Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A chilly escapade

During my life of some 7 decades, I’ve had one or two memorable experiences, some good, some bad, and some that were neither, but had the potential of being life threatening if circumstances had been less favourable. This is one of them.

After finishing high school, I was employed by a multinational I.T. company in a role that was then called a service technician. The company manufactured, sold and serviced a range of equipment from cash registers to accounting machines to mainframe computers. In the first few years of employment, most of the equipment I serviced was electro-mechanical – cash registers, bank terminals and accounting machines.

I had been working for the company for about a year, when I was assigned the task of travelling to Mt Ruapehu to service all the equipment at the Chateau Tongariro and further up the mountain at the Top Of The Bruce ski lodge. In total there were about thirty machines involved, mostly electric cash registers, but including some back office equipment and a few manually operated cash registers. In those days, this was three days work for one technician as the servicing of a single machine typically took up to one hour.

The first day was uneventful.  Driving from sea level to 2000m (6560 ft) in an under powered, unlined and unheated 1100cc Ford Anglia Panel Van in late winter over tortuously winding roads can never be described as exciting even though one was constantly shifting between 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears for most of the journey of nearly three hours. It was cold and unpleasant. There wasn’t even a radio for company.

The next day started out bright and sunny, and as the forecast was for snow the following day, I decided it would be wise to drive up to the Top Of The Bruce to service the equipment there that day. I didn’t fancy driving up the mountain in falling snow in that vehicle.

As it was a week day (Wednesday I think) the ski lodge was quiet, and there were only a few staff in attendance. The car park was almost empty. One of the cash registers I was supposed to service could not be found, but eventually the duty manager remembered that it had been taken to a cafeteria further up the mountain to cater for the weekend crowds.

The cafeteria was open only on the weekends when the slopes were crowded with skiers. However the duty manager offered to start up the chairlift so that I could go up to service the cash register. I had never been on a chairlift at that point in my life, so I readily agreed to the offer.

The arrangement was that he would start the chairlift for me to journey up. Once I arrived at he top I would use the phone at the top terminal to contact the duty manager at the bottom terminal. He would then stop the chairlift until I was ready to come down. At that time I would phone the office at the ski lodge, the duty manager would then go to the chairlift base terminal and start the chair lift so that I could return to the bottom.

He handed me the key to the cafeteria, and his business card that had the office phone number on it. The phones at the chair lift terminals were directly connected and a simple turn of a handle was all that was required to cause the other phone to ring. He also handed me a tourist brochure that included a stylised map of the area at the top terminal so that I could identify the cafeteria from the many other small buildings, mainly ski club chalets, clustered there.

In due course, I found myself on a chair lift with my tool kit balanced on my lap. The views were spectacular, especially as it passed over some deep valleys. In some cases, there must have been several hundred feet between myself and the ground below. It wasn’t until I had nearly reached the top that I realised how cold I was getting.

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to mention my attire. As I had not intended to be outside apart from traversing from car to building and back again, I was dressed in the approved company manner: Dress shirt and tie, dress trousers and dress shoes. Over this I wore the approved grey lab coat. Not exactly appropriate for winter mountain wear, but as I had intended to be indoors the whole time, it was adequate.

However, it most definitely was not adequate, when seated on a chairlift in winter half way up the highest mountain in the North Island. By the time I got off the chair lift and phoned the duty manager, my teeth were chattering. It was cold, and I was struggling to keep a grip of my toolkit, which weighed around 12 Kg (26 lbs). The cafeteria was about 200 m (220 yds) from the chair lift, and although it was relatively flat, the snow had been packed hard by several thousand pairs of boots the previous weekend and was extremely slippery. Remember I was wearing smooth soled dress shoes.

For those who aren’t aware, Mt Ruapehu is an active volcano. There had been an eruption the previous week. What the duty manager overlooked to tell me, or was unaware of, was that a lahar had swept down the mountain, and the mud flow had come to a stop against the cafeteria. The door to the building was blocked by a chest high wall of frozen mud. There was no way of entering the building that way.

I was considering going straight back to the chair lift, but it had stopped shortly after I had phoned the base, and it was very unlikely that the duty manager was still there. My only option was to use the phone inside the cafeteria to call the office. It turned out that access to the building was rather simple. The wall on the uphill side of the building had been pushed in by the mud flow, and all I had to do was scramble over the frozen mud to get inside. I would then be able to phone the office for the chairlift to be started again.

