Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Today's letter to The Age

Dear sir/madam,

The results of Victoria Police's first year of random drug tests show that 1 in 46 drivers is driving under the influence of drugs, which pretty much means that at any given time at least one in fifty adults is under the influence of drugs.
If we were to be told that one in fifty of us is a murderer or a thief there will be a lot of commotion all over the community and people will demand to see the heads of whoever are in charge of fighting crime chopped off. Yet none of this is happening now: People are worried about road safety, but there is no social commotion of any scale what so ever despite the fact that according to our laws drug use is still considered a criminal offence of a similar nature to the previously mentioned crimes.
As someone who never touched drugs in his life, I cannot escape two conclusions:
First, it is obvious that our war on drugs has resulted in a major defeat. The drugs are out there and their usage is not considered to be morally wrong by the public.
Second, if we are to gain any ground back in this war, it is time for us to rethink the way we fight this war. Maybe instead of trying to beat them we should join them. Maybe it is time to legalize drugs and take the fight into the open, the way we fight alcohol and tobacco, two legal drugs that kill way more Australians than the supposedly illegal ones.


Sincerely,
Moshe Reuveni

I've got a whole world that's there for me to see

Last night I stumbled on a Pretenders song that I really like at the time.
I'm talking about the time I was 16 and went with Haim to see the Pretenders live in Park Yarkon. We pushed our way to the very front, constantly pressured between the bodies of our fellow attendees (it was so bad that after the show I caught a cold out of all the sweat I gathered while being pressed with no room for the sweat to go). The main thing we remember is Robbie McIntosh underwear (the guitarist), which was very well lit by the ultra violet lighting thing they had at center stage.
I really like this song, which is quite a hard rocky song and not the soft mellow type one usually associates with the Pretenders. It's called Room Full of Mirrors, and to the best of my knowledge it was originally a Hendrix song, which explains the guitar solos and the general rockiness.
But what made me notice it the most is the lyrics and the way they relate to my previous blogentry on how travel opens one's eyes. Read the first bit and judge for yourself:

I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Well I took my spirit
And I crashed my mirrors
Now the whole world is here for me to see

What do you think? Hendrix was not exactly famous for his travel literature, but I think he's got a point there, whether it's to do with travel or not. We should all crash our mirrors, stop focusing on ourselves all the time - we are not all we are meant to be, learn from what's around us, and appreciate that there different ways of doing things.
It's an attitude thing. Hendrix had a lot of it.

Monday, 27 February 2006

I've been to Georgia and California

Lately I've had a lot of travelling in my mind. First there's Jo's ongoing effort to book us flights later this year; then there's my blog in which I'm supposedly moaning about the hardship of booking travel while adding a comment that no one is interested in travelling here, which seems to have only hit home with the one person that actually came to visit us twice; and then there's the Bill Bryson book I'm currently reading.
They all got me to think on the difference travelling makes. I've often announced my opinion on travel out loud (well, I do tend to be rather vocal with my opinions), saying that you never really come back home after a good trip (and I don't mean drugs).
When it comes to travel, I think people are divided into three groups. Those that simply don't travel, those that travel but never really leave home, and those that travel and really try to open themselves while doing so. There are no clear boundaries between these categories; people that travel just to get a bit on sunshine during winter, for example, or people that go to a mountain resort to do some skiing, do not count as travellers to me. Yes, they may have a hell of a time and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not travelling.
When you really travel, you take something out of the places that you travel to with you, and as a result you are never the same person again. To give you an example, I am quite sure that the Arab - Israeli conflict would be solved if the leaders of both sides go and have a good time together in Amsterdam, doing whatever it is that people do in Amsterdam. After a week or so they're of mixing in to the local atmosphere they're bound to realize what's important in life and what's not worth dying or killing for. Another example that's hot in the news would be taking the English population for a trip to the continent to sort out their food.
The trouble is, most of the people I know - and I'm assuming they're good representatives of earth's entire population - are not really travellers. They have their own concepts and the things they are used to and the things they think they like and the things they think are good for them, and nothing would make them think otherwise. Whereas with me, on the other hand, if you put me in a resort and tell me to have fun for a week I'd start climbing walls of boredom on the second day (which happened to me the only time I went to a vacation in a resort). And frankly, I am yet to see a resort that is as comfortable as home: there's nothing better than my own bed, my own stereo... Why should I pay more to get less elsewhere? No, with me you need to let me walk a lot, let me drive a lot, let me take plenty of photos. In short, let me explore.
I'm not saying that I'm any better than those un-traveler people, I'm just saying that I think they are missing out on one of life's greater adventures and they are not even aware of it, mainly because they haven't learnt how to raise their head a bit and look around. And then there's the fact that many are just incapable of travelling for truly objective reasons, such as the need to care for someone of the cost of it. That said, I noticed a long time ago that there is some sort of an immidiate connection, a click, between well travelled people, even if they haven't been to the same place - they have been exposed to alternatives.
I'm not saying for even a second that I am the perfect traveller or even a mildly good one. I have a lot to aspire to.
First, as far as history is concerned, my first and only genuine travel during my first 25 years on this planet has been at the age of 12 (sixth grade). My father was working in New York for a year, and he took me there with him for a month. I cannot think of any other specific event in my life that had such a detrimental influence on me as far as dreams and aspirations go. I was so amazed with how great a city could be and how easily things are available there. I was so much in awe at how things could be different to Tel Aviv.
I was stuck in Israel for the next 15 years, mainly to due to financial aspect. I simply could not afford travelling. Actually, that is not so true: It's a matter of priorities. The money I saved from my army career was not spent on the standard issue post army round the world trip most ex-army Israelis have, nor was it spent following my father's advice to save it or to pay for my university fees (he paid most of them, and once again I have to say I'm lucky to have the parents that I have). No, the money was spent on my stereo...
Travel, it seemed to me, was a very luxurious waste of money affair. You wouldn't quote me saying that the McDonald in Israel is just the same as the McDonald in London the way a colleague from Boston who never visited New York used to say about those two cities, but I definitely viewed travel as just another form of entertainment. An expensive one.
Luckily, Yuval made me work for El-Al, the Israeli airline, and there I got free flights. Still, it took me almost a year there before I first used these free flights. Again, it was the financial issues that stopped me (flights are one thing, but you need to eat and sleep), but there was also the quite dominant fear and shame of travelling on my own.
Eventually things started rolling when I was sent from work in... New York. By the time I was back in Israel I couldn't get enough.
Three months later I was off, on my own, for the very first solo expedition: a week (plus a bit) in London. I came back eager for more, but the most notable thing from that trip was my need to feel that I have done something during my travels other than visit the places that the guidebooks say I need to go to and check the check-marks next to them.
The answer came in the shape of a Canon SLR camera that I bought in a trip to New York designed around the purchase of this ultra capable camera from one of New York's famous cheap photography shops. By then I have also started developing my expertise and my taste around travel guidebooks; I also started reading travel literature in general, which was quite an exception as at the time I didn't really read much.
The ball that started rolling before has become an avalanche, and in the year and a half I had left at the airline I would fly on a monthly basis, mainly for long weekends in Europe. I still wouldn't rent cars or go out of city limits; I was too much of a chicken.
That fear had to wait until the end of 2000, when I felt like I needed more out of my travelling. I started reading and researching the islands of the Pacific, but eventually settled for the comfort and relative ease of visiting my brother in Australia for a month. I came, I had myself a very long solo drive, and although I came back to Israel for a year and a half I never really came back. Then, immidiately after that, I was sent to France from work but landed in Swiss Geneva, and I just had to rent a car. And oh, how I enjoyed driving in French! A wi wi with a capital WI!
So as you can see, I'm not the perfect traveller myself. I have a limited travelling record, and almost all the countries I've been to are very well developed western democracies. There's a very good reason for that, but it does mean I haven't exposed myself to half of the things that are out there. I am sure, for example, that I have lots and lots of things that I could experience in India, for example; but it's the spoiled side of me that wants to be safe, well fed, and well asleep that keeps me away from such places.
But still, the contribution of walking the road less travelled (as in experiencing things in a different way than what I am normally used to), even if it is a comfortable downhill slide and even if it's just a short walk, is immense. I truly feel as if I am a better person after a good bit of travelling; not much else can rival that.

Saturday, 25 February 2006

Extreme Blogging

If I needed evidence on how much I enjoy blogging lately and how it became a part of my daily routine lately, here is a blog entry that does not discuss my life in a blog but rather discusses how the blog affects my life.
I noticed, lately, that blogging pushes me to the extremes. Why, you ask?
While my first entries were quite carefully designed and written, and I pretty much knew before typing them in where I was and where I am heading for, lately I've been too lazy to think things over, I don't really have the time to think things over, but as I very much enjoy blogging I still want to write something. So I just start with an idea, I sit and type something for like a quarter of an hour, and voila - a blog entry.
Which basically means that when I start I don't really know where I will end up.
It does not take much of a careful eye to notice that lately I have been ending up at anti consumerism places. Pretty much most of my conclusions are along the lines of "don't waste your money on material stuff, it won't do you any good".

