Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Why did I say?

I have at any one time, a number of unpublished posts on WordPress (currently 23 29). Some of these may eventually be published, but the majority are used by me as sounding boards where I write down and develop thought and feelings that exist in my mind but lack words or visual context. In a way, I’m translating my thought processes into a form that I might be able to use in dialogue with other people.

Outside of the blogosphere, I do exactly the same, except the thought processes are kept in small mental “notepads” where concepts have been converted into streams of words at various levels of completeness. During most of my waking hours, I’m constantly moving from notepad to notepad revising the content so that I can recite it should a need to communicate with fellow human beings arise. I find speaking “off the cuff” difficult at the best of times times, even with friends and family. I rely to a large extent on finalised or nearly finalised notepad scripts. I can really put my foot in it if the only appropriate script hasn’t been well prepared.

Quite simply, I don’t think in words or images, yet I’m unable to communicate with fellow humans without making an effort to convert “thought blobs” into strings of spoken or written words, otherwise known as sentences and paragraphs, or larger objects such as a blog post or opinion piece. I struggle with conversations because of the necessity to convert incoming words into “thought blobs” and then to reverse engineer my thoughts back into word streams. Social interactions require almost instantaneous conversions in both directions and although I can convert incoming word streams into thought processes reasonably quickly (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction) and with moderate accuracy (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction), reversing the process is much more difficult, not to mention exhausting.

While most of the unpublished WordPress articles start out with the intent to publish, the process of putting words to what I wish to express, exposes a “weakness” in the way I process ideas. That is I find it very difficult to put forward an argument in a way that is meaningful to those who don’t process thought in the same way as I do.

Some articles simply stop part way through, waiting for the moment where I can add flesh to the bare bones of what I have written. Sometimes, the effort of translating thought into words reveals flaws in my logic, but not necessarily providing me with a solution. These articles will sit there until either I realise the premise is not worth considering and I delete the offending article, or I find a solution and publish after considerable revision.

Most posts languish because I realise I’m unable to do the translation from thought blobs into meaningful dialogue. A bit like running an automated translator over some complex idea presented in a language that has absolutely no relationship with your own. For example here’s the previous paragraph after it was translated into another language and back into English:

Part of this information is just waiting for conversion at any time period beyond the quality of the bone with different answers. Sometimes, someone wants to understand the cut word, but does not provide a solution. In this approach, Until I understand this data, I will pull the information or find a solution after a constructive publication.

Sometimes, when I review what I have previously written, especially if it’s largely abstract, philosophical or religious in nature, it makes about as much sense as the translation above. There’s a few unpublished articles which currently are about as understandable as the example above, but a few days from now those article might make sense and others might appear as nonsense to me. What others might make of them is another matter.

Even this post, which I’ve published as a consequence of something I did a few hours weeks ago, consists mostly of content for an unpublished post about how I convert the way I translate my thought processes into English, and the fact that even though I’ve just recently turned 70, I still struggle with the process.

Perhaps my biggest issue is that language is linear – within sentences, within paragraphs, within stories. While perhaps the best communicators are those who are linear, I struggle with the whole concept of linearity. For me, there is no beginning, middle or end: there’s just a whole, (or if I’m confused about something, there’s just a hole).

Another issue is that I don’t see anything in absolute terms. This gives rise to some people interpreting what I say/write as being vague. Ashley of The Boastful Blasphemer is convinced that I’m “the most wishy-washy, waffling, non-committal, vague, imprecise, escape-hatch-leaving ‘debater’ I’ve ever talked to“. While I completely disagree with the “escape-hatch-leaving” part, there might be an element of truth in the rest. There are no absolute truths. Every fact is open to interpretation (even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing).

I have at times stated that I have no notion of time. This is probably somewhat inaccurate. I understand the notion of time – I am unable to experience time. Most people seem to remember events in terms of chronological distance. They seem to instinctively know approximately how long ago personal experiences occurred. I have absolutely no idea. I’m only able to remember the relative significance of various events. Important events are close while less important events are distant. This even applies to the present moment.

For example when experiencing a migraine, everything occurring in the “now” is distant and may be further away than events that occurred even decades ago. In such circumstances the past is more “real”, and certainly more immediate than the present. After the migraine is over, everything I experienced during the attack remains distant. A good example of this might be the first time I saw my first grandchild. I had a migraine at the time. I have absolutely no memory of the actual event. The only “memory” of the event is the description provided by my wife and daughter several years later.

