Sunday, 29 July 2007

R-Wards

As my spin off reviews blog, R-Views, is now celebrating its first birthday, I thought I should do a regular yearly awards thing to celebrate the stuff I have enjoyed the most. So here goes - the best of what I've seen or read during the year that was, the R-Wards.

Best Film: This R-Ward is given to the best film I have watched for the first time during the previous year. There were two contenders for the crown: Inside Man and Children of Men. The fact neither won particular acclaim from the establishment goes to show one thing or two about what I think of the establishment, but I'll leave it with that for now.
Overall, Children of Men is my winner, mostly because in a globalized world going through all sorts of breakdowns - global warming, terrorism, etc - it is a very relevant film. It is also a film I will remember as the source for the name Dylan.


Best Book: It is interesting to note that in general, books have received much better reviews than films in my blog. I suspect the main reason is that I am much more selective with books, given that they represent a higher investment as far as time is concerned. But I also feel that some of it has to do with the more intensive experience that is reading.
Two books I have read this year for the first time stood head, shoulders and crotch (for all it matters) above anything else. Interestingly enough, both were written by one Richard Dawkins. The first is the recently published The God Delusion, a book that involved a methodological dismantling of this thing called religion for the farce it is; the second is a book published 30 years ago called The Selfish Gene, which gives a pretty thorough answer to the question of why we are here and what we are here to do, as well as explain how and why we go about doing things. The icing on top of the Selfish Gene's cake is the new edition's chapter on why being nice and forgiving to one another pays off, which works well in settling the turmoils created by the book title (which caused a lot of anguish with people who read the book by title only).
So which book is the better book? There can be no doubt of The Selfish Gene winning by a knockout here for substance. However, the better written and more enjoyable to read The God Delusion reaps the R-Ward: published this year, it is very relevant and is "in the air".
Regardless of which of the two won, I think I can safely say Richard Dawkins has won his place in my head.


Best Review: This is a category where I pat myself in the back for writing a good review. As it has been my purpose to review anything I watch or read, it is hard to imagine I would be able to sustain good quality reviewing throughout; there were obviously ups and downs, mood variations, stuff I didn't have that much to say about, and times in which I didn't really have the time to write a proper review. It is also interesting to note that after a while I noticed the better reviews come when I take a while before writing the review, as opposed to getting to it immediately, as this allows things to digest in my head.
Anyway, there are several reviews I'm particularly proud of, but the one I like the most is the one where I have made a conscious effort to write a good review and actually think I fared very well. And so this R-Ward goes to me, for reviewing The Selfish Gene. Given its qualities, no other book or film deserves a well written review than The Selfish Gene.


Lifetime Achievement R-Ward: This R-Ward goes to whatever I liked the most which I have seen this year but not for the first time. While I have watched many repeats during the year, in my mind there can be only one winner.
Carl Sagan's Cosmos has entertained me many a time during my teens, but when I watched it again this year I was surprised to see how much more I can learn from it and how complete Sagan's presentation is.
Dare I say it's the best thing ever to grace my TV? I sure do.


Now for the future. With Dylan around, I doubt I would be able to repeat last year's collection of more than 150 reviews; I don't know many who could muster that on their own. I did enjoy it, though, and more importantly I did gain some new friends through the dialog created by these reviews. Through my reviews conclusiveness, one can get a glimpse of what my life was like during the past year. But with that said, I suspect the year to come will be a rather bleak one as far as reviews are concerned; I will probably only get to see the major blockbusters this year, rather than the really good hidden gems. Somehow, I don't think something like The Transformers deserves an R-Ward. But still, I shall let time do its trick.
Till next year...

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Defeat

Military analysts will probably ponder on it for a while: Was it like Rome's defeat at the hands of Hannibal? Was it more like Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo? Or was it was it as tight and gruesome as Rommel defeat at El Alamein?
Whichever way it was, we were defeated. On the night between Thursday and Friday Dylan was finally settled at 3:30am; by 5:30am he woke up for his next feed, and by 6:20am I had to start preparing for my first day at work. What an exciting night for all three of us!
The problem is all to do with the gas trapped in his stomach, and so far the only things that really seem to make a difference are a bath and a new settling technique we have devises in which we lay Dylan stomach down on our stomach and play with his legs or raise his rear part in order to release the gas. Think of Dylan as a horizontal bottle with bubbles trapped inside, anxious to go out, and you'll get the picture. However, as the following video shows, this said technique is far from full proof; it only seems to work when he's a bit sleepy already - i.e., after a feed. So without further ado, here's a real life video of how a baby with colic sounds like:

I do have to add that I find Dylan's overall behavior intriguing. Why, for example, is Dylan particularly grumpy in the afternoon - early night? He's hardly ever been out, but he still has some internal clock mechanism built into him. How did such a mechanism evolve is the question I find most fascinating! It appears the human body likes astronomy, because while Dylan adjusts himself to the sun's cycle women have their periods adjusted according to the moon's cycle.
These philosophical thoughts aside, I am troubled by the way our way of life is so unsuitable to raising children. We (as in people) are no longer social animals; each of us has their own enclave, so when the time comes to raise kids we don't really know what to do and we cannot effectively absorb this knowledge from the people around u, nor can we get direct help. The fact that I've dragged us all the way to Australia, which is the extreme example of this problem I'm talking about, just goes to show how the modern way of life is so unsuitable for raising kids.
And thus we keep on wondering how we're going to lead a sustainable life with full weeks of work ahead of me. My idea was to go to bed really early (and drastically reduce blogging), but the thing is Dylan is at his upset peak at that very time and even if Jo takes care of him on her own the noise levels are more than enough to keep me awake. And I don't want Jo to do it all on her own, either. Guess we'll have to wait and see what happens...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Battle Stations

Between Dylan keeping us awake (and deaf) till 2:30am last night and the nurse telling us today that it sounds as if he has severe colic, we switched on to battle stations tonight.
The following have been deployed:
1. Yellow Pages books have been stuck under Dylan's mattress to put it on an incline so he can better relax in his bed.
2. Colic relief remedy has been purchased from the pharmacy and is on standby. That said, it's one of those homeopathic things, which means that it's just as effective as giving him water and I can't believe I'm wasting my money on it, but at least it would keep us occupied: the instructions are to give the baby 1cc every half an hour four times in order to achieve the full placebo effect.
3. An armada of four dummies from three different manufacturers with different designs has been sterilized and as ready for action.
As I type, a wide bodies dummy has been deployed; things are still hectic and Dylan still refuses to go to sleep. The minute the dummy leaves his mouth he starts crying again.
Tomorrow I'm going back to work. I wonder if I'll make it through the day. I also wonder if Jo will.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Put the money in your pocket

