Friday, November 30, 2018

Air New Zealand: ‘Nicest Christmas Ever’

The video above is the new Christmas ad from Air New Zealand, featuring 17 children of Air New Zealand employees, along with Air New Zealand ground and cabin crew. The ad also has the elf from last year’s ad. It’s a cute ad.

This has been talked about on TV, however, I don’t know if they’ve produced a shorter version for TV. If they have, I haven’t seen it and it’s no on Air New Zealand’s YouTube Channel. Maybe one will come out later.

I suspect that certain Americans may not be terribly happy with one brief part, even though it’s just a bit of light-hearted fun, with typical Kiwi humour that, while light-hearted, can nevertheless make some Americans feel offended. I’m totally used to it, obviously. Also, the final pledge about Australia is pitch-perfect—and more of that Kiwi humour.

“Merry Christmas from the nicest place on earth,” the ad says. Indeed.

Related: “Air New Zealand ad has world's naughtiest children to pledge 'nicest Christmas ever'” from TVNZ’s One News

America's democracy problem

The USA has a huge problem: Its democracy is completely broken and that prevents the will of the people from being heard, much less carried out. The video above from Vox’s Ezra Klein talks about the worst problems preventing democracy and democratic solutions in the USA. He offers no set, absolute reforms or solutions, except for this: We must move, we must change. Well, obviously.

In 2018, Democrats had a massive vote, but didn’t win as much as some people expected. There are two reasons for that. First, Republicans passed voter suppression laws, and Republican elected officials worked hard, to keep people, especially non-white voters deemed likely to vote for Democrats, from being able to vote. We saw this most notoriously in Georgia, Florida, and North Dakota, but wherever Republicans held power, they usually tried to keep Democratic supporters from voting.

The second problem is gerrymandering, which draws electoral districts to maximise the power of one party. In this case, Republicans drew legislative boundaries to maximise the number of Republicans elected while minimising the number of seats—if any—that Democrats can win.

Those are the two main reasons that Democrats didn’t win as many races as they should have. No other factor was anywhere near as important as this: Republicans have rigged the system to their advantage.

Consider the US House of Representatives.

In 2010, Republicans won control of the US House by taking 63 seats from Democrats—an utterly massive win, carried by the party’s teabagger insurgency. Republicans won 51.7% of the popular vote to Democrats 44.9%, so the Republicans enjoyed a 6.8 point margin of victory.

In 2018, Democrats won control of the US House, picking up 40 seats. Democrats won 53.3% of the popular vote to the Republicans’ 45%, meaning Democrats enjoyed an 8.3 point margin of victory.

So: in 2018 Democrats did 1.5 points better than Republicans did in 2010, yet they won 23 FEWER seats. THAT is what rigging the system has done for Republicans. THAT is what Republicans putting party first has done. THAT is what political corruption looks like.

The question is, how do we fix that? One logical answer is to gerrymander the system back toward Democrats, giving mainstream Americans a chance to reform the system once Republicans are out of the way. But that would only rile up the rightwing, possibly violently. It would be no more legitimate than the current rigged system is, no matter how virtuous, noble, or even defensible the goal might be. There MUST be a better solution.

The solution is structural reform to change everything about the way elections are done. This will not, by itself, make government feel legitimate. The USA’s political culture is now so partisan, so divided, and so toxic that even if the USA adopted the most fair and democratic system possible, whoever lost an election would feel the result was illegitimate—at least, at first they would. Old habits die hard.

It is probable, though, that after more and more free and fair elections took place, and ordinary people saw that the fair contest of ideas is what wins elections, not money or rigging the system, they would eventually come around. The diehards at the extremes never would, of course, but I don’t think anything could ever please them unless they hold all the power, and maybe not even then.

This assumes we get the chance to fix America’s democracy problem, and that is not yet certain.

Rather than rehash the various reform measures I’ve talked about over the years, I decided to just list the relevant posts below. The need to reform has been there for years, and so have the solutions.

But there’s one final important point, a warning, actually, articulated by President Kennedy in a speech to Latin American diplomats at the White House on 13 March 1962. He said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” We need to make a peaceful revolution before the alternative becomes unavoidable.

The American problem (2017)

Fixing the Electoral College (2016)

Real electoral reform (2013)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Heathrow Bears Christmas

This is an unusual ad: It’s for London’s Heathrow Airport. The ad, “Making It Home For Christmas” features mascots the Heathrow Bears travelling back to the United Kingdom for Christmas.

Like other ads I’ve shared this year, this ad sells feelings as much as the company’s services— in this case, international air travel arrivals. It must be a pretty big ask to sell that, but the ad does it well enough.

And I’m pretty sure it’s the first airport ad I’ve ever seen. Airy Christmas?

No paper bags yet

Last week I talked about an email I got from Countdown supermarkets assuring me that “Over the coming weeks, online orders at your store will be packed into paper bags.” Problem is, they’ve been telling me that since August, and it still hasn’t happened.

The photo above is the order I had delivered today. I had a busy work day, and I’m still not as ambulatory as I’d like with the gout attack still hanging around. This was the best possible option. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see they were still using the reusable bags, not paper ones. I also didn’t get a text message like in August. Oh, well. Their online ordering site was a little wonky, too, showing me products that aren’t available (even when they are), and making it a little harder than it needs to be to find things I frequently buy (it tracks products I buy in store or order online).

Still, on the whole, it worked well enough, and the delivery charge was only around $15: Since it saved me about an hour and a half, that’s pretty good value (I did my shopping last night as I watched TV).

It’ll be nice when they switch to paper bags, though.

Photo toys

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos. At one point I wanted to learn how to develop film and print photos, but along came digital photography and that changed everything. For me, it was definitely for the better as it made experimenting cheap and easy to do, and that’s one of the best ways to learn. Recently I got some new gizmos to use with my cellphone to make my photos better. There are specific reasons for that.

