Tuesday, April 30, 2024

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 414 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 414, “Circus clowns”, 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.

NZ: Buyer’s remorse?

TVNZ’s 1News released a new opinion poll last night, and the news is not good for New Zealand’s 3-ring circus government. I haven’t talked about how poorly they’re doing, and for a lot of reasons, but there have been so many bizarre actions by this government that it’s been hard to keep up. At the moment, it looks like New Zealanders see it that way, too.

There are several significant things about the poll, including the headline that if the election were held yesterday, the current government would be gone, replaced by a Labour-Greens-Te Pāti Māori left-leaning coalition. Also, this result is unprecedented: Since polling started, no first-term government has polled so badly so early in its term. The story at the link above sums this up well:
The result is not unprecedented for an incumbent Government although it has historically not happened so early in its tenure. It is similar to poll results for the [John] Key and [Helen] Clark governments in their third terms.

The third John Key-led [National Party] Government was elected in October 2014 and by the July 2015 poll their coalition would have been voted out. The third Helen Clark [Labour Party] Government was elected in October 2005 and by May 2006 their coalition would have been voted out, based on poll results from that time.
So, this result is common enough in the third term of a government—and not in a first term. National lost the 2017 election, two years after the 2015 bad poll results. Similarly, Labour lost the 2008 election, some two years (and a bit) after the bad 2006 bad poll. The current coalition of Chaos Government has only around two and a half years until the next election.

All of which gives hopes to opponents of the current government, however, there’s more to this.

Even based on this poll, the centre-right National Party would be the single largest party in Parliament, though without enough friends to form government. However, they have access to more potential donor money than Labour does, and much—but not all—of New Zealand’s media is friendly to them. Being the party in government gives them the opportunity to do and say things to appeal to potential voters, So, if they really do lose the next election, it’ll be because they couldn’t sense that the wind had changed directions.

The poll result show that Winston Peters’ rightwing populist party, NZ First, wouldn’t make it back into Parliament. However, Winston has been in and out of Parliament a lot over the past 30+ years, and there’s no way to know for sure what’s going to happen with him in two and a half years. However, while the current coalition cannot govern without him—or, more specifically, his party’s MPs—Winston has never had a successful coalition government with National. After the first MMP election in 1996, he was in coalition with National, then Jenny Shipley rolled the Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, and sacked Winston. His MPs, however, stayed with the government, and so, continued to govern until National lost the 1999 election to Labour.

Winston’s history shows us that he can never be counted out forever, nor can NZ First MPs’ loyalty to Winston be guaranteed. This means that he could be back in 2026, but it also means that if he becomes a liability and was sacked from this government, his MPs might stay and support the government, keeping it in power.

The hard-right Act Party has never been hugely popular in New Zealand. For years, the only reason they had an MP in Parliament was that the National Party did a deal for them to hold the Epsom Electorate. In 2023, their candidate won the Tāmaki Electorate, too, but that at least partly due to how unpopular the incumbent National Party MP was because of his hardline fundamentalist “christian” ideology, which didn’t mesh well with the more traditional conservatism of the electorate. For all it’s faults, the Act Party isn’t as aggressively socially conservative as NZ First. While there’s no reason to think NZ voters will suddenly turn to Act (they didn’t do that in significant any election in which National performed badly), they’re also not currently losing support bad as either National or NZ First.

Similarly, the picture isn’t rosy for the Centre-Left, either. Since losing the election, Labour and its Leader, former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, haven’t presented any sort of alternative to the current mess, nor have they articulated any sort of agenda. However, it can be argued that this is wise strategy two and half years out from an election, especially when the current government is making so many mistakes and alienating voters. It’s about keeping their powder dry while the current government keeps scoring own-goals and undermines itself, not the least by doing things that are very unpopular. But that also risks creating opportunities for the Greens, in particular, to present an alternative now, when voters are grumpy with the government, but don’t yet know what they want instead.

The Greens have their own problems and challenges, too. They’ve had several scandals among their MPs, and their Co-Leader recently resigned, being replaced by a second woman. The harsh truth is that while plenty of folks on the Right reflexively—and, frankly, irrationally—despise the Greens, they’re definitely likely to not respond favourably to a party with two female co-leaders: Misogyny and aggressive sexism has been at the centre of much of the harassment that female MPs—especially former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern—have endured in recent years.

Plenty of Pākehā New Zealanders can’t stand Te Pāti Māori (“The Māori Party” in English, and often abbreviated as “TPM”), and much of that is just as reflexive and irrational as dislike for the Greens is. The party mainly represents Māori interests (though many of their policies would affect low-income people of all ethnicities), and it currently holds six of the seven Māori Electorate seats in Parliament, most of which had previously been held by Labour. It doesn’t hold any General Electorate seats.

This evening, 1News did a bunch of “vox pop” interviews of ordinary people, one of whom said something interesting: The government should show more kindness. I think he’s on to something. Most of the government’s ministers, along with Winston, Act’s Leader David Seymour, and even Prime Minister Chris Luxon sometimes, come across as condescending, arrogant, and irritated that anyone would dare question them. That’s how Winston operates on the daily because it’s part of his brand. David Seymour too often acts like he’s still an opposition MP, making what he thinks are witty barbs, but which now make him sound like kind of a jerk. In fact, the whole lot of them don’t seem to have grasped that governing is different from campaigning. The John Key (and later, Bill English) National government spend nine years blaming the previous Labour Government for National’s own failures and mistakes, and the current government is doing the same thing—but they sound much more condescending and arrogant while doing it

While it’s unlikely the current government’s MPs and Ministers will change and stop acting like jerks so much of the time, if they did it would probably help them sell their unpopular agenda. I guess maybe it’s lucky for those of us who oppose them that it’s highly improbable they can learn and do better.

One thing is absolutely certain: It’s going to be a very long two and half years.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Picturing a weekend

I had a great weekend, from Friday right through Sunday. As it happens, there I took several relevant photos, ones that add to the story of my weekend. Not that I said much on social media, though.

I shared the photo above on my personal Facebook Sunday evening, noting, “instead of talk, here’s my favourite photo of the weekend.” It was my favourite photo, but it’s one I actually took because of another one I shared in the comments on my Facebook post:

When I shared it to Facebook, I said, “And here’s another one from earlier this morning when I woke Leo up to have his breakfast,” which was also a completely accurate comment. However, I took the photo at the top of this post because I noticed that in the second one it looked like his fur was over one eye, and he doesn’t ordinarily look like that. I think it was because of the way the sun was shining on him (the reason I took the photo), and maybe the position he’d been sleeping in pushed his fur over his eye a bit. Even so, I took the second photo to show what he normally looks like these days.

As it happens, there was yet another photo of Leo, one I took Friday afternoon, right after I was done posting my podcast episode that day. I took the photo because I thought he looked cute, but I didn’t share it online or even show family.

There was one other thing about Friday’s photo: One of Leo’s favourite toys, what’s left of a blue dog soft toy named “B-Dog”, is between his front legs. That same toy is in teh background of the photo up top, just the right of Leo’s head. I took the photo a little while after he was done with his breakfast, when he jumped up on my lap, as he often does when I’m in my chair, in order to have a snooze after he’s played with a toy for a bit. That day, it was B-Dog.

Finally, there was another photo I took on Sunday, after I’d fed Leo. It’s two fried eggs (which I’ve become pretty good at making) on toasted store-bought bread, and baked beans straight out of the can, unheated. This was a meal that made me think of Nigel, for three reasons.

First, Nigel always ate the bean straight out of the tin, and I always did, too, but I can remember one of his sisters expressing disgust (mostly real) at this because she always heated them. Every time I have baked beans out of a tin, I think of Nigel.

