Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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.


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Improved service!

Over many decades (seven of them) I have had the occasional need to call on the assistance of health professionals. Most have fallen in to the non-emergency category, but there have been a few cases where without appropriate assistance I probably would not have survived – polio and hepatitis are two that come to mind.

In recent decades I have found myself in the emergency department of the public hospital in a nearby city, with no clear recollection of how I got there. I suffer from a form of migraine that often mimics the symptoms of a stroke. It requires an EEG and an MRI to rule that possibility out. Then there was kidney stones where I do remember the painful half hour journey by ambulance to the hospital.

However, today’s post is an observation of how the service of non-urgent medical treatment by General Practitioners (GPs) have changed in recent years. I can only speak of my experience in the town where I live – Feilding (population 15,000). It may be different in other parts of the country.

When we first moved here around 1986, we enrolled with a GP (general practitioner) in sole practice who shared a receptionist and practice nurse with another sole practice GP. This was an a change from what we had in our previous location. There, the family was enrolled with a sole GP where the duties of receptionist, etc were carried out by his wife. Generally an appointment wasn’t necessary. One simply turned up during surgery hours and waited. At the new practice it was necessary to make an appointment first, and usually one could be seen the same day or the next. If it was urgent, but not an emergency, then one could typically be seen within the hour. When our doctor decided to leave general practice and specialise in industrial health, we found ourselves looking for another GP.

Wanting a practice within easy walking distance limited out options to two and we settled on a group practice consisting of four GPs and a number of support staff covering several fields. At first, non-urgent appointments could be booked two days in advance, but over the course of a decade, waiting times became longer until it reached the stage where non-urgent bookings were typically a week away.

Since the start of this millenium there had been discussion about forming a community health centre for Feilding that could provide additional services beyond those that a typical small private or group practice could provide. It could be viable only if all the GPs in town provided services from the same facilities. It was a slow process but a few years ago Feilding Health Care Hauora Tangata opened for business.

While it provided radiology and other services previously only available in the city of Palmerston North (about a 30 minute drive), I can’t say there’s an improvement for non urgent medical attention. At this point I feel the need to mention that what constitutes non-urgent now includes conditions that would have been deemed urgent just a few years ago. Take for example my recent experience.

Weekend before last, I did something that caused an old injury to flare up. When I was 17, I suffered a lower back injury that resulted in one collapsed disc (two vertebrae now grind against each other wearing their faces down), one seriously compressed disc, and another with less severe compression. Over the years I have learnt to manage the injury, and for the most part, it doesn’t cause continuous pain. When I am careless and do something to silly, I can find myself in considerable pain exacerbated by any movement of the torso or legs. This was one of those occasions.

There are a number of exercises I have been taught to assist in recovery when my mobility is compromised like this, and generally within four or five days after a flare up I can reach the stage where the pain has been replaced by discomfort. However this time, the pain severely limited what I could do. As the weekend rolled around again, there had been no improvement and my mobility had become more restricted. So first thing Monday morning I phoned to make an appointment to see the doctor.

It was then that I was reminded how much of an improvement had been made over recent years. After describing my condition to the receptionist, I was advised that my assigned GP was away until August and even though I was in considerable pain and could scarcely walk, it didn’t qualify as urgent and there were no non-urgent spaces available for the next month! After some strong words from me she relented and said she would arrange for a duty nurse to contact me later in the day to evaluate my needs.

At four thirty, the nurse phoned and after a short discussion, she too said that I wasn’t able to book an appointment. However, I could see a doctor if I attended the after hours clinic which opens at six each evening, although I might have to wait a while before being seen. I was there before six but already there was a line of people at the check-in desk. Just as it was about to be my turn, the receptionist put an “Appointments closed” sign in the desk. I wasn’t pleased, and in the condition I was, I didn’t care who knew.

I think the receptionist took pity on me and said she’d try to have me seen by a nurse. Well, that’s better than nothing I suppose, and half an hour later one appeared. She told me the good news. All the doctors on duty were fully booked up for the evening, but if I drove across to Palmerston North I could attend an after hours clinic there. I asked if I could be guaranteed being seen, but no, they too ran their after hours service on a first in first served basis.

By this time my pain was so severe that I could only talk in gasps, and as best as I could I asked if it was reasonable to expect someone of my age, who has nyctalopia and cataracts in both eyes to drive to Palmerston North at night when they can barely walk or sit just on the off chance that a doctor might be able to see them. She conceded it wasn’t reasonable. How generous of her. I asked her what my options were to which she replied she wasn’t sure but she would find out.

