Archive for August, 2005

You can cook a cucumber

August 29th, 2005

If you’re one of those odd people who refuse to eat things just because they’re green, this post isn’t for you, and you can skip it. If you’re not one, then let me assuage your incredulity by stating that yes, there really are people like that. I personally know a few. I even expect to get indigent yells from at least one of them, due to this paragraph.

OK, now that we got rid of people who won’t eat things like cucumbers or zucchinis anyway, and so will find the preparation method a moot point, I can go on.

I’m sometimes amazed how people can totally disregard perfectly valid way to deal with some raw ingredients. Case in point, cucumbers. A very common vegetable (at least here). Ask most people what they would put into a salad (assuming they make salads. If not, ask them what they’ll expect to find in one), and a cucumber is likely to be on the list.

Ask them whatever else cucumbers are good for, and you may get a list of other dishes. And it is extremely likely that there will be one common element to all of these. The cucumber in them would be either raw, or pickled.

Mention something like frying, broiling, or cooking a cucumber, and you’ll get really odd stares from people. The first time I tried it was as a part of a dish of mixed broiled vegetables. I added a cucumber to the mix, thin quarter slices. And it passed on wonderfully, with everyone enjoying the dish. That is, until someone mentioned that they thought we have run out of zucchinis. And, since there was nothing seemingly problematical about that, I answered that the green pieces are not zucchini, but a cucumber…

My father didn’t mind much, my mother made a face (but went on eating, since it tasted good), and my brother… Started going on and on about what a freakish idea that is, and that cooked cucumbers are too bizarre to eat. And he stopped eating it, saying the dish tasted strange.

The next few times that a dish included thinly sliced zucchini, he actually tried to avoid eating it, saying that the cucumber gave it an odd taste. An odd taste which miraculously disappeared once I told him it’s not a cucumber in there.

And my brother is not the only one with those attitudes. Sadly enough, that post isn’t just taking a jab at him. Plenty of people seem extremely surprised when I mention using cucumber in cooking and broiling. Unique and rare spices are just regarded as exotic, as are rare fruits and vegetables, whose useage is just called special and creative by people seeing them made. But a cooked cucumber, that get called bizarre, and often shunned, mostly before anyone tries to actually taste it.

And it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it, or that there are health issues, or anything whatsoever. Practically any vegetable is regarded as accepted in practically any method (as long as it keeps it edible, and without any health related concerns), but a cooked cucumber isn’t.

Which is what I find bizarre, since there’s nothing too bizarre about it. Cucumbers and zucchinis are actually much alike, both in look, texture, and in taste. Except that the cucumber loses more water in cooking, so tends to shrink more. And that a cooked cucumber obtains a sweetish flavour, and doesn’t have the mild bitter background taste of zucchinis.

Oh, right, and while I’m at it, there is another vegetable which is (wrongfully) regarded as perfectly acceptable if done in some forms, and unacceptable in others. In an interesting contrast, that vegetable would be the… zucchini. Which people have no problem eating cooked, grilled, fried or broiled, but raise a lot of objections to eating raw… Unless, that is, they just get it roughly grated inside a salad, and assume it’s a cucumber with a more distinct taste…

Yahoo associating search keywords with ads, but not with user accounts

August 29th, 2005

I have an account with Yahoo, mostly used for an email address. And it’s usually logged in, so technically they are capable of linking my Yahoo searches with my account and whatever personal details they have. The same thing everybody is always worried about Google doing, but for some reason a lot less verbosely so about Yahoo or the rest of the gang.

I’m going on a trip to the US soon, and will need to rent a car. In addition to checking some specific places, I decided to also run a general search through a few search engines, Yahoo included, to see if anything interesting comes up.

And since then, all the ads I saw on my Yahoo account, from the mail interface, deal with car rentals. OK, not all, but about 80%-90% of them. Before those searches, I think I didn’t get any car rental ads at all, or maybe very few of them.

Meaning, obviously, that their ad server collects details from the search engine, to provide more targeted advertising.

