Shtusim: for your entertainment

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When Free Gifts Hurt

It's great when you get little knick-knacks from work - coffee mugs, clocks and all that. The longer you work in a place, the more stuff you acquire - all with the company logo. And not just your company. Calendars, pencil holders and keyrings from companies trying to make a good impression and gain your business.

In my experience, I have found that most of these little trinkets seem to break, bend, scratch or simply cease to function after a short time (like that really neat 2005 wall calendar from a recruitment company which, frankly, is not much use now). You see, they've got to buy in volume. I've done this sort of thing before. The more you buy, the cheaper it is per item. So it makes sense for a bakery to buy 4,000 toilet-roll-holders with their company logo on it and send them to all of their customers and prospective customers. But although it is cheaper for a company to buy 4,000 instead of 400, each one costs money so inevitably they get the basic or non-deluxe version. The result is 4,000 low-quality, mildly defective, company-logoed chamois cloths, or whatever. In other words, junk with a logo on it. But you take it because it's free and it's a shame to waste it.

The only time when I can see this as not being applicable is if you are the CEO of a company. You have a win-win situation. Firstly, whenever some supplier sends you a freebie, you can say to your secretary, "Carol, why don't you take it. I already have a set of gaudy flurescent-green serviette rings". See, the reason you can do that if you are CEO is not because you already have that item, nor is it because you don't have the space in your large country villa for it, but it's because you don't feel the need for more freebies.

Here's what I mean.

Let's say that you are the CEO of Samsung. Samsung is a huge company that makes everything from gadgets to large appliances and beyond. So being the CEO, it would be embarassing for you and the company to be seen with a Motorola mobile-phone. You bring home various business associates for dinner and the company wouldn't look so good if they noticed that your TV, fridge, sound-system and microwave was made by General Electric. So the company gives you all this stuff for free. Now your home practically has "Samsung" written all over it. You no longer feel the need for a cheap "ACME Concrete" iPod cover.

But here's the downside: let's say that you leave Samsung for a better paying job as the CEO of a bank. A few things can happen: 1) Samsung wants all their shiny toys back and you have to re-stock your house with appliances; 2) Samsung lets you keep all of the shiny toys but now your house is full of Samsung branded stuff, which you may or may not have liked to begin with; 3) It's not like the bank is going to supply you with free samples of their product, so all you are ever going to get are cheap, plastic, bank-logoed gimmicks.

Looks like Carol will be missing out on her use-once-keyring-torch. Tough world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


An avid reader of this blog...well, let's just call him a "fan"... perhaps a more accurate description would be "casual reader"...okay he's some guy I just met because he asked me for directions - but that's beside the point. "Some Guy" asked me today where I come up with the topics I write about on this blog. Alright, he didn't ask me directly, what he said was "can you please point me towards the central bus station" I thought he said, "tell me all about your really interesting blog". An understandable mistake. But, I digress...

So I told him that it really isn't easy coming up with interesting topics to talk about. What I often do is I sit at the computer and whatever word pops into my head, well, that's what I write about. I gave him the example of "swimming". I think it was at that point in the conversation that I looked up and realised that the "guy" had nicked off, leaving me to talk to myself for the last hour and a half. But then it occurred to me that I have never written a blog about swimming. So here it is...

I love swimming. Yes I do. More specifically, I love swimming under water. There is almost no better feeling than swimming to the bottom of a deep pool, sitting on the tiles and then looking up at the surface of the water. It is somehow calming.

I remember very clearly when, about 11 years ago or so, I was on kibbutz, working in the greenhouses in extraordinary heat. Then, when the day was done at 4pm, I would head straight for the swimming pool. A quick shower and then, in I went. Ahhh, the coolness, the stillness, the tranquility. Incidentally, that's when I learned how to do a backflip into the pool. I can't remember who taught me (one of the French guys, I think) but I learned how to flip myself over into the pool. It really was thrilling. And, to show off, I had someone take a photo of me doing a backflip into the pool. I ended up sending the photo to my parents with the caption, "Here is me doing a backflip. You can clearly see the scar on my knee from when I fell off the roof". Boy, did I have some explaining to do. You see, one of my jobs was to whitewash the roof of all of the greenhouses. The greenhouses were all made of some sort of plastic. It was like one sheet of this thick plastic stuff, bent in the middle to form a curved roof (of course that's not what it was, but you get the picture). So I had to climb up on the curved roof to paint it and I fell off, gashing my knee on the way down. But, yet again, I digress...