It wasn’t until I was inside, that it dawned on me that I might be in some danger. The telephone had been mounted on the displaced wall but was now lying on the floor. There was no dial tone. A quick glance outside confirmed that at least one, possibly two, telephone poles has been toppled. There was no way that the phone could be made serviceable any time soon.

I considered my options. It was now mid afternoon. Could I rely on the duty manager realising that I hadn’t requested that the chairlift be started? Was anyone else aware of where I was? I couldn’t be sure of either. The possibility that I might be stranded for some time was becoming a reality. The cafeteria was well stocked with snack food, but as the electric power was also off, there was no way of heating the place, and there were no articles I could use to keep me warm. Staying there was not an option.

A quick examination of the other huts and chalets nearby revealed that they were designed to keep heat in and the cold and uninvited visitors out. The stylised map indicated that there was a walking track that zigzagged down the mountain. The map indicated that walking time to the Top of the Bruce was a little over an hour.

I decided my best option was not to rely on someone noticing I was missing, but to walk down. After all there was a walking track, so what could go wrong? My mind made up, I headed off with my toolkit in hand, which felt like it was getting heavier by the minute. As I passed the chairlift terminal I decided to try ringing the base on the off chance that a passerby might hear it. I gave up after ten minutes and headed to the start of the track.

As I have previously mentioned, the snow around the chairlift terminal was packed hard and was extremely slippery. I’d only walked a short distance when I slipped and landed heavily on my tailbone, my toolkit flying gracefully through the air to land some distance away before starting to slide down the slope. I then realised that I too was sliding at an ever increasing speed, and I could find no way to slow down or stop.

Ahead of me was a wire mesh fence that from my vantage point while making lazy circles as I sped downhill on my back, appeared to run along the edge of a precipice. My first thought was “Well that’ll stop me if nothing else does”, but then it occurred to me that perhaps hitting the fence at the speed I was doing might not be good for my health.

I could find no way to stop my slow spins, and every now and again I would catch sight of my toolkit, also doing slow spins as it speed down the mountain on a slightly different trajectory but towards the same precipice and fence.

The distance from where I fell to the fence was perhaps a hundred metres – about the distance between goalposts on a rugby field. I was well past the halfway line and approaching the 22 metre line when I finally managed to gain control over the spinning. Now that I was better able to observe where I was heading, two things became very apparent: my toolkit would reach the fence well before I did and that there was a gap of between twenty and thirty centimetres (8 – 12 inches) between the snow and the bottom of the mesh – enough room for the toolkit (and possibly me) to pass under.

Just as I was about to wave the toolkit goodbye, it disappeared into a spray of flying snow. It seems that people kept clear of the fence and and there was a band of soft(ish) snow in front of it. Moments later I too felt a rapid deceleration as snow flew all around. I didn’t so much slam into the fence as to gently kiss it. Somehow in the last moments I had got into a sitting position, although I don’t remember consciously doing it, and I came to a very gentle stop with my chest and cheek against the mesh, my arms extended above my head and my legs extending under the fence. I’m sure it must have been a comical sight, although fortunately there was no one around to witness the spectacle.

After taking a moment to compose myself, I gingerly made my way along the fence line to where I last saw the toolkit. It was totally buried, but the disturbed snow made its location obvious. By a stroke of good fortune it had finally come to a stop against one of the widely spaced fence posts. I retrieved the toolkit and, not trusting my shoes on the hardened snow skirted around its perimeter until I reached the start of the walking track. Taking a last look at the scene behind, I headed on down the track.

I had only walked a short distance, certainly less than a hundred metres when I began to question whether walking down was a wise choice. Unlike the packed snow around the buildings, this was very soft and about knee deep and sometimes came up to mid thigh. Walking through it was very hard going. The path itself wasn’t steep, but the terrain it was carved into was, and the snow drifts meant that the path was virtually invisible. It was clear that no one had been on this path since the last snowfall. To guide trampers (hikers), there were red marker posts at infrequent intervals, some barely protruding above the snow, some I suspect were buried completely.

