but I truly don't know whether the poor will get the picture, since Australia has two main political problems: It's run by a party whose values I utterly despise (I won't go into detail on that, because under the soon to be introduced terror laws sedition could put me under arrest for a few months with no one to represent me and with no one allowed to know or announce where I am), and it has an opposition that utterly spineless.
There's still a hope. Maybe on the next elections my newly entered vote will change the political map from top to bottom.