Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Ignoramos

One of the sins I am often accused of is referring to people as ignorant in their face. Apparently, people are offended when someone says they're ignorant.
Well, allow me to say that a person who thinks of themselves well versed in everything deserves to be called ignorant, because we are all ignorant about most things. Even the things we are familiar with, we are usually only relatively familiar with them while somewhere out there lives a person next to whom you are, relatively, ignorant. If I look at myself, I'm ignorant in many things I don't care about (e.g., baseball); I'm ignorant in things that are mildly relevant (e.g., living with pets); and interestingly enough, I'm ignorant in the things I care about the most. Take parenthood, for example: can I call myself a master parent or am I being led by the nose through the process?
My point is simple. There is no harm in admitting to be ignorant in something you don't know much about. Harm, however, can easily come when you think you know it all but in fact you don't.

All this discussion about the meaning of ignorance was a prelude to one of today's more interesting news items. According to surveys conducted amongst Americans, the people who are most familiar with matters of religion are atheists and agnostics. In contrast, people calling themselves religious are relatively ignorant in these matters. You can read more about these surveys and their findings in the New York Times, Associated Press or CNN.
Me, I'm not even slightly surprised by these results. After all, you have to be ignorant in order to believe the religious nonsense of this world; once you become familiar with your belief's finer details there's a good chance you won't be a believer anymore. Or, in other words: the best cure for someone religious is to let them read the bible. Really read it.
As in, left to its own devices, shit floats.

Monday, 27 September 2010

First we take Lebanon then we take Syria

It brings me great pleasure to inform you that yet another of Australia's culinary deficiencies has been adequately addressed. At last, after years of endless searching, I managed to find a place that sells olives the way I like them best: in Israel they're referred to as Syrian olives, in here they're sold as Lebanese olives, but I don't care; I like these olives.
So, for the record, Syrian/Lebanese olives are smallish green olives that are pickled for extended periods in salty water. By adding secret herbs and spices, and through a process where the olives are mildly crashed, they grow soft, bitter and salty. And yummy!
Thanks should be given to Oasis Bakery, a place that sells lots of the food I love best: pitas covered with zaatar, proper pita bread that you can properly dip in humus, and of course shawarma. The shawarma is a far cry from the standards I grew up on, reminding me that beggars can't be choosers; yet it is much better than the Greek style souvlaki that seems to dominate Melbourne's kebab market with its yogurt based sauces. The Greeks just don't know what they're missing.
Pit Oasis' olives to the side of well made humus wiped with quality pita, and the result is simple: bliss.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Fancy Photography


IMGP4797
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
A friend has recently accused me of being able to come up with fancier photos than ever on my Flickr page. Regardless of whether they were joking or not, it made me ponder the evolution of my photography. You see, I was actually under the opposite impression: I ak of the opinion my photos are becoming more and more benign, snapshots like as opposed to what I would call worthy photographs.
There are several reasons why I think my photography has deteriorated to the realm of the snapshot:
1.The way I am managing my photos on Flickr to create virtual photo albums has an effect on my photography. I now use the Flickr facilities to document memories rather than store photos. For example, I took the above photo showing the rather mundane nature of what takes place under the seemingly glorious Sydney Opera House even though, as photos go, it’s a pretty mundane photo.
2.The ease and the low cost of digital photography make me take more photos rather than carefully work on each frame. Back at my peak photography days, the days when the purpose of me going places was to take good photos, film was the only option available. Film photography is expensive, film photography does not provide instant results; thus every shot involved much effort to ensure it came out as good as it could get. Now? Now I just hold the shutter button and the camera takes five photos before I even start thinking; one of those should be decent enough, shouldn't it?
3.Today I am a parent, a duty that takes over everything else. Whereas in the past I was able to move around so I could position myself in the best place at the best time for the shot, now my photos are taken as quickly as possible from where I happen to be standing. And I have to be thankful for managing that in the first place, thankful to my wife for allowing me the freedom to pay attention to the camera rather than to our little attention seeking bundle.