Which is why, when I found myself together with Jo today in Chadstone - Melbourne's biggest shopping mall - I felt a bit weird. What am I, the self declared anti consumerism advocate, doing in this shrine to the god of money spending?
The basic answer was that I was tagging along to Jo who needs a suit for work. I imagine she would have to do much of the same pretty soon when I pick up on the dress code of my new job (hold your fingers it's not bloody suits that I will need to wear).
So ok, we had an excuse. But I'm pretty sure a significant portion of the shopping mall's fellow residents, if not the vast majority of them, didn't really have an excuse: they just came looking for some sort of a therapy to be gained by spending their hard earned money on things they don't really need. I kept on looking at all the people flooding the place and the fleets of cars in the parking lots, thinking to myself that humanity as a whole could have gone a long way today if all those people were to read a good book instead of wasting their time here [clarification: the bible does not count as a good book in my book, but most books do].

As for myself, I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There, a book on his travels through Europe. I would like to use this opportunity to say that I think EK, who is constantly dreaming of traveling to Europe, would do herself a lot of good is she gets to read this extremely funny and entertaining book. It's not a tour guide by a mile, but as grotesque as Bryson's views on the people of Europe are, I find his views and impressions to be so similar to my own that it's scary. [To the English amongst thee, I refer you to his book Notes from a Small Island, and I will say that again - I agree with him, although he's seen much more of it then I did]
I was just using this opportunity because I suspect EK will read this.

Anyway, eventually I dragged Jo to Chadstone's Borders shop. She got herself a Red Dwarf related book, while I got us Orson Scott Card's sequel that is not truly a sequel to Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead.
As I was bored shitless in the shopping mall I've started reading Card's introduction to the book, in which he explains how the book came to be. The funniest thing I've noticed was the similarity between the way he writes his introduction and the way I write this blog. Obviously, his language is richer and he has tons of finesse over me, but still - the spirit is the same.
I wonder if he is affected by the things he writes, too.

Friday, 24 February 2006

A Night in the Life

On Wednesday night we went to a Mexican [restaurant] on Chapel Street to celebrate my new job. We actually wanted to go there for quite a long while, having not been to this favourite restaurant of ours for like a year, and just used the job thing as an excuse.

The weather was on the perfect side of things and the restaurant had its front opened to the street, so we were sitting inside but outside too, giving me the pleasure of watching Chapel Streets many passer-bys as well as our fellow diners.

Chapel is one of Melbourne's core institutions. It's considered the top shopping strip street with lots of supposedly cool and trendy shit on offer, and as a result there is quite a variety of interesting people walking about or dining. You get couples of all ages, Range Rovers as well as shitty old Ford-ers, friends spending some time together, and tourists like that group of Americans that sat next to us.

As someone who obviously still has a tourist's view of things despite living here for almost four years now – and, mind you, I would very much like to retain this eye on things because it makes everything appear like a unique experience – I can just sit and do this people watching for hours and hours. Just watch and learn. I can spice it up at will by trying to figure out who is the mafia hit man in the crowd, but most of the time I don't need to go that far because, despite what those evil marketing people try to sell us all the time, reality usually exceeds the imagination.

We actually lived right off Chapel Street for exactly a year prior to buying our current mortgage two years ago. It was fun being in the center of town where everybody is here again, but there are definite disadvantages, too; overall, I can't really decide which of the two is the better location, but I do know that I like both and as the record shows I enjoy both. So it doesn't really matter and I can say that I've had the privilege of enjoying both.

We just love the food in that Mexican restaurant. They use fresh ingredients, the price is perfectly acceptable in my book (note this is not a high society place – it's somewhere between a diner and a sophisticated, trendy, place), and most importantly – and in total contradiction to English food – it scored high on the taste department (sorry, but I just had to have another poke at English food after the phone call we've received in the middle of the night after someone seemed to have been offended by my yesterday's opinion on English food). And in another contradiction to English food, Mexican doesn't score too bad in the health department (and if you object to my honest opinion, then by all means, write your own blog – I promise to add a link; or just add your comments; but do bear in mind that this blog is not for the feint hearted or the easily offended, and that it offends much bigger things than English food (I refer thee to my continuing series of entries relating to religion, in which I pretty much say that I think this thing called religion that the vast majority of the world's population believes in is, pretty much, just a piece of shit)).

We ordered a big Nacho de Chicken plate (the name was a bit different and featured Spanish acronymia, but I chose to refer to it as "de chicken") and a Beef Combination (a taco, a tortilla, and some other stuff, all heavy on the beef and accompanied with rice and beans stuff that they also have Spanish names for) to share between us. We've been to that place many a time by now after we originally discovered it while on a stroll because that was where we used to live, and so far we were never disappointed with the food. Yet again we were not disappointed with the food!

The only downside was the quantity. Jo eats like a bird (a very small bird at that), and I just had to finish it all because it was sooooo tasty, so by the time the plates were semi clear I was very much full to a self combustion point.

Then we ordered desert, just because Jo said we needed to finish off on a sweet note, and then I remembered Mexican food's biggest drawback – it tends to sort of expand in your stomach. I was a balloon.

Still, a man has to do what a man has to do, and I just had to drag Jo with me to the Jam Factory's Borders book store. We used to spend hours in there shopping for books and just browsing through books when we lived there (thus establishing the phrase Jo often uses to mock my "going out" preferences, "let's go to Borders!"). I miss it.

This time around we bought just two books.

The first was a Larry Niven / Gerry Pournell collaboration, the Mote in God's Eye. Their first ever collaboration, Lucifer's Hammer (about the earth being hit by a comet, long before Hollywood used and abused the idea) was one of the very first science fiction books I ever got to read at around the age of 10-11. As most other books I got at the time, my uncle bought it for me, and I still have the it and my uncle's dedication with me. But the most revolutionary aspect of the book was that it featured many a sex scene, and for a 10 year old that was a major novelty; yet I was so young that I didn't even realize the novelty at the time.

Anyway, Niven and Pournell went through a bit of a revival when we were in Israel and I got to browse through the books I left at my parents' place. Amongst them were Legacy of Harot and Footfall, two books I read during high school, which – given Jo's affection to science fiction – we took back home with us. And to no great surprise, Jo read them and liked them (I intend to do so again, eventually).

And so we just had to buy Mote, widely considered (by Uri) as one of the couple's better efforts (I read it, too, but I don't remember a thing; between the two of us, Uri is the walking breathing computer, while I just tend to read a book or watch a film and forget it quickly soon after; which is not that bad when you end up enjoying it quite a lot the second time you get to read/watch it. Of course, with 20 years plus since I first read the book, there's also the aspect of maturity and me viewing things differently to what I used to before that really makes a difference and makes reading the same book again quite the must have experience).

The second book was our first expedition into the realm of Ben Elton's literature. A couple of months ago I borrowed a live stand-up comedy show's CD of his from the library, and Jo and I listened to it on the way to the Australian Wedding (please refer to this former blog entry for further details). I will tell you this: It's a good thing the Canyonero sports cruise control, because I laughed my guts out so hard the car just had to drive itself.

Of notable exception amongst his jokes were the ones that I can relate to. He talked about people selling you shit and just focusing their attention on the "garnishing", to pretend that they're giving you the good stuff while they give you the shits. And he talked about the English Ministry of Crappy Design, which obviously seems to be the most prolific ministry in England given how crappy everything seems to be. And as some of you may remember, I certainly agree with that, too (And before I'm bashed for bashing the English again, may I remind you that Ben Elton is English? And that we just bought a book of his, which means that there are at least two good thing coming out of England? And that books count a lot, much more than sports and the queen or whatever other things England has to offer, because they actually have intellectual value? As some English men said, always look on the bright side of life).

Following that stand-up experience we got to watch Black Adder's fourth series, the one about World War I, and Jo has put into my attention that Mr Elton was the writer of this brilliant series.

So one thing led to another and we just had to get a book of his; Borders had three shelves of material to choose from, and I picked "Popcorn" because its back cover seemed convincing enough.

I don't know why I bother with buying books in the first place. We have piles of books I would very much like to read but never get to read at home, which makes buying more an affair of wasted resources.

I do have a good excuse: Jo does read them, and unlike me she is close to exhausting our inventory. But I will not delude myself by agreeing that we bought the books for Jo; the main reason for me buying the books, other than the hope of eventually reading them, is the tap they give to my ego: "I'm so wise, I read books, I must be ever so brilliant". Pretty much the same kick people get out of buying sports cars, only that I get off for much less and at least I have the potential bonus in the form of a chance to expand my horizons.


By the time we got home I couldn't really move. I was more like rolling along.

I love Mexican.


To conclude, here's an author's footnote:

This blog entry was my attempt to prove to myself that I can write something out of pretty much nothing.

I don't think I did that badly.

It goes to show that every day is a good story, no matter how benign it seems at first.

Thursday, 23 February 2006

Low battery

What is the difference between a cheap battery and an expensive one?
Being woken up in the middle of the night on a Sunday when the fire alarm starts chirping its "low battery" chirp.
It's so loud it would definitely kill any shred of power the battery still had in it.
I got up to make sure there's no fire around, but I was so tired that everything seemed smoky and hazy. I went around the house looking for that elusive fire with the tune of "the roof is on fire" playing in my head and noticed that Wabby the dog is standing up inside his night time bed/cage; he has a problem with loud sounds, and while he will gladly and ferociously attack a rottweiler he tucks his tail down and goes very scared at the mere sight of a balloon, afraid it would explode loudly.
A very surrealistic experience, those fire alarms.

