Thursday, May 06, 2021

Leo said good night

I forgot to share this the other night. Maybe it’s because I seldom embed Instagram posts directly anymore, and instead I post the photo separately. Dunno. But right now Leo wants to go to bed, and that reminded me. So, good night?

We’re very good actors

Here’s something that not everyone knows about grieving people: We become very good actors. We learn what to say, how not to say things, and how to present ourselves in a way that the people in our lives expect. We learn, in other words, how not to be real.

The thing about profound grief is that it’s not linear, and it has no timeline. How many times have I said that now? What most grieving people don’t talk about publicly is the extent to which we remain silent, or pretend things are different, because we know that’s what others expect of us. That changes absolutely nothing, that is, nothing except the extent to which we can be honest.

We learn pretty quickly that others have a pre-determined timeline for how long we’re allowed to grieve. Most everyone will give us six months—no real problem there. But folks get twitchy the longer our grief continues: Nine months? Some awkward foot shuffling. A year? Loud and long sighs. Any longer? Subject changes, silence, and/or disapproving frowns if we’re honest about where we’re at.

We see all that, and we learn the message: If we want to be around them, at some point we have to pretend everything’s fine—doesn’t have to be wonderful, just as long as it’s positive. And if we don’t feel positive? Fake it. We hear that, loud and clear.

We all hear your protests! “I’m not like that!” and maybe you’re not. But consider how even detachment and disinterest appears to us. Are we over-sensitive? Why the hell shouldn’t we be?! We’ve had a part of us ripped away, so do forgive us if we can’t read intent: We’re busy trying to deal with being a shadow of our former selves, and that takes up way too much energy to have any left to work out what various people intend.

The thing is, no one has to have to have the answers! They don’t even have to say anything, not really. But if they ask us how we’re doing, they really need to mean it—and if they truly care about us, then the should mean it. They should care about us and hear what we have to say, even if they feel uncomfortable. We can’t have an honest relationship if they can’t accept our reality.

There are some people, of course, who want to “fix” us, like if they don’t approve of how long our grief lasts. Those people don’t matter. We alone get to determine the course, shape, and duration of our grief journey—no one else gets a say. Anyone who can’t accept that should do us the courtesy of saying so and then back out of our lives because the reality is that we don’t really need people like that. Harsh? Nope. Truth.

I recently realised that sooner or later, dealing with profound grief becomes like living in the closet all over again: I feel like I can’t always talk honestly about where I’m at and what I’m feeling or going through, and instead I have to filter everything I say to match what people expect is “normal”. It’s exhausting.

The lesson in this is as simple as it is obvious: Never judge. Never dictate. Always know that you can never know what private war someone else is fighting, so just relax! It’s not your burden or responsibility to “fix” anyone. If someone else’s grief makes you feel uncomfortable, realise that’s about you, not them, and, again, relax. Thing is, most people, most of the time, find their way through and the only thing that matters from you is to make that journey easier. It’s never about being “right”, it’s about being there. That’s it!

People dealing with profound grief become very good actors. We learn what to say, how not to say it, and how to present ourselves in a way that the people in our lives expect. Others’ choices and behaviours can help us make the only real choice: To be real.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Tooth Tales: The marathon

These “Tooth Tales” haven’t gone away, they’ve just become smaller and part of a larger narrative, one that’s about accomplishing long-held goals, and also maintaining a personal commitment. So many of the best-accomplished things are exactly like that.

The last specifically “Tooth Tales” post in this series was back in December 2020 when my crowned tooth was removed, something that seemed to take forever to heal.

After that—on my birthday—I saw the dental hygienist. I was impressed immediately with how nice and friendly she is, and how collegial: She talked about the things that needed to be done in terms of a partnership—without actually calling it that, of course. In the first visit, she took her measurements and admonished coached me to use those damn little brushes between my teeth, taking the time to both “train” me and to overcome my main hesitation, namely, that it freaks me out when the brushes get stuck between my teeth. The second visit was more of the same, except that she happily noted the progress I’d made in addressing the pockets around my teeth. That’s because I actually used those damn little brushes between my teeth; she’s quite persuasive. Clearly.