On Monday, I shared a photo I took with the macro lens, something I said was a subject in itself. This is the post I mentioned I’d do.

What I got was the Classic Revolver Lens from Ztylus, “classic” because the design has advanced for newer phones. The new designs aren’t compatible with my phone, and iPhone 6, That isn’t really a problem for me because these are still so much better than what I had, the built-in lens.

The kit includes a new case for the phone, and the lenses are in a revolving turret-like thing that clicks into place so the used can lift out the lens and rotate it into place. The lens kit comes off, and a cap goes in its place. The cover also has a kickstand so I could prop up the phone to watch a video on my phone fullscreen, though I've never done that. Without the lens kit, the phone is only slightly heavier than it was with my old phone cover. The one in the kit is more robust and provides better protection for my phone than the old one did. It still fits in my pocket. But with the lens revolver installed, it’s a bit too bulky and a little too heavy to carry in my pocket.

In my post Monday, I mentioned using the macro lens. There are actually two: The one I used, then pop off the wide-angle lens and it’s possible to get as close as 18mm from the subject (that’s slightly less than a ¾ of an inch). I have no idea what I’ll use that for, but I know that sooner or later I will.

The iPhone’s built in lens is basically a wide-angle lens, but the one on the Revolver Lens kit is better: It’s roughly double the field of view of the iPhone, and there are plenty of times that will come in handy.

Another lens is a circular polariser, and this works similar to polarised sunglasses: It removes glare and reflection from surfaces like water and glass. This, too, will be handy when photographing at the beach, or if I use it through a window.

The final lens is a fisheye lens, which as a 180 degree field of view. At the moment this seems like more of a fun thing that useful, but as I experiment and play with it, I’ll no doubt find some good uses for it.

The other thing we got is the Ztylus “Journalist Kit”, which has a rig to hold the phone, a grip that attaches to it, and a mini-tripod, which can also be used as short—but stable—selfie stick (some selfie sticks aren’t very stable).

The rig ads a handy to grip the phone securely, making it easier and safer to attach other things. For example, there’s a cold shoe on top where I could attach, say, a special microphone for video, or maybe an LED light. Unlike a hot shoe, common on professional and “prosumer” cameras, a cold shoe has no electronics to talk to the device. Sometimes this is now called and accessory shoe.

At the moment, I don’t have any attachments, but if I use the lens kit to make videos, a better mic would be good, though a light is probably more likely at this point. The bottom part of the rig has a universal tripod mount.

Next is the grip, which is made of alloy, is quite heavy for its size. This helps provide a kind of counter-balance weight, since the phone can start to get heavy on one side with all the gear attached. The grip helps lower the centre of gravity.

The grip, too, has a universal tripod mount and connects to the mini tripod. All of that can be used without the revolver lens kit, of course, and it could also me used to record oneself, like for a vlog, though personally I’d choose other camera options I have.

Altogether, the stuff ads more flexibility and options for using my phone to take photos. I always have my phone with me, where my other camera options are bigger, bulkier, and require more planning, like making sure they’re charged and that their memory card is empty. All of which makes it harder to use for impromptu photos. My phone is always available.

When I did my “Nature Photo A Day” series back in 2016, I limited myself to using only my phone (and that was my old phone). I was pleased with that series, overall, but I can do so much more now than I could then. I’m looking forward to exploring that, and sharing the results.

You have been warned.

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Asda’s 2018 Christmas ad

This ad is for Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket chain. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the USA’s Walmart, though supposedly more independent than other supermarket chains owned by Walmart. At the moment, there’s a proposal for a merger of Asda and Sainsbury’s which would control about 30% of the UK’s grocery market.

The ad, “Bring Christmas Home”, is energetic, full of fun, uses actual Christmas music, and did I mention it’s energetic? One question, though: Isn’t that Christmas tree being ridden backwards?

The company has a bunch of product-specific ads on their YouTube Channel, all using, if only obliquely, their theme for the year. It’s worth noting that UK supermarkets carry a lot of non-food merchandise, and the related ads on YouTube are for those products.

This is the first year I’ve included ads for all of he UK’s largest supermarkets—though, of course, they sell more than food. I was actually inspired to do that when I was looking up information on the chains; that’s not the first time that one thing on the Internet has led to another, but that doesn’t usually inspire a series of posts. First time for everything.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sainsbury’s 2018 Christmas ad

The video above is Sainsbury’s 2018 Christmas ad, “The Big Night”. Sainsbury’s is the UK’s second-largest supermarket chain, behind Tesco. It’s a cute ad, and more traditionally “Christmasy” than most of the 2018 Christmas ads I’ve shared so far. That’s a good thing from my point of view.

The ad uses a common enough thing, a Christmas show featuring children, to deliver a message about giving. The commercial is delivering on the theme of Christmas rather than the products being sold. As I've said, I prefer that approach for Christmas advertising. By that standard, it’s a good ad.

The company also posted a video about the kids in the ad:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Photo trial

The Instagram photo above is, as the caption suggests, one of the blooms of our tomato plants. There are quite a few now, and the plants are looking lush and healthy, and that probably is mainly due to the rain I mentioned. But there’s something else going on here: The photo itself.

This is the photo I said last week that I couldn’t take because of the rain. I was particularly interested in this because I wanted to try out the new macro lens I have for my phone, a subject in itself, but suffice it to say that most smartphones (like mine) can’t take macro (extreme close-up) photos, so to do so, one has to buy a special lens that fits over the phone’s lens. That’s what I did.

I’m not exactly used to it yet, though, and when I took the photo I ended up focusing on the fuzzy part of the plant rather than the flower itself. I’ll get better the more I use it—but I may need to wear my glasses so I can see the screen better.

There will be more photos testing out the new lenses, and I’ll explain them in more detail in a post of their own, mostly because it’s a pretty specific topic.

