Thursday, June 30, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 366 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 366, “Expected results”, 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.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A chicken soup surprise

Everything’s expensive these days, including things that are vital, like, food. Obviously, how expensive things are, and how much rising costs affect us will vary depending on our situation. Recently, I decided to look a little more deeply into my own food costs. It never hurts to be armed with knowledge.

On Monday of last week, made chicken soup again (photo at left), something I’m getting pretty good at. I talked about the soup I make back in October, and I really had no reason to talk about it again—apart from the whole “yes, but it’s content” thing. That changed when I decided to work out how much the meal costs me to make. I honestly don’t know why I don’t do that all the time, especially if I’m sharing a recipe.

In my post last year, I gave the bare-bones (so to speak…) recipe, although, in fact, it’s more a method than a specific recipe. So, I decided to quantify what I put into my latest effort (admittedly, some of it was merely a guess) so that I could price the ingredients on the supermarket website that I typically order groceries from. I was surprised.

Here’s what’s in the recipe, the unit cost, and the amount used, and actual cost:

Fresh chicken drumsticks: $6/kg, 1.2kg used: $7.20. Frozen Peas & Corn: $4.30/500g bag, 200g used: $0.86. Frozen Spinach: $2.30/500g bag, 50g used: $0.23. Fresh Carrots: $3/1.5kg bag, 200g used: $0.40. Egg Noodles: $3 per packet, half the packet used: $1.50.

That’s a total of $10.19 (today, around US$6.45), and would mean it’d be $3.40 per person if three people were fed, or $2.55 per person if four people were fed. I admit I ate quite a lot the first night, and still had quite a lot leftover for the next day’s lunch, so it could easily feed four people, especially if two of them were children (in which case there might even still be leftovers). I had no idea the meal was so inexpensive to make.

If I was going to make a larger batch—well, I’d need a bigger pot first, but if I got one, then I could feed a large number of people for not much more. For example, I could buy low-salt chicken stock from the supermarket (1 litre packs range from $3.50 for the store’s own brand up to $4 or $5.30 for name brands). Or, I could buy a few more chicken legs, or I could add more vegetables and noodles, since they’re cheaper than chicken.

The point is, there are are options I could use to stretch the meal inexpensively. In reality, if I had the family round, I wouldn’t be skimping, however, if I wanted to make my own food dollars go farther, it’s certainly something I could do.

And that was the lesson I took from this: Like most people, I need to be frugal with my spending, including on food, but to do that I first need to know how much things cost. That led me to a realisation: If I’m going to be talking on this blog about food recipes I’m trying out, why not include costs? That’s really for me, to be honest, because some dishes would probably be cheaper (and possibly better…) to buy ready-made from takeaway shops (like Indian food, for example) than to make it at home. I can’t know that, though, if I don’t work out the costs.

One drawback is that the prices will change over time, but that’ll at least give some idea of how cost-effective it is to make a particular recipe (and changing the unit price would make it easy enough to re-calculate). It never hurts to be armed with knowledge, especially these days.

That, and I enjoy a bit of chicken soup every now and then. Saving money is a nice bonus, though.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Was it worth it?

The solar power system at my house has now been running for 12 full months. That leads to an obvious question: After a year living with the system, was installing it worth it? The short answer is, “yes, absolutely,” but the story, and why I say that, is complicated. It’s so complicated, in fact, that it’s taken me quite a long time to get this post completed.

First, though, a reminder of why I did this at all.

When I had the system installed, my motivation was simple: I wanted to tread more lightly on the planet, especially so that the technology I use and love wouldn’t take electricity from the national power grid. This reflects the values that Nigel and I shared, though for this particular one he wanted to use a wind turbine, something I knew was too problematic in the urban environment where I now live. At the time he died, Nigel was researching how to build a battery powerwall, which he definitely could’ve done, and we were planning to move somewhat more rural so we could have a wind turbine. In my new reality, it was clear that solar power was the best solution for me. All of that—and especially the fact that installing the system matched the values and goals that Nigel and I shared—is why I can say that yes, absolutely, installing it was worth it.

Next, some background: While the system itself included items the installer offered at special prices, it wasn’t subsidised in any way whatsoever: There were no tax breaks, and no power company offered any subsidy (none of them ever have). However, as part of the installation package, I switched to an electricity provider that gave me larger credits per kWh of electricity that I generate and send to the power grid (every other other company at that time paid less, sometimes dramatically so). In a sense, that’s a kind of subsidy, however, even at that higher rate, the electricity company still sells the power they “buy” from me at a much higher rate than what they credit my account with (they don’t actually pay me any money). Also, I have no ongoing costs, like loan servicing or anything else. So, the system was installed, switched on, and that was that. The last part of the system was installed in late May 2021, and so, the entire systems wasn’t up and running until the June 2021 billing month.