There was a new problem that popped up, though: My top and bottom front teeth were colliding, and that caused some damage, some pain, and a lot of annoyance. Today I saw the dentist about that.

The problem is that my top front tooth and bottom front tooth would sometimes collide when I chewed, which hurt, and one time it chipped my upper tooth. A few nights when I was in that space between being awake and asleep, my jaw suddenly snapped shut and my teeth collided. I felt miserable.

The problem exists because my upper tooth dropped when it lost bone support from my periodontal disease (I think I first talked about that six years ago). Meanwhile, the bottom front tooth has thrust upward, something that happens sometimes, apparently. That caused a misalignment that allowed the two to get into a sort of dental fist fight.

I did a few things to try and help myself until I could get it sorted. First, and most obviously, I chewed very carefully. I also tried wearing a sports mouthguard when I slept because it’s cheap and I wasn’t sure it would work. The one night I wore it my teeth didn’t collide in my sleep, but it propped my mouth open and my tongue dried out that night, and that meant I couldn’t taste much the next day. So, I next tried something very simple: When trying to fall asleep, I concentrated on relaxing my jaw muscles, then relaxing them some more, then some more. My jaw hasn’t snapped shut at night since; maybe it wouldn’t have, anyway, but I don't care because it just didn’t.

Today I saw my dentist and he ground down the bottom tooth just a little bit so they can all close properly now—they’re not trying to occupy the same place. This may be permanent, or it may need to be done again if my teeth are still moving. No way to know either way right now, but the important thing is that I immediately felt better because my mouth could close properly. It was downright miraculous.

The next step is that when I see the hygienist in a couple months, in addition to checking my gums and doing an ordinary cleaning, she’ll do some bleaching to try to remove some of the staining. Then I’ll go back to the dentist and have him repair my chipped front tooth (it’s better to do it this way so that the composite they use colour-matches the tooth; fixing the chip first might mean it might not match after my teeth are bleached).

All of this is related to my original goal: A prettier smile. However, now it’s just about getting the best reasonable result. I know it won’t be what I originally wanted, but I’m trying to get to “good enough” (as I am with so much these days…), and, especially, so that when I enter my Golden Years my teeth won’t look like they arrived and settled in many years earlier.

Nigel started all this. He made the appointment that started me down this road some seven years ago. He only wanted to help me achieve what I wanted, and he would’ve supported me as I came to terms with the goalposts lowering. But all that’s also part of what makes me want to see this through: He was in my corner even when I wasn’t. But I also want to make things better with my oral health because that, ultimately, will make everything else better, too, including whatever still is possible—even if that’s considerably less than what I thought would happen when I started out on this journey.

Today, and the other days I haven’t blogged about, brought me closer to a new stasis, something that’s healthier and more sustainable than what I had before. I may never get the prettier smile I wanted at the start of this journey, but I’ll still end up with something that could last me through my twilight years, and that, I think, is good enough.

Thanks, Nigel.

Jake has a champion

I’ve helped a problem Jake was having, and it says something about me as much as about him. The basic story was in the Instagram caption:
My boy Jake is 14 now, and has “old man problems”: He’s hard of hearing, hard of seeing, and hard of moving (and so am I sometimes…). I noticed he was taking longer to eat his meals, and sometimes he’d stop and raise his head before finishing. So, I took a collapsible step I keep in my kitchen for reaching high places, and put his food bowl on it. Now he gobbles his food just like he always used to and no longer raises his head. I’m glad the idea worked and that it makes him just a bit more comfortable in his golden years. He’s definitely earned a good retirement!
The important thing here is that Jake was struggling a bit and now he’s not. That’s all that matters. Also, he seems happier because of the small change.

What occurred to me later is that this is my strength: I see a problem, evaluate possible solutions to arrive at what I think is the best solution, and then I put it into action. In this particular case, it worked the first time, which isn’t necessarily a very common or usual thing, but what matters is that this is how I operate. And that it worked.

