Thursday, June 20, 2019

What have we become?

There’s been a marked increase in abusive and threatening behaviour directed at New Zealand politicians and even those who work for government at any level. The video above, from TVNZ’s One News, talks about the abuse and death threats received by Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse, as well as some of the others who have been threatened. The reporter, Katie Bradford, has also been abused and threatened on social media. What have we become?

To normal people, it’s obvious that it’s NEVER okay to act like this, to abuse, bully, or threaten the lives of people especially when they’re just doing their jobs.

My friend, Councillor Richard Hills, publicly shared the link to the video on Facebook, saying, “this shouldn’t be happening and it’s happening way too much.” He added, “the abuse and vitriol directed towards politicians and staff especially female staff/politicians is out of hand and should not be tolerated.” No sensible person could disagree with that. But then he also added:
I get obsessive bizarre homophobic stuff that I ignore and police investigated my own death threats earlier in March and council followed up on some death threats and other comments on a certain page last year. It’s disappointing that’s for sure.
I was aware that he’d received homophobic abuse, but I wasn’t aware that he’d received death threats, let alone that they were referred to the police. But the saddest thing of all is that I’m not in any way surprised about all this.

However, things have become a LOT worse in recent years.

The One News report touched on some of the wider context, namely, that the extreme abuse is often related to specific issues or aspects about politicians. As the One News report mentioned, Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman was given Parliamentary Security escorts at Parliament following an escalation in threats made against her after the lone MP for the neoliberal Act “Party” called her “a real menace to freedom in this country”. [See also: “Golriz Ghahraman on dealing with the ‘scared, panicked, angry mob’”].

It’s also not just politicians who receive harassment and threats of violence. For example, people working for Auckland Council are frequently abused and threatened, too, though most of the time the newsmedia doesn’t report it. One time recently the media did report it—by participating in the abuse.

In April, a woman from Auckland’s North Shore dumped 19 dead ducks, presumably killed by avian botulism, in an Auckland Council customer service office. The article claimed that “allegedly” the dead ducks had been “left rotting beside North Shore ponds for three days” before the woman took them and dumped them in the Council offices, thereby endangering the health and safety of the staff, anyone visiting the office at the time, and any staff who might attempt to remove the dead ducks. Worse still, the Stuff news site clearly knew about the stunt in advance, since they had a reporter and camera crew there to report it, yet they did nothing to stop her. Why doesn’t that make Stuff an accessory? [Note: Stuff’s irresponsible and reckless behaviour is why I won’t link to the article; if you must read it, copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/2x6eENc].

The most serious threats, such as death threats, can always be referred to the police, but the larger question is, how do we stop this reprehensible behaviour from happening in the first place? It starts with the rest of us. When I shared Richard’s post on my personal Facebbook, I said:
Each of us can play our part: There are things we can do to stand up to the bullies while still keeping safe from them. But one of the best strategies is to be kind to everyone all the time, and for one simple, powerful reason: Children are watching; we need to live like the adults we want them to become.
Let me be clear: Practicing kindness by itself won’t fix this, but it can help by setting an example for children to follow, and it can also give the victims of abuse a level of support—a kind of soothing of their wounds. There are also specific things we can actively do, too, while keeping ourselves safe.

Most of this sort of abuse and bullying happens or begins on social media, and there are anonymous ways to deal with that. When we see a comment on social media that’s particularly vicious, and especially if it threatens or advocates violence against someone, we must report it. Facebook and Twitter alike often choose to ignore threats, but reporting’s an important to do, anyway, and the bad people won’t know we did it. I do this all the time, so I can vouch for the fact it’s safe.

If we feel a little braver about a comment left on a Facebook Page, we can report it to a page Administrator, however, they may sympathise with the abuser, and we may end up being attacked on their page. We must choose our battles carefully. Don’t post screenshots or summaries on Facebook/Twitter to “name and shame” the aggressor; ironically, that could make the companies punish you for bullying.

In the real world, we can sometimes stand up publicly and challenge someone who’s being abusive, at least if they’re not violent and unlikely to become so. However, the person may have a weapon (most likely a knife in NZ, unlike the USA). It may be safer to do other things. If the person seems to be violent, or likely to become so, ring the police. It’s better to ring them for nothing than to risk it escalating into something terrible. After you ring the police—and only after that—you might start videoing the abuse. It could be useful in the event the police prosecute, however, if the person sees you doing that, you could become a target.

Sometimes we can safely intervene directly, as I did back in 2017. In that post, I also shared a graphic (at right—click for a larger view) by artist Maeril, who shared it on her Facebook Page. It shows an approach we can take if we see someone being harassed. It’s not without risk, obviously, but it can be very effective, regardless of the reason they’re being harassed.

At the moment, the best long-term strategy, and certainly the safest of all, is to model the behaviour that we’d want children to copy. If enough of us do that enough of the time, it will help. But the bigger solutions to actually fix this? At the moment, no one actually knows what they are. In the meantime, we all know one thing: This is not who we want to be. It’s up to us to make sure that this sort of thing will never be acceptable, that it will never be who we’ve become.

Footnote: Ironically, I first "met" both Richard and Penny through social media. So, it's not all bad, all the time—but it could be so much better than it is.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Police ads – good and bad

The New Zealand Police have tried a lot of different types of advertising over the years, and these days they try to make them friendly and accessible. But as any advertiser can confirm, even the best intentions don’t always create good ads. The police have two running on NZ television at the moment, one is good and one is, well, less so.

The video above is the “long cut” of the “New Cops” recruitment ad that began running late last year. The current shorter version is different from the shorter version they ran last year, but both are probably better than the long version because they’re sharper and more focused. The ad is similar in style and approach to one I shared early last year.

The ad works mostly because of the use of humour to present basic facts, and, like that ad I shared last year, it includes plenty of Kiwi-isms. New Zealand still needs more police, obviously, and it’s trying to diversify its ranks to be more representative of the community. This ad reflects much of what they’re trying to do. Whether it’s showing the cops being friendly and approachable, respectful of differences, or using Te Reo Māori, the ad reflects what the police want to be, and that’s a good thing.

The other ad (below) promotes new non-emergency police phone number, 105 (said as “ten five”). It was launched “at 10:05 am on the 10th of the 5th [month]”. The ad definitely doesn’t work as well as the one up top, even though it uses the same basic approach as their other ads from recent years. Like the video above, this is the “long cut” from which the actual ad is edited. Part of the reason the current TV ad doesn’t work is that making it shorter makes the humour too disjointed, which was less of a problem with the ad up top which has more distinct scenes, where the ad below has several that overlap.

