Thursday, 31 July 2008

Universe expansion delays

Readers of this blog might know we have been planning on extending our house. Yes, we insist in taking our time paying our mortgage back.
In order to extend we have three possible courses of action. The first one is irrelevant: do a self building course and do the extension on our own; some people actually do it but we would like our house to stand for more than two minutes. The second is to employ the services of a builder, but there we will be compromised by our ignorance which would allow the builder to sell us whatever they want to sell us. The third option is meant to overcome that hurdle: employ an architect to design the work and then supervise the builders.
Being that an extension would cost us more than a yearly income, we've decided to go by the book and utilize that third option. Since we're not exactly mates with architects, we've decided to use the services of Archicentre - a company that offers an interface for liaising with hundreds of architects registered with them to perform all sorts of architecture jobs. We've actually used them quite successfully to inspect our house before we bought it, so we thought we'd give them a second go.
Alas, so far things didn't turn out well. As you can see in the complaint letter I've been drafting, we've received a rather lackluster service from Archicentre. When, eventually, they did manage to match us with an architect, that architect ran away the minute we've started questioning him. It appears architects suffer from the Prima Donna syndrome: they are so up with themselves they cannot think of anyone not taking their word and actually questioning them.
Anyway, here's an edited version of the draft letter I have so far. My recommendation? Choose an architect you know in person.

Re: Delivery issues with Home Design Consultation

We are currently investigating extending our home. In order to ensure we do as good a job as possible with our extension project we have decided to use Archicentre's services and conduct a Home Design Consultation. Based on Archicentre's literature, our understanding was that we would be matched with an architect familiar with the area we live in, the style of our house, and experienced in similar projects to ours.
Initially we were contacted by SM, our appointed Archicentre architect. Contact was made via a rather laconic email that told us SM is an architect and that he can only meet us during very specific business hour times. This contradicted our specified need to meet with the architect out of business ours, following Archicentre's own recommendation to conduct the consultation at a time in which all stakeholders are available.
We therefore contacted Archicentre again and asked for the architect to be replaced with one we can actually meet with.
We were then contacted by PW, the newly appointed architect, who met with us and delivered the documentation that comes with the consultation. However, while we were discussing PW's proposal for taking on the extension work with us, PW has notified us hat he is no longer able to attend to us as he was awarded with a large commission. He offered to provide us the contact numbers of alternate architects and suggested we look for architects in the Yellow Pages.
At this point in time we find ourselves extremely disappointed with the services provided to us through Archicentre. The primary reason for us contacting Archicentre in the first place was its promise to put us in touch with an architect matching our needs, yet Archicentre has so far been unable to achieve that. While we did get the documentation deliverables out of the Home Design Consultation, that documentation did not provide us with anything we did not know before and served mainly as the starting point for our connection with the architect. We certainly did not get in touch with Archicentre in order to end up looking for an architect in the phone book!
We therefore feel as if we did not get the promised value for money out of the hefty sum we paid for the Design Consultation and that we have wasted precious months with Archicentre. We would appreciate it if Archicentre gets its act together and actually delivers on its promises to put us in touch with a matching architect that is capable and actually willing to work with us on our extension project.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Childcare Solution

Once again we have received proof on how important routine is for babies. And just how fragile it is, too.
For a change, and after a continuous chain of repeated sickness, baby Dylan has actually been feeling well this week. Feeling well, it seems, comes with a price: On Sunday and Monday nights our beloved angel woke up around three (a very AM three) and started crying. In both cases it didn’t seem like there was anything wrong with him; if anything, it seemed as if he was crying for some playing partner.
The first time around we were busy trying to pacify Dylan for almost two hours. Given we went to bed late that night we were pretty shattered the following day. The second time we adopted to the ways of controlled crying, and other than telling Dylan he should be sleeping and trying to calm him down we left him to his own and stayed in bed. He went silent after an hour and a half but we were still shattered.
The question became why this is happening to us at this stage, when for close to a year now Dylan has been sleeping through the night with a relatively few exceptions? Our leading hypothesis, supported by observations from parents going through similar experiences, is that we are experiencing the effect of Dylan’s sicknesses. That is, while Dylan was sick he needed more sleep than usual and we happily catered for it by allowing him to sleep longer during his two day time sleeps. However, now that he has recovered he no longer requires lengthy day time sleeps, so he finds himself a bit too lively during the night (and we find ourselves feeling as if we were shot in the head). The problem in fixing this oversleep during the day issue is that Dylan is so used to his current daily sleep routine will happily continue doing so due to force of habit.
It seems as if a wakeup call is due, and it could be possible we might just have an ace up our sleeve to help us out there: childcare. One of the problems we’ve had with childcare is that Dylan doesn’t sleep much in their environment (again, because it’s not what he’s used to). Because he was sick Dylan hasn’t been to childcare for a few weeks, but yesterday he made his comeback as we took him to his very first full day at his new childcare facility.
As expected, at childcare Dylan didn’t sleep half as much as he’s used to during the day. Instead of sleeping 4-5 cycles* over two sleeping sessions the way he does at home, Dylan only managed one cycle before noon and one in the afternoon. And lo and behold! Last night Dylan slept like a brick. And so did we.

Childcare, it seems, is not all bad. It helps Dylan develop socializing skills, and you can clearly see how he comes back home from childcare more advanced than he was before going with new tricks he learned from colleague babies. Now we might add to the list of childcare benefits the potential to help us reshape Dylan’s routine. It’s only through forced interruption that this is achieved, but if it works – and it’s still way too early for us to make a call – I won’t be complaining.
I have to say that my main worry now is not whether the childcare disruption would be too much for Dylan, as it was earlier on in his childcare career, but rather how we will be coping with the apocalyptic scale of routine disruptions we are planning on introducing Dylan to through our travel plans. I really hope we won’t live to regret them.


*In case you don’t know what a sleeping cycle is, here’s a brief explanation:
All of us sleep in repetitive cycles that are comprised of all the various stages of sleep, including REM and deep sleep. Cycles vary in length depending on age: babies start with about half an hour long cycles, Dylan’s cycles are currently around three quarters of an hour long, and adults take an hour an a half per cycle. In between nightly cycles we adults wake up briefly – that’s the time we tend to turn in bed – but because we’re usually pretty tired we tend to go back to sleep without noticing or remembering the event.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

R-Wards 2

Time flies when you’re having fun and it flies even faster when you’re looking after a baby, but this blog's sister reviews blog is now celebrating its second birthday and the time has come to summarize another year of reviewing. Without further ado, let us have a look at the year that came and went and reward the crop’s best with the greatly coveted R-Wards awards.
See you next year.

