Friday, 31 March 2006

And then there were three [weeks]

The first document I mass distributed within internal clients at work this week, a two page document, had two very stupid grammar errors in it.
While one of them was caused by the fact the document was on a network drive and others were playing with it, the other one was truly my fault; and besides, it doesn't change the fact that I'm the one associated with the document.
It pisses me off, because with my un-Australian accent I'm exactly the type that would cause people to question my ability to write in the first place, so such mistakes can have quite an impact, especially as it's all still very much a first impression thing.
I noticed this problem of mine many a time, especially when I read what I typed into this very blog: When I proof read my shit, I tend to read what I would like to read and not what is actually written; which sort of makes proof reading a bit of a problematic task.
Bottom line is that it annoys me. If with the Salvos such mistakes would just make people laugh, now I'm still at a point where everything I do is questioned.

On the positive side, today I witnessed the first eBay purchase made at our office following my eBay demo. Which shows that I can be effective in certain things... It doesn't stop there: The guy I sent to MSY to buy a printer went there again to buy another one for his son because it was just so cheap.

To summarize work so far, I have to say that this week I realized that I'm enjoying it. Lots of variety which helps at keeping me awake.
However, there are strange side effects: The type of work - lots of "small" projects to share the load - means that there are hardly any dead moments in between, unlike working on one big project that has its ups and downs. Add travel time to the equation, and the result is one very tired person.

Thursday, 30 March 2006

A picture is worth a lot of money

Since I find myself under constant questioning lately by everyone whose half sister on some remote planet in a galaxy far far away and is thinking about maybe buying a new TV, I thought I'd share with you some of the highlights of "Moshe's abridged guide to moving imagery at home".
Hope you'll find it interesting.
Before we start I'll just remind you of the task at hand when choosing your new TV: You want the picture to look as real as possible and the size to be as impressive as possible (which usually means as big as possible, although with today's projectors you can easily go over the top).
This point is important to emphasize, since most people seem to just want the brightest picture out there, and bright does not necessarily mean good. In fact, in most cases it means the other way around.
The sad reality is that TV manufacturers set their sets to be on the brighter side of things because they know it's the brighter set that would attract the eye of the viewer at the shop floor, just like it would be the louder speakers that would attract the ears of the listener. That is why speaker testing/comparison should be done at equal sound levels, and that is why monitor comparison should be done on calibrated sets (calibrated to follow the proper standards - yes, there is such a thing).
Alas, such calibration is something one can never get. By now I know that I can listen my way through the good audio and the bad one, but I cannot say the same about video (if only because I haven't done it much). Which means that most of what I know about monitors comes from reading, which in actual fact is not that different a situation to the audio scene.
Another similarity between audio and video is the total lack of reliability of the manufacturers published specifications for their monitors. Anything that cannot be easily measured (e.g., resolution) is usually just a figment of the imagination (or something the manufacturer went out of its way to come up with). For example, most monitors will specify a contrast ratio of 1:2000 or something similar; reality will show that it's more like 1:100 - 1:200, and the simple reason for that is that the manufacturer measures the difference between an all black picture and an all white picture while for us what really matters is the difference between the white and the black in the same picture. And then there's the issue of "what's contrast in the first place", and believe it or not, there is a lot of inconsistency here, too.

Intros aside, let's have a brief look at the projection technologies one can put a hand on at the moment:
1. CRT: The old cathode ray is still the one to beat when it comes to picture quality. However, given it needs a vacuum tube to run, it is impractical to have sets bigger than 36". CRT projectors also provide awesome quality, but their light output deteriorates quickly and you simply must watch them in an absolutely dark room. Both factors - size and lack of brightness - mean that CRT technology is doomed to serve as high quality, small size TVs for the spare room.
2. LCD: I'm sure you know how this one works - a light source from behind the monitor passes through a green layer, a red layer, and a blue layer, all of which determine the final color you see. Its biggest disadvantage is that blacks are not real blacks - they are not "zero light", but rather light that passes through all three filters. As a result you get washed out blacks and low contrast levels.
3. Plasma: Plasmas are made of small pixels of gas which generate light when excited by electricity. One excited pixel becomes red, the other green, etc. Due to the gas getting tired with time you get side effects such picture burn if you play the same frame for a long time and a general deterioration after a long while; however, those are really very long term effects.
4. DLP: A personal favorite. A lamp lights a rotating prism which passes only blue light one fraction of a second, then green light, and then red light on to a chip that contains lots and lots of quickly revolving mirrors; if the mirror is open, the light passes, and if it's closed, it's a black dot. Over a few such revolutions you get a nice picture thrown on the wall.
5. LCOS: Short for Liquid Crystal on Silicone, this is a similar concept to LCD only that it happens on a chip. Because the chip is enclosed, blacks are way better; and because of that, this technology is considered the most promising - potentially, better than CRT.

Now the question that most people ask is: Should I get plasma? LCD?
The answer is that it doesn't matter which technology you get as long as the picture is good. That said, each technology has its characteristics; I'm not talking about "brightness" and "contrast", I'm talking things like gamma behavior (how colors change with the change of the input signal) and gray scale tracking (how the b/w content of the picture is managed). There's more to it, but the point is that there are things we layman were never told at the department store where no one knows anything about TVs in the first place.
Personally, I don't like plasmas' character - doesn't seem real. That said, there are good ones out there. I don't like LCDs much because of their washed blacks, but that said, there are good ones out there. I've never seen LCOS yet, which leaves DLP as my prime time favorite for a bug picture; but here, too, one can easily fall with the more inferior specimen.

Next time: direct view vs. projection, interlacing vs. progressive, and high definition resolutions.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Tror vs. Tror

Just a short round today, as most of the evening was spent watching Arsenal's Champions League match against Juventus, as with the new job I can't just stay at home and watch the morning live broadcast till 9:00 and then leave for work and be there by 9:10.
So I had to watch it "dead" on video, and you know that when you watch a dead game you can't really tell the players what to do.
In this particular case it seems the players actually knew what to do (other than for the match's very beginning), but still - I can't predict a bright future for Arsenal. And frankly, I don't really care.

What I did want to discuss is some interesting observation from work. There were several sightings, but I'll stick to two:
1. I ask my new boss where he lives while having a chit chat over a few drinks and nibbles on Friday afternoon. This guy, who so far gave me no reason to believe he is anything but the very nice guy he seems to be (note I am not licking anything here: he doesn't read my blog), answers back with quite a serious expression on his face (and remember, Australians are not into sarcasm): "Why, are you a terrorist?"
2. Four people, me included, sit in a meeting room on the 24th floor, with Melbourne's view to our side. Suddenly I see an Australian flag going up, seemingly levitating on its own. I bend down to see what's going on and see a construction crane (one of those things they put on top of construction sites) pulling the flag up. Anyway, one of the women at the meeting asks me: "What's going on? Do you see a plane about to crash into our building?"

Both cases should probably not be taken overly seriously. However, these incidents and others that still take place show that Australians are genuinely afraid of terrorism. Maybe it's because of me and the fact that I'm the closest thing to a terrorist they'll ever come near to because I'm from Israel, but still I find the phenomenon quite puzzling given the "abundance" of terrorism in Australian soil.
In the couple of years before leaving Israel I openly admit to have been scared. I still don't see myself going on a bus while visiting Israel. But Australia, for obvious reasons, is quite different; and the fact that Australians seem to be genuinely worried of terrorism is something I can only interpret as a success story for a government that has managed to take control of its people so extensively that it manages to convince them that a threat which is quite slight when compared to stuff we all agree to live with on a regular basis - say, traffic accidents - is a major existential threat.
No wonder they can get away with so much.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Piece of sheet

Here's something to offend those that I haven't managed to offend so far.
Back in my army days, during the days of the first Intifadah, we'd drive around the West Bank with Palestinian flags on top of every poll and wire; Israeli troops would get the locals to take them off, but come the next morning they'll be up there again. The flag was one of the Arab's main symbols back then, but it became so mostly because of the Israeli reaction to it, without which it would have been a useless piece of sheet hung dangerously off power lines.
Fifteen years go by, another flag vision comes in. With the now over Commonwealth Games, I got to see people wearing the Australian flag (yes, wearing it) for the first time. I mean, I saw it before on TV: First it was Layton Hewitt, that prime time example of respect and gamesmanship; then on the people rioting in Sydney to keep Australia for Australians (actually, not for genuine Australians, but for those who migrated to Australia from white Europe).
In all occasions it made me think what the flag means, and in all occasions the answer was the same: Not much, really.
A flag is a flag: A symbol, but nothing more than that. If people wish to see something special in symbols, good for them; if people like to die for the flag, good on them too; I prefer to see the things that the symbol is supposed to symbolize: values, people... These are the things that are worth fighting for.
But as it is, people tend to associate this halo to the flag as if it is the flag that is the essence of things as opposed to the things it's supposed to symbolize. In doing so, these people forget what their values really are, but sadly that's often the intention: there's nothing easier for our beloved leaders to do in order to divert the public's attention from their shortcomings than to stir some patriotism. And yes, I'm saying Howard's to blame for the Sydney riots: It starts with laws forcing schools to put a flag poll in every school otherwise they won't get a budget, and it moves on to racial riots; in the process we forget that the really important thing is the quality of education out children get.
I think that things other than people are worth just what they are made off: A flag is just a flag. It's a piece of sheet.

