Sunday, 31 December 2006

Overhyped holidays

I got my desktop back from repairs yesterday. As expected, it was the motherboard that went up to heaven. I think I got off cheap at the end: It cost only $175 and the repairs took place on a period in which I was mostly away.
To give credit where credit is due, I will mention the repairs were made at a shop just around the corner from us: Australian Quality Computers. They did try to sell me stuff, telling me I'm better off upgrading to DDR2 memory, but I quickly put them back in the right place (they're right, in general, but it would be stupid for me to invest in improving what is by now an old machine; memory is just the icing on the cake). With repairs charged at between $75 to $100 per hour in most other places, I seemed to have gotten the cheaper way around (and I didn't even have to reinstall Windows - so far).

It's not like having the desktop back home was a plug and play affair. First there was the obvious problem: a new motherboard means a new MAC address, and since I use MAC address protection on my wireless router I had to redefine the authorizations; however, it was also set up to accept modifications only from my desktop's old MAC address... so that was a bit of a problem. I still didn't get around to sorting out static IP addresses, but I'm sure I'll manage it (eventually).
Problems didn't end there. We have our good old Toshiba Gigabeat S60 MP3 player, the shittiest MP3 player around (the Microsoft Zune is based on it - so be warned!) to ruin the party. I just couldn't synch it (something I had to do when all of a sudden it reported an error and deleted all the 45gb of music it had on just three days after it came back from a month of repairs at Toshiba). I spent a day and a half messing with it until I managed to sort it out: it turns out the front USB connections on my new motherboard behave like a USB hub, and certain gadgets don't like being connected through a USB hub. But it didn't take so long because of that: it took so long because the MP3 player is a piece of inconsistent shit, and because Microsoft's Windows Media Player ascends to new heights of crappiness - especially in its new version, 11 (don't let Windows Update "upgrade" you to 11 - stick with 10 instead).
By now I'm convinced MP3 players are overhyped. I've heard so many horror stories about iPods gone wrong, and with my own iPod like nightmare like experience my impression is that MP3 players are designed to sell, not to actually work; they are way too delicate and way over featured for their own good. If you buy one, get yourself a simple one without too many bells and whistles - something that would just work.

But anyway, the point of this post was overhyped holidays and so far I've talked about my desktop and overhyped MP3 players. There is a slight connection, you see:
At the computer shop, the repair guy told me "happy Hanuka". I told him thanks, but I also told him I don't really celebrate it. "But you are an Israeli, aren't you?" Well, yes, but so what? There are like 2 million Arab Israelis, too (although they'd probably present themselves as Palestinians). Eventually he settled with the explanation that I'm not that religious.
People's expectations for other people to belong to religions aside, I have to say a word about that most overhyped holiday - Hanuka.
As a child I like Hanuka: you get a week off school and you get to play with fire for 8 nights while messing around with the candles. But overall, Hanuka is one of the lesser holidays in Israel, mainly because it's not one of the holidays that god ordered Jews to have in the bible but rather a holiday that celebrates the successful Israeli rebellion against the Greek empire (which was one of the starters for the eventual demise of that empire). As an adult, you get zero hours off work for Hanuka, and aside of having lots of kids roaming around between your legs as you walk the streets you don't feel like you're in any sort of a holiday.
However, in today's overly politically correct world, Hanuka became the Jewish holiday - the one holiday that most Christians are familiar with - and all because it happens to take place around the time of Christmas and all because there's this trend to take Christmas out of the holidays and just have a "holiday" season instead, so as not to offend non Christians. Needless to say, there's an overdose of bullshit involved with this process: I'm not a Christian, I couldn't care less about Hanuka, yet I still enjoy Christmas. You don't need blind faith to enjoy it: you can just enjoy the atmosphere (and the days off).

And with that in mind I'll leave you to enjoy the photo of Hanuka at my parents place (my parents are accompanied by their two grandchildren). Not that my parents celebrate Hanuka or anything; it was just a photo opportunity with the children (my mother always hated the stains created by the candles, hence the newspaper under them). What I found funny about the photo is the Hanukia (the tool on which you put the candles) they used: it's the same one we used as children, so it must be 40 years old or so. Practically an archaeological find.

Friday, 29 December 2006

I've been to Georgia and California

One of the things that are there to entertain our thoughts lately is the issue of the name. The real name, not a temporary Melinda like name for the embryo.
Before presenting my preferred options before you, I would like to mention my agenda when choosing a name. It's pretty simple:
First, the name is there first and foremost to help the child get along with life. Like it or not (I know I don't), we live in a society where people have preconceptions, a lot of them unjustified. I'll explain what I'm talking about using a basic example for just one aspect of it: Our child will be living in an English speaking country; therefore, certain names which may sound cool and trendy in Israel - say, Dor or Anat - are out of the question because you wouldn't want the kids at school to laugh at your child for being a door or for being a nut. For similar reasons, I will not suggest us naming a baby boy Geraldine or a baby girl Frank (I'm only exaggerating in order to make the point clearer). And for that reason I also do not think that the baby's last name should be Reuveni, a name that even Jo cannot properly pronounce; Hopkins would probably be much more suitable.
The second part of my agenda is to use the naming of my child in order to promote an agenda close to my heart. When I say "agenda" I'm referring to philosophies or values that are close to my heart. After all, as far as legacies are concerned, a child would probably be the furthest I would ever reach.
Third, being the proud atheist that I am, I would like to avoid as many biblical connotations as I can. Not that it's easy, with almost every name out there coming from biblical origins. That said, this is not a must that would stand in the way of me naming my child.
With that explained, let me start with the names I'm currently thinking of. Being that I'm a boy, I naturally tend to think along boyish lines first, so I'll start with boy names; I find it interesting to discuss the names at this stage, a stage in which we don't know the potential child's gender yet. For the record I would like to state that I have no preferences whatsoever.

Boys:
I will not hide for even a second the fact that ever since I started thinking about the possibility of presenting this world with an offspring, something like 15 years ago, the name that has always dominated my thoughts was Indiana (or something like Indy). There are several reasons: Indiana Jones has been my very second childhood hero, and he's the kind of guy that symbolizes a lot of what I aspire for - a professor who fights for the good side. The only other hero that comes close is my very first childhood hero, Han Solo, and you could very well argue that they're relatives; problem is I don't like the name, whereas I like Indiana.
I would probably prefer Indy over Indiana, because it would also follow a family trend: My sister is called Drorit and I was briefly thought of as Dror because we were born on the Israeli Independence Day and Dror means independence or freedom in Hebrew; I would say that Indy has the same connotations but in English. And I appreciate and like the value of independence and doing things your own way without caring what others might think.
As much as I like the name Indiana, Jo thinks it's a silly name. While she's entitled to her own opinion, I fail to see why she thinks this way; her sister called her now 1.5 year old daughter Georgia, and I don't see much of a difference between these two names other than the fact that Georgia is just a nice sounding American state while Indiana is a nice sounding American state but also a damn good hero's name.
I already exposed this naming preference of mine to a couple of friends of ours (whom I will not name). You could see the reaction on the wife's face when she heard me say "Indiana"; and then in a very PC way she said "well, maybe as a second name", which to me read like "this is the most stupid name I have ever heard of". Again, I fail to see why, but again I will add that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
I will finalize the Indiana discussion by repeating my previously stated statement: I am unable to think of a name that can even come close to competing with Indiana/Indy.
What other names did I think of? If I look at my favorite books, I can come up with Anduril ("the flame of the west" in Lord of the Rings' Elvish), the name of the sword that was reforged; or Corwin, the name of the hero from my most favorite of books, Amber, which is a book about the forging of one's own destiny. However, both names are not realistic options by any account; both are types of names that would earn our potential boy lots of kicks at school as well as claims along the lines of what drugs were your parents on when they named you.
The last boy name I can think of so far is Corey, the name of the Amber hero when he was on earth (he called himself Carl Corey). It means "crow" in Irish, and I don't particularly like crows, but I do like the way Corey rings.

Girls:
Being an aspirational scientifically minded person, I had a very long love affair with the name Nova (meaning new in Spanish), which probably first popped into my mind as one of the main characters in the animation series I liked the most as a child, Star Blazers. Today that name has a distinctively different appeal to me, as I find supernovas ("new stars") to be one of our universe's most fascinating phenomena. On one hand, it's the unleashing of a phenomenal destructive power on a scale that we humans cannot even imagine; on the other hand, we would not have been here without supernovas to supply us with the heavier elements we require as living beings. All living matter on earth are children of supernovas, and I would not mind at all paying my respects to the stars around me by naming my child accordingly.
The second name I thought of was Amber - yet again a name inspired by my favorite book, Roger Zelazny's Amber. For those unfamiliar with the book, Amber is the only real place in the universe, with the rest - earth included - being a figment of the imagination of Amber's residents. Being that Amber will be the center of our existence for years to come, I find the name to be quite suitable! That said, there is a bit of a problem with this name: pronounced in an Aussie accent it's more like "Amba", which is a bit of a shot in the foot given the aspirational meaning the name has for me. That said, I will happily live with that.