She returned about ten minutes latter to give me “great news” that if I was prepared to wait and if a doctor finished all their cases before eight o’clock then he/she would see me, but there’d be no guarantee that I would be seen. I waited. And waited some more.

Some acquaintances tell me I have the patience of a saint, and on Monday evening that played to my advantage. Two people who were ahead of me in the queue were becoming more and more agitated as time wore on. Eventually one, then the other left in anger after waiting around an hour and a half. Ten minutes later, my name was called.

To cut a long story a little shorter, the doctor decided there was no new nerve damage (I’d already determined that) and that with some pain killers, I should be back to normal within a week. I was sent home with a single pain tablet to be taken when I arrived home. A short while later I received an SMS message informing me that a prescription had been sent to my preferred pharmacist and could be picked up in the morning.

The prescription was for Tramadol, which I’m supposed to take three times a day. No way! I tend to experience the worst side effects of every medication, and Tramadol proved to be no exception. Within an hour of taking it, I became fuzzy headed, unable to think clearly and found difficulty staying awake. Shortly after, my irregular heart beat became pronounced. I regularly miss about one heart beat in ten, but it increased to one in every four or five and was very noticeable to me. Then a headache set in. About time to research Tramadol’s side effects.

The possible side effects as described on Drugs.com make alarming reading, and the description on the NZ Health Navigator only slightly less so. I took two tablets yesterday, and only one today and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open as I compose this post. However, I think it has done the trick in relieving the pain as I am now able to do my exercises for managing back pain. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

On a brighter note. I received a phone call shortly after six last evening from Feilding Health Care inviting me to get my first Covid jab. They had a few surplus doses and if I came immediately I could receive my first of the two Pfizer shots. The wife and I were there and had our first vaccination within half an hour, and our next vaccination is booked in for later this month. We had been booked in for our first jab in August, and while there’s no sense of urgency here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is comforting to know that our personal risk is now even lower than it has been.


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The Jab

Living in one of a few truly covid-free nations, Aotearoa New Zealand, there has been little urgency for most people to be vaccinated. Border, quarantine, health and essential service workers have already been vaccinated and others at high risk are currently in the process of being vaccinated. The general population will be able to get vaccinations from the end of July for those over sixty and then progressively through younger age bands. By the end of the year, everyone over the age of sixteen will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Being in our seventies, the wife and I are considered “at risk” and yesterday I received an SMS message inviting me to book an appointment for the first of the two Pfizer shots. So now we have a confirmed appointment for the 10th of August, at 2:40 to be precise. Yes, it’s still around six weeks away, but like most Kiwis, we don’t have a sense of urgency about being vaccinated.

As to whether the lack of urgency is good or bad depends on one’s fear and/or restrictions on freedom. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where we don’t experience restrictions such as social distancing, wearing of masks (except on public transport) or limits on the size of social gatherings (recently, 50,000 fans attended a Six60 concert in Auckland, and tens of thousands regularly attend sports events), life has been more or less normal for more than a year. Yes we are still encouraged to scan QR codes wherever they are displayed and to enable Bluetooth on our mobile devices to enable fast and effective contact tracing if necessary.

My observation has been that significantly less than 25% of the public bother to scan the QR code that is by law required to be displayed at all premises and locations open to the public. I have no idea what percentage of those who don’t bother to scan have the covid app and Bluetooth enabled on their mobile devices, but I’d be more comfortable about the ability for any future covid outbreak to be contained if more people took the the time to scan, especially in light of new variants that are highly transmissible. It literally takes only a second of your time to scan a QR code if you’re prepared. So why not do it?

Perhaps too many people here are a little too complacent about the potential dangers and have forgotten the effects of the lockdown in March/April 2020. If it wasn’t for the frequent overseas covid related news reports such as new variants appearing in some parts of the world and the dire effects such as has occurred in India, I suspect any thought I have about the pandemic would quickly fade into oblivion. It’s something that affects other nations, not Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is true that the quarantine-free travel bubble between this country and the various Australian states can be a bit hit and miss at the moment as covid still pops up over there from time to time. A bit like whack-a-mole. It’s enough for me not to consider travelling to Australia for the time being. What I find hard to fathom is why so many Kiwis feel they’re hard done by when they cannot return home without being quarantined, whenever an outbreak occurs over the ditch. It’s been made abundantly clear that the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia is conditional on each Australian state being covid free, and that there is no guarantee that the situation in Australia will remain the same throughout their stay there. Are they unable to understand the risks or are they wilfully ignoring them?