Australia is an advanced country. Unlike backward countries such as the UK, France, Germany, the Scandinavians - or even Israel for that matter - Australia has no such thing as paid maternity leave. So, once you give birth, you don't only need to adjust to living with a child, you also need to adjust to living with one less income at a time in which you need an extra income instead.
What Australia does give you is a couple of financial aids. The first is the famous baby bonus, $4000 in cash with no means testing at all. What started as an election vote getter from the previous federal elections looks like it's here to stay! While having some of the pregnancy/birth costs reimbursed by this fee - and let me make it clear, those $4000 represent just some of the cost of the obstetrician alone, we're not talking about something that would repay our mortgage here - it is, in my opinion, a rather silly way of supporting parents. And the reason why I think it is rather silly is that I think people will not spend it wisely; those $4000 are much more likely to find themselves financing a long coveted plasma TV than securing the future of the new born.
The second thing the Australian government gives to families is fortnightly financial support. This time around it is means based, and there's this whole stupidly complicated mechanism of trying to estimate what your future income is going to be so that the government can estimate how much it should be paying you. If you underestimate your income, you will have to pay the government back! Given that at our income level this financial support comes down to $20 a fortnight, we have decided to just wait and get the money as a lump sum after we do our yearly tax returns.
The thing that amazes me with those two payments is that by handing the money out, the government has managed to buy the people. There is this huge bureaucratic mechanism for handling the distribution of money, costing probably in the billions to run, but what there isn't is the infrastructure that people really need. Allow me to explain:
Those $4000 and those fortnightly $20 are nothing in comparison to the money we will be spending on childcare - around $80 to $100 a day. Those $4000 and those fortnightly $20 are also nothing in comparison to the tens of thousands of dollars we will be losing because Jo cannot go back to work because there are no childcare places we can put Dylan in when Jo wants to go back to work in the first place!
What am I saying here? I'm saying that the Australian government should take those $4000 plus and stick it up its you know what. Instead, it should get a move on and provide the public with the facilities it really requires. Instead of a paperwork mechanism for controlling payments, it should generate affordable high quality childcare places, and instead of a baby bonus it should make sure that people do not have to fork out thousands of their own dollars in order to secure the services of a good obstetrician to support the birth.

But with all that being said, I'm still a greedy bastard who will take any dollar I can put my hands on. So, I went out and filled the form in order to receive the money from the government.
Question #2 out of the 25 or so items on the form said that I should call Centrelink before continuing with the form, in order for them to tell me what additional paperwork I should be providing with the form. Fine! So I called them on a Friday afternoon, expecting a five minute call. What I got instead was an almost hour long grilling.
The torture started with Centrelink's voice activated call handling mechanism. "Please state the purpose of your call", said the polite operator. Polite, but totally incapable of deciphering my accent! After a couple of attempts I have reverted to "fuck you" statements instead, which eventually worked because the computer just gave up and forwarded me to a real person to attend to my needs. Now, I am fully aware of my heavy accent; but in a country where %40 of the people are either immigrants or the direct descendants of immigrants, having such a n incapable and unusable system is a crime, incompetence at its best.
Still, that was nothing compared to the call itself. For 45 minutes, I went through an investigation that would put Guantanamo Bay to shame: It started by the woman attending me asking me the exact same things the form was asking me to provide anyway - things like our names and tax file numbers - but continued into the ridiculous with questions such as "when did you become an Australian citizen" and "when did you first enter Australia".
Now, call me what you will, but why do they need to know the date in which I first entered Australia if I am an Australian citizen? Either I am a citizen, or I am a blood sucking leech; only in Australia I can be both. This is how a country can institutionalize second class citizenship!
Stupidity didn't stop there. I was told to bring proof of citizenship (an Australian passport) with me when handing the forms over; I had to ask, out of my own initiative, whether I should also bring the passport I used in order to first enter Australia. "Of course!" was the answer; it obviously didn't occur to them that this passport would be different to my current Australian passport. At least they didn't want me to prove what my blood type was; they would have found out I'm a Mudblood and kicked me out of the country.
Anyway, with the completed form and all the required documents in hand I went over to a Medicare office to hand them over. There I was told that I actually need Dylan's birth certificate in order to get the money - something that wasn't mentioned over the phone, and something we might be receiving within a couple of months. Just great! I asked whether they are, at least, going to do something about adding Dylan to our Medicare account, and in an act of complete professionalism I was told "oh yeah, I'll do it for you now". They are just so good you even need to tell them what they are there to do!

Anyway, my point is: Australia is providing its citizens with lackluster support at a stupendous cost and through a highly inefficient mechanism.
Australia manages to get away with it through two things: The greed of the people, who can be bought with a few dollars more; and the ignorance of the people, who are simply unaware of what other governments, proper governments, are providing for their citizens.
There is plenty of room for progress in Australia.

When tears roll down

I have recently been accused: While I complain about the hardships of parenthood in this blog, my photos on Flickr portray a fairy tale like happy reality.
Well, first thing I would like to say is: Wrong! Some of the photos were actually taken while Dylan was loudly crying at our obvious attempts to take his life (that is, change his nappy). Take this photo, for example; the only thing missing is the soundtrack.
Then again, there is another problem with taking these reality photos: You usually don't have the camera ready during a crisis, you don't have it ready during the middle of the night, and generally speaking - during a crisis a camera is not the most helpful of tools.
What I did do, however, is take a short video of Dylan contending with his gas problems in the middle of the night. The video was taken after he was most of the way into being settled, but you can still see the poor fellow's annoyance with the enemy within (gas). Just a short disclaimer: there are more exciting videos out there.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Great Joyful Baby Swindle

As I have already said, I find that the myth of "joyful [and rewarding] baby raising" has just as much substance to support it as religion. It feels like it's all just one big conspiracy to ensure the survival of the species, because if people were truly aware what raising a child involves no one would do it. My manager at work put it as "giving up on your Lamborghini" the minute you get pregnant, but there's more to it than money. Think about it this way:
A newborn baby has to feed every 3 hours or so, on average. Between the nappy re-installation ritual, the feeding itself and the subsequent settling so the baby can go back to sleep (that's all babies do for at least their first six weeks), each feed takes about an hour of your time - and that's when things go smoothly and the baby settles. Which, not surprisingly, is far from being the case - especially in the afternoons/evening.
So there go at least 8 hours of your day plus a bit of overtime. But one shouldn't look at it this way: those 8 hours span all over the day and night; they do not fit nicely to the middle of the day, and they do not include lunch breaks.
Things, of course, don't just end there. In between feeds there's plenty of other stuff to do. Where shall we start? There's the preparation of the food: in our case, Jo's expressing milk, which takes her something like four hours per day. There's the washing and the sterilizing of all the milk involving tools and bottles, which - given the high number of daily feeds - really amount to more than an hour of your time per day.
One activity that takes an incredible amount of time is clothes handling. Because of the baby's lack of cooperation, each time you dress him takes time and effort (our backs will never be the same). And given the baby's indiscriminate peeing, there is quite a turnover of cloths, and so the washing machine is now running on a daily basis instead of just twice a week - and it's still not enough for it to keep up with demand (it's the drying that limits capacity, and we try to avoid using a dryer). And there are new horizons to explore in the laundry department, as some time Dylan doesn't only settle with peeing on his clothes! Chemicals do a good job of handling those, so things are not as bad as they may sound.
The amount of indirect servicing operations a baby requires is just incredible. From visiting a shopping mall at a quarterly frequency, we've gone to several times a week - just to keep up with ongoing demand for stuff the baby needs. I'll give you a rather stupid example, but it will show you the extent of where things are heading: because our garbage bin is now full of disposed nappies, it no longer has he capacity to hold the weeds we remove from our garden. As a result, I had to order a garden waste bin from the local council today, at a cost of $66. And those $66 are just a pale shadow of the total amount of money that has been pouring out of our wallets since Dylan has arrived, none of which has contributed to us being in any way happier.
And after messing about with all the indirect stuff, you need to do some stuff for yourself: things like eating and sleeping. Don't even think of proper leisurely activities, and don't even think about doing things like eating at the times in which you should be doing them; you're no longer the master of your domain. You're now doing things when the baby allows you to do so, so as a result you will not eat on time until the baby grows (don't ask me by how much - we're taking it one day at a time for now). And even if you sleep the hours you need, you do them at two hour intervals, which doesn't really coincide with an adult homo sapiens' sleep cycle requirements. The result is that when I do sleep, I sleep like a brick. All I remember is getting in bed and then being awoken by a screaming baby; dreaming is very rare, which translates to being constantly tired. Welcome to the world of the eternal jet lag!
So far we've discussed the way things go along when things are going on well. But what if they don't? Well, we already have a bit of a test case on our hands, because Dylan has a case of colic and you can clearly see him struggle with gas trapped in his stomach while he sleeps. Then again, when that happens, his sleep is interrupted, and then we - as parents - are called into action. During the making of this post alone I had to stop for a couple of hours in order to comfort / settle Dylan, so far to no avail (Jo is currently working on it as I type). The official instructions say "settle them in their cot, stroke them for 20 minutes". Does it work? Well, no, unless the purpose of the engagement was to make your back hurt while bending over the cot or unless what you wanted is to spend some more of the most precious resource a parent has - spare time. We called our pediatrician who scorned us, saying it's always first time parents that get colic kids. Such a helpful person! He recommended the dummy (aka pacifier). Sounds good, only that dummies require a ten minute sterilization treatment prior to each use, and it only takes Dylan two minutes until he spits it out or pulls it out with his hands.