What does Jo think?
So far, Jo only came up with a couple of options of her own. Naturally for her, she thought of a girl's name first: Emily. I have to say I like it; something about this name has always captivated me. Maybe it's to do with the Pink Floyd song bearing the same name, which was the band's first ever single. Needless to say, me and Pink Floyd go back a long way.
According to the internet, the name Emily comes from Germanic origins, where it means "industrious". Personally, however, I always thought the name comes from the Hebrew name Amalia, which translates to "the labor of god". As I stated above, I would like to avoid biblical connotations; on the other hand, the name does have a lot of appeal to me: people might think I am praising the lord with such a name, whereas what I would really intend to show with it is that my child has nothing to do with the work of god and everything to do with the work of science - after all, Emily would not have been there if it wasn't for modern science in the shape of IVF.
The second name Jo came up with is a boy's name: Ben. I have a problem with it given it's meaning. Ben comes from Hebrew, where it has several meaning - (1) son (2) boy and (3) male [disclaimer: these are free translations made by me, and I don't aspire for dictionary like accuracy]. Even if you've never heard of the Hebrew meaning, you sure have stumbled upon Ben's in your career: A name like Benjamin, for example, means "the son of the righteous", and the name Ruben means "look, it's a boy".
The problem is basically that I don't see myself calling my boy "boy", in the same way a Scot wouldn't name his boy Mc. The fact it also means "male", as in the gender, makes it even worse for me. That said, I do have to add that Ben is a name gaining popularity in Israel; still, I wouldn't want my child to be called Ben.

The bottom line of this discussion is that the naming thing would be a decision made between Jo and I. You're welcome to offer suggestions, especially serious ones; and I'm sure Uri, for example, would be able to point me towards heroes of mine that I have neglected. But the bottom line is that it would be Jo and I who make the call and only Jo and I. Just as long as we call him Indiana.
In the mean time, I'll leave you with the latest photo of Indiana, taken today. Indy is now a 2cm long reptile like entity, residing between the + signs of the picture. You can clearly see the hat forming up, and if you look carefully you will see the whip. There's no denying the similarity between the ultrasound to the photo at the top of this post.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

The trouble with Amazon

Got an email from Amazon while on holiday (the wonders of a wireless
PDA!) that annoyed me enough I had to let steam off blogging about it
even while on holiday.
A month ago I ordered several books from them, including Richard
Dawkins' famous Selfish Gene book. When I got the order I found that
particular book damaged and asked for a replacement, with Amazon
graciously agreeing and telling me to keep the damaged copy due to the
cost of returning it to the USA. Fine - I quickly sold it on eBay
during the Xmess rush.
Alas, yesterday I received yet another email from Amazon, this time
telling me they are yet to receive Selfish Gene back and that I have
10 days to return it or they'll charge my credit card.
Now, I've already discussed the pleasure of interacting with American
service providers
in the past (it was Scientific American back then),
but this one breaks new ground. It is obvious they'll automatically
charge me if I don't complain; and it is even more obvious a mere look
at my address would have prevented this from taking place.
What can I say? I'm with Borders now.

Friday, 22 December 2006

A Tribute to an Educator

Recent discussions I've had (mainly with myself in this blog but also with the aid of others) on the issue of how easily people accept rather loony religious habits without thinking about them have made me start questioning the value of the education we receive. All of the people I'm in contact with have received some sort of a formal education, usually for more than 12 years; if that is the case, how come these educated people still fail to question and to think up certain things that just seem to scream for questioning?
I would say that in this case the answer is pretty simple. The education we receive does not teach us how to think; if anything, it teaches us how to go about with our lives without having to think. Virtually all we learn qualifies under the "what" and not under the "how" or "why", as we're taught the things that would help us progress to the next stage - from primary school to high school, from high school to the university, and from university to getting us a high paying job.
Now I'm aware that I am accusing the educational system with quite a heavy crime. You may ask how can I say such a thing when on subjects such as math we're taught how to prove stuff by all sorts of clever ways - say, induction. But I argue that while they do it and while it's definitely a step in the right direction (as opposed to,say, forcing people to just learn important dates in history by heart - which they still do), the way in which such material is taught robs all the pleasure of learning and exploration away; what you learn is how to address a very specific type of an exercise so that you can tackle very similar exercises when they're thrown at you in a test. There is no learning for the pleasure of learning and expanding one's horizons, because no one needs to do that when the only parameter one is measured by is a good grade in a test.
My four years at uni are a good example. During my first year I have encountered severe hardships: On one test I scored 18 out of 100, on another I got a 45 point question wrong (out of a total of 100 points, with 60 being the minimum passing grade) but still managed to shave the test off due to leniency (and up to this day my friends will not forget that). As of the second year, though, the group of friends in which I was studying has adopted: we stopped learning for the purpose of learning and started learning for the purpose of passing the test. Our studies involved mostly the acquisition of old test material belonging to our specific lecturers, as well as trying to guesstimate what the lecturer would aim at; and all we'll be doing would be to practice those specific questions.
We did well at our guesstimates; my average would testify for that. The example I will never forget was the test in Accounting, a subject I had no idea about (didn't attend most of the lectures) before the test nor after. I did, however, receive the cheat sheet from a friend a year above me, and without understanding much I just followed the guidelines on her 4 page instruction manual to the world of Accounting. I got a perfect 100 score on that test; my best friend, who actually knew what he was doing, got a 96, and most of the rest of the class got something between 60 to 80. Note I'm not here to boast my Accounting grade; I'm only saying that with the way the system is, an idiot can get the perfect score if he prepares for exactly what he's going to be tested on.

I think that only relatively lately I have started to really utilize my brain in the same relatively intense way I have done when I was in primary school - the days before studying became a pressure cooker of grades; the time when studying and reading was fun. A lot of it is to do with this blog and the discussions it creates, but overall I attribute most of it to Jo and the comfortable and relaxed lifestyle we have established together (even in the face of medical hardship).
When I look back at my educational history - and let's not forget that I have been schooled for 16 years of my life, which is almost half of it, and that excludes kindergarten and various courses - I find it hard to think up an exception to the rule, someone who really was an inspiration, someone who was a true educator and not just a pump of facts that handed me with a test sheet and a grade at the end.
I thought there were none until I watched Witness (the Harrison Ford film) some two weeks ago. I was reminded that the first time I saw the film was with my parents when we went to see it together in a packed session at Cinema Hadar. I met some classmates of mine there, but what I remember the most (other than the excellent film) was seeing my primary school principle there, a guy called Ori Elazary. He sat not too far from me, and I remember being scared of him despite reminding myself that I'm not at school.
Anyway, in real life - or real school life - Ori was not frightening at all. He wasn't a particularly nice guy, as teachers go, but he was a damn good teacher; and at this point in time I think I can safely say I consider him to be the best formal teacher I have ever had, university professors included (actually, most of the university professors I've encountered were amongst the worst of the bunch, but never mind that now).
Compared with other teachers I didn't spend a long time with Ori. He taught us two subjects during 6th grade: Hebrew and Bible. Oddly enough, given what I think of religion in general, it was the Bible class that captivated me. We spent almost the entire year studying the book of Exodus, and it's not like we covered it; we just focused on something like five passages. But if you ask me, we've had a hell of a time (pun intended) with those few passages, because we didn't just flick through them and understood what was told there, we actually debated and questioned them.
I can give you several examples to show what I'm talking about here. I think I actually quoted some of them in the past:
  • There's a bit where Moses, being frustrated with god's instructions, asks god something along the lines of "listen, god, I'm tired of this shit; who do you think you are?". God's answer is (excuse the free translation from Hebrew) "I'll be whoever I'll be". For a couple of months we were discussing this answer and the various analysis it has received from all the usual suspects of Jewish religious analytics. The trick is in coming up with the right interpretation for the question being asked by Moses; basically, it comes down to the issue of why is god bothering with sins and righteousness when he is the one that creates the sinners in the first place and therefore has control over what they will do; if you look at it in a certain way, the sinners - being created by god - just do whatever god has programmed them to do. In case you're interested, none of the "professional" religious analysts managed to come up with an explanation an atheist as limited as I am wouldn't be able to counter in a couple of minutes.
  • The Ten Commandments. Yes, the famous ones. Last time I checked they said something like "thou shall not kill"; however, if you read the bible, you will quickly see that it's a one big killing orchestra with god as the chief conductor. How do these two opposite trends combine? There's a very simple answer for that, but the trick is in discussing it and managing to come up with the question in the first place - which is what Ori did at the time. In case you're curious, by the way, the most widely accepted answer is that the Ten Commandments are incomplete; they were written for the Jewish reader who knows the bible was written for Jews and Jews alone. The full version should say "thou shall not kill Jews, but thou shall have an open season with everything that is not Jewish".
  • Last, but not least - if god knows he's getting the people of Israel out of Egypt, why does he bother striking the Egyptians ten times on the way there? What's the point of that? Again, we discussed the virtues of the various explanations given by religious scholars to that question, but again - it was the raising of the question in the first place that was most important.
I hope you can see the point of what I am trying to say here. It comes down to this: Ori did not bother teaching us the facts; he did not care much about covering the entire Exodus book, the way the curriculum said we should be doing. What he did care about, though, was to try and motivate us to truly understand - through the process of questioning - what it is that we're reading in the few passages that we did read. So we ended up reading just a bit, but it was much more meaningful than covering more in a superficial way. The fact is that I remember those discussions today, some 24 years after; I cannot say that about many other classes of mine.

