Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Comedy Festival

20th Melbourne International Comedy Festival

A bit more than a week ago my father, who lives in Israel, fell down and was hospitalized as a result. If you are into a bit of the macabre, you will probably find both the before and the after to be almost as entertaining as Melbourne's now running comedy festival.
The first joke is to do with the way no one tells me things, important things. As I gradually learned following repeat attempts on my behalf to understand what my father's problems are, this last fall was not his first. The difference is that this time his leg muscles gave up so badly on being able to rise again there was no choice but to take him to hospital.
The second joke is to do with my family's inability to figure out what's going on around them. A day after my father was hospitalized, and before his CT scan test results were delivered, Family Member A (who does not reside in Israel) informed me the problem is a broken link on the spine. However, a few days later I learned that was totally wrong from Family Member B (who does live in Israel and was present when the doctor provided their diagnosis): it's not the spine, it's a rib. When I pointed at the huge difference between a spine injury and a rib injury to other family members I was surprised to learn they could not tell what my fuss is about. Our story does not end there, though: a few days later Family Member A spoke with the specialist over the phone, and was informed the problem is, indeed, a broken L4 spine link. Thus raising two questions: how did Family Member A have the foresight to tell, from overseas, that this was the problem even before the doctors knew it was? And second, how did Family Member B and the other present family members manage to get it so wrong?
The comedy does not end with bad communications. It continues with being unable to make rational decisions. That specialist I mentioned before, he recommended my father does an operation to heal the spine up. According to him, the break is luckily favorable in the sense it is relatively easy to fix - all it would take is a simple operation under full anesthetic. That, however, is where the family can make things worse: enter overseas Family Member C, who claims that an operation under full anesthetic would be dangerous to my father. The problem, as far as I can tell, is that C does not have much beyond the anecdotal to base their anesthetics phobia on. It is clear that my father, given age and difficulties, is not going to have a walk in the park with an operation; however, what's the alternative? For a man his age, the alternative is spending the rest of his life in bed. As the hospital people would testify when they had to bring four of them to move him around, that would put my father in at a position unfit for living at his home. Hired help at home won't do, unless we hire a football team or a Schwarzenegger. Thus he would have to stay in bed in some specialized old people's place. Given the options, and based on what I know thus far (a disclaimer that has to be made given the above notes on the quality of information I have been receiving thus far), I would take the risk.
Family Member C, however, demands we consult a neurologist for their opinion. To which I will answer that nurologists are not exactly a dime a dozen; my mother already inquired and the wait is two months long. Second, I don't understand why we need a neurologist and not an anesthetist. And third, the whole affair smells like someone took too many drugs. As in, why are we having this discussion in the first place when no proof beyond "it happened to someone I know" can be provided? People I know have been hit by cars yet we still drive and cross streets. People die from taking aspirin. There is no end to it; the whole of life is one big risk management affair. Yet this family inability to fathom statistics now has the potential to have the fate of my father on the line.
Add to all of the above lots of emotional blackmailing, and the whole thing becomes a mess where the patient himself is but one of many parts. I argue, though, that the whole affair could have been much smoother if rational people were to be involved. To me this is an example of how dangerous irrationality can be, because the same failures at play with my father are playing with religion induced wars and with our handling of global warming.

As for me, it looks like I will be heading to Israel when the dust will settle enough. I never look forward to visiting Israel, but this time would be worse. And not just for the obvious reasons: this would be the first time I will be away from my son.
Still, that's life, and our parents are aging. This is going to be episode 1 of the new series on living on the other side of the world from the rest of the family.


Image by ianloic, Creative Commons license

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The End of Chuck

The day I've been dreading for the past few months has arrived last Saturday. We watched the very last episode of Chuck. We finished making our way through Chuck's entire catalog of 91 episodes.



I have to say I like the ending. It's hard to finish things off after such a buildup (refer to Mass Effect for extra inputs there). Those who seek closure are fooling themselves: the only way to achieve full closure after a path so long is via a cop out. Either with a cheesy Disney fairytale ending, a very tragic ending, or a "fast forward many years" Harry Potter style ending. All of which would not only leave a bad taste in the mouth, they would also block good followup opportunities. And let's admit it: I suspect what all Chuck fans want the most is more Chuck.
So yes, I like the ending. First because it forced Zachary Levi to actually act, at least for a few minutes. More seriously, though (I love you, Zachary!): For a series that comes down to "the nice boy does get the girl", unraveling all that was achieved during the past five seasons and starting afresh is, well, fresh. [Note I will leave the discussion on the whole nice boy can get the girl thing out of this post's scope.]