For the first ten or fifteen minutes, the track zigged and zagged beneath the chairlift but after passing under it several times, the markers showed that the path headed well away from the route of the chairlift above. Unperturbed, I set out using the markers as a guide. I made two disturbing discoveries. The first was that less and less of each marker post was visible above the snow and that the path between posts was not a straight line. I frequently found myself tripping over hidden boulders or finding only more loose snow where I expected solid ground.

Before long I found myself out of sight of the chairlift and with no visible markers to guide my way. While snow might be good for softening my frequent falls, I discovered that it is extremely exhausting when tying to push through it, not to mention how slow progress is. If it wasn’t for the trail that had formed behind me, I would have been totally lost.

Perhaps if you were more familiar with snow, you’d know what to do in such circumstances, but my previous experience with the stuff was nonexistent, apart from viewing it on mountains from a distance. This was my first experience of being in it, literally. Clearly it would be foolish to try to attempt to follow a path that wasn’t visible, and wandering away from known paths would make it very difficult for anyone to find me if a search was mounted. Its a very large inhospitable mountain.

I decided my best option was to return to the collection of ski chalets and with the aid of tools I had to break into one of them. I had just passed under the chairlift when a thought struck me. The chairlift makes an almost straight beeline down the mountain to the Top Of The Bruce, so why not follow it? The clouds had closed in so an aerial search wouldn’t be possible, and if if the chairlift was put in use to transport searchers, I could yell to them as they passed overhead.

The decision to leave the track and follow the chairlift seemed a rational choice at the time, given my lack of experience of the conditions and the fact that that I was probably suffering from mild hypothermia by then. so with toolkit still in hand I set off.

The snow felt less deep the steeper the slope became, although sometimes a large boulder or rocky outcrop would cause a buildup of snow or hide a snow drift until I stumbled into it or tumbled off a hidden ledge into deep snow. Never the less, I felt I was making good progress as I passed the third or fourth chairlift pylon.

The pylons were were not particularly high, but they were placed on ridges, and sometimes the ground between them dropped away markedly. I had reached one of those places. The ground before me dropped away at nearly sixty degrees, before rising on a similar incline to the next pylon almost at the same altitude as the one I was standing beside.

The snow didn’t look particularly deep here, as boulders and rocky outcrops were clearly visible everywhere on both sides of the valley. I could plan my route between pylons to make best use of those features. What I didn’t count on was that on such rough terrain, hollows are filled in with snow, and remain hidden until you tumble (literally) into one.

I’ve never been able to tie shoelaces that remain done up, so my preference these days is for shoes with zip or velcro fasteners. On the day in question the dress shoes were of a slip on type with elasticised panels to keep them in place. Their inappropriateness for the conditions quickly became apparent as I any time a foot became partly wedged between rocks, I would loose a shoe as I took the next step. Sometimes it required a face plant in the snow to be able to reach down and retrieve it.

By the time I reached the bottom of the valley, mist obscured the chairs and cable and only the pylons were visible. I also discovered, that while the destination pylon was always visible on the way down, it frequently disappeared from view beyond the horizon in front of me on the way up. The exact opposite occurred with the pylon behind me, frequently disappearing on the way down and remaining in view on the way up enabling me to set a course using the alignment of the four feet at the base of the pylon as a guide.

The next few pylons were over moderately sloping ground so the target pylon was visible, more or less. The clouds had reached ground level and at times the pylons would disappear in the swirls of mist. I also discovered how saturated you can become if you’re not adequately protected from the mist. I was not. By now my clothes were decidedly damp. And cold. Very cold.

There were a further two deep valleys I had to cross and although by now visibility was down to around twenty metres, by good luck or good fortune, I was able to find each pylon. I noticed that the snow was getting less deep as I continued downhill.

It was starting to get dark and I had no idea how far I had come or how far I had yet to go. I’d been walking, stumbling and falling for around two hours. Then miraculously, a path appeared. I had no idea if it was the same one I started out on, or a different one, but I thought there was nothing to loose by following its downhill course. It kept remarkably close to the route of the chairlift as occasionally I’d pass by a pylon.

It was almost dark when I reached the Top Of The Bruce. There was no light on and the place was locked. The mist hadn’t eased, and it took me a while to locate my vehicle in the car park. There didn’t appear to be any other vehicle there. In those days, our company vehicles were easily identifiable with the company name and logo emblazoned on the sides and rear. Surely the duty manager would have noticed the vehicle as he left? Perhaps visibility didn’t allow it.

