Monday, 30 April 2007

Status Quo

I checked it up today and I think I can safely say my dick is exactly the same size as it was yesterday, a fortnight ago, and a couple of years ago.
My performance at the office certainly also hasn't changed today or over the last few weeks. I'm still the same old motivation lacking idiot.
Something is obviously wrong here. Just look at today's papers: Australia has won the cricket world championship for the third time in a row - therefore, since I'm made of the same material, breath the same air, and watch the same shit on TV as all other Australians, as of today I must be uniquely better than the rest of you scums living our of Australia. Today, I am a better person!

I think what bothered me the most about this title win was not the feeling of national pride that sweeps at you from all over the place (as in the media - even the serious papers!). It's more to do with the way the win was described: in post match interviews, the players were not saying things like "it was a tough match, Sri Lanka fought bravely but we managed to survive". No, instead you got things like "it was so easy, there was no competition, we thrashed them, we're so good we're better than good". No respect, no professionalism, no acknowledgment to the fact that this is all just a sport and there could never be a winner if it weren't for all the others that are willing to take the part of the "loser".
If there is any quality that is uniquely Australian it's being a bad winner. Almost everyone is a sore loser, but that's understandable; when we visited England in 2005 there was some Australian like sore winning attitude in the air with "their" Ashes cricket win, but you can sort of understand that given the frequency of British sports victories. There can be no excuses, though, for Australia being a sore winner.
It's quite dumb, actually: they (we?) don't realize that by making a mockery of your defeated opponent you also reduce the prestige of your own win. Take, for example, England's victory over Germany back in 1966: People remember it because it was unique, yes, but also because - justifiable or not - it was a win over mighty Germany, the "invincibles".

As for me, not only am I not better because of "our" mighty win, I'm actually feeling pretty ordinarily crappy lately. It seems like meningitis is not something you get rid of that quickly; as articles I've read say, while the body got rid of the threatening aliens the immune system is still pretty much over excited. As a result I get tired and confused out of nothing.
I noticed the things I'm most sensitive to are temperature changes, especially when I'm suddenly confronted by lots of heat (as in standing under the Melbourne sun), and - weirdly enough - noise: a long drive can really make me fatigued if I open the window the way I like.
The first doctor I went to see about the meningitis said this condition should last a couple of weeks. The second said two months, but by now I've heard people saying "years". How lovely!
In case you're curious, I have developed what seems to be a viable theory on how I caught the disease in the first place: I was cleaning up some raw chicken for the cooking. Chicken cleaning is usually a Jo task (she does it so well!), but she didn't do it that night because of her own condition. Everybody knows that raw chicken is contaminated with lots of nice things, but through the cuts in my fingers - the result of me chewing on them more viciously than an Israeli driver claiming the right of way he/she doesn't deserve - the evil invaders have penetrated the fortress that is me. I remember my hands feeling as though they're burning after this cleanup operation.
Still, given all of the past year's events, I shouldn't really complain. It's all pretty routine stuff.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Honestly, what a waste of time!

The first of the four blogging commandments says "thou shall not blog when thou is angry". I am about to break that commandment in cold blood. I will also ask you not to ask me what the rest of the blogging commandments are, as I am yet to make them up; I promise they will make more sense than the original 10 my namesake has supposedly invented (unless you're really into coveting oxes).
I'll start with the conclusion: we just came back from IKEA, having returned the cot we bought just a week ago (armed with a $400 refund to our credit card).
It all started with today's weather: it was rather rainy (for a change) and too gray to encourage going out; therefore, the perfect day to assemble the cot. So off we went: we put some of the baby blankets we got from friends on the floor to prevent the parts from scratching, and off to Lego land we went.
Needless to say, bugs came up as of the word go. The instruction booklet's pages were all wrong, but luckily Jo noticed it in time and sorted them out properly. Then we noticed that step 1 uses parts that don't really exist unless you assemble some stuff beforehand, so I had to make sure that making this pre-assembly won't mean I will be using parts I'm supposed to use later. With a bit of an effort we made it through step 1, though.
Which got us to step 2, where we stumbled upon the critical bug that put a hold to our adventures. Step 2 was all about assembling the cot's base, where the mattress would rest: basically, a square wooden frame with 14 bars of wood that need hammering across the frame using these plastic screw like things. The catch is in the word "hammer", which up until now in my IKEA career was never there: the pre-drilled holes in which you were supposed to hammer these plastic screw lookalikes were not really properly drilled, but rather too short and too narrow. Try as I might, I couldn't get them in; eventually, I just gave up, and we took the statue of the cot we had so far back to IKEA. Honestly, what a waste of time!
The fun didn't end there, because in order to return the cot we had to go through the same parking lot adventure as last week, and then park at the IKEA assembly area which is so crowded with people, cars and furniture it's basically a major accident waiting to happen.
When we got back home we also noticed that the sheets we laid the cot on during assembly were stained with this brown liquidy thing we truly hope would come off in a machine wash. What the hell did IKEA put in there?
Now, I'm the last person to say that IKEA is shit; half of our house is made in IKEA. But the facts are there for you: out of the 9 assembly requiring items I got from IKEA during my Australian career, 2 were defective. I know the sample size is too small to pass a statistically viable verdict here, but 22% defectiveness is a huge portion by all accounts. A portion requiring some majorly good customer service to get away with; but when you shop through the hell that is IKEA Richmond there is no way any customer service could make up for such low quality.
I don't know when the next time we'll visit IKEA is going to be.

So we're back to cot-land shopping, which is really sad: on paper that IKEA model we got was really good. It had variable heights, it converted into a nice bed, and it was cheap; it was the best thing we saw regardless of price, since even $1000 bed convertible cots didn't offer the bed like look you'd expect from a bed once converted (they all have the really tall sides you need in a cot, which are totally out of proportion for a bed).
So now we have to decide on whether to get a simple $300 variable height cot or whether to spend some $700 plus on something that would convert into a bed later. Any advice? Is this conversion thing worthwhile in the first place or is it better to just jump from a cot into a full blown kid/youth's bed straight away?
I would say that this uncertainty we now face is the worst thing of all this recent IKEA experience.

Friday, 27 April 2007

This week's recipe: Corn salsa

This time around we have a very easy to make dish that serves well as a supplement. As usual, it is really easy to make (probably the easiest so far). It definitely scores high in the taste department!
Given that you'll get an understanding of what the dish is about by reading the list of ingredients I'll skip the pleasantries and go right ahead.

Ingredients:
-1 regular can of corn: A "regular" can of corn has about 400gr of 400ml worth of corn after you get rid of the water.
-1 jar of salsa: Generally speaking, a jar of around 400ml is what you should be looking out for.
-1 to 2 teaspoon of cumin: Naturally, I would tell you to add 2 or 3 teaspoons and Jo will tell you to add 1 to 2.
-1 tablespoon of olive oil: We use the Aldi extra virgin olive oil. It's cheap (in relative terms) and it's really good, with the smell and a texture of the real thing. Then again, it is the real thing.
-A handful of thinly chopped coriander: Again, the exact quantity is up to you; I tend to go with more. At this point in time I will also say that as far as my Israeli recollections go, the coriander available in Israel is pretty different to what you can get in Australia. Australian coriander seems to be much more delicate in the texture and taste departments; I could be entirely wrong, though, as back in Israel I wasn't preparing my own food.

Preparation:
That's the really easy part!
1. Pour the drained corn into a bowl.
2. Pour the salsa into the bowl.
3. Add the cumin.
4. Add the olive oil.
5. Add the coriander.
6. Mix.
7. Eat.