Best Film:
As this past year started I have found myself in the rather awkward position of being a father a good few weeks before I was supposed to become one. Fatherhood, it seemed, brought with it the inability to watch films; pessimism hit me as the potential for severely reducing my film consumption hit me.
Happily enough, things didn’t turn out that way. Some time between six to eight weeks after our angel terrorist’s birth things have stabilized, and we begun watching films like there’s no tomorrow. Literally: With no babysitters at our disposal we could no longer go to the cinema (with one unique exception), so DVD’s were the order of the day. Luckily for us, DVD’s were never more accessible and never cheaper: renting three DVD’s costs us $4 to $5, allowing us to drown in source material to waste our time on. On its part, the internet has allowed us to access films that have so far eluded our reach.
The future, it seems, has many DVD’s ahead for us still. Blu-ray and its high definition counterparts would probably have to wait longer than the upcoming year for me to take them in; in my opinion, the technology has not matured enough to offer consumers a usable product that would last. Usability has certainly been made to suffer there in the name of copy protection! In my humble opinion, the future is with downloads and solid state storage, not even more sensitive optical discs. Anyhow, an upscaled DVD picture, although definitely inferior, can definitely give Blu-ray a run for its money; it’s in the sound department that the hi definition formats win through their potential for uncompressed sound.
Then again, with a baby in the house we have been forced to severely subdued listening levels, which have quite an impact on my overall satisfaction with films. That, as well as the all too frequently ill baby, mean that reviewing quantities are expected to be lower next year.
Our baby also has an effect on the choice films we get to watch. Having a baby means that I do not have as much time learning about new films, and the result is that during the past year we tended to watch the big name sequels rather than the quality stuff that tends to shy from the limelights. The result is that looking back, I find it hard to recall the names of films I have watched for the first time during the past year that truly knocked me off my feet. The names that do come up are Ratatouille, Stranger than Fiction, Eastern Promises, and the surprising The Band’s Visit.
However, this year’s R-Ward for best film has to go to Stardust. I like fantasy and science fiction, and Stardust is pure fantasy done right: thoughtful, imaginative and full of character. Looking back at last year’s R-Ward, Children of Men, enhances the point: I’m a sucker for good science fiction / fantasy. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if next year’s winner follow this trend, too.

Best book:
Despite its very rewarding nature, reading seems to be the first casualty when spare time is sparse. Thus, in my first year of parenthood, I managed finishing only ten dismal books.
In my defense I will say that I have also been reading three other books which I am yet to finish and I’m working on finishing, and that some of the books I have been reading this year are amongst the longest I have ever read (including a book that is undoubtedly the longest).
My reading preferences are the same as they have been, science fiction on the fiction side and popular science on the non fiction side. Between the two, my personal preference is for popular science, as evident by their higher average ratings. When it's well written, popular science offers me more bang for the buck when it comes to taking stuff out of the reading experience.
It is therefore no surprise that this year’s R-Ward for best book goes to The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins. Unlike last year, where two books I have encountered were considered to be true masterpieces and the choice between the two was hard, Ancestor’s Tale doesn’t go that high. It is, however, a book that has taught me more than any other book I can think of. It is a book I keep constantly referring to in thought. It is, in short, one mighty reference.
Interestingly enough for a book that recounts the evolution of life from us to its beginning, less than two years ago I have stated in this blog that evolution doesn’t interest me much. Well, since then a lot has happened, and through the reading of just a few books by Dawkins and Sagan my perception has changed quite significantly. If my choice of best films can be predicted through genre, then it seems obvious that my choice of books can be predicted through author, namely Richard Dawkins. The guy really has the ability to write marvelous and simple explanations of his accounts. I wouldn't put money against Dawkins getting his third R-Ward next year.

Best on TV:
This year we have watched plenty of TV material. When you don't have much time to watch a feature length film, TV programs are much more suitable and flexible. Let's be frank: most TV stuff does not require much gray cell effort to digest, either. Interestingly, though, hardly any of our TV watching was done off the air; the days in which someone determined our schedule according to some arbitrary money making algorithm seem to have gone by, reserved only for major football games.
Of the TV programs we have been watching, I think it would be safe for me to say that Family Guy was the most reliably entertaining series with some episodes being true knock outs (e.g., Blue Harvest).
However, being that this is awards night, the R-Ward for best TV goes to the most surprising and innovative program I have seen on TV this year. And that one was Alain de Botton's The Perfect Home, his follow-up TV documentary to his book The Architecture of Happiness. I have found the book disappointing but the documentary anything but; I never imagined myself being as intrigued as I was out of a program dealing with real estate.

Lifetime Achievement R-Ward:
One guy that seems to have created quite a collection of travel adventure chronicles which never fail to entertain and to show us the world as it is/was is Michael Palin. Just like deBotton showed me how to properly deal with real estate, Palin repeatedly demonstrates how to do travel documentaries that really make you feel like you've been there.
Between Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Sahara, Himalaya, and New Europe, the guy is quite prolific but not at the sacrifice of quality.
I found Around the World in 80 Days, Palin first travel effort, to be the most interesting of the lot. Shot towards the end of the eighties, it captures a world gone by but a world in which I grew up in. His glimpse on Chinese rush hour, featuring hordes of bikes virtually stampeding once another while Palin begs us to imagine what the world would be like if all these people had cars instead, is one of TV's most prophetic moments ever.
So the R-Ward goes very deservedly to Michael Palin. And I didn't even mention that he's the lumberjack.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Mediocrity killed the Cat

Last week I took part in this professional symposium. Organized by Canadians, it was a two day event in which peers doing the same thing that I do at the office gathered from all over Melbourne to see some presentations and to network (that is, to kiss ass so we'd have an easier time finding our next job).
The symposium was fairly interesting. For a start, it was two days away from the normal office routine, which is usually good. Matter of fact, it's almost always good in Australia, unlike Israel where being taken away from the office usually implies army reserve duties. More to the point, the symposium was interesting because it showed me just how far back I am on the professional front. I already knew that moving to Australia was like committing professional suicide, but now I also realized that the career path I stuck with since moving to Australia pretty much nailed the seals on my career's coffin.
Up until now I always thought along the lines of "oh, I had to take these job offers since that is all that Australia could offer me and I have to make a living somehow". True, but in the back of my mind I always kept reminiscing on how mighty I used to be back in Israel. That is, how capable I was and how I managed some nice achievements back in my time. Those notions kept my self esteem high, because I was always treating things along the lines of "I'm stooping low now but I know that if opportunity offers itself I can go up again". Thing is, the symposium made me realize I can't. Not anymore.
Let's face it: by now, those mighty achievements back from my Israeli days are more than half of my post university graduation professional career life away. It's not like I can rise to the top quite easily if I wanted to; I won't remember how to do so even if opportunity did present itself.
Opportunity did present itself in the symposium. That is, no one made me an offer, but from what I have heard it became fairly clear that opportunities are there for the taking if one is willing enough. And that, I guess, is where the catch is: try as I may, I am now in a position where I cannot deny that my professional career will not go anywhere purely because I do not want to make the effort to take it anywhere. By now, my career takes second fiddle to my other worldly commitments, and whether I admit it or not job satisfaction plays a very minor fiddle in my life at the moment.
So I might as well admit it. I've become yet another mediocre guy sitting at his office in front of his computer

Friday, 25 July 2008

Soy Vey

A news item from Scientific American is casting new shadows on my love affair with soy milk. Back in April I have reported how BPA, decorating most plastic bottles we (and our babies) drink from, seems to be interpreted by the body as female hormones and thus damage the working balance of the male human body. They probably don't do much good to the female body either.
Anyway, now it seems as if there is reason to suspect soy has similar effects on us.