Except it doesn’t get stored centrally with the Yahoo account. When I logged into my Yahoo mailbox from a different computer, the ads remained the same regular bunch, without a car rental ad in sight. Going back to the original computer I searched from, the rental ads were back in force.

Erasing just the Yahoo cookies also removed the car rental ads from the first computer.

So they are keeping a somewhat limited track of what was last searched on the computer, but are not keeping (or not showing that they keep) a central repository.

Now all they need to do is to either increase the amount of different ads, or do better targeting of other ads, in order to prevent the connection from being too obvious. Seeing relevant ads directly on a search results page is fine, perfectly legitimate, and can be useful. Seeing it afterwards, constantly, in different pages of the same service offering the search engine, is unnerving. Even if it isn’t directly tied in to the specific user… yet.

Gasoline prices

August 29th, 2005

Gas prices have increased lately, pretty much all over the world. And everyone is complaining, although to be honest everyone always complain when prices of anything rises, so that’s not indicative of anything. The prices in the US have jumped rapidly lately, getting plenty of press over there for the recent prices of $3 per gallon, or so.

Which is amusing, since the US gasoline prices are still among the lowest on the world, at the consumer level. But that’s Americans for you. Well, that’s everyone actually, since being annoyed when things go worse for you is natural, even if you’re still better than everyone else. Not that everyone agrees they’re better, since those prices aren’t there in a vacuum, but it sure feel that way to a person going to fill the car with gasoline.

So, given the rates of increase in those tables, I wondered how do the prices in Israel compare. And went to check it out.

Here in Israel gas prices have increased in about 18.8% since the beginning of the year. Currently at the gas station the price for 95 octane unleaded gas was according to the data by the Ministry of National Infrastructures (in ILS per liter):

01/02/2005    4.67
02/01/2005    4.98
03/01/2005    4.96
04/01/2005    5.24
05/01/2005    5.37
06/01/2005    5.11
07/01/2005    5.52
08/01/2005    5.55

These values pretty much fit my recollection of prices I paid, so no need to assume the government is lying. Not in this case anyway.

95 unleaded gasoline is what the Americans would refer to as Premium unleaded gas. That’s actually the most common kind here, and you don’t really see anything with lower octane level at the gas stations. The range that you can find in the stations basically only include 95, 96, 98 octane, and diesel.

The price, converted to USD per gallon (with one gallon being 3.7854 liters and an exchange rate (Banking rate) of 0.2216 from ILS to USD on august
1st, and 0.2321 on January second (historical rates from ), was roughly $4.655 per gallon in August, and roughly $4.1 per gallon in January.

The difference in USD then comes to about 13.5%, less than the 18.8% difference in ILS which we felt here, but still a nice climb I think. Not nearly the rate of the climb in the US for the same period, though, which according to information on the tables I showed above stands closer to 50% increase.

These prices here do not include a fixed service commission (the difference between the price you pay when you self-service at the gas station, and the price you pay when you have a station’s employee filling the tank for you). I’m ignoring it for the rest of the post as well. It’s about 0.11 ILS per liter (officially, according to the site, but in most stations the listed difference is 0.15 ILS per liter) .

Our Ministry of National Infrastructure’s website also provides explanations as to how the gas prices are determined. Both the price at the refineries, and how the final price at the station is derived from it (Pages are in Hebrew).

To summarize and roughly translate, the price has four components:

  1. A tax, of 2.20 ILS per liter. In the listed above August exchange rate, that would be about $1.845 per gallon. This is currently estimated as 35.4% of the gasoline price.

    Notice that this place just the tax at nearly the entire price of gasoline in the US at 2004.

  2. VAT. 17% these days. In the recent years it ranged between 17%-18%, so that’s practically static. This is estimated as 14.5% of gas price at the station.

  3. Gasoline publicity/advertisement expenses. This is apparently determined by an outside consultant to the ministry of treasury and infrastructure, who determines the “desired profitability for for the national economy in the gasoline publicity segment”. And it is updated every half year based on the movement in the publicity margins of “four countries in Europe” up to some ceiling. This is estimated as 10.4% of the gasoline price.