So - what do you get back from raising a baby?
The way I see it, the return on investment nowadays - as opposed to the times in which children were required in order to run the family farm - is stupidly low. What you do get, as far as I can tell, are two things. First, you get to satisfy the hard wired urges your genes gave you to go forth and multiply: you wouldn't be here today if your genes didn't program your ancestors to do so, and for most of the people I know their unconditional love for kids can only be explained through this urge.
The second thing you get is the satisfaction of the "been there, done that" type when you do a good job, along the lines of the satisfaction you get when you climb up the Everest. In order for this to work - and let me put it this way, I hope it would work because I'm not such a big fan of satisfying my genes' urges - you have to learn to become satisfied with the small things. Just managed to put the baby into the cot and the baby's actually asleep so you can go forth and blog? Rejoice with this small victory, because that's temporary.

So that's where I stand, taking those small things in. A lot of it is to do with your state of mind: once you realize that life as you know it is over, and that from now on a satisfying moment is when you manage to feed your baby without ending with milk all over you or when you get to the next nappy change to find that nothing has slipped through the baby's protective layer, then you're ok. Just don't fall for the prevailing memes and expect a heavenly experience once your baby arrives, because it's just like religion and heaven is only a place invented in people's heads (give me a call when somebody actually comes back to say what it's like).
I'm actually quite happy to report that at last, I have someone that seems content to listen to my singing. By now I have an ever growing repertoire, featuring a variety of covers from Paul Simon through Tears for Fears and Led Zeppelin. And there are even some original pieces!
Jo has filmed one of my sessions, but as much as I'm willing to live with some humiliation there's just that much I can take. Let me put it this way: the milder reaction triggered by my singing is along the lines of "not that there's anything wrong with it".
And there are also some properly nice moments, like when I held Dylan in my hands and rocked him to the rhythm of Supergrass' Mary - a personal tribute to a team member at work that left last week. Dylan just loves the guitar riff!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

The Things You Do for Love

If I get the time to do so, this will be the first of several - potentially a great many - posts on the down sides of raising babies. Everybody tells you that it's "joyful", but let me give you this: I can clearly see how the ad promoting the myth of raising children was written, produced and directed by the same people who brought you religion.
This time around I'll just focus on one thing we will be giving up on: going out. And the reason I think about it now is because there are already ads on the radio for The Police, live at the MCG on January. Now, I really like Sting and I have all of his CD's, but as much as I love him I love The Police even more: together with Dire Straits and Pink Floyd, they were amongst the very first bands I truly liked. Message in a Bottle is one of my all time favorite songs, and Stewart Copeland was the first ever to make me notice what can be done with drums. Even today I rank him amongst the three best drummers ever (a list that is obviously topped by John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), who is followed by Ginger Baker (Cream)).
Anyway, the point is that The Police is an act I would truly want to see. Now, I don't know if I truly would have gone to see them even if I could; the MCG is too huge (90,000 capacity) to enjoy a rock show in, ticket prices tend to be prohibitive, and most of all my ears can no longer stand PA grade speakers (the main reason why I no longer go to live shows in general). But at least I would have had the choice.
The same actually applies to cinema. We wanted to see the new Harry Potter, not because we think it would be a good film but because it's a Harry Potter; I also wanted to see The Transformers more than meets the eye Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decipticons, but as with the Harry Potter we'll have to settle for the DVD. Eventually.

Obviously, we need to adjust, and we're already working on it. The video below shows how we entertain ourselves now, in between (and even during) feeds: by me reading the new Harry Potter book to Dylan. Jo says she likes it as well, although I think I suck at reading aloud.

In case you're curious, so far Dylan thinks the book continues the deterioration trend of the Harry Potters: gone is the original witty spirit; instead you get 10 new characters introduced on every page, with whatever remaining wit wasted on those character names. Instead of us forming an impression on someone by their actions or their attributes, Rowling now settles things by telling us they're "evil".
That's more or less the way Dylan puts it, but just like me he's still interested in the book out of the soap opera point of view: he wants to know what happens at the end.

First outings

Our daily routines have been quite shattered of late. I have tons of things to blog about, but no time to actually type.
Take, for example, Friday's going about: The first video here shows you the first nappy exchange, featuring Jo's now very proficient handiwork. Just look how easily she installs the new diaper on Dylan! Obviously, the main attraction of the video is Dylan himself, who sounds like we're killing him.

The second video was taken after he was fed, showing how we tuck him in bed. That is, how we tuck him in bed when he's cooperating, because by now he has gas problems that mean he doesn't really like being horizontal. He also is quite way too active in the afternoon; that's danger time for us.