Nigel and I were very different. He’d conduct in-depth research to arrive at the best possible solution, while I’d look at all the observable facts to arrive at a useful solution. He was more about the right solution, and mine was more about a workable and fast solution (and, to be honest, one that was cost-effective). This particular time is one where my solution may have been his choice, but it’s also one he’d have have backed, even as he looked for a different (probably more elaborate) solution. Whatever works, especially for our furbabies, is all that would’ve mattered to either of us.

What matters is that Jake is less challenged than he was before. All the rest? It’s about me finding my way in this foreign life I’m now in. Jake, he just is. But he still has a champion.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Mown goal

Today I achieved a goal: My lawn mower paid for itself. That’s not literally true, nor even figuratively true, really, but that’s the way I look at it. Because of that, today was an accomplishment of a goal.

The mower didn’t literally pay for itself not only because it’s a thing that doesn’t earn a salary, but also because it’s difficult to calculate a break-even point. Even so, I came up with a way that worked for me, and today I arrived at that admittedly arbitrary break-even point.

As I’ve said several times, I wanted to get a lawn mower as soon as I moved into this house. I knew that my doctors would be glad I was doing it (for the exercise), and I also knew that because it was a small, contained job, it was one I could handle even in the iron-tight grip of my grief.

I bought my mower the day after the sale of the last house that Nigel I lived in was settled (which was also six months to the day after Nigel died ). It was probably the first big thing I spent any money on after moving to Hamilton because I’d been avoiding doing that in case the house didn’t sell and I needed to cover the mortgage payments for longer than I’d budgeted. As it turned out, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend any money after the sale because only a few days later, New Zealand went under lockdown.

Because I’m me, I wanted to work out how long it would take before the cost of the mower would be offset by the savings compared with hiring a service to do the mowing. I knew this would take awhile because I bought a battery-powered mower which was significantly more expensive than a petrol mower. Thing is, I didn’t want to burn fossil fuels and pollute the air just to keep my grass (well, weeds…) looking tidy (there’s those pesky values of mine in action again).

Since so many people had urged me to hire a lawn mowing service, I decided I’d use what we paid for each complete mow at the old house as a starting point. This may or may not have been a good idea—I never got quotes in Hamilton, so it may have cost more or less here than it did there (I think it may have cost less here because there’s far more competition in Hamilton, and because my section is smaller than what we had at the old place). Nevertheless, I decided it was as good a number as any.

Next, I took that number and arbitrarily divided it in half—half for the front lawn, half for the back. The reason for that is that even though I knew I’d usually mow both the front and back lawns the same day, that wouldn’t always be the case (in fact, the very first time I used the mower, it was only in the back). The front lawn is a LOT smaller than the back, so this was a truly arbitrary number; I just didn’t feel like working our the area of the two parts of the section to accurately calculate each part’s “share” of the total. Besides, this was never meant to be a true and accurate analysis—it was just a way of setting a goal to achieve.

Today I reached the goal I set, and the cost of the mower itself is now effectively zero. Kind of. Because, of course, there’s another thing I didn’t work out: The cost of recharging the battery. Calculating that would’ve required me to learn how to calculate that, which seemed a bit much for a non-serious exercise.

In any event, the recharging cost is now moot: I always mow the lawns in the daytime, of course, and usually when the sun is shining brightly. When I finish using the mower, I immediately recharge the battery, and that’s now done with free power from the sun. This means that my running costs are effectively zero.

If I’d taken the time to accurately work out how much I was saving by doing the mowing myself, and if I’d factored in how much it cost to recharge the battery, I’d have had a far more accurate estimate of when the cost of the mower would have been offset. That was never my intention—reaching the goal was.

I wanted to mow my own lawns for the exercise, and because, as I said, it was a small, contained job I could handle even in the iron-tight grip of my grief. But I also felt that some people didn’t think I could, or maybe would, actually do it, and I had a lot to prove, especially to myself.

That’s the real importance of the goal I achieved today: I proved that I could do it because I did do it, and that’s exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my post from last March, “To err is human, the choice is mine”: I have to try things to find out what I’m capable of.

Whether the mower really did become “free” today or not is beside the point: Today when I mowed the back lawn I got better than that: I achieved the goal I set for myself, and I think that’s worth celebrating. Always.

