Wednesday, 30 November 2005

They Call Me Mr Grumpy

Lately I'm commonly referred to as Mr Grumpy. You can sort of see why with my car stories, but I can also see why I act the way I act: Unlike others, I have aspirations. Well, here's a story on how false aspirations can lead to additional grumpiness.

After spending three years working with a much loved Pentium 3 700MHz utilizing a CPU eternally stuck at 100%, I finally got an upgrade to a laptop.
First some clarifications:
  • Performance was acceptable until I had to install Office 2003 following some virus attacks.
  • The only reason why my desktop was replaced was in order to use it as a replacement for some server with a dead motherboard. The server used a similarly speced machine, and as P3 700s are rather rare nowadays, mine had to donate parts.
  • The laptop is not a new one, god forbid, but rather a leftover from a colleague who did get a new one. I really didn't have much of a choice: It was the only piece of hardware available for me to take. That said, it's not a bad laptop (or so I thought): A P4 2Ghz with 1GB of RAM can't be that bad.
  • As far is work is concerned, I am not a laptop man. I'll take pen and paper any time, and I made that very clear when laptops were pushed towards me in the past.

I got the laptop on the Friday and immediately started fantasizing surfing the internet on the couch, in bed, in the kitchen, and out in the backyard while eating a recently barbecued steak. Chatting with relatives using Skype in the toilet! The sky's the limit!

Wasting no time towards the fulfillment of this wet dream, I started installing Windows and everything during the weekend.

The bright visions were shuttered come Monday afternoon, when all attempts to make the laptop's "wireless" LED shine in bright orange have failed. Eventual browsing through the documentation have confirmed the inevitable: The f*cking laptop does not have built in wireless!

Now I know I can get wireless cards for about $40. But what I didn't know is that manufacturers still make laptops sans wireless. And what I can't fathom is that there are people who would actually buy them! Let's look at it carefully: Laptops suck compared to desktops in everything - price, performance, capacities - everything. Their one and only advantage is in their mobility. So how can anyone sane give up on the one ingredient that turns a laptop into genuine artifact?

The answer is simple. I won't state it directly, but I will say that my company's stocks have gone down by a third or so over the last month without anyone being able to say why, the board has already announced that redundancies are on the way (an announcement surely aimed at improving morale), and that yesterday we got an email from the CFO saying that gas rebates for travel during work will be reduced from 62c per kilometer to 30c per kilometer in order to "reflect the real costs". Everyone knows that gas prices have gone down lately, of course.

What am I trying to say? That both the laptop's selection and the things going through the organization lately show that this is a company in decline with a board of directors that's in a panic to find creative ways to adjust the bottom line. Yet they still buy expensive laptops instead of much better performing desktops that would do a better job at a third of the price.

To conclude: For now, the laptop is gathering dust at the office.

P.S. The newly purchased laptops don't have built in wireless as well. And don't ask about bags to carry them in. USB 2? You must be kidding.

Disclaimer: I love what I do at work and I would like to keep my job. I have even turned down a much better earning job offer lately. Consider the above as constructive criticism, please.

Happy Birthday, Mr Lawrence

Lest we forget: Happy birthday to the Bar Shiras.
I never knew what Ossnat's one is, I just know it's in Haim's neighborhood, so this is aimed at the two of you. I'm also wondering how much the guilty feelings I have towards Ossnat managed to contribute towards the existence of this entry (especially as the hand made truffles were just so good).
In conclusion: We are looking forward to entertaining you during your upcoming visit.