As someone who loves his soy milk and who drinks quite a lot of it, the question I'm asking is where to from here?
My stomach doesn't get along well with normal milk, not to mention normal milk not being good for you to begin with (that is, unless you're a young cow). What am I supposed to have for breakfast, then? Raw porridge with a glass of mineral water on the side?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Dawn of the Dead

Not all endangered species will be missed. Take, for example, the climate change skeptics, unwilling to acknowledge all the evidence around them and smell the roses. Personally, I thought they were extinct by now, at least in Australia and especially given the results of the last federal elections. That, however, is not the case.
If you read The Age's business section, you will notice that it is full of commentary and opinions by climate change skeptics. Now, in case you didn't know, The Age is Melbourne's second most popular newspaper; number one is a tabloid, naturally, so The Age is the paper that tries to cater for the more sophisticated crowds (and some days it does a better job at that than others). Point is, The Age's business section has serious pretensions, so it's a bit surprising their business section is so full of archaeological specimen. Yet, on the other hand, it makes sense to find climate change skeptics in the business section: these skeptics are, essentially, those with all the money that are afraid of not being able to make as much money when polluting would stop being socially acceptable.

If that business section wasn't enough, today it seemed the skeptics are coming out of the woodworks all the way as we were informed a faction in the Liberal party is demanding the implementation of climate change prevention scheme in Australia be postponed until the leading polluters - China, India and the USA - do something about it first.
This faction is led by Kevin Andrews, who - after his stints as the Workplace Relations Minister and Immigration Minister - seems to have taken a real delight in portraying the role of Doctor Evil (but in real life). A self proclaimed climate change skeptic, Andrews is also a Catholic, and I'm putting my money on him being a skeptic because he's assuming god wouldn't let the world go down. Isn't it funny to see people like Andrews believe the totally unfounded doctrine of the Catholic Church with sheer enthusiasm, but when it comes to climate change with enough evidence going for it that even OJ Simpson would be convicted by a jury of his peers Andrews has a problem believing? Go figure.
That said, there is definitely sense in Andrews' policy: his claim is that by taking the initiative Australian companies would be disadvantaged compared to their international peers. That may be true, but if the Liberals win an election with that policy then maybe we should move to New Zealand.

With Andrews' initiative, the Australia's political map is now divided in three. First, there's Labor, that wants to start acting by 2010 (if I'm not mistaken); then there's the current Liberal party policy of 2012; and now there's the Andrews faction that wants to wait as long as they can get away with.
The thing that strikes me as odd about it all is that no one in mainstream politics tries to approach climate change as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity: an opportunity to live in a pollution free world. An opportunity for Australia to take the lead in environment friendly industries and make some money out of it. Sure, there are challenges ahead, and the workers employed in pollution rich industries should be taken care of, but there is also much to be gained from taking the initiative on climate change - and that's while totally ignoring the fact we might just be saving the world while at it.
Needless to say, there's a very good reason why no politician with some sense in their head treats climate change as an opportunity: they're all kissing the asses of all those rich companies making a killing out of killing our environment; they wouldn't dare act against them. Check out Rudd and his kissing up to the coal industry to see how even the left falls apart in the face of money.
No wonder I'm a pessimist with regards to where this world is heading.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Dishwasher Speech

Martin Luther King has had his I Have a Dream speech, and now Dylan has his very own Dishwasher Speech. Listen carefully to the words of the mighty preacher!
Also featured in the video are the act of doing something suspiciously smelly (while standing up!) and the ramming the garbage can with the head. Generally, though, we wanted to take a video of Dylan in one of his prolonged speeches; it's hard, because the camera tends to distract him from his speech, but we managed to get something here.

Perfect Crime

Pedophiles can rightly expect to be jailed.
Modern society hates pedophile guts. Only recently there was this member of the parliament that expressed happiness when a pedophile committed suicide shortly after getting caught by police. The general public wasn’t exactly going over their heads to try and silence the parliamentarian’s cheers.
However, there seems to be a tried and tested methodology to committing pedophilic acts and getting away with free get out of jail card. Or rather, a free never get into jail in the first place card. It’s simple: all you need to do is become a Catholic priest first.

With World Youth Day (more like a week to me) in the news, the subject of pedophilia in the Catholic Church made for news headline material again. Angry parents swarmed towards Sydney from all over the world in order to hear an apology from Mr Pope himself or get some worthy financial compensation for the damage done to their children (in Australia, the church’s internal regulations limit the compensation they can offer to $50,000; if you don’t like it, sue them).
What I find puzzling about it all is this: Why are the parents looking for an apology in the first place? Why is the size of the financial compensation the main question in the air?
Or, to put it in other words: Why aren’t the priests that committed the crimes rotting in jail, the way you and I would if we were to commit similar crimes?

And I thought the church was bad because they get away with not paying taxes. Now it seems they’ve got this Lethal Weapon 2 style diplomatic immunity, too. Well, it’s time this got revoked.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Crimes Against Humanity

In my humble opinion, most of the problems faced by humanity today can be solved through education. Education can teach us that we are all in this boat together and that we're very similar to one another, education can make us aware of global warming, and education can teach the poor how to better handle themselves; say, how to use contraceptions. However, getting to this ideal scenario is not as easy as it may appear. There are roadblocks to overcome.

One of the basic problems stems from the fact children tend to lock on to the very first thing they're being told for the rest of their lives. It's probably an evolutionary thing, given that a child that obeys the warning to be careful with heights will be the child that survives to raise more descendants. However, it also means that our children grab whatever bullshit we might be feeding them with and hold on to it quite jealously for the rest of their lives. Say, a child born to Catholic parents is almost surely going to grow up thinking of Catholicism as the ultimate truth, while a child born to Muslim parents is virtually guaranteed growing up to become a Muslim.
Obviously, children are very susceptible to this bullshit acceptance disease. Which is exactly why educating children the right way is of the utmost importance and exactly why educating them properly as of a young age is of the utmost importance. The issue at hand is pretty simple yet highly important to the future of humanity entire: do we teach our children to become the inquisitive, thinking and questioning people this world of ours needs, or do we teach them to become mind numbed robots?

This is exactly why I get annoyed whenever I see kindergarten photos of my very young nephew wearing Kippa (yarmulke) and lighting up candles for the Sabbath or something similar. I have been told it's nothing and that all the kids do it, but that's exactly the problem: it's not nothing but quite a big something, and let's face it - the vast majority of this world children, numbering more than a billion, have no idea what the fuck a Sabbath is. These activities mess up with the kid's head for the rest of his life, and it brings society to the situation demonstrated by research showing how Israeli schoolkids think it was okay for Joshua to kill all the people of Canaan because they would interfere with Jewish worship.
After all, I'm being told, "we're all Jews". But are we? Ignoring my own opinions about my own religious identity, I very much doubt my family's Judaism. Sure, they consider themselves Jews, but they're not the world's greatest believers to say the least; they pick and choose what religious rites they want to stick to, and their picking and choosing has much more to do with contemporary Israeli culture than it does with proper Judaism. In short, they're not thinking of what it is that they're doing, they just stick to the herd.
What they don't do, however, is present the child with any sort of a viable choice: by the time he would be able to choose for himself his brain would be so very washed the option of making a choice is highly unlikely to occur to him.