The second thing was that I don’t recall becoming good at making fried eggs until after I shifted to Hamilton, though maybe I’ve just forgotten. I do know that I learned the technique from a TV chef, though I’ve forgotten who that was. I crack each egg into a ramekin in case the yolk breaks, because then I’ll make scrambles eggs instead, I do the same thing when I make poached eggs, and for the same reason. Once I’ve poured the eggs into my frypan, I add around a teaspoon or so of water and cover the pan. The heat form below cooks the whites, and the steam from the water cooks the top of the egg white and the top of the yolk. Personally, I prefer a see-though lid so I can keep an eye on teh eggs so I can plate them when the top of the yolk starts to get a bit cloudy and the white is clearly firm.

And finally, there’s the toast. As I’ve said before, Nigel had peanut butter and jam on toast nearly very work days for maybe ten years before he died, eating it on the car on his way to work. Sometimes, if he was running a bit late, he’d have me make it for him (especially when we lived in our last house). However, he always insisted that the toast must be cold before it was buttered, and I thought that was crazy—though, of course, I did as he asked. I’ve always buttered my toast hot so the butter melts into the nooks and crannies.

Last week, though—and for absolutely no particular reason—I made toast the way Nigel did, and my Sunday brunch I did it again, partly so see if my first impression was right, and it was: Nigel was right, and it was better when buttered cold because the toast stayed crispy. I tried it when, like Sunday, I was having egg on toast, which can often make toast a bit soggy—but not so much if its buttered cold. He would’ve thought it was hysterical that I tried his method with toast and liked it—though I’d still butter hot toast if I was having cheese on it so the cheese would soften.

Overall, none of these photos, nor the stories behind them, are particularly important, but they are a kind of visual slice of my life this past weekend. As I’ve said a few times now, I I like having reminders, especially from photos. That’s true whether I share them or not.

Friday, April 26, 2024

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 413 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 413, “Eighteenth season”, is finally available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Have nice things. Or not.

People have opinions about everything possible. Of course they do: It seems to be a large part of being a modern human. Even so, it’s amazing how people seem to feel the urgent need to spout their negative opinions about things that don’t matter, like pop music. I had two reminders of that this week.

I don’t take part in any of the numerous social media arguments over something in pop culture—movies, TV/streaming shows, music, etc. In general, my feelings about pop culture are summed up in Arthur’s Law:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
Not everyone feels that way—shocker, I know—and many of the Internet Fights I’ve seen are centred on, or related to, something in pop culture. I honestly cannot understand why people get so bothered about what other people enjoy. To me, it seems like such a colossal wast of time and energy.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I saw a Facebook “Memory” about what I posted after the death of Prince in 2016. I later blogged about that, and the post incorporated much of what I said on Facebook. At the time, I was taken aback by the fact that some people couldn’t even leave people alone to grieve the loss of an artist they liked and admired. I said:
The Internet has provided a great way for people to share their grief with people who feel it, too, and that’s wonderful for them. Really, that should be good enough for the rest of us.
Of course, it wasn’t good enough for some people who chose to be truly awful to other people. It just felt wrong to me—not the first time that’s happened. That made me think about all the other times I’ve seen people that seemingly decided that the world simply HAD to know how much they hated a particular thing in pop culture, especially in pop music, which seems to draw the greatest level of attacks.

At the moment, there seems to be no one in pop culture who is a bigger target of hatred than Taylor Swift, but, to me, it’s utterly mystifying. My cards on the table before I go a step further: I like a lot of Taylor Swift’s songs—actually, that should probably be written be as “a LOT”. However, I wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, mainly because I’ve never bought any of her music (I’ve added her music to my Spotify library), However, her song “The Man” was one of my favourite songs of 2020, and the music video [WATCH — no, seriously, watch it!] is quite probably my favourite video of that year (and on my list of all-time favourites). It’s one of the things that got me through the first Covid lockdown. All of which is to make clear that I think she’s an enormous talent, even though I don’t call myself a “fan”—actually, am I a fan of anyone anymore? A topic for another time, maybe.

There’s a thing called toxic fandom, and they can be fans of literally anyone in the public eye. Personally, I’m not too keen on the aggressive and toxic fans of the frequently napping oddly-hued senior citizen politician from Florida, and the toxicity of such fans can be alarming. However, the number of such fans is astonishingly small considering how much attention they get in the media. Taylor Swift absolutely has aggressive and toxic fans, too, but they’re self-evidently NOT the majority.

I think part of the problem is the imperative of modern journalism to promote the sensational and even outrageous in order to get clicks on links (and, even still, eyes on broadcasts). It’s the old-timey journalist’s slogan, “if it bleeds, it leads”, or even “dog bites man isn’t news, man bites dog is.” The news media, then, has a financial incentive to give airtime and print space (online especially) to the most extreme examples of toxic fans being toxic, and while such fans are absolutely not the majority of a given fandom, and even though it can be argued they cast a shadow out of more normal fans, that doesn’t make those more normal-behaving fans insignificant.

I mention all that because part of the hatred directed at Taylor Swift is “justified” but some people as their supposed reaction to the antics of some of Taylor’s aggressive and toxic fans. The question is, those particular fans’ behaviour aside, why do so many people seem to hate Taylor so very much? Far too much of the answer comes down to politics and culture wars.

Not long ago, the news was filled with fans of NFL (American football) reacting bitterly to Taylor’s relationship with Travis Kelce, a tightend for the Kansas City Chiefs. Fox “News” picked up the chorus, condemning her for having the utter audacity to go to watch Kelce play, and declaring there was a fix in for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl so that she could endorse Joe Biden for president amid all the media coverage. The Chiefs won, and, of course, Taylor didn’t say a word about President Biden.

Fox and other rightwing media outlets then switched their attention to Swift’s hugely, insanely successful Eras Tour. Fox performers claimed Swift would use the platform to urge her fans to support Democrats, something that apparently came from her previous non-partisan urging of her fans to register to vote (and they did). Fox performers demanded that Taylor “stay out of politics”, which, oddly enough, is a demand they’ve never made of any rightwing performer since, well, ever. Amazing, isn't it!

With the rightwing media ecosystem promoting hatred of Taylor Swift, it was inevitable it would metastasise. Now, it’s become part of the USA’s far-right religious-political activism.

Today I saw a cut-and-paste share of a Facebook post by a far-right “Christian singer, songwriter, former worship leader,” and failed Republican candidate for Congress (because I’ve never heard of him, it seems prudent to not name him, so as to not give him a Google boost). He wrote on his Facebook post, “Almost half the songs on Taylor Swift’s new album contain explicit lyrics (E), make fun of Christians and straight up blaspheme God. Is this the music you want your kids listening to? Do you think I’m overreacting?” Well, since he asked, yes, I absolutely do.

He shared small portions—in one case a single line—of lyrics to songs from Taylor’s latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, and I found nothing in those quoted lyrics to be even remotely offensive, so I decided to listen to the songs in their entirety to find out for myself what he was clutching his pearls about.

The fact is, I liked all three songs, and the two the guy seemed to be the most apoplectic about (because he shared more than a single line from them)? I liked those two the best of the three. This doesn’t surprise me in the least. The rightwing is constantly bleating on and on and on about how “the Left”—by which they actually mean anyone who’s not a rightwinger—is “woke” and they’re all “snowflakes” who can’t accept offence and should “just to grow up”, and because this is the rightwing mantra, I have a question: What should mainstream people say about rightwingers when they entirely overreact to a song’s lyric and claim to be mortally offended by “attacks” on supposed Christians and their version of the Christian god? Are they “woke”? Well, yes, and insofar as that has any meaning, it’s their version of it—though they’d probably prefer their version of the term, “red-pilled”. What’s clear is that, by their own definition, they’re being “snowflakes”—people who can’t accept offence.

