Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tenth Twitterversary

As the Tweet above suggests, yesterday (April 24 here, April 23 in the USA) was the tenth anniversary of me joining Twitter. The fact that I forgot all about it probably says all I need to about how diminished its role has become for me. Even so, it’s nevertheless a real-time history of how my use of social media has changed.

I summed up the history of all this four years ago:
Twitter was the second social network I joined, after MySpace (I joined Facebook a few months after Twitter). My original plan was to use those social networks to promote my podcast. I did that for awhile, but Twitter was one of the first that I started using for other things—or, to put it another way, it was the probably the first that I stopped using to promote my podcast (although in those days I hardly used Facebook for anything). I set up a separate Twitter account for my AmeriNZ Podcast in December of 2009, and one for 2Political Podcast in July of 2010. [Links in the original]
In the years since, I added an AmeriNZ Facebook Page to promote the stuff I do, but I still don’t use my personal Facebook to promote anything, and seldom use Twitter either. On the other hand, I rarely podcast these days, and haven’t blogged much this year, either, so it’s not like anyone would even notice that I used social media to promote something. Instead, I use the Facebook page to share stuff I won’t share on my personal Facebook, mainly stuff about US politics.

There’s no particular reason why I reduced my use of social media, Twitter in particular—I just have. Maybe I got tired of it, or of the constant waves of negativity that seem flow through it too frequently. Sometimes I got sick of shallow thinking or self-righteousness, but that was rare. Mainly, I think I just moved on.

I don’t know how I’ll use social media in the short term, much less the long term, or even if it will exist months or years from now in anything like the form it does now. But the truth is, I really don’t care. I use social media when I feel like it, I often get interesting information from it, and I often have fun. Right now, that’s enough.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekend Diversion: ‘Symphony’

Recently, I saw a music video that made me stop. It realised quickly there was a gay storyline, one that was uncommon in so many ways. That video, “Symphony” by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson, is above. I think the video is stunning.

Clean Bandit is a British electronic band that uses elements of classical and dance music, which has given their music style a lot of different names. I’d never heard of Clean Bandit (or Larsson either, for that matter) until I saw this video.

The Wikipedia entry gives a good description of the video, especially for those who don’t like music videos for whatever reason:
The song's music video was premiered the same day the song was released, on 17 March 2017. It was directed by Clean Bandit's members Grace Chatto and Jack Patterson and features Larsson in a glittery dress backed by Clean Bandit and an orchestra while an emotional story plays out. The video starts off with a young man riding his bike and cuts to a crash scene. The next scenes show two men together doing various activities. We see they are a couple and live together and one has been killed in an accident. The man who is alive is shown grieving and visiting the spots where he and his boyfriend used to go. He then begins to write music again as we find out he is a composer and his boyfriend was his inspiration. By the end, he has composed a beautiful symphony in his boyfriend's memory. The video ends with him looking out into the crowd while his deceased boyfriend looks on proudly.
The first time I saw the video, I was channel surfing and landed on the free-to-air music video channel, so I missed the very beginning, and the first scenes I saw were of the two men together. I’ve said many times that when I was younger, and at the start of the music video age, there was simply no such thing as positive pop culture portrayals of the realities of gay people’s lives. But in the USA, there certainly weren’t—and still rarely are—portrayals of black gay men. That made the video remarkable to me, even now.

This is the second time I’ve stumbled on positive gay portrayals on that music channel. The first time as about a year and half ago, when I saw a video by Troye Sivan. Mind you, I’ve also been exposed to a lot of other songs I like, too, but even now the ones with positive gay imagery still stand out for me.

Beyond what I might call personal cultural relevance, I also like the song—it’s a good pop song. I recently heard it playing in a shop I was in and sang along (in my head…). I've seen the video on that video music channel at least one more time, too, as well as several times on YouTube.

I don’t expect anything other than entertainment when I switch to that video channel. It’s nice when I’m pleasantly surprised by something, but it’s great when I also really like what’s surprised me. This was again one of those times.

Small Progresses

At the start of this month, health things were somewhat different. I was getting over a cold, hadn’t had my blood test results, and had lost weight. Although there are now different aspects to all three, things are nevertheless still moving slowly forward, and it’s time to comment on those small progresses before I forget about them.

The cold I had did go away at the start of the month, but then I developed a chesty cough toward the middle of the month, something I got over only recently. At its height, I had to reschedule my periodontist appointment because I was coughing so much. I think this was a separate plague, not a continuation or complication of the first one, but I don’t know for sure.

This past Tuesday, I had a meeting on the North Shore, so I stopped in at the doctor’s office to pick up my bloodtest results. The fact that I have to pick them up in person is annoying. I know plenty of people in other areas—including quite rural ones—who can log in to see their test results (among other things), but not only does my GP’s practice not offer that, they also won’t post or email test results.

Inconvenience aside, the results were quite good. This was the first round of blood tests since I started taking allopurinol for gout, and it has lowered the urate levels in blood to just a hair above optimal. They may choose to raise the dosage, or they may choose to wait awhile and see what happens as my weight goes down. There’s also no sign of liver damage.

The statin is also doing a really good job of controlling my cholesterol, and all that bad stuff is well below normal, and even below the guidelines of the New Zealand Guidelines Group (NZGG), which, as the Ministry of Health put it, “was an independent, not-for-profit organisation, set up in 1999 to promote the use of evidence in the delivery of health and disability services. The NZGG went into voluntary liquidation in mid-2012.”

In this case, the NZGG guidelines, which are still in use, were intended as a measure of recommended cholesterol levels for people at risk of cardiovascular disease, based on scientific evidence. While my bad stuff is all within those guidelines, there is one problem: My HDL (“good cholesterol”) remains stubbornly low, and that makes my ratio slightly higher than it should be. My HDL level has been higher than it was at the time of the test, including even when I was in hospital for the procedure.

I don’t know why my HDL level stays low, since I’m more physically active than I had been in years (and exercise is one of the best ways to raise it, though I also eat foods known to raise it, too). This will be something I’ll take up with my doctor at the next visit. But, since it’s not much below targets, I’m not worried—just aware, and determined to add walking to the plan.

My weight, meanwhile, is stable again, which is how it is most weeks. I keep expecting it to stop going down, then it drops some more. The walking will help with that, too

Finally, a bit of oddness. A couple weeks ago, I got a text message reminding me I had an appointment at North Shore Hospital the following week, and to not reply to the text message. Only trouble was, I had no idea what they were on about.

So, I rang my doctor to see if they’d been notified, but they hadn’t been. So, they gave me the number for appointments at the hospital, I rang that, and they had no record of an appointment for me. I stopped thinking about it.

The day after the supposed appointment, I got a call to reschedule it for the middle of next month. It turns out it was from the cardiology department, but I hadn’t had a phone call or letter from them before. At any rate, I have it scheduled now, and maybe I’ll have more information about all this after that visit.

For now, though, I’m just glad to continue to have some good news, however small. I’ll take it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Any sky can be pretty

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

Any sky can be pretty. It depends on the interaction of light and water vapour, clouds in particular, the angle of the sun, time of day and year—and both the observer and the mood they’re in at the time. The sky just IS—whether it’s pretty or not is really up to us.

