Wednesday, May 31, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 383 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 383, “Crabby jabby”, 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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Tooth scraping and a sore arm

This morning was my twice-yearly teeth scraping. I added on two other stops to complete the day. And my arm was sore when I was done.

The visit with the dental hygienist wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected—which isn’t to suggest it was “good”, just not as bad as I’d thought it would be. The dental practice is located in a medical complex that includes a pharmacy, and that’s where I got my last Covid booster back in August. This time, I got my annual influenza vaccination and also the bivalent Covid booster vaccination.

The vaccinations were beginning to become critical: Winter starts on Thursday (June 1), and that means colder weather and more illness of all sorts will abound. I’m considered at higher risk for potentially bad outcomes from two diseases if I were to catch them: Influenza and Covid.

Influenza isn’t what lots of people call “the flu”, which is often just a bad cold. Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory system that can cause life-threatening Illness, especially among people deemed at higher risk. Influenza vaccines are free for people 65 and older (and Māori and Pacific Island people over 55), along with people at higher risk—like me.

The reason I get a free influenza vaccination at my extraordinarily young age of 64 is that my ischaemic heart disease (aka coronary artery disease), especially combined with hypertension, puts me at risk. The vaccine we get immunised against multiple strains of the virus based on scientists’ best guess on what strains we’re likely to see in New Zealand, and that’s based in part on what the Northern Hemisphere had in its recent winter.

The Covid vaccine now available is the bivalent, which boosts protection from the original strains in NZ, plus immunises against the newer, more communicable strains (easier to catch, but less serious, apparently). The qualifications for the jab I got today include the person being over 30 or at higher risk (like me). It’s also available after at least six months since a Covid booster shot or positive test result. This was my fifth Covid jab.

The reason I got the vaccinations is partly what I was talking about in my post about getting leg cramp the other day: It’s the sheer terror I can (and do) feel when facing the possibility of a serious health challenge alone. I wasn’t like this when Nigel was alive—of course—and so far it’s mainly been fear of the unknown, what could happen. To be fair, I worry about sudden heart problems (as in, needing to call an ambulance serious) or a serious accident far more than I worry about some possible disease I may never catch. Even so, having to face a big health challenge alone is, for me, one if the worst things about being a widower.

To deal with that, I essentially try to minimise risk. First, I do my best to eat a more or less healthy plant-centred diet (which is why I normally eat little meat, apart from some chicken and occasional fish, which is the sort of diet my various GPs have always recommended for me. Second, I’m always really careful when I work on any projects where I could get badly hurt. I find that extremely challenging because my lack of focus makes it hard to be truly mindful of what I’m doing in a particular moment. Still, it’s worked so far. The third thing is to keep myself fully vaccinated.

For the first time in my life, being an introvert is an advantage in all this: I don’t like being around crowds of strangers (they exhaust me), so I avoid unnecessary trips to the shops (for example, I make one trip to a home centre to pick up several things, rather than lots of trips for just one thing at a time). This allows me to minimise my possible exposure to infected people—not eliminate, obviously, just minimise.

Beyond that, I can monitor my “vitals”, so I should be able to detect a problem as it develops, while I can still act. None of that takes away the fear caused by the worry I may need to face a health crisis alone, but managing risk certainly makes it easier to live with.

While I was at the chemist, I asked the pharmacist about a supplement to help me ward off leg cramp. He said they recommend magnesium, and in talking with him he suggested I take a time-release formulation and at dinner to maximise my protection overnight. He also said I’d need to give it a month to see if it helps, but I hardly ever get leg cramp, so… maybe I won’t actually know? Maybe it’s be a realisation, “huh—I haven;t had leg cramp in years”. I can work with that.

When I was done, I popped into the nearby supermarket on my way home.

I got home midday-ish, had lunch, then did a few things, but then I started to feel a bit poorly, kind of like after my first or second Covid jab (I forget which). I took a long nap and felt better afterward, but I still took paracetamol (as recommended) along with drinking lots of water. By early evening, I had a really sore arm. They can do both shots in one arm if we want, and I chose that so I can sleep on my other side (I mostly sleep on my right side), but, ouchies!

So far, so good—though it’s still possible I may have a bad reaction like I did back in August. That time, the worst of the lot, made me feel so awful I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get another jab, though this one isn’t the same as the last one, and there’s been more time between them than there was before the one back in August.

Basically, my survival instincts outweighed my desire to avoid feeling sick, and maybe this will work out fine. I should know in the morning.

As long as I don’t feel sick in the middle of the night this time, a sore arm is probably an acceptable trade-off.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Dark sunless hours

The video above was on 1News last night, and I can verify that we’ve had fewer “bright sunshine hours” in Hamilton so far this year than we had over the same period last year. I know that because more solar electricity production has been lower than last year, and that’s a direct result of less sunshine. In fact, a couple months ago, a published a post with charts that showed how I basically made no electricity during the Anniversary Weekend storms and Cyclone Gabrielle (charts near at the bottom of the linked post).

I was really glad to see that they were predicting a dryer winter this year—I haven’t been able to do much outside work so far this year, so maybe I can get caught up over winter?

There’s one other thing about the report, though: until today, I always thought the opposite of El Niño was La Nina, not La Niña. It’s possible that NZ broadcasters got it wrong in the past and, since I don’t speak Spanish, I didn’t know (I Googled it to find out).

Learning stuff is good. Right now, I think that drier weather is even better.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6

This week in 1983, a new song that hit Number One, and it would remain there for a month and a half: “Flashdance... What a Feeling” from the movie Flashdance, and performed by Irene Cara. While the movie wasn’t well received, this song won numerous awards: The Academy Award and Golden Globe for best song in a movie, and it was nominated for a BAFTA, too. The soundtrack album won the Grammy it in its category, too.

The music for the song was written by Giorgio Moroder, and the lyrics were written by Keith Forsey and Cara.

I very well remember that this song seemed to be everywhere when it was Number One. I liked it well enough—or, at least, I certainly didn’t dislike it. It's hard to work out which it was I thought before all the media saturation of that time. Mainly, thought, I was glad to hear Cara again after her performance on the title track to “Fame” only a few years earlier.

The video above is the “Official Video”, which is based on the opening credits of the movie. To me, it seems more like an ad for the movie than an actual music video, as is common enough for songs from movies (especially in that era). Sometimes that’s fine, but other times? Well, in this case, the song was clearly Cara’s, but she wasn’t in the film (unlike the 1980 film “Fame”, and she also had a hit with that film's title song), so obviously she wasn't in the "What A Feeling" video. To giver her due credit, I decided to include a video of her performing the song on the 1983 Labor Day MDA Telethon:

Cara was involved in a dispute over royalties, including from the song, because she felt she wasn’t being paid what she was entitled to, both for the song and for her first two solo albums. The dispute turned nasty, with Cara convinced that her record label and others in the industry were working to vilify and smear her, and she claimed to have been “virtually blacklisted”. After years of wrangling, in 1993 a jury awarded her $1.5 million for “misaccounted funds”, essentially, accounting mistakes that prevented her from getting the royalties she was entitled to. However, she’d sued corporations, not individuals, and the companies merely declared bankruptcy, claiming they’d spent all their funds on legal fees. It’s not clear if she ever received any of the award, but she did finally start receiving royalties for her work. She never again experienced the level of success she had before the lawsuit.

Irene Cara died in November of last year from arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease. She was 63. Until I researched this post, I had no idea that Cara was around two months younger than me. Cara’s co-writer of the lyrics for the song, Keith Forsey, is now 75, and Giorgio Moroder is now 83.

The song was certainly a success: It was Number One in on the “Billboard Hot 100” for six weeks, something that propelled it to Number 3 on Billboard’s 1983 year-end chart. In addition to being Number One, it was also certified Gold in the USA. It also hit Number One in Australia, Number One in Canada (2x Platinum), Number One in New Zealand, and Number 2 in the UK (Silver).

This series now takes another extended break, returning July 9 with the new song that hit Number One that week in 1983. In the meantime, feel free to “dance right through your life”.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5

More kitchen frugality

I’ve had more kitchen adventures, and they were successful. The adventures were based on recent ones, but began because of where I wanted it to end up. There’s a story there.

The photo up top is of a special dinner I made Wednesday night. I said on my personal Facebook:
Tonight’s dinner: Roast beef, with roasted potatoes, roasted onions, Nigel’s creamed spinach recipe, and corn and peas.

