Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Chicken

Ever since I was told that I will need to go through an operation and that it looks like I have this much dreaded disease, I did my best to maintain a positive outlook.
One reason for that is that I think I've basically learnt over the years how to generally be a happy man, and another reason is that in general, other than the minor aches that got me to the examination table in the first place, I feel fine.
Things got stupidly ridiculous: it seems like I'm the one that's taking things the easiest out of most of the people I'm in touch with (the main exception seem to be those that just don't care). Instead of having to rely on others to support me, I'm usually the one that has to console the others. You always get this "we're with you" nonsense from everyone, and I can understand that - I've been in the opposite position and I know the futility of not being able to do anything yet having to show sympathy. But what can I do, I'm a practical person, and things like that go directly to the trash folder. I guess that's why I hated councilor Troy character in TNG the most. [Please don't take my words out of context. I'm not saying I don't need support; I always think friend are the most important thing, regardless of the situation. It's just that I'm action oriented and these sympathetic words do not help, and in most cases words are not required for me to know that people care. My mother doesn't need to say much for me to know she worries for me.]
However, the more we get further ahead in the process, the more I'm starting to become genuinely afraid. You see, with all the diagnosis taking place, it looks fairly obvious that in order to avoid a genuinely disturbing operation I will instead go through a "lighter" operation plus some chemotherapy or radiotherapy (and in my case, radio seems to be the preferred option).
Now I don't know if you're aware of it, but both have some very nasty side effects. Allow me to cut and paste from the Australian Cancer Council website. Let's start with chemo:
  • Tiredness: Most men feel tired during chemotherapy. This may increase as treatment progresses but usually disappears once treatment finishes. Tiredness may lower your interest in sex during cancer treatment. This is known as loss of libido. Sex drive usually returns after treatment is over.
  • Erection problems: The ability to have and keep an erection may also be affected but this is usually temporary.
  • Constipation: Medication for nausea and vomiting commonly causes constipation. Laxatives can help prevent this.
  • Numbness in fingers and toes: Some chemotherapy drugs affect nerves. This usually gets better after the treatment is finished.
  • Ringing in the ears: This is usually temporary.
  • Change in kidney function: Some chemotherapy drugs can change the way your kidneys work. Care will be taken to avoid this and you will have regular tests to check how your kidneys are working.
  • Lung damage: Some chemotherapy drugs can damage the lungs. This usually occurs after many doses. You will have lung function tests to monitor this. Let your doctor know if you develop unexplained breathlessness or a cough.
  • Lower sperm production: Chemotherapy drugs may lower the number of sperm produced and reduce their ability to move. This can cause infertility, which may be temporary or permanent.
  • Contamination: Use a condom if you have sexual intercourse in the first 48 hours after chemotherapy because some of the drugs may end up in the sperm.
  • Low white blood cell count: Chemotherapy causes your white blood cells to drop. This increases your risk of infection. If you get a fever greater than 38 degrees a week after chemotherapy, you need to go to accident and emergency. Daily injections of a special drug to help blood cells multiply quickly may be given under the skin. This is called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). This is used to prevent a fall in the white cells, especially if the blood count is low on the day of treatment.
Or shall we move on to radio?
  • Tiredness: This is the most common side effect of radiotherapy. Resting and not trying to do too much will help.
  • Diarrhoea: The radiotherapy can cause diarrhoea. Talk to your doctor about medication to relieve this side effect. Watching what you eat will also help.
  • Nausea: The radiotherapy area will include your abdomen and this may upset the stomach.
  • Hair loss: This may occur from within the area of treatment but will grow back once treatment is finished.
  • Bladder irritation: Your bladder may become irritated and inflamed. Drinking plenty of fluids will help but avoid alcohol, coffee and tea as they can irritate the bladder further.
  • Bowel problems: Some men may need to go more urgently.
  • Reduced sperm production, temporarily or permanently: If you want to father a child, you may consider having sperm stored before your treatment starts.
In short, I don't know whether I will be shitting myself or whether I will never be able to shit again.
But I have to say that what worries me the most (well, other than the physical pain associated with the operation) is the fact that radio therapy is a major inducer of cancer. Even if I have a mild one now that and it would go away, by doing this treatment you're sending an invitation to every cell out there that's thinking of making a name for itself. What's the point in that?
So yes, I'm a chicken.

Websites

Three website related experiences I want to report on.

First I'll start with Amazon. I told you about the five book order I've made, which included the highly anticipated Inconvenient Truth book (which, having watched bits of the bit torrented film version, seems better than the film).
Well, last week we finally got the books. We got them, but: Three of the five books were in a worse than second hand condition! I first noticed that Inconvenient Truth had dirty finger prints and signs of being dragged on dirt; the Beatles book had scratches, burst blisters, and was all folded up; and the Orson Scott Card book was all folded and scratched, as if by a knife. It was obvious that whoever packed our package for Amazon was going through a tough day at the office.
I went to the website and did the "returns" procedure. This is a wizard that guides you through the process, while promising full refund and all expenses paid postage. At the end of it, you get a printed label to stick on the package you're supposed to post back to Amazon with the defective products, only that the label said "free postage in the USA" and Australia is not quite there (yet). The wizard didn't really tell me much about how to post the item: Airmail? Airmail express? Or maybe surface mail? The cost difference is huge, and I wasn't about to post it to them and wait for them to repay me six months into the future.
So I emailed their support and within half an hour I was told to forget about posting the books back to them. They arranged for a replacement shipment to take place, so I'll get the three books again and sell the crap ones on eBay.
Excellent service, but with a catch: First, their wizards are shit when handling people who are not in the USA; I could have easily been dumb enough to just post them the package with the label they gave me, and I don't know how things would have gone. And second, with the replacement order they charge your card and then reimburse it; with exchange rates and all, the ordeal costs $2.5 for the privilege of enjoying the good customer service I shouldn't have enjoyed in the first place had their packing department done their job right.
Next time they charge me their horrendous shipping fees, I'll know why they do it.

