}

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In these modern times

I’ve been a sceptic of the promises made about machine learning, something the media usually calls “A.I.”, for “artificial intelligence”. It’s not that I think it’ll rapidly become self-aware and decide to kill us all—that’ll come later (mostly kidding…). My scepticism is because the promises made have mostly been hype and marketing puffery with little to show for all the hot air expelled. And yet, A.I. is already everywhere, and together with algorithms of various sorts, they will increasingly dominate how we interact with companies and the world. In fact, they already do—and that’s a problem.

Back in February, one of New Zealand’s two supermarket companies, NZ-owned Foodstuffs, announced they would trial Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) as part of their store security, in an effort to reduce in-store crimes. Customers entering a store will be scanned and the system will compare the images with folk in their database. The company said that if the computer finds a match, it will require a second person to do a visual match. If the individual is still considered a match, they’ll be confronted by store security. The company talks about reducing violent and abusive behaviour—which is a very real problem—but it’s obvious it has a roll in excluding recidivist shoplifters, too.

However: FRT is not even remotely foolproof, and the systems make mistakes constantly—especially for women who are not of European descent, such as, Māori, Pacific Island, and Indian. In fact, this problems has already happened.

On Monday, 1News reported that a woman of Māori descent in Rotorua was misidentified as a thief. The woman says she provided the store security with her ID and told them she was not the person they’d trespassed. "It didn't seem to change their mind which was already made up based on what they saw," she said. The company apologised and blamed “human error”, which is another huge problem in the system: It relies on the human verifier being unbiased, something all humans struggle with to varying degrees, and many studies have indicated racial and ethnic bias is common in these sorts of situations. Put another way, no one's perfect. The woman observed, "[It's] ironic they blame human error for an AI piece of technology knowing it will have false positives and errors across the board." Exactly. Also, the incident happened on her birthday.

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner already had concerns about this use of FRT, so it seems probable his level of concern will be heightened. He’s definitely not alone in that. My local New World supermarket is part of the FRT trial, and I’ve never been comfortable with that fact.

Meanwhile, NZ’s other supermarket company, Australian-owned Woolworths, announced yesterday that it was rolling ouy body cameras to all of its stores because, the company says, it’s seen “a 75% increase in physical assaults and 148% increase in ‘serious reportable events’ in the past three years”. The cameras will be worn around the neck and only turned on if there’s an incident. Also, staff are supposed to notify customers before recording.

It’s easy to see how in a tense situation a staff member may forget to tell a customer they’re being recorded—or, the staff member may forget to turn it on at all. In a statement quoted in the linked article, the company claims, “Footage will not be released except when requested by police as part of an investigation." So… they won’t turn it over to the police unless its requested by them? What will they do with it if it isn’t requested? How long will they store the footage, and how securely will it be kept? Who will have access to it, and for what purposes? Will A.I. be used, as with Foodstuffs, to identify repeat offenders? Seems to me the Privacy Commissioner ought to be concerned about this, too.

There’s no sensible person one who isn’t concerned about the rise in abuse and even violence directed at retail workers, and we’re well aware that shoplifters are driving up costs for us all. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate questions that need to be answered, and it also doesn’t mean companies—or governments, for that matter—can do absolutely anything they want and have no controls or restrictions just because they say it’s for “security”. We’re in a completely new arena now, and that’s all the more reason there must be extra caution.

The main problem is that just like its human creators, A.I. isn’t perfect, and its flaws are compounded when the humans in the mix are placed in situations in which their inherent biases may be reinforced by the A.I. system’s inherent flaws. There’s also no such thing as a computer system that can’t be hacked, which is another reason privacy considerations are so important.

We need to dial down the hype and pay more attention to the legitimate concerns about privacy and the potential for harm caused by mistakes—by A.I. or the humans involved in the process. Meanwhile, we do need to do more to stop crimes and violence against workers in stores, and that will likely require legislation. Indeed, the two supermarket companies’ use of technology is happening at least in part because government hasn’t provided any solutions. But charging ahead into the unknown with little oversight doesn’t seem like a great idea. What I’m really saying is, let’s get this right—while we still can.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 5

This week in 1984, yet another new song went to Number One, beginning yet another three-week run at the top of the Billboard “Hot 100”, and it was yet another song from a movie. It was the third single of 1984 to have three-weeks at Number One—though all of the Number Ones of 1984 up to that point spent multiple weeks at the top of the charts, too. On April 21, 1984, the new Number One was ”Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (video up top) by English drummer, singer, and songwriter Phil Collins, who is also known for who work with UK rock band Genesis (which is where I first heard of him). It was Collins’ first solo song to reach Number One in the USA.