Learning to Fly

For the last weeks/months, while my mind was mainly focused on finding a job and being incredibly tense about it (to the point I've stopped all my eBay-ing activities), Jo has been researching travel agencies up and down looking for the best ticket to get us to visit our families again. This is quite a challenge, because while there's an abundance of flights from Australia to the UK with every obscure airline that you've never heard of before, fitting Israel into the frame is quite a feat.
The current plan is for us to visit them in December, with the main event being a family Xmess celebration in England. As a bonus we will get Israel at a somewhat less than boiling state than it was the last time we were there. The plan makes sense because holidays mean people are not at work which means we can actually spend some time with the family; in our last trip, we spent more time with the family in Israel during the meagre five says we spent there than the time we spent with the British branch of the family over the course of two and a half weeks.
I have to say, her research gets me to think that the airlines are on some kind of a vendetta. Last year we paid $2450 per person, including $300 of taxes, for our flights around the world that took us from Melbourne to San Fran to New York to London to Tel Aviv and then back home. This year my first impression is that taxes are now something like a third of the overall cost, no doubt because of those stupid gas surcharges that the airlines introduce instead of just increasing their prices.
Which doesn't mean that they didn't increase their prices, too, because this year the closest figure we could find that would give us a similar performance to last year's is $2750 - sans taxes. Which sort of gets us to think that maybe we should give up on "early bird" pricing and wait for last minute offers to come up instead.
In the process we got to learn some interesting facts, like how bad the service quality is with most travel agents, and how lacking online tools are when it comes to booking sophisticated itineraries (where you have more than one destination). Both the manual and the web enabled tools can just be described with one word: lackluster.
I assume we'll find some sort of an acceptable solution, eventually; after all, it's just a money question. But I just hate the frustration this quest results in.

Mind you, once we do take off, there would be plenty of other frustrations and challenges to face. As a colleague at work told me just a couple of days ago, "a family visit is not really a holiday".
The first challenge would be "how to stay in Israel for 10 days and remain sane". On one hand you have my family, a guaranteed recipe for loss of mental health. On the other hand I don't want to rent a car and go about travelling: There's the cutthroat driving style I don't want to face and the lack of parking space I don't want to face, too. And then there’s potential schizophrenia to face when trying to go back to driving on the right side of the road. So while I intend to encourage my friends to take leave and spend some time with us, I know them too well to expect that to really happen.
If one trauma is not enough, it will be immediately followed by another. Spending a couple of weeks in the same residence with 6 dogs is enough to make anyone sign up on Bill Bryson's petition to send all dogs to Greenland for good (all dogs other than poodles - poodles are to be shot), but that's the least of my worries; my main problem is how to survive English food for two weeks plus. One plan calls upon my mother to fix me up with some food I'd be able to take with me (you can freely bring food to the UK, something you cannot do in Australia), but in general I can see myself living on solely muesli bars, especially during the holidays themselves when everything's closed. No doubt about it, dire times are ahead; I just hope that the statement "you are what you eat" does not hold in England.
Yet another concern is the weather. Again and again I prove to myself how sensitive I am to the cold, and by now I am positively sure that the transition between Australian summer and English winter would put me horizontal for a week of the holiday. Jo definitely agrees with this observation, citing that in actual fact what would really make sense is for our family to visit us during Xmess, and unless they object to some good weather and sunshine this makes perfect sense.
But who am I kidding and why should I go daydreaming? No one seems even remotely interested in paying us a visit.

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

I'm so over sports cars


Once upon a time, in the days where I had cable back in Israel, I used to watch this program on the BBC called Top Gear.
Top Gear was a show on cars and bikes, and its main reason for existence was its reviews on all cars and bikes alike, from the small and the cheap through to the expensive exotic. It was quite informative and one could learn a lot about cars and driving through it. For one, I became aware of huge car customer satisfaction surveys and their results through this program.
The program was so successful they started their own Top Gear magazine, to which I was subscribed prior to leaving Israel, but when I left I lost contact with the Gearers.
A couple of months ago, SBS has started airing Top Gear on public television here, and I watched it in great anticipation, hoping it would help the Australian public cure itself from its obsession with big tractor like cars (also known here as Holden (aka GM) or Ford).
Alas, my hopes quickly evaporated. The program has become this live audience show where the only cars reviews are Ferraris and onwards and the only that matters is “lap time”. Ordinary cars you and I might actually drive were totally ignored, and cars like the Toyota Prius were dismissed as an attempt to kiss the @ss of the politically aware crowds. Cars are hyped for being “cool” or “uncool”, whatever that means, and zero attention or respect was paid to practicality.
In short, the program changed from being a real world one into an ego tapping male member extension one. Score one for the evil marketing people.

The trends that Top Gear has gone through represent the exact opposite of what I have been going through.
Australia’s driving environment is completely different to Israel, and the process of getting used to it has definitely changed me. First there’s the terror inflicted by learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. Then you have Victoria Police’s anti speeding policies, where you get booked for driving 3km/h more than the speed limit gets you booked, to make you wet your pants. Throw in the relative respect drivers show each other here and the much better roads that spoil you altogether, and you get to become a pacified driver overall. It’s not all positive, though, because you lose that edge that constant driving on the edge in Israel gives you – overall, I am a much inferior driver than I used to be, skill and technique wise.
But as far as trends go, the bottom line is that I am so over sports cars that I truly despise them. There are exceptions, but in general I don’t think too highly of sports cars, and to put in a not so typical politically correct fashion, I tend to be suspicious of the motives that get people to purchase them.
The best example of how shitty sports cars can be was given to me in our tour of the UK, almost six months ago.
On one hand we had our rental car, a Hyundai Matrix, a car with the dynamics and the sex appeal of a fridge, but a very comfortable car at that. And when we needed to make time up in Scotland it had no problems overtaking MX5s and Porsches (who obviously weren’t as keen on making time as we were) on the Highlands’ twisty roads.
On the other hand we had Jo mother’s car, a Mini Cooper. Now I know that I’m insulting the car, because according to Jo it was not just a “Mini Cooper”, but the top of the line “Mini Super Dooper Cooper Turbo”, painted in British green racing color (whatever that is; since when do countries monopolise colors?).
Anyway, I had the distinct pleasure of taking several rides as a passenger in this car, including one that stretched all day (and some of the night) together with three others. Let me tell you this: a pleasure ride it was not (however, conversely, that particular day was the best day we've had in the UK as far as I'm concerned, because it was a day in which we did constructive stuff with the family).
Where should I start? Oh yes, fit. Or rather, lack of it. I don’t think I’m particularly tall, but I could just not fit on the front seat – the sun roofed top was way too low for my head. Now I do have sunroof problems in most sunroofed cars, with my head constantly brushing it, but this was an exception: The only way my head would fit in there is if it was allowed to stick through it.
The back seats, where I ended up, weren’t much better. Obviously, the car was not designed to carry more than two people in the first place; the rear stool is just a joke, and Wabby the dog would have probably found it uncomfortable. So yes, I found it even more than uncomfortable. For a start, I couldn’t sit up straight again, but here I could expand myself over most of the stool and either achieve some semi-lie-down position or just twist my back at an angle that would send shivers through the spine of my chiropractor. By a large mile, the most uncomfortable car ride I ever had the pleasure of having.
But the lack of comfort didn’t stop there. The car is tuned for sports, remember? So the suspension is so stiff that whenever we overran a fly on the road you’d find yourself tossed around as if you’re a frog in a food processor.
Noise was another source of discomfort. The motor, again, was obviously tuned for sports, with high outputs in low revs but not much torque to talk about in the lower half of the odometer (the motor is quite pathetic down there). So while the car sports a six gear shift to help you keep it in its narrow power zone, it does not help you negotiate the noise involved with driving on high revs for long periods.
Bottom line: Quite an unpleasant drive to say the least, for the lack of other politically correct superlatives. Nothing I had gone through with this Mini Cooper wouldn’t have been performed incredibly better by a Toyota Corolla at a third of the Mini’s cost.
The Mini does have its advantages, I’ll give it that. It has electronic stability control, a safety feature of supreme importance.
It also has sports handling and an image to match. But will these do you any good? I simply do not see myself driving any car in a sporting like manner on a public road - i.e., a sporting manner that an Hyundai Accent or a Toyota Corolla couldn’t comfortably manage. Let me tell you, when pushed a Corolla can manage quite a lot; the gain in performance is quite subtle compared to the sacrifice in comfort. They can make some damn good fridges today.
And then there’s the image thing that goes along with sports cars, but I believe I already covered the issue of member extension and low self esteem in previous blog entries. Not all sports cars buyers fall into that exreme category, most are just people like you and me who need to spend their money on something in order to reassure themselves that they really made it in this world.
When people can comfortably afford it and their motives are not too male extension related, I can definitely understand it - otherwise none of us would ever buy much; but this threshold is an interesting one, because who can say where the line between "supersize me" and "let me live peacefully and quietly" passes? That's the thin red line the evil marketing people play on (score two for them).
It's called consumarism, and I do it too, although I tend to regret it every time and I definitely know that it does not solve my problems upon this earth, not even remotely (it's usually the other way around). When you add global considerations to it all, such as the effects on the environment and the division of wealth in the world, you can start getting a sense of why my understanding for it is on the decline and why I spend a lot of my time reflecting on it (e.g., writing this stupid crap). I'm not the only one deliberating these issues; Nick Hornby, a fellow Arsenal supporter, discusses this very issue to the death in his book “How to Be Good”, and he, too, fails to reach conclusive conclusions (or even not so conclusive ones, for that matter).