Later on Friday we actually went out and took Dylan on his very first outing ever. We took him to Bunnings, where we got new floor mats for the main doorway after I dirtified the old ones with dog shit (read the previous post for details). Yes, this is the exciting life we lead! You might think nothing of it, but going out with Dylan is a major project. It's not just all the logistics and stuff we need to take with us (pram, extra diapers), but also the timing: you don't want to take him out just before he needs his feed!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Histalechrenoot

Back in my teens my father bought me this science fiction book after he heard on the radio that it was a best seller and because he knew I love science fiction. The book was called Coils, or in Hebrew - Histalechrenoot, and it was co-written by one of my all time favorite authors, Roger Zelazny.
At the time I really liked the book. I still have the same copy with me today, and one of the items in my to-do list is to reread the book and see what I think of it today. From what I remember, it tells the story of a guy who is a bit of a superhero - he is able to mentally synchronize himself to computers and order them to do stuff - and his just fight with the authorities. Or so I think; you'll have to excuse me if this has nothing to do with what the book really is about.
The main reason why I still think about the book is that I often find myself trying to Coil my way into computer systems and understand how they work, or even coil my way into designing a computer system. After all, this is what I do for work. I often try and Coil my way into other stuff, too: I find that I Coil with cars , for example, and get to feel them with time so that every squeak they make gets a meaning of its own and I know just when things go wrong and just what the car is going to do. This Coiling effect is, actually, one of the things I like the most about gadgets in general: this process of getting to know them as complex objects and get to understand how to get the most out of them.
Lately, however, we have ourselves a new gadget at home that I need to Coil with. His name is Dylan, and I have to give it to him: he is a hard gadget to Coil with.
Now, usually if you read a book about raising children/babies, the book will say that when you bring a child home and start to interact with him/her on a regular basis as a part of the day to day routine, you "bond" with the child. That's fine, only that at this stage I don't think there's much of a "bonding" taking place between me and Dylan; I think that at this stage it's mostly a one way street, and it's me trying to decipher what Dylan is up to and respond to the best of my abilities. In a word, I'm doing my best to Coil with Dylan.
My best, however, is far from being enough. Let's take nappy changes, for example: While by now Jo has become the master, coolly replacing Dylan's nappy even while he's shitting all over the place, I still have a problem coordinating it all - the removal of the clothes, the taking off of the old nappy, the wiping of the leftover, the fitting of the new nappy. I can do it, but there's always something amiss: it either takes me too much time and Dylan ends up peeing all over the place, or I put the nappy less than optimally and the next time we go to attend Dylan we find that he's on the wetter side of neutral.
One area we did Coil is feeding and the subsequent settling. At least for now; you never really know why he's unsettled. On Dylan's first day at home, where we had to start using home bottles (as opposed to the hospital bottles he got used to; he still won't breastfeed), we tried several different bottles fitted with several different nipples on him. At the hospital they used narrow bottles with fast flowing nipples because they mostly handle premature babies who have a hard time sucking; but by now, while still being pre his due date, Dylan is powerful enough to properly feed himself from a bottle, and so the fast flowing bottles give him gas and end up in a miserable eating experience - both for him and for us. Thus we have found, using trial and error Coling, Dylan's preferred bottle and nipple combo, as well as some effective ways to make him burp.
It all is still very time consuming, repetitive and tiring. My back really aches; I don't have much time to read in bed on my stomach in the way the physios have recommended I stretch my spine. What I do do quite a lot lately is bend down in all sorts of weird way in order to feed Dylan in his preferred positions, burp him, change him, etc. And it hurts! Take note, would be parents: work on your back before you give birth!
Having some time for ourselves is a rare event. Today we were thinking of going out for a walk because the sun has decided to come out, but when I went out to throw Dylan's latest deposit to the bins I stepped on some dog shit. By the time Jo noticed what I have done there was dog shit all over the house, so I had to spend a few hours cleaning the place up; by the time we finished that, and between all the other parenting duties, sunset has already taken place.

Someone has recently commended me on entering the most rewarding time of my life with Dylan's birth. I don't know if that was a serious comment or not, but I can tell you this: at this stage, the relationship I see between "baby" and "rewarding" is very much an oxymoron.

God bless you, Richard Dawkins

Today's feature letter in The Age, entitled "God bless you, Richard Dawkins", made me laugh. It's your classic case of reviewing a book (in this case, Dawkins' The God Delusion) by name only. I didn't ask The Age for permission, but I will still copy and paste it here so that we can all have ourselves a good laugh:

IN stirring the God pot, Richard Dawkins has unwittingly accomplished more for the cause of faith than we "God-types", namely to generate some public debate on the nature of faith.
But let's bring the discussion into the 21st century, because the only God being shot down on these pages is one that progressive theologians since Galileo have been trying to topple for centuries. Atheism is an articulation of negation — "There isn't a God" — rather than an exploration into what is, specifically in relation to consciousness. Atheism is nothing more and nothing less than the assertion that consciousness arises solely from the interaction of chemicals, of matter and energy.
A belief in God, by contrast, simply begins with a sense that consciousness represents something "more". Some atheists will articulate this, but many are not even aware that this is atheism's most basic assumption.
Let's get into it, but let's talk quantum theology, not ancient superstition. If you're going to take pot shots at believers, at least get real about the God you don't believe in.
Rob Sutherland, Blackburn South

I will stick to saying two things in relation to this letter.
First, regarding the atheism as a "there isn't a god" only policy. Any atheist with a head on their shoulder will never categorically say "there is no god"; what they will say, and what Dawkins says in his book, is that the likelihood of god existing is very low. Spectacularly low. So low that we can safely say there is no god, even if we cannot disprove its existence.
It is important to realize that our inability to disprove something does not prove its existence. When we talk about "god", most of us think of the Judeo-Christian model; however, just as I am unable to disprove the Judeo-Christian god, I am also unable to disprove the gods that we all dismiss today as bullshit man-made stories like Thor or Zeus; nor am I able to disprove the gods that were invented as a pure joke, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Celestial Teapot.
No one who is right in the head claims the Spaghetti Monster to be the one true god, yet no one can disprove it; theoretically, there is the slightest of chances that it is the one true god, but no one believes in it because this probability is so impractically low. Now extrapolate the spaghetti model to the Judeo-Christian god and see what atheists are really saying.

Second, regarding the point on atheism downgrading consciousness to being the result of chemical interaction only: If it is not the result of chemical interactions, then what is it a result of? Religious people pop up and say the word "soul", but no one has yet to be able to demonstrate even the slightest evidence for the existence of such a thing.
The materialistic model, however, suffers no such problems. To point at a few issues the model easily explains, I'll start with it perfectly explaining how we get to be what we are using some hereditary information (DNA) and some raw building blocks (food). I'll move to the way it explains why we are so similar to the rest of our fellow apes (the 99% DNA similarity between us and the chimpanzees, for example; no one claims chimpanzees have a soul). And I'll conclude with the way drugs affect our consciousness: one doesn't need to go down illegal drugs to see how they can mess up one's consciousness by affecting the chemical composition of one's body; cigarettes and alcohol will do just fine.
Obviously, if tomorrow we will find evidence for this thing called "soul" I'd be more than happy to take it and study it. Till then, however, I will classify the soul under the same category as the spaghetti monster.

