Sunday, October 31, 2021

Eight years married

Eight years ago today Nigel and I were legally married. It was the happiest day of my life, and even in his last days Nigel told me it was the happiest day of his life, too. I think he may have said that to others, too, though I’m not sure.

I recently realised something important. If we’re fortunate enough to meet our soulmate, we plan to spend the rest of our lives with them. When Nigel died, I felt cheated because I may have a couple decades or so of life still ahead of me, and I won’t get to spend them with him—the only thing I actually wanted out of life. This made me profoundly sad—and it still does. However, what I recently realised is that Nigel DID get to spend the rest of his life with me, and I’m so humbled, honoured, and maybe even a little shocked, to have been the one he chose, the one who could be with him to the very end. At the same time, I’m also honoured, and proud and deeply happy, to have been the one to be there for him to the end of his life.

We were supposed to grow old together—that was always our only plan, and neither of us got that chance. I’ll be honest: There were plenty of times over our life together when I wondered why he chose me, and even why he put up with me for all those years, but what this thing I realised made me see is that I was there for him always. That’s the answer to my questions, because I knew he’d be there for me no matter what, and he knew I would be there for him no matter what, too. It’s what soulmates do.

But damn, life without him is pretty shitty. Despite that and all that goes with that fact, I was able to always be there for him, and he got to spend the rest of his life with me. Knowing that is like getting a huge, long hug from him. The anniversary of the day we were legally married is the perfect time to think about all that, because it was the happiest day of our lives. I understand now that it still is for me.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

It’s still seven years married (2020)
Mixed feelings day (2019)
Fifth Anniversary (2018)
Fourth Anniversary (2017)
Third Anniversary (2016)
Second Anniversary (2015)
Still married (2014)

To be married
Husband and husband
Just one more

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Good day delivered

The other day I made a sarcastic post on my personal Facebook (image above). I joked about shopping, both about how those of us in Auckland and parts of the Waikato can’t go into shops, and also about how anything we order online can take forever to get to us. Today I had a shock: Stuff I ordered from Photoshack in Auckland Thursday evening was delivered today. This morning I thought about checking the shipping status (they emailed me the tracking number yesterday), but I thought, “What’s the point? It’ll still be stuck in Auckland.” Yeah, well, certainly got that wrong (and happy about it).

Earlier in the week, I’d ordered something from a different shop in Auckland (for a project I’ll talk about in due course), and a couple days later they emailed me with a projected delivery “date”: Mid-November. While that’s unusually long, it didn’t surprise me, either. But the long shipping time for that order is part of what inspired my sarcastic post.

The truth is, though, that these are the only two orders I’ve placed in quite awhile: Most of the time I just close the tab in my browser without ordering anything. I haven’t even been able to get motivated to order anything by click and collect from the home centres, even though if I did I could get a bit done on my projects outside. It’s the shipping delays that cause me to not order for delivery, and the overwhelming boredom of Lockdown makes me feel like I just can’t be bothered doing click and collect. Different reasons, same result.

This is all related to widespread shipping and delivery problems, like the ones I faced last month. The problems aren’t just about getting stuff from overseas, but even about getting stuff from one part of New Zealand—especially Auckland—to another part of New Zealand. It’s bad enough that yesterday “NZ Post [asked] customers to change how they shop” for Christmas. Against that backdrop, I didn’t expect such delivery, and certainly not overnight!

Now, about the order that arrived today: I ordered a pair of softbox lights with 2 metre (max height) stands. They’re used for soft, diffused lighting for photography and videos. I’ll definitely use them for photos (no more “make do” lights!), and if I ever do re-start making YouTube videos they’ll be very handy.

The other thing was a collapsible cube used for photographing objects (like products, still lifes, bowls of chicken soup…). It folds into its own carrying case (which is way cooler than it sounds). The cube has its own light diffusing panels so any white light can be used, including natural daylight, without it being too bright/glaring. It came with four pieces of fabric that attach at the front and curve up the back so there’s no back visible in the shot (it remains a true background). I’d looked at this sort of thing elsewhere, but they were always too small (this one is 60cm square by 60cm high). I’d planned on trying to repurpose bits and pieces that I have to kind of fake it, but I knew it wouldn’t be right, so I was putting off working on it. The thing I bought will be perfect for what I want, and it’s first job will be to help me take photos of some stuff I’m going to put on TradeMe to (try to) sell.

So, today I had a huge and very welcome surprise that will help me with several different things, including both stuff I want to do in the years ahead and also to advance the decluttering project here in the house. It turned out to be a very good day.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook this evening.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Six months of solar power

I’ve now had six full months of solar-generated power. The results? Mixed, but good, which I fully expected. I also know that the best results are likely to be over the next six months, and I always knew that, too. Overall, the results are sunny and bright.

My solar electricity system was switched on in April of this year, and I’ve been tracking the results ever since—of course I have. Over that time, I’d added more data points to my spreadsheet so that I can satisfy myself that I can see every meaningful detail of how it’s all going—every detail that I care about, anyway; I'm sure I skipped over a lot of possible data points.

Because of that obsessive spreadsheeting, I know that winter was brutal for electricity production. This makes complete sense because the hours of sunshine in Hamilton in June and July are roughly half (or less) of what they are in the summer months of December and January. That means it’s no surprise that the credit I received in June and July was less than half of what it was in May, the first full month the system was active.

What this means in practice is that I expect to get much higher credits over the summer months, even higher than in it was in May (which has about 25% less sunshine hours than January). However, this depends in large part on the weather.

Ah, weather: The other big factor in this. Overall, New Zealand had its “warmest winter—again”, though there’s always some local variations. However, it’s not temperature that affects my solar power production, it’s sunshine (obviously), and it usually rains a lot in winter in New Zealand. This past winter, Hamilton had a LOT of rainy and heavily overcast days. Logically, cloudy days, combined with fewer sunshine hours available, means lower electricity production.

The data I recorded backs that up.

The amount of electricity I got “paid” for (it’s actually credit against my power bill) was up in August and up again in September (each month’s meter reading is recorded/billed in the third week). Neither was what I’d call a dramatic increase, but it was definitely up—as were the number of sunshine hours. I thought that was hopeful.

October, however, was another level entirely: I produced and supplied 386kWh of electricity, and bought 398kWh—in other words, I supplied nearly as much electricity as I bought. For comparison, in October 2020, when I didn’t have the solar panels, I bought 676 kWh. [kWh, or kilowatt hours, is a standard measure of electricity consumed/sold].

This is the point where it’s important to note a few things. First, not all of the electricity I produce and supply to the national grid (that 386kWh in October) is power I would’ve bought if I didn’t have the solar panels, though some of it might be. Instead, it's power I wouldn't have consumed at all. The reason for that is my own practicality.

As I’ve said before, I do electricity-heavy things—like running the dishwasher, running the clothes dryer, even ironing clothes or recharging batteries—during daylight hours, ideally on sunny days. What this means is that I try to use the electricity I’m generating, which is the most cost-effective thing for me to do. That’s because the electricity company pays me less for the power I generate than I pay them for the power I buy. So, when my electricity-hungry devices consume my own solar-generated electricity, it costs me absolutely nothing to run them when the sun is shining. Even on heavily cloudy days, when I might need to buy some extra power from the grid, I still buy far less than I would without the solar panels.

The number of kilowatt hours (kWh) that I purchase from the grid, then, are a far better measure of how things are going, and there the picture is quite sunny. Looking at October again, I bought about 40% less electricity than I did in October, 2020. Even in wintry June, in 2021 I bought about 22% fewer kWh from the national power grid than I did in June 2020, and that’s despite it being the month in which I supplied the lowest amount of electricity (again, I used power that I generated, and that reduced the amount I needed to buy by that roughly 22% over the previous year, and it also reduced the amount of power I supplied). Comparing months in 2020 to months in 2021 is useful because my energy needs can be assumed to roughly equivalent, however, it’s not perfect given possible differences in the number of cloudy days, for example. Still, it’s good for getting a rough idea of how it’s going.