I took the photo up top yesterday evening at Shepherds Park in Beach Haven, on Auckland’s North Shore. I had a meeting there, was a bit early, and sat down to just enjoy the nice autumn evening. Then I looked up.

The photo's what I saw, though it doesn’t really do the scene justice (the colours were more vivid). Still, I didn’t use any filters nor adjust it either in Photoshop nor using Instagram’s basic editing. It’s pretty much exactly as I took it, which is actually true of all the photos I post to Instagram.

So many people mock or complain about the banality of photos shared on social media, but I’m not one of them. I’m always interested in what has caught the eye of people I know. That includes food photos, too (some of the folks I know produce amazing food porn…).

I suppose this attitude is sort of a variant of Arthur’s Law: I like what I like (and share whatever I want to), and I don’t really care whether anyone else likes it or not. After all, I may not like what others like or share, either. Honestly, life’s just too short to get all worked up about what other people choose to share on social media.

Actually, these days I prefer seeing people share photos of clouds and meals rather than some of the endless political things against Don. I never thought I’d get to the point where I—ME!—would get sick of politics, but there it is.

I haven’t felt like commenting on US politics, obviously, I guess, and I frankly don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. Maybe that’s a topic in itself. Maybe not.

So, yeah, the sky just is—whether it’s pretty or not is really up to us. Like so many things.

Anyway, that’s how I look at it now. Maybe clouds got in my way.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ban both bans

One of the quirkiest things a new arrival to New Zealand finds are trading bans, the three and a half days on which it’s illegal for most businesses, like stores, to open. But there was such a maze of bizarre, confusing, and nonsensical exceptions and special cases that many people—including New Zealand born—often had trouble remembering what was open when and where. Yesterday, that changed—for some.

For many years, there were three and half days with trading bans: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Anzac Day morning. MPs in successive Parliaments have introduced Members’ Bills to repeal the trading bans for Easter weekend, at least. None of them ever went anywhere.

Then last year, the current government announced that it was going to legislate to allow local councils to decide for themselves whether they would allow trading on Easter Sunday only. 25 mostly rural councils decided to allow Easter Sunday trading, but all the cities have not. This is nuts.

There are many critics—including me—who said at the time of the announcement that the move was typical of this National Party government, kicking hard decisions down the road for some future government to deal with. I still think that’s true, but I’d also add it’s also typical of National’s less than courageous style of making decisions, basically trying things to see what it can get away with. So, in this case, if there’s no armed insurrection because some local councils allowed trading on Easter Sunday (and there hasn’t been), then they may end up allowing councils to decide on Good Friday, too—or maybe on all trading bans, as big retailing corporations have long wanted.

Whatever happens, this half-baked solution has got to change.

Many argue that there should be a trading ban on Christmas Day because it’s traditionally a day for families, and it definitely is that. Moreover, the day is now mainly secular, so the religious aspects, while important to the religious, don’t really change the mostly secular nature of the day. So, I agree that the trading ban on Christmas Day makes sense.

Easter is somewhat similar to Christmas, really, with the ever-present pagan fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits, neither of which have anything to do with the Christian story, having pretty much replaced the religious story for most New Zealanders. That’s not the case for Good Friday, however, which has no secular meaning, apart, maybe, as a day to travel to wherever people are going for their long Easter holiday weekend. Actually, the fact that so many people travel on Good Friday is reason alone to allow trading on the day.

It seems utterly bizarre to me that National preserved the trading ban on Good Friday—a day with actual religious meaning particular to only one of New Zealand’s many religions (Christianity), while not having any particular meaning to the majority of New Zealanders who are not Christian, for whatever reason. Even so, I’m certain that National wasn’t pandering to the religious minority; instead, it was merely their timidity about acting decisively on such issues, the effect of which was to inconvenience the majority of New Zealanders for no justifiable reason.

This leaves Anzac Day morning, and I think that trading ban should remain. The day is the one true day of national unity, a day that is sacred to the country in a mostly secular way, but with religious aspects, too. Mostly, the whole point of it is to remember the sacrifice of those who fought to defend New Zealand, and I personally think that’s a worthy goal, and a good reason to keep shops closed. After all, it’s only half a day.

It’s also important to note that trading bans are entirely separate from public holidays: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Anzac Day morning are all public holidays, and no one—including me—is suggesting that should be changed. However the trading bans on Easter Weekend are no longer justified at all in modern New Zealand, even if the ones on Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning may be.

So, I think that the councils that acted to allow trading on Easter Sunday did the right thing, and I hope the rest of the country’s local councils do the same. I also hope that whatever government is elected later this year legislates to include Good Friday. That trading ban makes no sense whatsoever.

Still, no matter who forms the next government, we won’t have any change in time for Easter next year, I don’t think, and probably not the year after. But sooner or later the government should deal with this issue once and for all. It’s definitely overdue.

Related: Liam Dann, writing in the New Zealand Herald, said, "Attempts to loosen outdated Easter trading laws have degenerated into a farce worthy of sketches by Monty Python or the late, great John Clarke." He's absolutely right.

Barrier cleared

It’s not just been lack of time that’s kept me from blogging this week, though that’s certainly been a factor. Nor was it that I had so many frankly more important things to do, though I did. This week I also had a weird technical problem I’ve never encountered before that made blogging far quite difficult. So, this is about all the barriers that led to today’s post.

In one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever had happen to me, PART of my keyboard stopped working, and for no obvious reason. Specifically, the letters Z, X, C, V, B, and N didn’t work, nor did the left side of the space bar, nor the modifier keys on that side (shift, command, option, control). The letter W also didn’t work, so I couldn’t close a window with a keyboard command. Confusingly, some characters on that side of the keyboard did work.

This was annoying partly just because I use keyboard commands to do most things (like closing a window) rather than clicking the mouse. But the bigger issue was the lack of certain letters: After all, it would be rather difficult to blog about anything to do with New Zealand without the letter Z…

I have to be honest: The keys were a little grimy and ready for another cleaning, but they weren’t as bad as the last time I cleaned it. I definitely didn’t spill anything on it, liquid or solid, so there was no sudden change. It was working right up until it didn’t on Monday. The only unusual thing I could remember happening that day was Bella crawling off my lap and stepping on my keyboard, as she’s done in the past, and I thought maybe she’d tracked-in dirt that got under the keys. So, I thoroughly vacuumed my keyboard, but it did nothing.

Fortunately, Nigel had a spare Apple keyboard (because I like them the best), and I have an extra one, too—in a box somewhere. So, I’m now back in operation.

I could have used my iPad, though it’s certainly not the easiest way to create a post, and getting access to documents (like rough drafts, or even saving the final version) is much more difficult. So is inserting links. I could have used my Macbook, but I don’t have it set up to access my cloud storage sites, and by then—after wrestling with the keyboard—I was just over the whole thing.

Tuesday morning I had a few things to do around the house before I left to drive to Hamilton to pick up my mother-in-law, who was staying with us through the weekend so she could attend the wedding of our niece (her granddaughter). On the way home on Tuesday, we stopped to pick up a few things, then we visited until Nigel got home. That night I went to try and either finish a post I started Monday, or to do a new one, and discovered the keyboard problem. I gave up.

