Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Draconian measures

I do wish there were fewer idiots. Without them life would be so much easier. And no more so than during the current pandemic. I can understand why authorities bring in draconian regulations that seem “over the top”. It’s to minimise the harm caused by idiots.

Take the Australian state of Victoria for example. Their lockdown was no where near as severe as the one we faced here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and may have worked. The idiots have not only delayed the state’s recovery, but have moved it into rapid reverse. There, persons tested positive are required to self isolate for 14 days.

Seems reasonable to me, but following evidence that some people were not self-isolating, the authorities checked on every person who should have been self-isolating. They found one in four people weren’t home! Yep, 25% of all those known to be infected were running around loose in the community!

The state government is now contemplating a lockdown similar to that which Aotearoa New Zealand was subject to for five weeks. Although in Victoria it might be for a longer period due to how widespread the virus is in the community.

I’m not sure whether we Kiwis are more sensible or more compliant. Possibly a bit of both. During all the stages of lockdown there were a few thousand breaches recorded in total, which have resulted a few hundred prosecutions. But on the whole, it was social disapproval of rule breakers that seemed to have had the strongest effect. The concept of a “team of 5 million” whether a myth or not, kept this country united and indeed is keeping this country (mostly) united in the fight against the pandemic.

Our attitude towards rule breakers can be clearly seen in our attitude to the borders remaining closed. Back in March when this country was first closed to non-residents, the government introduced mandatory self-isolation rules. Those arriving in the country were required to stay at home in isolation for 14 days. But it soon became apparent that a small minority (less than 5%) were not following the rules.

As the Prime Minister said at the time, the authorities placed a high level of trust in those in isolation. Had everyone followed the simple rules of self isolation, that’s where we’d still be. But no. A few idiots spoil it for everyone. The outcome has been that inbound residents are now required to undergo managed isolation in luxury hotels.

Originally security was minimal. Again the authorities placed a high level of trust in those staying in managed isolation. However it’s become very evident that a small handful of those returning to the country have little regard for the safety of others, and over time, security has tightened to the point now where every facility has a permanent police and military presence and perimeters have become more secure as the weeks pass by.

Over thirty thousand people have passed through managed isolation since March and there have been somewhere around ten incidents where an individual or family group have left isolation without permission. Originally the term “absconded” was usually used when the media reported these breakouts. More recently I hear the term “escaped” used instead. I think this reflects the community attitude to those who flout the isolation rules.

The public attitude towards those who now arrive in this country is unfortunately becoming antagonistic. While there’s always been a small minority of the population antagonistic towards immigration, there is now a widespread attitude that returning Kiwis should have stayed where they were. The wife has this attitude (and she’s an immigrant herself) and as far as she’s concerned every returning Kiwi is being selfish. As far as she is concerned, there’s no set of personal circumstances that can justify travelling to this country. In other words, she wants a blanket ban, even though our Bill of Rights guarantees the right of every citizen to enter and leave the country. Her attitude borders on draconian in my view.

The wife’s attitude is becoming more prevalent, and we can now see examples of graffiti sprayed on security fences around isolation facilities demanding the residents return to where they came from. Apparently some returnees have faced hostilities even after completing managed isolation. I find such an attitude understandable but totally unacceptable.

The negative attitude to returnees has culminated in a call from many, including some political parties, for all returnees to be billed for their stay in isolation. This is something the government has resisted simply because it’s likely to place an unreasonable burden on many families. Let’s face it, many of those returning are not doing so willingly. Many are returning because there is no support structures accessible to them in their country of residence. Others are returning to escape ill managed pandemic environments.

To placate the hostile attitude where returnees are seen as “living in luxury at the taxpayers’ expense”, the government has finally introduced legislation that will allow some returnees to be billed for staying in isolation. For this to occur, the government had to seek the cooperation of the opposition National Party as the Greens were totally opposed to any billing of those in managed isolation.

Eventually a compromise has been reached where those who return from overseas having been away for less than 90 days, and those who return to the country with the intention of staying less than 90 days will be billed for part of the cost of their managed isolation. The legislation also specifies grounds under which exemptions can be granted. So how many will be charged? Perhaps five or ten percent of those arriving in the country. I think a reasonable compromise.

