Thursday, 29 May 2008

Walk this way

By now I'm a week inside the GCC and I have to say it's fun.
The GCC is this weird challenge thing sponsored by work. You get into a team of seven people from your workplace, you get pedometers for the entire team, you record how many steps you take per day over a period of four months, and this website keeps track of where your team is compared to other teams. It's built on trust, as no one really knows whether you're lying in your daily steps reports, and there are thousands of teams from all over the world so our team doesn't really stand much of a chance. It's basically designed to be an excuse for people to become fitter and adopt better lifestyle habits, as in - walk.
Naturally, I didn't join because I thought this GCC thing would help me regain whatever fitness I might have had once upon a time. I pretty much lost hope there. What I did join for were the goodies you get upon joining, namely a nice and useful backpack, plus the opportunity and excuse to measure the steps I take. You see, although I don't workout anymore, I do walk some fifteen to twenty minutes each way twice a day between the train station at the office, and I do try to make the most of it. Quantifying the effort there would be a nice benchmark.
Indeed, within a week this quantification led to some interesting observations and quite a lot of insight. For a start, I now know that getting from home to the office takes a little less than 2000 steps. I also know that a typical working day would put me at around 8000 steps in total, measured from the minute I get up in the morning to the minute I go to bed.
However, it is the things I didn't really consider before that are even more interesting. For example, it was funny to see how sensitive my daily walking distance is to the time I go to work: I left for work later than usual on the morning after the Champions League final in which the good guys won despite being inferior for most of the match, so I had to park a bit further away from the train station; this ended up materializing in some 800 to 1000 extra steps. An errand to get some bread earned an extra 1000 steps, too. Another interesting observation offered itself the day I serviced my car: that day I broke a record, 12000 steps.
At the top of the interesting observations are the days in which I don't go to work. Over the last weekend, between grocery shopping and going out for lunch, I clocked 6500 steps per weekend day; that's pretty nice given that I didn't have to walk to the train station or anything like it. What's more, on the day I stayed home with a sick Dylan and the furthest I got was to the postbox I scored almost 5000 steps. According to the GCC parameters, that's more than 3 kilometers of walking, all inside my house! Just in case you wanted to quantify the toll that parenting takes. [For the record, by GCC reckoning, 1km = 1550 steps]
In conclusion, I have to say the following: Although I had no aspirations of improving my fitness because of this stupid GCC thing, it is rather nice to see the numbers go up as you walk along. I do find myself walking or taking the stairs just for the sake of a few ticks. As quantum physics would tell you, measurements do make a difference to the state you're in.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Memories of days gone by

As if on a regular fortnightly cycle, Dylan was sick again this week, and yesterday it was my turn to stay with him at home. As, by now, both of us are quite sick leave deprived, my plan was to do as much work as I can during Dylan’s daytime sleeps so I can squeeze half a day worth of work out.
Dylan, however, had a nice little surprise in store for me. By 8:30 he was so tired that he virtually fell asleep on his change table, so I put him to bed despite his protests. He woke up crying but I managed to keep him in bed till 11:45. After lunch and a [glass] bottle he was tired yet again and slept all the way from 13:30 to 17:15. We were actually afraid he wouldn’t sleep at night, but he slept through like a nice little brick. Obviously, he was doing my good old trick, the trick I’m no longer able to perform myself: Dylan was sleeping his sickness off.
We actually kept Dylan home today, too, as he hardly gets to sleep at childcare: they specify him sleeping two half hour to three quarter of an hour sleeps, but these are rather optimistic appraisals – they count the time since putting him in bed rather than the time since he actually falls asleep. Besides, at home his daytime sleeps’ total is more like three to four hours long.
You may find the above statistics boring; I don’t. Dylan’s sleep time is our rejuvenation time: the time to sort the place up, clean up the kitchen, do the errands, eat something, and maybe even get a bit of a rest. Sleep is not only good for Dylan and his developing brain, it’s mighty good for us, too. You learn to cherish sleep with as much zeal a religious person gives away to his/her imaginary friend.
Thus yesterday ended up being quite great, work wise. I was actually able to do an entire working day from home! I was so excited with the realization that this is happening I felt myself a year younger, living at that prehistoric era before Dylan popped out, a time in which being home meant being at a calm, relaxing, place. A time when being at home meant you can do whatever you feel like doing.
Working from home, without the pressure of a constantly demanding baby, is also great. For a start, you don’t need to devote two hours of your life just to get there and back again (not to mention the Connex pleasure ride). You can dress yourself with a tracksuit that looks as attractive as used toilet paper just because it’s the most comfortable dress ever. You have great internet surfing facilities at your disposal, with not a hint of blockage. You can stick a DVD of Cream Live at Albert Hall and enjoy some great music while you work. You have the kitchen cupboard’s chocolate at your disposal. You don’t get nagging calls and emails.
In short, it’s just great. It’s a reminder of what life used to be like at the era when life meant taking care of yourself as opposed to dedicating yourself virtually fully to someone else.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Selling My Soul

I put our collection of plastic baby bottles for sale on eBay tonight. The item description is enclosed below; you can judge how evil I can be for yourselves:

An entire armada of baby bottles is here for sale, together with additional accessories. All together they would take care of all your baby's bottle needs:
-3 large Avent bottles (330ml): Used once or twice, they feature variable flow teats that can be adjusted by twisting.
-5 medium Avent bottles (260ml): The bottles come with medium flow teats. These bottles and their lids have our baby's name written on them with a marker. The markings quickly fade with sterilization.
-4 small Avent bottles (125ml): The bottles come with slow flow teats that are good for newborns.
-Bonus 2 Tommee Tippee large bottles (260ml): Hardly used, these bottles come with slow flow as well as medium flow teats.
-2 Avent sip cup lids: These allow you to turn any Avent bottle into a sip cup.
-2 Avent handles: These allow your baby to hold any Avent bottle by himself/herself.
Note all Avent teats, lids and cups are interchangeable; you can switch them between the different size bottles at will.

