Thursday, August 16, 2018

Animal day

Today was an animal day. Well, most days are, actually, because they often do things that are endearing, interesting, funny—on just filled with life. Any or all of those are good.

Last week, I ordered our groceries online, but this week I shopped in person, and at a branch I don’t normally go to. But it was necessary because the furbabies needed food, too, and there’s only one place I can get that.

I buy their food at a pet store chain, and they have locations in both Pukekohe, where I usually go (and prefer to go), and also in Takanini. However, Bella’s specialty food is only sold from a vet, and only the Takanini store has a vet. So, I had to go to Takanini.

It’s actually a very annoying thing: The food Bella eats is designed for her kidney condition, but there’s no drugs or restricted substances or anything like that in it, so there’s no reason it can’t be sold literally anywhere pet food is sold. By restricting sales to a vet, it creates artificial scarcity, which keeps the price artificially high—very high, in fact. I could order the dog food online, but not the cat food—that vet thing again.

So, I had no choice but to go to Takanini. I’ve written before about the area and why I don’t like it as much as Pukekohe. In fact, there are only two stores in Takanini that aren’t in Pukekohe (a Bunnings Warehouse and the pet store with the vet), so I rarely need to go to Takanini.

I got home slightly before school let out, unpacked the car and put the groceries away, and gave Leo his new (synthetic) bone I’d also bought. He absolutely loves chewing the old one we have, one I originally bought for Jake many, many years ago. I bought the new one because every once in awhile Sunny chews on it, and Leo doesn’t like that. Another reason is that we bought the old bone when Jake had nearly chewed up his original one. I think we waited too long, and Jake never really “took” to the new bone. I thought maybe having two on the go at once might make both those things better. Maybe.

I even played with the dogs this afternoon, so when Nigel got home late afternoon, they—Leo and Sunny in particular—were still riled up. Leo had Sunny chase him around the yard at breakneck speed, which Nigel enjoyed watching. It’s nice to see them play together like that.

All four furbabies get along well, actually, although Bella can sometimes get a bit grumpy these days. She really is getting older.

And that was my animal day: Most of what I did was because I needed to go to a store I don’t normally go to, and that was for Bella in particular. It turned out to be a good day. The furbabies always make it a good day, actually.

Love, New Zealand Film – and more

The video above is an ad promoting what some of the money spent on New Zealand’s Lottery goes to. The video above is about the films that have received NZ Lottery money, but there’s more—a lot more—to the story.

There are several ads that promote different things that NZ Lottery money funds. All of the profits—the money left over after expenses and, of course, paying out prizes—goes back to fund things for the benefit of New Zealand. Film and television production is one of those things (and, full disclosure: I haven’t seen all the films in the ad, and I don’t even know what some of them are).

A related video series called “Good On You” talked in more detail about things Lotto helps fund, though they weren’t ads as such. For example, the latest one, about funding for various projects that help Kiwi communities:

Last year the TV ad that was running was about funding for community sport, and that ad used a different approach than the ad about film funding:

When the ad about New Zealand film first started airing, I meant to share it, and then forgot—probably because it stopped playing frequently on television. It recently began airing again, and when I went to the Lotto New Zealand YouTube Channel to get the video, I saw the others, and, well, one thing leads to another, doesn’t it?

There are people who don’t approve of Lotto because it’s a form of gambling. It’s not about moral objections (though we have a tiny minority who do object on those grounds), but, rather, because some people can develop gambling problems. Lotteries promote what I’ve heard called “unreasonable expectations” because most people won’t win the big prize. While most of us would think that fact was obvious, there are some who worry a lot about those who don’t understand the long odds.

There’s an old saying that one should never gamble more than they can afford to lose. Most us, though by no means all, can afford a little flutter on Lotto. For most of us who play, Lotto is just a bit of fun, a small investment in a fantasy of what we might do if we did win, even though we know we won’t. But, what if we DO!

And, because people do play Lotto, there’s money available to be distributed to communities and creative efforts all across New Zealand. And they’ve made some pretty great ads along the way, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Twitter’s twilight?