Anyway, I am losing focus. I guess this would be a "to be continued" discussion.
So to you, Haim, I will say that I'm well over sports cars. And bikes, too, for that matter.

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

Pirates!

After a good few months of playing Pro Evolution Soccer and only Pro Evolution Soccer on my Xbox, I finally went out and bought a new game I was looking forward to for more than a year.
Back in my high school days, one of my favourite video games on the XT at the time was Sid Meier's Pirates. The game featured you as a pirate in control of a pirate ship roaming the Caribbean, sacking ships, plundering towns, and searching for treasures using maps where X marks the spot. You had to combine politics, too, otherwise you will not be able to see you loot and enjoy the spoils.
About a year ago a brand new game was released for the PC, Sid Meier's Pirates!
The game was released way later than first anticipated, and when it was eventually released you had to download huge patches if you wanted it to actually work. A few months ago, after long delays again, it was released for the Xbox.
So, what a difference does an exclamation mark make? Not much, really. Obviously, graphics and finishing are much better, but the game is pretty much the same as before. It features boat to boat gun battles, sword duels, trading and politics, and secret buried treasures – most of which looking and feeling pretty much the same as it did on the XT.
There are some additions, though. You can now develop romance with governors' daughters by dancing with them, and when you attack a city you go into this turn based strategy game which I really like.
But overall, it's the same game as before. And there's nothing wrong with that: Since I got it from eBay I can't stop playing it for hours at a time. Even Jo doesn't really mind, because it's not a game where you need fast fingers and despite the swashbuckling themes it is not a violent game either.
I really like it, which to me proves that a good game is a good game regardless of the technology behind it. Or, to put it an a trendy anti consumerism way, I don't need an Xbox 360 or a PS3 to make me happy, just give me a good game. Mind you, I am fully conscious of the fact that as quality entertainment goes, video games are one of the more inferior forms of entertainment available in a ranking where books reign on very high.

Alas, as nice as the game is, all is not well in the kingdoms of the Caribbean.
The Pirates! game has this unique features, or, in a more plain language, it has bugs. Get to a certain point in the game – the fight against the evil lord who threw your family into slavery – and the Xbox would simply freeze.
While it would be quite naïve of me to expect any piece of software to be totally devoid of the occasional bug, this particular bug is not just your easily avoidable problem: you have to beat this evil lord if you want to successfully finish your career as a pirate. Therefore I can only assume by the existence of this bug that the game was never fully tested (in the sense of someone actually playing the game from start to finish) prior to its release.
Or, to put it more clearly, we have a clear case of a greedy software company releasing a flawed product to the market while fully knowing about it (they would have to be terribly stupid not to know about it).
No industry other than the software industry would be able to get away with that. You will not find a house with no roof for sale, nor will you find a new car with a motor that doesn't really work on the market; the car manufacturer will know better than that.
Yet software companies are using, or rather abusing, the fact that their product is rather intangible to sell us a flawed product, while at the same time complaining against software piracy by claiming that the fact their product is intangible is in no way an excuse for software piracy and that theft is theft, period.
Software piracy is obviously wrong. However, with cases such as Pirates!, software companies lose the legitimacy of their arguments against it. For who is the real pirate, the one trying to play a video game or the company trying to make quick profit?

Monday, 20 February 2006

Chiro Therapy

On Wednesday my back has decided that it is time to make its presence felt, after a two year leave of absence. It started hurting, and by Wednesday evening I could hardly move and fitting myself in the car required Houdini like trickery.
I've been to physiotherapists before and, to one extent or another, they helped improve things. However, due to their reliance on exercises that I don't really persevere with, I decided that this time I should probably give chiropractors a chance. Try a different approach to the same problem.
So I booked a chiro appointment for Friday. And all shreds of self respect or self pride I might have had prior to this visit are now gone with the south to south-westerly wind.
The appointment started with the chiropractor giving me an overall examination. It was a guy, which felt strange and proved again that I'm probably not gay but rather more like George Costanza. He had me lying down and doing all sorts of motions and quickly came up with some conclusions, which – to his credit – do explain a thing or two regarding the history of Moshe Reuveni as I know it. Let us see:
My left leg is a couple of centimetres shorter than my right one.
While my left foot is sort of aligned with the left leg, my right foot is more than a bit twisted, aligning itself at a 40 degree angle to the leg. The chiro says that it is as if the foot is trying to compensate for something, and I told him that when I was six I broke a bone in my right foot – I had my shoes unlaced, my left foot stepped on the right foot shoe's lace as the right foot took a step, the right foot got this impossible angle, and knack – cast for a month, spent mostly kicking my first school year mates (I was tall, I was fat, and I had a brick foot). Since then my right foot tends to send me signals from time to time, so it obviously did not fully heal itself, hence the foot's current twist.
The chiro's response to that touching story was along the lines of "that explains it": he found this spot in my right ankle that was really stiff; one slight touch of his on that spot and I was in agonizing pain while he calmly explained that there's this muscle there that is being overworked trying to keep my right foot in place.
Moving up a notch, he commented that my bum tends to stick out. Again, nothing new here; I remember Oren Carmon and his sister Sharon mocking my big chassis during the post school afternoons we've spent playing together as neighbours between second and fourth grade. So, again, I was fat back then, but still – I was always puzzled by it sticking out.
The next note concerned the fact my spine was more in the shape of an S rather than a straighter 1 like shape. His conclusion was that the muscles at the bottom of my spine are basically holding it all together for me, and as a side effect I get this JLO a$$ and a twisted spine. He touched me here and there and concluded that the entire bottom of my spine is just one big stiff muscle (with a lot of fat covering it, I have to add). He then asked me to do these bum movements that you often see salsa dancers do in films such as Globus/Golan's Lambada 6 – The Sequel of the Sequel's Sequel, and I just couldn't do it! It was all locked. Now I know why I never ever dance – I just can't.
So he showed me this exercise where you move your behind forwards and backwards, and added at least five times that this exercise would greatly improve my sex life.
He also said I should use some stool or something to support my very lower back when I sit in front of the computer, and use some back support for the very lower back (belt height) when I sit in general; the emphasis there was not on the lower back, where I tended to put support so far but also helped that S gap expand, but rather on the very low back.
He then went on to show me this exercise where you lie down and straighten your spine. According to him, there are two ways of performing this trick: You can do it the dog way (imagine the shape of the graph for Y=X^2) or the cat way (imagine the shape of the graph for Y=-X^2). To Haim's great delight he said that I need to be a cat.
Next he felt along my spine and my neck. His conclusion, again, was "interesting" in a tragic sort of a way: My spine was twisted to the right along its vertical axis, probably in an attempt to handle my shorter left leg. The funniest thing about it all was that while he was giving me these news items one after the other in a fairly laconic and subtle "oh, and you're about to die in two minutes but it's not such a big deal because everyone dies" sort of way, I was farewelling the last remnants of respect I ever had towards my genes.
As if to prove a point he showed me that if he pokes his fingers through the fatty left side of my spine he gets zero resistance, his hand pretty much swimming in rubber, but if he does the same motion through the fatty right side of my spine he encounters stiffness all along. As if to prove his point even further he showed me that if he pressed these couple of points on the right hand side of my spine I just can't move my right leg at all, while the same doesn't apply to the left leg. Very encouraging news.
While he was admiring my "Da Vinci" tattoo, making me laugh for the first time after making me want to seek out the tallest building around, he did these manoeuvres that one would normally associate with chiropractors – twisting and knocking me all over the place.
I got up, paid, went out to see my Canyonero, and felt as if I have been set free from Shawshank prison after 29 years. I suddenly felt taller, I could move to the right in ways I could never imagine before, I felt looser… Walking felt more like floating along. Maybe Jesus walking on water was just the effect of a chiropractition session; I guess we will never know.
But if you do want to know more about the body you never knew you had, I warm heartedly recommend you visit your nearest chiro.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Feint to the North West

I told you about the walrus and me, man
You know that weÂ’re as close as can be, man
And I also told you about me wanting to buy a bag for a potential new laptop that I will probably never get as well as for just taking stuff with me for my new job. You might remember I was talking about Crumpler bags and how expensive they are. Well, I got myself one, and although it is still stupidly expensive, I did beat the system.
I ended up getting their King Single backpack in orange, which is damn fine for this supporter of the Dutch team in the upcoming world cup, even if Bergkamp's long gone and Van Nistleroy is the main event. I prefer to look at them as Van Basten's team and I always liked the way they play. Bergkamp's goal back in 98 against the evil hand of god'sArgentineans at the 88th minute, converting from a sublime Frank De Boer 70+ meter long pass will never be forgotten.