The following photo demonstrates an Avent bottle fitted with a sip cup lid and handles next to a normally fitted Avent bottle:

The following photo demonstrates all four types of baby bottles on sale here for size comparison:

Why are we selling the bottles? Please read before you bid:

The reason we are selling our collection of Avent and Tommee Tippee bottles is to do with growing concerns about the safety of bottles made using BPA, a type of plastic. As you can read in an article from the reputable magazine Scientific American here, there is reason to suspect that BPA is interpreted by the body as female hormones. Babies in particular would be susceptible to the effects, which could lead to unnatural effects.
Note that while the harmful effects of BPA are still being contested, what is obvious is that BPA was never proven to be safe.
As a result, we have decided to feed our baby using glass bottles only. We encourage you to do the same. In fact, we don't care if our bottles here do not sell as long as we managed to inform a few parents about what could be the safer option.
We appreciate that in today's world everything is bad for you to one extent or another. If you are considering Avent or Tommee Tippee bottles, our bottles are as good as anyone else's (new or used). We cannot deny that the Avent bottles are extremely user friendly and really made the difference when our baby had colic: all the other bottles we tried made him miserable, but the Avents were a winner.

Conditions of Auction:
1. Please ask all questions before bidding.
2. While I accept PayPal because eBay forces me to, I have to say I would prefer direct deposit. If you want to hear what I think of eBay's greed and the reasons why they force us to use PayPal, please contact me privately or read the submissions I and others have submitted to the ACCC here.
3. Payment within 5 working days, please.
4. I will do my best to post the item on the next business day after the payment has been received.
5. No responsibility will be accepted for loss or damage with Australia Post.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Crawling Terminator

In case you didn't know, we have a Terminator in our midsts. I don't know the model number, but he's pretty lethal, especially if your floor is made of wood:

And here he is again, demonstrating his terminator crawl. Listen carefully and you can hear his joints moving as he sets his mind on a target and moves on towards termination:

Friday, 23 May 2008

Nelson killed the electric car

Earlier this week, leader of the federal opposition Brendan Nelson came up with an idea so bright it deserves some extra polish: What Australians need, according to Nelson, is a 5c per liter cut in their fuel costs to be achieved via tax deductions. Despite opposition from within, the Liberal party has adopted this policy as its own and repetitively flags it, ensuring that the support it receives from thinking Australians plummets to an all time low.
Think about it for a second. Assuming you fill your cars up with 100 liters a week, a 5c discount would save you $5 a week or roughly $250 a year: a nice sum, but nothing that would really change your life around even if your income is on the lower side of things.
Now, if Australian politics comes down to buying a vote for $250, we’re in deep sh*t. For the record, our household buys around 25 liters of petrol a week (that’s 12,000 kilometers per year for you), thus rendering our votes even cheaper at $30 per vote.
Then again, if petrol costs bother you so much, why wait for the government to make a move? Why don’t you just go and buy yourself a car that consumes less petrol? Assuming you’re on the Aussie standard six cylinder north of three liters engined car, you can easily identify cars that are effectively almost as spacious and consume around 25% less gas.
If you look at the current gas price situation with your eyes open you would probably notice that Australia is actually getting the cheaper end of things at the moment. With the Aussie dollar at an all time high, importing gas is relatively cheap; just think what would happen when the dollar goes back down to where it belongs (as in, once interest rates go down from their current peak, the way all of us mortgaged people would like them to go): gas prices could easily eclipse the $2 per liter mark and the value of that 5c discount would be even more negligible.
But no; it is our god given right to go around burning gas at will, and luckily Brendon is there to act as our savior!
I really don’t think Nelson is stupid. I do think, however, that he thinks us stupid, otherwise he wouldn’t have come up with such an incredibly stupid policy. Problem is, with the headlines he’s creating, it does seem like we’re all so very stupid. Stupid enough to deserve him and his party back in the reigns?

I know my opinion does not conform to mainstream attitudes, but I’ll repeat it here anyway. You see, I think the real problem here is not the current purse status of the average Australian but rather what the purse contents is going to be like in the not too distant future and what it is going to be like for our kids. When thinking this way, the 5c difference truly makes no difference.
In my not so humble opinion, taxing on gas should be raised, and raised significantly; the extra income should be used to cure us of our addiction to fossil fuels, using such means as subsidies for the installation of solar panels and subsidies for water tanks so we don’t have to build and power desalination plants.
In my opinion this fossil drug habit needs a cure now, before peak oil and global warming cause too many wars and misery. I’ll put it in a way all Australians can understand: when China runs out of oil and its population is forced to migrate because its cities are flooded, where do you think they’ll go? I’m not being xenophobic; what I’m saying is that if push comes to shove, China won’t ask Australia for permission to access its resources.