Wednesday, I was really quite tired (maybe from the drive down and back the day before), so we had a quiet day. Thursday we went back to the grocery store to pick up supplies for the weekend, because all the stores would be closed on Friday and Sunday due to the trading bans still in place in Auckland (a subject in itself).

As it happens, the remnants of a cyclone were due to hit the North Island Thursday afternoon, so we were in a hurry to get back to the house before it hit—especially after the madhouse at the grocery store and the streets in the area (between the trading bans and the cyclone, a lot of other people were also out stocking up). So, we ended up having lunch at a café not all that far from our house, and not something new to both of us as I’d originally planned.

The fact that the cyclone pretty much fizzled out didn’t matter for us (we weren’t expected to get much of it in Auckland, anyway). But the reaction of people, most of them angry that the weather forecasts were wrong, reminded me, as if I needed reminding, that apparently the Internet is now the place to be angry. All the time. About stupid things. It was probably a good thing I wasn’t able to blog about it at the time, to be honest.

Friday, we had a rehearsal for the wedding (Nigel and I were doing a reading), so we left right after lunch. We'd spent the morning just kind of relaxing for the big and long day the next day. That evening, after the rehearsal, we had dinner at the home of my sister-in-law’s (the mother of the bride), and we got late evening.

Saturday was the wedding, and we left a little before lunch. It was a wonderful day, and the bride was beautiful, but since I don’t talk about family without their permission, that’s all I’ll say about. For this story, the important thing is that both Friday and Saturday were taken up with wedding-related things.

Sunday we were hosting any family members who wanted to stop by on their way home (the reason I needed to make the trip to the grocery story on Thursday). It was a wonderful time, too, and Nigel’s oldest sister and her granddaughter (our grandniece) were staying with us that night, so we spent the entire day visiting.

And now, today. All our guests have left, and we’re having some quiet time. I’ve caught up on my games, done some laundry, and then tackled the physical barrier to blogging by surrendering and using that back-up keyboard.

I still have some topics to catch up on, but some are now pointless: Since I usually write posts just before they’re published, sometimes a current thing I want to write about is over before I can post, so I lose interest, though the topic probably loses relevance, too.

But I’m tired just reading about what I’ve been up to the past week—maybe today isn’t the day do any more blogging catch-up…

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Weekend Diversion: I’ll be your substitute

Roger Green recently did one of his “Music Throwback” posts on “I Will Survive”, the huge hit for Gloria Gaynor. It was an interesting post in itself, but it led me into a YouTube spiral, and that turned out to be a substitute for work. Oops. Nevertheless, I learned a few things along the way.

Roger mentioned that “I Will Survive” was originally the B-side for Gaynor’s 1978 cover of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Substitute” (audio above), which was released in 1975. Gaynor’s version didn’t do well, and when “I Will Survive” became a hit, the single was reissued with “Substitute” as the B-side. That was clearly a wise move.

Here’s Gaynor’s version:

(there’s also a 12 inch version to listen to).

I never heard either of these versions until Roger’s post, but I did hear another version by all-female South African pop-rock group Clout (below). The song was released in 1978, in the middle of my first year at university. Their version reached number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as Number 1 in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium. It was pretty successful, in other words.

I’d heard the song on local radio in my university town, so I was familiar with it. One day I was browsing in one of the local record shops and saw a very cheap cut-out copy of their album, and I bought it. I liked quite a few of the songs on their album, it turned out, but I felt really uneasy about playing it because they were South African at a time when there was a movement to oppose and sanction the country for its apartheid regime. I didn’t know Clout was South African before I bought the album, and I didn’t want to help the South African government or its cause in any way (I was still a Republican in those days, too, at a time when it was still possible to be a Republican AND a Liberal on social issues). It was a dilemma. So, I didn’t play the album ever again.

Even so, the Clout version of “Substitute” has always stuck in my mind because it was part of the soundtrack of my life in my university years. I eventually bought a copy of the song on iTunes, after I lost the album in my move to New Zealand. I don’t feel bad about playing it now, but I seldom actually do. Nostalgia’s best in small doses, anyway, I guess.

All of this exploration also led, indirectly, to me remembering the “supergroup” Artists United Against Apartheid’s 1985 protest song, "Sun City” [LISTEN]. As bizarre a collection of very different artists as any of the other “supergroup” singles of the 1980s, but the song IS kind of catchy.

So, Roger’s post led me to fall into a YouTube spiral that substituted for work. My telling the tale is a substitute for a more substantive topic. But, then, many of my posts are substitutes for better ones by me or other bloggers. I don’t mind that, actually: When your normal bloggers fail you, I’ll be your substitute, whenever you need me.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Little green visitor

There are a number of bugs I see in Auckland that I never saw in the USA, either because they’re not native, or they just didn’t seem to be around. The photo above is one of them.

Some people who love bugs, and others hate them, but I think most of us aren’t on that continuum, but a different one: Some bugs we tolerate just fine, and for others, well, we become Thanatos—we are the bringer of death. For me, cockroaches and most spiders are in that last category.

However, bugs like the one above don’t bother me. Part of that is probably because they’re not a threat to humans, and also because I know they eat “bad” bugs like mosquitoes. I saw a bug very much like this one outside the house recently, and the one pictured may be the same one for all I know. But it’s a fairly common bug, really.

This was one bug I was happy to help continue doing its job eating “bad” bugs, so I escorted it outside. I used an envelope to carry it mostly to avoid hurting it—I have no idea how delicate they are—and because I didn’t want to risk “upsetting” it—or whatever the right word is. I really don’t have much experience with all creatures great and small—just mammals, especially people, dogs, and cats. And mice—I’ve caught a fair few of them over the years.

I wrote bout bugs in New Zealand exactly twice before, as far as I can remember, in 2010 about some sort of stick insect, and also last year about Asian paper wasps as part of my photo challenge that year. Clearly I’m not a bug person.

Still, this little green visitor dropped in and I made sure it could live to catch another mosquito. I like to be helpful.

I had this ready to post yesterday, and then forgot, since I’m swamped with work at the moment. Which is a pity because there are so many things I’d like to comment on…

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Debbie’s Deluge

Minor surface flooding in Auckland from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, Apr 5, 2017.
It rained last night—a lot. Some areas of the North Island received as much rain in six hours as they might expect for the whole of April, and more was promised. It’s fair to say, we’ve had enough of this.

The rain is what’s left of Cyclone Debbie, and while no longer a cyclone, there rains were pretty much more than any similar ex-cyclone to hit us in the 20+ years I’ve lived in New Zealand. Once again, there were landslips and roads closed and inconvenience, though no deaths.

This storm’s flooding was worse for many people than the recent “Tasman Tempest”, which was called a “once a hundred years” weather event. And while we all know such bad storms will become more frequent as the climate changes, I don’t think anyone expected so many bad storms so close together.

We’re on relatively high ground at our place, but that doesn’t mean we escaped unscathed. We had water pooling on the surface at several low points, including one place I’ve never seen it before: Around the path leading to the clothesline, as shown in the photos above and below. I took the photos just before 7 this morning, and the water stayed there all morning. The ground is saturated.