Collins wrote the song as the title track for the film Against All Odds (a film I’ve never seen), basing it on an earlier unreleased song of his. The song was the first track on the film’s soundtrack album. The song was also nominated for an Academy Award, as was the album.

I remember hearing the song at the time, and I thought it was nice enough, but it didn’t particularly appeal to me: It was a lack of liking it, not an active dislike. That’s probably my most common reaction to pop music hits, which I think is actually quite positive: It’s not been common for me to actively dislike a pop song, and there have been very few that I detested. At the other end of the spectrum, there have been relatively few I loved, more that I liked, and between the two ends of of the spectrum are all the songs I neither liked nor disliked, and “Against All Odds” is in that group. I suppose I may have felt differently about the song if I’d personally identified with the lyrics, but I didn’t. It happens.

The music video was directed by Taylor Hackford, who also directed the film. It’s like a lot of videos of songs from a film soundtrack—filled with scenes from the film, though at least it has some shots of Collins performing the song. I don’t remember the video at all, but it spent several weeks at Number One on MTV, ending up at Number 4 on the channel’s year-end Top 20. According to the Wikipedia article on the song (linked above), “Gary LeMel, music supervisor at Columbia, felt the music video on MTV increased Against All Odds' box office takings by at least US$5 million,” so there’s that. The version above is the only one that I could find on YouTube, something I've seen before with movie soundtrack songs. On his YouTube Channel, though, Collins has shared a live version that's labelled “official” [WATCH/LISTEN], and it may remain online if the one above is ever taken down.

“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” reached Number 3 in Australia, Number One in Canada, 3 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Platinum), and Number One on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (Gold). The movie soundtrack album reached 33 in Australia and 12 on the USA’s “Billboard 200” chart.

Against all odds, this week’s story is complete. The series will return May 12 with yet another new Number One. Will it be another multi-week run at Number One? We’ll take a look at it then.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1984” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 1 – January 21, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 2 – February 4, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 3 – February 25, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 4 – March 31, 2024

The ordinariness isn’t ordinary, but it is

The path of our life can take any number of routes, and for some people there may be a lot of twists and turns along the way. I’m certainly in that category, and my own labyrinthine journey is something I’ve detailed in posts here on this blog, and sometimes on social media, too. Through that journey, I’ve come to realise that given half a change, ordinariness will try to reassert itself in a life that has been made, for a time, at least, anything but ordinary.

When someone extremely important to us, our person, dies, nothing is the same afterward, nor can it be. How much and how quickly ordinariness returns will depend entirely on who we’ve lost, and what changes that brings to our lives. However, I now think that even when things seem the most dire and even hopeless, ordinariness is nearby waiting to take the stage again. That’s certainly something I’ve recently noticed in my own life.

Yesterday, I published a post, “It’s not merely a tree” in which I looked at several events that happened over the years on April 20, as served up to me as Facebook “Memories”. What got my attention was the coincidental use of photos of a tree almost exactly one year apart, and how the photos were both about ordinary, everyday life. Obviously, so very much has changed over the years, and I noted that in the post, too.

I realised that most of my blog posts nowadays have little to do with my grief journey itself, though the reality of it is sometimes integral to the subject I’m writing about, even though it’s seldom the main focus. I think two recent things that are examples of that.

The first of those is the brunch I made for myself this morning (photo up top): It’s “Toasty eggs”, as Nigel called it, with a side of baked beans straight from the tin, just like he used to have. I talked about them in October last year, and the overall subject was about, as I said at the time, “that food can spark strong memories, and even emotions,” and I shared three examples of that.

The second example is from this past week, a post called “Ironed-clad”, which was about me ironing my shirts—the history of how I got there, why I do it, and how I do it. Nigel was part of that story, but ironing was the actual subject.