It started because Countdown had bolar roast on special and I haven’t even seen it on sale for, what? A couple years? A long time, anyway. So, I bought a small one. The potatoes were made using Jamie Oliver’s method (boil them a bit before roasting), though I roasted them in a separate pan because there wasn’t enough room in the pan with the roast and onions (they turn out better that way, anyway—crispy outside and fluffy inside). I added horseradish sauce and homemade gravy (not pictured). I have plans for the leftovers—stay tuned!
When I ordered the roast, I was thinking that I wanted to see how many meals I could make out if it, just as I did with the “frugal chicken” adventures. While Thursday night I had ordinary leftovers—basically, the same as the night before—but I had definite plans for Friday’s dinner: The final beef dinner was an homage to my mother’s beef and barley soup (photo at the bottom of this post).

The problem I had was that I don’t have her recipe—in fact, I don’t even know if she had one. I couldn’t find one online that I liked, so I improvised based on what I remember (from maybe 50 years ago!).

I cut up an onion, a couple carrots, a couple stalks of celery, and gently cooked it in some oil to soften it. I added some garlic, some dried thyme, then I added frozen veggies (maybe a cup or so—what was left in the bag). Once that had thawed a bit, I added the cubed last of the roast, heated that, then added a litre of store-bought stock, and a couple bay leaves. I simmered it about a half an hour, til it got up to temperature, then added a tin of chopped tomatoes.

I let the soup simmer around another half hour, then added 3/4 cup of rinsed pearl barley. I had the soup on a low simmer until the barley was cooked, which took more than an hour (about which, more in a minute).

The soup was really nice—hearty like a beef stew. Actually, one recipe I looked at said the soup is like a beef stew, “only wetter”, which made me laugh. My own beef stew—the family recipe—is quite different. I think the soup was like what my mother used to make, but the last time I had that was so very long ago that I can’t say with certainty. If it wasn’t just like it, it definitely was close enough.

What I liked about the adventure was that I felt confident enough to just wing it—though it’s actually not very complicated. The only thing I could’ve done differently was the barley: I used to cook with it all the time in the US, but I’ve never bought or used it in NZ. The packet said that soaking it for 6 to 8 hours (!) would shorten the cooking time substantially. If I make this again, I may try that.

The truth is, though, that wasn’t all about seeing how many meals I could get out of one roast: Making the soup was actually the whole reason I bought the roast in the first place—having the roast dinner was a bonus (and so was the dinner of reheated leftovers and a roast beef sandwich for lunch Friday). Saturday’s dinner was the last of the soup.

It’s difficult to work out how much the various meals cost—separately or combined—because they were all a mix of stuff I bought specially and things I had on hand (like frozen veggies), and even something I made, but not specifically for the project: I made bread in the breadmaker on Thursday.

However, I know the roast itself was $33.63, and I think it’s reasonable to guesstimate that the combined value of the loose potatoes I bought for the roast dinner ($4.46) and the stuff I had on hand already probably totalled around $10, which would make a total of $43.63. I’ll round that up to $45 (today, US$27.21). The roast dinner was enough for three people, and the soup probably was, too. Plus, there was the sandwich and leftovers. I’ll call that the equivalent of eight meals, which would make them $5.63 each (US$3.40).

Obviously, this is just a very rough approximation, and not just because a sandwich isn’t the equivalent of one of the larger meals. The point is to get an idea of how it compares to other meals I make, and $5.63 per meal isn’t bad at all—although, most of what I make is considerably cheaper. It was planning everything out that no doubt help keep costs down, and ensured there was no waste. The only part of the roast that I didn’t eat were the little bits I gave to Leo.

This was a good experience, and I’m glad I did it. I’ve now finally convinced myself that I really can “eat well for less” if I’m willing to invest a bit of time and energy in meal planning. That’s a good trade-off, I think.

There’s one more thing, though: When I see “pearl barley” in a recipe, the first thing I think of is Pearl Bailey. But when I actually go to cook with it, I start singing, “won’t you come home pearl barley, won’t you come home” (adapted from the 1902 song, many versions of which are on YouTube LISTEN,).

Don’t worry, Leo thinks it’s weird, too. I just bribed him with beef scraps to put up with it.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

A bad start and a truth

I had a very bad start to the day: I woke up suddenly with terrible leg cramp. Lots of “Ow! Ow! Ow!”, usually joined by the F word. I scared the crap out of Leo, who was also asleep when it began.

I struggled to get the covers off of me, as if they’d suddenly become tentacles gripping me forcefully. My solid lower leg needed my hands to push it off the bed, because all that leg’s energy seemed to be in the knot. My thigh wasn’t strong enough to lower my foot flat on the floor, and it took both hands to push my knee down. The cramp ended and the pain diminished as Leo looked on with a “WTF?” look on his face (in my imagination, anyway).

While all that was going on, the only thing I was thinking about was how Nigel would leap out of bed to help me whenever I got a leg cramp, sometimes grabbing my foot and gently straightening it, ending the cramp. He never got cramp as bad as I did, and when he (rarely) got cramp at all, he was always able to get up and walk it off. Mine have almost always been more intense, like this morning.

I haven’t had severe cramp, or much at all, since Nigel died, but every time I do, my first thought has always been of my missing rescuer. It takes something dramatic like that (or going into hospital to get part of my heart frozen…) to feel the cold terror that can accompany being a widower: After all those years with the one person on the planet who always had my back, who was always there when I needed him the most, I will feel his absence the most keenly when I face such moments alone. Looking after him and being there for him over all those years was just as important to me as it was for him to look out for me.

In the past, when I got cramp, I usually upped my intake of potassium (usually with bananas), which helped. But my current blood pressure medication is potassium-based, and I’m not even allowed to use a salt substitute because they’re also potassium-based and I might end up with too much in my system. Not sure of the strategy now.

The worst part at the moment (apart from having a sore leg) is that whenever this happens, I’m scared to go to bed the next night because there’s often—though not always—a repeat show. I hate severe pain, just as I hate traumatising Leo.

Still, there was a long list of things I needed to get done today. I resolved to put the fear and dread in the cabinet—though I wished I could remember where I put the key so I could lock them inside. I wished that I had my rescuer most of all.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 382 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 382, “Sun!”, 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, May 21, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5

This week we resume the Weekend Diversion: 1983 series with the song that hit Number One this week in 1983, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, which was Number One in the USA for one week on May 21, 1983. The song was released March 14, 1983, and was the first single from Bowie’s fifteenth studio album, also called Let’s Dance. It became the biggest-selling single of Bowie’s career.

Bowie wrote the song after switching from RCA Records to EMI, but it took on its final form only after working with Nile Rodgers, who’s probably nest known as co-founder of American group Chic.

The music video for “Let’s Dance” (above), was filmed in Australia and was praised as a commentary on the treatment of Aboriginal people. To me, it’s also a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of modern corporate capitalism. Portions of the video were shot in the outback Carinda Hotel, and the locals weren’t told a music video was being shot, so their reactions—including disapproving looks—were all genuine. Carinda is a town in the far north of the state of New South Wales in a mostly sheep-rearing area.

While in Australia, Bowie also filmed the video for “China Girl”, the second single from the Let’s Dance album, and its theme was also criticism of racism. The “China Girl” in the video is New Zealand model, actress, and restaurateur Geeling Ng. While “China Girl” was a Top Ten single in the USA, it was less successful than “Let’s Dance” (It reached Number 3 in New Zealand, though). Bowie originally co-wrote the song in Berlin with Iggy Pop.

I remember being uncomfortable about the video for “Let’s Dance” (and more so about the video for “China Girl”) because it seemed exploitative—something Bowie apparently thought about, too, because he gave himself a cameo in the “Let’s Dance” video as a factory manager—something I never noticed at the time or since, only finding it out when I was researching this post. Be that as it may, I bought the Let’s Dance album (on vinyl) when it was released, and I loved it.

In 1983, Bowie launched a world tour to support the Let’s Dance album. Dubbed “The Serious Moonlight Tour”, taking its name from a lyric in the “Let’s Dance” song, the tour included eight concerts in Australia and two in New Zealand during November 1983. The Auckland show, with 80-90,000 people at Western Springs, was one of the largest concerts ever held there. I’m pretty sure Nigel told me about going to the concert, though I’m not certain and don’t remember him saying which city or country. I do know, however, that the concert held in Vancouver on September 12, 1983 was filmed and released on video in 1984. Possibly as part of the promotion of the release, my partner at the time and I got tickets to a screening at a Chicago venue. I don’t remember much about that screening, except that it was a bar-like setting, not seated, making it kind of like a video bar.

