Saturday, 31 January 2009

Nature Is a Harsh Mistress

Let me start this account of Dylan's latest sickness, involving a lengthy stay at the hospital and two visits to the emergency room, by stating two of the insights I took with me (or rather, insights I've had before but which were reinforced with the experience):
First, it is fair to say Dylan would not be here today if it wasn't for science delivering us with modern medicine. Ventolin, antibiotics and drip infusions to the blood are chiefly responsible for sustaining Dylan's life this week. Those, however, would have been worthless if it wasn't for civilization providing Dylan with access to these aids. Say what you will, there are some very good reasons for us to be happy to be living in this day and age and not, say, some 200 years ago when only 1 in 5 babies made it to the age of two; Dylan would have been one of those forgotten four.
Second, anyone suggesting to me there is such a thing as a loving god is risking some severe abuse. Say what you will about me and my wrongdoings, what did Dylan ever do to justify what he's been through? Oh, wait a second, I hear someone at the back saying this was all a trial for us parents; then let me ask you this: what kind of a sick sack of shit would use (or rather abuse) an innocent baby this way? If a person did such a thing we would put them in jail and the tabloids would have themselves a party; as I would hold a god to higher standards than us mortals, I would expect some finer ways for said god to craft its plans. But let's stop the fooling around: anyone with their eyes open would see what we're really dealing with is a harsh reality, a natural rather than a supernatural one, in which every living being has to fight for this world's limited resources.
At this point in time, having subdued all the big killers of this world, the best nature can come up with as far as enemies for humanity are concerned are viruses. Indeed, viruses are a marvel of this living world. And it was a virus that knocked us all down.

In hindsight, it seems like Dylan's cunning virus worked its way in multiple ways.
Probably acquired during Dylan's first two days of the year at childcare, it first triggered a cold that triggered an asthmatic attack. That attack sent us to the hospital the first time around. A night later Dylan was back at home, vomiting for the first time. We thought it was a one off.
The next day Dylan didn't eat much but didn't seem too bad. The following day Dylan vomited three times, in quite a spectacular fashion, never missing an opportunity to have a go at Jo. In the process our sofa became a casualty, leaving us puzzled still as to how we're going to clean it enough to get rid of the puke's lovely smell.
That night Dylan seemed pretty listless and seemed to almost pass out in the bath, so we called an ambulance in. By the time the paramedics arrived Dylan seemed quite cheerful, so they suggested we keep him at home and check after him during the night.
And so we did, only that the night was pretty awful. Dylan spent most of the night crying weakly, and when I got to him he would usually go “Babby, ma-im” (his version of the Hebrew words for father, water). But it's not like he's had much water at all, so by the morning he was pretty listless and we took him to the doctor. Again.
The doctor quickly told us to go to the emergency room. Again. By now Dylan was more like a doll, or a still breathing corpse, depending on how you want to look at it.
We took Dylan to the hospital in our own car and waited in line for the triage nurse to have a look at him and assess his situation. It was quite the surrealistic experience: this long line of people who are obviously not that happy waiting for someone to look at them and say how urgently they require medical attention. Those that are deemed less worthy get the pleasure of waiting in an adjacent waiting room full of not so happy people waiting for their luck.
We've waited for half an hour or so for the triage nurse, and then waited for half an hour or so to be called in to see a doctor. I don't want to think of our fate had we been there to take care of an adult who was not in an immediate life threatening situation; that adult could rot to a very slow death before anyone bothers giving them a look.
Inside they took an x-ray of Dylan's chest and plugged him a drip. He was diagnosed with some form of pneumonia (which turned out to be a mild viral one), dehydration, and gastro. By then I started feeling cold myself, despite the very warm weather: my circumstances reminded me of when I was 14 and went to see Dune in Tel Aviv Cinema with Avi Stinger on a typical stupidly hot day. We were dressed for summer, but the air-con at the cinema was so violent we spent most of the film freezing. This time around that wasn't really the case, though: it was just a sign that through dealing with Dylan's puke I managed to catch his virus. Jo's blocked nose signaled the virus got its way with her, too.
I could feel myself getting sicker by the minute. As we were waiting around (even after admission, what you mostly do at a hospital is wait) I started having these weird dreams I only have when I'm sick: I was playing FIFA, but not the way one would expect; I was actually one of the animated characters on the screen. Then I got to listen to crap music in my head, stuff I would never allow my brain to digest: Spandau Ballet's Only When You Leave. Ouch!
A short while after admission Dylan was sent to the exact same ward he was at a couple of days before, only that now we got an honorary treatment: Because Dylan had a contagious disease, we were treated to our very own room. Mental note: Always report a gastro when checking in to a public hospital.

The video here shows Dylan being taken from the emergency room to his ward while sleeping on me and while I'm lying on a bed being driven by a couple of nurses; it felt so unreal I had to take a video. Wasn't there a TV series that started this way, with a bed navigating through a hospital? I know Family Guy has had a gag on it.
In the private room Dylan and Jo stayed for the next five days as Dylan went through a slow recovery. It's not like he's back to his old self yet; he's far from it. He still has a fever in the late afternoons/nights, and he is so weak he is totally unable to move: no standing up, and definitely no walking. It feels funny to have him at home and not be forced to use all the barricades we have erected to prevent him from doing dangerous stuff.
But at least Dylan seems alive, which wasn't that conclusive an observation earlier. It's really hard for me to analyze the notion, but it's not nice to be in a situation where you can see life going out of your son. It's pretty scary. We never got to a situation where we did not know what to do or did not have any options available to us, so panic was never the case, but I suspect we were not too far from that domain.

