Thursday, 31 January 2008

Adelaide dreaming

Yesterday, when interviewed about the upcoming dredging of Port Phillip Bay, Premier Brumby said that if Melbourne doesn’t want to become a “backwater” like Adelaide the dredging project should be allowed to start. Well, I haven’t been to Adelaide yet, but I’m not sure Adelaide's people would want to go as low as Melbourne is on the worst run city scale.
Look at the dredging project itself, for a start. Project stakeholders have been telling us, as in the case of the ABC’s 7:30 Report last night, that the project is financially viable because an investment of 1 billion dollars today would return 2 billion dollars within 30 years. The thing is, they are able to say this while keeping a straight face, and they manage to get the news reporters to repeat their mantra as well, thus making me ask myself whether I am the only person around that can do basic calculations? Fact is, and it is very much a fact, that spending 1 billion in order to get 2 billions in 30 years time is an incredibly poor investment [assuming they are not using some sophisticated normalized figures, which all indications show they don’t; they're using the same figures they published years ago, back when the cost of the project was supposed to be a few hundreds of millions of dollars]. We would all be very significantly richer if we put our 1 billion in a secured bank account for 30 years: at a conservative interest rate of 6% we would cash out 5.5 billions instead.
Let’s not ignore another well known fact, which is to do with government projects never running on time or on budget. They’re already complaining the legal battles currently taking place are halting the dredging facilities down and costing a quarter of a million per day, but instead of blaming whoever it was that ordered the dredging facilities in before acquiring the approval to go ahead they blame the citizens that care enough about the environment they live in.
We, the public, are being taken for fools here by the same people we have elected. The fact that it’s the ex-treasurer of Victoria that tells me with a straight face the project is financially viable signals to me the man belongs somewhere else. A land far, far away (the further the better).
Almost needless to say, the state opposition is incredibly quiet about this whole affair. Why? Because they’re just as bad as the state coalition, if not worse. They would have liked the dredging to start years ago so their high powered mates can make their killing.
Lucky us, Victorians, living in a democratic state with no one worthwhile to elect! We should wish we were in Adelaide.

What can we expect, though, from the same people who have been managing Melbourne’s public transport for the last eight years?
Yesterday, while escorting Dylan in his pram to the train, I encountered a faulty elevator at the platform. By the time I realized it was faulty we missed the train and I had to do a whole tour of the train station to get to my platform in time for the next train. Lucky for me I’m not disabled; I don’t want to imagine how life feels like for them.
This morning our train got stuck on a certain station for more than five minutes without any explanation. After a while of passengers looking at one another in search of some information as to why we are all waiting, the station’s announcer (but not the train announcer) said that the next train to leave for the city would leave from platform 5 in a minute. We were on platform 1, which meant an exodus of some thousand people from our train towards the promised land’s platform.
I lagged behind because I saw a train next to us being so full a woman could get pregnant without ever knowing who the father was. Lucky for me, just as I did leave the train it made sounds of moving again, so I jumped right in.
Indeed, within a few minutes of travelling on a ghost train I was at the city's station. Upon arrival there the driver apologized: “sorry for the inconvenience which was a result of a passenger falling ill”. Fair enough, when you have a group of a thousand people crammed together, you are likely to encounter cases of people falling ill. However, why did they leave us all in the dark there? Way is it so hard to tell us people what is going on, so we will not have to contend with uncertainty and get ourselves involuntarily impregnated?
At the city I decided to take a tram to work. Usually I walk, but I’m still weak from my cold and it was raining (a rare event in contemporary Melbourne). Lucky for me, someone up there has decided that in order to help the trams run faster they need to reduce the number of stations; the implication is that now I still have to climb the hill that is on my way to work even if I get a tram, and I am still very much exposed to the rain even when I take a tram. What is the point, then, of taking a tram in the first place?
I remember the trams very favorably from the time after I had my operation and every step I took was hurting. It meant that I didn’t have to walk 20 minutes each way to work, which in turn meant that I could go to work in the first place. If I was to have my operation now, though, I would still be in dire straits (or rather at home on extended leave).
What is the point, then, of the tram service? Aren’t the trams there in order to help those that cannot move about, or are they there to serve as a nice background to those that can take care of themselves? I dread the day in which some bright mind in our state government would realize that all the trams would always be on time if all stops are cancelled.
On the way back home tonight Connex just settled for a simple train cancellation to spice my evening up with.

Let's face it: we are still stuck with a state government whose sole aim is to help big companies make a killing, probably in the hope they would employ the government junta after they retire. The last thing on the government’s mind is to run a state that does what it needs to do for its people and that aims to serve its people. That would probably qualify as an illegal act in their books; after all, no financial benefits would land in their pockets if they were simply to do a good job for the people.
Did you read this, Adelaide? Take good care not to become another Melbourne.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Pit Stop

Some of you might have wondered why posts are becoming relatively rare on this blog. From daily updates they turned into every other day updates and now there are even a few days' worth of a break in between posts. Well, there are several levels to explanation for this phenomenon.
First, we have been watching lots of films lately. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it takes time: both for watching as well as reviewing in my reviews blog. Although hardly anyone reads my reviews, they still consume large portions of my blogging time, but at least through them I get to enjoy my films more. By the way, posting photos on Flickr takes a while as well - processing, uploading, writing comments, they're all time consumers.
Second, while I not that long ago I was boasting that I didn't have a cold for over a year, colds are now the order of the day. It seems as though we are doomed to have a monthly cold from now and up until Dylan's immune system sorts itself out, which means that facing the computer while trying to be creative is not the way you want to pass your time. You want to rest, but unlike "the good old days" you can't just abandon everything and go lie down. Recovery, as a result, takes longer and is harder to achieve.
Third, and most importantly, the identity theft of my credit card has been making me come up with questions along the lines of "what is it all for" and "am I digging my own grave here". As I have been saying repeatedly, hardly anyone is really appreciating the effort we're making in order to keep people abreast with the happenings of our lives. I'm talking mainly about the photos we post on Flickr. Most of the day I can't even see those photos (nor can I read my own blog, or just access it for the links I put on it just for my own convenience, to help me find my favorite web pages). I can't stand hearing my family asking for photo prints, and I don't know why I keep telling them again and again that when a photo is on the web they don't need me anymore; they just like the capacity to see that.
On one hand, we could eliminate all pervert exposure danger and all identity theft potential by setting all of our photos to "private", but on the other hand who would see them then? Probably two friends of ours, their cat, and that's it; no one else has bothered creating a Yahoo idea we can register as a Flickr contact. Gone would be the option for putting a line on a Christmas card saying "don't forget to have a look at our photos" (and then getting a comment on how we've grown old since friend X has last seen us).
As far as identity theft is concerned, this blog is really bad. Then again, when you think of the number of people putting their personal info on Facebook, a website known for selling personal info to the highest bidder, who would be stupid enough to waste their time digging for details here?
The reality is that almost everyone I know has some sort of a web presence; it's a sign of the times we live in. We need to live with that, I guess. Not that I can avoid the thought it is too late for me already: I can imagine how my next job interview will go once they Google me up; there's no way I'm getting a job with anyone who is even slightly religiously inclined.
Oh well.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The end of an era

Back on Friday I posted the last of my laserdiscs away. I doubt I will ever touch a laserdisc again.
In retrospect, my entire laserdisc adventure, consisting mainly of the purchase of a hundred of them at a cost that now seems outrageous and at a time in which I didn't earn much, seems quite futile. However, I think looking at it now and saying it was futile is the stupid thing to do; at the time, laserdiscs definitely seemed the right thing for me to do, and in doing them they shaped me into the person I am today, for better or worse.