I have other calculations I’ll share at the one year mark, when I can compare one full year to another. However, I can say that since the solar panels when in, I’ve consistently consumed less power per month than I did in the same month in 2020. The question I can’t answer for another six months is how much the solar panels will save me over the course of a year. I can’t even reasonably do any projections or predictions because we’re not in the sunniest months of the year yet—in fact, I haven’t had the solar panels running in any of the most-sunny months. Seeing how this plays out will be very interesting—for me, anyway.

I’ll admit that when I looked at my power bills in the midst of winter, I felt disappointed, and that’s the entire reason I added more data points to my spreadsheet: I felt I wasn’t getting the whole picture, and I was right. Looking at averages, comparisons, and totals, it’s easier to see that despite the dark, dreary days of winter, overall even now I can tell the most important thing of all: For me, it was worth it on every level. I may not yet know what my annual savings will be, nor how long the system will take to “pay for itself”, but I know that I am saving money while at the same time generating clean, green electricity to help power New Zealand. Damn right I'm happy I went solar!

Update: The danger in drilling down through detailed data is that it can make us miss important things, like in this case: The thing that most people would be interested to know is, how much less am I paying now than before? Because the system's only been running for six months, and half of that was during winter, I can't yet do monthly averages that would mean anything. However, October was my best month with solar so far, and it should give some idea of what I'll likely see over summer: In September, my bill was about $154 (an amount similar to September; June and July, the coldest months, were both $25 higher). However, my October bill was for $65—meaning it was about $89 less than the month before. I expect to save even more per month over summer, weather permitting.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Dark days—sunnier tomorrow?

There’s no delicate way to put this: Covid-19 is now in the New Zealand community permanently. That has huge implications, obviously, and it’s not overstating things to say it’s sobering for those of us in the reality-based world. New Zealanders are only beginning to adjust to the new world we find ourselves living in, and we have far to go to get to that new world.

When parts of the Waikato moved to Alert Level 3, it was because Covid had been brought from Auckland to this region by someone illegally entering Auckland, becoming infected with Covid, and then returning here. They, in turn, spread it to people who spread it to people, and so on. It spread beyond the original two cases in the Waikato to other areas, before forming a new cluster in Te Awamutu, south of Hamilton. That cluster has continued to grow, and last Thursday the Alert Level 3 for parts of the Waikato was extended six days, until at least tomorrow at 11:59pm (the decision on our Alert Level will be announced tomorrow).

Over the weekend we learned that someone associated with that latest cluster carried the virus to the top of the South Island—the first time the South Island has had a positive case in the community in nearly a year. There were also concerns about other areas that could’ve been exposure to that infected person. All of that is against the backdrop of dramatically rising numbers of infected people, the vast majority in Auckland.

On Tuesday of last week (Oct 19), it was announced that there were 94 new cases of Covid in the community, the largest number since the pandemic began (on both April 1 and 5, 2020, there were 89 new cases). We were just beginning to adjust to that shock when, two days later, on Thursday, it was announced that there was another new record: 102 new cases in the community. The very next day, Friday, it was announced that there was yet another new record, 129 new cases in the community.

This past weekend was the Labour Day Holiday Weekend, although for those of us under Level 3, it was pretty much like any other weekend under Lockdown. Still, we had a bit of a respite on Saturday: 102 new cases, down on the previous day. On Sunday, the numbers were down again, to a “mere” 80 new cases, but it was also announced that it had spread to another town, Ōtorohanga. However, on Monday, Labour Day, there were 109 new cases in the community—a new second-highest tally.

Together with the 79 new cases announced today, there have been 586 new cases announced over the past week. Those are a staggering numbers for a country that once successfully defeated Covid—and then successfully stamped it out whenever it popped up again. Delta changed everything.

Because the disease is so easy to transmit, it spreads rapidly, and there’s little hope of containing it permanently. In fact, authorities have warned us that within a week or two we could see daily totals of more than 200+. This past Friday morning, I watched the livestream of the Government announce its new “COVID-19 Protection Framework”, which sets the structure within which fully-vaccinated people can enjoy the freedom of nearly “normal” life. I think that the traffic light metaphor is a useful one for understanding what we can do, and when, but there’s something that I think is even more important: Fully-vaccinated people won’t continue to be held hostage by the unvaccinated.

Covid is exceptionally good at finding unvaccinated people to infect, leading health officials and experts to refer to it as “a heat-seeking missile for the unvaccinated”. The vast majority of positive cases in New Zealand have been unvaccinated, as have an even bigger proportion of those hospitalised. Because so many people are still unvaccinated, we endure constant and ongoing Lockdowns (Auckland has been under some form of Lockdown for 70 days now, and here in Hamilton, we’ve been under this current Level 3 Lockdown for three weeks and two days, not that I’m counting…). That can’t continue.

Something we might call “pandemic fatigue” is settling in, making people grumpy and impatient—and leading them to ignore the Lockdown rules, which is precisely the reason the number of new cases in Auckland has started rising so quickly. There’s simply no way that using lockdowns as our only response can succeed in containing the disease, especially with large numbers of unvaccinated people still there for Covid to infect.

That “large numbers of unvaccinated people” thing is relative, though. Currently, approximately 79% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, and 87% have had at least one jab. That means that we’re very close to achieving 90% fully vaccinated, though the government is aiming to ultimately have the highest vaccination rates in the world. As it is, conservative governments around the world decided that 70% fully-vaccinated was high enough to throw out all or most restrictions so that businesses can make more profits. That’s predictably resulted in rising numbers of cases—and deaths—so some governments instead set a target of 80% fully-vaccinated, which New Zealand is nearly at. The evidence clearly shows that the risk of both illness and death goes down the higher vaccination rates get, which is why our government has set a dramatically higher target than many governments would consider.

Getting there won’t be easy. First, “eligible population” means New Zealanders 12+, and there are a lot of children in New Zealand who can’t yet get a vaccine (though the government expects to eventually be able to vaccinate children 6-11, too). At the moment, this means that the number of vaccinated people as a percentage of the total population is much smaller, and that might matter when Covid gets loose nationwide, particularly in vulnerable communities.

Because of that latter risk, the government says that the nation’s DHBs (District Health Boards) must get to 90% fully-vaccinated before the new system goes into effect. They’ve said, however, that Auckland will go to the new system when its three DHBs all get to 90%, and they’re open to the South Island doing the same. That would leave most of the North Island, geographically speaking, under the old system and subject to lockdowns.

This has been criticised by some experts who think we should continue trying to eliminate Covid, even though it would mean Auckland could be under Lockdown for a many months—even a year? Longer? And other parts of the country would continue to get snap lockdowns, too. That’s unsustainable.

Others have criticised the government for moving while the vaccination rates are so low for Māori, however, the important thing about that is that the DHBs with the lowest vaccination rates simply won’t be able to get to 90% fully vaccinated unless there are dramatic increases in the number of Māori who are vaccinated, in rural areas in particular. Under the current plan, then, not only will unvaccinated Māori not be left behind, there’s a strong incentive to get their vaccination rates higher, too.

In the meantime, the government announced this afternoon that they’re “mandating vaccination for workers at businesses where customers need to show COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates.” That will include things like hospitality, gyms, hairdressers and barbers. The government will legislate to require this, and to provide the legal framework to give businesses certainty. Employees who don’t get vaccinated will get a mandatory 4-week paid notice period to give them time to comply, and only at the end of that will they be terminated if they don’t get vaccinated. There will also be specific exemptions for the tiny, tiny number of people who cannot get vaccinated. No government assistance programme will be affected—in other words, fired workers will still be able to apply for the benefit. And, of course, essential services, like supermarkets, pharmacies, and healthcare, will be forbidden to use vaccine certificates as a condition of entry. The vaccine mandates won’t begin until the new Covid-19 Protection Framework begins.

