Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Write a Song about the Moon

Let it be written that the first time I took Dylan to see the moon, last night, was during a full eclipse. Not that I think he noticed the moon in particular and not that I think he is able to appreciate an eclipse given his lack of familiarity with the moon in general, but since the next full moon eclipse will only be on 2011 (by then we may have family membership to the Astronomical Society of Victoria) I thought I should use the opportunity.
It was me, Dylan and a possum right on top of us that were watching the moon, and it was nice (Jo joined us later). Dylan was quiet for a change and obviously curious: he looked around and tried to capture this strange environment I took him out to.
Having the time to go out and look at the moon is an indicator that things are getting better. There are a few reasons combining there: For a start, spring is here again, or at least in spirit. It’s definitely milder, and the last weekend was sunny and a gorgeous 19 degrees; I wore a t-shirt for a walk by the beach.
Then there’s us watching movies again. I am quite surprised by how important this has been for us: we watch TV all the time, with news and programs that we like; but that cannot compare to watching a film on our stereo, where the quality of reproduction takes you off this world for a couple of hours.
Dylan himself is getting better. Not that he’s textbook material yet; his latest trick is vomiting enough of his food to get his nose blocked with milk, which, in turn, makes it harder for him to breathe, which in turn makes it harder for him to sleep. So he lies in his cot, grumpy as I don’t know what, and tires himself so much that eventually he sleeps like a brick. I say “eventually” because on the way there Jo has to suffer through hours of hearing Dylan’s loud opinion on the situation in general.
It can actually be funny to watch him in his cot: his erratic moving around causes him to swim all over the cot, and often end up against its bars. As a protection measure, we’ve laid a couple of his toys there, so you often hear these toys getting punched (being that they’re toys designed to generate stimulating sounds). You sit on the sofa watching TV and you can’t help laughing at the sound of a punch. You watch Dylan in the cot and you see him twisting all of a sudden, sending his arms forth in what looks like deliberate and very professional hook punches towards his toy dog.
I know that being at work most of the day significantly protects me from the Dylan commotion, but still – it does feel like things are improving. We’re getting used to the way things are. We’re acclimatizing ourselves to the situation.
Signs of optimism are in the air. Together with the moon.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

What's good enough for you?

Having recently finished reading the last Harry Potter, I've gone back to the book I was reading when Dylan took us by surprise and decided to pop out (I'm sure he regrets it): Richard Dawkins' Ancestor's Tale. The book basically takes us back from humans to the first origins of life, on the way intersecting with other animals we've diverged from and telling their tale. Currently, I'm with rats, which happen to be the 10th intersection out of 40 or so, and is estimated to have taken place some 75 million years ago. Or, to put it another way, if we were to meet our 15 millionth grandparent, we would meet the ancestor that is common to us and the rats (note the rat side of the family would have a significantly higher number of generations to climb up before meeting this common ancestor due to its shorter life span). A very interesting book, although its most noticeable attribute is its sheer thickness: at my current rate of reading I may be able to finish it in a couple of months.
While you may argue that no one is interested in the tale of some monkey or some rat, I find it quite amazing to see how much we can learn about ourselves from the stories of our relatives. The tale I want to discuss here is the tale of the new world monkeys, who - like most mammals - are partially color blind compared to us apes. We apes have re-developed the ability to see red, green and blue; the rest of the mammals are mostly stuck with two of those three. "Mostly" is the key word here, because these new world monkeys do not all share the same color vision attributes: some are blind to red, others to green, etc (and I'm talking here about one family of one species). In his book, Dawkins explains why this is the case: it is to do with the way color vision has mutated itself into the genes and the way the chromosomes pass on from one generation to the other (and the way they pass differently to the different sexes).
The point of all this story is that color vision between different people (I'm back to us humans now) is not the same. Different people have a different number of color sensitive cells in their eyes, each of those responding to a slightly different frequency. Thus, for example, some of us may see a more ultra violet version of blue than the rest of us; not to mention those that are color blind due to genetic reasons (about 2% of the population). Given those differences, it is clear that there is no hard wiring in the brain that allows the brain to know that a signal from a certain cell in the eye means "red" while a signal from an adjacent cell means "blue". There are just too many variations for that to be feasible.
So how do we perceive colors? The answer is simple: the brain learns to perceive colors. It notices that certain conditions trigger certain signals, and constructs a model that allows it to benefit from those changes - a model we commonly refer to as color vision.
It is clear to me now that the vision problems I have endured after my laser eye treatment were to do with my brain requiring some readjustments; things it has learnt to interpret in one way suddenly needed some different interpretation. This explains why the doctors told me my vision is perfect but I felt as though it wasn't, and this explains why now I no longer have such problems and I do [think I] see the world well.
Still, the question I ask myself next is when do we develop our color vision. The answer seems simple enough: as we first start using our eyes and as we go on using them. Now, I know someone who has just started using his eyes, and you can clearly see how he notices more and more with time. Whereas at first he would stare into space and only get attracted to light sources, now he can track objects, and he is obviously interested in things with sophisticated patterns and maybe even sophisticated colors (like some of the toys he has).
And now I'm asking myself: Am I supplying Dylan with the right stimulations for him to develop his vision properly? Most of the baby's development, in the sense of what he will grow up to be, is at the hand of his genes. We parents might like to think we have a saying in this, but the reality is that we have a very limited effect there: for example, the question of whether our son is going to be gay or not has probably already been answered by a certain mix of genes plus the quantity of testosterone in the womb (however, the environment still has a saying here).
One thing that parents can do which does seem to have an effect is to provide quality stimulants to the child that will arouse their intellect. For example, a child growing up in a house where people read books and books are available is more likely to end up reading books (just ask Uri). Which, in turn, makes me ask myself whether I am providing my son with enough stimulants; whether I'm providing him with quality stimulants. Am I failing my son by not painting the walls of his room with something exciting? Am I a criminal for not putting those posters of galaxies and other objects of the sky that I keep saying I will get up in his room?
Or, in short: Am I a good enough parent?

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Gee, it's great to be back home

We've finally done it yesterday: After two or so very long months, we rented DVD's! Back home, I connected the stereo again (I disconnect the rear speakers every time the cleaners arrive, and the rest of the stuff was off the power due to lack of use), and there it was. I missed that sound!
Last night Dylan let has watch the film uninterrupted, despite the noise; tonight it wasn't as smooth, but it was still OK. And in between we listened to music. And lo and behold, in a couple of days I'll even be writing movie reviews.
I almost feel normal again!