    Personally I’m not sure why they need to publicize gasoline, but nobody asked me. A part of this probably also goes to compensate gas stations for installing the self-service pumps, the website is not entirely clear on that.

  4. Refinery prices. The purpose is to get a price which is similar to the European one. The calculation is done on a monthly basis. Raw data for prices is taken from the Platts system.

    The basis is the average price on the first five of the last seven business days of the previous month in Europe. They want five business days, and it takes two to do the calculation. And no, I’m not sure why it takes two days to calculate the price, but that’s what the site says. The price used is the price for a one (metric?) Ton of gasoline, in USD.

    The exchange rate is the one on the first of the two calculation days, based not on the banking rate but the “high checks rate” (I’m again not sure exactly what’s the markup on this one, but would make a wild guess at the 4-5% range) of one of the local banks (Bank Leumi, if anyone cares). The stated reason for the use of this rate is “the need to take into account the costs of purchasing currency to finance the purchase of crude oil and derivatives”.

    The price is then multiplied by a density factor to convert it from ILS per ton to ILS per liter, about 0.75, and by other variables needed to compensate for volume changes due to temperature differences.

    And this base refinery price, plus insurance, leakage, inventory, etc, is estimated to be just 35.4% of the total consumer cost at the gas station.

And that’s how the gas prices are determined here. Now you know. I Can’t say it’s all that fascinating, but that’s the way it is.

On the one hand I feel annoyed at paying all those extra taxes, making gasoline so much more expensive here than on the US. But on the other hand, the rates here are still cheaper than in other places in the world. So I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Plus, the fixed taxes as a part of the price do mean that the price is less sensitive to changes in crude oil prices, so they are kept more stable. Not to mention one of the biggest advantages of higher gasoline prices, keeping less people on the already over-crowded streets.

This post was precipitated by both a recent thread on the Interesting People list, and a conversation I had with a friend about gasoline prices.

WordPress upgrade to v1.5.2

August 28th, 2005

Just to say that I’ve updated the version of the blog software, so if anything appears broken, please let me know.

Things should be alright, though, since it’s not a major upgrade, and I run some tests myself.

Chain reaction car accident

August 27th, 2005

This is now getting to be about two weeks old, but I figure better late than never. I just decided to wait a while before posting the story online, to make sure there aren’t any complications raised by the insurance company of the driver responsible for the accident. But as it seems they’ll pay the car damages, and there also aren’t any new interesting details, I can go ahead with the story.

When the accident occurred I (I, as in the car I was driving) was standing at a traffic light. There were about 5-8 cars in front of me, and already 2-3 (at least) standing behind me. Busy street. The light turned green, and cars started to move.

What usually happens is that the first car starts to move, and the other cars starts off sequentially. As one car moves, the car behind it releases the breaks and get ready to move, then starts to slowly move itself as the car behind it readies itself, and so on. Or actually, now that we have automatic cars, the drivers of a few cars behind the car moving are releasing the breaks, with the first one starting to slowly push the gas pedal to move. A simple dynamic of moving a long line of cars.

But in this case it happened a little differently. In this case while the driver in front of me eased on the brakes, as did I, the driver behind me decided, for whatever reason, to hit the gas and start moving. Never mind that my car was still standing, that the car in front of me was still standing, and that the car in front of it was just starting to move a bit. She hit the gas, and drove the car.

Front side of my car after the crash
And what is the result when one car moves forward, and the car standing in front of it doesn’t? That’s right. Bang. The first time I knew something was wrong was when I felt a strong bang from behind. The second was when I felt a strong bang from the front. You see, my feet was off the brake pedal, so when that car slammed into mine, it pushed mine forward. And in front of mine was standing another car.

The car in front of me, well, it was pushed forward as well. Into the car in front of it. But there the chain ended, since it only got a small bump (I think it was driving already at the time, though I’m not sure), and wasn’t pushed hard enough to hit the car in front of it as well. A nice little 4 car chain reaction accident.

