Sunday, 30 April 2006

I love to be loved

We got the guitar back yesterday with a brand new volume button! And it works: Jo was playing all sorts of pieces this morning. I, on the other hand, seem to have already reached my peak: lesson one involving one string was successfully passed, but the challenge of mastering the second string seems to be too much for me. I hope thins will get better with practice, because at the moment my fingers just go all over the place and press the third string instead of the second at a rather alarming rate, even for someone as coordination-less as I.
But anyway, what I really wanted to discuss are my birthday gifts. As the photo shows, we didn't only get the guitar back, we also got a guitar stand as a gift. Because the guitar looks quite good (might I say sexy?) despite being cheap, it's a rather nice addition to our already overly crowded living room.
The stand came with some very interesting guitar learning software and a milkshake. Yes, a strawberry milkshake. It looks like I have everything ready for the next few years of guitar playing, all that's missing now is actually learning how to play the fucking thing.
I got some useful voucher, what seems to be an exciting book on codes and code breaking (I seem to have developed this sensitivity to books that make you think), and a DVD of the first season of "Are You Being Served".
Are You Being Served used to be my favorite TV show some 25 years ago. My uncle, who was amongst the first on the planet to get a VCR, was taping all the episodes and we would watch them together again and again and again. Ask Jo: phrases like "weak as water" and "glass of water for Mr Granger" are still widely used by me, and now Jo knows where they come from.
The very first episode on the DVD is in black and white. The DVD says that it was shot in color, but it has survived only in b&w. Maybe the BBC should call my aunt: As far as I can tell, the video cassettes are still there; if they survived the last 25 years, they can put their hands on a color copy.
I always feel bad when someone brings me a gift. I feel guilty: I don't think I deserve it. But I have to say that the knowledge that someone bothered to think up gifts that I would like - I didn't even know that I wanted these things - is very flattering indeed. It also shows the value of this blog in providing a "mirror to my soul".
Thank you all!

Saturday, 29 April 2006

Fairfield Boat House


This morning at 10:00 in front of the morning (excuse the rough translation from Hebrew) we gathered at the Fairfield Boat House for a brunch with friends. The formal excuse was my birthday, and as I said - if that's the reason I need to be social, then so be it.
The Fairfield Boat House is located in Yarra Bend Park, which is one giant park I toured on numerous occasions back in the age of unemployment - that time, three and a half years ago, after I left Amdocs and before I was recruited by Ipex. I like this park because it is very diverse and has some good mountain bike tracks. It's so huge that I often had trouble finding my way back to the car, managing it only after a good few hours (once in the rain, too). I can see the park from work, where the height allows you to appreciate its gigantic proportions. It's definitely a place Jo & I should go back to, especially on the bikes. Today, however, the weather was less than inviting for special excursions.
I told you before how I knew of this upcoming event, but I didn't know who was coming. We had the usual suspects - Martin & Yvette with Arnika (a.k.a. the Wains), John & Helen (a.k.a. the Myrons). And it was also nice to see that Mr George Carmona and family just happened to be there at the time we were in (all five rode their bicycles from home). And for the real surprise factor, Ruo See and Yaron came along. So that was definitely a nice surprise!
You can see photos of them all of my Flickr page - use the links on the right. I was never a good person photographer, having not had much in the way of interest at shooting people; but I do think some of the photos are nice, especially as the light was subtle.
It was nice to see my friends again, especially given the lack of social contents in my new job. I was, however, shocked to hear that John got retrenched this very Thursday. I am so traumatized by my experience in unemployment that I know I would be in utter devastation if I was fired; I also know that despite working at a government agency, I still face this danger, but mainly in the unlikely event the Liberals win the state elections. Which is funny, because in the related discussions today I was saying how I arrived to Australia as a capitalist that would have probably voted for the Liberals at the time, whereas today I would probably vote for Saddam Hussein before I consider voting for them (to quote Dave Hughes).
Back to a more festive mood: I got some pretty cool gifts, too. More about them later; I'll conclude by saying the last time I got a mass quantity of gifts on one occasion was my Bar Mitzvah, exactly 22 years ago. Now do the math and calculate my age...

Friday, 28 April 2006

Camouflaged paratrooper commando on a dairy farm raid


I'm not the type to go for baby photos, but the macho pose got me. All that's missing is a gun. I think this photo well deserves its place on our fridge.
For the curious amongst thee, the baby is my niece Georgia (Jo sister's baby).

Thursday, 27 April 2006

Birthdays

With my 35th birthday coming up, I have to say that I don't really see what the point in celebrating birthdays. To quote Seinfeld, it's basically a celebration of me managing not to die for yet another year. And what's the point with being so strict about the date anyway? What difference does it make as to whether earth's position in relation to the sun is roughly the same as it was the day I was born, especially when I was born in spring but it's now autumn?
I guess my opinions on birthdays shouldn't really surprise anyone who knows me. I tend to scorn at symbolism wherever it is, whether it's in religion, the queen, or the flag.
That said, having a reason to be happy is not something that should be easily dismissed. Artificial happiness is not something I hold dear to my heart, but a reason to meet up with friends and do something nice is always a good thing regardless on how stupidly founded it is.
I think the same way about most of our holidays: I couldn't give a fuck as to what day Jesus was born or what day he was killed or what day he made a comeback on or what day the queen's official birthday is. But give me a day off work and I'm a happy man! Add some meaningful action with family and friends, and I'm not only happy, I feel fulfilled (at this point I have to add that religious celebrations do not count as meaningful in my book; it's the complete opposite; and I'm saying this because I keep getting nagged by my family and every Israeli that for some reason chose to live in Australia even though he/she is still fully an Israeli at heart).
Mind you, as an atheist who is also a republican (in the Australian sense, which pretty much means anti queen and pro elections; not, god forbid, in the American sense) I'd be left with nothing but the Melbourne Cup, ANZAC Day, Australia Day, and Labor Day as public holidays. I have to take them as they come, I have no choice.
But the biggest issue here is that I'm turning into a lazy person (that is, even more lazy than I was so far). I come back home after work and I just laze around. I truly need a kick in the ass to get me to do stuff with people, and if that kick is a holiday or a birthday, then so be it.
And so I'm looking forward to Saturday, where we're supposed to be meeting up with friends for a very meaningful birthday celebration (in which we'll probably reminisce work and discuss the latest in the world of gadgetry). It was supposed to be a surprise, but Jo has forwarded me the email discussing the event's organization by "accident".

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

The Island

Four years in Melbourne have made me realize one thing: As much as I have a problem now with Israel's warm weather, I am a warm weather person at heart. Cold weather doesn't suit me; the main thing I do when it's cold is catch a cold. Summer comes and goes without a hassle, but come the first signs of cold weather and my nose automatically starts running, helped by the occasional sour throat in the morning. And about once a month I get a genuine cold, with three of them a year rendering me inoperative enough that I have to take some sick leave.
How do I deal with it? The best answer so far seems to be getting fit. It definitely helps in lowering the probability of a cold and the longevity of the colds that I do catch. Alas, it's a case of no pain no gain, and lately I'm with the no pain side (especially as with the new job I hardly have time to breath).
So this year Jo & I have decided on a new strategy: If you can't beat them, join them. No, I'm not talking about our plans for Euro travel during the Xmess season, I'm talking about us booking a cabin in Phillip Island (overlooking the sea) for a couple of days during the Queen's birthday weekend (mid June, and pretty much peak winter).
Phillip Island is one of the windiest places I know. There's pretty much nothing between it and Antarctica (other than Tasmania, which is equivalent to nothing according to everyone you ask here). So the winds are pretty fresh and the temperatures are as low as they can go.
I've been to the island's penguin parades twice, both times during peak summer. On both times I had to wear some major cold weather gear - like the coat I only wore for visits to Europe during winter - and I would still be cold, sitting there on the hill facing the ocean and "enjoying" the summer breeze.
One of my work colleagues came back today from a similar long weekend there. I asked her how it was, explaining how we'll be taking her place in a couple of moths. She said it was very relaxing: The winds were so strong you couldn't walk straight and the only option was to wear so many layers she felt like an onion. So they just stayed in.
Which is pretty much what we intend to do: Stay in by the heater, watch the waves, enjoy some DVDs and board games at night, and go for the occasional ten minute walk to satisfy the sado-masochist inside us. I might even take the guitar and the amp with me: plenty of room in the Canyonero.