What both of those have in common—as do many of my posts about my ordinary life—is an acknowledgement of what connection, if any, Nigel has to the story, but in every case the real story is about the topic as part of my ordinary life. The connection to Nigel is about the context and my history with the topic, but not about the void he’s left in my life, nor about how I’ve been working to reconstruct my life and create some sort of new life I never contemplated, let alone planned for. In short, my focus now is on where I’m at, not where I was or what I’ve lost, even though those are fundamental to who, where, and what I am and am becoming.

None of this is meant to suggest in any way whatsoever that my grief journey is “over”, because that doesn’t happen—we grow with our grief, not away from it. Instead, I simply feel that reached a point where my life with Nigel has become my bedrock, the immutable foundation on which I’m building my new life and new self. It is a part of me, and of my new ordinary, but it’s no longer the centre of everything.

Which brings me back to how I now see the extent to which I seem to be talking about ordinary things in my life, because that also means that I notice ordinary things absolutely anywhere now, and many of them have little or nothing to do with the part of my life that was lost. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop commonly referring back to Nigel when talking about my ordinary life, especially when talking about how I got to where I am, but I suspect that day could come.

Right now, though, I’m mostly just fascinated by the way my focus and attention seems to be on the ordinariness of my life, even though how I got to this point isn’t ordinary, though the fact of being a widower certainly is. Life is a strange journey, and despite what some people seem to think, there are no road maps. But this blog, and what I’ve shared on social media, has helped me find my way, and that’s a very good thing—and, for me, entirely ordinary.

The screenshot of the alert on my Apple Watch about closing the Exercise ring is unusual: Lately I've been closing the Exercise ring (the green one) more often than not, and that never used to happen so often not even when Nigel was alive. For the record, I did close the ring (along with the other two) yesterday. Maybe this, too, is part of my new ordinary?

Saturday, April 20, 2024

It’s not merely a tree

Facebook “Memories” are a useful way for me to find out what I was posting on the platform on one date. Sometimes one or more are really interesting, most often they’re not, but either way, they’re presented to me without me having to do anything. I’ve found that very useful for this blog because they often inspire new blog posts. Today is the first time it reminded me too late—except, maybe it wasn’t.

Thanks to a FB “Memory” today (up top), I found our that a year ago today—April 20, 2023—I posted a photo of the same tree I shared a photo of yesterday, and from pretty much the same angle. I didn’t remember that I did that, which means I don’t have a photographic memory (you’re welcome). I also didn’t remember that I posted a blog post a year ago today, too, a post that included the two photos in the “Memory”. Obviously there’s no particular reason I should or would remember a blog post from a year ago, and even though I knew that the tree had “been in many of my photos over the past 4+ years”, I didn’t see a need to look through 4+ years of blog posts to look for them.

This could’ve been a story about a FB “Memory” letting me discover that I shared very similar photos of the same tree one year and one day apart, and if that was all there was to it, I may have shared the discovery on my personal Facebook—and, in fact, I did, adding “I see that last year the tree had also lost leaves mostly from the same side as this year, though fewer of them. Guess the prevailing winds might come from that side.” All of of which is at least a little bit interesting, but I doubt I’d ever have blogged about it, too—until I scrolled through the rest of today’s “Memories”.

It turns out, this day has been a significant day for me over the years (some of the other “Memories” are at the bottom of this post).

Seven years ago today, we’d been living in South Auckland for only a couple months, and I shared one of those answer-some-question memes (not one that identity thieves supposedly use), and I said that my favourite place to be was with Nigel.

Six years ago today, Nigel and I were still in Clarks Beach, and I’d just had my annual flu jab. I said that “My arm is kinda itchy and bumpy where I got my flu jab. That’s why I don’t like jabs. Not dying from preventable disease is why I love jabs.” That’s still true, of course, and why I’m in the process of getting my latest jabs between now and June.

Four years ago today, the government announced that the first Covid lockdown was ending a week later by moving down an Alert Level to Level 3, the first of those. I’m pretty sure it was stricter than later versions of Level 3, which is why I called it “Lockdown Lite”. Level 3 eventually got the nickname “Lockdown with takeaways”.

But four years ago today I was living alone in Hamilton, though still with all three dogs, with whom I’d shared that first Covid lockdown that would downgrade a few days later. Nigel and our cat were missing.

A year ago today, it was just me and Leo, and my attention was captured by a tree—a tree!—and not any infectious diseases or preventive measures related to them, and not even by my changed life. Yesterday, it was that tree again, and a focus entirely on my current ordinary life.