Ori died just a couple of years after we graduated our primary school through a cancer caused by his chain smoking. As I said, he wasn't the friendliest of teachers; but in my mind, he was the only official authority to provide me with proper education.
I hope this post can serve as a proper memorial.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Citizen Jo

You're invited to join Ms J Hopkins upon her receiving an Australian citizenship. Special invitation goes out to those that live abroad. From my own ceremony I can tell you it's a funny and an eccentric ceremony - just what one can expect from something that celebrates nationalism.
The ceremony is on Australia Day, Friday 26/1/07, at 09:00am (I suggest you arrive a bit before).
The venue is Kamesburgh Gardens, North Road, Brighton, Australia, Earth, Solar System (not in a galaxy far far away). It's just east of the corner of Cochrane Street, Melway reference 67-E7. It smells as if this is going to be an outside affair...
Given that it's Australia day, the dose of boring speakers no one would listen to on a regular day is bound to be high, but I'm sure you'd be able to laugh it all up. I will be there with my zoom lens to take embarrassing photos of Jo.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

On Winter Solstice and such

Tomorrow would be the longest day of the year here in summer land. We southern hemispherers are the true owners of summer: during our summer the earth is in its perihelion, its closest point to the sun. Yet most of the world will be soon celebrating the winter solstice, even though it's not winter in half of the planet. I doubt they would care; they now call their holiday Christmas.
It doesn't take much of a detective to figure out that Christmas is celebrated at the time it is celebrated because Christianity wanted to establish itself by borrowing pagan holidays (e.g., winter solstice) into its repertoire; If anything, Jesus was probably born around Easter rather than Christmas. I am wondering, though, whether Christians acknowledge the problematic-ness of this timing affair or whether they really believe in it.
But anyway, that's not the issue I want to discuss (although I'd welcome a discussion on this topic). What I do want to discuss is the way in which religious habits become a part of the culture just because they become a habit, and I'd like to discuss it by analyzing a question that is often presented to us - if you were to have any children, how would you raise them? As in, what would be their religion?
First, I'll explain why the question is potent in our case. My wife comes from a Christian background - a Christian family and a mild Christian upbringing, at least according to my impression. She presents herself as a Christian, but I would risk arguing she's more of an agnostic rather than a Christian. I, on the other hand, come from a Jewish family and a mild Jewish upbringing; however, for most of my life I have been considering myself an atheist who is not a Jew. Readers of this blog will know that I take great delight in despising everything that's religious to the point of sadistic tendencies.
Back to the question - will our child be a Christian or a Jew?
I think I can safely say the answer would depend on which side of the family you ask: Jo's side, my side, or either Jo & I. Let us examine what each of the three sides is saying.

Jo's side would like to have a christening, or the way I like to pronounce it - a crucifixion. One of the reasons presented to justify this act is that, in the case of death, the child will not go to heaven unless he/she has been crucified.
Needless to say, I find this argument totally ridiculous. For a start, I will need someone to hold my hand while I spend an eternity in hell; it wouldn't be Jo, because she's a Christian and as a result she'll spend her time up there in heaven. Who else can I ask for to help me out other than my own son/daughter?
Seriously, though, let's examine what is really being said here: god would cast an innocent child, who lacks the capacity to do much more than cry, sleep and shit into the eternal damnation that is hell just because the parents failed to do something. Well, if this is your god - this evil entity that would do such a thing - then I say the hell with this god. It should be the god that's put in hell, not the child.
Hopefully, by now you'd agree with me that this baptism for heaven insurance related purposes argument is stupid. But my point is not about the argument itself; my point is about the fact that people actually go for this argument, that they fail to think about what it is exactly that stands behind this argument (and if you argue it out they tend to become offended). My point is that people take religion for granted without thinking about it just because it has become a habit.
I argue, based upon research, that it seems as if baptism was a pagan ritual that was adopted by Christianity, much in the same way as winter solstice has been adopted as Christmas.

It's not like the Jewish side of things is better. It's worse!
As with the Christian side, the main aim is to have the child belong to a particular religious club - in this case, club Jew. The admission price is much more painful than the one to Christianity: here you need to have a bit of your dick chopped off.
Why would you want to pay the admission price? Again, it's because people have been doing it before, nothing more and nothing less. After all, none of my family members is that religious as advocate circumcision because they really consider it to be the word of god.
But if you look at the child's own good, is it worthwhile for them to become Jewish? Judging by history, becoming a Jew is like a winning lottery ticket to having the majority of the world hate you and prosecute you.
Once again, circumcision is yet another pagan ritual that got itself integrated into a religion, this time Judaism. Once again, people continue doing it today because it has become a habit. I know that my side of the family will take my "circumcision over my dead body" policy very hard, to the point of potential bans; which only points at the futility of it all.
The sad reality is that the closer the family member is, the less likely they are to accept the fact I do not consider myself a Jew. When I describe myself as an atheist some of them even say that they did not know the possibility of not believing is even possible, and I'm not talking here about some 90 year old grandmother. Maybe the authorities should initiate a search for their ability to think, as it seems to have gone MIA.

Now let me ask - why are we forcing our religions on our sons and daughters in the first place? What's wrong with free choice?
If you look at the statistics, while there are cases of people "migrating" from one religion to the other, the vast majority of people stick to the religion they were born to. You simply don't hear of people saying something like "you know what, this Amish thing sounds like the real truth to me; I'm going back to the 17th century!"
Given that religions are incompatible with one another, the only explanation for this phenomenon is that people have been brainwashed to believe that their own religion, the one they were born into, is better than the others. That's all there is to it! No true superiority of one over the other, based on objective measurable quantities, but the effect of childhood brainwashing alone.
Therefore, the plan Jo & I have in store is to simply raise our child, if we ever get to have one, with no religious indoctrination whatsoever. Our child will be neither Jew nor Christian; it would be "just" a person. A person of free will.

If, when they become adults, they will choose a religion - then good on them; I won't give them my blessing but I won't stand in their way. I will obviously try to give them the full picture of what's going on (and that would include a rare few words on the positives of religion, not that I can count many of those and not that I can count any that can't be achieved way better using proper thinking).
Given youth's rebellious nature I suspect there's a strong chance of religious tendencies becoming dominant at one stage or another. Given that the child would grow up in a predominantly Christian society (i.e., a society in which people buy one another Christmas gifts), I would suspect that would be the direction of any potential tendencies. But the bottom line is that they would be urged to think for themselves.
This ability to raise a child in a relatively religion free environment is not to be trifled with; it's impossible to do it in Israel, for example, where all schools and kindergartens push their religious doctrine at their students.

And as far as celebrations go, if we do have children we see no reason why we shouldn't celebrate the fact. It's just that I see no reason why pagan rituals of any nature should become the dominant features of such celebrations. I find it odd that we consider ourselves to be so much more sophisticated and enlightened than those pagans of ancient times, yet we still tend to do exactly what they have done.

They can take my freedom, but they will never take Our Desktop!