Laserdiscs came into my life in 1992. My brother told me of his adventures in the field of home theater, and it made me think: there was this movie called Terminator II that I liked so much and which boasts superior technical prowess; what can I do to enable me to watch it the way it should be watched whenever I want to watch it?
Laserdiscs were the answer. Quickly enough, and with the aid of all the money I didn't really have at the time because I was a soldier, I got myself a home theater system (whose core still serves me now) and a laserdisc player. At first discs were hard to come by and watching Terminator II, Hook and Basic Instinct again and again was all I could do. Indeed, those were the times before Blockbuster, times in which acquiring films to watch was not something to be taken for granted. Especially if, like me, you did not consider VHS an option.
Things changes quickly enough when laserdisc rental facilities became available. I would rent a film, watch it two or three times over three nights, and return it. Trouble was, I would easily fall for films or for their hype, so I ended up buying more than a third of the films I would rent. I also bought certain films based purely on people's recommendation, which usually turned out to be a mistake; but I was too much of a fanatic back then.
Thing is, through watching the same films again and again - I didn't really have much of a choice because there weren't that many films available - my taste in films has changed. When I went into the world of lasers it was all to do with special effects and good sound; a few years later I was asking for much more. You see, when you watch the same film numerous times, you stop caring about the effects, but you do notice things like composition and camera placement and editing. Listen to a few good director's commentaries, such as the ones from The Usual Suspects, and you really do learn something about cinema.
With time, DVD's threw laserdiscs down the gutter, the internet came along, and I had no more time to watch the old films again. To be honest, there is no justification for laserdiscs anymore in a world of high definition widescreen TV's of the size of a mammoth.
This, however, does not mean that I should not keep a warm place in my head for the laserdiscs that got me through many years of entertainment. It was, after all, a good laser watch that I looked up to after every university test; and it was Andy Dufresne that entertained me on laser over the night of the millennium. Today I rent and watch more new films than I ever did before; today I consider collecting films to be a waste of space. But I would never be able to get to where I am now if it wasn't for my laserdisc collection.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Social experimentation

It turns out that over the last three months I was the subject of an experiment. Since the middle of October, when I made my last book order at Amazon, I did not buy anything for myself that I didn’t eat. The question was, how long can I avoid spending money?
It’s not like I did it on purpose or anything. It just happened to be that around the peak of the Xmess hype I realized that I didn’t spend money on myself at all for a while (again, discounting food stuff, which more than often represents luxuries). At that stage things did become a deliberate effort to postpone the inevitable and see just how long I can go without satisfying my inherent gathering instincts, hard wired into my head through billions of years of evolution.
I made it very clear to myself that things I don’t like will not end up being the curfew breakers. That is, no piece of cloth is going to trip me down here, not even a nice hat to combat the summer sun (a light wide brimmed hat, of the type you can get at a hiking shop, has been identified as a potential purchase that might often work better than the regular baseball hat). It wasn’t going to be a book, either: I have shelves full of books I really want to read at home and don’t get to, and at the moment I’m reading two books in parallel with a combined page count of more than 2000 which I am likely to finish next year; there really is no need for me to buy additional books.
Yet it was pretty obvious that the instinct to buy was there and it was getting stronger and stronger by the day. Just look at this blog’s discussions on buying Ray Ban sunglasses or the discussions on the virtues of the Asus Eee PC; they were there because the basic instinct to gather, which in the modern era became the instinct to consume, is a basic need we all have even if we are consciously aware of its lack of meaning.

The breakdown came this week. It had to be something special, and indeed it was: In a totally expected move, and after Jo couldn’t stand me talking about it anymore, we (read: I) got ourselves (read: myself) a white Asus Eee PC. For the record, they are currently the cheapest at Officeworks.
Was it worth it? Well, it is definitely something I could have lived without. However, at a post salary sacrifice cost of significantly less than $300, it’s not that bad an expense (even if our finances are currently in dire straits with multiple huge expenses on the horizon).
It won’t, however, replace my desktop. The keyboard is too crowded for its own good, the screen is too small to have all the stuff I’m used to having on the screen at the same time, and there’s constant heat coming off the keyboard. That said, it’s quite capable, stupidly light and small (A5 size), and therefore highly mobile. Even with the power supply, the Eee PC means there is never a reason for you not to have a PC with you when you want one.
The one thing that seems to make the Eee PC so great is its operating system. Running Linux doesn’t only mean that you don’t have to pay for a Windows licence, it also means that you don’t need space age capabilities: a simple CPU with a minute amount of RAM are all you need to run at performance levels that are much more than acceptable. The quick boot-ups are worth mentioning, too. This just shows you how crippled we all are through using Windows and how much energy we waste by running an inefficient operating system.
There’s more to it, though. If you ever tried to run Skype on your laptop through a wireless connection you would have noticed it doesn’t run well: your calls would be cut off or disconnected way too often. Disregarding interruptions from microwaves or cordless phone, there are two reasons for that: wireless routers that fail to realize a voice call deserves continuity in service are one, but the second one is to do with the way Windows XP manages its wireless connections. For security reasons, unless disabled, Windows will routinely disconnect and reconnect your wireless connection, disconnecting your call while at it. This, however, is not an issue anymore with Linux: we Skyped my mother for 20 minutes straight on our new Eee PC and it worked like a charm, despite us having the cheapest wireless router ever. With its built in microphone and webcam, the Eee PC becomes your ideal Skype machine.
I have only just started exploring the Eee PC and there’s still a long way to go. To name just one concern, I wonder how it would work with stuff I connect to it given Linux’ lack of drivers compared with XP. Still, as toys go, the Eee PC is one of the more capable and promising ways to meaninglessly spend your money.
Now I just need to contain myself and make sure that the breaking of the levee does not create a flood.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees

One of the things I was hoping to achieve by moving to Australia is to catch a glimpse of Midnight Oil performing live. This band, famous for its environmental and aboriginal related statements, is indeed one of my favorites; my identification with what they had to say about the environment certainly helped there.
They had a show in Melbourne shortly after I arrived but I was unemployed at the time and did my best to avoid unnecessary expenses (a task which I have always been failing miserably at, but let’s save that one for the next post). Shortly after that, in fact just a few days after that, Midnight Oil has announced its disbandment.
The lead singer and main character of the band was Peter Garrett, who now acts as the Minister for the Environment in the Rudd government. Naturally, expectations were quite high from this very vocal greenie: there are a very few people I would put my trust in when it comes to looking after the environment, but Garrett was certainly in that list if not at its top.
As they say, the higher the expectation, the harder the fall. Lately, my esteem for Garrett has plummeted down faster than a Black Bird with its afterburners on full throttle.
Even before the federal elections, Garrett said he approves of the pulp mill that is about to ruin some Tasmanian forests and pollute the sea in order for the rich tycoons running the Gunns company to get richer. However, he later said that once Labor is in power things would change and “we’ll do things our way”, which I interpreted as doing the right thing; obviously, I have misinterpreted the matter.
The federal elections came and went and Garrett still approves of the pulp mill. To add insult to injury, he also approves of the Port Phillip Bay dredging project that will contaminate Melbourne’s bay and hurt its ecosystem just so some shipping companies can make a killing using taxpayers’ money. He also approves of the plans to have a water desalination plant in Victoria that would have significant energy consuming demands (read: lots more coal would be burnt on its behalf) when with the same amount of money the plant would cost - 3 billion dollars – the government can give away $1000 subsidies to three million Victoria households for the installation of water tanks at their premises. That solution would not only be greener, longer lasting, and maintenance free, it would also be much more effective in creating water. Sadly, such a simple solution would mean that all the big companies that build desalination plants would not get their share of the 3 billion dollars at hand, and as Garrett does not want to make them cry he goes out of his way to satisfy them.

I can go on naming and shaming Garrett, but the real interesting question here is the matter of principles. How much does it take for a person to give up on his or hers principles? In Garrett’s case it seems like the answer is that the risk of losing the power bestowed on him by making him a minister was the price to pay for buying his ideals.
Make no mistake about it, I’m pretty sure Garrett would have preferred the greener option in all of the above mentioned projects. I’m sure he aches like tetanus and despises the way it reeks of politics; yet, unlike us, he’s in a position where he can make a difference. We put him there, you and I, through our votes; and he failed us.
I once said on this blog that I routinely wonder whether I would have been a good Nazi if I was to be born at the right time and in the right place. I routinely ask myself this question to try and see whether I ask questions or whether I follow the herd without thinking even when the herd is doing the wrong thing, as is often the case. I think that we have ourselves an answer for Peter Garrett’s case.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Dumb and Dumber

I had many important things to blog about, but I will stray and tell you instead of the letter I have received today from American Express as their follow up on my complaint concerning the fraud use of my credit card ($12,000+). As I already told on this very blog, my card was used for buying laptops, PDA's, airline tickets, and much more.
The form they've sent me is entitled "Declaration of unauthorized airline ticket charges". What can I say about that, other than remind myself that this letter was sent to me from American Express' very own Fraud team. That's the team of people that is supposed to be the professionals when it comes to dealing with people whose cards were used in fraud. Yet they sent me a completely irrelevant form.
As I have said before, I do not see myself continuing to use my Amex card a second after the current turmoil dies out.

To show you just how stupid all credit card companies are I will tell you the tale of the new credit card application we have been making in order to replace our Amex.
I applied through the web, where it says that you get an answer within 60 seconds. After 60 seconds of waiting the answer I got was that within two business days they will email me a reference number with which I can track the status of my application. Why do they bother with this gone in 60 seconds crap?
Today I have received another email telling me that my application has been conditionally approved, but that in order to prove my identity I need to fax them some identifying documents. You read that clearly: fax them identifying documents. Well, allow me to ask this - how can they verify that I am really me based on faxed documents? For all they know, I could be someone who got hold of my wallet. Or, alternatively, I could crudely photoshop Dylan's photo on top of mine and they will have zero clue about it. The point of this identification procedure eludes me.

In summary, the real question is who are the real fools in this deal. It's not the credit card companies; they're happily printing money. It's us, giving away our money for these morons to keep.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

TV personalities

On paper, we are trying to prevent Dylan from watching TV. We really don't think too highly of it to begin with, and it is obvious that TV hypnotizes him. Sure, when he's on a fit TV is the best medicine, but we don't want another couch potato in the family so quickly.
Still, because we tend to have the TV on in the evenings, Dylan gets plenty of TV exposure. From time to time he catches bits of music DVD's (films are generally a no-no because the sound scares him), sports (like the current Australian Open, which fails to make an impression on him), or the news. The news is the highlight of his day, mostly because of his routine.
You see, every night we give Dylan a bath at around 18:30 or so. By the time we're finished and he's all dressed up for dinner it's around 19:00, and we all sit on the sofa and watch ABC News. That's when Dylan's favorite TV celebrity is on, the ABC News presenter Kathy Bowlen.
It is clearly obvious that Dylan reacts to faces and events on the TV, but it's quite amazing to see how he reacts to Bowlen. The second he sees her face he becomes all smiles and puts on this shy face. True, from time to time he does smile at other characters on TV as well, but no one gets as many admired looks as consistently as Kathy (with the possible exception of us). The really funny bits are when Bowlen interviews someone and the picture moves from her to the interviewee; then you can see the expression on Dylan's face moving from smiling to normal and back at the speed of a cut.
Imagine how proud Kathy Bowlen would be to learn about this secret admirer of hers!

