Archive for June, 2006

Fun toy

June 27th, 2006

Because there’s nothing that screams “cool toy here!” louder than a surplus gas-mask.

We had (still have) gas-masks at home. From all the tension with Iraq way back when, before it came under U.S. occupation. What a pity we kept them closed in the box, apart from those few cases we had to put them on and get into an airtight shelter.

If only someone would have pointed out the fun aspects back then… I could have played, and played, and played. Ah, the fun I didn’t have, for simple lack of imagination.

TVs are bad for kids

June 27th, 2006

This time the concerns about TVs are not because of the content, or excessive viewing time. No. It’s because TV sets can physically fall on small kids[1] and injure them.

On the face of it the claim does make some sense. TVs, especially ones from home-cinema sets, are big and heavy. But they’re not so big that a child climbing on them won’t have an effect. So if a kid climbs on the TV set the TV can fall, and it will likely fall on the child. That, in turn, can certainly cause an injury.

But this ignores what I think is a pretty big problem. The child, and a very young and small child at that[2], has to climb on the TV set first.

In order to do that the child will have to be able to reach the TV. From a position they can start climbing from. Assuming the average toddler can’t pull him/herself up without at least a little help from the leg muscles, that means the TV set will have to be placed very low.

And TV sets aren’t placed very low. People usually watch TV sitting. Sitting in chairs or sofas, not on a mat. And not just lying on the floor. So having a TV located at a height and location where a 3 years old kid can climb on it… sounds highly unlikely.

And somewhat negligent from the parents’ side, who otherwise probably went around baby-proofing nearly everything else in the house. True, a TV isn’t exactly the knife drawer, but parents should notice any piece of furniture with a top low enough that the kid could climb on.

Beyond that, these two articles include some more puzzling and suspect statements (emphases in quoted text are mine).

Contrast one article:

An estimated 2,300 children each year are injured by falling TVs and are sent to the emergency room because of their injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

With another:

U.S. emergency room doctors treated 2,600 children younger than 5 who were injured by falling televisions in 2005, said Arlene Flecha, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The numbers, allegedly coming from the same source, don’t match up. Those are 300 kids who are either invented, or unaccounted for, straight up. With this level of accuracy here, how reliable is the rest of the info supposed to be?

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studied data on ER visits for 26 children – aged 1 to 7 years old – admitted to the ER after being hit by a falling television between November 2003 and October 2004. One-third of the children sustained injuries serious enough to be admitted to the hospital and stayed for between one to four days.

Wow. Those researches studied a huge data pool of hundreds and hundreds of cases, and… No, wait, scrap that. 26 cases? That’s supposed to be research??

How big is the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center? According to the homepage:

UT Southwestern Medical Center physicians conduct more than 2.1 million outpatient visits and treat thousands in our affiliated hospitals.

So out of more than 2.1 million patient’s records, they had a whooping 26 cases of kids injured by a falling TV? Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they had a similar number of patients who were struck by lightning.

Though of course there are two different, and mutually exclusive, problems with this tiny amount. Either these are not all the kids hit by falling TVs that they had, in which case whatever analysis they do on this group probably tells us nothing, or these are all the kids they had who were hit by falling TVs, in which case there are too few of these altogether in order for the analysis to tell us anything.

Although nearly two-thirds of the TVs in the study were in the 20-inch to 30-inch range, the researchers said they could not determine whether size had anything to do with the hazard.

” ‘The bigger the TV, the worse the injury’ makes sense, but we don’t know,” Ota said. “We don’t have enough cases.

Of course they couldn’t determine anything. Which didn’t prevent them from releasing all sorts of statistics. Lots and lots of factoids, all meaningless. Remember, with this sample size every kid is almost 5% of the cases. It’s not realistic to infer any sort of connection from that.

Eighty-five percent of the TVs fell from a height of between two and five feet above the floor.

The range between two and five feet[3] is huge. They may as well just say that the falling TVs… fell.

It’s also disconcerting. 0.6 meters is very low for a TV. And 1.5 meter is taller than the average 7 years old kid, so how did the kid climb on the TV exactly? If a kid climbs up to a 1.5 meters high table, the kid can fall and get injured regardless of whether there’s a TV there or not.

It also makes me curious about the other 15% (almost 4 whole kids) who were injured by TVs allegedly located either even lower than 0.6 meters above the floor, or higher than 1.5 meters above the floor. That’s very high, so it would be even harder for the kids to reach. And quite uncomfortable to watch, requiring cranking the neck up towards the screen, from most chairs.