It’s easy for people to be cynical about their ideological opposites, presuming they’re arrogant, aggressive, that they lack intelligence or, at the very least, self-awareness, and that their defining trait is hypocrisy. It’s also easy to point out things that seem to justify the prejudice, like the pearl-clutcher who attacked Taylor who then used the comments on his post to market t-shirts he sells on his website. Obviously, neother hypocrisy nor grifting is defined of limited by ideology, even though it seems like the Right has more than their fair share of it.

Decades from now, Taylor Swift and all the nonsense thrown at her by the rightwing in particular will be items in history books, but is this really the way her loudest critics want to be remembered, as intolerant pearl-clutching snowflakes? I ask for a very simple reason: The rightwing constantly demands that mainstream people should “just get over it” whenever rightwingers say or do something the mainstream finds offensive or over-the-top. Shouldn’t righwingers do the same?

Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else. No, really!

The graphic up top is something I've seen on social media for several years. Sometimes the graphic has been altered to make a different statement, but the text in this version is the first I saw. I couldn't find who originally created the graphic or where it's from (or even if this version has the original text), however, the first online use I could find was from 2016.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In these modern times

I’ve been a sceptic of the promises made about machine learning, something the media usually calls “A.I.”, for “artificial intelligence”. It’s not that I think it’ll rapidly become self-aware and decide to kill us all—that’ll come later (mostly kidding…). My scepticism is because the promises made have mostly been hype and marketing puffery with little to show for all the hot air expelled. And yet, A.I. is already everywhere, and together with algorithms of various sorts, they will increasingly dominate how we interact with companies and the world. In fact, they already do—and that’s a problem.

Back in February, one of New Zealand’s two supermarket companies, NZ-owned Foodstuffs, announced they would trial Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) as part of their store security, in an effort to reduce in-store crimes. Customers entering a store will be scanned and the system will compare the images with folk in their database. The company said that if the computer finds a match, it will require a second person to do a visual match. If the individual is still considered a match, they’ll be confronted by store security. The company talks about reducing violent and abusive behaviour—which is a very real problem—but it’s obvious it has a roll in excluding recidivist shoplifters, too.

However: FRT is not even remotely foolproof, and the systems make mistakes constantly—especially for women who are not of European descent, such as, Māori, Pacific Island, and Indian. In fact, this problems has already happened.

On Monday, 1News reported that a woman of Māori descent in Rotorua was misidentified as a thief. The woman says she provided the store security with her ID and told them she was not the person they’d trespassed. "It didn't seem to change their mind which was already made up based on what they saw," she said. The company apologised and blamed “human error”, which is another huge problem in the system: It relies on the human verifier being unbiased, something all humans struggle with to varying degrees, and many studies have indicated racial and ethnic bias is common in these sorts of situations. Put another way, no one's perfect. The woman observed, "[It's] ironic they blame human error for an AI piece of technology knowing it will have false positives and errors across the board." Exactly. Also, the incident happened on her birthday.

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner already had concerns about this use of FRT, so it seems probable his level of concern will be heightened. He’s definitely not alone in that. My local New World supermarket is part of the FRT trial, and I’ve never been comfortable with that fact.

Meanwhile, NZ’s other supermarket company, Australian-owned Woolworths, announced yesterday that it was rolling out body cameras to all of its stores because, the company says, it’s seen “a 75% increase in physical assaults and 148% increase in ‘serious reportable events’ in the past three years”. The cameras will be worn around the neck and only turned on if there’s an incident. Also, staff are supposed to notify customers before recording.

It’s easy to see how in a tense situation a staff member may forget to tell a customer they’re being recorded—or, the staff member may forget to turn it on at all. In a statement quoted in the linked article, the company claims, “Footage will not be released except when requested by police as part of an investigation." So… they won’t turn it over to the police unless its requested by them? What will they do with it if it isn’t requested? How long will they store the footage, and how securely will it be kept? Who will have access to it, and for what purposes? Will A.I. be used, as with Foodstuffs, to identify repeat offenders? Seems to me the Privacy Commissioner ought to be concerned about this, too.

There’s no sensible person one who isn’t concerned about the rise in abuse and even violence directed at retail workers, and we’re well aware that shoplifters are driving up costs for us all. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate questions that need to be answered, and it also doesn’t mean companies—or governments, for that matter—can do absolutely anything they want and have no controls or restrictions just because they say it’s for “security”. We’re in a completely new arena now, and that’s all the more reason there must be extra caution.

The main problem is that just like its human creators, A.I. isn’t perfect, and its flaws are compounded when the humans in the mix are placed in situations in which their inherent biases may be reinforced by the A.I. system’s inherent flaws. There’s also no such thing as a computer system that can’t be hacked, which is another reason privacy considerations are so important.

We need to dial down the hype and pay more attention to the legitimate concerns about privacy and the potential for harm caused by mistakes—by A.I. or the humans involved in the process. Meanwhile, we do need to do more to stop crimes and violence against workers in stores, and that will likely require legislation. Indeed, the two supermarket companies’ use of technology is happening at least in part because government hasn’t provided any solutions. But charging ahead into the unknown with little oversight doesn’t seem like a great idea. What I’m really saying is, let’s get this right—while we still can.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 5

This week in 1984, yet another new song went to Number One, beginning yet another three-week run at the top of the Billboard “Hot 100”, and it was yet another song from a movie. It was the third single of 1984 to have three-weeks at Number One—though all of the Number Ones of 1984 up to that point spent multiple weeks at the top of the charts, too. On April 21, 1984, the new Number One was ”Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” (video up top) by English drummer, singer, and songwriter Phil Collins, who is also known for who work with UK rock band Genesis (which is where I first heard of him). It was Collins’ first solo song to reach Number One in the USA.

Collins wrote the song as the title track for the film Against All Odds (a film I’ve never seen), basing it on an earlier unreleased song of his. The song was the first track on the film’s soundtrack album. The song was also nominated for an Academy Award, as was the album.

I remember hearing the song at the time, and I thought it was nice enough, but it didn’t particularly appeal to me: It was a lack of liking it, not an active dislike. That’s probably my most common reaction to pop music hits, which I think is actually quite positive: It’s not been common for me to actively dislike a pop song, and there have been very few that I detested. At the other end of the spectrum, there have been relatively few I loved, more that I liked, and between the two ends of of the spectrum are all the songs I neither liked nor disliked, and “Against All Odds” is in that group. I suppose I may have felt differently about the song if I’d personally identified with the lyrics, but I didn’t. It happens.

The music video was directed by Taylor Hackford, who also directed the film. It’s like a lot of videos of songs from a film soundtrack—filled with scenes from the film, though at least it has some shots of Collins performing the song. I don’t remember the video at all, but it spent several weeks at Number One on MTV, ending up at Number 4 on the channel’s year-end Top 20. According to the Wikipedia article on the song (linked above), “Gary LeMel, music supervisor at Columbia, felt the music video on MTV increased Against All Odds' box office takings by at least US$5 million,” so there’s that. The version above is the only one that I could find on YouTube, something I've seen before with movie soundtrack songs. On his YouTube Channel, though, Collins has shared a live version that's labelled “official” [WATCH/LISTEN], and it may remain online if the one above is ever taken down.

“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” reached Number 3 in Australia, Number One in Canada, 3 in New Zealand, 2 in the UK (Platinum), and Number One on the USA’s Billboard “Hot 100” (Gold). The movie soundtrack album reached 33 in Australia and 12 on the USA’s “Billboard 200” chart.

Against all odds, this week’s story is complete. The series will return May 12 with yet another new Number One. Will it be another multi-week run at Number One? We’ll take a look at it then.

