Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Winter meals

Winter and Meals go together so nicely, and this winter has been no different. And we’re not going to let the inconvenience of a lockdown get in the way. The video clip is here to remind me of the pleasure I get sharing meals with the wife and whānau. If you enjoy it too, so much the better.

The meals have been made by the wife and/or myself. Care to speculate who cooked what?


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Trust

It’s kind of odd, but it’s also kind of true. Aotearoa New Zealand often bucks the trends that occur in nations we have much in common with. Aotearoa New Zealand usually identifies as being part of “the West” even though geographically it is further east than the Far East (Farthest East perhaps?). Historically, the ties of the majority of Kiwis has been with Western Europe and the UK in particular, but this gradually changing as the ethnic diversity of the nation continues to grow. Just one more example of bucking the trend is the trust Kiwis place in the government. In this we are more like East Asian nations with advanced economies.

As a recent article in the Guardian observes, while the populace in most advanced economies have declining trust in their governments, it is reaching new highs in Aotearoa New Zealand, and offers some suggestions as to why that might be. The article doesn’t rely just on hearsay, but provides interesting links to a number of sources including:

Not having much in the way of tertiary education, I find the charts and commentary in the first two links above easier to digest than the the last, so my comments will mostly be restricted to the findings in those. I’ll refer the the virus as covid or covid-19 as they are the terms used most often in NZ whereas as I understand coronavirus is more commonly used in North America

Public support for NZ government covid policies

Contrary to many observations from some overseas sources, The Spinoff reports 84% of the population support the current lockdown (72% strongly support) while a mere 10% oppose it (7% strongly oppose). While that might dispel the notion that we entered the lockdown kicking and screaming, it will no doubt be cannon fodder to those who are convinced that we’re a bunch of “sheeple”. The same article reports 79% favourable support for the government’s overall response to Covid-19 (61% saying it’s excellent).

Nation’s response to covid

Page 20 of the Pew report indicates the majority of Americans (58%) felt their nation has done a bad job in dealing with covid, while in contrast, the vast majority of Kiwis (96%) felt their nation has done a good job of handling it. I’m taking a wild guess here, but perhaps the flip flopping of ideas proposed by the former guy, and contradictions in advice given by politicians and health professionals at both federal and state level is a significant factor in the perspective of Americans. In contrast, the advice given by health professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand to the government is publicly available and followed almost to the letter by the politicians.

Perhaps of interest to American readers is how the public’s approval rating of the opposition National Party response to the pandemic has changed over time. Twelve months ago, National received only a 15% approval rating, climbing to 21% a month ago and now leaping to 29%. Why you may ask? It’s not because it has been highly critical of the government – that is why it was down at 15% a year ago – it’s because they have become less critical and more constructive in their approach. Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere.

US & NZ support for covid restrictions

One thing that struck me from the Pew report is how much Japan is an outlier, having much more in common with the USA than with the other Asian nations surveyed, and at times the attitudes of Japanese are more negative than those of Americans.

I find it fascinating that only 17% of Americans believe the covid restrictions were about right while 80% of Kiwis felt the same (Pew, page 5). As 56% of Americans felt there should have been more restrictions, it seems the US administration missed an opportunity to do more to “flatten the curve”. But I guess the former guy wasn’t really listening to them as they are not his support base. Instead he seemed to curry favour with the 26% who wanted less restrictions.

Perhaps one reason why some Americans feel their their government has handled the pandemic poorly is because their lives have been affected more by long term ineffective restrictions than short sharp lockdowns in places such as Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. In fact these two countries were the only ones where the majority of the respondents reported that their lives had not changed at all on by not much. 67% of Kiwis reported their lives had not changed much or not at all, whereas 73% of Americans reported their lives had changed a fair amount or a great deal (Pew, page 22).

National unity

On page 11 of the Pew report there is a chart graphing how the respondents from each nation view the change in national unity following the covid-19 outbreak. Of the 17 nations surveyed, only 4 nations believe that unity has increased – Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

In the US, 88% of respondents believe the nation is now more divided and a woeful 10% believe unity has increased. Compare that to NZ where only 23% believe the nation is more divided but a whopping 75% believe it is more united. Perhaps this bears out the Matthew effect in that in a crisis, those who are distrustful of authority become more so, while among those who mostly trust authority, the trust grows. The Matthew effect no doubt contributes to many of the conspiracy theories and other misinformation that seems to originate mostly in the US before being propagated to other nations. The APA report indicates that conspiracy theories may have actually declined in Aotearoa New Zealand post covid lockdown, and that faith in science, politicians and law enforcement have increased.

