Monday, December 22, 2014

AAA-14 Answer one – spreading the morning

Today I’ll begin my “Ask Arthur” answers with an easy question. My friend Jacquie asks: Marmite or Vegemite?

Turns out, that question’s actually not that easy for me. Of course.

For the uninitiated, Vegemite and Marmite are both spreads made from yeast. They’re high in B vitamins and are very salty. The spreads began in the UK as Marmite, a name referring to a French earthenware cooking pot, similar to what the product was originally sold in.

In 1908, Sanitarium Health Food Company in New Zealand bought the sole rights to distribute the product in New Zealand and Australia, but they later started manufacturing a different version, adding sugar and caramel, which produced a lighter taste. Typically, fans of the UK Marmite say they hate the Sanitarium version (and probably vice versa, though I don’t know that for certain).

Vegemite, the Australian yeast spread, began production in 1922, after disruptions in supply of UK Marmite after World War One. Several decades later, Vegemite began to be manufactured in New Zealand, too, and was for more than 50 years. Local production has now ceased and all Vegemite sold in New Zealand is made in Australia.

When I moved to New Zealand in 1995, I’d heard of Vegemite, thanks in part to Australian pop group Men At Work’s 1981 hit “Down Under”. There was also that brief Australian craze in the US, with Men At Work, Crocodile Dundee, and Olivia Newton-John’s Koala Blue stores, among other things. But all that was well and truly over by the time I moved to New Zealand.

I arrived here never having tried Vegemite, and I’d never heard of Marmite. Nigel served me some Marmite on toast (he didn't have any Vegemite). He prepared it for me because I didn’t know how to use it at the time. It turns out that, though I didn't know it, Americans’ biggest mistake is to treat it like peanut butter. In fact, the way to use it is to put some on a knife and wave it over the toast (an exaggeration, but only just). I keep threatening to make a YouTube video teaching Americans how to use Vegemite/Marmite, because all the ones I’ve seen get it wrong in some way or take the piss out of Americans (like the one of an Australian teen “demonstrating” how to eat Vegemite by taking a over-flowing tablespoon of Vegemite and shoving it in his mouth like peanut butter; thinking about that still makes me gag).

As it happens, and unlike a lot of Americans, I didn’t hate it. In fact, for awhile I would often have some Marmite on toast in the morning, usually under a slice of good ol’ “plastic cheese” (individually wrapped cheese slices). I also liked it under tomato and (especially!) avocado because those both benefited from the salt in the spread.

I also use a good spoonful of the spread when I make beef stew. It adds a little colour and replaces salt I’d otherwise add. When I was a kid, my mother used Kitchen Bouquet to add colour to her stew, and when I first smelled the yeast spreads, I immediately thought of the sauce she used, so that’s where I got the idea to try it.

However, I stopped using any of the spreads (apart from in stew) when I learned that people with gout should avoid yeast. So, like many other foods associated with gout, I now avoid the spreads except for very, very rare occasions. And stew.

In answer to the question, which do I prefer?, the simple answer is that on taste alone, I prefer NZ Marmite because it’s not as salty as Vegemite. However, for me, the real answer is MUCH more complicated than mere taste preference.

Marmite is made by Sanitarium, which is wholly-owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with which I have a LOT of problems, chief among them that they’re anti-gay and sexist. My bigger problem with Sanitarium itself—their bigger sin, if you will—is that they pay NO company tax, unlike their for-profit competitors. That’s just not right.

Sanitarium claims that their profits go to support charitable purposes, but that includes money that goes to the church itself, and we really don’t know a lot about what they do with that money. We do know, however, that for the company to sponsor events, they have to conform to their church’s doctrine. That’s why their “Kiwi Kids TRYathlon” events are always held on a weekday or on a Sunday and never on a Saturday, since that’s their holy day. I should point out that as far as I know, they don’t refuse to support programmes or events that welcome or include gay people or non-celibate single heterosexual people, even though those same people might be excluded by the church itself.