This brings up another factor: With a very few exceptions, I have no visual memory of past experiences, nor can I create a visual picture of an event. For this reason, I find it difficult to distinguish between events I experience directly and those described to me by other means. The above incident with my first grandchild is one example. For a while I thought I was able to describe the incident from my own experience. Later I realised that there were discrepancies in my “recollection” that turned out to be the way I interpreted the event as described by my wife and daughter.

Here’s another example. My daughter’s home has tall picket fence at the front, about as tall as I am, nearly as old, and unpainted. Now you know as much about her front fence as I do. I probably could not identify it from a photo lineup of similar fences any better than you could with the description I’ve provided. Oh, there’s a row of trees and bushes on the property side of the fence. So if only one photo matched that description, and one of the photos was definitely a picture of my daughters fence-line, then that would be the photo I’d pick. But then knowing the facts that I’ve just provided, you would be able to do exactly the same thing. And you’ve never seen the place.

Fortunately there’s no other property in the same block that matches the description above, so finding it is not difficult. If there was a similar fence-line, I’d have to memorise a different set of parameters that made the daughter’s property uniquely identifiable.

What some of you might be able to do is create a mental image of the fence-line I’ve described. While it’s very unlikely to be an accurate image, it’s something you can “see” in your imagination. I can’t. I rely on the information I’ve specifically set out to remember. Specifically, there is a thought blob that when translated into English indicates last block in street, on left, picket fence, my height, my age, unpainted, trees behind. There is no picture associated with that description.

In the local New World supermarket milk products are located on shelving at the back left corner of the store. It is the south west corner of the store and diagonally opposite the entrance, which is at the front right, north east corner of the store. Now you know as much as I do, and if I were to place you in front of the supermarket, you could find your way to the milk section just as easily as I can. What I can’t do is describe what my eyes have seen when I visit.

This lack of visual memory can lead to potentially embarrassing moments such as the one recently described in I wonder what she wants? I learnt a long time ago to be careful of relying too much on distinguishing personal features. It’s rather embarrassing to discover the person you’ve been talking to for the last ten minutes is not who you thought she was, but a total (but friendly) stranger.

I’m not even immune from failing to immediately identifying my wife, and we’ve been together for 48 years. When we go out, I make a note of what she’s wearing. Remembering that information, along with the fact that she’s likely the shortest oldish person of Asian appearance is usually sufficient for a visual identification. While that description is reasonably reliable here in Aotearoa New Zealand where approximately one in eight people are of Asian descent (and around one in twelve in our hometown) , I discovered it wasn’t so helpful in Japan where the ratio is more like 999 in 1000 are of Asian descent, although she is still significantly shorter than average, even in Japan.

A further visual clue is her gait. It’s rather reminiscent of how a cowboy might walk after a week in the saddle. While it’s not exactly what could be described as elegant, it’s a godsend when it comes to identifying her when in this country, but again, in Japan not so much as many women of her generation, especially from farming families, walk in a similar manner

So how do I recognise people? Mostly by voice. I’ve found that to be the most reliable for me. In fact, as there are no other forms of distraction, I can usually recognise someone on the telephone faster than in a face to face situation. If I happen meet someone I know while I’m out and about, there’s a good chance I won’t recognise them unless they speak to me, and even then, the distractions of sights and sounds might be enough to delay recognition for some time. At home or in the office, there’s much less distraction, and I can usually recognise the caller before they’ve identified themselves.

As I was diagnosed as having a 90% hearing loss when I was seven years old, I wonder why I am able to recognise voices so well. But that’s a conversation for another time.

I know face blindness is more common in autistic people than is the general population, and I wonder if a lack of visual memory and thought without words or images are also more prevalent. To date I haven’t seen any discussion of this, but perhaps its something other autistics experience and haven’t realised that it’s not what most people experience.

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Five years already?

I’m not the most regular, proficient or prolific blogger, but I’m surprised that today marks the 5th anniversary of Another Spectrum. When I started this blog, my intent was to use it as a platform for discussing  the autism spectrum (hence the blog title) and migraine with occasional detours into other topics. But it my life is more than these two conditions, and it seems that it is the same with my blogging interests.