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1984” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 1 – January 21, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 2 – February 4, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 3 – February 25, 2024
Weekend Diversion: 1984, Part 4 – March 31, 2024

The ordinariness isn’t ordinary, but it is

The path of our life can take any number of routes, and for some people there may be a lot of twists and turns along the way. I’m certainly in that category, and my own labyrinthine journey is something I’ve detailed in posts here on this blog, and sometimes on social media, too. Through that journey, I’ve come to realise that given half a change, ordinariness will try to reassert itself in a life that has been made, for a time, at least, anything but ordinary.

When someone extremely important to us, our person, dies, nothing is the same afterward, nor can it be. How much and how quickly ordinariness returns will depend entirely on who we’ve lost, and what changes that brings to our lives. However, I now think that even when things seem the most dire and even hopeless, ordinariness is nearby waiting to take the stage again. That’s certainly something I’ve recently noticed in my own life.

Yesterday, I published a post, “It’s not merely a tree” in which I looked at several events that happened over the years on April 20, as served up to me as Facebook “Memories”. What got my attention was the coincidental use of photos of a tree almost exactly one year apart, and how the photos were both about ordinary, everyday life. Obviously, so very much has changed over the years, and I noted that in the post, too.

I realised that most of my blog posts nowadays have little to do with my grief journey itself, though the reality of it is sometimes integral to the subject I’m writing about, even though it’s seldom the main focus. I think two recent things that are examples of that.

The first of those is the brunch I made for myself this morning (photo up top): It’s “Toasty eggs”, as Nigel called it, with a side of baked beans straight from the tin, just like he used to have. I talked about them in October last year, and the overall subject was about, as I said at the time, “that food can spark strong memories, and even emotions,” and I shared three examples of that.

The second example is from this past week, a post called “Ironed-clad”, which was about me ironing my shirts—the history of how I got there, why I do it, and how I do it. Nigel was part of that story, but ironing was the actual subject.

What both of those have in common—as do many of my posts about my ordinary life—is an acknowledgement of what connection, if any, Nigel has to the story, but in every case the real story is about the topic as part of my ordinary life. The connection to Nigel is about the context and my history with the topic, but not about the void he’s left in my life, nor about how I’ve been working to reconstruct my life and create some sort of new life I never contemplated, let alone planned for. In short, my focus now is on where I’m at, not where I was or what I’ve lost, even though those are fundamental to who, where, and what I am and am becoming.

None of this is meant to suggest in any way whatsoever that my grief journey is “over”, because that doesn’t happen—we grow with our grief, not away from it. Instead, I simply feel that reached a point where my life with Nigel has become my bedrock, the immutable foundation on which I’m building my new life and new self. It is a part of me, and of my new ordinary, but it’s no longer the centre of everything.

Which brings me back to how I now see the extent to which I seem to be talking about ordinary things in my life, because that also means that I notice ordinary things absolutely anywhere now, and many of them have little or nothing to do with the part of my life that was lost. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop commonly referring back to Nigel when talking about my ordinary life, especially when talking about how I got to where I am, but I suspect that day could come.

Right now, though, I’m mostly just fascinated by the way my focus and attention seems to be on the ordinariness of my life, even though how I got to this point isn’t ordinary, though the fact of being a widower certainly is. Life is a strange journey, and despite what some people seem to think, there are no road maps. But this blog, and what I’ve shared on social media, has helped me find my way, and that’s a very good thing—and, for me, entirely ordinary.

The screenshot of the alert on my Apple Watch about closing the Exercise ring is unusual: Lately I've been closing the Exercise ring (the green one) more often than not, and that never used to happen so often not even when Nigel was alive. For the record, I did close the ring (along with the other two) yesterday. Maybe this, too, is part of my new ordinary?

Saturday, April 20, 2024

It’s not merely a tree

Facebook “Memories” are a useful way for me to find out what I was posting on the platform on one date. Sometimes one or more are really interesting, most often they’re not, but either way, they’re presented to me without me having to do anything. I’ve found that very useful for this blog because they often inspire new blog posts. Today is the first time it reminded me too late—except, maybe it wasn’t.

Thanks to a FB “Memory” today (up top), I found our that a year ago today—April 20, 2023—I posted a photo of the same tree I shared a photo of yesterday, and from pretty much the same angle. I didn’t remember that I did that, which means I don’t have a photographic memory (you’re welcome). I also didn’t remember that I posted a blog post a year ago today, too, a post that included the two photos in the “Memory”. Obviously there’s no particular reason I should or would remember a blog post from a year ago, and even though I knew that the tree had “been in many of my photos over the past 4+ years”, I didn’t see a need to look through 4+ years of blog posts to look for them.

This could’ve been a story about a FB “Memory” letting me discover that I shared very similar photos of the same tree one year and one day apart, and if that was all there was to it, I may have shared the discovery on my personal Facebook—and, in fact, I did, adding “I see that last year the tree had also lost leaves mostly from the same side as this year, though fewer of them. Guess the prevailing winds might come from that side.” All of of which is at least a little bit interesting, but I doubt I’d ever have blogged about it, too—until I scrolled through the rest of today’s “Memories”.

It turns out, this day has been a significant day for me over the years (some of the other “Memories” are at the bottom of this post).

Seven years ago today, we’d been living in South Auckland for only a couple months, and I shared one of those answer-some-question memes (not one that identity thieves supposedly use), and I said that my favourite place to be was with Nigel.

Six years ago today, Nigel and I were still in Clarks Beach, and I’d just had my annual flu jab. I said that “My arm is kinda itchy and bumpy where I got my flu jab. That’s why I don’t like jabs. Not dying from preventable disease is why I love jabs.” That’s still true, of course, and why I’m in the process of getting my latest jabs between now and June.

Four years ago today, the government announced that the first Covid lockdown was ending a week later by moving down an Alert Level to Level 3, the first of those. I’m pretty sure it was stricter than later versions of Level 3, which is why I called it “Lockdown Lite”. Level 3 eventually got the nickname “Lockdown with takeaways”.

But four years ago today I was living alone in Hamilton, though still with all three dogs, with whom I’d shared that first Covid lockdown that would downgrade a few days later. Nigel and our cat were missing.

A year ago today, it was just me and Leo, and my attention was captured by a tree—a tree!—and not any infectious diseases or preventive measures related to them, and not even by my changed life. Yesterday, it was that tree again, and a focus entirely on my current ordinary life.

I realised that today’s Facebook “Memories” gave me pretty much the clearest look at the arc of my life I’ve ever seen in those daily memories, and that was mainly because of the tree photo: I might not have noticed my story’s arc otherwise. I think that the arc of our life stories is always visible if we look, and looking can tell us a lot about our path and how we got where we are in our current lives.

Everything in life is connected—our lives, our life stories, and how they connect to others and their stories. All we have to do is be willing to SEE when we look. Apparently, even a tree can help with that.

It’s the connections, then, the fact that Facebook so clearly showed me the path of change my life took over the past seven years. So much has changed over that time, and so much will change in the future, too, and documenting all of that is actually the whole point of having a personal blog.

So, the coincidence of posts about a tree ended up in a blog post after all. That and a lot more.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Autumn adventures

Autumn is definitely here, and I’ve been watching its progress on a tree on my street, a tree that’s been in many of my photos over the past 4+ years (including above). I noticed today that most of the leaves it's dropped have come from one side, and that was after some windy days lately. Unfortunately, this tree is also about as close to “pretty autumn colours” that we get in this part of the country, which is probably because we don’t get any frosts until winter, and even then they’re mild. Even so, there’ll still be plenty of leaves to grind up when I mow the lawns next week.