But, putting all that aside, and even putting aside the question of whether the majority of their charitable work is good and acceptable to secularists like me, the larger issue here, for me and many others, is the enormous competitive advantage they get that their competitors don’t get by not having to pay company tax. I think they should pay taxes like any other business (“render unto Caesar” and all that…) and then give the leftover money to their church for its charitable work, in the same way that a for-profit business shares its after-tax profits with shareholders.

There’s a third option for spreads that some people prefer over both Vegemite and Marmite: Promite by Masterfoods is a vegetable and yeast spread and is lighter and easier to spread on toast than either Vegemite or Marmite. Or, so I’m told: I haven’t tried it yet, since I’m avoiding yeast spreads in general.

And there you have it: I prefer the taste of Marmite over the much saltier Vegemite, but I only buy the latter because of issues I have with both Sanitarium and the church that owns it.

Hm, maybe I should give that Promite a go…

Not home for the holidays

There are a lot of reasons why people can’t “go home” for the holidays, including time, money, weather, strained family relations, and living in a different country. Obviously, I think that last one is a good reason. But sometimes having to “go home” isn’t a positive thing, though it can eventually become something very different.

When I was a young adult and first living on my own, I used to visit my siblings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn’t think that much about it, though some years it was really quite a mission to get there and get back home.

However, once I started having relationships and set up homes with my partners, I began to kind of resent having to go visit family, especially on Christmas. I wanted the two of us to wake up in our own home on Christmas Day, and to me it felt kind of disempowering to have to pack up and go visit my partner’s parents (my own parents died before I was done with university).

Nevertheless, it was important to my partners, so I went along with it and didn’t complain about having to do it. And I usually enjoyed myself, too; it’s just that I felt invalidated.

The best Thanksgiving I had as a young adult was one year when my friend Grant hosted Thanksgiving for a bunch of us. The other guests were people I knew through activism, Grant, or both, and it was a lovely time, with good food and good company. I wasn’t long split with a partner, and after many holidays schlepping off to his family for the holidays, it felt liberating to be at a place of my choosing and spending time with friends, most of whom I was quite close with at the time—a family of choice.

I’m still friends with Grant, though I don’t know if he ever knew how important that day was to me at the time, or how fondly I still think of it (if he didn’t, he will now…). Mind you, that day was also the first time I ever played Tetris, and I was hooked instantly (and permanently), so there’s that…

Now that I’m well into middle age, holidays just don’t mean as much to me as they used to, and for a variety of reasons. We sometimes go to family members’ homes for Christmas, and sometimes we stay home; they’re all equally good times. We also get together for celebrations with family fairly frequently, so getting together for Christmas isn’t at all unusual.

Of course, I’m also older, but the times have changed a lot since the 1980s, too. Heck, I’m even legally married now, something that was unimaginable back then. So, it would be more surprising if my attitudes hadn’t changed.

Even so, I still remember the days in which I felt my relationship was treated as less than, how much I wanted to be home for Christmas at least sometimes, and how emotionally fulfilling that one Thanksgiving with friends was. What I have now is like that Thanksgiving, but all the time, which is pretty awesome. My dream did come true, but in very different ways than I expected.

There are a lot of reasons why people can’t “go home” for the holidays. But home really is where the heart is, so we all are home for the holidays in that sense.

Welcome home.

December Solstice

The December Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 12:03pm NZDT today. That means that the sun has reached its southernmost point, relative to the equator, and will now again begin “moving” north.

Our days will now begin getting shorter, and the days in the north will begin to get longer, if only slightly at first. Six months from now, the process reverses, then six months after that, it reverses yet again, and so on.

This all happens because of axial tilt—quite literally, the reason for the seasons. Because of that tilt, the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, and in the June Solstice it’ll be directly over the Tropic of Cancer. You probably knew that already, but it’s amazing how many people don’t.

As I’ve said many times, we don’t really take much notice of the solstices: Summer begins on December 1 and winter on June 1. And that’s just the way it is. Be that as it may, standard practice is now to refer to the December Solstice, not the "Winter Solstice", because it's only winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Similarly, the same is true for the June Solstice, not the "Summer Solstice".

In any case, enjoy the solstice, if you’re so inclined.