With all that out of the way, it’s time to talk money. The most common way that people look at the financial cost/benefit of such systems is to compare apples to apples: What would my power bill be if I didn’t have solar panels on the roof? That’s easy to see through the bills, but it's not even almost the complete story. Still, it’s a good place to start.

Over the first 12 months that the completed system was installed, I would've paid at least (I’ll come back to the “at least” part soon) $1,677.48 if I didn’t have the solar panels. However, my account received $746.97 in credits for the electricity my panels sent to the power grid, which was roughly 44% of the total I’d have paid without the panels. Looking at that another way, without the solar panels, my electricity bill would’ve averaged out at 139.79 per month, as opposed to the $77.54 that the monthly bills actually averaged out to (in reality, some winter months were much higher than the average, and summer months were much lower).

From a purely financial perspective, then, it would seem that the panels don’t create a large, obvious financial return. After all, at that rate it would take some 19 years before I’d break even (ignoring depreciation). However, appearances are deceiving.

Much—even most—of the positive financial aspect is invisible, and here’s why: The bills from the electricity company contain charges for the amount of electricity I buy from them, minus credit for the electricity I send to them, and that’s what I’ve just been discussing. However, the power from the solar panels that I use as it’s made is free—no one charges me for that.

This means that the credits I get from the electricity company for the electricity I send to them are for what’s leftover after I’ve used solar power to run the house. None of that power (called “self-consumption”, which sounds weird…) is tracked by the power company, of course, but I can look at charts produced by the “smart inverter” that runs the solar power system. On a sunny day, the power I need to run my house comes entirely from the solar power system AND I send some to the electricity company. In summer, when the weather is usually sunny and there are more daylight hours, that can mean sending a substantial amount of electricity to the power company on top of what I use. At night, it’s the opposite, and on dark, rainy, or heavily cloudy days, especially in winter, it’s mixed. When all of my household power needs are supplied by my solar power system, as it is on every sunny day and many cloudy ones, I’m 100% self-sufficient.

This self-consumption is the part that some people often overlook when calculating the true financial benefit from a solar power system. The electricity company charges me 27.35¢ per kWh for the power I buy from them, but they only credit me at 16¢ per kWh for the power I send to the grid. So, every kWh of self-consumed power saves me the equivalent of 11.35¢ per kWh. That hidden financial benefit is significant.

Let’s put some numbers into that. Normally, I’d get the actual production data from the smart inverter, but I can’t: There was a problem with it last year, and it didn’t report data from late June 2021 to late November 2021 (there were Covid Lockdowns in that period and, frankly, I was busy and just didn’t notice for a long time), so a LOT of the data is missing. Also, the inverter records data by calendar month, while my electricity is billed around the 22nd of the month—not a perfect match, in other words, but if I had data for the full 12 months I could work out the annual financial benefit from self-consumption.

Here’s what I DO know: I know for sure that that I saved $487.16 through self-consumption in the seven months of November 2021 through May 2022, and that’s money that I would’ve paid to the electricity company if I didn’t have the solar power system—remember, that self-consumption is power I actually used and would’ve used with or without the solar panels. That works out to an average savings of $69.59 a month for those seven months. If I use that amount for the whole 12 months, it would mean a savings of more than $800 for those 12 months—more than the credits I got on my power bill. In fact, using power through self-consumption while still sending some to the grid means that it’s at least possible, and probably likely, that my true savings on power over the first 12 months was actually at least as much as what I actually paid. Let me say that again: Using as much of the power I’m generating as I can, and sending the rest to the power grid, means my actual power costs without the solar power system would have been roughly double what I actually paid: $1,677.48 (before credits) for the year is way better than paying some $3200! It also means that I’ll reach the break-even point (again, ignoring depreciation) in half the amount of time.

This is difficult to grasp—it has been for me, anyway. I understand that I’m billed for the electricity I buy from the power company, an amount reduced by the power I send to the grid. The solar power that I use to run my house—the largely hidden savings from self-consumption—is power that I would otherwise buy from the power company, but I don’t need to, and until I started work on this analysis, it never occurred to me to account for it. And that’s why the actual savings are much better than what it looks like when looking only at power bills, as I always used to do.