Which brings me to ask, yet again, what it is about Chuck that made me love it so much. It wasn't as funny as Seinfeld, far from as high quality and influential as Cosmos, but it is still the TV series I would label as my most favorite ever. Why?
The answer is complicated, of course. There are the multitude of lovable characters, the whole Buy More anti consumerism joke, the nerd themes, the long row of geek culture heroes taking their role (and often reprising the stuff that brought them their glory), and this whole idea of being able to go to extraordinary places even when life seems incredibly dull and hopeless.
I will argue there is more to that than the series itself. I will argue for a technicality.
It has to do with the way we watched the series. As I mentioned here before, we gave the very first episode a try after I decided to give my Mass Effect heroes a go in their non Mass Effect ventures. We watched the first episode, enjoyed it, and moved on with our lives. A week or so later we were asking ourselves what to watch that evening, and having run out of options I suggested another episode of Chuck; we gave it a go. A few days later we had the same dilemma again, and we gave Chuck another go. Then something else happened: we started watching Chuck every night. We started watching Chuck so passionately we were watching two or even three episodes a night; we could not hold ourselves back. We actually got to the stage, about half way through, where we started devising cunning ways to hold back on our Chuck episodes' consumption for fear of running out.
I will therefore raise the following argument: being able to watch Chuck whenever we wanted helped us get into the thick of the series. Further: it is exactly because we were able to follow up on Chuck night after night that we became totally addicted. In other words, I strongly suspect that were we to watch the series on a weekly basis at a time predetermined by some demigod at the TV station, the chances of us falling for Chuck as badly as we did would have been a lot slimmer.
What I'm trying to say is that Chuck the TV series is probably not as special as I feel it is. It got an "unfair" advantage by virtue of the way we ended up watching it. Which, if you ask me, should raise the alarm bells with TV networks: hey, guys, your business model is about to die.

But you know what? Forget everything I said thus far. The real reason I like Chuck is Yvonne Strahovski.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Prisoner X: Revelations

Today The Age revealed further details regarding the Ben Zygier (aka Prisoner X) saga. These details supply some sort of closure to Zygier's spying adventure story. Assuming the details are reliable, several new conclusions may be deduced that contradict some assumptions I have made here in the past.
Most notably, it appears Zygier did betray Israel. No, he did not wake up in the morning and decide to do so, he was merely outmatched in a cloak and dagger competition, but the end result is that of betrayal. It also appears as if the previously published revelation on with which I passed judgement on the case were quite inaccurate (which is where I admit being wrong before my critics).
However, assuming the dust is now settled with the publications of these revelations in a generally reliable newspaper (although I regard The Age to be a publication in a rapid downward spiral), my main argument still stands: there isn’t and there never was a case for making a person totally disappear off the face of the earth, with or without the presumption of innocence (which still very much applies to this never to be convicted person). The argument where hiding Zygier's identity prevents intelligence damage for Israel seems irrelevant: By the time Zygier was arrested the damage was already done, for a start; second, there was nothing that couldn’t have been solved by having a closed trial, the way trails are often held in cases of minors.
I might have been wrong before about the facts, but the conclusion remains the same: in the case of Ben Zygier, Israel did not act in the way a democracy should; instead it behaved the way an Assad class dictatorship does. Worse, there is no indication towards Israel regretting and attempting to address this past mistake.


28/3/2013 update:
It appears I was wrong: the Prisoner X saga is far from over.
According to an Haaretz newspaper blogger (see Hebrew post here), who relies on another blogger (see Hebrew post here), The Age's story is blatantly unreliable. The two bloggers are claiming it would have been impossible for Zygier to achieve what The Age is now saying he had achieved, betrayal wise, given the way the Israeli Mossad works. They also claim The Age's report contradicts the stories they have heard from their own sources (stories they cannot publish due to Israeli secrecy laws). It therefore appears, according to them, that The Age was fed with systematic bullshit coming from a Mossad source with the intention of clearing that institution's name.
What do I make of this late development? Who is right and who is wrong?
Well, my answer is simple: I don't care. I don't care because I think the matter of Zygier's innocence is irrelevant. Sure, it would be great if it turns out the man was innocent, but my main quarrel is not with whether he did something or didn't; my main quarrel is with a state seeing fit to hide any shred of evidence concerning the existence of a person. Whether Zygier is a criminal or not according to Israeli law does not change the fact he is entitled to due process. If Eichmann deserved it, so does one Ben Zygier.