Twitter seems to be lurching from one public relations disaster to another, but growing tired of shooting itself in the foot, it now seems to be aiming squarely at its own head. The service may now be in terminal decline.

Twitter used to be my favourite social media service, something I frequently mentioned here on this blog. There used to be all sorts of interesting conversations, along with silliness and even useful information. It was, in other words, varied and even eclectic, but positive overall. Those days are over.

I don’t when Twitter started turning into the toxic sewer it’s become, but I really noticed it in the run up to the 2016 US elections when there were so many people being so horrible—or, so it seemed. It turned out that the toxicity was coming from Russian government trolls and bots trying to sow hatred and division to make it easier to elect the Russian government’s chosen candidate, the Republican nominee who ended up become president.

Even after we learned about the extent of the Russian interference, Twitter didn’t change. Like a well that’s been poisoned, it was very difficult, even impossible, to make Twitter safe again. It’s never recovered, and the anger, bitterness, and aggression, from the Right and the Left alike—has continued apace.

To be sure, Twitter had problems long before 2016, and people were horrible to other people before then, too. In 2014, for example, Green Party supporters in that year’s New Zealand elections were horrible to Labour Party supporters, who all too often returned the favour. And Twitter constantly resisted any and all efforts to get them to take responsibility for harassment and bullying carried out on their platform, and, more recently, their slowness to deal with hate speech.

But now their downfall may be coming because of something that is both surprising and not at the same time: Twitter’s staunch refusal to ban the insane conspiracy freak who was booted off of Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and even Disqus (the commenting service I use for this blog). This is surprising because, to be blunt, that guy ain’t worth it. It’s not surprising, however, given Twitter’s laziness about dealing with hate speech and also harassment: The lunatic has been victimising the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook, but that’s apparently acceptable to Twitter.

The other reason that Twitter defends the lunatic is that they have been the constant target of rightwing activists who moan and complain, as the always do, and claim they’re “victims”, as they always do, because, as they always claim, they’re being “discriminated against” because they’re conservative. Yawn.

In response, particularly in the wake of the rightwing’s latest rage over imaginary demons, the fake “Twitter ban” controversy, Twitter is reportedly mounting a “charm offensive” to win over rightwing opinion leaders. They can’t woo rightwingers and ban the lunatic at the same time.

What is a good and decent person to do? Activist Shannon Coulter came up with a creative response: A mass blocking of all Fortune 500 corporations active on Twitter—in other words, reduce Twitter’s ad revenue:

The way it works is that Twitter users subscribe to Shannon’s list of accounts, all of which are blocked. Then, if Twitter bans the lunatic, all the account will be automatically unblocked. Simple. But I have a feeling this is the last stand before mainstream Twitter users start leaving the service.

The problem here is that if Twitter abruptly reverses itself and bans the lunatic, the Right will explode in fury, as they always do, and even those who despise the antics of the lunatic will nevertheless express outrage and declare that Twitter has “proven” their pet conspiracy theory, namely, that Twitter “hates” conservatives. Yawn.

On the other hand, if they don’t act, mainstream users—and especially anyone even slightly Left of Centre—will conclude that Twitter values rightwingers—even lunatic rightwingers—more than mainstream people. They’ll vote with their keyboarding fingers and leave the service.

So, no matter what they do, Twitter will lose users and the ad revenue those lost users represent. If they don’t ban the lunatic, they’ll be seen as having no integrity and/or courage. If they do, they’ll be accused of—well, lots of stuff, most of it unhinged, as always. This has the makings of a death spiral for Twitter.

Facebook, meanwhile, is facing its own share of harsh criticism. The main thing saving them is that they’re not AS bad as Twitter, but they’re also slow and reluctant about dealing with problems, so they could get themselves into similar problems—IF there is a replacement for Facebook. The lack of an alternative is probably the main thing that’s saving them at the moment.