Final notes:
In case you didn't get it so far, this recipe gives you a semi Mexican corn dish that mixes several different tastes to great effect: the sweetness of the corn, the tomato and hotness of the salsa, and the corianderness of the coriander. Given that it's all a mix, you can control the overall taste by controlling the relative quantities and nature of each of the components!
This sounds simple and promising but it could also be a pain. It's like religion, when you think about it: you can surrender free thinking and accept something that gives some perceived meaning to life even if it's total bullshit, or you can have your freedom but also have yourself a challenge - or rather a fight - in understanding where it is exactly that you/we stand while accepting reality for what it is. Who said cooking is boring?
So far we have had variable experience with the corn: some brands suit this dish more than the other. However, the corn pails in significance to the salsa, which tends to be overpowering (Jo has often been quoted saying that maybe we should use half a jar instead of an entire jar!). Personally, I think this dish goes best with the Doritos brand of salsa, especially the hot ones; Jo prefers the mild long necked Old El Paso salsas. Recently we tried the new flat jars of Old El Paso and they were rather disappointing: they taste way too chemically and they taste way too strong for the dish to work well (especially if you use some of their new tastes, like bacon salsa or char grilled salsa), which could explain why they are significantly cheaper than their long necked counterparts.
Salsa is indeed the weak spot of this recipe: not only do you need to find the one that matches your tastes, but getting ready made salsa at the supermarket means you're getting processed food into your system. I guess that's the price you pay for making an easy dish.
Still, with all the disclaimers and reservations, corn salsa is an incredibly tasty dish in my book. Highly recommended if you like your Mexican!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

The IKEA circle of life

The first time I did the IKEA circle was not that long before leaving Israel. A few years before that, when I first watched Fight Club, I didn't even get the IKEA jokes they had in there; but during that first visit of mine when IKEA first opened in Israel I got myself enough stuff to realize this is a place where I can get stuff (mostly furniture stuff) that will do what I want it to do at a decent price.
Coming over to Australia it was obvious most of my new furniture would be acquired at IKEA, which indeed was the case. It was also comfortable to have had an IKEA near where I lived, and as a result my first few weekends at Australia were spent assembling all the stuff I got from them.
Things have changed, though. Now IKEA has its big Melbourne flagship shop in the middle of Melbourne, inside a shopping mall, and the shop next to us has been closed. We went there during the weekend to see their baby stuff and it was just a mess: huge queues of cars trying to get in, lots of car park circling until we found a parking space, a long queue next to the elevators of people with prams that couldn't take the stairs (not that it affected us now, but it will soon), and just everywhere was so full and noisy and annoying. The type of environment that makes you go crazy, not really do your creative furniture shopping.
We ended up getting a cot for $400 (the box is pictured above next to the tallboy we borrowed from friends). It seems like a good purchase compared to what you get in other shops: it's decent and all, it features variable heights, and can later convert into a bed. Obviously it would be assembled by a dickhead, but hey - who said life is perfect. We also got the very first toy specifically aimed at Indy: a blue giraffe that looks more like a dinosaur to me (it's also in the photo).
Anyway, checkout at IKEA was a real headache. We got this huge flat box on a trolley, and Jo had to wait for me to get the car to IKEA's loading area. Eventually when I got the car there it turned out Jo had to fight a couple of little girls who thought jumping on our trolley and playing with our box was really funny, but that was the least of our problems - loading this huge box into the car was the main issue. In a typical Australian way someone just noticed our troubles and came along to help me! Still, shame on IKEA for the design of the loading area: if I was to arrive at Australia the way I did 5 years ago I wouldn't have been able to do any shopping there, with me being on my own and no one else to help me while I get the car and all. At their older place you would park the car next to the warehouse and collect your stuff from the warehouse; now they just cut the warehouse personnel down, giving you the responsibility to recruit some personnel and providing a minuscule pickup area where you get shot if you park for more than 5 minutes.
The bottom line is that they have nice things at IKEA, but we will think twice before going there again. Or at least we will do our best to minimize the number of visits.

Shopping around at IKEA exposes you to people of various background. People from all over the place. Many people from all over the place.
This time around we were eying those with prams, and indeed we saw all the usual suspects in there, all in live action: the Mountain Buggies, the Beemas, the Mclarens, the Steelcrafts, the Bill & Teds, you name it! We even talked to some of them (as in the people that used them, not the prams; I am not familiar with talking pram models, but let me know if you are). Who would have imagined that shopping at IKEA would give us the best glimpse so far at how it is like to go about with a pram in a real life like scenario!
The winner, it seemed, was the Beema: practical, not too wide, yet full of features. The Mountain Buggy wasn't bad but it appeared naked and featureless compared to the Beema, and also significantly wider: this is definitely cross-country jogger stuff, not mother's stuff, although we noticed they were popular with Jewish orthodox families which means they last through 10 children. The Mclaren seemed to work, too: you can fold it up so you won't have to wait in the pram elevator queue; however, everyone we talked to said they only use it as a second stroller.
We will probably have another look at the Beema in the shops to reexamine its quality and features - mainly, whether some of the crap they have on it can be removed. Barring new surprises, though, it seems like the Beema really is our winner.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Train in vain

The Melbourne Comedy Festival is continuing in force. I'm not talking the stand-up shows, but rather about the state of Melbourne's public transport.
Today we were told the state government purchased a load of old Hitachi train cars that it got rid of a few years ago because they were too old. Being that public transport is so well managed in Melbourne, the new acquisition was made at a huge premium. The trains are the of the silver Hitachi brand, the one I tend to refer to as "Diesel means trouble" (from Thomas the Tank Engine), the ones that were commissioned back in 1972 (literally my age), the ones that have no air conditioning and that are as noisy and cramped as I don't know what.
And now we're going to spend even more time in them, thanks to our beloved state minister of transport - Lynne Kosky. Kosky justified the purchase with the argument that the "new" trains will be used to add four new train services, which would add 3200 public transport passengers. Well, allow me to say a few things on this statement:
1. What makes her think that slightly more frequent services will have an impact on demand? If we were to add 1000 new trains, would we have had a million new passengers?
2. Who is the idiot that would want to commute using public transport if those old trains are what they're going to get? Is the honor of rubbing your butt against a seat with 35 years worth of accumulated sweat so glamorous?
3. It is obvious Kosky never took a ride on one of these trains. At least not since losing her milk teeth.
4. Come to think of it, it is obvious Kosky never used public transport in Melbourne, period.

Don't say a prayer for me now

The latest shot from the mouth of our beloved Prime Minister came a couple of days ago when he asked all Australians to pray for the rain to come and solve the drought.
Regardless of the validity of such a request in a secular country, I would like to suggest that perhaps it is his government sitting on its butt and doing nothing but praying that is to blame for this drought in the first place.
I'm actually misleading you here, though. John Howard had an even more recent shot, in which he said that he doesn't believe that global warming is as big a problem as it is made out to be, and that the economy is more important. Which, again, explains why some ostriches are now telling their mates to pray.
But just for the record: Call me un-Australian, but I'm not praying.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Car turning right

It only took two drops of rain and we've had it.
We were heading for Glenhuntly Baby Carriages (I'm only mentioning their name because their ad appeared on the blog quite a lot lately) driving down North Road - a four lane on each side road. While driving on the second lane from the left a car that was coming in from the opposite direction and turned to the right failed to see us altogether and hit our rear right.
There wasn't much of a damage but there was enough damage for the insurance companies to get involved. The stupid thing is that the car that hit us has completely failed to see us; the guy was shocked and couldn't explain what happened other than "I didn't see you". Which with all the traffic around sort of makes sense: I haven't seen him either until it was too late; but then again, he should have been more careful when he took the turn. If you can't see where you're going, you shouldn't be going.
It's one of those accidents where there is not much doubt as to who is to blame. The guy that hit us is older than my father and seemed to be a very nice person; he was definitely more shocked than I was. The good thing is that he was very nice, too, so all the exchange taking place was done very pleasantly with mutual smiles and total agreement that as long as it's only metal and plastic that got hurt it's no big deal. And it definitely was only metal and plastic: I hardly felt a thing during the hit itself, it was mostly the noise of our rear bumper absorbing the shock. I really felt bad for this nice old guy; he shouldn't be going through such things.
I was still annoyed with myself: I failed a basic motorcycle safety rule. With bikes, they always tell you to look for the car turning left (or, in Australia's case, the car turning right): 80% of the car to bike accidents are caused by cars turning left that simply don't see the bike coming at them. You're supposed to reduce the danger by making yourself more conspicuous (I drive with my lights on even during the day) and by slowing down prior to such potential hazard spots and then accelerating to run away from them. This time around I didn't even identify the area as a potential trouble spot: The road I was on was too much of a main road and the turn was too well hidden (especially with rows of standing cars to my right hiding it).
I guess that when you take a car to the road you sign an undisclosed agreement with the universe that you're accepting the occasional traffic accident and the occasional fine in the hope that nothing serious would happen as a result. My main lesson is that when driving you should never relax (a lesson you know very well if you're a biker), but there's also the issue of "how fragile we are": we get out of the house and into our car feeling invincible, but it doesn't take much to ruin our day. When you think of the probabilities of something really nasty happening you begin to realize that maybe we shouldn't be spending so much money on the war on terror and start putting it where it would really make a difference.
For now, the thing annoying me the most is all the upcoming hassle with the insurance company and the repairs. Given historical experience, we should be expecting to be car-less for two weeks once I hand the car over.