Another potentially good use of tax raised funds is to help convince car manufacturers to finally build electric cars.
The papers routinely report how car manufacturers such as GM and Ford are threatening to cut away from their Australian manufacturing plants. Most recently, they have been asking the government to help them financially so they can start manufacturing Aussie hybrid cars, as these might actually sell themselves and help them stay in Australian. The government, on its own part, is tempted by such offers, as the car manufacturing industry is very sexy and as it one of the very last things that are actually still manufactured in Australia.
But should the government pay the car manufacturers up? Well, in my opinion, they shouldn’t. Not before car manufacturers come up with genuine hybrid cars, as in cars that you can recharge by plugging them to the electricity socket in the wall rather than charging them by burning gas. Such a feature would be as easy as adding a socket to the cars, yet the car manufacturers actively avoid it because it would reduce their income and the income of the oil companies they’re in bed with. For the record, owners of hybrid cars can easily customize them for wall plugging, but then the nice manufacturers rebuke their car warranties in response. How lovely of them.
So no, I don’t think car manufacturers deserve to get government subsidies. However, if the choice is between subsidizing them anyway and subsidizing them while forcing them to produce worthy electric cars, I would go with the second option. It’s not ideal, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Call Nelson up and ask him what he thinks of this idea. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get him to answer this one.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Business Time

It's funny to have this follow up on posts dealing with routine and discussing the concept of midlife crisis, but as we say in France - c'est la vie.
While driving back from work and childcare, Triple J played this song on the radio and quickly enough Jo and I were laughing our guts off. The song is called "Business Time" and it's by a New Zealand comic band called Flight of the Conchords. Apparently, they have a TV series currently running and this song is taken from episode 5; we obviously need to give the series a look.
It took me half a second to find the song on YouTube, so enjoy yourselves with the following pretty accurate description of life, the way it really is:

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Midlife Crisis

An interesting article I have read not that long ago makes an interesting claim. While most men in and around their forties go through what is known as a midlife crisis, the article claims some men are exempt. It claims men who are engaged with women significantly younger than they are - as in, women in their twenties - do not show midlife crisis symptoms.
The explanation the article offers for this phenomenon is based on evolutionary psychology. Men going through a midlife crisis are men who are trying to make themselves attractive for a new mate. They're behaving as if they've made the most of their current mate and are on the lookout to find a new one that might help them spread their genes. Those who are already engaged with fertile women have no reason to pursue a similar course of action.
The point the article was trying to make is that men's midlife crisis is a reaction to their partner's recent infertility. The reason why midlife crises are so popular with the general population of men would be quite trivial if the theory is correct: Those that do go through it will have a better chance of leaving more offspring behind, so all you need to do is give it enough generations to profligate, shake the mixture a bit, and you have yourself a population full of midlife crisis victims.

This post really has nothing to do with midlife crises, at least not in the conventional sort of way. It's just that I'm so bored at work lately and that the assignments on my desk are so unattractive that my mind wonders everywhere but work. Lately, my sport has been to try and conjure ideas for a potential career change. Blame Jo for it, really: She was saying that it must be interesting to work as a travel agent, reminding me that I'm actually a qualified travel agent (a residue of my airline days) and how much travel can set fire to my imagination. I was thinking of a post sharing these thoughts with you and suspected such a post would result in certain friends labeling the experience a midlife crisis; hence the above unrelated story.
The problem is that working as a travel agent is not that great an idea when you think about it a tiny bit more. For a start, you'll be spending most of your time dealing with demanding idiots on the lookout for the cheapest deal possible, people such as yours truly. Second, pay will probably suck. And third, you'd have to work weekends, which is a bit of a problem given that childcare doesn't do weekends and given that weekends are the only days all three of us can spend our days together. Back in Israel there was a period in which I was looking to work in travel, and I remember one of the people interviewing me telling me that with my skills I would be an idiot to work as a travel agent; things are different in Australia, though, where my skills are greatly unappreciated. There is no genuine R&D done in Australia, hence my boredom.
There are other things I enjoy doing other than travel. There's photography, there's writing, there's hi fi, and there's messing around with computers, to name the top contenders. However, I really can't see any course of action that is safe enough for me to let go of my current work in order to try a new adventure. Besides, let's be frank: I enjoy photography but I'm not that skilled, especially in post processing, and I lack professional equipment; besides, what will I shoot for a living? Babies at a studio? Weddings? I'd rather puke.
The same goes with writing. In this era of the blog, every schmuck can write (and this blog's proof); I'm not particularly skilled in the art, and other than writing about myself or the movies I watch I lack in subjects that would appeal to the masses.
Hi fi is something I do understand in but can only find a job as a shop salesman, and computing is something I genuinely like but lack the skills to sell myself with. That is, unless having someone to teach you how to use the internet could sell (I should sell my services to my own family!) or unless you're in need of someone to help you with choosing a motherboard or helping you choose the best anti virus. People just won't pay for that.
I think being made redundant would be my only hope of redemption.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Let's call it Routine

By now the question has been raised multiple times by multiple parties: Are you going to see the new Indiana Jones film? And then people are shocked to hear I will wait for the DVD; how can I, the father of a would be Indy, fail to watch the new Indy film the second it comes out?
Well, there are some good reasons why I’m not rushing to get my tickets.
First of all, it is plain obvious the new Indy will suck, probably even more than the third. It is a film made by a committee in order to satisfy everybody, and since that is impossible it would probably fail to satisfy anyone. It took something special, much more than an aroma of non conformism, to come up with a worthy sequel to Raiders; by the third episode that specialty was gone.
I could have added that technically, a film is much better presented at the home theater than the cinemas but that is probably not the case now that we have to keep sound levels down if we want to maintain a sleeping Dylan. What I will say on the presentation quality side of things to those who put special emphasis on the digital cinematic experience is that digital is not necessarily better.
Technicalities aside, what is obvious once you ignore the meaningless hype is that a good film remains just as good a film when you watch it six months later on DVD. Essentially, there is no reason to rush and see the new Indy other than enjoy the general atmosphere of hype. As in, the meaningless general atmosphere of hype, generated primarily so that people will still go to see a film even though it sucks. Let's face it: there are going to be tons of good films made after we die and we'll miss them all, yet we rightly ignore that as we go about living our lives.
Still, none of the above is good enough reason not to go to the cinemas to watch Mr Ford. After all, it’s not like we haven’t been to the cinema before knowing fully well that we are going to watch a bad film (as per the case of the more recent Star Wars).
Ultimately, the real reason for us not going is Dylan’s routine. As I painstakingly explained to a friend yesterday, once you have a baby that goes to sleep at night, you will do everything you can to keep that baby asleep. In our experience, Dylan’s schedule is all about routine, and it is clearly noticeable how one habit here and another habit there can ruin months of effort put in there primarily to ensure we all get a good night sleep. The penalties for deviation are pretty obvious: the entire week following an event where Dylan does wake up in the middle of the night, usually because of some sickness, is f*cked up. You just don’t want to mess with success.
To give you a clear example of the importance of routine I’ll rewind to Friday night. Jo went out for dinner with her mothers group’s friends and I was left to give Dylan his pre-bed evening bottle. Usually, we have the TV on and we all watch ABC news as Dylan drinks, but that night I didn't bother with the TV. Dylan, however, wouldn’t take it: he kept on looking up to the TV in anticipation to see his favorite characters and just wouldn’t drink; I had to turn the TV on to make him drink, after which he happily went to bed.
Thus the option of keeping Dylan awake till late so we can all go to the cinema doesn’t exist. Mind you, as I have reported already, he identifies so much with what he sees in a film that an Indy film would be too much for him to digest anyway; we wouldn’t even dream of taking him the cinema with us even if he came with a mute button and was guaranteed not to make too much noise. And since we don’t have a babysitter (and if we had one we’d rather use it to do something we cannot get six months later on DVD, like go to the theater or indulge in a nice long and quiet dinner), the DVD is our only option.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

