Thursday, 29 November 2007

Dylan's first cold

For the first time in his short career, Dylan is sick. It looks like a cold, and it's probably the legacy of the childcare. It's quite interesting, in this masochistic kind of a way, because Dylan is now eating small portions and he wakes up after short sleeps and he's grumpy all the time - essentially, he's the way he was when we first brought him home. He's even using the same small bottles we used back then.
Anyway, to document this momentous occasion, here's a video showing how the poor fellow is like. Do note that we're not evil; we are not holding him with our hands simply because we would make him too hot (it's been a warm summer so far, and the weather bureau is predicting a long warm summer). Anyway, have a look at Mr Miserable:

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Emancipation

Over the last couple of days I have been telling the story of our childcare woes to anyone who would listen and the reaction is almost always the same. There was one exception who said it's not that bad and that such incidents happen, but aside of that one - which I suspect was made without truly thinking things out - the conclusion is usually that this particular childcare place of ours must be evil.
Thing is, I don't think so. Not that I think the childcare place was good, it's just that I think the reason for the problem goes much deeper than a particular childcare facility. The reason, I believe, is that the childcare places are not designed to cater for babies as young as Dylan; virtually all other babies in Australian childcare are much older than Dylan, experienced solid eaters.
And the reason why the childcare places are not designed to cater for younger babies is simple: The Australian woman is yet to be emancipated to the same level as her, say, European counterpart. The Australian woman is still expected to stay at home with the baby for much longer than her European relatives do.
Now it's not that I am saying all Australian women should go back to work half a second after their babies have been born. What I am saying, however, is that the Australian woman should be allowed to choose: maybe, for example, she really loves her baby, but maybe she also thinks that she would serve her baby better if she brings more money to the household?
The problem, at the moment, is that even when the two Australian women that actually want to go back to work "early" want to do so, the weight of expectations means that there is no support for them out there despite those expectations being based on old style patriarchal thinking that should have perished years ago. Interestingly enough, there is also opposite correlation between the support given to the Australia woman, when compared to the one given to the European woman, and the time in which they are expected to go back to work. How can a woman have free choice under such circumstances?
At the risk of sounding repetitive, maybe what this country needs is a woman in charge?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

2

Yesterday we had this presentation at work. This guy who acts as a sports health adviser told us his views on the subject of men's health.
The lecture was interesting because it was provocative. Basically, the guy was telling us that he knows what causes cancer and he knows what it takes to prevent and cure cancer, and that it is common knowledge which we (the general public) are not aware of because the big pharmaceutical companies want to hide it from us so that they would be able to sell us their overpriced medicines. Obviously it didn't occur to him that if the answer to cancer was available these companies would make a fortune just the same.
The presentation's experience was actually a great social experience and I should really invest my time, if I have some, to write a proper post about it and express how annoyed I am with the lack of healthy skepticism in your average human being. However, one thing that did strike a chord with me, as it would with anyone, was the presenter saying that an important factor in health is happiness, and that in order to guarantee ourselves happiness we should be doing the stuff that we are passionate about. Poetic rubbish at work, the guy could pass for Paulo Coelho. I mean, here we have the ultimate answer not only to cancer but to happiness, too!
Still, there is obviously a grain of truth there. And personally, I think the formula does work, to one extent or another. I mean, I am not sure at all about my health, but I do know that I am happy doing the things I am passionate about.
And what are those things, I hear you ask? Well, there are several. But for the sake of this post I will refer you to this very blog, celebrating its second birthday today.
I will not add on that, but I will say this: I am very thankful to Jo for letting me get away with spending so much time on this blog. Rain or shine, Dylan or not, the blog was still there. It's my time that is wasted on it, sure, but it's Jo's as well; she's the one kept awake with the sound of my aggressive keyboard handling.
So now you know two things I am passionate about.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Horror: Redux

Today was Dylan's second day at childcare, at the end of which we wrote his former childcare place the following letter:

Dear sir/madam,

We are the parents of Dylan Hopkins, our four and a half month old baby, who has recently started attending your childcare facility. We were gravely disappointed with the quality of service and the lack of care on display, which is why we are writing this letter of complaint.
When we came to pick Dylan up from childcare today we noticed that the cover of the dummy we brought with him was broken, his socks were just lying around, and the caps of the two Avent formula bottles we brought with Dylan were missing despite their labelling.
The above issues are minor, although they do not add to our confidence in the care offered by your centre. Then, however, we discovered that Dylan has been fed with solids, despite his age and despite our instructions that Dylan is still on formula only (because of his premature birth we are actually required to see a paediatrician in two months in order to have Dylan’s readiness to solids assessed).
In contradiction to common advice on the introduction of solids, Dylan was actually fed with two different types of solids during the day: pumpkin and pureed apple. Given the attention food allergies receive, we regard this as a case where only luck has prevented Dylan from serious injury.
We have communicated our feelings over the phone to Georgie, one of your directors, and informed her that Dylan will no longer be attending the centre. However, given the severity of the problem, we would like to hear your opinion as we are considering taking the matter before the Department of Human Services.

Sincerely...