The important thing here, really, is that our tomato plants are doing really well, with lots of flowers. I hope we’ll have a bumper crop, but it’s not like we can predict what will happen. But I’ll photograph it either way.

Of course.

Update: I've now posted about the lens kit I got for my phone.

Hang on a minute

The healthcare profession is a noble one, and we entrust our very lives to doctors, nurses, medical and lab technicians, pharmacists, researchers—and more I’ve forgotten at the moment. However, doctors aren’t perfect, and one particular flaw has reared its head again in my Health Journey, though I’m probably most annoyed that I didn’t see it immediately.

I’ve had a gout attack for more than a month now, one that began, I thought at the time, over stress about “something that happened [that] week that upset me, because stress is my major trigger of gout attacks.” Three weeks later, the attack was waning when I injured the same ankle, and the attack flared up again. Or, so I decided.

It was nearly over when I went on my big day out a week later, and then the next day I ate turkey for lunch, and my attack roared back with a vengeance, and it’s still going on. Naturally, perhaps, I assumed the turkey caused the flare up, even though that’s never happened before.

I now think I was wrong, at least partly, about all of that.

Nigel reminded me this morning that we hadn’t considered my drug changes. Last September, when I was in hospital for evaluation of atrial fibrillation, they put me on what they called “a powerful anti-coagulant” called dabigatran.

What Nigel reminded me of was that when I had the stent put in, they put me on a drug called Clopidogrel, and I had several weeks of unrelenting gout attacks, some severe and even crippling. I learned, thanks to my own research, that “there are studies that indicate that it can cause gout in 1 to 2.5% of patients.”

Yet whenever I’ve mentioned this to doctors since, they have all told me firmly “that’s impossible”, or “it can’t do that”, or any number of similar things. This has annoyed me to no end. As I said a couple years ago:
Too many medical professionals are locked within their blinkered world in which nothing exists that isn’t backed by overwhelming research. So, 1 to 2.5% of people getting gout from a drug would, to them, be totally insignificant—to the point of not existing at all. That’s easy for them to smugly believe: They’re not the ones having to deal with chronic pain, often severe, often crippling.
The stand-off here is that I know what I went through, doctors have consistently denied it was even possible, and I get pissed off at them. Despite that, I always listen and take what they say to heart. Which is why it never occurred to me that my current anti-coagulant, dabigatran, might also cause gout.

Surprise! There’s evidence it does. Medsafe (New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority) is a part of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health. Among other things, it’s tasked with tracking “adverse reactions” to prescription drugs, and they’ve noticed reports of gout attacks among people on the drug. They said on their site:
Gout is not a known side effect of dabigatran and is not included as a side effect in the data sheet. A search of the WHO’s pharmacovigilance database VigiBase to date, revealed 71 reports worldwide of gout or gout-like symptoms, suspected to be associated with dabigatran use. This is a higher number than expected, making this association a safety signal. As always these are reports of a suspected link between dabigatran and gout and it is likely that other factors are also involved. This is why we are seeking more information. [link and emphasis added]
I realise that 71 cases worldwide may not seem like many (unless you’re one of the 71, of course), but it was enough to convince Medsafe to do some monitoring. Between January and July of this year, Medsafe had 8 cases reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM):
Two of the patients were female and six were male, and the mean age was 70 years. Of the seven patients with gout, two had a history of gout while the other patients either did not have a gout history or the history was uncertain. The onset of gout or gout like symptoms was within 10 weeks after starting treatment with dabigatran for five patients while it was up to over a year for the other patients.
They also note that:
Cases have also been identified in other countries. Six new reports were added to VigiBase during the monitoring period of which three are from New Zealand.
So New Zealand reported around 10% of the total worldwide cases, which seems improbable. This suggests that there could be a more than casual link (and a lot of underreporting—do doctors not report cases because they think it's impossible?). The problem is in the details:
Review of this safety concern highlighted that other conditions experienced by the patients may increase the risk for developing gout, common risk factors such as atrial fibrillation and difference in methods used to diagnose gout. As gout is a disease that is characterised by flares, it is difficult to pin point the cause of development of the disease as well as reasons for improvement.
I was prescribed dabigatran because of AF, as many others have been, and there seems to be a link between AF and gout, which muddies the waters a bit. But whether the drug causes or aggravates gout all by itself is kind of beside the point: There is some sort of connection we don’t fully understand, and patients deserve to know be told about it. Medsafe don’t want to because the link hasn’t been conclusively proven, and the specific mechanism for how this might happen isn’t understood so it can’t be properly investigated. I get all that, but not telling patients what IS known is not acceptable.

At this moment, neither New Zealand nor the manufacturer list gout attacks as a possible side effect.

It is possible, maybe even probable, that if I mention this to my doctor she’ll tell me that dabigatran can’t cause gout attacks. The problem being that to most doctors, lack of clear proof equals lack of ANY evidence.

So, I don’t know where this will go from here. Maybe they’ll raise my dosage of allopurinol; the Medsafe review mentioned that controlling uric acid levels in the blood is important. Well, duh! I’ll try to insist that the doctor reports my experience with the drug to CARM, but I can’t force her to, obviously.

What I know is this. My gout was reasonably stable since they raised my dosage of allopurinol, with only one severe attack I can remember. This current attack began around 6½ weeks after I began taking dabigatran, and it’s lasted 4½ weeks (so far), with some days worse and some better, but it never actually ends. The length of this attack is also unusual.

What I don’t know is whether the dabigatran is the specific cause of this attack, or just an enabler of sorts, helping other triggers—like the stress I thought started this, the injury, or the turkey—to do their worst. Nevertheless, I clearly need to take action, and that’s where this particular journey will be headed.

It would be nice if doctors helped in this process, but maybe they just can’t. That’s okay, I can do it for them. And, I will.