Who dares wins?

About a year ago Arsenal had a very dismal display on the FA Cup final. Manchester United should have won it 7:0, but Arsenal were just lucky enough and the keeper had his best day ever to be able to take the game past overtime into a penalty shootout. In that lottery Arsenal actually got the upper hand and took the trophy, but I thought it was a shame to call myself an Arsenal supporter that day: the better team did not win.
I acknowledge: one of the major reasons why football is such a great game is the relatively high probability that the best team will not win. It's the fact that it's a low scoring game and the relative ease with which an inferior team can close the game up that makes it this way, but the result is that even the supporters of the lowly team can have their day.
But is it worth it? I think it doesn't. I don't really care about winning or trophies; I like Arsenal, but just the way I think sticking to the guns of religion is stupid I think extreme team supporting is stupid. It's a sport, that's it. So while I will probably always support Arsenal to one extent or the other, the major reason why I'm actually enthusiastic about them is that they play attractive football. The type that's a pleasure to watch.
So I was really disappointed today with the way in which Arsenal climbed to the final of the Champions League. It's the way that counts, and the way sucked; the only time they threatened Villareal's goal was on the 90th minute after the Spaniards were shocked by missing a penalty kick.
Anyway, they'll lose at the final. I'd much rather have that than another "let's stretch it to the penalties and see how we go" session.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

ANZAC Day


ANZAC day is the Australian equivalent for a soldiers' memorial day. The main difference between the Australian version and its Israeli counterpart is that in here you get a day off.
It actually surprised me to learn that Australia took part in more wars than I was aware of. I knew about Australia's part in the two world wars, but I had no idea Australia took part in Vietnam, too.
Anyway, ANZAC day turned out to be a lovely April day in a year in which typical April days were scarce: Very sunny, but not warm; a cool and pleasant weather to go out and do stuff without the risk of sweating. For the photographers amongst us the light is very good - the type of light that makes everything look good because it's not harshly blinding you; winter's sunlight.
So off we went to pay a visit to St Kilda's botanical gardens for the first time, which was a bit of a surprise because it's quite near us. It's a nice park in the middle of the city with ponds and a rose garden and stuff, but I think that the day was just so lovely that anything would have looked good. So you can get an impression by looking at the new photos I've uploaded to Flickr (check the flashy link on the right).
Anyway, I'll make it short because tomorrow I'm getting up at 4:30 again to watch Arsenal lose (followed by a similar morning on Thursday where I'll be watching Barcelona win).

I surrender to the spirit of the night

I gave up, and I managed to make Jo give up as well after she couldn't stand my nagging any longer: We're upgrading our internet connection to 1.5 whatevers per second from the current 0.5 connection.
It would cost us $55 per month now, which I find a bit annoying because just a week ago it was $52 per month. But I still find it's a good deal, and now we'd be able to download videos with further ease (having done a successful pilot earlier this week: quality is much better than normal TV, given the digital TV origins, and the "no ads" factor does add a lot).
The cost per year is quite substantial, but at least we pay it back by cutting the cost off our ordinary phone line. The bottom line is that the internet is now by far our leading source of entertainment, and it's much more than just entertainment by now. It's woven into the fabric of our being (I hate those stupid slogans, but it is there in almost everything we do).

Monday, 24 April 2006

Smells like team spirit

The more I mature as a worker doing his job, the more I learn that one of the more important things to do for the benefit of everybody is simply not to accept any shit.
The first time I seriously had to take shit from someone at work was at my first job, the airline, where my boss used to huff and puff cigarette smoke in my face all the time. And the guy used to smoke several packs a day. Eventually I begun to rebel, but at the beginning natural naive-ness and lack of familiarity caused me not to question this but rather to accept this as a part of the routine of actually working for a living.
A lot of sewer went down the Yarra since. Nowadays the thought of someone actually smoking near me just sounds ridiculous. And I also have indicators flashing all over the place when someone is trying to pass any of their shit down my direction.
The problem is, I can certainly rebel and rebel successfully when an impossible task or something that no one wants to do is handed over to me. It's not a question of having the nerves; it's a question of principles, and I like to think of myself as a man of principles (says someone who not too long ago said he's not into copying music or films).
Principles were certainly tested over the last couple of weeks. As much as I like to stick to my precious principles, I also like to make a living; I lost a job once already sticking to my guns and was rewarded with five months of unemployment in return.
So when someone tried to hand me over the impossible task of managing testing for this "huge" project we're currently working on ("huge" is a very relative word: it means 40 pages of specifications and 6 use-cases, which would be considered as a mere joke in my previous job) when I don't know any of the requirements, don't know any of the people, and I'm totally unfamiliar with the environment I protested. I explained my trouble to my boss, I explained it to the project manager, but alas - they still insisted I do this job because the project's main people went on a two week leave and someone had to follow.
Obviously they didn't read "The Mythical Man Month" article that explained why such a handover is an effort in time wasting. It also helped making me tense and uncomfortable at work and outside of work; not only did productivity suffer on this particular task, it suffered everywhere else too. Even the projects where I could actually be productive.
I did my best to be public and vocal with my misery: I let everyone who was even remotely interested learn that I can't do my work properly. I even laid down the reasons.
Anyway, today I learned that the "two weeks away" were actually only 5 business days stretched over a week and a half due to public holidays, and I cannot but think that certain people are just so bad at managing projects that their incapacity is eclipsed only by the incapacity of those who appointed them in the first place.

Anyway, this rather unclear story is all just a very bad exposition to me saying that in many respects my new job really suffers compared to the old one.
Sure, Tung was quite good at pissing me off and at quite an alarming rate, but we got along well overall. But one thing one could not take away from my previous job was the team spirit: I don't know what it is exactly that glues people who work hard together on a tough project, but it worked. And in my current job there is no such thing as proper team work: You have meetings with others, but at the end of the day it's all individuals doing their work individually.
And this is sad because I already miss the synergy effect of team work and I know I will miss it even more.
But most of all I miss my ex team members. I learned to live with most of them leaving for bigger and better jobs from time to time; I had to. But it's different when I live of my own free will.
Most of all, I really miss Martin.

Sunday, 23 April 2006

We have the technology

At that shop where we gave the guitar away for fixing they also had this beginners guitar book that came with a DVD and a CD. At $17 or so there wasn't much to think about so I got it.
Before I go on to discuss this book, I just want to mention the difference between this particular shop and the shop where I actually bought the guitar. When I made the purchase I was quite annoyed with the salespeople all trying to stir me towards stuff that I knew to suck, they knew to suck (and they even acknowledged it when pressed hard enough), which probably happens to be stuff they make more money on. The repairs shop, on the other hand, featured two sales people who were different: They were passionate. They spent time with me explaining stuff, and also showing off the various versions of the Fender Stratocoaster they had at the shop, as well as pointing out the differences between the Fenders and the Ibanezes and much more. It was a delight to listen to them, even if it didn't really matter to me, because it's just a delight to see people who are passionate about a good cause (music) do their best to benefit the not as knowledgeable amongst us. I know which shop I will go to from now on.

Anyway, back to the book. The book itself is nothing special: It features some 80 songs or so for the beginner, and the main problem with it is that most of the songs are church shit (as in I didn't know what they were but Jo's says it's those "songs of praise"). The familiar stuff is "oh when the saints go marching in" and "star and stranglers banner" (or whatever the American anthem is called). I'll put it this way: There's no Led Zep stuff in there (while the internet lessons I've done so far definitely did feature interesting music - Van Morrison, for example).
However, this big deficiency (for it is a deficiency if shit boring material gets me to drop playing altogether) is negated by the DVD that comes along with it. As a guitar teaching tool, this DVD is nothing but amazing!
On the frame you see three things: A close-up of the hand playing the guitar; a map of the chords/notes being played; and the notes themselves. Each of them changes as the music goes along with indicators and stuff to show you exactly what is happening. It's amazing! You really can manage this without going to official lessons.
This series of books has sequels, including a "guitar solos" book. The teaser for that book on the DVD looks quite appetizing, although it would probably take a few years (if ever) till I get there.

As a side effect of all this, Jo has to suffer through continuous sessions of Led Zeppeling. On the latest one she watched Jimmy Page do "Whole Lotta Love" with me and helped me analyze what he does with his guitar while we watched the Led Zep live DVD she got me for my last birthday.
I will tell you right now that while I would like to play like him, I do not intend to smoke and do the other stuff he does during the shows.