Friday, 18 January 2008

World's most expensive thermometer

We weren’t particularly impressed with the accuracy of the thermometers we have at home, and with the prospects of Dylan catching childcare viruses more often than not we wanted to put our hands on reliable thermometering services. We’ve identified a nice Vicks underarm model, and because of its rarity we ended up ordering it through a pharmaceutical website based in Queensland, Home Pharmacy.
Normally, this would have been the end of the story. However, a couple of days ago, while doing a routine check on my credit card, I noticed that I have bought a laptop from Dell for $2000. I know that Haim would like me to buy a laptop, but I didn’t recall actually doing so. Then I noticed that my Amex is almost $6000 over its limit and that I owe Amex $12000 more than I recall. In short, someone was using my credit card to have themselves a spending extravaganza, and while I can only speculate as to how they got my credit card details I would say the timing of this with the purchase of the thermometer is too much of a coincidence; this is either a pharmaceutical inside job or someone managed to hack their website.
Luckily for me I have discovered the breach just one day after it took place. I immediately called Amex to report the problem and spoke with someone who was obviously in India. The line was so bad I could hardly hear them and the advice they gave me was rather lackluster (e.g., “we can’t cancel the card” and “don’t worry, any further transactions would be blocked because the card is over its limit”, which fails to explain how it got to being so far over its limit). What I did manage to understand, though, was that I need to talk to Amex’ fraud department, and they only operate from nine to five.
Guess what I did at nine AM sharp the next morning? While it seemed I was talking to India still, it also seemed as if this time around they knew what they were saying. My card was immediately cancelled, a new card will be issued to me soon, and I will not need to pay for the transactions that are not mine (well, at least until Amex fails to find a scapegoat). What I will need to do is, “Mr Reuveni, do you agree to sign a statutory declaration identifying the transactions that are not yours?” - No, I would like to pay the $12,000 out of my own pocket. And, “Mr Reuveni, do you agree to us calling on the police if we deem necessary?” – Well, isn’t that what I or Amex should be doing here and now? The only difference between credit card identity theft and your regular car theft is that there’s no car chase involved this time around, but the rest is exactly the same.
During the call I also learned that my card was used for airline tickets in Thailand, car rental in the USA, a PDA in Australia, putting money into some credit fund account in the USA, a Macbook, and some iTunes music to name just a few things (why would a criminal bother buying music in the first place?).
Now, if I was running Amex, I imagine I would be able to track down the culprits pretty quickly: If someone downloaded music in iTunes you can tell what their IP address is, and if someone bought a laptop from Dell you can tell what their address is (Dell doesn’t operate shopfronts, it’s all home delivered). But I’m not running Amex, and Amex didn’t even ask me if I have a clue as to the cause of the identity theft; all they asked me, several times in different guises, was whether I gave my card details to unauthorized persons.
Half an hour later things got really interesting. Jo got a call at home from Calculator King, where “my” PDA was bought. It turns out they were suspicious of the transaction and they wanted to verify it with the payer. I talked to their administrator, and it turned out that my correct address was provided with the order but my phone number was incorrect: it was similar, so it would look like it belongs to my area, but it was different, so they wouldn’t be able to contact me. Calculator King actually found me by doing incredible detective work and looking me up in the phone book.
Anyway, they faxed their order form to me. In my hands I now had the name and South Australian address of a potential co-conspirator (assuming this affair is not just the results of a sick teenager who wants to prove he/she can abuse someone else’s credit card and picked someone up at random from the phone book). I could also see that the transaction was made through an IP address originating in China. Within a matter of minutes, Amex had the same order form faxed to them by me.
If life was an American film, I would now be running to the nearest supermarket, buy one large flamethrower, and take the first flight to Adelaide in order to turn my nemesis into powder. However, being me and being that life is not an American film, I shall resort to blogging instead.

It does seem as if when the dust is settled I will not be affected by this entire charade, either than some minor damage to my heart. However, I do have plenty of criticism towards American Express. They were never inspirational in their service, always giving away the impression of a totally greed based company, but with this incident they were so far truly bad.
How the hell was someone able to spend almost $6000 over my credit card limit, for a start? When I asked them that question I was told they “will need to have this investigated”. And then there are the transactions themselves, which would look dodgy to a six year old: Why would I buy flights in Thailand, rent a car in the USA, and buy a laptop in Australia at the same time? How come the administrator at Calculator King was able to sniff the bullshit but Amex wasn’t?
A company as big as Amex should be able to identify that something has gone wrong and block the card or contact me to verify the problem immediately. I recall when we flew around the world in 2005, I had to call Visa (the card we intended to use during the trip) and give them a detailed account of where we intend to be and when so that they will not block my card midway through the trip. American Express, on the other hand, does not seem to be bothered by such bureaucracy; they probably rely on covering fraud costs through the exaggerated rates they charge, which cause many (if not most) vendors in Australia not to accept them in the first place.
Well, given the quality of security Amex had offered us, I don’t see us remaining their clients much longer.
A second lesson I take out this incident is not to trust small merchants to be able to securely handle sensitive online information. I trust Amazon and Flickr to have much better security than I have at home, but your average middle of nowhere merchant cannot be trusted the same way; from now on I will think thrice before buying from such a merchant that does not accept Paypal.

In conclusion, I can report that we have received the thermometer and that Dylan is currently running at 36.5 degrees. It was well worth the $12,000.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Desperately Seeking Cash

The interesting experiment that is Jo going back to work went through for the first time this week. To me, the most interesting bit about it is Jo getting back into an office job after a year of absence, even if a lot of it involved working from home. However, I feel this issue would be best discussed in Jo’s own blog, so I’ll move on to discuss the other aspects of Jo’s return to work – notably, Dylan’s childcare experience.

First there’s the obvious issue of getting Dylan to childcare with us on the morning train. From the train station I push him along to the childcare place, which is normally around a 10-15 minute walk. It takes longer with Dylan, though, because I don’t disregard red lights when I’m with him. That said, I still have my usual walking style of brisk walking and zigzagging around the slower pedestrians. Not that I’m in a particular hurry to get to the office, it’s just that this walk is my only form exercise nowadays and I try to make the most of it. It does tend to take people by surprise, though: you stand at a pedestrian light and everyone pushes ahead of you because they don’t want to be behind the slow pram, and then the light turns green and all of a sudden this pram overtakes them. There is a definite expectation problem there with slow walkers risking life and limb by sticking themselves in front of me even though I’m faster than them. I can assure you it’s just a matter of time before I lose it and ram one of them with my pointy Beema.
So far it’s all nice to do the walking, but I dread imagining how things would be like in more wintry times. Getting up early to a dark, cold and wet universe is hard enough without Dylan around. I guess it’s just another thing we’ll have to contend with. In the mean time, I’m enjoying the exercise – the pram makes a big different, effort wise – and Dylan is enjoying the stimulations offered by a big city center.

Next we have childcare itself. Allow me to say this: it’s not as bad as the previous experience Dylan has had, but I’m less than inspired. To say the least. For organizations that are meant to specialize in baby handling, the childcare facilities we have seen so far show incredible lack of professionalism.
Where can I start? On his first day, Dylan ended up being given the bottle only once, immediately upon us dropping him off in the morning. We were told he refused it later, and while he did have his share of solids the bottom line is inexcusable: when I picked him up he had more than 8 hours without a drink, and it was visible. Not only in his irritation, but also through basic signs of baby dehydration, such as the feel of the cavity between the bones making up his skull (you know, with babies the skull is not fully formed yet and you can feel the different bits).
Then they gave me his bottles back, and two out of the three we provided them with were still full. If he had one in the morning then what was it, exactly, that they offered him later given that you’re not allowed to reuse baby formula bottles after you warm them up? Private investigations have revealed that they don’t adhere to basic formula maintenance policies such as reheating and reusing. And they’re supposed to be the pros.
Today I went for a visit and found Dylan crying in his cot. He untucked himself and rolled over, but as he’s unable to roll back he was just crying (and who knows how long for). All the while the carer was having a conversation and generally ignoring him in the hope that eventually he’d settle for some sleep; which he won’t, given that he rolled over.
You can argue that all of the above are to be expected, to one extent or another, in a childcare facility full of kids. Thing is, since most people are still on holiday leave, Dylan was on his own in childcare yesterday (other than a couple of hours when another mother had her baby in for acclimatization). If that is the service he got when he had the carer’s undivided attention, I don’t want to think of what is to happen when it’s back to business as usual and Dylan becomes a one in ten.