With Jo and Dylan at the hospital and me not being able to stay with them due to hospital regulations (and due to being too sick myself), I got to spend the night alone at home.
It was strange: that sense of freedom that I used to crave not that many years ago, the ability to do what I wanted whenever I wanted (usually limited to watching loud movies or listening to loud music at unsocial hours) didn't exist. Even the PS3 wasn't tempting.
A part of it was to do with me not feeling well, weak with diarrhea and a fever, but that only applied some of the time. Another part of it was to do with Melbourne going through its hottest week ever, with temperatures outside reaching 47 degrees and 33 inside our air-con challenged house. With such heat I actually switched all electric components off to prevent them from dying: I was down to the fridge and the old TV I have since 1992, now our bedroom TV, the TV we hadn't even switched on for the last two to three years. But even the heat only applied some of the time.
The mix of the extreme heat and the fever was funny. Despite the intense heat, I would feel cold and wear a tracksuit to a bed armed with a winter grade quilt. To allow for more a more comfortable sleep, I would take a pill which gradually negated my fever but in the process made me feel the heat. So I would undress and chuck the quilt away. Then the pill's effect would run out and the fever would make a return, forcing me to dress up again. Eventually, I decided it was just easier to sleep feeling like shit: I gave the pill up, preferring the miserable yet coolish feeling to the hot reality. But even the fever only applied some of the time.
The reality is that I am now different to the person I was before. Relationships change you, parenting changes you even more: the relative silence we impose on ourselves at nighttime so Dylan can sleep (relative being the key word here, as we still watch movies the proper way) is something I have learnt to live with; not having Dylan around, or worse, having Dylan in the sorry situation that he was in, was much more troubling to me than not being able to play the PS3 loud in the middle of the night.
When you become a parent you sign away some of your life. Personally, I can attest that it seems I am happy with the compromise.

An account such as this would be incomplete without me having a go at private health.
We asked again for our available options, hospital wise, given that we have private health. We were informed private hospitals don't like to take sick babies or hard cases in general. Great! Please remind me, why do we need private hospitals in the first place?
I'll tell you why. We need them so that the upper classes can have their elective surgeries whenever they feel like at the expense of the commoners who have to wait their line at the public facilities. It all comes down to selfishness. It all comes down to the masses being too ignorant of just how they're being abused. The exact same story repeats itself with public vs. private education.
Our public hospital turned out to be resourceful. Upon admission they asked for our private policy number, even though they had no reason to need it. Then they sent this stupidly politely pushy lady to our room to try and make us sign these forms that would mean we will be hospitalized as private patients in the public hospital. There would be no difference to us, even though the lady suggested (consciously lying) that we would be able to keep our private room if we do so; the only real difference is that the hospital would get lots of money from our private health fund. Since the thought of screwing private health funds gives us lots of pleasure (especially given the way they've been screwing with us), we went ahead and cooperated.
I'll say it again: private health is the stupidest thing ever. More than that, it's evil. I'm sure the government will fix things up the day after they actually start doing something on global warming, something other than pushing the coal industry as hard as they can.

Contact with both sides of the family has kept me on my toes throughout the week.
“My” family tends to call us every couple of days, on average, so they knew of our troubles right from the start. Because of the situation, they started calling several times a day. Each one of them. Now, it's not that I'm ungrateful to have a loving/caring family, but having to recite the same status updates to the various family members was a rather annoying affair even if I discount my mother's habit of repeating the same questions again and again. Besides, given the frequency of them calling I often didn't have any updates for them, something they weren't particularly happy to settle with.
When I asked for some leeway with my mother, citing that I was feeling like shit and it was boiling hot, I mostly managed to annoy her. My sister, on the other hand, answered that it's the distance between us that forces them to call so often, an argument about which I can say but one word – bullshit. It's not as if they would be happy to leave us alone were we to live in Tel Aviv! They should really get rid of their “you've left us behind” guilt trip.
The worst, however, was me finding myself in a position where I needed to justify myself before them. Why did you do that? What did you eat? Are you drinking enough? You should drink Sprite with no gases, the doctors here say it's really good if you have diarrhea! They forget that I know enough to sustain myself, including Sprite facts (a lesson I passed on to them from the doctors when I had a much more sever diarrhea in Israel). For the record, doctors here recommend special powders you mix with water that help your body recover on salt, sugar, potassium and their likes. Drinks like Gatorade do a similar job, but they pack to much heat for a sick person and should be drunk at a ratio of 1:4 with water.
Back to family affairs, it seems like as far as my family is concerned I will always be the little child that needs attention and advice. Who cares if that child probably knows more than they do and has obviously managed to go quite far. Nowhere was that made clearer than with me having to defend myself before my brother, who insisted that he should come and relieve Jo for a night at the hospital. How realistic is that proposition, given that he doesn't know Dylan and Dylan doesn't know him? How realistic is it to expect to solve problems with magical guest appearances? If anything, my family's notions of being able to address problems through magical silver bullets indicate that they are the little delusional kids that need looking after.
The state of affairs with “Jo's family” is significantly different. They hardly bother to call us, seeming to time their interactions with the rising of the full moon. To be fair, we are just as guilty in not calling them too often; it comes down to them being too self centered for a culture of frequent and routine updates to establish itself. On the other hand, once they did learn of what was going on, Jo's mother booked a flight to come over and help us. Over the next week, we are going to have Mary Poppins rescue us.
Indeed, rescuing is exactly what we need, as all three of us now need a vacation just as much as Arnie did at the end of T2.