Distorted reflection

It’s not unusual to see ourselves or aspects of our lives reflected in pop culture—movies, songs, and, maybe especially, TV. It’s never a perfect mirror, but it can still help us see things we might otherwise miss, just as a dirty shop window might let us see that our collar is sticking up.

All of which is a way to acknowledge that we shouldn’t take something we see on TV as being truly reflective of our lives and our realities, however, it also means we may find something that’s useful. Exactly that recently happened to me

One evening last week I was channel surfing, and one of the NZ broadcast channels was showing a UK TV programme broadcast here as Hoarders. In that episode, a 64 year old gay man was in need of help for the second time in eight years, and we learn his hoarding problem was a result of the depression that followed the death of his partner from cancer, something that happened quickly: “There wasn’t enough time to think about what was happening,” he said. He also explained that afterward, he’d start multiple projects—sewing, crocheting, etc., “but instead of finishing one, I’d start another one, and another one, and so on.”

For obvious reasons, this caught my attention. I’m not a hoarder, even if parts of my house are overrun with moving boxes (the garage in particular). On the other hand, I’m also not an “un-hoarder” because I haven’t dealt with the mountains of stuff that was moved here from the last house. It’s true, as I often say, that it’s 24 years worth of stuff for two people, and it’s also true that I don’t have places to put everything (this house is significantly smaller than the last house, which was smaller than the house before that, and stuff was accumulated along the way). But I know damn well that while those are all facts, they’re not the reason I haven’t dealt with the stuff yet.

Which brings me back to the programme. I noticed, especially at the beginning of my grief journey, that I’d sometimes get obsessed with doing projects, like printing out and framing photos of Nigel and me, but it could be absolutely anything, even unusual things (like finding bedside lamps for my guest room). I, too, have found that “instead of finishing one [project], I’d start another one, and another one, and so on.” While there are plenty of projects I’ve finished (including those where I hired someone), there are far more that are incomplete.

It’s quite common for people dealing with deep grief to develop anxiety disorders (something that hoarding is classified as). I know that Nigel’s loss of his partner before me is what led to his anxiety disorder. Recently, I sometimes felt unwell, experiencing systems similar to the heart rhythm issues I’d had before. I checked, and my blood pressure and heart rate were all fine, and my home ECG showed that I wasn’t in afib and didn’t have tachycardia, both of which sent me to hospital in the past. Apparently, I was just feeling anxious, and seemingly for no reason.

One day a couple weeks ago I was feeling that way, but decided to go mow my front lawn, anyway, because it was going to rain that day. After that, I unexpectedly had to go try to capture the neighbours’ dogs who had escaped their yard while their humans were away for the day. This involved a walk around the block, plus another, shorter walk later. And after all that, I felt fine. Because physical activity made my symptoms go away, it reinforced for me the fact that what I was feeling wasn’t heart rhythm problems, but anxiety, something I suspect reared its head because I feel my life is stuck because I miss Nigel so terribly, but especially because I don’t have a clue what’s next for me.

I’m also keenly aware that I continue to fight a war with the naysaying voice in my head that I was talking about in March, but that’s always been there to some extent, kind of like background radiation. Adding that on to the sort of intense ennui that profound grief brings, and even the simple fact that none of the things I “should” be doing around the house, let alone what I could be doing, are even remotely fun without Nigel, and it’s pretty much a recipe for remaining stalled.

I imagine that some of that must’ve been what the man in the TV programme was feeling. He dealt with his loss by hoarding, while in my case it’s been more about not doing things. Like him, I’ve seen that doing something to move forward is one of the best strategies to get past the roadblock.

Unfortunately, I also feel I’m over-medicated, now that my heart rhythm issues seem to be resolved. That leaves me very tired all the time, and I have naps several days a week. Of course, emotions can tire us, too. Despite all that, there are times I manage to shove my way through the exhaustion, like I did that day the neighbours’ dogs got out, and I feel better for it (possibly those released endorphins people talk about).

All of that went through my mind as I watched that programme the other night. I suppose the resonance was a bit stronger because the man they were helping was named Nigel. Whatever the hook was, it helped reflect my own life back to me, and that was a useful thing, even though the reflection was distorted.

