Monday, May 23, 2022

Egging myself on

It turns out, using determination to help us power us through the list of things we need or want to do can actually work—just not always, and maybe not for everything. That’s what I found out this weekend.

On Thursday of last week, I talked about how on that day and the day before, determination helped me to get stuff done. In that post, I wondered whether it would continue to help the next day, and, by implication, days after that. The answer: Sort of.

Friday has always been my cleaning day, though in recent months it’s been a bit haphazard and incomplete. This past Friday, however, I was determined to be more thorough, in part because I needed to get the house ready for the cleaning project I mentioned on Thursday (that will be a post of its own). I accomplished most of what I wanted to doe, and even cleared away the last few boxes that had been stored in my hallway for many months—maybe since shortly after I abandoned the garage project. It was nice to again have the hallway empty, even if in a couple cases that basically meant putting the boxes somewhere else. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for me on Friday—close to to getting everything done, but not completely done.

The next morning, Saturday, I was exhausted, so I only managed to make some eggs benedict for my lunch (photo up top). Still, that was something, right? Actually, it was: As I said when I shared the photo on my personal Facebook, “It was the best poached eggs I’ve made yet,” and that was absolutely true.

There was one thing I didn’t like, though: I bought the same New Zealand brand of bacon I’ve bought for years. It says “NZ Made” on the front, right under the “window” where you look at the bacon itself. When I took it out of the fridge on Saturday, I read the smaller print (under the “nutrition” label) for the first time ever. It said:

“Made in New Zealand with pork raised in any one of the following countries: Finland, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Spain plus other local and imported ingredients.”

I have no problem with the fact it had imported pork, but I think putting “NZ Made” in big letters is deceptive, even though it’s literally true: The bacon is made in NZ, but from pigs that weren’t. I buy bacon only a couple times in a year (at most), but if I buy any again, it won’t be that brand. I also learned that I should bring a magnifying glass with me when I go to the supermarket so that I can read labels closely before I buy stuff like that bacon, just to make sure it’s NZ made in every sense.

There was one other thing that wasn’t quite right: The hollandaise sauce. I used the same recipe I always do, the same one Nigel always used, but this time I forgot that I don’t use as much salt as the recipe calls for (I actually don’t normally put any in because the bacon is already salty, something I forgot). I also nuked it just a little bit too long—we’re talking mere seconds—and that left the sauce “less than ideal”. And this is why I never even mentioned the sauce when I shared the photo on FB and Instagram.

The thing is, when I make poached eggs normally, I just put mayo on them if I put anything at all (other than S&P). To be honest, the eggs benny is a lot of work for not all that much payoff. I think that in future I’ll probably mostly stick to making poached eggs on toast rather than full-on eggs benny.

There’s a side note here: I was recently watching a vlog from one of the YouTubers I subscribe to, and he often includes a short cooking segment. They often include short segments of him making poached eggs on toast to illustrate the start to his day. But in this particular vlog, he mentioned how he likes tomato sauce (ketchup) on his poached eggs. Now, I couldn’t possibly care less what someone chooses to put on their eggs, but what struck me about that is that he’s never once shown that in a video of his poached eggs. That made me wonder if I’ve ever done that with food photos I’ve shared—have I ever not included something that I think someone may not approve of. Maybe? Probably? I so know that I’ve sometimes not shared photos of something I made because the photo of the dish made it look less appetising than it looked in real life, so maybe that counts? At any rate, watching that vlog made me want to be extra careful to make sure that when I share a photo of food I’ve made, it’s as close to reality as I can make it. Having said that, though, I felt that the photo up top of my eggs benny, even with the incomplete success of the hollandaise sauce, was one of my better food photos—and, yes, the photo showed exactly as I ate it. FWIW.

Obviously, I’m well aware that making poached eggs isn’t exactly a momentous accomplishment, and it wouldn’t have been even if I’d also made perfect hollandaise sauce. However, I’ve been feeling so flat for so long now that this is remarkable simply for being something that I accomplished. Is this the start of a new phase? Of new energy levels? Could it be—and this could jinx everything—the beginning of moving onward and upward again?

Time will tell, but at the moment the signs are encouraging—and so was the success of my poached eggs themselves. I think it’s important to always celebrate the little successes, because sometimes they need as much determination as the bigger efforts do. Fortunately, I’ve also had some successes with those lately, but they’re tales of their own. I’m determined to share those tales, too.

This post includes brief bits I included when I posted the above photo on social media.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Maybe sometimes determination is enough

Sometimes, things are just different, for whatever reason, and sometimes determination is enough. Like today.

For the past several weeks, I’ve dealt with extreme fatigue, bad enough that I haven’t felt like doing much of anything—including blogging or podcasting, obviously. While I try to force myself to get things done, for the most part those efforts failed. But sometimes things go differently, and it began yesterday evening.

I went to my mother-in-law’s for dinner, yesterday evening and also fixed her Kindle (and, of course, Nigel would’ve been surprised (mostly joking). On the eay home, I stopped at the New World supermarket to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was interesting.

There were a lot of prices throughout the store that were obviously higher (like a bottle of cooking oil that was on special at a higher price than it’s regular price only a few months ago). But a lot of store specials brought the prices much closer to what they had been—still higher, but not as bad as they’d be otherwise. On the other hand, all the most affordable items (including things on the chain’s “price freeze” list) were really low or sold out.

Today I was planning on going to The Base shopping centre to run errands, so I thought I’d go to the nearby Countdown supermarket on the way home so I could see for myself what their prices are like. It turned out that today’s errands were 2/3 successful. I’m absolutely fine with that.

First up was my much-delayed haircut: I’ve probably needed one for “some time now”, but lately people have been fleeing In terror at the sight of my unruly locks, and pitchforks and torches were being readied. The threat to the mob is now sorted. Bonus points, today I got the young guy, and he was really interesting to chat with. The older guys I’ve had usually talk about sport, work, very superficial stuff. But today we talked about, among other things, how making YouTube videos because it’s what you want to do is more important than monetising them, unless that’s a business you’re running (seriously!).

My next stop was a nearby shop to pick-up something I ordered through click ‘n collect. There’s a story there, but it’s involved and includes a cleaning project I’m doing on Saturday (more about that aftwerward). However, as I walked back to my car with my purchases, the skies opened up and I was completely drenched. I changed my plans and went directly home, much to Leo’s delight. I didn’t need to go to the supermarket, anyway, so it’s no loss, but today’s soaking made me think that maybe I should keep an old towel in the car. It rains a lot in winter, after all.

While all of that is perfectly ordinary stuff, for a guy who’s had a lot of trouble getting stuff done, it’s a lot of activity in a short period of time. I don’t know that it suggests any sort of change or improvement or anything, but a good patch is always welcome, whether it hangs around or not.

Maybe tomorrow will bring more extraordinary-yet-ordinary stuff. Maybe sometimes determination really is enough?

This is revised and expanded from two posts I made to my personal Facebook. Because sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do, especially, for me, these days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 365, “So, anyway…”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Hidden stories

Photos aren’t always what they seem, with hidden or unspoken stories behind them. Maybe the stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but the story remains there either way. The photo above is an example of that.

The photo of Leo up top is something I posted to my personal Facebook a week ago last night. I wrote, “Watching YouTube videos, as one does, and Leo says, “Oy, what about ME?!” And so it is.” While the specific motivation was that he looked cute, which isn’t unusual for him, of course, but there’s a story I never mentioned at the time—or in the week since. This post, then, is about the missing story.

Tuesday of last week was an awful day for me (because, reasons), so by the evening all I wanted to do was to watch some TV, then catch up on the YouTube Channels I subscribe to. I decided to watch the fourth season premier of a New Zealand-made reality show called “The Casketeers”, which is about Tipene Funerals (the series is on Netflix now, apparently). I’ve watched the show from the beginning because it’s just plain nice, and not merely entertaining.