Friday, 24 August 2007

Earth and Sun and Moon

A few months ago I wrote down on this very blog how I'm hoping to do the things I liked doing together with my newborn son, and specifically - how I was hoping to revive my old affection to astronomy, which was never satisfied to its fullest (most notably: I never had a telescope).
Well, two things have happened this week to move me a step forward in this quest.
The first is that while wandering about Melbourne Central with Jo and her mother (yes, yet another shopping mall) we hit the Australian Geographic store. There they currently have this astronomy campaign, where they sell telescopes (at seemingly ripoff prices, although I didn't verify that) and maps of the sky and such. One book they had in there caught my attention: It was the Macmillan Atlas of the Universe, and it was a genuine atlas - you know, one of those big and bulky hardcover books. I browsed through it, and it started exactly the way I would imagine an atlas of the universe to start, with a "you are here" guide: first the solar system, then the galaxy, then the galaxy group... The similarities with my profile were enough to keep me interested. I kept on browsing and it had these magnificent graphics of the solar system's planets, accompanied with explanations and such (e.g., theories about the composition of Jupiter). The photos were brilliant as well, and it even featured sky maps; I couldn't resist it - I bought the book. I bought it for me, but hopefully the photos and such will catch Dylan's attention, too.
The second thing is the new version of Google Earth. They now have clearer photos of our house's area now (you can clearly see it's the smallest house in the area), and with Jo parents' place you can see an incredible amount of detail - even the toys they put on their backyard for their granddaughter. In typical fashion, though, Israeli photos were too blurry to be useful.
Anyway, the main thing about the new version of Google Earth is that now it also features sky maps. You can search for a star and it will take you there, showing you where you can find it as well. It is quite amazing; now we have a telescope on our hands that doesn't require going out in the cold and is not bothered by clouds!
The attached screen capture is the result of my search for Andromeda. I do wonder, whenever I look at photos of such galaxies: how many living things are we looking at when we look at Andromeda? And how many of them are looking back at us, wondering the same?

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Hasta la Vista

By now I think I can safely say I severely doubt I will ever open up my wallet to pay for a Microsoft made operating system again.
The more I use Microsoft operating systems the more disenchanted I am with them. Sure, Windows XP is not that bad; but it still is bad when you consider its very low reliability half life (as in, the time period from when you install it to when things start crashing around), its insecurity, the regular need for monthly 50mb Windows Updates, and the ongoing forced downloading of new programs just to verify that my copy of Windows is a legal one.
The problem up until now has been the alternative. Windows Vista is an alternative, but not a particularly good one. Not in the least: It requires an unnecessary hardware revamp just to have what I’ve had before, it is very picky about what you install on it, and the lack of drivers supporting my existing peripherals (say, a four year old printer that still does a very good job or a seven year old webcam that still does what I want it to do well) would mean I’d have to fork out even more just to keep up. And that’s for the privilege of having a new Microsoft torment. No! I’ve had enough of Microsoft when they terminated support for my Xbox the day they announced the Xbox 360 (just compare that with Sony and its handling of the Playstation 2, which is still flourishing).
Another alternative is Apple Mac operating system. Granted, it is the best thing out there for the home user by far. But the cost! Oh, the cost! It’s double the cost of your run of the mill PC. And frankly, is it worthwhile changing the Microsoft devil you know for a new devil?
No. I don’t think so, because I think that we now have a proper alternative that is not only good enough, but is even better than the Microsoft alternatives. The new Ubuntu operating system has been receiving critical acclaim on a regular basis. It’s ideologically friendly, being distributed absolutely free of charge (you can either download it or order for a CD to be shipped to you). It’s much faster than Windows, rendering your old PC faster than the new one you just got to run Vista on. And by now most of the software you would want to have is available for it, again – for free, and drivers availability is significantly better than for Vista given that flocks of devoted programmers are sitting out there to write drivers for all the equipment that’s out there.
I admit it: I’m not done with Microsoft yet. I will probably sit out and wait for XP to fully die on me before moving elsewhere; after all, I am a lazy person by nature. But when it does expire, Linux would be the first place I would look at.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The Enemies of Reason

All those who watched and enjoyed Richard Dawkins' documentary on religion, "Root of All Evil", should have a ball with his brand new documentary "The Enemies of Reason".
Basically, he moved on from religion to discuss other superstitions, things of the more paranormal nature - astrology, card reading and such. And as usual with Dawkins, the result is funny and entertaining (I wouldn't say it's thought provoking because I never really had in the way of favorable thoughts towards superstitions).
I liked it when he asked this guy who could talk with the dead why he's only asking them mundane questions like what happened to this guy or that guy instead of asking them really good questions like what is there after death or other questions about the general nature of the world that follows. He didn't get much of a reply.
Anyway, don't miss it. The Enemies of Reason is now available at a torrent near you (so they say).

Children Are Happiness

A reader of this blog (one of the two) has asked me a very good question today: given all that I write in here about the suffering involved with raising of my currently six week old son, do I derive any pleasure whatsoever from it? The question was asked from a worried point of view, and I appreciate both that and the quality of the question itself.
And now for my answer, which in typical fashion is going to be long and indirect.

If your definition of pleasure is the common one i.e., some sort of a reference to hedonistic experiences, then my answer is absolute: there is no pleasure at all in raising a newborn. All you get is to feed him, pacify him and change his nappy; if that is pleasurable to you, then, my friend, you’re either delusional or afraid to lose face.
However, as I have already mentioned in past posts, your definition of pleasure changes once you have a baby because your world changes. You learn to derive pleasure from successfully doing those small meaningless things you do with the baby: you get him to sleep well and you’re happy, if only because that means you get to have some peace and quiet.
Additional pleasure is derived from other sources. For example, I have to say that I find my baby very cute (especially when he’s asleep); thing is, I know that this is mainly because my genes have programmed me to find things with disproportionally big heads to be cute. In this way, I am very similar to the bird that feeds this yelling thing in the middle of its nest, even if that thing is a cuckoo and not its real sibling. I know that I have been programmed by my genes to find my baby cute so that I will ensure its survival; this is something that I’ve inherited through my genes, a mechanism that – amongst others – is a reason for me being here in the first place.
And that is where I am heading: Pleasure is just another mechanism implemented by my genes, mainly through my brain, in order to guarantee their survival. It’s nice, I’ll give my genes that; but should I be a slave to my genes and let them dictate the way I live? I don’t think so. I like to think that I have a saying in the way my life goes and that I can set my own goals. Right now, my main goal is to do my best to ensure that this new human I had a hand in generating (pun very much intended – it’s very healthy to laugh) grows up to be a decent person. Now, that is a goal worth sacrificing some sleep for!