Next website is Flickr, which never fails to amaze me. Yesterday I noticed that you can get to see tons of information on each of the photos I upload there. Just check this out! It doesn't stop with telling you the shutter speed and the aperture, it tells you the ISO setting and the number of shutter releases since the camera was purchased!
By the way, according to their figure (circa 7400 shutter releases), I took about 10 shots a day, which translates to about $0.28 per photo.
By now my Nikon D70 is an old model, but it's still marching ahead. It's a great camera and I'm really happy with the purchase - despite its age, in this ever advancing world it is still a world class camera. Of course, now that I've said that, it will break down tomorrow.

Last but not least is the Australian Immigration Department website. To those that don't know, $400 million dollars are going in to the department's information systems budget in order to improve their systems after two Australian citizens got wrongly deported. That's a couple of two very expensive deportations, and if you ask me they should save their money and just stop deporting people. Xenophobic assholes!
But anyway, since no one is asking me (we live in a safe Liberal seat): Jo is now trying to apply for her Australian citizenship. She tried to call them to ask how to do it, and all she got were recordings of someone telling her to go for the web page.
She got to the web and started filling her application when the site crashed.
It was down for several days.
When it was up she started refilling her application, and because it's a long process she saved it in the middle. When she got back to it nothing was there.
She contacted their help through the web, and got an email saying that since the systems were revised on the second of July (!) the systems are unstable and crashes often occur. If you entered your details and saved them, but cannot recover them, they probably disappeared. We don't know when things will work, but you're welcomed to try again.
Jo will continue the application process on paper forms.

Recommended reading

For the second year in a row, Scientific American is dedicating its September issue to environmental issues. Last year it was a generic survey of energy, poverty and population related issues (based on the assumption that quality of life and energy consumption are directly related).
This time around the main topic of discussion is the future of energy, or more specifically energy solutions for a sustainable world. With global warming accepted as a fact by everyone with brains at the top of their heads (that is, everyone other than companies hungry for more money and the politicians at the helm of the USA and Australia), the challenge is on how to maintain continuous improvement in life style while maintaining the environment as opposed to destroying it.
Reading the magazine, you learn how the two concepts don't contradict one another (as certain self interested parties would tell you). By simple means, such as the stopping of deforestation activities, we can't have the cake and eat it too.
Personally, I believe this is the number one challenge humanity faces today. It's definitely more important than the fight over certain bits of gravel that are supposedly holy.
Anyway, if you can get a hold of it have a go - the September 2006 issue of Scientific American.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Spot the difference

On 6/1/2001 I landed in Australia for the first time. I was a tourist. My brother picked me up from the airport at about midday, and after a couple of hours at his place (spent mainly having a shower - I hate long flights) we set our way to the place I wanted to see the most in Australia: Phillip Island, and most prominently the Phillip Island Race Track.
You see, it all started when back in 1989 my brother sent me the video of the first Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix from Phillip Island. It was an excellent race - the lead changed 16 times, and that video had an immense effect on me: from the time I got it till the time I was recruited to the army I would watch it on a daily basis. Yes, every day. And Wayne Rainey, the American Lucky Strike Yamaha rider, became my idol.
I was 18 back then, and it took a few years for my motorcycle fever to calm down. However, back in 2000 it revived again, and I was close to buying a bike of my own (I could afford it, at last). And that was when I ended up in Phillip Island, as the photo shows.
Since then a lot of mud went through the Yarra. By now I view motorcycling as a rather fun way to get oneself injured (or worse), and motor sports in general as an effective way of enhancing the greenhouse effect.
That said, it was still nice to revisit the Phillip Island Race Track today and reignite old dreams. I do not see myself ever becoming crazy about bikes again, but I admit they're a lot of fun and it was nice to step down memory lane. We had a walk around the track (mainly the pits area), a walk around the Japanese gardens they have at the track, and a walk in the small museum they have at the track. All are documented in my Flickr page - just click on the link at the right.
Anyway, what do you think of the difference between the photos? The funniest thing about them is that I wore exactly the same pants today as I did back on 6/1/2001 - it's amazing to see how much they faded! My hairline was threatening extinction back then, and now it's much worse; and what's with all those extra kilos added during those 5 1/2 years? I was into running back then, and today I only run after the remote. And what's this thing I had on my nose? I wonder how long it would take before I need eyeglasses again.
This comparison sure makes me laugh. On one hand, the infrastructure is in a severely inferior condition; on the other hand, I think I'm wiser. It's the type of wisdom that comes with age and experience.