Already we’re seeing comments in overseas media that such moves are another step in the erosion of our freedom and rights, usually accompanied by associating such moves with recent legislation that tightens some aspects of gun ownership. I’ve previously posted about ignorance some foreign media have about our handling of the pandemic, and no doubt the ignorance will continue unabated. I would like to remind such critics that the nation still has the highest level of freedom, ranking at number one or number two on every freedom index, but I suspect I’d be wasting my effort. Those people seem so willing to ignore the facts whenever it’s inconsistent with their prejudice.

So my question is: do most jurisdictions impose restrictions with the aim of gaining greater long term control of the population – in other words tyranny, or are restrictions reluctantly imposed because some idiots give the authorities little choice if they are to prevent widespread harm?


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And on the fourth week…

Kia ora e hoa

It’s getting difficult to remember when it was “normal” around here. I’m not referring to COVID-19. That returned to normal many weeks ago. In fact lockdown and its precautions are definitely a fading memory

No, the normal I’m referring to is the one we had prior to the commencement of bathroom renovations. Today marks the start of the fourth week of a major makeover of the upper floor toilet and bathroom including expansion into the roof cavity and the installation of a skylight, converting part of the roof cavity into a walk in wardrobe for the adjacent bedroom, the installation of a solar light tube to brighten up a dark corner of the dining room, the removal of two woodburners at opposite ends of the main floor that are too expensive to run and maintain, and the renovation of the toilet on the main floor.

Apart from weekends, the place has been a hive of activity with chippies, sparkies, plumbers and others constantly traversing between the basement garage and the upper floor via the main floor. Part of the basement has been taken over by storage of bathroom fixtures and part as a temporary workshop where larger equipment such as circular saws, framing jigs and whatnot have been set up. This way, most work can be carried out regardless of the weather.

The problem with this arrangement is that the garage doors and every door between the garage and the bathroom seem to be open more often than not. To make matters worse, for much of the last three weeks, the renovation area has been open to the uninsulated roof space. It’s the middle of winter here, and the stairwell extending over the three floors has been acting as a funnel drawing all the heat generated on the main floor up to the top floor and out into the roof space. In the process it draws cold air from the basement and distributes it across the main floor.

The airflow from basement to roof space has been exacerbated over the past ten days by strong easterly winds that rush through the open garage doors and create a hurricane-like gale up the stairwell. I’ve taken to switching off the heatpump when the first of the workers arrives at around 7:30 in the morning and not turning it back on until the last of them leaves when it starts to get dark at around 5:00 as its heat output, even on maximum is miniscule compared to the draught up the stairwell. Effectively, all the heat generated was being transferred outside. Let’s just say it’s been decidedly chilly over the last few weeks.

Thankfully the builders have almost finished their work on the upper floor bathroom/toilet renovation – The only major task remaining is the installation of the skylight. Weather permitting, that should all be done by tommorrow. After that, it should be much quieter for a while as the plumbers, sparkies, floorers and such finish off their work.

It never occurred to me to take some “before” photos of the project, so although I have captured a few at major milestones since, you’re all spared a series of photo blogs of “work in progress”. I’ve also realised that the phone camera is not up to the task of recording the work. Bathrooms are relatively small and unless the camera has a wide angle mode, which mine doesn’t, it’s not possible to capture more than a small section of wall/floor/ceiling at a time. I suppose it might be possible to use panorama mode to create a better field of view, but it’s not something I’ve experimented with. Perhaps a video clip that pans around the room might be another option.

My home office is almost directly below the upper floor bathroom and at this point in time the noise is becoming decidedly unpleasant. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but the sound that is emanating from above reminds me very much of a dentist’s drill. So I think it’s time to withdraw and find a quite corner in which to hole up. So for now, ka kite anō.


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A call for action after Covid-19

Yes, in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is now after COVID-19, although I and the rest of our nation are under no illusion that the rest of world has some way to go (some nations much further than others).