I wonder what interests I’ll blog about over the next five years?


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“You and mum help make this happen”

These were the words my daughter used to accompany a video clip sent to me via WhatsApp earlier today. To me they are very humbling words indeed. This is not because in any way we were directly involved in facilitating “this” to happen, although perhaps there is an indirect link in that we provided child care and dog sitting services at times to enable her to make “this” happen.

Instead I would like to think that what she is showing appreciation for is in regards to the values we encouraged her to develop, and which she expresses – participation in “this” being but one example. I’m uncomfortable using the word “proud” for my part in her development because it can be used in ways that are closer to boasting, and I don’t want to imply that our daughter is who she is simply because we as her parents made her that way.

I’m convinced that the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is accurate, and as parents, we are just one of the many influences that have played out in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And even in saying that, we have to acknowledge that we too are products of the environment in which we developed, including parents, whānau, and the wider community. So I cannot claim be the originator of any of the values my offspring hold dear. At best, I’ve been a conduit, and perhaps, only in a very small way, an enabler.

I acknowledge that I have often fallen short as a parent, and it has been my children who have shown me how to be a better parent and human being, and for that I will be forever grateful. And yet our daughter takes a moment to say “You and mum help make this happen”. I can’t find a word or phrase that describes my reaction to her statement, but I hope the sentiments are clear enough from what I have written here.


As to the “this” referred to above, I have been contemplating whether or not to identify the occasion. My reason is that I’m somewhat anonymous on this blog. Although there’s enough information available for anyone to discover my real identity if they had a mind to, it would take a small amount of work to do so. And the possibility of someone who knows me stumbling across this blog is extremely small.

Experience during my formative years taught me to be cautious about how I expressed myself, and I learnt the hard way that there are boundaries (which I still can’t always recognise) that can’t be crossed without very unpleasant consequences. Although I believe our society is far more tolerant and liberal today, the caution within me remains. The relative anonymity provided by this blog allows me to express views that I would be reluctant to share in the “real world”.

But in light of the fact that “this” is a public expression opposing the very thing that makes me so cautious, I cannot help but feel duty-bound to share it here, even at the risk of making my identity easier to discover. I could perhaps not mention that our daughter identifies herself by name and role in one of the Facebook video clips linked to below, but I want to publicly acknowledge that one of my greatest teachers about life has been my daughter, which is why I find her statement humbling.

“This” refers to a local street party declaring that bullying is not acceptable. It is never “character building”. Its only function is to cause harm.

   


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More lies, damned lies and statistics

From time to time I browse through older posts of bloggers that were written before I started following them. Recently I came across Exploring Reasons Why “Atheists” Have Extreme Moral Prejudice Toward Atheists by Victoria NeuroNotes. What tweaked my interest in the post was that Victoria had put one of the words Atheists inside inverted commas. I read her article and the study link to an article about a global survey on which she based her article, but I failed to understand the purpose of the inverted commas. So then I read the articles in the following study and studies links, but was still none the wiser, and somewhat confused, as the latter two links were findings on morality itself, whereas the first link is to findings on the perception of morality. Not the same thing at all.

That discovery bothered me because in my experience it’s not like Victoria to make this sort of mistake. Just as puzzling was that she doubted the accuracy of the study because it was contrary to her personal anecdotal experience.

The findings of the study didn’t match my own experience either, but for a different reason. I have not seen any evidence that either theists or atheists regard atheists as less trustworthy. Then I read the notes link and part of it fell in place. That article refers to the same study, and this sentence jumped out at me:

Only in Finland and New Zealand, two secular countries, did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice, said the team.

So that explains why my experience didn’t match the conclusion of the global study. Kiwis really don’t care about the religiosity of their fellow citizens. It’s also consistent with a 2009 NZ survey that gave atheism and all major religions (with the exception of Islam) a 90% approval rating. Islam lagged well behind with an 80% approval rating. A similar survey in the US at the same time gave atheists a 64% disapproval rating. This is also consistent with the study conclusion that one’s opinion of atheists is strongly influenced by the beliefs of society in which one lives, regardless of whether one is or is not religious.