Obviously I’d say that yes, absolutely, it was worth it to install the solar power system, because that would’ve been true regardless of the financials: This was always mainly about living my values. However, when you look at the totality of those financials, it makes financial sense for me, too. Living our values doesn’t have to mean losing money in the process.

This post has been about my own experience with solar power, something I did as a values-based decision and not a money-based one. The are ways to make the financial side better (or worse…), but for me, being able to live my values while also getting any financial benefit at all? Yes, definitely worth it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Little project, big surprise

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a project that seems small, one that’s not terribly interesting—or it could even seem boring to some, especially if I start explaining what I’ve been working on. I also can’t take photos of any results to show what I’ve been doing. Basically, this is not the sort of thing that works well for social media. Until now.

The project is this: I’ve been going through all Nigel’s music files that were on his server, combining them with my own music files, and then organising them. We had a lot of the same music because we ripped all our CDs to audio digital files, however, I had some he didn’t and he had some that I didn’t. In many cases that was because we bought digital music, but much if it was because I either didn’t have all the tracks from the CDs we ripped (no idea why not), and sometimes he’d re-reripped a CD at a higher bitrate (better quality). So, it’s wasn’t a case of simply copying the files over.

This is part of a larger project: I’m going through all the files on his server, transferring any I want to keep so I can shut down his server and erase the hard drives. Then, I’ll do the same with his computer itself. I simply couldn’t bring myself to do any of that until recently.

To be completely honest, this has been thoroughly boring work (mainly because I had to methodically check everything, and get it properly organised. Still, it requires very little physical energy, and that meant it was a good option for something to work on.

I finished copying all the files I’d found (at that point—there are more files in various places), and the next step was to start organising the many miscellaneous files. And then I made a big discovery: I discovered that Nigel had kept recordings of all (I think?) of the “The Third Colony” streaming radio shows we did a bit more than ten years ago. Most of the recordings are two hours long, and they’re radio shows, so more music than talk, BUT, there’s plenty of banter between us, and that gave me the warm fuzzies.

Today, I found one more broadcast recording on his computer. I think that there could be recordings of shows we did on his “Farpoint Radio” streaming station, something he started up after “The Third Colony” ended. If he kept the recordings of the one, it seems unlikely he’d have discarded the others. Finger crossed, and all that.

I can’t share the recordings of those shows because they have copyrighted music; they were streamed using appropriate licensing, however, I don’t have a license to share those recordings in any way. And, in any case, the recordings were never intended for sharing: They’re created automatically by the software that connects to the streaming server. I have plenty of my own from the live podcasts I used to do on Pride 48.

Actually, because of my podcast, I already had some of my own recordings of Nigel, ones that can be shared. He was a guest on my AmeriNZ Podcast several times, and I re-shared and talked about his first two guest slots in two blog posts last year. The first the end of January, followed by the second in a couple weeks later. I always intended on doing a longer post about about all of his appearances, most of which were on live shows and often quite long, but I kind of forgot about that until I found the radio sho recordings.

I suppose one could argue that the recordings of those streaming shows won’t be all that “useful” to me: They radio shows, with only some talking. But those were fun to do, and it’ll be fun for me to hear them again. I think they’d be good to play in the background while I work on something else, like one of my more physical projects. Same with the live episodes of my podcast, actually—they were quite long, too. But that’s not really the point. What matters about this is that whenever I want to, I can listen to Nigel talk, laugh, and joke, and to me, that’s more awesome and valuable than I could possibly express.

I have lots of projects on the go, big, small, and in between. Everyone once in awhile, though, one of my projects will produce something extraordinary, and this one did exactly that. The project may not be sort of thing that works well for social media, but the reason that it matters so much to me certainly is.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Thursday throttling

This past Thursday provided to be a challenge, but that evening/night even more so. It made me more determined than ever to make changes.

This past Thursday, I had a dental hygienist appointment. I knew it was in June, “the twenty-somethingth”, but hadn’t remembered specifically until I got the reminder text from the dental practice. As I said on my personal Facebook, that morning, “I’m not even remotely into it.” I knew I couldn’t cancel the appointment because that I wouldn’t be able to get a new one for at least six months—maybe as much as eight—which would only make matters worse. As I half-jokingly put it on Facebook:
That’d be too long, especially since I’m sure she’ll need the industrial-grade scrapers and grinders as it is. No doubt mining drills would be needed if I put it off that long.
The issue is, as it has been for quite some time, the extreme fatigue I’ve been dealing with for the past several months, something I talked about a little a month ago today. Because of that, I sometimes simply didn’t have enough energy to use the small interdental brushes I’m supposed to use every night (in addition to ordinary brushing). I felt certain that there’d be a lot of cleaning needed, and it was that I was dreading the most (the discomfort mainly, but the hygienist is so nice that I also felt a little guilty about not doing my part).

