Saturday, 31 August 2013

The State of Our Democracy

So now we know: Australia is taking an active part in the whole NSA snooping affair, actively snooping on Internet traffic going in and out of Australia. To make it clear, unless you fail to understand the implications: everything you do on the Internet that is not encrypted passes under the watchful eye of your government, and even the encrypted stuff gets noted (and there's a lot to be learned even without cracking the encryption; besides, we know the NSA keeps encrypted stuff, potentially indefinitely). In effect, we are living in a scenario equivalent to someone listening in on all of our phone calls, reading all of our letters, and then some.
Lucky for us, we have elections coming up in a week’s time. But do you hear anything about this affair in what passes for public debate? Sure, the usual suspects, Pirate Party Australia and The Greens are doing their best to make a fuss. Indeed, both were ranked highest for their privacy policy by a non politically associated privacy group; the rest of the parties fell far behind. But seriously – did you hear anything about it all? The silence is deafening.
Some great democracy you have going here, Oceania. Big Brother is proud of you.

Image:  I have no idea who owns the rights to the above image. However, I do know that George Orwell's 1984 is in the public domain, at least in Australia. Under Australian copyright laws, copyright in literary works of authors, who died before 1955, has expired.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

You can vote both below and above the line!


If you’re reading this you’re probably aware of the problem: you want to vote below the line for the senate, you really do. But with around 100 candidates to pick from, being able to rank them all up in your preferred order is a tall ask. Especially in the confines and pressure of the polling booth.
Most voters solve the problem by resorting to vote above the line: one “1” and that’s it. However, that simplicity comes at a price: by voting above the line you lose your ability to shape your preference, resorting instead to your party of choice’s [often cunning] preference deals.
There is, however, a better solution. A solution whose only problem is people’s lack of familiarity with. You can vote both below and above the line, and your vote would count!
It works as follows:
  • If you vote both below and above the line, your below the line vote is the one that counts.
  • If, however, your below the line vote is found to have too many errors (some tolerance is allowed), then your above the line vote would count instead.
  • Either way, your vote would count.

Brendan Molloy, Pirate Party Australia senate candidate for NSW and a specialist when it comes to relentlessly asking government authorities questions, verified this by asking the AEC to confirm the above understanding is correct. Following is the reply he received:

Dear Mr Molloy

On the understanding that the following is not to be regarded as legal
advice, the AEC provides the following views on your questions.

Q1 If a person chooses to vote below the line, and fills out all boxes
below the line accurately, but also places a 1 above the line, that the
below line will be counted and the above the line ignored. Is this
understanding correct?

A1 If the registered political party or Senate Group has lodged a group
voting ticket under s 211 of the Act, then the answer will be Yes. If
the person has marked his or her ballot paper above the line in
accordance with s 239(2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the
Act) but has also marked his or her ballot paper below the line in
accordance with s 239(1) of the Act, then the person’s [sic] ballot paper
shall be deemed not to have been marked in accordance with s 239(2), by
virtue of s 269(2) of the Act. In other words, the person’s below the
line vote will be counted.

Q2 If a voter has filled above the line formally, but has informally
completed below the line, the formal above the line vote will be
counted. Is this correct?

A2 If the registered political party or Senate Group has lodged a group
voting ticket under s 211 of the Act, then the answer will be Yes. If
the person has marked his or her ballot paper in a way that would be
regarded as informal under s 268(1)(b) of the Act, e.g. because it does
not indicate the voter’s first preference for 1 candidate and the order
of his or her preference for all the remaining candidates, but has
marked his or her ballot paper above the line in accordance with s
239(2) of the Act, then s 269(1) of the Act operates to save the
person’s ballot paper. That is to say, the person’s above the line vote
will be counted.

I hope this helps.

So there you go. You have no excuse for laziness anymore!
Vote well.