Mental health

In the APA report I note than in Aotearoa New Zealand the findings were that there was no significant differences between pre and post lockdown groups in indicators of mental and physical health and subjective well-being: rumination, felt belongingness, perceived social support, satisfaction with life, one’s standard of living, future security, personal relationships, or health, and subjective health assessment. I suspect that the situation tn the US would be somewhat different. It would be interesting to see the results if a comparable study is undertaken in the US.


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Covid update 2021/08/26

I don’t normally include lengthy video clips on this blog, but today I’ll make an exception. The clip is of the daily briefing given by senior government politicians and public servants to the news media. Today’s briefing was conducted by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay. Most of it was (as could be expected) was about the current covid-19 lockdown, but other topics such as Afghanistan are briefly touched on as well.

For any who might be interested in observing how our leaders conduct such a briefing:

  • the Prime Minister starts her presentation at 0:01:40
  • the Director of Public Health starts presenting the statistical data at 0:03:00.
  • Question time starts at 0:19:55 and ends at 1:06:00.

For anyone interested in knowing how the current outbreak of covid is playing out in this nation (instead of guessing or listening to the likes of Fox News), I can’t do better than to point you to the official covid-19 website. There is a vast array of information available there, all based on solid science, not political posturing.

I, like most (but certainly not all) kiwis approve of this lockdown. As we have already proved, an elimination strategy can work. While it’s most likely an impractical strategy in the long term, it does buy us time to learn more about not only how this pandemic woks, but also other pandemics that are guaranteed to arise in the future. If the rest of the world had followed a similar strategy, then perhaps the world would be in a less chaotic situation that it is currently, and perhaps world economies would not have taken the hits that they have. The New Zealand economy is now above pre-covid conditions.

At this point, we cannot put the covid genie back in its bottle, and while I see much criticism of the route taken by New Zealand (especially from the American Right), isn’t it possible that the “New Zealand experiment” might provide some clues on how to better manage the next pandemic? I just want to remind our critics that the elimination strategy has never been thought of as a “final solution”. It’s a stop gap measure until a better way of handling this pandemic (and the next) is understood. It buys us time, something that most nations didn’t consider. As yet, science is has still much to learn about covid

To all those who say that covid will be with us forever, and it’s pointless to fight it, you might well be right. But what if you’re wrong? Once you’ve thrown in the towel, there’s no going back. Currently the jury is out on the best methods the world might be able to use to lessen the harm caused by pandemics. To those who claim we’re a bunch of scaredy cats, all I’m going to say on the matter is we’re not a bunch of quitters who gave up the moment the fight became difficult. To borrow from a popular commercial, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

I like to be reasonably informed on a large range of topics, and in light of our lockdown, I’ve been curious how people beyond our borders view our handling of not only our current lockdown but how we have handled the pandemic in its entirety. And to ensure I cover all bases I make a point of looking in, from time to time, on sources that express values contrary to my own. Afterall, there’s definitely a limit on how much you can learn by only listening to those who don’t challenge your current perspectives and prejudices. So I do make a foray into sources such as Fox News from time to time.

What strikes me about much online discussion, especially as it applies to Fox, is that as well has having those who are well enough informed to reach rational conclusions (even though they may reach a conclusion that is diametrically opposed to my own), there is a significant number who are, for the want of a better term, too ill informed to participate in meaningful discussion. And New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic is no exception.

Take a look at the discussion that follows the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” August 23, 2021. Although only a portion of the show was dedicated to the NZ lockdown, the discussion following is almost exclusively about that topic. I really couldn’t care less what Carlson’s politics are, but he really does need to learn that a sentence taken in isolation, out of context, and in a different cultural setting than the one he is immersed in does not necessarily convey the meaning understood by the conveyer or the receiver of the entire message.

Carlson makes a point of highlighting a sentence spoken by the Prime Minister, and failing to understand the context in which it was uttered makes the assumption that it must be understood in isolation from everything else she said at that news briefing, and everything else she has said since the pandemic first became a concern at the end of 2019. That sentence was “Don’t talk to your neighbours”.