In conclusion, I would like to bestow the most prestigious honor one can receive in the game of Gunship (my much beloved attack helicopter flight simulator from my high school days), the [Congressional] Medal of Honor, to Jo.
For sticking with Dylan at the hospital all hospitalization long, in sickness and in not that great a health, Jo definitely deserves this medal.
She is my hero.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Happy Australia Day Weekend

One of the key differences between science and the various forms of pseudoscience (including the various religions of this world) is that science delivers.
When Dylan had himself an asthma attack and was ambulanced to an emergency room yesterday morning I wasn't feeling particularly worried. I was quite impressed by the professionalism on display by the various people attending to him, including the ambulance crew paramedics and the doctors and nurses at the hospital. They weren't only professional, they were also so stupidly nice to Dylan and to us it felt like we're out with friends; so nice I couldn't avoid noticing one of them looked so much like my friend Levana I kept thinking I was in Israel again, while another - an Everton supporting Brit - was talking in the exact same accent and rhythm as my sister in law.
The second reason for my lack of worrying was, as I said, science's ability to deliver. Dylan was out of breath, but we didn't have to put our faith in some elusive force. We could have prayed in an easterly direction, either to Mecca or Jerusalem; we could have rushed for a confession or cross our fingers. Instead we opted for a small shot of Ventolin that did a very fine job mitigating Dylan's alarming condition, thank you very much.
Science delivers.

The same cannot be said so conclusively about the Australian health system.
We pay good money for a top notch private health insurance scheme, yet when the time came for us to attend to this emergency we had to go to a public hospital. Not that I mind; I'm of the view that the words "private" and "health" should never go together, but given the way things are in Australia and the way the legislation effectively forces you to take private cover I don't really have a choice. Yet when push comes to shove and an emergency beckons, public hospitals are the way to go: private ones do not have emergency rooms, at least not ones that can cater for a variety of specialties as in the case of dealing with babies.
The thing about public hospitals is that, well, they're public. You get to meet common people there. You get to share a room with them! Circumstances don't allow for much privacy in the room, so now I can tell you all about the mother of the baby girl with whom we've shared a room and her troubled relationship with the girl's father. I can also tell you about the obvious negative effect this has on the girl, and how this two to three year old manipulates her now separate parents to get her own way. And I can tell you I had to listen to all of these because with the urgent circumstances that found us at the hospital I didn't have anything to read with me. Never leave the house without a good book, I say!
There are other quirks to public hospitals. Take their desperation for extra cash as an example: They stoop so low you need to pay $10 a day for them to activate the 14" old TVs on top of your hospital bed. They stoop so low your food has to be ordered a day in advance, thus forcing Dylan to eat the food that was ordered for his bed by its previous tenant the day before (and forcing the bed's next tenant to eat tomorrow what we considered best for Dylan). Not to mention the way they rip you off at their parking lot (sending me to comfortably park on a side street).
The worst thing about the experience is the general crappy feeling you get at the hospital, especially with the prospect of staying over for a night with your baby: the facilities are quite crappy, reminding me of how it felt like to stay over at my base for the night during my army service, sleeping on the floor and fighting for some food scraps.
Things shouldn't be this way, you know. Many if not most of us will spend the last days of our lives at a public hospital, so why shouldn't we ensure that our stay there is a pleasant one?
If the entire stupid concept of private health was abolished and all the money pouring into them was directed to public health instead, we would all get better service. For a start, we wouldn't be financing some greedy gits' inflated salaries and we wouldn't be financing private health companies' competitive marketing campaigns. And second, we won't be spending hundreds of millions of government dollars to support what should be a fully private enterprise to begin with.
Who am I kidding? This will never happen, with all the influential private health stakeholders having so much to lose from such a proposition and not with a Labor government led by Kevin-oh-five-percent that is so afraid of innovation.
Till then, my admiration will go to all those who helped us and are continuously laboring to help many others under rough conditions and with low pay. And mostly I will admire Jo, who stayed with Dylan last night at the hospital and took care of Dylan on a night to remember.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Sneezing Fit

America seems to be sneezing a lot lately, at least judging by what we see and hear on the news all the time. We see a guy who by now is an ex-president saying “god bless America” and we see a guy who by now is an American president saying “god bless America”, and they do it so often you want to go over there and hand America a tissue.
Then we have an inauguration ceremony where every fart is analyzed as if it has some cosmic meaning. Obama paused in the middle of taking his oath; what does that symbolize? Is he chickening out? Did his vibrating Blackberry go off in his pocket or was he just happy to see everyone? Is he using a Zune or an iPod at the gym? Did the white guy taking his oath stumble deliberately?
Or rather, am I the only one going crazy here with this stupid coverage?