29/3/2013 update: Haaretz publishes even more stuff that contradicts The Age's revelations.


Image: ABC

Friday, 22 March 2013

Looking at Private Health

Hospital

Over the past several weeks we have been spending a lot of time and effort examining which private health insurance fund should be robbing us of our money. I thought I would share some of our insight here as it may help other prospective victims.

Before we start, why go down the private health insurance path in the first place?
The immediate answer is that the Australian tax system forces you to join one.
The less immediate answer is that having the private health option allows you to jump the queue when in need of medical assistance, which usually happens to be a time when one is desperate to receive medical assistance. (Note, however, that private health is next to useless when it comes to using the facilities of emergency rooms; it only kicks in once one is properly admitted to the hospital.) I will leave the ethics question in relation to queue jumping out of the scope of this discussion; I just thought it is important to lay all cards on the table. On the positive side, private health means you do not have to think too badly about the damage to your wallet when you need to get yourself admitted to the hospital for non urgent treatment.
The third and last reason is that private health can help in cutting down the cost of extras, which is the title commonly associated with non hospital and non GP health related costs. That is, things like dentistry, physio and such (sadly, this list includes lots of voodoo treatments such as chiropractic).

Next, why have we been on the lookout for a new health insurer?
We have been Medibank Private customers for many years now, choosing to go with a government owned private health fund under the assumption its non private nature would lead to us getting a better product. In earlier years that assumption seems to have been correct, but this past few years the tide has changed. More and more receptionists processing my health insurance refunds sneaked in a crude sarcastic joke at the sight of my Medibank card. Others have been openly saying it is the worst provider around. Most importantly, we have seen the way our refunds have been dwindling over time.
To put it into measurable figures, a routine dental visit for inspection and clean-up, the type of thing we are all recommended to do twice a year, used to be covered in its entirety. That is, Medibank would pay for it all. However, with time two things have happened: the providers holding special relationships with Medibank of the type that provides full cover have deteriorated; their clinics are more like production lines where one receives minimal attention and an abnormal number of recommendations to come back for some five minute long fillings.
In parallel, Medibank kept its scheduled fees unchanged, or not changed as much as fees have changed. For example (don't quote me on the exact figures), if in the past Medibank would pay $50 back for a dentist check-up at the time dentists charged $50 for that item, then today Medibank still seems to pay the same amount while the dentists have moved to charge north of $100. The bottom line? This week’s routine dentist visit cost me roughly $250, out of which Medibank redeemed only $100 or so. Not the no out of pocket expenses experience I fondly remember.
Clearly, we can do better than a company that relies on past glory.

With the need to replace our private health provider clear and present, the question turned into how to identify potential replacements.
My first port of call was iSelect, about whom I heard from many. That website does seem to have its PR done well, because it is this name that people default to when the question of choice in private health is raised. However, that perception seems not too well based. When I did my search for providers with iSelect I received recommendations for rather obscure providers. On its own, obscurity is no deal breaker; however, none of the options offered to me seemed to bear much relation to my needs. I moved on.
Our next port of call was to check out the corporate health plans offered to us through our employers. That turned out to be a wise course of action, as I soon learned significant discounts and bonuses can be thus achieved. We ended up comparing three private health funds, respectively the 2nd, 3rd and 4th biggest in Australia: Bupa, HCF and NIB.
Each of these funds offers similar cover levels to allegedly suit "every Australian". The main difference, I have found, is in the way they pay back benefits for extras. Bupa, being the biggest of this lot, seems to go down the course of establishing its own network of providers; costs are minimal if you use these, but again – our experience indicates these services tend to be of lower quality.
HCF is similar but different. Its own provider list seems much smaller, so they thus rely on establishing a list of services they’d pay you back for. Next to each such service they have their scheduled fee. (Bupa, by the way, works along similar lines; it’s just that its highlight is its own network of providers, where better conditions apply.) Thus, for example, if a dentist does you a filling and charges you $150, but HCF’s scheduled fee is $100, you would get the $100 or a fixed percentage of those $100. The differences are better highlighted with major dental operations, where the scheduled fees can be less than half of what dentists normally charge, thus requiring hundreds of out of pocket dollars. Note all paybacks are limited per year per category per person: there is only so many fillings a year that any insurer will pay you back for.
Scheduled fees can bite in various ways. For example, HCF’s physio benefits tend to come at less than half of what my physio charges me. Worse, the benefits go down the more I visit the physio. Thus HCF is telling me, in effect, to avoid visiting the physio; and if I do, to make as fewer visits as possible.
NIB’s policy is different. They don’t have scheduled fees and they don’t have much of a network, especially not in Victoria. Instead, they repay a fixed percentage of the cost up to a certain yearly limit per category (dental, physio, etc.). I have found NIB’s approach to best suit me for two reasons: first, it is easy to know how much money I should expect to receive as benefit and how much I should expect to pay out of pocket; as long as the item is covered, I can do the percentages myself. And second, the lack of scheduled fees means my policy cannot be killed through the private health insurer stagnating its scheduled fees. That said, I’m sure NIB has plenty of other ways with which to work its way further into my wallet, such as raising its policy prices above and beyond inflation levels (something all health funds seem to be allowed to get away with on a yearly basis by the government we, the people, have elected).