For the first time since the social media age began, it’s possible to imagine it ending. People like the social interaction with friends, and if a service came along that figured out how to cater for that without repeating the mistakes of Twitter and Facebook, it could become the next king. Or, people might just move on. If that seems impossible, then just think back to the time before social media: We managed then, so we can manage again. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In support of our teachers

Tomorrow, New Zealand’s primary and intermediate teachers are going out on strike for the first time in 24 years. They are seeking greater pay rises than the Ministry of Education has proposed, as well as more non-teaching time to reduce burnout. They’re worth every cent they’re asking for—that’s not in dispute. The question, as always, is where will the money come from?

The video above from the NZEI, the teachers’ union, puts the current reality for teachers into sharp focus: Fewer people are training to become teachers, which will inevitably lead to shortages of New Zealand-born and trained teachers—especially when we factor in the teachers leaving the profession due to low pay.

The government says it has no more money this budget year, but they promise to make progress on making up for nine years of neglect under the previous National Party-led government. I have no doubt they will. But in the meantime, our education sector remains in crisis.

I’m a strong backer of unions—I was in one for a time, after all. However, this is the second high profile strike after nurses went on strike last month. Those are two areas that National cut funding for when it was in government (a fact they continue to deny, using weasel words to explain away the falling funding brought about by moving shells around). However, there’s something that really bothers me: Why NOW?

National was in power for nine years and they cut finding for both education and nurses, yet the unions didn’t strike. Why not? It was probably reasonable to fear retaliation, but had they gone on strike then, they may have been able to prevent some of the damage the National government’s underfunding caused.

By striking now, so early in the Labour Party-led government, they help reinforce the news media pundits’ narrative of the new government being incompetent and unable to govern. Had they waited as much as a year, of course, it would have already been in the run-up to the next election, and that would be worse.

So, my complaint is really just why didn’t they strike under National when it could have helped prevent so much damage?

Nevertheless, as I said, they deserve every cent they’re asking for—and far more. I hope they get what they want, and soon. But I also hope they don’t damage the government too much in the process, because the harsh reality is that they’ll do far better under a Labour-led government than under one run by National—although, Labour does have to prove that. I hope they do prove it.

The video above screened on TV tonight; I don’t know if it was a one-off or part of a larger campaign. But I think it’s very effective and deserves to be seen.

An unusual week that was

There have been many times I’ve mentioned being busy, so that’s not an unusual thing. It’s also not unusual to be swamped with work or projects around the house. This week it was all of that, plus one more: We went out three nights this past week. That combination was very unusual—but nice.

On Monday night, Nigel and I went to a screening of the documentary Celia about Celia Lashlie part of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) at ASB Theatre, which is down at Auckland’s waterfront. It was the first time we’d ever been to a film in the NZIFF, so that alone was a treat (though the seats were surprisingly uncomfortable).

Celia Lashlie was a former prison director who went on to become an author and social justice advocate, particularly in the area of poverty, breaking the patterns that lead children of poor families to prison, and so much more. Her approach was often confrontational, sometimes combative, and always with a ring of straightforward truth.

The film was made by Amanda Millar, a former TV journalist who I knew from her work on TV3’s versions of 20/20 and 60 Minutes. The film is very well made, but the point, of course, is Celia’s work and legacy. I think that all MPs should see the film so maybe they’ll stop doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Wednesday night we went to dinner to celebrate Nigel’s sister’s birthday. It was nice to get together with family, and to have a nice Japanese dinner. That was on Auckland’s North Shore, not far from where we used to live.

And, of course, on Saturday we went to see Celene Dion at Spark Arena, which is in Parnell, near the waterfront. That was a big trip for us, too.

The fact is, we rarely go out—even to dinner at our nearest café. There’s really no reason for that, apart from the usual (busy lives and being tired in the evening). So going out three nights in one week, and needing to drive a hour, more or less, each way, it turned out to be a very big deal.

Add to that the fact that we both worked on the garage the weekend before we went to see Celia, and I helped Nigel with a couple smaller projects during the week, and my having a work project to finish, and it was a an unusually busy week because it was in unusual ways.

Oddly enough, I was more tired today than on Monday. I’ve always heard that such things hit us two days later, not the next day, but I always thought of that as being merely anecdotal, but, if it is, it’s always applied to me, too.