Please Tucker, think for a moment. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Prime Minister has made a point of emphasising the necessity of being kind; checking on neighbours, friends and family; to help out whenever there is a need, including shopping for others who are unable to do so; to keep communications open with each other. How do you think that would be possible if we didn’t talk to our neighbour? The answer: it wouldn’t be possible. Period. Kiwis do understand the implied meaning of that short sentence, and while I don’t expect you to implicitly understand it’s context, I do expect someone in you position to at least discover the context in which it was uttered.

Just for your benefit, Mr Carlson, here is an expanded version of that sentence as every Kiwi will have understood it: “Don’t talk to your neighbors if it means breaking your bubble”. I really don’t want to go too deeply into what a bubble means to us in this context, but bubbles vary depending on the Covert-19 Alert Level. At Level 1, the entire nation is a single bubble, which means there are no restrictions with our borders, while at Level 4, each household is a seperate bubble. And I would like to remind you that for seventeen of the last nineteen months we have been at Alert Level 1. Can you say the same for the US? If you want to argue covid restrictions, first check out the COVID-19: Stringency Index.

I do find the discussion on that page rather interesting. If I ignore all the conspiracy theorists that seem to be attracted Fox News, there are still several categories that I can divide the comments in to: those who have made an attempt, to understand the NZ strategy for managing the pandemic; those who realise they lack sufficient knowledge and seek to understand it; those who do not realise they lack sufficient knowledge and make assumptions based on incomplete or false information; and those who are absolutely, and without a doubt, convinced that they have a better grip on the situation than the entire science community that advises the New Zealand government and policy makers.

It’s a complete waste of time trying to discuss the NZ strategy with the conspiracy theorists and those who are convinced they understand all there is to know about pandemics and how to manage them and refuse to even listen to the experts in that field. They are the willfully ignorant. Those who are the uninformed and the ill informed – the ignorant, but not willfully so – are a different matter. I don’t feel it a waste of time or effort in providing them with some resources that they can use to become better informed. I intend to do just that in the next blog post The aim isn’t to persuade them to agree with my perspective, but to provide them with some resources that will allow them to make their own informed conclusions.


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2362 contacts

At time of writing there are now 2362 known contacts related to the current delta outbreak that started with a single covid case identified on Tuesday. Of those contacts, 31 are known to be infected with covid, three outside of Auckland, and more than 300 of the contacts are dispersed throughout the country, including the South Island. This is precisely what I predicted in yesterday’s blog post. In just three days, a single known infection has snowballed to almost two and a half thousand contacts.

We’ve also learnt that we will not be coming out of lockdown tonight (I didn’t think we would, but I was hopeful we might). The nation will remain in lockdown until at least midnight on Tuesday. The three infected individuals outside of Auckland were there over the weekend, one group returning to Wellington by air, the other by car, stopping at four petrol stations and a similar number of cafes on the way. This will give rise to considerably more contacts needing to be traced, and given the number of places these three travellers passed through I can see the number swelling by several hundred at least. And of course any new infections discovered between now and Tuesday are also likely to result in dozens of addition contacts.

Thankfully, by Monday, if everyone has been following the rules, new contacts should have dropped off to near zero, barring the possibility that an essential worker is infected but has escaped detection. I doubt we’ll immediately drop from alert level 4 back to alert level 1 (near normal but with closed border) on Tuesday, but my guess we’ll drop to alert level 3 (a less restrictive lockdown) for a week or perhaps two then to alert level 2 (restrictions on large gatherings) for a similar period before returning to alert level 1. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we’ve been been living near to a normal life since May 2020 – well as normal is possible given that the rest of the world continues to flounder hopelessly in a sea rising infections. and I expect we’ll return to normality in a few weeks from now.

Today, I read the comments on a few Youtube clips pertaining to the lockdown. I wish I hadn’t. As well as the usual range of conspiracy theorists, there were those that have no understanding of what exponential means or how it plays out, those who judge nations on the gender and/or sexual orientation of the leaders (the Prime Minister is a woman and the Deputy Prime Minister is gay), those who judge a nation on the physical appearance of the leaders, and those who find it implausible for a nation to consider their leaders trustworthy.