A problem that’s unique to the ad below is that the sound is terrible. The opening vocal is way too soft and weak, so much so that I still can’t make out most of what she’s singing, and I’ve seen the ad several times. The same problem pops up several times in the video and ad. I also think this ad takes the approach used in other police ads and makes a bit of a mess of it—it’s a little too disjointed. On the other hand, it is catchy and will probably achieve the goal—getting Kiwis to remember 105 as the number to call for non-emergencies. Hopefully they’ll also get enough out of the ad to also know when something isn’t an emergency. If they can hear it.

The ad below shows that, as any advertiser can confirm, even the best intentions don’t always create good ads. This ad could have been so much better and stronger than it ended up being. At least the one up top is good.

Does silence really equal consent?

There’s a Latin Proverb that’s survived into modern times: “Qui tacet consentiret”. It means, basically, “silence means consent”. The phrase is loved by activists on the both the Left and the Right, and for much the same reason: It serves as a self-perpetuating form of social control, especially control of public discourse. Trouble is, the phrase is ridiculously silly.

The whole Latin phrase is: “Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit”, which can be translated as “He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree”. The middle part is key here: The person has to have had an obligation to speak—ideology warriors insist everyone has that obligation—but they must also be able to speak. There are plenty of reasons why people may not feel free to speak, but it’s the presumption of an obligation to speak up that’s at the very root of the absurd promotion of the phrase. In reality, people have no obligation to speak up.

The concepts of personal freedom, liberty, and autonomy require that people must have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they’ll speak up about something they don’t agree with or don’t like. They cannot be compelled to speak up if they choose not to, no matter how much the ideology warriors may demand they do.

In his essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right.” He was talking about the obligation of people to resist unjust laws and government rule. Immediately before this quote, he wrote, “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.” How can that not also be true for the socially presumed obligation to speak up? If we don’t think it’s right to speak, for whatever reason, we cannot be obligated to do so.

Among the reasons that people might remain silent is that they simply don’t care about the topic. Whether they ought to care is subjective: Ideology warriors will always assume that someone “ought” to care, but that doesn’t make it so. Among other things, no one has an infinite capacity to care equally passionately about everything, so one must choose one’s battles. This is especially necessary in light of our busy lives and many competing demands for our attention, including work, family, and our own needs. It’s pretty arrogant to demand that everyone must also engage fully on a topic just because we care very much about it.

There’s another, possibly more common, reason that people don’t speak up in this Social Media Age: Retribution. Examine any comments section on the Facebook Pages for media companies, or look at pretty much anyone stating an opinion on Twitter, and it’s almost inevitable that they’ll have someone or many people swoop in to condemn them for their opinion. It doesn’t matter whether those attacking them are real people or trolls/bots (as, indeed, many of the worst offenders often are), it’s still unpleasant, to say the least.

We can all watch such attacks happening in real time and conclude that stating our opinion just isn’t worth the nearly inevitable harsh (over)reaction, or what I call drive-by bullying—attacking and then ignoring all replies. From there, however, it can get much worse. Too often someone will engage in “doxxing”, the sick tactic of ferreting out and revealing personal details and information about people as a weapon of retaliation for not supporting whatever the attackers’ positions are, or for daring to express an opposing view. So, offering an opinion might not just end up being “unpleasant”, it may even be dangerous.

If no one can care equally about all topics, and they can’t, and if expressing an opinion can lead to unpleasant or even dangerous consequences, and it can, then the surprise isn’t that more people don’t express their opinions, it’s that any rational person would.

Naturally, reality doesn’t stop ideology warriors.

This “silence means consent” nonsense is loved by the Left and Right alike, who —even in real life outside of social media—try to shame anyone on “their” side who doesn’t speak out. That tactic seldom actually works, because, why would it? We can all see the consequences of speaking out, so doesn’t that mean that by default silence is the better option?

I think there’s a middle option: Judicious and considered choosing of when, where, and how to speak out.

Social media is usually the worst possible place to express an opinion. I almost never do, except in response to something a friend has posted; I never comment on a public Facebook Pages (except, of course, for the AmeriNZ Facebook Page or other moderated pages), the comments section of a public site, including YouTube, newspaper websites, etc. (because they’re seldom moderated), and I rarely post anything on Twitter anymore. I also freely use the “block” function on Facebook and Twitter so I never again have to see the trolling or simply bad behaviour of some ideology warrior, Left or Right. Those, however, are defensive moves only. How else can one speak out relatively safely?

Obviously a blog is one possibility. Most personal blogs will have a small, possibly tiny, readership, so we’re unlikely to come to the attention of trolls and boorish ideology warriors. It’s even possible to blog with a high degree of anonymity if we want; in fact, that was the reason that I was so guarded and anonymous when I began blogging and then podcasting: I wanted to protect myself from trolls in particular, and it worked (though the small readership of this blog probably helped a lot, too…).

Calm personal discussions can be an option, too, because people often (though certainly not always) behave better towards someone right in front of them. In real, face-to-face life I’ve never had anyone call be a “libtard”, for example. However, even this must be done with some caution: People are capable of being dicks in real life, too.

What all of this means is that no one has an obligation to speak up, and there are many—and good—reasons why someone may choose to remain silent in the Social Media Age. We can infer absolutely nothing about someone or their positions merely because they choose not to speak up, except that they’re not speaking up, as is their inalienable right. It doesn’t matter what we think about their silence: Our opinions and feelings about their silence are irrelevant.

The phrase “silence means consent”, though loved by activists and ideology warriors on the both the Left and the Right, is nothing more than a self-perpetuating form of social control, especially control of public discourse. And that’s why the phrase is ridiculously silly.

Of course silence doesn’t really equal consent. But if those ideology warriors were any good at stating their positions, people might agree with them and say so—but only if those ideology warriors didn’t attack people they disagree with so freely and fiercely. Silence does NOT mean or even imply consent. Ever. It’s well past time we stopped pretending it does.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Weekend Diversion: More Random songs

Back in March, I shared some random songs that I got to like because of the music video channel I watch. This eclectic batch of songs is just like those in that I got to know all but one through their music videos first. All three are sometimes played a lot on the music video channel, so I’ve gotten to know them all quite well—sometimes a little too well, maybe.

DNCE - Cake By The Ocean [Explicit Lyrics]

In September 2015, US pop band DNCE released “Cake By The Ocean” (video above), which is about sexual intercourse. According to Wikipedia, “The song's title originated from Mattman & Robin's [the Swedish duo who served as producers] repeatedly confusing the phrase ‘sex on the beach’ for ‘cake by the ocean’."

The DNCE’s lead singer is Joe Jonas, who also co-wrote the song. He's probably better known as one of the Jonas Brothers, a group that rose to fame through Disney Channel, moved to more adult music, and recently started recording again. I thought he looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place who he was until I read up on the song, Doh! At any rate, he’s certainly moved away from the Disney days.