I mention all this extra stuff about the Let’s Dance album because “Let’s Dance” was the only Number One single from that album, so I won’t get the chance to talk about any of this in a future post in this series. Oh, well.

On to chart performance: In the USA, “Let’s Dance” hit Number One in the USA (Gold), Number 2 in Australia, Number One in Canada (Platinum), Number One in New Zealand, and Number One in the UK (Platinum.

This series is back again next week with another Number One hit.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Quantifying control

I like data—which is pretty obvious, considering how often I talk about spreadsheets and why I make them. For reasons I don’t really understand, I find it easier to grasp some information if I make a spreadsheet with the data relating to whatever it is I’m trying to understand. To each their own?

As even my dodgy memory can attest, I used to publish an annual average of one blog post per day, something that used to matter to me more than it should’ve—right up until it didn’t. When Nigel died, I realised how utterly and completely unimportant it truly was.

Back in the before times, those halcyon days of yesteryear, there came a point at which I realised that I could make a spreadsheet to keep track of every blog post I published and have the spreadsheet monitor my progress toward the annual goal. That turned out to be very useful and helped be hit my targets.

Those old spreadsheets tracked the last third of the year, roughly September onwards. The thing that didn’t occur to me back then is that if I started the spreadsheet earlier—say, oh, I don’t know know, January 1—then I could see at a glance how much extra work I’d have to do to make up for taking time off from blogging.

That realisation finally hit me only recently, and then I realised I could take my last blogging spreadsheet and re-jig it for an entire year. So, I did—because, why not?

That was probably easier than it was to set up the original spreadsheet because in the time since I made the first one, I started using them for lots of things, and they becamse more complicated and fine-tuned for whatever information I wanted. To make this new b logging tracker easier to use, I set up separate pages for each quarter, primarily because it would mean less scrolling to get down the page. I may be anal about collecting and analysing data, but I’m also lazy.

By doing this, I learned that neither skipping a day nor doing two posts in one day affects progress very much. In fact, it takes several days missed or with extra posts added before it affects the countdown very much. That’s kind of liberating in a way, or, it would be if I was still pursuing the annual goal.

To be clear, no, I haven’t suddenly resumed the target of an annual average one-post-per-day. However, I’m also not opposed to hitting it again at some point, and if I was seriously working toward that, the spreadsheet would come in handy. Theoretically. Right now, I’m just interested in passively seeing how it plays out.

The truth is, no one needs a spreadsheet to keep track of progress toward a totally unimportant goal like blog post publishing. I mean, the totals of posts per month (or for the year) show that. However, I like spreadsheets for something like this because I feel more in control. While that may not necessarily help me be any more productive, the feeling of being in control control reinforces the fact I actually am.

I’ve learned that the more ways I can examine and analyse data, the more in control I feel, and that if I’m going to obsess about something, why not make it about something useful, like tracking data relevant to my actual life? In fact, both are among my prime motivators for creating my personal organisation system. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily change anything—or even mean anything, really, depending on what specifically needs to be brought under control—but it has one other thing going for it: For me, it’s fun. To each their own? Absolutely.

I could probably track that on a spreadsheet, too.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Slow and awesome

Today I had lunch with my mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law, and the place was packed. It made the place a bit warm, and the service quite slow, and that meant the lunch was extra long. On the plus side, the lunch was extra long! I thought that was pretty awesome, tbh.

I was going to clean the house when I got home, but got wrapped up in writing a blog post I may never even publish, but, whatever. I bet no one on their deathbed has ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time cleaning the house and less time doing things that meant something to me!” I’d much rather spend today like I did (it even started with a catch-up with my lifelong friend Jason—bonus!)

Besides, tomorrow’s weather is going to be craptastic storminess, so plenty of time to do the cleaning then. Maybe I’ll even throw in a blog post.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

System failure

Once again, a failure derailed my systems. Then another failure, one that had nothing to do with me, caused a different problem. There are remedies, but are they solutions? Time will tell.

I’ve written a few times about using Apple’s Reminders app to help me make sure I take my prescriptions each day, and that included taking about adjustments I had to make after I missed my daily doses.

The system has failed yet again: On Monday morning, I reached for my prescriptions, only to see the pouch for Sunday was still there: I’d once again missed a day’s prescriptions—the fourth time since I began using the pouch system.

I have absolutely no idea how it happened, but somehow I was convinced I’d taken them, and marked the day’s Reminders notification as completed. I think I was working on something at my desk that afternoon when I got the Reminder to double-check my prescription. I was certain I’d checked the pouch the last time I was in the kitchen, so I just marked it completed, without actually double-checking.

I suppose my head must’ve been busy mulling over something or other on Sunday, and that lack of focus and attention could’ve made me assume that I’d taken my pills AND double-checked. Having my head busy mulling over something or other is pretty much an everyday sort of thing, and it’s precisely why I’ve been developing systems so that I don’t have to remember anything—I probably won’t, anyway.

So, on Monday I tore off the pouches for both Sunday and Monday, separated them, and took Monday’s pills. The Sunday pouch is now another backup supply (I now have two of those). Then, I had to figure out what to do to fix the situation.

My first thought was that I should go back to normal pill packaging instead of the pouches, because then I could leave my pillbox on the kitchen bench (the cardboard box that holds the reel of pouches is too big). I realised, though, that I’d still have to actually look at the pills AND have it register that I’d taken them—basically no real change.

I realised that if I’d actually checked, I’d have seen that I hadn’t taken my pills because there wouldn’t be a pouch on the kitchen bench. The only thing to do is always look—that’s still no guarantee, as I noted back in March when I added the second reminder, but it’s the best I have right now.

The next day, there was another problem: I went to tear off the day’s pouch and ripped the bottom off Wednesday’s pouch, exposing them to air and moisture, and the pills might fall out. So, I took Wednesday’s pills on Tuesday, and used the intact Tuesday pouch on Wednesday.

Today, the same thing happened: Friday’s pouch tore, and a pill did fall out. I took Friday’s pills today (after I found the one that fell out) and put the Thursday pouch aside for tomorrow.

This problem with the pouches is also nothing new, and I’d found that folding the pouch back forth along the perforation made them tear apart properly. But it’s not perfect. Scissors are the back-up plan, assuming I notice a problem with the perforation, which two failures so close to each other might make more likely. Maybe.

These problems keep recurring because of my lack of focus. The physical defect in the pouches is easy to miss, especially because I can have several batches in a row that are fine. But the missing prescription doses? That shit’s gotta stop. It frustrates the hell out of me, first, that I have such problems with focus, and second, that this can cause potentially serious problems for me. But, that’s a subject in itself, really, and the perfect time to talk more about that—and some things I’ve realised—is early next month when I’m going to do an update on my personal organisation system at the three-month mark.

I just have to figure out how to remind myself to do that. C'est la vie.

Perseverance is key

Some time ago (I don’t remember how long), I decided to post less to my personal Facebook—just because, no particular reason, really. However, that meant Facebook friends didn’t know what I’ve been doing unless they read this blog—and probably not even then, since there are many things I haven’t talked about here, either. So, yesterday I shared a bit of what I haven’t shared there over the past week alone. I thought I’d share it here, too, with relevant links:
I mowed my lawns on Saturday and discovered the second battery is dead (it may have a fault in its electronics). The battery came with my mower, so it’s more than three years old—and the warranty was for three years, of course. Might be covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act, though I doubt it, and I’d have to find the receipt for something I bought two months after I moved into this house (not likely after everything I’ve done to it since then and everything else that’s happened). There’s apparently one thing I can try to see if it’s really dead or just sleeping (seriously). Rather than buy an expensive new battery, I’ll probably mow my lawns over two days in wet weather (and BTW, our next summer ought to be a dry one —🤞)

• Yesterday [Tuesday], I took Leo for his annual jabs. He was SUCH a good boy—probably the best-behaved of any of our furbabies, actually. Mind you, the vet freely bribed him with treats, so that probably helped. She also told me he was 400 grams heavier than last year (LOL—she said that after lots of treats, and then gave him more). He also needs his teeth cleaned to avoid gum problems/heart disease. So, basically, he takes after me (though I carry a wee bit more than 400 grams more than last year…). There were two appointments available this week, at 9am and 9:15am yesterday. I took the latter in the hope most of the morning traffic would’ve cleared, and I was right: It was okay, but the fog was thick as sea poop. This morning at the same time the fog was even worse, but Leo and I didn’t have to go anywhere.