What I find surprising, but perhaps I shouldn’t, is that so many Youtube conversation threads degenerate into two camps: one camp being mostly Kiwis supporting New Zealand’s elimination stance, and in the other camp consisting mostly of non-Kiwis being anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, covid hoaxers, and conspiracy theorists, most of whom believe this nation is under the control of a fascist or communist (take your pick) authoritarian dictatorship fighting a losing battle with covid. Any references to world freedom indexes, be they from a left wing think tank or a right wing think tank, ranking Aotearoa New Zealand the most free nation on the planet are written off as irrelevant. The vitriol (spouted from both sides) reminds me why I chose WordPress as my platform for expression instead of Youtube.

Even in regards to restrictions specifically related to covid, this country has much less stringent than most other nations, but our detractors don’t seem to be able to follow a simple chart. The detractors refuse to accept the evidence that even their “ideal” model of covid freedom, Sweden, is more restrictive than Aotearoa New Zealand:

Our World in data


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As requested: you are simple

There is one New Zealand blog I follow where I disagree with almost everything that is posted. I follow it to remind myself that there are locals who have a radically different world view from mine. My opinions of their postings range from ignorant claptrap to idiotic nonsense, although very occasionally (and I emphasis very occasionally) I find a post that I can almost agree with.

My impression of those who comment on the blog is that most are anti-vaxxers, covid deniers, conspiracy theorists of various types, and mostly right wing (by NZ standards). In a post today, the writer lamented the fact that they had to cancel a restaurant booking due to the yesterday’s lockdown notice. Let me quote part of the article:

Call me simple and definitely cynical if you like but I fail to see any value to any of our group, the restaurant and its staff and the New Zealand Covid extinction by locking down anywhere south of about Hamilton and locking down the South Island is surely over kill. 

Ok, I call you simple. It’s not about you.

In my view the blogger has a ludicrously overly simplistic understanding of how covid is transmitted. We know: the Delta variant is highly contagious – even a fleeting contact such as one person walking past another in a park; the case identified yesterday had been infectious in the community for many days and had visited at least 25 locations over that period, some hundreds of kilometres apart; the source of the infection is unknown; Kiwis are a highly mobile lot and I guess there’s been many tens of thousands of us who have travelled in and out of the Auckland and Coromandel regions from all around NZ over the past week. I can guarantee there have been hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who will have travelled between the poster’s home town and Auckland or Coromandel during the period in question.

While it’s highly unlikely that the writer or their dining friends will come into contact with an infectious person, the odds are very high that someone in their hometown who will be either a primary or secondary contact of the yesterday’s case or one of the six related cases identified so far today. Likewise, there’s probably thousands who have travelled between Auckland and the South Island in the week prior to lockdown. Sure, it’s highly unlikely that a specific person (the blogger in this case) will be a person of interest, but you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s at least one person in his hometown and the South Island who will be.

I think the blogger fails to understand the exponential rate of transmission of the Delta variant. It has an R0 factor of between 5 and 8. This means that a single person, on average, will infect between 5 and 8 other persons. In a best case scenario, one person will infect 5 who will infect 25 who will infect 125 who will infect 625 who will infect 3125. that’s a total of 3906 people in just five iterations. In a worse case scenario, and ignoring any superspreading event, the same number of iterations will result in a total of 37,449 infections.

Two independent modelling exercises indicate that with the immediate level 4 lockdown as of last night, the single reported case is likely to rise to somewhere between 50 and 130 before it’s squashed. It’s already at seven, and as yet we do not know the source of the current outbreak, the modelling may greatly underestimate what the final figure will be.

At the start of the pandemic, our government had intended to follow the same course that most other nations did – flatten the curve to prevent the outbreak from overwhelming the health system. However even the most optimistic modelling projections showed that the NZ health system would be totally overwhelmed in very short time. Hence the change to an elimination strategy shortly after covid arrived here. Given that this is the first lockdown we’ve had outside of Auckland apart from the initial 6-week lockdown in March last year, I am firmly convinced that it has been the correct path to follow.

We do know that this particular outbreak is related to the New South Wales, Australia strain of the Delta variant, so now there is a scramble to trace exactly how it arrived in this country. Genome sequencing can estimate how many intermediaries there have been between a known case and a newly discovered case, and due to the strictly controlled nature of entry into Aotearoa New Zealand, I think that there’s a good chance of tracking its path from NSW to NZ.

