Saturday, 30 September 2006

Operation Wolves

Exactly two weeks after I had my operation, my father had an operation of his own to address some sort of a hernia problem in his stomach.
There's plenty of room for humor in describing our situation. The obvious would be to say something stupid like "like son like father"; and then there's the sarcasm of the fact the first operation cancelled the trip in which scheduled time my father ended up having his operation.
While both of our operations were on the simpler side of things, as operations go, there is a significant difference between mine and my father's: My father is 75. At that age, even sneezing is serious. So while I'm having all sorts of weird issues with the rehabilitation, I suspect my father is going to have much worse. At least he's quite fit for his age (who knows, with my level of fitness, he's probably fitter than me).
The really funny thing about his operation's story has to do with the fact that they are currently building an elevator shaft at my parents' apartment building in Israel. They just started, and the first thing they do is knock down all the stairways and rebuild them in a congested version to clear space for the shaft.
As a result, when my father came back from the hospital with a taxi, he couldn't go up to his apartment; on the other side, my mother couldn't leave the apartment in order to come down and help him. She ended up throwing him the key to my sister's place, and he ended up walking there. It's not far - just a 15 minute walk or so - but it's not something one should do a day after surgery. I don't think I would have been able to do it a day after mine; I definitely don't think a 75 year old should have done that.
Anyway, that was an example of the woes of living in Australia when the family is in the other side of the world. You just can't be there with them when they need you, and they can't be here for you. And that's a shame.

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Jajah Binx

Today I discovered something that could rival Skype: a website called Jajah.
The idea is simple and it works like a charm. You go to the website and type in your phone number; then you type the phone number you want to call (and that number does not have to be in the same country).
You click on the call button, and it's magic time: After a second or two your phone would ring; you pick it up, and a very accented voice tells you that Jajah is connecting you.
Wait for the phone to ring and the other side to answer, and talk!
Obviously, Jajah uses VOIP to work, just like Skype. From today's experience, though, I can specify two advantages Jajah has over Skype:
First, you don't need your computer to talk; you use your own regular phone, which in the case of our cordless phone gives you the flexibility of freely moving about. You do need a computer to initiate the call, but you're not really using your own bandwidth; so you can use bit-torrent while you talk, or if your computer is threatening to over-heat (like my Intel P4 likes to do during Australian summer), you can just tell your PC to fuck off because you're using your normal phone.
The second advantage is that quality wise, in the two calls I made to Israel Jajah proved to be much better than Skype. In fact, it also proved to be much better than the regular landline connection I got when my mother called me back.
Skype does have one significant advantage: with Skype to Skype calls you can have a pretty decent video connection, too.

Pricing is very mortgage friendly.
The site allows you a demo 5 minute call at no cost (I don't know how long you can abuse this feature). You can buy credits to make normal calls, and in my case the international calls I would make (to the UK and Israel) cost $0.025 per minute - a very Skype like price. In fact, for short calls both Skype and Jajah are significantly cheaper than local calls.
However, in the same fashion that allows you to make free Skype to Skype calls, Jajah allows you to make free Jajah to Jajah calls (there is a disclaimer here: this only works for "active" Jajah accounts, and the definition of "active" is rather lucid). And that's where the true charm lies: once all my relatives and friends register to Jajah, you can basically talk to them for free. Regardless of whether you're talking local calls or international calls, this means that 80% of your phone bill is gone with the wind; and unlike Skype, you don't need the other side to be online - all they need to have is a landline.

The sky's the limit, when you think about it.
For example, with Jajah you can make private international calls from work. You register your work number with your account (Jajah allows you to do it), and just access the Jajah website for a second from your work PC to make a connection.
And better yet, all your friends that keep coming with lame excuses with regards to the reason why they can't install Skype can no longer have any excuses: Connecting to Jajah doesn't take any installations, just a very basic web access for a short period.
So now all that's left is to hear the imaginative excuses they will come up with in order to explain why they can't connect.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Old Friends / Bookends

I'm about to reacquaint myself with an old friend: Stereophile magazine. Some 10 years ago Stereophile was the main attraction of my student life; other than watching laserdiscs, reading Stereophile was pretty much the only "off studying" activity I've done. Other people tend to regard their student career as the best time of their lives, but for me it was probably the hardest working time of my life: the degree was just damn hard to acquire, and in retrospect I can't believe how I managed to survive those years.
Anyway, back in those days the best way to describe me with one word would have been with “audiophile”. All I could think about was sound, and in return I got a lot of satisfaction from listening to music and watching films. And in those times, Stereophile was my best friend in the audiophile world.

Two things set Stereophile apart from other stereo magazines, both to do with the way the magazine reviewed audio components.
First, it would be the systematic way in which reviews are “attacked”. For example, Stereophile would provide detailed descriptions of the way certain aspects of the component sound, using uniform language in order to provide the next best thing to quantification when it came to describing the sound qualities of a component. For example, it would say that a certain CD player is quick and provides a tights bass but a heavy mid bass; to those that know what this meant, this means a lot. It would shed further light using examples from familiar musical pieces.
The second thing about Stereophile reviews was their detailed measurements of each component. Stereophile knew what most audiophile know, that the human race is still unable to explain what makes a good audio component sounds better than another (but it is getting there); so they provide detailed and uniform measurements covering different aspect of each of the reviewed components and analyze them in an attempt to explain the sonic characteristics they previously described in their listening impressions (and often counter them too).
What these two elements – systematic reviewing and measuring – provided is a sophisticated mechanism for comparing audio components without really listening to them. Once you knew the language and knew what the measurements’ interpretations mean, you could match different components against one another within the confines of your brain. Obviously, it’s better to give them a proper listen yourself; but that’s not too easy in this world of noisy and crowded JB Hi-Fi’s with salesmen that don’t know shit about proper music reproduction (but know a lot about commission).