Or will they? Because last night something did.
At about midnight, after an entertaining night of looking through old photos and uploading them to Flickr, I touched my external hard disk (home of the photos) to turn it off. I felt a slight electrocution - the type you get when you discharge static - and then I noticed the desktop just froze: the picture was there, but there was no reaction. No pulse.
Several reboots later the same thing happens again and again: You turn the PC on, you hear the sound of the fans and later the hard disk, but nothing happens - no BIOS comes up, no graphics card diagnostics show up. The DVD drive and the CD drive both function (as in they accept disks), which leads me to suspect a power supply fuse like failure or - more likely - a motherboard issue.
Being that my desktop is just a bit more than 2 years old, finding a replacement motherboard would probably not be that trivial (nor cheap).
I'll try and do some diagnostics tonight - disconnect everything, look for signs of physical damage, use a different power socket with a different cable - but in the end I'm limited by the lack of spare parts. It would have to go for repairs, and the timing - with everything shut for the holidays - is not that good.
At least we have Jo's work laptop to play around with, but being a work laptop you can't do much in the way of mischief with it. And if it comes down to getting myself a new desktop, I know exactly what to get and how much it would cost me...

A nightly update: It seems as if I'm doomed to go look for a quote on fixing the PC; I couldn't find anything on my own and I don't have the spare parts for proper diagnostics. It's amazing how shitty this makes me feel...

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Party's over

After a month or so at work where I was able to access Gmail and Hotmail, this morning I'm back to the sad reality of having all web based mail blocked.
We'll fight them on the beaches by watching YouTube material.
Anyway, as readers of this blog might know, I've been recently relegated to level 16. I'm sitting by the window by now, and the view is not too bad; it's nice to stare outside and watch the hustle and bustle of the city. There are also three hotel rooftop swimming pools within view and one tennis court... Not that you can appreciate it in the attached photo, that proves most of all that my PDA is not a Nikon D70.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Can't buy me love

Somebody recently summed up my life (?) by saying "great car, great TV". I can't stop thinking about it; it is just so ridiculous a way to sum up a person (and let me assure you, the comment was made as a summary statement - I am not taking it out of context).
I can go on analyzing how materialism has ruined the soul of the people uttering such statements, but it would be unfair. Look at my all time favorite band, The Beatles. One of their very first recording (of a song they didn't write) went like-
Money don't get everything it's true
But what it don't get I can't use

Quickly enough, though, they've corrected things with the more famous Can't Buy Me Love.

Anyway, I won't elaborate too much other than say that I don't think much of the car nor the TV; they were just purchased with money, and come to think of it not that much of it: The car didn't cost us much at all, compared to its qualities, and the TV costs less than a half of a similarly sized plasma. The true genius was not in acquiring them, but rather in the knowledge that led to their selection.
Still, this argument delves even deeper into the realms of superficiality. The true things that make my life great now are the things that allow me to buy a car and a TV. Mostly, the fine life I have established with Jo and the relationship between us. Without that, there would be no car nor TV, and without that there would be no fun in having a car or a TV. It takes much more than money to establish such a relationship, and that something is much harder to acquire than money.

Everyone around is going berserk buying Xmess gifts, but I will only offend those that choose to ignore reality if I was not to say that most of those will probably find their way sooner rather than later into eBay.
Not that I am not a consumer myself. However, as much as I am a consumer, I take pride in my purchases for this holiday season, each them carefully selected.
The only thing I bought was books. I bought something like 15 of them over the last month or so; by now I have something like 8 Carl Sagan books and 5 Richard Dawkins books, amongst others. I can't wait to read them, and I know that each one of them will make me a better person; no car can achieve that.

Pulsar

Well, the little tadpole between the little plus signs in the picture on the left is the single Melinda that survived (emphasis on single!) - surely a sign that we should be referring to it as Haim.
The doctor doing the ultrasound showed us the heartbeat and this diagram that looks like a sonar reading on a computer submarine flight simulator, saying all looks fine and blah blah blah. To me the heartbeat looked like the pulsar in Carl Sagan's Cosmos.
Anyway, off we go into a brand new adventure. It's hard to believe this IVF thing worked the first time.
Personally, I think the challenge now would be to disprove the old axiom that says nothing good can come out of me. You might be interested to know that Jo has already objected to my choice of names (both the male and the female ones).
At the operational level, the first thing we'll probably do would be to sell the spare bed we've been keeping for guests that never come. It will probably go on eBay in February or so - a bargain as it was hardly ever used. If any of you do decide to drop by and stay with us, it would be the blowup mattress on the living room floor for you.

For all your football needs

I'm such an idiot! (Readers of this blog will know that already, but it doesn't mean they need to agree to it)
Someone from work showed me today that you can get the highlights of all the football games you'd ever want to see (i.e., Arsenal matches) on YouTube.
I already knew that I can download games via Bit Torrent, but that's time consuming and you only get to see one game; most of the time I'm interested in the highlights anyway, having developed a very cynical view at the world of sports in general (yet another way for big companies to make piles of money).
Actually, by now I'm living fine (thank you) without football altogether. It's just a bonus when it's there. However, knowing that it's just at the tips of my fingers is definite progress.
Now, tell me why should anyone pay Fox to get it on cable? Just this morning I read complaints about Fox' new SciFi channel, for which you need to pay extra. The complaints were to do with all the existing science fiction programs being taken away from the "free" cable channels, plus that the new channel doesn't show new stuff anyway - with Battlestar Galactica, for example, they've just started running season 1 (whereas the internet literate crowds are up to season 3 episode 11).
Go figure.
In the mean time, the internet = power to the people. And I just heard that Time Magazine chose me to be the person of the year (not that I think that highly of their awards).

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Letters from Australia

Yesterday I have uploaded the photos I took of Australia while coming here is a tourist, back in January 2001. You can view them too here, just be aware of the fact that the photos were taken on my old Canon A2E film camera at a time in which digital scans were not really a source of inspiration, quality wise.
While messing around with the photos I remembered that at the time I wrote several emails from Australia to my friends, emails of the type that were eventually replaced by this very blog. I knew I still had them in the Outlook file I kept from Tenomatix, and I've located the file easily (I'm an orderly person), but then noticed that the file is password protected and I have no idea what the password is; luckily, within 2 minutes of googling I was able to find an Outlook password crunch utility.
Then I had the opportunity to look at my emails again, and the first thought that came to my mind was "is that really me". The second one was "what was I on at the time".
Anyway, for your joy and entertainment during the holiday season, here they are again in their unabridged version, presented in chronological order. Obviously, some things will not make sense now, but please refer to it as an exercise in anthropology. One thing I would like to make very clear is that I was never a racist, and whatever you may read there that sounds as if I'm a racist was always said in a tone that is meant to mock racism; after all, these emails were sent to close friends of mine, and they know my type of humor.


Back on the Borderline
"Live for today, gone tomorrow - That's me!" (R. Waters, M. Reuveni)

Someone should call the guys from Guinness to check on the radius of my smile as I bid you farewell, and head on my to pay my Australian brother a courtesy visit (and then some). I will be back in the Holy Land on 4/2.
I will do my best to email and call you, if only to give you live coverage on how the history of the Australian blond will forever change (and you know I don't like blondes, but for you I'll do anything). All photos will be posted on the Internet upon my return (except censored blond photos).
In the mean time, you can email me at this address: ***

"Engage!" (Capt. Moshe Reuveni of the Starship Interceptor)


Flight of the Intruder

It's me, trying to pass the time at BKK airport...

The flight here was one of the roughest I ever had. Beside the fact it was long, I was surrounded by people coughing and people taking Acamol and stuff, which kind of raised my levels of paranoia.
As for my first impressions of Thailand: You know the movies in which they have a comic oriental figure which speaks English in a funny manner? Well, it seems they cast them all from this airport. Even the attendants on the information desks speak this incomprehensible version of English.
Another odd thing is that I seem to be the tallest thing in this airport. I knew from reading that them gooks are short. But hey, this is comedy! The stores here do not seem to have anything above Medium size, and even the food servings at the local KFC fit a Tweety bird at best. When I told them that I know Gilad Weinbach, they said "listen mister, you're not in Pat Pong yet!".
Another thing is that the word "credit card" seems to be missing from the local vocabulary. It's a good thing I brought with me this bill with the guy who caught the lightning on it, otherwise I'd still be looking for an ATM machine.
Anyway, soon enough I'd be on my way to Melbourne, where the English is clear, and the chicks are tall...

Keep the faith,
Moshe


Hi! This is Wayne Rainey
..."and you are watching the Australain 500cc motorcycle grand prix, live from Philip Island".

Zero points for guessing where I was yesterday.
Today I had a Fatboy ride, by the way.


