}

Friday, January 31, 2014

No, not good


Above is a very graphic and gory Australian ad. It’s all for nothing, though, because the ad is really, really bad. Stupid, even. You have been warned.

The point of the ad is to encourage kids to stay in school because, I don’t know, otherwise they’ll blow up? The end of the ad is just plain silly. Spoiler alert—they get blown up not because they left school, but because they didn’t read a sign. Not the same thing at all, though they try or make an utterly forced connection by stating, “this is what happens when you slack off.” Uh, huh. Right.

I said to the person that posted the link on Twitter that it would make me WANT to skip school just out of spite. Because that’s the perverse effect of over-the-top, totally ridiculous ads: They make people want to do the opposite of what the ad tried to make people do.

Several years ago, New Zealand used to run very graphic ads against drink driving. Many of them were silly, all of them were over the top, but none of them went as far as Australian ads of the same period. I guess Aussies have a need to go too far, certainly beyond the point of efficacy.

Even so, I’m all for graphic ads when they make sense, when they reinforce a tangible, easily understood message. But this ad, with its implication that if you skip school you’ll blow up, is just too stupid to take seriously, let alone be of the slightest use (apart from the comedy value, of course).

And so, this is an epic example of how NOT to do a public service ad.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Political theatre


All politics is part theatre. How MUCH is theatre and how much is “real” varies widely, depending on a lot of factors, such as, ideology, context, goals—the list is quite long. But it’s not all bad: Political theatre can have its uses.

Going back almost as far as I can remember, I watched US Presidents delivering their State of the Union address to Congress. I watched regardless of whether I liked the president of the day or voted for him. But I began to notice that they’re mostly just political theatre, with presidents urging Congress to do things he knows they never will, like giving presidents a line-item veto—how many times did presidents mention that to no avail?

The speech is about giving context to a president’s upcoming year, and signalling the issues he’ll be focusing on, and that much is useful. But the constant exhortations to Congress to be better than they’re actually capable of being are really pretty pointless.

I now seldom watch State of the Union addresses live, though I started downloading them when Bush the Second was president (all such speeches are in the public domain, and the current White House makes it VERY easy to download videos of all presidential speeches). Sometimes I watch them later, sometimes I just keep them in case I need to refer to them.

The video above is the official White House “enhanced version” of President Obama’s latest State of the Union address. As such, it kind of raises the theatre bar a bit higher, adding illustrative photos alongside the president making his speech. I wish they’d also posted a straightforward version. Maybe they will later.

Obviously the rightwing propaganda machine hates the speech (they were attacking it for one reason or another even before it was delivered). It turns out that LGBT activists also had some complaints. Some things never change.

The Guardian took analysis of the speech to an entirely different level, evaluating EVERY State of the Union address using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. They found that “the linguistic standard of the presidential address has declined.” Okay, then.

I have no idea what use this information is to anyone—except to Obama haters, I suppose. The fact is, most of the presidents whose language was more complicated were in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the most complicated were speaking to upper classes, not common folk. There’s little doubt that over time the USA’s language complexity has declined (ask any English teacher), so it’s no surprise that politicians use less complicated language, too. I’m tempted to ask, “so what?”, but maybe that’s not complex enough a question.

Coincidentally, today I saw a very interesting article by John Haggerty on Salon, “My personal Fox News nightmare: Inside a month of self-induced torture”. He talks about watching no news channel but Fox for one entire month. Among other things, he noted the problem with Fox isn’t just the slanted, ideologically-driven way it reports on current events, but also—maybe even especially—what it does NOT cover. It’s well worth a read to get a sense of how even the media can use political theatre.

I was particularly struck by his comments on outrage: “I am much more careful about my outrage. Yes, the world is full of outrageous things—acts of astonishing dishonesty. But outrage, or, I should say, other people’s outrage is really, really tedious.” That’s exactly how I feel, and why I don’t comment on many of the things that other bloggers comment on—including things I used to comment on.

So, today was filled with political theatre. The important thing is that even at its most banal and irrelevant, political theatre can still be useful. For me, today was such a day.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Greed and avarice

I’ve often talked about corporate greed, but there’s another side: Investor greed. It’s actually the root cause of corporate greed as investors demand ever-higher profits. Today there was a good example.

Apple announced sales from the fourth quarter of last year, and they were pretty awesome. Sales of iPhones set another new record for the quarter, 51 million phones were sold, up some 7% on the same period in 2012. Sales of iPads were even better, up 14% on the same period 2012, up to a new record of 26 million units sold.

So, with all this good news, how did investors react? By dumping Apple shares, which lost 8% in value. Yeah, Apple again sets sales records, but investors want out. Makes perfectly logical sense, right?

The problem is that Apple didn’t make ENOUGH money—sales of iPhones may have set a new record of 51 million, but investors “expected” sales of 55 million. While gross revenues were pretty much what had been predicted, net profits were flat. Oh noes! Investor panic!

The obsessive fixation on short-term profit is what caused the global financial crisis: Nothing mattered but making as much money as possible as quickly as possible, damn the risks and potential consequences. It’s what leads corporations to close profitable factories, throwing people out of work and often bankrupting suppliers, because those factories aren’t profitable enough.

This is not capitalism. I’m not sure what the best word for it is, but right now I’m calling it “corporatism”, and it’s the mortal enemy of true capitalism as well as the enemy of economic and political freedom. It is, in fact, nothing but pure, unrestrained and prideful greed.

If we can’t return to capitalism based on human values, then we need a new system that replaces corporatism, one that doesn’t encourage and reward greed and avarice. Until people are back in control of their economy and governments, we'll see more bizarre displays of corporatist greed and avarice—and we’ll have more global financial crises.

Something has got to change, and it must be to put control and power back in the hands of humanity, and not in the hands of the greedy.

Apple's iPhone sales, revenue forecast fall short; shares slide - Reuters
Apple's 1Q results highlight need for new products - AP
Apple shares plunge as sales disappoint – The Telegraph

Monday, January 27, 2014

Google Doodle good story

Here’s a feel-good story, and one Google plays a role in. which goes to show that even gigantic companies can do good and make people feel good.

Today’s Google Doodle on google.co.nz (above) was designed by 12-year-old Deyvi Wilton of Christchurch, a Bolivian orphan who was adopted by a Kiwi woman. That’s nice. But the bicycle in the Doodle? That’s a red bike he got for his birthday.

Deyvi got a Google Chromebook as a prize for having his Doodle chosen, and the primary school he was attending at the time he submitted his design got a $10,000 technology grant, a big deal for most primary schools.

So, this kid who had nothing found a new home in New Zealand, got a red bicycle for his birthday, and put that all together in a Google Doodle that won a prize for himself and his school. Pretty good news, I’d say.

There IS good news in the world. Too bad we don’t hear more of it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekend Diversion: Tensnake


It’s a holiday weekend in Auckland, and something non-serious is in order. Above is “Love Sublime ft. Nile Rodgers, Fiora”, the new video by Tensnake. He’s part of the “Nu-Disco” genre, something I haven’t posted before.

There’s been quite a lot of Nu-Disco over the past few years, and this is a reasonably typical example—though I don’t “get” the video, to be honest. But these sorts of things don’t really need videos, in my opinion, anyway.

Anyway, it’s just a bit of fun for a summer holiday weekend.

Tip o’ the Hat: Joe.My.God.

Friday, January 24, 2014

An anniversary

Today is an anniversary: Five years ago today, Nigel and I were joined in a civil union. Since then we’ve been married, but that doesn’t change the importance of the anniversary.