In retaliation to the above, please allow me to provide you with some Obama news items you haven’t heard of. I can assure you it’s all from credible internal sources:
Before and after his inauguration, Obama took a leak. It also seems he had a dump, although it is yet unclear whether the output was bright, dark or mixed in color.
Now, I am not here to demean Obama; I wish him all the best in repairing this world which we share. I’m only trying to say that Obama is a human being surrounded by human beings, and humans have been known to make lots of mistakes but to also have some great achievements.
In my book, now that all the excitement of the inauguration itself is behind us, what we have is:
  1. We finally managed to get rid of what was probably one of the worst American presidents in history.
  2. We have a black president, which is of high importance to American society’s health. It’s as if the American voter could see through the plot of an upcoming Forrest Gump sequel.
  3. We have a new president that, indeed, promises to act where action is needed.
  4. However, and that’s a big one, that new president will still have to use the same mechanisms as before and he would still have to work in the same environment as before, an environment where capital tends to have the last word. And it is here that we need to remember that Obama “recruited” hundreds of millions of dollars in his election campaign, none of which were given to him because of his pretty face.
The main question, therefore, is not why Obama took a pause in his oath, but rather how will Obama navigate through the existing mine fields and the new ones he brought with him in order to deliver on his promises.
You may rightly claim I am overly cynical, but it’s just that I prefer to reserve my judgment till I see some actions to compliment the talking. I've seen it all in Australia just a year ago: a smooth talking prime minister, albeit not half as good an orator as Obama, was elected to replace a decadent pro Bush old geezer; since then, this new kid on the block mainly continued to talk the talk, but although a definite improvement he hardly walked the walk and in some cases he walked backwards.
Obama is not my president in the sense that I was never entitled to vote for him, but effectively he is my president; he is the closest to being the president of all this planet’s citizens. As such, I wish him all the best in delivering his promises.
No tissues required. Just bring this change you're talking about.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Thank god there probably is no god

Over the last week or so I have been receiving the attached picture as a joke from several friends here in Australia. It's an advertisement for an Israeli beer called Goldstar, which obviously went through some marketing research that determined its target market to be mostly male.
What most people seeing this ad don't realize, apart from Goldstar being a decidedly average beer, is that it's punch line - "thank god you're a man" - is a reference to a Jewish prayer said twice a week where men thank god for not making them women. And yes, I may be taking things out of context here, but the prayer literally says what I said it says. And no matter what Judaism's advocates will tell you about how precious women are in the eye of their religion, their explanations will amount to not much more than a Muslim woman telling you how good wearing her Burqa feels.
As I have stated here in the past, the way religion tends to treat women has been one of the first reasons for me to start developing my sense of agnosticism. Long before my analytical skills were honed enough for me to be able to tell religion doesn't make sense and has absolutely no evidence to support it, I was able to detect the rotten smell coming from its inherent chauvinism.
The thing that surprised me the most about the Goldstar ad is the way people reacted when I told them about the ad's reference to Jewish prayers. Most of them thought I was fooling around and demanded proof (which is easily supplied through the web). Then, however, things either went in the "I have to tell this to..." direction or "wow, I'm converting to Judaism". None thought along the same lines I do, that is - none said that this attitude alone makes Judaism a religion worthy of deletion from society's Recycling Bin.
I find that very worrying.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Park Life

It's been a while since the last time we published a Dylan video, for two main reasons:
1. We actually did take videos but these required editing and that's a pain. For a start, it forces me to use Windows instead of Linux, but the main problem is that it takes ages.
2. As Dylan becomes more aware of the camera he stops acting naturally when he notices one.

Well, today we've spent some time at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Dylan was so excited he didn't try to go for the camera all the time, and we ended up with the following to document the occasion.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Science as a Candle in the Dark

The other day I was sharing my train to work with a bunch of teenagers all wearing black shirts with a YSA label on. I noticed a symbol on their chests: shaped like the crest of a football club, it featured the map of Australia surrounded by orbiting electrons (the way atoms are often portrayed). I grew curious: What are these people?
Curiosity grew even stronger as the train made its way. On one hand, one would expect such a logo to be used by some scientific group or by a company trying to market itself as a company with a scientific orientation. But what science are we talking of here? In front of me was a group of mixed patronage, boys and girls; since when do you get girls involved in science? Besides, these kids seemed to be nice teenagers – as in, they were doing what you would expect teenagers to do but they weren’t doing so in any way that might lead you to want to chuck a shoe in their general direction to hush them up.
On the other hand, I thought I managed to read the word “chapel” on one of the guys’ shirts. That’s it, I thought: it’s just another case of the church trying to appear modern and appeal to the younger generations. That would explain the existence of girls in the group, as well as their general good behaviour; it wouldn’t, however, explain the way they freely hung about in a manner that is atypical to what people growing in the confinement of religion tend to be like.
I got my answer once we all left the train together in the city and I could finally read what the shirts said: YSA stands for Young Scientists of Australia, and the bit I thought said “chapel” actually said “Melbourne Chapter”.
Once at the office I was curious enough to have a look at the YSA’s website (here, or here for the Melbourne Chapter). It seems we have on our hands an organization of enterprising youths that take the matter of discussing and advancing scientific matters into their own hands.
What can I say other than wish them all the best and express my own personal happiness at this small sign that sanity is still there in between all the churches and the pseudo psycho babble? Well, the least I can do is plug them in my blog.
I know I shouldn’t really push baby Dylan where he is not inclined to go, but I’ll put it this way: I’d be more than happy to pay for Dylan’s YSA membership if, once old enough, he decides to take part. Till then, all the best, YSA!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Dressed to Kill

