Thursday, 30 August 2012

Now let's blow this thing and go home

"You're all clear, kid, now let's blow this thing and go home!"

I expect the following showdown to take place tomorrow between two trigger happy, gun slinging sides:
Our builder will present us with our house. We will not accept it, though, because there is still evident rain damage in two areas. Currently, the builder is claiming he “did not allow for painting these rooms”, an interesting excuse by any account; then again, shouldn’t he have allowed for adequate rain protection? Reject!
Our builder will invoice us for the work he has done. Most of it would be fine, but there will be two items we will rejecting:
  1. We expect the builder to provide a single invoice for all the house’s paint work. However, given that a significant part of this paint work was done to fix rain damage taking place under his watch, we would like him to demonstrate a separate invoice for his side of the work. He won’t have it – it’s virtually guaranteed he intends to dump all the work on us. Reject!
  2. The builder already told us he would issue us an invoice for painting the house’s new door frames. Great, only that as far as we are concerned this work was already included in the original scope of the paint work; the reason why the builder deems them separate is to do with him ordering the doors gradually in order to cater for his cash flow. This has resulted in the painter coming in to do the painting before the doors were there, and then having to come back again – apparently at extra cost – to paint the door frames. Should we care for the builder’s lackluster project management skills?
    The story doesn’t finish there. The builder further argues the painter did not quote for the door frames in his original quote because he did not know they had to be painted. An interesting argument were it to be true: in actual fact, the painter did paint the door frames upon his initial bout of work; only that he painted the old door frames that were later replaced. Besides, if the builder is unable to properly define the scope of work to his contractors, should we carry the blame? Accepting this invoice could, theoretically, open the floodgates for us accepting further claims on every miscalculation the builder had made. That is exactly why builders ask their customers to pay extra for variations and changes to the original plans. In our case, though, the door frames are no variation because they were included in the scope from the very beginning and did not change. Reject!
The question is what’s to happen next. I don’t know at this stage; if we cannot reach an agreement then there is the possibility our re-entry to our house would be delayed and the builder and us might have a confrontation at VCAT (a tribunal dealing with consumer disputes) or some other conciliation option.
The more interesting question is why did it have to come to this? And even more interesting is the following question: if the builder sees the light and common sense prevails, which is not an unlikely outcome and which is definitely the outcome we are looking for, why did he let us feel as cornered as we currently do? What is he trying to get out of all of this?
My proposed answer to that last question is that the builder is trying to make us desperate and thus allow him to get away with stuff he wouldn't otherwise. Ignoring the poor ethics on display, I would argue this attitude is a bad long term business strategy. Or is it that all builders conspire to be just as bad, an hypothesis that seem to be supported by everyone I talk to?


Image by Garrettc, Creative Commons license

31/8/12: Builder came good, promising to fix remaning issues on Monday. Looks like you might be all clear, kid.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Wallace and Gromit and Propaganda

We used the doldrums between school holidays and the ebbing of winter to pay Scienceworks Museum a visit this weekend. Specifically, we wanted to visit its current Wallace and Gromit exhibition during a relatively calm time when we don't have to elbow masses of people to earn a peak. We came, we saw, but most of what we saw had nothing to do with the funny British stop motion characters we know and love.
The exhibition entrance is in the shape of a house not unlike my English parents in law's. Once in, one is exposed to numerous Wallace and Gromit activities and several sets. However, one is even more exposed to a tirade of propaganda decorating all walls and more. To set the scene, this was the first exhibition item I actually read:


It quickly became clear that the Wallace and Gromit expo is sponsored by Australia IP, a government body; the thing that surprised me is how this government body was using the exhibition to promote the agenda of the copyright industry. From record labels to developers of agricultural products (read: GM food), the whole exhibition is one big campaign of the copyright industry or its brother, the IP industry. Funded by the Aussie tax payer, of course. If the twisting of an entertainment exhibition into a one sided propaganda campaign isn't bad enough, especially when taking into account the setting - a science museum - and the admission price of $19 that we paid as museum members, the worst realization dawned on me as we moved along: the whole thing is set specifically in order to have an effect on children.
No, even on the day Samsung was ordered to pay Apple a billion dollars for daring to compete, there was nothing discussing the illnesses of the IP/copyright industries. There was nothing about the way IP legislation curbs innovation (nothing like this); everything was one sided, and everything was aiming squarely at younger audiences. Check this out, for example -



If this childish and one sided explanation of music piracy wasn't enough, check out the cuddly ducks of the record labels as they spread their dollars - all of them - to the artists:


By far the greatest abomination was a video displayed on a large TV panel and featuring kids discussing how bad it is to copy. Silly me, as a parent seeing how his child is growing I thought that all kids do is copy – how else would they learn to speak, or better yet take active part in society?