This is a necessary step. If vaccine certificates are a requirement for people to enter and patronise certain businesses, then those customers ought to be able to have certainty that the people they’re dealing with in that business are also vaccinated. It will also dramatically reduce the possibility of, say, a bar or gym becoming a source of community infections.

Ultimately, there will be a small number of people who make the choice not to get vaccinated, and they are free to make that choice—however, they are not free from the consequences of the choice they make. The vast majority of New Zealanders simply want to get on with life and not endure endless and long-term lockdowns. We have a framework for moving forward, but it all still rests on vaccination.

This is the world we’ll soon live in, and most of us are fine with it.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

MMP turns 25

Twenty-five years ago this week, New Zealand’s proportional representation system, MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) officially became the way New Zealand was governed. On October 12, 1996, the first election was held under MMP, something I remember very well because I was here to witness it.

When the 1996 election was held, I hadn’t yet lived in New Zealand for even one year, but I was absorbed by the capaign. That’s not a surprise—in fact, it was natural: I was a political science major in university, and I’d had years of electoral politics and grassroots activism, too. Watching democracy in action has always been as thrilling for me as some sportsball event can be for other people. One thing that I didn't understand at first was far more prosaic: When I first arrived in New Zealand, I didn't understand why the debating chamber that Parliament was meeting in was so boring (it was frequently shown on the evening news). It turned out that was temporary because the actual House of Representatives chamber was being refitted to accommodate the 120 MPs that were to be elected at the 1996 election (the House was smaller under the old system).

In the months after I arrived, Nigel educated me about New Zealand politics, how MMP came to be, and about the various political parties (I don't think I ever mentioned the "boring" debating chamber). He backed the Labour Party, and I realised quickly that it was my ideological home, too. That’s also not a surprise, considering how closely aligned our values and world view were.

Like most people in New Zealand, on Election Night 1996, I thought Labour would form government, but a leader of one of the minor parties, who had once been a National Party cabinet minister, decided to form a coalition with National instead, keeping them in power for another three tumultuous years [see also the list of articles in a series published by Stuff, "MMP at 24", listed below].

It would take another three years, the 1999 General Election, for Labour to win government under MMP. As it happens, that was also the first year I was eligible to vote in New Zealand elections, since I’d become a Permanent Resident in June, 1999. I got to cast my very first “two ticks” for the Labour Party and also for the Labour Party candidate for MP in our Electorate—and both won. It was a nice way to start my voting in New Zealand.

In the years since, Labour and/or its candidate in the Electorate I was living in sometimes won, and lost other times. I volunteered, one way or another, for three different Labour Party candidates, and at one time I was very involved in our Electorate’s Labour Party organisation. That was then.

I burned out on politics because I was becoming increasingly unwell, something that was already becoming apparent in the 2014 General Election, which was ultimately fixed by my cardiac stent in 2016. But I still haven’t recovered any desire to get personally active in politics, though now it's mostly for other reasons: Being a widower, it turns out, zaps a lot of energy, strength, and enthusiasm.

Through everything—winning and losing, health challenges, and tragedy—I’ve remained as strongly committed to MMP as ever. The biggest challenge MMP faced was at the 2011 General Election, when New Zealand had a referendum on whether we should retain MMP. MMP won convincingly. That result was something I passionately argued for, including writing several posts on the topic. There’s still talk about changes and reforms, and I’ll no doubt talk about them with just as much passion.

Right now, though, this is a time to reflect and to celebrate. This post has been part of that, but I’m also including a list of very useful articles one the history and path of MMP in New Zealand, followed by TV commercials recently aired by the Electoral Commission celebrating MMP—by including the first ads explaining MMP to Kiwis in the lead up to the 1996 election. I put those last because for some reason the Electoral Commission often deletes commercials from their YouTube Channel (no idea why). I include them because they’re nostalgic (I saw them back in the day), and also because they contain some New Zealand history.

New Zealand-owned media company Stuff published a four-part series on its Stuff website, “MMP at 25”, and each one of them is really good. They’re all written by Henry Cooke, who I praised last year as being, in my opinion, “the best political reporter in New Zealand”.

The Stuff Series, MMP at 25:

Part 1 – “How an academic dream from West Germany changed New Zealand forever”.

Part 2 – “How politicians let voters destroy their way of life in three short years”.

Part 3 – “The chaotic transition into a new political world almost killed off Labour”.

Part 4 – “MMP has changed Parliament for good. But has it stopped Parliament changing New Zealand?”

The NZ Electoral Commission’s recent ads celebrating MMP at 25 (posted in the order they were posted to YouTube, from most recently posted to first posted):

“People and Party”:

“MMP threshold”:

“MMP proportionality”:

“MMP top up”:

Saturday really was pretty super

Yesterday was “Super Saturday” in New Zealand, a major drive to increase the country’s rates for Covid vaccinations. It went well, and even though there’s still a long way to go, there’s hope that we might actually get there.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had set a Super Saturday goal of 100,000 jabs, and in the end there were a record 130,002 doses given, of which 39,025 were first doses and 90,977 were second doses. It was by far the biggest day for vaccinations since the campaign began earlier this year, and bigger than any single day since the current outbreak began, a period in which we’ve already seen several record-breaking days for vaccinations.

Because Auckland has been the starting point for all our outbreaks after the original one last year, it’s vital that they get to 90% vaccination to help protect the rest of New Zealand. Auckland had their own record-breaking day yesterday, with 8,957 people getting their first doses and 31,686 people receiving their second doses. That means that 89% of the eligible population in Auckland has been vaccinated with at least 1 dose. This is great progress, and it now seems inevitable that Auckland will hit, and hopefully surpass, 90% fully vaccinated.

Yesterday was a record day for Māori people, too: 10,941 got their first doses and 10,874 got their second. However, Māori lag far behind every other group when vaccinations per 1000 people are compared, ranking last among the major ethnic groups. The data hasn’t yet been updated with Saturday's data, but it seems unlikely to have changed dramatically.

There are many reasons why Māori remain unvaccinated in such large numbers, however, what the Super Saturday event showed was that engaging with them in a culturally-aware manner, using Māori health and community agencies, can pay big dividends (the same is true for Pacific communities, of course). As the government has said repeatedly, no one will be left behind in the race to the 90% mark. Super Saturday showed an important part of the way forward.

Yesterday, too, there was an 8-hour live event broadcast on TV and streamed over the Internet. Vaxathon, as it was called, was part of the strategy to energise New Zealanders—especially young people generally and Māori and Pacific peoples—to get the jab. An historical note, the broadcast was a nod to the former Telethon, a televised event raising funds for charities and held in various years from the mid-1970s through to into the 1990s (and one in 2009). The actual Telethon programme faded away when the Lotto New Zealand was introduced in the last 1980s, because 100% of the net proceeds from the NZ Lotteries Commission go to various community and charitable organisations.

Stuff columnist Allison Mau summed up my thoughts about the day, including about Vaxathon, in her column today, ”'You could say this has shifted the dial': How Super Saturday was won”. I watched a lot of the broadcast (though not all of it), and was struck by the emphasis on Māori, from the frequent use of the language through to references to Māori culture, and, like Mau, I knew that was no accident. I can imagine the deep-sighing grumps typing madly in protest about all that as they spewed their comments anywhere that might let them, but they’re an angry (and largely older and white) minority. I can imagine it, but certainly haven't seen it—I mean, seriously, who reads the comments sections of major news sites anymore? Besides, I really don’t care what they think about the broadcast (Special note to such deep-sighing grumps: If you don’t like a broadcast, turn the bloody channel—or even turn the TV off!—and leave everyone else alone).

Yesterday was a pretty super Saturday, and it will hopefully energise people to make the final push to get the entire country past the 90% vaccination rate. Doing so is vital for us all.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Today I had an adventure

Today I had an adventure. Well, “adventure” is probably too big a word, but it was filled with firsts nevertheless, and isn’t that a necessary characteristic of a good adventure?