On the other hand, there are good reasons for having better photos too. These are mostly technical: For a start, never did I have a camera as capable as the one I am using now (a Pentax K-7). It’s not simply because this camera takes good looking photos; it’s because this camera is so flexible, fast and easy to operate (in the sense that its features are very usable, rather than being locked through ten menu levels) that I am able to take the shot I want to take rather than the shot the camera’s auto mode wants to take for me. It is as if every shot I take is closer than ever to the vision I have in my head, to the Director's Cut.
Similarly, I never had under my disposal a lens as versatile as the one I am currently using. My Sigma 18-250 lens is not a particularly good lens, picture quality wise: its wide range means a ton of compromises. It does, however, mean that I hardly ever find myself without the lens I need to take the shot I want to take. That means a lot!
Then there are causes that both harm and improve the quality of my photos, such as the influence of the Internet. Photo pages such as Cory Doctorow’s (here) “inspire” me to take photos that bluntly show the way things are rather than try and generate that glamorous artistic shot. Further influence comes from there being tons of photoshopped stuff that just makes me think the whole pursuit of coming up with fancy photos is meaningless because those with the time to mess with Photoshop can always come up with brilliant looking stuff regardless of how good the original shot was. Still, when all is said and done, there is plenty of photographic inspiration on the web; as someone who is virtually never original in his photography, that inspiration counts.
Adding all of the above up I still think my photography has deteriorated with time. I still enjoy it, though, which is all that matters.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Idiot Tax

Why do people bother with the lottery?
Before trying to answer the question I’ll reveal that I have been known to fill out a lottery form from time to time (although the last time that had happened was more than five years ago). I did it for a simple reason: I considered the thrill of anticipating the draw worth the minimum participation fee's investment in filling out the form.
Yet there are people out there who seriously fill out lottery forms under the expectation they could win the grand prize. The common attribute these people seem to share is their lack off statistical literacy, or – in other words – their ignorance in the ways of big numbers. It is simply very human and very intuitive not to be able to tell the difference between a one in million chance and a one in a billion chance even if, on paper, the difference is huge. The problem is obvious, and so is the solution: teaching people about the unintuitive ways of this world.
As it is, our educational system is failing us. It fails us so badly that even banks and major financial institutions seem to lack the numerical skills required in this day and age (as Cory Doctorow points out in his latest Guardian article here).

The other reason why people buy lottery tickets is them thinking the money won would help them sort all of this world’s problems out. Wrong! Turning into science provides the correct answer yet again, and as before this answer is rather unintuitive: once the basic needs of life are covered, more money shall not make you happier. Read here from Scientific American for more details.
My advice? If you’re into lottery crap, stop now; and if the money you're used to spending on the lottery burns a hole in your pocket, donate it to the likes of Médecins Sans Frontières: that would be putting your money into genuinely good use, for a change.

Photo credit:
It's a Lottery Originally uploaded by MarkyBon

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Using a Telstra prepaid SIM on a NetComm MyZone

Due to the popularity of the subject, I thought I'd dedicate a post to whoever out there is trying to get his NetComm MyZone wifi hotspot to work using a Telstra prepaid SIM.
The twist in Telstra's case, and the reason why this subject requires a post of its own, is that the only suitable product Telstra would currently give you for your NetComm MyZone is a micro SIM intended to be used by iPad devices, whereas the MyZone requires a normal SIM. The MyZone official website (here) claims micro SIMs won't work on the MyZone, not even with a SIM adapter; my experience says otherwise, and here is how I went about it:
  1. I bought a prepaid iPad SIM from a Telstra shop and had them activate it for me on the spot (you can also do it over the phone). You can see this product's page here.
  2. I bought a micro SIM adapter. You can have a look at how one of these things looks like here. These adapters can be bought at many independent phone shops or on eBay (search for micro SIM or micro SIM adapter and you shall find plenty of offers).
    You can find instructions from Gizmodo for making an adapter yourself through some simple DIY here.
  3. I put the Telstra micro SIM inside the adapter and fit that in my MyZone.
  4. I set the APN on the MyZone to Telstra.internet as per the instructions here (note Telstra advises the use of a different APN on iPads, but their run of the mill APN - Telstra.internet - works well on the MyZone). If you chose to go with another provider then all you need to do is ask them what their default Internet browsing APN is.
That was it: From here the MyZone worked like a charm.
As for recharging this prepaid SIM: Telstra's recharge page for their iPad micro SIMS (here) has been designed for iPad browsing; since I don't have an iPad I find it easy to recharge using the Safari browser on my iPhone. Still, there are plenty of other recharge options available for you to use even if you don't have an iPhone, like this other web page here or over the phone.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Kindle Experience

For a few weeks now I have been the proud owner of an Amazon Kindle 3 ebook reader, and I reckon the time has come for me to spill the beans about it, if only for the sole reason this device is looking to significantly change my reading habits. As in, the experience of these last few weeks is to be extrapolated, I am going to be reading fewer books but I am going to read more altogether. Allow me to explain…

IMGP4756

The first thing you notice about the Kindle 3 is its size and weight. Looking at photos, like the one here featuring a Kindle 3 next to the older Kindle 2 model (the 3 is the smaller of the two) makes you appreciate that the Kindle is roughly the size of a book. What the photos don’t let you appreciate is just how thin it is, which implies you’re holding much less real estate in your hands when you read the Kindle than when you read a book.
Weight is another thing you’ll notice, or rather the lack of it. The Kindle 3 is quite lighter than the 2, and both are very light; light enough for you to be able to read under all sorts of conditions in which you hold the Kindle in all sorts of previously unthinkable ways simply because your hands won’t tire. It’s funny because the Kindle is everything the iPad isn’t when it comes to a reading machine: the iPad is heavy enough to make you look for a place to hold it after just a few minutes of use, whereas the Kindle can be read for hours with no hassles (and let me add that these observations are made though personal experience). Lightness also implies you are more likely to take the Kindle with you, which means you are more likely to use it, which means you’ll find yourself reading more than before – hooray!
It’s not just the size and the weight that make the Kindle a better facility to read from than a book or an iPad: By being able to flick through pages with a click of a button you’re deprived of the task of handling physical paper. I’m sure you read the previous sentence and thought to yourself “what a spoiled brat”, but it’s true: because you don’t need to hold the book open on your page and because you don’t need to flick physical pages, the reading experience becomes much smoother and – again – you can read at all sorts of different positions you never thought of before. It’s actually funny because there are side effects to the process: I’ve become so used to reading the last two lines of a page while already flicking to the next page that I routinely find myself flicking to the next page on the Kindle before I actually got to finish reading it all.
That’s my point: the Kindle will make you look at reading under a different light, allowing you to questions things you took for granted. If you happen to read a lot, which I hope you do, then you will probably find – as I have – that reading a book on the Kindle is a much more pleasant experience than reading its paper equivalent.
Talking about light, I have tested the Kindle in broad daylight under the harsh Aussie sun (albeit winter sun) and found it is perfectly readable at times in which my iPhone’s screen, the rough equivalent of the iPad’s, was totally unreadable.

Most of what I have said so far about the virtues of my Kindle applies to virtually all ebook readers. There are, however, specific advantages to the Kindle that made it my ebook platform of choice.
Number one amongst these is the size of the book catalog available at Amazon.com. Perhaps this catalog is lesser than Borders’ when it comes to titles by Australian authors, but for me this is not a problem; I rarely read Australian books. When it comes to the absolute catalog of online books in English, Amazon rules on high.
Second is the ease with which you can get new books. I have to say it here: buying an electronic book from Amazon is actually easier than getting a pirate copy. No, this is not a joke! What we have on our hands here is probably a world first given the blood and tears one has to go through with music and especially with video purchases. It really is easy: you choose your book at the Amazon shop, you click to buy it, and the book is transferred wirelessly to your Kindle. To quote John Scalzi at the AussieCon4 conference, grandmothers out there are guaranteed to buy through Amazon given the ease of the process no matter what pirated options are available, simply because of the intolerable easiness of it all.
Third is the price. Ebooks are generally half the price of their paper versions, which is nice: A friend of mine recently bought Zero History by William Gibson for $35 at an Australian book store while I paid $12 for the same book on my Kindle. That said, it is clear the publishers and/or Amazon are abusing their customers: newly released ebooks sell for a lot more than older ones, even though you’re not paying for the hardcover version you’re getting when you’re buying a newly released hardcover. As I said before, I consider piracy the best remedy for such abuse.
Fourth, the Kindle does a good job of handling non Kindle format ebooks. It renders PDFs well, but PDFs are problematic: the only display option is to the Kindle to squeeze the entire PDF page on its relatively small page (PDFs are usually designed for A4 printing while the Kindle's screen is only 7" big), so you have to tackle small fonts and reading is inconvenienced. The solution is to acquire books in formats that would allow you control of the font size. For example, I opened RTF format books in Open Office, set the font size to 22 and exported the result into a PDF which was comfortable to read. An even better solution is to send your RTF file to your free Kindle email address (your Amazon user account @free.kindle.com), which would result in the RTF file getting converted to the proper Kindle format (AZW) which you can then upload to your Kindle using a USB cable. Note this is matter is not to be trifled with; most of the ebooks in my collection thus far are in non Kindle formats, acquired through the web freely and legally. The ability to deal with those on a friendly basis is very important to me.
A couple of features the Kindle offers which I can’t be bothered with are music playback and an “experimental” web browser. I’ll put it this way: Amazon should leave these to devices that are designed to do them rather than have the Kindle do them as an afterthought. In particular, web browsing is extremely slow and tedious; the Kindle is no competition to the iPad in this department.

IMGP4762

Needless to say, there is plenty of negative with the Kindle. Starting from the mundane, it’s hard to assess how big a reading task you have ahead of you when you start reading an ebook, because you can’t just count the pages (page numbers mean nothing when font sizes are variable), while your Kindle stays just as thick no matter how big the ebook you’re reading is. It’s not a lost cause, as the Kindle has its own sizing system that is even better than the page count we’re used to; it’s just that this system takes getting used to.
The more serious problems with the Kindle are to do with book availability and that vile concept that is commonly referred to as DRM. Both are a direct result of greed and the strong contempt big money has over common sense when it comes to adjusting to new business models.
The first manifestation of the problem is with the miserable ebook catalog available to Australian buyers at Amazon. No, I am not contradicting myself with my previous statement regarding the number of books available at Amazon; my point is that the number available to Aussies is a sad joke. Thus far I was able to address this issue by providing Amazon with a USA address I had bought over the web, but they still like to give me a hard time and often prevent me from accessing the books I want because they “sense” my books are actually downloaded in Australia. I suspect this is imposed on Amazon by the publishers, and I know it’s not really an issue because through proxies and VPNs one can easily make themselves appear American to the eyes of Amazon. It’s just that I fail to understand why people are so aggressively pushed to pirate when the books are plainly there to have. Yes, I’ll say it loud and clear: the reason piracy is rife is all to do with the stupidity of the publishers and their fellow content owners; and no, the common person out there was not born a serial killer that can only be sedated with a massive dose of copy protection, they're just looking for a fair affair.
Which brings me to the second problem of DRM. Books that you buy on the Kindle are not really bought the way a physical book is; they’re only licensed, and they’re protected by DRM. This means you can’t lend them to friends (without giving away the whole Kindle), and this also means that in a few years’ time, when no one remembers what the f*ck a Kindle is, you’ll have to buy (sorry, license) the same books again if you want to read them. That, my friends, is crap.
The result? The only books I will buy on my Kindle are books that I know I will not want to read more than once. Long term reference books or books that I particularly cherish (say, the next Richard Dawkins) will be acquired in print; I’d happily pay more in outright cost and in physical storage space for the knowledge the books I adore will always be with me.
One last negative, again the fault of the publishers: given the virtual nature of ebooks, I fail to understand why we don’t have vast back catalogs available for us to buy? Why can’t I get the rare vintage Nine Tomorrows by Asimov that I yearn for, or Piers Anthony's Cluster series I read as a child and have been looking forward to re-reading again? You have to admit the publishers have been shooting themselves in the leg again and again when I’m standing here with an open wallet.

Now for some good news: I just looked Amazon up and Piers Anothony’s Cluster series is there for me to buy. And buy it I will!
This new development is not a mere fluke. It is indication of the speed at which the wheels are changing due to the introduction of ebooks to the market. The ground is shaking beneath the feet of all readers, and – for now – I’m very happy to have a Kindle to spend my time with during the tremors.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Life of Pi

One of the more interesting discussions I have had lately is to do with what makes a good teacher good. Carl Sagan, in his book Demon Haunted World, brought an example to make a point with which I agree: a teacher, handed with the duty of teaching his class the American declaration of independence, taught it to his kids by asking them to come up with a declaration of their own and by discussing with them what, in their opinion, such a declaration should contain.
I have had a similar experience myself, albeit a significantly lower key one. Back in fifth or sixth grade, our math teacher - Aliza, for those who might know her - gave us a more unique homework task than usual. Instead of answering questions from a book, we were asked to draw a circle and measure the ratio between its diameter and circumference using a piece of string. I remember I got annoyed with this exercise because I couldn't find a piece of string, but minor aggravations aside the noticeable fact is that I still remember this exercise some thirty years later. Obviously, actively measuring pi and feeling it for myself is a much more effective way of learning the concept than being told about it in a plain boring way, the way math is usually taught at school. The way that gives math the boring and uncool reputation it has with kids.
Interestingly enough, the other Aliza other educational experience I still remember has been an open question she asked but was unable to answer. During a biology lesson where we learned about the human body, Aliza asked if anyone knows why human males have nipples given that they're of no use. No one in the class knew the answer, and Aliza added that "they" are not aware of an answer either. Years later, armed with the Internet, I recalled that question and did my own investigations to find the answer: turns out males have nipples simply because nipples are an asexual organ. In females they develop into breasts due to the hormones in the female body, not because of some inherent structural element of the female body. The point is that by asking a question, and especially by not being able to answer it, my curiosity was triggered and I was pushed into doing some thinking on my own.
The sad thing is that those moments of educational brilliance have been so terribly rare in my career. I can only hope today's teachers have better facilities on their hands with which to stimulate their children into thinking, yet given the eternal budget cuts in education and the government's approach to education as a tool to indoctrinate kids with to mainstream agendas I cannot avoid severe pessimism here.

Photo by Prolineserver.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Ten Plagues of Melbourne


Grasshopper or Locust
Originally uploaded by Bascom Hogue
According to The Age (here), Melbourne is about to turn into biblical Egypt soon as we shall shortly be welcoming waves of locusts upon us. So much so that the Melbourne Cup horse race, taking place early November, may even be cancelled (does that mean they will cancel our day off, too?).
Thing is, if the locusts are to hit the racing course then they are to hit Melbourne in general. If they are to hit Melbourne in general then they are to hit our house, and for that matter they are to hit me as I go about my daily routine. This could turn out to be convenient in certain respects: our lawn of weeds could use some trimming.
Still, screw the crops. I don’t want locust stuck up my nose!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Easy Life


Mallacoota panorama
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
I like taking things easy, which is exactly why I prefer to use Linux instead of wasting my time and exhausting my frustrations on Windows. Others, however, like to counter that Linux is too hard to live with, requiring coding expertise and such; this post is here to provide a real life example for just how simple life with Linux is.

Last night I was processing photos from our latest holiday on my PC. Naturally, I was using Ubuntu Linux and not Windows, because I wanted to actually be able to go to sleep at the end of my processing operations. Then, however, I stumbled on the need to process a panoramic photo - that is, the need to combine several separate photos into a single big photo (the one attached above). Thus far I was using Windows software to produce these panoramas, but last night I just couldn't be bothered to go through the Windows torture. So I went looking for Linux alternatives:
  1. I googled "photo panorama linux".
  2. The search results immediately told me of a piece of software called Hugin that does just that.
  3. I started Ubuntu's Synaptic on my PC and searched for Hugin. Hooray: the software is included in the default Ubuntu repositories!
  4. I checked the box to have Hugin installed.
  5. Half a minute later I had Hugin installed.
  6. I started Hugin and followed its wizard's advice.
  7. A few minutes later I had myself a panorama.
It was as simple as that, it was quick as, it was all legal, and it was all free. It was as smooth as it could be, as opposed to the Windows application that is so CPU hungry I can't dream of doing anything else while a panorama is being processed.
My point is simple: If you're afraid of making the jump from Windows to Linux because of perceived complexity or the perceived lack of applications, don't be. Chances are you'll find what you're looking for faster and easier than you would do the same in Windows, and it won't cost you a cent.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

UK, a country gone to the dogs

The UK seems to be less inspiring to visit by the minute, so much so that I wonder how comfortable its own residents are. Simply put, the country is turning into a police state that treats its citizens (and visitors) like they are something between scum and terrorists.
Allow me to prove my point with some evidence:
  1. I still remember quite distinctly how a surveillance camera followed me as I was walking through a gentle backstreet of my wife's hometown. Obviously, I look like your typical Middle Eastern terrorist and therefore deserve constant watch! To think the British tax payer is actually funding this sh*t.
  2. I definitely remember the story (here) of how I nearly got arrested at Manchester Airport by the local security thugs for the crime of trying to get on board a flight while carrying baby formula drink. How despicable of me to want my one year old son to have something to drink during a flight!
    Since our 2008 visit, UK airport state terrorism has become worse. X-ray strip searches are now a part of the drill and there's not much you can do about it; sadly, these will be making their way to Australia soon in order to "increase" airport security. Or rather, in order for the government to pretend its tough on terror by making the lives of normal citizens significantly less tolerable and by taking a chunk out of anyone's concept of privacy.
  3. Tried taking a photo in public in the UK? Well, stories such as this one, where innocent photographers are being harassed by policemen thinking they are above the law, are surfacing at quite an alarming rate.
  4. The icing on the cake is the recent Digital Economy Act legislation brought forward by the former Labour government as it was on its deathbed. Amongst others, the law allows copyright owners to point their fingers at illegal downloaders whose Internet connection is then revoked. The copyright owners are the judge and jury here and the little man has nothing to say other than watch how today's number one freedom of speech tool is deprived from them at someone else's whim. Perhaps the biggest joke is that the British Internet user is going to be funding this whole useless charade which won't even tickle the downloads phenomenon (you can read more here and here).
People of "Great" Britain, the time has come to do something to ensure you're actually going to be able to live free tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I fought the law and I won

I talked about the potential virtues of carrying a wi-fi hotspot on oneself before (here and here); now I am in a position to talk about the actual virtues of such a device, impressions gathered following actual use. Thing is, if it was up to Telstra I wouldn’t have been in a position to tell you how great this device is and how beneficial having the Internet on you wherever you are is.

As I explained before, Telstra should be the first choice provider when it comes to cellular data connection in Australia by virtue of the fact they actually have coverage. Optus, the second biggest provider who service my iPhone, lack 3G access in too many places to be relied upon. The problem is, Telstra does not seem to want to sell prepaid cellular data access.
Telstra’s line-up of cellular data is made of three elements: USB cellular modems, mobile phone data, and iPad 3G data. Noticeable in this list is the absence of a solution one can use on a wi-fi hotspot device, namely “a data SIM” (especially when other cellular providers have no problems supplying you with one).
The first time I went to the Telstra shop to ask questions (as reported here) they told me I could buy an iPad micro SIM and have it converted on the spot to a regular SIM that I can stick in my wi-fi hotspot. Great; I went and spent almost $300 on a Netcomm MyZone wi-fi hotspot device.
The trouble started when I came back to the Telstra shop, now armed with my new toy, and asked to buy an iPad SIM and have it converted. I was pulled to the side by the shop manager who explained to me such a conversion would be impossible because it would be a breach of Telstra’s contract with Apple, an agreement through which iPad users can enjoy cheaper data access rates than Telstra’s regular cell phone users.
I did what I normally do in such scenarios: I told the esteemed manager what I think of such restrictions and I went to another Telstra shop. Sadly, I got the exact same attitude there, too, which annoyed the hell out of me: I went out and spent $300 based on Telstra’s own advice, and now they change their minds on me?
Returning home for some research surfing it became clear my problem was no problem at all. For a few dollars one can get a piece of plastic that converts an iPad micro SIM into a proper SIM. The next day I went to the Telstra shop again, got an iPad micro SIM, went to another shop fifty meters away, got a convertor, did some Lego work with the SIM, and had myself a fully working wi-fi hotspot.
Indeed, fully working it is: my visiting friend used it for his Internet connection at his hotel room, where (amongst others) he used the connection to call home via Skype. Later on, we used the same Internet connection to book ourselves a cheap hotel room in Sydney while visiting the middle of nowhere place of Mallacoota, a privilege impossible to fulfil over my Optus phone. I could actually argue that the toy is already paying for itself.

The main argument I want to make here is not to do with the potential future cash flows coming out of the use of a wi-fi device. Instead I want to make a point at Telstra and Apple: any restrictions you would like to artificially impose between people and information will only backfire on you. Telstra, in particular, ended up making a fool of itself: instead of having a customer raving how good their product is, reception wise, I am now a customer terribly annoyed with Telstra and the service experience they provided me (or rather, the service they wouldn’t provide me). And all for what? For something their competitors have no problems giving, for something I only needed to apply a minor trick to overcome.
You are fools, Telstra. You’re currently in a tight position because your share has been freefalling and your CEO declared policies are about to change in order to retain customers (who are generally busy running away). Well, Telstra, how about starting off by trying to support your customers’ needs? I know it’s a revolutionary idea, but it might just work. Try it, Telstra; I'm sure you'll like it.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Drive

Today was my first day at work following an almost two week long break, and I can tell you this: times are tough.
Although a significant portion of my leave was spent looking after my sick son and being sick myself (to varying degrees), I still had great fun. It was all to do with the company I’ve had.
First, one of my best friends from Israel came for a visit (the reason for me taking time off in the first place). Unlike other visitors he chose to stay at our place, which was great because it meant we had more time together. I cannot avoid comparing this choice to the one made by my parents the last time they visited us, some six years ago: they declared our house too small despite us having a guest bedroom at the time with a proper bed and all (Seally queen size mattress, for a start). They stayed elsewhere, a place where they weren’t particularly wanted, and the result was that our interactions were severely limited.
The second reason for my break being so good had to do with my friend and I going to visit the AussieCon4 science fiction convention (aka this year’s WorldCon, taking place at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre). I was surprised by my fellow visitors: contrary to common perceptions, the place had quite a significant portion of women, including definitely attractive specimen. More importantly, there were lots of young people around, and even more importantly there were lots of sci-fi celebrities around – virtually all of them friendly and fully capable of tolerating chitchat with pests like me. The whole experience was very nice: it’s nice to be surrounded by genuinely nice people discussing common interests. For the record, and again – in contrast to common perceptions – agenda items were not [only] to do with the latest Star Trek outfits. Instead there were panels on climate change hosting world class scientists and discussions on intellectual property in the age of the ebook. Stuff that genuinely affects everyone, not only your corrective eyewear wearing geek.
After the convention was over we moved on to the icing on the cake, featuring all of us on a drive to Sydney. We drove for more than two days along the coast towards Sydney and for one straight day along the freeway back, which meant we spent a lot of time in the car; yet time in the car is not wasted time when friends can talk to one another. The driving itself wasn’t half as bad as I expected it to be, proving that cruise control really works. I compare this drive to me driving along the same route some ten years ago: I was younger and much fitter but I had to cruise control myself and I was accompanied by only ten CDs which I had to listen to again and again. Obvious proof for how technology (and companionship) can improve our quality of life.
We didn’t do anything special in Sydney or on the way there, just the typical sightseeing one normally does there. But it was great and it was sad all the same, because it showed us just how much we have been missing by leaving our friends behind to come and live in Australia. Hopefully my friend too enough with him to want to come back, hopefully in greater numbers.
Back in the office today after that long drive, I find myself in a total lack of drive to return to my daily work routine. Yet a part of becoming a true adult is the recognition that this world that we live is not there to satisfy my whims; in fact, this world is pretty cruelly indifferent towards me. So onwards I need to march, doing the things I must do to keep the world in motion.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Hat Trick


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Originally uploaded by reuvenim
With the AussieCon4 science fiction conference that ends tomorrow I have accomplished a personal hat trick: Between PZ Myers, whom I had met during the Global Atheist Convention (and reported about here), and another two authors/bloggers I have met at AussieCon - John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow - I have now met all three of my favorite bloggers, and all within this calendar year.
To be honest, if you were to wake me up in the middle of the night and ask who are the three people I would like to meet the most (excluding relatives and such), my candidates would be different to the above three. They'll probably be Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. There are, however, a lot of things in favor of my favorite three bloggers, and not just that they're still alive (unlike Asimov and Sagan): being that they're bloggers I have personal insight into their lives. Like all good voyeurs I know a lot of what takes place there, enough to know these are people I can easily identify with.
Let's take Doctorow and Scalzi, whom I met and chatted with this Friday:
  1. Both are roughly my age.
  2. Both have roughly similar backgrounds to mine. Doctorow, a native Canadian now living in the UK, is an immigrant.
  3. Both have similarly structured families to mine, in the sense that both father a single child. During Friday's panel Doctorow expressed his opinion on parenthood by comparing it to salt mining, indicating we share similar opinions on this very important matter (for the record, this view mirrors views he has been expressing in his blog, where he also frequently expresses his love for his daughter).
  4. Both own Android mobile phones (a Droid in the case of Scalzi, a Nexus One for Doctorow). I know that you are not what you buy, but still - it says something about the type of people that buy an Android as opposed to those that get an iPhone. I'll be explicit here: thinking for oneself vs. following the herd.
    On that matter, Doctorow has been a long time advocate for open source and Linux. Apart from using Ubuntu, like yours truly, he also has a thing or two against Windows, like yours truly. Check here for evidence.
  5. You should have seen the way both sat down at the panel. As in, the way they laid down their wifi hotspots/mobile phones and cameras on the table in front of them, in formation. Now, these are people I can relate to! Take Doctorow in particular: from time to time he picked his camera up, took a photo, and put it back in its precise place. You can watch his photos on Flickr, where he publishes them under a Creative Commons license, here (did I mention I do the same?).
  6. They both wear corrective eye wear.
  7. Both have relatively similar hairstyles to mine, especially Scalzi with whom I share a nice bald patch.
  8. They're both heavy bloggers (Scalzi has been here for twelve years, Doctorow here and here for ten).
  9. The stuff on the agendas of the two is very similar to mine. Scalzi's is the less similar, probably because he's still very American; Doctorow, on the other hand, while not saying much about religion, is a big time advocate on matters of civil liberties. Unlike me, Doctorow does more than talk about it.
  10. I'll put it this way: once these guys open their mouths to talk, you can clearly witness these are no fools. I'll put it another way: you can clearly see why these are authors that sell lots of books while I, for example, run a blog that hardly anyone reads.
I am sure that it won't be hard for me to find areas where these two people are significantly different to me. It doesn't matter, though: what matters are the subjects of their blogs, and these happen to be the ones dearest to me. I am proud of having met them all.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Cory Doctorow likes me

Cory Doctorow is a famous science fiction writer and blogger for Boing Boing, where he established a reputation for his stands on intellectual property rights and civil liberties. To date I have never read a book by Doctorow but I intend to remedy that shortly, having acquired two already (and so can you on his website here, where he offers all of his books as a free download). In my defense I can say I have been following Doctorow's internet trail with much passion for a while now, and I can think I can safely say he's one of those people I look up to.
Today, I have had the honor of having Doctorow look me up. Or rather, look my photos up on Flickr. As the attached image shows, Doctorow selected a couple of my photos as personal favorites.
Sure, the photos he selected are actually photos I took of him on Friday during the AussieCon4 science fiction convention (here and here). Then again, I have also exchanged tweets with the guy from time to time before. Still, it's nice to be recognized by the right people.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

How I saw John Scalzi

I met some famous authors in my life. I met Dr Karl, probably the famous promoter of science in Australia, and I even got to meet one of my very favorite authors and a world renowned one to have a proper chat - Bill Bryson. However, these two occasions were both in organized book signing forums; today's meeting with another favorite author and blogger of mine, John Scalzi, was just a chance meeting in the streets of Melbourne.
The story starts with an Israeli friend of mine who is now visiting me in Melbourne with the excuse of coming in to take part in the AussieCon4 science fiction convention. The convention starts tomorrow, but we made our way to the Novotel opposite Melbourne's Convention Centre so my friend can pre-register. Getting out, we stopped at a pedestrian light on a very rainy street and I was watching this drenched guy crossing the road towards us, armed with just a simple jacket and desperately in need of an umbrella. I stared at him, the kind of stare that makes its subject feel uncomfortable, and then it hit me - it was the guy from the blog! "John Scalzi?"
Not only did he confirm his identity, he came over, shook my hand, and we exchanged a couple of words. Needless to say, I don't have anything particular to say to the guy that would make him interested in actually chatting to me even in good weather; I suspect that to him I was just another annoying fan he had to be nice to, and I totally respect that. The point was not the chat; the point was that I was able to meet a writer I quite like and in a very spontaneous manner. Just like that, out of the blue.
Meeting an author, and an author I quit like (as per here, here and here), is not the same as meeting any other person. It's a very improbable event. An author is someone with open access to my brain; a good author, and Scalzi definitely qualifies, is someone that uses that access to reshape the wiring of my head and - hopefully - make me a better person for reading their book. It was, therefore, quite a delight to for me to meet Scalzi even if it was nothing for him but a short delay from shelter. It was proof for the value of concepts such as a science fiction convention.