Anyway, eventually we got to the baby carriages place. As our friends told us, that place is really good as far as pram shopping is concerned because it's peaceful, they have some attentive salespeople, and they have a good range. They also seem to have the best prices we've seen so far on Mclarens and Mountain Buggys. However, as far as choosing a pram is concerned, we are now totally confused.
Basically, it seems like we got ourselves another top contender to the pram of choice award: the initially impressive yet previously dismissed New Zealand made Mountain Buggy. Its drawbacks were its size (mainly its width), its lack of absolute flatness, and its cost ($700 plus $250 for a bassinet).
There were several things that sort of seemed to counter attack these deficiencies. For a start there's the undeniable fact that both Jo and I like the Mountain Buggy; it's stylish, it's flashy, and it's not made in China. Let's face it, it's an image thing. It's a simple and clever design, too - even a moron like me can fold it as easily as I can add a post to my blog.
Then we asked the sales guy about the bassinet, and he said that it's something they sell for only one of six Mountain Buggys. The main reason why is to do with the babies growing out of it pretty quickly - he had one look at me and said the baby will probably grow out of it within 3 months (He also made Jo laugh when he estimated she's due by June - he only got it 25% wrong!). Jo said she thought the bassinet could be useful for carrying the baby around the house and for having it sleep next to her in the first few months, but that was dismissed as well: apparently, these bassinets are not made of a breathable enough material and you shouldn't have your baby in them for too long. Definitely not for sleeping more than 2-3 hours a time.
So that has effectively knocked $250 off the pram's price. Given the place sells them for a relatively cheap $600 (as opposed to all others that sell them for $700), the Mountain Buggy suddenly became a financial contender with the $450 bassinet-less Beema and the $370 Mclaren. Yes, it's still significantly more expensive, but then again we didn't plan on putting cost as the top criteria to begin with (functionality is the case winner for us); and when you add its resale value - the Mountain Buggys are quite good at retaining their value, at least as far as eBay is concerned - it's not too bad a purchase, financially speaking.
As for the "not being able to lay flat", the sales guy dismissed it again. He said it's flat enough, basically. I have to admit we tend to agree: we saw a very young baby in a Mountain Buggy last week, and that baby looked like he was having a good time. Actually, by now I've developed the eagle eye for detecting babies in prams and how they fare with them.
So yeah: we simply don't know where to go. One part of me tends to think that between the Beema and the Mountain Buggy we should go with the Mclaren, being that it's a completely different design. However, the Mountain Buggy seems to be the more rational winner at this stage: It's significantly lighter than the Beema but features everything the Beema does other than absolute flatness; it's the easiest to operate by far; it can cross parks' grass like a knife through hot butter, which could be an issue for Jo with the Maclaren; it is a clean design, unlike the Beema which has all sorts of shit dangling all over the place; and what I tend to regard now as most important, it has a huge space for all the shit you ever wanted to carry with you underneath the pram - just what you need if you end up like all other parents and carry with you a huge bag of baby stuff every time you go for a pee outside the house.
Still, I know I shouldn't make any rash decisions on a day someone bumped into me.

Friday, 20 April 2007

I can feel it coming in the air

You walk around, you smell the air, and you just feel the smell of elections in the air. It's everywhere.
Take, for example, our beloved Prime Minister John Howard's announcement from yesterday: If it doesn't rain within the next 6 weeks or so there will be no water for the irrigators. Wow! I'm scared!
Actually, I am scared. There is a major water crisis going about. But as much as I'm scared about the water shortage, I'm even more scared of a desperate Prime Minister who is doing his best to win an election by scaring the voters. Applying for that basic survival instinct.
Well, Mr Howard: If you were in charge for the last 10 years and more, and if you knew what the status of the water reservoirs are, why did you come up with this sudden shock announcement just 6 weeks before the ultimate deadline? Where were you before? Did we have plenty of water a week ago? Two days ago?
It's pretty obvious that all of these dramatic announcements are there to press the states into accepting Howard's new water plan, just as it is pretty obvious that there is not much of a concrete water plan in the first place - just a plan to spend a lot of taxpayer's money in order to appear as if the government is doing something about the water crisis, even though this is the same government that through its neglect and inaction managed to create the water crisis in the first place.
And you know what? Things work out for Howard. Just this walk a guy at work was seriously saying that soon enough we won't be allowed to use our dishwashers; he said it with a sense of acceptance and surrender. There was no word, however, on all the big businesses that waste much more water than all the world's dishwashers put together.
Don't get me wrong - there is a severe water shortage and action is definitely required. However, there is action, and there is garnish that is meant to look like action. At the moment all we have is "plans" of the second category.

But wait - water is not enough. Walk along any train station and you will see an influx of anti terror signs. Yes, those good old signs (pictured above) are making a comeback - expect your fridge magnet to arrive soon!
After all, elections are coming, and Johnny Howard needs you to be scared for him.

Ya Salam

I just thought the following work of art is worth proper acknowledgement (and the commentator is funny, too):

Lionel Messi " Messidona " - The best bloopers are a click away

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Shooter

Up until the last century's forties there was absolutely no danger of a nuclear holocaust taking place. The reason for that was really simple and obvious: there were no nuclear weapons around.
Which is why I fail to understand the big surprise over what happened the other day at Virginia Tech. When there are weapons around, shots will be fired, period. There's no avoiding it: by all accounts, something like 10% of us humans are deranged to one extent or another. If you expand the definition for derangement to include Australian Liberal party voters (and their equivalent American Republicans), you would often conclude that the majority of us people are deranged. So why the hell do we let people carry weapons so freely? And why are people surprised when such shootings take place?
Obviously, when I say "we", I mean the USA; that's the only country where such a twisted notion is still conceivable. There is definitely something rotten in the kingdom of the USA if people think that having weapons around is normal.
Looking at the photos from the shooting, the most prominent ones were photos of fleeing victims being hurled to the ground and searched with a gun pointed to their heads at point blank. Now, I'm not blaming those cops that did it for misbehaving; given the circumstances I would have done the same. But doesn't anyone realize for a second how low a country has to go to reach a situation where innocent people, being involved at the most traumatic event of their lives, also get to enjoy being treated like Ossama Bin Laden would if he was to get caught? Doesn't anyone realize that if things come to that then something must be very wrong and something just has to change?
Which is where the biggest tragedy of it all is: Nothing will change following this event. There will be protests and ceremonies in which people will cry and mourn and say they will never forget and then say "never again", but give it a bit of time - mind you, not a lot of time - and it will all happen all over again.
Which brings me to a letter published in today's Age, in which this nice fellow was saying something like "here we go again, now all the secular humanist leftists will say that the USA needs to ban all weapons, when in fact it's the left with its lack of values that is causing all these shootings to take place in the first place". Well, I wrote my reply letter and emailed it to The Age, but I sort of doubt they would publish it; it's rare they publish reply letters to a letter. So, just in case, here it is here. Enjoy:

When it comes to explaining the causes behind the shooting at Virginia Tech, Brian Handley from Moe (Letters, 18/4/07) points his finger to the "left-liberal establishment" and their "valueless secular humanist philosophy".
As it is fairly obvious Mr Handley is asking us to implement religion based values instead, I have to ask him which of the values in that set he wants us to adopt: Should we take on board Joshua's concept of ethnic cleansing? Or should we go directly with Moses & God's killings of the firstborn as the preferred solution for addressing all of our problems upon this earth?
I will not deny that there is a morality vacuum in Western societies; however, please do not be selective and close an eye when you offer religion as the alternative. At this point in time I am yet unsure whether the killings were not the result of a lunatic vigilante exercising his idea of Old Testament style justice in the first place.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Astronomy Domine

It's strange, but today I found myself thinking thoughts of a brand new kind. Things I've never dreamt of before.
For the first time ever, I found myself thinking of things I could do together with my potential future son. I'm not talking about exciting stuff like cleaning his shit and wiping his mouth, but rather about the more mundane things like doing bonding stuff together.
As a child I was fascinated with astronomy and I always wanted a telescope. Now I can actually afford one (there are some nice ones where you can connect your SLR camera to the telescope and use the telescope as a lens and take some very long exposures!), the rational part of me thinks that there's just that many blobs of light you can be entertained with using a telescope of the size you can place at home, and that there is also a bit of a space problem once you finish watching the skies. As in, where do you store a telescope?
But when I have a child of my own, having a telescope and gazing at stars and generally learning about the universe and all is no longer a pain in the butt burden; it's a parent going out of his way to open his child's eyes. It's no longer playing with toys; it's a noble educational act.
So on the agenda we have filling the walls of Indy's room with astronomical posters (like the one attached here, of the galaxy nearest to ours - M31 Andromeda, some 2 million light years away), getting a telescope and watching the skies together (maybe with a bit of a hike to a remote and dark place where the skies are more detailed), going to the planetarium, and most importantly - watching Cosmos together on TV.
But wait: Am I just trying to revive the best moments of my own childhood again?