Today I had to pick up prescription repeats at two places, one of which was the chemist in a supermarket, and the other was an ordinary chemist (boring story as to why there were two places). This was the first time I’ve been to either a supermarket or a chemist at Covid Alert Level 3. That kind of thing’s always anxiety-producing for me, not just because of the possibility that someone with Covid might be there, but also because of the more fundamental anxiety about not knowing how to act in a foreign, unknown social situation: What are the rules? What are the expectations? It’s just run-of-the-mill social anxiety, made worse by the possible presence of a deadly virus, is all. No wonder I’ve avoided it.

As it turned out, the chemist was actually no different than when I last visited, at Level 2 (and dramatically better than it was at Level 4). The supermarket, on the other hand, was actually better than at Level 2 because there was no waiting to get in! I was surprised.

I should add that at both places everyone appeared to abide by the rules, although there weren’t enough customers at either for me to see if most were scanning the QR code. However, most were observing social distancing and everyone was wearing a mask. This is New Zealand: We do that.

Once I got back to the car, I took the selfie above, and there’s a funny (to me…) thing about that, which I’ll get to. I recently ordered in a reusable mask, one with a NZ-made lamb’s wool filter. I’d noticed that a specialist scientist interviewed on TV was wearing one of that brand, and it was multi-layer with a replaceable filter, and it seemed like a good idea. Today I put the filter in and tried it on for the first time: It was way too small and pulled my ears cartoonishly forward, making it very uncomfortable. Because it’s a mask, it’s not returnable, so another mark on my “Experience” chart, I guess.

I ended up wearing the ordinary blue surgical-style mask in the photo, one of a box of 50 I bought last year but didn't open until this outbreak. Recently, I’ve begun thinking about the environmental impact of those ubiquitous blue masks, which is why I bought that non-usable re-usable mask. It turns out that studies have found that the blue masks can be “washed” (really, just well rinsed out in warm water and air dried) up to 10 times. That means they’re far cheaper than any reusable mask with a replaceable filter, and arguably more efficient (a topic in itself).

The funny part to me (I was going to get there eventually…) is that when I thought about the fact that facemasks are now required in indoor places, and will probably remain so, one advantage is that they hide my gray whiskers if I’m slow to keep up with dyeing my beard. Yeah, well, the grayness is clearly visible in the photo. More fool me, apparently.

When I was getting ready to leave the house, Leo was quick to work out what was going on (he’s a smart boy who sometimes pretends to not be as bright as he is), so he knew what I was up to. He wanted to come with me, like he had last weekend when he got to meet his dog cousins. He barked at me, and at a louder pitch than he usually gives to dogs walking past his house. He sounded pitiful. I felt terrible about leaving him behind.

I fully expected to come home to a mess of one sort or another, to see he’d torn things up. He didn’t—in fact, when I sat in my chair, he crawled into my lap, snuggled up to me, and licked my face (graybeard photo below). I thought that it meant that Leo had forgiven me for leaving him home alone today, which was the first time since October 3 (the last time I ran errands; we went back under Level 3 Lockdown that night). Leo, it seemed to me, thought that us being locked-down together is great.

Yeah, well, it turned out that Leo let me know he was displeased by leaving me some gifts in the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. But… he still snuggled up to me later? Maybe that wasn’t just because I’d fed him his dinner?

Today’s adventures weren’t really adventures, I guess, but they sit at the intersection between new, scary social things and ordinary life. These days, at Level 3 Lockdown, that’s about as close to a real adventure as I can get.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The (still) waiting game

The government announced this afternoon that the parts of the Waikato that are at Alert Level 3 (and Northland) will remain there until 11:59pm on Monday, and not move down levels tomorrow night. To say I’m disappointed is a bit of an understatement, however, the folks in Auckland have it much worse than me and have for weeks and weeks.

The issue for me and plenty of others living alone is that Lockdowns, whether Level 3 or 4, are particularly hard on us. We have no in-person time with real people, and humans are by nature social animals. I should add, though, that Leo does a good job of keeping me amused and entertained. Still, as I say so often these days, it is what it is.

What I face in mostly just a list of inconveniences. For example, my car was supposed to go in for its regular service tomorrow, however, at Level 3 they can’t give me a loaner car and there’s absolutely nowhere in the area I can go in the meantime (it’ll take hours). The dealer is way too far from my house for me to walk home (and then back later), and public transport isn’t an option. Shops, cafes, and restaurants are all closed to the general public, and while some offer contactless pickups, that’s not exactly the same as being able to just browse in a shop, so, not helpful at all. I also can’t even go visit anyone who lives close to the dealer. So, I rescheduled to next week—fingers crossed we’re down to Level 2 by then, or I’ll have to reschedule again.

Apart from that, it’s things like getting stuff for my projects around the house. I can get some supplies through click and collect, or maybe even delivery, but I also need plants for my garden and I need to select them myself, mainly because I know a lot of people who had shops select plants for them during lockdowns last year, and that didn’t turn out well. Sure, places offer guarantees, but it’s just another layer of hassles in what’s already an extremely trying time.

All in all, I’m better off just kind of biding my time, doing what little I can do as I wait for the levels to change. Besides, it’s not like the mountains of stuff I need to do have an expiry date or whatever.

So, yeah, I wish we’d gone back to Level 2 tomorrow night, but I’m sure not even remotely as much as Aucklanders want Level 2. The sooner we get vaccination rates well above 90% the sooner we can all kiss goodbye to these Lockdowns. It can’t come soon enough!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A chicken soup win

Yesterday night, I made homemade chicken soup for dinner. It was the second time in as many months, and this time I stumbled on a far better (for me) method of making it. Naturally, there’s a story to that, and it’s about more than mere soup.

When I posted about this on my personal Facebook, I described it this way:
Someone in this house who I won’t name, but we’ll call him “Arthur”, ordered a bag of frozen chicken legs with his last order delivered from the supermarket because they were on special, and they were something Nigel suggested years ago so I could have them on hand, like for the slow cooker, but I never did buy a bag. Maybe it’s because they were ordered online, not bought in person, but that “someone” didn’t realise exactly how huge a 5kg bag of chicken legs is. Oops. Had to make room in the freezer, which wasn’t horrible, but not easy.
I intended to use my slow cooker, but to cook it from frozen would mean I’d have to start it very early in the morning and at the moment I don’t do early mornings. Instead, I thawed six drumsticks in the fridge over a couple days with the intention of making them in the slow cooker (thawed, they’d take much less time), but didn’t feel like doing it at any time in the morning (most mornings the idea of doing anything dinner-like is pretty unappealing; that’s always been the case).

Instead, I used those thawed drumsticks to make oven fried chicken, which is something I used to make all the time when I was younger, but have never made in New Zealand. It smelled awesome while it was cooking, but was surprisingly bland when I ate it. It also turned out that I’d forgotten something important: I don’t like eating chicken on the bone. This was made worse because I’d cooked six drumsticks so I could have some cold for lunch the next day—and that wasn’t my best idea, either. I needed another solution.

That led me to my soup last night. I took six legs (a little over a kilo, btw) and boiled them from frozen (it doesn’t take long). I then lifted the legs into a strainer to cool, making sure there were no bones in the broth, then put in raw chopped carrot and celery, plus a handful of frozen peas and corn (the last bit in the bag). I added a bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and then turned the heat back on while I picked the chicken off the bones and tore it into nice small pieces. I did this all by hand so I could feel if there were any boney or gristley bits to make sure none got into my soup. I put the shredded chicken back in the pot, along with the fully-cleaned bones, and heated it all up until the veggies softened.

I then added some egg noodles I had, and even threw in a small handful of dried spiral pasta I had left over in the pantry. I heated it further until the noodles were cooked. I removed the bones with a pair of tongs, and served it up (photo above).

It was yummy and made enough for tonight as well as today’s lunch. Leo even got a bit of skin with his dinner (and he was so happy!).