The drive from the Top Of The Bruce to the Chateau typically takes ten to fifteen minutes if I recall correctly, but on that night it took an hour in the darkness and fog. I doubt I went any faster than walking pace. I think I made the whole journey in first gear! I remember stopping at least twice because the winding unsealed road ahead would disappear completely in the swirling fog.

I also discovered that sitting in an unheated vehicle in damp clothing is more chilling than the strenuous exercise in the open I had undertaken over the previous two hours. It was a very bedraggled and cold nineteen year old that made his way to his room at the Chateau, who then spent the next hour under the shower trying to warm up.

That was my first and worst experience with snow. Not something I ever wish to repeat.


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Is this the hero we Autists have been waiting for?

Greta Thunberg was recently named Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, which makes her the first ever openly-autistic Person of the Year. This, as you can imagine, is kind of a Big Deal to the autistic community worldwide.

To understand why, read the rest of the article GRETA THUNBERG IS NAMED TIME MAGAZINE’S PERSON OF THE YEAR. IS THIS THE HERO WE NEED? over on The Aspergian blog  (approximately 3 minutes reading) and also GRETA – OUR WARRIOR PRINCESS (approximately 4 minutes reading)


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The little things in life…

Sometimes the little things that one takes for granted can suddenly become huge issues.

Take for example my credit card. I’ve had a Visa card for decades, with the same number. I knew that number by heart, and it had a unique quirk: the number was such that it made an easily remembered pattern when typing it out on a 10-key keypad. In fact I memorised the pattern long before I remembered the actual number. Once every five years, I had to remember a new 3-digit CCV code, which I also had to update for online accounts, of which I have quite a number, but apart from that I gave the convenience of my credit card little thought.

All that has changed. My bank, in its wisdom, has decided to switch allegiance from Visa to Master Card and has issued me with a new credit card WITH A DIFFERENT NUMBER! If we can switch between telcos and keep the same phone number, why on earth can’t we do the same with credit cards?

To make matters worse, I can find no meaningful keyboard pattern to help me memorise that damn number. Hell, it took me more than a decade to learn the old one when I was younger than middle aged. Now that I’ve passed 70 and my memory isn’t as sharp as it was, how long will it be before I’ll remember the new one. I suspect I’ll be pushing up daisies, before that happens, in which case it’s not worth the effort of even trying to learn it.

On a brighter note, last week I revisited Countdown Supermarket during their “quiet time” and surprise, surprise! The pink/red lighting over the meat section had been turned off. Absolutely wonderful. It’s been so long since I was last able to browse the range of meat on offer, that I had almost forgotten what was available. And to be able to walk down an aisle towards the rear of the store without the need to avert my gaze is a pleasure I’m going to long remember!


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I wonder what she wants?

On Wednesday morning around 8:40, the front doorbell rang. On opening it I saw a youngish middle aged, smartly dressed woman. Her hair dark hair, as was her attire and even her makeup. She was carrying a ring-binder folder in one hand and what appeared to be a guitar case in the other.

For the life of me I couldn’t think of a reason why such a person should be calling. Door to door sales people are a rare as hens’ teeth these days, and the guitar case kind of ruled out an official visit from some sort of authority. The possibility of this being a religious caller sprung to mind, but they usually arrive in pairs, and  such visitors turn up less than once a year.

Within two seconds of opening the door, I was leaning towards this being someone on a personal campaign, a survey of some sort, or someone representing a charity, but why the guitar case? To be honest I was puzzled by her presence, And I wondered what the purpose of her calling was all about.

Just then my peripheral vision caught something rapidly approaching from my left. Just as I began to turn my head to see what was bearing down on me with undue speed, the woman spoke.

 

“Hi Dad!”

That cleared it all up. The visitor was our daughter, and that object approaching at near the speed of sound was Milo, her Whippet/Labrador cross.

If you’re thinking that I rarely see our daughter, you’re wrong. She typically drops in four or five times each week. Nor was her appearance any different from what it normally is when she calls in before work, and that occurs at least twice each week when she drops off Milo. So why didn’t I recognise her?

Two obvious clues:  (1) Milo had been distracted by something she saw or smelled, and wasn’t at the door when I opened it; (2) I didn’t see our daughter’s car coming up our driveway. Either of these are conditions that prepare me to expect the visitor to be our daughter. Always, as it was in this case, her voice is what confirms her identity.