True Blue

After exactly six years in Australia, today I can finally declare we have become real Australians. No, it's not like we went through a repeat of our citizenship ceremonies, and no, we haven't all of a sudden started becoming suspicious and intolerant of bloody foreigners. No, today Jo and I visited the Building and Renovation Expo, thus officially involving ourselves in Australia's favorite pastime and most demanding occupation - the messing around with one's home in particular and real estate in general, to levels way beyond buying a home just in order to happily live there. You're not an Australian until you truly tinker with your home or buy yourself an investment property.
The expo itself wasn't the most interesting thing ever, as one might easily deduce. The concept of an exposition is problematic, because the abundance of people makes it hard to investigate an exhibit in depth; you just go about collecting ideas.
It was fun, though: we met up with friends we haven't seen for way too long, for a start; and then there's Dylan: I usually complain how hard it is to look after him but rarely mention just how cute he is. He was a really good boy, and didn't complain for a second despite us taking him to this boring place (although for him it was probably full of stimulation).

The Melbourne Exhibition Centre's parking lot was full, so we parked on a side street instead and had ourselves a bit of a walk. We approached through the Crown Casino's rear, which reminded me of something I first noticed while touring New York as a child: how a glamorous place such as a casino can appear shiny and sparkling from its front, while the back looks neglected and makes you afraid of being mugged.
Then again, in the casino's case it is probably the rear that projects its true image.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Brand Power

Everyone who has been exposed to it will attest to the Asus Eee PC being a breakthrough product. It is, indeed, a great piece of hardware that truly adds a new dimension to the way people can use computers. The question I would therefore like to ask is, should we worship Asus for its incredible product?
Allow me to state three reasons why Asus does not seem worthy of too much of our praise:
1. The new Eee PC series, soon to be released in Australia (the 900) comes in two flavors. One is a Linux machine with 20gb of storage and the other is a Windows XP machine with 12gb. The reason for the different storage capacity seems to have been an attempt to keep both the Linux machine and XP machine at the same price, given that with XP you need to buy a Windows license. Cool. The problem is that in Australia, and so far only in Australia, the Linux machine's recommended price is $50 higher than the XP machine's, with Asus' official excuse being the difference in storage capacity.
2. The Eee PC series will probably never feature a touch screen, one of the more sensible ways for it to progress. The reason for that is to do with a limitation imposed by Microsoft: Microsoft wants to kill Windows XP as soon as possible because people are doing their best to avoid buying XP's replacement, Windows Vista. Microsoft has announced it would stop selling XP soon, with the exception of small computers like the Eee PC, which would be allowed to use it well into 2009 - as long as they do not feature touch screens. Effectively, XP's life is extended by the Eee PC, but that extension is also limiting the progress of Eee PC itself. The main problem here is that it's we, the consumers, that suffer: The Eee PC was intended to be a Linux machine, but because of its success Asus will do its best to increase market share by selling XP versions. Asus' wish to sell more implies that we end up getting less.
3. It appears as though Asus has lied to the public in quoting the energy saving features of some of its new motherboards. You can read more about it in the Bleeding Edge blog here.

The point I'm trying to make is simple. Asus may have done a great thing with its Eee PC, but Asus is, essentially, just another one of these companies that wouldn't shy of nastiness in order to increase its revenues. Needless to say, Asus is in very good company; there is hardly a company out there who is free of such blemishes, the major exceptions being companies that are not there to make a profit.
Indeed, there are a very few companies out there that are worthy of our praise, worthy of us being fans of them. Yet most of us are loyal, to one extent or another, to a select set of brand names we favor; most of us try to say a lot about ourselves through the brans we consume; and most of us gladly advertise our selected brands, as in the case of the Adidas hoodie mentioned in my previous post.
All I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't fall victims to the marketing hype. Those brands are not there to make us better people; they're just out there to make a buck. Let's not be their fools.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Consumer Report

Through not doing anything in particular at work I ended up winning this voucher for $100 worth of Adidas products. It arrived home a day later in a letter containing nothing but the voucher and the addresses of two shops I can redeem the voucher in.
We went to one of them to see what we can get. I don't need anything in particular, but I wouldn't mind some good clothes that would feel good on me and last a while.