Image by tbn67, Creative Commons license

Monday, 26 August 2013

The School Show

I saw me two disturbing things in one morning.
The first involved a guy peeing in the urinal while messaging on his iPhone with his other hand. Check out the coordination there! Surely the guy's a drummer. Then again, I wasn’t that impressed with him washing only one hand while continuing to mess with his phone on the other.
The second sight took place at school. My son’s Prep class was gathering inside as parents dropped their kids off, with the kids sitting at the far end of the room while us parents stood by the door. Then one of the girls, I don’t know who, stood up with her back to me and did a show to the boys in front of her: she jiggled her bottom from side to side while slowly lifting up her shirt. Luckily, she has another shirt underneath, but there were no questions in my head as to what I was witnessing: the girl was acting out her version of a striptease show.
The boys were laughing/smiling, obviously unaware there was more to this act than your usual childish fooling around. To me it was obvious that girl was acting out something she saw elsewhere, probably at home.
Now, I’m not one of those puritans whose purpose in telling this story is putting everyone involved in the porn industry at the stake; quite the contrary. To me this was a signal for just how much kids absorb from their surrounding and just how careful parents need to be around their kids. And I’m making this statement with myself in mind, because I’m quite liberal with what I allow my son to be exposed to.
Clearly, sex education and openness on matters of sex have never been as important as they are nowadays. That, in my opinion, is the only way to address all the stuff our kids are inevitably exposed to. Because knowledge beats ignorance.

Image by philippe leroyer, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Reading Gestures

Reading Glasses

The process of getting to use reading glasses seems to be a gradual one, in the sense that it takes the eyes/brain time to get used to them. On the other hand, getting used to them means that not using them feels different to the way it felt before I started using them. Are you with me so far?
I thus notice I’m starting to develop certain reflexes I tend[ed] to associate with old age. Such as, holding a piece of paper further away on an outstretched arm when I want to read but don't have the glasses on me.
Great fun, getting old. On the positive side: the whole purpose of reading glasses is to keep myself able to read. I read, therefore I am.

Image by Walt Stoneburner, Creative Commons license

Friday, 23 August 2013

Scary Discovery

The other day I finally succumbed and registered to Apple's Play Center on my iPad, in order to be able to play a multilayer game of Magic 2014 (the current version of Magic: The Gathering). Immediately upon registering I noted Apple provided me with a list of seventy or so potential candidates for "friends" I might add to the service. And it was scary!
The names on the list were almost all familiar names. They were people that I actually know, but with a twist: they were friends of friends more than people I would actually call friends. The question is, how does Apple know of me knowing them? That's a tough one, because:
1. I never uploaded my iPhone's contacts to Apple.
2. None of them were in my iPhone's contacts.
3. I do not have a Facebook account.
4. None of them are Twitter contacts.
So, how does Apple know that these are people I am familiar with? I tried searching for answers on Apple's algorithm there but could only find others asking the same questions I did; no answers were provided by anyone.
Clearly, Apple has a way of data mining. It probably cross references the contact lists of people who do upload their data to its servers; it probably digs up other lists, too. Somewhere, someone in these lists had me as a contact. From then on, the path was paved.
The lesson is clear: be careful what you put online, because someone out there will add one to one and come up with wonderful revelations concerning you. But more importantly, this is a warning shot: if Apple knows so much about me, then what does Google know? After all, I and most other people volunteer tons of information to Google. Oh, and what can we do about friends who volunteer much more information about us to these services than we would like?
Clearly, there is a need to strenghten privacy regulations and enforcement around online services. Not that this will happen in our lifetime, given that lobbying power of Facebook, Google & Co.

Image by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta, Creative Commons license

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Election Hopes

With the two big parties fighting it out on who can be crueller towards fellow human beings and who can provide the most benefits to voter back pockets at the expense of crumbling infrastructure and services, I find myself rather switched off for this upcoming elections. Sure, I would prefer Labor over the Liberals, but it’s purely a matter of opting for the lesser evil. And make no mistakes about it, between their refugee policies and their civil liberties policies, as put under the looking glass by Edward Snowden, they are both evil.
If that is the case with what is alleged to be the election’s main event, the question I found myself asking is what are my aspirations out of these upcoming elections. As in, what would I consider to be worthy achievements?
The answers are pretty straight forward. I would be very happy if the following take place:
  1. The Pirate Party manages to get a member voted for the senate. Off the running candidates, the ones I cheer for the most are Brendan Molloy (NSW) and Melanie Thomas (QLD).
  2. Leslie Cannold, running under the Wikileaks Party, gets into the senate. Because, as I said here before, from atheist conventions to book authoring, Cannold is the Australian intellectual I respect the most. And she even knows me!
  3. Scott Ludlam, Greens member for WA senate, gets re-elected. Ludlam has been serving as the key champion for civil liberties in the current senate, and the sole champion of online liberties. You can therefore very rightfully argue he is “my” champion.
Sadly, out of the above I can only label the third a realistic option. Yet even Ludlam’s chances have been severely hampered by nasty Liberal preferences putting Greens last.
Other than the above three key wins, I would be very happy to see more Greens elected to the lower house, although I suspect the chances are slim. I would very much like to see Greens elected for senate in all states, and I wouldn’t mind if some of the other parties that stand for something good – The Secular Party or The Democrats, to name but two – get their senate seats.

