Friday, 29 May 2009

The Stupidest Show on Earth

Richard Dawkins is planning on releasing a new book in September. Entitled "The Greatest Show on Earth", the book intends to specify the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution by natural selection. I know I'm bound to read that book and enjoy it, but if you were to ask me one can have a look at Australian politics and gather all the evidence they would ever need there instead of reading the book. The level in which the Australian political discussion is being held is so low it crushes any argument for superiority we humans might claim over our fellow apes. Australian politics is, to me, the stupidest show on earth.

Check out the current discussion about budgets and debt, triggered by the Labor government's budget proposal that goes for a severe deficit by Australian terms (not, however, by international terms). Since its inception, the budget has been attacked by the opposition (the Liberal party) for the debt it would create. They, the Liberals, claim the budget would put every newborn Australian at an immediate state of debt. The problem is that this Liberal spin is propagating; you can hear these otherwise intelligent people go on talking about how Labor puts Australians in debt and blah blah blah. I am just amazed at people's lack of capacity to think for themselves.
First of all, what is the Liberal alternative? What would they do to avoid getting into debt? Oh yes, I get it: they'll cut down on education and cut down on health and cut down on public transport, like they always did. That would be great, won't it? Won't we just love to bring a baby into this world knowing they'd be dumb and sick instead of in debt?
Second, and more importantly, what is it that is so bad about being in debt? Show me a company that does not manage itself into a small level of debt and I'll show you a mismanaged company (and most Liberal members, millionaires at birth, will know that). Companies need to go into debt so they can leverage their investments to the full. It works at the personal level, too: most of us have or had mortgages, which put us in severe debt. I know we took upon ourselves a mortgage the size of four yearly net incomes, a debt proportion much bigger than the Australian government's one. Yet we don't stay awake at night worrying about putting our son in debt, because we know that we should be able to pay it back and we know that we have invested the money so our son can have a roof over his head. A debt that puts in place good infrastructure for future growth is a good debt.
The real question the Labor government should be asked is what it is, exactly, they intend to do with the debt. That is where Labor stumbles, yet that is where the Liberals fail to punch because they know they don't stand for anything better.
Take, for example, Labor's proposal to build a fast broadband network at a cost of 43 billion dollars. I'm the last person to object to a faster internet, but I like to know where my money goes and why when I spend $43, not to mention 43 billion; the government has thus far refused to specify the cost breakdown and to show us any cost/benefit analysis. Like other projects taken on by our distinguished government, it all smells to me as if it was planned on the back of a napkin in some shoddy meeting at a dark venue. The stench of corruption is in the air.

The story continues with the Labor government's proposal for tackling global warming. The budget's allocation towards new energy sources gives two billion to that major euphemism of so called "clean coal", a technology that never worked, and only a bit more than a million towards proper renewable energy (a technology that did a superb job on planet earth for 5 billion years and counting). Let's not get into the money allocated for old style energy sources, aka fossil fuels; I don't want to start crying.
As far as emission reduction is concerned, their plan is to reduce emissions by a measly 5% off 2000's emissions (the rest of the world measures from 1990) or 25% in case of a worldwide agreement. Yet what are the chances of a worldwide agreement taking place when countries like North Korea are still busy blowing nuclear weapons? And what good will a 5% emission reduction do?
The reduction is to be performed through an emissions trading scheme, a methodology that already proved disastrous in countries where it was implemented (e.g., Europe); it proved to serve only the middlemen who made a bucket load of money from trading emission certificates, but it didn't prove to be too effective in actual emissions reduction. What should prove effective is a carbon tax, but then again we've already established the Australian government is corrupt and is worried more about its friends making money rather than truly addressing global warming.
Once again, the Liberal party is no better. A significant portion of its dominant members are actually openly skeptic about this whole global warming thing to begin with, which raises the question of how rational these people with the claim to power are; if the pile of evidence in favor of global warming does not convince them, then what does? The answer is, sadly, greed and religious dogma.