Important note: This post is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Tesco’s 2018 Christmas ad

This is Tesco’s Christmas ad for 2018, “However you do Christmas”, which is part of their theme, “Everyone’s Welcome”. The ad presents people celebrating Christmas in various ways, which is the point. This ad presents feelings as much as products—in some ways, more so, since the ad isn’t a parade of the products the stores sell. That’s a good thing.

Tesco’s is the UK’s largest supermarket chain, and one of the largest retailers in the world.

There are also two shorter versions of the ad at the moment, too. The first is a short version of the ad up top:

The second ad expands on some of the things in the original ad, with a lot of humour (for example a visual pun linking panettone and pantomime, the latter of which is common enough at Christmas):

I like these ads. They’re fun, humorous, a bit quirky, and Christmasy enough. That’s enough for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Weekend Diverison: George Ezra

It doesn’t happen all that often, but sometimes I’ll hear a pop song and then when I see the singer, I’m surprised because they look nothing like I was expecting. British singer-songwriter George Ezra is a perfect example of that.

The first song I ever heard by George Ezra was 2013’s “Budapest” (above), which was his first hit. It was pretty much everywhere when it came out, because it was a big hit: Number One in New Zealand (2x Platinum), Number 5 in Australia (3x Platinum), Number 24 in Canada (3x Platinum), Number 3 in the UK (3x Platinum), and Number 32 in the USA (Platinum). The song sounded very different from anything else at the time, partly because of the song structure and lyrics, but especially because of George’s bass-baritone voice. The video has been viewed some 140 million times on YouTube.

I was surprised the first time I saw him on TV (I think it was The Graham Norton Show). I was expecting someone older, probably bigger, not a 21-year-old average-sized guy. I wondered what he would do next, where that voice would take him.

His next hit, in 2014, was “Blame It On Me”:

“Blame It On Me” hit Number 8 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 10 in Australia (Platinum), and Number 6 in the UK (Platinum). It didn’t chart in either Canada or the USA. I liked the song, and was interested that in some ways it was more conventionally pop-oriented than “Budapest” had been.

“Budapest” and “Blame It On Me” are both from George’s debut album, Wanted on Voyage, which was released on January 27, 2015. The album hit Number 4 in New Zealand (Platinum), Number 4 in Australia (Platinum), Number 19 in Canada (Platinum), Number 1 in the UK (4x Platinum), and Number 19 on the Billboard 200 (Gold).

It was a long time between drinks, and it wasn’t until this year that he had another hit with “Shotgun”:

I first saw the video for “Shotgun” (around 110 million YouTube views) on our free-to-air video music channel, and to be completely honest, at first I wasn’t taken with it. But that chorus is so damn infectious that it now just pops into my head every now and then. It’s one of those songs that’s grown on me over time. Plenty of other people liked it, to: The song hit Number One in New Zealand (Platinum), Number One in Australia (3x Platinum), Number One in the UK (2x Platinum). It only hit 100 in Canada and didn’t chart in the USA, but it was nevertheless his most successful single so far.

His fourth most successful single was “Paradise”, which was actually released before “Shotgun”, on January 19, 2018, and the YouTube video a week later [WATCH/LISTEN]. It only charted in five countries, the UK the only one I regularly write about (it hit Number 5 there and went Platinum). I don’t particularly care for that song. He also performed it live on The Graham Norton Show in February of this year. I watched that episode.

His most recent single is called “Hold My Girl” and was released as a single and YouTube video [WATCH/LISTEN] on September 28. It’s only charted in the UK and Ireland (Number 33 and 78 respectively). Although apparently one critic felt the song was “destined to become first-dance material”, I wasn’t feeling it.

“Parade”, “Shotgun” and “Hold My Girl” are all from his second album, Staying at Tamara’s, which was released March 23, 2018. The album hit Number 7 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 7 in Australia, Number 22 in Canada, Number 1 in the UK (Platinum), and Number 68 in the USA.

Because I like to include four videos in these Weekend Diversion posts, I decided that if I had to pick one of his less successful songs, I may as well pick one with a fun video. So, “Listen to the Man”:

The song was released on October 28, 2014, and I saw the video on our free-to-air music video channel some time later, and thought it was fun. It features Sir Ian McKellen who is so into his part that it’s infectious. I also think the song is nice, though most people didn’t agree with me on that: Among countries I write about regularly, it only charted in the UK where it hit Number 41 and went Gold. Oh, well.

George has a particular sound, putting aside the specifics of individual songs, and he won’t appeal to everyone. But his career so far has shown that he can put out very popular songs, and some good ones that aren’t as popular. I have no idea what that says about his future, but it may suggest he’ll be around while. After all, he’s only 25.

The important choice

Now that the US Midterm Elections are over, it’s time to talk about the most important choice of all: Peanut butter. Yes, I’m joking, but finding a peanut butter that’s both good and good for me has been a battle, one I think I’ve finally won.

There are a number of reasons why I wanted to find a peanut butter at all, but the main reason is that I grew up with it and I’ve always loved it. So, finding one that would wouldn’t harm me—or, better still, help me—was important.

For years I avoided peanut butter because I’d been told—wrongly as it turned out—that people with gout should avoid peanuts and peanut products because they’re legumes and, we were told, people with gout should avoid beans, pulses, and legumes.

Turns out, all that advice was flat out wrong. The official advice now is that people with gout should get most of their protein from plant sources— beans, pulses, and legumes, plus also tree nuts. Conveniently, people with heart-related issues get much the same advice.

In addition to avoiding gout attacks, I also want to avoid heart disease (of course). So, I’m meant to basically avoid red meat, get most of my calories from plant sources, and minimise salt and saturated fats. Basically, that means the Mediterranean diet, as I’ve mentioned before.

Peanut butter fits into this very well.

For gout, it’s low in purines (which I need to avoid, and that’s high in animal meat). It’s also high in oils that have anti-inflammatory properties, and that may help prevent gout attacks.