That wasn’t the only nice thing in my day: Today I met up for lunch with my mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law, and my cousin-in-law. It’s always nice to have a catch up, especially when the meal is nice. After I dropped of my M-I-L at her place, I stopped at Animates to pick up flea/worm stuff for Leo, and I decided I may as well get him some more food because he’ll need more in the next month or so, and it’d save me a trip at that time.

I was trying to decide which size bag to get, because it IS expensive (it ain’t called “super-premium for nothing), and I suddenly remembered something: Leo will be seven at his next birthday (in around six weeks), and that’s the age I’m to start transitioning him to “senior” dog food—already!

So, I decided to buy a small bag of his current “adult” food, and that size will make it easier for me to manage the transition to his new food when the time comes in a couple months. Time is going so fast nowadays!

And, yes, today I wore one of my nicer shirts that I’d ironed in the past week or two (IYKYK). And for the photo above, I first shared the photo to my Instagram, and then I made a lengthy comment when Insta shared the photo to my personal Facebook; the comment described my actual day.

This post, then, is a mishmash of both of those, all squished together and spread neatly on the pan—I mean, page: Today was also a 4-year cooking anniversary—a meal I haven’t made again since. That was in a FB “Memory” this morning, and it kinda, coulda been its own blog post—I did briefly consider that. So this post, then is actually a tale of three tales. Unlike last time, none of them caused confusion, which is probably why I had to try harder to do so in this post.

Anyway, what’s the point of blogging if I don’t have a bit of fun with it now and then? Especially because good moods for me aren't necessarily all that common these days. I'm just glad that I had a nice lunch and visit with family, then I had a revelation about Leo, took a photo of one of my nearby trees, and did it all while wearing a recently ironed one of my nicer shirts. Winning!

Thursday, April 18, 2024


I ironed shirts yesterday. That’s not particularly unusual for me, because I’ve done that for much of my life. On the other hand, it is different from my life in the past: The context has changed, the frequency had changed, and recently it changed from being something I did from time to time to a chore I do roughly once a week. It’s not as simple as it may seem.

My mother showed me how to iron shirts when I was a little boy—8 years old or even younger. I can remember enjoying it—something about making all the wrinkles disappear into smooth cloth—a kind of restoring order to chaos, though it’d be many, many years before I’d think of it that way. I also remember asking her if she had shirts I could iron, and she gave me some of my dad’s—though I don’t know if they were ones he actually wore or if they were “spares”. In any case, I think my childhood stamina probably wouldn’t have let me do it for too long.

Over the years and decades that followed, I ironed my shirts from time to time, though in the 1970s and 80s most of them didn’t need ironing. By the 1990s, I started ironing trousers, too—chinos, and other casual pants.

When I arrived in New Zealand, ironing became one of my chores, mainly because Nigel hated it. So, every morning I’d iron shirts for us to wear to work. Around this time we bought a new iron, and I while I can’t remember if we needed one or I wanted a new one, I know two things about it: I wanted one with a stainless steel sole plate, like my mother’s iron had (Nigel’s had a non-stick sole plate). I also insisted it had to have automatic shut-off, a function that would turn the iron off it if wasn’t moved for several minutes. That turned out to be a good move, because, as I feared, one day we were in a hurry to leave the house and I forgot to turn the iron off. When we came home at the end of the day, it would have still been on otherwise.

In the late 1990s, I happened to see a segment of a magazine-style NZ TV show, and the host was interviewing Glenn Turner, a New Zealander cricket player who was coach of the New Zealand national Cricket team for a second time in 1995 (officially nicknamed ”The Black Caps” in 1998), including through the 1996 Cricket Work Cup (New Zealand was defeated by Australia in the quarter-finals). I can’t remember the subject of the interview, but it could’ve been about him and his wife, former Mayor of Dunedin, Sukhi Turner, or it could’ve been in 1998 after Glenn published his fourth book, Lifting the Covers. While I don’t remember any of the details, there's one thing I definitely remember: In the interview, Glenn was ironing shirts, and he gave a verbal explanation of how to do it. Basically, he did the same as me—starting on one side of the front, moving the shirt around the ironing board to the other front side, then doing the sleeves, and finally the collar. Actually, that’s the way I do it now—I didn’t necessarily always do each shirt the same way, and I also had never done one other thing Glenn said to do: Use the collar as a handle to move the shirt so you don’t wrinkle any part you’ve already ironed. I've always found cricket to be educational.

By the early 2000s, I started ironing a week’s worth of shirts at once, prioritising Nigel’s work shirts because at the time his office attire was a bit more formal than it would later become (he wore ties every day, for example). This eventually became something I did on Sunday evenings as I watched TV, something I did right up until close to the time Nigel first went into hospital, less than two weeks before he died.

Whenever it was, that was the last time I ever ironed on a Sunday evening.

In my early days in Hamilton, I ironed in the daytime, and never on a Sunday, but that wasn’t for any emotional or sentimental reasons: It was mainly because I simply didn’t have a good spot to put the ironing board so I could still watch TV, as I’d done for many years before Nigel died. However, it’s also true I was well aware that it had been my Sunday evening ritual, and it had been mostly for Nigel, and that did make me feel a bit sad at first.

I also ironed whenever I could work up the energy: Nowadays I find it extremely tiring, hot, and it makes my lower back quite sore (because ironing boards are too low for me). But then something happened that made me think I should make ironing a regular household chore.

Back in August of last year, I talked about how a favourite shirt tore open. I said in that post:
I liked the shirt because it was baggy, and because it didn’t need to be ironed, however, that may have sped it’s demise: As it got older, it got wrinkles (a bit like me…), especially in the lower half of the back (totally unlike me…). Those creases, as high points in the fabric, became worn until one eventually tore open. Would ironing have extended its life? Well, probably, because if I needed to iron it I wouldn’t have worn it very much (at any given time, I have quite a few shirts waiting to be ironed).
I have quite a few shirts that I bought 20+ years ago because they were inexpensive and didn’t need to be ironed, partly because they were all 100% synthetic. I had enough shirts that I didn’t necessarily wear them all that often, especially because I had a lot of much nicer ones (that needed ironing…). For years I merely hung the inexpensive shirts up to dry, and only ironed the much nicer ones.

Once I was living in Hamilton, I found I was spending a lot of time at home (especially because of Covid lockdowns and related restrictions), and I started wearing the cheaper shirts much more often. After my favourite shirt tore open in the lower back, I noticed the inexpensive shirts all had similar wrinkled areas in the lower back. I decided to start ironing the shirts to extend whatever life they had left.

This evolved into a roughly weekly ritual, and after ironing whatever inexpensive shirts I’d recently washed and hung up to dry, I’d then iron a few of my nicer shirts—because what hasn’t changed at all is that I still have “quite a few shirts waiting to be ironed”, especially ones from other seasons. By choosing to iron regularly, I’m slowly clearing the backlog of unironed shirts.

I have no way of knowing whether this will help extend the life of the inexpensive shirts—many of them are getting quite old now—but at the very least it makes them look nicer, which makes me feel good about myself, and that’s a positive benefit. It’s also putting the much nicer shirts back into rotation, which reduces the number of times I wear any of the cheaper shirts.

Despite the fact it makes me tired, hot, and sore, I actually still like ironing, and it’s mainly for the whole “restoring order to chaos” aspect, a frequent motivator for many of my projects (like mowing the lawns, for example). I also appreciate the fact that when I wear an ironed shirt out in public, it makes it look like I’m making an effort—actually, it’s probably that if I wore wrinkled shirts it’d tend to make me look like I wasn’t making an effort.