Nearly a month ago, I made a roast chicken dinner with an eye toward using the leftover chicken in additional meals. However, it turned out I’d ordered in a bigger chicken than I’d realised (apparently an ongoing theme…), and so, I had a lot leftover. I made sandwiches and some other things (including giving some to Leo), but I’d always intended on boiling the bones to make stock, so I decided to use the last of the leftover chicken to make soup. The result was very similar to last night’s, however, last night’s soup was definitely better because it didn’t have any stray tiny bones like last month’s did. I think I prefer making chicken soup this way from now on.

I summed it up in my Facebook post:
So, “someone” ordered a massive bag of frozen chicken drumsticks, but I found a way to use them without having to gnaw on the chicken bones. Score!
Writing about all that, and reflecting on my fried chicken experience that led me to make the soup last night, I realised that Nigel probably suggested the drumsticks in the first place because he liked gnawing the bones and always left them totally clean. Nigel would often playfully growl at me, “look how much meat you left on the bones!” and then he’d often “clean” them for me. I told him that gnawing on bones made me feel too much like a caveman, and I liked to think I was a bit more evolved and civilised. In fact, when I cook chicken, it’s usually boneless and skinless chicken—more expensive, but so worth it to me—or a whole chicken where I’ll ordinarily only eat the sliced breast meat. I don’t mind picking the leftover chicken off the bones to use in a more civilised dish.

The important part of all this, and humour aside, is really that I continue to find ways of doing things the work for me. That, and I got some yummy chicken soup out of the deal. That really is a score.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Open, says me

A miracle happened this week —well, two actually. Well, three, all up. And I was relieved by all three.

First, those Torx screwdrivers I ordered that were delayed? They arrived Tuesday, a day earlier than promised, and six days earlier than the revised delivery estimate. One miracle will take a bit of explanation.

The Torx screwdrivers arrived, much to my surprise, and that’s not just because all the talk of delays turned out to be irrelevant, but also because of the way they were shipped: The drivers were in the wall rack they came with, but were otherwise loose in a what appeared to be a retail box, with two tape circles holding the lid closed: The product was just loose in the box. It’s a miracle that the box didn’t open in transit—though that’s not the last big miracle.

The finally opened Mac Classic.
On Tuesday afternoon, I used the Torx screwdriver to finally open the case of the Mac Classic and: The battery did NOT explode and destroy the logic board! That was so common among on Macs of that vintage that it’s what I actually expected to see. It means that whatever’s wrong with it may be repairable. Whether I, personally, even can repair it is another matter entirely. Another big miracle may be required.

To recap for a moment, I needed a special long-handled Torx screwdriver because two of the screws were in the recess for the carry handle (in the shadow at the top of the photo above) and I couldn’t find such screwdrivers here in New Zealand. I ordered them from Amazon, was told they were delayed, they arrived early, and I immediately used the new Torx screwdriver to open the case, and then found that there was no catastrophic damage, like I thought there might be. So, even though it seems like nothing much happened, this was actually a big step forward.

And that’s a bit of a miracle, too.

The screws after removal. The black one on the left is from the bottom of the back of the case, which can be seen, so they're black to match the various ports. The upper screws can't be seen, so they're just ordinary screws (and have looser threads), and un-coloured screws are usually cheaper. But making sure that visible screws match nearby ports is the sort of attention to detail that Apple was once famous for.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 358 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 357, “Projected Living” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Friday, October 08, 2021

The worried well

Doctors used to talk about “the worried well”, people who were healthy, but who nevertheless worried about something happening to their bodies or health. The clear implication of the phrase was that such worry was irrational, but what happens when the world changes so much because of a raging global pandemic that healthy people worrying about their health isn’t merely rational, but even necessary? That’s now life as we know it.

There’s something very different about Covid in New Zealand now, and not just the obvious, namely, that the techniques that worked so awesomely well last year are, by themselves, no longer capable of stopping the spread of the virus. People now seem to fully understand the implications of an unstoppable virus spreading widely through a population with little or no resistance to it. We know that one infected person can infect six others unless there are things to slow that down—widespread vaccination, constant mask-wearing, social distancing, and good ventilation.

Vaccination rates are still the country’s Achilles Heel. As of 1pm on October 6, 2021 (the most recent stats available as I write this), a mere 51% of New Zealand’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and only 80% of the population has had one dose. But that’s only the eligible population (currently those 12 and over). The vaccinated rates among the total population are an abysmal 43% fully vaccinated, and 68% with one jab. [In the interest of full transparency, 83% of the eligible population has either had their first jab or is booked in for it, and 73% are either fully vaccinated or booked in for their second jab).]

A large percentage of that 80% of eligible people who have had a first jab are now eligible for their second one, mainly because the government reduced the time between jabs to a minimum of three weeks (it was raised to six weeks a couple months back, apparently to manage the supply of vaccine to make sure as many people as possible could get one jab until new shipments of vaccines could arrive). The government is also ramping up the vaccination campaign.

Saturday, October 16 has been designated “Super Saturday”, a nationwide campaign to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible. Roughly a million people eligible for the vaccine haven’t yet had even one jab, and that’s a lot of people to get motivated to do the right thing. There will be some carrot-stick things going on, too.

This week the prime minister confirmed that proof of full Covid vaccination will be available before summer using a new App, or a code people can download on paper for scanning on site (and they’re going to arrange sites where people who don’t have computers or smartphones can get free print-outs of the proof). The existing Covid Tracer App can’t be used because that has the option of enabling Bluetooth to allow anonymous information sharing when we’re out and about (making contact tracing far faster and easier), and neither Apple nor Google allow private data (like vaccine records) to be accessed in Bluetooth-enabled Apps due to the probably remote chance of data breaches). [See also: “Covid-19 vaccine certificates: How they might work and what questions remain”RNZ]

This matters because, the prime minster announced, proof of full vaccination will be required for anyone attending large public events, like the music festivals this summer and, I’d guess, large concerts and sports events. They’re also looking at what they have to do to make sure any venue (including potentially bars and restaurants) can restrict entry to only those who are fully vaccinated (there’s some question at the moment about whether that would be legal). There will be more details provided later, probably next month when the App is rolled out. [See also: “The three possible ways vaccine certificates could be legally enforced” and also “EMA (NZ business lobby group) says vaccine passports should be mandatory in the workplace”]

The fact that full vaccination will be mandatory to do some things is an incentive for people who simply haven’t gotten around to getting vaccinated. I saw an example of that very thing yesterday evening when TVNZ’s One News showed a young man who’d just had his first jab saying he did it because he wants to go to music festivals this summer. In other words, he had a reason that was important to him personally, and that’s a common enough reason to get the jab.

An additional problem with the old system is that it relied on people obeying the rules—and law—and doing the right thing. The Waikato (and, as of last night, points south) are now under Level 3 Lockdown because of two men who are gang members, one of whom illegally crossed the Auckland border, became infected, and brought the disease back to the Waikato (seems to me that there are legitimate questions about why police patrols of rural roads crossing the border weren’t far more frequent). So far, all the people infected in the Waikato have been connected to each other, meaning there’s not yet any evidence of wider community transmission, but it’ll take a couple weeks to be sure—if even then. The Auckland outbreak keeps showing new infections, and even though they’re connected to each other one way or another, it still means that infectious people could, potentially, infect others in the community.

All of which makes this outbreak feel different than last year’s. In the first one in early 2020, it was all scary because there so much we didn’t know, but now? We may know a lot more now, but we face a far more infectious variant of the virus, and it just doesn’t go away—we keep getting new cases. We—the vast majority of Kiwis—know that vaccination is our only hope for ever getting anything like the freedoms we had before Delta, but 20% of the population still hasn’t had even one jab. That’s a lot of people who aren’t pulling their weight, regardless of why that may be (and, it must be noted, so far the main reasons seem to be lack of access to vaccines, like in rural communities for example, cultural/language barriers, or simple lethargy; there’s still no evidence of any widespread deliberate, willful, arrogant avoidance like in some other countries, even though our tiny fringe is as extremely noisy as it can be in order to try to fool the rational majority of people into thinking there’s more than a tiny number of the loons about).