For more on this line of thinking I strongly recommend, yet again, the writings of Richard Dawkins. He is much better at expressing himself than I am. In the above context I would recommend The Selfish Gene and Unweaving the Rainbow.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

One, Two, Three

I've had this weird phone call with a relative yesterday in which three main issues were discussed. I thought I'd recount them here. I can think of several purposes there: First, to demonstrate the distance between me and my family, which is not limited to physical distance alone.
Second, I have a friend who told me this week about the fear of exposing agnostic thoughts to theist relatives; my answer was that I've been exposing my atheist thoughts for 25 years and my family is still to listen. Sort of goes to show why I'm so annoyed with religion: people think it doesn't matter, but it's everywhere and it gets in your bloodstream.
And third, this type of a discussion is exactly what Haim likes to read. And who am I to disappoint a best friend?
Off we go.

Item one: "They say"

I was told I must be happy, because now that Dylan is six weeks old he's smiling back at us. Ignoring the weak link in this theory, namely that if Dylan will be doing anything we do backwards he'll be frowning back at us, I answered that mental development is measured from conception and not from birth, and that while Dylan may be six weeks old he's only one week old, mentally.

Then I got the answer I like hearing so much: "But they say that they can smile six weeks after they were born".

The key phrase is, of course, "they say". They say lots of things, but you usually need to be quite gullible if you were to accept things solely on the basis of "they say". If "they were to say" that every reader of this blog needs to pay me $100 a day, you'd laugh at the idea's stupidity; however, way too many people fall for the "they say" bit when it comes to fictional dogmas that try to take control over the way we live our lives (yes, I'm talking about religion again), and the fact people are stupid enough to embrace the "they say" says a thing or two about the sad situation we're in.

Anyway, "they say" refers to arguments by tradition. Tradition may work most of the time or some of the time, but not all of the time and not in today's environment; taking things for granted on the basis of a "they say" is pretty foolish, and the best example is in the evidence: The only time Dylan's expression resembles a smile is when he's working on a fart.


Item two: Bar Mitzvah

Once the first hurdle was cleared, I was congratulated with something along the lines of "may you soon have Dylan a Bar Mitzvah". Being that it's me we're talking about, I immediately retaliated with something like "Dylan is not going to have any Bar Mitzvah", which the seemingly offended side answer back in aghast, "Why, are you a Goy [gentile]?"

Well, regardless of what I think of myself, which obviously my family is still having troubles digesting for over 25 years, one thing is very certain: Dylan is not Jewish, not by any religious definition of the term; nor is he a Christian for that matter (here are the basic religious person's rules: you're Jewish if you're born to a Jewish mother and you're a Christian if you're born to a Christian father; Dylan is none of the above).

At this point I would like to make it very clear that in my view, no child can have a religion by definition. To quote Richard Dawkins, one never looks at a child and says "this child is a labor voter" or "this child is a democrat" or "this child is a republican"; it just doesn't make sense, the child is yet to be in a position where he knows better. He didn't even pick a football team to support yet! So, how can you say that the child has chosen a system to govern every aspect of his/her life in the same breath?

My point is, Dylan is religion-less by every account: the stupid and thoughtless religious account, as well as by a thinking person's account. Once he's 18, he can choose to be whatever he wants to be; I hope he will follow me and share my secular humanitarian views, but that's entirely up to him. Chances are he will rebel against me and my pushiness anyway, so I should probably expect him to become a nun.

Back to Bar Mitzvahs and their feasibility: Dylan will probably hardly know enough Hebrew to perform the ceremony, and Dylan will probably not step inside a synagogue ever by the time he's 13, and Dylan will not have any friends to influence him to have a Bar Mitzvah. In short, his thirteenth birthday will come and go, and he will not have a clue about the potential for this meaningless ceremony.

As I have already stated once upon a time on this blog, my Bar Mitzvah was bought with a bribe of gifts; I still consider me doing it to be one of my lowest points of submission, even if I cut myself some slack for being only 13. But that's the entire point of it: someone who is 13 is not in a position to truly accept the commitments one officially takes upon himself (and not, god forbid, herself!) during a Bar Mitzvah.

And I still remember nodding my head when the rabbi who prepared me for my Bar Mitzvah told me he doesn't understand how people think the bible is not true when there were so many witnesses to the Moses on the Mount thing.


Item Three: More kids

The next congratulations I had the privilege to be congratulated with was along the lines of "looking forward to hearing about your second and third children". Again, I retaliated on the spot, saying that as far as we're concerned, there won't be a number two; again I was confronted with a rather bewildered answer, wondering how anyone could not want to have many children.

Well, I can easily come up with several good reasons for not producing Dylan with sisters or brothers:

Ideologically, I am of the opinion there are too many people already on this planet. I am also of the opinion that humanity is going nowhere fast, although I would have probably thought the same if I was in previous generations, too. Point is, while this is only my opinion and while I don't think that those who bring more than two children are criminals, I would not want to contribute too much to civilization's demise.

Then there are more practical reasons. Financially, a second child would be a disaster: it would mean even more costs, and worse – it would mean one of us will not be able to work, period, which means us living off one salary on a permanent basis. The reason is simple: if we each earn around $200 a day, net, and the cost of childcare is $80 per child per day, then it doesn't make much sense to pay for childcare.

This has a domino effect, because in order to stay at home and watch the children all day you need to be something really special, and I'm not of this brand; as much as I moan and protest each morning I get up for work, I also fully acknowledge the need to socialize and interact with people on a regular basis – a service dully provided by work.

Then there are logistical problems. As we have no one to help us take care of the children on a regular basis, who is going to help us along? One child is already an insurmountable burden we're finding very hard to tackle. Just take the birth itself: who is going to take care of Dylan when we're at the hospital for his sister's arrival?

On top of those issues there are technological aspects. Let's face it: We're on the older side of things as far as bringing children are concerned, and although Dylan seems fine the longer we wait the higher the probability of things going wrong, Down Syndrome etc. And let's not forget all the hardship we had to endure with bringing Dylan along, with IVF and its complexities coming very close to ruin the day for us. The introduction of a sister to Dylan would require more than the occasional sex.

And I haven't even mentioned at all that so far, we're finding the raising of one child to be quite a nightmare!

My point with all three stories is the same. People take things for granted for all the wrong reasons and assume they apply to everyone. People don't think.

Let us show this universe of ours what people are really made of. Let us actively use this box on top of our heads. Let all of us think!

Friday, 17 August 2007

E.R. - Gerin Oil

A few weeks ago, while Jo was still entertaining the idea of breastfeeding Dylan, we went to the hospital that’s right next to where we live for her to have a session with a lactation expert.
It’s actually quite good to have a public hospital next to where we live with an emergency room: I remember when studying optimization models back in uni and we were presented with data on mortality rates based on the distance from a hospital. The conclusions there were pretty horrible to those living more than 15 to 20 minutes away from an emergency room.
Anyway, as we stepped into the hospital for the first time, we were stopped at reception and told to go to a nearby room in order to have Dylan registered. So we went over to a nearby room in order to have Dylan registered, and the first question we were asked there – before “name” and such, and immediately after the obligatory “good morning” – was concerning the baby’s religion.
Now, allow me to ignore for a while the very important question of how a baby can have a religion in the first place given that it is totally incapable of anything other than eating, crying and doing the opposite of eating; instead I will just simply ask, why does the question of religion matter in a public hospital located at a secular nation?