As we recover from the pain and difficulties that COVID-19 wrought, we should take the opportunity to reevaluate what we are doing to harm the planet and our fellow human beings. Most people, especially those with privilege, simply accept the status quo and seldom think that it is we who are responsible for the harm we’re causing in communities, nations and the environment.

I firmly believe that this recovery period give us a unique chance, perhaps the only chance, for us to take action, individually and collectively that will bring about lasting changes that will enable us all to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.

As a community, Quakers of Aotearoa New Zealand have published a statement calling all Kiwis to action. As much of the call is applicable to people everywhere, I’m reproducing it here in its entirety:

To the Citizens of Aotearoa/New Zealand

At this critical time in the history of New Zealand, and the world, the Quaker Community wishes to convey to you and to the broader community, some principles and values that we feel are key to the decision making that will guide the nation to a better future.

We invite you to consider the enclosed Call for Action

A Call for Action after Covid-19

HOPE

We Quakers find hope in the communal response to the Covid-19 crisis across our nation. The collective action of New Zealanders has demonstrated how much we can achieve together in a short time. We see the current pandemic as a warning which creates an unprecedented opportunity for systemic change and as a call to remodel our nation guided by the principles of sustainability, non-violence, simplicity and equity. This is a transformation that will require redistributive and regenerative economic, government and social policies that ensure all members of society benefit in an equitable manner.

VISION
Our vision is of a society that is inclusive and respectful of all people. We affirm the special constitutional position of Māori and a Treaty-based, bi-lateral system of government. We seek government which leads with integrity, shares information based on evidence, and engages with communities prior to decision-making. We oppose violence at every level and look to practices that bring peaceful dialogue and non-violent management of conflict.

SANCTITY
Quakers have a strong sense of the sanctity of creation. We are committed to the development of systems and new societal norms to rebalance climate disruption, preserve biodiversity and water quality and enable New Zealanders to live simpler lives within sustainable natural boundaries. We support the use of national resources to provide housing, low-carbon transport, and regenerative food production to benefit future generations.

CONSUMPTION 

We see that society has been putting profit and consumption above other considerations despite clear evidence that earth’s natural limits have been exceeded. Consumer lifestyles have been destroying the natural ecosystems required by future generations. Decades of neoliberal economic and social policies have allowed a few people to set the agenda and benefit disproportionately. This has condemned many to low wages, poverty and insecurity whilst also degrading the environment.

OPPORTUNITY

Quakers consider that the current pandemic offers the people of Aotearoa New Zealand a chance to reassess the situation and to create a new sense of community and purpose. The Light of the Spirit has inspired Quakers through the generations into social and environmental action. We see this experience with Covid-19 as the impetus to find a way forward based firmly on the Quaker values of peace, simplicity, and equity

ACTION

Quakers call on every person in Aotearoa New Zealand to bring about whatever changes they can to enable us to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.


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When chaos reigns…

Today is day one of a six week renovation project, the major part of which is our main bathroom upstairs. And being the first day, it is, in the words of one of the project chippies (Kiwi slang for carpenter or builder) the best part of any project: knocking things down. That means noise – lots of noise!

Noise is one of my autistic hypersensitivities, And although it’s just half an hour after noon (at time of writing) I already feel somewhat jaded. Roll on 5PM when once again silence will reign until 8AM tomorrow morning.

Being mid-winter here, the option of retreating to the garden isn’t really an option on most days. Yesterday was an exception, warming to 15°C (59°F) and I spent most of the afternoon outdoors, but today it’s on and off drizzle, a stiff breeze and a high of 11°C (52°F). So, when chaos reigns…

…relive the calm

What better way than to enjoy the garden as it was yesterday. It might be mid winter but there’s sufficient flowers out to remind us that spring is just around the corner. To top it off, there’s the sweet perfume of over a dozen Daphne shrubs scattered alongside the pathway. Here’s a few snapshots taken in the front garden yesterday


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If you’re not a touch typist…

Although I use a computer for several hours every day, I have never learnt to touch type. I’m mostly a four-finger typist, and I still need to look at the keyboard every few keystrokes to keep myself orientated.