Each of us has to find our own way through the life we have and the issues we face. Sometimes we can see ourselves or aspects of our lives reflected in pop culture, and sometimes that can be useful. This time, for me, it was.

*The programme is from UK broadcaster Channel 5, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Viacom, who broadcast it as Hoarder Homes: No Room To Move. This programme is inherently better than the American series called Hoarders— it’s kinder, gentler, and less false-dramatic than the American version (though in my opinion the American programme didn’t start out being as over-dramatic and brutal as it can be now). This particular episode was labelled “Season 1, Episode 4” on the TVNZ on-demand service, but Channel 5 said it was “Series 1, Episode 3”. I have no idea why there’s that difference.

Friday, April 30, 2021

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 355 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 354, “Sun cents” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Sun cents

My solar power system was switched on a week ago today, and I’ve been both monitoring and adjusting to it. It’s been interesting.

I kept checking the output on Friday, the first full day it was running, beginning a little before 9am. At that time, the system was generating 500 watts, about 10% of its maximum. That has to do with the time of year and the position of my house.

It’s the latter part of Autumn now, so the sun rises around 7am. That means that it takes around an hour before the sky starts getting light, and so, my system starts generating real power. Beyond that, the front of my house faces northeast, and that means that the peak of the roof runs northeast to southwest. This matters because the solar panels are on the western side of the roof ridge, and so, full sunlight doesn’t start hitting the panels until later in the morning. I knew all this, of course.

As it turned out, I could watch the output increasing reasonably quickly: By 9:30am it was at 1.6KW (1.6 kilowatts, or 1,600 watts). An hour later, it was nearly double, at around 3KW. It peaked out at 4.6KW, just 400 watts shy of its maximum output.

Since then, we’ve had several rainy days, and the output was on the lower end on those days (like, say, 1.6KW). I expected that, too.

Because the amount of power I generate varies according to time of day and the weather, what electrical things I can run for free on a day also varies. I shouldn’t run everything at once for a good reason: If the power I’m using exceeds the power I’m generating, I have to buy power from the electricity company. I’d rather use free power, of course.

This is typical for how I manage this: Yesterday morning, I ran the dishwasher by itself, and the power was free. Later, after the dishwasher was done and the sun was moving higher, I did a load of washing, and then put it in the dryer. Then, when my power generation was peaking, I started another load of washing while the first was drying. Today, with no more laundry to do at the moment, I ironed my shirts using free electricity. Tomorrow will be a partly cloudy day, so I’ll probably just vacuum (I’d normally do that on a Friday, anyway).

What may be obvious is that this actually isn’t very different from what I’d normally do, apart from running the dishwasher in the daytime (I used to put it on when I went to bed). On the other hand, if it’s a bright sunny day, I know I can run more electrical stuff for free, and other days I can run less to have it free.

All of this is stuff I more or less knew would be the case, however, there was one surprise: Noise. It turns out that when the inverter (which converts the DC from the PV panels to the AC the house needs) is under load (probably at least 2KW), it sort of hums. I’m pretty sure that’s the cooling fan, which doesn’t run at lower load levels because the heatsink is enough.

The inverter is mounted in the garage, on the wall next to the power panel (circuit breaker). It needs to be there because it has to connect into the house’s power distribution, but, unfortunately, that spot is also on the other side of the kitchen wall. It’s not an obnoxious sound inside the house, and barely noticeable if I’ve switched on the jug or the TV us on, but when the house is quiet and I’m standing in the kitchen, I can hear it. It’s much louder in the garage, of course, where it sounds like an older PC (Nigel once built one that sounded just like it, and it’s louder than the computer servers, also in the garage). Fortunately the pitch is neither too high nor too low, which means it’s not a problem, just something that I didn’t expect.

It’s too early to know how this will affect my power bills—the system was turned on the same day the meter was read. Even so, I do know that my bill for last month was up about 18% on the previous month, but even that’s not straightforward: Last month’s bill was for 29 days (and not a full month) because I switched power providers last month. Also, I’m now turning on the heat at night. On the plus side, the bill’s total is after subtracting the $1.44 credit I received for my power generation—which was actually only for the few hours the system was on and generating that day (I think I did a load of laundry that day, too).