Another government first

Today I showed the nice people of Victorian government the magical entity called eBay.

Monday, 27 March 2006

"F*ck off, we're full"

Yesterday, on the drive back from Turkey, we were overtaken by a pickup van featuring a rather unique sticker. It had the map of Australia, and the text said "fuck off, we're full". Lovely.
Thing is, as unique as this expression of xenophobia might be (and I've never seen this sticker before), if definitely expresses the thought of the majority of Australians. At least those that voted for Howard with his ongoing policy of "we control how people get in here", or to put it another way, "we're racists and we don't like people that look too different to us". Or those that are in favor of those concentration like camps known as detention camps where illegal immigrants are stashed out of sight without any trial, some times for many years.
Minor facts such as the fact pretty much everyone here who is not an aboriginee is an immigrant does not really matter; those who are xenophobic are also ignorant enough to acknowledge the fact.
Even some of the people I call friends can exhibit such tendencies when pushed (and one does not need to push very hard). Which makes you think how much of a friendship this could end up as. It usually just ends there.
What I find funniest is that those ignorant people fail to realize that immigration is one major reason why the people living in Australia are quite well off. Take Jo & I, for example: We are not exactly what you would call leeches sucking the bloods of Australian tax payers - we actually pay quite a lot of it. We're productive and we help the country's markets expand.
Thing is, we weren't born productive; the knowledge that made us what we are was financed by the British and Israeli tax payer. Australia got its free lunch but it's still unhappy.
We brought our savings here, too, and bought a house and spent lots of money settling down here. Australia needs a major load of tourists to get so much foreign currency in here.
Anyway, the bottom line is that there's a lot of shit in Australia, despite the lovely and innocent image people tend to have of it.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

There's no fate but the one we make for ourselves

A short note to those of has who recently paid a visit to a fortune teller:

  1. In general, I tend to lose all respect I might have towards people when I learn they actually put their trust in such charlatans.
  2. Haven't you seen Minority Report? Don't you know that knowing what the future holds for you can be dangerous?

I'm waiting for the day someone would come and tell me the winning [future] lottery numbers. Till then, the only fortune telling I am willing to accept comes from the weatherman.

As energetic as roadkill

If one thing is clear at the end of my second weekend at my new job it's that come weekend time I'm tired and can't be bothered to do much.
Hopefully I will tell you of Saturday's adventures some other time, but today we set the Canyonero on cruise control to take us to Torquay (pronounced Tore-key, but I just call it Turkey). It's the first place on the Great Ocean Road, about an hour and a half drive from Melbourne, and it's famous for its surfing activities.
Last time we were there we were with Jo's sister, who reluctantly joined us on this trip along the Great Ocean Road that meant she couldn't just sleep all day. For me, however, it was the best part of her visit, and I sort of assume that with time she thought of it this way as well (or at least I hope so, because I don't want to do nothing when we visit her come Xmess).
Anyway, Jo and I sat roughly at the same place as we did a year and a half ago and had ourselves a picnic like we did a year and a half ago (check the few photos I've uploaded to Flickr with the link to the right).
It's amazing how tired some slight exposure to the sun can make you, because we became tired all of a sudden. We had a bit of a stroll on the beach (nice and clean sand, freezing water), and then we headed to the factory outlets of Quiksilver and RipCurl - their headquarters are based in Turkey, although the concept of a "factory outlet" is a bit stupid when it's all made in China anyway. They have nice stuff there, but the prices were not nice at all; it's interesting how the first time I visited those shops, back in 2001 when I was but a tourist but with double the salary I have now and zero commitments I bought loads of stuff there.
We came back home full of energy and excitement for yet another week at the office!

Antisemitism

No, I'm not about to complain about anti-semitism in Australia. I am about to announce that I'm turning into an anti-semite.
I've stopped counting the number of times when people at my new work start talking to me about Jewish stuff.
The peak was some time last week, while I was eating some leftover lasagna (home made by Jo) at the office's kitchen (magnificent views to the east from the 27th floor). I was minding my own business reading the news section of the last Scientific American when I was suddenly under attack by a "fellow" Jew:

  • Is that lunch you're eating Kosher? No, it had a nice mixture of meat and cheese.
  • Do you look after Kosher-ness? No, I don't think highly of such rules.
  • Do you follow Kosheer-ness during Passover? No, I see no reason to change my habits for any particular week, and I don't think highly of eating bricks.
  • What are you doing during Passover? Nothing special.
  • Where are your parents from?

And so on and so on; the main motif is that everyone just assumes that because my name is "Moshe" I'm Jewish (does everyone whose name is "John" the Pope?). And it seems as though Jews who are not Israelis have this need to feel as if they're all team members with other Jews the way, say, Liverpool fans have this team camaraderie thing.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't get it. Want to feel like a Jew? Want to live like a Jew? Then fucking go and live in Israel, stop farting about. Want to live where you currently are? Fine, but shut the fucking up and leave me alone!

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Reruns

As I finished reading Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, I was wondering whether the Volante people who forked their money to get me the Borders book vouchers would be annoyed with the fact many of the books I ended up getting were books that I've already read.
The thought must have come about because Speaker is a book I was reading for the first time, yet it's considered a classic, and it's also quite a good book; so why waste time and money on familiar pastures when there's so much more around?
Well, I did like Speaker; it's a highly irregular science fiction novel in that it is mostly about people and what is going on in the depths of their souls rather than about killing evil aliens - the way science fiction is normally portrayed. I have my reservations about it: the speaker claims to say the "truth" about the dead while I believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder. You can get the jest of my complaints by that example; just petty stuff. Nothing that should stop me from exploring new books.
If there's anyone to blame for making me look back, book wise, it's Mr Roger Zelazny. I consider his Amber books (I'm talking about the first five; the latter five I simply don't consider) to be the best "book" I've ever read. I read them three times: First in 6th grade or so, then during 11th grade or so, and the last time was the [northern hemisphere] summer of 2001.
Thing is, each time I read the books they felt different. The first time around it was an adventure story with sword fighting and magic; the second time around it was a more mature story about a character evolving; but the third time it was a highly philosophical discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed and which gave it the title I gave it. Point is, each time I read it I saw different things in it and actually got to enjoy it more, as opposed to the more expected feeling of "been there done that".
When I was in 4th grade and I borrowed my very first science fiction book, War of the Worlds, from the school library, the librarian - Tirtsa - told me this book is not for me. She said science fiction is for adults and that I won't understand it. Being the rebel that I am I still borrowed it, and I didn't know what the fuck she was talking about - it was a great adventure story.
But in retrospect she was right - I was not able to fully understand it, just as I was not able to see the great philosophical debates taking place in Amber the first time I read those. Question is, does it really matter? I'm sure that if I was a wiser man than I am now, I would have been able to derive even greater satisfaction from the books I'm reading. But does this mean I should just give up reading because I cannot fully fathom the books that I read?
Well, I say: Fuck Tirtsa! (Given her age and the fact this was 25 years ago, she's probably dead by now)
Reading War of the Worlds has opened a great new world for me; I never looked back. No one should be deprived of that! But still, it's nice to go back to old favorites and see how much I have changed through the years, because what you get out of books shows more about you than it does on the books themselves.
Bring on Asimov's Meaarot HaPlada - Caves of Steel!

I've already read the first two pages of Caves of Steel, and I noticed how much there is to notice in there that I probably didn't notice before. Things like a cop complaining that a robot has replaced a human co-worker (brings back industrial relations thoughts), or things like a robot keeping on nagging a person with reminders because he wasn't told what to do after he issues the reminders.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Why isn't every day casual Friday?

I'm still talking about the same thing I was talking about in my previous blogentry: suits and jackets.
Today was casual Friday, and everyone wore "casual" clothes. Not the cargo pants / t-shirt combination I long for (although I did do that on casual Fridays at my previous job), but rather what people would normally wear for an office job in Israel.
And my question is: Why shouldn't every day be a casual Friday day? What is the point of them suits and jackets?
It's not like we're meeting people from the outside to conduct serious business with; some of us do, the vast majority don't (especially since I'm on the 27th floor).
It's totally, but totally, pointless.
Yet the locals will still go about their ways, even after I ask them this question. They're stuck. It's just like them sticking to that stupid queen of theirs, I guess.