I created the graphic above for a post in 2012. I used an image in the public domain and claim no ownership over that image, however, the composition is licensed under my usual Creative Commons license.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Diversion: Sam Smith

I said the other day that Sam Smith, the 22-year-old 6x Grammy Nominated English singer-songwriter, is one of my current favourite singers. So, who better for my last Weekend Diversion post for this year?

The video above is Sam’s fifth and current single, “Like I Can”. As with all the videos in this post, it’s from his debut album, In The Lonely Hour. That album is the second biggest-selling album in the USA for 2014, reaching Number 2 in the USA, Australia, and Canada, as well as Number 1 in the UK and in New Zealand. The album has gone 3x Platinum in the UK, as well as Platinum in New Zealand, Australia, and the USA, as well as Gold in Canada.

Put more simply, the album has done very well.

Sam came out as gay shortly before the album was released, partly because he felt it would help people better understand his songs, and because he felt honesty was best. When I saw the video below, for “Leave You Lover”, the first one of his I saw, I already knew he was gay. Because of that, I thought the video’s visual narrative was unexpected, until I saw the very end. People who only hear the song can have it mean whatever they want, and people who see the video will know what it’s really about. This particular song isn’t a single, it’s just the first of his video’s I saw, and one of the many songs on the album that I like.

The next video was also the fourth single, “I’m Not The Only One”. It’s pretty obvious what the song is about, and the video narrative strongly reinforces the song. And yet, this video, too, leaves questions at its end.

“I’m Not The Only One” reached Number 5 in the USA, 3 in New Zealand, 2 in Canada, 20 in Australia and 9 in the UK. It was Platinum in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and Gold in the UK.

The final video is of “Stay With Me”, his third single from his album, and the most successful single so far: The song hit Number 2 in the USA, Number 1 in New Zealand, Number 2 in Canada, Number 11 in Australia and Number 3 in the UK. The single went 4x Platinum in the USA, 3x Platinum in Australia and in Canada, 2x Platinum in New Zealand and Gold in the UK.

There are a few other versions of this song on Sam’s VEVO Channel on YouTube, including a really good version with Mary J. Blige that I almost posted, but I decided that since this post is about Sam’s music, I should stick with the official versions.

While I like Sam’s debut album, I’m not terribly fond of the second single, “Money On My Mind”. But, what do I know? It hit Number 1 in the UK, where it went Platinum, and reached Number 12 in New Zealand, though only 51 in Australia. It didn’t chart in either Canada or the USA, but it did make it to Number 7 on the “Bubbling Under” Billboard chart, which basically extends their “Hot 100”.

So, that’s my final Weekend Diversion for this year. This is another category of post that got neglected in 2014; maybe I’ll do better next year. After all, sharing what we like and love is part of what having a personal journal blog is all about.

Update: In the comments for this post, Roger Green pointed me to Sam’s interview on CBS Sunday Morning, which I of course didn’t see. I think it’s a really good profile of him, so I’m adding that interview below:

AAA-14: Arthur Answers (soon)

Tomorrow, I’ll start the series of posts answering questions posted to me for this year’s “Ask Arthur”. As I’ve done before, my answers will be in separate posts, though I may include thematically similar questions in the same post. I expect to do one a day until the series is complete, although the series will be interrupted by Christmas Day/Boxing Day, at the least.

There’s still time to ask questions! Just leave you question as a comment to this post, send me an email or send it by social media. The options are virtually endless!

Yes, yes, let’s talk about the weather

Just last week, people were complaining about the weather. We had a slow start to summer, with unusually cool and rainy weather. Then, we suddenly had a hot and sunny day. Did the complaints end? Well…

Winter overstayed its welcome. Not even a week ago, MetService Meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said winter was running about six weeks late:
“We started winter really late. It was beautiful autumn and it carried on sunny… It was dry and warm and we had the warmest June ever, nationally. We went into winter late and it just seems we are going to exit winter late."
Yes, well, maybe so. But once we had more than one day of warmer temperatures, people naturally forgot all about that and started complaining about the heat. Just no pleasing some people—apart from me, of course, because I quite like sunny, hot weather (as long as I can stay inside in air conditioning, of course…).