Sunday, 27 August 2006

Barwon Heads

With all the latest action we've been going through lately, it is obvious that work is not really at the top of our agendas. And since we definitely need to clean our heads a bit, and since we are not about to do it in the Euro trip we've been planning for a while, we decided to try and do active stuff over the weekend.
We also decided to extend the weekend by taking an extra day off tomorrow (Monday) so that we'll get to have the opportunity to do even more stuff. I didn't get any problems with work interfering on this grand design: they're extremely supportive.
Anyway, this morning Jo woke up ahead of me (I find that one of life's greatest pleasures is sleeping late on a weekend), and had a bit of a read through the Lonely Planet Victoria book of ours to try and find something worthwhile. She found a few interesting options, but we've opted for the Barwon Heads one: it's a small river inlet that pours into the sea not far from Queenscliff - just a bit away from the entrance to Port Phillip Bay (check out Google Earth for further insight...).
Our friends Martin & Yvette joined us (and Arnika had no choice). It turned out to be a very good choice: very tranquil, very scenic. We had breakfast at a place called "Pod", which reminded me of reading this week that Apple has threatened to sue anyone who uses the name "pod". Then we had a walk around the beach and the cliffs and all, and we finished it all up by having a snack at this greenhouse like place (that was really warm) located right at the water edge. Check out the photos in my Flickr page.
Another thing worth mentioning is how we turned into Inspector Gadgets in our drives. Navigation duties are now the role of the GPS receiver, which talks using Bluetooth to my PDA, which runs the navigation software; we have no idea where we are or where we're going, we just follow its instructions. And music is provided by our new Toshiba Gigabeat S60 MP3 player (a review will come up soon, eventually, on R-Views) which is connected to our Belkin Tunecast II FM transmitter. In short, we are lucky our Honda CR-V Canyonero has this table between the driver and the passenger, where we can put all the gadgets.
We came back home tired from the overdose of fresh air, but quite happy too.

Saturday, 26 August 2006

Western Bulldogs vs. St Kilda Saints

A few weeks ago I received an email at work announcing that my place of work, which sponsors the Western Bulldogs Football Club (an AFL - Australian Rules Football club), is doing this competition where people can win four tickets to see an upcoming game between the Bulldogs and St Kilda.
Now, St Kilda is my brother's favorite team. While I couldn't really care less about the AFL - I can't seem to connect with the sport and I keep longing for real football - my brother is really into it.
And as if I needed more to tempt me, the competition involved this "write in your own words how to eat your cake and have it", and in contrast to the way these contests are usually run, there was no word limit.
Readers of this blog will know fairly well that I can bullshit with the best of them when called upon, especially when I'm allowed to go about and unleash a hellish number of words.
And thus, to no one's surprise (especially as there were overall 50 winners in an organization numbering more than 1000 and most of the employees not bothering), we got our tickets.
I managed to drag Jo with me, and to be honest it seems as if she enjoyed it more than I have. Not that I suffered or anything - it was fun - but with all due respect to the AFL (and to be frank, there's not much of it), football it isn't.

There are a few issues where the sport fails. Just like the NFL, it has too many breaks (although compared to NFL, this is an ultra flowing game), and just like the NFL you don't always know why there was a break. I managed to make some of the crowd laugh when I shouted "offside" at one of those unclear referee calls (for some reason, AFL referees are referred to as "umpires", even if they never strike back).
The next problem is that the game is a high scoring game. Although on the face of it this sounds like an advantage - you don't get the notorious 0:0 or the 1:0 to Germany/Italy you get in football, but on the other hand you have to be lucky to watch two very well matched teams to get a tense match. And that something that happens as often as lottery wins. Our match was a case in point: The first quarter ended with the Doggies leading by 4 goals, but by the end of the second quarter the Saints had a 4 goal lead of their own that just kept on being extended throughout the second half; I have no idea why the supporters kept on cheering, because there wasn't much to play for anyway.
One of the things Aussie Rules supporters use to mock football with is the regular use of "simulation" in football. The claim is that basically football is a sport for the light of heart, while real man play the AFL game. However, while there is certainly a lot of to say against football's ever growing spirit, it's not like the AFL is rife with sportmanship. Players push and bash one another constantly, regardless of where the ball is. And everybody will tell you that this is a legitimate strategy to take the opponent off balance!
And it's not like simulations do not exist; they happen on a regular basis, just as in football. One of the St Kilda players we watched, Gehrig, was such a good actor that even Pires would take a bow. The only difference is that in the AFL the average level of violent action is much higher than in football because much more is allowed by the book.

Still, there was plenty to enjoy in the game.
For a start, the atmosphere is great. Unlike football, both teams' supporters are mingled with one another, and surprise surprise they actually enjoy watching the game together. The importance of this can not be overestimated, as in English football in particular one often gets the feeling that rivaling supporters truly hate their counterparts' guts.
And then there's simply the fact that you're sitting in a 55,000 seat capacity stadium watching a match with more than 47,000 other spectators. Just going in and out of the stadium is impressive.
It's annoying to see the more expensive seats left empty while the true supporters are shoved to the inferior seats, but it is also nice to see entire families coming along - babies et al - to watch the game. Female attendance rates are quite high, too. The AFL is truly perceived as a sports for the people, not just the lunatics who have nothing else to live for and who only go to satisfy their tribalism related needs.