Image: Melanie Thomas

Between writing this and actually posting I learned Leslie Cannold resigned from senate candidacy. Her reasons (see here) are directly to do with the issue I have pointed at before when specifying why I prefer Pirate Party Australia over The Wikileaks Party: the former does what it preaches and works in absolute transparency, the latter doesn’t.
Case in point was the parties’ preference deals, the issue that got to Cannold. The Pirate Party ran a fully transparent voting system, allowing its members to rank preferences and vote for specific preference deals (with the likes of The Greens and The Democrats). The final result, as expected, puts the likeminded parties at the top, and the religious + far right at the very bottom. The same did not happen at The Wikileaks Party.
I can only applaud Leslie Cannold’s integrity for standing up, again, to the values she believes in. Very atypical in the world of politics, I’m sure you’d agree.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Look at this picture, what do you see?

Any decent human being would see two Russian athletes using the opportunity offered to them by the stage they were on to protest against Russia's recent anti gay legislation. I, for one, applaud their brave and just act. We need more of them!
Others, however, will regard the protestors to bring shame to their country and family. A blight on Russia’s otherwise impeccable record.
Which reminds me of this certain person who was condemned to bring shame upon his country and family by virtue of him daring to criticize Israel. It wasn’t his arguments that made those certain people see him as a blight on humanity, but rather the mere fact he dared to argue in the first place.
What do I think of those people that are all too eager to point at their rising levels of shame? Relatives or not, they are bloody idiots.

I have no idea who owns the copyrights to this now viral photo. If it happens to be you, and you would like me to remove the photo, please let me know.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Big Brother

Someone should sue for a copyright infringement on account of blatant plagiarism.
One of the more interesting, and in my opinion important, pieces of news from the past week has been Bradley Manning's apology speech at the closure of his court case's defense. You can read his plea here.
Now, what does that have to do with copyright infringements? Let me open your eyes. Manning's speech reads remarkably like the ending to George Orwell's 1984, the bit where our hero Winston Smith surrenders to Big Brother through a similarly sounding apology. I don't know if Manning aimed for his words to remind us of 1984, but they surely do.
There will be no copyright infringement in this case, on account of the fact 1984 is no longer under copyright protection in many countries around the world. Indeed, you can read the book online here.
No, the more interesting part of this affair is to do with how a country such as the USA managed to bend a person so badly so as to make a Winston Smith out of him*. I do not blame Manning even for a second for apologizing the way he did; I strongly suspect the guy has been living in segregation for years, pumped with "information" telling him he's an unloved traitor. He's been through hell, and it's highly likely he's completely oblivious to the fact many consider him a hero, yours truly included.
Which leaves me wondering if the USA and its people are realizing the role they are portraying through their crusade against Manning. I don't know about them, but I would surely hate to be the real life portrayer of Big Brother.

*I am well aware of Manning sexual identification complications. I chose to refer to him as a male simply because it's easier for me to do so.

Friday, 16 August 2013

What’s been bothering us these days?

Broken tile

Well, aside from severe health issues with family members overseas (which, in general, I avoid discussing here so as not to infringe on others’ privacy)?
The most time consuming, stressful affairs we have been dealing with lately are to do with our house. It’s been almost a year now since its extension was concluded, but the story is far from over for us. Since moving back in we found ourselves deep in all sorts of issues we would have preferred not to find ourselves in: a roof that lets water in, a water heater that’s prone to breaking down and is way too noisy when it’s working, and a door lock that keeps us safely out of our house. All these issues have been going on for a while now.
I won’t go any further as there is a fair chance we would find ourselves at a position where we decide “the hell with it, let’s go to court” (VCAT, in our case). Till then we’re wasting our quality time writing letters and feeling stressed.