Thus the majority of this world's human population continue to commit crimes against younger humanity, ruining their brains up for life in a process that is virtually guaranteed to filter down through generations. No one gains out of this brainwashing ritual; no one gets anything out of being a Jew, just as no one gets anything out of being a Christian or a Muslim. Every benefit they might think they're getting out of religion can be easily acquired without it just the same. The only beneficiary of this exercise is religion itself and its survival.
And the only victims are all of us, people.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

On the Offensive

Following on the recent post quoting from the works of Pat Condell, I was asked about my attitude towards being offensive. Obviously, the reason why the question popped up is that my posts in general and my posts about religion in particular are often interpreted as offensive, to the point close friends are taking it for granted that I'm out here to say that all religious people are idiots.
I therefore thought it would be nice for me to write a post addressing my attitude towards offending people's beliefs.

I'll start by example, touching on the Pat Condell videos. I'll make it very clear: I agree with most of what Condell is saying. I also like his videos as a form of entertainment: they're not only interesting, they're also quite funny. However, I do not approve of his attitude: sure, a having a go at some demographic here and there is alright as long as it's tastefully done, but... How can I put it...
It's one thing to say "I disagree with your opinions" and quite another thing to say "I disagree with your opinions and I think you're an idiot". I would like to think that I am of the former camp; I would like to think that what I am saying is something along the lines of "I disagree with your beliefs because they are irrational, because there is no evidence supporting them, and because other theories which do have plenty of evidence supporting them can actually explain things very well".
Not that I don't think some of those I disagree with me are idiots; it's just that I also think some of those who agree with me are idiots just the same, and more importantly, the point is to keep the debate constructive rather than vindictive and personal. A person won't change his/her belief because he/she was called an idiot, but a rational person may change his/her beliefs when presented with adequate evidence.
That said, my posts often narrow things down to such a corner where it becomes clear that one must be an idiot in order to still stick with unfounded beliefs (of the type normally labelled as "religious beliefs"). Personally, I don't think those who still go on believing no matter what evidence is provided to them are necessarily idiots; I think in most cases they suffer from ignorance. They either never think through the implications of their beliefs or never enjoyed the privilege of being exposed to the evidence countering them.
No matter how we get to this point, though, the result is still the same: my posts offend plenty of people, including family and friend. So while I do not set out to offend people, what do I think of those that find my posts offensives to their beliefs?

The answer, put bluntly, is that I couldn't care less about offending people's beliefs. I'll explain using examples demonstrating why challenging people's beliefs is the right thing to do.
Up until a few centuries ago, the consensus was that the earth is flat and that the sun circles the earth. Or at least that was the consensus up until a few brave souls took a stand and offended the beliefs of most of the world's population.
In Germany of just 70 years ago, most of the people believed that Jews, gypsies and blacks are inferior and should be exterminated. These lovely people were eventually defeated and no one sane would think twice about offending their beliefs.
That said, both Judaism and Christianity offer agendas that are just as discriminative as your average white supremacist's agendas: Jews believe they're the chosen ones, and some orthodox Jews will tell you that while breaking the Sabbath is allowed in order to save the life of a Jew, doing so in order to save the life of an Arab is forbidden. Christians, on their part, will tell you that only they go to heaven while the rest of us are condemned to an eternity in hell. Hell, compared to such being eternally barbecued, Nazi gas chambers are a walk in the park.

The world we live in is constantly changing. It got to the point where the politically correct is taken to extremes; offending people can lose you your job if you're not careful. Making statements about the close relations between humans and apes is not regarded as making a viable scientific observation but rather as making a provocative statement that might upset bleeding heart creationists.
We got to the point where many if not most people think they have a right not to be offended by anything. Personally, I find the notion ridiculous. I also find it counterproductive to society in general, as I have already demonstrated through the examples above.
My opinion is that someone's opinions and beliefs are there to be challenged, by definition, because that is the only way for us to progress in order to find the objective truth. That is exactly the scientific approach: it takes the status quo and challenges it by providing evidence countering it; the challenge is accepted without offending anyone's beliefs; the challenge is regarded as progress.
I'm sure, for example, that Newton wouldn't have minded Einstein's relativity knocking his set of physics laws in the least; I would like to think he would clap in admiration. In a similar manner, Einstein himself wasn't offended when quantum physics demonstrated problems in his approach; he didn't like it and he looked for better explanations instead, but he never cried foul and asked for quantum physics to be banned.

This post is long but my point is simple: People who are offended when others challenge their beliefs and opinions do, indeed, act like idiots. They are people who instill and enshrine idiocy and ignorance. The same goes for the people who take upon themselves the duty of policing criticism so as to prevent others from being offended when something is said against their opinions and beliefs.
The idiocy part of it should not be the focus of attention. Everyone's an idiot from time to time, just look at the way we drive. Instead of being offended, people should engage one another in healthy discussion. Sure, there will be problems: One person will say that Jesus is the one true thing and the other will say that Mohamed is. Their disagreements will never be solved through mutual agreements not to offend each other's beliefs because there will always be friction. Instead, People should strive to convince one another through respectful evidence based debate.
The problem with society today is that because no religion has any evidence in its favor we have retreated to a position where no challenges are allowed, whereas instead we should be advancing a position where we rid ourselves of the shackles of the religions that hold us back.
I will discuss the key to getting rid of these shackles in my next post.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Sun Always Shines On TV

I reached inside myself and found nothing there to ease my ever growing concerns over our upcoming family tour of the world. That is, us flying to the far side of the world so our families can see and experience Dylan and we can see our families. And vice versa and all.
Given that we will be flying for more than 24 hours each way with lots of messing about at airports while having to take care of a baby; given that we will have a hell of a time taking care of a curious baby who doesn't know what a flight is like and what jet lag means; and given that the cost of this trip is something like a fifth of our yearly net income as well as our entire yearly leave allowance, you will be right in arguing that the stakes our high but so are our expectations. Sadly, though, it seems as if these expectations are one sided.

On the English side of things, it seems like the family will be busy with work. Thus while we will be staying with them we might as well send each other postcards or Skype one another instead of bothering to come over in the first place.
In Israel, assuming some lunatic does not decide to attack Iran in the near future, we will enjoy different kinds of festivities. Mobility will be limited as there's no parking to be had next to my parents' place, which means renting a car will be a problem. Then there's the expected congestion at my parents' place which might mean we'll have to share a room with Dylan, a habit we would definitely like to avoid.
The only way we will be making use of our time in Israel is if we do meaningful stuff together with my family. However, expectations wise, my parents seem to think that it's perfectly reasonable to spend a day at a shopping mall while my mother always has grand designs over going to visit deceased relatives' graves no matter how long I spend telling her that a grave means nothing to me. With Israel's intolerable heat, outdoor activities will be severely limited; whatever it is we will be doing, we will not be doing it much unless we will be doing it with family (and/or friends).