I can imagine it pretty clearly.
George Clooney sits on his chair, anxiously waiting for the critical patient to arrive. Suffering from a heart attack, the patient has stopped breathing, and is in desperate need of a good zap to revive him.
At last, the ambulance arrives. Doors get kicked open and the almost officially dead patient is pushed around through the emergency room and into Clooney’s open arms.
And then: “Wait!” shouts the sexy nurse as she rushes into Clooney’s open arms (open, because they’re holding the zapper): “The patient’s name is Mohammad Christian Cohen. How do we know whether to zap him while he’s facing Mecca or facing Jerusalem?”
“Oh no!” shouts Clooney in retaliation, at which point we go off to another commercial break. Tune in next week to the next episode of E.R., “Gerin Oil”, to see what fate beholds our surely dead patient and which nurse will end up in Clooney’s bed this time around.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Spirits in the Material World

It started when we wanted to get Dylan a toy mirror.
I find mirrors to be quite a fascinating toy, because you sort of entertain yourself through yourself. It’s also quite an educational toy that can tell you a lot about the player: most animals are not intelligent enough to realize that the weird odourless animal they’re looking at is actually themselves.
I still remember my ex-cat locking herself in battle stations at the sight of her own reflection. Dogs are not much better: they are also too dumb to see through the mirror, although both cats and dogs eventually just learn to ignore the reflection. Things really become interesting with apes: chimpanzees have been proven to be able to identify themselves and even use the mirror to see what they would look like if they fit a hat on top of their head, or just to check their backside; other apes, like baboons, seem incapable of tackling a mirror for what it’s worth. It appears as if there’s this intelligence threshold one needs to pass in order to be able to identify their own reflection, an observation I find quite amazing.
We’ve seen babies entertaining themselves for lengthy periods with a mirror; couple that with the curiosity to see when our newly manufactured ape will develop the ability to identify his own reflection and a mirror becomes quite an attractive a toy.

The next question was which mirror to get. For around $30, Lamaze has this mirror pillow thing where you can lay a baby on its stomach and it can raise its head to check out its own reflection.
Which is nice, but then we saw that you can get baby gyms with mirrors installed on them, and since we wanted to get this gym thing anyway, we thought we might as well shoot two birds with one credit card swipe and get a sophisticated, mirror enabled play gym.
So we had a look for such gyms and saw them in shops for $100 plus (often plus a lot). But then Target had their toy sale in the middle of July, and one of their catalog items was a Baby Einstein baby gym that usually sells for $100 selling for $50 instead, and it was even mirror enabled! So I took a deep breath to overcome my antagonism towards the Baby Einstein and the Disney brands, and we got ourselves a new baby gym. Last night we even deployed Dylan on it for the first time; he wasn’t that greatly impressed (he’s still at a stage where the only thing you can get out of him is “I want food”), but as my Flickr page shows it was a nice photo opportunity.

Almost needless to say, the new Baby Einstein play gym comes with a couple of thick packets of labels attached to it, most of which contain copyright notices to the various Disney characters thrown about the gym (most of which I was totally unfamiliar with).
One label that did attract my particular attention was the one saying something like “Einstein is a registered trademark of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem”. What the …? Are you supposed to pay this university now for every time you make a fart noise that happens to rhyme with the [not that uncommon name] Einstein? And what if you just happened to be born to a family of Einsteins – would you be allowed to use you name in vain?
I think the world has completely lost the plot with its handling of trademarks and patents. If universities and companies are allowed to keep hold of patents on human genes – yes, the very same genes we all carry on us by the billion – you know that things are not going the way they should. You know that money has blinded the eye of the beholder. [For clarification, the patents are not on how the genes were identified, but rather on the genes themselves; the genes being there]
This is not just your simple argument about the name for a baby gym; this is an argument for the democratization of knowledge versus the compensation to be given to those that unearthed that knowledge. Led by US legislations and court precedents, we are currently leaning way too heavily to the compensation side: it just doesn’t make sense to me to put a limit to the use of a common name or to take ownership of an asset that is individually owned by each one of us (our genes).
This debate has been raised in the past with regards to internet piracy, and I will use the opportunity to state my opinion: in the battle between compensation and democracy, you will find me on the democratic side of things. I think knowledge is the most important thing we can have, and I think that the proliferation of knowledge usually tends to pay for itself with its benefits (hence the success of many free internet services and applications, re: Google). That said, I would probably have another opinion if someone was to use my invention without paying me, and I definitely think compensation is due to those that worked for gaining the knowledge; it’s just that currently, the compensation seems to take dominance over the knowledge itself.
Or maybe I should just start a baby toy brand and call it Baby Newton.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Red Dwarves and Red (and Blue) Giants

I have recently read this article in Wired Magazine about what they referred to as "new atheism". I have found this article to be disappointingly interesting. Interesting, because of its subject matter and because it presents a wide variety of atheistic approaches, in the process pointing at a perceived weakness of atheism – its lack of agenda other than “let’s get rid of religion”.
Disappointing, however, for many other reasons. First there’s this “new atheism” label, which is quite contrived and befits a magazine that would probably stick the “web 2.0” label under every fresh tree. Then there’s the article’s conclusion, which (spoiler alert) says something like “you know, religion really doesn’t make sense, but I’ll still stick to it”.
But most of all I was disappointed of the generic view that was strongly expressed in the article, which says that it’s better to be an agnostic than an atheist because you wouldn’t want to tell your friends that everything they believe in is a pile of bull. Now, regardless of the fact that most atheists including yours truly are just stronger agnostics, I think this approach is stupid and dangerous.
It’s stupid because it is pretty clear religion is based on nothing but certain peoples’ whims; it’s just that most of us refuse to acknowledge the fact. But while stupidity rarely kills anyone, indifference does: I wonder about those people who tread so carefully in order to avoid offending their colleagues. I wonder what would they have done in Nazi Germany: would they step forward and tell their colleagues that everything they believe in is a pile of bull, or would they sit quiet, afraid of offending them? Just where is the point in which the truth no longer matters and is no longer worth fighting for?