In conclusion I would like to say that while I think the childcare place should lose its license over an incident like that (less than a year ago a baby died in Victoria under similar circumstances), the fact of the matter is that the childcare place wouldn't feel the difference. With all the parents queuing up for their services, Dylan would be quickly replaced by another baby.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Sneakers

Dylan is now happily chattering away, and this morning I took the liberty of sneaking up on him with the camera as he woke up in the morning. The result is here for all to see:


A few minutes later I had a bit of a chat with Dylan where we've discussed subtle nuances in advanced quantum mechanics. Again, the result is here for all to see; I'd advise you to listen carefully to what Dylan has to say:

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Brand New Day

Now that Rudd is in power, here is a list of things the cynic in me does not expect to happen any time soon:
1. Assuming that Kyoto will quickly get signed, Australia will move on to unilaterally reduce its greenhouse emissions and invest a lot in sustainable energy while canceling subsidies to fossil fuel industries.
2. Australian forces will retreat out of Iraq within 3 months (I'll happily live with 6, too).
3. The Australian government will now be transparent and accountable.

I know I shouldn't start with this attitude; I should be celebrating John Howard's farewell. I should also be giving Rudd his 100 days for getting into the thick of things before I start accusing him. My point, however, is that now that the "good guys" are in charge, there's plenty of work to do.
I am quite excited!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Shawshank Redemption

My fellow Australians.
Three years ago you really pissed me off with the way you voted. I couldn't believe you chose three more years of that deceitful person, John Howard, with the empty promise of keeping interest rates low. How shallow a premises to get elected by, given that by international standards interest rates were high to begin with and given the government's lack of control over these rates, but most of all given that what you were to earn through supposedly low interest rates went immediately out the back door (with interest) to pay for, just to name a couple, higher education and health costs. Labor, the party that offered improved Medicare services that everyone can enjoy and improved public schooling, just to name a couple, got whitewashed.
For three more years we all suffered the consequences. Everyone with eyes up their head can see through the rot of the Liberal led coalition's government: The lack of accountability and the corruption demonstrated through the AWB scandal, the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and of Australians some clerk who doesn't get enough sex at home decides are actually bloody foreigners, and the scandalous way in which the targetless war in Iraq is managed. I won't even mention the complacency on environmental issues, where the only progress is when the prospect of giving the party's friends some profits through nuclear reactors comes up.
But we can remedy the situation.
No, I don't think a Rudd government would solve all of our problems on this earth. As the Labor government of Victoria shows, Labor can be just as corrupt and just as incapable as the Liberals. But it would be a change and it would be a step in the right direction, especially if Labor is motivated enough to mend its ways through parties such as the Greens and the Democrats.
Personally, I would have really liked to see Natasha Stott Despoja as our next PM, aided by Dr Karl and Bob Brown. But I live in the real world, a world in which people are not elected because of the way they think and act but rather a world in which people are elected because of the way they are perceived, with most people falling for the grand mechanisms of the two big parties even if these parties never deliver.
Most of the people I know are actually going to vote Liberal. At the risk of offending them I will say this: I have a problem with people who vote Liberal. Now I know that there are tons of reasons for people to choose the party they vote for and the majority is not driven by ideals the way I do. But at its core, the Liberal movement stands for individualism and for rewarding individuals who succeed in their personal ventures. The basic assumption is that those that didn't make it didn't try hard enough. But is that the case? Are you always successful when you try, even if you try hard? Are you always in control over your circumstances? Do all people start from the same starting point or are some more privileged than others?
To put it another way, the Liberals stand for the gold old iron rule - "he who has the gold makes the rules". There is no better way to describe what John Howard has done with his regime, and I just can't believe that people who are basically good can join forces with such ideals.
But don't worry, Australia, because this Saturday you can change your way for a better, brighter future, in which we stand together rather than divided. A vote for a better way is not only something that should come from the heart, but there is hard science showing it should come from the head, too.
Vote well.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Money's too tight to mention