The shop was rather weird, or rather not what I'm used to. It was quite big for a shop (as opposed to a department store), but it hardly had any stock in it; instead it had lots of spacious atmosphere, for lack of a better superlative.
The products they did have were ridiculously priced: I was, for example, curious about getting myself a tracksuit that I could wear around the house in winter and also go out in, but the cheapest tracksuit top I could find was $90; I didn't even bother checking the matching pants' prices.
Price, however, wasn't the only odd thing about the clothes they did have at the shop: there was something weird about them all, something I can best define as lack of practicality. The clothes were not designed to fit well and do what clothes are supposed to do, as in keep you nice and warm; they were designed to look fashionable.
After trying a few on and contemplating others I realized what my problem is. Here I was facing clothes whose main aim was to promote the Adidas brand! Check, for example, the hoodie in the photograph: At $90 it's not only stupidly expensive, it's also revolting. Why would I want to wear something with such a huge brand logo on its front? Am I trying to compensate for something? For all I can tell, Adidas should pay me to wear a this portable advertisement for them and not the other way around.

What is Adidas thinking? What makes them think I would buy such a cloth? I suspect their line of thinking is that by buying such a cloth you're proclaiming that you're identifying with the Adidas brand, thus putting yourself in the same club as a multitude of celebrities who get paid to wear Adidas clothes. But do people really think that buying themselves a personality is so easy?
From what I can tell, Adidas is just another nasty company that puts its bottom line ahead of everything; why should I want to associate myself with them in particular?

Eventually I decided that this shop is just not for me. I'm much happier with the $10 tracksuits I can get at Big W. They're not as stylish, but they're practical, sensible, and they don't make me feel like I'm a fool for some company that is basically only interested in helping me get rid of as much of my hard earned cash as they can.
I think what surprised me the most is seeing seemingly ordinary people step in and quickly purchase a shirt or two before disappearing back to the anonymity they came from. I find it amazing that we can both share the same planet, because I just can't get it.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

One worry less

Reading today’s Age, I noticed that one of the ideas we have been deliberating about quite a lot at home seems to have been sorted out for us.
You may remember we were considering installing solar panels on our roof. While the cost is quite prohibitive at north of $10,000 (a typical installation is around $13,500), this is offset a bit by a government rebate of $8000, which – for the record – still does not make the installation of the panels a financially viable investment.
Well, today’s paper says that Peter Garrett, the former singing environmentalist turned poodle, has “announced in the budget that from yesterday only households earning less than $100,000 would qualify for the rebate.” No need to worry about the government’s environmental credentials, though: while it had “delayed the start of a promised $500 million renewable energy fund until 2009-10”, it had also “accelerated spending from a similar fund dedicated to experimental clean-coal research”.
That’s it, then, as far as us toying with the idea of solar panels. Anyone who earns less than $100K wouldn't be bothered with solar panels anyway because they won't be able to afford it, so unless you're a company or a school no one would buy them now.
If anyone was wondering why this blog is called Going Down, there you have it: that is where all of us are heading. No one is really interested in addressing global warming; the powers that be are still very much on business as usual mode, whether it’s the Liberals or Labor who are officially in charge.
I’m seriously contemplating joining the Greens. It’s not like I agree with everything they do and the way they do things, but they’re the closest I am aware of to having an organization that actually does something worthwhile.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Forced upgrade

I have been thinking for a while now about upgrading my internet connection from a 1.5 megabit per second ADSL and into an ADSL2+ connection that, given our house’s distance from the switch, should give us a bit more than 10 megabits per second.
The first inhibiting factor was feasibility. For a long while after the ADSL2+ technology became available, our switch was not ADSL2+ enabled. Blame Telstra, Australia’s effective telecommunications monopoly, if you will; I certainly do. By now, however, both iinet and TPG are offering ADSL2+ facilities in my area.
The second inhibiting factor was cost. At $50 a month for what is, by Australian terms, a generous download quota of 15 gigabytes a month, my ADSL account with Aanet was too price competitive for me to look elsewhere. Unlike the permanently evil Telstra and the recently evil Optus, Aanet do not count uploads in their quote, which is a definite advantage. That, however, does not detract from the sad fact that in Australia you do pay and pay heavily for the amount you download.
The third inhibiting factor was simple laziness. The entire procedure of moving from one ISP to another is a pain, especially when considering that our setup required us to install a central ADSL splitter/filter in order for ADSL2+ to work reliably. In simple terms, barring some major earthquake, I wasn’t about to make the effort and migrate.

The monkey was shocked, eventually.
A couple of weeks ago I’ve received an email from my ISP, Aanet, saying that they cannot avoid raising my internet access charge anymore, and that as of the next billing month I will be charged $55 a month instead of $50. I don’t know if the hike is because of a greedy Telstra charging Aanet more for the use of its infrastructure or whether it’s because of a greedy Aanet. What I did know, thanks to the excellent Whirlpool Broadband Choice website, is that TPG is now offering ADSL2+ at $50 a month for 18 gigabytes (and they also stick to counting downloads only) with no connection fees if you commit to 18 months. The plan is actually for 25 gigs, but as I like to sleep at night I disregard off peak downloads allowances (at least until I get a quieter desktop).
It meant that it would now be cheaper for me to move to an internet access plan that is not only significantly better but is also cheaper. The decision was made: Migration is the way.