I realised that today’s Facebook “Memories” gave me pretty much the clearest look at the arc of my life I’ve ever seen in those daily memories, and that was mainly because of the tree photo: I might not have noticed my story’s arc otherwise. I think that the arc of our life stories is always visible if we look, and looking can tell us a lot about our path and how we got where we are in our current lives.

Everything in life is connected—our lives, our life stories, and how they connect to others and their stories. All we have to do is be willing to SEE when we look. Apparently, even a tree can help with that.

It’s the connections, then, the fact that Facebook so clearly showed me the path of change my life took over the past seven years. So much has changed over that time, and so much will change in the future, too, and documenting all of that is actually the whole point of having a personal blog.

So, the coincidence of posts about a tree ended up in a blog post after all. That and a lot more.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Autumn adventures

Autumn is definitely here, and I’ve been watching its progress on a tree on my street, a tree that’s been in many of my photos over the past 4+ years (including above). I noticed today that most of the leaves it's dropped have come from one side, and that was after some windy days lately. Unfortunately, this tree is also about as close to “pretty autumn colours” that we get in this part of the country, which is probably because we don’t get any frosts until winter, and even then they’re mild. Even so, there’ll still be plenty of leaves to grind up when I mow the lawns next week.

That wasn’t the only nice thing in my day: Today I met up for lunch with my mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law, and my cousin-in-law. It’s always nice to have a catch up, especially when the meal is nice. After I dropped of my M-I-L at her place, I stopped at Animates to pick up flea/worm stuff for Leo, and I decided I may as well get him some more food because he’ll need more in the next month or so, and it’d save me a trip at that time.

I was trying to decide which size bag to get, because it IS expensive (it ain’t called “super-premium for nothing), and I suddenly remembered something: Leo will be seven at his next birthday (in around six weeks), and that’s the age I’m to start transitioning him to “senior” dog food—already!

So, I decided to buy a small bag of his current “adult” food, and that size will make it easier for me to manage the transition to his new food when the time comes in a couple months. Time is going so fast nowadays!

And, yes, today I wore one of my nicer shirts that I’d ironed in the past week or two (IYKYK). And for the photo above, I first shared the photo to my Instagram, and then I made a lengthy comment when Insta shared the photo to my personal Facebook; the comment described my actual day.

This post, then, is a mishmash of both of those, all squished together and spread neatly on the pan—I mean, page: Today was also a 4-year cooking anniversary—a meal I haven’t made again since. That was in a FB “Memory” this morning, and it kinda, coulda been its own blog post—I did briefly consider that. So this post, then is actually a tale of three tales. Unlike last time, none of them caused confusion, which is probably why I had to try harder to do so in this post.

Anyway, what’s the point of blogging if I don’t have a bit of fun with it now and then? Especially because good moods for me aren't necessarily all that common these days. I'm just glad that I had a nice lunch and visit with family, then I had a revelation about Leo, took a photo of one of my nearby trees, and did it all while wearing a recently ironed one of my nicer shirts. Winning!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Ironed-clad

I ironed shirts yesterday. That’s not particularly unusual for me, because I’ve done that for much of my life. On the other hand, it is different from my life in the past: The context has changed, the frequency had changed, and recently it changed from being something I did from time to time to a chore I do roughly once a week. It’s not as simple as it may seem.

My mother showed me how to iron shirts when I was a little boy—8 years old or even younger. I can remember enjoying it—something about making all the wrinkles disappear into smooth cloth—a kind of restoring order to chaos, though it’d be many, many years before I’d think of it that way. I also remember asking her if she had shirts I could iron, and she gave me some of my dad’s—though I don’t know if they were ones he actually wore or if they were “spares”. In any case, I think my childhood stamina probably wouldn’t have let me do it for too long.

Over the years and decades that followed, I ironed my shirts from time to time, though in the 1970s and 80s most of them didn’t need ironing. By the 1990s, I started ironing trousers, too—chinos, and other casual pants.