I remember watching the movie "Kickboxer" when I was a teenager. Here was Jean Claude Van Damm training to beat the bad Thai kickboxer guy. Naturally (like in the Rocky movie when he was training to fight against the Russian) the training methods were very unorthodox. One of the things Jean Claude had to do was to submerge himself at the bottom of a well and punch the water. I thought that it was so cool that I had to try doing the same thing. Funny thing is, I think I must have stayed under the water for quite a while re-enacting that scene. I suppose if you don't concentrate too much on the breathing, you can stay under for longer than you would have otherwise.

Notice that I have only talked about swimming in a swimming pool and not at the beach. There is a very good reason for this. Fish. I don't mind fish on my plate or in a tank, but I got this thing about swimming with fish. I suppose that if I had to conquer a "fear" this one would be reasonably easy to do. I mean, there is no real rational reason why I should be scared of swimming amongst harmless fish, but the thought of it doesn't thrill me. I can even predict what will happen: I'll jump in the water, schools of fish will swim around me, I'll flail my arms in an effort to avoid a head-on collision with a trout (or whatever) and then I'll get out of the water and go "whew". And that will be all, nothing worse. But I aint gonna. Besides, then you get sand in between your toes and the salt water makes your hair smell funny. And other excuses.

But I really love swimming. I didn't like swimming when we did it as a sports activity for school. I was always uneasy with the idea of plunging into the water with 15 or 20 rowdy guys. And besides, the sports teachers had that gleam in their eyes whenever we stood by the side of the pool. Once, we had to line up and lie down on the diving board, face up, head over the water. The teacher then lifted our legs and flipped us into the water. I'm not exactly sure what educational value this activity held, but somehow I kept finding myself at the back of the line. Oh, the teacher saw me hiding, but to my great relief, he left me alone.

I used to be a reasonable swimmer (now I would just classify myself as "buoyant"). I was never fast (once, when I was in Grade 6 we had swimming trials and I told one of my friends that I'll pretend that there is a shark behind me so I will swim faster. When I came last, he asked me what happened. I said that the shark took one look at me and lost his appetite). What I lacked in speed, I made up for in stamina. I was like that with running, too. In my hey-day I could jog and jog and jog without raising a sweat. I could also swim lap after lap after lap (I think my record was 120 laps of a 25m pool - about 3km - without pausing). I think the attraction of distance swimming was the challenge of setting a tough goal and achieving it, sort of like the way I write my blogs.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Challenge: How To Stop Them News Junkies

It would probably be an understatement to say that life in the Middle East is "exciting". It's a journalist's dream come true - always something to report. The news is rarely good, but there is always something to put in front of the newspaper editor.

Actually, when you come to think of it, the world is also a pretty "exciting" place to live in terms of news stories. I mean, not that we have a viable alternative at this stage, but you have to admit that there is always something newsworthy going on on this planet of ours.

We have become so used to having news available to us whenever we want it that news providers are constantly challenged to give us something to talk about around the proverbial water cooler. So it really comes as no surprise that conversations inevitably turn to the news - what's going on today.

I think that we have become a society of news-junkies.

And being a junkie of any sort is less than preferable.

So here is what we have to do. Next time a co-worker, acquaintance or even a complete stranger pipes up with, "Hey, did you hear about the...", put a stop to it immediately by interrupting with a completely silly sentence that has absolutely no connection with anything. Example:

Friend: Hey, did you hear about the-
You: -baking pies cures cancer. Especially if they are meat pies. But you really have to watch the amount of sauce you put into those pies. You really don't want to overload them with oil because then it clogs up your arteries so you may not die of cancer but you will probably get a heart attack before the age of 40 or soon thereafter.

That would put a stop to any conversation about politics, war, tsunamis or economic issues.