It turned out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—maybe my diligence using those tiny brushes before the fatigue set in made a difference? In any event, it went well, and I made my next appointment for six months and also an appointment for my annual check up with my dentist, one right after the other, so only one trip, which is a bonus.

After that, I went and ran a couple errands, and headed back home. And that’s when everything changed.

About an hour or so after I got home, I started feeling yucky, with a bit of a headache and “flulike symptoms”, and no, it wasn’t the plague: Thursday was the first time I’d been out and about in around two or three weeks, and one doesn’t catch Covid and develop symptoms all within a couple hours, anyway. I thought to myself that all that picking and scraping and grinding at and below my gum line probably released a bunch of bacteria into my system. Still, the paracetamol I took helped. I took some more before I went to bed.

Around 4:30am, I woke up and felt absolutely awful. I got up to pee and to take some more paracetamol. I started shivering like nothing I’ve experienced for many, many years. I felt so very cold, and I put on a pair of track pants, a sweatshirt, and threw an extra blanket on the bed. Leo snuggled up close, too. I gradually warmed up.

Any problem with my health always gives me pause, because I’m alone (although, Leo really did help that night). However, I knew that having been a “hermit” for a some weeks meant I couldn’t have caught anything, and, anyway, if I went to get checked out I’d have to wait around 8 hours (or more—due to extra long waiting times) to be seen, so I felt staying home and trying to sleep was the best option. I was right. I slept a lot, and felt better in the morning, though tired all day because of the ordeal.

What was weird about it, aside from how it seemed to have come out of nowhere, is that my temperature was normal: I didn’t have a fever (I checked, of course). The shivering could have been caused by my body attempting to raise its temperature in order to fight off infection, including from bacteria.

Whatever that was all about, it passed nearly as quickly as it showed up. I think I may have been more susceptible to such things because of that constant deep fatigue I’ve been dealing with, something I think is being caused by the blood pressure medication I was changed to (because the manufacturer of my old drug discontinued it). I’ll be switching to a different prescription next month, something I’m hoping will fix the problem. If not, there are plenty more to try.

I began the new blood pressure medicine in August, and the first few days were utter hell. I started another drug, a diuretic, at the same time, and that drug definitely caused problems of its own. The thing is, what I was feeling and experiencing in the time after that was confused and conflated because there were several different, recently-changed prescription drugs, and things kept changing with Covid Lockdowns and other things. So, in a sense, I never really had a chance to work out what was happening or what the cause was.

We’ve now had months with little change, and no change to the prescriptions. It was early April when my energy levels crashed, and they never came back. My diet is pretty much the same, Leo is well, I (mostly) stay home by choice, not requirement, and am healthy, even if I don’t feel great. By process of elimination, the mostly likely culprit is the blood pressure medication. In the past, doctors have noted my complaints of fatigue, but haven’t really done much to deal with that. Now that it seems to be the cause of my fatigue, maybe they will? In any case, it’s also given me a dry cough, and that’s reason enough for them to try giving me a different drug.

The important thing, then, is that this has been an issue I’ve been dealing with for months, and it’s made my life difficult—but no more: I’m going to push and keep pushing until I find a solution that helps me feel better. Maybe the weirdness last week was the push I needed, a bit of steel to reinforce the strength of my resolve. I don’t know where this is heading, but, frankly, even a small change would be a huge change.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2022

20 years a citizen

Twenty years ago yesterday, on June 10, 2002, I became a citizen of New Zealand (the graphic above is what I shared on my personal Facebook yesterday). This one of those anniversaries that recall significant events in my life, but that I seldom talk about. Two decades demands some sort of acknowledgement, though, so here we are.

I first talked in some detail about that 2002 day back in 2014, and about a lot of related issues in other posts (a list is at the bottom of this post). I feel that I’ve pretty much said all I need to, but there’s one more aspect, the future, specifically, What now?!

In the time since Nigel died, I realised that I don’t feel “at home” anywhere: He was my home in an existential sort of sense. In a physical sense, however, I’ve lived in New Zealand so long now—it’ll be 27 years in around five months—that this place is quite literally home. The reality is that after so many years away from the USA, the land of my birth feels like a foreign country—actually, far too often it seems like an alien planet.