At the bottom line, I have much criticism against Australia’s system of private health. To be honest, I would rather live in a world where private health does not exist, and all health services are freely delivered to those requiring them. I live in this world, though, and for now I consider it important to know my enemy and to choose the lesser evil wisely.


Image by José Goulão, Creative Commons license

Monday, 18 March 2013

Renewed campaign to further strengthen the odds of keeping the train seat next to me unoccupied

self-portrait, half-shaved

As I did roughly this time of the year two years ago, I am experimenting with the beard thing again. It’s the right time of the year to do so, with the weather getting cooler.
I did notice two changes affecting the course of my beard already. With my hair dwindling by the minute, I now need much more frequent haircuts than I used to. (The unintuitive equation is: the less hair you have, the more often you need to sort it out in order to avoid appearing buffoon like.) Frequent haircuts may imply easier life with a beard, as I would trim the beard together with the hair. (The beard has to be trimmed, because there is nothing worse than the sensation of facial hair on my lips. OK, there are worse things than that, but you catch the drift.)
The second thing I noticed is that my beard now features quite a lot of white hairs. That’s a disadvantage, because the beard’s alternative – shaving – allows me to conceal those hairs. It also indicates the general trends of hair on aging men: less on the face, more on the body, and more in white.
I’m skeptical as to the beard’s longevity. As I found the last time around, maintaining one is a lot of hard work. But it’s a nice adventure, it would make me feel better about spending money to buy a proper clipper, and – as stated – it would allow me to stretch a bit further on the train.


Image by Guilerme Souza, Creative Commons license

Friday, 15 March 2013

Reading Google

You may have been wondering why I haven’t been posting here much lately. The short is answer is simple: time.
The more elaborate story is to do with me being roughly able to conjure about a post a day. Given that we have been watching lots of stuff lately, that post tended to be a review for my reviews blog rather than a post here.
Last night, however, things were worse. Even Hitler was shocked at that day's bad news, and for the first time ever I can say I agree with every English subtitled word of his:



So yes, Google decided to shut Google Reader down. They claim this is because they could not monetize it, which is a fine argument; it is a free service, after all. However, I suspect it is more of an effort on their behalf to direct our Internet surfing in a way that would generate them more income. In other words, as far as Google is concerned, RSS stands between them and more income.
Me, I am pissed off big time. I have been using Google Reader for much longer than I have been using Twitter and probably longer than this blog had existed. During that time it has been the undisputed number one source of my Internet consumption. Sure, Twitter is good for the latest news and social updates; but Google Reader was there for everything else and more. Everything of consistent, reliable substance.
I could not rest until I find myself an alternative. My chief concern is work: while I can find plenty of RSS readers to work on my platforms of choice and provide superior experience to Google Reader, at the office I am unable to install stuff and I am limited to the archaeological Internet Explorer 8. A browser that was never particularly good to begin with. With that limitation in mind, I went looking for alternatives.
I am proud to say I found a spectacular looking RSS reader that works on IE8 in the shape of Netvibes. I was able to import all my Reader feeds in and start reading feeds pretty quickly. It would probably take some getting used to and my normal workflows would be interrupted, but the transition would not be the cataclysmic event I was afraid of.
Newsblur also offers a nice alternative, but if you follow more than 12 feeds – which you would if you were a Google Reader user – you would need to pay $1 a month to gain proper access. It’s not much but it’s not free, either.
While at it, I’ve adopted a new RSS tool for my own platforms: Feedly. Feedly is a free solution that comes in the shape of a Google Chrome or Firefox app I can run on all of my own computers (Mac, Ubuntu and Windows). I can also install the app on my iPad/iPhone (there is an Android version, too).
According to Feedly, they are working on “Project Normandy” so that when Google Reader is killed, Feedly users feeds would continue uninterrupted. I Feedly them well, and in my role of Commander Shepard I commend them on their choice of a name for their project.