The Unbearable Heavyness of Being

I guess what I'm trying to say in this one is further proof of my argument from the previous blogentry concerning life being an ongoing struggle rather than a love affair.
If we ignore the inevitable fact that everything that ever lived or will ever live is going to die (much to the uncomfortable-ness of all of those living things), let us just look at my weekend:
Yesterday Jo & I collected most of the fallen leaves from our driveway. It's autumn now, and unlike Israel where autumn is just a season for the record with nothing unique about it (Israel could easily get away with having just two seasons a year), here it does mean that all European branded trees shed their leaves. And while our frontyard features a tree that doesn't mind autumn that much, our neighbors on the left have this huge tree full of big leaves that end up on the floor (and worse, on the roof and its gutters) over a period of four weeks or so in autumn.
This period has obviously started last week, and already whenever we park our car you don't really see the path underneath (you just hear the cracking of leaves as you drive over them). So yesterday we collected them and I cleaned some of the gutters (we still need to bring a roof specialist as none of us two will climb the roof to clean the hidden gutters due to vertigo related reasons; besides, if I go up there we won't have any roof - we'll have a hole).
And my point is? This morning the driveway is full of leaves all over again, so at least we know what we will be doing next weekend if it doesn't rain.
Living in an apartment where you don't really have to care of the garden and the yard and all that shit does have its advantages, from time to time.
But that's life. It's not all about doing the things you like or having the things you'd like to have.

In other relatively unrelated news, we sent the guitar away to have its volume button replaced. All it needs is a new potentiometer, and that costs less than $5. My problem is that in order to get to it I need to take all the strings off and mess around a bit, and I don't really know at this stage how to do this (although eventually I should know how to replace strings). For $20 the question is rather mute, especially as I'm going to use the invoice from the repairs as the specialist's assessment for the insurance in order to claim those $20 back.
$20 is not a sum worth fighting the insurance people over, but I hate them so much (or rather, hate what they stand for in the way they conduct their business) that I will enjoy those $20.
I guess this also goes to show my point from before: At the end of the process I'll have a guitar that's sort of equivalent to what I've had before I broke it, but not as good. And that's life for you: The second law of thermodynamics is just everywhere.

To conclude I'll add that I'm not saying we should all just commit suicide. I actually do enjoy life and I think it's worth living; but I do think that I enjoy life more once I acknowledge its disadvantages, which enables me to live a more complete life. I certainly think it's better to living under the illusion that everything is as fine and dandy as it is in the movies and then waking up to smell the roses when it's too late.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

They can't swim

Those of you who used to watch Seinfeld will know exactly what I'm talking about here. Those that didn't watch it, although at a major loss, can also figure it out using their vivid imaginations.

We got the news this week after a series of examinations stretching for quite a while. Eventually I'll probably write more about those, since in retrospect the experience was quite amusing although at the time it was quite terrifying. If ever I was looking for material to use as the core idea of my first book, this would be it. For now, as a teaser like thing, all I will say is that it was definitely not the way you'd expect it to be if you watch movies dealing with this issue.

I guess the biggest question now, from a reader's point of view, is how I'm taking it and why I'm going public with it. As far as I'm concerned, there is one answer to this question: Since I did not break the rules of my moral code, since I did not break the law, and since I did not hurt anyone with this, I have no problem acknowledging this issue and I have no issues with the issue itself. Keeping it a secret of pretending it's not there would just be stupid. We seem to live in a world where people expect things to go along smoothly the way they do in the movies; however, long ago I have realized that life is not that as rosy as it is painted to be, and that in fact it is mostly a struggle. I can complain about this problem just as much as I can complain about not being born as Bill Gates' eldest son: In both cases I really had no control over the problem to begin with.
That said, I am definitely scared of the consequences of this problem. I am a nervous and tense person to begin with: I am quite scared of changes in my environment, and in order to combat this cowardness I adapt an analytical approach and do my best to analyze everything around me and be in control of everything around me. One side effect of this approach is that I tend to have a reputation for being a tight ass in certain circles, but despite its disadvantages this approach does help me handle this current problem. If anything, I can say now that I have forecasted this problem a long time ago: The same reasons that lead me to believe I will probably die of a heart attack or at least suffer a heart attack - inadequate lifestyle, lack of workout, poor diet - apply to the current problem, too. Add years of certain exposure to radio transmitters in the army and other shit, and I can definitely see where the problem is coming from.
Fact is that I used to laugh and dismiss certain questions with comments like "nah, they can't swim anyway". And now the joke has become reality.

Thursday, 20 April 2006

The bottom of the heap

Well, in case I needed a reminder as to how slimy insurance companies are:
I got the forms from the credit card's insurance company today, with the aim being to file a claim (as I am perfectly entitled to) to cover me for my damaged guitar.
Needless to say, I don't expect much of the insurance company; basically, I expect them to say they will not pay me because of negligence on my side. They would be right, but then again that's the purpose of the insurance policy in the first place, and they have just enough in the way of policy disclaimers to be able to get away with it.
Anyway, the forms I have received today have two problems in them.
The first is a bit of a paradox: They ask me to send them the credit card statement, while also stating that statements printed through the internet are invalid. This will pose a bit of a problem, since their policy also says I have to file my claim within 30 days, and the statement will not be received for the next 40 days.
The second problem is pure insurance delight: In order to file a "legal" claim, I have to have a "certified" entity estimate the guitar and the damage done to it. They don't really say what "certified" means; if it was up to me, I would gladly certify Jo to do it. I guess any guitar repair shop will do, but that will lead me toward another problem: The guitar repair shop that will do it will ask money for doing it, and nowhere in the insurance policy does the insurance company say that they will reimburse me for that expense. Worse, in my particular case the cost of assessment will probably be in the vicinity of the guitar's cost ($150). I'm saying this out of experience: Three years ago a removalist dropped my mobile air-conditioner and broke it; I claimed against their insurance, and they forced me to get an assessment at the cost of more than $200 (although in that case the estimator had to pay me a visit). The difference was that I was fully reimbursed for those $200.

Overall, this affair goes to show that you don't really get much in the way of freebies nowadays. Both the bank issuing me the credit card and the insurance company they have associated with are, to put it bluntly, scum.
And so I can only reaffirm my old opinion that insurance agents are down there at the bottom of the pile together with real estate agents. And I also learnt that those credit card insurance policies are pretty useless unless you really have some major item at stake.
I do not plan to let this pass by, though: I will gladly torture the insurance company with questions over their processes - I specialize in that. And then there will probably be another stage of complaint letters to the bank telling them of my opinion on their "excellent" insurance products. My revenge will be the time they waste on me.

P.S. Before you say so: I know $150 is not a lot; but for me it's the principle that counts. As I said before, this is a test case to see how worthy is that credit card insurance policy (and obviously you could see I'm not really impressed).

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Lotus Notes blues

I know I'm still under a cease fire, I know I've discussed it here before, but I can't help saying it: Lotus Notes sucks!!!
It's so shit it's amazing that people would still willingly use it. I am not known for any affection towards Microsoft; their products are a bunch of expensive and unstable shit, while alternatives such as Firefox (which I am using to type this in) are so much better.
But as shitty as Microsoft is, it's Outlook product is parsecs ahead of Lotus Notes. I'm talking several Castle Runs ahead here.
Where can I start? I'll focus on the more annoying stuff.
You don't get notifications when new mail arrives. Why? Because Lotus Notes doesn't really bother checking if new mail has arrived in the first place. Yes, it checks after you send an email, but that's it. So if you're expecting some emails, you have to sit and stare at the Lotus Notes screen while occasionally hitting the "refresh" button. Quite an effective way to be ineffective at the office.
But what if you are not aware of someone sending you urgent emails? Well, that's your fault for not manually refreshing every couple of minutes. That's what happened today, for example, when Jo's invitation to join her and other friends for lunch was received way too late by me.
Similar shit happens with calendar bookings: I set mine up so that meetings which I arrange generate a warning, which is pretty useful. However, meetings arranged by others do not generate such a warning (unless the others have set it up to generate the warning, which is not there by default); and thus I have already missed a meeting. I had to come up with an elaborate excuse about being held on the phone by an annoying supplier wanting to sell us his services. At least missing a meeting means missing work, so I don't really care about it that much.
Still, Lotus Notes doesn't stop there. If you delete an email, it is deleted for good; no turning back there. There is a trash can folder that you can move emails to, but then whenever you manually refresh your emails (as discussed above) it asks you whether you want to delete the emails in the trash can. Every time.
And it behaves really weird, too: The interface for deleting a "sent items" message is totally different to the interface handling the same task on the inbox side of things.
Last (for now), but not least, is the sophisticated interface for moving emails between folders. Drag and drop? You must be joking! This is Lotus Notes! You have to select the menu option for "move to a folder", and then select your folder from a list of folders. And if you want to do this for several emails in one go you're better off committing suicide.