According to sources in the copyright industry, 40% of Australians actively participate in online piracy (see here). If we accept this as fact, and let's face it - circumstances are probably "worse" - then the implication is that most Australians are either directly pirating copyright content or directly related to a pirate. If that is the case then what the Wallace and Gromit exhibition does, in effect, is come between child and parent.
The shame continues online. You can check out the propaganda posing as educational resources made available by the museum. If you ever wanted to teach children about the unblemished record of the copyright industry and the divine principles driving it, look no further than the publicly owned Scienceworks museum.
This one sided and totally biased presentation totally defies the culture of investigation and scrutiny that a science museum should stand for. Further, twisting the exhibition into a propaganda campaign aimed at easily biased children is unforgivable. Scienceworks seems to be taking a leaf out of the pages of the notorious Creation Museum. What a shame!


29/8/12 update: Comments along the lines of the above, provided to Scienceworks' Wallace and Gromit page (here) have thus far been moderated out. I was harsh but did not use obscenities or offensive language; it therefore appears Museum Victoria's moderation policy includes leaving unflattering material out.

4/9/12 update: My comment has been published at Scienceworks' page (see here).  I also received an email from the manager of Scienceworks, which I intend to discuss and reply to. My reply will be posted on this blog.

Monday, 27 August 2012

What makes Spotify and Kindle so special?

Boring but nice Sunday afternoon 

A recent guest post on this blog discussing the matter of audiobooks has proved popular (by this blog’s standards!), no doubt to the credit of its author as well as the popularity of its subject matter. In my comments to the post I claimed that as far as I am concerned, Audible is not offering a good product, at least not by the standards offered by Amazon’s Kindle and Spotify. The question, therefore, is this: what makes a cloud based service “good” by ISO Moshe standards?
This question is not a trivial one. In both of the good cases I have quoted there are good alternatives to choose from, most notable the pirate solution. In Spotify’s case, that piracy option offers a comparatively large inventory of music to choose from, if not larger; it offers a DRM free solution that, once acquired, can be used everywhere; and it costs nothing but a bit of your time and Internet bandwidth. On its side, Spotify offers immediate access to the music you want – it takes but seconds from the time you think of something you want to listen to till the time that something is playing, regardless of time and place. There is no searching the web for a downloading site, no need to copy files from a PC to the phone, and no need to maintain a personal music collection. Listeners also get the bonus of knowing they pay the salaries of record labels executives through their Spotify fees (but hardly anything to the artists themselves).
The story with the Kindle is different but not dissimilar. Piracy offers a smaller selection of books and requires harder searching, but it’s free. Amazon offers a usually reasonably priced catalog that includes almost all the books I’m interested in (having the facilities to pretend to be an American helps in this regard). Ebooks can be selected an downloaded to the Kindle device immediately and automatically, and as a bonus the authors get paid (albeit, as some published cases indicate, often poorly in comparison to other members of the book’s supply chain).
To sum up, it appears the following qualities are required in order for me to count a service to stand above its competition, including its pirate competition:
  1. A reasonable price, that is, a price one normally does not think of before spending.
  2. A large selection to choose from, almost indistinguishable from “everything”.
  3. Immediate delivery, anytime and anywhere.
  4. Direct delivery to the devices the material will be consumed through.
It’s interesting to note that by my reckoning, iTunes fails the above criteria. It fails in the pricing (an album costs more than a month of Spotify) and it offers poor delivery options (most obvious example: can't get your music on an Android phone). Spotify rectified the situation there; Aussies are now required to wait until a Netflix equivalent is finally able to materialize here and allow us to watch our videos in peace.