Let me tell you how Australia's global warming story is going to start and end.
One day, the USA will finally make up its mind about what it wants to achieve in the global warming department. They'll come up with a plan to reduce emissions. The next day, Australia will get the marching orders. And let's be clear about it: Australia will march.
The question is, why does Australia have to wait for the American piper? Why can't we take the initiative to put ourselves in a better position rather than lag behind?
To the realistic in me the solution is clear. I didn't vote for the guy, but effectively he's my president, so I will call on him: Help us, Obama Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Luck of the Draw

Football cup matches are always a bit of a sham, including and morning’s European Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United. In a league competition teams are tested over a long stretch of time, thus providing a wider range of statistical observations with which to assess the qualities of each participant; a cup match, on the other hand, is much more susceptible to minor and unpredictable events, meaning that “luck” plays a strong factor. If you are a good team, you should prefer to play a league tournament; cups are good for the lesser teams whose luck just might shine on a given day and balance their lacking skills.
Today’s cup final was a bit of an exception as far as cup finals are concerned: the wide consensus was that indeed this cup final pitted the two best teams in the world this year. Not only are they the best, they are also two teams renowned for playing attractive football (unlike Chelsea, whom I was very glad to see out of the tournament, regardless of whether that did them justice). Another consensus, at least amongst the neutral supporters, or at least within me (to be on the safer side) was that the winner of today’s match was not necessarily the better team; the two teams are so good yet different in their approach it seems clear that in twenty matches between them you will get many wins for each side and many matches that proceed in significantly different ways.
Real life, however, has provided us with only one opportunity for these two best teams in the world to meet this year, so I took it with great pleasure and got up at a very AM 4:40 to watch the live broadcast on SBS. And hooray, Barcelona has won the day!
Indeed, Barcelona was a worthy winner, playing a very attractive passing game. But there is more to that in Barcelona that makes them really worthy of their win in my book. I particularly like the way in which the club is owned by its fans: Barcelona has some 150,000 members, all with voting rights (used to elect a club president, who then – at least on paper – is supposed to execute voters’ will). There is no billionaire from Russia who is behind everything, just the fans and their elected president. More than that, Barcelona has refused to take money from major commercial sponsors; after years of with no shirt sponsor (the cynic in me adds “other than Nike”), they finally went ahead with UNICEF. It is pretty obvious the club loses a lot of money there.
A win for Barcelona is a win for the better aspects of contemporary football culture.

Praise to Barcelona aside, I will not deny that I actually wanted Manchester United to win this morning’s match.
I can point at two reasons. The first one is the fuss around Barcelona’s Leo Messi, who most people point at as the best footballer in the world this year. Granted, he is good; but I think United’s Ronaldo is better. The difference is that Ronaldo is playing a much tougher league that makes it harder for him to look good.
Second, and more importantly, I wanted Manchester United to win because of Alex Ferguson. Granted, I doubt Alex and I would make good friends; but the guy has been the face of Manchester United for 23 years now, and that has to count for something. Say what you say about Manchester United’s role in making football succumb to the evils of capitalism, a club that maintains the same manager for so long and allows the manager to build the club in his own [admirable] image is a club to be admired.
The world of sane and beautiful football needs characters such as Ferguson and his only other true compatriot, Arsene Wenger. Otherwise, there won’t be anyone to show us how clubs can and should run.
When Barcelona has a Ferguson of its own at the helm, they’ll get my vote of support.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Smoke on the Water

As someone who used to own most of the movies he watched I take special pride in saying I am now of the opinion that collecting movies is a rather useless waste of money. A part of this u-turn of opinions is to do with seeing how my ultra expensive laserdisc collection turned worthless the second DVDs came out: from $70 USD a pop they became something I would sell by a box full at $10 AUD. Another part of it is to do with the abundance of cheap quality material: whereas before the only option for high quality movie reproduction at home was buying a laserdisc (or later renting one at more than $10 USD per movie), today I pay $2 AUD for a Blu-ray and I also have other venues pushing down high definition material in my direction. Some of these are conventional, like off air TV, and others not so conventional like my PlayStation 3 games.
The one exception where buying a "film" makes sense is with music videos, for the simple reason that you're much more likely to re-watch a musical performance (or, god forbid, just settle for re-listening to it) than with a proper film. But there are cracks on that wall, too: we've discovered that ABC2 features regular music broadcasts in its weekend lineup. Just a week ago, for example, their Saturday night lineup featured Deep Purple, Suzanne Vega, The Cure and Beck.
An argument could be raised about ABC2's broadcast quality. They don't do high definition, but standard definition digital can still give DVD a run for its money in the picture department (especially when upscaled). Sound is definitely inferior to DVD, with a very lossy stereo sound instead of a regular DVD's lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Still works for me, even when I can feel the compromise.