We were told there was more to come, and that it would hit around midday. Late morning, the clouds thickened, and about quarter to noon it started pouring, as if on cue. But about the same time, the severe thunderstorm warning for Auckland was cancelled, and within an hour or so, the rain stopped. It remained overcast, but didn’t rain again. The severe thunderstorm watch for the North Island was cancelled by early evening.

And yet some areas of the North Island may still have bad weather and flooding, especially Whanganui, which is downriver from other flooded areas, and the Whanganui River was already high. Eastern parts of the North Island may get some of the last of the rains tomorrow.

Auckland, meanwhile, is expected to clear tomorrow, and to be sunny by Saturday. We’ll see—we’ve had so much rain lately that it’s hard to believe there won’t be more.

It would be nice to dry out now.

Minor surface flooding in Auckland from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, Apr 5, 2017.

Update – April 6: I was going to make a joke this morning about how the sunlight returned and we rejoiced, but Debbie's Deluge isn't funny. Parts of Auckland got 167mm of rain (6.6 inches), while 91 mm (3.58 inches is what Auckland normally gets in the entire month of April. Parts of Coromandel got 200mm (7.87 inches) and parts of the Bay of Plenty got 250mm (9.84 inches).

In today's news we learned that Edgecumbe was evacuated as a wall of water hits the town in what officials called a "once in 500 year event". Thanks to climate change, which will get worse thanks to the greed of Don and his regime in Washington, these sorts of things will become common—not that they care, of course.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Jake is TEN!

It’s hard to believe, but Jake turned ten years old today. He’s much the same as he’s always been, slightly more slow moving than he was years ago, but he still gets as excited about the same things he always has. That’s kind of comforting.

He’s as affectionate as he’s ever been, including being pleased—deliriously happy, even—when we come back home. He enjoys cuddles with us, and he always sleeps on the bed at night. He likes being close to us.

And yet, there are some differences. He can get a bit grumpy when confronted with young children or young dogs, both of which are a bit too “manic” for him. He likes things to be more quiet and slow moving.

His sister Sunny loves being with him, and his cat sister Bella—well, she more or less tolerates him. The feeling’s mutual, actually. But they do all three make for a happy home.

This year especially I also thought of his blood brother, Doyle, who would have been ten years old today, too. He lost his health battle back in 2013, though I didn’t find out about it until months later. The brothers were never reunited after their adoption, and I still wish they had been—even though I know it almost certainly wouldn’t have meant as much to them as it would have to us.

Today, every time I went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, or lunch, or whatever, Jake was lying in his favourite chair, but always looked up as I entered the room. He always watches a lot of what I do.

I took the photo up top around lunchtime, with Jake lying in that favourite chair. The photo below was this morning, before he was actually up for the day. In both cases, he decided against posing for photos, as usual.

So, Jake is still the same loving boy he’s always been, and is still a joy to share life with. He’s made our lives so much better. He came to live with us at a sad time, and made the sadness go away. He still makes us very happy. He has magic powers, it turns out.

Happy Tenth Birthday, Jake!

Related posts:
Jake is 9
Jake is 8
Jake is 7
Jake is 6
Jake turns 5
Jake is four
Jake turns three
Jake’s Birthday 2-day
Jake is one year old!
A new arrival

Monday, April 03, 2017

Mistaken moisture

There’s a word in German that means sultry and humid: Schwül. The umlaut is important, though, because without it—Schwul—the word means gay (slang for homosexual). One small mistake, and everything’s different—whether or not it’s actually sultry.

Last night I made a different sort of mistake and because of that discovered how sultry it was outside before I experienced it. I’d left the air conditioning running in the lounge overnight, and this morning I noticed that there was condensation on the outside of the windows in that room (photo above). When went I went outside, I found out it was extremely warm and humid and sultry—Schwül—making it feel almost tropical (that’s schwüles Wetter, by the way).

New Zealand is about to get the remnants of Cyclone Debbie, a tropical cyclone that caused extensive flooding in Australia’s Queensland, even after it was no longer a cyclone. It felt like the tropics here today, so I could easily believe a tropical storm is on the way. Still, the storm may actually improve things, assuming it brings some winds to move the air. Auckland isn’t expected to get much of the rain, but, weather, eh? No one knows for sure what will happen.

Auckland doesn’t often feel as oppressively humid as it has today, though I wrote about condensation on the outside of windows in January 2016 and again the following month. Hm, twice last year and again this year—maybe it’s becoming more ordinary than it used to be?

There was some good weather-related news today: The request for voluntary water conservation, launched last month after the “Tasman Tempest”, was lifted today. The water processing plants are back at full capacity, and they feel sure they can handle whatever rains come in the next few days.

This is good news, not the least because I have mountains of things that need to be washed after the move—things that were either stored or maybe not packed well enough—but I’ve held off washing them because they weren’t important and could wait. And now that I can wash them, the weather is going to be bad and I won’t be able to hang them on the line to dry. Typical of how many of my projects have gone over the past few weeks (my office is STILL filled with boxes…).

So today I sat at my desk with the fan blowing on me to help keep me cool and dry, and sometimes I went up to the lounge to cool off in the air conditioning. I know, I know, such a terribly rough life. But being aware of how lucky one is to have such meaningless challenges doesn’t in any way reduce the fact that those challenges must be met, and when a little sultry weather enters the mix for people not used to it, it makes even ordinary, everyday things more difficult or uncomfortable to do. That’s still a reality, no matter how fortunate we may be when compared to others’ harsh struggles.

I’m lucky to have a fan and air conditioning, the electricity to run them, and employment to make it all happen. So, that’s how this Schwul boy is able to deal with the Schwül weather. And that’s no mistake.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Time to for the clocks to Autumn back

The clocks changed in New Zealand in the wee small hours of the morning today. Our clocks went back one hour, back to New Zealand Standard Time (NZST). This happens the first Sunday in April every year, of course, and every year it poses the same problem—not that people complain about having trouble adjusting (though they do complain…), but that they have trouble remembering which way the clocks go. It’s all because of one word.

In New Zealand, like many other places, this time of year is called Autumn, not Fall. So, the American mnemonic device, “Spring Ahead, Fall Back” doesn’t work in New Zealand. Sure, most Kiwis know that the word “fall” can be used to mean Autumn (we see a lot of American TV shows and movies, after all), but since it’s not the word used here, it just doesn’t spring, so to speak, immediately to mind.

Being bi-national makes it a little easier for me, I guess, because I’m well aware that the season here is Autumn, and I also grew up using Fall, so the mnemonic device makes sense for me. But every year I have to remind someone of which way we turn our clocks in April. I use the mnemonic device. Sometimes I’m asked, “are your sure?!” I always am.

All of this is insignificant when compared to how much people complain about the changes. Moving the clocks in either direction upsets our light cues, according to WebMD, disrupting our circadian rhythms. They add that moving the clocks ahead in Spring is harder for people to adjust to than moving them back in the Autumn, but in general it takes about one day per hour of time change to adjust. Uh huh. Considering how much people complain about seasonal clock changes, it seems to take more than one day to adjust.