When we got our civil union, no one—least of all us—thought New Zealand would enact the freedom to marry so quickly. And, in 2009, a civil union was the only way to have our relationship recognised by the State. Put the two together, and a civil union was the logical thing to do.

For me, personally, it was always inferior to marriage—something the government allowed same-gender couples to have while also restricting the choice for either marriage or civil unions to opposite-gender couples only. I felt like an unwelcome guest at a party, one who’s accommodated, but not really part of things. I was an outsider. Still.

Even so, civil unions at least allowed a way for couples like us to be formally recognised, which was important to us, not the least because of the legal implications. Some people said civil unions were better than nothing and that’s true as far as it went—at that time.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I rolled my eyes at the words of then-Prime Minister Helen Clark and some of her Labour caucus. Helen said that if civil unions had been around earlier, she and her husband may have chosen that instead of marriage. I never for one minute believed her. Nor did I accept the words of Labour MPs who gushed about how great civil unions were; I felt they should have gone for marriage. While I was an ardent supporter of Helen Clark, I did not forgive that cowardice on the part of her and her government, and I don’t know that I ever will. There: I said it.

Politicians’ cowardice aside, civil unions nevertheless WERE important in their day. But they were never even remotely enough. I’ve talked about why that’s so far too many times by now, so I won’t do so again.

I joked to Nigel today that we had our wedding in 2009, but it took five years to be married. In reality, it was a little over four years nine months from our civil union to our marriage, but poetic license and all that. Interestingly, of the 166 male-male marriages from August 19 to December 19, 2013, 47 were change of relationship from civil union—that includes us, of course.

Here we are on the other side, with all New Zealanders having the freedom to marry. It feels really good to be the same as all other New Zealanders. And yet I’m aware of how many people in the world don’t have what we have, and especially of those whose very lives are in danger. We have a long way to go.

Five years ago today, I got to pledge my love to the man who gives meaning to my life. Our marriage added another layer to that, but the commitment existed long before the government ever chose to recognise that simple reality.

Five years ago today, we publicly made our commitment to each other. Law changes in New Zealand are irrelevant to the commitment that was already there, something that’s also true where the freedom to marry does not exist. Someday, I hope, it will exist everywhere.

Happy Birthday, Macintosh


Most of what I have done in my professional life, and everything I’ve done in social media, is directly because of the Apple Macintosh. I still use one today, and love it as much as the first one I used (in the late 1980s).

Happy Birthday, Macintosh—and thank you!

Stupidity rising

The Speaker of the NZ Parliament, David Carter (centre in the photo; click to embiggen), posted this Tweet today. I laughed. Out loud. Literally. Then, I needed to make a snarky comment, so a simple re-tweet wouldn't do. Instead, I Tweeted:

“I THOUGHT NZ's level of Stupid skyrocketed today!! MT: This afternoon David Carter meeting with Michele Bachmann … “

The other guy in the photo is Jim Langevin, a Democrat representing Rhode Island’s 2nd District. He seems like an okay guy (he has a 100% rating from HRC, for example, while Bachmann’s a huge ZERO, of course).


I have no idea why they’re here, but they’re both on the US House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (in Bachmann’s case, an extremely ironic position), so it may have something to do with that.

However, it’s also possible they’re hear on behalf of the Speaker of the US House as observers to the 22nd Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC), which was held at the Parliament Buildings in Wellington this week. Which actually brings me to my second bit of stupid: You REALLY owe it to yourself to follow the link to the Parliamentary press release on the CSPOC and just look at the photo of all the ridiculous getups various speakers wear. What century are we in?

I know that it’s customary and whatnot for many Commonwealth speakers to wear outfits and wigs that hearken back to 18th Century England, but holy crap some of them are over the top. The role of Speaker in any legislature is very important for the good order and functioning of that body, but those outfits kind of undermine that, in my opinion.

Or maybe it’s just that with Michele Bachmann in the country, some things look more stupid than they otherwise would. You’d think the huge level or her stupidity would make everything and everyone else seem more intelligent, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Stupidity has an amplifying effect, it seems.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A good birthday

My birthday was a good day. Both of them. Actually, I can't remember having one that was a bad day (or two), though my mother always told me I was born in a blizzard—does that count as a bad day? No blizzards here, though.

My sister-in-law took me out for lunch, as she did last year, and that was really nice. I hardly ever go out to lunch during the week, so it was a special treat. We went to our local, Verrans Espresso & Food, which is always nice (and it’s why I was near the dairy I mentioned in one of my posts yesterday).

Not long after I got back home, Nigel arrived carrying flowers for me (photo above). He’d asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I really couldn’t think of anything (if we want something, we usually just buy it). I think he came up with a good choice—all I really want is to be thought of.

We went out for dinner that evening with family, going to a place that’s become a favourite, Postman’s Leg in Glenfield. It was very nice.

I’d received some phone calls and also some social media messages, but the latter were from people who know me reasonably well or who saw one of my birthday-related posts. The bulk of social media messages came today, and there’s a reason for that.

Facebook alerts users when a friend is having a birthday in the user’s timezone, not that of the friend. So, for example, my birthday is January 21. For NZ and Australian friends, if it said anything at all (I’m not sure it did, due to a setting), it would be that my birthday was that day, which was the day I was in. But by the time the notifications got to the Americas (after I’d re-checked my settings), it was already January 22 here. So, according to their Facebook notification, they were right on time, but the reality is, they were a day late.

I have the same problem in reverse: Facebook tells me a friend in the Americas is having a birthday, but I know it’s telling me a day early. So, I wait a day, and then very often I completely forget. I just wish Facebook would tell us it’s someone’s birthday when the date arrives where the friend is, not where we are.

Still, it’s the thought that counts, and I don’t think it matters if the birthday greetings are late (or early…). I just really enjoy people acknowledging my birthday, which is why I try to remember to do the same for others. It makes the day even more special, I think.

And, my birthday was special. Both of them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The annual increasing number: 55

I call this my “double nickels birthday”, which means nothing to the Kiwis in my life. It’s just a little salute to my heritage, though it doesn’t have quite the significance it used to.

Still, I think it’s good that I add a nod to my birthplace. The thing is, I celebrate my birthday where I am now, and continue until it’s my birthday in the geographic place of my birth. I mean, why not?

I grew up in Illinois, of course, and the number 55 actually has some significance for me. One of the two North/South Interstates is Interstate 55, which begins (or ends, depending on your point of view…) at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, at McCormick Place. It’s the main route from Chicago to Springfield (the state capital, of course) and on to St. Louis. All of which means that it’s not a road I drove all that often—except for the parts in Chicago where it’s known as the Stevenson Expressway. So, I-55, as we also called it, was an important 55 when I lived in Illinois.

When I learned to drive in Illinois, and lasting until I left, another 55 was important: The speed limit on highways was 55mph—double nickels—which is approximately 88.5 km/h. Once past Chicago, the speed limit is now often 70 mph (approximately 112.6 km/h; the open road speed limit in New Zealand is 100 km/h, which is about 62.1 mph).

So, in a sense, I’ve been practicing for this birthday for a long time. Well, of course I have—it’s called “life”. However, it’s also true that the number 55 was significant for me for much of my life before now.

I read recently that there are some 10,000 Americans a day turning 65 and there will be until the end of 2029, when the last of the Baby Boomers crosses that threshold. Seems to me, there must be about as many turning 55, too.