It’s a new week now, and even though we’re in the middle of that week as of tomorrow, I hope to make real progress on the garage. I expect to have more to say about that soon. Once that project is done, I have plenty of others line up behind it.

First things first. And, a quieter week this week will be good, actually.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Seeing Celine

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Yesterday, Nigel and I went to see Celine Dion in concert at Auckland’s Spark Arena, the first time either of us had been there. Auckland is the final stop on her “Celine Dion Live 2018” tour of Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. I didn’t say anything about this on Facebook until we got there, and even then I expected I might get some negative reactions from Facebook friends, not that I really cared. I also didn’t really know what to expect. It turned out that both ended up being really great.

Now, I have to admit right up front that while I like Celine Dion, and know many of her songs really well (and like them), I nevertheless wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, which means that I’m not devoted or excited about every new release as I am (or have been…) for other artists. However, because I like her work, I wanted to see her perform live.

We arrived VERY early, because of emailed advice Nigel got form the promoters, and because we found parking right near the arena. We grabbed a quick fast food dinner, and joined the queue outside the arena at around 5:45pm (I think). After a long wait, which included bag searches and a body scan with a handheld scanner, the doors opened about 6:30pm or so. We went right to our seats.

Our seats turned out to be very high up and to the side (stage right). We were so high up, in fact, there were only a few more rows between us and the very top-most row. And, it as very steep—so much so that I, who can’t stand heights, really worried about going down the stairs when we were leaving. In fact, I didn’t leave my seat until the concert was over.

A little after 7:30pm, the opening act began. That was Véronic DiCaire, a French-Canadian singer and impressionist I’d never heard of. She had a nice voice and really good range, and many of her impressions of famous singers were good. The set was—okay. It didn’t wow me, but I didn’t dislike it, either. That ended a little after 8pm.

A little after 8:30pm, Celine’s concert began. She was in fine voice, hit all the notes with ease, and was energetic. She also walked to the sides of the stage and sang to those of us seated at the sides (something Véronic never did). She did mostly songs I knew, and a few I didn’t. She also did some songs I’d not heard her do before, like John Farnham’s 1986 hit, the power ballad “You’re The Voice” [WATCH/LISTEN to his version]. That and other songs surprised me because I hadn’t really known that she could do rock vocals so well.

As is her way, Celine also talked a lot to the audience, which was sometimes corny, but also kind of endearing. It also seemed natural, as if no matter how many times she’s said something similar in a show, each time she makes it up fresh as she goes.

When the main part of the show ended, I knew what the encore would be, since she hadn’t performed it in the show (and I won’t name it because there are more people who will see her in Auckland). And she did a second song a cappella, and then it was all over. I forgot to check my watch, but it was after ten, closer to 10:30, maybe.

After a very slow exit out of the arena, we got the car quickly, and out of the carpark quickly, and then hit near gridlock on Auckland streets as we tried to get to the motorway. We ended up getting home just past midnight.

Celine was last in New Zealand back in 1996, but we couldn’t go. Nigel had just started a new job, and I was still at my first one, having only arrived to live in New Zealand in November of the year before. The stars, as it were, just weren’t aligned.

So, this time we didn’t miss the chance. It was also nice to go to Spark Arena, which is nice inside that food and drink stands had good offerings at surprisingly good prices. Now that we’ve been there, we’ll know what to expect the next time we go.

Because we arrived so early, and entered as soon as the doors opened, there was hardly anyone inside the arena. In fact, it didn’t really fill up until the last 10 or 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. At the bottom of this post are two photos I took of roughly the same spot. The top one I took at 6:37pm, and the bottom one right after the opening act was finished (8:09pm). It gives an idea of how full it was. Spark Arena holds about 12,000 people, and the concert was sold out.

I’m keenly aware that some people can’t stand Celine Dion, for a variety of reasons. I don’t care about that, obviously—Arthur’s Law. Besides, I have a history of liking artists others don’t. Even so, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see negative comments on my Facebook page. However, I got none, which these days is unusual enough to be worthy of mentioning. Naturally, the people who really know me (in real life or online only) were no doubt happy that Nigel and I got to have a nice night out together, something that’s not all that easy to manage with our busy lives, and because we now live up to an hour’s drive from central Auckland.