Thinking of this question, my mind drifted to another thing that has occupied it lately, namely Monty Python songs. Think what you will about their humor (I love it), they were never afraid of stirring a controversy with their humor. In fact, their humor worked by stirring up thoughts about the things we believe in.
Take their song about Chinese, which is probably one of the most politically incorrect songs ever, yet is very clearly sung with a tongue in chick. Just two of its lines are enough to shock; I’m afraid of quoting more of it, but it obviously builds on the perceptions people who haven’t been exposed to Chinese have:

I like Chinese
They only come up to your knees

Or take the Python’s answer to those who hail absolutism over anything else and refer to themselves as “pro life”, from their song Every Sperm Is Sacred:

Every sperm is sacred
Every sperm is great
If a sperm is wasted
God gets quite irate

Let the heathen spill theirs

On the dusty ground
God shall make them pay for
Each sperm that can't be found

I like the Python’s way. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there are a lot of British comedians and comedies that work by stirring a commotion and attacking the things we take for granted and believe in: there’s Douglas Adams, there’s Ben Elton in his stand-up acts, and there’s even Red Dwarf in quite a lot of their episodes.
But then something strange has happened. I realized that all the people and comedies whose names I came up had one thing in common: they’re all British. Or rather, none of them is American!
Even what I consider to be the peak of American comedy, Seinfeld, who wasn’t afraid of discussing homosexuality and masturbation in the face, has completely avoided touching the realm of faith.
So there you go: the downfall of American culture is in its humor. In its strict emphasis on being politically correct, it has subdued free thinking. The sad thing about it all is that the Brits, together with the Aussies, keep on falling towards that all devouring bottomless pit that is American culture.

Monday, 13 August 2007

No Going Back

Jo’s mother (aka Isobel) has been with us since Thursday, sailing across the seas to help us along with our beloved lumberjack, Dylan. Aside of the fact it’s really nice to have someone visiting us even when our house’s hosting capacities are way overstretched (privacy is not something she’ll be enjoying during her visit), it also means an extra hand for night time feeds, which immediately translates into less getting up in the middle of the night. Or, to put it in other words, we’re sleeping much better now.
In an attempt to play nice hosts and in an attempt to try and do the things we used to do in the pre-Dylan era, we went yesterday for a drive to the Dandenongs, or more specifically to this pub we like there (because of its setting in between the woods). Dylan was changed twice at the pub, and for the first time ever we gave him a feed outside of the house or hospital (and this post is proof that we lived to tell the story).
After that we went to a shopping mall (Chadstone), which is not exactly my idea of fun, but at least I got some books in Borders with this week’s 30% off voucher. These included a book I’ve been looking for quite a while, How the Mind Works, plus my father’s favorite book – Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (it was only $7 and Jo has never read it), as well as Bill Bryson’s latest book, Shakespeare (guess what this one’s about!).
We got home in a pretty sad state, all of us tired and accompanied with headaches. And lo and behold, Dylan was grumpy. That was more expected than even the Spanish Inquisition…
Things are just not what they used to be like before. It’s no use pretending otherwise, there’s no going back. Or is there?
Since her arrival, Isobel has been hinting that we should use the opportunity of a babysitter on hand to go and see the latest Harry Potter at the cinemas. We did not get our opportunity to bid the cinemas goodbye, and I guess Harry Potter was nominated because of his/its English connection.
Then we noticed that Harry Potter is also playing at Melbourne’s IMAX theater, with the last 20 minutes (which I assume to be the battle at the ministry of magic) in 3D. Now, I don’t have much in the way of expectations from a Harry Potter film, but it could be fun, and the IMAX experience may make it a spectacular way for letting the cinema world know they can catch us on DVD from now on.
So I bought tickets for Wednesday night. With our Entertainment Book voucher it only cost us $20; the thing is, will we survive a late night out on top of handling a baby whose chief hobby seems to be screaming his guts out at night? Will I get to actually write a movie review?

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Sleeping like a baby

With my ongoing rantings, my opinion on the long chain of euphemisms to do with raising babies has been made very clear by now. Still, a picture is worth 747 words, so I am therefore proud to provide you with some real life "behind the scene" insight.
In case you thought the phrase "sleeping like a baby" means peaceful sleeping, have a look at the following clips. Both were taken one immediately after the other last night, while Dylan was asleep:


Thursday, 9 August 2007

Exxon Valdez

I did not have the pleasure of watching the film; that would have to wait till the DVD comes out. I did, however, really like the Transformers cartoon series back in my teens (although a recent revisit has shown it’s pretty bad).
One weird thing I always had with the Transformers is me siding with the aptly tagged evil Decipticons. While the good Autobots were modelled after cars, the Decipticons were much sexier: fighter jets, a gun, and various other ingenious things one can transform to in his/her spare time.
When I think of the Decipticons today, though, I can’t help but wonder how evil they truly are. What is it that they do that makes them evil anyway? They came to the planet, assume it is theirs to spoil, ravage it for its natural resources as if there’s no tomorrow, and totally disregard its natives. That’s really bad, isn’t it? Sure is bad, but if you read the description again and replace “Decipticons” with “humans” you will see that other than way in which we came to this planet we’re on, the difference between us and the so called evil Decipticons is pretty minimal. We’re ravaging our planet just as skilfully as they have done in the cartoon series (much better, actually, given that we don’t have the Autobots to stop us).
So – are we evil? I suspect some of us are. I’m talking about those that consciously allow for such ravages to take place. The head honchos include many top politicians (probably most world leaders), as well as many a chief executive officer and their lot. The rest of us, however, cannot really be said to be evil; we’re just plain ignorant, like frogs caught in a pan of slowly heated up water, unaware of the imminent boil.

All these thoughts on us humans destroying the environment have received a significant boost since the recent arrival of the smallest member of our family (just give him some time and he would be the biggest; mind you, at the rate he’s going, that shouldn’t take long).
It’s just amazing to see how much energy goes into maintaining this 4 kilo survival machine. The kettle and the microwave are working like they’ve never worked before to keep his food warm and sterile. He has his own personal heater, and we’re now running the central heating around the clock to keep the house nicely temperatured (so that when we get up at night to support him crying we won’t freeze to death in the process). The washing machine seems to be constantly on. Water is running like there’s no tomorrow: I’m not talking about drinking water or the water that goes into his formula; it goes without saying that a person needs to drink or bath. I’m talking about the water to warm his bottle with, water to wet the cottonwool with when wiping his behind, and all the rest of the things we never thought we’re going to need water for.
Almost needless to say, what seems to be the biggest offender of all is/are the nappies. You look at our garbage bin, and you can’t avoid being amazed at just how much space is taken by the small nappy bags and realize just how much waste is generated by such a little mass.
Obviously, all this water, energy and material need to come from somewhere. And all the waste, from regular garbage through the shit and the waste water from our washing machine, all of those need to go somewhere. You look at it all and you know there’s just no way this planet is going to make it alive with us roaming about.
Multiply this by six and a half billion and the conclusion is unavoidable: There are just too many of us, people, for this planet to take.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Due Date