The peak of my Stereophile period came when a letter I sent the magazine was published. The letter was addressed to an article published by Roger Dressler, then the chief engineer of Dolby Laboratories (those from the Dolby sound in films, now decorating pretty much all DVD’s).
Dressler argued that Dolby Digital, a heavily compressed lossy sound format, was good enough to be used in home theaters, despite the fact it was designed for the severely limited space on a cinema’s projector film and despite the fact DVD’s could accommodate much more bandwidth than cinema film.
My argument was that he’s wrong, and that Dolby Digital sound sucks. You can try it on for size yourself: Listen to a DVD in your home theater but turn the TV off, so there won’t be any picture to distract you. Now compare the sound you’re getting to the sound from a CD, and you’ll notice that Dolby Digital, while nice with its surround effects, just sounds like shit.
Anyway, the letter of mine was published, and an editorial in the magazine addressed it while quoting from the letter by “Mr Reuveni, Israel”, and Roger Dressler wrote another article in order to answer the accusations of “Mr Reuveni, Israel”.
Thankfully, my mother threw this Stereophile issue down the way of the garbage one time when I was away; but several of my university friends still remember this episode, and from time to time they refer to me as “Moshe Reuveni, Israel”.

Through the years my interest in Stereophile waned. On one hand, I just couldn’t afford to spend money on stereo equipment. On the other hand, my philosophy changed and I just didn’t want to spend money on materialistic stuff, especially as the time I have available for music listening is getting shorter and shorter.
And then there was Widescreen Review, which I consider a superior magazine. Widescreen Review was providing enough review coverage and was more idealistic; best of all, it had (and still has) these articles that keep you up to date with what’s going on and with how to make the best of your setup. However, Widescreen Review does not cover that much ground in the music arena (as opposed to the home theater one), and overall its reviews are inferior to Stereophile's.
But now things are changing. Not much, but still: we’re considering buying new speakers, as our rear surround speakers are dying. But which speakers should I get? That’s where Stereophile might come in handy.
Each October and April, Stereophile publishes its list of "recommended components" – hundreds of audio component reviews are provided in a short format, so you can quickly shortlist components. Thing is, individual issues sell for $17 at your nearest Borders, while a yearly magazine subscription is less than $40, postage and all. And that’s why I’m a new subscriber again (and I can even sell the yearly collection afterwards on eBay for improved return on investment).
Financial reasoning aside, I’m still excited. I read a couple of Stereophile reviews on the web, and they reminded me just how good the magazine is. With its systematic ways, it is leagues apart from the majority of magazines that go “this is good; but it now”. I’m not talking about audio magazines only; stuff like Vogue or your average car magazine apply here, too.

Reading Stereophile is a philosophical experience for me. And while I’m against its message of consuming, I am all for its systematic methodology of reviewing.

SOS Gadgets

Why are gadgets today designed and built to last long enough for the warranty to expire and then die out on you?
Examples are aplenty. My PDA (O2 XDA IIs), for a start: The first sample they gave me at the shop wouldn't start for a basic demo of "here's how to operate your new PDA phone". Luckily, the second one did. Or was I lucky? The PDA works great, but it is obvious it wasn't design to last, half of its features don't work when the other half are working, and the list continues.
Have a look at compact digital cameras: The vast majority are designed to look stylish and slick, but are they designed to last? Not according to my experience with my Panasonic, and not according to many other horror stories. But did anyone hear of an old compact film camera that broke down?
I can give many other examples, but the point is that new gadgets are simply not designed and built to last. They're designed instead to look cool, slap your ego, but break down quickly enough (without repair being much of an option) so you will buy another one.

And what made me come up with this speech at this moment in time?
Well, blame Toshiba. My month old Toshiba Gigabeat S60 MP3 player just died out on me today. Nothing spectacular - no explosions or anything - it just wouldn't start.
It's not like I mistreated it or anything - I doubt anyone in this continent took a more gentle approach to their MP3 player than I did - yet it still broke down while brand new.
And now I have to drag myself to Toshiba's repair center in Mount Waverly, open at the very comfortable hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday only.
Lovely, Toshiba. I just love your work.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go

Well, unless lightning will strike me as I leave our house tomorrow morning (highly likely given the crazy weather we've had in Melbourne today, and Sydney was far worse to get the outer edges of the same circular storm), I will be going to work tomorrow.
I still have the same problem I've reported here before, with the surgical cut's area being still swollen and thus sensitive to being rubbed by the pants. After Thursday's walk on the wild side I called the doctor who did the operation (who seems to refer to himself as a Mr, but we saw something that says he's an Asoc Prof); he said this could easily go on for a month or more after the operation, and I shouldn't really worry about that. Which took me by a bit of a surprise as before the operation he told me he expects me to be able to go to work within a couple of days of rest, which I guess can apply if you have a chauffeur and you happen to go to your work as the specimen at a sleeping laboratory in your private jet, which of course has a First Class bed for you to use.
To be on the constructive side, the doctor suggested putting some padding on the cut: anything from a piece of cotton to a bandage or a woman's sanitary pad. So on Friday I went to the pharmacy near us to have a look, and I ended up with this large bandage like pad that I can cut into shape and tape on me with this paper tape that doesn't hurt when you pull it off (the sanitary pads were disqualified due to their rather odd shape). I tested it during the weekend and it seems to work, although it would probably not hold for an entire day and would require "maintenance".
Maintenance is the key word here, because I find that I need relief from pants rather often. I have no idea how I'm going to accomplish that at work, as the toilets are not that accommodating; I guess it would be a challenge. As well as a good excuse to take things easy and leave for home early. That said, I am looking forward to going back to work: staying home is nice, and I get to watch films aplenty and read a lot, but I miss the social interaction that you get at work. In short, it's nice to have time off work, but it's not nice to have it because you happen to be sick.
So there you go. Tomorrow's weather forecast is for a "back to winter" 6 degrees in the morning, when I will be off to work with my business shirt untucked, an origami bandage on my wound, and my track suit pants ready to be deployed in case of emergency in my backpack.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Take a walk on the wild side