I was one of those people who complained about the extended winter, but in a mostly snarky way—I was having a bit of fun. But there were actual implications to the ongoing cool weather, something I alluded to in my only blog post about the recent bad weather.

Oh, well, it’s all pretty harmless, really. Maybe it gives people something to complain about without being all negative about things that actually matter.

But, I really do like hot summer days.

Footnote: The title of this post is somewhat oblique, quoting a line from the prologue to “How Beautifully Blue the Sky”, a song from Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. There’s a video of that song on YouTube that isn’t bad version, despite the poor video quality (the relevant line is about 32 seconds in). I’m familiar with it because in fifth grade (age 10-11) I was moved to the advanced-level reading class, where we studied Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, so I wanted to know more. We also studied Macbeth, which made me want to read more Shakespeare. And, I did.

The lesson here is that one never knows where educating a child may lead: It may even lead to that child growing up, remembering what he learned as a child, and then referring back to it in a blog post about the weather.

Education matters much more than the weather.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Put the record on

This morning, I saw that Roger Green had posted “The Compact Disc and me”, about his slow adoption of CDs and some of the issues around that. I identified with much of what he said, though, my tale heads off in an odd direction.

Like Roger, my first CD was given to me, though I’ve forgotten if that was the only one before I bought my first one, or whether there were others. In any case, it was quite awhile later that I bought a CD player.

Also like Roger, I had quite a few vinyl LPs, though, unlike Roger, only maybe a couple hundred, including several 12-inch singles (what they once called “disco singles”), records with extended mixes of songs played in dance clubs.

I also had a stereo cassette deck, but bought only a couple recorded tapes, and only because the alternative was a CD, which I couldn’t play. Instead, I used it to make mixtapes of songs I liked, to match moods, etc.

Some time in the early 1990s, I finally got a CD player, but I only bought a couple dozen CDs before I moved to New Zealand, and I brought them all with me (unlike my LPs, most of which I left behind; all my 12-inch singles came with me, though).

Fast forward to 2001, and the first iPod was introduced. However, in New Zealand at that time, there was no legal way to put music on them. The iTunes Store didn't open until 2003—not that it mattered, because it didn't expand to New Zealand until 2005.

The lack of a way to buy digital music mattered because at that time "format shifting" (like, converting a music CD to MP3 format) was illegal under NZ copyright law. So, only musicians who wrote and recorded their own music had a legal way to put music on an iPod until 2005, and even then, people couldn’t legally digitise music they owned on CD.

Obviously, everyone ignored (or, more likely, didn't even know about) the law and converted their CDs. In fact, I’d been converting my CDs for years by that point so I could listen to them on my computer or to make CD versions of my old mixtapes. Some people also used illegal download sites like Napster, too, but that was mainly because there was no legal alternative.

New Zealand copyright law was changed in 2008 to allow format shifting of music CDs, but people are required to keep the actual CD and, theoretically, have them available for inspection by representatives of the copyright holder (not that it was likely to ever happen). The idea was to prevent people from buying (or borrowing…) CDs, ripping them to MP3 then selling (or returning…) the CD. Fair enough, but it means people have to store the CDs forever—theoretically, anyway, and we all know that people will ignore that and get rid of their CDs (for the record, yes, we still have all the CDs we’ve ripped to MP3).

Nowadays, I buy all my music as digital downloads, mostly through iTunes Store, which certainly isn’t perfect. For example, often music released in other countries isn’t available here, or is released much later. This mostly affects back catalogue items or things from less popular artists; content from big artists is usually released globally at the same time.

The other thing that’s wrong with iTunes NZ Store is that we pay more per song and album than US customers do. Mind you, we’re used to that, since we usually pay more for Apple-branded products, too.

The reality is, there’s not much alternative any more. All our CD chain stores are gone, and CDs are now mainly available from a few larger retailers. One of them, Australian chain JB HiFi, also sells vinyl LP records, which kind of brings it all full circle.