For heart health, it’s high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats. Peanuts have phytosterols which have been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Peanut butter is a vegetable based protein which, when combined with grains, is a complete protein like that of animal products, but without all the bad stuff (cholesterol and saturated fat).

I’ve always known about the protein in a peanut butter sandwich: When I was a kid, my mother used to talk about how peanut butter sandwiches have as much complete protein as a steak (though at that time no one talked about the bad effects of eating meat). As an aside, my mother used to pronounce it “PRO-tee-en”, rather than the “pro-teen” that was common where I grew up. This confused me.

So, peanut butter can be good for me, BUT: I need to look at the sodium levels, because they vary dramatically among commercial brands. Here are the brands I tried:

Bega Smooth Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2590kj, 23.8g protein, 8.5g sugar, 576mg sodium. This was the starting point. Originally made in Australia by Kraft, it was bought by Bega when Kraft decided to exit the spread market (something they apparently later regretted and went to court over*). I used it because there’d been a scandal over contaminated peanut butter made in China, and Kraft (now Bega) was made in Australia using Australian peanuts. It felt safer. But I knew it wouldn’t be hard to get a lower sodium brand.

Woolworth’s Select American Style Peanut Butter (100g): 2600kj, 21.9g protein, 11.4g sugar, 374mg sodium. This was never my brand, but I tried it. To me, it tasted much saltier that the Bega one, but it’s significantly lower in sodium, though higher in sugars. I have no idea where it’s made.

Pic’s No Salt Added Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2488kj, 26.7g protein, 5.9g sugar, 9mg sodium. I tried this a few times, and since it’s made from nothing but peanuts (the regular version has added salt and is 180mg of sodium), it has the same problem as all natural peanut butters: It separates at room temperature, and had to be stirred before use. Every time. I saw advice on the Internet to store the jar upside down, but that was stupid advice: It still separated and I still had to stir it, but it was also very messy. I tried something else: I gave the jar a really good stir, then put it in the fridge. It never gets stiff, but it does keep it from separating. Solved. I liked the taste, which to me tasted like peanuts.

Mother Earth Natural Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2510kj, 27.1g protein, 5.5g sugar, 210mg sodium.
I tried this, but didn’t like the taste, and the separation was annoying.

Eta No Added Sugar or Salt Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2750kj, 23.1g protein, 2.9g sugar, 35mg sodium. I found this just once. It was nice enough, but I the stores I shopped in didn’t routinely stock it, so I only had it once.

Sanitarium No Added Sugar or Salt Peanut Butter (per 100g): 2730kj, 30.7g protein, 3.8g sugar, 2.4mg sodium. I tried this only out of desperation, because I was having so much trouble finding low-salt smooth peanut butter. I don’t buy Sanitarium products because it’s wholly owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, gives all of its profits to the church (which is anti-LGBT+, among other bad things), and so the company pays no company tax. This is unfair competition, and I won’t support it or give my money to a church that does things I disapprove of. Fortunately for me, this was flat out terrible. I don’t know if it’s because it was too LOW in sugars and sodium, or the variety of peanuts they used, their processes, or even if it was just a bad batch. But it didn’t taste like peanuts to me. I was relieved.

I tried all these peanut butters, sometimes more than one jar, but there was a lot I couldn’t find, that came out later, seemed too expensive, or any combination of those things. I eventually settled on Pic’s as the best-tasting of the low-salt peanut butters I was able to actually find. However, for a year or so all I could find was the no-salt crunchy, and I only like smooth. I bought it anyway. Then, a few months ago, my usual grocery store suddenly started carrying no-salt smooth again, and I’ve been sorted ever since.

Peanut butter is high in calories, which figures since it’s high in fat—good fats, but fats nevertheless. So, it’s a food to be used is small amounts. After I was able to find ones low in salt and sugar, I had an option for protein that’s plant-based, low salt, slow sodium, and good for both gout and heart health. A total win.

But, this is all about personal taste, too. Other people like things very different from me, and vice versa. That’s fine. I’m just glad that I found something I like that’s also good for me. That’s a good thing. It just took awhile to get there.

*UPDATE: May 1, 2019: An Australian court has ruled that Bega does, indeed, have the right to use the labelling/colours that Kraft (now Mondelez) used when they sold off their spread business in 2017. The US-based Mondelez argued that Kraft Foods Australia had only had a license to use Kraft's labelling/colours, not ownership, and so, couldn't sell it to Bega. The court disagreed. Mondelez was reported to be considering its options.

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.

Macy’s 2018 Christmas ads

The ad above is for Macy’s, the USA’s largest department store chain by retail sales. Called “Space Station”, the ad sells feelings, like the best Christmas ads do, ending with the slogan, “Believe in the wonder of giving”. They’ve also posted a longer version:

The chain produced related ads using the same tag. First, “Believe in the wonder of giving – Christmas Miracle”:

The second ad is “Believe in the wonder of giving – Signature Scent”:

The two ads obviously promote the stuff the stores sell, however, they do so within the context of feelings. This is the best way to sell stuff at Christmas in my opinion, and seems to be rather rare this year.

All in all, these are good Christmas ads.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Plastic bags have an exit date

Today New Zealand’s Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, announced that all plastic shopping bags will be banned by the middle of next year. TVNZ’s “One News” report is above. This announcement gives certainty to everyone, and time to make adjustments. There are also more details, which gives more clarity to everyone.

All of the talk so far has been about “single-use plastic bags,” which doesn’t really mean much. Many people do, in fact, reuse “single-use” bags, so more clarity was needed.

“We are including bags under 70 microns, with the exception of lightweight bags made of synthetic fabric and designed for multiple use over a long life,” the Minister said. “Degradable plastic bags will also be included, which covers oxo-degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic bags.”