I don’t know who invented the dark coloured keyboard, but whoever did should be taken out and shot. White/cream/beige keyboards were the norm until the early years of this millenium, and are so much easier to read in poor light, but now they are are as rare as hens’ teeth.

As I have aged, my gripe with dark keyboards has increased, so much so that my son gave me a backlit keyboard last Christmas. Problem solved I thought to myself as I gratefully thanked the son for the considerate gift.

My tired old eyes struggle with this keyboard

But it was not to be. I’m not sure if all backlit keyboards are the same in this regard: The lettering on this particular keyboard was clearly visible only when the eyes were directly above the key – not the most comfortable of positions. Otherwise they were more difficult to see than the standard white lettering on black keys.

I persevered for months, but finally has to acknowledge that the keyboard and I would never be on friendly terms, and it was time to part company. But what could I replace it with?

I searched online for several weeks before I found what I was looking for. It was love at first sight! I ordered it on the spot and just one day later I was was tearing at the packaging like a child at Christmas.

We’ve been together for two weeks now, and I know it has been a match made in heaven. It might not be the most attractive keyboard ever made. One person has commented that it’s ugly and more than a little garish. But it has done wonders to my soul, not to mention my eyesight, and as they say, beauty is only skin deep.

Even when the only illumination is from the computer screen, the keys are still very readable. The lettering is four time larger than found on a typical keyboard, and you could almost say that the keys glow. They are radiant.

I’m in love with this keyboard!


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A new strange world!

What a strange world COVID-19 is creating! The entire season of the New Zealand National Basketball League is being streamed on ESPN – all 56 games!

I have to ask why. It’s not like we rank highly in international basketball, and while its popularity as a participant sport is increasing, it has a very long way to go as a spectator sport here to match the likes of Rugby Union, Netball, or Rugby League. Is it because so little sport is being played in the US that broadcasters are desperate for any form of familiar sports code, irrespective of its source and quality?

If, at the beginning of the year, someone had suggested that a season of any NZ sports code would be live streamed in the USA, we would have laughed ourselves silly.

As I said, it’s a strange new world we live in!


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Two worlds (or living in a bubble)

It’s almost surreal. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we’ve almost forgotten what social distancing is, face masks are rarely seen and life is mostly back to normal.

Sure, there’s reminders of COVID days: Perspex screens remain at almost every checkout; a few shops display a QR code for scanning into the official COVID tracer app (but not enough to make use of the app meaningful); foreign visitors are conspicuous by their absence; and the Director General of Health still gives daily live updates on TV.

Other subtle changes like extra flexibility in the workplace and changes in advertising to promote domestic tourism and “buy local” may well become permanent fixtures.

Many ads that have used the allure of status, ego, excitement, adventure, one upmanship, or perfection to promote products have been replaced with ones where product promotion seems to be secondary to messages promoting kindness, empathy, sharing and similar sentiments. I doubt this will be a permanent feature, even though I would like them to continue.

For myself personally, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to attend Quaker worship on a more regular basis through the platform of Zoom – something that may never have been considered had COVID-19 not arrived.

Geographically, Aotearoa New Zealand is indeed isolated from the rest of the world, and we have compensated by being one of the world’s most prolific international travellers. The Big OE (Overseas Experience) has almost become a rite of passage into adulthood and responsibility for young Kiwis.

On the whole life here is back to normal, but I and many other Kiwis are beginning to feel that the metaphor of us being a bubble of 5 million is taking on an ominous reality.

Our borders are closed, and may well remain that way for years. Social unrest across the world, and particularly in America, is played out daily in news broadcasts. In some sections of the community, antagonism towards returning Kiwis is replacing antagonism towards immigrants.

There are now two worlds: A safe kind Aotearoa, and an increasingly hostile world “out there” where the Trumps of that world would like nothing better than to see our bubble fail if only to make themselves look less ridiculous. That may be an exaggerated metaphor at the moment, but the trend is definitely there.

Usually I’m blind to growth and changes in social mood and prejudice, but the trend towards isolationism, a “them and us” attitude,  I find unsettling. In the long term it’s unhealthy, especially for a small nation that has placed a heavy reliance on international cooperation in the course of its development.