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Cloak of Anarchy

I know: I'm repeating myself yet again.
But still, I cannot fathom the love affair Australians have with the suit and the tie.
It defies logic. Especially during warm summer.
So for my first day at the new job I wore a suit and the mandatory neck breaker, also known as a tie. I was a man with a mission; my mission was to observe the dressing habits of the common male employee to see how low I can comfortably go.
The analysis identified three groups: Those wearing suits, who are roughly a half of the people (probably a bit less); those wearing just a business shirt and a neck breaker, roughly 40%; and those wearing just a business shirt and wooly pants, about 1 in 10 or so.
The weirdest thing, though, is that the people wearing suits were not really wearing them; the jacket was taken off quite quickly after entering the office, so that no one really wears a suit in the office. It's just something they wear on the way to and from work, but not during work.
And that drives me crazy: Why the hell would one do that? No one cares what you wear when you enter the office; a lot of people ride bicycles to work so they're all sweaty when they enter. It's not the temperature, because it's still relatively warm. Besides, even during the cold season, a suit's jacket doesn't really warm you up. Could it be that these people are in love with their dry cleaners? I don't know.
It is therefore my suspicion that these people wear suits because they like it. And the only reason why one could really like wearing a suit is that it makes him feel better; which means that I'm surrounded by naked kings who think that by wearing these suits they become superior; or, to put it another way, I'm surrounded by people with some very complicated complications about their status in society.
It's quite scary, if you ask me, that people need to wear cloaking devices to feel good. Yes, people do it all the time by wearing fashionable clothes, but it's different: You wear fashionable clothes to be attractive and feel good about yourself; you wear a suit to feel good about yourself by feeling superior.
Anyway, on the third day I gave up the suit for the neck breaker / semi wooly pants combination. I think I'll stick with the ties for a long while, until my status is established. Sad reality, but I can't afford not wearing one, at least not in the near future. I'm comforting myself with the fact that they're not that bad, and their color does spice up the otherwise boring uniform like attire worn by office people in Australia. As for the wooly pants, they're not that bad in Australia winter because they're quite warm yet light in weight (in summer, though, they're quite a pain); the ones I wear are semi wooly, which means I can wash them at home on the "wool" cycle without having to fork out loads at the dry cleaners (and without having to drug myself with them to the dry cleaners in the first place).
No, if it was up to me, I'd be wearing cargo pants and t-shirts to work. Just like I very often did in Tecnomatix. You know what, I'd settle on polo shirts, just to be on the polite side.

There's more to this horror story, though. I know of at least two people with whom I've discussed the issue, people I respect, who say they actually prefer business clothing because it means they don't need to think what they need to wear in the morning: Just slip on the uniform, mind shut, and go to work.
What do I think of that? Simple - send them to the fucking army for four years. Let's see what they think of standard regulation wear after that.


P.S.
Larry Niven's short story, Cloak of Anarchy, was read simultaneously by Jo & I on the train. We both didn't think too highly of it; I mainly think that this story, which supposedly discusses anarchism, is overly simplistic and way too biased towards our current ways. It came down to yet another story on how people can really be mean to one another when authority is shuttered. Which doesn't really follow Wikipedia's definition for anarchism, which states something like "a society where people help one another out of good will". Not that I'm saying that's feasible, though.

And another comment added on 24/3/06: In case you don't know what the fuss about Larry Niven's "Cloak of Anarchy" is all about, have a look at the feedbacks for my "I wanna be an anarchist" blogentry back from 13/3/06.

Flights of the Phoenix

Well, I don't know if we'd feel like a phoenix rising from the ashes after this upcoming Eurotrip round. As I said before, I estimate I'll have a severe cold and that I'll be horizontal with it for at least a week of this trip; and as I said before, family visits are not really holidays.
But anyway, here are the flights we've booked. Please appreciate them - they were fucking expensive:

QF029 TUE 19 DECMELBOURNE to HONG KONG23590550





Arrives 1 day later.


BA032 FRI 22 DECHONG KONG to LONDON (HEATHROW)23450500





Arrives 1 day later.


BA1384SAT 23 DECLONDON (HEATHROW) to MANCHESTER07450845






SURFACE



QF010 SUN 14 JANLONDON (HEATHROW) to SINGAPORE22001835





Arrives 1 day later.


QF010 WED 17 JANSINGAPORE to MELBOURNE20150620





Arrives 1 day later.


And I don't know if I said it before but I'm sort of pessimistic about enjoying Hong Kong and/or Singapore; Hong Kong will be hard to enjoy, coming from Melbourne.
We haven't booked the flights to Israel yet; the deal with this deal of ours is that those flights cannot be changed once booked, so we're in a bit of a dilemma: On one hand we want to secure the price (not that it's worth securing in particular) and want to ensure the dates we want - 4/1/2007 to 14/1/2007, which would mean two Israeli weekends - on the other hand we don't want to commit to a date so far in advance (the rest of the deal is changeable for an acceptable fee).
One thing is certain: I will not want to fly to Europe this time of the year again. It's the European cold that dictates us visiting the Far Easters Hong Kong and Singapore instead of other European places or American ones, and it's the holiday season that dictates horrific prices. Next family Xmess should be celebrated here, where it would actually be nice to celebrate.
Now that I've moaned, I have to say that I am looking forward to spending some quality time with the family (and hopefully with friends, too), which is what this trip is all about and why we wanted the holiday season in the first place. I hope we'll be kept busy doing quality stuff, though, instead of quality sitting in front of the TV and getting bored shitless (a clear in present danger on both sides of the family).
So if you read this (I know you don't) - think of something interesting to do. Please!

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

And all the tall short people

As I continue getting to know my new job, I'm getting to like it more.
There's a lot of diversity in there. You get to meet all sorts of people: Serious, not so serious, those that smile back at you, those that smile back at you but obviously want to stab you in the back and in general look at you in contempt as just another paper shuffler... All of them.
It is interesting to note, though, how every one of those types changes once they walk out into the busy city street. Immediately they turn into fighters: A totally serious expression on the face, a quick paced march towards their destination without paying much attention to anything that happens just a couple of centimeters to their side. It's scary until you realize you're the same: you have limited time to walk around during your breaks, so you go for your goal (usually a certain predetermined food court of your choice) with full intent and purpose. It's probably the same form people take when they drive, only in here you actually get to see their faces while they're at it (and mind you, driving here is significantly less confronting than in take-no-prisoners Israel).
So while I still get the daily joke - for example, an daily IT news bulletin was blocked from my email today due to profanities - it had an article on the Labor party wishing to force ISPs to block porn - I do get to mix and mangle with people from various departments and the variety is interesting. As always, you get people who want to do good stuff and have the best of intentions, but for some very elusive reason they go about it in very awkward ways and need someone to come to their rescue. Well, at least I can make a living out of it. And better yet, so far I'm enjoying it; I know it's just the beginning, but it's good to have such a start instead of a miserable one.
That said, so far I did get to start on a few projects that on paper seem interesting (although they all end up talking about modifications to shit Lotus Notes applications), I have no idea yet how stuff actually gets to be done here; with all the talk, I wonder if things get down or whether people settle for the talk.
But between the interesting variety and the totally redundant yet unavoidable anxiety associated with starting a new job, I can see myself staying there a while. I just need to find a way to get myself up to date; a ray of hope was detected yesterday upon finding a [fellow?] renegade that actually downloads applications from the internet. Who knows, maybe in a few years we'll upgrade to Outlook 97.

Tuesday, 21 March 2006

People in the city

I don't have much time to write something elaborate today - it's late and I have to get up early to catch an early train because they close Beach Road for the Commonwealth fucking Games and the train station's parking lot is sealed and if I want parking I need to be early.
Today was the first time I utilized the fact I'm in the city and I have a comfortable job to meet some city placed friends. I met a friend for coffee at 10:00 in the Australian Reserve Bank's building; it was expensive coffee ($3.30) and I'm not much of a coffee fan to begin with, but it was nice to meet her after more than a year. And then I met my brother near the Sensis building for lunch, and we had a burger at the new burger boutique chain that seems to do so well lately; I had an Indian chicka-ticka burger in a wholemeal bun, but it was the chips that really caught my stomach - they have this glossy layer over them that gives them an edge (at a time in which I generally try to refrain from eating chips). Take a tip from me, though: Go for the beef burgers, they cook them all the time, and if you order chicken you have to wait and wait (and wait).

But the true story I wanted to tell is that I actually got to have a face to face with two infamous Australian personas today.
During the coffee break, and while sipping my cappuchoino, Mr Kevin Andrews passed by. To those who don't know, he is the federal minister for employment, and by now you must know that he is a total asshole because he's behind the evil industrial relations legislations (although he's just Howard's squire in the grand scheme of things). I pointed at him and uttered something unflattering and he saw me - I'm happy to have that Israeli edge. I have to say I am curious that he walks the streets on his own - that man deserves a good beating, and someone would eventually step up to the task, I'm sure.
And if you think I'm being particularly evil consider this: Mr Andrews has now allowed himself to overrule any paragraph in any of the employment contracts signed in Australia. Many a dictator didn't even think of that!

The next Australian Idol was Mr Solomon Trujillo, Telstra's CEO. He is famous to walk the streets of Melbourne, so it's not as big an achievement, but he just an asshole too: Since being appointed all he does is fuss a lot, fire thousands of employees, defer lots of IT and call center jobs to overseas in the name of increasing share value (yet the majority of the shares are owned by the Australian people - the same people he fires), appoint his friends to key positions, and make every company working with Telstra (i.e. most companies) unsure about its future because he keeps changing his mind about Telstra's commitments.

Two lovely examples of the worst that capitalism has to offer.