So, we had a great night out, and really enjoyed the show. We’d go see her again—though if her next show is in 22 years, that may be pushing things a bit.

Spark Arena at 6:37pm—the doors had only been open a few minutes at that point.
8:09pm, after the opening act and before Celine's concert. The arena is full.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Meanwhile, in New Zealand

This was news in New Zealand. Not about the bouncing sheep—that’s common enough, though the trampoline is optional. Instead, it was the fact that the video became so popular so fast. People watch the darndest things.

Still, it's interesting that RNZ took it seriously enough to explain that sheep commonly jump, and why. Why did they do that? Was it because of the extent of the urban/rural divide in New Zealand these days, that many people have never seen sheep on a farm except on TV? Or in viral videos? In any case, it's extremely comforting that this is news in New Zealand.

Banning the bags

Today the New Zealand Government announced that the government will be phasing out single-use plastic bags. The video above was posted by the New Zealand Labour Party on their Facebook Page, one of the few videos that’s actually embeddable. However, the video itself isn’t actually important: The action is.

“This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “It’s also the biggest single subject school children write to me about.” I bet it is: Kids get the importance of taking even simple actions better than many adults do. This action shows that this government is serious about its role as kaitiaki (guardian) of our environment.

The move was applauded by Auckland Council. Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of Council’s Environment and Community Committee, said, “With hundreds of millions of plastic bags being used only once by Kiwis each year for an average of only 10 minutes, the desire to reduce our plastic waste and the call for action from the public to protect our environment is loud and clear.”

The Leader of the Opposition said predictable things in predictable ways, such as, “Kiwis were reducing their plastic usage because it’s the right thing to do. They didn’t need to be told what to do…” which was never the point. Banning single-use plastic bags is about the final push to eliminate them, something that only regulation can accomplish. He claimed credit for the reduction in plastic bag use, even though the previous government actually did almost nothing about reducing the number of single-use plastic bags used; their main—and very useful—contribution was to develop a programme for people to recycle soft packaging, including the bags. I use that system all the time. But that only deals with disposing of bags, not reducing their use in the first place.

This government’s move is great, but not needed for me. I switched to reusable bags years ago, and, as I said a few days ago, even the supermarket chain I get online orders from also now uses reusable bags for deliveries. Over the years I’ve also collected reusable bags given away for free by companies wanting to promoted themselves, so I’ll be all set once single-use bags are banned everywhere.

There have been questions raised about how small businesses will cope. I think the best analogy is 2012, when New Zealand changed its give way rules at intersections. Critics predicted mayhem, but it never happened. Instead, people adapted—as they always do. If people can adapt to changes in the way they drive, then I’m confident they can adapt to always bringing a shopping bag with them. Or, businesses can always switch back to paper bags.

I think that the move will create opportunities for businesses. Some will want to give out branded bags to increase awareness of their brands (or just reinforce them). Others will offer special bags for particular purposes, such as mesh bags for produce, or a special bag to protect potatoes, or one for onions. (I've noticed that similar ones on Amazon list the weight of the bags so the purchaser knows it's minimal, which is important for stuff we buy by weight).

There’s also an opportunity to create more “man friendly” bags, since a lot of them are clearly designed to appeal to women. That made sense in the early days, because women were the ones who did most families’ grocery shopping. Being generally more socially aware than men, they were also more likely to use reusable bags for all sorts of shopping. Now that men will need such bags, whether they like it or not, it would be good to have more options that are either more masculine or, at least, less feminine. I’ve heard many men say they feel uncomfortable using reusable bags because they consider them too feminine (or maybe they think using them is feminising? That’s a different problem). In any case, it makes sense to remove the last little barriers to using reusable bags.