The underlying assumption in Mr Sutherland's letter is still quite interesting, though. Basically, he says that because we do not yet know how consciousness works, a god has to be there behind the scene to make sure it works.
Obviously, Mr Sutherland didn't do his history homework that well. He forgot that once upon a time not that long ago people thought the planets were pushed in their orbits by angels, whereas today we have Newton's gravity doing the job; Newton has made the angels' job redundant. He forgot that people used to think that flowers blossom because god makes them blossom, whereas today we have hormones in charge; and he forgot that today we have IVF to take care of conception.
Basically, Mr Sutherland's god is a god of constant shrinkage. The more science discovers, the smaller the role his god has in this world. And when, eventually, we decipher how consciousness truly works - in the same way we have discovered how ancestors pass information down the generations using DNA - Mr Sutherland's god will shrink just a bit more.
Mr Sutherland should talk to George Costanza. George can tell him a thing or two about shrinkage.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Orson Scott Card

Actually, this post has nothing to do with Scott Card, who wrote a few science fiction books I that I like; it's just that I wanted to discuss greeting cards and I couldn't find any other witty heading. Hope Mr Card will forgive me the way he forgives gay people.
Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Today I scanned all the birthday cards we got for Dylan (including the one we have received today) and uploaded them into our Flickr page. The intention is to be able to use the cards as memorabilia long after the cards themselves have been chucked into the recycling bin. However, during the process of scanning the cards, I thought of two things that are worthy enough to merit a post on my blog.

The first one is to do with the division of the cards' sources. Or rather, the lack of a potentially "high revenue" source of cards: while we received several cards from English family members and several cards from Aussie friends, we have received none from Israel. Which comes as no surprise to me, because of several reasons: First, my Israeli friends probably know what my opinion on greeting cards is (given the relative complexity of this opinion, which has been discussed in this blog in the past, I'll spare you the repeat; it could also be too easily misinterpreted by a casual reader of this blog, and since Dylan came to be there are enough of those around for me to be cautious).
And second, and probably much more importantly, cards are not an enshrined cultural habit in Israeli culture. Sure, people send them, but it's more to do with "being like the Americans we see in the films and on TV". One thing I have learnt since coming to Australia is that here you get cards left and right: for Christmas (even if you have no idea what it's about), for birthdays, for when you fart - they're everywhere; whereas in Israel everyone is much more matter of fact oriented and there's no bullshitting around: if something nice happened to you, people will tell you Mazal Tov in your face. Readers of this blog have probably realized that with all the criticism I have towards Israel and with me not seeing myself attached to Israel anymore (apart from my family and friends), I am definitely an Israeli in the cutting to the chase department.
Interestingly enough, cards used to be a part of the Israeli culture once upon a time. I remember that when I was a child, it was still customary to post Shana Tova ("happy new year", the Jewish version) cards to one another. However, by the time I hit my teen years this habit was virtually gone, together with quite a lot of the rest of the naivety that was there since the state of Israel was established in 1948. Call it an effect of wars and occupation if you will.

The second thing I noticed while scanning the cards is much more trivial, yet it is another revealing point on how cultural differences mean that things certain people take for granted get a very different interpretation by other people.
The British side of the family tends to sign off their cards with X's. The same applies to their SMS's: they end with stuff like "love, mum XXX".
Now, call me a pervert, but when I see a standalone "X" I immediately think about X-rated stuff. As in, porn. And when I see "XXX", I immediately think along the lines of "ooh la la, this must be something very spicy" (but not spicy in the food department). Yet, according to Jo, all these X's are supposed to stand in for kisses (or that's what she says in order for me to believe she doesn't come from a country of perverts).
Anyway, my point is that whenever I see those X's at the end of a letter it makes me laugh. Cultures are such a weird thing! At this point I thought of moving on to discuss Carl Sagan's evolutionary explanation for why cultures came to be, but I'll spare you that. For now.

With love, Moshe, XXX.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Bring it on home

Using the title of one of my all time favorite songs is not something to be taken lightly, given the risk of overusing it. But I guess I can get away with it now, simply because there won't be many other occasions in which a new member of the family is going to come home with us.
So yes, Dylan was discharged from the hospital this morning. As you can see in the Flickr photos that I'll upload soon, we dressed him up in a rocket cow suit ($10 at Aldi) after trying to fit him with this sweater first but the sweater was too thick for the suit. Then we stuck him in the car capsule while still at the nursery, and away we went.
Dylan slept most of the way home with only slight whimpers from time to time. His face did wear a tighter expression once he was out of the hospital for the very first time: it's peak winter now in Melbourne, and it has been a particularly miserable day today.
The drive itself was interesting, since I don't remember the last time I was driving such a VIP. I can see why parents driving their babies are more accident prone: with every noise he makes, your basic instinct is to look at him and see that he's ok, but what you really need to do if you love your child is focus on the driving and let him have a fit if that's what he desires at the time.
Then we got home and fit him in the cot (with more photos to come to Flickr). We've connected our baby monitor, and it seems to be paying off in the confidence department: you don't need to be worried in the "is he still breathing" department, because the monitor shows you that he does.
Jo has had the privilege of doing the first home nappy change, as I'm too slow and too awkward (as usual with everything that requires hands). By the time I sort myself out, Dylan just pees all over himself, which - while warm and nice to touch - is not the best thing ever, and provides quite a mighty contribution to the workload of our washing machine.
So I'm currently off work for a week and a half. We'll see how this story is to continue...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Second bath

Dylan has had is second bath ever last night, and as we had our roles reversed and this time Jo did the washing while I did the camera-ing, we actually have it on tape (or rather on an SD memory card).
My brother popped up for a visit in the middle of the bath. It was the first time he got to see Dylan, so that's also on tape to one extent or another. What is also on tape is some Hebrew dialog between us, and that's something I'm only mentioning because I suspect that for most of these clips' viewers this would be their first exposure ever to Hebrew dialog.
Given the bath's length I had to cut the clip into two 6 minute plus clips:

Pirates ahoy

According to an article in The Age, close to 20% of Australians download illegal material through the web, a ratio second only to the UK. I don't know if places like Israel were included in the survey or whether it was a red neck survey only, though.
The conclusion, however, is imminent: 80% of Australians are either ignorant or lacking in means.

Disclaimer: Being ignorant is not a crime. I consider myself ignorant about most things.

Friday, 13 July 2007

First bath

Dylan has had his first bath ever yesterday.
Now, I don't tend to put much importance to such events; hopefully, that would be one of many baths/showers he'll have in his lifetime. However, a few weeks ago I visited this ear doctor, and while chatting to him after the main appointment has finished and after I told him we're pregnant, his advice to me was to "make sure you do the baby's first bath". I asked why is it so important, and he said it's a very important bonding experience. I asked why it is more important than, say, the second or third baths, and he didn't really know. He only did the very first bath; his wife did all the rest. QED.
So yes, yesterday we finally got the green light do wash Dylan (aka Indy) for the first time after he finished off with the blue lights. Sadly, we don't have photos of this major bonding event, because the person who was in charge of the event's photography failed to take any photos of Dylan's rather bewildered expression as he encountered water for the first time. Now I won't name that person here, but I will say she is the mother. What we do have, though, are some pre/post photos of the bath which I have already put on Flickr.
What I can provide here and now are a couple of videos taken before the bath, while we were waiting for Dylan to wake up for his feed. On both occasions he was having a bit of a fit and I was expecting him to wake up, yet instead he just fell asleep again. Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Sleep sliding away