Image by cynicalview, Creative Commons license

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Best PC for Me

A month ago I told you of four gadgets I covet. A month later, with two down, and one only expected to be released at this year’s last quarter, I find myself devoting gray matter to the most expensive of the lot: a gaming PC. As in, which one should we go with?
Options generally start with a $1500 price tag. That could fetch a gaming laptop that could be quite nice, or a relatively basic gaming desktop (albeit one that would be much stronger than the laptop). I would hesitate to spend more on a laptop, given that a laptop’s limited capacity would mean that even a top notch model would not be able to deal with the latest crop of games in two years time. On the other hand, investing something like $2500 on a desktop would return a monster of a gaming PC.
Further complicating this exercise in optimizing our gaming money’s yield are the following considerations:
  1. Gaming PCs, by their very nature, run Windows. Me, I don’t like Windows at all, particularly Windows 8 (it’s horrible!). I therefore doubt I would choose to use the gaming PC for anything other than gaming, preferring Mac/Linux instead for the bulk of my computing needs.
  2. Whatever gaming PC we buy will also be used for work, where Windows based applications are still dominant.
  3. Due to ergonomic related reasoning, the household would like to use a proper monitor on its computers instead of hunching over laptops.
  4. With my eyes being a rather sensitive affair lately, I would take no less than an IPS monitor.
  5. We would prefer a portable solution that would allow us to work wherever we like around the house. In winter, for example, it’s nice to sit by the big window as opposed to our home office.

This mess of requirements seemed quite frustrating until it occurred to me: What is the best personal computer out there? The answer, by my book, is an iMac. Why, then, shouldn’t I use an iMac to play PC games?
It is entirely possible. In fact, many would argue the high quality Mac is the best Windows PC ever: all it takes is installing Windows in dual boot mode via Apple’s free Bootcamp. Apple supplies all the necessary drivers. The end result would not differ much from the Linux machines I have been using, most of which dual boot with Windows.
The advantages of using a Mac for PC gaming are obvious. First and foremost, I would have a good operating system (my favorite, actually), OS X, to work with most of the time. That would also work well with the Apple TV I already have, making our home entertainment better in the process. Then there’s the monitor: the iMac’s is probably one of the best computer monitors one can put one’s hands on, period. And the whole thing comes in a very neat package that won’t overtake our office and also allow us to move it around relatively easily if we feel like it.
I’m excited. Clearly, I have found my winner.
But then I think of the drawbacks.
First, for something that is intended to be a powerhouse of PC gaming, the iMac is relatively incapable. At its top specs it is no match for a similarly priced PC; it’s more like a fine $1500-$2000 desktop with a superb monitor thrown on top.
Which brings me to the painful matter of cost. Painful? Torturous. Essentially, to get anything worthy of gaming out of an iMac, one has to start off with the top model 27”. The one that sells for $2000+. Spec’ing it for gaming, as in replacing the default CPU with a higher grade i7 CPU, the graphics card to a 2GB Nvidia and boosting RAM to 16GB, increases the cost to almost $3000. And that’s without replacing the iMac’s lame default disk drive with something that has some solid state capacity, a quality I doubt I’d be able to live without on my main computer. That’s not it (yet): A Windows 8 license would cost $108 extra.
Overall, we are looking at $3000 plus, potentially much plus. True, we will have a beautiful computer on our hands, but it won’t be a cutting edge PC. I also do not see the point of getting one now, given the iMacs line-up was not updated since December 2012 and still carries Ivy Bridge architecture instead of the current Haswell. [The rumor mill says better monitors are due, too.]

The bottom line is that I can’t afford such an iMac. It’s not a matter of complaining but then opening my wallet, it’s past that. However, now that I know what I’d like best for playing PC games on, I doubt I’d be able to compromise on anything else.
I therefore suspect two things will happen to my PC gaming aspirations: First, I will continue being a console boy, at least in the near future, while eyeing the new Xbone and the PS4 to see which is the lesser evil. Second, when, eventually, we will need to buy a PC for work, we will probably get something that can manage gaming to one extent or another.
Either that or rob a bank.