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Photovoltaic generation and more

PV generation

Since the 7th of May, our household has been generating some of its own electricity. Given that it’s only another three weeks until the shortest day of the year arrives, we’re achieving better savings than I expected. We have an all electric home (no gas, oil, coal, or wood), so we do consume quite a lot of electricity – 818.8 kW/h in 25 days of May to be precise. We generated 40% of that ourselves from 23 PV panels mounted on the roof.

In the highly deregulated electricity market of Aotearoa New Zealand, there is a considerable difference between the price supply companies sell electricity to consumers and the price they will buy back surplus home generation. Their sell price is typically around four times their buy price. The price differential made it tempting to install storage batteries so that we could call on surplus power when generation was low. But after discussing that option with several installers, we concluded the the return on investment was longer that the estimated life of the current generation of batteries.

Instead, we have installed an “intelligent” inverter that diverts any surplus electricity into the hot water storage system. Instead of maintaining a constant 55°C (131°F) the water is allowed to fluctuate between 40°C (104°F) and 78°C (172°F). Only after the water has reached its maximum temperature does the inverter allow electricity to be exported to the grid. Don’t worry, a regulator ensures that the maximum temperature at the tap (faucet) is no more than 55°C. In effect we’re using the hot water system as a sort of battery. We haven’t needed to use grid electricity to heat the water since the solar power was switched on. Even so that has been a few days where we have exported small quantities of electricity. I expect that in summer we’ll be exporting considerable amounts during the day, and as the heat pump will be switched off, our nighttime use should be minimal.

Covid alternatives to travel

For the most part we Kiwis have been largely unaffected by Covid-19 with the exception of international travel. In our case, it meant the cancellation of an extended holiday in Japan. We’ve concluded that at our age, it’s unlikely that we will feel the urge to undertake the journey once the dangers of the pandemic have passed. Instead we put the funds intended for travel towards solar power. Of course it’s not just a case of having the panels installed. The house, and especially the roof was in need of a repaint, so it made sense to paint the house before the solar panels were installed.

But if we’re going to paint the house, there’s a matter of some repairs that have been on the backburner for a while. The front door for example. Aging had caused fine cracks to develop in some of the wooden panels allowing daylight to be seen through them, not to mention a draft in windy weather. And if the door is to be replaced, why not replace the horrible single-glazed yellow sidelight with something that allows more light into the entrance lobby while reducing heat loss?

To cut a short story shorter, we had a new thermally isolated door and sidelight assembly custom made. The door has a digital lock so that’s one less key I have to worry about. The installers took only two hours to remove the old door and sidelight and install the new assembly. The transformation is quite amazing! Some of the recent changes can be seen in the images below.

The front door – before and after

The front (2 images) and rear (1 image) of the house before the repaint. The rear view clearly shows to state of the roof.

The final result with PV panels installed – 10 on the east facing front, and 13 on the rear facing west. The original paint scheme consisted of eight colours, the new has just four.


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A Twitter violation?

I know Twitter is coming down hard on those who violate their terms of use, but this is ridiculous.

I haven’t had a personal Twitter account, up until today, and now I’m locked out due to some violation or other, but have absolutely no idea what.

I hadn’t been signed up for more than 3 minutes when I was locked out when a tweet and the comments I was reading disappeared and was replaced with a message stating that my account was disabled until I could verify my identity! On acknowledging the message, I was directed to a screen where I was to enter my phone number As usual in these situations I checked the URL before I did so just to make sure it was valid. It was.

Every attempt at unlocking the account resulted in a silent phone call from Alabama in the USA (I was expecting an SMS message) and an empty email message. Then this message arrived by email:

We’re writing to let you know that your account has been flagged for unusual behavior that violates the Twitter Rules, and has been locked until you take the following steps: 

  1. Log into your account, or open your Twitter app on iOS or Android. 
  2. You’ll see a message about your account, and a prompt to click “Start.”
  3. Select your country/region, and then enter your phone number. 
  4. Click “Send code.”
  5. You’ll receive a message from Twitter with a confirmation code. 
  6. Enter the code you receive on the prompt screen. You’ll receive a confirmation. Please note, it may take a few minutes for your account to be completely unlocked. 
  7. If you’re still experiencing a problem after confirming your identity, respond to this message and provide us with more details about what’s happening. 