At any rate, even if I don’t leave the house, it makes me feel like I’m looking after my appearance to keep myself presentable, even including when I’m just staying home. That’s something I’ve done ever since I started working from home some 20 years ago—no wearing pyjamas all day for me!—but I know how easy it is to let go of attention to the details of one’s own appearance when one lives alone and seldom needs to go out in public. By resuming regular ironing, I’ve fixed something I didn’t even realise needed fixing. I guess the shirt I couldn’t fix helped me realise that.

Ironing shirts yesterday (10 shirts, for the record) made me think about all of that, some things in my past, in my present, and even about a former NZ cricket coach who ironed his shirts. That’s a lot of work for something that’s not particularly unusual.

Footnote: The photo up top is of my current steam iron yesterday, immediately after I finished the last shirt. Obviously, this post isn’t sponsored, and Nigel and I bought the iron at regular retail prices, but even it has a story: Some time in Nigel’s last couple years or so, he told me he’d only just realised the plastic on the iron was a gold colour, and that it hadn’t yellowed over time. He realised it only because at the same time the iron was sitting out, the little plastic jug for filling the iron with was also out, and he saw that it was the same gold colour. At the time I was fascinated by that, and mildly amused. It’s something that I’ve remembered every single time I’ve used the iron ever since.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

A tale of two tales

Pretty much everyone who has used social media has seen how easy it is to inadvertently confuse people, whether we posted a photo, shared something from someone else, or maybe it was something we said, the opportunities to sow confusion seem endless. Last night, I found out it’s also possible to look a bit muddled.

I made two social media posts last night while I was watching the recorded version of a tech show that streams live on YouTube every Saturday afternoon (NZ time), something I watch in the evening because I almost never watch TV in the daytime, even on weekends, and I also watch other YouTube videos before I wathc the recording of the live stream. My first post was one I made to my personal Facebook, and the other was a photo I shared on Instagram (at the top of this post), and my Instagram posts are set to share to automatically post on Facebook, too. However, the two posts were very different in tone and focus.

My first post, directly Facebook, was about what I was watching, and how I related to the show’s content:
Tonight I was watching a discussion on the weekly live show (recorded in my time zone) show from a tech channel that made videos Nigel and I watched, often together, and as my eyes glazed over watching the video, I thought about how Nigel could both explain to me what they were on about AND educate me about what to do. I find it extremely difficult to navigate *some* of these tech issues, and while I do my best, I’m second-tier at the very, very best. To this very day, despite all my best efforts, I still struggle. And so it continues.🤷🏻‍♂️
I don’t remember what topic made me reflective, and that’s partly because they talk about a lot of subjects on the show. The bigger reason, though, is that once I start thinking about something, especially if I’m wring down my thoughts (even on Facebook), I tune out other things going on around me, especially things on TV.

The hosts of the show were most likely talking about something to do with parts for PCs, or things related to Windows, however, my computers and devices are all Apple (I even watch YouTube videos using an Apple TV attached to my television). The fact I didn’t fully grasp what they were talking about merely made me remember how well Nigel understood it all, and how much I relied on him for all things tech, something I’ve talked about many times.

Shortly after I made that Facebook post, Leo jumped up in my lap and went to sleep. He fell deeply asleep, so much so that he even snored a bit. I took the photo, and shared it to Instagram, writing:
Tonight I was watching the weekly livestream video (after the fact…) of a YouTube tech channel Nigel and I used to watch (though we never watched the streaming shows…), and I looked down. Leo was sound asleep on my lap. He’s somewhere near me always. He’s a good boy. ❤️
My Instagram post was really about Leo, and it actually didn’t matter what I was watching at the time. However, I was still feeling reflective, about an hour after my Facebook post, and that’s why I mentioned watching it. The post automatically shared to my personal Facebook, where it appeared above my first post.

There have been times in the past where I’ve decided to not share an Instagram post to Facebook, usually because I shared a different photo there. Or maybe I shared one to Facebook first. It’s more common, though, for me to share things only to Facebook—actually, I often forget about Instagram for weeks.

All of this means that it’s extremely unusual for me to have two Facebook posts that cover similar ground follow one another. I don’t have a social media “strategy”—though maybe I should—but I often try to share nice or even sweet photos on Instagram because that’s public, and I’m well aware how much of social media is worse than a clogged sewer line. Those same photos then show up on Facebook (and ones of Leo usually get more “reactions” (like Likes) than almost anything else I post there.

Like Instagram, I seldom post anything terribly serious on my personal Facebook, either, however, I’m much more likely to post something reflective on Facebook precisely because it’s not public. It never occurred to me to post the photo only to Instagram, partly because I seldom do that, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t mentioned watching the show on the Instagram caption. In fact, I thought about editing the caption to take that reference out, but I usually only edit to correct typos, not to completely change what I’ve said.

In the end, it made me realise I need to pay a little more attention to what I’m posting, not as obsessively as “influencers” seem to do, but simply for clarity and to avoid seeming like I’m being inconsistent. In that sense, it’s a good thing that posts were even more jarring right next to each other

There’s one thing more about all this, and it’s the reason I didn’t make any changes to what I posted: Facebook is notorious for not showing FB “Friends” everything that their “Friends” post, and that means it’s probable that only a handful of my “Friends” saw even one post, and that even fewer saw, so I was quite possibly the only one who noticed the difference in tone between the two. Besides, photos of Leo are probably seen more often by my Facebook “Friends” than almost anything else I post (and yes, I'm aware that talking about the two posts could mean more people see the text of both than ever would've otherwise).

It’s easy to inadvertently confuse people when we post to social media. Last night, I found out it’s also possible to look a bit muddled, even if the only one who noticed was me.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Stamping out mail

Will there come a day when no one remembers what a postage stamp was? Unless they read history or visit a museum, maybe? That day seems to be approaching rapidly, something that the Facebook "Memory" (above) reminded me about today.

When I saw the “Memory”, I realised that I have absolutely NO idea when—or even what year—I last needed a stamp. At a guess, I’d say maybe 2019? A year or so after my 2016 Facebook post, I needed to start posting something for work every month, and, as it happened, postal rates were about to go up again, so I bought a roll of KiwiStamps (like “Forever” stamps in the USA). My job ended in March 2020—and I now have absolutely no idea where I put the rest of the roll of stamps (probably, as usual, “somewhere safe, so I can find it again”).

All of this made me curious, so I looked it up this morning and found that a stamp for a letter is now $2 (today around US$1.19 or 0.95 GBP) or one KiwiStamp. That’s for a something weighing up to 500 grams (17.64 ounces in Imperial weight) including the envelope (KiwiStamps apparently can’t be used on larger size envelopes). Also, it wasn’t easy to find the rates for letters on the NZ Post site, most of which is devoted to helping people with sending packages and other courier services).

Currently, NZ Post says that they expect to deliver a letter within New Zealand in “three working days” (which I think must exclude weekends and public holidays). In 2017, NZ Post announced that they were ending “FastPost”, a higher-priced option that aimed to get letters delivered in one business day. At the time of their announcement, NZ Post said that use of the service had declined 23 percent the previous year, and that the volume of all letters sent was declining by 60 million pieces a year.

These days, the vast majority of my business correspondence is electronic (I get two statements in the post because I’m too lazy to change them), and all my bills are paid automatically through direct debit (as I’ve mentioned before, none of my accounts have cheques for customers to use). For those very rare times I need to post something (like the ballots for local government elections), those are always FreePost (which is prepaid, similar to “Business Reply Mail” in the USA).

I’m really just a typical example of why the volume of mail in New Zealand has been declining so sharply for years. While we get mail delivered to our neighbourhood three days a week now, I’m certain it’ll drop to once a week, or maybe twice a week before it drops to one day, and then at some point it’ll stop altogether. I think that the fact that local government elections and most referenda are conducted through the post may be one of the reasons home delivery isn’t disappearing faster.