For the record, today is the day in which Dylan should have popped out. Instead, we had Dylan celebrating his first monthday a few days ago.
But don't worry: Dylan has celebrated the arrival of his due date by screaming his guts out as of 23:00 last night and up until 4:00 this morning. Don't ask me why; he was repeatedly fed and changed, just to make sure. My theory is that he's just too tired from not getting enough quality sleep, with all the burps and explosions he's been going through all the time. If being tired is the issue here, I can definitely see where he's coming from.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

I wish I'd been a girlie, just like my dear Papa

I have found it interesting to note the hair pattern at the back of Dylan's head. It's just like mine: the more you get to the very top of the head, the less hair there is. And it's not like this is something I've only had since starting to become bald (and beautiful); I've always been this way, even during the days in which hair was in much abundance.
Thing is, scientists tell us that people who grow bald at the top of their heads are 70% more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes. I therefore find it quite amazing that through my genes, Dylan has not only inherited my lovely hair pattern (and Zidane's) but also a major risk to his health, and let's face it - a highly probable way for him to end his life (in the very far away future, hopefully). All because of those damn selfish genes.

Now I know some people reading this would go: "How can he say such things". Well, the answer is: easily. It's just as hard to type those things as it is to type other words. But more seriously, I don't see what the problem is: it's much better to look reality in the face and take steps to promote a favorable outcome than it is to delude ourselves that something we want to happen will happen just because we ignore negative scenarios.
Often the case is that much better things can happen once we set our minds to see the things that truly go around us. And again I will refer to that most classic of examples of the narrow mindedness of people, religion: Nothing religion was able to come up with comes even close to the true grandeur of the world revealed to us by science.

And as for Dylan, I'm not too worried about heart attacks at this stage. He's a lumberjack and he's OK.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Lullaby

I have already cried and moaned on this very blog about the lack of sleep that comes with having a baby. What I would like to do with this post is to further enhance the point, in order to show that there’s much more to the problem than just not having enough sleep.
Obviously, the most obvious baby sleep related problem is the lack of sleep. Basically, if the baby won’t sleep, the same automatically applies to you regardless of reason: it doesn’t matter if it’s a feed, a nappy change or just a whim; someone has to stay with the baby when he’s awake. But it’s there that things become more convoluted: you see, the baby doesn’t work according to a set calendar. There’s no Outlook appointment for a baby’s cry. And that means that even if you get, say, five hours of sleep per night, those five hours are constructed just like a McDonald’s Chicken Nugget: from potentially many bits and pieces. Let me tell you this: five hours of uninterrupted sleep are not the same as five hours of sleep accumulated over seven or eight hours. Even eight hours of interrupted sleep over a period of twelve hours will leave you feel as though you’ve just been ironed!
On top of not enough sleep and interrupted sleep you need to add the chronic effect of those problems lasting over a long period of time. It’s scary for me to say it, but by now I noticed some of the amazing effects chronic sleep deprivation can have: by now, Dylan’s cries and shouts are usually not enough to wake me up; he needs to really persist, and I’m just amazed at how much noise I can sleep through. When I do wake up, I often find myself convinced that I’ve already taken care of Dylan’s problem and that I can actually go back to sleep. Chronic denial? And then when I do get up, I tend to do rather stupid stuff: One night I’ve left Dylan in the middle of his cot, untucked; the other I’ve fallen asleep with him on me. Both are not that bad – many parents do these as their standard behavior – but both are things I would like to avoid for safety reasons.
But Dylan is not the only one to suffer the effects of sleep deprivation: I do, too. Sleep is just not as much fun as it used to be. Dreams are very rare now; when I fall asleep, I feel like a brick – I put myself down to bed and the lights go off immediately; when I wake up, I find myself in exactly the same position I was before. Maybe it’s an evolutionary mechanism to keep me from crushing the baby, but it sure isn’t fun.
The last, but not the least (or maybe it is the least but it’s still a mighty problem) is the problem of tense sleep. You go to bed having just settled the baby, and as you cover yourself with the quilt you here the baby making a noise through the baby monitor. You freeze in angst: there’s no use getting deeper in bed if you need to get up again. Slowly you retrench yourself in bed, and then the baby starts crying. Will he stop? You freeze yet again, waiting in angst for the outcome. And so it goes: you can find yourself doing this for hours if you want. And yes, often enough you do have to get up and redo the baby!

If, like me, you tend to derive lots of pleasure from a proper night’s sleep, then prepare yourself for a major reality check when your baby comes to town.
Let none of the people that tell you how joyful raising a baby is get to you: they’re all liars. Next time you bump into them, place them in front of a mirror and ask them what it’s really like.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Green Piece

As I have discussed in my previous post, Dylan is now running mostly on formula. And as I have already said, formula is proving much cheaper than expressed breast milk: the weekly cost of renting a pump alone is significantly more costly than a weekly supply of formula, even the most expensive brand. Not to mention the other costs we have had with expressed milk, as the cost of buying a pump that proved to be not as good as we expected it to be: with all the money we've spent so far on breast milk, we would have had something like a six months supply of formula if not more.
There are other advantages to formula, though.
Quantity wise, you don't care much about formula. It's really easy to make more formula. So, if you have yourself a baby with a pig's appetite, you don't mind preparing a bit more than what you expect to be needing just in case the baby wants it; you wouldn't be so generous with hard earned breast milk. While one may argue that this difference is not that big a deal, we have found that often Dylan doesn't settle unless he's full; which translates to that bit of an excess helping the poor parents sleep a bit longer, which on its own makes a huge difference.
In fact, we have found that formula in general makes Dylan settle much better. Since Thursday night we have had several nights of relatively good sleep, and the one difference is the dominance of formula as Dylan's main diet ingredient. It sounds strange; there is no denying that Dylan definitely prefers breast milk over formula. So why does he settle better on formula? Well, one theory says it's because the food Jo ate was not that breast feeding friendly. Apparently, things like cheese or chocolate and even spinach or spices can cause the baby to become irritated through the breast milk.
Still, it's not like formula has solved our problems on earth. Dylan is still the major gas ball he was all the time, and whenever you touch him a burp will still follow. Jo's theory, which all evidence so far seems to support, is that Dylan's routine three to four hourly wake up calls are not hunger induced but rather gas induced (you can clearly see him smiling, as in the "I've got gas" smile). Once awake, though, he comes up with the notion that he's also hungry, and stirs enough of a fuss to wake us up in the process and feed him.
But by far the most notable sub product of the formula is the color of the shit, which happens to
be the color of money (that is, if you happen to use boringly colored American currency). Yes, green shit! It turns out that with babies feeding on the formula product we've been using - Nestle NAN 1HA, which we're using because that is what Dylan seemed happy with at the hospital - is that the shit produced by the baby is green. I definitely need to take a photo of it when the opportunity presents itself, because this is one thing Dylan will always be able to be proud of.
Yet another shitty side effect is that on formula, shit comes out only once a day or so (as opposed to around six times for breast milk); but when it comes, it comes pouring, and the smell can be detected in Alpha Centauri. The nappy change that comes after that is a very special one indeed!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Milky Way: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