Objective: Test my readiness for going back to work tomorrow.
Plan: Go to the nearby newsagent, get today's Age, and walk for 10 minutes or so to the nearby park. After reading the letters, opinions and movie review sections, I was to head back home.
Ordeal:
I wanted to make it as similar to going to work as possible, even though work involves significantly more walking than what this simulation involved. So I wore one of my cargo pants instead of the now regular track suit (it was clear, though, that tucking my shirt inside my pants was out of the question) and left for the newsagent - about 150 meters away.
Alas, less than 50 meters out of the door I realized that just cannot work. The pressure applied through my pants on my lower abdomen was too much to bear.
I managed to get the paper but altered the agenda: I trotted softly and slowly home instead of the park, where I replaced the cargo pants with the pants I would actually wear to work tomorrow, and then set my headings to the park.
This time around it wasn't exactly a pleasure ride either, but it was bearable. Again, tucking the shirt in my pants was a definite no-no, but I did manage to enjoy the sunshine and the overall excellent weather for a walk (circa 20 degrees).
I got to the park, found myself a nice bench to take control of, and started the eternal struggle with The Age - the paper whose pages are as big as a skyscraper and whose pages are often used as sails for yachts taking part in the America's Cup. Since it's school holidays at the moment, I was also able to observe lots of children in action in between reading people's opinions: there were children congregating under a tree, obviously plotting some evil childish plan to take over the world; children taking rides on ponies; and children playing around while generating lots of noise. There was even a builder around whose car stereo, that was set to "way too loud", was playing a Led Zeppelin CD - two points for the excellent taste in music.
All was fine and dandy until the time came to get up and walk back home. Suddenly, things were far from their cheerful status just a minute or two ago; I felt like I was wearing the cargo pants again.
The walk back home must have been my slowest walk ever. I took steps the size I would have taken when I was 5 years old. I held my pants pushing the critical areas away from my body to avoid the irritation while keeping constant surveillance around me so that no one would ask to arrest me for acting like a pervert. And the first thing I did upon reaching home was to take my pants off and breathe a deep sigh of relief.
Conclusion: I don't know whether I will go to work tomorrow or not yet (my father's comment, made yesterday when discussing the same issue, was: "why suffer?"). But I just can't help thinking how stupid it is to know that it is mainly business clothing that prevents me from going back to work now. Give me a track suit and let me wear my shirt un-tucked and I would be fine; but nobody does it here and I would feel like I don't know what if I did.
So there you have it: my up to date opinion on conservative clothing at the workplace and its benefits. Not that it changed much today; if anything, I just became more extreme in my views.

Service packed

Our story starts with the release of Microsoft's Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. I believe it was quite a while ago.
I waited to see what the general opinion of this release was, and it turned out to be fairly good for a Microsoft release. However, there were some warnings: Apparently, Service Pack 2 didn't really go well with certain Intel CPU's and motherboards made to work with those CPU's (you can read all about it here), and as I am a proud owner of a non Service Pack 2 friendly CPU I decided not to install it. Its safety related enhancements hardly mattered to me anyway, so I lived life happily ever after without it.
That is, until several months ago my rather annoying Windows Update agent told me that support for Service Pack 1 would cease in October 2006, which would leave me vulnerable to all the Windows vulnerabilities to be discovered as of that point in time (and probably many of those that were already discovered, too). I had to do something about it.
I tried investigating to see whether my particular combination of CPU, BIOS version and motherboard were susceptible for the Service Pack 2 problems using the Intel diagnostic utilities mentioned in the above link. Alas, this didn't get me anywhere: the utilities say something like "if the result you get is 0, you're not ready for Service Pack 2, but if it's 1, you are". Well, they don't say what the outcome is if the result is neither 0 nor 1, which was the case in my case.
I searched a bit more and found a patch made by Microsoft that is supposed to prevent the problem in the first place. However, given that this was a Microsoft patch, one can never know whether to trust it or not.
Eventually I just decided to take the dive: If Service Pack 2 works, then it works; if it doesn't, then it would be time to reinstall Windows all over again, something one has to do from time to time anyway given the "impressive" stability of all Microsoft products.
I backed up all my files on my external 300gb hard disk, and took the dive, and... it worked fine. Fine minus an incident or two.

And what follows is an account of one of those incident, which took place very late last night.
I connected my Toshiba Gigabeat S60 MP3 player to my desktop in order to acquaint it with the latest crop of ripped CD's (I'm now about 80% of the way through my CD collection).
I did a synch with Windows Media Player, the software used by the Toshiba for synchronization. It all looked fine and quick, and I was happy and about to go to bed.
Then I noticed something about my MP3 player: it only had 15 songs on it. It should have had something like 7500 songs occupying some 35gb of space, but instead it had 15 songs over less than 100mb! Something very wrong took place.
It didn't take much of an investigation to figure out what took place here: the installation of Service Pack 2 has reset the settings of Windows Media Player from "manual synch" to "auto synch". This meant that instead of Windows Media Player uploading just the new songs to the player, it did a complete synch - that is, it uploaded the new songs, but removed all the old songs.
And thus, in 1.5 seconds and without any warnings at all, it managed to delete 35gb of songs. Just like that! If ever there was an event that so fully captured the spirit of a Microsoft product, that was it.
Luckily, I have all of my music collection stored on my 300gb external hard drive, which is very suitably named "Backup". So after an hour of so of a really tough synchronization, which left my Toshiba player rather too warm to the touch, I had all my music back on my MP3 player.
But the questions remain:
  1. How could Microsoft design a product that would let a user so easily delete so much information?
  2. Why is it that I need to maintain copies of my music on my hard drive, instead of using my player as my primary storage? What is the point in having a hard disk based player if you cannot count on it for securely storing stuff in the first place?
I think the answer to the second question is some sort of an anti piracy initiative made by both Apple and Microsoft. Basically, they want you to pay for downloading music protected using nasty DRM technology which means you have to keep a copy on your hard drive; they definitely do not want you to visit all your friend and upload each of their collections into your player without paying for it. And in order to support this policy of theirs, they design their players to be inadequate when it comes to the thing each storage device is supposed to do best: reliably store information.