If you are in the mood and really want to go one level higher, try this: let your friend get to the first word of the subject of conversation and then you interrupt and speak for a minute about that word. Example:

Friend: Hey, did you hear about the doctor-
You: Doctors are very educated people. They spend a number of years in university studying how your body works. And you really want them to do a good job of studying how the body works because, frankly, I wouldn't send my car to a guy who doesn't even know how to open the hood, so why should I let some guy who came last in his class tinker with my innards? That's just plain stupid. He's got to be bright. But you know which doctors are really bright? Veterenarians. Yep, they have to know and understand the anatomy of hundreds of different animals. You really have to be a bright spark to know how to treat all different sorts of animals. But then again, I wouldn't want a veterenarian treating me. There are a few reasons for this: 1) The Vet's answer to almost any difficult injury or sickness is "time to go to sleep, kitty cat" and 2) what if the Vet has a lapse and fills me full of some medecine to treat the flu and then declares, "Oops. When I prescribed the medicine, I was thinking about elephants and not people". And in that case a simple "sorry" wouldn't cut it, would it.

There you have it - and no news.

Try out this new challenge and see how you go!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere and Still No Beer to Drink

I'm no business genius, but sometimes when I go into a cafe or restaurant and see all of the inefficiencies, where the service is lacking and how the decor is inappropriate, I feel I can fix up the joint better than the owner, who supposedly knows the business inside-out. For example, a restaurant serving "American Style Cuisine: specialising in business lunches and corporate dinners" should not have pink walls and waitresses dressed in casual attire.

Sometimes, I come across excellent marketing that really impresses me, not that I'm a business guru. For instance, we bought a laser printer a few months ago and I receive a note in the mail from the supplier that I can receive a discount on toner if I buy from them. It just so happens that I need to buy a replacement toner - guess who I'm getting it from?

I reitterate that I'm no business maven, but there are just some things that even school children know. For example, if the latest fashion is orange, sell orange clothes, not blue; if it is cold, sell heaters and not air-conditioners; and so on.

Well, my blog-readers, someone had better have a bit of a chat with the manager of my local supermarket. It is the middle of summer - the weather is stinking hot at 2am - and they don't sell beer.

If you read my previous blog, you will note how important an ice-cold stubbie is in this heat. But, no, our supermarket is happy to sell coffee and tea by the trolley-full, but a bottle of beer? Not a chance.

But, hey, give them a break. The supermarket just re-opened after remodelling and changing their name. Perhaps they have beer in stock, but not in the place it used to be. Actually, nothing in that supermarket is where it used to be. Maybe it is prudent to ask where the beer is? I think that is a pretty reasonable idea, don't you? Well, that is what I did, and here is how the conversation went:

Me: Hi. I've been walking around this supermarket for ages looking for the beer. Do you know where it is?
Supermarket Lady: I'm sorry, we don't have beer.
Me: What do you mean? You used to have beer. It used to be over there [waving a finger in the general direction of the rest of the supermarket].
Supermarket Lady: We ran out.
Me: Ran out? When?
Supermarket Lady: Last Friday.
Me: But today is Thursday! That's, like, nearly a whole week! When do you expect to get some in?
Supermarket Lady: Hopefully by Sunday.
Me: Sunday? What am I supposed to drink until then? Water? Ergh...
Supermarket Lady: [turns her back and walks away]

It has been 2 weeks since that conversation and still no beer in the supermarket. Did someone tell the manager that it is the best beer-selling time of the year? Talk about poor timing. It was most likely a supply issue, rather than a manufacturing issue as beer is available elsewhere (at inflated summer prices). There's probably some unfortunate truck driver broken down in the middle of a deserted highway with nothing to drink but a tonne of beer. Poor guy...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What Could Hit the Spot Right Now

It's a hot, sweaty night which has followed a day of oppressive temperatures and a glaring sun. You tried to take refuge under a tree, but the strong, hot wind wasn't afraid of the shade and you were not safe even there.

You are tired, legs burning, aching. Your calf muscles are fighting a losing battle to stand their ground. The house is quiet, children sleeping, air-conditioner humming its welcome tune as it pumps out a stream of cold air that seems to instantly disolve in the humidity. The slowing spin of the ceiling fan mimics your energy level as you lower yourself helplessly into a dining chair. You squint as a slow drop of perspiration rolls quietly down the side of your face, through the crevices of your dry skin and crashes onto the floor in a micro-splash near your foot.

Your clothes stick to you, like an ill-fitting second layer of skin. Your shirt unpeels itself from your back, only to flap back onto your damp body to stick there for another while. Your damp shirt collar brushes against your neck as you shift your weight to slip your foot out of your sports shoes. A rush of cold air caresses your foot for a brief, but pleasant moment.