I guess the thing that annoys me the most about it is that people are perfectly willing to live with it. Worse, when I say out loud what I think of Lotus Notes (and new job or not, I say exactly what I think of it), the people around me think I'm a loony [that's a Jo word]. The fact they're all Lotus Notes developers or ex IBM people probably has something to do with it.
At a time where web email services like Hotmail and Gmail provide you tools that automatically inform you when new emails has arrived, Lotus Notes' 19th century technology is simply unacceptable.

The problem is a mentality thing. The people simply fail to aspire; they are perfectly content with the mire they're used to just because that's what they're used to. I, on the other hand, am the type of person that needs everything around me to be sorted out and work well in order for me to be able to focus and deliver outputs. In my defence I can say that when things are sorted and I am in the mood to deliver, I deliver.
And as if to prove those observations, I was informed today that a complaint I have made regarding my inability to access a certain website for work purposes cannot be answered. The reason quoted was that with the tools we currently use, namely Windows 2000 and an archaic version of Internet Explorer, that website simply won't work.
And what website was that? A certain website by a minor and obscure company of which you've never heard before: www.oracle.com

Tomorrow I'm breaking the rules and downloading Firefox, by hook or by crook!

Half time

It's 5:30am, half time between AC Milan and Barcelona, and so far it has been quite boring and I fully admit that in retrospect I would have preferred the extra sleep, big gun team names or not. I should have expected this given that there's a boring Italian team involved (zero guesses as to who I support).
The experience of watching football at this time of the day is quite surrealistic. It feels like it's late at night - I'm so tired now that I definitely feel like going to bed, and not like going to work.
And it's just so quiet! The area we live in is quiet to begin with (the area I used to live in back in Israel, which is a relatively quiet suburb of Tel Aviv, feels like an airport compared to here). But at 5:00am it's even quieter: no cars passing, nothing around you but quietness. The main sound I'm hearing is the constant buzz my ears produce, the effect of watching Terminator II way too loud too many times and listening to loud music way too much. With the TV off that buzz can be scaringly loud!
The TV itself has its volume set so low you almost don't see any bars in the volume control, yet you can hear very well. And the strangest thing of all is that SBS' reception is just excellent! SBS is the only UHF station here (the rest are VHF), and given the station's lack of popularity (most people prefer commercial TV to dumb them down) no one bothers making good UHF aerials - they're all just VHF with some slight gesture towards UHF. And there's also a three story house standing in between us and the SBS transmitter up in the Dandenongs.
Yet the reason for the clear reception is clear: With no human interference in the shape of turned on appliances to bother with the SBS signal, the world is a much better place. Things will change as more and more people wake up.
As Wabby the dog is busy dreaming right next to me, I can't help but think how we humans only know how to make lots of noise and contamination.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Chicken dog

I know I promised to be silent today, but I couldn't help myself.
I don't know if it's a testimony to my playing skills, but Wabby the dog's attitude to my guitar (and ukulele) playing is nothing short of amazing.
He tucks his tail between his legs, lowers his head, and walks slowly to hide underneath the bed in the spare room. He's scared of my playing! Some brave dog!
I can't help being scientifically curious about it. I'm not playing loudly at all, and I'm not playing noise: all I do for now is the scales and a couple of chords. The reason for the dog's chicken act is beyond me.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Cease Fire

Just to let you know that you shouldn't expect new blogentries in the next two days.
The Champions League's semis are on SBS both on Wednesday morning and Thursday morning, live, which means I have to get up and be fully operational (albeit still dressed in my pyjamas) by 4:45. And then go to work.
Something needs to compensate for that, and since I can't mess about with work it will probably be the blog that suffers (and work, too, because I'll be dead tired).
But hey - that's the price you have to pay. Not that Arsenal will get anywhere, though. As predicted, they fucked up in the Premiership and will have to settle with the UEFA cup. The Champions League will be won by either Milan or Barca.

Anyway, it's going to be training for the upcoming World Cup when waking up in the middle of the night will be the way to go for an entire month. Although I will probably skip such delights as Togo vs Zimbabwe to focus on the proper teams, I don't know yet where to draw the line: Will Netherlands vs Zimbabwe merit a wake up call or will just something like Brazil vs Argentina be worthwhile? I suspect I'd prefer to err on the safe side, but I will have to see how I cope.

The air near my fingers

The guitar phase I'm currently going through means there's a definite revival in my interest in music, especially guitar based music. On one hand I keep thinking of where I would like to be, skills wise, on the other hand I know I'm stupid to aspire for too high a star and I should just enjoy the ride (which I seem to be doing so far, broken guitar or not).
But still, it's nice to think about it. In the process I got to listen to some new music by The Strokes, The Kaiser Chiefs, and Franz Ferdinand. They're all good; I seem to like The Strokes in particular, but they're a bit on the softer side of things for me. The Kaiser Chiefs have some excellent songs that blows the Strokes away (e.g., I Predict a Riot), but they also have shit songs of the type that makes you say "what the f*ck is that". And Franz Ferdinand have some nice stuff, but they are definitely not what they aspire to be - the British answer to "The White Strokes", according to them.
It seems like the ones that truly move me, guitar wise, are Led Zeppelin and The White Stripes. Led Zep have a collection of songs that is just awesome and features lots of stuff I can never imagine possible, while The White Stripes offer simpler material that has the exact sound that I like and some guitar work that never fails to stir me. If you don't know what I mean just check out "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" - if I could play that, I would be able to declare myself as a self sustaining entertainment unit.
Alas, so far it seems like those dreams would have to wait. I find it really hard to just press on one string at a time with my left hand's fingers: My fingers are too chubby, too short, and some of the fingernails are too long (shaped by years of me eating my fingers). Jo says it's just a question of practice and more practice, and there is something in what she says because I can see the improvement (especially on the ukulele, where the gaps between the strings are larger).

I'll keep you up to date on my efforts, but please let me know if you stumble on a cheap electric guitar that has wide gaps between its strings.
(Then again, this gap is probably a design thing to help you mess with several strings using just one finger; but that's Eric Clapton stuff, not Moshe Reuveni)

Rage on Emerald Lake

We didn't do much on these last four days of the Easter break. Not that we didn't want to do much, it's just the weather was not all that inviting. I guess this is something we'll have to learn to live with given that it would only grow worse over the next few months, but never mind that for now.
So we decided to do something with ourselves on the last day off work, and we picked Emerald Lake. It's right near a place called Emerald, which according to the GPS is 46km east of where we live, somewhere in the Dandenong ranges (a rather shallow mountain to Melbourne's east).
Emerald is probably known best for being the last station on Puffing Billy, which is this steam train line that goes for about 15km between Belgrave and Emerald Lake, passing between some nice scenery. We've been there once, like three years ago or more when Australia was still brand new to us and Jo was still living in Sydney (an era now referred as "the Dark Ages"). That Poof-ing Billy is nice, but it's definitely a kids' thing, unless you're a train freak (and I don't know anyone in Israel who is, simply because there are none worth mentioning beyond Thomas the tank engine's age).
Anyway - off we drove to Emerald Lake. And I'll start with the conclusion: It felt like we were revisiting Scotland. What a rip off of a place!
Parking is $2 an hour ($6 for the whole day), but the parking ticket machines are those evil type that we first met in England but never met before in Australia: If you put, say, $3, they won't give you an hour and a half; you have to put either $2 or $4 or $6. Anything other than that just gets gobbled up without giving you any extras (or change).
For that price you expect decent facilities, but you don't get much. In an Australian first, the toilets were shit (pun intended): Jo had to be picky because in the first toilet contraption she visited the doors wouldn't look (and her report specified that booths are too big to keep the doors shut with your foot, yet I'm sure this is more information than most would expect).
They have some certain bridges crossing the lakes - which, granted, are nice although on the smaller side of things - more like ponds. These bridges are closed down.
And they have this model railway exhibit, claiming for that most Australian of titles - the longest in the "southern hemisphere" (personally I think "the biggest in the entire continent" sounds more pompous even if it's a lesser title, but that's material for another blogentry). Interesting, don't you agree? Yet, once you're inside, you face this nice sign telling you it's $5.50 per admission. Makes you want to go inside just to break it all down with a sledgehammer; you can call that charity work, because you'll be saving lots of families the trouble of fighting with the kids that don't really appreciate the value of money just to go inside and see a miniature train going about.
Anyway, not recommended. You get ripped off Scotland style, but you don't get the nice things back that we got when we were in Scotland (you just get fucked).
I even forgot to take my camera, which was a bit of a pity because it's now autumn and the trees are all different colors. So I took a photo with my PDA. It's shit, but it's the closest I recommend you get to Emerald Lake.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