Anyway, back to the hunt for the red backpack.
Before committing to spending loads of money on a stupid cause, I wanted to get a feel for the Crumpler. So I called the Crumpler Outlet Shop where prices are nothing like what you'd expect from an outlet but where they have the full Crumpler range and arranged a visit. It was during work time, so the trip to Hawthorn was a win-win breath of fresh air in the middle of the day.
The GPS led me right to the shop where I was welcomed by a heavily accented "Ma Nishma" (Hebrew for how are you). You could see by the accent, dress code and body language that it was what Israelis such as mua refer to as a "Yehudi Galuti" (a Jew who is not an Israeli): Someone who takes pride in being a Jew and follows all the customs and shit and thinks that Israel is "our" country and "we" are the chosen one and everyone else is an inferior piece of shit with a culture worth 23 cents - but yet would not sacrifice his/her comfort and actually go and live in Israel. I counter attacked with some speedy Hebrew to shut her up.
Anyway, I measured the bags, and the ones that I liked featured a nice price tag of either $220 or $250, which meant that to that sales assistant's great disappointment I was not her prey yet.
I basically had two options with the Crumplers. One is to use this discount thing that a friend who read the blog offered me, which meant that I could get the bags for $180 or $200 respectively. The other option was eBay.
Eventually I did it the eBay way, and got the bag for less than $120 through an eBay shop in the USA that advertised the Crumplers as "the famous Australian bags". Fuck, they're so famous I had to order them from the other side of the world and including shipment by airmail it was still almost half the price.
I guess the point of this story is to show that the theory economists preach when they say that the supply/demand market trends work in a sophisticated market where everybody knows everything are true, and the internet is what brings this knowledge of everything to our fingertips: The discount I could get in Australia was offered to me by a friend who read my internet blog and sent me an email (ok, we had a bit of a chat over the phone, too); and eBay - well, eBay has started revolutionizing the way we get stuff and get rid of stuff exactly a year ago, and we haven't looked back since.
So to my dear friends at Crumpler Australia: I offer you my used toilet paper as a token of my appreciation.

Note from 20/2/06:
I have to add my apologies to the salesperson I so blatantly stereotyped in the above text. I blame it on the aggravation caused when I’m looked upon as a member of a certain group rather than the individual person I am. That said, the Yehudi Galuti epidemic is definitely widespread.

Friday, 17 February 2006

Sound opinion

All of us remember Luke Skywalker's immortal line from Return of the Jedi, "I am an audiophile, like my father before me". And if you think he was actually saying something else then it's only because you never had the pleasure of listening to Return through a decent hi-fi setup.
But I did, and like Luke's family I am an audiophile, too. After all these years I am not as crazy as I used to be; I no longer buy CDs and laserdiscs/DVDs at the rate of a medium sized country, and I no longer buy them solely for their sound or picture quality. At this day and age I can enjoy good music for what it is, regardless of the way it was recorded or the way it was reproduced. That said, I get so much bigger a kick if the music is properly recorded and properly reproduced, and time and time again I notice just how important these things are.
Which is why I have a lot against the latest trend in music reproduction that requires only one word for its introduction: MP3.
For someone who does not think particularly highly about the CD format, which despite improvements over time still produces a bit of a strident sound which overall does not sound as pleasant as the analog formats it replaced, MP3 is a giant leap backwards. It starts off with CD sound, but with its heavily lossy compression it simply butchers the recording.
Play it through your computer or through your average iPod like device with your very average set of el-cheapo speaker/amp combination or headphones and you will not know why I'm making such a fuss out of it. Play it through a decent setup, though (I'm talking hi-fi), and it has all the sound qualities of a chain saw at full roar. It could be impressive when you play Doom, but it sucks when you try to get into your music.
Alas, I can complain as much as I can, but the fact is that I don't properly listen to music much anymore. I could do it for hours and hours when I was on my own, but with Jo around

darkening the room and listening the music does not sound (pun intended) like the best thing one can do. Fact is, the last time I had a proper listening session was when I got my power amp back from repairs and did my best to challenge it: It demoed yet again the greatness of proper music reproduction, but also emphasized the fact we just don't have the time for it (read: we have higher priorities).
This doesn't mean I don't listen to much music anymore. I still do, and quite a lot. But... the vast majority of my music listening takes place at work now. In that dreaded MP3 format. Using headphones.
Now, I do my best to improve this experience. The Senheiser headphones I keep at the office are by far the best set of affordable cans I ever had the pleasure of listening to (the overall "best" title is quite secure with Stax). There is much to praise as far as listening to music over headphones is concerned: with the sound going directly to your brain, resolution is very high; and with the lack of reflections from your room's barriers marring the original sound you can more easily notice the subtle nuances of the recording.
That said, I think the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to headphones. Low frequency reproduction is not really there (because size does matter there), and good headphone amps simply do not exist anymore (they definitely don't exist in your average iPod, regardless of what iPod enthusiasts will tell you). But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Fact is, no music playing band ever plays less than a centimeter from your ear and directly into it. And when recording are mixed at the studio, they are never mixed for headphone reproduction - they have proper speakers and amps, and the better mixers have some very tidy setups sporting Krells and their likes.
And last, but not least, headphones ruin your hearing much quicker than anything else. Terminator 2 at blockbusting sound levels has had the better of my hearing about 10 years ago, but headphones will do it much quicker and much more effectively. Personally I'm at a point where my ears ache after a couple of hours of headphone listening, and by now that is exclusively limited to low volumes only.
With all my anti MP3 sentiments, I do admit there is more then a slight merit to the iPod revolution. Not that I approve in any way of what Apple's marketing department has done to the world, but because I do find the idea of having a vast collection of music stored in a tiny mobile device. This is very practical for all non critical music listening experiences, which as I mentioned already are the majority of music listening experiences, and also quite handy as far as backing up and sorting one's collection goes.
Which sort of brings me to the climax of this blog entry: Why is it, then, that MP3 player manufacturers fail to give us devices that would truly achieve that? Why is an iPod limited to one particular software and certain particular formats, and why things like using it on more than one computer (the way one would use a backup) cause incidents of the diplomatic level? And what's with the no FM on iPods?
The answer, of course, is because these companies want to make more money; they couldn't give a shit about our music listening needs, especially with the way they manage to sell us their gizmos at their incredibly inflated prices.
As far as I can tell, iAudio seems to be the only one that makes decent MP3 players, although at this stage they only have 30gb models (and I would prefer the 60gb offered by Apple). They still sport a stratospheric price tag which means I won't buy them anyway on principle.
And where does that leave me? It leaves me listening to a bit of music and podcasts on the train, through my PDA (aided with a 1gb SD card) and using cheap headphones that I can walk around with. But as I said before, Jo will be in charge of morning entertainment; and there's nothing wrong with some people watching anyway.
People managed pretty well before; it's just the companies trying to score on the fact they managed to convince us we need to be continuously stimulated to enjoy our lives.
Well, f*ck off. Good old fashioned stimulation work much better for me.

Today's letter to The Age

Dear sir/madam,

I heard on the news that a Canadian turned Australian has won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Congratulations for the good performance.
However, I was not able to stop thinking of other people who want to live in Australia, yet their deficiencies in sports related skills end up putting them in detention camps instead of winners' podiums. Maybe these people should consider new career directions.

Regards,
Moshe Reuveni

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Imperfections of the skin

As readers of my blog can tell, I can get annoyed quite easily by things that most people wouldn't think twice about. I would say it's the perfectionist in me, but then again I do lots of mistakes on my own, and I also get to meet lots of people whose standards are much higher than mine. So I don't know; maybe it's just me being tight again and all I'm angry about is the loss of money and resources.
Anyway, the latest example comes from my new place of work, a month before I actually start working there.
Their job offer insisted that I start working for them on 13/3, even though with my boss away on leave this meant that I had to hand my resignation over to HR instead of doing it through him, the way I think he deserves after more than three years of us knowing one another.
Yesterday I've learnt that 13/3 is actually a public holiday. I called the HR of my new place and asked what the deal is, as (especially given that it's government) they would probably not expect to see me that particular Monday morning. They verified that it's indeed a public holiday, and immediately went into panic mode: "you can't start work on a public holiday, we'll send you a new contract to sign and return back to us". Deal done, now fuck off.
I don't like this way of doing things. Sure, in Israel you get much worse than that - you often end up with no one to turn to at all - but this amateurish way of doing things, the famous "no worries" way in which people seem to be very friendly to you but in actual fact they fuck you up the ass gets on my nerves. For a start, the fact they send me a new piece of paper to sign does not change for a minute the other fact that I will still have another piece of paper signed by them that says I'm supposed to start on the 13th.
The second and more annoying thing is the fact that I am not going to get paid for that public holiday. I will be out of my current company on the Friday and in my new company on the Tuesday (with the lesson being: If you quit your job, do it midweek!). And those good few hundreds of dollars that I am going to lose for that are not my fault at all; THEY were the ones that insisted I start on the 13th.
You could argue I should have suspected some wrongdoing the minute I saw the number 13 staring back at me from the contract. I just think it's yet another case of lack of professionalism, which seems to have some particular tendency to stick and stick hard to anything that has something to do with recruitment and HR in Australia.

A good word (or two)

I often use these pages to vent off steam I might have gathered with things that I didn't like. I thought the time has come for me to praise the opposite exceptions:
 
Several months ago we purchased a few things at Kmart only to discover back at home that we were charged three times for an item that we bought two of. About a $10 extra. The annoying things was that we always seem to have trouble at Kmart, and the one time we didn't check them (because it was quite messy with big queues) was the one time we got f*cked.
A week later we just happened to be at the same shopping mall (Southland) and I had the receipt in the car, so we went in to complain. No questions were asked - we got our $10 back, and they won our faith again.
 