For the first time since Dylan became a reality we're starting to feel financial pressures. This pressure has materialized itself in the form of a reduced balance in our mortgage's offset account.
It's not like this didn't happen before. When we booked flights to Europe it came down and when we bought our car it came down, too. This time around the difference is that we're running the risk of it becoming a routine instead of a one off.
Sure, we have been spending money, perhaps recklessly. Not only on stuff for Dylan; we did buy new speakers and we didn't really stop ourselves spending money the way we used to, only that with Dylan around we don't have the time to spend as much as we did in the past.
Another reason to worry is that we have a lineup of major expenses ahead of us. We're talking small projects here:
First, we would like to block the light in Dylan's room. His room's main window is north facing (that's where the sun is in our hemisphere), so his room tends to be the hottest in the house and the light that creeps in prevents him from sleeping. Unlike Europe, where blinds are mostly placed outside of the window, in Australia the trend is place the blinds inside, which prevents the blind from totally sealing all light while making the blind into a heat absorbing device that warms the room up. We got some quotes to address that, and we're talking either putting external blinds ala Europe (the most effective solution), replacing our internal blinds with another type, and/or putting a cloth like hanging thing on the outside.
Second, we would like to get more out of our backyard. Currently, when it's hot, it's way too hot to sit there; we need shade. It looks like the best solution for shade, given the eccentric shape of our backyard, is to get sails. That, however, would cost us $3000; a lot of money, but by spending it we'll be providing Dylan with a nice playground.
Third, we are looking for colling solutions. We have the portable air-conditioner I brought with me from Israel and it works well, but it's too weak to make a true impression and it's definitely too noisy. Besides, I'm not a fan of air-conditioners: the transition between the non A/C world outside and the cooler world inside tends to make me sick, and besides - given their energy consumption they should be banned in the first place. So one solution is to go for evaporative cooling, but that's expensive for a thorough implementation and on those really hot days it wouldn't make much of a difference. Currently, we're thinking of going for a ceiling fan; given that our house is a well insulated double brick place, that could be enough to make the living room livable. And maybe we can even use it to mount energy saving lamps!
So there you have it: three summer projects to knock out our mortgage with. And lest we forget, we now have a $400 monthly childcare bill...
Selling stuff on eBay does ease the pain but hardly so; it seems as if Jo going back to work would be the only thing that can restore financial balance to our lives. Circumstances do make me wonder, though, what others with a lesser income than mine do to make ends meet.
Socialist brothers and sisters, let us unite (and hopefully, kick John Howard to his rightful place come the weekend's elections)!

Monday, 19 November 2007

I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit

In my opinion there's hardly a subject that is as misrepresented as death. As discussion subjects go there aren't many that are more avoided than death, so it's about time to discuss it a bit here.
We need to start by defining what death is, and for argument's sake I will say that death is the opposite of life. Great, only that now we need to define what life is, which is where the problems start. As usual, life and death are things we all have opinions on, but we never really question those opinions. Allow me to do so now.
Everybody knows that life doesn't start at birth. What everybody also knows but no one really bothers to think about is that life doesn't start at conception either. Think about it: the sperm and the egg that join hands at conception are both very much living beings in anyone's book long before they combine, therefore life doesn't start with their meeting. And thus when you try and trace life's origins you eventually go back four billion years; everything alive since then is connected in this eternal chain of ongoing life.
Looking at life this way, our definition of death as the opposite
of life is problematic. I will therefore suggest alternative definitions to the terms: What I would define as life is the consciousness that I feel in my head as a result of the chemical and electric reactions going on here, and what I would define as death is the continued loss of consciousness that takes place, well, when you die.
Sure, this definition is not practical for most purposes. When you kill a cow in order to have a steak you don't bother to check what happens in its brain. On the other hand, this definition works well for most of us: if, say, you were to suffer from severe Alzheimer to the point you're not you anymore, than most people would treat you as dead anyway and you would probably prefer to die; just check what takes place in old peoples' places. You wouldn't be the old you anymore, simply because the composition of your brain has changed way too much.
So now that we know what I consider death to be, what do I make of death? Well, I don't think of death itself as that big a deal. At this point I will refer you to Mark Twain in the above quote, said at a time in which people thought the universe was only millions of years old: "I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit". We were all very dead before we were conceived (by my definition we become alive after around six months in our mother's womb) and we were never bothered by it, so why should we be bothered by being dead after our life?
Well, there are plenty of good reasons to be bothered. However, these are mostly to do with not making the most of the life that we've had rather than what takes place after death; or the legacy we leave behind, especially when it comes to our families. Personally, given that I am happy with the way I lead my life, I feel fine about it all, even if I'm sure I will never find a truly proper time to expire in; alas, such is life, and I am happy to be here in the first place.
What does bother me about death is more to do with the how. I don't want to die suffering agonizing pain; I don't want to die stupidly, like in losing control over my car to find myself smashed on a post; and I don't want to die suffering from some some chronic disease like cancer, spending the last years of my life moving between radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Of course, there are plenty of other ways I don't particularly want to die in, but then again there are plenty of ways I don't want to live in: I wouldn't particularly want to survive a nuclear holocaust that takes civilization away and I wouldn't want to live through a disease that would take my life away ala Alzheimer.
But with all that being said, if I was to die the next second while being totally unaware of it... I wouldn't mind it in the least. Simply because there would be no way for me to mind it in the first place. On its own, death is just an inevitable part of life, and we'd all be able to enjoy life more if we didn't spend our life dreading our inevitable death. Statistically speaking, we're all so lucky to be alive we should savor what we can and avoid fruitlessly depressing ourselves with morbid thoughts.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Melbourne baby shop guide