For something that we got for free, and for something which we seem to be doing every three years (that was the last time we saw an AFL match live), it was quite a nice experience.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

The ripping ordeal

By now I'm a week or so into the great ripping ordeal - converting all the music I have on CDs to the MP3 format, so I can load it all to my new MP3 player.
The problem is that I have lots of CDs - many hundreds of them - and that even with a good desktop at hand and a couple of CD drives at the helm, it still takes ages. It's also addictive: you gaze at the pile of CDs, thinking about all the musical treasures hidden in them and wondering how come you let so many years pass by since you last listened to those CDs, and you just keep on feeding them to the PC as if on a production line; but just like Newman's post, they keep coming and coming in a never ending stream of more.
No matter how much time I dedicate to the task, it's still far from enough. I sit for half an hour and do like 20 CDs; I sit for two hours and do some 20 CDs, because with some I have to type in the music's details (thanks, Microsoft, for not being able to identify them through Media Center). And what's 20 CDs? It's nothing! The rest of them just stare at me back from the shelf.
It makes me wonder how old I'm going to be by the time I finish ripping them all. And whether I'll survive the sleep deprivation.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

The Middleman

One of the thing that frustrates me the most about my new job (new being relative now that I'm there for a few months) is that most of the time I'm just a middleman.
Somebody wants something, but doesn't know how to get it. Another guy sits somewhere in the IT department and knows how to do it but doesn't have much of an understanding on how the business works and what's required. And I'm in between.
Sounds good - a lot of people do much worse than that for a living. Take, for example, politicians. But the point of the reason why I find this annoying is that most of the time I'm adding quite a little in the way of value to the process; if only the person with the need and the person with the skills bothered to shift their behinds a bit and actually talk to one another, things would have that much better without me interfering in the middle.
I find myself acting as a middleman so much of the time that my brain just shuts down most of the time I'm at the office. The worst thing about it is that in those very rare occasions where my brain can actually contribute something to the wellbeing of someone in my organization, it is so switched off to hibernation mode there is no chance of anything positive coming out of it.
So yes: being a middleman frustrates me quite a lot.

Seeing others succumb into the middleman syndrome frustrates me just as well. Especially if these are doctors. Allow me, if I may, to explain:
The Australian system of acquiring the services of a medical specialist are, for a lack of a more suitable word, weird. While in other countries you just book yourself an appointment with a specialist, in here you need to go through your regular run of the mill GP first and try to beg them into handing you with a referral; and even if they are willing enough, you don't have much control over the specific specialist they'll appoint you to. You may end up with the Marquees de Sad if you're not careful enough.
Did you get it? You have to spend $50 or so, and lots of precious time, on seeing a doctor; and all that doctor has to do is write you a referral letter to see the doctor you should have gone to see in the first place. And then you wonder why the Australian government keeps on complaining that the cost of medical expenses is on the rise.
Middleman frustrations don't end there. On several occasions already I had a GP that just wouldn't refer me to a specialist; why do it when he/she can continue enjoying the stream of $50 notes on each of my visits? Instead, they just tell you to come and see them again, in which time they will see you as the specialist.
I've had this just a few weeks ago with my blurred vision problem: the doctor wouldn't refer me to a specialist right away, even though he admitted he could see nothing wrong with my eye (while I could see lots of wrong with it); instead I was supposed to see him again the following day, and only then he would refer me away. The fact my vision was at stake didn't matter much.
Before that I've had a skin problem that needed removing and I tried several doctors in order to get a referral to a dermatologist that would remove it. With a few GPs all I got was the usual "this is not too bad, come and see us in two weeks and then we'll see"; at the time I was naive enough to actually come back in a few weeks and see them tell me to come again in a couple of weeks. And then you get these brave soldier GPs who want to operate you on their own; thing is, I don't: I prefer to be operated on by someone who does this thing on a daily basis, not by someone who is out for a bit of an adventure and will leave me literally scarred for life.
So while I hate finding myself doing the middleman's work, it seems like a lot of Australian doctors are busy making a living out of it. At the expense of us tax payers, of course.

Having a ball

Yesterday we finally got to meet my specialist doctor and get a proper update on my situation. I say finally because all we've been getting over the last two weeks were a couple of phone calls and lots of unanswered question, and with the uncertainties came lots of tension.
The conclusion was that there is no real risk, and the real question at hand is how many pieces will have to be excavated. And then there is also the issue of how big an ordeal this is going to be, and whether I will have the opportunity to add words that start with "chemo" and "radio" to my ever expanding vocabulary.
At this stage we will go to see another specialist for the mandatory second opinion to tell us that I really need to go through an unorthodox weight reducing operation (and I'm being cynical because by now it is fairly obvious that this is going to be what we will be hearing from the second opinion) after which I will have myself an operation. The doctor estimated it would take a couple of weeks till we get there, so it would probably take a month.