It was only after I started reading the comments that the penny finally dropped and I understood why Victoria put inverted commas around Atheist: Perhaps many of the so called atheists weren’t really atheists at all. Now where have I heard similar types of statements before? One atheist even suggested that some Christians might have deliberately lied to distort the findings. There’s even the example of one atheist accusing another atheist of not being a “True Atheist”(TM) because the latter participates in the activities of a UU church. Sigh.

There was another thread to the criticism of the survey, and that was in regards to the motives of the researchers, but this wasn’t really pursued very far.

My curiosity aroused, I decided to investigate the findings a little further. I did locate the paper involved, but wasn’t prepared to fork out precious funds to purchase the right to view it, so I had to settle for this Supplementary Information PDF document. In it, in Supplementary Table 4. Religious demographics (%), I found what I was looking for.

The number of Christians, atheists and agnostics are similar to other surveys I’ve seen for young adults in Australia, the UK and the USA (the only ones other than NZ that I have any knowledge of). The number of Christians are 41%, 20%, and 79% respectively, and the number of NZ Christians is recorded as 22%. Again consistent with other surveys.

What I find interesting is how those who are not religious self identify. At first glance, the US has more atheists than NZ (UK: 22%; Australia:15%; US: 4%; NZ: 2%), and far more agnostics (UK: 15%; Australia: 15%; US: 5%; NZ: 0). It’s when considering those who identify as having no religion that there is a clear difference between NZ and all other countries (NZ: 71%; UK: 27%;  Australia: 14%; US: 10%). Even in Finland, only 25% self identify as having no religion.

What I believe this shows is the relaxed attitude Kiwis have towards religion, and that includes those who self identify as being religious. Religion is a private matter, and it doesn’t intrude into the public domain. Neither believers nor non-believers feel threatened by the other. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where to me as an outsider, both sides seem to be in a state of siege.

As to whether some Christians lied about their beliefs to deliberately distort the findings, I very much doubt it. The supplementary document includes the questions presented to the students, and I think one would need inside information (or assistance from their God) to know the purpose of the questionnaire. That some atheists are willing to believe that Christians will deliberately lie to present their faith more favourably is so very similar to the belief some Christians have about atheists, and  supports the last sentence in the previous paragraph – that a state of siege exists. To be honest, I find this very disappointing.

In a Medical Xpress article “Reminders of secular authority reduce believers’ distrust of atheists” we are informed that a majority of Americans would disapprove of their children marrying an atheist and would not vote for an atheist president. Compare that to NZ where we’ve had an atheist or agnostic government leader in 20 of the last 21 years and no one, including Christians are in the least bit bothered by it. I find the last paragraph in that article very compelling:

“There is evidence that gods and governments can fulfill similar roles,” Gervais says. People want the world to be orderly and controlled, but it seems like the authority that keeps people in line can be religious or secular. There’s some evidence that when people feel less confident in their government, they’re more likely to seek out religion. Norenzayan and Gervais find that in countries where the government is more effective and stronger, atheists are both more common and more trusted.

I think that the contrasting perspectives of Americans and Kiwis supports this hypothesis. So, what have I learnt from this exercise?

  • The trustworthiness that members of a minority group have towards fellow members is influenced by attitudes of those outside the group
  • That makagutu’s commentThere’s no difference between an ideologue of any ism” is absolutely true.

What I would like to know is why ideologues are a dime a dozen in America, but as scarce as hens’ teeth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Any suggestions?


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Freezing!

I guess the term freezing is somewhat of an exaggeration. It’s actually 7°C (44°F), but as it’s close to that temperature inside my home office, and I’m sitting at my computer, it feels fricking cold.

Why so cold? We are replacing the windows and ranchsliders [Nu Zild for a fully glazed  sliding door with a moving panel that slides behind a fixed panel] on the the main floor with double glazing. Huge gaping holes where the glass was doesn’t do much for keeping heat in and cold out. However we are looking towards cheaper power bills and a more evenly heated home when the job is completed hopefully by tomorrow evening.

Our house was built in the mid 1980s and apart from a regulation requiring  minimal ceiling insulation, little consideration was given to keeping homes warm. What heating there was was on a room by room basis. Central heating was unheard of and it is still very much a rarity. It wasn’t until early this century that double glazing, wall, ceiling and underfloor insulation became mandatory for all new home construction. Why? I could claim that were are a hardy lot, but the large immigrant population are a namby-pamby softies, and can’t stand a little cold.