Even though it was fun to pay close attention in the first few days, I won’t be keeping track of my power generation in real-time. However, I am planning to talk about how it’s going at 3 months, six months, and at one year. By then I should have a pretty good idea how it’s affecting my power bills. I know some other people who will be as interested as I am in seeing how this works out.

Any rate, this is just the start, of course. That’s also part of why I think it’s so interesting.

Fritter away

On Tuesday, I had another culinary adventure, one I’d been planning for a couple weeks. Things got in the way over that time, but the stars finally aligned. When I shared this on Instagram I said:
Today I made sweetcorn fritters for the first time ever. A couple weeks ago, Facebook served up a memory of how Nigel made them for me in 2015 [screenshot below], leading me to proclaim him “Best Husband Ever”. He made them for me because he knew how much I liked them. However, he didn’t especially like them, which may be why he never made them for me again. So, I made them today.

I used the same recipe he used, and although mine was a good first effort, it wasn’t as good as what he made. More practice is needed.

I served them like most cafes have done: A side of bacon, and with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce (I prefer Thai style). Most cafes add a fresh green mini salad (generally with fresh spinach or rocket), but I didn’t have anything on hand.

When Nigel made them for me, he served them with some tomato chutney he made from fresh tomatoes, but I don’t remember how he made it (it was six years ago, after all). Still, it’s a good idea to use sweet chilli sauce or a tomato chutney or tomato relish because the fritters can be a bit greasy and heavy.

Still, like I said, it was a good first effort. But I wish Nigel had made them for me instead. Of course.
I have no idea where Nigel got the recipe, but he wrote it down and I put it that slip of paper my recipe notebook many years ago. I get to see his handwriting every time I look at the recipe, which is now a sort of bonus. The recipe is insanely easy:

Lightly beat one egg with about a tablespoon of water. Sift together 1 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder, add a little salt and pepper, then stir into egg/water mix. Add one can of cream corn (they’re 410g here; choose a good brand, one that has whole kernels in it, too, and not just all mush). Stir together. At this point, check how thick the batter is. It shouldn’t be thin, but if it’s too thick, add a little water. Fry on a relatively moderate high heat—they take longer to cook than pancakes do, and if the heat is too high, they’ll burn before they’re cooked through. I had to turn the heat down after the first ones were, um, over-done.

I said in my Instagram post that it needs something to help cut the heaviness and greasiness. I like sweet chilli sauce, but tomato relish would be my second choice. Oddly enough, the sour cream doesn't add any heaviness or greasiness—maybe because it helps tone down the chilli sauce? I think that plain Greek-style yoghurt might be nice in place of sour cream. In any case, it’s worth experimenting with the additions (I will). Also, I cooked the bacon in the oven and drained it on a paper towel before serving.

I decided to try making it when I posted the Facebook Memory below, and the following Thursday I went to the supermarket and bought the cream corn and bacon—but I forgot the sour cream. It took me a week to get back to the supermarket to get that (and other stuff, of course). Then, because I was busy with family all weekend, the first chance I had to make it was Tuesday’s lunch. Ordinarily, I’d prefer it as a weekend brunch-y kind of thing. Maybe for my next attempt. Side note: It’s kind of unusual for me to cook a lunch—I usually have a sandwich or wrap or something like that (making toast doesn’t count as “cooking” for purposes of this post…). Actually, I seldom cook breakfast, either—unless quick oats zapped in the microwave for 90 seconds counts as “cooking”…

Much of my motivation for trying to cook things I’ve never made before is simply that it gives me something to do, something beyond ordinary chores. I’m also keen to make things I like without all the additives and chemicals that commercially processed versions have, especially salt and sugar. This last part isn’t new: I’ve talked before about making things in a healthier way.