I am not allowed to talk about work going arounds, so instead I will tell you of a fictitious top manager at a fictitious organization who might have recently complained (had he/she existed in the first place) about workers not showing up to work in proper business attire. Some of these fictitious employees dared coming to work wearing jeans, heaven forbid, during the week between Xmess and New Year.
So I thought I will talk about business attire once again and say what I think of it.

I will start by looking at another organization type that insists on a strict dress code: the military.
Now there are some perfectly logical reasons for the military to want to have specific items of clothing, such as the need for camouflage or the need to support its troops while performing some physically demanding tasks. The reality of it, though, is that today’s armies have about ten non combat troops for each fighting soldier, and those ten do not really need any particularly army-ish items of clothing to perform their job. Yet the army insists on them wearing uniforms, too. Why is that?
The reality is, as history indicates, that uniforms do not have much to do with the practicalities of fighting. One only needs to check World War I records to see French troops were still proudly wearing red clothing at its early stages, still unaware of the need for camouflage. The reality is that armies need their uniforms in order to imprint a sense of obedience on their troops and in order to prevent them from asking questions. Armies do not want their soldiers to ask “why” when they are told to go and kill, and armies definitely do not want their soldiers to say “no” when they are told to go and get killed.
I’ll leave it for you to determine whether attributes such as those sought by armies are to be welcomed in a modern day organization.

There is, however, something unique to business clothing. Most notably the suits that managers and would be managers like to wear all the time.
All suits flatter their wearer, and they do so by performing several acts of deception, most notable of which is the broadening of the shoulder line. The effect of a broad shoulder line on us humans is well known: a person with a broad shoulder line is deemed strong and powerful. A business suit is thus a tool for making one an alpha in the eyes of others.
That would explain why most fictitious managers in their fictitious organizations like to wear their suits all the time, rain or shine, during the week or during casual Fridays. As far as they are concerned, they acquire at least a portion of their perceived supremacy as managers through the suit; take the suit away from them and they become mere mortals, no different to the rest of us. Take the suit away from them and they will automatically lose some of their confidence.
I’ll leave it for you to determine if managers that require a suit on in order to manage are worthy of their titles.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Family Ties

I talk about ignorance quite a lot in this blog, but the reality is that I’m pretty ignorant myself.
One thing I consider myself very uncharacteristically ignorant about is Facebook. A popular website using interesting technologies that acts as a gathering point for friends, and I’m ignorant about it? Well, yeah.
There are several reasons why I allow myself to be Facebook ignorant. First, and as I have already said in multiple occasions, I don’t think particularly highly about the functionality the website provides: it has facilities for maintaining photos but they are of low quality; it has facilities enabling me to say what I want to say but these are nothing compared to full blown blogs; etc. You get the point.
Second, I consider Facebook to be a major security hazard. Readers of this blog will know that I have been a victim of identity theft when someone spent $15,000 on my credit card, so I do try to keep my personal details hidden. Sure, my blogs say a lot about me, but I try to minimize the type of information that can provide a would be identity thief the opportunity to easily acquire the type of info they would need to get my money without my consent. Facebook, on the other hand, is a potential identity thief’s bonanza: everything you need to know on one page, no effort required. And then there are the additional Facebook applications that collect all sorts of info on you, such as ones that require your birthday date in order to allow you to play scrabble online. It’s just too risky.
Third, there are problems with Facebook the company. Less recent history demonstrated they were all too happy to sell our information away, and more recent history indicates a kind of twisted politically correct morality: On one hand they don’t have a problem with known criminals flaunting themselves on their pages, but on the other hand they remove breastfeeding photos because of their "obvious" provocative nature. As far as Facebook is concerned, violence is good and sex (even at the slightest level) is bad; and most of all, money rules supreme.
Thus while I do have a presence in Facebook I allow myself to remain ignorant with its ways.