The truth is that compared to much of the rest of the world, we have a very mild climate. Summers are not overly hot, and winters are not extremely cold. Where I live, anything below 15°C (59°F) is considered cold and it’s bitterly cold if it drops below 10°C (50°F). We get between 5 and 15 frosts per year and a smattering of snow once per decade at most. It’s hot at 25°C (77°F) and insufferably hot at 30°C (86°F). So artificial heating and cooling is not necessary for survival – it’s a luxury to make life more pleasant.

However, cold homes are also damp homes. Dampness brings in mould and mildew, which is now acknowledged to be a serious health risk. We have a very high rate of respiratory illnesses in this country. Hence the the warm home regulations. Existing homes don’t need to be insulated to new home standards, but the government is looking at mandating all rental accommodation be brought up to the modern standard.

A few years ago, we took advantage of a government subsidy on underfloor and ceiling insulation and that made a big difference in reducing the daily extremes of hot and cold and eliminated mould from much of the house. Our sole form of heating was a woodburner, which made one end of the main floor cosy to too hot while the rest of the house remained cold. It was also somewhat expensive to run. Even lighting it late afternoon and not feeding it after 10PM cost us close to $700 per year for firewood and cleaning, even though we only used it for the coldest three months of the year.

So we had a heat pump installed. Typically in NZ they are used to heat a single room, and multiple units are used to heat a whole house. Ours is a larger unit installed in the main floor hallway with the goal of maintaining a comfortable background heat throughout the main floor while allowing some heat to rise up the stairwell to the upper floor where the bedrooms are. Mostly it works well and is very much cheaper to run even though it’s running 24/7. But on very cold days, the rooms at either end of the main floor can drop to as low as 15°C if the curtains aren’t drawn. And who wants to draw the curtains during the day, especially when we have such a great view. (If you view this blog directly in a browser and not via the WordPress Reader, the views in the random image at the top of the page are taken from our home.)

Neither of us are getting any younger, and we are both more sensitive to variations in temperature than we were even ten years ago. So we dipped into our savings for the double glazing. We’re doing the main floor except for the utility rooms (laundry, bathroom, toilet, exercise room) as they are used less frequently and/or have smaller windows. Even so, there’s 30 square metres (320 square feet) of glass to be replaced, and as our children will no doubt say, it has taken a not so insignificant bite out of their inheritance ($19,000 to be precise). Not that that worries me. I came into this world with nothing, and if everything goes to plan, that’s how I intend to leave it.

There’s a few more “big ticket” expenses that are looming on the horizon. Our car is now 12 years old, and while it’s still very reliable, the day can’t be too far away, when its reliability will be called into question. And as all cars are imports (there’s no local car manufacturing), they are not exactly cheap. A new sub 2000cc car such as a Toyota Corolla or Mitsubishi Mirage is around $28,000 to $30,000.

The exterior of the house is due for a repaint. Once upon a time I would have tackled this task myself, but age, injury and a multi-storey home means this is not a reasonable option any longer. OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) requirements mean that the use of regulation scaffolding and safety harnesses etc is mandatory for our dwelling due to its height, all of which does not come cheaply. I’d be surprised if an external paint job sees any change out of $15,000.

Then there’s floor coverings. With the exception of the kitchen, they’re all original, which means they are over 30 years old. In typical New Zealand fashion, most of the floors are covered in woollen carpet. It’s getting threadbare in places and a decision will need to be made soon as to whether we replace all the carpet or only in those rooms showing the worst wear. Re-carpeting the whole house will cost around $20,000 for a medium priced carpet, so it’s more likely to be done in stages.

Some rooms require repainting and new wallpaper – the grandchildren seem to have the ability to locate seams that have slightly lifted and then tearing the wallpaper back to where it is adhered firmly. At least this is one task I’m still capable of doing (I hope), having papered and repapered three previous homes. But If I need to hire a professional, then it’s goodbye to another $8,000 to $10,000. So this is also likely to be a project completed in stages.

And finally, we’d like to become less dependent on the national grid for electricity. Now that storage batteries are reasonably cost effective, we’d like to install a solar power system large enough to allow ourselves to be close to a net zero user of external electricity. How much? Not sure, as prices are still falling. I suspect something over $25,000, but if the Greens get their wish, there might well be a subsidy similar to the one they obtained for insulation (around 25%). Time will tell.