I guess what I'm trying to say here is pretty simple: Our families do not seem to realize that in order for us to make the most of the limited time we have together they will need to make an effort similar to the effort we will be making (sans flights). That means that if they want to see Dylan or if they want to see us, they will need to dedicate time for that. However, the feedback we have from them so far seems to indicate this notion fails to occur with them.
It seems like we have a basic communication problem with our families on our hands here. It's the type of stuff that reminds me why it didn't feel that bad to leave them on the other side of the world and move to Australia, because whenever I try to discuss these issues with them I only get annoyed at the severe lack of understanding and appreciation displayed by them.
Given that flights are getting dearer and dearer and that as of our next tour we will need to pay for Dylan, too, it is obvious we will not be able to come over and see our families as often as we or they would like. History indicates they can't be bothered to come and visit us, which makes their indifference towards dedicating time for our visit even worse.

Next time we contemplate going away we should probably just choose a destination we would like to tour, as opposed to England and Israel; say, Paris or Barcelona. At least this way we'd be guaranteed a good time. In the mean time, we plan on being very selfish; if our families can't be bothered to make an effort, we will make the most of what we can to make our only holiday of the year as enjoyable as possible while they sit and watch TV.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Mad Cow

Dylan hasn’t even started at his new childcare and already he caught a contagious disease there. His orientation sessions were all it took for him to catch the dreaded Hand, Foot and Mouth disease which by now has affected seven babies in his new childcare room.
At first I thought that this signifies how close we humans (and me in particular) are to cows, but then it turned out that HFM is a different virus/germ/whatever to the normal Foot and Mouth you hear about in the news when they tell you that half on England’s cows were destroyed (talk about euphemisms).
Being a responsible parent, Jo called the childcare place to tell them about the doctor’s diagnosis. Childcare, on their end, didn’t waste time before informing Jo we will need a doctor’s certificate saying Dylan has recovered from his new illness before Dylan can go back to childcare (or, in our case, before Dylan can start going to childcare in the first place).
This raises a couple of questions:
First, it is obviously better to be an irresponsible citizen and avoid telling childcare of your child’s contagious disease. Your child and the rest of the children at childcare would be just as safe, since you won’t be sending a sick child to childcare in the first place and since the doctors give you the clearance to go back once the symptoms are gone regardless of whether your child is still toxic. What you would gain by being irresponsible is the time and effort spent on yet another doctor’s visit, as well as the $30 out of pocket a doctor’s visit costs nowadays.
Which brings me to the second question. With all the costs involved with Jo going back to work – childcare costs, doctor’s costs, as well as the severe erosion of our leave days – was it worth Jo going back to work in the first place? I don’t think we’re in a position to provide a proper answer to this question, but it is an interesting one none the less.
Financially, we're definitely in the black but not by much. Therefore, other considerations need to be considered.
On one hand, Dylan would go through severe sickness cycles whenever he first gets exposed to the public, so if he builds his immunity now then we’d be over the worst sooner rather than later. On the other hand, that “if” there in the previous sentence is one big if: Who can really tell whether Dylan being sick now means Dylan not being sick later? Will the viruses be the same next year or in two years time, given their quick rate of mutation? Would he have caught this Mad Cow disease at a later age, when he’s stronger and equipped with a tougher immune system as opposed to an immune system that is constantly being battered?
With all the stress involved with going back to work, we’re beginning to think that maybe we shouldn’t have done it.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Time to brag

This post is about me doing some unselfish good deed.
The thing about this post is that I didn't know whether I should write it or not. It's not nice to brag, and it's even worse to say "look at me, I'm doing so much good"; if you want to do some good, then go ahead and do it, don't buy a $2 charity plastic wrist band and wear it to the gym hoping all the hot girls would want to have sex with you because you're the world's savior.
Given the logic above this post shouldn't really exist. Or should it?
Well, then I had second thoughts. First, there's the general purpose of this blog, which is to document the things I'm going through and the things that go through my mind, and if some unselfish good act occupies the premises for a brief while then it should be documented. Second, more importantly, and the main reason why this post is here, is that maybe through reading this post others would be inspired to perform similar deeds.

Before getting to the deed itself, here's the background story explaining why my unselfish act was not as unselfish as it may seem.
From time to time we receive spam phone calls, as in - calls from companies wanting to sell us stuff. Recent legislation caused these calls to be limited to charity organizations, but these calls are still a pain in the ass. Personally, when I answer the phone to such a cold caller, I have no problems telling them to fuck off (I tend to be more polite, although still ruthless). Jo, however, is not as ruthless as I am, actually sympathizing with the people whose job it is to make those tough calls and who routinely meet nastiness of my likeness on the answering side. Thus we end up giving money away to charities we were not that likely to give money to otherwise.
So I came up with a bright idea: Wouldn't it be better if we gave our money away to the charity of our choice? It would also give us a good excuse to explain why we can't donate to weirdo charity X the next time they call; after all, our resources are limited.
My ingenious plan was presented and accepted by my better half.

The choice of charity funds was pretty straight forward: Oxfam.
There are three reasons for Oxfam's selection:
1. Oxfam is an efficient fund. That is, only a small percentage of its money is spent on administration or salaries etc.
2. Oxfam is a secular organization. God does not have a saying with them.
3. Oxfam's actions are exactly the type of stuff I would like to see my money spent on when it comes to charity.

And all this brings me to my actual brag: From now on, and on a monthly basis, a small sum of money (pretty small, to be honest) would be donated out of our bank account to Oxfam.
Ain't I cool?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Sonic Youth

It's World Youth Day, so they say, which means Catholics from all over the planet are flooding Australia in celebration of faith. They're mostly in Sydney, but there are enough of them in Melbourne to make the trains and the city significantly more crowded.
Generally speaking, I couldn't care less about these celebrations. If Catholics want to gather and celebrate, good on them. I do, however, care when their celebrations are paid for by my tax payers' money. I'm also slightly annoyed when a Catholic guy interviewed over the radio says that Muslims are fine but it's people with no faith that are the worst because of their materialistic nature; then again, there's ignorance everywhere. I care the most when the government of NSW legislates special law for this week prohibiting anyone from "annoying" the Catholic celebrations (or they'll stick a yellow Star of David on your arm?). I'm not making this up: they really did legislate against annoyance without really defining what annoyance is, thus giving the police with the freedom to do whatever they want against those who dare speak against Mr Pope this week.
Well, I can't hold myself back from this great opportunity self fulfillment through the breaking of the law even if I don't live in NSW. However, this time around I shall give the honor to someone who is much better than I am in the science of demonstrating the stupidity of religion. The guy's name is Pat Condell and he's tons more fluent than I am in a selection of videos he posted on YouTube that are some of YouTube most watched ever; you can check his videos YouTube videos here or check his website here.
For now, enjoy the following clip - his most popular YouTube video:

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Doubting Thomas

A scene that kept on repeating itself while we were attending the current toy sales is the scene in which a family walks into the department store conducting the toy sale. The male kid/s run amok, as if on a mission; then suddenly comes relief as they discover the aisle dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine's merchandise. They then move to the next action phase, where they grapple their parents into buying them some Thomas articles.
As brand names go, the Thomas brand is probably one of the better ones. Environmental aspects of steam engines aside, Thomas stands for plenty of good things (as opposed to his female equivalent of the Bratz type). The videos are nice, too, with Ringo Starr and all. Yet the question has to be asked - do kids as young as the Thomas age group really need to be involved with brand names? Should they be taught at such an early stage that one brand (Thomas toys) is better than the rest (as in, all other boys toys), especially when there is no qualitative advantage to the Thomas toys other than the brand identification factor?
You can see how it all starts. The kid gets some Thomas exposure through friends, TV or childcare; but given the age range and the lack of brand awareness the concept doesn't really grab a hold. And then a well meaning relative gets the child a Thomas DVD (some folks are actually still buying those things); from then on, it's all downhill.
I know a day is going to come when my child will come asking for, say, Nike shoes, or an iPod, or a specific mobile phone brand. He might even come up to me and ask why we are using Linux when everyone else uses Windows, and I know telling him Linux is better won't do me much good. But why are we, parents, to be automatically condemned to Thomas imprisonment at an age when the child has no brand awareness?
There is absolutely no benefit of introducing brand names to a child. The only benefit derived from such an act is by the companies that want to sell you brand names, whose coffers start filling up as of that point and for the rest of the child's life.
Thomas is a nice character, but he is one our household can do without; there are plenty of toy train sets out there that will do a much better job and will not get my child his very first addiction.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Coast to Coast, LA to Chicago

Another weekend is upon us and what better way to celebrate than with a couple of up to date Dylan videos.
The first video features Dylan eating raisins. The thing about Dylan eating raisins is that they're quite a handful for him and most of them end up dropping from his hands or mouth and end up either on the floor or on all sorts of crevices in his seat or clothes. As you watch the video, try counting how many raisins were dropped in the making of the film and how many were eaten:



The second video documents a historical development for Dylan, him coasting along the sofa. Dylan the Smooth Operator doesn't do much coasting yet, preferring to crawl most of the time instead; if you do want him to coast you need to offer him some worthwhile bribe, like, say, a laptop (even if it's a laptop running crap Windows Vista, which twice now decided to reboot on us to digest some Windows Updates while we were in the middle of something):

Friday, 11 July 2008

Shopping bonanza

The Toy Sale season is at its peak and we thought we would take advantage of it. I was at home, still sick; Dylan was acclimatizing to his new childcare facility just around the corner; and the shopping mall was beckoning.
Oh, that feeling of freedom you get when you do not have to carry a pram and ten different bags with you through a shopping mall! The joy of being able to take the escalators without having to look for that elusive elevator that was so well hidden by the mall's architects you need a map to find that it's on the exact opposite side of the mall to where you are, and that you're better off finding a good place to lunch first otherwise there's no way you're going to make it there alive!
The goal we set out for ourselves was to get Dylan a trike with a handle that we can use to push him around while he can pedal his way. There are models with straps that would fit him already currently selling for around $50 and others without currently selling for $20, so we thought that even though Dylan is not there yet and it's not really the time of the year to go a-pedaling we'd be stupid to spend twice as much in a few months' time.
Arriving at both Kmart and Big W the story was the same as always: piles of toys spread out all over the huge shops, no way of knowing where to find what, and no one there to guide you (but the occasional employee to mislead you). After more than a bit of messing around we've found the only male trike left in both shops, as in the only trike not painted pink from top to bottom and decorated with pink laces, has had its box open and is very likely to be missing parts.
So we did what every good shopper does: we got things we didn't really need or want instead. We got Dylan a toy train that goes a bit and has these revolving cubes on top (Fisher Price, $20 at Kmart); at least this train actually goes, as opposed to Connex. We also got him this talking steering wheel ($20) that has all these buttons and encourages you to become a hoon, making comments that are not that far from "out of the way, grandma!" (well, it's actually "educational" comments, but the sound effects and such do not encourage good road behavior).
The best thing we got Dylan? A $3 spiky plastic ball (an orange spiky plastic ball!) he's been chasing around the house. Who needs sophisticated electronics and who needs to splash money?

The point of this story is to show that despite my anti consumerism preaching I can fail like the best of them. No, I do not see myself becoming religious soon, but I can see how the pursuit of happiness for my son can drive my logic circuits numb.
To end on a positive note, we've found this place that sells 10 Lindt chocolate bars for $10. Yes, you read it correctly - 10 for 10! The catch is that the bars have expired on 30/6/08, but we all know they have a generous safety margin on those dates. Having eaten two bars already I can tell you my stomach has rarely been happier.
Mmm... Chocolate...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

I should be so lucky

Someone I know, who I will refer to as "my aunt" throughout this post, has been going through repetitive spouts of lucklessness in her pursuit to move into a new apartment. Or so she claims.
Check, for example, my aunt's latest attempt to buy an apartment. She identified the place after seeing the "for sale" sign and contacted the owner. Having toured the apartment she wasn't happy with the apartment's size - way too big - but because of its location she decided to go for it. However, the apartment's owner asked for more than she considered reasonable, so they got into a rather perverse agreement: if the owner was to get a rival bid for the apartment she would tell my aunt, who will outbid this rival and buy the place.
Things failed to follow this carefully articulated plan: A few weeks later my aunt noticed the "for sale" sign has vanished. Further inquiries have revealed the harsh reality: the apartment's owner got a rival bid on the apartment and decided to sell there and then. What followed is my aunt's summary of this escapade: "I am unlucky with buying myself an apartment".
I immediately stepped into gear and said luck had nothing to do with it, blaming my aunt's approach instead. My argument was that if she really wanted the place she could have gotten it straight away without having to lose the initiative to a fellow bidder; she should have decided how much she is willing to pay for the place and just go for it. I also had reservations with what I consider to be my aunt's rather immoral arrangement with the owner to provide her with one sided inside information about fellow bidders, an arrangement fellow bidders will rightly disapprove of; my aunt wouldn't want that trick played on her, nor would I (even if real estate agents pull this trick on you as a part of their standard practice, but then again you don't want to hear my opinion of real estate agents).
My aunt would hear nothing of this talk of mine. "What is it that crap you're talking?" (freely translated to English by yours truly). No, she has it all figured out, and it's all just bad luck.

My point with this post is to point at the ease with which people address very ordinary events and regard them as celestial. My aunt's adventures are a case in point: very ordinary affairs that impact most eBay auction millions of times per day are taken completely out of context and labeled as "luck".
Now you may say that my aunt's case is completely foolish and I shouldn't make a fuss out of it. But let me ask you this - what is the difference between my aunt's story, and, say, farmers praying to their god/s of choice for good weather to help them with their crops (say, timely rain in just the right amounts) and then go on to create tons of carbon and methane emissions by burning fossil fuels and by raising a flock of cattle to sell for meat, which in their own turn create rather nasty weather patterns? In my opinion the only difference between my aunt and the farmers would be the scales involved, but in both cases the main motifs are identical: People attributing ordinary behavior to be the result of the whims of an outworldly entity that is of a rather unpredictable nature instead of realizing that they are the ones creating their own fate. Sure, weather patterns are hard to predict and even harder to control, but it is still quite obvious that we humans can and do have our saying in both departments.