Given the need to explain our baby shop preferences many a time, I thought it would be best to summarize it here. So here is a list of the baby shops we are familiar with and our opinion about them:
1. Baby Gallery: Generally, this is the cheapest baby shop we have stumbled upon, and they have a large inventory at hand. The bad thing about them is that their staff doesn't seem to familiar with what they're selling; while common with most baby shops, Baby Gallery seems to take top spot there. They don't have a website but they're located in 2167-2181 Princess Highway, Clayton.
2. Glenhuntly Baby Carriages: Generally good pricing and they will match everyone else's price, but as reported their sales people will happily lie to you in order to make you buy the more expensive stuff (even if it's not necessarily better, which is very often the case with baby shopping - expensive rarely means better).
3. Babyco: They're the place that exclusively sells our pram of choice, the Beema. However, other than the Beema their stock is relatively limited and overpriced.
4. Baby Bunting: The biggest baby shop around (even if their website sucks), they take advantage of being most famous to get away with inflated prices and indifferent service. We go there to check what the options are, although Baby Gallery is almost as big.
5. Big W: By far the cheapest place around, useful for accessories and all the clothes the baby will grow out of in two seconds. Their prams and the rest of the big stuff they have in stock are usually of the type you wouldn't want your child next to. Other than with formula and special sales, Big W is the cheapest place of them all.
6. Kmart: Similar to Big W but generally more expensive.
7. Target: More expensive than Big W, but often has 30% off everything on baby stuff which makes it very attractive. Unlike Big W, they do stock some good big stuff, so it's good to have a look from time to time: we got our baby gym and our port-a-cot there for stupid prices.

Lord of the Flies

This year looks like it's going to be a hot one. It's November, the time that's supposed to be the rainiest, and all we had since October was one day where it bucketed down and dryness since. Instead, we're getting 30 degree plus (plus a lot) days, which are usually more of a February thing. I heard someone saying they don't care because they have an air-conditioner, which is probably the attitude that got us this weather in the first place.
One side effect of the heat is that the flies, which are always a pain outside of the city but especially in summer, have now conquered Melbourne as well. You can't go outside without a fight, and today we had our lesson when we went for a walk by the beach. There were dozens of them on the pram (Dylan was protected) and dozens parked on my back and dozens just flying around us. Needless to say, the walk was short and the enthusiasm was curbed. It's going to be one hell of a summer!
Anyway, later at home Jo took this video of Dylan. As with the rest of the videos there's nothing dramatic and no sophisticated plot; this time around it's all about the noises that Dylan has now learned to make:

Friday, 16 November 2007

We are a way for the cosmos to know itself

I recently heard that someone I know has a problem with astronomy. Apparently, they find that the vastness of the universe causes a feeling of insignificance; that, in turn, is identified as a depressing notion, and thus it is concluded that astronomy is best avoided.
Just in case you haven’t been able to figure it up by now, I totally disagree. Here goes the explanation…
I don’t think there’s much contention about the issue our place in the universe, unless you’re into religion and stuff. In the grand scheme of things, and as astronomy shows the grand scheme of things is way too grand for us even to comprehend, we are a spec of dust in the corner. Not only that, but there is no real point to us being here other than to act as a replicator, a survival machine (to quote Dawkins) to our genes. We are here to make sure that certain sophisticated molecules, our genes, truly become immortal coils. Pathetic, isn’t it? A disgrace to any being with half an intelligence?
Well, no.
The question of the meaning of life will only bother us if we make it bother us. I don’t care much about my genes, but I do see a lot of things around me that I care about and which make life worth living. There are so many goals a human can set his/her mind to, so many noble things to achieve and experience, why should I care that I was conceived as a servant to my genes? Personally, I don’t how a small and flat universe or how huge universe would affect the things I do in life in any way. A rainbow remains beautiful and poetry is just as boring (I know I should have said poetry "stirs the soul" or something similar, but I do find poetry boring)..
At its core, the question is what do we make with this life that has been given to us. I don’t think we should think ourselves insignificant; I think we should understand our place in the universe instead. Astronomy comes very helpful there, because it is clear that the vast majority of space out there is devoid of life. Just think how lucky you are to be you and to be alive! Think of the statistics: just as the universe is grand, so your chances of being born are small. But you were born, and you’re here!
Think about it the way Carl Sagan put it. We are the eyes with which the universe sees itself. The blackest hole, the biggest bang – what good are they if there is no one around to admire them?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

He's one, but he's not the same

Dylan is one year old today. Exactly one year ago Dylan was created in an East Melbourne lab. Think of the miracle that took place there! One sperm shoved into one egg, a bit of time, and suddenly you have yourself a combination of chromosomes made of an exact combination of its two parents. Bow down to evolution, please!
A few days later we saw Dylan for the first time through a microscope when he was just four or six cells in size. Next time around he was like a bean in the ultrasound machine with a faint flicker for a heart, followed by a tadpole, and eventually a humanoid. A year later and, well, there are tons of photos in Flickr to show what's going on with Dylan now.
My point with this story is to demonstrate how limited our common grasp of what usually takes place is. We celebrate birth days, even though these are secondary in importance. We calculate birth periods not from the time of actual conception, which is unknown to most people, but rather from the time of the last period. We're pretty limited in what we know.

Dylan himself is quite the angel now. For more than a couple of weeks now we have been strict with his night routine and he's been rewarding us with long and uninterrupted night sleeps. During the day he's still hard to master but not half as hard as he was in his first couple of months out. And generally speaking, he looks like a doll; I know I'm far from objective, but it's hard for me to imagine a cuter baby than Dylan.
I guess I should savor this time as things are bound to deteriorate. Soon he'll catch all the diseases childcare has in its inventory, start teething, and usher a reign of chaos when he starts moving about. And I don't even want to think of the effects of consuming solids.
Life is quite different to what it was like a year ago.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Who speaks for earth?