As someone who has migrated at least once before, I can state the obvious: Migration is damn hard.
I took my time to read the TPG’s fine print but I still had many questions. The first time I called to ask about migrating from Aanet to TPG I was told that TPG does not recognize Aanet and that I would have to disconnect Aanet first and then connect with TPG. As the dude from Princess Bride would say, “Inconceivable!”
That would mean being off the internet for at least a week, and as someone who has the internet flowing up his veins I’m pretty sure that week would qualify for one of the more miserable weeks in my life (bear in mind that work does not offer me a proper internet replacement, not even on a short term basis). Sure, I can sort a temporary dial up connection, but then again – dial up? In this day and age? Not to mention dial up being one of Linux’ major weaknesses – the two just don’t go together.
Subsequent reading of the material on TPG’s own website changed the perspective. TPG maintains a list of ISP’s from which one can quickly churn to TPG; churning means that the migration from one ISP to another starts an ends with half an hour worth of adjustment settings on the switch's computer; instead of a week’s worth of internet disconnection, you get an hour’s worth. The main bit of news that was that Aanet, being that it starts with “Aa”, heads the list of ISP’s one can churn from.
So I called TPG again to verify I can, indeed, churn. In a lovely demonstration of professionalism, I was told that TPG does not accept churns from Aanet. Blood started boiling, tempers were raising, and I started arguing; a short while afterwards TPG did accept churns from Aanet.
That settled that, then. The next task was to arrange for a central ADSL splitter/filter to be installed on our premises.

I searched the yellow pages to find suppliers that do such work, and in a clear demonstration of the bad state Aussie yellow pages are in I wasn’t really able to find any. Eventually, through googling and such, I stumbled upon a company that will do it and is actually certified to do it. I called to hear this nice saleslady tell me that they charge $90 per visit and then $40 per quarter hour and that the work is expected to take 2 hours. I was shocked, so I asked for clarifications, after which it turned out that it’s actually 4 hours of work and you need to pay an exaggerated fee for the filter itself (you can buy it yourself for $25, but they charge $60 or so).
I called another company. They asked me for $50 per call plus $25 per quarter of an hour plus $40 for the splitter; their work estimate was three quarters of an hour. I booked them in.
The guy came in late, quite late, as befits a handyman worthy of his title. With much bravado he fiddled around and after 15 minutes started making his way out saying everything is in working order. It wasn’t; ADSL was indeed working, but our phones weren’t. So he went back in for half an hour more, sorted things out (as far as I could/can tell), and charged us for half an hour’s worth of work.

Next came the waiting for Telstra to move its butt and update the ADSL codes on our number, effectively churning us from Aanet to TPG. We were told this would take 3 to 5 business days, but in typical fashion it took 6.
After the changeover I had to update a few of my modem settings, and then… And then things went unexpectedly wrong.
My Windows XP environment, which should not have worked due to its previous setup, worked right away. Then again, who wants to use Windows? By now I got so used and so hooked on Ubuntu that using Windows, be it XP or Vista, is one easily avoidable curse. So I tried Ubuntu, only to find that while Skype works, Firefox doesn’t. Neither did my Asus Eee PC work. Was it the curse of the Linux computer?
I really don’t know what it was, but after some fiddling around with the router and such I suddenly noticed that everything is working. Of course, it took a few less hours of sleep till I got to that point, but hey – nothing works with computers unless you’re ready to spend those precious hours of sleep. The strangest thing is that as far as I know, I did make any lasting changes other than cancel my old XP DNS settings. Go figure.

So, now that we have ADSL2+, is the world rosier? Well, it ain’t. Let me explain.
First of all, we don’t really have ADSL2+. I am still using my old ADSL modem which can only go up to top ADSL speeds. This means my downloads are limited to 8 megabits per second as opposed to the expected 12 and my uploads are at 1. Is that a big deal and am I rushing to buy myself a new modem?
No, because while the extra speed definitely makes a difference overall, this difference is not a life changing one. The sad reality is that my internet surfing speed is still limited by the bottleneck of Australia’s international connectivity, mainly to the USA, so while my connection to the switch is now much faster the rest of my connection to the world is just as slow as it always was.
Still, things are nicer. I do wonder what the next major internet connection upgrade is going to be like.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Father's Tongue

Last night, while listening to Dylan’s chatter over the phone, my mother told me that when my brother and I were Dylan’s age we used to constantly ask for objects we wanted by pointing at them and saying “Et Ze”. I found this bit of trivia quite amazing, and not because this Hebrew phrase roughly means “that” in English.
I found it amazing because when Dylan is interested in an object, he tends to point at it with his right hand finger and repetitively say “Tse”. The distance between “Et Ze” and “Tse” is pretty minor and could be attributed to my mother’s obvious prejudice towards the Hebrew language; the thing is, although Dylan is exposed to Hebrew, his exposure is limited to me alone and I never taught him those specific Hebrew words. Nor did I have the opportunity to use these words around home, as the only time I speak Hebrew is with relatives over the phone (bear in mind my Neanderthal family hardly ever uses Skype), and I doubt the word “Ze” would come up often in my conversations. What I’m trying to say is that there’s nothing around Dylan that could have taught him the use of the expression “Tse”.
I know it’s tough to conclude much from one baby, but isn’t it amazing that three babies have associated the same meaning with roughly the same expression, when, it seems, their only common denominator is sharing some of the same genes (50% of Dylan’s genes are an exact copy of mine, and roughly 25% of his genes are shared with my brother)?
I wonder if there is something to this theory and whether our genes do have such a dominant effect on our languages.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Four Seasons

I was wondering whether I should be writing this post for a while now, but I just can't take it anymore.
Season three of the new Battlestar Galactica series was bad. The first two seasons were OK/good, but season three took on from the high end of season two and just stretched us viewers with a soap opera like plot.
The problem is that by now, with episode six of season four freshly behind me, I can say that season four has been taking the series to new lows of mambo jumbo. The question on my mind is, what is it that has got me hooked enough to continue watching Battlestar Galactica after what, by now, is a streak of more than twenty disappointing episodes?
The lesson I take from this is that I should think twice before starting to watch an ongoing TV series. Not everything on TV is Seinfeld good.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Fitness first