The song reached Number 6 in Australia (3x Platinum), 7 on the Canadian “Hot 100” (2x Platinum), 10 in New Zealand (2x Platinum), 4 in the UK (2x Platinum), and 9 in the USA on the Billboard’s “Hot 100” (3x Platinum).

Bob Sinclar - Love Generation

In 2005, Christophe Le Friant (stage name Bob Sinclar), a French record producer, house music DJ, and remixer, released a song called “Love Generation”. It’s a catchy song, not the least because of the whistling. The man watering his lawn in the video of the song is Bob Sinclar. The vocal is by Gary "Nesta" Pine, who has often featured on Sinclar's records. This is the only song of these three songs that I heard on the radio, which is ironic: It was the least successful on the NZ charts.

The song reached Number One in Australia (Platinum), 2 in New Zealand, 12 in the UK, and Number One in the USA on the Billboard’s Dance Club Chart. It was also a big hit around Europe.

Pitbull - Give Me Everything ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, Nayer [Explicit Lyrics]

Finally, the most successful song in this bunch, "Give Me Everything", a song released in March 2011. It was written and performed by American rapper Pitbull (real name Armando Christian Pérez) American R&B singer Ne-Yo, and Dutch DJ Afrojack, and featuring additional vocals from American singer Nayer. It was Nayer’s vocals that made me notice the song. The song was Pitbull’s first Number One in the USA.

The song reached Number 2 in Australia (6x Platinum), 1 on the Canadian “Hot 100” (7x Platinum), 2 in New Zealand (2x Platinum), Number One in the UK (2x Platinum), and Number One in the USA on the Billboard’s “Hot 100”.

• • • • •

Because I watch the video channel often enough, I see these videos relatively often. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have heard two of them, but, as it is, I know them a little too well, maybe. It happens.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Teatotaling test

There are plenty of good reasons for people to reduce their alcohol intake or avoid alcohol altogether. Among the health reasons are to avoid interactions with medicines, and that’s the situation I’m now in. Turns out, the alcohol-removed wine I found is quite good.
In my most recent Health Journey post, I talked about buying alcohol-removed wine:
“…because the medicine [Amiodarone] can cause liver damage, they urge people to avoid or severely limit alcohol intake. I’m doing the former. There are many good alcohol-removed wines nowadays, and some decent no-alcohol beers and even a sparkling no-alcohol wine—well, technically, it’s a sparkling grape juice, but it’s more wine-like than that sounds. This means that when we’re being social, I can sort of play along, even though I’m not drinking alcohol."
I knew about Edenvale alcohol removed wines, an Australian brand sold in our supermarket. I even tried a red one once and thought it was okay—but a sip is hardly the same thing as drinking a glass of it. Now that I have more incentive, I decided to try it again.

I normally drink Pinot Gris (also known as Pinto Grigio, but there is a difference between the two). Edenvale doesn’t make one, so I chose their chardonnay because I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc anymore, and I generally don’t like Riesling because it’s too sweet for my taste. I used to drink chardonnay all the time up until a few years ago. I also bought a bottle of their Rosé (a bit sweet for my taste), and a bottle of their bubbles, Sparkling Cuvee, which was sweeter than I usually like in bubbles, but pretty good. I haven't tried their ordinary red yet, nor their premium range.

When I opened the chardonnay, I smelled the open bottle, and it smelled a lot like a bottle of chardonnay. Its taste was lighter than ordinary chardonnay, something like a low-alcohol version might taste, but it was surprisingly nice. In fact, now that I’ve had some several different times, I plan on keeping it as one of my choices after I’m off this medicine regime, maybe paired with a low-alcohol wine, or maybe (probably) by itself. That kind of surprised me.

One question that comes up when I talk about this is, are the wines completely alcohol free? No, they’re not. Edenvale explains this in their FAQs:
The average finished alcohol level of the Edenvale range is approximately 0.2-0.3% Alcohol/Volume. It is virtually impossible to remove 100% of the alcohol from a fermented beverage. Delicate alcohol extraction technology is used to ensure varietal definition and flavours are retained in the finished product so consumers can still enjoy a sophisticated beverage without the effect of alcohol.
Edenvale Alcohol Removed wines contain less alcohol than most freshly squeezed orange juices. The International Standard for a non intoxicating beverage is 0.5% Alc/Vol (of which Edenvale is nearly half). Below this level the regulatory body, Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand, do not require producers to include any statement of Alcohol content.
I have to admit that I wasn’t aware that alcohol is naturally occurring in fruit juices, among other things. I also wasn’t aware that the alcohol by volume in drinks we know have alcohol varies a lot. In fact, it was reported on TVNZ’s One News tonight that there are concerns about the variable amounts of alcohol in the fad health drink kambucha. Some of varieties are below 0.5%, meaning it’s legally alcohol-free, but some are high enough that the law requires that it’s to be labelled.

I also tried the sparkling wine of an American alcohol-removed wine brand called fre, but I’m not sure the specific one I tried is still available. It was pretty good, too, but it’s imported from much farther away than Edenvale, and so, usually more expensive than the Australian ones I tried.

So, I rate this experiment a complete success, so much so I’ll keep having it even after I can have regular wine again. From me, that’s actually very high praise.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No person, 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.

Important note: This post mentions 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.

The image of the bottle is from the winemaker.

Polls apart

Recent opinion polls in New Zealand offered up wildly different results and presented completely different trends. There are many possible explanations for that, including timing, polling methods, sampling errors, question construction—or even pure chance. Whatever’s going on, there’s one thing that’s certain: They can’t both be right. Let the buyer beware—and be very sceptical.

The polls (graphic above) were conducted at roughly the same time, but the results are clearly very different. The Newshub Reid Research Poll was taken May 29-June 7 (sometimes they’ve reported May 30 as the start date), and the One News Colmar Brunton Poll was taken June 4-8. This is one of the first possible explanations for the differences: The timing.

The New Zealand Budget was introduced in Parliament on May 30, and the Newshub poll was begun before Budget Day (or on the day…), and finished a week after. The One News poll began several days after Budget Day and ended about the same time as Newshub’s, after four days. In reporting the story, both news shows said their poll indicated what happened as a result of the Budget’s announcement. One News said there was no “Budget Bounce”, meaning the government didn’t go up in the polls and, in fact, they claimed Labour went down in the poll. Newshub, on the other hand, claimed that Labour did get a “Budget Bounce” and said they went up in the poll. Which claim is true depends, obviously, on which poll is more accurate.