When we built our first home a couple of years after we married, it cost us a grand total of $12,000 for the land, house, fixtures and fittings, and we managed to finance it with a deposit of only $130! Mind you, my weekly pay package back then was around half of today’s minimum hourly wage. How times have changed!

And in case you’re wondering why I used main floor and upper floor instead of first, second etc, there are two very good reasons:

  1. Difference in NZ and US usage. What Americans call the first floor, Kiwis (and many other Commonwealth countries) call the ground floor. So our first floor is the second floor in the US.
  2. Because the house is on a sloping section (Nu Zild for lot) the main floor is the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the west, but the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the east. The upper floor is the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the west and the second floor (US third floor) when accessed from the east. And finally, the lower floor is the basement when accessed from the west, but the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the east. Confused? So am I!

 


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WordPress categories and tags

Fascinating! The categories and tags I attach to a post seem to make little difference to the number of views each one receives. Nor is the distribution of countries from where the views originate affected by tags. With two exceptions.

If I include New Zealand, NZ or Aotearoa, I see a large increase in the number of views from, you guessed it, Aotearoa New Zealand. That’s only to be expected, as I guess many people (myself included) will have among their search tags, the name of their country. On the rare occasions where I have used a country specific tag, I see an increase of viewers from that country.

But there’s one group of tags that, on first glance, one would not think of as being country specific, but if one thinks about it, becomes understandable considering the amount of argument and discussion it causes in one country in particular.

The United States of America is supposedly a shining example of freedom and the rest of the world pales in comparison. In fact, America is well down the list no matter what kind of freedom one measures (perhaps with the exception of the right to bear arms). It’s a myth that most Americans seem to believe is true, but whether or not it may have been true at some point in the past, it most certainly has not been true for several decades.

The categories and tags I have in mind are not directly related to freedom, except in one sense. When you listen to American’s talk about freedom it’s almost exclusively along the lines of freedom to or freedom of. Very seldom is freedom from discussed much, whereas in NZ, it’s discussed as much as the other sorts of freedoms.

There is one hot topic in America that’s bandied about both as a freedom of and as a freedom from,  and that is (if you haven’t already guessed it) religion.  Any time I include a category or tag pertaining to religion, the number of views from America (and only America) increases markedly. So much so, that it’s very tempting to add a religion themed tag just to maintain a high number of visitors.

Yep, any religion themed tag (and I include atheism here, as without religion, it’s sort of irrelevant), brings around 10 times as many views from America than posts without religion themed tags, but views from other nations remain much the same. Kind of makes you wonder what goes on in the mind of many Americans!


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Internet? What Internet?

As I mentioned in my previous post, accessing the Internet in Japan was problematic. On board the cruise ship, WiFi was free, but that only provided access to on board facilities. Internet access was expensive. I made the decision to purchase 10 hours of access which set me back US$200. I shouldn’t have bothered. Communication by smoke signals would have been faster and more reliable. Frequently the network went down, and while down it was impossible to log off, meaning the clock kept on counting down the time I had left.

On board, the transfer rate was very slow. Who remembers dial-up internet of the early 1990s? That was fast compared to what I could get, even when the ship was in port. I found it better to go onshore and seek out a WiFi hot spot. But even then I frequently ran into problems.

WiFi hot spots are to be found everywhere in Japan, but most seem to require a subscription with a service provider to use for anything other than a very short trial period. Often the amount of personal information that had to be divulged even to use the trial period was too much for my comfort, and I’d abandon the sign up process. Those that really were free often had very little bandwidth, and weren’t much better than on the ship. I noticed too, that many of the hot spot providers required the use of a smart phone that had been purchased in Japan. Foreign purchased phones simply would not work.

The best connections I found were in restaurants, shopping centres and railway stations. Hotels and inns were a mixed lot. It seemed that the bigger the place was, the less reliable the Internet connection. There were two factors here. In large establishments the WiFI signal strength could be patchy, and while it might be strong in the lobby or dining rooms, it frequently was very weak in our room. The other issue was bandwidth.