Monday, 20 March 2006

Today's joke

I was told that we are about to have our desktops replaced.
The new ones will feature a whopping 512mb of RAM!
That must be what Buzz Lightyear meant when he said "to infinity and beyond".

Money killed the radio star

On Saturday night we played this "identify the song/band by the 80's video" board game (which comes with its own DVD). We've had fun, and the combination of Jo (who knew most of the trash songs) and me (who knew most of the quality music) turned out to be quite powerful: together we knew most of the game's videos.
It made me think about the "why", because it seems that this familiarity with the songs that I thought everyone has is not so common. Obviously, tastes vary, but you can just as easily say that about me: I actually don't like the mainstream 80's, musically speaking; I like the more alternative stuff (The The, for example), but in general I'm more of a 70's person, a niche my brother pushed me to when we shared a room and I was forced to memorize the names of Led Zeppelin's band members.
I think the main reason for my familiarity is radio. Israeli radio stations provide something that is absent from Australian radios: Variety. Like it or not, most Israeli radio stations broadcast quite a wide range of music, so you not only end up listening to the cool stuff you actually like, but you also get to know pop trash and Israeli music, too.
Australian radio is different: For example, my favorite station (triple J) broadcasts new alternative music - and that's all. You would be hard pressed to hear anything made in the 20th century. Another station I listen to from time to time, triple M, broadcasts more mainstream music on the rockier side of things, and they do go back in time once in a while, but still - they have their niche and they wouldn't stray from it; listen for a few hours, and you'll notice that you hear the same music all the time. Yet another station, Gold 104 (my favorite when I have a shower) plays old music and that's it: 60's to 80's, ce tu. And although they have a huge potential for variety, they are still stuck with the same songs all the time; the hardest they go is Stairway to Heaven, and alternative music is noted for its absence.
The result is obvious: You are not exposed to music that you don't really know or like beforehand; the chances of your taste in music changing are rather slim, unless you get tired and move to another stream altogether; and you lose the opportunity to evolve in your music listening. Just like my complaints about lack of web access at work, you will probably say I'm complaining about nothing; but as someone to whom music is very important, I find this a major disadvantage of commercial radio. And the word "commercial" is the key here: The fact that it's all about money and ratings ruin the overall musical experience, whereas in Israel most stations are government operated in one form or another.
So radio was one source of music familiarity; the second is MTV. In Israel I was constantly exposed to MTV since early high school when my parents got cable; in Australia cable is very expensive and often hard to get, and to be frank it's totally worthless content wise (football excepted). As far as I can tell, it doesn't even have MTV to begin with (there's VH something and other shit, but not the genuine MTV).
Personal circumstances mean that I'm even worse off now. The move from car to train means that I'm no longer exposed to the radio the way I was before: whereas my old job meant I was to listen to the car radio for at least half an hour a day, now it's nothing. The PDA I use to listen to music on the train does not have a radio receiver, and with the discovery of audio books there's little reason for me to fork out a pile of money for an MP3 player that features FM because I'm still on chapter 9 out of 45 from my first audio book; player capacity is not an issue, and stupidly high prices mean I won't buy an MP3 player just for the sake of it. Cost aside, listening to music in the city's streets is not a nice experience: high noise levels mean you need a high volume, and I don't like listening to high volumed music with headphones; I'm limited to listening on the train.

I'm musically dead.

Sunday, 19 March 2006

The Violence of Truth

Warning: The following will ruin David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" for you.

I remember this ex-journalist being interviewed on an Israeli talk show for the release of his then new book some 15 years or so ago. The guy was asked by the interviewer, a famous Israeli actress whose name I seem to have managed to forget despite the fact she was then in almost everything made in Israel, for the reasons of his retirement from his career as a supposedly famous and influential journalist.
The guy said that two incidents that he found out about shook his belief in what news is all about. I only remember one of the two examples he gave: He said that some 10 years after Israel's 1973 Yom Kippur war, in which Israel was very close to losing to Egypt's and Syria's armies with record numbers of casualties and probably nuclear weapons being armed and the first global oil crisis being triggered, he had learnt that the King of Jordan had personally met the then Prime Minister of Israel to warn her in person that Israel is going to be taken by a surprise attack. Well, he hoped to break the surprise factor.
He didn't: He was dismissed as unreliable by Israel's Prime Minister. A week later, to everyone's so called surprise, Israel was attacked and tens of thousands lost their lives.
The ex-journalist said that he just couldn't accept the fact that this bit of information, which could have saved the lives of some of his friends that died in this war, was not known to the press; he discovered it by chance a long time after the war was over, and it made him conclude that most of our world's journalism work was a rather useless affair as the information that is really important is quite often left unfound or unpublished. Whatever's really worth uncovering is not always exposed, thus affecting and twisting our perceptions of what history was really like.

David Cronenber's latest film, A History of Violence, deals with this issue of keeping the truth unexposed. But it goes even further: It claims that even after we have the truth exposed, most of us just choose to ignore it and remember or focus only the bits that flatter us, forgetting all about the bad stuff.
Vigo Mortensen plays a guy who is, by all means, the fulfillment of the American Dream. A hard working man with a loving wife, a son, a daughter, and a truck (the essential dog is missing from the equation; I wonder if that's on purpose).
However, we slowly learn that there's more to Vigo than meets the eye: He seems to be really good at killing people, a talent that is slowly but surely exposed by the film.
Yet, despite being an obvious out-and-out criminal of the very harshest degree, his family and his small time friends are willing to utterly forget all of that and remember him just for what they like to remember: that until he was exposed he was just another member of society they could interact with. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that he could be a bad person because they don't want to shatter their perception of life being a good [American] dream.
In typical Cronenberg fashion, the director keeps on challenging us to say whether we are any better than Vigo Mortensen's friends and family. The film has some very graphic violent shots and some very explicit sexual content that we are not used to seeing in the cinema, and which made the entire cinema's audience uncomfortable; but that's the danger of truth, most of the time it is rather uncomfortable to digest. It is us that choose to ignore its violent edge and remember its nicer aspects.
While Cronenberg is obviously aiming his film at Americans, I believe his statement to be valid for everyone: Israelis, Australians, and all the rest. Whether it's the USA's shoddy dealings with Saddam Hussein, Israel's handling of Palestinians, or Australia's handling of the AWB incident or its handling of refugees, the truth is out in the open for us to ponder. But we choose to ignore it.

What can I say? A History of Violence is an excellent, thought provoking film. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Prognosis: Negative

Warning: I will be recycling some old material in this one.

I already told you how web email services are being blocked at my new work. Thing is, things don't stop there: First, you are not allowed to download any applications.
Second, they have this "protection" thing to protect the innocents amongst us. Emails are filtered to block emails containing obscenities often used in this very blog, such as fuck and shit. There is a story going on about an inspector whose email about a problematic cockpipe was never delivered because if contained the word "cock". Attachments are filtered, too, and thus providing the grounds for another story where a photo of a hill that had two peaks and had a color tone similar to human skin was blocked, too. To me this reminds me of Beavis & Butt-Head with their "he said cock" humor; it's just sad that this happens at work.
Third, all the websites you surf are filtered. I surfed to Haaretz, my favorite Israeli newspaper, only to witness how all the photos were filtered out, leaving me with nothing but the headlines. And the ads. And the popup ads.
Which is exactly why I think this entire exercise is futile, stupid, and counter productive: Firefox would have easily dealt with the popups; so would have the Google toolbar. But no, I'm not allowed to download these sinful applications! Nor am I allowed to install other safety mechanisms, ala Spybot. And even if I was allowed to download them or to get away with downloading them, I wouldn't have been able to install them because I don't have administrator rights.
You can say it's silly and that I'm making a fuss out of nothing, but I think these things matter and matter a lot. Things like that cause people who are supposed to be and want to be on the cutting edge stay parsecs behind. Consider these two subtle examples: When I talked about the merits of Gmail at work today, a colleague told me he doesn't have Gmail because you need an invitation to join; at Ipex the guy would have been able to choose who will have the privilege to invite him! Or take another guy who expressed interest in buying a printer, and I told him to look in www.msy.com.au : An hour later, monitors all over the entire floor had MSY's pricelists on. Why? Because they didn't know any better and had to have someone with access to the outside world to tell them about it.
I don't want to become like that. If you hire me, trust me to do good, and give me the tools to learn. Yes, I will play a little and I will do things that do not necessarily relate to work some of the time, but overall work would gain a more motivated employee who is more in touch with the world.

The hypocrisy does not stop with web access related issues. It is also in the professional areas.
I already mentioned how Lotus Notes is used and abused to manage stuff that should have been handled by a relational database, where proper reporting and data mining could take place as opposed to just piling masses of data with no real benefits.
That is one side of things; the other is that we boast the fact we are using methodologies to help us work systematically and methodically. Coming from a place where people piss on you if you mention systematic-ness, I truly appreciate this and the fact that people actually are encouraged to work systematically.
However, I do not see how this systematic attitude goes together with the Lotus Notes policy. The two cannot really leave together if being systematic was truly a principle view guiding the organization; it's like a vegetarian eating steaks for lunch because he's only vegetarian 23 hours a day.
This is just straight hypocrisy.