“More aggressive education to warn parents about the risk of injury must be implemented so that more families will take the time to display their televisions safely,” researcher Dr. Robert Todd Maxson, an assistant professor of pediatric surgery at UT southwestern and medical director of the pediatric trauma service at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, said in a prepared statement.

Yes, because there aren’t plenty of other things for parents to worry about. Things that actually have a statistically insignificant chance of affecting their kid.

The Dallas researchers propose that warning labels be put on TVs to make more parents aware of the hazard.

Because nothing looks better, or more relevant, on a TV set than a big label stating “WARNING: Climbing on this television can be hazardous to your health”. Sure. I’m convinced.

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  1. assuming these small kids actually try to climb on the TV set.[back]
  2. The articles discusses kids younger than 7 years old, median age about 3.3 years.[back]
  3. about 0.6 to 1.5 meters.[back]

Leave the toilet paper alone

June 20th, 2006

Sudoku toilet paperLook, we all know why people buy toilet paper, where they put it, and what they most likely plan on doing with it. Right?

When toilet paper rolls with delicate designs such as light drawings of flowers, puppies, or abstract shapes came out, I didn’t really get it. I care about the texture, but not about how it looks like.

Ideally I prefer not to look at toilet paper. Not for long.

But apparently everything is a market, and even toilet paper makers have aspirations and imagination.

Black toilet paperA few weeks ago I discovered there’s black toilet paper. Deep uniform rolls of black toilet paper. Quite pricey, too.

And now I see another version, going not for the artistic angle, but for the useful-pastime angle. Sudoku toilet paper. With a new Sudoku puzzle on every sheet.

What toilet paper innovations are we likely to see next?

Balloon figures

June 20th, 2006

This page has photos of a large number (118 as of now, not sure if they’re adding or not) of complex figures/statues made out of balloons.

The bigger ones seem to be comprised of a very large number of balloons each. Very impressive work there.

I’m not sure where they’re from, or what the site is about, since the explanation seems to be in Russian. But it’s certainly worth seeing.

International Opera Summer Program in Tel-Aviv 2006

June 20th, 2006

The International Opera Program/Workshop will soon be here for another year.

And hopefully this time Joan Dornemann, the wonderful organizer and moving force behind the program and the International Vocal Arts Institute, will manage to finish everything without getting sick like last time.

The organization on the local side, at least as far as arranging a program and selling tickets, is sorely lacking. The website of the program had the general dates for the Israeli program published for quite a while now (Though I think the page with details on the people involved is somewhat more recent). But the exact list of shows, and prices, has just been sent to people who are on the regular subscriber’s list to receive it.

Together with a notice that sales only begin on the 22nd. Coupled with the policy of providing tickets by order of the receipt of faxes, I’m not sure if they mean that order faxes sent from now to the 22nd will be discarded, or just that they won’t be handled until the 22nd but will then get priority.

And this is pretty close for something starting on July 10th. Very close.

A few weeks ago I even called the agency responsible of selling the tickets, asking if they know when will they have details and be selling tickets. They didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. They guy I was talking to actually told me that they don’t sell tickets to the Opera, and that I’ll have to contact the Israeli Opera directly for that.

I had to explain to him that this program isn’t related to the Israeli Opera, and that his company was responsible for selling tickets to it for the last few years, and according to what I know is also responsible this year.

He checked with a superior, who apparently didn’t have a clue what I was talking about either since the reply I received was a half-coherent explanation that it’s really too early for something starting as far away as July 10th.

Another issue I have with the technical aspects of the program are the increasing ticket prices. They didn’t raise them from last year, and yes, these are still cheap prices for opera around here. But it’s still not the token payment it was in the early years, but real ticket price like for other types of shows.

Not a problem for people wanting to sample one or two evenings, but cause for serious reconsideration for anyone who might have otherwise wanted to go to about everything. It also makes it harder to convince people who aren’t sure if they like opera to come and try.

Still, as long as they manage to sell out most evenings, I suppose I don’t have a real case. It’s not realistic to expect people on the administrative side to put more effort into making the same, or less, money.

And I have no complaints at all on anyone involved in the artistic side. They’ve done an excellent work so far, and will probably continue to do so.

