Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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!


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Leaving the world a better place.

I became part of the blogosphere long before I considered starting my own blog. One of the first people I got to know was Paul Curran. He popped up on many of the blogs I followed and his comments were a breath of fresh air. Here was someone that had ideas and thoughts that were open ended. If there was one thing consistent with Paul it was that he was not dogmatic. Yes, he had is opinions and beliefs, but he was not closed to alternatives and appreciated that differences didn’t mean being wrong.

Paul was one of two people that encouraged me to start this blog, and has made thoughtful and interesting comments here from the start. In fact he has been the most prolific commenter here on Another Spectrum.He had an amazingly positive view of life despite the hardships he had to endure. I’d be very surprised if anyone who met Paul, in the real or virtual worlds, were not better off for doing so. The world is a better place for having been graced with his presence.

Now I learn here that we will hear no more from Paul. Although he will be missed, he will not be forgotten.


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Migraines suck

Tonight the wife and I are supposed to be enjoying the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Wellington. We bought tickets for the event many months ago and paid an arm and a leg for the perfect seats. We were both keenly looking forward to seeing the spectacle tonight.

Instead I am lying in a darkened room in somewhat of a fogged frame of mind. The mental fog is a direct result of the migraine, and while it dulls my cognitive skills, it also dulls my perception of pain. Something I am grateful for.

We drove from Feilding to Waikanae yesterday to stay with our daughter and family. Waikanae is only an hour from Wellington on the suburban train system and as the stadium where the tattoo is being held is only a few minutes walk from the Wellington railway station, it made more sense to take the train instead of trying to find parking space within walking distance.

Shortly after midday I felt that out of body sensation that often precedes a migraine and by mid afternoon I realised that a migraine was on its way as my vision began to loose its precision.

I took some pain killers and with a sinking feeling retreated to a darkened and quiet spot in the hope that it would all blow over before it was time to leave.

Unfortunately by early evening I could no longer walk without staggering and my ability to comprehend language was on the way out and I realised that I’d  be courting disaster by going out.

So our daughter is accompanying my wife to a fantastic night’s entertainment while I struggle to keep from drifting into unreality.

I recently discovered that at times like this, conversing at the slow pace required by typing with one finger (all I can manage at the moment) I can remain somewhat in the real world one letter at a time. Even though the light from the phone screen is very unpleasant, even at its minimum setting, and I hit the wrong letters more often than the correct ones  (thank goodness for predictive typing), by communicating at a pace I can manage, I am finding that I cease to be enveloped in that fog of nothingness that has so often accompanied the migraines.

Of course there’s the possibility that I’ll ramble somewhat incoherently, but if as I am beginning to suspect, it shortens the duration of the migraine, and/or reduces its severity, then that’s something readers will have to put up with.


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In memory of Mindfull Digressions

I have no idea why Doobster418 has decided to cease blogging, and I don’t want to speculate, but I will miss him. It was due to his encouragement that I started blogging in the first place.

His blogs were intelligent and witty, and covered a wide spectrum of thought and ideas. In an environment where there are too many strident voices, his was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always enjoyed his posts and comments

Although he has gone for now, I hope that some day we might be graced by presence again.

Doobster, I wish you well in whatever endeavours you undertake, and if possible, do drop in from time to time.