My final point is with regards to the new Microsoft Zune MP3 players (photographed above).
These players will be made by Toshiba, running the same software and featuring the same interface as my current Toshiba S60. Just check the photo of my S60 here and compare it to the photos above: it's exactly the same, except that the trademark Toshiba hard cursor like buttons have been replaced with a poorly imitated iPod like wheel.
The Zune is supposed to have wireless capabilities to enable you to download music without a wired connection; I also truly hope it has a better battery than the one on my S60 (the newly announced iPods are supposed to have significantly better power sources). But the point is, it is essentially the same player as the one I have.
Which essentially means that its users are going to face similar Microsoft nightmares to the one I had last night.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

You watch your plane flying across the clear blue sky

Right about now, a plane with our names on it - seats and all - is taking off Melbourne Airport heading for Hong Kong. Without us, that is, because we officially cancelled our trip a couple of weeks ago.
We would have spent the next 10 days (minus flight and airport time) in Israel, followed by a similarly long stint in England. Enough to say hi to the family without them managing to drive us too crazy (although that is inevitable with any family visit). It wouldn't have been a great vacation, as vacations go, because a family visit is significantly different to proper travel; you may wait for it with great anticipation, but just like Xmas the waiting never seems to be worth it.
That said, the worst thing about living in Australia is that you are totally disconnected from your family. Experiences like, say, a cancer scare, just don't communicate as well to worrying family members across the seas; they're never on the same page as you are, for better or for worse. The same applies to the other side: both Jo's side and my side is in the business of raising babies, and we're as connected to the experience as the earth is connected to the moon.
So what I'm trying to say is that family visits are like a tax you have to pay when you live in Australia, whether you like it or not. And the fact that we didn't manage to have a go at it this time around is a major upset. And what worries me more is that with the other plans on our agenda, it's highly doubtful we'd ever be able to go for a family visit with the same trouble free and worry free attitude we had before the latest cancer scare.
Talking about cancer scare, my rehabilitation progress seems to have taken a small step back since the bandages were removed. The cut seems to have healed, but it's the definition of ugly. Looks aside, it itches like I don't know what, and for some unexplainable reason it hurts now when I move in ways that stopped hurting a day or so before the bandages were removed. I was hoping to go back to work for half a day tomorrow (Thursday), but instead I'm aspiring for a short Friday visit. It's going to be tricky, though: by far the biggest challenge is tying my shoe laces, and for now I get away with it by not wearing shoes with laces. I'm also wearing track suits quite exclusively, and both are privileges I won't be able to enjoy when I head back to my office works.
But at least I have something to look forward to, given that flights abroad are out of scope for now.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Nostalgic anthology

Yesterday I left the borders of our house for the first time since my operation. I don't know yet whether it was my renewed ability to walk a bit more than a few steps at a time or the fear of the car battery running down, but we took the car down to Video Ezy to rent a few more films and have a 50m walk to the post box on Hampton Street.
I'll put it this way: luckily, the car is on the comfortable side of things, as far as cars go. Still, it was something to be able to walk a bit without requiring an emergency landing after a couple of steps, even if the walk would break new slow walking records and I created a traffic jam on the sidewalk.
At least my evolution gives some reason for optimism. Today I went to a doctor to remove the bandages (just so there'll be some professional eye to assess the situation), and he said it's quite good (looks quite ugly to me).
With the progress comes new expectations for going back to work, something which I'm really looking forward to. At this stage it's still a stretch, given the 20 minutes walk each way when at this stage just the waiting for the train could be tricky, but hey - it's something to aspire to.
What strikes me as terribly odd in retrospect are the quick switches in fortune we have been going through lately. About a month ago, I was all fine; then I had 80% chance for having a cancer; and then just a few days ago I have learnt that the 20% side won and I'm off the hook. I don't think I actually digested that; it all seems like a weird movie to me.

Anyway, on our visit to Hampton Street yesterday I picked up a copy of the Atari Anthology for the Xbox: a collection of 80 old Atari games. I know that by today standards it's crap games, but for $14 the chance to reacquaint myself with old memories did not require second thinking. It's definitely a good time to be shopping for Xbox games, even if the P3 based console is officially pronounced dead; it certainly doesn't matter in the case of 25 year old games.
We played a bit yesterday, and took particular pleasure with the two player Pong variants. Most of the games are, well, the definition of crap; but some games, like Missile Command and Asteroids, are surprisingly good, while Yars Revenge "striked" me as an excellent game and games like Pong and Combat are excellent two player material. Again I see that a good game is a good game, even if it only required 1kb or RAM.
I'm reading Bill Bryson's Thunderbolt Kid book now, which tells his account of growing up during the 50's in the USA. The usual Bryson magic works and I keep on telling the similarities with my childhood, and with the Atari Anthology in focus a lot of childhood thoughts started popping up.
In retrospect, the Atari signaled the end of the age of innocence for me. Up until the arrival of the 2600 console, most of my entertainment came in the form of playing outside with friends after school. It was the same for all "the boys in the hood", and I was actually the exception because I liked to read a lot. However, with the Atari came the ability to effortlessly entertain myself at home without requiring anyone's hand at that. Back then I was so hungry for entertainment I actually did absurd things, like playing two player games on the Atari console on my own. With the limited TV broadcasting in Israel at the time, the Atari managed to achieve what nothing else could do before: stick kids at home and make them anti-social without anybody realizing this is the case because of the technological innovativeness of the Atari. And look where it got us today, with full blown TV and internet: today, you don't see much in the way of children playing outside, not here and neither in Israel; definitely not to the extent it was in my childhood (or Bill Bryson's childhood, for that matter). Today kids go to "football class", whereas back in my time you'd just meet back in school and hope someone would have a ball with him.
Another Atari related anecdote comes from observing the games' cost. Back when I was 10 and nudging my parents to get me more and more games, their cost was prohibitive. Being a spoiled child and aided by the fact my father worked a lot in New York at the time, I ended up with 14 cartridges, more than anyone else I knew at the time. Today new games are still expensive, but those Atari games are easily available for free over the web; I actually chose to spend money on them and get the Xbox version out of convenience.
And they say that we have progressed during the last 25 years. We have more, but appreciate it and enjoy it much less.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