What I find paradoxically funny is that these things, which won't matter to most and which would cause most people to say that I'm a lunatic to be bothered by them in the first place, don't really show up when you're being interviewed for a job. All you will know is that they work with certain methodologies because they will ask you whether you're familiar with them, but you will never be told about Lotus Notes or about Gmail being blocked.
Which once again leads me to conclude, they way I've concluded in the past (re: Work - What Is It Good For?), that the best way of finding a new job is through a network of friends. It's the only way where you can properly have some clue about an organization's culture without actually working there.
I'm not saying that I wouldn't have taken this job had I known then what I know now. I really needed some fresh air, and in this regard my new job is a life savior.
What I am saying, though, is that this new job is far from being perfect. It has it's bonuses, but I severely doubt I would be able to stay there as long as I have stayed at Volanpex and I am unable to see it becoming a true contribution to my CV (other than in enabling me to get a foothold at similar web blocking organizations).
As I said yesterday, I hope that first impressions will prove not to represent what I would think about this place in the long run.

And mind you, things are not all bad. I already mentioned the view (today it rained and I actually saw it live from up high!) and I mentioned the attention to ergonomics.
What I didn't mention are the toilets. Not that they are incredibly superior to what Volanpex had to offer, and not that the cleaner is half as cheerful as good old Gary; but they do have these dividers between the various "men's' standing ovation posts" that enable one to take the piss comfortably without being worried about the people standing next to him.
Sounds silly, but you feel the difference when you stand at a divider less standing ovation facility waiting for things to start flowing and then suddenly someone steps up and stand right next to you. I don't know about you, but I just tend to freeze, and until that other guy is gracious enough to fuck off nothing comes out and I just end up standing there looking at the wall and feeling ever so stupid.

Something's telling me that with these attitudes I will never find a job that I will truly like. With the view that any job is a lot like slavery only part time, I can see why; the trick is, what other options do I have? There are lots of interesting things out there, but they usually entail a significant risk I wouldn't want to take.
Given the frustration Jo and I are getting with Jo's ongoing quest to find us flights to Europe during the Xmess season, I cannot stop thinking that maybe we should start this startup that allows people to book complicated itineraries (as opposed to just return flights) around the world, on their own, and through the web.
Just don't try to do this at my new job - it's bound to be blocked.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Second day's agony

The main theme of my second day at the new job was being tired.
Getting up was hard, I kept almost falling asleep at the train despite Bill Bryson's best efforts (in the form of an audio book; far from a perfect morning entertainment system, as it seems like an audio book requires quite a lot of attention compared to just plain music).
And then the walk up to work was less than trivial - my legs were stiff.
Semi tiredness has continued to shadow me all day long, especially the more I learn about my new professional environment. I'll start by saying it again: Lotus Notes just sucks; today I noticed that no matter how much I play with its setup, I still cannot seem to get warnings about upcoming events. But the much worse element is the way Notes is used and abused as a database which it is simply not, accompanied by the way Excel spreadsheets (and worse - Excel spreadsheets with macros) are used regularly for operational purposes - and wait for it - including for reporting.
My entire career at Volanpex was based around a client that was wise enough to realize they need to leave their Notes databases and their Excel spreadsheets behind and move to a relational database. And now I'm in the deep end of it yet again...
I cannot escape the inevitable comparison between my new environment and 3Com. The environments are just so similar, and the people seem to come of the same background and the same make. And both used Lotus Notes. And in both cases I was/am sunk way over my head with loads and loads of systems and people and needs and methodologies and whatever that I predict it would take me a good few months to be able to raise my head above the water. I hope they won't lose faith in me, but I have to say I could never escape the feeling that I might have never been able to fully grasp what 3Com's environment wanted me to grasp; I was saved by the bell at the time when they fired me together with everyone else after I worked there for just 3 months. The only difference between now and then, as far as I am concerned, is that I am more mature now and more aware of what is going on with me. I'll summarize this point by saying that I find it annoying that this challenge to master the new environment is a rather not so constructive a challenge, because I find it hard to justify the effort required of me when the cause seems to be a lackluster combination of macros and Notes.
I just hope I'm jumping to conclusions way too early, but I cannot avoid thinking that maybe Volanpex' total lack of methodology, which allowed me to do what I wanted to do (which was to introduce some method to the chaos), was actually the best thing for me - it allowed me to both work on interesting projects and get to play with being systematic about it. It would be a sad parody if it turns out that I miss the "good old days" after complaining about them for so long.

Anyway, after work we met up and went to Borders in Melbourne Central, where I finished my gift vouchers on 6 more sci-fi titles (for the price of 4): The Stars My Destination, The Hobbit, War of the Worlds (my first ever sci-fi read), Caves of Steel (by Asimov), Naked Sun (Asimov's second of the series, and my first ever Asimov read - I remember reading it during 5th grade's summer holidays, and I remember my parents taking a photo of me reading it on the living room's sofa), and Robert Heinlin's notorious Starship Troopers (where the film is a great testimony to fascism in modern day Western society but the book is still ten times better).

We got back home late and I'm dead tired. No wonder about the reasons, as it takes me so long to get there and back again.
Which raises the inevitable question: Where art thou, Canyonero? The answer is parked next to the train station, of course.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Just like starting over

I didn't sleep well last night. Not at all. I was mostly thinking of another John Lennon song, "I'm scared". I only had a muesly bar at home for breakfast (as opposed to the regular serve of cereal on soy milk), because I was afraid of the consequences of having a full nervous stomach during an hour long trip to work.
We took the car to the train station and we couldn't even find parking! The areas that used to be sparsely inhabited by cars for the past two years were just packed! That's the benefit of the Commonwealth Games for you: People are just afraid to use their cars, so more people use public transport.
But we got on the train (Jo held my hand) and we sat opposed to one another, me facing the wall (thus depriving me of the greatest joy of train riding, people watching). Soon enough the train was so full that talking to Jo would mean talking to 20 other people; tomorrow see myself listening to the audio book I prepared for this very occasion, Bill Bryson's Mother tongue.
After disembarking the train I followed Jo up to Burke Street Mall, where she went west and I towards the sun. Oddly enough, the walk that should have taken 15-20 minutes on paper seemed to have taken just a flash; one minute I was saying bye to Jo, the next I was at the office. It took an hour from the time we parked to the time I was at the office, just four times than what it took me last week.
However, this office has windows. My "office" is on the 27th floor out of 28, and with windows all around you get quite a panoramic view of Melbourne. Quite lovely, and definitely different to the now famous yellow walls at Volanpex. I could gaze at it all day. And talking about gazing, there are a couple of hotel swimming pools right next to my nose, and there were already certain interesting vistas. Much better than Volanpex.
The people are nice. Most of the day was spent with introductions and me going through some extremely exciting procedure documents. Because this place is all about safety at work, they seem to take the issues of safety very seriously, especially given that it's an office and not an open mine shaft. They go to extremes: They have these mirrors on the ceiling at every corridor intersection so that people won't bump into one another while holding coffee; mind you, their corridors are so narrow that such an event is quite likely (but wouldn't it be better to widen the corridor instead of go to extreme cheap motel like mirroring?).
Their computer policies are a joke. I'll start with the worst: Pretty much everything that's fun and nice to do with the internet is either forbidden or blocked. Due to some mysterious virus attack, all internet email services are blocked; no more Gmail and no more Hotmail. Welcome, dark ages. Using the internet for money making is forbidden (bye bye eBay) as well as using it for the expressions of personal views (fare thee well blog and letters to The Age).
I got myself a really state of the art computer, though. It's a spanking Pentium 3! Woo hoo! The monitor is CRT, like the one I use at home to type this in. Although it's a step back from the LCD I got used to by now at Volanpex, it's quite a good quality CRT. And as I mentioned before, they use Office 97 and Lotus Notes. Did I say that Lotus Notes is a piece of shit? With the delay in moving back from daylight savings not really supported by Lotus Notes, all meetings got postponed by an hour and chaos reigns the land. How can one expect to survive on Lotus Notes without Gmail?
At least the ergonomics are well thought out (the seat feels like a proper seat should, and the table is not midget high), and the offices are spacious despite the open spaceness.
As I already said, the people are nice, although I already got a comment on my name being "so Jewish". I wanted to reply on the commenter's name being so Christian (it's not, but it might show the guy the stupidity of his comment), but I chose to be nice instead; I disappointed the guy enough when I told him I don't play rugby but rather go for what "you may know as soccer but I know as football".
One thing I noticed at most of the offices I've been to other than Volanpex is that people are not into drinking water. They drink coffee, they drink tea (not green tea; usually it's shit tea), they drink Coke and other similar shit, but they don't drink water. My new boss was telling me he brought some cordial from home so he could drink water, which doesn't really count as water in my book. Well I drink water, but it's amazing how much of a walk one needs to go through to get himself a glass.
Which reminds me of the weirdest angle of the office: They declare it to be a "green office", and so each guy has a recycling bin next to his desk and each email gets this label saying "don't print me unless your only child will die if you don't". But what they don't have is regular, run of the mill trash cans; if you want to get rid of trash, you have to go all the way to the kitchen, which was a bit of a problem after I wiped my nose with a tissue (which is a bit of a contradiction, because unlike Volanpex they actually have tissues as part of their office equipment). I had the same problem after eating my daily apple. They will lose so much work time out of me come winter's colds... Not that it seems as if they will worry about it much. Government, you know.
As a part of the induction they told me where I can get food and amenities in the area - pretty much everywhere you go, given that we're exactly in the middle of Melbourne and every building is either an office or a food court or both. For lunch I got myself a sub and went back to the office pretty quickly, but it's rather expensive and not as good as home food; I expect to go back to bringing my own quickly, especially as their kitchens are very well equipped (even with a TV, and they encourage you to watch the games there), plus there are wonderful views there.
Tomorrow I might get a glimpse of what work may be like.