The similarity of polling period suggests that the timing of the polls is probably not relevant, though the longer polling period for the Newhubs poll might matter. Overall, this means other factors are probably be at play. Another obvious source of the divergence would be how the polls were conducted.

In the past, Colmar Brunton rang only landlines, which has been a source of complaints for years. This poll was conducted by randomly dialling people on both NZ landlines and NZ cellphones using probability sampling. Their sample was of 1002 people, which is a typical amount. They describe their margin of error this way (read their PDF report on the poll for full details):
The maximum sampling error is approximately ±3.1%-points at the 95% confidence level. This is the sampling error for a result around 50%. Results higher and lower than 50% have a smaller sampling error. For example, results around 10% and 5% have sampling errors of approximately ±1.9%-points and ±1.4%-points, respectively, at the 95% confidence level.

These sampling errors assume a simple random sample of 1,000 eligible voters.
Reid Research hasn’t yet posted the current poll results on their website, so we don’t know for sure if their methodology has changed from previous polls. However, in their older polls, they sampled 1,000 people, 750 of whom were telephoned (they don’t disclose whether they were landline or mobile, but in the past they were landline only). The other 250 were from online polling.

Over the years, there have been many debates on whether the phone method matters and whether Reid’s use of online polling is valid. The fact that Colmar Brunton now rings mobile phones suggests, at the very least, that they listened to critics. But that doesn’t by itself make their results more accurate no less accurate, and Reid’s use of online polling doesn’t by itself make theirs less accurate or more accurate. On the other hand, we could tell if the sampling is problematic if we knew the extent of the correction they applied to their raw survey results.

The things we can’t know, and no one will tell us, is how they correct sampling errors, so we can’t judge if their methods appear to be sound or not. However, they both use industry-standard methods, and, in any case, that, too, doesn’t necessarily mean that one poll or the other might be less accurate than the other.

We also can’t rely on history to help us work this out. In the companies’ final election polls before the 2017 General Election, both polls were remarkably similar—and off. Both polls overstated support for National and the Greens, but of the two, Reid was closest to the result that New Zealand First had, where Comar Brunton greatly understated the party’s support (“greatly” because it was about 50% below the actual result). Both were pretty accurate on Labour’s eventual result. This suggests that their correction for sampling errors may not be fine-tuned enough, that they skewed conservative, toward national in particular.

So, history is no guide, and, at first glance, it looks like we can’t use the differences in these polls' methods or analysis to tell us much, either. This is reinforced by the fact that both polls had remarkably similar results on the possible legalisation of marijuana, which frankly seems odd: Why are they so hugely different on political polling, but so similar on the referendum? The answer could well be the question asked.

We don’t (yet?) know what, specifically, but the question reported on Newshub was simply, “Should we legalise cannabis?”, which is a very broad question. On the other hand Colmar Brunton asked:
“A referendum on the legalisation of cannabis will be held at the 2020 General Election. Possible new laws would allow people aged 20 and over to purchase cannabis for recreational use. The laws would also control the sale and supply of cannabis. At this stage, do you think you will vote for cannabis to be legalised, or for cannabis to remain illegal?”
That question is reasonably fair, given that the exact wording of the referendum hasn’t been released yet, but the general structure of the proposal in the question aligns with how the media has described it. The poll results showed that people under 34 were more likely to support legalisation, and those over 55 were least likely. It also found that National Party supporters were more likely to oppose legalisation.

The Newsbub Poll result produced a closer result than One News’, but found similar ideological variation. By itself, this doesn’t seem to support the claim that the One News sample skewed older and more conservative than it should have. But another question may reveal a bias.

The worst-worded question in the One News poll was this: “Would you consider voting for a party with Christian or conservative values at the 2020 General Election?” This should have been bloody obvious to everyone involved, but those two are not automatically the same thing or even symbiotic. National is a conservative party with conservative values. New Zealand First is a more moderate party with conservative values. Hell, even the Centre-Left Labour Party has some conservative values. But all of those parties are also firmly secular.

So far, only one rightwing “party” (technically, it is only announced, and doesn’t exist yet) is positioning itself a “Christian” party, but the only one claiming “conservative values” is a “Christian” party in all but name. The question should have been two questions.

We know this question was deeply flawed because of the results: Those most likely to support such a party parties were: Pacific Island peoples (who are often very Christian, but not necessarily Christian), Asians (who are often conservative, but not usually Christian)—and people 18-49? SERIOUSLY?! Every poll conducted, and all the social science data we have, shows that people in that age group are less religious and less conservative than older generations, but the poll says they’re among those most receptive to “a party with Christian or conservative values”? At the same time, voters 60-69 were reported as less likely to vote for either kind of party, and that, too, is at odds with research that indicates religious affiliation and conservatism goes up with age. Are we really supposed to believe that young voters are suddenly more religious and more conservative than their parents/grandparents? That seems highly improbable.

Further polling with properly constructed questions might explain why this question’s poll results are so wildly divergent form everything we know about people’s religious and ideological compartmentalisation, but, on the face of it, it appears that the One News poll may, indeed, have skewed conservative, as it did to some extent in 2017. As it is, the results for that one question cast a shadow over the entire poll.

The bottom line is that we cannot yet explain why the two polls are so divergent on political questions, yet similar on the marijuana referendum. It seems unlikely that timing accounts for the difference. Polling methods, sampling errors, and the correction of them, could account for the divergence—were it not for the similar results on the referendum. That leaves question construction, and that was certainly a problem with one question at least. That means that, at the moment, pure chance alone is as good an explanation as any.

These polls, as with most polls, must be taken with an entire mine of salt. The reliability of the entire polling industry has been questioned since so many companies seemed to get it so very wrong in the USA’s 2016 presidential election. However, most US polls actually did far better than the popular belief holds, something most people don’t know. Because of that doubt, though, polling companies must redouble their efforts to make their polls as accurate as humanly possible. One or both of these two polls haven’t done that—we just can’t tell for sure which it is or if it's both.

Let the buyer beware—and be very sceptical.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Winter produce

The photo above is of the largest haul we’ve had from our tomato plants in the month since I posted the since I posted the photo I mentioned in the Instagram caption above. There have been a couple others, and a couple the birds decided were theirs. But it’s not the size of the yield that’s remarkable, it’s that this is now winter: We’re getting tomatoes in winter. Extraordinary.

In that caption I also speculate on a couple factors that may have helped them along, and the variety of tomato could be part of it, too. But things are definitely different. Is it an early sign of climate change? I don’t know. I’ve pointed out three perfectly ordinary factors that, perhaps when combined, could account for this. Of them, only the warm autumn the past couple years could be related to climate change, but the reality is that I just don’t know.