I always used to be one of those people who was never bothered by seasonal clock changes, though I preferred the one in Autumn (that extra hour of sleep…). However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to find those seasonal clock changes harder to adjust to (Spring in particular). Moving countries also made me realise what chaos all these changes, happening at different times of the year in different countries, and not always everywhere in a country, creates. All of which is why I’ve come around to the thinking that it’s time to abolish seasonal clock changes

So, New Zealand’s clocks have now Autumned back. Or, something.

The photo up top is one I took last October for a video I made (below) about the Spring clock change, and time in New Zealand. I also wrote a blog post about that video, and included an annotated transcript.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Progress worth noting

It’s true that, as I said in February, “recovery from accident, illness or other health related condition [is] a “journey”, and not a single event.” But that also means that sometimes, there are seemingly small things that happen that are important in their own right, but might get missed precisely because they’re small. So, here are some recent small things from my own journey.

I’ve weighed myself every Friday for many (many) years, giving me a pretty good record of the various fluctuations in my weight (something I talked about last year). This past Friday, I weighed myself and found I’d lost 1.2kg (2.64 US pounds) from the previous week. This was good news, but, typically, a little puzzling.

First, I tried to figure out how I managed that, mostly so maybe I could repeat whatever I did. I think it was physical work: On Monday, I went to our storage unit (now closed) and disassembled the shelves in it and loaded up my car with the shelves and the last few items we were keeping. It was hard, hot, physical stuff (not a complaint—just a fact). Wednesday, I reassembled the shelves in our garage and started filling them with boxes to sort later, and also rearranged other boxes. Also hard, hot, physical labour. Is that all it was?

Whatever the cause was, the fact I’d dropped 1.2kg in one week, while unusual (it's usually 500 grams or less—about a pound), it’s not unheard of. Neither is the fact my weight was stable for the two previous weeks, and the week before that I’d lost 700 grams (1.5 pounds) over the week before.

What all this means is that my weight loss has been slow, not necessarily steady or at a consistent rate, but also rarely going back up. The trend has been downward, over all.

So, in the time since my hospital adventure, I’ve lost 8.8kg (19.4 pounds). I last weighed what I do now in August of 2013 (technically, I was 100 grams lighter then, but that’s close enough for this comparison). That was before both my hospital adventure and the periodontal visit that started all of this. And this is all very good news.

I haven’t had a chance to see the doctor to find out what the results of my blood tests were, but they haven’t rung me up as they would have if there’d been anything alarming, so I’ll take that as positive, too. Eventually I’ll get the actual results, and I’ll know better whether the drugs, like the statin, are helping or not.

Speaking of drugs, I’ve had no trouble adjusting to the new dosage of blood pressure medicine, and so far my BP (when I remember to take it…) has been consistently lower than it had been, which was the whole point. This is also good news.

And, of course, that cold I had has also now gone away.

Finally, Monday I saw the periodontist for the first of two treatment sessions. It wasn’t painful, and went well, but in the days afterward my teeth on that side were more sensitive to temperature than usual. I have the next treatment a week from Monday.

And those small things all add up to a general continued path forward.

As I said in the post from last year I linked to above, “the whole point in my sharing my health journey is that it might be helpful to someone in a similar situation, or for someone who knows someone who is.” Maybe I can help others know they’re not alone in embarking on a journey of health recovery. That’s why I do it. That, and maybe it might encourage someone to get checked out to help save their life.

I’m well aware that many people couldn't possibly care less about the health journeys of me or anyone else, and that’s fine. But to some people, this sort of sharing may be very important. So, for me, noting even small progress is worth the effort.

So is the work needed for recovery, actually. I’m just one example of that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Some rain must fall

It’s been rainy in Auckland a lot lately. Not tempest sort of rain, fortunately, but there have been quite a few extended periods of rain lately, and today it was often extremely rainy and/or windy. Not at all nice. But, such things happen.

At the time I took the photo above this morning, it had been raining more or less steadily since well before dawn. I took the photo in between periods of heavy rainfall, and before a (briefly) very windy time that was so windy it dried the wet concrete of our driveway. When I went out to check the mail a little while ago, there was some minor surface flooding on the lawn, much as there was after the “Tasman Tempest” (a nickname many people have ridiculed…).

The water conservation campaign is still in effect, and the need for it won’t be helped by all this rain stirring up yet more silt in the drinking water reservoirs. Still, Watercare (the Council “Controlled” Organisation responsible for water and wastewater) has put up mobile lighted billboards all over the place (including in some quite sparsely populated areas…) saying “Come On Auckland” with an admonition to save water. This has sparked further ridicule.

The signs could be taken two ways: As if meant in a moaning, complaining tone, or in a cheerleading tone. I have to admit that the first is what I thought when I read it. The Mayor isn’t happy with Watercare for being so shockingly unprepared for major weather events, especially since such “once in a century” storms are becoming more and more frequent because of climate change.

The rain lately has been a bit more frequent and persistent than usual, and that's causing problems. We’ll have other periods like this in the future, and also periods of drought, both of will certainly become worse in the years ahead.

Right now, though, it’s just a very rainy day that disrupted my plans. But, such things happen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Gone awry

I had the best laid plans for the past couple days. My cold, however, had other plans for me and derailed mine. While I got some things done, I was definitely slowed down.

Wednesday, I unearthed the last five boxes of books so I could finish that project, and that was it: I didn’t get anything more unpacked, though that wasn’t all because of the cold because I had a few other things I needed to do. Nevertheless, as the day went on, I started feeling worse and worse.

Yesterday, I unpacked those last five boxes, despite feeling terrible, and was able to do so mainly because I had them ready to unpack; I couldn’t have handled unearthing them, too. Then, I attempted to start organising the bookshelves, and in the process got the distinct feeling that at least one more box is probably still missing.

Still, I finally finished what I set out to do on Wednesday, and later this afternoon I plan to rearrange boxes in the garage according to priority so that I can deal with the rest in an orderly process. Even in my diseased state, turning chaos to order still matters.

I have a few other items on my agenda for today, disease willing, and maybe I’ll get through it all. Maybe not. At the moment, plans have to be rather flexible.

The photo above is a side shot of the stack of rather larger boxes I emptied of their books. There were twenty, all up, of which I temporarily reused two (one for excess packing material, another for things that go elsewhere).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It happens

I’ve been very busy over the past several weeks, packing and then unpacking boxes being the chief activity. So, it was probably inevitable that given the chance a cold would try to take me down. But I can fight harder.

I started feeling bad on Monday afternoon. At first, I thought it might be a reaction to the recent change in my medication, or the fact that I’d gone for blood tests that morning—after a more than 10 hour fast. That involved a 25-minute drive to a part of Auckland I haven’t been to in many years, and one I’ve never driven to. Turns out, it was none of that affecting me: Just an ordinary cold virus.