Update: As of 7 pm, today, the total number of cases has risen to ten. One case is a teacher at a high school, another is a fully vaccinated nurse in a public hospital, and another is a student who attended a lecture yesterday along with 80 others. These three instances are possible super spreading events that could seriously skew modelling estimates. One case is now known to have a connection with the border. Similar to the situation elsewhere most of the delta infections are in younger adults – here, mostly in their 20s.


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Go hard, go early…

For the first time in 169 days a case of covid-19 has been found in the community. It’s never been a case of if it returned but a case of when. At time of writing, no link to the border or managed isolation has been found. The result of genome sequencing will be available by the morning and that should identify the variant, if it is related to any known border contact or managed isolation source, and if so how many degrees of separation between that source and the single known community case.

As there is currently no identified source and in recent months most cases arriving at the border have been the Delta variant, and having seen the outcome in Australia where lockdowns have been too little too late, the authorities here have decided to go early and hard.

I’m sure in many in other parts of the world people will find it difficult to fathom why a whole nation should go into a total lockdown on the day that a single covid case is discovered in the community, especially as many nations are gradually coming out of various states of long term lockdowns or restrictions on social gatherings. Apart from the initial six week lockdown at the start of the pandemic, this country has been mostly in a state of “business as usual”, international tourism being the only exception.

However we only need to look across the ditch to Australia to see that by imposing minimum restrictions and then ramping up as they prove inadequate is not particularly effective. I don’t think they’ve reached the point of no return yet, but it must be getting closer by the day. In the other parts of the world, even where the rates of vaccination are high, hospitals are again experiencing overloads, and younger age groups are being affected compared to previous variants.

So for the first time since April 2020, Aotearoa New Zealand is going into a nationwide lockdown: one week for Auckland and the Coromandel, and 3 days for the rest of the country, starting a one minute before midnight tonight. Apart from essential services such as dairies (small convenience stores), supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and medical and emergency services the nation will shut down. Movement outside our household bubbles will be restricted to accessing essential services or exercising in our neighbourhoods.

Masks have not been mandated here apart from on public transport, and it’s still rare to see them being worn in other public places. That might change in the next 24 hours. The Prime Minister has hinted that there may be some changes and they have been discussed in Cabinet, but until the regulations have been draughted and gone through the necessary legal processes, she will not speculate on what might change. I expect we will need to wear masks when going to the supermarket for the duration of the lockdown, perhaps a little longer.

This country is some way behind many other OECD nations when it comes to the rollout of the COVID vaccination. The prime reason is due to supply, but everyone over the age of sixteen will have the opportunity to be vaccinated before the end of the year. However, some ethnic groups – Māori and Pacifica in particular have relatively young populations. Even if everyone within those groups who are legible get a jab, it still leaves 30% of their population vulnerable. That’s not enough to provide herd immunity. It looks like those above twelve might soon be able to be protected, and I understand research is being undertaken on the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating those as young as 12 months.

Our borders are not going to open until herd immunity has been achieved. When that will be achieved is still open to speculation. I suspect that most Kiwis would prefer restrictions remain at the border rather than within it, and there is little appetite to open up to a covid ravaged world. For that reason I expect the any temporary restrictions imposed here will be be accepted with little opposition as it’s not much to pay for the freedoms we have enjoyed while the rest of the world has gone mad.


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Flawed logic?

Where one person prepares a meal, others who partake of the meal have a responsibility tidy up the kitchen and dining area afterwards. That seems logical and fair to me.

When one makes a mess, one has a responsibility to tidy that mess up. That seems logical and fair also.

So why does it seem so unfair when the first rule above applies only when the wife cooks and the second rule applies only when I cook?


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No Thanks Google

A few minutes after one o’clock this morning, my Android phone woke me up by sounding an alarm. The screen flashed up a warning that we were about to experience a magnitude 6 earthquake centered about 230 Km (140 miles) southeast of us. What the heck? An earthquake that far away at only magnitude six is not worth being woken up for, especially if it doesn’t occur. A few seconds later, the house gave an almost imperceptible squeak but no shake at all. A real letdown!.