What I’ve particularly liked about the series is the kindness and respect shown by the Tipenes and their staff, like, for example, they always talk of the deceased person as being in their care. I’ve learned so much about rituals and practices of Pacific peoples in particular, and I also learned more about Māori beliefs and practices, all wrapped up with their kindness and respect for the families, as well as a gentle, respectful way of teaching the rest of us. It’s extremely well done—and, I should add, it’s often very funny, especially because Francis Tipene (the husband) is a character, and the dynamic with his wife, Kaiora, is as entertaining as you’ll find on any general light entertainment reality show—and that’s a good thing, by the way.

I admit, I wasn’t sure I could still watch the series after Nigel died, for obvious reasons, but it turned out that I could, and it was actually oddly comforting. I definitely see or react to some things in the show differently now than before, but the feels have always been good—until that night.

One of the people in their care was brought to a Baptist church in Auckland for her funeral, and they first brought her into a side chapel so that the family could have some private time to say goodbye. Off camera, they removed the lid and put it aside, and later the camera showed the lid, which was plain MDF (may have been an unlined underside, I don’t know). The family had written all sorts of messages on it, which was one of the things Nigel told me he wanted for his funeral (in his case, it was all over the outside).

When I saw that scene, I fucking lost it. I positively wailed, something that hasn’t happened to me in I don’t know how long—a very long time, though. Leo was out of my sight at the time, but he heard me, came near me and looked at me with a kind of puzzled look that dogs sometimes get. He trotted off to the back of the house where he’d left his toy bone, trotted back to me, jumped up in my lap, and started gnawing on the toy. He’d stop every now and then, look back at me, and he’d flop against me. I heard somewhere that when a dog leans into a person, it’s their version of a hug. At that moment, it certainly felt like one.

Leo’s never really paid all that much attention to me when I cried, but this time he did. Maybe he’d sensed that I was feeling off that day, maybe it’s because it’s been a long time since I had a breakdown, I don’t know, but this time, when it did the most good, he was there.

He stayed near me the rest of the evening, and later on, when I was watching YouTube videos, he jumped onto the sofa, which is next to my chair, and played with his toys, stopping sometimes to just watch me. He looked so adorable that I had to take the photo above.

That night, he slept laying against me all night long, something he hadn’t done for a few weeks (lately, he’s been laying against me in the mornings rather than all night). It could’ve just been coincidence, but I was glad all the same.

I have no idea why that one brief scene in a TV show that I like set me off like an emotional rocket, but it did. Maybe it was because I’d had such a shitty day, maybe it was just something that was overdue and bound to happen sooner or later, anyway—and I did feel better afterward.

I’ve often said that kindness toward others ought to be our default position because we can never know what someone else may be going through silently. I definitely try to practice what I preach, but sometimes the best way to reinforce my message is to share an example of what I’m talking about. That night last week, I shared a cute photo of Leo, but there was a then-secret reason why I took that photo, and it’s exactly the sort of hidden thing I’m talking about.

That night I had a bad patch (for whatever reason), and Leo was especially cute and lovable, possibly because of it, but appreciated regardless. I’m fine now, of course—I was fine after the “storm” ended. But I’m happy to report that Leo is still cute and lovable every day, if maybe a bit less attentive overall than he was that night.

This is was a story that was hidden in a photo of Leo, one not so very different from lots of photos I’ve taken of him, or of any of the other furbabies over the years. Even so, the hidden story is precisely what made it different from so many of those earlier photos. Not for the first time, no one would know the truth if I didn’t say something, but withholding truth isn’t how I’ve approached this whole journey up until now; I see no reason to change that.

Photos aren’t always what they seem, nor is what people convey and project in person. There may be hidden or unspoken stories behind them, and I believe we ought to be mindful and act with kindness toward others. Maybe the hidden stories are revealed, or maybe they’re not, but what happens may be influenced in part on how we treat those with hidden stories. The photo above is a simple example of how that works in real life, and this post supplies the hidden story.

Unusually, it seems, this post began life as something that I never posted to Facebook: I wrote the first draft a week ago today, intending to post it to my personal Facebook, but I changed my mind and decided it would be better as a blog post—again, “because, reasons”. And yes, there’s a hidden story there, too. Maybe that’s for another day.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Catching up on the little there is

This will come as a shocking revelation, I know, and I apologise for that, but openness is important, so, here goes: I’ve had a lot of trouble blogging lately. Technically, it’s not trouble with blogging as such—after all, in recent weeks I’ve posted several things on my personal Facebook that are, essentially, blog posts. In fact, my two most recent blogs posts (“Puzzle pieces”, and the one before that, “A mini-adventure”) began that way. Plenty of others over the past couple months were at least sparked by something I posted on Facebook.

This has come about, not for the first time, because of a sort of generalised ennui and malaise, which is also nothing new. I can’t point to a specific reason, though at one point I thought I might’ve caught the plague (I didn’t), but it affects me in precisely the way it has before: If I don’t write and publish a post in the daytime, it’s usually unlikely to happen that day.

This mainly means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about on Facebook, but not here, but it really means that there are a lot of things that I may talk about at all. I have some more Facebook-birthed posts I may get around to re-doing for the blog (as always, maybe…), but there are relevant things to talk about in the meantime, starting with updates on what I’m doing, or not doing, as the case may be.

This past weekend was the four-day Easter holiday weekend in New Zealand, and that included two of three and a half days a year when most shops must close: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The shopping ban is why I went on my mini-adventure, but it otherwise doesn’t usually affect me much.

Still, I planned around the bans, and didn’t plan on going anywhere that weekend. Because I didn’t have any special plans, I thought it would be a great time to work on stuff in the house, especially clearing out/organising my office, something I’ve nicknamed “The Project From Hell”. As so often happens, things didn’t quite work out that way.

I was extremely tired already when the weekend began, but when I looked out my front window, I saw that the weeds were again sending up their seed stalks: The lawns needed to by mowed again. That became my main project for Sunday, and I did nothing on The Project From Hell that day.

To be clear, I have made progress on the project, just not nearly as much as I would’ve liked: It “should” have been finished by now. I found out, first, that a lot of the stuff in my office actually belongs in it, and wasn’t just stuff I dumped there as I thought when I mentioned the project in a post at the start of this month. The fact that the stuff actually mostly belongs in my office means that I have to find somewhere to put it (after reaffirming that I still actually want/need it), and that made it into a bigger project than I expected.

I went through and reorganised boxes, repacking what I really wanted to keep, recycling some stuff, putting aside some stuff to be shredded, and throwing away the tiny amount that couldn’t be recycled or shredded. This is a subject in itself, too, but the thing that’s relevant to this post is that the work’s very slow, time consuming, and unbelievably boring.

Once I finally finish all that sorting/evaluation/pretending it doesn’t exist and doing other things, the actual reorganising of my office wardrobe will begin. To do that, I’ve long planned on putting a wardrobe organising system in the wardrobe (and the wardrobe of my guest bedroom), like I’ve done in the two houses Nigel and I shared before I moved to this one. It’s basically like the shelves I put in the kitchen, except with wire shelves instead of solid ones (for air flow), and it has a rod for hanging clothes. I bought two sets of shelving using reward points (and some cash), choosing a different system than I put in the kitchen because I had some spare shelves from the set I put in the master wardrobe in our house before the last one.

That’s a straightforward and fairly easy project for me, however, that doesn’t mean it’s simple.

The builder put in one single shelf in each of the two wardrobes, and they’re screwed to some wood attached to the walls on three sides. The hanging rods are all heaving metal pipes in brackets. To get a shelf out, I first have to remove the screws, all of which have been painted over. Then, I have to figure out how the wood shelf supports are attached to the walls, and then I need to remove them. This will almost certainly damage the walls, which I’m certain weren’t painted before the wood and shelves were installed.

Once I get the old shelves and their support out, I’ll need to patch the walls, prime those repairs, and then paint. I have everything I need to do all that—though finding the patching compound did delay this awhile, because, once again, I’d put it “somewhere safe, where I can find it”. However, the paint I have may not precisely match the white of the existing paint, so I’ll paint the entire inside of the wardrobes, which will (or, should…) make any imprecise colour match pretty much unnoticeable.