Image copyrights: Apple

Monday, 12 August 2013

Pirate Party Whirls

Pirate Party accessories

The circus is full on for next month’s federal elections. Me, I divide the charade in two: at the level that grabs most people’s attention there is the conflict between Liberals and Labor, Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd.  With the two seeming happy to fiercely contend to see who will do Australia worse, I am rather indifferent. The polls, it seems, already credit Abbott with victory on both accounts.
I am therefore much more interested in that second level, the level where us sane people stand a chance of putting enough presence into this heavily two party tilted affair so as to block these vile two from doing too much damage. And who knows, maybe we’d be able to do some good. In other words, what interests me the most about these elections are the odds some good people working for the public good actually getting themselves elected to Senate (aka upper house) this time around. As an example, I am talking about the likes of WA Greens’ Scott Ludlam, pretty much the sole fighter for civil liberties in a parliament otherwise dominated by business and USA agendas.
These elections also happen to be the first federal elections where yours truly happens to be a member of a political party, Pirate Party Australia. Obviously, I thought it pretty clear they are going to get my vote.
Then a new contender stepped into the scene, The Wikileaks Party. My first “why not” was quickly followed by a “who cares, really”; but then the party unveiled its candidates and thus shuffled my voting strategy. Announcing its field of Victorian contenders for senate seats, they put Julian Assange first, as expected, but then drew out an ace: Leslie Cannold would be their second place nominee. She would also be the one to take Assange’s place were he to be unable to attend senate (highly likely given his current situation).
Wow, Leslie Cannold! Surely I need to vote for her, given her intellectual clout far surpasses everyone else’s. Not to mention her personally knowing me. That, plus her opinions syncing very well with mine. However, if that is the case, then what good is my Pirate Party membership? Or, which side should I choose?
Oh, the dilemma! Yet it has to be said that as dilemmas go, this one is a rich person’s dilemma; compare it to the poor man’s choice of Libs vs. Lab.
Regardless of the qualities of my dilemma it was a dilemma still, and as such I devoted thoughts to it. Eventually I concluded in favor of the Pirate Party, despite the fact that on a one on one fight the heavyweight Cannold will knock everybody else out on the first round.
The reason is simple: when the Pirate Party preaches for transparency and openness, the party itself acts as an example for its own values. I can write a book about the subject, but the highlights should be obvious: Pirate Party policies are open for all members to modify; indeed, any member can suggest brand new policies with minimal fuss and friction; just go ahead and do it. All policies then go for a vote, which is open to all party members (yes, including the likes of yours truly, whose idea of activism never involved getting his arse off the sofa). More interestingly, at least at this particular point in time, all the party’s official role holders are voted by members – including senate candidates. In other words, the party’s policy as well as the party’s candidates are as close to being mine as they possibly could. But wait, it doesn’t end there: as I type, Pirate Party members are taking part in voting for what the party’s election preferences should be. Thus the Pirate Party is the first to democratize a process that for most other parties comes down to cynical accounting practices that can, under not so rare circumstances, get the likes of Family First elected to senate instead of the likes of people one would actually want in there.
Now compare the above to the way The Wikileaks Party conducts itself. With Wikileaks everything is a secret until publication date, including the candidates. That's understandable for a new party, but when that new party's core principle is transparency I find myself asking for more. Perhaps things would improve; then again, there is good likelihood for things to fall apart if and when certain developments take place with Assange himself. I guess that's another manifestation of my core problem: too much hanging off Assange himself, as opposed to the ideas he stands for.
One aspect I left out thus far is to do with this argument I have been having with myself being an argument that does not need resolving in the first place. The reasons are obvious: neither the Pirate Party nor the Wikileaks Party stand much of a chance of getting elected to one of Victoria's six senate seats; and it's pretty much certain there is no chance both would get elected together. Personally, I will be happy if the Greens manage to get one candidate in between the crop of LibLabs. Given Australia's priority voting system, it doesn't really matter whether I vote for the Pirate Party and then The Wikileaks Party or vice versa. Any combination would yield the same effect.
Still, it's nice to know where my political home is, at least for now. And it's nice to have a challenger to make me ponder on where my home really is. Yet on that same note, seeing Leslie Cannold elected would be my biggest dream come true for these elections. Who cares for political parties, really, when we're all fighting the same fight?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Hey You, Whitehouse, Ha Ha, Charade You Are

What are the main things we learned out of the escapades of one Edward Snowden?
I will summarize. We learned the USA is actively tapping into the Internet activities of the world entire. We learned that it is also actively tapping its own citizens (not that I care much about this slight difference). We learned many countries across the world have access to the information the USA thus gathers, Australia included. We learned countries like Australia and the UK actually provide support to these tapping activities. And we also learned commercial companies, both American and not (e.g., Telstra), have been aiding the USA by providing direct access to the data passing through them.
In short, everything anyone in the world does over the Internet, with the exception of encrypted stuff, passes under the USA's radar. And even encryption only gets you thus far: it can often be cracked, and if it's not then the NSA will store it until it has the ability to crack it; often there is no need for cracking because a lot can be learned by examining the meta data alone; and if push comes to shove, the NSA has the means to crack into pretty much every computer out there.
Almost everything Internet passes under the USA's watchful eye, and the exception is not immune either.