Reality, on the other hand, is incredibly simple: to date no one has been able to come up with conclusive proof for out of this world events taking place in our world or for out of this world beings meddling in our worldly affairs. Sure, there have been plenty of claims and charlatans by the ton, but nothing with the slightest evidence to support the claim (and bear in mind that exceptional claims should have exceptional evidence supporting it).
So why is it that people continue to attribute events and occurrences to their deity of choice? It seems to me like the only plausible explanation is ease of use, as in - who needs to bother looking for proper explanations when we can just attribute everything to some god's mood?
It also seems to me like we are paying the price of this ease of use wherever we go. From our inability to buy the apartment we really want to live in to our ability to create global warming in the first place and then our inability to combat its effects, we are victims of religion in its various incarnations.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

History repeating

We interrupt all blogging with a variation on history the way we know it.
This week, Jo & I are sick but Dylan seems to be healthy. It's probably just a matter of time before he catches our virus, though, unless we caught it from him. Then again, this winter has so far been one big cacophony of colds, so who knows?
Compared to my record of colds in the last two years before Dylan came along, it is clear your health as a parent suffers when you have children. Over the last couple of months I have had more colds than I had over the previous two years!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sex Bomb

In a recent post discussing the latest terror attack in Jerusalem, Tsifer's Israeli blog discusses a theory that says one of the main reasons why suicide attacks take place is the sexual repression inherent to the conservative Arab societies.
Essentially, Tsifer says that the stiff family hierarchy of Arab societies, where the sons and daughters have to do what their elders tell them to do, coupled with the sexual repression of a society that condemns any premarital sexual engagements, are an accident waiting to happen. A human being is a machine designed to make more of itself, and when repressed of such options we have ourselves a ticking bomb. Especially when the age range we're talking about is a volatile one to begin with, and especially when those Arab youths can see their Israeli counterparts having free sex across their security barriers.
As you might gather, I tend to agree with this theory. Sure, a lot of those suicide bombers are idiots being used by someone with a political agenda and no conscience, but that last bulldozer attack in Jerusalem wasn't such an attack; it was an attack by a young guy who just lost it.
While still highly contestable, this theory has a lot standing for it. For a start, it explains the appeal of those seventy plus virgins waiting in heaven have with the average suicide bomber: to a repressed guy with not much of a chance of touching a woman any time soon, such a promise might sound as lucrative as owning investment property sounds to your average Aussie. The theory, however, goes to explain a lot of similar phenomena that have nothing to do with conservative Arab societies: say, sexual abuse in the Catholic church, an issue that keeps on attacking the church on a regular basis and which found itself at the top of tonight's news, just a week prior to Mr Pope's "historical" visit to Australia.

Assuming you agree with the theory to one extent or another, think about this: an emerging problem that will make the Arab-Israeli conflict look like child play.
China is a nation with over a billion people employing a single child policy. Many families looking for a male son to inherent them abort female pregnancies, leading to a situation where there are significantly more males than females. Given that males no longer kill one another as much as they used to while fighting over the women, and given that polygamy is not accepted (especially the type where one woman rules over several men), think of the time bomb that's lurking there in China when these men grow up and find that they cannot get themselves a woman.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Blog for your life

By now all the newspapers and such have reported about it, but I would still prefer to refer you to the Scientific American article here. It reports the results of research that indicating that blogging is good for you, as in - people who blogged had a higher chance of overcoming cancer, to name but one example.
Not that I think the research is that accurate. For a start, it claims blogging improves your sleep, which definitely doesn't apply in my case as most of my blogging is done when I should actually be asleep. That said, it does discuss the addictive nature of blogging, and I certainly am. It reminded me of an interview with Don Henley (of The Eagles) we listened to last night on the car radio, where he said that writing the first verse of Hotel California was better than sex. I don't know about that, but writing is a pleasure none the less.
Read it and blog.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Won the battle, lost the war

eBay Australia has finally succumbed to the pressure and announced it would back up on its intention to force its PayPal as the only method of payment that can be used on its transactions. They’re big time idiots, but this news is great: we, as in all eBay sellers - eBay's direct clientèle - have won the battle against the evil empire of greed. And I can even say I had an active part in this decision, having written a public submission to the ACCC.
But did we win the war? I’m afraid we haven’t. I’m afraid eBay won there.

You see, eBay is still allowed to get away with forcing PayPal to be offered as a payment method on eBay transactions. That means that everyone who wants to sell on eBay must have a PayPal account. In turn, that means that sellers will usually have something on their PayPal balances, simply because it’s costly to transfer your PayPal balance into cash; on the other hand, it’s much easier to spend this by purchasing stuff using PayPal.
Since pretty much all of eBay’s sellers are also eBay buyers, their PayPal balance will push them to pay using PayPal when the time comes for them to make a purchase. Since PayPal will always be offered as a payment method, they will be using PayPal in virtually all their purchases.
The conclusion, therefore, is undeniable: eBay has won and PayPal will, effectively, be the only method of payment used on eBay transactions. Sure, there will be some exceptions here and there, mostly with infrequent buyers or newcomers to eBay, but the bulk will be PayPal based. And the funny thing about it all is that in order to achieve this status eBay needn’t have fussed with the law at all; eBay was just too stupid and too arrogant to aim higher than they needed to go in the first place.

My personal conclusion? We need a worthy eBay alternative, and we need it now.
Sure, eBay has its competition: There’s Telstra’s Trading Post, which was there way before but was traditionally inflexible and much more expensive (yet they are promising to change their ways in order to capitalize on eBay’s now firmly established shit reputation). And there are new kids on the block, like Oztion and eSwap. But try all of them out and you will find they’re crap compared to the eBay experience: they feel the way moving from a word processor to a typing machine would, and they don’t even attract a fraction of the crowds that eBay attract.
So yes, eBay has won, big time.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Location Location

It all started during Dylan’s first week at home, about a year ago: I filled up the forms to have Dylan on our local council’s rather lengthy waitlist to its own childcare facilities. Now we are paying the consequences as yet again we are forced to contend with the question of which is the optimal childcare facility to take care of Dylan on days both of us parents are at work.
A couple of months ago the dilemma was between his current place near our work and an expensive place near home that had rather tight operating hours; we chose to stick with the tried and tested childcare facility. This week we’ve had a breakthrough: the call we thought would never come, the lottery award winning notification call telling us that there’s a place available for Dylan in the local council’s childcare facilities, has surprisingly arrived.
The problem with the local council is that its places are much sought after. You see, they are cheaper, given that they are not operated by some rich dude so that he/she could get richer. Because they're sought after these places run waitlists, and these waitlists are problematic in their own right because your social condition determines your waitlist priority: single parent families, for example, will get their place before working parents families (such as us), who will get their place before lazy [rich] parents who just want to have peace and quiet. With such complications and with the local council's policy of zero transparency with regards to your current place on the waiting list, it all becomes a pain you'd rather forget as you focus on privately run childcare options instead.
To be completely honest, I was also afraid the local council childcare would have too many social cases on its hands, exposing Dylan to characters best avoided. However, so far our visits to the place indicate there is nothing inherently wrong with the clientele at the local council: Both babies and parents there appear normal, for a start. As a bonus, they have these policies where they take the children to visit old peoples’ places to cheer them up and other policies forbidding war games and war/violence mongering toys.