THEN I can install the new shelving systems. Sigh.

So: Take the tediousness of going through everything, the extra work I’ll have to do to prepare the wardrobe before I can install the new shelving, mix in that generalised ennui and malaise, and season generously with IDGAF, and the result is that not much has happened with The Project From Hell, and it’s also basically why nothing much us happening with this blog, either (I kinda don't want to even go in my office). Even so, some progress has definitely been made on the project, and I have posted some things here on the blog.

This weekend is another holiday weekend: The Anzac Day public holiday is on Monday, and up until 1pm is the half-day trading ban. Again, that doesn't really affect me, not the least because I don’t have anything planned for that trading ban public holiday, either. Maybe I can squeeze in some attention for things I want to work on. For a change.

There are other bits and pieces I could’ve mentioned, of course, including some more Facebook-born stuff, and maybe I’ll get to that. For now, though, that’s me catching up on the little there is that’s been going on.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Puzzle pieces

For the past month, most of my FB “Memories” have been about the original Covid Lockdown, or other things about Covid. This makes sense: It’s certainly dominated the news over the past two years, and especially this time in 2020. So, it was nice to see a FB “Memory” about ordinary life, as I did a couple days ago (image above).

The “Memory” is basically about enjoying the fact that Nigel was taking his annual leave, and we would’ve spent it at home. We seldom went away on holiday, except maybe for a weekend to visit family. Mostly, Nigel just preferred to stay home, what Americans nicknamed a “staycation”, because he just wanted to relax and decompress from his intense, stressful job. The furbabies and I loved having him home.

Nigel and I spent nearly all of our spare time together, and he started working from home (like me) more and more as the years passed. We both loved having the other one around, and no, for Nigel it wasn’t just so I could make him cups of tea! At least, I don’t think it was…

What was so great about the “staycation” thing is that we’d go out for lunch, maybe wander around the shops a bit, or maybe go for drive. Or, we might just watch a movie at home. Just nice, relaxing stuff done together.

People think that mourning the death of a spouse is about missing them being around, but that’s only one part of it. It’s also about losing the shared way of life, the day-to-day ordinariness, our shared past, and everything that could’ve been our future, together. Mourning the death of a spouse is an enormous thing precisely because it’s so enormous.

Little memories, like the one FB served up today, are, by themselves, just nice, sweet memories of good times. But they’re also a piece of the puzzle that is our life, a puzzle that now has too many missing pieces to ever be completed in a way that even remotely resembles the picture on the metaphorical box, the image we had of what our lives were going to look like.

But we all change our lives all the time, don’t we? When I was a little boy, I was sure I was going to be a preacher like my dad and his dad, then some years later I was going to be an archeologist, then, a few years later still, a politician—all of which is hilarious to me now. Instead, I constantly revised my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and then to build a life with Nigel in a different country located far away and in the two opposite hemispheres from everything I’d ever known. That wasn’t merely the biggest decision I’ve ever made, though, it was also the direct and logical result of literally everything that happened in my life leading up to the point at which I made my choice. The pieces of the puzzle of my life, it turned out, connected seamlessly with Nigel’s own puzzle.

These days, I’m in a state of flux, once again revising my path to take advantage of opportunities, to achieve goals, and to again build a life, one without Nigel. I make lots of mistakes, I frustrate or disappoint myself all the time, and sometimes I even make myself angry at myself—exactly like I did all those years ago.

My original path led me to the best life, better than I could possibly have imagined. Maybe that’ll happen again, maybe it won’t, but as I work to assemble the new puzzle, I keep finding pieces from the old one, and it turns out that they all fit into this new one. I don’t know what this puzzle’s going to look like because the metaphorical box has no picture—and I now realise, it never did.

Funny the things a thirteen year old memory can spark, like seeing the entire puzzle, and not just the areas where nothing seems to fit. This piece did fit, though, and that’s how puzzles are completed: One piece at a time.

Those staycations were truly awesome, though.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted to my personal Facebook on April 16.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A mini-adventure

I went on a mini-adventure yesterday: I went to a neighbourhood shopping area a relatively short drive from my house, closer than the big name places I normally go to, and with far less traffic and congestion on the roads—even at the end of the school day, it turned out. I didn’t know all that because I’d never spent any time in that area before. It proved educational in a lot of ways.

It all started because I wanted to pick up some chicken for tonight (I’m making my own-style chicken stir fry; “own-style” means not a recipe as such, just a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever I have that I feel like putting in it). I could’ve gone to a supermarket, but the Thursday before Easter is usually crazy busy (the shops are all closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as they are every year, and yet somehow masses of people manage to forget that—every year—and mob supermarkets).

It made me wonder if there was butcher shop near me, since all I wanted was chicken, and it turned out there’s a fairly large one in an area of Hamilton called Nawton. I didn’t know there were many shops in that area (because I hadn’t been there), but I knew it wasn’t exactly an upmarket part of town. Still, I don’t let that stop me (not in daylight, anyway), so off I went.

It was really well-stocked with diverse cuts, including cheaper things like bacon bones, brisket, and large bags of frozen chicken drumsticks, for example. The prices seemed pretty good, but I wasn’t certain because prices for meat and vegetables have soared in recent weeks, and I no longer have any idea what supermarkets charge for the same things. However, I noticed that they seemed to pack most things into packages priced at $15, and some packs were marked as “bargain packs” at $13.99 (same use by date). Personally, I’d find that easy for budgeting. As A result, I bought a little more than I’d intended. [I later did a price comparison, which is at the bottom of this post]

The same little shopping area has some food places (like a sushi shop), a branch of a Waikato-based bottle shop (“liquor store” in Americanese), a pub/cafe-ish looking place (it had a “gaming lounge”, which might influence the clientele they get), and it also had the Nawton branch of Countdown (I forgot there was one), and a small independent food store (“supermarket” doesn’t seem like the best term for it).

I plan to go back again, on a less busy day, at least to go back to the butchers, but I’d also like to look around the Nawton Countdown, too (the one I usually go to sometimes tries my patience…). So, when I need my next supermarket trip (next week or the week after), I think I’ll go there, maybe have some sushi for lunch, too. I like supporting local businesses, especially independent ones, so I’m willing to give it a go.

I guess more mini-adventures await.

A footnote: Price comparisons

Today, I decided to compare the prices I paid at the butcher with what two supermarkets charge, so I went to the websites for both Countdown and New World and tried to match same to same. The short version is that in every case, I paid less at the butcher than the current non-discounted prices at the two supermarkets [Important note: Supermarket prices were accurate at the time I checked, but they may change quickly. Also, in the case of some prices for Countdown, I had to work out the unit price because the supermarket didn’t provide that information, displaying only the price for a small pack. I may have made errors in those calculations, but I doubt it]. One kilogram (kg) = 2.2 US pounds, and today 1 NZ dollar equals around 68 US cents. 

Chicken: I bought boneless/skinless chicken breasts and thighs, and both were free range. At the butcher, the breasts were $13.99 per kilogram, at Countdown it was $18/kg, and New World charged $24.99/kg. The thighs were $17.99/kg at the butcher, 25/kg at Countdown, and $22.48/kg at New World.

Premium Beef Mince: This is the top-of-the-line sort of beef mince (“ground beef” in Americanese), with the lowest percentage of fat. I paid $19.78/kg at the butcher. Countdown didn’t have premium beef mince available on its site, but New World charged $24.99/kg.

All three suppliers sold basic versions of the meats (in this case, meaning non-freerange), though I had to look at the butcher’s website to find out their price for ordinary versions. Chicken breast: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $12.90/kg at Countdown, and $11.99/kg at New World (the price listed at the butcher is the same as free range chicken breast—maybe that’s all they offered at the moment?). Chicken thigh: $16.99/kg at the butcher, $22/kg at Countdown, and $22.99/kg at New World. Beef mince: $13.99/kg at the butcher, $14.90/kg at Countdown, and $14.99/kg at New World.