Please note, repeat violations of the Twitter Rules can lead to a permanent suspension of your account. 

Thanks, 

Twitter

I have no idea whether the “violation” is in regards to reading tweets and associated comments or whether it’s to do with being unable to verify my account. Keep in mind the only activity I had performed was to view two or three tweets and expand the comments. That was all apart from trying to unlock the account.

I followed the instruction provided as far as step 4. The “message” I’m supposed to receive in step 5 consists of a silent telephone call and an empty email. Impass! I’m at a loss as to how I’m supposed to enter a nonexistent verification code in step 6. I’ve emailed them with the details of what happened but who knows if any action will be taken:

Dear Twitter,
I signed up for an account today and tried to use my mobile phone number to verify my account. I never received an SMS message. After several attempts to resend the verification code, I opted to set up the account using an email address. This worked as I received the 6-digit code and was able to sign in. I received the code at 16:50 NZDT.


I started reading some tweets and as I was expanding some of the comments, a message popped up informing me that Twitter was unable to verify my identity and I needed to enter a phone number. That I did: [Ph number provided]. Almost immediately my mobile phone rang, but on answering it, there was complete silence. I waited a few seconds until the call terminated. The call came from [Ph number provided]. I tried re-sending the code two more times with the same result. I also tried using my home phone number [Ph number provided], again with the same result. 

Shortly afterwards, I received four email messages from info@twitter.com. The sending mail server was [server name and IP address provided]. The emails were all sent sent at 16:55:29 NZDT and were devoid of content. I have included the source code of one of the messages below. A few minutes later, this email to which I am now responding arrived. It was sent earlier than the 4 empty messages at 17:53:34 NZDT.


So my questions are:

  1. In what way have I violated Twitter’s rules?
  2. How do I unlock my account in the absence of a verification code?

Kind regards

Barry

Perhaps I might receive a response in a day or three, but who knows? Has anyone else faced similar situations with the social media giants?


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Earthquakes!

First a minute long 7.2 shake just at 2:27 AM this morning. I didn’t bother getting out of bed as it was more of a rolling motion than sharp jolts. New Zealand homes are designed to remain mostly intact during earthquakes. They may may not be habitable afterwards, but their structure does minimise serious injury and death. This particular quake knocked a few items of shelves but nothing was broken.

A few hours later another 7.4 earthquake struck around 900 Km offshore, and in the last hour an 8.1 earthquake struck just of the east coast of the North Island. The third tsunami warning of the day has been issued and evacuation orders have been made for some areas.

And of course so many are evacuating by vehicle causing massive traffic jams, whereas official advice it to walk, run or cycle where possible to avoid congestion. Why are so many people such idiots?

There have also been a number of less intense earthquakes of 5.0 or greater during this morning. Of course the big question in these earthquake swarms is has the biggest shake occurred? Typically the first shake is the largest, but today the strongest was shake was some seven hours after the first. This may even be the first stage of a long lasing swarm. We experienced such a swarm many years ago when we lived in Whanganui. The swarm lasted for around a month and with dozens of shakes, some of which made walking virtually impossible and it was necessary to crawl to cover.

I’ve experienced so many earthquakes during my seventy plus years that I’m rather blasé about them. Having said that, I rather enjoy the ride provided by long or severe shakes – a kind of adrenalin rush. We’ve experienced relatively little damage over the years. Only crockery and ornaments falling of shelves and cracks appearing in our home and in paths around it.

Living in a volcanic, seismically active region, most of us accept the risks of living here. There are a number of regular re-occurring earthquakes that have been documented. Perhaps the most threatening is the Alpine fault that stretches along almost the entire length of the South Island and fractures every 300 to 350 years. The last fracture occurred a little over 350 years ago so it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when”. Quite likely within my lifetime.

For the moment we have the task of letting friends and family living overseas that we are safe and sound.


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Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?

Nicholas Agar, Professor of Ethics in the Philosophy programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, suggests that our handling of the pandemic could be partly down to our distinctive Treaty of Waitangi relationship, and Māori ideas that enabled us to make it through without tens of thousands of deaths.