One of the things everybody has been telling us before Dylan came out was to sleep while we can. As in, usually this comment would come right after asking whether it's a boy or a girl, which in turn was followed by asking whether we have a name in mind, and if party was from "my side" it was then followed by asking about circumcision arrangements (note I have no idea whether the "other side" was discussing crucifixion arrangements; not that there's much to discuss).
In typical fashion I didn't follow suit. There are just too many nice things to do out there than waste the time sleeping, and that's saying something because I really like to sleep. I mean, I'm not John Lennon, but the one sport I'm actually good at is sleeping late on a weekend. But then any plans I might have had of sleeping a bit more before Dylan arrives were shattered when Dylan decided to take us by surprise. In fact, that sleepless night when Jo's water broke was a night that was scheduled for a long 7 hour plus sleep (which gives you an indication on my normal sleeping habits), as the couple of nights before I've had really short sleeps after succumbing to the charms of the internet and blogging yet again.
I think you can still argue I was prepared for limited sleep time once the baby arrives, at least at the recognition level. What I wasn't prepared for is this no sleep time problem hitting us big time while the baby is not at home yet - but it has!
Life sure is hectic at the moment: There are milk midnight expresses using a very noisy electric pump; we haven't really recovered from the lack of sleep due to the birth itself yet; there's getting up at 4:30 in the morning (I'm lying; it's actually 4:35) to get to the hospital before traffic clogs us for hours and while there is still parking around. And then there are tons of arrangements we need to do at home - washing up, preparing clothes for Dylan, or even actually taking care of ourselves - you know, eating and stuff. We can easily see the attraction of fast food from where we're standing now!
Between all of these we're finding ourselves settling for 4 to 5 hours of interrupted sleep per night. Things like reading or watching TV are not on the agenda; not necessarily because we don't have the time, but rather because we're so tired and worried and all that barring the occasional toilet reading I haven't been mentally able to read anything at all for a week now!
The little sleep we do get is of the very deep type, where you sleep like a brick and wake up from feeling as if you were shot when the alarm goes on. Arguments like "I'll go to bed in an hour because in half an hour I need to do something" no longer apply; if you have the time to sleep, you go to sleep, otherwise you'll pay with interest.
So yes, I'm amazed at how quickly I have become a living zombie. And what scares me the most is that number three is not home yet! What will be of us then?

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Saturday Night Fever

Here we go with a collection of videos taken during the weekend, demonstrating our practice sessions of handling Dylan under the guidance of the hospital nurses. The videos are pretty boring; I guess they serve mostly as a piece of history rather than entertainment.
The first video shows you Dylan in his very first suntan session ever with some very sexy lighting and even sexier sunglasses.

The second video provides an interesting demo of tag team nappy replacement. It features Jo and another super friendly nurse that even took the photos of me holding Dylan later. And in case you're wondering about my role, well, someone had to hold the camera! I admit it: at this point in time I have a problem with changing the nappies. There's this sense of convulsion in my stomach, and it is not aided by Dylan's protests.

The third video shows Jo feeding Dylan with a bottle.

And the fourth and last video shows me trying (emphasis on "trying") to feed Dylan after he already had the bit Jo gave him and wasn't hungry in the least. I have to warn you: this is a 10 minute video with nothing in it but fruitless attempts; not even a happy ending. It just demonstrates the no-gratitude nature of baby work.

One of the things hydrogen atoms can achieve given 14 billion years of cosmic evolution

The above quote comes from Carl Sagan’s closing comments for Cosmos (I’m sure I got it a bit wrong but not by much). And I’m stating it here to show that this blog is not about to go to the dogs and turn into a pootsie-mootsie (aka cutie-cutie) baby blog, because one of the things you can clearly see with this whole birth and baby thing is just how right Darwin was. So right I’m very much amazed no one has thought of evolution before him given its stupendous simplicity.
The birth process demonstrates why humans are the most dominant species on this planet, at least as far as thinking of themselves as such: our big brains are so good at what they’re doing that they’re worth the price of pretty horrible births (which, up until 150 years or so ago, used to claim quite a lot of lives). The fact that the pain is all but forgotten a day after the birth and requires photography for the purpose of recollection, as well as society in general being totally ignorant of the pain, shows just how much our genes control us – and it’s the genes that forget the pain that have survived.
Then you look at the baby and see how closely it is related to our cousins, the rest of the animals. As I already said, the way it comes out of the womb is nothing but unique and resembles the birth of a calf quite a lot; as Richard Dawkins likes to say, a Martian zoologist would classify us as practically the same.
The way the baby holds on to things as strongly as it could is a reminder of the times we used to spend up trees, where falling was not an option and clinging to the mother monkey style was the order of the day. Jo has also noted how similar the crying when hungry instinct is to the way chicks call on their mother bird for a feed, triggering the same emotions in the parent.
Actually, I don’t need to look that far to see evolutionary effects. I was never a big fan of babies and I was always pretty bad with children (even when I was one). However, I do find Dylan to be really cute, by far cuter than the rest of the babies around him. And the fact that I notice our common features first – the big chicks, split chin (and double chin, too, but that’s not a hereditary feature), nose and ears gives away the source of my emotions. I have already discussed why a baby should look similar to his/her father, but there’s more to it: this strange sensation of having to take extra care for myself to ensure I’ll be there for Dylan is too strong for me to ignore.
I know that most people have different stories (may I call them delusions?) regarding the source of all these anecdotal emotions; I just find it all to scream of Selfish Genes.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Robot Chicken

We spent the entire long weekend at the hospital - from Friday to Monday morning. I did get to go out a bit: I walked the 10 minute walk from the hospital to work on Friday and again on Monday, but other than that we were locked in - all three of us.
It's not as bad as it sounds: the hospital is a private one, so the compensation for the thousands of dollars the private insurance policy sucks of us is in the form of motel like conditions. We had a private room with three decent meals per day (other than when they thought we moved to another room and forgot all about us; after complaining we got the wrong order, and after that they looked at us in a rather weird fashion - I was looking for signs of spit in my food).
Dylan was close to us at the nursery, and during Saturday and Sunday we spent our days according to his routine: basically, three hour feeds which meant we popped by at the right time - just as he started complaining (like clockwork, might I add), struggle at undressing him, struggle even more at changing his nappy (with protests on his behalf much stronger than the ones raised by Chamberlain back in 1939), at then struggle to feed him (mainly through the bottle). Throughout the process we were helped by the nurses surrounding us, so when - say, it was taking me 15 minutes just to remove Dylan's "suit" and singlet they would jump over and do the same in 15 second. And when Dylan would suck out of the bottle or fall asleep they would switch some invisible button as they'd take him away from us and feed him just as much as they wanted.
They claim that if we persevere we will learn this art of witchery too, but I'm quite skeptic. At the moment, Jo & I just manage the simple stuff if we do it as team work: I hold his legs and provide some support while Jo wipes and puts on a new nappy, etc.
Burp time is particularly amusing. They taught us to hold him by the jaw, but I'm still absolutely confident that I'm actually strangling the boy. And besides, this whole burp thing sounds like a conspiracy to me: do the babies really burp? Sure, from time to time they do (sometime with immense recoil - once he just flow out of my hands and bumped himself on the incubator wall), but most of the time you have to have some stupidly sensitive seismic equipment to detect anything; I'm sure it's just an ant on the other room sneezing, not a burp.
Talking incubator, Indy (oops! Dylan) is changing by the hour. He's much louder and much more aware, given limitations; yesterday we even saw him raising his head while lying on his stomach. With all of his wriggling around while laying on his back, Dylan looks like a chicken; thus he was named Robot Chicken by me (a recommended watch, by the way).
Most of his weekend was spent under UV lights in an attempt to address his yellow fever (it's actually called jaundice, but yellow fever sounds much sexier - that is, as long as you don't actually have yellow fever). Lots of babies have it, and the solution is to "sunbath" them so the evil chemical that causes them to be yellowish is broken down by the lights. They put these goggles on him so he looks really funny - check the photos on Flickr soon.
This morning Jo was discharged, so now we're starting this weird routine of having a baby by remote control. Jo will spend most of her day at the hospital while I'm at work now, until we get to be "real" parents.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The Day After

Thanks for all the shows of support. It’s great to see we have so many friends! It’s also quite amazing they can all share videos and photos so quickly while, say, my parents will probably wait 3-4 weeks before they get a few prints by mail.
I’ll apologize here and now for not responding personally to each and every comment, but I suspect you won’t hold the grudge.