The entire country is again about to be hit by yet another storm system bringing heavy rain and strong winds. It’ll start hitting Northland tomorrow (Thursday) evening, then attack (some? most? all?) the North Island on Friday, and continue south, possibly bringing snow to the South Island. I was just saying how tiresome the hour or so of sunshine we get in a day is becoming, and several days of heavy rain and strong wind is just the thing we need! (Sarcasm is just one of the services I provide).

There are some good things I’m working on, too (and no, not just chicken soup), but that’s for another time. Although, as OMC sang, “Wanna know the rest? Hey, buy the rights! How bizarre.” [WATCH/LISTEN]. 😉
What struck me about that was how easy it was: Short and to the point, unlike many blog posts that I may (or may not…) publish. Part of the reason I don’t post more often is actually that I either don’t have the time to write the sort of posts I want to, or I can’t focus long enough. Either way, there have been a lot of posts that never quite get over the line—or begun at all.

I’m going to try something. Since I often begin posts using my iPad, maybe I’ll do similar short updates, and post that as a blog post, like once a week. Those won’t refer back to posts I’ve already published like in the text above (I’m sharing that as an example of what I’m talking about). This seems like a way to talk about something I want to talk about, but in a brief format that I can actually get finished. Group three of them together, and I’ll have a real blog post. That’s the idea, anyway.

If this works for me, I’ll assign the posts a tag/label, but right now I don’t even know if I’ll do any. And if it doesn’t work, well, I guess this one shows how I almost always use humour on Facebook, even if I don’t have the energy to do the same thing on blog posts.

Mainly, though, I’m just glad to be writing anything. These days, that’s often a struggle. Perseverance is key.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Leo’s big outing

It was an early start this morning: Leo had a 9:15 appointment for his annual jabs, and it was my job to get him there (and pay for it all). While I’ve never been a “morning person”, the actual reason I don't like appointments that early is that it means dealing with morning traffic, and it’s impossible to know how heavy it’ll be until I’m in it. On top of that, at this time of year, thick morning fog can be another problem, and it was today.

Leo was actually due for his jabs in February, and they sent me a reminder text. I kept forgetting to deal with it, so they sent another text. I kept forgetting again, mainly because I was thinking about changing vets (the one we’d been seeing left that branch). However, the main problem, as it so often is, was that I only remembered when it was after hours.

Last week, I was sitting at my desk and decided to go the chain’s website, then navigated to the vets at my local branch. I wanted to see if they had any vets at the moment, but noted I could book online. With a shrug and a “why not?”, I set up an account (separate from the retail store one I already have…) and went to book an appointment. They had two available this week: 9am and 9:15am today. I chose the latter, hoping that traffic would be better, with most people who needed to be at work by 9 off the roads.

The traffic was mostly tolerable, it turned out, and were delayed just by two red lights and slow-moving trucks. I was well aware, though, that I could’ve shaved around ten minutes off my trip if the long-promised road connecting our houses directly to the rest of the city was open (still no announcement of an opening date—of course—more than a year after the first already three-years-late date was suggested).

Leo got the American expat vet that one of the kids first saw there after we’d shifted to Hamilton (we hadn’t seen her since; we saw a South African expat in the following years). She was good and nice (which I already knew), and won Leo over with treats. After that, I smiled inwardly when she noted that Leo was 400 grams heavier than last year, so he needs to cut back a bit—like father, like son! Although, I’m carrying around a bit more than an extra 400 grams…

I asked for her advice on cutting his nails (something Nigel flat out refused to do—he was afraid he’d hurt them). She said they’d do them right then, and saw that they were quite long. It seems unlikely that the groomers actually cut his nails last time (November), even though I specifically asked if they did that and was told yes. Two claws on his back paws were so long they were curling back into the pad of his foot—poor guy! And, bad daddy!!! for not noticing. The vet suggested I bring him back in six weeks for another trim (because some were too long to properly cut this time).

Grooming, however, is another issue entirely. It’s still very difficult to get an appointment with a groomer, especially with my trust issues adding another barrier. So, some months ago I started watching YouTube videos by a professional groomer who believes that not only can anyone learn to groom their dog, it’s also a bonding opportunity. Aw!

Around 15 years ago, we had a wheaten terrier named Saibh. We had a wonderful groomer for her, but she left the industry and recommended another lady I took Saibh to. That lady complained about Saibh, said she’d never groom her again unless Saibh was sedated, and demanded more money for having to deal with Saibh. I felt awful—for Saibh, obviously; I couldn’t possibly have cared less about the grumpy groomer’s feelings, and I knew I’d never go back to her.

Saibh had some “quirks”, likely caused by her breeder, who was later prosecuted at least twice for bad practices and banned from breeding dogs (many of his dogs had congenital defects, or severe behavioural issues, and several were put down because of them). Not surprisingly, Nigel and I both thought the guy was contemptible scum, but we felt fortunate that Saibh got away so lightly, with mere quirks.

With few options, I started grooming Saibh. I was getting pretty good at it when Saibh died suddenly of a heart attack. Her own congenital conditions had caught up with her.

Jake came into our family, then Sunny, and while I found some pretty okay groomers, we decided to start grooming them ourselves. Nigel bought several pairs of dog clippers, including some professional grade ones, all of which I still have, of course.

When Leo joined the family, he was just shy of one year old, so when Nigel and I tried to groom him, he was still a puppy. The last time we groomed him, around the time of his second birthday, he bit us both and drew blood (well, a tiny bit…). We never really finished grooming him, and then we ran out of time: That last grooming attempt was around three months before the furbabies' other daddy died.

When Nigel was in his final days, he kept pushing me to get the dogs groomed—and he was doing that, I knew, because he was well aware that he was running out of days. He knew people would come round to the house after he died, and he was embarrassed (For me? Imagining how he’d feel? Both?) that people would see the dogs looking so shaggy. That was, obviously, the absolute, very last thing that could ever be on my mind at the time.

My brother-in-law organised grooming for me one of the times I was visiting Hamilton in the weeks after Nigel died. It was such a small thing, really, but, to me, him doing that and even driving us there and back was a huge act of kindness at a time I needed it most. And, the dogs were awfully untidy.

So here we are in 2023, it’s difficult to get a grooming appointment, and Leo’s fully adult now (me, not so much…). I know he hates being left at a groomers because he wants to stick with me. Over the past several months, I’ve been getting him used to me trimming matted fur with scissors, and also with the clippers )so he can used to the sound). I’m about ready to start, and I hope he is, too.

Leo’s spent much of today sleeping, as dogs often do after getting their jabs. Early this afternoon, with another shrug and “why not?”, I lay down on the bed so he and I could have a nap together (it was an early start this morning, after all). He thought that was a splendid idea. He’s a good boy.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Accidentally frugal

It all started because I wanted chicken soup (final result above), but it turned into an adventure rediscovered. It wasn’t about cooking, not completely, anyway, but about what I realised along the way: Paying attention makes it easier to be frugal, while still eating well. I want to explore this some more.

I usually make chicken noodle soup it using chicken leg portions, however, as I was shopping for the chicken, I realised that there was a huge price difference between leg portions and a whole chicken: That week, a whole chicken was $11.15 per kilogram, and the leg portions were $15.38 per kilogram. The price for the package of chicken legs was cheaper than the whole bird, but the unit price showed that a whole chicken was actually cheaper. Also, a whole chicken had greater weight, and that meant more meals.

I bought the chicken a few days before the coronation, and I considered making roast chicken that night, but I made it the following Tuesday. I also made mashed potatoes from some I had on hand and a carrot dish (in both cases, the vegetables needed to be used up). I also made gravy from scratch.

The carrot dish was based on a Jamie Oliver recipe I’d made seven or eight years ago—but I had to improvise. The original recipe (which I can’t find…) called for pared peel and the juice of one orange—and I forget the rest. It didn’t matter, though, because the oranges I had were mummified.