When I arrived in New Zealand, ironing became one of my chores, mainly because Nigel hated it. So, every morning I’d iron shirts for us to wear to work. Around this time we bought a new iron, and I while I can’t remember if we needed one or I wanted a new one, I know two things about it: I wanted one with a stainless steel sole plate, like my mother’s iron had (Nigel’s had a non-stick sole plate). I also insisted it had to have automatic shut-off, a function that would turn the iron off it if wasn’t moved for several minutes. That turned out to be a good move, because, as I feared, one day we were in a hurry to leave the house and I forgot to turn the iron off. When we came home at the end of the day, it would have still been on otherwise.

In the late 1990s, I happened to see a segment of a magazine-style NZ TV show, and the host was interviewing Glenn Turner, a New Zealander cricket player who was coach of the New Zealand national Cricket team for a second time in 1995 (officially nicknamed ”The Black Caps” in 1998), including through the 1996 Cricket Work Cup (New Zealand was defeated by Australia in the quarter-finals). I can’t remember the subject of the interview, but it could’ve been about him and his wife, former Mayor of Dunedin, Sukhi Turner, or it could’ve been in 1998 after Glenn published his fourth book, Lifting the Covers. While I don’t remember any of the details, there's one thing I definitely remember: In the interview, Glenn was ironing shirts, and he gave a verbal explanation of how to do it. Basically, he did the same as me—starting on one side of the front, moving the shirt around the ironing board to the other front side, then doing the sleeves, and finally the collar. Actually, that’s the way I do it now—I didn’t necessarily always do each shirt the same way, and I also had never done one other thing Glenn said to do: Use the collar as a handle to move the shirt so you don’t wrinkle any part you’ve already ironed. I've always found cricket to be educational.

By the early 2000s, I started ironing a week’s worth of shirts at once, prioritising Nigel’s work shirts because at the time his office attire was a bit more formal than it would later become (he wore ties every day, for example). This eventually became something I did on Sunday evenings as I watched TV, something I did right up until close to the time Nigel first went into hospital, less than two weeks before he died.

Whenever it was, that was the last time I ever ironed on a Sunday evening.

In my early days in Hamilton, I ironed in the daytime, and never on a Sunday, but that wasn’t for any emotional or sentimental reasons: It was mainly because I simply didn’t have a good spot to put the ironing board so I could still watch TV, as I’d done for many years before Nigel died. However, it’s also true I was well aware that it had been my Sunday evening ritual, and it had been mostly for Nigel, and that did make me feel a bit sad at first.

I also ironed whenever I could work up the energy: Nowadays I find it extremely tiring, hot, and it makes my lower back quite sore (because ironing boards are too low for me). But then something happened that made me think I should make ironing a regular household chore.

Back in August of last year, I talked about how a favourite shirt tore open. I said in that post:
I liked the shirt because it was baggy, and because it didn’t need to be ironed, however, that may have sped it’s demise: As it got older, it got wrinkles (a bit like me…), especially in the lower half of the back (totally unlike me…). Those creases, as high points in the fabric, became worn until one eventually tore open. Would ironing have extended its life? Well, probably, because if I needed to iron it I wouldn’t have worn it very much (at any given time, I have quite a few shirts waiting to be ironed).
I have quite a few shirts that I bought 20+ years ago because they were inexpensive and didn’t need to be ironed, partly because they were all 100% synthetic. I had enough shirts that I didn’t necessarily wear them all that often, especially because I had a lot of much nicer ones (that needed ironing…). For years I merely hung the inexpensive shirts up to dry, and only ironed the much nicer ones.

Once I was living in Hamilton, I found I was spending a lot of time at home (especially because of Covid lockdowns and related restrictions), and I started wearing the cheaper shirts much more often. After my favourite shirt tore open in the lower back, I noticed the inexpensive shirts all had similar wrinkled areas in the lower back. I decided to start ironing the shirts to extend whatever life they had left.

This evolved into a roughly weekly ritual, and after ironing whatever inexpensive shirts I’d recently washed and hung up to dry, I’d then iron a few of my nicer shirts—because what hasn’t changed at all is that I still have “quite a few shirts waiting to be ironed”, especially ones from other seasons. By choosing to iron regularly, I’m slowly clearing the backlog of unironed shirts.

I have no way of knowing whether this will help extend the life of the inexpensive shirts—many of them are getting quite old now—but at the very least it makes them look nicer, which makes me feel good about myself, and that’s a positive benefit. It’s also putting the much nicer shirts back into rotation, which reduces the number of times I wear any of the cheaper shirts.