The Absolute Power

I cannot help but compare my stereo's power amplifier to the new guitar amp. They're just so different yet they are meant to do similar stuff. And yes, I know it's not really a "stereo" system that I have, but I refer to it as a "stereo" system for a lack of a better word and for respect to the term hi-fi (a DVD player purchased from Aldi for $50 is not a hi-fi component, sadly, no matter how good it is value for money wise).

So how do these two amps compare?
On the stereo side I've got a genuine hi-fi component, a Hafler power amplifier. It can deliver up to 200 watts of continuous output to the speakers through its huge power supply, and since it has a Class A configuration it gobbles up electricity at a relatively constant rate of 850 watts.
That maximum output of 90 watts can be misleading, though. Most of the time the amp delivers much less power: My main speakers have an efficiency rating of 87, which means that 1 watt of output from my power amp will generate 87db of noise. Since 87 is quite a lot - it's a level a person should not be exposed to for more than a few minutes a day - this means that my amp is mostly "unemployed" and terribly inefficient: for the less than 1 watt of output its required to output most of the time, it consumes 850 watts on a regular basis. This 1:1000 rate is not what one would expect in most places and not what one would pay for under most circumstances, but in the hi-fi world this is the price you need to pay for a reliable reproduction of the original signal. The more efficient the amp was, the more distortion would slip through.
The guitar amp, a Fender rated to deliver 15 watts of output at its integral speaker, consumes just 38 watts from the grid. And it probably doesn't consume anywhere near as much most of the time.
I can't do the same ratio estimations I did for the Hafler on the Fender, because this one doesn't consume electricity at a constant rate and because I don't know its speaker's efficiency. But it's quite clear it is much more efficient as an amp; and the speaker is bound to be way more efficient than hi-fi speakers too. The reason is simple: In a guitar amp, you actually want distortion. You want it to clip (albeit a soft clip); you want the overdrive. And you even allow the speaker to get out of the boundaries of its coil, something you would never allow in hi-fi.
You can easily listen to it, too. If you set the guitar amp to its "high quality" setting you get a very mild amplification of the guitar, and it all sounds pretty much like a classic guitar. Turn the gain up and encourage it to clip, and you get this powerful noisy monster that would guarantee the wrath of every neighbor. And all at a fraction of the power consumption.

It makes the environmentalist in me shudder.

Saturday, 15 April 2006

The Fall of Ziggy Stardust

How long do I have my guitar? Two days. And I already managed to drop it and smash it!
It's not totally useless, just the volume button broke (you can still set it up with a screwdriver) and that thing that plays with how long a note lingers (wah-wah?) got twisted. And there are some scratches and marks. And that's it for the prospect of selling it on eBay.
I'm trying to comfort myself rather unsuccessfully into believing that this is not too bad. First, it's only a $150 guitar. Second, I'm a rock star on my second day, smashing it while performing. But shit, I can't believe how easily it happened.
At least I have a good test case for the credit card's "90 days damage warranty". Let's see if I can get those $150 back... It would be really stupid, though, if they take the guitar and give me cash, because this particular one no longer sells for that price and I'll have to end up forking out more.

In other news that should have made me happy but I'm too annoyed now to make anything make me happy, we got a Fender amp for the guitar at $150. I originally aimed at a cheaper Squire for $70, but asked for a demo just to see where the price difference is; and the audiophile in me just couldn't accept the Squire's rough and rather unpleasant sound compared to the valve like Fender. Jo agreed, and she was actually enthusiastic about it.
We got home and I have to say playing with the amp is weird: You hear the sound the strings make, but you also hear the sound the amp makes - but that's coming from somewhere else. I find the sound the guitar pick makes rather annoying, but you don't really hear it when the amp's volume is up; thing is, I really don't want the shit that I'm playing now to be on the loud side.
As far as toys go, we got this tuner gizmo. You play a string on the guitar, it identifies the note you're playing, and tells you whether you need to set the pitch higher or lower. It really is precise. The first thing it showed us was that Jo did quite a good at tuning the guitar with the piano; the second thing it showed us was that the ukulele goes out of tune within a matter of seconds (as suspected), but during those magical seconds it sounds really nice (especially with the pick).

Bottom line: I can't believe that I, the guy who kept his GPS, camera, lenses, Palm, and lots of other shit in a virtually new condition - and sold them all for very nice prices on eBay because of their excellent condition - managed to break his new guitar with only two days to go.
I feel like such an idiot.

Friday, 14 April 2006

The times, they are a-changing

I am currently in the process of taking my first guitar lesson.
The procedure is totally different to the organ lessons I was taking for a while between the ages of 12-14. Unlike then, when I had the company of quite a menacing old guy to teach me, I now have the company of Jo's work laptop (Jo accompanies me, too, but she's heavily concentrating on the end of Mote in God's Eye); and in between bloging, the laptop is set on http://guitar.about.com/library/weekly/aa071200a.htm which seems to provide a collection of lessons.
I'm currently doing the scales thing, which shows another difference between now and then. While "then" I was really annoyed with the stupid scale practice and wanted to get on to playing real music, now I am fully aware of the fact that unless I manage those scales (which do not seem as bad as before) I will never get to play proper music (just like I never got to playing proper music on the organ). And another difference is that I actually enjoy the process: it definitely works to calm me down.
Call it maturity, but I'm reminded of how my parents paid a lot of money they never really had much of to that organ teacher just to satisfy a temporary whim of mine. I wonder if the internet is making life hard for music teachers.

Thursday, 13 April 2006

Blue

They ran out of red & white!
They also increased the guitar's price from $150 to $250 due to them selling like four wheel drives when petrol was cheap. Luckily for them, I had a note quoting $150, so I got one out of the new Chelsea blue stock.
Sales people are just scum that doesn't know much but tries to sell you shit that they get lots of commission on (I will always remember how a guy demoing speakers knocked on them to show with pride that they generate hollow sounds when knocked upon, when a good speaker would behave exactly the other way around - and will also hurt your knuckle). This case was no different with a guy trying to sell me some very nice Fender amps to go with the new guitar even though it is obvious that for years to come all that would be generated out of the guitar is noise.
Then he tried to sell me cables, tuners, carry bags... The fact the guitar came with a cable didn't matter much to him.
Anyway, the guitar made me quite popular at work, where I carried it to after buying it during my lunch break. Then I walked with it to the train station thinking how nice it would have been to have the Canyonero with me instead of walking with a deadly weapon in hand (you have to remember that handing anything big to someone as clumsy as me is a dangerous act). Looking back at this walk, I can't help thinking how annoying that walk would have been in Israel, where pretty every place you cross features a security examination of your stuff; and it's not just the superficial look for alcohol they do in here, it's a proper search; and given that on my way to the train I cross several shopping malls and the likes, it would have been a pain.
Anyway, I'll stop straying: the guitar really sounds nice even without the amp we don't have yet (hopefully we'll get one on Saturday). And the nice thing is that Jo's enthusiastic about it, too.

Last but not least, I have to blame Mr Hyde (probably better known as Jo's sister) for the timing of the purchase: I actually wanted to wait a bit to see if the enthusiasm wanes, but she pushed me so "elegantly" to spend my money that I just couldn't resist. The wonders of Skype.