Here’s a question. How should we explain our success against the pandemic? Clearly, there are a few factors. The virus arrived comparatively late, meaning we could learn from other nations’ successes and messes; we had inspirational and scientifically-informed leaders; we are an affluent island-based nation with a comparatively small population.

I offer as a conjecture that our success can be partly traced back to our defining Treaty of Waitangi relationship and the way it brings together two peoples with different ideas about the world and how to inhabit it.

Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success? – Newsroom

Agar suggests that it is the blend of individualistic ideas of European settlers, mostly British, and the collectivist thinking of the Māori that has been the success story of the pandemic. Unlike the “don’t tread on me!” attitude of many in the West, the authorities in Aotearoa New Zealand have been able to introduce measures that we have, by in large, accepted as necessary under the circumstances.

Elsewhere similar measures have been implemented only where the draconian powers of an authoritarian state exist, such as in China. The means by which the Wuhan authorities suppressed community transmission of the virus would, I believe, have been no more acceptable here than in America. The concept of a “team of 5 million” is, I believe, a direct result of the way our two very different cultures with different world views are merging.

The opinion piece by Nicholas Agar can be found on the Newsroom website: Has the Treaty played a role in our Covid success?


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Seeing is believing

Like everyone else on this planet (perhaps with the exception of the previous POTUS) I am not perfect, nor was I born that way. Today I want to focus on some imperfections I was born with. I’m using “imperfections” here in two different ways.

  • Those traits and characteristics that society deems as flaws disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with
  • Those traits and characteristics that one feels about oneself that are flaws, disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with.

Often times, what one perceives as an imperfection may not be deemed so by society, and of course the opposite is true – what society deems as an imperfection may not be deemed so by oneself.

In my own case an obvious example is autism. Almost certainly, no one in any profession would have considered I was autistic until perhaps the 1990s and the condition became better understood. I wasn’t diagnosed as such until 2010. My family had always been very accepting of my “quirkiness”, but the rest of society wasn’t. I was cajoled, teased, bullied, reprimanded, punished and violently assaulted for being “different”.

I perceive the world differently at many levels compared to non-autistic people, and I may post more on how growing up as an undiagnosed autistic affected my life at another time, but today I want to concentrate on the imperfections of my eyesight and vision, and how those have been perceived by myself and others.

I was born with both myopia and astigmatism although neither myself, family, friends or school teachers realised it. It was finally my music teacher who realised I was unable to read music notation in advance of where I was playing that lead to my first “real” eye examination when I was 12 years old.

Sure, for the previous seven years, I had passed the usual eye test at school where one reads an eye chart at a prescribed distance.

Tests were carried out on the entire class by putting all the students in a line and then taking the student at the front of line through the test. Not being particularly assertive, I usually found myself near the back end of the line. Alternatively, we sat at out desks and were called up in alphabetical order by family name. Either way I was always in the last quartile of the class to be tested.

I don’t recall how far through the chart we were required to go, but I think it was only as far as the line for 20/20 vision. I always passed the test with flying colours. I could rattle off the letters as fast as the best of the class.

The problem was that I couldn’t read the chart apart from the very top letter, and even that was very marginal. So how could I pass every time? By the time it was my turn to read the chart, twenty or more children had already read it in my presence. First with one eye and then with the other. I had heard the chart called out 40 or more times at varying speeds. More than enough repetitions for me to have memorised it.

I don’t recall whether the memorisation was intentional or not, but I do recall that the class consensus was that “failing” wasn’t a desirable outcome, just like failing any other test wasn’t. So everyone including myself did our best to get a “good” pass. I felt good when the adult conducting the test would say something like “Very good, well done Barry”. It was praise I seldom received from anyone other than my parents.

If I had understood how bad my eyesight was, what I was missing and how corrective lenses could change my perception of the world around me, I would have had no qualms about failing the test. Such is life. It took a rather crabby and domineering music teacher to recognise my disability.

Strange as it may seem now, I had no idea that my eyesight was so poor. In fact I had the perception that it was rather good, and I wasn’t the only one. This came about because whenever we travelled along the highways I was able to recognise roadside hoardings/billboards well before either the driver or my fellow passengers. In hindsight, the explanation is simple. I had learnt to recognise all the signs not by the wording or images but by the combination and pattern of colours, which in those long forgotten days (the 1950s) tended to be consistently the same year on year.

As a humorous aside, it wasn’t until after I had my first set of glasses that I discovered that the name of one of the most ubiquitous signs at that time had been been assigned an “alternative” name by the family – an in joke I didn’t discover until I could read the wording myself: Cough Cough and Hammer was actually Gough Gough and Hamer.