One thing that I do regret, though hard to say if it’s creative or administrative, is that there are only two weeks of master-classes. Their aria concerts, and operas, are nice, but the heart of the program are IMNSHO the master-classes.

Not that I have much to do about that either. And since it seems they’re still having a hard time convincing people to come to Israel, as Joan passes about half of the classes herself (Not that I’m complaining, she’s brilliant. It’s just that it’s hard work, so seems to indicate lack of additional people to take more evenings off her hands), that’s probably not going to change.

Anyway, now comes the part of deciding what do I want to go to beyond the master-classes (To all of which I want to go, but will settle on less for lack of willing partners), and of trying to get friends and family to accompany me.

Should be fun.

New neighbours in the office again

June 20th, 2006

The last ones left a few months ago. This starts to feel like a recurring theme, the companies in nearby buildings are stationary, but the people trying to get the upper floors in our own building never stick for long.

The last ones were quiet, and we had little interaction with them. But the newcomers give a first impression that remind me more of the ones we had before.

They came around with the landlord, as he was showing them around the place. And no, I’m not sure what reason is there to show someone around after they already closed the deal. Presumably they got to see what they’re renting before that.

They were quite an odd looking pair (even number of odd people is a lousy pun, isn’t it?).

My boss asked the one that seemed in charge what business are they in.

Stocks.

Informative, and highly descriptive. So my boss asked for a few more details, trying to understand just what will we be getting.

Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Like, err, toys. Or computers. Stocks. All sorts of stuff.

So my boss further asked if they’re just using the space for storage, or will there be an office there. And if they’re importing merchandise, or doing something else?

The guys said that he’ll be there personally in an office as well. And that’s it’s not an import business, it’s “stocks”. Consisting of “Toys, all sorts of stuff, computers, whatever”.

The exact word he used, all this time, was “stockim”, with the “im” being a Hebrew suffix for plural, like the “s” in English. Normally when a Hebrew word exists people use it. Such a form of the English noun with a Hebrew suffix is only used when the word is one for which there isn’t yet a Hebrew word, or it’s a very uncommon word.

Stocks, if it’s not obvious, is a word for which there are a few perfectly suitable, and well used, Hebrew equivalents. So even if it wasn’t clear from the guy’s demeanour and attitude, it was obvious he wasn’t exactly talking about moving regular stocks, but usings “stocks” as a codeword for something else…

Oh, well, at least this time they didn’t get parking rights, so we won’t have to share the limited parking lot of the building. Still, looks like we’re going to have some good high-quality legal company again.

Vacation over

June 20th, 2006

Ugh, the school year ends tomorrow.

Bored schoolkids are going to start running around in the streets during the day, crowding street corners and making noise into late hours at night, and making much more of a nuisance of themselves than usual.

Not to mention crowding cinemas in the later show hours, making noise and chatting all the time while the movie is playing. This happens almost every time a bunch of younger kids are in a cinema, but when they’re not on vacation they tend to avoid the later hours since there’s school the next day.

Similar problem with restaurants, shopping areas, and anywhere else bored kids may pester their parents into taking them.

Though I guess the parents suffer the most, so I’ve nothing to complain about.

OK, rant over. May this be the worst that will happen over the next couple of months.

Warm welcome for ‘Playboy’ in Indonesia

June 16th, 2006

An Islamic group in Indonesia decided to aggressively object the publication of a local Playboy Magazine edition.

Two policemen were injured Wednesday when about 100 demonstrators, most of them Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members, attacked the Playboy Indonesia editorial office in South Jakarta.

Protesters pelted the building with rocks, shattering windows and panicking the tenants.

A very violent reaction. And while 100 aren’t that large a group in general, it’s a very large group if they’re all actually taking part in the riot and not just standing and looking.

There are legitimate ways to object to things you don’t like, but this sort of violence isn’t one of them. If they think there are legal issues, and they claim they do, then they should have used the courts. If they object to the content they should avoid buying the magazine, and encourage others to do the same.

The demonstrators earlier visited National Police Headquarters to complain about the publication of the magazine. They made a bonfire of about 100 copies of the magazine.

Burning about a 100 copies of the magazine is also not the way. And not only because book (and by extension magazine) burning is bad in general. It’s also because in order to create a bonfire of a 100 magazine they had to first purchase those 100 magazines.

This happened before the riot. So these weren’t copied found in the offices by someone breaking in.