Monday, 16 April 2007

I never had the nerve to make the final cut

Early last week I received an email from an Israeli friend with a link to this article from an Israeli news website that talked about this research that established that circumcision reduces one's chances of catching AIDS. I don't know if he sent it as a joke or whether he was seriously trying to make me change my mind about the fate of my future son, but I quickly forgot it all.
Then I talked to my father during the weekend and he kept on saying that he had something to tell me which he forgot. Eventually, though, he did remember: He read somewhere that they found that having a circumcision prevents you from catching AIDS. Which totally explains how AIDS still exists in Israel, a country where virtually everyone - be it a Jew or an Arab - is circumcised. I even have an ex work colleague who has AIDS, to add to that personal touch; but of course, facts never stand in the way of the deluded.
Needless to say, the latest news in science weren't exactly at the top of my father's agenda. He continued to tell me how he got this doctor to circumcise my nephew for only 2000 NIS (that's around $600 AUD) without any risk and without any pain. Sure! I mean, getting swept away for something that's important to you is one thing, but going that far is outrageous. Let's face it: the reason why Jewish children (as if they have much choice in the matter) are circumcised at the age in which they are circumcised is that when you're a week old, lacking self awareness, you cannot go about saying "fuck this, it hurts like I don't know what, leave my dick alone". A grown up has to be truly devoted to have someone cut a bit of his penis, and there won't be that many Jews in the world if that was a precondition. And let's also face another thing - the subjective way in which we perceive risk: my father thinks circumcision is risk free, but the reality is that the probability of having a circumcision gone wrong is higher by an order of a magnitude than the probability of, say, having a Down Syndrome baby; yet you should have seen the effort spent in making us go and check that the yet to be born does not have Down Syndrome.
Let me make it clear. Circumcision has its merits, no doubt about it. The piece of extra skin at the end of the penis is a perfect catchment area for diseases of various sorts. However, that does not mean anyone lacking religious devotion would think of cutting it off; you don't see people going around saying "my little toe is absolutely useless, I should cut it off to reduce my chances of having some fungus between my toes". There are 10,000 things one can do to improve the health of their baby; not giving their child sugary drinks, for example, would do them much better than a circumcision. Amongst those 10,000 things, circumcision comes very low in the value for money ladder; I would say that a good education is 10,000 times more important. Which brings me to say this: The only reason why people circumcise is a religious reason; and the main reason why people perform research on circumcision is to try and justify to themselves why they did it in the first place.
Religion has a problem. There is absolutely zero evidence out there to support it. Especially today, with science telling us more and more on how the world really operates, religion is totally redundant. So how can religion justify its existence? Simple: By looking for scientific reasons for people to follow it. I don't think "looking" is the right word; it's more like forcing. "I'm a modern free thinking person", you will say, "I couldn't give a shit about religion; I circumcised my boy because it's healthy". Yeah, right. There is a very good reason why this research on circumcision was published widely enough in Israel to make me hear of it twice yet no one ever mentioned it in Australia.
Now, allow me to go even further. I often think on this circumcision thing. Who was this bright mind that first thought of circumcision a good few thousands of years ago? What has made this sick mind think of it? Obviously, whatever that thing that made him do it was, it wasn't the voice of god. I mean, even if you think there is a god, the gods that the majority of the world's population go for do not advocate circumcision. So what was his motive?
I suspect the answer for that question can be found if we have a look at other animals, especially other primates. When primate males try to show one another who's boss, they perform semi fucking motions: the alpha does a pretend ride over the omega. The penis is used in the process in a show of superiority. Given that we're just another ape brand, we have those instincts in us just the same (please refer to the dick size complex for reference), which got some bright minds to eventually think of messing with their dicks as a show of superiority. Fast forward a few thousands of years and see how enough people in this world still follow these old agendas and still look for reasons to justify the ancient.
"Bullshit", you say. Well, let me provide you with a testimony for my argument. Have a look at the word "testimony" itself, and note that it comes from the same Latin source as "testicles". The reason for that is beautifully simple: Up until Roman times, it was customary to stamp agreements by grabbing a hold of your counterpart's testicles. A good way to demonstrate trust as any, I suppose. One doesn't need much of an imagination to see how the puzzle fits from there.
Luckily for us all, nowadays men wear pants.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The Contenders

I know most of you will find this as interesting as watching someone's holiday photos slideshow, but let me tell you this: shopping around for prams is one intriguing thing to do.
If I was to narrow down the reasons for my fascination with this research thing we've been going through (so far for only a week), I would say that it's to do with two key concepts: The first is that, as I have said before, there is no silver bullet with baby prams - there is no one pram that will do it all and do it better; there are, instead, varying designs and philosophies that match different needs and offer different compromises. It makes things more complicated for the buyer, but on the other hand educated buyers should be able to find the pram that best suits their needs. Finding the set of compromises that suit you best requires research and patience, which most people don't have; I suspect most people's approach would be along the lines of "ok, things are complicated; I'll just spend more money, then".
Which would be wrong, because the second fascinating concept about buying prams is that more money does not buy you a better pram. Buying a more expensive pram will definitely get you a different pram; whether it would be a pram that would suit you better is a matter that is very much open for discussion. Our observations so far would indicate a definitive lack of correlation between suitability and price: despite not taking price into account, we have found that the prams that suit us the most (according to our understandings so far) also happen to be on the cheaper side of things. There are many reasons for that, but it seems that one of the main reasons for this lack of correlation is that when buying a pram one pays a lot for the name and the image rather than the functionality.