All up, the directly comparable products were usually considerably less expensive at the butcher, and, with the possible exception of chicken breast, the prices for non-freerange products were also cheaper at the butcher. It’s important to note, however, that supermarket specials, promotions, and package deals (like Countdown’s “3 for $20” offerings) can make supermarket prices competitive with the butcher’s prices (putting aside issues of personal preference).

The lesson I take from this is that if I’m not making a special trip, it probably makes sense for me to buy meat from the butcher, but it would probably erase all or most of the savings if I wasn’t buying other things at that shopping centre, too, especially because I eat very little meat. If I was feeding a family—or even two people—it would make more sense to make a special trip. Still, other shops in that shopping area may provide the rest of what I need in a routine shopping trip, and, if so, it could be worth stopping at the butcher, maybe stocking up and freezing stuff.

As it happens, I’ve been researching budgeting for food as a single person, and that’ll be the subject of an upcoming blog post. This turned out to help with that research. Not bad for an unplanned mini-adventure.

This post began life as something I posted to my personal Facebook yesterday, but this blog post is greatly expanded from that, including the price comparisons.

Friday, April 08, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 364, “Changes all around”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. A list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Jake would've been fifteen

Yesterday would’ve been Jake’s fifteenth birthday, but his fourteenth turned out to be his last. Jake died here at home a bit more than five months later, only about a week and a half before the second anniversary of us losing Nigel.

The the photo at left is from Jake’s fourteenth birthday last year, and what strikes me about it is that he’s as subdued as Sunny was in the photo on what turned out to be her last birthday, her twelfth. That’s coincidence—it was often not easy to capture a photo of either unless they were laying down. However, both were unwell when I took their last birthday photos, and both were already in their final decline, so capturing a subdued moment was probably most likely for both.

Over the past three years, I’ve endured a constant parade of loss, what I referred to in February last year as “a Danse Macabre”. The first to leave was Bella, a loss I was really sad about. Then Nigel’s death ripped everything apart, especially me. Sunny stayed with us nearly a year and a half afterward, and Jake left about seven months after her. Throw a global pandemic into this mix, and sometimes even I’m amazed—or shocked, sometimes—that I’ve managed to survive.

All of this loss has definitely held me back and made it impossible to truly move forward, or to find a new life without Nigel. So, when I say I’m stubborn, I’m absolutely not joking, as the evidence of my continued existence proves.

But I do miss Jake. And Sunny. And Bella. And, obviously, Nigel most of all. I think Leo does, too, and that’s been on my mind lately.

Leo still sniffs Sunny and Jake’s collars, Sunny’s especially (they were best friends), but recently something odd happened: He started standing at the baby gate I put up to keep the dogs from running to the front door. Then, he’d cry softly, the same way he does when his ball rolls under the sofa, or when he wants to go outside. But there was nothing in the entryway that was even remotely related to any of that, and I hadn’t changed anything in that area for months. What was up?

I lifted Leo up and let him sniff around, but he didn’t seem fixated on any one thing. That didn’t stop his crying, so I again carried him to the entryway. I had him sniff the harness I bought for him, something I hung on the coat tree in the entryway. Maybe he’d seen it, I thought, but he wasn’t remotely interested—but he still wanted something.

The only thing I could see was another dog lead, the one I used to take Jake to the vet the day before he died, though I could've used it for Sunny at some point, too (I had two that were identical, so I probably mixed them up frequently, for all I know). Was that it? It’s been there since that day last September—why now?!

I had no other ideas, so I took the lead into the house and put it on a low shelf where Leo could sniff it—and he now does that several times a week, sometimes several times in a day. He also hasn’t cried at that gate even once since I put the lead within sniffing distance.

Then yesterday, another oddity: I was in the bedroom folding washing, and Leo was there—until he disappeared. I walked past the door to the en suite and saw Leo in there, staring at the toilet roll holder.

For many years, right up until many of her teeth were removed, Sunny used to steal the toilet toll from the holder and pull out the cardboard core, which she’d eat (she never ate the paper, but she left a shredded paper mess for us to clean up). Nigel and I started putting the toilet roll on the cistern when we went out, but Sunny still tried to get it. To stop that, we put empty cores on the floor below the toilet roll holder, which Sunny would grab and chew up. I dubbed it her “tasty, tasty snack”, and Nigel and both thought it was weird behaviour, but funny.

A little while after I’d caught Leo looking at the toilet roll, and thought about how odd it was that he did that, I remembered Sunny and her tasty, tasty snacks. Leo then walked into the en suite, and he looked again at the toilet roll holder. I had an empty toilet roll core that I hadn’t yet put into the recycling bin, and I gave it to Leo, who grabbed it and ran to the front of the house, tail happily wagging.

Before Sunny got sick, she and Leo both got toilet roll cores—Jake was never the least bit interested. However, Leo’s shown no interest in them ever since Sunny could no longer chew the cores and they both stopped getting them.

Again, why now? Why not months ago? And what was up with the toilet roll core obsession yesterday? I don’t know, of course, but I wonder if maybe he’s mourning Sunny and Jake. I know the feeling, obviously, so it’s logical to think I could be projecting; I just don’t think I am.

All of that’s been on my mind the past few days, starting with thinking about Jake and his birthday, and on to all the thoughts that go with that. Mainly, I just miss the family I lost, and I really do feel that Leo does, too. Jake’s birthday is what sparked all these thoughts for me, and while I have no certainty about what’s sparked Leo’s recent behaviour, mourning is as plausible an explanation as any. It’s also good for both of us that we still have each other.

Related posts:
Jake is 14 – What turned out to be his last birthday
Jake is 13
Jake is 12
Jake is 11
Jake is TEN
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival
All posts mentioning Jake

Sunday, April 03, 2022

The second annual April 3 lawn mowing

The Facebook “Memories” served up to me this week have been find of funny/odd. Three different times it served up “Memories” of things I’d posted in the past, and then repeated this week. Most of the time, I get “Memories” that aren’t worth sharing, but it’s not often I get so many revisited things so close to each other

This past Tuesday, the “Memory” was about the time I took my mother-in-law to a Japanese restaurant near our house on Auckland’s North Shore, and that same day six years later I went out for lunch with her, my brother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law, and we went to a (really nice) Japanese restaurant here in Hamilton.

A couple days later it was a post from four years ago, where I shared a Cher meme about changing our clocks (New Zealand went back to NZ Standard Time at 3am last night, or this morning, depending on how you view such things).

Today, it turned out to be that I mowed the lawns this same date last year (which was a Saturday, of course, and we also changed our clocks at 3am that night (or the following morning, depending on how you view such things). As it happens, I was planning on mowing my lawns today, too—is this now an annual thing? Maybe it could be part of an all-new Season of Anniversaries?

That’s where the coincidences ended, and today’s adventure was a bit more challenging that last year’s was. In fact, it was much more difficult.

I was mowing the lawns today because it was a few days overdue. I couldn’t be bothered mowing last week, when I should’ve (I did other things), and it was becoming fairly urgent: The weed paspalum was sending up spikes for its seedheads, and it made the lawns look particularly untidy.

The problem with paspalum is that the stalks for the seedheads are generally low to the ground, and also springy, so the mower doesn’t always chop it off at the ground. So, I often have to go over the same plant two, three, even four times to finally get the stalks chopped off.

So, mowing the weed patch—sorry, “lawns”—took a *LOT* of effort. That fancy new battery I bought for the mower at the end last year ran out of power with about 20-ish minutes of mowing to go, the first time that’s ever happened with that fancy new battery. It was interesting to me because it ran out of juice at roughly the same area where the older battery used to die, and that happened often as the lawns thickened over time, which is why I bought the fancy new battery. I hope this isn’t the way of the future, but if it is, I have the old battery to ensure I can finish the lawns once I start.

When I was done, and put the fancy new battery on to charge, I drank a lost of water and grabbed an old towel to wipe up my sweat. Then, I stood in front of the air conditioner for a bit, and went to sit down in my chair to rest a bit—all of which is my usual post-mowing routine in summer. I gradually cooled down, and decided to go have a shower, so I started to stand up—and things didn’t go well.