This outbreak feels much closer, possibly because Covid was brought to the Waikato just last week (though illegal activity…), and because the “locations of interest” (places an infected person went to) are often close by. The fact that the cases in Auckland just keep growing, and also that vaccination is so very slow, makes it seem like it’s more probable than possible that we’ll come in contact with the virus if we go out in public.

I take this very personally. I have people in my life who cannot be vaccinated, including young children, but even among those of us who are fully vaccinated, there are still several of us who are vulnerable if we have a breakthrough infection. I got to get my first jab ahead of my age cohort because of my heart condition and hypertension, both of which put me at higher risk of severe disease. But I’ve had lung infections throughout my life, especially in childhood, and my dad often did, too. All of which means that if I do become infected, the odds of me being one of the rare cases that becomes serious or even life-threatening is greater than if I didn’t have that health history. I’ve done pretty much all I can do to protect myself, from following all guidance and rules and laws when I’m out and about, and also including staying home as much as possible to reduce the possibility of being exposed to the virus and becoming infected.

Many of us, including me, are well and worried, and we have every right to be. In fact, I’d argue it’d be irrational to NOT be worried. Until we get our vaccination rates dramatically higher, we’re all vulnerable to widespread infection that could claim us, too. At the very least, until vaccination rates are dramatically higher, we cannot even contemplate a return to anything approaching the freedoms we had eight weeks ago.

The way forward is clear: We all have to do our part to protected everyone else by getting vaccinated and following all the other rules and laws. I just hope we can all rise to meet the challenge and do our duty. The consequences of failing to do so are too severe and horrible to even contemplate.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I’m a helpful blogger

There’s no sense denying it: I’m a helpful blogger. Whether it’s my “AmeriNZ Test Kitchen” posts, in which I try all sorts of products and recipes, through to my “Projects” posts, where I talk in detail about things I’ve worked on, I talk about things I do so that others don’t have to. There’s another (sadly neglected) category of posts, “Household Hints”, in which I shared specific information to help with everyday challenges. Today I revive those posts.

Among the many things that I personally find the most annoying about chores associated with daily life is refilling the liquid soap dispensers next to all of my sinks. It’s something I have to do more often than ever, thanks to the frequent handwashing required by living with Covid, but even before that it was always annoying and even frustrating—until I thought of a workaround.

The photo up top illustrates the tip: How to refill a liquid soap dispenser quickly, easily, and with no waste or spills.

To to use this tip, you’ll need the empty soap dispenser, of course, a funnel that will fit inside the mouth of your soap dispenser, and a twist tie. That’s it! Well, a bottle of soap to pour into the bottle, too.

First, wrap the twist tie around the threads of the bottle, making sure it’s within the groove of a thread (so it doesn’t slip). You can twist two twist ties together if your soap bottle has an extra wide opening. Twist the ends of the twist tie together. That’s shown in the left photo in the bottom row.

Next, bend the twisted ends into the mouth of the bottle (middle photo), and insert the funnel (right photo). Don’t push it too hard—it’ll be askew and that’s what you want! Then, pour the new soap into the funnel and let it drain in.

The point of this is that it allows air to enter the bottle around the base of the funnel, and that speeds up the funnel emptying. Without the twist tie, the funnel will form a seal with the bottle opening and it’ll drain slower than maple syrup on a Vermont winter morning. This tip saves a lot of time.

There’s an important warning: You need to know what the capacity of your bottle is so that you don’t over-fill the funnel. In my case, I already knew what the capacity of my bottle was, and I’d measured how much the funnel holds, so I knew how far to fill the funnel so I don’t spill any soap. This can take some trial and error.

The point of this process is to speed up filling the bottle, of course, but there’s also another goal that others may or may not share: Until I came up with this, I always spilled some soap because pouring it into the bottle without a funnel meant I always misjudged the flow rate (or whatever it’s called) and the soap would gloop out and onto the bottle. When I started using a funnel, I had to leave it for ages as it slowly drained into the bottle. Now, it’s over in minutes, and with no spillage.

I’m being thoroughly tongue-in-cheek in this post, however, I really do use this method and highly recommend it. I’m absolutely certain I’m not the first person to come up with a way (in fact, this is my final, refined method) to make sure that the funnel doesn't form a seal, and so, make the bottle fill slower. However, so far this is the first place I’ve seen anyone spell it out.

This public service of mine is all the more remarkable given that I’ve never received a single cent in payment, nor any other form of compensation, in the entire 15 years I’d done this blog. What can I say? I’m a giver. And today is no different.

In all seriousness, though, I do swear by this method.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Changes for the times

Today the NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced adjustments to Auckland’s Level 3, with an eye toward gradually easing restrictions before an actual Level change. There have been other changes announced in recent days, all of which are related to Covid. That’s the times we live in.

The changes announced for Auckland involve three stages modifications to Level 3 restrictions in Auckland. From 11:59pm tonight:
People will be able to connect with loved ones OUTDOORS with no more than two households at a time, up to a maximum of 10 people; early childhood education will return for all; and people can move around Auckland for recreation such as beach visits and hunting.
The changes only apply to Auckland, and not the parts of the Waikato that are temporarily under Level 3 restrictions. There’s also no indication on when the next Step may be implemented, but they plan on reviewing the situation weekly.

Part of what will determine the easing of restrictions anywhere in New Zealand will be achieving higher vaccination rates. Today, the Government also announced that 2 million Kiwis—48% of the eligible population (people aged 12+)—are now fully vaccinated. Overall, 79% have had at least one jab. The percentage of Aucklanders who have had at least one jab is now higher than 80%.

The Government has also begun point out that, in this current outbreak, only 3% were fully vaccinated. More importantly, NONE of the fully vaccinated people who got Covid were hospitalised, and none died. This also means, of course, that none of the fully vaccinated people ended up in an Intensive Care or High Dependency Unit, either.

What this shows is that vaccination slows the spread of the disease because the virus doesn’t affect the vast majority of vaccinated people, however, if a fully vaccinated person is infected, their disease will be milder and is unlikely to be fatal. All of which strongly suggests that some sort of vaccine passport will be required for events with large crowds, and the Government expects that next week they’ll be able to make an announcements about what that might look like.

Lost because of the Waikato drama yesterday was an announcement from Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins, who revealed that, “Full vaccination will become a requirement for non-New Zealand citizens arriving into the country from 1 November.” This will mean they’ll need to have had “a full course of any of the 22 COVID-19 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority” 14 days or more before their arrival in New Zealand. This won’t apply to NZ citizens, anyone under 17, or people with a valid medical exemption. But before packing one’s bags, it’s important to remember that:
Everybody arriving will still be required to complete 14 days in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, and all travellers except those from exempt locations will still need to have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result from an accredited laboratory within 72 hours of their first scheduled international flight.
This is related to Air New Zealand ’s announcement yesterday of mandatory vaccines for international travellers, a “no jab, no fly” policy that will begin in February, 2022. They also elaborated a little bit on how it’ll work:
Using Timatic, the IATA Travel Pass will check customers' health information against flight details to ensure they are meeting entry requirements for that destination, and the airline.

The app is based on decentralized technology which means there is no central database holding passenger information. Passengers have complete discretion as to whether they share their data or not and they can delete their data at any time on the app, without fear of this being stored.
The last part is very similar to the way NZ’s Covid-19 Covid Tracer (check-in) App works. More concrete details will be released over time.

On Saturday, (October 1 USA time), the USPS (United States Postal Service) announced in a message on its website that it was suspending processing most international deliveries to 22 countries, including New Zealand, Australia, and Samoa. It said it was “due to impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other unrelated service disruptions.” They also said that anything already in the system will be returned to the sender.