The Road Warrior
Hi, it's me again, reporting from the land where the water goes clockwise down the toilet.
I have plenty of things to tell, but I haven't got the patience (hey, it's not like I'm sitting at the office or something). So I'll stick with the main event.
Lonely Planet warned that the distances between things here are huge. The other book I read on Australia, "In a Sunburned Country", said that roads are often fatiguing and require lots of attention (special reference was given to the Great Ocean Road). However, people who like to drive - you know the type, I speaking of people who get emotionally attached to their cars and call them by names - might call this place heaven.
And since the speed limit is 100kph, although on the curvy mountain roads you can't even scrap that, you end up having a license to kill. Let's just say that I'm doing my best to keep near the speed limit.

As for future plans, tomorrow I'm heading off with Mathilda to the Blue Mountains, and after that I'll head to the Byron Bay area. Mathilda, by the way, is my Nissan Pulsar rental car (known in Israel as the Almera Perfect, and easily beaten by Inter).
I have no idea how often I can get internet access, but as I said - you can call me at:
61-407896620 (add the international prefix to that) Note that coverage is low off the cities, and that I turn the phone off at nights and stuff. Don't bother to leave a message, I don't listen to them.

That's all for now. This is MR, reporting live from Bondi Beach, where life is hard but someone has to do it.

P.S.
1. The Pacific is as blue is it is in my dreams, but it's also damn cold.
2. You wouldn't believe whose name I saw mentioned in the Sydney Opera House toilets.


King of the Hill
Hi y'all, it's me again, this time from Byron Bay.
It's a hard living these days, with long drives, long walks, and long climbs. I can certainly get used to that.
Today started with the regular drive around the neighberhood for the next sight (that's 250km for you). But this time there was a twist: A short momentary lapse of reason, and a speed camera took a shot of me. This really sucks, as I do my best not to break the law, but just like at home, it seems they know where to place their traps.
Anyway, as drives go, Mathilda is giving some Subaru Imprezza Turbo a hard time, and I even spotted me an occasional RX7. But the biggest time was when this bike overtook me (OK, it was a red Honda VFR800FI Interceptor, if you insist), and we had some fun together. The Nissan sucks, by the way: for each down shift you need to receive an autorization in three copies, which usually means you don't have power when you need it the most (e.g. on the exit of a turn).
As climbs go, today was probably the peak (pun intended), with me climbing Mount Warning (named by Mr. Cook himself). My second fuck-up of the day happened when a quarter of an hour from the start my only bottle of water fell into a jungle abyss, and I had to go through the rest of the climb (4 hours) waterless. You see, it fell right through my sweaty hands, and sweat was the key word: I don't think I ever had so much of it. My Akubra hat was soaking with it, my Philip Island T-Shirt was soaked, even my Timberlands were soaked (you know, the liner at the top). I'll spare you with the details about what went on between my legs and my stomache, but you can guess for yourselves.
Anyway, the 750m vertical climb (according to my GPS) proved to be quite exshastive, and near the end I was so tired that I forgot my mentor's lessons and climbed with my hands. On the way down, though, I was day dreaming about all the bottles of water waiting for me in the car below.
But it was worth it!

As for the future: Tomorrow, or the day after, I'll be crossing into Queensland. I'm two days late on schedule, so I might have to gas it up.
As gifts go: I don't care if you're god himself, I am not buying anything till I'm back at Melbourne, and even then it's quite doubtful. I'm having problems closing my backpack each morning anyway, and I do want to get me stuff from Thailand.
And just in case you were wondering about the GPS: It works like a charm, I use it all the time, and I don't know what I would have done without it.
Don't worry, I'll never let you borrow it.

One last thing, regarding company. It seems like I am a unique sort of traveller. I call myself "the credit card backpacker". Things go like this:
I enter a place, any place, looking like an asshole (shorts, Timberlands, Akubra hat), and I'm unshaved, so I look like Arafat. I ask for something that costs a substantial sum, and the retailer looks at me as if estranged.
Then I draw my Amex, and he is confused. The best is when they don't accept Amex, and that's when I draw my Visa. By then, they are shattered (didn't get the chance to draw my Mastercard, because everyone takes Visa).
But that's the general deal: Regular backpackers keep looking for the cheapest, while I can always go for the best. And people who have similar means to mine usually come in the form of a family. All this means that finding company is hard. Finding someone for a drink is as easy as flushing the toilet, but finding something more constructive is hard.

So that's all for now. Keep TCNO alive (we're up to $7 - and I'm sure it's all because I'm away). I sold my DOX, by the way, at some 15% profit.
Bye!


Under the big bright yellow sun
It's me again, this time from Surfers Paradise, Queensland (Mick Doohan's hometown). Basically, it's just a long stretch of a beach (50km) with hotels and stuff along the way, and all the usual means to draw away money (including a Warner theme park, which promotes its new Road Runner ride all the time and everywhere, but where I have no intention to visit). The funny thing is that all those huge towers filled with rooms have one thing in
common: a "No Vacancy" sign beneath.
I'm looking forward for an interesting night here (no pictures), where I'll be drinking plenty of XXXX (no hard feelings, but Heineken is still the best).
As for future plans, I'll be off for three days at Fraser Island on Sunday.
There are supposed to be plenty of dingos down there, so I'll probably feel just like at home (I wonder whether they have DOX options).
The weather is funny: generally, it's sunny, hot and humid, but yesterday there was an amazing lightning storm (which I saw at Cape Byron, on Byron Bay, which is the most eastern point of Australia). Later, just as I came back to the hotel and shut the door behind me, this huge tropical storm begun, with showers of amazing strength (totally cleaned my car).
Go figure.


The Raiders March
With the theme from Indiana Jones playing in my mind constantly, I'm currently on my way north to Cairns after three days at Fraser Island.
Yesterday was the most boring day here: I did 1000km or so of driving, with nothing of interest on the way. The worst thing was that the roads were highways in the bad sense of the word: Hardly a curve in them, which means Dark Side of the Moon worked extra time to keep me awake and alive.
But still, I look at it this way: In 11 hours of driving, I've covered a significant distance - one that you can actually measure on a world map.
Anyway, I'm currently in Airly Beach, where the water are bluer than blue.
Yes, life IS hard.

have plenty more, but no time (life is calling for me, you know).

G'day,

P.S. Do not send attachments to this address.MR


Explorer 7.0

Well, it's the final lap, and the chequered flag is looming by.
I'm in Cairns, my final destination. Today I've been to Gilad's Cape Tribulation, which was the northern point of my journey (some 7000km on the odometer). Tomorrow I'm going to the reaf (or walking, to quote my father); on Tuesday it's back to Melbourne.
Queensland seems to suck in comparison to the other states. Although it has all the major attractions, the roads are damn boring, and when they're not, the speed limit makes them so. However, the road to Cape Tribulation has been used to let off some steam.
Road signs also suck here, but then again, do I care? I have been pulled over by the police twice, with them thinking that thing I was holding in my hand was a cellular phone. After I showed them it was a map (an "online" one), their reaction was nice (had a pizza with one of them).

Which brings me to the issue of the people I've met (to answer Malka's question). There were many:
-There was the Harley dealer on the Gold Coast. I told him that I had been told that BMWs are the best bikes in the world (used to think beauty is in the eye of the beholder till then).
-There were the Heiniken brothers, a couple of Dennis Bergkamp Dutch lookalikes (and I was not the one who said that). They consumed a bottle of Heini each time an ex-Ajax name was mentioned (e.g. Overmars, Kluivert, and - can't resist it - Bergkamp).
-There was Denise the Swiss.
-Another Dutch chick, which due to her complicated name was dubbed "Van Der Saar".
And many more...
It's funny to note that no one was able to pronounce my name, and I was/am always cut to "Mosh". What's the problem in saying mo-sh-ae? Never mind.

At this stage, I think I can say what are the things I would have done if I was an Australian (by decending order):
1) Get myself a bike. BMWs are the best, but actually any bike will do. As long as it is a red Honda VFR800FI Interceptor, that is.
2) Get myself a 4wd car, for those back roads.
3) Golf.
4) Fish on a boat.
The average Australian seems to be a likable fellow, and he seems to be doing many of the things I've mentioned above. However, the problem seems to be that they are lagging behind. The most common Australian phrase, "no worries", goes to show a lot, and it's not necessarily positive. My nature, to constantly do things and look for things, seem to amaze the average Australian. I think it's safe to say I have seen more of their continent than most of them.