But, like I said, this really won’t affect me, because I’ve already switched (apart from produce bags, like above; that’s next). However, I may need to remember to take a bag when I pick up a few things at a small shop somewhere, though many of them already use paper bags (like the chemist where I get my prescriptions). This move by the government will help end the era of disposable bags, and that’s good for all of us.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Taste setting in New Zealand

New Zealand is leading the way yet again: This is the first country in the world to get a sugarless version of Coca-Cola sweetened with 100% stevia (pictured at right). Days of national celebration followed the announcement—well, not exactly that. More like national unawareness, to be honest.

The introduction comes about a year after the introduction of Coca-Cola No Sugar, which I taste-tested in June last year, and was much lower key. The new drink replaces the former Coca-Cola Life, which was a mix of Stevia and sugar. I taste-tested that in April 2015.

This will leave Coke in New Zealand with the sugar version, as well as four without sugar: Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coke No Sugar, and Coke Stevia No Sugar. As Stuff put it, “It seems unlikely that Coca-Cola can continue producing four no-sugar colas in the small New Zealand market.” They also speculate that Coke Zero will probably be dropped to simplify the offerings.

I bought a six pack of the cute little 250ml cans (outer wrapper of the six pack is below) just because I saw it in the grocery store. At the time, I didn’t know it was a new product and thought it might be imported, rather than made in New Zealand, as it was. My first reaction was that this made so much more sense than the former Coca-Cola Life. If someone is trying to avoid sugar altogether, then merely reducing the amount of it by adding stevia wasn’t helpful. Same for those avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners. Using 100% stevia was clearly the sensible solution, I think.

Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar has 1.3 kilojoules per 100ml (about 0.3 calories), which means it has about a quarter of the food energy of their other non-sugar colas. The reason is probably that stevia is non-caloric (doesn’t have calories of its own), whereas artificial sweeteners are usually just very low calorie.

But, how does it taste? I find it sweeter than any of the other no-sugar versions, and with a "piercing earthy sweetness", as a taster for the New Zealand Herald put it. I haven’t compared it directly to regular Coke, but it’s a different kind of sweetness. I think that at least some people will think it’s sweeter; I’m probably one of them.

Be that as it may, anyone can adapt if they want to. I say that because adapted to their old brand TaB, then later to Diet Coke, neither of which I necessarily liked when I first tried them. By the time I got to Coke Zero, it was much easier. So, I think that I could get used to Coke Stevia No Sugar, too.

The obvious question here, of course, is why would I (or anyone else) want to “get used to” a drink if we don’t like it immediately? There are two answers: Sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

We all know that we should avoid refined sugar. A little bit, particularly in food, isn’t usually harmful for most people, but too much causes weight gain and can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart problems. It’s best to avoid having it.

The alternatives, up until now, have been artificial sweeteners, and the science on them has been all over the map. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain, and can even lead to developing Type 2 diabetes—just like sugar. One theory [mentioned in the article “In Search of the Perfect Sweetener” from the BBC is that artificial sweeteners affect gut bacteria and that can lead to insulin resistence, which can lead to diabetes (and contribute to metabolic syndrome). So, artificial sweeteners MAY affect the body similarly to the way sugar does—not in a good way. Using them may cause problems, too (and that’s without even getting into the theories that they can cause cancer).

So far, there’s no evidence that stevia has any bad affects on health. However, it’s important to note that while stevia has been used as a sweetener since the 1970s, it hasn’t been studied as much as artificial sweeteners, so problems may yet be found now that it’s becoming more and more common. At the moment, however, stevia is the only natural non-caloric sweetener available, and it seems to be free of the problems associated with both sugar and artificial sweeteners, so all that makes it very appealing.

Years ago, I used aspartame all the time, including to sweeten my coffee, and did so up until I became convinced it was unsafe due to the Wisdom of the Internet. After reviewing actual data, I’ve since come to believe that it’s as safe as most other artificial sweeteners. Nevertheless, in sort of a holdover from the old days, and because non-use made me no longer like the taste, I switched the sweetener for my coffee to one made from saccharin and cyclamates. By then, it tasted best to me, and it’s very cheap. Even so, once my current supply is gone, I plan to switch to stevia, mostly to avoid the problems (seemingly) associated with artificial sweeteners and sugar. It will take some time to get used to as well, but—for now—I think it’s worth it to avoid other health problems.