It is perhaps one of this world’s least well kept secrets: For the past couple of years, my fitness level keeps on deteriorating just as quickly as my weight keeps on reaching new record highs. There are some good reasons to explain why this is happening to me, but the best among these probably answers to the name of Dylan. Don’t get me the wrong way, I was already as fit as a dead ox when Dylan burst into the scene, it’s just that with Dylan around all hopes of rejuvenation are best classified as delusions. We even had to sell our treadmill as it was competing for space with Dylan himself in his room.
Recently, a silver bullet like solution has appeared on the scene armed with pretensions to address my fitness problems. Called the Wii Fit, it’s a Nintendo Wii game you play while standing on a weight like contraption that is sensitive to weight and weight distribution. Connect it wirelessly to a Nintendo Wii console, and it allows you to play/workout all sorts of exercises ranging from jogging, yoga and aerobics to offering daily tracking of your weight and balancing performance (as in, if you have a big stomach, it would show on your weight balance as your body's center of gravity tries to compensate for the bulge).
Although I never touched a Nintendo Wii joystick/non-chuck/mom-chuck/whatever-you-may-call-them controllers in anger yet, I have to say I have always been fascinated by the Wii and its potential. If it offers half the promise the Nintendo DS does with its touch screen, it should very much be the greatest gaming platform ever. The great thing about Wii Fit in particular is that it turns fitness into a game, just like Brain Training on the DS has turned math and other basic riddles into an entertaining game that manages to make a difference. If workout becomes a game rather than “work”, and you can even do it in without having to go “out” in the cold, then the Wii Fit can truly make a decently fit person out of me yet.
Which is exactly why I am going to use the rest of this post to explain why I will not be getting myself a Wii Fit.
For a start, there’s the issue of cost. The Nintendo Wii console starts at $400, and the Wii Fit costs an extra $150, which means that you need a minimum investment of $550 to start working yourself out in front of the TV. However, as any person should know, buying a games console doesn’t end like that; you need an extra joystick here and an extra later. Add a few more games that you would buy just because you own a Wii, and you’re easily looking at something north of $800. And I won’t even mention the immoral option of chipping your console, which would cost you a warranty and around $100. Normally, costs such as these would not stand between me and a gadget, but with the almighty project of extending our house looming over our bank account I now require a written approval from god (or Richard Dawkins) prior to any money spending. That said, in the long run the Wii Fit would be cheaper than gym membership.
Second, we have the issue of Space, otherwise known as the final front ear. Our living room is already dominated by Dylan’s playpen and his toys; if we want to fit the Wii Fit in and allow enough space around it for exercising we’d need to have an excavation session prior to each exercise (and also find Dylan a safe alternative dwelling, if he happens to be awake).
The above two reasons are nice, but it’s the third one that knocks the Wii out. It’s called Time, and it’s the most elusive resource on our hands at the moment. Namely, assuming we have the Wii Fit deployed and all, when would I use it? Sounds trivial, but it’s not: On a normal day, upon coming home from work, I’m tired, hungry and annoyed enough to be as energetic as a dead battery. I need not worry, though, because it’s just the right time for Dylan’s nightly routine. By the time Dylan is in bed I’m starving, and by the time we’re finished with our own dinner it’s already 21:00 and exercise is the last thing on my mind. Not to mention on my stomach, which by now full and not exactly exercise ready.
It is obvious that the introduction of a Wii into our house would be doomed. Sure, the initial wave of enthusiasm will mean that we will play with it, but after a month or two it would be left there to gather dust. With my fitness.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Sick in the head

By now it has become routine: Dylan catches a cold in childcare, Jo catches it a couple of days later, and soon enough we're all one happily sick family. Thus I ended up taking care of Dylan at home while sick myself, and thus the two of us ended up at the doctor's yesterday.
After the joint appointment we were welcomed at reception by a sign saying they've increased doctors' fees to $62 per appointment in order to compensate for the rising CPI (inflation, in plain Hebrew). I asked whether Medicare have also increased their rebate to compensate for the rising CPI and I got the look reserved for hasslers and was told off with a "not yet". Doesn't it inspire you with confidence to know that a visit to the doctor in one of the world's richest countries will leave you with a $30 out of pocket expense? I'm rushing off to have myself another baby.
Anyway, I actually needed to pay for two appointments, as the receptionist kindly informed me. While reaching out for the calculator near her! Quickl, without thinking twice, I said "$124"; shame on me, though, because I obviously put her in a corner she didn't particularly want to be in.
The point of this post is this: Where have we come to that people cannot multiply 62 by 2 in their heads? I can't boast to be much better - my brain bits in charge of calculations are as rotten as state and federal government - but come on, don't tell me we're already living Asimov's Nine Tomorrows?
I would recommend that receptionist give the Nintendo DS' Brain training a go. It did wonders in removing substantial rust from my head, and it's entertaining too. More about Nintendo in a future post, but for now - think about the sorry state of affairs for Aussie health and education. Obviously, what this country really needs is a billion dollars worth of a car tunnel under the city, the dredging of Port Phillip Bay, and hundreds of millions invested in so called "clean coal" technologies.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

When Dylan Met Wabby

On Sunday evening we visited my brother's place and Dylan got to meet Wabby the dog. It's not like it's the first time they meet, but it's the first time Dylan is aware of this hairy self propelled toy - it made him all excited.
By the time I got my PDA out to film the initial encounter a lot of the enthusiasm went away, but still - it was worth filming. The quality is bad and sound is virtually absent, but then again this video is dedicated to Jo's parents. If there's one Dylan video that would make them proud it's this one.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Sell My Soul?