Despite the fact it makes me tired, hot, and sore, I actually still like ironing, and it’s mainly for the whole “restoring order to chaos” aspect, a frequent motivator for many of my projects (like mowing the lawns, for example). I also appreciate the fact that when I wear an ironed shirt out in public, it makes it look like I’m making an effort—actually, it’s probably that if I wore wrinkled shirts it’d tend to make me look like I wasn’t making an effort.

At any rate, even if I don’t leave the house, it makes me feel like I’m looking after my appearance to keep myself presentable, even including when I’m just staying home. That’s something I’ve done ever since I started working from home some 20 years ago—no wearing pyjamas all day for me!—but I know how easy it is to let go of attention to the details of one’s own appearance when one lives alone and seldom needs to go out in public. By resuming regular ironing, I’ve fixed something I didn’t even realise needed fixing. I guess the shirt I couldn’t fix helped me realise that.

Ironing shirts yesterday (10 shirts, for the record) made me think about all of that, some things in my past, in my present, and even about a former NZ cricket coach who ironed his shirts. That’s a lot of work for something that’s not particularly unusual.

Footnote: The photo up top is of my current steam iron yesterday, immediately after I finished the last shirt. Obviously, this post isn’t sponsored, and Nigel and I bought the iron at regular retail prices, but even it has a story: Some time in Nigel’s last couple years or so, he told me he’d only just realised the plastic on the iron was a gold colour, and that it hadn’t yellowed over time. He realised it only because at the same time the iron was sitting out, the little plastic jug for filling the iron with was also out, and he saw that it was the same gold colour. At the time I was fascinated by that, and mildly amused. It’s something that I’ve remembered every single time I’ve used the iron ever since.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

A tale of two tales

Pretty much everyone who has used social media has seen how easy it is to inadvertently confuse people, whether we posted a photo, shared something from someone else, or maybe it was something we said, the opportunities to sow confusion seem endless. Last night, I found out it’s also possible to look a bit muddled.

I made two social media posts last night while I was watching the recorded version of a tech show that streams live on YouTube every Saturday afternoon (NZ time), something I watch in the evening because I almost never watch TV in the daytime, even on weekends, and I also watch other YouTube videos before I wathc the recording of the live stream. My first post was one I made to my personal Facebook, and the other was a photo I shared on Instagram (at the top of this post), and my Instagram posts are set to share to automatically post on Facebook, too. However, the two posts were very different in tone and focus.

My first post, directly Facebook, was about what I was watching, and how I related to the show’s content:
Tonight I was watching a discussion on the weekly live show (recorded in my time zone) show from a tech channel that made videos Nigel and I watched, often together, and as my eyes glazed over watching the video, I thought about how Nigel could both explain to me what they were on about AND educate me about what to do. I find it extremely difficult to navigate *some* of these tech issues, and while I do my best, I’m second-tier at the very, very best. To this very day, despite all my best efforts, I still struggle. And so it continues.🤷🏻‍♂️
I don’t remember what topic made me reflective, and that’s partly because they talk about a lot of subjects on the show. The bigger reason, though, is that once I start thinking about something, especially if I’m wring down my thoughts (even on Facebook), I tune out other things going on around me, especially things on TV.

The hosts of the show were most likely talking about something to do with parts for PCs, or things related to Windows, however, my computers and devices are all Apple (I even watch YouTube videos using an Apple TV attached to my television). The fact I didn’t fully grasp what they were talking about merely made me remember how well Nigel understood it all, and how much I relied on him for all things tech, something I’ve talked about many times.

Shortly after I made that Facebook post, Leo jumped up in my lap and went to sleep. He fell deeply asleep, so much so that he even snored a bit. I took the photo, and shared it to Instagram, writing:
Tonight I was watching the weekly livestream video (after the fact…) of a YouTube tech channel Nigel and I used to watch (though we never watched the streaming shows…), and I looked down. Leo was sound asleep on my lap. He’s somewhere near me always. He’s a good boy. ❤️
My Instagram post was really about Leo, and it actually didn’t matter what I was watching at the time. However, I was still feeling reflective, about an hour after my Facebook post, and that’s why I mentioned watching it. The post automatically shared to my personal Facebook, where it appeared above my first post.