Comedy Festival agenda

Here's our agenda for this year's Melbourne Comedy Festival, based on the tickets Jo got us yesterday:
15/4/2006: Tripod
16/4/2006: Ross Noble
25/4/2006: Will Anderson
2/5/2006: Danny Bhoy

Hope this will provide a fresh bit of exercising for my already very well exercised stomach.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Ziggy played guitar

Readers of this blog will know that something like two weeks ago Jo got herself a ukulele.
Thing is, she hardly ever touched it after the first go once we got home. I, on the other hand, have been playing with it since. Not that I manage to generate anything even remotely musical out of it (eventually I'll put a short movie clip on the links at the side so you'd be able to see for yourself, but I have to warn you in advance to wear ear protection).
By now I know five (!!) chords, but it takes me between a minute to a minute and a half to switch from one cord to another in this ritual that never fails to get Jo to laugh. She claims it's due to the expression on my face when I concentrate on the switch; I don't care, because I find it all to be quite a therapeutic experience. It's just so relaxing.
Given the limited scope of the ukulele, and with Jo talking about her experience playing guitar (just one of loads of musical instruments she played, and in contrast to me she actually does play), I've decided to further examine the issue of guitars.
Jo recommended I start with an acoustic one to see how it goes; but aided with this website that I got to when I googled "how to buy a good cheap guitar" which said that it's easier to learn on an electric one than an acoustic one (don't ask me why) and the fact that none of the music that I like is really acoustic guitar based (ok, maybe none is too harsh but you get the point) while almost all of it is electric guitar based, I decided to examine the possibilities of the electric side of the fence.
Now I know I will never be up to any good, so there's no need to go for the top of the line shit. On the other hand, I don't want something that's so shit I wouldn't be able to get along with it in the first place; that ukulele that we got is a good example, because it goes out of tune virtually immediately after you tune it, which sort of makes it hard to learn the instrument.
Having had a look on the internet and in a shop right next to where I work, I decided that for a guitar I would go with a Yamaha Pacifica 012 which I can get for $150 ("sadly" available on in red and white for that price). As far as an amp goes, I will go for the cheapest piece of shit I can find; I won't be playing anything that you would actually want to hear in the next few years anyway, it's all just an exercise in therapy.
As far as accessories go, I'll only get a cable to connect the guitar to the amp. I'll skip the tuner for now because I can tune the guitar with the piano we already have (and a bit of Jo's help, because my musical hearing is just fucked and I can't tell one note from another). As I go I'll get things like spare strings and shit like that.
Obviously, the greatest danger here is that this is all money for nothing and in a week's time I'd be tired of it all and the guitar would just be left to gather dust. But that's where eBay comes into the picture: Since the 012 normally sells for $300 and more, I should be able to cover a significant portion of the initial investment (the amp would be another story altogether, since posting costs would be quite a lot and no one really wants shit used stuff).
But the point is that with eBay in the equation there aren't that many risks. Unless you count the fact we don't have anywhere to store the guitar a risk.
I'll probably post some photos once I get some hardware.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Joke of the day

We were talking at the office kitchen about how much multi culturalism adds to Melbourne.
Somehow, the conversation moved to religion and the abundance of people of different religions living side by side and getting along pretty well with each other.
Then the inevitable happened and someone said some reference to me being a Jew, yet another religion that's fairly popular in town. And as expected, I mentioned that in actual fact I'm quite an atheist.
And then that same guy said, "well, that's the point: we all come from different backgrounds, but we all believe in one god".

Monday, 10 April 2006

Tuna here, tuna there

Today I had my first taste of tuna since leaving Volanpex, which means that it's been a month since I last had it. It's funny how as much as I devoured tuna back on my Ipex days - probably something like three lunches a week - I still crave for tuna whenever I don't get it. I even craved for it while we were on our Euro trip.
It's funny, but tuna is the ideal lunch. It doesn't require much in the way of preparation; it's tasty; it's cheap; and it goes well with reading the paper. I usually have it with bits of our wholemeal home made bread (we only do wholemeal; personally, I think white bread is as interesting to eat as a piece of foam).
There were some significant differences between today's tuna and the tuna of yonder. For a start, I now have the privilege of using a plate instead of having my lunch over a few pieces of paper (strategically placed to absorb the occasional drop of oil). You see, at the Ipex kitchen there's nothing but a table and a chair; my current kitchen actually has what one would normally expect to find in a kitchen. It even has cutlery - no need to bring it from home!
On the other hand, one major thing the current tuna lacks camaraderie. Ipex I hardly ever had my tuna on my own; it was always a "company" lunch, unless I was really hungry and wanted to have lunch on my own or unless I was overly focused on my paper. Now, people have this city mentality with lunch: come lunch, no one is friends with anyone else. People just disappear at seemingly random points in time, only to come back a certain time later. Some come back to work, others come back with a take away lunch they tend to eat at their desk. And those that take their lunch to eat in the kitchen are so few they tend to eat on their own, accompanied only by the occasional magazine or by the kitchen's TV.
I miss the company.
Of course, all this discussion about lunch at work brings back memories of Israel. With all the jobs I've had in Israel, I always had lunch provided by work. At El-Al it was at the company's messhall, but with 3Com and Tecnomatix it was at genuine high quality restaurants. Those tuna cans are as far away from those restaurants as Australia is from Israel.
Sadly, I cannot escape the impression that the Australian employee tends to get the tuna can treatment much more often than the Israeli who gets the restaurant treatment.
It's not only the lunch; the employee tends to be much better looked after in Israel than in here. Although there's a significant difference between the hi-tech environment I enjoyed in Israel to what the average Israeli gets at work, stuff like the new industrial relations legislations will not take Australia towards the right direction; they'll only make those that will never even consider having a can of tuna for lunch much less prone to considering the idea.

Little Red Riding Hood

If you ask her really nicely, Jo will gladly sell you these two driods she recently purchased from their rightful owner.
Death Star plans included!

Sunday, 9 April 2006

No news from god

This one is a direct extension of my previous blogentry, entitled "Don't pass me by" (after the Ringo Star song from the white album). Originally I intended for the two to be one, but the first one got to be too long.

I don't usually review films I don't watch in the cinema anymore; as I said before, you can learn a lot about me by the things I don't blog about. But here's an exception.
A week ago we watched a Spanish film called "No News from god" on video. We taped it a month or two ago from SBS; in fact, one of my main messages from this blogentry is to say that SBS seems to have something going for it every Wednesday night at ten. They tend to put their primary film for the week at that time slot, and given that SBS is all about foreign stuff these films tend to be quality stuff instead of the usual shit material you get on the commercial channels.
We don't like watching films on video anymore. The quality is not on par with DVD, it's hard to make up what people are saying... It's just doesn't cut it anymore. But we were too lazy that weekend to go out and rent something, so we had a marathon of watching films we taped. We managed to accumulate quite a backlog, with one film, Shipping News, waiting for us for more than a year (it actually had promos for the Australian Open on it - the 2005 Australian Open).

Anyway, what captured me immediately with No News from god was the fact it is, in fact, a discussion on my favorite bible passage. I'm talking about the passage I've already discussed twice in this very blog - Moshe asking god during their first date "who the f*ck are you", and god answering "I'll be whoever I'll be" (freely translated from the Hebrew original by yours truly). If you want to look for the original, peek-a-boo at Shmot (aka Exodus) 3:14.
I don't think that passage captured me because it's pi; I think it did because when we studied it, on 6th grade, with Ori the school principal as our bible teacher, we ended up devoting several weeks to this single passage and its interpretations.

You see, as with everything else in the bible, people who are true believers tend to look for more than meets the eye. Whereas I would read the passage as Moshe asking the burning bush "what the fuck's this burning shrubbery", and the shrub answering back "don't fuck with me", the bible interpreters have sensed something deeper.
It starts with the first level of interpretation. Moshe is asking "why pick on me" (as in why choose me to get the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt), and god is answering "hey, because that's the way I designed things to be".
The second level goes into analyzing the first layer of interpretation. Why did god design things this way anyway? Why is god making one nation pretty miserable (the Israelite slaves), and why is he about to make another nation pay the punishment (the Egyptians)?
This dilemma is at the center of the bible, because one of the key questions the bible tries to answer is why certain people who do good suffer while others who are evil are also having a pretty good time; this doesn't make sense in a world controlled by an all powerful and just entity.
And the answer is supposed to be that god will do whatever he/she will do, we as mere people should leave god be and worry about doing our own stuff without wondering why it's done this way.
If you're a believer, you would assume that god has designed the Egyptians as simply a tool to teach the Israelites a lesson, to have them go through an experience (being slaves and then set free) that will shape their existence for the next few millennia.