The announcement was about shopping bags, and there was no mention of other plastic bags, like bin liners. So far, I’ve found no decent alternative to plastic bags, since the cornstarch ones are both fragile (prone to ripping) and expensive. I know that there are problems with degradable plastic bags, but I wonder how relevant they are for a properly managed landfill, which prevents contamination of groundwater and which shouldn’t provide a way for plastic to “escape”. I have no idea what our household's long-term solution will be.

These changes provide opportunities for entrepreneurs. It gives paper bag makers a chance to raise their game and expand their products by making them cheaper, primarily, but also better for a variety of situations.

There’s also an opportunity for paper bag makers to offer bags specifically designed to line household rubbish bins, and the wetter bins found in kitchens. I know my mother and her mother (and so on) had to wash out their wastebins, but if people are too busy and/or tired to cook meals from scratch these days, I can’t imagine that they’ll have the time or energy to wash out their rubbish bins every week—or even more often, possibly, if they have a big family.

Finally, there’s an opportunity for makers of resuable shopping bags to make ones that appeal specifically to men. Most reusable grocery store bags are so bland they’re boring, or they range from feminine to extremely feminine. Men will need reusable bags in the future, and someone ought to target them specifically.

What those opportunities have in common is that the solutions must meet consumers’ needs, not force them to do things differently, or use inappropriate solutions. That’s something the Government understand, too, and that’s where I have concerns.

The Minister said, “I have also set out a work programme to tackle our wider waste issues, which includes expanding the waste disposal levy to all landfills,” something that some folks on the Left strongly advocate. They argue that too-cheap landfill charges encourages dumping rather that reducing waste. I have no doubt that’s true, however, it’s unreasonable to expect ordinary people to single-handedly reduce waste when the majority of products they buy are overpackaged.

Government will need to use its regulatory power to force manufacturers and retailers to cut down on excess packaging. One way to do that is to require retailers and manufacturers to accept packaging returned by customers. Imagine if people could get rid of all the stupid polystyrene packaging manufactures insist on—that alone would greatly reduce the volume of rubbish the average household sends to landfill every year. The effect would be requiring manufacturers and retailers to pay to dispose of the packaging, and that would provide a financial incentive for them to reduce packaging in the first place. This isn’t that hard—they just need the will, and financial incentives can help them find it.

Meanwhile, people do need to get better about minimising waste. As I’ve said before, we compost all compostable kitchen scraps and garden waste. For us, most of what’s left is uncompostable and non-recyclable packaging, and now and then some yucky stuff. That's the easy part.

There are other, more intensive things we can do. For example, we could buy used rather than new, or we can refresh what we already have—upcycling is all the rage, apparently. We can garden what we can, but if time and space are short, we can still grow things like salad greens and herbs in containers (we’ve done that). We can cook in bulk and freeze the meals in advance (I hope to do that and similar). All these things reduce the amount we need to buy, the amount of packaging we need to dispose of, the fuel we use to buy the stuff, and the money we spend on them. But we need to learn how to do it, and we need to make the effort.

Banning single-use plastic shopping bags is the easiest thing to do, and the next steps will require everyone—government, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers—to play a part. I don’t think we’re anywhere near ready for those next steps, but banning the single-use plastic bags is a good first step.

Kindness matters

I am an idiot. I was diagnosed with gout some 16-17 years ago (don't remember when, exactly, but I do remember the doctor was dreamy…) and even now I forget about some foods that I need to avoid, especially if I don’t have them often. Like turkey.

Yesterday my troublesome ankle was really good, and by bedtime my ankle was pretty much normal. Then in the night—it's always in the night, by the way—strong pain hit in the same ankle. It was so bad that this morning I couldn't even stand. I took some paracetamol and went back to sleep, and later I was able to hobble. I had to—I was late feeding the dogs, and needed to take my own medicine, too.

In my extensive experience, even pain that bad—where I need to break out and dust off my crutches—diminishes once I'm up and moving around. But I couldn't figure out why it went from zero to 100kph. I thought about what I'd had to eat the day before, and the only thing that was unusual was the turkey I’d had for lunch. So I Googled that and, yes, it's high in purines (which is what I need to avoid). Crap. If I hadn't been getting over an attack, it's unlikely the turkey would have affected me at all, but things being as they were, it was like pouring petrol on a fire.

I was meant to go with Nigel today for the unveiling of the headstone for his auntie, but I couldn't even stand. I also know that cemetery well (too well, sadly…), and the ground is very uneven. Combined with all the rain overnight, it meant the possibility of slipping and hurting myself even worse was high. So, I stayed home, feeling sorry for myself, of course, which was the only rational thing to do. Fortunately, I worked out what the trigger was before having the rest of the turkey for lunch today.

But this isn't actually about my personal challenges. Even though it was a helluva lot of pain, all this, too, will pass. It was annoying, nothing more (“annoying” especially because it was accidentally and innocently self-inflicted). But it reminded me that each of us at any given moment may face challenges that are, in the overall scheme of things, trivial. Ultimately, we'll move past them.

We always know of other people who are far worse off than we are at any given moment, and maybe sometimes that makes us not share what we’re going through. Sometimes that also makes people judgemental about people sharing their small challenges on social media, precisely because of the fact that there are people doing it worse. But as we all know, when we're in the middle of one of those bad times, it doesn't matter how small it is, it can be huge to us. I can confirm that when the searing pain shot up my entire leg this morning, my first thought was NOT that others have it worse.

This morning, I checked my Facebook newsfeed and saw that a real-life friend, who has had a run of bad luck lately, shared yet more bad luck that happened over the past few days. What my friend is facing isn’t life-threatening in any way whatsoever, and it’s all resolvable, but that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. My friend’s point in sharing was that it’s possible to rise above it all, to not be consumed by it, and they’d found a way to do that. But they also helped lighten their burden just a little by sharing it, and the least we can do is acknowledge it—even with just a Facebook “reaction”. That lets the person know that we saw their challenge, and we acknowledge it, even if we don’t know what to say. Most of the time, that’s enough.