I ended up going to bed at close to 2:00am. It’s strange, but overall I felt good: This quest for a quick alternative, even though Reader would not be put to rest till 1 July, brought me to realize Google was actually doing me a favor.  For a while I have been looking to disconnect myself from Google, currently the biggest invader of my privacy; Google Reader was, by far, the Google service I was tied to the most. In other words, good riddance, Google!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Books' Shortlist

llibreria - bookstore - Amsterdam - HDR

I may have been complaining lately that I find it hard to find interesting books to read, but the reality is that I have an ever expanding list of books I would like to read. In the interest of perhaps receiving further inputs to help me prioritize my reading queue with, here they are:
  1. Scored - Lauren McLaughlin: A YA science fiction novel about a society where kids that don't make the grade do not make it. Sounds very possible, hence interesting.
  2. Drugs Without the Hot Air - David Nutt: A book about drug and drug policies that seems to have been written with evidence in mind (as opposed to most nations' drug policies). Of particular interest are sections that are rumored to be dealing with children; as a father of a child that will grow to have plenty of opportunities, legal or not, to deal with drugs this could be an important read.
  3. Rip it up - Richard Wiseman: I like Richard Wiseman and I follow his YouTube channel with a wide grin on my face. I also like his down to earth way of thinking, which means that even if this is a title categorized under "self help" I might give it a try despite the general antagonism I hold towards this niche.
  4. Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer: I recently read The Last Policeman, a book about the last person to care about doing things right in a world that is about to end. This one follows similar themes, but as a YA novel its point of view is that of a teen. On the negative side, this is the first book in a series.
  5. The Palace Job - Patrick Weekes: This one is a fantasy novel, but the more important fact about it is that it was written by one of the key writers behind the Mass Effect trilogy. As such, we share some of life's major dilemmas, such as the preferred choice for an assault rifle given dire circumstances in multiplayer.
  6. The Mirage - Matt Ruff: A science fiction novel where Arabia is the number one power in the world. As such, it has to deal with Christian fundamentalists.
  7. iWoz - Steve Wozniak: The autobiography of the likeable guy from Apple. Said to be very easy to read.
  8. A Long Time Ago - Gib van Ert: The short memoirs of a child growing up in the shadow of the Star Wars series. If the guy went to write a book about it then he was obviously into Star Wars much more than I was, but then again I was also a child fantasizing of doing the Castle Run in twelve parsecs.
  9. Throne of the Crescent Moon - Saladin Ahmed: A Hugo candidate, this is alleged to be a fantasy tale with an edge.
  10. Constellation Games - Leonard Richardson: The way I understand it, this is a story of an alien invasion that involves the aliens distributing video games to us earthlings.
  11. Free to Learn - Peter Gray: I didn't like any form of formal education I have been through. Both school and uni felt more like production lines than what I would call an education. With my son starting school, I want to make sure that I can guide him to the best of my ability. As in, guide him so that he doesn't feel like we are putting his mind into a grinder when we send him to school but rather help him expand it instead. This book is meant to discuss mind opening education as opposed to what normally passes for education in our societies; I don't know if it would offer practical advice, but it could be one of my more important reads.
  12. The God Question - A. C. Grayling: Grayling, probably my favorite philosopher, joins the ranks of Dawkins and Hitchens in writing a book that [I assume] refutes religion for the silly idea it is.
Comments and further insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Image by MorBCN, Creative Commons license

    Friday, 8 March 2013

    Better Than FIFA

    "I am Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite car in the Citadel"

    It's a year since Mass Effect 3 was released to change my perception of video gaming as I know it. Gaming wise, this past year really went by in a breeze.
    The odd thing is that a year later and goddess knows how many hours of short nights filled with explosions later, Mass Effect is still going strongly with this one. Not just because I've actually gone back to start the story from the first Mass Effect and move onwards; the first Mass Effect is not that great a game, suffering too much from being an old style Knights of the Old Republic type game. No, Mass Effect is still going strong because I'm still playing the third episode: between the various expansion DLCs and the weekend multiplayer missions, this game still has a long way to go before losing its essence. I mean, the multiplayer alone with its richness of characters that can be developed in various differing ways is reason alone for me to keep coming back for years to come.
    As the new SimCity debacle reconfirms, Mass Effect is not without its debacles. Electronic Arts will not shy from nastiness when it comes to monetizing its games. Regardless, there is a very good game behind all the greed.
     