While the average retirement age in the USA is 61, nearly half of Baby Boomers plan on working until at least 66, according to a new Gallup poll. This has significant implications for younger workers who may find their career paths blocked by older workers who won’t retire. On they other hand, if Boomers DO retire, they could be a burden on the workers supporting them through taxes. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, I guess.

I’m still a long way from retirement age, but as I get closer and closer I’m keenly aware that I’m getting closer and closer. And it doesn’t seem possible. For me, the saving grace is that I’m still around to be aware of the fact that I’m getting older; far too many of the age-peers I knew never made it this far.

So, I don’t mind getting older, because it sure beats the alternative. But I hope I never get old, if by that one means stale, resistant to change, unwilling to try new things (and especially new technology). The world and life are too exciting to stop and get rusty, I think.

So, I’m celebrating! And that will be the subject of my next post. I’ve got another full day to celebrate my birthday, after all.
 • • • • •
Some notable things from the day of my birth according to Wikipedia:
  • Carl Switzer, who had portrayed "Alfalfa" of the Little Rascals, was shot and killed in North Hollywood during a fight with Bud Stilz, whom Switzer confronted over a claimed debt. Switzer, 31, had recently been in the Tony Curtis film The Defiant Ones. An inquiry concluded that Stilz had acted in self-defense.
  • Legendary movie producer and director Cecil B. DeMille died at his home after a short illness at the age of 78. At the time of his death, DeMille had recently made plans for an epic film about the Boy Scouts, followed by a secret project that he only described as "something entirely different".
  • European Court of Human Rights established.
  • Born: Paulo Miklos, Brazilian musician and actor; in São Paulo, and Alex McLeish, footballer for Birmingham City and later Scotland national team manager; in Barrhead
My Previous Birthday posts:
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

On the street

I saw this stencil-graffiti outside a nearby dairy today. I don’t know if the person was trying to be ironic by placing it outside a place where Kiwis typically buy high fat, high sugar and high salt snacks. Since Kiwis have been going to their local dairy for snacks (or bread, milk, the newspaper…) for decades, I doubt it’s any sort of warning to Kiwis—who are already becoming fatter.

Some Americans might take offence, which is silly, since it merely depicts a reality; no sense being offended by something that’s true, even if it's uncomfortable.

After all, sometimes, graffiti is just graffiti.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Good in social media

There was some good news I saw today that rode along with some common Internet debunking. And, the evening news had a good news social media story. Both of which show that that it’s possible to be surprised by good news in the most unexpected places.

The first thing originally came up because of the Tweet pictured above (Source). Thomas Lumley, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, saw the image and knew something was wrong with it. He detailed them on the StatsChat blog.

All of that is fine, and many bloggers, me included, debunk things we find on the Internet. But then he added this:
“…the StatsChat-relevant aspect of the picture is the dramatic fall in the price of flying over the years. In the 1960s Pan Am used to charge about US$500 for a round-trip from New York to London. Adjusted for inflation, that’s nearly US$4000 now, which would get you a much nicer business-class ticket. In terms of median income the fall in price is even greater, and much greater in terms of the income of the sort of people who used to fly in the 1960s.”
Oddly enough, recently we were talking about what a terrific value for money air travel is these days, despite the well-known hassles. That’s important to a lot of people, but maybe especially to expats. So, what started out as a routine debunking of something on the Internet ended up providing a clear case of how good we have it with relatively inexpensive air travel.

The other story was on TVNZ’s One News tonight (the video may not be viewable outside New Zealand, but the NZ Herald also covered the story). Welsh skydiver Ben Cornick was in an accident at the end of a jump in Fiji and was injured so badly that the doctors there couldn’t help him. He needed to be medevac’d to New Zealand, but his travel insurance didn’t cover accidents.

Enter social media: A Facebook page was set up by his cousin and they raised some $39,000 to help to pay for his care. He faces weeks of recovery and rehab, but he’s intact, and Facebook helped that.

We so often hear about bad things on the Internet, and it can certainly be a place for incredibly bad and boorish (or worse) behaviour, but sometimes there’s still good news—like today’s two completely different examples.

I like that good news can be found in unexpected places.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekend Diversion: Chris Salvatore


Above is the new music video from Chris Salvatore, “What You Do To Me”. It’s essentially about the power of love in its many forms. I particularly like the twists at the end.

Since I like pop music so much, and given that I’ve liked other songs he’s done, it’s not surprising that I like this one, too. However, I do think that the over-dubbing is a bit over-done: I’d rather hear more of Chris and less manipulation of his voice. Still, I do like pop music, so, there you are.

Chris is among the few artists who I’ve posted several times. The first was his song “It Will Get Better” back in 2010, and then, the next year, his duet with Mister Chase, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

In a related note, I haven’t been very consistent with publishing “Weekend Diversion” posts, but I plan on more of them this year. In fact, I already have one for next week. More diverted weekends, in other words, are at hand.

My previous posts like this are labelled Weekend Diversion.

New Year Resolutions for America


The video above is Bill Maher’s recent “New Rules – New Year Resolutions for America”. I don’t always agree with him, but I probably agree more often than not. In any case, I certainly agree with what he says in this video, especially the final bit about American getting conned. If only Americans really could learn to be more sceptical—is that even possible?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Water, water everywhere

We woke up this morning and heard a rumbling that kind of sounded like an engine idling. It turned out that sometime in the wee small hours a water main near our house had burst. Water was rushing downhill toward the drains. We had a problem.

The break was at the point the mains connect to the meters serving the five houses in our little development. Water was gushing up and wasn't a geyser probably only because of the lids on the meters. Still, since it was under pressure, it ran downhill in a torrent to the storm drain in the common driveway, and past that to the drain in front of our garage. This was the rumbing sound we heard. The photo (click to embiggen) is of the storm drain, though it doesn’t do it justice. The darkness just visible under the car is the water that was headed for the drain in front of our garage.

The storm drains in our little complex all empty into a main drain which, in turn, empties into a creek that leads eventually to an estuary and on to the sea. There was a torrent coming out the drainage discharge, which is near our house, and the roaring of the water sounded like it does when we have a really bad storm, like a weather bomb.

Nigel rang Watercare, the “Council Controlled Organisation” responsible for water and wastewater in Auckland, and, of course, he had to spend several minutes convincing them it was their problem, not ours. This matters because they fix their problems at their expense, but we're responsible for fixing problems on our property at our expense. In a situation like this, it basically boils down to where the break is: At or before or after the water meters. This was all around 7am.

The Watercare guy showed up maybe a half hour later and Nigel went out there. He heard the guy say on the phone, "no, it's definitely our break. We're gonna need an arbourist, too." The latter was because there are cabbage trees planted near the meters and they thought they’d need to dig up the trees to get to the pipe.

They then shut off the water up on the street, came back and repaired whatever had broken—they didn’t need to dig up and replant any trees. The water was back on by about 9am. Because the break was theirs, they even cleaned up the mess made by the water, chiefly clay that had washed into the driveway. And, that was that.

Because it was so early in the morning, we didn’t think to fill the bathtub while the water was still on so we’d have water to flush the toilets. Fortunately, that didn’t matter, since the water was back on so quickly. Equally as important, though, we were able to make morning cups of coffee and tea because we had bottled water in our “Get Thru” kit.

I bought the water a couple years ago, and I recently thought I should use it and replace it with new bottles, something that’s recommended because even though water doesn’t “spoil”, it can start to taste funny as it ages. Because of today’s incident, I’ll now need to buy some more bottle water, but I also realised that the “old” water would be fine for flushing the loo when this sort of thing happens or, in a real emergency, we could use it for washing.