Covid-19 has definitely disrupted shipping around the world—absolutely it has. However, I tend to suspect that the real problem here is “other unrelated service disruptions”, and while I might have my suspicions on what the real cause of this disruption is, I couldn’t possibly comment further. All I know is that I won’t get a huge stack of Christmas cards from the USA this year! Seriously, though, I hope this doesn’t further delay—or prevent delivery of—those Torx screwdrivers I ordered nearly a month ago, but that haven’t left the USA yet. In fact, nothing’s happened since I wrote about the delay last week.

Right now, the only constant is change. Absolutely everything I’ve talked about here will be changing even more in teh weeks ahead. I guess we’d all better get used to that happening. Change is now (a big) part of the times we live in.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Back up to Level 3

At 11:59 tonight, parts of the Waikato will move to Covid Alert Level 3. The affected areas are Hamilton City, Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, and Ngāruawāhia. This is scheduled to last for at least five days.

The Government made this announcement this afternoon [WATCH/LISTEN] after it was discovered that two people in the Waikato tested positive after feeling unwell (one was in Raglan and the other in Hamilton East). One of them is now in hospital for treatment of their Covid, and their household members are all isolating and helping officials with their enquiries. The two Waikato community cases are associates of one another, but at this point it’s not clear how they became infected because there’s no clear link to Auckland cases. Genome sequencing is under way in order to help answer some of the questions. Neither of these cases were vaccinated.

Alert Level 3 will help ensure that the virus doesn’t spread even farther into the Waikato by severely restricting the virus’ ability to find unvaccinated people to infect. It also gives health authorities time to do contact tracing. Another part of the control efforts, and to try to determine the extent of spread in the community, they’re asking anyone in the region who is feeling unwell to get tested immediately.

The Prime Minister said that if New Zealand was able to reach 90% vaccination, the possibility of Level 3 or 4 Lockdowns will be greatly reduced because it would be extremely difficult for the virus to find an unvaccinated person to infect. She urged folks, especially those in the affected areas of the Waikato, to get vaccinated immediately.

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate posted on Facebook about the change to Level 3: “No-one wanted this,” she said, and then issued a strong plea to Hamiltonians: “PLEASE Hamilton, let’s do what right. We MUST get our vaccination rates up to avoid further lockdowns and I am imploring people who have not yet been vaccinated, to do so.” Exactly.

The Emergency Alert once again
scared the crap out of me
when the alarm signal went off.  
I often call Level 3 “Lockdown Lite” because we can do some things that people under Level 4 Lockdown can’t, such as, we can do click and collect (order online and drive to the store for contactless pickup) for anything, whereas only essential goods can be bought under Level 4 and it must be delivered to a person’s home contactlessly. What the two Lockdown levels have in common is that we’re still supposed to stay at home and within our household bubbles, so they share some of the same harsher lockdown restrictions.

I think the Government absolutely made the right call. Much as I completely hate going back under Level 3 Lockdown, we simply cannot risk the virus taking off while our vaccination rates are still so low—we absolutely can’t become like the USA’s Southern states (among others). On the other hand, there’s no evidence that we have anywhere near the same rate of batshit craziness against vaccines that the USA has—though we do have a small number of moronic arseholes spreading lies and disinformation, of course, as all other countries seem to have.

I’m quite lucky, I think. I have plenty of things I can do around the house to keep me busy, and that’s good. I also have plenty of food (and toilet paper…), so I won’t have to venture out to the shops this week, and that’s also good until we know whether there’s widespread community transmission. Put another way, I’ll be able to stay safe and avoid getting bored. Some people are definitely not in a similarly good space (literal or figurative) for another Lockdown.

The sooner people hurry up and get vaccinated, the better. We ALL want Lockdowns to end, and none of us wants to watch people get sick and possibly die from what’s now a largely preventable disease, but absolutely NONE of us want to be the cause of people getting sick or dying. It’s quite simply our duty to get vaccinated to protect everyone, including ourselves. I’ve done that. Now it’s time for the rest to catch up.

For the photo up top, I’m once again continuing the imagery from the photos I made for the previous Alert Level changes in this outbreak. This photo draws on when New Zealand (Apart from Auckland) went to Alert Level 2: This time, the two locked padlocks with the keys in them represents Auckland and parts of the Waikato under Level 3. Those two locks can be unlocked for certain things, unlike Level 4, but are otherwise kept locked. They are two separate locks because Level 3 for the Waikato is likely to end before it does for Auckland. Maybe? The opened lock still represents the rest of New Zealand Alert under Level 2, but it's still hooked to the closed Auckland and Waikato locks. The key is still in it because, as before, it could be locked again if things go wrong—which is what happened to parts of the Waikato. This is the only set of three matching locks that I have, so I hope we don’t have further splits in Alert Levels.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Brand name

Everything has a name, and sometimes it’s a name we’ve given to it. But what happens when we begin to question the name we’ve given to something? The “AmeriNZ” name is an example. Is it time to retire it?

There was a time when the name of this blog (etc.…) was obvious. I’d started using the “AmeriNZ” brand several years before this blog was born, so when I started it, using the name for it was the logical thing to do. It was still a logical name to use as I expanded the stuff I did (like when I added the podcast and YouTube Channel, among other things). But, so much has changed over the past 15 years, hasn’t it? After the biggest change of all, losing Nigel, I began to think about whether my brand name was still right for me. I began to wonder if it was time for a new one.

This thinking was awakened yet again when I realised that I no longer had the “amerinz.com” website. I was thinking about my options for the future, and that made me think again about whether or not I should even keep using the name.

When I first started using the AmeriNZ name, I explained that it was a shortened version of the phrase “American in New Zealand”, and that’s the crux of the issue: Is that an accurate way to describe me in 2021? After more than 25 years in New Zealand, and with no intention of ever leaving, am I not now arguably more Kiwi than Yank?

I knew that the name was accurate when I first arrived because I was absolutely an “American in New Zealand”. It was even still true once I became a permanent resident, because I was still a US citizen, but one allowed to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely.

Everything changed when I became a New Zealand citizen: While I was still an American, I was also legally a New Zealander. Put another way, I was no longer just an “AmeriNZ”.

That’s where I got stuck. A walk through this blog’s archives was the antidote.

Back in 2008, at the blog’s second anniversary, I added a banner I made for the top of the blog. That banner still had the original name (just “AmeriNZ”, not “AmeriNZ Blog”, as it is now; that came about when I decided I needed to differentiate the blog and podcast), but it also carried a new tagline “A gay American-born New Zealander talks about life, his two countries, and a whole lot more.” And that was when it hit me: The brand name now means “American-born New Zealander” or even just “American New Zealander”.

Today I made yet another revised banner for the top of this blog (at the top of this post), with one revision: I shortened the tagline to “A gay American-born New Zealander talks about life and a whole lot more.” Nothing’s changed about the blog itself, or what I might talk about, but by removing the reference to “two countries”, I’m taking the focus off of that. I now realise it should have been like this all along because “AmerNZ” is a personal brand about me and the stuff I create. My unique thing was never really just about where I was born, but about everything that’s happened to me since I moved here, and not all of that has anything to do with my origin story—well, stories is probably more accurate.

All of this will become more important (to me…) over the coming months. I’m making changes to allow me to better manage the content I create and save money as I move closer to retirement. I’ll talk about each step as it happens, but nothing will change in the way to get to things. Right now, the important thing is that this process made me realise the brand I’ve been working on building for the past 15 years is safe. It turns out that the name grew and changed, just like me. There’s still a lot of life left in us both.

Today was a fob-ulous day

Today wasn’t supposed to be about any projects, and mostly it wasn’t. Impatience played a role in that, but mostly it was just a Saturday, and there was no reason to fill it with lots of work and such. I still managed to find a small victory. though.

I had two goals for today today: To exchange some button batteries I bought earlier this week for ones I actually needed and meant to get, and I also wanted to check out some stuff to finish the top shelf of the shelves I put in the kitchen.