He ain't nothing but a hound dog

With the constipation issue seemingly under control, with the help of a very fluidy diet and some chocolate tasting pills that look and taste like M&M which Jo got me from the pharmacy, I'm off the next challenge of rehabilitation.
And this time around the key word is "velcro".
I'll put it this way: I told you already that for the operation they shaved the area causing me to look like a chicken. Well, now the hair is growing back, and just like that itchy 5-o'clock beard that Jo doesn't like me rubbing her face with, it is now rubbing against me. Or particular parts of me, if you're up to date with the full details. And it's not nice: for a start, it means you wake up in the middle of the night quite a lot. And you cannot really sit still for too long, because eventually the velcro will step into action.
It's not that the rest of me is fine: Sitting is still not something I can do for long, and for walking I can only manage a slow one step at a time dance for short ranges. The doctor was telling us before the operation that people are often back to work after a couple of days following the operation; I don't see that happening after a week at all. So the headaches are not a big issue anymore, but how will I manage the 20 minute walk each way to the office when the walk to the post box seems to require the approval of Cape Canaveral? And then there's work itself.

Anyway: my brother has dumped Wabby the Dog on us again, after a long pause in which he had to use the services of other victims. Wabby is also the ace up our sleeves when it comes to fighting the rodents that seem to have been visiting our backyard all too often since our not that recent by now sewage mishaps. It's amazing how it works: signs of their visits all but disappear after he takes a short stroll through our backyard and pees a bit on the grass. That's biological warfare for you!
Wabby is a very cute dog; in fact, for someone who generally doesn't like dogs (don't say that to Jo's parents), I find him the only dog in the world that I really like. For all intents and purposes, he's family.
Well, other than when he barks, digs, or just extravagantly chooses to disobey you and become the pest that he is truly capable of being.
But it's usually a case of "all is forgotten" once this 12 year old dog looks you in the eye begging for you to throw the ball at him. It's amazing how much of a one track mind he has: You wake up in the middle of the night, and Wabby is 100% certain that the only reason for that is so that you can play with him.
At least he got me to fit my zoom lens on the Nikon and take some action photos of him in action in our backyard. Say what you say about his pestiness skills, he is quite photogenic.

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Misery

I have to warn you all in advance that you won't get to read much in the way of philosophical discussions with this entry. It will be more to do with much more elaborate things such as going to the toilet.
The purpose is to describe my headway as far as surgical recovery is concerned, and the best title I could come up with to describe it is "Misery". And here's why...
The thing I feared the most after the operation, at least as short range fears are concerned, was physical pain. However, although it's definitely there, it's not as bad as I thought it would be; and whatever's there can be controlled with pain killers. It's funny, because the level of my mobility seems to be more to do with how many pain killers I took and when rather than anything else.
However, you do pay for the services of the pain killers. Their other main effect on me, other than the killing of pain, seems to be constipation. My problem with constipation is pretty simple: once I have it, I automatically get headaches.
I told you already that I'm having a hard time blowing my nose or going to the toilet, and the saga still continues. The stupidest thing about it is that now I seem to be more miserable from the constipation derived headache than from the pain itself. The headaches mean I can't really read, can't watch TV (even if I taped last night's Champions League action), can't really blog (and I have the first ever 5 star R-Views review to report on)... All I can seem to do is to lie down in bed, which is pretty boring and doesn't negate the headache either.
Another thing to do with lying in bed while taking antibiotics and pain killers is that I seem to be dreaming weird dreams. Instead of having my usual inflight entertainment, I have to settle with weird stuff that's not entertaining at all.

So this is it. Three days after having the operation I'm closer to going mental than I am to recovering. I did get some nice flowers from work (photos in my Flickr page) and I did get the good news about the no-cancer, but these things also serve to show how much we don't know and how helpless we really are in the face of things that we don't really know much about. Like constipation.
To finish off, I have to make the following recommendations:
1. Do your best not to have cancer, not even a suspected one.
2. Do your best to avoid surgery.
I know this sounds like I'm joking, and I am, yet there are plenty of idiots out there who seriously contemplate stuff like plastic surgery. So there you go.

Muppet News Flash

The doctor just called us with the results of the pathology.
The results are:
1. le Royaume-Uni - douze points (translation: wayo mini - dooz pwa).
2. The removed tissue was definitely not a healthy one or a well functioning one. It was made mostly of scar tissue. However, there was no cancer in the removed tissue, which means that I don't have to go through the lovely ordeals of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
It was probably a question of time, although we'll probably never know how much time.
Anyway, this means that the main thing I got to do now is recover from the surgery (which does not seem particularly easy, but that's the subject of another entry, to be entitled "Misery" (and Anthony, I have no idea whether Misery is a Fox film or not)).
Eventually we'll also need to settle things with the travel insurance, which would probably be lots of fun and games, too!
So yes - good news.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Now let's blow this thing and go home

So... I've had the operation and I was released yesterday afternoon and with the aid of pain killers I manage to survive. The pain is not half as bad as I expected it to be.
I am quite crippled, though: the main thing I can do well is lie down, because whenever I fold myself up it hurts (as in sitting). Things like wiping my nose with a tissue hurt because of the blowing, and things like going to the toilet for a reading project hurt because of the need to push. I apologize for sharing this with you, but last night at about 3:00am I pretty much read most of the Green Guide on the toilet without any output. Quite frustrating.
Apparently, the lack of output is one of the pain killers' side effects. After the hospital I've decided to cut their intake: I prefer to feel more pain and control it rather than live under illusions, but I'm still having project output issues.
So for now, time is spent watching TV, sleeping, reading, and listening to music through the MP3 player wonderfully huge music library. Sounds good, but it hurts; and I also look like a chicken, as the area they operated on was shaved.