Last but not least, there’s getting Dylan back home. On the train, again. The trick there is that while we take an early enough train in the morning to avoid the rush, the evening train is during the rush (although not at its peak). And the Connex experience is not the nicest experience even without a baby around.
On Dylan’s first day of operational childcare and just as he and I got to the platform together, the announcer told us that the next train has been canceled and that Connex apologizes. Thing is, the PA system is so loud and coarse, Dylan immediately started crying his guts out; I was on the phone to Jo coordinating our train effort, the announcer was repeating the message again and again, and Dylan was exploding with cries. Lovely! Thank you, Connex.
Needless to say, the next train was crammed full because it had to take double the load of people. An enjoyable experience for all to have! Thank you, Connex.
Talking about Connex’ service levels, I have a bit more to say. As a yearly card holder I get a compensation ticket each month their service is below the standards set by the government. Thing is, out of the 12 months that are in a year, I counted 7 compensation tickets. That is, for 7/12 of the year, Connex’ service was below par. That is, most of the time, the service was below par. That is exactly my definition for shit service; we’re not talking here about an occasional mess, we’re talking here about routine.
And it’s not like Connex’s standards are fairly high either. They need to have 90% of their services on time, roughly, within a generous margin of minutes. Given that most of the 10% of the problems bit are during rush hour, when you and I actually feel it, and given that they can’t comply with this standard for most of the year, one can clearly see just how bad Melbourne’s public transport system is.
I blame Connex, but more than Connex I blame the state government. Connex is just an operator trying to make a buck; it’s the government that has this attitude of providing the crappiest service it can still get away with, as opposed to having the view of genuinely supplying good service to the people and actually trying to move people around efficiently and on time. It has been proven again and again that such efficiency is worth any investment that can be made, but go figure. Their look at things is so grotesque, coming from a government that is there to serve the people, I just find it amazing they can get away with making our lives so miserable.
Looks like Dylan’s first swear word is going to be “Connex”.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Short memory, must have a short memory

Google have this new feature called Street Wise in their Google Maps website. It works only for American addresses, and it allows you to view actual city street views in addition to the maps and the satellite like photos. Interesting, if only American addresses were relevant to me.
Since they aren't, really, and as I was playing around at work, I've decided to have a look and see what Google has for Israel. Israel is still unmapped as far as Google is concerned, but I did notice they have improved the resolution of their satellite like photos. I tried to look for my parent's place, the place I lived in for most of my life.
And I tried. And I tried. I just couldn't find it!
I was tracking the roads to find familiar shapes and patterns in the hope of finding a familiar place to use as a guide. It took me more than ten minutes to eventually find my parents' old place; I just lost my orientation altogether.
Isn't it amazing how the brain reallocates its RAM once it deems certain memories redundant, no matter how long you were using the same memories before? After all, these are the areas I have walked about for 25 years, the areas most of my driving started and ended at; yet now I am unable to tell you how to get from A to B.
It appears as if I have lost more of my Israeliness than I could imagine.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Swinger

I realized that one sure way of capturing Dylan properly laughing is to have him gently swinged. He still doesn't like excessive adrenaline swinging, but gentle ones work, even in the presence of a camera (despite the camera's severe subsiding effect). Have a look:

Friday, 11 January 2008

They’re the modern Stone Age family

On our hands here we have a post that could potentially annoy my family a lot but actually won’t since they will never read it. The main reason why they will never read it, ignoring language issues, is that they are totally useless with technology. The main topic of this post is my annoyance with their total uselessness with technology.
Before commencing, I will add a disclaimer: although this post mostly deals with the Israeli side of my family, lacklustre-ness in the face of technology is in no way limited to this branch of the family alone; nor is it limited to family alone, with friends being inflicted just the same. With friends, however, the story is a bit different: it’s more to do with failing to use available technology.
Most importantly, the purpose of the post is not to demean the technologically illeterate but rather to show the annoying effects of this illeteracy. None of the people who inspired this post are even remotely bad.
But never mind that for now: let’s end the disclaimer and start the post.

For two years now I have been maintaining our photos in Flickr. By now there is a wide range of photos there covering various periods of our lives but focusing on the age of digital photography, that is 2003 and onwards – a not too bad approximation of our time in Australia. I’ve said there is a wide range of photos there but that is actually a severe understatement: we have 10,000 (ten thousand!) photos on Flickr, a pretty unprecedented achievement. Think about it: if 20 printed photos are about 1 centimetre thick, printouts of all our Flickr photos would create a 5 meter high tower. Not only that, our tower is constantly getting higher and higher, and we also have a big pile of old photos that await cooler weathers and some free time before they get themselves scanned and uploaded.
In short, I don’t know anyone who shares their photos the way we do.
There are good reasons for doing this: First, for us it’s a very easy and effective way to browse our photos any time and anywhere. Before Flickr, older photos would be dumped somewhere – either an elusive drawer or a burnt DVD or an extra hard drive – and be forgotten. Now I can retrieve any photo I want within seconds, search and browse, watch slideshows, and reread the thoughts that ran in my head at the time the photo was taken, all at the flick of a mouse.
Second, being that we are away from the majority of our family and friends, Flickr allows us to share the events of our lives with every one of them that wants to experience those. Sure, there’s this blog too and it caters for the same need, but it’s too unfriendly to its readers (especially one with religious inclinations) and too irrelevant for simple family news updates; it also requires an effort on the part of the reader. Photos, on the other hand, are the manifestation of instant gratification: within a second you get what you wanted, no effort involved.

So why is it, then, that my family in Israel keeps on asking me to send them prints? Why is it that even those of them that have internet access and actually access our Flickr page occasionally cherish prints so disproportionately over watching the same photos on their PC monitors?
I can speculate on those questions, but what I would do instead is circumvent them altogether and say that they are totally irrelevant. If my family really wanted prints, they could get them through a number of stupidly easy ways without involving me at all:
1. The simplest but dumbest way would be to save the pictures from Flickr on to a memory card or to a CD, all of which are available to my family, and then go to a photo print shop and have them printed. All of the baby Dylan’s photos I have uploaded into Flickr are at their top quality, so using Flickr does not represent a compromise in quality; generally, the stuff we have in Flickr would be technically better than anything they are used to in their own photographs.
2. If memory cards or CD’s are a pain for them to handle, and they are, they can save the Flickr photos on their hard drives, and then upload them to a website that allows the ordering of prints online. These websites are now as common as mushrooms after a nuclear holocaust, and physical borders don’t matter much to them. Regardless, there are plenty of Israeli websites that offer these services, too.
3. By far the easiest option would be for them to order the prints directly from Flickr. Just login to your family Flickr account, say that you want to order prints, select the photos through the most user friendly interface ever, and wait for the postman to arrive.
There’s always a “but”, and obviously there is a “but” in here, too, otherwise I wouldn’t write this post. That “but” is that my family, including those that have internet access, are such technophobes that they wouldn’t even open a Flickr account. The option to do so is way beyond their imaginations! The thought of printing a photo regardless of the actual location of the photo taker is completely out of the scope of their minds.
It gets worse: I want to invite them to join Flickr but I can’t because I don’t know their email addresses. Yes, you read it right. And no, as imaginative as I can be, I find it very hard to imagine how a person can live in this day and age without the basics of internet and emailing understandings: it’s not much different to having a car but not knowing how to get the gas to run it with. It’s pretending that the world is still at the Stone Age when everything around you says it is not the case.
This explains why I’m still pestered to send photo prints.