The optimism and excitement that existed and I experienced as a teenager and young adult in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by something darker, at times almost sinister, at least in the eyes this child of the ’60s social revolution.

I hope I’m wrong, but my once enthusiastic optimism is now tempered with a little more caution and realism. Perhaps I am a child of another era and I’m mistaken in thinking the current generation is more conservative, serious, sombre and pessimistic than the one I have been immersed in all my life. But I have my doubts.


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Will there be a “new normal”?

During COVID-19 lockdown much discussion was made about changes in socialising and doing business becoming a “new normal”. For example, working from home where possible, staggering work hours to reduce the density of foot traffic and crowding in office spaces.

A great many businesses have discovered that productivity increased markedly in stay at home workers, and the majority of such workers found both work and general life-style more satisfying. While city centres were much quieter, pollution was down considerably. But now that all restrictions have been lifted there is pressure from central and local authorities for businesses to return to pre-COVID conditions.

The argument is that this is necessary to restore the “vibrancy” of city centres and to help inner city cafés, bars and such recover from dire financial situations. Is this a satisfactory reason to go back to the old normal? is it worth sacrificing the health and well being of thousands of workers for the sake of a few struggling enterprises?

How about considering the interests of the many as well as the interests of a few. Some of our major telecommunications providers have all but closed down their bricks and mortar call centres, with all or most staff working from home. Apparently this is what most of the staff prefer. The telcos benefit from increased productivity, happier staff, and lower costs associated with smaller premises.

Not only does it remove the stress and wasted travel time involved in commuting to work, but it allows staff a great deal of flexibility, particularly when it come to family, but also with lifestyle in general. A win all round don’t you think?

A major insurer here has announced that it too is to downsize its head office, moving much of its operation to the suburbs and to working from home where possible. Disappointingly, the government has criticised the the company claiming that it will harm the recovery of city centre.

Other businesses have found rostering staff on a 4-day week has improved productivity, staff satisfaction and staff loyalty. Other organisations have adopted a mixture of practices such as requiring office attendance only one or two days each week, and flexible office work hours. How many people wish to return to rush hour commuting that the authorities are pushing for?

Most of my readers are aware I’m not a fan of “vibrant” when it comes to city crowds, but I really think we’re missing an opportunity to re-evaluate the wisdom of cramming so much into city centres, and making suburbs little more than dull lifeless dormitories for city workers.

Perhaps, before the advent of modern forms of telecommunications, concentrating commerce into compact areas was the most productive means of conducting business. But does that still hold true today with modern forms of telecommunications? I’m not convinced.

At the least we should take the opportunity provided to us by COVID-19 to look at life/work balance, not just individually, but as communities and societies. Perhaps we’ll end up choosing the old normal, but unless we look, we’ll miss any chance of finding a better alternative.


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Freedom!!

Not that I’m looking forward to it.

COVID-19 has been eliminated in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In less than half an hour, COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted as we drop to Alert Level 1. Apart from our borders remaining tightly closed we’ll be back to pre-COVID conditions. We’ll be able to cram ourselves by the thousands into every type of venue imaginable and we can shake hands, hug and hongi to our heart’s contents with loved ones and total strangers if we are so inclined. I’m not.

One characteristic that I and many other ausistics have is an aversion to large gatherings, physical contact with other people and the need for greater personal space than many neurotypical people find acceptable.

I’ve never felt more comfortable around other people that I have during the past 70 days of the various COVID-19 alert levels. All alert levels have mandated a 2 metre spacing between people if they didn’t belong to the same social bubble.

I’m going to try to maintain at least one metre of social distancing. I find that anything less than that raises my level of discomfort. While I don’t think many people will think it odd to begin with, I wonder how long it will be before my minimum social spacing is deemed unacceptable by the community.

I’ve really enjoyed the occasional coffee and cake in a local eatery over the past month as the nearest person would be seated two metres away, and all food was delivered to the table instead of me having to dance around other patrons all trying to grab items from the display cabinets. What I have I to look forward to?