Yesterday morning, I decided to lie down for a while, and I took the photo above. Bella was a good nurse, and almost convinced me to stay there (as did Jake and Sunny sleeping nearby). But at that point, I still felt not totally awful, so I got up and did stuff. As the day went on, I realised that I didn’t feel well enough to even contemplate driving an hour for two meetings, particularly when the drive back would have been late in the evening, and I fully expected to feel ever worse than I did earlier in the day. So, I stayed home, which was a good decision: I did feel worse as the day wore on.

Nevertheless, over the past couple days I’ve emptied some 15 boxes of their books, and managed a few other things around the house. Frequent rests were also part of the agenda.

This morning, I slept in and felt reasonably okay when I woke up, but felt worse again once I was fully awake. Still, I got a few small things accomplished this morning and hope to do some more this afternoon. There are still many things to be done, after all.

Still, I’ll be taking it easier today than yesterday or Monday because of that cold. It’s a little frustrating to be slowed down by a silly virus, but it happens.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

City of Sails – and farms

One of the things about Auckland that many people don’t know, or know well enough, is that most of Auckland is actually rural or semi-rural. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, home to a quarter of the nation’s population, the centre of business and commerce, and yet much of its area is actually basically rural.

The Auckland Plan puts this well:
Most of Auckland is rural. Our large rural areas host diverse economies and activities, and include stunning landscapes and coastal areas: the West Coast; Hunua and Waitākere ranges; the Kaipara, Manukau, Mahurangi and Whangateau harbours; Gulf Islands; and numerous regional parks. Here rural people make their living and urban Aucklanders can connect with nature. There is enormous variety in terrain, land uses and settlement patterns across 384,000 hectares of land, which comprise over 70% of Auckland’s landmass, and are contained by over 3,700 km of coastline. These areas are integral to Auckland’s unique character, and vital to its economy and its people.
As that passage suggests, different parts of rural Auckland have different characteristics. The southernmost parts of Auckland, south of the Manukau Harbour, are often farmland, sometimes used for dairy or sheep, but also for market gardens, which are relatively small farms growing cash crops, chiefly vegetables and fruits. I heard on the news the other day that most of New Zealand’s land that’s suitable for such crop farming is in the area south of Auckland, and yet that same area is under great pressure for new housing as the rising price of housing in Auckland is pushing people farther and farther out.

This is a legitimate concern, and Auckland Council—and also central government in Wellington—will have to be careful to preserve productive farmland, even as they open more land for housing. It’s a delegate balance to achieve, but it’s important.

In the meantime, it would be kind of nice if more people—including more New Zealanders—understood how rural Auckland’s land area actually is. It’s kind of interesting in itself, but if people in other parts of New Zealand understood that, they might be less hostile to helping Auckland solve the many problems caused by the city’s explosive growth.

In the meantime, it’s fun exploring more of the rural Auckland, and I’ll be talking more about that.

The photo above is of farmland visible from the new AmeriNZ World Headquarters. That bare earth will soon be a new housing development, with a mix of various types and sizes of homes. This is a prime example of the issue.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

More adventures in healthcare

This week, I had two more adventures I haven’t had a chance to comment on: A check with my doctor, and a check up with the periodontist. Both went okay, though both have adjustments, and none of that was a surprise. Still, this is the first time I’ve dealt with both the same day.

I had both appointments this past Monday, since it was easier for me to see both since I was making the trip, anyway. The doctor was first.

I needed to see the doctor because my prescriptions were due for renewal, and since I do that every three months now, they like to see me. On the whole, things are okay, but I haven’t had a chance to get blood tests done (I’d hoped to go this morning, didn’t, and now I hope to go tomorrow morning).

The main issue is that my blood pressure is stubbornly refusing to get to and stay in the normal range. Most of the time, it’s in the “pre-high blood pressure” range, which is higher than normal, but not in the range considered to be high blood pressure. For a person without any complications, that would be monitored, but not much else. However, since I had a stent, and I’m on medication, the doctor wanted to increase the dosage slightly to see if it’ll come down closer to normal all the time. I was okay with that, so starting tomorrow I’m on a bit higher dosage, the first increase since I left hospital seven months ago.

On the other hand, I continue to lose weight. I’ve now lost 7.6kg (16.75 pounds) since my hospital adventure, and that means that I’m down to a point I was last at in November 2013. If this keeps up, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, my blood pressure will stabilise, probably without any further increase in dosage (and maybe even a reduction).

The periodontist was actually a little better than I’d expected. I was supposed to see him in February, as I said in the most recent “Tooth Tales” instalment, but I postponed because I was still on a blood thinner (I officially stop it tomorrow). So, I did bleed more than normal, but the periodontist said he wasn’t letting me completely off the hook: There were two spots that need attention.

I fully expected that I’d need treatments every year, in addition to the hygienist, so this wasn’t a surprise. And, since I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been with the many extra dental hygiene steps I’m supposed to take, the results weren’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.

So, all things considered, it all was okay: I was aware that I might need a somewhat higher dosage of my medication, at least for now, and I was also aware that I’d probably need one or two periodontal treatments. Nothing unexpected, then, nor disappointing.

As I said in the most recent health update, this is all a journey. The path ahead isn’t a straight one, and I still fully expect “a few detours and lay-bys along the way”. But the path is still leading forward.

Right now, that’s enough.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tempest toss’d

Last week, we were hit hard in Auckland by a storm dubbed the “Tasman Tempest”. The storm, which also affected Northland and the Coromandel, dumped a month or more of rain over only three days. It was a very big deal.

In Auckland, the average rainfall for March is 85.5mm (3.3661417 US inches), and last year March 10-12 Auckland had only 1.2mm of rain (pretty much none, in other words). This year, between March 10-12 Auckland received 101mm (about four inches) of rain—that’s more than 18% above the March average over just three days. That’s a lot of water.

There was widespread flooding all over the place. In Auckland, some of the worst flooding was in west Auckland, and on Sunday there was particularly bad flooding in New Lynn, where a sinkhole opened up. At one point Sunday some 2800 homes were without power due to a submerged substation, but power was restored within a few hours.

The weirdest thing to come out of the storm, however, was that we were told to cut back on our consumption of drinking water or we’d have to boil our water, and we were told it was Auckland’s biggest water crisis in 23 years. The reason is that the reservoirs that supply two-thirds of Auckland’s drinking water, located in the Hunua Ranges, had an extreme amount of silt stirred up, as might be expected: Because it was record rainfall, there was also record silt levels.

This was really weird. As I said on my personal Facebook:
Have to admit: I've never heard of having to save water because there was too MUCH rain! They want us to save 20L per person, which is about two buckets full. If we don't, and especially if there's more heavy rain, we'll get a boil water order. Nice. Their specific advice: No watering the garden (well, not needed, anyway…), No baths, Three-minute shorter showers, Avoid washing the car (not much point when it'll be in the rain…). Apparently they need a long period of dry weather for things to return to normal. So, we're supposed to conserve water and hope it DOESN'T rain. Very weird.
But what’s even weirder is how little sense this makes. As people who know much more about these things than I do pointed out to me, boiling water would only concentrate the silt for the consumer because water would boil off. Boiling is only necessary if there’s a contaminant of some sort—bacteria, viruses, etc.—that need to be killed. Watercare isn’t suggesting the water is contaminated, so the real threat would seem to be merely discoloured water, not something that would need to be boiled absent contamination.