As for the latest news, overnight Dylan’s sugar levels have stabilized so he’s been taken out of his tropical vacation at the incubator and removed from all the meters they had him connected to. He still has a pipe up his nose for feeding, though…
His head is slowly losing its long Alien like shape to become more earthly like. At this stage the similarities I can detect are a nose very much like my brother’s and his son when they were young (only a bit wider, like my own) and my trademark huge ears. And, of course, the Alien head; I wonder which side of the family has that in their genes.
We actually had some sleep, for a change, but even that was interrupted by feeding attempts. At this stage it looks like breastfeeding will not come easily, but maybe it is just a question of time.
Jo is obviously still hurting from the ordeal, but given what she went through I think she’s doing very well. Her expected discharge time from the hospital is Monday morning.
We’re both staying at the hospital over the weekend (or should say “us three” instead?). If you’re on the same continent as us you’re welcome to drop by…

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Birth of the Cool


So: Dylan came into the world today at 6:30am following a text book like labor experience in length (13.5 hours) and character. The birth was fully natural.
The birth was also by far the most gruesome event I ever witnessed. It's not just the atrocities you witness before your very eyes, it's also the fact that they take place to the person you love the most and also the fact that I found myself as useful as a lamp post during the delivery (that is, a wandering dog might have found me interesting, but that's it).
I took photos of the entire birth process at the hospital. Most of the photos are family only; some of them are photos that no one other than Jo will ever watch.
I also learned a lot of things about babies tonight, including that when they are being born they do not look like mini versions of you and I (the way movies portray). Rather, they are born very purple. The entire delivery looks much more like the way I remember documentaries to portray the birth of a, say, calf rather than the way movies portray the birth of humans. Goes to show something about the lengths we go to deceive ourselves.
Anyway, the first movie shows you Dylan very soon after the birth was over. Jo is very much ok, other than the obvious bruises one would take after giving birth (that is, I don't know how she managed it). I think I can fairly say she's my hero, and no - I'm not biased here.

The second video shows Dylan at the official weighing ceremony (3.344kg). I apologize: at the end of the video I was busy switching to my SLR and forgot to stop the film rolling, so there's a bit of a weird end to that video.
Dylan was born very healthy indeed according to all the tests they did to him so far. However, being that he's premature, there are 3 issues with him at the moment:
1. His lungs are not fully developed yet, so he makes these weird noises (which you can hear on the third video) as he struggles for air. Tests show he has perfect oxygen levels in his blood, though.
2. He does not have the energy to suck, so the poor fellow is being fed throw a pipe up his nose.
3. He is unable to maintain his temperature due to low sugar levels.

As a result of these issues, Dylan was put at the hospital's nursery (check the Flickr photos (no time for comments there yet) and the third video)). Which is very strange: we have ourselves a baby boy, but he's not with us! Dylan is expected to stay at the nursery for 1-2 weeks.
Bottom line is that after two sleepless nights we're dazed and confused, and with the baby's relative absence (we can visit him whenever we want) it all feels very surreal.

Vote Labor?

As I'm typing this, Jo is sitting/standing/moaning next to me during the early stages of labor.
I, on the other hand, keep track of labor pain durations on an Excel spreadsheet while reading to Jo the latest amusing comment from Haim to keep her occupied.
Anyway, a couple of comments about this labor thing:
1. Labor = proof there's no such thing as a loving god or an intelligent designer.
2. I'm supposed to be of help at this time, but I'm so tired I'm even more useless than I usually am (hence the blogging). I need someone to look after me, not the other way around. At least I've had a couple of hours of sleep so I'd be able to drive to the hospital.

Exciting times ahead.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Independence Day

Jo's water broke tonight at around 1 AM, exactly five weeks ahead of the due ETA.
My theory is that Indy wanted to signal us that he prefers to be called Indy given that it's Independence Day today (USA - 4th of July - get it?). Only that he forgot that we're not Americans, and besides: they're now shooting Indiana Jones 4, and between Harrison Ford's age and the quality of the series' third episode, maybe it's better if we do not call him after Mr Jones. So from now on, Dylan's the name.
Anyway, Jo called the hospital and they told us to come over immediately, which actually was the case given the zero traffic on the roads. There they had a look and indeed verified that the leak was to do with the breaking of the water, which means that the baby's due any time now; only that Jo is not in birth contraction mode yet, so after a sleepless night where Jo was monitored on a hospital bed and I was lying on this chair that converts into a bed we were told that we're better off going home till labor starts.
Oh yeah: If it doesn't start on its own, the baby will be induced on Friday morning. I would have preferred Saturday because that would mean a birth date of 7/7/07, but I don't think the obstetrician particularly likes the idea of working on the weekend (that last sentence was a joke, in case you didn't get it; my opinion on attributing importance to dates should be very well known to readers of this blog, it's just that I like to be sarcastic from time to time).
For the record, we were told that it seems to baby is doing fine and that given his larger than average size the under-cooking should not be a problem. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Moving on to the subject of photos:
Naturally, photos from tonight have already been posted on Flickr. However, given the nature of these photos, I have made them available only to family members. If you want to see them, you will need to have yourself a Flickr account, which is the same as a Yahoo account (which you probably already have, but in case you don't - click here). After your account has been established you will need to email me your Flickr user account name and I will add you as a contact; the type of contact I make you (either Family, Friend, or just a plain contact) will determine which photos you'd be able to see.
Kapish? I suspect that the family members for whom this is primarily intended will not be reading this anyway, but at least you can't say I haven't tried.