Of those four previously mentioned performances there can be no doubt which became my favorite. I used to think that I'm over Deep Purple, but there is something primeval in their better songs' rhythm that gets me hooked every time. And in that particular performance broadcast on ABC2 they also do a nice jazzy version of Smoke on the Water (in addition to the real thing), which even makes the band feel somewhat original.
And so it came to be that Dylan got to know his first proper, as in damn good, song. Play him Smoke on the Water and watch him dance while head banging; sing the title line and listen to him recite the guitar chords. Ritchie Blackmore can't do it any better!
Me, I am proud of the educational role I am playing in Dylan's life.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Middle of the Road

Every year we try and have some getaway plan to break the misery of Melbourne's winter. With the strange schedule of Melbourne weekends, where there are no long weekends at all from early June to early November (the calendar must have been designed by some Nazi), there is added motivation to go on a break during winter.
And the winner for this year winter break plan is Singapore. As I have previously reported, we liked the place: it's safe, it's comfortable, it's very hospitable, the food's great, we like the mix of explorative travel activities with the shopping, and it's guaranteed to be hot (probably too hot for us, especially as this time around we will not be coming from Israel and thus we will not be ready for it). As the purpose of the trip is primarily R&R and not necessarily pure exploration, we made sure to book a luxurious hotel where we know we'll be enjoying our stay.
The funny thing is that when we told our family of our travel plans and asked if they want to meet us there, none seemed interested; if anything, the majority of replies seemed to scorn the idea of even suggesting the possibility of a Singapore summit meeting. I don't really get the "why" part of this dismissal, though: it is fairly obvious most of our family members will like Singapore, if not for the food then for it being a shopaholic Mecca.
The even more disturbing issue is to do with none of our family members realizing that spending this period with us in Singapore would be the best quality time they will ever have with us. Given we will both be officially on holiday, none of us will have home/work related worries to attend to; we could devote ourselves to doing stuff together in a relaxed atmosphere. Such circumstances do not take place when you live two hundred meters away from your family, so when you live on the other side of the world but still aspire to feel some sort of togetherness such opportunities are indispensable. Yet our families couldn't care less.
For the record, I am not fully innocent here. Jo's parents have been suggesting we meet in Hawaii for years now but I haven't been too ecstatic with the idea. I have my reasons but I don't think it's worth getting into the thick of things here and now; the point is that we have a booking, we've made the first step, but no one will follow us. And no one is even aware of what it is they'll be potentially missing.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

What is humanity's worst invention? On the face of it we could find ourselves contending between your average atom bomb and your hydrogen bomb. Environmentalists might have a thing or two for the internal combustion engine. However, let me suggest we turn our eyes towards the simple side of things; or rather, the silly side of things. Because, if you were to ask me, there is nothing sillier than using a non-disposable cloth handkerchief to do one's nose with.
What is it, exactly, that takes place with this hankies? Well, when handkerchiefs tend to come out of their owner's pockets when the owner's nose gets runny. They rub the nose's output, absorbing the majority of it, and then they go back into the pocket so the germs can have a new habitat and so the handkerchief can be made available for reuse. As in, making sure the germs that are now on the hankie have the opportunity to go back to their host's welcoming nose or mouth. From time to time our handkerchief will go inside a washing machine to get itself cleaned; I suspect most owners do not realize that despite shedding a lot of the bugs in the washing process, the end result of a washed up handkerchief is a clean piece of cloth containing lots of nice and clean germs.
In short, what I am trying to say is that in this day and age when one has to be insane not to accept germ theory as true, there is no excuse for using a cloth handkerchief. Sure, it has the potential to be more environmentally friendly than disposable tissue paper, but hey - go ahead and choose from an environmentally responsible tissue manufacturer's products. And if you happen to use a cloth because of reason to do with tradition, then hey - you deserve to have a portable bug collection on you.