So far so good. My question now is, where to from here? My impression is that the only reason the USA is tapping anything and everything is because it can. The minute it acquired the technical capability it jumped on the bandwagon, sorting all sorts of legislation and secret dummy courts in order to give itself the legitimacy it needed to go ahead (but not the legitimacy that neither the rest of the world nor the USA public itself requires).
I look at it from the point of view of a science fiction fan who has just seen one of the genre's worst nightmares come true. If the USA became George Orwell's Big Brother so easily, then what is there to prevent it turning another horror sci-fi story into reality? Nothing but the next whistleblower.
What's next, then?Are we going to hear the news telling us of American robot soldiers killing people without discrimination? Oops, we already hear of such American drone attacks all the time. So, are we going to wake up one day to hear the news of some whistleblower leaking details of the USA doing some Soylent Green stuff just because it could and just because it thought it could get away with it?

Image copyright: Mad Magazine (I know I'll be buying this issue when it comes out at the end of August!)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Open Your Eyes, Part 3

In previous episodes I’ve discussed the emotional process to do with accepting the need for prescription glasses yet again. I also discussed in detail the process of getting these glasses. This time I around I'll take you in for the main event: what is it like to wear prescription glasses for reading? An important question given it applies virtually all members of the homo sapiens species once their eyes are old enough.
Personally, I find this question even more interesting than usual because I used to be short sighted. For years I would get up to the tune of sticking my eyeglasses atop my nose, leaving them there till bedtime with short breaks in between for watery activities. In many respects it was annoying, most memorably at the beach or under very sunny conditions. Most of the time, though, the glasses were a “fire and forget” type weapon: once on, I would forget they’re there.
Alas, that is not the case anymore. It is all to do with the way reading glasses work. At the moment, I am still perfectly able to read without the glasses, but I do get headaches after prolonged gazing at screens. Putting the reading glasses on acts very much like switching the lights on: that screen in front of me becomes much clearer (and feels slightly larger, too). Alas, the effect only reaches to about an arm’s length away; past this mysterious threshold, the glasses conspire to turn the world awfully blurry.
The implications are clear; the problem is living with them. When I’m looking at the screen, as I am doing now, everything’s fine. But what about occasionally letting my eyes gaze away from the screen, if only to relax a bit? No can do, at least not with the glasses on. Reading on the train but also wanting to know which station we’re at? No can do unless I take my glasses off. Playing cards with my son across a table (Magic: the Gathering, in case you ask)? Lucky for me I am still able to do well without the glasses, because otherwise I would have had to put them on and take them off some ten times a minute.
In short, reading glasses are helpful, but they are also a pain to use. A totally different game to short sighted ones. A game with unique aspects, such as the ease with which glasses may be lost; the need to carry another “gadget” in my pocket/bag along with me all the time. Or, alternatively, facing the consequences when I forget to bring my glasses along.
There are ways around this, but they all come at a price. I could get a small frame that would allow me to stare at the rest of the world from on top, but that would make me feel like my grandmother. Not to mention my face suits larger frames (a supermodel I am not), or the reduced suitability such a frame would have when working next to a computer monitor.
I could also put my glasses further down my nose, to allow me to look up at the world from time to time. My nose is certainly big enough to cope, but again – this is not something I would like to do often. It’s uncomfortable, plus the lenses aren’t optimized for such use. It could be the most practical answer to [short] card games, though.
There is also the option of going bifocal, an experience I will surely find myself experiencing with time, but just stick clear glass at the top of the frame. Ergonomically that would be best, but financially it would be the worst -  bifocals are expensive! Ultimately, I have this inherent problem with reading solely by staring down. I do too much reading to comfortably agree to such a sentence.