Image by andyj682, Creative Commons license

Saturday, 25 August 2012

It's the Final Countdown


Our house is nearly ready!
Just a few paint touch ups to go.


29/8/12:
Looks like this is going to be a post I'll regret posting. Instead of a quick and glorious conclusion to the work on our house, it looks like we're going to have arguments with the builder and things dragging along.
I have to say I don't understand our builder. Instead of making sure we're happy, and happily streaming other clients down his way through our word of mouth, he's turning more and more childish the closer we are to the finish line. If this is his way to ensure we do not try to go for free extras, he's doing an awfully bad job at it.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Other Aldi PVR


This post is here to tell you why I will be returning the Bauhn PVR I got from Aldi less than a week ago for $170.
You can see Aldi’s own description of the PVR here. Essentially, the promise is of a HD PVR with twin tuners, an integrated 1TB hard drive, and a USB input/output port. That is very good value for money, considering a 1TB hard drive alone costs close to three figures. However, reality proved that when a product is designed to such an extreme price, compromises ensue:
  1. Picture quality was significantly inferior to what our two other PVRs provide, including a previous Bauhn/Aldi model.
  2. Tuner performance was very disappointing, with pixel trails and freezes aplenty despite a 95% quality signal. Again, performance is severely inferior to our other PVRs.
  3. The unit seemed unable to deliver anything more than a stereo signal through its HDMI output. As in, I could not get surround sound while watching off the air programs. Note it could have been a coincidence; perhaps all the channels happened to broadcast a stereo signal during my tests.
  4. The GUI and the remote were less than intuitive. Not the biggest problems in the world, though, and in contrast to our previous Aldi PVR experience the remote does not need to be aimed point blank at the unit.
  5. Although sporting a USB output that allows copying previously recorded programs to an external hard drive, those recordings can only be viewed using the PVR. In effect, this feature is only good for extending the capacity the PVR’s hard drive. Me, I want to be able to take my recordings with me on a USB stick the way other PVRs allow.
  6. The PVR failed to turn itself on for a previously set timer recording. It didn’t always happen, but then again – what is the point of a PVR if it’s unreliable?
  7. The PVR did not let us watch a previously recorded program while recording another. It let us watch a different off the air channel to the one recorded, but not a previously recorded program.
  8. Further, while it was recording the PVR did not let us access its menus. WTF?

It’s the last three that broke the camel’s back, even if the picture was less than rosy already. The lesson? You get what you pay for, I guess.
The question I ask myself, though, is whether we really need another PVR in the first place. We bought this one because one of our existing two is effectively dead and we wanted a PVR for each TV. However, the times they are achanging: the bulk of our viewing is now via the Internet. Between ABC's iView and SBS on Demand, who needs a PVR?
Bring me an Apple TV instead!


Image: Aldi

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Advice from the Young at Heart

iPad Dream #2

By now our five year old’s choice seems clear. Given the choice of either watching TV or playing on what de facto is his tablet, he will go for the latter. He does not seem to care that the iPad’s 10” screen is a fraction of the size of our 55” TV. He also prefers to navigate and make his own choices of YouTube contents to the comparably restrictive availability of contents on the TV. (I say “comparably”, because compared to the availability of contents I had when I was 5 years old, my son is in choice heaven.)
Assuming my son’s choice is a reflection of what the unbiased and untrained of society would prefer, I would predict dire times ahead for conventional TV networks. Piracy is the least of their problems; their problem lies within in their inability to keep up with the times.


Image by Lance Shields, Creative Commons license

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Lock, Stock and Barrel

Lock

All the credit and good opinion I have been giving our builder for managing our home extension project have recently blown up in my face, and it’s all because of a lock. As we are coming to the closing of our project, with our eye on moving back to our own house, the dragging of certain issues gets to annoy me more and more. The lock mini saga embodies in it the reason why rage has been building up inside me despite knowing such emotions serve no good purpose.
The story starts in the typical way our building exercise went. We knew we needed a new lock for the new door, so we went to a door shop to choose from their collection of locks. We then informed the builder of our choice, and he quickly acquired and installed our lock of choice. So far so good; the problem is that he obviously hadn’t installed it properly. Instead of acting the way door locks normally do, where turns to one side lock the door through clearly identifiable clicks of the locking mechanism and the reverse opens the door through identical clicks, the lock behaves erratically. I didn’t know it’s physically possible but the lock does not do the same thing twice; sometimes it allows its operator to infinitely turn the key in one direction, producing clicks but not locking or unlocking the door.
I’ll stop explaining the mechanics of the lock and continue the construction tale. As far as our builder was concerned, the lock was well installed. He’s the one using it to lock the house every day at the end of his work and he’s been fine with it. I, however, was less than happy; every week, at our regular tour of the works, I would tell him the lock is not working properly. After a couple of “I’ll look into it”s he replaced his excuses with “I’ve reassembled it”; me, I could not see any difference.
The saga continued until this last Friday I did what I should have done ages ago: I locked the builder inside the house and left him to struggle his way out while I enjoyed the show from the outside. For the record, me locking him up was unintentional; I was just testing the lock. The end result was favorable, though, in the sense he was now unable to get away from acknowledging the lock was improperly installed.
The question is, why did it have to come to this? Any reasonable person fluent in the use of door locks would have immediately noticed the malfunctioning of our door lock; why, then, did our builder fail to do so despite using the lock on a daily basis?
The only reasonable explanation I can provide to this question is that he was hoping to get away with it. Having arrived at this conclusion, I could not avoid looking back at all the previous points of friction we’ve had with our builder and seeing them under this light.
When I do look at those events in this light, rage is unavoidable. There is that story of the rendering of our house, which the builder was hoping to get away with but even our neighbors went out of their way to say it didn’t match (and was ugly). There’s more where this story came from, though.
One of the green design elements we wanted for our house was a special slat awning that would go above our north facing windows. That awning was to be built of carefully angled slats that would allow winter sun to hit our windows but prevent the summer sun from doing so, based on the location of the sun in the sky during the different seasons. It should have been simple, it should have been elegant, and it should have been a nice feature of our house. But it won’t: due to the unorthodox nature of the feature our builder just kept avoiding any dealings with this matter. Eventually we went searching for third party suppliers, asking the two to engage, but again our builder wouldn’t budge. By the time we connected the two it turned out that the way the house was built meant it could not accommodate such an awning. However, it is also obvious that had our builder did his building so as to accommodate this awning he knew of all along, its installation would have been possible. In other words, the builder’s unwilling to go off his paved path prevented us from having something we planned for, paid for, and were looking forward to having. Instead, I had to take the awning off our house’s green features as we go about looking for inferior alternatives.
The awning case is not along. Our builder has failed us in other matters in which he preferred to wait things out, matters I don’t see the point of reporting here. The point is, rage builds up.
So now when I see him leaving our house alone for days in order to go and work on this other job he recently got, I’m raging at the rent he has me paying on this house we’re renting while our real house is worked on. Now when I see him failing to repair obvious rain damage that happened because he didn’t properly cover our roof at the beginning of his work, I rage at either his wilful blindness or his wilful attempt to screw us up. Now when I see him failing to remove our old hot water system, despite installing a new one, I rage at his obvious lack of bothering to survey our backyard.
Rage is also good finding other avenues to tunnel itself to. Unrelated things we did not notice thus far. For example, we made our current stand by preparing a list of issues for our builder to address before he can dream of seeing our money again. The builder asked us to leave him the list in our post box – but why? Why couldn’t he take emails, like a normal 21st century human being? Where will he take us next, pigeon post? I can see you asking “what’s the big deal”, but it is a big deal: the builder’s insistence on avoiding electronic communications has hampered us all along. It meant we were never able to comfortable communicate with him off business hours, which is important to us since we are working people and we tend to be busy during business hours. Note I am not asking him to work outside of business hours; I’m only asking to be able to send him stuff off my business hours. In this day and age, not doing email is unreasonable; when added to the rest of the equation, it further flares the rage.
I can see myself having a small scale explosion the next time our builder starts giving us one of his by now old excuses for not doing anything. Nothing much, just a few megatons. The irony is that he stands to lose out of this affair, too: for a small time builder relying on word of mouth, his inaction will not lead to good words of mouth.


Image by chrisinplymouth, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Old Milestones

illegal

My father has recently “celebrated” two important milestones in his life.
The first: he sold his car. I know a lot of people sell their cars a lot of the time, but this is different. He sold his car with no intention of acquiring a replacement. It's not like he is not buying a car because he decided the internal combustion engine is humanity’s worst enemy; he's voluntarily retiring from the world of driving because his old car became too much of a pain to maintain. Mostly, though, his retirement is due to having gone past the viable age of driving.
Thus it is a milestone. My father, whom I always remembered as an ultra proficient driver – the guy that knows exactly what is going on around him on the road, the guy licensed to drive anything between a motorcycle and a semitrailer, the guy who never got his car scratched – is giving up driving. For good. One would be challenged to find better evidence that one’s life is coming to its closing stages. How one is to contend with such a notion without going berserk is beyond me.
The other milestone offers similar themes. For the first time in our lives I weigh more than my father! Sure, that does mean I’m dragging excess weight around; however, those who know how my father was like in his prime would also know this is a significant event in the person’s life.
As someone consumed by the experience of raising a little child, I can’t help noting the similarities between childhood and old age. It's just that everything’s in reverse. Getting old sucks!


Image by toby___, Creative Commons license

Friday, 17 August 2012

This Is the 51st State of the USA

What you think of Julian Assange should have no effect on your views concerning the way his case has been handled by the various countries involved in his equation. All of these countries, Australia, UK, Sweden and the USA have laws, and all of them are subject to international law. Justice is supposed to prevail throughout.
Which begs the question: how come countries answering to international law, countries like the UK, are threatening to storm into the embassy of Ecuador in order to put their hands on one Assange?
One would think it would take a big time criminal to get a country so deep in the mire as Team GB is stepping into at this time. Sure, Assange has broken a UK court order by hiding at the Ecuador embassy, but is the blemish on the law and order of the land so big it necessitates such a diplomatic incident?
Let’s put things in perspective: At this stage, Assange is only wanted for questioning in Sweden (for a case I do hope he answers to one day). That is it. He is no murderer or convicted rapist, like plenty of other guys the UK is failing to extradite (see here). And it’s not like the UK didn’t enjoy the benefit of embassy asylum during the Cold War; even Saddam Hussein didn’t go as far as breaking into foreign embassies. If memory serves me right, the only country to invade another’s embassy is Iran. Is that the model country the UK is aspiring to be?
This disproportionate passion with which the UK is chasing after Assange leads me to conclude there is more to this case than meets the eye. I would say it is beyond reasonable doubt that the UK has ulterior motives on its mind when it’s so hot blooded. I would also say that all the pride the country has taken from running a successful Olympics stands to nothing when it immediately goes to display such gross behavior.

What about Australia? Some interesting insight on what Australia can do for its citizen abroad is found here. To me it seems as if Australia is doing for Julian Assange just as much as it did for David Hicks before.
Between them, the UK and Australia can argue who can boast to be the 51st state and who is the 52nd.


Photo from today's protest at Melbourne's UK consulate by Asher Wolf, reproduced with permission

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Lost Islands

A week away at a remote island makes a blogger forget how to write a post. Which is probably the most flattering thing I can say about our week long holiday to that chain of islands first sighted by Captain Cooke during an elusive Christian holiday. We stayed at the Whitsundays’ Hamilton Island, an island now answering to a private company that even built an airport over reclaimed land to support its enterprise of conveyor belt like tourism.
In effect, Hamilton Island, or at least the part of the island that has been developed, is one great resort. One is offered multiple options for staying at the island, ranging from luxury secluded houses to apartments and hotel rooms. We went with the latter option, which happens to be the cheapest, too.
The hotel, called Reef View Hotel, is not bad at all. It aged a bit and that shows, but not to a degree that troubles; the rooms are quite generous in size, and regardless – who cares about anything when this is the view you get from your hotel room balcony? I would say that this view is by far the greatest attraction Hamilton Island can provide.


I have good evidence to support this claim of mine, mainly in the shape of “there is not much else to do on the island”. There is a beach, a marina, some restaurants, sports activities, swimming pools, and that’s pretty much it.
On our second day we rented a golf buggy to explore the island. It dawned on us that even with the buggy being as slow as a mediocre jogger, one can venture from one side of the island to the other in a few minutes. That is to say, if one is not encumbered by the likes of little children, one can fully manage a Hamilton Island holiday by foot. Not that most holidayers to the island would agree, for Hamilton Island is that circle of hell devoted to the paid worship of laziness.
There are lots of free things to do on the island, once you’re in it, but there is also much demand for the wallet. On the island you’re captive audience, and it shows. There is no competition for your money: all the food options, for example, are closely related. For example, the same bakery that provides the donuts for the supplied breakfast does all the baking for the whole island. There are no other options but the island’s options, as evident by the absence of the likes of MacDonald’s or Burger King. They know they have you in their pockets, which is why they feel free to charge a two to three times premium over their mainland rivals in both food, entertainment (e.g., mini golf or mini zoo) and activities (renting that buggy for a few hours costs as much as renting a car for a day). It didn't take long before I started fantasizing of cooking facilities that would allow me to eat the things I actually want to eat rather than the things they want to sell me. The fact the island seems to boast Australia's worst coffee helped that mental state.
Things quickly settled into a routine of gulping a huge breakfast (very yummy, even if bacon is cooked to English standards rather than my much preferred crispy American way). From then we moved to our room for a change of attire before heading to the beach or swimming pool; insert breaks for reading and napping and you get the gist of it.
Hard times were interrupted once for a boat trip to Whitehaven Beach, located on the Whitsunday island that gave the islands their name. The whole island is a nature reserve and its beach is made of special silica sand that doesn’t stick: there’s proper fish swimming between your legs and guana lizards lurking in the woods. The whole thing is a pristine reminder for what the world was like before humans came and spoiled it all.
As much as we enjoyed our relaxing time at Hamilton Island, it appears our five year old enjoyed it even more. He enjoyed it so much he woke us up each morning at 6:30, “allowing” us to enjoy multiple sunrises we would have otherwise slept through. He swam (or rather, messed about in the water), he ran, he played, he mini golfed, he played checkers, and he had our undivided attention. Best of all, he wasn’t sick! This type of holiday, involving minimal effort on everyone’s behalf, seems to suit him well at his current stage of development. Much more than, say, dragging him across the streets of Amsterdam and into world class art museums.
For the tech inclined I will mention there are several free wifi hotspots on the island (e.g., at the hotel lobby). The unencrypted nature of these networks means one should be careful of snooping by fellow users; I was quite horrified to see the hordes of Internet surfers going their business totally oblivious to the fact that anyone can easily tap on their non encrypted communicados. Other than that there is good Telstra and Optus reception throughout the island. For data purposes, both supply slow ADSL like speeds (as opposed to more ADSL2 like speeds). Latency is horrendous and can be measured in seconds, but by far the biggest surprise was me being able to repeatedly clock Optus at twice the speed of Telstra. The world has gone upside down at Hamilton Island!
Put together, we all had great relaxing fun at Hamilton Island. It wasn’t the type of holiday I am used to, a holiday that involved much exploration, but it was a holiday that suited our current state (or lack of it). Indeed, the main problem with this holiday of ours is to do with what lies waiting for us in the near future: a move back to a newly renovated house. After that I am sure we will all be in dire need of a holiday.

I would like to note I contemplated various titles for this post. In particular, I was after “My Week Without Mass Effect” as a way to describe the detachment from normal life that this island holiday represented. However, it quickly became obvious this week of holidays is not and cannot be a week without Mass Effect: between iPad and iPhone games, comic books, ebooks and regular updates via the Internet, the only Mass Effect thing I didn’t do this holiday week was play Mass Effect 3 on my PS3. That is to say, in this age of the Internet, there is no real disassociation from stuff without significant effort – no even on a remote island.
I therefore ended with a title of an old Australian TV series that proved very popular with Israeli kids at its time.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Facebook Fallacy

Soldiers Western Wall 1967 - IDF Paratroopers at Jerusalem's Western Wall shortly after its capture ...item 2..Why the Six-Day War Still Matters (June 12, 2011) ...

Over the last few days I was contacted by several people urging me to jump back on the Facebook wagon. The reason: this group of friends of mine from the Israeli army has established a new Facebook page for the sake of our good old days. Now they are seeking my contribution.
It certainly is nice to hear from them, especially after years (and some times decades) of silence. Some of these people were good friends of mine, deserving the warm corners in my head dedicated to them. But still, I can't avoid thinking how this example also demonstrates the very problem at the core of the Facebook concept. No, I am not referring to the fact Facebook wants us because we are the product it sells to those that advertize through it; I am referring to the social "friendship" mechanisms that feed Facebook with contents.
Glimpses of the issue start appearing when I think about this group of people that are now united under this new army unit Facebook page. This group that now looks back to the good old days of yonder is a group made of people that, at the time, often could not stand one another. We all had our gripes with some of the others some of the time, but some of these now united people had gripes with some of the other people all of the time; seeing them now holding hands reeks of hypocrisy.
Second, we shouldn't forget that even the most patriotic Israeli nationalists amongst us did not like what we were doing at the army: some had misgivings about what we were doing there in the first place, others were just lazy, some were both, but none of us were there because we actually wanted to be there. Again, looking back at that period as "the good old days" stinks of hypocrisy.
Which brings me to ask, do these friends of mine really want to keep in touch with me? I'm sure some of them do, but I'm also sure many of them would hesitate to associate with me once they discovered what my political views on the going abouts of their country are. Not that they ever had the opportunity to doubt my left wing views; it's just that my views have articulated and matured over time as well as grown light years apart from Israeli consensus. So far are they from the average Israeli's that they are virtually unacceptable to the majority of Israelis (and my mother serves as a fine example there).
All of the above brings me to ask: what is the point of this Facebook page? When put together what I find is the biggest problem with Facebook: this website works by treading on our anxieties. We join it because we do not want to be left behind and forgotten. We want, instead, to keep in touch with our "friends", even if that is no longer the case, just so we wouldn't feel like we were cast aside and have our egos hurt. In the more broader case, Facebook has us looking ourselves in the mirror and asking: How could it be that someone may not like me anymore? I am such a nice person! I therefore have to feed my so called friends with some crap they would find appealing. Together, we could all pretend to live happily ever after.
If it wasn't for these anxieties, this ever present need to see what is going on with the Joneses, I suspect Facebook would lose the bulk of its users. This anxiety can be felt even better through popular Facebook games, with Farmville being the most obvious example: a game that works by making its participants miserable.
Me, I can live without it. I noticed the relief that befell on me as I left Facebook behind and no longer faced the burden of checking up to see what my "friends", real or not, past or present, were up to. I see no reason to go back in and put myself back in the chain gang.


Image from marsmet541, Creative Commons license

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Game Changer

From time to time a new gadget comes out to shuffle the deck and change the way we regard things. The most classic examples I can give is the iPhone: mobile phones are not the same since the iPhone, particularly the iPhone 3, came out. It now seems to me like Sony has an ace on its hands that might reshuffle the deck for compact cameras.
The Sony DXC-RX100 is the culprit. As dpreview mentions here, this is no ordinary compact camera: in addition to all the rest of the stuff one would expect from a compact camera designed to appeal to the more enthusiastic photographer that likes to take control of their photos (as opposed to compact cameras designed to operate automatically), the RX-100 has a fairly big sensor. It's much larger than the usual fingernail sized sensor one normally gets in compact cameras: it's more comparable to the sensor in the four-thirds category and it wouldn't feel too bad next to a normal APS sized digital SLR.
This large sensor means the camera can get away with a 20 mega-pixel resolution without too much noise. It also means the camera is able to have better depth separation (backgrounds more blurry than the subjects), as opposed to the "everything sharp" look one always gets with compact cameras. It can take up to ten photos a second, too. In short, what one has on their hands with the RX100 is a camera that performs not unlike an SLR but costs much less and - wait for it - would comfortably fit in one's pocket. To that I will say: Wow!
No, SLRs are not dead. Yet. The RX100 is still fairly limited by its lens. And no, the RX100 will probably not revive the compact camera market in this age where the people have had their say and found their preferred camera to be that of their smartphone (the most popular camera on Flickr, for example, is the iPhone).
However, if one is looking for a compact camera and one can afford to spend a bit more than your average compact's price, then one has few reasons to settle for less than the Sony. The same goes for the enthusiast: the reality is that for the bulk of occasions, the RX100 will do just as well as an SLR without breaking the back and the bank.
Between the mirror-less revolution and now the compact RX-100, I strongly suspect my current SLR is also going to be my last SLR ever.



Image: Sony

Girls & Boys

Girl Attacks Boy on Playground

I was waiting for this to happen for a while now. I’m actually surprised I had to wait so long till, the other evening, my fine young son asked me a question. That question:
Abba [that’s me], why are there boys and girls?
The question was repeated several time, not to be ignored.
Since I don’t like lying and bullshitting anyone, particularly my son, I chose to go with the science. I told my son that we need both girls and boys in order to be able to make more humans, and that this is because humans have evolved in a way that required a mix of the mother’s genes and the father’s genes in order to create a new person.
I doubt he fully comprehends the meaning of the explanation I have provided, but I also wouldn’t discount his understanding of these matters purely because of his tender age; none of the terms I had used, genes included, are foreign to him.
I would have liked him to not be settled with my answer and further challenge me instead, but he went back to his Lego playing. My very first ever sex education teaching class ended rather prematurely. On the positive side, my son did not ask me that "how" question that begged to be asked – how do the parents’ genes combine to make a new person?
Had he asked I would have provided a detailed account of the sperm and the egg.


Image by Steve Corey, Creative Commons license

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Love Me Render

4up

The times they are a-stressful. Again, and for similar reasons to before: with the building stage of our home extension coming to a close soon, we are fast coming towards the tying of some loose knots. And loose they are, promising to savagely hit our wallets.

Some are directly to do with the ongoing building work. The classic example is to do with the rendering of our house, which – in its previous, unextended, incarnation – used to be rather unique. No worries, said all the builders lining up to give us a quote for our job, we can match the colors so that the new parts of the house look the same!
When our builder actually got to the rendering stage he told us it would be “hard”. What he meant by “hard” was rather ambiguous; if you ask me, the mere act of putting one brick over the other is “hard”. Or perhaps his intentions weren’t ambiguous at all and the word he was actually looking for was “impossible”, because the rendering applied to the new parts of our house not only failed to match the old, it also happened to be plain ugly.
It looks like the only reliable solution would be to repaint the entire house. That’s nice, but it is also costly: more than $3000, and that's after the builder chips in with a quarter of the cost.
Indeed, painting being of a sour relationship with our wallets is a recurring theme. The painter of the house’s interior, already charging us a five figure sum, woke up to tell us – after he already finished painting – that because of our specific choice of paint (see here for elaboration) he needed to apply extra layers and extra labor. Casually, he left us with a nice four figure invoice for these extras.
Casual-ity is also a recurring theme. The shop that sold us our new showerhead delivered it with an installation diagram according to which our plumbing and tiling of the new toilet room was made. However, when the builder actually got to fit the showerhead he stumbled upon the uncomfortable truth: that diagram they gave us does not match the actual showerhead we chose. Tiling had to come off, plumbing had to be redone (no doubt at the expense of some of the wall insulation), and all for a stupid mistake done at the hardware shop without them even realizing the gravity of their mistake. First Choice? More like Never Again.

Then there are the costs involved with us moving back into our house.
These involve bringing the house to a liveable state (cleaning) and sorting through all the issues that will surely line up one by one – say, a dishwasher that did not enjoy being an integral part of a construction site for so long.
On the other side there is us getting rid of our rental place: breaking the lease, preparing the place to look sexy upon inspections, opening the house for inspection, cleaning it, weeding, waging war on the real estate agency to get our bond back, and probably more.
Oh, and the moving itself. Not only of us and our stuff but also of our ADSL!

We may be back at our house, eventually, but we certainly won’t be settled. There will be much unpacking, including that of all the stuff we had stored away. There will be that whole thing of getting used to life in a sort of a brand new house. A house that will also be mostly empty, furnishing wise, forcing us to hold our credit card erect and do some shopping for the likes of a new sofa and, almost definitely, a new TV too.
We are fast becoming our bank’s best friends.


Image by Peter Guthrie, Creative Commons license