For the first time in my career I voted in an Australian federal election.
The elections are actually next weekend, but it turns out that the theater right next door to work is serving as an early voting place where people who can't make it on the actual day can vote. At the entrance you have three guys from Labor, Greens and Liberals sitting next to one another and pushing their leaflets towards everyone showing the faintest interest in voting, and after they assured me that even I can vote there (actually, it was only the Labor and Greens guys that assured me; the Liberal fell silent after hearing of my voting intentions) I reckoned that it's better to vote here and now and look after Dylan when Jo does her voting later.
So I went it, and again I was amazed at how relaxed the identification process is. You don't need any identification or anything; all you need is to write your name and address and they give you the proper forms. Compare that to Israel, where I always had a religious party's inspector giving me a hard time because the photo on my ID was taken when I was 16 and doesn't look like me at all; of course, his motivation for giving me problems had nothing to do with me voting exactly the opposite of what he (always a "he") would prefer me to vote.
For the record, in the lower house I voted Greens first, followed by Democrats, followed by Labor, followed by Liberals, followed by the "crazy Christians that don't know what they really stand for are us" parties (including Family First). Not that my vote matters in any way as our area is a very safe Liberal seat; given the preferential method used in Australian elections you may argue (in some twisted way) that I actually voted for John Howard.
Things are different with the upper house voting, where you can choose to vote "above the line", meaning choose just one party and rely on that party's declared preferences, or choose to vote "below the line" and rate your own preferences from start to finish. The problem with aboving the line is that by making things simpler you open your vote to ugly political dealings of the type that allowed Family First a senate seat last time around (mainly because Labor preferred a party they thought never stands a chance over the Greens).
Personally, I prefer voting under the line. Yes, you need to spend a few minutes rating all 68 candidates in descending order, but given that these few minutes represent the time in which the majority of us have the biggest impact ever on the way the world runs I think it's an effort worth spending. I'll go a step further and state that I think voting above the line is an insult to voters' intelligence.
Besides, rating 68 candidates can be fun. I started with a mix and match of the various Greens, Democrats and the new Climate Change Coalition party (featuring Dr Karl) candidates. That Climate Change Coalition is a good example for why voting above the line is bad: there's no way the established parties will look in its general direction, even though it features the people with whom I identify the most - intellectuals, scientists and people who bother to think.
After those three the question was how to best select the rest of the lot. I went with the socialist (read: wannabe communists) parties first: they strike a chord with me and they may help cancel the stupid negative gearing that inflates housing so badly. There's also an aura of naivety about them: they really think that communism is good, forgetting all the bad that came along with it. Let's be honest - they don't stand a chance of getting there, but if they do they will have just the effect I am looking for with economic priorities.
Then I picked Labor, then some of the weird parties that don't stand for much and don't stand a chance, then Liberals, and then the crazy Christians and the racists and the plain lunatics: bottom rankings were awarded to the Shooting Party and to "racists are us" One Nation.
That's one small vote for me, one small vote for the earth.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

To be or not to be

I'm sick of scare campaigns.
No, I’m not talking about the coalition’s elections campaign here. For the last couple of days, while walking to and from the train station to work, I keep being confronted by signs on every billboard asking me in blood covered letters “where would you go to if you died tonight”. Thinking the answer’s pretty simple (nowhere), I read the small letters, where I found that this is some campaign run by some church to get me back to a place I’ve never been to (church).
Now, people often ask me why am I so adamant in my approach to religion. Here’s why! By creating a totally unfounded fear – namely, hell – religion manages to take people away from the things that truly deserve our attention.
I think it is safe to say that more people are afraid of hell than, say, global warming. And I also think it is safe to say that if half of the attention wasted on religion was invested on addressing global warming, our world would be a much better place to live in.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Horror

Dylan has had his childcare acclimatization today. He spent less than an hour and a half there together with Jo, and judging by Jo's account (as well as by how tired Dylan was when I came back from work in the evening) those few hours can be summed by using Colonel Kurtz' famous words.
I have already blogged my opinion on childcare several times here on this very blog, mostly saying that I think the socializing gained in childcare is worth the relative lack of attention. Well, after today my opinion has changed and I have become a paranoid; yes, socializing is important, but at Dylan's current age he won't be doing much of that. At his age, he will just settle for suffering the consequences of ill attention.
Basically, Jo told me of the mess that takes place in the childcare place. They have 10 babies with 2 attendants, which is the Australian standard ratio; you can do the math for yourself, especially if you realize that when one baby is fed the ratio suddenly becomes one attendant to nine screamers. The resulting observations include nappy changes on the sandy floor, Dylan being dressed with an overall suit on top of his socks, Dylan chewing on the bottle while being fed by an attendant busy mostly looking after the other babies, spoons being shared by all babies on solids because nobody can afford to be careful, and much much more. To calm the babies down they use things like vibrating rockers, which we don't have at home and don't want to have, and which I really hope we won't have to get because Dylan would get used to them.
Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't send Dylan to childcare. That mess would have to come at some point, and at least if he starts now he'd be used to it later when he can tell what is going on around him. It's just that as a parent you're put between a rock and a hard place: Obviously, the childcare places here do not cater really for babies as young as Dylan, with the youngest one at Dylan's group being 9 months old. It's to do with Australian practices, but it's really hard for us to follow suit with no family around to help us.
It's also obvious that putting Dylan away is harder on us than on him, even if you can clearly see how he's going to catch every ill meaning germ in the continent. It comes down to this: We've been very careful and very protective with him, looking after him to the best of our abilities and making an effort to really learn the best ways to look after him; and suddenly we're going to dump him at this place where the thing he needs the most, attention, would be lacking. Great!
In order to calm myself I've been telling [myself] that to compensate for the childcare I need to devote more attention to Dylan. Coming back from work today I read him this nice book I got him, "Where is the Green Sheep", twice - once in Hebrew and once in English.
Still, while it's easy for me to type how I'm going to look after Dylan into this blog here and now, it would be hard to actually do it in real life where I'm tired coming home from work and where Dylan has to compete for my attention with various chores as well as with attractions such as the PC or a good book. But that's life for you and that's raising kids for you: it's all a game of priorities, and in the early 21st century the game is getting harder and harder to play.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