One of the main advantages of LPs over CDs, and CDs over digital downloads, is something that Roger touched on in his post: The liner notes. I’d add cover artwork to that, because, in my opinion, artwork has suffered in the digital age. Visuals just aren’t as necessary to snag sales, so while some of it is still quite good, much of it now is pretty bland and unimaginative. I could also count on one hand, I think, all the digital albums I’ve bought that came with what they call a “Digital Booklet”—basically, liner notes. None of that is really a complaint, more a sort of sad realisation; I just think that good artwork and liner notes add to the experience.

What’s the next form music will take? Personally, I think it’ll be some form of streaming, but that’s a topic for another day. Right now, I’m going to go put some MP3s on—that just doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

If Men Were Disney Princesses

As I’ve made clear by now, I sometimes have a love/hate relationship with BuzzFeed videos, even sometimes the same one. However, this one I love—so much so that I’m bumping this post ahead of others.

There are two things I particularly like about the video. First, the way it takes it for granted that a man might want to be a Disney Princess. The homoeroticism is actually pretty incidental, it being more about a man imagining being a princess rather than him being gay in real life, which is pretty irrelevant to the narrative.

The narrative is the other thing I like about the video: The way it takes the realities presented by Disney princesses and gently skewers them by presenting those realities as fact: “I wish I could be a Disney Princess so I could marry a homeless Arabian man,” for example.

The performances are solid, and the song itself is fun (the lyrics are in the YouTube description), and so is the video, which is the whole point, of course. And, anyway, who doesn’t want to “hang out with giant sassy drag queen squids”?

Somewhat related: I did a “which Disney Princess are you” thing back in 2008.

The Warwick Rowers Holiday Sing-A-Long

The above video features five members of the Warwick Rowers, who’ve become famous for their naked calendar. They do a small sing-a-long in this video, as well as talk about what their project is all about.

The naked calendar began as a way to raise money for their rowing club, a tactic used by many other groups. And, a calendar of naked fit lads isn’t a bad thing in itself. But theirs was something beyond all that.

It was clear early on that—not surprisingly—the gay community were strong supporters of the Rowers. They decided to offer something in return and started Sport Allies, which is dedicated to ending homophobia in sport. When the Rowers joined the fight, I had a feeling that we might have started seeing a cultural shift in sport, and since then we’ve seen many high-profile athletes come out, so the tide has definitely started to turn.

The Rowers exhibit a common trait among young men these days: They’re secure in themselves and their sexuality and their bodies, and don't mind using their sex appeal. They have gay friends and can’t understand why anyone would be against gay people. They also clearly don’t care if anyone thinks they might be gay because of all that.

But many young men these days also recognise the fluidity of human sexuality, how it’s not the linear either/or of gay/straight as was once believed, and they reject such labels (something I wrote about back in October). It’s a very different world than the one I came of age in.

At any rate, the lads seem like very nice guys. I’ve seen some of their interviews and “making of” videos, and follow some of them on Twitter. They always remain positive and friendly, traits I admire, probably because it’s harder for me to do that.

And, it’s all for a good cause. Not that one needs a reason to appreciate photos of fit naked young men, but it's nice that it's the case.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Spirit of the times – 2014

It’s that time of year when Google talks about what we were interested in knowing about in the year. Zeitgeist, they call it, which is a wonderful German word that means “spirit of the times”.

The video above, “Google – Year in Search 2014” shows some of what we searched for this year. They also have a companion site that helps people explore some of what the video was talking about.

But the main Zeitgeist lists require more clicking.

The global top ten “Trending Searches” for 2014: 1 Robin Williams, 2 World Cup, 3 Ebola, 4 Malaysia Airlines, 5 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, 6 Flappy Bird, 7 Conchita Wurst, 8 ISIS, 9 Frozen, 10 Sochi Olympics. This list reflects things from around the world, even if it has a largely US focus. This may mean US users dominate searches, or it could simply indicate the global reach of US culture (like Robin Williams). However, the global list—and many country lists reinforce the fact—has some things are truly global, like Flappy Bird (see the other lists below).