So, I adapted a different Jamie Oliver recipe I found on one his cookbooks that I have. That called for chilli, and at first I was taken aback—I don’t like hot things. Then, I thought about it. So, I used about a tablespoon or two of mango chutney I had in the fridge, mixed in some Thai-style sweet chilli sauce (a couple teaspoons, maybe) and a good glop of honey (I think I’d have preferred brown sugar), and a couple tablespoons of butter. Then I put it in a pan, put foil over it and baked it in the oven with the chicken for about an hour. The result was a combination of savoury and sweet (similar to, though different from, the original), and it also had a bit of a kick like I imagine the newer recipe must have. I liked it—and I wish I’d written down exactly what I did…

The next night, Wednesday, I made chicken on toast with the leftover gravy, and the leftover carrots on the side. I gave myself quite a lot of chicken.

Thursday morning, I picked meat off the bones, and made scrambled eggs with chicken on toast for my breakfast (photo below). I also put the carcass in water and boiled it to make a stock, and also to get the last of the meat off the bones (there was still quite a bit of meat on them).

Thursday evening, I made the soup with the stock I’d made (supplemented with some low-salt stock powder), a couple small onions I wanted to use up, and some frozen veggies, which I always have on hand, plus some small celery sticks I bought fresh—a small extravagance, maybe, but I like celery in my chicken soup, and if I buy a whole bunch I have trouble getting through it all before it starts to go off. I didn’t have any fresh carrots on hand because I used them up the first night.

The soup was really nice—maybe even my best chicken noodle soup yet. I didn’t price it out, though, because apart from the chicken and a few cents worth of fresh celery, everything was stuff I had on hand and needed to use up before it spoiled. Even so, I’m confident that each of the four meals I made cost less than $4 each, especially because on Friday I had a very large serving of leftover soup for lunch. This was actually “against my better judgement” because this was three and half days after I roasted the chicken, and normally my absolute limit is three days, tops; I took a chance and won, but I wouldn’t suggest that to others (or myself, for that matter).

This a;; started because I realised that a whole chicken was significantly cheaper than chicken legs, even more so because it could make so many more meals. This got me to wonder, how many more meals could I save on by combining and thinking sort of longitudinally?

When I’ve looked into meal planning in the past as I tried to be more frugal, but the advice has mainly been for families, which makes sense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any advice for couples, but I’ve definitely never seen any advice for people living alone. I don’t know that I can help with that latter void, but if I can, I’ll definitely share the results.

At the very least, I do enjoy the adventure. That, and the accidentally frugal meals.

The garnish is dried parsley from my garden.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Today’s plan, tomorrow’s problem

Today’s plan was to mow the lawns, and I waited until early afternoon to give it the maximum amount of time to (maybe) dry, not that I thought it’d actually help. In the end, it was every bit as bad—or worse—than I expected. And, it turns out, I may have a new problem.

Out front, I had to stop twice to scoop out the clumped grass gunk from the underside. Then I mowed the part of back I can’t see out of my windows (the side yard with my clothesline and where I keep my rubbish & recycling wheelie bins). I did that because I figured there wasn’t much juice left in the battery, but it actually still had power left after that, so I switched it off and wheeled it to the patio so it—and I—could cool down.

About ten minutes later, I went back out and started the part of the lawn I can see out my windows, stopping once to scoop out more clumped grass gunk. Then the mower abruptly stopped, I checked the power gauge, and the battery was spent. I went and got the other battery, put it in—and nothing, as if it was dead.

My first thought was that maybe I hadn’t re-charged it two weeks ago, and only thought I did. I knew that was unlikely to be the case, and, anyway, I knew that I’d only used a little bit of it back then, so there should still have been power to use. With no other options, I put the mower away, and brought the charger into the house to charge up the battery I’d just drained.

I decided to try charging the second battery first, but I got alternating flashing red and green lights, which means there’s a problem with the battery’s electronics or the charger. Uh oh. This is the original battery that came with the mower, so I’ve had it for more than 3 years—and 3 years is, of course, the length of the warranty. A replacement 4Ah 36v battery today is $269 (around US$167), while the bigger 6Ah 36v one is $369 (US$229).

There are a couple things I can do to try to bring it back, but, honestly, the prognosis isn’t good. It could, theoretically, be repaired, but in reality it’s actually impossible, not the least because that would cost more than buying a new one. Also, when I put the working battery on the charger, it charged normally, so the problem is definitely with the battery.

I took the newly charged-up good battery and went back outside to finish the mowing. It only took about 10 minutes to do that, the mower working hard nearly all the time.

The still-working battery is a 6Ah battery I bought a while ago because under normal circumstances, it’s enough to mow all the lawns without changing batteries. But, what’s “normal” now? The last two times I mowed, I needed both batteries because the lawns were so wet and gluggy from all the rain. If this is the new normal, I won’t be able to mow all the lawns on one battery.

I’m still weighing my options. I’ll probably buy a new battery (the store I bought it from and Hamilton City Council both accept the dead one for recycling for free). The batteries are expensive, though, which is why I’m not completely sure what I’ll do.

That was a huge disappointing ending to what had already been hard work doing the mowing. It was bad enough that I wondered, once again, if it was worth continuing, or if I should just throw in the towel and hire a mowing service. So, I looked it up.

In Hamilton, it would cost around me $35-45 per mow, maybe as low as $25 if I had them do only the front. Assuming an average of once a fortnight, that would be $910 to $1,179 per year for mowing all the lawns, which, in turn, averages out to around $76 to 98 per month (in US dollars, those figures are around US$22 – US$28 per mow, or US$721 - US$726 per year and US$47 to US$61 per month). Oh yeah, that’s why I never seriously considered it before.

On the other hand, since a mowing service would cost me more in a year than what I paid for the lawnmower three years ago, and since I recharge the batteries for free, my mower has already paid for itself a couple times over. Even if I have to buy a new battery once it hits 3 years old, I’ll still come out ahead financially—and health-wise, too.

There will come a time when mowing will be too much for me to handle physically, but I’m not there yet. When I am, maybe I’ll move somewhere that doesn’t have lawns. I can’t possibly know that now. But I do know how to troubleshoot technical problems, first by getting to the core of what’s wrong, then working out what my options are. At least that’s one thing that wet, gluggy lawns can’t change.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Rain delays

New Zealand’s run of terrible weather continues, with nearly two weeks in a row of bad weather, with heavy rain and flooding happening somewhere in New Zealand nearly every day. Tuesday it was the turn of Auckland and Northland, and yesterday the country endured more than 12,000 lightening strikes (graphic above shared on Twitter by MetService). Current forecasts predict we may get a reprieve over the next few days. Like most people, probably, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Around midday on Tuesday, I got a news alerts that primary schools in West Auckland were being evacuated due to flooding, and another news alert told me that torrential rain led to multiple crashes on Auckland’s motorway (link is to live reporting on the storm). Later, it turned out that a 15-year-old boy died in a caving accident in Northland (why, exactly, they were taken on a caving expedition when severe wether was forecast has not yet been determined.

There was more rain again yesterday, and then the thunderstorms began. MetServce reported that there were more than 12,000 lightening strikes between 8am yesterday and 8am this morning. There amore that 14,000 lightening strikes altogether, plus heavy rain and hail, just to add to all the fun.

Yesterday afternoon, in between heavy downpours, I could hear the strong winds assaulting my roof. I was watching TV and heard a strong gust, then thought, “hang on a minute”, and muted the TV to make sure: It was thunder. That continued from time to time throughout the evening, and even this morning. I’ve said in the past that thunderstorms aren’t nearly as common here as they were in my native Northeastern Illinois, but I’ve certainly never heard thunder for hours on end, or for two days in a row.

There was one thing I thought was particularly odd about the thunder: It didn’t seem very close to us. I never saw any lightning flashes, nor were the booms very loud. In fact, if there was any thunder overnight, it wasn’t loud enough to wake me.

Come to think of it, the weather for the whole year so far has been particularly odd. We’ve had a lot of rain causing a lot of flooding in various parts of the country, and even when it’s not been actually raining, it’s been overcast, often heavily so. Frankly, it’s depressing AF not seeing much sunshine for weeks on end, and obviously worse when the clouds are thick and make the days dark and dreary. Rain for hours on end only makes that worse still.

On the other hand, there hasn’t been any flooding in the area where my house is: Those raingardens work really, really well at controlling stormwater, and areas that have them don’t have the kinds of flooding problems that areas with similar topography, but no raingardens, can get. The only reason I hate the one on my property is that it’s an ugly cattle concrete trough that I have to maintain at my expense/effort. They’re actually a great thing as a concept, though.