Buying the magazine is a good way to encourage publication. It’s demand. Playboy doesn’t care if people read the magazine, or burn it. They earn the same amount of money either way. And either way they can claim the buyers think it’s hot (OK, lousy pun there, sorry).

Plus, imagine how this looks like in the organization’s expense account. Going over the general ledger of an Islamic organization and finding a purchase order for 100 Playboy magazines is bound to make some accountant giggle.

Imagine that, since it’s related to the organization’s goal, they ask the Indonesian equivalent of the IRS for a tax refund…

The Independent Journalists Association (AJI) condemned the attack. AJI secretary-general Abdul Manan said

“According to press regulations, the FPI could face a maximum Rp 500 million fine,” he said.

500 million Indonesian Rupiahs are a little less than $53,000. On the one hand it seems like a small amount of money compared to the damage described. On the other hand in local terms it may be quite a lot, I’m really not sure.

I’m also not sure why someone from a journalistic association is a reliable source in determining the maximum fine the organization may receive for the damages they caused. Even if the lawsuit for damages will be done by the AJI, and not directly by Playboy Indonesia, or the country (remember, policemen were hurt), their lawyer should make these kinds of comments, and preferably base them on what they request in the lawsuit. This, however, just seems pulled out of nowhere.

And just how seriously do these guys take it? Was that just a one-time riot because people got in a frenzy? Well, no, it’s more serious to them than that, according to their leader:

“If the magazine continues to be distributed, the FPI is ready to go to war,” he said

Of course, saying war when you’re an organization, rather than a country, carries a different meaning.

Still, it’s a shame that people can actually consider going to what they consider war for a purpose as important and crucial as preventing publication of a magazine.

Chief editor of Playboy Indonesia Erwin Arnada said

“Playboy Indonesia is in full compliance with Indonesian law and does not, and will not, contain any nude photography. We have also …

What was that? Playboy Indonesia magazine will not contain any nude photography? Hmm…

I never actually opened an issue of Playboy, but aren’t these things supposed to kind of be about… nude photography? Isn’t that like the whole point?

Or is this supposed to be the version where people finally, finally, actually mean it when they say they only read it for the articles?

Out of money, and of common sense

June 14th, 2006

I think copying here the email I just tried to send my bank, “Bank Leumi“, would cover pretty much all the points I want to mention.

Identifiable information replaced here by asterisks.

Hi.

I’m probably sending this to the wrong address, but the Leumi website did not have any more relevant contact address on it. This is also something you may want to attend to, for people wanting to contact the bank on something not directly related to the website.

Last night I was trying to withdraw money from the ATM machine on Leumi’s branch in *** (I think branch ***, but not sure) .

After inserting my card and typing my PIN the machine presented a list of option which did not include the option to draw money.
The main screens, before I started the operation, did not announce that this ATM is out of money. It wasn’t noted anywhere. Only in the inability to withdraw.

The ATM itself seemed to have been changed since the last time I used it to withdrew money, so I was concerned this may not have been a genuine machine, and wanted to contact someone to verify.

The main contact number printed nearby was the *** for Leumi-Call, which wasn’t working at this hour. There was another sticker with a number listed for use in “severe malfunctions” ***, so for lack of a better alternative I called it.

I explained the situation to the person there, who said that while he has no way to verify that the machine was not altered, the behaviour is normal for ATMs who are out of money. I double checked with him that the ATM indeed does not notify in advance that it’s out of money, and he confirmed, saying that it’s because they are used for additional purposes like checking the balance.

To be on the safe side I went over by the bank today. The ATM worked properly, and everything seemed to be in order.
The whole incident, however, left a bitter taste, and I have some strong recommendations:

1. Have the bank fronts provide a contact number which is more obviously fitting for cases like these. This should be on the bank, from the inside pane of a glass/transparent-door, so it will be obvious it’s a real number and not part of a scamming attempt together with a potentially false ATM.

2. An ATM which is out of money should always announce it on the display, *before* people enter their cards. Yes, the ATM has other uses, but they are comparatively minor, and are a lot less worrisome when not working.

3. If a customer is calling worried about a possible scam or false machine, you should have a way to check that. As far as I know all these ATMs are connected to some central computer, so there should be a log of activity. If the person I talked to would have told me that he sees a record of my card being used in the ATM I would have known for sure what was going on, instead of staying mildly worried till morning. And on cases of a real problem, someone then could have been alerted to it earlier.

Thank you, and awaiting to hear your reply,
Yaron.