Face blindness, or Prosopagnosia affects about 2% of the general population, but is much more prevalent among those on the autism spectrum. I rely on features such as gait, mannerisms, body size and shape, but especially voice to recognise others.

Some clues such as hair style and colour, and skin tone are less reliable, especially with women, as they have a tendency to change these from time to time. This has lead to some of my most embarrassing moments. With women, even gait changes depending on the height of the heels they’re wearing. I’m very grateful that my wife does not like wearing heels, and even on occasions when heels are expected they’re only about 3 cm high (a little over an inch high) and doesn’t change her gait significantly.

I’m also grateful that she’s much shorter that almost every other adult (1.47 m or 4′ 10″), and has a gait typical of many Japanese farming families of her generation. Lets just say that the Western view of deportment was not a consideration. Both these characteristics help me pick her out in a crowd, but it’s her voice that truly identifies her. The accent and volume are very distinctive.

Couple face blindness with an inability to read facial clues and a similar inability to display them, and I find myself at a considerable disadvantage in social interactions. Unfortunately this is one area I have made very little improvement on through experience or experimentation.

I’m no better today than I was sixty years ago as a ten year old boy. Way back then first impressions of me ranged from odd, peculiar or quirky to just scary – the latter especially so if I made the first attempt at communication; it was safer to wait for others to make an approach. I would like to think I have made an improvement with first impressions since then, but have I?


Oh, and on the off chance that you’re wondering about the guitar case: On Wednesdays, I pick up the grand children from school. The guitar case, its content, and the ring binder belong to our granddaughter who has guitar lessons after school on that day.

Time hasn’t help me improve the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test linked to above. I typically score somewhere in the vicinity of  12 out of 36 (the median for males is 21/36). I tried the test today when searching for the link, but today and I achieved a lowly 7/36. I could probably done better by covering the images and randomly choosing one of the  four emotions provided for each image.


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Is the world order is being ripped to shreds?

In 1844 Manuscripts, Karl Marx said communism is radical humanism, and we need to use machines to create a situation where we do as little work as possible thus freeing ourselves from necessity – individual human freedom is the goal.

On her Nine to Noon slot this morning, Kathryn Ryan talked with Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being where he argues it’s not too late to stem the chaos and disorder that appears to be on the rise worldwide.

Mason says the world order is being ripped to shreds by an alliance of ethnic nationalists, women-haters and authoritarian leaders who are harnessing the power of machines and algorithms to do it.

In a wide ranging interview, the two discuss the rise and rise of leaders such as Trump, Putin, Erdoğan and Jinping; the influence of right wing neo liberalism and our acquiescence to its manipulation of information in the belief that it is the bastion of free speech, and even more importantly, freedom of thought; similarities to, and differences from, the rise of right wing ideologies in the decades prior to WW2 and now; social media algorithms and how they influence us; what being human is; and more.

Mason suggests that today’s elites realise the current system is not working for them and by supporting the likes of Trump, a system of capitalistic anarchy will rise in its place that promotes the interests of, you guessed it, the elite. He tells why we need a new theory of the human being and how people can help back with small acts of defiance.

Even if you disagree with his ideas, I think you will find them thought provoking. You can hear the whole podcast Why human beings need to resist the machines [32m 18s]


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One Tree Hill

Some songs tend to haunt me. They get into my head and stay – sometimes long after the welcoming mat has been withdrawn. But there are a few that I’m happy to have stay for an extended period. One song in particular has bitter sweet memories.

It was written to honour the memory of a former work mate of mine. Greg became the fifth staff member of the local branch of the multinational I.T company I worked for.  He was around ten years younger than I was, and we worked together for around two years. He left the company around 1980 to join a local band, which from memory, was called something like Straight Flash.

Greg was very likeable. He was always charming, humorous and witty, always polite, and very considerate of others. In other words he was real gentleman, even though he was still in his teens. Travelling took up a lot of our work day and sometimes two of us might spend up to six hours in one day as we traveled between various jobs. We’d take turns at driving, and whoever was in the passenger seat usually did most of the talking. To be honest, I can no longer recall what we talked about, but I remember that I enjoyed his company as talk was not oriented towards sport and other topics that typically occupy the minds of teenage males.