None of the other garden jobs that I mentioned last month are done yet. This doesn’t bother me—I had some obstacles along the way, after all. And, the weather has been rainy more often than not lately, and I don’t like being wet. Okay, that one’s on me, and I have no excuse for that. But it’s still a thing.

I have something to add to the list, too, a grapefruit tree that’s got a bumper crop this year. That’s a shame because I can’t eat them and we don’t know really anyone who likes them. I’ll put the fruit in our community sharing stand—someone will use them—but after it’s done producing, the tree will get the chop (something we should have done last year).

The grapefruit tree, productive though it may be, is useless to us: We can’t use the produce and have to get rid of it every year (a lot of it rots). Also, it blocks light and sunlight from reaching a raised garden bed behind it, so we can’t really grow anything there. That tree has to go.

Right now, though, my focus isn’t on that tree, it’s on the unexpected extra bounty from the tomato plants, something we never expected. Fresh winter produce is nice.


"Productive holiday weekend"
– When we planted the tomatoes.
"The tomatoes are growing" – The plants were growing well by December.
"Gardening work" – When I noticed the tomato plants were in bloom in late autumn.
"Photo Trial" – They were even the subject of a photo experiment.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

In a good light

The photo above is of Leo, taken this morning as he slept on Nigel’s pillow. He doesn’t normally do that, as I said in the Instagram caption, but he looked so cute that I had to take a photo. I realised later that there was also really nice natural light.

In the caption I mentioned in passing that “he’s only half shorn”, and of course there’s a story behind that. A couple weeks ago I gave him a bath and we started grooming him. He hates that, something we learned last year.

The short version of the story is that he becomes easily distressed when we try to groom him, so we got him a special collar that has synthetic pheromones that, they say, mimic what a nursing mother dog gives off. It’s supposed to calm them. Let’s just say, it was not a complete success.

He seemed to be becoming so distressed that we stopped—only part way through—and it took him the better part of the following week to come right. He looks like he’s wearing pants that are falling down and has a puffy sleeves, not that he cares about any of that, of course. At some point we’ll have to finish the job, but we’re dreading it.

Meanwhile, we’re having new taps installed on our bath later this week, one that allows us to attach a hand-held shower-type sprayer, and the only reason we’re doing that is to have a place to wash the dogs. I can wash Leo in the laundry tub, but the other two are too big. I’ve been using the shower, but that’s really awkward.

And, Sunny and Jake are overdue for their baths. They’ll be this weekend.

Still, Leo was enjoying his little sleep when I took that photo, which is a good thing in itself. And, as always, I saw him in a good light.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The end of iTunes

Earlier this month, Apple announced it was ending iTunes, news that was met with a shrug. It seems that many people hated it, and it did, indeed, seem a relic because, as the chart above shows, revenue from streaming music overtook digital downloads some time ago. But when it was introduced, iTunes was revolutionary and a perfect example of “disruptive technology”. Times have changed.

When iTunes was announced in 2001, it created a way to load music onto the company’s iPod music player (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod). In so doing, it began to usher in the era of digital music. When they introduced the iTunes Store in 2003, it became the first legal way to buy and download digital music and created the then-radical idea of allowing customers to buy individual songs, not just entire albums. Some artists hated this, preferring to think of their album as a kind of unitary entity, but consumers loved it.

In 2005, Apple added support for podcasts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_Store) to iTunes and the iTunes store, which made the medium much more widely available and easy to use. That development killed off some of the independent software, called “podcatchers”. However, as iTunes has declined, it’s no longer the only way that people get their podcasts, and various other ways, such as Stitcher Radio, though there was controversy about that (see also below), relating to Stitcher placing ads on podcasts they provided, without sharing revenue with the content creators.

It’s probably fair to say that the end of iTunes won’t affect (or, apparently, bother…) many people, since most people now stream their music or download it from one of those services. And, people will still be able to buy music through Apple, just not using iTunes.

Desktop Macs will be like iOS devices (iPhone, iPad), with three separate Apps, one for music, one for podcasts, and one for movies. Making Macs work more like iOS devices will appeal to some people, especially those new to the “Apple ecosystem”. Backups of iOS devices will be handled in Finder, which is the basic level of the MacOS and includes the desktop.

To some of us, however, it’ll be annoying to have three different Apps to manage digital audio-visual content and a fourth thing to handle iOS device backups. Also, the history isn’t good: When the Podcast App was first introduced to iOS, replacing iTunes, it was terrible: It was frustratingly hard to use, and it was difficult to add podcast subscriptions. That got better with upgrades, but there will be an opportunity for third-party developers to make a “better iTunes” to re-merge the functions. There are companies making podcast apps for iOS, so it seems natural to have fully integrated Apps, at least for audio content.

I seem to be one of the few people who actually didn’t mind iTunes’ shortcomings because of how easy it was to make playlists to organise music and podcasting libraries. I also used iTunes to create the MP3 versions of my podcasts because it was easier and faster than the other methods I’ve used. When iTunes goes, I may end up changing how I make podcasts, too.

Still, people complained about the “useless” features of iTunes, and there is one that even I don’t use anymore: Burning CDs of music. In fact, modern Macs don’t even have CD drives anymore, and we don’t have a disc player hooked up to our TVs, either. It was convenient and easy to use back in the day, though. iTunes also worked the other way: Creating MP3 copies of physical CDs, but we did that years ago (and there are other Apps that specialise in creating digital audio files from physical media).

I don’t always want to stream music—sometimes I want to buy it. So, given how confusing everything is, I decided to look at the alternatives. It’s important to note that all of the streaming sites also allow “offline listening” (downloads) of music, but it’s not clear from their websites what happens to those downloads if a customer quits the service. Only two of the services offer digital sales to New Zealand.

Any talk about pricing of digital sales has to begin with the granddaddy, Apple’s music store. Apple customers outside the USA have always subsidised American consumers by paying higher prices—sometimes dramatically higher—than do buyers in the USA. This has been true for all products sold by Apple, including their computers, phones, and so on, as well as digital music.

I looked at Apple’s iTunes Store the other day as I was researching this post. I saw several albums that were priced at US$6.99 in the US store, which works out to NZ$10.52 each. But in the NZ store, the same albums were priced at $16.99-$17.99 (US$11.29 – US$11.95). Some weren’t available at all.

Next I looked at Amazon’s Music. Most of the albums I looked at on iTunes were available from Amazon, with an important caveat: NONE of the albums were available as digital albums for people in New Zealand. Physical CDs were mostly US$9.99 (NZ$9.49) or US$9.99 for digital version (in the USA). A notable exception was an album available as a digital download on iTunes for US$6.99 in the USA, and Amazon offered the physical CD for US$5.99 and the digital download was US$16.99 (again, not available in NZ). Another one was US$9.49 and ($16.99 for the USA-only digital downloads). Meanwhile, Amazon Music subscriptions are NZ$9.99 per month for an Individual, or $14.99 per month for a family. It is available for all platforms.