P.S. On a non-related issue, but one that also deals with security, having the “information security recommendations” page on your website require running a Flash file is… counter-productive.

Not that the website issues are a big surprise with them, nothing much improved since the last times I actually tried to use their website.

Last minute update: I was just about to post this, when I got back a bounce message from the bank. I sent it to two email addresses listed on their contact page, one for support of their “direct surfing” service (which is basically the website), and one for support of their “premium service” customers.

The only addresses there were those two, and one for help with their monetary trades section, so these two seemed the likelier candidates.

Except that according to their mail server the premium address doesn’t exist, and cannot receive mail.

This is how you know a bank is serious. They treat their regular customers better than they treat premium ones. I love it.

I did send another mail to the first address, telling them about it. This time it’s actually well within the boundaries of what they’re supposed to deal with.

This is why you need friends

June 11th, 2006

A woman was found dead in her apartment in London. Which isn’t all that rare, people do die. But this one was lying dead in her apartment for close to three years before being found.

Police believe she probably died of natural causes in early 2003, and was only found in January this year when housing association officials broke into the bedsit in Wood Green, North East London.

They were hoping to recover the thousands of pounds of rent arrears that had piled up since her death.

So for three years nobody noticed, or cared, that she was missing.

No friends wondering what happened to her and why she didn’t call them for a long long time.

And apparently even the landlord was willing to wait three whole years (two if she paid a year in advance, not very likely) without at least bothering to… I don’t know… come over and knock on the door? That must be a very nice landlord.

Some mail was marked February 2003, and medication and food had February 2003 expiry dates, the spokesman said.

Nobody even noticed the smell coming from the apartment.

Joyce Vincent was surrounded by Christmas presents and the television and heating in her bedsit were still on.

The electrical company didn’t cut her power off, for three whole years? Or was she on a deal where the bank transferred the money automatically every month? In that case, it’s amazing she kept enough money in her cash account for three years’ electricity.

And that the bank didn’t notice the lack of any income, and the electrical company didn’t notice the unusual usage patterns of never-varying electrical consumption.

The people who gave her all these Christmas presents never wondered why she didn’t call to thank them, or invited them for Christmas the year after? Maybe all the presents were really lousy.

Most of all, though, I want to know the model of her heater. Three years working non-stop, and the thing still functions? I want one.

That’s one way to convince yourself God doesn’t exist

June 11th, 2006

Some guy in Kiev found a unique way to show, or maybe test, his faith in God. He went into the lion’s den in a zoo, expecting God to save him:

“The man shouted ‘God will save me, if he exists,’ lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions,” the official said.

The result was not a big surprise. Expect, perhaps, to the man himself:

“A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery.”

I’m not exactly sure what was it supposed to prove. If the guy believed God existed, and that God would protect him, he should have said that instead of an “if he exists”.

Because even assuming God does exist, and is actually bored enough to bail stupid people out of lions’ dens (Mind you, there’s only recorded case, Daniel, and that poor sap didn’t exactly venture into one of his own free will, or solely in order to see if God will save him. Even if you accept that biblical case as fact, a single instance is still a long way from proving God will save anyone going in front of a bunch of lions), this sounds more like a challenge by a sceptic. So it would be perfectly understandable if God would decide to let someone like that become a meal.

Another option is, of course, that God exists, but is the God the lioness believed in. It can be rather safely argued that when you’re stuck in a middle of a large cage, it would actually take an act of God to get an extra-large protein-pack jump in and walk towards you while making loud noises.

Then again, maybe God doesn’t exist. In that case the events that took place also make perfect sense. It just begs the question of why did the idiot jump in there, if he wasn’t sure himself. Him being killed doesn’t prove the point one way or the other.

Actually, him not getting killed wouldn’t have proven the point either. But it might have had a stronger case if he walked in there claiming his belief in God, instead of merely claiming it was an option he was testing.

In addition to the story itself the article provided some background information that I found to be of… questionable value:

The incident, on Sunday evening when the zoo was packed with visitors, was the first of its kind at the attraction.

So normally people don’t jump into the Lion’s den at that zoo claiming God will save them if he exists? Good to know. Still, the lion’s God be willing, maybe it will be the beginning of a trend.

How many really bored Texans are there?

June 7th, 2006

The brilliant Texas governor, or maybe a really drunk aid, have come up with a new plan to help prevent illegal immigration across the border from Mexico.