Unfortunately the branch manager was one of those people who can often be heard starting a comment with “I’m not a racist, but…”. To him all Māori were lazy, and incompetent of performing tasks that require intelligence and skill. While he acknowledged Greg’s courtesy, and reluctantly conceded Greg’s grooming was always immaculate, in fact better than anyone else our small team, he was always critical of Greg’s ability as an engineer. It was the criticism he was constantly under, I believe, that caused him to leave the company and seek greener pastures the music industry.

Eventually Greg became a very close friend of Bono from the band U2 after a chance late night meeting when the band was touring Aotearoa New Zealand. Greg took Bono to the inaptly named One Tree Hill (it’s a volcano, not a hill, and although there was a lone tree near the summit, that was removed for safety reasons several decades ago). The “hill” is of great spiritual significance to the Māori, and apparently Greg successfully conveyed much of the meaning to Bono.

Unfortunately Greg was killed in a motor vehicle crash in Ireland in 1986. This song was composed in Greg’s memory and the vocals were recorded in a single take because Bono didn’t feel he would be able to do more.

I often think of Greg, and wonder what he could have achieved if his life wasn’t cut so short at the young age of 26. Hearing this song as I did this morning, always brings his memory back to the front of my mind. I still miss him. R.I.P. Greg Carroll.

One Tree Hill

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of earth
The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes

You run like river, on like a sea
You run like a river runs to the sea

And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground

It runs like a river runs to the sea
It runs like a river to the sea

I don’t believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

We run like a river
Run to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it’s raining
Raining hard
That’s when the rain will
Break my heart

Raining…raining in the heart
Raining in your heart
Raining…raining to your heart
Raining, raining…raining
Raining to your heart
Raining…raining in your heart
Raining in your heart..
To the sea

Oh great ocean
Oh great sea
Run to the ocean
Run to the sea

 


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Numbness of mind

I was seated, but I could not draw my knees together. The light was white, bright, very bright, painfully bright. Behind me there is movement but I’m unable to turn my head to see. It does not respond to my wishes. I hear soft sweet sounds that might be voices, but I can’t be sure. They are in stark contrast to the oppressive mechanical noises all around. I know I am required to lean forward, but I don’t know how I know. I start to lean forward and immediately feel a hard cold surface against my chest. I sense air movement on my back and realise my top half is not clothed. My arms are lifted and draped over the top edge of the surface. It is very uncomfortable but I know I must not move. How do I know that I wonder.

I feel rubbery fingers moving over my lower back concentrating on the spine area. Again, I sense rather than hear an urging that I must relax even if I’m uncomfortable. My head is thumping, agonizingly so, and that light hurts, even with my eyes closed tightly. I want to escape, but I am unable to do so.

A dull ache starts in the area of my lower spine, at or slightly below waist level. It grows in intensity, slowly but surely. I want it to stop but I don’t know how to say the words. I hear a groan. Is that coming from me? I’m not sure. The ache goes away, then returns, different but the same, and maybe not in exactly the same spot. I’m not sure. I sense shadows moving around me even with my eyes shut. It’s too painful to open them so I remain frozen where I am.

A sharp pain on my inner thigh, a little above the knee . A few more stab of pain, each in a slightly different area. Like I imagine a red hot poker being pushed through the skin, but there is no burning smell, only the sensation. I keep trying to find the words to tell it to stop, but the words are elusive. They tease me then disappear.

The ache on my spine disappears momentarily only to return. The ache feels different but I don’t know in what way. Is it in the same spot? Maybe, maybe not. I feel more stabs of pain, this time perhaps more like white hot needles. They are near my groin. Suddenly the white hot needles move from groin to scrotum. I realise I am no longer sitting. I am standing.

The sweet soft sounds that may be voices sound agitated. They want me to sit again but I don’t hear any words. Then a new sound – deeper and commanding. Is it another voice? Who is it directed to? I do not know. It does not matter as I don’t understand it. The ache in my spine has morphed into a pain. When did that happen? I sense pressure being applied to my shoulders, but can’t feel it. I just know it’s there. I lower myself slowly.

I realise that I’m straddling a chair backwards. My chest meets the cold hardness of its back. The pain in the spine remains and is soon joined by a return of the ache, although not as intense as before. I drift into nothingness.