Google Play was developed for Android and Chrome operating systems, or for anyone on the web. It is the closest to the Apple iTunes store, and its digital downloads, at least on albums I checked, were available in New Zealand. They ranged from $9.99 to $13.99 which appears to be NZ dollars (I didn’t buy anything, so I can’t be sure). Subscriptions are $12.99 for an individual and $19.99 for a family. There is a free service, too. There is an iOS App, but reviews show it's had a mixed reception. Third-party developers have made players for the MacOS, though it can also be accessed on a Mac through the web.

Apple Music is $14.99 per month (the US rate is US$9.99, which today is $15.02, and that means that, unusually, pricing is quite similar). There is no free, ad-supported version. It reached 10 million subscribers in six months, something that took Spotify six years to achieve.

Spotify has a free, ad-supported service (which I have). Spotify Premium, which removes Spotify-added ads and also adds some features, is $14.99 per month for an individual, and a family version is $22.50 per month. There are iOS and Mac Apps available (I have both).

Stitcher Radio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stitcher_Radio) is describes as “an on-demand Internet radio service” that’s also used for podcasts. It uses a mobile phone App and is not available on desktop machines. People can buy a Premium subscription for $4.99 per month (or billed annually for the equivalent of $2.92 per month). The “premium” version removes the Stitched-added ads, and provides access to “premium podcasts”.

Pandora Radio is only available in the USA, so I didn’t bother looking into it.

At this point I have no plans to subscribe to a streaming service, though I may revisit that. I don't listen to radio, so I'm not sure that streaming music would have any value to me. This is important to me because I only listen to music and podcasts when I'm using my desktop computer. Because neither any subscription I had nor the service itself will last forever. That means that, if "offline" songs are all deleted when the subscription ends, it’s theoretically possible that one could spend a lot more money to subscribe to music than to buy it outright. So, I think some caution is wise.

I plan on trying out at least some of these services in the months ahead, and, if I do, I’ll share what I find. One thing is certain, though: Later this year, everything will change for my digital music and podcast listening, whether I do anything or not. Times have changed.

Related: “Apple Music vs. Spotify” By Time Hardwick, MacRumors

The graph comparing streaming and downloads of music and movies at the top is of this post is from Statista, as is the chart in the middle of this post on paid digital music consumption.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Leo is two

Today is Leo’s second birthday—already! Since he came to live with us he’s slotted right into the family, providing a lot of entertainment along the way. He was best friends with Bella, but as she got sicker Leo became best friends with Sunny. They still play together every day (Leo and Jake have an understanding…).

It’s a good thing that birthdays don’t mean anything to dogs because if they did, he may not have had an entirely good day. We’re part way through grooming him, and he fights us so hard that it takes several days to finish. At the moment, he looks a bit like he was put together by a committee.

That meant he insisted on a tight close-up for his birthday photo because we haven’t done his head yet. That, and the rest of the photos I took where he was looking at the camera weren’t any more flattering.

Leo’s actually a lot of fun to live with, and is happy all the time. We’re really happy he’s part of the family.

Happy Second Birthday, Leo!

Leo is one year old

Another new addition

Leo contemplates his second birthday as the photographer lurks in the background.

Winter was already here

Today, June 1, marks the start of winter in this part of the world, but the season didn’t wait for the calendar: The weather turned last week, and this weekend has seen all sorts of storms, including snow that stranded motorists in the South Island, and flooding elsewhere. And, now, the cold.

Weather doesn’t pay any attention to seasons, of course: We had a very mild, often summery autumn, until it changed this week. We had a lot of rain—it sometimes absolutely poured—for several days this week, just like in winter, and we had some extremely strong winds, as we often do with autumn storms. Then yesterday the temperatures started falling.

I was glad to not have to go anywhere or do anything the past couple days. I’d planned on going the grocery store Thursday, thought about waiting until yesterday, and went anyway. That was fortunate: The weather Friday was awful more often than not.

Today I waited for a break in the weather to take the rubbish and recycling out to their respective bins. I was surprised at how cold it was. It supposed to get even colder.

This year, winter started shortly before the season did. Now, it’s about to get more wintry. Yay.

The image above was posted to the Facebook Page of New Zealand’s Metservice, and shows the expected low temperatures around the country tomorrow, June 2. The numbers are degrees Celsius.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Striking fear

There are some professions that are vital to keeping our civilisation going, and among them is education. They teach the basic knowledge that makes every other profession possible, and they reinforce our civilisation. I have a lot of respect for teachers and the work they do. I don’t think they’re paid enough, not by a long shot, and they should have better working conditions. I’m also now strongly pro-union. But I’m also a pragmatist, and this week’s teachers strike in New Zealand is skating closer to making things worse.

The 50,000 primary school teachers and principals and post-primary teachers went on strike this week, and it was about conditions as much as pay. It was not only the biggest teachers strike in New Zealand history, it was also the biggest strike of any kind (the second largest was the 1951 waterfront dispute, which had 22,000 people on strike at its height. Last year, a total of around 70,000 people went on strike, the highest number since the 1980s.

Times have changed, though. Unlike the five-month long 1951 waterfront strike, modern strikes last a single day. Moreover, it’s illegal for them to strike except during their bargaining period, and they cannot engage in wildcat or solidarity strikes, nor strikes for political reasons (they can still hold rallies for such things, of course—as long as they’re held on their own time).

Unions represent only about 17% of waged workers, most of which are white-collar jobs, especially in government agencies (which includes schools and hospitals). And therein lies the problem.

Government workers are at the whim of the government of the day, and for decades both major parties have pursued basically neoliberal economic policies that avoid public spending and encourage lower taxes and free markets. There are differences in priorities, with the National Party favouring business (big business in particular), and Labour favouring social spending (health and education in particular). Over the nine years that National was in government, it spent so little on education and health that the sectors had effective budget cuts. The current Labour-led coalition government had been trying to fix those issues, health and education in particular.

This raises an obvious question: Considering the virtual pay cut that teachers and nurses endured during National’s time in government, why are they striking now, with a sympathetic government, instead of when National was in power and causing the problems? The heads of the teachers’ unions gave disingenuous answers to that, but it’s nevertheless true that, publicly, the unions did nothing for nine years.

This matters because they’re wearing out the patience of New Zealanders. Overall, people have enormous sympathy for teachers, but if they keep striking—and secondary teachers are striking again next week—that patience will run out. And if New Zealanders then blame Labour for these strikes, then the unions will get to deal with a National-led government in 2020—and they will lose, just like always. Is that really the outcome they want?