One of the greatest myths to do with raising a baby is the myth of breastfeeding. The quoted advantages are numerous: first and foremost, it's the healthiest thing you can give your baby; but that's just the start, because it's always available, it's always at the right temperature, it's cheap, it's trouble free, and so on and so one.
But is it really? Our case shows that things may not be what they seem.
Trouble started with Dylan being premature. Being born on the 35th week, he lacked the instinct to suck, which - as they told us at the hospital - develops towards the 37th week. As a result, during the first couple of Dylan's days he was fed through a pipe stuck up his nose. Afterwards, when Dylan started pulling the pipe, we were asked if we're willing to change to bottle feeding. The question wasn't asked in a particularly confronting manner; different nurses asked us the question under all sorts of circumstances (as in, while bumping to us in the hallway and such). Once or twice, when we asked what the big deal is and why they bother asking us - as in, who would want to be fed through a pipe? - we were told that if we start with the bottle Dylan might get addicted and avoid breastfeeding. It was obvious the question was asked because the nurses preferred the easy life of the bottle, too, but we gave them the green light. After all, who would want a pipe down their nose?
Ten days later, Dylan still wouldn't breastfeed despite repeated attempts. The attempts themselves were as poetic and sublime as a rugby clash: a nurse would hold the back of Dylan's head and shove it against the breast with the same subtlety exercised on the pitch by rugby players. We were told we can have Dylan released home or we can have him there longer to try and get him to breastfeed; but again, who would want to stay at a hospital?

We got home in time to see the first myth about breastfeeding, it being free, evaporate into thin air. We needed to get Jo a pump to express her milk with. By then we have inquired the issue with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and our obstetrician, and both told us that with the popular Medela line of pumps, which are the ones used by all the hospitals and such, there's not much of a difference between pumps other than the longevity of their motors. So at first I went to a chemist next to where we live and rented a hospital grade pump which we were supposed to use with this Medela breast kit we got from friends. I came back home with the goods to see an anxious Jo (it hurts if you accumulate too much milk) and to find our kit is missing a part; so I went back to the chemist and bought a cheap Medela electric pump.
Jo used this pump over a few days, and one thing became pretty clear: Differences between pump come down to much more than longevity, and that electric pump was not the most user friendly pump ever made.
So I went back to the chemist and bought a new kit as well as re-rented their hospital grade pump. By now they had their "new financial year" price list, so the renting of the pump cost us some 20% more than it did the week before.
Pump trouble didn't end there. A week later, while sterilizing the pump in a boiling pot, a bit of plastic that touched the edge of the pot melted away. I called the company and they told me to go to the place I bought it from for assessment; there I was told all sorts of things, but after arguing back they've succumbed and a few days later we've had the part back.
By then breastfeeding has cost us as much as a few months' supply of formula.

We've had all sorts of issues to do with the quantity of each feed, too.
Basically, Dylan is a one person all you can eat shop. Or, the way I like to call him, Fat Bastard. As if I needed further proof for 50% of his genes coming from me.
Thing is, how much can you feed him while not harming his health? Again this was an issue where we'd get different answers depending on who we asked. Some said excess feeds are barfed back up anyway so we shouldn't worry about overfeeding, while others told us to keep a restraint because Dylan thinks he's better with eating more but actually he's worse. Our experience showed, though, that if he eats on the more side of things he is more easily settled.
Then, about a week ago, breast milk supplies started to dwindle. Dylan never breastfed; even a day session with a hospital lactation expert didn't do. And once I was back to work, Jo had less time in which to express, and the result was reduced supply. By now Dylan is 90% on formula, and it seems as if the days of breast milk are very numbered.

The point of this story? Even with the best of intentions, sometimes breastfeeding just doesn't work out. It looks like Dylan has a bright future ahead of him in Formula 1.

Tip of the Day: Cloth sterilization

According to Scientific American, researchers who were looking for a cheap and easy way to sterilize bits of cloth for their experiments have found out that by microwaving the cloths in a regular microwave for about two minutes they got rid of 99% of the nasty stuff in there, effectively sterilizing the cloth.
Given that this tip comes from Scientific American rather than Woman's Day, I suspect it's quite credible. We've been using it now for a while; it's helpful when handling a baby, especially when handling formula.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The Living Davlights

Back in high-school, my friend Uri and I went to see what was then the latest James Bond film at our local neighborly cinema. The huge poster at the cinema's front, which as far as I remember was made of cloth back then, pronounced the title of the film: "James Bond in the Dangerous Zone" was the foolish Hebrew title (freely translated back to English by yours truly). Under the Hebrew title they had the English one, in English - or actually in a brand new language - said "The Living Davlights".
Memories of that fun title linger on, and the reason why I'm mentioning it now is because I have been feeling this week as if someone has kicked the living davlights out of me. And I can even point at that someone but I won't; I'll just say that by now he weighs 4 kilos and has added 4cm to his birth length.
Throughout this week, the Monsieur wouldn't let go at night before 3:00am. And by not letting go I mean anything from wriggling about when you try to put him back in his bed while refusing to sleep and up to screaming his guts off for several hours in a row the way he did on Wednesday night between 2:00am and 4:00am. The result is that I feel like a zombie, and that a simple cold I have caught back when Dylan was at the hospital from their stupid heating is being dragged on and on with no chance for sleeping it off.
Last night we got a bit of a break, though: After the 8:00pm feed, Dylan went to sleep with no problems. Given previous days' experience, we immediately dived in for a bit of a sleep, too (thus breaking a few records as far as going to sleep early is concerned). After that, Dylan woke up every three hours instead of every four for his feed, but - and that's a big but - he was so quickly settled that each feed lasted only half an hour. There were no grumpy sessions despite the obviously still gaseous contents of his stomach, and we ended up with some sleep under our belts. Still interrupted sleep, though, which is a far cry from the real thing, but the best we can hope for at this stage. I wonder what's up ahead for us over the weekend.

In order to relax and remember to take things in context, I'll reproduce (without permission!) the witty lyrics from a Monty Python song I fell in love with while listening to it during a Dylan feed.
It's called Galaxy Song, and you shouldn't have that many problems understanding why it stroke a chord. Here goes:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Tools of the Trade

For the benefit of those foolish enough to fall for the great joyful baby swindle, I thought I might list some of the tools that proved more beneficial in the handling of a baby department. And being me, I will also name and shame some of the stuff that turned out to be, well, useless shit.