With that said, let's get to the nitty-gritty. So far we have seriously examined 6 prams, and here are our summarized findings:
1. The big 3 wheel Mountain Buggy prams are good, generally speaking. They are made in New Zealand, which is quite a novelty in this Made in China world. They project an image of being very robust - exactly what you would want if you go hiking up a mountain with your baby - but this comes at a price. They are very big when folded and very wide - enough to potentially cause you problems when checking out at the supermarket. After you finished climbing the Everest with your newborn you will find it's not that practical - the baby can't lay flat, requiring a bassinet that comes at an extra of $250 (over the already hefty $700 base price - the price for a not made in China product). Nice, but no cigar.
2. The small 4 wheeled Maclaren XT Rider stroller (pictured on the right) is unique in that it is a stroller that would serve a newly born baby, too. It can go flat, but not absolutely flat. It is light, it can fold up all the way to a stick shape, and it is easy to operate. It is, however, on the smaller side of things as far as baby space is concerned and as far as storage space is concerned, and unlike it's big three wheeled rivals it will not run as smoothly on grass or "off road". It is perfect for air travel, though - there will be no need to buy another pram for travel if we buy the Maclaren. The Maclaren is one of our two leading contenders: the compromise on offer by the Maclaren is inferior features for a new born for an excellent stroller for a 6 month plus.
3. The Chelino is a pram that we saw in this shop that offers a lot of what the Maclaren does, but it also comes with a free bassinet so that you can look at the baby as the baby lies flat in it. There are a few issues with it, though: The baby will grow out of the bassinet within 6 months or so (and potentially less if he inherits my height), and then we will have a headache with where to store the bassinet as it has no resale value on its own. Without the bassinet you have a pram that cannot go flat - basically, you got yourself a cheap stroller. At $400 the price might sound attractive, but the overall plasticness of the model and its cheap feel has put us off it.
4. Next up we have ourselves the Bill & Ted, which seems like an essentially smaller Mountain Buggy. The manufacturer calls them Phil & Ted, but my experience with them shows that they are definitely Bill & Ted material: I simply found this pram totally unusable for someone my height. First, the handles won't go up high enough for me to push the pram without bending down; and second, which is much worse, when you set it up so the baby lies flat (and for the record, the baby will not lie absolutely flat), it would be very hard (emphasis on the VERY) for me to avoid kicking the baby with my legs as I walk the pram. Bad design at its worst.
Other than that the pram is stylish, and the $550 price tag (bassinet not included) is not too bad. Seat adjustment is done via straps at the back of the seat, which is a bit of a pain in my book; the Mountain Buggy offers the same interface and seems to be easier to operate.
Overall, a sexy looking pram that completely and utterly fails basic usability tests.
5. On to the Beema, a massive big 3 wheels model - the heaviest in this comparison at almost 12kg despite an aluminum chassis. It has a bit of a cheap finish about it: the cloth feels like tent material, although I suspect the baby would lie on a sheet anyway and not directly on the pram (if only to make cleaning easier). Being black, Jo's afraid it would be stupidly hot in summer, so we might give up on the basic $520 model (bassinet included) and go for a $570 model that offers a grayish color. You do get a lot for the money, though: Easy adjustments, easy to push, easy to fold, a flat surface - the works. The design looks like the front would be susceptible to scratches, but hey - this is a baby pram, not a museum piece. The bassinet seems useful for carrying the baby in and out of the pram easily, and its price is so cheap that I've already included it in the above quoted costs.
Overall, the Beema is our second leading contender for the crown: its compromises are (a) size - it only folds down to a flat shape, as opposed to the Maclaren's stick shape, thus taking twice the size, and (b) the weight. The size does seem intimidating: we tried putting it in our Honda CR-V, not the smallest car around, and it took half the boot space. What will we do when we go on a few days' expedition? We'll do well, but I hate to think what owners of smaller cars will do. As for the weight, the main question at hand is just how often Jo will actually lift the pram: I suspect it won't be that much - if at all. When we are together, the weight becomes less of an issue.
6. In order to examine what you get when you fork out more money, we had a look at the Quinny Buzz. The $1000 price tag seems intimidating, but you do get it with the whole lot of accessories - bassinet and such. The design is clever: It features 3 small yet maneuverable wheels in a chassis that looks like a sexy motorcycle (probably the reason for the high price).
The compartment in which the baby lies is clipped to the top of this chassis, and you can adjust its angle in a clever fashion and also - wait for it - change its direction 180 degrees so the baby faces you, which is quite a unique feature in prams of the size and weight we're looking at.
But now comes the deficiencies part. First, without the bassinet - out of which the baby will grow quickly - the baby cannot lie flat. And second, this pram takes a huge amount of floor space - in fact, it takes more space when it is disassembled for travel than it does when it's operational! The reason is that you fold the chassis first, which goes flat to take up as much space as the rest of the prams other than the Maclaren. Then you need to stick the baby's seat somewhere, and then you need to stick the bassinet somewhere else! It sounds like a bad design but there's a logic behind it: By European standards, the baby's seat can clip directly into the baby car seat in the car, thus saving you from buying a car seat and saving you space. Quite ingenious, only that this European standard does not comply with the stricter Australian standards - at least not yet. As a result, if you want to use the Quinny here, you better have yourself an aircraft carrier for a car and a huge house to spare.
Other than that, there is not much to say about the Quinny: The $1000 simply don't get you much other than style over all the other prams surveyed here; in fact, compared to some you get less for more.

And so our research so far leads us to a duel between the Maclaren and the Beema. The question is which of the compromises suits us most: Better suitability for a newborn at the price of massive size and weight, or lightness and initial discomfort?
Personally, at the moment, I lean towards the Beema. It is, however, obvious that we will need to buy a stroller at one stage or another - the stage in which we will want to fly. Then again, we can get an acceptable model we wouldn't really care much about as far as potential damage or loss is concerned for less than $100 that will serve as a temp stroller just fine.
I suspect we might end up getting the Beema only to replace it with the Maclaren later. Between eBay and their relative low costs, this would still be significantly less costly than buying a fancy pram that might disenchant us just as well. In fact, as we go about not really knowing what having a baby will be like, it is very much likely that we will be disenchanted with whatever pram we get - thus reinforcing my conviction that either the Beema or the Maclaren are the ones we should be getting, given their excellent value for money.

P.S. The above photos were taken with my PDA, which is not exactly a Nikon D70 rival.

Extreme bulk buying

Anyone needs some oregano to spice up their pizzas?
The story goes like this. Yesterday we went to the place where we usually get our fresh products from. No, not the supermarkets; they're expensive and their products tend to be far from fresh. We go to a wholesaler place in Moorabbin (corner of Chesterville Road and Keys Road) that is significantly cheaper - like consistently 30% to 50% cheaper (or even more) - and where the stuff is so fresh it usually comes inside the packaging the original farmer has packed it out in.
Anyway, our shopping list included an item for oregano spice, as we're running low. Even though it's not a fresh product, that Moorabbin place is still loads cheaper than the supermarket, so we looked for it there.
We found a pack of 20 grams refill for $2.20 and we were happy with it. But then we found a pack of half a kilo for $3.50.
So let us know if you need some oregano. We've got oregano coming out of our ears. I wonder if it would go well on a pancake...

Thursday, 12 April 2007

This week's recipe: Poof Pizza

Welcome back to our weekly recipe program, featuring favorite recipes of easy to make food that also happens to be very tasty.
This week's recipe is for poof pizza, which is pizza made on top of a poof pastry base. Now, we usually do the real thing at home and generate our own pizza dough with our bread machine when we want pizza; however, poof pizza is a perfect solution for when you're in a hurry (pizza dough takes hours to prepare) or when you're just lazy. It definitely tastes good.
The quantities described will generate two pig's portions of very tasty pizza.


Ingredients:
-3 to 4 ISO Moshe tablespoons of tomato paste.
-2 tablespoons of olive oil.
-A smallish red onion.
-2 garlic cloves.
-Oregano.
-Basil.
-Salt and pepper.
-2 sheets of ready made poof pastry base: You won't find ready made poof pastry bases at your local supermarket; for some reason, they call them "puff pastry" there. Go figure.
-Shredded tasty cheese: Don't ask me why they call this version of cheddar cheese "tasty cheese" in Australia but they do; in Israel this type of a cheese is known, literally, as yellow cheese.
-Shredded mozzarella cheese.
-Pizza toppings according to your preferences. I usually go with either a pepperoni and jalapeƱo chili peppers combination or an anchovies and olives combination. Jo leans towards the more vegetarian options.
-Optional: fresh rocket leaves (also known as roquette).

Preparation:
First, you need to prepare the pizza sauce that you're eventually going to spread on top of the poof pastry bases. It's pretty simple, really - even I can do it.
Put the tomato paste in a bowl and add the olive oil. Chop the onion and chop the garlic into little pieces (or crush them if you so prefer; I prefer chopping because cleaning the garlic crasher is a major pain - the dishwasher can't really get that tiny stuff without lots of help), and then add the result to the bowl. Now add oregano and basil to taste (my taste is: a lot) followed by a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all up in the bowl, and you have yourself the pizza sauce!
Now get the poof pastry bases and spread the pizza sauce evenly on top of them. Then add a thin layer of tasty cheese (be careful, because it's really easy to overdo the cheese; then again, I'm sure you'll survive a very cheesy pizza) followed by a similarly thin layer of mozzarella.
Start pre-heating the oven to 220 degrees as you go about adding your pizza toppings. Once done, cook it for 12 minutes.
if you're in the mood, add the rockets on top of the cooked pizza. They can really help the taste take off.

Final notes:
Usually Jo is the pizza maestro of the family, but this one is simple enough for everyone to master. Granted, it's not the healthiest meal ever - especially not with pepperoni made out of manufactured meat (just read this week how eating manufactured meat quadruples your cancer opportunities). But it does taste good! Generally speaking, Jo and I indulge ourselves with pizza variants on a weekly basis.