One is virtually guaranteed to pay a price for one’s ignorance, and that was certainly the case with me over the recent holiday period.
Perhaps because of the time of the year, I have received several contacts from friends through Facebook. As I don’t like using the website I put a comment on my page saying that I prefer to be contacted directly through emails, but that was enough for a certain relative to become quite annoyed with me thinking the message personal (at least according to another fairly unreliable relative). At first this made me laugh, but a second look made me notice that the way I have added my comment to my Facebook page definitely made it seem as if I was trying to get rid of that particular certain relative.
Wars have begun this way.
In this particular case, if there ever is going to be a war, it will be one sided. The whole incident makes me laugh: you see, as a passionate advocate for the scientific way I do my best to live its values and promote critical thinking, logical reasoning and an open discussion. I can definitely see how that particular relative could deduct I was being nasty towards them, but what I can’t see is why their anger (if that is indeed the case) has to be kept secret. What is wrong with telling someone you have a problem with them if that is indeed the case? How else is one expected to solve problems?
Comedies have begun this way.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dealing with Obesity

It’s only been a few months of me living exclusively with high definition grade content material, but it’s been enough. Going back seems as attractive as going back to live in Israel; it’s amazing how easily one can get addicted to upscaling and Blu-rays. Yet I realize I’ve been privileged: my parents, living in Israel, still get most if not all of their content through their standard definition analog cable box.
Change does happen, though, even with my parents. A couple of weeks ago my sister informed me my parents bought a new huge flat panel TV. I asked if they’re happy with it, and the reply was that everyone is, other than my mother who doesn’t like the picture and keeps complaining that everyone’s fat. However, everyone else liked it a lot: my brother told my mother she just needs to get used to it, and my sister doesn’t understand what my mother’s problem is; as far as my sister was concerned, she could sit and watch TV all day long with such a great TV as the one my parents bought.
I, however, quickly realized what my mother’s problem was. It’s very simple: My parents’ new TV is a widescreen TV with a ratio of 1.67 of screen width to screen height. However, the analog TV programs they’ve been getting out of their cable box are still not widescreen. That is they’re of a ratio of 1.33 width to height. In order to fit the squarish picture over the entire wider screen, the picture has to be stretched, hence the notion of everyone being fat.
I have explained this to my sister and told her the solution is to use a TV viewing mode that places black bars on the left and right sides of the picture. This preserves the picture’s original proportions at the cost of some unused screen real estate.
My suggestion was dismissed, though. And that really got me annoyed: my mother was onto something here, a genuine problem, yet she was silenced because of the majority’s ignorance. They, the rest of the family, were too fascinated by this new TV to allow themselves to realize its picture was distorted. They, the rest of the family, were raising arguments of authority (e.g., we know better than you because this is a new TV) to silence a genuine observational argument. The power of ignorance!
I didn’t give up. I called my mother, who told me pretty much the same story my sister did: everyone other than her is happy with the new TV, everyone is telling her she’s a fool. I was even more annoyed.
This particular story has a good ending. I told my mother what the problem is and told her exactly how to circumvent it. Next time I called I talked to both my parents, who told me they did what I asked them to do and that the picture they’ve been getting since is nothing short of astonishing. Everyone likes the new TV now.
That’s great. But just how many times do we let ignorance prevail? How many times do we accept arguments from authority, be it from the Pope, the Prime Minster, or the Rabbi? And how many times do we let those arguments cover what is really there?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

First Cut

Back on Friday Dylan has had his very first haircut.
I was of the opinion he should have a clipper haircut like his father (it would work well later on when head lice become an issue), but of course I'm only joking; we just wanted to prevent him from having a mullet.
Actually, Dylan has only had a "trim", but it worked: more than ever, he looks like a little boy now as opposed to a baby.
The haircutter was complimenting his good behavior during the job.

Friday, 9 January 2009

The Office

A couple of days ago I’ve had a new colleague with me at the office: baby Dylan.
Jo had to go to a dentist appointment near work, childcare is closed for their holiday break (as opposed to my holiday break, which would have been better had we had childcare been open), and thus I was appointed as the babysitter for an hour or so in the morning.
And what a strange experience it proved to be.
For a start, I’m not used to being with Dylan but out of the house. Definitely not while dressed for work. Whenever I do go out with Dylan it’s either for a brief excursion around the house when he’s sick or I have Jo with me. I know this problem of mine sounds minute and rather petty, but hey – having someone with you that has no clue of how to take care of himself and totally relies on you is quite the eye opener. Don’t dismiss me until you’ve been in my shoes, please!
Problems started right away. While I gave Dylan his breakfast at our office floor’s kitchen he was busy filling his nappy. That raised a new type of problem: say what you say about our floor’s toilets, they do not contain baby changing facilities! I went to several floors to check my options but found nothing that would be comfortable for Dylan and wouldn’t earn me the curse of my fellow workers. Eventually I decided to go for the nearest mega shopping mall (one of the many Melbourne is “blessed” with); on my way there I met colleagues who told me that there is, actually, a baby changing room in our building and they even told me where it was.
It turned out to be in a security room. So secure that upon realizing I left the baby wipes somewhere during my searching expeditions I found myself locked inside the room and had to bang the door for a rescue to take place. I was rescued quickly enough, though, retrieved the wipes, and changed a rather amused Dylan who was actually quite intrigued by that morning’s rather adventurous nappy change experience.
Wait, there’s more. In an effort to entertain him and pass the time till savior Jo comes to my rescue I let Dylan loose in my cubicle. I have to say he was a very good boy, but I also have to say it made me look at the office differently: for the first time, I was looking at my office from the point of view of someone less than half my height that has an uncanny ability to get himself into problems with stuff that was obviously not designed with 18 months old babies in mind. Luckily, the most interesting items for this 18 months old laid on the very cluttered desk of a colleague and not in some power plug.
Soon enough Jo came to my rescue and Dylan was gone. The office, however, will never be the same. Remember that place where I have an hour by hour calendar and everything happens on time? That place that used to be a haven for law and order had had a baby invading it.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