So how was the operation?
We checked in as the first victims of the day at 6:00am. After filling in forms and getting dressed with hospital clothing I was waiting in a bed next to the theater room, lying down right next to a huge picture of a giraffe. They took me into the theater, showed me around, gave me the anesthetic, and that was it.
I woke up and it felt as if I was never asleep. I felt pain, but it wasn't the ravishing pain I expected; it wasn't too unlike the pain I felt before the operation. I felt the area and the only difference I could detect was that I was no longer wearing the paper underwear I wore before. Then I interrupted the nurses' conversation about the day's highly anticipated episode of The Bold and the Beautiful and they repeatedly assured me (because I repeatedly asked) that I was indeed in a post surgery state.
Eventually they took me to my private room where Jo and my brother were waiting, and I spent the rest of the day resting, chatting, munching, and going through repeated inspections. Until I was released at about 16:00; I know the pain killers had a lot to do with it, but I was surprised with how mobile I was.

My main conclusion out of this surgery? The world might be bad, but there is a lot of good will out there.
Just watching the nurses as they inspected me and replaced the bandages and all was amazing. They took so much care that when they tickled me out of doing things delicately they took it really hard. It was an obvious case of professionalism, but it was more than that: it was genuine care and good will.
In fact, care and good will were all around me. Take my friends in Israel, for example; Haim and Co with their weird but caring emails (he cannot go about doing things normally), and Uri with whom I can freely confide at length (and in fact, what is this blog if not an elaborate way for me to communicate with Uri?).
Moving in close, we have my Australian friends, who called, met me, SMS-ed me, and did pretty much all they can to be there. And then there are the people I'm in touch with through this blog: I know it sounds stupid, but having someone in The Age that thinks about you and someone in the north of England that cares gives me that added nudge of will power.
Friends from work were also quite supportive, although most have no idea what I am going through. It's a problem: I found that I cannot just mention that magical six letter "C" word, because people automatically assume you're about to die soon, when in fact dying is not on my agenda for many years to come. Sure, it's not going to be a pleasure ride, but it is an integral part of living.
Then there's my brother, who was with me all day yesterday and with whom I spent a lot of the day having quality chats - of the type we hardly ever have anymore. I know I'm guilty of not supporting him enough - and he is going through a hard time in his life.
And last but not least is Jo, who goes out of her way to help me and support me. I keep on joking that she's by far the best wife I've ever had, but jokes aside I cannot imagine a better companion - despite the fact it is now obvious she married a lemon.

What's up ahead? We're basically waiting for the pathology report to come, and it is expected to come towards the end of the week.
For the record (and anyone that knows me should know this), I am not of the "everything will be alright" camp. Not that I like to be a pessimist, it's just that I take things the way they are. We Westerners seem to have been educated that things are rosy, but it is those expectations that drive us to ruin when we face the bad things in life (and they are there, like it or not; for a start, everyone we know, including us, will die, and probably not at the most comfortable of times and not under the most comfortable technique).
With this realistic grasp of things I was able to go through the surgery with a smile on my face. Yes, a smile! I have done many wrongs in my life, and I am doing many wrongs all the time, and I will keep on doing bad things; but none of those have anything to do with what I'm going through now, and so I have no problems dealing with it. That's it, that's life, and I just want to make the best out of it.
For now all we know about the potential results of the pathology is what the doctor told Jo immediately after the surgery: he said the removed tissue looked quite abnormal and was almost probably not functioning. And if the keen eyed amongst thee noticed that I didn't put Han Solo's "you're all cleared" comment ahead of the title I did put, you now know why.

Sunday, 10 September 2006

We're going in, we're going in full throttle

We spent the weekend preparing.
The cupboards are full of food. It's mostly fresh stuff; one of our small revolutions I should discuss in detail is the fact the most of our food is now made on the spot out of fresh ingredients.
The house is clean, relatively speaking. And I even mowed our weed garden and cleaned some of the leaves and stuff that the wind carried in. I cannot fail to stress how much of a waste of time this mowing of the lawn is; Australians seem to be in love with it, and all the back/front yards in our area have the lawn at the exact optimal length with only the slightest standard deviation; our place takes a walk on the wild side.
We packed up on movies and TV stuff to watch. We have all of the Black Adder, the rest of the Muppets' first season, lots of TNG stuff to pick at, and many others; and we have five films just waiting for us to click play, including classics such as Wilder's Some Like it Hot and Quest for Fire (which is definitely not a Wilder film).
Today we finished things off with a late lunch at our favorite Mexican on Chapel Street. If it was up to me I would eat there every day. And we even jumped to the nearby Borders to get the latest Bill Bryson book - Thunderbolt Kid. Not that I need another book on the book shelf given the insurmountable number of books already there waiting for me, but Bill Bryson is Bill Bryson: probably my favorite author of all. Not that any of his books can be measured against stuff like Lord of the Rings, but consistency wise everything he writes about is a gem. I will not deny even for a second that I model my writing and this very blog after his way of doing things, only that he is much better at it.
We packed the bag for the hospital, charged up the MP3 player for Jo to enjoy tomorrow, and soon I will even set the alarm clock for something like 4:50am - we need to be there at 6:00am.
And that's it. We're going in. At this stage all I know is that tomorrow I will be out and about with anesthetics, so I don't know how long it's going to take me before adding entry #301 to this blog (yes, this one is numero 300) - but I'll be back.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

The Gods Themselves

Last night we received a letter from "my" specialist doctor. It included all the paperwork we had to fill before checking in to the Freemasons hospital in South Melbourne at 6:00am on Monday morning in order to re-live the pain of September Eleven.
The reason d'etre for this letter's existence is purely to act as one big disclaimer for the hospital. Ass covering, in short: it's all me signing disclaimer notices. If, for example, they just happen to rip my still beating heart during the operation and sacrifice it to the goddess Kali-Ma, I will not be able to complain or utter even the slightest whisper against them because I signed all these stupid forms to say that I know they are so pure of heart.