The main problem and the reason we were thinking twice about the new offer is that Dylan’s current childcare facility has been going through quite a lot lately to help us and address our needs. Sure, in the beginning (and as I have reported here on numerous occasions) their service was lacking, to say the least; but through the recruitment of professionals and by paying attention to what we’ve been telling them they really made a difference at a time in which Dylan is both frequently sick and ultra clingy.
Surprisingly, the financial costs of both establishments are not that different. To be honest, I was rather surprised by how expensive the local council's facilities are. You see, the official government daily childcare rate, according to which the government supports parents, is at around $45. Dylan’s current non for profit childcare charges us $83 per day, thus demonstrating the rather fictitious nature of the government figures (the people making those figures up must be living in Never-Never Land). Thing is, I expected the local council rates to match the government figures, but they don’t: they stand at $73, which means that after government support (standing at %50 as of this new financial year) the difference between the old and the new is $5 per day. Not that substantial when you consider that while moving Dylan from one to the other we have to pay both childcare facilities during an overlap period of two weeks. Thus it will take a lenghty four months before we start making financial gains out of the move!
And why is that? Why is there an overlap? Simple: Childcare places are so sought after they can get away with ludicrous demands. One of those is to give them a cool off period when taking your child out: two weeks in the case of our current childcare, which is relatively generous; the local council wants four, the private ones are even greedier. Their other demand is that you give them an answer on whether you want the places on offer within a couple of days max, which is much more than a stupid demand – it’s an annoying one! The local council even tells you not to go and visit their facilities before they call you because they don't want you to waste their time, but then when the call does come you need to react faster than light.

How are we expected to gauge whether a certain childcare facility is worthy of having our son there within a couple of days, when – during those days – we also need to go to work? As our experience with childcare facilities and the abuse Dylan had to suffer in the past indicate, you need to choose your childcare carefully. By carefully I mean going there to see how they cope with the stress of having ten screaming monsters at the hands of two carers, especially when Dylan’s current place has a better ratio of around 3.5 babies per carer (not that they chose to be this generous; it’s the result of their attempt to create a dedicated room for babies less than one year old, an attempt that hasn’t proved too popular in modern day Australia where the mother is expected to give her life away for the baby).
We did go and had a look in the evening before making our minds up. It's not really indicative, as it's after hours, but you can still tell a thing or two. For example, you could see the children were happy there and you could see the parents were, too.
Mind you, food was a bit (but just a bit) of a worry at the local council place. Being that it’s semi government and all the food is on the rather cheaper end of the scale. That is, they even serve the occasional sausage to the kids, and they actually think it’s alright! One way of getting around this is to invoke the cultural card: maybe we can claim that Dylan’s religion forbids him eating shit food or something similar; because religion is such a sacred cow he’s guaranteed not to have any sausages within a few light years’ radius.

If you find all of the above to be rather confusing and too much of a mishmash of pros and cons I would say you are correct: The mishmash accurately reflects our state of mind when deliberating the childcare choice question.
Eventually, we have decided on moving Dylan. The main reason is location: The local council place is a 10 minute walk from where we live and an even shorter drive, which – coupled with reasonable opening times – mean that dropping Dylan off there would be significantly easier for us. Especially when the weather is as bad as it has been this week. Another advantage is that we can drop Dylan off there when we are sick ourselves in order to have a rest, something we weren’t able to do before when that involved a big round trip to work.
The one orientation day Dylan and Jo have had at the new place seems to indicate we’ve made a wise choice with the move. There can be no doubt that the choice has been made easier now that Dylan is a self propelled mobile unit rather than the passive one he was at the time he started his childcare career.
My main question now is, just how bad will Connex’ train service going to be – or rather, how many days will we get stuck on the way home and end up late for Dylan's pickup?
Indeed, choosing your childcare is a complicated affair, even if you win the lottery of a local council place.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Baby Mozart

Preparations for Dylan's upcoming birthday party meant that I couldn't really blog tonight despite having tons of issues to blog about. Instead of doing useful blogging we were stuck in the kitchen: Jo was baking a cake and I was cooking humus.
What I can report on, though, is Dylan's latest go on our piano. First, it seems obvious our policy of keeping a compact camera handy is paying us back through a high rate of YouTube quality material. And second, it's clear it was Dylan that Billy Joel was referring to in his record Piano Man. Check it out for yourself in the video below:

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

99 Red Balloons

Well, it's actually just one yellow balloon, but I had to pay tribute to Nena's song.
We had a party at work today, and as a part of the celebrations they had these helium canisters and a bunch of balloons they filled up with the universe's second most popular material (discounting dark matter and such). I ended up taking three back home with me (they wanted to give me more but there was a limit to the number of balloons I would carry down the street); what we see in the following video is Dylan's reaction to said balloons.
To summarize the reaction, I would say that what we're witnessing is a young animal playing at expressing its dominance over its rivals, which - in our particular case - include a yellow balloon. Watch it and enjoy yourselves:

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Windy Wind

We woke up this morning to the sound of the alarm clock playing a preselected radio station. But there was also another sound in the air: the sound of high winds and heavy rains. In fact, according to that preselected radio station, the winds reached 100km/h in our area.
Today was a childcare day for Dylan and I really didn't feel like taking him there, despite him being childcare ready (as in, not that sick) for a change. It's the combination of rain and wind, which means you can't really do anything but get soaked: an umbrella would just fold on itslef and a rain coat would just cover your upper torso.
The obstacles in the way were far from promising. There's putting Dylan in the car. There's parking next to the station and assembling the pram in the unprotected area next to the car. There's the walk to the station with full on wind exposure and some nasty ponds that fill your business shoes up with water, guaranteeing cold feet throughout the day. Then there's the wait for the train, and who knows when that would arrive - they seem to be pretty sensitive to the weather, these crappy old trains. And then there's a 20 minute walk from the train station to childcare, a walk which cannot be replaced by a tram ride because there's no way the pram would fit on a tram (definitely not during rush hour when it's also raining). Dylan might be protected in his pram; I won't. No, I wasn't looking forward to this one.
But then Jo, the brains in our outfit, came up with a bright idea: why won't we take the car?
Well, why won't we? We did.
We left really early expecting severe traffic jams, preparing ourselves psychologically by repeating that at least we'll be all together in the warm confinement of the car. Instead, we were waiting on the childcare's door ages before their opening time after parking in the building's own parking lot and having not encountered a single traffic jam on the way. Office colleagues attribute that to the rise in fuel prices: they claim that over the last few months the roads are growing emptier and emptier. That might be true, but the major reason is probably the school holidays that befell us.
With public transport being so bad, even greenies like us can forget our origins and choose the car.