The only real (and very, very minor) issue this horrible weather has caused for me lately is that it’s made it far too wet to mow the lawns, and they need it already. That’s because the storm system that’s been over NZ for the past couple weeks (the “atmospheric river”) brought not just a lot of rain, it also carried warm, moist tropical air, creating ideal conditions for lawns (and weeds…) to grow.

This time of year—which is the equivalent of November in the Northern Hemisphere—we’d expect temperatures to be in the mid upper teens (low to mid 60s F), but at one point last week it was 23 at my house (73.4 F). So, instead of being able to go a couple weeks between mows like in a normal autumn, my lawns looked ready for one after only a week. They’re still waiting, though the temperatures have now cooled.

This underscores the one problem with battery-powered lawnmowers like mine: They don’t cope well with thick or wet lawns. Petrol-powered mowers often (usually, even) have a more powerful motor, but even if they don’t, they don’t usually run out of fuel if the grass is thick and gluggy from rain. Mowing a wet lawn with a battery-powered mower can quickly drain the batteries.

When I mowed my lawns two weeks ago, I needed both batteries to finish because even after two consecutive days with no rain, the lawns were very wet at the ground level: I could hear the motor slowing when there was a particularly thick patch of lawn. That can happen with petrol mowers, of course, but they have more energy, and possibly more power, than mine does. However, there’s more to it than just battery capacity.

When I hear my mower’s motor slow, I slow down, too, in order to prevent the mower from stalling. If I don’t reduce the strain on the battery, it will cause the battery’s temperature to rise, and that could trigger the automatic safety feature to shut the mower off, preventing it from restarting until the battery cools down, something that’s happened to me a couple times. This is a necessary—and very welcome—thing that keeps the battery from overheating and exploding into flames, as lithium batteries are notorious for doing. Not surprisingly, I think that safety feature is a very excellent thing.

I know how to maximise the battery power when I mow. I also know that periods of heavy rain will prevent me from mowing, and I also know that I just have to accept that reality and be patient. Patience is something I struggle with even on bright, beautiful, sunny days; this rain-delayed mowing thing is slowly teaching me something I clearly need to learn.

But I’m so very fortunate to be living in house that’s not vulnerable to flooding, because climate change is bringing us more severe storms, more often. While New Zealand’s current run of terrible weather won’t continue forever, there will be more in the future. We all need to learn to adapt. And to be patient.

If the weather really does fine up tomorrow, I hope to mow my lawns on Saturday—weather permitting.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Crowning glory

This past weekend, King Charles was coronated as king. Some people loved it, others hated it, but a huge number were indifferent. Amid all the pomp and over-the-top showiness, questions were raised by the event: Was such an extravagant show a good idea in difficult times? Does the monarchy itself even matter anymore? Could this be the last coronation?

The last question—could this be the last coronation?—is part of why I watched. What if it is? I’d have missed my only chance to see such a spectacle live, and I wasn’t having that!

As it happens, I enjoyed the spectacle, in all it anachronistic, gaudy, pretentiousness: It was fun. There are a lot of “WTF?” moments for me, including the “anointing with oil” part, which I thought was weird itself, but the BBC commentator dutifully told us that the King was then wearing a “super tunica” (or some such—I didn’t see it in print; also, our two free-to-air TV channels carried the BBC coverage live). A few moments later, we were informed that some people we could see onscreen were “The worshipful company of girdlers”. I quite literally laughed out loud.

As the coverage began to wind up, I made a comment on my personal Facebook that was what’s now my seldom-expressed, but honestly held opinion—in this case about the whole show:
I think the religious trappings are, at best, a throwback, a quaint, antique anachronism. Having said that, can the millennium-old ceremony even exist without overt promotion of the Anglican religion? If the UK Parliament dis-established the Anglican Church, how would that affect the monarchy? Would it, perhaps, end up making the modern monarchy MORE relevant?

Neither the monarchy, nor even democracy, are guaranteed. We, the people, choose what we have. We must chose carefully.
I’ve said many times (including last week, when I talked about watching the ceremony) how much I dislike overt religiosity, especially relating to only one religion, in any governmental function. The coronation, however, is not that: It’s an expressly religious anointing of the monarch as a servant of the Anglican god. The public functions were carried out immediately after the Queen died and Charles was proclaimed King—although the phrase “God save the King” was repeated over and over again, and the UK National Anthem asks that “God save our noble King”, so even in ostensibly secular settings religion is present.

Those are actually mere quibbles. It’s a British thing, they can do what they want with it. Those of us who are secular can freely ignore and not participate in the expressly religious things. The issues are FAR bigger than that: What possible relevance does the coronation have in modern times? Much was made about how it’s been carried on for a thousand years, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed, most notably when Henry VIII came along and dumped the Roman Catholic church, and the coronations then became Anglican services.

In the first couple days after the coronation, I saw a few people making a passionate defence of the monarchy, but the loudest commentary I encountered came from those appalled at the cost of the whole thing, and that UK taxpayers would be paying for much of it. When poverty has soared, and even middle class Britons are struggling, some felt it was unwise to spend so much money on a spectacle. The late Queen’s coronation was only a few years after the end of World War Two, when recovery—especially economic recovery—was still not done. Few would dispute, though, that Britons needed and welcomed the distraction. But now? I’m not sure.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say: New Zealand taxpayers paid very little for anything related to the coronation, and most of our money was spent to pay for New Zealand’s delegation attending the coronation, along with some minor things here in New Zealand, like gun salutes. NZ taxpayers got off very, very lightly compared to taxpayers in the UK.

Still, I was absolutely fascinated by the odd traditions and trappings (so many swords and staffs were used!), but I didn’t relate to it in any meaningful way. In fact, what I actually enjoyed the most was watching Queen Camilla: She often had a small, seemingly wry, smile on her face, as if she was thinking about how utterly absurd so much of the hoopla was. To me, she—and Prince William giving his father a kiss—were the most real and genuine moments. The rest? Interesting, but, for me, that’s about it.

I have no idea whether there’ll ever be another coronation (or maybe just in my lifetime), nor how long the monarchy will endure. For me, watching the coronation wasn’t about any of that, though the possibility that one or both might end during my lifetime gave me a particular determination to watch the coronation coverage. Life is so utterly unpredictable—in fact, at one point in the days before the event I was thinking how I could die before the coronation and miss it and the opportunity I was looking forward to. Fortunately, a premature exit was not to be my fate last week, so it now doesn’t matter if I ever see another coronation—I consider it checked off my “bucket list”.

As for all the other issues raised—about the monarchy itself, the cost, or even the worthiness of Charles and/or Camilla personally, everyone else can (and certainly will…) argue about all that. Someday, I may even join the discussion. However, for me, and at this particular time, the whole thing was only about the opportunity to watch an historic event for the first, and possibly last, time in my life. Others can do, say, or think whatever they want, obviously, but for me the opportunity to watch an historic event was—unapologetically—the whole point of it for me. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’ve had this same motivation repeatedly throughout my life, and, hopefully, I always will.

On Monday our time, I watched the Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle. I enjoyed it, I suppose—I’m always a bit indifferent about all such shows. And this was no different. But I was struck by something: The extent to which there was the attempt to humanise Charles—or maybe to reintroduce him to the rest of us. But that feeling started the day before the coronation.

On Friday evening, TVNZ’s TV One normally broadcasts the BBC progreamme, The Repair Shop, which I wrote about last December. A factoid that didn’t make it into the post was that King Charles appeared in an episode filmed in 2021, before the Queen died, and while Charles was still the Prince of Wales (the episode first aired in the UK in October of last year). I’ve never seen Charles look so, well, ordinary before. The point of the episode was to celebrate the BBC’s 100th Anniversary and to highlight training young people in sometimes ancient trades that are still needed (especially in a country with so many historic buildings and relics), and the skills shortages are growing. One of the then-prince’s projects was essentially a training school for those skills

In the episode, two treasures were brought to The Repair Shop, and one of the graduates from the then-Prince’s programme came there, too, to do some blacksmithing work. Also, clock repairer Steve Fletcher brought in his 21-year-old son, Fred, who is a clockmaker apprentice working for his dad (Steve, meanwhile, posted clips from the episode to his Instagram Stories). The then-prince then visited The Repair Shop to see the repaired/restored pieces, and first was shown the various craftspeople, and how they’re keeping the skills alive. Host Jav Blades touched the Prince a few times, which I—knowing that Charles is now King—was at first aghast at (no one ever touched the Queen). But, then, he wasn’t King at the time, and their interaction seemed quite natural and appropriate.