The man driving the car in front of me started yelling straight away. Going over and over saying “what happened?” and “what have you done?”. The women from the car that crashed into me looked stunned and started crying. Somebody, I don’t remember who, made the sensible suggestion that we’ll go to the side, since we were blocking traffic. Since we were indeed blocking traffic, and as this was, as I said, a busy and crowded street, we entered our cars, and moved them (all were working, thankfully) to a parking position on the side.

After parking the car, I started looking for paper. I knew I needed to take all the insurance and personal details of the cars on both ends, so something to write the details on would be needed. Luckily I has some unneeded pages of notes with me, so those were co-opted for the effort. And since I always carry a pen, I was ready to go.

Just a couple of minutes to jot down everyone details, and I could go home, right? Well, wrong. It was a long long event.

First I tried to go to the driver of the car that crashed into me, since they were responsible, and their details were the ones it was most important that I’ll get. As I approached I noticed two women, one young, and one somewhat older. I went to the older one, assuming it was a mother and daughter pair, and told her I want to exchange insurance details. She said to go speak with the other one, since she’s just her friend, and wasn’t driving the car.

The other, younger, women was busy talking on her cellphone, and crying at the same time. I tried to get her attention, but to no avail. So I figured I’ll get the details of the car I got pushed into first, and then return to her.

Rear side of my car after the crash
So I turned around, and saw someone looking at my car and copying the license plate number. I approached him and asked if he’s the driver of the car I crashed into, and he replied that he’s not, he’s the driver of the car that it got pushed into, the first in line. He wasn’t interested in getting any of my insurance details, and I wasn’t interested in his. Our cars didn’t touch, and none of our cars was the one starting the accident, so there was no point to it.

I went on, to the guy driving the car that my own was pushed into. He was there with his wife, and there were a couple of his friends with him standing to the side and inspecting the car. His wife was a little shocked over the accident, so he already called an ambulance to evacuate her, this despite no apparent physical injury at all, and no pain.

He was also quite hysterical himself, shouting at everyone around, going over and over asking what happened, what car started it, and who everyone is. He also yelled at the first in line a lot over the duration, asking how could he have possibly been hit, and what was he doing there. I had to tell him which car I drove about three times, since each time after asking the question he seemed to zone off and go yell at someone else without hearing the reply.

It went like that for the insurance details as well. I went over holding my car registration and insurance details, and told him we need to exchange details. So he shouted at me “Where are you? I want your insurance details! Give me your insurance details already!”. I said fine, and suggested we’ll go to the side to one of the cars, and copy the details. I showed him I was holding my papers, and asked him for his own, since he wasn’t holding them. Then, instead of following me, or leading me, or having anything else to do with me, he just turned around and started to yell in general, or at his friend, or the other driver.

This went like that for 4-5 times, actually. Interspaced by me deciding to leave him to check the crying girl again, in case she finished her phone call. A call to her boyfriend, to whom she was telling about the accident, and crying. Meanwhile the hysterical guy also managed to ask me, several times again, what car started it and who the driver was, each time breaking contact the moment I pointed them out to him, and going to do something else. It was quite outlandish.

Eventually I just went to the crying girl, stood in front of her, and stayed there. After a while she got the hint, and finished the call. Although I think it has more to do with the boyfriend leaving to come over, and less with me bothering her.

She had no idea what details she needed to take and copy from the papers. I pointed out the main highlights for her, and told her to just copy everything. Better to have details she doesn’t need, than not have details she does. First I copied the details from her own papers, though, since she went off again talking to her friend, or over the phone again.

When she returned to copy my details, it turned out she didn’t have a pen with her, so I lent her my own. As I mentioned before, I always carry a pen, having been through plenty of past situations where it would have been good to have one.

I then went on to the hysterical guy again. By this time the ambulance arrived, and they were taking the wife in. I asked one of the paramedics if everything was alright with her, but he didn’t provide any details. I also asked him if there’s a reason to get myself examined given that I feel fine, and if there are any quick tests to see if there was a damage due to the crash. To which he replied that he can’t say and that if I think I want to then I can go to a hospital to get myself examined. I guess they get crash courses on non-committal speaking, and not giving any sort of medical advice, for fear of later lawsuits by people who won’t take it as a rough opinion but as a final medical opinion.