I was thinking of the above as I watched this woman standing right next to me on a very crowded train this morning. She had the appearance of someone very sick, and to clean her nose or to collect her latest sneeze she was using a cloth handkerchief that has obviously been very thoroughly used lately.
With swine flu now confirmed in Melbourne and probably soon to spread wild, people should know better. Given this morning's display it seems obvious to me we should be preparing to keep Dylan at home for an extended duration soon enough. Goodbye, leave days!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Only Way Is Up

I have recently reached a professional milestone: My current place of work has achieved the status of also being the longest employer of my adult life. Sounds scary, doesn't it? I clearly remember posting here about my job search and the tricky experience of starting my then new job.
On one hand, this new longevity record shows that I was perhaps too eager to leave my previous posts instead of dealing with the issues that drove me out. This view is augmented by the undeniable fact I still regard my very first post graduation job at an airline to be the best job I ever had by a significant margin.
On the other hand, staying at one place for too long indicates that I might not be as professionally attractive as I think I am, and also that I might be happy with exchanging cold comfort for change. I cannot deny that at this point in time I don't think I can acquire a more upscale position than my current one no matter how hard I try; I will also not deny that the main attraction of my current position is to do with its comforts rather than the professional challenges it provides.
Such is life when my main role in it is reduced to doing time as my baby's father.

Another milestone was recently achieved at work: A managerial vacancy became available in my team and I applied for it. However, this time around I found myself on the losing side; I didn't get the job.
I am not going to use the rest of this post to ask for pity. I'm actually pretty relieved at not securing this position and staying where I was before. It is, however, interesting to check the processes taking place here and note what it was that drove me to act the way I did.
In general, a managerial post with my current employer is not something to look up to. The balance between responsibilities and authority is too heavily tilted towards the former. You can clearly see the burden piling up on the shoulders of those who take these positions up; it feels like you can start your stopwatch and measure the time before their looming heart attack. It feels as if going up the organizational ladder also means that you're getting closer to the day something will push you out.
There are positives, though. A new position means a change, and a change means invigorating freshness. And boy, could I use a decent refresh! And then there's the money, although once the tax authorities take their share the bit that's left is hardly enough to cover for the new suits I would need to buy in order to allow me to take part in meetings with my distinguished high up the food chain counterparts.
Between staying where I was and going up the ladder, my rational tells me that staying is the perfectly obvious winning choice. Yet I have applied for the promotion, probably solely for the reason that it's perceived as a step in the "up" direction. Go figure.

Another interesting observation I have had with my application and interviews is to do with the impression I leave on others. For reasons that seem to elude others, I'm the type of person that likes to smile and make the occasional joke. Yes, even during tough times and during serious discussions. What is the use in being serious all the time if it makes people feel like they're attending a funeral rather than the place they spend most of their awake time in? And how invaluable is a good laugh when the seriousness of the discussion makes people forget that what's at stake is not the end of the world but rather a pretty meaningless issue in the grand scheme of life.
Yet it is obvious that most people interpret my behavior as lack of seriousness. They disregard the things I actually do and remember my moment of un-seriousness instead, thus losing me the battle of perceptions. Go figure.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hot Chocolate

I have expressed my opinion on chili chocolate here in the past, but today I can report us finding a place that does superb chili hot chocolate drinks. Which is great, because these things are hard to find!
The following Dylan video was taken where we got the drink. It basically shows Dylan eating a chocolate biscuit we gave him while we had our drink:



The thing to remember about the video is that a few seconds after I stopped the shooting Dylan pushed the table with his feet and knocked himself down to the ground with his chair. That was pretty much the end of the morning's celebrations, showing us once again that you can never be too careful with kids.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Day at the Science Museum

As proud members of Museum Victoria, we used our membership to pay a visit today to Melbourne's Scienceworks Museum - aka, Melbourne's science museum. We've frequented the Melbourne Museum several times before and have been known to report we like it, so how does is its sister museum?
It's tough to make a call because we had a Dylan still recovering from his latest virus with us, which meant the visit was rather stressful. Yet we still had some fun, as the video below indicates:



With ample free parking, Scienceworks welcomes you better than the middle of the city's Melbourne Museum. That is, until you learn that despite being a member you still have to wait in line with all the commoners to get an entry ticket saying you paid zero point zero dollars to get in.
On the museum's positive side I can say it's got lots of stuff that's aimed at kids and it is very (but very) interactive, albeit not for two year olds but rather for older kids. On the negative side I felt the museum was so kid oriented it didn't really touch me as much as it should. Granted, there were interesting things on display, but nothing that swept me the way a science museum should. I think a lot of it is atmosphere related: the place is quite dark, relies on artificial lighting, and just doesn't feel as welcoming and as inviting as its counterpart from the city.
Conveniences were lacking, too. Baby change facilities are low on numbers and not as good as they should be. Even the museum's shop was disappointing: I was looking to get Dylan a toy rocket, preferably a Saturn model to play with given his recent interest in stars and such, but was unable to find anything in the shops; I thought a science museum would have something suitable. It didn't.
To make things worse, we've stumbled upon the notorious Stephen Conroy, the federal minister in charge of censoring and killing the internet for all Australians. We were never close enough for me to tell him what I think of him and his policies, but then again he was there as a private person with his family so I don't think talking politics was adequate to begin with. It's just that the presence of people like him in this world of ours spoils my mood.
Overall, it's safe to say we'll be back to the Sceinceworks Museum. However, it is also safer to say we'll be back to the Melbourne Museum much more often.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Supply and Demand

It took me a while, but I’ve decided to succumb to the tempting offers around me and put my hands on an Asus Eee Box B202 Linux desktop.
What is this Eee Box, I hear you ask, and what is it good for, I hear you add? Well, the Eee Box is essentially an Eee PC netbook motherboard shipped in desktop dressings. It is small and lightweight, looking more like a book than a PC; it is quiet, with a noise level lower than background noise; and at 25 watts, it doesn’t consume much power (that’s a twentieth of what my regular desktop’s power supply consumes). On the downside, the Eee Box is driven by a mere Intel Atom CPU, which means it is no powerhouse computer to say the least; it will, however, deal with server duties and most of my computing needs quite well. For example, if I need to download something overnight or write a document for work, the Eee Box would do a good job at it.
Sale prices ranged from $250 to $330, which in my book is very good money for a brand new second desktop that could easily replace the first one when called upon. Only that I missed the post: by the time I made up my mind into buying the Eee Box existing stocks ran out, clearing the way to the new model Eee Box B206.

Or did they run out?
Well, not if you’re after the Windows version of the B202. If that is the case then you’re in luck: There are plenty of those around!
Thing is, unlike Linux, Windows comes at a cost. I, personally, would not want to pay Microsoft a surcharge for a product I don’t really want, so barring some similar aggressive pricing I won’t be buying the Windows version.
The question I’m asking is, why did Asus stop selling Linux boxes? There is obviously demand for them, given that they ran out, yet at the moment you can buy a Windows B202 but not a Linux one. Oh, and if you’re after the new B206, you’d be happy to know these come in only one shape or size: Windows.
Asus is not the only one at fault; at least it used to sell a Linux version. Other manufacturers never went that far! Check Dell out as an example: while in the USA they pride themselves of selling equipment using Ubuntu Linux, including netbooks, Dell Australia has never sold any non Windows PC and actively says it has no intention of doing so.
The question, again, is why? And again, I will reinstate there is demand out there for Linux PCs. Check, for example, the Kogan Agora line of Australian brand netbooks: these are sold with Linux only (the gOS distribution, which is Ubuntu based), and regular examinations of their website clearly indicate Kogan is selling their netbooks faster than they can bring them in.
People in Australia, it seems, are clearly unwilling to pay the Microsoft tax on their PCs. And while that may be the case, the manufacturers still insist on force feeding Windows down our throats.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Power Corrupts

I was recently told I should not expect a job offer from Microsoft to land on my lap in the near future. I was at the office and I was going through yet another of my “why does everything from Microsoft suck so much” moments of frustration. The guy’s right: although my history includes working for various Microsoft shops, and although I used to own an Xbox, I am no fan of the company; I think they are responsible for subduing the vast majority of the world to use their products and no other. I also think their main problem is that their products tend to be inferior copies of whatever else the market has to offer.
Microsoft, however, is not alone. Other companies abuse their ruling class status to walk over their clientele. Check out one of Microsoft’s most distinct competitors, Apple. Yes, Apple, that company with the sainthood halo that likes to think of itself as the knight in shining armor rescuing us from the evil clutches of mediocrity.