I swear that the larger the establishment, the smaller the capability of the router. We stayed at a number of small inns with as few as five guest rooms. Here I could get speeds approaching the ADSL speeds at home. But in larger places, data transfer slowed to a snail’s pace, especially in the evenings. Even achieving 1KB/sec in some places was an achievement. Talk about being frustrated! I abandoned all hope of blogging, and managing my part time online business became a nightmare.

I use Google Photos to automatically sync pictures and videos taken on my phone to the cloud and my other devices. By the time we left Japan, less than 5GB of the 32GB I’d taken had been uploaded. A similar amount uploaded while we waited for a connecting flight at Auckland Airport. The rest uploaded by the time we woke the next morning.

We don’t have a fast connection at home: 10MB download and 1MB upload, but it still seems fast compared to what I experienced in Japan. I don’t know how unique my experience with the Internet in Japan is, but both my daughter and her husband had similar experiences. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

Speaking of Internet speeds, I really must hurry up and choose a high speed fibre provider. After all, there’s been fibre running right past out gate for more than a year now. Most providers charge no more, and frequently less than I’m paying for my copper ADSL service. The only problem I’m having is choosing which provider to go with. Soooo many of them, and every one of them has numerous plans. Contract or no contract? With or without phone line? 100MB or 1GB? With or without Netflix? Metered or unmetered? According to one comparison website, I have 1,960 different plans to choose from. Help!!


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Where’ve you been?

I have recently returned to Aotearoa New Zealand after an absence of seven weeks. During that time, I made a startling discovery. I miss the blogosphere when I can’t reach it!

Before leaving these shores, I had convinced myself that Internet access would not be a problem. I would be able to manage my part time business/hobby, and keep up with the numerous blogs I follow while I frittered away my children’s inheritance on a luxury holiday. But it was not to be.

So where have I been?

Japan – home for the first 24 years in the life of my wife. The trip was divided into three legs:

  1. A 17 day cruise around Japan with excursions to Korsakov in  Russia, and Busan in South Korea plus a few days in the Tokyo area either side of the cruise.
  2. A short stay at Sendai, my wife’s home town.
  3. An exhausting 14 onsen (Japanese inns with volcanic hot springs) in 15 days.

The cruise

The great thing about cruises is that it’s like booking into a hotel but finding yourself in a different location each day. No hassle with packing bags, or booking and catching public transport, or finding somewhere decent to eat. The bad thing about cruises is that you find yourself in a different location every day, and after a while, the food, even though it’s of an extremely high quality, becomes a little too predictable and monotonous. (I can’t say anything bad about not having to pack bags every day).

We had brief visits to many parts of Japan that my wife had never been to, some of which will become destinations in future visits to Japan when/if they eventuate. We would have liked to have spent longer at some locations, but time, tide and cruise ships wait for no man.

We were accompanied on the first two legs of our holiday by our daughter, her husband, and their three children. Some excursions we did as an extended family, others we did by ourselves, and on occasions when a migraine got in the way, my daughter or grandchildren would take my place.

What in the world possessed North Americans to call the main course of a meal an entrée? To avoid confusion among passengers, the cruise English language menu referred to the courses at dinner as Starters, Mains, and Desserts. Each day there was a different choice of 5 or 6 starters, 5 or 6 mains and 5 or 6 desserts. There was another 15 or so dishes that were available every day. The menu started to repeat itself after the tenth day.

What I like about cruise dining is that one is not limited to just one starter, main and dessert each meal, but one can eat as many dishes as one wants. I typically had 2 or 3 starters, occasionally 2 mains and often finished with 2 desserts. My son-in-law, not to be out done, at one meal consumed every starter, including one starter twice, 3 mains and at least 2 desserts! I had visions of being able to roll him off the ship at the end of the cruise, but of course he was unable to maintain such an appetite for long.

Highlights of the cruise? There were many memorable occasions, but not always of the pleasant kind. In particular, the visit to Korsakov was rather sobering. One had the feeling that life was kind of hopeless. Everything was run down and people had that kind of resigned look in their eyes which said life was grim and not likely to get any better. Our Russian guide more or less confirmed this by stating than many Russians have moved to Sakhalin Island due to the low cost of living only to discover the low cost of living comes with even lower wages (around US$2000 per year) and find it impossible to earn enough to leave.