Monday, 13 March 2006

I wanna be an anarchist

I can't believe I'm quoting the Sex Pistols for the second time in a week...
While most people don't see much of a value in blogging, and even I think it is often just an interesting way to pass the time, I think there is great value to it.
Just like the specification documents I used to write at my now former job, which on the surface of things seem to just state the obvious, blogs have their value: First, the mere act of organizing one's thoughts in writing helps, well, in organizing the thoughts. Sounds silly, but it helps add some constuction and infrastructure to them. I knew I was an athesit, but when it's written down I can relate to each of the reasons why quite easily. And more importantly, others can relate to them, too.
So blogging acheives for me the same purpose an SRS document achieves for a software company. It helps organize and sturcture the build effort, and it helps communicating what it is all about. Only that with this blog it's not a software system that we're discussing, but rather the mundane issue of my life.
Anyway, what I am trying to say with this typically long introduction is that blogging has helped me identify my ideology. I've said here before that I'm anti consumarism and anti capitalism; like Bill Bryson before me I will say that I refuse to believe the best system for managing the interaction between people should be based on greed and selfishness.
I thought about it, I tried to look for an alternative, and although I am not saying this is the ultimate answer to all of mankind's problems, I seem to have find my preferred ideology for now: Anarchism.
Being the chicken that I am, I will add a disclaimer and say there is still a lot of room for me to research anarchy before settling with it, or at least getting up to some level of some satisfaction with it. Let's just say for now that I'm exploring.
Since up to just a few days ago I thought that anarchism is the equivalent of chaos (which always made me wonder when I read letters sent to The Age by Australia's Society for Anarchism and wonder why they seem to make so much sense to me), I will copy and paste the beginning of Wikipedia's definition for anarchism for your reading pleasure.
Let no one say that blogging is time wasting:

Anarchism is derived from the Greek αναρχία ("without archons (ruler, chief, king)"). Anarchism as a political philosophy, is the belief that rulers, governments, and hierarchal social relationships are unnecessary and should be abolished, although there are differing interpretations of what this means. Anarchism also refers to related social movements that advocate the elimination of authoritarian institutions. The word "anarchy," as most anarchists use it, does not imply chaos, nihilism, or anomie, but rather a harmonious anti-authoritarian society. In place of what are regarded as authoritarian political structures and coercive economic institutions, anarchists advocate social relations based upon voluntary association of autonomous individuals, mutual aid, and self-governance.

Will you still need me will you still feed me when I'm 34?

It's no secret that I've been growing balder and balder over the years, something that started something like 10 years ago. I got used to it by now and it doesn't really trouble me anymore; while at first I felt guilt and thought that every single hair that fell is punishment for calling yet another bald person Kojak, by now I don't really care. If anything, let all the hair on my head fuck off so at least I wouldn't require the occasional visit to the hair dresser (and I wouldn't even mention the daily boring routine of shaving).
I talked about the additional signs of rust that came over for a visit and have over stayed their welcome in the form of back pains, but that was also expected given my height and my family's history.
What I didn't expect but also started getting used to is the migration of hair from my head to lower areas, as if pulled by gravity. Some 10 years ago I didn't have any hair on my chest and nothing on my back other than the back of my neck. Now, although I'm not Robin Williams yet, there's definite over forestation in those areas. Yet another demonstration for this rather feeble an argument called Intelligent Design.
But the newest phenomenon to which I am yet to get used is white hairs. I fail to understand how the only hairs that seem to flourish on my head are the white ones: They multiply like rabbits, they grow much faster than their counterparts, they feel very plasticky and brittle so they stick out, as if searching for attention. Just like the weeds in our Hiroshima tribute of a garden.
Mind you, they don't just settle for the head. They pop up on my legs, stomach, and even my beard has some white snow like speckles on it.
I'm too old for this shit.

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Fighters

As I was typing my previous blogentry fighter jets were flying up in the sky, probably in some form of preparation for the upcoming Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
I noticed them because it's so rare to hear them here; it's pretty much a bi-yearly event: You get one old F18 to fly over the Yarra on Australia Day, and another sole F18 to fly over Albert Park on Formula 1 day. But through the rest of the year it's a very silent cease fire.
I noticed them because I miss them so much. In Israel you get huge convoys of them. Back in the days of the war in Lebanon I remember sitting on the beach at Tel Aviv and watching entire squadrons of F16s and Cobra helicopters going up and down their "highway" to Lebanon, across the beach. I would always wait in great anticipation for the king of the sky, the most glorious of all airplanes: The magical F15.
I remember how on Israel's 50th anniversary Haim and I went to the beach to watch a four hour long air-show where many different countries came to show off their airforce at the beach. We lied on our backs and watched the sky, which resulted in the skin of my stomach boiling and peeling off for a month. But it was worth it.
When we recently visited the UK we saw many a Tornado and the Euro Fighter (according to Jo's father; I am unable to identify those). And when Jo & I visited Tel Aviv's beach, we saw the king of the snooker again, an Apache helicopter; sadly, no F15E passed by. But whatever passes, my breath and my attention are always taken away for a short while.
Fighter jets are a demonstration of a lot of the bad things in this world; but I can't forget that they are also one of the most glorious things man kind has ever created. Their absence from the Melbourne sky is clear evidence to the fact Australia is an incredibly superior place to live in than Israel, a sane place (and also that it's a much bigger place...). But still, I cannot help but miss the delicate sound of thunderous fighter jets.

First times


I know I'm going to go to a new job at a new place for the first time in a couple of days, where (amongst others) I'll be using Office 97 because it's a government place that doesn't have new stuff for the first time in quite a while and I'll also be using Lotus Notes for emailing for the first time since 3Com for the very same reason (thank god for Gmail). So it was interesting to do some other thing for the very first time today.
Jo and I decided this morning to have breakfast at this place we like on Chapel Street. We ended up at a different place on Chapel Street, a Greek restaurant that seemed to be nice and cool (it is 36 degrees today, but you can see that the weather is changing; when we left home it was 23, when we got to Chapel it was 26, so in regular Melbourne fashion it will only be 36 for a rather infiticimile (excuse spelling) duration).
I like Greek food, as far as I can tell (a disclaimer I'm adding only because I did not have as much of it yet as I would like to have). Mrs Myron cooked us some Greek food meal once in a dinner that has entered the pages of history as one of the all time best dinners I've ever had; I like the combination of ingredients and tastes they use, even if some of them are unconventional for me. No, I will never forget the Greeks for the way they ruin perfectly good Shawarma meat by pouring yogurt all over it and calling it Suflaki (mind you, with the humus and thina you get in Australia, maybe they're doing us a favor). And I still hate lamb meat because it tastes funny (mind you, in Australia they differentiate between lamb and mutton; lamb is a young sheep, whereas mutton is an old one, and it is the older ones that have much more of that notorious after taste I hate so much in sheep; My brother suspects that in Israel, the land where they try to fuck you the most, they only sell you mutton meat in the first place).
Anyway, because it was still breakfast time (or rather brunch, or as we like to call our late breakfasts: blunch), we didn't go Greek style all the way. Jo had this fruity salad (awch), but I - I ordered a salad at a restaurant for the very first time in my life! Write it down - that's a significant page in history for you!
It was chickpea salad (also known as humus for the Israelis amongst us), which featured chickpeas, rocket and spinach leaves (rockets rock!), a small bit of baked cheese, and a lemony dressing. And it was great, fulfilling, and much healthier than the bacon and eggs combination I had in mind when we left home.
Being that we were in Chapel we visited our old Rebel sports shop, where I finally got something I can use as summer time shoes for the house (check out the photo). They had lots of colors, and I wanted Dutch orange but they didn't have any in my size so I had to settle for Arsenal red instead (even though Juve will beat the crap out of them). The world cup will have to suffer.
A visit to Chapel Street cannot be concluded without the mandatory visit to Borders. I used my new vouchers for the first time! Following the recommendations I received through this blog I got further sequels for the Orson Scott Card's Ender series, Xenocide and the one that follows it. I'm currently like a third of the way into Speaker for the Dead and I cannot decide yet whether it's an interesting philosophical discussion or whether it's a bunch of bull, but I can definitely tell that the book has a grip on me.
They had "buy 3 sci-fi-s, get the third free", so I got a Philip Ka-Dick short story collection featuring Minority Report and We Can Remember it for you Wholesale, a story made famous in one of my all time favorite films, Total Recall. For the memory of a life time.
I also had them reserve their last copy of The Stars My Destination for me at the Borders shop in Melbourne Central, which is near my new work. I'll transport myself there with a little flick of my wisdom tooth in one of my lunch breaks.