So, that was our adventure this morning. Right now, I’m off to get a glass of water.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Summer political shorts

There are always things I run across that I’d like to comment on, but most of them aren’t big issues or, at least, not big enough for a whole blog post. So, why not a post combining some of those little topics? Here, then, are some short political items.

Smacking sense into Colin

While Colin Craig may not be crazy, he’s also not very astute, shall we say. No less than the conservative New Zealand Herald smacked him down, so to speak, over his obsession with the now-settled anti-smacking law. “He needs to do better than smacking to earn much respect,” the Herald said. Turns out, Colin’s, um, "facts" were stuff he made up, and making up stuff also won’t earn him any respect. Personally, I think that, “I was smacked as a child, and that's not OK” is one of the best responses to Colin’s latest er, um—what’s a nice way of putting this?—imbecility.

Chill in the air

Speaking of rightwing morons—who Colin agrees with, actually—some climate change deniers are costing New Zealand taxpayers at least $89,000 after losing their seemingly frivolous lawsuit (my honestly held opinion, btw) against the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The deniers were ordered to pay NIWA’s court costs, they didn’t, and NIWA pursued liquidation. Surprise! There’s no money in the trust. But trust rightwingers to get on their high horse and leave the taxpayer to clean up the poo.

I couldn’t possibly comment

Speaking of poo, I already said everything I want to (http://amerinz.blogspot.com/2013/12/duck-smells.html) about the duck crap in the USA, so I present without further comment: “Duck down! 'Duck Dynasty' returns to lower ratings after controversy”. Okay, one thing I’ll add: Apparently the commitment of the bigoted Stupidity Brigade in the USA is miles wide but only a fraction of an inch deep.

• • •

Those are just three things that I spotted recently, had a thought about, and decided to share this way. I should do that more often, really. Time was, I’d share these sorts of things on Facebook, but I stopped posting political things there, and even when I do (rarely) share something political, I won’t comment on it there. Good thing I have a blog—that’s it’s for, really.

Summer pause

I wasn’t feeling 100% the past few days—nothing serious, nothing really identifiable, just not “right”. The main thing was feeling very tired and being unable to string words together, including for a blog post. I’m on the mend now.

When I was younger—say, into my 30s—I got at least two colds a year, at the change of seasons, usually. But Auckland’s climate is much milder than Chicago’s, and within a couple years of my arriving here that seasonal cold thing ended.

In fact, for more than ten years I’ve seldom had a cold. For that matter, I’m seldom sick, either, and when I am feeling off-colour, it’s usually been advance warning of a gout attack.

This time, I may have simply had trouble readjusting to a normal schedule after a four-week summer holiday of going to bed when I wanted, getting up when I wanted and even the occasional afternoon nap. Things are a little more regimented, even scheduled, in non-holiday times, and maybe I let myself get a bit run down at the start of the week.

Whatever it was, it’s fading away and my verbal side seems to be returning. Well, a little bit, anyway. Still, Nigel took good care of me, so it wasn’t all bad. Even so, I’m looking forward to getting back to normal (so-called…).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Some news is bad

While I’ve advocated looking at good news hidden among the bad, it’s also true that some news IS bad. The trick is knowing when that’s the case.

Last week I wrote about how a bigoted Virginia state representative was introducing a stupid law, and I pointed out that there was no sense getting outraged because the law would go nowhere. My advice was: “Pick your battles, pick your enemies, pick your outrage.”

That’s true even when the news is both real and bad. For example, Nigeria has just effectively outlawed homosexuality. While they claim the law is designed to stop marriage equality, in fact it “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians,” as the statement from US Secretary of State John Kerry put it. The statement goes on:
“People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. “We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.”
I obviously agree with Secretary Kerry. This new law is bad—among the worst in the world, actually—but there’s nothing that will be done about it.

The US won’t impose sanctions on Nigeria, the United Nations won’t engage in so much as a finger wag and The Commonwealth won’t suspend, let alone expel, Nigeria. The fact is, none of those entities have ever stood up and taken strong action in support of LGBT people.

Today I read some people talking about picketing Nigerian embassies, and while that will make the protestors feel good, it’ll do nothing to persuade Nigeria to repeal its hate-motivated law. Why would it have any effect when Nigeria knows there will be no consequences?

The fact is, when something like this happens and a country—Nigeria, Uganda, Russia, Iran, etc.—decides to persecute LGBT people, there’s little or nothing that can be done by ordinary people. Sure, they can refuse to purchase products from those countries, but that usually won’t frighten the rogue states any more than the “International Community” does. We need new, smarter ways to put strong, lawful pressure on rogue states, but we simply don’t those tools right now.

At the moment, all we can do is understand why this is happening. Reuters explained it best:
“As in much of sub-Saharan Africa, anti-gay sentiment and persecution of homosexuals is rife in Nigeria, so the new legislation is likely to be popular. [Nigerian President Goodluck] Jonathan is expected to seek re-election in 2015 but is under pressure after several dozen lawmakers and a handful of regional governors defected to the opposition in the past two months.”
So, in addition to the usual rank homophobia and anti-LGBT hatred, we also have pure politics. And here is the one useful thing for people in the USA: There are activists in the Republican Party who want to do exactly as Nigeria has done (or even worse), and some of them will be running for office. Americans may not be able to fix the damage done in Africa or elsewhere, but they can make sure that the bigots’ American ideological cousins are never elected to anything. People in every Western nation will also need to lobby their governments to grant asylum to LGBT refugees from these heinous regimes; at the moment, too many doubt the legitimacy of such refugees.

So, the only good news in this otherwise truly awful news is that it can be prevented from happening in countries like the USA. That’s something, I guess.

Update January 15: The Associated Press reports that arrests of gay people have already begun. The people face 10 years in prison for the "crime" of belonging to a gay organisation.

Update 2 – January 17: The Associated Press reported yesterday that “In the last few days, more than 30 people have been arrested, with an increasing number coming from the west African country's Christian southern states. Until [Nigerian President] Goodluck Jonathan signed the law more than a week ago, prosecution of gay people had largely been centered on the predominantly Muslim north, where gays have long been punished under Shariah law.” In the Muslim areas, gay people can be sentenced to death by stoning.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Driving good news

When I suggested that bloggers focus on good news or the positive aspects of an otherwise negative story, I had an example of the latter in mind: The annual report on deaths on New Zealand roads over the Christmas/New Year holiday period. Today, I’m going to tell you why the news is far better than the newsmedia would have us believe, and why that good news was buried.

The charts above show official statistics on the number of road deaths in New Zealand. The upper one shows the total number of road deaths from 1921 to 2013. The lower chart shows that road death data from 1936 to 2013, but shows that data as a percentage of deaths per 100,000 population and per 10,000 vehicles (population and vehicle data wasn’t complete prior to 1936). What we can easily see from both charts is that the death rate has been trending downward since about 1990.

So, that’s good news, no doubt about it. But the New Zealand Herald headlined their story, “Road toll higher than 2012”. This was true: Seven people died in the period from Christmas Eve to January 3 in 2013/14—up ONE from the same period in 2012/13. We can all agree that even one death from a traffic accident is one too many, but does that small increase actually deserve negative reporting?

Clearly the Herald was aware that this is low, and clarified a bit: “Last year's six deaths over the period was the lowest number on record since 1956/57.” That’s better, but still doesn’t provide the full context.

When we look at the entire month of December 2013, it turns out that there were 16 fewer deaths than in December 2012, and December 2013 had 14 fewer deaths than the average December road toll for the last five years—and the lowest December road toll on record since monthly records begin in 1965.