Over the past couple years, especially with all that time on my hands during various Covid Lockdowns, I thought, more or less idly, about moving back to the USA. I wondered what I would do, how I would fit in as, essentially, an immigrant in my own native land. I even scrolled a real estate website to see what I could buy in Chicago if I sold up everything here.

Obviously, it was never serious thinking, nor was I even remotely considering it. I was simply thinking through various “what ifs”, and this one was no more serious than, say, “what if I’d been born into royalty?” I knew the fundamental truth, namely, that as Nigel put it shortly before he died, I make a better a Kiwi than I do an American. Too much time has passed, and too much has changed, including me.

That means, then, that I expect to live the rest of the years of my life here in New Zealand because I belong here. That implies, of course, that I’m no longer part of the USA, which is, at the very least, literally true: I haven’t been “part of” the USA physically since 1995 (which is precisely why it feels so foreign to me now). But as we grow apart, as I grow older, and as events there make my homeland utterly unrecognisable to me, I suspect there may well come a day when I could be permanently separated, particularly if a more hostile regime comes to power in the future—and how could I possibly rule out that prospect when I can no longer say it’d be impossible?

The last time I talked about this particular anniversary, back in 2017, I said, “For the first time in my life, I’m profoundly grateful that I have a second passport.” That’s even truer now: If the USA really does collapse, I’m safe here and also have an already well-established life. However, that’s also true even if the USA manages to shake off the disease it caught in 2016 and repair itself.

These are all things I think about nowadays as I try to work out who and what I am in this strange and unexpected life I now find myself moving through. It’s actually quite exhausting. However, while I may not yet know where and how I fit in now or in the future, 20 years ago I cemented my place in New Zealand. So, whatever my future holds, and regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen), this place is clearly home.

And that’s really why this anniversary is still so important.

Some photos from the evening of June 10, 2002:

In this photo, I’m shaking the hand of George Wood, then the Mayor of the former North Shore City (now part of Auckland), and next I’d shake the hand of Diane Hale, who was Deputy Mayor of North Shore City.

Nigel took this photo of me right after the ceremony. I’m flanked by George Wood and Diane Hale. The two military people at either end are Warrant Officers from the Royal New Zealand Navy, who formed the honour guard.

Related posts:

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Leo is five

Today isn’t just the first day of meteorological winter in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s also something far more important: Today is Leo’s fifth birthday. This year is yet another first birthday without a family member, and now it’s the fourth in a row: 2019 was his first birthday without his sister, Bella, 2020 was his first birthday since we lost his other daddy, 2021 was his first birthday since we lost his sister, Sunny, and this year it’s the first since we lost Jake. I can’t even guess whether he’s aware of any of that, but he does still sniff the collars that Sunny and Jake wore, just not necessarily every day any more.

Today, Leo wasn’t really into having an official birthday portrait taken, so I grabbed what I could, and the two photos are up top. The left photo is was passed for an official photo, and the second one is of him under the table next to my chair, a place he often likes to sleep in the evening while I’m watching TV.

Before his birthday festivities (like special meals and extra treats), there was something to be taken care of: He desperately needed a haircut, just like back in 2020, but this time I managed to get him groomed before his birthday: Yesterday I took him to a groomer (before and after photos are at the bottom of this post). It took months to get this organised, mostly because of delays of various kinds—especially not being able to find a groomer. However, I also was very uneasy about the whole thing precisely because of all the loss over the past three years. Naturally, everything was fine.

Leo’s still such a happy little guy, although every time he gets groomed he’s manic, and a bit neurotic, for several days afterward, I have no idea why, but this has been the case ever since he came to liove with us. I hoping that I’ll be able to keep his fur under control so maybe he won’t have to have traumatic grooming experiences, or, not as often, at least.

He also still loves to sleep on my lap, and he’s been doing it since we got home yesterday, so he seems to have forgiven me for taking him to the groomer. Well, maybe he’s just forgiven me a bit.

He’s really a good companion, and certainly keeps me entertained much of the time. He really is a good boy—most of the time—and that’s an old family joke that Nigel and I would say about many of our furbabies over the years. Some things don’t change, after all.

Happy Fifth Birthday, Leo!


Leo is four – 2021
Leo is three – 2020
Leo is two – 2019
Leo is one year old – 2018
Another new addition
All blog posts tagged “Leo” – All the posts I’ve talked about him

Left: Before we left for his haircut, and back in the car afterward, right.