A month ago the cable feeding my FM transmitter with the car's 12v of electricity stopped working. For those that don't know, an FM transmitter is this device you connect to your MP3 player which allows you to listen to your MP3 player's music or podcasts on your car radio by tuning your car radio to the FM transmitter's frequency. We use a Belkin TuneCast II and it works like a charm; low frequencies and high ones are severely limited, and stereo separation is not what it used to be, but overall it's an effective solution. If you have an iPod note there are FM transmitters designed to fit the top of the iPod made by Griffin, but they're not as good sonically (and like everything else in the iPod realm, they cost much more than they should).
Anyway, I called Belkin's support line and started telling them this story on how I bought their TuneCast II through eBay etc, afraid that they would tell me to shut up and complain to the place I got it from (and I got it from a guy in the USA through eBay). Well, they did shut me up - they cut me off and asked for my address. I gave it away, and two days later I had a new cable delivered by mail.
Exceptional service.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

The Victorian Job

As some of you know, and as some of you don't know, and as some of you didn't have the patience not to know, I will start on a new job in the middle of March.
The work I will be doing there will be under the banner of business analysis. I don't pay much attention to titles, and while it is nice that I will have the title "senior" for the first time in Australia I cannot forget that I had achieved higher domains back in Israel. I suspect that the bottom line would be that I will be doing pretty much the same thing I am doing now but in a building that actually has windows as opposed to our office's replacement in the shape of yellow walls. Still, I like being a banalist, so no complaints there (yet).
Besides the joy of leaving all the troubles of my current work behind (which, although nice, are fairly minuscule compared to the joy of leaving the troubles of the world as you know it behind and moving to the other side of the universe), I see a lot of positive in this career move.
First and of much personal importance to me is the fact that I managed to secure this job on my own. Unlike my current position, which I only got through the people my brother knew and after five very desperate months of unemployment, this new job is all mine. Yes, I did require the help of others in order to secure the job (and I am very deeply thankful), but this help that I received from them was secured, I hope, by virtue of my own actions rather than begging or favoritism. For someone who had such a hard time finding a job in this new continent this achievement will not be taken lightly.
Second on the list is the ideological aspect of the new job. I am more than a bit tired of working for companies with the sole aim of making some already overly rich shareholder even richer. Add my current anti capitalism mood to the equation, through in a constant drizzle of news concerning corrupt top of the ladder management adding more and more millions to their coffers while actively screwing the little people reporting to them, and you will see that working at a position where you actually help people in need is quite an attraction.
The best gift we gave this last Xmess was not one of the gifts we gave family and friends; in general I am not a big fan of those, and I view them as a big waste - especially after noticing the wide gap between the efforts involved in acquiring the gifts (I'm talking also about things like the pollution created in making them) and their shelf life, which on average is less than an hour. No, the best gift "we" gave was when Jo bought some toys and gave them to charity. Being a tight and cheap person (more on that in another entry), I would have never been able to do this myself; but Jo did and I'm proud. My point is, we're relatively well off, despite mortgages and constant complaints about this and that; it wouldn't hurt for us to give unto others. And I think that with my new job I will have the opportunity to do a bit of that, and I like the thought. The fact my salary would be way better (yet not explosively better) than my current salary does add a bit to my sense of satisfaction, too.
That said, the new job does not represent progress on all fronts. For a start, commuting will now consume an hour of my limited life span each way, or two hours a day. I will also have to expose my sensitive body to Melbourne's harsh winter weather as well as give up the warm comfort of the Canyonero for the privilege of cramming myself into Melbourne's lackluster rush hour full train service. At least I'll have time to listen to a few podcasts on the train; and best of all, Jo will be there with me, especially in the mornings.

The Protocols of the Elders of Australia

Two examples demonstrating how racism looks like in modern day Australia.
 
The first one was at work, a good few months ago. Several of us had a bit of a chat, when this guy put in his winning argument: "Every one of the big companies around the world has a Jew in control at the top".
I sarcastically added: "Yeah, like Microsoft", and the guy - himself a member of a minority in Australia - answered back in absolute seriousness:
"I didn't know Bill Gates was Jewish".
 
The second example took place in the Australian Senate, where a member of the Liberal party (which is just ever so liberal) argued the following during a discussion on who is the rightful authority to approve a drug used amongst others uses for abortion purposes:
Australia has around 100,000 abortions per year. Over the course of 50 years, we will be losing 5 million Australians. This puts us in the risk of becoming a Muslim state.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Club Faith

Yesterday's news told us of an incoming Australian census. According to friends, this is this survey type thing where, by law, each Australian has to answer this set of questions. While I do not know if scum like Jo, who is not a citizen yet, will also get the pleasure of corrupting the results for the rest of us Australians, I do know that one of the more famous questions in this survey is "what religion do you follow". What answer should I give to this question which, as far as I'm concerned, is inherently flawed given my views on religion in general? It's as if someone is asking me if I prefer to have my cockroaches cooked medium or well done.
Luckily, others have deliberated this very question before me. And while quite a few have attested themselves to being atheists, the last census has revealed that 1% of Australians are... Jedi Knights.
Sadly, I cannot say that I am strong with the force. You see, my father is Jewish, and the force does not run strong in our family.
Another option I was thinking of is to follow Ossnat's lead and declare myself a Kirgisian. However, I do not know if the survey allows me to invent new religions or not. Besides, the effort of spelling "Kirgisian" and then potentially having to answer some questions on what it stands for might be a bit too much.
I'm at a loss.
Anyway, this census thing together with this interesting documentary we watched on how everything in the Da Vinci Code is just a fabrication and together with the latest news on those Danish cartoons have got Jo to mention that for the first time she feels as if the Christian culture unto which she innocently belongs seems to be under attack by everyone. It does seem as though it's politically correct to mock and scorn at Christianity but it's quite incorrect to offend even the slightest minority of Kirigisian followers.
I think the main reason for that is that Christianity is strong, both number wise and power wise; it does not need to defend itself. Plus it comes down to the fact that Jo, while being all over the world, has been exposed to other religions only relatively lately.
Still, I do find this phenomenon of mocking Christianity an interesting one. Back in Israel, the common approach towards modern day Christians amongst secular Jews is to dismiss them as "those foolish people who believe those bullshit stories about Jesus". In Australia you definitely get the impression that Jews tend to think of themselves as an elite club reigning high and mighty over the rest: "we are club Jew, we are so special, we're in the right and you don't even know better". They even get married under a ch-upa (pronounced with that version of CH where you spit your guts out). The sad thing is that you see this approach not only with Australian Jews but with Israeli Australians, too. It has potential to be quite funny when you hear this idiot Jew with an IQ matching my shoe number size boasting superiority over the majority of Australians by virtue of Jewish culture.
Sad, but it's out there. People are not judged by their individual qualities but rather by this artificially simplistic grouping thing.
What do I think? Well, you got me there; I don't think highly of Christianity.
I look at it from the second law of thermodynamics' point of view: If you start with a system at a given level of entropy, entropy can only increase. Or, in plain Hebrew, if you take Judaism and apply Christianity on top of it, you can only mess things up even further - hence my opinion that Christianity is flawed.
However, this does not mean that I have the opposite opinion on Judaism: I think it was way too flawed to begin with, which means that choosing between the two is, again, an exercise in choosing between being run over by a semitrailer or by a normal truck.
Still, as bad as I am mocking wise, I do not think negatively on Christians or on Jews just because of their religious belief. Most of my contempt, and there is a lot of it, is to do with some of those believers trying to imposed themselves on others, often by creating sophisticated laws. You see it with ultra Orthodox Jews trying to maintain a grip of their world which so is exposed to Western influences, and you also see it with our Health Minister Catholic faith affecting his decisions on the legalization of certain pills. With these groups you do not see much in the way of appreciation and attempts to learn from others, but rather attempts to rule themselves as supreme to others.
I'll finish by asking a question, which some of the Christian readership might be able to answer (as well as those who just happen to have an answer of any other faith - Jedi Knights included, and fellow atheists too):
I've been recently exposed to the idea that Jesus died to save "the rest of us", but I am yet to be able to get an answer as to how this deal works. Why was Jesus forced to give his life away to save the rest of us, and how DID he save us by dying?
The explanations that I am able to come up with on my all point out at a rather vengeful god who needs some appeasement in the form of his dead son's body to forgive others, which doesn't really conform with the peaceful image of the Christian god I get elsewhere. And then the devil is added into the equation, but I sort of thought that god is all powerful and can dismiss that entity that he/she has created in the first place.
I don't know, it just doesn't fit. Answers would be appreciated.