Relax, Do It

The Canyonero is getting its first service today, and aside of the fact that in 500km I'd be able to put the metal on the pedal and disregard engine life expectancy and fuel economy and see just how far and how quick it would go (before I hit the 60km/h speed limit...), I got yet another opportunity to enjoy one of life's simple pleasures: public transport.
Well, first I need to drop a disclaimer: I would never willingly trade my car for public transport [obviously, after making such a statement, I will move to public transport within a week or two]. Read below for the reasons why.
However, I can't deny that in the two weeks I've had while the crashed Corolla was repaired I enjoyed public transport. There's something about taking the train that's nice, but more than that I just noticed that I arrive at work feeling relaxed and fully capable of yet another invigorating day at the office (yeah, right).
It made me walk a bit, and with the weather in Melbourne being as good as the weather in Melbourne can get, it's a pleasure.
I will, obviously, use this opportunity to share some of my political beliefs, though. As nice as public transport in Melbourne can be, it is also one of Melbourne's weakest links. For a city the size of half of Israel, it just sucks: Frequencies are low, connections are a pain, finding your way from one place to another becomes a quest, and most annoyingly there are many places that are just not served by public transport. The fact I can get from home to work using a bus/train combo is a privilege, in Melbourne's terms.
Jo is using public transport to get to work every day, rain or shine. She can tell you all about its wonders, from late trains to cancelled trains through trains stuck in the rain or trains blocking the railway. Not a week goes by without a mishap, and while I would treat such an event as an adventure (I can even say that I've enjoyed one in my limited public transport career), I can definitely see why the vast majority of Melbournians prefer to get stuck in traffic jams.
What am I trying to say here? In short, that the Victoria government should stop wasting my money on TV ads saying how great Victoria is a year prior to the state elections, and start planning and doing something about transport, education and health.
P.S. New toll roads don't count - transport budgets should be put into better public transport.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

We just came back from another cheap Tuesday night at the movies. This time we saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which really surprised me because despite the good reviews it got (might I even say excellent?) it was still better than what I expected it to be: a fresh, surprising, and sophisticated action-thriller-comedy of a type we haven't seen for a long time. Original, yet it doesn't take itself too seriously.
They say it was written and directed by the guy who wrote the Lethal Weapons (which, by the way, you can purchase until tomorrow on Laserdisc through eBay - don't waste your time, bid now!). You can definitely see that as the film is not that different to the Little Weapons, and it also features an unlikely pairing in the lead roles: Robert Downy Jr who seems to have been able to take part in the film in between jail sessions, and Val Kilmer who does an astonishing job as a gay private detective.
According to Jo, Val Kilmer was interviewed complaining he can't get himself any comic roles, which is why he went for KKBB. The question to ask is, didn't anyone in Hollywood watch Top Secret? I still think of his portrayal of Nick Rivers as one of comedy's peak roles, and I still think his version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" beats the original.
I don't know if KKBB earns much through from big screen viewing, but I can definitely say that you should not be missing it.

Talking about films, last Tuesday we saw Flightplan at the cinema. Not the most original and full of plot holes larger than the mess the USA got to in Iraq, we still liked it: a nice and relatively well done thriller. Guess it's a case of us coming in with low expectations (we actually went to the cinemas to watch KKBB, but that only screened way too late for a school night).
Back to Flightplan: The entire plot takes place on a plane, which is obviously supposed to be the new Tecnomatix supported huge Airbus plane (that plane that will take airlines down once it first crashes). Originally enough, they called the movie's plane the "474".
Back to what I'm really trying to say: The entire film takes place inside the confining plane. You'd think that it won't gain much through the cinema's big screen, but I think the big screen emphasizes the claustrophobic effect the film tries so hard to achieve. And my point is: If you think you want to watch it, don't wait for the DVD.
Jo made another interesting point: The plane, with its row upon row of seated passengers, resembles the cinema. The movie's sound effects, especially those coming through the surrounds, sound a lot like the sound effects you already get for free at the cinema: Some idiots chatting, someone grounding popcorn or some other noisy food with an open mouth, others dragging their feet... You get the point.
Ms Foster does a nice repeat job of her Panic Room role, only she looks older.