There’s even more good news: For the 12 months that ended in December 2013, there were 54 fewer people who died on New Zealand roads than in the 12 months to December 2012 (source is at the same link in the previous paragraph).

So, that one more holiday period death in 2013/14 than in 2012/13 is bad, but in context—lowest December road toll on record, a continual decline in road deaths over time, including fewer road deaths in 2013 than 2012—we see that things are actually getting better all the time and fewer people overall are dying on New Zealand roads. This is pretty great news, actually—why isn’t that the story being reported?

Two reasons: First, the newsmedia dwells on negative news and conflict. Immediately after the Herald’s tiny bit of context for the holiday statistics, they said this: “The increase in fatalities has prompted top officials to call for greater driver responsibility on the roads—however one organisation has also hit out at tough anti-speeding campaigns on roads.”

That assertion wasn’t actually supported by the quotes in the article. The source they quoted actually said that focusing on speed alone wasn’t enough, because, he said, most deaths occur below the posted speed limit. He also said that even those that are speed-related often have other factors, all of which is true.

The other reason the newsmedia highlighted the bad news is that the NZ Police highlighted the bad news, in part because it advances their interests to do so.

The police reduced the tolerance (how much above the speed limit one can drive before getting a ticket) from 10 km/h to 4 km/h for two months from December 1. However, since they began keeping records back in 1997, the mean open road speed has been declining (from 102 km/h in 1997 to 95.6 in 2012). Only about 25% of divers exceed the open road speed limit of 100 km/h, and many of them would surely be within the 4 km/h tolerance.

So, if the police want to make the lower tolerance permanent, they have a problem: If road deaths are trending downward—and they are—and if speed is not the sole factor in most road deaths—and it’s not—then how can they convince people to support a low speed tolerance? One way is to highlight bad news, and that appears to be working. A recent NZ Herald DigiPoll claims that a majority of New Zealanders back a permanent 4 km/h tolerance.

So, what we have is classic situation in which good news is hidden behind bad news: The newsmedia reports government statistics largely uncritically, stirs in a dash of conflict, leaving a government agency and politicians free to use the worst data to sell their preferred action to the public—people who, unless they go and look at the statistics themselves, probably have no idea that things are far better than the newsmedia, the government or politicians claim.

If all this sounds overly cynical, then it’s important to add that the real cynics are convinced that the whole point of the lower tolerance is to raise revenue through tickets. However, I’ve seen no evidence to back that contention.

This whole thing is a good example of why I issued the challenge to look behind the news, to search out the positive in what is often unfairly or incorrectly negative news reporting. We deserve to know the whole story, not just what government or political spin meisters want us to know.

Despite what they all say, the real news here is that road deaths in New Zealand are declining, and that’s great news, indeed.

Any bloggers who participated in this experiment are welcome to leave a link in the comments. Next week, I won’t explain all the detail as to why good news is being overlooked, instead I’ll just focus on some good news of some sort—I just don’t know what yet.

Back to it

Today, in a sense, our summer holiday ended. We headed back to our normal routines today, about a week after the majority of New Zealanders, although many went back today, too. Summer itself has a long way to go, of course, and there are more public holidays to come.

The thing about the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, as I’ve mentioned before, is that because there are four statutory holidays, it’s easy to get a nice, long break without using up too many annual leave days. In fact, it’s easy to effectively get an extra week of annual leave.

Suppose someone’s last day was December 13 and they went back today. That’s four weeks, and including weekends and holidays, it’s 30 days. However, because of weekends and statutory holidays, someone would only need to use 16 annual leave days. All full-time workers in New Zealand are entitled to four weeks annual leave, so taking annual leave at this time of year means people get four weeks leave now, and still have four days left over. Then, by arranging to take those four days around a stat holiday, it’s possible to leverage time off so that workers can actually have five weeks off. Sweet!

In June of last year, I posted a chart about the amount of annual leave and paid holidays people in various countries get. It shows that things are relatively good in New Zealand; even though there are countries with more time off, there are a lot with far less.

Our next statutory holiday here in Auckland is Anniversary Weekend the end of January.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekend Distraction: Fake movie accents


Accents are interesting things. The video above is a countdown of the “Top 10 Worst Movie Accents”. Some of them are merely shockingly bad, but some of those are so bad they’re hilarious.

As I’ve already noted, I have no accent, but like most people, I can hear the accents of others. Sometimes, I’m even pretty good about working out where a person is from, based on their accent, but sometimes is the critical word here: When I hear foreign people talk in New Zealand, I get people’s accents wrong more often than not, it seems. Fortunately, I never say anything to them, so I don’t embarrass myself by getting their accent wrong.

It’s actually quite easy to get an accent wrong, which means it’s possible to make some incorrect conclusions, too. Recently, I got an email that was forwarding a link to a prank video for Tui beer, a New Zealand brand. That was the top viral video in New Zealand last year, and I included it in a post last month (the video is the second one at the link).

The email was entitled, “Best beer prank... Australians”, and included a direct link to the YouTube posting of the video. Previous forwarders declared things like, “You have to hand it to the Australians. And they had such a great time carrying this out. This is one of the best pranks I've seen, what a lot of work,” and “these guys are the kings of pranksters. Don't think I'd go into a crawlspace in Australia, though.”

The people forwarding the email were American, though people from many other countries (apart from New Zealand and Australia, of course) could easily have made the same mistake. But because the folks assumed the ad was Australian, it led one to make assumptions about the crawl space in the video. For the record, there’s no harmful wildlife living in New Zealand crawlspaces.

Of course, if anyone had clicked through to the YouTube Channel the video was part of, and then clicked the “About” tab (yes, I’m the sort of person who actually does that…), they would have read this: “At the Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka, New Zealand, there's always something brewing. Like beer, plans, schemes, innovations…” So, anyone who was curious about who made the ad could easily have found out it was a New Zealand—not Australian—company.

The thing about assumptions is that we have no idea we even could be wrong, so it doesn’t occur to us to verify that we’re right. Double-checking facts can’t hurt, and it can even help promote understanding, which seems like a good reason in itself.

In any case, accents are interesting things, regardless of whether we can imitate them or correctly identify them. Hm, suddenly a cold beer sounds quite nice.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An experiment

Let’s try an experiment, shall we? What if we look only for good news—or, at least, the good aspect the newsmedia doesn’t report? What if we look only for something positive?

On Monday, January 13, I’m going to post something positive: I’m going to post the positive side of something the newsmedia reported negatively. But there’s so much positive stuff to post, it’s hard to choose, isn’t it?

I invite any blogger so inclined to follow my lead, whether on the 13th, 20th or 27th (or all three). This isn’t another blogging meme (at least, not yet…), but merely a challenge: There’s so much positive in the world, why not highlight it ONE day? (or three…)

I picked Monday because it’s well known as among the most depressing days of the week. I know there have been times I got depressed on Sunday as I anticipated Monday—I’m not alone in that. Monday could use a little good news in it.

If you choose to take part, paste a link in the comments. Or don’t. This isn’t about me, it's about proving a point, namely, that there’s a lot of positive stuff going on that we never hear about. You do what YOU want to do. Or not.

So, join me if you want, or don’t—your choice. But I bet it’d be easy for anyone to find something positive to post, whether personal or general. A challenge is a good thing, right?

Don't panic

First things first: Don't panic! No matter what the newsmedia and some bloggers tell you, not every outrage is an outrage. It's good to remember that in a world that wants us to panic.