I feel myself being lifted. Rubbery hands under and on my arms. Green legs on one side, blue, or maybe white on the other. Not sure. The glare is painfully bright. I cannot see their feet. Do they have feet? It seems they’re gliding. I’m half walked, half dragged then manipulated onto a bed. I think it’s a bed. I feel it rising. Then it stops. Some bars rise up beside me. I’m imprisoned. The nothingness returns.


What I describe above was not a nightmare, nor a scene from a horror movie, although I wish it was. It was very real, and every so often the memory returns to haunt me. You could be forgiven for thinking that I described an alien abduction. Looking back on it now it doesn’t seem too much different from the description of some so called abductions, but I’m yet to be convinced of the reality of such events.

Yet the experience I describe above was real.

It occurred while I was hospitalised for a week during a severe migraine attack. I have nothing more than fragmentary glimpses of that time. The actual event described, as I later learnt, was an attempt by hospital staff to obtain a sample of spinal fluid. They failed. I have no recollection of any emotional state during the episode, hence the title of this post.


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Oh no! My router’s been hacked!

Or so says a Spark (my telco and Internet provider) technician who phoned me a short while ago. I’ve had several phone calls a day over the last week from a variety of South Island phone numbers, but invariably, either the caller hung up as I answered, or did within a few seconds. Today one of those callers made a successful connection. The call went like this:

Tech: hello sir. I am [name unrecognisable] from Spark technical support.
Me: Hello. What can I do for you?
Tech: We are calling you because there is a problem with your router. Do you understand?
Me: I understand what you are saying. Why do you think it has a problem?
Tech: I’ll show you. Look at the lights on your router. Are any of them blinking?
Me: Just a minute while I go look. It’s in the next room. Hang on a mo. [pause of around 30 seconds] Yes, several lights are flashing.
Tech: Can you tell me which ones are blinking?
Me: Hang on a bit will you, I didn’t note down which ones. I’ll just grab a a pen and paper and be back in a jiffy. [Quietly] Now where’s a pen that works? [short pause, then louder] Got them, Back in a second. [40 seconds of silence] Are you there? The lights that are flashing are Internet, W L A N, L A N 2, L A N 3 and L A N 4.
Tech: OK sir. Do you know what the WLAN light is for?
Me: Please, tell me.
Tech: WLAN stands for “Wireless Local Area Network”. Someone is using your wireless connection without your permission. That blinking light is an alarm saying that the wireless network has been hacked.
Me: Oh dear. How do I fix that?
Tech: That’s why we’ve called sir. I’ll just transfer you over to one of our router specialists who will lead you through some simple steps to solve the problem. Just wait a minute while I transfer you.
[30 second pause]
Tech2: Hello sir, I’m Gerald [or perhaps Gerard?] from the Spark specialist support team. Do you understand why we have called you?
Me: I think it’s because someone is using my wireless router without my permission.
Tech2: That’s right. But I’m here to help you fix that. Someone has hacked the router so that they can do all sorts of things without you knowing about it, and that flashing light is a warning. You should have reported it you know. It will only take a moment to fix if you follow my instructions. Can we go ahead and do that now?
Me: Sure.
Tech2: As you may understand, a router is digital appliance, and as it doesn’t have its own screen or keyboard, we need to communicate with it by using another device such as a computer or laptop. Do you have one of those?
Me: Yes I have a computer.
Tech2: Good Turn it on please.
Me: Just a minute. [Another 30 second pause] Ok it’s on.
Tech2: That’s great. Is it a Mac of a Windows computer?
Me: How do I tell?
Tech2: There should be a brand name or logo on the computer. Can you tell me what it is sir?
Me: It says “Dell”.
Tech2: It’s probably a Windows Computer, but just to be sure, do you see a button with “CTRL” nearest yo you on the extreme left of the keyboard?
Me: Yes.
Tech2: Does the button to the right of it have a Microsoft Windows logo on it?
Me: What does the logo look like?
Tech2: It looks like a wind with four panes of glass.
Me: Yeah. It does look a bit like a window.
Tech2: That confirms it’s a Windows computer. So this is what I want you to do: Hold down that Windows button and hit “R”.
Me: Done that.
Tech2: Did a window pop up?
Me: Yes.
Tech2: OK. Now type in C for Charlie, M for mother, D for Doctor.
[pause while I type s.l.o.w.l.y.]
Me: Done that.
Tech2: now hit Enter and tell me what you see.
Me: Exactly the same as what was there before I pressed Enter.
Tech2: Can you tell me what you had typed?
Me: C for Charlie, M for Mike, D for Delta.
Tech2 [with some hesitation]: Um… That’s right. [pause] And you say nothing happened when you hit enter?
Me: Well, I didn’t exactly hit it, but I did press it firmly.
Tech2: I see. It looks like the hackers have done more than hack you router. We’re going to have to get into this more deeply. But don’t worry, we’ll put an end to those hackers, although we will have to do a bit more at our end first.
Me: I see. What do I do now?
Tech2: We’ll make some preparations, then would it be OK to call you back between 9 and 9:30 tomorrow morning?
Me: Sure, I’ll make sure I’m here.
Tech2: That’s great. I’ll call you back between 9 and 9:30. Goodbye, sir.
Me: Goodbye.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow. What they don’t know:

  • For 35 years, I was an engineer for a major international I.T. Company, and for most of that time specialised in networked systems in the banking and retail sector.
  • Our home network consists of Linux and Android devices only (plus a Kindle). There isn’t a Windows device in sight, and hasn’t been for more than 10 years.
  • I know they are scammers.

If I’m in the mood, I like to string these pricks along for as long as possible. The last few times, I haven’t been, so I’ve asked them to quote my Spark account number, and of course they were unable to do that. I invite them to call me back when they have it, but for obvious reasons they never do.

In (Not) Windows Support Desk I relayed a similar incident, although this time I look forward to my role play as a less than savvy senior Internet user. After all, they are role playing at being support personnel, so it seems only fit and proper that I play an appropriate role for them. I am impressed with their apparent courtesy. Being addressed as “Sir” all the time, might be flattering to some people, but I know it’s simply because they have no idea what my name is. I wonder what term they’ll use when they eventually discover I’m playing with them.

I’m not confident that they will call back tomorrow morning, but I really hope they do. The longer I keep them tied up, the less opportunity that have of doing real harm to someone else. It’ll be my good deed for the day.


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Aging sucks

“I didn’t mind getting old when I was young. It’s the being old now that’s getting to me.” – John Scalzi Old Man’s War, 2005

I agree with Scalzi. Well, in the mornings anyway. Once upon a time I could spring out of bed, but these days it’s a monumental effort to do anything but breathe, and even that takes some effort. My head pounds as though I had a great time imbibing to excess the night before, and when I finally get to my feet, the best I can do is shuffle, dragging my feet a few centimetres at a time across the floor. Every joint hurts when it is moved. I really do look like a very old man – much older than my actual chronological age.

No doubt this is due the the effect of aging, combined with being on the autism spectrum, suffering from chronic migraine, and the co-morbidity of these two conditions of numerous other ailments, ranging from Raynaud syndrome and restless legs syndrome to Neuroinflammation and other immune disorders. In the developed world, the life expectancy of people on the autism spectrum is around 20 years less than for neurotypicals, so I’m grateful to have exceeded that by around 10 years.

Some time late morning these symptoms start to disappear, most by themselves, and some, such as the migraine headache, by medication. And by early afternoon I feel as fit as I did at fifty. By early evening, I feel like a twenty year old (well, as best as I can recall being twenty), and come midnight, I find the world as amazing as I did as a child, although at that time of night, there’s no one to share it with.

That “reverse aging” during the day (along with and abnormal circadian rhythm) probably goes a long way to explain why I’m reluctant to go to bed at night, especially with the knowledge that when I do wake up, it will be as an old man again.

However as some unknown authors once quipped, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many”, and “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative”, I’ll suffer the mornings so long as I can enjoy the rest of the day.

If, what Gayla Reid wrote in All the Seas of the World is true –  “Old folks live on memory, young folk live on hope” – then I am still very young! It’s time to go and explore what’s left of 2018.


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Flowers

Flowers are a delight when they’re like this:20181104_143551x1200
But a real pain in the arse when they’re like this:20181104_141758x1200
Literally!

First it was the camellias, then it was the flowering cherries. Now it’s the rhododendrons. Traversing the pathway with its 4 metre (13 ft) rise from the car parking pad to the front door means taking one’s life in one’s hands. At this time of the year it sees no direct sun and after even a little rain becomes extremely slippery. It takes skill to manoeuvre one’s way through this pretty hazard without taking a tumble…