There have been times in the past where I’ve decided to not share an Instagram post to Facebook, usually because I shared a different photo there. Or maybe I shared one to Facebook first. It’s more common, though, for me to share things only to Facebook—actually, I often forget about Instagram for weeks.

All of this means that it’s extremely unusual for me to have two Facebook posts that cover similar ground follow one another. I don’t have a social media “strategy”—though maybe I should—but I often try to share nice or even sweet photos on Instagram because that’s public, and I’m well aware how much of social media is worse than a clogged sewer line. Those same photos then show up on Facebook (and ones of Leo usually get more “reactions” (like Likes) than almost anything else I post there.

Like Instagram, I seldom post anything terribly serious on my personal Facebook, either, however, I’m much more likely to post something reflective on Facebook precisely because it’s not public. It never occurred to me to post the photo only to Instagram, partly because I seldom do that, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t mentioned watching the show on the Instagram caption. In fact, I thought about editing the caption to take that reference out, but I usually only edit to correct typos, not to completely change what I’ve said.

In the end, it made me realise I need to pay a little more attention to what I’m posting, not as obsessively as “influencers” seem to do, but simply for clarity and to avoid seeming like I’m being inconsistent. In that sense, it’s a good thing that posts were even more jarring right next to each other

There’s one thing more about all this, and it’s the reason I didn’t make any changes to what I posted: Facebook is notorious for not showing FB “Friends” everything that their “Friends” post, and that means it’s probable that only a handful of my “Friends” saw even one post, and that even fewer saw, so I was quite possibly the only one who noticed the difference in tone between the two. Besides, photos of Leo are probably seen more often by my Facebook “Friends” than almost anything else I post (and yes, I'm aware that talking about the two posts could mean more people see the text of both than ever would've otherwise).

It’s easy to inadvertently confuse people when we post to social media. Last night, I found out it’s also possible to look a bit muddled, even if the only one who noticed was me.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Stamping out mail

Will there come a day when no one remembers what a postage stamp was? Unless they read history or visit a museum, maybe? That day seems to be approaching rapidly, something that the Facebook "Memory" (above) reminded me about today.

When I saw the “Memory”, I realised that I have absolutely NO idea when—or even what year—I last needed a stamp. At a guess, I’d say maybe 2019? A year or so after my 2016 Facebook post, I needed to start posting something for work every month, and, as it happened, postal rates were about to go up again, so I bought a roll of KiwiStamps (like “Forever” stamps in the USA). My job ended in March 2020—and I now have absolutely no idea where I put the rest of the roll of stamps (probably, as usual, “somewhere safe, so I can find it again”).

All of this made me curious, so I looked it up this morning and found that a stamp for a letter is now $2 (today around US$1.19 or 0.95 GBP) or one KiwiStamp. That’s for a something weighing up to 500 grams (17.64 ounces in Imperial weight) including the envelope (KiwiStamps apparently can’t be used on larger size envelopes). Also, it wasn’t easy to find the rates for letters on the NZ Post site, most of which is devoted to helping people with sending packages and other courier services).

Currently, NZ Post says that they expect to deliver a letter within New Zealand in “three working days” (which I think must exclude weekends and public holidays). In 2017, NZ Post announced that they were ending “FastPost”, a higher-priced option that aimed to get letters delivered in one business day. At the time of their announcement, NZ Post said that use of the service had declined 23 percent the previous year, and that the volume of all letters sent was declining by 60 million pieces a year.

These days, the vast majority of my business correspondence is electronic (I get two statements in the post because I’m too lazy to change them), and all my bills are paid automatically through direct debit (as I’ve mentioned before, none of my accounts have cheques for customers to use). For those very rare times I need to post something (like the ballots for local government elections), those are always FreePost (which is prepaid, similar to “Business Reply Mail” in the USA).

I’m really just a typical example of why the volume of mail in New Zealand has been declining so sharply for years. While we get mail delivered to our neighbourhood three days a week now, I’m certain it’ll drop to once a week, or maybe twice a week before it drops to one day, and then at some point it’ll stop altogether. I think that the fact that local government elections and most referenda are conducted through the post may be one of the reasons home delivery isn’t disappearing faster.