What’s the idea?

The Texas governor announced his plans for streaming the border surveillance camera footage over the internet at a meeting of police officials on Thursday.

“A stronger border is what Americans want and it’s what our security demands and that is what Texas is going to deliver,” Mr Perry said.

The cameras will cost $5m (£2.7m) to install and will be trained on sections of the 1,000-mile (1,600km) border known to be favoured by illegal immigrants.

Yep, placing lots and lots of cameras covering huge stretches of the border. Then wiring them all up, and broadcasting the footage on the Internet for anyone who wants to monitor.

The practicalities of effectively covering such an area with cameras are beyond me. For comparison, the entire border of Israel, with the sea and all neighbouring countries, is slightly more than 1,000km. They’re talking about 160% of that.

The price they quote for the job also seems widely inadequate. This should cover all the cameras, installation, wiring required to connect everything, computer servers to collect all the footage and store it, and bandwidth costs for transmitting all that video over the Internet?

No way. They’ll run out of money before even beginning to deploy and set the infrastructure, not to mention maintenance costs.

Heck, they current estimates I see for their fence idea is at $8 billion. This is a third of the length, but walls have much lower maintenance and upkeep costs, don’t require electricity, and don’t have to be wired. So maybe $5 billion is more likely than $5 million.

And that’s not even the biggest problem with the idea, I think. Who exactly do they expect to sit and watch those border cams??

Sure, some may be placed in locations with nice scenery, so may become popular. But most of the cameras will just be covering empty stretches of a deserted border. And totally deserted and eventless videos are mainly one thing: boring.

This is a part of why normally people who monitor such surveillance cameras are paid money. It’s a boring job. Nothing is happening, and there’s nothing to see.

Sure, the singular event of actually noticing a group of Mexicans trying to sneak in can be exhilarating and exiting, no doubt. But most people won’t get to see that even if they’ll wait hours, days, weeks, and months, just staring at a camera feed. It’s a very long border, I remind you.

Watching such a huge amount of cameras will require massive manpower dedicated to the task. Texas can’t employ so many people on this job, so they’re trying to get it done for free by the public.

But nobody will do it on their spare time. Not unless their alternatives are even more boring and dreary than watching a motionless camera feed.

Can there really be that many Texans out there who are constantly so bored out of their minds?


Hat tip to Make You Go Hmm

Chinese to English mistranslations

June 6th, 2006

This first link contains screenshots from a DVD of Star Wars: Episode III. Except that this is the version which was translated and dubbed to Chinese, showing English subtitles.

The subtitles’ English was translated back from the spoken Chinese, after the dubbing.

And the results are hilarious. Some of the lines are very amusing even if you never saw the movie, or any movie in the Star Wars series.

The other two links include pictures of Chinese restaurants’ menus. Including the translated names of all the dishes and courses in English.

Some are just plain bizarre, and some are terribly funny.

I just hope official documents and international agreements are translated better than that…

Power outages

June 5th, 2006

During the last couple of days the electrical company here had caused numerous planned power outages.

Planned being the wrong term, maybe. The outages are intentional in that someone threw off the switch according to instructions, and planned in a similar manner since someone had to decide which switch to throw

But there were no notices in advance regarding the areas that will have the power supply broken, or the specific length in each case. According to the report the electric company didn’t bother deciding in advance themselves, just sent instructions down to regional branches throughout the day.

The most exact notice was, as heard on the radio today, a general and vague notice that the electrical company recommends that people will avoid using elevators until about 18:00. This after several incidents yesterday where people were trapped in an elevator for close to an hour.

Not that the warning helped much, a few people managed to get stuck in an elevator today as well, since the stairs are not practical for everyone.

The lack of information was very annoying. When the power is cut down it’s always annoying, naturally. But when there’s some accident or malfunction, it’s one thing. You know someone is working to fix it. And you know there wasn’t any way to provide a warning in advance. A planned/intentional outage is another thing. They disconnect parts of the grid on purpose because they can’t provide the demand. They know. So they can announce it in advance. The fact that they didn’t announce in advance, that’s just galling.

Most of the outages lasted a little less than an hour before power was restored, and cut down in another area. This is probably because the allowed limit for unannounced planned power outages is an hour, and they probably don’t want to cross it or they’ll have a lot more to explain if there will be an inquiry.