I think we need to be a kinder to each other. It doesn’t matter what we think of the fact someone shared something with us that we think is trivial, even if it objectively is, because it mattered to them, and that should be enough. We should consider that instead of “attention seeking”, the person sharing may simply be asking people to help them lighten the load just a little bit by acknowledging they’re in a rough patch.

We don’t need to be “right” all the time, and we certainly don’t need to “correct” other people. Our approval or agreement isn’t necessary when someone is facing a challenge, just a simple acknowledgement that we see they’re in pain, they’re a fellow human being, and we hope things will get better for them. That doesn’t diminish the horrendous things others go through at all—it merely lifts up our shared humanity. Because we all know that one day we’ll be in bad patch, too.

Kindness matters.

An Australian Christmas ad

Apparently Australian retailers promote Christmas, too. Who would have guessed? Of course we all did, but for no particular reason I just haven’t shared many Australian ads before. Maybe it’s because most of their retailers are here, too, so their ads are our ads. Except when they’re not, like these ads.

The ad up top is from upmarket Australian department store chain, David Jones, which was founded in 1838, making it the world’s oldest department store chain to still be trading under its original name (although, of course, the chain is no longer Australian-owned).

The chain opened its first New Zealand location—and its first outside of Australia—in Wellington in 2016, after the company acquired the name and site of the former Wellington department store Kirkaldie & Stains, which went out of business. The Wellington store was relatively small, but in February this year the company announced plans to build a large store as part of new “mega mall” in Auckland’s Newmarket, though it won’t be open until around this time next year. Which means, there’s no point in the company running TV ads in New Zealand.

Most of the Australian retailers who might make Christmas ads haven’t posted them online yet. For that matter, no other New Zealand Christmas ads have started running yet, let alone being posted online. This year’s series is starting a little more slowly than I’d expected. So, I’m looking a little farther than I have in previous years.

So, for now, here’s another short ad from David Jones:

Friday, November 23, 2018

Turkey Day 2018

Today was Thanksgiving Day in my American homeland, so, as I have many years, I had turkey for lunch today (in the Instagram photo above). Most years, this is all I have, and it’s the perfect homage for me.

This time of year is too busy to have any sort of celebration, which isn’t part of this country’s culture, anyway, of course. Plus the weather is warming up this time of year (today it hit 23 at our house—about 73.4F), which makes a roast meal a bit difficult. That’s why I’ve seldom made a Thanksgiving dinner.

As I said in the Instagram caption above, this year I made a wrap instead of a sandwich. It was a good choice, though if I do it next year, I may have more to put in it). I used the same brand of turkey in a post last July, which seems to be the only one available at the moment, at least at the grocery store I went to yesterday.

So, that was my Thanksgiving for 2018. It was nice seeing various American friends posting about their day on Facebook, but I don’t miss all that. I still had turkey, though, that’s a wrap for 2018.

Previous posts on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving again (2016)
Winner winner turkey dinner (2015)
Turkey Day (2014)
No thanks (2013)
Thanksgiving thoughts (2012)
Happy Thanksgiving (2011)
Another expat Thanksgiving (2010)
Thanksgiving (2008)
Home for the holidays (2007)
Thanksgiving Downunder (2006)

Joy and celebration

These days, people don’t celebrate enough. Sure, there are birthdays, weddings—all sorts of things that people celebrate. But most of us ignore the little things, and not so little things, that go on all the time. We need to celebrate the little things, the small victories, because they make the bigger ones possible.

In the video above, John Green responds to his brother Hank by talking about feeling joy and the need to celebrate. I’ev been talking about that for years, so this was one of those times when I watched a video and said a silent “YES!”. Okay, technically that’s shouting silently. And I probably was.

It’s so easy, especially these days, to lose track of what’s good, what’s important to us and for us. And if we spend too much time holding out waiting for the Big Things to celebrate, we may miss out entirely, for any number of reasons.

That’s why I always talk about celebrating the little things and the small victories. They matter too, and sometimes more than the Big Things.

It’s good, too, to remember that this time of year.

This is Hank’s video that John was responding to:

Apple 2018 Holiday ad

The ad above is from Apple, and is called “Share Your Gifts”. Like many ads released this time of year, it depicts people who use the company’s products, but in this ad those products not the focus: What one can DO with those products it the point. So, this ad is a little different than others.

In the ad, a young woman is creative, but won’t share her gift with the world until the dog intervenes. I have found this can happen in real life. Yes, she uses Apple products (a Macbook) to create, but the sharing of her gift is the entire point of the ad.

I’m sure that a certain subset of Americans would be outraged that the ad is called “Holiday”, but it really has nothing to do with any one particular holiday, does it? The point is, one can help free the creative spirit of someone we love (like the dog did), and one way we can do that by buying Apple products. Subtle selling, good message.

I like this ad.

Apple also shared a "making of" video:

Full disclosure: Not that it's relevant, but in the interest of transparency, the first draft of this post was done a Macbook and finalised on a desktop Mac.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

My big day out

Today was my first day out of the house in a week, as I said in the Instagram caption, and I really did go to the grocery store. I also made a special stop because I needed to. It was actually a good trip.

As I said in my Healthcare Update last Friday, I whacked my gouty ankle quite hard. I said:
“…my ankle was finally pretty much better, then yesterday it was a little sore, which isn’t unusual. I was getting ready to stand up and somehow managed to hit my ankle hard on the footstool in from of my chair. The pain was incredible, and unlike what would happen for an ordinary knock, it didn’t subside quickly, but kept going.”
The soreness continued every day since then, up until yesterday, when it got a bit better, and I decided I wanted to try a trip. I was probably getting a bit of cabin fever, actually, but I was still a bit dubious today. I went anyway.