Some obscure Virginia Republican wants to criminalise oral sex between high school students. It would mean that a married opposite-gender couple who are 17 and have oral sex could be charged with a felony, even though 18+ couples would not. And, of course, gay couples can never marry. Panic! Outrage!

The fact is, Republican bigots are a dime a dozen, and this two-bit hater is of no significance whatsoever, and neither is his pathetic self-righteous "Christian" moralising. The reason is simple: Rep. Bozo's bill will go NOWHERE—the most confirmed bigots in Virginia will support it, and that’s the end of it. If it somehow miraculously manages to get thought the Virginia legislature—which it will NOT—then we can be certain that the new Democratic Governor will veto this incredibly stupid bigoted stunt—and it’s only a stunt.

What we’re really seeing is a far right Republican "Christian" bigot proposing bigoted legislation he knows can never become law. In so doing, he knows he'll rile up his base (all the better to get them to give him big piles of money). He'll also make himself a darling of the troglodyte wing of the Republican Party (aka, the Republican Party). He wins.

As a side benefit, mainstream people will be outraged—outraged—at what this guy is “doing”. They'll complain loudly in social media and on blogs, which only makes the Virginia bigot all the better in the eyes of his drooling supporters.

What’s learned? What’s gained?

Simple, really: We must never accept media accounts as the sole truth. Sometimes we need to ignore what the media says, no matter how inflammatory, and consider how realistic, how possible the report REALLY is. In this case, there's no chance that the Virginia bigot's law will ever see the light of day. Pick your battles, pick your enemies, pick your outrage. This one, as is so often the case, does not meet that test.

Don't panic: Not everything is really an outrage.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

There’s always good news


There’s ALWAYS good news out there, and despite what the media and politicians tell us, the world we live in is still a pretty amazing place. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of that.

Vlog Brothers are ready to help: In the video above, John Green gives us “14 Reasons 2014 May Be the Best Year Ever”. Well, mostly it’s about why things aren’t anywhere near as bad as people think they are. At any rate, it’s interesting how so much of what he says is stuff we could know if we looked into the statistics. We have to look, too, because the news media and politicians don’t tell us the good stuff.

The video below is by John’s brother Hank Green. He tells us that “The Golden Gate Bridge Didn't Collapse!!” Specifically, his video is about “why we think the world is super screwed up and getting worse every day when, in fact, the world is pretty OK and getting better every day.”

For the newsmedia, it’s long been a case of “if it bleeds, it leads”, which means that bad news—wars, murders and other crimes, scandals and conflict of every description—will always be reported more prominently than a good news story, no matter how big it is. In fact, when a good news story is so big that the media can’t ignore it, they’ll still place it after bad news items because that’s “real” news and the good news is “fluff”.

We can’t blame our journalist friends for this—well, not entirely: Editors and producers decide what news gets emphasised, and if you ask them they’ll openly tell you that bad news sells newspapers and gets viewers to watch the TV news. They’re only meeting demand, they’ll tell you.

Politicians have no ready-made excuses for focusing on the negative. Sure, the zero-sum nature of politics—if you win, I lose, so I must win and you must lose—means that politicians cannot admit that anything their opponents and adversaries does is any good or has any even remotely good aspects. And, sometimes, that’s even logical: People who have diametrically opposite political views will see the same thing from completely opposite perspectives.

However, what’s bad about politicians’ behaviour is that they spin facts in an attempt to make them say the opposite of what they really say. They do this particularly during election campaigns, but, really, being negative and wilfully contrary seems to be the top talent of most politicians.

Politicians get away with it because the newsmedia doesn’t challenge them, being so obsessed with the negative themselves—plus, having two sides of a political debate duke it out makes for good TV ratings and newspaper sales. So, it’s not like the newsmedia has any incentive to inject reason and rationality into a political dust-up—even when it’s all based on at least one of the politicians spouting utter nonsense.

Which brings me back to the Vlog Brothers. The point of their videos is that the world is a far better place, despite everything, and is going in a far better direction, all things considered, than most of us are aware. In fact, things are far better than we even CAN be aware.

We can’t fact-check every politician, and we don’t have time to go searching out the ample good news in the world, but every once in awhile we should do a little of both—the second in particular. When the world seems particularly awful, when we’re pretty well convinced that our fellow humans are worthless meatbags, when we’re closest to despair about the very survival of our planet, that’s a great time to go looking for some good news—and it’s always out there. Think of it as a kind of antidote to all the negativity, something to help us carry on working to fix the bad things about life or the planet.

Maybe that can help us go make some good news, too.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

It starts with understanding


The video above was released late last year by Gay Christian Network and is about a study they did into Christian—apparently mostly conservative Christian—attitudes towards LGBT people. While they labelled the results “shocking”, I didn’t find any surprises—in fact, most of this has been demonstrated by other studies. Even so, this presentation is very useful.

Videos with infographics help make complex data more easily understandable, and this video does that. It presents a lot of numbers, but it makes it easier to understand. So, the content of this video is more accessible to more people than are survey results—the sort of thing I routinely read.

In the YouTube description, GCN says the survey has limitations:
“…even though we surveyed thousands of people, this wasn't a random sample, so we can't extrapolate from these statistics to the entire country or world. Keep in mind, too, that these statistics only focus on a subset of Christians.”
That’s true, but it isn’t just that “the responses we got are pretty common in our experience”, it’s that it mirrors existing studies. I think that the fact that their results are similar to other studies and surveys means that their conclusion that we need to find ways to stop speaking past each other is on solid ground (the GCN site has more about the survey and its limitations).

Personally, I think anything that helps people to understand their differences is a good thing. With some luck, and a lot of determination, we might actually find a way to start talk to each other, rather than past each other. But it all starts with understanding, and this video helps.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Teaching the powerful


Last Friday USA time (Saturday in New Zealand), MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow schooled the billionaire Koch brothers—the biggest and best-known funders of far rightwing political activity in the USA (video above). Like all politically active oligarchs and plutocrats, the Kochs believe that they alone can dictate not just public policy and laws, but even the way we mere peasants talk about them. The Kochs’ lawyer demanded Rachel read a script they provided, one that denounced her own factual reporting. She refused, and then instructed them how democracies work:
“Being a political actor means being subject to political scrutiny. If you don’t want to be known for it, don’t do it, don’t just complain when people accurately describe your actions. Your actions are what we are reporting on, and we will do that on our own terms, as a free press.”
Smaller news organisations and freelance journalists, people who can’t possibly pay for lawyers to defend against lawsuits from billionaires, would probably buckle under the pressure of the probably bluffing threats from lawyers representing oligarchs and plutocrats. In so doing, they preserve themselves and their ability to buy food, clothing, housing, etc., but democracy itself is damaged and diminished—the very thing oligarchs and plutocrats are trying to do in the first place.

“I do not play requests,” Rachel told the Kochs. She was right to refuse and the Koch’s were wrong to suggest she play their tune. A free and unfettered press means—by definition—never doing the bidding of oligarchs and plutocrats or anyone else.

Democracy itself is in peril as long as we allow oligarchs and plutocrats to call the shots. This is true in all democracies, of course, but in the USA it has special significance in a system ordinary people don’t control. The infamous, boneheaded Citizens United Supreme Court decision must be overturned by amending the US Constitution, and there must be reforms made to the electoral system to ensure that the people alone call the shots. The influence of the oligarchs and plutocrats should be merely the same as that of any other citizen: One person, one vote.