The end of home delivery is probably quite a way off yet, but in the meantime I think it’s likely that more services will start to disappear, like FastPost did. As an example, earlier this week NZ Post announced that from June 29 they’ll stop delivering packages and newspapers to rural addresses on Saturdays because the volume was too low (17 rural Saturday delivery runs will continue for another year, though).

The issues surrounding this are really about the people who don’t have access to the Internet, technical ability, and or both. Internet access can be a problem for poorer people and older people, both of who may lack the access itself, or a computer or device to access it. In some remote rural areas of the country, Internet access can be dodgy and unreliable. None of these problems will change soon, but maybe by the time home delivery ends, the problems will, too.

I was thinking today that eight years from now, I might not be able to remember the last time I had mail delivered to my house—actually, some weeks, that’s the already the case. It may well turn out that the last piece of mail delivered to my house (not counting packages or courier deliveries) will could well arrive sooner than I realise.

Change really is constant.

This post is a revised and expanded version of what I posted on my personal Facebook when I shared the “Memory”. This “Memory” is what I was referring to in my blog post earlier today.

New, not old

Today Facebook served up two different things that caught my attention. One was another “Memory” (more about that in another post), but it was a"Brand survey" (screenshot above) that made me stop for a moment. It’s probably the oddest thing I’ve ever seen Facebook offer me.

What made this so weird is that FB apart from the title, “Brand Survey”, the thing they were asking me to fill out was entirely in Dutch. Surprisingly, I don’t speak or read Dutch. Sometimes I can get a rough idea of the meaning of a word, or maybe a very short phrase, because I tried to learn German in high school (and a bit after that). This was funny enough (to me…) that I shared it to my personal, sarcastically asking:
Um, you okay Facebook? Or, did you just get confused and not realise that I live in New Zealand and not old Zeeland?
I then added a brief explainer in the comments:
Zeeland is a province of The Netherlands, and the Dutch named the country of New Zealand after the province. Aotearoa is believed to be the original or most common original Māori name that the Dutch didn’t even know about at the time. The British, who later anglicised the Dutch name, didn’t care what Māori called it.
This was simplifying the story a bit, because Dutch cartographers, as was the European custom at the time, used named the places they "discovered" with Latin versions of the name they chose, in this case, Nova Zeelandia, which in Dutch is Nieuw Zeeland (the ending “d” is pronounced more like “t”), and the current official name, New Zealand is just the anglicised version of that. It became the official name when the British started colonising the islands.

The Wikipedia article on the province of Zeeland talks about all of this, and also the fact that at the same time New Zealand was named, the country now known as Australia was named Nieuw Holland (New Holland), something I've mentioned in the past. They did that was because, as the article puts it, “the two major seafaring provinces of the Netherlands in its Golden Age were Holland and Zeeland.”

Personally, I think this country should one day be officially renamed “Aotearoa New Zealand”, though with the current surge in racism and racist attitudes, that day seems farther away now than at any point since I arrived here 28+ years ago. Actually, I don’t even think an adult conversation can be had about it right now, let alone any consideration of a change.

As far as I can remember, Facebook’s post today is the first thing they’ve shown me that wasn’t in English, so that’s—a thing, I suppose. On the other hand, the actual paid ads it shows me are often for Auckland-based real estate companies, and that’s mostly likely because I access the Internet through a VPN (“Virtual Private Network”) that’s set to say I’m connecting from Auckland. But the Netherlands doesn’t have a place called “Auckland”, so—dunno, maybe their algorithms had a computer's equivalent of a brain fart?

Mainly, being served up a “Brand Survey” in Dutch was just funny to me. I don’t know if their algorithms really did mix up New Zealand with old Zeeland, or if there was something else going on. For example, my surname appears in both Germany and The Netherlands—although, I’ve never (yet!) been served up anything in German, so, I guess it’s unlikely to be that?

As corporations decide to rely on computers exclusively, all sorts of problems are emerging. So far, most of them are more annoying or hilarious than they’re actual problems (or worse). For example, people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram being taken down in an automated process using algorithms because there are no human checkers any more. One of the problems with this, apart from having no one to appeal a deletion to, is that the algorithms cannot understand either context or nuance. As corporations push automation farther and harder, serious problems will inevitably emerge. Getting a survey in Dutch will seem so quaint and innocent by comparison.

Still, at least I got a laugh out of it, and it was all a bit of fun. For now.