Despite the reach of US culture and/or possible dominance of US users, or shared global things, some clearly international things made the list, too. The World Cup, for example, Conchita Wurst, and the Sochi Olympics were all outside the USA. See the next list for more on all these.

The list for the USA is very similar to the global list—in fact, the top four were the same as for the global list. However, after the top four, things are in a different order: 5 Flappy Bird, 6 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, 7 ISIS, 8 Ferguson, 9 Frozen, 10 Ukraine.

I think that the main reason for the fact that Ferguson and Ukraine were on this list is that both were heavily covered in the US news, apparently more so than the Sochi Olympics. Also, since most Americans have never even heard of Eurovision, they’d have no idea who Conchita Wurst is. The fact that the World Cup was second on the global and US lists may show that interest in soccer is growing in the USA.

As is true for most countries’ lists, New Zealand’s List shows some interesting differences with the global list: 1 FIFA World Cup, 2 Robin Williams, 3 Commonwealth Games, 4 Malaysia Airlines, 5 iPhone 6, 6 Jennifer Lawrence, 7 Charlotte Dawson, 8 Flappy Bird, 9 Spark, 10 Ebola.

The reason our list has “FIFA World Cup” may be because the Rugby World Cup is a much bigger deal in New Zealand, and because it was always referred to that way in our media and TV coverage. The Commonwealth Games are similarly important to New Zealand, and less so to non-Commonwealth countries, as you’d expect.

While I personally think New Zealanders’ interest in Jennifer Lawrence is interesting, I had to—ahem!—Google her to find out who she is. Charlotte Dawson’s is a tragic tale of depression that led to suicide. She was a NZ-born TV presenter who had been well-known here, before moving back to Australia, where her career began. She later complained people were bullying her on Twitter, which apparently led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She said the bullying continued, and that, combined with other personal problems, allegedly led to her suicide. Ironically, had she died in New Zealand, I’m not sure I’d be allowed to say so much about the circumstances of her death, due to our rather antique coronial law.

An item unfamiliar to non-New Zealanders—and, perhaps, some Kiwis, too—is Spark, the incredibly silly new brand name for Telecom New Zealand, which provides fixed-line and mobile telephone service and Internet service. Also, the presence of iPhone 6 on our list is probably at least in part about people finding out where to buy them, and when, since we get them after the US and Australia, and, because we don’t have any Apple Stores, sellers aren’t necessarily obvious.

In general, I think that these lists provide an interesting snapshot of what people wanted to know about in various parts of the world this year (I also think the other lists in this series fascinating for more sociological reasons). It’s important to note, though, that people didn’t necessarily do these searches because they didn’t know anything about the topic they were searching for; in most cases, they probably simply wanted more information (or, in the case of, say, the FIFA World Cup, maybe they wanted to buy merchandise).

So, search away! And let’s see what the Zeitgeist is like next year; bet it’ll be similar in most ways.

Related: As far as I can tell, the only other time I talked about this was back in 2011.

Pop Danthology 2014

This is the 2014 Pop Danthology by Daniel Kim. It already hs 1.76 million views—up some 400,00 since I looked this morning. That’s pretty impressive.

I seemed to know more of the songs in this video than in the “PopLOve 3” video I posted on December 9, of DJ Earworm’s video, “United State of Pop 2014”, which I posted a few days earlier. I think part of the reason I know more songs now is that since the first two posts, I’ve seen more of the videos from this year, and in part that was because I was getting ready for my December posts (as well as also as other sites started wrapping up the year in pop music).

Actually, while researching this post, I realised that last year I posted the 2013 DJ Earworm video and the 2013 Pop Danthology in the same post. Part of that is because Kim posted his video earlier last year. But I certainly don’t begrudge him the extra time it took this year, not after I watched his “The Making of Pop Danthology 2014” video. Spoiler alert: It takes him about 180 hours each year.

All of these mashups and remixes are just a bit of fun. They’re manipulated, mixed and arranged to provide a representative sampling of the year in pop music. They’re all a little different, which is because of the different people making them, as much as anything.

But, as they say, variety is the spice of life—even in pop music mashups.