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Return to the Chicken Souvlaki

This Friday I had the exact same medical examination I've had a few weeks ago. Back then I got myself a pita of chicken souvlaki on the way back to the office which ended up cracking and spilling its guts on me despite my 31 years of distinguished pita experience from Israel.
So I just had to go to the same place, order the same chicken souvlaki (this time I was wise enough to ask for chili flakes for that hot taste I like so much and some parsley leaves) and show the pita who the boss is.
What can I say? Mustering all bits of Israeliness in my veins, I showed this pita a thing or two. Not a drop was spilled; I didn't even chew on 1 cm^2 of paper pita wrapping. And I consumed the souvlaki with great delight and much vigor.
I guess this is a warning to chickens everywhere that as long as I'm around and as long as meat is rolling on big stakes, they should think twice before messing with the pita doctor's best friend!

Spring is here again

There can be no doubt about it: Although it's still officially winter, spring is back. For a start, for the last two weeks it's quite sunny when we leave for work in the morning (sunglasses have been unleashed from their holsters), and it's also much less cool - you don't feel like limbs are about to fall off you. And on the other side of the globe the football season has begun (in a way that shows Arsenal will not get too far).
So in order to celebrate the lovely state of weather affairs, we went this afternoon to see the new Australian botanical gardens in Cranbourne.
Cranbourne is a place located 50km south of Melbourne which was named after the train line that ends there. Which is to say that there is nothing spectacular about this place other than being half way on the way to Phillip Island.
Being lazy bums we left home after a light breakfast at 13:00 or so. On the way we were too hungry so we stopped at Cranbourne's Hungry Jacks (the Australian version of Burger King, thus named due to local copyright issues which have since been resolved but the brand is too established to get rid of). I bother mentioning this because this was our first dosage of junk food for a very long while - I'm thinking something like 6 months or so.
By the time we got to the gardens it was 14:30 already, so we didn't want to pay for the new "Australian botanical gardens" section that charges $9 per adult to see a relatively small area that is shaped like Australia's red center with matching shrubbery (we did take a photo of it - check out the updates to my Flickr page). If you ask me, they should charge more: the park's access road was not paved, and our Canyonero got a bath of dust on the way in [note: I'm joking].
So we just did the walks of the free to air botanical gardens, which are quite huge in comparison.
To set expectations right, I have to add that there is nothing spectacular about native Australian shrubbery. You look at it and you realize that what you've been told about Australia being the driest continent of all is one area in which you were probably told the truth. I mean, one thing that is obvious is that when god worked on the world's functional specifications some 6000 years ago, the team that was in charge of coming up with designs for Australian shrubbery obviously had more important things to work on, and the work was allocated to a new graduate angel with a very tight deadline.
But with all that, the walk we've had was pretty enjoyable. The weather was perfect for a walk, with something like 18 degrees; it was very sunny with just slight hints of clouds; it was dead quiet so you could feel the natury stuff around you; and it's been a very long time since the last time we did something like that - back in March, probably.
So yes, it was great! We even saw a weather station (where they measure weather stuff) and an Australian wattle tree - the "green & gold" tree (more like green and yellow, if you ask me) that's the official Australian plant and the reason why Australian athletes wear green and yellow (oops, sorry: green and gold) outfits when they go about to thrash their lowly competition.
The fresh air got to us, though: we came back home tired and sleepy.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Slave to the Rhythm

I've been talking lately quite a lot about countries having double standards, but here I go on my own to break a few standards in broad daylight.
I'm talking about buying the Toshiba Gigabeat S60 today (at JB Hi Fi for $516). I know I can live happily ever after without it, I know that now is perhaps not the best of times to acquire another gadget, yet I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Jo has given up on me ages ago - she's tired of my MP3 player comparison speeches.
So there we go: I keep spilling my guts with statements on how we should avoid consumption for the sake of it and I go and consume money that would be much better off in our mortgage account on some bullshit imaginary need instead.
At JB we also spotted the DVD of the Muppet Show's first season. 24 episodes - that's 600 minutes for you - on four DVDs at a meager $25. So we got it (but it sure feels strange to actually buy DVDs at this day and age).
We watched an episode and a half. The first episode immediately cranked off with Animal's great performance of "manah manah", which was great; the guest stars are all unknown people who we might have known when we were two year olds; but overall, and despite some energy crisis jokes that helped identify that it's a seventies series, the Muppet Show looks like something that withstood the test of time much better than most of the old stuff we think we liked that feels like stupid shit when we actually get to watch it. I would say this one is pure excellent entertainment for kids and adults, regardless of the "those were the golden days" element Jo & I share. [Note a proper review will come up once we watch it all]
So when I'll be staying at home after my upcoming operation, I know what I'd be watching! (Arsenal downloads, of course, because Jo wouldn't miss the Muppets)

Monday, 14 August 2006

It's a Wonderful Life

Careful readers of this blog and some of you with whom I discussed this will know that I've been going through lots of medical stuff lately.
It all started a bit after I started my new job in March, when I started feeling this dull pain. It was actually something I've had before, but whereas before it came and went this time around it came and stayed for a while and then came again and stayed longer.
The initial round of tests resulted in several irregularities, but overall the picture was acceptable. As a precaution, I was told to redo some of the tests again 3-4 months later, just to be on the safe side.
Well, the results of the safe side tests came back almost a couple of weeks ago, but I got the distilled and analyzed version today. And the picture is not good: During the past months the irregularities that were there before grew, with the imminent conclusion being that I have a tumor. I won't go into too many details, but I will say that the word that springs into mind whenever the word "tumor" is mentioned was mentioned.
I am still not in a position where I know half as much as I would like to know about what's going on etc, but what is pretty clear is that I will need to go through an operation sooner rather than later. As a side effect, we can pretty much kiss all of our already pretty shattered travel plans away.
As far as worries go, what I was told is that because we're talking early stages here things should be fine overall. Not that the mere thought of being cut and the pain involved with it make me terribly happy.
I'll put it this way: I could definitely do with losing some weight, but I could easily think up better ways for achieving that.