That day is far away, so in the meantime ordinary citizens have to rely on a free and unfettered press to at least shine the harsh light of scrutiny on the oligarchs and plutocrats. When they fail to do so, democracy weakens further. Rachel Maddow frequently stands up to oligarchs and plutocrats. In this case, she made the duty of the press clear as she lectured the Kochs that they have no right to restrict press freedom. I hope more journalists take up the challenge of defending democracy, but I worry that few will.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Bigot is their name-o

Normal people aren’t bigots, they’re not the sort of people who turn their prejudices into overt action to oppress others. They may not actually like everyone, of course, but they’d never dream of trying to oppress the people they don’t like. For this reason, we can say bigots aren’t normal people.

Take for example the guy in Utah who is said to be doing a water-only hunger strike in a bizarre attempt to get his state to take unconstitutional action to stop marriage equality. It must take particularly strong anti-gay animus for someone to position himself for slow-motion suicide just because he hates the idea of loving same-gender couples getting married. Seriously.

Or take the case of a former county sheriff from Arizona who went to Utah to rile up the anti-gay bigots by advocating that law enforcement officers defy court rulings and “defend” Utah county clerks so that they can defy court orders—not on everything, of course! He only wants them to defy the courts when it comes to issuing marriage licenses to loving same-gender couples.

And, of course, there’s the duck crap I wrote about recently. I said in that post that the whole fauxrage “was only ever about publicly hating LGBT people and feeling proud and justified in doing so.” I’ve been proven right.

The rightwing claimed that they were outraged that duck guy had been “fired” (he wasn’t) merely for expressing his “Christian” beliefs. So, when former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged that he was fired because of his outspoken support for marriage equality, naturally duck guy’s supporters ran to Kluwe’s defense, right? After all, since they’re defenders of freedom of belief and expression, then they defend it in all cases, right? Oh, that’s right, freedom of belief and expression only applies to those who are anti-gay! How silly of us to think otherwise.

The far right website named after the dead perpetually grumpy far-right gadfly who founded it epitomised the extreme hypocrisy of the USA’s far right “Christian” bigots:
“What Kluwe fails to grasp, as many in today’s society often do, is that NFL teams are private organizations: as such, they can release an employee for any reason that is not contrary to the law (e.g., race) and is not contractually forbidden. Moreover, the contracts players often sign with the teams include all manner of behavioral clauses, likely including that the player’s actions on-and-off the field not reflect poorly on the team.”
The rightwing’s hypocrisy is breathtaking: Kluwe was allegedly fired for exactly the same reason that duck guy was merely suspended (not fired), but when it happened to duck guy it was because of the “homofascism” of the “gaystapo”, and when the same thing happening to Kluwe? Well, that’s perfectly fine, and just the way business is done.

What unites these incidents is anti-gay bigotry: It’s leading one guy to a starvation stunt, an ex-lawman to advocate what amounts to armed insurrection and rightwing apologists to display the most brazen hypocrisy imaginable.

Normal people are different—they’re not the sort of people who turn their prejudices into overt action to oppress others. And that’s why I say that normal people aren’t bigots: Happy, healthy well-adjusted people simply don’t build their lives around hatred of others.

I’m done tacitly going along with giving permission to bigots to be bigots. As I said in the post about duck guy, “The thing is, if you say bigoted things, claiming it’s religious belief doesn’t make it any less bigoted.” The bottom line here is simple: It’s far past time to call such bad behaviour by its proper name: They’re bigots.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Blogistics

I don’t often blog about blogging, or this blog in particular, because I think that it’s mostly other bloggers who’d be interested. But, hey: Bloggers are people too, mostly, so why not? Especially since I’m about to return to regular blogging topics.

Today I had a look at some of the metrics I use to gauge readership. Mostly, this is just interesting for the statistics geek in me, but looking at the data also shows me what topics readers find most interesting. Not that I pay much attention, but it’s interesting to me all the same.

I looked specifically at two general things about the blog in general, rather than specific posts. The first, in the chart above, is how this blog ranks among blogs with publicly available site statistics and written by New Zealanders who choose to participate in the NZ Sitemeter Rankings published by Open Parachute (something I started participating in back in March). In that chart, the lower bars are better because that means this blog was ranked higher.

In November, this blog cracked the top 100 NZ blogs for the first time—just—when it hit 99th place. I assumed that was a one-off due to a high pageload in November (about which, more in a minute). However, in December this blog was actually 90th.

Now, I know plenty of people who’d never admit to such low rankings, but considering roughly 265 blogs are ranked ever month, that means plenty are far lower than mine. I also consider it a bit of fun, and possibly a source of an occasional new reader, and nothing more. It is possible to game the system, since there’s no perfect indicator of who is accessing a blog and for how long.

Which brings me to my next chart, at left (click to embiggen). It compares pageloads against unique visits as reported by StatCounter, which is my data collector. Pageloads (the top jagged line) refers to the number of times a page was accessed. Unique Visits (the bottom jagged line) are determined by cookies and counts the total number of visits from all people—new and returning.

You’ll notice the gap between pageloads and unique visits. This is because of numerous things, for example, people whose browsers don’t accept cookies, bots trawling the Internet and also the fact that a person whose browser does accept cookies could access pages on the blog several times during their visit (they have to be away at least an hour to be counted as a unique visitor again).

I’ve also shown the median for both metrics (page loads and unique visits), the straight line running through the data. It makes the massive spike in November really obvious. That spike was because of my post on Illinois’ marriage equality. That post got around four or five times as many pageloads as is typical because it was included in “Mike’s Blog Round Up” on Crooks and Liars website. That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. A version of it was also published by Chicago's Windy City Times, but I digress.

What all these stats show is that this blog is growing over time, and I’m glad about that. It would be nice if more readers participated, but maybe that will become more common eventually, too.

But the second chart also shows what happens when the number of my posts drops as it did especially in May, mainly due to technical problems beyond my control. It shows how fragile these statistics really are.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve I spent hours compiling a blog post I never published. I looked at every post I published in 2013, commented on some and posted links. It included posts from every month, and by the time I got to October, it was a massive beast, some 967 words. While that included the links as words, it still would have easily been 1200 words or more when completed. Even worse, it was also looking like a link farm of sorts, which is not a good thing. So, because of all that, I abandoned the post. I thought about publishing it as a downloadable PDF for anyone who was interested, but that seemed a little, er, um, too much.

Roger Green took another approach. Each January he selects a post for each month of the previous year using a random number generator. Maybe I’ll try that at the end of this year—I’ve stolen a lot of other ideas from Roger, so why not?

And that concludes my unannounced “holiday mode” on this blog, which, apart from one particular exception, meant I mostly avoided politics and pointed commentary for the past couple weeks. But now it’s time to get back to normal blogging; there are things to say, after all—which is kind of the point of having a blog, isn’t it?

A couple technical notes: I created the charts in Adobe Illustrator, and I haven't quite gotten the hang of creating borders for web graphics. Add that to my list of things to learn this year. Also, I manually entered the data onto spreadsheets, and it's possible I made mistakes. Even if I did, I doubt they're significant.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Old and new

Well, this year is only four days old and I’ve already skipped a day of blogging. Old habits, eh? This is precisely why I try for an average of at least one post per day, not literally one post per day. I’ll catch up, starting now.

I didn’t blog yesterday because we ended up being busy all day. We met up with some friends from my homeland—folks who, until yesterday, I knew only through the magic of the Internet (podcasting, initially, then through social media). They were in New Zealand for a cruise around New Zealand and on to Sydney.