I'll finish with a positive note: The fun I'm having forces me to ask yet again, "Mi Hatul Gawad"? (don't worry if you don't get it)


The End is important in everything

Hi, it's me again, from the land where they drive on the wrong side (many cars have no driver at all).
First, I would like to apologize for my spellyng miztakes: I don't have Word to correct me. Second, I would like to apologize for other mistakes: I'm not in the business of writing long emails, you know, especially not while in a hurry. Still, I wonder what Froid would have said regarding my odometer error (the guy's a rev hungry nut!).
Back to business: I'm at the Cairns airport, waiting for my flight back to Melbourne, where I'll be spending two days prior to my flight to Bangkok.
Two days ago, I was at the reef (how the hell do you spell that?). Actually, it's much less than anything we've all seen back home. However, everything here is done in style, so on the overall, it was lots of fun. Diving was also an interesting experience, but...
The reef was so full of Japanese, it was an awefully strange experience (they're awefully strange as well - I've caught them staring at my back on numerous occasions). I've actually found myself hanging out with these three nazis.
Talking of backs, it seems every Australian has a tattoo. Still, as virtually all are of the regular skull/sword type, De Vinci still raigns supreme.
My trip ended with a high note yesterday, as I visited the Atherton Tableland. The way back to Cairns was through the Gilles Highway (named after Arsenal's Gilles Grimandy), which is basically a stretch of some 50km of tight second to third gear turns. By far, it was the best drive ever (the view cannot be compared to the Great Ocean Road, though). It was interesting to notice that while on a straight line everybody overtakes me (they all have 5000cc engines), nothing comes close to me on a curve (which means no one's as nut as me).

That's all for now. It's not over until the fat lady sings, so I'll prtend I am not going to be at the office on Monday.



Going Home: Theme from Local Hero

Me again, this time from BKK.
Thay say one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble, so in case you haven't been here, I'll give you a brief description. Take Shuk HaCarmel, enhance it to a metropolitan size, and you have it. A single word description would be: Ichs, while a two word description would go like Goal Nefesh (which also applies to the much hyped Pat Pong area, in which I am now).
Virtually everyone you encounter is trying to con you, which can be looked at as funny, in some twisted way. I dispose of them by telling them to look for their friends (in Hebrew) or saying "me no English" (kind of awkward, though, with the Lonely Planet in the hand).
I guess this is just some plan to make me think Israel is not that bad, after spending a month in Australia, a country where the openning item on the news was that "Sega has held the manufacturing of the Dreamcast, and will now focus on games".
I am already missing Australia, and Melbourne in particular. This is probably the cleanst and most ordered city I've seen - total contradiction to Bangkok. The plates on Victoria's cars say "Victoria - The Place to Be", but I think "Australia - The Place to Be" is even better.

In order to prevent misunderstandings, I didn't write any name on any toilet; I just mentioned that the names you do happen to see are interesting.

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
Well, most of you, anyway.


All Good Things
I come from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder, but I’m currently home at Givatayim, and I am yet to understand what exactly am I doing back here.
I thought I’d check my bank account, so I drifted away to my Hotmail again. I’ll use the opportunity to credit those who deserve credit for what has been a hell of a month in the land of plenty:
First, I’d like to credit all the sources of inspiration, from Wayne Rainey to Gal. I doubt they’d be reading this, but thanks anyway.
Second, I’d like to thank those who helped: Gilad for his passionate advice, Zohar and Yossi for importing the extremely useful GPS, and even Haim for reminding me to take my CDs for me.
But most of all I’d like to thank my big brother, who went out of his way to prove Orwell’s wrong in his assumptions regarding big brothers. And thanks for that Fatboy ride… (I fail to understand his reasons for visiting Israel from time to time, but I’ll leave that for now)

As a wrap up, I thought I’d quote my predecessors and say, “I’ll be back”. However, as there’s a high probability I won’t do that, I’d settle for something original, which is also damn true:
“I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe”.

I’ll see most of you tomorrow at the office.

In closing: Two weeks after that last email was sent, I was already collecting the paperwork in order to acquire a visa to Australia.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

I'm going slightly fat

Earlier this week I was explaining to the virtues of kadaif to a friend, so when today we visited the Lebanese shop we get nice stuff from I couldn't avoid getting some. In case you don't know, kadaif is a pastry made of long spaghetti like strings into a circular shape, dipped with honey and filled with pistachios. It's a Middle Eastern lollipop, in short. The photo here documents the first kadaif I took out to try at home; it was nice, but not half as good as the really good ones you get in Nazareth.
There are two points where this is leading to. The first is to say that lately, with the involvement of the guys from They Might Be Critics, I find myself blogging not only with Uri in mind when I think of my audience but also with them. The effect can already be seen in the blog and will probably be seen in the future: for example, it will make me expressing my views on the anti-anti-abortionists, or pro-lifers as they're commonly called, a particular delight. It's nice to have people that respect your opinion yet totally disagree with you.

The second point is that I'm becoming a fat pig. By now I've stopped measuring how many kilos I've put on since my operation, but because I haven't been doing much in the way of physical activity since (and it's not like I've been doing much of it before), and because I eat just as much as before, my stomach is on the rise. I compare current photos of mine with earlier ones and I shudder. Things have got to the point where I now need to start looking for new pants, with the current range being on the too tight side of things.
I've started doing something I haven't done for years: moderating my intake of food, as I realize the reason why I'm getting fatter is that I always used to eat when I had tasty food available; it's just that now, unlike before, I always have tasty food within easy reach at home. I do admit, though: it feels as if I'm fighting a losing battle here. And just to give you an example of why I think this way: today, at the supermarket, I saw this big box of what I remember from my childhood as Cassatas - vanilla ice cream inside a biscuit. We got the box, and when we came back home I had one, and it was so good, so I just had them all. I can't be trusted!

Friday, 15 December 2006

Vista time: Computer buying guide

Whether it's justified or not, people often come up to me asking for advice on what computer to buy. As the issue of upgrading to Windows Vista is now relevant (although I don't see myself doing it any time soon), I thought I'd take my recommendations out in the open.
I would like to make it very clear that I rely on others to make these recommendations. I know a bit about what's going on, but it's really hard to keep up to date with the latest in motherboards or graphics cards. There are many computer blogs out there, but the one I prefer the most is Charles Wright's Bleeding Edge. A link for this blog has been appearing at the side of my blog for a while now; he also writes for The Age every Thursday. Although it's a Melbourne based blog, there's nothing particularly Melbournenian about it; I just find it a good blend of sense and sensibility that offers practical advice without insanely promoting innovation for the sake of innovation.
Before going to the business side of things, here are two basic tips. First, when you buy a computer, never buy a brand name; you pay more for the name and you virtually always get inferior components. The only expected benefit is the "support" you will get if you run into trouble, but if you investigate it a bit you will see you won't get much in the way of support anyway (unless you count waiting on an impersonal call center as support). The way to go about it when you buy a PC is to buy the components you would like to have; it may sound intimidating on paper, but there's nothing to it: even I can do it.
Second, if you're buying a computer in Melbourne, do it at MSY. They have the latest components at very attractive prices, and they sell so much they never need to get rid of shit stuff so you just get the best. For $70 they assemble all the components for you and test them out. Prepare for lengthy queues in a shop that is not exactly the most inviting or sexy ever, but it's worth it. Their post sale support is not bad, either: it could be better, but it's not in any way inferior to what you will get at HP or other brand names; friends' experience shows it's much better.
And another thing that is almost too obvious to mention: Unless mobility is really an issue, don't even think of a laptop. It's an ergonomic disaster, and the value for money is incredibly inferior to a desktop PC - even after the tax returns you get in Australia for buying a laptop. Mobility on it's own is not an issue either: Between USB memory sticks and internet applications, there is really no reason for anyone to need a laptop.

Anyway, now for the main event - a list of the components you need to build yourself a new frontline desktop PC. Note I am not talking here about a state of the art gaming machine; if you want that then it's really a sky's the limit affair. I am, however, talking about a workhorse PC that would do the job very well today and still do it well in two years time while running Windows Vista.
So, with those disclaimers in mind, here we go. Prices are MSY prices (in Australian Dollars):
  • CPU: There's really nothing today to compete with the Intel Core 2 Duo. The 6400 version is the best value for money at $305.
  • Motherboard: The Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 should do the job for you at $159. It supports PCI Express graphics cars and DDR2 memory, but it does not have a Firewire input if you might need one for your video camera.
  • Memory: With Vista in mind, go for 2gb of generic DDR2 type RAM. It starts from $266, but I would go for the Kingston 667 kit at $308.
  • Graphics card: You need a relatively strong one to support the Windows Vista Aero interface. I recommend the Gigabyte 7600GT at $215, which uses Nvidia technology. If you want to save, go for the cheaper 7300GS model at $85; it will grind its teeth in games, though (on the other hand, you can always replace it later).
  • Hard drive: The Seagate 320gb SATA II drive will do a fine job for only $132. The competing Western Digital model costs even less at $128; both are terrific value for money. The choice between the two usually comes down to personal favoritism.
  • DVD burner: The LG model handles all DVD blank standards very well for only $44.
  • Keyboard and mouse: The standard Microsoft set costs $33 and is good on ergonomics.
  • Case: I recommend a good unit to handle the summer heat. The Thermal Take Soprano VX is expensive at $127 but it will handle current Melbourne global warming weather.
  • Monitor: If you need one, the Benq 19" model with an 8ms response time and a DVI output will set you back $285. Do use DVI over the standard RGB analog connection: it would effectively eliminate all flicker. When buying an LCD monitor, pay attention to the dead pixel warranty/replacement policy: most dead pixels happen within the first week to a month, and most companies won't talk to you unless you got many of them. MSY will replace your monitor for any number of dead pixels within the first week.
And that's it for what should be a VERY good computer, that will only lag - and not that much - when hard pressed with the latest games.
Together with $70 for assembly, the cost is less than $1400 (which is roughly 550GBP or 1050USD) without the monitor and much less than $1700 with one.
You will need Windows XP on top unless you already have it. For anti-virus I would go with the free Avast product and for a firewall I would use the free ZoneAlarms firewall. Both are very good - much better than Norton.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Being for the benefit of Mrs Hopkins