A couple of weeks have past since we have decided there is enough evidence to lead us to abandon Dylan's BPA rich Avent baby bottles with non BPA ones, as reported here. By now we have received Dylan's new glass bottles from the USA, and I can confidently report that they're crap and that they leak everywhere - but we're still using them and we've stashed all of our Avent bottles away. Yesterday we've also found an a nearby shop that sells glass baby bottles for half the price we got them (it's the postage from the USA that makes the difference), but we're not mourning.
The question at hand at the moment is this: what should we do with our existing stock of Avent bottles? We're talking about a fleet of bottles we've accumulated since Dylan was born.
For the past few years, our default solution for getting rid of stuff we no longer need was to sell it on eBay. However, as Jo was quick to point out to me, selling potentially poisonous bottles is a bit immoral, isn't it?
Well, I don't know, and I was hoping you'd help me out here. My problem is that it's a bit of a gray area. If someone wants to buy Avent bottles, does it matter whether they're buying them from us or from someone else? If anything, if they buy our second hand bottles it means that Avent will make less money overall, so the "good side" scores a point; not to mention the reduced environmental impact of recycling over buying new. On the other hand, I do not want to be the Eichmann I can avoid being, even though I'm pretty sure I do bad things through lack of awareness all the time.
I suspect the natural tendency for most people reading this post would be to argue against me calling the baby bottle manufacturers criminals and argue that this post shows I'm not dissimilar to them. There's a lot of truth in this observation; we are very much alike, the people working for these companies and I, and my point in the past has indeed been that major league crimes are mostly made by people like you and I. Nazi DNA is no different to "rest of us" DNA. However, I think there's a difference between me and them; a significant difference. They knowingly chose to create the problem of potentially hazardous bottles in the first place, which means they could have easily prevented the problem in the first place; I have to find the best compromise for dealing with a problem that's already very much there.

So... What should I do? How should I get rid of the bottles?
The solution I thought of so far as the best compromise is simple: publish the bottles on eBay, but clearly state exactly why the bottles are for sale. If someone still wants to get them, fine; they would have gotten them anyway somewhere else. But if, on the way, I would stop a few people from buying Avent baby bottles, then I can declare myself successful.
Your insight would be greatly appreciated.

King of the Playpen

It's been a long time since we took a Dylan video, and as we can clearly see him evolving every day it was about time to take a new one.
By now you'd be able to see Dylan crawling and being very vocal. It's also interesting to note his looks are significantly different to the way he was just a few months ago: the face that was once very round is now long.
And then there's the demonstration of Dylan's playpen. Between Dylan doing his King Kong "I'm the master of my domain" routine and the cage's bars, one can clearly see how close we are to our fellow apes. Apart from being funny and cute, the video doesn't look much different to a video you would take at the zoo. And those can be funny and cute, too.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Mission: Impossible

Friends from the other side of Melbourne have recently challenged us. As lovers of chocolates and anything sweet, they asked if we were familiar with this place that topped the list of The Age's Top 40 Eats with their vanilla slices (the cake type thing that is known in Israel as Creme Schnitt).
Our team of researchers took the challenge seriously, and this afternoon we visited said place. We didn't really have lunch, so the big slice of vanilla we got was pretty much it. As Jo & I shared it between us, you can say that the six something dollar lunch was as cheap as lunches get... More importantly, though, this was indeed one mighty vanilla slice (as the photo taken with my PDA demonstrates). Most other places have this yellow thing that is full of sugar as their vanilla, but here we had ourselves some very creamy vanilla served with a bit of cream on the side and stuck in between pastry that actually tastes nice and is covered by fine sugar. Sure, this wasn't the healthiest lunch ever, but it was one of the better desserts ever recorded by man (ask Jo if the same applied to women).
Talking about desserts, Jo didn't let me order another slice for dessert. Don't worry, though: this is a definitive case of "I'll be back". The real question is actually whether said friends will bother visiting our side of town for a taste of the promised slice. If they're anything like my Israeli friends coming to visit me in Australia, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Friday, 2 May 2008

I'm so tired

Reading my previous post, I can't help reflecting just how badly sleep deprived I am. I mean, the post's concept and its idea are fine, but the execution... Oy Givald.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Age of Innocence

A recent post on Tsifer's blog (a word of warning: it's in Hebrew) talked about him being amazed that there is hardly any resentment within the ranks of young Israelis towards them being treated as cannon fodder when they're being forced into an army that often sends them to die for causes that only serve the narrow political agendas of their leaders.
It was the second time in a relatively short period in which I became aware of a type of discrimination I wasn't truly aware of before, discrimination by age. For the record, the first time I seriously thought about it was while reading Bertrand Russell's Sceptical Essays.
We're all aware of sexual discrimination, where men tend to ensure women are put to their rightful place. We're all aware of sexual discrimination, where the blacks are the slaves of the whites. We're even aware of class or wealth discrimination, where those with the gold make sure the rules are in their favor. But what we don't tend to notice is discrimination by age, or rather the way in which this world's ruling class is not made of just white males, but rather of white middle aged plus males.
The Israeli example of sending the young to die in unnecessary wars is one example, but one does not need to go that far. In Australia, for example, you can see age discrimination at work in the real estate market: With houses getting more and more expensive, and with the way the Howard government made sure that this price escalation gets worse and worse so that those with the money become even wealthier, we got ourselves into a situation where the older folk own the house they live in plus a few investment properties while the younger dudes have to go out to the middle of nowhere in order to be able to afford a shit McMansion through a mortgage they might repay by the time they die. It takes a lot of time for the prospects of the young to improve, but it's an uphill battle for them until they inherit something and by then they're old. I don't need to look much further than myself: the same amount of money that bought us the small house we're living in now would have bought us a true mansion ten years ago which we could have sold today for a seven digit figure; however, we missed our chance because we're too young.
The previous government didn't settle with housing affordability. The Work Choices legislation, for example, was yet another way in which existing power holders (mostly older folk) could get themselves an even cheaper workforce made of mostly younger dudes who are put in a position where bargaining is virtually impossible.
When I think about it I can come up with many additional examples, but my point is simple: it's just amazing to see how far those with the power go in order to maintain their power. Indeed, power corrupts.