End of Days

Some good news and bad news on illegal downloading of so called “copyrighted” material over the internet.
To clarify, the sense of irony involved with the previous sentence is due to my opinion over said legislation being mostly a tool for certain companies that have a major influence of US legislation (and thus on its Aussie copycats, too) to milk money out of us all. Have a look at the following video for some creative criticism on copyright legislation:

I’ll start with the bad news. The Australian Government, spearheaded by the much “beloved” Stephen Conroy, is currently testing a system that would put an end to all peer to peer downloads it deems illegal. Essentially, this system will look at the data packets coming your way from your ISP as you surf the internet and compare them to its database of copyrighted material. If such material is identified, you could either end up with your internet disconnected or with a lawsuit from a recording company / studio conglomerate. Essentially, the sun is about to set on the Days of the Downloads.
The good news is that the bigger recording companies have started to get some sense into them, and by March this year several million songs sold legally on iTunes will have their DRM removed. This implies that once you’ve downloaded a song it’s yours to do with as you please, without silly restrictions on copying them or on which device you can use to play them with. Hell, they won’t even be able to decide you just can’t listen to the songs anymore, an experience many people buying songs from Microsoft’s shop have had to endure. It would be nice if those companies also lowered songs’ prices, but at least they came to realize what the vast majority of the public wants.
So, where does all of that leave us? Well, if you’re Australian, you’re in trouble. You may be able to download usable songs, but if you’re interested in video material then you're lost, especially if you’re interested in old or rare stuff that’s not generally available for you to buy or rent. Things are even worse if you’re after new material: say, if you’re interested in the new Battlestar Galactica series, you’d have to wait for Channel 10 to air it and watch it off the air – which means you have to follow commercial TV ever changing by the way too frequent whim time table. Either that or wait for the DVD to come out, because legal downloads of video material in Australia have severely limited offerings.
And what am I going to do about this affair? Well, all I can say at this stage is that Labor can forget about getting my vote or any sort of an up the list preference. You see, I am very worried of where their tyranny of darkness would lead us next; the Dark Ages have started for very similar reasons, and I don’t want to be a part of this history repeating.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Fifty Three Fifty Five

Most financial theories are based on the assumption that the market has all the relevant information before them when it makes a decision. That, however, does not seem to apply in real life, as most people don’t know as much about the market as they should when they go about consuming. Case in point: video games’ sales in Australia.
As it happens we are currently interested in buying a PS3 games called Little Big Planet. It’s a nice innocent game with some very interesting features: the game includes tools allowing players to design their own game worlds; these can be posted on the internet, which allows anyone interested to play them. Effectively, with all the user created content out there, what you end up having is a platform for never ending gaming.
Little Big Planet’s biggest treat, though, is that partner Jo really likes it. Together with its multi player facilities, Little Big Planet could be a hit at our casa. Even baby Dylan likes watching and listening to its cartoon like action!
So off I went to try and buy a copy. You can get it at Aussie shops for as low as $90 but nothing less (for example, EB Games sells it for $110 until you tell them you’ve seen it at JB Hi Fi for $90).
Things improve on eBay. It’s still sold there for around the $90 mark, but if you’re patient enough to wait for the occasional lucky auction you can get it for around $70 (postage included).
The real trick that most people are not aware of is to expand the eBay search to include international sellers. The Sony PS3 console does not have any regional coding issues to worry about, so you can source your games from anywhere on the globe; the only thing you need to concern yourself with is the language, as you can get French/German/Spanish/Japanese (and probably Chinese, too) versions for most games. More importantly, by shopping internationally I was able to circumvent the high tariffs artificially imposed on Aussie video game resellers by the gaming companies.
Once expanding the search this way I was able to easily buy myself a brand new copy of Little Big Planet from the UK for $53.55, postage included. Sure, it could take close to a fortnight for the game to arrive, but it will take a week to arrive from an Aussie seller; the difference in price is worthwhile, as it allows me to buy almost two games for the price of one.
All it takes is awareness: awareness to the state of the market in Australia, awareness to the currently low status of the British Pound, and awareness to the ability to shop internationally with the same ease it takes to shop at your own neighborhood.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Our Water, Our Money

You have to read it to believe it, but both The Age and ABC News reported this yesterday:
Melbourne’s water prices are set to climb up. You’d expect this to be due to the water shortage Melbourne is definitely suffering from, but no: The rise is due to lower consumer consumption forcing the water companies to hike their prices in order to maintain their revenues.
All the while, the Victorian Government is spending millions on their “Target 155” campaign, aimed to educate the population to reduce their individual water consumption to just 155 liters a day. And as their website announces, so far the campaign has been successful.
Yes, you read it right: In order to reward Melbournians for their reduced water consumption they are going to pay more. Who said the system isn’t great?
I have said it before but now we have further evidence to support my claim: The powers that be do not want to address global warming or other environmental issues. Their only concern is maintaining the current status quo. The real question here is why we continue falling for that and why we continue to reelect their representatives; our continued failure there does not indicate a healthy society.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Giving the Fingers