To celebrate Jo's birthday we went to have ourselves a dinner at a French restaurant, Madam Sousou in Fitzroy.
Now normally I don't blog about going to restaurants, but a French restaurant is a different animal to other restaurants for the simple reason that French food is the best. We can all laugh as much as we want about garlic smells and frogs, but the French know how to prepare a good meal and how to present it well - and most importantly, how to make it all a one big celebration.
We discovered the place about a year ago while walking about Brunswick Street on a sunny weekend morning. It looked tempting, we went in, and were captivated by the breakfast offerings, especially the chilly cocoa - exceptional!
Tonight I had carpaccio as a starter (recommended by the waiter as a preferred option to the duck pate, which I'd prefer to avoid anyway due to force feeding; the cow donating its meat to the carpaccio surely enjoyed donating its meat). Last time I've had carpaccio was when Levana and Uri prepared us with some on our last visit to Israel, so I definitely felt the need.
As a main I've had a porterhouse steak covered in pepper with eggplant sauce and potatoes. The meat was exceptional: an absolutely perfect cut with no strings attached, perfectly cooked; and with the sauces and all I was sure I was back in Grenoble.
We concluded with a dessert called something like "chocolate association" (freely translated from the French speaking menu, and you know I don't speak French). It was great, very fulfilling. Jo, though, had to finish the night with an "I can't take you anywhere" when I picked up the creme brulee dish to lick off the final drops. I was only trying to help them out with cleaning the dishes!

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Twin Peaks

Eventually, next week, we're hoping to receive some indication as to what's going on with our first go at IVF. I'm definitely shit scared about it, because whatever answer we end up getting will have profound effects on us.
What I would like to discuss is an option that is not exactly on top of people's minds, as people tend to see things in black and white terms. We could be unsuccessful, we could be successful, but we could also have twins. Personally, I dread the twin option, perhaps even more than the negative option: it's not like a catastrophe that we won't survive, but it would have major implications on us.
What annoys me are the people who say things like "oh, I've always dreamt you'd have twins" or "twins would be a blessing - you'd start and finish your family in one go; would you prefer going through IVF again?" This type of a reaction seems to naturally flow from family members, but that's pretty natural given that family members are the only ones we openly discuss such issues with (although I suspect this blog and our openness with our friends here in general means that this statement is not that true).
Anyway, I thought that now, before we know the upcoming scores, is a good opportunity for me to state why I would prefer not to be the father of twins. Where should I start?
First, it would really be hard on Jo. The two doctors we've been messing around with, both considered to be at the top of the pyramid as far as doctors in Melbourne are concerned, have both expressed their sincere hopes we won't have twins because of the medical complications involved.
Second, twins will have to be taken out prematurely. Research tells us that this would put them at a disadvantage later in life: There is significant statistical correlation, for example, between birth weight and IQ. Not that you're bound to be Forrest Gump if you're a twin, but you'd have to climb up a steeper hill.
Third, financially - twins will be a problem. It's double the expenses. Lest we forget, there is no such thing as maternity leave in Australia, and child care is both rare and expensive; both Jo and I will have to make concessions at work which would cost us in severe income reductions. We'll have to do them anyway, but with twins it's more extreme.
Fourth, which is to do with the financial side: if we have twins, we will definitely need to move to a bigger house. We will not be able to afford one in our area, and thus we will need to move further away; again, the children will suffer from being further from the center of action (our current area is considered a very good one). Oddly enough, this has also been proven to have an effect on IQ. Financially, the move would mean we'll have to work a few more years just to top up the mortgage.
The fifth reason is the simplest one of all: I would be quite happy with having just one child, period. Sure, two can entertain one another, but we would have our hands full with one as it is; we will have a harder time providing all the attention required by a child if we have two of them. Again, it's important to remember that we're pretty effectively cut off from our families in Australia: we do not have grandparents nor uncles to help us get the occasional time off, something that pretty much everyone else takes for granted; nor can we afford having someone do this for a pay.
All of the above reasons are not that hard to come up with; anyone who thinks about our situation will be able to think the majority of them up. Problem is, our families do not seem to be able or to want to do that (our friends, on the other hand, definitely are). They don't even bother asking us! Maybe it's the physical distance between us, maybe it's the delusional dreams family members seem to have; if you hard press me, though, I will say that they just don't bother to think. I find it incredibly amazing that they, or anyone for that matter, can express their opinions on this matter as confidently as they do. Or rather, I find it shocking.

No trams today

As I got to the tram station on my way to work this very morning I was told by a Connex employee standing there that there will be no trams along Bourke Street this morning. I asked why, and I was told that it's because the police has blocked the road after a taxi driver got stabbed (roughly near the corner of Elizabeth Street, it seems).
My point?

(a) It seems as if the stabbing of taxi drivers is becoming a popular sport lately here. And we know Australians love their sports.

(b) The vast majority of taxi drivers are immigrants.

(c) All sorts of anti immigration stuff is in the air, mostly justified as a necessary act in the "war on terror". Refer to my previous post on the upcoming citizenship tests.

--> Could it be that by "fighting" the war on terror the government is encouraging those that are already more than mildly sick with xenophobia to take the next step?

Monday, 11 December 2006

Testing 1,2,3

Our dearly beloved government announced today that new applicants for Australian citizenship will now have to go through an English test followed by a 30 multiple question test on "Australian values". According to Mr Howard, Australian values include the giving of others a fair go (as in giving them the privilege of doing a test) and mateship (something that is totally foreign to other countries, as it is a well known fact there is no such thing as friendship and loyalty outside of Australia).
Anyway, in order to help any would be Australian citizens amongst thee, my blog readers, I thought I'd give you a few tips in the form of some sample questions and answers:
  1. Name the favorite Australian occupation? Answer: Sports.
  2. Name the favorite Australian sports? Answer: The ones Australians are good at.
  3. Name the favorite Australian pastime? Answer: Consuming alcohol.
  4. Name the favorite Australian hobby? Answer: Investment properties.
  5. How can an Australian woman best express her equality? Answer: By staying home to look after the children.
  6. What is the one value uniting all Australians? Answer: Xenophobia.
Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee you passing the test using these answers.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Two weddings, zero funerals

There must be something unique to certain dates, such as 9/12/06, because this year we have been invited to two weddings and both of them took place on that same date. And both were for people of Chinese origins. It may be that there's a system that says this should be a lucky day for them, but I mainly found it to be a particularly hot day to have a wedding in Melbourne: it was a 37 degrees day.
One thing I definitely don't like about Australian weddings, which in general I do like for the exposure they give me to alien cultures, is the need to dress up smugly. A suit and a tie are pretty much mandatory unless you are in a mood to dishonor your friend who is getting married. I can sort of understand the need to get out of your way to dress up to a special occasion as a means for making that event special, but the insisting on wearing clothes that in general are work clothes and the inhumane need to do it when it's a 37 degree
day is too much in my book. Still, I did it - there is a limit to the number of ways for me to express my non-conformism.
I did wear my thinnest socks and my thinnest business shirt, as well as a tie that allowed loosening.
As we had to split the day between the two weddings, we went for the church ceremony of one and for the reception of the other.