To be clear, I don’t think the current government has gone far enough with teachers. I think they should have decided on a smaller budget surplus and instead invested the money in education and health. But Labour is sensitive to the charge they can’t handle the economy; even though the economy does better under Labour than under National, the myth (fuelled by Rightwing propaganda) persists that Labour Governments are profligate. That, combined with a neoliberal economic consensus (maybe Neoliberal Ultra-Lite, in the case of Labour…), it was probably inevitable that this government would go too slowly to fix the problems that the previous National government created.

However, it is what it is: The budget is focused on some sorely needed social spending (like on mental health, for example), and they’ve chosen to run a large budget surplus. But, who knows? If the current occupant of the USA’s White House manages to utterly destroy the world economy through his ignorance, then we may be glad that the current NZ Government has run surpluses. Teachers, however, may feel differently.

I hope teachers get what they want, and that it can happen sooner than next year. But unions have to think long and hard if their strike actions are really helping their goals, or only making a National Party-led government more likely in 2020. If they switch to rallying on their own time, rather than closing schools and inconveniencing parents, they may get away with it. But if they keep pushing so hard, they could end up making sure they’ll have to wait much longer for what they want.

The most successful unions work with management (in this case, the government) to find solutions. I don’t see that happening at the moment, and both sides seem to be digging in their heals. They need to find a way forward, but I just don’t se how continual strike action can possibly bring that about—but it could make things much worse.

Update: "Minister intervenes in teachers' pay dispute, calls forum"RNZ (Radio New Zealand)

On yer bike

What are the best cities for cyclists? According to an insurance company called Coya, that describes itself as “digital insurance specialists” and also as “committed bikers”, Auckland is 7th best city in the world for cyclists, and one of only two non-European cities in the top ten. This is largely because of the huge improvements Auckland has made since Auckland Council came into being nearly a decade ago. There’s still a long way to go, however.

Coya produced its “Bicycle Cities Index 2019” their study focused on six main categories using various factors that to determine how cycling-friendly a city is:

  • Weather.
  • Percentage Bicycle Usage.
  • Crime & Safety: Fatalities / 100,000 Cyclists, Accidents / 100,000 Cyclists, Bicycle Theft Score.
  • Infrastructure: Number of Bicycle Shops / 100,000 Cyclists, Specialised Roads & Road Quality Score, Investment & Infrastructure Quality Score.
  • Sharing: Number of Bicycle Sharing & Rental Stations / 100,000 Score, # Shared Bicycles / 100,000 Score.
  • Events: No Car Day, Critical Mass Score.

Complete details of the rankings and the process used can be found at the link above.

From our perspective here in Auckland, the city still has a long way to go, however, Auckland Council, NZTA (the transport agency responsible for roads, like the Auckland Harbour Bridge) and other government agencies are committed to making cycling more easily and safely.

For example, last week NZTA announced plans for new, improved cycling and walking path next to the bridge. The bridge, which turned 60 years old yesterday, was originally supposed to be built ‘with footpath and cycle-track’, according the 1946 Royal Commission, but by the time the bridge was actually built a decade later, those plans had been scrapped.

Quite why the plans were dropped is a matter of debate, but in the 1950s through 70s Auckland was plagued with shortsighted politicians who couldn’t see how big Auckland would become, and what the implications of that were, so that’s probably a big part of it. Fixing that earlier mistake has taken up the past decade, and finally started moving forward within the past few years, especially with the change of government in 2017 when the new government committed to build the cycling and walking path across the harbour. Finally. Work could start next year.

NZTA is also adding cycling and walking paths as part of their major expansion of the Southern Motorway, connecting Karaka and Papakura. That project will be completed later this year.

Auckland Council is also making cycling safer and easier, by making roading improvements, like on Quay Street in the CBD, as well as in other areas throughout the city. Some of the projects in suburbs (neighbourhoods) are currently under consultation or design, while others have been completed.

Add it all up, and in five years Auckland could very well rise in global rankings like Coya’s. That’s incredibly good news because it means fewer people in cars, more people getting exercise, and both of those will make for a healthier city—and healthier people. It’s a win all around.

I can’t fairly evaluate the index or its rankings—I’m not a cyclist nor an expert in that subject or transport generally. I admit that I think that it is a bit, um, nice to Auckland. But I also know that better and safer cycling and walking is important for any modern city. Anything that helps advance that is a good thing, in my opinion.

The data visualisation of Coya’s index at the top of this post is a “Chart of the Day” from Statista. Their summary of the data can be found at the link.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

More Internet wisdom that worked

These days, whenever we need to find something out, we probably turn first to the Internet. We can learn many interesting things that way, and sometimes we may even find effective ways to do something we need to do, like how to fix something we don’t know how to fix. Today I tried a repair method I read about on the Internet, and it actually worked.

The problem was that our en suite basin, which is made of plastic (or maybe it’s fibreglass), was stained with my beard dye (don’t judge). It happened because the dye’s applied with a little brush and it’s possible to flick the dye without even seeing it until later. Left too long, it stains the basin.

So I turned to the Internet and the wisdom contained thereon was that nail polish remover would remove it (it was also supposed to work on removing the printing from those little plastic tags used to close bread bags).

We had some nail polish remover that we used as a solvent in our old house (maybe it was another Internet answer—I don’t remember). So I tried it and—nothing. I remembered that the instructions specified nail polish remover with acetone, which, apparently, they don’t all have. In fact, it didn’t smell anything like the stuff my mother used when I was a kid. So, I decided to buy some acetone and try that.

I’ve never bought acetone before, and I assumed I could get it at a hardware/home centre, and Google confirmed that. So, I headed out today to get the groceries, stopping first at the nearby home centre, and I bought the smallest bottle they had.

The acetone worked. I had to rub the spots, especially the darker ones, but it did work. I was kind of surprised, to be honest. The photos up top show the before and after, and I do realise it’s kind of hard to see. The shadow of the tap handle at the left edge of both photos is the point of reference.

There was one small (literally) failure, though: I tried the acetone on a bread tag, but it broke apart as I did. Maybe straight acetone is too harsh (it can strip paint, after all), or maybe I was pressing too hard, or maybe it was just a fragile tag. I'll try again another time.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about trying something I learned about on the Internet. Sometimes the method works, and other times it just doesn’t. As it happens, I have another one to talk about, something that’s been in the works for a couple years, actually, and it's still not ready because the trial isn’t done yet (I read about a variation I haven’t been able to try yet).

Sometimes the Internet is pretty useless for telling us how to do things, but other times it actually delivers. This was (mostly) one of those times.

Google Doodle for us, not US?