I went to hysterical guy again. After again yelling at me to give him my insurance details and then promptly turning around and going to the ambulance, I decided enough is enough, and this time stayed after him. At long last I eventually managed to hold his attention for enough time, and he took out his car insurance papers. We went to one of the cars, and I started jotting down the numbers and details. I showed him my own papers, but he went off away again.

I tracked him down, returned his paper to him, and he again yelled at me to give him my details. His friend was nearby now, so luckily he just asked him to take the details for him, to which the friend obliged. The friend, by the way, was taking pictures of the cars with a cellphone camera. It seemed obvious that he had no experience with it, since he took multiple pictures, and seemed unable to recall them on the display again.

In any case, the friend proved quite capable of copying details, though again was unsure what details he needs to copy. During the time hysterical guy came over, twice, to tell me to give him his insurance paper back. Each time I reminded him that I already did, and he walked away.

Oh, he and his friend had neither paper nor pen. I agreed to lend my pen again, but could not offer them another paper (I had another page, but the other side was something I could not give to another person). They must have came up with one after rummaging a little in the car, however.

Eventually I had all the details I needed, and things seemed to settle down a little. We noticed that my car had water running under it, which is a worrying sign since it could indicate radiator damage, meaning that driving the car would be unwise. On the other hand, the air conditioner of that car also leaks a lot of water after usage, so I assumed that was the problem, and that I could try to move the car.

In the meantime, the boyfriend of the crying girl arrived. She already gave her details to everyone, so they decided they could drive away. Hysterical guy said that they can’t leave, because he called an ambulance and the police, and it’s an accident with casualties. Which sounds absurd given that everyone seemed physically fine, but once an ambulance has been called then officially there are casualties, and the police needs to come to take details and write a report (All of which I wasn’t sure of at the time, but called a friend more in the know to ask).

The boyfriend replied that he doesn’t know anything about that, that he doesn’t see any casualties, and that in any case they gave all the details so waiting around won’t help anyone. Instead of replying calmly, or giving the explanation I gave above regarding the procedure, hysterical guy just started yelling abuse at him. The phrases were the likes of “Who the heck are you?! Who do you think you are?! You can’t just come here and decide to go! You’re nobody! You’ll wait for the police!” and so on. This obviously did not achieve the desired effect of having everyone waiting. And since I arrived to see them wanting to go, and hear the abuse, I tried to calm things down a little by pointing out that they did leave details, and there really is nothing much to contribute by keeping them there.

In any case the boyfriend was having none of it, and just entered the car, and started to drive. Other than standing in front of the car there wasn’t much anyone could have done, and nobody did that.

After they left, hysterical guy kept switching between yelling that he’ll press charges with the police over a hit-and-run-accident, and yelling at me that I released them to go which is against the law and it’s all my fault. His friend managed to calm him down a bit, and both of us tried to explain that he can’t call it a hit-and-run when she’s obviously gave all her details, and only drove afterwards.

Seeing that they went, and that the police didn’t arrive yet, he decided to go away himself since staying would be futile. So they entered the car, and drove.

At which point I decided going away myself would be a good idea. I entered my car, started the engine, and then noticed a police squad arriving. Great timing. I turned the car off, and went to greet the policeman that got out of it.

He asked me if I’m from the accident reported there. I told him that I was, but that I wasn’t the one who called the police, and wasn’t the one who caused the accident. I gave him the highlights of the story, explaining that everyone else have left. I felt that giving him a detailed report, and have him file an official report, would be pretty pointless given that I’m the only one there, and asked him if he’s interested in the details. He conversed with his dispatch, and told me that he sees no point to it himself. So we said a nice goodbye, and they drove away.

At which point I entered my own car, and finally started to drive back. Fearing the possibility of engine damage, or radiator damage, I turned off everything, and drove without air conditioning.

Guess what? There was radiator damage, though probably not total. The car heated up over the way, and I had to stop down at the side of the road to let the engine cool. Still, it was a slow climb in temperature, and I stopped before the engine temperature gauge redlined, so once it cooled I started it again and repeated. It took just three stops like this, and I managed to get the car home.