However, another of my motivations, more indirectly, is Nigel. I (mostly) make things he’d have liked, too, or things that he has some connection to (like the fritters). Nigel was a far better cook than me, and I lacked the confidence to be adventurous when he was alive, and trying new things now is my way of carrying on what he showed me for all those years—and just maybe going a little bit farther (for example, when I made Thai dishes for the family last month, I hadn’t made most of the dishes before; Nigel would’ve been reluctant to do that—especially reluctant for me to do that!).

Over the past 18+ months, I’ve done a lot of stuff just for me, some stuff that’s connected in some way with Nigel, and a lot of stuff “just because”. This experiment was actually a bit of all three. Sometimes that can produce the tastiest results.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Another podcast guest spot

Last Friday (my time), I met up with Paul of ArcherRadio so we could record a new episode for his show, and “Catching Up With Arthur” is now available. It’s a long episode (roughly an hour and a quarter), of which the first 45 minutes is a chat about where I’m at, my journey through grief, etc. Paul asked me the one question I think's a sort of the “elephant in the room” because one no one has asked it before, though I bet a lot of people are wondering about it (I’ll talk about that question in an upcoming blog post).

Paul and I last caught up like this back in 2018 (and it was also a long episode). We both had some challenges along the way, and for me, I wasn’t really interesting interest in podcasting for the past 18 months. Things are changing for me in so many ways, and returning to podcasting is among the most public.

Paul and I have been friends for a very long time, stretching all the way back to when I was a brand-new podcaster back in 2007. More adventures are planned.

Of no particular importance

This past Saturday was my 14th Twitterversary: I joined Twitter on April 24, 2007. Back then, I was going to use it mainly as a way to promote my podcast, but then I started using it more and more—until I didn’t. Now, I hardly even check it, let alone Tweet anything.

I saw the graphic at left by chance, displayed at the top of my Twitter feed when I signed in using my desktop browser yesterday morning—and I don’t even remember why I went to the site. When I saw the graphic, I was kind of surprised I’d forgotten about it. I forgot it last year, too, but I was a bit busy at the time: We were about to leave the Covid-19 lockdown. That, and I was still adjusting to my new life. The last time I mentioned a Twitterversary was 2019, before my life was blown up.

The hard, cold reality is that I just don’t care about Twitter anymore. I once had interesting discussions on it, and often found topics to blog about. But as time went on, it became more and more of a cesspool, so much so that every time I went on it I ended up blocking accounts—sometimes dozens at a time. It wasn’t because I thought we’d ever encounter each other, it was simply that I didn’t want to see their aggressive stupidity in my Twitter feed. By me saying that, one might assume the blocked accounts were all Righwing (or pretending to be), and mostly they were, however, I also blocked lots of accounts that were Leftwing (or pretending to be). I was actually blocking extremism, not ideology.

But why go someplace where every time I visited I had to take out the trash? Yeah, nah, just not worth it. The truth is, I often feel that way about Facebook, too, but far less often (I’ve also blocked dozens of accounts there, too, but at a far slower rate than I have on Twitter).

Mainly, I concentrate on people I actually know, or accounts I’m actually interested in. These days, I generally won’t take a chance on a random person, but the worse thing is, I don’t even care about that anymore.

So I forgot all about my Twitterversary—big deal. Chances are good I’ll forget about it next year, too. Times have definitely changed.

My Facebook-a-versary is in a few weeks. I wonder if I’ll remember that… (Spoiler alert: probably not). That’s fine, too.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Fools’ follies

Anyone who has any sort of blog or similar site has encountered spam comments. They’re just another of the scourges of our online lives, a list that includes spam emails, online messages, and even text messages. And speaking of phones, there are also scam phone calls to add to our fun. Every once in a while I look at some of their “efforts”, and, as always, I wonder how on earth any of them would think their methods would work. That is, I think that after I’ve stopped laughing at them.