As annoyed as I am with all of the above, I find the issue of reciprocity to be the most annoying factor of it all.
We have a four year old nephew in Israel whom we have last seen two and a half years ago. Since then we’ve seen nothing of him other than three photos sent a couple of months after we visited Israel anyway. If we were to see our nephew now I very much doubt that we would be able to recognize him. Worse, photos of my parents and my other family members have never streamed across to Australia.
Why is it, then, that my family demands photo prints from us but doesn’t bother sending us photos of theirs?
I can start a nice discussion here on how easy most of us find asking others to do things we wouldn’t like to do ourselves is, but I won’t. The very same reason that prevents them from benefiting out of our Flickr photos prevents them from creating their own photos: ignorance. Just see how damaging ignorance can be!

When presented with the reciprocity argument, family and friends always have a winning card on their hands: “you were the one that left us behind, so you should be the one making the effort”. Of course, they never explicitly say it, but that argument is always in the air – especially with UK friends.
While true, my answer is – well, what would you expect us to do? Come and live in Israel, where even if we wanted to we wouldn’t be able to live because of perceived differences in religions and because non-Jews are second grade scum in Israel? Regardless of Israeli specific arguments, such emotional blackmail has no place between family and friends. Sure, we are indebted to all of them, especially the parents, but when it comes to living our lives the way we want to we owe nothing to no one. Those that truly care for us should best avoid the “leaving us behind” argument, or better yet – they should get their act together and come over here :-)

Till that happens, how do I get someone to teach my family some internet sense? Or, to put it bluntly: Haim, are you interested in a rewarding contribution to humanity?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Pieces of Shit

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama explains that one of the ways to increase our happiness is to reduce tensions by not keeping things to ourselves. In his less than remarkable book, he says that he is not a person to be relied upon as far as keeping secrets is concerned, simply because it makes him happy to talk about the things on his mind.
Similarly, one of the lessons to be learnt from the film Kinsey is that society should not have issues that are considered a taboo, thus avoiding discussion. In Kinsey the example is sex, and the problem is that a lot of people’s lives have been made miserable through them keeping sex related issues to themselves and through society avoiding scientific discussions of these issues because of them being regarded as taboos. The taboo phenomenon allowed religion based superstitions fill the gap up.
What I take from both the Dalai Lama and Kinsey is that if there is something on my mind I should talk about it no matter how stupid or offending it may sound.
And all this introduction is basically there to tell you why this particular post is a post about shit. Yes, you got it right – shit.

Between financial limitations, leave day allowances, and crying babies we have not been able to go on a nice vacation for a year. When the recent holidays presented themselves with a chance to let go, even if it is for a short duration, we took the opportunity and went for a three nights’ stay at the RACV Resort in Inverloch (the photos from this vacation have been posted on Flickr for a while now – check them out here).
Given that we were on holiday mode I strayed from my regular eating habits on our first holidaying day and had myself an almost entire big pack of Doritos. I know it sounds very piggish, but it’s one of those things where once I start consuming them I cannot contain myself unless they’re made unavailable, either by someone taking them away from me, me having to go and do something else, or them finishing off. Sadly, only the third condition applied this time around.
As a child and as an adolescent I used to have relatively frequent headaches, but for many years now headaches have not been an issue. However, upon consuming that pack of Doritos I found myself the host of one very aching head! The effects didn’t end there: I also found myself shaking and sweating. I was obviously feeling really bad, and it was obvious that it was to do with the Doritos. I don’t know what it is that they put in there, but those chemicals definitely have loads of shit my body does not need nor want.
Throughout the night I’ve made repeated attempts to empty my body of the problematic Doritos chemicals, but success came along only on the following morning. That night was pretty bad.

During the holiday we were quite restricted with the meals. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, as is usually the case in Australia when you leave the big city, choice becomes severely limited: there’s either the supermarket, the truly bad fast food, or the very badly executed pub food (where the edible stuff is usually restricted to chicken parma or fish and chips). Since we were on holiday we didn't want to go to the supermarket, and as we didn't want junk either we took an esky with us and filled it up with cold food. Thing is, there’s just that much cold food you can have before the yearning for a proper warm feed hits you.
That is why we ended up going to our resort’s built in restaurant. We already had breakfast included as a part of the deal, but we went for an extra lunch and another dinner.
The menu looked pretty flashy, with the more than its usual share of pompous descriptions that make a leaf of some underground vegetation sound like a pot of gold. Sadly, the food didn’t keep up to the menu’s standards: it was all very fried and very oily. Everything was served with chips, including stuff the menu described as served with potatoes. When I tried to go on the safe and lean side and ordered a chicken sandwich I received a deep fried schnitzel sandwich instead, and even that was covered with melted cheese that just oozed of fat and oil. Breakfast was better, but it still showed the prevailing attitude: wholemeal bread was hard to come by (white bread was abundant), and the deep fryer continued its domination. In short, for all the wrong reasons, this restaurant made me feel as if I was in England again.
Aside of the long term negative effects such fatty fried foods have on cholesterol levels and saturated fat levels, they also have an immediate effect on me. On a normal day, I would go to the toilet to have a bit of a read between two to three times per day, effectively once for each big meal. I actually enjoy it: It’s one of the few opportunities I have for some peaceful reading, and let’s not live in denial – having a good dump is one of the better feelings out there. Thing is, having frequent dumps – one per each meal – is a good thing, because it is an indicator that the bowels are working well and that the shit stuff is cleared out of your body.
The problem was that during our stay at the resort my dumping rate was reduced to once per day. I would still go to do my regular reading, but nothing would come out. Constipation means that the shit that doesn’t come out makes you feel like shit, and that is indeed the way I have felt for much of our holiday. Sure, it wasn’t serious, but it wasn’t great either.

Now, I’m not exactly the person that eats health food and only health food, but on the other hand I don’t eat straight junk either. We don’t eat McDonalds and that kind of rubbish; we hardly ever drink soft drink including Coke, a drink I used to like as a child which now makes me feel pretty bad when I drink it; and when we want something nice to chew in between proper meals we usually have natural stuff like nuts and seeds, or quality chocolate / ice cream, but we virtually never have chemical based stuff like Doritos of chips of sorts.
On the plus side, I drink massive amounts of water, and water is usually the only drink I have other than natural juices (usually natural orange juice with pulp included and no preservatives).
The difference these habits make on my daily life is nothing short of amazing. Despite being unfit and tired most of the time, I don’t think I have ever felt as well as I do now. I attribute a lot of that good feeling to the food I eat.