It turns out that Aotearoa New Zealand is one of two nations (the other being Greece) where Google has rolled out a nationwide earthquake detection service using the accelerometers built into most Android phones. It started here in April, and while it might have been mentioned in the accompanying notes of an Android update (who reads the full list of changes that accompanies an update anyway?), I certainly didn’t notice this “improvement”.

When a phone detects vibrations it sends an alert to Google’s servers, and based on the number of phones that call home, Google attempts to work out if it caused by an earthquake, determines its location and magnitude, and then sends an alert to those in the affected area.

Supposedly the system will give those a little distance from the epicentre a few seconds notice ahead of the shock waves arriving, but the movement of the tectonic plates beneath this land is likely to fool a network of hundreds or thousands of motion sensitive phones. This was one such occasion.

The actual epicentre was hundreds of kilometres northwest of us and was caused by the subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the Australian plate. It was at a depth of 160Km (100 miles) and a magnitude of 5.1. In this type of quake, the energy waves travel along the plate and are felt where the plate reaches the surface – the east coast of the North Island and can be felt over a wide area. Those near the quake centre are unlikely to feel it at all.

My phone is configured to receive National Emergency Management Agency messages, which sends emergency messages regarding not only earthquakes, but many others, including covid-19 notices. I really don’t need another, especially one that’s as wildly inaccurate as Google’s.

Having discovered this new but unwanted “feature”, I decided to switch if off. I knew it had to be in the phone settings somewhere, but exactly where was not revealed after a careful search. The obvious solution was to Google. As I suspected, the instructions were easy to locate. Eight out of the first ten search results gave precise instructions on activating/deactivating earthquake notifications. None applied to my Huawei phone. In all eight case, the first step was to open “Settings” but from there on every step was different, and none were available on my phone. Back to the drawing board.

It took me almost an hour of drilling down through almost every Setting option before I eventually found it hidden in Settings > Security & privacy >Location Access > Advanced settings > Location services > Earthquake alerts. So obvious!

I appreciate that in some parts of the world, earthquakes are rare and dwellings are not designed with them in mind, so Google’s alert for earthquakes of 4.5 and higher might be appropriate. But in this country where earthquakes of that magnitude or greater occur several times a month, there’s only one way to describe the service: Bloody annoying!


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What next?

It’s been one of those months. Mostly “developed world” challenges, but if that’s the only world you’re familiar with they are real challenges in every sense of the word.

On the last day of June we switched internet and telephone providers. It’s not something I do regularly, but it’s a very competitive market in Aotearoa New Zealand. There are literally dozens of providers that supply various combinations of internet, home telephone lines, mobile telephones, electricity, and gas. Some provide all those products and services (and sometimes more) as a single package. However, the wife has a monopoly on choosing our electricity provider, while I make the decisions around the communication services, so I doubt we’ll ever have a single provider for all. Her priorities and mine are quite different.

We have now switched to a single provider for home phone, mobile phones and Internet, saving us nearly $50 per month. We’ve been using them for mobile phone services for some years and have been very happy with them, so when they made an offer that was to good to ignore, I decided to jump in boots and all. Usually switching between providers here is a painless operation and usually, if there is an outage, it’s often only minutes. Not this time.

The internet went down for no more than 10 minutes during the switch, but the home phone went dead and remained so. No dial tone, no anything. I won’t go into all the details, but it took two days and a replacement router before our home phone was back in business.

At around the same time, my old back injury returned with a vengeance. It still hasn’t settled down and I remain in some pain, but I’m damned of I’m going to take any more of those prescribed Tramadol tablets. My current inflexibility might make my movements appear as though my spine is made of a single plank of wood, but at least I’m moving. The Tramadol made me so drowsy and confused that I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag, let alone safely boil water for a cup of tea.

I selectively filter some internet traffic arriving at our home network, and have done so for more than ten years., through OpenDNS’s content filtering service. It worked reliably with my previous internet provider, but was proving very hit and miss with our new provider, and nothing they did made any difference. It took me two days of trawling the internet and some experimentation on my part to find the cause. The new router requires DNSv6 server configuration as well as the usual DNSv4. While OpenDNS do provide DNSv6 servers, it turns out these do not support content filtering. Whenever the router switched from a configured DNSv4 server to a configured DNSv6 server, content filtering would cease until it switched back to the former.