Yesterday, I had to go to the AmeriNZ Podcast site to do a little manual maintenance, which I’d been putting off. While there, I decided to clear the spam comment queue, something I put off even longer. I shared some of the “greatest hits” on Facebook, saying:
Today I saw a comment left a few days ago at the AmeriNZ Podcast site: "Very rapidly this web page will be famous among all blogging viewers, due to it’s pleasant articles or reviews". Awwwww! Too bad it was intended for a post from January 2013. Amazingly, it was in the spam queue! Of course, WAS is the important word here: My spam queue is now empty. Happy days. 😆
I wasn’t done! I copied more fun and games into the comments, adding my own snarky remarks:

• "It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read even more things about it!" If I could wish to suggest spammers/scammers bathe in a vat of acid…

• "Everything is very open with a precise description of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!" Was intended for a post in May 2015.

• "Hi, this is Irina. I am sending you my intimate photos as I promised." Oh, My! Poor "Irina" didn't bother to read the About page—how embarrassing for her!

• I actually get a lot spam like this: "I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is required to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% sure. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Appreciate it" (no fullstop). Left for the same post 2013 post as above.

Related (and all these were left around the same days):

• "Hey very nice blog!" Left for my first-ever post on that site, which as dated 2007.

• "This piece of writing is truly a pleasant one it assists new internet visitors, who are wishing for blogging." For a post in May 2008.

• "Very good post! We are linking to this great content on our site. Keep up the great writing." For a June 2007 post—and none of the podcast posts have any real writing, not like actual blog posts.

• "You’ve made some really good points there. I looked on the net for more information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site." For a post in May 2007

• "Hello there! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!" For a June 2007 post.

• "Good day very nice blog!! Man .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also? I am satisfied to search out a lot of helpful info right here in the post, we’d like work out more strategies in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . ." For a different June 2007 post.

And finally, another one for that January 2013 post:

• "Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return."

And there my fun ended.

I realised I hadn’t checked the Blogger comment queue in ages, and there were spam comments caught there, of course, but there were also a lot from real people I actually know—including several from Roger Green.

The AmeriNZ Podcast site is actually a self-hosted Wordpress blog (which I’ve mentioned before), and it has extensive features to manage spam comments (and also legit ones from real people). Part of that is because I have Aksimet fully integrated, and its spam filters are great.

Blogger’s in-built system, on the other hand, is as bare-bones as it could possibly be: There are no bulk actions, which (on the podcast site) allows me to delete multiple spam comments with two clicks. Blogger doesn’t have a separate spam queue, so I have to click each individual comment to mark it as spam or delete it or approve it. That’s tedious, but that’s also dangerous: A moment’s lapse in concentration, and a real comment can be deleted permanently, something that would be far less likely to happen if it had a separate spam queue.

Long-time readers may remember a time when commenting here was different, back when I used Disqus. That ended in July of last year when I accidentally deleted the code that let this blog use Disqus, and that borked the whole thing, hurtling me back into the distant past where Blogger lives (that’s a little unfair: Not long ago, Google forced Blogger users to use their new, very, very slightly improved version; commenting system improvements were not among the changes).

The thing is, while Blogger can be very annoying, it’s generally easier to use than the free version of Wordpress. The value of both sites lies mainly in that they keep the blog safe from DOS or other cyberattacks, and that’s not necessarily true for self-hosted Wordpress blogs (at one time or another all mine have been taken offline by hacks that I had to fix—one time by talking with the help desk at the site hosting company.

What to do? I have longer-term plans that I’m working on, but in the meantime I’m going to try to get Disqus back online for this blog because that would make my life the easiest of all. That may not be the ultimate solution, though.

I think those spam comments are stupid because they’re stupid: It would be hard for someone to take most of those comments as being real because they’re so transparently fake and irrelevant (the most obvious spam comments, the ones with lots of links, are caught by almost all spam filters). However, I think that maybe spammers/scammers are realising it’s a pretty futile effort: There were 73 comments in the spam queue on the podcast site, and maybe half that in this blog’s all-inclusive comment queue (I forgot to count, but that sounds about right). Time was, I got dozens of spam/scam comments every single day (sometimes many, many dozens). That’s just not happening at the moment. I do think that it could also be because of the very low number of visits the two sites get, but I’d like to think they’re getting sick of doing it. I live in hope.

So, something that started as a bit of fun ended up letting me see that the commenting system on this blog is far from perfect, and I need to fix it. Right now, though, I have no further comment on that, spam or otherwise.