However, I appreciate I’m an exception and just about everyone else is looking forward to join the throngs and crowds, and get up close and personal to friends and strangers alike. I’m pleased for you.

But please be a little understanding if I take a step back when you take a step forward.


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To trace or not to trace, that is the question.

Aotearoa New Zealand has, for now, eliminated the virus causing COVID-19. It’s eliminated as there is no community infection, and the occasional one that appears is related to a known cluster, where the person involved is already in isolation, or the person has recently returned from overseas and is in a supervised quarantine facility.

One aspect of controlling the virus has been the success of contact tracing, which has improved considerably since the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the process became centralised instead of being the responsibility of each of the nation’s 20 health authorities.

In this this nation, contact tracing has relied on a call centre “interviewing” persons who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 and then contacting known or likely contacts. Unlike in Australia, Singapore and Korea, the process has not been automated through the use of technology such as smartphone apps.

There are a number of reasons why we haven’t adopted technology to assist in tracing contacts. The most obvious is privacy. Many of those offering a smartphone solution rely on Bluetooth and the transmission of contact information to a centralised database, both of which pose security and privacy issues. Bluetooth is inherently insecure, and I never have Bluetooth enabled unless I wish to transfer data specifically with another Bluetooth device belonging to someone I know and trust.

As Bluetooth cannot discriminate on the type of proximity to another device (on opposite sides of the same room or right next to each other but in adjascent and isolated rooms for example), most of the “contacts” are irrelevant or red herrings. Bluetooth also requires a high level of trust between devices, and this is not something I’m prepared to give up.

Perhaps automating a contact history might be useful in nations where community transmission of the virus is widespread, provided there is a means of separating the wheat from the chaff that will invariably result by such a collection system. But in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, where their is no community transmission, any advantage is outweighed by security and privacy concerns.

However, today is the official release of a government approved app that also meets my approval. I downloaded it last night and am comfortable about using it.

The app makes use of QR codes that business establishments can set up at entry points, which you can voluntarily scan as you enter the premises. The data is stored within the phone only and is not transmitted in any form, but can be voluntarily transmitted to contact tracers on request. Data older than 31 days is automatically deleted.

In effect, the app is a personal “places I visited diary”, and as such I am comfortable using it. Unlike almost every other app this one does not need or request access to any smartphone service apart from the camera (to capture the QR code). What it lacks is any means of entering any locations that don’t have a QR code available to scan, and this is a serious weakness in my view.

I had been using my phone’s GPS and the Google Map Timeline to record my movements in case they were needed to trace my movements. But it is very unreliable both in recording where I’ve been and at what time. For example this morning I left home just before 11 AM and visited two locations. I was back home by 11:30.

The Google Maps timeline has no record of me being at the first location, but records me leaving home at 12:06 AM (10 hours and 51 minutes before I actually did), arriving at the second location at exactly the same instant. However, it did accurately record the time I left there, and the time it took to travel home, although it recorded that I arrived at an address three sections (properties/lots) away from home.

Yesterday, it recorded that I visited two places several blocks away, even though I never left home. The last time I visited the supermarket, it recorded the time I spent there as travel time between two other locations I passed by but didn’t stop at. Go figure.

While the typical Kiwi probably trusts our authorities more that the typical American trusts theirs, it’s not unconditional, and I believe the official NZ COVID Tracer does not require much in the way of trust while still being a useful tool in contact tracing if the need arises. I think on that basis, it’s uptake will be greater than if it relied on connectivity and/or external data storage.

One issue is finding the App on Google Play. You can’t. I don’t know what the situation is with Apple’s App Store. Searching for COVID tracers, results in only the official WHO apps being located, even if “NZ” or “New Zealand” is included in the search terms.

It seems that Google is filtering out every tracing app apart from the WHO Apps, probably due to there being a high probability of them being intentionally or unintentionally being open to abuse. Even typing in the app name “NZ COVID Tracer” does not locate it. The only way I could find it was to go to the Ministry of Health NZ COVID Tracer app Webpage and click on the link provided there. Thank you Google (not!)