Added comment: Jo has asked me to add that in order to prevent the poof pastry from bloating and becoming like a ball when cooking, it is recommended to fold the edges of the poof base a bit upwards. Just a tiny little bit.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

First Blood

What you dreaded the most is about to happen. I'm going to start using the blog to talk about baby stuff.
Sure, I've done it before (say, when talking about kindergartens), but this time it's personal.
The issue at hand is buying baby stuff. We've sold the bed in the spare room, and now we can start thinking about what it is that we're going to put in there as far as furnishing is concerned and what other things we're going to get for the baby.
We already got a car seat and sacks of clothes from friends, and they're even giving us a tallboy (a word I've never heard before coming to Australia, used to describe a small wardrobe with lots of drawers where you can stick clothing). With all that, though, we still have some things we need to get - for example, a pram and a cot.

For some obscure reason, the timing of these purchases seems to be high on the agenda lately. Should we start thinking about these purchases at this stage? From our point of view, we have a bit of a problem: with the way things have been going we just cannot tell whether things are going to work out in the first place. There are still significant doubts with whether we will have ourselves a baby in the first place; as in, what's the point of buying stuff when you don't know whether you will need it in the first place?
This way of looking at things seems to have caught on with the family like a fire in the dry outback. Suddenly, we seem to be hearing people telling us to wait until after the birth. And it's really weird, because they can't explain why; they just "recommend" it. Excuse me for saying it, but to me this all reeks of superstition: the good old "if you buy it now it would be bad luck". Well, there is no button more effective than that to make me want to go and buy everything now. And it's even Friday the 13th later this week, the perfect day for baby shopping.
I don't know if you can tell, but the last year has really made me annoyed with family mainly serving for adding fuel to the fire when it comes to managing stress.
My own rational is pretty simple. If things do work out fine, regardless of when, we want to be ready because after a birth the hustle of shopping around and sorting things out would be the last thing we need. And if things don't work out fine then the financial loss of buying things we don't really need would be the least of our problems; let's face it, we're not going to go bankrupt buying a cot from IKEA. And even then, with eBay around there the financial loss would be pretty minimal.
There is no logical reason for postponing the purchases. If you can think of one, let me know. I'm all ears.

Yesterday we went to a baby shop for the first time and had a look at prams.
Now I don't know just how universal the word "pram" is. Before coming to Australia I have never heard of it, but then again the books I read don't tend to discuss the raising of children to such a fine level. It seems as if in Australian English there are two words for describing a portable wheeled contraption for transporting babies: "pram" is used to describe a contraption where the baby is laid flat, and is usually used exclusively with babies up to 6 months old or so; and a "stroller" is the contraption where the baby sits the way one would normally sit on a chair. Australia is such a fine and unique place that you can get yourself contraptions that do both pramming and strolling, and they're usually referred to as just a "pram".
We had ourselves a list of functional requirements our preferred pram should adhere to:
1. Because Jo would want to use it on her own and over public transport, it needs to be light.
2. Because our place is small, it needs to have a small footprint when folded.
3. In order to see what's going on with the child, we would like to have a model where you can change the baby's direction - have him face you or face away from you - at will.
4. Because I'm clumsy and can't do anything with my hands, we need a pram that's easy to operate. As in, utter the words "fold up, stupid pram" in English - no matter how heavily accented you are - and the pram would fold itself nicely and tuck itself in the corner.

But then we went to the shop and discovered that all could be nice on paper, but you can never tell how whatever pram you're going to buy is actually going to work for you in real life. Especially when its number one client is going to be a less than predictable creature whose prime time occupancy is crying.
Buying a pram is not like buying a stereo: with stereo I know that you can read the specs but they don't mean a thing, but I have learnt that there are certain indicators that do indicate a good component - say, the size of the power supply on an amp or the build and construction of a speaker. The design philosophy matters a lot, too. And with a stereo I can also listen to my own music and pass effective judgment. It's easy to measure differences.
Prams, however, are not like stereo components; you can sort of think of what you would like to have and what you would like to think would work out for you, but you can never really be sure about it until business time arrives. And once you're in it you can't go really go back.
Basically, what we've learnt is that there is no silver bullet. Surprise surprise, but you can't have a pram that does everything exactly the way you want it and still have a small footprint or avoid taking a second mortgage or avoid carrying a battle tank with you everywhere.
Compromises start with size. You can get smaller prams that fold up nicely, but they don't allow changing the facing of the child and they're not as flat and cozy. Three wheelers, which are easier to handle, don't allow this change of face; that's exclusive to four wheelers or the ultra expensive, cleverly designed NASA grade prams. And if you want something that's good both as a pram and as a stroller you probably need a model that is capable of supporting a bassinet, which tends to come as an extra (both in cost and in size), and which - once the baby grows out of it - does have a significant footprint in your already crowded house (but you still need to keep it in order to sell the pram on eBay).
Then we learned that those three wheeled four wheel drive prams, the ones with inflatable tires, have a significant advantage over their simpler brethren: they are much easier to maneuver and push around. I was amazed at the ease with which they just glide around. It sounds like this is bullshit, but if Jo would want to take some long walks - and I really hope she would because we live in a nice area and she could spend a fortnight just visiting one park a day and never go further than 20 minutes away from our house (and I haven't even mentioned the beach) - this would be a significant advantage. Disadvantages include potential flat tires and a significantly bigger footprint, as well as slightly more weight (but that's a generalization).
And then there are price issues. Generally speaking, good prams start of at about $400; the Mountain Buggy four wheel drive, three wheeled made in New Zealand super walker pram (pictured above) costs $700, but you need $250 extra for a bassinet and you'd probably fork out more for some other accessories (although if you get the "original" accessories you're an idiot with too much money on your hands). The state of the art prams come at $1500.
And there's another catch: if you do get a big pram you will need to get a smaller one eventually when you want to go a-traveling (as in aboard a plane), unless you're willing to stick your pram in the checked in luggage and cross your fingers it arrives on the other side and in one piece. Effectively, that's between $150 to $400 extra, just for you, just to be able to travel a bit (and let's face it: "a bit" is all the travel you will be doing once you have a baby).

Cots on the other hand seem to be dead simple. They need to adhere to standards, but they pretty much look the same and they all adhere to the same standards. Sure, if you're extravagant and you need to spend money in order to feel good with yourself you can buy one made of oak for $1500; but it's not like Indy is going to notice.
The only tricks with cots are whether they're height adjustable and whether they can be turned into a bed later on. Well, IKEA has a model that's adjustable and turns into a bed for $300, and at least on the internet it doesn't look bad at all. Sure, it will be assembled by someone who's the most remote relative of Bob the Builder, but it will do the job and do the job well.

In case you haven't got it, I'm what Jo refers to as "turned on" now with these baby things. And when I'm on there is no stopping me: We will get these things, we will probably decide on what we're getting pretty soon (although we might delay the purchase of certain items till June for financial reasons), and the things we will be getting will be selected because they seem to be the ones that answer our needs the best. Just like anything else we purchase (and even if certain relatives assume I'm always getting the cheap stuff), we will be getting what we think is the best for our needs, not what flatters my image the best. I buy functionality, not an image.
I do have to admit it, though: the pram selection thing is an interesting challenge. I wonder if it's because they are the closest thing to a motorcycle I will be getting in the years to come.