Neither of my legs seemed like they’d be able to support me: The calves of both felt like they were cramping, and a couple times I thought they might give way. I hobbled out into the kitchen, and drank some more water, and then I grabbed an open bag of potato chips from the pantry. At the time, I was craving potato choips, and it occurred to me that maybe I’d sweat a lot more than I’d realised, and I was low in salt.

When I was a kid, on very hot days my mother would make me drink a small glass of water with some salt in it. She said it would help prevent heat stroke (though I had no idea what that was back then—I was probably like five or six at the time). She also said it would prevent muscles cramping from me overheating.

So, with that childhood memory, combined the fact that I almost always give in to food cravings (because they’re quite rare for me, and I figure that when I get one my body is trying to tell me it needs something in that food), I sat down with a more water and that bag of chips. A little while later, I did, in fact, feel better, though my legs were still stiff, pretty much until I was done with my shower.

Nothing like that has happened to me in the two years I’ve been mowing my lawns, though my lower back has started to hurt more frequently by the time I get to the end of the job. I think that’s mostly because I need to lose weight: I’m carrying too much belly fat. But that weird, weak-legged, nearly crampy feeling? Never had anything like that happen before.

So, I think the next mowing related thing I need to do is find a water bottle holder I can clip onto my lawn mower’s handle. That’d be a very good idea, especially for the summer. And, I need to lose weight to help my back. Adulting is bloody hard work!

And that’s been my coincidental week of “Memories” that turned out to be different, though similar, this week. The mowing one was the most different of all.

I hope next week’s “Memories” are much tamer.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Let’s talk about tech, baby…

Over the past year, I’ve upgraded several of my personal tech items, things I use every day. Sometimes they come up in later posts, but one came up only after the fact. I decided to review where this is all at, and what I think about everything now I’ve actually used it.

First, a bit of preface: I’ve been replacing my everyday tech in order to get ready for retirement in a couple years, since it’ll be prudent to watch my money carefully. By replacing everything now, I should be able to stagger future upgrades, especially since some of these recent replacements will be good for many, many years to come.

Here are all the things I upgraded, in the order they arrived.

Mac Mini – February, 2021: I bought this (photo in the original post) mainly because I no longer needed the portability of my MacBook Pro (MBP), and because I was frustrated by the MBP’s limitations, especially, not enough internal storage space, but also the lack of ports to connect things I often need, such as, a slot for a MicroSD storage card (like a camera uses), or to plug in my external keyboard. I needed to buy a dock, commonly called a dongle (which annoys me*), in order to fix both problems.

When I bought my Mac Mini, I upgraded it, something I couldn’t do with my MacBook Pro (if I’d been more patient, and ordered it directly from Apple, I could’ve, and I might not have needed the Mac Mini, at least, not so soon). However, the Mac Mini has the same problem: Far too few ports to plug devices into, so I had to get a dock for that, too. All Apple computers currently have a major anti-consumer flaw: Memory and internal storage are soldered onto the motherboard and cannot be upgraded later. However, as various countries and the European Union look to pass “right to repair” legislation, Apple is starting to take some tentative steps toward not treating their customers with quite so much contempt. We’ll see.

In any event, the Mac Mini is truly awesome: It’s fast, responsive (not necessarily the same thing) and silent, all of which are very good things. My MBP was, at the time I bought it, the same (though not as quiet), however, the Mac Mini with Apple Silicon M1 Processor is dramatically faster. My only complaint is what I’ve already noted: Not enough ports and no ability to change the RAM or internal storage. I did have to upgrade some of my software to run properly, but that's not about Apple itself, exactly, except that the upgraded software was better able to take advantage of the M1 chip.

This machine will last me for several years. The various new Mac models that have come out over the past year are nice, and they’re technically faster, but not dramatically, in my opinion, and what I have is fine for my current needs.

I thought about selling my MacBook Pro, but they tend to get about half what I paid for it, so I’m leaning toward keeping it and using it when I travel around New Zealand, as I plan to do when the plague eases. That way I can blog or edit video or whatever wherever I am.

Apple TV 4K
: This is a device to stream content over the Internet. I bought it on March 17 last year, and never mentioned it at the time (a picture I took for a post I never wrote is at left). I have, however, referred to it since then, just last week, and only in passing.

I bought it partly because I had a free trial subscription to Apple TV+ (Apple’s own streaming service—what it is with so many companies appending a “+” to their streaming service’s name?!) because I bought the Mac Mini, but mostly because I anticipated there would come a time when the Android box would no longer work and I’d need other ways to access streaming services (which was what last week’s post was talking about).

I like the Apple TV except for three things: It cannot stream Freeview (there’s no aerial port), and it has no web browser, so it can’t stream those former video music TV channels (I tried that on the Android Box, and it couldn't connect). The third thing is that the remote it came with is, without any exaggeration whatsoever, the worst Apple product I’ve ever used. Not long after I bought my Apple TV, the company announced it was releasing a new remote that fixed my major complaint (the damn trackpad), but I’d have to buy the new one separately. I did that last week, and I’ll talk about all that in an upcoming post. The important thing for now is that, as I said, I do like the Apple TV, and also that I can view all the streaming services I watch, including YouTube and, er, um, Disney+ (another damn “+”!).

An iPhone 13 Pro: I bought this in In January of this year (photo in the original post) to replace my iPhone 7. I like it a lot. The camera is really good, though I haven’t yet had all that much opportunity to use it much (that damn plague again…). The phone is fast, has excellent battery life, and is much, much faster at downloading updates than any of my older phones ever were. In other words, it just works.

There’s nothing that I actively dislike, but: It took awhile for me to get used to because it’s so different from what I’d used in the past. For example, scrolling back to the home screen is counterintuitive, and I had no idea how to close open Apps (theoretically, I don’t need to, but I do, anyway). I also couldn’t figure out how to turn off the torch (flashlight) which I’d accidentally turned on (and I didn’t know how I’d accidentally turned it on…), so I’d tell Siri to turn it off. Since then, I’ve Googled things I couldn’t figure out how to do (like how to access the control for the torch), and none of those things were obvious or intuitive, in my opinion.

My biggest dislike is that there’s no home button or fingerprint scanner. Instead, it uses facial recognition, and that can be—interesting. It can’t recognise my face when I’m wearing a mask (no surprise, really), but sometimes it can’t recognise me when I have reading glasses on, while other times it instantly unlocks when I’m wearing those same reading glasses. Sometimes it struggles to recognise me even when I’m not wearing glasses. That unpredictable inconsistency is bloody annoying: I’d MUCH rather have a fingerprint scanner. I can't turn that function off, though, because I have some Apps that need that level of security to use the App, and the alternative would be to enter the App password each time—and that can't possibly end well.

I bought a new iPad (9th Gen): I bought this at the end of February to replace the 2013 iPad Air (First Gen) that Nigel handed me up (photo in the original post). That old iPad was nearing the end of its service life (the newest iPadOS wasn’t compatible, for example, and Apps were often no longer working). I really, really like the new iPad. Like the iPhone I bought the previous month, it’s fast, responsive, has great battery life, and updates quickly. Unlike the iPhone, it uses a home button and fingerprint recognition, which I much prefer. The new iPad is lighter than the old one, and the screen and sound are both much better.

When I bought the new Apple TV remote, I also bought a case for the iPad to protect it, and an Apple Pencil (First Gen):

The case said it has “military-grade protection”, a statement which gave me so many questions. The pencil is a stylus that actual artists use to draw actual pictures on actual iPads (whoops, sorry: I got carried away with my actualisation there). I’ve only experimented with the pencil a little bit so far, but it’s been absolutely brilliant at translating my chicken-scratch handwriting into editable “typed” text. I could’ve bought a cheaper pencil from another company, but I knew for sure this one would work. I didn’t “need” it, but I never claimed I did: I just wanted it. The case was reasonably priced, as such things go, and I decided to get that rather than a keyboard because I never used the one with the old iPad (which, in case you’re wondering, is part of a case that won’t fit my new iPad). The new case also has a special compartment to hold the Apple Pencil, which is part of the reason I bought both, actually.