John Book was here

As our frequent flyer holiday booking saga continued, we decided to explore other options to New Zealand. There were simply no attractive frequent flyer options there, and given that last time we flew there with Emirates and it was great it looked like maybe we should spend our points elsewhere and come back to Emirates when New Zealand calls.
Eventually we settled our points on Tasmania. OK, it's not half as attractive as New Zealand, I admit; it's probably too close to Victoria to be exotic; and it's full of Tanzanians. However, Tasmania does offer very attractive frequent flyer options: we booked a morning flight to go and an evening flight to return on the exact days we had in mind. As with our New Zealand booking attempts, Qantas claims it takes 12,500 points for a free flight to Tasmania but then it asked us for $150 to cover taxes and charges; this time around, though, it allowed us to pay for these charges with points. Since these points have proved to be nothing but a pain in the backside and by now we can't care less about them, we spent 55,000 points for completely free return flights.
Given the events taking place last time we booked flights anywhere I am not taking anything for granted until I land in Tasmania. This time around my biggest fear is that Dylan would be on a sick bonanza from his stay at childcare which would prevent us taking him anywhere. That said, I am definitely excited with the prospects of doing some proper touring again!
The engines of our traveling machine have been started. Today we bought a carry bag for our stroller to help manage the flights. Tomorrow I'll visit Borders to put my hands on a Lonely Planet Tasmania guide. This week Borders is offering 35% discount vouchers and I'm here to make sure they're not wasted. Then we'll do our research and come up with a travel plan, book hotels and arrange for a rental car, and hopefully - eventually - go!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Living Loving Maid

This time around I want to expand a bit on the subject of women going back to work after giving birth, an issue about which everyone seems to have a different opinion.
The first thing that seems pretty obvious is that women are bound to have a major attachment to their babies. Obviously there are exceptions, but if you accept the Selfish Gene's explanation than a woman's best bet for surviving her genes (the woman's purpose in life) is through her children or brothers/sisters, then it is guaranteed the woman would have a very hard wired attachment to the baby, which would - in turn - make going back to work hard. Men, on the other hand, have a bit of a weaker connection because they're more oriented towards spreading their semen around rather than putting all their eggs in one basket. All of this does offer an explanation as to why society makes a big fuss about the woman going back to work but takes it for granted that the man doesn't have such a need, an assumption that by today's standards of equality is more than a bit of a contradiction. My point is to show that this entire going back to work dilemma is artificially created by society's old fashioned expectations; something akin to circumcising your baby once he's born just because... well, why, really?
There is a lot of geography to it, too. In Europe, for example, the pressure on the woman to stay at home is significantly lower than in Australia, even though in Europe the benefits that a mother staying at home receives are infinitely larger than those in Australia (where the benefits sum up to the roundest number of them all). It appears as if in this regard, Australia is very conservative, stuck in long gone times. No wonder John Howard has been in charge for so long...
In modern society, the real dilemma on whether to go back to work or whether to stay at home should be around the proper balance between providing the baby with the attention it requires and between socializing and providing for the household in general. In math speak, the question is this: you're trying to maximize the baby's prospects in life by balancing the some activities which are limited by time and resources (read: money). Note that the activities included might be things that have nothing to do with the child; if the woman likes to go boat rowing on her own because it makes her feel better, the child would benefit from that, too, because he/she will have a more relaxed mother around.
Do we have any data to show us what the better balance between work and home is? A limited amount, but we do. A few months ago Scientific American told of a study that compared the success of kids who have their mother looking after them as babies compared to that of kids who go to childcare an X number of days a week. I don't remember how "success" was defined; it was probably something like school grades, being accepted to prestigious schools, or income as adults. Whatever the definition of success was for that research, it had found a slight yet statistically certain advantage for kids who were sent to childcare, thus concluding that the baby benefits more from socializing and from the extra money that the mother brings home than from the mother's undivided attention.
Now I am not saying that this research is the word of god and that everyone should follow it. What I am saying, though, is that given the archaic reasoning behind the social convention of staying home with the child, every woman should weigh her her own options and make up her own mind.
I will openly dismiss the arguments raised by your average auto pilot conformist (an for the record, most of the time I also belong to that camp), such as "they're only this young once"; such an argument can be made about a 20 year old just the same as for a 6 month old, and for some reason such arguments are only raised when the woman thinks of going back to work but never when the man does. It's true that you miss some fascinating stuff, but the trick is in the balancing; no one says that going back to work has to mean that you miss out on the baby's entire childhood.
I know it's a revolution that didn't dawn on everyone yet, but today's woman is more than a machine that caters for her man and raises his children. Today's woman should be a free thinker that can make her own choices and that should be allowed to make her own choices without being tied up to defunct social stigmas.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Garlic Peel