The church ceremony wasn't too bad: it was quite short, without any particularly long and boring speeches; in fact, it hardly had any speeches at all. There were the obvious way too frequent mentioning of god, as if it was he/she/it/they who was getting married on that day and as if he/she/it/they had everything to do with what was taking place that day, but other than that is was fine and touching. To me it was only the second time I was attending an operational church service (I've been to many a church as a tourist, but not while action was taking place in them), so I found it all very interesting; I asked questions to those around me (e.g., "what is that sign up there with all the numbers - is it the latest lottery results?" (it was the numbers of the hymns to be read on Sunday)), and I got some interesting answers. I couldn't avoid a laugh or two at a sign that was quoting from Matthew, saying something like "let there be piece between the people who please god". But most of all, I admired the choice of a church that let a woman run the ceremony: I definitely haven't seen such progressiveness in history of Jewish wedding adventures, and I also admired the woman's avoidance of preachy speeches the way rabies tend to go when they're on the loose.
After the wedding I actually talked to the priest-ess and expressed my admiration for the fact women are allowed to run the show. She said that the Manchester Uniting church has been allowing women since 1900 or so, and that she has been personally doing it for 13 years now. Not that I'm suddenly filled with admiration to the church, but I certainly do value this one small step to equality. She left me to attend to others before I had the chance to ask for the Uniting church's attitude on gay priests.
My other main mental note from that church ceremony was to do with the vintage Rolls Royce that drove the bride to the ceremony. It was pretty cool looking, but it wasn't cool at all: it had no air-conditioning. It made me ask myself: wouldn't the bride, with all of her dress and gizmos on, prefer the modest luxury of a, say, Honda CR-V to the grand facade of a Rolls Royce on such a hot day? Who is it that we're trying to impress when we book a Rolls Royce for a wedding ceremony - isn't it only our friends anyway that would admire it? Why do we, humans, need to have others look at us with jealousy in their eyes to make us feel good about ourselves?
Other than the married couple, the real hero of that ceremony was little Arnika, the soon to be one year old daughter of our close friends (photos of her occasionally frequent my Flickr page). She was dressed in a dress with decorations in her hair, making her even cuter than she usually is (and even by baby standards, she is one cute baby). Everyone had their photos taken with her, including the bride and groom, even though her favorite sport for the day was pulling people's hairs. She couldn't do mine, though!
It was also fun to catch up on people from my old job, some of which I haven't seen for 9 months now (time runs fast when you're at the office having fun in between operations).
After a couple of hours, we came back home, stripped ourselves to comfy clothing, and rested before the second round.

It was even warmer when we got out to the second wedding's reception. This one was a for a Vietnamese couple, if you can call them that given that the husband doesn't even speak the language. But it was definitely a celebration dominated by Vietnamese culture, and in many respects I found it to be closer to the Israeli experience.
Similarities start with the venue, which is closer in orientation to the typical Israeli wedding reception hall. Capacities are similar as well, and the number of guests was closer to the average number for an Israeli wedding (400-500) than the Australian average (100-150). The emphasis on cash as the preferred gift was also quite clear: in one of the speeches at the very beginning of the reception ceremony, the father of the bride (or was it the groom?) thanked everybody for their "financial support".
Talking about the speeches, the speeches part was quite interesting, in a twisted sort of a way: It was virtually all in Vietnamese, with only a few words in English thrown in between. It felt really weird, listening to a speech you must respect while understanding none of it, and while trying to cooperate with the reactions of the majority of the crowd that laughed and cheered and clapped from time to time as the speeches went along. As I already mentioned, the groom himself does not speak Vietnamese, so he must have been pretty much as dumb founded as we were; which raises the question, who is this ceremony for in the first place? We tend to think that wedding ceremonies honor the bride and groom, but to me they always looked like a torture process; this example made it clear that the ceremony is more for the family, probably to help it learn to accept the change taking place in the life of one of its members,who is now detaching himself/herself in order to form a family of his/her own. Which is probably a good opportunity for me to say that I don't think too highly of this institution we call marriage; I don't need a written certificate to tell me that I should honor Jo. Marriage is a pretty redundant institution, required mostly by those of us with rather weaker character that need something artificial for them to cling to.
I will use the opportunity of me discussing friends' financial support for the wedding ceremony and wedding ceremony speeches to atone for what I consider to be a major sin that I have committed during my own marriage. There aren't any speeches at an Israeli wedding, and as a result the one I gave at my wedding was pretty short: I quoted my old friend Ringo in I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends, and thanked all my friends, especially the Israeli ones who sent me so much money that we actually profited from the wedding ceremony affair; other than relatives of the first degree, their contribution was larger by an order of magnitude to others'. Anyway, I thanked them for that, and then I thanked them for not coming: I meant it as "thanks for not coming, as now we even have more money that we don't need to spend", but everyone understood it as sarcasm along the lines of "my shit friends, they won't even come to my wedding". My crime was in inaction: I failed to correct the false impression I have made, taking credit instead for the laughs my comment has generated. Uri, Haim, Yuval, and Yoel (and maybe others I forgot) have my sincere apologies.
Back to the Vietnamese wedding.
They had a live band there, something I'm not used to anymore in this age of the DJ. The band started nice, with a drummer - I would always dream of being a drummer, it seems like the perfect way to let loose of steam - and a bass guitar player. Alas, the drummer was no John Bonham, and in order to make things worse they added a couple of keyboards to ruin any potential worth the band may have (where's the electric guitar?). Most of their music was in support of singers from the crowd who sang Vietnamese songs, which was - how can I put it? - an interesting experience.
BTW, talking about Led Zeppelin, I recently learned that Led Zeppelin were the financial backers of the Monty Pythons when they set out to make Life of Brian, a film I consider to be by far the most accurate account of what took place in Israel around the year 0. Their other sponsors were some band called The Beatles; I don't think I need to devote more words to express my ongoing admiration for all three bands. Ni.
Back to the wedding band, it turned out they were called "The Enterprise", yet both Jo and I could not identify neither a Kirk nor a Picard. When they finished their Vietnamese tunes, they moved on to such lovely poetic standards as "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "Hello". You know, the type that makes you puke. To date I still consider my brother's wedding to have had the best music ever - it actually did have Led Zep on.
Something that does seem common to all weddings, be it Australian, Israeli or Vietnamese, is the level of the music. We were lucky this time to be rather at the side, so the music wasn't death defyingly loud; but it was still loud enough to prevent any meaningful dialog around the table. Which is a great pity, if you ask me, because the best thing you can get from a group of nice people with good intentions all forced to sit together is a dialog. Instead, we just had to smile at one another from time to time (I also had to constantly dodge the table leg that prevented me from being able to sit in the first place).
If you want something that's unique to a Vietnamese wedding, look no further than the food. Or rather the 10 courses of it. Jo was warned in advance by a caring friend of her from work, who said that I should be careful at the wedding because there's bound to be lots of pork out there; she was right, but I'm exempt from avoiding pork on a Sabbath.
Other than the "suckling pork" bits, we've had other dubious delicacies as fried crab claw, shark fin and crab soup, lobsters, sweetened red peas cream, quail, sweet and sour trout, and an abalone (whatever that may be) with mushrooms - to name a few. Now, I try to be open to other cultures and sample them when opportunities present themselves, and last night definitely counts as such an opportunity; but some of that food was too much for me. I cannot really point my fingers at the exact cause, but overall I think it's the way the food is made that deters me from it. The pork, for example, includes bits I would prefer to avoid for health related reasons (e.g., skin); and it's cooked in weird ways that make it taste like... I don't know what, but not like something I'd like to have in my body. Sharks are endangered species, and quail is so small there's hardly any meat in there to the point of making its killing rather pointless, to name just a few of my reservations.
One new experience I did have last night that is to do with food is eating a lobster. For the first time in my life I have eaten one, and I have to say I enjoyed it and found it to be quite tasty; but that's not really the point. The point is that I avoided eating lobster because when you choose to eat one you know you are personally condemning a live lobster to its death; it's not like when ordering a beef steak, where the cow has been butchered a while ago and the meat is already there; with lobsters, it's personal. Now I do eat meat and I love the taste of meat, but I am not proud of eating meat - I think that the animals that I eat are, overall, not that different to me. Some would argue they are as intelligent as I am, if not more, and they are definitely capable of feeling pain just like I am. If I was required to perform the killing of the animals that I wanted to eat, I would become a vegetarian very quickly. However, we live in a society were enough people have realized the above points and have done what it takes to make the consumption of meat a rather easy, almost trivial affair. Lobsters, though, are still personal; and therefore last night's lobster would be remembered. As good as it tasted, I don't see myself ordering more in the future.

I don't really have anything particular to say in conclusion of this account on my wedding reflections, other than to congratulate all of those who managed to read so far and those that got married yesterday. I suspect that if you did read it all you're probably one of my friends already, so I'll finish with Ringo's quote yet again (it was actually written by Lennon and McCartney), just because I think it is all so very true:
I get by with a little help from my friends
And P.S: Always look on the bright side of death.