Anyway, the bottom line is that we have already had our last long sleep ever.
Life as we know it is over.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Breakdown

We seem to be going through a phase lately where things around the house break down on us, as if challenging us to repair them before we become permanently disabled with a baby. The thing that gets me the most about it is the paralyzing effect I seem to go through whenever something beyond my control and my repair capabilities goes out of whack.
First we had our TV. Yes, the flashy (for its time) Sony rear projection TV: its fan decided to introduce itself to us by making severe grinding sounds. We got the technicians to come and repair it under warranty, and they eventually came back with a new fan for the light and a new fan for the projector. Which was fine, only that two weeks later the exact same problem decided to return from the dead. So we called the technicians again, and they came to have a look and decided the light's fan needs replacement. Any bets on the number of times this light fan is going to be replaced? I told Jo that I'd be happy to tell Sony we'd consider their XRD (LCoS) model to be a suitable compensation.
Then we had our toilet tap leaking on us. Nothing spectacular, but it's something you don't want to go down the spectacular path. So we brought a plumber over (regular readers of this blog will know by now we're sort of mates with one) and he said we can replace the tap's cartridge but recommended getting a new tap. He sent us to this place where "they know taps", we got ourselves a new tap, and then he came back to install it. I know, I could have done it myself, but if you know me you would know I should never be allowed to use my hands for anything more complicated than typing on a keyboard. And you better make sure that keyboard is pretty robust.
And a couple of days ago we've had ourselves a third incident, this time with our washing machine. A Bosch, it's my first ever washing machine, and I have to admit that I like it: it has two things most other washing machines don't have. First, it has a display that tells you how much time you have left till the washing's done; and second, whereas I find most washing machines require a doctorate to operate, with this one even a heathen fool like me knows how to run it - you just say (or rather, press) what it is that you want to wash (as in "cotton - 40 degrees"), click the start button, and fuck off to watch something on TV. Only that a couple of days ago I shouldn't have really fucked myself off, because the washing machine has leaked. Nothing spectacular, but it leaked.
Now I have known people that would have said that this relative recent spate of events is some sort of a karma thing, a sign from heavens above (or hell below; or maybe hell's above and heaven's below?). Me, I just think it's a coincidence. As in, there are some pretty good reasons why these things happened.
The TV broke down because Sony has a crap design on their hands: they designed a $3000 TV that's very good at giving you a decent picture and even the sound is good by TV standards, but then they stuck a shit $5 fan on its back.
The tap broke down because we have this stupidly high water pressure at our place. Every time you open the tap the entire house shakes as if an earthquake is underway. The plumber we brought over had a couple of suggestions to help prevent nastier events, which we would very much like to avoid; you see, the underneath of our house is inaccessible (the walls go all the way down, and the small holes they have in between them to facilitate "under the house navigation" have been blocked with ducted heating plumbing). He suggested we install a water pressure "delimiter" near our water meter, and then install a "hammered spring" somewhere along the way to absorb the shocks of opening and closing the tap. Thing is, that hammer thing will probably need to go under the house, which (as explained) is not on the agenda; so the alternative is to install one at each tap, which would cost a bundle. Great.
And the washing machine story seems to be related to something quite weird. Due to the baby's imminent arrival, we did some searching for sensitive skin washing powders, and noticed that Choice recommends the Aldi washing powder (called Trimat) for its very cheap price, good cleaning, and environmentally friendly composition. So we abandoned the Omo powder we've been using for years and got the Aldi one. Thing is, this Trimat is intended primarily for top loaders, and we have a front loader; and while it's specified to work for front loaders as well, it seems as if it's on the sensitive side of things and you're just not allowed to put more than the amount of powder specified or risk the bubbly contents dripping through the machine's powder feeding hole. Quite complicated, isn't it? Next time around we'll get the Trimat version that's dedicated to front loaders, but that won't solve all of our problems as the sensitive skin version is still front/top sharing powder.
Anyway, if you're looking for a point to this story, there isn't one. Other than my refusal to consider such incidents as a sign for any metaphysical happenings, that is. I would, however, welcome any feedback you might have on the above issues, since I'm pretty ignorant in the ways of the pipe.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Sound and Vision

An interesting article in last week's Green Guide (The Age's weekly TV magazine) reported the results of an interesting research done in Canada. According to the Canadians, kids under the age of 2 get to watch quite a lot of TV, measuring in the hours.
So far, nothing to be truly astonished about. What did astonish the Canadian researchers, according to The Age, is the reason why: The vast majority of people who were asked why they let their babies watch TV said they are doing so because they think the experience would make them smarter; only a relative few said they're doing so for babysitting purposes.
What the Canadian researchers say, and the main point of that article, is that kids under the age of 2 should not be watching TV at all. If a child that age seems to be attracted into watching a TV, that is mainly the result of an "orientation reflex" that points them to a bright source of light. If you do let little kids watch TV, say the Canadians, you risk all sorts of painful effects later, such as reading deficiencies.
That's what the article said, roughly. Now let's see where we are at:
  • On the left hand corner we have some research of dubious quality; I mean, it could be serious and it could be good and it could be authentic, but to be frank there is so much research going on in the world, initiated by all sorts of organizations and guided by all sorts of weird agendas (yes, even religious ones) that you can't just trust anything the papers quote as "research" just because it's labeled "research". Papers tend to publish stuff because of its hysteria factor; respectable research, however, tends to be aired in publications that peer review and filter the bullshit from the rest - publications like Nature, for example.
  • On the right hand corner we have companies such as Baby Einstein, which seems to publish its stuff through an unfamiliar company called Disney while silently claiming that their videos will turn your kids into Einsteins. You have no idea whether that is true or not, but in the fight for a seat in a prestigious school and that eternal status war on whose kid is smarter all is fair; you would fork out the dough and force your child to watch the program just for the slight chance of an infitisimal improvement in their IQ. The result is that we have ourselves a baby video industry swimming in billions of dollars while using unsubstantiated claims.
So - where should we stand in this fight? I'll make it very clear: I don't know. Let us, however, have a look at what we do know.
We do know that a baby is born with not that much in their brains. Just the basic, as in the mostly reptilian heritage; hence the mostly black contents of the head in our latest ultrasound. At the time of birth, no one's an Einstein.
However, as the babies grow, their brains work out creating the wiring that will guide through the rest of their lives. This re-wiring enables them to learn languages at a rate which makes us, adults, greatly envious. It also enables them to learn all the unsubstantiated bullshit we pump their way (yes, I'm talking about religion) in a way that they will always have a hard time to get rid of (the wires are there for good, remember?). Children are incapable of filtering material.
Now let's add TV to the equation. Do babies really want to watch TV? I don't know; what I do know is that when I see a small child watching TV, I tend to be alarmed by the way in which they seem to be hypnotized by it. It reminds me of the times in which I sit at a pub and try to hold a conversation with friends but my eyes always tend to focus themselves on that stupid TV screen sitting there in the corner showing some bullshit show I would never watch out of my own initiative; yet I can't help it, it just captures my attention.
As I said, I don't know whether Baby Einstein stuff is good for children or not. Personally, I think that just pumping stuff at kids cannot be that good by definition; who is Baby Einstein for us to blindly trust with pumping material up our kids' heads? Maybe they flash secret messages of pro Nazi content in between stupidly boring baby songs? I doubt they do, but the bottom line is that I want to have control over what my child gets into their brain so that stupid stuff that will mess their minds from here to eternity would not have free firewall access. All of us are so busy with the rather foolish issue of choosing a name for our baby, but while we pay so much attention to that we happily open the door to our children's heads for every company out there wanting to make some money. And I have to agree with those Canadian researchers: when I watch Baby Einstein stuff I get a headache; I will not be surprised if my kid will develop reading deficiencies as a result of the same ordeal.
So what am I saying here? Will my child never see the light of a TV until he's 18? Obviously not. I am a down to earth person and I realize he will get to watch tons of TV. But that will not be under the guise of an educational experience; it will be because father is too tired to run after boy all the time, so boy is going to have his time of quiet hypnotism in front of the TV.