    I am not alone in this Mass Effect entanglement. Just this week a guy sat next to me on the train, opened his laptop, and went straight into Mass Effect 3. I asked him if he was playing the new Citadel DLC (reflections made it too hard to see what was going on), and he answered with a no; he was revisiting Tuchanka. Oh, curing the Krogan genophage, I asked? We concluded by admitting this game is responsible for us losing the better part of this last year of our lives.
    Here's to the best video game ever!

    Tuesday, 5 March 2013

    A Whole New World

    Unhas Decoradas - Pac Man

    School seems to be opening up a whole new universe for our son, particularly with him taking his first steps into the world of reading. However, it is also opening up a whole new world of issues for us, parents.
    The other week I picked my son up from after school care. I stepped into the venue that my Son & Co were at, only to be bombarded by deafening music. I couldn’t talk to my son nor could I talk to the carers; it was that loud.
    Yesterday we picked our son up from after school care to see they let him play with nail polish. Only that he didn’t apply it to his nails alone, it was all over the place. At home my wife used chemicals to take it off, but then those chemicals triggered my son’s asthma. Today my wife’s at home, looking after him. [To be fair, it does appear like he caught some sort of a bug, too.]
    If I wanted my son deaf I could have done it myself, I don’t see why I need to pay someone else to do it for me. Same goes for pouring chemicals over him. Is that the care we should expect to be getting with “after school care”? Then again, why am I surprised? The carers are mostly young girls, too young looking to have any proper qualifications. They are just glorified babysitters for whose services we get charged much more than we would pay a babysitter.
    Further annoyance comes from the other end of the spectrum. We got an email today from the two mothers that ended up representing our class’ parents. In there they invite “mums” to join on activities and get togethers. Yeah, I didn’t want to hang out with them either, but I have to add that the chauvinism that comes off from women is probably the worst.


    Image by .Krol., Creative Commons license

    Monday, 4 March 2013

    Learning to Fly

    Riding with the Kids

    Yesterday’s sunny Sunday was not wasted. An important part of it was spent through me half chasing half teasing to be chased with my son as he attempted to ride his bicycle. In case the gravity of the situation needs clarification, I was trying to help him learn ride a bicycle fitted with training wheels.
    Looking back, I never had a bicycle with training wheels; my parents couldn’t afford getting me a bike till I was in third grade, and even then it was a crappy used ugly orange one that was the model of non-flashiness. On Friday afternoons my father would take me to an empty dead end street (now not so empty) and would run after me, holding the back of the bike, as I attempted take off. Eventually I got there, but given my motor skills are as advanced as a dead bacteria’s my father ended up doing plenty of running.
    He was fit, which is not so much the case with yours truly. Yet enjoy this activity I did, and for a very simple reason: by being able to compare my activities to those I have been associating with my father’s, I felt like a good parent for a change. There are two contributing factors here: first, with my father being the old style reclusive type that leaves everything child related to the mother, there weren’t that many opportunities for us to engage (in the twenty years I lived with my parents they never bothered to try and figure out what this friend of mine, the personal computer, was about). As for me, other than being a role model for my son when it comes to playing video games and letting him play on the iPad I hardly ever engage in proper parental activities; doing some old style running can at least give me the temporary illusion I’m a good parent. Chasing the bicycle is the substitute I am offering to the various forms of ball playing most fathers engage their sons with on a much more regular basis (probably because they like doing it themselves).