Similarly, during the concert, there were breaks where various people talked about some of the work that the King had done during his life, and included some “did you know” type things. Some of the things they highlighted didn’t necessarily know, and while nothing was memorable for me personally, it all kind of contributed to a quite different image of him than I had in my head, which was probably the point.

Add it all together, and I came away from the events with a feeling that Charles just might succeed in modernising and humanising the monarchy, probably in ways that his mother—the product of very, very different times—wouldn’t have been able to do. I guess we’ll all find out in time.

As for the larger issues that people seem to want to talk about, like republicanism, that’s too big a topic for this post. I merely wanted to reflect on what I experienced watching something I’d never seen before. But I’ll certainly return to those larger topics, because there definitely are things to talk about. However, since I entered the whole thing with one goal—to watch an historic event I may never see again—I got what I wanted out of it.

And no, I didn’t take part in “the people’s homage”. At least I’m consistent.

Monday, May 08, 2023

A jury strikes the right chord

Last week, a US jury found ruled in favour of singer songwriter Ed Sheeran, agreeing that he did not unlawfully copy an earlier hit (Sheeran’s response is above). This was the right verdict for the right reasons, and hopefully it will finally bring some common sense to this.

The lawsuit was brought by the estate of Ed Townsend, who was co-writer with Marvin Gaye of Gaye’s 1973 US Number One song, “Let’s Get It On”. Townsend’s heirs alleged that Sheeran’s 2014 Global hit, “Thinking Out Loud”, had copied the “heart” of “Let’s Get It On”—its melody, harmony, and rhythm. Sheeran’s lawyers argued that any similarities in the songs was because they were both built on the same non-copyrightable building blocks used in pop music.

The actual heart of the issue is that nearly all of the best-known pop songs, regardless of genre, have relied on the same four chords. This fact has long been a staple of Australian musical comedy act Axis Of Awesome, who were the subject of a “Weekend Diversion” post I published in 2012. That post included their song “4 Chords”, which demonstrated the fact (a live performance of their song is below).

After the verdict, Sheeran read a statement in which he said, "I'm just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy. I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggy bank for anyone to shake." Money is often the motivation for frivolous lawsuits filed by the writers of often extremely obscure songs, and it’s surely a factor for other suits when the writers being sued have a major hit. We don’t know if money played a role in this case—it may have been an honest lack of understanding of how similarities between pop songs is inevitable when they’re all built on the same four chords. As Sheeran put it, "These chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before 'Let’s Get It On' was written, and will be used to create music long after we are all gone."

The saga for this song isn’t over. The investment banker who owns the copyright to Marvin Gaye’s songs has TWO lawsuits against Sheeran over the same song, one of which is about the recording, which seems like an especially odd tack to take. However, it was similarities in recordings that in 2015 gave the copyright holders to Gaye’s "Got to Give It Up" a legal victory over Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ song "Blurred Lines", with the jury agreeing that it copied Gaye's song. [Full dislosure: I felt the jury got it wrong].

I believe that copyright is important for artists to protect what they create during their own lifetime. But copyright was never intended to be an endless revenue stream for the corporations who control the copyrights of much of what is published in print, on film, or in recordings. The USA has been particularly terrible about enshrining corporate control over copyright, and has often bullied other countries—including New Zealand—to change their laws to suit US corporations’ interests. Massive reform of copyright law, especially in the USA, is important and desperately needed, but it’s also an entirely separate issue.

The main issue in this and many similar cases is that pop music is based on the same four chords, and the same chord progressions, all of which are re-used again and again and again. Chances are good that any two pop songs will sound similar, at least in part, because they’re all made out of the same building blocks. If more silly lawsuits fail, the cost of trying it on will become too high to bother, and then songwriters won’t have to keep second-guessing themselves, leaving them free to create. And the world desperately needs more people creating, not more lawyers in courtrooms fighting over four music chords.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

More online weirdness

It seems it’s easy to find weirdness in the online world. Sometimes, it finds us. Only days after I had weirdness with Google’s Blogger, Facebook decided to have its turn.

Friday morning, I got this email from Facebook. I had no idea what they were was on about:
Unregistration notice

Hi, This is to inform you that your developer account does not have any roles on any apps (such as an admin). As such, to keep your developer account registration, we ask that you create an app or receive a role on an existing app within the next 30 days. If this developer account is not associated with an app by this date, this developer account will become unregistered. Please note that this will be the only reminder you receive in this time period and if no action is taken, this account will become unregistered in 30 days.
I knew that I do not have, nor have I ever had, a “developer account”, and didn’t even know what that is. I’ve never in my life done anything even remotely related to developing apps. I can’t even imagine that ever changing.

My first reaction was about how their systems can send out irrelevant mails, but they just can’t seem to find a way to identify or deter actual, real-live extremists on their platform, even when content that goes against their “community guidelines” is pointed out to them. Totally checks out.

Later, I checked, and it turned out that I DO have a Developer Account for some mysterious reason. Their "Meta for Developers" site has absolutely no support options whatsoever—of course!!!—except for being able to ask questions in a community forum. When I checked on Thursday, he most recent topic was about this very topic, and 18 others had also posted to it that they'd received the same cryptic email—18 people who'd also bothered to dig around the Meta for Developers thingee to try and find support. Two people mentioned that they had a separate Page, as I do (for my AmeriNZ Blog and Podcast), but that's part of Meta for Business, not the Developer stuff. Maybe one of their few remaining coders accidentally messed up the code and ended up creating Developer Accounts for people with Pages?

No one from Meta posted an explanation to the forum (of course) and the question remained marked "Unresolved"—because it was. The most common thing people were worried about was that in 30 days Meta/Facebook will close ALL a person's FB accounts/Pages, not just the Developer Account. It'd be, ya know, kinda nice if Meta had an actual human who monitored forums and could post an explanation—since there's absolutely NO other way to get an answer—but so that seemed too hard for the company.

The next day, I saw that the Facebook Developers blog had an update to a post about this (I found the post about ten hours after it was updated). They’d added: "Unregistration [of Developer Accounts] will only apply to developer accounts; this change doesn’t impact personal Facebook accounts." So, that's that: I don't have to do anything, and my normal account will be fine.

Two things: Given that the company doesn't believe in having actual human beings available to answer users' questions, why couldn't they have been clear in the email and avoided all the confusion? After all, it was clearly important enough for them to update their blog post a day or so after the emails had gone out. Second, why don't they have anyone monitoring their "community" forums to answer the question like this? The answers, of course, are found in one simple fact: We don't pay anything for FB.

There's a common saying about social media companies: "If you're not the customer, you're the product". I'd say "inventory", rather than "product" because selling access to us is how these companies make their money. This is why the blue checkmark Facebook offers by subscription specifically offers access to customer service PEOPLE as a benefit: By paying for services, people with the checkmark become customers and get things we inventory folks don't.

For me, frustrated as I get with Facebook, right now it's not bad enough to make me quit. Yeah, I'm inventory, but FB is still good for hanging out and interacting with my fellow "inventorians". For now, anyway.

But I could do without so much weirdness.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

I’ll watch the crowning

This coming Saturday, King Charles the III will be crowned as King of New Zealand (and some other places). I certainly don’t care what others will do, but I’ll be watching it on television. I have a very simple reason: It’s historic.

The TV coverage I’ll be watching begins at 7pm NZST Saturday evening. I assumed that because of the way such things usually go, there’d be many hours of blather until the actual event. Today I realised I should actually look that up.

It turns out that the coronation itself is scheduled for 11am London Time, which is 10pm New Zealand time—and not the wee small hours of the morning our time, as I’d assumed. I take this as a win: I don’t have to stay up later than I normally would (which is still later that many people I know).

I can’t recall hearing anyone tell me they plan to watch the coronation, but I’ve heard a few saying they won’t—some fairly adamant about it, too. I don’t personally care what others do or don’t do, as always, however, I’ve come to care a little bit about explaining why I’ll be watching. Good thing I have a blog, then.

I am, as I’ve said many times, a republican (lower case “r” only, thank you very much), and while I’m not exactly a fan of the institution or the new king, that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to either one. I still believe that New Zealand will become a republic some day, but it’s certainly not something I’d personally lobby for or work toward. I am, in a sense, more indifferent than anything.

Be that as it may, every coronation of a new monarch is an historic event. I’ve seen footage of the late Queen’s coronation, and of some of her predecessors, as well as paintings of others from throughout Europe. I’ve never seen a coronation live before, and there’s no way of knowing whether I ever will again: There’s no way I’d miss this opportunity.