Anyway: If you are looking for a morale out of this story, it is this-
Jo has been telling me how her father (currently in his early fifties) has started being afraid of dying lately, since his father (Jo's grandfather) has died several years ago and as some of his friends died, too.
While I think this fear is perfectly legitimate (I'm quite sure I'll die of a heart attack, if only because I'm growing bald Zinadine Zidan style), I find it weird to hear many stories about English people and Australian people dying of bowl cancer (excuse spelling) and other types of cancers in the digestive internal organs. The weird thing is that you hardly get to hear about these types of cancers taking place in Israel, but since moving to Australia and since getting to know Jo I hear about them quite a lot (or rather, significantly more).
I think it comes down to diet and lifestyle in general. I've already expressed my opnion on English food here before, but while I mainly focused on the taste department, it is my opinion that it is very much lacking in the health department, too.
It wouldn't hurt the English side of my family to delve into some healthy Mediterranean food, be it Spanish, Italian or Greek. Or just to have a salad like the one I had today. It tastes damn good, that's for sure.
As someone said in a film I really like, "Open your mind".

Saturday, 11 March 2006

The end is important in everything


I couldn't have imagined a better farewell from my late team.
To start with my side of things, I thought I wrote a fairly neutral farewell email. What I mean to say is that what it meant to say is that although I liked the place, I owe to the place, I like the people, and I owe to the people, there was still a significant quantity of things that weren't well. I meant to convey a rather neutral portrayal by hinting at the Elton John verse I didn't quote:
You know you can't hold me forever
I didn't sign up with you
I'm not a present for your friends to open
This boy's too young to be singing the blues

But no one seems to have picked on that. It must have been way too subtle, because a minute after sending the email I got a call telling me that this was the most kissy-up-the-assy farewell letter ever.

But who cares about that. What really impressed me was the farewell I was given, not the email I left behind.
I was touched because I got to have a farewell lunch at the place I wanted, despite technical difficulties.
I was touched because I got various people, both from my former company and from my former company's client, who actively suggested that we stay in touch and offered ideas for extra curricular meetings. For people who have such a problem making friends like Jo and I, and for people who have so few friends in this continent (like Jo and I), this is of extreme importance. I just hope we won't let the opportunity slip away, because Jo and I also tend to be crap at friendship maintenance (although not as crap as some of my friends, and definitely not as major league crap as some of Jo's friends).
I was touched by the farewell card the guys gave me. You should know my views on gift cards, but this was different; it had photos as well as the regular farewell comments, which meant that not only someone thought of something to write (and let's face it, most people are as original as "good luck with your future endeavors"), but someone actually did some hard work on the card. And that personal touch means a lot.
And I was touched by the farewell gift. I thought about it and even dreamt about it at night, and my conclusion was that Borders gift vouchers are the thing I would like the most. And guess what they gave me?
I said before that books mean a lot to me, but I also cannot escape the comparison with the gift my clients gave me when I left my all time favorite airline job: They gave me book vouchers at a time in which I was buying all my books through Amazon, so I didn't really know what to do with them. On the vouchers' last day prior to their expiration I drove to Stimatski in Dizengof corner Frishman (finding parking was hell on earth) and settled on a copy of Lonely Planet Australia, way before I had any plans of coming here as a tourist; it was a time in which I simply enjoyed reading travel books, and I thought that it is most suitable for me to use vouchers given to me by El Al's Central Reservations Control Department on a travel book. Little did I know how useful this particular book purchase would be.
Back to the present, not only did my recently late colleagues give me this nice gift of books, they also gave a very generous sum of it - more than any I remember any of my departing predecessors got. Now I don't mean to say that more money means I'm better than the rest - I'm not and it's not the case - but I am definitely touched to see that I meant something to certain people.
There is one person who is mostly to "blame" for hitting home on most of the things I just mentioned. We live at a time in which people do not tend to say much in the way of good things about one another, and so this effort made by my friends in general and by this one person in particular to show me that I made a difference to them is most appreciated. In fact, I would go and say that these are the things that matter most in life because family and friends are our primary source of happiness in this world, and such a show of friendship is rarely exhibited.
Now I'm sorry for this smeared and unfocused blogentry, but thank you, Elaine!

Final note: For a change, the title for this blogentry was not taken from a Beatles song. It is rather a quote from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Wall

Hi everybody,

 

Three years and two months of working for Volanpex are hard to pack into one email. This place means a lot to me mainly because it was my first decent job in the Land of Oz; but now I finally decided my future lies beyond these yellow walls.

During those three years a lot has happened at work and to me personally. While doing time here I familiarized myself with the local culture, had the pleasure of working with people of diverse backgrounds I was never exposed to before, got myself a nice big mortgage, got married, bought a brand new car – lots of things that couldn't have happened if it wasn't for this place, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Work here had its ups and downs. I've had some weekends spent at the office, some very late eTrack night sessions, some easier times surfing the internet, some anger and some laughs (often thanks to the same people). Overall, I enjoyed the experience, and I know for sure that it left a mark on me. Although I'm taking some experience and knowledge away with me when I leave, I think my departure is a good chance for the team to refresh and revitalize; maybe you'll get a replacement, there's plenty like me to be found; regardless, I hope you will consider it an opportunity.

 

I think the best way for me to summarize my last three years of employment plus here would be for me to credit the people that made the difference. So here goes:

·       I have to start with Tung, who gave me the opportunity at a time in which my personal circumstances were on the "pretty desperate" side of things.

·       Next I would like to thank the client I love so much: Christy, Greg and Kiley, with whom I have been working since day one here and who accepted me as one of their own, heavy accent and all.

·       Working here wouldn't be fun if it wasn't for the people I had the pleasure of knowing and working with. I learned from you all! If there's anything I regret it's not having the pleasure of working with more of you.

·       I have had so many friends here that I'm afraid of naming specific names for fear of offending those that were omitted. So I'll take the easy way out and thank you without doing any naming; you should know who you are anyway!

·       Special thanks go to those of you who entertained me. Gary and Brian for helping me start the mornings with a smile, but most of the credit has to go down (way down) to George with whom I can talk about the things that matter the most – namely, football (and I'm talking real football here).

·       A place of honour has to be reserved to those who had to tolerate a bigger portion of me than most, our testers – Elaine and Fei. Thanks for the patience!

·       And last but not least – I would like to thank the person that had to suffer me the most but seems to have managed to survive well enough, my personal helpdesk, my best friend – Mr Martin Wain.

 

Good luck to all of you, especially with the upcoming Master and Commander sequels. I hope you will stay in touch; many of you should follow suit if you wish to live long and prosper.

There are all sorts of sophisticated electronic means for keeping in touch nowadays, but I will use the opportunity to reemphasize my personal preference for the good old fashioned face to face. Yes, it's even more effective than my blog.

 

 

So long, and thanks for all the tuna fish!

Moshe

They don't only fluck you at the drivethrough

...they do it when you buy CDs, too.
I keep on complaining on how bad MP3s are, quality wise, compared to normal CD sound (16 bit PCM at a 44K sampling rate).
Alas, if only CDs really utilized the sound potential they have. Some of the later CDs we bought sound so crappy that you would actually prefer to listen to them in MP3, where a lot of the shit is massaged out, and not on your hi-fi.
Special worthy of mentioning shitty sounding CDs include recordings by the so cool Gorillaz; a chain saw has a better sound then their Demon Days album. And Franz Ferdinand aren't doing much better. Makes me want to rip their CDs and sell them on eBay; they don't deserve much better.

Beware of Darkness

Just a short story on the dark side of eBay.
Last night I was looking on eBay for an iAudio X5 MP3 player. I was looking for one for quite a while, despite it only having 30gb; as much as I don't like the MP3 format, this one has the features that I consider important. I wouldn't go over them here, but I would just say it beats the crap out of the severely limited yet very trendy iPods.
Anyway, these gizmos sell for $650 is shops (JB Hi Fi), but you can get them over the web for less than $450. Personally, I think anything more than $200 is daylight robbery, which is why I was looking on eBay for something interesting.
Well, last night I stumbled upon a series of X5's on sale for some ridiculous prices - $31! For this price, even with $30 shipment and $20 insurance, I'd buy several and use a different one each day of the week (actually, I'd probably sell them on eBay). And not only that, on offer were 60gb models - mmm.... 60gb.... - which aren't even on sale in Australia. I didn't even know they exist.
Anyway, a second look at these auctions revealed some interesting info. The seller was in Beijing; they would only accept direct wire transfer or a Western Union money transfer, and not the more common PayPal (for international transactions) or a direct bank deposit to an Australian bank account (which many overseas sellers seem to have). They had no feedback as sellers, too. Overall, if you bid on this guy's items you have zero confidence of getting the item and zero possibilities for getting your money back.
Then I had a look at historical items. It turns out that there's a pattern of people selling similar items from Beijing. They create an eBay account for themselves, start a few 1 day auctions (as opposed to the default 7 days ones, especially for items that are generally expensive), and then quickly disable their eBay accounts afterwards; they are never there long enough to receive feedback from their occasional customer, be it good or bad.
I sent the seller questions concerning these issues (plus trivial affairs such as warranty and return policy if the delivered item doesn't work), but got no replies. By this morning all of the seller's items were removed from eBay prior to their auction's ending time (other than the first two, which sold for $60 something and $30 something).
I wonder if these people trade in stolen goods or whether they are just trying to trick people. I doubt eBay will do anything about it, because eBay is just another big company with zero conscience which just tries to make as much money as it can while closing an eye on illegal activities ( e.g., ticket scalping) and only doing something against politically incorrect auctions that might give it a bad name (e.g., the recent removal of the auction for the car "owned by the killer from Columbine").
Anyway, tread carefully on eBay waters. You can get wonderful deals, but there are obviously lots of sharks out there.
 