Sweetening coffee is the main thing I use sweeteners for. I’ve tried skipping sweeteners completely, but it turns out there ARE some tastes I just can’t get used to. I rarely drink soft drinks, but if I want one I’m likely to choose Coke Stevia No Sugar. I wish they made a Sprite Stevia No Sugar because I think that would work well with stevia, and because there are times I want a soft drink without caffeine. Someday, maybe.

It’s never easy making smart choices for one’s diet, and in many cases those choices are necessarily highly individualised. This drink won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some people don’t like stevia in anything. That’s fine—there are other choices. But for me, I think this new version of Coke is a good option for a treat, at least for now.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

They fling you

New Zealand has a new “adventure tourism” activity: The Nevis Catapult, which is located in the Nevis Valley in Central Otago (Facebook video from CNN above). It sends people flying across the valley at 100km/hour in 1.5 seconds. Then, after a few bounces, the person is lowered to the valley floor. That would be a no from me.

The attraction has been worked on ver the past 30 years, apparently, by the same people who brought us bungee jumping in 1988. I never understood the point of jumping off a perfectly good bridge or building, which suggests that I’m probably not the market for such attractions. Because I’m not.

All joking aside, adventure tourism is serious business in New Zealand. Key findings in a 2012 study [Read/download the PDF] from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), half of all international tourists did some sort of adventure tourism, and a third did some sort of extreme adventure tourism. They spent $1.6 billion in New Zealand, which accounted for 60% of all holiday related tourist expenditure. Also, and this is just interesting, the study also found that tourists from The Netherlands and Germany were most likely to do adventure tourism.

To put that into perspective, in the year ending February 2018 [Read/download the PDF], all international tourists in New Zealand spent a combined total of around $6.8 billion (the total for ALL international visitors, including tourists, visiting friends/relatives, and also business) was $10.5 billion.

Tourism has been growing year on year, and directly contributed around 5.9% of New Zealand’s GDP for the year ending February 2018. Tourists in that period spent an average of $3,190 each (today about US$2,130), with a median spend of $2,130 (US$1,423).

What all of this means is that every new attraction is important for the New Zealand tourism industry, and adventure tourism is something New Zealand is known for, and an area where there’s still a huge potential for growth. Sure, people like me may not be interested in those attractions, for whatever reason, but there are plenty of other things to keep us interested—and spending—too.

So, to each their own. Adventurous and sedate tourists are all welcome in New Zealand, and they’ll have a great time whatever they choose to do.

Tip o’ the Hat to Grayson for calling my attention to the CNN video.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Online buying and getting change

Ordering stuff online is now huge, because it’s easier, cheaper, or takes less time. But there have been changes in recent years, things we may miss if we don’t order often. Even grocery stores can change.

Years ago, I’d order groceries online whenever I got busy with work. Going to the store, shopping, and driving home all took time, and the delivery fee was often less than the value of my time lost. Things have changed a bit since then, and the caption on my Instagram photo above talks about the most visible: The bags. There were others.

As has always been the case, the website for ordering keeps lists—orders I’ve placed in the past, the things I usually buy in store, personal lists I make and store online. Although a little creepy, it’s also incredibly handy for making sure I don’t forget any of the things I routinely buy. I can always add other items, of course. When I was done placing my order (using the "Favourites" list, I noticed a note about the reusable bags, so I was expecting to see that today.

What I wasn’t expecting is that I got a text this morning tell me, “you order is on the way and be at your door shortly.” I don’t remember the website saying anything about text alerts, but I was glad for it—and wished I’d known about it beforehand. If I had, I’d have waited to open the gates over the driveway until then, rather than at the start of the delivery period I’d ordered (shoppers specify a two and a half hour period during which their order will be delivered). Now that I know they do that, I can do things differently next time.