Yesterday was their last day in Auckland, so we picked them up and took them to Takapuna. We strolled along Takapuna Beach (which is particularly nice), then around around the shops in Takapuna before stopping for lunch.

We took the long way back to drop them off, driving through Herne Bay and stopping in Ponsonby for a coffee. Got them back to their hotel with plenty of time.

I’d been chatting with one of them about their trip for months ahead of time, and he asked me if there was anything that I’d wanted to bring back with me that I’d been unable to, because if it fit in a suitcase, he’d be happy to bring it. There wasn’t, and after some thought I suggest he bring me a Chicago Tribune, because that’s something I rarely see any more—in fact, it’s now only when I go there for a visit.

It wasn’t always that hard: Years ago, when the now-defunct Borders was newly open, they used to carry foreign newspapers and every once in awhile I’d buy a Chicago Tribune. I don’t remember how much they were, except they cost as much as a book, so I didn’t get one very often, so I made the reading of it last as long as I could. This was in my early years in New Zealand, so being able to get the paper was nice. As the chain started to struggle, they stopped carrying foreign newspapers, and then less and less of anything else until the chain was sold to an Australian company who closed them all down, though reopening some locations as their Whitcouls brand, none of which are even half the quality that Borders used to be.

So, getting a Trib was a real treat, but it wasn’t just ANY edition, but the SUNDAY edition! With all those sections! And the funny pages! New Zealand newspapers don’t have funny pages—in fact, they don’t even run comic strips.

But wait—there’s more! They also brought a tin of Marshall Field’s Frango Mints—definitely a treat from home. Although Field’s itself was subsumed into the Macy’s empire, Macy’s kept Frango mints and, possibly to combat falling sales, re-branded the candies as Marshall Field’s Frango Mints, complete with the old Marshall Field’s logo, and using the version of the recipe developed by Field’s in 1929—returning the candy to Field’s roots. I’ve seen nothing about whether this has helped revive sales, but my mints came in a nifty metal tin that I’ll keep, and that sort of thing matters.

And for one last bit of nostalgia, they brought a Chicago flag Christmas tree ornament. I was overwhelmed! The gifts were so thoughtful and spot-on, and certainly made me very happy (the photo above is what they brought me).

And that’s the big fun day we had yesterday, complete with background details, even. This week will be a pretty quiet week, filled with various projects around the house, then more family arrives in about a week, staying through the following weekend when we’ll celebrate my birthday.

Mid-December to mid-January is our busiest time. It’s understandable, I think, that I may have days when I don’t have time to blog. There’s too much new stuff going on, you see.

The reason is that I haven’t mentioned any specific details about our friends is that I don’t usually refer to friends or family by name or provide many details about them unless I have their permission to do so. I’m pretty public on the Internet, but I have no right to make that decision for others. Obviously, none of this applies to public personalities.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Into the real year

It’s January 2, so that means we’re in the real year now. Well, sort of: Today is also a public holiday, and it’s important to take that into account.

Today’s big task was to take Nigel’s Mum home after her visit here this week. We didn’t know what to expect: Today is a public holiday, but tomorrow is a normal business day, then a weekend. It turned out that traffic heading to the Coromandel was heavy, though it moved well.

When we got to the intersection where State Highway 25 (SH25) meets State Highway 2 (SH2), the traffic heading off of SH25—presumably bound for Auckland—was backed up for kilometres. Apparently they’re going to put in a roundabout for that intersection to fix that bottleneck.

Entrance to one3one café, Paeroa.
We went to one3one in Paeroa for lunch. That’s a new café in Paeroa in the space formerly known as “Fathers Tavern”, which was a total dive. I never set foot in there when we lived there (or before or since), and I didn’t actually know anyone who did.

The new café has a nice atmosphere, clean and modern and really good food. I had fish and chips (the fish today was snapper) and a tap beer. Nachos and eggs benedict were the other choices at our table, all of which were pronounced “very nice”. I don’t actually write like that: It’s what I’ve seen written in restaurant reviews in small papers. Oh, and since it was a public holiday, they added a 10% “holiday surcharge”. It’s all a big have, in my opinion.

Photo I posted to Intsagram.
From there, we went to visit our niece and nephew and their new baby, born about 3½ weeks ago. Considering how new it all is, they all seemed quite relaxed. For the new parents, it may have been sleep deprivation (I’m joking—they’re coping very well).

We dropped off Nigel’s Mum and headed home. When we passed the intersection of SH2 and SH25, there was a pointsman on duty allowing traffic off of SH25 onto SH2. That was a very good idea.

The photo at the top of this post is of the intersection of SH2 and State Highway 26 in Paeroa. It’s hard to tell in the snapshot above, but traffic was quite heavy; the other side of SH26, traffic was largely stopped. SH2 goes on out of town and carries on through the Karangahake Gorge, and that part of the road is winding and kind of scary in spots.

SH26, meanwhile, leads to Thames, and for years was the alternate route into Thames when there was a one-lane bridge connecting SH25 from the Coromandel Peninsula to the roads leading to Auckland.

And that brings that journey full circle, really. Our drive the rest of the way to Auckland was quiet and uneventful—apart from the ecstatic greeting we got from Jake and Sunny, of course.

We have some more adventures planned this month, plus more family visits later this month. January is a good month (and not just because it’s my birthday month…).

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy NOW year

I haven’t blogged since last year! Yes, I’m that guy, the one who says just before New Year’s, “see you next year!” Sometimes I proudly raise naff-itude to whole new levels of naff-ness. And now I’ve just stated my entire blogging plan for the coming year—oops.

New Year’s Eve was quiet, since I was the only one awake. I had a bottle of sparkling pinot gris for the midnight toast, but I decided it would be better to open it beforehand so I could have a couple glasses before going to bed, especially since I wasn’t going to toast myself. It was nice, but I didn’t finish the bottle.

As has been the case for many years, there was nothing special on TV last night—all old-ish American movies and similar throwaway stuff. Which made me wonder: If they’re going to get low ratings, anyway, why not put on something live and local? Cost, of course. Old TV shows (in this case, 1980s/90s) and movies cost very little, whereas a live show would cost a lot more.

If New Zealand had a public broadcaster, maybe it could do something, since profit wouldn’t be its motivator. This year TV3 had a recorded countdown with some young TV hosts, but I switched to see what, if anything, TV One was doing (didn’t appear to be anything), and by the time I switched back, the countdown was over (there’s a delay of a few seconds when changing channels). When I got back, TV3 was showing a commercial for their programmes in 2014 (TV One was sort of doing something similar). So, I missed the countdown(s).

I’d pre-done my New Year’s Facebook status update on my iPad (which is hard to type on) and I then copied and pasted for my Tweet—but I made a typo and typed “It's now 2014 in Auckland - Happy now Year!” Happy now Year?! I was able to fix it on Facebook, but for Twitter I’d have to delete it and re-post a new Tweet—a bit too much work by that time of the night. So, I left it (and got a title for this blog post…). Instead, I wne to my desktop computer, said hello to the world, went to bed and woke up again this morning.

Today has been quiet and a bit rainy. It’s a public holiday in New Zealand, and so is tomorrow, January 2. That means shorter hours for shops, not that that fact matters all that much, really. A large number of people go back to work on Monday, so traffic headed back to Auckland will be heavy this weekend.

And that’s how I saw in the now year.

Some previous New Year's Day Posts
Listed are only years where I actually said something rather than just sending New Year’s wishes
The Year Begins (2007)
New Year briefs (2009)
The New Year arrived (2011)