However, if you're a none believer, like me - someone who thinks that all people are equal and starts concluding from that point of view - you would reach one of two conclusions:
1. God is weak and can't really control stuff. He is busy in conflicts with the devil or whatever, and as a result you get certain people doing well and others doing pretty badly; god just can't help it.
2. God is evil. God enjoys seeing certain people suffer at the expense of others.

Which is exactly the idea being explored, in a very funny and open way, by the film.
Heaven, for a start, is a black and white version of Paris where people speak French; hell, on the other hand, is managed corporate style by people in suits carrying titles such as CEO and CFO and speaking English. Hell is a very American place.
There's not much more to the film; it won't answer the questions that no one is really capable of answering. It just discusses the issues in a very funny way, which makes you just think of the absurdity behind the ideas mankind came up with a few thousand years ago and which are still, sadly, too much in control of our lives (There are examples aplenty. Just this week I've heard a guy at work going through a tough period in his marriage saying how he goes to church to address the problem; and I've seen a video my father sent me of the elections' propaganda from Israel, where most of the parties say how they would be better at "maintaining Jewish values" and how "the Jewish people in the Jewish state" deserve them, making me proud to be an Australian).

So make sure you check out what's on SBS on Wednesday nights.

Don't pass me by

With Pesach (aka Passover) and Easter coming up, what better opportunity will I get for another ever so delightful "let us have a go at religion" session?
This time I will focus on Judaism and leave Christianity alone, for two main reasons: First, I don't know much about Christianity to begin with; and second, the story of Jesus' resurrection is just so reliable and authentic that I cannot really say much about it. In fact, I know of a good few others that have been brought back from the dead: Deep Purple, Foreigner and Simple Minds are just a few of the dead that have been resurrected to have a few live shows at St Kilda's Palace Theater just this April and May.
And so without ado I will examine Passover, the holiday every relative of mine I'm in touch with keeps on asking me about and pass comments such as "you gentile, were you even aware that Pesach is coming".

First of all, I will explain why Pesach is the holiday I hate the most. In the army, non kosher food is not allowed, which means that not only you don't get to eat normal bread but rather have to eat brick like maza bread instead, you don't get to eat everything else that for some elusive reason is deemed to be none Passover kosher. Which means that in the army, for a period of three weeks or so each year, you don't get much to eat at all because they don't really bother with worthwhile replacements. And so, for four years of my life, I was forced to eat shit for a good few weeks a year; and it didn't end there, because then came the era of reserve duty. Just four years ago, immediately prior to coming over to Australia, I was called to the army to take part in the "Homat Magen" operation during Passover. And was my army base prepared for the extra intake of a massive amount of reserve soldiers? And was I forced to eat brick like shit for a good few weeks? And don't I really miss it now that I'm in Australia?
Answer these rhetorical questions as you will.

And now for the religious aspect of the holiday. What is it that we're celebrating in the first place? Well, Passover is a celebration of the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt. Fair enough, good causes don't come any better than that.
But don't the cause justify the means?
Let's have a look at that. Why is Pesach/Passover called Passover in the first place?
It's because god "passed over" the houses of the Israelites when he sent the angel of death to ravage death over all of Egypt's first born. Which is just lovely, because I'm sure all of those first born were filthy scum. They were all criminals who deserved to die, no exclusions.
Now, raise your hands if that line of thinking sounds terribly familiar to the line of reasoning used by the Nazis when they explained why Jewish babies should join their parents in incineration - namely that they will grow up to be filthy Jews - please raise your hands.
I simply find that hard to accept, and I will definitely find it very hard to celebrate.
And even if it was true and all of Egypt's first born were filthy scum worthy of death - why did god make them this way in the first place? The only reason for that, as far as I can tell, is that god is evil: God is willing to create evil creatures and ravage them in an awful fashion just to make a point to the people of Israel, who are physically very identical to those evil people (slight gene variation due to extremely slight inherited variations).
I like to think of god's orders to his angel of death in contemporary form. The way I see it, god gave Mr/Mrs Death the following code to follow:

Repeat
. If ((Mezuza on door <> true) and
. (gender = male) and
. (person was first descendant of parents) and
. (number of own descendants <=0))
. then kill;
. Check out next person;
Until all people in Egypt have been covered;


Note I've added that last condition concerning the first born not having decendants of his own in order to explain why that Pharaho himself was spared; I don't really know whether only first borns with no children of their own were butchered.

Anyway, to conclude:
1. A god that runs a business this way is not my kind of god.
2. Forever Free, the Joe Haldeman book, which discusses the subject of the cruelty of the god mankind has invented, is an excellent book, despite what most of its critics say.

Brown or yellow?


What do you think of my new pyjamas?
These stylish brown pyjamas were a recent purchase from Target for the hefty sum of $20. Their velvety cloth is nice and smooth yet warm, perfect for Melbourne's recent spite of cool weather (predicted to last for at least the next six months).
The only thing is, while they are obviously brown, Jo keeps on claiming they're yellow. I don't know where she gets it from, but we've decided to go for a vote. Help Jo see the truth by putting in a comment and telling her that my new pyjamas are brown and not yellow.
Come on! As the famous words from Water Boy go, you can do it!

P.S. For another fascinating photo of Wabby the dog posing as a sphinx, have a look at the Flickr link to the right.

Friday, 7 April 2006

Lemon (see through in the sunlight)

Just a short story for today, as I'm still under the influence (of a cold).
This Wednesday morning I took a ride with a colleague from work to visit the Mulgrave branch of our department. The visit was really interesting and it was interesting to meet "real people", as in people who are somewhat less better off than the people I'm usually exposed to; it's always a revelation (as I witnessed through four years of army service and then some lots of reserve duty).
But for now I'll focus on the ride itself. The guy took me in his Ford Falcon, a two year old company car sporting 58,000 kms (at certain levels you get a company car as well as a parking space in our building).
This is a "made in Australia" car with a V6 engine, that's together with a very similar Holden (read: GM) make up the bulk of Australian fleet cars and the most dominant car manufacturers in Australia.
So I asked the guy what he thinks of the car and he said he likes it and that it's good and that it's much better than the matching Holden and that he's getting a new one soon and he asked for the same and all. He added that this particular one was a "bit of a lemon", but didn't go into details until way later - at which point he mentioned in a rather subtle way that the car had its differential and gearbox replaced (as well as some other stuff I managed to forget by now).
If that's "a bit of a lemon" then I don't know what a true lemon is. Thing is, I only talked to two other Ford Falcon owners, and their stories were remarkably similar: A friend of my brother had their door just fall off (yes, you read it right); a friend from work had constant oil leaks and lots of under warranty repairs that didn't manage to solve any of the problems.
Which sort of leaves me puzzled: Why would anyone bother buying these cars when with a car like a Toyota the word "differential" means "something you will never ever need to know anything about"?
I think it's just goes to show the marketing power of patriotism in Australia, where a company manages to convince so many people that their products are quite good when in fact they're selling them not so tasty lemons.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

First Blood

Not much to say other than point at the fact I managed to catch my first cold of this year / winter. With just a week of colder weather behind us (although the difference was quite dramatic), that's a mighty achievement. I'm still going to work (so far), but blogging is a bit of a pain.

One thing I will comment about is Arsenal qualifying to the semis of the Champions League. According to my calculations their luck must have ran out by now and Villareal will defeat them in humiliation. The biggest problem with Arsenal is that you know it would only take a slight effort to derail them of their recent wave of confidence; once that happens, they could easily end up out of the Champions League both this year and the next one.
That said, getting to the semis is a nice achievement.

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

What there is and what should never be

This is going to be weird:
I noticed that I can say a lot about myself by the things I don't write about in my blog.
I cannot say what these are other than the fact I don't mention stuff that may offend specific people or stuff I consider "none of your business"; but that's it, pretty much.
Thing is, I have some interesting and funny stuff I want to share, but it definitely falls on the none of your business category and therefore it will not be shared. But I am still taking the time to tell you they will not be shared and that you will continue to be stuck with the usual shit of me complaining about pretty much everything and saying that pretty much everyone is an idiot.