I didn’t buy the latest iPad with Apple Silicon chips in them because they’re significantly more expensive that the 9th Gen model I bought, and the iPadOS isn’t yet fully able to take advantage of the new chip. Buying the less expensive 9th Gen model meant I could get larger internal storage which is useful (not the least because I’m lazy about deleting Apps I no longer want).

As for the old iPad, it really has no market value anymore, since the iPadOS can no longer be upgraded (and it's slower, the screen isn't as good, etc). On the other hand, it IS working, so I'm going to delete most of the Apps on it and use it as a digital photo frame (I found a stand that Nigel got for some device that will be perfect to hold it). Because all my Apple devices play with each other, I can set up a folder with photos for the old iPad to use in a slideshow. That's the plan, anyway.

And that’s where things are at: My upgrades are done for now, though I know I’ll be adding new tech for other reasons—that’s just part of me and my everyday life, and it always has been. All of this will be stuff I’ll be talking about in the future, unless I forget again, which may be likely. Right now, though, that's my talk about tech, and all the good things and the bad things that may be. Right now, though, it’s time to go make some dinner. I’m thinking maybe eggs; for some reason, I have a taste for something seasoned with salt and pepper.

*The word “dongle” was originally used primarily for small devices that had to be plugged into a computer port in order to run software—a kind of physical anti-piracy protection device. They were extremely annoying. The modern usage to mean a bunch of ports is borrowed from the earlier usage, but it jettisons the “big brother” overtones of the original usage. Sometimes, I’m a language purist, and the modern use of the word just feels wrong to me.

Friday, April 01, 2022

A productive day

Today was a productive day, though unplanned. That’s a common enough thing, but in this case it also pushed forward more project work. Of course.

Yesterday, I went to one of the home centres to pick up some stuff. They didn’t have most of what I wanted, and I balked at buying stuff for a soon-to-be-relaunched project. Instead, I bought some things that weren’t on my list (I actually had a list…), stuff I’ve wanted for a long time—since before Nigel died. They’re actually mostly for longer-term projects (one of which I bought now because it was on special). I even bought something on my list(!): I bought a bag of gypsum to help break up the clay soil in areas where I want to plant stuff.

However, I forgot the one thing I went there for: A new TV aerial amplifier. That’s what led me back to the store today—with a new list.

I got the amplifier (went to that first…), plus the stuff I balked at yesterday, and, um, a couple things not on the list. Sigh.

The soon-to-be-relaunched project is The Garage of No Return v2.0. Now that the weather is somewhat less hot, I can actively start drawing up my work plan, and that’s why I needed the supplies: So I’m ready to go when temperatures permit. This is a multifaceted project, one actually made up of several smaller projects. I’ll talk about each one on its own, as they happen.

Meanwhile, this week I’ve been (slowly) working on a new project, my office. Ever since I moved into this house, my office has been a dumping ground, the place I put things I can’t figure out another home for. After I get it cleared and organised, it’ll be the space for me to create, not a place to avoid because of the clutter piled high. Stay tuned.

The amplifier helped with the TV itself: It could tune in Freeview TV channels and radio stations that it couldn’t get before, however, TV One is still awful on the TV and also on the Android box (my usual choice), so I’m thinking there could be a problem with the broadcast itself (the area I live in is a bit dodgy for TV broadcast signals). Still, the amplifier provides surge and short circuit protection, so that’s good, anyway.

And that’s been my past two days. It may sound like small, unimportant stuff, but it actually wasn’t. And that’ll become clearer in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It’s not about them

There’s something about me that others think is odd—maybe even very odd. It’s probably a kind of social phobia or something, but it doesn’t cause me any distress, or bother me in any way, actually, nor does it stop me from doing anything I want to do, so, to me, it’s just part of who I am. If others have a problem with it, that’s on them.

The issue is that I’m always aware when it’s possible for people to watch me, like, for example, before I had curtains and blinds installed in my house back in February, 2020. I lived in the house for around three weeks before my window coverings were installed, and said at the time:
After I moved in, I spent every night sitting in the dark because anyone passing the house at night could see in (I had sheets over my bedroom windows).
Decades earlier, my last apartment in Chicago was what they euphemistically called a “garden apartment”, though it was really a sort of a basement—half underground. Being close to Halsted Street, the main road of the “Boystown” area of Lakeview, people walked past the building at all hours, and since the front windows faced the street, people could look in. I can’t remember if the place had Venetian blinds when we moved in or if we put them in, but either way they provided a way to block people from looking in.

Similarly, there was a tiny backyard behind the building, but I only remember sitting in it once. I noticed all the taller buildings facing the yard and, as the saying goes, looking down on it. I hated that exposed feeling, something I called “being on display”.

Fast forward back to nearly the present day, and I was watching an episode of the UK TV show “Location, Location, Location”. In that episode, co-host Phil Spencer was helping a lesbian couple find a home (the fact they’re lesbians isn’t relevant, but it gives me a chance to add that every time I see an LGBT couple on one of those shows, it makes me irrationally happy). The couple wanted a place that was safe for their furbabies, and that also had a garden (a “yard” in Americanese).

In one scene, Phil was showing them the garden of a city property that, like my last Chicago apartment, had other buildings looking down onto it. One of the women said to Phil that it wasn’t that she thought anyone was watching, it was that they could watch. “Exactly!”, I said to the TV, which, oddly, took no notice.

I don’t know why the possibility of being watched bothers me when it clearly doesn’t bother some people at all—and that included Nigel (if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I don’t care if they look” I’d have enough money for a nice coffee somewhere). I do know that I’ve always been self-conscious about being identified as gay out of concern for my personal safety (I’m definitely a product of my times), but that’s actually more of an “and also…” kind of thing: Basically, I’m just a very private person and I want to keep it that way.

So, when the house next to me was finished, it added to an existing problem with a house further up the street. The house up the street is uphill-ish from my place, and it has a balcony facing the street for some reason (to me, it seems like an oddly exposed place for a balcony, with it on a house on a corner and facing an intersection). From my house, I’ve seen people from that house working in their yard, and, once, on that balcony.

The house next door is a bit different. It’s set back further from the street than mine is, so anyone walking out their front door toward their driveway is directly facing my stacker doors at the street-end of my lounge. That house, which is on land a good metre higher than mine, also has bedroom windows that face my house. I frequently see people coming and going, and sometimes lights on in the windows.

All of my windows face the neighbours, but I have window coverings for all my windows; it’s the stacker doors that were the issue.

Because the front of my lounge is where the TV is, and my back is to the stacker doors when I’m sitting in my chair, I seldom opened the curtains on those stacker doors. I simply felt “on display”. Then, I came up with a solution.

Earlier this month, I hung some net curtains (what Americans usually call “sheers”) along the entire three metre width of both sets of doors (before and after photos of the front-most doors are above). That way, I can open the curtains in the morning and no one can see into my house. In the afternoon, when the sun is shining on them, it’s nearly impossible to see inside my house; however, in summer, that same sunshine is extremely hot, and it heats up my house (the net curtains do help filter the sunlight, though), so I often close the curtains again at that point. In the winter, this same same afternoon reality will be a good thing.

I got the curtains from a fabric store and hung them myself (with minimal swearing). I have two hooks in the middle to keep the tension-wire from sagging. But, I can unhook the wire if I want to open the stacker doors (so the nets don’t billow out the doors).

This was the best solution for the problem, one, though, I may no longer need once I get bushes planted and they grow up above the height of the fence, which will take around three years. If I decide I like having nets, I can have better ones professionally installed later on, when it’s time to replace what I put in.

At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone I did this. I thought to myself, “this is the most nana-ish thing I’ve done to this house,” because net curtains are stereotypically associated with grandmothers. It was also because of people who think I “shouldn’t worry about it”. They’re not me, though, and I came up with the best solution available for me to do what I needed done.