The first stop was to a home improvement store because I needed to get a lightbulb for our staircase. I wanted the wider selection that the store had (as opposed to the grocery store) because I wanted the brightest LED I could find for a standard recessed light. It had to be LED because the light is quite high, and it’s not something we want to change very often, and LED is “instant on”, unlike compact fluorescents that inevitably need to “warm up”. I was successful, but I need to drag the big ladder up to change it—tomorrow, maybe?

The supermarket was as it always is, with some new things spotted, as always, but I realised as I was walking through that it was easier to walk than when I arrived. I appear to be getting better. Finally.

When I was done, I took the selfie above while sitting in my car, about to head home. As usual, I took several versions, and the lighting was really good—maybe a bit too good, actually, because it showed all my flaws. When I launched Instagram to post the photo, I noticed that I had maniacal eyebrow hairs over one eye. I’m at the age at which I need to “manscape” to avoid old man eyebrows, something I haven’t done lately.

So, I took a new photo within Instagram and noticed for the first time (because I haven’t done a selfie that way before) that Instagram leaves the photos flipped. It’s common for cameras pointing at us—a phone with front facing camera, a computer’s “webcam”—to show us a mirror image because that’s what we expect to see, since we’re used to seeing ourselves in mirrors, not real life. When I take a selfie with my phone the normal way, the version stored is the right way around, but the Instagram stayed flipped. Maybe there’s another step I was oblivious to because I haven’t done a selfie that way before. In any case, others could see what I see when I look in the mirror, so that’s kind of special. I just didn’t realise that in advance. Now I know.

So, that was my day, really. I got home a bit after 4pm, and it wasn’t very long before Nigel got home. And tonight I worked on some advance blog posts—how very Roger Green of me.

It was good to be able to walk considerably better than I have for the past week, but the tiredness problem I also talked about last Friday is continuing, and I still need 9 to 10 hours a night. I still hope that will get better, too.

Still, a bright, sunny, pleasant day after so many cold rainy ones was good, getting out of the house better, being able to walk much better was, well, better still, so I’ll take all that. Celebrate the little things, as I often say.

And now, I just did.

UK's Marks & Spencer 2018 Christmas ads

The video above is the 2018 Christmas ad for British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S). Called “Must-Haves”, the ad promotes stuff that their target market might consider “must haves” at Christmas. Some of us may not share that particular description, but M&S believes their customers will.

I didn’t particularly like their ads this year because I don’t think they’re as good as last year’s ads, which I think were not just better, but also, well, more Christmasy. However, they do make it possible to get a glimpse of what makes a Christmas for a certain subset of people in the UK, and that’s interesting. Even so, I still don’t especially like the ads this year. It happens.

The ad for M&S Food, “Discover your M&S Christmas favourite” is below:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Internet Wading: Numbers, words, food, and art

Another month has passed, and the links to random, interesting, and randomly interesting things have piled up. The list is varied, as always, with numbers, words, food, and art. And history, of course. Gotta have some of that.

I’ve often said that these posts are the catch-all for things I see on the Internet over a month that will never make it into their own post, but I realised recently that making a list of such things may imply something about me, and it does: I’m as random in what I find interesting as this list is.

But sometimes I find things interesting that I don’t even fully understand, like the video above, or the article, “Numberphile Explains the World's Most Evil Number Named After One of Hell's Princes”. What I don’t understand is anyone thinking numbers are creepy, or the whole devil thing. Maybe one has to believe in hell and satan and all that to see creepiness in the numbers.

Well, maybe some numbers we can all hate: Time. “A brief history of (New Zealand Standard) time” tells the story of how New Zealand was the first to adopt a universal time for the entire country. New Zealand has always been ahead of time. You’re welcome.

Well, maybe some art: “The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture” talks about what it sounds like, and I’d heard all this before, the pictures were helpful.

Talking about the real colour of Greek sculpture is moving into science, so may as well talk about real science, what archaeologists have been up to. For instance, “Archeologist Discovered Evidence Of Ancient Chemical Warfare”. People being cruel in warfare is nothing new, apparently. And speaking of warfare, “Archaeologists Discovered vast medieval Buildings buried under prehistoric fortress at Old Sarum, England”. It may have been built by Henry I.

Food—or, food history: “Great Depression Grub – 5 Makeshift Meals People Made when Food was Scarce”. My mother made the first one all the time. It was okay. She also made green bean casserole: “Dorcas Reilly, 92, New Jersey woman who invented green bean casserole, is dead”.

More specifically contemporary history also came my way this past month. For example, “They were a gay, interracial couple in an age of relentless bigotry. The two Harolds didn’t flinch.”. This was a nice story of a sort not told often enough.

Contemporary life also features a lot in posts that I find. For example, “How to write the perfect sentence”, which looks at what famous writers thought about sentences. Probably interesting mostly to the writer hidden inside me somewhere or other. The blogger in me found this list interesting when I was double-checking a quote: “The Top 10: Misattributed Quotations”.

Recently, anthropologist David Graeber spoke to Radio New Zealand on “Why bullshit jobs are booming”. There’s audio at the link, but the article is pretty thorough.

Finally, a problem we don’t have in New Zealand: “Discarding Halloween pumpkins adds to greenhouse effect, so take advantage of drop-off site or a Pumpkin Smash”. I applaud the effort—and it’s certainly not something anyone worried about when I was a kid, though clearly we should have. New Zealand doesn’t have the orange pumpkins, and what they apply that name to are what Americans call squash. The remains are are usually put in home compost, and the stereotype is the plants growing out of some gardener’s compost heap. I should add, I don’t now how common that really is. We’ve certainly never had that happen, but, we’ve always had bins, not heaps.

Well, that’s it, so it’s time to pumpkin catapult this month’s Internet Wading post.