P.S. Talking about PayPal: I can't help thinking how useful PayPal would have been at the time of our wedding, when overseas friends and relatives wanted to give us money. Compared to other venues, it's so cheap and so easy. At the time, Yuval was the only one that asked me if I had a PayPal account (I didn't, and I only had a rough idea on what PayPal was; I was more like "why is he asking me about PayPal?"); yet another case where I have to bow down to this great person.

Half of the time we're gone but we don't know where and we don't know here

As I sort out my papers and my files at the office and all the typical kind of things one ends up doing a day before leaving his job, the weird things I end up stumbling upon make me think of the place I joined more than three years ago, the place I am leaving now, and what happened to me during those years.

Reminiscing is inevitable. I look at the files on "My Documents" and I see the PDF brochure prepared by the real estate agency for the house we bought, or the Word document of our wedding invitation. I see lots of letters for the newspaper, letters of complaint, photos from our trips, and stuff emailed by friends. I see all the documents I have written; some of those would definitely silence everyone who complains that my blogentries are on the longer side of things.

There's no doubt about the fact I am a very different person now to the person I was three plus years ago. Then I was still a full blown Israeli who just recently moved across the world and is traumatized by his losing war to find a job and settle down; I had lots of worries in my life throughout, but for the first time making ends meet was not something I could take for granted. Things are different now; the experience has made me much more of a socialist, but things are going well overall. I am no longer a stranger in town, but rather someone who is quite aware of what's going on around him, even if I will never fully blend in to the local culture. For bringing about these changes in me, I will always be grateful to this job, this company, and the people I have worked with.

On the friends front, which is of extreme importance to both Jo and I given that the only relatives we have here are my brother and Wabby the dog, it is definitely worth noting that the only real friends we have in Australia are people I got to meet at work (although that observation may vary depending on your own personal definition of the term "friendship"). This goes to show two things: That my work has made a big difference, and that Jo & I are shit in making friends (although I believe that one cannot just become a friend with another person without going through something together, and work provides this something).

Things are not that rosy when I look at the professional side. Although my current job takes the crown of "long serving job" from my airline career (3 years and 2 months compared to 2 years and 9 months), there are no doubts as to which of the jobs I ever got to have was the most fulfilling and the most enjoyable. At the airline I really made a difference, I could measure the difference I have made (and it was around $16 million USD a year), and as stagnated its environment might have been I enjoyed a special status there. In here, however, I still managed to do some lovely stuff in my first year and go down roads untraveled before in the realms of software requirements gathering and software testing, but rarely was I allowed to do things properly (and not so surprisingly, the more we did things right the more successful our work was), and all innovation stopped after my first year here. Since then it was all sequels and repeats, sending my motivation spiraling down, killing millions of my since unused brain cells, and leaving me wondering whether I can make it at a new place.

Which is where I'm heading with this blogentry: Will I make it?

I need a nice kick in the @ss to get me started with the right mood next Tuesday, because currently I'm still stuck in this nirvana like state I had for the last good few months (aided by the fact that during the last month there was zero motivation; notice periods are a pretty useless waste).

Statistically, it has been really hard for me to establish myself at new places: I tend to be paralyzed and not to be able to notice the need to change old habits once I'm at the new place, preferring instead to rely on old habits that may not be useful at that new place (and the problem is that it all happens unconsciously).

At the moment I'm troubled mostly by the fact I'm going to need to leave my car behind and use public transport, giving me less flexibility to do stuff I might need to do - personal errands of sorts. I keep thinking on whether I should read Scientific American on the train or listen to music through my PDA, or maybe podcasts would be better, or maybe audio books would be even better, or maybe I should get me an MP3 player with a radio? I keep thinking about all this shit instead of being worried about the new job itself and the things I'll have to do there just because I like thinking about gadgets and reading as opposed to working despite the fact the times call for lateral thinking.

I require this magical zap that would help me find myself.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

God Shave the Queen

There's an ongoing debate going on in Australia at the moment: During the upcoming opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games, about to take place in Melbourne in a week's time, should they play God Save the Queen as a tribute to one Mrs Beth Winsdor or should they just stick to the Australian anthem.
As interesting as this debate may be, and I have to say that for the last two weeks or two it was a major source of jokes (especially when you read the debates going on in the newspapers' letters sections), it is but a mirror to an ongoing debate in Australia on whether it should continue being a part of the British Empire or whatever it's called, thus having the queen as its supreme commander, or whether Australia should become an independent republic. As ludicrous as this debate may seem to me, it draws passionate reactions from the public.
Although I suspect you already know what I am about to say when I state my opinion on this issue, I will say it just as well (because it's fun).
For a start, I find it ridiculous that my Australian Passport's first page says something like "the queen asks you to grant safe passage to this guy that holds this passport". I don't remember ever having anything to do with this queen and I would prefer her to leave me alone. And as songs go, a song that mentions two of the worst ever man made institutions in one breath cannot be a top of the pops hit for me.
To move on the the more constructive side of augmenting, here is why I think Australia should become a republic, fair and square:
1. The English monarchy is not exactly what one would refer to as an example for good behaviour. You wouldn't want your kids to be like them; I'm not talking about Henry the 8th and I'm not even mentioning the articles that pop up from time to time linking them as Nazi aficionados, I'm just talking of all the shenanigans that take place in that family on a regular basis.
2. The entire concept of the British Empire is way past its due date. There's not much of an empire left to begin with, and I think that the primary beneficiaries of this are the English people themselves. Imperialism, although still existing in abundance, is something that should not be prolonged but one of the few things that should indeed be made extinct. The Middle East and Africa are reminders enough of its crimes.
3. As relevance goes, the royal family is as relevant to Australia as a fart in Buckingham Palace is to the atmosphere in Melbourne. Yes, Australia owes a lot of its heritage to Britain, but it has been an independent entity for enough time now to be significantly different to merit its independence. One only needs to visit both countries to witness the changes, or to see how supporters of both national teams treat their counterparts; you will not find much respect in there.
4. But first and foremost, I fail to understand how in these times someone could be made citizen supreme on the basis of nothing but being born to the right parents. It defies logic. I hate to think of having anyone elected into such a role in the first place, but for lack of any other choice I would rather elect one than have one born into the role. The fact there is an argument on the concept in the first place means that this supposed source of authority and unity becomes a cause for division instead. If the British people and some of the other people of Europe want to have their representative selected this way then good on them - they're democracies - but I will never be able to comprehend what goes in their minds when they do that.
 
That said, I severely doubt Australia will become a republic any time soon. There are several reasons for that:
1. There are enough politically unaware and generally naive people here who think life is a fairy tale and like having a fairy tale like ruler. It gives all the cheap magazines something to gossip about, for a start.
2. Australia now has a princess of its own: An ex Tasmanian real estate agent married the crown prince of Denmark. Now you know what I think of real estate agents (and if you don't: fucking major bastards), but even if what I think does not apply to her, she is no longer an Australian citizen; and besides, her being a princess does not magically authenticate the institution. But for enough people over here it boosted the fairy tale element of it all.
3. There are enough people of English origins over here that have a hard time seeing their beloved country falling over to the hands of bloody immigrants (especially those sub human people of Middle Eastern appearance). They would still like to show everyone who's boss around here, and one way of doing that is establishing their former boss as everyone's boss. Facts like the Aborigines being here tens of thousands of years before the first ever king or the fact that in many other ways they feel mostly contempt to England or the fact that their families left England for some very good reasons 100 years ago do not deter this most basic of fear related reflexes. Things go a lot further here: It explains why all the major stake holders in this country, from media celebrities through big time managers to politicians are mostly Anglo Saxon, at a rate that is way higher than their proportion in the population.
 
As I said, an interesting argument, through which one can learn a lot about Australian society and its state of mind. However, unlike other issues Australia needs to tackle, this one is not a truly troubling one; like it or not, the queen has zero effect on Australian society. It's all theoretical, which means one can sit back and have a bit of good, relaxing fun.