This comes naturally for me: My minor at university was history, and it’s a subject I’ve always loved and been fascinated by. In fact, there were times I wish I’d double-majored in political science and history (I didn’t mainly because it would’ve extended my time at university, and I was eager to start doing life). This lifelong fascination and interest in history has led me to watch all sorts of historic events live.

Some of those events also had other things going on for me. For example, I watched the Queen’s funeral because, like a lot of people, I respected her, and I was sad when she died. I watched her funeral as a mark of respect every bit as much as because it was an historic event. Even so, the vast majority of historic events I watch don’t have any emotional tone to them, and the coronation will be one of those.

Watching the coronation will also be a kind of logical progression for me: I watched then-Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969 (this merely gave him the traditional title; he was already the “heir apparent”). Back then, I had no feelings one way or the other about the monarchy (I was ten, after all…), but I was fascinated by all the pomp and circumstance. That was pretty much how I felt all the years afterward.

For several years, and especially after the death of Charles’ first wife, Princess Diana, there was a commonly expressed opinion that New Zealand might become a republic when the Queen died. People’s reasons for thinking that varied, but mainly centred on the view that the respect/affection was for the Queen personally, not the institution, and that people didn’t much like Charles. In fact, I remember a lot of people expressing hope that Charles would abdicate in favour of William.

These days, Britons’ support for the monarchy is clearly declining, and the same thing is happening—slowly—in New Zealand. In September of last year, , shortly after the Queen’s death, 1News released a poll. It found that 50% of New Zealanders wanted to retain the monarchy, and 27% wanted to abolish it, which was a slight improvement for the monarchy from the previous November, and that improvement was certainly affected by the death of the Queen. Overall, support for the monarchy is likely to have a plurality of support, though not majority support, for awhile yet.

What all of this means is that the institution of the monarchy will be around for for some time. This is a good thing because the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has a stockpile of currency with the Queen’s portrait and won’t replace it until the end of its useful life. That “would be wasteful and poor environmental practice,” they said. The environmentalist King and his heir apparent no doubt approve of this decision.

I’d thought about making Coronation Chicken (just for fun, though I like the recipe Nigel used), and certainly not “The King and The Queen Consort's Coronation Quiche” [WATCH], which frankly doesn’t sound very nice. We’ll see.

There’s one more thing I absolutely won’t be doing: I will not take part in the "homage of the people," an oath of allegiance to the King—been there, done that. When I became a New Zealand Citizen in 2010, I was required to state that I “solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law.” When the Queen died, the “heirs and successors” part kicked in, and the “true allegiance” automatically transferred to Charles, just as it may one day automatically transfer to William (depending on a lot of variables). So, I consider myself to be automatically exempt.

There’s a more serious reason I wouldn’t do the "homage of the people": The wording. People becoming citizens of New Zealand have the option of swearing an oath (like the “homage”) or making an affirmation. The difference is that an oath ends with “So help me God”, just as the NZ Citizenship and parliamentary oaths do. The affirmations, however, are secular—no deities mentioned—and that’s precisely why I chose the affirmation when I became a citizen. As I’ve said many times, I believe that appeals to one religion’s deity is never appropriate for a purely secular purpose. The fact that the king is also “defender of the faith” for England’s official religion is irrelevant for non-English people and non-Anglicans of whatever description (something, by the way, that the king seems to essentially agree with, though possibly/probably not necessarily in quite those terms). So, if I wouldn’t make a religious-based oath to the queen, I certainly ain’t about to do it for the first of her “heirs and successors according to law”. Besides, the old one was transferrable. Again, though, I couldn’t possibly care less what other people choose to do—or not do.

So, I’ll be watching the broadcast of the coronation as a witness to history. I won’t be taking part in any of the hoopla surrounding the event, which isn't unusual. What choices others make is entirely up to them. This has merely been about my choices, and why I made them. Pretty much like every other post about the choices I make. Good thing I have a blog.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 381 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 381, “Royal May”, 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.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Once again, something weird

Once again, something weird happened to this blog, and it absolutely wasn’t my fault. While I have theories about what happened, there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it. Nothing, that is, except write about it.

Early this afternoon, I received an email from Google/Blogger:
As you may know, our community guidelines describe the boundaries for what we allow – and don't allow – on Blogger. Your post titled 'Is NZ Labour finally backing marriage equality?' was flagged to us for review. This post was put behind a warning for readers because it contains sensitive content; the post is visible at http://amerinz.blogspot.com/2011/09/is-nz-labour-finally-backing-marriage.html. Your blog readers must acknowledge the warning before being able to read the post/blog.

Why was your blog post put behind a warning for readers? Your content has been evaluated according to our adult content policy. Please follow the community guidelines link in this email to learn more.

We apply warning messages to posts that contain sensitive content. If you are interested in having the status reviewed, please update the content to adhere to Blogger's community guidelines. Once the content is updated, you may republish it… This will trigger a review of the post.
My reaction was something along the lines of, ”Oh, FFS!”, though with words, not mere letters. The post is from September of 2011 and is about my irritation that the NZ Labour Party was trying to imply it was backing marriage equality, even though I couldn’t find any official statement confirming that. Labour lost the 2011 election, but marriage equality arrived, anyway, two years later after former Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Member’s Bill was drawn. By that time, most MPs, regardless of party, supported it. In 2011, however, that wasn’t the case.

So, why would a quite mundane, run-of-the-mill post about New Zealand politics from a dozen years ago suddenly get slapped with a “sensitive content” warning (image up top)? I have two theories.

The first theory is that it was just a Google bot erroneously flagging content that was not in any way “sensitive”. This sort of thing happens all the time on Facebook, which doesn’t use real people to check anything, so it’s possible that Google does the same.

The second theory is a bit more complicated, but it begins with the possibility that a real human being actually did flag the post. The question is, why on earth would someone do that to a post from 12 years ago that was made moot by later events? The only reason I thought of that I mused about the possibility that I might not give my Party Vote to Labour in that year’s election. The motivation could’ve been a desire to protect Labour from any voter defecting to another party in the this year’s General Election. This is illogical: the post is from 12 years ago and is clearly no longer relevant. A conservative creating mischief would’ve been more likely to flag a post criticising NZ’s conservative parties. I couldn’t see any logical reason for a real human being to flag that post from 2011.

The bot theory seems more probable: But if it was a bot, what could’ve triggered its circuits?

The post had a paragraph with four links to other sites, three of which were dead. The only live one was to the website of the NZ Labour Party itself—was that evidence of the real human being theory? Unlikely.

Another paragraph had a link to an article on New Zealand’s LGBT+ magazine website, and while the link itself returned a 404 error (“page not found”), could the bot have assumed that the site’s articles were “adult content”? If so, why? The 404 error page had nothinng evven remotely risque on it, nor did the homepage—unless the fact it was LGBTQ+ somehow made it “adult content”.

Whatever the case, I removed all the links (most of them were dead, anyway). Finally, I added an update to the last paragraph, just in cans the actual human being theory was correct: “[Update: in the end, I gave both my votes to Labour that year].” I figured I covered all the bases, so I clicked on the link to ask the post be reviewed.

As I was working on this post, I got another email from Google/Blogger:
We have re-evaluated the post titled 'Is NZ Labour finally backing marriage equality?' against community guidelines. Upon review, the post has been reinstated…
I still don’t know how or why, precisely, a now obsolete post from 2011 was flagged. Even so, in the end the result this time was exactly the same as it was in the last incident with Blogger, back in May 2021: I won (although, to nitpick, this time the post wasn’t “reinstated” because it had never been removed, unlike 2021. Instead, it was just placed behind a content warning challenge screen, and that’s what was removed.

This incident is annoying, just as the one two years ago was, but I think it’s actually mostly just stupid—and a sign of things to come. As companies like Google, Facebook, etc., rely more and more on technology—algorithms, “AI”, whatever—to do work that requires human-level intelligence, this kind of thing is likely to become quite common.

Oh well, at least I got a topic of a new post out of it.


In April 2013, I wrote about documenting the things I talk about, and mentioned how back in 2010 I’d had advice to leave dead links in posts, and since then, I’ve never bothered to remove any dead links, though I’ve sometimes updated dead ones to new working links. This is the first time that I ever suspected that a dead link MAY have caused a problem. Or, maybe it wasn’t that at all. It’s unlikely I’ll ever know for sure.