The end of home delivery is probably quite a way off yet, but in the meantime I think it’s likely that more services will start to disappear, like FastPost did. As an example, earlier this week NZ Post announced that from June 29 they’ll stop delivering packages and newspapers to rural addresses on Saturdays because the volume was too low (17 rural Saturday delivery runs will continue for another year, though).

The issues surrounding this are really about the people who don’t have access to the Internet, technical ability, and or both. Internet access can be a problem for poorer people and older people, both of who may lack the access itself, or a computer or device to access it. In some remote rural areas of the country, Internet access can be dodgy and unreliable. None of these problems will change soon, but maybe by the time home delivery ends, the problems will, too.

I was thinking today that eight years from now, I might not be able to remember the last time I had mail delivered to my house—actually, some weeks, that’s the already the case. It may well turn out that the last piece of mail delivered to my house (not counting packages or courier deliveries) will could well arrive sooner than I realise.

Change really is constant.

This post is a revised and expanded version of what I posted on my personal Facebook when I shared the “Memory”. This “Memory” is what I was referring to in my blog post earlier today.

New, not old

Today Facebook served up two different things that caught my attention. One was another “Memory” (more about that in another post), but it was a"Brand survey" (screenshot above) that made me stop for a moment. It’s probably the oddest thing I’ve ever seen Facebook offer me.

What made this so weird is that FB apart from the title, “Brand Survey”, the thing they were asking me to fill out was entirely in Dutch. Surprisingly, I don’t speak or read Dutch. Sometimes I can get a rough idea of the meaning of a word, or maybe a very short phrase, because I tried to learn German in high school (and a bit after that). This was funny enough (to me…) that I shared it to my personal, sarcastically asking:
Um, you okay Facebook? Or, did you just get confused and not realise that I live in New Zealand and not old Zeeland?
I then added a brief explainer in the comments:
Zeeland is a province of The Netherlands, and the Dutch named the country of New Zealand after the province. Aotearoa is believed to be the original or most common original Māori name that the Dutch didn’t even know about at the time. The British, who later anglicised the Dutch name, didn’t care what Māori called it.
This was simplifying the story a bit, because Dutch cartographers, as was the European custom at the time, used named the places they "discovered" with Latin versions of the name they chose, in this case, Nova Zeelandia, which in Dutch is Nieuw Zeeland (the ending “d” is pronounced more like “t”), and the current official name, New Zealand is just the anglicised version of that. It became the official name when the British started colonising the islands.

The Wikipedia article on the province of Zeeland talks about all of this, and also the fact that at the same time New Zealand was named, the country now known as Australia was named Nieuw Holland (New Holland), something I've mentioned in the past. They did that was because, as the article puts it, “the two major seafaring provinces of the Netherlands in its Golden Age were Holland and Zeeland.”

Personally, I think this country should one day be officially renamed “Aotearoa New Zealand”, though with the current surge in racism and racist attitudes, that day seems farther away now than at any point since I arrived here 28+ years ago. Actually, I don’t even think an adult conversation can be had about it right now, let alone any consideration of a change.

As far as I can remember, Facebook’s post today is the first thing they’ve shown me that wasn’t in English, so that’s—a thing, I suppose. On the other hand, the actual paid ads it shows me are often for Auckland-based real estate companies, and that’s mostly likely because I access the Internet through a VPN (“Virtual Private Network”) that’s set to say I’m connecting from Auckland. But the Netherlands doesn’t have a place called “Auckland”, so—dunno, maybe their algorithms had a computer's equivalent of a brain fart?

Mainly, being served up a “Brand Survey” in Dutch was just funny to me. I don’t know if their algorithms really did mix up New Zealand with old Zeeland, or if there was something else going on. For example, my surname appears in both Germany and The Netherlands—although, I’ve never (yet!) been served up anything in German, so, I guess it’s unlikely to be that?

As corporations decide to rely on computers exclusively, all sorts of problems are emerging. So far, most of them are more annoying or hilarious than they’re actual problems (or worse). For example, people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram being taken down in an automated process using algorithms because there are no human checkers any more. One of the problems with this, apart from having no one to appeal a deletion to, is that the algorithms cannot understand either context or nuance. As corporations push automation farther and harder, serious problems will inevitably emerge. Getting a survey in Dutch will seem so quaint and innocent by comparison.

Still, at least I got a laugh out of it, and it was all a bit of fun. For now.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Kitchen experiments abound

Forget politics and religion, there’s a far better topic to talk about: Food. There are so many levels to the topic, including sourcing it, producing it, preparing it, and, of course eating it. I’ve talked about all three on this blog, though not necessarily all that frequently. Over the past couple months, I’ve tried a product I’d never seen before, experimented with an update to a recipe from my young adulthood, and made a perhaps hasty decision on an old favourite. All of which is fair game for this blog.

The main reason I created my tongue-in-cheek tag (aka “Label”) “AmeriNZ Test Kitchen” was so that I’d have one place to talk about food products I tried and as well as recipes I made. It was all a bit of fun, and something I never took all that seriously (and still don’t), but there have been some that I apparently took seriously enough that I never posted anything about it. Today’s first item (photo up top) is exactly that.

Some forty years ago, I was with my first actual long term partner (in this case, “long term” means more than a few months, though it really lasted around three years). Among other basic meals he taught me was one involving the common boxed macaroni and cheese dinner combined with beef mince (though in those days I called it “ground beef” or “hamburger”) and a tin of chopped tomatoes.

Back in March 2022, I tried making the recipe using a box of American mac and cheese dinner (exactly like what we used more than four decades ago) that I found in a shop called “Crackerjack”, which often sells American food products. I don’t know why I didn’t share it at the time, but I didn’t find the dinner when I made later visits to the same store. However, I recently saw the version in the left photo up top, something I’d never seen before, and decided to try again, in the right photo.

The method is that first you brown the beef, then stir in the packet of “cheese” powder form the boxed dinner, then empty a tin of chopped tomatoes into the pan and stir to mix (this time I softened onion first, something I don’t recall doing back in the day). Let the beef mix simmer while the pasta cooks, then drain and stir into the beef mix, and serve. That’s it—and the speed and easiness of making it was why it was a repeat meal back in the day.

I was disappointed in the result. Unlike the version I made back in 2022, this one had little to no cheese flavour in it. The whole thing started out as a bit of food nostalgia (and the 2022 version was pretty close), but now it’s turned into a new idea: How can I make it simpler (ideally one pan) and healthier—especially since the boxed dinner isn’t exactly the healthiest choice possible. I already have several ideas for how I may do that—to be continued.

Next up, a commercial product I tried:

I bought the product solely because they reminded me of Ho-Hos, which were made by Hostess. The Carbury version wasn’t the same as what I loved in my childhood—although, to be fair, I don’t know if the current Hostess version is the same, either. They reminded me of the Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll of my childhood, which I didn’t like as much (and I have no idea what they’re like now, either). Despite all that, I liked them well enough—even the chocolate, which is something I don’t often say about Cadbury chocolate. I was surprised that one was enough for me—very surprised, actually—so the packet lasted around two weeks. The truth is, I’m just not into sweets as much as I was when I was younger. I haven’t bought them again, and I don’t know whether I will; fortunately for me, I haven’t seen them since, so my resolved hasn’t been tested.

And finally, an experiment of an entirely different sort: Size.

The search for a peanut butter I like has been ongoing, something I first talked about back in 2018. In November of last year, I talked about trying to find a replacement for my favourite, but discontinued, brand. In the end, I went back to using Regular Pic’s peanut butter (which I talked about in 2018), but I now use the regular, not the no salt version.