Let's start with the good stuff, though.
- Friends: Well, I don't know if one can refer to them as "tools", but they're certainly beneficial in helping you manage a baby. They tend to bring you stuff you need and give you advice that actually works. Pretty useful, in short; you can never have too many of those. A must for every household.
- Baby monitor: Essentially a walkie-talkie so you can hear what's going on in the baby's room, we initially thought this would be useless given the size of our house (small). But we were wrong, and the baby monitor is very useful in conveying what's going on with the child because by now I'm so tired I need a sledgehammer to wake me up.
Our monitor also has breathing monitoring using sensor pads placed under the mattress. Given that we're paranoids and given that most of the time the baby doesn't appear to do anything, this monitoring is very good in relieving paranoia and letting you know the baby's still alive even if he just looks like he's lying there. It sounds like I'm joking, but I consider this relief to be very important: relief is worth the cost of the baby monitor. On the negative side, you need to remember to turn it off whenever you take the baby out of the bed (it issues a polite warning at first, giving ample pause prior to starting World War 3), and it does issue some false alarms which tend to make you rather ambivalent towards it (yet you still run to see all's ok, and find that it's the baby that's moved so much the sensor lost track of it).
- Thermometer: We got one of those "no contact" thermometers on eBay for virtually nothing. You hold it a centimeter off the temple, click a button, and it tells you the temperature. For paranoids like us, it makes taking the temperature so easy you do it three times an hour just for fun.
- Jumpsuits: A friends' tip, these suits that have buttons that open from head to toe, thus allowing easy installation/removal on the baby are just great. Especially when the baby shouts their guts out whenever you change him and you just want to get it over quickly. These jumpsuits make all other clothing appear like a major hassle.
- Tissue paper: Extremely useful for baby boys. Put one of your baby's dick whenever you change his nappy to prevent special face washes! It also helps them spraying their clothes every time you change them. Yet another excellent friends' tip.
- Huggies: It's weird, but we're unable to find diapers that would fit a newborn baby other than Huggies. Several other brands we've used were too big (including the Aldi ones) - and we did use their smallest size. Others were just useless at preventing leaks. Interestingly enough, Huggies' main competition, Pampers, is unavailable in Australia.
- Dummy: Given the problems with Dylan's settling, the pediatrician recommended using dummies. He told us not to look at the special orthodontic ones as they're a waste of money, and to get the big ones that don't fall off the baby's mouth that easily. We've found the Tommee Tippee's to work best: they're big enough not to fall too easily of the baby's mouth, thus preventing an early wakeup call, and their handle is small enough to reduce the chance of the baby removing the dummy by accident. We had a go with smaller dummies that are supposed to feel like a nipple, but those are useless: they're so small it takes mere seconds for the baby to chuck them out of the way and commence a crying session.
- Microwave sterilizer: Generally, the microwave becomes a parent's best friend, and the best example is with the sterilizer. It's amazingly easy: you put the bottles and stuff in a container, add some water, stick it in the microwave, and voila - everything's sterile and ready for the baby to make it dirty again.
- Heatpack/coldpack: Jo got this in preparation for the birth, where it proved totally useless for her. However, following a friend's tip, we now use the heatpack to warm up the baby's bed before putting him to sleep (after a change/feed). You can clearly see the difference a warm bed makes!
- Beema: We're quite happy with our Beema pram. Its big wheels mean it goes everywhere with comfort and ease, including steps and gaps. It's amazingly easy to push and fun to drive! Inside our small house it looks gigantic (as well as in the boot of the car), but of the three wheel prams it's probably the smallest. It is a bit of a pain to fill the air up its tires, though.
- Change table: We thought we wouldn't need one because we'll change the baby on the floor, and only got one after a friend's tip. How very foolish of us! The baby seems to spend half of his time on the change table; it is an extremely important tool in keeping parents sane. Try to get one that's high enough so you wouldn't need to bend your back much; ours (and the rest of the ones we've seen, to be frank) seem as if they were created for Snow White's dwarves.
- Cotton balls: Useful for wiping the baby's ass with water. You can get baby wipes to do the job, but the chemicals in there don't always go well with the baby's skin (as we have discovered when using Target wipes). The Johnson's cloth wipes seem to do a good job, though, but nothing beats cotton balls. They're also multi purpose: you can clean the eyes and the face with them, too.
- Nappy bags: Excellent in preventing the smell of the poo from taking over.
- Avant bottles: The nurses recommend using thin and faster flowing bottles that feel more like the breast, but our experience shows that the wide and slow Avant bottles are much better in reducing colic effects on the baby. Sure, the baby ends up preferring the easy bottle over the work intensive breast, but between that and having a more content baby that doesn't cry his guts off all the time, I'd go with the anti breast bottle. Of those, we just picked on Avant because they're a familiar brand and we have their microwave sterilizer so they fit better there, but there are many other brands that look alike.
- Mobile: Our baby is still too young to notice objects and appreciate music (at least not visibly so), but our mobile's ability to play noise definitely has an effect on him. The mobile plays bird noises, frog noises, and sea noises. It is those sea noises that make the difference: their white noise like qualities have repeatedly proven themselves to help settle the baby. They work by distraction: the baby stops his crying in order to pay attention to the noise; if all goes well, he quickly falls asleep (if things are not going well it might be time to deploy a dummy).
- Aldi washing stuff: With a baby come incredible cloth washing duties. Aldi has a cheap powder you can use to remove the occasional accidental shit off the clothes by leaving them to soak in this lovely lotion overnight, and the Aldi line of washing powder (called Trimat) includes sensitive skin powder that is suitable for both front and top loading washing machines. The reason why I mention the Aldi lineup in particular is their cost: incredibly cheap! (Yet very effective)
- Kettle: Prepare to make your kettle work over time even before your English mother in law comes over for a visit in which all the tea leaves currently in Australia will be consumed. Amongst other uses, we use boiled water to warm up the milk/formula we give to the baby. It's easy, quick, and risk free (given a few horror stories told by nurses on the dangers of microwave warming ups; then again, given that these stories come only from nurses, one wonders if it's yet another case of a nonsense religion like meme).

And now for the useless shit:
- Homeopathic medicines: As expected, these don't do anything to help the baby's colic and digestion issues. I'm ashamed to say I've wasted my money on them.
- Duck water thermometer: This tool that's supposed to tell you how warm the baby's bath water is might sound useful, but is sure isn't useful. First of all, you don't really need a tool for that; it's easy to feel when the temperature's right. And second, it's a real pain to get it to work and you're never sure what its reading is. Shoot this duck out of your way.