One week from today

Christmas Day is one week from today. So, to kick off the week, here’s a new cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Sam Smith, one of my current favourite singers.

And, we're off!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

YouTube Comment Reconstruction - Finale

This is the final “YouTube Comment Reconstruction”, and since I shared the first one, I figured I should share the last one. It’s been a fun ride.

The series has been brilliant in many ways, but for me one of the main things was calling attention to the inanity and the downright viciousness of the comments on YouTube. I routinely avoid them because they’re so awful nearly all the time. For example, and especially, I’ve not seen such pervasive homophobia and even rank hatred of LGBT people in any other place.

I decided to have a look at the comments for this video, though, and among the appreciative, straightforward (so to speak) comments, there were also some that kind of lived up to expectation. Someone left a clearly joking comment about the “blood” not being red, and that got the same sort of responses that this series reconstructed, namely, genuine, hostile responses to what was, in essence, a trolling comment. Yeah a sense of irony is not the greatest strength of YouTube commenters.

These videos made such aggressive and ignorant comments, well, fun. And entertaining, too. Dead Parrot, the comedy folks who made these videos, said in the comments to this video:
Just to clear up a few things, we're coming to an end with the YouTube Comment Reconstruction series because we feel like we've done everything we can with it for the time being. All the same people are still onboard and looking to work together on a new Dead Parrot series soon (including Eryl and Graham), we just thought it better to finish this series on a high rather than milk it and keep making them until they're not funny (which would have been the easier option).

We'll still be uploading comedy content on the channel, supercuts, full episodes of comedy shows and new Dead Parrot originals. Who knows YTCR might return in the future but for the time being we thought we'd round off the show with a nice message about not being a dick on the internet.
And it was a good send-off—and the final line is perfect.

Also, don’t be a dick on the Internet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TV ad: Dinner for two

This is an ad. It’s trying to sell something, and it’s also trying to sell good feelings, as so many ads this time of year do. Be that as it may, I think it's a sweet ad, and it’s the current NZ TV ad I like the best.

The ad is for Vodafone NZ, and it depicts a New Zealand Christmas dinner, but it focuses on two young lovers who are separated on the day. The end of the ad, when the boy shows what he’s written, is pitch-perfect.

According to Vodafone’s answer in the YouTube comments, the song in the background is called “Dinner for Two”, and was composed by Peter van der Fluit and produced by Sarah Yetto. I like the song, though it seems that it’s not available to buy anywhere.

All commercials try to sell something, and some do it better than others. Whether this one does or not isn’t my call, but, regardless, some ads just strike a chord with people. As one commenter said on YouTube, “Don't know why, but I love this ad.” That’s one measure of success.

Mostly, I just think it’s nice.

Monday, December 15, 2014

To be better informed about Auckland

Yesterday I mentioned people who complain about Auckland without really knowing what they’re talking about. Today I thought I’d share a few of the sites I use for better information about this city and the issues it faces.

Yesterday, I said: “Sometimes people outside the mainstream media do a better job of informing us”. The mainstream media can sometimes be incredibly informative and useful. But sometimes reporters have a clear bias against Auckland Council, or they go on some weird crusade. So, it’s necessary to take them with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Political blogs require even more scepticism because they tend to be pushing an ideological barrow. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their viewpoints are “wrong”, or even that their facts are wrong. It simply means they have a very particular political/ideological perspective they want to promote, and that has to be kept in mind.

I still read all of those, of course, but I also turn to some specialist sites for better, more in-depth information, and often in far more detail than I could hope to find on my own.

So here are sites I frequently turn to:

Talking Auckland "Conversations with You About Auckland": I’ve gotten to know TA’s Ben Ross through social media—Twitter and Facebook—where we’ve had many interesting conversations. Ben is, as he says on the site, “passionate about Auckland, thus actively involved across various fronts in doing my bit to make Auckland a better place.” Part of that means fostering discussion through the Talking Auckland site and Ben’s recently introduced podcast.

Ben’s relentless at getting details about pubic policy issues, and explaining what they mean, thereby making people better informed about the issues facing Auckland. Sometimes he’s complimentary about Council or its plans, and sometimes he’s critical. But he’s also independent, which makes the information he provides even more useful.