Traffic

My brother is off to Israel for three weeks. We got Wabby the dog, again, for three weeks. So far this sounds like a familiar story, only that this time we also got my brother's parking space in the city for three weeks.
And so we just had to try it. Last Thursday we did: we drove to the city via Kings Way, and it took us exactly an hour from the time we left home. Which is exactly the time it takes us on the train, although you could argue the car suffered a bit because of us driving next to Albert Park on Formula 1 weekend.
This Monday we went at it again, this time via Punt Road. Alas, this time it took us an hour and ten minutes: road work on Hoddle Street meant four lanes turned into one.
The drive back home wasn't much of a honey moon as well. Yes, it was quicker, but no, it wasn't significantly quicker.
But time saved or lost does not tell the entire story. The train beats the car because:
1. Travel time's standard deviation is significantly shorter. Yes, you often get fucked when they cancel a train, but it's a 10 minutes' story. Mess on the roads can cost you much more when you're driving.
2. The drive is not a nice drive; it's stop and go. It's annoying, it just taxes you. And it taxes the car, too, and I don't like my brand new Canyonero being taxed.
3. It's the type of drive where the chance of someone bumping into you or vice versa is quite significant. It's no longer so remote you don't even think of it; you see cars smashing into one another all the time. There's a reason for it: Australians simply do not keep their safe distance, and stupid bumper to bumper shit happens all the time (spoken by someone who recently bumped into someone's behind too, albeit it a bit of a different circumstances). I think there's just not enough awareness in here to the fact the easiest way of preventing accidents is to keep a safe distance.
4. The parking itself, although guaranteed (can also be purchased for $10-$12 when I don't have the pass, which is not that bad given that both Jo and I use it), is shit. You need a ruler to fit the car in, and with such narrow parking spaces you're bound to get nasty scratches on your beloved Canyonero. Worse, with people blocking one another in rows upon rows of parked cars, chances of someone bumping into you are, again, on the higher side of things for my taste. It's not just that the Canyonero is new, it's mostly to do with me wanting to avoid the easily avoidable hassle of messing around between insurers and mechanics, two of my less beloved people.
Mind you, a car does have its advantages beside the fact that my car is my fortress. Namely, it's to do with music: By now I virtually stopped listening to music on the train. It's just too noisy an environment; I have to compensate with the volume, and I just don't like to headphone listen at high volumes and I don't like the effect on my hearing even more. I read from time to time, but I mostly enjoy staring at people. That said, I am now at a unique situation where I acquire music (via downloads) much quicker than I can listen to it. Which is a shame.
Another funny aspect of taking the car to work is that having Jo with me in the car on a long drive feels like we're going on a holiday... But in order to be able to maintain that feeling and in order toremain sane, it's going to be the train for us for now.

Alas, the bottom line of this analysis work is that I'm still struggling with sticking to my regular daily routine while having two hours less to perform this daily routine in. Sleeping suffers, I'm constantly tired, I just can't be bothered with things... Work is interesting, and I hope eventually I'll adapt.

Monday, 3 April 2006

In a sunburnt country

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Often it has to do with the amount of effort you put into it. However, when you lose because you choose to lose, that's just plain weird.
But that's the situation with daylight savings time in Australia. The northern hemisphere has it right: They move to daylight savings at the end of March and cancel it at the end of October to enjoy an overall span of seven months of undiluted longer days.
Australia, however, does it on exactly the same dates (minus one week this particular year due to the Commonwealth Games). The result? The country that has more sunshine than most of the northern hemisphere put together (ok, I'm exaggerating) has daylight savings for only five months.
Why should that be the case? What's the big deal with turning the clocks together with everyone else? Are we trying to make life easier for Microsoft Windows to track?
The result is that October becomes a real pain: You wake up at 5:00am with a roomful of sunshine blinding you. Not to mention the fact you get out of work to a dark exterior more often.

Mind you, if you think that's weird behavior on the part of Australians, think of this: Queensland doesn't have daylight savings altogether, on account of them "having more than enough sun already".
Being closer to the equator means that the difference between day and night is smaller, but friends up north still tell me they wake up at 5:00.
My only conclusion is that being closer to the equator makes you dumber, an observation that coincides with what most Victorians will tell you: With each Victorian that moves to Queensland, the average IQ in both states goes up.

Ok, I know I'm being politically incorrect and that this is all bullshit. But what is not bullshit is the statistical concentration of racists in Queensland; the "pure white" Australia people seem to be heavily concentrated in certain areas of Queensland.
Maybe they deserve to wake up at 5:00; gives them time to think of their wrongdoings.

Sunday, 2 April 2006

One man band

Look at what we found today while walking around Brunswick Road in Fizroy (excuse spelling) for only $20!
Of course, Jo couldn't settle with free ukulele guides on the internet, so we had to get this booklet on how to tune/play it for another $15.
Jo says the ukulele we got is quite crap because it keeps going out of tune (she tunes it with the aid of our piano). I still think she's imagining it, because it all sounds the same to me.
It's rather surprising, but this audiophile that can easily tell you about the slightest nuances of sounds reproduction is totally useless when it comes to musical listening - this thing about being able to tell which note is which.
That aside, the ukulele is quite fun - I already know two chords (and again, both sound the same to me). It does take me a few minutes to move from one chord to another, though.
I think Jo should have this one man band thing: She can play the piano and then play the ukulele and I'll mix it on the PC; and then I think we should establish our own podcast service. I already thought of videoing my first ukulele song but Jo didn't think too highly of the idea.
Before podcasting I'll probably just include some MP3 links, but we're not there yet. I don't know what material I should do in that format, and besides - who would download it?
In the mean time, check the photos of Jo Clapton on Flickr using the links to the right.

Hawaii Hamas:0

I don't think this blog is famous for stating pro Israeli views; in general, I think Israel is very badly managed and most Israelis are not aware just how low they are going with the way they manage the Arab - Israeli conflict. I guess the ultimate evidence for my lack of satisfaction is in me leaving the country.
That said, I cannot fathom the handling of the very same conflict from the Palestinian side. They always seem to shoot themselves in the leg; and the sad comedy is plunging into its highest deeps with the new Hamas management.
I'm talking, in particular, about the two faced way the guys at Hamas are going. All the newspapers and the news in here are quite full of the Hamas' cries for help and them saying that Israel's policy hurts the Palestinians. I truly feel pity for the Palestinians and wish them all the best; but the funny thing is how those very same Hamas guys that just cried for help say in the very next sentence how Israel should be destroyed.
People just don't get that, and I admit it's hard for such a two faced theme to be comprehended.
Let's have a look at it in Australian perspectives: The situation is identical to Tasmania saying that it is not getting its fair share of the federal tax revenues, while at the very same time calling for the destruction of Australia.
Call me a cynic, but I just think it's hilarious.

Saturday, 1 April 2006

Spring is here again

It's actually autumn that's coming up again, but I'm still not used to the wrong way of seasonality here; April will probably always be associated with Spring as far as I'm concerned.
These last remnants of northern hemisphere-ness is not secluded to weather related stuff. Just today I noticed that I tried to get some water on the front windshield and instead I ended up blinking the high beams. Indeed, my phobia with driving on the right side of the road again while visiting far away places has more to do with whether I'll retain those old instincts upon returning back home.
But anyway, what I wanted to discuss here today is Melbourne's weather. We have been blessed with a rather summary summer this year: It was actually warm for a long period, there wasn't much in the way of rain (and when it came it was actually a relief rather than a pain), and there was actually talk about a cockroach plague in Melbourne.
You see, Melbourne's weather is just cold enough for us not to have cockroaches (the main reason why I think Melbourne's the place to be) but warm enough to avoid it being a dreary place. But this summer we did spot a few cockroaches, even inside the house (not that it's a big deal for them to creep in); relief came in from a rather unexpected venue: Melbourne's cockroaches are not as resourceful as their Israeli counterparts. They don't fly, for a start; they're much smaller (and thus significantly less repulsive); and most importantly, they just stand there in the open waiting to be bashed.
And thus we've had ourselves a long summer. However, come April first (today), Melbourne's weather god has decided that enough's enough, and suddenly it seems like all hell broke loose: Winds, rain, the lot. The temperature has plunged down to 18, which is not too bad if it wasn't for the suddenness in which it plummeted down to 18 making it feel as if we're about to freeze over.
It goes to show that feeling cold or warm is more to do with what you're used to than what the objective temperature is; and it also goes to show that I'm going to have a bit of a hard time in our upcoming icy Euro tour.