Monday, 7 January 2008

How to save money

With recent posts discussing ingenious ways I would like to spend my money in, the question quickly turns into – how do I prevent myself from wasting money buying stuff?
To me the answer seems simple: analysis.
The main cause of shopping agony (and consumerist waste) is impulsive buying. We know how that takes place, so let’s have a look at what should happen instead.

Step 1: Identify a need.
For example, a valid need for me is to be able to improve the quality of the photos I take, especially the photos of baby Dylan. In the past I never paid much attention to portrait photos, focusing on scenery and objects instead; now my focus is changing, and I feel like an improperly tooled tool when it comes to taking baby photos.
Step 2: Analysis.
What can I do in order to address the need I have identified in step 1? One way of acting is to change the way I have been doing things so far. For example, I have found that by using spot metering on my existing camera together with higher ISO settings I can get significantly better baby photos without spending a cent.
Another way to address the need from step 1, but only just another way, is to buy a product – for example, I could buy a lens with shake reduction that will allow me to take significantly sharper photos.
If money spending is involved then a cost/benefit analysis is mandatory: it would be stupid to spend thousands of dollars on improved baby photos, for example, if taking the baby to a professional photographer for a few hundreds of dollars would address the previously identified need. By the way, in my case the professional photographer solution does not satisfy the need because I like photos exposing day-to-day life rather than posed ones which do not tell me a thing about the subject and what takes place in their lives.
One thing I usually find when performing cost/benefit analysis for potential purchases is reconfirmation of the rule of diminishing marginal utility. For example, the benefits I would get from investing $1000 in a lens are far inferior to the benefits I was rewarded with when I spend my first $1000 on a camera kit.
Step 3: Solution detailed design.
In this step I decide how I would best implement each of the options I have identified in the analysis stage. For example, if a lens is indeed the thing that would solve my need to improve my photography, then which lens would suit me best? What is the best way for acquiring it?
More and more, the web is becoming the better way to acquire gadgetry. There are, however, issues to be concerned about with web purchasing: warranties, for example. The more expensive an item is, the more justification I have to search for the best way of acquiring it: the ten minutes I spend on the internet to cut $50 off the buying price are definitely worth it when it takes me two hours of my way too short life to earn those same $50 (and that’s without counting overheads).
Another thing that’s important to bear in mind when designing a detailed solution is to try and imagine how your life would be like after you have implemented your preferred solution. For example, if I was to buy a new lens, would I use it in the first place? Would I be bothered to carry it around? Would it fit my existing camera bag, or would I have to buy another camera bag to fit it in, thus significantly increasing the effective cost of the lens? This step is a test of one’s imagination. Most people completely fail here, which is exactly why printer manufacturers sell you printers at a loss and then rip you off with ink cartridges (to name but one simple example).
Step 4: Purchasing, if required.

I admit there is a way too thin a line separating between steps 2 and 3 above, but the key thing is to be mentally aware of all the things that should take place when you consider buying something. If you have the discipline to follow the above steps then by definition your impulse buying would be significantly reduced and, more importantly, the quality of what you do end up buying will rise exponentially: you will use and like what you do get much more. You will be better satisfied. You will be a happier person!
Obviously, the number one criticism towards the analysis approach specified above is that it’s tedious and that it makes a big fuss out of nothing. In short, implementing the above advice would get you labeled "tight ass". Well, my answer to that is that if it was really about nothing then there is nothing to worry about and we could all spend infinite amounts of money on anything our eyes gaze at; it is obvious that this is not the case and that discipline and rational are due.
I will also add that sometimes you can use the above technique in order to justify impulsive buying: especially when I’m traveling, I often tell myself that the emotional benefits I would acquire from reckless money spending is well worth the cost. The main difference is in the awareness: having performed the cost/benefit analysis, I can rationalize impulsive buying. If I end up finding that I was wrong I can write myself a mental note to improve the algorithm I have used for deciding how much happiness can be derived through reckless spending (and for the record I will say that I think the answer is very close to zero).
More importantly, I find the entire exercise of purchase analysis to be even more interesting than the purchase itself and the use of the purchase item. If you do have a problem rationalizing your actions then please explain this to me:
What is wrong, exactly, with stimulating your mind to think a bit about what it is that you are about to do? Who knows, if you start thinking about the things you are to buy then you just might end up thinking about lots of other great, much more important things.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Smoke on the water

It's amazing how people perceive certain things.
Australia is currently in global warming dire straits: Massive storms are bashing the Brisbane - northern New South Wales area, with the effects felt all the way down in Sydney. Melbourne, on the other hand, is frying and we're recording record temperatures inside our house. Our air conditioner is way too weak to make a dent in the heat, so we spent most of the last week directly underneath the ceiling fan.
Ask most Australians, and they'll tell you that the government is now doing lots to combat global warming: after all, they've just signed the Kyoto Protocol. They don't realize that in order to comply with said agreement Australia doesn't really need to do anything extraordinary and that the only value in Australia signing is in putting the USA in a corner.
TV ads tell you to turn lights off or to switch into energy efficient lights, and indeed according to most people's perceptions the fight against global warming starts and ends with switching some lights off and not running the air-conditioner as much as they used to. There is, however, zero understanding that things go much further: that anytime you use anything but manual energy you're contributing to global warming or that anytime you buy something that used up energy for its creation (read: anything you buy) you're contributing to global warming. Or, for that matter, that even manual energy and having people around are probably the worst contributer to global warming.
Thus you have phenomena such as having people that are generally aware and really want to contribute to the fight against global warming, but on the other hand you have the same people admiring the lights in the city's office buildings at night or the fireworks shows that Melbourne and Sydney now host on a yearly basis. To put another way, you can see why when the orchestrator of the Sydney New Year's fireworks show says on TV that this year's show was the biggest ever in terms of fireworks quantities and in terms of the mass of explosives that were detonated, that statement is perceived as a positive thing. I wonder if things would be the same if people were able to see the clouds of smoke resulting from such massive explosions as opposed to them being camouflaged in night time's darkness.
The exact same story has taken place in Victoria with regards to water savings. The State Government has managed to make it seem as if those that water their gardens are criminals, but in effect anyone can waste as much water as they want under all other circumstances. And that's what most people do, and worst - that's exactly what the biggest consumers of Victorian water are doing, only that they're big companies and only that the government will not disclose their details. Still, most people perceive things as if the government is fighting the drought.
I just find it amazing how the big corporations, coupled with their massive influence on the government, can have such a massive effect on people's perceptions, whether it is to do with global warming or with saving water.