One last thing before I let you be: glare.
As mentioned, I went with anti glare coating on my glasses under the assumption this would help me as I gaze at screens for two digit hours a day. Was I right in my assumption?
I cannot provide a conclusive right/wrong answer to this question. What I will say, though, is that when I put my glasses and a colleague’s next to my computer monitor we could clearly see the screen’s reflection of his. I could almost read the screen off that reflection! However, mine gave off a pale pink reflection instead (you can see some of that reflection in the above photo). Therefore I can conclude the magnitude of reflections is subdued but color fidelity suffers.
Further evidence to color fidelity issues arrives when I gaze at a white screen for a long time (a common affair when blogging or simply using a word processor like application). After a while I get to feel like the world around me is yellowish/brownish than usual, and the lighting that previously seemed bluish feels redish. Looking elsewhere or simply blinking for a bit brings things back to normal, but clearly my brain is performing some adjustment exercises to correct for the glasses’ coating.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Open Your Eyes, Part 2

My previous post discussed my fatalistic journey into, out of, and again into the world of artificially supported vision aids (aka prescription glasses). This post will continue the discussion of my re-entry into the optical world through a discussion on how I got to have the glasses I am now wearing.
You may find this discussion tedious and boring, but I will still the facts with you. The reason is simple: I would like to try and point out, once again, at deficiencies in the Australian health system. Specifically, I would like to show how this system – which in general claims to be starved of funds – grossly abuses us, the funders of this system and those who are supposed to be its main beneficiaries.

It starts off with the prescription. Unlike Israel, where you see an eye specialist doctor to determine the right course of action, Australia has you going directly to the optometrist for a bulk billed eye test. I guess that takes a lot of unnecessary load from the shoulders of the true experts, but it does mean commercial interests are involved with medical proceedings.
I'll give you my example: I did my eye test at Specsavers. In my opinion, they seem to be doing a good, professional, job of it. However, at the end of my appointment, when I asked to receive my prescription in writing, the guys at the shop were left mumbling. Eventually, after a pause too long for comfort, I was told I would have to wait half an hour to get it because the optometrist is on his next appointment and he "would have to sign it".
"Oh, but don't worry, we can have it posted to you and you will receive it tomorrow". That was fine by me, so I left; to date I am still yet to receive the prescription they claim to have posted me.
The next week I returned to ask for my prescription again. Again, I was told I'd have to wait half an hour; I was ready this time around - I waited. I used the opportunity to ask why I haven't received the prescription by mail; they claimed to have checked their outgoing stuff and assured me mine was not there (yeah, right). Anyway, half an hour later they got some other optometrist to sign my prescription off and I was on my way.
Great customer service. If I was naive I would think they were trying to force me to buy my prescription glasses from them.

So why didn't I buy my prescription glasses from Specsavers? I admit, they are cheaper than the competition I got to check out. However, there is another element to the equation: private health.
The whole prescription glasses circus seems to have been rigged around private health. The shops that sell us glasses know most of us have private health insurance policies that give us the bulk of the cost back, so they adjust their offerings accordingly. We think it's great and all, with us having to pay relatively small out of pocket fees; the reality, however, is that we are all being sucked out of our wallets by health funds that raise their fees significantly more than the CPI each year. Why not, they would argue: governments on both sides have supported them doing so on a regular basis.
Things came down to a simple equation for me. I could either get two fine pairs of prescription glasses through a Specsavers package deal or one pair of expensive Oakley "designer" glasses at OPSM for about $100 more. But... The anti glare coating I deemed necessary, by virtue of the fact my glasses were all about easing the load of staring at computer screens all day, are not covered by private health insurance. Enter a second but: whereas Specsavers add the coating as a separate $50 item per pair, raising my out of pocket costs to $135, OPSM includes the cost of the coating in its lens item. That means that through this slight cheat, OPSM was able to get my insurance to pay for the coating; it also meant that despite buying a much more expensive product I only had to face $60 out of pocket with OPSM. Since I did not need a second pair, I went with the cheaper out of pocket option.
Just in case you were after an example on how easy it is to rort Australia's private health system.

In the next and last episode of this series I will discuss what it's like to wear glasses again.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Open Your Eyes, Part 1

It takes just a bit of sanity to know the Bible is usually wrong, but occasionally it does offer some relevancy. Such as in matters of vanity, where it states “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity”. Case in point: my personal story with eyeglasses.