I set out early this afternoon and headed to one of the home centres, the one where I’d bought the shelf supplies—because the two home centres carry different mostly entirely products. Of course. Once I got there, the carpark was packed and there was a queue of people waiting to get in (under Covid Level 2, there’s a limit to how many people can be in a shop at any given time, which varies depending on how big the place is so that people can keep a 2-metre space between themselves and anyone else. I changed my mind and got back in my car and headed to my next stop. Ain’t nothing I needed badly enough to make me wait in a queue at that store.

My next stop was the supermarket I went to earlier this week. That day, I bought a couple button batteries for my car’s key fobs, but got the wrong ones (the ones I bought were on the hook right next to the ones I wanted). Once I got there (and with no waiting to enter), it wasn’t obvious to me what I needed to do to exchange the batteries. So, I picked up some stuff I needed (including flour to replace what I used up with yesterday’s pizza), and then I went to the checkout.

The operator called over a supervisor who slowly and methodically worked out what to do to make the exchange, which apparently required her to issue a cash refund that she then used to “pay” for the new batteries. Odd, and pretty inefficient, I thought, but we got there in the end. It also reminded me that some things about that particular chain are difficult to navigate.

I then went home, and it was on to something that wasn’t a project, but just an ordinary life chore: I needed to change the batteries in my car’s key fobs.

“Fob” is a highfalutin word for a car’s remote, but the kind that’s a “proximity key” to let me unlock the car with the remote in my pocket, and without using an actual key. For my car, I need to press a button on the handle of the front doors (driver’s side or the passenger’s). With Nigel’s last car—the first time I’d ever seen such a thing—he just had to touch one of those two door handles. But, then, his car cost much more than mine.

Doing this was no big deal, of course, but I had to find out how to do it first (I had no idea). It was easy, it turns out, and cost me around $11 for the batteries for the two fobs. Dealers usually charge crazy money to do it for you, so I probably saved myself a bundle (the car goes into the dealer for its next regular service on the 15th, and I wanted the fob ready to go by then).

Things went well and easily, and I was able to unlock and re-lock my car using the remote from my front door, so clearly the battery works. It had been giving me more and more trouble, so much so that I usually had to use the emergency key to unlock the car (even with low batteries in the fob, the car will still start as long as the fob is near the start button). Changing the batteries should fix all that.

That wasn’t enough for me, though: I just had to sneak in one more little project, too. I wanted to raise the lowest shelf in my pantry so that I could store my new breadmaker at the bottom of the pantry. That went well, too (though at first I forgot to move up one of the five shelf supports; oops).

The space at the bottom of the pantry became available after Jake died: I had a tin to store his food in there (Leo, being younger and smaller, got different food, which I store in a different container). The only drawback to this change was that the bottle of canola oil I use whenever I need cooking oil will no longer fit on the shelf, where it was at a convenient height to grab while I was cooking. I’ll just have to find a shorter bottle, I guess, or be willing to bend over a bit more to lift it off the bottom of the pantry. In the meantime, the breadmaker is now out of sight (the old one was on the benchtop, and I want to keep that as clear as I can since the kitchen’s a little small, and the benchspace is limited).

My only other project for today was related to this blog, actually, but that’s an entirely different story.

The thing that made me the happiest today was totally unimportant: Those key fobs. I felt good about accomplishing it, probably because I had to figure it out and get it done. As I said on my personal Facebook, “sometimes the smallest victories are also the sweetest.” And, how sweet it was!

Friday, October 01, 2021

Successful failure

Tonight I tried doing something I’ve been wanting to try for ages: I made my own pizza bases for homemade pizza. My verdict? A resounding, “It was okay, I guess.” At least now I’ve done it.

Pizza is probably my favourite “junk” food, so much so, that I often joke that if I was gong to be executed, I’d want pizza for my last meal. That’s probably not actually true, but it’s something I do like and have often.

Back in April of last year, I talked about making pizzas at home, noting, “For some time—years, probably—I wanted to try making pizza completely from scratch, especially the base and sauce.” I found or was given many good recipes, but they all seemed so fiddly that I just couldn’t get enthused about actually doing it.

Then this past March, a fire destroyed the factory that made the store-bought fresh pizzas Nigel and bought for several years. In the months since, I made more pseudo pizzas, like I did last year, and tried a few fresh pizza bases sold in supermarkets, but never found any I liked (for my taste, the Pam’s brand from New World was the most okay of any of them).

So, I again decided I should try making my own base—using my automatic bread maker.

The machine takes care of much of the hard work—the mixing, the kneading, the first rising, etc. That took 45 minutes (plus the time before putting the ingredients in the machine’s bread pan.

When it was done, I had to knead it, then cut it in two and let the two dough spheres rest in a warm spot for 10 minutes. Then I was supposed to press it into a greased pizza pan and let that sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, and then assemble it and bake it for around 20 minutes.

All up, the whole process took more than an hour and a half, roughly two hours if you count the assembly of ingredients. In that amount of time, I could’ve ordered in a pizza, then immediately ordered in another one. I was glad I used pizza sauce from the supermarket, because everything took so long that making the sauce, too, would’ve driven me round the bend.

I thought the base was was “okay, I guess,” though I know some people would’ve liked it—just not me. I like thin and crispy pizza bases (and so did Nigel), but this was thicker—not pan pizza, but more like what’s usually the “standard” bases from chain pizzerias in NZ. I also thought it was surprisingly bland, though I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. I have a lot left over because it was so filling that what I did eat sat like a rock in my stomach.

Still, I’ve done it now and my curiosity is assuaged. I could experiment, or I could try an even more time consuming and more fiddly recipe not involving the bread maker, but, no, I won’t be doing that. I’d honestly rather stick with my pseudo pizzas or the okay pizza bases if I’m going to make any at home. Mostly, I’d rather order it in and get something much nicer, where my only effort is placing the order on my iPad.

On the bright side, though, tonight was my first time using my new bread machine, which was the delayed package delivery I wrote about on Wednesday. I ordered it online last week to replace my old bread maker, which we bought in 2000 or 2001 in Taupo (though I can’t remember why were were there). We didn’t use it for most of the years after that, but I’ve used it a lot over the past couple years or so, and once every week or two for the past year. It reached a point where the motor spinning the mixing paddle would push the bread pan up and disengage during the kneading mode. The last loaf I made, the pan popped up about a dozen times in the final kneading (I had to push it back down each time). I knew the metal that holds the pan in place was wearing out, and this last incident made me give up on it and order a new one. Still, some 20 years is a pretty good run for a small kitchen appliance.

I bought my machine based on the evaluations conducted by the non-profit consumer organisation, Consumer NZ. I subscribed to their magazine many years ago and found it useful, but membership is so much more useful now, with access to product reviews and evaluations that the general public can’t see. I had to pay up for that privilege, but I figure it’ll help me avoid some costly mistakes.

The particular machine I bought was rated second, but had features the number one machine lacked—and cost some $200 less. Today I unpacked it and read the instructions and the recipes, which were far more detailed than the recipes in the old machine’s book. For example, the new one measures flour by weight, not by cups, and that makes so much sense to me: The amount of flour actually in a cup can vary based on how much air is mixed in. As I often say, “cooking is art, but baking is chemistry”, which overstates things a bit, but it’s still true that more precise measurements of ingredients are important in baking.

As I read the recipes, I saw many that made my mouth water, something I don’t think has ever happened to me before—not with bread recipes. The machine can make pretty much anything with flour, though some—like doughnuts and bagels and croissants—require a LOT more work after the machine does the first part, which is a bit like the pizza bases I made. The machine can also make jam, of all things, which is just weird enough that I want to try making some when the summer fruits are ready.

So, despite the successful failure of my pizza bases, I nevertheless learned how to use my new machine, and so far I really like it. I’ll make my first loaf of bread sometime next week, after I finish the last one I made in the old machine, with its popping-up bread pan.

I’ll also get to have cold pizza for breakfast! And lunch…