As I have already reported, we have Qantas frequent flyer points that we need to spend before April and we've decided that it would be nice to try and use these points to fly to New Zealand.
Of the New Zealand airports you can fly to, there's Auckland on the north island, but Qantas' flights there leave Melbourne at midday so you get to Auckland at night and effectively lose a day, whereas the return flights are very early in the morning so you have to sleep at the airport hotel and have yourself a waster day. Most other New Zealand airports, like Wellington, do not or rarely feature direct reward flights, and having connections and such would be a waste of time and a potential nightmare with a baby to take care of.
This leaves us with Christchurch as a potential destination, only that Qantas doesn't fly there directly; direct flights are offered only through Jetstar, Qantas' el-cheapo airline. We don't know yet whether we want to risk flying the el-cheapo way, but we went ahead with the booking process to be told that in addition to the 72,000 frequent flyer points we will need to pay $530 for these "free reward" return flights to Christchurch. These costs were labeled as "charges/taxes".
Out of curiosity we turned over to Jetstar's own website and booked the exact same flights. The cost there, including taxes and all, was $850. Effectively, those frequent flyer points are only worthy of 37% of the full cost of the flight! For what is supposed to be a free flight, this is one hell of a not so free flight; and I won't even mention the annoyance that comes through collecting the points with Qantas only to end up using them on the inferior Jetstar.
I think I can safely say that this is the end of my Qantas frequent flyer points collecting career. There aren't that many things in life that are worth less than those points.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

You say you want a revolution

In what can only be regarded as a historical move, especially if your name is Dylan, we have booked Dylan to childcare today.
In some ten days' time, on the Monday, Dylan will present himself (together with a few bottles and some formula) at the childcare place near where we live. Come January, Jo will go back to work for a couple of days each week, and Dylan will go to childcare twice a week. From then on, the sky's the limit.
The pain of it is that we'll be handing Dylan to someone else, "missing" his childhood, he's only small for a short period of time, etc etc. Needless to say, I don't go for that: he would still be with us for 5/7 of the days, and even on the days when he's at childcare he will still be with us most of the time (although not most of the awake time). He would also have company, absorb some viruses and germs of sorts, and get to experience things that we can't offer at home. More importantly, Jo will get some of her life back: while I haven't been able to concentrate at work the way I did in the past, I do recognize work as a tool that keeps me sane. And we might even get some money out of the experience!
Not much, though, because a childcare day will cost us $80. And in order to maintain your place you need to pay even if you're not there, and because of demand we need to have Dylan there more than a month before Jo actually goes back to work - effectively, we'll be throwing $400 down the sink. Thanks a lot, John Howard. We'll probably be looking forward to sending Dylan to school and relieving ourselves of this immense financial burden! Think of it this way: if you have two kids or more, there's absolutely no reason for you to go to work if you don't earn millions.
For now, I guess we'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Sleepy Time Time

Between today's Melbourne Cup and me taking a day off yesterday, we've had ourselves a extra long weekend. Indeed, Melbourne is in a dire need of a public holiday between early June (the "queen's birthday", which has nothing to do with Betty's actual birthday) and early November.
In our previous lives, such an opportunity would have been spent going somewhere, the farther the better; something like, say, a drive to Canberra. Today things are different, and as this is our first vacation time ever with Dylan around we have decided to be careful and go for day trips.
Turned out to be a good idea. Sunday was the rainiest day in Victoria for more than two years, and we spent it with a nice drive to Barwon Heads where we sat at a nice cafe. On Monday we took a leisurely stroll down Southbank, at the heart of Melbourne, and today we met with friends in the Mornington Peninsula's Sorrento. All easy stuff, all close to home, but all very nice! Even Dylan liked it: from time to time he would release a joyful sound, and he always sleeps the best in the car.
During Xmess we intend to up the ante and go for a few days to this resort place, not that far from Melbourne. The place offers rooms with microwaves and kettles, so between that and the port-a-cot we'll bring with us it would be the first time we really take Dylan away from home; that would be an interesting experience. The next step? Well, the friends we met today have talked us into seriously thinking of going the New Zealand way again, with Dylan. We have frequent flyer points we have to spend before April, so maybe we should rent a car and go for a proper drive there?