    The momentum carried forward and we came up with the idea that a good way to spend the upcoming Easter break without going bankrupt is to ride our bikes together.
    Problem is our bikes, the rest of them, haven’t been touched for more than six years. So we took them out in the afternoon, gave them a clean, and took them to a nearby bicycle shop that always gave us the impression of not being greedy but actually running a place for bike lovers.
    My wife is keen on getting rid of her mountain bike in favor of an Amsterdam style upright riding model. With the shop’s advice we are looking to buy one of those and keep the old mountain bike in storage till they fit my son – at about five years time. They told us to keep them in storage just like we did thus far and bring the bicycle for a service when it’s time for it to see daylight again. The “sell on eBay” option is not as viable: we will receive ~$150 for a bike that costs $750 new and is, in many respects, new.
    The funny thing was the shop’s reaction to my bicycle, which we brought over for a tune up. After all, the only mountain the bike saw during the past few years was made of spider webs.
    I bought my bicycle shortly after arriving to Australia. I was king of the world at the time, so I spent money without thinking much and bought myself a hard core mountain bike. Don’t ask me in what way this bike is better than those costing less than half; that is not a question to ask euphoric people. The bike was meant to be the opening chapter before this new immigrant got himself a proper bike. You know, one that comes with a 600cc or more engine as opposed to this half dead donkey power motor.
    A lot has happened since, including unemployment, low level work compared to my Israeli origins, and a family. On the way there some old dreams have been forgotten. The bicycle shop people we met yesterday couldn’t care less: one by one they came to have a look at my bicycle with looks of total admiration on their faces (did I see drool, too?). Each one pushed the suspension here and there, grabbed a feel, and uttered some “ooh” and “ahh” sounds of pleasure. I still have no idea what the fuss is all about, but it was funny to watch; I guess this would have been what I would look like if someone let me play today with an iPhone 10.
    I’ll be getting my bike back next week, tunes. Given my son’s performance, I strongly suspect its duties would be limited to short stretches of flat beach bike paths for the foreseeable future.

    Sony saving me money

    Sony has been quite effective in its effort to make me dislike the company and its products. There was the matter of their CDs planting rootkit attacks; there was their threat of a major lawsuit against Geohot for the crime of being able to hack his own PS3; and there was the matter of them treating my personal details with contempt and thus allowing hackers to put their hands on them when the PlayStation Network was hacked. Now Sony decided to step it up a notch.
    Last week, Steven O’Donnell - aka Bajo, a presenter on ABC’s Good Game - twitted about the Sony ad below. He said it’s authentic, and went on to ask for the whereabouts of the version with two dicks:


    This ad came at the right time for me. Our second TV’s DVD player has no upscaling and no HDMI; what was once state of the art is now old crap that’s virtually unwatchable to contemporary eyes. Costco came to my rescue, currently running a special on a Sony Blu-ray player, selling it for $80 (JB’s price is $120, Harvey Norman $130).
    We were seriously thinking about it; I was already planning my weekend trip to Costco. After this ad? Forget it. I’d get another player instead, eventually. Oh, and with regards to the recently [sort of] revealed PS4? Incompatibility with the PS3 and lack of Kinect equivalency have been telling me already which way the wind is blowing. With this ad, though, Sony has pretty much established my next console would be an Xbox.

    As if this matter wasn’t interesting enough already, the Twitter insight gained from the Sony ad story allows for even further social insight.
    Immediately following Bajo’s tweet, I twitted my disgust with Sony. Nothing happened. The day later, when we decided not to buy the above mentioned Blu-ray player, I twitted the decision and linked once again to the ad that made the difference. This time the results were different: my tweet was picked up and retweeted by Brendan Molloy, Secretary of the Pirate Party. There on it caught the eye of other activists, some of them of celebrity status with tens of thousands of followers. Thus my tweet had found itself retweeted to an unprecedented audience over several days, reaching potential audiences far in excess of 100,000.
    There are several points to take from this story. First, if it is exposure that I seek, then Twitter has the potential to get me several orders of magnitude more than my blogs. Second, to gain the exposure one needs to attract the attention of a celebrity; not so easily done, but achievable (Cory Doctorow retweeted me, and he has almost 300,000 followers). The question is how to get this celebrity attention, and there the question of ethics pops up; it does seem, however, that popping your tweet at the right time of day to catch your target up with is one way of doing so.
    I would like to clarify that I never twitted with the intention of my tweet being caught by someone famous in order to achieve fame for myself; it is, however, clear that this is a matter that occupies many. Advertisers and politicians, for a start. It is also a matter that exposes some of the lesser appealing aspects of humanity. Then again, while Twitter glory can be relatively quickly acquired, it will not be long lasting without substantial efforts.


    Image: Sony, reproduced here under the understanding copyright law allows analysis and criticism.