Monday, 13 February 2006

Home team advantage

Everybody's asking me what my new job is, but I am not in the mood for any deep philosophical discussions at the moment. Suffice it to say my new career requires me to change my name to Buck Naked.
The new job will be in the city (Melbourne, that is) and as a part of my logistical preparations I am on the lookout for a new backpack that I can use for work.
My current work bag is a leather handbag my sister gave me after I graduated uni. It's nice and useful, but as I'll be taking the morning train soon I do not want to have to devote one of my hands to it for the entire commute. I do have several backpacks, but these range from the not so distinguished to the ones aimed at travelling and camera usage with lots of belts and whistles.
What I think I need at the moment is a bag I can carry some paperwork in, lunch, and a laptop if called upon. I don't foresee requiring a laptop soon, but I don't want to have yet another useless bag in the closet if I do end up having one.
According to Jo, the coolest bags that people want - in fact, what seem to be the coolest thing to own this side of an iPod Nano (the coolest thing to do is to jog on the beach with an iPod neatly velcroed to your wrist) - are bags made by this company called Crumpler. So I've had a look on the web to see what they have to offer a person as warm as me.
The first thing I learned was that size matters. While to my desktop affectionate eye all laptops seem the same, in the bag world you have to pay attention to whether you have a 12", 15" or 17" laptop. As I haven't seen a 12" laptop this side of a archaeological site, I think I'd go with the 15".
The second thing I noticed was the price. Those Crumplers are stupidly expensive, ranging between $220 to $250 over the web from Australian websites. But then came the observation that's the main piece of agenda on this blog entry: Through the USA you can get the same bags, after adding shipping costs and translating from to Australian Dollars, from as much as $100; the 15" that I'm currently aiming for is $150 - that's more than 30% less.
And the peak of stupidity about it is that Crumpler is an Australian brand. While it's probably all made in China, the notion that you can get it for much less in the USA than at its home country even after you pay for shipping reeks of rotten things in the kingdom of Denmark.
This is not the first time we've encountered Australians being anti Australian. Allow me to provide other examples:
About a year ago we've decided (ok, it was mainly a case of I've decided) that I want to buy the Cranium board game. If you've never heard of it look it up - it's a great one, and a lovely way to entertain the friends that we don't have enough of in Australia. Anyway, the cheapest place I could find the basic Australian version in Australia sold it for $60, with prices ranging
up to the $100 mark. While I may have been fine with $60, I wasn't after noticing it sells for $15 in the USA, albeit the American version. Alas, I could net get it through Amazon, because the f*ckers won't ship it out of the USA; I did, however, managed to get the premium version through eBay for $15 plus $30 for shipping. Still cheaper than buying here, and we even got the American version - and I am much more likely to know the 48th state's name than to know of some elusive cricket player.
Next on the list is Lonely Planet, the famous Melbourne based tour guidebooks company. I wanted to get this photography book of their; Aussie shops and websites had it for $75 while Amazon had it for $22.50 (just a slight 300% difference!); guess where I got it from?
But the biggest criminal of all is Qantas, the "Australian" airline. With them licking the right @rses they've pretty much established themselves as a monopoly on many international routes. As a result, a return flight from Israel to Melbourne would cost me around $2200, but the same thing from our way around would cost us $3000. And is with the other cases, the money does not go to some worthy cause - Qantas is a privately owned company, recently in the news mainly for wanting to cut back on its Australian workforce in favor of a cheaper international workforce.
I don't have an answer for this Australian way of abuse. All I can do is fight back, and luckily with the internet on my side I have all the information I need to be able to fight back (the problem is actually filtering the unwanted information).
But the bottom line is that I do not think very highly of these Australian companies cynically abusing their home team supporters.

Saturday, 11 February 2006

Wabby's new toy

To those of you that do not know him, please allow me to introduce you to Wabby the dog. Effectively the third member of our household, Wabby - my brother's dog - is an 11.5 year old Jack Russell. Because my brother tends to go on international travel quite often, our house is Wabby's second house. Calculations show that he is with us for 1/6 of his time. Almost like my much beloved army reserve duty back in Israel.
To those that do not know much about dogs, me included, here's a bit of a lesson given to me some two years ago by the family dog professor, Jo's father (to those of you that don't know, Jo's parents entire lives revolve around dogs). Jack Russells are a dog breed that was developed out of the terrier family for rat hunting purposes (which also applies to other rodents and pests, even to foxes). They are very much led by their instincts, and once they smell something interesting they forget everything else around them. They're also stupidly brave, often jumping up and down on dogs that could demolish them in a second or even horses.
Anyway, for someone who doesn't like dogs in particular - in fact, I would say that I dislike dogs much more than I like them, and I'm definitely afraid of them, Wabby is a bit of a contradiction. With his small size he is the last thing you'd be afraid of; in fact, when you play with him you can see how careful he is not to even remotely scratch you with his teeth. He is a pest, which earned him the titles of "microbe" and in general "the pest", but he is quite cute at being a pest, so we actually love him. Out of all the animals I've ever been in touch with, including my unsuccessful experimentation with owning a cat, Wabby is by far my most favorite pet. For all intents and purposes, he is family - and I'm sure some of you would say that he certainly belongs with us, intellect level wise.
A few weeks ago, on his last session at our place (yesterday, by the way, he started a new session) we bought him this squeaky toy from the supermarket. After all, he is locked in the backyard most of the day, doing nothing but barking his guts off at the neighbors dog - they can spend hours standing on both sides of the fence, effectively just a few centimeters from one another, and bark (quite a lovely tune to sleep to at night) - and dig holes in our garden. And I won't even mention the lovely gifts he leaves behind from time to time which I need to collect with a plastic bag.
From the minute we came inside with the gift still wrapped he could smell the plastic. He went berserk, jumping at the plastic bag where the toy way. Eventually when we gave it to him he took it to his territory outside and just squeaked the hell out of it with his mouth, paws, rear legs - nothing was spared in the war effort.
During the next couple of nights he wouldn't depart from his toy. We did not allow him to bring it inside, so he chose to just ignore us and sleep outside. Wherever he went to he would carry it with him, with the distinct faint squeak following him wherever he goes (for by now the toy's main squeaking functions were dead gone after all the abuse the toy had to go through).
By far the most interesting observation was his behavior towards the neighbor's dog. Instead of the usual barking, he would run along the fence squeaking his toy - boasting it - with the other dog answering back in barks. Now I've seen Wabby dreaming before - you can clearly see that he is in REM sleep and you can hear as well as see him barking in his sleep at some phantom rabbit in a green pasture way over yonder; but I have never seen an animal teasing another animal.
And my point is: I've said here before that we are not that different to animals and that in general, mankind is only superior to other animals in the sense that we can overpower them to do what we want: we eat cows instead of the other way around, and no cow is matadoring people in a ring with a red carpet between its horns. Other than that, we are the same; my behavior when I get a new toy, be it a new Xbox game or a digital SLR camera or a new PDA, is not that similar to that of Wabby's: I can not stop thinking about it with excitement, I use it all the time, I show it off, and eventually I get the point that it doesn't solve my problems on this earth and I move on (like Wabby did, too).
So yes, I am definitely having another stab at religion here. Especially those that come up with statements such as "pets don't go to heaven" and similar crap.
Actually, they're right: Pets probably do not go to heaven. And ignorance will always be bliss. Posted by Picasa

Friday, 10 February 2006

Happiness is a Warm Gun

A strange and intoxicating feeling has filled me up ever since I handed over my letter of resignation and signed my new employment contract:
All (or at least most) of the tension that I've had stored with me over the last few weeks is suddenly gone to the point that I feel like I've lost a few kilos (pity that's it's all just a fictitious weight loss thing; could have used a nice weight cut).
The tension seems to have been replaced by a general "I don't give a shit about anything anymore" attitude. I just can't concentrate on anything at the moment; nirvana. All I can think of doing at the moment is play football on the Xbox (doing fine, thank you, on the Champions League at the moment).
Quite an addictive feeling. Last time I've had it was during my last days in Israel, where I just wanted to leave everything behind and get out as soon as I can. In retrospect I know now that I should have utilized my last days with the family and the friends better, and I sort of assume that I'll eventually have that feeling about my current job (to a much lesser degree), but still -highly addictive. Maybe we should all change jobs on a weekly basis.
I assume this nirvana bliss is soon to be replaced by new feeling of tension: A new job, having to prove myself all over again, mastering the new challenges... Guess I should enjoy it while it lasts.
It's really funny, when you think about it - the ups and downs you keep on going through. That's probably why life is worth living and why heaven (the way it is usually specified by all those people that have never really been there but think they know better) is probably dead boring.

Thursday, 9 February 2006

I need a fix coz I'm going down

Moshe Reuveni
Business Analyst

9 Feb. 2006

Re: Letter of Resignation

Dear ,

It is with sadness that I write to you to tender my resignation from my role as a Business Analyst at .
I have enjoyed the role and the people very much and will always have fond memories.
My resignation is effective from today. As per my contract, I am providing you with four weeks of notice. My last working day will be March 10, 2006.
I wish you, the team and everyone at all the very best for your continued success.