Identifying the problem was one thing, solving it was another. The new router must have DNSv6 servers configured. It will not accept blank or invalid IPv6 addresses. It took me nearly half a day of scratching my head to come up with a simple solution: Configure the DNSv6 addresses to a non exiting device on the local network. That way, when the router attempts to connect to a DNSv6 server, it gets no response, so marks it as unavailable and consequently resumes using one of the assigned DNSv4 servers.

Twenty-three years ago when I was working as an I.T. engineer, the cause of the problem and a solution probably would have come to me very quickly. But then I also had access to diagnostic tools that make troubleshooting relatively easy. After being out of the industry for so long, my 72 year old brain being not quite as sharp as it once was, and having a non-existent set of diagnostic tools, perhaps I should be proud of the fact that I solved a problem that a younger generation of I.T. engineers weren’t able to, even if I did take the best part of three days to do so.

Yesterday a tree at the front of our section (property/lot) fell over blocking our driveway. Another distraction I could have done without. This morning I planned to catch up with some work that had fallen behind due to all the major and minor inconveniences over the past few weeks. We have our two grandsons staying with us for a few days, and while they do make keeping to a schedule difficult, they are a welcomed and much appreciated distraction. I had just started to cook some porridge for their breakfast when the power went off.

Disruptions to the electricity supply are few and far between, and on the rare occasion they do occur, power is usually restored very quickly. Not today. The boys waited, and I waited, and when power hadn’t been restored ofter twenty minutes, I phoned our electricity provider. In the good old days, when the lines company was also the electric power company, their call centre would very quickly know the nature of any problem and when power would be restored again. Not now.

The local lines company, being a natural monopoly cannot sell electricity, and we have no direct connection with them. We buy electricity from one of the fifty or so retailers that sell electricity into this region, and when a problem does occur, we contact our retailer. When I phoned retailer, the call centre was unaware of the problem but they would lodge a fault with the lines company who would then investigate.

That’s the problem these days. It doesn’t matter whether it’s electricity, internet, phone or gas (and in some areas, water and sewerage) the company you buy the product/service from is not the one that delivers it to your door. There’s always at least one degree of separation, which makes it just a little bit more difficult know what’s going on.

It’s times like this I wonder whether we did the right thing in removing our two wood burners during renovations last year. We removed them because their cost of running, even for just six ours each day was considerable more expensive than the heat pump we had installed a few years back running 24/7. But as the house slowly but surely got progressively colder during the course of the morning, I was starting to have second thoughts. When power was finally restored just after midday, it was a decidedly chilly 13°C inside.

A few minutes after power was restored, the front doorbell rang. Standing there, was a guy dressed top to toe in Hi-Vis gear. He was an employee of a subcontractor to a company hired by the lines company to repair and maintain the lines company network. How many degrees of separation does that make it? In the “good old days” he would have been an employee of the monopoly local electric power company. He just wanted to ensure all was now well, and to let us know the outage was caused by a car crashing into a power pole just a few hundred metre from our home. He’d been assigned the task to call on those who had lodged a fault with their electricity retailer. Perhaps an inefficient way to update their customers, but a very much appreciated personal touch that many other businesses could emulate.

Let’s just hope that today’s incident is the last “inconvenience” for some time to come.


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Trapped

Well, we were for a few hours yesterday. A cotoneaster fell onto the driveway overnight making vehicle access impossible and requiring foot traffic to duck down to waist height.

The fallen tree. Rain and mist hides the background.

The weekend was marked by gale force winds and torrential rain. And while we thought we had escaped any damage, it seems that their combined forces weakened the ground sufficiently for the tree, roots and all, to topple. It’s always had a preference of growing over the driveway, and no doubt its lopsidedness was a significant factor in its demise.

Fortunately a crew from All Tree Services arrived within three hours of us contacting them, and half an hour later, very little evidence of the tree falling remained, apart from the root stump. That’s too large for their chipper and will need to be ground down. That’s a job for another day.

The tree was destined to be removed in a few years anyway. We’d planted a Cherry blossom tree and Japanese maple close by to replace it eventually, but were in no hurry to remove it as it provided shelter and an abundant supply of berries for birds in early winter. It also provided a measure of privacy, filtering the view of the house from the street. It will quite a few years before it’s replacements are sufficiently large to provide much privacy at all.