I get that not everyone feels discomfort about the possibility that someone could be watching their daily life, but this isn’t about those people. The thing they also don’t get, though, is that it’s also not actually about anyone who might be looking in—chances are good that no one is. Instead, this is about me, about being able to feel at peace in my own home, to keep my home the cocoon of safety and comfort that everyone deserves their home to be.

I’m very happy with my decision, but I do need to keep reminding myself to open the curtains at the front end of the house (I’ve always opened the other ones): After leaving those front-end curtains closed most of the time for so long, I often forget to open them. That’ll change, though: My cocoon is properly set up now.

The photos above were taken roughly 20 minutes apart, so the before and after demonstrates pretty well how the nets diffuse the late afternoon sun (earlier in the afternoon it's more intense). I have no idea why Leo wasn't interested in being in the "after" photo. Probably bored with it by then. The hooks I mentioned are where the two uprights are visible (the two on the right are doors, and they slide to the left and are stacked in from of the window panel).

Monday, March 28, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 363 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 363, “Fifteen Years”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. A list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Fifteen years of the AmeriNZ Podcast

Fifteen years ago today, March 28, 2007, I posted the first episode of my AmeriNZ Podcast. Despite all the challenges over those years, it continues to this very day (literally—I’ll post an episode later today). I have no idea how much longer I’ll keep doing it, but when has that ever not been the case?

I began the podcast some six months after my blog, and both have chronicled my interests of the moment, things about New Zealand, and, especially, my life. All of that is completely different now than it was back then, and the changes to my life are so deep and profound that I can no longer promise more than one more podcast episode or one more blog post at a time.

On the other hand, I found out that it’s useful to have them as I explore this new universe I now live in. An explorer needs a journal to record their discoveries, and my blog and podcast have become that for me—an explorer’s journal. Apparently some others occasionally find them useful, too.

I doubt either my blog or podcast will still be going 15 years from now, and not only because I’ll be 78 (assuming I’m even still around, of course), but also—probably mostly—because no one knows what the world will be like then (assuming Vlad doesn’t end up killing is all, of course). After all, YouTube began less than two years before I started my audio podcast, and Apple added podcast support to iTunes (RIP) only a couple months after YouTube launched. YouTube has grown enormously, and podcasts have, well, changed.

Maybe in 2037 content will be beamed directly into our brains, or we’ll be living in a corporation-controlled “metaverse”. Or maybe we’ll be back to painting pictures of our lunch or foraging hauls onto cave walls—who knows?

The one thing I now truly understand that I didn’t actually “get” in 2007 is that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. Each day I tell myself, don’t worry about a future we cannot see, and instead make every day as good as it can be, be kind, try to make the world we live in right now a better place, and then maybe that future will be pretty much okay when it arrives.

And, maybe, find a way to keep an explorer’s journal of some sort. I also now understand how much that helps, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

It began two years ago today

Two years ago today was New Zealand’s first day under a Level 4 Covid-19 Lockdown. The image above is what I posted to my personal Facebook on that day. When I shared it, I said:
Two years ago today was the first day of the first Covid lockdown. Today is the first day of greatly loosened restrictions, which will become even looser on April 4. These past two years have definitely been a ride.
That last line was, of course, an understatement—and I was being sarcastic. It’s been a terrible two years for so many reasons, but I believe the worst of it for me personally was the seemingly never-ending Level 3 Lockdown here in the Waikato beginning in October of last year. In fact, I feel that I haven’t fully recovered from the emotional and psychological toll of that time. Yes, of course I’m aware that even at that time others had it far worse than I did—that’s obvious. But I didn’t live in their bodies; here in my own body, where I live, things were not good.

Still, things and time moved on, didn’t they? The new “traffic light” settings turned out to be a huge improvement on the old Alert Level system, and the recently announced revisions are making, and will continue to make, things better still.

I didn’t blog about that first day of Lockdown on the day, though I did a post the next day. However, as the Lockdown yo-yo kept moving, I eventually tagged all my relevant blog posts, “Life Under Lockdown”, so I kind of made up for the slow start.

Something that I very much like is that these days I have far less reason to blog about Covid-19 or anything related to it. That’s definitely a good thing. I do wish I could put energy into blogging about other things, but, well, not everything’s recovered yet. Eventually, I guess—hope?

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 362 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 362, “Changes aplenty”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. An extended list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Changes again (again)

The thing about Covid that seems the most obvious is that change is constant. However, no government knows the exact right thing to do, so they (mostly) try their best to act in the best way for their people. So, when when a government changes its policies, there are always those who declare it’s dead wrong, those who say it’s way overdue, and those who kind of shrug their shoulders, whether they mostly agree or mostly disagree (and most of us are probably in the latter group most of the time). The New Zealand government has announced major changes to its policies on Covid. I agree with the changes.

The government has, it said, “simplified the COVID-19 Protection Framework to target restrictions at those activities that reduce transmission the most.” The chart above shows what the revised levels include (also, more details are available on the government’s Covid 19 website).

From 11:59pm on Friday, the limit on indoor gatherings will increase to 200 people, and limits on outdoor gatherings will be abolished entirely. Also, the requirement to scan the QR tracing code before entering a business will end, as will the requirement that business provide the means to scan in or sign in.

At 11:59pm on Monday, April 4, use of the “My Vaccine Pass” will no longer be required, and that will mean that people will no longer need to be vaccinated in order to enter places like bars, restaurants, and cafes, among other places, however, businesses can require them if they want to (I highly doubt that any will, though).

The bigger news is that on April 4 government vaccine mandates for many workers will end, “except for health and disability, aged care, corrections and border workforces.” In practice, this means that teachers, police and Defence Force personnel will no longer need to be vaccinated, since those people are employed by the government. Private businesses will be allowed to continue their vaccine mandates if they have a reason to, though many businesses are keeping their mandates for now.

All of this is happening because Omicron has changed the game, and because after two years of restrictions, people are weary of them and already beginning to ignore the rules. For example, over the past couple weeks, every time I’ve gone somewhere I’ve been the only one scanning the QR code. By relaxing some rules, the government is effectively making it easier—and more likely—that people will keep doing what unequivocally helps: Wearing masks indoors, maintaining physical distancing inside, and gathering outside, rather than inside, whenever possible.

All of this is possible because more than 95% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, in addition to the fact it’s estimated that NZ has had 1.7 million actual Covid 19 infections (not merely the 500,000 officially reported). This gives us a strong base of people with resistance to the virus. At the same time, it’s believed that New Zealand has passed the peak of the Omicron wave, and that alone means that the need for restrictions is receding.

However, Covid is far from “over” and new variants will emerge, some of which could be more dangerous. That’s the reason the government is keeping the “traffic light” system in place. The Prime Minister urged everyone, “Don’t remove the (Covid Tracer) app from your phone just yet,” because new variants may require it again.

And that’s where we are: Things are easing considerably over the next ten days or so, and may yet ease more: On April 4, the government will review our traffic light setting and may move the country to Orange, which would be welcome (I think that’s pretty likely to happen).

The thing about Covid that seems the most obvious is that change is constant. I think New Zealand’s impending changes are good ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A mini-project that wasn’t (yet)

I’ve always had projects, going back decades, really. Some are big, most aren’t, some take a long time to finish, some don’t. But it’s kind of rare for one to go away because it became unnecessary. That’s what just happened.

Yesterday, I ended a post with what I thought was my final foreshadowing of a topic I’d be explaining in greater detail "soon". In the closing paragraph to that post, I said:
“Right now, though, I need to haul myself out to the lounge to take on another part of a mini-project, and that, too, relates to recent blog posts. It’s the circle of blogging, or something.”
That project was about what I call the "Android Box”, which I said in my post about the storm yesterday, “receives and decodes the digital UHF TV signals” from the aerial. I said in that post, and also in my post last Thursday about the changes to our television channels, that the Android Box was its own topic.

Ever since the storm a few weeks ago, my TV reception hasn’t been good, although it was better after I replaced the aerial and internal splitter. I said yesterday that “it seems obvious to me, I need a signal amplifier”, but that was merely one possibility at the time. There was a also a possibility that the there was something wrong with the transmission itself, something I thought might be improved by the impending channel changes. But another possibility was that the Android Box itself had a fault.