Our story begins during my early teens. At the time my chief hobby was playing with computers (read: nothing’s changed). I used my then era’s PC, a Dragon 32, for both gaming as well as all sorts of programming. I copied others’ Basic programs, mostly to do with gaming and graphics, to which I added my own. I even programmed some Assembly stuff. I think I can safely say I was pretty good at it, and had I continued along that path I might have even established a name for myself. What had happened to turn me away from advanced programming? Formal education, that’s what happened.
But there another thing that happened in the background. Using TVs capable of 200 lines to do all my messing about with, I started noticing my eyes working harder and harder. By eighth grade my father took me to an optometrist, who determined my prescription was -0.5 (that’s half the short-sightedness it takes before one has to wear glasses/contacts for driving). By the end of that school year my number grew to -0.75. It felt like if I was to stay up to speed at school, I’d need glasses.
I got my glasses, but I was ashamed of them. What would my old friends say? I took them off whenever I was at areas where people who knew me from the “good old days” might roam. I was vain.
Vanity did not last long, though. Before too long my prescription rose to way beyond legal driving limits. Glasses became my routine: putting them on would be the first thing I do in the morning and removing them the last I do before going to sleep.
It took something special to kick vanity back into the picture. A movie called Terminator 2 featured a unique fashion accessory for the time: sunglasses that wrap around the eyes, as opposed to flat ones. Not only were these sunglasses cool to wear, they were also functionally better: you don’t get sunlight through the sides of your glasses when, say, driving. I went out and forked a whole lot of money to buy myself these glasses, Persol model Schwarzenegger.
Alas, I could not wear them. With them on I was too blind to lead a comfortable life. Putting optical lenses on the frame did not work, as the curvature kills the prescription optics. I had to find an alternative solution to allow me to wear these glasses, and that came in the shape of contact lenses. After a series of sessions with the optometrist I got myself a pair, and I have to say: they improved my eyesight much more than eyeglasses (probably the result of the lens being closer to the eye). However, they were also unbearable: I could not stand sticking the lens into my eye with my fingers; all the required hygiene proved more than I could handle; and the worst of it, I could not stand the contacts themselves. They irritated the hell out of me.
Thus after spending stupendous amounts of money on them, most of it my parents’, I politely stashed both sunglasses and contacts in a drawer. Normal order resumed: I was a glasses person, like it or not.
Several years later vanity popped its head again, and again the reason was a new technological breakthrough. Corrective laser eye surgery hit the town! Whereas at first it was a painful process, innovation led to simpler procedures that can be over and done with in an hour. Given positive feedback from two friends, I went ahead despite the stupendous cost. Because nothing would stand between me and my favourite sunglasses that I couldn’t otherwise wear (by now we were talking Oakley).
Yes, the operation worked. But no, as I said on many an occasion, if I had a time machine I would not have done it again. Sure, I was/am thankful for not having to wear corrective eyeglasses anymore. I was even more thankful at being able to wear my sunnies of choice. But it did come with a price: first the literal price, in Shekels, and then at the cost of various minor yet annoying side effects. Things like dryness in the eye led me to conclude one has to think thrice before one puts one’s body on a surgery table. But yeah, I was vain.
And now we hit modern day me. I mentioned here before (and here) how my eyes are beginning to feel the strain that comes with age; as I was told, the lenses become harder with age, making it harder to focus at short range objects. With the vast amounts of time I spend with my eyes focused on some screen or another (work PC, iPhone, iPad, Kindle and other gadgets) it was just a question of time before similar strains to the ones I had as a young teen show up. The optometrist confirmed it a fortnight ago, prescribing me with the minimal reading glasses prescription just so as I reduce the strain of prolonged exposures.
The funny thing is, I had no idea whether he was right or not. Nowadays it's machines that test your eyes, you have no idea what's really going on. I can read without glasses just fine; the problem is the feeling of strain that comes with prolonged reading. Then, while shopping at Kmart, I stumbled upon cheap ready made prescription glasses ($5) and tried them on. Wow! Suddenly the world near me became so much clearer! The screen on my iPhone so bright and clear I thought I got myself the iPhone 6!
And now, as I am typing this, I am wearing my brand new prescription reading glasses.

To be continues in part 2, where I will discuss the process of getting my new glasses.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Way Back Home

One of the more contentious things in the life of an immigrant is the definition of "home". It's not just the immigrants themselves that need to figure out where their home is, torn between the new and the old; in the eyes of locals, they tend to be regarded as if they belong to the "other" place.
Well, in order to show you what my opinion on the this whole "home" thing is, I will quote for the second time from the book Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson:
Home is not the place you come from. That place is gone, if it ever existed at all. Home is the place you go to and like enough to stay, the place you ratify with your presence.