Yours sincerely,
Moshe Reuveni

Editor's comment: Certain names were ommitted on purpose.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

It's light, Jim, but not as we know it

For one reason or another, I tend to be regarded in certain circles as the local photography expert. People come up to me to ask for advice, which is usually just their way to convince themselves that the choice they already made was good rather than truly get my opinion (although I have to say that there is rarely a truly bad product out there and my own personal preferences are in no way better than their choices).
Anyway, I'm always surprised by the importance people attribute to mega pixels. I have to hand it to camera manufacturers, they really managed to get us all to judge a camera by this one number (usually a single digit) and one number alone. It's so brilliant when you think about it: all they need to do in order to sell you their next model is marginally increase that magic number. It could backfire on them, though: a friend of mine said a while ago that once mobile phones have 15mp cameras built in no one would ever need to buy any other photography equipment.
Just imagine what would happen if we were to judge cars by a single number, say horse power. Tanks would rule on high! Or if we were to judge people solely by their weight: We'd all be eating all day long.
Anyway, to make camera issues clearer and help the world get rid of crap myths, here is the official MR list of things that do determine a photo's quality. I will totally disregard technical stuff such as camera reaction time. Enjoy:

1. Light handling:
A digital camera is a device that captures analog light and stores a digital representation of it. It therefore needs a mechanism to enable it to handle that analog light, and that is the thing we commonly refer to as a "lens". Contrary to common belief, lenses are not all equal even if they have the same zoom specifications, just like a cheap $100 speaker rated to handle 250 watts RMS will not sound the same as a $75000 Wilson Grand Slamm speaker with the same rating.
Lenses are where the above friend's theory on mobile phones would fail, by the way, because no one would be able to create a small lens to fit in someone's pocket that would be the equal of a larger lens. His opinion that instead of using a zoom lens you would just crop a high mega pixel photo does not apply, too, simply because the lens' setting does not determine the zoom alone but also the perspective (the relation between different objects): that is why people's faces appear distorted in a wide angle photo - things closer to the camera appear bigger than they are - and that is why we can have the illusion of someone holding an elephant on the palm of his hand by using a zoom lens that pushes everything close together.
2. Digital processor quality:
Every digital camera needs an analog to digital converter to decode the analog light it receives through the lens to a series of numbers (aka digital format). Again, not all sensors are created equal; the famous mega pixel count is just one of the sensors' attributes, but did you know that for a given sensor size, the more mega pixels it has the more noise the photo will have? More mega pixels do not, therefore, necessarily mean a better photo.
If we take your common 6mp sensor, it would be made of roughly 2mp of red sensing cells, 2mp of blue, and 2mp of green (actually, green would have a larger share, because our eyes are more sensitive to it). Each one of those cells would be able to tell between 256 levels of light in their own specific color, and the photo you end up seeing is a mathematical extrapolation of the output of all cells combined. Obviously, it doesn't take a genius to realize there is plenty of room for improvement in such a mechanism, regardless of mega pixels. Which gets me to the third and last point-
3. Digital processing:
The way the camera processes this data its sensor provides is important, too. Each manufacturer has its own proprietary algorithm for doing that: determining the color of a red pixel surrounded by a combination of blue and green pixels and the levels of each. Today you don't even need to settle with what your camera does: If your camera supports the RAW format, which stores the direct and detailed output of the sensor, you can let your desktop do the processing for you (that P4 monster at home is much more capable than your pocket size camera, and Photoshop is way too big to be contained in a camera).

Hope that settles it. The next time someone tells you that his mega pixel count is bigger than yours, tell him/her it's not the size that matters.
(Somehow, I can now see why the camera manufacturers are so successful with their marketing techniques)

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Breaking News

Two bits of news, starting with the more meaningful and profound one.

Jo has finally received her work laptop - a not too bad Centrino, albeit with a measly 512mb of RAM. Still, unlike my laptop, this one actually has wireless!
I've already accessed this very blog through the new laptop (thieves beware: our wireless is mac address protected as well as password protected). So now we have the PDA for surfing the web in bed or for some quick and dirty stuff, the laptop for surfing on the couch or in the kitchen, and the mean machine desktop for when we want to get down and dirty. But as much as I am for desktops, with their extra power and superior ergonomics, I cannot deny the charm of walking about with the laptop while surfing.
I don't think the desktop should have anything to worry about, though. It's still going to rule on high.

The second item is of much less importance. It looks like I have a job offer: The recruiter said he got the numbers (as in salary figures) and that he's just waiting for the official paperwork to arrive.
Being me I'll refuse to believe that until I see the paper in front of me, so the details would be left for then; I hope everything works out and I can move on, because I got to this stage where I really need to move on. Total decay.
Anyway, as if to reaffirm my opinion of recruiters, the recruiter said I cannot take the paperwork out of his office for fear of me using it as a bargaining tool with my current employee. I think I would like to fight this one to the death on principle: I hate recruiters, and I won't accept me signing a binding legal contract without me enjoying my full rights.
This puts recruiters right there on my most beloved list with real estate agents and insurance agents.
Still, good news.

I am a rock, I am an island

With my review of Munich drawing some attention, I thought I should re-publish my War of the Worlds review (which was written in that dark pre-blog era). I guess what I’m trying to say at the end of my Munich review is that Spielberg is not interested in Israel’s conflicts as much as he is interested in telling us that he thinks the way the USA is handling its dispute with “world terror” is not exactly to his liking.
Anyway, enjoy:

I don't remember the last time I reviewed a film, but I can't let War of the Worlds just pass by: It's the first science fiction book I've ever read back at 4th grade, and I still remember Tirtsa (the primary school librarian) telling me I shouldn't borrow it because it's an adults' book and I wouldn't understand it. Plus the fact that at least in Australia reviewers were prevented from publishing their reviews until the film goes out, so I stand a chance of being the first to hit the press.
So what's new in the familiar story of aliens invading 19th century England? Not much other than the move to 21st century New York and the transition between Richard Burton to Tom Cruise. Tim Robbins also does a very good short round in what turns out to be a surprisingly loyal adaptation of the original book. It's a very intense, definitely not for kids realistic telling of the crumbling of society in the face of a force-majour (excuse spelling).
Still, watching the film, one can't escape thinking of many loopholes in the new version. Without giving away too much, the aliens' background story seems to have more loopholes in it than your average Bible story; one needs a lot of faith to accept it. And then there's the fighting between humans and aliens: A Shin Gimel could have come up with better tactics than what the American Army came up with.
However, it doesn't take too long into the film to realize that the film has nothing to do with an alien invasion of the earth; Spielberg is only interested in that as I am interested in Australian Rules Football (that is, mildly interested, but in general couldn't care less). The film is one big metaphor for the USA in the post September 11 era, and that's pretty much the only thing that matters. There are so many clues thrown about it is not funny, and eventually you realize this film is just one big road trip from New York to Boston. Spielberg wants to take America back to where it was before those planes took off and make it focus on the important things in life. And that is why I am willing to forgive him for taking us from old London to contemporary New York.
Which leaves me with pretty much one complaint about this very fine film: The ending sucks.

Written on 3/7/2005

Monday, 6 February 2006

Revolution 9

Last week I noticed that Fintrack's offices on South Road were closed, and that the sign on the window said "For Lease".
Fintrack is one of those finance companies that doesn't really do any financing but just acts as a middleman. Say, you want to buy a house and you need a loan (which pretty much applies to everyone I know), you go to one of the Fintrack like places and there they're supposed to find the "loan that's most suitable to you" out of all the different banks and financial institutions they're in touch with, thus saving you the trouble of having to drag your feet to several places and also allowing you to choose from more products than you'd ever go to if you were just hunting on your own.
While there are many such companies that I tend to regard with more than a bit of contempt as some type of a leech, I knew Fintrack in particular because a while ago I spent a couple of days there through work (they were a prospect). It was just at the time when Jo & I bought the house we're living in now, so they actually gave me some general advice although we ended up taking a home loan directly with our bank (which, in retrospect, their senior consultant said was the best thing to do).
As the years passed by (we're only talking two years here), Australia's housing market has cooled down by more than a bit. With their closed down offices I was therefore suspecting that with all the competition and the banks trying to get their clients directly as opposed to using the services of such agents, Fintrack could have stumbled on some hard times and went belly up.
So I checked their website, wondering if it's still there, and lo and behold: Not only are they alive and kicking, but they also moved from their humble Moorabbin residence to a shiny address in Brighton (translation to non Melbournians: Brighton = rich), opened up a new branch in Sydney, and to top it up opened up a new branch in Brisbane. Things are going well in the loan sharking business.

So far for the story and now for the analysis.
Fintrack is a company that makes all of its revenues through the commission it gets from the true lender of the money (e.g., a bank) for bringing forward a client that chose to borrow money from that particular financial institution.
For them to be so successful, they have to be getting lots of commission, especially at a time in which the market is stumbling a bit.
For the banks to give them so much money, they have to be making bucket loads through all the people like you and me that borrow money from them. No one can ever suspect for acting out of any mysterious philanthropic motives.
And the question that I'm asking is: Where do all the huge profits that the banks make go? Who is getting that money?
The answer is a bit complicated and I won't go there. What I will do is make a bit of an assumption with which I'm sure most people will agree: Those profits end up being distributed inside a very thin slice of society. The upper echelons. Not where people like you, who read this blog to pass some time at the office, belong.
And what is the result of this trend, where mere mortals such as you and I work our guts off to be able to pay our mortgages, while this very thin upper echelon gets all of our money for not doing much other than having lots of money to begin with? Simple: The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer.
This trend seems to happen everywhere I go. Everyone knows that this is the way things are in the USA; yearly reports in Israel keep on saying that the gaps between the rich and the poor keep on widening with more and more people belonging to the poor side; and now, in Australia, the gap is also widening, aided by a government that represents the rich to begin with.
Call me one of the Marx brothers, but I do not think this trend is a healthy one. I do not think that society as we know it will be able to live with such a trend over too long a period of time, too. It's just that in my view, uncontrolled capitalism is not the way to go: It has environmental effects which we will need to face, sooner or later, and it has the social effect I was just blubbering on.
Do I have an answer for all of the world's problems? No, but my impression is that the Scandinavian model, involving much higher taxes and many more social benefits, is the best way to run things - at least as far as I am aware of. True, it lacks the motivating effect on people to go out and do more, as the margins are going to be taxed like hell, but let's face it: They truly seem to be successful and they do seem to be producing the best education.
Or if we look at it using examples, as lacking as they might be: We've all heard of Nokia and Ericsson; can anyone come up with a matching innovative product from Australia? Nope, here we're just busy building houses and getting the right home loans.