TransportBlog: This is the blog of advocacy group, Campaign for Better Transport, and was established “to provide commentary and encourage intelligent debate about transport issues, with a particular focus on Auckland.” They are one of the main promoters, along with Generation Zero, of the Congestion Free Network, a proposal so awesome—and common sense—that the Labour Party endorsed it in the election earlier this year. They also back specific projects to improve public transport in and around Auckland. The information they provide is solid and also very detailed and thorough.

Generation Zero: This is a youth-led advocacy organisation dedicated to fighting climate change, so is working on “providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels.” They’re not a specifically Auckland organisation, but the issues they work on affect this city very much. In addition to the Congestion Free Network, they promote projects that can serve as models for other areas, like separated cycleways on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.

Basically, Generation Zero is a hothouse of ideas and solutions, and with the energy to promote them in a no-nonsense way—you’d expect nothing less of a group with a tagline: “A Future That’s Not Shit”, which is a concept I endorse!

What these three sites provide are resources to understand some of the issues affecting Auckland’s future. A theme running through all of them is the importance of designing future development alongside public transport, not developing the city and hoping to shoehorn in public transport later. Fundamentally, they all talk about how to move Auckland forward in ways that are sustainable, liveable, vibrant, and with a cleaner environment less dependence on private cars and fossil fuels.

One last site, as a sort of bonus: Hard News by Russell Brown on Public Address (which is “a community of blogs”). Hard News is a kind of “general interest column” by media veteran Russell Brown. I particularly like his clear-headed, no nonsense look at media obsessions. A good example of that is when he took the Herald on Sunday to task for a bullshit story on Auckland Mayor Len Brown’s “secret room” in his new office. Russell, in his classic style, headlined his piece: “Some reprehensible bullshit”. Russell’s blog also has a unique feature in that comments to his posts are always readable, and often add to both the discussion and one’s understanding of the issue being discussed. That’s true for other blogs on the site, too—and I can’t think of many sites I can say that of.

So there you have it: Three incredibly useful sites for understanding issues facing Auckland, including some issues the mainstream media cover only superficially—if at all. Plus, a fourth site for cutting through some of the nonsense in the mainstream media. Put all that together with the mainstream media and also expressly partisan political blogs, mixed with healthy doses of both curiosity and caution, and it’s easy to be well-informed about the issues facing Auckland.

Then, the next step is to act.

33 problems only Kiwis will understand

One of our nephews in Australia posted this to Facebook, and I thought it was hilarious. There are things that anyone who identifies with this land—born here or not—can relate to. It’s by JGeeks, who won fourth place in the 2012 New Zealand’s Got Talent.

JGeeks describe their ethos on their Facebook Page:
A few generations ago, Maori travelled across the Pacific Ocean in waka. These days we struggle to drive to the corner store. Society offers an unrealistic unhealthy lifestyle for all ages and races – from the food we eat, to our sedentary lifestyles, the demanding work hours to the unrealistic expectations which society demands of YOU. JGeeks are on a mission to break down these models through innovation, music, beauty, fashion, art and culture. Join us!
Their performances on NZGT were dynamic, a mix of traditional Maori artforms, contemporary dance, comedy, performance art, and even a bit of vaudeville. They also do parodies and comedy videos like this one.

What I think is particularly interesting about this video is that within hours of it being posted to Facebook, it had over 200,000 views, but the YouTube version, which appears to have been posted about the same time, had only a few hundred views at the same time. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a video posted to Facebook have more views than its YouTube version. In this case, they have about 35,000 subscribers on their YouTube Channel and 172,000 Likes on their Facebook page, so they start out with a bigger base there than on YouTube.

In any case, I thought this video was funny. But do check out their YouTube Channel for more, and a very wide variety, of videos.

Recommended YouTube Videos:
JGeeks - NZGT Semi Finals 28-10-2012
JGeeks - NZGT Grand Final Performance\
JGeeks - The Best Day I Ever Had (Official Video)