Monday, 9 April 2007

The Slave Driver

When it comes down to it, I'm a pretty lazy person. It was therefore pretty convenient for me not to be required to do any house chores whatsoever while I was living with my parents.
The first time things have started to change was when I moved to a rented apartment on my own. Someone had to do the cleaning, and as I discovered the hard way after some 6 months or so that someone is not going to be me. It's either I abandoned lazy habits or got someone else to do it, because living in dirt was not me.
The choice was made easy by my salary, so I got someone to do it. I have to say from the start: I didn't like it. For a start, it wasn't a true fire and forget solution: my impression was that the cleaner felt the need to show me she actually did something by moving every bit of furniture all over the place, most notably the precision spaced speakers. But there was also a darker side: the cleaner would make all those stupid (and illegal) requests for extra money which were pretty hard to shake unless you just drop everything and move to Australia. This experience mirrored a dark mentality that is common in Israel, the mentality of exploiting anyone that shows signs of being nice to you to the max. It is particularly dominant with the types of services where you get people to come to your place: plumbers, electricians and such; you think twice before inviting people who you know will turn out to be scum to your home. I think I can happily say this is very rare in Australia (at least if you exclude Liberal party voters).
Fast forward five years into the future, and now Jo & I are under certain circumstances where there is not much of a choice: either we bring someone to do the cleaning or we live as pigs in a pigsty. We chose the former (well it was mainly Jo that chose, but she was right as usual).
To cut a long story short, the cleaners were here for the first time last week. They worked for an hour and a half, coughed a lot while touching things we never dared touch (say, blinds), and overall did a very good job. The house feels... different. The thing that surprises me, though, is the value for money involved: for a meager cost we got three people effectively devoting two hours of their lives each to the cleaning of our house. That's 6 men hours for a ridiculous cost. How could we get away with it? Simple - slave labor. The people we had coming to our place were immigrants who almost zero English skills, traits that were obviously exploited by the company that hired them. I definitely feel guilty for having my part in this exploitation; it's mainly to do with the hardship of the work they do compared to the comfortable office work I do which earns me much more. Am I that much better than them? Am I that much more beneficial to society?
As for the more mundane, the Australian version of the cleaners still moved things around (although not as bad as I've expected). The worst thing was them knocking the cables out of the rear speakers, which given their crap connector type is a major hassle to fix. We already wrote down new rear speakers as a part of the Indy expense bill, given that we'll have to get them up the walls by the time Indy is a mobile unit (that, and the fact that although they're Morel speakers, they're not up to the quality level of the rest of the stereo setup).
I was also thinking of the long coveted Vandersteen speakers for the front channels. These are speakers that do an excellent job with music and offer good low frequency response that goes well with films, too. And unlike my current fronts, they're solid enough not to be knocked over by a wandering baby. With the slave labor reducing our costs, we might be able to afford these new speakers.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Anonymous Alcoholics

In last year's Melbourne Comedy Festival we saw Wil Anderson ask the crowd in his stand-up show what's the worst thing someone can tell another someone in Australia. His answer was that in contrast to what most people would tell you, "cunt" is not the worst; the worst is "un Australian".
This year we won't be going to the Comedy Festival due to our circumstances. I doubt we will be going in the upcoming years either. I do, however, fully agree with Anderson: In contemporary Australia, saying that something or somebody is un Australian is the most demeaning thing to say; effectively, you take that something or somebody and separate it from the rest of society - exactly what all the politicians using this word want to achieve. It's pretty much something similar to the war on terror concept: a means of taking control over the people by scaring them and by appealing to their xenophobia.

Anyway, all this introduction was to explain to you just how severe an act I have committed last week. It was an act that was harsher than harsh. It was an un Australian act.
When we moved to the house we're living in now, before Jo & I got married, we bought a box of Hahn beer bottles. Just in case we have guests and we want to entertain them, or in case we fancy some ourselves. I clearly remember, for example, Jo's father telling me how good that beer was when he was here after Jo & I got married.
But that was more than three years ago, and last week when I searched the cupboard I found six of those bottles were still there. I checked their expiration dates and I was shocked to see they said "October 2004"; I therefore had no choice but to pour them down the drain.
Which I did, and which is terribly un Australian. For in Australia, alcohol is the drug of choice.

Now all I'm trying to say in here is that I really don't get why alcohol is such a pivotal ingredient to Australian culture. I do drink from time to time, but at such low quantities I think I can safely declare myself a non drinker. While I like the taste of good wine, I don't like it enough to actually consume quantities that may even remotely make me drunk; and to make things clear, it doesn't take much to make me drunk. Ultimately, if offered the choice between alcohol and, say, Coke, I would go with the Coke (even though I know Coke is pretty unhealthy on its own).
I did get drunk twice in my history. The first was roughly at the age of 10, on a Passover celebration. I insisted on drinking the full four wine glasses the ceremony prescribes, and I remember walking along the corridor afterwards, the walls losing their alignment, and me finding myself on the floor.
The fact my first drunken experience was to do with religion is no mere coincidence; most religions have some core element of drugs in them, and alcohol is one drug that's together with nicotine is currently legal. Jews drink alcohol in Passover, Christians have this whole thing with wine representing the blood of Jesus, other religions go further away with heavy drugs. But in all of them the drugs are used to supposedly bring you closer to the divine.
My second drunk experience was in my late twenties. I was frustrated, and in retaliation I drank four beers. I didn't really lose control but I did shake and felt like I want to throw up. I didn't enjoy it in the least, and since then I haven't crossed the line. In fact, when I look back at all the occasions in which I have consumed alcohol en masse it was always some social peer pressure that made me do it: say, an outing of friends, where you have to drink to prove you're a man. Why? Because the advertisers say that men drink; never because I really enjoyed it. I mean, beer is bitter; I don't like bitter.

But in Australia things are different. You get the feeling that there is this emptiness to people lives, an emptiness that cries to be filled. It's the usual emptiness that dominates secular Western societies. Reading a book when you're bored is hard; drinking is easy. And stepping into the wide gap is alcohol:
1. I know people here that drink a bottle of wine a night and think this is perfectly natural.
2. Australia is full of drive through alcohol shops - a contradiction by definition of any shred of common sense.
3. Binge drinking is the quest and the peak of youthful experience.
It's just everywhere and you can't avoid it. I mean, I can, but I'm un Australian.
Not that drinking is a wholly Australian franchise. It seems to me as if it's a European thing, due to the history when beer was a part of the diet back when food was in short supply. Only that some (say, the French) have learnt how to do it in measure.

I read today that monkeys who were given with alcohol liked it and drank themselves to stupor. When they woke up they held their heads with their hands and the sight of the alcohol containers scared the shit out of them; they wouldn't touch it again.
We have a lot to learn from our closest relatives.

Franz Joseph

A couple of days ago I was talking to HR at work, sorting out my parental leave for when Indy arrives (I'm entitled for a week off on top of normal leave; we should therefore have a baby every week). Several interesting incidents took place.
The first was to do with the fact the HR people didn't really know what the rules and regulations governing parental leave are. There was some confusion in the air, and it made me do something I don't normally do. You see, I was amazed they didn't know what to do when so many employees have kids born on them on a weekly basis. The consultant who was helping me out (and she was really doing her best) looked as if she was pregnant herself, and I even remembered her from before as someone slim, so I thought the coast is clear and asked her "how come you don't know if you're pregnant yourself". Wrong. Very wrong.
She told me quite politely that she wasn't pregnant, that many people ask her this question, and that the reason for her belly being the way it was is her quitting smoking. I didn't care; I just wanted to bury myself. Metal note: don't ever ask a woman if she's pregnant; wait for her to say something about it first.
Anyway, on to the second incident. Eventually I was introduced to another HR consultant, who - being an HR consultant - asked me questions such as "do you know what it is". I answered that it's a boy, and then she said (roll the drums, please): "Are you going to give it a traditional name?"
Now, excuse my blood boiling, but would that question have been introduced if I wasn't a bit weird looking in a country of an Anglo-Saxon majority and if I weren't to sport a weird accent?
I answered by saying that I am the person who will do my best to counter everything that is to do with tradition. I didn't go ahead of myself saying some other things I would like to counter at that moment in time; maybe I should have.

Anyway, funny name reactions are not exclusive to work. Most of them come from the family - always an bottomless pit when it comes to good joke material.
The latest worrying trend is a couple of comments telling us to consider naming Indy after family members. To be fair, I don't know whether this was said as a joke or whether it was a serious offer, but I couldn't help thinking on how much people are just afraid to die and cannot even conceive the concept (bring forth religion to help them take the denial one step forward). Excuse me being philosophical, but I couldn't help wondering about the motives behind such a request, and the main motive is simple: immortalization. As David Bowie said in an excellent song of his, "and who can bear to be forgotten".
I therefore suggest that in order to ensure both sides of the family (father Frank on Jo's side and father Yosef (Joseph) on my side) are fairly immortalized we shall name our future baby Franz Joseph.
We'll call him Kaiser as a nickname.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Beware of Darkness (and bad reviews)

In last week's Green Guide, The Age has published a review on digital video cameras costing up to $550. A good idea, given that $500 is a psychological barrier for most potential purchasers and given that you can always get a discount on the RRP.
You can read the review here if you want, but what I want to discuss is the review's final verdict. Allow me to copy & paste (I've taken the liberty to boldify key statements):
"Image quality was fairly even across our test examples, so it's the camcorders' features that make all the difference in this group. The Panasonic was our favourite to hold because of its squat, compact design. The Canon had true widescreen recording but a smallish zoom. We were impressed by the JVC's zoom and widescreen capabilities but our favourite was the Sony. It lacks real widescreen capture but the touchscreen LCD, infra-red recording and quality zoom lens made it our pick."