Let's get back for a second to this Freemasons thing. It seems like you cannot find a normal hospital for normal people in Melbourne. They're all either "royal hospitals" (and you know where you can stick all your royal stuff in), religious based one (there's a long list of saints with hospitals named after them) - and you know where you can stick religion (although, to be honest, if religions focused on running hospitals and actually helping people I doubt I would have had much against them), or secret society ones that no one knows what they stand for hospitals (case in point: the Freemasons).
Anyway, as my hospital is the Freemasons, the forms I had to fill had some Freemasons related stuff all over. For example, under "Title", they had "Mr, Ms, Mrs" as you'd expect, but they also had "Master". Now, last night I have spent more than a few minutes pondering whether I should present myself as a "Master" for the purposes of my upcoming surgery. Not that I have any delusions of being the master of my domain or anything, it would have mostly been a tribute to Tolkien. However, after careful pondering I decided to give it a miss; you see, I don't think "Master Reuveni" sounds good. It's the consecutive R's that make it sound bad; I'll stick to Mr MR.

Anyway, we filled the forms up last night, and today - since the Freemasons is just a short walk from the office - I walked there to give them the forms in person instead of posting them or faxing them (faxing is so Middle Ages nowadays; why do people accept faxes and not emails?).
The trip to the hospital was strange.
As I left my office, someone was already waiting for the elevator, so I didn't have to wait for one to come. And then during the trip down from the 27th floor we didn't have any stops what-so-ever; that's very rare. The combination of not waiting and going straight down is something you pray for every time you leave the office in the evening, but it just never happens. Then traffic lights on the way just turned green as I was arriving. Must have been my lucky day.
It was a typical case of a Melbourne weather day. The ten minute walk to the hospital was under dark clouds and this very slight drizzle of rain - the type where it's raining but only just and you can't be bothered with an umbrella but you don't really get wet but it's still actually raining. I crossed the Fitzroy Gardens on my way and it was just beautiful: the trees did not have many leaves on them yet, but there were loads of rainbow parrots flying and messing about, and they're just so beautifully amazing and cheerful I can just look at them for hours. Then I got to the hospital and gave them the paperwork, and when I got back out to the street just a couple of minutes later was when I noticed the "typical Melbourne" phenomenon: It was nice, sunny, warm and bright; all signs of the previous angry weather were far away in the distance.
I'm sure there was a rainbow somewhere, hidden between the tall buildings - it was as if the gods themselves were looking at me and reminding me of the alliance between god and Noah that was signed with a rainbow. At the time, Noah took the rainbow as a sign that god was with him and all he had to do was go forth and multiply; was I to follow suit?
It was almost enough to make a believer out of me. You know, the wishful thinking that everything would be alright because some superior dude likes me for one reason or another can drive even the most rational amongst us crazy for a while.
Ok, so I am joking, and the thought never really crossed my mind other than in that typical sarcastic way. It's just that we people are so gullible: we will seek and we shall find connections between things just because we want them to be there.

When I filled the Freemasons hospital's form I answered the question "What is your religion (optional)" with "ATHEIST" in big and bold capital letters. Let there be no doubt about it! I even declined the usage of "pastoral services" on offer at the hospital.
You know what I think of religion. You know that I mock it. And if, for a second there a part of me wanted to think that maybe there was an ulterior reason for me being so lucky today and for the sun to shine on me when I left the hospital, the analytic part of me quickly knew better.
You see, the gods had nothing to do with me having a lucky day. The real reason for my good fortunes was much more immediate: I was wearing my favorite lucky Arsenal boxer shorts.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Some say that's progress, I say that's cruel

Both Jo & I were thinking today on how lucky we are, given present circumstances, that we're no longer in the race to acquire more and more money and instead we've realized that work is just a side thing we do in order to be able to live our lives. And our lives are fine, thank you, with the means we currently have; we don't need a bigger house or a bigger car to feel better, we have enough.
Just think of what the consequences were if we were still in the race. For a start, regardless of what's going on now, we would both be miserable: it's a race you just can't win with the current odds.
Add my current situation into the equation, and then imagine what things were like if I was to work as a contractor instead having a permanent job. Yes, I'd be earning more money when I'm healthy, but what was to be of my professional career now? I'd be totally fucked - no income and zero certainty about the future.
And the problem is that the contracting way of life is the future, at least according to what the people at the helm of this country are concerned. The industrial relations laws are all about the power of the individual to bargain; well, what bargaining can one do with a couple of tumors up one's ass? It's all perfectly fine when all is perfectly fine, but once things are not fine - and eventually they will not be fine for each and every one of us, often more than once - than things are totally fucked. Unless you're a multi millionaire, a status that almost surely means that in order for you to get there you have to be totally fucked up.
If that's progress then consider me healthy.

Talking about progress that is more like stepping backwards, according to the August edition of "Widescreen Review" Sony has released a new line of rear projection TVs. They look exactly like the one we got a couple of months ago - a series that was only out there for about six months or so.
However, the new lineup uses LCoS technology - Liquid Crystal on Silicon, or SXRD the way Sony likes to call it. It's an LCD projector on a chip, and because it's all enclosed it has double the contrast and the blacks and it can easily achieve superior resolutions. Thus the new lineup has a much better picture and a 1080p resolution instead of our 720p - and all this for only 30% more damage to your wallet.
I'm sure that in two months' time these new TVs will be obsolete, too.
But more interestingly, it definitely appears as if LCoS is the technology to beat at the moment. The 71" LG model I talked about here before was the first I've seen and it was also the best I've seen; I just hope that people will see the light instead of following the hype and fall for shit plasmas and LCD panels just because that's where the manufacturers want them to be.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Apology accepted, Captain Needa?