The order showed up around 25 minutes after I received the text, which suggests it was sent as the truck was leaving the store (it takes about 25 minutes, give or take, to drive the distance). I presume it’s automated based on when the order is scanned as leaving the store, but I don’t know.

The last time I ordered years ago, none of this was true: They still used ordinary single-use shopping bags and there was no text alert. The system is much better now.

I also had a thought during all this. I saved, as I said in the caption, at least an hour and a half of my time by ordering online, something that fully justified the low delivery fee. However, I wondered if having a truck bring several orders to our area might be more fuel-efficient than us all driving separately to do our shopping. One truck would use a certain amount of fuel, probably more than a single car would, but less than all of us combined would use. That would means less pollution overall, and even (somewhat) less wear on the roads (and our cars, too, actually). So, could it be that ordering online might actually be greener than going and doing it in person? I think it’s certainly possible. At any rate, it provides employment for the people who pick and pack the orders and deliver them, and that’s good.

I ordered online because it save me a LOT of time. I think it turns out that there are other benefits, too. That’s kind of nice.

Biden’s LGBTQ acceptance initiative

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced a new initiative from his Biden Foundation, As You Are, which they call, “A Family and Community Acceptance Campaign”. The initiative wants to gather stories of real people because:
Stories have power. In the past decade, we’ve seen storytelling drive nationwide progress for LGBTQ equality. But far too many LGBTQ people—especially those under 25—still face rejection from the people closest to them. So we’re inviting you to help us change that. Share your story with us. Let’s work together to make the world better for LGBTQ young people. No matter your background, you deserve to be safe and affirmed #AsYouAre.
They’re right about the power of stories. The fight for marriage equality was won once people got see LGBTQ people as people, not just a category, a name often flung as an epithet. As I always say, it’s only easy to hate people in the third person—in this case, those gays. Hatred wilts when people are seen and thought of in the second person: you, my relative the lesbian; you, my neighbour, the gay man; you, that nice shop owner who’s trans. In the second person, hatred beings to melt away and common humanity begins.

Despite that, young people still face condemnation for being LGBTQ, often from those who are supposed to love them unconditionally: Their family and close friends. That is what this initiative is aiming to help, by using the same technique—people telling their own stories—to get people to stop seeing young LGBTQ people as anything other than people.

Young LGBTQ people have dramatically higher suicide rates than do other youth. That’s why Biden said of the project, “it is simple – this is about saving lives.” Because it is.

This work is part of what the Biden Foundation does, specifically, “Ensuring LGBTQ Equality”, In May, the Foundation announced a joint project with the YMCA of the USA “to foster LGBTQ inclusion and equity at YMCA locations nationwide.”

I think this it’s awesome that the Biden Foundation is taking on this work. LGBTQ people are threatened in ways not seen in a decade and a half. A hostile presidential regime and a Supreme Court that will soon be stacked with hardline anti-LGBTQ justices means all our legal progress over the past few decades is at risk. As part of the new onslaught against us, many of the battles to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination will move to the states, and to win those 50 separate battles will require a cultural change. This initiative will help with that important work.

However, the stark reality is that LGBTQ people cannot fight, and certainly won’t win, the upcoming battles without the support and help of heterosexual people, our “Straight Allies”, as we call them. We need straight people to talk to other straight people, so in the future, we’ll also need initiatives specifically designed to help them talk in support of LGBTQ people. That can build from initiatives like this one, because personal stories really do have a lot of power.

In my time in grassroots politics, I had one simple focus: Keep your eyes on the prize. We wanted social and legal equality for LGBTQ people, and we lobbied hard for it. But to win, we needed the support of heterosexual elected officials and other grassroots groups with other priorities. So, we built alliances, sometimes only on specific issues, in order to advance our larger agenda. That’s even more important now than it was in the Reagan era, and throughout the 1980s, when I did most of my work.

So I gladly welcome the help from the Biden Foundation. It’s allies like them that will help us prevail—together, all of the "us-es", as Harvey Milk used to say.

Joe Biden’s Twitter announcement:

Tip o' the Hat to Roger Green for the heads up; I've been so busy I would have missed the announcement otherwise.