You know that you desperately need a shower but despite the vivid imagery in your mind of clean, cool water running over your body, you don't have the energy to carry yourself to the bathroom. Even your fingers ache. Your breath is hot and you can almost see it lingering in the heavy air before your face. Your eyeballs hurt when you look around but, surprisingly, your eyelids remain defiantly open.

It is well past midnight and the house is very nearly completely silent, save for refridgerator noises at irregular intervals. You can hear yourself breathing. Your heart beating.

Now is a perfect time to enjoy the feeling of an ice-cold beer, straight from the bottle, going down. You can feel the very soul of the cold liquid as it fulfills its ultimate purpose. A bag of lightly salted pretzels, a soft breeze through the fly-screened window and absolutely nothing in the world could hit the spot more, right at this very moment.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Consider it Done

Welcome to my newly, and more appropriately, named blog: Shtusim (loosely translated as "Sillinesses").

I haven't written a blog for over a month. I decided to go into semi-retirement to see what would happen. Turns out, nothing. I wasn't exactly innundated with calls, faxes or emails asking why I haven't posted in such a long time. In fact, I think someone mentioned something to me once a few weeks ago. But that could have been in relation to something else, I don't recall.

When discussing the blogging issue with my wife, she asked me if I think that I'll go back to writing. I told her that I might. At least it amuses me. Self-entertainment is important when you have no TV - and blog-writing is much more neighbour freindly than yodelling. Anyway, I said that I'll post something soon and to consider it done.

And it struck me. "Consider it Done" is a statement that really makes very little sense.

Mr President: "Kill Ossama!"
General: "Consider it done"

Yeah, right.


"Could you please fasten the safety rope to my bungee jumping harness?"
"Sure. Consider it done."

Result: splat.

So, in other words, when you say "Consider it done", what you are actually offering the other person is an alternate reality where you don't actually have to go ahead and do something. All you have to do is consider it done and, whalla, it is.

Not surprisingly, I much prefer the alternate reality approach to the realistic approach. Consider the following: "Did I take out the garbage? Nah. Just consider it done and it will be. Anyway, I'm busy writing emails to my boss telling him that all those projects he asked for are to be considered done....Yes, I know our anniversary is coming up. I didn't buy you a gift. Tell me what you want me to buy for you and just consider it done - like the candle-lit dinner for two in an expensive restaurant. Consider that done, too. I have already considered the Visa card bill paid, so I hope you enjoyed your meal as much as I did..."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Subliminal Messages

You have probably noticed that I changed the background colour scheme of this blog. This was done in response to an off-line comment I received that the previous colour scheme made the person feel wierd. It seems that the colour scheme out-wierded the writing, and I couldn't let that be, so I changed the colours around.

Let me know what you think of the new look.

Speaking of colour schemes, while I was fiddling with the colours it occured to me that perhaps I could slip some subliminal messages into the blog. According to Wikipedia:

A subliminal message is a signal or message designed to pass below the normal limits of perception. These messages are indiscernible to the conscious mind, but are alleged to be perceptible to the subconscious or deeper mind: for example, an image transmitted so briefly that it is only perceived unconsciously, but not otherwise noticed [LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG]. Subliminal techniques have occasionally been used in advertising and propaganda; whether they are anything more than a rarity is debated.

There are all sorts of unfounded conspiracy theories about subliminal messages in advertising [LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG] and the ensuing public outcry. But I'm all for it. People don't know what's good for them. Advertisers do.

So once I decided to go ahead and include a subliminal message on this blog, the [LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG] only remaining problem was, what message to convey? Something egotistical? Peace and love? Something political? It took me a while until I decided that - well, if I told you then it would spoil the whole thing, now wouldn't it? So next time you find yourself espousing an opinion, stop and think for a second that perhaps your opinon is really a sinister result of reading this blog...

*Disclaimer: any opinions expresed by readers of [LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG] this blog do not necessarily reflect those of its author unless, of course, it is a particularly convincing opinion or one that is so eloquently put that it flabbergasts the listener into agreeing - in which case it is probably my opinion (unless it is an argument that strawberry ice-cream is better than chocolate because everyone knows that chocolate ice-cream is far better than strawberry so any argument to the contrary is bound to fail and is therefore not included).