This particular story revolves around Jo’s need for a new organizer to replace her old Palm. Palm, the operating system, is now effectively gone; Palm the company is just another company selling Windows Mobile phones.
Most people in need of an organizer use their mobile phone, but the Nokia mobile phone issued to Jo from work is not the most usable gadget ever. She can buy another mobile phone and stick her SIM in, but there are network locking issues. And which one should she buy anyway? She has seen my ever quest to subdue my Windows Mobile phone and she knows better than me not to mess with that Microsoft devil where doing the same thing twice never ends up with the same result. And an unlocked iPhone, at north of $800, is prohibitively expensive.
The best compromise we have arrived at thus far as the iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone stripped of its phone and microphone. Designed primarily for entertainment, it does provide useful organizer functionality, including Outlook synchronization and even better yet – Google synchronization.
Indeed, the iPod Touch seems an ideal solution for a non tinkering user. That is, until you get into the annoying details.
First, there is the iTunes problem. An iPod Touch forces you to use Apple’s iTunes software, but iTunes and the Touch don’t like Linux; thus buying an iPod Touch means you’re stuck with another application that forces you away from the preferred Linux environment (Outlook is a similar application in this regard).
Second, when you install iTunes (as you have to), iTunes takes the liberty of installing other software you don’t necessarily want, including the Safari web browser and other even less useful stuff. Thus iTunes demonstrates the fallacy of non open source software, where you’re stuck with what the manufacturer force feeds you with.
Third, let me ask you this. The 8gb iPod Touch sells for around $300 while the 16gb model sells for around $400. Since when do 8gb of solid state memory cost $100? And why does Apple force you to commit to specific memory requirements instead of doing what other manufacturers have done and supply an SD card expansion slot?

My point is simple. As heroic and cool as Apple want us to view its brand, Apple is just another Microsoft. The only difference is that, unlike Microsoft, Apple actually makes good products.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Eye of the Tiger

Well, I was there and I saw what Dylan did. I saw it with my own two eyes, and I can report it had wiped any shred of a grin off our faces.
One minute, Dylan was walking around between his toys in the middle of our living room. The next minute he tripped, as he often does; but this time his face fell directly towards a sharp edged toy, and I could clearly see that sharp edge going directly towards Dylan’s right eye. It was shocking.
Obviously, Dylan cried a lot. When the dust settled we could see a big bruise on his cheek and a line going all the way from the cheek to the eye in the exact shape of that toy’s corner. The eyebrow has a small cut, too, and the eye itself was reddish. It looked like Dylan was going to get himself a black eye, but it didn’t seem to bother him that much anymore.
It was the weekend, so our medical options were limited. What we did know for sure is that we don’t want to go to an emergency room, having been there enough to know we’ll just be hanging out there in the company of severely sick people for who knows how long. As Dylan didn’t seem to mind that much, we decided to wait and see.
During the evening Dylan’s eye cleared up a bit and we could see the scratch line from his chick had continued to the white area on the side of his eye. This was too much for us, so on Sunday we took him to the doctor.
$90 later, the price for a Sunday doctor visit (and a confirmation for why the free emergency rooms are so crowded to render them unusable), we were relieved. The doctor tested Dylan’s eye quite thoroughly and found no damage to the important bits, only that scratch to the side which doesn’t matter much. Dylan will have his bruise and slightly swollen eye for a while, but that’s it. Overall, it was a demonstration case for the eye’s clever apparent “design” which saved Dylan from something that could have easily been tragic.

And what did we take out of this?
First, I took that sharp edged toy and retired it unglamorously to our toolshed; from now on we’re going to be pretty picky with those things, no matter how mice the toy may seem.
Second, to compensate Dylan for the lost toy but mostly to make me feel better after what I had seen, we went out and bought Dylan a new toy: a cop-copter (something many people would know by the rather strange word “helicopter”). I know money can’t buy happiness, but it did relive me to see Dylan playing up with his new cop-copter. I think I’ll take him for a helicopter tour of New York in the Grand Theft Auto 4 world one coming evening; I’ll suspect he’ll like it, sound and all.
Third, we got $44 back from Medicare for our doctor’s visit, which still leaves us with $45 out of pocket; a substantial sum which, once again, shows how badly crafted the Australian health system is. Why do we let our governments get away with it? Essential medical services such as this should not depend on their users’ financial means.
And last, but not least: The doctor has made it very clear, with her two sons’ battle stories, that we should not regard this particular incident as a one off.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Pigs on the Wing