Our insurance agency was already closed, it being late Friday noon (Weekend in Israel is Fri-Sat, not Sat-Sun), so there was nothing else to do that day.

[Update: I wrote carburattor instead of radiator. Me idiot. Fixed now.]

In this series (Chain reaction car accident):

  1. Chain reaction car accident
  2. Replacement car

Locked tight

August 22nd, 2005

When shops close down for the night, the owners have an understandable desire to reduce the chances of a break-in. So usually closed stores at night are locked behind solid metal bars, grates, and blinds. And when you go to a commercial center, containing many stores, they all are, one after the other.

So when I went to withdraw money from the ATM the other day, it being located in a cluster of shops, it was not surprising at all to see sights like these:

locked and barred stores locked and grated stores

supermarketWhat was surprising, though, was to find that a supermarket located in the same area, right next to them, only managed to get half the point.

If you look on the left side of the picture, you could clearly see the nice and strong metal grate which covers the entrance. So anyone wanting to enter through the locked sliding doors would be unable to. That’s a wise security measure, just like the bars on all the other shops in the area.

On the other hand, if you’d look at the right side of the picture, the same picture of the same supermarket, what do you see? Yes, you can blink again in disbelief, it won’t change anything. You really are seeing it. A clear glass (well, probably some transparent plastic and not glass, but that’s not really important, is it?) pane. A large and easily accessible clear pane, not protected by anything hard or metallic.

So instead of breaking the door, which is impossible because of the metal grate, anyone so inclined could just break the wall next to it. Very smart, isn’t it? What were they thinking?! Where they thinking?!

Wrong Address

August 18th, 2005

envelope front with sender detailsWhile our postal services generally, sometimes, do their job quite adequately, there are flukes. We do sometime get envelopes addressed to neighbours, or to someone with a similar last name but on a different street.

But the most recent such wrong delivery was more amusing. Because of the sender, the intended recipient, and the type of mistake. You see, this was not sent by a private person, nor was it one of the usual commercial messages. This was an international mail, all the way from Luxembourg. And the sender was NAMSA, a NATO agency.

Yes, NATO. Isn’t that fun? I bet most people don’t get envelopes from NATO at all. I certainly know we didn’t ever. And still, it came. Well, it wasn’t really addressed to us, of course, but those are just details.

The intended recipient, as I said, wasn’t us. Not at all. It was an unnamed acquisition and procurement specialist, in the “IDF technology division”.

envelope back with recipient detailsErr… Except that the IDF doesn’t have anything named “Technology Division”. Instead there’s the “Technological and Logistics Directorate“, better known here as Atal. Or, to be more exact, ATL (in the corresponding Hebrew letters), which is an acronym. A for “Agaf” meaning directorate or division, T for “Technologiot” meaning Technologies, and L for “Logistica” meaning… you got that right, Logisitics. Yes, the base words for Technology and Logisitics are the same in Hebrew, which can give you a clue as to where they were borrowed from. The abbreviation is pronounced as Atal.

Normally I wouldn’t be too surprised that someone over at NATO isn’t aware of the exact way things are organized in our military. But if you send envelopes to someone, it means you have some interaction with them. Which in turn means you have to know who it is that you’re interacting with. So I find their “Technology Division” odd.

The address was indeed in the same city we live in, which explains why it got to the same post office branch. But as to why it arrived to us, that’s a mystery to me. There is no name on the envelope, so someone familiar with us at the post office (Yes, that does happen) couldn’t have gotten confused. There is no street address, so nobody could have delivered it to the wrong house on the right street. There is no house number, so nobody could have delivered it to the right house on the wrong street. All it had was a POB number, four digits, of which two are similar to ours. That would rather be, similar to ours and to plenty of other people’s. There’s a huge limit as to how much variance POB numbers can have.

So someone was sloppy.