On the other hand I can claim another Kiwi victory over the Aussies!  On an excursion to the Kushiro Marshlands in Hokkaido, we found ourselves in a bus with 4 Australian couples, and another 8 passengers of assorted nationalities. At the visitor centre, we were fitted out with lifejackets and wet weather gear for a canoe ride through the marshlands. As each canoe held a maximum of eight people plus a guide, we seemed to naturally divide ourselves into three groups: Our extended family of 7; the eight Australians; and the rest.

We spent spent a wonderful time exploring. Nature there was very different to what we experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. I think everyone in all three canoes were enthralled by the experience. However it all changed on the last leg of the return journey shortly after we entered a large lake. We had just finished watching a flock of ravens harassing an eagle, and were slowly starting to paddle towards the visitor centre in the distance, when we heard the the sound of a canoe approaching from behind at full throttle, eight paddles dipping in and out of the water in unison. Then we noticed that they were paddling to the chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”.

They were fully aware that we were Kiwis and that their action would be like a red flag to a bull. Naturally we responded. They had caught us by surprise, and they were a good boat length ahead by the time we got up to speed. I’m sure they were confident they could beat us to shore 800 metres away as they had the benefit of surprise and had a crew of eight adult paddlers ranging from their mid twenties to their mid fifties. Our canoe consisted of six paddlers as my wife was unable to paddle due to back problems: three children (5, 8 and 11 years old), Two adults in their forties and myself in his late sixties.

The guides were clearly perplexed by what was a mad race for the shore. We had an advantage here as both my wife and daughter speak Japanese. As we made ground on the other canoe, my wife and daughter explained to our guide the nature of the rivalry between Kiwis and Australians. It wasn’t long before were were paddling neck and neck and over the sound splashing of paddles and gasping breath as we each jockeyed for the lead, we could hear our guide explaining the insanity of antipodeans to the other and it was very evident by their laughter that they both though were were all quite mad.

Slowly we drew ahead, pain in arms and back almost reaching breaking point, and when we were some 200 metres from shore we had about a two boat length lead. At this point the Australians realised that that there was no possibility of beating us and abandoned the race. We on the other hand were out to prove a point and continued on at the same pace until there was no more water under the keel much to the consternation of our guide.

I’ll cover other aspects of the trip in future posts. In many respects, it was a journey of discovery. Those discoveries being mostly about myself, some quite surprising. If I can make sense of some of them I might share them on this blog. That is if I can find the courage to do so.

All in all, the seven weeks away from home went too quickly, but I was really pleased to get back home. There’s something about the comfort of familiarity that eventually overtakes the excitement of adventure. At least it’s that way for me.


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Three years already?

When I opened my Web browser to the WordPress page this morning, the little notification indicator indicated that there was a notification (there must be a better way of phrasing that, but currently it doesn’t come to mind). It wasn’t a comment, a like, or a follow. It was a message from WordPress!

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Three years already? Surely not. But a quick check revealed that I signed up and posted my first blog on 6 June 2014. As for flying, I think not. Only 130 posts in 1095 days, or one post every 8.4 days hardly rates as flying in my view.

What I find fascinating is the tags and categories that attract the most readers. Mention atheism or religion and the number rise dramatically. Nothing else compares, not even matters related to sex or gender gets readership much above a yawn. If I was looking to maintain a high readership I know what I should write about, and it seems everyone except Kiwis have strong views on religion, one way or another.

Perhaps I should post more often, but I find most of my leisure time on line is spent following other blogs. You’re such an interesting, even fascinating, bunch of folk. Some I relate to almost as if they were family. Others are just the opposite. I follow out of morbid curiousity – can they post something even more idiotic today than they posted yesterday?

I do have a special interest in following blogs related to migraine and autism/Aspergers, but as both play a significant role in my day to day living, that’s probably to be expected. I also follow many blogs related to aspects of social justice, and it’s these on which I comment more than others. It’s also something I want to post on more often except it’s also the topic where I have greatest issues in expressing myself succinctly. I have around 20 articles related to social justice concerns in draft form, but my feelings on the issues seem to get in the way speaking my mind. Even if they never get published the continual rewriting helps clarify my thoughts, so the effort is not entirely wasted.

Where from here? Who knows. I would like to think that I can work up to posting more regularly and perhaps two or three times per week. But for now I’ll settle for an easier goal of one per week. Who knows, I might even make it by this time next year!