I recall the sudden panic, almost terror that I experienced the first time I walked out of the optometrist’s shop wearing my new glasses. As the shop door was closing behind me and I looked ahead, I suddenly and simultaneously took a step backwards into the door and ducked. It literally felt like the world was being thrown at my face. The clarity of the detail of the shop fronts on the opposite of the road felt like they were a mere 6 inches (the NZ switch to metric measurements was still decades away) in front of my face.

It was perhaps the most disorienting experience of my life at that time. I was frozen to the spot. I don’t know how long I stood in that doorway ducking pedestrians and cars that seemed to be inches away, but were in fact yards away.

It seems rather odd now that it never occurred to me that the very obvious solution to my situation was to remove my glasses. An optometrist employee recognised my dilemma and pulled me back inside the shop and removed the glasses. After some quick instructions not to put on my glasses until I was in a small room that I was familiar with and to work up to bigger spaces from there, I was sent on my way.

As much as I wish my new glasses improved my life, they didn’t.

A characteristic of many people on the autism spectrum is the inability to subconsciously filter information arriving via the senses. For example in a crowded room where several conversations are taking place, most people are able to ignore conversations they are not participating in. Other conversations will only reach their conscious awareness when there’s a noticeable change such as in volume, pitch or body language – for example when an argument starts.

Most people have the ability to ignore conversation threads they are not participating in. I can’t. A simple analogy might be the example of being in a group conversation when all participants start addressing you all at the same time, at the same volume but all on different topics. I think the resultant confusion will cause most people to put their hands up and demand that the participants speak one at a time. That’s the situation I face all the time. ALL.THE.TIME!

It turns out that my ability to filter out visual stimuli as that same as my ability to filter out aural stimuli. I can’t. I found the bombardment of new visual information overwhelming and exhausting. Previously trees were largely blurry blobs of green. I could distinguish individual leave only at relatively close distances, so perhaps no more than a hundred or so leaves at any one time. Suddenly I was seeing thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of leaves all at once – every one a slightly different size, shape and colour, and all moving independently in the breeze. I didn’t know how to process all this new information.

Suddenly telephone poles and power poles had distinguishable cross arms, insulators of various colours but seemingly on no particular order or pattern. I could see the wires and the patterns they wove overhead. I could actually make out birds sitting on the wires or on rooftops, and even identify the species – something I had previously only been able to do from the pages of a book.

And speaking of books, whereas previously there was only a small area around the word I was reading where the shape of individual words could be distinguished easily (I recognise words by their shape as much as I do by the letters within them), suddenly every letter on the page became individually identifiable, every one of them yelling in unison “Read me NOW!”

Wallpaper patterns now continued right around the room instead of being discernible only in near proximity. On large buildings, all the individual windows could be seen. What’s more they formed regular patterns, and any break to that pattern became a distraction I couldn’t avoid being aware of. The same with pathways. Joins formed patterns that extended into the distance and any spot where the pattern was disturbed jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but notice it.

Never before in my life had been in a situation where I could distinguish the facial features of more than five or six people at one time. Now I could see all the features of everyone in the classroom ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Just too much information to handle. It didn’t help me with facial recognition, but it did allow me to apply the rules I used for identifying individuals at greater distances than previously. Crowds became a confusing collection of

Tiled roofs became a collection of thousands of individual tiles, many of which had individual characteristics I couldn’t help noticing. I could see the corrugations on corrugated iron roofs, and the rows of nails holding them down. Disturbances in the rows (a nail missing, irregularly spaced or out of alignment) shouted out “Look at me!”

Sixty years on and and the same distractions still occur. What I have learnt is how to consciously push them into the background. Over the years I have got better at doing it and it probably takes less effort to do so. There are still times, especially leading up to and during a migraine where I find all the visual information overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to remove my glasses and move into a visually gentler and less harshly chaotic world where I’m not assaulted by detail.

While I mostly appreciate the details I seem to notice when no one else does, there are times when I wish I could simply not notice them in the first place – just like everyone else.


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That’s better

Although the sun is still struggling to get out from behind the clouds, at least we can (almost) see the mountain range in the distance, the wind has died down and the UHF television aerial has been restored to its rightful place on top of the roof. As they say: Happy wife, happy life.

What a difference 24 hours can make