Lots of Stuff, Lots of Worries

I've noticed that some of my friends working at Intel have been blocked from receiving the historical email that triggered the creation of this blog. Apparently, Intel's email system blocks emails which use profanity (which, sadly, I tend to use a lot).
Some may feel protected by such a feature, I just think having someone decide the language I should be exposed to is a very Orwellian intrusion of my privacy. So, to all my brothers (and sisters) at Intel and at the People's Front of Judeah, you shall be oppressed no more - the blog is here!
So here it is, in its entirety (originally emailed on 24/11/05):

The experience of buying a new car has so far proved to be quite unique, but not for the reasons one would expect.
Other than minor and nonconstructive comments from people stuck at the age of 12, no one had even one word of criticism about the move we made. This must be the first time in my life I buy an expensive thing without anyone telling me I'm an idiot. There wasn't even one person (my parents included) who said "what an awful waste of money", not even in relation to the fact that it's a well known terrible waste of money to buy a brand new car (I do suspect, though, that certain people have had this in their minds, but given their Aussie politeness - as opposed to Israeli bluntness - they never said a word).
There were no reservations about the choice of car, too. True, certain people (us included) don't like 4wd and/or were amazed by the fact we ended up with one, but overall the comments were along the lines of "good choice" and "Hondas are a damn good buy".
Contrary to what I've been expecting, most of the reactions were along the lines of "ooh la la, what a car", as if by buying this 1.5 tons of metal and plastic we've gone up in the world. Which, of course, amuses me, because as far as I can tell we're still the same people we were before doing the same things we were doing before, only with a bigger mortgage. I do not believe for even one moment that the car makes the man; I do have certain beliefs about people who think this way, but I'll keep those beliefs to myself for fear of offending my audience (in the same way I offend most people when I tell them my views about religion and other mass consumed drugs).
So, in order to set the record right, I will reiterate: We chose the car we chose because we wanted a safe and comfortable car. In comfortable I also mean things like not having to worry much about breakdowns and reliability. The specific choice of a Honda CR-V, a car much bigger than what we want/ed, is mostly due to the limitations of the Australian car market rather than our preferences. If the Toyota Verso was on sale in Australia, or even the Hyundai Matrix, I strongly suspect we would have ended up with one of those instead.

It was the thing that I thought would go well that didn't. When you buy a used car, your major objective is to avoid getting the car that someone else is anxious to get rid off, looking for the better specimen instead. Indeed, the major reason we've opted for a new car was to avoid the hassles of getting something we're not 100% sure of, together with avoiding the trouble of getting rid of our recently crashed Corolla.
I was therefore surprised with the shit (excuse language, but I'm afraid language would be a repeating motif from now to the end of this email) service we got from both the Honda dealership and Honda themselves. Given Honda's reputation, one expects more. Allow me to elaborate and let off steam...
1. When we bought the car, Honda sold us this paint protection thing with certain promises about its virtues. When we got the car we also got this protection's documentation, only to learn that it's totally different to what they sold us. I complained, they promised compensation, but I still think they're basically criminals selling products unethically.
2. The car was delivered with scratches all over the inside of the back door due to the dealership's negligence. Again, they promised, but I still think they're a bunch of low lives. As professional as my a$$.
3. Page 9 of the car's service book says it's the owner's responsibility to activate the warranty on the car within 5 days of receiving it. I called Honda on the 5th day and they didn't know what the f*ck I was talking about. I quoted from their book; they replied saying I was the first buyer to call them for that. As I said, very professional.
4. We wanted parking sensors installed on the car, to circumvent my reversing skills (which have already crashed two cars, one of which wasn't mine). Honda asked for $950, but we found the company that does it for Honda (through a Honda's advertisement - I'm really proud of myself!) who did it for $300. Anyway, when the guy installed it he showed me the work the dealership had done installing a tow bar on our new car. I'll just refer to it as less than inspiring, with pieces of plastic and scraps of metal left lying around, and electric wiring left in a way that cries out for electrical problems.
There are a few additional complaints here and there, but you get the picture: One buys a new car so one wouldn't have to worry, but one still gets fucked. The thing that I find annoying is how all the fighting around completely robbed away all sense of happiness and achievement, as unjustified as they are, from the act of buying the [new] car. [By "sense of achievement" I am referring to the culmination of the "car selection project", on which I have been working since I first started reading Auto magazine at the age of 17]
At the moment I'm pretty much enjoying the fun of giving Honda (and the Brighton Honda dealership) a bad name. At least it seems we have a nice car.