Since almost as far as I remember, I used to chew my fingers. Chewing my fingers has been the one sport in which I have excelled: over the years I have never encountered anyone who even comes close to the professionalism and the dedication with which I have been chewing my fingers.
As all top sports people will tell you, the better remembered athletes are those that knew when to best retire. Perhaps the time has come for me to recover some missing skin on my fingers.
You see, I have long noticed that most of the chewing is stress related, and most of the stress in my life comes from work. Most specifically, from the frustrations that come with work, and more specifically there from the inability to straighten things that are forcefully crooked. It was also noticeable that when I am away from work my fingers tend to recover: it happened during weekends, but it also happened during leave.
Given these observations, I decided to use the momentum created by us going away during August and September for family visits. True, our families are no small pain in the backside, but stress wise they're no competition for work; so when we came back from this month's leave and I had new fingers with me, I decided to make a real effort to keep my fingers that way.
So far, more than three months later, I'm persevering. Sure, my fingers are not perfect; they often get cut. And yes, I do find the stray finger in my mouth from time to time, especially whenever some new senseless decisions are made at the office. And worse, I do find myself developing even scarier new replacement habits to vent the stress. But with all of that, I still have proper looking digits on me now, fingers that will not burn at the touch of seawater and fingers that will not stain the pages of the books I am reading with the occasional smear of blood.
I doubt this will last long; one cannot change more a vice older than thirty just like that. Still, one has to start somewhere. So this one goes to all those attempting to get themselves rid of a bad habit with this new year!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Ambassador

Given the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, virtually everyone I bump into feels obliged to say something to me about it. They either ask for my opinion as their official representative of anything Israeli (as far as they're aware), or they start telling me how bad the Arabs are and that Israel should really bash them.
There is the notable absence of people putting themselves on the Arab side and trying to contest me, probably because most Aussies are too polite to start an argument or because most Aussies are afraid of what the image of the armed Arab represents.
When I these people what my opinions on this conflict are, i.e., that Israel is far from pure and that both sides should seek a brain implant, they're quite surprised; how come the official ambassador of Israel utter such anti Israeli comments?
As I have explained in the past, I'm rather shy when it comes to mentioning my Israeli origins, and the above sort of explains why: When people think of an Israeli they tend to think of someone whose world views are manifested by the policies of the Israeli government and of someone who kicks Arab ass for breakfast. That is not the case with me; I have a lot to say against Israel's policy, I do not consider myself Jewish, and I have nothing against Arabs. I'm a weirdo Israeli: In my opinion, I do a better service to Israel (and to humanity in general, for that matter) through criticizing it rather than take the word of its very selfish leaders for what its worth.
For the record, though, I will state what I think of the current hostilities around Gaza.

To understand the conflict one has to look at its historical roots. Both sides have been wronged and both sides have a good reason to be hostile to one another: The Arabs didn't really like the concept of two states sharing the land which the UN chose to implement back in 1947; as a result they fought to wipe the Jewish side of things out. The Israelis, on their part, decided that their country would be much nicer without that many Arabs around, so they just kicked them out in order to ensure a Jewish majority for their democracy. A lot of those that were kicked out (or their descendants) are now living in very horrific conditions at the Gaza Strip, and one cannot expect them to love Israel as a result.
Life in the Gaza Strip is truly horrific, at a scale most of us (as in, well off Westerners) would fail to even imagine. They're poor, many do not have running water, sewage goes through the streets, people can't go in or out without others' permission (Israel or Egypt), and that's just the beginning. They are prisoners living a jail sentence they did not deserve.
As a result of the poverty in Gaza, most of the population there is not Harvard material; with Hamas providing most of the education, they are pretty ignorant. No wonder a political party such as Hamas, that gets its power through people's raw emotions, can come into power.
Israel is not much better when it comes to leadership. Virtually all potential candidates for Israeli leadership get there because of their promises to "take care" of the Arab threat (a rather sarcastic way for me to say they will use the force). All of them rely on fear to secure their power.
The result is that for both sides, hostility towards the other is the default course of action. The prospect of a leader coming along that would stray from the default is as unlikely as the sun failing to rise tomorrow morning. The prospect of two leaders on both sides simultaneously doing that is even more remote.
Now excuse me for being scientific for a moment, but mathematical models indicate the best course of action when two sides are involved is cooperation. The only way in which the Israeli - Arab conflict could be permanently solved is if both sides stop thinking of the other as their enemy and start thinking of it as their partner. With such an attitude, they can find ways for the Arabs to get something back for being evicted from their land (either through partial return or through financial compensation; after all, most of them are only the descendants of those that were evicted with no sense of belonging there other than the one their parents taught them). Israel, on the other hand, should not have much to fear, security wise, from a partner. And they could all live happily ever after.
What are the chances of that happening any time soon? I'll put it this way, I'm planning on spending the rest of my days in Australia. In peace.