My next problem was that I was going through jars fairly quickly because they’re not very big. I was in the supermarket recently and noticed the big (or, by NZ standards, maybe that should be big) jar was on special, so I bought one. I was a little worried about finding space on my fridge door (to keep it from separating), but I did. So far, it’s worked fine—however, I didn’t bother to check the prices per 100 grams, so maybe the larger size isn’t more economical, make it’s just easier for me because I don’t have to buy a new jar as often. On the other hand, that’s a valid reason to choose it, too.

And now we’re more or less up to date. Generally speaking, the kitchen experiments that I don’t talk about here are works in progress, and I suppose the first one today is probably that sort. The other two are merely ones that, like so many other blog topics, I just haven’t been able to get to. Hm, I’ve been doing a lot of “getting to it”, lately. Maybe things are improving?

Related: A related tag is Food, which is for my posts about all sorts of food. It also (hopefully) includes all my AmeriNZ Test Kitchen posts about food, too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Leo has magic, but isn’t a wizard

Today, all the unrelentingly bad news from all over the world, combined with the pressure from seemingly innumerable personal deadlines and challenges, was getting me down. Then this little guy decided he wanted to lay in my lap for a while (and, naturally, I had to take a photo!).

Once again, Leo provided the magic to make me feel less bad. It seems that whenever I feel the worst, Leo’s nearby, usually staring at me—and probably to get me to do something: Let him outside, feed him, give him a treat, or to let him lay in my lap. But it doesn’t really matter what it is he wants, if he wants anything at all, because he always pulls me out of whatever my mind is stuck in at that moment, and that helps keep me focused on “now” and on real life.

Leo’s not a wizard, and he can’t fix what’s wrong in the world or in my life, but he helps me focus on what’s right in front of me, the only thing I know that I have any sort of control over. There’s a kind of a magic in that.

Everyone needs that sort of magic in their lives, I think. I sincerely hope everyone has or finds the magic they need.

Reading the stuff ahead of me

A major drawback of my recent lack of blog posts is that there are things I do that I never talk about here. On the other hand, sometimes a delay means I can essentially include updates the first time I talk about the topic. Today is an example of that.

A week ago today, I went to pick up my new reading glasses (photo up top), and I also got a scan of my optic nerve and a better scan of the back of eye, with special attention to things like the macula, as well as general eye health. Everything was fine, and my eyes are healthy. This visit was three weeks after my first visit to the optometrist, though I could’ve picked up the glasses the week before; I didn’t see a need to make a special trip when I had the appointment last week for the scans.

I took the selfie above when I got back to my car, and explained things on my personal Facebook:
Picked up my first-ever prescription reading glasses today (supermarket ones are same strength both eyes, but my eyes aren’t the same). The top of the lenses is for using my computer, and the lower parts are for ordinary reading (including devices, of course). I didn’t get the blue light coating because I can set my devices to redder light if I want to, BUT, ol’ publishing graphics professional that I am, the incorrect colours annoy me FAR too much. So far, it’s a vast improvement! I don’t need glasses for anything else because of the LASIK eye surgery I had years and years ago. Also had thorough scans of my eyes (optic nerve, macula, general health) and my eyes are in really good health. 🙂🤓
I felt compelled to add in a comment: “Yes, I was feeling tired today, but I’d just had thorough eye scans, and my eyes were more tired than I was!” The truth is, all that irritated my eyes, what with the bright lights and having to hold my open, even when the machine lightly brushed my eyelashes and made me want to blink, especially because it touched them so very lightly. My eyes watered a lot!

If I’d posted this last week, that’s about all I’d have said about it, however, I’ve had a chance to wear them for a week now, and I’ve come to some conclusions I couldn’t have at the time. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t post this story last week.

The first thing I noticed is that it’s not easy to use them for computer work. To see the screen clearly, I need to lower my head so I’m looking through the top of the lenses. If I look driectly forward, head level—as good ergonomic practice requires—I can’t see the screen very clearly. On the other hand, I can see the keyboard more clearly because I my head’s already pointing down, so I just glance down. That’s okay, I guess, but holding my head in the wrong position gives me a bit of a sore neck. I haven’t tried them yet with my MacBook, but that screen is lower, so, dunno, maybe it’s be better for that?

The glasses are great for use with my devices—phone, tablet, e-reader. What I see is sharp and clear, as I’d expect, so that’s a solid win—except for one thing: How big the glasses are.

When I selected the frames, I chose the ones I thought looked the best on me, and they were similar to some supermarket ones I’d bought recently that I quite liked. The problem is that because they’re so much bigger I can’t see the TV screen unless I look over the top of the lenses. My older supermarket reading glasses had smaller lenses, so I could move them down my nose a bit and I could just glance over them when I wanted to see something on TV, and look down to read whatever was on my device. I’ve done that with the prescription reading glasses, but because of their size, when I push them down my nose, they’re not as good for reading.

I think I’ve decided to not use the prescription glasses when I’m sitting at my computer, and will only use them for my devices. I’ve never had two-strength lenses before, so I had no idea these could be problems. If I were to do it again, I’d get single-strength lenses just for my devices (and the lenses would’ve been considerably less expensive, too. Live and learn.

After I was done at the optometrist, I went to the nearby Woolworths (photo below), which still has the old signage. I said on Facebook:
After I was done at the optometrist, I went to the nearby Woolworths St James—which hasn’t yet had its sign changed. Even though it’s been ages since I’ve seen one of these that still has the original signage, I don’t think it’s the very last, so I can’t say it’s the final Countdown.

You’re welcome. 🎶
The post was, as the musical notes emoji suggests, a joke referencing the song by the band Europe [WATCH on YouTube]. As with my earlier photo, I also felt compelled to add clarification: “Yes, I know I need a haircut. The sun was so bright I couldn’t see my phone’s screen, so I didn’t see the messy hair at the time. 🤷🏻‍♂️💈💇🏻‍♂️”. I added in another comment:
Also, this concluded my my visits to all the supermarkets within 15 minutes (or less) drive from my house, and this is my favourite Woolworths. My favourite New World is Te Rapa. I don’t like Pak’N’Save, and, anyway, the possibly “nicest” one is more than 15 minutes away. I don’t go to the two chains’ smaller shops, but if one gets built near my house (a commercial area is coming), that could change.
A couple weeks ago, I talked a bit about my last trip—quite possibly literally—to the Woolworths Te Rapa location. In that post, I also talked about finally finding some hot cross buns at competing supermarket chain New World—along with pantry staples I couldn’t get at Woolworths Te Rapa the week before. When I went to the Woolworths St James, I finally got some of their hot cross buns—marked down 50 cents since Easter had passed. This, too, has developments.

When I bought the buns from New World, I said that I thought that a dollar per bun was a bit much (it was $5.99 for a pack of six). I felt that way mainly because the buns were very small—not good value for money. The ones from Woolworths were $4.50 for six, but even at the original $4.99 they were much better value: The Woolworths buns were significantly larger than New World’s.

This is another situation in which I didn’t know what I didn’t know—in this case, that Woolworths hot cross buns were much better value (and better buns, in my opinion). In addition, I also learned that the St James Woolworths is quite nice, and the only one of three Woolworths locations I’ve been to in recent weeks at which I could get every pantry staple on my list. I think going there from time to time could be worth the drive, especially if I arrange to have lunch with family while I’m on that side of the city.

This post would’ve been quite different if I’d published it last week, and it wouldn’t have contained the things I’ve learned since—after all, I’m even more useless about doing Updates posts than I have been about blogging with any regularity. I guess this post is a combination of both.

Overall, I’d much rather publish in a timely manner, even if later I learn more about the topic. Right now, though, I’ll take what I can get.