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Originally uploaded by reuvenim
In case we were unaware of the power religion has as far as evoking the worst in people through their ignorance, Egypt took a step forward to help us along.
I assume you've heard the news that hundreds of thousands of pigs were killed in Egypt because of the swine flu scare. How stupid can people be, and what does that make of the authorities that let such things take place?
We humans are scared of this swine flu that has so far killed people in the hundreds. What will the pigs make of us, then, as we kill them by the hundreds of thousands and for no particular reason whatsoever? Who is the animal there?

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Stars His Destination

Dear blog readers, it gives me great pleasure to announce last night’s discovery of a new planet in our solar system. Not your remote doubtful Pluto like planet or something in the Oort Cloud; we’re talking about a major gas giant here, one that eluded all astronomers until Dylan stepped into the scene: Planet Jupiya.

Allow me to retrace the short history of planet Jupiya.
A few weeks ago, in a moment of consumerism, I succumbed and bought Stephen Hawking’s two children books, George's Secret Key to the Universe and its sequel George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt. Both books are said to aimed at ten year olds or so and mix interstellar adventure stories with science. Naturally, I thought they would be the best thing to get my not yet two year old son. Hey, one of them books features a pig on the cover, both have a shiny cover, and both feature lots of pictures – the perfect baby books!
On the bookshelf the books stayed for a while, even though I placed them on Dylan’s shelf – that is, the shelf he normally messes with and the one where most of his books are. Occasionally, he would look at the shiny cover or the pig, but that would be it.
In parallel, we started pointing the moon and the stars to Dylan. He’s not out much when its dark, but with the days getting shorter opportunities tend to present themselves more often; besides, the moon can be visible during the day, too. Indeed, Dylan seems to have fallen in love with the moon: he keeps on pointing to it and asking for us to point it out when we drive.
The moon ecstasy got a boost through the introduction of an Atlas of the Universe, a giant astronomy book coupled with maps of the sky and filled with lots of sexy photos and diagrams (which, coincidentally, I bought Dylan when he was two months old). You see, Dylan seems to have a whirlpool fetish: the most exciting event in Dylan’s day, if you were to ask him, is when his bath plug is pulled out and the water goes down the drain to form a whirlpool. He likes it so much he even keeps on asking us to draw him whirlpools. Given that I had always wanted to push Dylan down the astronomy path, I thought showing him pictures of spiral galaxies would help the effort; to the na├»ve eye they don’t seem too different in shape from Dylan’s bath time whirlpool.
My cunning plan had partial success. Dylan wasn’t too interested in the galaxies, but the moon photos were a hit.

And thus we get to last night. Upon returning from childcare and eating his dinner, Dylan walked to the bookshelf, pulled one of the Stephen Hawking books, and approached me with clear intent on his mind: “Story! Story!”
Obviously, the book’s actual story is too much for him to digest, so I focused on the glossy photos featured in the book (in addition to the black & white drawings that are all over the place). These start with several photos of the moon as seen from earth and as seen from close range (including a photo of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon).
Dylan liked it and kept asking for more (or rather, for “Mo-mo”). Problem is, there weren’t any more moon pictures; I had to be creative and make him enthusiastic about the earth photos that followed. The trick worked, and for a few minutes we kept on jumping from “moon moon” to “ert ert”; but I grew tired of that, too.
So I went on to introduce Dylan to other photo subjects from the book. Nebulas and such were of no great interest to Dylan, even the more spectacular ones. I tired the Andromeda galaxy, but it didn’t prove that popular either (for the record, soon enough Andromeda will merged with our Milky Way galaxy – just give it a few billion years and we’ll all be calling Andromeda home). Saturn with its rings was of mild interest, but the trump card proved to be Jupiter – or, as Dylan knows it, the planet with the “eye”.
Later that evening we even had to draw this planet “Jupiya”, eye and all, as a part of Dylan’s pre night time sleep ritual. A new planet had been discovered.

My gamble worked, proving once again that allowing myself to instinctively buy books, even when the purchase does not seem to make much sense, is not too bad a policy. As long as this exception is kept at books alone; they're on the affordable side of things, and they carry lots of wisdom with them, more than anything else.
What's the next step going to be? Well, I was thinking that eventually we should be getting Dylan a telescope. Dylan said he would prefer one that can fit as my SLR camera's lens, so we can take star photos together.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth

He may argue that In the Night Garden is the best show running on TV at the moment, but if you ask me that Night Garden thing is just too psychedelic; it's babies on drugs.
No, Dylan favorite show has to be SBS' Rockwiz. If only because it's our favorite show, too.
Not a night goes by without Dylan asking to watch some Rockwiz before going to bed. Try to imagine it as he cries for "rockwiz rockwiz" in his high pitched voice; cuteness doesn't come any better. His favorite bits feature the house band doing its thing, and his creme de la creme is the "identify the famous guitar riff" segement.
I fully concur: Rockwiz is the best thing on Australian TV at the moment (and non Australians can also enjoy it on the web). A quiz show with no prize to be won, it features two teams competing on rock trivia questions; each of the team includes an artist that sings a song of theirs, and at the end of the program both artists do a duet. And lest we forget: it's all filmed in an authentic bar at Melbourne's St Kilda beach.
But Dylan is abdolutely right: the star of the show is the terrific band. They do the Rock in Rockwiz.
Don't let the fact it's on SBS deter you: Rockwiz is addictively great!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Attempting the Impossible

Some times enough anecdotal evidence is collected for me to start thinking that maybe certain things are not meant to happen. This evidence points at things that defy sense and lack rational, but you got to hand it to them: they are consistent enough to make you think twice.

Take, for example, our home extension project. As stated here in the past, we are thinking of building a second story on top of our existing single story house. Having done some research, engaged builders and architects, talked to others that went through similar ordeals, and had a look at the results of similar projects, we chose a builder we thought we would be confident with.
Together we quickly came up with a design we liked, minus a few caveats to do with the fit of our home theater, and the road seemed paved with yellow bricks complying with the latest six star building regulations code.
That, however, was where we got to back in December last year. At that point in time, our main contact with the building company has suffered a heart attack; after a couple of months during which we were left in the dark, assuming he took an extra long Christmas break, we were assigned with a slick suit wearing replacement. And since then we had achieved no progress whatsoever.
The tackling point, it seems, is to do with us asking the builder to provide us with details. For example, we have been waiting for this slick dude to let us know what materials they are planning to build our walls of; this seemingly simple question has triggered a line of evasive manoeuvres followed by a chain of misleading and incorrect useless bits of information.
I'm close to my boiling point with this guy. Today, for example, we went to Bunnings (an Aussie DIY chain) to get a piece of wood to stop the draft coming in the chimney we don't use, the chimney that's supposed to be blocked as a part of the extension that may happen by the time Dylan's grandchildren graduate from university. While at Bunnings, we saw a guy buying a huge sack of 5 star insulation material. If anyone can buy this stuff at Bunnings the way you go to the supermarket and buy milk, what justification does our builder have for failing to answer an insulation related question over five months?

Impossibilities are not secluded to the field of building. This post should have actually been a ceremonious one, a post in which I was supposed to tell you Jo & I actually went out for a night of entertainment for the first time ever since Dylan was two months old, with Dylan being looked after by a babysitter we have engaged.
Our plan was to go with the simple joys of life: have dinner and watch a film on a Friday night. At $16 an hour for the babysitter, that experience would have cost us much more than gold class cinema, but who cares? It would have been a world premier as far as we are concerned. You see, we had such plans before and they didn't come to be: we were supposed to go out one Saturday night when Jo's mother visited us back in February; as it turned out, the say we were aiming at was Melbourne's hottest day on record, the day in which the killer bush fires did their ravaging. So we stayed home instead.
Now we had to cancel for a much more mundane a reason: Dylan got another bout of asthma, and I caught a bit of his cold too. Great, isn't it? I wonder what will be the reason for us having to cancel the babysitter next time around.
On the positive side, at least this time got to see a decent doctor who prescribed Dylan with an asthma preventer. Who knows, maybe the devil will need bump up his creativity by the next time we plan to go out?