Still, I’m no expert, of course, so it would be helpful if Watercare explained things more fully. However, they don’t even use social media, so we actually get very little information, which allows every armchair expert to weigh in, and without official expert information, we’re bound to be confused. And, in the 21 years I’ve lived in New Zealand, most of that in Auckland, I’ve never been told to conserve water before.

Still, water conservation request notwithstanding, we faired quite well. While there was some surface flooding in our yard, and rain poured over the gutters at times, we weren’t damaged in any way, nor were we flooded. Two days later, the grass is already noticeably starting enjoying the ideal growing conditions, even in those areas that had surface flooding.

So, the Tasman Tempest was very, very bad for some people, kind of bad for a lot more, and an inconvenience for the rest. Pretty much like any big storm can be, except that most don’t lead to requests to conserve water. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Boxed in

Ten days ago, we moved the AmeriNZ World Headquarters, something that began a few weeks earlier with various chores and preparations, and has continued ever since with unpacking boxes and finding places for the contents. All of which has been such a big job that I simply haven’t had time for much else.

I’ve learned a few things along the way. Probably chief among them, no matter how much stuff you think you have, you’re wrong. Triple it, at the very least, and then triple it again. You’ll probably still be underestimating.

However long you think tasks will take, they'll actually take much longer. Similarly, the time needed to complete a task will expand to fill and exceed all time available for that task. I’ve found this to be a Rule for Life, actually.

Exhaustion can be tolerated for a time, as long as completion of the project grows closer. However, the quicker arrival of the end-point for the project becomes possible because things that seemed absolutely necessary when the project began later become unimportant as the end-point looms closer, and that fact draws the end-point closer still.

And, no matter how ambitious one becomes, there are always more boxes to deal with, seemingly forever, though of course it isn’t really that long. I hope.

And that’s what I’ve been doing lately.

The photo above is me in my office yesterday morning, with many boxes piled up behind me. There are many more boxes elsewhere. If you think I look unamused, you're right.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thought for Presidents’ Day 2017

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." [emphasis added]

– Former President Theodore Roosevelt, writing in the Kansas City Star, 7 May 1918.

This quote can be found on Wikiquotes and has been verified by Snopes. The painting of Roosevelt is his official portrait as president, and is by John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Unpredictable responses

A post shared by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

The thing about sharing things to social media is that it’s actually really hard to correctly guess which of those things will be “popular” or spark a reaction of some sort. The photo above is an example of that.

I took the photo Friday night, just before our weekly dinner with family. It’s always casual, and while we cooked this week, it’s often takeaways. I sincerely meant what I said in the Instagram caption, and I shared it there and on my personal Facebook because it was a light and positive thing, when so much of what I see in my social media is darker—and often negative. As far as I was concerned, that was that.

However, some of my Facebook friends left positive comments or clicked “Like” or other “reactions”, which so far total around 30. All of which makes this particular post moderately popular, compared to other things I’ve shared, but that also means it was far more popular than I expected.

I’ve seen that sort of thing happen before, though usually the reverse: Things I think will be popular aren’t. It also often surprises me which of my Instagram shares on this blog get a lot of page views, and which ones don’t.

There are consultants who make a LOT of money from advising clients on how to maximise their social media impact. I imagine that at least some of them have a rough idea of what they’re doing, so some must actually help their clients. But for most of us, especially those of us who blog or share things on social media for fun, not profit, there’s seldom a way to correctly guess what things will be popular.

I think that’s a good thing. If we were able to guess what was popular, we might focus only, or even just mostly, on those sorts of things, and where’s the fun in that? Personally, I’d much rather blog about whatever topic I want, and share whatever I want on social media, and then be surprised by the reaction. Or lack of. Either way, to me it’s much more fun—and interesting.

Hm, I wonder what would happen if I posted more photos of salads…

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Not blogging is exhausting

The worst thing for a blogger is to not have anything to say. The second worst thing is to have things to say, but no will to do so. I’ve been facing the second problem for quite awhile now, and today I finally understand why that is, thanks to a fellow blogger.

My friend Roger Green published a post entitled “He cannot be the sole authority of truth”, which basically talks about Don’s attempts to make his lies be the only “truth”. In the first paragraph, Roger talks about not writing about Don, and notes:
It’s not for lack of interest. Some of it has been lack of time. But mostly, it’s that it’s too hard, with so many issues popping that I can scarcely keep up.
It was an epiphany of sorts for me, and I replied in a comment:
Yes! That’s it exactly! Every time I think I’m going to talk about something, it changes again—or something even worse happens. It’s exhausting.
Anyone who knows me well, or who’s read this blog for any length of time, knows that politics is one of my passions. In fact, here’s some trivia: I have more posts tagged “US Politics” (1268, not counting this one) than any other topic. Not all of those are about partisan politics, of course, and many are about political things in general or issues, but the point is clear: Roughly a third of my blog posts are related to US politics in some way.

So, it’s really weird how little I’ve talked about US politics so far this year, given how much there is to say. I published 14 posts tagged “US Politics” in January, but 9 of them were before Inauguration Day (leaving five for last 11 days of the month). In February, I’ve published only five, only one of which was primarily about Don. I would have thought both totals would have been much higher, considering the chaos in Washington, DC. In fact, it would have been higher, but I’ve backed out of doing such posts more times than I could count.

So Roger’s post summed up why that’s been the case. But I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve long talked about spinning off US politics into a separate blog, and I tried again recently (technical failures made that impossible). Given that about a third of this blog is about US politics, something I actually didn’t realise until researching this post, that now seems like a really dumb idea.

I need to find a way to talk about US politics, and Don specifically, in a way that doesn’t wear me out. But this problem isn’t limited to this blog: I’m also not posting anything political to my personal Facebook, and I’ve dramatically cut back on the comments I leave on others’ political posts. So, this is a generalised withdrawal from talking about US politics.

Thanks to Roger’s post, though, I think I’m getting some clarity about all of this, and that’s the first step toward figuring out what will work for me. At least it’ll make for a topic to blog about. These days, that’s a really good thing.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Six months later

There’s a reason why people often talk about recovery from accident, illness or other health related condition as a “journey”, and not a single event. That’s because the road back to full health can be a meandering, un-signposted one. Six months ago I had my hospital adventure, and the time since has been exactly like that.

My own journey has been a forward one—never backward—and yet there were more than a few detours and lay-bys along the way. There was the persistent gout for the first seven weeks, and its recent return visit. It prevented me from getting quite as much exercise as I wanted and was supposed to have.

However, despite the physical limitations, I still made progress: My blood pressure is under control, and I’ve lost 6.9kg (a little over 15 US pounds) over the past six months. I’m happy about both. I also know that if I get my weight down some more, I might get a lower dosage of the blood pressure medicine, and I may not need to increase the dosage of allopurinol to control the gout.

There are still a few things I don’t know: How easily will I lose more weight? How are my cholesterol levels (I’ll be tested next week)? And one thing more: Every once in awhile I get scared that things might eventually get bad again, since I wasn’t aware it was happening the first time.