Friday, 4 January 2008

I always feel like somebody's watching me

It’s always good to have someone watch your back. Being that we’re living virtually on our own in Australia I used to think we don’t have such a someone; lately, however, things have changed.
There’s this cat that probably belongs to one of our neighbors, if only because there are no street cats in Australia. We don’t know which neighbor exactly and it could actually be quite a far away neighbor, but there is still this cat. And this cat seems to have a liking to our front yard: it can sleep in there for hours, moving from one shady haven to another.
I suspect it’s the very tall and very un-mowed weeds that render our front yard so attractive to said cat. It probably makes the cat feel like he/she is a lion/lioness in the African savanna, waiting on random prey to fall into its paws. The cat’s achievements are not to be trifled with: Usually, our “garden” looks and feels like Jurassic Park with birds in the role of the dinosaurs and the tall weeds in the role of the jungles they roam in. However, with the cat in charge there are no birds to be seen other than the occasional brave soul that sits up the tree. We have already sighted the cat chasing after a mouse once, and there were a couple of signs to indicate some great beast – bird battles took place in our garden.
As mighty as that cat may sound it is also a rather chicken of a cat: whenever I get close to it, even with a nice offering of meat, it just runs away. Could it be xenophobic? I don’t know, but it’s nice to have a guardian looking after us.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

To know know know you

The New York Times has published its yearly collection of interesting ideas (an interesting read you can find here), and amongst these is an idea saying how ambiguity concerning someone acts favorably in the way we think about that someone.
The explanation is simple, at least according to the Times. When we get to know someone and we’re armed with a positive attitude towards that someone, we tend to blindly take any ambiguity in a favorable way. For example, if they say they like reading, you’ll automatically think they like what you consider to be good reading (say, Asimov) and not what you consider to be bad reading (say, Barbara Taylor Bradford). However, the catch is that once you’re faced with the disappointing truth that your blind date is, indeed, an avid Taylor Bradford fan, it’s all downhill. Let downs follow as quickly as the unconscious assumptions were made before. The more you get to know the person, the more you get to hate them.
This sort of explains why too often before a blind date you feel butterflies in your stomach but ten minutes after the date has started you want to empty your stomach in disgust. As a veteran of many a blind date I find the above phenomenon to be very real indeed; I also find the above explanation to be interesting enough that it just might be true. However, since I’m no longer in the blind dating business, I find that the really interesting elements in all of this are the implications this theory has on long lasting relationships. Or, to put it another way, if this theory is correct, then why am I still involved in a successful relationship with Jo, a relationship that in three days will be six years old?
I suspect the obvious answer is that it’s all because Jo is such a wonderfully wonderful person. But if I focus on myself for a moment, I think I can point at two specific reasons to do with me:
1. By the time I got to know Jo I was no longer a kid. Far from that. In a similar way to us having Dylan at a time in which I was mentally mature enough to become a parent (and I don’t think I was at that point a year before Dylan came along), I think I got to know Jo at a time in which I was mentally mature enough to properly focus on a relationship. It's a type of maturity where you know that no one's perfect and that eternal sunsets can only take place in American cinema. It is this maturity that prevents the gradually built "hatred" originating from the above mentioned theory to have an effect.
2. Our relationship wasn’t built in a day. Immediate gratifications hardly ever gratify; it's the things you work hard for that do. I suspect that just as good slow food is probably the best meal you can have, good relationships come slow, too.

Regardless of my personal thoughts, this idea offers everybody a lot of very relevant quality thinking material.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Top Gunk

This is the story of how good old rational me falls down in the face the worst kind of temptation.
As the keen eyed amongst thee might have noticed, I have recently bought $20 silver mirror aviator like sunglasses. The truth is that I wanted such sunglasses, namely silver Ray Ban Aviators, for a few years now; however, given my already extensive collection of expensive sunglasses it felt like idiocy to buy yet another pair when there's nothing wrong with the other five but them losing their "shiny and new" appeal.
Alas, finally during our current Xmess holiday I got my break: because it was really rainy I forgot my sunglasses at home, and once it became sunny again driving without sunglasses became quite an irritable affair. In the past I used to think poorly of cheap sunglasses as I was afraid they'd lack proper ultraviolet protection, but all the surveys I have read say that all properly sold sunglasses are effectively the same when it comes to UV protection. So I just presented myself at a sunglasses shop and got me a Ray Ban like pair, and I have to say this: They're really comfortable, they're quite good as sunglasses, and they're smashing value at $20 (and if it weren't for us being in the middle of nowhere when I got them they would have been much cheaper, too). True, they lack the sharpness that my Oakleys have, so I guess it's just like comparing an expensive camera lens to a cheaper one, but that is still far from being a worthy justification to spend 15 times more on sunglasses. At least according to my rational self.
The problem is that there is more to a human brain than rationalism. We are, after all, descendants of reptiles.
Ray Bans have meant a lot to me over the years, symbolism wise: back when I was a child my father and my brother had their Aviators, and when I was in the army I had my own (no idea where they are now). Thing is, at the time my brother/father got theirs our family couldn't afford much and even if we wanted much the shiny spectacular stuff was not really available; so the Ray Bans we've had were the Ray Bans that our USA members of the family got us. Which, in turn, meant that these Ray Bans were revered the same way Indiana Jones revered the lost ark: you would think three times before you opened your eyes to stare at them.
The result is that since I got that cheap pair of sunglasses I cannot stop thinking about buying the "real thing" Ray Bans even though I know it's stupid. I know it's a waste of money, I know they're essentially the same as my cheap pair other than an annoying label that always annoys your peripheral vision, I know I have enough sunglasses and that the new ones will not add any new functionality to my arsenal (if anything, the Aviators are far from being dark enough for the Australian sun). I know that, but over the last week I couldn't help stopping myself from visiting every website that sells the Ray Bans in search of the ultimate price and the ultimate color combination. I know that, but over the last week I probably visited half of the sunglasses shops in the city looking at Ray Ban Aviators. I know that, but I keep thinking of excuses why the Ray Bans would be worthwhile - the better of which is that the silver mirror ones actually have a bit of a bluish tinge that is missing on the $20 pair, giving them a bit of a cooler look. And yes, I also know that cooler looks are for idiots with small dicks.
I know it all but I can't help thinking about it. Hopefully, this post will help clear those notions out of my head (either that or Jo would).
But let me tell you this: For $130 (Australian Dollars) I can get silver Ray Ban Aviators from Amazon. Now, that has to be the greatest bargain on earth!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Apple pie pu...

Yesterday we finally took the plunge and fed Dylan ourselves with solids for the first time - apple puree. At first he was like "what's that?", then he moved on to "I don't want that", but towards the end he actually seemed to take some in. The results are in Flickr for all to watch and admire.
Today we had ourselves a second go. This time around the result was more favorable and Dylan actually seemed to take some in! This time around we also had the video camera there to record the action, and here it is for you - pureed, not cut. Just note the video actually ends involuntarily when the camera's battery died: