Monday, 30 June 2008

Trust

Yet another interesting article in Scientific American has made me think. The article talks about the neurobiology of trust, that is - what makes us trust others, even when we don't know much about them? While the article deals mostly with the mechanics of trust, I find it's the implications of the way trust works with us humans that are the most interesting. To summarize the feelings I'm about to express in the rest of this post, the implications of the article exhibit the triumph of science as an approach that delivers results even if those results are based on findings that are hard to believe and are far from being intuitive.

The article starts by stating an observation that seems to have been known to science for quite a while now. Apparently, a certain hormone manufactured in the brain has been known to make us trust our fellow humans more than we do without the hormone. Chemicals, it seems, can take over the steering wheel and lead us to places where rational wouldn't naturally take us. And it's good that it does so, because us humans thrive by being social and trusting one another.
The theory is that this hormone first appeared many a many millions of years ago in fish. The female fish who had this hormone was less afraid of fellow male fish, and despite some of these trusting female fish being eaten enough of them left more descendants behind for the hormone to prosper. Most of us now feel the effect of said hormone during sexual climaxes, when our bodies are so flooded with the hormone thus earning it the nickname "the cuddle hormone". Cuddles don't last long, though: within three minutes the hormone levels in the blood are back to normal. The reason for trust is no longer there.

The scientists writing the article continue to report an experiment they have made. In the experiment, they took a large number of people, gave them $20 each, and divided them in two. Each member of group A was to give a member of group B some of their $20, as much as they chose; their B partner would receive double the amount donated to him/her by A. In return, B would then be able to give back to A as much as he/she would like without any chance for reciprocity.
If A and B knew one another and trusted one another, the best option for them as a group would be for A to give all of the money to B and then for B to return half of his/her share. However, A never met or knew B in the experiment, which caused selfishness and trust to play a role.
The most notable observation from the experiment was that both A's and B's gave one another more money when they took a deep breath of the cuddle hormone spray. The chemical, it seems, made them trust one another more.
That's not it. The experiment seems to have indicated that trust breeds trust: When the A's trusted the B's with more money, the B's repaid them with more money. Sure, they repaid them with even more when they were given the hormone, but even without it they still returned more when they were given with more.
Thinking about the implications here can drive you crazy. At the national level, for example, you can clearly see how living in a country where people trust one another will make you feel better than living in a country where people don't. Indeed, surveys indicate that trust is closely affiliated to affluence, since trust means that one can invest and leverage by investing rather than live day by day.
The article reports the results of surveys looking at levels of national trust. As expected, Scandinavian countries are at the top of the heap; if only they weren't as cold and if only they spoke English! Australia came in at the next tier of countries, the USA followed in the next one, then came the UK tier (I was surprised to see the UK significantly below the USA), and the following tier contained Israel. The bottom of the heap contained mostly developing countries, with Brazil at the very bottom. There were exceptions, but still you could see that the trusting countries are also the richer ones where the riches are equally spread.
Thing is, if trust breeds trust then mistrust breeds more mistrust. Put it in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and you can see how things could end up like: none of the sides trusts the other to begin with, and both sides deteriorate into distrusting one another more and more with not much of a hope to settle things peacefully. Conflict, it would seem, would come only naturally.
At this point I will repeat my proposed solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For years now I have ventured that the best recipe for solving the conflict would be to send the leaders of both sides for a long weekend in Amsterdam; once there even people as foolish as them should be able to see what really matters in life, after which there will be no more stupid wars about supposedly holy lands where some mythical dudes have had a pee once upon a time.

When it comes to mistrust, the sexes are not equal. Just like real life...
Women from group B who were given less money than expected from their matching A's responded in a tit-for-tar manner and returned similar amounts. However, men from group B who were mistrusted went berserk and usually returning nothing at all. Blood tests on those male subjects revealed that when they were mistrusted, this highly potent variety of testosterone was flooding their blood. It turns out this is the exact hormone that drives teenage boys into puberty, causes them to grow pubic hair and look for physical contact.
It's just great to see what's in store for us in parents in less than 15 years, isn't it? How can a parent stand any chance facing a teenage son who, for no particular reason, acts as if he is totally mistrusted?
Now think about the effects of mistrust on our world of politics, which is almost always ruled by men. Wouldn't we be much better off if instead of hot headed men we had calculated women making the big time decisions? I wonder how many conflicts could have been prevented if that was indeed the case. We humans sure know how to make the wrong choices.

As I already said, there is a lot to think about from this article. The main point, however, is the power of science in revealing to us the world that we are living in. On one hand, we can easily abuse this knowledge: Soon enough someone will know how to spray us with the trust hormone or how to stick it in our foods, and they will be closely followed by some politician who will have a really easy time making us feel good and getting himself reelected. On the other hand, we can take this knowledge and use it to raise our awareness to the way we act and the way we feel, so that we can make the right decisions and implement the right policies to improve trust and reduce conflict.
You can clearly see why myths such as religion take hold in us humans. In a complex world such as the one exposed by the cuddle hormone it would be dead easy to resign ourselves to an assumption that everything is delivered by some great bearded guy up in the sky. Science, however, can expose us to the realities of this world, be they nice or not that nice, be they intuitive or weird. The key difference, though, is that one way leads us to a brick wall while the other way is not only more fascinating, it also delivers results.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Toys R Us

A collection of not that interesting circumstances colliding recently meant that Dylan has got himself a bunch of interesting new toys, in particular an abacus, a bath toy ship that is quite big and is captained by Captain Stubing, and a xylophone.
The following video shows Dylan reaction to the introduction of the xylophone. Sadly, I was late with taking this video, because his initial surprise with the ship and his reaction to the unveiling of the xylophone were definitely Kodak moments; then again, I should be happy with what we do have (and I am):



And while we're in the Shvoong, here's a bonus video of Dylan. It's actually a video that was taken in order to calm him down: he was crying for one reason or another, and because the camera has a soothing effect on him I turned it on. The video turned out to be funny enough for us to keep a hold of it...
It shows Dylan's world famous sucking motion, and it also shows how easily he manipulates us to give him sweet apple instead of not so nice vegetables.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Top of the Muffin

One of my childhood memories has me eating my mother's default cake, dubbed as "English Kek" by her (zero points for guessing the source of the kek word). Today, Jo prepared these cupcakes (aka muffins) as a test run for Dylan's birthday, and they brought memories of my mother's kek - they tasted just the same...
We gave some to Dylan and he stuffed his mouth with them. Check it out:

Final thoughts

I will be disappointed if Fabregas doesn't feature in Spain's starting lineup for the Euro final against Germany (Monday morning, 4:45, live on SBS).
I predict a Spanish victory. Spain is the better team, but then again football is a game you play for 90 minutes and Germany wins. At least the ball is still round.
As for my personal preferences, my heart is with the more exciting team.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Medical Conference

Dylan is sick - again - and it's not even your average cold, so I stayed home - again - and took him to the doctor - again.
We went to the clinic a couple of blocks away from where we live. We're quite the frequent flyers there and by now we know most of their doctors. Today's doctor was a Liverpool supporter, a guy whose name betrays some sort of Greek heritage.
After he examined Dylan and after lengthy discussions, we have agreed on the following:
  1. By far, Russia has been the most impressive team so far in the Euro tournament. We would both like them to win if they manage to display the same form they have disaplyed so far.
  2. Holland was very impressive up to its defeat to Russia.
  3. It's a pity the games are arranged so that the semi finals pits teams that have already played one another in the group stage rather than expose us to new match-ups. That said, we understand that this is due to the need to allow teams similar resting periods between games.
  4. Australian Rules might be a nice game, but it's way too violent for us to want our kids to play it. It's good for people looking to beat one another up, though.
  5. The best thing to happen so far in the Euro is that we got rid of Italy.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The World Game

One of the benefits of watching the Euro over the internet is that you get to watch games' coverage from all sorts of different countries. The picture is always the same, it's just the commentators that are different. That is...
With last week's quarter final between Germany and Portugal, I ended up watching the American ESPN coverage. The commentators were very British (the sidekick analyst had a very northern accent if not Scottish), but there was something else that was very American sports coverage like: At the bottom of the picture there was this eternally scrolling ribbon of sports news that kept me up to date throughout the quite thrilling football match with the latest baseball and golf scores, as well as the latest worldwide sports news. While watching the game, I had learnt many a time that it would take France's Ribery 8 weeks to recover from the wound he had acquired playing Italy.
The thing about those flashing news items is that they're a pain in the ass. For a start, they keep on flashing: I was watching the game in bed in the middle of the night, and the flashes kept waking Jo up; that was the last time I was allowed to watch a game in bed. More to the point, though, those items are a distraction: you try to watch the game but your eyes keep on steering towards the repetitive bullshit running down the bottom of the screen.

The question is, why do we need those news items in the first place? Well, my argument is that we don't need them; however, Americans do, because of the sports they are used to.
Allow me to explain.
The dominant sports in the USA are American football and baseball, both of which are games where for each second of action you get ten seconds of idleness. On the other hand, in Europe, where there's football and then there's very little room for anything else, you don't get such nonsense because people are used to a game that is essentially flowing (that is, unless Italy is playing).
Now I'm not saying that American football and baseball are inferior to football. Not at all. Yes, it's true that I find football incredibly more interesting than those two American sports, but it is quite obvious most Americans enjoy their sports more than they would football; the preferences are clearly a matter of culture.
My point with this post is simple: to demonstrate how cultural preferences in sports can have an effect on you with things that are not directly related, such as the way you would prefer to watch other sports.
And perhaps this also explains why football never really got a hold in the USA. The culture there just doesn't fit the game.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Italy

In a competitive society such as ours we often ask ourselves whether an achievement is always worth achieving regardless of the how. To go to extremes, I hope most people would agree the achievement of becoming a millionaire is not worth achieving if in order to acquire one’s millions people have to suffer.
One area where this question is more open to debate is sports. I will ignore drug cheating for now and focus on one simple pain: watching the Italian national team play football. Indeed, I can think of no better example from the world of sports where one team and its ambitions to win tournaments can cause so much misery with spectators worldwide.
Italy, I argue, has developed this special knack at winning football tournaments despite displaying rather mediocre capabilities, despite subduing its own potential to play well, and most importantly – while boring the hell out of us in the process. In fact, whenever a football World Cup or a Euro competition take place, I wholeheartedly await the Italian team to get chucked out before I feel I can really start enjoying the tournament. It is as if a stone is off my heart.
Sadly, though, as with the last World Cup, Italy quite often ends up going all the way to even win the final. Matter of fact, Italy’s tactics are not that different to Australia’s cricket agendas: while Australia is widely acknowledged as the dominant side of world cricket, it doesn’t refrain from nasty behavior towards its opponents in its way to victory.

How does Italy manage to be such a pain?
I argue that Italy’s football is high on cynicism. While in my view sports are meant to be a source of joy, Italy uses and abuses the game of football in order to maximize its chances of winning with whatever ammo it may or may not have up its sleeve.
As I have explained in my previous post, football, being a low scoring game (unlike cricket), can be cruel. Italy’s speciality is in taking advantage of this inherent cruelty by:
1. Closing the game to remove any chances of creativity.
2. Developing strong defensive capabilities to prevent the opponent from scoring. This attitude synergizes well with the removal of creativity.
3. Doing as much as they can to ensure they get a result from the slight few opportunities they have a go at creating. While not trying to create much – creativity, after all, means taking defensive risks – Italy is at its best in diving and other forms of theatrical cheating meant to steal penalty kicks from its opponents. It then goes on to score a significant portion of its goals through these often dubiously acquired set pieces.
Now, can you compare this attitude to the fast passing game approach that is meant to penetrate defences and achieve a high scoring position for other teams? I can’t, and I’m glad to say that Arsenal, the Dutch national team, and plenty of others agree with me (including teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, and the current Russian national team that has played by far the Euro’s most attractive football in its match with Holland).

Still, what do Italians think of their team and the way it plays? Do they approve of its traditional tactics in the name of winning?
Well, obviously I am in no position to assess Italian states of mind. What I am exposed to, however, are the reactions of Italian supporters on TV and the feedback I get from chats and from the news here in Australia on the atmosphere of the so called Italian community.
From both local and TV based sources, the impression is of undivided support for the national team. The way in which this support is justified by the more aware supporters is interesting: Some argue that Italy’s game is actually more entertaining than the attacking alternatives, yet while I can accept different strokes for different folks I generally take such arguments as sophisticated lies (that is, unless the person at hand is a masochist). Others actually admit to Italy’s distinct style, but argue it is an acquired taste; again, I would argue that while this is less of a lie it is still an argument most other team supporters do not use, which implies that once again this is a cover up.
We end up with a sad reality: Italians and others calling themselves Italians support their national team due to nationalistic reasons alone. There are hardly any stars worth following in the current Italian team to allow for the admiration of some astonishing talent, so we’re down to nationalism. This nationalistic selfishness is then magnified by a feedback loop where the wins acquired through nasty tactics actually serve to bolster Italian appetites for further success no matter how. Winning tastes good, and once victory has been tasted the crowds want more of it, pushing the managers to continue resorting to negative football (to quote the German game analysis I listened to this morning).
The rest of us non Italians are condemned to bi annual suffering.

Which is exactly why I urge you all to hold hands and sing, sing, sing in praise of Spain, lovely and sunny Spain, that finally relieved us of the stone this morning for the next two years:

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Mind Games

Every couple of years there's this phenomenon that takes me on a bit of an adventure ride and also shows me just how disconnected I really am from mainstream Australian culture.
Every couple of years the world goes through one of its major national football tournaments: either the World Cup or the Euro. Currently, we're right in the business end of Euro 2008, and although my humble opinion is that national teams' football is significantly inferior to top club football, there can be no denying the addictive nature of the Euro: for three weeks or so you're injected with an overdose of football. Football is with you all the time, and if you're not watching it then you're dosing off in front of your PC at the office because you got up at 4:30am to watch a game.
Thing is, this adventure ride I'm going through is a solo adventure. Given that I live in Australia, hardly anyone here cares about football.
Sharing the experience and my fascination with the events taking place is next to impossible with everyone around talking exclusively about the local sports. That includes the mainstream media, who seems to fear football making all of its reporters redundant if it's to rise in popularity. Thus all you hear about is still the business as usual: AFL, cricket and even rugby, hockey and golf take precedent over my favorite sport. To me, watching the local news with its lengthy sports coverage and the two seconds they allocate to football shows just how subdued I am with sports during most of the two years between major tournaments.

I will therefore share my fascination with the football action here and now.
Personally, I derive most of my joy from observing the trends taking place in the tournament rather than the individual elements that make it up. For example, while there can be some magnificent goals of the stuff you remember watching for years to come, I find the results of the three quarter final matches that took place so far much more fascinating.
In all three games the favorites have lost: Portugal conceded to Germany, Croatia was ten seconds away from victory but managed to capitulate to Turkey, and the most impressive and my beloved Dutch managed to lost to a surprising Russia.
First of all, it goes to show the nature of football: because it's a low scoring game, the inferior team has a much higher chance of winning than in a high scoring match. Football can therefore be really cruel.
Second, it goes to show the value of preparing for each individual match. That is exactly how Russia beat Holland and how Germany surprised Portugal: Portugal and Holland came playing their regular game and lost, whereas Germany and Russia had tailor made plans for their respective opponents.
Third, we get to witness the difference between a league based competition and a cup based competition. Given what we have seen so far in the Euro, I don't think there could be much doubt that the Netherlands offered the strongest team out there with Portugal being a close second but for its measely defense; yet because of the cup format they're both out after losing once at the wrong time.
It's the timing that's the key to it all. All the A grade teams that lost their way in the quarter finals were teams that won the first two matches of their group stage, thus securing the first spot in their groups and their places in the quarter finals. When the time came for them to play the third and last match of the group stage they went through an anti climax, the pressure was down and they had nothing to play for, really; but then when the real thing - the quarter finals - came along they did not have the mental capacity to put the metal on the pedal again. So they lost.
My conclusion? It's better to start at the bottom and work yourself up then start at the top and falter as you try to maintain your supremacy amongst mediocre colleagues. And the fact this lesson applies to life in general rather than football alone is exactly why I love the game so much.

This is all bad news for Spain as it's about to play the last of the quarter finals tonight against the mediocre but experienced Italian team.
Given my opinion on the way the Italians play and their tactics, I will shower and go to bed tonight singing one song:
Viva Espana!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Six Dollar Baby

Since his grommet operation, Dylan feels like a new baby: he's much more lively than he has been lately. The bionic ears certainly have helped in him affirming his status as the cutest baby in our house (and if I'm allowed to add, by quite a large margin).
In celebration of Dylan's getting rid of his ear infection, at least for the time being, and of us getting a new camera to shoot his videos with, here are the three videos of his we've taken so far.

In the first video Dylan is eating home made pasta. Note the references to Flight of the Conchords' "Business Time", which you can learn more about here:



The second videos features Dylan messing with his lightsaber. It's not the most exciting video ever, but it's cute:



And in the third video, Dylan is forced to demonstrate his ability to stand up on his own:

Friday, 20 June 2008

Color of Money

Back around Xmess time I have reported feeling really bad after eating Doritos. A while later I have reported the results of internal research done at this blogger’s lab, which seemed to have indicated my problems were the result of MSG. Recently, however, the plot thickened. MSG still tops my food hit list, but it seems like it’s no longer on its own there.

A couple of weeks ago, an article in an IT bulletin I regularly read reported several food additives normally used for coloring have been banned in certain countries. It seems like the statistics indicate these additives are related to attention deficit disorders, in particular with kids.
At this point I have to report that luckily for us, these additives have not been banned in Australia. We will have our food colored by hook or by crook!
Jo jumped on the web to check out what these additives are, so here they are in the various names they commonly take cover as:

Yellow 5 - E102
Red 40 - E129
Blue 1 - E133
Blue 2 - E132
Green 3 - E143
Orange B
Red 3 - E127
Yellow 6 - E110

The common element about all these nice additives is that they are either synthetic, or, like the majority of the listed additives, they are made of coal tar. Got it? Coal. Tar.
The shit they get out of coal is being added to our food and we’re all expected to be just fine about it. With that knowledge in mind it sort of figures why they’re not that good for human consumption; the surprising thing is that companies actually got/get away stuffing us with coal tar poison for years. Then again, money can do that.
A quick look at our kitchen drawers has revealed the above additives lurking in packs of jelly, oriental noodles, and other sorts of candies. Jo also reports these additives are commonly used in glazing (as in the top of your average donut). And yes, you can find them in Doritos, too.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Sexist photography

Yesterday I wore my Inspector Gadget attire again and went out to buy a Canon PowerShot A590IS digital compact camera ($215 at JB Hi Fi).
I have discussed it in the past, but in general the criteria for choosing this specific model were:
1. Cheap price.
2. The ability to take decent YouTube friendly videos.
3. The ability to use rechargeable AA batteries, so we don’t need to carry yet another charger with us while travelling and so we can use ordinary and easily obtainable AA batteries if shit hits the fan.
4. The provision of manual camera control facilities, that is – manual control over the shutter, aperture, flash and ISO settings.
5. Light weight and a small size: While the camera is not the smallest, given the need to accommodate two AA batteries, it would still happily fit the pocket of one of my numerous cargo pants. That battery compartment’s bulge also means it is easier to properly hold the camera when taking a shot, which implies better quality photos.
6. A warm recommendation from dpreview, by far the best digital photography reference I am aware of, which guarantees output quality will not be an issue.
7. The “IS” part of the camera's model name refers to Image Stabilization, that is, the suspension of either the lens or the sensor in order to combat a shaky hand or a longer exposure. Since long hand held exposures are my forte, I preferred a model which sports an effective image stabilization feature (according to dpreview).
8. The camera features a proper viewfinder that you can compose your shots with, as opposed to having to rely on the screen alone. The strong Aussie sun is not screen friendly.
9. The camera uses ordinary SD cards as opposed to esoteric formats such as Sony’s. After buying it I learned that it supports the SDHC format, which is even better, although probably irrelevant with a compact camera that doesn’t shoot in RAW.

Overall, the most important thing to realize about my compact camera choice is that this new camera plays a very second fiddle to my Nikon SLR. Although it sports significantly more mega pixels than my SLR there can be no doubt whatsoever as to which camera reigns supreme on the quality side of things.
The new Canon’s role is therefore pure and simple:
1. Help us to easily take videos of Dylan as he grows up, because we noticed just how effective the small videos we take of him are at documenting his development. They’re literally pieces of history for us.
2. Act as a backup camera.
3. Act as a camera we can just stick in our pockets when going to places we can’t be bothered taking the SLR to. Say, when meeting friends at a cafĂ© or when Jo takes Dylan to a mothers’ group meeting.

To be completely honest, my expectations out of this new camera were/are pretty low. I have never seen me a really good photo that was taken with a compact camera unless the photo was taken by a pro (and usually Photoshopped to the N-th degree), whereas even idiot I can produce nice exhibition quality stuff from time to time on my SLR.
One of the main problems infecting the modern compact digital camera is their overabundance of mega-pixels. For marketing reasons, camera manufacturers want us to think that the more mega-pixels the better, at least when it comes to them providing us with a nice excuse to buy more of their stuff.
The reality, however, is significantly different. There really is no excuse for a compact camera to have more than 6 mega-pixels, and even that is great overkill. Given the small size of the sensor on a compact digital camera (significantly smaller than the sensor sizes on SLR’s and a fraction of the size of 35mm film), the more mega-pixels you add the more noise is generated, to the point where getting rid of the noise robs away more detail than any gains made through the addition of extra mega-pixels.
What we have today is a generation of compact cameras sporting astronomical pixel counts while relying on pretty sophisticated heuristic algorithms to clear the resulting noise. Thing is, those algorithms can only do that much, and the result is that photos look washed of details and “flat”.
As I have said, there is no reason for my SLR to fear neglection.

Next on the discussion board are my first impression with the new Canon camera. Between the Euro 2008 and Dylan, I have only fiddled with it for 10 minutes or so thus far; the point is that with a compact camera you shouldn’t really need more.
Opening the box, I noticed the camera comes bundled with a 32mb memory card. What the hell does Canon think there? What's the point of supplying you with a card that won't manage 6 photos in a world where you can easily get a proper Sandisk 2gb card for $20? What a waste!
On to the camera itself.
The first thing that strikes you is the abundance of shooting modes. There are three “auto” modes alone: One for the complete and utter idiot, another for the idiot that wants to be able to manually control the flash, and the normal P mode that really should be almost everyone’s default. To the best of my understanding, the main difference between P and the idiot modes are that in P you can manually control the ISO settings; given the noise issues discussed above, with most compact cameras you really don’t want to shoot on anything higher than 200 ISO because the extra gain on the sensor will add even more noise to the bleeding wound. Yet the idiot modes will gladly take you into this no man’s land.
The second thing I noticed was the clutter on the display. With so many onscreen icons and symbols when you are about to take a photo, you could easily conclude you are in charge of the next space shuttle launch! Yet with all the clutter, what you don’t get by default, at least on P mode, are the really important shooting statistics: namely, the aperture and shutter settings about to be used. Thus far I haven’t been able to find the setting that would add them to the clutter, which could either mean that Canon doesn’t think us consumers need to know that much or that the camera’s user interface is not as good as it should be (it should be idiot proof, even Moshe grade idiot proof). The importance of knowing the shutter setting cannot be underestimated as it has a crucial effect on how blurry the photo is; the same goes for the aperture setting which determines the depth of field. Judgment based on the small screen’s image cannot be deemed reliable.
Then you get to mess with those “special” features camera manufacturers throw at you in order to sell more of their stuff. Take, for example, the “face detection” feature, which is supposed to have the camera focus automatically on a human face. On the two occasions I played with it the results were rather mixed: The first time around it managed to detect Jo’s face in the dark very quickly. However, on the second go the camera kept persistently focusing on Jo’s knee while completely ignoring hers and Dylan’s faces. Given that you need to go through annoying menus in order to switch from face detection focusing to the simple center focusing, by which time the faces you’re trying to photograph are bound to go grim, I do not see myself relying on the camera there; pointing at the face, clicking half way, and then recomposing the photo doesn’t sound that demanding to me. And it works every time!

The $60 beauty treatment voucher I have received with the camera indicates pretty clearly the market segment Canon has aimed at with the A590is.
My problem with the camera is therefore simple. While it is definitely a good simple camera, why does it have to be so dumbed down?
The tour de force SLR I would buy if and when my current SLR dies, the Nikon D300, has dispensed with shooting modes altogether; you just flip between P, A (aperture priority), S (shutter priority) and M (fully manual). Why do compact cameras have to take the opposing approach of flooding the user with dozens or pretty useless modes while hiding the really crucial information and often making bad decisions on behalf of the user? Is it really that hard to know your way around the shutter and the aperture?
My answer is no, it’s not hard at all. But even if you don’t know what an aperture is and even if you can’t be bothered to know in the first place, there is still no reason for you to have to go beyond the P mode for the vast majority of photos. Do you really need special separate modes to take care of all conceivable shooting subjects from fireworks to farts (to stick to F subjects alone)? Will you even remember that you have such a mode available to use the next time you need to document that precious fart? And what are the chances of you remembering to take your camera off “fart mode” for the next photo?
In my opinion, camera manufactures are treating us all like idiots. That is, you’re either a sophisticated SLR consumer or an idiot compact camera one; there can be no combinations. The problem is accentuated with the specific aiming of the idiot proof features towards women while men are usually the target of the SLR arena. Do camera manufacturers really think so poorly of women?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Elders

Last night at 21:30, the ABC ran this hour long program called Elders, where Andrew Denton interviews people past the age of retirement. In the opening episode Denton was interviewing the 82 year old David Attenborough, and since Attenborough is one of those few select people I actually look up to we’ve made an exception and watched a TV program off the air for a change.
I’m glad I stayed up to watch the interview despite being a bit sick. Indeed, Attenborough the person is just as fascinating as the subjects of his numerous documentaries.
The thing I have found remarkable is just how similar his opinions and views were similar to mine. Obviously, our personal histories are quite significantly different, but that does not seem to have an effect on the way we both see the world around us. I don’t find this to be the biggest coincidence ever, though: Attenborough is one of the people that have educated me to become the person I am today.

There was one answer Attenborough gave with which I disagree. Asked about the meaning of life, his answer was that perhaps we will never know what that is; coming from a major natural historian such as Attenborough I find such an answer rather confusing, the type of material that will end up being used as ammo by your average creationist. Of course we know what the meaning of life is: We, as in all living beings, are all here to make more of ourselves. It doesn't really matter whether this is for the benefit of our genes (the current prevailing theory) or for the benefit of the species, but it is still as simple as that!
The thing about us, humans, is that we outgrew our original purpose: I don’t know anyone whose major focus in life is replication, although all the parents I know are making significant efforts to ensure their kids do the best they can.
With us, humans, the meaning of life is the meaning we give it ourselves. For some it could be taking care of a relative, for others it may be poetry, space exploration, getting to know the world around them in general, saving the planet, having satisfying relationships with their partners – the world is just full of potential meanings and all we need to do is pick some up.

While it is easy to pick on our disagreements, it would probably be much more representative of the interview for me to highlight some of the agreements.
Both Attenborough and I are of the opinion there are too many of us humans around, and that overpopulation is the major cause of issues facing our world. We also both agree that Western society’s views and approaches to the matter of death are rather stupid; Attenborough points out that these views are not childish, because children’s clean slates mean that they actually view death with open eyes whereas we hide it in the corner and pretend it’s not there. Interestingly, for the both of us the main worry about death is not dying itself (although we would both like it to be quick and I’m certainly in no hurry to get there), but rather the legacy we leave behind – both the headaches we will be leaving our families and friends as well as our impact on the environment in general.
We also both agree that we people need to stand for what is important even if by doing so we accumulate enemies; I strongly suspect that I have upset all my friends, to one extent or another, with this blog of mine.
But by far our biggest agreement is in our rationalism, the way we both approach the world through evidence based rationality. The point was repeatedly made during the interview, with Denton asking way too many religion / afterlife questions that got him rather repetitive answers from Attenborough (I’m assuming Denton went along these lines to cater for the majority of viewers who are religious and to whom hearing such answers as Attenborough’s would sound rather peculiar).
Attenborough’s answers concerning religion were pretty straight forward. After life? No evidence. Religious views? Different people around the world have different religions saying contradicting stuff, yet all the evidence gathered all over the world all leads to one objective truth (namely evolution, in the case of us living beings).
Denton countered him with the regular religious line, “but this is how god meant the world to be like”. Attenborough’s answer to this intelligent design like view was pretty straight forward, too: If that is indeed god’s design, then please do not focus on the lovely stuff like the humming bird; pay attention to the African child that has a worm eating through his eye until he goes blind, and ask yourself what type of god would come up with such a design. Not a merciful one, at least not by my book or Attenborough’s.

Actually, that eye eating worm is the reason why I wrote this post in the first place. You see, my main conclusion after being a parent for almost a year now is that life is just plain hard. I’m not talking about my lack of sleep as a parent, the eternal race to pay the bills and repay the mortgage, or the effort you make running around your baby all the time. I am talking about all the hardships Dylan has had to combat since he was born, and to be more accurate – since he was conceived.
Placenta issues in the womb, tangled up piping, the hardness of taking breaths in the early days, the stomach’s limited but gradually improving ability to digest, constant germ attacks, and ongoing ear wars: We live in a world that is tight on resources and where everybody and everything, from human beings to viruses that are virtually just complicated molecules, fight it out with one another in a struggle to survive. You certainly learn to appreciate this fight as a parent when you see the weakling baby's struggles; what you certainly don't see is any evidence of intellegent design (where is the baby born with built in grommets?).
Someone who manages to survive this struggle for 82 years and hopefully more while generating as fine an output as David Attenborough certainly deserves praise.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Might as well admit that you're addicted

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post about how it seems like nicotine addiction could potentially be very easily achieved. I got a lot of feedback on this post from all of my blog's two readers; in typical fashion, though, most of this feedback was provided via direct emails as opposed to potentially discussion creating post comments.
One of those emails ended up creating a small discussion on the nature of addictions in general, so I thought I'd generate an independent post out of my views there. Here goes...

Most people don't realize that what the world around them is only a figment of their imagination. Or rather, to be more precise and less bombastic, that the world around them is just a model created by their brain. This model is created using the sensual information available to the brain, and as all of us living a normal life can attest it is quite useful in helping us survive.
However, as optical illusions quickly demonstrate, what we see does not necessarily exist and does not necessarily exist the way we think it does. We know today that solid walls around us are not really as solid as they appear to be; they are mostly made of empty spaces. It is our brain that makes them appear solid!
Our brain works using a few models that have been deemed successful with time, but these models are not always accurate and are not always suitable; they are just models that managed to get our ancestors through raising healthy descendants, us. I guess what I'm trying to say is that in my opinion, the best way to understand the nature of addictions is to call upon the doomsday weapon of evolution. Once you think of addictions in that light it all becomes pretty simple.

We have evolved in a world where stench means trouble, which prevents us from messing around with feces and catching some nasty disease; were we flies, for example, shit would have probably smelt like hot cakes to us. We have evolved in a world where heights scare us because they imply a potentially harmful fall. We have evolved in a world where red signifies danger to us because we are much better off when our blood is not spilled. And we have evolved in a world where creepy crawlers in general and snakes in particular are best avoided if we want to live till tomorrow, thus our extreme panic reaction to their sight.
In contrast, we did not evolve in a world of cigarettes, coffee and alcohol; therefore we can easily fall for them. The best weapons in our arsenal there are knowledge and awareness, the abilities we have to be able to forecast the implications of our future acts. Ignorance, on the other hand, is our worst enemy.

I will stray a bit and mention that the same logic applies to empathy. We have evolved in small hunter/gatherer groups, with no need and no ability to tell what takes place with others we don't really get in touch with on a regular basis. Thus today we end up not really caring about African misery and thus we happily burn our oil supplies while people in the third world are suffering the consequences.
Awareness and education are the best weapons to fight this ignorance. Religion and nationalism are obstacles that stand in our way of getting there.

As far as the challenges parents face when trying to prevent their children from becoming smokers or alcohol addicts, it was mentioned to me that as the child grows up he/she will listen less to their parents and become more prone to the influence of their peer groups. At least by my own experience, that observation seems quite accurate. The question then becomes, how do we prevent a child exposed to uncontrolled peer groups from developing bad habits?
At this stage I can come up with two answers. The first, again, is education: By teaching the child at a very early stage to question, as opposed to teaching him/her with facts alone (or worse - feed him/her with bullshit stories about imaginary friends, aka religion), you provide the child with the facilities to accept the positive out of his/her peer group and reject the negative.
That, however, is not so easily achieved with rebellious teenagers. The other solution is the one I don't really like: by sending your child to a private school, you ensure his/her peer groups are wealthier ones. In this imperfect world we might say that money does not make one a better person, but the reality is that having lots of money is a very good indicator to the way a person is; the problem is that it's a generalization and that it's undemocratic. You can send your kids to a private school and end up with them surrounded by rich idiots instead of poor ones, but that is less likely to happen.
Personally, I would like to see a world where both the rich and the poor are equipped with similar tools to allow them to make the most of their lives. At the moment we are heading towards the exact opposite: It is the poor that are most susceptible to developing bad drug and alcohol habits. Yet I'm still a socialist at heart and I believe in the potential of humans to rise to the occasion and not succumb to what evolution dictates.

Clockwork Oranje

With the Dutch football team playing some great football in the Euro, and with Dylan always supporting them in all their tournaments, we took a video of him eating an orange.
OK, it was also interesting to take the video just because it was funny to see how he approaches the orange. Anyway, here goes; note he is still sick, although significantly better (he did manage to successfully transfer the bug to his parents):



In case you didn't know: The Netherlands national football team plays in orange shirts, hence their nicknames Team Oranje and Clockwork Oranje. And yes, I tend to support them, mostly because they play in nice orange shirts but also because they traditionally play some very attractive football.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dylan and Grommet

And so goes the story of Dylan and his ear operation.

On Wednesday we had an appointment with an ear surgeon specialist. It was actually the second such specialist we were referred to: the first one could only see us at the end of July, which would have been a bit of a shame given the urgency of the matter and that by the time we would have got to do anything winter would be over together with most of the causes for Dylan's ear miseries.
Luckily enough, the specialist we ended up with has had a cancellation and we were able to see him within a week.
The specialist appointment itself was rather short. He had a look at Dylan's ears and told us that given his history the way to go is grommets. Simple as that; so simple it makes you wonder whether this is the only thing he's programmed to say given that, after all, he does make his living through surgery.
Given the situation, though, I couldn't argue. Dylan has had some fluid stuck behind the ear drums of each ear, and while antibiotics helped clean the fluid of germs there was nowhere for the fluid to go; thus when the next bug came around it had a lovely resort to stay in. The solution is therefore a simple plumbing exercise: make a hole through the ear drum, suck the shit out, and install grommets to put the resort out of business.
So we've agreed with the doctor. Dylan was to have his operation at a private hospital near us first thing in the morning Friday - the first theater spot given to him at 7:00 because he's the youngest patient around.

On Thursday the hospital called us to let us know we've been relegated to 10:00, which "should be better for you". No it's not: It means that Dylan has to fast longer and that I have to lose a working day because by the time the operation is over going to work would be pointless.
Score another point for the private health system. I wasn't a fan to begin with and I'm certainly much less of a fan after today's experience.

Eventually Dylan's time slot ended up being a bit after 11:00. So much for accuracy.
We got to the hospital at around 9:30 and went through the paperwork. It turned out our surgeon has this deal with the private health insurance funds called "Gap Cover"; I have no idea what this means, but it meant we didn't have to pay him. Next we've learnt that we don't need to pay our usual $200 per hospital day excess fee because Dylan is a dependent and dependents don't pay; as I told the person who broke the news to us, we should operate on Dylan more often.
Just as we thought the coast is clear and our wallet would remain shut through the day we met the anesthetician, who informed us we'll have to pay for the drugs he's using. The "good news" was the our private health fund bears most of the load, so we "only" need to pay $120 out of pocket.
Wow! What a pleasure! Do we need to pay the hospital cleaners separately, too? Or perhaps just for their cleaning materials?
Deduct one more point to private health, please. If all the money that went their way (a lot of it coming directly from the government in the shape of the 25% rebate) was to go to public health, there wouldn't be a need for private health in the first place.

Dylan was put to sleep using a gas mask. Jo went in to see him go through that and she said it was all over within a couple of breaths; resistance was, indeed, futile.
Some twenty minutes later we had Dylan back in our arms, still heavily sedated and obviously not in control of his body (although very much in control of his crying vocal chords).
It was time to finally feed him with some light stuff, so we were about to put the formula bottle we had with us to the test. I had to warm it up so I asked a nurse to microwave it for 20 seconds; she said she's a mother herself and she would do it for 30 but I insisted. She ended up doing it for 30 - apparently, being a mother gives you the right to think you know better than everyone else - and indeed, she over warmed the bottle. "Oh, I didn't take into account you were using a glass bottle; I'm used to plastic bottles". As if it makes such a big difference.
She didn't apologize, though; deduct one extra point for private health.

At first Dylan was so limp he couldn't even drink the bottle. That is, when the bottle was actually ready to drink from. It reminded us of his very first days in the outside world, when he couldn't drink either.
Eventually he did, and within an hour and a half we were discharged. Dylan received a discharge gift - a fluffy zebra toy. It was quite nice and certainly useful, but if the private health system thinks they buy me out with a stuffed zebra they're wrong. Deduct another point for them, will you?

Where are we now? Back to where we've started from, only minus one more sick leave day.
In the morning before the operation Dylan has had a bit of a sniffle. By evening time, between starvation, anaesthetics and the operation itself, his slight cold had turned into a fever yet again.
So we're in for another weekend at home. And probably another spent sick leave day during the upcoming week. Work is going to kill me!
And Dylan, poor Dylan, sure isn't having an easy time in this world so far.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

We Have the Technology

Dylan Austin, baby.
Parents barely alive.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic baby.
Dylan Austin will be that baby. Better than he was before.
Better, stronger, faster.


Dylan is going to have his ears operated on this Friday.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Rise and Fall of Dylan Stardust

Welcome again to the periodical video department, documenting key milestones in Dylan's life.
This time around we have Dylan practicing standing. Since he's not that good at it yet (he tumbles down pretty quickly), he does a lot of his practice on the soft sofa, which is where we took the following video:

Monday, 9 June 2008

Back from the Future

The tennis analysts on TV routinely tell you how grass courts are faster than clay courts. So far I had to take their word for it; after all, the last time I watched the coverage of the Roland Garros clay court tennis grand slam tournament I was eleven years old, bored to death while visiting my grandmother, and watching the sports news program hosted by Zohair Bahaloul on the Arab hour of the then only channel of Israeli TV.

Things have changed, though. For a start, since coming to Australia and visiting the Australian Open I'm actually interested in tennis for the first time since the days of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
But this weekend something else had happened. For the first time since those childhood days, I actually got to watch the women's and men's finals live. I saw them in bed, off the screen of my Eee PC. I didn't settle for watching the tennis alone; I saw some Euro 2008 action, too.

There can be no doubt that this is a glimpse of things to come. It is very obvious that with the digitization of content, TV the way we know it would change to showing us stuff we acquire through the internet. It is just as obvious as all phone calls becoming VOIP in the not too distant future and all cellular phones becoming tools to access the internet with which we can make even more VOIP calls or email one another. Yes, the days of the SMS, the most expensive emailing channel ever, are numbered; and the only thing that stands on our way of getting to this future, a future in which every communication provider becomes yet just another channel for us to access the internet with, is the ability of said communication providers to stretch the status quo just a tad bit longer so they can make some more stupendous profits on our account.

Time for me to hit the bed. I need to wake up in the middle of the night to watch Holland beat Italy. I will tell you this, though: Once you see it in action, you can clearly tell how clay is different to grass.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Hardy Linux

Over the last couple of weeks I've had my fare share of Linux trouble. In general, I have spent quite a lot of my precious leisure time trying to get into the thick of things with Linux. And while I know it's rather odd to say so, I can say that having gone through the motions of problem solving I'm finally beginning to be a confident Linux user.

First it was the Asus Eee PC's turn to give me some trouble. Error messages started appearing and icons started disappearing. It didn't take much research to find the source of the trouble: software updates from Asus were causing more trouble than their worth.
So is that it? Am I now saying that the Eee PC is just as crap as Windows? Not on your life!
The solution to my problems was to clean the slate. On the Eee PC, such a thing is easy as: all you need to do is reboot while pressing F9, and the system updates itself to the way it was when you first turned it on. No hours and hours of Windows reinstallations while heavily crossing your fingers!
Then I did some software updates that I just had to do, for security reasons, but then I did the proper updates I should have done all along. I've installed Picasa, VLC, and more; and I've updated the user interface on my own, while getting my hands dirty in "old style" editing of text files. The result is that I now have an Eee PC that can rule the world, with everything backed up and all the setup procedures understood and well digested in my head.

On the Ubuntu front, I have upgraded to Hardy Heron (formerly known as Horny Hamster), the latest Ubuntu release. Again, it's all very simple, the exact opposite of the Windows affair: you just download the upgrade files, let the computer play with itself for a bit, and that's it - you're upgraded. Nothing gets trampled on the way; even your Firefox cookies remain exactly the way they were before the upgrade.
Still, it didn't go that smoothly. I left the computer to download the upgrade overnight so that the download would consume from my night time download quota. In the morning I saw this nice error message telling me the upgrade was aborted because a certain file was not found.
Naturally, I was thinking to myself: "Oh shit". By now I have all sorts of applications installed, enough to prevent me from reinstalling Ubuntu from scratch just for the sake of being on Hardy when Gutsy (the previous version) was not bad at all to begin with.
Yet I tried again the next night (having waited for the night again due to download quotas under the assumption that the system would download all the files yet again). Instead I saw the system downloading the one 2kb file it missed out on yesterday in less than a second, and a few minutes afterwards the upgrade was all over. Easy peasy!
I'm still trying to figure out what the benefis of Hardy are. There are small icon changes and lots of minor stuff; so far, the biggest change I could detect was the upgrade to Firefox 3, which improves an already excellent web browser mainly in the handling of favorites.

To conclude, I have two conclusions from this messing about:
The first is obvious: Unlike Windows, in Linux things just work; the exception is when you actively mess things up. And when things work, they work well.
The second is very comforting: With Linux, you never walk alone. You know the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" that Liverpool FC supporters sing? The same song applies to all Linux users. Between the Eee PC forums and the Ubuntu Forums, there's no problem left unanswered; and if you do manage to be original and find yourself a new problem, it would get an answer there within a couple of hours. Linux users take care of one another.
Which brings me back to the statement I have made at the beginning about having confidence as a Linux user. You see, I'm still very much a green ignorant Linux user; but with the available support and the ease with which it's acquired, you don't need much more than that.
It really is nice to see a community of independent people, totally unmotivated by money, that works so well in cooperation and harmony. Anarchy works!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Chronicle of a cold foretold

I'm annoyed with myself.
On Sunday we met up with friends at the Fairfield Boat House. It was quite foggy and therefore quite cold, too. The place was packed and we didn't reserve a table, so we had to sit outside. Normally I hate sitting outside: there are notable exception, but usually sitting outside means you either get to smoke cigarette exhaust fumes or you freeze to death.
Trouble was we were already late (had to wait for Dylan to wake up from his morning nap) and our friends were already pretty settled by the time we had arrived, so I didn't have the guts to say I hate freezing myself. Yes, I'm still very much a warm weather person, even if by now I can't stand warmth along the lines featured in Israel.
Anyway, turns out my lack of guts had a pretty severe effect: Dylan, who just came out of a cold, had suffered a severe ear infection again. He was weird on Monday and by Tuesday evening he had quite a fever. It's pretty clear, given this susceptibility to ear infections, that the cold of the Fairfield Boat House has got to him: timing wise it's a perfect match with the normal course of a cold.

I keep thinking of Dylan's current misery, the damage it does (we've lost two working days this week alone, plus doctor fees and other expenses), and the ease with which it could have been prevented. If I just bothered thinking about it on time!
I interpret the incident to be yet more evidence for the importance of routine in handling babies. If you have an effective routine, it's quite amazing how easily straying off it for just a tiny bit could bite you back.
I was recently called upon to go and see the new Indiana Jones by a friend who is not a parent (not yet, anyway). It's amazing how simple life can appear to people with no kids; I clearly remember the way I used to look at things back on those days of yonder. Let me tell you this: If watching Indy means risking the routine in the tiniest of ways, then screw Indy; we'll meet in six moths with the DVD anyway.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Committed any genocide lately?

Less than a week ago, the CIA told us that Al Qaeda is on the ropes and that even that famous area where Bin Laden has been hiding, somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is no longer your five star all inclusive terrorist resort.
But just as all evil is about to be subdued by the greatest nation on earth, a new means has been devised to make sure no scum enters its borders.
Up until now the USA has had to rely on the foolproof protection provided by the entry form each foreigner had to fill in order to step into the holy land. The form (refer to the attached picture) includes that famous question that by now must have helped the capturing of many a famous evil doer, the question we'd all love to answer with a yes, "did you take part in genocide". I mean, we're all committing genocide all the time: through inaction we're letting genocide take place in Darfur and many other places that do not have oil fields for us to covet, and by burning the oil we do put our hands on we're ensuring plenty of misery for generations to come.
Perhaps this is why things are about to change. Al Qaeda may be on the ropes and genocide committers are exposed one by one, but now the USA wants citizens of countries that have enjoyed the privileges of its visa waiver program to to register online at least three days prior to entry.
No doubt about it: From now on, terrorism is history.

On a more serious note: If the USA was to invest half as much as it wastes "fighting terror" on constructive measures instead, think how better this world of ours could be.
More than a trillion dollars were spent on the oil war in Iraq and more is still being spent. What would the world be like if this money was invested fighting global warming and poverty instead?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Batman begins

People might think that we're hosting a normal baby in our house. Cute, yet normal. We know better, though: we are the parents of a superhero.
If you thought the bionic woman had a thing going for her with her super hearing, think again. In our house, baby Dylan is better known to answer by the name of Batman; up until late today we thought nothing else can explain his superior hearing.
We turn in bed in our bedroom while he is fast asleep in his room and Batman hears us. We switch the microwave oven in the kitchen and Batman hears us. You step next to his room while his door is closed and he's supposed to be fast asleep and Batman will hear you. We're now watching DVD's at half the volume they're supposed to be played at because we don't want Batman to hear us and wake up.

With great powers come great responsibilities. Indeed, it seems like there's a heavy price to be paid for superpowers.
For a while now, Dylan has been suffering from ear infections. It almost got to a fortnightly cycle, killing our supply of sick days, and with winter knocking on our doors we were fearing the worst. So were the doctors, so they gave us a prescription for low dosage long term antibiotics to help prevent the repetitive infections.
We thought we were fine. We thought we were cruising.
Last week Dylan has had another cold, but by the end of the week we thought it was over. On Friday night we rented a DVD and got ourselves a "support the crazy evangelical Christian" pizza (better known as Dominos Pizza) in the hope of having a good time; we ended up tip toeing across the house instead so as not to wake Batman up, and that was after a few hours of trying to settle him to sleep - something we didn't need to do for some 8 months now.
He seemed alright since. Grumpy, a bit weird, but healthy. Surely, that was just the antibiotics' fault.
Today Dylan went to childcare, and at 14:00 I got the dreaded phonecall asking me to pick him up because he wouldn't stop crying all day. I was annoyed; the childcare place seems too trigger happy with these calls, and them not being able to pacify him when he's generally alright sounded to me like them not doing their job rather than anything really being wrong.
Still, we picked him up and took him to the doctor. There we discovered that he has a highish fever (how come childcare didn't notice that?) and, worse, that he has yet another ear infection - despite being on antibiotics for three weeks now.
Batman's superpowers turned out to be simple reactiions to the pain in his ears.
Our next steps are rather scary. We have been referred to an ear specialist, where - after a long while, given the waiting list for those specialists - we will probably be told that Mr Batman Dylan needs to be operated on in order to install grommets in his ears.
For a superhero, our Dylan has not been having an easy go with life so far.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Doomed

This post starts the way many recent others have:
A recent article in Scientific American discussed addictions, mainly the one with nicotine. The article offers an interesting yet highly contestable theory to explain what it is that we get ourselves addicted to with nicotine and what happens when we quit and the withdrawal symptoms kick in. Very interesting yet very much open to debate.
Certain observations reported in the article are not as open to debate, simply because they have been repeatedly observed: it seems as though our nervous system gets rewired pretty quickly in response to nicotine, much quicker than anyone imagined. It doesn't take months of years of smoking packs of cigarettes to become hooked; it seems as though it takes between two to four cigarettes for the nervous systems and the brain to become addicted enough so the would be smoker already has withdrawal symptoms. That's all it takes for new constructions in the brain to identify themselves to modern lab equipment, for a start.
Scary, isn't it?
I find this scares me the most from my new vantage point of a parent. What hope do we, parents, have here when it comes to raising healthy kids? Show me a child that will never try a cigarette and I'll show you a tale of fantasy. None of us has much of a hope in the face of the advertising monster that is the cigarette industry when it comes to stopping our children from trying them out, yet all it takes is for them to try them just a few times and they will always yearn for them, to one extent or another.
It's a losing game, one of many, and it clearly demonstrates how impossible it is to be a truly great parent. The odds are against us from the start.

Internet killed the video star

Dear Green Guide,
On 29/5/08 you published an interesting article exploring the different cable and satellite options available to viewers who want to watch the Euro 2008 football tournament (yes, football).
In what I can only interpret as gross disservice to your readership, your article has completely ignored internet viewing options. Today's viewer is no longer a slave to the whim of some TV executive, you know.
[For the record: The Green Guide is The Age's weekly television, radio and technology guide]