But despite the bad things, the worries, and the unknown things, overall it’s been a case of steady progress, and I feel better than I have in years. Here’s an example: Today I had a lot of physical chores to do, such as changing the sheets on two beds, removing, washing, and putting back a super-king size duvet cover, I washed a dog, vacuumed the house, and went grocery shopping. In the past, any one of those things could have wiped me out for a couple hours. Not today: I felt fine—good, in fact, though a little achy in too-seldom used muscles, maybe.

As far as I can see, this means I’m in a good place to push on ahead to lose that last bit of weight (I’m roughly at or near the halfway point), and to get fitter and generally healthier still. Six months ago, all of that seemed like a dream I couldn’t achieve. Since then, I have.

And it’s a very good feeling.

The wisdom of the Internet

The Internet is a great source of entertainment, a good source for news, and pretty good source of information about how to do things. The value of the information we get when we try to learn how to do something will vary, largely because of the quality of what we find, but sometimes things actually work. This was one of those times.

When we stained the deck week before last, we both put on sunscreen, being SunSmart Kiwis, and all that. But there’s a problem with this: The smell.

For some reason, nearly all sunscreen and related projects have a smell of fake coconut oil. I have no idea why that is, though I think that maybe it’s a holdover from the days when it was called “suntan lotion” and was pitched as tropical. Whatever the reason, to me it's a stench, and I hate it.

What I hate more, however, is that it doesn’t wash out—like, ever. I washed the t-shirts we were wearing, and a couple cloths we’d handled, hung them in the sun, and washed them again. They still reeked.

I wasn’t surprised by this: I had a shirt that had been “contaminated” several years ago, and despite repeated washing, hanging in the sun on the clothesline, the smell was still there, though fainter, years later. I wouldn’t wear it.

And so, yesterday I turned to the Internet.

The first bit of advice I got was to put white vinegar into the final rinse cycle of the wash machine and let it soak for 15 minutes. I don’t actually have any idea how to do that with a front loader, so instead I soaked them in the laundry tub (photo up top) in white vinegar and hot water for a good half hour. I used about a half bottle of white vinegar—though I didn’t measure; I just made sure I could smell it a bit.

I was a little concerned that the clothes might reek of white vinegar, even after I put them through the washing machine, or, even worse, a combination of vinegar and coconut. So, I decided to move on to the second bit of advice.

I drained the sink, rinsed the items, the refilled the sink with hot water and laundry pre-soaker (an oxygen-based one), maybe half a cup at most. I let that soak nearly an hour.

Finally, I drained the sink, rinsed the items, and put them in the washing machine, using relatively hot water (60c/140F) with my ordinary detergent and a bit of the oxygen pre-soaker (I doubt it was even a tablespoon).

I put the stuff in the dryer, like normal, and when it was done, they were okay. There’s still a hint of the icky fake coconut smell, but I can tolerate it (and I suspect that over time the smell will gradually go away). The items were saved!

I’m well aware that this wasn’t scientific in any way, not the least because the intensity/"objectionableness" of the stench is entirely subjective (and I know there are certainly some people who like the smell). Also, I did two solutions I found, so there’s no way to know for sure if just one would have done the trick. Still, I think the two pre-treatments were probably a good idea.

I also rejected a bunch of other advice, mostly because it called for using American products that aren’t available here (and I couldn’t be bothered figuring out if a product here was similar enough). And, some people just said to wash the clothes with detergent—as if no one ever thought of that before…

This isn’t the first time I’ve turned to the Internet to learn how to do something, and I’ve had some successes, like learning how to fold a fitted sheet, or maybe how to fold t-shirts, and even some useful tips for smartphone photography. But I’ve also encountered false, misleading or just confusing information on how to deal with gout, which I’ve talked about here and also here.

This time, the Internet delivered. But for another problem, to remove a water ring on a sideboard (photo below), so far none of the methods I've found—and I’ve tried about five so far—have worked. Maybe there is no hope other than refinishing, I don't know.

One thing I’m sure about, though, is that the wisdom of the Internet will deliver again—and sometimes it won’t. That, and I really should buy odourless sunscreen.

One ring to fool them all: The Internet has provided no successful treatment solutions to remove this.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Number of 'ex-Americans' grows

Infographic: Historic Numbers Renounced Their US Citizenship In 2016  | Statista
Last year, the number of US citizens renouncing their citizenship hit a new record high. As alarming as that sounds, it was still only 5,411 individuals, and for most of them, the reason they did so was very ordinary: Money.

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that taxes the incomes of citizens living outside the country (the other is Eritrea). The problem has become worse since 2010 when Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca). It was intended to catch tax evasion by the rich, but instead caught up ordinary people just living their lives.

The problem is that foreign banks (that is, based in another country) have to report accounts held customers who are US citizens, or withhold a 30% tax. Some non-US banks are reluctant to do business with US citizens, and in some cases US expats have had trouble opening accounts, and there have been reports of some loans being called-in by the non-US banks, all because they don’t want the compliance costs and red tape involved with having US citizens as customers.

Ordinary American expats, meanwhile, get stung because things that may not be taxed in the country they live in are taxed by the USA, and the exemptions and deductions that US citizens enjoy aren’t available to Americans living overseas. Put another way, American expats face being victimised as they just try and live ordinary lives.

The only way for expat Americans to end the onerous task of filing US income tax returns every year, even though they likely don’t owe anything to the USA but do pay taxes to the country where they live, and also the only wat to end problems caused by Fatca, is for Americans to choose to end their US citizenship.

And while 5,411 individuals may not sound like much, it’s up 26% over 2015, and the trend is definitely strongly upward (see chart above). So, unless the US Congress repeals or fixes this law, that trend will only continue to grow.

It is a last-resort thing to do, obviously, and it doesn’t get one off the hook for any taxes owed (the USA will still pursue people who they say owe money in taxes), but it will prevent any new problems. But it also creates travel problems for the newly ex-Americans, since their name is apparently flagged if they later enter the USA for a visit, including sometimes involving intensive interrogation.

What I find interesting about this is that it’s a prime example of unintended consequences of laws, and of what happens when legislation is poorly thought out when drafted. It’s also interesting how everyone assumes it’s Fatca that’s caused the huge jump in renunciations. Yes, there does seem to be a correlation, but that’s not proof. Nevertheless, based on the evidence we have, politics doesn’t seem to be a motivating factor for most Americans who renounce their citizenship.

Each year the Department of the Treasury publicly releases the names of all Americans who renounced their citizenship or long-term residence (which is treated the same as citizenship for this purpose) that year. In these times, there are all kinds of reasons why this is a very bad idea, and no good reasons for it. Instead, it seems like a sort of last dig at the departing American.

It would be nice to have some evidence as to why, exactly, people renounce their citizenship, but that data isn’t collected and would be hard to come by. If we knew why, precisely, the number is rising so fast, we could make sure that no one who didn’t want to renounce would ever feel that it was their only option. Because one’s citizenship is a birthright that no one should ever be forcibly separated from, it’s difficult to accept that any government would tolerate a situation in which someone would feel they had no other option.

Congress should fix this—but I doubt they will. And that’s perfectly ordinary, too.