P.S. For the statistically inclined:
-The CR-V costs 10% less to insure than the old Corolla, because the insurance company deems the car safer.
-So far, after 700km, the Canyonero does 9.5km on a one liter drink of dead dinosaur juice, compared to 11km for the Corolla. We did go through more than our usual amount of outer city travel, though, but on the other hand the car is still being broken in.
-The car takes more gas if you drive against the wind. Obviously, I'm joking with this one, but frighteningly enough this does sound like something I'd say.
-Feature wise, the car comes with much more than I'd normally pay for. While I already fell in love with cruise control, the only thing missing as far as I'm concerned is side/curtain airbags. For our budget, these are available only in the Subaru Forester, gaining it another half a star in the crash tests.

Monday, 28 November 2005

V8 Supercars in Phillip Island

Yesterday (Sunday) we went to see the V8 Supercars race in Phillip Island together with the Myrons. Or rather the Canyonero took us there with its cruise control.
First thing's first, "V8 Supercars" is the name of Australia's touring car racing competition, which is basically a contents between GM and Ford. When we got to the circuit we were amazed to see that aside of a Volvo parked at the side, all the cars at the parking lot were either GM or Ford.
The story of our approach was rather funny. When we got near the circuit we were greeted with signs saying "free parking only". But we wanted to pay for the parking so much!
Then we got to the ticket booth, and they asked for $50 per person. Thing is, if we bought tickets in advance over the internet we would have paid $45 a ticket. You know me and my Israeli blood: I wouldn't mind paying $60, but the fact that I know they're ripping you off at the drive through gets on my nerves.
But still, we tried to pay. First thing they said was "we don't take Amex". I gave them my Visa, and then they said their generator's down and they can't charge the card. They went to check on the generator, it went on and off a couple of times, and you can see in their eyes that they were just about to let us in and count on us being Australian that we'd pay them on our way out (which we probably would have done).
But then we became hesitant. Phillip Island is famous for its wind; the circuit is right on the beach, and on that beach you get prime time samples of fresh air straight from Antartica. It's cool even on a warm day, and Jo and I were well prepared. The Myrons, however, didn't seem to be as aware of the island's deception, and we could see by their eyes that they weren't too keen on spending the next six hours or so in the wind (you had to see it in their eyes, because being Australian, they would never tell you they're uncomfortable).
And so we didn't go in. We didn't even manage to see one true V8 circling the track; we just went to Cowes, on the other side of the island, where we had a nice and partly cloudy (but mostly sunny) picnic on the beach, in full view of an Indian family playing cricket to our entertainment (Jo asked me to add that they hit us with the ball a couple of times; she obviously has no experience being hit by Matkot on Tel Aviv's beach). And as usual lately, I ate like a pig.
And then we drove back home.

Intriguing plot aside, I noticed two things:
  • We haven't been to Phillip Island for more than two years now, and I forgot of spectacular it is. Very New Zealand like. We should definitely go there more.
  • As weird as it may seem, cruise control seems to make me more tired when I drive. Usually, driving wakes me up, and I'm fully able to concentrate for long periods without feeling tired or anything. However, with cruise control on, driving is so easy that I find it hard to keep as much attention on the road as the road deserves. Very weird.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Reply All - Reprise

Yesterday I've complained against some of my so called friends doing a "reply all" on me, sending what I consider to be irrelevant spam to other friends.
Well, not any more; instead of pushing the stuff that's on my mind at my friends, I'll just blog it all here and tell them to have a look at the website and pull it all out.
If they want to leave feedback, they can go right ahead; at least if wouldn't pester innocent civilians.
And yes, welcome to my new blog!