Friday, 11 August 2006

Home, where my thoughts escape me

What is happening to this world?
I am referring, of course, to the news regarding liquid bomb related plans on UK flights. We have all the mess going on with Israel to disrupt our shattered travel plans, we really needed some balance with the English side of things.
Needless to say, I don't see what the fuss is all about. On a plane, 10 kilometers up there, even the slightest of fires will cause a crash; and to generate that fire all one needs is a bottle of duty free vodka and some matches. You don't need sophisticated liquid explosives.
But the results are there already: For now, flights out of the UK will not allow any on board luggage, period.
Not even my precious PDA will be allowed on board. Just the agony of thinking how it's faring down there, smashed between all the suitcases, is enough to agonize me throughout the flight.
Not to mention my other toys, like the upcoming Toshiba Gigabeat S60 MP3 player. It just arrived to Australian shores and sells for $550 (circa $500 post duty free), and although it is inferior to the Creative Zen Vision M in many respects (no radio recording, no Divx support, shorter battery life, and worst of all - inferior sound quality) it does have a few advantages, the most notable of which is some extra gigs in the form of 60gb of storage. That's enough for all my CDs and then some.

With all that's been going on -
  • The medical stuff I've been going through lately, which just seems to get worse and worse;
  • The situation in Israel;
  • The resulting stress, which affects me enough to blur my vision and cause me migraines;
  • The big disappointment of not seeing my family while fully realizing that at my parents' age I will not see them many more times;
  • My mother driving me crazy with guilt because we're not about to visit Israel;
  • And now this mess with flights to the UK,
my thoughts are firmly homeward bound. I'm thinking: Fuck it all, I don't want to go overseas.
Just let me go for a few days up to northern Queensland and relax by the Great Barrier Reef.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

People are people

A lot of criticism is waved toward Israel and Lebanon with regards they treat each other's civilian population. And quite rightly so.
But is Australia truly in a position where it can criticize these countries? If you ask me, not when the news today told us that 11 asylum seekers who were denied refuge in Australia on the grounds that they are not facing any danger back home have been killed upon returning to their homeland of Afghanistan.
And my point is that the Depeche Mode song quoted above seems to be true: people are people, history repeats itself, and at the bottom line we are all self centered bastards that couldn't care less about anyone else than ourselves. Australia is just lucky to be living in a land where the locals are fairly nice people and where other nations are far enough to not be a threat, but that is where the differences between Australians and, say, Israelis start and end.
In case you're after further proof, just have a look at the recent words of our beloved Prime Minister, Mr John Howard: In this day and age of global warming and the war on terror, to name just two of the lovelier things this world has to offer, he admits that his greatest worry is the price of gas. Nothing about dwindling energy supplies, just the pump price of gas.
It's true that paying more at the gas station is a pain, and it's true that especially in rural Australia many people have to burn lots of gas if they want to get anywhere, but really - is the pump price of gas the worst thing imaginable? Isn't that just a symptom of the fact that the age of cheap fossil fuels is coming to an end?
What annoys me the most are the comments you hear from all sorts of Liberal party members regarding the need to reduce pump prices. They all lack any shred of vision, failing to realize that whatever taxation cuts take place today or as much methanol you use to replace gas won't help much in the long term (and the not so long term, too) if no proper substitutes for fossil fuels are developed. Oddly enough, the development of replacements is not on anyone's agenda.
I just find this state of mind to represent total disrespect towards the Australian voter. Do they really think we're that dumb?
The answer is probably yes. Two yeses, actually: they do think we're dumb, and we are definitely dumb - we voted them in and we will be voting them in again in a year and a half with our investment property propelled selfishness.

Monday, 7 August 2006

Life is like chicken souvlaki

A couple of weeks ago I was walking back to the office from yet another of the lately frequent medical examinations I've been going through, when somewhere in Carlton I stepped past a Greek souvlaki place.
The revolving piece of chicken caught my eye and looked at me, but I was brave enough to continue walking. Several steps afterwards my brain started making excuses, and suddenly I figured out that if I get a souvlaki now while walking back to work I'll actually save time and wouldn't have to stay late at the office.
So I stepped back to have my first ever genuine souvlaki.
Ok, it wasn't the real thing, because the real thing is with lamb and I can't stand lamb; I went with chicken because that's my old favorite from my shawarma days back in Israel. When asked, I even said to have all the regular additions added - including the dreaded yogurt - because I just wanted to once and for all taste the real thing.
So they filled up a wrap for me. A "wrap" is what is known in Tel Aviv as a Laffa and in Jerusalem as a Jerusalem Pita. The problem with Aussie wraps is that they're thin and stiff, lacking the meatiness you get in Israeli equivalents.
I started walking back to the office while eating, as I did so many times before in Israel since the age of 5 with either falafel in a pita or shawarma in a pita.
I couldn't help but notice that the wrap is stiffer than expected, and indeed - after consuming about half of it - I discovered that the wrap was covered by this clear wrapping paper, and the stiffness I associated with the pita was in fact the paper. Which made me wonder how a human stomach handles wrapping paper.
While wondering about the mystries of paper and the vast superiority of tahini paste over yogurt as a meat lubricant, I suddenly noticed that the wrap was pouring meat juice all over the place. There was a trail behind me, like Henzel & Grettle's trail of candies; and there was loads of it on my shoes; and there was even more on my pants. Lovely!
And suddenly I had total recall. I remembered all of a sudden how there is always that price you end up paying when you get shawarma in a pita to go: I remembered the dreadful cracked pita. I remembered how pretty much every time I ordered something in a pita, eventually cracks appeared.
And suddenly I realized that my life is nothing but ongoing episodes in between events of cracked pitas: you live your life calmly and peacefully, tasting the best of it, when suddenly you realize your pita is cracked and you're covered with sauce. But you don't give up, and when opportunity presents itself again you have another go at that pita filled with shawarma. Yes, I had a big pause with pitas when I moved to Australia, but the metaphor still lingers.
Final verdict: The chicken could have used some spices, and by now I've been spoilt with high quality chicken meat that the cheaper stuff they put in my wrap was not as attractive as before. Some hot sauce was missing, a bit of humus, and lots of thina. But it was good to remember days gone by.

P.S. I'm pissed off: It is clear that the Creative offers the winning formula for me at the moment as far as MP3 players that suit me go, but they just raised its price from $440 to $455. Nothing substantial, but I find it annoying: yes, there is this thing called inflation, but the Aussie dollar is very strong at the moment. There is no justification for the hike other than greed.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

The Mote in Moshe's Eye

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7:3

I woke up on Thursday morning and something was weird. It took five minutes or so until I realized what was happening: the vision of my right eye was all blurry.
It's not like this is the first time this happened to me. From time to time I would get this layer of gunk floating on top of my eye, usually after I forget myself and poke a finger in my eye to massage it.
This time, though, it was different: washing didn't take the blurriness away, artificial tears did nothing to elimiate the blurry effect, and careful examination of the eye in a mirror didn't show up anything other than a brown cornia.
So yes: I panicked. When something like that happens, I want to know why.
At work I couldn't concentrate at all and I was as productive as a laptop with a dead battery in the middle of a desert.
Eventually I decided to go and see a doctor. I did some calls and eventually I found this doctor that would see me on the day, but he was totally useless: "I can't see anything, but if you have the same problem tomorrow come again and I'll write you a hospital referral". Thank you very much; it's only my eyesight that you're talking about.
So I booked an appointment for Friday with an optometrist to have a proper examination of my eyes. I left work early and went to bed early, to try and sleep it over (hence the lack of recent blogging).
On Friday morning things were still blurry, but they were also better. By lunch time my right eye was ok again, just in time for the optometrist's appointment (who, surprise surprise, couldn't find anything wrong with my eye).

Bottom line is that I still have no idea what happened there, what caused it, and whether it would happen again. I have my suspicions: We've been under lots of stress lately, and together with the extra salt from gobbling stupendous amounts of sunflower seeds in a short period something might have happened there. I've also not been sleeping much lately, settling for a bit more than six hours of sleep per day (with significantly more during weekend).
But if there is anything I do blame for the problem it's the corrective laser eye surgery I've had. Since I had that done five years ago I no longer need to wear eyeglasses, but I keep on having these first encounters of the third kind on a regular basis with all sorts of things taking place with my eyes that I never even dreamt of before the operation.
To use Ben Elton's lingo, that eye surgery is all garnish. Yes, I don't need glasses, but so what? What difference does it make? We all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, so what I've gained by not wearing glasses for now I'm paying back with all sorts of shit taking place with my eyes. Yes, most of the people that do the eye surgery thing are happy with it, but I just can't believe I fell for something that starts and ends with cosmetics.
So maybe Jo wouldn't have fallen for me if I was to wear glasses on that day we first met. But then again the same logic can be applied on pretty much every little thing that happens in life. What I do think now is that since for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, one shouldn't go messing about with important stuff one doesn't know much about.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

You read it here first!

Well, The Age has ignored quite a few of my emails lately (I suspect mainly due to timing related reasons - most of them were sent after the issue lost public attention), but at least they published my latest one.
As a result, I've had people at work tell me that ASIO and the Mossad will probably be on my back now, as well as just arguing against my arguments (as in "why do you think that Israel gets inferior news coverage", with the answer being "just watch SBS news, which just happens to rely on BBC news feeds").
Anyway, I hope my point about both sides being totally fucked is clear enough.
On the way back from work there was this "sign a petition" thing at the corner of Bourke and Swanston, where this group of young socialists-bordering on communists-with anarchist aspirations was calling on people to sign against Israeli terrorism (check out what they have to say about us capitalist pigs in http://www.sa.org.au/).
I stopped and had a look at their program, which quoted their proposed solution for peace in the Middle East: replacing Arab dictatorships with democracies (they must have taken that from George Bush's political platform) and instating a people's state in Israel (as in both Arabs and Israelis living together). I told them that I think they're heavily into dreaming if they think their petition would change things and if they think their proposed solutions are feasible and whether they really think those solutions would solve the problems in the first place (to start, Arab democracies will not eradicate hatred towards Israel).
But the funniest point of the discussion was when I introduced myself as an Israeli (like it or not, I am one), at which point they just froze for a couple of seconds. Then they asked me what I think of Israel's action, and after telling them my opinion they tried to recruit me into their ranks.
I think that if I was 15 years younger and looking for some action of the type you look for when you're 20, that wouldn't have been a bad career move. But for now I'll settle with emailing letters to The Age.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Let me go home

Yesterday I had to work from home.
The reason was identified on Sunday night, when our next door neighbor knocked on our door telling us their sewage (which is also ours) was flooding their backyard. One thing led to another, and after $150 went down the drain the sewage pipes were unblocked; but then we discovered my a mere coincidence that there's a bit of a flood under our kitchen, too (allow me to stress the word "under").
So I had to be at home when the plumber made a comeback on Monday morning (the next daylight) to see what's going on. He disassembled a few bits of wood that make up our backyard deck to reveal an amusing vista (amusing if it wasn't for the fact we're living in this house): there was one pipe coming out of the kitchen; there was another pipe coming from the sewage network; and in between those two pipes there were about 5 centimeters of air.
The problem was quickly fixed and I was able to do some work from home. Before we go to the work from home part of this blog, I will state that it's obvious that this was all the fault of the mother-f*cker plumber we had a month ago, who came to fix the leak in our kitchen.
Everybody knows that when you burn enough carbon, you end up getting global warming. That plumber (who, I can assure you, certainly f*cks his mother) was not up to this cause-and-effect phenomenon, and didn't realize that if you pull one pipe out it is bound to cause a chain effect down the line. Or down the drain.
It took $60 to fix this problem; but the thing is that both Jo & I had nightmares and quite a lot of anxiety the night before, when we had no idea what the problem is but feared the worst: knocked down deck, holes in the walls, and a bill to match. Once again I witnessed at first hand just how fragile life can be with just a tad bit of uncertainty thrown in. That anxiety, or rather its prevention, is worth a lot; much more than $210. But one doesn't tend to appreciate until things mess up.

But let's move on into something more comfortable. Much more comfortable. I'm talking about working from home.
I actually amazed myself at how effective I was working from home. In the quiet home environment, without the constant distractions that you get at an open space office, work just flows along; and if I find myself only capable of delivering between one to two hours net worth of work during a day at the office (if you think that's low please count how much time you spend really delivering), at home I was able to pump between five to six hours (from the time I finished lunch till I went to pick Jo up) while cruising along.
There were a few other reasons for being able to achieve that.
First on the agenda is clothing. At home you don't need to wear fancy pants that constantly grab you by the balls and result in you having to shift your position every minute and a half in a desperate attempt to still be able to bring children to the world in the foreseeable future. You also don't need to wear a collared shirt, and you definitely don't need a neck breaking tie. Because when at home, all you need is a track suit.
Second on the agenda are the facilities at hand. While I did have disadvantage of not being able to work with people face to face, I did have my cordless phone (and people did call me when invited to over email) and I did have my desktop. And let me tell you, you only realize what a difference a good desktop with good software installed on it makes after working with Lotus-f*cking-Notes for several months. The delight of working on a machine that runs modern age software! The pleasure of having admin rights on your machine, allowing you to have a wallpaper of your choice rather than a dull blue background! And most of all, the delight of using Gmail and not the ultra shitty Lotus Notes!
What a difference an email system can make. Within two minutes you realize that such a small feature as being notified when new email arrives is something that can make or break your sanity. And yes, it also improves productivity.
But work wouldn't be achievable if it wasn't for the slight distractions that get you through the day. And for that I have MSN Messenger at home with a wide network of friends - the forbidden fruit when it comes to my current office's desk. An instant messaging system like Messenger could be so useful at our office, yet when I asked around I was told that a similar IBM based system was tried and then discarded after no one bothered to login. Which shows two things: That people in my office can't see a good thing when they have it, and that they seem to have this fatal attraction to shit systems when a superior (and in this case, free) product is on offer.
Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm looking forward to working from home more often. Regardless of the track suit and the desktop elements, just the fact you save more than a couple of hours a day cutting the commute off makes a huge difference.

Let me die with the Philistines!

Interest rates are about to rise, we will soon be drowning in mortgage repayments, gas costs almost as much as bottled water, banana prices drive you bananas, and we have huge expenses coming up - but it's also the best time to get stuff from Amazon, because high interest rates in Australia mean a strong Australian dollar!
Which is exactly why we made this long overdue book order from Amazon last night:

1 "A Hard Day's Write, 3e: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song"
Steve Turner; Paperback; $15.75

1 "Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments (2Vols. in One)"
Isaac Asimov; Hardcover; $21.99

1 "Maps in a Mirror (Maps in a Mirror)"
Orson Scott Card; Paperback; $11.86

1 "An Inconvenient Truth"
Al Gore; Paperback; $13.17

1 "Chomsky on Anarchism"
Noam Chomsky; Paperback; $11.02

After all, what can we do if we don't have more books that we'll get to read only in a few years lying on our book shelf?!