The problem was, how could I tell what the problem was? There was one channel, Choice TV, that I couldn’t get at all: There was either nothing at all, or it was very badly pixelated, like when a storm interrupts the satellite signal for NZ's broadcast pay TV service, Sky TV. Pixelation was also an intermittent problem on TV One. This last one was something I was pretty sure an amplifier would fix.

To test the faulty Android Box theory, I hooked the aerial directly to my TV, but it couldn’t tune in more than a handful of the channels. That suggested an amplifier was needed. I next hooked the aerial up to our original Freeview receiver/DVR, but that was still tuned for use at the old house (different transmitters). I was able to get it to check for channels using buttons on the machine, but that was it: I didn’t have the remote and couldn’t do anything else, including trying to change a channel. I still have no idea where the remote is.

So: At the end of my initial tests, I still couldn’t rule anything in or out, but I decided to put off buying a new signal amplifier until after the channel realignment. That change began Monday night and finished sometime in the early hours of the morning. The storms yesterday delayed my tests with the new alignment (because I’d disconnected the aerial), and doing that after the weather cleared is what I hauled myself into the lounge to do.

After having the Android Box scan for TV and radio stations available, I went through the channels one at a time. While the EPG (“Electronic Programming Guide” was wrong a lot, all the channels worked—and I mean all of them. Choice TV’s successor channel, eden, was fine, but so was the channel at Choice’s old channel position. So, too, were all the god channels and Chinese channels I couldn’t get (though I didn’t care about any of them), and also returning were the formerly missing radio channels, Parliament TV, and, possibly importantly, the channel that carries Juice TV, NZ’s only remaining free-to-air video music channel. All were fine, all were present. This suggests that the transmission itself was the problem.

Which is not to say that everything is now perfect: TV One still sometimes pixelates, so it looks like I do still need a signal amplifier. There’s another problem with the Android Box: I can’t watch YouTube videos on it anymore, not since the App signed me out and I can’t sign back in. The Box’s remote has no keyboard, as most don’t, and if I encounter a field where I have to enter something (like a username and password), clicking on the field is supposed to bring up a way to click on the letters, etc., needed to fill in the field. It’s slow, tedious, and annoying, but it works—or, it used to work. Maybe a software revision will fix that? Maybe adding a different remote will work?

So, I’ve had to start using the YouTube App on my Apple TV to watch their videos on TV, and that involves switching devices, and that’s an annoying extra step, especially if I want to see what's on broadcast TV. Right now, there’s not much I can to about it.

What all of this means is that, for now, I don’t need to replace the Android Box, though I still want to find the remote for the other device, partly “just in case”. Also, I still need the signal amplifier, I think, but that’s not urgent. And because of all that, the mini-project I was talking about is, for now, cancelled. TV watching works, even if I sometimes have to take extra steps to get there.

Lucky for me, it’s not like I have a shortage of other projects to work on.

Monday, March 21, 2022

A blog version of a ‘haul’ video

I watch a lot of YouTube Channels across a lot of types, genres, fields, etc. While there’s no single unifying factor in my choices, the most common thing would be an engaging or entertaining host. Among them are “lifestyle vloggers”, for lack of a better description, which includes many gay and gay-friendly hosts who are so chipper that they provide a welcome antidote to much of the negativity I run across on news and political Channels (which I also watch).

This was on my mind because yesterday I was getting ready to put away the stuff I bought on my outing to Mitre 10 (etc.) last week. All the stuff was still together, and as I looked at it I realised that some of those vloggers would do a “haul” video of such a collection of newly purchased stuff, basically, a kind of “show and tell”.

I don’t make YouTube videos right now (and may never do so again), so it wasn’t that I was thinking that I could make such a video. Instead, I was just kind of amused by the thought that I could—until I realised that I could come up with a way to do a blog version of a “haul video”. This, then is that attempt.

This blog idea is actually nothing new for me: I’ve frequently posted photos of some tech thing I’ve bought, sometimes in some state of undress—sorry, unboxing. Back in September 2020, I talked about my compost bin and showed photos of the box and once it was opened, saying in the caption, “this is as close to an ‘unboxing’ post as I'm likely to get.” That was literally true—I’ve never done an “unboxing” post—but I’ve come pretty close, photographically, at least.

This time, I’m skipping such a reserved approach. So, as so many YouTubers like to say, that being said, let’s get into it (I wanted to add a layer of authenticity).

The photo above is everything I bought at Mitre 10 Mega that day, apart from hand sanitiser I keep in my car.

In the background is a new laundry basket, which was actually the one thing I intended to buy at Mitre 10 that day (mine had irreparably broken a couple days earlier). This particular one is a brand called Sistema, which was founded in Cambridge (about a half hour south of Hamilton) in 1987. In 2017, company founder Brendan Lindsay sold Sistema to American giant Newell Brands. As part of the sale, Newell Brands agreed to keep manufacturing the products in New Zealand for 20 years. I also remember reading that they also agreed to provide lifetime employment to Lindsay’s first employee.

So, for now, the BPA- and Phthalate-free plastic products are New Zealand made, though foreign owned; I always choose NZ-made when possible. In this case, the basket was about 50% more expensive than the cheapest one (made in Thailand), but cheaper than some others (I didn’t consider them, so I didn’t look at where they were made). The one I bought is also far more robust than the cheapest basket, or the one that broke (a roughly 20 year old one that was also made in New Zealand, by a different company).

The other things in the “haul” are pretty simple.

Leaning up against the right side of the basket is a trigger that can be put onto a can of spraypaint. I saw similar ones used on furniture makeover and some decoration Channels I watch, and had never seen them in NZ—until last week. Basically, they make it easier to paint with a can of spraypaint, making it work more like a paint gun. I have several things I need to paint, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works.

Leaning horizontally against the basket is a telescoping magnetic stick that makes it easier to pick up screws, etc., that have been dropped. This, too, is something I saw on furniture makeover Channels. Anything that can reduce how much I have to bend over is a very good thing these days (Nigel and I bought a magnetised metal tray that screws are put into so they won’t fall all over the place before they’re needed).

Moving forward from the telescoping magnetic stick is a tool with curved picks on each end. This particular tool is used to remove O rings (like from a motor), however, I’ll use it when I’m refinishing furniture to clean out grooves, particularly when I use paint stripper. Many years ago (seven? More?) Nigel and I saw a set of dental instrument-like picks at a home centre on Auckland’s North Shore. He joked about buying them so he could do the periodontal work I needed. I’ve never seen them in New Zealand since. This tool will be good enough for now.

To the right of that is a set of foam earplugs for when I’m using power tools. I already bought safety glasses, replacing a pair that was cheap and nasty (and probably thrown away) and one that wasn’t a lot better; the ones I bought are good quality, but not top of the line). I think the conventional earphone-like hearing protection would be too hot, so I thought I’d try these first.

Finally, at the bottom of the photo, is the ruler I bought (I’d already returned the one I hadn’t paid for). As with everything else in this “haul”, I haven’t used the ruler yet, but will soon.

And that’s it. Not exactly a big “haul”, but I’ve seen some YouTubers who could make a video about this stuff last 15-20 minutes. Mind you, I suppose a slow reader might have the same time commitment with this post?

This time, I’m not going to daringly (recklessly?) declare I won’t do a “haul” again, which would be similar to what I said about not doing an “unboxing” post. One just never knows, really, especially because when I talk about my projects, talking about anything special I needed to do or buy is kind of part of it. So, maybe a “haul-lite” part of future posts?

Mainly, this whole post was intended as a bit of fun. My teasing YouTubers in this post is done with affection (I love watching their videos, obviously), and respect (I don’t make any videos about anything, yet they do videos one to several times a week). If I ever did make a “haul video” it would, no doubt, poke just as much fun at myself.

Right now, though, I need to haul myself out to the lounge to take on another part of a mini-project, and that, too, relates to recent blog posts. It’s the circle of blogging, or something.