On the other hand, as I said, while the first outage on the morning may really be hard to announce in advance (assuming it’s motivated by a sudden discovery that power usage is about to outgrow the available production), this can’t possibly be the case for all the later outages when they already claim they will have them throughout the whole day. They can make a plan, and publish it. They should.

A main point, causing a lot of argument, is that at this point it’s not really clear if there really is a problem to supply the demand for electricity, or if it’s merely the power company flexing muscles. Possibly both.

The electrical company is involved in arguments with the government which are currently keeping three power stations down. The first case, and the one where it’s obvious the electric company is wrong, is an environmental issue. The electric company received more than enough time to upgrade a station to work on natural gas, and has been dawdling very aggressively. As a result the government ordered them to shut down the station until the upgrade is complete.

For two others the reports I read are unclear, but it’s either some disagreement about the administrative organization of the stations, or that they’re physically not ready to work yet. Depends on whether the people quoted are from the electric company or from the government. I’m not familiar with the issue myself beyond that, so no opinion here.

With three stations down, and power consumption raising each year, it’s possible that the company really can’t supply all the demand on very hot days, and has to shut down some clients. It’s possible.

On the other hand it’s also perfect timing for this to be a move to put pressure on the government to allow them to operate the stations their way. The station with the environmental issues has been shut down very recently, and it’s not a very major one. We had some really hot days not so many weeks ago, and they went over very smoothly and without a hitch.

The really messy part of everything, though, is all the highly biased media reports, for both sides, and the responses by some of the people.

Some reports go on and on about how the government is preventing the electric company from operating perfectly fine stations that can supply the power, never mind all the pesky issues like pollution and they way things run.

Other reports try to cast the company as a villain, blame on it anything that happened as a result of the power outage (and some things that just happened to occur at the same time), and call for investigations and lawsuits.

Many people feel very happy to charge head-on into blaming the electric company for everything. Sometimes they get a bit out of hand.

One article I read mentioned how a very old man with a pacemaker was caught in an elevator, and was rescued by the fire department after a few minutes. Which is fine as far as reporting goes, but then they bothered to mention again that luckily he didn’t need medical attention while he was stuck in an elevator.

Please, the guy was trapped for like five minutes. If he’s in a big risk of having a heart attack every five minutes, and to require immediate medical attention for that, then he should stay put in a hospital, or with an attached nurse. He should not go home and climb into an elevator. Nothing happened, and even if something did happen blaming it on the electric company would have been far-fetched.

Another story that received big headlines was about a woman, with a baby, who got trapped for 45 minutes in an elevator. So OK, that’s not fun. But again, nothing happened. They just waited in an elevator, and it was a little hot. No need to turn this into the major tragedy the paper and readers seem to.

Worse, traffic lights went out as well. They’re electrical, of course, so it’s no big surprise. And, frankly, traffic lights do go out occasionally anyway due to unplanned power breaks, or other malfunctions. But this time, the few accidents that occurred are blamed on the electric company. People want them to be sued for being responsible for the deaths.

This despite the fact that many intersections don’t have traffic lights anyway, and people usually know how to deal with this. Our traffic regulations cover driving without traffic lights. Heck, one of the drivers on the big accident ignored a stop sign. Sounds like the kind of driver who may ignore a red traffic light as well.

Sure, the traffic light was off, but that wasn’t the cause of the accident. That driver was. But people don’t seem to care, since yelling at the electric company is more fun.

One article I saw covering this went even further. They added to the same article a report about a kid who managed to slip down some ditch someplace and get killed. No relation to the electric company was mentioned at all, it just happened close to the area where one of the car accidents occurred. So, for the reporter, the physical proximity seemed like good enough a reason to mention this kid in the same article, thereby giving the distinct impression that this death can be blamed on the electric company too.

It’s a bad situation. And knowing we have those power outages makes me feel like I’m in some third-world country instead of the first-world country we usually pretend to be. If it will turn out that there wasn’t a good technical reason for the outages, and they were indeed mainly motivated by the desire to play power games (if you’d pardon the pun), I’ll also wholeheartedly support some major house-cleaning and head-chopping in the electric company.

But from here to blaming everything wrong in the world on them, well, the distance is very large…

Yet another minor blog upgrade

June 2nd, 2006

WordPress had another minor upgrade, from version 2.0.2 to 2.0.3.

Didn’t seem like it contains anything that would cause any problem, so I upgraded.

If I was wrong, and missed something, and something on the blog seems broken now, please let me know.