In any case, we didn’t open the envelope. Likely it’s also not interesting, since it went from one body dealing in logistics to another. On the other hand, it also went from one body dealing in armament procurement to another. So maybe it was interesting. But the point is moot, we returned the envelope to the post office, so they could deliver it to the intended recipient. Or deliver it yet again to a wrong recipient, but that’s their problem, not ours.

Why it didn’t go through the various diplomatic or military channels is beyond me, though. If you have important (The envelope was marked as priority airmail. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it may) military related material to send, between two military organizations, trusting the usual post seems questionable. And in this case at least was a demonstrably bad idea.

Had there been anything even remotely classified in there, someone might have opened it and read it. The fact that we didn’t doesn’t mean that nobody else would have been curious. And, like I said, we’re not the only people with such a badly matching POB number.

Oh, well…

There once was a cat

August 15th, 2005

During one of the days of the international opera program, I noticed something thin and black dangling out of one of the drainpipes near the conservatorium.

At a first glance it appeared that a cat was resting in the drainpipe. A second look made it obvious that the cat wasn’t just temporarily resting, but was busy starting on it’s eternal rest.

Since it’s both not something nice to see, and a potential health hazard, I informed someone from the conservatorium staff who seemed in charge of the building and maintenance. He told me that it will be taken care off on the morning of the following day. He further explained that the city is doing some works in the surrounding parks, so some things aren’t looked after well enough in the interim.

The next time I was there, a few days later, I forgot to check out on the ex-feline. But I was there again about two weeks afterwards, and decided to take a look to make sure they dealt with it.

On the plus side, there was no black cat stuck in the drainpipe.

On the minus side, there were parts of a cat’s skeleton stuck there… So I assume this was not taken care off by the city’s maintenance or health crews…

At least by that point it was no longer a health hazard. Nor was it an aesthetic problem, since the tail isn’t dangling out of the pipe any more, and nobody can see the remains without peeking in purposefully.

I’ll probably be in the area again in a few months, so I’ll go over to take a look. In the meantime, rest in peace, kitty.

When advertisers take a chance at being idiots

August 10th, 2005

One of the lottery-like games here was given the terribly imaginative name “Chance” (as-is, no translation, the Hebrew name is the English word, assuming people would understand it. Which is a pretty fair assumption, since the word is indeed used a lot, and was practically absorbed into the used language. It’s common to hear people saying “Kakh chance”, with “Kakh” being roughly the word for “take a”).

And lately they’ve started with this terribly annoying series of radio commercials, with pretence cab drivers prattling on about how they are taking a chance to win money. Although I guess these commercial, as low-level and annoying as they seem, are at least effective in bringing the product to conciousness.

But one of them really got me annoyed at the sheer brainless idiotism behind it. And since the rest of them at least do manage to keep everything in context, I must assume that it wasn’t an attempt to purposefully make their cab driver appear idiotic, but instead genuine incompetent stupidity on the part of the text writer.

In this commercial the cab driver talks about how he picked up a passenger wanting to go someplace. The driver tells how he offered the passenger a flat predetermined rate, but the passenger insisted that he’d turn the meter on instead. And the driver tells how he told the passenger to “take a chance and” go with the suggested rate, to which the passenger refused. Then they naturally got into a traffic jam, so charging by the meter ended up costing the passenger more money. The story concludes by the cab driver once again saying that the passenger should have taken a chance.

Does anyone else notice the blatant incongruity here? Choosing a predetermined fare isn’t taking a chance, it’s the exact opposite. No matter what will happen the cost will remain the precisely known same. Choosing to go by the meter, however, would be taking a chance. If the ride goes smoothly it will be possible to save money, and if there are delays it could cost a lot more. It’s not only simple logic, but goes as to the very definition of what chance means.

That passenger did take a chance. And in that particular case it didn’t work out, and the passenger would have been better off had he not taken the chance. Having the cab driver claim that the passenger should have taken a chance is just… idiotic. It presents their cab driver, the star of the entire series of commercial, as someone without an inkling about whatever he’s talking about. Surely not the image a company would want a figure associated with them to present.

And it provides a very plain and clear example that taking a chance can cost money. Which is the exact opposite of the message of the entire commercial series, which trying to emphasize how much it’s possible to earn by taking a chance.