The picture above is a Google Doodle that appeared on my screen today, and I’m sure it would mystify most Americans. It promotes the ICC Cricket World Cup, currently underway in the UK and Wales. New Zealand, who co-hosted the 2015 World Cup with Australia, is participating, of course.

Cricket is actually played in the USA, mostly, but not exclusively, by expats from various Commonwealth countries. Still, it in the USA, it definitely is what commentators like to call “a minority sport”, and that’s why it’s unlikely that most Americans would have any idea why that Google Doodle was about (the link in the actual Doodle goes to their search page, which includes match results).

The Cricket World Cup is the One Day International (ODI) format, which, in my opinion, is far better than Test Cricket. One the other hand, I haven’t been to an ODI match in so long that I’m not even sure how long it’s been—17 years, maybe? Sheesh!

At least I know what the Google Doodle was about. That’s something, I guess.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nothing shocking

Two weeks ago today I had a shocking experience. Well, my heart did, anyway. The rest of me just went along for the ride. And now, two weeks later, I’m mostly adapted to the current drug routine, halfway through it. The middle of next month, it changes slightly. Overall, it's a case of so far, so good.

The day after I got home, I filled my prescription, but I didn’t start the new drug, Amiodarone, until the following morning. They’re having me take two pills per day—which is quite a high dose—for a month, and then it drops to one pill per day. This is supposed to happen two weeks before I get my first blood test to check for any serious side effects, which will show up there, even if I’m not aware of any symptoms. I have no idea why the dose is so high for a month; if I’d known they were doing that, I would have asked.

Some days I’m extremely tired, which makes sense: The drug regime is keeping my heartbeat consistently around 70bpm or less (it’s usually in the mid to low 60s), something they’ve wanted for ages, ever since they put me on beta-blockers; this is the first time it’s actually happened. Twice so far—both on a Tuesday—I struggled to wake up in the morning, and was dog-tired all day long. Other days I can get more done, but sometimes I need to sit and rest for awhile. However, sometimes I have a good amount of stamina.

Because of that, I think this new drug regime is somewhere between beta-blockers at the worst, and the old regime. Sometimes I’m more tired than I was before the afib incident, but usually I’m better than on beta-blockers. Also, my mind is clearer in the daytime, though, like on beta-blockers, it kind of goes mushy in the evening.

What is very weird, though, is that I find it kind of hard to fall asleep at night. Insomnia is one of the side effects, but that’s not exactly what I experience: It just takes me longer to fall asleep—a half hour, followed by maybe another half hour where I kind of doze a bit until I finally fall asleep for the night. This could be another reason I’m tired.

What makes it weird is that in the evening I can be really sleepy, yawning like crazy, and yet I still can’t fall asleep. To help, I now have a cup of chamomile tea every night—I think the nights I’ve had two cups have shortened how long it takes me to get to sleep, but I’m not sure; I’m trying that tonight to see if it helps.

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is that because the medicine can cause liver damage, they urge people to avoid or severely limit alcohol intake. I’m doing the former. There are many good alcohol-removed wines nowadays, and some decent no-alcohol beers and even a sparkling no-alcohol wine—well, technically, it’s a sparkling grape juice, but it’s more wine-like than that sounds. This means that when we’re being social, I can sort of play along, even though I’m not drinking alcohol.

I’ve also severely restricted regular coffee, even though there’s divided opinion on whether caffeine causes afib (most experts seem to doubt it does). However, after all I went through, the last thing I wanted to do was to stimulate my heart. So, I have, at most, one per day.

I do, however, drink decaffeinated coffee, and the problem is that most of them actually do have some caffeine—sometimes, even, not much less (if at all) than a normal cup of coffee. There’s no way to know what the caffeine content is because manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the label. Still, according to my own experience (I monitor my heart rate throughout the day) it’s clearly not as stimulating as the real thing.

After the procedure two weeks ago, they also gave me potassium intravenously. My levels were normal, they said, but on the lower side of normal and they wanted to boost it a bit. Potassium has a lot of functions, including helping muscles function properly (and the heart is a muscle…), and it also helps control blood pressure. I bought some bananas last week, and since they became ripe enough this week, I’ve had a banana most days. Can’t hurt to keep my levels up a bit.

A good thing that’s happened is that my blood pressure continues to be really good. I say “continues” because it started when I was in hospital (before the potassium infusion), and that continues. In fact, it’s never been as well-controlled as it is now.

That’s not the end of the good news. Three weeks ago I went to get blood drawn for my routine blood tests, and though the results took forever to show up online, when they did the results were nearly all good—great, even.

I was surprised that not only had my cholesterol levels not become worse since they cut my dose of atorvastatin, they were actually better—normal for all but one measure. Only my “good cholesterol” level is still too low because I’m not active enough—but even that was better than it's been in a few years.

I have no idea why this result was so good. Maybe my combination of drugs was helping, but I suspect that at least part of it has to be down to my avoiding red meat. It certainly didn’t hurt.

The shocking result, however, was how low my uric acid level was—well below what it should be to prevent gout attacks. Back in early April, I went to the doctors for a routine check to renew my prescriptions. I told the doctor about the gout attacks I had late last year, and its possible connection to the anti-coagulant I’m on, dabigatran. The doctor was somewhat incredulous, which I’m used to, but checked the Medsafe site and saw what I was talking about. He said that a gout attack can be caused by any change in uric acid levels—up OR down, and a big change can trigger an attack.

So now I’m wondering if the dabigatran lowered my uric acid levels, thereby causing gout attacks, but is also keeping them low. No way to know, I suppose, but having the levels so low means that—if they stay there—an attack is very unlikely, which is great news. It also means that if they take me off it, it has to be done s-l-o-w-l-y.

Most everything else was completely normal, though a couple numbers were borderline or not quite right, and will need monitoring. My thyroid had one borderline reading, and my liver had one level that was slightly wrong. The Amiodarone can harm both organs. Something to watch.

But wait, there’s more! There was one other bit good news: My National Bowel Screening Programme result came back, and it was negative, as I expected. So, unless something changes—like symptoms develop or some other risk factor emerges—I don’t need to do anything until my next test under the programme in two years.

The good news here is that despite feeling tired and having a little trouble getting to sleep, everything else has been good or even great: The drugs have successfully controlled my heart rate and heart rhythm so far, and my blood pressure is more controlled than it’s ever been. Blood and bowel test results were also good or great. All things considered, I think I have very little to complain about.

Now I just settle in to this routine for the next couple of weeks, until the Amiodarone drops to a normal dosage. I hope it still controls my heart rhythm as well as it has so far. But I’ll also keep on trying to eat and live in more healthy ways as I wait to see what they suggest doing next.

At the moment, so far, so good.

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.