Is it just me, or is there an inherent problem to this verdict? On one hand, they say that image quality was more or less similar across all cameras and that the criteria according to which the choice of an individual camera should be made is the relevance of its features. Fair enough; but then they say that the Sony is the best because it has a "quality zoom lens" - which is not a feature but rather something that matters only as far as picture quality is concerned.
It's not like The Age is the first to fall for this marketing trap. Companies have been abusing it for ages: Sony here gets the nod because their lens is a "Carl Zeiss" lens; new digital cameras replace their old compatriots solely on the premises of having more mega-pixels; new car models are said to be better because their motor features 5 valves per cylinder instead of the usual 4. And so on and so on.
But should we really care about it all? Should we give a fuck if our camcorder features a Carl Zeiss precision made lens made in Germany by a guy who drives a BMW to the office or whether there are magical pixies inside the camera that quickly paint their version of what they see outside as long as the camera produces the same image quality?
Should we care if a camera has 10 mega-pixels and not 8 if we cannot tell the difference between the two? (Actually, when the sensor size stays the same, more mega-pixels usually mean more noise, too)
Or should we care whether our car's motor is a V12 with 6 valves per cylinder or whether it's a regular inline 4 with 2 valves per cylinder as long as they produce the same power characteristics and consume the same amount of gas?
Needless to say, my answer to all of the above is a definite "no", "no", and a resounding "no".
And my problem is that when people read a review in a paper such as The Age, its conclusions automatically acquire a certain authoritative form. For most of them, The Age's word on camcorders is the equivalent of god's word: if it's in The Age, it must be true and it must have been written by true professionals.
I don't know much about Camcorders, but I know that if I was Canon, Panasonic or JVC I would rush quickly and print a flashy name on my lens. Until they do that, though, tread carefully between all those that pretend to know.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Sick in the head

Regular readers might remember that about two weeks ago I reported being sick with a cold. Well, I was sick, but it turned out that it wasn't with a cold. To quote the doctor, it looks like I've had a mild case of viral meningitis.
Don't ask me how I got it. If hard pressed, I will still point at those suspicious pies I've eaten at work as the most likely source of infection, but that's beside the point; the point is that meningitis is a truly respectable disease to have. It's not as lowly or as common as a cold, this one is something to add to your CV.
It was yet another classic demonstration of the lackluster nature of contemporary medical practice. The first time I went to the doctor I gave him an almost one to one description of meningitis' symptoms, but both he and I were so locked on my problem being a cold that we never even considered thinking that maybe the fact I don't have some of the basic cold symptoms means that I might just not have a cold at all. The second time I went to see him, after three days without any significant changes to my condition, I told him the exact same story with the exact same description, and his reply was "you probably have a mild case of viral meningitis". To that he added an explanation saying that if it was the early stages or if it looked like I was really down (as in about to die?) he would have sent me to the hospital, where they take some fluid off your spine (lovely) and analyze it to see what they can give you. If it's bacterial meningitis you stay in hospital for a long while and you hope nothing serious happens to your brain functionality; if it's viral there's not that much they can do but it's usually not half as bad. And my point is: For the Nth time this year I received a live demo of how doctors don't really know much about what it is that they're doing. You sort of expect medical science to be as precise and as accurate as, say, computing; but it's not. I'll say again what I've said here on numerous occasions before: medical treatment is all about risk management under highly uncertain conditions.
By now I've been back at work for more than a week, although I've been taking things easy. I still have this slightest constant headache with me most of the time, but the main lingering symptom is weakness; which, in case you're worried, is supposed to last for a few weeks after you're no longer sick. Thing is, by now I'm so unfit that I don't know whether the weakness is the disease's leftovers or just me walking about with a heart as capable an old Vespa.
Probably the most annoying side effect, though, is the lack of knowing whether I'm still contagious or not. After all, the worst thing that can happen to us is if Jo catches it. I mean, just the thought of the potential hospitalization and the disaster it would have spelt for us is enough to send shivers down my sick (?) spine!
And so for the last two weeks I've had to settle with signaling to Jo from afar.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

This week's recipe: Pancakes

Welcome back as we go ahead with yet another recipe, this time for Moshe Reuveni's famous pancake recipe. Without further ado, let us get into business: how to make lovely pancakes for two people.

Ingredients:
- 3 free range eggs: Although I think it is safe to assume the chicken would not be overly happy with what is going to happen to its eggs, my conscious is ever so happier with using free range eggs.
- A pinch of salt.
- Soy milk: Casa Reuveni does not drink cow's milk. While cow's milk may be great and healthy if you happen to be a calf, we tend to think that we're different enough to merit something more suitable for us humans.
- 9 ISO Moshe tablespoons of plain flour: An ISO Moshe tablespoon is defined as a tablespoon so loaded, that adding another molecule of the required compound would necessarily mean losing more than one of the molecules already there. If you're after a healthier dose of pancakes you can exchange some of the plain flour with wholemeal flour, but the trade off is lumpier pancakes that feel much heavier in your stomach once consumed.
- A spoon of oil: We use canola oil for making pancakes. We pick brands that have zero triglycerides.
- Juice squeezed out of a couple of lemons.
- Pure icing sugar.

Preparation:
1. Crack the contents of the eggs into a bowl. Try to avoid calcium rich pancakes by ensuring not too much of the eggs' shells find themselves inside the bowl.
2. Add a bit of soy milk. The exact quantity is a matter of feel, but something like 100cc would be a good start.
3. Add 3 ISO Moshe tablespoons of flour.
4. Add the salt.
5. Whisk the compound.
As you go, gradually add the rest of the flour, and pour in some more milk. The intention is to get a compound of the right viscosity that is devoid of lumps (as pictured to the right).
The definition of "right viscosity" is rather subjective: it depends on how light/heavy you want your pancakes to be. If you want American like heavy pancakes, don't add much milk (and consider using self rising flour); if, like us, you prefer a more crepe like substance, then by all means let the milk pour. In the worst case, if you overdo the milk, just add a bit more flour.
6. Put a pan on the stove and light the fire on high, adding the oil.
7. Pour enough of the pancake compound to cover the pan with a thin layer. Switch the fire to low.
8. As the pancake is cooked, it is separated from the pan. Once separation is complete (a matter of 1 to 2 minutes), flip the pancake.
9. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the new lower side separates and until the pancake looks lively (as it does in the photo on the left).
10. Get the pancake out of the pan and onto a plate.
11. Pour some sugar and lemon juice on the pancake.
12. Eat the pancake while trying to enjoy the taste and savor the moment.
13. Repeat steps 7 to 12 until you run out of pancake compound.

Final Notes:
No, there is no risk of me becoming a cook. I am still the clumsy person I've always been, a health and safety hazard around any kitchen. The above is just an example of the extremes I have to go to now that Jo is not fully functional and I have to take more of the cooking duties from her.
In fact, the above recipe is more than loosely based on Jo's pancake recipe, which I believe to be heavily associated with Jo mother's family pancake recipe. The anthropologists amongst thee will, no doubt, recognize the evolutionary steps taken by the recipe as it changed hands: Back in England it would use cow's milk and the lack of need for tastiness would mean the lemon would be replaced with something more mundane, whereas the transition between Jo and me saw the replacement of the basic flour rule of thumb - 4 tablespoons per egg - replaced with 3 ISO Moshe tablespoons per egg. That is simply because I have no idea how much a spoon of flour is but I can easily tell when there is no way the spoon will be able to carry more flour than it's already carrying.
Regardless of said analysis, this pancake recipe was the beginning of many a fine weekend morning. Highly recommended - simple, tasty, and not too unhealthy.

P.S.
While taking the pancake photos I took some photos of Jo and Indy. They're on my Flickr page under the "Characters" set (and I'm only mentioning this because it is pretty clear some of you haven't really figured out how the navigation works in Flickr, a conclusion that is easy to make once you see the statistics on how many times each photo was viewed).
While at it I will mention that you can also put your photos in Flickr: it's dead easy - all you need is a Yahoo account, which you probably have anyway - and it's free (the free version will only display your last 200 photos only, but 200 is better than 0). You can easily adjust security so that only your friends and family - say, me - can view your photos, in case you're worried about privacy.
Just a hint.