Next time when they spend a fortune on plenty of air time, they should avoid taking a chance, and go with advertisers who are actually capable of reading the text they’re writing…

Sun(less)glasses

August 10th, 2005

While driving yesterday I stopped at a red stoplight, and took a quick look at the cars around me.

The car directly to my right had four people. A driver who was a mature men, someone I didn’t quite see on the seat next to him, and an older women with a young girl in the back seat.

Both the driver and the young girl were wearing dark sunglasses. The older women didn’t wear a pair, and I’m not sure about the person next to the driver.

Which so far sounds pretty normal, doesn’t it? Why is that interesting? Well, there’s just one little detail I didn’t mention yet, a detail which makes all the difference. You see, this was on my way back home from work. At night. When it was dark outside.

Why would anyone wear sunglasses in those conditions, especially while driving, is beyond me. Two people, that’s even less likely, since it practically rules out the few remaining possibilities (Like maybe someone being after a medical check, by an ophthalmologist, which included pupil dilators. But even in that case, while the few lampposts may have a strong glare, it would still be incredibly hard for the driver to see the road when wearing sunglasses).

And if anyone wonders how I was able to see inside that car in the dark, that was because the intersection did have a few weak lampposts next to it, and the car was right next to mine.

New TV Science-Fiction shows

August 6th, 2005

All of a sudden many TV networks decided they want to do SF shows. The recent excitement is being largely attributed to the success of Lost. for some reason. It’s not like there weren’t plenty of both good and bad SF shows on the past, so I’m not sure why this is supposed to be the trumpet call, but whatever.

The new line of planned shows all seem, as is easily noticeable by anyone beyond those making them, to be quite similar, sharing too many aspects. Which probably mean either they’ll all be duds, or that after seeing one which is, the others will get automatically classified as more of the same without getting proper attention.

Because, you see, the shows really do seem to be very similar. Which is why the recent poll I saw running on Sci Fi Wire really cracked me up. They constantly run a poll there, and change them pretty often. And while occasionally they seem to take themselves seriously, they are often used to make subtle, or not so subtle, jokes about what is happening in the industry.

The one I’m talking about (which is still running at the time when this is posted, but will probably be replaced soon) goes:

Each of the broadcast networks is adding its own science fiction show to its fall schedule. Which do you want to see the most?

  • CBS’ Threshold, about a possible alien invasion.
  • NBC’s Surface, about a possible alien invasion.
  • ABC’s Invasion, about a possible alien invasion.

Anyone else seeing the similarities?

Human looking robot?

August 6th, 2005

This group of scientists developed a robot that looks similar to a real human, supposedly. I doubt they’re actually quite there, but seem to be much closer than anyone else. Not that too many are actually trying, of course, so that may account for it.

Of course, getting something that looks like real skin, and maybe feels close to real skin, isn’t quite enough to make something really appear human. By hey, why not? It’s not like making something human looking is impossible.

The article does remain uncommitted about what exactly do they plan to do with those androids, though. Which makes sense, given that nobody still has anything even remotely resembling an AI. Robotic devices can do plenty of thing, but of a very limited scope. So it may look like a human, but will be stuck with the sophistication and conversation skills of a really expensive laundromat.

Or maybe I’m just biased. I’m the type who is more concerned with functionality than cosmetics, when it comes to gadgets (Or pretty much anything else). I’d say develop a working robot first, then worry about making it look nicer. But cosmetics sell, so it may give them a chance at funding.

And, by stretching the phrasing of the article a bit, it can be understood that they may have uses which actually require the human look:

She is designed to look human and although she can only sit at
present, she has 42 actuators in her upper body, powered by a nearby
air compressor, programmed to allow her to move like a human.
“Repliee Q1Expo can interact with people. It can respond to people
touching it. It’s very satisfying, although we obviously have a long
way to go yet.”

Or, to list some of the points:

  • It looks like a women
  • It can’t get up and walk away
  • It can respond to people touching it
  • It is very satisfying

Makes you wonder what they do for recreation over there, doesn’t it?