I would like to apologize for what I wrote in this very blog not that long ago about the value of friends' support at this time, whether it is through something they do, something we do together, or most often something they say as they're on the other side of the world.
No, these things do not go directly do the trash folder; they are highly valued, and it was/would be terribly stupid for me to dismiss them just like that. I know because I've been there before on the other side.
What I do find annoying, though, is when someone like my mother calls me and starts crying over the phone and saying things like "oh, maybe it would have been better if you were in Israel". She can say these things because she's my mother, but I find such words annoying for two main reasons. First, it's bullshit to discuss things that might have been; had I filled the six winning lottery numbers I know of today a week ago, I would have been rich, but so what. And I totally ignore the fact that being in Israel would have contributed nothing to my current affairs other than make me annoyed that I live in a crap place (no offence, Israelis).
The second thing I find annoying with such comments is that at a time when we should be receiving support we find ourselves required to give others support. We should be cheered up but instead we are being actively depressed. So far I'm coping with it because of the simple fact that I am not depressed at all - I take things the way they are; but that's a rarity. And I'm also stressed aplenty, so yes - I can do without this added stress.

So, to sum up: I apologize for turning the anxiety generated by a few people's comments on everyone else. Anyone that reads this blog should know by now that I'm a stupid idiot anyway.
Do you thing Darth Vader would accept this apology? We watched Empire again on Saturday. What a great film!

Monday, 4 September 2006

The Cost of Living

One thing that Jo and I cannot fail to notice lately is the running cost of our (mainly mine) medical bills.
Over the last few weeks we have been receiving bills to pay or invoices for paid bills almost on a daily basis. And while we get a lot of money back from Medicare for all those paid bills, we do not get all of it back. With some we get two thirds back, with some half, with some a third, and with some even none. Take last week's second opinion as an example (albeit a rather extreme one): The doctor's visit cost us $300, and we got $63 back from Medicare. Wow! What would we do without them!
But jokes aside, being sick is an expensive affair. Jo & I can probably afford it, as the two of us are earning more than average and we don't have a family to support. But what about others who are less capable? What about single parents? What about families that don't earn much and have several kids to feed? What about those that are sinking in investment property loans that they cannot really pay back? And what about those out there that represent what we all aspire to be one day - old pensioners that don't really have much of an income anymore?
So yes, some of those have their concession cards. So they don't pay a third of a doctor's appointment out of pocket, they only pay 10%. But still, do it enough times - like you expect to do when you're old - and you'll still burn a hole in your pocket.
Call me old fashioned, but I definitely think that medical bills should be free for all. Or, in the very worst case, require a token fee when you visit a doctor (say - $2). This way you'd achieve equality - both the rich and the poor will enjoy the same service - and this way, the rich and the capable will make sure that the services available are capable enough of serving their needs.
Sure, it would cost us more in taxes. But hey - that's what taxes are for. When it comes to health, my wallet is wide open.
And to those who say "but my pockets are already too wide open and I can't afford to buy myself the new iPod that I just must have and the new shoes I saw in the shop" the answer would be: don't vote for Howard the next time around. Look at where he's spending 10 fucking billions of hard earned tax payers dollars: On expanding the Australian army by a few thousand soldiers. I feel very lucky to have Johnny taking care of me, because when I woke up this morning I really felt scared of all those evil guys knocking on Australia's doors just waiting to invade. Obviously, those few thousands will keep us alive and kicking. Thanks, Johnny - who needs health when we got a strong defense!

Saturday, 2 September 2006

Sexy French

Today I had the pleasure of doing what they call at work "a lifestyle presentation": a presentation on how digital cameras work and what's important in digital cameras. The presentation was before all the IT people at work, plus some visitors who were there to do the presentations before/after me. Altogether, some 120 people or so.
The presentation went along fine, and despite the projector totally distorting some of my photos I was still able to convey what I wanted to convey and the audience seemed to have enjoyed it.
The funny things took place after the presentation.
immediately after going back to my seat, I was asked by a fellow employee "I want to buy a TV; what's the best TV to buy?" Well, what can one say about that? I started with the usual speech I'm so used to, the "there is no such thing as the best TV, there is the best TV for you". Obviously, people are not aware of the fact that you can buy a TV for hundreds of thousands of dollars if you really want to.
Before I managed to delve deeply into my speech, I was interrupted by another guy who was interested in buying an MP3 player. He was more technically oriented, and we had a bit of a discussion of the merits of lossy compression and how the MP3 players in the market don't really aim at those who want sound quality.
The top of the comments award goes, however, to the manager of HR. She was there to do the presentation following mine; her comment was that she thought I was good and that she really loved my sexy French accent.

Friday, 1 September 2006

Adam and the Ants

We've had our second opinion appointment yesterday, and now it seems like the next step is an operation - probably next Friday, although that requires slot availability confirmation before we can buy our tickets to this unique theater that you never really want to visit.
Only after the operation and its subsequent pathological examinations will we be able to know whether that was it and it's game over or whether we'll need to go through additional exciting stuff like chemo or radio therapy.
The uncertainty of not knowing what's going on exactly and not really being able to know what is going on, plus the crudeness of the medical techniques at hand, with actions ranging from "chop it off" through "poison it" and culminating in "nuke it", demonstrate one generic truth to me:
We, as in humanity, think we're so advanced and we know it all, when in fact we don't know shit. The amount of unknown stuff in this universe far surpasses what we know, and in the grand scheme of things we are still ruled by small (or, for that matter, large as well) seemingly random events that are totally beyond our control.
Some of us look to their gods for answers, while others think they are the gods themselves. But in reality, there is not much of a difference between us and, say, ants.

An update from later: the operation was confirmed for next Monday morning. The 11th of September will have yet another reason to be remembered.