Anyway, if there is one conclusion to take from this long weekend that we've had, it is to do with sleep. Luckily for us, Dylan is in some sort of a routine, and he wakes up at around six to six thirty every morning (if things go well); thing is, after his morning feed he will go to sleep only after a play, and even then that would only be for an hour or so.
The conclusion is this: even though I may be off work, sleep can no longer be replenished during the morning. There's no late get up from bed anymore, even if I accept that sleep is broken down into small pieces. From now on, if I want to recover some sleeping hours, I need to go to bed early at night; the problem there is that most of the nice things that I do, either with Jo or on my own - playing on the computer, reading, watching films, even blogging - are done late at night.
Looks like I have been condemned to an eternity of tiredness.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Beam me up, Scotty?

This time around I want to ask a question that for this day and age may seem irrelevant, but who knows - eventually lots of people may be asking it. I suspect the likes of Asimov & Co have discussed it as well, but I'll still go through the motions.
The question is simply this: Assuming the technology to do so is available, would you let Scotty beam you up? Personally, I think I wouldn't.
In order to explain my anti transporter notions, we need to explain how a transporter would work in the first place. Well, the way I see it, your basic Star Trek transporter works this way:
First, you have some sort of a sensor analyzing your exact structure. For argument's sake, let us assume this sensor does a very thorough job in analyzing you to the quark level and in knowing exactly where the environment around you ends and where yourself you start. The output of this analysis is a digital data file specifying exactly how you are constructed.
The second thing that happens is that this data file is sent to the destination you are transporting to. For all intents and purposes, this could happen via something like today's internet, perhaps as an FTP file transfer.
Assuming the successful reception of the data file in the place you are transporting to, you will be disassembled at your original location and then reassembled, using the data file's information, at the destination.
But this is the trick, you see: when you're disassembled, then for all intents and purposes you die. The fact that an exact replica of yours is constructed on the other side does not change the fact that you have just been killed. Worse, according to the algorithm I have described above the new you will be made of different atoms/quarks to what your original you was made of, since it wasn't your atoms/quarks that were transported but rather information on how to build you up from available atoms/quarks. For everyone else around, you are still the same you only that you are in a different place; but as far as the original you is concerned, that original you is now dead.
And so the question becomes - will you accept this death of yours just because you know that another you, identical to you, would still be around? Or is your death, no matter under which circumstances and no matter what compensation the rest of the world gets to have, enough to deter you of transporting in the first place? Personally, I would say I belong to the second camp. If someone else wants to transport, good on them; I like my own atoms.
And then there's a scenario which was explored in Star Trek TNG, in which Will Ryker happened to have a replica of himself due to a transporter malfunction where his original self was not destroyed. What are the ethics of transporting that cover this scenario? Should the extra copy be destroyed?
The question might seem silly and irrelevant, but the answer to this question will be the same answer to many questions that are relevant here and now. Given that we are made of atoms, what is it that we can do to another person's atoms and be able to get away with and what is it that will put us in jail? If you were to smoke next to me, how much does that count as harming my physical self? Where does each and every one of us start and end?
The law doesn't go down to that level, but eventually it would have to.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Stepping Out

Going out sure isn’t what it used to be. I’m not talking about going to the cinema or going for a lunch with Michael Palin as he introduces his new book/series New Europe; as much as we both love Palin – the original lumberjack – I am not sure we can trust Dylan not to add to much input to the presentation.
What I am talking about are things like visiting friends. Tonight, for example, the plan was to visit my brother. So far so good, but then reality strikes back at you.
Everything needs to revolve around Dylan’s routine, and the routine specifies that he needs to be fed at 19:00. Given that he’s supposed to sleep, we don’t want to feed him at home and then go to my brother’s place while he’s asleep because his sleep will be interrupted, so the conclusion is that we need to be at my brother’s place a bit before 19:00 and feed him there.
However, we cannot be there much before 19:00, as we need to bath Dylan as well – the bath is an integral part of the night sleep routine. And given that it’s a part of the night routine you want to do it close to the rest of the night routine, so we need to give Dylan his bath just before we go.
Once Dylan finishes his 19:00 feed he needs to be settled. Today he’s had his “I’m a four month old baby” immunization injections, so he’s not particularly in the mood to be settled; but once settled he needs to go to sleep, something that is possible either on the pram (the not as good solution) or we can take our port-a-cot with us (the good solution). The problem with the port-a-cot solution is that while it’s a mild pain to type “port-a-cot” on the PC it’s a much bigger pain to implement: you need to carry it, carry accompanying sheets and leak protection measures, assemble the cot and all, and then disassemble it. Bridges were built through lesser efforts. And then there’s the theoretical chance that’s enhanced through the jabs that Dylan won’t settle in the first place, in which case the visit can be very short.
Yet another problem is the problem of dinner. Our dinner. Given that I’m only back from work at about 18:00 or so, and given Dylan’s bath and the drive to my brother, we won’t have time to have dinner before we leave. And no, starvation is not an option, not when the entire affair is being organized so that we could have a good time.
The bottom line? Either I’m going to ask my brother to come to our place instead or we’re going to rent The Transformers. At least this way we’re going to have something meet our eyes.